January 28, 2012
Since the beginning of time, people have been intrigued by a great story. An attention-grabbing opening scene, an interesting cast of characters, a lively plot full of action with a little bit of suspense mixed in, and of course a happy ending. And since the creation of the first man and woman, everyone has been given his own story. Some people’s stories may be shorter or longer than others, some are more adventurous, and some are filled with more joy or tragedy, but everyone’s story is uniquely his. Unfortunately, for many foster children, their story seems somewhat incomplete, with pages or even whole chapters missing.
Perhaps it is the beginning of the story that has disappeared. Maybe the children were too young to remember how it all started, and the adults in that opening scene are absent or they no longer remember the details. Little ones depend on the adults in their lives to document their history either in words or in photographs; so if those details are missing, how can they ever be replaced?
When a foster child is placed in our home, it’s like opening a wonderful book, skipping the first few chapters, and starting to read it half-way through. There is a lot of guesswork involved, especially with the younger ones who don’t have the vocabulary to explain their experiences, preferences, routines, fears, and needs. When a distressed toddler asks over and over and over again for his “vniofhoaehwah” how is a foster mother who has just met him supposed to know what that means? Believe me, I would move heaven and earth to get it for him, if only I knew what it was!
Even older children who remember their early years and are able to articulate their thoughts may have pages missing from the middle of their story. Kids of all ages like to hear the humerous anecdotes about their childhood, and to be reminded of favorite toys, memorable vacations, and previous hobbies and interests. It’s fun for them to look through old photo albums, see their artwork on the family refrigerator, and have “inside jokes” with their siblings. They like the security of having holiday traditions that are repeated year after year.
But a foster child doesn’t share those experiences with a family he has recently met, and it is impossible for the foster parent who has only known him for a short time to remedy that. I can’t re-create years of shared memories, shelves of photo albums and bonds of family history. Those chapters are simply missing, the pages having been scattered the day the social worker showed up at the door.
One Christmas we had the opportunity to care for a 15-year old young man for a few weeks. (Can you imagine being the awkward age of 15 and having to spend Christmas with strangers?!) We tried to make it as memorable as possible for him, teaching him how to ride his new skateboard, fulfilling his life-long dream of taking a martial arts class, and fixing all of his favorite foods. At the end of his stay with us, I created a mini-scrapbook for him so that he would have a tangible reminder of his time with us. And when I say “mini”, I truly mean mini – less than a dozen pictures. A few weeks after saying goodbye to him, his social worker called me to tell me that the little scrapbook had become his most prized possession. Why? Because it was the only pictures he had of himself. A 15-year old who has no childhood photos?! How will he ever remember the details of his story?
Actually, in some instances, perhaps I don’t want to know what those first few chapters contain. What horrible experience would cause a 3-year old to scream in terror every time I tried to take his shoes off? It doesn’t take too much detective work to understand why a 10-year old would freak out when he sees the medicine syringes in our kitchen drawer. Do I really want to hear the details of how the 8-year old got the ugly bruises on her back? My heart goes out to these children who have such tragic details already written into their stories.
As a foster parent, it’s almost guaranteed that I will have to stop reading the book just at the exciting part, and will not ever know how the story ends. Yes, I loved and nurtured those children who were in my home, we established daily routines, I took lots of pictures, and I tried to fill a few pages of their biography with the joys of childhood. But what about the conclusion? What happened to them? Where did they go after they left my home? Do they even remember me and the time they spend with my family? Besides the one adoptive mother who has chosen to remain in contact, and the few teenagers who keep in touch on Facebook, I truly don’t know how the stories end.
But wait a minute . . . the story hasn’t ended yet. Some day when I stand before the Lord with all of eternity ahead of me, my fervent hope is that He will reward me. No, not with sparkling jewels or a golden crown or a big mansion. My prize, the greatest privilege I can imagine, will be to see the children that I loved in this life, standing there beside me in the presence of Jesus. The infant who heard me singing “Jesus Loves Me” in her ear; the 3 year old who learned to fold her hands and thank God for her food; the 8 year old who asked to take his Bible with him when he was reunited with his mother; the 16-year old who enjoyed participating in the youth group activities at church. How I long to see them all again in heaven!
The story hasn’t ended yet. I don’t know what the concluding chapters contain, and I won’t even see the book again until the Next Life. But by then, the details of the story won’t matter. The missing pages will be utterly insignificant. It is my daily prayer that when the pages of this life are finished and there are no more chapters to be written, that I will have the privilege of watching those children whom I loved on earth as they live happily ever after.