By: The Rev. Brandon Duke
Sometimes progress is simply sticking with it. Rolling up sleeves, dirt on the hands day in and day out breeds grit and determination met with much grace, hope, and love. The former things point us to character, the latter – virtues. These are what you’ll find every Thursday evening and Saturday mornings at Starting Over, a court appointed supervised visitation ministry, held on the campus of Saint Julian’s Episcopal Church.
For close to 20 years, Starting Over has provided a space where separated families can put aside their differences, come together and show a sense of normalcy with their children by playing games, talking, and simply allowing kids to be kids. Volunteers serve as supervisors and watchful guardians of the visiting children, and then report back to DFCS (The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services) whether or not the visitation was successful.
The backbone of Starting Over, her matriarch, gatekeeper, and heart is Diane Campbell. Diane might describe herself as hard on the outside, but soft inside – much like an M&M candy. Her hardness comes from the heartbreaking stories of children who have been neglected, abused, and forgotten by families and an apathetic society. Her softness comes from her faith where she remembers Jesus’ words to, “let the children come” (Matt. 19:14). Diane understands the facts. She knows the high rates of teenage pregnancy, and thousands of children caught up in the foster system. She recognizes the stress put on social workers, and why the turnover rate seems to increase year after year. She has moments of compassion fatigue, but she also experiences divine love. Like a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings, Diane is willing – willing to protect them at all costs (Matt. 23:37). Willing to stand up for what is right. Willing when no one else seems so.
It’s been said that raising a child takes a village. How will history judge the village we call Douglasville? If the system is broken, are we willing to come together and repair it? If a family is fragmented, are we brave enough to serve them? If a social worker is overwhelmed, can we rise up in support? These are not questions of stagnation or apathy; rather, they are questions of progress, and questions of holy curiosity, neighborly love, and gifted grace.
Let us not be distracted by many things (Luke 10:41); instead, let us collectively roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of reconciliation day in and day out. For Diane and her army of volunteers, it is children whom they serve. Who or what are you called to serve? Spend a lifetime living into this question, and progress along life’s road, in your heart, and in your soul will be revealed.
~To learn more about Starting Over, Diane Campbell, or Saint Julian’s Episcopal Church, please visit http://www.saintjulians.org/welcome/starting-over/
Published in the Douglas County Sentinel on January 22nd, 2017