Last week, in the middle of the chaos of our Disney Extravaganza preparations, Caryl and I took a little journey. We squeezed it into an already full day; a day that was awash with shopping, gathering, delivering and calling. I picked up some flowers and Caryl and I caravan-ed to a small cemetery; a place we’ve been together on several occasions. We were there to mark an anniversary that was anything but celebratory.
Six years have past since she and I shared what would be a life changing, ministry heightening experience. Six years ago, we sat at the bedside of a precious, almost 2 year old little girl as she lay dying as a result of a horrific act of physical abuse. We loved her, even though we’d never met before we walked into that hospital room; even though we had never seen her with her eyes open and never would, even though we had never heard one word come out of her sweet little mouth or seen her run and jump or smile. We loved her. And what we shared that day was almost too much to bear.
As we approached her grave, one that is now marked with a beautiful headstone purchased with donations from some special people, all of the memories came flooding back. This child needs to be remembered. This child needs to be honored and valued and held close. This child deserves for someone to stand up with great passion and say that what happened to her was a travesty. This child deserves justice and retribution. This child deserves to be known.
My heart aches for her and what she missed. My heart aches for us and what we missed by not getting to know her or what she would have become. My heart aches for all of the other children who are in the same circumstance she was in and who, if someone doesn’t intervene, will find that their only way out is HER way out. It is time for this world to wake up; to take responsibility for our children. It’s time for us to quit judging the why’s and how’s and put our hands to the good work on behalf of hurting kids. It’s time for open hearts and open homes. It’s time for selfishness to give way to a selflessness that only the Father can give. Lives are at stake. Futures hang in the balance.
I am better for having ‘known’ her. I am changed. I am challenged. May you always be with me little one and my your life and death be the impetus for my continued push for the right forever family for every single waiting child.
*Note-If you have read “The Middle Mom” you will recognize this story about Kee Kee (name changed). If not- here’s the chapter in its entirety:
Chapter 17-The Wrap Up
As I wind down my writing, I am reminded of that day fifteen years ago when my foster care journey began. To say that my life has changed dramatically since then would be a classic understatement. I have a beautiful nine-month-old foster daughter sleeping in another room, a precocious four-year-old running around entertaining everyone, three teenagers who are a constant source of joy, blessing and encouragement, and a very supportive grown-man son away at college. There have been a million tears cried, thousands of diapers changed, hundreds and hundreds of bottles made, and I have been blessed to be a temporary mother, a middle mom, to over forty foster children. But, one thing hasn’t changed: God’s call. Sure, He has refined it, transformed it, overhauled it and pushed it to new levels beyond my wildest imagination, but the premise is the same: “It’s time for you, my child, to put some ACTION behind those empty pro-life words.”
I was in the final stages of writing this book when a disturbing thing happened. The Lord took me to a place I had never been before, a place that was so dark, so very painful and yet such a reminder of why I have swathed myself in this ministry. For the sake of privacy, I really cannot go into the “what, where, when, why and how” of this situation; but for the sake of a little girl I’ll call KeeKee, the story must be told. Through a supernatural circumstance, I found out about KeeKee: she’d been brought to a hospital in our area as a result of abuse. She wasn’t even two years old yet. She was comatose. She was brain dead. She was alone. My heart reacted like a mother’s. I asked the DHS worker if I could go and be with her (all the while wondering if I was really capable of going and being with her). The worker asked me with a surprised tone in her voice,
“Christie, is that what you want to do?”
“No.” I admitted, “it’s not what I want to do; it’s what I have to do.”
I told her I knew that Caryl, Donna, and Jan would be willing to help as well. A couple of hours after my conversation with the DHS worker, she and I met at the intensive care unit. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. There was Kee Kee; a beautiful, frail, angelic little girl. She was hooked up to every machine you could imagine with tubes coming out in every direction. I loved her from the minute I saw her. Although I would never see her with her eyes open, would never see her smile or hear her laugh, would never get the opportunity to have her skinny little arms wrap around my neck or her round little lips kiss my cheek. I loved her. I could not hold back; I immediately went to her side and began what would be a three-day ritual of rubbing her tiny face, holding her tiny hand in mine and telling her that everything was going to be all right. I felt my heart sink, I was nauseous; I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “How did this happen?” But, deep in my spirit, I knew that this was a divine appointment; it was no coincidence that I was at KeeKee’s bedside. It was hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that unless God intervened in a miraculous way, she was going to die, because lying there, she looked as if she were sleeping: so peaceful, so contented as the rhythmic motion of the ventilator and the air puffs of the warming blanket masked what was really going on. Caryl and I went back later in the day and stayed and stayed and stayed. We couldn’t leave her. We tried to comfort each other, but nothing made sense. We just cried and prayed, cried and prayed. The next day, Jan joined us as we all spent the day at the hospital. The time came to do the neurological tests to determine whether or not there was any brain activity. Would we like to be with her while the test was done? Of course we would; we were her family now. The world stopped as the doctor unplugged the ventilator and hooked up the oxygen. Hovering around KeeKee’s bed were two doctors, two nurses, a social worker, and the organ donation team director along with Caryl and me. For ten eternal minutes, sixteen eyes gazed at the tiny abdomen. I felt myself saying under my breath, “Breathe, breathe” between silent prayers for God to work a miracle. For ten minutes the abdomen lay flat; the tiny body, limp and lifeless. I didn’t know if I could stand there, if I could hear what the doctor was going to say.
“There is no brain activity, I’m sorry,” he said. With those words a sense of resolve came over me. I would never be the same. I prayed that my ministry would never be the same.
