Dec 252013
 

He was a handsome young man, with eyes the color of dark chocolate.  I held his head while others tended to his bleeding body.  Watched the heart monitor slow then stop.  Whispered to him while he died.  “He made some bad choices,” I was told.

Haven’t we all, I thought.

He had a son.  A toddler.  I remember wondering if this wasn’t an opportunity for his life to go differently.  Hoping for him to find a family that would love and nurture him like their very own.  One that would write a different script for his life.  A dozen years later I saw those same chocolate brown eyes staring back at me.  They were filled with anger.  Sadness.  Hopelessness.  There had been no family.  No mentor.  No neighbor.  No one to show him grace.  No one to tell him he was loved.  So I did – the best I could in the brief interaction we had.  It wasn’t smooth at all.  In fact, it was kind of awkward.

I don’t know if he really understood.  I don’t know if he felt how much I believe he is on the planet for a purpose greater than just surviving and winding up dead or in prison.  But what I DO know is that he needs to meet Jesus.  And that Jesus shows up in the most unlikely places.

In a barn.

In shelters.

And jails.

Foster homes.

And mental health hospitals.

In the houses of those who are poor and those who are poor in spirit.

I don’t know where he is today, but my prayer for him is that he knows that being a part of God’s family isn’t anything about blood and it is everything about relationship - about being thought of and worried about and prayed over and loved and valued.  It is EVERYTHING about the great light that came into the darkness so long ago.  Merry Christmas, brown eyes.

Christ's Birth In A Stable

Jul 232013
 

Sometimes I’m like a bull in a china closet and I was on this day, barging into the room without any kind of notice.  It’s not that I was being rude; it’s just that I thought I knew what I would see.  But I was wrong.  The foster mom was there, and the little boy.  But so was his dad.

My mind raced back a couple of years, to the first day I met the boy.  Dirty.  Disheveled.  In need of a bath and a haircut.  Not too long after, I met the dad.  He looked about the same.  It was clear he cared about the boy; equally clear he wasn’t really able to take care of him.  But he tried, attending court, and visits, and parenting classes.  Working odd jobs in an attempt to find stability.  It didn’t really happen though, at least not in a way a little boy needs.  At some point the judge and the case worker gave up, and scheduled a trial to present the evidence and allow a jury to consider taking away the rights to his child.

I expected him to fight – he’d always been proud and a fighter.  Long after I thought he would give up.  Long after most parents would have.  But I had heard that in a meeting a few days earlier, he had surprised everyone with his humility and the most generous but also painful gift to his son that a parent could ever give – the opportunity to be in a better place than he could provide.

iStock_000002683730XSmallI didn’t expect to see him that day.  Or maybe ever.  Figured he would cut ties and be on with life.  So when I saw him lying quietly beside the sleeping boy, stroking his hair and whispering to him softly, I was stunned.  Stopped in my tracks.  And immediately, I was overwhelmed with the love it takes for a father to give up his son.

“This is how much God loved the world:  He gave his Son, his one and only Son…”  John 3:16 (MSG)

Mar 152013
 

He was imposing – several inches taller and wider than I am – and every muscle seemed tensed, as if he was ready to resist whatever I planned to do to him.  I had only questions, however.   How old he was, school, family.  At first his answers came in short staccato bursts, but gradually he relaxed and shared his story.  He went into foster care as a toddler, then adopted, but by then he was damaged.  Depressed.  Angry.  Years in and out of mental institutions and juvenile halls – now his adoptive family wanted nothing to do with him.  I worried about him.  I wondered where he would go for help.  Who would he call?  Old friends from the neighborhood?  Birth family?  The ones whose rights were terminated a decade ago?

His pastor.

I was surprised.  “You have a pastor?”  He nodded, and sat up a little straighter and with more pride.  “Yes.  He will help me.  He believes in me.  He’s working to develop me into a leader.”

May the Church not get distracted maintaining ministry, running programs, writing books, or scrambling for a spotlight, only to forget that our true great commission occurs when we interact with one.  One broken life.  One hopeless mom.  One addicted dad.  One lost kid.

