There is no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved: It is God’s finger on man’s shoulder. Charles Morgan
Our first foster placement call came around five o’clock, just as I’d gotten home from work. It was for a twelve-year-old girl. Our consultant said, “Try to pick up some soap, shampoo, deodorant and pajamas before we get there. Don’t forget the deodorant.” Ugh! With my sense of smell keener than our faithful Boxer’s, my greatest fear was a foster child with poor hygiene. And now here we were! I headed to Target through rush hour traffic and hurried back home.
The doorbell rang, and there stood Tanner. Her bright smile and chattiness were a welcome distraction from her filthy clothes and straggly appearance. She was so chatty. Did I mention she was chatty? I figured it must be her nerves. Within two minutes, I understood the request for hygiene items. In addition to her tattered clothes, Tanner reeked like a homeless person.
She happily chatted away, seemingly oblivious to the stench, while I filled out all of the placement forms. I learned that Tanner had been homeless and was discovered living in a car with her mother. She hadn’t bathed in weeks or possibly longer.
My husband, Frank, arrived as we signed the last papers. The leftovers I’d planned for dinner weren’t enough for three, so we let Tanner choose a restaurant. Off we went to an Italian eatery. She mostly played with her food while she chatted. We just sat back and enjoyed her stories and her excitement about books she’d read. It was only on our way out of the restaurant when I realized we’d eaten dinner with a very smelly, dirty person, and it hadn’t bothered either of us.
The moment we got home, Tanner headed upstairs to shower. I fretted about the best approach to address her many hygiene issues. Half an hour later she came downstairs. Her dark brown hair was now strawberry blond! Her skin was a shade lighter revealing more freckles. And somehow she had managed to clean out the black gunk from underneath her fingernails. There was not an inkling of a hygiene issue.
She shared her passion for Manga and funny YouTube videos with us. She finally settled down and I tucked her in, giving her a big hug, which she warmly returned.
The next morning I squeezed in a few hours of work before I woke her after eleven hours of sleep. It must have felt amazing to be in a clean bed. After a quick breakfast, we went to the local school to register her. She’d been homeschooled (in a car?), but was remarkably well read and seemed like she could manage grade level work.
Next, we headed to the library where she checked out “The Diary of Anne Frank,” a book she’d always wanted to read. We grabbed some lunch and all the while discussed school, God and religion. She was hungry to learn about Jesus and who He really was. She couldn’t stop asking questions, so we chatted constantly in the car. Yes, she was still chatty!
With her permission, I’d thrown away her shoes and most of the clothes she was wearing. We headed to the local foster closet to shop. She was delighted to pick out seven outfits.
And then came the phone call.
Her father had been located in another state and had driven to get her. We learned the judge had given him custody, and we’d need to meet up with him in two hours.
What? She and I were both stunned. We were having such a grand time. She hadn’t been with her father for two years and she had lots of fear. I reassured her and prayed with her as she wept.
We stopped back home to gather the rest of her things. She couldn’t keep the Anne Frank library book so I replaced it with “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom. I also gave her a Bible that she’d mentioned she wanted.
On the ride to meet her dad, she seemed petrified. She asked me, “If I end up back in foster care, can I please stay with you?”
“Of course, but I don’t think you’ll be back in care.” I’d been told her dad had a solid job and a good home life.
When she stepped out of the car, she smiled at her dad and then ran into his arms for a big bear hug. He thanked me for taking care of her, and after a warm hug good-bye, I waved her off. Now it was my turn to cry.
How was it possible in a mere 23 hours that Tanner had so touched our lives? That’s when I became aware of what I now call “The Magic Window.” Foster children come in and out of our lives for an unknown amount of time and often without any warning. The uncertainty of foster care makes the urgency of this concept so real. I’ve learned to seize the small or large magic window of time God gives me to pour love, encouragement and truth into their lives.
Really, I find this to be true for everyone in my life, especially with our kids away at college. I’ve learned to view their short visits home as magic windows when we get to share their new lives. After all, the short span of my life is also a magic window on this earth before I continue on in eternity.