October 31, 2012
A Love that Multiplies
The sound of the tree frogs’ throaty chirping fills the balmy air, and a slight breeze blows off the bay after a sudden downpour. In the distance I can just make out the rhythmic drumbeat blaring from someone’s cheap radio, and I can smell smoke from a nearby cooking fire. Every sense reminds me that I have left the familiar world of my suburban home far behind. I have arrived on the beautiful island of Jamaica.
No, in spite of the idyllic setting, this is not a relaxing vacation. On the contrary, my family and I are taking a week out of our busy lives in order to work and serve at a school for deaf children. It’s a full week of construction and maintenance projects around the campus while the students are in classes, and games, activities and crafts during their free afternoon and evening hours. It’s a week I’ve been anticipating for months!
Yes, the climate is much more hot and humid than what I experience at home. Yes, the people here have darker skin than mine. And yes, there are various cultural distinctions that I don’t always understand or particularly like. (That legendary “No problem, Mon” attitude can be frustrating for a task-oriented person like me. I am tempted to call out, “Come on, people, we have a schedule to keep.”) It is obvious in so many ways that the destination for this mission trip is a foreign country.
However, I am pleasantly surprised to realize that spending a week working and serving in an unfamiliar venue isn’t as radically different as I thought it would be. In fact, it isn’t a far stretch from my everyday life at all. Day in and day out, every day of the year, I extend love, hugs, and tickles to children who are not my own. It has become a habit to embrace any child within arms’ reach. My private little goal is to do whatever I can to make a child smile, even as my heart grieves at their their difficult circumstances.
I realize now that the sweet faces of the children I meet here in Jamaica are really not that different from the precious little ones who come to live in my home as foster children. It’s universal: every child longs to have someone who truly cares, and who is willing to give a few moments of undivided attention. Someone who makes him feel important. Who looks, really looks into her eyes and tries to connect.
For me, personally, loving someone else’s children has become almost second-nature over the years. It has become part of my identity. But what about the rest of my family, especially my older children? Am I forcing them to participate in this particular lifestyle against their wishes, simply because it is my passion, my calling?
It’s a question I’ve pondered often, especially when I care for a foster child with special needs, needs that can become all-consuming of my time and energy as I juggle doctor’s appointments, therapy evaluations, feeding tube schedules and middle-of-the-night trips to the emergency room. Is it really fair to the permanent children in my family when the temporary ones get all of my attention?
As I watch my twin teenage daughters interacting with the children here in Jamaica, it’s just possible that I may have found the answer I’ve been looking for. I watch one as she carefully draws a flower onto a little cheek with face paint, her lips pressed together in concentration as she uses the finest of strokes and the precision of a professional artist. The other one is sitting patiently on the other side of the room, calmly tolerating small hands as they tie up her hair into a “style” befitting a queen. At various times throughout the day I have seen them giving piggy-back rides, holding the end of a jump rope, helping uncoordinated fingers with a bead project, and cleaning up spilled drinks. And they have given and received so many hugs today, it’s impossible to count! It fills my heart with joy to see them reaching out to children who live a world apart, connecting as if they’ve always known each other. Where did these acts of love and service come from? Is anyone forcing my daughters to show compassion to these Jamaican children?
Fourteen years ago, these two girls became part of our family through the foster care system, and then became our “forever daughters” through adoption.1 Back then, as I cared for the many needs of the two little babies in my home, I was simply doing what any mother would do on any given day: changing diapers, singing lullabies, fixing endless bottles of formula, trying to keep the laundry pile under control. Back then, in my sleep-deprived weariness and in the monotony of my daily routines, I never could have envisioned the results and rewards that lay ahead. I had no way of knowing that these sweet girls were not merely recipients of love, but were at the same time preparing to be distributers of love!
Their diapers and bottles and car seats eventually disappeared. And as we welcomed more and more foster children into our home, the girls gradually, without my really noticing it, became my co-laborers, my ministry partners. I have often heard them singing “If You’re Happy and You Know it” to the little ones in our home, the same song that I once sang to them. It’s like hearing an echo of my own words and tone of voice when they pray with the 3-year old before he eats his lunch. They have contests to see who can be the first to make the severely disabled child laugh.
Because caring for “the least of these” has been a part of their life from the very beginning, love and compassion are practically automatic. It has now become a part of the their identity! It is no surprise then, that just as they eagerly welcome new foster children into our home, they are equally enthusiastic about embracing the Jamaican children we have met this week.
But where does that kind of love begin? Where does it come from? It doesn’t start with me, that’s for sure. My love is imperfect, at best. The source of that spring is found in I John 4:19, which says, “We love because He first loved us.” It’s like an enormous ripple effect: As God’s amazing love is poured lavishly upon us, how can we help but spill the overflow onto others in our life?! And the amazing thing is that it doesn’t just stop there . . . it continues to spread and trickle down.
I am just one person, and my ability to impact and influence the world is limited. I have never done anything special or extraordinary. A small act of obedience here, a little display of affection there. Just showering God’s love to one child at a time for as long as he or she is in my life. Maybe only a few brief moments with a child in Jamaica or a few months or even years with a child in my home.
But the effects of even the smallest demonstration of love cannot be underestimated. I am inspired by the quote from St. Augustine, which has become my life’s motto: “By one who loveth is another kindled.” As we share God’s love in large and small ways with those around us, they become “kindled”, and with that small spark, they are then able to love others they meet, touching countless hearts and lives. If every child can be “kindled,” inspired to love generously, who knows how many lives can ultimately be influenced? Not just now, today, but for many generations to come.
The Lord’s love is truly amazing! It’s a love that is meant to be shared. It’s a love that multiplies!
1. You can read their full story at http://psalm1139mama.blogspot.com/2012/02/wild-ride.html