Her Call

The guttural voice she pushed out between sobs will stay with me forever. Her words echoing in my mind throughout the day. I will be changing his diaper or carrying him on my hip and I will hear it again. “Please….please, just take care of my son.” So much finality in her words. The heaviness is not lost on me.

I am thankful that I get to surrender these heavy burdens to Jesus. I will have comfort. I will have hope. I will have joy in the midst of all of this sorrow. I will be equipped to do what I need to do. I have everything that I need. My heart is so grateful for that. But I hate knowing that for now, she is still trying to carry all of her burdens. She gathers them all up and grips them tightly. She won’t let go. She is lost in her mental illness. She is still defined by the trauma that she’s both received and given in abundance. I pray she can somehow see Jesus in me. Hear Him in my words. I know that I’m not enough and that I can’t save her. But I know the one who can. And  I pray that she will someday come to know Him… to know that He has said that we can come to Him when we are weary and heavy-laden. To know what it means to experience His kind of rest.

We have spoken to a lot of families in crisis over the years. Cried lots of tears with Mommies who had collapsed beneath their burdens. But I have never heard so much desperation, so much sadness. It felt wrong to listen to such a young voice with that much pain. All I can hear is a broken child and it makes my soul ache.

Remember when I talked about the importance of me being willing to let my heart break for the sake of these children that come in and out of my home? What is more overwhelming is the way you grow to love these children’s mommies. The fierce longing you feel to protect them. The way you have to keep yourself from trying to “fix” them. The way you have to remind yourself that your job is to walk alongside these women (or girls) and not push them in the direction you think is best. The way you realize how much you don’t know…how much you don’t understand. The way you grieve for them and care for them. When we started this work I thought it was all about the children. It’s been so much more about the mothers than I could have imagined.

I had every intention of posting today about a series I’m working on for Good Friday. I’m really excited to share it with you guys. But for now, this is more important. Will you join me in praying for this precious young Mommy in her time of need? Thank you so much!

But isn’t it hard to let them go?!

This Summer will mark 2 years since we started our journey with Safe Families. There’s a folder on my computer full of pictures of the little faces that have come and gone. From time to time, I’ll open that folder and pray for those little faces. Some of them I will likely never hear from again. Others are like family to us now. In that folder is evidence of beauty in the middle of ugly. Peace in the middle of chaos. Joy in the middle of pain.

We have met Moms working so hard to do right by their children and Moms who have had no desire to do any sort of work at all. We have learned to love both. With each hosting we are reminded not to focus on the future outcome, but to simply embrace the journey. Loving and serving with our whole hearts. Not when someone is “deserving” of it, but simply whenever we can.

Not that we’ve got this serving thing all figured out. We fall short over and over again and watch God come to the rescue in all the areas we lack. Believe me when I say there are plenty of moments in which I’d love to scream to a mom: “WHY do you continue to set yourself up for failure?! Why won’t you just- go to rehab, search for work, take your meds, stay away from the abusive man” (or whatever else I presume is best for whatever Mom in whatever moment). However, I have made this choice to serve these families. And that service is not contingent on whether I think they are doing the right thing. You know that whole “while we were yet sinners” part of scripture about the way God loves us? That’s how we want to love others.

Over these 2 years we’ve grown thicker skin. We’ve had to. Because everyone has an opinion and most everyone is eager to share it. “Do you think you’re enabling the mother?”  “What about YOUR kids? Do you feel like they suffer being around all the chaos?”  “Aren’t you worried about your family’s safety?” Most of these questions have become routine. We have grown accustomed to giving the same answers over and over. We even look forward to the opportunity to point people back to Jesus when it comes down to things like safety or worry.

There is one thing that feels frustrating to hear over and over again though. And if you’ve said it, please don’t be offended when I say it’s frustrating. It’s nothing personal. In fact, had God not called us to this kind of work, I may have asked the same question to someone in my shoes. So no judgement. I know it comes from a good place, a curious place. I’d rather you ask questions than make assumptions. It’s just a tougher question to answer. “Isn’t it hard to let the kids go? Doesn’t it break your heart? How do you say goodbye? I could NEVER do that! It would be too hard emotionally.”

