You know those picture books that start with a tiny image – as if the camera is zoomed in close – and then each page zooms out farther and farther? You don’t really understand what you’re looking at in the beginning, but then you recognize an image: a cereal bowl. Next is a picture you understand: a family eating breakfast. But on the following page you see that image is not the real story; it’s part of a larger context. The family eating is a picture on the back of a cereal box, which is on a billboard. And on it goes.
Life is like that sometimes. Even when we recognize something in view, we don’t always understand what we’re looking at. We don’t have the context.
Seeing the Big Picture
On my refrigerator is a tiny picture of a child. Her picture is there because she often goes without food. Let’s name her Joy. If I zoom out one frame, I recognize hunger and poverty. I can imagine some of the struggles that touch this child’s life, so I signed up to be her monthly food box sponsor.
As I zoom out one more frame, I recognize the landscape surrounding her. She does not live in a faraway place. No, the landscape is familiar; it is the small town just eight miles from my community.
Zoom out one more frame.
I met Joy’s grandmother, Elaine. (Neither of Joy’s parents are in the picture.) Elaine is a lovely woman. Thrilled to know that I was sponsoring Joy, she proceeded to tell me all about her sprightly granddaughter: Joy’s likes, dislikes, hilarious personality, exhausting curiosity, and the many things that set her apart from all the other grandchildren.
Standing with Elaine was Lori. Lori’s children are being sponsored, too, and they’re also Elaine’s grandchildren. Lori’s boyfriend, Elaine’s son, is the father of both sets of kids. It gets complicated, so I avoided asking too many questions. But as I listened to Lori talk, I zoomed out a few more frames.
More to the Story
A few years ago, Lori was living in a town about 60 miles west with her own mother, who became ill. Lori became her primary caregiver, while raising her own kids alone. We call this the sandwich generation. After her mother died, Lori wanted to provide a more stable, healthy environment with better schools and farmland for her family. In an effort that took two years to complete, she was able to move first into the city and then finally to this rural town. She wanted her children to be close to their grandmother.
If I closed my eyes while she spoke, I would have thought I was standing in my circle of upscale suburban moms. The new digital education initiative drove her crazy because it was so much more difficult to manage everyone’s homework and keep everyone on task. Her oldest daughter loves to read and especially loves Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. She wasn’t so different from me at all.
Recently we attended a community celebration in Elaine and Lori’s town. We really wanted to meet Joy since we had heard so many amazing things about her. My daughter, Emma, finally found Joy and confirmed that she was all that Elaine had promised. And eventually I found Lori, juggling five small children, from infant to elementary school-aged, through the food line. Any mom who has experience at a church potluck can relate.
Lori explained that Elaine was sick, so she was keeping all of the grandkids for the weekend. I don’t really remember how it came up, but Lori, pointing to Elaine’s other grandchildren (children of Lori’s boyfriend), explained quietly so the kids wouldn’t hear, “Ever since they lost their mom, I keep the three little ones with me a lot.”
That answered some of the awkward questions I politely declined from asking the week before.
As I was talking to Lori, I began to understand the big picture. She’s caring for a group of children with whom she has plenty of reasons not to bond. But they don’t have their parents. Lori is standing at the front lines in the fight to defend the fatherless.
The Real Heroines
Poverty, orphans, foster care, sex trafficking. These are the hottest topics in evangelical and social justice circles at the moment. I bet even if you don’t know the hard statistics, you know about the cycle: a majority of children involved in sex trafficking are either currently in foster care or have been involved with the child welfare system in the past.
We probably all know it is, at best, tacky to believe that we are superior to the people we want to help from our overflow of material blessing. But if we think that we are helping victims—victims of poverty, victims of circumstance—then we are quite possibly missing the bigger context.
Elaine and Lori. They are the heroes of this story. They are the ones fighting to keep kids out of the system, away from traffickers, in better schools; dealing with issues of forgiveness and restoration, interracial relationships, and elder care. They’re on the front lines, and we need to be doing everything we can to help them be successful…
Like using our fancy cameras to capture amazing pictures of Lori and Elaine and those precious children and give them prints for them to cherish.
Like finding ways to increase the kids’ respect, trust, and delight in Lori and Elaine, and protect the bond that is beautifully forming.
Like praying fervently for Lori and Elaine and each of the children.
And for mercy’s sake, making sure Lori never goes through the potluck food line alone again.
Don’t Forget to Zoom Out
So when you’re looking for inspiration in your parenting, remember that there are Loris and Elaines living near you. Maybe she has two kids, maybe she has nine. Maybe she’s caring for more than her own. Maybe she moved 60 miles to declare to her (essentially) mother-in-law, “Your people will be my people,” like Ruth said to Naomi.
And when you talk about orphans, sex trafficking, and poverty, remember the Elaines and Loris who are defending the fatherless every day.
And when you find yourself in the sandwich generation years, remember Lori, and let her exhort you to stay strong.
God doesn’t allow us to zoom out quite as far as His omniscient view. So keep in mind that you don’t always know what you’re looking at.