About a month ago, I sat in a hotel ballroom listening to a panel of adoptive and foster siblings, from 17 to 40 years old, talk about their experiences growing up in homes that weren't exactly traditional in their family structure. They didn't mince words about the trauma they'd experienced, about the fear they'd experienced, about the pain and grief that goes along with being part of a foster and adoptive family. Yet, to a person, they are all either already fostering and adopting or for those too young, they plan to.
That was a breath of fresh air for a mama who was struggling through some previously unknown (at least to us) trauma that one of my children was processing through. I was honestly a little afraid to sit in that room. I didn't necessarily want to hear from kids who've grown up this way, because I still battle some insecurities and some American-ism on how families should be and how they should operate. Fenced yards, closed doors, isolated living, family vacations, and all that. That's not what our home looks like, for sure. Sometimes I still wonder if that makes me a bad parent.
Last Sunday, I sat in my parents' living room, taping a video segment that we plan to use at church. They talked through their married lives, my childhood, and I sat and listened to their stories of countless strangers in and out of their lives and home, racial and ethnic diversity in a white-centric community, little regard for personal and property safety in the face of people who needed love, who needed a family. Am I worried about myself and my siblings? Not even a bit. We became Jesus followers, every last one of us. We became service oriented, every last one of us. They weren't bad parents, although I'm sure they faced the same criticisms. Our home wasn't 'normal' by any stretch of the imagination, and it made us better people.
I used to get really defensive when people would question the impact of our lifestyle on our children. Of course my children are safe, I would angrily retort in my head. You really think I would put my kids in danger willingly?
The thing is, that was a boldfaced lie. One I was trying to spin around my life even while I knew it to be untrue. Not to deceive myself, but to make myself look better to others. More acceptable. More conscientious. More "Christian". On the surface, I intended the lie to make other people feel better, but in the meantime, I used it as a way to make myself appear better. I wanted to look normal. I wanted people to think I'm smart and good at what I do. I wanted to be liked and admired.
Maybe it's the season that I just came out of. Maybe it's just that I'm getting older. Maybe I'm no longer so scared of what other people think. Maybe I no longer feel the need to conform to the culture around me, not even if that culture is the Christian culture. I used to long to be normal. I used to pray for the day that my life would be normal again, but as I learned from another woman a little further along than me this past month - I can't go back. Even if all my circumstances changed to be what my white American dream of a life used look like in my head, I couldn't go there because I am changed. My eyes are open, my heart is broken, and I could never enjoy nor be content with that picture of normal.
I don't need to look better anymore. I don't have to defend how we live to others. I don't have to pretend to be someone I'm not for the sake of other people's comfort.
Last week, my eldest son offered to give up the room that he's been long awaiting to share with his little brother so we could bring someone else into our home to stay. Our eldest daughter offered to sleep on a couch so we have space for another set of bunk beds. Our children voluntarily offer themselves up to the pain and grief that they are no strangers to, that they know is for sure at the end of the journey, over and over and over because they are changed.
Our kids are at risk from people and circumstances that we bring into our home.
Their risk has made them brave.
Our kids have experienced pain and trauma, violence and destruction in their own home and family.
Their scars have made them tender.
Our kids have given up their rooms, their belongings, and their activities to others.
Their willing sacrifices have made them generous.
Our kids have loved, and still love, undocumented immigrants, criminals (both in and out of jail), the mentally ill, drug addicts, drug dealers, the homeless, the elderly, people who smell bad, people who look dirty, people who are mean and hateful...and not only that, but they've sat at a dinner table with many of them.
Their love has made them beautiful.