The terrain on this race was rocky and treacherous, so despite my vigilance and careful attention, sustaining injuries was inevitable. Contrary to what some people may believe, foster parents are not secretly hiding a pair of angel wings under their running clothes. We are susceptible to the same sprains and pulled hamstrings as everyone else. I knew that I needed help, but I had no idea how, or whom, to ask. My friends and family members may have been willing to help, but I didn’t know how to let them. And although nobody ever verbalized it, I suspected everyone was thinking, “Isn’t this what you signed up for?” I had chosen this challenging path. Wasn’t it my own fault if I was struggling?
Getting together with family friends or even attending church regularly was completely out of the question. Consequently, the trail was lonely and desolate. My fatigue and isolation eventually led to self-pity and depression. Of course I knew that God was right there with me, but the human side of me desperately needed a crowd of witnesses cheering me on.
Surprisingly, I found my strongest supporter right in my own family: my husband. I had been so focused on keeping the unrelenting pace on the perilous trail in front on me, that I had forgotten about my running partner, my teammate, my ally. He was running the same race as I was, and even though neither of us had enough strength to carry the other one, or even to lessen each other’s burden, we both understood, as no one else possibly could, how difficult this race was. He would let out a sigh, and I knew what it meant. He would find me in a fetal position on the bathroom floor, sobbing uncontrollably, and he would intuitively recognize that words were unnecessary. Never mind the flowers or chocolates or jewelry. He knew that the most meaningful gift he could give me on any given day was a nap! Oh, how thankful I was for his camaraderie!
Encouragement and companionship also materialized from another unexpected source: the nurses whom I had originally seen as an intrusion into my home. After one year (yes, one year!) of unpredictable schedules, two of the nurses eventually settled into a comfortable, workable routine. Finally, finally, I was able to plan my days and sleep during the night. It’s amazing how one’s perspective of the world can completely change with enough physical rest. The demands, interruptions, and countless appointments still kept me running like crazy, and our little one’s health continued to dictate every aspect of my life, but at least now I had a little more energy to face the challenges. I had found my second wind.
I didn’t really recognize it until after the fact, but these two nurses had become a wonderful source of support for me. They understood the challenges of raising this precious little girl, and yet they loved her every bit as much as I did. Our sweetheart’s many medical setbacks became shared events, which they empathetically understood. Every miniscule milestone she passed became a cause for us to rejoice together. They accepted our invitations to holidays and birthday celebrations, even when they weren’t on duty. Without even being aware of it, I considered them to be part of our family.
As the months gradually turned into years, our little girl grew from a fighter baby who battled for her every breath into a strong-willed toddler with quite a stubborn streak. These two nurses became members of our parenting team, not giving into her tantrums, teaching her appropriate behavior, and resisting the impulse to laugh at her antics.
A centimeter and a kilogram at a time, this darling child grew and thrived. One by one, her medications were discontinued and her tubes, wires, and monitors were no longer needed. When she was about 2 ½ years old, it was a mixed blessing when she was finally healthy enough to not require round-the-clock nursing care. Although I was deeply grateful for her health and vitality, I was saddened that I would be losing the daily contact with her nurses, these ladies who had become such dear friends.
That day will forever be embedded in my memory. I stood numbly in the driveway as a huge piece of my heart climbed into the car seat in the government-issue sedan. She innocently waved goodbye to me, never imagining that this would be the last time she would see me or the only home she had ever known. There was no audience at this finish line. No applause. No clocks or timekeepers to document the conclusion of the race. Just the landscape guy who happened to be at my house that day, curious, no doubt, about why this woman was sobbing hysterically as that white car disappeared from sight.
The race had abruptly ended. I had completed the challenge that had dominated my life for so long. A tiny portion of me breathed a sigh of relief that this ordeal was finally over, but the majority of my heart was absolutely devastated. My grief consumed me.
Now what? For three years I had been a foster mother, the parent of a special-needs child, her health-care advocate and scheduler, her nurturer, her protector and defender. Now that she was gone, what was left? The calendar on my desk was blank, the toddler bed was empty, the medical equipment had been returned, and each item in the toy bin and the dresser had been lovingly packed into a pink suitcase and sent along with her. How would I ever recover from this profound loss? Not only had I lost the center of my universe, I had also lost my identity.
You know that saying that goes, “Time heals all wounds?” It’s not always true. It’s been three years since that awful day when I stood crying in the driveway, and yet not a day goes by that I do not think of our sweet little girl and feel the loss in my life. I have cared for other foster children since then, and have loved them just as passionately and unconditionally. My husband remains the true love of my life, and my older children, whom I eternally cherish, continue to be my raison d’etre. Today my life is just as full as any other wife and mother in the western hemisphere. But no child can ever replace one who has gone away, and no heart can ever be as intact as it was before the loss. The scars remain.
Every once in a while, as a foster parent, I get a front-row seat to watching God at work in a child’s life. It’s an exciting place to be, and when that happens, there is no room for doubt that He is orchestrating all of the events and charting an amazing path. Those are the stories I love to tell!
But what about the times when He remains silent long after the finish line has been crossed? When I never can see any “good” that He promised to be working in the lives of those who love Him? (Romans 8:28) How can it be “good” for anyone when the path leads to depression and the race doesn’t end very well?
Three years later, and I still have no answers, no wisdom to offer. I still have no idea what God’s plans were for me or for my precious foster daughter. I don’t know where she is or what has happened to her since she disappeared in the social worker’s car that day, so I must continually remind myself that God Sees. He Knows. She will never be away from His loving, sovereign hands.
One thing I can confidently say, is that in spite of His silence and in the midst of my isolation during the years I cared for that sweet child, I was never away from His loving, sovereign hands either. He saw my sweat-soaked brow. He knew all about my sprains and the shin splints. He knew that I wasn’t really a skilled athlete, that I was running a race for which I was sorely unqualified.
What were His reasons for calling me to that specific path? Was it to make me stronger? Not at all. My physical and emotional health during that time deteriorated daily. Was it for the unity of our family? How can that be, when I became an unaffectionate wife, a distracted mother, and a negligent homemaker? When the race ended, we barely knew where to begin as we rediscovered our family roles and reevaluated how to function as a family. Surely, that was no benefit in that.
Did God call me to that path as an example to the people around me? Ha! My social life was virtually non-existent during those years. My race was run privately, where no one could see. However, I do know that when I was utterly unable to invest in friendships, and no one could possibly describe me as a trustworthy friend, God’s grace was my constant Companion. In the middle of those long, sleepless nights without nursing care, in the hospital rooms (again!), and when my secret burdens became too great for my shoulders to bear alone, He Knew.
I’m pretty sure that His reason for asking me to run that race wasn’t to strengthen my spiritual life. It became so barren. For almost two years it was physically impossible to attend church regularly, and I felt myself starving for nourishment from my pastor’s spoken words. Nevertheless, I realize now that God, Himself, was my Daily Bread. By His grace, He provided what I needed, sustaining me enough to take the next step.
When my family relationships, friendships, church participation, physical health - everything that I would define as “strong” in my life -was taken away, what did I discover? God’s grace is enough. When His work remained a mystery to me, and I was unable to hear His voice, and I felt like my feeble attempt to be an athlete was a complete failure, I had no choice but to trust Him, to remain obedient.
I realize now that He didn’t ask me to win the race, or even to “compete” well. He asked me to keep running. To accomplish the task of quietly, faithfully caring for that one child, even when it didn’t make sense; even when no one else could see. To trust deeply in His grace when my best efforts were insufficient.
Although the answers to my questions remain elusive, I have learned to say along with Luke in the book of Acts, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” Indeed, His grace is enough.