The Great Gilly Hopkins: The Cloud and Silver Lining of Foster Care Both on Display

Today, The Great Gilly Hopkins is opening in theaters around the country. It’s a story of a young girl in foster care and the realities she faces after being shuffled from home to home. It features a great cast (Sophie Nelisse, Kathy Bates, and Glenn Close) and has the potential to create really important dialogue in our communities about kids just like Gilly caught in the system.

I personally found watching the movie to be fairly emotional. I had two separate reactions that represent two sides of reality in foster care.

  1. It was never supposed to be like this.
  2. One committed caring adult can make a huge difference.
  1. It was never supposed to be like this

Gilly Hopkins encounters a number of events that are common for kids in care. The beginning of the movie has her showing up for the first time at yet another foster home. We painfully walk with her into a new classroom full of unfamiliar faces. We watch her wrestle with longing through her feelings about her mom. In every case, I couldn’t help but to think “it was never supposed to be like this.”

Children were never meant to go through these kinds of things. The brokenness of the human condition leaves our children putting up walls that should never have to have been built, dreaming up delusions that should never have to have been dreamed, and fighting wars with themselves and others that should never have to have been fought.

Kids were supposed to grow up with parents that love and protect them. They were supposed to grow up knowing that were created in the image of God and, as bearers of His image, have immeasurable value. The hardest part of watching this film is knowing that the extraordinary pain Gilly experienced is a common everyday occurrence for thousands in foster care. Foster care is necessary because of brokenness. It was never supposed to be like this.

  1. One committed caring adult can make a huge difference

Gilly has been in a number of homes and is told by her social worker as they walk up the front steps that this is her last chance. The foster parent that Gilly meets on the other side of the door is something she wasn’t counting on. Foster mom, Maime Trotter, played by Kathy Bates is clearly not frazzled by young Gilly’s angry and sarcastic approach to nearly everything. While Trotter, of course, offers affection and appropriately stern boundaries, she offers Gilly something it seems she’s never had before: unconditional love.

Unfortunately, our culture has redefined love to mean a number of things that fall so incredibly short of the definition that Jesus lived and then demonstrated on the cross. It’s often said in child welfare circles that “love is not enough.”  However, the problem is not that love is insufficient to meet the needs of a hurting person. The problem is that our watered down definition of love is insufficient to meet the needs of a hurting person.

Love is not simply hugs and cookies and sweet notes in your lunch box. Real love, the love that Jesus modeled, is gritty, excruciatingly painful, inconvenient, humiliating, and yes, sometimes even deadly. Real love fights and weeps and comes back for more.

That’s the kind of love Gilly Hopkins experiences in Trotter’s home. And while the movie may paint the transformation in Gilly rosier than one might find in real life with a kiddo who has experienced as much trauma as she has, we can’t lose site of the truth that every child in foster care would be better off if they had Trotter’s brand of love in their lives.

One more important thing to note: It’s not just the unconditional love of the foster parent that makes a difference in Gilly’s life. There is also a neighbor across the street, Mr. Randolph, that demonstrates a Jesus kind of love to young Gilly. I point that out only to say that you don’t need to be a foster parent to have a profound impact on the life of a child in foster care. You just need to be someone who shows up and stays.

The Great Gilly Hopkins is a movie that will generate some great dialogue about the needs of kids in foster care. Consider grabbing a friend and watching it this weekend. It’s in a limited number of theaters around the country and available on demand as of today. For a complete list of theaters, click here.

Foster care represents an unfortunate but necessary reality in our world. The Great Gilly Hopkins demonstrates this reality but also shows us the bright silver lining of caring adults that lovingly wade in.