(The following blog, or shall I say chapter of a book (because it’s SO LONG!) is just that- just a chapter. This isn’t my whole story, it’s only part. And although I’m still trying to make sense of it all, and you may be too after you read it, I know this is part of the tapestry that God is weaving together to make His name great and is glory known through my life. I hope that you will be encouraged to press on, no matter the difficult journey you may be facing, have faced, or might face in the future. And of course, I hope you’ll read to the end.)
Tuesday, December 12th, started out like most days. Kids got up, had a quick breakfast, and we had to be out the door for a review day at our homeschool co-op. Our co-op hadn’t actually met for a couple of weeks due to Thanksgiving break, so we were a little out of the routine. And not unusually for us, we were running late.
Since we were not having a typical co-op day, and it was review + decorating Christmas cookies day, we were asked to bring along something to share. I had avocados at home, so I whipped up a quick batch of guacamole. However, there were no chips in my pantry, so I decided we would make a quick pit stop to Target on the way. When I got in the car, the time was around 9:37am. Our meeting time was 9:45.
As I pulled into Target, I made the conscious decision to leave my kids in the car. This was NOT typical for me. In fact, I had only made this decision ONE other time. I knew I was running in and out, and that Annie was capable of locking the door behind me. When I pulled into my little parking space, I pulled right next to a lady in a maroon SUV. She was sitting in her car on the phone, and for some reason, I had a check in my spirit. But as usual, in the habit of busyness and rushing around, I ignored the “nudge”.
I got out of the car, gave Annie clear instructions to lock the door behind me, and to not open the door for ANYONE, including someone she might know. (The other two littles were in the car as well, but had no capability to unstrap themselves from their carseats). I literally RAN into the store, saw that Tostitos chips were at the front of the store (in the bargain section). I grabbed two different bags, grabbed a 20 oz. Dr. Pepper from one of the little check-out refrigerators, and I checked myself out. I then RAN right back out of the store. In and out.
When I got to my van, Annie unlocked the door for me, the kids were all still happy, but the lady I had parked next to, was now standing behind my van on the phone.
“Mom, when you were gone, that lady was looking into our van.” -Annie
“Well, did you talk to her?” – Me
“No. She was just looking in and talking on her phone.” -Annie
My heart sank. I knew instantly. She had called the police.
I immediately called Jordan and relayed to him the entire story. He reassured me that this was probably the least of worries in the police department and that nothing would happen. I then called my dad, who happens to be a Texas State Trooper. He said, “Don’t worry about it. If the police come and ask you questions, just tell them the truth.”
We pulled into our co-op review, and I was still very much shaken. If you know me at all, you know that I am extremely sensitive. If you tell me not to cross a line, I will not. I will rarely even ask questions as to why. And if I deserve punishment, I’ll punish myself before anyone else can get to me. I guess I’m just hard on myself. (Ask my parents. No seriously, ask them.)
As we walked into our meeting, I told all of the fellow homeschool moms what had happened. My director then said, “Not to scare you, but this same thing just happened in Kentucky, and it got bad. Call your husband right away.” (The story she was referring to can be found here.)
I called Jordan again, but he didn’t seem too alarmed.
So away we went with our review. I was in charge of quizzing kids on the timeline. So kids were coming to me and I was putting stamps into their “review passports”. But then, Jordan started calling my phone. I didn’t answer. Called again. Couldn’t answer. Called again, and I finally just told the kids “just one minute, please.”
“You’re not going to believe this,” Jordan said, “but the policeman just left our house.” (Jordan works from home most days, so he was able to answer the door when police showed up.)
“No, I’m not. His name was officer [so-and-so]. He said that a woman called to report that you had left your 4 year-old and two toddlers in the van for 5 minutes at the Target parking lot.” (Our kids are 7, almost 4 at the time, and 2.)
“Oh. My. Goodness.”
The conversation continued and Jordan relayed everything that was said. And I was shaking. Literally. It took everything within me not to start crying in the middle of review in front of these students.
However, we thought that was the end of it.
The entire afternoon, I beat myself up for my decision. “If I could just go back to this morning and change it, I would.” I cried off and on. More on than off. When Jordan returned from his staff meeting, I almost collapsed into his arms. He knew how hard that morning had been already, so he had brought a dozen roses home as well.
Our night continued like normal. Made dinner. Gave the kids a bath. PJs on and milk. And started Wheel of Fortune. (For whatever reason, my kiddos love to watch Wheel of Fortune, as do we.)
But then, came some more knocks at the door.
