Raise your hand if you were traumatized by the video of Lexi being removed from her foster parent’s home.
Yeah. Me too.
I’ve read multiple articles expressing varied views, some in favor of the Choctaw Nation and seeing this as a victory for the tribe and a loss for the father, some in favor of ICWA in general, some in direct support of the Page family as they seek to get Lexi back, and perhaps most importantly the Court of Appeals Order.
I don’t really trust any of the stories I’m hearing in their entirety, but I do know the system. It is broken. But it’s also working with broken pieces. Some articles paint Lexi’s biological parents as villains, others as victims – they were probably somewhere in between. Her bio mom had already lost a battle to methamphetamine and with that had lost custody of at least six kids prior to Lexi. Bio Dad also lost custody of at least one other child, and is described as having an “extensive criminal history”. Lexi is 1/64th Indian, subjecting her to ICWA, and was described as a child who “bonded and thrived with her foster family.” The words and thrived stick in my throat. That said, the family she’s en route to, while demonized by many news outlets, first petitioned for her in 2011 and have been skyping with and visiting Lexi for years.
See, I bet some of that was new information to you. And that’s only a fraction of the details in play here.
As an Adoption Attorney and Orphan Care Advocate, I probably read some of these things with a different filter than many. ICWA isn’t new news to me – I think it’s the wrong solution to a problem. My brain does a few somersaults and sees the many conundrums and legal precedents that are butting up against each other.
As a human-being-with-a-heartbeat, I’m guessing we feel the same after we read these things. My heart twinges and breaks and aches as it seems like broken stories are only further broken. I hear so much being argued about competing rights, and a little girl named Lexi seems lost in the fray. Much like victims of frenzied stampedes in crowded places.
And I can’t help but think there could be another victim here too. More vulnerable only because it is easier to ignore, easier to overlook.
It’s the hearts of all those who stand on the edge of love. Wholehearted, fierce, unrelenting love. Especially those who stand on the verge of foster parenting and say “see, that’s why I could never do that.”
I won’t pretend I haven’t thought that as stories like this unfold.
Though to be honest, isn’t a story like this exactly why we need more and more foster families willing to risk wholehearted love? Shouldn’t every foster child “bond and thrive” with their foster families? Some of the tragic and untold stories are of foster homes where love isn’t offered at all. Science tells us that attachment is one of the most important things a child can experience at a young age. In that, the Pages offered Lexi – and whatever family she grows up with – a priceless and irreplaceable gift.
But I get it. Love is scary. Love is risky.
As a new bride, I was scared to be all-in on this love thing. Because that meant placing my heart in the most vulnerable position of all: potential utter devastation if anything ever disrupted this marriage. Like, say, a heart-attack that could take my husband’s life at age 39. About two years into our marriage, I realized I was about 99% in, holding this tiny fragment of myself as a means of self-protection, as if I could ensure I’d “be okay” if anything ever happened. I woke up one night and realized the bigger regret would be to have not loved wholly and fully and without self-preservation intact. And when that heart attack did strike on February 19, you better believe I was glad that none of my tears were ones of regret.
A lot of us try to live in the land of love and self-preservation at the same time. But they are different places with different currencies and different languages. Eventually you have to choose one.
And while we can inhale deep breaths of concern and exhale deep breaths of prayer for this situation, a lot of us are wondering if there’s anything more we can do. Well honestly, for Lexi, probably very little. For the Pages, maybe some money or some cards and meals. For the law, you can use your voice to call Congress, sign petitions, and lobby for either side you support.
But maybe the bigger thing you can do is dare to love. Fiercely and wholeheartedly. To not let a story like this kill the part of yourself that would dare to risk. That would dare to be broken. To hate the ICWA and love the Lexi in your life – in the situation that’s messy, that makes you vulnerable, and that guarantees you nothing beyond today. Maybe that’s an aging parent with dementia. Maybe that’s a spouse with a terminal illness. Maybe that’s a foster child, Indian or otherwise. Maybe it’s the drug addict that doesn’t show up for Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s the student that makes you question teaching.
Maybe it’s anyone we love. Because “[t]o love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
While the Pages may come out of this with some things they’d change, I can bet on one thing they’ll never regret: loving Lexi.