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Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Young ‘Vangelist

Gripping the stack of envelopes in my left hand, I began to shut the small door of my mailbox when I heard the cheerful voice of my four-year-old redhead. Deni* knew no strangers. “Mornin’ mister. Do ya know Jesus?”

I froze with the key still in the tiny lock. Turning my head, I saw two-year-old Jamie* holding onto her sister’s hand, beaming a toothy smile up at the startled man. Jamie never spoke in public, but Deni had no such inhibitions.

“Uh, sure I do, kid,” said the stranger, glancing around the room. “That’s the guy who was born in a manger. We celebrate his birthday at Christmastime.”

“But, is Jesus in your heart? Did ya ask Him yet?” Deni beamed up at the man, tilting her head to the right.

I locked the box and stood, but held my position at the wall of mailboxes.  I didn’t want to interrupt. Both Deni and Jamie waited for his response.

“Uh…er…I-I-I’m in a hurry, little girl. I don’t really have time to talk right now.” The color rising on the stranger’s neck and cheeks matched his red plaid shirt.

“Okay, Mister,” said Deni. “Bye.”

Though she remained silent, Jamie lifted her hand to wave her goodbye along with Deni. At this point, I joined the smiling little cherubs.

I waited a moment for one of the girls to mention the interaction with the guy, but neither did. Before I had a chance to raise my own questions, Jamie pulled me close to ask if I would buy some cookies at the grocery store. She’d remembered our next stop.

Arriving at the town’s only supplier of nutritional staples, I held open the car door. “Remember not to touch anything, girls. Stay close to me.”

“Me ‘n’ Jamie knows, Mama Dar. We don’t touch, but we can talk if we don’t yell?”

“Yup, that’s right, Deni,” I said, taking hold of Jamie’s hand. “What kind of cookies do you want, Jamie?”

Oweos!” A little jig accompanied her reply. Nevertheless, she kept hold of my hand as we walked.

Deni held the big store door open for us, greeting the lady who followed us in before entering herself. I grabbed one of the carts and retrieved my shopping list from my coat pocket.

Glancing up at the big clock, I recognized that I’d taken longer with my errands than I’d expected. I needed to hurry. “Deni? Do you remember where the bread is?” She nodded while pointing to the right store aisle. “I’m going to keep Jamie with me, but would you please bring two loaves of bread over to put in our cart?”

“Yeah!” Rushing off before her Mama Dar could remember that the kids should stay with her and not touch, Deni made a bee-line for the bread.

I heard her greeting other customers along the way, but soon my little helper placed the bread in the cart. “Sumtin else?”

“Jamie wanna hep, too,” said the African-American cutie. “Cookies?”

I remembered I’d find the next item on my list at the end of the cookie aisle. “Hmm? Gathering groceries is a big girl’s job,” I said bending down to look Jamie in the eye as I spoke. “Do you think you and Deni could fetch the Oreos without touching any of the other cookies?” Two little heads bobbed up and down. “And, you won’t open the package; you’ll just bring it to put in the cart?” More energetic bobbing. “Okay. Let’s go over to that aisle, and you two can get the cookies.”

Lifting the items on my list from the shelf, I kept an eye on the girls at the other end. How carefully they retrieved one package of Oreos. They perused the other cookie options, discussing the merits of each as they slowly made their way back to the cart.

If the line moved along, we should be on time for lunch at Carroll’s. How kind of my dear friend to watch Baby Susie* while I did my errands. And, offer us all lunch besides? I figured the least I could do was to be on time, so her kids weren’t waiting for us to eat.

“We go to the door?” Deni said, holding on to her younger sister’s hand.

“Sure. Don’t go outside, though. Stay out of the way of the people coming in and out.”

The check-out stands in the small grocery stood near the front door. I could easily keep an eye on the girls as I waited my turn. Deni loved watching the human traffic through the large door; Jamie just loved being with Deni.

“Can I asks ya sumtin?”

I looked up from my checkbook to see Deni talking to a couple that had just come into the store. The duo smiled back at the girls.

“Sure you can, Honey,” said the woman. “Do you need help finding something?”

“Nope. We’s done shoppin’,” said the freckled-face preschooler.

Jamie said nothing but pointed over to me; the couple followed her gaze. I smiled and waved.

Me wanna know if Jesus’s in your heart,” Deni said, brows furrowed and lips a thin line.

“Oh my! Now, that’s a question we’ve not been asked in a grocery store.” The lady laughed. Her husband chuckled but said nothing.

“It’s ‘portant. Jesus loves ya and wanna forgive ya, too. All’s ya gotta do is tell Him you’s sorry. If ya ask Jesus, Him come to live in you heart.”

Again, I stood back, waiting and praying for the little girl and the couple. Okay, maybe I felt a little out-of-place, too, I had no idea what to do.

