“What is the work we are asked to do in the night world?…By keeping our vulnerability and mortality close, we learn to meet each moment with presence, even as we know it is passing away. We are invited into a … Continue reading
It feels more radical rather than religious to hope these days. So perhaps we’re on to something.
The first week of Advent is themed hope. The beckoning yonder that has no interest in denying the bleeding wounds. Hope shines under tears. It is at its best paired with sorrow.
The subversiveness of hope was lost on me as a child, and in different parts of my adult life. It’s a common word in the surface use. I hope I can find a parking spot. I hope they have my size. I hope…
Hope was veiled to me before finding greater solidarity and firsthand experience with suffering. Much of the Good News was neutralized. Much of this season was rhetoric. Hope was pretty and nice, like me, and easily packable like a wooden Christmas ornament.
Hope does not have its roots in well wishes and merriment. Nor is its head in the sand. Hope is defiant though the night is deafening.
This Christmas, we are practicing and whispering hope with fists clenched and arms linked. We are fully feeling the brokenness. Our feet are wet with mud and blood of chaos, pain, fear, and disappointment. Suddenly, this innocuous word HOPE, has become a battle cry for the warriors. The shroud of comfort and convenience has been shed and the power of the chant, of the mere suggestion of hope, is blowing us over.
Here people are bullied with threats of eviction and deportation, shame and disdain… and we read about that unwed teen finds herself home to Hope, pregnant, highly favored and honored.
Here the guilty are acquitted, and the innocent shot in the back, unmourned… and we read the father is visited, assured of his integrity, protected and seen.
Here the immigrated and enslaved, the stolen and the shuffled, are hurting with new rejection… and we read the nation is gathered, counted, and answered by God on High, starting with the lowest.
Here the corrupt and evil are taking positions with less care and fewer caveats than ever before… and we read the heavenlies led the mystic and the mother to safety, denying the powers that be for the Power that was, is and is to come.
So we hope with our time. We pray and listen, though the lists grow long and the invitations scatter. We create things and say no to things because hope causes us to do differently. And is anything but automatic. We call on behalf of the voiceless. We sign on behalf of the unnamed.
We hope with our dollars. We give more than we have ever before. We invest and save in places that abide by hope in humanity and not exploitation. We buy less and we buy smart.
We hope with our hearts. We confess the ugliness beginning in us. We force quiet to hear the quiet forces. We share and hold each other when despair is choking. We open to people we don’t understand and we are watchful for those vulnerable.
Yes, we hope with wide eyes open and tears pouring out. It is our resistance, to the numbing injustice and the end of the story; it is our protest to the closed doors, plugged ears, and empire.
We hope hard though it is hard to hope.
This is advent–this is hearts preparing Him room. Though there seems to be no space, no possibility, we hope through the pain. We strain to see the empty stable’s potential. It is the labor before the birth. We hope hard because we are suffering and angry and upright. We hope hard because He came and He is coming.
It’s hard to breathe sometimes, isn’t it?
I can name 4 major crises my small circle is facing right now. This morning, in the midst of doing something very inconsequential, scrubbing the neglected corners of my kitchen floor, I found myself on my knees, which is not very inconsequential.
I cannot do much for these loved ones. I can give strong hugs, I can suggest ideas from my finite mind, I can feel–oh, I can feel–their sorrow and grief. But I cannot abbreviate their grief, end the illness, free the captive, raise the lifeless or infuse identity.
As I bent low, making a difference in the dirt, I used a basin older than me. It was my grandmother’s. A woman who is going to welcome her daughter soon in the heavenlies. A woman of faith and gentleness, servanthood and humility, that I rarely resemble. As I considered the hours she spent scrubbing, the moments she must have used this bowl, the small, calloused hands I remember that gripped so many young children’s palms in her own and cleaned so many spills, I felt connected to a lineage of people who endured, who believed, who saw the best in people.
The prayers of my grandmother live on, much like this enamel basin. It helped me to pray on the floor this morning, for the sorrow and trauma my loved ones are suffering, for the milieu of danger and suspicion and blame in our nation, for the strength to wait and be loving.
