a hope for the future

Have you ever met a kiddo without a hope for the future? I have. After having been in foster care for several years, a 12-yr-old boy was assigned to my caseload. One day, I asked him, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He looked me straight in the eyes, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Eh…I figure I’ll either be in jail or dead by the age of twenty-one, so does it really matter?”

Speechless. It took me a moment to gather my thoughts.

“Don’t put that out there! There are all kinds of things to be and do when you grow up!” (I said this to encourage him but to no avail.) Shrugging his shoulders again, he said, “Well, it’s probably true.” Conversation ended.

Years later, I found out that after he aged out of foster care (because he was never able to be matched with a family), he ended up committing a non-violent crime and was sentenced to prison…right around the age of twenty-one. I have no idea if he is out or not, but even after all of these years, I wonder if he ever found his place, or better yet, found himself, in this world.

Trauma defined his life and identity. It filled in the lines between his growing years. It slapped a label on him that was nearly impossible to peel off. Had he been able to connect with one consistent adult (other than child welfare professionals), would his life have turned out different?

YES. I ABSOLUTELY BELIEVE SO.

How can we, as a society, help kids like him?

We need:

  • Families interested in fostering kids over the age of twelve, including sibling groups with mixed ages.
  • More funding for programs designed to target at-risk youth and provide them life skills, opportunities to explore jobs and support.
  • Trauma-informed base of knowledge into any program, school or other sites who provide care, in any capacity, to youth.
  • Churches to educate themselves and get engaged with systems that might make them uncomfortable. (Jesus doesn’t ask us to be comfortable, anyway. Can I get an ‘Amen’?!)
  • Purpose-driven resourcing for at-risk youth. Meaning, behind every action that is taken with this population, make sure there is a purpose that will drive them towards a better future.
  • Mentors!! We absolutely need adults to step up and seek out ways to get involved. I’m not going to lie. It isn’t pretty all of the time and you may not think you are making a difference, but every small action can lead to big leaps for these kids.

If there isn’t a mentoring program in your community, find out how you can start one. Talk with various agencies who work with at-risk kids and ones in foster care. Consider if your small group at church could provide support. Speak to your schools about what they might need. I am a firm believer that when at-risk youth (in or out of foster care) find connection with at least one adult, their chances of success greatly improve.

Kids deserve to have a hope for the future. We can help get them there. I believe that!

Life Lesson: Apples to Apples

In continuing life lessons for my kids, I decided to focus on loneliness. For fun, I’m calling my lessons, “Tuesday Night Teachings“. They look forward to Tuesday nights and ask, “Are we going to have a Tuesday Night Teaching?” This one is called, “Life Lesson: Apples to Apples”.

We sat around the dinner table and took turns telling each other what we are thankful for. It was a pleasant sound to this mom’s ears to hear my kids talk about being thankful for people in their lives, including our family.

This conversation about being thankful for each other was a perfect lead-in to tonight’s lesson.

“Don’t leave the table just yet. I want to talk to you. I saw something on Facebook that made me really sad. A guy lost his pet cat and asked for help finding it. He said it was the only thing left in his life. It made me cry for him because he later found that his cat had gotten hit by a car. I thought about how lonely he must be without his pet – especially because he said that his cat was really the only thing left in his life.

There are a lot of lonely people in the world.”

Passing the bowl of apples around, I asked each person (including myself and husband) to pick the one that is the most appealing to them. There were six different apples in the bowl. Each of us grabbed the one that we wanted and then took turns telling why we picked that apple.

“Now let’s all take a bite of our apples.”

The kids giggled a bit. My oldest son joked about thinking he might have swallowed a part of the core.

Lining the apples up next to each other, I said,

“Look at that. They are all so different on the outside, but look at the inside. They are the same. People are a lot like apples. God created us to be unique in our skin color and size. We each have our own ‘flavor’ but on the inside we are the same.

Do you notice that there is one apple that wasn’t picked? That is how some people feel. For instance, some people are left out because of the way they look or the color of their skin or for other reasons. On the inside, they are just like you and me.”

I ended the lesson by talking with my kids about how loneliness is a big problem in our world but if we can get past what is on the outside of a person and look at the inside, maybe we can help each other not be so lonely.

I’m really hopeful that each little nugget of wisdom about God’s truth seeps into their pores; creating a future filled with a genuine love of others. God doesn’t ask us to necessarily like everyone but he does ask us to love one another.

