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…

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)

 
 

  

 

 

Mar 032011
 

captivate (verb) – to attract and hold the attention or interest of, to imprison or enslave

“My wife and I would like to know what it takes to become foster parents.”  I was silent, surprised by the question.  As I wondered what had pushed him to take that step, his voice came across the phone again.  “That kid really got to me.” 

She was 18 months old, with big brown eyes and short curly hair.  Lots of other kids would have been afraid of strangers, and she was afraid of me, but not of my student.  She reached toward him and he instinctively picked her up, looking a little uncertain at first, but then more confident as she tucked her head between his neck and shoulder.  Neither spoke, and their embrace only lasted a few moments, but it was enough to captivate him.  To prompt him to leave his comfort zone.  To make a call, and ask how to become a foster parent.

What would it take for you to be captivated?  What would move you away from the familiar and toward the tiny arms of a little girl?

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

Dec 252010
 

He was a big man, with a full beard and broad shoulders and calloused hands that looked like they knew a good day’s work.  He didn’t say much, just listened to my questions and nodded as his wife supplied the answers.  “We think he was born on time, and he seems pretty healthy, but we don’t know much else.  We heard that his mom was very young, and that she wasn’t in a very good position to take care of him.”  This baby was lucky, moving from the hospital straight to their home.  I knew that a half dozen other newborns were laying in the foster shelter as we spoke, waiting for a place to go. 

He edged closer to the table, watching my every move as I examined the infant, as if he was concerned I might miss something or be too rough.  Only when the boy was wrapped snug in a blanket and back in the safety of his wife’s arms did he relax a little.  “How long have you been foster parents?” I asked.  “Four years,” he answered.  “Seven kids.  I miss them all.  I wonder what they will grow up to be.  If  somehow I was able to have an impact on them.  Never knew I could love someone else’s child like that.” 

It is a special thing to be a dad.  But it is a divine calling to be the dad of someone else’s child.  A holy opportunity.  Are you up for it?

…an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because He will save people from their sins” … when Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him.   Matthew 1:20-24 (NIV)

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)

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.

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 032010
 

So I have this friend.  Actually we have only been friends for a few months.  But it turns out that we have something unusual in common.  We both love foster kids, but that isn’t the uncommon part.  What sets my friend apart is that she loves the birth parent of her foster kids.  In case you blew past that, let me say it again.

She loves the birth parent of her foster kids.

She believes that she is called to do that – to create opportunities for a mom that has never had anything.  To offer relationship that doesn’t have strings attached.  Her husband believes it too.  And her friends are starting to.  In fact, she is rounding up a whole army of people who are willing to go deep with her. 

 To get dirty.  To work hard.  To hurt.  To get frustrated.  To pray.  To encourage.  To support. To hope.  And most of all?  To love. 

It’s really what we should be about. 

For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.  Galatians 5:6 (MSG)

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