(Disclaimer(s): As a general rule, I try to “speak for myself” and not others. In this post, I use the first-person, singular pronoun (as I do in numerous other posts) even though it would be better rendered plural. I don’t mean to discount Mrs. Agent X in the slightest; I just leave open the high possibility that she might describe some important details very differently or might not appreciate some aspects of the things I say. But she doesn’t blog here. So, let the “we” be understood where necessary.)
Here at the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners, our family blender “goes to eleven.”* Not only is it the case that Mrs. Agent X and I both come from previous marriages with kids involved from that earlier time, but we have been known to take in strays over the years (blurring the boundary lines unofficially) as well as foster/adoption (which is official).
Everyone in this home comes to it with “baggage.” That baggage is different for everyone, and each person’s pain is unique. In fact, we are all pretty much walking disasters, thrust together in love, hoping we can honor our commitments and thus honor God with our very broken lives.
I find it uncommon for people to blog about their foster/adoption families. I expect because most people don’t do it. However, of those who do it and blog about it, I find it common to detail the trials, the cost of discipleship, and the unique baggage that comes with kids from troubled families. I totally approve of that, and I hope it educates the wider world on such matters. Those who do it well never cease to inspire me.
I, however, am leery of posting those things. I do it some, but I am still leery about it. I almost could convert this blog from a focus on street homelessness to foster kids, and it would make a lot of sense to do that. But I don’t want my kids to grow up and find that I document all the trials that would shock the average blog reader.
To you, that is education. To them, it is personal.
Oh… and there is a sense, coming from that blogging process, that I am somehow an expert. After all, it’s me telling you things you don’t know. And while there is some truth in that, it totally betrays the fact that I am no better than a bug on the windshield of life myself.
Okay, that’s a bit extreme. But not by much. Let me say this: one of life’s training moments that prepared me for adoption life was years before I got into reaching out to the homeless. I had found a cheap whore from the streets who needed love (not quick sex, but a healing touch from God) who was suffering with HIV, schizophrenia, and from being a lost lamb.
I recall the first time we met, I gave her a Bible and watched her shuffle up the street in a bathrobe and slippers at about 1 a.m. As she disappeared into the night, I felt my effort and give was so very futile. Surely, she needed more. Surely, God called more out of me. Surely, Jesus would have more for her than a Bible, a prayer, and a sanctimonious goodbye.
A year or two after that observation, I recall having her in our home to celebrate Christmas with our family, and we kept her for three days. All the little things we did like find usably long cigarette butts for her to smoke, providing her a coffee can out on the back stoop where she could smoke them, and food, gifts, and some of our own clothes to wear during her stay were important. But the part that stands out to me is that moment when we turned off the light, saying goodnight to her from the doorway (almost tucking her in!) and listening to the words of welcome come from my mouth as I said, “We are so happy to have you here with us tonight, blessed not worrying if you are okay or loved. You are wanted here.”
I have no way to measure the impact those words had on her heart, but I definitely felt power leaving the pit of my stomach as they came out my mouth. Something truly holy happened just then. I was not worthy.
What is the mark of success?
If my kids graduate high school, is that a success? Can I sit back and finally say I achieved something good when they walk across the stage, shake the hand, and take a diploma?
Or will in only be a success when we do this for a college graduation?
My kids still range between 0 and 5 years old. I will be an old man, assuming I am still alive, when the youngest finishes high school, assuming we reach that benchmark.
Will it be a success when my kids get baptized? Will it be a success when they find Jesus in prison? (There’s a nightmare I suffer even now!)
Is JOY a success?
I mean, coming from where we started, is a single day filled with blessed joy a success?
I hope so. We have a few of those.
I love my kids.
They share none of my DNA, but somehow, in God’s providence, he made me their “Pops.” Every single one of them came to me as addicted infants. There are numerous developmental delays, emotional and cognitive issues, and only some of them have the same skin color as me. The challenges are not “normal” for “normal” families – and those kind bust up in divorce ALL THE TIME!
But we have these little victories. Two of them are finally, finally, finally potty-trained! (Well, sorta.) And I have found there is a rich bond that develops between people during prolonged potty training. A lot of frustration too. We get down to the bottom of me! We find out what I really think and feel! And I am not such a pretty person either!!!
But then we have success! Poop in the potty!! Call the relatives and take a picture!!! (Not.)
Okay, but we do throw a small potty party among ourselves (this after a lot of small pity parties too). There are prizes to be had. Prizes and praises. We are endeared to one another. We fought hard together to reach this milestone, and we are all old enough to remember it for life!
I teach my kid to wash himself in the shower. He is learning to rinse soap out of his hair. That is more tricky to learn than I realized. He is learning to dry off with a towel. He is learning how hard it is to pull up your pants if you don’t dry off good enough. Sometimes, we get to the bottom of him!
But my boy is so sweet. When his meds are working properly, you can’t beat him. He wants to help with EVERYTHING. And he is helpful. I tell him he has a shepherd’s heart. He has ugly squabbles with the younger kids frequently, of course, but you should see him share. When it’s his sister’s turn to go to the store and he gets left behind, he tells me it is “heartbreaking.” That is his word for it. And when I tell him she will be heartbroken if she doesn’t get her turn, he thinks about that and gives up his seat.
He takes initiative.
When we sit down to eat a meal together, three kids sit in highchairs with food stuck on fingers and faces. My boy takes the hand -n- face rag and starts cleaning up the babies and then gets them down even before I am ready.
He is smart too. Don’t let the delays fool ya. He is not as fast to learn a lot of the standard lessons as other kids, but he has an uncanny knack for geography. Mama (Mrs. Agent X) works in one of the big hospitals, one of the biggest landmark buildings in town. And my boy can spot it as a dot on the horizon from miles away, and seems to always know where he is in relation to it. He’s been telling us as much ever since his speech delays relented two and a half years ago.
There’s a lot of success in all that. There’s a lot of joy in it.
If I died today, and if my kids were put back into the hopeless “system” where I found them, and if the joy in their lives disappeared with me, you can’t take away the progress that has been made, the joy that has been enjoyed, the milestones that have been met. You can’t take that away from us. You really should see the victory that has already been won.
I don’t live MY life anymore.
I don’t even want MY life after this. I am, of course, still adjusting to it. A lot of my dreams die hard. Though I didn’t appreciate it before, I don’t think I really want to live in a house that doesn’t have crayon marks all down the wall through the hallway.
When God enters his house, the Good Book describes how the smoke comes with him and drives out the priests and all those attending to the worship there. When the Ark of the Covenant takes a tour of Philistine villages, they find their lives are a mess too. When Jesus comes into Herod’s temple, he also drives out the money changers and makes a mess of the place.
It’s like the banker/janitor (deacon) from church once told me as I apologized for feeding Poptarts to hungry urchins I brought to worship from the projects while he was cleaning the crumbs and ground in jelly off the pews right under the “no food or drink in the sanctuary” sign: “It’s just a sign Jesus was here.”
“It’s just a sign Jesus was here,” he said.
That’s some profound insight. What would you give to have Jesus come eat dinner at your place tonight?
I am not worthy of the joy, the success, the love I find in my kids. And really, they are NOT MINE, but God’s. They are mine on loan – maybe. And somehow, through all the good, the bad, and the ugly, God makes us family and gives us love.
I love my kids.
*A nod to This Is Spinal Tap.