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 292010

He was at work when he got the call.  The job site was a difficult place to talk on the phone.  A biting north wind was blowing against his cheek, interfering with the reception.  And the noise of construction rattling along behind him was both loud and distracting.  But after a couple of attempts, he heard the message.

“Your ex is in some trouble, can you take the kids?”

His mind raced.  It had been 5 years since he had even talked to his ex.  He remembered when the first one was born – had been at the hospital for that.  She was a sweet little baby girl with red hair and blue eyes.  Within 18 months she was pregnant again, but their relationship had been deteriorating for a long time, and not long after she told him, she had kicked him out of the house.  He had gone willingly at first, not in the mood for all the responsibility.  Two kids and a wife was not the dream everyone makes it out to be.  But certainly there had been lots of nights when loneliness crept in.  And he had wondered about that little girl.  And whether she had a sister or brother.

The wind hit him again, as did the high-pitched voice on the other end of the phone.  “Sir, are you interested in taking the kids?  You would have to have a home study and a background check, but if that went OK, you could have them with you in a few days.”  As he snapped back to the present, he felt the weight of responsibility settle on his shoulders.  But this time it was different.  This time, for whatever reason, he wanted to step up.  Wanted to embrace that.  Wanted to be a dad and a provider.  Wanted a new family. 

And that is exactly what he got.  At Christmas.  Complete with hopes for baby dolls and teddy bears and soccer balls.  From his now not so little baby girl, and her little brother.  It was the best Christmas ever.

Mar 082010

Recently my daughter and I had a date night.  I had a couple of ideas for the evening, but when we drove by a local bowling alley, the sign caught her attention, and our plans quickly changed.  We grabbed shoes and got her the lightest ball they had, and soon we were ready to play the game.  I am competitive by nature, and while I understand that it is inappropriate, I really wanted to a) get lots of strikes and spares, and b) not be beaten by a kid.  So, I picked out just the right ball, bowled a warm-up frame or two, and figured out just exactly where I needed to aim to knock down the most pins. 

Let the games begin!

Somewhere around the 5th frame, I remembered that this was supposed to be an opportunity to build relationship with my kiddo, and that I should not focus quite so much on getting the pins down and a little more on enjoying time with my daughter (embarrassing to say, but unfortunately true…).  So I began to watch her a little more closely.  She was a terribly inconsistent bowler.  One ball would be right down the middle of the lane and knock down several pins, the next would be in the gutter.  But the more I watched, the more fascinated I became with her reaction, no matter what the result.

Celebration.  Exuberance.  Excitement.  Joy.

Gutter ball or strike.  Didn’t matter if she knocked down one pin or all the pins.  She was excited about every small achievement, every tiny improvement on her score.  It was being in the game together that made her happy.

I spend a lot of time with parents whose children are in foster care.  And I have lots of ideas about what they should be achieving and how they should be behaving.  You need to get a certain kind of job.  You need to have a better home.  You need to get yourself mentally healthy.  You need to be a better parent.  You need to be more responsible.  You need to visit your kids more reliably.  You need to pass your drug screen all the time.  And while those things may very well all be true, what is also true is that I don’t celebrate with them nearly enough.  I complain about the visit missed and don’t celebrate the one made.  I gripe if they don’t parent as well as I want them to.  I write them off if they struggle with relapsing into their addictions.  I judge them on every aspect of life, and I do not stop to celebrate what is accomplished.  In the face of terrible odds – poverty, poor social supports, addiction, depression, hopelessness – we should be amazed that some moms and dads can manage to get out of bed in the morning.  Perhaps I should learn to celebrate the fact that we are even in the game together. 

And for those who are interested?  105-103 – mom wins:)