Saturday, August 9, 2014

There are more Jenises out there

Photo credit: FBI photo

This week, our community held its breath.

We faced some of our worst fears. We whispered prayers to whatever god we believe in. And we watched, and waited and waited, and waited. 

Soon, it wasn't just our community hoping and praying for a little girl -- a stranger to many of us, yet we thought of her and prayed for her as though she were one of our own. The entire nation joined us ... waiting, hoping and praying.

And today our worst fear was realized. 

Precious 6-year-old Jenise Wright was confirmed to have been murdered, after being reported missing late Sunday night.

Maybe because my Maddy is so close to her age. Maybe because her home is literally a 5-minute drive from my house. Maybe because the murder of a 6-year-old is just unthinkable. Maybe because I drive by the police and FBI cars, police tape and "Road Closed" signs on my way home from the store. 

Whatever it is, this little girl has been constantly on my mind, in my heart, and in my fervent prayers since I learned about her disappearance on Monday. 

During this week, I have been checking the news, reading reports, and watching all the status updates as the search for her grew. I kept my eyes peeled everywhere I went. I wondered if she was scared, alone, in pain or already with Jesus.

And I held my own daughters tighter ... Praying gratitude over their very real presence in my life. Their deep breathing at night became a miracle. The minutes with them were not to be taken for granted.

Yet as I grieve this little girl I never knew, a thought keeps coming to the surface, and I just can't shake it. 

There are more Jenises out there

We don't know all the facts about her murder. We don't know all the details about her family. But I think that it is a fair assumption that her parents allowing their 6-year-old to wander the neighborhood without any real knowing of her whereabouts ...  or even awareness of when she was entering or leaving the house ... put this child at risk. 

She was a vulnerable child. 

And there are many others just like her. 

These are children we don't hear about because they are removed from their homes before they disappear or are found murdered in the woods. 

I know these children exist because the day police found Jenise's remains, we got the call to take a vulnerable child into our home.

Here is a baby whose story could have made headlines ... But thank goodness it didn't. 

And yet, I wonder about if it had. 

I wonder what your response would have been had you come to memorize the features of his face from watching the news every night, instead of seeing my Facebook posts with his updates. I wonder if I would have seen the same sentiments that I have seen posted on Facebook as friends rightly expressed outrage at the apparent neglect of Jenise's parents. 

"Precious baby girl," I read this week, "If they find her, I would adopt her and give her the love and care she deserves."

A justifiable sentiment. 

But then I have to wonder ... Would you really?

Would you carve the necessary weeks out to do all the training needed to be a licensed foster home? Would you lock up all your medicine, adjust your parenting practices, and put privacy aside as social worker after social worker inspects your home and reviews every. Single. Detail. About your life? 

Would you fill out an an obscene amount of paperwork that makes giving birth look like a walk in the park?

Would you take the risk that you may care for a child with all you have, knowing that any day they could be taken from your home? Will you make room for them in your budget, set a place for them at your table, and carve away your precious time for doctors' appointments, specialists and court proceedings?

You see, it's easy to be outraged when we hear of child abuse or neglect. 

It is easy to cry, to mourn, and to wish that things had turned out differently. It is easy to believe that had they been in our home, they would have been safe, and loved, and cared for. 

It is, however, quite a different thing to actually take that child into your home, and make sure that they are safe, and loved, and cared for.
And I guess what I want to know is ... Are you willing? 
Ryan and I had about 12 hours to make our decision. I could not escape the fact that as I was devastated to learn of Jenise's death, here was another vulnerable child -- another potential Jenise. 

Would we say "no" as taking a child right now is not convenient? Would we choose our lifestyle of comfort over a lifestyle of sacrifice?

This is what we wrestled with. 

And to be honest, it really came down to principle. We had no red flags in taking this child ... Just a pretty solid belief that this is what we need to do ... Come what may. 

I do not write this from a spirit of "look what we're doing!" I write this from a scared, trembling little heart. A heart and will that are desperately relying on God to empower our family, strengthen me as a mom, and fill in the gaps for us where we fall short. 

I write this knowing that our community around us ... The love, the support, the prayers ... Make it possible for us to say yes. 

I write this from the humble knowledge that this burden to care for a child really is so light. Other Christians are being called to stay faithful even as their children are being beheaded, their wives are raped and abducted, and their husbands as killed. 

What is our service to God in light of such sacrifice? 

And yet. It still matters. It matters a lot.

To be honest, the timing is not perfect. The finances are not perfect. And, to be oh-so frank, Ryan and I are FAR (f     a     r) from perfect. 

Week don't have all our stuff together. I still haven't registered Maddy for school or gotten Leyla's new social security card yet. Just like every mom I know, finding balance feels elusive sometimes. 

In short, taking on another child right now is far from convenient. 

