February 20, 2018
Sometimes, when you least expect it, the extraordinary happens. You open your hands wide to receive the gift, and find that it is more amazing, more remarkable than you could ever have imagined. You find that you are holding something beautiful, a priceless treasure wholly undeserved.
I know, because it happened to me.
I watch this little one running down my driveway, full steam ahead, hair streaming behind her like long brown ribbons. Her strong legs pumping with energy and enthusiasm, her back strong with confidence. And my heart overflows with love for her. With gratitude for this immeasurable gift. Moments like this almost take my breath away. I look at her, amazed, and can hardly believe that this beautiful child is mine.
Three years ago, I had no idea that when I answered the phone one winter afternoon, that my life, and the lives of our entire family, would forever be changed. I said yes to the woman on the other end of the line, asking if I would please come to the hospital as soon as possible, because there was a baby, a precious newborn there in the plastic bassinette, waiting for a family.
Of course, I have received many such phone calls during the 22 years of our foster care journey. Many stories of children in hospitals, children waiting for families. Stories of abuse that have left broken bones, ugly scars, and brain injuries. Stories of neglect and malnourishment so severe that survival was doubtful. Stories of babies already battling addictions, even before they have taken their first breath. Babies born to prostitutes and drug dealers and parents behind bars. Babies that no one wants. Babies that have been forgotten.
To be honest, this was not the ideal season for us to be caring for an infant. Our three older children were nearly grown, one already graduated from high school and navigating the world of a new college campus, and two in their years when teens need their mama to be present. Who need their mama to teach them how to drive, to listen to their stories of friendships and dates and new jobs, and to help them navigate the world of endless possibilities. It was a time when most of our peers were becoming empty nesters or experiencing the thrill of having grand-babies.
We were already pushing the limits of our parenting years with our youngest son who was just 6 years old. My husband had already run the numbers and realized that he would have to postpone retirement a few years later than he had originally planned. If, by chance, we did welcome any more children into our home, I reasoned, wouldn’t it be perfect if they were school age? Close enough in age to our youngest son so that he would not feel like an only child? Somewhere in the middle years to fill that huge gap in our family?
God must not have gotten my memo. Or maybe He did see it and laughed. I may have been considering an older child for our family, but He had another child already in mind. A wonderful gift beyond my wildest dreams.
When the woman on the other end of the phone asked me if I would be willing to go to the hospital right away to meet this baby and to consider bringing her home, I did not hesitate. Yes! I said. Or maybe I shrieked. A thousand times yes! What an honor to be asked. Of all the billions of people on this planet, it was me who was chosen! It was me who would have the great privilege of being her mother.
I had cared for the most vulnerable, the most broken, the most fragile for so many years, that I had almost forgotten what a healthy baby was like. How hearty and solid and unimpaired. Not one blemish or defect or scar on her skin. Not one tube or wire or monitor connected to her anywhere. Every organ, every limb, every neuron in her brain working exactly as it was designed to work. Her wholeness seemed nothing short of miraculous.
Every month when I filled out the paperwork that is required for foster children, each line that was left blank would remind me anew of how entirely ordinary, of how altogether typical she was.
Medical specialists: None
Therapy sessions: None
List of medications: None
No medical equipment or oxygen bottles or specialized training or nursing care. No developmental delays. No behavioral concerns.
Each new milestone she passed was cause for great celebration. Look! She’s making eye contact! Those beautiful brown eyes would stare deeply into mine, as if searching my face with a hundred unasked questions about her life, about my role in her life. Who are you? those eyes seemed to ask. How did we both end up here, together like this?
She would tentatively touch my lips as I sang lullabies to her, giving her full attention to my voice, as if trying to memorize its sound. As if trying to understand each syllable. And each time, my heart would celebrate the connection that was forming between us. Mother and child. Love. Trust. Joy in each other’s presence. Could there possibly be anything more beautiful?
As she grew and matured and developed, perfectly measuring up to Ideal according to the pediatrician’s standards and charts, she seemed to also be growing into her big personality. Before she was a year old, we began to call her She Who Will Not be Contained. This girl, from the very beginning, has a whole world that she is eager to explore, a boundless curiosity that would not be limited by mere mortal parents. Safety gates are meant to climb. Crib rails are meant to crawl over. Seat belts are meant to be unfastened, preferably as the car is zooming down the highway. Grocery carts and strollers and high chairs, she firmly believes, are for other children, surely not for her.
Some day before too long, She Who Will Not Be Contained will be grown, and she will find that front doors are meant for opening and walking through. That cars are meant for driving away. That airplanes are meant for traveling to faraway places. I am already bracing my heart for impact.
Today I am watching her run down the driveway as she does most days, full steam ahead, legs strong, back straight with confidence. I think of the brokenness that she was born into, and shudder at who she might have become had she been left in that unthinkable situation. I am overcome with gratitude that she was rescued from certain harm, that somehow she escaped the horrors that surely would have been her experience there.
Instead, she found her way into our family where she is utterly adored and loved. Where she is protected and safe. Where she is wanted.
And I am amazed at how, out of the billions of people in the world, somehow we ended up together. At how a perfectly healthy, wonderfully ordinary child can bring such joy to one family. Such amazement to one undeserving mother.
How is this possible? Doesn’t it make sense that every ounce of my love has already been used up, caring for dozens and dozens of broken children throughout the years? That the reservoir, the spring from which all those emotions flow, would at some point simply run out? But that’s not what happened. Instead, I have found that my capacity to love has grown exponentially. I have found that the more I pour out, the more it continues to flow. And the pouring out, the love that so completely fills my heart, seems nothing short of miraculous.
Three years ago, I had assumed that I knew which child would be the best fit for our family. A baby? Starting over again with a little one, when my other children have already been raised? When the finish line was almost in sight? That just seemed Insane. Laughable even.
I never saw it coming.
When I least expected it, the extraordinary happened. I opened my hands wide to receive the gift, and found that it was more amazing, more remarkable than I could ever have imagined. I found that I was holding something beautiful, a priceless treasure undeserved.
Right here in my hands is an unexpected gift.