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.