Every year I look forward to making my family a photo calendar.
Last year around this time, we were finishing up our initial foster parent training course and waiting excitedly for our certification and that first phone call for a placement. We didn't know what to expect. We didn't know who would end up in our home, or for how long. It was possible that the first call could end up being for a forever child, all nicely and neatly; possible, even if unlikely.
So I felt a little weird about our photo calendar last year. We were getting certified to take in a child as old as age 2. What would they think about all of these things with Big Bro A plastered all over them, when our little foster son wasn't included? If we were planning the arrival of a new bio baby, we probably would have gone ahead without a second thought. After all, they would be many months away from caring about the pictures on the wall. But a bigger kid might get it right away.
I went ahead with the photo calendar. It turned out beautifully. I love it. There's a different verse for each month. There are verses about faith, and suffering, and thanksgiving, and orphan care. Verses that I thought might encourage us through some of the dark days of foster care.
Every year I wait for my free photo calendar credit from an online site. I just got mine today.
And I suddenly don't want to make a calendar this year.
I opened my photo gallery and stared at it for a minute. I scrolled through half a month. I looked at some beautiful pictures of the boys dressed up together for Halloween. I don't know if I can do a photo calendar this year.
The months are ticking away. Time passes so quickly with a baby in the home, even when each day can sometimes feel so long. The date they mentioned as "probably the earliest Baby S would go back to birth parent" feels sooner and sooner all the time.
I can't make the calendar, because I don't know if he'll still be here. I don't know when he's going to leave. I can't make a calendar without him in it. I can't just stop including him in that month when he might go. I can't stop having him in there partway through the year. How would I feel that first month I flip the page and he's not there? And yet - how would I feel if he leaves in the spring and by December we're still getting that fresh monthly reminder that there's another empty place in my heart that won't be filled in this lifetime?
Maybe it's a silly thing to let a calendar trip me up. I know I'm going to want pictures of him all over the place if and when he goes. I'm going to cry every day and every night for a lot of days and a lot of nights, and I'm going to hug the things he hugged and cry at the things he laughed at. I know that won't change no matter what is on my wall. I'm going to go back through my photo galleries and look at his pictures and videos over and over and let them become treasures as I celebrate and mourn my little one's return to his birth parent.
A calendar just seems to ask for certainty. It speaks of plans for the future. And we don't know. I feel powerless to plan this next year. I feel helpless as the month approaches. I trust God and I surrender it to him daily - hourly - every time we get frustrated with the system - every time we reach another baby milestone - each time Big Bro A is the best and sweetest big brother in the whole world. I truly believe in God's ability to use Baby S's situation for his good. I even believe that God's ultimate good does not always have to equal the safest, most stable childhood environment. I am willing to give that possibility over to God and willing to walk that road with him when it comes.
My calendar celebrates stable blessings in my life. I do not have stability in even those dearest treasures anymore. This might be the year we finally ditch those paper calendars. It's not exactly a necessary tool anymore.
But even if I pass on the calendar, the pain of the ever-approaching month will remain. And Baby Z's first birthday is fast approaching. Baby M's arrival and subsequent leaving anniversaries will be approaching soon after.
One of Big Bro's favorite things when he is sad is remembering that there are no more tears in heaven. There is no heartache, no hurt, and no uncertainty. There is no change. There is no more wrong or even ability for me to do wrong. I won't mess up and I won't have to wonder anymore. I'll have answers. I'll have Jesus. And whichever of my family follow after Jesus - I'll have them, too.
I love his sweet reminder of this beautiful promise. With each baby that leaves, I know there is one more little ache in my life that is not entirely a bad pain. It's a reminder. I'm not home yet. I'm hurting because this world is hard, and painful, and there is sadness and sin and sickness and neglect and abuse and death. But God's promise is that this is just a tiny blip in my forever, and when those little aches become more intense, it's just a stronger reminder:
Look forward to home. Home, where family is forever, and wholeness is the only option. I was never whole without Jesus anyway. These heartaches help me remember that. But one day I will be. I long for that day.