The call came in about a year and a half ago, just as we had begun photo shoots for our statewide traveling Heart Gallery. Our goal was to expand our long running county gallery to a larger exhibit that showcased the beautiful faces of waiting kids from all over the state of Arkansas. Project Zero had gained permission from DCFS and within three weeks were blown away by the overwhelming response of professional photographers from every corner of our state: 98 in 45 cities to be exact. We had already done several photo shoots; days that were filled with both the excitement about the possible futures for waiting kids and the unspeakable loss that these kids had experienced.
But this call was different. This call was a life changer. This call dug down deep into the very core of my soul and ‘called me out’ on everything I believed as a foster or adoptive mom.
“Christie, I have a teenager who is incarcerated,’ the adoption specialist said. ‘Not sure what I need to do about him.”
“Have his parental rights been terminated?’ I inquired. “Is he available for adoption and waiting for a forever family?”
“Yes.” the specialist said with a hint of discouragement.
“Then he deserves to be in our Heart Gallery. We owe him that. How can we make this happen?” I asked.
Okay. So we were going to a prison to photograph a hurting, troubled waiting teen. Oh my word. As if finding families for waiting teens is not hard enough, but now we’re going to add one who is in jail with multiple issues? How is all THAT going to look on an adoption summary? Those were some of the thoughts that raced through my mind as I contacted area ‘male’ photographers to see if anyone would be willing to photograph this teen.
But other thoughts raced through my mind as well. This boy, this young man, deserved to be fought for. He had entered foster care through no fault of his own and his problems, his issues, and his trauma, were brought on by someone else. He was hopeless; institutionalized with lost freedom. Loss. I was sure that was a word he knew all to well.
A photographer was found immediately and preparations were made for us to meet at the facility in a few days; the adoption specialist, the photograph and me. I realized he would have nothing to wear to insure that his photo looked like the others, so I asked the specialist for his sizes. I had no idea what style he was, so I bought preppy, and sporty and tailored and grunge!
I headed to the facility for the photo shoot with a sack filled with multiple items in multiple colors. I was determined but uncertain and a bit fearful. I prayed for him as I drove and reminded myself that he could be cold and closed off. He could refuse the photo, throw the clothes on the floor and cuss me out. I hoped for the best, but prepared myself for the worst.
The photographer was already there. The adoption specialist and I met on the parking lot and proceeded through security. As we entered the one little sitting room that was the only place suitable for a photo to be taken, there he was, a mellow relaxed young man sitting on the arm of the only piece of furniture in the room. He smiled as the specialist greeted him and introduced us. The photographer had his equipment all set up and had been engaging the teen in the process. I showed him the clothes and he excitedly chose a t-shirt and button-down shirt and was escorted out of the room to change.
The photos were taken and we were done. He came over to me and asked if I worked for DCFS. When I told him that I didn’t, that I was a foster mom and adoptive mom and worked with an organization that wanted to help find families for every waiting child, he reached his arms out, embraced me and thanked me for coming. He also said he actually like all of the clothes I brought- so I left them all! The officials would lock them up with his personal effects until he was released.
We all said our goodbyes and I walked to the parking lot.
As I drove home, I was overcome. I have to be honest, I confessed out loud to the Lord that I did not know one single person at that moment in time who would be willing to adopt him. Not one person. But I confessed another thing as well. God is able. He is the One to whom nothing is impossible. He is the One who sets the lonely (and confused and heartbroken and hopeless) in families.
After the editing was done, we added the photo of this young man to the traveling Heart Gallery and to our website (www.theprojectzero.org). Four weeks later, I was speaking at a statewide event and mentioned this story without any specifics, in the middle of my speech. When it came time for questions and answers, a young woman stood up in the back and said, “I just have to tell you something. The story you mentioned about the young man that is incarcerated…I’m his CASA. He has called me three times over the past few weeks to tell me about your visit, about his photograph being taken and about the clothes you brought. He was so excited!” What a small world and what an encouragement that was to me!
I would like to say that over the course of the past 2 years, we have had a ton of inquiries about this young man and that a family had been chosen for him. Sadly, that is not the case. I don’t know of one inquiry that I have received and he is certainly not in a family. It’s heartbreaking on so many levels. But, that doesn’t change my commitment to him, my heart for him and my resolve to fight for him. And it doesn’t change the basic truth that his life is redeemable and more importantly his life is worth being redeemed. Would you pray for him today? Bold prayers. Prayers for restoration to come, for confusion to fade, for hope to rise and for the life-changing gift of a family to be given.