Thursday, May 3, 2018

May - Foster Care Awareness Month

I sat in my oversized (and probably overpriced) leather chair with my bible in my lap. I was quiet and contemplative, seeking relief from the anxiety that comes from loving broken children without the tempting safety of aloofness. So much anger and so much sadness. So much trauma and so much need. So much childhood ravaged and gone forever. Eleven year-old women. Baby fat still adorning their cheeks, while they have been sexually exploited -  sometimes by their own mother's. So many empty places that just needed a REAL momma or a daddy to step in, and give their "yes". They do not need an adult who, in a terribly untrue sense of martyrdom, bursts on the scene in a self-adorned messianic cloak. These kids need adults who (as Ann Voskamp so beautifully puts it) can do the "hard and holy things". Adults who will, like Jesus, do what the Father asks even when it's not your most idyllic life-plan.  When a life in semi-obscurity, as a soccer mom/dad would be more like “something you have a peace about”. Let’s be honest, Jesus admitted in the scriptures that he did not want to go to the cross. He knew how hard it was going to be. But, he submitted  to His Father’s plan, and did it anyway...for us. This is the kind of commitment that Michigan’s foster youth need!

Did you know that foster girls are the most vulnerable population in our country when it comes to commercial sexual exploitation. Girls who have no belonging will accept scraps of family from a pimp with a readiness that makes American's believe that these kids are choosing this life. It is a much easier filing system for us that ensures they don't need intervention or rescue, when we can tell ourselves that this is the life they want. These are children without options. When we don't have options (either known or perceived), we make terrible choices from desperation. This is true for all of us.



Her braids and bright pink beads might cause an onlooker to assume that her childhood is in tact, and that her innocence is still securely hers. You wouldn't know when you look her beautiful, broad smile squarely on, that she was beat constantly for smuggling her chewed-up food to her siblings who were being punished. Siblings who, once evaluated at the hospital, were found to be in the advanced stages of starvation. This sweet girl sabotages any personal progress because she is raging against the idea of ever being happy without her siblings. She will not...cannot leave her five siblings behind. Could I? Could you?  At times, because safety and predictability are so uncomfortable for her, she thinks she would rather languish in a shelter for Michigan's foster children, eating "jail food" and wearing jail-issued jumpsuits, seeing her siblings once a month, than to ever be happy while they are not with her. Always a big sister. Always the last to present a need. Never showing a hint of vulnerability. Never getting sucked in to excitement or whimsy...it's too risky. Still the little-momma. She has always been...it is so tough for her to see her sweet little sister cling to a foster parent at the sibling visits each month. This new mother that is now meeting her little sister's needs. Doesn't her little sister need her to be the 8 year-old momma, anymore? She can hardly bear it. Isolation and anger are her allies.

There is another young lady who presents calmly and with a demure personality. She is put together and sensible. She is quiet and self-controlled...or is that a learned, calculation? Is that truly calmness, or a lethargy brought on by years of sexual abuse that would prove to be her own "boot camp" for prostitution? Maybe it's a depression and weariness from the sheer exaustion of the two year court battle where her mother showed up as a character witness AGAINST her, and FOR her own daughter's rapist. You wouldn't know if you interacted with her, in the luxury of shallow acquaintance, that she has a self-loathing that remains in absolute control of her mind. You wouldn't know that she wants desperately to be dead. You wouldn't know that she has a sense of worthlessness that bullies her relentlessly. The verbal beatings, and sexual abuse she endured has imprinted her with labels in the most indelible of inks. She can breeze through just about any room undetected and flies through her schooling in the same way. It’s like her superpower! "Don't stand out." "Don't be an outlier." "Be average, and stay off everyone's radar." But, we see her. She is known. She is healing. She is NOT invisible.

These are the girls who are the most "at-risk" for a life under the control of a pimp and forced commercial sexual exploitation, in America. So many erroneously wonder why "these girls" don't just leave. Why do they stay? The idea of victimization is not as easy for us to accept when society demonizes these children as willing participants who choose that life, or even like it. The age of consent is the same for Elizabeth Smart as it is for one of these sweet girls who end up in a commercially sexually exploitive situation. But, there are no middle or upper class parents to go on Nancy Grace and beg for help. These girls are widely minorities who come from extreme poverty and, in large part, remain invisible...last I checked, a child was a child - even if their childhood was violently stolen!

We can and must do more! We do not have the luxury of looking away! Join us in this fight for commercially sexually exploited foster youth. The pimps are rightly counting on the fact that Americans don't care! Often, for these kids, the only real kindness that they are looking for is the absence of violence. They need a frame of reference for being treated with love and value. We can do that. You can help do that for even one girl!



