So, Vanilla Ice lyrics from "Ice Ice Baby" rattled in my head all day yesterday.
"Hey, we're VIP!" the chorus of six kids resounds across the backdrop of the expansive stadium field as we loop red bracelets around wrists. We seem to be an average large family hanging out in the VIP seats in a city baseball game, the skyline of downtown our canvas behind the scoreboard, an intermingling of new and old. Trains amble by among ancient smoke stacks, high rise businesses, and new construction.
America's favorite pastime (or longest pastime depending on who you're talking to) is pretty awesome VIP-style, which involves white table cloths and free food. We eat our second lunch of the day and then head to our stadium seats.
The kids dance to the beat of the music, which blasts over intercoms. The players stroll the Alabama red dirt to take bat.
It's the first inning and the kids' new white t-shirts reveal caramel stains from multiple trips to the cooler for fizzy beverages. Bright eyes and grins all around as they take in the moment and the joy of each others presence. It's been a few months since we've all been together.
By the third inning, I'm determined they've become barn animals by the scatterings of ankle deep crumpled bags, along with sunflower seeds and peanut hulls. Kevin reverts to his baseball days, a gob of sunflower seeds in his cheek, spitting the shells across all creation like a squirrel. So much for VIP.
It's over ninety degrees, but a breeze sweeps in and ruffles my dress and hair. It is glorious. The field, the skyline. The youngest boy is at my right shoulder shoveling barrels of roasted peanuts into his mouth. He suddenly shouts, mouth full and pointing, "Hey look at that bird!" A tiny sparrow alights on the black wire that secures the netting behind home plate. We watch it for a moment as it turns its head side to side admiring us. An explosion erupts from the crowd from a play and the bird flies off.
Shells are crushed under our feet like we're at a popular steakhouse restaurant rather than out in the open air and sunlight. He peers up and asks, "Hey, where do peanuts come from anyway?" No time for a reply as he jumps up, leaving the metal chair slapping loud behind him. I google growing peanuts and wait for his return. He comes back swinging a red pail by the handle, brimming with more.
We huddle over my phone for pictures and an abbreviated lesson on peanut growth. Who knew they aren't actually nuts? They're legumes like peas and beans. We go back to watching the game.
As the air sweeps in to ruffle the piles of trash encircling us, I want to ask him about their new foster home. I want to ask about his heart. There's an upcoming photo shoot for their faces to be made public, available for adoption. I wonder how a young child processes all this moving around? Different schools, new neighborhoods, living with strangers over and over again. I wonder if he's lost hope. Does he feel unwanted? I want to quote scripture and dive into the depths of his heart.
Considering we're yelling out Harry Belefonte's "Day-O" and Queen's "We Will Rock You" every few seconds, it feels bizarre to ask him these questions. Excavating the mounds of glass and emotions beneath the Cheshire cat grins and joy of a baseball game doesn't feel right.
We will adopt their sister in a few weeks . . . I want to say "We really wish things were different and our family could adopt you too." But I know it's not the right thing to say for now. My tongue is glued to my mouth and I just sit. Heavy words hang and want to come out.
How can serious talk happen when an enormous foam taco, bakery chef, ice cream cone, and hot dog appear on the field between innings to run a race? Who are these people that agree to this kind of job- dressing up as weird characters? Little Bitty and I chant "ice cream, ice cream, ice cream" over and over as we pump our fists in the air, because who wants a taco or hot dog to win? The hot dog crashes into the cone and chef man wins. I boo loudly, hands cupped to my mouth. The only one shouting from VIP, possibly the entire stadium. The boys were cheering for the hot dog.
Little Bitty winds up in her younger brother's lap. They place hands together and she says, "Your skin is brown like mine." He says, "You have baby hands." He shouts back to us, "Hey, do you curl her hair to be like this?" We laugh and tell him his hair would be the same way if it grew long, all spirals and ringlets. He unconsciously strokes and twists her hair in his hand, petting her like a cat. She grins in her sweet way, tilts her head sideways, and begins to dance.
And I think maybe just a sense of normalcy in a world of brokenness is chemotherapy to the soul. Hard talks can happen later if they want to bring things up. Maybe this is their place of rest in a confusing world. So we stay to the end of the game and let them run onto the field with bare feet, pretending to be minor league players, using the real team balls to play catch.
Then we drive to meet their new foster parents at a downtown gas station- an answered prayer- finally a home with a strong mama and daddy figure. We send them home with at least five pounds of roasted peanuts in a wadded up brown paper bag. Hugs and kisses all around.
This part of my life is beginning to feel normal and it really scares me. The boys have become like cousins to my biological kids. We only know an inch in the equator of story. That inch terrifies me. The abuse and neglect and horrible brokenness, the grief.
My brain sails to years from now. Will they ever be adopted? Will they age out of foster care and live life on the streets? Become numbers strummed out over the nightly news? How will this effect my children, their biological sister?
This element of parenting really sucks.
I want to know. I want to protect.
The unknowns tap me on the shoulder at 1:23am and I'm sitting on the couch with a bag of Doritos worrying and cramming in corn chips. Sick with fear; yet knowing we're exactly where we're supposed to be .
And then I think, isn't all parenting ultimately a release, a surrender to One greater? Even for the atheist, there's a letting go to the ocean of unknowns, even if they don't believe in One greater. For me, as a Christian, I know His plan from the beginning of all time was for Little Bitty to become ours forever.
His plan also includes us to love and beg the Father to rescue her two brothers, spiritually more than anything.
The future is all so utterly unknown to me, to all of us. The steps of My children, their choices, their lives. Isaiah 49:15 comes to mind: "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
The reality of mamas who give birth and catch a Greyhound bus back across town alone to go get high, leaving little ones behind at the hospital. This world where mamas live with souls so tortured, they burn their babies or fling them across the room like rag dolls. Disabled children surviving and hospitalized, left alone to heal and be placed in foster care.
"Though she may forget, I will not forget you!"
Although the neurons in the gray matter can't connect it all - why I'm here and they are there- I know it's part of God's mystery, His sovereignty, grace, and saying yes to His call to put one foot in front of the other into the scary, dark places. To stand in the gap to reach the broken. And He's there before us, behind us, and with us.
It all comes down to grace. That's where I'm always led back to. With my bag of Doritos. In the stumbling out of bed into brambles of horrifying scenarios and real life statistics, there's truth I can rest in. I have to belly flop into the only thing that is sure- I'm insanely loved and pursued by the One who knows and sees. He cares more about all these children than I possibly can.
I'm incapable of having all the answers. Grace allows me to surrender to the One who knows. That's all I have to cling to- hope and grace.