Some charities/organizations, are cool and you write a check.
Some pull at your heartstrings so you volunteer, and ask your friends to write checks too.
Some are inspiring and practical you pour your everything into them, and because they are so life-changing you want to walk downtown, grab your soapbox and yell at passersby, “Notice this amazing organization. See the people working hard to make a difference in this world. Regular people like you and me who are just doing their best. People who share Small Things and don’t get anything in return (except lice… true story). Watch how lives are impacted for good. You can do it too! And it doesn’t take much!!”
Small Things are Big Things.
Safe Families does this for me.
And instead of getting on a soapbox, I’m going to transcribe my personal journal about my 2 week experience.
What is Safe Families? (you ask)
Well, the simple answer is that it’s voluntary foster care for families that need help. Like a safe free babysitter who has been background checked and fingerprinted. But it’s more like a preventative to foster care, for families with very little support. The idea is that a family… let’s say a single mom… can turn to a Safe Family to watch their children while they look for a new job instead of moving back in with an abusive ex-boyfriend. This will prevent potential abuse and let the mom get back on her feet again to care for her children. Make sense? (To get the long answer go to the Safe Families site. The concept is pretty rad and it’s a program I’m proud to be involved with.)
Our 1st Safe Families hosting:
Kara Noel’s Personal Journal unedited entries (names changed)
July 26th – Friday
We were called by Safe Families to take in a 5-year-old boy for 10 days. His name is Mike and he has a younger sister, Sarah. We know they are homeless and their parents are still together. Rock Harbor’s Main Campus is trying to build a relationship with them.
July 27th – Saturday
Prayer and preparation for Mike. Preparation is physical as well as mental – we got his bed ready and told the children about our house guest. We already love him and I wonder how I will give him back knowing his circumstances. The children are very excited for the “10 day playdate!”
(picture above using binoculars while we await Mike’s arrival.)
July 28th – Sunday
We picked up Mike on the way to church at 8:30 am in a nearby city. Both Mike and Sarah have been staying with a pastor and his wife (they have 4 kids as well) for 3ish days. They said the children were covered with bug bites (they think bed bugs). So they had taken them to the over-chlorinated public pool, bagged up all their clothes and bought them each one outfit. Mike had chocolate skin and a cute little fro. His big brown eyes are shy, sad and timid when we are introduced. All his top teeth have rotted out and are jagged brown stubs. The children play while we hear some back story from the family who was watching them before us. Then we pile into two cars and head for church. (We still had our foreign exchange student Maria and her friend – also Maria – with us). We get to church and the big kids run a head with Mike to their Sunday school room. I get to their room and discover Mike is neither sad, shy or timid! He whines that he “doesn’t want to go” and I explain that everyone in our family goes to class and while he is on “vacation” with us he is part of our family and “gets” to go too. Not sure why I called this a vacation, but the verb-age works for him because he goes inside and sits down.
We go to church and the message is about the spiritual realm.
God’s perfect timing.
We pick up the children for church and they are full of energy (but not defiant) and head to Café Rio for lunch with 3 other families from church.
After lunch we let the children play. Mike was WILD!! He ignored and shut down when any adult talked with him or gave him instructions. he seemed to be playing fine with the other children. He was punching Brad and the other dads and grabbing their arms and twisting them. He would run from me and refuse to look/talk to me. I was instantly concerned we wouldn’t be able to handle him.
My expectation of a 5-year-old homeless boy, was withdrawn and scared. I thought he would be nervous around us. Mike was the opposite of my every expectation.
We already had plans to help our friends move, so we went over to their house right after lunch. Mike played fine with the other children. The kids had to stay outside because the adults were moving heavy boxes. Mike wasn’t listening when I told him to stay outside. He would run away and refuse to talk to me. For some reason when I was disciplining him, instead of putting him in a timeout, I started to tickle him.
And it was like a spell was broken – he was no longer physical with us. He wasn’t perfect but something changed.
We came home for naps before we went to our local Summer Concert in the Park. Brad took Eli and Mike through the In-N-Out Burger drive-thru and I took Maria, Cora Jane, Cy and Tess to the park to get a spot. Family was meeting us there and I was looking forward to a fun evening
We enjoyed dinner and the kids were having fun playing together. It was (fake) Neil Diamond so we were all dancing.
Then a man tapped my sister’s shoulder, pointed to Mike and said, “he’s asking people for money.” She got my attention and I watched for a second. Sure enough, he was nestled behind her fold-up chair and every time a person walked by he would say, “Money???” and hold out his hand.
I sat next to him and asked why he was asking people for money. He said, “I want ice cream,” and pointed to the ice cream truck that had pulled up nearby.
So I’m thinking when he’s on the streets with his parents and he wants something, they say get the money and you can have it. Or they are out begging (or doing illegal things) and he’s on his own, and just figured out a way to get what he wants. He’s smart.
We went home, and had Bible stories, then bed. He complained about having to read the stories with us.
We were tired and prayerful. But optimistic.
