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)

Aug 262011

Today is my birthday.  Not just any birthday.  A big one.  The over-the-hill one.  The one where your friends buy you black balloons and laxatives.  So my co-workers asked me what I was doing for the big day.  Taking off?  Having a party?  Hanging out with the family?

Going to a DHS team meeting to explain the special needs of a foster kid.

Most of my friends just stare at me when I tell them my big plans.  But you see, he isn’t just any kid.  He is a beautiful little tow-headed kid with eyes that sparkle and a smile that takes up his whole face.  And he’s a foster kid.  Who needs a plan that will get him into a permanent home and on with life.  And while most people might not see that as a great way to celebrate a birthday, I think it is the best way to spend a day…and a life. 

“But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus…”  Acts 20:24 (NLT)

Aug 182010

“There are no concerns.”

I stared at the paper, but the words didn’t change.  “There are no concerns.”  There it was, my handwriting in black ink on the medical chart.  In medical language, it means that the patient isn’t sick.  They don’t feel bad.  There is nothing wrong.  Normally that is a good thing.  But this time, as I sat filling out yet another medical form for yet another child entering the emergency foster shelter, I found myself overtaken with emotion.

                                               Anger.  Disgust.  Frustration.  Sadness.  Worry. 

I wrote that there were no concerns.  But that isn’t true.  I have concerns.  I have lots of concerns.  Concerns about these children.  About what they will think about and what they will feel when the lights go out at night and the shelter is quiet.  About where they will live next, and whether the family who takes them in will treat them as their own or merely as transients.  About whether their social worker will get to know them as human beings or just by a case number.  About when they will see their family again, and whether that reunion will be filled with joy or anger or fear. 

We should be concerned.  And may that concern fuel our actions.  May it compel us to get out of our comfortable lives where most of our concern is for ourselves, and to be concerned for someone else for a change.

Jul 022010

I thought I just needed a break – a vacation.  Thought I was tired.  Seemed like every day, every kids’ story was more painful than the one before. 

Pain is good.  It helps you know you are alive“.  What?  Who thought that was a great idea?

So I took a vacation.  Ate good food.  Visited friends.  Rested.  Played. 

Then I came back to the world where foster kids live.  Where there is no such thing as a break.  Where kids haven’t ever seen the beach or the mountains.  Where there is no opportunity to hang out and act silly with your friends and family.  Where rest is elusive, and hope even more so.  And suddenly there it was again – pain. 

I don’t think pain helps me feel alive.  Rather, I think it helps me realize what I am alive to do.  I did need the break, not to escape from the pain, but to learn how to better embrace it.

What are you alive to do? 

“Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you”                                                                                     Jeremiah 1:5 (MSG)



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.

Apr 192010

“Would you recognize him?”, she asked.  I stared intently at the boy.  There was something something about him that seemed vaguely familiar, but certainly didn’t stand out to me.  It had been a half dozen years since I’d seen him, and he was a baby then.  My mind wandered back to a hospital room, where I had discussed his likely future outcome with his new foster mom.  The brain injury he had suffered at the hands of his mom’s boyfriend was one of the worse I’d seen.  I was certain he would die, and when he didn’t, I secretly wondered if it wouldn’t have been a better outcome than the life he was now beginning. 

She had listened to my medical opinion, and then announced that I didn’t know what I was talking about and that he would not only walk, he would do much more.  I didn’t press the issue.  We could work that out over time. 

“Would you?”, she asked again.  “No, I don’t think so”.  The school-age boy was sitting on a bench in my office playing his handheld video game.  “You told me he wouldn’t walk, but he does a lot more than that.  He is in school, and he draws pictures and is learning how to read.”  For a half hour she went on to share details of their life together since she had become his foster mom.  She was so proud of him.  She believed in him.  And it had made all the difference. 

The truth is, I don’t know why some kids with a brain injury lie silent, fed by tubes their entire lives, while others walk and talk and run.  But I do know this – hope is a powerful thing.  It can change the outcome of a disease or of a life.  And another thing I know?  It is contagious.  I left that room feeling more of it than my heart could even begin to hold. 

Sometimes it is nice to be wrong.

Apr 062010

My mom was visiting for Easter, and she pointed out that there were some details I left out of my recent discussion of the number of children in foster care.  In particular, the fact that there are 8,400 kids in the Oklahoma foster system, but that nationally there are between 450,000 and 500,000 foster kids.  In Los Angeles county alone there are 25,000 children in custody. 


I grew up in a town that had an alleged population of 1300, although I always suspected that whoever counted was including everyone’s dog.  To a small town girl like me, 8400 is a lot.  25,000 is difficult to imagine.  And a half million completely blows my mind.  Thinking about it can paralyze me, if I let it. 

There is this old saying I have heard – “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.”  I hate that saying.  Bite size pieces may be appropriate for eating an elephant steak, but they are unacceptable for changing the lives of thousands of foster children.  Instead, we need to figure out how to eat the whole darn thing in a bite or two.

“The Tipping Point” is a great book on social change written by Malcolm Gladwell.  Malcolm describes in great detail why change is more often like an epidemic than the steady, slow process we sometimes imagine.  He argues that with the right people, the right environment, and the right message we can change the world.  


I’m up for that.  Stay tuned – more to come…

Mar 112010

In-flu-ence* – [IN-floo-uhns] – verb – To quietly affect the nature, development, or condition of a person or course of events in a way that operates without any direct or apparent effort, to MODIFY.

