October 17, 2017

A Different Story

Because she is unable to adequately care for the needs of her child, the little one has been taken into protective custody, and placed in the safety of my home.  That makes her the villain and me the hero.  She’s the bad mother and I’m the good one.  Right?

How did we get here, exactly?  Her story is so different from mine!

Even before I took my first breath, my story was relatively smooth and straightforward.  While she was born into a fractured and flawed family that sort of limped along, each one managing the best way they knew how, my parents were committed to staying married and raising their children together.  They taught me the meaning of “family,” setting for me an example of faithfulness, love, patience, and enduring hope.  They taught me about healthy relationships and the importance of making responsible decisions. 

My father was actively involved in my life, attending my high school sporting events, helping me with my homework, taking our family on camping trips where we shared his love for the great outdoors.  He never spent a night in jail.  He never disappeared for months without a word.  And he never, not once, raised his fists in anger towards his wife or children. 

On my 16th birthday, my dad helped me celebrate the special day by standing in line with me at the DMV, so that I could get my very own drivers’ license.  I had no idea then what a gift that was!  For years – decades, even – I would have access to my own source of transportation, never being forced to rely on friends or public transportation.  Unbeknownst to me, he was giving me a lifetime of freedom.

My sisters and I all have the same father and mother.  There are no half- or step-siblings or tangled branches in our family tree.  We grew up to become the best of friends.  We have become each other’s biggest cheerleaders, supporting and encouraging each other through life’s joys and struggles and milestones.

My sheltered childhood and my strong family ties – do these automatically make me better than the one who experienced none of those things?  Or am I just protected?  Extremely fortunate?

Because of my solid and stable family, I was never in danger of giving my heart to the wrong guy.  There were no scandalous romances.  No teenage pregnancy to derail my education and shroud my life in shame.

After receiving my education from a prestigious school, I had no doubts that I would attend college.  I graduated on a bright spring day, the degree in my hands giving me the confidence to believe that I could change the world!

Almost immediately I had an amazing opportunity, a brilliantly lucky break, when I landed my dream job at an international company.  Even after paying the monthly rent for my cute apartment, making car payments, and trying to pay off my student loans, my salary provided me with enough extra to have fun.  Holidays in Europe with friends.  Week-end ski trips with my sisters.  It was a beautiful, privileged life.  A chapter I enjoy reminiscing.

It was during this time that I met the man I would marry.  A solid, dependable, kind man.  A man of integrity.  On our wedding day nearly 25 years ago, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world!  I had found the love of my life! 

During all our years of marriage, he has never spent a night in jail.  He has never disappeared for months without a word.  And he has never, not once, raised his fists in anger towards me or our children.   I have never, not once, had to call the police in fear for the safety of me or our children.  I have never had to file a restraining order, hide the bruises, or patch the bullet holes in the walls.

My education and career and loving, devoted husband – do I deserve any of these things any more than the one who has been deprived of all of those things?  Do they make me better than her?  Or just incredibly blessed?

Together, my husband and I embarked on a journey that would lead us into the world of foster care and adoption.  And this is where our stories converge, hers and mine.  Because she is unable to adequately care for the needs of her child, her little one has been taken into protective custody, and placed in the safety of our home.

It is my joy to care for him.  To devote my time and attention to helping him become healthy and whole.  Unlike her, I never need to worry about losing my job because of his frequent medical appointments and specialists and procedures and school meetings.  When he requires an extended hospital stay, my husband can manage things at home and still provide an income for our family.  And my driver’s license, access to reliable transportation, extra cash for gas and hospital parking – all of it is a luxury, an advantage that allows me to be present and engaged in every aspect of this child’s care.

Sure, it can be a struggle, balancing his needs with my other responsibilities at home.  There are times when I feel overwhelmed and utterly exhausted.  Sometimes I cry when it all seems too hard and I don’t know how I can press on.  Fortunately, though, I am surrounded by friends and family and neighbors – many people who are eager to help lighten my load and strengthen my courage.

Her story is very different from mine.  Is she irresponsible and am I the reliable one?  Or is it just that I have more resources?  Or that I have a more supportive community?  Does that make her the villain and me the hero?  Is she the bad mother and am I the good one?  Or am I just abundantly privileged?

The truth is, she didn’t choose her story, and I didn’t choose mine.  Our upbringing, our circumstances, our socioeconomic status . . . if any one of those had been different anywhere along the line, we might have each ended up in very different places.  What if she had been a part of a strong, intact family?  What if she had the resources to pursue higher education?  What if she had a successful career and an amazing spouse?

When she cries and it all seems too hard and she doesn’t know how she can press on . . . what if she had friends and relatives and neighbors –people who were eager to help lighten her load and strengthen her courage?  What if the believers in her community were just as supportive of her and her child as they are of me and her child?

Neither one of us have any idea how the next chapter will unfold.  What will happen to this sweet, innocent child?  How long will he be in foster care?  How long will he be a part of my family?  Will reunification with his mother ever be possible?

One thing is certain, though.  In spite of all the uncertainties, in spite of all the advantages and disadvantages, the poverty and the luxuries, the unfairness of it all, I do know the backstory.  You see, I know the Author.  (Hebrews 12:2)  And to Him, she and I are not that different after all.

She’s not the bad one, and I’m not the good one.  To Him, we are both broken people, desperately in need of Him.

God does not love her any less because of her turbulent, sometimes violent relationships, and He does not love me any more because of my solid marriage.

He is every bit as close to her in her low-income neighborhood teeming with crime and drugs as He is to me in my safe upper-middle class suburban home.

Her daily struggle to eke out a living with minimum-wage, dead-end jobs.  My husband’s respected executive position that enables us to meet our every need with barely a second thought.  Neither one is more or less impressive to the One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills.   To the One who is the giver of all good things.

Her rough story does not disqualify her from God’s grace, any more than my smooth story entitles me to God’s grace.

God is writing her story, knowing that the heartaches and disappointments of this life would drive her straight to Him.  Helping her to see that in her weakness, His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).  Showing her that the struggles in her life are what He is using to build endurance and character and hope (Romans 5:3-4). Teaching her how to forget what is behind and press on towards the goal of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:12-14).

And God is writing my story, knowing that the good things in the life, the comforts and delights, will never be enough to truly satisfy.  That any benefits or advantages in my story are nothing compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:7-9). 

She and I are both the same that way – we would both be lost, absolutely devoid of hope were it not for the forgiveness and healing and wholeness that can only be found in Jesus.  Where would we be without His love?  Without His grace?

We both stand before the cross exactly the same.  Broken.  Hands empty.  Utterly trusting in Him to provide the peace and joy that our souls long for.  And it is there, at the foot of the cross that Jesus looks at us and reminds us that her story and my story - they are not so different after all.

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