She Came Home

It had been almost 9 months since I last saw her.  In the fleeting moment of her impulses she ran out of our lives.  But, now she was found.  The court quickly stamped too high a risk, and without any other options available, she was whisked off to her temporary home.  She affectionately calls it “kiddie prison.”

After months of fighting for visits, I’m finally allowed.

I’m not sure how she’ll respond.  Working in this field, for this long, I’ve learned a few things.  One is that emotions are always extreme even if their not identified.  Another is that regardless of her response in the moment, my role is to simply keep showing up.

As I walk in, I almost miss her sitting there with her team.  She’s slumped over, her extravagant braids have disappeared, and she’s back to wearing lackluster scrubs.  As I walk past, she grabs the attention of her case manager and exclaims, “that’s her.”  As I turn and smile, she immediately puts her head down and attempts to hide the tear with her hand.

We started unsure and awkward, both trying to decipher what the other person was thinking through words and actions, while the other people at the table served as an intrusion.  Once the other workers were distracted with logistics.  We both turned our shoulders slightly to create some semblance of a barrier, a mock privacy in a room full of people.

I began asking, “Do you want to talk…” but before the words were completed, tears quietly rolled down her face.  After a brief pause, a barely audible “I didn’t want to run, but the other girls mentioned it, and I just hadn’t been free in so long.”

She wiped the tears and then continued.  “I knew as soon as I did it that it wasn’t freedom. I wanted to come back right then. But…I was too embarrassed.  I thought you’d be disappointed in me…and then more bad things happened…”

The response came out of my mouth without any thought, “I’m not disappointed.  I’m just sad that we didn’t have enough trust, so you would know you could come back at anytime instead of waiting to be found.”

She instantly picked her head back up and calmly said, “I trust you now.”

Our brief moment was quickly interrupted with further logistics, goal setting, and scheduling.  And just as quickly, it was time for her to move on to the next activity.  As we said our goodbyes, she quickly grabbed and hugged me.  She then said, “I know you’ll be back and tell Ms. Sherrita hi.”  She then smiled and joined her group.

After walking back to my car, my mind had to process a bit.  I replayed the moments finding out she had taken off.  I replayed all the emotions of realizing we had done all we could do and now we just had to wait and trust.  But I also replayed the phone call from her Djo letting us know that she was found.  I replayed the first time I met her, the first time she disclosed to me, and the time I was able to walk into detention and tell her we had a place for her.  Each of those moments hold equal weight in her journey.

The journey may be long, but it hers.

As I started to pull away, I realized why the story of the Waiting Father had been so significant to me this past year.  I realized why I came back to it time and time again. It’s the summary of our responsibility.  At times, we simply wait and trust, but we also hope and embrace the times when we get to run, embrace, and celebrate when our daughters come home.

 

 

 

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Prodigal Daughter Come Home

Her face scrolls across the page and it’s startling.  What was suppose to be a simple distraction from a long day, turns into a harsh reminder of what I was fleeing from. An innocent post by someone well-meaning is my reality.  Her missing poster, flashes her charismatic smile, her innocence mixed with intellect.  I’m not sure everyone sees it when they’re clicking share, but when you know her and you see it, it’s undeniable.

It takes me back to five months ago, when I met her for the first time.  She was being held, against the judges’ better judgment, because she was a runner and what else can they do to keep her safe.  She was honest and disclosing, but at the time we didn’t have a bed for her.  She understood, but quietly hated the system for not having a place for her. She asked if I would come back to visit.  I quickly agreed and found myself looking forward to our next visit.

Each visit she disclosed a little more.  She wasn’t proud “of getting in the situation” but she was very proud “of getting herself out.”  She confidently told of how he schemed her and she knew it, but she schemed him back pretending to love him until she found the opportunity to fight back.  And fight she did! Punching and kicking fiercely until she could get by him to the hallway and then running through the lobby causing a scene, knowing someone wouldn’t be able to ignore it because of her age and not wanting a scandal.

