Last night I ran into Walmart to grab a few things for our dinner while John and the kids waited in the car. After zipping through the aisles I breezed through the self checkout. As I was loading my bags back into my cart I heard soft voices just a few feet away. Turning to look I found two little boys hovered over the candy display. They were turning the bags over in their hands and talking to one another about it – their faces an inch apart. Something about the back of their heads was just so familiar so I stood there watching for a moment.

Then he turned around.

The air sucked out of my lungs and my heart pounded in my chest as I felt a mixture of elation and searing pain. I was staring at the face of one of our foster sons. I hadn’t seen that precious face for nearly seven years but it was the same little face, just on a much taller body. I stood there frozen, memorizing everything about him and then his twin brother turned around. My heart could have burst in that moment. There they were, the sons I have loved every single day for seven years, standing less than five feet from me. I was breathless. And then their gaze met mine.

I smiled softly and silently begged them to recognize me as I looked into their eyes. Two blank stares met my gaze. Nothing. My heart broke a little as I realized they didn’t know me anymore. How could they, though? They were 2 1/2 when they left my arms…  they will turn nine next week. Still, I had hoped. These were the boys I had rocked to sleep every night for 87 nights. I had kissed their boo-boos and wiped their tears. When they got sick I wrapped them in blankets and held them close. We laughed and splashed at bath time, we picnicked in the mountains. I was there when they first saw the ocean. Now I am a stranger in Walmart.

Their father finished checking out behind me and called to the boys. They quickly dropped the candy bags and followed their dad. I grabbed my cart and hurried behind them. Once outside, I stood and watched as they half skipped/ half trotted down the sidewalk to the other side of the parking lot. The joy I felt at seeing them quickly melted into grief as they faded from view. It was over in a blink – one minute they were there and the next they were gone. Again.

As they rounded the corner I was transported back to seven years ago. Two little boys wearing two little back packs, half skipping/half trotting to the social services van. Through my tears I buckled them in when one looked up at me and said, “It’s okay! Jesus with me when I go bye-bye car.” The van pulled away while we stood weeping in the front yard. That had been the last moment I saw them.

As they disappeared from view once more I stood outside Walmart with tears streaming down my cheeks, whispering to myself his sweet little words, “It’s okay. Jesus with me when I go bye-bye…” And I will do what I have done for the last seven years. I will love them and miss them and hold them in my heart forever. Because life isn’t always wrapped up in a pretty little bow and some hurts do last forever. I would do it all over again, though. Because they are infinitely worth the love and the blinks of joy.

boys

 

  • Sarah - Oh my goodness. I can’t imagine how you felt in that moment. Lots of love <3ReplyCancel

  • Patricia - From Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem ‘In Memoriam’ ~ 1850:

    I hold it true, whate’er befall,
    I feel it, when I sorrow most,
    ‘Tis better to have loved and lost
    Than never to have loved at all.

    Hold fast to those 87 nights. And know they are a part of who they are, even now.

    XoXReplyCancel

  • Andrea Hougland - I am in tears thinking of the beautiful courage and strength of this woman – may God continue to Bless and keep her. I pray that some day they think of her and look for her. She gave them something precious in knowing everything is ok…they take Jesus with them. I have no doubt God allowed them to cross her path for her peace of mind.ReplyCancel

  • Stephanie - Oh my how my heart broke when I read this! I too have loved and lost. I also have seen their sweet faces in the store not recognizing me. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It has given me a moment to pause and pray for each of the tiny little faces I have cared for over the years;)ReplyCancel

  • jules - Bless you for the obvious loving care & joy you brought into their lives for the 87 days you had them… it carried them through a Valley, and they’ve obviously turned into beautiful, well-adjusted {little} young men.ReplyCancel

  • Stephanie - I needed that today. I am a foster parent to a 19 month old that I have had since he was 5 months. I work with the mom for her re-unification but struggle inside because this little one is mine in my heart. Struggle daily…if mom fails he will be mine. If mom fails…how tragic for her. My joy becomes her grief and yet another failure in life….quite the conundrum.ReplyCancel

