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The Power of Presence

Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend a recital for beautiful six-year-old Little Bit. It was her first introduction into the world of dance, and the first time I had the opportunity to be with her and her family in a few months. When the recital was over her family and ours spilled into a local restaurant so we could catch up. Little Bit and her two siblings spent a year experiencing foster care in our daughter and son-in-law’s home before gaining three more siblings and two parents when they were adopted into their forever home last fall.


As we sat at the table enjoying our lunch and our time together, we began playing one of the kids’ favorite games. Each took a turn commandeering our phones using the search field in our photo files, they isolated the pictures they were in, and scrolled through their newly created album. The photos on my phone and on Emily and Curtis’ phones span from the time the kids arrived to their home nearly two years ago at ages 4, 5 and 6, through the photos shared with us by their mom in their forever home, pictures received as recently as the day before.


The table was filled with laughter and shrieks of “remember when…” as they scrolled and shared photos with the brother and mom and dad and grandparents they gained in the adoption. It didn’t take long for their brother to raise his hand and ask, “now, who is BB?” Seven-year-old Little Man took the question and explained as he pointed first to me, and then to Emily and Curtis, “This is BB, she is Emily’s mom. Emily and Curtis were my mom and dad when we lived with them.” A simple explanation, a profound realization on my part of the gift I have been given when these kids welcomed me into their lives.


As this scene unfolded before me, I couldn’t help but reminisce about some of the seemingly little things I did over the course of the year these kids were part of our family’s lives, the little things that allowed me to have a place at this table. There were mornings I left my house by 5:30 am, to make the drive to another town, arriving at the elementary school in time for the 15 minute “Difference Maker” program before school began, or end of the year Kindergarten program or the Pre-K drop off. Those mornings, if I am honest, I almost didn’t make the drive. Three hours in a car seemed a lot for such brief encounters and these things did not pass the “logic test.” I wonder now, if I had not made those drives, and invested time with the kids in other ways, if I would have even known what I would have missed.


As I began this blog, I did not set out to write about vulnerability in the ways this has unfolded. You see, when we talk about CASA, it is the children and youth we assign as ‘vulnerable’ not us. It is our role to advocate for those who are vulnerable. Meaningful connection, however, often only happens when we allow our hearts, and not our logic, to drive the bus.


As I reflect over my time this weekend with the kids, I am reminded how our CASA volunteers model this intentionality and presence so well. Just yesterday one of our CASA volunteers stopped by the office. One of her CASA kids had just moved from a foster home into a group home and she was searching for some ideas to brighten up what felt like such a sterile environment. I thought of my experience and quickly realized what that CASA was doing, the care she shows, the presence she is in the life of this youth – this is the very thing that prompts me to repeat the chorus, there is nothing like a CASA volunteer.


She is not alone. It is the CASA volunteer who made the drive to Douglasville to have coffee with the birth mom of the child for whom she was appointed. The mom had an appointment to enter an addiction recovery center later that afternoon, and the CASA recognized the need to encourage and be present with mom in these critical hours. Her presence made all the difference. Or the CASA volunteer who made the three-hour drive to visit the youth to whom he was appointed to bring the youth some of his personal things, things left behind in his recent move.  A skateboard, his music, things that were important to him, things he missed in this new place that seemed so far from things familiar. Or the CASA volunteer who planned her visit to the school on grandparents’ day knowing her CASA child did not have anyone to sit in the seat reserved for her grandparent that day. Her presence made the difference for a little girl.

A friend recently pushed me to quantify that statement I often repeat, there is simply nothing like a CASA volunteer. What is it that I mean when I say this? I think it is as simple as the lesson a six-year old dancer and our CASA volunteers help clarify for me. The more one allows one's heart to open, the greater the depth of complexity and potential for greater joy, and sometimes, greater heartbreak. What I continue to be reminded is only when I allow myself to be vulnerable, to trust my heart over the fear of heartbreak, am I invited to sit in such sacred spaces as a table at a restaurant after a dance recital to share in the lives of an amazing family.


Life is fuller, richer, and quite a ride without the guardrails. I don't think we are supposed to live with guardrails.