“Hmm? Well, you’ve really given us something to think about today, Honey,” said the lady.

“I reckon you’re ‘bout the youngest evangelist I’ve ever come across, Missy,” said the man, reaching out for a handshake.

“Me’s Deni and her’s Jamie,” Deni corrected the man. The girls smiled and shook the tall stranger’s hand.

As the couple moved forward, I joined the little group. “Hello!” I said to the couple. “We need to go, girls. Carroll and the kids are waiting for us.”

“Is she serious?” The man directed his question to me.

“Absolutely! She wants everyone to know about Jesus.”

The couple smiled and headed for the shopping carts.

Back in the car on the way to Carroll’s, Deni asked the question she’d been chewing on since we left the store. “The man said I a vangel. What that, Mama Dar? It bad?”

“Oh my, no, Deni,” I said. “He said you are an evangelist. Evan-gel-ist. That’s a very good thing for the man to say.”

“It is?”

“Yes, Sweetheart. An evangelist is a person who tells people the good news about Jesus.”

“So everybody a vangelist?”

I laughed. “No, but we should be.” I reached across the console and gave her shoulder a squeeze. “I’m so proud of you, Deni. You just keep asking people and telling them about Jesus.”

Jamie began to sing her favorite song, so the two of us joined in. “Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.”

Honestly, I never said a word to Deni about telling people in the streets, stores, or post office about Jesus. She just did it. I found it as amazing as each of the people did. There can be no other explanation than this: Deni loved Jesus and knew He loved her, too.

*Name changed.

You might enjoy reading Deni’s first time of sharing Jesus—with a three-year-old playmate:

Story thread begins here: With Just One Phone Call

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Jamie’s Prayer

The sound that pulls every mother out of a deep sleep hit me like a rocket: the pitter-patter of two-year-old bare feet on the wooden floor. I leapt from my cozy bundle of warmth, sprinting for the bathroom door I’d neglected to open.

Every night, Jamie* left her bed to go to the bathroom. She seemed to manage the entire event without waking upunless I failed to reopen the door Deni* closed. When that happened, I woke up to the sound of the little African-American thudding into the door—suddenly fully awake and crying.

For some reason, my four-year-old foster daughter wanted the bathroom door shut before she went to bed. Roaming boogie men coming out of the toilet? I had no idea why this activity needed to be part of her bedtime ritual; it just did. No problem. I opened it on my way to bed.

Whenever I heard the nighttime footfalls, I rousted my mind a second to ask myself if I opened the door. On those nights with a negative answer, I shot out of that bed to get to the door ahead of Jamie.

On this particular night, my hand hit the door one second before Jamie’s pajama-clad body walked through it. I backed over to the bathtub, watching to be sure the petite ebony beauty could get her pj bottoms down and lift her body onto the toilet. When she’d accomplished this, I sat on the edge of the empty tub, waiting for her to finish.

To my utter surprise, Jamie opened her eyes and looked right at me. I smiled but said nothing. With her baby sister asleep not far from the bathroom door, I feared entering into a conversation with my little Chatty-Cathy may wake Susie*.

As the next scene played out, I looked on in amazement. Jamie bowed her head and clasped her hands before the slender body, still teetering on the edge of the open toilet seat. “Jesus, please forgib Jamie of duh stuff I did wong. I sorwy. I weely is. I want You to come into Jamie’s heart, to live dere fowever. Amen.”

I quickly closed my gaping jaw as Jamie looked up and over to me. She smiled, saying, “Dere. Dat’s done. Jesus in Jamie’s heart now.”

I couldn’t speak. The tiny child wiped her bare bottom, slid off the toilet seat, and yanked up her pj bottoms in what looked like one smooth move. Dumbfounded at what’d just happened, I sat glued to the edge of the bathtub.

I calculated her age in a whisper. “Jamie is two years and…uh…seven months old. How in the world could she know what she’s doing?” I decided the child had been dreaming and probably wouldn’t recall the event in the morning. That had to be it, didn’t it?

Busy getting the day underway the following morning, I forgot all about Jamie’s middle-of-the-night surprise. Jamie loved waking up, kicking into high gear by the time she’d danced her way to the kitchen to see about breakfast. I noticed the extra-long smiles and loved the spontaneous leg hugging but missed the middle-of-the-night connection.

Later that morning, the image of Jamie’s toilet-bowl prayer popped back into my mind. I laughed and called to Jamie. “Hey, Princess, do you remember anything special about last night?”

Jamie’s grin filled her small face, bobbing her head like one of those goofy dolls teens put in their jalopy’s back window long ago.

“Can you tell me about it?”

“Jamie asked Jesus in her heart, and He came.”

“Yes, that’s what you prayed but why?”

