They don’t tell you how hard it’s going to be. This fostering thing, it’s no joke. You sit in the training and they tell you about the children you’ll meet, the broken hearts you’ll be tasked with healing. And they don’t tell you that your own heart will break. They don’t tell you there will be days that your heart is shattered into a million pieces as you collapse on the bathroom floor and cry, begging God for the strength to do this a few more minutes, begging God for answers, begging God to just BE THERE and hold you for a little while.
They don’t tell you that you will love these children the minute they walk through your door, and the days you see them walk out (over and over again) are the hardest you’ve ever faced. They don’t tell you about how you will watch them be carried, screaming, to the caseworker’s car and you know you’ll probably never see them again and you’ll have to huddle on the couch with your girls and cry and pray through your grief. And they don’t tell you that in those moments you will see more of God than you’ve ever seen. You will understand the phrase “Only trust Him” in deep places you didn’t know existed before. And then you’ll understand that they didn’t tell you all those things because they can’t, really. You understand that you have to walk through this, you have to live it, to really understand.
And then they call with a baby boy. Nine days old, still in the hospital withdrawing from the drugs that were in his little body when he was born. And you remember that you said you would NEVER take a baby. That you were so over all the sleepless nights, the endless feedings, ALL THOSE DIAPERS (PS – don’t tell God what you’ll never do; you will almost certainly seal your fate). But you say yes, because who can say no when God calls with a newborn baby?
He comes to your house late one June night, this tiny baby named Rossie, and he screams the piercing scream of a drug baby and you watch him tremor and you love him, and claim him with Mama Bear fierceness, because this baby needs a PROTECTOR. This baby needs LOVE. This baby needs someone to hold him, rock him, see him through this time. So you do all that baby stuff again – the middle of the night feedings, the swaddling, the trying to clear up a diaper rash so bad it bleeds because the drugs are coming out and they’re eating through his skin. And you pray over this child for this moment, for just this one thing – get that mess out of his system and please God heal his little bottom! And you wonder what kind of parents let this happen.
And then you meet them. They don’t tell you what that’s going to be like. They don’t tell you that you’re going to look these people in the eye, these people who birthed that baby, and your heart is going to break, again. You stand there, you hear them say “thank you” and see the hurt in their faces and suddenly all the anger, the righteous judgment melts away and God whispers, “They’re mine, too.” And suddenly you realize that they matter. And you begin to pray, to wonder what God will do.
Weeks and months pass. You find yourself in the baby rhythm again, surprised to realize that you like it (what a shock that God knows best, right?) And there begins to grow inside your spirit these competing desires. Because you still see his parents, every week. You watch them want that baby. And instead of being angry or defensive, you find yourself wanting them to want him enough to get him back. And at the same time you can’t imagine what it would be like to have to give him up. So you pray more, you tell God you trust Him, you wait.
It gets harder. Why didn’t they tell you how hard it would be? Oh, right. Because you have to do this with God. He’s the real teacher here. You go to visits and cry all the way home, turn up Lauren Daigle and the song becomes your prayer:
Letting go of every single thing,
I lay each one down at your feet.
Every moment of my wondering,
never changes what you see.
I’ve tried to win this war, I confess,
my hands are weary, I need your rest.
Mighty warrior, king of the fight,
No matter what I face you’re by my side.
When you don’t move the mountain
I’m needing you to move,
When you don’t part the water
I wish I could walk through,
When you don’t give the answer
as I cry out to You,
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You.
The time gets closer and you begin to see that these parents, even though they want it, even though you want them to want it, can’t get there. Something isn’t right. Rossie won’t be safe there. And you know it, and you begin to pray more fiercely for his protection, for God to illuminate the dark places and bring them to light.
God hears it, hears your prayers as you rock this little boy to sleep, as you whisper over him, standing by his crib in the dark. Little Rossie is peaceful and he doesn’t know anything but your love. You wonder what his life will be like in a year, in 10 years, in 20. You pray harder. And then you watch God bring the things that were in the dark, into the light. You see confirmation of the doubts about the birth family’s viability. You’re surprised at how swiftly, how openly God exposes the danger. And you weep for them and the choices they have made, pray that even through this they will see Him.
You find out it’s not over, that Rossie may still go back. And you struggle with it, angry at a system that seems so broken, so incompetent. You question God, what are you doing, Lord? Do you want him there? Why, when it’s so obvious he wouldn’t be safe? You feel the burden of this and can only pray, Lord, not my will but yours. Your friends and family gather and actively stand in the gap. They ask weekly, daily, what’s new. You realize you can never put into words what’s really in your heart, this tug-of-war that began almost a year ago. Is it wrong to want him? Does wanting him mean you want them to fail? Could you be doing, saying, praying something else to make this right? You fall back to praying for Rossie’s protection. 2 Samuel 22:2-4 becomes your mantra. You claim the promise that God is a refuge, a shield, a fortress, salvation for the weak. You try to think only of Him, because thinking of the possibilities makes you panic.
And then it’s almost time for this to be over. They’re setting mediation, trial dates, hearing dates. You dig for any scrap of information from anyone, because you want assurance of how this is going to go. They don’t give it. They say, “Guard your heart.” They say, “You need to be prepared.” You realize there is a real chance this baby will leave your home and you do the only thing you can – seek God first.
And then you get to THAT WEEK – the week that changes everything. You feel led to talk to mom about relinquishing rights, so you pray over it, meditate on it, get ready to do it. You weep in prayer with trusted friends as you beg God, “Show me how to ask this woman for her baby boy.” She cancels the visit at the last minute. In the next hour you find out that dad is asking questions about what this relationship might look like in the future, and you realize, with guarded hope, that he is thinking about giving you his child. You wait to find out about the hearing the next morning – will there be another extension? You prepare for it. They said guard your heart, right? And then the call comes that the extension is denied and mediation is scheduled for three days away. They tell you they’re going to ask the parents to relinquish their rights. That trial will happen the next week if mediation doesn’t work. And there is the struggle again – more prayers for the birth parents who are about the make the hardest decision of their lives. Can they see how much you love their little boy? Will they choose this for him, what you know in your heart is right? Can God use even this to draw them unto Himself?
You prepare for a tough week. You pray, galvanized by countless friends and family who call, text, come by to see how you’re doing, ask how they can pray. You pray together that God will take away the guilt, that they’ll see Him, somehow, in this moment. You hold the hope and the sorrow together, and marvel that the God of all creation is holding you. And then THE CALL comes.
“Are you sitting down?”
“Sort of, I’m driving kids all over town. Should I pull over?”
“Yes, you should pull over and hug your son. They signed the paper. He’s yours.”