a hope for the future

Have you ever met a kiddo without a hope for the future? I have. After having been in foster care for several years, a 12-yr-old boy was assigned to my caseload. One day, I asked him, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He looked me straight in the eyes, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Eh…I figure I’ll either be in jail or dead by the age of twenty-one, so does it really matter?”

Speechless. It took me a moment to gather my thoughts.

“Don’t put that out there! There are all kinds of things to be and do when you grow up!” (I said this to encourage him but to no avail.) Shrugging his shoulders again, he said, “Well, it’s probably true.” Conversation ended.

Years later, I found out that after he aged out of foster care (because he was never able to be matched with a family), he ended up committing a non-violent crime and was sentenced to prison…right around the age of twenty-one. I have no idea if he is out or not, but even after all of these years, I wonder if he ever found his place, or better yet, found himself, in this world.

Trauma defined his life and identity. It filled in the lines between his growing years. It slapped a label on him that was nearly impossible to peel off. Had he been able to connect with one consistent adult (other than child welfare professionals), would his life have turned out different?

YES. I ABSOLUTELY BELIEVE SO.

How can we, as a society, help kids like him?

We need:

  • Families interested in fostering kids over the age of twelve, including sibling groups with mixed ages.
  • More funding for programs designed to target at-risk youth and provide them life skills, opportunities to explore jobs and support.
  • Trauma-informed base of knowledge into any program, school or other sites who provide care, in any capacity, to youth.
  • Churches to educate themselves and get engaged with systems that might make them uncomfortable. (Jesus doesn’t ask us to be comfortable, anyway. Can I get an ‘Amen’?!)
  • Purpose-driven resourcing for at-risk youth. Meaning, behind every action that is taken with this population, make sure there is a purpose that will drive them towards a better future.
  • Mentors!! We absolutely need adults to step up and seek out ways to get involved. I’m not going to lie. It isn’t pretty all of the time and you may not think you are making a difference, but every small action can lead to big leaps for these kids.

If there isn’t a mentoring program in your community, find out how you can start one. Talk with various agencies who work with at-risk kids and ones in foster care. Consider if your small group at church could provide support. Speak to your schools about what they might need. I am a firm believer that when at-risk youth (in or out of foster care) find connection with at least one adult, their chances of success greatly improve.

Kids deserve to have a hope for the future. We can help get them there. I believe that!

By the Grace

“Don’t grieve your blessings.”  This is something I told a friend several weeks ago following our lengthy discussion of the sorrow seen through the eyes of those of us involved in the welfare of others.  Something as simple as a bite of a bagel brought my friend to the full awareness of how little she allowed herself to enjoy food since feeding the homeless.  It is easy when one works with the forgotten in our society to carry a small measure of guilt about the gifts we have been given, or the benefits we have worked hard for.

After spending many years now in human services and child welfare, I am keenly aware of the good things I have had in life.  Things like a stable home environment where I knew that, no matter what, there would be food on the table, a bed to sleep in, and a mother and father who greeted me each day, are just a small portion of the blessings that touched my childhood.  These are the things that are good, of worth, and that securely shape a child’s life.  These are the things that often go unnoticed when they are present every day; and yet, these are the things that are grieved so much when absent.

I grew up in what I consider a fairly liberal Christian home.  My mother was never one to judge others on the scale of how “Christian” they were.  I learned through her that passing up a homeless person because of “what they might do with the money” is something that I should not do.  Whether or not they are going to spend it on alcohol or whatever vice they cling to, is something that should not prevent giving.  Instead, I learned that the same Father in Heaven watching me is also watching over the dirty, restless person asking for help.

After all, it was not too long ago that I was that dirty, restless person.

Mom also used to say, “But by the grace of God, go I.”  This statement often crosses my mind in so many situations in life.  Sometimes, Christians like myself, forget just how close we may have come to an addiction, an abusive relationship, a life lived in darkness, or one that is painted with tragedy time and again. Sometimes, Christians like myself, forget that it is by GRACE that we have the blessings in life that we have.

My fear, especially during times of hot-button issues and busy seasons of life, is that we do not do a good job of showing others just how intentional our Lord was, and is, and forever will be, in declaring His works through our actions.  I wonder if we are so busy saying we are Christians that we fail to show it through our actions and reactions to others who feel that the God we believe in has forgotten about them.

During this Christmas season that often becomes full of fret over gifts, and hurried schedules, my hope is that we remember Jesus.  We remember His birth, His life, His death, and His resurrection.  My hope is that we remember He came to save all of us.  ALL of us.  I also hope that we never fail to remember,

“By the grace of God, go I.”