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do?  Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders.  When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’  In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine who are righteous…” 
Luke 15: 4-7 (NLT)

Nov 162012
 

She stood at the front of the room, feeling very small and conspicuous.  A half dozen people stood in a semicircle behind and beside her.  Most were unfamiliar, but she thought she recognized her case worker, although they had only met a couple of times.  A large wooden table separated them from the judge, and she could barely see him as he sat perched on the elevated platform behind it.  No one talked – the only sound was the shuffling of papers from behind the desk.  After what seemed like an eternity, the judge spoke, raining down questions on the group.  Was mom attending parenting classes?  What were the results of her psychological evaluation?  Did she have a reliable job yet?  One by one, the others in the room - attorneys, therapists, child advocates, case workers – shuffled through their own papers, attempting to capture in brief answers their opinions on who she was as a person and as a mom.

Poor

Uneducated

Unmotivated

Depressed

Failing

Some of the answers were accurate.  She did struggle with depression and loneliness.  We all do at times.  It had been hard for her to find work.  She hadn’t ever finished high school, and most of the jobs she could land wouldn’t come close to paying the bills.  The one job she found that paid well put her in a spot to be taken advantage of by others – not exactly a career you are proud of or want to tell your case worker about.   But many of the words spoken in that court room seemed to carry a different kind of judgment.  The kind that comes when you are looked down on.  When others don’t think you have any value as a human being.  The kind that make you realize you are disposable – that no one would even notice if you didn’t exist any more.  Or maybe they would even think the world was better off.

She felt paralyzed.  Suffocated.  Unable to speak or to defend herself.  Humiliated.  Worthless.  Uncertain.  She loved her kids, but maybe these experts were right.  Maybe she was a terrible parent.  A terrible person.  As quickly as it started the hearing was over.  Head down, she shuffled out of the room.

It is extremely difficult to weigh the needs of a child against the ability of a parent to meet those needs.  But as we do it, we must be careful not to judge the heart.  To lift up and not to crush.  To recognize that every single one of us was made by the same creator.  Made in the image of God.  Realizing that changes our own hearts towards a broken mom, and provides an opportunity to show her who she was really meant to be.

Valuable

Healthy

Hopeful

Successful

Beautiful

“So God created man in His own image, in the image and likeness of God…”  Genesis 1:27 (Amp)

 

 

 

Sep 132012
 

I thumbed through the chart quickly and then stepped into the exam room, expecting like usual to enjoy meeting another foster kid and figuring out their story.  Within seconds my expectation turned to dread.  The air in the room was heavy, layered with anger, tension, and hostility.  The toddler didn’t seem to notice.  He ran back and forth between the toy hanging on the wall and the multiple adults in the room, ensuring best he could that he remained the center of everyone’s attention.  A short conversation revealed the issue – there were differences in opinions about what should happen in the case.  Not just differences of opinion – hostility.

About whether the mom was “good enough” to have another shot at raising her child. 

About whether the foster parents were “too attached” to the child. 

About whether the case worker was competent. 

About whether the therapist was taking sides.

About whether the lawyers were playing fair.

There is a difference between hostility and advocacy.  We should hope for a mom to be able to make it.  We should want foster parents to become attached to the children in their home, and we shouldn’t allow people to be foster parents unless they are willing to.  We should be respectful of the professionals involved in the case, being humble – encouraging, and educating each other rather than allowing ego, pride, and the adrenaline of “winning” be our motivation.  We have to remember that we are not fighting against people but against circumstances and behaviors, against powers and principalities and darkness.  None of us are so holy and wise that we have the right to judge the heart and motives of others, and none of us have a crystal ball that tells us whether the decisions we made today result in good or harm for the children and families we so desperately try to help. 

Within a few minutes the visit was over.  The room was a disaster, with goldfish cracker crumbs all over the floor and shredded paper from the exam table lying around like confetti, evidence that a toddler had come and gone.  I can clean the room.  But cleaning up the relational damage between the adults involved is a whole different kind of disaster – one that we must avoid at all costs if we are ever to win the war against child abuse.

“Where do you think these appalling wars and quarrels come from?  Do you think they just happen?  Think again.  They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves…It’s common knowledge that ‘God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.’  So let God work his will in you.”  James 4 (MSG)

Aug 232012
 

In a few months I will celebrate 20 years of marriage to my first love.  Not too long after that I will experience two decades of passion for my second love – foster kids.  We mark the important things in our lives with anniversaries.  Points in time.  Our first day of school.  When we lost our first tooth.  The Christmas we got the exact toy we wanted.  Our first kiss.  Starting on the varsity sports team.  The combination of those points in time tell the story of our lives.  They weave together to give us an identity, to tell us who we are and give us a sense of where we are going.