Caryl touched my shoulder and said, “Let’s ask the doctor if we can hold her; I want to hold her; she needs someone to hold her”.
The doctors were so gentle with us, so compassionate. They told us they had hoped that someone would hold her. In a few minutes the nurses made all of the arrangements; a rocking chair was brought in, the tubes and machines were adjusted, and KeeKee was placed in Caryl’s arms. I will never forget that moment: the sight of Caryl cradling this beautiful innocent child, the sound of Caryl’s weeping as she laid her body over KeeKee’s, enfolding this little one in her arms, all the while rocking and promising her that we were there and we loved her. I remember thinking that KeeKee looked like an orphan from another country, one that you would see on television, but as my mind snapped back to reality, I realized that we were right here in our own city, living out this nightmare! And then, it was my turn. Lord knows, I have rocked a lot of babies. This time was not like any of the others. The depth of grief and despair was beyond my comprehension. The sense of loss was almost unbearable. The needlessness of the moment, the tragedy, and the heartbreak of what this tiny little girl had been through in her short life all flooded my thoughts. Then the resolve came to the surface again. I whispered to Kee Kee, “Your death will not be in vain, little one. I don’t know what God wants to do with this, but your death will not be in vain.” I sang to her and held her close. I wanted her to know we were there.
Jan, Caryl, and I made our way to our favorite children’s clothing store. We all love to shop. We all love baby clothes. We love to tell each other about great deals and about beautiful new lines of clothing that will look great on our girls. But on this day, shopping was not a welcome activity, and shopping for a dress for KeeKee was anything but joyful. It was devastating, but KeeKee deserved the best. We prayed as we entered the store that we would find the perfect outfit for her, and we did: a beautiful white sundress with pink smocking and angel sleeves, ruffled socks and panties and a pink bow. Jan found a beautiful cross bracelet that completed KeeKee’s “going home” outfit.
The day KeeKee died, I wrote these words about my feelings, “One part of me wants to shout this from the rooftops, for all of the world to hear–the truth about the injustice and how we as a society let her down, but the other part of me wants to keep this so close to my heart; an intimate part of my being, so close that I never, ever forget the face of a little girl who endured months of the worst that life had to offer, but ended up in the arms of the One that will never let her down.”
The organ donation team was so empathetic. The director knew that we had only known KeeKee for two or three days, and yet somehow she seemed to understand our deep love for her. She asked if we would each like a copy of KeeKee’s hand prints. We were expecting the ink pressed hands that the hospital makes for you when your baby is born. We were in for a surprise. What we got were clay-embossed handprints framed out in beautiful wood frames. The details of the hand prints made us cry: the tiny fingers, the distinct lines and wrinkles, and the imprint of the Band-Aid on her right thumb. My heart broke as I held the frame close, and yet there was something so comforting about having it, about getting to keep it forever.
Several days later, Jeff joined Jan, Caryl and me at the funeral home before KeeKee’s service. Once again, I was struck by how perfect, how beautiful, how at peace KeeKee looked, and I almost thought I saw her breathe. The outfit was perfect, perfect for a little princess joining the heavenly choir of angels; a little princess that may not have been on this earth long, but made a lasting impact on a group of mothers that were honored to call her “daughter” for a short while. A week later, I wrote: “Today I asked the Lord to keep KeeKee’s memory in front of me, not in a morbid way, but in an inspiring way that keeps me motivated, always fighting, always changing, always moving and always advocating for children like her.”
Tomorrow I will make my way to KeeKee’s grave, in honor of her second birthday. I pray that God will use her life to once again transform my life and deepen the roots of my ministry.
In closing, I have to ask some profound questions that, when answered with a look at the Father’s blueprint, could rock our nation and change the course of history for thousands of children who are invisible to most of humanity. Nevertheless, these children deserve the best that life has to offer, the best that comes as a result of God’s grace flowing through the hands of those of us to whom much has been given. How many children like KeeKee would have loving families if Christians really acted like Jesus? How many birth parents would see the love of God in Christian foster parents who love their children as their own? How would our government react if the foster care system was flooded with all of the foster parents it needed because the church stood up and was counted? What would happen if there were no children waiting to be adopted because God’s people decided to bridge the gap? How many children would find forever families and ultimately be ushered into God’s forever family? What an incredible testimony that would be.
I have to thank the Lord for allowing me the privilege of being a foster mom and adoptive mom. I have to thank my family and friends (you know who you are!) for joining me on this journey; for their love, support, encouragement and shoulders to cry on. I have to thank my precious children, Chase, Caleb, Cara, Connor and Serenity for not only supporting me, but for taking on this ministry as their own and passionately ensuring that we continue our pursuit to allow God to use us in the lives of children in our state. And I have to thank Jeff, my one-of-a-kind husband, who has been my rock, my advisor, my therapist, my fortress, my protector, my comedian, and my incredible partner in this ministry and in life!
I am looking forward to the continuation of this journey. My life has been richly blessed because I have seen the miraculous. The naivety that I once owned has long gone away. This world is sinful, this world wants to destroy, this world wants failure and complacency, but we as Christians have overcome all of those things! We have the distinct honor of bringing freedom, restoration, success and genuine love and dignity to children who richly deserve to experience life the way the Maker intended. I heard a quote recently at a meeting regarding foster care, a quote of unknown origin: “If not you, who? If not now, when?” There may be no one else. There may be no other time. Is this your time to embrace God’s purpose and plan for your life as it relates to the orphans in your community? Won’t you join me and make a difference in the life of a child? They are counting on us. The “who” is you. And the time is now.