As the month ticked by, she never lost her confidence but she lost her faith.  She never doubted that she could take care of herself, but she began to distrust that anyone else would do it as well.  She continued to set in her navy scrubs in her cinder block cell assuring everyone that would listen that she had changed; she wouldn’t run again if they would just get her out.  But, family wasn’t an option and, well, our beds were still full.

The day finally came.  We had a graduate and she would be coming to us!  Everything was ready and she was happy.  For the next several days, she was polite and courteous.  She was gracious with her peers and kind to her staff.  She appeared peaceful and content.  She stated on numerous occasions, “she was ready to grow, to focus on herself, to do what was best for her for once.”

But the temptation was too great; the choice too daunting.  She was faced with the choice to stay and embrace the trusting, loving relationships around her or to choose running led by the fear of not being able to change.

She ignored trust.

She chose fear. But not without looking back.  She ran and we pursued. She pulled ahead and then for just a moment she stopped and looked back again torn between the choice of trusting her future or the fear of living in the moment remembering the past.

Again she chose fear.  We were left standing in dismay and heartbreak.

And, now her picture scrolls across the screen with the title MISSING at the top and we’re left waiting; waiting for her safe return, some deeper understanding.  We’re just waiting.

But we wait with anticipation.  We wait by following up on leads, contacting guardians, driving by places she’s been known to go in the past.  We wait, praying for the opportunity to show her compassion.  We wait, praying for the opportunity to offer forgiveness.  We wait, praying for the opportunity to present her with the best we have to give.

We wait ready to celebrate her return.  But most importantly, we trust that someone, much greater than us is also waiting of her return!

“So he got up and went to his father.  But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”       -Luke 15:20

 

When Faith Appears

I wish I could say I woke up with eagerness.  I wish I could say I woke up ready to take on the world.  Instead, I looked at my phone with bleary eyes hoping the alarm wasn’t really going off, but just something in my dreams.  I wanted to cancel, but my guilt started gnawing at me.

Just three weeks prior, after hearing a conversation I was having with another girl at the table, she answered from the living room, “I don’t want to go to church.”  And after a small pause and a little under her breath, “How did He let that happen to me?”  It was spoken with complete innocence and question, not hatred or bitterness.  It was a moment I could only offer a glimmer of faith with limited understanding.  There were no easy answers, no clichés would work.  It was a simple question, with an answer so complex we may never fully grasp it.

Now, just a few weeks later, she asked to go to church.  Just like before, she made a simple proclamation, “I want to go church this Sunday.”

So, that’s why this Sunday, I was getting up an hour earlier than normal.  I should be excited.  I should be grateful that I get to be a part of this moment.  But, for some reason, I don’t want to lift my head off my pillow.  I want to hit snooze and roll over.  My body is exhausted, my mind is exhausted, my heart is exhausted and all I want is to have this day off.

There’s that pang of quilt again, that pang that finally forces me to throw back the cover and get out of bed.

When I pull up to the house, I put on my best smile.  It’s that moment when you dread going but glad once you’re there.  They all come out of the house dressed up, with their hair done, make up on, and a few waddling in their high heels.  We’re all going and they’re all excited.  The guilt rises again, because my selfishness almost caused me to miss this experience.

We show up and pick our pew.  Not completely in the front, but close enough

Once the service starts, I notice her getting anxious.  She has clear tells of fidgeting and looking at you with something to say but working up the courage.  She looks at me one more time and asks to go to the restroom.  When she comes out,  she confesses, “ok, I didn’t really have to go to the bathroom.  Can we talk outside?”  I look around and realize there is nobody around but I comply.  We go outside and her next comment humbles me.  Her eyes are brimming with tears and she says, “I don’t feel like I should be in there praising Him, when I couldn’t praise Him when the bad things were happening me.”

Guilt!  We both experienced it, but mine was deserved, hers was thrown on her by the depravity of others.  In that moment, her humility completely humbled me.  We began to discuss the beauty of God’s grace, how He understood how she felt in those moments, and never left her.

I asked if she was able to go back to the service and she immediately complied.

Within a few minutes, she became anxious again.  She then asked to go out again.  This time she asked if she could talk to the pastor after service.  This time I complied.

