I knew, as his mother, what the social worker didn't: that every birthday would now become a countdown instead of a celebration. In fact, the very day he turned 8, right after blowing out those 8 candles, he muttered softly under his breath, "Only 10 more years." It was like a sigh of relief. Only I heard him.
For weeks and weeks after that, our oldest adoptive son clung to the promise of 18. We had intense discussions about there isn't a certain age of maturity about anything especially something like this and that we would cross that bridge when we came to it, that our hearts need to mend together and bond without clinging to the past. That is hard for grown adults to do. Asking a child is like asking him to climb Everest. Alone. In the dark without any gear. There was and will probably always be this flicker of hope of what will be come his 18th birthday. I'm ok with that now.
It's hard to understand at any age that sometimes, many times,
the most painful events in our lives
are the very ones most necessary for us to flourish.
Twice taken out of his first home from a traumatizing life starting at the age of 3. He's lived in 4 different foster families (counting ours) and numerous other homes with his first family. In fact there were so many, many homes that he started naming the ones he can still remember: The flea house. The trailer house. The house KI Sawyer house. The house with the snake in the basement. The list is long. And sad for the most part, except for the times he was in homes where the adults had the ability to love well.
His memories are blurry now and I can see a new, revived urgency to remember especially people he loved so dearly. This too is sad because I know it wounds him not to have those memories. It's like his heart doesn't know how to hold them all dear and close when his mind can't remember clearly.
When I first met him, there was this wild, defiant look in his eyes like he was a soldier home from war who was always assessing a situation. If you didn't know already, many children in foster care suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They come from homes that, much like a war zone, are loud, violent and unpredictable. Those intensely, bright blue eyes would look right through you as if you were not even a person but a thing in his way, preventing him from getting what he wanted or always looking for what's next....what's out of his control. Trauma does this to your brain when you are a child. It actually changes the physical brain.
Hugs were out of the question for people he didn't know or even knew but were not very familiar with. It took almost 2 years before he would hug his counselor goodbye for the very first time whom he saw biweekly.
The boy that came into foster care for the second time when he was a meager 4 years old was more like an unruly animal than a person. That may sound harsh, but ask my dear friend, Cari, who fostered him before we did for almost 8 months about how he used to stay up crying and scratching himself after visits. And how she had to squeeze him and roll a ball over him to calm him down. And how every single thing was a fight to the end. Simple things like putting on shoes and brushing teeth was WWIII in her home.
If ever I forget that there is a God of immeasurable grace...a God who can raise the dead...I have to look no further than our son, Xander. He's been 10 for several weeks now. Six years since he was rescued and placed in a forever home to be loved and cherished the way all children should be but many times aren't.
And in just six years the blue-eyed boy, my blue-eyed boy that stands (or usually wiggles) before me always wanting to put his little, dirty, dry hand in mine, is almost unrecognizable when thinking about that wild-eyed boy I met all those years ago. Those eyes are clear and steady. They see people for who they are as people and not just to be used for getting what he wants. He can accept the situation that he is in for what it is without almost any reservation. He loves, I mean loves, his family. If he's in a really good mood, he'll even give any one of us a tight squeeze especially his biggest sister.
He hugged his Auntie Caroline, who he's only been around a few times, before we said goodbye the last time we saw her at Christmas. I cried. Those once hollow eyes can now see. His heart has begun to learn to bond and love.
It is such a gift.
I found his baby book and life book sitting quietly on my couch recently. He had been flipping through, looking at the pictures and drawing our home here. My heart is always heavy when I flip through either of them and try to grasp what he may be feeling. I wondered if this birthday is just another countdown birthday but when I asked what the best part about turning 10 was, he smiled, looked at me with this intense blue eyes and said, "Well, it's been almost 3 years since I've been a Pope."
There will be a part of Xander that will always be broken at the loss of his first family. Just like there are parts of all of us that are wounded and very much broken even if we do not experience what he has in our lives. There will always be the battle against worry and the fight to trust and love. And if you read nothing else, please read and believe but this: my Love and I did not do this. It was not our love or our boundaries or our parental methods that changed him. It was none other than the Love of Christ. His work in us.
And so, Xander knows that no matter what happens in his life, that he can trust in the Creator-God who knows him and loves him and sent his Son to die in his place. He doesn't have to try to be in control because he can trust in the Sovereign God who knows all things and is in control of all things even when life seems crazy and out of control. His heart is at rest in these things alone and not to the fleeting promise of 18. He knows who he is.
It is an amazing thing to witness and an honor to be a small part of.