Yesterday morning, I was sipping some water and looked outside – a brief moment of silence and solitude, a rare exhale in the life of a mother. Bathing in the sunshine, curled up in a vibrant orange ball on the outdoor furniture, was my cat. I watched his ears twitch and turn at each bird call and squirrel jump, and I thought, “Oh, how I love that little rascal.”
Our beloved cat, Tiger (yes, how original, I know), and I have had quite the journey. He was my husband’s and stepsons’ cat, and when I moved in, he waged war. I was scratched, my legs were randomly attacked around any corner, and sometimes he even peed in areas I frequented. He was clearly rejecting me and the idea of living with me. Over time, though, our bond was created by backyard excursions and I became the one to feed him, clean his litter box, and nurture him. And now I know if I go to pet him, he’d purr and crawl into my lap. I realize no one else would really care so much about him; he’s just a random cat to everyone else. It’s the “loving up close” thing that cements a bond – the day-in and day-out, the care and attention, the hard-won affection, the realization of a value of a life. In a world filled with superficiality, loving and living up close is the most sacred thing a person can do and feel.
Living and Loving Up Close Through Foster Care and Adoption
Foster and adoptive care is the epitome of living and loving up close. It’s feet to the ground, money-where-our-mouths-are, real investment type of work. There is nothing more real than welcoming a child, teen, or young adult into your home and walking a healing journey with them. We fight sacred battles every day, often hour by hour. We see that healing doesn’t come from band-aid fixes. It comes in increments, in linking arms even as we are being pushed away, in finally nailing a bedtime routine after a year of our child fighting sleep and enduring night terrors. It’s the first hug after our kids feared touch for months, and it’s movie night together as a family.
Being up close means our hands are in the soil; we help cultivate the hearts of foster youth, as they cultivate our family, even pruning what’s already there so we can continue to love up close. It’s painful. It’s unrelenting work. But the reward? Oh, the reward! When foster youth experience healing (and so do we…because what reveals our unhealed areas more than this?!), it means they get to dream for their futures. They get to become who they were made to be, and they know they are worthy of loving care and support. At its best, entire families are healed and brought back together. Even if not, chains are broken in our children’s lives, and the trajectory of a family is changed forever.
The Impact of a Loving Space
When our daughter moved back in with us after being bounced around from home to home while the court tried to decide if her biological mom would maintain rights, she was different than the first time she lived with us. Once joyful and dancing and singing ALL the time, she had become quiet; her eyes showed fear. She had endured a lot between her first placement (us) and her fifth. She was only seven. Often, the only word she could manage was a question: “Safe?” And I would look her right in the eyes and say, “Safe.” We could be at the store, sitting in our living room, or out for a walk, and this question would pop up. “Safe?” It broke my heart.
Since then, she has been adopted into our family. We have gone into battle together many times. We have fought fear, nightmares, episodes of anger and scratching and screaming, and loss. Many days, we took life minute by minute – exhausting work, holy work. And now? You would meet her and never know she used to only utter one word as a question. She is back to dancing and singing. She lights up the room when she walks in. She talks openly about her healing, her journey, and how she wants to change the world with love and compassion. She is only eight.
I take no credit for this, I truly don’t. I give credit to a higher power and to my daughter. I just followed the values I’ve learned from my faith and put my feet on the ground to be a safe and loving space for kids who need it. I know that loving up close is what changes the world, one heart and one soul at a time.
This blog article was contributed by Cherie Johnson, Foster/Adoptive Parent for Nexus-Kindred Family Healing.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 45 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.