He said this without malice or contempt, but rather with pure honesty and a bit of curious lilt to his voice. I didn’t take offense.
Several weeks ago, I journeyed to another city for a quick couple of days to visit friends. While I was there, many conversations happened, and this one got my brain worked up and firing on all cylinders.
While sitting at the breakfast table waiting for others to join us, the steam from our coffee cups rose gradually into the air, mingling with the palpable tension. The conversation had, without much warning or context, drastically changed moods and become suddenly more significant and personal than either of us had intended.
“Oh yeah?” I inquired, attempting to look [and sound] casual. “How do you mean?”
He became visually flustered at the thought of trying to explain himself, and I did my best to divert my gaze down the table, giving him the privacy that he needed to formulate this thoughts. I didn’t want to pressure him to explain himself, but I also really wanted to know.
“I guess…” He paused. “It’s just so surprising. Life is supposed to be about figuring out how you can do what’s best for yourself, by making money and progressing in a career and becoming what you want to be.”
Then, unexpectedly, he furrowed his eyebrows and stated, “I guess I’m selfish.”
I blinked. But not because I didn’t understand. Because of the honesty.
This was not a conversation with somebody that I knew well. It was an individual who was very important to somebody in my life, but I had only talked to him once before, and it had not been a long or in-depth conversation. Now, we were up to our elbows in serious words because he had asked me lots of questions about my career as a social worker.
Unsure if I should say anything, I waited.
He finished by saying, “I truly don’t understand why somebody would want to give up their lives for other people. Especially people that aren’t worthy or appreciative.”
And in that moment, I knew that this conversation was about to take an entirely different turn than either of us could ever have anticipated.
I look to heaven to save me and you call me naive.
I’d rather be a hopeless lover than cursed with disbelief.
See, I actually understood exactly what he was saying.
When I was 14, my parents sat me and my siblings down and told us they were going to become foster parents. As in, invite children into our home that we didn’t know. And I freaked out because I was a teenager with an attitude problem and I thought that my life was already pretty terrible, and why would we want to bring strangers into our house and make it worse?
I was feeling sad and scared and unsure of my place in the world, convinced that people were unsafe and that the only way to survive was to keep your own counsel and trust no one.
My family had raised me and my siblings to believe that the Bible was true and God was real. We went to church every Sunday and I knew Bible stories that other kids my age had never heard of.
I had been sufficiently churched.
But I was selfish.
And everything that I had heard my whole life seemed like religious mumbo jumbo that had no relevance to what I was experiencing as a 14 year old outcast. So, I tried my best to be a “normal” teenager who cared about stuff like new shoes, haircuts, and who Hannah would date next after she and her boyfriend had a fight in 4th period. All while trying desperately to avoid the bullies who made every day miserable.
All of that stuff that the Bible had to say was irrelevant to my life.
But there’s a verse in the Bible that said something about how really believing in God meant that you should help out kids that didn’t have a safe place to sleep.
I guess my mom knew this, because she refused to listen to my tirade about why we shouldn’t help those kids in our community and I came home one day from school and there were two children living in my house. They had been taken into state custody that day for reasons that made my stomach hurt and I took one look at them and retreated to my room, slamming the door.
They turned my life upside down.
And I fought.
I fought a God who would allow such terrible things to happen in the world. I fought the words from the Bible that I had heard about my entire life, that suddenly became more important than I could ever have imagined. And I fought my parents, who showed such grace and compassion to those children that I wondered if Jesus actually mattered.
Mostly, I fought my own selfishness.
I chewed my nails until they were non-existent and I paced back and forth in my room for hours, wondering why I hated myself so much. I threw my tantrums silently by leaving the room every time one of the children entered it. I would try to avoid coming home from school because I didn’t want to see what I knew I would see. And I cried because I was scared that the world was really a terrifying place where nobody was safe.
Eventually [and sort of against my will] I decided to seek answers from the one place I had been trying to avoid.
I prayed. And I opened the Bible.
