Not the End

 

15 months ago, a little girl joined our family through foster care. She was on the verge of turning 9 but the size of a 5yr old. I can’t say she’s grown much. But she has been completely transformed. And so has our family.

J brought a peace and unity to Raine and Athena. The three girls connected on the deepest level. Their days were spent playing joyously together. Raine has become so much calmer and can even whisper now. (If you’ve ever met Raine you know she pretty much always sounded like she was speaking through a megaphone.) Athena has grown in confidence and will actually hug people – something she wouldn’t do with anyone but me prior to J’s arrival.

There have been struggles as J deals with all the emotions that come with foster care and the reasons a child must be there. But she’s embraced a measure of healing. The girl here now is nothing like the one that arrived 15mths ago. She’s taller – though still needs to gain a significant amount of weight – happier, and more at peace. I’ve not been a perfect parent to her. But she knows she’s loved by our family.

And that’s why the news that J almost quite certainly will be leaving us August 19 caused Athena to run away from me crying. It made Raine go quiet. Eventually, Athena asked if I could take down the pictures we have up of J around the house. Once she’s gone, Athena doesn’t think she’ll be able to bear seeing the face of her lost friend.

The news of J’s departure isn’t really a surprise. It’s something that’s been a year in the making. Her mother has finally met all the requirements necessary to have her children returned. The social worker expects the judge to confirm this in court next week. Then J will need to go.

This is the heartbreak that keeps many from entering the world of foster care. The truth is not every child fully enters your heart. Often their brokenness keeps you from getting close. Sometimes in spite of your best efforts, there’s no connection with a child in your care. So every departure may not be completely heartbreaking. We’ve had some children with us temporarily or for a length of time and the moving on hasn’t been hard.

But in the case of J, there has been a deep connection. Her absence will hurt every member of our family. And, no doubt, the loss will affect her as well. It’s love that has changed each one of us as we’ve grown together. Whenever J’s social worker comes to visit, she’s always on the verge of tears seeing the relationship that has evolved. It saddens her to know it will come to an end. This isn’t the outcome that seems best. It’s not what we were expecting. And it’s not what we want.

Still, it is always possible in the world of foster care. So we bless J as she prepares to move from us. And I pray that Jesus, the one who calls us to love the needy, will comfort my children as they say good-bye. They’ve loved J so well. Their unconditional acceptance has enabled J to discover the beauty within herself. That revelation will go with her – that she is loveable, that she is valuable and to be treasured. Those truths are not coming to an end even though it appears J’s time with us is. She will take with her the deposits we’ve made. And we will keep the imprint of her on our hearts.

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Because Black Lives Really Do Matter

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I understand white privilege. The term gives a label to what I discovered the first time I read Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. At the age of 12 I realized that my life, though by no means perfect, is privileged. I am white. My children are white. I will never have to worry about my son dying because of the colour of his skin. No one will fear for their life when he walks down the street.

I ought to find comfort in this fact. But I can not.

As someone committed to following Jesus, I must not rest in the comfort of injustice. Doing so makes a mockery of my faith. Psalm 45:6 says: Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.

Since I’ve been able to speak, I’ve recited the Lord’s prayer. With sincerity, I say “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10). But as long as I continue to benefit from an unjust system, my prayer is in vain. The kingdom of God comes with justice.

In a land that has long proclaimed His name, there is no justice. My facebook feed is saturated with calls to pray for the safety of police officers in response to the shootings in Dallas. There are videos and strong signs of solidarity. As you may have guessed, most of my friends are white. There weren’t any posts calling for prayer for young men walking home after the Trayvon Martin shooting in February 2012. It seemed no one really cared.

As Canadians, I suspect we are largely unaware of the situation in America. It crosses the path of our media outlets. But we don’t really understand the systems and structures in place.

Even in our ignorance, we can no longer dismiss the vast number of black lives being taken. Black lives do matter. That isn’t a statement meant to offend. It’s spoken in response to a nation’s actions that say otherwise. The reply that “all lives matter” is cruel. And should not be coming from the church.

We ought to be leading the way in dismantling injustice. Psalm 9:12 says: For He who avenges blood remembers; He does not ignore the cries of the afflicted.

It’s time for us to stop ignoring the cries of the afflicted.

As a teenager, I read every book available to me on American black history. Living in a pre-internet world, the selection was slim in the library of the Canadian city I grew up in. But I learned enough to know there is an on-going tragedy occurring in our midst. It’s part of the fabric of our Canadian culture. We’re inundated by American movies, television shows, news stations, music, celebrities, etc. We’re very much linked to America. With the mandate of Canada – to bring healing to nations – I challenge you to look at what’s happening. Really look. Look at the reality that black mothers and fathers live in fear that their sons will not come home from simple outings like going to the corner store.

Because it’s more than anyone can possibly bear, that burden of fear is sparking action.

More death is not the answer. But do you have one? The times we live in are spoken of in the Old Testament prophets. ….And He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. (Isaiah 5:7)

When God looks at us, does He find justice? Does He see righteousness? Even if you don’t, He hears the cries of distress. If you’re unable to, I beg of you to open your ears.

