To the “Party Hat” girls of Nash Central High School:

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To the “Party Hat” girls of Nash Central High School:

by Christy Sumner Rue

As a mom to 3 biracial kids who live in your hometown, I have to say the now infamous “party hat” picture that went viral compelled me to write this open letter. The fallout from just one picture has become more widespread than anything I have ever seen in the decade and a half that I’ve lived in Rocky Mount. When I saw the picture, I instantly winced but not for the reason you might think.

I saw a group of girls, just being teenagers: doing cringe-worthy things with a group of friends, which is a teenage rite of passage. Making stupid decisions is a part of the human experience that everyone deals with at some point in their young adult life. Ask any adult and if they’re honest, they’ll admit having done embarrassing things when they were younger. The only difference is that most of us did not have cell phones to capture evidence of it or social media to instantly broadcast it to the entire world! (Thank God!!)

Since everyone who has seen the photo has made one assumption or another, I’ll join in. I assume most of you ladies have never seen the depth of racial hatred, even despite the presence of racial tension here in our community. I’m guessing probably the closest thing to witnessing the evil nature of racial inequality is in your history class, like most kids your age. When you see picture of a white man using a fire hose on a group of black people, I bet it feels foreign to you. Like it’s just another story from long ago like Christopher Columbus or Pearl Harbor. Racial issues are probably so far removed from you ladies that it never even dawned on you that your hats might be offensive to some people! I’m guessing you really didn’t anticipate the storm that would come from that one Instagram picture.

Did you intend for your homemade “party hats” to resemble KKK hats? Were you sending a message when some of you made guns signs out of your hands or were you doing what most teenagers do when posing in group photos, like Charlie’s Angels or Kung Fu ninjas? When it was posted a day after the Grand Jury announcement in Ferguson, MO that the police officer involved with the Michael Brown shooting death wouldn’t face charges, was that intended to make a statement to your fellow black schoolmates, the city of Rocky Mount and the nation at large? Or was it just really bad timing by a group of teenage girls hanging out, completely oblivious to what was going on close to 900 miles away? I have absolutely no clue because I wasn’t there and I don’t know you girls personally. But the problem is that people see that picture and they instantly associate your hats with the KKK. Ultimately, they are now associating you, your families and your school with the infamous hate group.

Now that the presumed association with the oldest American hate group has been made, people will assume you come from a long line of hatred that has been passed down one generation to the next. They will probably think that your parents are full-fledged members of the KKK; that they dressed you in little KKK onesies when you were infants and as you grew up, they indoctrinated you at the dinner table about the best way to incite hatred for black people as a whole. Is this possible? Of course, anything is possible, especially here in the South. Is it likely that active members of the KKK would encourage their teenage daughters to fashion white replica hats that did not hide their faces & then post it on Instagram in order to stir up racial tensions? Also, in a high school where almost 50% of the student population is black, not to mention nearly another 10% of the student body were identified as multiracial, does it make sense for you girls to release a photo like this if it were *really* intended to make a racial statement, knowing full well what would await you at school and in the community?

So whether it was just a big misunderstanding, an error in judgment or if you really were making a statement, you are now left to deal with the ramifications. I tell my kids all the time that we are responsible for our actions and how they come across to others, regardless of their motives or intentions. Even if it never once crossed your mind that the party hats resembled KKK hats, it stirred up that very same racial hatred that the people in your history textbooks faced. This racially-motivated rage is completely ruthless and it moves normally well-mannered people to act in unimaginable ways. It causes people to remove the humanity of the targeted group and treat them as objects without feelings or other human qualities. I know that many people say that only white people can be racists, which is a whole other topic, but I can assure you that racial hatred can be housed in any human being, regardless of color or ethnicity. People who have been searching for ways to further their own political and personal agendas now have jumped on this “party-hat” bandwagon.

