God Of Seeing
As I spoke the words to him, I didn’t believe them to be true of me. He was an abandoned child and I had an unwavering confidence in God’s heart for the vulnerable, the unwanted, and the orphan. I spoke to him with a passionate conviction, the antithesis of giving false comfort. He was a beloved child of God and he needed to know that. Thankfully, this fiercely cute one-year-old wasn’t too frightened by my intensity and took to me; allowing me to hold him and rock him to sleep the first night he stayed in our home.
I told him that evening that he was deeply loved and wanted. I told him he was made for greatness since he was made in the image of the Creator of the universe. I spoke softly to him as he slept with tears pouring down my face catching in the curls of his hair. He heard the story of Hagar and Ishmael. How the angel of the Lord met her in her desperation in the wilderness with rich promises and how she called the name of the Lord, “You are a God of seeing.” I told him how God heard Ishmael when he wept and provided for him. In the same way, I assured him, God would not abandon him. “God sees you too,” I told him. Not only that, I was convinced that he must have at least double the average number of guardian angels watching his every move.
Maybe he didn’t know how unsafe his short life had already been or why he needed an extra guardian angel or two. His posse of angels had already been hard at work, shielding his tiny body from the peril that prompted his placement in our home a few hours before. I felt this collective presence that evening as I rocked him to sleep. Something in that moment felt sacred and I sensed a power that was beyond me leaving me with a feeling of rawness and smallness. In the midst of my tears and my clumsy attempt at singing the chorus of “Amazing Grace”, I couldn’t help but laugh at what a charismatic Presbyterian I was becoming. This became our bedtime routine and I looked forward to it every night.
The days of fostering this kid were full of excitement and fun. He grew comfortable in our home and we were quickly captured by his smile and endearing charisma. He sat in his high chair at the head of the table looking like a musical conductor with his hands waving in the air and commanding our full attention. We were an easy audience, clapping and cheering as he tried new foods. After eating, he’d immediately clear out a drawer of plastic cups and Tupperware by throwing each one over his head while speaking in nonsensical toddler sing song. This was his way of helping with the dishes I suppose and our kids applauded and reinforced this habit with their laughter every day.
Some time later we were told that he would be leaving soon for his permanent home. I geared up emotionally to say goodbye. Then the plans changed and he would not be leaving for at least a few more months. His life had become intertwined with ours. His wellbeing weighed on me as I worried about what his future would hold. I also knew that the longer he was with us, the harder it would be for us all to say goodbye. Then out of the blue, we were told he would be placed soon but as that day drew near, those plans changed as well. Living from court date to court date, I started to become resentful of this tug on my emotions and embittered by my lack of control on any aspect of this process. My anger and frustration continued to mount as pertinent information about his future changed as quickly as the weather does in Oklahoma. We were in a constant holding pattern and I hated the inner turmoil I was experiencing. At times, my anger felt out of proportion and my mood swings were unpredictable. My feelings had grabbed the reigns of my life and I often felt powerless in the struggle to regain my composure.
Life began to feel heavy and dark. His story and his presence in my home tapped into a dormant stream of emotions. All of the paperwork and steps necessary to become foster parents were essentially the same as the process we went through two separate times to become adoptive parents. I was hoping for a “been here done that” mentality but instead faced the same old demons of inadequacy, unfitness and my lack of control. I couldn’t formulate these connections and fears with fostering and adoption well at the time. Instead, I lowered my head and waded through a general, murky feeling of impending doom and waited for the next update.
Any notification on my phone could be life-altering news. I had learned this lesson in the parking lot of Target about five years prior when we received a call from our adoption lawyer with some very difficult news. Our youngest son’s adoption was in jeopardy. He had been in our care from the day of his birth and was now a month old. We had already met with the judge and were under the impression only one final formality was left before it was official. The odds were not in our favor, our lawyer now relayed, with the advent of information not previously known. It would all come down to a DNA test and the results would take a week. My husband and I sat in the car paralyzed by pure disbelief. The kids were starting to get restless though and we needed formula and diapers. We headed inside, playing the role of new parents spending our recently received baby shower gift cards.
The next week passed slower than molasses waiting for the results. It was hellish. Not even the normal distractions did the trick. I occupied my mind by making a list to pass along that included tips for soothing him and our bedtime routine. I was scared and angry. It felt like a cruel trick or some awful joke and I started to emotionally detach in the pain. Then, the phone rang again. I was sitting in the rocking chair with both kids in my lap when my husband called. It was good news! The stress of the week had broken us both and we cried uncontrollably on the phone. Our son was ours to keep. Deep down, however, I tempered my acceptance of the information and doubted those words. Would something change tomorrow? How do we really know when our children are ours to keep?
Fostering would also break us but in a different way, like an extended follow-through of the process started many years before. It was finally official. This amazing kid entrusted to our care was going to be placed in his forever home in three short days. Our extended family came to pray over him (and us, as we were a complete wreck). We wept together in our living room and expressed our concern over the unknown. Together, we pleaded intensely to God for him to be raised in a family that was surrounded by a strong community. We knew first-hand how desperately we needed others to help shoulder the physical and emotional toll of his story intermeshing with our own. What kind of home, what kind of family, what kind of church (if at all) would be raising this kid that we all loved?
We loaded up his belongings and drove him to meet his new family. He sat in the back seat with my two boys who loved him deeply. As they stared out the window, I knew they had to be grappling with their own stories by watching his unfold. We finally arrived and I found myself feeling paralyzed again. I needed a moment parked in the driveway to compose myself before going inside. We were warmly welcomed into their living room and our families sat across from each other. The child who had brought our lives together played blissfully with his usual zeal in the space between where we sat. We chatted about his favorite foods, his obsession with balls and his irresistible personality. This entire encounter felt surreal.
We then shared our mutual stories of longing for children and of God’s faithfulness. They informed us that their church community had provided so many gifts in anticipation of his arrival that they were running out of storage space. It was one of the most beautiful moments I have ever experienced. My heart seemed to implode in on itself with an intensity of emotion. Not a doubt in my mind existed that he was in the perfect home for him. God had been keeping a close eye on him like I told him He would. He would be safe here. His cries would be heard and he would be seen. He was made for greatness and his family’s love would help him discover and believe this about himself.
We eventually mustered up the courage to say goodbye. My tears soaked into his curls again as I kissed his head and somehow walked away. My oldest son, who has always hated goodbyes, wept out loud in their front yard as we loaded into the car. Our hearts had been enlarged by his presence in our lives, but being stretched in such a way was intensely painful to us all.
Coming home that evening and walking past his room, my heart fell from my chest. That same rocking chair, tucked in the corner, was staring back at me. I walked over to sit down and started to rock. Both sadness and joy flooded over me in a mysteriously unified wave I can only describe as longing. I felt my desperation and my need for God’s protection more acutely. A one-year-old kid with curly hair had broken me, revealing in the process a manifold of insecurities and my relentless need to be loved and accepted too. I sat there and recalled that same story I had told him many nights before. The one about Hagar fleeing from Sarai and then later when Hagar and Ishmael were cast out, and how Hagar cried out to God in the wilderness. God met her both times with promises and provisions. This time the story impacted me on a completely different level. I didn’t see it solely as an exhortation to others who might feel alone, unworthy, or unseen. This story was my story. Like Hagar, I was face to face with my complete lack of control. I had nothing left to do but lift up my voice and weep (Genesis 21:16). In this position, God met me in my desperation with a tangible presence as if I was being rocked back and forth, calmed and reassured by the God who sees me.
“So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are a God of seeing,’ for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.’” (Genesis 16:13)