As I'm writing this, it's almost the end of your fifth birthday. I wish I could have been there to celebrate it with you, but that isn't possible. By the time you're able to read this, you'll be closer to celebrating your seventh birthday than your fifth, and by the time you actually do read it — assuming you ever do — your fifth birthday will be long past and long forgotten.
If you do read this one day, it will be because you decided to seek me out. Hope is that thing with feathers, but I still hope you will come looking for me one day, however far off that may be. As I stand before God, I hope one day to see you again in the flesh with my own eyes. Foster son or not, I loved you as much as my own flesh and blood, and I still do.
You stayed with us from January to mid-October 2002, after Iowa Child Protective Services placed you into foster care. When you arrived you were a wreck -- unable to speak, barely able to stand or walk, incapable of showing any emotion except anger, and unable to concentrate on anything except watching TV.
That changed while you were in our care. I watched as you began to bloom for the first time in two years, and mastered skills that we had always taken for granted with our own daughter. I watched as you learned to stand and to walk without falling down, and as you learned to pick up things with your fingers and to eat with a fork. I cheered the first time you used an actual word to ask for something. Most of all, I lost myself in those smiles of yours, that silly laugh you had, and that insane humming you made whenever you wanted to sing butdidn't know the words.
The day you left is one that is seared indelibly into my very soul. The sky was clear blue, the leaves were beginning to turn color, and the air had the crisp quality of an early autumn morning. You'd been taking trips to your birth parents twice a week for the last nine months, so when the DYFS driver buckled you into the car seat and drove off, you were smiling happily, and all the while my heart was clenching tighter and tighter in my chest. The tears started when you disappeared from sight, and to be honest, they've never really stopped.
I don’t think I can ever begin to tell you how much I've missed you the last two years. Not a day has gone by since you left that I haven't thought about you, and sometimes the grief has been so great that all I've wanted to do is to crawl into a hole and cover myself up, or to drown it.
The day you left, a heavy blackness fell over my soul. It was as though I had been following Christ willingly and in faith, trusting him as the road got ever darker, until finally I came to the darkest place I had ever been. There was no way forward, and no way back, and on all sides there were beasts that would gladly rend me limb from limb if only they had the chance. I could hear them whispering, just out of eyesight. One wrong step would mean my destruction, and my guide was nowhere to be seen.
For the life of me, I don't know how I survived that time, except to say that God's love and grace are greater and more bewildering than I ever could have imagined. Trusting to him is like riding the rapids of a waterfall, without even the benefit of a barrel, and yet I wouldn't have it any other way. By his grace, I survived.
Having you and losing you has had a more profound effect on my life than just about everything else I've ever known — more than college, more than being an exchange student, and more than being a missionary. The loss of you is a pain that suffuses my writing, my relationship with God, and the relationship I have with my children. Every day when I think of you, I give thanks that I still have them, and I hold them close.
Evangeline, who was your older sister for those nine months, had a horrible time when you left. For weeks after, when we went to the movies or to a friend's house, she looked around for you. Once I came home from work late at night to find her, wide awake at the top of the stairs, wondering when you would come back. And when her sister was born, and we had to leave her with friends for the night, it made her ill. She knew — she just knew — that we had got rid of her, too.
Two years later, she still remembers you. She asks me why you left, she wants to know when you're coming home, and she prays for the chance to see you just one more time. She no longer lays awake at night waiting for you, nor does she still want to send her younger sister away so that you can come back, but losing you has affected her also. She loves you, and she misses you too.
I don't know what the future holds for you, but I hope it is full of good things. I hear that you've made remarkable progress the last two years: that you speak well; that you are relatively happy living with your father, your grandmother, aunt and cousins; and that you may even start school with the other children your age. That's fantastic.
I pray for you every day. If I could make a wish for your future, it would be this: Finish high school and either attend college or learn an honest trade. Stay clear of the wrong crowd, and keep away from those who would lead you into gangs, drugs or violence. Search for love, not one of the cheap substitutes we so often settle for in this world, and when you find someone special, make it work so the relationship can last a lifetime. Most of all, find Christ.
And if it's selfish, it's selfish, but I'm going to wish for it anyway: Come home to me. The day you left I promised that I would always carry a piece of you in my heart, and that you would always have a piece of me in yours, even if you didn't remember it in your waking hours. It's still the truth two years later, and it will be the truth in another twenty and another sixty. Neither one of us will be complete until we connect again.
I love you, Isaac, more than anything. Have a happy birthday.