Today I am seeking my anchor! Often when my heart is hurting, I seek comfort in prayer. I light incense in the house, I look to my favorite icons, and I seek counsel from friends whose opinions I trust. But I have to start my day on my knees (figuratively speaking). And it is one of those days. The irony is that yesterday was a day for Gaga (the name my oldest grandson gave me) heaven! I babysat both my grandchildren for the entire day. I was so thrilled. I got to play trucks with my two-year old grandson, and I got to coo at and cuddle with my 4-month old grand daughter. I even remembered all the words to, “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly”!! That was my youngest son’s favorite song for me to sing to him while I rocked him to sleep for naps! It was a great day…today, not so much.
There is an aspect to my life that some people do not understand. My parents did not really understand, and that is okay. I always wanted a large family. I came from a small one that spanned several oceans, and was scattered across three continents and was decidedly British in oh so many ways! No aunts, no uncles, no cousins. Which is completely the opposite experience of my husband! He comes from a very large, very close, ethnically-rich German-Russian family. And both my husband and myself wanted a large family of our own. We even tried to scare each other away while dating! (I want six kids…how many do you want? Well, I want 8 kids! Ha-Ha!). God had other plans for us. From the very start, we had trouble conceiving and keeping our babies and have lost 7 children in various stages of miscarriage. I longed for a full, noisy, messy, chaotic household and in answer to that, we became foster parents. The training was intimidating, in and of itself. It makes you wonder how your natural children were still breathing and in one piece. We prayed about fostering, and we worked on it, and finally we were licensed. Fostering is a special thing. It is not for the faint-of-heart, nor for the unprepared. We got our home ready, but it was our minds and hearts that were unprepared. What were we unprepared for? This wash of completely unrequited love that just overflowed for these children left in our care. Most of their stories were sad beyond our experience. For most, it was the first time they had ever experienced life in an intact family. And they clung. Boy oh boy, did they cling. And to these kids, race was not even an issue. I had care of two brothers once who called me, “Mommy” from the first moment I held them. They were African American boys from the inner city. They arrived in the night, in footed-jammies and diapers, and that was it! We lived in the suburbs, next to orange groves. They had no idea what oranges were. They brought me one and said, “Mommy-mommy! Look! Orange balls that fell off that tree! Can we keep them?” I had to show them that they were for eating. They had never had a meal that was NOT in a paper sack until they lived with us. The baby was used to drinking coca-cola out of his bottle. For dinner one night, I accidentally cut up a slice of pizza for the baby and he had a fit! Screamed at me. He was used to the whole slice. They both regressed into early infancy, wanting to be held and fed and diapered, rocked to sleep, and comforted; something common for most neglected and abused children. They were soaking up all the cuddling, warmth, security, and love they never had as small babies. And when they were wrenched from my arms, screaming, “Mommy, mommy, don’t let them take me!!” I about lost my mind from grief. They were removed because the maternal grandparents saw us once, and saw we were white. From incarceration, the mother requested “no white families.” It was so very sad. In the area in which we lived, foster families of color were few and far between. Fostering takes courage and fortitude, and learning to be an advocate for these kids. We loved/hated it. It messed with my older boys’ heads in that they fell in love with their new “siblings” only to have them taken away, and it was not something they wanted to repeat over and over again. And so in the best interests of our family, we stopped fostering. We had been licensed for drug babies and small children and that darn phone rang and rang, with placement requests, for at least a year after we discontinued our licensing.
A couple of years later, through the grace of God and some amazing friends, we welcomed and fell in love with, and adopted our youngest son. He was just a couple of hours old and in the hospital when I first met him, and when he was laid in my arms, the floodgates of love opened in my heart. He was mine…no one else would take him away. I cannot express the gamut of emotions that have come from having him in our family – for all of us. Our older sons loved him so much, they insisted the three of them all be in the same room – late night crying of an infant and all. The oldest of our sons took to sleeping with the baby when he was a toddler; they grew very close. It was a beautiful thing to see. Our middle son had a few years with just he and our youngest at home (the older one had grown and left home) and they bonded something fierce. It was so fun to see them together, the little one trailing after his brother. And we have never looked back. We never treated the son who was given to us differently than the sons we birthed. He is ours as much as they are.
When we purposefully adopt a child, we become pretty darn protective of that child. Even more so, I think, because they are adopted. In our case, we are a different race than our youngest son, and it has always proved to be an issue. The issue is for other people – not our family or close friends. Our older family members often questioned the wisdom of adopting outside of our race, but we never even thought about it. I never think of it, until someone brings it to my attention. A funny incident happened when my mom met him for the first time. He was just 20 days old. We brought him to Christmas Eve at my brother’s house. I guess I had forgotten to mention his race when I was all bubbly and excited over the phone. You “could have knocked her over with a feather” when she opened that blanket. She said, “You forgot to mention he wasn’t white.” And I looked at her, then at him, and said, “I totally forgot that part, I guess.” We laughed but when you adopt, you just love. It doesn’t matter the gender or the race, it is a child who needs you. You just love.
