I’ve never considered myself a man of faith.
I grew up Methodist in central Iowa, and my family and I attended a church fairly regularly. I drug my feet to Sunday school classes and enjoyed singing in the kids choir.
But did I comprehend what having faith in a higher power truly meant?
Absolutely not. I still don’t.
I’ve never grasped the idea of divine intervention. The theory that everything is “meant to be” hasn’t been something I’ve put much value in. Instead, I’ve clung to the idea that those who live with the best intentions will enjoy a fulfilling life. Call it karma, perhaps.
I usually operate under the idea that the universe doesn’t have an agenda.
Recently, that personal philosophy was tested.
On May 15, I held “meant to be” for the first time.
He was 10 lbs. 3 oz.
Our story starts in November 2017. My wife Jeni and I were under the impression — confirmed by medical professionals — that having biological children would be difficult if not impossible.
Despite that perceived hurdle, we wanted to grow our family, so we began once-a-week classes in Dubuque to become certified foster parents. We were hoping to find children available for adoption.
It was during one of those classes when the first of several uncanny occurrences took place.
Jeni and I were sitting in class when my phone rang. The caller ID on the screen said “Nana.”
“Nana” was what I called my maternal grandmother; she thought “grandma” made her sound old. I loved receiving calls from her. We’d usually talk about NASCAR and our favorite driver, Kasey Kahne.
Although this time, I hesitated to answer the call, because Nana died in 2013.
I showed Jeni, and we were perplexed.
I still do not have a logical explanation as to why her number came up on my phone — I still have the number saved in my contact list. Considering the timing, I like to think it was her way of encouraging us to continue the path we were on.
And indeed we did.
After foster class graduation, a group of four siblings moved in to our home. We loved them.
The state required the kids to visit their biological family a specific number of times each week, and during those times Jeni and I would snoop around stores and kill time looking for deals on clothing, toys, etc.
Seeing them go was difficult and stressful. But we pushed forward, knowing we would someday be a family.
Through the foster care system, the state’s goal — supported by statute — is to reunite children with their biological families, unless that goal is unattainable. Many things factor into that decision.
In our case, the kids were required to visit their biological family periodically throughout the week for evaluation and kinship, among other reasons.
It felt like they would never truly be ours. But we trudged onward.
One day, during one of their visits, we were at Theisen’s store in Maquoketa looking in a clearance rack of clothing when a man with a long beard who we’d never seen before (which in a small town like Maquoketa is unusual) began perusing the rack with us.
We made small talk, and the topic of foster children came up. He said he was a longtime foster parent and had experienced similar issues with fighting for permanency. He told us to continue fighting for the kids and everything would work itself out.
This was at a time when we needed that conversation most. It gave me perspective and hope.
After our conversation dwindled, the man wished us good luck.
I don’t know if this meeting has significance in the grand scheme of things, but I can picture our conversation like it was yesterday.
That has to mean something.
Our four fosters lived with us for around six months.
We made plans. We bought a larger house. We became fully invested in not only their current selves, but their future dreams.
They joined local sports teams and dance squads. They made friends, and our community helped welcome them with open arms. They were home.
And then, as their time with us continued, it became apparent their time with us may not be permanent. As with many foster cases, there was uncertainty. The state, it seemed, was now aiming to send them back to the biological family. We hadn’t been specifically told this, but the writing was on the wall. We had an idea.
In the middle of all that, while sitting at my desk one day I received a call from Jeni that changed the trajectory of our lives.
“I’m pregnant,” Jeni said.
Then, later on that week, we were informed The Department of Human Services had indeed decided to switch course and instead reunite our fosters with their biological family.
We were crestfallen. Before that day, I didn’t know worlds could crumble.
We began the painstaking process of helping them move back.
October and November 2018 was a bittersweet time for us. At least we had something to look forward to.
The rest of the story
Henry was born May 15. He has his mom’s nose and his dad’s stubbornness to sit still.
He’s plump. He’s healthy. He held his head up on his second day of life.
Sometimes, when he’s sleeping, I can’t help but stare at him and reflect.
The path we’ve trodden wasn’t of least resistance. Was it one meant for us? I’m not sure, but we certainly had help along the way. Despite all the stress, fostering was worth every second. We’ll do it again – maybe sooner rather than later.
There’s a question I sometimes ask myself in those quiet moments of time, as I listen to Henry’s soft breathing as he sleeps: Why?
We’re not special. How did we end up here? Were we meant to be taken down a year-and-a-half-long path of emotional ups and downs?
Maybe it was a test. Does anyone truly have a say in how life pans out?
I certainly don’t have an answer to that.
But are we meant to be the parents of a baby boy who unknowingly arrived at a time when we needed him most?