Five-and-a-half years ago, I sat in a courtroom for the first time in my life. I didn't have to be there, was not required to be there, and many people thought I was more than a little crazy for choosing to be there. But I went anyway.
For weeks prior, I had had this "unexplainable" feeling that I was supposed to go. I didn't want to go, and I tried to ignore the feeling, but the persistent urging just kept coming back. Stronger and stronger and stronger, until I could no longer deny that for some reason, God wanted me to be there.
So I found someone to watch the kids (my husband was at work), begged my dad to accompany me, and we ventured into the city courthouse to witness something that both broke my heart and empowered me. I left that courtroom that day determined to be the best parent I could be: to set a Godly example for my kids, to make up for all the instability they had ever experienced, and to be the one to set them on the path to becoming who God created them to be.
Parental Termination hearings are brutal.
Our kids' biological mother was (under the circumstances) willing to give up her parental rights. She acknowledged that she had not followed through with the requirements for reunification, and admitted that she had trouble even taking care of herself. She said that she knew her kids were happy and, having been in foster care for much of her own youth, trusted that they would be well taken care of. I believed then, and I still do now, that their biological mother was fully aware that she had failed her kids in many ways and truly wanted what was best for them. I don't think she tossed them away lightly. I don't think she did it for selfish reasons. She was unable to be a responsible mother at that time in her life, and was able to quietly and respectfully admit it. In my opinion, that takes a type of humility that deserves respect.
The birth father, on the other hand, was exactly the opposite. Prison escort in tow, he was as loud and belligerent as his girlfriend was quiet. While she denied nothing and calmly accepted what seemed inevitable, he refused to acknowledge that he had ever done anything wrong to have his children taken away. In fact, he flat out accused the judge, the case workers, and the attorneys present of removing the kids for their own reasons, telling them it was their fault and that they never planned on giving the kids back no matter what he did.
He was not at all a stupid man. He understood how the proceedings were supposed to go and was well aware of his rights, and while his language was harsh and sometimes colorful, he was also very articulate. I was shocked that a reasonably intelligent man seemed completely incapable of admitting any fault. Even when facts and witnesses and prison records stared him in the face, he accepted zero responsibility for any of his actions. Zero.
Because he contested the termination of his rights, the hearing became a sort of macabre parade of all of both his and her failures. I had known about the rotting teeth, the horror movies, the lack of bedtimes, structure, and regular meals. But that day, my eyes were truly opened to the lives that my kids had come from. Surrounded by drug addicts and dealers, being taught theft as a family "trade", living in more than a dozen places in a single year, being raised by two parents with criminal records; but more specifically, an arrogant man who had never done anything wrong but somehow had a police record longer than the Nile.
Looking back, there are two things that stand out in my mind from that day as being the most significant.
First of all, I discovered exactly why God wanted me to be there so badly. After the belligerent birth father had been forcibly removed from court (following a colorful spewing of disrespect towards the judge), the downtrodden birth mother sat there all alone. She had not a single person in the courtroom that was there to support her, had not even wanted to contest the termination herself, and yet she was forced to quietly listen to an endless list of the things she had done wrong. Brutal. Once the ruling was made official and her children were taken away for good, the lawyers and caseworkers all came back to talk with me...to congratulate me as if what had happened had been a joyous occasion and not the tearing out of another woman's heart. I watched as the lonely, unkempt woman shuffled down the aisle and to the door, and suddenly I knew what I was there for. I was there for her.
I excused myself and followed her. In the hallway, I gave her a hug and cried with her, and I explained that my husband and I had been approved to adopt the kids. We talked for an hour or more, and I was able to reassure her that our kids would be fine, and that I would never try to make them hate her. She shared some of their family medical history and described to me the kids' births. I told her about Jesus and his love for her, and then I drove her home, as she had no money for the bus.
I'm not condoning her actions or making light of the damage she did to my kids, in fact, I still struggle with the thought of her neglecting my babies and causing them so much suffering. But the first significant thing that I learned that day was that God truly loves all of His children...even the ones that are so messed up they can barely get up in the morning. Even the ones that can't get themselves off drugs or show up on time to parenting classes. Even the ones that hurt people that we love. He loves us all.
The second significant memory that has become even more significant with each year that passes is the image of that angry, arrogant man that fought the truth with every fiber of his being. The man that was obviously intelligent, yet lacked the ability to admit or acknowledge any wrongdoing or to accept any responsibility for his actions. What happened to that man in his life that caused him to become a wild animal at the first implication of error? What was it in him that associated mistakes with attack and weakness and forced him to so vehemently fight for what were so obviously lies?
I don't understand. And yet, I do. The truth is, this is a significant memory because I live every day with the image of that arrogant man.
It sounds brutal, but my son acts just like him.
Please pray for us. This has been an extraordinarily difficult few months with Mr. J, and it is so difficult to live with someone who is arrogant and unremorseful and whose problems are always someone else's fault. We are seeking guidance as we begin this journey into the adolescent years, but it has become very apparent to all that Mr. J is simply better at hiding his issues than Miss M ever has been, and while she's been working hard to heal, he has been festering for years.