Friday, February 25, 2011

Once Upon a Time (Part Two)

If you missed Part One, you can read it here.

I don’t remember what he did for a living. Something with his hands, I think. She was a stewardess. They were both gentle and soft spoken and always seemed to be smiling. She’d prepare snacks and spread them out on the kitchen counter before we all piled into their living room, a laughing, flirting cross-section of high school society. Athletes, cheerleaders, band geeks. Book worms and party animals. Introverts, extroverts, and every imaginable “vert” in between. We’d finally settle into spots on the furniture or floor, and the meeting would begin.

I’m sure there was structure to our discussion, but that’s not what sticks in my mind. In a very real sense I was a newborn infant. I’m no expert on how much babies remember, but I think one of the most important gifts a parent or caregiver can give a newborn is a sense of being safe, loved, and nurtured. I know I learned a lot about God and the Bible at those meetings, but even more significant, I found family. Entering their modest house was like coming home, and she became a very real spiritual mother to me. Someone I could talk to when I was curious or confused. Someone I could trust.

She opened her heart, her arms, and her home to us. They both did. But sometimes I noticed an ache in their eyes, and one day it all made sense. I’d always assumed she was childless by choice. It would be hard to fly all over the world and raise a baby at the same time. I mean, what if your child’s teacher called to tell you he was sick in Dallas, and you were in Tokyo? So, I assumed. But I was wrong. They wanted children. Longed for children. Prayed and asked God for children. And God said, “no.”

They could have been angry with God. Could have shook their fists and stomped their feet and refused to worship a God who filled other couples’ arms and left theirs empty. But they didn’t do that. They opened their arms to us.

Embracing teens is hardly the same as embracing a cuddly little baby. We could get pretty loud and hormonal and opinionated, and sometimes some of us (not to name names, but their initials were B.O.Y.S.) smelled sweaty and gross, especially if they’d just played a quick pick-up game of football right before they crowded into that small living room. Some days we showed up late, and some days we broke house rules, and many times we didn’t think to say, “I’m sorry” or “thank you.” Sure, they may have had to confront similar behavior in biological children, too, but at least they would have had the opportunity to train them beforehand. And, perhaps more to the point, most people don’t bear biological children a dozen or two at a time.

But here’s the thing. They left their private sorrow at the throne of grace, and they opened their empty arms to a pack of imperfect teens who had gritty questions about life and truth and God. They poured their souls into those teens, and the seeds are still bearing fruit. Some went into full-time ministry. Some spent time on the mission field. One of them, a sixteen-year-old girl who’d given the reins of her life to Jesus but didn’t have the first clue what that meant, found her family and hasn’t once been tempted to run away from home.

She longed for a baby of her own. God called her to help birth me into His family instead.

They eventually adopted two little girls from China who have since grown into lovely young women. We lost touch over the years, but I saw her again not long ago. She’s retired now. Or, I should say, she’s retired from her job as a stewardess. She’s still embracing younger women, pouring into their lives as a Mentor Mom for a large MOPS group in Dallas. I spoke at one of their meetings last year. As I shared our story and encouraged all those young mommies to trust God with their children, she smiled.

Was she remembering my baby days, realizing how far grace has brought me, and feeling a sense of gratitude and motherly pride? I can’t say for sure, but one thing I do know. She finally got her “thank you.”

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