James R. Browning United States Court of Appeals Building — Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

Where are my Angels? — post 12

How could God let all this happen?

I think you knew I was going to ask this question at some point? I couldn’t, at the time, answer that question intelligently. I still can’t. The best I can do is cycle between “Why, God, didn’t you protect this little girl?” and “God didn’t have anything to do with it.” But I don’t have a complete understanding of either answer. Every attempt to answer this question made my faith seem ludicrous.

I fantasized, at times. I could just walk away. A better description of what I wanted to do is run. Run away from Allie, from Susan, from the whole situation. I wanted to run away from this trial God let drop on us. I wanted to chuck the whole thing. I ask again, how could God let this happen?

I wanted revenge. I wanted to hurt Timmy really badly. I wanted him to feel what Allie felt. I wanted him to know the anguish that was wrecking Susan and me. I wanted him to know the utter despair Charity, my poor little girl, was walking through. She wasn’t able to function.

A Faith Framework

Call me crazy, but I kept a running dialogue with God. During those days, my side of the conversation ranged from unpleasant to irreverent. God seemed silent and distant. Susan and I both felt very alone. But we had to believe that God heard our prayers and was at work doing good. If I gave up believing that, I think I would have had a mental break with reality. I have no other framework for processing purpose or meaning in life.

I started believing in God when I was about nine years old. My mother made sure we kids went to Sunday School every week and vacation Bible school in the summer. I was fascinated by stories of Joseph, Samson, David, and Daniel in the Old Testament. I was captivated by the narrative about Jesus in the New Testament; every encounter people had with him was unique and full of lessons about wisdom and his love for people. I believed in God then, learned to pray, and believed that something big was at work in the world.

This always caused a tension in my life that I became acutely aware of when I launched into a period of delinquency during my middle school years. The more delinquent I was, the more I sensed a growing distance from God.

In my early twenties, I met a girl that walked away from peer pressure and the party to follow Jesus. Everything about her was attractive and I pursued her hard until I wore her down and she agreed to marry me. Her unwavering commitment to her faith motivated me to make a very sober, personal commitment to follow Jesus the Messiah. This decision morphed into an insatiable desire to learn as much as I could about Jesus, his place in the Bible, and his place in human history. As I’ve done this, it’s made it impossible to walk away from faith, even when faith seems ludicrous.

I’ve maintained my sanity by accepting this simple fact: we don’t pick our tasks; God does. I would not have picked this; volunteered for this; signed up for this. But my life does not belong to me; it belongs to God. Sooner or later, this is tested in everyone’s life.

Still in Florida

Susan, Allie, and Charity were in San Francisco and I was in Florida. I missed them so much. When I’m with Allie, I’m overwhelmed with love for her. I’m absolutely wrecked. To this day, that hasn’t changed. When I was with her, I did not — could not — dwell on thoughts about the violence done to her. Love crowded those thoughts out; they could not exist in the same space with my thoughts and prayers for her to get better and hope for a life free of pain.

While I was away from Allie back in Florida, I thought about everything else. I thought, how could someone do this to a baby? And I thought, what must my poor Charity be going through–how can she handle this? I went through the exhausting exercise of thinking of ways to fix the future. I wanted to fly around the earth at warp speed like Superman and turn back time. How could I make this right?

I’d think about Timmy sitting in a jail cell. I vacillated between blame, revenge, and the burden to forgive. I tried to imagine a time in the future when I’d feel like I’d forgiven him. Was it even possible? I’m just a man. When you squeeze a tube of toothpaste, you see what’s inside the tube. I felt like I was being squeezed and I didn’t like the junk I was seeing get squeezed out of me.

Everything I did while apart from Susan in Florida was a temporary distraction from what life was becoming. I worked at the church, talked on the phone with Susan, and ate meals in friends’ homes. These warm gestures from good friends took my mind off things temporarily, but polite, topical conversation always circled back to Allie and Susan and Charity. When I returned to my house, it was empty at the end of each day. Aaron was away, too, so the house was hollow. I used the time to get alone with God, but this usually ended in a spiritual wrestling match with me flat on my back. In my grief and loneliness, I had no peace. I had to get back to Susan and Allie.

Back to San Francisco

I flew to San Francisco to spend time with Susan and Allie and to work together with Susan on becoming Allie’s primary caregivers. Custody of Allie was officially transferred from Charity to San Francisco Family and Children’s Services. All the paperwork had been filed and administratively approved, all that had to happen is for the judge to make a ruling in Allie’s case.

Susan and I were working hard to be first in line to take care of Allie if and when she was released from the hospital. We took a streetcar across town to get fingerprinted and initiate the paperwork to apply as foster parents. That was the first step.

A few days later we went to court while new friends from Calvary Chapel San Francisco stayed with Allie in the hospital. My sister, Jennifer, was also in town helping out, and she went with Susan, Charity and me to the courthouse.

We filed into a courtroom that was a narrow rectangular room. It was much smaller than I imagined it would be. The judge sat at a regular table with rows of chairs set up facing him. Charity’s court-appointed lawyer signaled for her to sit in the first row directly in front of the judge. We were surprised to learn that Allie would be represented by a court-appointed lawyer, too, and she introduced herself to Charity. Charity turned and pointed to us as she said something we couldn’t hear, and the lawyer, a young woman a little older than Charity, turned and waved at us.

There was a small row of chairs to the left of the judge’s table at the skinny end of the room perpendicular to the rows of chairs in front of the judge. Timmy entered the room in bright orange coveralls with his court-appointed attorney, flanked by two sheriff’s deputies. He was ordered to sit.

He looked really sad.

There was some conversation between the judge and attorneys. At one point someone told the judge that we, the child’s grandparents, were in the room, and he looked at us and acknowledged us. Next, he signed some papers giving the City of San Francisco custody of Allie.

As we left the courtroom, and Allie’s attorney introduced herself to us. “It’s so good of you to be here,” she said to Susan and me. “We don’t usually see grandparents get this involved.” We heard that statement often since we moved into the hospital with Allie, and were very surprised that people thought this was noble. It seemed like the normal thing to do.

We found out later that Allie’s court-appointed lawyer was working against us. It was her position and she argued in court that it was not in Allie’s best interest to live with and be cared for by Susan and me. She thought that the City of San Francisco was better equipped to care for Allie’s acute special needs. There was precedent and infrastructure, she argued. During the eighties, San Francisco was at the epicenter of the HIV/AIDS crisis. Many infected and orphaned children became wards of the city at the time, and the response by the city was, while not widely publicized, heroic. The city had put in place a health care infrastructure for orphaned, special needs children that remains unrivaled. Allie’s lawyer and many in FCS held the opinion that this program would be better for Allie than the care Susan and I could provide.

After court, I had to fly back to Florida. Once I got home, this scenario was explained to Susan bluntly by an FCS social worker. “I’m not here to be your friend,” the social worker said to Susan, making her agenda known.

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