Fostering Love

Lisa Wheeler at the National Review Institute’s Forum on Foster Care in Washington, D.C., May 24, 2018.
Open hearts for the broken-hearted

‘You have to be ready to have your heart broken.”

If I’ve heard that once — which I certainly have — I’ve heard it 40 or so times over the past month. May was National Foster Care Month, and I spent some of the month talking with foster parents about their lives and challenges and hopes and dreams for the little ones who have spent time in their homes. A number of parents have talked of how hesitant families are to even consider foster care because they might have to give back a child. Lisa Wheeler just said it while we were having a conversation on a radio show about these things. Since 2011, she and her husband have had 15 children in their home, including a sibling group of three right now, and they have adopted two children from foster care. But part of the call of foster care is to “wrap yourselves around a whole family.” The goal is for the birth mother or parents to be active, loving parents to their child or children, if they can. You have to be willing to have your heart broken again and again, Wheeler says. Because that’s what the call to love is all about.

“It’s an investment — and to a life of somebody, and to a destiny — that forever changes them. And you’re always a part of that child. You’re a part of their journey and their history,” says Karen Strachan, who has had some 40 foster children over 20 years. She and her husband have adopted eleven over the years. I recently talked with her after a forum at the Heritage Foundation about the increasing number of challenges faced by faith-based agencies that facilitate foster-care placements and adoption. The Strachans have never changed their phone number — and never will as long as they can help it — so every child who has ever been in their home knows he or she can call anytime. They get “hello” calls, and they get “I’m in jail” calls. In the latter case, it’s usually because they’d like Aunt Karen or Uncle Pat to help them break the news to their mom. Getting involved in foster care is about an all-encompassing love. But then, isn’t life?

Perhaps it’s because we don’t celebrate self-sacrificial love enough that we find ourselves in the circumstances we do: celebrating abortion.

I keep hearing Lisa and Karen as I think about what just happened in Ireland. I hesitate to bring this up, because abortion tends to be such a hot-button issue, and foster care is such an overlooked issue. But they are related, of course, in many ways. The key one may be love.

We talk about love in the most confusing ways sometimes. Our popular music often depicts it as either saccharine or downright tortuous. Love can be manipulated for political purposes. But there’s a book by the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone Is Credible, and I’ve long thought the title says just about everything you need to know, and you don’t need a theology degree to get it. On all of these intimate and urgent issues that involve the most important decisions one can make in life, we have credibility only because of love. And perhaps it’s because we don’t celebrate self-sacrificial love enough that we find ourselves in the circumstances we do: celebrating abortion.

I realize that the Irish may not see it quite that way. They may call abortion “freedom,” but it’s “freedom” to double down on death, “freedom” not to accept surprise, “freedom” for a more radical individualism that divides mother and child. Foster care, on the other hand, which tends to make news only when there is some horror story to tell or political debate under way, is about the freedom for radical hospitality. There is a selflessness at its core. It is about radical vulnerability — the home and very heart of a family are open to a wounded, precious one who might have more fears and hurts than may ever be known.

If we know that Karen and Lisa and their families exist, overflowing with love, we may just begin to believe we need to foster more of this love. We need to foster a culture of foster care and adoption, where it’s household knowledge that there are people who are capable of such generosity, and not only for a child and a sibling group but also for helping a family — the birth mother and father and anyone else within the reach of their hearts — to believe in the possibilities for hope and renewal and redemption in their lives. Cultivating such a celebration — with all its difficult but fruitful challenges — will help cultures like ours, and now the Irish, that have fallen for the lie of abortion as a common matter of women’s health and freedom. It will also let us see that Irish and anyone else’s eyes can be smiling with the kind of love our hearts long for, the kind that reflects the generous nature most of us would like to believe that God has in mind for us.

There’s no freedom without life. Abortion may be legal, but with a superabundance of love, it can also be implausible to the human heart that desires and responds to love. Not everyone is equipped to be a parent in the traditional sense, but the all-around self-sacrifice of foster care and adoption demonstrates the kind of love that draws us out of ourselves and our miseries. Birth moms who choose adoption are heroes and should know it. Foster families are beacons in an often dark culture where people strain to see light. It’s true love to celebrate.

This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.


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