Nov 162012

She stood at the front of the room, feeling very small and conspicuous.  A half dozen people stood in a semicircle behind and beside her.  Most were unfamiliar, but she thought she recognized her case worker, although they had only met a couple of times.  A large wooden table separated them from the judge, and she could barely see him as he sat perched on the elevated platform behind it.  No one talked – the only sound was the shuffling of papers from behind the desk.  After what seemed like an eternity, the judge spoke, raining down questions on the group.  Was mom attending parenting classes?  What were the results of her psychological evaluation?  Did she have a reliable job yet?  One by one, the others in the room – attorneys, therapists, child advocates, case workers – shuffled through their own papers, attempting to capture in brief answers their opinions on who she was as a person and as a mom.






Some of the answers were accurate.  She did struggle with depression and loneliness.  We all do at times.  It had been hard for her to find work.  She hadn’t ever finished high school, and most of the jobs she could land wouldn’t come close to paying the bills.  The one job she found that paid well put her in a spot to be taken advantage of by others – not exactly a career you are proud of or want to tell your case worker about.   But many of the words spoken in that court room seemed to carry a different kind of judgment.  The kind that comes when you are looked down on.  When others don’t think you have any value as a human being.  The kind that make you realize you are disposable – that no one would even notice if you didn’t exist any more.  Or maybe they would even think the world was better off.

She felt paralyzed.  Suffocated.  Unable to speak or to defend herself.  Humiliated.  Worthless.  Uncertain.  She loved her kids, but maybe these experts were right.  Maybe she was a terrible parent.  A terrible person.  As quickly as it started the hearing was over.  Head down, she shuffled out of the room.

It is extremely difficult to weigh the needs of a child against the ability of a parent to meet those needs.  But as we do it, we must be careful not to judge the heart.  To lift up and not to crush.  To recognize that every single one of us was made by the same creator.  Made in the image of God.  Realizing that changes our own hearts towards a broken mom, and provides an opportunity to show her who she was really meant to be.






“So God created man in His own image, in the image and likeness of God…”  Genesis 1:27 (Amp)




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)

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:)

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 072010

(this is the 3rd part of a discussion on the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences – if you haven’t looked at the first two posts, I recommend starting there)

She was beautiful – petite with shoulder-length auburn hair, blue eyes and a quick smile.  She sat across the desk from me as we discussed work first, then family, and finally life in general.  She was interviewing for a job, but I forgot about that quickly, as I found myself much more interested in her story than in her qualifications.  Childhood was not kind to her – she was one of three kids born to young parents who struggled with poverty and substance abuse.  Her first contact with foster care was at age 3, but after a couple of years she was allowed to reunite with her parents.  Soon they moved to another state – it was easier for her parents than dealing with the close monitoring of child welfare. 

Within another year or two, she was back in foster care, and this time she would never leave.  She saw her parents from time to time – they were never quite “bad” enough to lose their rights to her, but never quite “good” enough to get her back, whatever that means.  It didn’t make a lot of sense to her – she only knew that she missed them.  Twenty-one foster homes later, she graduated from high school, went to college, got married, and was now interviewing for a job.

What?  How did that happen?  Why isn’t she depressed?  Sick?  On drugs?  Who convinced her to go to college?  How did she become part of a normal, loving relationship?

That is the million dollar question.  And tomorrow, I will give you a million dollar answer.  One that you can be a part of.

Feb 052010

Yesterday I talked a little about the impact of childhood adversity on adulthood.  Let me tell you a story about that…

So in the late 1980’s, there was a guy who was an internal medicine physician (adult doc) in California.  He ran an employee health clinic, and spent his time trying to get obese people to lose weight and become healthier.  The clinic helped folks learn about nutrition, gave them an exercise regimen, and monitored their progress.  And, they lost weight.  However, what he noticed was that there were some people who were initially successful, but then reverted back to their old habits and regained the weight.

Can you relate to that? 

Well, this doc didn’t like that one bit (you can imagine what Jillian Michaels would have to say about it…), so he sat down with some of these folks over a cup of coffee and let them tell him about their problems.  At first they talked about the role of food in their lives, but eventually the conversation drifted to the things that we humans use to comfort ourselves – food, alcohol, drugs, tobacco, sex, sleep, withdrawal from relationships. 

If we’re honest, we all use those things or others to comfort ourselves.  For me, it’s chocolate.  And caffeine.  And maybe occasionally a margarita.  With lots of tequila. 

The problem is that you can’t really heal an internal problem with an external solution.  And when the internal problems are a gaping, bottomless pit, all the chocolate or caffeine or alcohol in the world won’t help.  And in the meantime, you get fat.  Or sick.  Or addicted.  Or dead.  In fact, in the population that this doc studied, not only were folks obese, they had high rates of heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure (from overeating),  liver disease (from alcohol), lung disease (from smoking), drug abuse, sexually transmitted disease, unwanted pregnancy/abortion, depression and suicide. 

Not just a little more.  A LOT more.  In fact, they were dead men walking…

Depressed yet? Hang in there – we will get to some hope soon.  Tune in again tomorrow…