We live as exiles. We’re called to be pilgrims.
I am journeying through Scripture chronologically in order to explore our exile experience. I’ll also offer some helpful thoughts about how Christ can reshape that identity and reorient our journey so we live as pilgrims. To read earlier posts in the series, click here.
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When we lived in WI, my husband and I were foster parents for 2 years, licensed to do “cradle care” for Bethany Christian Services. According to state law, babies needed to be placed in a foster home after birth in order to give birth parents time to make sure they really, truly, absolutely wanted to go through with terminating their parental rights. That meant we were usually the ones who took the newborn home from the hospital. It meant my husband, three young teen/preteen kids and I took turns comforting, feeding and diapering the little one.
After logging those weeks (and in a couple of cases, many months) of care – just about the point that the baby slept through the night, and long after we were on the receiving end of a first smile – it would be time to say goodbye. In one case, the birth mom changed her mind and elected to parent her son. In the other cases, we placed the baby in the arms of birthmoms who would then place the child into the arms of the parents she’d chosen for the child during her pregnancy.
I could never ever be a foster parent, people have told me. Wasn’t it hard to do all that care and then have to give up the baby?
Yes, it was hard. Sooo hard. It was as though some small appendage, like the tip of a ring finger, had been amputated. Though it would eventually heal, the finger would never be quite the same. I understood that the pain of this amputation meant we’d done the job we’d been given to do by loving this baby as if he or she were a part of us.
We certainly were not the only ones hurting on adoption day. The adoptive parents carried years of pain, the monthly roller-coaster ride of infertility, and the endless tilt-a-whirl of the domestic infant adoption process. They entered the process so near the finish line on court day, after holding their breath for weeks, wondering if the birth parents would decide at the last moment to change their minds. There was joy, of course, but in those hand-off moments, the joy was damped by the sobering reality that their family’s gain would come at a very high price to the birth mother.
In this era where abortion ends the lives of 3500 babies every day, carrying through on an unplanned pregnancy is an act of great courage. But that courage goes to another plane entirely when a woman assesses her life and her child’s prospects, and decides that the very best way she can care for her beautiful little one is to place the baby permanently into the arms of a waiting family. In that moment of transfer from birth mother to adoptive parents, self-sacrificial love exists in as close to unfiltered form as I’ve ever seen here on earth.
When I read this story in Scripture, I see the same sort of self-sacrificing love. I see it in the actions of midwives Shiphrah and Puah, who feigned helplessness in the face of a government edict to kill male children at birth. And I see it in the choice made by the birth mother of Moses, who recognized that there was a zero percent chance of her baby’s survival if she continued to parent him. She placed her three-month old boy in a tar-covered basket and tucked it along the reeds of the river in the Hail Mary before a Hail Mary existed sort of hope that someone who hear the cries of the infant and save his life. It was a leap of faith, the kind that only makes sense when there’s no more room in the impossible corner into which a person has been backed.
We know how the story ends for the baby in the basket, of course, and it is tempting to read past single moment in Scripture to get the the Charleton Heston-version of Moses’ story. But today, I invite you to stop for a couple of moments in order to use the eyes of your imagination to peer into Moses’ mama’s eyes at the moment she places her baby in the basket. Despite her circumstances as a slave who’d been ordered to kill her child, she was neither refugee nor exile in that single anguished moment of relinquishment. That look in her eyes as she let go of the most precious thing she possessed as a prayer was the steely focus of a pilgrim, trusting that launching her child was his only hope for life. I think I can imagine it because I think I saw a bit of it in the eyes of birth moms I got to know on court day.
Have you ever known a woman who has acted with self-sacrificing courage for her child’s sake? What did her actions tell you about her? Her child? Her God?