Love is a Choice

Love is a choice. This truth has been taught over and over again by my pastor, Pastor Rick Warren. He explains why love is so much more than an emotion, that real love is a choice.  When you choose to love, you’re choosing to act loving toward someone regardless of how you feel. Not until my wife, Geri, and I decided to heed God’s call to explore adoption and foster care did we truly appreciate these four words, love is a choice.

Our Story:

My wife and I began our foster to adopt journey in 2011.  Even before we had our first biological child, we had always felt that God had adoption planned for our future.  We’d say, “Maybe we’ll have two and adopt two.”  After having our first two biological sons, my wife’s thyroid became very hyperactive.  Due to the nature of how Hyperthyroidism is treated, getting pregnant the year following treatment is strongly discouraged. As the age gap between our kids was growing, this was the perfect time for us to begin looking into adoption.  If we wanted to keep our “four” kids close in age, adoption was the key, or so we thought. 

After getting certified a year later - we got our first placement, a three year old little girl who fit in perfectly. It was so exciting! We bought her toys, decorated her room, hung her name on the wall with wood letters... Everything was going to be wonderful.

In many ways it was wonderful. We loved her so much and fully embraced that we would end up adopting her. We knew her mother had a thick criminal file, with a history of prostitution and heroin addiction. Our little girl had been exposed to domestic violence and knew all too well who the police were. She ended up being reunified with her mother after being with us for seven months, and then back in the system and in our home within just a few weeks.

Our precious little girl was smart, and she was difficult. She was so difficult, my wife lost her joy, she could barely smile... she had to fake it and felt like she had nothing to give to our family. We trusted God, that it would get better, but it was so incredibly difficult at times. Our daughter would lock herself in rooms, scream at the top of her lungs in public, and bang on the walls during time outs. When she left at almost a year, our hearts were broken even though she had been challenging. We had poured ourselves into her. Our boys wanted nothing to do with adoption, ever again.

We planned to take a least a year off to recoup. During that year we got pregnant and had our little girl, Gwyn, who is now 5. The foster care agency won’t allow you to take placements until your new baby is a year old. So our break was long and our gap was big - seven years big.

Still having the desire to adopt, we dove back into foster care. We only wanted one so that, in total, we’d have four. We had several more placements over the next few years. 

We had a couple of older kids who ended up going to live with their aunt and uncle.

We had a 6-week-old baby who we really got attached to and thought we’d get to keep, for sure, but the County moved her to the foster family who had her siblings. She left us at seven months old and it was hard for our family. 

While taking another break, we said we would temporarily take two little ones. It was supposed to be a week.

Shortly after, we got a call for a four week old baby girl (we’ll call her Grace), who we are very soon to adopt. We naturally said yes! After all, these other two would only be here for a short time. One week turned into two weeks and then to indefinitely. We started to wrap our minds around the idea of having six kids! We got a bigger vehicle, bought a ton of diapers and stopped sleeping.

Eventually those two little ones went to live with their grandparents, with whom we are quite close to now. We see the kids at church all the time, and we even get to have them over sometimes. That relationship has turned out to be one of the coolest gifts of foster care.

Grace came to us when she was 4 weeks old. But at this point we had built really high walls and didn’t think for a moment that they’d stay. It feels like they always go back, which she did. We had her until she was seven and a half months old. We love her mom, and we were rooting for her. There’s more to her story, but I’ll come back to it.

After Grace left, we got a call for a little boy, Cody, who had just turned two. He had been severely abused. They couldn’t tell us much because it was a criminal case. They told us he had been in ICU for two weeks where he celebrated his birthday. He was then moved to a medically fragile home and was now ready to be released. They said he didn’t like diaper changes and had been malnourished and wouldn’t eat much so we’d have to give him Ensure. 

They brought him to us. What a cute, sweet boy. At least for the most part. He would hit Gwyn really hard for no reason and call us the ‘B’ word, but other than that, you’d never know that he had been abused or neglected.

Then we were called, again, about Grace. Three months had passed and she came back to live with us just before her first birthday. Now, we had five kids.

After seven years of foster care, and eight foster children, we’ve just finally adopted our son, Cody. Soon, we will adopt our three year old, Grace, with our oldest being 14. So much for keeping them close together.

On the Topic of Choosing to Love:

As I said before, love is a choice. 

When all of our biological children entered the world, they immediately accepted our affection and quickly learned to trust us. But when a child is ripped from the world that they know, and placed with new people, it’s traumatic. There’s nothing we can do to change that. So, everyday we try to enter their world and invite them into ours. Often times, they’re not ready.

When Cody came to us at just two years old, he often resisted our affection. Sometimes, while putting him to bed, we’d read a story and try to snuggle. Upon resting a hand on his chest, he’d say that it hurt. How can this be? It makes you feel rejected. And how crazy is it that a two year old can make you feel this way? These behaviors are a reminder that they are not yours. Our biological kids rest peacefully entangled in our arms and legs when it’s time to snuggle. When they get up in the morning, they desired to be held and hugged for as long as time permits - even our teenagers. In contrast, every one of our foster children wakes up too early. They’re not allowed in bed with you, so you have to getup, and they don’t say, “Good morning” or “I love you Mommy and Daddy.” Instead, they stand next to your bed and immediately begin to whine for food or water, when all you want is a hug! The constant reminders that they do not belong to you are frustrating. The reminders make you feel like a failure, too- like you must be doing something wrong!

The good news is that it gets better. Much better. Now, our little guy is four. He wants to nothing more than to sit on Dad’s lap and watch a movie. He wants to marry Mom and wishes she’d never leave his side when she tucks him in at night. We’re still waiting on that completely natural connection, but it’s happening. It’s all in God’s perfect timing. We choose to love even when it feels like a one way street.

I think most people, that have given adoption any serious thought, have wondered, “Will I love an adopted child the same way I love a biological child?”  I know now, that’s the wrong question. The question should be, “Will I choose to love my adopted or biological child the same way?” You see, it doesn’t matter how you feel.  What matters, is what you do.  It’s easy to feel loving toward people who consistently show you love in return.  But, if you want a love that will last, you must choose to love when people are unlovely.  Like so many other things, God modeled this kind of love for us. Romans 5:8 says, but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  While we were still in a state of rebellion against God, he chose to love us first by sending His only son to die in our place as payment for our sin against Him.  That is real love! We also must choose to lay down our lives. To love in spite of not feeling loved in return by a child who is hurting. In time we will reap a harvest. 

Ryan & Geri Carson