The World According to Tiff Sniff

Meandering ponderings and wonderings on the state of things.

We are weak, but He is strong

Three months ago, I was appointed to represent a young mother in a child custody case. She had lost her baby at 36 weeks of pregnancy, because of cocaine use. Her one-year-old (the youngest of 8 kids) had been taken from her and put into foster care pending the outcome of the case. She was not at the hearing at which I was appointed, and another lawyer who has been involved with her situation off and on for several years told me that she has never once turned up for court. So I didn't spend too long trying to find her; it seemed like a pretty straightforward case of a woman who didn't really want to be a mother, and couldn't take care of her kids. Not much for me to do, really.

So imagine my surprise when, at the settlement conference today, she showed up.

Losing her unborn child seems to have really shaken her up and made her realize it's time for some serious changes in her life. Fortunately, the people in the Dep't of Children's Services (despite their reputation as an agency) are remarkable and committed people. Her case worker had worked up a plan for her, steps she can take to get her like back in order, and to eventually work toward regaining custody of her daughter. My client and I discussed it. She freely acknowledged her drug and alcohol problems, and wanted to do whatever she needed to keep her parental rights from being terminated. She told me that she is also bi-polar, but can't pay for her medications. Apparently, the last time she went through drug rehab, her counselor told her that if she didn't take her Depakote, she would "automatically" relapse. So, when she ran out of meds and couldn't buy them, what did she do? She did what her counselor told her to do - she relapsed. But this isn't about what a stupid thing that was for her counselor to tell her.

She teared up as she told me that she had had to check out of her hotel room that morning because she had been robbed. Everything she owned in the world is now gone. I strongly suspect she is prostituting herself tonight, to pay for her coke, booze, food, and to have a place to spend the night. In that order, of course. She is absolutely at the end of her rope, and was desperately hopeless. She thought she had already lost custody of her child. I talked her through the plan, and we discussed her options. We added a couple of things to her plan (namely, that DCS will help her get psychiatric treatment, and help her get TennCare so that she can get her medication), and went into the courtroom to wait our turn to tell the judge what we had agreed on

I watched the judges talk to dozens of parents who had been accused of various levels of abuse or neglect, and who had complied with their permanency plans to various degrees. I watched as they were treated with respect and encouragement by some in the court, disdain and condescension by others. I thought about the poor young woman I am representing. We legal professionals sit in this court, clean and soft and with no rough edges; she had nowhere to sleep tonight, and no way to buy food, and no way to fix either of those things.

I thought of the power the judges and lawyers have in these people's lives, and repeatedly thought, "No one is beyond the redemptive power of grace".

Eventually we entered our agreement, and picked our next court date. My client's DCS worker agreed to immediately start working on getting her into drug rehab, and I emphasized to her the importance of finding a way to call me and/or DCS regularly, to let us know where she is, if nothing else.

Tonight at church, Phil spoke on the nature of the Christian "mission". On what, exactly, we are called to leave behind when we follow Christ. The Bible, throughout the Old and New Testaments, condemns the rich for their oppression of the poor, and for their insistence on maintaining their wealth.

I couldn't help but think back to my afternoon in court. My client will never have what I have.

We sang "Jesus Loves Me" at the end of the service, and it had new meaning. It's a "kids" song, because it's a simple melody with easy lyrics, and because it's about Jesus loving the "little ones" - those who are "weak" while He is strong. I always thought, growing up, that it was about Jesus taking care of children as they grew up. That's true. But I guess I'd never had a chance to revisit the tune until now.

This song is about Jesus loving me, and it is about Jesus loving my poor, strung-out mother who lost her baby and is now facing losing her child and jail time. He loves us the same. He treats us the same. The Bible tells us so.

We are so quick to justify the challenges the Bible presents to the rich. My personal favorite is that the "eye of a needle" actually was a gate in Jerusalem, and not a literal eye of a sewing needle, therefore it's not impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom, just tricky. Talk about missing the point! (No pun intended.)

In the end, I think it really does boil down to where our focus is. Forgive me if this is obvious and simple, but the demeanors I saw in court today clarified it for me. Some of the lawyers, and one of the judges, were quick to assume these men and women were "bad" parents, who needed to be punished, or made to take things seriously, or challenged. Other lawyers, and the other judge, recognized that these cases are the scariest things these people have ever faced. They commend them for their accomplishments, rather than chastising them for their failure to achieve certain goals. The focus on their humanity, rather than their behavior, can make all of the difference in their lives.

Christ calls us to see his children, not just blips on our radar screens. When we see, and I mean really see, the people around us, we cannot help but care. When we care, we are driven to act.

James hit it on the head when he said "faith without works is dead" - if your faith in Christ doesn't open your hearts and minds to the plight of the people around you - whether the homeless downtown, the broken-hearted colleague, or the searching friend - it's not the type of faith Jesus wants us to have. When we love people as He does, we can't ignore their suffering and pain.

PS - Shout out to Clark and his niece. Thank you for your comment tonight at church, and to his niece: email me anytime. I'll be praying for you and your job situation!

3 Responses to “We are weak, but He is strong”

  1. # Blogger Malia

    Awesome post Tiffany! Your compassion and understanding is truly inspiring. I'm sure that others have and would have written this mother off long ago but your willingness to look beyond the outside, see the pain, to really look at her, really see her as a child of God is truly being the hands and feet of Jesus in our world today.

    BTW...I saw that you were linked on Nashville is Talking for this post - way to go!  

  2. # Anonymous Anonymous

    Thanks for the warm thoughts and comments last Wednesday night. Missing your blog as you are across the pond, working hard for the Lord. I know there will be some fun factor, too!


  3. # Blogger Unknown

    tiffany, you and i both know that the magdalene house project works wonders. anyone can nominate anyone or put them on a waiting list, i believe...especially if she is convicted of both prostitution and drug abuse. i dont know if you are still involved in the case, but they help them with their children and get their life back on track.  

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