I was just a panel member for a "Dads Only" session. I had been told to brace myself in the vein of Job 38-40 because the same session at this conference the year before left everyone with a palpable taste of the Holy Spirit's presence. I was running a bit late from a previous session so I didn't bother to "gird up my loins" or anything and whimsically took a mic and sat down. Within ten minutes we were faced with a father weeping and attempting to exhale between the cathartic sobs from the loss of a child reunified with the child's birth mother. They had been in communication with her, and she confirmed she was not in a better place than she was prior to her child's removal. They were planning to adopt, and yet, this. He took a deep gulp of air, and after a second, asked, "How do we do it? How do we love them as our own and let them go? How do we trust God afterwards when we know the child won't be safe?"
I attempted to shift back on my stool hoping to convey to the other panelists, "You got this, go ahead, I'll get the next one.", but it only brought attention to me. So in an attempt to provide a measure of truth, honesty and hope to the man, I replied, "You stay broken." Or, it was something to that effect followed by some yammerings of what that meant. (Did I mention I had failed to brace myself?) As other men began to encourage him, one older gentlemen turned and said, "You have no idea what kind of healing impact you have had on this child's life. Research shows how the brain heals when a developing child is consistently nutured. You are not without hope and neither is that child." That's what I meant to say. The panelist next to me commented, "He should be up here, and we should be setting up tables and chairs for lunch." I was asked to lead a prayer over this father where I reached for words of comfort and wisdom, and then we respectfully moved on to share and respond regarding other questions and struggles in the room. But, the anguish of this dad stuck with me... it stuck with all of us.
Undoubtedly, there are some children who come into our homes as foster families, and when they leave, we pack them up, encourage them, hug them, the door closes and an audible, collective sigh is heard throughout the house. One of our kids probably even voices the thought, "Glad she is going home." We scold them, and then look at our spouse resonating with our child's sentiment. But something happens as time passes... the missed days of work due to the child's sickness, the temper tantrums, and the lack of personal hygiene all become endearing qualities of this hurting child who was family for a time. This is not to mention the very real occassions when we heard that child's laughter, received their trust or had the privilege of teaching them what a bounce house was... or better yet, what it's like to have seconds and thirds at dinner. I still hold onto those memories firmly and pray for the wellbeing of those children knowing while they were in my family, I was responsible for them. They were mine, and yet they weren't.
Some children, on the other hand, crush us. They have behaviors and quirks that drive us nuts, but for any number of reasons, we bond with them, and they bond with us. And the case is prolonged as the birth family does or doesn't do what is required for reunification, and we bond some more. The child usually begins calling us mom and dad from no prompting of our own after a couple of weeks. The child is with us for holidays and birthdays and un-birthdays where we get to know them even more. The children already in our home play with them and build unsuspected alliances and friendships. And, then... we get a call or someone pulls us aside, and it's time for reunification or a family member is stepping in, or we're not the adoptive family any more because [insert myriad of circumstances here]. There are some legitimatly good reasons for these circumstances, and others not always so good. Either way, we are crushed. It's just hard, and we and our children are broken with a seemingly missing member of the family that was ours to love, provide for and protect... and yet again, they weren't.
I'm not going to Jesus-juke you here and start talking about how none of our children really belong to us, and how we're just stewards and so on. It's true, but not helpful when we're confronted with a foster dad who feels like he lost his son. It's also not helpful to extrapolate the perspective of the other involved parties, namely the child, but in time, we must prioritize ourselves in the appropriate place. Hasn't the child been struggling with his or her loyalties and feelings of belonging and self-worth on top of the sneaking suspicion abandonment is around the corner? Or, is there a word for family preservation on par with our zeal for adoption? Shouldn't we be prioritizing and celebrating reunification with the birth family in seeking their best interest rather than our own? The answer is undeniably yes but often at our personal expense. If we are to hold on and let go, we must remember we are not the only broken ones in this story. Birth parents often mask their brokenness with drugs and violence, children by rejecting us before we have a chance to reject them, and, we, as foster or adoptive families, "manage" by closing our doors. At some point, it has to cease to be about us. And yet, there are still some of us rightfully wrestling with God over a reunification that should not have been.
There is a twinge of matter-of-factness to holding on and letting go once we have fostered a few children. This is a reality few are willing to verbalize. It's not that we methodically hold a child close enough to feel welcome but distant enough to not attach. We just better understand and bravely face the pending brokenness that awaits because we've been through it before. If our motivations are centered around adoption this heightens our sensitivity because the anticipation builds. We hurt, surround ourselves with people who will remind us of why we signed on in the first place, give ourselves space and time, and then do it all over again waiting for new circumstances with the next child. We stay broken for the needs of vulnerable families and children and the heart of God. We press deeply into the Comforter in our sorrow where explanations and closure aren't always found but peace revives us to continue walking faithfully forward. If we are sincere about the biblical mandates to care for the vulnerable, we will make ourselves available to whatever God brings our way. Sometimes God brings adoption and other times reunification and still other times prolonged uncertainty. He gives and takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.