Jamie began to giggle. “Oh, Mama Da. You know. Cuz Jesus forgibs kids when we asks. Jesus lubs us, too. He want to live inside kids’ hearts, just like gwoanups. Jesus lives in here,” Jamie said tapping one delicate finger against her chest. Make Jamie so happy.”

Undeniably, the precious little girl did know what she was doing. I scooped her up in my arms and swung her around--an activity she loved. “It makes Mama Dar so happy, too, Jamie! Jesus loves you, and so do I!”

Jamie gave me a quick squeeze, laughed, and squirmed her way out of my grasp. Kids got stuff to do, you know? Can’t stay there hugging grownups when there’s books to read and a dog needin’ pettin’, right?

I never discovered the reason Jamie prayed what we know as the “Sinner’s Prayer” that night in the bathroom. Deni said she didn’t mention anything to her sister about Jesus. Perhaps, watching Sally’s experience earlier, Jamie’s young heart felt the Lord’s touch and her own need for forgiveness? Maybe, Jesus showed the child through a dream that He wanted to live in her heart, too?

I only know that her experience had been as real as my own. Who am I to say a child who has yet to live even three years on this planet can’t ask Jesus to forgive her and come live in her heart? She did, and He did; that’s all there is to the story.

*Name changed.

Original story thread began here: With Just One Phone call

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Surprising Answer to Question

I’d just opened my mouth to reply to Phyllis* when singing, dancing three-year-old Sally* interrupted. Noticing her daughter’s lively entrance, Phyllis said, “What’s got into you, girl? Carrying on like that. What’s made you so happy this afternoon?”

“Jesus came into my heart today, Mommy! He really did. Jesus’s in my heart right now,” the little girl said as she pointed to her chest.

“Oh yeah? Well, go get your coat and shoes on. It’s time to go home.”

“She’s not kidding, Phyllis,” I said. “This morning Sally prayed and asked Jesus to forgive her of things she’s done wrong and come into her heart. I wish you could have seen the joy she had as soon as she said ‘Amen.’ It was really impressive to see the difference in your girl.”

“Humph! I usually tell her she’s got the devil in her heart; she can be an ornery kid.”

“Now, when she’s acting up, you can remind her that Jesus can help her.”

Sally’s mother’s laughter didn’t sound like she believed me. I prayed Jesus’d remind the pretty little blonde girl.

Finally, I had the opportunity to speak privately with my four-year-old about what led up to Sally’s request for Jesus to come into her heart. Baby Susie* and two-year-old Jamie* had already dropped off to sleep when I noticed Deni* setting her shoes by the piano bench.

“Deni? I’d like to speak with you a minute before you go for your nap.”

The freckled little redhead released her shoes and came to sit by me on the sofa. I wrapped her up in a hug before asking the question that refused to leave my mind.

“Sweetheart, how is it that Sally wanted to ask Jesus into her heart? Can you tell me what happened in the playroom?”

“Oh, Mama Dar. Sally was being so mean to the other kids. Me told her she shouldn’t act like that, but her didn’t care. Her just wanted to be bad.” I smiled and nodded my understanding, freeing Deni to continue. “Well, me said, ‘Come out on the steps with me, Sally,’ and her did. We sat on the top step, and me asked her why she acted so mean.”

“Did she have any reason?”

Her did like this,” Deni said, shrugging her shoulders. “I don’t think her knew why.”

“Okay, then what did you say?”

Me  said, ‘You don’t gotta act like that, Sally. Jesus can help you. You just tell Him you’re sorry and ask Jesus to come into your heart. He gonna help you not be so bad. You’ll see.’”

While tears fought to escape my lower lids, I felt dumbfounded. I’d never ever in my wildest imaginations anticipated my foster daughter would spontaneously evangelize one of the three-year-old charges that spent the weekday in our home.

“Honey, you did the right thing. It’s wonderful that Sally prayed. How did you know to say those things to Sally?” I knew I’d never told the children.

“Heard you on the phone.”

“You did? When? What did I say?”

Me and Jamie was ‘sposed to be takin’ a nap. Me wanted to, but my eyes didn’t want to. You telld the lady--” Deni dropped her gaze and hesitated.

“It’s okay, Honey. Sometimes we can’t sleep, and we just rest on our beds. You didn’t do anything wrong. What did you hear me say?”

Me thinks the lady had trouble ‘cuz you telled her Jesus could help her. You said she could ask Jesus to forgive her of the stuff she did wrong, and Him wanted to forgive everything no matter what her did. It didn’t matter to Jesus; He waited for her to ask Him. You telled her she’d feel better if her asked Jesus into her heart.”

“Okay,” I said when Deni paused, searching my memory for just who and when that would have happened. As Deni continued, I dropped my memory search.

