One Relationship at a Time

I was on a work meeting at Foster Village today, and we were discussing the barriers for many of the biological families we get to walk alongside as they work hard to reunify with their children who are in foster care.

While the exact circumstances surrounding the cases are different, we definitely see a common theme: the parents don’t have the support that many people (myself included) rely on to make it through when life gets difficult.

When they arrive at their initial meetings or first court date and are asked who they have for support, far too often the answer is “no one”. In fact sometimes, these moms and dads don’t even have someone they can list as an emergency contact.

No one. No parents or siblings. No friends. No coworkers. Not a single person identified that they could turn to.

For many of us, we can immediately begin to tell ourselves stories about why this must be.

“They push people away and have burned so many bridges.”
“They deal with substance abuse.”
“If they’d just get treatment for their mental illness, things would be easier for them.”

On and on and on.

And these stories could be true. But in the last several years, I’ve begun to tell myself a different story about these moms and dads.

After getting to know some incredibly strong people who have graciously shared with me, after learning about systemic failures and generational cycles of adversity, I can now see it differently.

After working with and raising kids who have spent time in foster care, now, when I hear about someone who has no support, I imagine them first as a child.

I think about the person’s connections to their family when they were little. What happened when biological mom was growing up? Could she depend on her family then? Was she shuffled through the system too? Did her own mom deal with substance abuse? Did she have any model of what healthy parenting or family systems could look like? Did she age out of foster care and now she’s part of that grim statistic that says the cycle will continue?

I wonder…

And then I remembered this blog, Dustin wrote last year about our time getting to know those who have been homeless, and the same thing rings true. Sure there are lots of other circumstances and barriers that can lead to homelessness, but the lack of supportive relationships is a major component in nearly every story.

All of the real obstacles of life are way more difficult when we’re walking through them completely alone. And it wasn’t meant to be this way.

There is a chasm between how things are and how they should be in this broken, beautiful world we call home. And I sense that chasm nearly every single day. Maybe you do too.

For some of us, feeling that chasm hurts. It haunts us. It can leave us feeling debilitated and can push us toward disengagement. When entire systems are broken and so many people are suffering, it can just feel too overwhelming and too painful. We may think of real solutions and policies and reforms that could help but also feel powerless to make a real difference.

For others, noticing that chasm energizes us. For the enneagram one “reformer” in me, the possibility of helping to create a better world pulls me forward with an almost physical force. I am compelled.

It’s why I do the work I do at Foster Village. It’s why our family has chosen to live at Community First! Village among those who have been chronically homeless. It’s why we launched A Faithful Presence to help Dustin do this neighboring thing full-time, so we’d have more capacity to do it well.

But it doesn’t take an organization to begin telling ourselves a different story about the circumstances of those who are walking beside us in this world. And it doesn’t take an official organization to show up as a friend for just one person who might have given up on looking for an emergency contact.

We can be doing this right where we are. In the neighborhoods we live in. In the churches we attend. Where we work. Where our kids go to school. Where we shop. Where we play.

In every corner of our little worlds, there are fellow travelers making the journey completely alone.

When we notice the gap, tell ourselves a different story, and then show up, we can be part of remaking this world into something better – one relationship at a time.

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