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Picking Up the Pieces

Melissa Guillebeau

Discover how one amazing woman is providing God's comfort to children from shattered families.

"My name is Amber,*" says the little girl with dark eyes and black braids.

"Hi, Amber," everyone says in unison.

"I know about anger," sighs Amber, "because one time my dad was really angry and he got into a fight with my mom. They were in the kitchen and he pushed her and she hit her head on the stove. Then the police came and took my dad to jail. That's why we can't see him for six months." Amber looks up from the floor for a moment, takes a deep breath, and says, "Pass."

"Thanks for sharing, Amber," the group says.

"We're glad you're here," adds one of our regulars.

"My name is Darryn," says a second-grader with blond curls and blue eyes.

"Hi, Darryn."

"I was really angry when my dad started using drugs," says Darryn quietly. "Me and my mom were really angry about that and sad, too. That's why we started coming here on Monday nights. Pass."

"Thanks for sharing, Darryn," the group says. "We're glad you came tonight," adds the little boy sitting next to him. 

Around the circle, the kids take turns talking about tonight's topic: anger. Kids who don't want to talk simply introduce themselves and then say, "Pass." They understand how our circle works, and they know why they're here. Some have been coming since our group first started meeting two years ago. Several of the kids' parents aren't in recovery programs, but many of their parents are elsewhere on our church campus in a similar small group with similar guidelines.

Our rules are simple: No questions about what someone shares, no laughing at anyone, and no interrupting whoever's talking. These rules are simple and finite, and we go over them every week. If our room were filled with adults, you'd think you were in an Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon meeting, discussing personal tragedies and victories, nodding in agreement, and maintaining confidentiality.

But our group is different. Our members are brave 5- to 11-year-olds with a parent who's facing personal battles. We have children dealing with major life issues -- divorce, a parent's death due to high-risk behavior, a parent's incarceration, abandonment, foster care, sexual abuse, witnessing parents using or purchasing drugs -- you name it. In this group we're family; we understand one another and we're facing reality together in Jesus. When one child is hurting, the other kids reach out to him or her. This group is unlike anything I've ever been part of. Together, we're tackling tough topics, welcoming new children bearing great burdens, and most importantly, finding healing and help in Jesus.

• Finding Cause in Crisis

Throughout my five-year marriage to a drug addict and alcoholic, there were three constants in my life: my family, my church family, and my ministry. Working full time as the director of children's education was one thing that kept me sane during those rollercoaster years. Early in my marriage, I wore a mask to church, not discussing the crisis at home, only burying myself deeper in work. 

During that time our pastor became very excited about the Celebrate Recovery Program (, a nationwide, biblically based recovery support group initiated by Saddleback Church in El Cajon, California. Our pastor's excitement ignited a passion in our church -- one of our driving goals became to help the hurting find a loving home in our congregation. I thought this was a fantastic goal, and I was ready to dive in. But I wasn't about to reveal that I was one of the hurting; my life was a mess, my despair suffocating.

In 2006, my husband was home only 26 nights. He spent the rest of that year in jail, rehabs, homeless shelters, and psychiatric hospitals. Often, he'd disappear for weeks at a time. Despite all my efforts to help him, it was clear he chose his addiction over me, and there was nothing I could do about it. 

Finally, I'd had enough. I was terrified of how the church would respond when I decided to separate from and eventually divorce my husband. But my pastor, staff, and church family were as kind and compassionate as my biological family, lovingly walking with me down the rocky road that lay before me.  

So when time came to launch our own Celebrate Recovery Program, it was only natural for me to begin a children's "pre-covery" group. I'd been attending Al-Anon meetings for two years, and I was certainly experienced in working with children. I knew the kids, and I intimately knew their pain. What I didn't know was that initiating this group would be one of the most defining moments of my own faith and a chance to see God take all those tragedies and turn them into trophies of his grace.

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