    • Sarah - Stephanie, I share in your conundrum! I have a 13 month old that we’ve had since she was 2 months. I feel like she’s my own, and I love her like she is! I can’t fathom the day she leaves us, but I know it may happen. I want the best for her mom and her family, but it is so hard. This is the struggle that is Foster Care.ReplyCancel

    • Crystal - How do you do it? How do you give 110% of your heart away with no certainty? ‘ll never understand your kind of love. I only wish I did.ReplyCancel

  • Lauren Swinson - Lauren, I could never understand the pain of holding those two little boys for such a brief time, then having to let them go. Jesus will be with those sweet boys, and I know He will be with you too. :) Some blessings don’t come until heaven, but they will come!ReplyCancel

  • Sherri - beautiful story. Thank you for being a Godly woman who took these two boys in and loved them when they had no one.ReplyCancel

  • Heidi - My heart resonates. I had twin foster boys for 1 year and 4 days. They came to me when they were 9months old. We have had 9 other fosters but none have I loved like my twins. I am grateful every day for my year with them and that their grandma is willing to email pictures and chat once on a while on the phone. They will always be my boys, just growing up in another home. My best friend just gave birth to twin boys last week. Its a bitter sweet salve on my heart. May the Lord bring hope and life through your grief.ReplyCancel

  • Mimi - Oh, friend! I’m sure it was such a relief to see them and know that they are okay and well. But I just hurt for you. Praying you feel His arms around you today as you just miss those two like crazy.

    Mimi
    http://thisdomesticateddiva.comReplyCancel

  • Suz @ 2 cats & chloe - Oh girl, I’m in tears. I can’t imagine the roller coaster of emotions you felt in that moment. You have such a wonderful heart!ReplyCancel

  • Joy - Oh how I know this same story. I search for two at every store. I wonder if I will know them when I see them, and I know they won’t know me. It’s hard letting them go, even years later.ReplyCancel

  • Judy Patterson - Oh dear me, I so know this grief! We had two precious special needs twin brothers! One was blind, one had CP very bad, we tried to adopt!! We knew they were meant to be ours in Gods eyes but, God gives everyone freedom of choice and it was not to be. Three years later we saw them out in public and the blind twin got seperated from his “family” We stood watch and protected him for 21 minutes until they realized they had lost him!! Oh the pain, the grief, the elation at seeing them both and yet having to let go again!! Hugs from a mom who is still missing her boys!! BTW, God filled our void with a precious daughter who is a ball of energy and who helps with the loss!!! Thank God that He is the Great One!!!ReplyCancel

  • Crystal - i saw this on facebook and my heart melted. I was a foster kid in NYC who was lucky enough to have the director of my theater school, mentor and my first adult friend fight to become my foster parent and she won after months of horrible NYC shoving me in shelters, group homes and running away and living on the subway because it was better than the alternatives. I was lucky enough to stay in her home till after I aged out of foster care, she kept me anyway. She never introduced me as anything other than “my other daughter” which was so nice since even when you feel like you belong there is always that voice in your head saying you really aren’t that looks for reasons they don’t want you or that the too good to be true life I stumbled into really is and will fall apart at any minute… But it never did. Most former foster kids I know werent so lucky. They would finally connect with a family only to get shuffled around again for absolutely no reason other than child welfare doesn’t seem to want you to connect. (I hope that’s changed since I aged out in 1998) she stayed my family… They all did until she died a few years ago. She was my best friend, the best mentor and the most understanding human being I ever knew. I came to her beyond messed up emotionally and mentally after what I had survived. (I didn’t get out till I was 15) despite how bad it was and almost a decade of reports of abuse from dozens of people. She stuck by me patient as a saint as I worked through it all. I became an EMT and worked for NYC EMS. I’ll never forget how proud she was, how proud she always was of me… I never made anyone else even close to as proud as she always was of me. Especially when I had my daughters. Instead of being like my parents I had modeled myself as a mother as much as I could after her. Being a foster mother is something I had always wanted to do but unless my chronic illnesses and chronic pain from my hip/back injury caused by 9/11 improve it won’t ever happen, which breaks my heart. I wanted to do for at least one child what was done for me. Now I can only take care of my daughters with help. I have however inspired them to all be foster parents so even if I never can im sure they all will. You are doing such a good thing and even if they don’t remember you, be sure that what you did for them, the love you gave them during that trying time became a huge part of who they have become… Take that from someone who WAS forever changed by my foster family.ReplyCancel

