Blessing a child's life with love
I was visiting another ward on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. The main speaker was a member of the bishopric -- a youngish man, but I long since got used to being older than Church leaders.
(Now there's even an apostle younger than me. But my dad told me you aren't really old until you've got a few years on the President of the Church.)
Near the beginning of his talk, he mentioned that he and his wife, unable to have children of their own, have taken foster children into their home. Several times, they've had a hope of adopting one of these children, but were disappointed again and again.
I thought of what that would take, to open your heart to a stranger's child.
We hear news stories of where the system breaks down. But we need to remember all the foster parents who don't make news, because they care for these children at least adequately, and often with real and lasting affection.
After all, these children come to their homes with the word "temporary" stamped on everything. Unless something very unusual happens, this child will leave.
And when you have no other children, but pour out your love upon these children as if they belonged to you, it is impossible to imagine that they could steel themselves to bear the parting without a qualm.
I mean, if you keep such a distance from these kids that you don't mind their leaving, I don't think you really gave them what you needed. So the better they do at foster parenting, the more their lives are filled with inevitable loss.
It takes generosity to be a foster parent at all; it takes courage and sacrifice to do it more than once.
You have to love the child so much that you are willing to suffer your own sadness so that, during the time you have the child, you can give them an experience of love and caring.
I'm afraid I wasn't a very good listener after that point in his talk. Because my thoughts turned to our friends Erin and Phillip Absher.
My wife, Kristine, served as a counselor when Erin was stake Young Women president more than twenty years ago. One day Erin told Kristine that she felt a strong impulse to be part of our son Charlie Ben's life.
Erin said this with full knowledge of what Charlie Ben's life involved. Born with a form of cerebral palsy, young Charlie was not learning to speak or sit up or even grasp; his body simply would not respond predictably to his attempts to learn to control it.
He needed care at a level of intimacy that parents of normal children almost never need to approach. And he could not be left for more than a few minutes at a time without someone there who not only could see if he was in distress, but also knew what to do about it.
Until Charlie Ben, Kristine and I had shared the tasks of parenthood fairly equally -- with a few obvious exceptions. But Charlie Ben's needs were so intense and constant that I simply could not sustain my career and do my part.
There was no avoiding the fact that for Charlie's sake, Kristine had lost the prospect of freedom, perhaps for the rest of her life. I could still travel when my business required it; she could only travel when Charlie Ben and the other kids could come along.
When Erin came into Charlie's life, learning to do all that he needed, it gave Kristine the chance to take breaks -- days at a time -- so she could sometimes travel with me, or take care of other tasks without interruption.
Since Erin's husband, Phillip, was in college getting a degree, it was useful to them, as well as us, for Erin's involvement with Charlie to evolve into a part-time job.
But there are no boundaries to love. Erin was in our home, which meant that not only Charlie Ben but also the older children (and the youngest, when she came along) were within her influence and, when both Kristine and I were away, under her authority.
Over time, Phillip became as capable of taking care of Charlie Ben as any of us; when they moved away, there were times when they took Charlie Ben alone to visit with them. They came with us on family vacations. They became close to all of our children, especially our youngest, who has no memory of a family life that does not include them.
All our children were blessed by the service and example and teaching and friendship of two adult women and two adult men who loved them.
Who knew, when this began, that it would be a lifetime connection? Charlie Ben passed away eight years ago, at the age of seventeen. The whole family was together -- and by that time, "the whole family" had long since come to include Erin and Phillip. (See http://snipurl.com/charlieben)
Charlie Ben's grave marker includes our names as his parents, but also the words "Loved as a son by Phillip and Erin Absher." Their loss and grief when he died were indistinguishable from ours.
There is no temple sealing ceremony for such friends -- none is needed. And our connection with them is undiminished, even in the absence of Charlie Ben.
This Thanksgiving, they came with us to our family gathering, only this time they brought along a baby. Not their own. Once again, they have taken a child into their lives, caring for her while her single mom serves a tour of duty in the military overseas.
Once again, we saw them blessing the life of a child with their love.
Our Father in heaven parts with all his children and trusts them to the care of others, for a season; always he takes them back. More than any other enterprise we engage in during our mortal life, we are measured by how we care for his little ones.
Whether they are the children of strangers or of friends or kinfolk, the love we give to children that are not our own by right must be especially pleasing in our Father's sight.
Even if it's only for a little time, the love these foster parents gave stays given.
Copyright © 2008 by Orson Scott Card
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