"You look like you've got your hands full!"
I'm never quite sure how to respond to this comment that I often hear when I'm braving the grocery store or the post office with my five-year-old and three-year-old daughters and eight-month-old foster son. People say this even when everybody is "doing good listener", in the words of my three-year-old.
In these moments, I usually chuckle awkwardly and move on, but inwardly I wonder if I really look that ragged or incapable of managing the children in my home.
Truth be told, my hands are full. I love these small humans, but the weight of them often feels impossible to carry without dropping something or someone. My heart is big, but my capacity is small.
We recently received an email from our foster care agency, advertising a vacancy at one of the houses in their foster community. These homes are specifically built for foster families who want to take in at least five foster children at a time (in addition to any biological or adopted children they may already have). My heart immediately jumped at this opportunity, but my head quickly followed, and I knew that we couldn't make the move.
Our friends did. I've lost count of how many children they have living with them at any given time. It's a lot. And they do it with such grace.
Currently, our home is only open to babies, and we only take one at a time. It's easy to feel defeated when I see these single moms who foster challenging teenagers, or the young families like us who take in large sibling groups. It feels as though we aren't doing enough. My hands are full with only one extra child, and I wonder if we are possibly making any sort of difference in the world as we "only, only, only..."
When I was a teacher, I was often reminded of The Starfish Story. Do you know that one? A young boy is walking along a beach covered with thousands of starfish. Every few feet, he bends down to pick up a starfish and throw it back into the ocean. An older man walks past the boy and stops to ask him what he is doing.
"I'm picking up these starfish and throwing them back into the ocean so they can live," replies the boy.
"But there are thousands of starfish on this beach; how could you possibly make a difference?" the man asks.
Again, the boy bends down, picks up a starfish, and throws it back into the ocean. "It made a difference for that one," he tells the man.
For that one.
I can't change the world. I can't fix this broken system. But I can continue to do small things with great love for this little life that God has placed in our home.
I can wake up and change eight diapers a day, clean spit-up, feed him another bottle, and throw in a fourth load of laundry (from today). These are small things. But I’m crazy enough to believe that those little acts, done with love, may forever change the trajectory of his life.
Sometimes the small things feel big. It feels big that random people are constantly in and out of our house, scrutinizing our parenting and assessing for safety. It feels big that he's on WIC, so I pick through the baby food shelves like a fool who doesn't know what's what (because I don't) and then wait for the cashier to hand me my 17 receipts (literally 17; one for each item purchased) while everyone in line behind me watches and waits. It feels big that we've stripped away everything but the essentials from our budget and our schedules so that we can provide well for Little Man. It feels big to ask for help, to say "no" over and over and over again, and to be misunderstood.
These are things I want to do for him, things that I've been called to do. Sometimes these big-feeling-small-things are easy to perform with delight. Often, they feel like dying.
Dying so that he can have life.
This is the gospel. I don't live it out perfectly or even well, but I hope that one day, K and his parents see and know that I did these small things because of the Greatest Love that was shown to me in the face of Jesus. With that perspective held in the forefront of my mind, the small things do feel less big ... but never insignificant.