Saturday, April 14, 2007

Compass Point #9 What's Christian about family values?

This past Easter Sunday our church offered up a wonderful brunch between worship services, featuring what I considerd award winning egg and sausauge casseroles. I told the Presbyterian church I serve that if they weren't careful about it, they'd be rivaling the Lutherans pretty soon and our next target would be the tuna hot dish casserole competition. They laughed. We all enjoyed the food and fellowship.

At one table I noticed four generations of a family gathered together. Now you don't see that everyday. Great-grandmother Evelyn was in town from out of state. I could tell she was greatly loved. Her daughter had shared a newspaper article about her mom after a recent sharing time in worship, when I asked people to say something about people who had shaped their faith. "I want you to read this about my mom," was the comment I heard as a copy of an old newspaper article was handed to me after worship. It was a moving story about her mom and dad and the difference their lives made to foster children through the years.

Evelyn and her husband Roy began caring for foster children in 1945 stated the newspaper article I was reading. The article also showed them at their kitchen table, with a pile of pictures spread out. Here's what I read:

"Children's faces-infants, toddlers, teenagers, spill over the table s the graying grandmother picks through them, a collection going back 37 years. There are hundreds of pictures but for every face there is a name and a special memory" 'This is Maggie, the first little girl we had...Bob, we had him the longest, 10 years...These are the five babies under 2 that we had at one time. I had just dressed them to go to church.' Eddie, Judy, Danny, Butch, Susan, Penny, Jane, Joey- the names, more than 800--go on and on."

Evelyn and Roy ended up providing care for 823 children. The governor of South Dakota issued a special proclamation noting their service quite a few years back, commending them "for opening their home and their hearts in lifetime labors of unusual understanding, uncommon devotion, and unbounded love to the young people of South Dakota."

Their foster children came from family backgrounds that included abuse, alcoholism, mental illness, economic hardship, parent separations and other problems. "We had children with physical problems too," said Evelyn, citing allergies, cleft palate, impetigo, respiratory disease and a child who had been accidentally burned.

I think of my own three sons and how it was, shall we say, occasionally stressful to deal with certain issues, like ear-aches or banged up shins from a soccer game , and I marvel at the capacity for love and care that Evelyn and her husband Roy shared. In the article, Roy (who is now deceased) remarked: "When I went to work in the morning I never knew how many children would be there when I got home at night."

Evelyn tells about one young boy named Bob who came to them as a youthful gang leader. "I hesitated at first, but then I thought, what if he was my son." "At first he was always getting in trouble at school and I made many trips to the principal's office." Young Bob lived with Roy and Evelyn until he was 19, finishing high school and college. Some years later he brought his wife and two sons back for a visit with Roy and Evelyn, "to meet the people who raised me," he said.

I thought about that story as I sat down for a visit on Easter Sunday with a four generation family table. This is what it looks like to be a Christian. I'm rather dubious when I hear that contested phrase "family values" used in political and religious circles, but if I had to venture a description it would look something like the families shaped by Roy and Evelyn.

"Who are my mother and my brothers?" Jesus asked. And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." (Mark 3: 33-35)


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