As I mentioned last time, I have never written about Joshua, the beautiful little boy who we thought was ours, but sadly lost. Legally he was not ours, as you will see, but emotionally we were all in. Now that it has been more than 25 years since those sad days, I am ready to share it with others (at least I think I am).
We didn’t blog back then, but if we did, I think I would have written a much different story. That story would have been riddled with why questions, pain, anger, self-righteousness, and frustration. It would also reveal my feeble attempts to believe that God was still good, but would have revealed my lack of confidence that it was really true (even though I desperately wanted and needed it to be so). At the time this would have been obvious to everyone but me.
This story will still have some why questions, but as you may see, I have come to the spot where I wanted to be back then, the weaned child resting against its mother, no longer struggling, fuming, fussing, or frustrated. The anger is gone, and the bitterness has vaporized. Make no mistake; I still want to ask some of my leftover why questions, when I finally meet God in heaven, but others tell me that my such questions will vanish away in His loving and powerful presence. For me that is huge, because I am a big why question person. Smile. (There must be a weason! could have been my own mantra). As I have come to understand more about God and His goodness, I tend to think that my friends are right, and that our arrival in heaven will be accompanied by one big Oh! Now I see! moment, followed by a few How did I miss that? moments. And the answer to that half-rhetorical, half-serious question will be a warm embrace, and beautiful smile from Jesus (who I imagine smiles even better than Denzel Washington). He (Jesus, not Denzel) will tell me that it doesn’t matter anymore, and that He is happy to see me living in the full measure of His love, which by the way, was there all the time. And then I will smile back, and those happy tears of mine will flow like a river.
The Emotional Roller Coaster Ride Begins
The long-awaited phone call came one pretty spring morning from an Atlanta pastor who knew of our wish to adopt. This very kind man, who with his wife, was also a member of the Infertility Club, (unbeknownst to us at the time), informed us that he was working with a very distraught young woman who had planned to give her baby up for adoption, but at the last minute changed her mind. Understandably, she could not bring herself to let go of him, so she took him home, but sadly under very difficult circumstances. She lived in a rather poor environment, with a father who was not very nice to her, but she had no money, and nowhere else to go. Her father was a chain-smoker, and therefore her son had many respiratory issues, which troubled this young mother greatly, and caused her to see that perhaps she made the wrong decision in keeping him. So she tried to work up enough courage to place him for adoption once again. She was convinced that giving him up for adoption would probably bring about much long term good for her son, but she loved him and simply could not bear to part with him. This tortured soul, like many of us, was caught in a battle of emotions vs. intellect. She indicated that she knew her son would be better off with a loving, stable family, and a clean environment, but she could not bring herself to make that happen for him. I am sorry to admit that I was critical of her for this lapse of good judgement back then, but now I feel like I understand such fierce, lioness love. And in the honesty that age and experience afford, I can admit that I am not sure if I could have given up this beautiful baby boy either, even if I too lived in a hazardous environment, in dire poverty, as a single mother with an abusive father.
So after the standard exchanges of letters of introduction, and information about each other, a date to receive Joshua was set, and we began to prepare for his arrival. I finally began preparing a baby nursery, and attended to each little detail with such joyful anticipation. I sewed curtains and crib bumpers, so happy to be in a store explaining to the cashier that I needed to get these items ready for our son’s arrival. The store clerk pity comments of my past were replaced with shared excitement and congratulatory remarks. I made sure that the shelves, diaper pail, changing table, rocking chair, and night light all coordinated perfectly, and that everything was spotless and ready to go.
But then another phone call came, and the kind pastor informed us that the mother did not get on the plane, but changed her mind again. She simply could not bear to let go of her son, which I now understand more completely. In fact I feel the full range of pathys, from sympathy all the way to empathy. Back then however, I was simply angry and disappointed.
We tried to recoup from this failed adoption, and seemed to be making progress. The empty nursery turned out to be both a quiet place for me to think and pray, and a sad reminder of our empty nest. I would waver between sitting in that rocker alone, singing, dreaming, and praying, and keeping the door shut so I wouldn’t have to see it.
Then the pastor called again, about a month or two later. The child continued to be sick, and the young mom had been told by the pediatricians that he was only going to get worse if she did not remove him from the cigarette smoke. This poor young mom was so trapped between her poverty and her love for her child. Many years later I would think of her while attending Les Miserables at the Fox Theatre. Like Cosette, she had no resources, and found herself forced to provide for her child by letting someone else raise him. I now feel so sad that there were no better choices for her. I know some may wonder why she did not let the church help her. That seems simple enough, and I believe there were offers of help, but often those who are so low, and so ashamed do not want to be around shiny church people, even when they are in need of the offered aid. I know and love some of those people, and I sympathize with their feelings of shame and embarrassment, and I feel so sorry that often I am at a loss to help (notice I did not say that the church is at a loss, although sometimes they are-but it’s me too). Helping without making things worse is probably a lot more difficult than most folks realize.
So a new date was set, and like the first time, the mother did not show up for her flight, and again had reneged. This second time seemed to hurt more; in the wise words of Barney Fife: fool me once, shame on you–fool me twice shame on me. I had begun to see that this mother had zero empathy for our situation, and this made angry. How can one human being treat another human being this way? But of course now I see that when you are up to your neck in alligators, you are not in much of a position to consider others’ situations. It seems almost silly to me now that I would have thought our feelings were of much import to someone who was wrestling with the dilemma of giving up her precious baby boy. The long view contains mercy, and understanding. The short view however was that she was a mean, hateful woman to do this to an earnest young couple, not once, but twice.
Fall (both the season, and our own descent into hell)
Again we tried to recover, and many kind words and notes and prayers came our way, which were all appreciated. We felt that we were making some progress when the third phone call came. It was the fall of 1984, and Joe was beginning his first year of graduate school in psychology. Maybe he would find some healing there, and would be able to help both of us. A new chapter of life was beginning, and we welcomed the change. We were still full of sorrow inside, but with the help of our family and our wonderful friends at Perimeter Church, we seemed to be coming back to life.
Why oh why did that third phone call have to come just when we were beginning to feel better? The kind pastor explained that the mother was so sorry for the pain she caused, and that she knew that we probably did not trust her. Hmmmm…some of that empathy that I had not seen before—this got our attention. She knew that she had caused us great pain. I actually liked knowing that; it made me feel that for the first time she saw us as human beings. Her son’s health had continued to decline, past the constant cough, cold, and ear infections to asthma. She could not bear to see him suffer, and wondered….would that couple in Atlanta still be willing to adopt him?
Some of you are reading this and yelling Run Joe & Liz! Run for your lives!!! Surely you see where this is going? There’ll be other babies!! Others are whispering softly, some with tears…I understand why you said yes; we would have done it too.
Yes, that couple in Atlanta is still willing to take Joshua.
There was plenty of reason to think that this would not end well; we had seen that this young mother was wavering, and emotional, but we thought that was pretty understandable. However we did not know that in the end, she would become angry and demanding, handing out last minute deal-breaking ultimatums, to which we complied, all against our own good judgement. We were in too deep and we were getting so close. And we felt that we were helping to give Joshua a better life. So we kept going.
Again, not wishing to frustrate my dear readers, but wishing to lay out the story with all the thoughtful sorting it requires, I will stop here. I need a break and perhaps you do as well (and where are those tissues?).
The rest of the story stretches credulity, and civility, and as you will see, drained my empathy reservoir all the way down to empty. For those who are giving me credit for understanding the young mother’s actions so far, you may want to wait on that till next time.