December 12, 2015
And just like that, she’s gone.
Our girl went home last week. Or rather, she went to the house that currently contains her biological family. Is that her home? It’s how we all talked about it. “She’ll be going home soon,” we’d say. Home.
We use that word so freely, so casually. It’s how we talk about the place we live. But anyone who’s moved knows there’s this strange season right after the move when it’s hard to differentiate which place is home, and it takes a while for the new one to fill that role. What catalyzes the change? How do our brains and our hearts recognize the subtle nuances of what home is? What is it inside us that decides a place has earned that title?
Jack-Jack is three, and he perceives no difference between house and home. Every time we turn onto our street, he says “I see our home, Mom! And I see that home and that home and that home…” He doesn’t say “house,” he says “home.” To him it’s all the same. Houses and homes are equivalent, because that’s been his experience so far. Our house IS his home. But why? Why is this structure home for him? And where is our girl’s home? She lived in our house/home for a longer stretch of time than she’s ever lived in her family’s house/home, but never once was there a question as to where she was going when she went back there–“I’m going back to my real home,” she’d tell people. That phrase didn’t feel hurtful, it just felt like a distinction, because she called our house home too, and she needed to make sure people understood that there was a difference. Our home was temporary; the other home is the one she goes back to, it’s the one her parents are in, it’s the real one.
“My real home.” And her parents were her “real parents.” It’s amazing how strong the biological bond is. I was reading a study once with quotes from kids who’d been in foster care, kids who had been treated in some appalling ways by their biological parents, but they all said they wanted to be with their families in spite of that. It’s misguided for us to look at their situations and think that those kids must be so happy to be away from that, that they must be just thrilled to be with these nice wholesome foster families in big beautiful homes instead. They’re all longing for their real homes, their real families. Call it hope or denial or delusion or stubbornness, those kids know deep down how things ought to be, and they ache for it.
And that’s why foster care is such an incredibly sad business. Family, in some form or another, is one of the most basic realities of human existence, and a child in foster care means that that basic reality has been twisted, ignored, spat upon. Parents have an instinct to care for their children, and children have an instinct to trust their parents, and so when parents bring harm rather than safety to their children, something essential breaks.
And yet even the most selfish of parents will weep when their child is taken away. And even kids whose ability to bond was sabotaged by the lack of care they received as infants will long to be with the very people who got them into their mess. They know there’s a way things ought to be. God gave us our families as a picture of His love for us, and in our journey to grasp the depth and meaning of Love, we turn to our families to help us understand.
And so our families are where our homes are. Yes, our girl went home. At some point our house became home to her too, but it’s in this other house that she will grapple with what a home really is. I’m nervous about what conclusions she will come to, but there are some glimmers of hope too.
For instance, we have not been cut off from her. Far from it, in fact! I am amazed and impressed that her parents have kept her at our school to keep the transition easier for her. They have let her call us frequently. And she even came over for a couple hours after school the other day. One of her parents is not particularly enthusiastic about this, but I hope the one takes their cue from the other, and realizes what a gift this is, not just to us but to her as well. I hope they both know how much love these things communicate to her. I hope they realize that in sacrificing for her in these ways, they won’t lose her to us or others, but will draw her heart closer to theirs, as children are always drawn to those who love them selflessly.
The homes of our memories don’t cease to be homes. Thinking back on the places I’ve lived, most of them are pieces of the puzzle that makes up my concept of home. Our house is now a home of our girl’s memory, but I don’t think leaving it made it stop being home for her either. It’s part of her picture of what Home means now–Home with a capital H, the real deal, the archetype, the idea that surpasses reality, the one we aspire to. When she first came to us, she and the older boys and I memorized a few verses in the first part of I Corinthians 13 (“Love is patient and kind…”). The last few days I’ve been walking around with a couple other verses in my head, and today I suddenly realized that the verses in my head happen to be the closing verses of that same chapter. Two chapters closing–one in the book I love, and one in our lives, with a girl I love. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Our families here are dim reflections of our greatest family, and our homes are shadows of our ultimate home. They have the right shape, the right general appearance, but they aren’t the real thing. But they’re not false either, nor even poor imitations. They ARE the thing we’re looking for, but only the beginning of it. I pray our girl sees the right shadows reflected when she looks in the mirror of her life. I hope that in peering into the glass, searching for truths she can grasp onto, the warmth and safety and love of home will be reflected there, and will point her heart toward the home that is so much better, so much clearer, so much brighter and better and higher than any here on earth. I pray that she will learn what her real home actually is–the one where God’s children reside, brought up in His love–and will find her way there.