  • Kate - Catching Up With Kate - This is so beautiful and bittersweet. Not at all the same, but we fell in love with a child on a special needs adoption photolisting – got thru our homestudy, found out she was indeed still available, had some things that needed to be redone in our dossier and in that time she was adopted ‘blind referral’ – we loved and prayed for her from half a world away for 6 months; we know she is loved but I have fantasized about running into her – our journey to her we understand now is what brought us to our daughter; and if we had adopted the first little girl we never would have our littlest – but it doesnt mean I don’t want to run into her at Walmart someday; although reading your story my heart just burst inside…. how you could love them so much and they don’t remember you – and how Jesus is with them then, and you now…. oh. my. heart. – thank you for sharingReplyCancel

  • Jenny - Lauren, I would love to chat with you sometime. We have experienced many similar things. Mindy A. & I actually know each other well. I dream of running into our first foster baby.. He just turned nine :). Thinking of you! JennyReplyCancel

  • Randy Loveless - THANK YOU for sharing this joyous and painful moment. The Church needs to see and hear real-life stories of what it looks like to be a foster parent. If we present it as a feel-good endeavor, people see right through it. Transparency helps people gain some understanding prior to committing. Thank you for allowing them the opportunity for that perspective.ReplyCancel

  • christine - I have often wondered how my heart would respond if this would happen to me. I found some peace in another mom writing, “…some hurts do last forever.”ReplyCancel

  • Candace - My husband and I fostered a boy from birth to one. He went home to be with his mom. Reading your story caused a flood of memories and emotions to well up inside of me. Here I sit waiting to pick up my oldest two from school. I have tears streaming down my cheeks! This pain will be here in some form for the rest of my life. I so miss my little boy, his smile, his laugh. Not one day goes by that I don’t miss him or pray for him. Yes, i hold onto the promise that Jesus has him in his hands!ReplyCancel

  • Christy - What a wonderful blessing God gave you! To know that these little souls that were in your care for a little while are doing well. I’m sure, in part, to the prayers you offer on their behalf.ReplyCancel

  • Jill - Cried over this post. We too lost twins who had been with us from birth to two years. We did not see them for months. Two years later and they are now with us (outside the system) about half time. Always loving and never knowing when the other shoe will drop. But we love them for them and not for us, although their are perks for us. So some days are tears… today, and some days there are smiles. But, the truth is, they are not ours any more. Except they will always be.ReplyCancel

  • Cheryl - Well that made me cry buckets. We have three kids out in the world that were almost our forever kids. Should have been as mom got them back and instantly abandoned them to an aunt who already had 5 kids and a DCS record as well. We had them for 2.5 years. I will never forget how the youngest one begged me to not make him go away. That was roughly 5 years ago and the pain is still horrible. The only good thing is we adopted 5 kids that literally had no family or anyone that wanted them last Aug. If we had adopted our three then this group of five would be who knows where and most definitely would have been split up.ReplyCancel

  • wynne - oh friend, i can’t imagine the hurt and pain you felt. thank you for sharing it with us. love you soReplyCancel

  • Joely Flegler - Your story brought tears to my eyes!! Although they didn’t recognize you, you changed their lives for the better in the amount of time you had them! The world is a better place because of people like you!!

    Sincerely,
    JoelyReplyCancel

  • Rebekah - What beautifully, genuine words. Just last night, our pillow talk centered around the time we’ve had to pour into our Little Miss. It will never be a waste and God will never fail her. I often wonder how my heart will heal if I have to hand her to a father she does not know.

    Your words, here, confirm what my mama heart understands.

    Thank you for saying yes and loving without borders.ReplyCancel

  • Ella Walton - How your letter brought back memories as I too gave back 42 foster babies. A piece of my heart went with each one. I miss them every day and we have such wonderful memories of them. The 2 oldest ones are now 27.ReplyCancel

    • Gma WaWa - Ella (and Joanna below), I want to be like you. We are currently in the process to become foster parents. Our goal is to take infants. We have raised our children and want to help others in a small way. I hope I am as strong as I think I am when it comes to giving them up. We have thought about this for 10 years, and look forward to starting this new adventure as soon as I retire in 6 months.
      Lauren and every one of you who have commented are an inspiration to us.ReplyCancel

  • Melissa - What a bittersweet story! Thank you for sharing about the joys and pains of fostering children. Never doubt that you made a difference in their lives, even if just for a short amount of time.

