My little Ally was also fair, as was her father, and had an indistinct ethnic look about her; perhaps even a bit Polynesian-like. She became more exotic looking as she grew older. Ally was a cheerful child who loved life and loved to laugh. She was just like I remembered her mother when I first met Christina at age 3. I was 31 and was instantly drawn to her. I later learned that life had been cruel to Christina, and by age 12 she had become emotionally independent, guarded, controlling, and manipulative, and all with a smile on her face. At 16, she was unreachable. Always scheming to get what she wanted; by age 17 Christina determined that Mr. Charming, Amado, was going to be her husband and that he would be a father to Ally. Within a few months, Christina was again pregnant and moved in with Amado. This was the first time I felt I had “lost” Ally. As long as Christina was single and out having fun, I was needed to babysit Ally, sometimes for days at a time. Her mother’s selfishness and immaturity grieved me, but I was delighted to have Ally to myself as much as possible. I enrolled her in Mothers Day Out, Jr. Jazzercise, and dance classes. I took her to church. I sang to her, rocked her to sleep, showed her Shirley Temple movies, and took her shopping, to work with me and to my parents’ summer home in the mountains each year. I even let Christina tag along the first time, when Ally was 6 months old, as well as on business trips, just so I could have Ally with me. After that, she was fine with me taking Ally by herself. After all, it gave Christina more time to be a teenager. My husband, my mother and sisters all thought I was obsessed, and I suppose I was; but I saw it as fulfilling a mission and taking care of the gift that God had given me. When Christina moved in with Amado, she took Ally with her, and I was devastated. I was jealous of Amado and resentful of his new role in Ally’s life. In my mind, I was her protector and caretaker, because Christina was too selfish and immature to be so. My husband and my mom tried to convince me that Ally was not mine and that I did not have the right to be resentful. I couldn’t make them understand that God had given her to me. Yes, I knew she wasn’t mine, but I was supposed to see to her welfare. That meant giving her what she needed, but more importantly, I believed it meant that I was to keep her as close to me as possible and to shield her from the unhealthy lifestyle of Christina and Amado, and the constant arguing, yelling, and emotional neglect. To my relief, they allowed me to continue taking Ally to Mothers Day Out on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and more often than not, that turned in to her being with me from Monday night until Thursday afternoon and many weekend nights. Christina also was happy for me to take Ally to church with me on Sundays. I did not know that by then Christina not only had another out of wedlock pregnancy to deal with, and no marriage proposal from Amado, but that he had what she later referred to as a “drinking problem”, and that she was often left alone while Amado was out carousing in the sports clubs and strip bars. She did not have the emotional wherewithal to take care of a toddler. I was more than happy to take on that role. Every day I grew to love Ally more and more. My love for her was intense and consuming, and I saw her as my mission to protect and disciple and also to remove her from their dysfunction as often as possible.
I volunteered to serve dinner to the homeless men at the Union Gospel Mission last night. This is something I have wanted to do since I read the book Same Kind Of Different As Me. As I filled the space in each divided plate with salad, I tried to make a connection with each man. Most did not make eye contact; some did, and others expressed thanks and appreciation. A few even quipped about not wanting salad or responded to my teasing that they need more greens. Equal numbers of white, black, and brown, they were all there to receive a free meal and a bed in exchange for listening to a sermon. I was told that many were probably drunk and/or high and had spent their day under the bridge, but that some had spent the day in therapy, rehab, training, and job searches. As I looked into their eyes, I wondered about each man’s story. What had brought them there? What had happened to bring them to the point of homelessness? What about their family? What did they think of those of us who were serving them? I wondered about their future. I wanted to talk to each and every one and hear their story. Do they feel unlovable? Do they feel unloved?
It would be easy to assume that they will be helped and tended to and taken care of. They will be taught and trained and counseled. They will learn that they are loved. Yet I cannot ignore this feeling that I should be a part of that. Is it guilt? Sympathy? Or a calling? I have not been able to stop thinking about those men; their eyes seemed to say so much. I don’t know what is in store for me, or how I am to be used, but I think I need to return. Whether it is my life that is to be changed or one of theirs, I am not certain, but I resolve to take this step. I will not let fear or laziness or indifference prevent me from exploring this opportunity and from beginning this journey.