My ears perked up when I heard the announcement in our small Quaker meeting concerning a young Guatemalan boy, crippled from the effects of polio. He had been cleared to receive medical care in Portland and needed only a foster home for his time here. My husband had also wrestled with polio in 1952, so I was sensitized to the ravages of the disease and couldn’t stop thinking of the fellow.
At the time our ‘girl tribe’ ranged from four to fourteen with our house and lives completely full and overflowing. We consoled ourselves by committing to pray for this little guy hoping that some nice family with boys would take him in. For two weeks he danced in our minds and sat on our hearts. Out of curiosity one day, I called to find out what had transpired. “Praise God, you are the first people to call.” Oops…”We are just checking”. That night we discussed the situation. I was maxed out and so was my husband. If we became involved, everyone would have to pitch in. “His name is Elmer…We have to take him.” Our children were unanimous in their desire to mother, sister, experience, and pull this little boy into our lives.
So it came to pass. Elmer arrived with only the clothes on his back, a pencil, a notebook, and cursory medical/social history papers. We learned from these records that in Guatemala he helped his mother grind corn. They lived in a rented wooden shack with no electricity. His father was known to drink excessively and at such times would beat Elmer, as he was an extra mouth to feed. One of his legs was nonfunctional and the other had 60% usability. Quite adept with his handmade crutches, though, Elmer could move faster than most people run.
Daily he wore an ear-to-ear grin and a cheerful attitude fueled by the hope that he would return to Guatemala, able to walk unaided by crutches. He was grateful and helpful with incredible resourcefulness, through skills honed from living by meager means. Then, after six months, Elmer’s bubble of hope burst. Following reams of tests, prodding, poking, with endless consultations the doctors concurred that they could do nothing to help him. We were all heartbroken. With no other recourse we put him on a plane to Guatemala with a few extra pounds, a backpack, loads of memories “unfixed”… “unhealed.”
This time with our family had been marked by joy, sorrow, tension, exhaustion, tolerance/intolerance, stretching, learning, love and disappointment. I questioned God on the purpose of it all and found little resolve but that Elmer impacted and penetrated each of us on different levels in unique ways. The light of this young smiling crippled boy exposed the petty in each of us…for me, the rougher, miserly, ungrateful edges of my thinking and living.
A few months later we received a phone call from Healing the Children, asking if we would consider fostering a Korean baby girl needing open heart surgery. The family assembled to discuss it. “A baby Korean girl? We have to take her!” chimed the girls unanimously.