|Photo credit: FBI photo|
This week, our community held its breath.
We faced some of our worst fears. We whispered prayers to whatever god we believe in. And we watched, and waited and waited, and waited.
Soon, it wasn’t just our community hoping and praying for a little girl — a stranger to many of us, yet we thought of her and prayed for her as though she were one of our own. The entire nation joined us … waiting, hoping and praying.
And today our worst fear was realized.
Precious 6-year-old Jenise Wright was confirmed to have been murdered, after being reported missing late Sunday night.
Maybe because my Maddy is so close to her age. Maybe because her home is literally a 5-minute drive from my house. Maybe because the murder of a 6-year-old is just unthinkable. Maybe because I drive by the police and FBI cars, police tape and “Road Closed” signs on my way home from the store.
Whatever it is, this little girl has been constantly on my mind, in my heart, and in my fervent prayers since I learned about her disappearance on Monday.
During this week, I have been checking the news, reading reports, and watching all the status updates as the search for her grew. I kept my eyes peeled everywhere I went. I wondered if she was scared, alone, in pain or already with Jesus.
And I held my own daughters tighter … Praying gratitude over their very real presence in my life. Their deep breathing at night became a miracle. The minutes with them were not to be taken for granted.
Yet as I grieve this little girl I never knew, a thought keeps coming to the surface, and I just can’t shake it.
There are more Jenises out there.
We don’t know all the facts about her murder. We don’t know all the details about her family. But I think that it is a fair assumption that her parents allowing their 6-year-old to wander the neighborhood without any real knowing of her whereabouts … or even awareness of when she was entering or leaving the house … put this child at risk.
She was a vulnerable child.
And there are many others just like her.
These are children we don’t hear about because they are removed from their homes before they disappear or are found murdered in the woods.
I know these children exist because the day police found Jenise’s remains, we got the call to take a vulnerable child into our home.
Here is a baby whose story could have made headlines … But thank goodness it didn’t.
And yet, I wonder about if it had.
I wonder what your response would have been had you come to memorize the features of his face from watching the news every night, instead of seeing my Facebook posts with his updates. I wonder if I would have seen the same sentiments that I have seen posted on Facebook as friends rightly expressed outrage at the apparent neglect of Jenise’s parents.
“Precious baby girl,” I read this week, “If they find her, I would adopt her and give her the love and care she deserves.”
A justifiable sentiment.
But then I have to wonder … Would you really?
Would you carve the necessary weeks out to do all the training needed to be a licensed foster home? Would you lock up all your medicine, adjust your parenting practices, and put privacy aside as social worker after social worker inspects your home and reviews every. Single. Detail. About your life?
Would you fill out an an obscene amount of paperwork that makes giving birth look like a walk in the park?
Would you take the risk that you may care for a child with all you have, knowing that any day they could be taken from your home? Will you make room for them in your budget, set a place for them at your table, and carve away your precious time for doctors’ appointments, specialists and court proceedings?
You see, it’s easy to be outraged when we hear of child abuse or neglect.
It is easy to cry, to mourn, and to wish that things had turned out differently. It is easy to believe that had they been in our home, they would have been safe, and loved, and cared for.
It is, however, quite a different thing to actually take that child into your home, and make sure that they are safe, and loved, and cared for.
And I guess what I want to know is … Are you willing?
Ryan and I had about 12 hours to make our decision. I could not escape the fact that as I was devastated to learn of Jenise’s death, here was another vulnerable child — another potential Jenise.
Would we say “no” as taking a child right now is not convenient? Would we choose our lifestyle of comfort over a lifestyle of sacrifice?
This is what we wrestled with.
And to be honest, it really came down to principle. We had no red flags in taking this child … Just a pretty solid belief that this is what we need to do … Come what may.
I do not write this from a spirit of “look what we’re doing!” I write this from a scared, trembling little heart. A heart and will that are desperately relying on God to empower our family, strengthen me as a mom, and fill in the gaps for us where we fall short.
I write this knowing that our community around us … The love, the support, the prayers … Make it possible for us to say yes.
I write this from the humble knowledge that this burden to care for a child really is so light. Other Christians are being called to stay faithful even as their children are being beheaded, their wives are raped and abducted, and their husbands as killed.
What is our service to God in light of such sacrifice?
And yet. It still matters. It matters a lot.
To be honest, the timing is not perfect. The finances are not perfect. And, to be oh-so frank, Ryan and I are FAR (f a r) from perfect.
Week don’t have all our stuff together. I still haven’t registered Maddy for school or gotten Leyla’s new social security card yet. Just like every mom I know, finding balance feels elusive sometimes.
In short, taking on another child right now is far from convenient.
But then again … Being neglected by your parents and at-risk for abuse and even death is not convenient. Being abandoned at a drug house is not convenient. Being let down by person, after person, after person until you’ve lost all faith in God and humanity is not convenient. Being raised by a 5-year-old sibling because your parents are strung out on drugs is not convenient. Being born drug or alcohol addicted is not convenient. Being forced to move in and out of homes by the whim of some almighty judge is not convenient. Being forced to have weekly visits with your abusers (albeit supervised) is not convenient. Not knowing where you belong, being separated from your siblings, and standing out in school are not convenient.
Being at the total whim of a broken government system is not convenient.
We feel for these children. As we rightly should. By all means, let us have compassion and grieve for their losses.
But I urge you to do more. Let us not just feel. Let us act.
I get that we cannot all be foster parents. I get it. But I think there are those of us out there that need to step up. We need to get our homes ready, take the classes and bite the bullet to commit. So when a child like Jenise comes along, we are ready.
If you absolutely cannot be a long-term foster parent, ask yourself what you CAN do. Maybe you could do receiving care (short term care between 1-4 weeks). Maybe you could do respite care? Maybe you could donate clothes or no-longer-needed baby items to families doing foster care? Maybe you could make that family a meal when they receive a child into their home? Maybe you could commit to praying for them, babysit for them, or call them and really listen to how they are doing?
Of course, foster kids aren’t the only ones at risk.
Maybe you are sponsoring a child. Maybe you are volunteering with at-risk youth. Maybe you are helping support victims of sex-trafficking. Maybe you are delivering food or clothes to children in Africa. Maybe you have adopted a child from an orphanage.
But if you are not doing anything yet … Ask yourself? What are you willing to do? Where is God calling you to help? Where can you use the time, money and resources you’ve been blessed with to make a difference?
If you chose to foster, you should know:
The foster care system is broken. The situation will likely not be perfect. There is a real risk that you may end up with a broken heart. You will wonder some days what on earth you were thinking when you signed up to do this. There will be loss, heartache and fatigue.
But there will also be one more guarantee.
You are making a huge difference in the life of one of God’s precious children. Your standing in the gap could literally save their lives.
There are more Jenises out there.
And I want to know … Will you join me in doing something about it?
*If you chose to research foster care (woo hoo!), I would urge you to get licensed through an agency. In many cases, this is absolutely free. We went through Youth For Christ, and cannot recommend it enough. The social worker on the child’s side represents the child (as they should.) Your case worker in the agency will represent your family, and will make sure that you understand everything the social worker is saying. They will keep you up-to-date on licensing requirements, offer trainings, and be there as a very real support to your family. So definitely, definitely, go through an agency. 🙂