Crushed chocolate cookies

Foster childDing dong!

“There he is.” I smiled at Craig as I finished placing the freshly baked chocolate cookies on a plate. We walked to the front door together.

“Hello, Mr. White. Mrs. White. Good to see you.” The social worker placed his hand on the child beside him. “This is Benny.”

The boy stared down at his sneakers, which seemed too big for his body. He held a sagging plastic bag.

I kneeled down. “Hi Benny, I’m Karen. I’m so glad you’re here.” He avoided my eyes. When I touched his arm, he stiffened. For a second, I feared he would bolt.

“Please, come in.” Craig’s invitation reduced the tension of the first contact with our eight-year-old foster child. We were to be his third family in the four years since he saw his mom die from an overdose, and we were determined to be the last.

While Craig and the social worker completed paperwork, Benny sat on the edge of the couch, still studying his shoes and clutching his bag.

“I made chocolate cookies; do you want to try one?” I held out the plate.

After what seemed an eternity, he raised his hand, grabbed three cookies, and stuffed them in the pocket of his hoodie.

I cleared my throat. “Okay, these are for later. Why don’t you take another one for now?”

He shot me a glance, then took one more.

Craig saw the social worker to the door and came back with a ball and glove. “Hey Ben, would you like to play catch?”

“Sure.” The last cookie disappeared in his pocket.

From the window, I watched Benny trudge alongside Craig to the playground. Looks like a good start. I turned around to see his bag lying on the floor. I was about to bring it to his room when I thought better of it. We’ll do that together.

By the time Craig and Benny returned, I had started cooking, and food aromas filled the house. “Drumsticks and French fries—I hope you like it.”

Benny slumped into a chair.

“Honey, please, wash your hands first. Craig, can you show Benny the bathr—”

“Nooo!”

I almost dropped a dish as Benny sent the chair crashing to the floor.

“I hate you! I hate you!”

“Benny, what’s wrong?”

Craig reached for the boy, but Benny slapped him, ran to the couch, and seized his bag. “I won’t stay here! Tell Social Services to get me!”

“They’re closed at this hour, Benny. Why don’t you come and eat something?”

“No! I hate you!” He whacked the couch.

“You want to see your room?” Craig tried to distract him.

“I want to leave!” Tears streamed down his contorted face.

“We’ll see about that tomorrow. But if you don’t want to eat, I’ll bring you to your room so that you can sleep.” Craig picked him up, seemingly immune to the yelling and frantic kicking.

I followed them upstairs. When Craig put him down, Benny threw himself on the bed—shoes and all—and hid under the blankets, crying all the while.

Craig whispered, “I’ll eat something, then leave for my night shift. I’ll pray.”

The next moment, I found myself standing alone in the middle of the bedroom, its bright colors shouting failure.

God, I need You.

I sat down at the bedside and laid my hand on the crumpled heap of a child.

“Leave me alone!” He wriggled away from me.

“No, Benny, I won’t go anywhere when you’re so sad and upset. I’ll stay right here with you.”

The leering racing car on the bedspread seemed to mock me as I waited and prayed for a breakthrough. Finally, the sobs subsided.

Following a hunch, I asked, “Benny…may I hold you? I mean—like a baby?”

To my surprise, he pushed back the blankets and climbed on my lap. I held him in my arms and gently rocked him, until his body relaxed and he was fast asleep.

Carefully, I took off his shoes and pulled down the covers—revealing crushed chocolate cookies. I couldn’t help but smile as I wiped them from the bed and tucked Benny in. Then I bent down and planted a kiss on his forehead.

Dear Father, You loved us before we loved You. Please, now help us to love this child. Even if our love will be crushed…like a chocolate cookie, under the weight of his pain, we want to persist in loving him. Amen.

***

AUTHOR’S NOTES

This short fiction story was inspired by:

• “Removed,” a short film about foster care. See www.removedfilm.com and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOeQUwdAjE0.

• An newspaper article about foster care. See http://www.volkskrant.nl/binnenland/verwaarloosde-en-misbruikte-kinderen-wie-helpt-ze-nog~a3889487/

Karen’s prayer refers to the following Bible verse: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10 ESV).

photo credit: via photopin (license)

 

I am…

WhoAmI“Who are you?”

“Well, my name is …, I am … years old, I live in …, and I work as ….”

“No, sorry, I asked who you are–not how you are called, how long and where you live, or what you do for a living. Who are you really? What is your identity?”

We all need a sense of identity. The urge to know who we are arises in adolescence. We search our hearts. We seek role models. We need to know what our place is, where we belong, and what we’re worth. Stroke by stroke, we paint an image of who we think we are—or more often, of who we’d like to be. The degree to which the resulting self-portrait reflects the truth affects our fitness for life.

Speaking for myself–I wanted to be beautiful, lovable, and loved. Recognized for my character and intellect. In control. Known and understood. Needed.

I searched in all the wrong directions, taking the lines and colors to create my self-image from introspection, people, situations, and circumstances. I was deceived, confused, and frustrated. Hurt pride, anger, and bitterness took root inside me. I felt useless. My portrait was a mess.

