The Shelter Culture & Our Role…

Working with Safe Families, there is one shelter we’ve become especially familiar with. We recognize who works there and who lives there. Some of the people there have begun to recognize us. Kevin did the math last night and we’ve traveled well over 1,000 miles to and from that shelter to pick up or drop off kids or to spend time with M and her girls.

We have learned the details of that place: like the fact that the Walmart is right behind the shelter and there is an opening between the back wall and gate where people walk there and back. They pick up a 12 pack of Coke and meet with a couple of their buddies to hang out on the stairs. We’ve learned that there are a plethora of car seats throughout the shelter but that it is rare that a Mom knows when a baby should be in a 5 point harness and when a booster is fine. We’ve learned that there is an unspoken pressure to keep your kids quiet at night…and so a great majority of the kids get a nightly dose of Melatonin in hopes of knocking them out for the evening. Not for convenience. For survival. We have learned that siblings are taught to take care of their younger brothers and sisters and that they do so fiercely…that even a 3-year-old is held responsible for baby brother….and she does a surprisingly good job with her babysitting.  Shelter life. It’s a culture.

But if we’re not careful, we could look at the culture and make caricatures of the people living there. And I think a lot of us do that with the homeless. We have a picture in our heads of what it means to be homeless, we presume to know what mistakes got them in the situation that they are in and we sit in a state of arrogance caused by the false confidence that something like that could never happen to us. We have to stop doing this.

There is a Mom in that shelter who has never touched drugs. She was poor, but she was getting by. She was getting her education. She is SO smart. She was working her way up. But when her boyfriend crossed the line and hit her she called the police. And they not only took him away, but took her baby away, too. She spent all that she had and then some on an attorney to get that baby back. She traded in work hours for court dates and eventually she regained custody. The judge said “This almost never happens.” But she had no more resources after the court fees, the lawyer fees, and the lost wages. And so came the shelter.

There is a woman in that shelter who has an iPhone. How about that? Her parents took good care of her even into adulthood. She learned she could depend on them, perhaps too much. And the first time she disagreed with them, they took all of that provision away.  She lost all security. And so came the shelter. She holds on to that iPhone, her last bit of something of value, for dear life.

There was once a Mom in that shelter who was married and lived an upper middle class life. She left her home country to be with the man of her dreams, leaving behind all family and friends. They started their Happily Ever After and she thought it was a dream come true. She was a devoted stay at home Mom. Until her Knight in Shining Armor turned into a Monster of untreated mental illness. And she lived with it as long as she could. But then he put his hands on her children and enough was enough. And so came the shelter.

And sure, there are the kinds of people in that shelter that you might imagine. People who fell into a dark world of addiction or prostitution and seem to self-sabotage over and over again. There are women there who seem to thrive in that shelter, making it their own with no desire to move beyond that type of life. But even they have their stories. They are real people with real feelings and we need to know that.

And I guess that’s the point of sharing all of this. To give the reminder that everyone has a story. The homeless Mom, the drug addicted panhandling man, the father that left his child in a hot car, the family fighting CPS to get their child back, the illegal immigrant, the convicted felon. Imperfect, yes. And there will be consequences for their actions. But we are imperfect, too and suffer our own consequences.

They are loved by the same God who loves you. And we are asked, no….we are commanded to love them, too. Not just on an intellectual level. We don’t get to just “say” that we love them but then decide what their lives are worth and begin to cast stones. We love through action and then let God sort out the rest. Let’s listen. Let’s get to know the stories and stop drawing conclusions. Let’s humbly remember that it rains on the just and the unjust. And let’s love well because we are perfectly loved by our Father in Heaven.

Until the next blog…be blessed.

It’s a Blog Hop!

My sweet friend Lori Harris sent me a message on Facebook last week wanting to know if I’d like to participate in a blog hop. I simultaneously thought “Yes!” and “What on earth is that?!”  Now that I know, I’ll briefly explain and then we can get this party started! One blogger answers a series of questions about their blog and then sort of “tags” a couple other bloggers and shares a little info on said blogs. You, the reader, get to “hop” around to these other amazing blogs and get to know some new writers! For the record, if you have ever, at any point, enjoyed anything I’ve had to say about social justice, about loving the poor, about getting “messy”…well then Lori Harris is going to rock your world! She is a great writer with an even greater heart and she is so real it’s not even funny, ya’ll. She challenges me often with her ability to just put it all out there. So check her out! Now on to the questions!!