I don’t know how God endures the grief He must feel over His lost and hurting people. Over our refusal to reach out, our rejection of His citizenship, and our constant evaluation of one other in self-defense when all He has done has been for our belonging and to grow our grace. I don’t know how He faced this earth and said He would stay with us Always.
God the Son bent low and washed feet. It didn’t end cancer. It didn’t fix the betrayer’s heart. It didn’t save them from martyrdom.
All that is wrapped up in Christ’s basin and kneeling eludes me but today this occurs to me: He is with us at the lowest and messiest. This is my God–the One who serves, weeps, and gave up His breath so that even when it is so hard, we breathe on and we have someone to pray to who knows this pain.
I don’t feel any obligation to remain poised in the midst of today’s hurt. But I must stay prayerful. I must stay knelt at a humble basin, facing the dirt, remembering that though the air is thin, this is not the end. We come from a tradition and a Lord who embraced those margins. We are not unfamiliar with the dark corners of life and fallenness. And we are not conquered or calloused under their persistence. I reach deep into the water of faith at these times, and stay low to listen and to love. It is all there is to do.
It has almost been 8 months since our eyes were changed permanently. When three strangers entered our home, after I had returned from a rare girls night out. We had watched The Fault in Our Stars. It was a late balmy night, unsuspecting and innocent. Almost 8 months since two strangers formed one opinion while the other came with her own established. 8 months since a child was taken and this clawing journey began.
Last night we received a uniformed visitor.
It was one of the strangers from June who has now been at our doorstep 5 times. He does not seem like a stranger any more. He, like she, also walked through our home, examined our children, spoke to each of us separately, and is in a profession of protection, service, and risk. He is a police officer.
His and his partner’s role that night was largely to protect the social worker should things go badly in this then-unknown home. They were not to weigh in on her decisions or process that night. He adhered to his role that night but has since allowed it to become much more.
This police officer and his partner expressed concern, disbelief and regret immediately after she left with the baby. He came by the next day to give us his card and offer help. He came by a few months later to check in after receiving a message at their office from us. He came by last night with a copy of an e-mail he had sent in response to a request for information from DCFS. It seemed that someone, somewhere, had received one of our many letters formally complaining of the conduct we experienced that night. Without him, we would have never known it, as USPS recipient receipts and personal requests for confirmation of our letters have not been returned.
Almost 8 months ago we found an unlikely friend, one of about three we have encountered in the dozens of people we’ve communicated with–in the Department and in the force–since that night. We have a 4-inch binder documenting all of our correspondence and the reports and visits that have occurred since we brought baby girl home to this day. We have been waiting 87 days to learn if the Department will correct its decision to put our home on hold, closed to children to need it, closing our hearts to this dream. Despite the state’s decision to re-license us, we may not be allowed to support the county family welfare system again. We don’t know if the long debate in the upper ranks is encouraging or alarming given the past 8 months. We don’t know all that she endured since leaving and how she has developed and healed now. We don’t know if anything will come of this officer’s report that collaborates our own and if anyone is looking at both the social worker under question and our home approval at the same desk, though one certainly determined the other.
Much has happened in the past 8 months to change our understanding of law enforcement and power in our city. We have encountered many officers and read many news stories that have robbed us of prior confidence and a feeling of safety and justice. On a personal scale and on a grand scale, grave wrongs have occurred due to the negligence of officers and their organizations.
However, there is a foil to these accounts that we had the chance to encounter last night–someone we are happy to see at our doorstep and who has come to our aid in one way he can. He has seen this story and vouched for us, and this is no small thing. He is a leader and a gentleman and we are grateful–whatever the effect of his letter, whatever the decision is about the social worker or our own foster home status–we are grateful that he became involved. That he did not brush off the discomfort and offense to his integrity that started that night. That he did not let fear or the next call, the next task, the next drama, to sweep away his attention to the last. That he maintained his values and truth in a complicated situation just because it was the right thing to do. We are incredibly grateful for this hero in this story and for the contradiction he bravely offers to so much of our experience.
I am thankful that today I will add one more page to that binder that is truthful. That today I can write a personal and positive account of an officer in our city. That today I can know that there is one outside person added to our corner since we found out we needed a corner.
