Laura Knightly is a writer and violin teacher living in Philadelphia with her husband James, their foster daughter and their dog, Julius. She is an active member at Germantown Mennonite Church where she enjoys playing music and volunteering with the homeless hospitality ministry. She has been published in the American Suzuki Journal and on the blog of the Mennonite World Review.This essay was in response to the prompt: “Where does God meet you in your joy and fear?”
It was during this past Christmas, before I had met my now foster child, that I felt connected to Mary more than ever. I have always resonated with Mary; her quiet willingness, her collecting of things to ponder in her heart. But during that Christmas I felt she had gone before me in a way that was important and profound. Now, I didn’t give birth to anyone, let alone the Son of God, so obviously my comparison of my experience with hers has its limits. But I felt I was approaching an immaculate conception of my own. Welcoming someone else’s child into my heart, and my life, and my home- if not my body.
Someone once described foster parenting as “all the accountability and none of the authority,” and this pretty much sums it up. The daily grind of parenting are all ours. The joys of parenting feel borrowed, and precious, and not quite fully mine to treasure. But the choices that determine her ultimate fate? Completely out of my hands.
Who does this child belong to? How can I love this child with abandon, knowing I can’t protect from all pain? These are questions that weigh on my heart. I know Mary asked them, too. And I think the answers are the same. I want my acceptance to match Mary’s- an unwavering, “yes.”
Many of you already understand this lack of ultimate control already. You guide, you nurture, you instruct, but ultimately these little lives are not our own. Current events bring that reality uncomfortably close at times; neighborhood shootings, school lock-downs… these become blips that totally disrupt our careful world of safety, and childhood innocence.
As a foster parent, I feel fully immersed in those blips. I don’t get to forget that my child’s life is not in my control. I don’t get to freely dream about our future as a family, or hers as an individual. I don’t get tomorrow. I only have today. And there it is. That lack of control is my biggest fear. All of the accountability, none of the authority… if you think about it, isn’t this kind of true for all of us?
I have to find it funny that my biggest fear is something that is true whether or not I fear it. And I have to find it a little adorable that I once thought fear had just one other side- that I had to travel through it to find peace on the opposite shore. I know now that fear is my companion, and fear and anxiety, joy and pain, control and helplessness, these are all the same; faces of a diamond, exquisitely beautiful, remarkably strong, dangerous to extract.
I dwell in this space of fear, and love, and overwhelming joy because this is where God meets me, and where I meet God. I am pressed into a space where trusting and depending on God is not optional. I am a fundamentally lazy and contended person, and find I must squeeze myself into this space (with grumbling, and existential sighs, and my WORD the stress-eating) because elsewhere, I am disconnected, and lost.
My husband travels through and with this fear by my side. Up ahead, I see Mary walking before me. Saying with her hands open before her, “Yes.” And God is with us here.