Do you think the world needs to be changed?  Not everyone does, or at least most people don’t live like it does.  Most of us seem to wander through life without much lasting impact on those around us.  Think about it – if you moved today, how long would it be before those left behind would replace you?  Before the presence you had in the community began to fade? 

If we can agree that the world of foster kids does, in fact, need to look different, then we can begin to have a conversation about just exactly how to do that.  Certainly a great deal of change comes as the result of influence.  So for the next few days, I want to pass along some lessons I have learned about how to have world-changing influence.

To have world-changing influence, we must be in proximity to whatever we want to change.

The Mississipi River is a powerful force of nature, but it has no influence whatsoever on the Pacific Ocean.**  If we are going to enact change, we must be right in the middle of the problem.  For me, that meant learning more about foster kids.  Spending time at the shelter.  Hanging out with case workers.  Sitting through court cases.  Listening to difficult stories. 

When we are in proximity to the thing we want to change, we can see clearly what the problems are.  But we can also see the dirt.  And the trash.  And the ugliness.  And if we stay in proximity long enough, we are guaranteed to get dirty too. 

Still, it is in quiet space close to the chaos of a broken world that we have the opportunity to modify the nature and condition of a human being. 

Are you willing to get dirty?


*Webster’s dictionary     **Erwin McManus

Mar 052010

Have you ever been somewhere that you shouldn’t have been?  Most of the time the outcome isn’t so hot, but this time was different.  On this day, I wasn’t supposed to be at work, wasn’t supposed to be seeing patients.  Didn’t even have my “doctor” clothes on.  But there I was. 

Her mom was concerned she might have a ringworm.  I took a quick glance at the petite 4 year old’s forearm and confirmed that, quickly explaining to the mom how to treat it effectively.  It should have been time to leave the room.  But for whatever reason, I stayed.  The mom looked older than me (at least in my mind :)), but it turned out she was a couple of years younger.  She had 6 kids – the first was born when she was only a kid herself.  They had been in foster care for several years, but were now back with her, and soon DHS would sign off on her as a mom. 

At that point in the conversation, perhaps a normal person with manners and social grace would have just stopped – congratulated her and bowed out of the conversation.  But I couldn’t help myself.  I was compelled to know the whole story – to know HER.  She had been on drugs – painkillers, then marijuana, and finally methamphetamine.  The guys she hung out with were mean, but they supplied her drug habit.  Eventually it caught up with her and the kids were picked up.  She was devastated, but she was also addicted.  For two more years she was unsuccessful in her struggle against it.  Then she began to break free.  Went through rehab – ALL the way through.  Then a half-way house.  Then outpatient counseling.  Then she found a job.  Then she got an apartment.  Then she got her kids back.

What?  How did that happen?  The story doesn’t usually have a happy ending? What is your secret?

My parents believed in me.  My friend believed in me.  My counselor believed in me.  My new boss believed in me. 

When we begin to see people for who they were created to be, instead of who they are on the surface, it is easier to believe in them.  And when WE believe in them, it is easier for them to begin to believe in themselves.  I want to believe in people.  In their potential.  In the possibilities of their lives.  In the awareness that a bad decision is not the same thing as a bad person.  In the knowledge that we all make mistakes and none of us is perfect.  In the hope that the future can be different than the past.

“You are an overcomer!” I said.  Her eyes met mine, and she smiled.  And on the day when I wasn’t supposed to be there, I was blessed enough to witness something miraculous – a family together again.  Hope rising from ashes.  Sure glad I went by the office.

Feb 262010

I love to fly.  I always choose a window seat right over the wing, near the jets so I can best hear the roar of the engines and watch the wing shape change as we take off and land.  Yesterday I was flying, and even though I have flown many times, when the plane was sitting on the end of the runway waiting to take off, I found myself doubting this would actually work.  I doubted that it could truly launch itself into the air. There is too much weight.  People.  Baggage.  And it starts too slowly – those first few feet of movement were painfully slow.  But the thing about a plane is, it was made to fly.  It was shaped a specific way, and it was outfitted with engines that are capable of producing tremendous thrust, if they are fueled properly.  And when the engines were powered, the plan moved faster and faster, and eventually, in a few hundred feet, those jets were able to move the monstrous piece of metal fast enough that aerodynamics took over and it lifted off the ground.  In a few seconds, the ride was so smooth and easy that it seemed like we could stay in the air forever.

I sat back in my seat, and my mind wandered where it usually does, to foster kids.  They too are often heavy, weighed down with a lot of baggage.

I was molested, so now I don’t trust men.  Or I use my body to get what I want.  I was physically abused, so now I believe that I deserve what I get, and move from abusive relationship to abusive relationship.  My emotional needs weren’t met, so I suck the life out of others, desperately trying to fill up my own soul.  I wasn’t provided for, so I steal whatever I want.

It is easy to believe that a kid carrying that kind of weight won’t be able to get off the ground.  But the truth is, they, like all humans, they were made to fly.  Born for it.  Born to be something greater than just highly organized collection of carbon and water walking around surviving. 

They need fuel.  They need us to provide the thing that powers them.  Encouragement.  Expectation.  Opportunity.  Love.  Hope. 

Without it, they are grounded.  With it, if they can get off the ground, they might just fly forever. 

Are you willing to fuel someone’s hopes and dreams?  Willing to mentor?  To tutor?  To set expectations and encourage/assist a kid in reaching them?  Are you willing to help someone fly?