I married young. Bright eyed and bushy-tailed at 21 is the only way I can think to describe it. God threw us a curveball with a honeymoon baby, but we were young and elastic back then. I rebounded quickly. The day the pregnancy test cast its fortune over my life, I walked around numbingly in that same kind of surreal fog of loss that is familiar to me now, but back then was incomprehensible. I knew immediately what that little blue line spelled out: a loss of freedom. I mourned the loss. But God had mercy on my bewildered, naive 21 year old self. A few days later, walking past brochures at a grocery store, a picture of an infant caught my eye and my heart. Hope leapt up within me as it does for the eternally young and optimism or faith, whichever it was, anchored my emotions.
I and my husband had both recently enrolled in graduate programs; mine for a Masters of Art in English Literature, and Andrew’s in Divinity. We had no idea how we were going to complete our degrees and parent a newborn, but God had a wide net of grace for us back then. Nestled in financial support from both family and scholarships and a very comfortable savings from Andrew’s days working as a Project Engineer, we were safe and we didn’t know how to be afraid.
Childrearing, however, hit me like a ton of bricks or maybe like an overloaded U-haul. The long hours and constant self-giving were the hardest thing I had ever done and I could almost find no parallel between doing that and doing what I had always done well: sailing through academia. Again, God caught us in a cradle of grace, and I soon hit my parenting stride. I learned that I loved it. I learned that physical labor was just as gratifying, if not more, than mental labor. I learned to joy in doing dishes, picking up plastic play food, keeping playdough neat and tidy, defeating towers of laundry, warding off heavy exhaustion, and nuzzling a toddlers’ perfect white cheek. I even learned to embrace meal-planning and gardening, subjects from a foreign land taught in a language I had to learn to speak. I and Andrew realized we wanted a big family. And we wanted to have two of our own, and adopt another one or two. We were so blessed, we figured, and so many were not. We could make a measurable difference in at least one unprivileged life. It was a drop in the ocean, but a drop that God would see and use and multiply and gently catch just as He promises to catch all our tears.
So academia went on the shelf and I had another child – perhaps not in that order, but both happened. When my son, my second-born, finished the first grade, we felt it was time to move on to the next phase in our family life. I would go back to work so that we could start saving up to move towards that adoption. This is when that proverbial dung hit that proverbial fan.
A friend died. Her name was Lancy. And she died at her husband’s hand. We thought he was our friend too. She left two beautiful boys. They were 2 and 3. She also left two sets of grieving grandparents with no further living progeny on either side. We took the boys in with the intention to possibly adopt. The grandparents fought one another. We were stuck in between. We had to let go of the boys who had been our sons for a short time. Loss struck twice.
The whirlwind revealed much of God’s character, mercy, provision and goodness. We touched heaven in the eye of the storm, I think. The whirlwind also opened up a new vocation to me: foster care. Chains of circumstances, chance encounters, new friendships and biblical teaching tempted me along a very certain thread: we should foster and then maybe foster to adopt. Turn the page and see what God had waiting in store for us.
So I re-shifted my focus, rallied my energy and directed it at foster care. Doors opened, Social workers loved us, friends cheered us on, our church, which had been Christ’s hands and feet to us during the previous year’s tragedy, put its weight behind our cause, a crib arrived, a beautiful change table, a celebrity-owned stroller, name-brand bottles, baby sheets, high chairs, a play pen. Our eleven and eight-year-old children voiced their assent and encouragement. Every time I walked into the baby room to rearrange furniture, my heart caught in my throat and I had to suppress an intense flood of emotion and longing for the child who would be ours. I covered the room with prayers and lovingly pasted the walls with artwork from our previous foster boys. A prophetic word hung on the wall: “Your feathers cover me. I am secure”. We flew through the home study with flying colors. I felt like we had a fan club and a cheering squad. I knew the road would be tough, but we had been touched by loss last year, and nothing could be as difficult as that. ‘Sleepless nights’, I thought, ‘here we come’.
But an anvil fell with a sickening, dull thud. Due to unforseen and private financial circumstances, we discovered that we could not foster in the house that we were living in. A large family was not to be had. At 33 and 39, it felt as if we were but children who had wasted their potential. Fostering was wrong for us. Caring for orphans was God’s command, yes, but apparently a metaphorical one, referring to spiritual orphans in our case, not physical ones.
We were not to foster. If we wanted to foster, it would have to be in another house. Where we live, renting a house with four bedrooms, the requisite amount for fostering, would cost almost all of Andrew’s existing salary.
This bottom line unearthed a tailspin of issues, of hurts, of rejection, of shame, of financial dependence, of manipulation, of love and of fear, of pain, of anything but the vocational path that it seemed God had wanted me to follow. Again, I felt enveloped by that encroaching fog of loss. It doesn’t sound that bad, does it? Maybe like a deferred dream, a nasty breakup, a rejection from a school or program of choice. Wouldn’t the tragedy of it pale in comparsion to the murder of a friend or the loss of a loved one? And yet it felt like such a death.
We had to question everything. First, is God good? Has God been leading us? Or is He chortling in glee as He psychopathically watches us squirm in discomfort and confusion. The answer to that one is clear. Then where did we go wrong? Did we make our bed and lay in it? Is the philosophy “freely you have received, so freely you shall give” completely wrong? Was our financial situation caused by a tyrannical God hiding under the guise of generous, benevolent patron? WHO AM I? WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS WORLD???? The questions escalate and beat about the air like bats fleeing from a cave. They whirl around with a vengeance and an aggression far more biting and far more personal than the ones that were posed when Lancy died. Sense cannot be made and experience does not match up with theology. I cannot make the pieces fit. The whole thing seems to have careened to the floor, and shattered into a million pieces. There is no order. There is no direction. There will be no finished product.
Through that lens, I have no direction, no vocation, no career and I’ve misplaced the past twelve years. Poof. Like smoke.
And yet. And yet, and yet, and yet. The Kingdom is here but not yet. Already but not yet, not yet, not yet. So I wait. So I breathe. So I know that knowing my character, knowing the character of those whom I love, of my husband, my extended family, my church family and most of all, of my God, I know that I have probably blown it out of proportion. Nothing is careening, nothing is in free spin. Order is just out of reach – but it never is in reach lest God sees it fit to be and if He does not see it fit to be, then I am not fit to see it. He is God. I am not. So let it be.
At the precipice, then, I might emotionally dangle, but really, I choose to hang onto the anchor of Truth.
All I offer at this point is hope, budding again, gently rooted between my two hands, gently cupped in front of me. I hold soil and roots, and two little leaves. I look back through time at my 21 year old self and I say “self, you have nothing on me now. your optimism then was given by God. My optimism now is Gifted by God, shaped by God, and purified by God.” I now know that the faith and hope and love are not pure but that the Great Purifier will do what is true to Himself. The journey is far from over and I am probably as directionless as I have every been, but I trust him. I’ll hold His hand. Probably because He held mine first.
Waves of loss continue to beat upon that beach of my life, but they are eroding something meaningful, I am told. I am told this by the One who loves me, who gave His life for me. I am told by the Word, by the eternal meaning and source of life. I am told to rest. I am told to wait.