“Well, Mama Dar, me still not sleepin’, me said, ‘You needs to do that, too. So me did it.”

“You asked Jesus to forgive you and come into your heart?” I fought back the tears and tried not to show my surprise.

Deni nodded; her beautiful little red curls bobbing up and down rapidly. The huge smile filled her face. “Yup! Me did it. Jesus came into my heart, and Him’s still there!” The youngster thumped her chest over her heart.

Pulling Deni onto my lap, I squeezed her tightly. “I’m so happy that you did that, Deni. Yes, Jesus is still there, and He’ll always be there. Wherever in the world you are, Jesus will still be right in there,” I said tapping her chest. “He’ll help you not to be afraid. He’ll help you to do the right thing. You just ask Jesus!”

I slid my index finger from her heart to her tummy and began tickling her. Deni reached around my arm, returning the tickle. Both of us giggled like two little friends.

“Okay, Sweetie. You need to have a rest. I must do a couple of things before Susie wakes up from her nap. Try to sleep, okay?”

The freckled arms gave me a squeeze and said, “Me try,” before slipping off the sofa.

Who would think such a young child could understand the Gospel message so easily? Little did I know, I had an even bigger surprise just around the corner.

*Name changed.

Story thread began with this link: With Just One Phone Call

Saturday, December 5, 2015

From Interruption to New Life

I peeked in on Susie* curled up and deep in sleep against the back of her crib. Snatching up the phone nanoseconds after the ring began, I felt relief at the sound of Carroll’s greeting. “Good morning,” I whispered as softly as I could. “Am I ever glad to hear the sound of an adult voice; I spent the night in the rocking chair with a screaming baby. How ‘bout you? Chip ever keep you from sleep?”

“Not often. He’s finally over that stage. Teething will end one day, even though it doesn’t feel like it.” Carroll’s laughter always lightened up my moments of distress.

The mother of three, my close friend had a lot of experience with cranky infants and sleepless nights. I trusted her counsel. Her encouraging words provided a lifeline for my sanity.

For the next few moments, Carroll shared a portion of Scripture she’d run across in her morning reading. I loved participating in these brief exchanges that centered on God’s Word. The Lord blessed us with His nuggets often revealed —both to instruct and to encourage us. As I listened, another sound caught my attention—little footfalls descending from upstairs.

“Sorry to interrupt you, but my bedroom doorway has just filled with a mini-crowd of kidlets.” I sighed, struggling to get a grip. “The last time the kids presented themselves en masse at my door, someone had broken a lamp upstairs. Hang on a minute.”

I pressed the receiver to my chest and said, “What’s happening, Kids?” Silence. “Deni*? What happened?” Silence; eight small pairs of eyes stared at me.

My smile faded, and I spoke directly at my four-year-old redhead. “Deni, you’d better tell me what’s happened, and you’d better tell me right now.”

I watched as the oldest member of the group drew in a big breath. In a rush, the problem exploded from the preschooler’s mouth. “Sally wants to ask Jesus into her heart!”

I nodded at the silent youngsters and put the receiver to my ear. “Uh, Carroll? I gotta go. Sally wants to ask Jesus into her heart over here.”

“What! Are you kidding? Sally’s three years old, isn’t she?”

“Yes, that’s right. I gotta—“

“You better call me back as soon as you can. This must be a great story, and I can hardly wait to hear the details.”

Returning the receiver to the cradle, I followed the assembly to the living room. I sat on the sofa, patting the area next to me. Sally sat on the edge. Some kids crammed into the open spaces of the couch and others dropped to the floor near me.

With all eyes on me, I addressed Sally. “Do you know what it means to ask Jesus into your heart, Sweetie?” The blonde locks bobbed with her nodding affirmation. “What does it mean? Can you tell me?”

“It means I ask Jesus to forgive me for all the stuff I did wrong and…then I tell Him I want to give my life to Him, and then…Jesus comes into my heart.” The beautiful little girl tapped the area over her heart as she voiced the final phrase.

“And, that’s what you want?” I said.

“Yeah,” Sally said, accompanied by those bouncing curls.

“Okay. Would you like me to pray and you can say the words after me?”

The pre-schooler clasped her tiny hands together, bowed her head and nodded as she squeezed her eyelids shut. Carefully, Sally articulated each phrase of the sinner’s prayer—children’s edition—as I prayed. I must admit I wondered if she genuinely knew what she was doing… until the Amen, that is.

Once Sally’s voice repeated the final word of the prayer, the petite preschooler leapt from the sofa and began to dance. “Jesus’s in my heart! Jesus’s in my heart,” she sang, twirling around and jumping like a ballerina. “Jesus loves me! Jesus loves Sally!”

Truly, there is simply no other way to describe what I witnessed in this child: Joy unspeakable overflowed her young soul.

