This post was originally published on May 10, 2017 at PacificCrossroads.org.
Author: Meg Long
Growing up I always knew I was adopted, and I always had a relationship with my foster parents, Mary Jane (Jane as I called her) and Ed. Even though I was only placed with them for a couple of months as a baby, they were like another set of grandparents. Jane passed away last year at the age of 78 after a fight with Alzheimers, but in the 20 years preceding her illness, she and Ed fostered more than 80 infants.
As a kid I would go over to their house with my mom and hold the foster baby they were currently caring for, and I always got to choose a candy from the lidded crystal dish on the side table. My latest school picture was on their wall amidst dozens of other photos of the children they had fostered, right alongside pictures of their adopted and biological children and grandchildren. They used to throw big annual Christmas parties for all their foster kids and their families, with a magic show, facepainting, Santa…the works. Every year there were wooden ornaments on a Christmas tree that the kids could choose to take home — every one was unique, just like each of their kids.
When I talked about Jane and Ed to other people, especially adults, they would say almost exactly the same thing every time: “What saints — it takes a special kind of person to be a foster parent.” The implication being that to love and care for a foster kid takes a different kind of love that only certain people are capable of.
But the thing is, Jane and Ed weren’t superheroes in any traditional sense; they were not perfect people. From my perspective growing up, they seemed like any other parents — loving their children even when it was hard, and it often was. Their love wasn’t different — it just cast a wider net.
It’s true that loving foster children isn’t safe. But, that is, inherently, the nature of love itself. It is risky. Even if you have a biological child, their life is in most ways out of your hands. There is no ‘safe’ love. (Who knew this better than Jesus, who died on the cross out of love for us — his adopted children?) As CS Lewis says “To love is to be vulnerable.”
Jane and Ed chose radical vulnerability in their lives, and their reward was a life that was filled to the brim with love and an infectious joy. My mom tells me that at my wedding, Mary Jane befriended one of my friends with a newborn and held her baby almost the whole night — classic Jane. As my mom says, “love oozed out of her.”
My favorite part of CS Lewis’ the Great Divorce describes a procession making its way through heaven in honor of a woman. There’s an exchange between the protagonist who’s watching all this and his heavenly guide, and this is how I imagine Jane in heaven:
“Is it?…is it?” I whispered to my guide.
“Not at all,” said he. “It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”
“She seems to be…well, a person of particular importance?”
“Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”…
“And who are all these young men and women on each side?”
“They are her sons and daughters.”
“She must have had a very large family, Sir.”
“Every young man or boy that met her became her son – even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter. … Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.”
I looked at my Teacher in amazement.
“Yes,” he said. “It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end? Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength. But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce