If you have ever heard the terrible stories of fetuses growing inside of alcoholic mothers or infants who are traumatized by abuse or are not cuddled or are tied up with rope or dropped on their heads who are thus turned retarded or socially reclusive, violent even, due to such experiences, entire sections of their brain being chemically altered, I am here to remind you that they don’t stay traumatized, broken babies or somehow fade into the shadows of reality as their life continues onward day after day.
They grow up into traumatized, broken almost-seven-year-olds who have the mental capacity of a toddler.
Josue has been under our care since January 29 of this year, and we recently got done with the battery of medical and psychological tests to try to put together the pieces of such a puzzling puzzle: a normal-sized six-year-old who has to wear diapers because he poops and pees in his pants, falls down without any apparent reason, has only a couple teeth in his mouth that aren’t completely rotted out, can only say about four or five words along with a handful of strange sounds, appears to have never been disciplined, screamed in terror the first time I tried to affectionately pat him on the back.
This week as I sat across the table from the director of the special needs school where we are hoping to matriculate Josue, reviewing the long, detailed report the psychologist wrote after evaluating him, I learned something that becomes more shocking the longer I dwell on it: Josue is not special needs at all. He does not have autism or Down’s syndrome or any number of other diagnosable issues: he is who he is due to abuse, whether it was while he was in the womb or shortly after leaving it.
So we are left to pick up the pieces of a life robbed of its fullness, to daily change the diapers and brush the hollowed-out teeth and velcro the shoes of an awkward little boy who can’t kick a soccer ball properly who could otherwise already be in first grade, learning to read and write, making his own bed and telling us how he feels, who he is.
Oh, so many times I have become so frustrated with him — with all the unanswerable questions about him! — wanting to pull my hair out and ask, never expecting a response: “Why on earth did you put paint all over your hands and then streak them up and down the curtains?” or “Why can’t you just tell us when you need to use the bathroom? Will you ever learn to say your own name?”
Now I just want to cup his slobber-streaked face in my hands and whisper, “I’m so sorry.”
The other day I sat perched in a tree with Gleny, our 10-year-old daughter and her little biological brother Jason during an intimate conversation between the three of us. Gleny said through tears, “I oftentimes wonder why our parents had us if they wouldn’t be able to take care of us.”
I broke eye contact with her, sweeping my eyes to the ground below in response to a powerful feeling of sorrow that surged up through my chest. Rather than suppress whatever was roaring up within me, in that moment I allowed myself to share in her unanswerable pain, not only when I am alone behind closed doors or praying for her as I drive alone down the highway, but sitting right across from her, with her. My voice cracked as I whispered at the ground, “I don’t know,” then, looking up at her, as my own tears ran unashamed down my cheeks, I said again, barely audible, “I don’t know.”
It was one of the first times the kids have seen me cry openly, and I think it was a healing experience for all of us. I then said, “Gleny, sometimes people make babies without thinking at all. Other times they really do want their kids and they love them dearly, but then something happens and they’re no longer able to take care of them. I don’t know.”
Our life is filled with enough I-don’t-knows to fill up an entire stadium. I don’t know what our 14-year-old daughter looked like on her first birthday. Or her tenth. I don’t know how our 7-year-old son Jason was treated when he was a toddler. I don’t know the full story of why Jackeline and Josue are with us or how long they will stay. I don’t know what 6-year-old Josue suffered when he was little that has so handicapped him now.
So we have been left to pick up the pieces, or rather it is the sacred task that our Father has entrusted to us. To take lives broken by sin, abuse and abandonment and allow God to use us as restorative channels, healing what was broken, loving what was neglected, saying what was left unsaid, allowing Truth to wash away the lies.
The various accounts of Jesus’ life found in the Gospels are filled with Him finding and healing broken people, and He does the same in today’s world. The Living God of compassion and justice seeks out lost business men, confused teenagers, desperately poor farmers, guilty murderers, 6-year-old boys whose teeth tell the story of their past: blackened and empty.
We can hopelessly drive ourselves crazy with all our I-don’t-knows, with the frequently overwhelming injustices of this world, with the whirlwind of darkness that roars within us, or we can throw it all in a basket at the feet of the cross, trusting that He makes all things new, that He heals the broken, liberates the captive, holds all the answers.
So when our honest tears fall during a conversation among the tree branches or when we lament the horrific unknowns of Josue’s infancy, we don’t get stuck on despair, as if it were the final bus stop along the long, perilous road to understanding Reality. We cry, yes, and sometimes we even scream or feel momentarily lost, angry, exhausted, but we don’t stay there. God sweeps us up into Hope, into a blessed assuredness that one day “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away [Revelation 21:4].”