As I drove through downtown Birmingham, I listened to her story. I interjected questions here and there for clarification, but for the most part, she just talked. She was unloading. She was telling someone her story.
Her grandmother raised her. She wasn't a nice woman, but at least she was there. Her mom split when she was little. She saw her mom sometimes on holidays, if she bothered to come around at all, but for the most part, she was absent. She never knew her daddy. Never even knew his name. After her grandma died, she tried to find her mom. To make some sort of contact. To try again. But she couldn't find her. She still looks in the phone book every so often. Just to see if her mom's name magically appears in there. But she's not hopeful. She has no idea if she's dead or alive. Sometimes she pretends that her mom got rid of the drugs, found a nice man, and had a family. At least then she would be happy. Not suffering. Not like she was.
At first she started using because it was just something to do. It was easier to buy drugs in her neighborhood than it was fresh produce. Cheaper, too. But from her first hit, they took control of her body. They owned her mind. When she was high, she didn't have to think about being abandoned by the one who gave birth to her. She didn't have to think about what kind of ugly words and physical torment she would go home to that night... If she went home at all. She didn't have to think about what those men did to her. She didn't have to think about how ashamed she was for letting them touch her. They were her family. They were supposed to love her and take care of her, but that wasn't love. No matter what they said, she knew that wasn't love.
As the drugs took ownership of her every waking hour, she pursued them desperately. She stole, she begged, she even turned tricks to get them. And soon she found that she was experiencing horrors just to get what she needed to forget all of her horrors to begin with. The vicious cycle was in full form. She couldn't escape it. And then she got pregnant. But the cycle continued. She wanted to be a good mommy. She loved that little boy more than anything in the world... Except for her next fix. She always told herself that the next one would be the last one. And then she'd be done. No more. But it just kept extending into a longer and longer line of "the next one." Before she knew it, she was pregnant again.
Several times she tried rehab. The boys were taken away a few times, but somehow she always pulled off getting them back. She loved them. They were her only reason to get any better. Her only reason to keep trying. Her only reason to breathe. And then the unthinkable happened to them. She did whatever she could to take care of them when she was on a binge. They were safer with someone else then with her if she were high, right? She could kick herself now for trusting. For thinking that it was okay to leave them there. But all she can hope for now is that they'll heal and that they can finally break the cycle of addiction. That they can be the ones to rise above. To be brave and face their horrors head on instead of continually running from them, even at the expense of those they love the most.
So now she was fighting. She wanted her life back. She wanted to raise her boys and to know the joy and happiness of being a mommy. She wanted to be there for them. Unlike her own mother, she wanted to watch them grow up. And she was trying. Trying so hard.
A few weeks later, as she called to cancel another visit, I knew in my heart she was using again. There was nothing I could do. I knew that this would spell disaster for any chance of reunification for this little family. My heart broke. It broke for the spunky little man who wanted so much to be back with his mommy and his brother. It broke for her. Because I knew that she understood what this meant. She knew the consequences. And I was scared. Without them, what did she have to work for? To get better for? To live for?
The time came for a meeting. I went in not really knowing what to expect. I knew the plan. There were relatives who were going the extra mile so that the boys could be together again. They were taking the needed steps to make sure that they were prepared for the challenges that raising these two boys would bring. They were going above and beyond, in my opinion, to take care of family. But I didn't know how she was going to react. Surely this couldn't be a surprise to her. She knew better than anyone what consequences would come from her addiction. And so I sat next to her at the table, with bated breath, waiting for the meeting to start.
What she said both broke my heart and gave me hope. In her soft voice, calm and determined, she told an entire room of people that she had fallen. She was no longer able to control her addiction, and like so many times before, it now had control of her. But she wanted more for her boys. She wanted stability for them. A good home and a loving family. She wanted more for them than what she had ever had. She wanted more for them than what she could ever give them. And as she spoke, tears ran down her face. Silent, hot, desperate tears. Tears that told a story. A story of loss, pain, and the horrors of her life. But also of love, sacrifice, hope and strength.
Never had I respected her more. Never had I hurt for her more. She was doing the hard thing. She was making a gut-wrenching decision to give her children what was best for them. She gave them up to save them.
Sadly, she's still living as a slave to her addiction. But all hope is not lost. She has someone on her side. One who does not push for adoption because she knows that it would take away any faint glimmer of hope for her to ever get better. One who drives countless hours each month to make sure that the boys get to see their mommy. One who prays relentlessly for her healing. One who, after more than a year in her home, is still looking for a place where the boys' mommy can heal and recover. One who loves her because she loves Jesus. One who knows what it is to show grace.
I want to be like her. I want to be the one who stands with the mommies of my little ones. I want to stand in the gap, to support, to love, to believe... I want to be a light when all they can see is darkness. I want to be able to look a mommy in the eye and say, "Carry on, Mama. You're fighting the good fight."
So many of these mommies have never had someone in their corner. I can't imagine the loneliness that would come from knowing that absolutely no one believes in you. That the world condems you. That you are alone.
I pray that more of us come alongside these women. That we lift them up and support them. Because after all... We all fall short, do we not? Whether it results in the loss of our children into the foster care system or not... We are all sinners who have fallen short of the mark. And we all need Jesus.