Fifteen years ago, I said goodbye to my son. He’d only been with us for 11 months, but he was part of our family. My husband and I were foster parents to Paul (not his real name), a refugee from Sudan. He was among the so-called Lost Boys who were victims of their country’s civil war. At the time, our oldest child was 3 and our middle child was a toddler. The youngest wasn’t even a thought yet.
Birthdates were among the vast losses in his young life, but Paul was likely 15 or 16 when he started experiencing the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, finally remembering some of the horrors he’d lived through at a very young age. After quickly becoming a warm and enthusiastic member of our family in the first few months, he became depressed. Much of his frustration was directed at us. He was angry all the time, and we didn’t know how to help him. He couldn’t even hear us anymore. Just as we were hitting the lowest point, I had an early miscarriage. The social worker decided the time had come to move him into an apartment with a few other Sudanese men who were just a bit older.
I was terrified on Paul’s behalf. How would he navigate the rest of high school with so many burdens, so many obstacles to overcome? I knew that we had done what we could, and that we had at least helped him learn English and become accustomed to American culture, but it didn’t seem possible that he would make it on his own.
The day he moved out was a Sunday. He sat next to me in church that morning, stiff and defensive, and I was a wreck.
Our minister preached from Hosea that morning. Hosea’s wife Gomer had left him, and she was making a fool of him with unfaithfulness and debased living. God told Hosea to be patient, to leave her in God’s hands. Pastor Roze related this to parents who had adult children who were wandering spiritually, assuring them that sometimes they need to let go and leave them in God’s hands.
I knew that God was speaking to me through her words. I had a sense of peace through the difficult events of the rest of the day, as we folded towels and sheets into laundry baskets and piled them with extra toothpaste, soap, and food. As we drove him to the apartment, as we helped him make the bed, as he averted his eyes from us, as we drove away.
Of course I worried. For the next couple of years, however, Paul was assigned a mentor who was able to walk beside him in a way that he wouldn’t let us, an invaluable blessing. We didn’t hear from Paul for a while. But when he graduated from high school, he asked us to come. The next fall I helped him pack again and moved him into a dorm room at his university. Letting go did not mean he was lost. It meant that God was in control, not us.
Fifteen years later we again have a child moving out. Our oldest biological son is starting college. I have all sorts of mixed emotions about this transition, in spite of the fact that Andrew has had the benefit of a safe and healthy life, a supportive and nurturing church, and family who has always been there for him.
But there is one thing I know. I can let go and leave him in God’s hands. God has proven himself faithful throughout human history and in our tiny little family history. As much as I love him, God loves him more, and those are some strong hands to hold onto.
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