Saturday, February 24, 2018

She Took My Breath Away

I’ve had my breath taken away a time or two in this privileged life I’ve been given!

As a child, I remember being outside on very frigid Michigan winter days, and the whipping wind would actually take my breath away. Standing on the sledding hill that we called "Bald Mountain", I  struggled to inhale. As I trudged through the snow, hauling a sled (that was usually bogged down with a sibling or two), I remember feeling breathlessness, and pulling up my scarf so that my inhales would be filtered through the warmth of the damp wool.

As an adult, so overcome with love, I held my very breath as I held my sweet babies. Caressing them. Some snuggled fetal with porcelain skin, some a bit older with a milky caramel tone and others (the smallest human I’d ever held) with ebony skin as flawless as the night sky. I could stare at them for hours... and if they caught my breath just right, it would take their very own breath away for just a moment. If we went outside on a windy day, I was so careful to keep them covered with something gauzey that would not allow the wind on their sweet faces. Their breathing was airy, and fragile, and any draft could cause them to gasp as their breaths were stolen right out of their chests.

Throughout life there are moments that take your breath away. Moments that mark you, and you are never the same.

                                    *                            *                          *
Anxiously, I walked into the agency in Pontiac. I shifted into another mental gear and braced myself a bit. I knew that I was going to meet the youngest child that I had ever considered for placement at HOP.  She.was.seven. In her vapor-of-a-life, here on this planet, she had only known torment, trauma, starvation, abandonment and neglect. I was braced. I was a professional. I was ready.

As soon as my eyes met the eyes of this wispy child, she ran to me. I was struck by how very tiny she was. Even for seven, she was slight. She clumsily bounded onto me for a hug. I was so honored to oblige. She was trembling. She matter-of-factly asked if I was the one that was going to "try to be her momma, this time".  I suddenly found myself in another breathtaking, life-altering moment. I choked back my shock, and I changed the subject. I stammered and trembled right back. I was NOT ready

We hugged, and I’m certain that we both felt the weight of it.

She has autism. She is naive and trusting. She has a very disorganized attachment style from her trauma and extreme neglect. She feels communal and doesn't know where, or to whom she belongs. She talks to everyone about every fleeting thought. She doesn’t understand our adult pretentiousness. She doesn't take (or even notice) social cues. She has never met a stranger and she wants everyone to feel like sunshine and puppy dogs when they are in her presence. She doesn’t know that there are things that are too off-putting to say out loud, in America...and I am glad. Her authentic conversations are convicting, and I need them! We all do!

Standing in the sterile and professional conference room, I awkwardly regained my breath and composure. Still choking back my racing emotions, I fixed my face. There is nothing that can brace you (if you are half human with a pulse) to meet an orphan face-to-face, who asks for anyone to step up and be her mother. How do you answer a child when she asks if you want to be her momma? If you have never faced this, you can't begin to know the way it punches you in the gut! I have been asked this question by so many of our girls, and it never gets easier.

We walked to the table, and she sat right down on my lap. We looked through the new backpack and began to chat about all of the new school supplies that she had just received. She chattered on and on and was enamored with her new ruler. I could have listened to her for hours. She has a sweet tone and a memory that rivals any savant. Together, we measured everything in sight. Her joy was contagious and her aloneness was overwhelming. The dichotomy of feelings in that single meeting was a  nightmare for my (quite robust) mental filing system!

Seven years old. Alone. No momma. No daddy. No one to care about her school concert (not to mention the kakhi skirt that was "required"). Never a daddy daughter dance. Never a birthday cake. Never a gentle lullaby with her name in it. Only a fight to stay alive and away from the predators that lurked. A survival mode so primal and prolonged that her adrenals are worn plain out! How could we say no? We were technically “ full” at HoP. Weren’t we already doing "our part"? But, how could we ever sleep at night knowing that our “no” would send this vulnerable seven-year-old to a Detroit shelter where 17 and 18 year olds fear for their very safety?

Still sitting in that conference room (multitasking, as any good momma can) we were measuring every pencil in her case, and I began texting our team. I texted Jason and asked him to please put up another bed. I felt an urgency and I could not leave without knowing she would soon be coming into the faithful arms of the momma's at HoP. We would receive this sweet baby as soon as possible.

