11/27/2012 11:03 am ET Updated Jan 27, 2013

Five Ways to Love Them

We visit with children all the time at Pajama Program. Their ages range -- we read with children starting when they are four years old, and some are 16 when we first meet them. There are differences galore and backgrounds as varied as you can imagine, but the children are all the same in one important way -- they all deserve a chance to grow up feeling loved and cared for. But they all do not.

I wonder how beautiful, sweet children are discarded and abandoned. The toddlers break your heart and the teenagers look too tired and weary for their young years. One look at their faces and you realize nothing has been fair to them, no reason to leave them could be justified, there is no way they deserved the abuse they've lived through. There is no good answer to the question "Why?" but there are decent answers to "How do we love them moving forward?"

Letters and notes from the children we serve have guided me to five answers, especially where our teens are concerned: Listen. Don't judge. Hear their call for help. Take a step toward, not away, from them. Never forget them.

Their letters compel me to feel for them and understand them a little bit better, judge them a little bit less. Our teenagers are fragile as they try to navigate their unsteady paths. One wrong turn and it's a whole new ballgame. Recently we received this note and it stopped me in my tracks:

At bedtime I listen to music, rock my son to sleep, lay in bed, and just picture my future when I'm out of foster care... how it's going to be on my own as a teenage mother... I would have to go to work, go to school and make sure he heads to the right path and not end up in the wrong crowd like I was. Bedtime is the time when I just think about everything then I just close my eyes to sleep.

Sometimes the most valuable answers come from a young child, like this elementary school boy who heard my speech about the children his pajamas will be going to. He strained to see the photo I held up of one of our children receiving pajamas. After I spoke he ran over to me and whispered, "I will never forget this day, and I will never forget those children."

That's when I got answer number five.