Having been kicked out of her apartment because of city-wide renovations, Theresa was forced to venture from shelter to shelter with her approximately 7 year old daughter, Hillary. She had no family around to help her. The family she did have in another State wasn’t in a position to help. Her co-workers had excuses as to why Theresa and Hillary couldn’t crash at their places for a few weeks until she raised enough money to put a deposit down for a new apartment. And the wealthy lady she’d worked for occasionally wasn’t willing to help either. Thus, she was shelter-hopping until she not only ran out of her time allotments at each one, but she lost her job, having left early one day to try to find a new apartment. She and her daughter eventually ended up living on the street. And after a series of hopeful opportunities that ended in heart-crushing blows, she was faced with the unthinkable: to abandon Hillary to foster care, to people who probably wouldn’t love her as much as Theresa loved her daughter, but they could offer her a better life and the ability to break out of the cycle of poverty that Theresa’s family had been in for generations. Months prior to making this gut-wrenching decision, Hillary confessed her fear to her momma that Theresa was going to leave her, for as a little one, she was keenly aware of the agonizing predicament she and her mother were in. Flexible and resilient, Hillary pressed on without much complaint and walked submissively with her mother who loved her and was a responsible care-giver, trying to do the best she could. Strongly and genuinely reassuring Hillary that she’d never leave her, because she couldn’t ever imagine doing that and wouldn’t know what to do without her, the little girl was at peace. But the day came hauntingly upon Theresa, a day that truly had never entered her mind as an option, only to become what she thought, was the best option for Hillary’s well-being.
This is a brief summary of God Bless the Child, a 1988 made-for-TV-movie with Mare Winningham that Matt and I saw with a small group of people on Saturday night. The movie’s last scene was Theresa watching from behind a tree as her daughter was picked up by the people she’d informed of her plan to abandon her child so Hillary didn’t have to live on the streets any longer, in an environment that had become a severe detriment to her health. Theresa was in agonizing despair, as was Hillary, calling out for her momma. While watching the movie, there were decisions made by Theresa that in hindsight, weren’t the best for her situation and put her further into a helpless state. There were also factors that were beyond her control that sucked hope out of her situation and dug her more deeply into a pit of poverty that would be incredibly difficult to overcome. Let’s not forget the people who were able to help, but chose not to. No matter what factors did or did not contribute to her situation, it was the saddest movie I’ve ever seen. Both Matt and I were speechless afterward, and I had to keep my mind from dwelling on it too much as I fell asleep. But there are some things I cannot shake, one of which was how Theresa told Hillary she’d never, ever leave her, sincerely meaning it as any devoted mother would, only to be faced with the cruelest decision that life could present. And to Theresa, the only option was to abandon Hillary to social and outreach workers to hopefully place Hillary in a loving home that provided for her needs.
It brought to mind a conversation I had with Brennan about a month ago. It was a Monday morning when we exited our local grocery store, H.E.B., as I pushed along a heavy cart of food ranging from the healthy, green leafy stuff to the occasional, absolutely necessary treat like milk chocolate chips. Actually, I don’t remember exactly what I bought that day; it was too long ago to remember. But chances are, I bought food that covered the whole healthy/unhealthy spectrum. One thing I clearly remember about this grocery store trip was Brennan’s jovialness as we wove in and out of the aisles, waving at people, laughing at me as I played little games of “I’m gonna get you”, when he couldn’t go anywhere because he was securely buckled in the cart. But he loves the game, nevertheless. Oh, and the music. My H.E.B. plays the best music! I may not know all the lyrics, but I pretend to, and Brennan and I bee-bop to the tunes as we stroll.
So as we departed the store, I was still a bit playful. I loaded the bags into the trunk of the car then scooted the cart to its proper drop-off spot with Brennan still in it and pushed it into the other carts. And in a joking manner, I said, “Bye, bye. I’ll see you later,” in my high-pitched momma voice. I took a few steps away from him as if I was gonna leave him in the parking lot. He’s not ultra-sensitive in this regard; he knew it was a game and so this interaction didn’t bother him. No peep from him, nothing. It didn’t take me long to turn back toward him and “come to his rescue”. As I approached the cart and lifted him out of the basket, there was a deep longing in me to reassure him that I was just playing with him, that I’d never, ever leave him. I found myself echoing the same words to my babe as Theresa in God Bless The Child said to hers. My love for this child of mine is deeper than words can express, as most of you parents can attest to yourselves. The thought of ever coming to the point of leaving him for any reason is unfathomable to me; I would give my life for him.
As I shared my heart of love with him and assured him that I’d never leave him, I paused. Something was triggered in my soul. In a split second, my infallibility flashed across my mind. And I spoke some words that felt didn’t come from me, but did:
By the grace of God.
These words actually caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting them, because in all sincerity, just like Theresa, I meant what I said: I will never leave you, Brennan. And at the same time, I know that I am so weak. I am so infallible. God only knows the things that will come down the pike that, heaven forbid, have potential to bring me to a place of a serious emotional breakdown or could put us in a situation like Theresa’s. It’s easy for me to think, “Oh, I’d never do that (whatever that is)”. I’m not gonna speculate or allow my vain imagination to get the better of me by listing specific “what ifs”, but in the same manner I think my marriage will survive only by the grace of God, so I will never leave Brennan..by the grace of God.
You and I well know what a broken world it is, and the truth is, how broken we are. How broken I am. I could very easily find myself in the same position as Theresa. But I have something different that she didn’t have: a relationship with the living God, Jesus Christ, and the knowledge that even though I am broken and I mess up so much, I know there is a God who loves me and accepts me for who I am. I have the knowledge and inner peace that He is my security, no matter what I may be stripped of financially, positionally, emotionally or relationally. I know a God who doesn’t break His promise, and I do not find it coincidental that it’s one of the very first things God promises us in His Word: He (God) will never leave you nor forsake you. I heard once that if we looked at a literal translation of the original language, it would read more like “I will never, never, never leave you…”, emphasizing God’s intensity in His promise to us. In His perfection, He will be true to His word. But I am not perfect. I need help to get through this life. I need help that can only come from Him. It is only by His grace, His unmerited divine assistance and favor, that I can be faithful to my family and never leave them.
Given the nature of the movie and the topic of abandonment, this post can lean towards being a downer. Yes, I had the humbling and scary realization of my own infallibility as I talked to Brennan while loading him into the car after a playful tease; in a split-second, I remembered that I don’t have the track record or the ability to make a promise like that without coming before God and acknowledging my need for His perfect help in the matter. That should not bring fear to Brennan knowing that I need His grace to make such a promise; it does not take away from the deepest sincere declaration to my son that I will never leave him. Instead, it puts a seal on that statement, because I have the power and grace of the God who keeps His promises to help me keep mine. His grace is sufficient for me, no matter what weakness of mine I may battle. In fact, He sympathizes with my weaknesses, and I can approach Him with confidence to receive His grace in my time of need. And this is Good News!
In many ways, I’m just like Theresa. I may not experience the same circumstances she found herself in, but I am a mother who is beyond head-over-heals for her child and couldn’t ever fathom the unfathomable. I also experience the unpredictability of life and the sad truth of my frailty that has the potential to catapult me into situations and emotions that feel like a huge pit I can’t get out of myself. With thanksgiving, I have hope. Hope that I will have a successful marriage…that I will never leave my family…that I will keep my word to Brennan to never leave him…by His grace and by His grace alone.
What do you know you could do only by His grace?