It wasn't until I was grown and a foster mother myself that I began to fully grasp the trauma involved in all of it. At the age of twelve, my mother and her sister, age 10 at the time, were taken away from their biological parents, separated from their brother, and placed in a stranger's home. They had not come from a violent family or a family with substance abuse problems, as is commonly the case today. Rather, their family was quite poor and, according to my biological great grandmother, not fully capable of raising their children to adulthood. Great-grandma, who was already caring for another grandchild, stepped in, contacted authorities, and the move was made. My mother, aunt, and uncle became wards of the state.
It was in foster care that my mom and her sister met Jesus. They each made the decision to give their lives to Him and trust Him with the things they could not understand. Eventually, my aunt married a missionary and had three children. (They now have three grandchildren.) My uncle and his wife of 50+ years have one son and one granddaughter. And, of course, my mom married my dad. In December, 2007, they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, surrounded by their five children, thirteen grandchildren, and a host of friends and relatives -- including members of Mom's foster family.
As an adult, Mom reunited with her biological family, but she never lost contact with the family that helped raise her. She called two women, "Mom," who were gracious enough to acknowledge each other's role in her life. (Both dads were deceased by this time.) She is called "Aunt Evelyn" by both biological and foster nieces and nephews. We have aunts, uncles, and cousins who share no blood ties with us, yet are just as close as those who do. We laugh together at weddings, anniversaries, reunions, and bridal/baby showers. We cry with each other at funerals and memorial services. We email and Facebook and visit and share. It's what families are supposed to do.
On one of my visits with Grandma I asked her why she had become a foster parent. She told me she had once seen a little girl with a torn and dirty dress, disheveled hair, and empty eyes. Her heart broke for that little girl. Then and there, she promised God that one day, if she were able, she would open her heart and home to children in need. Over the years she made good on her promise.
By the time Andie (who is now 16!) made me a mom, Grandma's health was fading. She had become legally blind and had to be moved to a care facility. Not knowing how much longer we'd have her with us, my mom and I decided another trip to Denver was necessary. I had one burning desire -- to introduce Andie to Grandma as soon as possible.
At their meeting, Grandma's face lit up. Andie hung back a little, but Grandma knew just how to melt the ice. She rummaged through her cupboard and found a cookie! In no time, Andie was feeling right at home. After enjoying Andie for a bit, Grandma turned her face towards mine, "You will never regret this," she smiled.
About seven months later, Grandma was gone. Her great, big, loving heart stopped. Her hands, which had blessed so many lives with her care, comfort, and good cooking, were still. Her smile faded and her quick laugh was silent. A stone slab now marks the place where she awaits the resurrection.
But her legacy lives on.