Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Gift

I drove my van into the driveway of the mobile home and took a deep breath. Soon a young woman with wet long hair opened the screen door and stepped out-side. Her belly was swollen, her face sunken and pale.
The guy behind her, with tattoos and missing teeth, seemed cordial as he smiled. What am I getting myself into? The use of street drugs played its toll on them. Now she faced homelessness and a pregnancy. As I greeted her it appeared she lacked proper nutrition and her glassy eyes indicated she’d used recently. 
We couldn’t find anyone else who wanted to help her; after all she was released from jail for drug trafficking and petty theft. My husband and I were taking a risk moving her into our home. Were we inviting trouble? Putting our children in harm’s way? No sooner did doubt surface, a wave of peace rushed through me. Then an overwhelming sensation of love fiercely assaulted me, for a person I didn’t know. What did that mean?
Weeks before my first encounter with Brianna, I did a “What if?” What if a homeless family knocked on our door, smelly and hungry, needing a place to sleep? Would I politely refer them elsewhere or provide hospitality without fear and judgment?
Now my what if stood before me. Suddenly, an unconditional love, which impregnated my heart, subdued my uneasiness. Within days Brianna became a
member of our family. Yet I still couldn’t understand why the uncanny connection to support her, so filled my being.
We celebrated the birth of her daughter, Athena, mid October 1987. We worked with her to be free from her addiction, get a job and apartment. Unfortunately her cravings for heroin siphoned every ounce of her will to fight—even a recovery home did little to conquer this demon.
Within eight months of Brianna being on her own, we received a frantic call from the Santa Barbara County jail. “Please, go get Athena . . . Don’t leave her with my boyfriend,” her voice shameful but her soul pleading.
Her boyfriend refused to release Brianna's baby to us. The Police found him with her in a run down house with drug paraphernalia and no running water. They estimated she sat in her car seat drenched in urine and feces for more then 12 hours. Once Brianna’s baby was placed into a transition home, we petitioned the court and within three weeks became Athena’s foster parents.
Again we helped Brianna work toward healing—working, living on her own, and doing well without drugs. But to our dismay, after six months, her partner was released from jail, reintroducing drugs into her life. Her visits with her daughter decreased and we lost connection.
On one particular Sunday, I received a call, “Can I come see Athena?” The tone in her voice engaged my sixth sense—something was up. “Of course you can, we’ve missed you.”
Upon her arrival we embraced and visited as she fed her baby lunch. Then suddenly she said she had to go. Perplexed by the short visit, I walked her out, noticing her expressions were guarded. Halfway up our driveway she turned, catching my gaze. She didn’t have to say a word, I knew. I knew she came to say goodbye, for good. Her eyes beckoned me to care and love her child as my own. My heart agonized for her. Was my discernment correct?
Within several days we received a call from Arizona’s women’s prison. This confirmed what I knew to be true. She was saying goodbye that Sunday afternoon. Although I knew she wanted to crawl out of her abyss of hopelessness, I understood she felt powerless to battle her monster. And I also sensed she felt she was not ready to mother, yet the painful idea to release her child for adoption was more than she could bear.
Then it became clear to me—why I had that tremendous unconditional love for her, only a power greater than I, could know a person’s thoughts and anguish, one needing care, love, and people she could trust with her child. My spirit connected with hers, as God knew I’d become her child’s mother. My what if turned into a life altering, faith building challenge of reaching into the heart of another only to be honored with the gift and job of raising her child, a thought that never crossed my mind. 
In acting upon my what if we received the gift of a friend, a child, and now 23 years later, the blessing gift of two beautiful grandchildren.
Today Brianna is recovered and doing well. She will forever be bonded to our family.

(Names have been changed)

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