Sitting around the table with friends I haven’t seen in five years filled me up. These two couples came into my life when I was working among the disadvantaged of Huntsville, Alabama with Lincoln Village Ministries. That was an intense season of life, filled with many challenges and situations that didn’t have clear answers. I would burn the candle at both ends trying to support families and children who were hurting. As a result, I would find myself often depleted, disillusioned, or struggling to find joy in the sadness.
These two couples were part of a church plant in the area and, either purposefully or accidentally, became a safe haven for me. I would stay at their houses when I needed a night outside of the intensity. I would have dinner at their homes, vent at their breakfast tables, and melt in their Sunday hugs. They were just some of the many who poured into me as I poured out to others.
Here we sat, catching up, laughing, sharing stories of our last five years apart. Marriages, grandchildren, job changes, and church changes filled the conversation. Then Karen turned to face me, looked deeply into my eyes, and softened her tone. “While raising Mossy, what was your greatest surprise, what do you regret, and what was the greatest blessing?”
I paused and lowered my eyes, flooded with memories. Moments rose before me like 4×6 photographs, and I went through them one by one, searching for a true fit to each questions.
What WAS my greatest surprise?”
I was tempted to share funny stories of teenage boy puberty conversations! Single moms have conversations they never dreamed they’d have with sons! Slowly, I answered. “Honestly, my greatest surprise was that God didn’t heal Mossy. Love wasn’t enough. I thought his behaviors would get more stable and he could stay with me. I knew continuing challenge was a possibility, but I believed he would get better.”
What DID I regret?
Oh gosh, this was a hard question! Typically, I identify as a risk taker who feels loss, gains more, and doesn’t look back with any regret. I looked through the photographs in my mind. Ah… the answer was staring me in the face. “I regret not taking more respite from strangers in the beginning. I was so worried about protecting Mossy from influences that weren’t in line with my value system, that I didn’t pursue getting respite from parents certified through the foster parenting program. Many of them allowed influences I was uncomfortable with (like TV, movie, computer, and playmate choices), but I was not willing to let go of that control and care for myself.”
What WAS the greatest blessing?
This was the easiest question to answer, but it was the most vulnerable. This question reached into the deepest area of my soul and brought up with it emotions that couldn’t be suppressed. My face turned red, my nose began to burn, and my voice tightened as the words spilled out like tears. “All of it. Being broken so deeply that now I understand the hurt others are going through. I understand Mossy’s pain and triggers because now I have my own. I was living through Acute Stress Disorder and understand PTSD. I know what other families are going through. AND Mossy taught me so much! He taught me to love dogs, to have a greater compassion for the homeless, and to be generous. I wouldn’t trade four years with him for the world!”
We both had tears in our eyes, though mine were flowing freely. I meant every word.
Raising Mossy is the greatest blessing God has given me. At times, I thought I was broken beyond repair. There were moments when I thought there would be no possible way to survive the pain and impossible decisions. There are still those moments, as I parent from a distance, advocating for state services and appropriate placements. The gift is that we still have each other. We are still family, we just can’t live together. I am not the only parent who has been faced with the harsh reality that maybe the most loving thing for a child, is to live in a place where he or she can get help that we cannot give. Others are faced with the decision to trust that God loves their child more than they do, and that He will be faithful. These parents must choose to believe this is not the end, but just a different page in the photo album.
The age old question, “why does God allow pain?” resides in every human heart. There are plenty of theological answers, but is that really what we need to hear when our hearts have just been shredded or shattered? I don’t know, everyone is different. For myself, the greatest comfort has come from a promise that has been true in my life before, and one that I believe will be true again. And so, in the pain, I choose the courage to trust and keep going.
“Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
but he will heal us;
he has injured us
but he will bind up our wounds.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will restore us,
that we may live in his presence.
Let us acknowledge the Lord;
let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
like the spring rains that water the earth.”