Wednesday, July 21, 2010


or  Looking for Hope

I'm sorry if this is a rehash for some of you, especially for my Facebook friends.   But an incident happened at work today that really rattled and angered me, and I have been trying to come to terms with it.

What happened was this:   I work as the secretary of a church, and the church building lies on a route that brings many who are needy or confused or wandering to our door (which is kind of the point of a church).  This morning, a young woman who was clearly on drugs rang our bell, and when I answered, she came in and said that she had lost her daughter—she had just turned around for a minute, and her two-year-old girl was gone.   The woman wasn't particularly distraught, acting more—not even confused, just stoned, than anything.   I can't exactly say why, but it seemed more important to me that she call 911 than that we go out and search the neighborhood.  Maybe I hadn't really absorbed what she had said, or I was half disbelieving her (she wasn't entirely coherent, and you develop a certain cynicism when you answer the door at a church very often), or I wanted more capable hands than mine to deal with it, or I wanted the authorities to get involved so that this woman wasn't given charge of a child again.   I don't know.  I was already angry with her for coming to our door:   if you lose a child, you don't leave the vicinity!  You search high and low, flag down a passing car, and have them call the police!   But church buildings are places of refuge, and in times of crisis, people often turn to them automatically.   I still don't know whether it was the "right" choice, but I helped the woman place the call, intending then to go out and search for the little girl until the police arrived.

But I couldn't leave.   The woman had no idea where she was, and someone had to stay and feed her information so that the police would come to the right place.  I listened to that entire conversation and got more angry than I have been in years, or possibly ever, because while this woman was maundering on and on about nothing, a child was out there somewhere lost, and no one could do anything about it, because this mother was too high even to ask for help properly.   When the emergency dispatcher asked her to describe her daughter, the woman said that she was "short."   She thought that she might have been wearing something pink—a tutu kind of thing, or maybe a shorts jumpsuit; she was blondish.   The woman described her plans for the day and what she thought about the weather.   She had lost her daughter at—was it the corner? the bench at the bus-stop? in the bushes by the sidewalk?   The girl's name was Jessica.  Or possibly Marie.

At that point, I began disbelieving in the existence of the daughter, or at least in the mother's tale.   But who can run that risk?   Who can afford to say,  "Oh, please.   Just move along now, ma'am," when the possibility exists that the mother is right?   The inconsistencies in her story weren't those of a liar, but of someone not in her right mind.   So some parts of her story could just as well have been true.

As soon as the phone call ended, I ran to find my co-workers, and we started to look outside.   The police came almost immediately, bless them, and were competent, efficient, and kindly.  An Amber Alert, two television crews, and a visit from the paramedics later, it became clear that the daughter had been in Roswell, 200 miles away, all along.  She had never been in danger; the mother had been hallucinating.   The paramedics took her away.

But I cannot forget the feeling of powerlessness and injustice when that woman was on the phone in my office—the anger, not that a woman could look away and have her daughter disappear—that's all too realistic a nightmare and can happen to anyone—but that she could get so drugged up that she couldn't even ask for help in what she thought was an emergency; that those of us who wanted to help the child couldn't because we had to help the mother instead; that someone so criminally irresponsible should have made the choice to have a child, when so many who would love a child can't have one; that the little girl was the one who was going to pay for her mother's negligence.

And then it all turned out to be OK.  Only it isn't.

It just isn't.

And so I am hunting around for a context to put this in, and two things come to mind.   One is a recent comment by a friend, that God is in the Small Things.  The other is a conversation my sister and I recently had about a photo of a new leaf unfurling—that the leaves remind us of babies yawning and stretching out one little fist, maybe half open.  My sister asked me to write a blog post about it, and I agreed.  This isn't what either of us had in mind.  But to see these leaves—their intricate, laser-cut edges, the perfection of every minute hair, the clean musculature of the new leaf as it opens—is to remember the spark of Life that guides all growing things toward the Light.

As another friend and I recently discussed, hope can be a double-edged sword.  If a hope isn't realistic, it can just as easily lead to disappointment and despair.  But I have hope for that little girl, that she will grow up strong and loving, and for her mother, that she, too, may one day choose strength and love.  I have seen it happen. 

By the grace of God, who blesses small things.


  1. That's a really stressful ordeal. Not just as a mom, but a human being, I'd be frightened in this day for anyone's child. Interesting that the church is a place of refuge even under that sort of influence and to those who don't typically attend. I have hope for that little one too as well as her mother. I've seen it happen and one of my best friends is a little girl like that, all grown up. At times the best we can do is hold them in the Light, these innocent children. Thanks for writing on a sensitive topic.

  2. Thanks for this blog Stacy. It touches my soul.

  3. Jan Lyn and Jax, thank you both.

    Jan Lyn, yes--I begin to think that church buildings are just engrained in the collective subconscious. People see the outline of a steeple and make a beeline for it when in trouble. (But oh, what would George Fox say?) And I know a young woman who was a little girl like that, too, who now has a huge heart to help others. A painful childhood doesn't have to mean a doomed adulthood, but it takes a lot of loving and patience to get to the right place. I'm so glad you "stopped by," Jan Lyn.