God has interesting way of helping me understand things. I'm not exactly an intellectual slouch. I read widely and across the disciplines. My college and graduate school educations have taught me the value of critical, objective thinking. Personality tests show that I am a high intuiter, which means that I have a "sense" of things even if the data isn't there to support the supposition. All that to say that for a smart enough, emotionally aware person, I sometimes need reminders about why adopting older children really matters.
In theory, of course, I have always maintained the value of caring for the most vulnerable in society. Claudia and I regularly contribute to Habitat for Humanity and other worthwhile humanitarian efforts. We teach our children the value of caring for others. But when theory departs and the reality hits, I am not always so thrilled with the implementation of socially just actions.
It's one thing to parent a child who has enough emotional health to express genuine gratitude. And it's rewarding to observe academic success. It's pleasant enough to see a son or daughter learn social skills. It always feels good for a parent to receive the accolades of teachers and other observer who say things like, "Wow. I don't know how you do what you do. I really admire that."
But it's another thing when doing a very good thing results in community scorn. When the county social services agency becomes not an ally in an effort to assist, but an adversary seeking to find a parental source of blame for deep-seated issues an older adoptive child presents. It's another thing to have someone from the community knock at the door and explain how his child's bicycle was stolen by your son. Or to have your place of employment (in my case, the church building) vandalized by angry sons. In those moments it's hard to see why it matters.
But just moments ago, God has again reminded me why it matters. Early this afternoon I received a stammering telephone call from a man who was passing through our county seat town wanting "to talk to a pastor." I invited him to stop by the church, knowing full well what kind of a conversation we would have. Because our church is the only one located downtown these days, and because our community is right on a major interstate in this part of the state, I often receive visitors seeking assistance as they pass through.
Ron arrived a few minutes later, parking his well-used bike in front of the church facility. I met him as he entered the doors. Like so many other passing-through visitors, Ron is eccentric. His front teeth are gapingly absent. His east-coast verbal patter was punctuated with stuttering. His backpack was in good shape and stuffed full of his (only) personal belongings. As we walked through the doors of our $2 million facility to the "Upper Room," I internally noted the contrasts, wondering what our conversation might hold.
We sat down and my guest told me his life story in less than fifteen minutes. Obviously well practiced, but authentic and lacking any guile, I found out that he grown up in Connecticut in an alcoholic family setting as an only child. His mother left the family while he was in his early teens, after which Ron's dad sought to raise him without success. By fifteen years of ago he was in a juvenile facility (because of his father's inability to care for him, not for legal reasons) and within a short period of time he learned his father had been killed in a drunk driving accident. He remained in state custody until the age of eighteen when he aged out of the system. With no siblings, no parents to speak of and no extended family, Ron began a journey he has now been on for over twenty years. His fifth grade education has served him well, but the lack of any social supports after his release from the system has done little to improve the conditions of his life. His journey is a literal one, lived on a bike seat traveling state to state day by day, week by week, month by month. He showed me battered business cards of churches and motels he had become acquainted with in the past months. Again and again his whiskered face brimmed with joy as he recounted his exploits and encounters with Christian people across the miles.
Before we prayed together, I said, "How can I be most helpful to you, Ron?" Well, he said, humor sparkling in his eyes, "How about a million dollars and a trip to Hawaii?" We laughed together, and I responded, "I wish I could do that. But I can't. I can offer you an overnight at a local motel and some cash for a meal tonight though." "That," he said with tears brimming in his eyes, "would be just great."
It shames me, really. It's shaming to know that one night in a motel and $16 in cash is enough to make a grown man weep. It shames me that as a society we did not find a way for teenager Ron to have a mom or dad through adoption that could have prevented his homelessness. It shames me that I even sometimes ask why adopting an older child matters.
My God, Ron could be any one of my own children! I am reminded that even if my parenting abilities are questioned by the social services professionals in our community ... even if my reputation is sullied by the behavior of destruction-prone children ... even if others cannot or will not hear the call to adopt older children ... even then, what Claudia and I do matters. Because even at our family's lowest moments and even in my worst parenting nightmares, our children have their own bed to sleep in tonight. They will have a meal and snacks to eat. They will have clean clothes to wear. They will bike because they want to, not because they have to. Best of all, they won't have to worry about more than doing well on their next spelling test or passing their driver's permit exam. And they won't ever have to worry about asking a stranger for a hot meal and a place to stay night after night.
I met Ron today, but really I met Jesus. Once again for the first time. And, I trust, not for the last time.
"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me" (Matthew 25:35-36).