August 30, 2013
Empty Hands Full of Hope
He is gone. Without fanfare or ceremony, without even a proper good-bye, he is simply gone. I knew this moment would inevitably happen, of course. It started with overnight visits, which were confusing and distressing enough.
And then one day he left for a visit and did not return.
Now what? My days had long ago settled into a familiar routine of caring for him. Showering his face with kisses. Snuggling with him, just so, in the crook of my neck. Anticipating his needs. Celebrating his milestones. Partnering with his medical team. And long into the night my mind continued to formulate plans for his growth and development. Although I have cursed insomnia as an exasperating enemy, it offered me many, many opportunities to pray for him, to open my hands and entrust him to the Lord’s care and protection again and again and again.
Those bustling daytime hours and those interminable sleepless nights were filled with silence. I came before the Lord with empty hands, feeling as if I had nothing to offer. Not once did I see Him miraculously heal that child, whose birth defects will most likely remain a constant rival to his health for the rest of his life. There was never a moment when I could say, “Oh, now I see God’s purposes. Now I understand why this child is here.” The answer to my prayers was always the same. Silence.
In the silence, in the unanswered questions, in the doubts and uncertainties . . . God’s sufficient grace always found me. Even when I couldn’t see God’s hand at work, the truth of His promises never once waivered. He was my Hope in the silence.
When he became a part of our family, there were no grand announcements. No baby showers or “Welcome Home!” banners decorating our driveway. However, I knew with certainty that the Lord had called me to love that child as if he were my own. Like a warrior, I fought for him with passion and conviction, expending substantial effort and energy into his little life.
And when the “battle” ended, there was no victory celebration with tickertape and awards and speeches. No exhilarating sense of accomplishment or thrill of victory. It wasn’t as if it ended in defeat or shame or failure, exactly. It just . . . ended. No condolences or services to commemorate the seasons that we shared together.
However, for me, the only difference between him and any other little boy was his title. He was not a “foster” child to me, but simply a Child, a welcomed, beloved member of our family. I adored him every bit as much as any mother adores her child. And now my mama heart mourns my empty arms. My empty hands.
So now that he is no longer here, what can I do? How am I supposed to feel? I am still trying to process the loss. The car seat and the stroller need to be taken out of the car, and then stored on a shelf in the garage. My heart skipped a beat when I found a stray toy behind the chair when I was vacuuming today, the same as it did when I came across the empty bottle in the drainer and when I folded the crib sheet, recently retrieved from the dryer. Last night I woke from a deep sleep, sure for a moment that I had heard him crying. Until I remembered that I have heard his cry for the last time.
How can I explain my mourning to friends and family members?
My dear husband, please be patient with my sudden unexpected tears for a few days. Everything reminds me of that sweet boy I loved so dearly.
My patient friends, please do not take it personally when I decline your invitation to join you for coffee. I am not yet ready to celebrate my newly found free time; I am grieving it. Please understand when I cancel our families’ plans to spend the holiday week-end together; I need to be alone. My heart needs time to heal.
In the loss, in the moments of grief, in our family’s reorientation back to “normal” . . . God’s sufficient grace finds me. Even when I can’t understand God’s plans, the truth of His promises never waiver. He is my Hope in the loss.
Having “an empty bed” at our house means that it will most likely remain empty only temporarily. Just until we receive the next phone call. Until our lives intersect with another little one who needs a loving family, a safe place to stay for a while.
My hands may be empty, but as long as there is breath in me, they will remain open.
Meanwhile, however, I keenly feel the loss. No child can ever fully take the place of another in my heart. Like the many others who have gone before him, he took a part of me with him when he left my home, a part that I will never get back. I know that I will hold him in my memories for the rest of my life. I am deeply humbled to have had the opportunity to know him and care for him, to have played a tiny part in his lifelong journey.
In the gratitude, in the sweet memories, in the days and weeks ahead . . . God’s sufficient grace will always find me. Even though I do not know what the future holds, for me or for that precious child, the truth of God’s promises will never waiver. He was, is, and will always be my Hope.