There was a little guy who stayed for a month in 2013 and changed our lives. We had a really rough start with him. He didn’t sleep, he screamed and cursed. He hit and bit and kicked. He didn’t know how to be held and didn’t want to be touched. There were so many tears…on his end and on mine. But we pressed in, because it is always our goal not to treat these children like we are glorified babysitters, but to see them as family. To love them and parent them and care for them as if they were never going to leave. If they are with us for a few days, a few weeks or a few months, our goal is for them to experience what “home” feels like. In time that little guy flourished. He got in a routine, he slept well, he ate well. No more cursing, no more hitting. He became the ultimate cuddler. We loved him like a son. And when his Mom abruptly called, ready to end the hosting sooner than expected…of COURSE our hearts were broken. But we are equipped to deal with pain. We know the Comforter, we have a strong support system in place, we have the emotional skills to cope with sadness in appropriate ways. So why would we be scared of a little suffering? Especially when the families that come in and out of our lives through Safe Families deal with more suffering than we can comprehend? Do we just say “Sorry your lives are hard and you need help…but I can’t be the one to help because I’m worried about feeling sad?”

There is a little guy with us now who has been with us once before. There has been no real stability for him in his entire 18 months of living. And in the nearly 3 weeks that he’s been with us, we have already seen big changes. So much progress. So much joy growing in his little heart. It is so incredible to watch. The other night I was rocking him to sleep and I had that familiar knot form in my stomach. The one that reminded me that, because I love him, it will be hard to let him go. We have no idea how long he will be with us and experience has taught us not to make plans. We know it could be many months from now. We also know it could end abruptly again. It may be a happy story of reconciliation in which Mom has gained stability…but she also may not. We have to accept that. So we’ve loved him hard since the moment he got here, trying our best not to waste a moment that he’s here. And just as quickly as I felt that moment of dread as he quietly drifted to sleep in my arms, a peaceful reminder washed over me…almost as if God himself was whispering in my ear the same words I have had to hold on to in times before: “You worry about loving him wholeheartedly, and I will worry about mending your broken heart when the time comes.”

And He does. Over and over again.

He fills us with so much love and joy and peace so that we can empty all those things out to others. He gives strength in abundance so that we can spend it all on behalf of the hurting. We put our hearts out there, in the position of being broken but then He heals our broken hearts so we can continue to love well. So yes…it is hard to let them go. But it would be harder to miss out on all these opportunities to love others the way we have been loved. To play a small part in their rescue, because we have been rescued. The real tragedy would be for us to not share the grace and mercy that has been so generously given to us simply because we valued comfort and feared suffering. That would be more heartbreaking.

For M

We’ve come such a long way from that first phone call nearly 2 years ago. The call when your words were polite and full of gratitude but your tone screamed of distrust. I didn’t know that you had experienced the pain of having a baby taken from your grasp and that having to willingly let go for a little while scared you just as much. When we dropped the girls back off at the shelter a few days later I wanted to hug you and pray over you and tell you what an amazing job you were doing with them. But you just wanted them back in your arms. And I couldn’t blame you.When we pulled away that afternoon I was certain I would never see you again.

But God….it had to be Him. Forging a friendship out of thin air and crisis. You, who I have nothing in common with besides the title of Mom, I have grown to care so deeply for you. And although your entire life has centered around building walls higher and higher for safety and survival, you have inexplicably left a window cracked. And you let us peak in from time to time. Don’t think for one moment that I don’t know how much that means. We laugh at our differences and how unlikely it was that a bridge would form between our very different worlds.

Yesterday we picked the girls up and I handed you the Safe Families paperwork to sign. It felt so formal. Here is what I wanted to say:

You are not a charity case to us. You are our friend and our sister.

We don’t feel bad for you. We think you are strong and beautiful and brave. You are doing an incredible job with the limited resources you have. It amazes me all the time.

We don’t judge you. We won’t pretend to have any idea what it’s like to walk in your shoes. To have to make the choices that you have made.

We admire you. Over and over again we watch you make something out of nothing for your girls. We admire how sweet and kind and loving they are. We know that’s a reflection of who you are. I know you are always feeling insufficient…how I wish you could view yourself through our eyes!

We love you. Not because you have needed us. Not because we feel obligated to. But because you are family.

This is what the kingdom of heaven is supposed to look like….me with the safety net and support system and all of my privilege, but still so broken. Still in need of a Savior. And you…whose life obstacles crash like waves with no breaks in between, so loved by the same Rescuer who has rescued me. The ground between you and between me sits level because of the cross. And the cross is enough, M. For both of us.