1. Why do I write what I do?

I think I’d go crazy if I didn’t. I spend a lot of time inside my own head, thinking and rethinking over moments and contemplating about how I feel about those moments and what I should do about them. Writing is my way to process and ultimately my way to unload. I can’t imagine not writing what I write. It doesn’t feel like a choice, I write because I must.

2.  How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Well this is awkward. Because I’m not sure it’s a genre. Some days I blog solely as Mommy, others as Safe Families host, others simply as daughter of the King. I’m not sure I’m much different than any other Christ follower seeking to serve Him.

3.  What am I writing or working on?

I’ve been doing some writing for Safe Families for Children through the Orphan Care Alliance, I’m also mulling over a few ideas for a book. I have a book somewhere in me. I’m just not there yet. But thinking, definitely thinking.

4.  How does my writing process work?

It depends. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with something on my heart and I’ll jot a note down and go back to bed and write about it in the morning, other times I’m out in public and start writing on a napkin until I can get home. Other times, there is a subject I want to write about and I can plan it out in advance. That process means waiting until the kiddos are in bed, making a cup of coffee and hiding away in my little nook of the bedroom at my computer desk.

 

Now on to the 3 lovely ladies I get to introduce to you!

Katie Rawlings

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My blog is a collection of real life parables.  I share the stories of my life and what God is teaching me through each scenario and situation.  I process what God is teaching me as I write.  I am transparent about my failures, opinions on faith, love/hate relationship with the church, my own struggles to conceive, adoption journey, and learning to trust God in all things. I blog here.

Nancy Powell

Have Heart Will Travel is about my deepest loves: family, travel and compassion–especially when they intersect. I blog here.

Katie Graham

Katie blogs about her relationships with God and her family. You can find her here.

Thank you to Lori Harris for thinking of me when you participated in the Blog Hop! It was fun!

Until the next blog, be blessed!

May we stop being silent…

She stood in front of me at a Burlington Coat Factory in the middle of the week. I walked through the home décor section to see if anything caught my eye to make the house pretty. I love discovering little treasures that will make me smile when I come home from a fun day out with Kevin and the kids. I’m constantly looking for new ways to make our house feel more “home-ish.” Her tired eyes and calloused hands tell a different story. I’m not sure that she’s ever had the joy of shopping just for fun. She has three polite littles standing quietly behind her and her cart is overflowing with uniforms.

“I need to put all of this on layaway.” She says.

Exasperated, the cashier looks at me all white haired and annoyed and says “This is going to take a while.”

She lightheartedly tells the cashier that she’s using her lunch break to school shop, almost to prove to her that she is, in fact, a productive member of society. But the cashier doesn’t respond. She just keeps ringing up clothes.

I want to tell that cashier to stop it. To stop with the looks and the bad attitudes and the snide comments. I want to tell her that I am not in her corner on this one. But I just look down at the ground.

She fidgets as the cashier slowly fills up the box with clothes that will get her babies through another school year and then she turns around and says to me “I do this every year. I’m really sorry about the wait.”

And I get nervous, wondering if she thinks I’m staring because I’m judging instead of admiring her and so the only thing that slips out is “Oh, you’re fine!”

 

But here is what I should have said-

 

To the Mama of three who holds up the line with her layaway clothes-

I’m sorry I was staring at you. Yes, I noticed that you weren’t wearing a wedding ring and that your shoes were old and worn. I’ll admit that I saw the card that assists you with the cost of groceries when you opened your wallet. But I promise I was watching you with wonder. You amaze me.

I was imagining your life. Imagining what it takes for you to raise those three babies. Imagining what life might feel like if I had to work and take my three babies school shopping on my lunch break or to use a layaway plan. I don’t know what it feels like to walk in your shoes. But like I said, I noticed they were old and worn and I wish I could just give you mine.

You hold your head high while the cashier fills up the box that you will eventually bring home. You are a warrior. You are doing it!

Your babies are amazing. They are a reflection of you, standing there so polite. They don’t run the aisles or get loud and rowdy. Your little guy saw some mini super hero toys and asked if he could have one. When you said “We don’t have money for that, baby.” He said “Yes, Ma’am.” And I swooned. I would have offered to buy it for him, but I didn’t want to undermine you. Because you are doing such a good job. Is anyone telling you that? Or are people only giving you the kind of looks like the cashier gave. The ones that say “You shouldn’t have had kids if you can’t afford to take care of them?” Are the rest of us only being silent because we are too afraid to speak up? I want to change that. I really do.

I know you probably see the “just for fun” items in my cart. And you might think that means that I’m judging you from my cookie cutter pedestal. But I don’t do that anymore. I have found that I missed out on so much by drawing conclusions or making assumptions. Do people do that to you? I used to. But I won’t make that mistake again.

