Adult Christian Fiction
by Debra K. Matthews

[Deb's picture]

This story is based on a make-believe scenario we were presented in an adoption class. At the end of the session, after we had all presented our best ideas of what to do, we were told that children like the infant in this story will usually die no matter what is done.

The hopelessness of those words haunted me all the way home, causing me to grieve deeply and to pray earnestly for all children in similar situations. And as I most often do when confronted with things beyond my ability, I began to sing worship songs to the Lord, drawing close to Him to let His presence into my heart where He could teach me and guide me into whatever answers He had. It was during that worship and prayer that the very unusual "idea" in this story came to me.

(Note: Story is entirely fictional. Resemblances to any
real person, living or dead, are strictly coincidental.)

"Last Chance"
A Foster Care Story

Copyright © 1999 by Debra K. Matthews. All rights reserved

Janet turned in despair from the bathroom mirror. The circles under her eyes were growing darker day by day, evidence of the deep concern eating at her.

She walked back into her bedroom and looked down at the small infant asleep in the crib, dreading getting him up for his feeding. The words of the CPS caseworker haunted her. "It may be too late," she had said. "We may not have found him in time. ... He could still die. ... All you can do is love him and hope he responds before it's too late."

She reread the caseworker's report:

Four-month-old Alex weighed six pounds three ounces at birth, and now weighs eight pounds one ounce. He has spent most of his days and nights in his crib on a plain white sheet. There were no toys in the crib. His bedroom was connected to his parents' room. His mother reported that he was a good baby and cried very little. When people were in his room he laid quietly in bed as though asleep but with eyes open. When picked up he was limp and didn't cuddle; neither did he make many sounds. The mother also said that he was easy to feed. She just propped the bottle on his pillow.

Now, the good baby was in Janet's home, her first infant as a foster mother. "Total failure to thrive" was what the caseworker had called it. "He has basically shut down inside ... given up on life," she had explained. "Four months of being completely neglected have taken their toll on him. This child is dying inside."

Tears welled up in Janet's eyes as she looked down at him. She had tried everything. She had held him for hours at a time, fed him while holding him and rocking him. She had talked to him, sang to him, walked through the rooms of the house talking and showing him everything. Still he had laid limp in her arms. His efforts at eating were only half-hearted -- he would take a few weak sucks at the bottle and then just fall asleep.

Tears trickled down her cheeks as she turned and walked from the bedroom and into the family room.

"He could still die, even with all the love and care you can give him." The words echoed in her mind -- haunting her.

"No. It's not possible, Lord," she whispered. She closed her eyes as the words began to come in urgency. "All things are possible with you, Lord! Nothing is too hard for you. There has to be a way for you to still touch him and save him."

She opened her eyes and stared into the backyard, her brow knit in deep furrows. The cry of her heart was so vast, yet words failed her.

She turned back again and walked slowly to her rocking chair. She sank wearily into it, and started rocking gently. As her eyes filled with tears again, she began to softly sing: "Lord, You are, more precious than silver. ... Lord, You are ... more costly than gold ..."

She sang the songs of worship, and let the Lord's peace begin to move in her heart, easing the pain. She basked in His presence, singing long and tenderly, until there were no words left. She continued rocking for awhile, eyes closed as though in sleep. When she opened her eyes, the weariness was gone, and her thoughts clear. She stopped rocking and looked into the night air in front of her, waiting -- expecting.

Hypothermia, came the quiet thought. "Hypothermia?" She puzzled over the word, thinking of what she had learned about it over the years. Hypothermia was when the body's core temperature dropped dangerously low. All the blood drew back from the extremities and tried to stay around the vital organs, trying to keep them warm -- or something like that. However it worked, it was life-threatening. The body basically started shutting down, withdrawing into itself until death resulted.

It's like Alex's little spirit is in hypothermia, she thought. He's shutting out the world -- shutting down inside, and slowly dying.

A picture formed in her mind of outdoor first aid. When stuck in the wilderness, away from medical facilities, you treated hypothermia by getting the victim undressed and into a sleeping bag with another person, also undressed. A warm body against the victim's body was the most effective immediate way of rewarming the victim.

