Birthday dinner

Birthday dinner

For my birthday my loving parents gave me a couple of gift certificates. They know me so well. One was for Amazon….books!!! The other was for our favorite sushi restaurant, Asahi. We’d been there a couple of times while I was pregnant, and I’d stuck with the cooked meals. But no sushi for me. Dom brought me a tray of sushi in the hospital ut then before I’d recovered enough to even think about going out to restaurants he lost his job and thus we’re trying not to splurge on going out.

Therefore last night was the great experiment, trying to go out to eat with the baby. We fed Bella and then popped her into the carseat and headed out the door. She fussed a bit right when we got to our table but Dom popped her out and walked back and forth a bit and she calmed right down. For the rest of the meal she remained in his arms, peering around with her wide dark eyes at the new scenery.

We were there pretty early. One other couple was eating their soup and the waitresses were in the corner folding napkins around chopsticks. As we ate one other couple came in and sat at the hibachi tables.

Our waitress stopped to admire Bella and one of the hostesses also paused at our table to gush over our bright-eyed beauty. Bella seemed quite content. The only casualty was a couple of soy sauce drops on her white shirt.

Dom and I both enjoyed our sushi fix. Each of us ordering our usual favorites and also branching out to try one new roll each. The experiments were successful. We enjoyed our raw fish, our salads, edamame, and the best miso soup I’ve ever had.

And no meltdowns from our sweet little girl until we popped her into the carseat to head home.

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  • “Sometimes an outsider can see things more clearly.”

    Sometimes, indeed.  I am not, however, convinced that this is one of them.  It sounds good; these children need love desperately, and there is no greater love than the love of God for his children.  That does not mean that abused children will find it at all comforting.  First, there is the omnipotence of God.  An omnipotent God who suffers the suffering of innocents is difficult enough for adults to grapple with.  Then, there is the omniscience of God.  Abuse is about secrets and hiding and lies and masks, and the omniscience of God is a serious threat to all that.  As the poster indicates, the social workers have no credibility when they tell these children they’re ‘really’ quite wonderful.  If they ‘really’ knew what these kids are ‘really’ like, well…  God does know (if He doesn’t, His love has no more credibility than that of the social worker or the foster parents).  An omniscient God is not fooled by the tough guy attitude or the good girl routine or any of the myriad masks abused children present to the world.  There is nowhere to hide from God.  And that can be deeply, deeply threatening.  And then there is the love of God.  Seriously abused children do not know how to accept love.  Genuine love, for some of these children, is experienced as unbearable and excruciating pain.  They will devise any number of escapes and denials from the love of people – yeah, well, if you ‘really’ knew me, you wouldn’t love me; yeah, well, I’ll bet you won’t love me if I do THIS, etc. etc. etc.  The love of God, which you experience (and expect these children to experience) as a balm, a comfort, a refuge when you are wounded, some of these children will experience as agony, an agony from which there is no escape, since God loves us all, always and unconditionally.

    It would be nice if we could prescribe a dose of the Gospel to improve an abused child’s chances of recovery; and in SOME cases, you could.  But the saddest (and largely untold) consequence of abuse is that serious abuse sometimes makes the ‘cure’ impossible, even poisonous, to swallow. 

  • Melanie – Thanks for the post!

    Stunted – So…it’s better to assure kids that nobody loves them?

  • Jennifer,
    You’re very welcome.

    I was discussing this idea with my husband and he pointed out that, sadly, even if the social workers wanted to take the kids to church, the fact is they probably wouldn’t be allowed. All that bs about separation of church and state.
    I was just watching the youtube video of Kevin Cosgrove’s 911 call on Sept 11. Very sad. But what struck me the most was here was this guy clearly facing death. And all the operator could offer him was the very hollow assurances that the rescue workers were doing the best they could to get to him. As I listened I imagined myself in her shoes and know that if I had her job I would feel compelled to pray with this guy. To reassure him that he’s not alone. That God is with him and loves him. And how unbearably sad that this woman couldn’t do that. The empty silence when she had no real hope to offer him and he vainly called upon God to blow the smoke from the other direction. To me that was the greatest tragedy, that this man died with no one to reassure him that there is an ultimate meaning in the universe. So scared, so alone.

  • stunted,
    I can see your point. And it’s a good one, looking at the situation of abused kids from a purely human perspective. But what about God’s grace?

    Christ told us that faith can move mountains.