You are beautiful. Fearfully and wonderfully made. You are no accident and neither are those little ones you are working so hard to care for. I bet you know that, though.

I should have spoken up. I should have gotten to know you. I should have talked and laughed with you right in front of the cashier. But I didn’t. I’m sorry that you’ll never know that whether this has just been a tough couple of years or whether this is all you’ve ever known, I think you’re brave and strong and that you’re doing a good job with those babies. I will work on using my voice and I will pray for you every time I remember standing behind you in that line.

May we all be brave enough to refuse to miss out on any opportunity there is to love.

Until the next blog…be blessed!

 

 

Anchor

He is an anchor.

A foundation firm and secure.

When the ground shakes and sinks all around us and we are full of fear.

I scream from my soul “Where are you? Where did you go? Why won’t you speak?”

But He is found in the quiet.

He is a God who speaks in a hushed tone. So that we will learn to listen, He refuses to shout.

And when I choose to be still, He whispers all the things I forgot. Again.

And there is peace. Again.

He is an anchor.

That moment when you find God in the Chuck E. Cheese…

We pull up to the shelter and Mom and girls come walking out. It is only a trip to Chuck E. Cheese but the girls are dressed in their Sunday best. When their Mom sees our kids in play shorts and sneakers she sheepishly says the girls insisted on dressing up. So I go out of my way to make a big deal about how beautiful they look and her discomfort eases.

I pick up Miss Newly Three and put her in the car. Her smile turns to terror. I immediately figure out what’s going on. She thinks we’re going to take her away from her Mommy. Again. She likes us just fine but she has learned that when someone puts her in a carseat that they might drive away from her Mom and not bring her back for a long, long time. I say “Look, sweetheart, Mommy is right there! And she’s going to come with us today!” Her face doesn’t change until her Mommy is buckled up, too.

We are all loaded up. Kevin and I. Our three. Her and her two girls. And my kiddos start talking her ear off. I get uneasy, afraid that she will get annoyed. She answers each question with a calm “Yes, baby” and listens so sweetly. Eventually Bryson, our little preacher in the making, starts telling her about Jesus. Because that’s just what he does. You know, typical 5-year old stuff like “Hey, did you know God made you?” “Jesus loves you so, so much. He loves all of us!”

She gets sheepish again. She confesses that she has wanted to take the girls to church for a long time but doesn’t trust church-people generally. We nod knowingly and tell her we understand and have been there but that we would help her pray that she finds the right place. Later when the kids are running around like maniacs at Chuck E. Cheese we talk about how people will fail her, but God never will. My heart feels sad that she doesn’t know love and acceptance from the church. All she knows is judgment and shame. I’m so thankful that, although we the church may have failed, it doesn’t seem to have effected her opinion of God…at least not yet.

She tests the waters and says things she thinks will shock me about her life and when they don’t shock me, her face calms and she gets deeper. She spills her heart out over her pizza and soda about the anger that lives inside of her and rages unexpectedly. She talks about the father of her children, about the abuse, the betrayal. She talks about her dreams and how hard she is working. She confesses her fears that her anger will keep her from her dreams. She talks about her inadequacy as a Mom and how deeply she loves the girls and I feel shame for having to push down the judgment I felt rising up inside when I watched her give her youngest daughter soda. She talks about how often she feels that her best isn’t good enough. About how often she feels that people are out to get her. I long for her to know the assurance of being well loved.

I wrangle her babies and she wrangles mine and the conversation shifts to lighter things like the birthday cake and presents. I watch her beam when her daughter opens her gifts. While I am fully emotional and big feelings 99% of the time, she typically remains guarded. Even when she’s happy. I’ve learned to read her faces but at first I thought she was always annoyed. It took time for me to understand the subtlety of her expressions and voice tones. I notice, on this day, that she is totally different than usual. She is bubbly and full of laughter. Almost giddy. I have never seen that from her. I comment on how happy she is over a game of skee ball in which her 3 year old hits the plexiglass with the old wooden balls like every other little one in the place. We catch the flying balls and roll them for the kids as they collect their tickets and she makes another confession. She’s having so much fun because she has NEVER been inside a Chuck E. Cheese before. I smile, and we move to the next game, but inside I want to cry.

Because you guys.

We live in this world where single Moms can’t give their child an actual childhood. Not just because they are dirt poor and in a shelter but because they LITERALLY never had a childhood of their own. We live in a world where these same Moms want to walk into a church but are terrified to because of the stares and dirty looks they got last time they walked into one. We live in a world where women with toddlers are working double shifts to get out of a shelter where other women want to fight her because she’s “uppity” and thinks she’s “too good” for this life. The church is either completely unaware or just does not care because we are too busy with Awana and Women’s Bible Study. Either way, it’s not right.

