Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Angels Who Adopted Me

Kids are angels, too, but I’m sure you already know that. I have quite the collection of kids who are angels. Many of them are grown now with kids and collections of their own. I never tire of their stories, their smiles, their innate goodness.

The other day someone made the comment that they like their own kids, but they aren’t too keen on adding to the brood like I am. I thought that was funny. I have never made an effort to add to my kid collection.

They just… join my path.

I have two sons. Those are direct gifts from God. They are the foundation of the collection and I’ve always tried to make sure they know they are the most important. Added to them, now, are the grandbabies.

But they weren’t the first. As the oldest of the “cousins” in my foster family, I was the natural babysitter. I read the stories to keep the kids quiet. Took the kids to the park. Played with the kids outside. It seemed I always had Ron or Angie or Vonnie somewhere close behind me all through the growing up years. And Kendra, too. She was the first official paid babysitting job I had.

I liked the idea that someone needed me and trusted me and laughed with me. Besides, I could tell them what to do and they had to listen to me. I was the oldest, after all.

And they made me laugh. A lot. Silly smiles and cookie kisses. That’s probably where it started. This kid collection thing. We read The Velveteen Rabbit endlessly and giggled at The Very Scary Witch no matter how many times we told it.

When Johnathon was born and my peers were having babies of their own, we traded a lot. I’d watch someone’s kids so they would watch mine. But it seemed I had kids more often that I didn’t trade for. Coming over to play, walking to the park with us, talking with me as much as my sons.

Then there were the bus kids. The goal was to bring kids to church so they could learn about Jesus, get a moral compass, a foundation to help them along the way. I understood the parents who wanted their kids to have a little direction while they had a few hours of quiet from the hectic swim that kept their families floating above the poverty line. It was a win-win, except I think I won the most.

I was the “rule maker” in the back of the bus. The one who sat with the kids to keep them from acts of mayhem and rioting. The thugs who came to church to get away from home for a few hours. The miscreants who wanted nothing more than a free breakfast. The chatterboxes who were starved for attention. They surrounded me through the bus ride and left me with pieces of their identity. I prayed they would take some of mine, too.

The angels whose eyes told too many stories and whose rare smiles radiated genuine love – if you watched long enough for the dead eyes to come to life.

My heart is full of them still – those smiles, tears, hugs.

The tough kids who went on to college are stars in my crown, they say. Some have families now. They are heads of households. Wage earners. Teaching their children about Jesus, giving them a moral compass. Using their gifts to bring grace to the world around them.

But what of those whose college years were spent behind prison walls? They are stars to me, too. Fighting for survival in a world they didn’t create, caught in a web they didn’t spin. They tried to make sense of the puzzle, but the pieces didn’t quite fit. I don’t see the gun in their hand or the rage in their heart. I see the little boy with the Mother’s Day card and no one to give it to. I hear the plain speaking voice saying, “but the electric cord? That’s the worst. The metal part sticks in your skin if you don’t have sleeves on.”

I wish I could have protected those angels better.

I feel their tiny hands tentatively stroking my foreign blonde hair, “your hair so soft. How you do that?”

Sometimes when I open my Bible their words fall out, “I made you a card. Do you like it?” Crayola treasures I will keep forever.

Some of them use their experiences now to shape the generation behind them. They are cops, soldiers, teachers, preachers. They control the world around them, teach Sunday School, sing for their Savior to minister grace to someone else, they go the extra mile to share some good thing.

I am amazed at the way God has taken my feeble words and acts of kindness and magnified them in these angels. I hear them telling others, “You have to keep bridges mended. You never know when that opportunity is lost for good.”

And the collection keeps growing. Wherever I go, it seems, there are children who want to share their lives with me. I love the way they speak, the words they choose, the things they find important. I draw from them hope, they draw from me value.

They adopted me along the way, but I’m the one whose family keeps growing.

“This is my white mama. See the resemblance? “ “This my Grandma. She was my mama’s mama so that make her my Grandma, right?” “Go to Bapka, she will read to you.”

It’s a win-win. Today, I am most grateful for the angels who share my path and fill my heart.