PROLOGUE.

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Four more stoplights. Two minutes, maybe two and a half, stand between me and the pavement. Four stoplights and then I jump.

The bruises aren’t developed yet from the beating this morning at the hands of my mother. I can feel the scratches on my throat and back, and I’m not sure if my stomach is in knots from the blows or nerves. My face is raw and red from crying and my eyelids feel swollen and heavy. I look out the window at the sun and clouds and all of the people walking on the streets of our small Missouri town, indifferent to the choice I’m currently weighing in my mind. I know she is waiting for me to come home, and here I am, in the backseat of my aunts car with my cousins four deep in the backseat beside me, driving back to my parents house.

Strategically, the oldest is on my right. If I go through with it, I will jump from the backseat of the drivers side, and I will run. The YMCA is two and a half blocks to the west. I’m fast. As long as I land on my feet, I know I will be in the door before anyone can catch up to me. I also know they wont try to catch me either. That’s the plan.

Two stoplights. I need to go at the next intersection. I look to my right. The 12 year old is next to me. I’m confident that when I open the door to the oldsmobile, she will protect the other two from falling, or following. I have seconds now to change my mind.

The image of my mother holding my back firm against the dresser with her body as she moves her hands from around my throat to my mouth flashes in my mind. My mother who has Hepatitis B. She pries my mouth open and spits. It’s just a memory. It isn’t going to happen again. I tell myself as the tears prick my eyes. I’m getting more and more afraid to jump, but I am TERRIFIED of staying in the car. Every second we are getting closer to the house that will be the end of me, I’m sure of that.

I glance again at my cousins and at my aunts in the front seat. I’m not changing my mind. I’m going to jump. My legs are twitching with anticipation and my stomach does a flip. I know in that moment that I’m brave enough.

“I’m sorry.” I whisper a silent apology to my family, knowing my next move will forever change them and myself.

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EPIPHANY

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about our family and our parenting style lately.

Coming from a background of little to no “parenting” and conflicting ideas about discipline, I have to be honest, this parenting thing seems all the more difficult. I know, I know…parenting is such a huge responsibility and learning curve for ALL parents, but sometimes when I really sit and try to work through “my next step” during the more difficult parental responsibilities, I cant help but find myself disappointed at my own lack of experience in being “parented” in order to have a healthy understanding of how to address the next kid-tastrophie. I am a learner though, so I love to research, absorb and play out different styles and techniques and find our own path TOGETHER with our children on this journey called being family.

Recently, I found one of those “hokey”, “new age”, “eastern” ways of thinking about parenting, and its slowly changing the way I think about my children, my self awareness, my personal growth, my children as individuals, my marriage and clearly, our PARENTING. Without preaching a sermon to you, fellow parent or future parent, I will just share with you a little glimpse:

Our children are people.

REALLY.

They are already born as their own unique person. You can try all you want, but unless you BREAK them into compliance or submission, you are not changing who they ALREADY are. They were born as an individual, with a personality, with a soul, with a DESTINY all their own. We spend so much time as parents under the impression that it is OUR job to mold and form this little being into the person they will someday become….GUESS WHAT MOM, STOP!!! Instead of looking at this little person and finding all of the things that YOU need to change about THEM, out of love of course, SEE THEM FOR WHO THEY ALREADY ARE!!

I have spent far too much time trying to parent my kids the way I wish I was parented, or teach them the way I think I would have learned best, or (this list goes on and on). The fact is, my boy and my girl are their own person and they have their own destiny….WITH OR WITHOUT ME! That’s a hard pill to swallow, and you, reader, are getting a little defensive right now right? “Well they are MY kids, and I can parent them the way I see fit! Its MY job to ensure they become successful and have a good life. THEY need to learn from me.” Your thinking right? (Maybe?) Because that is exactly how I thought, until it hit me: They are my children, but I do not OWN them! I have to give up my “self” and my desire to control the outcome of their life by taking my ownership of my children out of the equation. Furthermore, my job is not to control them nor is it to create them (other than conception)…its to simply keep them safe and provide an environment in which they can flourish into the person they were already created to be! I’m positive of this: my children were entrusted to me to TEACH ME…not the other way around.

I have an analogy to share with you: Lets look at Jesus. (You don’t have to be a believer to appreciate what I’m about to propose)

Jesus was an infant child born to a young mother in the dreariest of circumstance. I can only imagine the responsibility young, unwed, under-resourced Mary must have felt when it was determined that she would be the mother of the child that would someday become the infamous savior of the world, right? Big Gulp. Well guess what…(enter sweet relief)…it was NOT Mary’s responsibility to turn the child into the man that would one day become the King of Salvation. Did you just catch what I said? It was never the virgin mothers responsibility to mold the infant into anything or anyone….he was ALREADY the savior, the prophet, the teacher, the son…already JESUS on the very night he was born! He was ALREADY the person he was destined to be! Although helpless and tiny, there was nothing Mary could or could not do to change the destiny or outcome of the future of this baby. Did all of the parents reading this just let out a sigh of refreshing acceptance or what? All Mary had to do was provide a safe environment in which the child could grow to become the person he was already pre-destined and born to be. Its radical, I know.

