What does it look like in 2017 to model a life of justice, to be merciful, and to live in humility?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8
Simone* walked into Claris Health’s Inglewood clinic early last year. She was 19, newly pregnant, and had just aged out of the foster care system. Her support system involved a part-time boyfriend and a friend who occasionally allowed her to sleep on her couch. By all appearances, Simone’s situation seemed hopeless. Yet to her, this baby represented hope – a new start and an opportunity to see what her biological family looked like. It was a chance to right the areas of her life that had been so poorly modeled for her. But, practically speaking, Simone had no idea how to do that. This is where Claris stepped in. She started attending childbirth and parenting classes, counseling sessions, and received practical assistance. Most importantly, she gained a new family. A collective group of staff and volunteers who believed in her and who loved her unconditionally, told her repeatedly that she could be a great mom, regardless of where she lived or where she came from.
This is what it looks like to parent the modern day orphan. We typically think of infants or children needing to be fostered or adopted, but what about the teenage girl about to age out or just aged out of the system? What about the young guy who just found out his girlfriend is pregnant? How will they learn to parent? What role models do they have? How can we become family to them?
There’s a growing trend at our clinics right now: foster youth and those who’ve recently aged out of the system who are either pregnant or think they might be. They often desperately want a child to love them; it becomes a second chance to have a family and to parent in a way that was never modeled for them. But how can they do this? One observation we’ve made is that their hopes, dreams, and fears are often not much different than other patients that walk through our doors. The common thread is a feeling of being alone, isolated, and lacking family support.
While some of us are called to adopt or foster infants or young children, others are called to “foster” or mentor teenagers and young adults. What would it look like for you to simply be family to someone who needs it – perhaps as a mentor, a counselor, or a friend?
Jesus modeled all of this for us. Consider that he intentionally surrounded himself with the desperate, the unlovely, and the broken. Why then do we seek comfort and avoid interruption in our lives? Why is it that loving the unlovely often brings so much fear into our lives, in our parenting, in our marriages, and in our friendships? What if we prayed for disruption and for opportunities to engage lives that appear to be very different than our own? These may be the very circumstances that lead to authentic conversations with our kids.
Modeling what loving someone looks like without condition or expectation can be the catalyst for new connection among parents and kids. This is an act of humility, which involves realizing that we don’t have all the answers and that we, too, need a Father. We are all orphans adopted into a family by the only perfect parent, who accepted us in spite of all of our messiness.
Today, Simone is the proud mom of a beautiful little girl. While she still faces many challenges in her life, this baby girl has brought hope where she once doubted. And, the community and family she received at Claris has given her the support and tools to have a successful family of her own. Living justly and mercifully means choosing not to look away, but rather to engage and to demonstrate the unconditional love of family to other young people like Simone.
*Name changed to protect privacy