When “Normal” Needs to Be Redefined

My last year of college, I completed my student-teaching at an inner city elementary school about a ten-minute’s drive from campus. I was totally green in terms of understanding the poverty that the majority of these students lived in. I’d heard plenty of stories and statistics, but still, something wasn’t sinking in. It remained a distant and disconnected reality to me. I could understand poverty in the third-world, but I struggled to wrap my mind around poverty that was a few minutes down the road from my comfortable house and warm bed.

But over the next couple of years of working among these kids, and staring into their faces and lives, my eyes cracked open, even just a little, and began to see what I’d been blind to before.

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After college graduation, I kept in touch with a handful of children that had been in my classroom as a student-teacher. One summer day, I got permission from a few parents to take some of the girls from the class out for a picnic. I drove through the ghetto, from house to house, picking each child up and loading them in my friend’s suburban that I’d borrowed. Each house struck me—old, run-down, and on streets you wouldn’t want to walk on alone at night. But there was one particular house that was the most memorable. I parked in the driveway, walked to the front door, and gave a knock. When the door opened, I stepped just over the threshold into a small home and was greeted by the little girl I was coming to pick up–and I also saw that the house had no furniture in it. Zero. And my mind staggered a little at the utter emptiness.

Just a couple months later, I had my first teaching job at a different school, also in the inner city. And filing through my classroom door came children who lived in homeless shelters, children who’d never had beds but slept on couches or floors, children who’d been removed from their birth families because of abuse and neglect, children who were shuffling through foster care and happened to be shuffled into my class.

My class held hungry children, fatherless children, hurting children.

But you know what? Even then, I still didn’t really see or feel the depth of the crisis—because I’d accepted the fostered and fatherless children of my city, and the pockets of poverty in my city… as culturally normal.

I loved my students, even wept over some of them. But that wretched acceptance of normality clung to my insides and held me back from entering into something deep. Something of God. And it would be still a few years more before the burden of His heart would shock and sear me through.

And I remember the exact moment when my eyes first opened, beyond a mere cracking.

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My friends were fostering a little boy. A little boy who was one among several fostered kids I’d met in my days. But he was God’s shout to my heart. He was the one who brought me down to my knees with tears that came from a place so deep within, I knew that God was reaching in and down, down, down… and pulling them out.

This little boy asked me to hold him on the first day that I’d met him. I embraced him, and his tiny frame was like a dagger, cutting me through, cutting off the normalcy and familiarity… and disturbing my comfort.

It was a holy moment. God drew me into His heart.

It’s an issue I’d come to accept as ordinary because of its pervasiveness. But in the Kingdom of God, fatherlessness is not normal. So it shouldn’t be normal to me. Or to His church.

We’ve yet to touch the depths of how zealously God regards the oppressed. Caring for the fatherless and afflicted are within His very nature. Psalm 68 gives us a profound revelation of God, telling us that He, high and lofty, sitting in His holy habitation, is a Father to the fatherless.

He has called Himself their father.

But why? Why has God called Himself a Father to the fatherless? Why has He attached His very name to these helpless, destitute children?

How much do they mean to Him that He would link His Name to them?

And how much should they mean to us?

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(Video by Stephen Brock. First photo compliments of Mandie Joy. Second photo compliments of of Cherish Andrea Photography.)

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