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)

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)




Sep 132012

I thumbed through the chart quickly and then stepped into the exam room, expecting like usual to enjoy meeting another foster kid and figuring out their story.  Within seconds my expectation turned to dread.  The air in the room was heavy, layered with anger, tension, and hostility.  The toddler didn’t seem to notice.  He ran back and forth between the toy hanging on the wall and the multiple adults in the room, ensuring best he could that he remained the center of everyone’s attention.  A short conversation revealed the issue – there were differences in opinions about what should happen in the case.  Not just differences of opinion – hostility.

About whether the mom was “good enough” to have another shot at raising her child. 

About whether the foster parents were “too attached” to the child. 

About whether the case worker was competent. 

About whether the therapist was taking sides.

About whether the lawyers were playing fair.

There is a difference between hostility and advocacy.  We should hope for a mom to be able to make it.  We should want foster parents to become attached to the children in their home, and we shouldn’t allow people to be foster parents unless they are willing to.  We should be respectful of the professionals involved in the case, being humble – encouraging, and educating each other rather than allowing ego, pride, and the adrenaline of “winning” be our motivation.  We have to remember that we are not fighting against people but against circumstances and behaviors, against powers and principalities and darkness.  None of us are so holy and wise that we have the right to judge the heart and motives of others, and none of us have a crystal ball that tells us whether the decisions we made today result in good or harm for the children and families we so desperately try to help. 

Within a few minutes the visit was over.  The room was a disaster, with goldfish cracker crumbs all over the floor and shredded paper from the exam table lying around like confetti, evidence that a toddler had come and gone.  I can clean the room.  But cleaning up the relational damage between the adults involved is a whole different kind of disaster – one that we must avoid at all costs if we are ever to win the war against child abuse.

“Where do you think these appalling wars and quarrels come from?  Do you think they just happen?  Think again.  They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves…It’s common knowledge that ‘God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.’  So let God work his will in you.”  James 4 (MSG)

Nov 092011

Her eyes were wide as I opened my trunk lid.  The van was filled to the roof with Christmas presents – toys for the kids, new pillows and blankets, groceries, and a few nice things for mom too.  She stood still, as if she was afraid to believe it was all for them – for her little family. 

My mind flashed to the day in clinic when another family caught my attention.  They were part of a small Bible study group and wanted to take on a family for Christmas.  Wanted to provide for someone who didn’t have much.  I agreed to watch out for the right opportunity, and within 24 hours I had found a match.  A single mom who had arm-wrestled a meth addiction.  Who had lost everything – her kids, her job, her home – but who along the way had found herself.  Had scratched and clawed to become a mom again.  But it wasn’t easy, and the full-time job she held barely paid the bills.  There wasn’t much left over for Christmas. 

Until she crashed headlong into a small Bible study group.

It took 18 trips up the apartment stairs to carry everything in.  The little Christmas tree could barely be seen.  The living room floor was half-covered.  And in the middle of  the mess, I held onto a sobbing, sweet, beautiful mom who experienced, maybe for the very first time in her life, grace and love that were extravagant. 

Who will you love extravagantly?

“Mostly what God does is love you.  Keep company with Him and learn a life of love.  Observe how Christ loved us.  His love was not cautious but extravagant…Love like that.”  Ephesians 5:2 (MSG)

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)


Apr 212010

The nurse’s note on the chart told me that the boy was here for wheezing.  He had recently been hospitalized because he had been in a house fire, and this was a checkup to make sure he was doing better.  I did the normal “doctor” stuff.  Asked a few questions about his breathing.  Listened to his lungs.  Reviewed his medications.  He seemed tense, as if he was waiting for me to do something more.  Something worse.  I fumbled to find some reassuring words, but my ineffectiveness was obvious.  Finally I mumbled something to his grandmother about checking out with my attending physician and backed out of the room.

I told her the medical story, but was surprised when my attending asked what had caused the fire.  I had been curious myself but was uncomfortable asking – afraid to overstep my self-imposed professional limits.  She smiled slightly, and I realized that I was about to get a lesson in human relationships.  Within a few moments the whole story was out.  The boy had been playing with a lighter and had accidentally set the fire.  He had escaped with some minor injuries, but his mom and sister were not so lucky – both had died.  He was now in foster care, placed with the maternal grandmother.  It was a terrible story, and yet somehow there was grace in the telling of it.

Grace can be defined in several different ways. 

Elegance.  Beauty.  Favor.  Mercy.

I saw all of those demonstrated in the conversations I witnessed that day, as my attending engaged a hurting family and created a space for them to share.  As a grandmother extended mercy and forgiveness to a grandson.  As physical healing ended and emotional healing began.

When people understand that you care about them, that you are truly interested in who they are and where they come from and what they are going through, then the interaction flows in a rhythm that is easy and beautiful.  Difficult questions become easier to ask, and difficult stories become safer to tell.  In that kind of relationship, there is unbelievable grace.  And life is better for it.  But we must be willing to care.  Are you ready and willing?

“Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”     Matt. 11:29, MSG