Excruciating Love

heart shaped shadow over a crack in a pavement

It was just past a year back when I sat with the young woman. I was the closest thing to a relative. I had been caring for her little ones for nearly two years and pulling for her, longing to see her take the steps necessary for even a chance at getting to really be a mom again. I sat beside her as the attorney guided her through the forms. I helped make sure she knew what she was doing. I sat just a few feet away as the judge went step by step through the whole thing. She signed the form. She affirmed with her voice. She acknowledged in that moment that the best thing for them would never be life with her.

It would likely have happened even if she had not let go. But she did it. She let go so they could have a better life. I knew it was the right thing. I knew it was more heroic than she could really understand. I knew it was the absolute most loving thing she could do for them. And I knew the agony she was experiencing as she lay down her rights for their good.

She had to let go.

It was love. And it was excruciating.

A grandmother is a treasure. A grandmother that is willing to step into the ugliest of situations and make all of the requisite preparations to take on two toddlers with a massive pile of emotional baggage… well, that’s a hero in my book. And when that grandmother, overwhelmed with the task before her and hanging on for dear life and bombarded by other family obligations on top of it realizes she is drowning and simply cannot be all that they need… it’s a terrifying realization.

She did the unthinkable and acknowledged that these precious lives needed more than she had to give. They had to have a chance. She lay her precious treasure in the hands of a pair of strangers that she hoped would let her stay connected. She loved them so much that she had to get them to something better even though it was out of her reach.

She had to let go.

It was love. And it was excruciating.

We had signed the forms and done all of the paper work. The background checks and the home study had been completed. The videos had been watched and quizzes passed and all of the litany of boxes were both literally and figuratively checked. We had said no a few times because the moment wasn’t right and the fit wasn’t there. But then this picture came along and the chord of recognition hit us.

And there they were, terror in their eyes, anxiety in their manner, and hearts more sore than their minds could find a way to express. For the first time in their life they had their own space. For the first time in their short lives they had a father figure that was safe to wrestle and play and be silly with. But there was so much to learn. And learn we surely did.

We learned about the ways that trauma short-circuits the brain and the ways that strong connections with reliable people help re-wire those circuits. We learned how to make transitions easier and how to find baby steps in most anything. We learned the incredible healing power of a stay-home day.

26 months later we loaded their belongings and drove them to their forever home. We put them into the hands of a couple as desperate to be parents as these boys were to find forever. We passed the precious treasure on to the ones we believed could get them across the finish line. We had hopes and dreams that went with them. We had so much love that will never be forgotten. We loved them through so much grief and heartache and anger and pain. We loved them through a pandemic and learning to go to school and church. We loved them at times ineptly and at other times brilliantly. We learned how to work with each of those very big, very unique personalities to make many more good choices than bad ones.

We put them in the hands that we had been praying for since the day we met them. We handed them over. 

We had to let go.

It was love.

And it was excruciating.

That word… excruciating. It means “causing great pain or anguish.” But it’s root is the latin word, “crux.” We know it as “cross.” It comes from the very agony that was experienced by those who were nailed to a wooden cross to hang in public mockery until death. Jesus of Nazareth was not at all the only person to go through such agony. Many in that era shared that fate. However, just like that young mother, that precious grandmother, and even us foster parents, Jesus didn’t have to do it.

Jesus came to this earth to take on humanity like a garment. He lived a flawless life and was wrongfully accused. In His deity, He could have escaped that scene on Skull Hill. But He did what you and I needed. He died in my place. He stretched out His hands and feet and allowed those men to nail Him to a rough-hewn timber cross. He prayed to the Father, “Into Your hands I commit my spirit.”

Then He let go of His very life.

It was love.

And it was excruciating.

When I look back at this journey, I recognize the heroes through this story. And I realize that I cannot imagine a more powerful reflection of the gospel. We sought only to do what Jesus did for us. He stepped down into our mess and took our guilt and agony upon Himself so that I could have a better life… forever. We tried to do the same for two little lives that I still expect to see every time I look out the window at the swings shaken only by the breeze.

We had to let go.

It was love.

And it was excruciating.

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