Love is Love

I remember the evening. It was a leap of faith into the unknown, but my husband and I were both on the same wave-length, both knowing that if we held back, we'd somehow be letting ourselves down. We decided to become foster parents of a sixteen-year-old African American boy. Sitting on the couch with him on one of those early days, tentatively putting my hand on his shoulder, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of grace and privilege. Was it possible that our differences in age, race and sex could be overcome? Was I really going to be allowed to get this close, to love this boy?

We'd met him two years earlier, the friend of a neighbor down the street. He'd done odd jobs for my husband and babysat for our two little boys. Then I called his foster home one day and got a cold voice saying he was no longer living there and she had no more information. His friend down the street had moved and I could find no word of him. I imagined this child without a home, with no one loving him, and it pulled at my heart. It was months before we found him again--run away from another foster home and at a loss for what to do next.

We already knew and cared about him. But it still wasn't an easy decision. We didn't want to confuse a young person about his racial identity. But at sixteen he seemed old enough to know who he was and where he came from. We certainly didn't want to bring the crime and violence associated with young black men in a drug-infested city into our home. But we'd seen how good he was with our children, the youngest only a year old. We'd met his friends. He was convincing when he talked about how drugs scared him. And we both wanted to try.

Those early months were an amazing education. I remember sitting in the living room while he was with a friend in the kitchen. I could hear their voices and laughter, but not the words. What were they doing? What did young black men talk about when they were together? My mind ranged over all the things I'd read about in the newspaper, seen on TV. What had I brought into my home? Then they came into the living room, still talking and laughing. It turned out that the topic was cooking--and the laughter came from the strangeness of the ingredients in the Greek cookbook!

There were certainly hard times as well--though I'm not sure they were harder than those of any parent of teenagers in this day and age. We had to deal with middle of the night phone calls and doorbells, beds that weren't slept in, commitments that weren't met, friends that tried out drug-dealing, valuables that were missed. Perhaps the hardest of all was wondering if he'd have done better with a different set of parents. Had we really done this young man a service, making him do that last, hardest stretch of growing up in such a different world from his own?

The children were a useful reminder, through all the hard times, of what's really important. They just loved him. And they were serenely confident in his love for them. They didn't get him as often as they wanted, but whenever he was with them, he brightened their lives. I, in turn, worried. I agonized over whether I was doing the right thing. I got furious at him. But through it all ran a thread of grace: I never once regretted the decision to invite him into our lives and our hearts.

When he left, two years later, to make his own way in the world life became calmer, much simpler. I knew we had done our best, but I still wondered if we'd done him a service. His visits in the last six months have been a revelation. It's such a pleasure to have him around, to see his old friends again, to have the children ecstatic in his presence once more. Most of all, we can see how he's growing up--steadily gaining skills and confidence and a sense of his place in the world. And he's been able to tell us how much our love has meant.

With that reassurance, I can see it so much more clearly. Love is love. We may not have done the best job. We may not have made all the right decisions. There might have been someone who was more skilled, more competent. But we're the ones who loved, and love makes all the difference.