Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Friendship That Changed It All


 

The course of my life was changed by a 5-year old.
This is a journey that was birthed out of a heart for orphans.  I can’t remember when we first discussed a desire to help orphans, but I know it was soon after we became Christians.   With 3 small children of our own, my husband's heart wasn't ready to move in the direction of foster care or adoption for our family.  So by God's plan, the desire was put on the back burner. 
Last year, I thought we were sending our children to a homeschool co-op in order to afford me some much-needed help with schooling my children at home.  As always, the Lord has bigger plans.  After the first day, my sweet 5-year old, Maddie Grace, came home talking about her friend Anna (not her real name). 

Mommy, she has beautiful curly hair. 
I wish I had curly hair.

As the weeks unfolded, I continued to hear about Anna.  When I saw her from a distance one day, I assumed Anna was adopted.   Her black curly hair, mocha skin, and Hershey eyes were in stark contrast to the Caucasian woman who always brought her to school. 
I don’t remember exactly when I learned that Anna was in foster care.  But I do remember standing in my church lobby talking to Maddie Grace’s kindergarten teacher (we were blessed to know her teacher since she also goes to our church).
There is something about your Maddie Grace.  Anna has bonded with her.  She won’t talk to anyone else but her.

The tears flowed. 
God was using my daughter.  This was beyond my control. 
My sweet Maddie Grace is a giggle-goose.  She has giggled through much of her life.  Whatever the reason, the Lord used something about my sweet girl to comfort and make Anna feel safe at co-op. 
The Father was also using the friendship of two kindergarten girls to stir my heart.  Like a ribbon floating in the breeze, my desire to minister to orphans had fluttered through the winds of my life—always there, anchored in my heart, but stronger during certain seasons.  Now the Lord was reigniting this desire through the friendship of two little girls.  And he was going to soften my husband’s heart as well.

Also for the first time, I was realizing my children have a story.  I, mean, I knew they did, but for some reason I assumed God would use them when they got older.  Like when they were in college or something.  Duh.  God is weaving and writing their story now.  He is always at work.  How could I be so blinded to not realize this?   

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these
(Matthew 19:14)

Sometime last fall, I contacted Anna’s foster mom and had them come over to our house for a playdate.  Not sure what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised when they stayed for nearly 4 hours.  During our time together, my heart was gripped.  Seeing a precious 5-year old giggle and play with my daughter, but not talk to me or look me in the eye was painful. 
What hurts had she suffered?
It was a pivotal day on a deep level, but on a more suface-y level, I went against our house rules and handed a small bottle of paint to my 5-year old.  In. Our. Den.  Anna would not let me paint her nails, but she would let Maddie Grace.  What a sweet gift from my Heavenly Father to watch my girl painting her friend’s fingernails. 
for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these
If I’m being honest, the friendship with Anna also scared me.  My journal entry from October 6, 2011:  Anna is a beautiful child--fearful of men.  What has she endured?  And she's drawn to my Maddie Grace!  You have not forgotten my desire to foster...my heart for children.  This is going to be a roller coaster and so hard--connecting emotionally with what we may lose. 
It felt like we were willingly walking into grief and loss.  In my flesh, I wanted to run and hide my daughter from the possibility of losing her friend.  But, in the spirit, I wanted to run towards this friendship.  It is only by God’s grace that my legs ran in the direction He was wanting us to go.  We said yes to the potential pain and loss.  And we poured our lives into a precious 5-year old girl who needed a best friend more than anything else in the world.  Of course, she needed Jesus more than anything.  But, in an earthly sense, she needed people to be Jesus to her.  And that’s what we did.  In our messy, imperfect way, we pursued this friendship and I believe the Lord loved her through us.
This past year has been like watching a wilted flower begin to bloom.  Just like Aslan breathes onto the statues of Narnia to give them life, we have witnessed Anna’s foster parents faithfully and lovingly breathe life into this little girl’s soul.  And she has begun to unthaw and blossom in front of our very eyes. 
At the end of each quarter, the kindergarten teacher would have the parents come in and watch the children recite poetry, scripture and sing songs of all they’d learned.  Sweet Anna would stand paralyzed and would not participate with the other children.  Her foster mom later told me that Anna was surprised when re-watching the videos.  She did not realize that she was not participating with the other children.  We ended the school year with the same routine:  Anna standing with the other children at the front of the classroom, but not participating.

Throughout the year, Anna began to talk more when she’d come play at our house with Maddie Grace.  She was still very standoffish with my husband, but she began to talk a little more to me.  In June, she came to our church’s VBS.  Every morning, we would have a time of praise and worship in the sanctuary, learning hand movements along with the songs.  I sat with the first grade class several rows behind where Anna and Maddie Grace were sitting.  These girls share a typical girl friendship.  I had received calls before bedtime:
Anna wants to know what Maddie Grace is wearing tomorrow and how is she going to wear her hair
Oh how I love the friendship of girls!

During VBS worship one morning, I looked up and saw the girls, side by side, doing the hand movements to the songs.  Hands raised to heaven.
And the tears flowed.

I texted Anna’s foster mom to let her know  Anna was participating.  Later in the summer we experienced the joy of watching sweet Anna dance in front of parents during a week of ballet camp.  This little flower was blossoming during the summer.  As her friends, we were only seeing a small glimpse of her growth.  Her foster parents were seeing much more of the fruit of their labor and grace of God at home.
So this past spring, we stepped out in faith and contacted Lifeline to sit down and talk about foster care.  We did not realize how quickly things would move—classes were starting the following week.  So we began the 10-week training period to become foster parents.  During this time, our hearts continued to grow towards orphans.  I am quiet in classroom settings and I was horrified that my husband became a class clown of our foster care classes!  But, along with the silliness, my husband was asking hard questions and really digging deep into the foster care world.   Once I got over my embarrassment, I was proud of him for being open to what the Father wanted to do in his heart.  He was being changed.

We became licensed foster parents about a month ago.  Right now we are doing respite care-- helping out the full-time families when they need a break.     So far, we have been blessed to have one week with our 7-year old friend, sweet B (see previous post).  We are anxiously awaiting future children and trusting His plan for our lives in this journey.

This new school year has brought more thawing for Anna.  Her foster mom was in shock when she received a text from one of the first-grade teachers that Anna raised her hand and volunteered to read out loud in class.  One afternoon at the park, I was surprised to hear Anna ask my husband to swing her high on the swing set.  
Behold, I make all things new (Rev 21:5)
As far as her future, only the Lord knows.  But I have hope that it will be full of beauty and redemption.  In my flesh, I beg the Father to allow Anna to stay where she is and in our lives.  But, when I’m truly following the heart of the Father, I pray that I would trust His story for her life.  Most of all, I pray she would always know Jesus.   Always.   I ask that He would always redeem and change and breathe life into her heart, if it ever hardens. 
This summer we attended Anna's 6th birthday-- Hello Kitty exploded in her den.  This month our Maddie Graces turns 6.  Nana is taking her to the American Girl store in Atlanta to celebrate.  My sweet girl already knows which doll she'll choose.  She has black curly hair, mocha skin, and Hershey eyes.  She already has a name-- Anna.  And, again, I thank the Father for allowing us to say yes to this path.

*update - Spring 2014 Anna returned to her biological family.  By God's grace, we still see her from time to time and keep up with her.  (see  below picture of both girls at Christmas 2014)

 
 
Christmas 2014 - both girls are now 8-years old