My pastor is preaching through the book of James, and this week he dug into the second chapter.  In his introduction, he shared a story about a mega church getting ready to welcome their new pastor for the first time.  They wanted everything to be just right to honor him and show him their best.  Before the service started, a homeless man wandered in and took a front row seat to see the action.  He smelled from days of not showering, wore tattered clothes, and had a scraggly beard.  The people of the congregation thought he was so offensive that they asked him to move to the back of the church where their new pastor might not notice him.  Finally, the moment came when the new pastor was to take the stage.  To everyone's consternation, the homeless man slowly made his way to the platform!  As he did, he peeled off his mask, revealing himself to be their new pastor. 

                  This story is a great attention grabber, but what is really scary is how many times we act just like that congregation.  We say we love the homeless, the prisoners, the vulnerable, the...dare I say... foster families, but do we actually go to where they are to help?  Or, as churches often do, do we make another fun outreach event to share the gospel and hope the hurting will come to us.  This happens.  I know this to be true.  Only the regular attenders show up, and they call it outreach or missions, just because they shared about Jesus.  I hate to burst the proverbial bubble, but that is not outreach.  It is "in-reach."

                                      "Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold
                                      ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy clothes comes
                                      in.  If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes
                                      and say 'Here is a good seat for you,' but say to the poor man,
                                      'You should stand there' or 'Sit on the floor by my feet,' have you
                                      not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with
                                      evil thoughts?  Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God
                                      chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in
                                      faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love Him?"
                                      -James 2:2-5

                 Back to the sermon.  It was a good sermon.  We talked about what it meant as a family on the way home, and then we went about our Sunday plans.  At six that night, I received a short text from a friend saying "I need help.  Do you have any time tonight?"  I did have time.  We were just hanging out enjoying family time and looking forward to a relaxing evening.  Even though I felt a little pull to keep the night free of plans, I knew she must be desperate and instead answered, "How can I help?"  I was right.  She was in trouble.  A small fire...firemen came to check in....they saw too many fire hazards....CPS (Child Protection Services) was called and would be coming to investigate in the morning...the kids would be taken again, since that is protocol for immediate removal once children have already been removed.  I took a deep breath, and my husband could see the urgency of the moment.  We had a short family meeting and decided I would go with the three oldest kids to help clean, while my husband stayed home with the youngest five.  

                 We got to the house and there were boxes and loads of laundry all over the living room and eat-in kitchen.  Packages of food lay over every counter space including the stove area and dishes were piled high in the sink and sitting in large tubs were more dishes scattered about.  I popped my head in to ask where she wanted us to start, and we got to work right away.  As I was taking down a ceiling fan that was too close to the bunk bed and unscrewing the makeshift blankets that were covering the windows that were nailed shut, she came in and asked for a hug.  She started to break down in thankfulness that someone had come to help relieve her from all the stress, but was able to pull it together when I met her gaze with compassion and a determined nod as if to say I wouldn't give up on her.  I have to admit, I did have thoughts of whether I should have just stayed home and let CPS come, maybe that is what she needed?  However, I quickly dismissed them, knowing she is a good mom who loves her kids, but just needs help with managing her time.  She also had been going over to care for her elderly mother who had recently been in the hospital.  I dismissed those negative thoughts and instead prayed that God would use this messy situation to yet again help her see her need for help.  His help.  

                   We worked for hours- sorting socks, doing dishes, clearing off all of the countertops and loading our van full to overflowing with trash and extra boxes of stuff she needed to declutter.  The questions came from my kids. Is she going to lose her kids again?  I don't want my friend to have to go into foster care!  Why can't she keep the house more clean?  It doesn't look like we are making much progress.  Should we just stop now?  Will we be able to take the kids if they do have to go into foster care?  I didn't have great answers for all of these questions.  I just knew that whatever happened, I was supporting my friend in the best way I knew how.  Whatever happened, I wanted her and the kids to know that Christians are there for her.   Regardless.  

                     After three hours at her house, it still looked hopeless, but I packed my weary preteens in the van (or should I say jam packed them in) and set off for home.  We prayed and I reminded them of that morning's sermon to love people- real people- for real.  That is what they did.  A true life lesson.  

                    To wrap up these events, we found out the next day that my friend had been cleared from the cps investigation!  She had found some other help and worked the entire night, even replacing the bathroom floor to be ready for the 8 am dreaded social worker visit.  I was proud of her determination and stamina in the face of impending disaster.  It would have meant so much more trauma for her kids, and they are already suffering from the effects of the last two removals.  I am glad I chose to stand by her in her time of distress.  It was messy, but getting messy is what Jesus did.  He became weary, but continued to help and pray and show compassion.   It is our desire at Foster the Love MN to do the same.  Reach out if you are hurting.  Help out if you find yourself available.   

Katie O'Neil