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.

Out of the Ashes

Photo credit: http://freedomphotography.smugmug.com/
Photo credit: http://freedomphotography.smugmug.com

Looking at the image above of my family causes me to think of how blessed I am. We are a family filled with lots of love, lots of trial and errors, lots of do-overs, and lots of moments that leave us laughing.  Looking at the image above makes my heart happy, and yet, it also makes my heart a little sad.

I know that sounds strange to say it makes me sad, but truthfully, it invokes a sliver of sadness.  It is not my children or my husband that do this to me.  It is the thought that my family…my everything here on Earth….was created out of the terrible circumstances of others.  The birth parents, grandparents, cousins, siblings, and other relatives that will not be pictured on the couch together with my children are on my mind.  My children will most likely never be embraced by their birth grandparents.  We have some limited contact with a sibling of my daughter, and we send letters to my son’s birth mother, but these things do not replace or ever will replace growing up in their families of origin.

I love the little ones I’ve been charged of taking care of.  I love them so much that my heart can’t help but break for what their birth parents have or are going through.  Substance abuse, mental illness, instability, homelessness, severe impoverishment…you name it….these are the things that make up the lives of birth families of the sweet ones I tuck in at night.  I know that the Lord formed my family.  I know that He took the messiness of life’s problems, and created the portrait of love above.  I know this.

Adoption has blessed me in some many ways.  It has fulfilled that deep longing to live for and love on a child.  It has broken me, humbled me, and rebuilt me again. Taking in someone else’s child has brought me to my knees in tears and in prayer. It is complicated, requires full attention, and yet, it is beautiful.  It is beautiful.

Still yet, my heart aches for those out there with whom my children come from that are missing out on the hugs, kisses, temper tantrums, scrapes, good dreams, bad dreams, and longings of children learning who they are in the world.  It was not meant to be this way.  Fathers and mothers were not meant to abandon their children, have severe addictions, or struggle with mental illness.  Still, here I am benefiting from these tragedies.

People may look at our situation and think, “What a great thing that has happened for them.”  I think that way too, but still, in that quiet place of my heart, that place that is secret, I grieve for my children’s birth mothers.  I carry them with me.  I think about them when celebrating the goodness of my children.

I know the day will come when my children will learn and fully understand the circumstances that opened their paths to our hearts and our home.  I know that day will be hard.  It saddens me.  It worries me, and it humbles me.  It also builds my courage to do a better job as a parent, to try each day anew to meet my kids where they are at, and to gently guide them as they grow.

There’s a lot of love on the couch in the photograph above.  There are moments of utter chaos and craziness that comes with three young children.  There are moments of exhaustion, and moments of exhilaration   There is definitely plenty of happiness that goes around.

There’s also a family sitting there that has shed tears, whispered prayers, and spoken hope.  There are two parents who know that out of the ashes of mistakes, darkness of addictions, and pain of regrets, this family…our family….was created.