Mar 092011

She sat on the floor in the corner of her bedroom, pressing against the wall as if she hoped somehow to disappear inside it.  The voices from the next room rolled across her like waves of nausea.  Anger and contempt from her dad, passive meekness from her mom. Night after night, the scene played out the same way.   At 6, she didn’t fully understand the conversation, but she certainly felt the emotion.  And it hurt.  A lot.

Not that anyone else knew.  After all, she was an expert at putting on a happy face. 

Well-behaved.  Angry.

Smart.  Uptight.

Friendly.  Alcoholic.

Leading.  Cutting.

Athletic.  Anorexic.


Some kids carry the physical evidence of child abuse.  But for many others, the scars are not visible.  They are hidden deep in the soul of a child who emotionally hides in the corner, pressing into the wall, trying to disappear…




Feb 152011

People go to the doctor to be healed.  To get relief from whatever ails them.  But I don’t always know how to heal.  Don’t always know what to say or what to do. 

She was 14, with thick, auburn hair that fell in unruly layers around her face.  She was beautiful but rough.  Even in her short life she had experienced her share of hardship, and it showed in the stiffness of her posture and the edge in her voice.  I found out she was in 8th grade, and that she liked math but didn’t want to be thought of as a nerd.  She had a brother but didn’t get to see him much.  She was not a stranger to foster care – had slept in other people’s homes off and on as long as she could remember.  Said she’d learned how to fold towels “correctly” ten different ways.  As she talked, she waved her arms, and I saw it.


Carved across her knuckles.  Other words across the back of her hands.  Horizontal stripes on her forearms.  Scabbed.  Fresh.  Evidence of pain that extended much deeper than the wounds that marked her skin.  She seemed surprised when I touched her arms, gently massaging antibiotic ointment into each line, grieving with each stroke. 

How do I fix that kind of pain?  How do I speak life to someone who has only known death?  I don’t always know how to heal.  But I do know how to touch, how to provide the most basic of human contact.  I hope that was enough for today…

Sep 142010

leech – noun     

1.  a bloodsucking worm

2. a person who clings to another for personal gain, especially without giving anything in return,  and usually with the implication or effect of exhausting the other’s resources; parasite.


I would guess she was early 20’s, although the fatigue in her face made her look a little older.  Growing up in foster care had certainly not preserved her youth.  She sat quietly, watching the toddler explore every corner of the room.  “Is parenting getting easier?” I wondered.  She nodded, and responded that they were in a pretty good place – past infancy but not yet to the terrible two’s and three’s.  She enjoyed him, that much was apparent.  “You have a place to live?”.  Yes.  “Enough food?”.  Yes again.  “Friends your own age?”  Hesitation, then no.  “Why?”, I asked.

They all want something from me, you know?  Something I’m not willing to give.  Sex, drugs, money, you name it.  The people I know who are my age are a bunch of parasites.

The impact of her statement silenced my questions.  I leaned against the padded back of the chair and my mind raced to my own friendships.  The value of having people my own age around me.  People who simply wanted to share conversations about the difficulty of raising kids, of maintaining romantic relationships, of shouldering the responsibilities of life.  Friends on whom I could call for help without the expectation of “payment” for their favor. 

What value can be placed on unconditional love?  On unconditional friendship?  On offering to weave your life together with someone simply because they are human, rather than because they can do something for you.  Want to end child abuse?  Stop the suffering of countless generations of families?  Start by finding someone who needs a friend and losing yourself, your own interests, your own expectations.  Start by falling in love with others.

(Christ’s) love was not cautious but extravagant.  He didn’t love in order to GET something from us but to give everything of Himself TO us.  Love like that.  Ephesians 5:2 (MSG)

definition from



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

Apr 142010

I pulled a muscle in my back a few days ago. Wish I could say I was doing something exciting, but the truth is, I was just getting out of the car. That’s all. I spent much of the weekend taking handfuls of ibuprofen and trying to find a comfortable position, all the while dealing with the nagging, gnawing pain that was physically and mentally exhausting. While it was present most of the time, occasionally it would let up and for just a second I would forget about the injury. For a very short time. And then when I moved, the pain would come back, worse than ever.

She was 17, and counting the days until her birthday so she could be “out on her own”. She was going to move in with a friend, she told me, and try to get a job, although she had only completed the 9th grade so far, and thought that being employed at a fast food restaurant was her best option. She answered my questions in a somewhat robotic, monotonous voice, and she seemed almost able to predict what the question was before I had asked it. Until I asked about family. Then the robot vanished. Her voice shook, and her eyes filled with pain.

Lots of it.

First in foster care at age 2. Back and forth between the system and home until she was school-age. Parents rights terminated. In several foster homes. Then adopted. Until it got hard. Then back into foster care. Now, almost on her own. But with no hope, no future, no life. Just pain. Chronic, long-standing pain.

