Marines.Together We Served

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Someone to Listen

I wish you could have been there.

Last Friday night the Stockton Ports baseball team hosted Agape Villages Foster Family Agency for May’s National Foster Care Awareness Month. Foster parents and their foster kids enjoyed a wonderful evening at the old ball game. The weather was perfect, and everyone had a great time.

Players from the team had a autograph session just for the foster kids and families before the game started. The team mascot was available to have his picture taken with the kids, helping make the whole experience one these young people will not soon forget.

My favorite part was watching one foster kid (I’ll call him Tim) interacting with his foster family. My wife, Isaura, had told me about this particular situation, so I was curious to see who these folks were. As the story goes, Tim, now eleven years old, just could not get along with anybody. He was previously with several foster families before winding up with his currently family. Something in this relationship has helped turn him around. You see, this couple was older. One spouse was still gainfully employed, while the other is retired. Because they have time to spend with the Tim, he has really opened up to them. They patiently sit and listen to him pour out his heart. For the first time in his young life, Tim has found someone who takes a genuine interest in him. Somebody actually sits and listens to what he has to say.

It is equally interesting to see that ethnic and racial differences do not matter. Tim is black, while his foster family is white. When I first saw Tim he was pushing a wheelchair around inside the stadium. Seated in the wheelchair was the adult daughter of the couple who has taken Tim into their hearts and home. She had recently had trouble with a leg requiring she be off her feet for a time. There she was chatting away with Tim as they wheeled around the concourse. The two of them acted as though they were the only ones in the place, having a marvelous time together.

The transformation in Tim has been so successful that I’m told he has become quite the evangelist in the neighborhood, exhorting his neighborhood friends to give their lives to Jesus. Quite a change for a young man who was going nowhere in a hurry.

You may be wondering just how many boys and girls are in foster care in the United States? The answer: Just over a half million. There are many more who should be in foster care, but for various reasons they are not in the system. These kids range from newborns to seventeen. The ones that seem to fall through the cracks are the older kids. Tim is fortunate. Many his age are considered “too old” by many families who prefer to take in a younger child – which also means a child who is more pliable and doesn’t have the baggage a pre-teen or teenager might have. These adolescents acutely feel the rejection, finding it difficult to fit into our society because they have come to believe they are not wanted.

One story recently drove home the problems associated with trying to care for these foster kids. A foster family took a newborn right from the hospital into their home. They loved this child like she was their own. Unfortunately due to the laws giving any family member rights to the child, an aunt showed up when the child was eighteen months old and demanded she be given custody. It broke the foster family’s heart. But that’s the law.

Foster kids are not inherently bad, as many might think. They’ve just had a rougher start on life than most. It’s not their fault, for instance, that their parents were druggies, irresponsible, and in every sense, unfit for parenting. Because these kids are often in such deplorable living conditions before the state finally steps in, they are frequently considered “damaged goods.” But as evidenced in Tim’s story, when people give of themselves sacrificially, even kids others have given up on can be redeemed. It takes courage and commitment. Is it worth it? Ask Tim and his foster family.

So let me ask you: What are you investing your life in? What will be your legacy?

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