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We see her once in a while at the grocery store or library. She’s come to church a couple times, and she and I have talked. We’ve prayed, hugged, cried and apologized – and assured each other of our love. But Rachel still wanders through life, aimless, unsure, disappointed, looking for love in all the wrong places, and finding only emptiness, a deeper neediness.

For the foster kids who soak up the good that’s offered them, and get up on time and study and graduate, and tell the truth and learn to be respectful and work a job after school, and then come back to say, Thanks, it’s because what you did helped them get over some hurdles, showed them work is the best cure for laziness, and gave them a better model of how a family can function, how a life can be salvaged.

And it made a difference. Because where they were won’t nudge them into becoming a productive member of society.

For foster parents, it requires throwing any unrealistic expectations out the window, and preparing to have your life turned upside down – for a while, at least. Or possibly for the next fifty years, depending on how long you choose to remain involved.

Once you make the decision to give, and love, and keep trying… and pray, and cry, and dry the one day’s tears to start over the next morning, and hug and forgive and reach deep for a patience and determination and compassion and selflessness you never knew existed. Divine grace pours on those who take this huge a risk, expecting nothing in return.

Is this another chapter? The final chapter? I’m not sure. I’m not even sure why I’m writing this, except that foster care has become a part of my life again, but in a different way. And I’m wondering about those kids whose pictures sit on my dresser, and what their chapters look like.

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Love isn’t enough. Knowledge and wisdom must be gained in order to deal with the crazy stuff. Drug babies grow up and do stupid things, and bio parents come back making demands, and then your own kids have issues from opening your home to strangers.

We had hoped to adopt through our local foster care program, to rescue a couple of those little ones who would otherwise fall through the cracks. But God didn’t open that door. Instead, He used the four years to teach us and grow us, to keep our hearts moldable, to learn to place our expectations in Him.

I figured foster care would remain in the past. My brief period of blessed craziness.

But I was recently hired by a non-profit organization, Christian Alliance For Orphans. Besides connecting people with the right agencies, we oversee the National Foster Care Initiative and Orphan Sunday.

God cares about orphans – the fatherless, the lonely, the forgotten, overlooked, insignificant and unlovable, the less lovely and hard-to-love kids. And He cares about grown-up kids.

The first time I walked into a major league stadium, surrounded by 50,000 people, my first thought was, God made and knows and loves every person here! I’d never seen such a huge crowd. I didn’t know all those people existed, didn’t really care that they existed. But God knew them, created them, and sees every one of them from the moment of conception to their last breath. And all at the same time. Each one is worth something to God, from the wealthy CEO sitting behind home plate, to the average nobody in the nose-bleed section.

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To foster means to nurture. To love. By choice – not by birth. Except that being human sort of demands our attention and consideration, because being human means made in God’s image, created worthy of love and time and affirmation.

And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.  –  Matthew 10:42

How many of us could have ended up on the streets, or in a cardboard box huddled under an overpass, drifting from one place to another, or sitting in a jail cell… but didn’t? Because someone showed interest, and gave advice that somehow imprinted itself on our brains, or touched our heart and gave us a glimpse of what could be if we just kept trying. Maybe it was a parent, but maybe not. The fact is: it was someone.

May is National Foster Care Month, and May 10-16 was the first ever H.E.L.P. week. Read about it at CAFO’s website. So in another way now, my life has become intertwined again with the people outside my comfort zone.

This type of nurturing is so needed – foster children have become a mission field in our own backyard. Like going to battle, in the trenches, this kind of involvement is the hard stuff of life, demanding courage, strength, character, resolve, faith and more. So much more.

Whether giving handfuls of love or emptying our pockets to produce kindness, let Jesus keep the tally. Because He first loved us, we can love others, in simple ways, gentle acts, words brimming with meaning… we can scatter seeds and spread goodness, and exhibit grace and hope.

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Those who can’t adopt or become foster parents can support those who do. Prepare a meal and take it to their home. Pay to have housecleaning done. Invite the family for a barbecue at the park or a picnic at the beach. Maybe you’re not up to caring for these kids long-term, but could you handle them for an afternoon or a weekend once a month?

Institutionalized orphans languish, devoid of loving human contact, these tiny lives rarely connect with concerned eyes and ears attuned, rarely hear their names spoken intentionally. Where brain development is repressed and hopelessness or anger rise, too many children wonder, Why doesn’t someone pay attention to me?

Family is the first institution God created. And family is the place where love is first taught, first embraced by practice and experience.

But most foster kids are deprived of this kind of love, and come from homes where affirmation is rare or non-existent.

Foster care is just one form of reaching out to those around us in need of nurturing.

James said not to welcome the rich man to our assembly, but to give our seat to the poor man.

Smile at the child in the shopping cart, at the weary mom in the line at the register or in the waiting room. Don’t just write a check for the local food pantry, but volunteer. Invest in a life that’s teetering. Let empty eyes see hopeful compassion in yours – not as a social project, but because you could be where she is if not for the love shown to you, by a parent, a teacher, a relative, a youth pastor, a neighbor…

(Jesus said to His disciples…) Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.  –  Matthew 10:8

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Then the King will say to those on His right hand, Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me. Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You? And the King will answer and say to them, Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.  –  Matthew 25:34-39

Involving myself with the life of a stranger means getting dirty, dealing with less than comfortable circumstances, being inconvenienced, setting aside my ideals and doing without to fill another’s empty place.

But isn’t that what Jesus did when He left Heaven, to come to earth?

And how many of us in some way aren’t needy?

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