Two years ago, God broke my heart for the orphan. There were already cracks. My trips to Haiti and Africa provided more than enough fissures to last a lifetime. But when a high school senior cleared his throat and asked me to be his mom, I’m absolutely certain you could hear the crash of the remnants of my heart falling all around me.
What came of that question was a sudden shift in priorities. Our four-bedroom house on the east side of Austin we rented for the purpose of high school ministry suddenly made even more sense with the nineteen year old looking around his room and declaring, “Man. All I wanted was a bed. I haven’t had my own bed in forever. But my own room? Yeah. This’ll work.” And then he hugged me, a tight hug that smelled of Axe body spray. These hugs would be my undoing over the next few months. Slowly, the mom-heart I kept frozen and at bay began to soften and pulse again.
Our world of two became a world of three—just like that—and sometimes there were others, friends of our son, who made their home with us for awhile. The football player I won over by keeping his favorite sweets stocked. The girl who made it her mission to give me gray hairs in my first experience of Manipulative Girlfriend 101. The dance crew we cheered and videotaped in Target and coffee shops, or wherever the impulse struck.
Our hearts were full—so full. We knew it wasn’t conventional: We were 20somethings with a 19-year-old senior for a son. But, for us, it was perfect and precisely what we needed to push us toward God’s all-encompassing love for the directionless and the displaced. And while there were no papers signed or government officials looking over our shoulders to deem us worthy of parenting, we were a family all the same. He wasn’t ours. Not in the typical sense. Not in the flesh and blood or renaming or documentation sense. But, are they ever ours?
We knew the love we had for this make-shift son of ours was sign of things to come. We whispered in the dark—secrets that before we only half-joked about so we wouldn’t cry in fear. Yet around Christmas, we announced our hope to adopt even more. We started in Ethiopia and seven months later landed our hearts stateside. We applied for the bi-racial infant adoption through a domestic agency, and were approved within months. Instead of adopting from another country, we decided to stick close to home.
What followed was a whirlwind: We moved out of the neighborhood and our son, after reconciling with his birth mother, moved back to Arkansas. And just like that, our three became two again.
Two waiting to become three. And waiting … and waiting.
Right now, there’s an empty Bumbo seat in our closet. My boss offered it to us, saying her son never used it.
“Don’t spend the money,” she said, “Let me bring ours. I can bring some other stuff too—bibs, a rocker, maybe some blankets?”
All these things and more are sitting resolutely on a shelf next to diapers and empty bottles, waiting with us. And sometimes, I want to shove them in a box and never look at them again. Sometimes, the missing piece seems so evident and it’s impossible for me to keep from shaking my fist and asking why everything is taking so long.
And sometimes, I force myself to sit in the fossilized cracks of my heart so I remember what brought me here. Only in this space am I able to remember how much I resisted letting go of my schedule and my plans and my comfort. I remember the nights spent awake, fists clenched tight in absolute fear of taking that first step. I didn’t believe in my instincts as a mother, didn’t know if I could stomach the wait, and wasn’t certain I wanted to share my husband with a tiny human.
But God—He has a way of changing us. And with me, it happened with the words of a self-assured teenage boy asking for someone to mother him.
Elora Nicole Ramirez is a writer learning how to share her story and helping you find your own. She believes in Beauty, playing in the pain and leaning into grace. You can follow her on twitter (@eloranicole), read more on her blog (eloranicole.com) and check out her novel, Come Alive (Rhizome Publishing).