Of course, our team shot into action!  You see, we have the most sturdy and tender women that there ever were. They love big and hold nothing back. They love Jesus and work hard. They trust that if the Lord asks us to do it, He will equip us. They assembled the most well thought out welcome bag, and gathered new toys. They purchased new bedding and comforters and made sure every detail was just right! They prepared the other girls and everyone held their collective breath until the day we would welcome our sweet little! We know, at House of Providence, when we work together we can do really hard things! We knew this would not be easy… this taking in a feral child who knows nothing of boundaries, structure or safety… but, we did not sign up for easy.

This little has been with us for months now, and she is the light of our house! We persevere and we wait! She waits. We all wait...for her mommy and daddy to come forward. This is what we do at HoP. Until every child has a home...




Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Families Needed

She sat sullenly on our couch waiting for her "interview". Another child, not even a teenager yet, who is alone on the planet. Another girl who had been sexually abused and brutalized - mentally, physically and emotionally. Her matted braids and slight frame showed no signs of thriving. She couldn't muster a smile. She blinked incessantly to shun the tears that were defying her steely stance. I took a deep breath and approached her with a careful cadence that would offer no surprises, so as not to startle or trigger her.

Every time that I interview a girl for our program, I prepare myself so that I am extremely aware of my facial expressions and body language. The things that the children say are often shocking and their life experiences are jarring, but I cannot let on that I feel that way. I smile, but try not to over do it. I appear relaxed, but I definitely am not. I engage them as much as they can endure. Even a gentle hand on their forearm, as it rests on the table, can be a reminder of their abuse. Physical touch, for girls who have suffered such acute and prolonged physical and sexual abuse, is never without horrifying reminders.

We began to chat and she never relaxed. I asked about her favorite colors, foods and television shows. She answered in rote as though she were trying to get every answer "right". As the interview went on, she began to share, quite matter-of-factly, about her brother's death and her grandfather's abusive treatment. She shared how the two tries at adoptions just hadn't "worked out". She was completely shut down and her affect was totally flat. She had methodically and successfully shut her emotions down. She was in protection mode and did what was necessary to survive.

She arrived for her "move in day", and she was extremely tense. She choked back sobs and pretended as though she didn't care about anything. It didn't matter how many gifts we had given her or how many hugs we offered, she did not budge. She was determined to remain isolated and hold-up inside of her own psyche. Her muscles were hard as rocks and her shoulders could've carried the weight of the world...and it seems they did. Her world crumbled...again, and she found herself entering another unknown. She was being "placed" into a residential facility. This fate is reserved for the most profoundly traumatized children in foster care. How was this her story? How had she gotten here? Just 24 days ago a family had promised that they would adopt her and be her "forever". Forever seemed to be much shorter than she had hoped for. 

She settled in to the routine at HOP. Her first months dragged on and they were not easy (for any of us). She was (understandably) angry and she let everyone know it! She didn't trust us and she made it known almost every moment. She didn't owe us her trust and we were determined to earn it. Almost like it snuck up on all of us, momentum was suddenly on our side! She began catching up in school and believing what we said. She decided to try trusting one. more. time. She began discovering herself. She realized that she loved coffee (pretty much a prerequisite at HOP) and that she was extremely athletic. She quickly discovered that she was the best dancer, and that her sarcasm, previously used to keep others away, was actually a natural hilarity that brought belly laughs to the house! She reluctantly joined a basketball team and much to her own surprise, she shined and made basket after basket.

Slowly, but surely, this child's ego strength was building. She was processing her trauma in therapy and reframing it as a profound tragedy that she endured because of the brokenness of others. She trepidatiously accepted that her story and trauma weren't things that befell her because she was so easy to hate and abuse. The shadow that darkened every interaction had dissipated and she was lighter, somehow. She was becoming bubbly. This angry girl who could only cling to hate as her safety net to protect from any intimacy that would result in ANOTHER rejection, was transforming into the most conscientious sister in the house who gave encouragement and hugs like they were going out of style! Forgiveness was now her freedom! 

Two years later and she is well and she is kind. She is funny and she is a GREAT soccer player. She was the center forward and she scored nearly every weekend. She is doing great in school and she has learned how to authentically cry when she is hurting. She is active in our therapeutic groups and recalls her mile markers of growth. She tenderly encourages the other girls who are not quite as far along in their journey. 

