I woke up the next morning with a throbbing toe. That’s when I realized that I had kicked some of the loose rocks in the driveway a lot harder than I thought I had. I was heading to town when he called. “You have to let them go,” he told me.
Let them go! How do you “let go” of two of your kids? How do you go from kissing them goodnight, braiding their hair, and helping them with their homework to possibly never seeing them again? God, I’m just not strong enough for this.
We’d made an exception when a mother with a paralyzed husband begged us to take her youngest daughter along with her granddaughter who was being raised by a single mother with epilepsy. We don’t normally take children with parents at the children’s home where I work, but in this case Pastor Simon had made an exception. An exception that was now causing all of us a lot of pain.
A year later the mother changed her mind. She wanted the two girls back. She didn’t like the fact that she couldn’t come and take the girls whenever she wanted to. She was threatening to cause trouble if we didn’t return them that week so that they could start school where she lived. That’s when I realized that it’s possible to love someone so much that it hurts.
I wanted to fight. Take it to the courts. Legally the children were under our guardianship, and I didn’t want them to go back to a home where they wouldn’t be taken care of like they had been over the last year. But, the decision was not mine and while everything in me wanted to fight it deep in my heart I knew that a judge would end up rewarding the children back to their biological relatives, so was it best to go down that road?
I felt like a robot packing a backpack for Esther while Richelle packed one for Michelle. Their toothbrushes, dolls, jump rope, shoes, and clothes. This was it. Our family was being split apart. I tried to hold it together for the other kids , but I wasn’t doing a very good job. I love my girls. Sometimes when I would be cooking breakfast on a Saturday morning Michelle (who is usually very independent) would come up to me, jump into my arms and hold on to me like her life depended on it. Esther is not much of a cuddler, but when we walked down the road she loved to hold my hand and when I’d tell her that I loved her she would always flash me one of her beautiful, bright smiles. I loved her giggly laugh, her cute cubby checks, and her sweet personality. When I told her that her mom wanted her to come and live with her again her eyes immediately filled with tears, and then she got very quiet. The brightness in her eyes disappeared and was replaced with a vacant stare. How do you explain to a child that you have no control in some situations? How do you say goodbye to one of your children knowing that if you do ever see them again everything will be different. They belong to someone else now. My mind still can’t fathom that.
I cried a lot—confused, desperate, angry tears. I felt numb, powerless, and broken as I watched the car drive away. “I’ll come back when it’s over,” Michelle had said quoting a line from “The Call” one of her favorite songs.
“I hope so,” Richelle had told her.
“What is hope,” she asked.
“I want you to,” Richelle said.
Ruthann had the hard job of riding with the girls and Pastor Simon to give them back to their relatives, and then it was over. At least as over as something like that can be.
I sat with little Kevin and held him as he cried over the loss of his sisters. Later, I sat with my arm around Niko when I found him sitting on the edge of the driveway in tears. I had no words, no answers, nothing to give but my presence and at that moment it didn’t feel like enough. The rest of the day is a blur.
One of our older boys gave me a pep talk about how God sees everything and knows everything. “I know,” I told him, “But, I’ll never see them I again.”
“Two mountains never meet,” he replied, “but people, people will meet again.”
Maybe we will meet again. I have no guarantee but maybe. In the meantime we are all still praying for God to get us through this, to hold us, to bring some good from this heartache. He sees. He knows even when we don’t. That doesn’t lessen the pain, but as least it is a whisper of hope. Right now, by God’s grace, we’re surviving one day at a time. Sometimes people think that working in a children’s home in Africa is some kind of romantic adventure full of wet kisses and fun little adventures. Some days that is true, but other days it just plain hurts. It hurts to love this deeply.