As Lola Bellflower sits before the young man in the wheelchair, she holds up two shirts. The young man has trouble controlling his head, so he does not frequently make eye contact. The curvature of his spine twists his body. He cannot walk or take care of his most basic needs. He can only say a few words. His hands curl close to his chest.
“Daniel*, which one do you want to wear today?”
As she patiently waits, Daniel’s eyes focus first on one shirt, then on the other. He reaches out his hand and touches the blue one.
“Blue is his favorite color,” Lola says with a smile. “He’ll always pick blue if it’s one of the choices.”
Lola’s smile is one of the first things you notice when you visit her home.
“Oh, some days are hard. I get up some mornings feeling sorry for myself, having a pity party. Then I walk in one of their rooms, and they smile, and all their love fills me. It’s like the whole world opens up, ” says Lola as her smile fills the room with her joy.
Did you catch that part about “their rooms”? Yes, Lola has two special needs boys in her home. Lola has been Daniel’s foster mother for more than 11 years. Three years ago, she adopted Gabe, who is blind, wheelchair bound and primarily non-verbal.
Does it sound daunting? Lola admits she has had her doubts about her ability to manage this life. She recalls the day Daniel was placed with her. She and her daughter drove to the Lutheran Services of Georgia office in Rome to complete the placement paperwork and bring him home. He was 9 years old and weighed only 35 pounds. He had not been receiving his medications appropriately, so he had almost continuous seizures. On the way home, Lola’s daughter said, “Mama, we’ve bitten off more than we can chew.”
By the time they got home, Lola was so upset and full of fear, she ran crying into the house and told her husband, Jerry, she thought she had made a mistake. Her husband (since deceased) asked if she thought she could take care of Daniel. Lola said, “Give me six months to get him stable.”
Lola never looked back. Today, she is proud to report that Daniel’s seizures are under control, and he is a vital part of her family. Many of us would say Lola has worked wonders for the children in her care, but she sees it differently.
“I have learned so much from them about coping with hard times. They give so much back to me. And every tiny achievement is like Christmas!”
She recalls how Daniel suddenly started speaking when he was 14 years old. “We figured he would never speak, but one day my husband walked into the room, and he called out, ‘Caw-caw!’ Our kids all called him Paw-paw, but that’s the closest Daniel could get. Now, if he’s awake at night, I’ll hear him in his room. First he’ll sort of grunt, but I try not to answer because it’s bed time. If I don’t say anything, he’ll say ‘Lola!’ If I still don’t say anything, he’ll say ‘Hello Lola!’ Then, I can’t help it, I’ll say, ‘OK, Daniel, I’m here, time to go to sleep’.”
Lola looks at her life like a map. She can look back and trace God’s hand, leading her from one point to the next. As a child, she was placed in a foster home and was later adopted by her foster parents, so she understands the struggles foster children face. As an adult, she was hired at Northwest Regional Hospital and was assigned to a unit with severe disabilities.
“On my first day, if I could have figured out how to get out of that building, I would have left, but I couldn’t find the exit. By the time my shift was over, I had fallen in love, so I kept working there. God put me there to show me I could help these children, so later, when we got into foster care, it was easier to take children with medical needs,” says Lola
There is a foster care crisis in our state. Lola Bellflower is doing what she can to meet the need. To those contemplating becoming foster parents, Lola says, “Jump in with both feet! Each child is a gift, and they need your help. But you need them, too. The rewards are exceedingly great.”
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.