As I mentioned in a post a few months ago, Matthew and I will be going through a lot of changes as a family in the next year. Among them is taking concrete steps to become foster parents, working with social workers to become licensed as respite care parents first before we are one day able to invite kids into our home full-time. With the uncertainty about where we’ll be and what we’ll be doing next year until his graduation and our jobs are all lined up, though, we’ve hit a bit of a bump stalling us out for the moment until we can iron out those details.
Itching to contribute to the lives of kids who are in foster care now, though, I was thrilled to hear that two of my friends from seminary, Chrisie and Weston, are planning to adopt domestically and are looking for support. Not only will they be giving a child a new home, but they’ve given the rest of us the chance to support them and fulfill our calling to care for orphaned children by contributing to their adoption fund. For those who are short on cash but high on creativity, though, they’ve also invited friends to contribute handmade items to a fundraising auction they’ll be hosting this year. Over the Christmas and New Year holidays I worked on felt ornaments and painted canvases that allowed me to offer both financial support and the chance to pray for this growing family with every stitch and brushstroke.
While they’re planning to welcome a new member into their home, another friend is working to create a home for kids who are more likely to age out of the system than be adopted. Working in the locked unit of a children’s home, Amy and her fellow staff become family to a handful of teenage girls with severe behavioral, emotional, and mental health challenges stemming from their impossibly traumatic pasts. She helps them remember what it’s like to be kids, from doing chores to making cute signs for their doors to discussing who’s got a crush on who on the ranch. And she does all this while navigating violent outbursts and displaced anger as the girls struggle through the emotions of becoming teenagers alongside those of healing from years of abuse. Few people would be willing to do this work, and even fewer could do it well, but Amy embraces each of these children with her whole heart. I’ll let you tell her about “her girls” in her own words in just a second, but first let me tell you a little bit about her.
Amy and I met as freshmen on our dorm hall when she lent me her hot pink lipstick for the ’80s-themed orientation dance. From there we bonded as she introduced me to her favorite show Alias, which we binge-watched on DVD sitting on her twin bed eating Cheeze-its and Twizzlers before Netflix and instant streaming were even a thing. She dubbed me an honorary Texan, and I’ve claimed her for Mississippi. We were roommates for four years–including one year in North Carolina, just to mix things up–and continued the movie marathons but mixed in late night conversations on God and where we’d been and where we were headed. We saw each other through tough relationships and family drama and some very questionable hair dying adventures. Our apartments always operated under the rule of “the implied I love you,” meaning that we could basically say anything and know it would be heard in a spirit of love. That, of course, was Amy’s idea, as she is the smart one, especially when it comes to communication. Among our friends she’s been the unofficial go-to counselor for years, so it’s only fitting that she’s also studied psychology and is making a career out of her natural talent for hearing and making sense of all that stuff you want to say but don’t know how to. She’s my soul sister, and I’m honored to know her.
I’m thrilled to introduce her to you. Here’s how she spends her days.
(P.S. She also blogs herself here!)
Think of the word strawberry and almost everyone will have the same mental picture pop up in their head: red fruit, seeded on the outside with a little green leaf hat on top. Now think of the word orphan. The mental pictures we have are all different. Some will think of children in foreign nations, hungry bellies and vacant eyes waiting for someone to pay only $2.00 per month to ensure they are fed. Some will think of a family member who has been adopted and have a personal connection to adoption this way. Some see children from another time, riding a train out west or escaping a city during wartime. All are correct, but allow me to paint a different picture for you, the picture I see now when I think of the word orphan.
I work in a locked-down unit of a youth ranch with girls ranging in age from 10-16. The girls who come to my unit have been removed from their homes because of abuse, trauma or neglect, resulting in behavioral issues that make it impossible for them to live in a home environment right now. So, we try to make double-locked doors, concrete floors and walls, and regimented routine feel like a home. It sounds impossible, especially when you think about how moody, demanding or particular any typically developing teenage girl can be, but with God all things can be conquered and he made each and every one of my girls intentionally.