In fact, Sally’s joy spilled over, splashing the other kids. All of them began dancing around the room, making up their own songs of praise to God. After about half an hour, the little gang stopped dancing and singing, returning to the playroom and their games.

For moments after the little feet stopped pounding the wooden steps to the playroom, I sat in stunned silence. An enormous smile filled my face. What just happened here? I felt glued to the sofa, moving when I heard Susie’s stirring in her crib. The call to Carroll would have to wait.

One thing I knew for certain: The first chance I had to get Deni alone, I’d find out what prompted this extraordinary event.

*Name changed

Saturday, November 21, 2015

My Last Nerve

While delighted that the formerly silent two-year-old Jamie* felt secure enough to speak, sometimes her chatter grated on my last nerve. “Mama Da, when will Gamma get here?”

“They’re coming to have lunch with us today, Sweetie, so I reckon around Noon.” I didn’t stop clearing the breakfast table as I responded to the excited little girl.

“Will Gamma-Gamma dwive duh twuck?” How the kids loved to ride in the back of Dad’s pickup. “Jamie wuv da twuck!”

“Yes, Grandpa will drive the truck,” I said, wondering if Jamie would ever get the distinction between the grandparents’ names. It didn’t really matter since Dad knew she meant him. “Honey, I’m trying to get the breakfast dishes cleaned up so we’ll be ready when Grandma and Grandpa get here. Can you go play with Deni*, please?”

I glanced down in time to see the black curls nod up and down. “Will Gamma-Gamma let Jamie wide in da twuck?” The youngster clung to my side, as she talked and I moved.

“Jamie. I asked you to, please, go play with Deni. I’m trying to finish up here in the kitchen, and I’m afraid I’m going to trip over you. Please.” I fought to keep calm when uttering the last word.

Noticing Jamie turn for the kitchen doorway, I breathed a sigh of relief. I relaxed my jaw, not realizing I’d been clenching my teeth. Not getting enough sleep at night, definitely, influenced my daytime tolerance for the flow of questions streaming from the pint-size chatterbox.

Fortunately, baby Susie* hadn’t awakened yet. I prayed God would help the teething infant have a better day than she had night. Mom and Dad drove 192 miles--one-way--for these monthly Wednesday lunches. I so wanted the time with the kids to be pleasurable.

Before I’d finished drying the dishes, the tiny ebony beauty tugged at my shirttails. “What will Gamma bwing for lunch?

“She didn’t tell me, Jamie. It’s a surprise for all of us. Where’s Deni? I asked you to play with her, didn’t I?” I lifted the stack of plates and slid them onto the shelf.

“Yeah and I did. Now, I’m here wiff you.” Jamie’s smile dropped as soon as she noticed my face.

Kneeling down, I said, “Sweetie, I have a lot to do before Grandma and Grandpa get here. I’m trying to do as much as I can before Susie wakes up. I asked you to go play. If you don’t want to play with Deni, then ple-e-ease just take one of your books and look at the pictures. Please go in the living room.” I smiled and gave her a hug. I relaxed a bit as Jamie returned the smile and squeeze.

I felt like the ever-ready bunny racing around the kitchen. Finally, I’d completed the mopping of the floor. Just in time, too. Placing the mop and bucket in the closet, I heard Susie’s come-and-get-me scream.

After grabbing a quick swallow of water from a glass by the kitchen sink, I hurried into the bedroom. “Mornin’ Sunshine! How ya doin’? Feelin’ better, you little robber of sleep?” The infant giggled along with me as I tickled her.

Mornin’ Baby!” said the little voice at the foot of the crib. “Gamma and Gamma-Gamma’s comin’ today.  We’s all so happy, wight Mama Da?”

“That’s right, Jamie,” I said as I lifted Susie out and headed for the changing table. “Now, it’s time to get Susie ready for the day. The little girl moved in front of me, but I hadn’t noticed the change in her position. I stumbled with Susie in my arms. Fortunately, I righted myself before dropping Susie.“Jamie!” Get control of yourself, I thought. She’s just excited; she doesn’t mean to disobey you.

“Jamie, do you remember what I asked you to do?” I said forcing my voice to a whisper as I changed Susie’s diaper. Seeing the little head bobbing up and down, I continued, “What did I ask you to do?”

Go play wiff Deni. Den, Jamie read her books.” The child looked straight into my eyes before lowering her gaze.

“Would you, please ask Deni to come here?” Before I made it to the end of the sentence, the little whirlwind whipped around and left the room.

As soon as Deni appeared, I explained my need for her to occupy Jamie so I could feed the baby and finish the other things I needed to do before Mom and Dad arrived.