    I don’t think Jen is being rainbows and sunshine optimistic, take these kids to church and watch the love flow and the miracles happen. But she is pointing out the utter stupidity of not trying the one thing that might just get through to these kids, of ignoring their one real hope.

    When you work in religious ed one thing you have to accept pretty quickly is that you may never see the fruits of your labors. Often it seems like your words are falling on deaf ears, that all your efforts are futile.

    The thing is, you never know what seeds you are planting and how they may bear fruit years and years down the road. You won’t be around to see it and won’t ever know it happened. To human eyes there will seem to be no cause and effect between your actions and their final outcome.

    Or, to use a biblical metaphor, you sow the seeds and someone else gets to reap the harvest.

    And yes, for some of those kids, maybe it’s too late. But maybe not.

    Jen had a post early on in her blogging as the Reluctant Athiest in which she discussed being intellectually convinced of God’s existence, but had no emotional connection to that awareness.

    But what she didn’t understand was that building a relationship with anyone takes time and patience. Having an emotional connection with God means taking the time to get to know him.

    Building a relationship with abused kids does take time and patience, lots and lots of it. But you know, God isn’t bound by time and history has shown that He’s infinitely patient. If anyone can heal these kids, it’s Christ the Healer. I think he knows a bit about abuse and abandonment: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me”

  • Melanie,
    In one respect, we do agree:  God’s grace and love are the one real hope these children have.  I understand what you mean about planting the seeds, and trusting the garden to God; but while you have taken me to think that by the time these children are in a group home because they’re not stable enough for foster parents or adoption it is too late to sow the seeds, what I’m actually suggesting is that it is too early.

    Holy Mother Church has made it very clear why the family is the first, best environment for the raising and educating of children.  I’m pretty sure you’re familiar with Her statements on the subject, so I won’t reproduce them here.  Bottom line is, a garden needs a gardener.  There is no ground so fertile as the heart, the mind, the soul of a child.  SOMETHING is going to grow there.  With abused children, violence and anger and a ‘survival first’ attitude have a strong head start.  Scatter the seeds among the weeds and walk away, and you’re right – God only knows what fruits will spring forth.  You’ve got just as much a chance that those fruits will be twisted and sick as you do those fruits will be a healthy faith.

    Jennifer indicated in her original post that anyone who disagrees with her “cannot have ever known what it’s like to feel completely unloved” (ye old you just don’t get it argument).  To help my credibility and to illustrate my point, I offer two short anecdotes for your consideration (I DO have permission, I do NOT use their real names).

    Sean is 41 years old, married to a Catholic, father to one son.  His abuse started in utero, with his mother flying all over the country in a desperate attempt to obtain her 13th abortion.  Her homicidal tendencies didn’t go away with Sean’s birth.  He was finally saved from her custody at the age of 8 when she came after him with a butcher knife because he broke a dish.  At the age of 9, the state in its wisdom placed him in the custody of his biological father, an abusive alcoholic.  Sean spent the rest of his childhood as an oft beaten indentured servant.  In the interim, Sean was placed with his maternal grandmother.  She had him baptized, enrolled him in the Catholic school, and read to him from the NT at home.  Most importantly, she loved him.  Had Sean been left in her custody…  ???  We’ll never know.  He wasn’t.  Here is the Gospel as he understood it at 8 years old (from an old school assignment found in his grandmother’s effects):  “Jesus had a real bad life, even if he did have a mother and a step-father and friends.  Every place he went every body wanted him to do stuff for them which it seems he almost always did but it got him in trouble and the rulers decided to kill him.  His step-father must have left because he wasn’t around when they killed him, and his mother watched but didn’t do anything but cry but that didn’t seem to help so much.  His friends wanted to fight to stop them but Jesus said no because his real father God wanted him to die.  About the only good thing was that he didn’t have to stay dead, but then he did have to go away to heaven and leave his friends.”  Sean is now a devout (in the literal sense of the word) atheist who, in spite of his best efforts can’t seem to stop trying to undermine his wife’s efforts to raise their son in the faith.  His spiritual growth is stuck, ‘stunted’ if you will, at the ‘My God, My God why have you forsaken me’ of your post.  This abused child’s over-identification with Christ the Sufferer has made it impossible for him to reconcile the Truth of the Gospel with the truth of his life.  The garden was planted but neglected, and those fruits now subtly poison his family’s environment.

