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)

 
 

  

 

 

Apr 062010
 

My mom was visiting for Easter, and she pointed out that there were some details I left out of my recent discussion of the number of children in foster care.  In particular, the fact that there are 8,400 kids in the Oklahoma foster system, but that nationally there are between 450,000 and 500,000 foster kids.  In Los Angeles county alone there are 25,000 children in custody. 

25,000

I grew up in a town that had an alleged population of 1300, although I always suspected that whoever counted was including everyone’s dog.  To a small town girl like me, 8400 is a lot.  25,000 is difficult to imagine.  And a half million completely blows my mind.  Thinking about it can paralyze me, if I let it. 

There is this old saying I have heard – “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.”  I hate that saying.  Bite size pieces may be appropriate for eating an elephant steak, but they are unacceptable for changing the lives of thousands of foster children.  Instead, we need to figure out how to eat the whole darn thing in a bite or two.

“The Tipping Point” is a great book on social change written by Malcolm Gladwell.  Malcolm describes in great detail why change is more often like an epidemic than the steady, slow process we sometimes imagine.  He argues that with the right people, the right environment, and the right message we can change the world.  

Quickly. 

I’m up for that.  Stay tuned – more to come…

Apr 022010
 

Numbers are an important part of our everyday lives.  We use them to help us connect to others on our cell phones, to tell us which seat to sit in on a plane, and to help us find the correct highway.  In the world of foster kids, one important number is the number of kids in custody.  Thankfully, that number has been declining, from 12,000 a couple of years ago to just over 8,400 today.  There are lots of ideas about why the number is declining, and certainly lots of excitement.  And there should be.

That said, do not think for one moment that the work with these kids and their families is done, that DHS no longer needs the community to step up.  I would argue the exact opposite.

There aren’t any fewer families who struggle

Life is difficult.  Parenting is hard if there are two of you and you aren’t worried about putting gas in the car or your next meal on the table.  What if you are a single parent?  What if it costs you more for a week of daycare than you earn in a week of work?  What if a good day is one where the electricity and the water are both on at your house? 

Look around you.  On your block.  At your kids’ school.  Or the grocery store, or at church.  There are hurting people everywhere.  People who need to eat, need a ride, need a babysitter. 

Or perhaps they need the most important thing of all – a friend.

Want to end child abuse?  That’s how.  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist.  Just a servant.

Mar 242010
 

I saw her crying, and it caught my attention.  It was family night at a local restaurant, and while my kids played, I was people watching.  And that is when I saw her.  Crying.  She looked to be early 30’s – not much younger than me.  Her husband was trying to comfort her.  Occasionally a 3 year old burst from the play area to come check in with them, and when she did, the woman would quickly dry her tears and smile at the girl, but then the tears would come again.  Next to her was a baby carrier with a small infant inside.  He was a different race than the family, and I wondered what their story was.  When her husband wandered into the play area and sat down, I saw my opportunity and followed him in. 

Didn’t take much to get the story.  They were foster parents who wanted to adopt.  A month ago they had been called about a newborn who the worker felt certain would be adopted – bio mom had lots of history with DHS and had lost other kids.  It was a done deal.  At least in the minds of the worker and the parents.  They went shopping.  They bought baby furniture.  Their friends threw them a shower.  They celebrated.  The baby came, and they fell in love.  Took family pictures.  Visited grandparents. 

Then, a call.  Can you bring the baby to the office?  There is an aunt, and the baby is going to live with relatives.

Devastation.  Grief.  Anger.  Loss.  Exhaustion.  Emptiness.

The mom mustered enough energy to say “no, it is supper time for my family.  I will meet you tomorrow.”  This was their last supper together.  Family night at a local restaurant. 

I sat with them for an hour.  Answered questions about the system.  Cried with them. Encouraged them.  Talked with them about life and faith and purpose.  When we parted, the tears had stopped, but the grief was still present. 

I bumped into them again a month later, again at family night.  This time smiles.  Excitement.  The mom came straight over to me and began telling the story.  She had taken the baby to the DHS office.  Along with diapers, and clothes, and bottles.  And a photo album, full of many pictures of the baby.  And one of them together.  She met the aunt, and the bio mom.  Both were amazed that she had brought all the baby items.  But mostly they were amazed at the pictures.  There was hugging – a lot of it.  And gratitude.  And tears – but this time they didn’t hurt so badly. 

It was a reminder that moms love their children, even when they aren’t able to take care of them.  That they are grateful to others who come to love them too, even if they aren’t able to fully express it.  That even in the face of loss and grief, love wins.  It wins. 

I saw them again a month later.  Grinning ear to ear.  A new baby boy with them – the adoption was in the works.

Mar 092010
 

From kids in foster care…

No one could really understand what my life is like.  No one pays attention to what I do, or cares about how I feel.  No one looks me in the eye and say “I love you and care about you,” and even if they did, I wouldn’t believe them.  No one that I love has stayed around for very long.  I don’t feel safe because there are too many dangerous things in the world.  I hurt in ways that no one else understands.  When I needed you most, you left me and now I am broken in a million pieces.  Please help me put the pieces together, because I don’t know what to do.

Enough said.  What will you do to help?