He hadn’t been to my office for quite a while, but when I saw his name on my schedule, my mind flashed back to our previous meetings.  A series of medical encounters over half a decade, at both the shelter and in my clinic.  I remembered the details of his case file, the first time I met him, the foster parents and then the group home staff that brought him to the appointments.  There were gaps too – times when he lived in another part of the state.  I remembered those as well - mostly because I worried about him when he wasn’t around.  He had grown quite a bit, and his voice was deeper – clearly puberty was having its expected impact on him.  A hi-5 turned into a quick hug, which perhaps surprised us both, but the flood of emotion I felt at seeing him again wasn’t satisfied with a simple handshake.  Then conversation.  I wanted to know everything.  How he was.  Where he had been.  What had happened over the last few years.  But there was little satisfaction in the answers.  He was OK, but not great.  Didn’t remember much of the last few years.  Had lived in a lot of places – wasn’t sure the names of the towns or even the people whose homes he had occupied.  Wasn’t totally sure what grade he was in – some of the places he had lived had onsite “school”, which became just something else to occupy the day, rather than a way to mark his childhood.  He didn’t even remember what year he came into foster care, or why.  The trauma of the crazy life he had been handed had clearly taken its toll.  In fact, in many ways, it had stolen his childhood.  Stolen his history.  His identity.  His hope for what was to come. 

We may not know the past lives of the foster children we encounter, but we have the opportunity to help them write the story of their present and their future.  To be such a strong influence today that our time with them is burned in their minds as the time when they saw what real family looked like.  What being loved without strings felt like.  What having someone show up at your parent-teacher conference or your football game meant.  The time when your birthday was a big deal, with a party and your pick of favorite foods, not just the date that was typed on the top of your social services file. 

Will you help write the story of a child’s life?  If you will, someday you might find yourself with some stories to tell.  Some anniversaries to celebrate.  The day you got the call from a social worker about a kid who needed a home.  The day a kid you fell in love with got to go home to his mom.  Or maybe got to stay in yours forever.  The time when you could no longer live oblivious to struggles of those around you.  When life began to have more meaning than you ever had imagined. 

Happy Anniversary.

“For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”  Psalm 100:5 (NIV)

Jul 122012
 

“I just wanted to say goodbye.”  I looked up from my paperwork to see his blond head poking through the doorway of the clinic.  “I’m leaving today.  They found a home for me.”  It had only been a couple of weeks since he arrived at the emergency foster shelter, but I had fallen in love with his broad grin and hi-5′s as I passed through every morning.  I gave him a quick hug, but then he pulled back, and with a serious look on his face, dug into the back pocket of his faded jeans, pulling out a worn white letter-sized envelope.  He opened it and dumped out its contents.  A few dollar bills and some coins bounced across my desk.  I looked up, puzzled.  “It’s to help the other kids, the ones here who don’t have much.  It’s all I have.”

My mind jumped to a centuries old story of someone else who gave everything. 

While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box.  Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins.  “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them.  For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”  Luke 21: 1-4 (NLT)

I was speechless, and when I didn’t immediately respond, he backed up a step and dropped his head a little.  “I know it isn’t very much, but it’s all I have and so many kids here don’t have anything.  I thought maybe I could do something.”  I didn’t know what to do so I just grabbed him and held him tight.  One last hi-5 and he was gone, but in no way forgotten.  His words are still with me.

“It’s all I have.  I thought maybe I could do something.”

What could the foster system look like if a bunch of people thought we could do something if we gave everything we have.  Resources.  Time.  Home.  Family.  Love.  I’ll tell you what it would look like – it would be a story of hope so great that it would still be talked about in 2000 years.  Is it worth it to you?  Will you give all you have?  Or just whatever you have left over…

Mar 302012
 

THE MEETING HAS BEEN MOVED TO THE SECOND FLOOR.  The handwritten sign was taped to the wall.

Voices echoed from the conference room, then laughter and crying.  Curious, I peered through the glass door, wondering what occasion had displaced my schedule.  The big conference table that normally occupied the center of the room had been scooted over against the wall.  A few kids were sitting by it, coloring.  Others were running around the room, kicking a ball.  A couple were sitting on the floor, crying giant crocodile tears.  I stepped closer.  Air mattresses and cots lined the wall.  What in the world was going on?  This looked more like a slumber party than a board room.  Or perhaps a shelter, like the kind you see on TV when there has been a hurricane.

