By Daris Howard
It was my second Thanksgiving far from home. I was invited to dinner by a family that I dearly loved. Norma, the mother, was a wonderful lady. Though she was blind, nothing much slowed her down. She ran her home with efficiency and precision.
But there was something else that made her more amazing. She had eight children; four had mental handicaps, and the other four had physical handicaps. Each mentally challenged child was paired with a physically challenged child. Together they became a team. The mentally capable children would direct their physically able sibling. Together they could accomplish things neither could do alone.
When I asked Norma about her family, she told me her story. When they were young, she and her husband, Tom, had fallen in love and had married. They both loved children and couldn’t wait for their first baby to come along. But just about that time, both Norma and Tom contracted a terrible disease.
It was a disease that very often took a person’s life. Though Norma and Tom both survived, each lost their sight. As devastating as that was, the fact that they would no longer be able to have children was even more disappointing to them.
After they learned to deal with their loss of sight, they decided that it was time to try to adopt some children. But every agency that they approached about adoption felt that it would be impossible for two blind parents to raise a child, and they were always turned down.
Finally they applied to be foster parents. At first the state would not place any children in their home. But one day Norma received a call. There was a young child that had a handicap, and the state couldn’t get anyone else to take her. Norma jumped at the chance. Though the state only meant it to be temporary, Norma and Tom showed they were very capable and, in fact, their own handicaps gave them more understanding and patience. It wasn’t too long before the state allowed them to adopt Tina.
One after another, each time the state had a child that no one else wanted, Norma and Tom would take the child into their home, love them, and eventually receive permission to adopt them. And thus their family grew.
Then, due to complications from the disease, Tom’s health started to fail. His passing was a great loss to the family, and the state was concerned whether Norma would be able to handle all of the children on her own. She informed them that her children were more important to her than anything else in her life, and she would be fine. As the state monitored the situation, they agreed, and, in fact, even allowed her to adopt one more child to round out her family.
Little Emily was the last, and was only six years old when she came into this unique family. She was a downs syndrome girl. In her young life she had been in home after home, some for less than a month, and none for more than a couple. By Thanksgiving she had been in Norma’s home for almost a year, and for the first time in her life she had found consistency and security.
As the final touches for dinner were being finished, Norma invited me to read some stories to the children. Little Emily climbed on my lap, and all of the other children gathered around. I read some Bible stories appropriate for the season, as I felt that in this home there was a spirit truly representative of that day.
When we gathered around the table, as was their tradition, each person shared what he or she was most grateful for. When it was Emily’s turn, she turned to look at Norma, and she smiled a smile Norma couldn’t even see. And with that she spoke words I will never forget.
“I’m grateful for a momma that loves me.”
Tears poured down Norma’s face. It doesn’t take seeing eyes to know love.