May light find a way.
There is a lady whom I do not know. I do not know what ails her, and where she is from. I do not know if she has borne children, hates children, loves children or knows any children. I do not know her but I will never forget her name.
There is a lady whom I welcomed into my home at 11pm, to whom we showed our sleeping, healthy children, to whom we each spoke with for more than thirty minutes in the middle of the night. She knows where we live. She wore all the right badges, representing the Emergency Response night crew. She appeared calm and open. She was not too interested in the baby. She said things were good, no problems.
And then she left the house, spoke with someone on the phone, came back inside, and said, “So we will remove the child.”
Multiple children were sleeping here that night, believing it to be home. Multiple children had cleared her and the LAPD’s inspection, and had been put back to sleep. Multiple children were under our care, constantly under the scrutiny of families, professionals, and potential adversaries every week with no questions raised. But it was her call that night, and one was removed while the others slept–all three would never understand fully what had happened.
Because, as we know now, the real didn’t matter and the pretend made the decisions.
She became a different person. She would not read the allegations. We could barely understand her English and read her handwriting. She asked me why I had packed food for the baby. She refused to reply to my and an officer’s questions about the illegally installed carseat. She told Ryan he was understating. She kept promising it was temporary. She blatantly lied in her paperwork.
Five months later, through about 10 phone calls, 3 forms, and 2 visits to the courthouse, we acquired a redacted copy of the final investigation report and the emergency response report from the night of the removal. Through this, we learned more of her skewed perspective. Her report was rich in speculation and bias, and she recommended that we each be required to enroll in random drug testing. Three months later, she would be called by the final investigation office, which was tasked with the decision of reopening our home to other children, and she would stand by her memories and unique account, adding that she remembered being concerned that I was in danger of being domestically abused. Number one, thanks for acting on that concern and number two, if we ever play Memory, you’re on my team.
There is a lady who caused immense damage in about two and a half hours. And that is the end of our stories overlapping. No grievance we submit, no testimony we give, nothing short of suing the Department (and winning), would remotely have the ability to remove or edit her paperwork and testimony from our file. She changed us forever and then was gone. She is one of the last people I would recommend letting into your home.
There is a lady who never knew us because before she even entered, she had decided who we were.
It was a startling and somehow calming thing to see our therapist cry when he heard about our past year.
We had made the appointment with him after a long hiatus, knowing that we would be facing some big life decisions and wanting a trusted, third, outside party to help us, the not-marriage-experts, maneuver the new waters. Little did we know when we set up the date that we would soon be thrown into a battle that would mean losing her in the least ideal way, losing trust in two powerful systems in our city, and losing our energy for the initial discernment process that had led us to this new round of counseling.
At this particular meeting, we were about a month and a half into the new reality. Since we had seen him, we had lost a dear friend suddenly, our organization had gone through major shifts, we had lost another dear friend after a long battle, we had completed the foster licensing process, become a family of five, participated extensively with reunification services, and lost our first placement after over 8 months in the middle of the night due to an abuse allegation that was never substantiated by anyone or anything but that we would never be able to overthrow. Yes, it was like a bad run-on sentence.
We had never seen him cry before.
Appropriately enough, we felt like crazy people sitting there in the therapist’s office. The stories and accounts of the last two months, as abbreviated and clear as we tried to make them, were just too fantastic, too ridiculous to assume the listener’s full belief. And yet the stories, as is the case for many people, were all we had; they were all we ever had, even beyond that point in time. His tears suggested that he might just believe us, even if he didn’t understand all the details, and we were surprised and quieted when over and over, other people believed us too…just like he did.
Looking back, I think that even our official accuser believed us more than his original informant. I think that the majority of the folks in the department who wrote up neutral, shrug-of-the-shoulders-type reports about us believed us. I think that there were only a few people whose judgment and wounds and defensiveness about God-knows-what were for whatever reason allowed to drive everything into the shit hole we found ourselves in. Paranoia, fear, and vindictive constructs carry much farther than the majority of the reporting people’s well-wishes, friendly asides, and personal opinions. This came in to play again and again when professionals from top to bottom would tell us that something went very wrong but they could do absolutely nothing to help right it. That old saying, “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” (Burke) became a lot less inspiring and a lot more painful.
