Many of you have seen my recent video where I share about my friend Kara. She sent me a package of left shoes, and in the second box stuffed some purses, self care items, and books she was finished with. It touched me so deeply and made me feel loved and cared for. The thing that no one knew about this shipment, however, was that it had some slippers. I needed new slippers – or rather I wanted new slippers, one can hardly call something like slippers a need. Rather than buy a new pair I had mentioned it in passing to the Lord. Not even in a prayer, really, just an acknowledgement as I went about my day and shared things with him. I don’t recall even asking. No one else knew this because it was such a small thing, and Kara’s exact text to me was “I have some slippers…”. All the way from the midwest, she felt I may be interested in slippers. I praised the Lord for his speaking to/through Kara and moved on.
Another thing that I have been trying to do this year is to play the piano in public. More specifically, I attended a hymn sing and enjoyed it so much that I am trying to smooth my skill enough to be an accompaniment. I’ve also searched for an Enya song but it has been sold out for so long I stopped looking. I’m not nearly as brave as I should be as far as playing in public due to some rejections and now I seem to fumble every time I know someone else is even in the room. Last week, I was wrestling with this problem: should I give up my goal? Should I stop trying to be something I’m not? I was undecided when another box showed up from Kara. It was a box of piano music. Two days after praying I had this box of music in front of me and it hit me…hard. I mean the whole nine yards of goosebumps and tears stinging my eyes kind of hard.
The only connection I have with Kara is having served on a board of directors together. I’ve met her once in person and attended a handful of video conferences with her. For some reason, she has wedged in and been a true friend to me across the distance of several states. Kara emanates joy and radiates the love of Jesus. She seems to know some of the pain in my heart without me sharing the details. I accredit this to God’s merciful kindness being displayed to me through her rather than telepathy. If she were closer, she would be just the person I would have a blast meeting for coffee then hitting up some bargain shops!
I used to think that I could sense Lord nudging me in certain directions and I felt he used me to bring joy to others the way Kara was doing for me. I used to feel so confident in the fact that even if I was wrong Jesus would see my heart and correct my path. Up until 2017, I never doubted in my ability to hear clearly and walk in the way of the Lord. It never occurred to me that if I messed up, I could hurt others in the process. After all, God knew my heart’s intentions and he would make those paths straight, right? Then, we began to foster children at what I felt so strongly was the Lord’s leading. It was something we considered for years but decided to act on in what I believed was God’s timing.
The kids we fostered were in a place of abuse so horrid that they didn’t know how to use a spoon or take a bath. They knew one language: physical dominance. No amount of reasoning, love, kindness, seemed to get through. And that was ok, I was sure that my love and God’s strength would outlast the hate placed in them. “I can do all things in Christ,” was my motto. Week after week, month after month, I started to physically wear down from the violent, physical attacks and abuse. I wasn’t angry – it wasn’t the fault of those children. I needed to hang in tight, outlast their pain until love could penetrate the tough exteriors.
It didn’t happen soon enough. My body was weaker than my mind and I realized that one day the amount of danger I was really in. I realized that one day I would not be on-guard and the attempt to push me down the steps would work and maybe kill me or disable me further. I realized one day I wouldn’t be stronger than him or faster than him, maybe after a night of no sleep. Each night as I locked my bedroom door so I could lay my head down safely, I felt at risk: had I locked it? Was I safe? Did he know where I kept the spare key? How many knives, scissors, pencils or other items used as weapons could I possibly hide under lock and key? Each day I became more tired and weaker. My husband changed from his night shift job to try to accommodate me and help a bit more, but it was too late. Crisis intervention interceded and after 5 days crunching my disabled body in a chair to sleep in the ICU with the child, he was hoisted off for high level, specialized care. I had failed.
Now, before you respond, I know what you are going to say. “Ashly, the short year you were there saved their lives. You made an impact that no one else could. The seeds were sown. Who knows what God has in store for those children? You gave them love and a home when no one else did. You can’t say you failed.” I know that I didn’t fail, I know all of these things. But you know what else? I still feel like I failed. Even though I trust God completely and my faith has never wavered in belief, I wonder constantly if I misheard him and perhaps launched myself into a foster care system without God’s will behind me. Maybe my mistake messed up the lives of two children because I was not physically strong enough to outlast the evil, causing them more trauma which resulted in the State placing them elsewhere. Would God intentionally let them be hurt like that? It is hard to say yes or no, the easier answer is that I didn’t hear correctly and I made a mistake.
The pain of all of that is very real, and I thought it would subside, but it hasn’t. Three years later and I am back to square one in regards to having no children to enjoy/invest in or legacy to pass down. Several friends are envious and point out the peace, quiet, and freedom that we have here without children. But the grass is always greener, right? Yes, we do have and appreciate a slower pace of life centered on ourselves, but Christmas morning it doesn’t feel peaceful it feels downright empty. My husband and I are left grappling with what life looks like for two people that have no children and wanted them badly. We are now in our mid-thirties, and cancer stole that from me (and him) too. Who was I to think that I could hear from the Lord? Who was I to think that I could pray and ask and then actually deserve to receive children?
Of course, none of this has wavered my faith in the Lord. It doesn’t make me resentful or jealous of those that do have kids. Why would I be sad to see children born into loving families after our firsthand knowledge of how many children are born into homes shrouded in evil? No, I celebrate children, pregnancies, and growing families. My desire for a family would never begrudge another of fulfillment of this, that is an ugly jealousy that I am thankful has not pierced my heart. But this experience of emptiness has altered my faith in myself, I now have none. Maybe that is where the problem was to begin with, maybe I should never have believed in my own ability. Ever since 2017, this has made me feel distant and while my daily life has not changed, my prayers stay consistent, I somehow feel disconnected. Unworthy of a calling or a purpose. Unsure of him ever using me. Discarded. No amount of ‘action’ or ‘doing’ seems to fix it.
So opening the box from Kara and seeing all the piano music, I stood with my mouth agape. Kara’s sensitivity and ability to send along something on a whim that was so very clearly a whisper placed in her from the Holy Spirit, was beautiful. I used to be like that. Why not now? If Kara can hear and feel the Lord from the Midwest concerning my life, albeit unintentionally, why do I doubt my own ability to follow Jesus still? These two packages have been a small, tiny, candle at the end of this vast tunnel. Maybe, just maybe, I won’t have answers for my pain, maybe I will never know if I made a mistake fostering. Maybe I will never understand why I can’t have kids but abusive women can. But maybe I will still get past this someday and find purpose outside of procreation. Maybe, just maybe, I will one day be a useful vessel. All I can do is trust and hope and wait.