This God-kind-of-love sets the lonely into families.
It sees us from the inside out.
This God-kind-of-love can change generations.

I believe that.

John 15:12: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

(Life Lesson: Apples to Apples – what other ways have you used to teach children about loneliness?)

a broken girl

Sitting across from her, our eyes met. A broken girl. One with potential, but a past so heavy that it weighed her down. Familiar pain, with a hint of resistance filtered the air. Soon, tears, rich with sorrow, rolled down her cheeks. Have you ever felt grief? I don’t mean going through the emotions of it, but actually feeling it as it permeates the air? It was our companion on that day; a bitter, suffocating ghost of what should have been.

Inhale. Exhale. Deep breath. I said, “Okay. We need to discuss what happens from here. The case is coming up very soon for permanency so the Judge will want to know what we are going to recommend.” As her case manager, I had worked with her for over nine months. We both desperately wanted success. She loved her baby, that was never in question.

“Where you are at right now and the way the case is going, I believe the team is going to ask the Judge to change the goal to adoption.” She nodded, then said, “I know. It’s what’s best for him and I want that. I can’t do this. I can’t parent. I love him so much but he deserves more.”

Tears tried to push their way down my cheeks, but I held them back. Not now. I had to remain professional. A broken girl she was but in that moment, her resilience shone bright. “Okay, let’s talk about the type of family you would want for him.”

Pausing for a moment, our eyes met again, “I trust you to pick them. I’d like for him to have a dad and a mom, ones that will always treat him like he deserves to be treated…to love him.”

Before I could get another word out, she lost it. Her body collapsed a bit. She tried to wipe away the tears but she couldn’t. They were her messengers of grief being released into the world. “Caroline, thank you. You have been so kind to me and treated me better than anyone ever has in my life, including my own family.”

This was almost too much for me to take in. Gut-punch. Twinge of ache in my heart. As her case manager, I played a huge role in determining her fitness to be a parent. The termination of parental rights summary would be penned by my hands. I would testify to it, search for an adoptive family and eventually place her little boy there.

“Oh, you’re welcome. I’ve really enjoyed working with you and wish things would’ve turned out different. I want you to get help. You deserve a better life.”

Wiping away tears, she reached out for a hug. I gave her a long one; perhaps, the most genuine one she ever had. We said our good-bye’s and she left. I never saw her again but held onto her words as I searched for and placed her precious son with a loving family who lived out her hopes for her son.

The system failed her. Her parents failed her. Perhaps, in many ways, I failed her. This world did, as well. Trauma. Addiction. Homelessness. Chaos. These things were her constant companions since childhood; the only way of life that she had ever lived. Even as an adult, her companions never left her side. Always there. Like an unwanted shadow.

It is easy for us to look at people like her and question why they just don’t work hard enough to get their kids back. Would we be capable of doing so? How would we feel if trauma was our only childhood friend? What if addiction slithered its way into our soul? Or, homelessness and chaos walked alongside us throughout our lives? Could we manage? Would we?

I think of her, often; that broken girl whose life symbolizes sadness. Did she ever receive help? Is she is out there alone fighting her demons? Will trauma, addiction, homelessness and chaos remain her constant companions?

Years ago, a broken girl sat in front of me. In many ways, she never left.

Seasons of Change (Life Lesson)

A few months ago, I started weekly lessons with my kids on Tuesday nights. Although I’ve taken a break for the holidays, I plan on returning to “Tuesday Night Teachings” after the new year. My kids really seem to enjoy them! Here is one lesson that I taught called, “Seasons of Change”.

I started off by reading Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 to my kids.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Looking towards my children, I said, “Dad and I have been talking a lot about how much we’ve changed since we were younger.”

One-by-one, I placed the leaves on the table and asked, “What is this?” Each time I pointed to one, they said, “a leaf”.

“Yes, and look at how much the leaves have changed. In life, you will go through a lot of seasons and changes. There will be some days that you feel ‘green’ and happy and other days where you may feel ‘yellow’ or sad. Sometimes, you feel ‘red’ or angry about things going on. Just like these leaves, you will change and go through different times in your lives.

Do you notice that even though a leaf started off green, it ended up red, and even though it went through this season of change, it is still a leaf?” Nodding their heads in agreement, “Yes!”, they said.

“The cool thing is that even though there are changes, the leaf is still exactly what God designed it to be. YOU are as well. Regardless of what you go through or how you change, you were born a child of God and you will always be a child of God.”

