Enough to make a difference

I asked God, “How much time do I have before I die?”
He replied, “Enough to make a difference.”
— Unknown

Call me strange, but I enjoy browsing through quotes on various topics of interest.  I love it when a quote catches my eye and causes that silent but golden “aha” moment.  The quote above is one of them.  I have often wondered “Am I really making a difference in this world?”  “Do my actions, whether part of my job or not, really help to create something new and hopeful for someone else?”

Through my years working in social services, I have heard many social workers say the same thing when questioning if their footprints (I’m not talking carbon footprints) on this Earth are making positive differences in the lives of others.  Social work is incredibly draining.  It is both a blessing and a burden.  Those of us in the child welfare field go to work knowing full well that our “job demand” really does exist because families are in crisis, children are being hurt, and lives are in chaos.

I have heard that once child welfare (whether as a foster parent, juvenile officer, or case manager) “gets in your blood”, it is hard to get it out.  I believe that.  I suspect that even those who have left the field continue to think about the children they worked with who may now be young adults trying to make it in the world.  Often, I think about the children I have worked with over the years.  I wonder how they are.  I wonder if they ever got what they were looking for…although so many did not even know what that was.  Did I really make a difference in their lives?

I like the quote above because it reminds me that each day is a new opportunity to make a difference in the world.  It reminds me of the absolute responsibility and beauty of life itself.  The joy of living is also tied into the duty of sharing that joy with others.  The grace of waking up each day feeling safe and loved is a gift that deserves to be shared with others and is just enough to make a difference.

Around the Fire

Last night we had the privilege of spending the evening around a bonfire in the country.  Hot dogs, roasted marshmallows, the sound of crackling wood, a gorgeous full moon, the chatter of folks, and gleeful screams of children playing in the field next to us made up our evening.  Fires are so good at catching one’s eye.  I sat and stared for a long time at the majestic wisps of flames as they flickered their way up to the heavens.

With the scent of fall in the air and the comfort of a blanket over me, my thoughts immediately went to the reason why we were all out there under the stars.  Out of the eighteen or so children present last night, around thirteen of them were adopted out of foster care.  Let me say that again….13 out of 18 or so children present last night were adopted out of foster care.  Most of the children were siblings of some sort, but not all.  A handful of families adopted the siblings.  Honestly, it was kind of nice to be at an event where my children were not a minority.  Usually when we go to “get-togethers”, or anywhere in general, my kids are typically the only ones adopted; especially out of protective services.

There is something comforting when being around fellow parents who have experienced the journey of being a foster parent and adopting.  We are able to swap stories of our experiences and compare notes.  We can relate to the challenges sometimes experienced when raising children with histories of abuse, neglect, prenatal exposure, or separation from family of origin.  We can also talk about resources that may come in handy if future issues should arise.

Last night, I took a moment to look out in the field at the children playing.  The image of glow sticks in hands, glow-in-the-dark balloons bouncing up and down, and the sounds of laughing children running freely through the field filled my mind and my heart with gratefulness.  I thought about how their young lives were interrupted by the ways of the world and the poor choices of their  birth parents.  I thought about the losses every single one of them has endured already in life.  I thought about the adults around the fire who took them in.  I thought about the opportunities they have because of permanency in their lives.

I thought about how they get to have a childhood free of abuse.  I also thought about how lucky we are to be a part of this.  Adoption out of foster care is not a second best choice.  It is not reserved for only those who cannot afford private adoption.  It is not just for couples who are unable to have biological children.  It is a blessing to parent a child whose beginning to life automatically put him or her in the category of the “least of these”.

It is a blessing to meet other adults whose lives have also been impacted by the decision to become foster parents.  We are all connected in some way to each other by the children playing in the field.  We are all a part of something bigger, something more eternal, and something better planned for these children.

As I watched the fire burn and looked around, thankfulness filled my heart.  We were all brought together by the one true God who brings light into dark places, hope into hopeless situations, and love into the lives of all of us.

Where is your treasure?

(photograph by Sarah Carter – http://www.sarahcarterphoto.com)

A friend recently told me that when she and her husband started telling people they are taking foster parent classes, they were met with responses that were both surprising and disheartening.  People have said things like “why don’t you just have your own baby?”, or “why would you do that?”  Unfortunately, the majority of these statements have come from fellow believers in Christ.

It seems this appears to be quite common even in the Christian community, or at least perhaps in our area of the country.  Thankfully, my husband and I did not deal with this as much because people knew we were infertile and that we wanted the opportunity to be parents and hopefully adopt.  But, my friend and her husband have biological children, and could have more if they chose to.  They have felt called for a while now by the Lord to minister to little ones through foster care.

After our conversation, my heart was a little unsettled.  The Lord kept saying to me “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”-Luke 12:34.  After pondering on this, the thought entered my mind that while we are truly blessed in America, where is our heart?  In my opinion, it seems that it is in worldly things.  We treasure our actors and celebrities. We lift them up on pedestals and award them.  Yet, do they reflect our hearts?

We fight so hard with each other over our political opinions and opponents.  Our different views in policies and our abilities to express them are an integral part of our freedoms, but do they really reflect where our hearts should be?  We strive for big cars, bigger houses, and small waistlines, but still, are these the things that we treasure?

It would be a lie to say that I don’t enjoy going to movies, voting, or admiring nice cars or homes.  It would also be not truthful if I never worried about what the scale said.  But, I hope these things never reflect where my treasures really are.

It breaks my heart that in this country of opportunity where fellow Christians can walk freely without persecution, we overlook what is truly important.  The Lord has called us to minister to ALL people.  This includes the politicians we don’t agree with.  This includes the actors or actresses that we may find “weird”.  This especially includes children who have fallen into the foster care system.

I have worked in child welfare for eleven years now and have seen so many horrible and vile acts against children.  I have witnessed foster families get their hearts broken time and time again.  I have watched birth parents lose their battles with addictions, and ultimately lose their children.  Sadly, I have seen social workers become hardened to their hopes that they can change the world.

I still believe that one person can make a huge difference in the lives of children.  I choose to believe that people can change, but they need willing participants to walk along them in their battles.  Sometimes, it seems that we want children to grow up in safe homes, or want adults to change, but fail to recognize our responsibilities in these things.

We might say “I believe in Christ and love Him mightily”; yet, we turn our backs on the things that take us out of our comfortable “God bubble”.  Christ surely was taken out of His comfort zone.  He could have decided not to follow His Father’s calling.  He could have walked away, but He chose not to.

If we want the staggering statistics of abuse and neglect of children to end, we too must not walk away.  Foster care and being involved in child welfare issues will certainly take us out of our comfort zones.  It will definitely break our hearts at times.  However, our involvement in children’s lives and doing what God has called us to do is a reflection of where our treasure should be.

I saw a poster one time that said this “You have never looked into the eyes of anyone who does not matter to God”.  I have decided to recite this to myself daily as a reminder of the incredible responsibility and calling as a Christian to love people, especially those that can be overlooked by society.  My hope is that my treasure and my heart will always be focused on the One who is worth treasuring, and on the children He desperately loves.