In the middle of the night Cy woke up. We put him back down after snuggles, then he woke up again and was crazy crying for a LONG time. Our kids are amazing sleepers so this is a very rare… basically non existent situation for us. He was inconsolable. It felt evil and scary.
July 29th – Monday
Brad left for work and our friend dropped off the 2-year-old boy I watch at 6:30am. At around 7am Mike woke up and got the other boys up. The morning was fine. I took the 3 big kids (Eli, Cora Jane and Mike) to VBS. We had already planned a local VBS this week and I had called ahead so Mike could be included. They were very accommodating and the other host family signed up Sarah as well. So the siblings would get to see each other everyday even though they weren’t staying in the same house.
When I picked up the kids I got a strange vibe from the VBS coordinator. She said it went OK, but I’m not too sure.
We came home and I made lunch. I strongly feel like our roll here is not to discipline but to love on him, while giving him structure. Mike was trying to shock me by playing with his food. Since he was looking for a specific reaction – anger – I gave him a different one. I made his food mess into a happy face and laughed and encouraged his creativity. Then he ate his sandwich.
While I was putting things away in the kitchen I heard Mike saying something about a guy who walks slowly with a knife.
I walked over and he was describing the Halloween movies to the other kids.
I interrupted and told him we don’t watch scary movies because they aren’t real and we want our home to be filled with “laughter and happy thoughts.”
Then he started saying “Michael Myers” over and over again. Like 20ish times. Then he just looked at me. I felt like he was looking for a reaction from me again.
I said, “That name has no power here.”
Staring at me… ”Michael Myers”
”That name has no power in our home.”
”Michael Myers will come with a knife to your bed at night to kill you.”
”Michael Myers is NOT real. I’ve never seen that movie and those images have no authority in this home. It’s safe here. You are safe here.”
Then he looked away and started eating again. I started to walk back to the kitchen and Mike mumbled something. I stopped and asked what he said, thinking he was either talking back to me or continuing with the scary movie thing.
He put his hand over his face. (This is something he does when he is nervous, scared, or embarrassed. Like he wants to disappear from the world into the comfort of his own mind.)
I asked him what he said again and he said, “I like it here.”
I said, “I like YOU.”
But as soon as the words left my mouth I knew it was a lie. I didn’t like Mike,
I loved him.
He is a precious creation. He’s smart and funny. And was born to parents who (I think) love him but who don’t know who to raise a child.
Later we were sitting together at the table and he started making a mean face at an empty space. His face muscles would tense up and his features contorted. He would stare into the space and hold the face for 5-10 seconds then his face would relax and he would look back at me. I’m not sure if it was just a child looking for a reaction so I wouldn’t respond unless he had his normal expression. I asked what he was looking at and he wouldn’t answer. Then he suddenly crouched over as if he was going to be hit. He was cowered over with his arms protecting his head. He held that position for about 15 seconds. Eli and I looked at each other and shrugged. Then I said, “Mike, are you OK?”
He popped back up and laughed and said, “You thought I was serious, I was just joking.”
Brad got home at 6ish and we went out to dinner, because if there is ever a reason not to cook, it’s hosting a homeless child in your home. We went to one of those plaza type places. So there was like 5 fast-ish food places and outdoor eating.
During dinner Mike was slapping and hitting himself. He was saying that he could choke himself and then he would die.
He is listening better but shuts down when we talk directly to him. So I give directions to everyone at the same time without singling him out.
Bedtime Bible stories went well.
July 30th – Tuesday
The children woke well and we had a good breakfast before VBS. The VBS coordinator pulled the other host mom and I aside and said that Mike and Sarah were violent and that if it continued this session we would have to stay to supervise the rest of the week. Which of course would be fine. They were going to switch classes and see how it worked. Luckily when we went for pick-up, the day had been better. On the way home Mike started rocking back and forth saying, “I am ugly,” over and over again. Probably 40ish times in a row. I waited till; he was done because I feel like when I talk to him (and any kid) while they are in a fit, my words aren’t heard. I feel like part of our role is to directly speak Truth into his life.
You are handsome.
You are good.
You are smart.
(Crazy hair day at VBS above)
I have prepped him for VBS by saying that everyone there likes him. I told him that everyone told me they wanted him there. I’ve found that my children do so much better when they feel accepted.
Isn’t that what everyone wants?
I feel the enemy is whispering lies into Mike’s ears, or maybe through the words of his parents. I want God’s Truth to be ingrained in his head… maybe though my words.
We got home and had planned for the other host mom to bring Sarah and her children over for a playdate.
It went horrible.
Mike and Sarah were awful to each other and there was a feeling of unrest and urgency that I can’t explain. It could be because two of my littles and the boy I watch were ready for naps and super cranky. I tried to watch Mike and Sarah together and it was an interesting dynamic. I felt like she was baiting him and he was very odd with her. The Safe Families coordinator at our church gifted the kids with a few toys and Mike was complaining that Sarah got more. He was whining a lot while she was here.
