Help From Strangers | My Journey Through Foster Care, Part 16

As a teenager, I was surprised that a stranger might help me. As an adult, I understand that God wears the face of so many strangers.

Paul Knowlton July 18, 2016
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Read the previous part of this story here.

Station XI: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross 

Jesus is very much still alive. It’s not too late to reunite him with his family and allow him to heal. Instead, he’s nailed to the cross and the spectators torment him until he dies. Where’s his mother? At his feet, in pain and powerless.

Many former foster youth, especially as we age and reflect on the foster care experience, feel like we were nailed to a psychological and social cross from which we would hang forever. I can’t conclude my suffering was the will of my parents, but my siblings and I were certainly the collateral damage of their actions. Could my family’s suffering have been the collateral damage of God’s actions? Was there some benevolent and worthy plan unfolding at the time that needed my family’s suffering in order to succeed? I don’t think so, for two reasons. First, if God is involved, I think He or She is smart enough to figure out a plan that doesn’t sacrifice the innocent. Second, I don’t see evidence within my little world at the time, and history doesn’t suggest any benevolent and worthy event in the broader world at the time that was made possible by my family’s suffering. No, my pain and suffering wasn’t the will of God.

Station XII: Jesus Dies on the Cross 

Pilate’s pronouncement is complete, the goal of the religious leaders is achieved, the evil has run its course, and Jesus suffers no more. Worldly authority has spoken, at least for its own benefit. How many people die daily, literally and figuratively, because authority has spoken with only its own agenda in mind?

There were many days during my foster care and post-foster care years when I thought dying might be easier than continuing to live. Although I could still breathe, I died a lot of deaths, like so many of us in foster care.

Did God plan for Jesus to die? There are a lot of theological theories in that direction, but no evidence offered by God or Jesus. Did God vindicate Jesus by raising him from the dead? Yes, the many witnesses of the time would say. Did God plan for me to die? There’s no evidence offered by God or Jesus. Did God vindicate my family by fully reuniting us after ten years of separation? Yes, I think the many witness to our family would agree. I think it wise to hold God innocent until proven guilty, although too many have tried and failed to prove God guilty.

Station XIII: Jesus is Taken From the Cross 

The lifeless body of Jesus hangs for all to wonder, “Where is God?” Like Elie Wiesel’s famous image from Night, in times of extreme difficulty, some may think God hangs by the neck like a child on the gallows. Joseph of Arimathea, presumably a stranger to Jesus, retrieved his body and provided a place for its burial. A stranger was there to care for Jesus. In another life, perhaps Joseph would have cared for a foster child.

At age sixteen I added another, almost paralyzing fear: I began to understand I was not equipped or prepared for an adulthood that was any better than my childhood. This fear of being trapped in a no-win situation shook me so hard that I forced myself to find an adult I might be able to trust and ask for help. I approached my high school principal, a stranger to me, and nervously asked for his help to avoid my dropping out. This stranger agreed, reached out his hand, and helped me down from my cross, even if just for me to withdraw and hide in a grave of solitude awhile.

Was this God’s will, for a stranger to exercise his authority in response to my plea to help me out of a difficult situation? I think so. It demonstrates all the marks of a lovingly reliable and consistent God. Then, as a teenager, I was surprised that a stranger might help me. Now, as an adult, I understand that God wears the face of so many strangers.

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Paul Knowlton

Writer, speaker, and thought leader Paul E. Knowlton is a former foster youth turned lawyer. In 2004, as the author of The Original Foster Care Survival Guide, he introduced and has since advocated for a better way to prepare foster and former foster youth for successful adulthoods, which includes mentoring, self-assessment, modeling wisdom and spirituality, and teaching critical thinking and leadership. Paul’s formal education includes degrees in engineering, law, and theology. He can be contacted through his website.


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