lost children

July 30, 2010

i took a walk down memory lane tonight, as my heart was pulled toward lost children in my midst.

i took maddie and mylia to the local public pool; the one on the “bad” side of town that has the cool waterslide and cheap admission. i sat outside the pool fence, comfortable at my picnic table, reading my magazine. but my solitude was quickly interrupted by a group of rag tag boys, talking “trash” to each other. in particular, one was dropping the f-bomb, talking about who beat up who, etc. the boys were a motley crew; a scruffy white boy with no shirt who couldn’t have been older than 8; a biracial boy on a bike who looked equally young; a taller, awkward hispanic boy, and assorted others gathered round.

i watched them, hoping my intent gaze would soften their language and behavior. eventually i was compelled to walk over to them, and speak gentle but clear words: boys, your words are inappropriate for the little ears around here; and more than that, i can see that you can make better choices, use better words. i know it.

i sat back down and just drank them in as i watched … wishing, once again, that i could bring them all home.  these were lost boys; running the streets, talking tough, with no one home.  my  heart ached for their beauty and potential and the desperate need that they have, for parents.

after the boys left, there were girls … groups of *young* girls, dressed seductively, being flirtatious and coy as they spotted the boys around.

lost girls.

these children – these lost, vulnerable, precious, “bad” kids – i spent many years of my life working with them.  the stirring in this direction started in high school, when i wrote in my bible, “inner city teaching” next to isaiah 58:10, believing that was God’s call for my life.

in my senior year of college (with a social work major) i took a job as a “student worker” at juvenile hall.

((juvenile hall, in san diego, california … i think there were 600 kids housed there at any one time)).

it was the beginning of a  tremendous chapter; of experiences and moments and heartache and discomfort and learning and growing that spanned many years. working in juvenile hall was stunningly difficult; i remember working in one of the boys units one night, locking their cell doors, and having them yell lewd taunts to me out their door. i remember working in the unit with a boy who had murdered the pizza delivery man and another who had killed his parents and sister. i had to be tough and hard and unwavering.

upon graduation from college, i worked for a program aimed at preventing juvenile delinquency with a model based on frequent contact – accountability. we were an office filled with recent college graduates; i was part of a 3-person team assigned to southeast san diego. i was the only white girl on our team and nearly the only white girl in that area of town. our caseload of 30+ youth was 90% african american with the remaining few being hispanic, vietnamese, filipino, and caucasian. we rotated and every 3rd night, we went alone to the homes of every one of our kids.

home visiting became my passion.  i gave trainings on it subsequent years, sharing my belief that there is something invaluable about meeting with families in their home; not in the artificial environment of an office.  the homes were often scary, dysfunctional, and certainly chaotic … but it was my heart and my passion.

i later worked for the largest non-profit in san diego county, serving at-risk youth as part of a team … again, using a home- and school -visiting model, coming alongside hurting children and their families, encouraging toward healing and solution.  our office was in city heights, the most geographically diverse square mile in southern california at that time. we were on the 2nd floor; the first floor housed the somali and vietnamese police substation.  (( i did not fully appreciate sharing a parking lot with a ginormous vietnamese supermarket – and today, what treasures i would likely find there!! =))

i look back over those years and marvel at GOD’s protection! i had no idea the danger i faced, on those countless nights alone, as a white girl driving through the ‘hood, just following her passion to love these hurting families.

and so i sat today, years later, living a life seemingly so far removed from the work i did in my 20’s and in to my 30’s. and yet, my passion remains. my comfort, with these “bad” kids, and my radar for hurting and chaos, is still strong. can i bring them all home with me?? not practical, i know. and now with a growing daughter, i looked at the group of boys and quickly dismissed the idea of fostering a boy who was similarly lost and needing a home. it would place madison at too much risk.

but, i know my heart was stirred … and i want to be open for what GOD has for our family.

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One Response to “lost children”

  1. Meredith Says:

    You have such a kind way of encouragement Emily. I think the way you handled those boys was perfect.


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