I'm 29 weeks into my first pregnancy, and it has brought up a lot of feelings (shocking, I know). The other day, I was reading one of my three current books, Moms on Call, which shares a lot of practical advice about taking care of babies since I am a total newbie. One of the first sections is about bathing your baby and all the little things you can do to make bath time more enjoyable and efficient with a newborn. I started tearing up thinking about sweetly washing my little love once he is (finally) here.
We were foster parents for close to three years (and would like to reopen in the future, but that's for another post). We've only had three placements, and two of them have joined our family forever through adoption. The child who didn't stay was only six when he came to live with us, so he still took baths. For some reason, this was my favorite time of the day with him. When I think about him, this is how I remember him: pouring the water over his head, playing with the bubbles, giggling - pure joy. We would laugh and play. There was nothing to distract me from him. It was a one-on-one connection that we both genuinely enjoyed.
This act of bathing is such a bonding experience; a bonding experience I never got to have with my older two kids. Once I started considering this, even more emotions started welling up inside of me, as if this realization had never quite hit me before. Many of the joyful experiences of childhood I will have with my biological son I did not get to have with my older two. I even missed the messy, broken, difficult, beautiful season of toddlerhood. I didn't get to set up clear and defined boundaries with them when they were little, and it's quite possible that they didn't have anyone to do that for them either. I didn't get to hear their stories and give them my wide-eyed attention when they found something interesting in the yard. I didn't get to hear their first babbling words or witness their first glorious steps. I didn't get to show them their preciousness, their value, their worth. I didn't get to teach them the hilarious kids veggie tales songs or kiss their hurts or show them how to ride a bicycle. I didn't get to wash their little feet or sing them little songs while getting them ready for bed.
If I spend too long here in this "I didn't get to" land, I will end up a hysterical bubbling mess. But you get the picture. I never really thought about how much I've missed out on because I've been so focused on surviving the here-and-now. So recently, I've been taking some time to grieve the losses, to notice how they make me feel, and to pay attention to how God is redeeming the lost time. I don't want to skip over the heavy, grief-filled part of our story; but I don't want to tarry there either.
God created adoption out of necessity. We were orphans; we needed a Father. But adoption would not have been necessary if sin had not entered the world. And while adoption represents redemption - the beginning of a new story, it also represents the loss of the old story.
God did not design children to experience loss, abuse, neglect, and the absolute tragedy of losing their families. God does not desire torn-apart families, infertility, miscarriages, trauma-induced behaviors, or exhausted parents. These things are not the result of an angry, wrathful God; they are a result of a sinful, broken world.
But since the very beginning, He has been using these seemingly hopeless, tragic situations to draw people close to Him. For one of KK's school projects, she has to memorize a piece - a poem, a monologue, or an excerpt of literature. She decided she wanted to memorize a Psalm since that is a book of the Bible that we read together. I suggested Psalm 23, knowing that it is a common favorite in the Christian faith, and, with only six short verses, it seemed doable. The first week of school, we were working on her memorization by getting her familiar with the verses.
As she read through the Psalm, tears streamed down my face. It was as if she was reading her very own story from God's Word, and she didn't even realize it. She has been through the darkest valley, and God has been close beside her. He has prepared a meal for her in the presence of her enemies. He has been her shepherd, giving her all that she needs. And she will live with Him forever.
This is Good News. This is True News. This is Good and True News that we wouldn't even recognize without the grief and pain that brought us to it.
Psalm 23 is no longer just six pretty verses we hear kindergarteners recite in the Sunday service at church; Psalm 23 holds the promise that God will be with us in our darkest valleys - a promise that He has upheld in my life, and in the lives of my precious children.
Yes, I missed her first steps. But I get to see her step into herself on the basketball court, using all the God-given strength, determination, and stubbornness she could muster.
No, I didn't hear him mumble his first words. But I get to hear him learn and play the piano by ear with his innate musical talent.
No, I didn't get to set the boundaries or gradually learn how to be a mom as my baby learns how to be a human. But I get opportunities to ask God to give me the grace upon grace that I need to daily dole out the compassion and love that my good Father gave to me first.
No, I couldn't carefully form a foundation where I could build my relationship with my kids. But this forces me to rely on Jesus as our firm foundation, as the One who can supernaturally provide the groundwork with our children that we never got to build for them.
Sometimes, our story doesn't line up with our expectations. Sometimes, the things God uses to redeem us and pull us closer to Him aren't what we thought we wanted. Sometimes, God shows us His goodness and His closeness through the darkest of valleys. My story of motherhood looks very different with my older two children than it will with this little one, but I have experienced beauty and redemption in this version of motherhood that I likely never would have otherwise.
And so since I didn't get to cherish their precious little selves, I will cherish their just-as-precious bigger selves. I will relish in my son saying, "Mom, ready?" and my daughter saying, "Kar, did you see me make that shot?" I will give thanks for the moments that they lean their head on my shoulder and tell me they love me. I will praise my loving Father that He was with them when I couldn't be, that He protected and comforted them before I could - and that He still does when I fall short.
Some truth to remember:
The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.
“But forget all that—
it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.
For I am about to do something new.
See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.