Joy and I have now officially been fostering for an entire year and I must say that I am somehow both exhausted and refreshed, simultaneously discouraged and enthusiastically encouraged, and saddened by all the hurt I’ve seen but honored to be able to speak into the heart of it.
I grew up in a relatively stable home environment. I say “relatively” because every family has their own version and degree of dysfunction, but I had both parents present for my entire childhood. I never felt the pain of a persistent hunger. Even though my mom notoriously kept the thermostat too low (to which everyone else in the house agreed) I never knew the feel of an inescapable chill. Outside of having to face my parents to explain a poor report card I never felt a fear of going home. I have witnessed and experienced what both familial and unconditional love looks and feels like. I have never been abandoned. I have been fortunate enough to live without being in a constant state of fight or flight.
This simply isn’t the case for everyone though. I have always known that not everyone is as fortunate as I have been, but it’s always been a set of distant troubles that lacked any real connection to my own life. Kind of like how I need to eat all the food on my plate because there are starving kids in Africa…unless I’m going to ship my leftover chicken and mashed potatoes to them, how do the two relate at all? Over the past year of fostering though these problems have not only become much more visible to me but I’ve also become acutely aware to how close they have always been.
If you only knew that the teenager you meet at church who doesn’t make eye contact has the emotional scars from a lifetime of domestic abuse. If you only knew that she doesn’t make eye contact because she is too afraid to try, even though feeling loved is the one thing she wants more than anything else. If you only knew that even though you don’t see the bruises, her mind hasn’t forgotten them. If you only knew, what would you do?
If you only knew that the kid in school who “distracts the teacher and takes away from my kid’s education” has never gone to bed with a full belly. If you only knew that he acts out because he has never seen an appropriate way of communicating his emotions. If you only knew that he acts out because it’s the only way he gets noticed. If you only knew, what would you do?
If you only knew that the new boy in school that your kid mentions has experienced things that you can’t even fathom but needs a friend. This new boy sounds angry because he is and if you only knew the depth of what he is working through, what would you do?
If you only knew that the woman you hear about in the neighborhood who acts out sexually is on the hunt for an unconditional emotional love and acceptance that she’s never experienced. If you only knew that she is looking for it by acting out because it’s the only way she’s ever gotten the attention of a man. If you only knew, what would you do?
If you only knew that your co-worker who always seems tired and never pulls his own weight is suffering through the unbearable weight of an addiction or depression. If you only knew that he is contemplating ending his own life because it’s the only way he sees to make it all end. If you only knew that he needs a brother to walk with him through it, what would you do?
Our culture has the tendency to push the hardships of our neighbors into the same realm as those hungry kids in Africa, but in reality they are much closer. In reality they are much more tangible and we could all have a much greater impact if we only knew about them. Recognizing that there is a problem is the first step to fixing it, and we all need to know that there is a problem.
If you find yourself reading this and wondering what you can do, here’s a few ideas to get you started:
- Ask your local Church. We’re involved in a church around Charleston that has its pulse pretty firmly on the needs of the community. If you are passionate about helping those in need but don’t know where to start, try finding a church like this and simply asking. Things like mentor programs, fostering, support for struggling families, car care, employment seminars, addiction recovery, single mom groups, free babysitting for married folks, etc. can all be found or started in the local Church.
- Pay attention. This one is pretty simple but so hard. If we all pay just a little more attention to the people around us and a little less attention to our phones, the unmet needs around us begin to magically and relentlessly appear.
- Say yes. The more we say “yes” to an unmet need, the more opportunities will present themselves. The more we say “no”, the more we’ll be passed over. If you have a heart to meet the needs around you, make sure your heart is prepared to say yes.
- Choose Love. This concept seems a little foreign in our current culture, but the idea of simply choosing to love those around us regardless of their own actions can often times speak volumes about their own value. So in all things, choose love.
Well now you know. So what will you do?