In an effort to dehumanize you girls, these people have forgotten that some of you are worried about driver’s education classes while others of you are trying to finish up that last paper that was due before winter break. Some of you have now become living targets of political instigators, which is difficult for even adults to withstand their attacks. They have forgotten that you aren’t even old enough to vote or buy lottery tickets! They have accused you of getting special protection from the school and from law enforcement. They say that somehow your parents have some sort of clout over those in authority. Andre Knight, President of the Rocky Mount chapter of the NAACP and Rocky Mount City Councilman, has accused the Nash-Rocky Mount School administration of punishing black students who even “dare to mention” the incident while giving you police escorts. I wonder if Mr. Knight is aware of the harassment and death threats you girls were targets of in the midst of your classes while on school grounds. Also, if your parents were a part of the worst hate group in the United States and really did have power over the school system, why would you being going to a high school where you were the minority?

As a mama, I want to run right over to Nash Central and give you girls a big hug. I want you to know that you are stronger than you ever imagined. You found yourself in a really bad situation that took off like a runaway train. But this WILL NOT be the end of you! This is just a speed bump in your life; one that reminds you to slow down. Take this time to evaluate who you really are as a young woman. Most adults don’t figure it out until much later in life, but you’ve been given the opportunity to define who you are! People have made their assumptions and now you get to prove them wrong. What are you good at? What are you passionate about? What things are important to you? Do you love animals? Take some time to help out at the animal shelter. Are you good with kids? Volunteer at your church’s kids’ ministry or at the Boys & Girls club. This isn’t about “making up” or trying to balance some imaginary scale. This is about making sure that you grow through this whole nightmare.

My prayer for you girls is that you will not allow the hatred that you’ve been the target of to harden your hearts! Remember that not “all” white people are racists raising future racists in order to take over the world. Not “all” black people are violent or trying to blame white people for all of their problems. Do not let the hatred you’ve received turn you into the monsters they’ve claimed you to be! Do not allow this experience to taint your perspective of the world. Racial tensions are perpetuated by both sides assuming the worst, by generalizing and dehumanizing each other. You have the ability to stop the cycle of racial hatred!! Can you imagine if girls your age all over the country decided to stand against racial hatred?

Love,

Christy

1426571_10153454199810144_1425128566_nThis was written by my beautiful friend, Christy, who has a wonderful husband, and 3 gorgeous children!  Thank you, Christy, for letting me share!

I Heart Faces | Bright & Vivid-Dana Suggs Photography

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I’ve missed a few challenges since my Dad passed away, and I really need to get back with it.

This month’s photo challenge theme is:

Bright and Vivid.

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Click on the photo to view larger

I had a lot of to choose from with this particular session!  The Bride is a beautiful friend of mine, with a faith that shines brighter than the sun, and a heart as big as all outdoors.

My favorite clients are friends.

To enter your photo, click on the above I Heart Faces logo!

And, always be kind.

It’s hard in the passing…

I just lost my Dad.

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Those words still hurt so much to say. It hurts to know he’s gone.

We expected it last year as we went through 9 of his 11 surgeries together, all open heart surgery related. His 12th was to be the Wednesday following his death…again, I was to be there for this one as well. I only missed for sick, contagious children and once on an out-patient surgery for out of state guests. For all others but those 2, I was there, hours on end sitting in waiting rooms, sometimes with children, but most of the time, just Mom and I.

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I don’t have many regrets because I was there. For all of his doctors appointments, pre-ops, post-ops, countless lab work, x-rays or CAT scans, pre-surgery, post surgery….days and days, upon weeks and weeks of hospital visits, rehab facilities….until pretty soon, most of my 2013 was filled with Dad.  

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Some days were awful, awful days and all we did was cry.  Some days we were so exhausted from all of it, we just wanted to stop, sit down, and do nothing.  Some days were too traumatic and scary to talk about.  Some days we weren’t sure if he would ever leave the surgical room alive….much less the hospital.  One particular surgery in particular was very serious, and Mom and I sat in the waiting room together, alone, listening in shock at the awful news coming from the surgery.  We sat, and we planned how we would break the news to those who didn’t come….and we planned a funeral.  But he did come through, only by the grace of God. 