Won't you please consider opening your home to a kid like this? There are so many opportunities to wrap your arms around a girl who just needs a chance. A girl who just needs a family and a bedroom to call her own. A girl who just wants to be chosen and wanted. A girl who needs her "forever family" to really mean FOREVER

Thursday, December 14, 2017

And The Soul Felt It's Worth

When your early years of life are filled with horrors and atrocities, too awful for sharing, your sense of self is extremely skewed. You may believe that you have somehow deserved the abuse...the neglect...the beatings and stomping...the utter starvation of soul and body. Even though this is inherently NOT true, it takes so much time and intentionality to help a child relearn their true value. It takes time for them to believe us when we tell and show them that they are of incomparable worth. That their value is far above rubies. Love has such a foreign cadence that feels awkward and easier to avoid.

When Christmas rolls around, we think of the beauty of all that Jesus did to come to us...abide with us. We try to live that way at HoP. We try to just abide in the places of suffering and bring triage to the soul and relief to the spirit of our girls. We do all that we can to establish new memories of happiness and worth. We struggle to swing that nasty pendulum of harsh words and even more harsh hands, to the other side where tenderness is felt and life is spoken.

We have parties galore and there are more cookies and treats than it would be humanly possible to consume. We decorate and shop. We use oils and candles that trigger new brain responses to new memories. We play Christmas carols for MUCH longer than the staff would, if they had their druthers! We do crafts and look at toy catalogs.

As we all sat together at our Christmas party this past Sunday evening, I looked around the room at our board and staff, and their spouses. I was overcome with utter gratitude for the willingness of these mamas and warriors to believe that there IS better for our sweet girls. This group of men and women fight in their own God-assigned way, to see that HoP moves forward and that more children are rescued. Over the past eighteen months, 14 of our 19 girls are slated for a PERMANENT exit from foster care. This is remarkable and we are grateful to be a small part of the Lord's plan for redemption.

Surrounded by coffee, warriors and desserts, and in the glow of low restaurant lighting, Quela began to sing, in a way that only she can. She sang: "O holy night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of the dear Savior's birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining. Till HE appeared and the soul felt it's worth...". She continued on with the timeless lyrics, and everyone was captivated! One staff member held one of our girls on their lap. Another wrangled our seven year old from an attempted escape to the vestibule. Our fourteen year old was mezmerized by Miss Quela's voice. The room was peaceful and holy.

I was a certain kind of mess, though. I was not able to focus, or be in the moment. I couldn't move on. I was completely undone. "YESSSS"! I thought to myself! It hit me as never before! "That is exactly IT! We work at HoP every day for exactly THAT!!"



AND THE SOUL FELT IT'S WORTH

May we always help the soul's of these sweet, battered children truly feel their worth! 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Perspective

As we drove down sidestreets, we wove in and out to avoid debris and poorly parked clunkers. I am great at small talk, and I engaged this girl relentlessly. She has been at House of Providence for almost a year, and knows me well enough to know that resisting my chit-chatting is pointless.

She has known rejection so deep, that I don't have words to properly sort it for you. She has exhibited a courage so great, that she, quite  literally, left it all on the court (or in the courtroom, as the case may be). This six month long excercise in bravery, that her life circumstances had forced her into, had left her so depleted, that she hardly had a will to live. We watched her constantly to ensure that she was safe from her own hand. Giving up is not an option at House of Providence, even if we have to carry them for a period of time.

I tend to be a little "Pollyanna" and I am  aware that it can be obnoxious. I am constantly  searching for even the tiniest sign of sunshine in the darkest storms. Some days hope is all we have.  Normally, I'm pretty good at dragging our sweet girls into my hope filled, sappy ways.  This particular day as we "shot the breeze", the weather was just becoming tepid. All of Detroit was emerging from the slumber of winter and spring was teasing us with beautiful days at least once a week.  As we drove, I put the windows down and let the fresh breeze blow through her hair that stretched all the way down her back.  She also has these sweet, short, curly little wispy hairs that frame her face, and rest on her head like a crown.

As we drove and enjoyed the wind on our faces, I could smell smoke from people burning leaf piles in their yards.  Nostalgically, I commented on the smell that was  impossible to miss. "Oh, that smell reminds me of campfires and Smore's!"

 She looked at me wide-eyed, speaking to me before her voice even gave sound.  Sadly, she recalled:  "it reminds me of when we lived in an abandoned house that burned down."

I was slapped out of Pollyanna-land, and into the painful reality that so many of our girls live in. Our frame of reference and perspective shape everything. Our senses don't forget.  I am constantly  reminding myself  that behavior always performs a function; that there is a reason our girls act and react in the way that they do.  I try to  remember this so that grace can flow more easily from my reactions. Sometimes keeping up with their "whys" can be exhausting and sometimes it can be downright confusing. But, I have come to realize, that the way I react and my frame of reference for life is  just as confusing for them.  If I can step out of my ego-centric view of the world long enough, I might just be able to see it "their way" and react with empathy and understanding.


