"What am I called if both my parents are in prison?"
Seven-year-old Noah asked this question recently. He had heard if both your parents were dead, you were called an orphan. So he wanted to know what he would be called if both his parents were in prison. His dad is already there for five more years and his mother is looking at a possible four years in federal prison, although we are hopeful the judge will allow her to remain at Blue Monarch. This painful uncertainty is something Noah and his sisters are accustomed to living with daily. (Noah and his mom have approved this story, by the way.)
Since Noah brought this up I haven't been able to get this question out of my head. It immediately brought me back to a time when I was a child and the kids from the local Children's Home attended my church. A few times I rode back on the bus with them after church to spend the afternoon with some of my friends who lived there. Today that same Children's Home has individual homes to provide a more typical family environment but at that time it was much like a Little Orphan Annie dorm. There was a large, dark brick building with vast rooms, tall ceilings, cold hardwood floors and each child had a twin-size bed and chest of drawers filled with only a few belongings, lined up against the wall with numerous children to a room.
Meals were loud and chaotic in the dining hall and each child had a chore to complete before leaving the room. It was common for the children there to insist their moms and dads were coming for them, which rarely happened. And they often gazed out the window as if they expected their parents to drive up at any moment. I wonder now if some of those kids had the same question Noah is asking today.
I think back on the Noah who first arrived here ten months ago. He was an absolute handful! He was angry and bad about biting those around him. He hit others, including his mom. He yelled A LOT - and was in trouble most of the time. His first week at school started badly when he threatened to kill the father of a classmate. Apparently it all started when he told a little girl she was pretty. Not sure how it escalated so quickly, but in Noah's world this was probably a pretty normal chain of events.
Noah's young world had already been packed with turmoil. His parents had both been in and out of jail his whole life, he had been moved from place to place numerous times, and had even been struck by lightning at the age of four. Yes, struck by lightning. And this apparently has nothing to do with his double vision.
But after ten months at Blue Monarch, Noah is a different child. He has soaked up his life here like a sponge. He absolutely adores his tutor, a gracious seminarian who inspires and motivates Noah to learn and always takes the time to play after their lessons. I can't count the number of times I have watched the two of them run past my office on their way to play basketball or toss the football. And Noah's grades? Well, he started the year with only dashes on his report card. But now? He's advanced in three subjects!
|A card Noah made me|
Noah loves church, the Bible, and the Lord. He recently made a card for two of our major donors and inside the card he asked, "Do you love Jesus?" He drew boxes to mark yes or no. (I suspect they checked yes.)
And that's when it hit me. Yes, there actually is a name for Noah if both his parents are in prison. Like all children, either way, he will always be a Child of God.
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith... Galatians 3:26
Noah's mother did end up going to prison. So for nearly three years, both of Noah's parents were incarcerated. I ran into her a few months ago, working in a local thrift store with an ankle monitor around her leg. She was still under house arrest, but she looked good and was staying clean. Most importantly, she and her children were together again.
So I called her yesterday morning to see if I could visit the kids after school. Noah was the first to run out the door to give me a big hug. He is so tall! His beautiful sisters quickly joined him and they each fought for center stage to brag on their own, as well as each other's, accomplishments. You could tell they were very close and had been through a lot together. The three of them are quite a team.
I brought each of them snack bags of our granola. They cheered, "Yay! We LOVE your granola!" Noah immediately tore into his bag and started crunching mouth fulls of granola.
After we caught up on everyone's ages, Noah couldn't wait to show me how he could run on gravel barefooted, which was pretty amazing. He told me all about playing soccer and wanted me to see how high he could kick a ball. Also impressive. "Did you know I was hit by lightning once?" Yes, I certainly remembered that.
Then I had the great pleasure of listening to the three of them share their favorite memories of Blue Monarch. Their faces just glowed as they giggled and described playing in the snow when it was two feet tall. "No, for real!" And then there were all the wonderful stories of exploring our property every Wednesday afternoon with the college student volunteers. They remembered the Swamp Monster and of course, Penelope the Tree, down by our pond. Finally each of them described in great detail the magnificent day their mother won a prize. It wasn't a particularly significant event, but they remembered it with enormous pride because she had won.
I could see that on days we may have driven home thinking we had not made a difference, even the little things had been etched into their memories in a beautiful way. Seeds had been planted that grew into big smiles even three years later. Blue Monarch had created a "new normal" for them that they will never forget.
As I drove away, my heart was full of mixed emotions, and then I realized - the best thing about their time at Blue Monarch was that Noah and his sisters learned they had a Heavenly Father, just when they needed Him the most. And God knew the timing was perfect all along.