Luke's big blue eyes stared up at her and a sideways grin lit up his face revealing his perfectly formed baby teeth. When her wrinkle-framed eyes met his the result was electrifying joy. Not a sentimental feeling that comes and goes, but joy so concrete you want to reach out and touch it.
Calvin and I sat next to them in MOVE group (Movement Opportunities Via Education) at a special education school. We'd gotten to know Luke and Sandy through the months as we worked on creating any sort of progress with our little ones.
I remembered when I first met Luke. He was so compellingly beautiful and simultaneously difficult to look upon. It wasn't just because of the hole in his throat providing a way for a trach tube. It wasn't just because his head was small like Calvin's. It wasn't even because he had to be suctioned every few minutes to keep from choking. It was the invisible sign I saw every time I looked at him. It read, SOMEONE DID THIS TO ME.
Luke had been abused. Shaken by his father over fifty times over a few weeks. The last time he was shaken until he went limp. His father's frustration and rage needed an outlet often, and Luke was there. By the time the ambulance arrived at the hospital he was flat-lined. He had been shaken so badly that the back part of his brain died. How do you tell a child you're sorry? How do you grapple with his loss? And what good does it even do for him?
And that's why I couldn't look at him. Instead I wrestled with God, why didn't You protect him? Couldn't you have stopped it? I fought my own demons too remembering times when my frustration flooded my own words and actions. The same root was in me, it just hadn't grown so large. We are a sorry lot, this broken humanity, full of our own sinful stench and blaming God for it.
Over the weeks my eyes turned back to the pair often. Not in horror. But in growing wonder at the living picture of God's grace right next to me. The picture of someone taking someone so broken, so violated, so needy and giving him dignity, love, pieces of herself. It seemed impossible to see such beauty growing and overflowing in such dismal circumstances.
"God has a plan for this boy," she said emphatically, "there's a reason he survived. When I saw his story in the paper I said, Lord, somebody needs to love that child. Two weeks later I got a call asking if we would take Luke. It was like God saying to me, yes, someone needs to love this child, how about you? When we went up to the hospital we weren't expecting to see such a beautiful boy. He was just breathtaking." Sandy and her husband weren't new to this, they've been a safe haven for over 60 kids.
Sandy and I simulated "playing ball" between Luke and Calvin. "How do you do his trach tube? Do you have nursing care?" I asked. "No, we'd rather take care of him ourself. We've learned how to care for his tracheotomy, we change it once a week. We lay him back on the counter and let his head lower and we put the new tube in," she stated matter-of-fact. It made my stomach hurt. "We want to give him the best love and care we possibly can. We're too old to adopt him so we need to do what we can, while we can," Sandy said.
She paused to look down at Luke and catch his eyes. Joy again. This time I was humbled. Humbled to see God's restoring hand in real life, in real people. Isn't this what He does with sinners? He gives them love and life; He gives salvation in Jesus to desperately needy and helpless people who can do nothing but receive it.
It was time to leave therapy, we packed up our boys together and headed out into the cold sunshine-filled day. "I admire you," I said as we neared the parking lot. Sandy responded, "God has a purpose for this, just like he does for Calvin. Who knows what God is preparing you for, maybe someday you'll be a foster mom too."
Luke and Sandy loaded up in their mini-van and were soon gone. But the picture they created of restoration and grace will never leave.