Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose

[Note:  This post is ridiculously full of spoilers for a show that has been off the air for seven years.  Consider yourself both warned and encouraged to watch.]

I’ve loved the show Friday Night Lights since I first watched it years ago.  I liked the family drama, the well-written characters, the springy beauty of Connie Britton’s hair.  It was a good show.  Recently, I started re-watching to wind down before bed and discovered a new show.  This time around, with my new foster parent eyes, Friday Night Lights was a love letter full of hope and encouragement, portraying flawed people who put their own needs aside to love, serve, and advocate for troubled kids.  It was soul balm that I needed.  

At first, as I started to relate to the characters as a parent, I was a little intimidated.  These people are too perfect.  I will never be as insightful as Tami Taylor, always finding the right words to cut to the heart of a kid’s worries, or as spot on as Coach doling out the tough love while innately understanding how to develop characteristics of leadership and responsibility in his players.  While not perfect, the show writers have almost created unicorns.  Their marriage is strong.  Their parenting is real, but consistent.  And professionally, they fight uphill battles with grace and integrity.  I’m never going to be Tami Taylor.  I don’t have her bone structure, her accent, or her ability to think on her feet.  I’ll never sport a clip-board like Coach can, and my pep speeches are usually short and met with eye rolls.

But I can do one thing that the Taylors did week after week…I can show up.  And the longer I watched, I realized that this was the thematic arc that followed across episodes and across seasons.  Showing up for kids matters.

At one point in the fifth season, Coach is considering a very well-funded college job.  As they discuss his options as a couple, one of his considerations is that working with teenagers is exhausting, and it sure would be nice to work with adults for a change.  Ironically, it takes a promising but troubled kid showing up on his doorstep saying “Having you as a coach has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me.  I don’t know where I’d be without you…either in jail or in a ditch somewhere…don’t go” to change his mind.  He goes to Timmy Riggins parole hearing well after his graduation, and keeps up a relationship with former player Jason Street–even though Jason’s parents had sued him at one point.  He develops a friendly relationship with Matt Seracen’s grandmother who suffers from dementia, and hand delivers State championship tickets to a father who had threatened him so that father would attend for his son.  He committed to keep showing up–and he did.  Every day.  Over and over again.

Tami is just as relentless.  She takes kids seriously as a counselor, and she calls them on their crap.  She also invests in them.  She mentored party girl Tyra into a spot at the University of Texas.  She calls child protective services on her friend when she sees him smack around his kid in the Applebee’s parking lot.  She believes in and feeds foster kid Epyck despite the fact that Epyck is lying to her about her home life.  She coaches volley-ball when asked, and starts a tutoring program despite teacher apathy.  I was stunned how many times their door bell rang in the middle of the night and they groaned and scolded, but they let the kids in.  Tami committed to keep showing up–and she did.  Every day.  Over and over again.

And it wasn’t just the Taylors.  Imperfect citizens of Dillon, Texas kept showing up for kids.  Flawed Buddy Garrity takes in a former juvenile offender who is essentially an abandoned kid of undocumented immigrants.  He does it with football as an ulterior motive, but he sticks by the kid.  Tyra’s mom manages to swallow her expectations, and despite initial misgivings, fully support her daughter’s dreams to go to college.  And perhaps the sweetest of all, hapless Billy Riggins, his wife Mindy, and her stripper girlfriends, take in sweet, neglected Becky and provide her with a home life she’s never had.  None of these people would win parent of the year, but they show up, every day, over and over again.  And it matters.

The one lesson I’ve learned from being a foster parent for the past fourteen months is that there are no perfect foster parents.  Most of the time I don’t know exactly what I’m doing, and I suspect other foster parents would agree.  But over and over again, I’m learning the lesson that I need to show up:  rain or shine, tears or giggles, sunshine or stomach flu.  Being there matters.  And over an extended period of time, it matters so very much.

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose.




  1. Friday Night Lights is the best! Great perspective. Time for me to start watching again

  2. Kristin Brown says:

    Such good insight. People who quit or don’t show up hurt others. Suffering occurs when those we count on are not there. “I don’t know where I would be without you” is not just a nice line for a TV show. It is what your foster children think every day. Many respect you for committing to be there for them.

  3. Amy Barker says:

    We are TV dopplegangers. I loved Friday Night Lights with my whole heart and I love your commentary. Your dedication to your foster kids has inspired me to be a better mother over the last 18 months. They are so lucky to be with you. I admire the way you are showing up for them and loving them with your whole heart.

    Clear eyes. Full hearts. (If I could put a heart emoji here, I would.)

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Loved that show. Great insights.

  5. Joanne Brant says:

    Wonderful piece, Karen. You are so right; consistent support and unconditional love are the glue that sticks.

  6. I’ve never seen the show (shockingly), but this is a beautiful post. I firmly believe that 90+% of Christianity is showing up for people when they need it.

  7. Really wonderful post Karen. You’re doing something wonderful even if it’s hard. Thank you!

  8. That was a great show

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