She’s twenty years old. She opened my eyes to the heart of her short life. She has two children. She grew up in 6 different foster homes, and several group homes in between. Often she would run away … early on it was just to be home with her mama, and then other times, because she knew the families were taking her in for the wrong reasons. She’s lived a lot of life in her brief 20 years. I saw her. That she ran away not because she was trying to be bad or even rebellious. But because she was trying to get back to her roots or she was trying to protect herself or her babies. Even in the times when she was in good foster homes, where she was cared for and loved. She ran. She was young. She didn’t realize she was in a good place. The stability would have served her well in the long run. She didn’t know.
Now, with all the life she’s lived and all that she’s seen and experienced. She grieves that she’s missed a childhood. At 20. She knows, she’s never had a childhood. She remembers one of the group homes she lived in, in between foster homes, they took the girls on a vacation to Disney land once. That was the only time she remembers feeling like she experienced what a child experiences. Living just one day with total carefree abandon.
Her life experience is one of distrust. She doesn’t know if she can trust those who want to help her now. Do they want to take something from her? Are they just using her? My heart broke with what she said. She didn’t say all of these things — but I could read between the lines. Of her current situation, what she did say was, “I don’t know, will this family be here forever? Or is this just temporary?” I tried to assure her, if she let them, they would be there forever. But … she has to let them help her. My heart broke. For my friend who just wants to love and equip this little family … and for her.
I used to think kids who ran away were just into trouble. Rebellious. But really, they are just afraid. Hurting. They are children who have been deeply wounded through abuse or neglect. They act out of a desire to be “home” or of self protection. Their hearts are raw – what they have left of their spirit for life … is survival. They can’t see beyond survival.
Safe Families is making a difference to change this pattern. I attended the benefit gala a few weeks ago. It was there that I sat and ate with this young mom. I learned so much from her. I cry every time I think of the children who are being rescued from the cycle of brokenness. Safe families allows parents time to get on their feet without losing their children in the endless cycle of foster care. Not all foster care is bad. But some of it is not healthy. And it’s a cycle that is difficult for the parent to get their child back if in fact they are able to care for them on their own – responsibly. Safe families is taking a different approach through taking temporary care of these children, mentoring the parents when appropriate – helping them with life skills, and changing the trajectory of these kids lives. I know several families who have taken kids in and have developed a loving support system for these moms who have no-one.
I understand the lack of support. I know that feeling of … alone. Like there are no choices except survival. In that place, one becomes very self-focused. You can’t see beyond today. You can’t reach out to others or help with their needs because your own needs are so real and immediate. All emotional, physical, mental, and financial resources are tapped. I understand the cycle of poverty, and public aid. We have been there as a family in our most difficult days. And it is humbling. Thankfully that is behind us, but it has changed me forever. I know that when you are in that place of just trying to survive - one ounce of practical help goes a very long way. It’s help that you can never repay, so it takes humility to accept. What I also know is that Safe Families is loving these young moms and children in ways that they may never have experienced. It’s a love with no strings attached except that they get on their feet and provide for these children. Most of these parents want to do so. Most of them accept the help, often with hesitancy, sometimes without any other choice but to accept depending on their circumstances. It gives them an opportunity to get cleaned up, to get a job, to get housing, to get healthy. It’s support without losing their kids for the long term.
Talking with this 20 year old mom breaks something in me. I’m not sure what to do with it other than to continue to listen. To love people. And to be slow to make judgements. Everyone is hurting. I want to just love people. But I know the love I offer is tainted with my own shortcomings and filters of my own life experiences. I want to love people through the filter of God’s perfect love flowing through me. I think the mom may have experienced that the other night. I hope so. I felt like my heart just bled for her. I asked a few simple questions that got to her heart and she was an open floodgate of her life story. Authentic. Real. Vulnerable. And I just listened.
All I wanted to do was love her.