The other week was tough. I’m not going to lie. We got a call over the weekend that our adopted son’s biological mom had just died. Did I know any relatives they could call to notify? they wondered. I did not. Kyle and I spent the weekend praying about how our son Donnie would take the news, what we could do to help, and how we’d need to rearrange our schedule to accommodate this most tragic of news.
Having and raising children born of you is hard. Keeping and raising children not born of you is harder still. I have had to discuss things with my children that other parents usually don’t. We’ve talked of death, divorce, addiction, abuse, love, imperfect parents, mental illness, adoption, ongoing relationships with family and more. And all in a way that is very personal to my kids, very personal to me. In the context of it happening to us, to them, not to others outside of our circle that we simply pray for and move on. My children, in many ways, don’t have that luxury.
My adopted children are beautiful. And strong. And imperfect. And broken. And resilient.
And if you’ve not been in this world, not worked with social workers, guardians, birth parents, counselors, teachers, and others who love these kids, you don’t get to see the goodness, the rightness of the system we call foster care and adoption. Because you often don’t see or don’t know that in the midst of all these hard issues that arise and gut-wrenchingly honest conversations we have, there are moments where God is so close to our brokenness, heaven almost feels tangible. Like we’re being given glimpses through our pain of the peace that only he can offer. And although I know there are many things that have and can go wrong — I’ve seen things I’d rather not share, heard horrific stories and watched as workers did a less-than-mediocre job — let me tell you some things that went right this past week. Some moments where heaven touched earth.
On Tuesday, we tell Donnie and his brother Louis that their mother has died. After we are home and Donnie’s had some time to just breathe, we come together on the couch. I’ve researched ways for kids to engage in memorial services. He tells me he’d like to make a poster and Mandy, our oldest and a product of the foster system as well, spends the rest of the evening making a poster with Donnie, talking about what it should say, what pictures he’d like, how everything should be. And I sit and watch from my kitchen table as this beautiful, simplistic picture unfolds, as they work and whisper back and forth to one another about how it all should go. It feels like a sacred moment in time. And as I drive Mandy home later that night, after everyone is in bed, she reflects, “I think God told me to bring my paints over today. I’ve never done it before, but for some reason today I thought it was a good day to do it.” And I couldn’t help but agree. Heaven had come, just for a moment.
The social worker phones on Wednesday. She’s called the apartment building where their mother resided. Explained who she was, the situation, and then made arrangements to pick up all of their mother’s pictures for the boys. “While I’m there, will you ask Donnie if there is any other family heirloom or keepsake I should look for?” she asks. And I hang up thinking, This is not in her job description. She is going above and beyond what is expected to make this easier on the boys. Because she cares. And I cannot express the gratitude I feel towards her for this simple gesture, how grateful I will be years down the road, long after she is gone, for my son to have these mementos of his family. It’s priceless. And I think thank you, Lord, for this glimpse of your goodness.
Friday comes. We’ve planned a small memorial at our house. Thought up by children, planned by these two beautiful boys: a poster full of pictures, roses (their mom’s favorite flower), balloons, and a Dairy Queen cake. My friend Esther texts earlier in the day: “Do you mind if I come a few minutes early to set up a mic? I was thinking I’d record Pastor Carl and make a video of the service.” She had already agreed to take pictures, reminders for the boys of this day. And our group begins to gather, just a few of us: grandparents, friends, social workers, and guardian. We share smiles as Donnie explains his picture board. Then Pastor Carl tells the boys that their mom is in heaven, that they’ll see her again. That they may at times feel lonely, but are never really alone. God has promised he will never leave them. He’s placed people around them. And finally, that their life has purpose, meaning; God has a plan for them. Then we pray. And again, in the midst of pain, I feel comfort from a God who comes so close you can almost feel his hand on your back, his arm around your side. We walk outside, each person with a balloon. Donnie and Louis both say a few words of goodbye to their mom: this woman who gave them life, who loved them dearly, who did all she could. And then we let them go, all at once, and watch as they float up to heaven. It is beautiful.
And I don’t know what you’re facing today. I don’t know the heartbreak you’ve known. I don’t know the questions you’ve been asked about why you may decide to do hard things, walk an unbeaten path or take a certain risk, but maybe the answer is simply this, maybe you’ve found what I’m beginning to see: When we face what is unlovely, when we advocate for what is right, when we stand by the broken, and allow ourselves to break…we see glimpses of heaven. Come to earth. We see Jesus like we never have before. And I don’t know why, and I’m not all entirely sure how, but for those of us who walk these hard roads I can only say one thing: It’s worth it.
Psalm 34:18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
If you would like more information on the possibility of fostering children in your community, contact your local county social services, as many counties offer informational meetings for people interested in learning more about becoming foster care care providers, or check out the statewide foster/adoption website: www.mnadopt.org/