Aging Out of Foster Care: A Safe Families Story of Building a Roof

In her book, The Broken Way, Ann Voskamp describes love as a roof.  The word, stego in the Greek means “to bear”. It is referring to a covering, or, a roof.  “Love bears all things like a roof bears the wind and the rain, like a roof that bears the burden of lashing storms, brutal heat.” (Voskamp)

We had the pleasure of being involved in the construction of a roof for a mom while caring for her daughter a couple of years ago.  This little one was a grandchild of the state of Illinois.  At the age of twenty-one, however, her mom had been emancipated.  What seems like a wonderful freedom can often be a very frightening thing.  She was one month away from obtaining her high school diploma.  The daycare that she had been given through the state, in order to pursue her degree, was no longer available.  Her counselor told her about Safe Families for Children and she figured that was her only choice.  She took the risk.  With three teenage daughters, the most sensible way for me to support this tenacious mom would be through her daughter.  She would be the glue that would bring us together as construction on a roof began.

On Brandon Gaille’s website, he posted some daunting foster care statistics from last year:

  • After reaching the age of 18, 20% of the children who were in foster care will become instantly homeless.
  • Only 1 out of every 2 foster kids who age out of the system will have some form of gainful employment by the age of 24.
  • There is less than a 3% chance for children who have aged out of foster care to earn a college degree at any point in their life.
  • 7 out of 10 girls who age out of the foster care system will become pregnant before the age of 21.

These vulnerable kids are in desperate need for roofs as they attempt to bear some of the storms and brutal heat that comes their way, often on their own.  We would care for her daughter during school days and on the weekends they would be reunited.  When I discovered that mom was staying with a friend over an hour away, I decided that it would be best to meet half-way for transfers.  After waiting for her for two hours downtown, I soon learned how difficult it is for someone without a car to get to a train station that is twenty minutes away.  Then, to time that with the next train that she needed to switch to in order to arrive at her destination.  Another lesson for me in flexibility, allowing interruptions, building margin, going with the flow and NEVER JUDGING SOMEONE UNTIL YOU’VE WALKED IN THEIR SHOES.  

Safe Families School:  Lesson 412.

A good friend of mine (who I used to get frustrated with when she was late), recently enlightened me to the idea that she didn’t think she mattered enough for anyone to care that she was late.  Had I known this perspective while growing up and while doing this thing called Safe Families, I hope that I would have extended a lot more grace.  Especially for someone who had lived in multiple homes and group homes all their life and more than likely had this same perspective.  I had never thought about that before.

I need new eyes.

Eventually, I drove the little one to her mom and dropped her off once I realized allari:mom the hoops she had to go through to get to the half-way point.  (And, kinda because I didn’t want to wait.)  After the month, I was honored to receive an invite to her graduation and witness her defying the statistics along with her daughter.  We were the only ones there supporting her.  It was worth every minute and mile to be her cheerleaders.

After a few weeks, she was offered her own housing three and a half hours away.  She took it.  She couldn’t afford not to.  When you have a two-year-old and nowhere to stay, you take what you can get no matter where it is.  We rented a U-Haul trailer, the first one I’ve ever put on my truck, and loaded up donations from neighbors and church members, along with her own stash.  While we drove away from the only home she knew, her daughter fell asleep and she opened up, spilling out her life before me (another book worth writing).  Let’s just put it this way:  she is one tough chick and I was honored to be in the car with her for this new adventure she would be starting.

“One person’s trajectory is intersected by another’s journey, and each receives the other’s into their own broken places.  Which is to say, we become cruciform…  We become the cross… Reality is the cross where the broken meet.” (Voskamp)

When we arrived, we discovered that it was a second-floor apartment.  We had a bed and a couch to bring up, among other things that were going to require more strength than we had.  Thankfully, the dude with the gold tooth was in for a twenty dollar bill and he helped us.  We worked our tails off trying to keep up with him and some neighbor kids who were looking for work.  After we were done, I left.

I left.

All of a sudden, I had gut rot.  I thought about her coming from a city where everything is within walking distance, and if it’s not, she knew someone to give her a ride.  Here, she knew no one and it was about a half mile to the corner store.  What had I just done?  It felt so good going there and setting her up with all of her apartment furnishings, but I had just dropped a young mom and her daughter in the middle of nowhere with no one to help them.  I immediately flashed to Corbett & Fikkert’s book, “When Helping Hurts” and felt nauseous.

“You diffuse your own stress by diffusing someone else’s.” (Voskamp)

Within the first fifteen minutes of the drive home, God brought to mind a friend of mine who grew up on a farm not too far away.  She had six siblings.  Some of them must still be there.  I gave her a call.  Amazingly (only by the grace of God!), I was able to connect her with this family and one of the sisters came over to visit this young mom I had abandoned and helped her get to the grocery store.  Not too long after that, she picked her and her daughter up and brought them to their farm for the day.  She was no longer isolated.  She had a lifeline.

Roof under construction.

Within a week, I learned that there was a Safe Families presence in that town, as well.  She got connected with them.  Now she had rides to church, babysitting, grocery help, and support to get enrolled in school.  She began to get involved in a small group at church, as well.  While the process of starting school was tedious, she did not quit.  She had a network underneath her and around her that was unwilling to let her fail.  She felt strength and love and community from others – something that for most of her life, had been foreign to her.  She is currently taking a full load, majoring in criminal justice and pursuing her dream.

God built a roof for this beautiful woman with His people.  Voskamp says that we are “not to create explanations for suffering but to create communities around suffering.  Co-suffering communities to absorb suffering and see it transform into cruciform grace.”  Voskamp is encouraging us not to try to explain suffering, or judge it or justify it because we are all suffering in some way.  We are to become “co-suffering communities”.  Just get out there and absorb each others.  When we do this, something beautiful starts to form.  This thing she calls “cruciform grace”.  It looks like a cross.  From one side to the other, it is a bridge that connects people.

It’s “where all the broken intersect and meet and cross paths… And none of us seek our own and there are no other people’s children, no other people’s homeless brother, no other people’s crisis.  We belong to each other because we all mutually indwell each other, and there is nothing worth having inside the gate when we’ve got pieces of ourselves outside the gate.  When we leave people on the other side of the gate – we lost parts of ourselves.” (Voskamp)

Love is a roof.  It’s not a door or a gate that keeps certain ones in and others out.  It just covers.  I think this is why I had gut rot as I drove away.   We had shared pieces of ourselves with each other over the past several weeks, and were now part of one another as co-suffering communities.  I had left a new part of me outside.  One person at a time.  One shingle at a time.  When we start building co-suffering communities, there are more roofs, and less lashing by brutal storms and the heat that comes our way.



Flickr photos:  Catholic Diocese of Saginaw(girl at top), Evgeny Islamov (roof)

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