Ending the lesson, I explained that this is one of the most important things to remember in life. The only constant is God. When everything else around us changes or when we go through different seasons, God remains the same.

If there is one thing I can hope to teach my children, it is this:

Regardless of what experiences they endure or the seasons of change they go through, I truly desire for them to know just how deeply they are loved by God, how they were created with a purpose, and that they will always be one of His kids.

Ramen Noodles and Trauma

Photo credit: A. Dudley

A few days ago, I shared a story on my blog Facebook page (@barrentoblessed) about ramen noodles and trauma. Yes, ramen noodles and trauma. My cousin is a foster parent who recently adopted four siblings. She and her husband are also fostering the fifth sibling.

Here is the post as written by my cousin:

“Tonight, after 2.5 years of living here, my oldest son sat down at the table with this. He was about to chow down when I stopped him and asked what in the world he was doing.

He said, “I made myself dinner.”

“But it isn’t cooked. I can cook that you know.”

“Well, I wanted to eat something I used to eat a lot with my old family.”

So we sat down and I asked him to tell me about it. He said that they wouldn’t feed him due to being passed out (you can guess why) and he would have to make dinner for himself and his brothers (2 and 4 months when they came to us). He said that all the money they had would be spent on cigarettes and other fun things and so he would find change in their van and would buy Ramen packets at the store down the street (at 6!!!!).

He said he didn’t know how to boil water, so he would eat it like this. And, he actually grew to like it. So, he would break it up for his sibling, and would try to make bottles for the baby (at 6!!!!!!).

Guys. I asked him to make me some. And, I sat there beside him and crunched it down with lots of water because it’s not great…and he just started talking about how the first time I made them ramen, he wouldn’t eat it and I told him I remembered. He said it’s because it reminded him of his ramen packets and he didn’t trust me (big thoughts for 9!).

He said he isn’t sad he’s not with his “old family” (his words) anymore, but that sometimes HE LIKES TO REMEMBER HOW STRONG HE HAD TO BE.

I write this so everyone knows, trauma isn’t healed quickly (sometimes never), an adoption doesn’t erase the past or the memories, kids can change, they will change with love, and to never give up on a kid because “they are hard”. And then, I walked away in shock, in sadness, and so so so proud of how strong my baby is. He’s so wonderful. And, we love him so much.”

I ended it by saying this:

“Friends, THIS is the life experience of kids who come from hard places. THIS is living a trauma-informed life. We can’t imagine what kids from hard places have lived through. It is not just about one act of abuse or neglect, it is about living in survival mode and doing it day in and day out. It is about making sure younger siblings are also surviving, even at the expense of childhood.

Trauma infuses itself into every pore. Kids just don’t forget it. Their brains and bodies won’t let them. Those of us privileged enough (yes, I said privileged) to enter into the lives of children with hard life experiences must be willing to sit down, eat uncooked ramen noodles and listen. We must not give up.

Our kids didn’t.”

Something about this post shook people up. Before I knew it, the post took off and soon became viral – with a reach close to 18 million people, over 9,000 comments and over 160,000 shares. Good Morning America featured it on their website.

People were sharing their own stories of trauma, eating ramen noodles as children, and their experience with foster parenting kids who come from hard places. Overwhelmed. Surprised. Shocked by it all. I felt all emotions in just a short span of time.

Childhood trauma adversely affects children over a span of their lifetime. Trauma doesn’t happen overnight. It isn’t healed overnight. The more we listen to children, seek to understand their stories, and connect with them in a loving way, the better they WILL heal from trauma. I believe that and science proves it.

Was it kind of neat having a “viral” post? Yes. Thrilling to be featured by Good Morning America? Absolutely.

Do you want to know what really stirred my heart, though?

Witnessing love pouring out. Reading thoughts of people seeking to understand trauma. People sharing kindness, hope and prayers for children as well as foster families.

Imagine it – a world where hurting children are met by embracing love; where every child can call home a safe space.

Just picture it. I do. This is my hope. This is my prayer.

on this day of thankfulness

On this day of thankfulness, my childhood has been on my mind. Maybe, it is because my daughter is now the age I was when I had my hysterectomy. Sometimes, I see myself in her. Curious. Strong-willed. Lover of fluffy things. Empathetic. Other times, I don’t.

Barrenness rushed in like a thief in the night. It didn’t just steal from me at that time, in that present moment. It kept stealing each and every day as I grew up. A stalker. A shadow that didn’t go away. A reminder of what was missing.

