I didn't wait long, thankfully.
I dropped my bag of donations and went to work collecting the empty hangers from last week. There were more than I expected.
As I re-hung a few items that had fallen, I heard a cheery voice behind me say, "Hey!"
I turned and saw a boy. Likely older than my boys, but I can't be sure. I wondered if a caseworker was going to come in behind him.
He was a bit of a ramshackle mess. As a boymom, that is more delightful than pitiful to me. He had a camo tank top on that was partially tucked-in his underwear -- this looked more like a haphazard accident than a fashion statement. His pants were a little big around the waist so they hung a little low.
My boys have walked around our house like this more times than I can count. "Get dressed" is accomplished as quickly as possible without a thought for checking to make sure waistbands aren't twisted and underwear aren't showing.
I smiled and said, "hi there!" He turned and left. I was simultaneously relieved and disappointed. Relieved because I had no idea if I had the right sizes of clothing for him. Disappointed because it might have been fun to see him pick out clothes - if I did have the right sizes.
I don't know his story. I know nothing about him, other than he is a boy that likely gets dressed like my boys. And he's friendly.
Then later in the day, I read this article. It's titled "The Child I Didn't Adopt" and it was written by a caseworker named Liz Curtis Faria. Click here to read it all.
I couldn't get through it. I was bent over on the floor, trying not to audibly sob. For the boy in the article. For the boys and girls like him. For the caseworker that carries this weight. For the families that have fostered children and couldn't keep them for always. So many parts of it undid me. Wrecked me all over again. This part in particular:
Nine-year old Stephen grips his report card in sweaty hands. We’re headed to an adoption event, where we will meet families who want to adopt an older child; families who do not automatically rule out a boy like Stephen with all of his long “history.” And he wants to impress them, these strangers. He wants to win them over, and so he brings his good report card along as tangible proof that he is a child worth loving.
A child should never have to prove they are worth loving.This boy, called "Stephen" for the article, he is not an isolated case. I briefly thought about the boy I had crossed paths with in the clothing closet. The foster care crisis in America is a mess. My part in all of it feels so small and inconsequential when I am weeping for the children without homes.
But I know the God that made my heart hurt this way for these kiddos of His. I know He sees this sorrow and He - even in His goodness - has put it there. This soft spot that refuses to grow hard. It breaks open easily and often. I pray it always will. I do not want to grow numb to these hard truths.
I believe, I hope, I pray that these kinds of stories will be fewer because the Church will grow bolder. That we will love in the hard places. That we will pray circles around the families that are waiting to adopt. That we will hold the hands of the children that need a person to call their own. That we will stand with and walk alongside the ones that take the classes, and get fingerprints + background checks. That we will comfort the foster families that have said good-bye and add our prayers to theirs that the reunification will lead to wholeness. That we will make space in our hearts, our homes, our Sunday School classes for the hurting, the scared, the lonely, the left-behind. That our bravery will lead us to love with abandon the children our God loves so dearly. That we will see these children the way He does.
God help us.
Let our tears lead us to action. Let our hope stubbornly follow where He leads, whether it makes sense or not. Believing every step of the way that the One who calls us is faithful.