As the months rolled by and we continued to fight for the truth at every opportunity, the battle never died out. We thought many times, this week, the outcome of this event, this correspondence, will determine if there’s a way through or if the door is shut completely on truth or if we are completely done with this. And None of the Above would happen. There would always be some unbelievable (usually bad) development, a way to challenge, a person to write, or a returned piece of mail…something. It was an incredibly drawn out journey of disappointment. And so the stories continued.
Along this journey we became different people. It was the brand of pain and wondering and futile fighting that leaves you grappling with a new self and a new orientation for a long time; it would take a long time to get acquainted with Who Are We Now in the wake of this tale. What meaning could be gained, what stones could now be turned, what scars were incurred as a result of withstanding (surviving?), this mysterious suffering.
She was never far from our minds even when the battle went beyond any hope of her return, however temporary the return would be. In the middle of all the paperwork for truth, I worked on her baby book so I could send it on a hopeful journey to its rightful owner: her. I remember writing on one page about how her biological mother loved her, shown first by carrying her and giving birth to her—something my own mom has told me about mine. Childbirth is so messy, so violent and private and so terribly long, no matter how short it is. The process can literally and figuratively scar you for life. The product is unknown and scary—a new person who will definitely not meet everyone’s expectations, a stranger who will now rule your life.
Eventually, I found the strength to look at this injustice through a lens of re-birth—of change and new and now what. I had to crawl back to that looking glass many many times as the aftershocks of the ordeal continued throughout our family.
I think this crawling was possible because our therapist cried.
Because people believed us, in our own circles and beyond. People believed the accounts of injustice, the ludicrous pain and the asinine journey. When we felt crazy and we wished we were making it all up, they knew we were not. They bore witness to it, they knew we were wronged, that she was wronged, and that it was not the end of the story. Resurrection people waited for what would come next and we were allowed not only our stories but our slow, changing rebirth.
There must not be a better way to suffer.
I am learning depths of loss I have never understood before. I have only begun to experience the sorrow of losing two friends, and all that they entailed – living, breathing marriages, anchors of the community, a way of life I seek, a character I could calibrate my own by. I have been thrown into a whirlpool of grief as a mother and a person, in which people are set on misunderstanding my family and diminishing the past years of training, preparing, mothering and loving. In which eating a meal and having a conversation can suddenly seem too hard. In which we have to fight and stand for something even as we want to crumble and quit. The last year I have become a frequent visitor to an alter of dreams, where the longest, most set places and plans are thrown into question, sometimes because of a person with more power than I, sometimes because of self-reflection.
I have seen a lot of beauty in my life. I have had armfuls of blessing and good favor bestowed on my steps. Injustice though it presently has made life very painful, has at other times I’m sure made my life privileged and too good to be true. I am bulwarked by a quality company that even if they do not know what to say, reach out and give what they can and pray what they can, which is more than I. I have managed to not give up the battle, give up the search for truth and resurrection completely though I cannot always explain to myself, to you, why. Still, I have a newfound compassion for those who do give up. Who have not had the layers of fortune I have, who already have a history of addiction and a trail of broken relationships. I see them, and I know some of them, with a new respect. With a new tenderness.
There are some disorientations that only by a surplus of grace and support might one hold on until the next moment, then the next, and maybe one more. When people lose a child, a mother, a dream, a central construct, it seems to me that only by this surplus, this floating, this gifting, can one survive. Can one resist pain-numbing, substance-abusing, desperate dark and hiding and bitterness. Fraudulent versions of cure and resurrection and life but versions still.
From my limited and bruised place now, I can at least offer one and really only one constructive word: be gentle to the least of these. To the ones who are most entrenched and most alone and most repulsive. To the ones who are easy to assume one-dimensional stories of–the homeless, the addict, the bitter angry angriest. The mother going to the abortion clinic. The beggar who screams at the passing cars. Their hearts are broken and they lost their surplus or never had one. They are so sad and only human and before you. Be gentle. Be brave. Lessen their loss.