On this day of thankfulness, I’m reminded of the power of restoration. That somehow, grace had the audacity to chase me down, prove me wrong and breathe love and life into my soul.

Thankful for a loving Heavenly Father who took my physical, emotional and spiritual brokenness and flipped the script.

Lightness out of darkness.

Fruitfulness out of barrenness.

Gratitude replacing grief.

On this day of thankfulness, I am truly blessed.

Life Lesson: Equal in Worth

I have been searching for ways to teach my children life lessons without it being too preachy or boring. I decided to start “Tuesday Night Teachings” in our home. The theme for the first night was “A Life Lesson: Equal in Worth”.

After dinner, I commanded (not really, but that just sounds kinda cool) for my kids to stay at the table when they finished their food. Once we were all done, I told them this story:

“My hands were full at the dollar store when I got in line behind a man in his upper twenties. He looked at me and said, “You have on a nice outfit.” I said, “Well, thank you so much.”

He then said, “Are you single?” Smiling, with a small little chuckle, I said, “No, I’m married.”

“Do you have any single friends?”

“You know…I really don’t have that many. Most of my friends are married.”

At this point, I realized that this young man was extremely lower functioning – like even though he was an adult, he was more like a 4-year-old. He paused for a moment and looked away. He then turned back around and said, “Can you help me?” I gazed at my watch. I only had about eight minutes to get the stuff and go, and said, “Yes, I only have a few minutes but I can definitely help you. What do you need?”

He seemed a bit embarrassed as he said, “Sometimes, I have to wear diapers.” I said, “Do you need help finding the right ones?” (I realized that he was holding a package of baby diapers.)

“Yes, can you help me?”

Off we went to the appropriate section to find the size and type he should get. I said, “I have to go get back in line because I have somewhere to be in about five minutes. Make sure to get this package.”

At the counter, I told the clerk that the young man needed assistance. Checking out, I saw him leave without the item that he needed. Why he was allowed to go into the store alone without assistance? I felt bad for having a short timeline to be somewhere. I should’ve just stayed with him until he got what he needed.

In my van. Crying. For a young man to compliment me in one minute and then admit to wearing diapers and needing help really tugged at my heart.”

My kids were staring at me as I told the story and fought back tears again. I then laid three five dollar bills on the table and said. “Which one of these five dollar bills has more value? The one that looks perfect, the one with dirt on it or the one that looks worn out and torn up a bit?”

My kids paused for a minute and one-by-one pointed to the bill they thought had more value. I then said, “Okay, so in God’s eyes, which one do you think has the most worth or value?” Reaching out, one-by-one, my kids pointed to the one that was worn out and torn up a bit. I said, “I like that you answered that way, but actually, all three bills have the same value. They are each worth five dollars. When it comes to people, we all have the same value to God. It doesn’t matter if we look perfect, dirty or have scars, we each hold the same value to God.”

“Tuesday Night Teachings” are now a part of our home and I hope to share more with you as we move along in this season. This life lesson definitely warmed my heart a bit – not only because I was able to teach my children a truth about God that they really seemed to soak up, but because my experience at the dollar store today taught me so much as well.

We all have value. We don’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t matter if we are dirty or have scars. Despite our age, life lessons signify growth.

Life lesson = Equal Worth. Yes, we are all equal in worth to Him.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child (letter #8)

You sat across from me; worry and sorrow dripping from your pores. Your mind wracking with concern. Your heart aching for an answer. You said, “I was told this is how the system works. This is what I should expect.” For a brief moment, I froze in my seat; my own heart plunging into despair. Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, the least comforting words you can hear are “This is how the system works.”

People say that to you, don’t they? They seem to just let it out without a care in the world. In the upside down that you are experiencing, there really are no care-free words. What you walk through each day is far from that.

I refuse to be someone who reminds you of how the system works. I won’t let you feel less validated or that you are in the wrong for having strong emotions. Actually, on the contrary, I welcome your feelings.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, it’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to wonder when you will have to let go or when you can finally rest in permanence. It’s completely well with me for you to be human.

If anyone knows “how the system works”, it is you. Sitting through weeks (maybe even months) of training about how to care for strangers’ children, your own childhood is being explored. Your financial statements are viewed, fingerprints logged, and friends are called upon to give a reference. You are studied over and over again – watching each and every move.

