One year ago, to this very day, a three month-old baby girl was placed in my arms for the first time. I was given the charge to take great care of her until her parents got their act together. If they got their act together.
This was the second foster placement we had and my family knew somewhat of the unknowns belonging to the fostering realm. There were no guarantees really. Kids could stay for a month and then be whisked away to stay with some obscure family member with a freshly-done home study, or they could stay a year or two. Or the parents could relinquish parental rights and the child would stay forever.
The truth is, I didn’t want her parents to get their act together. I wanted to raise their daughter as my very own.
For about two months we heard absolutely nothing from CPS as far as if her parents wanted her or were doing their services or trying to get her back. And that was fine with me. Our family quickly bonded with the little joyful girl and we affectionately called her “Bella” (the Spanish way, with the L’s having the Y sound).
Two months into our story of doctors’ appointments and sleepless nights, Bella’s lawyer called me and scheduled a visit to check on her. When he came, he told us the heart-breaking news: Bella’s parents did, in fact, want her and were doing whatever they could to get her back. Apparently her father was seen crying in court because he wanted his daughter.
I say “heart-breaking” because how could I give this child back? I wanted to keep her. I remember standing in my bedroom, with my hands clenched tightly into fists as I heard the Holy Spirit whisper, “Give her back to me, my child.” I balled my fists tighter and cried out, “No, God! I don’t want to. I don’t want this story to end like that!” But with tears streaming, I knew I had to let go. I softened and my hands relaxed until I was holding them wide open. She is not mine. She’s never been mine.
We’ve always been stewards, haven’t we?
I got to see Bella flip over on her stomach for the first time. I captured on video the first time she called for Daddy, “Dada dada dada dada!” My children experienced the thrill of making her laugh. I experienced the thrill the first time she slept through the night! And then the agony of the first teeth she cut, and then she didn’t sleep for a long time. We got to witness her first time eating solid foods and then realized that she would only eat if Addie fed her! I was there for her first halloween, her first thanksgiving, first christmas. We shouted encouragements as she began to army crawl across the floor, in the particular way she would drag her whole body with her right arm. We were there when that turned into a true crawl and then when she would pull herself up to stand and stay there crying because she couldn’t get down! Oh how we loved her!
And her parents loved her too. Two times a month for two hours Bella had supervised visits with her parents. Four hours a month. Very early on, upon meeting them, we realized that they truly wanted their daughter back and were not just playing games with CPS. Little by little, our trust in them grew , as did our compassion for them. One day, we were invited to Bella’s mom’s birthday party at a park! And soon after, we invited them to our house for Bella’s first birthday.
You see, theirs is a success story that is not your average CPS case. Mom and Dad did their services. Completed every single one. Dad stayed with Mom, even though his leaving would have gotten him his baby girl. He chose to stick with her because he is an honorable man. And then, I just can’t help but think that with everything against Bella’s mom, an abortion would have been such an easy way out. But she chose life. She chose life even though she knew her baby would be ripped out of her arms when she was days old.
We’ve had them to dinner at our house and we’ve heard their stories. And I cannot even begin to understand the heartache and brokenness they have each experienced. We have such tender love for them both and it is only because of Jesus that our paths would be brought together and that I would be able to give them back their daughter.
Three weeks ago, Bella returned home to her mother and father. We miss her greatly, and the tears and the sadness come, especially from my tender-hearted Jeremiah, but there is such joy in this that it is quite difficult to be sorrowful. We loved Bella well. She has returned home to a good place with parents that love her and want to bring her up to love God. God has turned their lives around.
This story ends where theirs begins. And I can’t wait to see what happens next!