The Girl That Nobody Wanted........
( This is a continuation of my experiences at the MD Salem Children's Home and School . Former entries are here and here . *Names changed for privacy......)
*Ella is not your typical thirteen year old. While most girls her age are starting to distance themselves from the adults in their lives and shy away from public affection from grown-ups, Ella likes to snuggle up next to me under an afghan when we watch movies. She likes to lay her head on my shoulder during our church service. She WANTS to stay with me at the mall instead of hanging out with friends..........
I first met Ella when I went back to work at the Salem School part-time when my son was almost three. She was a new resident in the residential program and was in the classroom where I spent most of my time as an aide. She was only ten then. Her dad had brought her to Salem, stating that she was "troubled" and was threatening her new stepmom. He then skipped town without leaving a new address or phone number.
We later found out Ella had first been living with her mom, who's new boyfriend didn't like kids..... So mom sent Ella to live with her dad. But Ella didn't get along with Stepmom, so dad brought her to Salem and never contacted her again.
During Ella's first several weeks at Salem, many days found her curled up under her desk sobbing. A ten year old girl feeling abandoned, lost, and in despair. Her teacher would often crawl under the desk and hold her. We didn't force her to get up or do her work during those early weeks......we let her mourn. That is part of what makes Salem such a special place........ a teacher can hug a child, pray with a child, and cater to each child's individual needs and circumstances.
As Ella eventually started to adjust to her new setting, I spent a lot of time teaching her and another boy, *Jay, individually. The class she was in was full of some very explosive children at the time, with Ella and Jay being the exception. So, many days, I would take their schoolwork outside and we would sit at the picnic tables or on the swingset and have class.... just the three of us. It was during this time that the bonding between Ella and I began. Ella wasn't used to consistent affection and it showed. She really had NO idea how to show affection....not only that, but she was afraid to. Her heart had been broken and it was slow going letting someone else into it. She would always hover close to me and other staff she really liked, but she would be really sarcastic and tease. Sometimes her words were almost spiteful. But we all realized it was her attempt at trying to be close to someone. She preferred being with staff rather than with other kids.....especially female staff. We reminded ourselves that she was only ten, such a young and vulnerable age where most girls are still very attached to their mothers. We went out of our way to give Ella LOTS of hugs....sometimes just putting our arm around her while we talked to her. She would lower her head to try to hide the ear-to-ear grin. And, eventually, she started coming to us and initiating these hugs or touch.
Ella often earned lunches out with her teachers because of good behavior, and relished the one-on-one attention. And on top of her relationships at the school, she was receiving loving structure and consistency in the house she lived in through the residential program. Ella began to thrive, even amidst a deep longing to go home. Unfortunately, there was no home for Ella to go to.... and her social worker really had no long-term plan for her because no relatives were coming forth to express interest in taking Ella except an elderly grandmother who didn't have the means to. Children like Ella would thrive in a foster home, but like most areas, there is a shortage of them. Salem fills in the gap for these less troubled children, providing them the closest thing to a home-like setting until one can be found.
As the school year began to come to a close, my husband accepted a job in another state that required us to move over an hour away. It wasn't a place either of us were really excited about moving to. After seven years of making a life and niche for myself in my husband's hometown....and the many, many children who had become a part of my life through Salem, it seemed a lot to uproot just to move an hour away. But we really didn't have an option. The last weeks of school at Salem were also the REAL last weeks for me to say good-bye to all the children permanently, after almost seven years of my life with them. And there were a few, like Ella, that made it an especially heart-wrenching ordeal. One night at our home, I finally broke down in front of my husband and cried for hours. I felt I was one more person who had come into their lives and then left. I felt I was abandoning them. Although I stopped working there for a couple of years after I had my son, I maintained contact with the children and we were a resource family for a couple of the kids. Even as I write this, I have to hold back tears, as the emotions are still so raw and strong from seven years that changed me and will linger inside me forever.
The farewell cards I received from the children are a treasure to me, even now....tucked away in a manilla envelope in my bedroom. So many expressed words of thanks, love, and affection that I never thought capable of coming from them. And Ella, through her card, pleaded with me not to leave and told me to please come visit as much as I could. I didn't know how I would maintain contact, but I knew I would. And I didn't know what Ella's future might hold, but I knew God had a plan for her life..... a plan to prosper her and not to harm her.... a plan for hope and a future. God says in His word that He places the lonely in families and that He will bind up the broken-hearted, and that is my continued prayer for all the children at Salem. I may not be with them physically anymore, but I can pray and plead and intercede on their behalf before their heavenly Father, who loves them way beyond what my human heart could.
Ella's story does not end here.....and neither does our intertwined life with her. But this is all I can write today. God DID have a plan for her and a miraculous thing is in the works... a story that seems to have a happy ending and will be forthcoming. In the meantime, won't you join me in interceding before God for Ella and the thousands of children in the world like her? Pray that God WILL place them in families, heal their wounded souls, and bring about redemption from the evil and darkness of their former lives. Pray specifically for Ella's circumstance...... and I hope to share good news about her future soon.....