I didn’t realize, those years ago when we opened our home, that we were giving the gift of family and home. . . .
The young man wheeled his vehicle into our driveway and bounded up the steps. I knew him at once.
It had been fifteen years, but I recognized that build and that face. Tucked into our son’s photo album is a picture of our kids with Terrance* on the first day of school – the time he lived with us for three weeks while his mother was in the process of moving to another state. I had often wondered what had become of Terrance.
He was just another lone wolf who camped at our place. There had been others, like the fourth grader who spent every Wednesday after school and went to church with us. We helped him complete his homework for the week because his mother’s world didn’t include her children’s homework, school, or church. There was another day I peered through our living room window to check on the kids when I noticed an additional kid.
My son explained, “I told him if he ever needs a place to stay, he can play here. So his mom dropped him off while she went to town.” I didn’t mind an extra child being there. What was foreign to me was a mother who didn’t bother to verify permission for his presence in our yard. I never did meet his mother, but he found a safe place to stay and ate at our table that day.
In recent years, we’ve had other children show up at our door – brought by either a case worker or another foster parent who needed child care. These children have stayed for several weeks or over a year. Every time, it upsets my neatly ordered world.
Every time, I have to choose to give – to widen my circle and make room for another wagon instead of tightening my safe-place-circle to the exclusion of lonely waifs.
While foster care was a new territory for us, as a child I observed my mother doing her own foster/respite care for moms in New York City. My family participated in the Fresh Air Fund program. Each summer — over twenty-five of them — we hosted four to six girls of different nationalities for several weeks in our home. After my mother passed away in 2010, we received emails from several Fresh Air children expressing appreciation for the love and family life they experienced in my mother’s home as children. If my widowed mother had waited until her house was “good enough” to host these children, it never would have happened.
Rather, she chose to give because she had been given much.
An email from a neighbor’s child shared her memories of being invited to come see new puppies and eat supper with us. Fifty years had passed, yet she specifically mentioned the gift of love and kindness she experienced at my mother’s table.
You know what I’ve discovered as I’ve listened to the stories of these foster children?
Visiting our homes is like being given a gift from another world: removing the bow, loosening the tape on the paper, and then lifting the lid of the box to enjoy the priceless gift inside.
We allow others who have never had a safe place experience, savor, and delight in the beauty and safety of a Christian home. How many children in our communities have never experienced this blessing?!
In my Anabaptist culture, most of us have been blessed with two-parent homes and supportive, encouraging churches. We’ve been gifted honesty and respect for authority. Surely we would change some things about our childhoods if we could, but the fact remains that for many of us, our heritage is a blessing to which we are blind. Rather than share this bounty with others, we mingle with our own people and hoard this gift for ourselves alone.
A few days after Terrance’s first visit back to his “childhood home,” as he calls our place, he told me, “I never knew that there were parents who did not beat their children – until I came to live with you. I didn’t know that families sat around the table and ate dinner together– until I lived with you.”
No wonder, I thought, he seemed so intrigued with setting the dinner table and begged for a “job” to do when our kids had jobs. Our home had been a haven for him when his mother moved to another state after her divorce while his fractured family was oblivious to his needs.
In my Anabaptist haven, I never considered that our home was providing more than just food and shelter those weeks. We were providing a model for a completely unheard of way of life. We didn’t do anything significant. We just lived it in front of him, and he guzzled at the nourishment and fresh water of our home, all while we were unaware.
As Christian women, we have an opportunity to peel back the curtains of our homes and allow others to experience what is so common to us, but is foreign to many children. We have a message of hope and a message about eternity.
In our fear of tainting our own families, we keep the ribbon on the package; we refuse to unwrap the paper, let alone allow others to touch what is inside that tissue paper. We hoard it for our families and our people instead of opening our homes and our hearts so others can understand that there really is a good way to do family.
A few weeks ago, a young girl visited in kids’ class at church. Her home houses two incomplete families: mom and siblings, mom’s friend and his daughter. How I wish I could take this little girl and show her the hope that Jesus gives. I have not forgotten that there is a little girl living in my community who had never heard the song Jesus Loves Me – until that evening. This same little girl shared tearfully that her greatest fear in all of life is that her Daddy will get killed while he is in prison. We prayed that evening for our new friend and for her Daddy. I want to do more because I have been given so much.
I want to open the sweet gift of “family” for her, allowing her to taste and sample the beauty of knowing Jesus. I want her to know that there is a better way to do family than what she is experiencing. Who is going to tell her? Who is willing to give?! Who is going to share that wonderful news with her? Who is going to live it out in front of her?!
We have a gift for the world.
Sharing that gift takes investment and it takes time. And oh, does it ever cost! Are we too busy, too preoccupied, too selfish, to give what we have so others can learn a better way to do family?
Lonely, hungry folks don’t care about extravagant meals or immaculate homes. They need to see the hope of Jesus lived before their eyes. They need to experience what it means to have an intact family, for it’s something they’ve never known. Are we willing to share our homes with those who have never experienced one?
Jesus said, “Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matthew 10:8).
We’ve received freely. Now He waits for us to give.
This article was first published in Daughters of Promise magazine.
*yes, I changed his name