“Pure, unstained religion…is to take care of orphans and widows when they suffer…”          James 1:27 (GWT)

Feb 222010
 

When I was a kid, one of our family Christmas break traditions was working on a jigsaw puzzle.  We would always get a new one with some beautiful landscape or cool collage, and we would start putting it together on the kitchen table.  Anyone who wanted could take a turn at finding just the right location for each piece, until the puzzle was completed. 

That all sounds like a nice family project, but the truth is that I stink at jigsaw puzzles.  I can get the border together, and maybe figure out some small patches with bright colors or unique objects, but by and large, the middle of the puzzle escapes me.  I get frustrated.  And I start jamming together pieces that don’t always fit.  Thank goodness for my mom, her geometry skills, and her patience.  She could see the shapes better that I did, and could figure out how to connect them.  And when she was done we all got to share in the glory of a finished piece, one that we had done together.

A dozen years ago I saw a picture in my mind of what a world without child abuse would look like.  Since that time, I have been working my tail off to put the puzzle together and see that again.  I found gaps in the system – needs that weren’t being met, and I met them in the best way I knew how.  Health care.  School supplies.  Training. Hope.  But the truth is, the border is barely together, and there is no way anyone can tell what the puzzle looks like yet. 

And yet the pieces are coming together.  Many people who hear my stories about foster kids want to know where to plug in, how to help.  I have some basic answers, but the truth is that I am not very good at the details of connecting people.  It is the middle of the puzzle for me.  I have desperately needed to find those with different eyes, with different skills, who could complement my story-telling and connect people to needs. 

The Spero Project may just be one of those.  Spero’s prime objective is to connect – to bring together groups and individuals with a heart to change the world in some specific way, and to put them together so that the puzzle is complete.  One of those projects is Spero:Legacy – connecting  those who are interested foster kids as well as adoption.  Tuesday evening Spero is hosting a meeting to discuss foster/adoption and to help individuals and groups who can see the struggle of foster kids, but don’t know what to do about it.  Spero can help – you will leave the meeting with specific “next steps” for how YOU can impact the world of foster kids and change lives.  You are a piece of the puzzle – it can’t be completed without you.

Avenue Class for Foster Care/Adoption – Tuesday, February 23, at 7:00.  Location – 4646 N. Santa Fe, OKC, at the Spero:Resource center.

If you can’t attend, check out the website and contact them:  www.thesperoproject.com

Feb 132010
 

I hate moving. When I was a kid, my family moved every year or two, and it always made me sick. Hugging the toilet sick. The whole time the U-Haul was being loaded.

I didn’t really get any pleasure out of seeing my new bedroom or exploring a new neighborhood. Mostly I spent the first few days worrying. Wondering if anyone knew where I was. Would I be able to get on the right bus at school? And off at the right stop? I didn’t even know my address – how would the bus driver? Would my grandparents be able to find us for my birthday party? And how would Santa know where we were? 

Those nerves could be largely settled by one simple thing – getting mail.  Not mail for my parents, mail for ME.  Mail meant that someone knew where I was.  Mail meant I wasn’t lost.  Mail meant I was thought of.  And, if I was lucky and the mail was from my grandparents, it usually included stuff – stickers, toys, activity books, crayons – you get the picture. 

Foster kids move a lot too – an average of 4 times in 20 months, and of kids who age out of foster care, 1/3 of them moved more than 8 times while they were in custody.  Each move means a new house, new neighborhood, new school.  Each move means you lose stuff that matters to you – stuff like pictures and drawings and stories you have written and favorite CD’s.  Each move means new rules – new bedtimes, new chores, new ways to fold towels and make your bed. 

And, they wonder if anyone knows where they are. 

I wonder how much difference a piece of mail would make to a foster kid.  A birthday card, a random note, a care package.  How much does it matter to you to not feel “lost”, but rather “found”?

Beginning next week, my office will be sending birthday cards to the foster kids who see me for health care.  What can you do?  Look for opportunity.  Teachers, coaches, kids pastors/church workers – take special notice of the foster kids who cross your path and send them a word of encouragement for no particular reason.  Foster parents – teach foster kids your address and phone number.   

Feb 102010
 

(the following story is from a recent conversation with a foster mom) 

Recently my (foster) kids and I were having breakfast.  One of the boys was messing around, as he normally does, and bumped his hand on the table.  He began to cry, and when I asked where it hurt, he lifted his hand.  I kissed his fingers and he said “no, right here.”  I had only missed his hurt spot by a tiny bit, but he knew it and wanted me to kiss his hurt again.  He has been with me a long time, and I wonder when he goes back home if his mom will understand what it means when he says “no, right here.”  Will she know that he has a favorite bedtime story?  And that he wants two hugs, not just one before he will fall asleep.  Will she know that he likes goldfish crackers for his afternoon snack?

I am beginning to realize just how much there is about him that I should try to share with his biologic parents.  All the ways that I help him get through the day.  My biggest fear is this – will I forget something as small as the little kisses that heal his hurts?

 

If you are a foster parent, what can you do? Take pics, scrapbook, fill out a Life Book with your foster child’s likes and daily habits, talk to the biologic family at visits – be willing to learn a little about their traditions/habits and incorporate some of them, as well as share yours.