It’s not about the money we make. It’s about the passions that we ache for.
I like chaos. Well, maybe like isn’t the right word. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that I’m comfortable with it. It doesn’t scare me and it makes me feel alive.
What I am uncomfortable with is too much organization.
It makes my head swim and my eyes cross, this pressure of being structured and compartmentalized. I don’t like having things in neat boxes, I dislike spreadsheets, and I am skeptical of anybody whose house is too clean.
But chaos. Chaos feels like home. I live in chaos.
It is oddly reassuring. As things around me unravel and shake, my instincts kick in and I intuitively move to meet the needs that present themselves while finding some semblance of a plan in the midst of flying pieces.
I guess it makes me ideally suited for what I do for a living.
Every day, I come to work and I have no idea what my day is going to look like. Not because I’m disorganized or I don’t care enough to buy a planner, just because of what I do.
My name is Janelle, I am a social worker, and my job is to find homes for foster kids.
Every day is different. I suppose that’s because I respond to somebody else’s crisis.
I thought it about it the other day. I live in the space where my routine meets the worst day of somebody else’s life.
The families who find themselves in the middle of their nightmare, who find that all of their bad decisions have finally added up to this day of truth, the ones who just can’t make it another single day the way they’ve been going: Those are ones I hear about. The kids end up in foster care, and I get a phone call.
My education, preparation, life experience, and personality type all come together. And I find myself pulled in.
Essentially, I sit at my desk and I wait for something to go wrong. And I don’t have to wait long.
A lot of people have really bad days, some grownups, some tiny. The tiny ones sometimes have stories that make my stomach hurt.
When I first started doing this job, I used to cry a lot.
I think that I didn’t realize how naïve I am.
After all, I was only 14 when I came home from school and found that there were two new people living in my house. Tiny humans. 4 year old twins who had just experienced the worst day of their lives and ended up sleeping in our guest bedroom that night. I remember hearing the story from my mom. She told me what happened to them and I didn’t believe it because if that story was true, it meant that the world was very unsafe. It meant that some parents didn’t take good care of their kids and it instantly diminished the worth of human existence.
And that stung deeply, for a teenager whose worldview had always been that God was good and adults were kind to children (unless you were doing something that was really wrong). But these kids hadn’t done anything wrong, at least not any more than I had done in my lifetime. So, what was the difference? How come their bad days were SO much worse than my bad days?
My point of saying all that is that I learned as a teenager what foster care was like.
I learned that people are unpredictable and capable of great harm. I realized that I was privileged and selfish and didn’t know what God really was doing behind the scenes in a damaged world.
So, I went to college. I learned a lot about child development and gained a great passion and a lot of insight and accrued some debt.
I was ready.
There was a big world out there and it needed somebody to change it, and I could do so. So, I jumped in with both feet to help.
I remember my first day of this job.
I figured it was simple. I thought, “There are kids that need a place to go and there are families that are willing to take them. All I have to do is make a good match.”
So, I prepared myself to do so. I familiarized myself with the available resources and terminology, infused my voice with compassion and intelligence, and set forward. I was on a mission, armed with dedication in spades.
But it was just not that easy.
The first time that I called a family and asked them to take a child and they said no, I was dumbfounded. She was three years old and had lice. My basic manners taught me to be polite and thank them for their time and not let my disappointment show in my tone of voice. I hung up and blinked, then slowly brought my hand to my eyes, rubbing them and fighting despair. I had no other options. I called back the person who had asked me to find a home for the child and said, regrettably, that I couldn’t help. Then I stared at my computer screen.
She was little, she needed help, and I had failed.
Then I read an intake of a teen who went to his school counselor and told them that he was tired of being hungry all the time and wished that he had a bed to sleep in at home. I remember that the words began to swim on the page and I fled to the bathroom as quickly as I could, not making it before the drops raced down my face and bled into my shirt. I clenched my fist and hit the wall in the bathroom several times until I realized that it hurt and wasn’t helping. Then I grabbed a paper towel, mopped up my face, took several deep breaths, and went back to my desk.
I looked over my list of available homes and had nobody to call.
Then I drove to a school and picked up a kid at the end of their day. He sat, fidgeting, on the bench of the secretary’s office. When I walked in, showed my badge, and made eye contact with him, his eyes were huge and he looked away. The school counselor explained that he knew I was coming and would transport him to his new foster home. She said that he understood and that he was all ready to go. I glanced at him and said, “okay,” and we walked out to the car together. I asked if he was alright and he nodded, but I knew that it wasn’t true when, 10 minutes down the road, I caught a glimpse of him in my rearview mirror, slumped in the backseat and staring out the window. His shoulders were shaking and his eyes were full of tears. He was 8 years old.
I stared straight ahead and drove carefully, reminding myself to breathe.
That was the first two weeks.
It’s now Thursday, and I just sat through a 2 hour meeting with my coworkers, hoping that our collective brainpower would bring brilliant solutions to a very real issue: There are just not enough homes.
There is a great need. And right now, the number of children who need homes is greater than the number of people stepping up to reach that need.
Is it hard to say that out loud? Absolutely.
A loved one told me the other day: “I don’t know how you do your job without being clinically depressed EVERY DAY.” And I tilted my head, carefully considering my life before offering a response.
Here’s what I have decided: Whether I do this work or not, the need still exists. If I choose not to come to work tomorrow, there will still be children that need a home. And despite all of the sad and terrible things that I hear about on a daily basis, I still have hope.
Because I just called a foster family and told them about a 5 year old girl and her 3 year old brother. I told their story and listened as the foster family said “Yes.”
Sometimes I fail. Sometimes there’s nothing I can do to help. And sometimes I bite my lip and hold back my emotion when everything I can do is just not enough.
In those moments, it’s hard to remember that God has put a calling on my life. I am tempted to forget and go sell shoes or something. But I haven’t given up yet. I go for a walk, I drink a lot of coffee, and I buy my favorite ice cream. Then I take a deep breath, pray, and hope that I will be jolted with a surge of supernatural courage. Something greater than myself.
And He always comes through.
So no, I’m not depressed. Because I serve a God who is faithful. Because sometimes people say “Yes.” And because I am called.
And I will come into work tomorrow and do the same thing, hoping that more people choose to say “Yes” in the future.
This is the passion that my heart aches for.
And there is always hope.
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.