August 10, 2013
Where Are You?
Night has descended, still, dark and bleak. All across the city, while most families slumber peacefully in their beds, countless invisible children wage a battle with the fear and loneliness that have become their steadfast companions. Children without fathers to protect them and pray for them, without mothers to tuck them in and press tender lips to their expectant cheeks. For as long as they can remember, night-time feels like drowning in an ocean of despair.
The less-than-perfect baby lies in the same hospital crib he has occupied since he was born. He has never experienced the brisk breeze ruffling his hair, or a fleecy blanket swaddling his legs, or the familiar face of a mother who whispers “Sh, there, there,” when he wails his distress in the middle of the night. He cannot be discharged from the hospital, because where would he go? Is there no one who will love him? Who will see beyond the deformities and envision the young man he could become?
The adolescent has not been so protected. She knows what pain feels like, inflicted on her in anger by one of her mom’s boyfriends. A man who sees her as nothing more than an irritating, bothersome inconvenience. After the third, or maybe the fourth foster home, she finally understands that acceptance evaporates like dew. Rejection has become commonplace. She lies awake at night wondering, What is wrong with me? Will I ever find a place to belong?
For the teenager, nighttime means something else altogether. It means danger and self-reliance and the rush of adrenaline when the red and blue flashing lights give chase. There is no bed, no bedroom, no home. She has run away from every facility and group home that has tried to contain her, but the rage refuses to be contained. The hurt and disappointment of a stolen childhood are distant memories, having long since melted away and been replaced by the ice of anger. She is troubled and confused and dejected. She barely remembers to ask, What does “family” mean?
Their silent cries pierce the blackness:
HOPE, WHERE ARE YOU? Please don’t abandon me when I most desperately need you! I am depending on you to give me a reason to live, a reason to face another day. Without you, how can I continue? I cannot image what tomorrow will look like, much less conceive that I might have a future full of endless possibilities. That maybe, just maybe there is someone out there who will love me. This storm I could endure, this darkness I may be able to face, if only I could find just a glimmer, just the tiniest spark of you. Oh, Hope, where are you?
Insomnia is her worst enemy. It’s a ruthless, unmerciful thief that steals, not only her precious sleep, but also her mind’s respite and the rejuvenation that her body craves. From sunrise until well past sunset, day after day, she selflessly cares for “the least of these”, the children that society has discarded, the ones that no one else is able or willing to love. Is it too much to ask for a good night’s sleep, so that she can have enough energy to face tomorrow’s challenges?
Instead, as she stares at the moon’s shadow dancing across the ceiling, her thoughts are racing so fast that they practically leave skid marks on her brain. Her heart is beating so loudly that she is surprised that the other sleeping members of the household aren’t awakened by the commotion.
Why is she doing this? Is there really any value in expending her time and energy into a child who is only going to leave, if not this week, possibly next month or next year? Does feeding someone else’s baby or potty-training someone else’s toddler really have any eternal significance?
And what about this child’s parents? How can she show them the love of Jesus, when, in their opinion, she is the adversary, the one who is responsible for their unfathomable situation? How can she honor God in the midst of anger, and accusations, and animosity?
Her silent prayers permeate the dark hours:
FAITH, WHERE ARE YOU? How can I diligently carry out all of these daily, ordinary tasks without you? How can I face another interaction with these parents if you do not accompany me? I need you to remind me of the purpose and meaning of this role to which I have been called. Please give me the assurance of what I hope for, the certainty of those things that I cannot see. Help me to remember that my labor is not in vain. The days filled with incessant demands, the sleepless nights that plague me . . . I will gladly persevere if only my heart could be filled with your presence. Oh, Faith, where are you?
She replaces the phone in its charger on the wall, and slowly releases her breath that she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. No, she had said. No, we are not able to take another foster placement today. The social worker’s plea that there was no one else to call hadn’t persuaded her. She might as well have said, I am choosing to close my door in the face of a child who needs me.
This was the sixth call in the past two weeks with similar requests. Please, would you consider taking the teenage girl with an eating disorder, since I know you have experience and can help her? What about the 10-year old autistic boy who could benefit from your individualized care? There are two children sitting in my office right now with nowhere else to go; they have already been separated from their other siblings and would really like to be placed together.
No, I’m so sorry, she had responded to the appeals, but I really can’t. Within minutes of hanging up the phone, the grief at these children’s plight, along with the guilt at having turned them away descended and landed on her shoulders.
But what other choice did she have? Her spirit was willing, but her home and hands and hours were already full. Filled with troubled teens, medically fragile babies, school-age kids with learning disabilities, not to mention the dishes, laundry, appointments, tutoring, and busyness of raising children that automatically accompany large families. She had made what she felt was the wisest choice for her family, but in doing so, she had turned away a child in need. Her heart cried out:
LOVE, WHERE ARE YOU? Is there nowhere else for these children to go? Are there not other families who are willing to open their hearts to you? The needs of these children are so great, so unrelenting and overwhelming! Please, won’t you pour down like torrential rain. So flood the hearts and lives of God’s people, that they cannot help but overflow and drench the parched souls of these little ones, these children who have never seen you. They are so precious in His sight, but how will they know Him without you? Oh, love, where are you?
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)