Guest Blogger: Roger Sharritt, Host Family
Dear Person Who Cares About or Reads About or has a Passing Interest in Safe Families.
I hope that this finds you doing well. It leaves my finger tips doing well as I sit at the kitchen table typing. A couple of Saturday evenings ago I had the privilege to share some of my wife’s and my experiences with a ten month placement of two girls ages 9 and 10 through the Safe Families ministry. We were asked to speak as the filler between acts of a benefit concert for Safe Families. When asked, I thought that it would be a wonderful opportunity to encapsulate all of the ups and downs of that 10 months. I had even bigger voices in my head because the girls’ father has been reunited with the girls and he would be speaking about what the experience meant to him at the same time. It was going to be a dynamite panel discussion.
Well you guessed it. People were there to listen to the musical talent. They were not there to listen to us speak for very long. I get it. However, there were some things that came to mind as I was processing “what I wanted to talk about.” Thank you Emma, for encouraging me to put those thoughts into words.
No we didn’t just wake up one day with two young girls living with us. There was a call. In fact, it was a call that my wife, the Lovely Miss Beverly, had heard and was prepared to answer. Bev heard, “hey, we have a big empty house. Several rooms were available as our own kids have exited stage right as their adult lives take hold. There are kids and families that have a need. We can make a difference. As I said, Bev heard a call. I did not. I heard the call of riding my bike for 5000 miles a year, putting out a large garden plot, writing a weekly 1200 word blog, and rekindling an old wood working hobby that had fallen in the wake of raising our children. Why did Bev hear the call and I did not? Who knows? Maybe the Holy Spirit saves time by just convincing one of the pair and then let the communication of a marriage figure it all out. Rather than figure out the mystery of marriage, in the end, we signed up and waited.
Then one day Emma said, “I have an interesting placement. It would last a minimum of 6 months but could go longer.” We heard six months. Six months doesn’t sound like it is very long. In 6 months, we will have flown through two seasons. In six months, the sap on the maple trees will be rising. The winter coat will not have to be worn every day. We will still have to get through the big spring thaw of March, but the days will be getting noticeably longer. In my 54th year, six months is a blink of an eye.
So we said sure. Six months is fine. If it goes longer, it will be fine. I remember telling Emma “we will take them when they get to the end of our driveway and keep them until they leave the end of our driveway.” The “end of the driveway” has become a go-to metaphor at our house. For ten years, we raised organic vegetables for sale at local farmer’s markets. One of the ways that we survived is through accepting summer interns who would wander to our farm through Internet contacts. They lived in our house, shared our meals and became an integral part of our family life. In any given summer, we could have several college students spend four to twelve weeks with us in an ever revolving door of personalities. At one point we had a self-proclaimed anarchist lesbian and a fundamentalist evangelical under the roof at the same time. Unlike me, the rest of my family understandably wanted more information, so they could prepare a little before the next eclectic personality showed up at the end of the driveway.
I had other priorities. I needed someone to pick beans, hoe weeds, and, if they weren’t too squeamish, help dress chickens. Their religious or political leanings were of no concern to me. I would get question after question from our kids and Bev about the next intern that I had just interviewed over the phone. Where are they from? How old are they? Do they shower often? Where do they fall along the lifestyle spectrum? So many questions that I had not asked. I asked, “when can you be here and how long are you staying?” So in response to all of the relevant family questions, I would just shrug my shoulders and say “we’ll find out when they get to end of the driveway.”
So in face of the uncertainty of the girls’ and their father’s story and duration of the placement, we just said we’ll take them when they get to the end of the driveway and keep them until they leave the driveway.
I believe that accepting whoever and whatever God brings to the end of our driveway is what Bev and I are called to do. I thought that I was prepared for living life that open handed, accepting whatever God brought our way. I was wrong. I want to control. I want to judge. I want things my way. Keep that in your mind for a minute while I bring you up to date about the girls.
Imagine for a moment, that you are 10 and 9 years old. You are being taken to the library by grandma and grandpa to meet with a social worker and an old man and woman who are going to give you a safe place to stay. Dad has hit a tough patch. You haven’t seen your mother since you were 2 and 1 respectively. And while grandma and grandpa were watching you at the start of dad’s rough patch, their circumstances mean that they can’t watch you for six months. In the middle of that storm you hear your grandpa say, these people, who you don’t know, who he says are good people and safe, are really what is best in the circumstance. If I am 10 years old, I would have thought that things were pretty bad if these strangers are the best that we can do in the circumstance.
I thought that I was empathetic. I thought that I was patient. I thought that I had wisdom and excellent parenting skills that had been hard won through 54 years of life and 31 years of marriage. I thought that Bev’s and my marriage could thrive through any adversity. I have now learned that those things are true to a certain extent. But not enough to overcome the strain that 10 years of varying degrees of chaos had affected the two young girls who came to stay with us. They came to us having each other and any normality, or structure would have to penetrate the coping mechanisms they had used to navigate a chaotic road that put them at the end of our driveway.
If I had truly accepted the girls that had shown up at the end of our driveway, I would have accepted the circumstances that had brought them to us. I would not have tried to fix them. I would not have compared them to our kids and the decisions Ben and Grace had made while living with us. I would not have wondered why bed time was so difficult if I would have thought about what life was like when you know that a new day may bring you unexpected things.
Accepting life at the end of the drive is difficult. There is such tension between accepting and expecting; come as you are, versus you can’t make poor decisions. We will help you get to sleep, versus you have to go to sleep early in order to be rested for school tomorrow.
That tension was with us throughout the entire placement. Everything was a negotiation. In coming along side the family, all situations had to be negotiated. We would say, “we are partners with your dad and you can’t do this or that,” which wasn’t always true. That is what was negotiated at that time. Their father wouldn’t have given two rips about the situation we were negotiating about if we weren’t partnered. I would have dealt out much greater consequences if we weren’t partnered. So we spent a lot of physical and emotional energy walking the girls along this difficult balance beam between our world, and their dad’s.
No, partnering with hurting people creates a tension. A tension that shows how difficult life is for the families that it serves. You want to fix that difficult life. You want them to know that if you don’t drink pop for supper, you will be able to get to sleep at a good time and wake refreshed and your concentration will be so much stronger tomorrow at school. With stronger concentration, you will get better grades; graduate from high school, go on to college and meet a good man to create a family; a safe family. You have to give that desire up. If you don’t, it will drive you crazy. No! You still can’ t have pop for supper for a whole host of reasons, but not because it will fix your life.
Probably nothing done in Safe Families will fix the children. Certainly, nothing that Bev and I did fixed the girls who lived with us for 10 months. It took us a while to understand it. But when we recognized that, it became easier. I finally came up with the metaphor of the asteroid. In this metaphor, the girls’ lives have an asteroid streaking towards them. It is a big one. It will cause great devastation. Nothing we can do will stop it streaking toward their world. No, at our point, at the end of our driveway, we can only push, pull and tug at the circumstances. Hopefully, that asteroid is deflected. Hopefully, the time to impact or the angle of deflection is great enough that no harm will come; maybe not. Maybe there will be some impact. Who knows?
We still have contact with the girls and their father. We give rides, help in emergencies, have the family over for supper once a week and have even started working with their dad to establish a budget to corral their tight finances. Maybe, it will be a fairy tale ending. Maybe, it won’t. Either way Bev and I will not have fixed the situation. It wasn’t the calling. We were simply called to show up.
From the end of the driveway, take care.
You can find more of Roger’s writing on his blog: http://yousaidwhatroger.blogspot.com/