Her almond-shaped, chocolate eyes still haunt me. “Where is she right now?” is a question that keeps running through my heart as my mind rummages through a long running debate over where my responsibility to the helpless begins and ends.
It was one of those rare sunny mornings that had no definite time frame. Usually when I travel 70 West, it’s with a time-crunch pushing me from behind and the clock urging me to run faster. But this day, the morning was open to possibilities and fun. My husband and I were heading to pick up one of our little ones with plans to play at the river.
Thankfully, I wasn’t texting, or engrossed in something on my phone. LeRoy was driving and both of us saw her at the same time. There in our lane, on a major highway with cars running sixty-plus miles-per-hour, a little one was toddling along completely unaware of the danger.
Still in diapers.
Smiling and toddling.
Toddling down the middle of the highway, surrounded by passing vehicles, this little one showed no fear.
No tears, only smiles and those chocolate eyes.
The car directly in front of us could easily have missed seeing her and mowed her down. They put on their brakes at the same time that we did, and three car doors swung open in unison. One momma reached her just before I did, picking up the sweet girl and stepping out of the highway, and there we all stood, we three mother-strangers staring at this little one with wide-eyed terror. We knew how close she came to having her life extinguished—but little chocolate eyes was completely unaware.
My husband and the other driver pulled their cars out of the road. Another vehicle pulled in behind us, with a school counselor wearing her official badge. She had seen the toddler in the road, too, and interrupted her trek to work to stop and be part of this rescue operation. The counselor’s face was full of concern, but also full of the familiarity of seeing the unprotected exposed to danger.
The toddler’s little face never showed concern. Those large chocolate drops scanned us one by one, as we spoke calmly to her, concerned she might have a melt-down. She didn’t seem alarmed by the fact that strangers had snatched her up and whisked her out of busy traffic.
I had an eerie feeling this wasn’t her first time to be rescued by unfamiliar faces.
We were standing in an overgrown yard, but had no idea if this was the house where she belonged. Her only reply to our questions was “Dog . . .” pointing to the large dog inside the fence beside the house. She gave us no name, no indication of age, no hint as to where she’d come from. She was just a little thing, fat stubby legs, diaper-covered bottom, a small t-shirt hanging loosely, and those chocolate eyes.
I crossed the yard to the house and knocked on the door several times, but no response. My husband knocked on doors adjacent to the house, but no one answered. Before we could find anyone who would claim her, a deputy from the County Sheriff’s Department pulled into the drive where we were standing. He asked us a few questions and headed to neighboring houses to begin a search. My husband decided to try knocking on the door of the house whose yard we’d taken over, one more time, but this time, the door moved slightly open under the pressure of his knock. No one there, so he yelled inside. Still no response.
The deputy returned and was asking for our information when two more squad cars arrived. A crowd had grown in the small yard, and still, little chocolate eyes wasn’t saying a word, wasn’t shedding a tear. She seemed to be familiar with the chaos and trauma. The momma who scooped her up out of the road, wasn’t releasing this little one, she held on tight as the deputy asked her to describe what happened.
And then the door to the house slowly opened wide and the actual momma quietly stepped out into the bright morning.
The young momma rubbed her eyes, those same chocolate drops, and in a strange way didn’t appear surprised, distressed, or affected at all by the fact that strangers were standing in her yard, with her little one in the arms of another momma, while gun-toting civil authorities searched for answers with little notebooks and questions spoken into shoulder-strapped-radios. We all just stopped to stare at her as she lazily gazed back at us.
The “rescue momma” didn’t move. I could tell she wasn’t ready to release her charge—even if this was the actual mother of our little chocolate eyed girl. The deputy approached and the newcomer gave her name, let us know that, yes, she was her momma and this little one’s name is Mackenzie.
Mackenzie . . . such a big name for such a little one.
Reluctantly, Mackenzie was handed over, and the real momma took her and slumped into a dilapidated chair on the small porch. Mackenzie immediately crawled out of her lap, unconcerned and also seemingly unattached to her “real” mom. She was more interested in the group now crowding around the porch, and the large uniformed man who was drilling her momma with questions.
Answers came tumbling out of the sleepy mom’s mouth without any sign of remorse or concern. This mom’s little one was just rescued from what could’ve been tragedy—but her face or voice showed no emotion.
Yes, this had happened before. Just a week before, staying in a different place, our chocolate-drop-girl wandered down a major thoroughfare across town, until she found safety (and something to eat) in a doughnut shop. On that first escape, the mom was reprimanded, and everyone understood that little ones can get out of sight before you know it, and that was that.
Now, a week after that incident, they were spending the night at this house, “No it’s not their home” she tells the officer, just stayed there overnight and “someone must’ve left the door unlocked when they left.” The school counselor looked at the uniformed officer closest to me and let him know that she is a mandated reporter. He looked at me and told me that he had my information and I was free to go. The other officer was dictating instructions to an invisible person on the other end of the radio waves, with his head turned away from the group. They started disbursing us.
I looked at little Mackenzie and I wanted to grab her up. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay and talk with this momma, wanted to hear her story, wanted to cry, wanted to pray over her and her little one. I wanted to ask her where she actually lives, ask her if she needed help . . . but the Sherriff’s Deputy was in full command now, and he was sending us on our way.
We pray for her and we wonder. Where does our responsibility begin and end? We know it was no accident that we were traveling that way, at that exact moment, no accident that we were able to see her and stop.
What does God require of us?
As we drive away, we rehash an old conversation.
We can’t take home every lost soul we find. We can’t mend every broken heart and meet every desperate need. We can’t minister to all who need a healing balm, but we minister to who God entrusts to us, in what manner and for what season that He supplies the grace and opportunity.
My mind returns to a day more than eight years ago, and the wee one I held while the police took her mother away in handcuffs—again. I couldn’t be her momma, couldn’t take her in as my own, but I still have the opportunity to love on her and pour truth into her life. She no longer lives with her momma, who is long gone now, but her Mi-Mi faithfully carries her to our church.
Through my mind runs face after face of little ones, broken ones, needy ones, all helpless, all in need of rescue . . . but ones that are beyond my capacity to alleviate their suffering. My offering and service is so pitifully small when I look at it in comparison to the enormous need.
Where does my responsibility begin and end?
Jesus provides some insight into this dilemma:
[box]But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away. (Luke 4:25–30)[/box]
Whenever I want to bring another little one home, take in a troubled teen, or take on the task of finding homes for all the homeless in our community . . . I remember that even the Savior of the world didn’t heal every illness or rescue every child in need. There were many lepers when God sent the prophet to bring the healing message to one. Only one.
When we drive past the house where we found the chocolate-eyed girl, it looks completely abandoned now, no cars, no signs of life, and I wonder. Where is that little one? And I pray. I know that God is able to rescue, He knows where she is and I may not be able to do more, but I can pray.
One day God may direct us to become foster parents. Or He may send another battered wife into our lives to care for. God may challenge us to take in an inmate as she transitions to the free world. He may have a ministry waiting for us that no one else wants. We’ve taken in troubled and broken people at different points in our lives, but for this season, He has given us a different assignment. And although, my heart wants to bring home every chocolate-eyed child, and rescue every abused wife . . . that isn’t His assignment for us today.
Image courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net/David Castillo Dominici