This week is my one year anniversary working as a foster care social worker. I’m feeling pleased to arrive at this point for several reasons. To start, the average turn-over rate for a social worker in the child welfare system is usually 8-9 months. When I began this job, I only had one concrete goal for myself, and that was to make it to a year. I owe it to myself and to my kids to make it. Whatever stressors transpired, whatever trauma I saw, whatever bureaucratic mess I had to wade through, I was going to get myself to the one year mark. And today, thankfully, I can say I made it.
The week before I started my job last January, I went to the beach for a few hours of solitude and to talk to God about this huge cliff I was about to jump off of. While walking and talking, I felt my bare foot brush something solid. I knelt to pick up a sand dollar. Now, I find sand dollars all the time along the beaches of Southern California, but usually they are broken into pieces and not worth saving. This one, though, was perfectly intact. There was not a crack nor a piece missing from it. It was discolored by the ocean, but the innate shape of it, its form, was untouched.
Instantly, I thought to a verse in 2 Corinthians, that reads, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed… struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
This sand dollar was tossed around by the waves, weighed down by the pressure of the ocean, thrown onto a sandy beach, but it was not crushed or destroyed. It maintained its shape, its design.
The Message version of that verse is even more visceral: “We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken.”
In that quiet moment on Venice Beach, it felt like a prophetic word. It was like the good Lord whispering a promise to me: “This is not going to be easy. You will be tested, you will be beat down, you will feel lost, you may even suffer. But at your core, you will come out unscathed. Your innate form, the way I designed your heart to be, will remain intact.”
As the wind brushed my face, I breathed out, choosing to believe.
And now, a year later, I think back to all the waves that have crashed over me, the tides I have pushed through. I think of the moments where I’ve felt like I was about to be crushed.
I think back to my first time explaining to a young boy what the foster care system is, and how my heart cracked into a million pieces in pain for him.
I think back to giving a young girl the “period talk,” when it should have been her mother’s honor to usher her into womanhood.
I think back to receiving a court order from a corrupt attorney stating that I was dismissed from one of my kid’s cases, all because I had done my job correctly and advocated for her safety.
I think back to listening in horror to a 6-year-old girl telling me about witnessing a brutal murder, then getting in my car afterwards and sobbing.
I think back to looking into the hollow gaze of a county social worker, and seeing nothing behind her eyes, and realizing that so much of the system is lacking compassion and empathy.
But then I remember the joy when a family is finally brought together again. I remember the smiles when my kids receive their first birthday card. I remember their innocence slowly returning through choir concerts, soccer practices, and ice cream dates. I remember the love that parents, both birth and foster, have for these kids.
Here’s to a year under my belt in this chaotic, well-meaning system. A year that has grown and changed me. Here’s to a year that just about crushed me, but didn’t. I’m thanking the good Lord for that fulfilled promise. I may have a dirtier mouth, a more skeptical mind, and a few pre-mature gray hairs (that’s social work for ya), but I would not change the grace that this year has been for anything. The Lord guarded me this year, just like the sand dollar. My innate form, the way he designed my heart to be postured in reverence towards Him, remained intact. Though tossed around and beat down, my hope in Him is unscathed.
So today, I am thankful for a year, and I am not done yet.