Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Beating Shame

Few times have I felt more uncomfortable sitting in a court room surrounded by an angry judge, apathetic psychologist, bored lawyer, distracted court official and a defeated biological mom. This is the fourth court date where the mom has come to be reminded of her shortcomings and judged by her lifestyle and the neglect her two little girls have suffered. Throughout the hearing, the judge repeatedly referred to the mom'in a condescending way and as this broken lady sought to maintain some of her dignity, he would glance over at me with a face marked by one word: SHAME. Of course, prostitution is never a source of joy for the women that are slaves to it, but being in that room with a thick stench of oppression and bondage made me realize that there are deeper levels of despair and guilt that I have never experienced personally. As the woman walked out of the court room I remained seated as I chatted with the psychologist seated next to me. It was incredible how mechanical the transition was for these people to immediately divorce the destitution manifested in this woman and seamlessly transition into casual conversation about Hanna and Sophia's eating habits and current sleep schedule. I forced the words out of my mouth and managed to smile at the judge as she joked with me, but on the inside I felt like my spirit had just drunk a pint of battery acid.

Walking down to get the girls from the nursery, I ran into the mom who looked up at me asking when she could come out to visit her girls. I wanted to wrap my arms around her and say "Your heavenly Father loves you and is so proud of who you are" but I honestly don't have that kind of courage yet.

There is so much power in shame. It has the power to intrinsically defeat people and keep them prisoner in unending cycles of sin and death. It is something that may be evident or very well hidden yet will always be recognized by its fruit. For weeks after, I kept referring back to that mental image of the mom's eyes and trying to think about the depth and texture of her emotions. What kind of battles was she fighting? Whatever the battle, she was definitely fighting it alone.

Then, one day last week I walked quickly to my office without noticing who was sitting in the office adjacent to my own, where one of our psychologists works. Coordinating our family reunification program, this psychologist had called this same bio mom to a meeting and later have a chance to visit her girls. As I walked by a second time I got a quick glimpse of this bio mom's eyes. She was sitting opposite our psychologist with a smirk on her face while they talked, but the look had completely changed. Instead of manifest shame, there was something different. I am not saying there was a complete metamorphosis in this woman's life, but there was now an obvious glimmer of hope. There was a willingness to take a chance and be brave. As I sunk into my office chair comparing these two scenes in my head: one of a demeaning court room experience and the other of a loving interaction with a kind psychologist, I came to the conclusion that shame is beaten by love. The judge may have wanted to make this woman react, wake up and change, but that kind of pointing fingers usually only aggravates the situation. Shame is oppressed by the presence of love. Of course, this mom has made some great decisions lately with a new job, but the essence of shame is slowly losing its grip on her because she is opening her heart to being loved for who she is.

When I think about the sources of shame in my own life I now think back to these two scenes and remember that sincere love beats shame. It's the kind of love that isn't based on what we deserve, or how we are behaving, but just acceptance as we are. That is exactly what the gospel is. Reaching us not when we have attained a level of exemplary conduct but when we allow God to embrace us exactly where and how we are.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

To be KNOWN: The power in the bent

Reading through the Amplified Version of the Bible, I stumbled upon a verse that I have "known" for years, but never really assimilated until now. 

In Proverbs 22:6 it says "Train up a child in the way he should go [and in keeping with his individual gift or bent], and when he is old he will not depart from it." As parents, we have all heard and clung to the part that says that if we are faithful in training up our children in the right way we can have some kind of guarantee that one day, God will bring them back to that path. Working in orphan ministry, we obviously want to grab on to this promise but we often equate the training aspect to sitting our kids in church services and group devotions. I feel like the heart of this verse is much deeper and more complex. As Christians, we would say that our number one priority for the children we care for is for them to find healing from their past, restoration in every area of their lives and come into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, yet this can't happen by massive branding initiatives where we seek to make them all "Christians" without even knowing who they really are. 

As I get calls to intervene in cases of difficult behaviour, emotional outbursts, tantrums and regressions, I can't help but believe that the key lies in the bent. It's in this unique gift. Do I really believe that God has given these terribly behaved children a divinely ordained gift in this world and a special bent? Do I know what that looks like? The only way that I have ever seen adults effectively intervene in the lives of children that come from hard places is to establish a connection with them; taking them to a place of trust and vulnerability and satisfying their biggest need: the need to be known. 

The Bible repeatedly mentions God commanding us to act on behalf of the orphan and to bring about justice, but I am not sure we really know what that means. Will God call us to do something that is not in His heart to do Himself? To me, this means that in God's design of their lives, he cannot be unjust. He cannot inadequately equip or unjustly mark an orphan only to place them in our clumsy hands to simply be topics of meetings and case studies in trauma text books. His divine plan for their lives is that justice would be done, and that they would receive what Christ fully paid for. We are God's plan "A" to see this happen. The cross has me thinking so far beyond simple steps to healing and rehearsed prayers for salvation: God saw us as orphans and has taken it upon himself to train us in the way we should go based on our own unique gift and bent. The plan of salvation is personal and specific and this adoption into his family is exactly the way he wanted things to happen. I am beginning to believe this more and more for myself and it changes the way I look at these kids. They have everything they need; not in programs, sponsors and schedules but in God their father who sees them for you they really are. 

If we seek to follow Ephesians 5 and be those imitators of God, we need to get to know the people we care for. We have to believe that every child has their own God-given bent or gifting that makes them who they are. It is out of this place of knowing them that we truly understand that Jesus is the perfect fit. This encourages me to be intentional, to be present and to always remember that no two kids are the same and we can't train them up based on our good intentions and faulty expectations. We have to know them just like their Heavenly Father knows them. We have to know them well so that we may love them well.