When we met with the pastor after church, she taught me what true faith looks like.  She quietly told him how nervous she was coming, how overwhelmed she was setting in the pew, and how she had to take breaks to get through.  She then made a comment that will continually shape my faith.  She said, “I told God, if he would just let this man speak to me today, then I would try to trust Him again.”

Such a simple phrase, yet for her it was one of the most honest, yet difficult things to own.  For her to trust anyone, shows the truest form of courage I’ve witnessed.

Before she left, she turned and said I’ll be back and I know it’s true.

In just a few hours, she taught me courage, trustworthiness, and faithfulness at a depth I’ve never experienced before and won’t soon forget.

I think I’m giving up modern church for my traditional roots!

church pic

I think I’m giving up modern church to go back to my traditional roots.  Today, like most people, I found myself setting in the old school pews I grew up in.  So many things were familiar from the missionary trunk filled with goodies setting in the foyer to the buzzer sounding to let us know that it was ok to go into the sanctuary. 

The entire family was there and the Wisdom/Ellis pew was overflowing.  I caught myself taking my shoes off to see if the dark blue carpet still felt the same as it did when I was a little girl setting in the floor coloring.  I walked around the room hugging and kissing the same way I did when I was 7 and 12 and 16, remembering how each of them influenced me spiritually in some way. 

In the midst of the remembrance, and the peaceful home feeling, there was also a small glimmer of apprehension.  You see…I’ve been trained, perhaps unintentionally, in recent years to expect the bells and whistles; to think that true, authentic Christianity comes from the newest, modern worship and expository preaching that would make John Piper proud.  And those pastors who still wear suits…forget about it! 

But today, instead of being focused on what was wrong with this “traditional” service, I was shaken with what was right.  As we walked in the front door, we were bombarded with people.  There was barely room to stand because everyone had congregated together to chat.  And, we weren’t excluded.  Everyone came to greet and/or meet us.  It wasn’t hokey or awkward.  There was no hesitation, or guarded handshakes.  They asked genuine questions about our life, how are day was, and what we would be having for Easter Dinner. 

I loved watching my mom smile with pride as we all piled in to set next to her.  Her nieces and nephews surrounded her, as the adults took the end slots. 

There was no dimming of lights to signal we were getting started, the musicians simply started playing.  My face lit up as I watched Uncle Buddy on the Bass, Margaret on the organ, and Ted on the guitar.  It was just as I remembered it, especially as Travis headed up to the drums.  Memories flooded back from sunday school class, youth trips, and lots of prayer.  And, I was a little surprised that after all these years, I could still remember every word to “Because He Lives.” 

Next, was the solo.  The track didn’t work!  Not only did it not work, but it made a creepy sound.  Surprisingly, nobody turned to look and judge the poor sound guy (because we know its always their fault).  The soloist waited patiently and made a few jokes.  The sound guy tried a few times, each time the sound getting more and more odd, even getting an exclamation from Jace of, “It sounds like an alien invasion.”  

The soloist and the musicians then just decided to wing it.  I forgot how talented they were.  She started singing and they just started one by one jumping in to play.  I think it made it more special! 

And, the sermon reminded me of what I missed with Pentecostal services.  Each word getting more and more excited.  I later had to answer Jace’s question of, “why was that guy yelling at us when he talked.” 

I loved the family of it all!

I loved the way community just happened naturally!

I loved that even in my sunday best I felt relaxed, comfortable, and at home!    

Faith = Freedom

Faith = Freedom

I have to admit that I meet most Sunday mornings with a little bit of apprehension. My thoughts and feelings are so often met with what can only be labeled at this point as the cliché of modern US church, “my last experience was so bad.” The phrase so many of my friends, peers, and family express week after week as the debate to go to church grows, sometimes in intensity and sometimes in indifference. We hold to excuses, so we don’t have to address the reality that the place that once provided security and love, has now been contorted to be something more like anxiety and hurt.

But, I’ve started making the deliberate choice to go, regardless of what my heart feels, or the sickness it brings. I choose to go when I’m tired or feel like it’s unnecessary. I go when my heart and my mind can’t seem to match up. Sometimes it’s literally one foot in front of the other.

