The home that I’m staying in tonight is located in rural Iowa. It belongs to my aunt and uncle and I’m here with my parents for a family reunion. It’s one of the most beautiful homes I’ve ever had the privilege of staying in. It’s an old farmhouse surrounded by barns and out buildings. Some of those buildings house a few animals – a couple goats, a few ducks, some chickens, dogs and cats. Once it was a working farm with cows and pigs and crops, but my aunt and uncle have retired from farming.
It’s hard for me to describe this home adequately. On the outside it looks regular enough. You enter through a side door into a mud room with a wooden coat hanger and a place for muddy boots. Next is a dining room with a large, well-worn table and brown carpet. The kitchen, a long and narrow room with a few cabinets and some storage, is behind the dining room. The living room has large windows that overlook the beautiful countryside and give my aunt and uncle the ability to watch deer and other wild life as they wander through.
The bedroom I’m staying in tonight is what got me to thinking of the beauty of this home. The bedroom has a linoleum floor, two small beds with colorful, tropical fish themed comforters, and matching curtains. It has an old bureau with a mirror, a lamp clipped to the top of the mirror, and another lamp near the door. There are some hooks hanging from the wall that serve as a closet of sorts. The wall is blonde paneling and above the bed I’m sleeping in is a large wooden cross with praying hands in the center of it.
I brushed my teeth tonight before bed in the tiniest bathroom I’ve ever been in outside of an airplane. It is maybe two inches wider than me on either side and the light is on a pull chain. The electrical outlets won’t allow me to plug anything in because they aren’t three-pronged outlets.
The beauty of this old farmhouse struck me when I walked in the door tonight. Seated at the kitchen table was a young boy, perhaps twelve years old. He wore leg braces and didn’t stand to greet me. When we were introduced, he spoke with difficulty. My uncle was playing a card game with him. For the first thirty minutes I was here, I was able to observe my aunt and uncle interacting with the boy. They understood what he was saying, they treated him with dignity, and they laughed and joked with him. Soon it was time for my uncle to take the boy home.
The bedroom I’m sleeping in tonight was prepared with children in mind. Today the child that my aunt and uncle were caring for went home at the end of the day, but there have been countless children who have not been able to go home because their homes were not safe places. You see, my aunt and uncle have spent countless years of their lives as foster parents. To the best of my knowledge, they began 28 years ago by taking in a little blue-eyed, blonde girl who’d been neglected by her mother. They fell in love with her and adopted her. Today I know her simply as my cousin Devon.
Devon was the first in a long line of children for whom my aunt and uncle provided a home. She is the only one they adopted, but they continued to provide a home for needy children for many years. I’m sure putting a linoleum floor in a bedroom frequented by displaced children was the wisest thing to do. I can just imagine carpet with gum stuck to it and holes from the adventurous things children do.
They were given the most difficult cases over the years because they were able to achieve such tremendous results. I don’t know many details of the children who stayed here and what was accomplished because my aunt and uncle don’t talk about it much. It’s just something they have done.
My aunt and uncle are well into their sixties now and I don’t think they take in foster children any longer. These days they are licensed to work with special needs children. They provide care for children whose families need assistance. That is why my uncle was playing Skip Bo with the young boy I met today. His family needs help and they are providing it.
There’s a wall full of children’s pictures here. It tells the story of the children who have lived under this roof. The beauty of this home is in the love that resides here. The beauty of this home is in the way two people have chosen to give of themselves to help others. The beauty in this home is in the legacy they are leaving their grandchildren. Their oldest grandchild is now in college majoring in social work. They have made such an impact on me that I look forward to the day I can follow in their footsteps and bring hurting children into my home to help them, to show them love, to teach them responsibility, and to be the hands and feet of Christ to them.
My aunt and uncle seem to understand the command of Christ to care for the fatherless better than nearly anyone I know. I know that it has not been easy for them. Their hearts have broken many times. I have no doubt there have been times of great frustration and personal sacrifice. Yet they have continued to help. This is true religion. This is true beauty. I live near one of the wealthiest areas in the nation and am regularly in mini-mansions that are decorated with all the latest things. They are gorgeous and tasteful. They smell wonderful and have soft music playing in the background. But in an old farmhouse in rural Iowa, I have discovered true beauty. It is the beauty of a life well-spent. It is the beauty of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Thank you, Uncle Robert and Aunt Linda, for being the real thing. I am honored to call you family.
James 1:27 (ASV) – Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV) – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.