Monday, September 11, 2006

September, 2006: Teenasia a second time? We'll see

Few women know instantly if they are pregnant. For most women, waiting to find out whether or not they’re pregnant requires waiting between a couple of weeks and a month. As high-tech as pregnancy tests have become, most cannot accurately detect the pregnancy hormone before a woman has missed a period.
            For women either especially eager to have a baby or especially eager not to, those weeks of waiting can be torturous. Every day is a question mark. Every free moment is a mental journey into the land of What-If. Those hoping for a baby try to hold down their hopes and quash their thoughts of pastel sleepers so as not to be too disappointed if it is not to be this month. Those praying not to be pregnant spend a month trying to assure themselves it won’t be—it can’t be. And yet their minds take them to a place where indeed it might be — and what then?
            I have somehow joined this group. Not because I’m pregnant, but because we received a phone call from our past foster daughter’s mother. T is in foster care again, haven been taken from her father’s home where she has lived for the past two years since leaving our family.  
            Teenasia lived with us for over a year, and when she left, we promised both her and ourselves that if she would ever end up in foster care again, she would be as welcome here as our own three children are.
            For a month and a half, Teenasia has been in a foster home with an elderly woman. For some reason, when she was taken from her father’s home, no one checked her records to learn about her year with us.  I have spoken to her social worker almost daily since Teenasia’s mom called us, and the social worker and her supervisor have been trying to cut through the bureaucratic red tape to transfer Teenasia to our home. Hence the waiting. I feel like I might be pregnant with an almost-five year old. An almost-five-year-old whose past two years may have very well been more difficult than anything I will experience in my life. Knowing the signs we received before Jamie came as a foster daughter, Bill and I are looking for signs in this situation. We’re finding them.
            Several days before her mother’s call, Bill had a dream that we adopted Teenasia. Both of us dream of her every so often, and I didn’t think too much of it when he told me about it. The morning following his dream, though, he went to give platelets. There, at the Blood Center, he saw an enormous picture of an African American girl who looked very much like Teenasia. Later, walking out of the Blood Center, he saw another photo, this time a close-up, of the same girl. When he got home, I asked him how it went. All he said was, “Something is up with Teenasia. Something’s wrong. I can feel it — we need to call her.” That day was Liam’s 8th birthday though, and we were busy with the party. The next day was my high school reunion, and we didn’t call then, either. Driving home from the reunion, though, Bill and I planned to call T the next day to set up a visit. Her mother called us early the next morning before we had that chance — called on my birthday.
            The weeks that followed that phone call were (and still are) emotionally-charged. Bill started going to daily Mass to pray for T and for God’s will to be done in her situation. The first day he went, the first reading was from Jeremiah, all about lamentations of a hurt daughter. That same day, I picked up a newspaper I rarely read, glanced at an article and found it was about children just being in our care for a short time—that they belong to God and we should consider all children as our own. While Bill was watching Jamie in the kiddie pool section of a water park, a small African American girl walked up to him and after asking if Jamie could swim, said simply, “It took me a long time to get here,” and walked away. And the next day, I picked up a bowl at my sister’s house and noticed words on the rim. I tend not to like pithy sayings and got ready to make fun of it in my mind as I read it. “There’s no such thing as somebody else’s child,” it said. I put it down carefully.
            With days to go until we find out if Teenasia will be moved here, there’s not much we can do except pray and wait. If she does come, she will come as a foster child. If she does come, she will likely live with us for awhile, only to be returned to her father after he once again completes the requirements needed to get her back.
I once wrote, when Teenasia lived with us the first time, that when Jesus said, “Love one another,” the words did not come with a guarantee that there would be a future with the ones we love. I wrote that Jesus’ commandment is a promise that love transforms, but is not a contract for a tomorrow with those we love.  We’ll see if I can believe those words one more time. We’ll see how we do at living with the heartbreak of loving a child and then letting her go, once again. No matter what, our pain will be easier than what Teenasia will go through, and that’s what I plan to remind myself of, during the difficult days.
Am I pregnant with an almost five-year-old? I’m preparing, but with hesitation. I’ve bought some size-five clothes and some shoes, but not too many. We have a bed ready, but I haven’t cleared out drawer space yet. We’ve told our children she will probably come, but if it doesn’t work out, we’ll keep visiting her, just like we did before.

