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)

Jan 142011

He was a three-and-a-half feet tall bundle of emotion.  In a few short years, he had unfortunately witnessed much more bad than good, a fact that became painfully clear to his foster parents as he ran screaming through the house.  As they struggled to settle his fears, their silent prayers were filled with doubt.  What could they do?  They weren’t equipped to handle a kid like this.  Finally the screaming stopped and there was silence, except for the sound of the sobs of a little broken heart.  The man fell to his knees.

“We will never hurt you.”

At the simple words, the sobs stopped.  Time seemed to stand still as child and adult locked eyes.  Then the most unexpected thing – a sloppy, wet, little boy kiss planted firmly on his foster dad’s cheek.  He ran off to play, leaving his caregivers stunned, realizing that heaven met earth for just a moment that day.




“Heaven meets earth like a sloppy, wet kiss        

And my heart turns violently inside of my chest

I don’t have time to maintain these regrets

When I think about the way that He loves us.”

How He Loves – lyrics by John Mark McMillan

Dec 252010

He was a big man, with a full beard and broad shoulders and calloused hands that looked like they knew a good day’s work.  He didn’t say much, just listened to my questions and nodded as his wife supplied the answers.  “We think he was born on time, and he seems pretty healthy, but we don’t know much else.  We heard that his mom was very young, and that she wasn’t in a very good position to take care of him.”  This baby was lucky, moving from the hospital straight to their home.  I knew that a half dozen other newborns were laying in the foster shelter as we spoke, waiting for a place to go. 

He edged closer to the table, watching my every move as I examined the infant, as if he was concerned I might miss something or be too rough.  Only when the boy was wrapped snug in a blanket and back in the safety of his wife’s arms did he relax a little.  “How long have you been foster parents?” I asked.  “Four years,” he answered.  “Seven kids.  I miss them all.  I wonder what they will grow up to be.  If  somehow I was able to have an impact on them.  Never knew I could love someone else’s child like that.” 

It is a special thing to be a dad.  But it is a divine calling to be the dad of someone else’s child.  A holy opportunity.  Are you up for it?

…an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because He will save people from their sins” … when Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him.   Matthew 1:20-24 (NIV)

May 172010

So this weekend I got in the mood to make cinnamon rolls.  The kind my mom used to make.  The kind you have to actually mix up and roll out.  I’ve never made them before, but it didn’t look that hard.  Saturday was the day.  I dug out the recipe.  Made sure I had the ingredients.  Invited friends for breakfast.  Got up early and started cooking.

Huh.  They aren’t nearly as good as I remember.

They looked like my mom’s.  Tasted like them too.  But the truth is, I’ve had better.  Much better.  When I was kid, they were the only cinnamon rolls I knew.  But by my age, I have experienced a lot more cooking styles.  More recipes and ingredients.  And now I know there is something better.

Many kids in foster care came from homes where parenting wasn’t done very well.  By most any standards.  Supervision is an issue when your mom is depressed or on drugs.  Role modeling is an issue when your dad is absent.  Or violent.  In many homes, simply surviving another day is the best a child can hope for. 

Huh.  Why don’t foster kids grow up and do better with their own kids?  Seems like they would have learned a thing or two.

They did.  They learned exactly what they were taught.  Which is why we have to teach a new thing.  A better way of parenting, of living.  A better way to relate to others.  Providing a model for new ways to live is one of the most important gifts we can give a foster kid. 

Will you be a role model? 

May 062010

“He’s having trouble with his schoolwork”. She waved in the general direction of the boy in the room. At 12, he didn’t look particularly worried about her comment. “He doesn’t do his homework – doesn’t even get home with it sometimes. By the time I get there it is late, and he can’t seem to find it. And he got kicked out of school today.” He still looked calm. I hesitated, wanting to escape the room before this got too messy. “And my daughter is struggling too – she is seeing a counselor.” Too late. I sat down. “What is really going on in your life? Tell me the story of your family.”

For the first time in the entire encounter, she looked at me. Eye to eye. As if she wanted me to prove my level of interest. Then she closed her eyes and began to share. Molested as a child. Kicked out of the house at 13. A drug addict at 16. Twice a mom by 19. In and out of jail and rehab and terrible relationships throughout her 20’s.

Clean for 3 years. A stable job and a stable place to live. Night classes to get her associates degree.

“You have been through a lot, but you are achieving some amazing things.” I said. “How did you survive?” She sat up straight and lifted her chin. “You just have to keep walking in the fire – keep moving,” she replied. “You can’t stop or you will die.” Her face looked a little softer now, and there was a touch of pride in her eyes, as if telling the story helped her realize just how much she had already overcome. We talked a little more, and I offered what encouragement and suggestions I had. And she agreed to try them, and to come back in a few weeks so we could talk more. As I watched them leave, I found myself really hoping that she would.

There is still fire, but she is still walking. And now, maybe I will get the opportunity to walk with her.

Are you willing to walk in the fire with someone today?

Mar 182010

Trust is a small word with large, even gigantic, implications.

I remember those moments like they happened yesterday. She was 14, and was in my office for a check-up. We talked through some of the normal stuff that I like to know – how she is doing in this foster home, her school grades, whether she has good friends. Oh, and what about boys? Any of them hanging around? On that day the conversation was easy, though it had not always been. After a few moments of catching up, she handed me a notebook. The cover was faded blue and torn a little bit. It was also a little discolored, as if water had spilled on it. Or perhaps tears. I didn’t say anything, but my eyes must have asked the question. “It’s my story,” she answered. “My counselor made me write it, then told me I had to find someone I trust to give it to. I have carried it around for a while, but I decided I want to give it to you.”

I opened the pages slowly, carefully. Contained there were stories, poems, and drawings, each representing a piece of her history. Stories about her family, about loss and grief, but also joy and excitement. Pictures of her siblings, who she rarely saw but thought of often. I sat next to her on the exam table as we thumbed through the pages, and she filled me in on even more details than the pages contained.

It was a holy moment, a sacred time – one that changed me. Like many people, somewhere between childhood and adulthood I quit trusting people. Got burned a few times. Once bitten, twice shy – that sort of thing. But the truth is that trusting people is part of our DNA. Without it, we aren’t able to fully engage the humanity around us. Aren’t fully able to enjoy all that a relationship offers. It is not something to enter carelessly, to be sure. But if we are able to trust and be trusted, we will experience an unusual depth to our relational interactions.

That kid needed someone to trust, and I needed the reminder that I do too.

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.