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

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)

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…

Apr 072011
 

I love to tell the stories of foster kids.  I especially love to tell stories of hope.  That, after all, is what this site is all about.  There is another set of words that are particularly hopeful.  And healing.  And life-giving.

When the two are brought together, the result is something beautiful.  Something powerful.  Something alive.  I hope you read it.  I hope it encourages you.  I hope it touches you.  I hope it trashes you.  And more than anything?  I hope God speaks to you, and that you are forever changed by that encounter.

Fostering Hope – Experiencing God’s Heart for Foster Kids. A 30-Day Devotional Guide (download)

Open it.  Download it.  Print it.  Read it.  Share it.  Fall in love with those who are closest to God’s heart.

For other downloading options, please click  here.

Jan 142011
 

He was a three-and-a-half feet tall bundle of emotion.  In a few short years, he had unfortunately witnessed much more bad than good, a fact that became painfully clear to his foster parents as he ran screaming through the house.  As they struggled to settle his fears, their silent prayers were filled with doubt.  What could they do?  They weren’t equipped to handle a kid like this.  Finally the screaming stopped and there was silence, except for the sound of the sobs of a little broken heart.  The man fell to his knees.

“We will never hurt you.”

At the simple words, the sobs stopped.  Time seemed to stand still as child and adult locked eyes.  Then the most unexpected thing – a sloppy, wet, little boy kiss planted firmly on his foster dad’s cheek.  He ran off to play, leaving his caregivers stunned, realizing that heaven met earth for just a moment that day.

 

 

 

“Heaven meets earth like a sloppy, wet kiss        

And my heart turns violently inside of my chest

I don’t have time to maintain these regrets

When I think about the way that He loves us.”

How He Loves – lyrics by John Mark McMillan

Nov 192010
 

It doesn’t rain much in western Oklahoma.  The wind blows all the time, and the soil gets dry and crusty and cracked. Rows of winter wheat seedlings struggle to survive.

Farmers aren’t the only ones who experience drought.  Pediatricians do too.  So do case workers.  And foster parents.  And judges.  Not enough help.  Not enough time.  Not enough resources.  Not enough good judgment.  Not enough compassion.  Not enough hope.  Not enough.  And when the foster system experiences a drought, the children and families who are touched by it suffer.  Mightily.

That’s where I have been living for a few months.  Operating out of a mentality of scarcity.  Consumed with the flood of children shifting from their own homes to a stranger’s house, or worse, to nowhere.  A temporary place.  A shelter.  An office.  Depressed by the collective sadness of their stories, and at the same time worried that many people they meet aren’t even interested in listening to them.  Fatigued from sleepless nights and exhausting days.  Dry.  Cracked.  Struggling.

A long time passed.  Then God’s word came to Elijah.  The message:  “I’m about to make it rain…”  (1 Kings 18:1, MSG)

Really?  I’ve been doing this a long time, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.  I can’t tell if there is any progress.  Kids who I saw 10 or 12 years ago as preschoolers come back under my care as teenagers.  Struggling.  With no healthy, meaningful relationships.  No mentors.  No one speaking into their lives.  No hope.  No opportunity.

(The servant) looked, and reported back, “I don’t see a thing.”  “Keep looking,” said Elijah, “seven times if necessary.” (1 Kings 18:43, MSG)

Occasionally, some encouragement.  A mom reunited with her kids who is doing awesome.  A foster family who is tickled pink to be adopting.  A case worker who is busting her tail to get a kid to football practice.

And sure enough, the seventh time he said, “Oh yes, a cloud!  But very small, no bigger than someone’s hand, rising out of the sea.”  (1 Kings 18:44, MSG)

A small non-profit supporting foster families.  A pastor teaching about the importance of mentoring.  A news reporter telling the behind-the-scenes story of foster kids.  A business owner hiring a dad who needs a job to get his kids back.  A mechanic repairing a car for a mom who needs to complete some parenting classes.  A neighbor providing respite for a grandma who is raising her grandkids.  A Bible study group praying every week for wisdom and courage for the case workers and police officers and district attorneys and judges who are faced with gut-wrenching decisions every single day they get out of bed.

