By Deborah Rampona Oliver
I am a child of a broken home. I have been a broken child. Despite being raised in a Christ believing, church attending family there were many times of upheaval and uncertainty. There were nights when I laid in bed listening to the sound of arguments and wondering what the family’s landscape would look like when I got out of bed in the morning. I was the step daughter and nothing I did was good enough in my stepmother’s eyes. The stress I experienced on a daily basis was incredible and much of it is better left unsaid. My home was not a safe, welcoming place to be. Needless to say, this is a dynamic that is increasingly common to American children. I would venture that more of our kids live in chaos than those who have an emotionally secure place to come home to.
Formative experiences left me with scars. My mind knows that my Father God loves me and that He is the perfect parent. But sometimes, I find it hard for the knowledge of who God is to soak down into the soil of my heart The fact that God is my Father and that He loves me is something I must constantly and actively take hold of. It isn’t as though our God is sitting on the couch, tv blaring, with a bowl of potato chips when we arrive home for the day. We don’t have to compete with his iPhone or softball team to get his attention. We don’t have to tiptoe around Him in case he gets mad and loses his temper. It doesn’t matter if we are smart, successful, or bigger than a size 4. God doesn’t play favorites and we don’t have to try to out perform one another to be eligible for his love. He is always there waiting for us to turn to him. Best of all, if we look to him for salvation He sees us as we were intended to be and as we will be in heaven. In His eyes, we are perfect.
Scars aren’t always a bad thing, because they are a reminder of a wound that has healed. In this case my scars provide me with an empathy for children struggling to survive in difficult home environments. Several years ago, my husband and I lived in a neighborhood where we were the only caucasian couple on our street in what was a largely African American neighborhood. I was the only stay at home mom on the street so I often kept tabs on the neighborhood children. Because I love to bake and most kids love to eat, I had an audience of eager volunteers. Fortunately, I got to spend a fair amount of time with some of these beautiful children. I would listen to them talk and little by little they let me into their lives. Many of these kids were in homes where they each had a different father. The majority of their dads didn’t live nearby and never spent any time with them, not even on the phone. These children felt unloved by their fathers and many were actively despised by their step fathers. Imagine the pain of being denied a birthday celebration because you weren’t the biological child of the man living in your house. Can you fathom the the rejection you would feel when your half sibling was thrown a birthday party that resembled a Mardi Gras parade while you never even received a gift from ‘dad’ at all? These kids had a sense of abandonment that shaped their perceptions about their present value and their future capabilities. Their experiences made it very hard for them to fathom the concept of a heavenly father who actually cares about them. It caused them to see a limited God who could not be relied upon.
While we lived there, we attended a lovely church that was a beautiful mosaic of multiple ethnicities. Caucasians, African Americans, Latinos all came to worship together each Sunday. I loved that skin color and socioeconomic background did not divide us. We were united in worship of the Living God. Over time, a couple of the kids from the neighborhood began to ride to church with us. Each Sunday, one young lady in particular would arrive at our house by 8:30 ready to go. My heart was touched to see an eight year old who was so longing for God that she would wake herself up early on a Sunday while the rest of her family slept in. After a couple of years, some of the mothers began to come too. I was overjoyed to be the Sunday school teacher for the same children who dropped by our house when they smelled cookies baking. Few of my students had a working knowledge of the Bible and so it was with some humor that we explored the good book together each week. I loved the wonder on their faces as we discovered that many people in the Bible had a less than perfect past: Rahab ‘the prostitute,’ Lot’s daughters, etc. They were astounded at the level of dysfunction portrayed in the lives of people in the Old Testament. It was particularly significant to them, because their homes and relatives were similarly broken. Clearly, they wondered how God could work with a bunch of men and women who were that ‘messed up.’ I think they found it reassuring to see that these people in the Bible weren’t beyond God’s grasp. Additionally they learned that God went out of His way to include men and women, who were hardly paragons of virtue, in His plan and even in the very lineage of Jesus.
When the time came for us to move, I felt a sense of grief in knowing I had to leave the kids. I vividly recall that last Sunday. I began the lesson by asking if anyone was living far away from a mother or their father. Almost the entire class raised their hands. One young man piped in and said, “My mom is in prison and she lives in Arizona, so I live with my grandparents. I think when she gets out she will want to come back and live with me.” Oh Gosh my heart broke! I wanted to pick him up and make everything better and the fact that I was powerless to help made the grief that much worse! Then I felt God whispering for me to share part of my history with them. I told the kids that I didn’t grow up knowing my biological mother-at all. In fact, I met my mother at the age of 24 after I searched for her for six months. The shock on their faces was evident. I suppose that was the last thing they expected to hear from me, because I was married and both of my children were my husband’s. I could also see that they felt I could understand them in a way that not many ‘white church ladies’ would. I felt God compelling me to share this truth with them: “No one can take God’s plan for your life away from you! Your stepfather and your stepmother can’t keep God from working in your life! No one can steal God’s promises and blessings from you!”
That day, we talked about how God knew us when we were in our mother’s womb. We talked about how God has a plan for us, to give us a hope and a future. And I told them that God loves us in a way that we can’t even begin to understand. God loves us bigger and better than the parent who does love us and in spite of the parent who doesn’t. No hatred, no jealousy, no abandonment, no abuse, no neglect can supersede God’s almighty power to give us the life He wants us to have. In fact, I told them, “The only person who can turn off God’s plan for your life is you.” I told them I loved them and that I would never forget them. I prayed that they would hear God’s call on their life and that they would listen and follow. I cannot accurately describe how shocked these children were when I read specific Biblical promises to them. Their daily lives were constrained by the lack of things they desperately needed: clothing, food, love, and emotional safety. When I spoke the words God gave me to say, I could see realization in their eyes; even their posture changed. They felt like they mattered! I think that for the first time maybe they realized that the God of the universe not only noticed them, but found them worth loving.
During this conversation, I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in a powerful way. More than anything, I have become convinced that this is what our children really need to know. The world is changing and so is the way we communicate. Instagram and texting have replaced talking in person. Social media allows us to market our lives to look as though we are happy and fulfilled, but permits us to hide our emptiness. Children growing up in today’s environment are increasingly isolated. We have an epidemic of broken families producing broken children. While so much has changed in society and technology, the basic needs intrinsic to humanity have not. Children today need the same things that humanity throughout time has needed, because they are God created needs. Here’s the beauty of the God we serve: Our God NEVER changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever! In these times of uncertainty and insecurity, children need to know that God has a plan for each and every one of them. They need to be assured that no one can steal or thwart God’s plan for them. Most of all, they need to know that God is the perfect parent who will never give up on them. It is only by knowing God that we can be healed and that we can be made whole. Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me,” and I believe that He wants us to take our few loaves and fish to feed his sheep.
Deborah is a military wife and mother of two children. It is her goal to approach moral ambivalence armed with strong opinions rooted in scripture (lively debate encouraged) and with an open, kind heart. She desires to engage both seekers and believers alike that Christ may be glorified.