When I figured this out, my mind was literally racing.

It isn’t my job to turn my children into the man or woman, husband or wife, follower, athlete, student, entrepreneur or citizen they will someday become. I don’t get to decide if they will be successful, or wealthy, or stable, or happy, or faithful…THEY will decide that. They will choose their path and accept the consequences of their every decision, REGUARDLESS of my attempts to control them! They are already predestined to become and decide to become the person they will someday be. My job is simply to withdraw my ownership of their lives (and relinquish it back to THEM where it belongs), to provide a safe environment in which they can explore and flourish, to continue to grow and improve MYSELF to give them an example to reflect back to, and to provide safe boundaries for them to identify cause and effect of their own decision making.

I’m changing the way I see the tiny humans that I share this family and share this home with. I’m going to take a little more time to see the inner workings of the people they already are and quit trying to turn them into the people I think they should be and furthermore spend more energy investing into the person I AM CREATED TO BE so that they can do what young children do- mirror and mimic.  

I have about 15 follow ups to this one…but for now I will let this soak in and make us all say “hmmm”…..

HOME.

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I went “home” this weekend. My middle brother, Joel, was there with his wife and 3 kids. We all have kids now and easily fill up the 5 bedroom home of my parents when we all come back for a weekend. Bryan, the oldest, and his wife have 3, then there is me with my hubby and our two, and my little brother, Caleb and his wife. Bryan and Caleb weren’t home this time, just me and my middle brother. We had a great weekend just “being”. That’s how it is when we are all home. My mom and dad don’t overwhelm us with big plans or places to go or people to see…they simply let us enjoy being home by “being” together. There is just something about “home”, even as an adult, that brings such comfort. Knowing that you belong there, that you have a room there, and that even when the world pushes or pulls you, you have a place where you can simply exist and be accepted not because your great, or important, or have a title; but simply because you are you and you are loved. Every time I walk in that back door, I remember the first time. I still keep the banner that was taped across it..”Welcome to our Family Kristle!!” Love, Tim, Rita, Bryan, Joel and Caleb

THE CHAMPS

I had met the man that preached at the Christian Church a few times, but only briefly. One of my shorter stays at a transitional foster home had landed me in his church for Easter Sunday service, and I was introduced to him. I had seen him around school, he had been a substitute teacher for one of my classes, and I had seen him at a few sporting events. Although he was friendly, and loud, and kind, I would have been nervous and scared to talk to a preacher like Tim Champ!

The day I was being sent away from my town, from my friends and from my school…the life I was just starting to build for myself, I met her. I didn’t know her, just knew she was the preachers wife. In that moment of fear, being led to a car that would take me to anywhere, somewhere I certainly didn’t want to go, she came like a whirlwind into my life.

I was still in some shock over what I had just experienced. My 5th foster home, the one that took the time to hear me, see me, and began to build me was gone. I came home to my things already packed for me and sitting by the door. It was right before Christmas and beautifully wrapped gifts that just the day before lay under a lit and twinkling tree now sat by my black garbage bag of belongings. My social worker was there, and my foster mother was in tears. I was leaving, that was clear.

I had just said my goodbyes to a family who lived up the road that led out of the small town. I had grown close to them and at that time they felt like my only friends in the world. I was leaving, being moved to a new foster home in a new town and I was crushed. My future was unclear, uncertain, and terrifying. My social worker and I walked out of the house, and started down the sidewalk that would lead me to the car she would put me in and drive me away into what felt like the abyss. With my head down, I didn’t even see the white van approaching until I heard it hit the gravel of the driveway.

She came out of the van, moving what seemed at the time rather quickly. I remember her hand in the air as if to stop the injustice that was happening, or to signal to the woman at my side that was, at the moment, controlling my destiny. “We’ll take her!” is all I remember her saying.

I know she said much more than that in the conversation that ensued, but I remember none of that…the only words that have stuck with me all these years later, and will ring in my memories forever were those three words….”We’ll. Take. HER.”

I stood there, probably doe eyed and eyes glazed for a moment. I didn’t know the Champs knew who I was? Why had the woman in the white van said that? How could she want me, she didn’t know me…did she? Did she mean she would take me right now, for the night; for the week; or forever? The woman at my side gave me a puzzled look, and I remember her asking if I knew the lady from the white van. I lied. I told her that I did. It wasn’t really a lie, I knew who she was. I don’t really think that I had ever met her, and I’m sure that up until the events that followed I had never actually spent any amount of time with her, but she had just spoken words that I was clinging to with the greatest of hope, so I told the woman she was the preachers wife and I went to school with their 3 sons. I was pretty sure her name was Rita. I told my social worker this, knowing I barely had met these people, but I knew what she just said, “WE (will) TAKE HER”, so that was all I needed to know.

