The past two weeks have been heavy. The specifics are too numerous, nuanced, and those involved—my family—are still working them out, so I won’t explain in detail now. Suffice it to say, after many years and through a difficult series of events, a long-lost family member has been found. We are overjoyed. But…
So much time has passed. We do not know our own flesh and blood. Childhoods and formative years have been lived. I can’t help but think about memories that should have been. Birthdays. Weddings. Births. Deaths. Is it right to grieve something that never was?
As I pondered this question, a story came to mind…
Years ago, I was working as a summer camp director in Haiti. I was staying in a house full of precious young kids who were waiting to be adopted. One of these children wasn’t even born yet—her mother, Francis, 17 and very pregnant, was staying with us. Language differences kept us from communicating much so I didn’t get to know Francis very well. She was shy, quiet, and had a beautiful smile. Francis came to stay at the house around the same time I did. Throughout her stay, no family or friends came to visit her.
One night, one of the nannies woke me and said, “I think Francis gonna have her baby now.” Almost exactly two months prior, I had been present for my sister’s first home birth. I tried to remember what to do. I tried to time contractions while the nannie called Shelly and Beth, two of the women running the organization I was working with. No clinics were open so we took Francis to the spare room in Shelly’s house. None of us was a midwife. We had a midwifery handbook, what I could remember from my sister’s home birth, and that was it. We literally skimmed through the book to find out what to do next.
At some point in the frantic skimming of the book, when Francis had just started pushing, Shelly, very adamantly and peacefully said, “I want to do this. I want to catch the baby.” Moments later she held a beautiful, healthy baby girl in her hands.
Was this the way the story was supposed to go? Was this seventeen-year-old girl, possibly a victim of rape, definitely unloved, supposed to have a baby and then disappear as she did? Was my family meant to endure the long absence of our lost family member? Were we supposed to miss so many memories and milestones? I don’t know that we’ll ever have answers. But…
Is there healing for grief over what should have been? I believe there is always a divine contingency plan.
As Beth and Shelly attended to Francis, I sat in the dim light with the nameless new baby wrapped in a towel and told her how much she was loved and wanted. Songs and prophesies that I will never remember poured out of me in whispers.
Days later, Shelly’s youngest daughter named the baby. Shelly, the one who so purposefully delivered the baby, became the adoptive mother. Francis’ baby—Shelly’s baby—was the first of many to be born through what became an amazing prenatal and midwifery program. In the years since then, hundreds of underprivileged women have gone through the program, learning how to care for themselves and their babies so they don’t have to give them up.
I can easily envision what should have been. Francis should have been loved. She should have been given the resources, physical and emotional, to care for her daughter. My family member shouldn’t have been lost, memories unlived. But I can also see the loving hands that reached out to catch us all, that took the nameless baby and gave her a home, that lead us down the path of restoring what was lost, to finding what may yet be.
Within every tragedy lies the seed of its own redemption. Pain makes way for healing. The prodigal returns on the same road by which he wandered away. Losing makes an opportunity for finding. There is always a divine contingency plan.