Following a frustrated “humph!” Deni let out a deep sigh. “Dontcha know I tried to ‘xplain to her to leave ya alone. She just won’t!” The four-year-old’s shoulders lifted and dropped; the little red-haired cutie stared at the floor. How dramatic!

Struggling not to burst out laughing at Deni’s theatrics, I offered a suggestion. “Okay, Jamie, how about you color a picture for your grandparents. That’ll give you something to do while you wait.”

At first, the energetic little maiden complied. However, when not one-quarter of the page had been done before Jamie’s little questions interrupted me again, I took the most drastic measure. “In the corner, Jamie. I’ve asked you over and over. Deni has tried to help you understand—even helping you find your crayons, didn’t she?”

The two-year-old nodded and headed for the corner of the bedroom. “I stay here ‘til Mama Da come get me?”

“Yes,” I said to her little back.

Experiencing only fatigue and irritation, I didn’t even hug the tiny shoulders as had always been my practice. I just wanted to be done with the work before I heard the pick-up on the gravel next to the house. That’s all I could think of at that point.

Finally, all had been made ready and just in time. The sound of the pick-up’s engine reached my ears at the exact moment I realized I’d not seen Jamie for a while.

Sure enough; Jamie stood in the corner, shifting from one tired, little leg to the other as she traced the bumps and dips in the painted bedroom wall. She’d not even sat down for nearly two hours.

I rushed to the corner, swooped Jamie up in my arms and sat on her bunk. “Oh, my dear Princess. Mama Dar’s sooo sorry that you had to stand here so long. Please, Sweetheart, forgive me. I got so busy that I forgot to set the timer. I’m so very sorry.” I squeezed the small child, forcing myself to hold back the tears. The sound outside the window signaled that my parents had just stepped onto the back porch.

The precious little girl took my face in her hands, patting my right cheek. “Jamie forgib Mama Da.” Then she pulled my head down and planted a kiss on the cheek she’d been patting. “It okay. It okay, Mama Da.”

I held her and rocked back and forth…until Jamie pulled free of my grasp. “Gotta go. Gamma and Gamma-gamma here! K?”

“You bet, Honey. I’m right behind you.”

Jamie’s love and ready forgiveness eased my guilt some, but I still swallowed hard over what I’d done—or neglected to do. In my anxiety over proving to my mother that I, too, could keep a clean house as the mother of three, I’d completely overlooked the most important aspect of parenting.

What did it matter if not a speck of dirt could be found if the spirit of a tender, young heart had
been crushed? Gratitude filled my soul as I realized that the experience had hurt me more than Jamie.

It also served as a real wake-up call for me; things needed to change. Next time, my pride may hurt one of the kids. Mom and Dad came to love on the children, not to criticize my housekeeping abilities. Setting proper priorities moved to the top of my daily prayer list.

*Name changed.

The thread of the foster children story began with With Just One Phone Call

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Hotel Lobby

Uncertain how the news would affect four-year-old Deni* and two-year-old Jamie*, I waited until they’d eaten breakfast before giving them the morning plan. I felt my own emotions tearing at my inward parts. How would I feel if the girls clapped and jumped for joy? How would I feel if they didn’t? How would I react in the face of the hour-long stress?

“Guess what you get to do today, kids?” Bending nearly in half, I held onto Baby Susie’*s tiny hands as she tried to walk.

With arms demonstrating what her sisters coined the Hallelujah Position, the wobbly baby legs began to advance. The diaper-clad infant focused on the table where her older siblings had just finished breakfast.

Deni and Jamie laughed as their baby sister lifted her left leg, performed an exaggerated body-tilt to the right, and then slammed the foot down on the wooden floor with a thump and a giggle. She repeated the maneuver until her swaying baby stomp brought her to Deni.

Susie yanked her hands out of mine, slapping the palms on the right thigh of her big sister. Deni backed away just enough to pull Susie onto her lap.

“Okay, kids,” I said as I took my seat at the table. “Mrs. Martha* called to ask me to bring you all to the hotel this morning.” The lump in my throat grew so fast I found it hard to push past it. I cleared my throat and reached for my water glass.

“Why?” Deni wrapped her arms around Susie in a show of protection. Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed Jamie tightening her fists around the arms of her youth chair.

The fear in their response unsettled me.

“Wait a minute, girls. I’ll be with you. Mrs. Martha told me that your mother would like to visit you. She’s not allowed to come here, so Mrs. Martha said you could visit your mom in the lobby of the hotel. That’s kind of like our living room. It’s a place with a sofa and chairs.”

“You gonna leave us there?” The beautiful green eyes of the young redhead glared, piercing my heart not just my eyes.

“Oh no. We will all come back here right after the visit.”

“You promise, Mama Da?”

I slipped over and lifted Jamie out of her youth chair. With a squeeze, I promised.

