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 142010

I pulled a muscle in my back a few days ago. Wish I could say I was doing something exciting, but the truth is, I was just getting out of the car. That’s all. I spent much of the weekend taking handfuls of ibuprofen and trying to find a comfortable position, all the while dealing with the nagging, gnawing pain that was physically and mentally exhausting. While it was present most of the time, occasionally it would let up and for just a second I would forget about the injury. For a very short time. And then when I moved, the pain would come back, worse than ever.

She was 17, and counting the days until her birthday so she could be “out on her own”. She was going to move in with a friend, she told me, and try to get a job, although she had only completed the 9th grade so far, and thought that being employed at a fast food restaurant was her best option. She answered my questions in a somewhat robotic, monotonous voice, and she seemed almost able to predict what the question was before I had asked it. Until I asked about family. Then the robot vanished. Her voice shook, and her eyes filled with pain.

Lots of it.

First in foster care at age 2. Back and forth between the system and home until she was school-age. Parents rights terminated. In several foster homes. Then adopted. Until it got hard. Then back into foster care. Now, almost on her own. But with no hope, no future, no life. Just pain. Chronic, long-standing pain.

Ibuprofen won’t fix that. Only one thing will. Love. Massive, overwhelming, unconditional love. And she hasn’t found that yet.

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 152010

Loss is a common part of the human experience. Some days it is closer to us than others, and this week it has been uncomfortably close. Two friends grieving – one over a life fully lived and another barely begun – both abruptly lost.  In the quiet darkness of the early morning, as I think about my friends, my mind drifts where it often does – to foster kids.  Physical death in children is thankfully rare, even among such a high risk group, but I have come to realize that there is more than one way to die. 

She was 15, the eldest of four siblings.  Life had not been kind – her parents had died unexpectedly when she was 12, and after living with a couple of  different relatives, her aunt had reluctantly taken them in.  The basics were provided – food, shelter, education – but there wasn’t much emotional connection, so at such a young age she took on the responsibility of “mothering” her younger siblings. 

I remember the first day I met her – she had just arrived at the shelter and was very upbeat and smiling.  Seemed strange.  When I inquired why she was there, her eyes got more serious.  Her aunt had gone on a trip and left them alone.  She had tried very hard to get her brothers and sister up in the morning, fed, dressed and off to school, then had met them in the afternoon, prepared supper, helped with homework and tucked them in bed.  But they were beginning to run out of food in the house.  She was worried, and asked their neighbor for help – the neighbor provided them some food, but also contacted the authorities and the kids were picked up. 

She was OK with being at the shelter – OK with not having to stress about providing for her siblings.  She was hopeful about the future – she wanted to be a pediatrician and hammered me with lots of questions about college, med school, and what it was like to work with sick children.  It was impossible not to fall in love with her spunk and her hopefulness. 

She came frequently to the clinic while I was there – at first just to hang out and talk, which we both seemed to enjoy.  Then with some minor complaints – an occasional headache or stomachache.  Then more serious ones.  Weight loss.  Sleeplessness. Depression.  Her siblings left the shelter, one by one, each to a relative. 

But no one wanted her.  And her soul died.  Her hope died.  Right in front of me.

We cry when the body dies.  But who cries when the soul dies?  Who cries for foster kids?  Who cries for her?

Feb 042010

One of my favorite reality TV shows is The Biggest Loser.  I enjoy the creative competitions, last-chance workouts, and of course the drama of the weigh-in.  But what fascinates me most might be lost on the majority of viewers.  Every once in a while there will be an occasion when a contestant has a private conversation about their weight issues with one of the trainers.  There are usually tears flowing as the trainer probes the depths of the contestant’s soul, attempting to get at the cause of a lifetime of unhealthy behaviors.  In the middle of all the made-for-TV drama, if you listen closely, you will hear them answer.

My parents divorced.  I was molested.  My mom was a drug addict.  No one cared about me.  I was abandoned. 

Now THAT is reality.  Reality is that some kids have a childhood full of pain and loss.  Reality is that some kinds of adversity screw you up.  Reality is that surviving childhood does not guarantee a clean slate into adulthood.

Want to know more?  Stay tuned for the next episode…