The ministry of family restoration brings with it difficulty and lots of work. And honestly, if you’re doing it to measure success and see many come to faith and join your church, you will be quickly disappointed. This important work needs sustainability and continuation of care to see major changes, and even then, success stories can be few. But it’s amazing to see what the Lord accomplishes when it does happen.
A family restoration success story
One such success story our church is experiencing started last summer with a single mom who came to our Families Count class, which is a parenting program designed by Lifeline Children’s Services that works on the front end of the orphan crisis in an effort to prevent children from entering or repeatedly re-entering state care. It provides birth parents with tools, support, and education to help them be successful.
My friend Erin* attended the class with her then boyfriend, whose mother had temporary custody of her three children. As I got to know Erin, she began to share her story with me. She told me stories of how she cared for her ill mother as a young child, even learning to change her catheter, and of having the freedom to roam around the town where she lived, riding the trolley or bus just for something to do. She also told me about her mother dying when she was 12, which led to experiencing the turmoil of other family members fighting over who would get custody of her in order to receive the check she drew. Sadly, her story only gets worse.
As a young adult, she fell into a bad crowd, which led not only to substance abuse for her, but she also experienced physical abuse from boyfriends. Time after time, she was overlooked and dumped on. She believed she had little to no worth and made decisions that reflected that belief. I realized over the course of our conversations that Erin herself had grown up as an orphan. She had experienced a life that many children across the globe face. She had been a vulnerable child, who grew up to be a vulnerable adult that many others had used to their advantage. I so badly wanted her to see the life that God had for her—a life starkly different from the one she had lived so far.
Each week Erin came to class. She would listen and share. She told me of some changes she was starting to make. Before long I realized that God was starting the slow work of rewriting her story. She wanted life change. She wanted better for her children than what she had experienced. I saw an awakening in her and a desire to make things right. She was ready and willing to work and do whatever she needed to break the cycle.
Erin not only graduated from the parenting class, but she was also the only parent to attend a budgeting class we offered the following weeks. She took advantage of the opportunity to be taught how to better manage her money in a one-on-one setting and started making some much-needed changes. Over the course of the next month, she started making and keeping a budget, she obtained her driver’s license for the first time, and bought her first car. I was able to attend court with her when she received custody of her children.
She started coming to church and faithfully attended life group at our house each week. I watched as Erin started to believe a truth she was taught in the very first parenting class—that she has worth because she is made in the image of God. This truth brought with it much life change. When the next parenting class came around, Erin shared her testimony with the new parents and came each week to help serve and encourage them.
I have seen the Lord work in so many ways as my new friend has begun to blossom into the woman and mom the Lord created her to be. She works hard to provide for her family and believe the truth of the gospel. She has learned to look to those who speak truth and who love her as their sister in Christ. Now she has stories to share that point others to Christ and the restorative work he desires to do in everyone’s life. She has a community who genuinely loves her and her kids. She has found a place to call home and a family to be a part of that will last for eternity.
Practical ways to care for vulnerable parents
That is why we do the hard work of family restoration and why you should join in. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some practical ways you can help the vulnerable around you:
Be present. Most of the parents that come through our doors have been told over and over again all the things they need to do differently. They rarely get to share their story. Listen. You don’t have to have all the answers, or any answers. Simply listening expresses their value.
Be honest. Erin and I had conversations about some unhealthy relationships in her life and the need to set boundaries. We talked about ways she could make more money or tighten up her spending to make her budget work and not be in frequent financial crisis. We talked about believing the gospel and following Jesus. We had hard and uncomfortable converstations at appropriate times, but they were conversations that were necessary for her to be a successful parent.
Be empowering. Instead of trying to meet every need (i.e., giving them money), help set them up for lasting success. For example, you can do this by teaching them how to do a budget, and then actually sitting with them and walking through it together. This way, they are making informed choices about how they can responsibly use the income they already have. As a result, they are the ones making positive changes and not relying on someone else, which is an empowering thing.
Be a friend. Text or call during the week, ask how the budget is going or about the relationship boundaries. Show that you care, and be available when both good and bad things happen. I’ve had the opportunity to rejoice with Erin when she called to tell me she got a new job, and I’ve also been able to encourage her when she struggled with a sick child.
The opportunities to help the vulnerable are endless, and the magic formula is simply saying yes and surrendering to how God chooses to use you. I encourage you to open your eyes to the need, your hands to the work, and your heart to love those who need it most.
*Name has been changed