November 18, 2013
An Unexpected Party
(A foster mother's version of "The Hobbit" by J.R.R. Tolkien)
There I was, an average, unremarkable woman, living in a little home in a quiet suburban neighborhood. It was a quiet home that meant comfort and solitude. The days were predictable. Nights were filled with peaceful, uninterrupted slumber. I certainly wasn’t looking for an adventure. I happened to like my life the way it was, thank you very much.
I had come from a long line of middle class families, and people considered us very respectable, not only because most of us were hard-working, upstanding citizens, but because we had never had any adventures or did anything unexpected. This is my story: the story of how an average, unremarkable woman had an adventure, and found herself doing and saying things altogether unexpected.
By some curious chance one morning long ago, when there was less noise and more tidiness, and I was sitting on my front porch drinking a cup of tea, God began to stir something in my heart. God! If you have heard only a quarter of what I have heard about him, you would be prepared for any sort of remarkable tale. Tales and adventures sprouted up all over the place wherever He went, in the most extraordinary fashion.
“I am looking,” God seemed to say, “for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging and it’s very difficult to find anyone.”
“I should think so – in these parts,” I replied. “We are very plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty, disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you miss manicures and date nights! I can’t see what anybody sees in them. We don’t want any adventures here, thank you! You might try over The Hill or across The Water.” By that I meant that the conversation was at an end.
But God’s little voice persisted. “You. It’s you I have chosen for this adventure. Very useful for Me, very good for you.”
“Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not today. Good morning! But please come to tea – any time you like! Why not tomorrow? Come tomorrow! Good-bye!” With that I turned and hurried inside my comfortable little home, and shut the door as quickly as I dared, not to seem rude. God, after all, is God.
“What on earth did I ask Him to tea for!” I said to myself, as I went about my day. I thought a second cup of tea would do me good after my fright.
God, in the meantime was laughing long but quietly. He scratched an invisible sign on my front door, and then He strode away, just about the time when I was finishing my tea and beginning to think that I had escaped adventures very well.
A short time later, when I had almost forgotten the encounter, there came a tremendous ring on the front door-bell, and then I remembered! I rushed and put on the kettle, and put out another cup and saucer, and an extra cake or two, and ran to the door.
“I am so sorry to keep you waiting,” I was going to say, when I saw that it was not God at all. It was a child with tattered clothes and very sad eyes under a lock of hair. Bedraggled, cold, and hungry. As soon as the door opened, the child pushed inside, just as if he had been expected. He hung his jacket on the nearest peg, and “I’m your new foster child,” he announced.
“And I guess I’m your new foster mother! Please come in.” I said, too surprised to ask any questions for the moment. And what would you do if an uninvited child came and hung his things up in your hall without a word of explanation? He was clearly in need of medical attention and a mother’s love. How could I turn him away?
One child. Just one. Surely, I could find room in my heart and life for a little one who needed me. I cleaned the grime from his face, warmed him by the fire, and filled his little tummy with warm food that I lovingly prepared for him. He was so quiet and shy, I hardly knew he was there. So far, so good. Perhaps this interruption wasn’t so bad after all.
We had just begun to settle in, when there came another even louder ring at the bell. “So You have got here at last!” was what I was going to say this time. But it was not God. It was a woman. A well-dressed professional-looking woman on the step with a name badge and a brief case, her grey hair wound into a tight bun at the nape of her neck. She wore an air of confidence and experience, as if she had knocked on many doors before mine. She too stepped inside as soon as the door was open, just as if she had been invited.
“I see they have already begun to arrive,” said the woman when she caught sight of the boy’s jacket hanging up. She hung her suit blazer next to it, and “I’m the boy’s guardian-ad-litem!” she said with an outstretched hand.
“Thank you!” I said with a gasp. It was not the correct thing to say, but they have already begun to arrive had flustered me badly. I liked visitors, of course, but I liked to know them before they arrived, and I preferred to ask them myself. “Come along in, and have some tea,” I managed to say after taking a deep breath.
The guardian-ad-litem and the boy were soon talking at the table like old friends (as a matter of fact they had known each other for many years). I soon learned that she was the community volunteer who represented him before the judge every time there was a court hearing. She checked on him often, especially after being placed in a new foster home, to make sure that he was doing well and receiving the services he needed.
