"You don't really love me. You don't. I know you don't!"
She sat in the middle of her bedroom floor and shouted at me through angry tears.
The stated trigger for this outburst was my denial of her demand to wear a pair of inappropriate shorts that had been ruled out the night before. We were in a standoff that was much deeper than a silly pair of last-year's Nikes. A lot of pain led her here and no formula from my training in how to parent foster children was going to work like a silver bullet. These things take time--and they are messy, multi-layered, complex and exhausting.
"I do love you. I love you very much," I assured her.
She fired back, "No, you don't!"
This happened over a week ago and even as I type it I can feel literal pain in my chest. I don't love her? Really? Just that morning I had spent half an hour working on plans for her birthday party. For the last 10 1/2 months I have rearranged my life, put my birth family on the altar, resigned from several other responsibilities, kissed her and prayed with her each night, brushed her hair every morning, mothered her and literally emptied myself in a desire to show this child love. I have been humbled--and sanctified beyond what I imagined.
My head knows she is a hurting little person who, unfortunately, has seen and heard a lot in her short life. Many of her models of relationships, conflict and love have not been healthy. Yes, my head acknowledges all that, but my heart was still wounded by her piercing words.
Out of privacy I cannot elaborate on all the circumstances surrounding this little slice of a school morning--but for the 1,000th time in our 10 months of foster parenting I saw the Gospel. God gives us guardrails out of His love. He draws lines. He gives us so much freedom, grace and hope but we persist to perseverate on the comparatively small things He deems off-limits and rush to the self-centered declaration that His denial of our desire is an indicator of His lack of love.
I am guilty.
Later, when apologies had been made and our relationship was on the road to being restored, I calmly asked her, "What does love look like to you?"
"I don't know," she replied.
And we got to talk about that for a few minutes... It didn't take the puffiness out of her eyes or the emotional exhaustion out of both of our hearts. It didn't completely take away the sting I still carry, but it was a sign that God is planting seeds.
There is no easy road to hard-but-important lessons. He is teaching us both. And that is love.