Ibuprofen won’t fix that. Only one thing will. Love. Massive, overwhelming, unconditional love. And she hasn’t found that yet.

Feb 182010

ca-pac-i-ty – [kuh-pas-i-tee] – noun – the ability to receive or contain

I tend to think of capacity in physical terms.  The ability of my washing machine to hold one more towel.  The ability of my refrigerator door to hold one more “work of art”.  The ability of my bladder to survive one more meeting…well, you get the idea. 

But capacity can also be applied to other things – relationships, emotions, knowledge.  I learned something about myself recently.  I learned that I have more capacity than I ever thought.  More capacity to receive assistance and encouragement from others.  More capacity to ask tough questions and listen to the answers.  More capacity to focus on what is most important.  More capacity to be hurt, but also to heal.  More capacity to trust.

This awareness is changing the way I conduct myself.  I am more likely to spend extra time with a foster kid – hoping for an opportunity to connect, understand, and encourage, even if their story keeps me awake at night.  I am more likely to query foster parents on why they open their homes and their hearts to the children of a stranger.  I am more likely to allow others to see my own dreams and discouragement, in the hope that they too will find the story of foster kids irresistable.   

But in the world of electricity, capacity has a different meaning. 

Maximum possible output. 

I don’t know what my maximum possible output is.  What I do know is that there are still kids in foster care.  And until there aren’t, I will keep pushing, keep stretching, keep putting out more.  More vision, more hope, more stories, more opportunity, more resources.

What would the world look like if we were all willing to increase our capacity to receive – to relate and to understand each other, and at the same time increased our capacity to pour out – to reach out beyond ourselves and influence others?

Feb 152010

Loss is a common part of the human experience. Some days it is closer to us than others, and this week it has been uncomfortably close. Two friends grieving – one over a life fully lived and another barely begun – both abruptly lost.  In the quiet darkness of the early morning, as I think about my friends, my mind drifts where it often does – to foster kids.  Physical death in children is thankfully rare, even among such a high risk group, but I have come to realize that there is more than one way to die. 

She was 15, the eldest of four siblings.  Life had not been kind – her parents had died unexpectedly when she was 12, and after living with a couple of  different relatives, her aunt had reluctantly taken them in.  The basics were provided – food, shelter, education – but there wasn’t much emotional connection, so at such a young age she took on the responsibility of “mothering” her younger siblings. 

I remember the first day I met her – she had just arrived at the shelter and was very upbeat and smiling.  Seemed strange.  When I inquired why she was there, her eyes got more serious.  Her aunt had gone on a trip and left them alone.  She had tried very hard to get her brothers and sister up in the morning, fed, dressed and off to school, then had met them in the afternoon, prepared supper, helped with homework and tucked them in bed.  But they were beginning to run out of food in the house.  She was worried, and asked their neighbor for help – the neighbor provided them some food, but also contacted the authorities and the kids were picked up. 

She was OK with being at the shelter – OK with not having to stress about providing for her siblings.  She was hopeful about the future – she wanted to be a pediatrician and hammered me with lots of questions about college, med school, and what it was like to work with sick children.  It was impossible not to fall in love with her spunk and her hopefulness. 

She came frequently to the clinic while I was there – at first just to hang out and talk, which we both seemed to enjoy.  Then with some minor complaints – an occasional headache or stomachache.  Then more serious ones.  Weight loss.  Sleeplessness. Depression.  Her siblings left the shelter, one by one, each to a relative. 

But no one wanted her.  And her soul died.  Her hope died.  Right in front of me.

We cry when the body dies.  But who cries when the soul dies?  Who cries for foster kids?  Who cries for her?

Feb 102010

(the following story is from a recent conversation with a foster mom) 

Recently my (foster) kids and I were having breakfast.  One of the boys was messing around, as he normally does, and bumped his hand on the table.  He began to cry, and when I asked where it hurt, he lifted his hand.  I kissed his fingers and he said “no, right here.”  I had only missed his hurt spot by a tiny bit, but he knew it and wanted me to kiss his hurt again.  He has been with me a long time, and I wonder when he goes back home if his mom will understand what it means when he says “no, right here.”  Will she know that he has a favorite bedtime story?  And that he wants two hugs, not just one before he will fall asleep.  Will she know that he likes goldfish crackers for his afternoon snack?

I am beginning to realize just how much there is about him that I should try to share with his biologic parents.  All the ways that I help him get through the day.  My biggest fear is this – will I forget something as small as the little kisses that heal his hurts?


If you are a foster parent, what can you do? Take pics, scrapbook, fill out a Life Book with your foster child’s likes and daily habits, talk to the biologic family at visits – be willing to learn a little about their traditions/habits and incorporate some of them, as well as share yours.