Joy and Pain

A few nights ago my husband and I sat around the dinner table, sharing supper and life with two of our closest friends.

With hearts the size of Texas, this couple has become ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy’ to six different foster children over the course of the last twelve months. Their deepest hope is to someday adopt a child, or most likely, children through the foster care system.

From the outside looking in, I know that this special couple has become two of the most loving parents a child could ever know. I also know that the past year, since opening their home to their first set of foster children, has been full of joy and full of pain.

I know there are two sides to every story, but the side I have witnessed, is that of our friends and the rollercoaster ride they have been on this year. So far, each of their placements has ended with the child or children being returned to the home of the birth parent(s). After months of loving these children as their own, my friends have had to say good-bye to these precious ones, severing their carefully woven ties, often not knowing if they will ever see them again.

As the four of us gathered over a meal of pizza and Vanilla Cokes, (a staple amongst close friends and parents alike), our conversation turned to the latest developments with their current set of two infant boys they have loved and cared for since birth.

We listen with heavy hearts as this couple, trying so hard to be brave, tells us that these boys, the ones they brought home from the hospital, the ones we all fell in love with at first sight, the ones who up until now have known only love, are expected to be placed back into the home of their birth mother sometime this fall.

Joy…and pain.

I look at my friend, and our eyes rim with tears. I know that her mother’s heart beats every bit as true as mine, and I know that mine couldn’t take this, so I ask my friend how in the world she can continue to do this.

The answer, she told us, is simple. “I realized I could either have no heartache, but have no family, or I could have heartache, and hopefully, someday, have a ‘forever’ family. When I was able to see the pain this way, I knew it was worth it.”

These words struck me, not just because they were spoken by my friend who I love and admire, but because I believe they are true for everyone.

Years ago I found a greeting card with the following quote:

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”  ~ Jane Howard

I bought the card and have kept it where I can see it often. I’m not even sure who Jane Howard is, but I believe she’s right. No matter what you call it, we all need some kind of community to which we can belong. I also believe that no matter how close you are to that community, no matter how Godly the relationships, or how much love is shared, there will be heartache.

When it comes to relationships, Godly, authentic, and deep relationships, there is always a choice: Have no heartache, and have no community, or have heartache, and have community.

My husband and I have not journeyed the same road of foster parenting that our friends are now traveling, but we have known our share of broken relationships. We’ve known heartache and pain, but we’ve also known joy. Deep, deep joy.

When I look back on the relationships that have caused us the most pain, yes, I see the heartache, but I also see hours of belly-aching laughter, moments of true-hearted honesty, hugs, words of encouragement, countless meals shared around a table or campfire, trips taken, and adventures shared. I see us praying, worshipping, and crying together. I see me, being me, and iron sharpening iron. Joy! Joy! Joy!

As our friends expressed in their desire to have a family, and as my husband and I have decided in our desire to experience authentic and deep relationships, the heartache that comes with each is worth it.

My friends see it in the eyes of their children. I see it in the eyes of my friends: The ‘windows of the soul’ bear witness, that when the heart is willing and love is true, joy trumps heartache every time.

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