And the appointments continued, and the visits continued, and life went on, always filled with Dad and Mom and my children.

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I started calling them Dates with Dad:  grocery shopping for 2 families, church, hospital, drs appointments, hair cuts, they all ran into an entire year and a half spent with Mom and Dad…..lots of laughter, lots of tears, lots of pain, lots of gas, lots of time, lots and lots and lots of hugs and kisses and prayers…..all rolled into the worst and BEST year ever, full of memories.

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Some days are painful to remember, some days are happy and full of laughter and love.  

I will miss him.  His death this time, was not expected, and it hurt more to lose him.

I regret not taking MORE pictures of him.  I regret not taking more pictures of him with my children that are so little and will only remember him through pictures and stories we tell them.  

I regret not going over THAT day and repairing the fence myself.  I could fix a fence, I’m sure of it, I’m my Dad’s daughter….he would teach me!  I could have fixed that fence.  We did everything else together, I could do one more thing for him.  

But instead, I’m left knowing that the very last time I saw my Dad alive, I was at their house doing something for them that they needed.  Usually, when I left, I would go to my Dad and stoop down to him and hug him and kiss him on the cheek and tell him “see you later”.  But this LAST time, HE stood up and he hugged me so tight and he said, “I AM SO PROUD OF YOU.  And I love you so much.  Good bye.”  

I’m sure there was a “have fun” “drive safe” as we were leaving on vacation the very next day…..but he expressed how PROUD of me he was.  And countless times over the year and a half, he told me “THANK YOU” for all I did for them….and there were a lot of “I’m sorry” thrown in too.  He knew it was hard to do it, he knew it cost a lot of time and money to do this and care for my family, and care for a foster son too.  He knew.  He knew who was there.  And he knew what it cost.

But I always told him it was an HONOR to do it.  It was a BLESSING to be there.  And I LOVED it.  And I really did.

You see, God granted us an extra year and a half with him and I didn’t waste it.  We spent it together.

I will never regret that.  

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Please don’t waste time with your parents or grandparents.  When it’s over, it’s over, and you don’t want to have any regrets.  Remembrances of them are nice, but nothing replaces that time together.  

I’ll miss you Daddy.

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I Heart Faces | Make a Splash

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Last week, I had the privilege to accompany our Youth group on a Mission Trip to Pine Bluff, Arkansas to work with inner city kids.

We worked in a rough apartment complex with a notorious crime rate.

We were given a list of do’s and don’ts before we left…mostly don’ts.

And then we met the people.

And fell in love.

They just needed people to look beyond the crime statistics, the poverty, and the ugliness.

They needed people to see THEM.

Play with them.

Talk with them.

And love them.

We loved the mess out of these people.

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They are wonderful kids.

Beautiful families.

And every town has the same type of area.

We all need to simply LOVE more.

Our world would change if we did.

And that would make the BIGGEST SPLASH of all!

I Heart Faces | All Boy

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When we felt led by God to travel down the road of foster care and adoption, our boys were 15 and 12 years old.

Yes, teenagers.

Yes, I was worried how teenage BOYS would do with this little jaunt down that road.  Teenagers are not known for their unselfish acts of kindness…especially boys.  They are not known for their open arms and compassionate character.

But, God had a huge surprise for me in my doubt.  When He called my husband and I, He also called my sons. In fact, Austin, my oldest, knew before my husband did that God was calling us to do this.  Pretty cool, huh?

So, when the kids came, they were welcomed with all the love in the world!  Because when God calls you, He equips you to do every good work!

DSC_5040 webAustin has an amazing relationship with his much younger siblings.  So when it came time to do his Senior portraits, it was only natural to look in the viewfinder and find Jeremiah photobombing nearly every photo.