“Kids, your mother wants to see you. It’s been such a long time; she’s worried that you are being taken care of, you know? She doesn’t know that Susie is learning to walk. You can show her how to help Susie walk.” I struggled to smile and sound cheerful. Inside, my emotions fought to shield the children from more pain.

I set Jamie down as I said, “Let’s find your best outfit to wear for the visit, shall we?” I reached for Susie. “Deni, please help Jamie while I dress Susie.”

Half an hour later, gathered on the sofa in their Sunday best, I took hold of the small hands. “Let’s pray. God will help us with the visit. It’s important that your mother sees you.”

“I don’t want to see Mary*, I—“

Gently, I took my hand from Deni’s and pressed two fingers to her lips. “Sweetheart, you mustn’t call her Mary. She’s your mother and you girls need to call her Mother or Mama or Mommy.”

“But, you—“ I interrupted young Jamie.

“I’m your Mama Dar. Mary is your mother who gave you life from the beginning. I’m so sorry that she’s had a hard time knowing how to take care of you, but. It’s important for the visit that you don’t call her Mary.” I looked into each pair of eyes. “Please, will you do that for me?”

The narrow shoulders shrugged, but each child nodded her agreement. “Okay, thank you! Now, let’s pray and show your Mommy how Susie’s learning to walk.”

Entering the hotel proved as stressful for me as for the children. What do I say to the woman who’s children had been taken away and given to me, even temporarily? Martha said I must supervise the visit; but where should I sit, or should I stand?

Once the heavy door had closed on the straggling Deni, I ushered the little troop into the lobby. Mary stayed seated.

“Hello, Mary! The girls have brought their coloring books to show you. Jamie is doing well sometimes even staying inside the lines.” I felt like a nervous chipmunk, chattering full-speed ahead, without taking a breath. “Susie’s trying to hold a spoon but not really enjoying it. She’d much rather just use her fingers, even for oatmeal,” I giggled and then choked.

I held the infant out, but Mary didn’t reach for her. I sat Susie on the floor near my feet, hoping she’d topple over and crawl to Mary. She didn’t move.

“Girls? Show your mommy your coloring books.”

I pushed Jamie slightly in Mary’s direction. “Deni, Jamie’ll need help finding the pages she wanted to show Mommy. Can you help her, please? It looks like there’s plenty of room on the floor next to your mother.”

I felt such relief as the youngsters dropped on each side of their mother’s legs and began opening the books. I breathed a huge sigh when they started laughing and sharing about their days with the babysitting kids.

“Baby’s learning to walk, Mar—Mama,” said Deni. “I’ll show you.”

I moved away to let Deni help Susie to her feet. “You just hold onto her hands like this,” the pre-schooler demonstrated.

Mary approached the baby, reaching to take hold of the standing child. Deni had no sooner placed the teensy fist into Mary’s than Susie plopped down. The grimace on Susie’s face signaled the vocal objection would soon follow. Mary let go of her baby’s hand and stared at me.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, and I meant it. My heart went out to the mother, whose life had not been an easy one. Then, she snarled at me. Fear took root in my heart as the angry woman turned back to the sofa.

I returned to my place on the bottom steps leading upstairs. I bit my lip so as not to cry from the tension. While a State requirement that had merit, this visit-thing brought pain to everyone involved. The hour challenged all of us.

Back in the car, the girls chattered about all that they wanted to do for the rest of the day. I couldn’t tell if the rapid-fire dialogue had to do with nervousness, or if I’d projected my own feelings onto the children. To them, the visit had happened; let’s get on with the day. To me, I needed some regrouping time. I knew exactly what to do to meet all of our needs.

“Hey, girls, let’s go see what Stacie, Shannon, and Baby Chip are doing, shall we?” Delighting over their clapping and cheering, I pictured Carroll’s sun tea pouring out of a gallon jar and into a tall glass of ice. The condensation wet the glass even as the delicious brown liquid forced its way around and through the clanking cubes.

*Names changed

Saturday, November 7, 2015


Assuming the persistent knocking came from the children in the playroom upstairs, I ignored it. I walked past the staircase on my way to the bedroom, alert for any sounds of distress. Hearing none, I finished my journey and dumped the extra-large load of clean laundry onto my bed. Susie never stirred from her nap in the crib next to my bed. When the knocking turned into pounding, I decided to act.

Just as my right foot hit the first step, a loud knock sounded behind me. I turned, staring at the locked wooden door. Why would anyone be knocking on that door? I knew that no steps joined the door with the ground six feet below. A sharp knock interrupted my musings.

I reached over and unlocked the useless, exterior door. Standing back, I swung the door open and peered down. 

“Hello!” I said to the open passenger window. “Uh, this door isn’t used. The owner never built the steps, as you can see.” I chuckled, restraining the explosion of laughter I felt growing at the ridiculous scene playing out.

