When I returned to the Washington County courthouse to observe my second hearing prior to being sworn in as a CASA, which is to happen soon , I had the chance to read the thorough, and somewhat depressing, initial report by the CASA. The most telling parts of the report were the evident love that the parents and children have for each other, the immense hostility the parents have for each other, and the fact that the parents appear to have deep issues, multi-generational issues even, without there being any progress. In reading the report and in listening to the discussions of the various attorneys and other parties at the court hearing, it was clear that there were two different levels that the case was dealing with, and that this case was the sort of story I am all too familiar with and that hit rather close to home.
What are we to do when two parents with serious issues and dark personal backgrounds love their children but act in immense hostility towards each other? Over and over again, in a variety of contexts, one sees precisely that dynamic, the hallmark of a dysfunctional family. It was deeply unpleasant to sit in a courtroom and listen to a rather tough judge, the same one I had heard last week lecture a parent on the “pretty crappy standard” of only providing a minimum level of care, tell the people in the courtroom that she was dissatisfied at the lack of progress that people were taking and that there would be changes if this lack of progress continued. She did not sound like someone who was making idle threats, nor someone who was accepting the piteous line of one of the attorneys about the great misfortunes of his client. There appeared to me to be a great gulf between head and heart, where people spoke in polite circumlocutions and sought to pass of responsibility to others, or struggled to retain hope in the face of immense and continual difficulty.
Yet despite the widespread dissatisfaction with the lack of progress on all sides, I found myself with a great deal to empathize, and it was clear that my own background is something that is shared by all too many people. Sitting in the small courthouse, reflecting on the fact that the world of Washington County juvenile court is a very small one where the various professionals tend to know each other well—I saw three people this week in this case that had been in the courtroom the previous week, the same judge and two of the same court-appointed attorneys representing two different clients. I chatted in Spanish with some people present for another case with an adorable nine-month old, and recognized that but for the grace of God, I could have very easily found myself in that particular world in a role that I would not have wanted. I saw families with serious problems but also genuine love, and that is something I can relate to from a variety of perspectives, from my own experience and also in my observation of other families not so different from my own. Had matters been only slightly different, I could have found myself being represented by a court-appointed attorney in an embarrassing situation like this one.
In looking at the brokenness of the world around, my heart goes out to the broken people struggling in their broken lives. And yet at the same time as my heart goes out to them, my mind tells me that these people are clearly not doing enough, not making enough progress, and not taking the full advantage of the resources available to them who would be willing to help if they were willing to take the necessary steps to change. Both the head and the heart are needed—if one only had the heart, then one would enable the continuance of the brokenness that exists in these lives, and if one only had understanding and insight with no compassion, one would have no patience or graciousness to the suffering that so many have in their lives. It gave me something to be grateful to God about, for despite my many issues, God has delivered me from fates that would be worse than what I have experienced, but fates that I can see as possible, if not probable, outcomes based on the circumstances that I was given. It was certainly not my own wisdom or strength that saved me from such a fate, but something far more far-feeing.
I do not know what will happen to the family whose disaster I witnessed this morning. I do not know if they will take the steps needed to make progress in their lives, if they will find themselves reunified in some sense, or if they will be scattered and broken apart and their division made permanent. I do not know if the parents will ever stop blaming each other for the problems on the family and will take some responsibility for themselves, and to realize that unless they work together, that their children will likely continue to suffer. Those who follow the Anna Karenina theory of families will argue that all unhappy families are unhappy different ways, but the same ways appear over and over again—backgrounds of abuse, lack of trust, mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse, generational patterns of failure that are replicated over and over again. Success requires families to get a lot right, but many times failure is widespread as well, and yet at times God is merciful in ways we do not understand or realize, until we are placed face to face with what we could be, and are grateful for the differences that we find.
 See, for example: