God comes first and foremost for this exceptional family
Walking up the long ramp to the attractive white house, my mind was filled with memories of the many years I have known this remarkable family.
George and Ann have had a mission they could never have envisioned. With a solid conviction that every child, no matter what, has a right to life, tender care, and whatever it takes to help him reach his full potential, they have adopted, over time, nine children with special needs. After providing foster care for a little girl for two years, they decided to adopt.
Their children range in age from four-year-old Holly to fifteen-year-old Martin. Their infirmities include but are not limited to Down syndrome, autism, dysphasia, fetal alcohol syndrome, vision, hearing and speech impediments, and the wide range of problems associated with maternal use of heroin and other street drugs.
Some of the children require wheelchairs, some specially designed strollers, and some other mobility devises.
“We all go to Mass”
In this multi-racial family, only one thing is simple. “We all go to Mass.” Sitting by the fireplace with Ann, I drew a deep breath. “It must be a daunting task to get your family ready for the Sunday 10:00 o’clock Mass. What is it like when you are getting your family ready for church?” Ann smiled in agreement. “We have a well-established routine. At 6:30, our nurse begins waking and bathing the little ones. Then she supervises baths for the older ones. George and I are flexible, take turns, and allow our roles to overlap. One of us prepares breakfast, including special dietary needs, as well as feeds those who cannot feed themselves. Two have special formulas and are tube fed.
Meanwhile, the other one lays out “Sunday-best” clothes and helps dress the children, makes beds, as well as checks wheelchairs, strollers, and portable oxygen equipment. Diaper bags must be packed for any minor catastrophe. Hearing aids and glasses must be properly utilized. Finally, outdoor clothing must be donned for the chilly morning air.
My face must have betrayed my awe and bewilderment, for Ann laughed.
“By 9:15, we are ready to board the minibus. Walkers go in first. The automatic lift is utilized for strollers and wheelchairs. Car-seat riders are strapped securely in place. The nurse and I take our seats. George drives us to the little country church.
At the handicapped parking space, the procedure is reversed. Martin mans a stroller. George and I and the nurse bring wheelchairs and another stroller.
Some of the children remain in their conveyances, for church pews are not kind to their fragile bodies.”
Soon all are in their places in a front pew or parked beside it. Sign language is evident as winter wraps are removed, oxygen tubes adjusted, and noses wiped.
The adults begin to focus on the altar.
The children are never noisy, but soon the fun begins!
As Father Jerry and the deacon process down the center aisle with the gathering song, George glances around. Caleb has slid down in his stroller; he is repositioned and his oxygen tube adjusted. Alice finds the readings a bit boring and she makes a beeline for the bathroom. It is boring there, too, so she returns in a leisurely fashion.
As our deacon begins to read the Gospel, Timothy decides to join Father Jerry at his chair. Nurse frustrates his attempt. Tim bides his time.
When all are focused on the deacon and the Gospel, Tim again makes a break to join Father. This time he succeeds. Sitting serenely in his chair, Father puts his arm around Tim for a few minutes before sending him back to his family.
This innovative way of celebrating the Eucharist does not seem to upset our beloved pastor. He takes any distractions from these young ones in his stride. “All are welcome in God’s house. Come to the Eucharist.”
The petitions are being read as two little boys hold an impromptu love fest. Moved to different pew spaces and judiciously seated between three adults, they are again under gentle control. At the other end of the pew, two small children remain quiet. Intent on the homily, George misses a youngster who decided to go exploring. She is brought back by a kindly parishioner. Ann’s nimble fingers give the youngster instruction. Through the Mass, Ann and their nurse sign the liturgy.
As the choir music and the singing of the congregation fill the little church, Lindy gets to her feet. Swaying to the music, her expression is one of sheer delight as she prays with her whole body. We should experience such joy as she does in those brief moments. She has found a way, a place, and a time to break through her deafness. No one makes any attempt to stop her.
Before the offertory, Father invites the children to bring up gifts of food and care items for less fortunate people. A steady stream of smiling children fills the waiting baskets with their gifts. As they return to their places, they pass by Father and the deacon in their chairs. These two beloved holy men get enthusiastic “high fives,” loving hand clasps, or smart swats on their outstretched palms. A petite five-year-old gives Father a shy hug. As he tenderly returns her embrace, I am reminded of Jesus’ words: “Let the children come unto me for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
As the final song is being sung, Lindy is again on her feet dancing her prayer of joy.
Jackets and caps are donned and the minibus reloaded. By noon, the family is home.
Every child of God deserves love
Believing that every child deserves to be loved and nurtured as long as life on earth lasts, Ann and George have taken into their hearts and home some children with very brief life expectancies. Each time, superlative care has prolonged life far beyond what they had been prepared to expect.
Three times, a child who had lived years instead of weeks has been called home to be whole with his Creator.
Ann’s eyes filled with tears as she cradled little Holly in her arms as we talked. Holly is slowly losing her struggle for life in spite of all medical science can do. “At least she will know in Heaven that she was loved and cherished for more than three years. We knew from the beginning she could not live to grow up.”
Some of the young people are involved in Special Olympics, skiing, bowling, and bicycling. Martin has a nurturing personality and the physical ability to work in a rest home.
Most of the young people will live out their lives, whether short or long, with twenty-four-hour care. Each is recognized as a child of God, and respected and loved as such. This is evident in the open affection and respect the diverse members of this family show for each other. One thing’s for sure. For as long as God allows these family members to live together, they will all be at Mass on Sunday.