We came into church, late as usual, sneaking into the back aisle while feeding our hungry infant with his bottle. We were late again because the challenge of coordinating a foster family of tweens, toddlers and an infant is real, and punctuality a frequent casualty of our daily struggle. My husband and I snuggled close to this growing bundle of joy as we joined our congregation in singing of harvest and gratitude, fear and comfort. I breathed in the sweet baby smell still surprised by how much I love this tiny person who arrived in our life with a two day notice a few months before, upending our carefully balanced family. The baby loudly gulped and we encountered the usual mix of encouraging sympathetic smiles and judgmental brow furrows from others who seem to be signaling that we should consider using the church nursery. The owners of those furrowed brows don’t know what it is like to love a neglected child. He deserves every moment we can give him for bonding as we don’t know how long we have to provide for his needs. We aren’t interrupting their service callously. We stopped sitting in the separate baby room a couple of weeks ago because it is so separate from our congregation we felt invisible. We need our church family for connection.
Our children’s minister takes the podium and reminds the congregation that this week is our annual baby dedication Sunday. She has lovingly invited all families with infants born that year to participate. Each family takes a turn reading a personally chosen Scripture over their newborn, and a loving congregant prays over each child dedicating themselves to support the child’s parents and the child. We sit and hold our son silently praying for his future, for his good, for his protection. Secretly I am bitter. I want this sweet baby to have celebration, support and prayer. Yet, my sweet, under resourced baby from a broken place is once again left out of the love of community. He is not neglected because of intentional action, he is just invisible. No one has ever considered that some children can’t be publicly dedicated, but still should be celebrated and prayed for. Until today, I never thought of that need. I see confused faces and a few head nods encouraging us take our baby to the dedication line. I can’t share with my church family why we pray earnestly from our seats. I see another foster mother swaying with her infant a few seats away, she also looks very sad. I whisper prayers for her baby and for mine. I pray fervently that God is raising up mentors and resources for their future. I snuggle my boy closely while he gulps and giggles. He doesn’t yet know he is invisible.
The months of baby feedings, sleepless nights and uncertainty are taking their tole on my emotional composure, my husband and I are both irritable and stressed. My church family has no idea the burden we are carrying today. I cried most of the song service. This week’s message on patience in times of fear is personal and hard. I can’t share openly with this room of intimate strangers the joys and agonies of raising children I did not birth and may not keep. Law and privacy have created a wall of separation between our family and our congregation. Today it feels ten feet thick. Being a foster parent means learning the art of respectfully declining to share. I have learned evasive answers when well-meaning acquaintances express surprise that I am holding a baby when I never looked pregnant. I have learned to express words of grace when others share disdain for the mother they don’t know anything about. To defend my sweet sons’ privacy I can’t express my fears about this week’s impending court date. I can’t say out loud how I fear for the safety and security of my sons, who may be temporary in the eyes of the law, but are cemented in my heart. Their family struggle, their mother’s journey grasping towards redemption is private and sacred. I can’t share with my congregation how the struggle of their mother’s life has become the struggle of my life. I can’t share why I am still fearful for their safety and their future. But the fear encroaches, growing louder as the clock ticks on towards our goal review hearing. Surrounded by a loving church family, I feel isolated and alone. Foster parenting is never an easy path, but today it feels so very lonely. I feel invisible.
The service ends with a well-meaning reminder that all member families have one more week to have their picture taken for our membership directory. My husband and I share a grimace, we have decided that we can’t take pictures when a 1/3 of our family can’t included in the directory. Our biological children don’t want to take family pictures that do not include our whole family. We have chosen to be invisible in solidarity with our sons.
In the lobby as we exit our congregation has set up a table advertising Orphan Sunday and encouraging members to celebrate foster care and adoption. I am grateful for the effort on the part of our leadership and our congregation to care about this concern so close to my heart. It is only when the church starts to look for the invisible pains and to amplify the voices of those effected by the pains and joys of being orphaned, being removed from broken families and the rocky road of redemption that we will all become more visible. I take comfort in knowing that God is with us and watching out for our sweet sons as there is no creature invisible before Him, but all things are uncovered and laid bare to the eyes of Him to whom is our reckoning – Hebrews 4:13.