I spent the first few days of May in stunned disappointment at the reaction of Christians toward the death of Osama Bin Laden. I was saddened at the hatred that was declared, the joy in his death, the declaration of “God bless America” signifying to me the confusion between patriotism and faith, and the list goes on. I had to give myself a social media break because many tweets and status updates were deeply upsetting to me.
I sat down and began to write a 3 part blog about this event. I wanted to share with my Christian brothers and sisters about the error of rooting for someone’s demise rather than their redemption. I ranted and raved and noted that judgment is not ours, but God’s. I wrote that God cares no more about America than he does Iraq and Iran and Pakistan. And I talked about forgiving our enemies and praying for them. And as I was preparing to post, I was met with a humbling realization: In the midst of Bin Laden’s death and the consequent reactions, I met a client that may as well have been my own personal Bin Laden.
I work with kids who are in the foster care system. I also work with their parents; helping them overcome whatever challenges, barriers, and obstacles that led to their children’s removal. I work with some parents who recognize that they need help, and they beat down my door to get whatever assistance they need so that they can get their kids back. I like working with these parents. It’s easy for me to extend grace and support and root for the redemption of their story. But then I work with some parents who, for many reasons, don’t recognize their need for help, that choose drugs or abusive partners or comfort in their current lifestyle over getting their kids back.
Two weeks ago, one of those second types of parents called me. This father hadn’t called me or his child for over a year. He hadn’t seen his child for over a year. He had chosen to not receive help for his addiction illness. And I was working actively with the courts to terminate parent rights so that this child could be adopted by a family that wouldn’t expose him to drugs and physical abuse and sexual abuse and rats and cockroaches as he had been for the majority of his life. But two weeks ago, this dad called me and declared that he had enrolled in drug treatment and that he was ready to see his child.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with foster care, this parent’s enrollment in treatment means that the courts have to pause the termination of parental rights ruling in order to give dad a chance to get it together. This means that the child will have to remain in foster care longer and have difficult visits with his dad and re-live the abuse and neglect through family therapy and have to wait longer to see who his forever parents will be. It means that I have to trek across town to supervise weekly visits between parent and child , and provide services to a parent who, quite frankly, had his chance and missed it. And I started to wish for this dad to find treatment too difficult and leave, or to act inappropriately during a visit, or to do something, anything that would push the courts to determine that he just couldn’t get it together for the kid. And even though studies show that children do best with their birth parents, even after abuse and neglect, I didn’t believe it for this child.
And as I was feeling personally inconvenienced, and out of control of bringing what I thought was justice for this child, and just generally saddened at the whole situation, it occurred to me that I didn’t believe in the redemption of this parent’s story. I started thinking that it’s much easier root for the redemption of someone’s story when it doesn’t affect me or someone I care about. And all of my rants and raves about forgiveness and radical restoration as it applied to Bin Laden came back to me. I realized that while I believed that a terrorist’s life could have been redeemed, I didn’t believe this father’s life could be redeemed.
I am no different than my brothers and sisters who rooted for the demise of Bin Laden. I need to be constantly reminded that God can redeem any mess – whether it’s mine or Osama Bin Laden’s, or my most difficult client – and I need to live as one who believes that.