This past Sunday was my third time visiting a church. As soon as I pulled into the parking lot, the knot in my stomach appeared and I let the deep sigh exhale.

As I opened my door, I was met with an excited, “Hey guys, watch this!” Of course I turned toward the excited voice, how could you not? I was met by a small girl, probably about 5, in a cute little red dress holding a skateboard. In just a moment, she took off running with the skateboard, going downhill on her belly. The whole way down the hill she was yelling, “cowabunga!” We all stood with big smiles on our faces, experiencing what can only be described as “the perfect moment.”

In that moment of carefree abandonment, a little girl reminded me of what faith was suppose to be, freedom. Faith is often expressed as the opposite, set up as a checklist of items to cross off as I accomplish them – if I study enough theology, if I post enough faith comments on social media, if I attend enough services – I have faith.

But faith is going downhill on our bellies being carefree in the middle of risk. Faith is freedom. Faith is studying theology because I’m so inspired by a complex God. Faith is posting as a tangible expression of my love of God. Faith is attending services because I genuinely love the people God has place in my life and I can’t wait to share that life with them.

Faith = Freedom!
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*Thank you to the little girl in the red dress for reminding me of what faith truly is. My prayer for you is that you never lose the carefree, risk-taking attitude.

To the lady yelling at the young kid…please shut up!

*Let me preface by saying the story is real and I can’t really filter it. Also, my mama and daddy, did not allow me to use the word shut-up so that speaks to the frustration you are about to witness.

Last week, I was recovering from working several days in a row, with a ton of apprehension with licensing, and exhausted from trying to find creative ways to train our new staff. I also had a pretty intense reflection paper to write for a previous school and I couldn’t seem to un-jumble my thoughts. I decided I was going to hide myself in a small booth in the corner of a coffee shop, knowing a cup (or twenty) of hazelnut coffee would be just what I needed to rejuvenate myself.

It started out great! It was quiet and reflective. Then the dinner crowd starting funneling in, but although the noise level rose a bit, the peacefulness was still there. I continued working, deep in thought, only looking up when someone walked into my direct line of sight.

That’s when I first noticed the two middle aged ladies setting a few seats in front of me. I could hear their catching up, which sounded an awful lot like gossip, as they walked by my table. As I watched them set down, I noticed two young men setting in the lazy seats in front of them. I thought nothing of it, too focused on my own things to observe much.

Unfortunately, the lady in front of me was not as focused. My head immediately jerked up, of its own accord, when I heard, “he has it out and playing with it.” As I looked up, the younger kid (the one who had gained this lady’s attention) was, well let’s say adjusting his pants and walking out the door, oblivious to anything she was saying. The older kid, who looked to be about 14, stopped at the ladies’ table, apologized with an embarrassed look and stated, “I’m sorry, he’s slower.” Then as abruptly as his brother, he also headed out the door.

Uncertain of what to do, I went back to my writing, thinking it was all over. However, the lady in front of me was not done. Apparently, the apology did not appease her. She began to proclaim throughout the restaurant, “That’s disgusting, he was masturbating.” Now, I already mentioned both boys had left and had even offered an apology, so I’m not really sure what the purpose of the yelling (and I do mean yelling) was.

There were shocked looks all throughout the coffee shop, not necessarily because of the boy. Most of the disturbed looks and rolled eyes, including my own, were directed at the lady who couldn’t let it go.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. The younger boy, probably around 10-11, must have realized he had forgotten something. He came back in and started looking around the chair. And…she was off. She started yelling at this child that “he should be ashamed of himself,” over and over again. I kept thinking to myself, “this can’t really be happening. I just wanted coffee and quiet.” But it was happening.

She just kept repeating herself. And the boy, well I don’t know what the brother meant by “slow” but as she was yelling at him he didn’t respond. The lack of response wasn’t out of defiance or ego, but out of a lack of comprehension. She kept yelling and he kept ignoring, even when she was in his face.

“You should be ashamed of yourself.” I watch this scenario unfold, all the while thinking, he’s not the one that should be ashamed.

Before I could get up and do something (what I’m not really sure), he was back out the door. I returned to my writing but there was no longer peace and quiet, because my mind was spinning with the injustice toward this youth I had just witnessed.