    “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”-Galatians 6:9ReplyCancel

  • heather - I am lost for words,still can’t stop the tears from falling down my face and I can’t even say that I know what you’re going through & this is a really touchy subject for me I have had 4 miscarriages and I don’t believe I can have any children have & never known the touch of a newborn baby of my own or rocking them to sleep or wiping their tears other than my nieces and nephew and friends children which I am truly blessed by!
    I am truly sorry for your heart ache and my heart is breaking for you & I could only wish that one day they will Think back and remember the warm embrace and the tears that you would wiped from their face I remember what a good mother you were to them for what little time you got to hold them in your arms !
    sincerely heather aka heartbrokenReplyCancel

  • heather - I am lost for words,still can’t stop the tears from falling down my face and I can’t even say that I know what you’re going through & this is a really touchy subject for me I have had 4 miscarriages and I don’t believe I can have any children have & never known the touch of a newborn baby of my own or rocking them to sleep or wiping their tears other than my nieces and nephew and friends children which I am truly blessed by!
    I am truly sorry for your heart ache and my heart is breaking for you & I could only wish that one day they will Think back and remember the warm embrace and the tears that you would wiped from their face I remember what a good mother you were to them for what little time you got to hold them in your arms !
    sincerely heather aka heartbrokenReplyCancel

  • Joanna - ive had 31 of these amazing kids! Ranging in age from 1 week to 11 yrs! More boys than girls but Each one will always have a piece of my heart. The last time I ran into one of my former foster kids was two weeks ago Saturday! I got a hug and picture with him. He left me at 3 and is now 9. There r many I never get to hold and touch again but they always will b apart of me. I know the heartbreak loneliness and grief that comes with fostering nurturing and loving these kids just to have to say goodbye or not when the child is moved without notice for family reasons. Many of my former foster kids r adopted now and I adopted myself in 2013. I pray for all of us who give our heart away each day! God bless you all!
    PPPReplyCancel

  • Jamie Christian - I know this feeling. My former foster son recognized me, but was in a horrible situation when I saw him. My heart broke. I breaks every time I think of him and where he might be today. Thanks from that family for taking care of their precious sons. Although they might not have recognized you, Jesus did go with them when they left. I am praying it is enough for my former foster son, and for your boys, too.ReplyCancel

  • diane steele - That just shows how loving and caring a person you are as a foster mom . Its hard to let go.they obviously were in a good home with the adopted parents or they wouldnt be smiling. I give praise to the foster moms that care that deeply . you kept them safe until they had a good perminant family. you deserve all the credit for them being good kids now.God bless you.ReplyCancel

  • Mechelle Sutton - i cried when I read this. I too had a foster son . I brought him home from the hospital at 5lbs with a severe club foot. He looked like a naked little bird and his chord was so thin from a smoking drugging mother that it fell off in a few days. I called him Pip, because he was named after his druggy father who was in jail at the time. He became part of my heart . He was also positive for opiates when he was born. I loved him for 18 mos. and when the county made me give him back to those parents,I was sick? I had taken him to a specialist hours away every week to have his foot cast and recast to correct his club foot. He wore a heavy brace for three months to seven months. So many many memories. He called us Mommy and Daddy because our kids were calling us that and we couldn’t very well tell him not to when he was learning how to talk. He learned to walk and talk with us and thought we were his family and then one day we gave him away. Lightly fried fish filets heart is still so broken. He will be four in April and I’m pretty sure his parents are not taking care of his medical needs. I’m so so heartbroken. You’re article said lightly fried fish filets all.ReplyCancel

  • Melinda Boyd - I cried reading this–I had a very similar experience with our first foster daughter. You said it so gracefully–thank you!ReplyCancel

