Sometimes, we just don’t know …
The only reason she stood out from the other kids is because of her talking.
As leader of the group, I would put her in between two non-talkative kids. She didn’t care. She kept talking. Then I put her in between (and in front of and behind) four adult leaders. Still she talked.
She talked about her new bike and what she had done that week and about her new little brother. Nothing unusual.
We didn’t know her well. She didn’t regularly come to our church, but she did go to another Bible-believing church in town. Her dad would bring her early, help us move chairs and tables and engage us in friendly conversation and then head off to his own church for worship team practice.
Sometimes we just don’t know …
Not until 10 years later did we see the headlines in the newspaper. “Dad abuses daughter for years.”
Her. Our little talker. Him. The friendly dad.
She waited until she was 18 and could get out of the house … and then she talked some more – to the authorities. He did not deny what had happened. He stepped down as a deacon and musician as his church and headed to prison.
As I read the article, I cringed. Putting the dates together, I realized that she was in our program at exactly the time the abuse was greatest. As leader of the group, I went over and over our interaction with her, trying to find a hint, something we could’ve seen that would’ve tipped us off to what was happening.
We weren’t clueless. As a preschool director of a state-licensed preschool, I was trained, drilled, checked out and retrained and redrilled and rechecked. I knew the warning symptoms. She didn’t have any. My co-person-in-charge worked with kids in a public elementary school and she, too, had been trained, drilled, and checked. She knew the warning symptoms. Our talkative child didn’t have any.
My first inclination is to say that we missed the signs. After much thought, my second inclination is to say, I’m not sure there were any signs.
- She was consistently energetic. Yes, she liked to talk, but so do a lot of other kids I know. And nothing, NOTHING she said was out of the ordinary or gave us any clue that she was hiding anything.
- She was healthy. We didn’t see any signs of abuse.
- We knew her dad. He took the time to chat with us as he helped set up tables and chairs … and then went off to worship team practice.
Sometimes we just don’t know …
I am haunted that we missed the signs (if there were any), but the experience has made me solidify some thoughts.
Even the seemingly most stable, well-adjusted people among us need kindness.
Paul wrote to the believers at Colossae, Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
We don’t know what’s happening in another person’s life, so our focus should be on developing a compassionate heart, kindness, and patience toward everyone we meet, to every child to whom we minister, to every family member.
The little girl in our ministry was dealing with a major issue and even though most kids aren’t facing those kind of circumstances, all kids have tough days.
That kindergartener is scared because he can’t keep up with the kids in his class.
That neighbor boy wonders why his dad never shows up to his games as he promises.
That little girl your daughter plays with is worried her arguing parents might be heading for divorce.
That fifth grader feels left out because he’s not athletic, nor does he win academic awards like his siblings.
That third grader is confident, and well-loved, but he worries about his uncle who’s in the hospital.
We won’t always know what heart we’re healing, what hurt we’re addressing, what chaotic situation we’re counteracting with peace and stability.
We won’t always know what horrific situation we’re combatting by reflecting the love of God.
I would like to think that maybe that little girl talked so much because she saw our ministry as a safe place where she could be herself and explode with childhood chatter.
The truth is …
Sometimes we just don’t know.