Room at the Inn

Dad and Mom always had space in their home and their hearts for others.

Whenever I come to the part in the Christmas story where there was no room at the inn for Mary and Joseph, I think of my parents. Mary and Joseph should have knocked at our door!

For as long as I can remember, my father and mother always had room in their home and in their hearts for others. First it was a brother who needed to live in town to go to high school. Later, friends of our family had a daughter who needed the same help. I also remember a sick missionary who recuperated at our house.

When five of us children were living at home and the baby was only eighteen months old, my parents became aware of a family of eight children with no father and no money. Because of severe problems, the courts ruled to put all but the two youngest children in an orphanage. But my parents stepped in. My parents received permission to bring home five of the children, and another Church member volunteered to take in the oldest daughter.

At the time, I didn’t realize what a sacrifice my parents were making. We children frequently got into arguments—with all of “us” on one side and all of “them” on the other. The stress of the situation finally made my mother ill. But by the time the doctor told her that the children should stay no longer, their own mother had had time to arrange her life, and the judge let the children return home to live with her.

Then there was the little old lady—forgotten and sick with loneliness. Did they visit her, take her flowers, and send her cards? No. They again opened up their hearts and their home. They fixed up a room in our house so that she could live with us and be self-sufficient. Sometimes she was hard to get along with, but my parents’ love reached far enough to overcome that, too.

My father served as either a branch president or a bishop for many years. I can’t count the times he brought destitute families into our home for a night or a week—or how many times he helped such people with money from his own almost-empty pocket.

I don’t know how many times he signed notes so others could get money on his good credit. Once we ended up with a trailer house because a man ran out on his commitment and left my father holding the note. Another time, my father arranged for a family to live in an abandoned house on his brother-in-law’s farm. That family disappointed him, too, and disappeared. But his love still reached out—never lessened, always there for others to draw on and to be warmed by.

I remember another trailer house parked on our land—housing another family down and out, in need of help. And there was yet another trailer—this one belonging to a newly married brother who was getting a start with the help of my folks. “Park it and stay, of course. You know you’re welcome,” they said.

Everybody was welcome. Our home was not elaborate, luxurious, or even very organized. But it was filled with love that reached out and drew others in.

Later, our family needed extra money, and my mother decided to help. Since she wanted to stay at home with her children, she and my father decided to open their home to foster children who were wards of the state of Colorado.

At first, they took in babies and young children. It was fun to have a baby in the house again—and fairly easy. Then, as the social worker discovered my parents’ talent for loving, the more difficult children—the ones no one else would take—were sent to our home.

During this time, the tone of our lives took on some discordant notes. Two of the foster sisters often displayed uncontrolled tempers, fought with each other, and angrily defied family rules. In all of our growing-up squabbles, nothing remotely like this had happened. My parents began to feel that they had only played at giving before. The demands of their children-in-need often seemed endless and overwhelming.

But there was still room at the inn—room for the little girl who was labeled mentally retarded and was destined for an institution. My parents wouldn’t accept the label she had been given and fought to help her gain the rights and privileges of normalcy. Years later, when this little girl’s severe problems had been reduced to not much more than a reading difficulty, her social worker told my mother, “Cathy is what she is today because of you.”

During one visit home, I tried to convince my mother to stop taking in children—to let someone else take over this task that often made her ill and weary. But she said, “I could find something else to do for money—some other way to supplement our income. But, Helen, there is no place for these kids to go. Nobody else wants them. What would happen to them?”

The last time I saw Mom and Dad, their home was comparatively empty. A foster son was on a mission. Just four of their own and Cathy were left.

Then Dad and Mom were killed in a car accident. My grief at their loss was assuaged by my knowledge that they had returned to the Savior, who would certainly welcome them with these words:

“Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

“Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. …

“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (See Matt. 25:34–36, 40.)

[illustration] Illustrated by Scott Snow

Helen Suorsa is Primary president in the San Marino Ward, Pasadena California Stake.