The highlight of my D.C. weekend was a Washington Wizard’s game Saturday night. Charming learned that his sister’s foster daughter liked basketball, so he gifted her tickets for Christmas. It was a throwback 80’s theme, taking the team back to its days as the Bullets. A refugee from Africa in June, this eighteen-year-old had learned enough English for this experience to count.
She was wide-eyed. I imagine the Verizon Center was a rare vision for her. This country is still new. She lost nearly everything back home. She has foster parents she’s legally entrusted to until she’s twenty-one. Then, she’ll be on her own: an American citizen, free from the shackles of her homeland, but really only knee-deep in a new existence that will take some getting used to for her.
And for her foster parents. Charming’s sister and her husband have opened their home to several foster children over the past year. Despite uncertainties in their own career futures, they felt certain this was their next step. I’ve watched them open their hearts, not just their doors. Taking in a teenage girl who’s likely had to look out for herself for some time and working with her to adapt to dependence and trust has not been without challenge.
I’ll call the girl Anne, because she reminds me of Anne Shirley when she first arrives at Green Gables at the Cuthburts’ house. Our Anne took in the basketball stadium in much the same way as Shirley did a sea of blossoming trees. There was awe and wonder with an undertone of confusion. Charming and I used circumlocution in a teaching style highly reminiscent of the game Taboo, where I’d talk around what I was trying to explain until a vocabulary word landed the right way. Anne’s just moved to level two in her English language learner’s courses. The idea that a hockey rink of ice was below the court was tricky to communicate without first Googling images that showed Anne what hockey, ice, and a court were.
The night was incredible, and not just because the Wizards sandbagged the Seventy-Sixer’s. When we passed the DC Mall on the way in, we pointed out where we’d seen a concert together over the summer. Anne shared then that she remembered the dress I was wearing and how I looked up words in her native tongue on a translator on my phone to get to know her. I hadn’t realized I’d made that much of an impression, but she saw me as a good teacher.
The night went so well, and Anne was so sweet and impressionable, that I had to reconcile the girl we’d shared an evening with to the teenager who’s been rebelling at home. In fact, when Charming and I talked about my feelings regarding adoption, I had cited this exact scenario. I was a rebellious teen once. I am certain that at some point, I told my mother that I hated her or that I wished she weren’t my mother. I can’t remember an exact incident, but that’s probably because Mom took it in stride.
I am certain, too, that those words hurt her, but they were insignificant when cast against a backdrop of our entire lives together. She loved me always and forever, and she and I both knew, deep down, that nothing could change that. Anne Shirley was bounced around in foster homes with some terrible circumstances before she found a loving home with the Cuthburts, such that she was waiting for the other shoe to drop. This kind of peace, structure, and image of love couldn’t last.
Anne Shirley didn’t know, deep down, from a lifetime together, that she couldn’t lose the Cuthburts’ love. I told Charming I didn’t think I could handle opening my home to a child in need and then having that generosity and love repaid with lashing out. It happened in Nashville with some girls I’d cared for, and when the eldest spat over the phone that she hated me and wished we’d never met, after years bringing her to church and practice and buying school clothes… I was devastated. I stopped investing.
Charming’s sister cannot and won’t stop. She has a commitment to her foster daughter Anne, one I suspect will last for a lifetime. I don’t believe she and her husband see a deadline on their care for her. Little Anne Shirley was rebellious too, and given the history of abandonment, death, and painful separations in her young past, I imagine Charming’s niece is yet unable to see her foster parents as her own family, potentially for the long haul.
What occurred to me this weekend was that I’m rather uniquely prepared to parent a teenager. They’ve been my immediate world for a decade, while my sister-in-law has only been training me with her little twins for just two and half years. I could foster. I could adopt. I think, in fact, that I’d be good at it. I hear what’s underneath, “I hate you.” I see the fear that drives one to act out. Moreover, I was a rebellious teen. I can expect, as I’m sure my mother did, that one day my sweet little angel will tell me that she wishes she weren’t my mother, the equivalent to an adoptive or foster child’s, “You’re not my real mom!”
They cut. Words hurled like sticks and stones have the same effect. Still, I wonder, if you’re prepared for them, if you expect that one day they will come, that it’s likely to occur in adolescence, then I imagine you can brace for them, like my mother did when I was a teen, and not be tempted to doubt or despair in your appointed role investing in that life.
The morning after the game, we attended Restoration Anglican in Arlington… my favorite church. My favorite pastor gave the message from Acts. A gifted story-teller, she recounts three encounters Paul and Silas have in the early days of the church. Nearing her conclusion, she identified the common thread that resulted in three amazing outcomes: they started with prayer.
My mother prays fervently for her children and her husband. At varied junctures in her life, she’ll be the first to tell you how, when she desperately hoped for something she was powerless to affect, she accessed power in prayer. She hit her knees, and God worked in ways she couldn’t have planned. Anne has faith, and hopefully one day, she will find comfort in the One who will never leave her, and I anticipate Charming’s sister and her husband will be integral in Anne’s ability to trust and hope. Perhaps prayer will also be where these foster parents find the will to continue loving unconditionally.
My struggles with prayer are born out of an inability to disassociate my desires from God’s plans. That perspective has found my own prayers stunted and ineffective, an internal dialogue humbly requesting but deferring to His will. My mother prays for her husband and her children because, in her war room, she knows God will see His name glorified, however that power manifests itself.
I don’t have a husband, and I don’t have children. When a miracle happens, prayer precedes it. That’s how we see it for what it is when it happens. Mom’s always modeled that for me, as I’m sure Charming’s mother did for him. I don’t see any harm in praying for my someday husband and children, alone on the front porch of my little rented house with the red door.
There’s power in that common thread.