Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Abandonment and Children

Yesterday I listened to Mark Stibbe speak about healing abandonment and the orphan heart condition. It was a great day (apart from the pews/greyhound stalls. For 6 hours.)

The author Jacqueline Wilson came to mind so clearly. Not because I was thinking about anything in her past (honest! the leaders' day was about me examining myself!) but because I found my mind turning to the young who are hurting in THIS country, who feel grief stricken and abandoned. How could the church help? What might I be able to facilitate? I was thinking about a meeting I have set up between a secular charity that supports Young Carers and a couple of our missional expressions (MEs). The charity had asked me if they could refer young children and teenagers who are caring for a sick parent to us for love and support. We'd love to help.

This contact has made me very excited about the increasing role the church in Britain could have to drive forward a manifesto of love, without conditions (you need to do this for me, come to this church service for me etc), simply demonstrating the love the Father has shown to us. One of my most favourite topics of conversation with people who are not yet Christians is to honour them in their role of being mum or dad - to thank them for allowing us to look after their children at our clubs/parties/summer club, with genuine feeling I love saying that we just want to support them in the hard task of being a good mum or dad. And I know we hold key information to heal up hurting hearts to make parenting even easier and better. I'm longing for MORE opportunities to show Jesus. I walk through the playground less often now as my children are getting bigger, but enough times in a week to pray for mums and dads waiting on the most precious possession of theirs to hurtle out the doors....

In addition, for children and teenagers who are hurting, what could I write or do one day in future years that would be a resource or a help to them? How could I spread the message of what God thinks; how he longs to heal and help. I was thinking about my links with social workers and my many years in education, and I was letting my mind have blue sky dreams.

But then I thought of how I would love to talk to Jacqueline Wilson, interview her, in order that I could understand her writing better. My daughter devours every book that she writes and she is discussed and studied in class. She has tapped into something that children identify with and writes in a style that engages them.

A central theme in many of her books is that of abandonment. Her characters find themselves in dark circumstances, facing up to the fact that the grown-up world offers death, divorce, abandonment. They feel grief, rage and pain as a result. She is known for writing about the powerful emotions children feel with immense truthfulness rather than treating children as little creatures inhabiting their own sweet world.

There are some fascinating discussions on the Mumsnet forum regarding JW books...but that's an aside!

My daughter recently read the book "Hetty Feather" and was desperate for us to visit The Foundling Museum in London in our February break. We did and I found it such an emotional experience. I would urge any blog readers to go there if you can, its hidden away (use the website to help you get there) and quite small, but immensely moving.

More than 4,000 babies were left at the Foundling Hospital between 1741 and 1760, and a small object or token, usually a piece of fabric, was kept as an identifying record. The fabric was either provided by the mother or cut from the child’s clothing by the hospital's nurses. Attached to registration forms and bound up into ledgers, these pieces of fabric form the largest collection of everyday textiles surviving in Britain from the 18th Century.

The process of giving over a baby to the hospital was anonymous. It was a form of adoption, whereby the hospital became the infant’s parent and its previous identity was effaced. The mother’s name was not recorded, but many left personal notes or letters exhorting the hospital to care for their child. Occasionally children were reclaimed. The pieces of fabric in the ledgers were kept, with the expectation that they could be used to identify the child if it was returned to its mother.

The textiles are both beautiful and poignant, embedded in a rich social history. Each swatch reflects the life of a single infant child.

I found it hard to hold back the tears as I walked round this exhibit and I felt the Father say: this abandonment has marked this city (London)

Yet allow me to honour the charity who started the Foundling Hospital. Coram. Founded by Captain Thomas Coram, a philanthropist who wanted to provide care for children left dying on London’s streets, Coram is believed to be the UK's first ever children’s charity. Their pioneering work attracted some historically significant patrons including the artist William Hogarth and composer George Frideric Handel.

Hetty Feather, in Jaqueline Wilson's book, was in the care of the Foundling Children's Hospital in the 1880s and it remained open till as late as 1954, when the Children Act changed what children needed from charities. A move to see children placed with families rather than in institutions re-orientated the work of the charity.

Coram's website says: Over 270 years later, what we do makes a real difference to children. Our adoption service has one of the highest success rates in the country. 98% of parents on our family support programmes say that our work brings positive change.

Father, thank you for the pioneering work done by people who loved children and who still continue this today. Please bless the charity in their task of helping human beings to flourish.


  1. As a divorced kid growing up in Leith - I loved the Jacqueline Wilson books - she was just coming into the limelight as I was at the latter stages of primary school. It helped me understand what some of my friends were going through, but I also could relate somewhat to the character of Andy in 'The Suitcase Kid'.

    I don't know if you've read 'From Orphans To Heirs' by Mark Stibbe - it's one of the books on the training course reading list I'm running just now - this weekend we're looking at parenting, adoption and practical support.

  2. great recommendation LA, I need to get some personal funds together to buy that one and "I am your father".


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