A month ago yesterday he left, our summer son — who’d spent his every waking (and sleeping) moment with our family for the preceding 38 days. Our host-to-love boy. His departure was the strangest experience. I drove him to the airport, talking and hanging out in the car… Just the two of us. Bought him lunch in the terminal, rode up in the elevator with him, took a selfie of the two of us amidst the other host kids and the baggage. He stopped to again make sure I had his email address and phone number; I showed him I did, sent him an email from my smartphone at the airport so it’d be waiting for him after he landed. All the while I wondered if I’d ever see him again, this boy who now lived so fully in my heart. Whom I’d fed and clothed and taught and played cards with and cheered on in swim meets. The thought of not seeing him again cut deeply and I willfully pushed it off. But still I was careful with my words to make sure I wouldn’t let any slip out – typical airports words like “can’t wait till you come back” or “see you before long” – that I couldn’t back up. That might prove untrue. That might sting later. He’d become energetic and goofy when the gang of departing Latvians gathered in the terminal– a firm hug and an earnest goodbye and thank you, and he was through the security gate with the crowd.
It’s profoundly odd to love a person deeply and to say goodbye in what may be a final way. A kind of death.
Program veterans said to wait a spell when hosting ended if you didn’t yet know what course to take afterwards. The options shake out to be basically these: host the child again; pursue adoption; advocate for the child by trying to find him an adoptive family; or do nothing (i.e., allow the hosting to be a stand-alone experience between you and the child). We saw wisdom in waiting to figure it out; we didn’t know. “See how you feel a week or two later,” they said. “See what’s said and not said by members of your family in the days after hosting ends, and what is in your own heart.” We needed to wait.
The weekend we dropped W. off was the weekend the kids and I started our family vacation in the north. So we didn’t return home to a house with him not in it, as we might have. Instead, we were onto new and different summer experiences – seeing cousins after months apart; swimming in the new pool. He came up in conversation for a day or so- that we missed W., how weird it was he was gone. After that I was left mostly with my own prayers and ponderings, occasionally discussed with my husband back home on the phone. How seriously should we pursue the idea of trying to add W. to our family?
On one hand we love W. deeply and found his personality suited to our family – active and outdoorsy; jump into any activity; chatty and engaged. And on this same hand, his capability and obvious resilience and lack of problematic behaviors seemed to call out – hey, you could really do this. On the other hand, there were real and front-burner obstacles to consider. He’s three years older than our oldest kid – slightly more, even – and we found the age gap very notable and, candidly, awkward to navigate. He’s in a completely different phase than our other kids, and rather than populating our “child” sphere with the rest of our troupe, he gravitates up toward the adult sphere. This is right and normal for a nearly 12-year-old, a preteen. But we’ve not been there before yet – not by a long shot – and who knows what skipping phases might feel like? For us, for W., or for our kids? And one of the biggest challenges during hosting was trying to bridge the gap between our firstborn, our only son, and W. when their age-appropriate interests and behaviors were so varied. At times they connected fine – playing chess or kicking the soccer ball. I loved those moments (and so did my son). More often, though, their interactions and activities at home required facilitation and a little massaging by me, and I felt a gnawing wondering about how that all would – or maybe wouldn’t – become normal and healthy if the situation were to become long-term.
Before we hosted W. we’d been told that he was "ambivalent about adoption;” three weeks after W. went home we got word that he didn’t want to be adopted. We were slightly surprised to hear this because his love for our family was evident, especially for my husband and me. Affection was just obvious. But we weren’t too surprised because by the time he left, it was obvious how much he loved his foster family (with whom he’s lived for three years), and how attached he was to them. That situation is the best and closest he’s had in his life, and by all appearances they care for him well.
Thus, suddenly the whole thing immediately was settled. We were leaning, with sadness, toward, “We love this kid but the fit and age realities just aren’t right for our family”… And then we get confirmation in his own response: I want to stay where I am. Love on both sides, yes, but no grafting. It’s not meant to be.
So now. There’s relief in the clarity and clear leading of God. There’s gratitude for the gift of this profound and unparalleled experience that we were given in hosting. There’s awe in the amazing nature and character of the boy we had and loved this summer, a boy whose character and resilience simultaneously enlarge and humble me. He changed my life. And there’s sadness and almost bewilderment in accepting that our path may never cross with W’s again. Yet I hold the goodness and sovereignty of God in this – for our path and for W’s. God knows what he’s doing with our lives; nothing with Him is random.
Thank you Lord for the gift. Protect our W. – who’s really your W. – as only you can, and as you already have. Through prayer we’ll forever hold him in our hearts.
(Part of a blogging series on orphan-hosting with Project 143)
Originally published September 4, 2014