Annie, being the ever-so-extroverted child, ran to the door. She peeked out the side window and said “Mom, the police are here.” My heart sank to my knees.
[Jordan opened the door] “Hi, we’re here to see a Mrs. Henderson,” one of them said.
I came to the door. And at this point, I knew our “warning” was no longer the end. We then left the kids in the house, while the two officers asked questions regarding our morning, told me that had just reviewed the surveillance video from Target (and said I was in at 9:40am and out by 9:43 am), they had shown the content to the Sergeant, and were now coming to give me a citation for “child abuse/neglect without injury” and I had a court appearance the following morning at 8 am.
If I had been shaking that morning, my knees were now buckling. Literally. I had to squat down to keep from passing out. No sooner than the policemen left, I burst into hysterics. I couldn’t believe that my three-minute decision now put me in a category of “child abuser”.
Listen, I am with my kids almost EVERY second of every day. I homeschool them, so they are constantly in my care. And I would NEVER ever, ever want to put my kids in a precarious situation. Do I see now how my decision was not the wisest decision? Of course. But did I think at the time that it was a poor decision? Absolutely not.
You see, I grew up in a generation where you played outside, unsupervised (gasp!) until mom called us in for dinner. We walked to school starting in kindergarten, which means I was 5. And we didn’t shop along with my parents at Wal-Mart (we didn’t have Target back then); we would go look at toys. They would give us a time, and if we weren’t up at the front when they were ready to go, so long… they would leave us. So we knew we better be up there when they were done shopping. So when I thought my fully capable, extremely intelligent 7 year-old daughter could lock the door behind me and watch her brother and sister for THREE minutes, I didn’t think I was making a bad parenting decision. (Also, for a very eye-opening read, please, please, PLEASE read this: A Fragile Generation)
All night, I tossed and turned. I replayed the entire day in my mind. My knees would not quit shaking, even as I lied in bed. I was almost in shock. No, I was in shock. I didn’t even know what to say. Jordan was a trooper and was on the phone with family and lawyers all evening, trying to figure out how we could best navigate the situation that we were currently facing. I’m so thankful that he was such an advocate for me when I felt I had no voice.
“God, what are you doing? Why is this happening to me? I LOVE my kids. I miss them when they’re gone for a day. The entire quality of my motherhood is now being based on less than 5 minutes by people who don’t even know me.”
“But I know you’re heart.” -still small Voice
As I tried over and over again to fall asleep, I kept this song on repeat.
“God, I look to You, I won’t be overwhelmed. Give me vision, to see things like You do.
God, I look to You, You’re where my help comes from. Give me wisdom, You know just what to do.”
The next morning, Jordan and I got up very early, got dressed, and headed down to Castle Rock to drop the kids off at his parents’ house. We then headed to the court, heads still spinning from it all.
When we arrived, we walked through the security system, and walked to several clerks’ desks, none of whom had any information regarding our case. Since we got the citation/report for court at 7pm the previous evening, and it was now only 7:50am the next morning, our papers hadn’t even come through. The clerk sent us down to the family court district. There we waited for about an hour and a half. Finally, when the District Attorney had received our paperwork, she went over all of the legal mumbo jumbo they have to tell you. And I’m sure to her, we looked like deer in the headlights. We had no idea what we were doing. I haven’t even had a speeding ticket in my adult life!
The judge came in, and I had to go up to the stand with the microphone. Basically this first court date was to make sure that I was aware of my charges, give my kids and the “witness” a protection order, and I had to sign an extradition stating that if I left the state of Colorado, I would willingly return or that I would be forcibly brought back under arrest on my own dollar, and give me a new court date for them to decide my sentencing. Then I was ordered to get FINGERPRINTED and photographed. Legitimately, I now felt like I WAS a criminal. When I went to give my fingerprints, I so desperately wanted to explain my situation and tell the women, “I am NOT a child-abuser. I would NEVER hurt my kids!” But I knew this battle wasn’t mine to fight.
Was it enough for me to know that God knew my intentions? Did I have a grander desire to save my reputation than I did to entrust that to the One who holds the Universe together and knows the number of hairs on not just mine, but EVERY head? (I’m still not sure that I do…)
Thankfully (yet unfortunately), I’m not the first person that this has happened to. I have two friends who both have friends that this has happened to in Colorado in the last year. That same day that I had court, I spoke with this gracious and godly woman who told me her very similar story. She was so encouraging and humble, asking God to teach her through it all. She also explained to me that CPS came to her house, which gave me a new, overwhelming fear.
