Fathom Mag

The In Between Parents

Learning to bless and let go

Published on:
March 14, 2018
Read time:
4 min.
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Even the back of his head is perfect.” That’s how I described Baby K to a coworker as I showed  a photo of him hanging on to my wife Genia. He’s living with us for the third time in two years, but I’ll never forget the first time we met him. 

He was placed in our home through a program called Safe Families for Children, a voluntary alternative to the foster system run by Bethany Christian Services. 

Here’s how it works: a parent in crisis—facing anything from a hospitalization to jail time or temporary homelessness—can ask for help while they get back on their feet. On top of the much-needed child care, Safe Families case workers also help parents work toward long-term stability. 

It’s a ministry of hospitality for the child and reconciliation for the family. As a host family, it can feel like the wind, bringing new lives into and out of our own without warning. Its power can both lift and crush our hearts.

The First Hello 

One night during the summer of 2016, a couple of months after we were approved as host parents, I was out with a friend when Genia texted me that she’d accepted a placement opportunity for an eleven-month-old boy.

She didn’t ask if we could talk about it. She just said yes . . .

After I got home that night, I barely slept at all. I was so afraid.

A baby? It had been six or seven years since I’d changed a diaper. And we still had the occasional rough nights with our older girls, but nothing like the sleep deprivation they put us through as infants. Could we really do this?

I was so afraid.
John Hawbaker

The first few days were hard. The following days were hard. Every day was hard.  

We all had to adjust to new routines. K hadn’t started crawling yet and looked a little underweight, but he had the sweetest laugh and the most amazing, curly hair.

Our girls loved playing with him, feeding him, and carrying him around the house. It’s no wonder he got upset if we needed to focus on, say, making dinner for a few minutes.

Before long, we realized that he would still be with us on his first birthday. Our girls were nine and twelve at the time, in the phase of life where your birthday is the pinnacle of your year. They couldn’t imagine letting the day slip by without celebrating the little guy who’d stolen our hearts.

Genia and I were moved watching the hospitality of God on display, by and for the little ones that Jesus loves.
John Hawbaker

My younger daughter and her best friend started planning a party. They covered the house in handmade decorations, made cards, baked cupcakes, and invited their friends—many of whom had also gotten to know K by then. 

K and the kids all seemed to enjoy the party. Genia and I were moved watching the hospitality of God on display, by and for the little ones that Jesus loves.

The Goodbyes We Pray For

Returning K to his mom the first time was difficult to say the least, but beautiful too. I remember walking down the driveway of his grandmother’s house, holding him. My wife couldn’t bear to be the one to pass him over. I was on the verge of tears. He wouldn’t be with us anymore. His mother was crying. She was getting to hold her baby again.

Living in tension is the story of this work.

We hosted a pair of sisters, J and G, who were closer in age to our girls. It was a rocky couple of months, but it was still an honor to serve their mom, who once again has her own place where she and her children can live under one roof. 

We hosted another baby, D, who we expected to have for as long as a year. One day we heard her dad’s circumstances had changed, and two days later, with only a couple hours’ notice, she was gone. I didn’t get to tell her goodbye. I didn’t get to see her wag her finger at me again and say “no” because she wanted Genia to hold her instead.

The Hope That Never Ends

Today K is back again, more than a year after the last time he lived with our family. We weren’t sure if he’d remember us, or be comfortable, but he is. 

He is a ball of fire, full of toddler energy—excited beyond words about what he can do and angry beyond words when he can’t quite say or get what he wants.

And the boy loves Batman. Almost as much as I love anything. He has an action figure, an action figure on a motorcycle, a rain jacket, a bathrobe, a pair of slippers and, best of all, a pretty great Christian Bale voice.

And that may be the hardest part of this work—giving every ounce of love and attention we can muster while knowing it is meant to be released.
John Hawbaker

When we sat down to go through a catechism-based family devotional one night at dinner, he just kept on singing about Batman. K may actually believe that Batman is our only hope in life and death.

Most nights I lay K down to bed. He’s taken to letting me cradle him like an infant—his only still moments of the day. I look into his eyes and tell him I love him. I pray he always knows that he belongs to Jesus. I pray for the healing and restoration of his mom. We earnestly hope to see her get the support she needs so she can be what he needs.

That necessarily means we are praying to give up the little boy we love like our own son. And that may be the hardest part of this work—giving every ounce of love and attention we can muster while knowing it is meant to be released. 

One of our prayers is that we can see him grow and stay in his life somehow. But we may not be given that gift. We have to hold him loosely, bless him, and one day, let him go. To do that, we have to remember that wherever the wind takes him, his true Father is behind the breeze watching over him.

John Hawbaker
John Hawbaker lives and writes in Chattanooga, Tenn. His work has appeared inThe Morning News,Bitter Southerner, andThe Curator. He co-writes Tributaries, a newsletter about heart and craft in great writing. You can connect with him on Twitter @jehawbaker.

Cover image by Samantha Sophia.

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