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.

Poor

Uneducated

Unmotivated

Depressed

Failing

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.

Valuable

Healthy

Hopeful

Successful

Beautiful

“So God created man in His own image, in the image and likeness of God…”  Genesis 1:27 (Amp)

 

 

 

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…

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.

Apr 072011
 

I love to tell the stories of foster kids.  I especially love to tell stories of hope.  That, after all, is what this site is all about.  There is another set of words that are particularly hopeful.  And healing.  And life-giving.

When the two are brought together, the result is something beautiful.  Something powerful.  Something alive.  I hope you read it.  I hope it encourages you.  I hope it touches you.  I hope it trashes you.  And more than anything?  I hope God speaks to you, and that you are forever changed by that encounter.

Fostering Hope – Experiencing God’s Heart for Foster Kids. A 30-Day Devotional Guide (download)

Open it.  Download it.  Print it.  Read it.  Share it.  Fall in love with those who are closest to God’s heart.

For other downloading options, please click  here.

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)

Aug 062010
 

It was a balmy 95 degrees on the San Antonio river walk. As the boat drifted along its half-hour sightseeing voyage, I took in the sights, smells, and sounds of a city that was founded a century before the American Revolution. The captain was commenting on points of interest, and then he said something that caught my ear. He said, “Here in San Antonio we don’t like to get rid of things that are old. We prefer to rehabilitate them and make them into something that is new.”

The rest of the tour was lost on me, as my mind’s focus shifted to foster kids. I thought of a girl I met once. At 16, she was used to taking care of herself. From the few stories she shared, I knew that life had been chaos, and I suspected that what she spoke barely scratched the surface of what childhood was actually like for her. Her family tree included generations of substance abuse and domestic violence. I asked how she coped, and she laughed a little. “I used to smoke 2 packs of cigarettes a day – started when I was 7. By 10 I was drinking alcohol every day, and by 12 I was on meth. But all that is in the past now – been clean for a year.”

My usual poker face must have failed me, because she laughed again. “How?” is all I could muster. She went on to tell me how most people just saw her as yet another chapter in the old story of a broken family – a kid with no hope and no future. But then she met a teacher who was different. Who paid extra attention to her. Offered to help her after school so she could catch up with her peers. Believed in her. Told her how she could be different from her family history, how she could be somebody new.

I leaned back in my chair, unsure what to even say. The truth is that sometimes I see teens in foster care who I don’t believe are fixable. Who I don’t spend much time with because the yield seems so low, so unlikely to be worth anything of value. Who I don’t love as much as I should because I don’t think it will matter. And yet the truth is, we are not in this field to throw out kids, to deem them as old and useless, but rather to REdeem them, to give them opportunities to be made new and useful.

I need new eyes today – ones that can see what is possible.

Jun 042010
 

Hope is an amazing thing.  It shines a light on dark times.  Helps us see a future that is better than the past.  Gives us a reason to wake up in the morning.  But it can also be exhausting.  In fact, I would argue that the the opposite of hope is not hopeless.  The opposite of hope is fatigue. 

Tired.  Out of gas.  Empty. 

Hope and fatigue are mortal enemies.  Anyone who works around foster kids knows this, but if you’re like me, taking a break doesn’t seem like a good idea.  

After all, how will the world survive if I’m not in the middle of running it?  But perhaps that is for another conversation.

And yet the truth is, rest is not just a good idea.  It’s an absolute necessity.  We must intentionally take time to rest, to regenerate, to dream, to create, to heal from the day in and day out beating of living for others, and most of all, to hope again.

Are you tired?  Bitter?  Losing hope?  Take some time to rest, to enjoy life and people and doing nothing that is stressful.  You need it.  And so do the people you are helping.

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 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