They couldn’t have children of their own so our friends, Alex and Tracy* decided to become foster parents. They initially opened their home to one boy and over the years fostered several more. Each child came from a background filled with addiction, crime, instability, abuse and a definite lack of parental love. Despite the odds stacked against the boys’ long-term success and challenges that most certainly lay ahead, Alex and Tracy decided to stick with it. Eventually they were able to adopt one of the boys. In time they became legal guardians for at least one of the others.
Our friends are a loving, easy-going, no-nonsense couple and I always thought, if anyone could turn those young lives around, they could. Yet, Alex and Tracy’s love—both tender and tough—could not overcome the pull of the boys’ pasts. As young adults, each one left behind a trail of destruction. Now, as “legal” adults, they continue to do so.
Over the years when Alex and Tracy’s friends shared parenting stories of potty training, school plays, soccer games and college applications, they countered with tales of countless meetings with principals, social workers and psychologists; trips to juvenile court and jail; and calls from faraway police departments who’d located one of their runaway charges. This couple has been lied to, stolen from and grossly disrespected by the very children they’ve invested so much in and sacrificed so much for.
And I only know part of the story.
Their adopted son, now in his early 20s, has been in jail several times, has fathered at least two children out of wedlock, refuses to accept authority and can’t hold down a job.
Presently the one young man who seemed like he actually might overcome his history is HIV-positive, living who-knows-where, doing whatever it takes to support his crystal meth habit.
This past winter—just before Christmas—another of their foster kids turned up on Alex and Tracy’s doorstep looking for help. They agreed to shelter him, but with conditions. Together they formulated a plan for him to get his GED through an Army program, then join the military. He agreed—even admitting that he needed to change his life.
He followed the rules and studied. On test day, he left the house with the test fee in hand, returning much later, tired but reportedly satisfied with his effort. Alex and Tracy eagerly awaited the results. And waited. And waited. After several weeks, Alex called to check on the delay. It turns out the boy never actually appeared at the testing center that day. Once the truth started to come out, he disappeared again, but not before taking two of the few things of value Alex and Tracy own.
When my husband Dan relayed this latest story to me, we both marveled at our friends’ selflessness, their dedication, and their willingness to get involved (and stay involved) in these very messy (and seemingly hopeless) situations.
But, even from the best Christian perspective I could muster I still raised the question, “They put so much in and get so little back. I wonder why they keep at it.”
Dan nodded in agreement and added, “At what point do you close the door and say ‘No. Enough. I quit.’?”
I pondered his question, hoping for an insight, but none came—even when I wondered what Jesus would do. There are no easy answers. I’m not even sure there are any right ones.
You might have prodigal children and can relate to our friends’ story. Perhaps you are the prodigal who knows you’ve messed up badly.
There is no guarantee how our children will behave or how our families will receive us. Sometimes we expect condemnation, yet receive forgiveness. Other times we reach out with sincerity and are met with rejection, scorn or betrayal. Your situations may push the limits of human love to the breaking point.
Thank God we have a Father who is bigger than all that. Thank God there is no sin we commit that He won’t forgive. Thank God that we can never stray too far outside the limits of God’s amazing, healing and restorative grace. And thank God He gives us the power to overcome.
No matter where we are, how big our sin or how much we hurt, Jesus does not reject us. He stands at the door of our hearts waiting for us to invite Him in. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)
The story continues for our friends. Only God knows what the future brings for them or their “lost boys.” But there is a glimmer of hope—in their grandson. (Remember the child fathered out-of-wedlock by their son?) Alex and Tracy are involved in this little boy’s life. Maybe the change they’ve been waiting to see will be realized with this child. As Alex said, “He’s a great little guy. I saw his report card from kindergarten and I couldn’t believe the wonderful things the teacher said about him. We were so used to such bad report cards. It was the first positive one we’d ever seen.”
Human love may not be strong enough to break through the strongholds in the “lost boys” lives, but heavenly love is. And God still has a plan to prosper them, not harm them, and give them hope for a future. (Jer. 29:11) Maybe one day a church, street ministry or prison ministry will deliver the message of hope and they’ll receive the key that will unlock their future.
Pray for them and all our lost children.
“But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:32)
*Names have been changed