And he tried so hard to mirror what his big brother was doing.  What a beautiful shadow of things to come!  If Jeremiah follows the example and walk of Austin, he will also have a wonderful relationship with his Savior!

I am so blessed to be the Momma of 4 amazing and awe-inspiring boys (and 2 gorgeous girls)!

I Heart Faces | Let’s hear it for the girls!

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In honor of Mother’s Day this month, the I Heart Faces theme is focused on the ladies!

I happen to have one of the sweetest, most beautiful (inside and out) friends at church.

Her and her husband waited for several years for a baby.

The amazing gift came, but she had one of the hardest labors I have ever personally known, and then ended in an emergency c-section.

This poor mother went through so much to deliver a healthy baby.

There was not a dry eye in that delivery room that day.

Such an honor to have been a part of such a glorious time with them!

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What a gift from God!

Way to go, Evelyn!

And Happy Mother’s Day!

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Black and White

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I would love to say we are completely color blind.

That when we look at our children

vanillas, and chocolates, and

one we aren’t really sure what flavor he is…maybe caramel?

We are color blind.

And for the most part, it’s completely true:

the assignment of chores and responsibilities,

bedrooms and roommates,

loves and snuggles,

discipline and correction,

bedtime stories and dinner time prayers…

there is total color blindness; total fairness.

But there are times when their color becomes painfully obvious:

stares in public,

double-takes in the grocery store,

questions of “are they all yours?”

or “lord, honey, what HAVE you done to her hair?”

When Lizzie draws pictures of herself with long blonde hair and white skin, I am painfully aware of color.

We celebrate our children’s uniqueness:

Chandler’s gorgeous green eyes like their dad,

Austin’s stoic face like his dad

Brooklyn’s amazing long, wavy/curly hair

Lizzie’s beautiful milk chocolate skin and gorgeous “puffy” hair

Jaxon’s incredible big brown eyes and long eyelashes

Jeremiah’s utterly adorable dimples that he only shares with select people.

But it wouldn’t be right or fair of us as parents to say that we are always, 100% color blind.  They each have their struggles they will deal with later in life.  I’d love to think that they will each have the same opportunities because they will be given the same upbringing, but that just isn’t how the world works.

The world still sees color.

I won’t be able to shield them from what the world sees or says or how they react or think.  The world won’t know of Jeremiah’s struggles as a baby from child abuse that nearly took his life.  They won’t know of Jaxon’s compassionate heart and patience.  They won’t know of Lizzie’s beautiful, bubbly laughter and kind heart.  They won’t know these things first….they will know their color first.

I pray that the world will become color blind.

I pray that the world will see the Jesus in their hearts and lives first.….and become overwhelmingly impacted by Him…

before they see their color.

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 Because when I look at them, I see Jesus.

I see the work Jesus did in our hearts to prepare us for His work.

I see the work Jesus did in Jeremiah just to save his life.

I see Jesus in Lizzie as she made a toothfairy that looks like her…milk chocolate with “puffy” hair.

I see the healing Jesus has done in all of their hearts.

Please, see Jesus first.  Don’t pay attention to color.  Look at their hearts.  Get to know the person behind the skin.  See the beauty before you see anything else.

And always…..be kind.

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I have entered this photo in the I Heart Faces Black and White photo challenge for April 2014.

Yes, I would do it again.

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I’ve been asked recently:

Knowing now, what you didn’t know in the beginning, would you do it all again?

Fostering may not be perfect, and there are times when it is messy and ugly, but the short answer is:

ABSOLUTELY.

And because I’m not one to give short answers, I will elaborate.  You knew I would anyway.

Yes, the foster care system is terribly lacking, in some cases horrifically corrupt, full of lazy, jaded workers, and broken.  I think everyone has heard these stories.  But let me shed some light on another side:  workers that work tirelessly, all hours of the days, nights, weekends and holidays for children that may never know of their efforts…many who fight them in all areas.  I know and have seen and have worked with DHS case workers that would give their own homes to shelter these children, I’m sure have given shirts off their backs, money out of their pockets, and probably lunches too.  They know the system is broken, but they work so hard to give these foster children more, better.  They are seldom encouraged or thanked for their work.  Well, from MY heart:  THANK YOU foster care workers, placement workers, adoption workers and case workers!