Again, I was startled, as what now only be labeled as an attack, is directed at the staff at the coffee shop. They apparently “should have done more,” were “useless,” and “didn’t care about the hygiene of the place.” I’m baffled. I’m not sure what I’m more disturbed about, that there was a young man obviously being watched by his older brother masturbating, or the fact that a woman became so irate that she is now to the point of hysterics and the cause is no longer present.

And…you guessed it…the story doesn’t end there. While everyone in the establishment, patrons, staff, management, stare in disbelief and shock. The lady, I’m assuming not getting enough attention, decided to follow the kids outside. She continues to share her disdain as they get on the bus.

She no longer had an audience, so assumed it would be over. Instead, she began flagging cars down as they were pulling into the parking lot and recanting the whole story, loudly so everyone would know what she was doing and providing glances over her shoulder just make sure.

Unreal! I’m still processing what happened days later. I can’t fathom why someone would go to such extremes to shame and humiliate a child. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not justifying the behavior, but also don’t think I can offer an opinion without understanding.

Perhaps, I could say that about the lady, as well, but she’s a grown up. She never offered assistance or forgiveness or guidance. She simply yelled, and humiliated both boys, as well as the staff, and disrupted.

She took an unfortunate circumstance and made it even more unfortunate by making it about her.

How much empowerment would there have been if she would have accepted that apology from a teen boy? How much understanding would she have demonstrated if she would have walked to the counter and quietly informed the manager? How much grace would she have shown if she would have simply let them walk out the door and left them alone?

But there is also me…why didn’t I offer assistance? Why didn’t I step in and offer understanding? How powerful would it have been if I would have confronted her bad behavior. But I didn’t. I let it place out as I sat in my thoughts of inconvenience and why me.

I think about it days later because in my tiredness or inconvenience or apathy I simply watched it play out. Our indifference, my indifference, so often allows injustice happen. What will it take to change that?

Leggings are bad!

Leggings Are Bad!!

Ok, let me start off my saying leggings aren’t pants! I’ve been waiting to say that since the new (or should I say reinvented) craze hit a few years ago. But that has nothing to do with this post. In fact, this post is about something I have never written about before and may never write about again.

Plants! That’s what it’s about…kind of.

Last week, Laura asked if I would be willing to meet with her and the horticulture therapist as we begin to start planning how to incorporate all these different components into our program. I eagerly excepted, because I might be the world’s worst plant grower. I’ve tried on numerous occasions, with all different types of plants, everything from African Violets to cacti to bamboo to those plants that “are impossible to kill,” with no success. I’d like to say I just have bad luck, but the truth is I’m just not very thoughtful. I start out great putting them in sunlight, watering them, secretly talking to them and then I just kind of forget about it.

So, when Laura offered I jumped at the chance to go and learn as much as I possibly could. I just wasn’t anticipating what I would learn.

The horticulture therapist started teaching us about how we can start growing produce, now. He described how we can build a cart for indoors and start planting. A crucial element, however, is the lighting. He started describing how too often people put the light too far away from the plant, even a few inches can make a huge difference.

You see, apparently, you have to put the light right next to the plants, otherwise they start a process called legging (see it wasn’t completely random). Legging happens when the light is too far away and the plant has to stretch to reach it. Because of the stretching, the nodes which are where the branches happen are now stretched out and the result is less fruit. The stems also don’t have the same strength and aren’t grounded with the roots the same way, so they then have to battle the elements.

The light makes all the difference!

This made me think. How often do I choose to remain in the darkness? How often do I only look for the light when I have to stretch to see it; when it becomes a necessity for survival and I’m battling the elements coming against me? And because I’m stretched, and tired, and simply surviving I don’t have the energy to bear fruit.

What would happen if I lived close to the light, letting it provide me with the nutrients I need for growing strong roots, stalks, branches and fruit?

Would I love people better?

Offer kindness and gentleness?

Would I live in peace? Be patient with the growing?

Would I be joyful?

I think I would be all those things and more importantly I think other people would see the growth, the fruit-bearing, and want to grow close to the light, as well.