Mason in chair_crop2You are Perfect | Fall 2015 Spotlight | “Sing with me, ‘Bubby.’ ”

Lorraine is talking to Mason, a small boy seated in a wheelchair, and his mouth opens wide as Dolly Parton croons one of their favorite songs on the radio.

Mason is “singing” that he loves Lorraine “From Here to the Moon and Back.” He makes no sound, but Lorraine knows what he means, and she takes his hands in hers and says, “Well, we’re going to dance.” He opens his mouth wider, signaling happiness as he “dances” still seated in his wheelchair.

Mason is the first medically fragile child Lorraine has mothered in her 30-plus years as a foster parent, but there’ve been many others with various needs. Dozens of foster children have lived in the home she shares with her husband, Joe—10 of whom they adopted—plus two of their own.

Each one of those children, like Mason, is perfect, Lorraine says. “You have to let them know, ‘You are perfect, just the way you are,” Lorraine says. “It may be that I have one toe less than you, but God created your body, and He doesn’t make any mistakes. So if He doesn’t make any mistakes, you’re perfect. He made you that way for a reason.’ ”

Mason“You are perfect.”

Lorraine and Joe have been foster parents since the 1980s, but they felt called five years ago to care for medically fragile children. They became licensed through Methodist Home for Children and in June 2013, they agreed to foster Mason, a boy with cerebral palsy. They knew he hadn’t been well fed or cared for by his birth family, and he’d been hospitalized for dehydration.

Still, they were shocked after driving three hours to find a child with such enormous needs. Mason was 6 years old and weighed 29 pounds. He couldn’t swallow food, fluids or medicine on his own, so he was fed with a gastrostomy tube into his stomach. He had no control over his body and no ability to communicate.

His arms and legs thrashed and his eyes, unfocused, swished back and forth like windshield wipers. He was unable to see certain colors or objects at certain angles. He had no control over his bladder or bowels, requiring diapers.

“He was just there,” says Ashely Carico, his foster care specialist. “He wasn’t doing anything. He was just lying there. His eyes didn’t seem to focus.”

After a quick lesson on using the G-tube, Lorraine and Joe drove Mason home and wondered what they’d gotten into. “When we got back, we closed the door and we had Mason inside in his little wheelchair. We looked at this little fellow with all of his needs. He needed to be taken care of. So one of my teenagers says, ‘What do we do?’ The other says, ‘Mama, how are we going to set him up?’ And we just took off and figured it out.”

The family stayed at home, inside, for most of that summer—so much so that the neighbors began to ask if they were OK. Out of view, Lorraine and Joe were getting to know Mason and methodically taking stock of his needs.

Lorraine called an MHC case manager and listed the resources she’d need. Equipment—the right wheelchair, positioning chair, stander. Medical evaluations and therapy—speech, physical and occupational. “I said, ‘We need neurology, urology, eye doctors. Every doctor for every system there is to get him up and running, to get him on the healthy side.’”

The resources arrived, including a home health nurse, and Lorraine’s family pitched in to help. One child would sing to Mason, another would read to him. Another would play with him on the floor or help him change positions. In September, he had surgery to correct a problem with his hip socket.

After a year with Lorraine and Joe, Mason has more than doubled his weight. He’s 7 now and weighs 60 pounds. He can communicate, and his progress has given his caregivers a glimpse into his personality. For one thing, he can smile. “The cerebral palsy really affects all of his muscles, but you can tell when he’s happy,” Ashely says. “He actually has a laugh. He laughs.”

The words “Tim McGraw” make him laugh, although nobody knows why. He likes books about animals, especially puppies, and riding over wide speed bumps in the car.

“It’s like slow motion,” Lorraine says. “I ride across a bump, his mouth is wide open and he’s kicking his little feet because he’s happy. Then I go turn around in the parking lot, and we go across those speed bumps again. Turn around, go back. So after I do that three times, we can go do what we need to do.”

If he’s unhappy about something, he’ll push out his bottom lip, and he can use his right arm to maneuver Lorraine away if she’s blocking his view of PAW Patrol, his favorite TV show, while she’s brushing his hair or teeth.

This summer, Mason said his first word: “Mama.”

It’s been rewarding to watch Mason learn to interact with people, Ashely says. “Just because he can’t talk, you get the idea that he doesn’t know what’s going on around him. But the more you’re with him, the more you suspect he understands a lot. I think he’s got more intellect than anybody thought.”

But the work is grueling, and it’s required Lorraine and Joe to sacrifice family time with their children and grandchildren. No matter how hard you think their days and nights may be—they’re actually harder, Ashely says. Nothing can be done quickly; not feeding, bathing, diapering or even leaving the house.

Lorraine accepts help when it’s offered, and she sees God’s hand at work in Mason’s life. “He came into our lives for a reason. So we just need to do the work that God asks us to do,” she says. “I said to all of the agencies that work with us, as long as you give me the tools to work with, we are going to take care of him. We love him.”