Friday, June 9, 2017

Fifty

The sun shining down brightly, sharply juxtaposed the darkness of the garbage bags that contained what was left of her world. She lethargically exited the state vehicle and walked toward our door. Her tear-stained face was mustering every ounce of bravery that she had left in her small frame. We are all too familiar with this hollow look and sullen gate. When little girls need us, it means that terrible things have happened to them-things that are largely unspeakable. When the authorities ask for our help, it means that they have nowhere else to turn for shelter or help for this child. We gladly, but soberly, say "yes"!

Often, potency is lost over time in repetition of activity. This was the fiftieth time that we had welcomed a girl into the House of Providence, and somehow the potency of her immense grief and chasms of loss were still just as intense for everyone. The palpable pain was just as intense as on that cold day in February of 2014 when we welcomed our very first girl.

Fifty harrowing stories, later. Fifty foster kids. Fifty broken families. Fifty children shattered. Fifty hearts unnecessarily busted.

As each new girl walks through our doors, we decide to be brave enough to hope! We go to great lengths to prepare their favorite meal, a welcome bag that is tailored just for them (including use of their favorite colors, a NEW iPod with positive music in their requested genre, NEW pajama's, robe and slippers, several NEW outfits, NEW shoes, NEW purse, NEW accessories, well organized and personalized NEW hygiene items, and so much more!) and what's more, we provide a comforting, safe, soft place to land in what may very well be their darkest day.

Fifty reasons to show up! Fifty treasures with spice and grit. Fifty personalities and boundless gifts. Fifty smiles and one hundred ears for us to fill with words of life - words that help to replace the lies of disdain that have been spoken over them for years. Fifty girls who we tenderly tuck in, night after night.

Fifty! A milestone that is nothing short of a privilege and an honor that requires "the audacity to hope" (Rob Morris, Love146)! Celebrate with us as we embark on this new chapter of expansion! Join us at our Wishes Gala and partner with us as we reach the next fifty girls. We cannot wait to open our doors to the disabled foster youth, and the young men and boys who desperately need our services, as well!

Cedar Point May 2017 #NewMemories

Friday, January 6, 2017

What If?

I walk into the office on a cold January morning. I am not even out of my sleeping bag of a coat. A messy tantrum is in full swing. This was not new. This was not rare. She could go from zero to sixty in 2.2 seconds, without even breaking a sweat. Her gear shifting abilities were akin to a high performance sports car. The revving of her engine was obvious and unstoppable. Her feral attributes were devastating to watch. These special "skills" were highly developed and she is not able to surrender them. She has learned that her survival is dependent on them. The anecdotal snippets that she shares about her little decade on this planet are altogether alarming. Some of her experiences seemed so sensationalized that it went beyond unnatural and ventured into the impossible. Horrifyingly, they were not only possible and true, they were her reality. 

There is something so unnatural about a mother rejecting the fruit of her own womb with such aggression, that her child is acutely aware of it. There is something so life-altering about a mother choosing an inanimate intimacy with heroin over a love that should be shared with her child.  There is something so debilitating about being denied life's necessities so that those monies can fuel the mind-numbing habits of a mother who is decaying right before you. A mother's protection should be unstoppable. When it is quite "stoppable", something irreparable is done in the heart of her child.

I can't help but wonder what these unhinged attributes could have been without the trauma, abuse and neglect. The chaos had formed her. What if love had built her? I wonder what her agility and quickness could have been. Could she be the unstoppable soccer player loved by her teammates and celebrated by her coaches? Could her acumen for manipulation, instead, have been a brilliance nurtured that allowed her to become the valedictorian. Would she have received a full-ride scholarship to the University of her dreams? Could her aggression, instead, have been a strength that propelled her into a future with confidence and boldness fearing no one? How about her amazing and complex grasp on the english language (especially the most vulgar words and assaulting phrases that she could sling together on a moments notice)? Could she have been a renowned orator with a litany of TED Talks, or an author? So many possibilities hijacked by the daily terrors of abuse and neglect. 





Hope flickers dimly in her eyes. I fear that the light may go out completely. Her fragility is obvious and needs no introduction. Her anger bullies her. We will bring felt-safety, consistency, love and boundaries to the table every day. I long for the day that she "lets go" and begins to feast!




Foster Care  

She is quick
She ran into my heart
I am unable to extricate her


**Pictured above: a rare glimpse of her happiness and compliance while decorating for Christmas.