But I didn’t expect the guilt.
No, I didn’t expect to be tickling his chubby belly, getting him ready for bed at night, only to be struck by feelings of guilt deep in my gut. I didn’t expect to feel like an imposter, masquerading as his mother when I’m not. Or to feel like a thief, stealing love and affection and moments of joy from his biological mother that I will never be able to give back. That I didn’t ask if I could have. That I didn’t earn.
“You’re amazing,” people say. “I could never do what you’re doing. I could never be a foster parent.”
And I smile and say it is my pleasure and my privilege to care for him in his time of need, and that is absolutely true. But all the while I’m wrestling with doubt in my heart about whether I’m doing the right thing. All the while I’m trying to reconcile the fact that I’m snuggling him to sleep every night with the equal fact that his biological mother lays with empty arms, crying, missing him. And she sends me a little pair of shoes for him to wear and says "Kiss him for me."
“She brought this on herself,” you might think. “She made bad choices.”
And you’d be right. She has no one to blame but herself. But he has no fault in this. He didn’t ask to be taken from her, raised by a stranger, or passed back and forth multiple times a week like he’s in the middle of a custody battle. He didn’t do anything wrong.
And so the guilt comes. How will he ever understand that I only want what’s best for him? That I love him? And what is best, anyway? The longer I live, the more people I meet, the more I realize that what’s best isn’t always black and white. What’s best is often more like a mud puddle than a crystal clear stream. I believe in Truth and I believe in the Bible, but the Bible doesn’t say, “Thou shalt be a foster parent” or “Thou shalt not deprive a mother of her child” or “Here is how you know if a mother is unfit.” But it does say, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
So what do I do?
Maybe it’s silly, but when the sadness comes down on me, the sorrow and grief, the dread, and yes, the guilt, I think about love and I think about getting old. I imagine myself as an 80-year-old woman, reflecting back on my life, and I ask the 80-year-old me: Do you regret what you did? Do you regret loving that boy and doing the best you could for him?
And inevitably she smiles with the wisdom of years, pats her white hair into place, and says, “No.”
And so I will love him. Through the sadness and dread, and the guilt no one prepared me for, I will love him, and pray that God will use whatever frail, broken gift I give for good, and that I will have no regrets.