Something has to change. For the sake of us reflecting Jesus in the way He deserves. For the sake of the future of the church. For the sake of showing that we believe the Bible when it says things like “The last shall be first.” and that what we have done to the “least of these” is what we have done unto the Lord. For the sake of beautifully strong but incredibly broken women like her. They are all around us but our eyes are shut…sometimes on accident and sometimes on purpose. I do it too. Because their hurt is big and scary to me. But just because we shut our eyes, that doesn’t mean it goes away.

I walk her and her girls back to their room in the shelter and see the women in the corner who make the anger that lives inside of her want to rage. I assure her that she’s almost done. That she has to hang in there a little while longer. That soon she will be out of there and that there is no point in dignifying threats with a response. And I plead with God to get her out of there. And to replace all of that anger with peace. And to bring people into her life who will better reflect Him. And then I spend the whole ride home considering how we can live differently. I feel remorse for how easy it is for complacency to creep up in my life and for how quick I am to burn out on serving others. There is much work to be done, friends. Will you join me?

Until the next blog…be blessed!

 

For Layla on her 6th birthday

As most of you already know-every year, with each passing birthday, I write a post for my kiddos in the form of a letter. Someday they will be able to go through the tags on this blog and read every birthday letter I have written them. It will be cool for them to get an idea of what they were like at each age and it has been a nice reminder for me to have, too. It seems like the birthday letters are due faster and faster and on the 26th of this month, we will celebrate yet another birthday!  It’s hard for me to believe that it’s already time to write something for Layla’s 6th birthday. It feels like yesterday I was writing her 5th birthday letter here:  http://theknightfive.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/layla-is-turning-5/ and yet so much has happened in this short year.

 

Layla-

A very pregnant Mommy and a very nervous Daddy sat down in our new Pediatrician’s office when you were about two months old. You had been to a Pediatrician once before with your birth mom and your biological grandma. They were kind enough to let us sit in on that visit before we got to call you our own. But this time was different because you were officially ours. We were fiercely in love and overwhelmed with the way that attachment to you grew overnight.

Still in shock that we were adopting this beautiful baby girl while almost due with our first biological baby, we listened to the doctor and her warnings. Warnings about what your future intellectual capabilities might be, warnings about the struggles you may have as you grew. Warnings about mental health issues and what it means to care for a child whose family medical history you do not have complete access to. And it was a lot to take in, sure. But truthfully, we were naïve, inexperienced first time parents still obsessed with your sweet baby smell and we just knew that whatever happened you were worth it. So there weren’t a lot of emotional moments. And when you started walking and talking and showing off so early those words were quickly forgotten.

But Layla, this year we have watched you fight. Sometimes your struggles scared me so deeply that it was all I could do to plaster a smile on my face until your bed time, only to collapse in a pile of tears before the Lord and beg Him to take your struggles away. You will someday understand the desperation a parent feels when they watch their child hurt. Even if we know you can handle it. There aren’t words to explain that feeling, only an aching groan deep in the souls of a Mommy and Daddy whose fierce love has only grown with time. You struggled at school, you struggled at home. The consultations, the medications, the scary decisions to make. It was a lot. I bounced back and forth between sad, angry and incredibly proud at your relentless fighting…your resilience amazes me. Talking to teachers who doubted you and administrators who were too stressed out to care, it felt like it was us against the entire world. But you fought, baby…you are a fighter.

We took a cue from you, and began to fight, too. I hope it’s okay for me to admit that I learn a lot from you. Things were hard for you. But you weren’t moping. You were living. With joy for that matter. You were fighting. (Have I mentioned yet that you are a fighter? You need to know that deep in your soul. And you need to hold on to it forever. Because life is going to demand you to fight. Don’t forget that you can do it, baby.) So we grew some thick skin. We spoke up at doctor appointments, we asked for more from your school. Ultimately we found a new school that seemed to value you almost as much as we do. And, the fighter that you are, you just dazzled us there. We went from getting e-mails about your inability to succeed in the classroom setting to getting e-mails about you being one of the best readers in your class. And that’s just you, Layla. In a lot of ways, things are harder for you. But so much of the time it doesn’t even matter. You are strong. You are brave. You fight…and you do it with a smile.