She pondered that for a few minutes, and then another picture formed in her mind. What is it they do nowadays in the hospital with newborns? She pictured the doctor placing the freshly cleaned infant on his mother's bare abdomen. Bonding, they called it.

Alex needs to bond, she thought. His little spirit is shutting down from lack of warmth, a lack of that first love and nurturing. His mother hadn't cuddled him or held him close to her in those first precious weeks! They hadn't bonded at all, and now his little life was ebbing away.

Janet remembered studies done in orphanages in war-torn countries -- and other studies done with little spider monkeys -- where babies who weren't held, loved and cuddled eventually died. Babies have to be held and cuddled! They can't survive without it.

She stood up and went over to the sliding glass doors to close the drapes. A plan now firmly imprinted in her mind, she turned and headed for the hall closet near her room. Opening the door quietly, she pulled a large soft blanket down from a shelf, then took it back into the family room and draped it like a cover over the rocking chair seat, arms and just over the top.

Next she prepared his bottle. She made it plenty hot, knowing it would cool off while she was getting everything else ready, and then set it next to the rocker. She dimmed the lights a little and then headed for her bedroom.

Back in her room, she stripped from the waist up, and then put on a loose, warm flannel pajama top and her fleece robe. She went to the tiny infant lying so helpless in his crib, removed his pajamas and changed his diaper. She lifted him quietly and carried him into the family room. She sat carefully down in the rocking chair and laid the infant in her lap while she checked the temperature of the bottle. Just right, she thought.

Janet set the bottle down again and then settled back against the back of the chair. She unbuttoned her pajama top and slid her arms out of the sleeves, careful to keep the pajamas from falling off her shoulders. Then she reached up and pulled the blanket down around her shoulders and arms.

Alex opened his eyes listlessly as she picked him up again and cradled him in the crook of her arm. "Alex, you and I are going to do this bonding thing that you missed out on with your real mommy, but this time we're going to get your heavenly Father involved, too. And it's His love -- and His power -- that's going to make it work for us."

Janet gently nestled the diapered little infant up against her bare chest. "I'm afraid there's not much padding for you," she said regretfully, "but it's the best I can do."

At first he felt cold and limp against her, his eyes staring unseeingly. She shifted him up a little, and hugged him closer. Gently stroking his little cheek, she smiled down at him and started telling him how much he was loved.

"I love you little one. And God loves you so very much, too. Open your heart and let us in." She closed her eyes and began to pray for him as she rocked him gently.

"Father, Alex is one of your children. You brought him into this world, and I know you love him. You sent your son to give him life -- wonderful, abundant, and meaningful. I know it's not your will that he perish. I ask, Father, let him live. Reach into his tiny little heart and warm it -- restore life to it -- open it up to receive your love -- and mine -- in Jesus' name I pray. Amen."

Janet lightly touched the baby's lips with the nipple end of the bottle as she spoke to him softly. His lips parted slightly and let the nipple in, his eyes still looking dark and empty. He made no effort to drink, just let her lightly touch his tongue with it.

"Jesus loves you, this I know ...," Janet sang softly. "For the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong; they are weak but He is strong ..."

She sang long and tenderly, and after what seemed like hours the dark little eyes began to slowly focus on her. His little hand reached up in an awkward jerking motion and came to rest on the bottle. He closed his mouth around the nipple, and started to drink -- at first lightly, and then more strongly.

Janet smiled down at him and continued rocking and singing -- softly and tenderly. She felt the Lord's love and presence in the room, comforting her and bringing new life into the baby's little eyes.

Alex stopped drinking for a moment and his eyes focused more on his foster mother's face. He sucked on the bottle a while longer and then let it slip from his mouth as his little eyelids started to slowly droop.

Janet set the bottle quietly on the table beside her and leaned the rocker farther back as the little infant turned slightly and seemed to cuddle closer to her chest -- then his little eyelids slowly closed and he fell into a peaceful sleep.

Janet pulled the blanket closer around the two of them and rocked slowly. "You're going to be all right now, little one. By God's grace and power, you're going to be all right." She closed her eyes and let the Lord's love envelope them both. "Thank you, Lord," she whispered softly.


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Updated December 24, 1999