When you sit on hard plastic chairs across a laminated table from a social worker who is telling a woman the state is terminating her God-given rights as a parent, that memory doesn’t go away. You can still see the tears track down her face as she realizes the awful consequences of her life choices have left her no more time and no more hope.
When you adopt two of her daughters into your family, you don’t know how to figure out if you will let her continue to see them, but you decide it’s better not to hide, better to allow twice-a-year visits, better to let the girls know there are more people who love them.
When she begins making good choices in her life, she shows up at visits with arms full of presents and a heart full of excitement. When she leaves two hours later with fresh realization of past failures spilling more tears from her eyes, your heart breaks again.
Then you think about how from the first time you met her, you just wanted to help her. You felt like you needed to be a parent to both her and her children, but the girls came first.
Now, two years post-adoption, the girls are settled – they are part of your family. They love you without reserve, but part of the tragedy of orphan care is that kids experience ultimate rejection, which means that even when they land in a loving home, not everything works as it was designed. Every corner of our world is crying out for redemption, and it comes more quickly to some than others. The kids are fine for now, but nothing comes easy for their mom.
She sometimes texts you with questions about parenting and life. She has no one else. After she lost her girls, she landed with a new boyfriend whose chief attraction was a place to live. Now the father of her two-year old son and the baby boy growing in her belly, he abuses and manipulates her, but she can’t break free from his grip and their dingy, one-room apartment.
Still, she begins to take small steps. She finds a solid job and keeps it for a year and counting. She gets on a waiting list for subsidized housing. She saves a little. She builds a life. And then she gets a call that an apartment is open for her, but it’s too soon – she doesn’t have enough saved, and she doesn’t own anything to make a home other than a few clothes and toys.
She doesn’t ask you for help, but she so obviously could use it, and here you are with access to the two things she needs most: Jesus and stuff. How can you not make the leap? How can you keep her from people who care – and a God who cares – because it might get a little messy? How can you not want to invite her to church just because your girls might give their biological mom a few more hugs?
If you truly want to reach the ends of the earth – and the dark corners of your own cities – with the hope of the Gospel of Christ, you have to do it with no guarantees. You have to take a risk. You have to know that even if your plan does not work out, there are ways and plans and thoughts higher than yours.
So you jump in to help. You put out the call for beds, couches, lamps, chairs, food, decorations – whatever makes an apartment livable. Your church family responds, and your garage turns into a used furniture store with everyone’s donations. Your neighbors are astonished at the crew who loads it on a trailer in 10 minutes flat and then heads to her new apartment.
You help gather her things and take her to the new home. She is overwhelmed. When she sees her donated bedroom furniture awash in the warm glow of a lamp, fresh new sheets waiting quietly, she says, “I’ve never had my own bed before,” and your heart breaks again.
She responds to the generosity with grace, arranging her new world nicely. You see belonging, independence and hope in her eyes, and you learn not to underestimate the power of a place to call your own, a place to feel safe, a place to inspire.
She’s never seen love like this, she says, and you answer with the only thing you can say: you love because you have first been loved.
You wonder what it will be like to visit, but you see her again a week later, and she’s still doing well. She has hung pictures of the girls all over her apartment. It actually feels normal – at least as normal as it can. Maybe this is the new normal. The girls hug her and then just start playing. Their half-brother plays too. Their mom talks to you about her pregnancy and her new life.
A funny thing happens when you yield to what God wants. The hesitation about getting involved goes away. Your love grows. You’re proud of your kids for jumping in to help. You’re amazed at what He can do when you get out of the way. You start to wonder what the future might hold – this could be just the beginning.
You’re still not sure how it will turn out. There are no guarantees. She will need help for a long time. Maybe you’re getting played. Maybe she’ll slip back into old habits. But then again, maybe she won’t. There’s risk. But in the risk and in the obedience, there’s life. The Lion isn’t tame. You shouldn’t be either.