What happens when God gives you a foster child that opposes everything you stand for?
This post is the second in a 4-part series on Justice to coincide with our current sermon series “Seek Justice”, which you can find HERE.
My heart for social justice began when I was six-years-old living in Hong Kong, and my mother entered into an AKC dog-breeding contract with the owner of a male boxer who would sire our female boxer’s hopefully-trophy-bound puppies. One humid night in our apartment atop the mountains overlooking Repulse Bay, I witnessed each glossy little puppy-bundle pop out of our terribly swollen Elsa’s womb; I fell deeper and deeper into the intoxication of life and all its marvelous wonders. The experience was transcendent. Seeing these eight little puppy-lives begin by opening their eyes inspired my little child-heart to open its eyes. That is, until two all-white puppies emerged.
How remarkable, I thought. How fantastic, I cried. But they were ushered away surreptitiously, quickly and quietly, each wrapped in its own cruel towel, never to be seen again. Of course, I learned later that pursuant to the breeding contract my mother entered, any aberrant (read white) puppies would be euthanized immediately save for sullying the sire’s good name. From that horrific realization forward, I was committed to the underdog – I would always fight for the less fortunate, the ones against whom life conspires, the ones who are ushered away surreptitiously, quickly, and quietly. I wanted to protect the whales, third-world women, homosexuals in the military, and for the past eighteen years, teenagers.
Today, my husband, three bio kids, and I have begun fostering a child, a nine-year-old boy whom I’ll call C. And it’s from this perspective I write here and now. The deeper my husband and I were led into God’s holy word, the more our hearts hungered to provide a family for a child in need. As Paul states to the Romans, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’” (8:15). God had so generously and graciously welcomed each of us into his family even though we did (and still do not) deserve his unconditional love and favor, so the least we could do is open our own home and arms to a child who was essentially orphaned. But like the God I know and love, the Creator of the Universe who has a spectacular sense of humor, He placed the very child with us who would stretch me personally in just the ways God knows I need to be stretched. So you want to help the less fortunate, He said. So you want to take in a foster child, He said. So you think you’re Wonder Woman, he said. Blah, blah, blah, he said.
C. was brought into our home with two tall garbage bags full of stuff: a few shoes, some clothes that were ill-fitting, and a couple remnants of dinosaur toys. He immediately won me over by saying that our ridiculously out-of-date, 1946, orange-tiled, wood-paneled house was the most beautiful home he’s ever seen. And then I came to find out he was hooked on my favorite TV show of all time, Murder, She Wrote. Kismet. We immediately lured him into our family’s addiction to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, which he embraced like a true patriot and scholar. So I bragged about it like only a new mother would on a private Christian foster mom Facebook site – and was met with the comment that would shake my new world. Enjoying the honeymoon period? What!? Indignance rose in my heart like British tea in the Boston harbor. But she was correct. It was a honeymoon period, and the hard work, the cabinet battles if you will, were brewing.
A protective circle of Nerf guns and in the middle one little boy declaring, Now I feel safe; now no one can hurt me.
A few weeks before we welcomed C. into our lives, my family and I carried our homemade posters on the train to downtown L.A. to join others in the Women’s March. We walked up Hill Street proudly chanting and cheering, my nine-year-old daughter wearing a glittery poster board around her little neck that read Feminista. Then in walks C. who promptly informed me that my job is to improve my cooking and cleaning skills and that I should not be the chairperson of any department, academic or otherwise, because and only because, I am female. When I came home from the library with books I had ever so carefully and lovingly selected about his favorite Australian animals, he asked But did you get any cook books? Okay, God.
And then the truly abusive words began. And then the physical violence. My family and I had to re-assess. Where is Justice in subjecting ourselves to a nine-year-old tyrant who lashes out at us while garnering 99% of our attention? Where’s Justice in the seemingly endless hours of training and Herculean hoops to jump through just to get approved to bring in a child to our home who is so unhappy with our family culture that he tries to undermine it at every turn? Where is Justice in how much he hurts me and my husband? Where is Justice in a nine-year-old child’s being placed in eight different foster homes over a two-year period, being separated from his older brother, and having to hear from his social worker that this is all happening because he is bad?
But our C. knows he is fragile. I often assign former Poet Laureate Billy Collins to my twelfth graders, and an overwhelming favorite is his “On Turning Ten.” The ten-year-old speaker reaches an epiphany that before he became “the first big number,” and he cut his knees, he would “shine” – there was nothing “under [his] skin but light.” Now that he’s turned ten, the sidewalks of life cause him to “bleed.” C. knows he bleeds, like we all do. He also has a keen sense of justice, like we all do. A few weeks into his living with us, he sat in our living room on the hard wood floor and built around himself a circle of fifteen Nerf guns. Imagine that. A protective circle of Nerf guns and in the middle one little boy declaring, Now I feel safe; now no one can hurt me.
But isn’t that what we all do?
We are, each one of us, the unwanted white boxer puppy about to be ushered away surreptitiously, quickly, and quietly. We are not good enough. We are an aberration. We fall short of the glory of God. We are the orphan, the abandoned child, the mother who loses parental rights, the dead-beat dad who split, the exhausted social worker, the DCFS transport driver that doesn’t show up, the broken system. We live and breathe injustice because we are the unjust. The only glimmer of hope, the only redemption we have is not our circle of Nerf guns but the promises of Jesus Christ.
And when you really think about it, Jesus is the ultimate injustice.
Yes, Jesus Christ is injustice. He was the innocent one who suffered and was executed. My faith, and perhaps yours, is anchored in the unjust death of an innocent young Jew who felt forsaken by his Father. And for what?
To reconcile the broken to God.
I often meditate on this verse from Isaiah: “Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow” (1:17). I, for one, count it my greatest blessing that the Lord gave me a heart that bleeds for those birthed into their own cruel towels of injustice. But that’s not to say I won’t still work on my cooking.