We Are All Orphans

I write this blog as someone who sits in the congregation with you and grapples with this dilemma. I wonder if many of you feel similarly.

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BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. I’m jolted awake by my clock alarm that pierces the silence and brings to my attention that morning is here. I must arise. But before I can contemplate such a move, I clumsily reach for the phone on my bedside table. I quickly glance at my email inbox, but that’s an obligatory precursor to my main objective. I immediately check the international news page. I rummage the headlines as hastily as my droopy eyes allow. I look for keywords: “South Korea,” “missiles,” “military testing.” If I don’t see any, I sigh in relief and grant myself an extra moment to snooze.

But if one of those keywords is present, my heart skips a beat and I enter into investigative mode. Who, what, where, when, how? And most importantly, what’s the verdict? Is it fatal or is this another testing ritual? I hold my breath as my eyes sweep the page.

You see, my parents reside in South Korea and I live with a gnawing fear that I may become an orphan overnight. They live in the target zone of an unpredictable, erratic dictator in North Korea, who is known to be trigger-happy and grandiose in his display of military prowess. Since he is known to conduct impromptu and sporadic missile tests very close to South Korea, there’s a lingering potential that those tests may convert into a real full-fledged attack someday. There’s a fear that while I’m sleeping safely in my cozy bed, my parents will be forced into a violent sleep that will render them helpless.

That thought of being an orphan has become part of my daily ponderings. Even as an adult, it breaks my heart to imagine being separated from my parents in such a brutal way. But, for many children in the foster care system, the act of being abruptly and intrusively separated from one’s parents is a reality. During this upheaval, kids are disrupted from their steady rhythm of normalcy. The world is already chaotic and unpredictable in itself. Kids look to their families and homes as an anchoring force.

We can resonate to this longing of home, especially after a long day at school, work, or on vacation. We see our abode as an oasis to recalibrate and decompress; where we can freely be ourselves.  But what if there wasn’t a safe home waiting on the other side? How can we come alongside those kids displaced out of their homes during these turbulent times? The gift of your presence (and home) may offer them so much more than you can imagine.

It is easy to toss around the refrain: “We are all orphans” and to profess God as our Father (Isaiah 64:8). But, to really experience that is another thing. I am sure that we have all experienced exclusion, alienation, separation, and loneliness throughout our lives. When we are confronted with such experiences, we usually abate that fear by scrambling to find companionship of some sort or numbing ourselves with distractions. But what if we were to fully enter into that uncomfortable feeling and let that discomfort chisel our hearts to have a more compassionate slant for others? We could be authentic conduits of healing as we become more in touch with our own fragility, just as Christ can sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb 4:15).

When I ponder the words: “Foster Parent,” “Safe Families,” “CASA,” and “Mentor,” those are all words that describe God.

That feeling of being in limbo and living in the gap is not something that we are comfortable with. Our human condition combats that on every level.  For example, when we create certain narratives for our lives (i.e. what we choose to believe about ourselves and others), we usually do not like to live in the in-between. It feels too wobbly and scary. It’s easier to lean on a contrived certainty and self-assured mindset, living in a pseudo-paradise where our personal perspective reigns as king and all other perspectives are subjugated (or disregarded) to their subordinate place. In this way, we are able to stabilize our worldview and attempt to feel better about ourselves. That in-between stage feels threatening to our equilibrium and sense of identity. But we need to become more comfortable with the discomfort and interruptions. We need help and practice in carving out space and time for the estranged stranger. Working with foster kids, you are in the trenches of navigating that precarious gap. You are living and walking alongside them in that pocket of transition and instability with them.

We can also begin by cultivating that posture within our own sphere of influence. When we look at our inner circle (our friends, families, co-workers), who is hurting? Who is feeling marginalized? Who doesn’t have a voice? Who feels unseen and excluded? It can be easier to tend to our own personal woes and lose sight of people outside that periphery. We can begin by practicing hospitality and compassion with those immediately around us.

God is not limited by our shortcomings. The work that he calls us to is not predicated on our laurels of goodness or performance. Taking a risk and serving in a new way can be a sanctifying incubator of growth. By intentionally entering into this process and asking God to change our hearts and minds, we not only help a child in need – but we ourselves open ourselves to be moldable and teachable.

As your sister-in-Christ, I want to challenge you. And I need you to challenge me. I want to be more active in helping the poor and marginalized in our community, but I find myself wearing the same emblem of busyness as my counterparts that insulates me from engaging too much.

I write this blog as someone who sits in the congregation with you and grapples with this dilemma. I wonder if many of you feel similarly. You hear and acknowledge the need, consider the call, and oscillate between action and inaction. Some of you are excited by this emphasis on foster care. Some of you are tired of hearing about this.  But if God’s heart is for the poor, marginalized, and the fatherless, and he abides in us, that same heart should beat in us too.

When I ponder the words: “Foster Parent,” “Safe Families,” “CASA,” and “Mentor,” those are all words that describe God. He fosters us as our parent. He provides a safe family for us. He is our Home (“casa” in Spanish) and he mentors us. He advocates for us and fights for us. We are adopted into His family as beloved children. If we who have been loved by him have experienced this, I pray that we would also be able to love in a radical way wherever we go.

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