loving the lonely

Friday, May 1, 2015

Sometimes you get a glimpse of the future that will never be. You know what I mean? The glimpse that shows you what the future would have been like if...

Learning to love the newest pseudo-family member during the past six months where he lived most of the time with my parents gave us just that. So much like our Brenden, we were instantly drawn to him. Watching him try to navigate his new adulthood without the tools that he actually needed to so was difficult. Kids age out of the foster system every day in this country, and while this young man still was eligible to receive some benefits from the county until 21, it is eye-opening to see what truly can happen in the lives of those for whom the system has failed. And I truly believe is a failure to have a kid reach adulthood with no place to call home.

Imagine growing into adulthood with no family. None. Your birth family is out of the picture, and you've had too many foster placements to have a home to truly call your own. No one ever said, "you're mine. For life." The loneliness of that just breaks me. No one should have to do life alone.

Imagine growing into adulthood where no one has given you the skills to succeed. No one helped you fill out your first FAFSA, your college applications. No one encouraged you to investigate a trade should college not be a good fit. No one taught you how to hold down a job, how to interact with a boss, or even how to talk with coworkers. No one ever said, "hey. Are you coming home this weekend? Bring your laundry." According to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, this happens to approximately 24,000 kids every year. Most studies will tell you that kids who age out of the system are more likely to end up without college degrees, unemployed, homeless, or in prison. And this year, I met and loved one kid for whom that is likely to be his future.

He moved into my parents home with nothing but the clothes on his back, and he left, for a variety of reasons, basically the same way. My husband drove him to the place where he was staying that night with all his earthly belongings in the car. It's hard for me to even write about, thinking about this young man we learned to love, but also, I'm still remembering our own son's entrance into our home. We were his sixth move that year. SIX. In one year. He came with a garbage bag of clothes and a toy tool bench. For the first several months he lived with us, when we would tell him the caseworker was coming for her monthly home visit, he would go to get his shoes. Had to be ready to go, you know, because she comes to move him from home to home. Imagine that for your entire childhood. How could you ever function as a capable, healthy adult if this was how you grew up?

So this week I'm grieving. I'm grieving for this young man we now love. I'm praying for his safe return back to my parent's house. I'm praying for his safety, for his future. I know his story isn't done, but I'm praying that our part in his story gets to continue. I miss him. But I also grieve for the more than 20,000 other kids facing the same reality this year. I'm grieving for them while they are lonely tonight, while they are wondering where their next meal will come from or where they will sleep tomorrow. I'm grieving for them while they are in prison. And above all, I'm grieving for the little boys and girls that they once were - the ones who stuff their belongings in garbage bags. The ones who grab their shoes when the caseworker comes. The ones who never have an everyday mommy and daddy that stick around for good.

Those kids? They are my kids. I just get to stop the cycle with the three that are sleeping in my upstairs right now. I get to tuck them in every night, assuring them that I love them. I get to take them to see old caseworkers, to visits with their first families, to therapy appointments, and all with the assurance that I will take them, I will stay with them, and I will bring them home again. Their future is with an everyday family that will be there for them no matter what, no matter when, no matter.

May is National Foster Care Month. Sometimes I feel like I'm beating a dead horse with my constant calls to action, but maybe this is the year that you sign up to stop the cycle for one kid. Just one. That's all it takes. 

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