Elijah said… “Up on your feet!  Eat and drink – celebrate!  Rain is on the way:  I hear it coming!” (1 Kings 18:41, MSG)

It’s coming.  The rain is coming.  Right now there is a drought.  There is scarcity.  Only a tiny little cloud of hope in the sky.  But that tiny little cloud is growing, in the hearts of people who are just beginning to hear about foster kids as well as those who’ve done this for years.  There is a sound, the sound of a few voices beginning to mention foster care from stages and pulpits and podiums.  It’s coming.

A long time passed.  Then God’s word came to Elijah.  The message:  “I’m about to make it rain…”  (1 Kings 18:1, MSG)

Jun 012010
 

“Can I ask you a question, doc?”  Something about the tone of her voice made me stop writing and look up.  “We have a granddaughter on the way, and the ultrasound shows some kind of heart defect.  Can you tell me more about it?  Is she going to be OK?”  The answer I had for her wasn’t good.  One of the worst kinds of heart defects.  Could go very badly, very quickly. 

Time passed, and the baby came.  She was blue, and sick.  Months in the intensive care unit.  Multiple surgeries.  Nights that she shouldn’t have survived, at least according to medical wisdom. 

Yet she did.  For first steps and birthday parties and the terrible two’s (and three’s).

She is an amazing kid, coming from an amazing family of people who have dedicated their lives to serving abused and neglected kids.  But there are still challenges ahead.  More surgery.  More time in the ICU.  She needs your help.  Because today, hope has a name.  And her name is Haven.

www.hopeforhaven.com

May 062010
 

“He’s having trouble with his schoolwork”. She waved in the general direction of the boy in the room. At 12, he didn’t look particularly worried about her comment. “He doesn’t do his homework – doesn’t even get home with it sometimes. By the time I get there it is late, and he can’t seem to find it. And he got kicked out of school today.” He still looked calm. I hesitated, wanting to escape the room before this got too messy. “And my daughter is struggling too – she is seeing a counselor.” Too late. I sat down. “What is really going on in your life? Tell me the story of your family.”

For the first time in the entire encounter, she looked at me. Eye to eye. As if she wanted me to prove my level of interest. Then she closed her eyes and began to share. Molested as a child. Kicked out of the house at 13. A drug addict at 16. Twice a mom by 19. In and out of jail and rehab and terrible relationships throughout her 20’s.

Clean for 3 years. A stable job and a stable place to live. Night classes to get her associates degree.

“You have been through a lot, but you are achieving some amazing things.” I said. “How did you survive?” She sat up straight and lifted her chin. “You just have to keep walking in the fire – keep moving,” she replied. “You can’t stop or you will die.” Her face looked a little softer now, and there was a touch of pride in her eyes, as if telling the story helped her realize just how much she had already overcome. We talked a little more, and I offered what encouragement and suggestions I had. And she agreed to try them, and to come back in a few weeks so we could talk more. As I watched them leave, I found myself really hoping that she would.

There is still fire, but she is still walking. And now, maybe I will get the opportunity to walk with her.

Are you willing to walk in the fire with someone today?

Apr 272010
 

I love hope.  Love people who are hopeful.  Love stories that have a happy ending.  I want the guy to get the girl.  The dog to find its owner.  The foster kid to return home.  The orphan to get a family.  And for all of them to live happily ever after.

When I really think about how hope operates – how it changes lives – one thing becomes apparent. 

Hope requires action.

Action causes a perfectly comfortable family to open their door to foster kids.  Action moves a couple from hoping for a child to adopting a child.  Action moves a person to tutor or mentor or write the check or organize the party or the event, so that foster kids can have a shot at a better future than past.  Hope requires action. 

If you are in the mood for some action and live in the Oklahoma City area, take a look at www.fluxokc.wordpress.com or follow @fluxokc on twitter.  You can be part of celebrating the graduation of a foster kid.  If you are outside of OKC, call your local DHS/DCFS office and see if they need help throwing a party for their graduates.  Only 3 out of 5 foster kids make it through high school – we should make a big deal out of it!