Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Celebrating miracleness

Sunday, I attended the birthday party of a one-year-old and yet the next youngest child was a sixth grader. There were balloons, cupcakes and gifts, but beyond that any similarity to other children's birthday parties ended.

Even the birthday boy didn't eat his cupcake – didn't even try. Born very early, he's on par with an eight-month old, yet thriving in his own way thanks to a very loving couple whose children are grown and, mostly, out of the house.

My neighbors, Mark and Bev, have tended this little guy for three-quarters of a year, bringing him home hooked up to monitors and oxygen, dutifully ferrying him to hospital and physician appointments, setting the alarm for middle-of-the-night feedings because his diminished appetite won't wake him up and, generally, lavishing as much love as they can on their foster child.

The teary highlight of the afternoon was a video Mark and Bev's daughters made with original lyrics they sang to the tune of "Hey, Jude" and how this baby boy was marked by God for greatness. It was a beautiful tribute to life, this life, this boy and these amazingly giving foster parents.

This poster is borrowed from the Judson Center, a
human-services agency in Michigan. It reached in
and pulled my heart out.
We began the party with an assignment: taking a sheet of questions related to the care and nurturing of this baby from person to person to find the answers and break the ice. Apparently, this was a diverse group of guests. Some of us had prayed for him, held him, known him when attached to oxygen, understood his diet, paid visits to the NICU with him, been told the origins of his quirky, but well-suited name and known Mark and Bev before. It was an ingenious ice-breaker that was relaxed and gathering. That's just how these neighbors are.

Last December, they offered the perfect foil to a busy holiday season: soup, conversation and board games. It was just about my favorite event. Simple, hospitable and no pretentions. Just people gathering for informal companionship. All four of us attended that and still talk about how amazing that one, simple evening was.

For the birthday party, I escorted my mother. She spent a good deal of time on the couch with another neighbor, Margaret. They are similar in age and both Iowans. They've gotten to know each other through the book club Bev started about 15 years ago. As they chatted, I became reacquainted with the woman who used to live behind us. I had no idea how much help she's been recently to Bev and Mark, caring for the little one during a particularly stressful procedure. I  ran into other favorite neighbors whom I never see, but spent time with the week before at a Halloween party. Lucky for me, I remarked, that I'd run into them twice in one week. I also met some wonderful new faces and was charmed by a red-headed sixth grader with a generous smile and easy manner.

As I steered my mother into the kitchen for tea, we lingered a few minutes with Bev. She lit up as she talked about their foster child and how much fun it has been raising a boy after three girls and, besides, "the one in Heaven." They'd had a baby boy whose life had been cut very short before their three amazing daughters. "Boys are so very different," Bev had commented, relishing the new experience. There's no question that Mark is in love with this little bundle. He and the boy shine around each other.

I'd counted Mark as an unassuming, quiet engineer until a few summers ago. At an open house for the arts exploration I host for at-risk kids, Mark parked himself in the hallway with the boys and drummed his heart out – the entire two hours. Giddy from the interaction – we all were – he rocked the van in a gesture of complete zest as we all packed up to leave.

Before the infant, the couple fostered a fourth-grader, whom Mark walked around the neighborhood stopping by friends to properly introduce his charge. She was darling, posessed a wonderful sparkle in her eye and shared a dog-eared photo she rescued from her pocket. It was a picture of her amid her beloved brothers, all separated at the moment. Mark had taken the photo for her. You could tell it was a prized possession of memory and hope.

Over the years, they've fostered other kids and raised a guide dog in addition to their own three incredible young women. One is at home until she funds her ministry in Italy caring for refugees. Another is off in somewhere between Russia and the Middle East working and spreading God's love. The third teaches music in Korea, where she lives with her husband and young daughters. All of these women baby-sat my girls. In fact, the older two were Autumn's first sitters and they set the bar. High.

Bev has been such an inspiration and support for me over the years. She understands what it's like to listen for God and live on the fringes, your identity tied to others.

They don't think they do anything special, just what they are called to. In fact, the entire birthday revolved around how their friends, faith community and neighbors have shared in the joy of fostering this small child. They called it a celebration of his year of miracleness.

• Who inspires me?
• Who are my models for faithful living?
• How does their humility touch me?
• How have I witnessed community form around need and in support of others ministering?
• Where do I find my own ministry?

this wee one
launched into
life early

into to such
circumstance from
which God would
rescue him

if only

and into
the arms

of waiting, loving

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