Friday, February 17, 2017

The Do's and Don'ts of Serving Kids of Troubled Homes (sprinkled with a few regrets)

There is this very popular book called Eat This, Not That; Thousands of Simple Food Swaps that Can Save you 10, 20, 30 Pounds” by David ZinkZenko.  In this book, ZinkZenko compares different entrees of varying chain restaurants. Studies are presented to show the surprising caloric difference between a burger from McDonald’s and Burger King. Are you craving a breakfast sandwich? Then (to the disbelief of everyone) eat at McDonald’s, not Starbucks.

As I look in the rearview mirror of serving Bluebonnet Children, there are many ministerial moments that I wish I could have “done this” and “not that”.  Even though I was aware of the family’s story and was aware enough to begin advocating for the child, the steps I took were not the most helpful. Bluebonnet Children long for those outside of the home to champion for them. They desire and require one who not only believes they can be healed from their poor soil, but one who will fight for it as well. A cheerleader, if you will, who is consistently on their side, rooting loudly until their needs are met should be the role of the Body of Christ, but what does this look like?

Our church office is usually hoppin’ with Helping Hand interviews where folks can receive financial assistance for gas or utilities. As the families pass my office, they are sometimes rambunctious-no, dysfunctional, in how they speak to their children. I have begun providing small snacks and a box of blocks as soon as I hear them comin’. I greet them with a smile and some entertainment options. Empathizing with their worldview (Kudos, Payne!), I am able to engage in a conversation with the parents. This not only helps the family feel welcome during a vulnerable and slightly awkward moment,  but it frees up the parent to focus on the interview. Furthermore, another smiling face (in this case, mine) in the life of a Bluebonnet Child is always a good thing.

As very loud, and impolite families walked by my office to go to their Helping Hand interview, I closed my door before they saw me. Shameful-I know. My heart was re-broken every time I heard how they addressed their children. Once they had left the building, I would often rush to the binder of the interviewee's contact info and stash their name in my mind. I would then bring up the name to my social worker contacts to see if this family was already on some mythical “watch-list” of abusive families that exists only in my mind.

I presented a need for more Bibles at a Church Leadership Council Meeting for the afterschool program that had a growing amount of “unchurched” children. I (thankfully) had all the details lined up and ready. So when a saintly, retired lawyer unexpectedly whipped out his checkbook and asked, “How much do you need?” I was prepared to accept the gift on behalf of the kids. This same Saint would continue to advocate by paying for the therapy sessions of two very dear Bluebonnet Children in our church family.

I once wasted fifteen minutes of my life trying to convince a non-convincible parent that it was right to provide Bibles to children who were not members of our church. They “had not earned it” (her words, not mine) by being faithful in their attendance at Sunday worship.

While shopping at the grocery store, I overheard a six-year-old girl crying uncontrollably in the book aisle. As my husband and I followed the sounds, we found a grandmother repeatedly beating the young girl's hand.

We kept walking, but only for a few minutes. I then turned to him and said, “I have to go back.” Shaking in my boots, I walked back to the books. “Hi.” I said, “Everything OK here?” (As if I had any ounce of authority to ask such a question.)

“No!” the grandmother growled, as she continued to beat the child’s  hand, which was now beet red.

 “She won’t stop asking for candy!” she barked.

My blood began to boil. “Oh, I see.”  I placed my hand on the small girl’s shoulder. “I can only imagine how hard it is to be a parent in moments like this.”

She hit her hand again, and the girl cried harder. “Yea-she knows better!”

Seeing that our conversation was going nowhere, I shifted my attention to the little girl. “I’m sorry we don’t always get what we want. Maybe next time you can get some candy?” She stared at me with wet, blonde strands covering her eyes. To the grandmother, it was as if I was not even there. I only hoped that my presence meant something to the girl. After realizing I was not being helpful, I walked away in quiet tears and loud prayers.

I don’t know if I did the right thing in this situation. I wish I would have been bolder. I replay this memory over and over again, wondering how I could have moved differently. There wasn’t a single person in the store that hadn’t heard her cries and moans. Many even saw her continually (CONTINUALLY!) getting hit. Should I have followed her and recorded her license plate number? Did the employees at this store have any obligation to intervene and take action? Did someone step in after me and hopefully do something to help this little girl? I hope so!

I would honestly say that out of the three steps involved in the Triple-A Approach (Be Aware, Advocate, and Articulate), advocating is truly the most challenging. It offers many more roadblocks than our attempts in awareness and articulation. However, in Christ there is hope! By the power of the Holy Spirit, let us explore our options as mighty advocates for the Bluebonnet Children in our midsts.

Stay tuned as we explore the partnership with parents of Bluebonnet Children. (Hint: they are usually Bluebonnet Children with longer stems.) Be sure to subscribe to the right. 😁

Can't wait that long? Own The Bluebonnet Child eBook now!