Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The Purple Bowl

For me, it was a purple glass bowl I had set down on the counter. For Ellie in the movie Instant Family, it was a beautiful crystal dish she'd tucked away in the top of her cupboard. Both smashed to pieces by foster care.

Both symbols of devastation...and love.

Have you seen that movie? It's about a married couple who become foster parents to three kids. Their lives are flipped upside down as they learn to parent kids from hard places and discover what family really means. As a foster parent myself, I relate to so many of the scenes in the movie, but the one that always strikes me the most is when Ellie's dish falls from the cupboard during an incident with the children, breaking beyond repair.

I was heartbroken when it happened to me. My 2-year-old foster son was "helping" me make biscuits. I set my best mixing bowl, a glass Pyrex we'd received as a wedding gift, on the counter and turned to grab a spoon from the drawer. In a flash, he swiped at the bowl, and I turned back just in time to see it fall. I gasped. He screamed. A frantic cleanup commenced. And I continued to find tiny purple shards of glass in inexplicable places in the kitchen for weeks afterward.

It was my absolute favorite bowl. One I used almost daily. In the movie, Ellie's dish was important to her too. But then, foster care.

We've been foster parents for almost five years now, and these broken dishes have come to mean something very important to me. I have learned you can't love kids from hard places, kids who are not "yours," without being broken. Shattered. You can't be what they need without giving up your ideas of the perfect family. Your hopes for a clean house. Your time and attention. Your favorite bowl.

If you have kids, you might be thinking that all parenting is like that. And you're right. Biological children break bowls, too. But choosing to step into foster care breaks you in a way other kinds of parenting cannot, because you're giving up all those things for children who are not going to stay. Who will never be yours.

It's devastating. But isn't that also what real love is? Allowing yourself to be broken for the sake of another? Even when you know they could be whisked away tomorrow, leaving behind shards of glass that will keep piercing you long after they are gone? Real love isn't safe. But it's what kids from hard places need.

I still miss my bowl. It was just the right size. It was easy to clean. It was pretty. But I miss that little boy more. Would my purple bowl still be intact if he had never come? Would my heart? Probably so. But would I undo it if I could?


Are you afraid of being smashed to smithereens? Are there any special items in your home that you would hate to see destroyed? If so, then maybe you think foster care is not for you. But if you have room in your heart for some real love--if you believe that broken things can be beautiful--well, then, just maybe it is.