  • Sheli Novak - I cried last Wednesday when our foster daughters birth parents signed voluntary termination papers in court. Their daughter is sick,they can’t take care of her,they lack resources,understanding,comprehension.they want the best for her. I cried for them because we are older foster parents and our children are the birth parents age,and my mother’s heart hurt for them. I cried because my husband I have been given such a precious gift. I imagined a scenario much like this only that the birth parents catch a glimpse of what might have been. Jesus does in fact go bye,bye,and it is okay because God never sleeps,His comfort is unending and His arms reach to the ends of the earth and the end of time.ReplyCancel

  • Caroline Bailey - We fostered for four years, and were able to adopt the children we fostered. We never had to let go, but it was something so heavy on hearts until the Judge declared them to be our children. Fostering is a difficult journey often wrought with anxiety and sadness, but also filled with joy, humility, and refreshing of one’s faith. Thank you so much for sharing this.ReplyCancel

  • Erica Layne - Oh my goodness, I sincerely can’t imagine. You are strong.ReplyCancel

  • Galen12 - Praying for you, Lauren, for God’s comfort and peace to pour out on you, and also praying for all of your beloved boys whom you hold close in your heart.ReplyCancel

  • Inspired Week | Heather's Dish - […] When I Saw the Sons Who Were Never Really Mine. You guys know my heart for adoption and orphan care, and this post is so beautifully written. […]ReplyCancel

  • Heather - Oh how I remember that feeling when my first two foster children left, and then a few years later I saw them in public, they didn’t know me. Many years after that, we learned that they had grown up in an unhappy placement with a distant relative in another state. When the girls were over 21 we were able to make contact. I gave them each a scrapbook of baby pictures they’d never seen. They didn’t have a lot of memories of their early childhood, but they knew they were loved unconditionally. That first baby girl will be 30 this year and I love her even more than I did when I first held her as a five month old.ReplyCancel

  • Sherry - I just read your post “when I saw the son’s that were never really mine”. Thank you for taking the time to write this – it described so perfectly the joy and heartbreak that is foster care. We had the amazing privilige of parenting a wild, wonderful baby boy for two years before he was returned to his biological family. Now I am also the stranger at Walmart.. I run into him occasionally ( it is a small town). I love to see him – I devour him with my eyes trying to take it every detail before he slips away again. When we speak, I have to introduce myself.. it is so surreal – when I used to be “mama”. Now I am just another random adult in his little world. My photo albums are filled of pictures of the the first time he saw the ocean. But he is gone. And it hurts so very very much.
    But I know he has a heavenly Father as well as this mixed up combination of foster and biological parents here on earth. It is such a comfort to my heart to be able to claim the privilige of a mother to pray for him daily and place him in the hands of a God who loves him even more than I do. And while I trust Jesus, I still miss my boy. It helps so much to hear from people that understand this. So thank you Lauren – for writing and sharing this piece of your heart.ReplyCancel

Mareto came home from Ethiopia as a sweet, wide eyed, and peaceful baby boy. Having a baby was a dream come true for me and I cherished every moment… even the nighttime feedings.  There were several moms at our church who were pregnant with babies due right around the time he came home. While they talked about their growing bellies I sat on the sidelines and thought about the paperwork I was laboring through. While they shared their delivery stories I sat quietly and thought about the trips I took around the world while I held my sweet son. I wished at times that I could relate to their stories but I didn’t mind so much because I figured that after a little time passed I would be just another mom among all the other moms as we raised our kids.

CasperFamily-57

So it came as a sad surprise to me when months passed and I still felt so very alone and different in parenting. Why couldn’t my boy sit through church with me like all the other babies? Why did my son fall apart when we tried to take him into the nursery? When the congregation sang or applauded for any reason why did my baby begin crying hysterically? All the other kids started eating solids and saying words. Why didn’t my boy call me “mama” and start talking too? Was I a horrible mommy? Why wasn’t my son developing like all the other kids? Mothers shared milestones on facebook and I cried behind my computer screen.

Soon it became evident that something was different about my precious boy. I knew he wasn’t like the other kids but I didn’t know why. On September 5, 2012 we learned the reason behind all of it. Autism. One word and I felt more alone than ever before. I didn’t know anyone with an autistic child but I knew our world would never be the same.

