As I was dropping off my 4-month-old foster son with his birthmother for his bi-weekly visit, I was taken aback by her hesitant and humble request: “Would you stay with me for the visit? He’s so much happier with you here.” While I had been eagerly anticipating spending that time in what had become my ritual during these visits at a local coffee shop enjoying my morning coffee with the rare indulgence of a chocolate chip cookie, I sensed the Holy Spirit prompting me to stay. Although I had really been looking forward to that time alone all week, I realized her request was ultimately an invitation from the Lord to “keep watch with Him” by being with and loving this woman in her suffering.
How difficult it must have been for her to ask me to stay. The precarious nature of the relationship between a birthmother and a foster mother is such that it would be easy to feel antagonistic towards one another—each wanting what the other has instead of desiring the best for one another. This is the constant temptation with foster care because it is easy to think that a child would be better if he stayed with the foster family instead of going back with his birth family. And for some children this is certainly the case. But many times, the birth families do not have good support networks or parenting skills, and they may be struggling with toxic relationships and addictions, and having their children in foster care can give them the time (and motivation) they need to turn things around. What a gift to a birth family to first love their child as your own and secondly to be a support to them! What an amazing opportunity to share God’s love and mercy by spiritually mothering a birth mother who has been deemed unfit to mother her own child.
Through tears our foster baby’s mother said she needed to ask me a hard question. If the state takes her baby away, would we please adopt him? I reassured her of our love for her son and that we would unhesitatingly adopt him, but I also told her that we loved her, too, and wanted the best for her. I told her that God not only put her child, but also her in our lives for a reason. Our family has been praying so much for her and we have been so blessed caring for her son, that it is easy to feel deeply connected to her. As she broke down and wept before me, she spoke of the regrets in her life. I spoke of my own regrets and weaknesses but told her of the mercy of God who generously forgives us and gives us hope for a new life.
Sitting there with her, I felt I was face to face with the brokenness of Christ on the Cross. While I empathized with her pain over not being able to care for her child, I told her how blessed she was to have been able to have children, a privilege I was unable to share. She expressed how sad it made her to think I could not carry a child, but then she reassured, “But God had a plan for you.” And it suddenly occurred to me that God had graciously brought us together through our brokenness to bring comfort to one another. Here I was, a physically “broken” woman suffering from an inability to conceive children with a spiritually “broken” woman suffering from the loss of her child to foster care. Out of the brokenness we suffered over our motherhood, we were able to speak words of hope and healing to each other.
If we are able to look with the eyes of faith, perhaps we can begin to see our brokenness as a gift that enables us to connect with each other. When we approach one another from a position of vulnerability rather than superiority, our brokenness opens a way for solidarity. As Christ says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It was Christ on the Cross who in His brokenness brought new life to a broken world. Particularly in this season of Lent, let us gain strength from meditating on His Passion, recognizing how the Lord uses our failures, hurts, disappointments, and struggles to lead us to Him, the true Source of hope and healing. In this way, we can ask the Lord to use our sufferings and brokenness to help bring that same hope and healing to so many others who suffer.