A few nights ago I had quite an emotional dinner with my family.
We ran into this young man.
It caught me off guard, though it shouldn’t have. He’s always lived in the same town.
The thing is this: he lived in our home six years.
See…I was a teacher for the deaf in my previous life. I had three little boys in my class here. They were adorable. I loved them immediately. I invested in their lives. They would come spend the weekend with me and My Sweetie to get some language input and have a godly man influence their lives (My Sweetie signs). Only one of the boys had a good father figure (and even he was a bit iffy) and none of the parents signed. (I’m not lying and don’t even get me started on that soapbox!)
But… one of those little boys stole my heart from the get go. He was a little, skinny, brown faced boy with a smile too big for his face and a sweet spirit.
After learning I was to be a mother at the end of two years teaching here, I turned in my notice. I stayed home learning how to be a better homemaker and preparing to be a mother, but those boys were still in my life. I would visit them and substitute for their teacher and have them over and even go give ‘mom type lectures’ when necessary. As My Sweetie and I considered names for our baby, this boy’s name was in the running for two reasons: it’s a fabulous Biblical heritage and we loved this boy. We never felt a peace about it though. (In the end, it didn’t matter since HB is a girl!)
Then, when HB was seven weeks old, we got a call. A call that would rock my world. CPS was involved in the young man’s life… again. I had to call them several times in the two years he was my student. The home life was awful. Seriously. He was the oldest of four boys and their lives were heartbreaking. Real disaster loomed on the horizon. CPS was about to take him out of the home, put him in foster care, with the Texas School for the Deaf as mandatory, to try to make it safe and to see if taking the pressure related to having a child with special needs off the parents would help the others (Don’t get me started on their line of thinking, ‘k?). I wept.
My Sweetie and I talked. And we looked at each other. God stepped in. It was such an obvious decision. We practically didn’t have to say it out loud. It was written on each of our faces. It was felt in each of our hearts. Daniel had to come to us.
So, we called the case worker. She said, “I can’t talk about an open case, but I can listen.”
I pleaded our case. She said, “It’s been nice talking to you, GfG. This is all very interesting. Thanks for calling.”
A week later she called and asked if we were still serious. Then she said the words that changed our lives forever, “Can I come Thursday for a home visit?” I still thought it was all only a possibility until she said, “Ok, he could be here really soon. Wait for my call.”
Three days later, March 31, 1997, he came to live with us.
Daniel lived with us for six years. He was twelve years old. Everyone thought we were crazy. We weren’t. We were obedient. That’s all there was to it. We knew we were supposed to do it, so we did. We became his legal custodial parents nine months later (Don’t think that timeline was lost on me, it wasn’t.).
The first three years were a delight. Sure it was difficult at times going from being parents of one newborn, nine weeks old, to the parents of a newborn and an almost teenager who was deaf, but it wasn’t huge. We were surrounded by wonderful people. Seriously. Almost everyone in our world at that time signed. The people who didn’t, wanted to learn and learned the basics. Daniel had a YMCA basketball coach learn sign language just to communicate with our (foster) son. People blessed him with all kinds of things, too many to go into here right now. Let me just say, in those three years, God packed in all the love, support, kindness, compassion and genuine concern Daniel should have gotten in the first twelve. It often brought me to tears.
But another thing also brought me to tears, God placed on my heart this truth and this verse before Daniel had been with us even a year: You only have six years with him and I need you to remember this, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” Philippians 1:6. I figured out pretty quickly that Daniel wasn’t really our son. It just wasn’t meant to be. His heart was for his birth family and the life there (and the lack of rules/responsibilities… different soapbox, different day). I would start to feel overwhelmed at the amount of ‘things’ he needed to learn before he turned eighteen. He was sooooo far behind for a twelve year old. It would frighten me. That’s when God stepped in with this truth, making me feel sad and relieved all at the same time. Daniel really was going to leave when he turned eighteen, but he was only leaving our home. He wasn’t leaving God. God was in charge of Daniel and God would finish the work He started. I was to be obedient, that’s all.
So, I strove to be obedient. I wasn’t always. Naturally, I made mistakes. But, in all, My Sweetie and I loved, trained, and discipled this boy as best as we could.
The last three years were the hardest years of my life. If you’ve been reading this blog for more than a year, you know that comment is saying a lot. Seriously. Hardest years of my life. Daniel had issues we hadn’t known about and they affected our smaller children. The only thing that got me through some of the days was the peace My Sweetie and I had in knowing God called us to this task. Without that, many days would have been very, very dark.
We learned a lot about God’s sovereignty, His ways, and His peace during those years.
While Daniel broke my husband’s heart the day Daniel told him he was leaving on his eighteenth birthday, I was prepared. God had told me six years earlier. When the biggest confirmation we could have ever gotten regarding Daniel’s leaving us “arrived”, My Sweetie and I looked at each other. It was like a step back in time. We wept. God had made it just as obvious as the looks on each other’s faces were six years earlier, but with something even more tangible than that (it’s a crazy long story… just trust me). I had started to let Daniel go months earlier in preparation, therefore I was able to comfort and help my dear, dear husband as he had to let go of a young man whom he had thought really wouldn’t leave.
We tried to stay in contact with Daniel, but he wasn’t interested. I know that sounds strange. I know that it might even sound like it means we didn’t really invest in him. That we must not have tied our heartstrings to him. But that’s not true. Daniel simply was already brainwashed by his birth family (I won’t go into all the things told to him on the court mandated visits during the six years he lived with us) and he heeded the call for a life of no rules and responsibilities. You could see the discomfort on his face when we tried to visit him. The contrast between our two worlds was just too much for him. We left him in God’s hands.
If God had not prepared me for both sides of the truth for that day in January, my faith would have been under some serious strain. But because God had made sure I knew that Daniel was both going to leave us and that Daniel was a work “being brought to completion” not by me or My Sweetie, but by God, we left Daniel in His hands without fear. Without regret. Without anguish. And without beating ourselves up over our lack of adequacy.
We’ve only seen him a handful of times in the last six years. Yes, he’s been gone now as long as he was with us. Hard for me to believe. For most of you, you never knew me as Daniel’s foster mother. But it affects me still. I learned a lot about being a mom from mothering him. I learned a lot about teenagers from mothering him. I learned a lot about myself from mothering him. I learned a lot about my Savior from mothering him.
I sit here weeping because Daniel is still a part of my mothering, but it’s not obvious to anyone anymore. At times it feels like I lost a part of myself and it’s just too awkward and too long of a story to bring up. Other times, it feels like it was a job. Sometimes it feels so long ago I can barely remember it. That may not make sense to you.
But when I saw him a few nights ago for the first time in years, my heart stopped and the tears sprang. For the first time since he left us, when I saw him, I cried. My heart responded to seeing him. We had a good visit, exchanging contact info.
I wonder if God has a new phase for us.
I wonder if Daniel has been brought back into our lives.
Maybe. Maybe not.
God will make it obvious.
As far as Daniel goes in our lives, He always has.