I went into panic. Less than 36 hours after this Target run, I felt like I might be going crazy. I was paranoid. I didn’t want to let down my blinds of fear that someone might be looking in. I didn’t want to go to the store for fear that someone might think my kids were in danger (for who knows what reason. Fear has a funny way of distorting reality and reason. And I started to clean my house frantically. I cleaned out my girls’ closet, cleaned the kitchen, put away toys, did all the laundry, cleaned toilets, closets, etc, etc, etc. Sheer panic.
Now, every time the door bell rang or someone knocked, my heart would race. Literally. Which wasn’t the best timing as it was the week before Christmas, and hello Amazon! (And it still does. Just today, when I heard a knock at the door my heart started racing, and it was only my neighbor.)
Jordan also found a great lawyer via a Facebook recommendation question, and that lawyer personally knew the DA on our case. He talked to the DA and the DA called Jordan exactly one week after the incident, and basically asked him how he wanted to prosecute me (since He is the Father of “the victims”). And since he didn’t want to seem like he wasn’t taking the whole thing seriously, he told the DA that we had already looked into some parenting classes. So she said, “take the parenting class, and we’ll dismiss the case.”
Finally, some sense of relief. Some. I should also add: I had been so stressed out from the previous week that my body was doing some weiiiirrrrdddd things.
And wouldn’t you know, the next morning, Annie comes down with the flu. She was glued to the couch, and Jordan was working, so I took Norah and Theodore with me to the Post office to drop off some family Christmas gifts (yes I took them in this time!), and we also ran to two stores to get some medicine and homeopathic medicine for Annie (yes I took them in those places too!)
But to my COMPLETE surprise, while I was at Target filling up on medicine and disinfectant, Jordan texts. “The CPS lady surprised us. She’s here asking Annie questions.” This time I thought he was joking because the kids and I were taking too long, but, he was serious.
I called my mom and my mother-in-law and relayed the quick message and asked them to pray for me. My nerves were seriously SHOT after the week I had just had, and although I had been fully prepared to have someone “surprise” my house the days before, I had finally relaxed half an inch, and my house and I were in utter disarray. I hadn’t picked up AT ALL that morning before we left to run those errands. There was still pancake batter in a bowl next to the stove, dishes everywhere, toys all around, wrapping paper all over the floor from wrapping gifts the night before. Not to mention, I hadn’t even brushed my hair or put an ounce of makeup on.
Thankfully, the case worker was extremely nice and comforting. She didn’t seem to press too hard into our lives and asked the basics of the case and some personality questions and a few parenting questions. She also asked if I thought the kids were in any way affected by me leaving them the car those three minutes. I responded with a firm “no” but told her that the situation of the police coming and court and now this seemed like it was becoming a lot for my little family to deal with. The night I got back from court, the kids and Jordan and I were all up in our room for family devotions. Norah was extra snuggly and she had asked, “Mom, are the police coming back for you?” This sweet, big-blue eyed, almost 4- year old, in all of her innocence was starting to make sense of all the events surrounding us. And Annie, sweet, curious Annie, she knew what was happening the whole time. Even though she was shy to talk to me personally about it, she was quick to tell complete strangers at the park (face-palm) and a few family members every detail of what was unfolding. The case worker said she would immediately talk to her supervisor to see if she could get our case “unfounded”.
Another piece of good news.
And then, the flu sweep. Norah Thursday night, and Theodore Friday morning.
Then. Saturday morning. Theo and Norah wake up, both have fevers. I give them both a dose of Ibuprofen and then head to the kitchen to get some milk for both of them. I heard Norah start laughing. I look up and see Theo shaking, but thought Norah was shaking him with her foot since they were both on the couch. Then I saw his face. His eyes were rolling back, and his face was turning white. “He’s having a seizure!” I yelled. Jordan was putting a DVD on for the kids so he hadn’t noticed, but he quickly scooped Theo up. Sweet Norah thought that Theo was being silly. She hadn’t ever seen a seizure before. (Theo has had one other MINOR febrile seizure while in the doctor’s office when he had Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease).
This seizure ended up being over six minutes!!! As soon as we pulled up to the Children’s ER (1 mile from our house), it finally stopped. The doctors and nurses monitored him for a couple of hours, and then we were sent home.
But the stress had done me in. And guess what, I caught the flu too. Last year, all of my kids had the flu, but I didn’t catch it. This year, I know that the stress and anxiety from the whole court case and the surprise visit and all the wondering and what ifs and spinning myself into massive anxiety literally broke down whatever immune system wall I had built. Worst sickness ever.
That Saturday, after coming home from the ER and recognizing the sickness settling into my body as well, I became very discouraged.
