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