But then again ... Being neglected by your parents and at-risk for abuse and even death is not convenient. Being abandoned at a drug house is not convenient. Being let down by person, after person, after person until you've lost all faith in God and humanity is not convenient. Being raised by a 5-year-old sibling because your parents are strung out on drugs is not convenient. Being born drug or alcohol addicted is not convenient. Being forced to move in and out of homes by the whim of some almighty judge is not convenient. Being forced to have weekly visits with your abusers (albeit supervised) is not convenient. Not knowing where you belong, being separated from your siblings, and standing out in school are not convenient.

Being at the total whim of a broken government system is not convenient. 

We feel for these children. As we rightly should. By all means, let us have compassion and grieve for their losses.

But I urge you to do more. Let us not just feel. Let us act.

I get that we cannot all be foster parents. I get it. But I think there are those of us out there that need to step up. We need to get our homes ready, take the classes and bite the bullet to commit. So when a child like Jenise comes along, we are ready.

If you absolutely cannot be a long-term foster parent, ask yourself what you CAN do. Maybe you could do receiving care (short term care between 1-4 weeks). Maybe you could do respite care? Maybe you could donate clothes or no-longer-needed baby items to families doing foster care? Maybe you could make that family a meal when they receive a child into their home? Maybe you could commit to praying for them, babysit for them, or call them and really listen to how they are doing? 

Of course, foster kids aren't the only ones at risk.

Maybe you are sponsoring a child. Maybe you are volunteering with at-risk youth. Maybe you are helping support victims of sex-trafficking. Maybe you are delivering food or clothes to children in Africa. Maybe you have adopted a child from an orphanage. 

But if you are not doing anything yet ... Ask yourself? What are you willing to do? Where is God calling you to help? Where can you use the time, money and resources you've been blessed with to make a difference?

If you chose to foster, you should know:
The foster care system is broken. The situation will likely not be perfect. There is a real risk that you may end up with a broken heart. You will wonder some days what on earth you were thinking when you signed up to do this. There will be loss, heartache and fatigue. 

But there will also be one more guarantee. 

You are making a huge difference in the life of one of God's precious children. Your standing in the gap could literally save their lives.

There are more Jenises out there. 

And I want to know ... Will you join me in doing something about it?


*If you chose to research foster care (woo hoo!), I would urge you to get licensed through an agency. In many cases, this is absolutely free. We went through Youth For Christ, and cannot recommend it enough. The social worker on the child's side represents the child (as they should.) Your case worker in the agency will represent your family, and will make sure that you understand everything the social worker is saying. They will keep you up-to-date on licensing requirements, offer trainings, and be there as a very real support to your family. So definitely, definitely, go through an agency. :)


  1. So well written ... such thought provoking words. I suffer, out of guilt, for her parents for as a mother of three Central Kitsap children growing up in the 1970s, they were free to wander. I didn't worry. When they were older, the FBI came to our home to ask if we'd seen anything unusual at the house across the street. No. But we later learned that he was a suspect in the murder of three Girl Scouts in Oklahoma. And then there was the Bremerton tattoo artist who killed one teenager and maimed two others in the woods where my children played. A sheriff's deputy left a terse note on our unlocked front door about safety and security. We felt safe. We were in a safe neighborhood just as the Wrights were ... or thought they were. I'm defending the Wrights. They've suffered so much and will for the rest of their lives.

  2. I wish I could agree with ALL of what you have said. As a former foster parent I have seen the system fail these kids over and over again. You get these children from horrible conditions, love them, get them healthy only to have them returned to the abusive parents or sent to the absent parent whom they have never known (at age 15) and have that parent be as bad or worse as the original case. And when this child runs away from another state and ends up on your door step 1000 miles away, you have to report them and they are sent back again. They you are accused of aiding a run away even tho you report it in less than 24 hrs. Then you are investigated and no longer allowed any contact with said child. I sacrificed my own education and dropped out of college to fight the broken system finally succumbing to defeat.Then as an 18 yo have this child makes their way back to my home via hitch hiking 1000 miles and they are as broken as the system that let them down. Unfortunately there is only so much we can do as foster parents. We too are at the mercy of the broken system. And it takes so much time and energy from your life and your own children that they begin to feel neglected. I do not regret fostering over 50 kids in the 5 years but I honestly don't believe my fostering made a bit of difference in the long run when these children are placed at risk over and over by the same system that is supposed to protect them.

  3. Just wanted to say that I am so impressed by your blog. Stumbled across it as I searched for "foster/adopt" blogs...but I know the Lord truly directed me to it. I love that you live in the Kitsap sister resides in Kingston and my parents live in Port Ludlow, so I'm familiar with that location. Love that you have a child, and the Lord led you to adopt. Our stories are so similar. I have a son, and have also had many losses (5 total). We have gone thru all the classes, background checks and interviews and are currently awaiting "the call" to be matched to the child God has already picked out for us :) So excited you have chosen to take on this new baby boy. Boys are AWESOME!! Love my little guy soo much! Praying that God provides for your family in a big way as you grow :)