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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Some Battles

I may or may not have mentioned that I started a new job in April. Yes, I loved (still love) Rainbow and it was VERY hard to leave. I will always be thankful for the opportunity to work in the best group home and for the very best and sweetest Director of a group home in the entire state (in my humble opinion). I also may have failed to mention in the busy-ness of my life that this was actually my dream job. How many people can say they took their dream job? Yes, God has been so good to me. Again. So let me get right to the point: I took a position with Court Appointed Special Advocates. Sound familiar? Yes, I was a CASA volunteer from about 2007-2011. I had three cases in family court. During the training and for the time that I was a CASA, I loved every minute of it. I loved getting knee-deep in the dirt of a CPS investigation. I didn’t love the heartache of learning about abuse, but I loved being part of making important recommendations for a child during a time of crisis in his life. Becoming a CASA is probably part of the reason I became a foster parent and eventually adopted my children. I can’t really say enough about how much I love the CASA program, where ordinary people become trained, screened, sworn officers of the court and speak up for abused and neglected children. 

A position with CASA in my community became available in 2011 and I applied for the job. I had a great interview, and I was completely hopeful the job would be mine. I was heartsick when the then-Director called to tell me she had chosen another candidate. Six months later, I took a job at Rainbow, left my fourteen year ministry gig, and jumped into a new position of grant writing and fundraising and discovered I was actually pretty good at it. And almost four years later, when I was completely content and satisfied with my position at Rainbow, God reopened that door that I thought was shut for good, and He graced me with a position that I secretly envied and admired from a distance. Sometimes I can’t believe how blessed I really am.

The first few weeks were hard. I cannot emphasize just how hard. On the third day, I came home and wept and made myself sick over the details of a child abuse case that I uncovered in the files of our circuit. I wasn’t sure I could do it. For a few weeks I just walked around in a daze, mentally and emotionally exhausted, overwhelmed with new information, and completely unsure of myself. I saw things happening in “the system” and mistakes being made in children’s lives. I wasn’t sure I could do it. But then a wise friend told me, “You don’t have to fight every battle. Some battles are not yours to take on.” 

And with that warm piece of advice, I want to write about battles. The very best battle story of all time (for me) is not David and Goliath, or any popular underdog stories or war tales. The very best battle story that I know is the story about my sister and the school bus bully. Camden loves this story, so here I will share it with you:

When I was an early adolescent, I was what you might call a “target” for bullies. Maybe it was the frizzy over-permed hair or the pink-rimmed extra-thick glasses or the buck teeth. Maybe it was the extra weight or the fact that I wore frumpy clothes to cover up my figure. Maybe, probably, it was all those things. In addition to being picked on in school, sixth grade was torture for me on the school bus. There was an eighth grader, Josh, with a carrot-top of red hair and a face full of freckles. He wasn’t especially popular or “cool”, but he had an over-the-top personality and was loud and gregarious. At the age of twelve, I would board the school bus amidst his taunting, laughing, and pointing in my direction. He pretended to be in an earthquake when I walked by, he accused me of causing the bus to go over the “weight limit”, and he poked fun at my clothes. Day after day I endured this taunting, all the while praying my mom would withdraw me from school and home-school me. 

Eventually I started “missing the bus” on purpose. I dragged in the mornings and in the afternoons I would accidentally be in the restroom when my bus number was called. My poor mom drove back and forth from our house to transport me, never fully understanding why. I remember the outfit I was wearing the day I faked cramps so she would come and get me. My grades fell, and I slumped forward into depression. One day when I got off the bus, I fell apart. The taunting had been especially bad that afternoon and it felt like the entire school bus full of kids were laughing at me. I hated myself, and I cried loudly to my mom in the den, never knowing my older sister was just a few yards away, listening to my every word and sniffle. 

Something you should understand about my older sister is this: she was cool. I was most certainly a nerd, but she was part of the “in-crowd.” Emily was a few years older than me, and we generally had an adversarial relationship. We were almost always terrible to each other over stupid things like hair dryers and privileges. But on that day, my sister fought a battle for me.

Mom probably tried to distract me with some nerdy activity like cross-stitch or “Latch Hook” for crying out loud. I was a sucker for those arts and crafts projects. She listened to my sad story of pre-teen bullying, and as the afternoon passed, we didn’t notice Emily had slipped out the front door. 

