Jul 232013
 

Sometimes I’m like a bull in a china closet and I was on this day, barging into the room without any kind of notice.  It’s not that I was being rude; it’s just that I thought I knew what I would see.  But I was wrong.  The foster mom was there, and the little boy.  But so was his dad.

My mind raced back a couple of years, to the first day I met the boy.  Dirty.  Disheveled.  In need of a bath and a haircut.  Not too long after, I met the dad.  He looked about the same.  It was clear he cared about the boy; equally clear he wasn’t really able to take care of him.  But he tried, attending court, and visits, and parenting classes.  Working odd jobs in an attempt to find stability.  It didn’t really happen though, at least not in a way a little boy needs.  At some point the judge and the case worker gave up, and scheduled a trial to present the evidence and allow a jury to consider taking away the rights to his child.

I expected him to fight – he’d always been proud and a fighter.  Long after I thought he would give up.  Long after most parents would have.  But I had heard that in a meeting a few days earlier, he had surprised everyone with his humility and the most generous but also painful gift to his son that a parent could ever give – the opportunity to be in a better place than he could provide.

iStock_000002683730XSmallI didn’t expect to see him that day.  Or maybe ever.  Figured he would cut ties and be on with life.  So when I saw him lying quietly beside the sleeping boy, stroking his hair and whispering to him softly, I was stunned.  Stopped in my tracks.  And immediately, I was overwhelmed with the love it takes for a father to give up his son.

“This is how much God loved the world:  He gave his Son, his one and only Son…”  John 3:16 (MSG)

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)

Sep 172010
 

It had been two years since our first encounter, when she came to foster care as a victim of years of sexual abuse by a close family member.  My mind flashed back to that day, to that kid.  To the anger, fear, and depression, the desire to leave this world far behind, with no hope at all that the next would be any better.  Flashed back to the fresh carving on her stomach.

“Worthless”

The sound of a baby crying in the next room snapped my attention back to the present.  To the confident, half-smiling young lady sitting on my exam table.  “I remember you from when I was here before,” she said.  She was so different.  I was speechless, didn’t know what to say or how to even ask what the difference was, so I stalled.  Listened to her heartbeat, looked in her ears, that sort of thing.  Finally, the words came. 

“How are you doing?  Or maybe the real question I want answered is how are you doing so well?”

She smiled even wider, and told me about the family that had taken care of her after she left the shelter.  How they had treated her like one of their own kids.  Had taught her about family and trust and relationships and value.  Her answer to my question?

“I have been with someone who loves me.” 

Simple.  Powerful.  Life-changing. 

Will someone say that about you or me?  That being in OUR presence meant that they were with someone who loved them?  I hope so.  With all my heart, I hope so.

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 212010
 

A few months ago I met this lady. She had everything going for her. Great family. Nice house. Lots of control over her day. But she had this little voice in the back of her head telling her to get involved with foster kids. It had been there for a long time, and every once in a while she would explore her options. Attend a class. Sign up for more information. That sort of thing.

Then everything changed.

She heard about a kid who didn’t have anywhere else to go. Who desperately needed a family. She mentioned it to her husband, who didn’t hesistate. She made the phone call, and the next thing you know, their family grew.

To a casual observer, she may come across as reckless. After all, getting involved with this kid will take time away from her family. Will cost her some money and some tears. Will mess up her schedule. But the truth is, she isn’t reckless at all. She is simply wrecked. She can’t stand the idea of a kid who has no mom. Can’t imagine a teen who has no home. Can’t tolerate knowing about foster kids without doing something about it. Her heart is wrecked.

Or, perhaps you could say she is wreckless.

I wonder if Webster will add that one to the dictionary…

May 132010
 

She sat quietly, blinking away tears, as she read again the mother’s day poem.  Next to her lay a stack of construction paper cards and colorful trinkets made by her kids to honor the day.  But this gift – it was different.  It was straight from the heart of her daughter. 

Her mind drifted back four years to the day the girl came to live in their home.  They had interacted at the occasional family gathering, but this was a whole new kind of relationship.  The nearly 13 year-old brought very few physical possessions, but the emotional baggage that tagged along could have filled up the house. 

Abuse.  Brokenness.  Anger.  Sadness.  Distrust.  Rage. 

There had been many good days, that was sure.  But many struggles as well.  Often the relationship between the two was like being beaten by the wind and rain of a hurricane.  Yet somehow they struggled together against the storm – held on to each other. 

Survived.  Cared.  Healed.  Redeemed.  Loved. 

The storm isn’t over, but on Mother’s Day, they were able to rest for a little while.  As words from a chosen daughter filled the heart of an adoptive mom.

You

You pulled me

Out of the

Dark

You saved me

From could’ve

Beens

You’ve been

Here with me

Through

Good and bad

Thick and thin

And

Haven’t given up

You’re strong

When I’m weak

You’re peaceful

When I’m out of

Control

You’re my mom

My role-model

And my hero

I love you and

I wanna be

Just like you!