Until, at the age of forty-three, I found Him. He explained that I couldn’t search my own heart, because it is deceitful. But He also said that I’m wonderfully made. He said that it was better to take refuge in Him than to trust in men. He knew me like no one else, including the ugly growths and wounds inflicted by a life lived without Him.

He is the Most High God, the Creator of all, and the King of kings. Yet He longs for communion with me–so much that He died for me. He restored my soul, uprooting the parasites of darkness. He cleansed me and completed me with His gifts. He needs me to shine His royal light in a dark world. He knows my destination and the way. He is my Guide. I follow Him, step by step.

I was a sinner. He made me a saint.

I was worthless. He made me worthy.

I was skeptical. He made me trust Him.

I was proud. He made me humble.

I was broken. He made me whole.

I was a vulnerable approval seeker. He made me rest in His arms.

I was introspective. He made me focus on Him.

I was a psychologist turned programmer turned technical information developer turned campsite owner turned housewife. He made me a pastor and a writer.

I was lonely. He made me the wife of a loving, godly man.

I am barren. He made me the mother of the most beautiful girl in the world.

I am Nordic. He made me a resident of Italy and bear the hot summers.

I am an introvert. He makes me come out of my comfort zone and witness for His grace and His love.

I am a confrontation-avoiding coward. He makes me brave.

I am His beloved child in whom He is well pleased.

Who are you?

Pray for Joe

omnishamblesGive me a few minutes of your time, and I will let you look through three windows into three different lives. Why? I’ll explain you afterwards. For now, just watch.

First window

A strong wind whips raindrops against Judas’ face. The ex-disciple of Jesus doesn’t notice; he just runs.

I have done wrong, so wrong!

Convinced that Jesus was a fraud, he had tried to save his own reputation with the religious leaders by betraying him for a miserable thirty silver pieces.

Why did he talk about dying anyway? A real king would have gathered an army and claimed his position, wouldn’t he?

Yet, while Judas watched Jesus’ arrest and agony, something didn’t tally. Jesus never tried to defend himself.

Overwhelmed by the realization of what he had done, Judas went back to the priests and exclaimed, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood!”

They laughed at him in derision. “What is that to us? See to it yourself.”

Humiliated, he threw the pieces of silver into the temple and ran off.

Suddenly he stumbles over a stone and bumps into the rough bark of a tree. Gasping, he turns around and sees how a thunderstorm rages above Golgotha.

Jesus is surely dead by now.

Guilt crushes him. Without hope of restoration from his sin, Judas tears off a long strip of his garment and lifts himself upon the first branch…

Second window

Lightning cracks. Rain washes away bitter tears of remorse from the face of Peter, Jesus’ first disciple. From afar, he sees Jesus’ body hanging limp on the cross.

The day before, when Jesus announced his death, Peter proclaimed that he was ready to die for him. However, when it came to the crunch, he denied him for fear that he too would be arrested.

Not just once, but three times!

When that rooster crowed, the full realization of his cowardice settled upon him.

Oh how Jesus looked at me!

He still believes that Jesus was God’s anointed King, but doesn’t understand why he had to die.

Now what? Without Jesus, life makes no sense.

Yet, beyond shame and confusion, there is a glimmer of hope. Somehow, he knows this isn’t the end…

Third window

Alone in his office, Joe stares out the window at the heavy rainfall. Puddles reflect the streetlights.

No light for me, only darkness.

His business is about to go bankrupt, despite his best efforts.

First, he contacted a sooth-sayer who foresaw a profitable client. When this happened indeed, Joe’s business prospered and he rented more luxury accommodations. When the client was placed under conservatorship—all assets frozen—while still owning him $400,000, Joe was unable to pay off his own debtors.

The economic crisis dealt the next blow; fewer orders meant less turnover and an often empty account. His supportive wife agreed to pledge their house to the bank so that it would finance his payroll obligations.

Profit margins becoming tighter, he put out work to subcontractors who—without his knowledge—didn’t fulfill their tax obligations and employed illegal immigrants.

Someone tipped off the tax department; the subcontractor fled and Joe was wrongly accused of tax evasion and exploitation of foreign workers. It had been in all the local newspapers.

One by one, his clients disappeared, carrying off his hope.

Last month his brother introduced him to Christians who encouraged him to let Jesus rule his life instead of money, reputation, fear, or shame.

He tried everything: praying, reading the Bible, attending meetings. Yet he didn’t see any change.

They asserted, “You are more than your work. Jesus is alive; he loves you, and has a better plan for your life. Trust Him.”

Easy for them to say. They don’t have to face their creditors every day.

Today his lawyer called. His major creditor has requested his bankruptcy.

All hope is gone now. The end of my business, my house, my life. Jesus, do you exist at all?

***********

What did you see? Three human beings, each in omnishambles. The Bible tells what happened with Judas and Peter (Matthew 27:3-5, John 21:15-17). But what about Joe?

Joe is the pseudonym for someone I met recently. His story isn’t finished yet. And he needs your prayers.

Please pray that “Joe” won’t make the mistake that Judas did. Pray that he will cling to hope, like Peter, who was restored by the resurrected Jesus. Pray that he will learn to trust the living God who redeems and restores lives—no matter how big the mess.