Michigan’s fall colors dressed each side of the highway as we trekked across the state once more. I thought of my son in the row behind me and how we had made this same trip to the family reunion one year earlier. It had been his first time; the shyness pulling his hood down to conceal his face. I reflected on so many firsts we had witnessed over the past five years: first Christmases, first birthdays, first Easters. We had the joys of seeing them for so many children. But this year, we felt the unfathomable power of something we had never experienced before: seconds.

As foster parents waiting for our forever family, we have been privileged to more numerous firsts than most families enjoy. Yet, so often, the celebrations end there. The happiest Easter is followed by the loneliest. Pages in a scrapbook unfold to reveal the birthday hat your squealing one-year-old wore twelve months ago. It hurts. So all the more of a blessing it has been this year to witness our children’s second birthdays, second Easters, second summer vacations, and soon, their second Christmases with us. It makes us start to believe there will be thirds, fourths, fiftieths, and more.

It feels a morbid thought, but I sometimes wonder who will be at my deathbed. Who might hold my hand to help me across. I pray my children will surround me, even those not with us yet. Seeing them would provide the ultimate confirmation that we made it together. That we stayed a family despite all odds.

Our little drive to the reunion and back was nothing extraordinary. Enjoyable and wonderful as always to come back together and share the joys and sorrows since our last meeting. But, coming home, I was filled with hope that the children in my car could be the ones to carry on this sacred gathering long after the rest of us are gone.

The reunion has passed, the apple crisp well-enjoyed, and we wait to see each other again next October. For now, we turn attention to our children’s second Halloween, the pride rising in us from how wonderful they will look in their second costumes. There is no single word to express all that is inside, but three come close: Thank you, God.


We’re All a Part

We see the passing of another birthday for a child no longer with us. Still alive, but growing up in another home: the first little girl we loved and raised for a year as foster parents. She has been gone for nearly three years, but it still hurts, still brings tears. Yet, there are reminders that, even though we may feel the loss the greatest, we are not alone in our pain. These children connected with our family and left holes in their hearts, too.

My father-in-law recently ran into another child we cared for over the course of eleven months. This boy had come to know him as grandpa and called us mommy and daddy. He saw my father-in-law pass by in a store and called out “Hi!” My father-in-law returned the greeting, but didn’t recognize our son. It wasn’t until he was nearly home that he realized who it had been. He started to cry as he relayed the story to us. I know how much it hurt that he was so close and missed an opportunity to tarry and maybe even get a hug. He apologized for the mistake. There was nothing to apologize to us for. How can you apologize for loving a child too much?

Our daughter had as strong of an impact on our family. So many nights we stayed up praying for her. I wonder how many hours the whole family lost to prayer. At my stepfather’s reading chair, there sits a small round end table with her photo. I couldn’t take my eyes off it the first time I saw it there; after she had left. Three years later, it’s still there. The same little smile and big round eyes. Sometimes, I fear the day when the photo will no longer be relevant and it will be replaced with something else. Such a thought may only prove how little I realize she is loved by my family. I forget, we’re all a part in this.

A few times each year, a new child enters into our home. Most of them take a piece of our hearts–all our hearts–when they leave. And somehow, our family is always the same. They never keep our kids at arm’s length for fear of being hurt once more. Instead, they greet our kids with a smile and say, “Call us grandma and grandpa!”

The Handprint Guitar

There is something special about children’s prints. That’s why we stamp their feet on birth certificates and give our moms plaster castings of our palms. These prints represent some of the most detailed parts of our outer bodies and symbolize touch. It is, I think, about connectedness. A reminder of the little people we love.

Recently, I decided that I wanted one such reminder of a special little girl on my guitar. Unfortunately, the only relevant experience I have was the time I basically ruined my first electric guitar with a can of green spraypaint and the wood floors I refinished (pretty successfully) over a year ago. This project required a little more thought and delicacy. I started searching and the closest I got was this. Many other threads suggested custom decals over paint. But, like I said, there is something special about touch. I wanted this handprint to be a spot she had physically touched. Not a printed-out replica of something else she touched. After about a week of searching and a conversation with someone who has experience with paints and finishes, I decided to just dive in and do it my own way, right or wrong.

The challenge was, I did not want to refinish the entire guitar. All I wanted to do was add a handprint over top of what was already there. Someone had suggested putting the handprint right over top of the current finish and then sealing it in with several new layers of finish on just that side. I liked this idea since it didn’t require getting down to paint or bare wood. However, I did not (and still do not) know what type of finish was used on the guitar. Searches on the model turned up nothing. So, I thought something like Minwax’s Polycrylic would work. At least I had a new can sitting around. I also had some acrylic paint and figured this would work too. I certainly wanted to avoid the cleanup required with an oil-based paint on a small child’s hand. The biggest advantage I had was that I wanted the print on the back of the guitar. After all, this print is just for me. No one else needs to see it while I play. By targeting the back, I figured that as long as I did not put a hole through my guitar, any mistakes should not matter.

So, I pulled out a Mouse-type orbital sander and some 120 grit sandpaper and got to work. That was scary. I just sanded enough to make sure there was enough abrasion to allow the paint and finish to adhere. This was the point of no return and I was really (really, really, REALLY!) hoping it would work.

The back of my guitar, lightly sanded

You will notice that I also put painter’s tape around the edge. I took this off after applying the first coat of finish so it would not be forever-sealed to the guitar. I never put any back on after that because I am a cheapskate. However, putting more on with each application would probably have been better.

The next step was to get a waking child to cooperate with the printing portion of the project. For mother’s day, I had made a silicone mold of her hand while she was asleep. That was a much better strategy. Although she was more than happy to slap her hand in the paint while awake, opening her palm and putting it just so was a bit of a challenge. But, it finally worked. Then, we had to clean her up… and everything she touched. Anyway, the hard part was over. The handprint was not “perfect,” but its imperfections were everything I had hope for.

After letting the handprint dry for a couple hours, I applied the first layer of Polycrylic with a synthetic brush. Since I was only refinishing one side of the guitar, spray-on finish seemed like a bad idea. I applied a new layer every two hours per the directions on the can but kept having to sand away bubbles. Some quick research gave me two new pieces of wisdom: 1.) Do not wipe off excess finish from the brush (instead, tap the brush on the can if needed), and 2.) Use a technique called tipping off to even out the finish and remove bubbles. Tipping off is simply going over the finish with a brush in one direction to smooth things out. I had already done this without knowing the term, but someone suggested using a dry brush instead of the brush I was already using. The dry brush did the trick. I used a moist paper towel to wipe excess finish off the edges and sides.

After six layers of Polycrylic, I called it good. There are still some spots I want to go over later (maybe with someone more experienced). But, in general, the project seems a success. I am surprised and grateful at how well it turned out.

My guitar has been special to me since I first received it. Now, it is sacred.