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)

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.

Feb 132010

I hate moving. When I was a kid, my family moved every year or two, and it always made me sick. Hugging the toilet sick. The whole time the U-Haul was being loaded.

I didn’t really get any pleasure out of seeing my new bedroom or exploring a new neighborhood. Mostly I spent the first few days worrying. Wondering if anyone knew where I was. Would I be able to get on the right bus at school? And off at the right stop? I didn’t even know my address – how would the bus driver? Would my grandparents be able to find us for my birthday party? And how would Santa know where we were? 

Those nerves could be largely settled by one simple thing – getting mail.  Not mail for my parents, mail for ME.  Mail meant that someone knew where I was.  Mail meant I wasn’t lost.  Mail meant I was thought of.  And, if I was lucky and the mail was from my grandparents, it usually included stuff – stickers, toys, activity books, crayons – you get the picture. 

Foster kids move a lot too – an average of 4 times in 20 months, and of kids who age out of foster care, 1/3 of them moved more than 8 times while they were in custody.  Each move means a new house, new neighborhood, new school.  Each move means you lose stuff that matters to you – stuff like pictures and drawings and stories you have written and favorite CD’s.  Each move means new rules – new bedtimes, new chores, new ways to fold towels and make your bed. 

And, they wonder if anyone knows where they are. 

I wonder how much difference a piece of mail would make to a foster kid.  A birthday card, a random note, a care package.  How much does it matter to you to not feel “lost”, but rather “found”?

Beginning next week, my office will be sending birthday cards to the foster kids who see me for health care.  What can you do?  Look for opportunity.  Teachers, coaches, kids pastors/church workers – take special notice of the foster kids who cross your path and send them a word of encouragement for no particular reason.  Foster parents – teach foster kids your address and phone number.