Thursday, July 26, 2012

Home is Where the Heart Is

A number of years ago I was a youth pastor in an area in which there were many at-risk kids.  One of the questions they would often ask when meeting someone was, “Where do you stay?”  I came from a very stable home, so when I was new to the job, I didn’t understand this phrasing at all.  What they meant, though, was,  “Where do you live right now?”  Many of them moved often for various financial and relational reasons (some sleeping on friends’ couches until they had to move on to the next place) and so the word “stay” fit a little better for their mobile, often lonely lives.  For many of them, home was where they happened to sleep that night, week, or month, not a haven they could count on going to and resting in for any length of time.

Last week was a long and hard week.  The kids and I made the 15 hour trek up to our rental house in Washington to prepare it for new renters (or clean up the mess the former family left), whichever way you look at it, it was a long drive and a lot of work.

The girls have been on a few vacations with us since their arrival 19 months ago so I wasn’t too terribly worried about taking them (even Annie, who has a more difficult time with things) to a new place.  I however did not call this a vacation because it wasn’t one, but instead tried to explain to their little minds that this trip was to work on the house was where Daddy, Caleb, and I used to live.  Big mistake.

Amie took it all in stride, but Annie, I soon figured out, thought I was going to leave her there.  We arrived at the house on Tuesday afternoon, and from that moment Annie began to regress.  I watched all the emotional and mental progress she’s made decline by the hour, to the point that on Wednesday morning she was back to her blank look with her tongue hanging out of her mouth, something we hadn’t seen for 9 months.  In that moment, I decided I needed to get her back home as soon as possible.  

So for the next 36 hours I worked as hard as I could to do what I could to get us out of there there.  It was difficult - managing the girls while doing yard work, cleaning carpets, shuttling Caleb back and forth so he could see each one of his friends from our time living there...but it was worth it to get my Annie back.  

For the next two days until we were physically inside our home in California, I had to explain to her by the hour (and sometimes more) that we were going home to Daddy, Buddy the Dog, and our pool.  As each hour grew closer to our arrival, I saw Annie progress back into the girl I knew at the beginning of the week.  

At bedtime I sing the girls a special song.  Annie’s is “You Are My Sunshine”.  I changed the end of the song to say, “No one can take my Annie Sunshine away from me.”  I tell her daily that I am so happy to be her mommy, that she is ours forever, that we are not giving her away and no one is taking her away, she is loved, she is safe, she is home.

After 19 months of saying this to her daily, sometimes more, she still has anxiety about being left, being taken away.  Annie, like many teens we have worked with has lived with five families.  If she were able to, she’d probably describe our home as the place she “stays”, afraid to completely trust yet that this is final, not completely feeling at home.  

I prayed while I was driving that when we arrived back in Ripon, her little heart would understand that she has a home.  That she would know that we are her forever family, that I do what I say, that well, as I sometimes tell her, she’s stuck with me whether she likes it or not.

Annie let me rock her to sleep the night we got home, for the first time ever.  I spoke words of blessing over her and wept as she nodded off, the Holy Spirit’s presence palpable in the room.  It was a holy moment.  What a precious gift she gave me that night, trusting me enough and being willing to be vulnerable enough to fall asleep in my arms.  Her way, I think, of saying thanks for not leaving her.

I count it an honor to be the one to help bring healing to these amazing girls’ hearts and continue to pray that they both will feel completely at home in this house, in our family, and in my arms.  My hope is that they would no longer worry about where they will “stay” but simply rest in the knowledge and assurance that they are home.