One of the astonishing things I’ve learned raising our foster daughter is that abuse often makes its victims incredibly unlovable.
Long before we took in our foster daughter I had become obsessed with the ways in which childhood abuse not only affected my character Buck Crenshaw but also his siblings. Christians are called to love the unloved — and the unlovable. Many times it turns out that the unloved and the unlovable are the same person. Of course I know Buck’s heart and all that he’s been through so as a writer I love him. Yet some readers have expressed frustration at all of his wrong turns and bad behaviors.
As a foster parent I’m given the benefit of the doubt. Everyone in the system understands unlovable behavior — a child who eats goat shit, a child who wants to have sex with your dog, a child who struggles with murderous thoughts. As a novelist the problem lies in the fact that readers want to love the characters they read about despite their flaws. But what is a writer to do with prickly characters who shoot quills and make one bad decision after another?
People tell us that our foster daughter is a changed girl but that change continues to take place at a glacially slow pace and even with the changes we must work each day to soften our hearts enough to love her — or even like her. Just like my fictional CRENSHAW siblings, our foster daughter always finds new ways to go left, not right. She finds new ways to annoy and instigate trouble — almost on an hourly basis.
The truth about foster care and abuse: Some kids are over medicated, some never receive the mental health care they need. Some seem fine but carry burdens into adulthood marked by drive, alcohol abuse or an inability to accept love.
As the god of my fictional universe it hurts when a reader doesn’t love a character who really needs to be loved. Writing about them is like being one of those photographers who takes portraits of troubled, desperate foster kids dressed in their best smiles and outfits. Yet the troubled, desperate character still remains.
Writing about unloved and unlovable people comes with heartache and risk. Maybe no one buys the book. In real life maybe the unloved child becomes a menace to society. Maybe he kills people.
How many generations does it take to rid a family of behaviors and problems of the heart that sometimes lead to acts of evil? On the other hand, can there be enough human love devoted to someone to truly set them straight?
The recent shooting in Florida, the ramming of vans into pedestrians, the flying of planes into towers, the modern slave trade that dwarfs the slavery of the past, and the simple, daily, often secret abuse of children (so many cases around the globe that they hardly ever discussed) in homes that from the outside seem quite respectable — these things — these evils are problems of the heart.
We seek easy fixes. I’ve done it myself. Gluten is what makes my foster daughter think of stabbing me in the night with kitchen knives. Alarms on her door will cure her PTSD. All meds are evil. All meds are good.
The reality is that we are under a curse. Town Hall meetings, virtue signalling, talk of burning NRA spokespeople — these things –are just frosting on the poison cake of life.
If there is no God and there is no truth then murder and abuse have no meaning. Fatherless boys and molested girls are just play things in a culture that regards pleasure and irresponsibility as its god. If every human feeling is just a social construct and every human desire is equal then why do we even care who lives or dies?
We are flawed. That almost sounds trite. We are murderers, deceivers, neglectful parents. We are selfish and stupid much of the time. We are driven by pride. Gunshots fly all around us and we go on with our day until one shooting is deemed more important than others. We show how deep we are by posting pictures on Instagram or write posts like this with no answers except one that makes no sense.
LOVE THE IMPOSSIBLE ONES TO LOVE. This act is so uncommon and revolutionary that it seems ridiculous.
It’s easy in fiction writing but I have a long way to go in the real world.
“I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; and consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics. He is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do. For myself, as no doubt for most of my friends, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom. The supporters of this system claimed that it embodied the meaning – the Christian meaning, they insisted – of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and justifying ourselves in our erotic revolt: we would deny that the world had any meaning whatever.” Aldous Huxley