I don’t quite remember when I first met her. It was probably in the space in front of my apartment, where the kids ran and played in the sand. I could tell something was off when she first walked up. She is developmentally disabled, that was apparent, but I could tell something much deeper was going on. At first she was shy and didn’t want to come to the after school program we ran. Then over time she grew to love the program, and now she has the best attendance. Her life feels trapped, like most of the kids we work with. Poverty creates a world of problems in the families we serve.
A friend asked me once when I told her that I ran the program, I forget the question but I remember my answer. I was honest that time – most times I only share part of the truth.
“I didn’t think it was that bad for so many kids,” was the answer. And I meant it. The more I learn about the students we work with, the more upset I become with the way things are. Lights dim, passion starts to flee, and I question life and look to God. I think God moves slow if I’m honest.
Over time, we learned more about her life at home. With most of the kids, I see glimpses and then when we build trust, they tell me everything. They need to tell someone everything, so they trust too quickly and share too much. I guess we are good people to share with.
A man outside, screaming profanities, threats, later I would find out to be her dad. A woman inside, screaming at her kids, demeaning them, later to find out that was the mom. My picture was being woven together. A story about a dad who hits them. Another story about an older sister who is in a group home because she tried to kill them. Other stories, about how dad broke a car window because he was mad, about how he used to be in prison, about how they only get to see them on the weekends. A knock on their door, the mom, tired, says she can’t talk because lots of stuff is going on, emotional, her face evidently drained from raising two developmentally disabled kids, from dealing with the man who claimed to be the father. There is depth to the things we see, people are not just bad, they get weighed down by their environment over time.
Neglect, all the girl got for Christmas was a doll, a used doll. She was so proud to run and show me her prize. I wished I was grateful like she was. The clinginess, when there is little to no love, we cling to the things around us, and typically we are the people the kids cling to. The acting out, the cussing, the racist language, students don’t make that stuff up, they learn it from what’s around them, maybe the parents, maybe friends. When they act out, they are trying to tell us something and usually that thing says something along the lines of “I’m hurt.” I need to see these small things that make up our students. I am teaching my roommates to see.
To forgive again and again, how difficult but how good it is to do so.
The dad was at one of the bible studies. He sat and listened to it all. Afterwards he said he should go to church more. I don’t know if he did. The mom talks about her kids like she loves them, and I can see that she truly does. A single mom, in a world like this, is a hard thing to be. When we get drained, emotionally, spiritually, we go to places we didn’t think we could go. It is best to see beneath the surface when meeting people. There might be more to what is going on that what you see initially.
The girl always runs to me and gives us a big hug when she sees us. At first she tries to hide behind a tree but we always see right through it. We know her.
I pray that the acting out would stop, that the yelling would stop, and that the family will come back together. I pray that the kids will have more and that they will rise above their situation to be more. I pray for me that I can see the change that I need to make in me in order to make the change that I want to see out there. These things come in time. The Lord is never slow.
For the time being, at our after school program, we play games and tell stories. I ask her about her day and about how her family is. We do journal and homework. Her and her brother want to spend more time with me than I have to give, so I give them part of it. And maybe the world is like it is in dreams, where life happens and the things we wish for fall into place.
And maybe the demons our kids are dealing with will die and they can find Jesus.
I taught her about heaven. There was a group of kids there at the time. I think she got it.
Three years after meeting them, we found both her and her brother a mentor. And God keeps showing up.