For those of you who are parents, can you imagine the shock, joy, and celebration you’d be feeling if one of your children who had been missing returned? I am not a parent so I will not pretend to understand the emotions, but I think I would definitely want to find any way possible to show them how dearly they are loved. Unconditionally loved. Just as there is nothing your child (or any other member of your family) could do to separate them from your love, there is nothing we can do to separate us from God’s love. Although if you ask Christians or other God-followers, you might feel the opposite is true.
Many of you know or remember our stories about our beloved Christele, the troubled teenager who lived with us for a short time this past April and whose struggles we’ve asked you all to pray for frequently. As a refresher, we’ve been friends with her mother for several years at this point, but what made Christele such a prominent part of our lives was when she ran away for 3 days and then made accusations against her step-father that caused the state to have to remove her from the home. After living with us for 5 extremely difficult weeks, she stayed with a foster family all summer. We were lucky to get to know this foster family and bonded over the common understanding of what it’s like to live with Christele, so we could easily recognize the tell-tale signs of fatigue and exasperation that were starting to build up before they made the announcement that they were asking the State to find alternative placement for her. The last straw was a poor decision on Christele’s part that had put their 8-year-old son in danger.
After several meetings on the topic, the two options left on the table were Christele moving to the higher level of supervision offered by a group home or going home with her mother. After seeing Christele bounced from our home to foster care to potentially another home with no significant change in her behaviors, her parents made the hard decision of having her step-father move out so that she could come home again. At the time we had mixed feelings about the decision–obviously we want her to be with her mother, but her mother works full time at night and is taking classes at a community college, so the fear is that Christele will be able to continue spending unsupervised time with the guys who were paying for her cell phone before she was removed from her home. But it turns out this fear was really the least of our worries.
The plan was for Christele to return home on a Friday. On Monday of that week, Christele came home from school at 1 a.m. This was fairly common when she was staying at home, but hadn’t been allowed to happen recently because she had a safety plan at her old high school. Apparently this plan wasn’t in place at this new school, so the pattern was restarting. On Wednesday of that week, Christele got suspended for bad behavior in one of her classes. She called her foster grandmother to come pick her up, saying that she didn’t feel well. When they arrived to pick her up, she was gone.
She was gone this time for 3 1/2 weeks. Her poor mom was beside herself during this time. The State said they were taking Christele from them for her protection, but now she was lost yet again. We love Christele, but we have to admit–we have Christele compassion fatigue. This is the third time she’s run away, she continues to make poor choices, and unfortunately it really isn’t all that alarming or worrisome to us anymore. It was only in spending time with her mom that the anxiety and pain she was suffering sunk in with me. I don’t know the details of the horror she suffered in Rwanda before coming to the United States, but I have heard time and again how difficult it has been for the whole family to get used to life in America: the rules, the expectations, the powerlessness of not being able to discipline your children as you know how to, and having the state intervene at every turn. And now she was separated from both of her daughters-one in Malawi trying to complete the processes to come to the United States, the other having run away yet again and no one having any idea where she is for almost one month.
And yet, in the midst of it all she has remarkable hope. She told me of a proverb in her country: “Après la pluie, le bon temps.” Which translates to, “After the rain, the good weather.” Can any of you imagine saying that in her circumstances?? In the midst of her agony, she was able to have hope and say with conviction, “My God is good.” That floored me and made me question the depth of my own faith. When I hear loved ones tell of the suffering they have endured or are going through I often ask God why He is letting them go through that, why He allows so much suffering…and that’s not even me directly suffering! There is deep truth in Jesus’s words, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5: 4). It is often only in our deepest sorrow and helplessness that we recognize our need for someone much stronger than ourselves.
After this period of utter helplessness, talking to Christele’s mom daily with the same words,” we’ll keep praying…” she called us on October 26 with the most unexpected news: “Christele came back!!” We rushed over, dirty and stinky after a day cleaning up at the garden, not sure what to think. When we arrived, there she was, like nothing had happened. Our dear Christele. Wanting to find some way to celebrate her return, we instead had to make a call to the Denver Police to let them know that a runaway had returned home. They told us to take her to the Family Crisis Center…so no night of celebrating after all. After getting bounced around in the confusion of the weekend, after-hours staff, we finally learned Christele would be spending at the least the weekend there in their locked facility. Welcome home!
She has been there for the past two weeks while her “team”-the case workers, therapist, lawyer, and friends and family assemble to decide where she will go next. The current plan is for her to return home and attend the local high school (this will be the third high school she has attended this year), if they are willing and able to implement a safety plan like the one she had in place at her first school, that is. We have a meeting at the school to discuss such a plan today. At a planning meeting last week Christele’s case worker and lawyer admitted that they expect this plan to fail, but they are not able to get her into a higher level care facility at this time unless she fails again at home.
Please keep Christele and her family in your prayers. This being our first experience with the foster system and not being parents ourselves, we of course are full of opinions based on our mountains of wisdom. Is there a “best path” for this poor girl? Or do we just let go and trust that no matter where she goes, God is working whether we see it or not? And to go back to the beginning of this post-what does it look like to show this poor, hurting, confused girl unconditional love? Love is not easy and rarely involves doing the “easiest thing.” There is a time for tough love and a time for tender, forgiving love. What is the balance here? This is an important question that applies far beyond just Christele’s situation, for most if not all of us have people in our lives who are difficult to love because of ways they have turned away from us or even directly hurt us-how do we love these people without allowing such behaviors to continue? If any of you have stories or thoughts, we would love to hear them. Thanks again for your prayers and encouragement. They mean more than we could possibly express.