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I have creative and gifted friends. They plan ahead. They get all crafty with bows and stuff. Their family looks cute, lovable and color coordinated. Some must have their own studio setup and some might be stepping off the pages of award-winning picture books or popular Pinterest posts. Surely.

Every year I look forward to cards from childhood friends whom I rarely ever talk to now, but will always love dearly.

We did photos for years. Not all crafty and amazing like, but just getting the family together, a photo printed, and mailing them all out, it’s a feat in and of itself. ¬†

The whole idea seemed too much this year as we heal from our time of fostering. There was no way to get all the kids together anyway.

All my kids. Who are my kids anymore? I don’t know. Do I include just the ones at home? The ones that moved out? Or the ones back with their moms or in different foster homes now?

My heart stopped short when I realized how many children’s faces I wanted to include. How many faces weren’t with me anymore.¬†

Momentarily suspended in memories, my chest breathes deeply. My heart swells and constricts with overwhelming waves of love and grief. I picture every face of those precious children who aren’t near me physically. The ones I bore and the ones I didn’t. The many I have been blessed to love. The many who have called me mom. Even ones who never did.

There are two in the home now, but twenty-one (and more) in my heart. How do you put all that in a family photo? Especially when protecting the faces and identities of many of them. How do you create a photo when you can’t include all your family.

People will always ask, “How many children do you have?” A normally simple answer brings¬†a lump in my throat. I can’t swallow the question and I struggle to spit out an answer. Do I say twenty-one?

I used to say five. The words come out as five and my mind thinks of all that means. I have my four bio and a step-son. My husband adopted my first two bio children that I had before he and I met. We are a blended family of yours, mine and ours. But, no one really wants to know all that when they ask the question though, do they?

We have our five, but there are more. Many more.

There is the teenage boy who lived with us for 8 months and who will always call us mom and dad. There are the thirteen foster children we took care of in a span of fifteen months. There are my two babies in heaven. That’s twenty-one children.

What about the little girl in India that I dream of as my own? Or the precious children I almost took in to foster? Some whom I met and would have loved to have adopted, and some whom I only know by their stories and their great need for a loving and safe home. I would have taken all of them in and almost got the chance to, twice, but the opportunity didn’t happen. They never called me mom, but they are children I pray for. That’s at least thirty-three children that take residence in this wild heart of mine.

But how many people really want all that detail in reply to a question that seems so simple, so basic, so undemanding as, “How many children do you have?”

I will give you the answer here that you probably won’t get from me if you ask me elsewhere.¬†Though it will be running through my mind.¬†

“How many children do you have?” Thirty-three and counting. Five? Twenty-one? Thirty-three?

If I could fit them all into a family photo, I would.

And yet, really, I have none.  As this sinks in, my imaginary picture with arms of love around all of these children pauses and is repainted. Instead of clenched arms grabbing for every one, I release my arms and lift my hands.

It is not I who have any of them.

Whether with me or not, they are not mine. None of them belong to me.

They ALL belong to Him.

This reality hits hard when you are faced with things in life that are out of your control. ¬†When your child dies and you don’t get to hold them. When your heart yearns to care for a child who is not yours but needs the love, safety and provision you want to offer them. When you take in foster children who leave. When you take in a homeless child who goes back with his mom. When your son turns 17 and won’t stay. When these things happen you realize they were never really yours in the first place.

Every child we care for is, was, and always will be His.

While they are not in my arms, the arms of my Father remain around them. I seek peace and freedom in that. I must.

While I cannot collect all the photos and show you the many precious faces in my mind and heart. He sees them all and puts together the most beautiful pictures in His time. What a glorious picture he must see.

They are all precious, every one. They are loved and prayed for even when I don’t see them, talk to them or know where they are.

This mama’s heart, seeks the heart of her Father. As I reflect with joy and sadness over all the children I have loved and still love, but cannot reach out and hold, I take my yearnings and my longings to Him. They are His. He reminds me that He is Father to them as He is Father to me. I pray they know this and cherish this. When a mama’s arms feel empty, His remain full.

I smile. I cry. I kneel my heart.

I don’t even have a picture for all the faces I love. But He knows. He gives me a sweet picture, a beautiful (and large) collage in my mind, of smiling faces and keeps telling me how much He loves them and that His watchful, caring eyes are still upon them when mine cannot be. ¬†He encourages me to keep praying, keep loving, keep believing, keep seeking Him.

So I don’t have a family photo to share with you, but it is imprinted in my mind and heart.

If you do not have the family photo you desired, yours is written on your heart too.  Your Father in heaven knows your heart of love that expands beyond that which others can see.  He knows your longing to hold and care for the child (ren) who is (are) not there with you.  Or your heart to have your children know your love when there are obstacles preventing that vision.

He loves them. They are His. Trust Him.

Dear Father Рthank you for loving these children more than I ever could.  Help my heart to rest in that and to be comforted when their absence overwhelms me. May they know they are Yours, wherever they are. Thank you for the best family photo ever Рthe one where you are Father and all who call you daddy are smiling with you.

Every child, every day, every step of faith, is a journey in trusting the Lord. Thank you.

 
(This is a picture of my dad trying to get the kids in a single photo from where he sat. 
Some are our kids and some are nieces and nephews. This is far from everyone!
We had gathered in Branson, MO 
for Christmas in 2012 to celebrate my parents 50th Anniversary.)
 
This post is one of several written in the early years of healing post serving as foster parents. They include broken thinking, rambling thoughts, and a fight to survive as well as a desperate clinging to the hope only God can give. I pray God uses my story as an encouragement to those in the midst of the battle. You have God with you even now.

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