As a tiny infant sleeps in my arms, I pray. She is a foster baby, two days old. Her future is a question mark, and I yearn to secure for her a long-term guarantee of kindness, comfort, and love - a happy childhood.
To work in the foster care system is often to come face to face with a heartbreaking range of wrongful or irresponsible acts. Some are inadvertent, some willful. The common outcome is a rupture in the normal parent-child link - a breach in the nurturing every child deserves.
With 24/7 responsibility for this child's care, I see a window of opportunity. I think: I can provide more than the best human caregiving I've signed up for - the nourishing, cleansing, and cuddling. I can give her my deepest prayer.
It's a sweet process, this quiet communing with God, that starts with identifying her native spiritual qualities - her innocence, purity, peacefulness, trust, response to affection. No person created these. They can have come only from God - the one divine source of all good - which takes me to another realization: that God, infinite Love, has planted every one of His immortal attributes in her being. Health, joy, safety, purpose, beauty, and more, belong to her. She is in fact complete, perfect, in God's view.
How can words, even such reassuring ones, resolve the temporary nature of this little girl's foster status? Only by virtue of God's, Spirit's, actuality, presence, and power. I search deep to find a willingness to admit that He is real, ever present, omnipotent. This gives me courage to refute predictions about my foster daughter's future - to discard the fear that a material condition could affect her spiritual nature.
I silently affirm eternal truths for her: certainty, not chance; strength, not vulnerability; well-being, not emotional upheaval. And I glimpse a continuity in God's goodness, which heartens me. What is good and true about her can't change - a fact that has power to shape the years to come.
Days pass, and we attend meetings. Social workers, birth parents, and adoptive families struggle with tough alternatives. Tears and recriminations mingle with hope and generosity of spirit. I am comforted by a poem written by a mother, Mary Baker Eddy, whose son was taken from her at a very young age:
O gentle presence, peace and joy and power;
O Life divine, that owns each waiting hour,
Thou Love, that guards the nestling's faltering flight!
Keep Thou my child on upward wing tonight.
Love is our refuge; only with mine eye
Can I behold the snare, the pit, the fall:
His habitation high is here, and nigh,
His arm encircles me, and mine, and all.
As the message takes hold in my thought, I perceive Love's control over this infant and her circle of caring adults. We can expect this Father-Mother to make Herself known to us in wisdom, patience, and expectancy of good. We can all become convinced of whose child this is - not ours, not theirs, but God's alone.
Back home, it's a short step to realizing the key to the happy childhood I want for this small girl. Her childhood, and everyone's, is not a space of days, months, and years between infancy and maturity. It's a spiritual state of being - a word for how she's related to God. It's her now-and-always standing, characterized by permanence, happiness, and contentment. And yes, it's guaranteed.
When the adoptive parents come to pick her up, I'm ready. This dear baby and I share a momentary eye-to-eye communication of wordless love. It's a kind of eye contact I've been told is unusual with one so young. But then, I feel as though we've been recognizing together our immortal relationship - our sisterhood as daughters of one Creator. We're just reminding each other of who - and whose - we are.
Other foster infants follow over two years. More lessons are learned, more prayers offered. I keep close the poem I love so, called "Mother's Evening Prayer," and its final comforting verses:
Beneath the shadow of His mighty wing;
In that sweet secret of the narrow way,
Seeking and finding, with the angels sing:
"Lo, I am with you alway,"-watch and pray.
No snare, no fowler, pestilence or pain;
No night drops down upon the troubled breast,
When heaven's aftersmile earth's tear-drops gain,
And mother finds her home and heav'nly rest.
No child of God is actually a foster child. Each is fully endowed with the status and rights He bestows lovingly on His whole creation. Every mother and father - whether birth, foster, or adoptive - can feel sure of this through prayer. It's the best gift to give any child, and the deepest comfort to any parent.