Sunday, December 14, 2008

"Fosters"

The deep richness of the blue eyes immediately catches my attention. Her thick, blond curls drape softly around her cheeks, framing her beautiful smile. She stands there, with a shy hesitation as Jim introduces me.

"Sammie, this is Mark. He's one of the guys I told you about that I go to breakfast with. Can you say hi?"

Slowly, a small hand reaches out to take mine and we gently pump our hands in greeting.

"Hi", she says, barely above a whisper. I tell her "hi" back and she moves back toward Jim, still smiling as she clutches his leg.

The smile on Jim's face is broad and deep as he moves around the church sanctuary, introducing this little girl to other choir members and friends. You can tell without asking that there is a bond of trust between this little girl and the man that became her foster "dad" only days ago. She continues to smile and shake hands and say pleasant "hellos" as she moves from group to group on this first day that she has ever gone to church.

As I watched Jim and Sammie, I felt a tug in my heart and an all too frequent question emerge from my subconscious..."how could a beautiful little five year old like end up in the foster system?" "How could God's greatest gift to us besides salvation go unclaimed and unloved by the ones who created her?"

I don't know all of Sammie's story, just that she is one of four children of meth addicts. When the courts determined that her parents could no longer care for her or her three older siblings, her aunt and uncle took them in. But that only lasted for a year, and ten days ago, they chose to give them up and place them in foster care.

I remember as a younger man, in my early twenties visiting my sister and her husband at the time. They had opened their home to foster children, and I remember one child in particular. I was lucky enough to visit their home shortly after the little boys was placed with my sister. He was a beautiful boy...not unlike Sammie. Blond hair. Blue eyes. Even with his placement in the foster system, he was still a "lover". I can still remember the hugs I received from him that weekend and the times I was just able to hold him in my arms. I don't know his story and don't know what happened to him. He was eventually moved from my sister's home to another placement.

But seeing Sammie this morning and remembering the different foster kids that my sister took care of strains my heart. I think of the miracle of God's creation and how careless we as humans can be in caring for that precious gift. Sometimes, for unknown reasons, parents (if we can call them that) simply don't love their child and want to get rid of them. Other times, tragic circumstances result in children becoming "parentless" and the foster system or adoption is their only option. Still other children become wards of the state because of the power of addiction in their parents' lives. And my heart breaks.

Fortunately, there are people like Jim and Peggy...and my sister...who are willing to take these children in and love them as their own. I wish I could say that I would be able to do that, but I fear I am too selfish for that. I love kids too much and I don't know if my heart could handle being able to love them and care for them, only to have them taken away. Perhaps back into an abusive situation. Perhaps into another stranger's home. Nevertheless, it would be away from me.

I don't know if the pain I'm afraid I would feel comes from my own childhood pain and fear and loneliness, or if it comes from seeing the long term impact of those who bounce from foster home to foster home. The once loving child who becomes callous and hard, not understanding why no one loved them enough to want them forever. The child who seeks love in inappropriate, dangerous ways because they can't seem to find it from a stable home. The youngster who turns to the gangs for acceptance and love, only to have their lives cut short due to the violent lifestyle membership brings. Sadly, I've seen it all...young lives destroyed because a child lost the stability of a safe home and loving parents.

So today, I salute the Jim and Peggy's of the world! The unselfish, unconditional love they show for children not their own. The home's they open at a moment's notice so that a child will have a roof over their head and a warm bed to sleep in...and a hot meal to nourish the ache in their tummy. Thank you for your love.

1 comment:

Deb said...

Not selfish - tenderhearted. Not the same thing at all.

Jim and Peggy are angels for sure - especially since they are in the time of life when they could be resting on the accomplishment of an already raised family.

I remember that one of my biggest fears growing up was that I would be sent to live in an institution or with a foster family. It was threatened often enough. I have wondered since whether I would have felt loved in a new family, or whether it would have been impossible to replace the love I needed and wasn't getting from our parents.

The work you did with kids in your first careers counts for as much as fostering. The work you're preparing for now, I believe, will help reach the unhealed children inside of adults who end up where you've been.

I love you.