Have you ever heard the starfish story?
An old man and a boy are walking along the beach. The tide has receded, and thousands of starfish are dying in the sun. The boy reaches down and tosses one into the ocean. The old man asks him why he bothers; he can never save them all. "You’re right," the boy says, picking up another starfish and throwing it in the ocean. "But I saved that one."
Lydia Miles of Little Rock tells that story. She’s been both the starfish and the little boy.
Born with a cleft palate and abandoned by her parents as a baby, Lydia spent her first eight-plus years in an Asian orphanage. She was well cared for, but she didn’t seem destined to have a family until one day when a tall, blond, curly haired American woman arrived to take her across the ocean to her new home. Linda Miles and her husband, Jim, already had four children, but they had room for one more, and so Lydia grew up an American girl. Certainly, there was an adjustment period when she arrived and a questioning period as she reached her teenage years. But thanks to her faith in God and her supportive parents, she thrived.
Nice story. One starfish saved.
Then a few years ago, Lydia returned to that same orphanage with an American family that was adopting a little boy there. She was, in fact, the first orphan to return to visit after going overseas.
She’s been back twice during the past two years to serve in a nearby orphanage – the first time for three months, and recently for a year. Her job was to take care of medically fragile babies. She often worked overnight shifts feeding those tiny mouths, which sometimes took a long time. Some were born with serious birth defects and couldn’t survive long without her close attention. Some didn’t survive even with her close attention. When that happened, she said, there was a period of mourning, but, "In the bigger picture, we understood that God had another plan for the child."
And then she went back to saving the ones she could.
Worldwide, there are millions of children like Lydia who need homes, but there are also many in Arkansas. On any given day, 4,500 kids in this state are in foster care, but only 1,100 foster families are potentially available to take care of them.
The group, Children of Arkansas Loved for a Lifetime (The CALL) (www.thecallinarkansas.org), sprung up to meet that need in 2007. Its mission is to mobilize churches one at a time to find foster and adoptive homes for kids. From a single Pulaski County chapter, it’s grown to 25 counties. The group’s executive director, Lauri Currier, told me that 450 families so far have become certified to receive foster children thanks to The CALL.
For many children, their best hope is to get out of the foster system and find a forever family. The state maintains a website, the Arkansas Heart Gallery (dhs.arkansas.gov/dcfs/heartgallery) with pictures of kids waiting for a home.
But fostering and adopting are major commitments. Currier said that families who want to do less, but do something, can help in other ways, and they can contact her office to get plugged in. They can relieve foster families for a few days, for example, or take kids to the doctor. They can volunteer to file papers at a Department of Human Services office. They can even bake a cake. As Currier put it, "Lots of kids in foster care haven’t ever celebrated a birthday before."
Now 25, Lydia said her trips to her homeland have brought her full circle. She’s gone from being the abandoned child to caring for abandoned children. Someday, she hopes to adopt her own. In fact, she’s hoping to have "a rainbow family" with kids from many varied backgrounds.
Why bother? Because even though she can’t save every starfish, she can save some. After all, she could have been one of those forgotten kids without a family to call her own. But, in the bigger picture, God had another plan for that child.
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His blog — Independent Arkansas — is linked at arkansasnews.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org