Juvenile Court

I spent the entire morning in Juvenile Court today. Which here, where we live, deals with not only delinquent youths, but any cases solely concerning minors (custody, child support etc). We had to attend a hearing on a matter concerning our foster kids. We showed up at eight-thirty am, supposed to be there at nine, and weren’t seen until eleven-forty-five. During that entire time we sat in the lobby, surrounded by people wearing their stories on their stress-filled faces. 

 

For an empath like me, it was one of the most emotionally painful mornings I’ve had. 

 

I’m not sure what happened to all the privacy laws, but at this particular court, everyone uses the lobby as the place to consult with their caseworkers, their lawyers, their children’s lawyers and caseworkers…Everyone just sat there in front of everyone and talked about their business as if no one else was listening. My ears were burning. I kept looking down at the floor so that my shocked expressions wouldn’t give me away. Not that I was trying to listen. I was people-watching, and then, instead of just being curious about their business, I was suddenly hearing all about it. 

 

I was feeling so sad. So much heartbreak. So much dysfunction. So many shattered families. 

 

I turned my attention and started watching the people that worked there. The brassy receptionist who kept her face completely indifferent to all the weary world that showed up at her desk, looking for directions. She had no problem being firm and short in her answers. But I also saw her gather an armful of large, very soft,  cuddly, stuffed animals and arrange them on her desk. I heard her comment, The kids will love these. I had all the context I needed since I had just watched the movie “Instant Family” (which I highly recommend) where the kids in the foster system had their collection of Court Bears they were given when they had to go to court. 

 

I watched a short woman in a red suit, who radiated the aura of Lawyer from New Jersey. She had a group of sycophants following her around as she “showed them the ropes”. There was the court-appointed lawyer who made his rounds, introducing himself to all his new clients. He managed to keep a friendly, but competent air about himself. There were caseworkers who looked like they were just Done With This Job. They looked worn out and frustrated. There was the guardian ad litem who angrily demanded a clear answer from a parent who was not talking straight. There were the young men, who had just left a courtroom, shaking their heads, expressing their disbelief at what they had heard behind closed doors. There was a middle-aged man with some kind of disability that made him limp very badly. He was bustling about, doing his work with a smile on his face. He looked like he had a passion for his work. 

 

I sat and watched all this teeming humanity around me. And it occurred to me that it’s actually pretty wonderful that I live in a country that has a Juvenile Court and all the offices and people connected to it. This building represents our country using it’s tax dollars to protect children. Protect children from broken caregivers who are no longer giving care. Protect children from the stupid mistakes they make when they break the law. Try to get them off that path and onto a better one. Get justice for children who have been treated evilly. 

 

I hate that we live in a sinful world. I hate that no matter how many systems of government we’ve tried throughout history, people still treat other people badly. I hate that there really is no answer, no solution. The only way to revolutionize this world is for everyone to find Jesus and his Way of Love and Peace and Justice. And the Bible doesn’t seem to hold out hope that will happen completely until Jesus returns. In the meantime, we’ve got to somehow maneuver through these crazy times we are living in. 

 

All that being said, I’m glad that we are making an effort to protect the children in our country. I am thankful for all those people in that building that get up every day and go to work in what has to be one of the hardest work environments. I am thankful that my tax dollars are helping support this system. I am thankful that hopefully, every day, at least one child is getting a chance at a better life because of what goes on there, at Juvenile Court. 

 

I hate you…Merry Christmas!

So, I’ve decided every holiday season needs at least one blog to point out the underbelly of Season’s Greetings. Today is the day of the Heneise Family Christmas Party. If you didn’t get an invitation, consider yourself invited and come on over. I love this tradition. One of my girls asked me, rather annoyed because she is having to do a lot of cleaning today…Why do we always have a Christmas Party??? I said it’s because Christmas is about family, and since we don’t have a lot of family living close by, our friends are our family. And this is an opportunity to get together with them at least once during the Christmas Season. 

 

She harrumphed. 

 

If you can’t tell, attitudes haven’t been the best today. My kids love having a party, but they hate getting ready for a party. It involves cleaning, and deep cleaning, and decluttering, and picking up things that we usually ignore. Wiping down surfaces we usually leave for later. Then there is also the maintenance of the Said Cleaning. I JUST VACUUMED THAT COUCH!! GET OFF IT!!! 

 

The kids, already feeling put upon for having to clean, are taking it out on each other. I hate you! You’re stupid! I wish you weren’t here! And other horrible things that I don’t allow my children to say to each other, have been said today. I have had some rather uncomplimentary thoughts about some of my children as well, though at least I managed to keep it to myself. 

 

My husband told me yesterday that he was going to devote the whole day today to helping me get ready. I envisioned him washing some dishes and running a vacuum. This morning he announced he was going to clean the basement (???) and fix the two holes in my floors that have needed repairing for months. 

 

Ok.

 

Not exactly what I had in mind. 

 

But, the holes did need fixing, and apparently cleaning the basement was tied into fixing holes in the floor.