So, for them, I would gladly do it all over again.

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Between fostering ours, and volunteering at the Emergency Children’s Shelter, I’ve seen a lot.  I’ve experienced a lot.  Most of it hurts.  I’ve been through emergency brain surgery, states away from my home, on a 3 month old that has his head beat against a wall 4 times.  I’ve had children who ate out of trash cans or off the floor because they had no idea if they would eat again.  I’ve had children so hurt by their families, they cut themselves to relieve the emotional pressure in a physical way.  Some cut little shallow cuts, and some are large, and scary, and deep.  I’ve walked in on a child trying to hang themselves because they just couldn’t deal with knowing they had been “thrown away” by their family.  I’ve waited, helpless, as the emergency vehicles came, sitting next to this child, shaking and crying uncontrollably.  Strength is hard to muster when you sit with a child who doesn’t want to live anymore.

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I’ve sat in the Shelter with children begging me to take them home with me or in the least, find them a family.  I’ve testified on behalf of children in court and if the parents even bothered to show up to court (most don’t), you get the evil eye.  I’ve been trashed verbally and all over social medias for doing this, sharing our stories, and that is really rough.  Knowing that we’re following God, and hearing terrible things being said about you, it hurts.  I’ve seen the faces of children who have lost all hope for their future….or a family.  I’ve sat and held children that cry for their abusers, the very ones that hurt them, and I don’t understand.  I’ve sat in on family therapies when their families didn’t come, even after orders from the courts, and heard stories that would break your heart and give you nightmares that evil to this extent does exist in the world.  These are the stories I can’t bear to tell.

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My heart is broken in so many pieces.

But each time, God mends it back together and is patient with my cries of not understanding the ugliness of this world, my cries of my own selfish fatigue.  Sometimes, the ugliness is so evident, and directed at me, and I want to circle my wagons and shut out the world….shut out the ugliness.  The filthy, lying, yucky, unGodly, , abusive ugliness.

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But I can’t.  These children need us, ALL of us.  I can’t quit and I would never even consider going back and NOT doing it again.  The kids are worth all the pain, heartbreak, evil eyes, and trashing behind my back.  Even if I had them only short term, knowing they were whole-heartedly loved while they were here, will heal some portion of their hearts.  If nothing else, for just a short time, they had peace.  Their demons were quiet.  Their abuse had stopped.  If only for awhile.

Their smiles, their laughter, their learning all make it worth it.  And every child deserves that.  So yes, I would gladly, unashamedly, do it all again, even knowing all that I know now.

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I Heart Faces | Smile

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This month’s photo challenge over at I Heart Faces is

SMILE

These are my 2 beautiful daughters.

One, I gave birth to, and one, God blessed me with through the foster care system and adoption.

They are total and complete sisters.

They love each other.  They play so well together.  They share toys and clothes and secrets….and the disdain of brothers who enter their room without permission.

They read their Bibles together and have impromptu dance parties.

Brooklyn taught Lizzie how to tie her shoes.  Lizzie taught Brooklyn how to be a little more outgoing.

Lizzie was 4 when she came to us.

Brooklyn was 6.

When you foster, you have no idea who will come.  You have no idea the impact the children will have on your home or your family.  You have no idea if your children will like the new ones, or the new ones will like the old ones.  You just kind of have to hope and pray that it will all work out.

And today, we have sisters.

Sisters that love each other completely.

Their smiles are real.

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And most certainly…so are mine.

God has been very good to me.

A broken heart

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Spawn of Satan

Devil Child

Evil

Bad

Psychopath

Can’t wait til you’re gone.

