The Greatest Gift

It was raining the day they came to live with us.  

 I hadn’t been given much time to prepare for their arrival, perhaps an hour’s notice at most. I suppose that in the end it didn’t matter all that much, as I didn’t have a clue how to prepare to welcome them to my home in the first place.

When the white government mini-van pulled up in our driveway, my sister-in-law, who had unexpectedly dropped by and gotten caught up in the afternoon’s drama, held an umbrella over my head as I reached into the vehicle to pull out a chubby nine-month old baby girl. As I carried that sweet little one into my home, her big blue eyes gazed up at me with what I can only describe as a rather dull expression. No fear. No curiosity. No spark. Only a blank stare.

Days, maybe weeks, later, I noticed she had a dimple, so tiny and sweet, that flashed across her left cheek with every baby giggle.

But that day, there wasn’t any laughter.

Her big brother, if you could call him that for he was as tiny as she was chubby, walked into our home and immediately found the small collection of toys arranged on the living room rug. He busied himself with the cars, not seeming to notice there was anyone else in the house.

As I signed the stack of paperwork, accepting the responsibility of caring for these two children, I wondered what would happen when the social workers left our home.  Soon enough, I discovered the answer to that question. Nothing. No crying. No fretting. No indications of concern.  In fact, these little ones didn’t seem to realize they had been left alone with strangers.

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting to happen in those first hours. Certainly not smiles or laughter, but definitely not this uneasy calm either. But then I had never been around neglected children, which explains why …

This was also a day without tears.

The days turned into weeks, and slowly our two foster babies began to meld into our family. We read for hours on end, The Little Engine that CouldChicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom, and Goodnight Moon. We sang all the songs toddlers love: If You’re Happy and You Know ItThe Itsty-Bitsy Spider, and Jesus Loves Me. We even taught them which little piggy says, “wee, wee, wee” all the way home.

As the weeks turned into months, we celebrated their birthdays, applauded first steps, and marveled over first words. When the oldest began to recognize colors, we proudly bragged to our friends about how smart and intelligent our foster son was. There were harder lessons to be learned, such as the importance of using a spoon, how to pet a dog without pulling on its ears, and that during the clean-up song everyone must pick up the toys. At mealtime, we taught them how to fold their small hands and say grace over their food; at bedtime, we tucked them into their cribs with kisses and prayers.

As the months went by, the two babies began to change.  A sparkle came to their eyes. Curiosity returned. They began to act like children who mattered, because they did.

No longer neglected, now they were loved.

IMG_2329

But some days, maybe most days, I didn’t feel like loving them.

These babies weren’t like other babies who had been lavished with love and attention and nurturing since birth. Instead, they came to our home, bringing with them an emotional baggage for which I was not prepared. My days consisted of dealing with their bad behaviors. Throwing food. Screaming matches. Biting. Pulling hair. Clawing skin.

Initially, I had wanted to foster needy children so that I could share the love of Jesus with children who might not ever taste of love. My fostering dreams were nothing more than a golden haze of envisioning how I would be God’s light in the darkness.

I didn’t realize the darkness could be so dark.

The bitter truth quickly became clear. I really didn’t know how to love these babies who struggled to accept and respond to my efforts. The more I struggled, the more I fell to my knees, begging God for help and mercy.

Being a foster mom was mostly a humbling lesson in learning to truly love others. I suppose I had expected I would learn a lot about love through the process of being a foster mother, but I was banking on more of the familiar warm, fuzzy, feel-good sort of love.

Instead, God showed me a love that hurts and stings. And while He taught me more about love than I ever knew before, what I learned was that true love has very little to do with how I feel and everything to do with how I treat the other person.

IMG_3834

Last Friday, our foster babies left us.

Once again, I didn’t have much notice. Less than 24 hours to get ready for them to leave my home.  Just like I didn’t know how to plan for their arrival, I had no idea how to prepare for their departure.

I put all of their tiny clothes into suitcases, along with the four toys they were each allotted to carry on to their next destination. I dressed them in their nicest outfits, so that they would look all clean and shiny for their momma.

While we waited for the social worker to arrive, we sat together in the big rocker, reading board books and singing songs. I wiggled their smallest piggies, and together we laughed as we chanted, “Wee, wee, wee … all the way home!”

This was a day of giggles and laughter.

As the white government van pulled into my driveway, drops of rain began to sprinkle over the lawn. The time had come, and though I thought my heart might burst apart, I gently buckled them into car seats for the last time and kissed their tiny faces. The chubby baby girl, now almost 15 months old, reached out for me and cried.

It was also a day for tears.

And though I still grieve the loss, I already know that if I am given another chance, I’ll choose to do it all again … for love, as much as it sometimes hurts, is the greatest gift we can ever choose to give.

But the greatest of these is love. ~1 Corinthians 13:13