I’m white, living in Canada. I’m safe. My children are safe. But this fight is mine. And it ought to be yours because no child is free until all are free. I do not want my children to be established on a foundation of injustice. Nor should you.

Let it no longer be true that: No one calls for justice; no one pleads a case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil. Isaiah 59:4

It alarms me that our culture is so crippled by fear. The white men who are quick to take black lives claim they feared the loss of their own lives. Fear is not a lens through which any of us can see clearly. We can not let fear dictate our actions. We must disarm the fear that is derailing our culture.

For me, it’s been the fear of offending that’s kept me from speaking out before now. My voice is small and insignificant. But in not speaking, I run the risk of being counted among the masses who are satisfied with the continuation of white privilege. Please don’t count me in. These words I’ve written won’t change anything. But they’ve been burning inside of me and I had to get them out.

Beyond the words, I’m doing the only things I know to – teaching my children not to fear and praying.

Here’s what my prayers sound like:

Father God, forgive me for participating in a structure that evaluates the worth of individuals based on the colour of their skin. Forgive me for benefiting from a system that places me above my brothers and sisters. Remove from me the mindset that says this is alright. I recognize that we are all made in Your image. You intentionally created differences in appearance to fully capture who You are. Teach me to rejoice in the diversity while fully embracing those who don’t share my appearance.

Break off of me the belief that I am powerless to change things. I seek the scepter of Your justice in my life. Holy Spirit, I invite You to illuminate any wrong attitudes, racism, prejudice, or malice that exist in me. As You reveal these things, I am committed to removing them from my being.

Open my eyes to see as You see. Black lives matter to You. I choose to live in a manner that confirms this truth. Forgive us for arguing against this truth. Forgive us for wanting to ignore the breaking of Your heart. You weep over the blood that is being spilt. Let us not add to Your suffering by our response. We choose to break off apathy and ignorance that have prevented us from acting. We join our voice with Yours in calling for justice. We choose to no longer be content with freedom for some. We seek freedom for all. Let us no longer live in the poverty that separation brings. Let us know the rich blessing of unity.

I ask for wisdom and divine strategies. I don’t know how to solve this, but You do. Thank you for the opportunity to partner with You. Enable me to respond and serve in a manner that establishes Your kingdom. Let the justice of Your kingdom be established in me and enable me to bring it to the culture I’m a part of.  

Amen.

The Gift of Community

Normally our 9yr old foster child is at her birth mother’s on weekends. Because of this, J has only been to church with us a handful of times. The last occasion was a total disaster.

When J decided not to go to her mom’s this weekend, I understood but was nervous about how she’d cope. Raine and Athena were singing in the children’s choir Easter morning. I worried J would prevent us from getting there because of a major meltdown. Happily, she rose and got ready without any issues. In fact, all the kids did so well getting out the door (usually our greatest challenge) that we arrived at church early.

J hadn’t eaten her bagel and pear during the drive. She and I sat down in the foyer while Raine and Athena went to their final practice. It’s rare for J and I to be alone. She loves my daughters and always wants them around.

Saturday, while we were waiting in line for pancakes at a local maple syrup bush, J ran through the nearby pine trees with Raine and Athena. The three form a neat little pack. I was struck by how special it is to find a place where you belong. J has shed much of her insecurity and found a place of joy. She is loved and she loves. It’s a gift to have a tribe to run with. I grew up with a sister and friends who nurtured my spirit and soul. That has been on my list of experiences I’ve wanted for my kids. I rejoice that Raine, Athena, and J have that.

As J and I sat in the foyer, people began wandering in for church. Many faces were familiar to me. They knew J was my foster child. Though most had not met her, they stopped to say hello. The grandmotherly women, put their hands on J’s shoulder. Looking her in the eyes they welcomed her. Some told her she was in a blessed home. Others told her she was lovely. Everyone had a smile and kind word for her.

She’d done nothing to warrant their attention. J was simply sitting there eating a bagel (or not eating since she’s been reluctant to eat after being at her mom’s over March break). The people knew her status and went out of their way to speak into her heart. They honoured her with kindness not because of anything she’d done. She has no connection to them. They aren’t her grandmother. They bear no responsibility to her. Yet, they made a point of connecting deeply with her. I watched J’s spirit and soul drink in the love and acceptance lavished upon her.

It took everything in me not to cry. Growing up in the church, I’ve known this kindness all my life. Until today, I’d not appreciated the magnitude. There are so many things I want for my kids – adopted and fostered. A home church has always been on the list. Growing up, that was my community. There were families in my neighbourhood who also went to our church. We spent time together during the week and saw each other on Sundays. I realize there are many other ways to build community. But I doubt there is another place where a dozen people will stop to speak to the heart of a child because they know she’s living a displaced life. Today, J received the gift of community. She was loved, accepted, encouraged, and affirmed simply for being there. It was beautiful and exactly what she needed.

Thank you.

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