 

Ok. Give me a minute to readjust my expectations. 

 

Now, in a couple hours, people will start showing up and we’ll forget about cleaning the house and we’ll settle in to just having fun with friends. MERRY CHRISTMAS! PEACE ON EARTH! 

 

So, are we all raging hypocrites? Hateful one minute, sweet and nice the next? Or maybe being hypocritical is just part of human nature.  A human nature that we all need to be saved from. A human nature that was completely lost in it’s sinfulness and yet Jesus decided to give us value to the point that he was willing to come to earth and make the ultimate sacrifice so that we could be saved from this sinful human nature. 

Christmas…Emmanuel…God with us. 

 

I have believed in Jesus, decided to follow him. My sins are forgiven. But I still have this sinful human nature. I will spend my whole life learning how to be more like Jesus. Sometimes I’ll do really well. Like today! The meanest thing I said was, YOU GUYS STINK AT CLEANING! Which is mild compared to some of the verbiage that was being slung around. But then, there are days where I completely step out of grace and wallow in my sinful nature. 

 

So, really, I hate you…Merry Christmas… is completely appropriate for this time of year.  I hate you: I’m not the best person. I say and do bad things. Merry Christmas: that’s why Jesus came! We can devote an entire month to celebrate that we have a Savior now who wants to rescue us from ourselves. 

 

A Gift, Not a Right

I’m sitting in my bedroom right now. I have an armchair in the corner of the room. Lots of windows. It’s evening and the light is coming in at a perfect slant. It’s the time of day when everything glows. The walls in my room are painted a peachy-apricot color that is designed to pick up the sunlight and reflect back the color of warmth and coziness and life. I love my bedroom. My husband remodeled it for my 40th birthday. It is a haven in my not-so-remodeled house. 

Today is a sort of home-coming to my room. Our summer-long houseguests just departed yesterday. We gave up our bedroom for them and have been camping out in our kids’ bedrooms all summer. I am finally back in my own space. 

This summer has been an enlightening experience. 

Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned is just how entitled and privileged I am. It has been disconcerting to not have my own private space. In fact, it has been pretty irritating. In fact, at times it felt like I was going to go crazy. One night I was lying in bed. Silently steaming. Here I was, lying on a mattress on the floor in my boy’s bedroom. Kids sleeping all around me. I felt suffocated from the lack of privacy. And then, I had a thought, which I think was from the Holy Spirit…What about all the families living in refugee camps right now? And then, after a bit more thought…What about almost all the other countries in the world? I would say that parents having their own bedroom is something that only happens in the wealthiest percentage of the world. Everyone else shares whatever space they have. Having my own private space for me and my husband is in fact, not a human right. It’s a privilege. A byproduct of living in a wealthy country and making enough money to live in a big house. 

It’s kind of humbling to realize that the things I consider basic rights, basic human comforts, are actually just a cultural thing. In our culture we have an expectation that a married couple will have their own space, their own bedroom. We are used to this set up. It feels healthy. It feels right. And when we don’t get it, everything feels really wrong. 

I am currently reading a book called Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid. It is an amazing book about the Christian walk, basically a modern day interpretation of the writings of John Newton (of Amazing Grace fame). There is a quote that really struck me. It is speaking of John Newton and says:

“He also believed that the richest fruit of God’s work in our hearts would be evidenced by increasing humility and dependance on Christ for everything rather than in a ‘victorious Christian life.’”

Think about that for a minute. The evidence of our growing in maturity in our walk with God is not that we become more perfect and amazing, but rather that we become more humble and more reliant on God. 

Part of our becoming humble is coming face to face with our sin, uncovering it layer by layer. And as we uncover it, we bring it to God and lean on his power to repent and turn away. 

This summer I had a mirror held up to my face. Wow. I really become unpleasant when my creature comforts are taken away. 

I have this image in my mind of what my life should look like. I would hope that I would pattern that image off of what the Bible says my life should look like, but instead I’ve patterned it off of what my culture tells me is expected. Expectation: I should always have enough money to get everything I need and at least a handful of extra things I just want. Expectation: I should live in good health. Expectation: I should have my own space and my own stuff and strong boundaries to keep people out of that space and that stuff. Expectation: My life should be worry free with no hardships or trials. 

No wonder the Christian walk can be so difficult for us Americans. Jesus said to take up your cross and follow him. He said, in this world we would have trouble, but to take heart because he has overcome the world. The stories of the early apostles and the early church are not about people living comfortable easy lives. But, they are about people living in complete dependance on God and trusting that the end reward is worth all the suffering here on earth. And of course, the most amazing part is, Jesus also said he would never leave us or forsake us. As we go through hardships and troubles here on earth, he is with us the entire time. 

And for me, part of my walk is seeing that what I see as hardship, really isn’t. I actually have some pretty spoiled ideas about what my life should look like. And I say, I’m sorry Lord. I’m actually really selfish. And God is gracious. He gave me back my room. But now I can see it a little better for what it is…A gift. Not a right. And my pleasure is a bit richer and I try harder to keep this gift in an open palm, ready to share, ready to release  it whenever I’m called to.

