Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Jumping to conclusions

There is a beautiful, older lady my family has known for years whom we call Miss Ellen. She is generous and kind and spends her life in service to others. Her heart overflows with love. She’s in her eighties now and is one of my heroes.
 
When Michael was little, before Simon was born, Miss Ellen would occasionally watch him at her house for an hour or two when Andy and I needed to take care of some business at the church. He loved going to her house because she always made gingersnap cookies and read him as many books as he wanted. She was like a grandmother to him, since none of his biological grandmas lived nearby at the time.
 
One evening, we left Michael at Miss Ellen’s house for a longer time than usual. We were hosting a dinner at the church and she offered to keep him. When we picked him up, he was not the happy, smiling boy he typically was after spending time with his favorite “grandma.” His shoulders slumped and the frown on his face worried me.
 
We thanked that dear, lovely woman and took Michael home.
 
“Did you have fun with Miss Ellen?” I asked.
 
Michael hung his head. “I guess.”
 
Andy and I exchanged glances. Something was wrong.
 
“What's the matter, buddy?” I asked.
 
He gave a small sniffle and a big sigh. “Miss Ellen beat me,” he said.
 
My heart constricted. Miss Ellen? She would never lay a hand on Michael. Would she? My mind raced with questions as I tried to remain calm.
 
“She beat you?” I asked, to clarify. He nodded, another sniffle escaping.
 
It was like my worst nightmare come true. How could this happen? What were we going to do? I needed to call her right away. I needed to call the authorities. My poor baby!
 
“What do you mean by that, Michael?” Andy asked, not willing to jump to conclusions.
 
“She beat me at dinner,” Michael said sadly. “I tried to eat fast, but she finished first.”

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Life is hard

I expected the sadness. I expected there would be times when feelings of sorrow would wash over me, filling me with grief for the broken lives we are destined to live in a broken world. I expected to dread the day he will go back to his biological parents, even though I don’t know when that will be.

But I didn’t expect the guilt.

No, I didn’t expect to be tickling his chubby belly, getting him ready for bed at night, only to be struck by feelings of guilt deep in my gut. I didn’t expect to feel like an imposter, masquerading as his mother when I’m not. Or to feel like a thief, stealing love and affection and moments of joy from his biological mother that I will never be able to give back. That I didn’t ask if I could have. That I didn’t earn.

“You’re amazing,” people say. “I could never do what you’re doing. I could never be a foster parent.”

And I smile and say it is my pleasure and my privilege to care for him in his time of need, and that is absolutely true. But all the while I’m wrestling with doubt in my heart about whether I’m doing the right thing. All the while I’m trying to reconcile the fact that I’m snuggling him to sleep every night with the equal fact that his biological mother lays with empty arms, crying, missing him. And she sends me a little pair of shoes for him to wear and says "Kiss him for me."

“She brought this on herself,” you might think. “She made bad choices.”

And you’d be right. She has no one to blame but herself. But he has no fault in this. He didn’t ask to be taken from her, raised by a stranger, or passed back and forth multiple times a week like he’s in the middle of a custody battle. He didn’t do anything wrong.

And so the guilt comes. How will he ever understand that I only want what’s best for him? That I love him? And what is best, anyway? The longer I live, the more people I meet, the more I realize that what’s best isn’t always black and white. What’s best is often more like a mud puddle than a crystal clear stream. I believe in Truth and I believe in the Bible, but the Bible doesn’t say, “Thou shalt be a foster parent” or “Thou shalt not deprive a mother of her child” or “Here is how you know if a mother is unfit.” But it does say, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

So what do I do?

Maybe it’s silly, but when the sadness comes down on me, the sorrow and grief, the dread, and yes, the guilt, I think about love and I think about getting old. I imagine myself as an 80-year-old woman, reflecting back on my life, and I ask the 80-year-old me: Do you regret what you did? Do you regret loving that boy and doing the best you could for him?

And inevitably she smiles with the wisdom of years, pats her white hair into place, and says, “No.”

No regrets.

And so I will love him. Through the sadness and dread, and the guilt no one prepared me for, I will love him, and pray that God will use whatever frail, broken gift I give for good, and that I will have no regrets.