Several months ago I wrote this reflection about one of my kiddos at work. This week this child has been on my heart and I've realized it's long past time to share her story.
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November 20, 2015
This week I’ve been reflecting on just how much the kiddos that I work with teach me every day. Jesus met me sobbing at my desk one afternoon after one particularly successful meeting and challenged me to tell- to tell the stories of transformation, of strength, and of his incredible protection over these precious children who don’t yet know his name. Over the last few months he’s been impressing on me that I’m here to witness- to tell what I’ve seen and heard. Obviously, I can’t give you all of the details for the sake of confidentiality, so most identifying details will be changed, but the message remains the same. These are the faces and the stories that are shaping me and I pray that they challenge and encourage you.
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Fun fact of the day: I have had to stop a meeting on account of excessive hugging.
I bet very few of you business types can say that.
I’m currently working with a little friend, about 8 years old, who thrives on one-on-one attention and seeks constant reassurance and affection. During meetings it can be challenging to get anything accomplished, as her primary concerns involve circling the table to hug each person in succession before starting over again. Friend, family, complete stranger- it makes no difference.
My friend has what in “clinical” words we label as a Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), but what her eyes ask are the same questions that every child asks in one way or another: “Am I wanted?” “Do I matter?” “Do I belong here in your arms close to your heart?”
For so many of my kiddos, the answer to that question has been inconsistent at best, and at other times has been a heartbreaking “no.” For this particular little friend, the last two years have been absolute chaos. She witnessed her father physically abuse her mother and then have her forcibly hospitalized and escorted from the family home. When mom was discharged from the hospital, a restraining order made it impossible for her to come back and she became homeless, living on the streets. This little one and her siblings were cut off from their mom and had no idea if she was safe. Then, a few months later, dad was accused of a crime and custody was returned to their mother, but the kids lost contact with another parent.
The classic middle child, our friend spent the majority of this time of chaos and transition feeling invisible. While older siblings learned to parent and keep the family together, this younger child learned that she had to earn affection and attention to meet her basic needs. And so she reacted in whatever ways would gain that attention- through tantrums and aggression that eventually led to multiple hospitalizations.
Now, years into therapy and with the benefit of a stable living situation, she is thriving. She’s learning to be safe at school and in the community, is making friends, and is less fearful.
But the question remains: Am I wanted? Do you see me? Do I matter? Would you miss me if I were gone?
As social workers, we’re supposed to be great with boundaries, but every time I see this kiddo I just want to scoop her up, twirl her around, and shout over and over that she is wanted and that she is loved. That there is a God who made every little hair on her head and that counts each pink-dyed one! That He thinks she’s just the coolest thing, that she picks out great backpacks, and makes great rainbow loom potholders, and that He keeps her picture on his fridge so He can tell his friends about her. (I know that He does this because I’m His friend and He tells me.)
I think back to the story of Hosea and Gomer and how one of Gomer’s children was originally named Lo-Ammi (“not mine”). I’m pretty sure that’s how my little friend has felt for much of her life. Like there was no one who could consistently claim her- consistently show up on the first day of school to pick her up, consistently pack her lunches, consistently put her needs first.
But there is hope! Because God renamed little Lo-Ammi, and she became Ammi, “MINE.”
And I can hear Papa God’s heart as He shouts it loud, “she is MINE, she is MINE, she is MINE!” I can see Him waiting in anticipation for the school bus, claiming my little friend proudly in front of her peers. I can see Him kissing scraped knees and bumped heads. I can see Him flipping through the family photo albums and pointing out the family resemblance. (I bet she has God’s nose.)
This is who I know that Papa God is, but my little friend doesn’t know Him yet. My prayer for her every day is that she knows that she is loved and chosen and delighted in. That she is secure in the fact that regardless of family issues and the mayhem of the mental health system that she has a heavenly Papa who is always ready for a hug. Meeting or no meeting.