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)

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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 132010

pro-tec-tor – (noun)  a person that protects; a guardian or defender*

The October sky was blue but there was certainly a chill in the air.  His small frame covered with a thin long-sleeve shirt didn’t offer much of a barrier against the breeze.  He sat on the steps of his home, trying to figure out what to do.  At 6 he was the caretaker of his 3 and 2 year old siblings.  He got them up in the mornings and fixed them breakfast – had an old burn stripe on his finger from touching the hot coils of the toaster.  He knew how to make macaroni and cheese, and to microwave soup and fix sandwiches.  He made sure their noses were wiped, and changed his little sister’s diapers the best he could.  And he tucked them into bed at night.  All the while his mom spent most of the day either passed out on the couch or away from the house, looking for her next fix. 

Most of the time he didn’t mind helping – he knew his mom had a lot she was struggling with, and he wanted to make it as easy on her as he could.  He loved her very much, and as he shivered against the wind, his mind wandered back to days when she read him stories and gave him big hugs.  When it seemed like she loved him.  He hadn’t gotten that kind of attention for at least a couple of years.  And his siblings never had, except from him.  That thought snapped him back to the reality of the porch.  He tried the door again, but it was still locked.  His mom had woken up in a bad mood and was screaming and throwing things at his little brother.  When he intervened, his mom had dragged him out on the porch and locked the door. 

He began to walk down the street, slowly at first, but then with increasing confidence, toward the fire station a block away.  “Can you help me  sir?  My sister and brother are in danger, and it’s my job to protect them – can you help me?  We need a better life than this.  There has to be something better than this.”

Courage is found in many different places.  Sometimes it is even packaged in the small body of a 6 year old.  What about you?  Will you be courageous?

Mar 242010

I saw her crying, and it caught my attention.  It was family night at a local restaurant, and while my kids played, I was people watching.  And that is when I saw her.  Crying.  She looked to be early 30’s – not much younger than me.  Her husband was trying to comfort her.  Occasionally a 3 year old burst from the play area to come check in with them, and when she did, the woman would quickly dry her tears and smile at the girl, but then the tears would come again.  Next to her was a baby carrier with a small infant inside.  He was a different race than the family, and I wondered what their story was.  When her husband wandered into the play area and sat down, I saw my opportunity and followed him in. 

Didn’t take much to get the story.  They were foster parents who wanted to adopt.  A month ago they had been called about a newborn who the worker felt certain would be adopted – bio mom had lots of history with DHS and had lost other kids.  It was a done deal.  At least in the minds of the worker and the parents.  They went shopping.  They bought baby furniture.  Their friends threw them a shower.  They celebrated.  The baby came, and they fell in love.  Took family pictures.  Visited grandparents. 

Then, a call.  Can you bring the baby to the office?  There is an aunt, and the baby is going to live with relatives.

Devastation.  Grief.  Anger.  Loss.  Exhaustion.  Emptiness.

The mom mustered enough energy to say “no, it is supper time for my family.  I will meet you tomorrow.”  This was their last supper together.  Family night at a local restaurant. 

I sat with them for an hour.  Answered questions about the system.  Cried with them. Encouraged them.  Talked with them about life and faith and purpose.  When we parted, the tears had stopped, but the grief was still present. 

I bumped into them again a month later, again at family night.  This time smiles.  Excitement.  The mom came straight over to me and began telling the story.  She had taken the baby to the DHS office.  Along with diapers, and clothes, and bottles.  And a photo album, full of many pictures of the baby.  And one of them together.  She met the aunt, and the bio mom.  Both were amazed that she had brought all the baby items.  But mostly they were amazed at the pictures.  There was hugging – a lot of it.  And gratitude.  And tears – but this time they didn’t hurt so badly. 

It was a reminder that moms love their children, even when they aren’t able to take care of them.  That they are grateful to others who come to love them too, even if they aren’t able to fully express it.  That even in the face of loss and grief, love wins.  It wins. 

I saw them again a month later.  Grinning ear to ear.  A new baby boy with them – the adoption was in the works.

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.

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

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?

Jan 242010

6a0100a7f8a70c000e010980c16b47000b-500piWhen I was a kid, I loved watching Popeye cartoons. Even though I hated spinach, I loved that the scrawny little cartoon sailor turned into a superhero when he downed the stuff. More than that, I loved that he used his superhuman strength to protect someone who was weak.*

Somewhere in the middle of my medical school experiences with abused and neglected kids I found myself wishing that I liked spinach. I saw kids in foster care who seemed hopeless. I met biologic families who were struggling with poverty, mental illness, anger, and substance abuse. I interacted with foster parents, case workers, and district attorneys who really weren’t convinced that they could ever solve the problem of child maltreatment. All of those people were desperate for a hero to come along. Desperate to find a can of spinach that would give them superhuman strength.

Extraordinary strength may not be found in can of spinach, but perhaps it does emerge from the motivation that we get from moments where we see something wrong with society, something that we just can’t stand anymore. Bill Hybels* calls these moments “firestorm-of-frustration” moments. Moments that change us, that cause us to redirect the focus of our lives. For me, the 17-year dream to become an ER physician disappeared in a few short months and was replaced with a new priority – to do absolutely anything that would allow me to work with abused and neglected kids.

Have you ever experienced a “firestorm of frustration” moment?



*Holy Discontent, author Bill Hybels, 2007, Zondervan Press