Saturday, October 13, 2007

For Little Ones

At twelve years old, Andy was a rather handsome boy. Jet black hair and dark eyes, with a smile that always lit up a room. He was a little shy at 12, but friendly enough to anyone who spoke with him. He liked to laugh, and he was a nice person to be around. He was the type of boy that you might hear someone say of, "when he's older, he's going to be a heartbreaker".

There was something different about Andy though. It's the kind of difference that all kids notice about other kids, even if they never say anything. Andy's clothes were often dirty and wrinkled. On his face were discolorations that were obviously bruises in various stages of healing. He had the same discolorations on his arms. His hair wasn't always clean, and was equally as often, uncombed. Not too awfully uncommon with twelve year old boys, but there was something different about Andy, and we all knew it. Andy's classmates, the ones that sat next to him in English and Math class, the ones that rode the bus with him, the ones closest to him, we all knew someone was beating Andy.

At twelve, you know it's wrong and you know it shouldn't be happening, and as much as your heart goes out to someone suffering at the hands of an abusive parent or caretaker, you're just not sure what to say, or what to do. Anyway, thirty years ago thats the way it was.

One day in the 7th grade, Andy didn't show up on the bus. Neither did the girl that lived next door to him. I noticed it in the morning but noticed it even more when the both of them were missing in english class, since one of them sat in front of me, and the other directly behind me. We talked in class, and yes we were often scolded for it, but they were fun kids to talk to.

After school that day, the daily newspaper had a local horror story. An unemployed father with a history of abuse and alcoholism, brutally beat his wife. While she was on the phone with the police, he shot her. Before the police arrived, he chased his terrified twelve year old boy (who was trying to help his mom), covered in his mom's blood, into his room and shot him too, several times. The police only knew that the boy was chased into his room because there was a witness there that watched the whole thing. A witness that the father never even saw. As the police arrived, the man shot himself. The boy and the mother died at the scene, but the father lived long enough to confess to the whole thing, from his hospital bed. Then he died too.

That boy was Andy, and the witness was the girl who lived next door to him, and got on the bus at the same stop with Andy, every day. It happened right after he got off the bus the previous day, and went home. The girl who lived next door to him saw the whole thing as she had dropped her books off at home and went to Andy's bedroom window where they would often talk to each other after school. While she waited for Andy to come to the open window, that scene of horrific violence was being carried out inside the house.

My mom had read the newspaper article and noticing the ages of the boy and girl, asked if I knew them. I don't recall if the girl was named in the article but I knew who they were talking about, and Andy's name was mentioned. Yes, I knew them. It was the first time such violence ever touched my life and it left a most profound impact on me, and many of the other kids that rode the bus with Andy, and enjoyed his company. By the following day when the bus drove by Andy and the other girl's stop and just kept going (no one was there to stop for), that school bus fell silent. If there is one way to render a bus full of 12 year old kids completely silent, that was it. As the bus drove along, some of us were crying, but that was about the only sound you could hear.

Eventually the girl came back to school, but she was not the same. She was distant and she was very quiet, and I don't remember her ever smiling anymore. Before the end of the school year her family moved away, and none of us ever saw her again. I only hope she received the help she needed, to deal with what she saw at such a tender age.

I thought of this yesterday when I read in the news yet another story about a parent who murdered their own kids, then took their own life. It's nearly impossible for me not to think about Andy, whenever I hear or read one of those stories. They seem to happen with increasing frequency as the years roll on.

I thought about how the Scriptures tell us that in the last days before Christ returns, there will be horrible times and people will be without natural affection. (2Tim 3:3). If there is any better example of being without natural affection, in my mind it has to be when a parent of a child does intentional and fatal harm to that child. I thought also about how things have changed in society since that day in the fall of 1977 when Andy died. Back then, kids didn't know that they could go to someone and tell them what they noticed about other kids. They didn't know they could tell someone about the bruises they saw, or the fat lip, or black eye, or clumps of hair missing. Kids today are no different than kids thirty years ago, and when there is an abused kid among other kids, the other kids know someone is beating that kid. We know, even if we never mention it to the kid, or discuss it among ourselves. We know what a beaten child looks like. In our society today, kids know they can tell someone and that (hopefully) action will be taken to stop it. I only wish the kids around Andy would have known we could have told someone back then.

Whenever I read the news or hear about something like this happening again (and again, and again) it's hard not to think about Andy. It's hard not to think also about God's sovereignty over the affairs of men, man's responsibility toward fellow man, and how all of that fits together and works. I wish I had some hard & fast answers that would clear it all up and allow myself to be 'okay' with it all, but at the end of the day I'm never okay with the idea that helpless and defenseless children suffer at the hands of those who are supposed to be the ones protecting them. Even with knowing and believing the truth of God's sovereignty and knowing and believing that whatever He allows, or ordains is ultimately for His own glory.

I know someday when I die and go to Heaven to be with the Lord forever, all of this will make sense. Or maybe it wont even be something that ever crosses my mind again. One way or another I know my understanding of life and how God works all things for His glory will be completely satisfied.

Until then, I know for sure I can never be satisfied when even one child suffers like this. As a mother it breaks my heart. As a daughter it makes me so grateful that my own mother was not like this. As a human being it stirs up in me a hunger for justice, and a desire to take these kids into my arms and shelter them from any kind of violence or pain. As a child of God it causes me to lift these kids up in prayer that our gracious Heavenly Father might protect them, or send His Holy Spirit to regenerate their parents and drive them to their knees in repentance.

As a blogger... it makes me want to write about it and bring it to the attention of whoever comes across it, in hopes that in doing so it might stir up at least a little bit of awareness and maybe the next time you suspect child abuse in any given situation, that you might step up to the plate and be a voice for a child that doesn't have one. In such cases, I believe with all my heart that we are indeed our brother's keeper.