You show up at meetings and speak the truth that needs to be shared – how the stranger’s child you are loving on is doing. Court hearings, therapy sessions, and visits with anyone who is related to the child are just a part of your new normal. Case managers, licensing workers, attorneys and therapists knock at your door. You prep the child for what is to come of the day, wipe away the tears, comfort the wounds, take the wrath of trauma and whisper hope to the Heavens.

As you sit back and listen to everyone discussing a child whose future is unknown, you want so much to voice your opinion and in doing so, you tremble with fear that someone might think you are “sabotaging” this whole thing. You gain the courage to speak but with anticipation of hearing “this is how the system works”.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, you deserve to be heard.

The reality is that you want so very much to see success. You are gutted at the thought of anyone living in despair. If you could, you would wrap the stranger, that has come into your life through a child, and nourish him or her with just enough healing and love to break the cycle and carry on. You desire to do this, even if it means a total loss for you.

There really is no other scenario in life where raw feelings of loss would be met with callous words. Would we say, “well, you knew it was coming”, to someone experiencing the death of a loved one? Gosh, I certainly hope not. Yet, in foster care, this is said a lot. These words do nothing to comfort. They fall flat on anguished hearts.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, don’t forget that while the rest of the world might be judging you, the child you are caring for is growing and changing BECAUSE of you.

It’s okay to get attached – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Without attachment, there is emptiness. On the outside of love, there is stillness. When hope is left out, there is no future. This is how love works. It is unreasonable to expect anything less.

To love a child you may let go, is something that most people would not do. If this were easy, everyone would do it. Sure, all of this may be how the system works, but you know how resilience works, don’t you?

Stay strong, (foster) Momma. Never forget the impact you are making in this world. It has ripples. Those ripples become streams that soon turn into waves. It is more than just a “system”. It is our future.

For you, this is life. This is how you mark your place in the timestamp of history. Your love is changing generations.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, don’t forget that.

Getting Caught Up in Our Own Stories

It is easy to get caught up in our own stories; stories of overcoming something seemingly so strong, so encompassing that it envelopes most of our lives. I’ve been guilty of this with my own story of barrenness. Yet, it took one moment with my child to change my thinking. My story of barrenness will never nullify my children’s stories of adoption.

“Do you know where my Mom is?” I heard this question while driving. I knew what “mom” meant. “No. I don’t but if I did, I would tell you,” I said to my child. “Oh…”. Stillness. No other questions.

As we drove to our destination, the silence was thick. My mind swirled with emotions – wanting to grill my child where this question was coming from. I didn’t, though. Instead, I filled my own head with an internal conversation. “Why does it matter? I’m “mom”. I mean, I KNOW it matters, but I matter as well, right?

Then, the thought hit me,

“Your story of barrenness is not more important than your children’s stories.”

That’s it. A huge pill to swallow. While I believe that a part of my testimony and refinement as a child of God relates directly to barrenness and that there is power in it, I also believe that the script of my life will never supersede the ones belonging to my children. I refuse to dismiss their histories, their need for knowledge, and the grief they feel now or may feel in the future. I refuse to be someone who is constantly getting caught up in my own story.

As an parent through adoption who has overcome barrenness, here are a few things I won’t forget:

  1. I won’t forget that my children have a voice. They have a right to express their feelings about adoption – regardless if it hurts my feelings or causes a measure of doubt and confusion.
  2. I won’t forget that they have histories before coming into my life. Whether that was 9-months in the womb only or a few months in other families, they still have a history that doesn’t include me.
  3. I won’t forget that they may always long for their biological parents. This truth breaks my heart – not because I’m jealous or anything like that. It breaks my heart because I love my children so much and will never know what it is like to be in their shoes.
  4. While illness and subsequent barrenness came like a rushing wind into my life and it took years to find my wings and fly with it, I won’t forget that none of this compares to the sadness and disruption that caused my children to become mine.
  5. I won’t forget that my children are not “door prizes” for infertility and barrenness. I didn’t earn them because of the hardship I endured. They are far more valuable than that and each have their own personalities and struggles. Kids are not meant to be put on pedestals like some kind of trophy – regardless of how long it took or the avenue to which they came into our lives.
  6. I won’t forget that my children are not really mine. I’m just borrowing them for this lifetime. I’ve been given the task of raising them, but honestly, they belong to the Lord. My desire for their lives will never compare to what the Lord desires for them. His will before mine. Can’t forget that.