I love you mom

  

 

Mar 292010
 

He was at work when he got the call.  The job site was a difficult place to talk on the phone.  A biting north wind was blowing against his cheek, interfering with the reception.  And the noise of construction rattling along behind him was both loud and distracting.  But after a couple of attempts, he heard the message.

“Your ex is in some trouble, can you take the kids?”

His mind raced.  It had been 5 years since he had even talked to his ex.  He remembered when the first one was born – had been at the hospital for that.  She was a sweet little baby girl with red hair and blue eyes.  Within 18 months she was pregnant again, but their relationship had been deteriorating for a long time, and not long after she told him, she had kicked him out of the house.  He had gone willingly at first, not in the mood for all the responsibility.  Two kids and a wife was not the dream everyone makes it out to be.  But certainly there had been lots of nights when loneliness crept in.  And he had wondered about that little girl.  And whether she had a sister or brother.

The wind hit him again, as did the high-pitched voice on the other end of the phone.  “Sir, are you interested in taking the kids?  You would have to have a home study and a background check, but if that went OK, you could have them with you in a few days.”  As he snapped back to the present, he felt the weight of responsibility settle on his shoulders.  But this time it was different.  This time, for whatever reason, he wanted to step up.  Wanted to embrace that.  Wanted to be a dad and a provider.  Wanted a new family. 

And that is exactly what he got.  At Christmas.  Complete with hopes for baby dolls and teddy bears and soccer balls.  From his now not so little baby girl, and her little brother.  It was the best Christmas ever.

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 222010
 

Have you ever seen something that you know has been there all along, but you never noticed it before? That happened to me this weekend. If my house is ever going to resemble clean, it does it on Saturday. I used to make fun of my mom’s scheduled Saturday purging of the household clutter, but as a working mom myself, I now understand that not only is Saturday the only day available to do it, but also that without it, the mess would overtake us all…but that is another story. So during my weekly attempt to resemble June Cleaver, when I was putting away my vacuum cleaner, I leaned over to wrap up the electrical cord, and that is when I saw it. This little tool, attached to the side of the vacuum, that is for reaching into corners and tight spaces. I have needed that tool for years. And I am sure it came with the vacuum cleaner. But I have never seen it. Not once. Even though it was right in front of my nose.

She was not a very noticeable person – a little short, with shoulder length brown hair, brown eyes, and a quiet, not very memorable manner. I guess I had seen her before in the clinic, bringing in the kids she fostered for checkups or illness. At least that is what my clinic notes said. Honestly, when I went in the room this time, she didn’t seem familiar at all. We talked about the child she had with her today – general health, school, behavior, vaccines – the routine stuff. But for some reason, the conversation turned a little. I was curious why she became a foster parent. Her face changed a little bit and she paused, as if weighing her next words.

“I was never in foster care, but I probably should have been.”

She went on to briefly describe years of emotional and sexual abuse that left her broken as a teenager, looking for ways to end her life. But right in the middle of that chaos came a series of relationships that showed her she was valuable. That her brokenness was normal, it was to be expected, and it wasn’t her fault. That she was lovable, and in fact, was loved very much. It changed her, and now she has learned to love. The object of her affection? Broken kids.

It was an amazing story – one that inspired me, but also convicted me of my own inattention to what is sometimes right in front of my nose. Be sure and look around you today – there might be someone amazing in front of YOUR nose.

Mar 152010
 

In-flu-ence* – [IN-floo-uhns] – verb – To quietly affect the nature, development, or condition of a person or course of events in a way that operates without any direct or apparent effort, to MODIFY.

To have world-changing influence, we must be intentional.

She was not quite 2 when they took her in from the foster agency.  Her mom had a lot of struggles and could barely take care of herself, much less a toddler.  Her new foster family fell in love with her immediately, enjoying her laughter and the silly tricks that she would do, but especially the brief moments at bedtime when she would sit on one of their laps and snuggle.  Over time, both she and her biologic mom achieved milestones – hers included memorizing the alphabet and writing her name and learning her phone number; her mom’s had more to do with parenting classes and a steady job.  And after some time it became apparent that they would reunite.

They moved a lot – never could quite achieve the stability that most people crave.  She lived with her mom some, as well as a variety of extended relatives.  She called her old foster family every once in a while – she had never forgotten the phone number – and every single time they inquired about her new address and made a trip to the post office, sending off a box filled with goodies.

Art supplies.  Candy.  Books.  But most of all, love.

They were intentional in their influence.  They didn’t just answer the phone and have a conversation – they acted.  Even though it was painful.  Even though they worried about the fact that every call was from a new phone number in a new state.  Even though it took thought to adjust the contents of each box to match her age and interests.  Even though there was a physical and an emotional cost associated.

To have world-changing influence, we must be intentional.  We must be fully aware of the potential of our decisions, even when they seem insignificant, and we must choose to be intentional rather than careless.

So how did it turn out?  One day the phone rang at the old foster family’s home. “Mom, can I come home?”  It was her 18th birthday.  You can guess what the answer was.

Will you choose to be intentional with the decisions you make?