A shelter.  For kids who have no where else to stay.  For kids in foster care.  “There are no open foster homes, and all the actual shelter buildings are full.  This is the shelter overflow,” I was told.  My mind jumped to another story of a child with nowhere to stay.

“She gave birth to her first child, a son.  She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.”  Luke 2:7 (NLT)

At least in that story there was a mom and a dad.  In this one, there were only children, supervised in a conference room turned bedroom by a few case workers turned caregivers.  I wondered who these kids had the potential to be.  Teachers?  Athletes?  Doctors?  Maybe, but the reality is that they have no resources.  No source of comfort or encouragement.  A better chance of being a prostitute or a prisoner than anything else.  At least prostitutes and prisoners have a bed.

I wonder why, in a country of thousands of churches, of millions of homes with a spare bedroom and an extra car seat, why foster kids sleep on an air mattress in a county office.  Why people who label themselves as Christians don’t see the face of Christ himself  in the laughter and the tears of these children.  Who will YOU see?  And what will YOU do about it?

“For I was hungry, and you fed me.  I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.  I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.”  Matthew 25:35 (NLT)

 
 

  

 

 

Nov 092011
 

Her eyes were wide as I opened my trunk lid.  The van was filled to the roof with Christmas presents – toys for the kids, new pillows and blankets, groceries, and a few nice things for mom too.  She stood still, as if she was afraid to believe it was all for them – for her little family. 

My mind flashed to the day in clinic when another family caught my attention.  They were part of a small Bible study group and wanted to take on a family for Christmas.  Wanted to provide for someone who didn’t have much.  I agreed to watch out for the right opportunity, and within 24 hours I had found a match.  A single mom who had arm-wrestled a meth addiction.  Who had lost everything – her kids, her job, her home – but who along the way had found herself.  Had scratched and clawed to become a mom again.  But it wasn’t easy, and the full-time job she held barely paid the bills.  There wasn’t much left over for Christmas. 

Until she crashed headlong into a small Bible study group.

It took 18 trips up the apartment stairs to carry everything in.  The little Christmas tree could barely be seen.  The living room floor was half-covered.  And in the middle of  the mess, I held onto a sobbing, sweet, beautiful mom who experienced, maybe for the very first time in her life, grace and love that were extravagant. 

Who will you love extravagantly?

“Mostly what God does is love you.  Keep company with Him and learn a life of love.  Observe how Christ loved us.  His love was not cautious but extravagant…Love like that.”  Ephesians 5:2 (MSG)

Oct 192011
 

“Did you see the news?” 

I looked up to see my case worker friend moving my direction.

“Did you see it?”  she repeated.  Her neck disappeared into her shoulders, and her voice cracked with the emotion of the situation.

I nodded.  I had seen it.  The latest story of horrific tragedy – a child death at the hands of a parent.  A situation so difficult for most of us to ingest that we find ourselves changing the channel so we won’t have to watch.  Or turning the newspaper page.  Or, if we can manage to sit through the gruesome story, the story of a broken family living in a broken world, we become distressed.  Angry.  We want revenge.  We want to blame someone – it must be someone’s fault.  The parent obviously committed the unspeakable, but SOMEONE should have been around to help them.  SOMEONE should have known this child was in danger.  SOMEONE should have done something.  And now SOMEONE should pay for this.  Should be put on a media trial so we all scream “CRUCIFY” and then sit back in our recliners and feel better. 

I agree.  Someone should have known.  Someone should have done something.  Someone is guilty.  Someone is to blame. 

Us. 

We are to blame.  The neighbors of families who are struggling but who don’t bother to offer assistance.  The occupants of homes with a spare bedroom who would rather use that space for a treadmill than take in a foster kid.  The members of churches who show up for an hour on Sunday so that we can feel righteous but cross over to the other side of the road so we won’t have to interact with the broken and bloody of our communities.  We are to blame. So what do we do now?

We need to pray – to spend time on our faces in front of a Holy God who loves foster kids and wants us to love them too.  We need to fast - to intentionally go without so that we can focus on what role each of us is called to play.  And we need to act – to step into the battle for the future of these kids.  When we do, maybe the next news story we see will be about how the shelter is empty or how a dad got off drugs and got his kids back  or how there are no kids waiting to be adopted.  Maybe then I’ll watch the news again…

“When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen.  When you come looking for me, you’ll find me.”  Jeremiah 29: 12-13 (MSG)