I had the privilege of speaking this week at a family camp. After one of the talks, an elderly couple approached me and asked if I had a moment for a story.
The tale they shared began some three decades before. It was an account that made my heart hurt – a painful failed attempt to change the trajectory of a 13-year-old boy in foster care.
* * *
Before sharing that story, I’d mention one other thing. At the camp, I was truly struck by how many people I met had some prior involvement with caring for “orphans.”
This wasn’t a CAFO Summit. It wasn’t the crowd that one expects has caught a special passion for these things.
This was summer camp – a gathering of a few hundred committed Christians from across California and beyond.
Yet a large number of them had adopted. One single woman had just been approved to foster. Another couple had a little girl with them whom they were fostering. One man, a hulking pastor of Tongan descent, show me pictures of the massive beard he’d grown to help raise money for a friend who was adopting from China. A retired forester told me about his efforts to mentor a fatherless boy. Another woman has been doing all she can to help a young mother – formerly a victim of human trafficking – to make it through hard times with her three small children.
Yes, there’s plenty of evidence in America of tepid, uninspiring faith among the masses who check the “Christian” box on surveys. But among people deeply committed to their Christian faith, there is indeed a vibrant glow that reflects God’s heart for the hurting.
* * *
Now, back to the story. The husband, a retired Air Force pilot named Webb, told how some thirty years ago, he and his wife had fostered a number of children.
One was a boy named was Rick. Rick always resisted their role in his life, fought their authority, pushed away their affection.
He’d say, “I know the law. You touch me and I’ll report you and you’ll go to jail.”
On Thanksgiving, after a big family meal, Rick ran away and stole a neighbor’s brand new Toyota farm truck. He was caught not long after and ended up in juvenile hall, then a high-supervision group home.
Nothing changed as Rick entered adulthood. He was a arrested many times and eventually ended up with a sentence that kept him behind bars for years.
When he was finally released, within two days he’d broken into another house. Under California’s Three Strikes law, he was sentenced to life in prison
Rick has been incarcerated ever since. He’s now in his 40s and likely will be there for the rest of his life.
You do your very best to make a difference and end up with nothing but sorrow. One more example of a foster care failure.
Or is it?
The Webbs stayed in contact with Rick over the years – while he was in juvenile hall, the group homes, various jails and prisons, and even now.
Today, three decades after he stayed with them at 13, the Webbs still write to him, send him gifts on his birthday and Christmas, and continue to gently share love and grace with him through the mail.
Rick recently told the Webbs that of the myriad foster parents he had, they are the only ones who ever bothered to stay in touch with him at all after he left their home.
He begins his letters to them, “Dear Mom and Dad….”
Is that failure? It certainly isn’t at all what the Webbs hoped for when they first welcomed Rick to their home.
And yet, through the Webbs, Rick has tasted love and faithfulness. He’s seen a small, humble reflection of the love and faithfulness the Webb’s believe is God’s heart towards all of us.
Will that love change the texture of the way Rick lives the decades ahead, even behind bars? Will it change what lies beyond this life for him
There’s no way to know for sure. But I believe there is quiet whispers of victory in any such expression of faithful love, even when the apparent outcome fall short of hopes.
At the very least, I’d say, it is way too early to call this a failure. The same can be said for a lot of things in this realm…