My girls don’t look different on the outside. They look like typical kids, and therein lies the danger. We pass normal looking people everyday who are in dire need of help. My girls passed countless people on the streets, in stores, and even in church that never knew the abuse they suffered behind closed doors. They are so used to not being seen that they have developed the habit of either hiding themselves or making you see them. They lash out, they freak out, they hide, and they try to run away, because they don’t trust that anyone can love them. They believe that at least some, if not all, of the fault lies with them for what happened in their lives before. No one saw them or cared before it was too late and damage had been done. No one noticed, or if they did suspect something, they didn’t ask hard or uncomfortable questions about what was really going on. They are dealing with the deviant, deplorable, despicable behaviors of adults as children, and it is not fair.
My girls are now doing the herculean task of figuring out what happens next. Can they face the monster in the closet and clear out the cobwebs, building a life for themselves that takes them farther than their abuser can reach? Will they succumb to the crutch that their past can be and have it always be an excuse for why they can’t accomplish what life demands of them? Will they one day look in the mirror and see that they have continued the cycle of abuse or neglect? Only they and God know, but I am doing all I can, with a great team of people, to ensure that they know someone loves them. Someone believes they can be more. Someone sees them.
One of my girls, we will call her little Amy because she calls herself my kid, was a violent, defiant terror this summer. She fought the world. At one point she literally threw her Bible at my head screaming “YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO MISS! MY CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS IN HERE SAY SO!” After calming her down and explaining that her constitutional rights were not in the Bible, we started having more honest conversations. I encouraged childlike behaviors in her, like speaking in funny accents or howling at the moon. I was hard on defiant behaviors, letting her know exactly what I expected of her and telling her when I was disappointed. I saw her, complete package, good, bad and in between. I sat on her floor and listened to her cry about missing her mom and not knowing if she was even still alive. I stood in front of her as she threw her body weight against me trying to break out of the unit and run away. I hugged her when she wanted to be hugged. I took hits from frustrated fists and really bony elbows. I tucked her into bed and prayed with her when she asked. I was a parent.
The awesome team of people I get to work with were doing the exact same thing alongside me. We covered little Amy in prayer. We showed up for her. Now, she is getting to move out of our unit and try living in a home environment. The girl who didn’t care, now tries to accomplish all her goals everyday. She is on A/B honor roll at school, excelling in sports, and recently turned down a boy because “Miss, I just don’t have time for that right now.” My heart leaps with pride every single time I see her bound into the unit, smile on her face ready to take on whatever comes her way. Someone saw her. Someone cared. Someone stayed. It made a world of difference and changed a defiant, angry child into one who sees herself as capable and loved.
We aren’t miracle workers; we are no different from any of you. The same God who created us all equips us to do what he asks of us, and this is what he has asked of my team and me.
What is he asking of you?
I am asking you to look at those around you. Ask hard questions if you feel something might be going on. Show up for your kids, stand by them through all storms and see if there is space left in your heart and home to add to your family. Support those who are answering the cries of the children who need them and following the direction of the Lord they serve. Be what God has called you to be, his hands and feet in the world working to ensure that all people know he loves them.
Look, pray, support, act, and may the God who sees all you are and can be bless you as you go.
Can I get an Amen?!
Most of us will not get the chance to impact children who’ve been orphaned or removed from their families as directly as Chrisie, Weston, or Amy will, but we can still show our love in concrete ways. Start by taking up Amy’s challenge for us: to see those who are used to feeling invisible. We can do this with our actions, our words, our calendars, and our wallets. Even if we don’t personally know someone who is involved with the foster care system, we can provide tangible financial support families need to bring children home into healthy, loving environments through organizations like Show Hope. A non-profit founded by Mary Beth and Steven Curtis Chapman, Show Hope provides adoption grants to those going through the expensive process of becoming “forever families” to children living in foster care or orphanages around the world. You can visit their website to learn more about the organization and get involved here.