Okay, and I’ll be the first to admit: The Bible is a big book with a lot of words in it that I don’t understand. There are concepts and ideas written in those micro-thin pages that I will never understand as long as I live. I’m just not that smart and God really is.
In spite of all that, there are a few things that I know to be true. In the following years that I spent being a big sister for whatever length of time I was given, I learned a lot.
I had never understood what the Bible meant when it talked about unconditional love until an angry little girl threw breakable things all over the house and screamed in a voice that I had never heard. She did this because she was in a lot of pain inside her heart that she didn’t have any way to express, and the response from my mom was to hold her until she stopped struggling and gradually rested her head on her shoulder, hiccuping.
Because of foster care, I know that unconditional love exists.
I had never understood what it meant when people said that Jesus could transform lives until I watched as, over several weeks and months, deep emotional wounds and sadness began to heal, and the children that lived under my roof transformed before my very eyes. The stability that they experienced created such dramatic changes that I was truly stunned, unable to believe that they were no longer the same. And I was no longer the same, as my stone-cold heart gradually melted into the softest clay, highly tender.
Because of foster care, I know that transformation is possible.
And I hadn’t known how the God of the Bible could possibly love somebody so deeply that He would do anything to draw near to them, until the day that the first foster children left our home to be reunited with their biological family. In that moment, as I watched them leave and knew I would never see them again, the love in my heart was so overwhelmingly fierce that I could not breathe. I had to let go. Collapsing into a pile of tears, I prayed that God would be faithful to love and watch over them.
Because of foster care, I know that sacrifice is the nature of true love.
I was seeing the message of Jesus Christ portrayed every single day in my own family.
Essentially, watching my parents welcome foster children into our family showed me that all of the things I’d heard about Jesus my whole life could actually be true.
“I get it.” I told him, pressing my palm against the table and taking a deep breath. “Really, I do.”
He nodded, looking grateful but also slightly confused. I paused a moment, trying to figure out how I could possibly summarize all of the thoughts that had just raced through my mind in the past several seconds.
I knew that I couldn’t. Those unique experiences, so important during the most formative years of my life, had altered my perspective for a lifetime. And I’m grateful. I’ve never been the same and I wouldn’t want to go back.
Finally, I let out a big breath and shrugged, longing to say what I didn’t know how to.
“I believe that there was once Someone who gave up everything that they had for me, and that makes me want to give up everything that I have for others.” I said.
Offering those words to him was all I had.
It has nothing to do with religion. I don’t do what I do because I sat in church every Sunday for years, or because I’m really good at following rules. I’m actually not. At all.
I do what I do because I once saw that Jesus was real and that He cares about people that nobody else seems to, first me and then the foster children that came into my home.
And I would give my life for the things I believe in: That hope is real and God made each individual person with great love and for a great purpose.
I don’t have any other reason why I live the way that I do. To this person and I’m sure others in my life, the path that I walk on a daily basis is weird and backwards and portrays me as foolish. But I don’t think I’m missing out of anything. Foster care and adoption has become such an integral part of my life, it’s become very clear that my purpose was given to me at a young age.
We closed our conversation with mutual respect and understanding, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it for weeks. To be genuinely asked WHY I do what I do with my life was so significant that it has haunted every corner of my mind. It’s a great question, and one to which I hope I have given justice in my response.
So I must ask:
Why do you do what you do?
We won’t solve all mysteries and our hearts will surely break in such a vulnerable life, but it is the best way. We are made to be lovers bold in broken places, pouring ourselves out again and again until we’re called home.
— Jamie Tworkowski
This Sunday, November 8th, is designated as Orphan Sunday. The intention is to raise understanding of how individual communities can reach out to help children and many local churches are becoming involved! To learn more about Orphan Sunday, click here.
On Saturday, November 14th, an event called UNITE is occurring at Destiny City Church in Tacoma, WA. The purpose is to bring our community together, raising awareness and engaging in conversation of how YOU can join us to help children in need. To learn more about this event, click here.