Sarah’s speech was hard to understand but her tone was very combative. She just turned 4 last week and I was surprised at how much of an attitude she had. It was stereotypical ghetto girl. I’m talking SNL skit stereotypical, with over the top challenging delivery to her words and body language. I’m also concerned about her health as her teeth are starting to rot at the base. I’m sure that’s how Mike’s probably started. I’m worried that both kids’ health will continue to decline rapidly when they are back on the street.
The little kids had naps then we left at 4:45 for a family BBQ. Mike fell asleep in the car and it reminded me that he is going through a lot and this sweet little being is processing a lot of big problems. We got to the BBQ and Mike was running around exploring.
Then suddenly he was very quiet and shy. He just sat on the back step and looked sad. I asked if he was OK and he wouldn’t respond. I affirmed the fact that this was a safe place and that I wanted him to have fun. Then I left him to sulk. With my kids it just prolongs the pity party if you beg and plead with them to play. Just state the facts, and their options and leave them alone… maybe reminding them of their options every 10-15 minutes. Even kids just want to be alone sometimes and they have the luxury of being rude in groups that adults don’t!
Mike did OK at the BBQ. He doesn’t stop when I say stop, and sometimes runs away when I call. But I feel like it is more of a child learning structure, not an act of defiance. I’m sure he’s still asking in his head, “Does this big eyed lady mean what she says?”
On the way home, Debbie, Mike’s mom called and it was very emotional for her. She sounded distressed. She said this was the first time she has ever had to panhandle but I know that was a lie because of Mike’s actions at the concert in the park. She said that she didn’t do drugs at least 10 times in our conversation. Which only makes me think she does.
I’m trying not to be cynical but I felt like she was feeling me out in the conversation, and grooming me to ask for money in the future. I tried to affirm her. She was hysterically crying because other homeless people were making more money panhandling than she was making… and her “will work for food” sign was more creative than theirs. She talked with Mike for about one minute and he was indifferent about the conversation. She never asked me anything about him or what we were doing.
Mike has said a few times, “I miss my mommy, daddy and sister.” But it’s sounds mechanical and he never talks about them except for that one phrase. On the first night I asked him his favorite thing about his mom, dad and sister. I thought that it would help if we talked about them. I want to help comfort him if he misses them. After I asked about them he looked at me like I grew wings. .
July 31 – Wednesday
The usual morning. Mellow and easy. VBS drop off went well but I did notice Mike seemed to be all over the place and distracted. I’m not sure why he does so much worse when other people are around. I wish he would always act the we he does when it’s just our family. Actually I wish he would always act like I see him in his “real moments.” There are theses moments multiple times a day when the real Mike comes out. The perfect creation and personality he was meant to have. It can bring me to tears when I see those moments. Makes me want to shake my fist at the world for the injustice he has faced. We stayed at the church so the children would have plenty of play time. Lunch was good but I feel like Mike isn’t eating enough. I expected a homeless boy to be eating constantly. He’s not. But the other host mom says that Sarah eats ALL DAY LONG.
While the 3 little kids were napping Cora Jane and Mike were playing so well together. They worked on art projects and did tattoos. Cora Jane is such a cool girl. She is flexible and Mike feels comfortable with her. Eli is becoming flustered with Mike. Eli says things like, “Mike doesn’t answer my questions. He doesn’t care about the rules.” Eli is exasperated and can’t fathom why Mike is so mean and doesn’t listen.
I put on a movie while I prepared dinner and Mike fell asleep on the couch. Super cute! I think he is feeling like this is a safe comfortable place.
The other host mom mentioned in one of our parking lot cry-fests… I mean debriefing meetings after VBS that she was trying to think of what they could teach/ offer to Sarah in the 10 day period we have the children. She is going to teach Sarah her letters and how to use the computer. I think this is a great perspective… what can we offer Mike in 10 days that can impact his life? Mike knows how to use the computer and knows his letters. I’m wondering if there is a way to give him a reference point of “normal.” Like it’s normal to brush your teeth every night… it’s normal to feel safe in your home… it’s normal for parents to work…
We had invited friends over for dinner that are in the process of fostering to adopt two boys. We were hoping they would have some advice and insight into what was going on with Mike.
We really want Mike’s spirit to know and recognize normal. During dinner Mike was very anti social. Eating while facing away from the group. We decided to go on a sunset hike. Another thing I feel led to show Mike is nature.
We want him to see and be in nature. There is an unexplainable peace that comes while being surrounded by God’s creation. We can give him that!
He started playing with the other kids and we were excited to see him interacting.
Our friend’s (who was over for dinner) parents have worked with the homeless population in Long Beach (I think) for over 15 years and he talked about a spirit of poverty that settles on homeless people. (We learned about the aspects of poverty in a great class called, Poverty Unlocked. I highly recommend it if you get the opportunity to take it.) We are especially praying for Jesus to break those chains.
This is part 1 of 3 about our Safe Families experience!
Check back soon for more.