    Jean is a 37 year old divorced mother of one son.  Raised in an abusive but Catholic household, she was molested and brutally raped by a neighbor at the age of eight.  Given her home environment, she was not able to disclose.  Jean had a strong faith.  Jean BELIEVED.  Unfortunately, as an abused child she also was not able to reconcile the Truth of God’s mercy and love and forgiveness with her deep sense of shame and unworthiness.  Every occasion of the contemplation of God’s love, in a PSR class or a Sunday Mass was also an occasion of self-mutilation and other self-destructive behavior.  The occasion of her Confirmation was the occasion of her first ‘real’ suicide attempt.  It is only by the grace of God that Jean survived the love of God.

    Planting seeds in the volatile garden that is an abused child’s life and walking away is not an answer.  This is why it is so important that the Church not only talk the talk but walk the walk when it comes to providing for these poor battered souls.  I firmly believe that every effort should be made to place these children, not only in two-parent households, but in faith-full households.  I also believe Catholicism in particular has several things to recommend it (aside from, well,  the Truth) when it comes to helping these little gardens to heal.  But a transient, temporary group home environment such as described in the original post is not the appropriate place to start the planting.  I would qualify that by saying that if a child comes into that environment with the seeds already planted, those seeds shouldn’t be neglected while they are there.  But as you indicated, building a relationship with these kids takes lots of time and lots of patience, neither of which is to be found in abundance in temporary group homes.

  • “Stunted – So…it’s better to assure kids that nobody loves them?”

    Hmmm.  Is this a trick question?  I believe in telling abused children the truth.  (BTW – it’s a bad idea to lie to abused kids.  Very often their survival has depended on being able to ‘read the signs’ in the adults who control their world, and they can sniff out falsehood, deceit, or even the slightest bit of insincerity from a mile away.  They’ll forgive damn near anything; but they won’t forgive or forget if you lie to them, and you’ll have thoroughly crippled any chance you had to help them.)  In the case of a child who hasn’t been introduced to God, or for whom placement in a Christian household isn’t a ‘sure thing’, I think you have to stick to truth as opposed to Truth.  “No, your parents haven’t loved you, even though they were supposed to.  This is not your fault; this is because of something that’s wrong with them.  Just because they haven’t loved you doesn’t mean you’re not lovable, or that no one will ever love you.”  This is not a lie.  There is always hope.  Kids don’t ask, like a patient at the doctor’s office, ‘so what are my chances for a happy and fulfilled life?” and any social worker who thinks telling a child that there is hope for them is a lie because the statistics say otherwise has a bad case of burnout and needs to take a vacation.  If the social workers at your friend’s home routinely tell these kids things they don’t believe are true, it’s no wonder they’ve got a lousy success rate.

  • Stunted,
    I don’t think I understand where you’re coming from and in any case I’m pretty sure you you’ve missed my original point.

    I’m most interested in Jen’s post because of her point of view, the agnostic who is searching for God, but not sure he exists. In a sense I saw this post as an expression of Pascal’s wager. What I saw was that Jen is saying she’s not sure if God exists or not, but that even if he doesn’t, the Christian story is one she would want her children to grow up believing. Likewise, she sees a benefit in it for these abused children her friend tells her about.

    That’s an interesting way of looking at the world. It grabbed me, so I posted it in my little blog so that I could remember it later.

    Now you come along and seem to want to start an argument about the merits of implementing her suggestion and whether or not it’s practical. Which to me is really beside the point. That’s not why I posted on the topic.

    But since you bring it up, I’m disturbed by the fact that you seem to be limiting what it is possible for God to do. I simply do not believe it’s possible to look at another person’s situation and judge whether or not they are ready to hear the Gospel.

    You seem to also be setting up a false dichotomy, that you can give introduce them to God either in a group home or in a family situation. Why not both?

    I wouldn’t argue with you that a group home is temporary and that children need to be with loving families and that a family is the best situation for any child. But again that’s really beyond the scope of this discussion.

    You are reading far, far more into my remarks than was intended, taking them out of context, and twisting them to a purpose they were not intended to address. 

    It sounds like you’ve got a personal stake in this issue and thus are willing to be contentious about it. But these were simply passing remarks, and I’m not sure they are really worthy to be passed under the burning scrutiny you’ve subjected them to.

    For example: If the social workers at your friend’s home routinely tell these kids things they don’t believe are true, it’s no wonder they’ve got a lousy success rate.
    You’re reading so much into what Jen said that simply is not merited by the context of her remarks, moving from a hypothetical she raised to an assumption that she was describing an actual situation.