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)

 
 

  

 

 

Oct 192011
 

“Did you see the news?” 

I looked up to see my case worker friend moving my direction.

“Did you see it?”  she repeated.  Her neck disappeared into her shoulders, and her voice cracked with the emotion of the situation.

I nodded.  I had seen it.  The latest story of horrific tragedy – a child death at the hands of a parent.  A situation so difficult for most of us to ingest that we find ourselves changing the channel so we won’t have to watch.  Or turning the newspaper page.  Or, if we can manage to sit through the gruesome story, the story of a broken family living in a broken world, we become distressed.  Angry.  We want revenge.  We want to blame someone – it must be someone’s fault.  The parent obviously committed the unspeakable, but SOMEONE should have been around to help them.  SOMEONE should have known this child was in danger.  SOMEONE should have done something.  And now SOMEONE should pay for this.  Should be put on a media trial so we all scream “CRUCIFY” and then sit back in our recliners and feel better. 

I agree.  Someone should have known.  Someone should have done something.  Someone is guilty.  Someone is to blame. 

Us. 

We are to blame.  The neighbors of families who are struggling but who don’t bother to offer assistance.  The occupants of homes with a spare bedroom who would rather use that space for a treadmill than take in a foster kid.  The members of churches who show up for an hour on Sunday so that we can feel righteous but cross over to the other side of the road so we won’t have to interact with the broken and bloody of our communities.  We are to blame. So what do we do now?

We need to pray – to spend time on our faces in front of a Holy God who loves foster kids and wants us to love them too.  We need to fast – to intentionally go without so that we can focus on what role each of us is called to play.  And we need to act – to step into the battle for the future of these kids.  When we do, maybe the next news story we see will be about how the shelter is empty or how a dad got off drugs and got his kids back  or how there are no kids waiting to be adopted.  Maybe then I’ll watch the news again…

“When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen.  When you come looking for me, you’ll find me.”  Jeremiah 29: 12-13 (MSG)

May 192011
 

You ever have one of those periods of time when you just feel like things are out of sorts?  Like your rhythm is off?  And all your good intentions, the things you hope for, are going bad?  I do.

I frustrated my friend.  Strike one.

I said something stupid that made my child feel self-conscious.  Strike two.

I didn’t lead well at work.  Strike three.  You’re OUT!

(Sigh)

She was 16, and kind of a punk, although I fell in love with her the first time we met.  Life wasn’t easy.   A bad family situation had landed her in foster care by the time she finished grade school, and she had moved around a lot since then.  Mostly not her fault, although she wasn’t the easiest kid to deal with either.  But I was convinced I could change that.  After all, we had a great conversation.  We connected.  She needed some stuff and I got it for her.  Name brands that I don’t even buy myself.  She moved again.  Then she came back.  Needed some more.  “Where did it go?” I wondered.  But I helped again.  Encouraged her.  Expected her to do better.  To make something of herself. 

Time went by, then I saw her again.  She was heart-broken over a bad choice and a destroyed relationship.  I held her while she cried.  “Stay close,” I said.  “Let me walk through this with you.”  A few hours later she was gone, running to God knows where.

Strike out.

I sit here at my desk typing this and I can see her name on a little purple index card that is taped to the wall behind my computer.  It is one of many.  I wonder where she is.  If she has food and shelter and safety and friends.  Maybe I pushed too hard.  Maybe I enabled.  Maybe I should have done something different. 

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:  because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”    Lamentations 3:21-23 (NIV)

Maybe tomorrow I will get another chance to serve.  To influence.  To hit a relational homerun.

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)

May 102010
 

Some days this job sucks.  Some days I can’t tell that there is any progress. 

“We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist…”  1 Corinthians 13:12 (MSG)

Four years is a long time in kid life.  I remember meeting the sibling quartet four years ago.  They were strung out across three foster homes, and it took me a couple of clinic visits to figure out they were one family.  The boys were all a little unruly, but their freckled faces, dimpled cheeks, and quick smiles got them out of a lot of trouble.  The girl was harder to connect with – she was older, and less trusting.  But over time, the relationship grew. 

Time went by, and somewhere along the way I met their parents.  Fell in love with them.  Poured into them.  Opened my heart, my mind, and occasionally even my checkbook.  They got their kids back. 

I thought I saw progress, or did I just imagine that?

Then the kids showed up with foster parents again.  And I was devastated.  And angry.  A little at the parents.  But mostly at God.  “Why don’t you do anything?”  I complained.  “When are you going to show up?  I am tired of this, tired of being disappointed.  Tired of watching foster kids come and go.  Tired of hoping that their lives will improve, only to realize later that nothing is better.  When are you going to do something about this?” 

His answer?  I did.  I sent you.

I don’t like that answer.  Because I can’t see very well.  I don’t know if what I am spending my life doing makes any difference.  I don’t know what happens to that group of three brothers and a sister whose parents can’t get their act together.  I don’t know if they get to stay with each other or get separated.  I don’t know at what point hope is lost in them.  At what point they give up.  I just don’t know…

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity…Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.”  1 Cor. 13:12 (NLT)

Apr 192010
 

“Would you recognize him?”, she asked.  I stared intently at the boy.  There was something something about him that seemed vaguely familiar, but certainly didn’t stand out to me.  It had been a half dozen years since I’d seen him, and he was a baby then.  My mind wandered back to a hospital room, where I had discussed his likely future outcome with his new foster mom.  The brain injury he had suffered at the hands of his mom’s boyfriend was one of the worse I’d seen.  I was certain he would die, and when he didn’t, I secretly wondered if it wouldn’t have been a better outcome than the life he was now beginning. 

She had listened to my medical opinion, and then announced that I didn’t know what I was talking about and that he would not only walk, he would do much more.  I didn’t press the issue.  We could work that out over time. 

“Would you?”, she asked again.  “No, I don’t think so”.  The school-age boy was sitting on a bench in my office playing his handheld video game.  “You told me he wouldn’t walk, but he does a lot more than that.  He is in school, and he draws pictures and is learning how to read.”  For a half hour she went on to share details of their life together since she had become his foster mom.  She was so proud of him.  She believed in him.  And it had made all the difference. 

The truth is, I don’t know why some kids with a brain injury lie silent, fed by tubes their entire lives, while others walk and talk and run.  But I do know this – hope is a powerful thing.  It can change the outcome of a disease or of a life.  And another thing I know?  It is contagious.  I left that room feeling more of it than my heart could even begin to hold. 

Sometimes it is nice to be wrong.