They sit in their carseats, next to one another holding hands. The palest caucasion skin of anyone in the family, enfolding the brown hand of his Hispanic little brother. “Are they both yours?” The woman meeting us for the first time asks. “Yes,” I reply, but she wants more. “How did you get that black haired one?” “Same way I got the blond haired one.”
My youngest sons don’t have the same biological mom, but they are both mine. Occasionally I am stunned at what we have done. We did it because Jesus loved us first, and because He told us to take care of the fatherless. We did it because we were grateful for the children we were given by our very bodies. We did it because we are a little bit crazy, my husband and I.
I am in the parking lot of the human services office where my new foster son has just visited with his biological parents. He is six months old, and strapped into a carseat, which his father is carrying to my car. His mom looks at him, says “I love you,” and kisses him on his forehead. She looks at me with a look which in every way conveys the total helplessness with which she is living this moment, and says “thank you.”
In an instant I am transported back to that hospital, seeing my baby with that nurse, feeling the gravity of helplessness and exhaustion, another week of NICU life gone by. I say “I love you,” and “thank you,” and push through the heavy doors leading to larger spaces, marble floors, and the outside where I will feel sunshine hit my skin and catch in my breath as if I am feeling it for the first time; because in the NICU time stands still, the air is sterile, and the fatigue of helplessness is real. I remember that night I awoke crying as I had never cried before, feeling emptiness like a heavy blow, my baby there. We lived eleven weeks of “I love you,” and “thank you.”
Emotions run high as I drive home, because thanks be to God I have my baby now. But also because I have her baby now. And I understand. We don’t foster because we are any kind of better. We foster because we are broken. Later I will read Bryan Stevenson’s words in his book Just Mercy, “We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity.”
The new little boy the caseworker brings, doesn’t stay. Green eyes almost transparent they are so impossibly clear and bright, he celebrates his sixth birthday this month, while I remember his first. I remember doctor visits with his biological parents, with doctors who grow weary of the need for the foster system. “We need to do exploratory surgery to see why he has this feeding tube.” “We can get medical records from the doctor who placed it,” I insist. Insisting doesn’t occur to bio dad, because when you’re a dad thought of as “less than,” you do what you’re told. You lose your own voice, and any concerns you have are thought of as invalid. But I have my voice still and it is only I who can stop it.
Fostering for this child, I would learn, was about trusting in God’s sovereignty and treating him as my own, while fighting for his reunification with his rightful mom. This green eyed boy is in my life still. My husband and I cared for him as our own for one year, two months and four days, but I am not his mom anymore. His mom is the biological mom who is my new friend.
When our last son arrives, he sleeps snuggly while we sign papers. He is four days old, his yellow knitted hat covering the fullest head of jet black hair, demeanor patient and long suffering with the bustle of the family of seven he now understands to be his own. Sometimes when I kiss him I think about his mom, the one no one could find. Where was she? She’s missed the soft skin of his little face this morning, leaning in for a kiss, saying “I love you Mom, thank you for my breakfast.” Even now that he is three, I know she misses him. There is a piece of a mother’s soul full of the deepest kind of longing for her children. It is why Mary pondered. Why Rachel wept. Why Abigail prayed. Why Jochebed floated Moses on the water.
Father of all mercies, help us in this calling.