November 21, 2012

Called to Love

The warm spring day began like any other normal day, or at least that’s how the little 1-year old saw it.  She climbed out of bed and toddled down the hall in search of food and her mommy, though not necessarily in that order.  She banged on some pots in the kitchen while her breakfast was being prepared, and she babbled happy sounds while munching on her banana.  The world was ready for her to explore that day!  The sweet child had no way of knowing that this would be the last “normal” day she would ever experience.  In one moment, in one minute of careless neglect, her life would forever be changed.

The sun is setting in the sky, and the little girl finds herself at a party with her mother, a noisy gathering of people talking, laughing, and eating.  Everyone is too busy enjoying the beautiful evening to pay much attention to the small child weaving in and out of their legs.

I wonder what that is?  It looks like my bathtub at home, but a lot bigger and full of bubbles.  Oh, and it’s warm too.  Tee hee!  Look at me splash!

Like toddlers everywhere, her innocence and over-confidence make a dangerous combination.  As her chubby hands reach further out, her unsteady legs lose their balance, and before she even has a chance to cry out in surprise, her head is submerged and the warmth envelops her.  Her lungs, desperate for air, find only water instead.  She flails desperately for a minute or two, and then is still.   That is the last memory she will ever have.

Hey, guys, what a great party, huh?  Anyone wanna take a dip in the hot tub?  What the . . .?

Someone notices the tiny body lying face down in the water, completely motionless except for the blond hair swirling in the currents made by the air jets.  It’s impossible to know how long she has been there.  Several people reach for their cell phones to call 911.  One man yanks her out onto the deck and begins CPR, trying to stay calm enough to administer rescue breaths and praying with every chest compression, “please, please, please.”  The girl’s young mother is inconsolable, screaming, “my baby, my baby!”  She is overcome with grief and shock, and the guilt that presses in on her will no doubt be carried with her the rest of her life.  It’s a terrifying moment for everyone there, shocking and incomprehensible.

The emergency responders eventually arrive at the rural home, and immediately take over.  Their expert hands and professional demeanor give some comfort that perhaps they can do something to save her.  And indeed, during the interminable ride to the hospital in the back of the racing ambulance, a miracle happens.  The faintest of heartbeats is detected.  There is a glimmer of hope that perhaps it’s not too late after all.

But the doctors in the emergency room know.  They work efficiently, expertly doing everything within their power to sustain this young life, to help her breathe again, and to restart her heart.  But in the midst of all of their medical expertise, they know that regardless of whether she survives this ordeal or not, it really is too late.  Her brain had been without oxygen for far too long, and the damage would be irreversible.  The energetic, curious, “normal” child could not be saved.  In her place was a new little girl, a girl who would eventually wake up, but would never move, would never sit up, would never talk or run or laugh.

It was a tragic accident, a moment of inattention that could have happened to any parent.  Unfortunately, this child’s mother wasn’t like any other parent.  During the next few months, while the little girl stayed in the hospital under the watchful care of her new medical team, it became apparent that she would not be returning home.  Her mother, who was herself struggling with the irresponsibility of youth, had been able to provide just barely enough proper care for her healthy daughter.   But now, she was simply ill-equipped and unprepared to care for the many, many needs of her new severely-disabled daughter.  The little girl would now become a foster child.  Or more accurately, she would become my foster child.

I have had the privilege of caring for medically-fragile children before. It’s been a challenging experience for me, learning the ins and outs of each child’s unique needs, and becoming the child’s staunch advocate and enthusiastic cheerleader.  It’s been hugely rewarding to watch children grow and thrive, knowing that my tender nurturing and care had a part in that progress.

But what about this little one now in my home? Her situation is simply heart-breaking, and yet I know that there is nothing I can do to fix it.  Not this time.  My days are filled with cleaning up after her frequent vomiting, because her brain doesn’t tell her digestive system the correct way to work.  Trying to pry her stiff legs apart, at least enough to change her diaper.  Administering anti-seizure medications and muscle relaxants.  Getting her fitted for wrist and ankle braces.  Ordering a wheelchair. 

So what’s the point?  Why would I want this thankless job day in and day out, knowing that I will never see the reward?  There will be no thriving despite my best efforts and diligent care.  She will most likely never progress, or at least not in a significant way.  I know that she will eventually be transferred to a long-term care facility.  I hate the very idea that the rest of her life will be spent in an institution.  The future is uncertain and doesn’t make sense.

But today?  Today I will choose to love this child.  You see, God doesn’t ask me to love only the cute and cuddly ones.  He asks me to love “the least of these.”  He doesn’t ask me to love only when I feel like it, when it’s easy and convenient, and only when it’s reciprocal or rewarding; He asks me to love unconditionally.  He doesn’t even ask me to understand or agree with His plan; He asks me to be obedient.

So today I will be her foster mother, because God asks me to.  Today, I will welcome her into my home, the last taste of family that she will most likely ever experience.  I will do my best to look past the disabilities and try to find the little girl that is somewhere inside, the precious life created in God’s image.  I will kiss the face that is covered in drool, and despite her stiff limbs, try to find a way to cuddle her.  I will shower her with God’s love and give her the very best care I possibly can.  Why?  Because this is what He asks me to do.  I've been called to love.

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