Standing still, mind swirling, paralyzed, my mouth dry and unable to find words. The moment stood still for me and I felt like the world went fuzzy all around me. I was still and quiet for the first time on our foster care journey.
I had a moment where the social worker's voice sounded almost like the teacher in Charlie Brown as more than a dozen little faces flashed before my eyes. The faces of respite, short term placements, nearly two year placements all flooded my mind. These faces came to mind and I started remembering their time with us in vivid details. In the slowest most painful few minutes that I have experienced in years I took a moment to remember those children that came and left our home.
We started this journey fostering with no expectations. We were only 23 when we started the licensing process. We were young and naive but we knew that God had asked us to open our hearts and our home to vulnerable children. It only took a few short term placements for us to quickly realize while we were willing to be a safe home, we desired to be a permanent one someday for a child in need.
My husband will tell you about a little girl with captivating green eyes, bright blonde pig-tails, discolored cheeks from bruises, skin picked and scabbed from bouts with scabies. He will tell you the moment we saw her and how his world would never be the same. He took one look at her, striped pajama shirt too small, damp hair from a fresh shower, curled up, sound asleep on a couch at a safe house provided by the county. His young 20 something years of life experience did not prepare him for the leap in his heart towards a child he knew for only a few minutes. As we brought her home he whispered, “She can stay if the case goes that way.” However, as all of our cases up to this point, it didn't.
For me the child that turned my heart from fostering to adopting was a cherub like boy with chocolate brown eyes and distinct toddler phrases. Sometimes, even 7 years later I remember his voice so vividly I almost find myself looking around searching for him when the memories of his favorite things surface in my mind. I fasted, I prayed, I begged, I pleaded to the Lord, the social workers and the courts to let this little boy and his sweet twin sister stay forever. He was the first child to ever call me mom and will always be the first boy I thought of as my son. From sleepless nights as an infant, to family pictures as a toddler, he and his sister always felt like ours, even when years later it was decided one spring afternoon in a courtroom that the reality wasn't so.
I remembered all these little faces and each and every painful goodbye. I remembered cars pulling away, the wails of the toddlers and the wet cheeks of a teenager, all of whom were only meant to be ours for a season. I would kiss my husband on the cheek, pack their things and repeat over and over to myself quietly or as loudly as I needed to hear it at the time, “God loves them more than us, they are not ours to claim, no matter how badly we want them.” This has been our road map, our journey that has never lead to a tangible destination.
All these thoughts swirl as I remember every detail of all those who came before her on our journey. The worker asked again, “would your family want to consider permanency for her?” Those words that I prayed would roll off the tongue of worker after worker that never came were suddenly here. In the quietness of my home we were finally being asked the question we desired for years. So why is it that instead of jubilation and celebration from me there was only silence.
It has taken weeks of praying and processing and asking God for discernment and wisdom to start to see a path forward from this quiet afternoon where time stopped. I realized that I was unable to see a future because for almost a decade I have not cleared the debris and trauma glaring at me in the rear view mirror. The losses that hung heavy in my heart all these years had clouded my judgement and weathered my feeling of hope.
Every painful memory, every unwanted goodbye, every “for now child” we cared for was now out there in the world without me. Despite my pleas, each one I begged to stay forever God answered with a clear “No.”
Now let me be very clear, I have seen God be good and gracious to us as we continued to move forward, and while I do not doubt His goodness in our journey many of the goodbyes left me blindsided, bruised and still questioning “why.” I still find myself asking why children left, even years later of seeing Him faithful to His word as He brings joy and new life into our family through fostering.
In my mind all these years I justified each child that left by telling myself that God said "no" to a child in the past so we could say "yes" to those who came next. I realized I found myself remembering, and the remembering lead me to a place where I yearned for redemption. As if somehow adopting a child would justify why the others left. An adoption needed to redeem stories past. I hung a heavy weight on our little girl that was not only not fair, but was almost cruel in how unrealistic that expectation actually was. This little girl cannot and will not ever be the redemption for all those who left, but here’s the thing… she was NEVER meant to be.
Here is what the Lord intended her to be. She was meant to be a child deserving my love, deserving my faithfulness, deserving my attention as a mother. And I, as her foster mother I am called to look back on the hurts, on the losses without an expectation of redemption this side of heaven. Sometimes our children have stories of beautiful redemption that we get the privilege to witness, even when we don't deserve it. But sometimes we cannot find any logical explanation or justification in their broken story here on earth.
I came to the humbling reality that I am called to remember only. Remember the moments I poured into the children that left. I can remember and be thankful for the memories we have, not resent the moments in the future I never got. I remember, I say a prayer of thanksgiving and I look forward without expectation. I hold my husband’s hand, I acknowledge the losses and the painful journey we have walked. I seek Christ’s comfort and peace that surpasses my own understanding in the moment. It is the only way that I can look at my compassionate husband who has been a father to child after child on this journey with me and affirm him as I remind myself. It is not her job to redeem OUR stories of loss as foster parents. It is our job right now to point her to her Heavenly Father to redeem HER broken story. Then as her parents we say a prayer of thanksgiving, because it is her broken story that brought her home to us.