It is important to “be” with children, especially the ones stuck in the foster care system.
One of the most important jobs as a parent, grandparent and child mentor is to listen. This has taken me years and years to figure out. I have always been an eagle, a man of action. I see a problem and my first instinct is to fix it – to charge ahead, to say, “This is what you need to do, and this is how you need to do it.” What I needed to do most of the time was to stop and listen, let the story come out, and let them speak. You know, when you talk about a problem you are having and someone offers some probing questions, the answer usually shows itself organically.
Early on in our relationship with our young ladies we invited them to events at St Patrick. The first real event was two years ago when we hosted a Thanksgiving feast in Fenlon Hall. It was a wonderful afternoon that started off with the girls making cards of encouragement and thanks to be distributed with the “bags of compassion” at Christmas. The cards were a true testament of the love and feelings that dwell within these young women. Following the feast was an evening of song. The girls loved to sing and they had prepared songs for our pleasure. There wasalso lots of impromptu singing. There was no fighting and no bickering. The warmth and harmony was palpable between these two groups of girls who didn’t always get along.
Over Christmas, we invited the girls back to St. Patrick to enjoy the caroling and fellowship– and, of course, cookies! (It is always best to end an evening with cookies!) Over the next few visits with each of the homes, we discussed their visits to the church. The overall reaction was mixed; some were not sure if they wanted to come back.
A beautiful young girl of 16 with a sing song voice, heavily laden with a Spanish accent, pointed out the elephant in the room, why they didn’t wish to go to our Catholic church, and as crazy as it sounded to me it was not the last time we encountered this misperception. She started the conversation with “No thanks. I am a Christian.” She added an observation that Catholics “worship Mary.” No matter how hard we tried, we could not get past this road block. We stopped trying to explain with words what we believed, and over the following two years we demonstrated what we believed. We listened to their stories, showed up at their games and concerts but, most importantly, we did not go away. We gained their trust by just “being” there for them, with them. As new girls come, they see the trust, that bond we have developed with all of the girls in the house which makes it a quick transition to gain their trust.
Recently Joanne, one of our ministers, set up a morning retreat (“Beautifully Broken”) for the girls in two of the homes. There was some apprehension on our part about bringing the kids together for a morning of sharing. You never know what will happen when you get the kids together, let alone at our church on a Saturday! Actually, as we walked into the church that morning one of the girls turned to me and said, “This feels weird. Why are we here on a Saturday?” My apprehension quickly disappeared as the girls started their first icebreaker exercise. The Lord reached into those girls’ hearts that day and created a wonderfully soulful day of sharing God’s grace. After lunch, the girls went back to their lives with a better understanding of their self-worth, and a new understanding of us and our beliefs. As we all left that day, tears and hugs flowed freely, with nobody wanting it to end.
We are here for the long haul and we will not go away.
That is what the For the Love of Kids Ministry is about: helping with love in any way we can.