(Though I’m secretly hoping I won’t be called to do so again for a really long time.) 

Queen Esther and Me

My name is Esther. This has always been a special part of who I am. My mom told me, years ago, that when she first got pregnant with me she knew I was a girl and my name was going to be Esther. I was named after the Esther in the Bible. She has her very own book which tells the story of the beautiful Jewish girl who is compelled to join the Mighty King’s harem when the king puts out  a search for beautiful virgins. He is looking for a new Queen and Esther ends up being the chosen one. Later, she uses her influence as Queen to save her people, the Jews, from a genocide.

I can’t tell you how many times I have read the book of Esther. Innumerable. When I was a kid my Dad set up a rule, for a time, that we had to read one chapter of the Bible before bed every night. I would often go searching for the shortest Psalm that I could find or I would head back to the book of Esther and read it again. Esther was my hero. I was her namesake. I felt a deep connection. She was beautiful and brave, a Queen, everything a little girl could hope for in a hero.

As I grew older I found some biblical historical fiction about Esther, where authors had written the story of Esther, filling in all the unknown details, and adding their own twist to the story. I loved reading these. It awakened an understanding that these people in the Bible were real people. With real emotions. Real problems. They weren’t just a flat image on a page.

Of course, as an adult, understanding Esther to be a real person has lead me to have a much darker view of the whole story. I have a good imagination. I try to imagine what it was like to live in a harem. To not have the kind of marriage that I think is normal, but instead just be one of many. What was it like to interact with an older man when she was most likely a young teenager? To interact with the most powerful man on earth when she was just a young girl from a family with no power or prestige? How did she navigate all the palace politics? What was her day-to-day living like? Did she have children? Was Vashti (the previous Queen who was dethroned) still in the harem to cause problems? After the “Happily Ever After” ending of the book of Esther, what happened then? Did she remain on good terms with the King or did he replace her with a long series of new favorites from the harem? Did she find a way to bring meaning to her life?

I have a lot of questions. Sometimes I feel myself getting a little panicky. Like the answers to these questions are tied up in my own destiny. If Esther actually lived an unhappy, unfulfilled life in the harem, what does that mean for me? What does it mean, if you are named for a hero, to find out that your hero was actually a pretty unhappy person?

In the last couple years, I have found myself getting very emotionally caught up with the stories of the women in the Bible. I find myself angry. Why did God let that woman suffer like that? Why did God allow polygamy, despite all the stories of women being hurt by it? Hagar and Sarah. Leah and Rachel. Hannah and Peninnah. Why did God allow the practice of concubines? Why were they worth so little to the men in their life? Thinking about the story of the concubine in Judges who is murdered. Why? Yes. My brain knows that when sin came in the world, all these bad things were part of that Sin. Yes. My brain knows that God has a long term plan to deal with Sin in the world that centers around his Son Jesus. Yes. I know we have free will which means that bad things are going to happen because of the consequences of our sin. I know these things, but my heart still hurts when I read about the suffering of these women. I need to know that God cared about them. That he loved them just as much as the more prominent men who carry the lead role in the story. I need to know this.

I think I need to know this because I am Esther. I am connected to these characters hidden in the pages, surfacing in between lines. I am simply a continuation of their story. I am a woman. And I need to know if I am just as important to God as the men. Am I just as significant? Am I loved? Am I important?

Today I started reading the book of Esther again. I came up with a whole new list of questions and I started googling my questions, wondering if other people had thought about these things too. I happened upon a blog written by Rachel Held Evans. I really liked what she had to say and as I read through some of her blog posts I realized that she was an author and had several interesting books. One of them really stood out to me so I got it on my Kindle and started reading it. The name of the book is A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on her Roof, Covering her Head, and Calling her Husband “Master”. You have to admit, it’s an intriguing title. I’m several chapters in. I feel like I’ve met my new best friend and she just doesn’t know it yet. This is not to say that I agree with everything that she says or thinks, but what I love about her is that she questions things. I resonate with her questions. I resonate with her curiosity, her desire to dig deeper.

I just want to tell you one little bit in the book. The author and a friend get together and have a little ceremony where they Remember some of the women in the bible who suffered. They remember Japheth’s daughter who was sacrificed. They remember the concubine who was murdered. They remember Hagar. They light a candle for each woman, and they manage to bring it all back to the Cross. This made me sob. These women that have somehow managed to creep off the pages of the Bible and work their way into my heart and my mind…These women are important to me. And it was like someone telling me that there was going to be a funeral and I could come and mourn, and give honor to those who had died. Have some closure. While reading her book, I felt like I was there, joining in the ceremony. Mourning alongside them.

This is a journey that I am on. What does it mean to be Esther? What does it mean to be a woman? What does it mean to be a Christian Woman? These questions. This is why I keep reading the book of Esther, and Genesis, Samuel. The book of Acts. Because their stories are my stories. Perhaps by understanding the past better, I’ll have more understanding to face the future.