Recently at church we celebrated the baptism of a small baby. She was beautifully gowned in a christening dress that had been passed down from generation to generation. Surrounding her at the front of the church were her parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, and other members of a large, extended, loving family.
She gazed confidently at the minister as he held her before the baptismal font, taking all the activity around her in stride. The church was filled with a sense of joy, gladness and hope as we welcomed one of God's newest people into our midst.
As I watched these events, I felt overcome with sadness and my eyes filled with tears. While I celebrated the gift of this infant and the love that surrounded her, I couldn't help thinking of the children we serve at the Gwinnett Children's Shelter, and how much I wanted them to be surrounded by the same sense of a loving family.
I thought of how alone our children often feel, how afraid they are to trust someone because they believe it will only mean more hurt and loss. I remembered the times our children cry out in anger, telling us their parents have never cared for them, so why should they believe anyone else would. I thought of the kids who insist that nothing really bad happened at home, not realizing that we have read the files full of substance abuse, violence, sexual exploitation, and chaos.
I wanted the opportunity for each one of our children to be a small infant again, to be held securely in loving, stable arms, to have their presence on this earth be a cause for celebration. I wished for them the journey that baby will surely have, one filled with loving adults to hold her hand as she stumbles, a soft touch to wipe her tears, laughter to celebrate with her the successes, wisdom to guide her in times of confusion, and an open heart to support her when she feels overcome by the pain life can bring.
While we can't erase the hurt that has been so much a part of their lives, our work does give children and families the opportunity to start anew. We are a network of caring adults ready to welcome youth into our residential programs. Our family counseling, Safe Place, parenting classes and Promoting Responsible Fatherhood programs help parents learn how to create safe and nurturing homes for their children.
I can't say it nearly as well as a girl who recently left our shelter:
"It's time for me to say good-bye and leave this place. I just want you to know that since I've been here you changed me in a lot of different ways. You were here for me and you taught me how to express my feelings. The truth is I didn't even know what love was like and now I think I know about love a little bit. You made me think more positive about myself. You really, really changed my life. I won't say good-bye but I'll say see ya!"
Your ongoing, outstanding support makes this possible. Thank you for helping us cradle these children in our arms.
Nancy Friauf is executive director of the Gwinnett Children's Shelter. For more info go to www.gwinnettchildrensshelter.org.