I stumbled across a book by Mitch Albom at the library last week and pulled it off the shelf. I'm a fan of his work (including bestsellers such as Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven) probably because he and I have some things in common. We both stare wide-eyed at this world, alternately bewildered by tremendous grace amid suffering and always, always trying to figure out what it means and what we are supposed to do about it.
Anyway, I checked out with Have A Little Faith sandwiched between books for the kids' summer reading projects. I got home and started it and didn't put it down until I was finished. One paragraph in particular caught my attention. It includes a conversation between the author and Cass, a parishioner at an inner-city church in Detroit, Michigan. They are talking about the pastor, Henry Covington. Cass is telling Mitch how he overcame his drug addiction after Pastor Henry believed in him when there was very little reason to do so.
"One night in the projects, I had just gotten high and I hear Pastor call my name. I'm embarrassed to come out. My eyes are as big as saucers. He asks if I can do some landscaping at his grass the next day. And I said, sure, yeah. And he gives me ten dollars and says meet me tomorrow. When he left, all I wanted to do was run upstairs and buy more dope and get high again. But I didn't want to spend that man's money that way. So I ran across the street and bought lunch meat, crackers-anything so I don't spend it on drugs."
I read that paragraph, then again and then one more time. This sums up beautifully the power of relationships in our lives. Cass wasn't going to spend Pastor's money on drugs. Suppose that money was a handout from the government or even from someone Cass didn't know. Would he have spent it differently?
I've worked in the child welfare system for almost twenty years. Success stories are few and far between. What separates the successes from the failures are always relationships. Mothers and fathers who have a support system and utilize the assistance given to them are the ones who make it, the ones who kick their substance abuse or other problems and successfully reunite with their children. They make connections with therapists, drug counselors or others. They have someone standing with them. When they are tempted to fail, to self-sabotage or slip back into dysfunctional ways of being, they hold it together for someone besides themselves or even their children. They hold it together because someone believes in them.
This is the piece that is missing all too often in people's lives and in the lives of foster children. The government has a role in helping vulnerable families and yes, government assistance with things like food stamps and housing is critical but it will never be the only answer. Likewise, the government must step into the lives of abused and neglected children but alone, it will never save them. It is merely a piece of a puzzle. The largest pieces, the biggest pieces of lives put back together and held in place will always be relationships.
And here is the good news in this dismal time of looming debt when government services are cut severely and we grapple with how to do more with less: relationships don't take anything out of our wallets.
Relationships are FREE!