Reflection: Jake

He was  4 years old when the social worker brought him to me. Ribs were visible through his dirty white tee shirt, body lice covered his tiny arms, and the diaper he wore hung down his thighs. His appearance was shocking, but the fear in his eyes ripped through my heart.

Six hours before I met him, “Jake” was found in a car on a back road in Tennessee. The local sheriff said that he had been in the car for hours; his mother  found just a few yards away. She had blacked out from an apparent overdose, the substance was unknown. The car was locked, and Jake was  alone, his cry was hoarse from the long hours of screaming.

Jake was exhausted and his tiny body a reflection of what he had experienced in his four years of life.  I couldn’t get past the pain I saw in his eyes; pain that I couldn’t possibly dismiss. He was so frail, so tiny, so vulnerable, so scared. While the social worker described Jake’s experience, he stood looking at the floor. I held my hand up and asked that she stop. I reached down, hugged Jake and told the social worker to call me later. In all the years of being a foster parent, I’ve never experienced the kind of bond I felt that night.  This child was hurting, the pain written all over his face.

The first words he said to me were words I’ll forever remember, “If you let me go home, I promise I will never be bad again.” For me, that moment in time stood still. My heart ached; nothing in the world was more important to me than holding him tight.

During the first two months it was obvious that Jake feared being alone. He would cry if my husband or I left the room. Whether in the living room, kitchen, or his own bedroom, he cried if we walked out. One of the adjustments we made included putting his bed in our bedroom so he could sleep.

I recall our first trip to the grocery store, I pulled into the parking space and as soon as I opened my door to get out of the car, Jake started screaming as if he was being tortured. He yelled, “No, No, No!” his arms reaching as far toward me as his car seat would allow. I hurriedly opened the back door and threw my arms around him, “Jake, I’m not leaving you honey. I’m right here, I’ll never leave you alone.” With tears in my eyes, I quickly unlatched the buckle from his car seat and stood in the parking lot crying and holding him tightly in my arms.

By the fourth month of our time together, Jake was potty trained, had gained weight, and trusted us completely. I recall the night he asked Brad (my husband) to move his bed back into his room, “because, I’m a big boy now.” My husband smiled, hugged his neck and assured him that he was a big boy. I watched as Jake helped move the bed, stopping occasionally to show my husband how big his arm muscles were. He would swell up with pride when Brad appeared shocked as he flexed them.

Jake eventually gained enough confidence to run all over the house laughing and playing with no worry of being left alone. His self-confidence was evident.

One Sunday morning during church service, Jake got up from the pew. Before I realized what he was doing, he walked up to the preacher,  whispered in his ear, and walked back to the pew. The preacher stopped the service, the congregation fell silent. He stood behind the pulpit for several minutes attempting to gain composure before speaking.

“There are times,” the preacher stopped, “I’m sorry…”

“There are times when going by the schedule of a well thought out, well planned agenda of Sunday service brings comfort. But a few minutes ago, reality slapped me in the face. Little Jake brought a message to me that I needed to hear; he was the shepherd and I, the sheep. Jake boldly walked up to the pulpit and asked me for a favor.” The preacher fell silent for a few more seconds before beginning again. “Jake asked if we would pray that God would save his mommy and daddy because when he goes to heaven, he wants them there too.”

I’ll never forget that Sunday morning, the entire church joined together and prayed for this little boy’s parents. His new-found belief in God and faith in prayer was enlightening. I stood at his door many nights as Jake knelt by his bed praying for his mommy and daddy.

He was five years old when the social worker called and told us she would have to take him back to his parents. The call was one I knew would eventually come, but was impossible to prepare for. I dropped to my knees and asked God to help us get through this.

When we picked Jake up at daycare, my husband and I explained to him that he would be going home.  We tried to encourage him, but he wasn’t the one needing it. Jake sensed the pain in our hearts and saw the tears in our eyes. He smiled and said, “It’s okay, don’t cry. I’ll see you again.” I was speechless, my husband turned his head in an effort to hide his tears.

As I write, I am reminded of Jake and the experience my husband and I had with him. I’ll forever be humbled by his courage, his strength, and most importantly his faith. It’s been twelve years and I still wonder how he is today.

We will forever remember you, your big brown eyes, your laughter, and your faith. You probably won’t remember us, but we will always love you Jake.

The name of the child was changed to protect his identity.

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