|"Before I formed you in your mother's womb, I knew you...:|
Mary was a beautiful little girl, who came into our lives at the oh so tender age of two. Already, this little darling had been placed under the supervision of the State of Illinois and began the impossible journey of navigating the turbulent waters of the foster care system into which she had been thrust by the Department of Children and Family Services. I was a young mother of two small children, one a two year old little girl the same age as Mary, and a six month old baby boy, both of whom were the delight of my life as a young mother. My husband, a social worker and family counselor, so wanted to go beyond our four walls and minister to some of the hurting children who were in need of a good home. We had only been married three years when we took this little lost lamb into our home.
Unlike my husband, I had no concept of the myriad rules and regulations and bungled mistakes of the foster care system that so often led to tragedies in the care of these innocent victims of the system. I was about to find out first hand.
Mary came to us on a bright summer's day. In my naivete, I hoped it was a harbinger of the wonderful life Mary would have living in our home. It was far from the reality of what was coming.
Almost immediately, my daughter, the same age as this new little intruder, began to move backward in her development. Once a happy, friendly and bright child, she began to retreat into her own little world, sucking on her fingers anxiously, attempting to figure out if she was being replaced. From her little two year old eyes, it must have seemed like we were looking for a replacement for her. First we brought home a new baby that rapidly pushed her out of the center of our world. Now, adding insult to injury, we had added another child – same age, same gender as my daughter, Christy. This little interloper, deeply insecure and trying to understand her own terrifying world, was challenging Christy's little two year old world from the instant they woke up until they went to bed at night. Both children were threatened and frightened by the enormous changes that were swirling all around them.
To make matters worse, I discovered in a meeting with the Social Worker in charge of Mary's “case” that there had been no real reason to move Mary other than the whim of the Social Worker. I was shocked beyond belief. Mary had been born to severely mentally ill parents who met and conceived her at a half way house for mentally ill patients. The Social Worker informed me that, although the mother would never be able to have custody of Mary, neither would the State terminate her parental rights. Mary would be a ward of the State until she turned eighteen and “aged out of the system.”
Now that was bad enough news. But the real icing on the cake was that Mary had been placed, as a newborn, in a home with two older adults who simply adored this little girl, who must have been such a blessing in their lives later in life. They doted on Mary, giving her everything they had materially and emotionally. They would never have the opportunity to adopt her, but that didn't matter to them. They loved her deeply, as if she were their own. Why then was she moved out of their home? Because the Social Worker decided the foster parents were too old and too doting on this little girl. Not because she was being neglected. Not because she was being abused. But simply because the Social Worker, with a power that reigned supreme in this little family's life, decided she didn't like the foster parents “spoiling” this little waif, who was completely dependent on a system that saw her as little more than a number that had to be accounted for until the magic age of eighteen.
I watched as Mary struggled to understand what had happened to her world. Where were the only parents she had ever known? Where had they gone? Why had they “given her away?” How could she possible have understood what had happened to her world – she was only two years old. I watched her struggle to please us, to imitate my own daughter who called us Mommy and Daddy. Where were her Mommy and Daddy? Then to add to the tremendous insecurity and confusion, the Social Worker decided it would be best for Mary to meet her “real” mother, a woman diagnosed as a severe Paranoid Schizophrenic, who seldom connected with the real world. The first (and last) time this woman came to my house for a visit was traumatizing for me, not to mention my children, including my little Mary. Mary, who had taken to calling me Mommy, sat across the table from this stranger, who informed her in a loud, combative voice, that she was her Mommy and that Mary should call her that. The confusion and fear on this little girl's face was more than I could bear. I refused to let this woman visit my home again.
By now, my husband's concerns for our own daughter had escalated to the point of no return. He called the Social Worker and asked to have Mary placed back in the original home that she had been removed from. The Social Worker, not willing to admit she had made an error in moving Mary in the first place, removed Mary from our home and placed her in yet another foster home, beginning a cycle for Mary of constant instability and new placements every six months or so, until I lost contact with where she had gone. Although the Social Worker had promised me that I would be able to keep in touch with Mary, I discovered the hard way that the system did not allow any way to track where she was and, in fairly short order, I lost contact with her forever.
At the time, I was broken emotionally over the loss of this little girl who had planted both feet in my heart and has never completely left. I grieved for her as if she was my own. Even today, as I write this story, my memories of Mary are colored with sorrow and the pain of the loss of a child I loved.
I wonder today, where are you Mary? Did you make it, Sweetheart? Are you OK? Did you know I loved you? I pray for you today that I will see you again someday. If not here, then, certainly in heaven. You deserved so much more than we were able to give you. But I know the One who holds you in His hand. I hope you have found the One Who fashioned you for a purpose, Who calls you by Name, Who died that you would belong to Him. I hope you found Jesus...