Our foster daughter Teenasia has been with us since last February, and over the course of her year with us, her birth father has fulfilled the conditions the court set for him to take custody of his daughter. The planned unification date is March 26 and between now and then, Teenasia will spend more and more time with her father, beginning with overnight visits, working up to weekends, then three- and four-day visits.
Our family is giving up Teenasia for Lent.
I’ve never loved Lent. I’ve respected it as a necessary season of the Church, and I’ve valued it as an opportunity to discover the areas of my life that I need to die to, in order to more fully live. But I’ve never looked forward to it. And this year, as I page through the calendar and anticipate saying goodbye to a little girl I’ve come to love and laugh at and wipe the nose of, Lent looms like an unwelcome desert.
I don’t know the faith of Teenasia’s father, or even if he has a faith, but I know our family’s time of loss and pain will be his family’s Resurrection. Teenasia has never lived with her father, so her going to him will be a rebirth for her. Her two full brothers, ages 3 and 4, already live with him, and they too will receive the gift that is Teenasia, a gift that we must help our own sons to give away.
The other day, Teenasia’s father called, and as we chatted, he told me he had never seen a young child run with the speed and coordination with which Teenasia runs.
“She is going to be a track star someday,” he said. “I’m going to need to train her in track and field.”
I told him I agreed, that I had seen the potential too. But I didn’t tell him that I had once been a track star myself, and up until the last court hearing, a part of me hoped maybe, just maybe, we’d keep her and I’d turn her into the fastest girl Wisconsin had ever seen.
The hardest thing about letting Teenasia go is the not knowing. I’ve never been to her father’s home; I don’t really know him; I don’t know the woman he lives with or the other children in the household. And yet I know Teenasia intimately. I know she loves to wash her doll’s hair in the tub, but screams when she needs to get her own hair washed. I know she gobbles up mashed potatoes, but doesn’t have much use for lettuce. That it’s best to let her brush her teeth by herself for a couple minutes before coming in to “check” them.
There is no way to deal with this not knowing than to simply live with it. I have read and learned too much about why children end up in foster care to naively believe everything will be perfect in her father’s home. Yet, I believe enough in Teenasia’s social worker and her guardian ad litem to accept that they would not have recommended placement with her father if it weren’t in Teenasia’s best interest.
So I enter Lent with the understanding that from where I stand, I cannot see the whole picture. That Teenasia’s year with us is a small slice of who she is, and who she will someday become. I enter Lent believing that God’s plans for Teenasia are bigger than Bill and me and our boys. Good Friday always comes before Easter Sunday. And what the disciples saw as the end turned out to be just the beginning.