I had just plumped more tea and cake in front of them, when loud came a ring at the bell again, and then another ring.
“God for certain this time,” I thought as I puffed along the passage. But it was not. It was three more women, each of them carrying a bag of toys and piles of paperwork. In they walked, as soon as the door began to open – I was hardly surprised at all. “What can I do for you, ladies?” I asked.
“I am the boy’s physical therapist!” said the one. “And his occupational therapist,” added another. “And his developmental therapist,” replied the third. “We are here to conduct evaluations, and will continue to visit several times each week in order to help the boy reach his developmental goals.”
And they all kicked off their shoes and made themselves at home. “The boy and his guardian-ad-litem are here already, I see,” said one of the therapists. “Let us join the throng!”
“Throng!” I thought. “I don’t like the sound of that. I really must sit down for a minute and collect my wits, and have a cup of tea.” I had only just had a sip – in the corner while the other women sat around the table, and talked about reunification efforts, IFSP’s, and authorizations and consents, and lots of other things which I did not understand, and did not want to – when, ding-dong, my bell rang again, as if there were three more people anxiously waiting to enter.
I sat down in the hall and put my head in my hands, and wondered what had happened, and what was going to happen, and how long they were all going to stay. Then the bell rang again louder than ever, and I had to run to the door. It was not three after all but four! I had hardly turned the knob, before they were all inside, introducing themselves. Home health nurse. Medical equipment provider. Services coordinator. Foster care licensing professional. In they marched to join the others. Already it had almost become a throng.
Paperwork was being signed. Appointments were being marked on the calendars. The discussion was sometimes heated, with everyone wanting his or her professional opinions and objectives to be heard. Suddenly there came a loud knock. Not a ring, but a hard rat-tat on the door of the once quiet home.
I rushed along the passage, very frazzled and altogether bewildered and bewuthered. I pulled open the door with a jerk, and another woman came tumbling in. “Let me introduce myself,” said the newcomer, barely taking the time to shake my hand. “I am the boy’s social worker. I will be keeping a very close eye on this child, overseeing his care, and making decisions about his future. Oh, I see that we are all here!” she said, noticing all the jackets hanging on the pegs. “Quite a merry gathering!”
“Everyone seems to make themselves quite at home here,” I thought, feeling quite flummoxed, and beginning to wonder whether a most wretched adventure had not come right into my house. I joined the others at the kitchen table, trying to look as if this was all perfectly ordinary and not in the least an adventure.
As everyone chatted and signed documents and made plans for the weeks ahead, the child sat perfectly still, practically forgotten in the midst of the discussion. I noticed once again his lonely eyes and slumped shoulders, and felt the love, a fierce and jealous love, moving through me. Then something adventurous and bold woke up inside me, and I wished to see the boy’s smile, and to hear his laughter, and to smell his clean hair when I embraced him, and to hold his hand instead of wringing my own.
“Will she do, do you think?” I overheard one of them say? “This boy has had quite a difficult time of it, and I’m not sure if she’s up to the challenge. Perhaps we’ve come to the wrong house.”
The adventurous side of me emerged, strong and confident. I suddenly felt that I would give up everything to be thought up to the challenge. Many a time afterwards I wondered what I had been thinking at that moment when I said, “Pardon me, if I have overheard words that you were saying. I don’t pretend to understand what you are talking about, but I think I am right in believing that you think I am no good. I am quite sure you have come to the wrong house, but treat it as the right one. Tell me what you want done, and I will try it.”
It was as if God was speaking to my heart: “I needed a mother for this child, and I chose you. I did not choose the wrong person or the wrong house. Let’s have no more argument. I have chosen you, and that ought to be enough for you. If I say you are the right person for this adventure, then the right person you are, or will be when the time comes. There is a lot more in you than you guess. You will live to thank me yet.”
The days of living a predictable, peaceful, serene life are a distant memory. There have indeed been many adventures in the years that followed. In the process of welcoming foster children into my home, there have been hundreds, literally hundreds of professionals who have enjoyed a cup of tea at my kitchen table. My once-quiet, comfortable little home has been the scene of a continual party. A lively, teeming, dynamic, unexpected party.