“You know, I was asked once by an NPR reporter why I don’t talk about race that often. And I said it’s because I’m a neurosurgeon. And she looked at me quite quizzically. And I said, ‘You see, when I take someone to the operating room and I peel down the scalp and take off the bone flap and open the dura, I’m operating on the thing that makes the person who they are.’ It’s not the covering that makes them who they are,” he said.
I love Dr. Ben Carson, and I love what he said above. “It’s not the covering that makes them who they are.” And I truly believe that. I have run into prejudice in all sorts of forms. I personally have experienced it, and fairly recently, in fact. Not to be too blunt about it, but I am an obese woman. I could drop 100 pounds and still want to loose a little more. (But I have a great personality! Ha-Ha!) Seriously, I am heavy: I live with it each and every day. And the world ignores overweight people; they generally don’t really see us. I have experimented with hair color, length, style. Only when I went from curly to straight, did people say anything. And when I quit dyeing my hair and just decided to live with the gray, I only got a few comments (and they were mostly from people my age who are not ready to that, yet!) For important events, I often wear make-up, and usually on Sundays, or when attending an important function. No one ever notices. No one notices when I plan and prepare and then wear a particular outfit that I think looks good. People do not see me. It is rather annoying and I long for the day of thinness to return. But it annoys me, that to be noticed, I need to be thin. “It’s not the covering that makes them who they are,” as Dr. Carson would say. But in our culture, it very much is. And that is a form of prejudice!
Which brings me to my need to cling to my anchor of prayer today. Our youngest, most precious, son is experiencing prejudice. Now, sometimes you just can’t help stupid people; they are pretty much everywhere. And I usually ignore prejudice born from ignorance and stupidity. When I get mad is when people purport to (1) be a Christian, (2) are in a position of leadership, (3) have the responsibility to be an example to young people. Prejudice is most often one of race. But prejudice exists in many forms. My parents think I am going to hell because I am not a born-again Christian, who believes like they do and they are prejudiced against Catholicism. Sad. Other types are like what I experience being overweight. People can be downright rude about it. It can also be about ability. I have friends, and many who foster parent can relate to this, who have children who run the spectrum of FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) to extremely autistic, to pretty much everything in between. There are children with special needs, who are not in wheelchairs or use crutches or canes, or who have amputated limbs, who operate pretty much like normal, until they are in certain situations (like formal state testing, for example). They seem normal, so people do not expect issues with them and berate them for being “slow” or “stupid.” There are those who use such derogatory language around children, who soak it up like a sponge, that in turn learn to use it on other kids. It is a big, ugly cycle.
So I am at this point of needing to deal with a situation that breaks my heart. We had such a great thing going for my son, and now it is all falling apart, and I am saddened. For me, for those friends we dragged along to events that we all enjoyed, for family members who came with us, and the organization as a whole, because we are going to have to make big changes, and change is always hard. We will walk away from this unless fundamental changes occur. This is hard on everyone. But how do you change people’s hearts, so that prejudice doesn’t become a part of who they are and how they operate in life? And how do you keep it from affecting your own children? I start by praying for them. But I feel like I am against this mammoth thing. *Deep breath here.*
And guess what? It’s still Lent!!!! We have something like 25 days left. And why did this all come to a head now? God placed it in this time and place for my benefit. Wow. It’s pretty amazing. Lent is an amazing time for all of us, and this Lent, He is asking me, leading me, to be a better person.
So I am examining and taking inventory. Those little places inside my heart and my soul where I see strange lights seeping in need to be shored up. Anger, frustration, frustration…all those negative things. Just 25-short days left in Lent! (Remember when it began and we thought the end was so far off?). I need more reflection, more time, to fix myself so that when I do engage with others who have been cruel to my son, I can be fair. I can be reasonable. Because right now, I am not feeling so reasonable. I am feeling protective. It’s like I want to fill the moat with water, drop in some sharks, and pull up the drawbridge, keeping the world at bay. But I know I need to bear witness to God’s love, even to those “who hate me.” In Matthew 5: 43-48, the Lord says this:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”
And so I wrestle with myself; I am doing a lot of deep breathing, and trying to relax. I return to my anchor among these waves of prejudice and poor example, and I drop to my knees and I pray. This affects my son’s future, it affects his now; it also affects every person involved, now and in the future. And I know that I am not enough; I know I need God to handle this for me. His wisdom, not mine. He must increase, so I must decrease. His words, not mine. For God suffered prejudice on a Cross, for me. Thanks be to God. Blessed Lent.