On your 6th birthday, sweet Layla, I feel like I’m just really starting to get to know you. You are coming into your own. We are getting to see your beautiful personality. And sure, we have discovered some of your struggles…but my goodness girl, the strength we have seen you exhibit. You are amazing. And while we are always in your corner, I want you to know that all the best things about you are independent of us. You are amazing all on your own. The beautiful traits that you carry-God knit those in to your being while you were still in your birthmom’s womb. You be proud of that. The things you struggle with-God knows every single one of those struggles and has allowed them to be your portion on purpose. All things are possible through Him. Layla, you were fearfully and wonderfully made. Keep on living like you know that to be true. Hold on with confidence. Your story is beautiful.

I love you more than a human heart should be capable of loving. I also like you. I know I always will. You are a gift. In the middle of the most difficult things you thrive. May that continue to be the story of your life. May you always be the one who rises from the ashes of a harsh, ugly world and shines as something beautiful. Because, my precious girl, the world needs more of your kind of beautiful.

Happy 6th Birthday, Layla.

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The Changes

It’s been about a year since we started our journey with Safe Families for Children. I spent some time this morning, in between putting toothpaste on the kids’ toothbrushes and pouring bowls of cereal, thinking about how our lives have changed so drastically in this past year.

I remember, before we started, having a discussion with Kevin. We spoke about how much love we felt for people….and that we would help…absolutely we would help. If only there was need in our neighborhood. Our eyes were blind to the crisis all around us. Everyone we knew, was just fine. Happy, middle-class folks who, like us, found their greatest stressors being things like “needing” a vacation, wanting to upgrade their well-running cars or only getting “date night” once a month because that’s as often as they could fit a babysitter in the budget.

I could have never imagined the stories that would come and go from our home upon agreeing to be hosts. I wouldn’t have believed that these people, whose lives seemingly solely consist of crisis, are right here in front of us. They are in our communities. They are in our children’s schools. They are playing at the same park we are at. Their shopping carts pass right by ours. Except their carts are full of frozen pizzas at a buck a piece because they are trying to keep their family fed on $40 a month. But we never understood that before.

We didn’t understand.

We didn’t understand that 20 minutes from our home there are women who have left their abusive husbands and are living with their children in a car. Terrified to tell anyone, out of fear that Child Protective Services will take the only thing they have left to love.

We didn’t understand that there are 2-year-olds in our city who literally don’t know HOW to be held because they spent the entire first year of their lives in a crib, only being taken out for diaper changes. Not because Mom hated her baby. But because she couldn’t bear to look at him.  He looks just like her rapist, you see.

We didn’t understand that it’s not as simple as “just get off your butt and get a job” for these women in homeless shelters.  They literally have zero people in their lives to list as a reference on a resume. Their job skills include flipping burgers. But they got fired when they got caught stealing said burgers to feed their babies.Their extended families are out of the picture or in the same situation they are. They don’t have time for friends. Even if they did, they have learned to trust no one. There is no such thing as a fall back plan or support system to lean on. They turn down well paying jobs because they don’t fit with daycare hours. Instead they say yes to the minimum wage dishwashing job and risk being fired when they call in because their little one is sick. And what do you think will happen when there time is up at the shelter? Their salary barely covers car insurance and gas. And 9 times out of 10, it wasn’t bad choices that brought them to this point. This is what they were born into. Poverty begets poverty and while they are determined to be the generation that digs themselves out of the hole, they have no idea what tools to use because, who is around to teach them?

We didn’t understand what it would feel like to have toddlers look us dead in the eye and scream obscenities that we wouldn’t dare repeat. That the cries at night for their Mommy would shake us to our core. That we would have to keep an eye on our pantry….because the food hoarding that happens with hungry little ones is unbelievable! And that at the exact same time those toddlers began to trust, letting us speak love and life into them, it would be time for them to leave. And it would be so hard to trust God with the rest.

We didn’t understand how much this would change our kids in the very best ways. We didn’t understand the kind of compassion it would build in them. They have grasped things that we would have never guessed they would be able to grasp at their ages. The times they have repeated a bad behavior they have seen or a bad word they have heard? Zero. The times they have encouraged one of our little houseguests, made them laugh, shared their toys, reminded them of the right choices to make? Too many to count. This has made our family so close.

We didn’t understand, before Safe Families, what it was like to live in a manner in which you are certain you will fail if God doesn’t come through. The faith that has built. The relationship that has built. The love for the Lord that has built. There are no words.

We will never be the same. And we pray each of those lives we’ve had the privilege of caring for will never be the same.

If your family is looking for a way to serve. If, you want to help, but you don’t know how. If, you absolutely would reach out to people in your community who are in need, but don’t know where to find them, I encourage you to seek out information on Safe Families for Children. http://safe-families.org/

Until the next blog…be blessed!