“We heard that you babysit kids here?”

“Yes, I do. Would you like to drive around to the back steps and come on in?”

“Uh, no. We’re in kind of a hurry. Can we pay you when we get back this afternoon?“

“Sure,” I said, noticing a large paper grocery sack thrust out the open window.

“This is a sack of Cody’s clothes. He’s not potty-trained yet. I don’t want you to have to wash his clothes. Just put them in the plastic sack and take another outfit when he wets one. This should be enough for the day.”

I bent down and grabbed the bag full of clean clothing, discovering it contained only pants, shirts, and underwear—no diapers. I hadn’t noticed the father bringing the little boy to the opening in the side of the house until he held him up to me.

I dropped the sack inside the doorway and reached for the child. “Welcome to our house, Cody! How old are you?”

The father and Cody responded simultaneously, “Three,” said Dad while Cody presented his hand with thumb and little finger bent into his palm—the three-finger salute. “He’s a big boy, so he’s gonna wear big boy clothes, aren’t ya son?”

The little pre-schooler lowered his head. I wrapped my arms around him and gently squeezed. “Cody, we have another boy here today who is also three! He’s a little taller than you but Danny’s lots of fun.”

“Okay, well, we gotta get going,” said the tall cowboy. “We should be back by six. That's all right, isn’t it?”

I agreed, resolving that Cody would have a fun and memorable day with the kids. I must admit I also had a twinge of anxiety that his parents might not come back for the little tyke.

Fortunately, I had only my three foster girls and two regulars that day. For Cody that might seem like a crowd, but I felt confident the other children would make the shy little buckaroo feel welcome.

Calling the kids down from the playroom, I introduced each one, adding their age so Cody would see he fit right into the little band. “Cody, Deni will show you around and tell you the rules here. Danny, when you need to go to the bathroom, would you please take Cody with you? He’s just learning, and I think you can show him how things are done.”

Danny agreed. I smiled as I watched the little gang begin the tour of the place, punctuated with do’s and don’t’s from the lovely red-headed four-year-old girl. I heard Baby Susie’s chatter and moved to free her from the crib.

Half an hour later, while folding clothing in my bedroom, I heard the voices of Danny and Cody accompanied by the clopping of boots across the wooden hallway. “Now, watch me, Cody. I been doin’ this for a long time.”

I recognized the slap of the seat and lid against the toilet tank. “The first thing ya gotta do is lift both of these. Women don’t like it if ya miss and get the place they sit all wet.”

“Okay,” said the barely-audible trainee.

“Do like me,” said Danny. I heard two little zippers and figured Cody would get to try Danny’s technique right away.

“Cody. You can do it. Make a splash in the water.”

I listened, but I also prayed for Cody. How I wanted him to succeed.

A few seconds later, the splash generated by the little stream provoked cheers from the two three-year-olds. Inwardly, I clapped and did a happy dance for Cody. Danny’s next instruction interrupted my thank you’s to God.

“Now, Cody, this part’s important. In Mama Dar’s house, there’s all girls. That means that ya gotta remember to put these back down before you leave the room.” The unmistakable sound of the seat and lid dropping accented his instruction. Good boy, I thought.

I needn’t have worried that Danny would be saddled with taking Cody to the bathroom all day. After only one demonstration, Cody not only got it, he loved it. His little boots clopped across the hallway more frequently than I’d expected for a pre-schooler.

On one occasion, I worried about the little guy because he had been in the restroom longer than usual. My concern that Cody may be ill evaporated the moment I caught sight of his little head twisted to drink from the bathroom sink. The pre-schooler loved standing up to pee so much that he drank from the faucet until his tank needed emptying again.

Just after six o’clock, a knock sounded from the side door of the house. I knew it had to be Cody’s parents, so I opened it. I lowered the full sack of clean clothes to his mother. She took the bag and frowned.

“I told you not to wash his clothes. Why did you do that? Do I need to pay you more?”

I stretched out my arm to rest on the three-year-olds shoulders. “I didn’t wash any of them. Cody didn’t need any, did you?”

The little boy smiled and shook his head, adding, “I know how to do it. Danny taught me.”

Here’s where we want to hear the Daddy cheer and slap his son on the back, right? Sadly, his father lifted Cody out of the door frame and said, “We’ll see how long that lasts.”

“We’re proud of you, Cody! Come back anytime—even just to play with the kids.” I waved both hands, smiling and silently praying for God to be with our new little friend.

The victorious little champ continued smiling and waving at me as the car turned onto the road for home.

I never again saw Cody. God allowed us into his life for such a brief, but important, time.

Note: All Kids’ names have been changed.

Story thread begins with With Just One Phone Call