My husband and I had gone through the training process to adopt an older child from the foster care system. When I learned of the high statistics of children abused, I became frightened that a child would repeat that abuse to my children so I pulled our name from the list. A year later, I received a phone call from the agency. It was our caseworker that said, “We prayed then called everyone on our list; you were the only one to answer the phone. We have an emergency situation with a boy 8-years old. He was being abused in his pre-adoptive home, and we need to get him into a safe environment. Can you please take him temporary until we can find another adoptive home?” Well…how could we say no? I mean, after all it was only temporary. She replied, “Oh, thank you! We will be there in two hours.” Two hours??? OMG! A million thoughts raced through our minds. Panic started to set in.
When they pulled in the driveway, and we saw him being removed from a car seat at eight years old we thought it odd until, we saw how small and frail he was then my heart sank. I immediately felt so much love for him that all my fears subsided. It was the end of August, and although, this was a temporary situation I didn’t want him to suffer any more than he already had. I wanted him to start school with all the other children, heal from his abuses and to feel a part of our family however temporary it may be. I enrolled him in school, brought him to our pediatrician who took him off of all medications, because he did not need them. We went school clothes shopping, because his clothes were all worn out, and his shoes had holes exposing his socks.
I was able to get his birth certificate for registration and saw that his birthday was soon approaching. I decided to throw him a birthday party and invite his whole class. I thought it would help him to make new friends and adjust to his new school. In the coming weeks, he would ask me at least once a day “What is the date of my birthday?” and then, “oh, hmm.” I wondered why but decided it was just his excitement. That was, until the day of his birthday and then I understood.
On his birthday, one by one his classmates started to arrive with presents in hand. As each child handed him a present, I saw his face change to excitement and fear at the same time. My husband organized fun games for everyone to play while I prepared goodies inside. Suddenly, one of the kids came running inside screaming for me to hurry and go outside because something was wrong with the birthday boy. He was lying on the ground crying hysterically. No one was quite sure what had happened. As I bent down over him, he assured me that he did not get hurt. Everyone stared not knowing what to do. I carried him into the house and told everyone to continue the party. When I got him alone, I asked him what was wrong. He told me nothing was wrong everything was fine. I thought to myself, FINE??!! How can this be fine? Something is clearly wrong. Through sobs and tears he finally confided in me saying, “I never had a birthday party, I never even knew when my birthday was until you told me.” Aha, this explained the repeated questions of the date of his birthday and his emotional meltdown.
My heart sunk to the deepest part of myself. I never expected nor would I ever have thought this could be a reality for a child in America today. Something as simple as a birthday party that I have had my entire life and so have everyone that I knew. I took such things for granted. He opened my eyes to a poverty that exists in the world I had never known. I felt small and humbled by this little boy who put in perspective how blessed by the Grace of God I am.
I let him cry it out, and watched his little body sob until he asked me if he could watch the party through the window instead of being a part of it. I realized that he had no idea how to act or what to do in a situation like this. I agreed to let him watch the party from the window, and it was only then that the tears stopped and the smile came upon his face as he watched. Although, the kids at the party had no Idea why the birthday boy was not participating they all had a great time and left happy.
When all the children left and we were alone as a family he opened each present slowly and through soft tears. When he unwrapped all of the gifts, he didn’t play with any of them he just stared at them. I asked him why he wasn’t playing with any of his new toys. He told me; he didn’t know how. I could not believe what I was hearing how could this be possible?
That night, before going to bed we said prayers and he told me that this was the best birthday he ever had. I thought to myself as I kissed his forehead goodnight, of course, it was; it was the only birthday he ever had (a truth I still have trouble wrapping myself around). I share this story with you, for two reasons one, because every day is a gift that some people struggle to keep. We should never take it for granted; we are richer than we can ever imagine. Two, I was amazed to learn of how many beautiful children there are right here in America living in poverty. The children in the foster care system tend to move around frequently because their homes are only temporary until they find permanent ones. They never know where they are going and “if” it will be safe. The problem is there are more children in the system than those looking to adopt and most end up aging out of the system. They never give up hope for a forever family. To this day our son requests that we do not have birthday parties for him other than with immediate family, and we honor his wishes.
“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’