It’s not unusual for a child to exhibit a little jealousy when a younger sibling appears on the family tree. So how about 50 more?
From the time I was four years old till the time I started college, I helped my family provide foster care to over 50 precious infants. We took care of the babies while a Christian agency helped their parents decide whether they could provide the best environment to bring up their children, or whether the kids were to be placed in adoptive families.
It all began after my oldest sister died suddenly when she was six years old. As my parents raised my other sister and me, they realized they still had room in their hearts to love more children. So, they selflessly turned their grief into an opportunity to show love to children in foster care.
I inherited a deep love for all things baby, and helping provide foster care gave me ample opportunities to live out that affection. I could put my love into action daily, rocking a colicky baby or running to mix another bottle of formula. Having so many younger siblings may have made things a little chaotic at times, but I loved every bit of it. We’d pamper the little ones like royalty for weeks or months until their birth or adoptive parents could provide a permanent home.
In addition to giving me a lifetime’s worth of babysitting experience, these little ones taught me some big lessons about love. Here are four lessons I learned from my foster siblings:
Lesson #1: Live out your love.
One of my favorite bands in middle school had a song that said: “(Love) is a verb”. Even though they only had a few days of life experience under their onesies, these infants taught me the magnitude of non-verbal communication.
Since they had not acquired the ability to speak yet, the babies relied on body language and simple vocalizations to communicate their emotions. A smile or moment of eye contact spoke volumes from a baby learning to trust. The Bible reminds us of the weight of nonverbal communication in 1 John 3:18, which tells us “not to love in words and speech, but in action and in truth.”
Try not to get overly concerned about finding the right words to say, that you limit your communication to just speech. Instead, let your emotions flow into your body language and motivate you to acts of service. As a child, I learned that rocking a fussy infant was sometimes more important than playing outside. Foster care gave me practice in loving others.
Lesson #2: Love without conditions.
Some of the babies spent the majority of their time with us in crying fits; others were nothing but toothless smiles. Yet, we loved fussy and happy babies equally, treating them with overflowing love and compassion.
While many of the babies were from ethnicities different from my own, I knew every one of them was the beautiful handiwork of the same Creator. I remember one baby in particular, whom I absolutely adored. I loved everything about this baby, from her spunky personality to her beautiful skin color. I wanted to be just like her. My parents would recall how I diligently prayed for almost a year that I’d magically switch overnight to this baby’s ethnicity.
Well, God did not answer that prayer in the way I had hoped, but I gained a valuable perspective that will stay with me forever. I was not granted a sudden increase in my skin’s melatonin as I had asked, but through years of helping to provide foster care, God gently deepened my understanding of the unity all people share. Despite our unique and differing exterior, all humans are created in God’s image, which unites and bestows us with equal, priceless worth.
Lesson #3: Part of loving is praying.
As we held each baby, we could not predict the blessings and challenges that awaited him or her, yet we could be confident of God’s love for them. There were multiple people who came to our minds for every infant.
First, we asked God to bless the birth mother and be near her, recognizing her courageous decision to choose life for this baby. We also lifted up the adoptive family, who was still unknown to us, but had been known by God since the beginning of time. Whoever they were, they were surely experiencing uncertainties and challenges as they prepared to offer this child a forever home.
And, of course, we offered up many prayers for the sweet baby who was in our arms for a short phase, but forever in the hands of a Sovereign God. We were blessed to be part of this child’s life and fully trust that God would use our prayerful care to shape their journey.
Lesson #4: Love deeply those whom God brings your way, trusting their future to Him.
Even if you don’t know how long someone you love will be in your life, learn to appreciate them deeply right now.
Because we adored all the babies who entered our home, their adoption days were bittersweet. For months, we had poured love into these little humans, prayerfully aiming to give them the healthiest and happiest start to life possible. Then, with very little warning, we would have to say goodbye, often forever.
While we thanked God for the family He had given these precious babies, it was hard to say goodbye to each one. The morning of the adoption, we’d be sure to bathe, dress, and primp the little one, preparing him or her to enter their new family. After the adoption ceremonies were over, we would give our love to the happy family, then drive home with an empty car seat and tears that were both happy and sad on our cheeks. It made us savor every moment of each infant’s brief presence in our lives.
I learned so much from my years as a foster sister, but the truly life-changing perspectives were what these babies taught me about love.