My very first home visit, she jumped into my arms. I will never forget seeing her almond eyes and gap-toothed smile for the first time, and being so thankful that she trusted me.
I will never forget looking through her case file and learning the horror that she had endured at just six years old. Years of sexual abuse. Drugs and strange men in and out of the home. The murder of one parent by another.
None of it was her fault. None of it was her choice.
She is no longer a number amongst the 30,000 kids in foster care in LA County.
She is no longer just a pseudonym on a non-profit website, or a beneficiary of a donation at Christmas time.
I cannot fathom the sheer terror that she has experienced, hidden behind those beautiful brown eyes.
A few weeks later, I’m sitting on the floor next to a sobbing eight year old boy who does not understand what is going on, why he is here. He sobs that this is too hard. He asks why does it have to be this way. As a lump forms in my throat and I fight back tears, all I can say to him is that his mother is human, and like all humans we make mistakes. But our mistakes do not define us. They are opportunities for us to grow. His mama is doing her best to get better, because she loves him. If you only remember one thing from this conversation, I tell him, please remember that you are loved.
He too is not at fault. It was not his choice.
Every day I face the reality of working with sweet kiddos who have very little choice, very little freedom. It is decided for them where they live, where they sleep, what school they attend, what their visits look like with their parents. Of course, these decisions are made for their wellbeing and safety. But it still pains me to witness their confusion, their dismay, at a complex and broken system that I happen to work in.
These kiddos, they are flesh and blood. Living and breathing. They have moms and dads. Sisters and brothers. They like to watch cartoons and play with puzzles. They like to build towers out of blocks and then knock them down, giggling with delight. They ask for Starburst candy for their birthday. They save their allowance for Father’s Day gifts.
These kids have endured immense trauma. Some have never known the love of a father, because mom has given herself away to too many men to remember. Some are suffering from life-altering consequences of a decision made by mom before they were born to indulge in substances to numb the pain. Others knew the love of mother and father who were both working two jobs to provide and had to leave the children alone for a few hours because they could not afford childcare, so a neighbor called the cops. The circumstances vary, but the narrative is the same. They have been through so much, at no fault of their own.
I spend my days with these kids. But then at the end of the day, I get to go home to a safe shelter, a husband who loves and respects me, and food in the fridge. I get to enjoy meals with friends who love me and places that feel familiar. I get to choose how I spend my days. I get to think about fond memories of childhood, of unconditionally loving and sacrificial parents who would give the world for me and then some.
They don’t have that choice. These kids don’t have the option of leaving it all behind, of going home, of exercising control and establishing stability for themselves. They don’t have fond memories that bring them comfort. This is their life. This is their reality.
Sometimes I think about having the choice to walk away. I don’t have to expose myself to this darkness. I don’t have to entangle my life with this mess. I could just as easily walk away. I could choose a more comfortable career. One that does not haunt my thoughts. One that does not keep me up at night in worry. I could choose a life that is about seeking comfort and security.
But then I think of Jesus, and how He entered into this messy world. He didn’t have to. He could have stayed at the right hand of the Father, never having to dirty a finger to the earth for an adulteress, or the hem of His cloak with the unclean hand of a woman.
I think of Him bending down, rolling up His sleeves, and gently washing His best friends’ feet. I think of Him beckoning the little children, because theirs is the Kingdom. I think of Him healing a leper, giving sight to a blind man. When He could have remained in pristine perfection, He chose to “empty Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7). I think of Him entering into my own story, healing me from my own sin.
I think of Jesus choosing to stay, when He could have fled. I think of Him committing to thirty or so years of life here on earth, when He could have just as easily chosen Heaven. Instead of choosing comfort and freedom, He chose to limit Himself to a humble carpenter. Instead of choosing the easy way, He chose the cross.
I think of my Jesus, my sweet Savior, and the mess of this world that He willingly chose to enter into. And then, I too, choose to stay.
**This is a updated version of one of my previous blog posts from 2016.