I come into our bedroom with a butcher knife in one hand and a ziplock bag of pills in another. My husband and I make eye contact and his lips pucker into a resigned grin. “Our lives” he scoffs, shaking head and continuing to undress.
Last time we hosted a troubled youth, we affixed bells to our kids’ doors and slept with ours wide open, half awake the entire night. Two months later when the youth suddenly left, we realized how sleep deprived we had been. Now we are hiding knives and pills, razors and cough syrup.
The lack of knowing what could happen is as nerve wracking as knowing all that once did. Their histories are laced with pain no child should suffer, but reading the files only grazes the surface. We have come to accept that there is always more to the story.
We have availed ourselves to host youth in crisis. Some are trying to transition into independent living and adulthood. Some need intervention with parents. Most are on the brink of destruction save this one last attempt…
All have endured poverty… and family chaos and instability and violence. Substance abuse, physical abuse, and/or sexual abuse in their past is a norm, though not absolute. In a nutshell, they are the very kinds of kids we see being trafficked around our nation.
This time I find myself wondering at this whole concept.
Is it wise for middle class families to host a child from poverty for a few weeks only to return her to the same little trailer, free school lunch diet, substance abusing parents, and chaotic home? For a short while, she observes an intact family, speaking respectfully to and living harmoniously with one another. Food is fresh, homemade, and plentiful and usually eaten around a table as a family. Space is abundant as each person goes to their own room at the end of the day. Clothes are clean and smell so.
But does it start to feel good? Like vacation at the beach? Like, one could get to used to this. Maybe life should really be like this? Does it make reintegration that much harder?
Are we doing more harm than good?
Or are we the twilight zone? Is our norm her bizarre? And is the need to belong and be with family far more stabilizing than what we would deem so? Perhaps she is so homesick, for her food and music and corner of the world that she takes no notice of the glaring differences we can’t seem to get past. Maybe our very values prevent us from appreciating the cultural differences and celebrating the home she has, preparing her to return to what she values, but healthier.
I wrestle and agonize, wanting to make a difference for good. Wanting to stop the trajectory of her life… wrapped up like a present for a trafficker to exploit. Come see me in New York. I’ll treat you better than your parents do. No one else loves you like I do.
If we know the profile of those most at risk, why can’t we stop it? I’ve met the girls in police stations and strip clubs, driven them to the doctor and a meal and bought them cigarettes. We’ve had challenging conversations and seen a few tears and even celebrated the restoration God has brought to some. But I’m tired of being too late. I’m weary of the work in protection and prosecution and feel called to prevention. If we know who they are, why can’t we pull them out of the river upstream?
Yet here she is, in my home, and I feel powerless. The current is so strong. Systemic dysfunction, generational poverty and mental illness, food and shelter insecurity which creates truancy and relational angst. Too many pills and processed food, fostering foggy brains and emotional highs and lows. Dear Lord what do we do?
Is grace sufficient? Will love really cast out fear? Are you writing her story in a way I can trust? These are the questions I groan, the prayers splayed before a God in whom I’ve placed my hope. What else can I do?
Show up. I can show up. Tonight I’ll endure the odor and manic conversation stemming from deep insecurity and be strong and present. I’ll say a prayer for her again and sleep with one ear trained on the creaks of floorboards. My kids will learn empathy and know justice in their bones. We will bring the kingdom to our community, on earth as it is in heaven.
Beth Bruno fights domestic sex trafficking in Colorado where she lives with her husband and 3 children. She facilitates the Fort Collins Anti-Sex Trafficking Community Response Team, is the co-author of END: Engaging Men to End Sex Trafficking, and developing an integrated arts trafficking prevention curriculum through her non-profit, A Face to Reframe. She writes at bethbruno.org and is a proud member of the Redbud Writer’s Guild.