The second part of this story is basically hearsay because the eyewitnesses were all ages twelve to fifteen and their account may have been less than accurate, but I tend to believe this was pretty close to what happened. Emily traveled to the adjacent neighborhood where Josh and his posse hung out on their bikes. She walked up to Josh on his bike, shoved him off his bike and onto the dirt while holding on to a handful of that bright red hair. * Some witnesses say that she actually had a handful of the hair when he hit the ground (and I secretly liked that part of the story.) According to the witnesses, Emily then grabbed Josh’s freckled face in her hand, scraped her long glitter-polished nails across his cheek and squeezed his lips together while standing on his chest with one foot. She may or may not have kicked dirt in his face. I like to think she did. The bystanders said everyone stood by helpless in shock. She then told him “don’t you ever make fun of my sister again” and tossed him helplessly into the dirt. 

When Emily came back to the house, Mom and I were probably halfway through our 1500-piece puzzle of ducks on the pond. Emily stood proudly in the kitchen and triumphantly announced, “Josh won’t mess with you again.” Mom straightened up and her voice became very quiet, “Emily Hope . . . what did you do?”  Emily’s friend who had returned from the battlefield along with her, recounted the events that had unfolded without our ever knowing. Mom was slightly horrified but maybe secretly proud of my sister. “Emily,” she said, “You know we don’t condone fighting.” Emily’s friend spoke up, “It wasn’t really a fight.” Mom crossed her arms as if to indicate her lack of support for violence. “Just wait until your dad comes home.” 
Now if you know my dad, you know he is not one to back down from a fight, but he also expected us girls to behave. For the rest of the afternoon, I tried to convey my appreciation to my sister, knowing she might get punished for attacking someone. We waited for the axe to fall.

Dad came home, Becky came out of the woods or pile of grass or wherever she was playing and probably studying bugs or leaves, and we all sat down to our family dinner. As the food was passed, Emily and I made awkward faces at each other, knowing mom was going to tell him. We asked the blessing over the food and mom spoke up: “Otis,” she said, “Emily has something to tell you.”

Dad set down his fork and raised his eyebrows. Emily reluctantly spilled her guts: “Dad, I got tired of hearing Melissa cry about that stupid Josh kid and how he always picks on her . . .” Dad shook his head, prodding her for the rest of the story. “So, after school today I went over to Summerville and I . . . well, I found him , , , and I beat him up in front of his friends.”

We all froze. Time stood still. 

And then dad leaned back in his chair. I swear you could hear a pin drop. Dad reached down toward his side and I panicked thinking Emily was much too old to be spanked with a belt! Oh no! I thought, she is about to be martyred for me! 

But instead . . . while we all watched in fear, Dad slipped his hand into his front pocket and pulled out his wallet. He took a ten dollar bill from inside, set it on the table, and slid it over to Emily, bartender-style. 

Laughter erupted. Sweet, relieved laughter of the three of us girls. Mom looked like she might faint. “Otis!” She cried, trying to cover up her laughter, “We can’t have our girls beating up boys!” Dad smiled a faint, thin smile and winked at Emily. “She did what I wanted to do about a hundred times. But I would have gotten arrested. Nice job, Emily.” 

And from that day forward, Josh never said an unkind thing to me again. He was, in fact, very nice to me for the rest of our time on the same bus. Word of Emily’s “conversation” with him traveled beyond just our bus route. My “cool” sister had beaten up a boy, for me!  I was worth fighting for! 

I will carry this battle story with me for the rest of my life. It helps me remember that some battles are better fought by other people. For whatever reason, it may not be our battle to fight. We might need someone else to do the fighting for us. Some of our battles are God’s. In fact, over and over in the scriptures, we read that battles are approached in three different ways:
  1. Some battles are ours to fight 
  2. Some battles are better fought by others on our behalf
  3. Some battles are only to be fought by God (II Chronicles 20:17) 

I feel very thankful to be in a position to fight for children every day. I feel incredibly blessed to be in this position, at this time in my life. But I am also thankful that these battles are not flesh and blood battles as they may seem on the surface. These battles are being fought by God and His will is being accomplished. All I have to do it trust that He will show me when to speak, when to stand up and fight, when to stay home and do a jigsaw puzzle and let someone else fight for me, and when to let Him take care of it completely. The battle is the Lord’s.