Sure, the way the Lord weaved the tapestries of our lives with loss, joy, trauma and relief resonates with others. It may even propel people with similar stories to seek healing and resolution. This is all a truth that cannot be denied.

Still, though. When an adoptive parent (like myself) has a story full of pitfalls and long roads, it can seem like our personal narratives have greater value – like we are some kind of broken-hearted saviors for our children. This thinking can be a trap. It can fool us into believing that our struggles have more weight than the struggles of others.

As we make our way through the years (far removed from the days my children were legally declared mine), I’m becoming more fully aware that when we get caught up in our own stories, we miss the evolution and unfolding of the stories around us – sometimes even within our own families.

I don’t want to forget this.

All Just Souls

“All Just Souls” These words hit me while at the emergency room with my oldest son. A transgender woman entered the room and curled up on the chair. She sat there in physical and emotional torment. My son didn’t notice. He was too engrossed in his Ipad.

Soon, the family across from us began staring immensely at this person. “It’s a man”, I heard them whisper. Glaring again. Giggling. Whispering into each other’s ears.

She bent over in pain. My heart sunk. Soon, her name was called out. It was was a male name (meaning not a gender-neutral name). I knew the family would get a kick out of that and watched as they began all over again with the giggles, whispers, and stares. Not surprised. Sickened, though.

She came back and sat down near where I was. She was alone. Trembling. In pain. No one was there comforting here – unlike 99% of the others waiting in ER that evening. The internal battle in my mind started. “I can’t leave my son. What if she has something contagious? What can I do? What should I do? No. I’m going to mind my business…”

These thoughts coursed through me. Occasionally, I would look up and give a good glare at the family clearly enjoying their mockery. I looked again at my son. “Thank goodness he is oblivious to this.”

Before I had the courage to ask her if she needed someone to sit with, she was gone – whisked back to get the care she obviously needed. I sat there riding a wave of guilt over my lack-of-action and defiance to that inner voice that says, “Go.”

“Never again”, I thought.

My son was called back, checked out and (thankfully) able to leave the hospital that night. As we left, I thought about her. “Did anyone come up there? Is she okay? Does she have a family or anyone to support her anymore?”

For the next few days, my mind kept going back to that night at the ER. Yes, I am bothered that I didn’t get up when feeling nudged to do so. I missed an opportunity to try and love on someone who needed it. I’m also terribly troubled by the actions I witnessed.

The first moment I had with my kids actually paying attention to me (the struggle is real!), I said,

“Hey guys, you know that in life you will always be surrounded by people who look different than you, have different skin color, love differently, believe differently and make different choices, right? Well, it doesn’t matter how different a person is or if you don’t understand that person or don’t agree with their choices, what you are responsible for is always choosing to be kind. There is never, never any reason to be cruel.”

“Mom, you know I don’t act like that.” “Yeah, that is really mean.” Soon…their words in response to mine began to warm my heart.

I went on.

“Listen, guys. None of us are perfect or sinless. We have to remember that as we are sitting in judgment of others, God is watching us do that. We are being judged while we are judging others. Again, even if you don’t agree with someone, if they are different or you just don’t understand, there will never be a single reason to show cruelty or ridicule or laugh at someone – especially those who are hurting or in a bad situation. As Christians, we believe that each of us have souls. We need to start seeing each other not as people but as souls who want to be treated with kindness and understanding. We are all just souls. Does that make sense?”

“Yes, we know, Mom.”

It has been a few weeks since this occurred; yet, I keep thinking about the person…that soul….crumpled over in despair next to me.

It broke my heart – but in a good way – in a God way.

There are some who may think I’m leading my children astray by raising them as Christians but teaching them about acceptance and choosing compassion for those we don’t understand. We don’t just want to live by faith, we want to love by faith. That is the difference.

Gosh, when I visualize Jesus, I see him sitting next to those who are persecuted around us or walking right up to someone that others wouldn’t dare walk up to.

He loves those who are unloved by others. I can’t imagine believing so deeply in the love of Christ but not desiring to show that to others; to mock those who he gave his life for, to speak or act in cruelty towards the very ones he came to save.

“All Just Souls” Yes, we are. Let us always remember that.

Author’s Note: I could not leave this post without mentioning the high suicide rate in the LGBTQ community. It is absolutely heart-breaking. If you or someone you love needs helps, here is the suicide prevention hotline for the United States: (877) 565-8860 In Canada, here is the suicide prevention hotline specifically designed for the transgender community: (877) 330-6366 You are loved.