I never wanted children, in fact, I wasn’t going to ever get married. I wanted a career and I wanted financial success. So when I’m asked if I wanted a big family, I laugh because it’s so far from what I thought my life would look like. When someone asks if I always knew I’d adopt, I smile because “heck no”, I did not set out to have seven children.
I did not plan to become expert at feeding tubes, IEPs, hospital stays, wheelchairs, SSTs, TDMs, catheterizations, trauma parenting, PTSD and attachment issues. I did not dream I’d become “that mom”, the one pushing back with schools, doctors, therapists…yes, ‘that mom’.
I realized I had become ‘that mom’, when I found myself telling my middle son’s surgeon that no one was to touch him, but her. No residents, no fresh-from-med-school-doctor. I didn’t care if this was a teaching hospital, my son’s surgery wasn’t a classroom. I heard myself saying the words and I thought, I’m ‘that mom’, and I didn’t care. I had reached this point that I realized, ‘that mom’ exists because no on cares or battles like a mother, and special needs kids need ‘that mom’. I had gotten past the point of caring if I was stepping on toes; because my kid needed toes stepped on at times.
I never dreamed I’d live in the world of special needs, foster care and adoption. I could never have imagined I’d be capable of doing this, and it certainly was not on Stacey’s Life Goals list.
I remember the exact moment and I remember the exact child that changed my life. His name was Eric and he was the moment, or perhaps the child that set our lives on a different path.
It was Fall and school had been underway for several months. I was a new teacher and I worked hard to manage a class of 3rd graders. He showed up mid-year at my classroom door.
The school secretary stood next to a small boy wearing scuffed shoes and a t-shirt that engulfed his slight frame. He looked down at the floor, his eyes only briefly flickering to my outstretched hand. I took his elbow and he flinched, as I guided him to his desk. I quickly introduced him to the class and pulled out the supplies he needed. Being a new teacher and a receiving a new student in the middle of math, was not an easy transition for me. Heck, truth be told, nothing was easy my first two years of teaching and I always felt like one misstep would result in uncontrolled chaos. So, I barely introduced him to the class in order to keep things moving and not lose the attention of a room now full of twenty-seven, 8-year-olds.
The day progressed quickly and I kept returning to my new student to make sure he was understanding instructions and following along. His papers remained blank; and so did his expressions. I would ask him questions and I was met with a thousand-yard stare and zero response. By the end of the day, I was deciding between severe cognitive issues, or behavioral problems. I made a mental note to look over his enrollment history after the final bell.
It was 30 minutes before we needed to pack up for the day, and my class was silently working on a paper. At one point, I scanned the room and noticed the new boy was slumped in his chair with his head buried in his arms. I walked across the classroom and gently laid my hand on his shoulder. When he raised his head, the tears were dripping silently down his face and he released a guttural sob. I quickly pulled him from his chair and walked him outside. He looked at me as he slumped against the building and slid to sit on the concrete sidewalk, each word punctuated with a sobbing breath…”I don’t…know who…I live with.”
And then out poured his story and my heart broke as I listened. He had been home when his Monday night erupted into chaos, violence and 9-1-1. Soon after, DCS (Department of Child Family Services) was called in. Amidst the confusion and fear, he was told to pack some things and I imagine his 8-year-old brain scrambled to think about what important things to take. He was to pick what he wanted and throw it into a bag because he was going to “stay somewhere safe”. He was loaded into a car by a stranger, who then drove him to another town, to a home of someone he didn’t know. The next morning, he was dropped off at school and I was another adult who failed to SEE. You see, my eyes had been closed to the walking wounded sitting in my classrooms. I had been blind to a world operating outside my safe, carefully constructed world.
I realized that I had completely failed to see something right in front of my face. This child had needed safety and security and I had handed out worksheets and procedures. He needed empathy and understanding, and I had given expectations and classroom rules. I had looked at him as another student, instead of a child.
That day I vowed to be different. I decided that I could no longer be blind to what was happening all around me. I decided that I could no longer live with my eyes facing forward missing what was happening every day in my periphery. That day, I saw and I knew. He was the reason we jumped into foster care and since that moment, I will say that living face forward hurt a lot less, than living it with your eyes wide open.
When you start caring for these hurting children, you’re eyes are opened to a world that was once carefully hidden. I can no longer hear of a drug bust on the news without thinking of the children huddling, fearfully in the back room. I don’t read the statistics of the opioid crisis, without seeing the faces of the substance exposed newborns and their jitters, and their tremors, and inconsolable crying and the sneezing. Yes, newborns withdrawing from drugs will sneeze, twitch and tremor. But mostly, I don’t see my town through the same rose-colored glasses that I wore the day we signed up to be foster parents.
My life has become a series of heart breaking learning experiences. From foster care to the orphanages, I’ve seen and touched the brokenness of humanity. Each dark moment has left a splinter in my mind and to touch upon the splinter hurts, and it’s a gnawing reminder. To see these things firsthand- to be there, to know for sure-stabs sharply deep inside me. A place that until these moments had been protected by an impenetrable cordon. And through all this, I’ve learned something about the grace of God.
We were not called in this life to only experience the amazing grace of God. I’ve spent much of my life avoiding the pulse, the very heartbeat of God. We were not designed to sit in pews and sing about amazing grace, without also tasting the awful grace. I’ve wrestled and tried to pitch off the idea that amazing grace and awful grace must be experienced together. Our lives were not designed to live without pain, and yet every day we work to insulate ourselves from it. We wrap ourselves in the trappings of this world and we insulate from the splinters that come with stepping into the dark places.
I read this quote from Aeschylus (525-456 B.C.)
The Awful Grace of God
“And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget,
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
and in our own despite, against our will,
comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”
When I first held my foster son as he seized and screamed, I tasted the awful grace of God.
When I cared for the dying 16 month-old who had been left alone in a bathtub for an hour and drowned, I tasted the awful grace of God. As I walked from the orphanage with my son and left behind hundreds of faces, I tasted the awful grace of God.
And when I saw the small boy standing in my classroom door, I can see that I was on the precipice of the awful grace of God. Each painful moment is stifling brokenness and pain, yet we cannot fully understand the amazing grace of God, until we have tasted this awful grace. It is within the dark valley that we walk, that highlights the beautiful love and grace that God holds. Because in darkness and brokenness, I have found my Christ because that my fellow believers, is where He sits.