If you’ve ever said a hard “goodbye,” you know they never go like we think they will. This is especially true when the goodbye involves kids. Most don’t hug you long enough, their kisses glance off your cheek, they say a hurried, “Love you, daddy,” while looking over your shoulder instead of with the deep eye contact you hoped for.
We said goodbye to our first foster child a couple of weeks ago and it’s been all the worst adjectives. I still don’t think I’ve fully dealt with it—at least that’s what my wife and therapist have told me. I try to sit down and cry it all out but nothing comes. Instead, I burst into tears at the most inexplicable times.
When Brokenness Moves In
I’ve been grieved by the foster care system in our country for a long time. I’ve sat on panel discussions, partnered with non-profits, and raised money to help kids in care. But my grief was distant until a few months ago when a two year old—a product of that broken system—moved into our home.
After years of praying and discerning where we should step in and help, we signed up for something called “foster-to-adopt.” Fostering-to-adopt essentially means that you foster a child with the hope of adoption while understanding that it may not happen.
A little over three months ago, we were officially licensed and had our first placement—a placement that happened within forty-eight hours. He arrived at our home in the middle of the night, tired and afraid. The first week he spoke only a handful of words and ate until he was so full he began to gag.
As time progressed and we spent every waking moment making sure he knew that he was safe and loved, we saw God begin an incredible restoration. Our foster child began calling us “mommy” and “daddy” and was acting like he’d always been brothers with our biological son. His personality began to shine through: a joy-filled kid who loved to meet new friends and give hugs to everyone he saw.
It was still hard. For both of us. There were little things, like when we would spend hours reading about and working on his hair and it still wouldn’t come out the way it was supposed to. Then there were times where our foster child would get overcome by anger. The only way he knew to deal with his frustration was to slam his own head against the floor as hard as he could. I’d pick him up off the floor, both of us crying, feeling woefully unequipped to be his dad. But even in the hardest moments, he felt like my son.
Whose son is he?
As this little boy continued integrating into our hearts and lives, the probability of being able to adopt him continued to increase. I was happy, truly happy, at the news. Then, about a month later, a fictive kin option opened up: someone who lived close to his biological family that could meet the CPS goal of reunification within his community.
We watched as this person was fast-tracked in a couple of weeks through the process of licensing that took us almost a year. We watched every single person in the case have more say in what happens to him than we did.
A couple of days before they took him, I remember praying (yelling) at God, “He’s been our son for the last three months! Where has this other person been? We’ve fed him. We’ve changed his diapers. We’ve thrown him a huge birthday party. We’ve taken him to every appointment, cared for him when he’s been sick, and loved him unconditionally. He’s our son!”
And as I cried and drove, I heard God say, “He’s not your son. He’s mine.”
What I Know
The morning after they picked him up, I put on the t-shirt laying next to my bed and it still smelled just like his coconut conditioner. I put it on, half expected to walk down the hall and find him snuggled in his bed, but of course he wasn’t.
For days after he left I would stumble across sights, sounds, and smells that brought him to my mind. But after a few weeks, I feel him starting to slip away. I try to replay our imperfect good bye in my head, but the details keep getting fuzzier. What was he wearing? Did I buckle him into his carseat or did the CPS worker? I don’t know. There are so many things I don’t know.
I don’t know where he is now. We wrote a long letter offering support, Christmas presents, and any future contact they were comfortable with to his new parent, but it’s been weeks and we’ve heard nothing.
I don’t know what his future holds—I’ve been told the statistics about what happens to children of color in the foster care system.
There are so many things I don’t know, but I’m choosing to hold on to the one thing I do. I know whose son he is. He’s the son of the God who, when he was here on earth, said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
My hope is that this little boy soon comes to the understanding that even though so many earthly parents have failed him, he has a Father in heaven who never will. I’m choosing to believe that God’s word is true when it says, “For my father and my mother have abandoned me, the Lord will take me in.”
He was my son for a few months, but he is God’s son forever. And even in the midst of profound loss, that is enough.
Cover image by Tim Mossholder.