I am not a touchy person. I remember people surprising me with huge hugs in college and kind of folding into myself, wishing that they hadn't. I like hugs when they are planned or expected. But all of this changed when my sweet teenage daughter entered our home a year ago.
I had noticed that while there was she did not open up using her words very much, she did curl up next to me and give me hugs. Over time, I started realizing that this was a special way to connect with her in a way that would make her feel safe, cared for, known, and loved. I pushed through how awkward I felt about it and held out my hand for her to hold in the car. I kissed her goodnight. I gave hugs when I passed her, gave hugs when she first woke up, gave hugs whenever I possibly could. I put my hand gently on her back while we watched a movie or made a cake. I offered high fives whenever I could. Over time, the touch became less awkward and more natural. It was like God was giving me the chance to retroactively hold my child because I wasn't able to.
These precious moments do not just happen at home. They also happen in the car, in the grocery store, and at church. In church, we usually sit towards the back (because we're usually coming in late and we usually have what feels like a million kids following us). During worship, I usually put my arm around my kids or hold their hand. It is a way that I worship. I sing the words as I simultaneously and sometimes uncomfortably show children who may feel like they don't belong that they do, in fact, belong. They belong to me, but more importantly, they belong to the God of the Universe, the Savior of the World, the Coming King.
One time, after a particularly difficult morning that ended in everyone's emotions in turmoil, I reached out for my daughter during the worship song. She reached back. We held onto each other as we listened to truth being sung about the God who reaches out to us again and again, despite our ever-wandering hearts. I watched as a mom rocked one of her daughters (probably 5 or 6 years old) during worship, and I silently wished that I could've had that special time with my daughter, too. Seeing this mother and daughter made me long for the years that I had missed, for the precious time with my daughter that I will never get back.
Hold it together, I thought to myself, You are about to lead middle-schoolers (including your daughter) in a Sunday-school lesson.
After worship, the children and middle schoolers were dismissed as usual - children through the side door, middle-schoolers through the back. I followed them through the door, head down, trying not to think too much about it. I noticed that a friend of mine who usually does not come out at this time was following closely behind me. She touched my shoulder and said, "I followed you out here because I just had to tell you something."
Being a pastor's wife, I get a little nervous when I hear this statement. It could range anything from "You're doing a great job!" to "I'm not sure what time youth group is this Sunday" to "I need you to lead a new Bible Study for my daughter and her friends." But I knew this friend. She wouldn't follow me out of church to criticize or ask a question. She was about to lay down some encouragement, and quite honestly, I needed it. My soul was weary, I was carrying burdens that felt impossible to bear, and I was feeling overwhelmed and underprepared to be a foster parent of a teenager.
My friend looked me in the eyes and she said, "I was sitting behind you in church today. I saw in front of you that there was a mama rocking her little girl, singing the words over her, praying that they would sink in. I loved seeing that mama because it reminded me of the precious times I had doing that with my own daughter. And then I saw you, holding your daughter in the way that you can. I know you didn't get that time with your daughter, but I wanted you to know that the work that you're doing and the prayers that you're praying for her now matter just as much."
My eyes filled to the brim with tears as she unknowingly calmed my fears that the time I have with her would not be enough for her to heal. When my heart was heavy and overwhelmed, God reached out to me and touched me through the sweet words of a friend. All I could muster was a tearful, "Thank you. I really needed to hear that," but she knew that already.
In our story, God is working in the big meltdowns and in the daily hugs. He is reaching out for us while we reach out to our kids. He is fighting with us for their healing, for their well-being, for their hearts. He is never far away; He is always near. God is redeeming the missed time, even when it's behind the scenes. As we care for vulnerable children, we also become vulnerable. And he cares deeply for us, suffers with us, and sees us. Sometimes we have to trust this, and other times He sends a friend after us at church to tell us the truth straight to our faces: IT MATTERS. And He is here.
Now, Then, and Forever
I couldn't hold you then,
so I'll hold you now
I couldn't kiss you then,
so I'll kiss you now.
I couldn't wipe your tears,
so I'll wipe them now.
I couldn't protect you then,
so I'll protect you now.
I couldn't calm your fears,
so I'll calm them now.
I couldn't love you then,
so I'll love you now,