While other mommies took their kids for mid-morning play dates we drove to therapy. When other children enjoyed birthday parties and gatherings my son melted down – overwhelmed by all the people and sounds. The other kids his age were beginning to speak in full sentences and ate sandwiches… Mareto communicated mostly by gesture and we were happy if he ate a bowl of oatmeal once a day. Other moms brag about their child who just went in the potty and I wonder if I’ll be changing his diapers when he’s five. If I let it, having a child with autism can be a very lonely place.

A special friend sent me an email with a portion of her daily devotional. I read the words written by Beth Moore with tears in my eyes.

“Blessed are you when what takes the natural course with someone else means that a miracle has to happen for you.

I’ve got a friend that I admire so much, a young woman in the Houston area who has a son with autism.  He, like many children with autism, did not speak for many years.

When he was about four and a half I got a text from his mom saying, “He said ‘daddy’ today!”  Nobody on the planet has ever had that much celebration over saying the word “daddy”.  Nobody!  You can’t imagine how all of her friends just shouted praise to God.

Other kids have been saying it all day long and no one noticed, but we noticed when this one did!  What had been a natural course for someone else had taken the supernatural power of God for this little boy.  Let the Lord’s name be praised!

What seems effortless to some may take miracles for others.  But I’ve never met anyone who afterwards would have traded the miracle!  I know it’s hard to imagine that when you are in the midst of it, but trust me you’d rather have the miracle.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Through the miracle of my son I can see that I am never really alone. God sees every struggle, every tear, and every lonely moment. He holds my hand through it all even when I can’t feel his presence. Mareto has opened my eyes to see the miracles in our everyday lives. I’ve been blessed to find friends who have risen from the crowds, wrapped their arms and prayers around us, and decide to take the steps to go on this journey with us.

Mareto has given me more joy than I ever could have imagined. We work so hard and we delight in each triumph. There are many joys to be found in the little things and that’s where I choose to spend my days —  finding joy in what might seem like ordinary moments for others… but are truly extraordinary moments for us.

And because we’ve been given the gift of Mareto (and his little sister Arsema) I am never ever alone. I have more love, more affection, more snuggles, and more hope than ever before… all wrapped up in a very special boy.

This post first appeared on  Mandie Joy’s in 2013.

*photo by Anecdotally Yours*

  • Tausha Burke - You’re so right. It’s tough to see the other moms and children hit milestones on time without taking it personal, or feeling that mommy guilt. But oh!! The celebrations are so much sweeter when they finally do hit one:) I love reading your blogs!!ReplyCancel

  • Kimberli Hilton Hughes - I so enjoy your blog. I watched your video of bringing mareto home and just bawled. I adopted domestically 3 African american boys within 4 years and then had a baby girl. They are my hope and my joy. Your blog posts bring tears to my eyes as we discover specific challenges with each boy …. These babies come from hard places. I lived a very normal life and my emotions are in disarray. 2 of my boys spent time in NICU. I can’t imagine having the warmth and love of your natural birth mom surround you and then be placed in a hospital bed for weeks (with amazing nurses) and then to a family that felt so new and different …. And wonderful. Our emotions spill all over in our family and we have found tools to cope. Simple things like finding a sitter who can handle all of them and their uniqueness is a daily challenge. I’m being refined and also wouldn’t change a moment. Thank you for being real on your blog. You are helping women everywhere.ReplyCancel

  • Alice Dianga - Thanks.
    Be Blessed.ReplyCancel

  • Katie - Lauren, I am so sorry you are going through this journey but I can assure you there are reasons God choose you to be your son’s mom. He knew you needed each other and you would be the best parents for this little guy. I have been alone to on some of the stuff my son has to endure but I just try to stay positive and look at all the good things and miracles he does have going for him. As time goes on I do think you learn to accept your new normal. I know with your faith and through God’s miracles you will come out just fine and all will be well.
    KatieReplyCancel

  • Raynor Lee - wow… As a mum myself to a little boy with autism, this gives me great strength thank you xReplyCancel

  • Molly - Having a child with autism has introduced me to a new host of emotions that are hard to express. You express them beautifully in all your posts. Keep writing!ReplyCancel