That event didn’t change having to get in the car and drive to my 6th Foster home, a temporary one where I would be just a little over a week. I still had to go there while the State figured out what to do with me, and decided how to navigate through this interestingly rare situation. A family, NOT a foster home, had just offered to take me…and they were serious. I have no idea how that week went for the Champs. I would love to have been a fly on the wall when the woman in the white van came home to tell her husband what she had just done!! What must their 3 sons have thought? Where did the family conversation take place when Tim and Rita shared the uncertain future and certain changes for our family?

I don’t know those answers, I wasn’t there. What I know is that a week later, I walked up to the back door of that 5 bedroom house carrying my black garbage bag to see a sign that welcomed me HOME.

Long time coming.

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For nearly 15 years she was invisible. Invisible to the world that took the time to stare and judge and have opinions about the people who raised her. Later they would turn from or look past (actually, they looked right THROUGH) the girl in foster homes. She was there…but they didn’t actually SEE her. If they would have, they would have seen a girl that was bruised, but not broken. Put down but not destroyed. Someone fighting and reaching, trying everything to dig out of the pit. They would have heard her loud voice begging for change, but how could they? No one hears invisible children.

Its time for a change.

I’m not invisible to the world. They see my typical American family as we go to our church, wear our clean pressed clothes, reside in our well kept home with the wrap around porch and white pillars. The world sees people like me. They see the mother who speaks kindly to her children in public places. The one who has her makeup on and her stray hairs tucked neatly back into her whispy ponytail. They see her serving where she can for ministry or her kids school and holding hands with her husband across the table at a local restaurant on their date night. I am certainly not invisible. I’m not complaining that they see me…it was always my hope!

What they don’t see is the child behind the scruffy and out of sorts man and woman. The ones that have on the same clothes from days prior and haven’t showered in the same amount of time. They look “poor”, disheveled, probably high or drunk, or a combination of both. Though they catch glances from the corner of your eye, you don’t dare look at them, and you certainly don’t notice the face hidden behind them. The little girl that walks with them trying to stay silent and out of the way. You never saw her.
A few years later she is still invisible, a few more beatings under her belt. She has been playing in the woods day in and day out for months to try to save herself from the screaming and erotic behaviors of the man and woman who drink every day and fight every night. She slips out for school before they wake and slips back in well after the sun has settled over the horizon, just as dusk begins to darken the neighborhood. Its okay that you don’t see her, she is trying to be seen as little as possible.
She is a teenager now. She is an A student making C’s and D’s. She gets picked on and sometimes hit at school or pushed into a locker, the bullies seem to see her. She deals the drugs she stole from her parents at the school bus stop and uses the money to slip into the gas station on her walk home to buy a little food or a soda, usually slipping an unpaid for pack of gum or an extra candybar into her oversized coat pocket for later. She knows its wrong, but in her world everyone takes and nothing is ever given, so you learn to make it on your own. You watch out for yourself because no one else is going to be there to do it for you. You learn to be “smart”. The world doesn’t see her, so she learns to use that for her advantage. No one even saw her when she spent the night under the bridge at the local park…its official, she’s invisible.
They are beating her again. This time is different. She is ready to get out and ready to listen to the voice inside of her that promises there is better out there for her. She runs. Foster care comes next, but quickly she sees that foster care is just another way to silence the voices of hurting children. She goes through many homes before feeling accepted in one. Then another. Someone listened as she spoke, and this time, they actually HEARD her. She speaks more. Its beginning to happen…people are starting to see her. By her 5th foster home, she has become visible. The foster parents see her. The teachers see her. Her peers see her. She will navigate through one more Foster home and then to her forever family that will mold her and shape her into the woman she will become, all because they see her now. They see ME now.

HE saw me all along.

It’s clearly been a long time coming, my collection of life experience and perspectives. I think now, for one reason or another, with my heart ripped wide open, I am finally ready to REALLY share and hopefully bring your attention to the Invisible people of the world as I see them. I will use this place to share my thoughts, my story, my life (past and present). People see me now, so its a great time to divert their attention away from me and onto them! I just want you to see them, take time to pray for them, and if you ever can…to help them. Sometimes even a smile at that invisible child standing behind the drunken dirty people in the store, or investing in a conversation with the touseled child sitting alone at your childrens school lunch table, OR praying over the idea that you might be capable of sharing your abundance with someone invisible….every gesture, every prayer, every smile…it matters. Who we are and what we do matters. Sharing my story matters. Finding Grace matters. Loving others matters. Seeing them matters.