July 31, 2012

My Village

My girlfriend’s kitchen.  Over the years it has been used to strengthen my body and, more substantially, to nourish my soul.   Its walls have eavesdropped on my stories of drama, heart-break, frustration, and victories.  The box of tissues on its countertops have faithfully stood at attention, waiting to absorb my sudden, unexpected tears.  In addition to the kitchen’s frequent role of providing comforting food and steaming cups of coffee, it has also been the venue of wise counsel humbly dispensed, earnest prayers sincerely offered, and warm hugs eagerly supplied.  It has gradually become my haven, the place where my heart runs to find refuge.  My girlfriend’s kitchen is like a protected sanctuary in my little village, a place where I can relax, refuel, and be reenergized for another day in the foster care jungle.

The ancient African proverb accurately and succinctly states:  “It takes a village to raise a child.”  While I don’t necessarily support the modern-day principles that have been applied to that proverb (i.e., that parents need government-funded programs and so-called early childhood development “experts” to correctly raise well-rounded children), I whole-heartily agree that we as parents need the support, encouragement, and wisdom from others in our community, in our “village.”   

Since the beginning of time when God created the very first man and woman in the Garden of Eden, we learn that it is not good to be alone.1  Then we read the words of Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, reminding us that two are better than one, because one can lift up the other when he falls.2   Even the apostle Paul, strong in his faith and confident in his calling, expressed his need for mutual encouragement.3   Oh, how we sweet it is when friends and family members support each other!

Our very first social worker hands us our official license, properly signed and notarized.  The adventure was about to begin!  It had been our passion and mission to impact the lives of children in need, and we were so excited that our vision had finally become a reality.

Meanwhile, my husband’s parents, who lived nearby, were reluctant to join our enthusiasm.  Where we saw hurt and damaged children in need of a loving home, they saw disruption to an otherwise peaceful day.  Where we envisioned the potential for impacting lives, they couldn’t help but notice the noise and chaos that accompanied us when our ever-changing clan disembarked from the minivan in their driveway.  

And yet, and yet . . . their love for us compelled them to do something they never would have imagined doing:  they attended the required training classes, completed the endless bureaucratic paperwork, and became licensed foster parents themselves!  Why?  For the sole purpose of providing much-needed respite for my husband and me!  They selflessly sacrificed their retirement plans in order to accept the role of grandparents, a relationship that many of our foster children experienced for the very first time.  In the early, crazy years, just starting out on the path of our foster care journey, the village elders unwittingly became our family’s strongest supporters! 

Our current culture is such a contrast to the “village” scenario.   We actually value independence and autonomy.  It isn’t cool to show weakness, to admit dependence on something or someone else, or to ask our friends for help.  And it isn’t like we are all down at the river washing our clothes side by side, right?  Subsequently, it’s very easy, especially for busy moms, to become isolated and lonely.  “Supermom” has become the expected standard; can anyone really achieve that ideal and still maintain her sanity?

She arrives at my home just as the sun is setting, and because knocking on the door would imply that she was a stranger, that I hadn’t been expecting her, she lets herself in, calling “Hello!” as she does.  Several months earlier she had rescued my planner from a pile of papers on the desk (although how can it accurately be called a “planner”, since the life of a foster parent is, by its very nature, completely unpredictable?), and had flipped through its crumbled and well-used pages.  When she found what she was looking for, even the smallest bit of white empty space among the myriad doctor’s appointments, social worker home visits, court hearings, and speech therapy sessions, she used a pen to permanently write in the words “Date Night!!!”  Not just once, but one time every single month that year!  

Now she walks purposefully into my kitchen, her cute basket brimming with fresh ingredients for the home-cooked meal she plans to prepare for the children.  She peels the screaming toddler off of my leg, gives instructions to the older kids to pick up the toys or begin setting the table, and almost effortlessly takes control of the situation.  Immediately my shoulders straighten as some of the weight is lifted.  My village reinforcements have arrived, and the precious uninterrupted time with my husband is about to begin.

In the town where I live, families don’t often invite other families to their home, and for large families with a lot of children, the probability of receiving such an invitation is even less likely.  Add to the family a fragile baby who can’t go anywhere without her life-saving medical equipment, a child who hasn’t yet been properly trained to behave in public, or a troubled teen whose face is perpetually scowling or obviously bored . . . and those get-togethers are quite infrequent, practically non-existent.  The “It takes a village” mentality has been replaced with “Don’t bring those obnoxious children anywhere near our village!”

Other people may be intimidated by the tubes, wires, and beeping machines.  But to her?  Not a problem.  She’ll find a way to pick up that baby.  Strangers in the store turn away suddenly when they see the deformities, or glare at us when the little one throws a tantrum.  But to her?  She barely notices.  I cringe when the teenager speaks disrespectfully to me yet again (yes, I have been called the “B” word a time or two, and the words “I hate you!” have been aimed at me like poison darts way more times than I can count!).  What does she do?  She puts her arm around me and reminds me to take a breath.  Whenever she sees one of my foster children, whether newly arrived or having already settled in for the long haul, she instantly treats him as if he is her own child, unafraid to cuddle, calm, wipe, or correct – whichever the situation calls for.  Her easy, comfortable manner makes my foster children feel instantly at home, and her unreserved acceptance of them makes them feel loved and valued.

What an extraordinary treat it is when my friends choose to become a part of my village.  How thankful I am for those who have embraced my unique family and have demonstrated love and support in a multitude of ways.

The energetic friend who appointed herself to be my “hunter and gatherer” when caring for medically-fragile babies made it extremely difficult to leave the house.  (Who knew that “shopping” could be classified as a spiritual gift?!)

The small group of ladies from church who completed fingerprinting and back-ground checks, so that our foster children could go to their homes for play dates.

The many people who have generously donated clothing, books, and age-appropriate toys whenever a new child arrives with nothing, no possessions whatsoever to call his own.

The godly women from various Bible studies and homeschool co-ops who faithfully pray for me and my foster children, and are quick to show grace when I am unable to keep a previously-made commitment.  They may not know it, but they are probably the only people in the world, beside my husband and me, who pray for these children with their uncertain future.
My dear friend who bravely invites me and my lively clan into her home, to sit at her kitchen table and be nourished physically and emotionally. 

It may be true that our foster care license only lists the names of me and my husband.  However, we are not alone in this journey to which we have been called.  We are very much aware that our lives and the lives of our foster children are inextricably entwined with our village, those who loyally encourage, support, and sustain us.

1.            Genesis 2:18
2.            Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
3.            Romans 1:11-12

1 comment:

  1. I do wish I had a village when my children were young. God has blessed you and your family so richly. Amen!!