Thursday last, and I photograph children whose faces will not grace my website or even this blog post. I photograph children whose stories are hard, sad, broken. They, wards of the state, stare into my camera wearing stories too big for years too few to have seen so much of life. Some smile, resilience written by hope searing through pain, shining. Some barely hold eye contact, the shutter’s clicks unable to coax anything close to a grin. They range in age from infant to sixteen. The state hopes these photographs will help them find a home. For me these photographs mean I have a face, a name for my evening prayers. I photograph these children, foster kids, because it’s what I know I can do for them now.
In telling you this brief story of my Thursday, I hope it provokes your heart to pray for the little ones whose stories are bigger than them and whose hardships just might suffocate the life out of them if we don’t step in and look at their stories, their faces- and validate them. They are here, alive. They are here, alive, which means God dreams something more for them than a story of sixteen homes in three short years. I photograph 27 kids in a few hours as the sun blazes. In between photos we eat cookies and drink lemonade, and some tell stories and some mention dreams and some don’t say a word. A few are bright, and one wonders how they maintain that disposition as CPS navigates them through the foster care system. Some are slow and struggle, and whether it was by birth or circumstance, I do not know. Most seem resigned to their story.
A couple of the foster moms move me to tears- an African American woman, middle-aged, mother to two she’s already adopted. She ushers five Mexican kids, ranging in age from 1-12, into the University Park home where the photo shoot takes place. The baby on her hip looks nothing like her but clings to the only mom she’d ever known, so clearly wanted. She clucks at the kids to smile when it is their turn. She urges them to pick out a book from the pile stacked on a dining room table, a collection from the neighborhood’s castoffs. I feel her love- fierce, determined- as she tells me she wants to adopt all five. Will I take their picture when they become a real family? I think they are already a real family. I am staring in the face of a real live superhero, and she holds that baby and wipes a runny-nosed toddler’s face, and the older children help her strap the younger ones into car seats. And then I don’t just think they are a family; I know it. I hope the state agrees soon.
Another woman leads in six kids, all of them clearly special needs, a parade of temper tantrums by children far too old for such behavior and toddler minds forced to grow into teenaged bodies. I only photograph one of her kids, and she tells us she’d adopted five of the eleven who live with her. She wants to adopt the girl I photograph too. She’s 11, and her mannerisms match a three-year-old, innocent and volatile. I wonder how her foster mom has the time, the strength to keep giving love to so many who need so much. She takes all the hand-me-down clothing the host offers as she guides her crew back to their car. She chooses those kids- the ones who look funny and act strangely- and she wants them. In choosing those kids she too chooses a superhero identity: selfless compassion and endless grace.
The last child is a girl, ten. She chirps her way through her photos, her freckled face expectant as she tells me she hopes to be adopted. She pets the dogs and watches the fish and moves from kitchen counter to piano and back while her foster mom talks of life in the country and horses and acres of land that is good for kids. After they leave, I feel tired- all those kids and all those stories in so little time.
And tonight I’m editing those photos, staring at the faces of little ones you cannot see here. In some of their eyes I see my own reflection. The light of the sun hits the camera just so sometimes and reflects in the subject’s eye, and the image created bears a picture within it of the one who takes the photo. All those kids, when I photographed them, I told them that. I showed them on the camera screen. “I’ll remember you,” I told them. “And when you look at the picture, you can remember me, because you’ll be able to see me.”
I wanted them to know they are remembered. I hope that they know they will not be forgotten. I pray that they’ll find their ways into families. And I trust a God who redeems stories no matter how broken. He who made them, he really remembers, and they bear his image on their little souls. No amount of brokenness or hurt can take that away. I understand the resilience hope writes on some of their faces: redemption writes a better story.