Hearing these all of your life, knowing this is what people that are supposed to love you think about you, how would anyone think differently of themselves?  Always being left out.  Everyone around you looking down on you, waiting for every mess-up, pointing out every flaw about you to you…..and everyone else around you.  Everyone knows your deepest secrets.  Everyone knows your deepest shames.  And if it wasn’t bad enough as it happened, then it’s exaggerated to make it a better story, to the point of complete fabrications.

No one could survive this constant torture.  No one should.  Emotional abuse and torture may not leave marks on your skin, may not leave scars on your physical body,

but it deeply marks and scars your soul.

When you live in such constant torture emotionally, when you actually come across someone that honestly loves you and honestly wants to see you succeed, you don’t recognize it, and certainly cannot accept it.  When you have a family that brings you in, accepts you, tries to wipe off all of that ugly you have spent 14 years carrying around, you don’t feel like you deserve to be clean.  And you certainly don’t deserve to be loved.

What if I am that bad kid?

Those words spoken out of a deep, dark place will always haunt me.

You guys are this really awesome Christian family, and I’m just not.

School was a struggle for #7.  He could barely read on a 1st grade level when we first started our interactions with him a year ago.  Now, after a year of private tutoring, he’s reached roughly 4th grade level.  He’s a terribly hard worker at everything he does, especially school.  He didn’t want to be in “special” classes.  He didn’t like the stigma, the embarrassment, it’s hard enough he’s a foster child.

So, I started praying circles around #7.  As I would look for something to clean in his room (because his room is constantly spotless, he even vacuumed almost every day!), I would pray over him.  Blessings and scriptures would pour out for him as he would be at school.  “Lord, I want him to know he is loved!  Quiet those voices that tell him he doesn’t deserve love.  Speak Your words of love to his heart while he sleeps.  Give him favor with all who cross his path.  Keep those who would wish him harm, far from him!”  And, as I did for my older boys as well, I would leave notes on his freshly made bed:

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Unfortunately, his childhood demons just couldn’t let him go.  Just couldn’t let him win.  His behavior since his placement has been wonderful:  does chores better than most kids, helps with his younger siblings, does his school work, polite, fun, started reading his Bible consistently with our older son, and started asking to lead the family prayer at the dinner table (because yes, we really do eat dinner at the dinner table, another big deal for him).  And just this past Sunday, all the big boys sat around the living room listening to him read Proverbs.  Mike was teaching him the importance of reading his Bible consistently, and Austin would lean over and help him with the words he couldn’t read.  No one judged him.  No one teased him.  No one mocked him or made fun of him for his inability.  They wrapped their spiritual arms around him and encouraged him and built him up.

But, he just couldn’t believe that a “normal” family could love him.

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So, for now, #7 is back in a facility. Physically, he is fine. Emotionally he is broken.  My heart is broken for him.  I’m sick to think that someone could break another human being to this degree.  I’ve seen it physically with my sweet Jeremiah, but this is a broken spirit, a broken heart, and I’m not sure I can fix that.  I think the only One to fix that…would be the Maker of that heart.

So please pray for #7, he’s a great kid!  He’s funny, super creative, a very hard-worker, and very deserving of love and kindness and everything good in this world.  And he DOES deserve a family.

And pray for our family, it is weird without him here.  I don’t know where this will lead us.  The little ones slept in his bed that night, and haven’t slept apart since.  They have no idea what happened, all they know is their brother is gone….and they miss him.  He is a great brother.

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But especially, please watch how you treat and act toward your children.  You cannot call them awful names.  You cannot talk horribly about them to them, or in front of them.  You cannot tell them that you cannot wait the 5 years til they are gone.  When your baby is crying, you cannot put them in another room to cry and just turn up the TV or music to drown out the sound.  You must meet their needs, emotionally and physically.

Please.

The damage done can be permanent.  The baggage they carry after, is exhausting.  I’m just thankful that this time it did not lead to a death.

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