Learning Hard Lessons About Love

When I was twenty, I thought I could change the world by the strength of my will and the power of my love. Newly single and working at my large church in the city, I had a lot of time and energy. I was assigned to help a family who lived in a very rough neighborhood about a mile from our campus. The Dad worked insane hours to support their family and because of some mental health issues the Mom had, Social Services had insisted that their two toddlers spend their days at our church’s daycare. Because they didn’t have a car and I passed their neighborhood each day on my way to and from work, I was assigned to take the kids to and from daycare.

From the very beginning, it wasn’t just an assignment for me. I didn’t just chauffeur the kids. The first day that I brought them home to their unpainted, falling down, roach-infested house to a Mom who was barely functional, I purposed in my heart to create a better world for these kids. And so, it began.

My friend, Robert and I began weeks and weeks of intensive cleaning and fixing. We did everything from scrubbing the roach-trailed walls with bleach to patching holes in the bathroom floor. It was common of a night to find me tucking in little curly-headed angels while their mother sat glued to Wheel of Fortune in the den. I drove them to doctor’s appointments and the grocery store. I babysat the kids so that the Mom and Dad could go out on a date. When the two-year-old was hospitalized for her asthma and the Mom was required to sit up nights at the hospital with her, I took the three-year-old home with me and nursed him through a kidney infection, even waking at night with his sweaty, feverish arms around my neck.

About six months into this routine, at about 11 o’clock one night, Robert drove by their house and saw my car in the driveway. He came into the kitchen and found me crying into the sink as I scrubbed sippy cups. He noticed their mother, watching TV in the den, then saw my cracked knuckles bleeding into the dishwater and softly said, “Dry your hands. You’re done. Let’s go.”

That experience taught me some of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned.

You cannot change people who don’t want to be changed, no matter how moving the motivation. That mother didn’t want to make her children’s lives better. She just wanted somebody else to come do the hard stuff so that she didn’t have to. When I came to help, she got that and took full advantage of it. After I stopped helping, her kids went back to just like before, with cockroaches in their diapers and clabbered milk in their dirty sippy cups. It wasn’t enough for me or her husband or her children to want her to change. Because she had no desire to change, she never did.

Just because you may fail doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. I failed to make a lasting change in this family. But I have never regretted the months I spent pouring into them. I don’t regret the nights I spent walking the floor with the toddler-girl as she wheezed through her weak, asthmatic lungs. She would lay her curly blonde head against my chest and look up at me with big, brown eyes that said, “Thank you for trying. In your arms, I feel safe and I know I’m loved.” And I would hum to her with my chest vibrating under her little ear, until finally, her breathing would even out and she would sleep.

Everyone needs someone to pour love into their lives. Some folks have asked me why I would invest that much time and energy into a family that wasn’t even mine. I mean, I wasn’t even getting paid for it. What a waste of time! I disagree wholly. In the movie Radio, when the coach questions why he’s investing so much into one troubled kid, his wife tells him a profound truth: “It’s never a mistake to care for someone. That’s always a good thing.”

How could I regret giving that kind of peace and comfort to a child? How can I regret being a shelter and a place of safety for them? No matter how it turned out, for that time, I made a difference in their lives. And it was worth it all.

Katie says this:

I know I cannot walk into a village and tell a child that Jesus loves her. She cannot comprehend that because, chances are, she has never been loved. I have to feed her, clothe her, care for her, and love her unconditionally as I tell her that I love her. Once she can understand and see my love, I can begin to tell her about a Savior who loves her even more. That is the truth for these children—that they are loved, that they are valuable, that they will not be left as orphans but that they have a plan and a hope for the future.

I loved those children. And though years have passed, my prayer is that those seeds that were planted in their lives during the six months I was with them will get watered and grow. My hope is that one day, they’ll remember that they’re loved and that they’ll remember there is a plan for their lives.

When I was twenty, I thought I could change the world by the strength of my will and the power of my love… Maybe I wasn’t so far off the mark.

This post is part of a weekly discussion that we have here each week on the book Kisses from Katie. You don’t have to read the book to participate in the discussion. Please feel free to leave your comments below. If you have written a response to this week’s chapter, please link it up on the widget below. And definitely stop by my co-facilitator’s site to see what Jason has to say about the chapter.


About Sarah Salter


  1. It’s called learning wisdom, and it can be painful. Good post, Sarah.

  2. I shared the following passage in my post today, but it just keeps echoing in my mind. You could say, I am under conviction:

    This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.~ 1 John 3:16-18

    The mother may have been a lost cause, I pity her and the life she has missed out on. The love you showed to those children and husband was action and truth. That is our calling. Those are our marching orders. The job is not done.

  3. Great job, truly touching and motivating story.
    Investing in someones life is never a waste of time. We may not ever see the fruits of our labor, but they are there.

    Years after graduating high school I ran into a girl I used to witness to. I hadn’t thought about her in years. I was completely taken back when she thanked me for never giving up on her and for showing her the love of Christ. She is now a mother and takes her children to Church. I was humbled.

  4. I totally agree with you. The enemy would try to come in and say, “see, you can’t make a difference. That mom didn’t change.” But at least you gave her the opportunity and she saw something different. You never know either how planting those seeds may translate into something else down the road. We have experienced the same with foster parenting. You’re worn out, tired, disappointed at times, and trying to make a difference. All we can do is follow HIS lead and let Him sort it out. We are called to love, give, and serve as He does. Great post, Sarah.

  5. Sarah Salter says:

    Thank you all for your comments. I’m grateful for the experiences — even the hard ones — that make me a better person. And I’m grateful for every opportunity — even the thankless ones — that I’m able to invest in someone else. I can only see a tiny bit of the big picture and I have no way of knowing or controlling how life turns out. I can only control my own motives and actions. I hope they are always born out of love for others. 🙂

  6. Awesome post and a wonderful perspective. Your work is from and for God, glad you have the heart for those kids. I think it’s a gift straight from the heart of our Father…

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