Watching and Waiting

Watching and Waiting – Easter 4

I’ve been thinking a lot about waiting lately. I’m willing to bet we all are.

My mind keeps going to Noah and the waiting that he and his family endured. He was cooped up in a boat with all the craziness of his whole family, every animal known to man (literally), seemingly never-ending rain outside and the nagging feeling of the unknown. I can’t even imagine!

Even as the rain stopped and the waters receded, we’re told there were precautions that Noah took to assure everyone’s safety. He waited and took steps until it was the right time to leave the boat. He looked for the signs.

The top of the mountains appeared. Yes! He sent a raven to scope things out. Then a dove. A week later, again the dove that brings back an olive leaf. Whew, finally a sign of hope! One final time the dove was sent and did not return. It was time to leave the ark. Alleluia!

Depending on who you ask some say Noah and his people were in that boat for as little as 50 something days or as long as 378 days. Either way, that’s a really long time.

Does any of this sound familiar? We “celebrated” 50 days of self-quarantine this week! Maybe I have resonated with Noah during this last month or so more than ever. I’m sure he felt good about his decision to shelter in place, but I am also confident that the days were long and filled with doubt.

I can understand the despair he must have felt when the dove didn’t come back with anything and he had to wait another week to see that freshly plucked olive leaf that provided hope. This phased re-opening and living week-to-week in anticipation of the next step feels commonplace.

The waiting is just so hard.

I’ve thought about all the other times I’ve had to wait for what seemed like an excruciatingly long time - my wedding day, graduation, the birth of our children. I felt pretty good about how these things would turn out so it made the waiting easier or at least more joyfully anticipated.

But what about the times when you aren’t sure how things will play out? Or when they will end, if ever? The waiting feels harder in those moments.
Apart from this time in quarantine where I truly have no idea how this all works out for us, the only other time in my life that stands out as the hardest season of waiting was when our youngest son was still in foster care.

Fun fact: May is Foster Care Awareness Month.

Asa spent 948 days in foster care. We were lucky enough to be part of his journey for 944 of those days. That’s longer than Noah on the ark no matter what source you listen to!

For those of you trying to do the quick math, that’s about two and half years. Two and a half years of waiting, praying and advocating that the outcome would be what we hoped for. Sending out that dove and feeling such relief when the olive leaf was returned. The outcome was what we wanted, but it didn’t come without some serious soul-searching, growth and just plain exhaustion.

You see when you start something like foster care, you go into it all revved up and ready to go. You may be scared out of your mind, but you feel like, ‘I’ve got this!’. You have energy for it. You feel alive in ways that you never have before.

It’s sort of like that color-coded calendar, new hobby or list of things you hoped to accomplish at the beginning of quarantine. We were all such go-getters seven weeks ago!

But then, reality sets in. You start to learn more about the child in your care. You start to find out things about their birth mom that aren’t too pleasant. You realize that the system is overwhelmed and you may or may not ever hear back from your caseworker. You are reminded regularly that this is not your child; he is someone else’s. And things get complicated.

When Asa was six months old, we attended a visit with his biological mother for the first time. Up to this point, a transporter had taken him to these visits. This scenario is not uncommon because it gives the parents alone time with their children and honestly, it’s just a lot less awkward. At this point in the journey, we were in love with this little boy and we were unsure what the future held. He may be reunified with his mother or his case could move toward adoption which may give us a shot at raising him. Either way that played out, we knew we wanted to be in his life so it seemed like the appropriate time to start building a relationship with his birth mom.

The visit went amazingly well. By that point, we had learned that normal looked really different for us so we just rolled with it. That doesn’t mean that it was easy - especially for our little man. I actually blogged about this visit and it’s wild to look back on my words because they speak to me in light of our scriptures for today and this season of a new normal we find ourselves in. Isn’t it great when your past self speaks life over your present self?

Here’s part of that blog from five years ago:
The experience was unique to say the least - unlike anything I have ever been a part of.  It was such a picture of brokeness and wholeness wrapped into one. A family torn apart and a new one that has formed. And in this image there was a tension, a confusion, as to who was the voice that would lead and guide this child in this moment and into his future. Would it be that familiar sound he had heard for nine months in the womb or would it be these newer voices that had spoken love, peace and security in the midst of his chaos? I believe each of us - his mother,  Shannon and me - left that day with uncertainty. Overwhelmed. And maybe even hopeless.

The rest of the afternoon showed the signs of this confusion in our little one. He was clingy, easily distraught and totally dependent on me for the rest of the day. Seeing the direct effects on him made me realize that this experience for him was more than just a lunch meeting - it was the story of his life. Two mothers speaking two very different languages of love to him.  Hers as his biological mother; mine as his other mother. His other mother who loves him as her own and has been given the amazing privilege to be his provider, comforter and consistent presence for now. I realized he needed me to be the voice that was most familiar to him in the midst of this moment; he needed me to offer him the security of a safe place to land. So, we rocked and cuddled a lot that night. And I prayed and cried and relied on the Holy Spirit to utter the words for me.

One week removed from this experience, I am still seeking understanding. Still trying to wrap my mind around what all this means and what I am to do to be faithful. And this weekend at our Women's Retreat, God gave me some help. Through a close examination of Psalm 23, we began discussing what it truly means to view God as our Shepherd.

A shepherd looks after his/her flock with great care and intensity  - a care that manifests as nurturer, provider, corrector, redeemer and protector. The sheep are totally dependent on the shepherd. They are easily lost and confused, require guidance and instruction, and rely on the voice of their shepherd.

It occurred to me for this season in our little man’s life, I am his shepherd. The one he turns to when he's confused and the voice that speaks peace to his heart. At the same time, I have a shepherd who I can turn to when I am just as confused and need a voice of peace.  And just like the sheep who are a little slow to get it sometimes, it took me a week to fully grasp that I had a protector wanting to simply hold me and rock me gently... a protector to offer me the security of a safe place to land.

It’s a restless time for all of us right now. Goodness, there are a lot of voices and a lot of noise. It’s hard to know which one to listen to, isn’t it? Whose advice do we take?

I feel in some ways like that sweet baby after visiting with his two mamas – disoriented, confused, tired, torn in multiple directions, and well, flat out fussy.

I am not okay.

We are not okay.

Actually, that is okay.

So, what do we do when we are collectively not okay?

We wait.

We wait trusting the voice of the shepherd to guide us and be with us in the coming days.

We wait knowing God will wrap us up in love especially when we feel out of sorts.

We wait with a cup that overflows with gratitude for the gifts and generosity of this church.

We wait for that sign of the olive leaf that says all is well. You can come out now.

And while we wait, we become people who lie down in green pastures, 

who sit beside the still waters, 

and who bask in the knowledge that surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives.