Saving Seven

I’ve had a number of people, over time, encourage me to write a book or start a blog. Primarily due to the stories I tell about my children, Jake and McRae. They supply funny material daily.  So, about a month ago, I finally sat down and created this blog, my intention being to share my funny stories in a place where people could see them if they liked, but not have them “forced” on them via Facebook’s timeline. This wasn’t what I had planned for my first post, but it needs to be shared.

Life has a way of taking a swing at us when we least expect it. You think it’s all going great, you’ve got your ducks in a row, and WHAM. Out of nowhere the love of your life decides they’re not up for pushing through the bad times, the company you work for decides they don’t need you anymore, or your dishwasher springs a leak and floods your hardwoods. It happens, and when it does we can get consumed by it. Feeling sorry for yourself is easy.  I’ve had some disappointments of my own lately, and I was all prepared to assume the fetal position, when someone reminded me that life is about showing up when times are tough. It’s easy to show up during the good times. Everyone loves “happy”; everyone loves “easy”, don’t they?

Imagine being one of seven children. Seven children whose parents have failed them so many times, that Social Services has finally stepped in and said that the people who brought you into this world, aren’t fit to provide you basic care each day. If you’re one of those seven children the prospect must be terrifying, because this is the only home you’ve ever known. If you’re one of the older siblings, you know enough to know that you’re not going to be living with your brothers and sisters anymore. The system will split you up and farm you out, and there’s a possibility that you’ll never see some of them again. Imagine that for just a second.

If this were Hollywood, a rich white couple would swoop in and save all seven, and after some dramatic, ticket-selling moments, all seven would grow up and prosper. But, this isn’t Hollywood, it’s rural North Carolina and the clock is ticking. Would you open your home? Those of us that are responsible have budgets. We don’t buy houses we can’t afford, we don’t have children we can’t support, and we skip vacations because the money isn’t there. As a single mother, I know all about not having enough resources and saying, “no”.  I also know that today, my household couldn’t take on a cat without serious consideration, much less more children. If you know someone who would step up for seven children, raise your hand. Guess what? You can’t see me, but I’m raising mine.

On Sunday, July 19th I received a text message from one of the men I work with.  As a little benefit, I manage in-house savings accounts for them and he was requesting that I send him all he had.  His wife’s sister and her husband were losing their children and he and his wife weren’t about to let them become part of the system.

David and Charlene are people that have done everything right. They are hard workers, are active in their church and community, and are working hard to raise two teenagers of their own. They are kind and they are good. They, like most of us, pay their bills and try to put a little back for unexpected emergencies. They do not live in a McMansion with multiple guest rooms, but they came up with a plan; David and his wife would take four of the children and David’s mother-in-law would take three. David and Charlene’s children went from having rooms of their own to graciously sharing their space. David and Charlene went from parenting two teens to adding a 14 year old, a 12 year old, a 3 year old, and a 1 year old. Charlene’s mom went from an empty nest, to parenting a 4 year old, a 7 year old, and an 8 year old.

The children came with nothing but the clothes on their backs. No one had bothered to take the time to potty train the 3 year old or teach the 7 year old to tie his shoes. Someone had taken the time, however, to tell the 14 year old girl that she was worthless and ugly, as often as possible, so she arrived without any self-esteem. I can’t talk about her or think about her without crying. Seriously crying and I don’t do that often.

Your parents are supposed to be your soft place. They’re supposed to be the people who believe you to be better than you even are. They aren’t supposed to chip away at your soul every day until someone else takes the knife away.  In so many ways, our parents are a mirror that we look at as kids to see who we are and what we’re capable of achieving. This 14 year old child has been looking in that mirror and seeing nothing. Charlene tells me that they’re working hard to build this young lady up. She’s learning that she does look pretty when she dresses for church and that she has capabilities in school that she never dreamed she could have.

David has taught her that it isn’t acceptable for a man to call her names like “bitch”. For the first time, she’s getting to see what a gentleman is, so she will be able to recognize them when she’s ready to date. I wish I could tell her 50 times a day for the next 10 years that she is beautiful, that she is smart, and that she is worthy of love and respect. But I know that even if I could, it would never be enough to completely undo that damage. Within the first week of their arrival, this young lady thanked Charlene and told her that she felt safe for the first time in her life. Think about that. At 14, she feels safe for the first time in her life. All seven children have many challenges to overcome. I could fill page after page with the simple things that the children have never been taught or shown. David, Charlene, and Charlene’s mother are working together to help them catch up in school and in life. They have a long road ahead of them.

Here’s the thing, it would have been easy for these people to say no. No one would have faulted them. They could have listed 100 valid reasons this was more than they could handle, but they looked for a way to say “yes” instead. They looked beyond the financial burden, the loss of personal space, and sleep and time. They stepped up when it wasn’t the easy thing to do, and I’m sure they have days when they look at each other and say, “What were we thinking?” So often, the right thing isn’t the easy thing. In my book they’re heroes, pure and simple.

It’s been said that, “Courage isn’t the absence of fear; it’s the ability to act in the presence of it.” Action isn’t without risk, but with risk comes the possibility of reward. If you always stay in your corner and play it safe, you will never grow spiritually, intellectually, or emotionally. I’m trying really hard to watch and learn from my friends because I know I have plenty of room left for growing, as do my children. These kids haven’t had many opportunities to feel “special” in their lives, while my two get to feel special every single day.

So my kids and I sat down and discussed it. We discussed how, every year at Christmas, they agonize over coming up with a list of items they want. They have everything they NEED and they know it. Although we don’t have a big budget at Christmas, they readily agreed to picking a few items they could put to good use and directing the rest of our budget toward making sure that these seven children had a Christmas they could remember.  I feel certain that this won’t just be a great Christmas for these seven, beautiful kids who are full of promise they haven’t even realized yet, it will be a great Christmas for my kids too.

If you’re reading this, you’re one of my friends. We would like to invite you to make a difference too. I really want to show David’s family and these children that they have a village behind them. For the record, they don’t have a clue what I’m up to and I hope to keep it that way. If you feel moved to participate, email me at rstephens2@windstream.net and I’ll be sure to include you in our plans. Thank you for reading. I’ll try to deliver something funny next time. I promise.

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