“Why is this all happening to me and my family? Is there some secret sin in my heart that God is trying to expose? Am I not doing His will? Is it Spiritual warfare or is this just a product of living in a fallen world.”
Nothing seemed to make sense. I couldn’t tell up from down, right from wrong, black from white. It all felt like a blur. I didn’t know how to process what was happening.
A few days later, I read that article that I had mentioned above. Although a friend and I had recently discussed this article in particular, I had never sat down and read the contents. But man, after what we had gone through, it made so much sense. I was so furious with our culture being so consumed with “safety” or the appearance of safety and not giving parents the freedom to make decisions for their own families (and I completely understand that each person we came into contact with was just doing their jobs, but I felt so misunderstood). Our culture wants us to shield our kids and protect them from all of life’s harms and failures and therefore kids grow into immature adults who don’t know how to make even the simplest decisions for themselves.
Then, it hit me like a truck.
The same frustrations I had with our parenting culture were the very things I had been asking God to do for me.
Keep me safe. Keep me out of all of life’s harm. Keep me protected. Keep me from failure. Etc. Etc. Etc.
What if the very situations of heartache and sickness were the ways in which God was allowing me to MATURE and DEEPEN my faith in Him? What if He was showing me how futile and worldly some of my desires had become by allowing me to experience the threat of losing my children? What if he was showing me that I look to my children to fulfill me more than Him? Or what if He was simply showing me that being with Him, and the hope of heaven, far outweigh any of life’s harm?
Obviously, I don’t know WHY all of what’s happened to our family has occurred in this last month. But this I know: that He is faithful. That community is beautiful. And that life is worth living.
– – – – –
I’ve been sitting on this blog for several weeks now. As life would have it, there has been more trauma in the last couple of weeks. Maybe one day, I will share it, but for now it’s too soon. Also, I haven’t published up until this point because I have been walking through legal protocol. (I will only publish after it’s all resolved, so if you’re reading this, it has been…PRAISE GOD!).
But the longer I have been able to step away, the more I see God’s hand through it all. This wasn’t one of those times where God felt super close in the midst of the storm— it’s been one of those times where I know He’s asking me to trust Him EVEN….
EVEN when you’re misunderstood…
EVEN IF life isn’t fair…
EVEN IN injustice…
EVEN IN sickness…
EVEN when the storm doesn’t seem to be clearing…
EVEN when there’s death…
Do I trust Him?
A week or so ago, I was getting Annie a snack. I’m pretty sure she’s going through a growth spurt because she is eating everything in sight! She asked if I would cut up a pineapple that we had just bought. I cut some up and gave it to her and she began to snack away.
“Mom, this pineapple is so sweet!”
“Oh good,” I said.
“Sometimes we don’t pick good ones and they’re sour,” she said.
“You’re right. But we don’t really know if it’s sweet or sour until we cut it open.”
And no sooner than those words left my mouth, the Holy Spirit was teaching me. Sometimes we don’t know what’s in the core of who we are or the real condition of our hearts until we are CUT. And although it HURTS to be cut emotionally and spiritually (it’s incredibly painful!), I think it’s one of the ways that God reveals to us where we LACK. Lack of Trust. Lack of Faith. Lack of Thankfulness, you name it. Not only that, but once we’re cut, the people around us will either see the SWEET or the SOUR that’s within. And when it’s sweet, oh what a picture of “Christ in me, the hope of glory!” (Colossians 1:27). I know that when I was “cut” over these circumstances, what oozed out of me was not always sweet, but I’m asking the Holy Spirit to show me how to live a joyful, grateful life, no matter what life throws my way.
I would never choose to walk this path again that we’ve been walking this last couple of months, but through it all, I am so thankful. I’m thankful that in the darkest places, the Holy Spirit still shines light and teaches my heart, and He’s the great Comforter. (John 14:26) I’m thankful that even when I feel alone on the journey, Christ has been my example and paved the way for how we are to live our days. (1 Peter 2:18-25). And I’m so thankful that God sent His only Son to die for us, so that in His brokenness and death, we could be made whole and alive in Jesus. And one day, ALL things will be made RIGHT. (2 Corinthians 5: 17-21)
As I write this now, I’m praying for those of you reading. If you don’t know this comfort, this example, or this hope, I pray you would look to Jesus, the AUTHOR and PERFECTER of our faith and make HIM your LORD and SAVIOR. If you’re struggling in your faith, keep looking up. This world and its troubles are passing away, but our hope and salvation endures. May you be encouraged today knowing that God is at work in YOU.
P.s. Don’t EVER leave your kids in the car to make even a quick trip. 😉