Jason seemed to have an invisible sign around his neck that said, “Love me.” Maybe that’s why I did
I first met Jason while I was weeding a flower bed in my front yard in the late afternoon. A scrawny little blond boy with a serious expression approached me and asked, “Whatcha doin’?”
I replied I was pulling weeds, and then explained the difference between the flowers and weeds. He listened intently. Since I knew my next-door neighbor was a foster parent and had recently sent a child back, I asked the boy his name and whether he lived next door. I knew there were already four adopted children and another foster child there, and I knew this Christian family well. They loved the children in their care.
“I’m Jason. I’m the new foster kid.”
Jason volunteered even more information. He was four years old, his dad was in jail, and his sister Sarah lived in a different foster home too far away to see very often. He missed her. We kept talking as I weeded. Then my neighbor called Jason home and I went in.
It was the beginning of a precious relationship. A year later we went through the process of getting a foster care license to make it possible for Jason and his sister to move in with us. We later adopted them both.
This picture was taken one night during the week after we had been to Disneyland. That was about two years after Jason and Sarah joined us. Like most parents of small children, I cherished those bedtime talks when children keep the conversation going to keep the parent there as long as possible.
On a night shortly after Jason came, I was tucking him in bed and, as usual, we were talking. I knew that Jason had been neglected in his birth parents’ home and that Sarah had provided a lot of his care. She was only four years older than he was, meaning that when he was two, she was only six. She kept an eye on him when their mother was lying on the floor, under the influence of drugs. (Sarah simply said her mother was sick.) I learned later the children had sometimes hidden huddled outside at night, afraid, while their mother had altercations with an abusive boyfriend, but that’s a different story.
When their mother was about to be evicted, the county took the children into the foster care system and they were put in separate foster homes. I think each of the children had been in at least two foster homes before we got them. Even at my neighbor’s home Jason was one of six children. His foster parents had to divide their attention between all six.
I looked forward to tucking Jason in each night. That is when we had our best conversations. So, after I we talked a bit that night, I finally said it was time for him to go to sleep, and I turned out the light and left . I had barely walked out of the room when Jason called me back. It was one of the ploys kids use when they don’t want to go to sleep yet and so find some excuse to get the parent back. I think it might have been a drink of water he wanted, but I don’t remember. What I do remember vividly is the exchange we had.
Me: You just want attention. Jason: I never got any until I came here.
I realized that from his point of view, he was telling the truth, and it broke my heart. It’s hard to spread enough attention around between four children and two more foster children. I know my neighbor cared about all her children, but Jason was more hungry for attention than anyone knew. When I first met him I saw an invisible sign around his neck that said, “Love me.” Maybe that’s why I did. I had given up on having children, but God knew what we all needed. He brought us together.
Over the course of time we had many conversations that enabled us to get to know each other well. He was curious and never tired of asking questions and getting answers. He loved to talk when he thought someone who cared about him was actually listening.
I thought it interesting that when we first met his social worker, she said Jason was nonverbal. I later found that his opinion of social workers was not high. He did not trust them, and he said as little to them as possible. He was very verbal, just not with social workers. He wanted to be more than part of a caseload who got a visit once a week. He wanted, like all children, to be special to someone. Jason wanted love. He wanted attention. I’m glad he felt he was getting it from us. He continued to be suspicious of social workers as long as he lived, but he did learn to be polite them and answer their questions.
Jason and the Good Shepherd
On either Christmas or his birthday one year, we had given Jason a plush lamb. If you pushed a button it would play “Jesus Loves Me.” He took it to bed with him every night, along with Nosey, a bear my mom had knit for him. He loved his stuffed animals.
The Bible talks a lot about sheep and shepherds. One of the most famous psalms is Psalm 23, which begins: “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters.” Jason was familiar with that psalm, so his lamb was meaningful to him.
We had also told Jason the story Jesus had told about the lost sheep. In it, a shepherd leaves 99 of a hundred sheep to seek the one that was lost and restore it to the flock. We had explained how Jesus looks for lost people, too. We had talked about how shepherds care for their sheep, making sure all their needs are met. We had also read John 10 where Jesus tells his listeners “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” (John 10:14)
We often started a homeschool day with a song. Many of the songs were based on Psalm 23. One of those songs we frequently sang, “His Sheep Am I” by Orien Johnson, ends with these words: “All the sheep of his pasture fare so wondrously fine, his sheep am I.” (This was one of the songs we chose for Jason’s memorial service when he died in an accident at the age of 14.) In case you’ve never heard or sung it, the version we sang is in this video.
One night after our nightly bedtime chat as Jason prepared to go to sleep, he was holding his musical lamb. I don’t remember now what we’d been talking about. We might have been discussing Jesus as the good shepherd, or maybe it was just the lamb being there that made Jason observe, “I’m God’s little lambie, aren’t I?” I assured him he was. We all are. Jesus cares for all of us who have heard his voice and believe in him.
I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep. John 10: 14–15, NIV
As Jason grew in age and in his understanding of Scriptures, he decided to make a public profession and be baptized. This gave us great comfort. We knew he was trusting the Good Shepherd. And five months after that the Good Shepherd carried him to his Forever Home.
This story is published in Koinonia — stories to encourage, entertain, and empower you in your faith, food, fitness, family and fun.