Preparing with hesitation, I have joined a group of women who wait to know if a child is on the way. A group of women who know that if the answer is yes, everything will change.          

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

September, 2006: Plumber saints

I think we need to start praying to the regular saints. If a saint is, as the Catholic Church defines the word, anyone who has died and is in heaven with God, there are a lot more saints up there than the few famous ones the church has canonized. Heaven must be filled with regular folks who led very good, and in many cases, exceptional, lives but might not have had friends in high enough places to recommend them for canonization by the Church here on Earth. The Church recognizes them anonymously, in the “Communion of Saints,” but let’s face it — people like St. Therese, St. Anthony and St. Francis are the celebrities of the Catholic Church. Everyone hoping for a favor rushes to them to put in a good word to Jesus.
            I have decided that all these other unknown saints, who are in just as much of a place to pray for us, should be just as much of a part of our daily faith as their more famous counterparts. While I don’t know the names of these saints, I can guess at their professions, and I have to believe they must take a special interest in things going on here on Earth that are connected to their professions.
            Take all the saints who were teachers or principals during their tenure on Earth —how many people call upon them? What a powerful group of saints. If we have a child who is struggling in school, shouldn’t we pray that a saint who was a teacher intercede for our child? That teacher-saint probably knows better than anyone what our child needs, and can be a firm ally.
            I have prayed to social worker saints for “T”, a child who used to be our foster daughter and is now going through a hard time. I’ve also prayed to the all parents in heaven who made some bad choices on earth but who now see the error in their ways. I am currently praying that together, the social worker-saints and the parent-saints figure out what would be best for T, and advise God accordingly. I imagine a big meeting, where, since this is heaven, everyone is listened to and everyone is giving ideas truly in the best interest of the child.
            I’ve prayed to saints for things that seem trivial — very human concerns that I can’t quite see bothering Mary or Jesus about. I’m not sure if I believe that for the small stuff,  the saint is interceding on my behalf or if saints can just take care of small things themselves. When Jacob pitched for the first time this year in the little league majors, I figured that somewhere in heaven was a kid named Jacob who had played little league. Sheer numbers and the popularity of the name Jacob told me he had to be there. “St. Jacob the Pitcher,” I prayed silently from the bleachers as my Jacob stood on the mound, “just let him do okay. He doesn’t need to be amazing or strike everyone out, but for his first time, just let him do okay so he doesn’t feel he let his team down.” Jacob pitched a no-hitter for the innings he was in, and struck out the best hitter in the league. I thanked St. Jacob the Pitcher. I didn’t call on him again that season until the play-offs when I just needed him to help Jacob get a hit in the last inning when there were already two outs. Jacob hit a grounder and made it safely to first. I didn’t ask for a win, though, and Jacob’s team lost, but I feel it’s important not to be too greedy.
            I’ve prayed to plumber saints about clogs and author saints when I needed a title for my book. I’ve prayed to doctor saints for an aunt who has a serious health problem, and mechanic saints when it was 30 below zero and our van wouldn’t start 250 miles from home. And I prayed to all the saints who struggled with cancer when a dear friend of mine was diagnosed.  Does everything always turn out the way I want? Of course not. But praying to these unknown saints gives me a sense of the amazing community of believers I am a part of. It reminds me that the millions or billions of people in heaven are mostly people not so different than the people I see around me. It reminds me that the folks I come in contact with each day — the grocery clerk, the mailman, my next door neighbor — are souls who might one day be saints. Praying to saints makes me think of all the very much alive people I know who are so quick to lend a helping hand. During difficult times, praying to these ordinary saints helps me remember that our time here on earth is just a small slice of eternity. Important, yes, but not the final word.

In our relationship with God, we can only glimpse what those who have gone before us can now see fully. Our friends, our relatives, our neighbors, and many, many people we haven’t met, are living with full knowledge of God’s love. They stand ready to guide us in our journey — eager to help us find the place they know so well. They have walked the very roads we walk now, and they understand what it is to struggle and be human. They stand ready to help. We only need to ask.