The reason that I continue to share this story is not so that you know something wildly personal about our family. This piece of familial transparency is a difficult thing for me. I share so that you can see, with God, all things are still possible. He is healer, redeemer, and a good, good Father.
As I write, I am halfway through a two-week stay in Guatemala. The longest by far of the many that have taken me away this year. The leaving doesn’t get any easier – on either end – but I am recognizing the gift of time and the power of love. And tonight, I want nothing more than to grab all of my people, spread thousands of miles apart, and love them – love them fierce. My heart is filled with gratitude. Overflowing in thankfulness for the redemption of heartbreak and the healing power of laughter. I continue to be in awe of the ways God is moving through this story, building a family, and transforming broken hearts almost before my very eyes.
I have always loved to read. When I was younger, I had the habit of reading the last page of the book first. That way, no matter where the story found itself as it unwound, I was steeled for what the ending would bring. Lately, so many of my sentences have begun with, “If you would have told me a year ago…” But I am glad no one told me. Today, I am glad that I didn’t get to read this page first– as hard as the hard days have been, I am stronger. My faith is stronger, for the not knowing. More than that, I am finding there is so much joy to be had in this adventure, in the unknown, in the discovering. As I look way back, to life before any of this, I see a world that was too small, a faith that was too shallow, a theology that was too narrow, dreams that were too temporary, a Christianity that was too comfortable, and prayers that had been too selfish. Without having to endure the heartache that this journey has brought, the magnitude of the joy in today would be lost. Without tasting the bitter, how can we appreciate the sweet?
Just over a year ago this was the state of my heart… “My prayers feel ineffectual. My heart is breaking. And, for what? A child who I can never tell how badly I want him. A child who I will never be able to mother the way my heart longs to. This was not my idea. I didn’t dream this up, I didn’t choose this. But there is no doubt that God placed this squarely in our path. It was a hard yes to say, it was scary, and while I didn’t expect it to be easy, I am having a really hard time seeing where we go from here and understanding why? Why did God pull us into this? And I know the fight isn’t over. Somewhere in the recesses of my brain, I know this and I know that this isn’t over. This can’t be over. I know that God can do the impossible. I know His promises, but today I am having a really hard time feeling them. Today, this feels so final and I feel so defeated.”
About the same time I wrote these words I was able to experience Antigua with my very shy and reserved teenager on our first “solo adventure.” He was so tightly wound within, so guarded, and I spent the time coaxing a smile and aiming for some level of ok-ness with being together. I knew something he didn’t at that point, we were deeply entrenched in a fight to become his family. But my heart was breaking that day for all the hurt I had in wanting more and hoping what I could give him would be enough.
Since then, we have had other adventures, and more importantly been able to share our secret. In the days since, we have experienced a freedom to share life, and a kitchen, bonding over good meals and board games. In the past few days, I have seen a lightness in him, a softening that was unimaginable a year ago and more than a smile, there is a laugh that is absolutely contagious. This is not the same kid from 5 months ago, never mind a year. I am seeing him be a kid for the first time. His life is a gift to me that I continue to unwrap, layer by layer, to nurture and encourage and teach and learn from. That is part of the mystery that makes the not knowing so beautiful, this discovering of who he is and helping him see who he can become, and allowing him to grab hold of the hope of dreaming.
Beth Guckenberger summed up my relationship with hope in the previous months quite well. “A tremendous shift happens when a gnawing fear becomes confirmed: hope temporarily dies. Then hope is reborn in the form of faith, faith that God will take over, even if I can’t yet see how.” There have been times, many times, in this journey, when I have wondered how to even begin to pray, how God could go about redeeming the situation. The mountain was too big. I spent a season being angry at God for allowing me to fall in love with this child who could never be mine, not in the way that my heart longed. And today, with the answers we continue to receive, the question now seems to be not if, but when, we will bring him home. Praise God!
“There is an instinct in a woman to love most her own child: and an instinct to make any child who needs her love, her own. ” ~Robert Brault
This past week, a milestone quietly passed. An 18th birthday for a son that I never got to know. The impact that his short life made on my life though is immense. He has shaped me, my heart, and my faith into a version of what it looks like today. My deepened faith, my fierce love for my children, the protective nature that I bear, the compassion that fills my heart, these are all gifts that were refined in grieving him. I spent that day with another son that God has given me and filled me with an immeasurable love for, marveling at the story God is writing. I think about the prayers that I prayed over both of these boys. One of the stories turned out nothing like I wanted, the other is turning out better than I ever imagined. Even when hope dies, God never leaves or abandons us. Even in our anger, God offers mercy and compassion. He is able to redeem any story.
And tonight, as the thunder rolls outside my window and the rain is pounding on the metal roof, my broken heart is beating in joy, in gratitude, that this child is becoming mine, that I have the honor and privilege of filling the role of mom. Tonight, we were talking about swimming, something we do a lot of in our family, and he shared that he was afraid of the water, even though I have seen him swim. We played and splashed in the waves together at the beach last March. We raced in the pool. But he said that the water scares him. Suddenly our silly conversation turned serious and I told him I would teach him to become a strong swimmer so that he wouldn’t have to be afraid anymore. He said ok but that I needed to “hold onto him.” All of a sudden, I wasn’t sure we were talking about swimming anymore as he stared a hole in the table top. As I said his name, and he looked up at me, I promised him that I would never let go of him.
Before and after. Pain and joy. Hopelessness and healing. Redemption. God is in it all.