We’ve been fostering for over two years now.  Long enough for the honeymoon period to wear off, the original excitement and anticipation is gone, and now we’re into the hard years where my joy is tested.  The happy feelings aren’t enough to sustain me and I have to go back and remember my commitment, much like a weary wife remembers the vows she made to her husband in order to survive a hard spot in her marriage.  Oh, don’t misunderstand me – I still wouldn’t trade it for anything and I have never regretted our decision to foster children. It’s just hard and sometimes I’m tired of caring.  But again, much like a marriage, the hard years are the ones that bring lasting joy and prove the strength of the relationship.

Lately I’ve been struggling with judgment toward our little girl’s parents. Their decisions, over and over again, are poor and unhealthy and not moving in a positive direction, yet it seems like the state keeps withholding consequences and instead, rewards them.  Many people have shared with me that the reason they could not – would not – foster is because they would not be able to comply with the state’s decisions for any particular case.   In my head I know that judgment is not mine to hand out.  God is the keeper of justice and I’m just a tool he uses to support the case, not execute the decisions. But my heart and thoughts struggle to line up with that.  Last weekend I was reading in Exodus 14.  There was a battle raging against Pharaoh and the Egyptians and God tells the Israelites to stop and be still.

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. (v14)

Or for the thick-skulled like some, this may be a better translation in The Message:

God will fight the battle for you.  And you? You keep your mouths shut!

I knew as soon as I read that, that God had given me that verse for our current kid’s cases. He is the sovereign Lord of all, and in charge of the state, the commissioner, the parents, and of my kids.  And quite frankly, he will fight just fine without my added comments of anger, sarcasm and judgment.  Should I advocate for my kids? Yes!  But under the authority of God and in the appropriate ways.

Yesterday I reached out to a sister for prayer.  My anger towards the situation was brewing and I felt the strong hand of God on me, reminding me of that verse and telling me to be silent.  This was her reply to my plea for prayer:

I just prayed that you would have eyes to see C’s parents were made in God’s image as hard as it is to believe.  God is just, He’s for us and not against us, and He has all of C’s days planned out for her.  I praise Him for that!

Bless her.  I could have wept right there.  She prayed what I was not strong enough to, but oh how I’m asking God to make that true of my thoughts and petitions too.  Conor has said it before on this blog: Love trumps all. Simply put, I forgot to love.  What Jesus said was radical 2,000 years ago and it’s still radical today:

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)

Fill me up with love, Father, and fill me with the sweet of aroma of Christ to tickle the nostrils of all I encounter, even those enemies.

Raising Caterpillars

July 15, 2014 — 1 Comment

(by Elizabeth)

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We have a budding scientist in our home now. Our 7 year old son is fascinated with all things that have to do with the scientific world. He’s like a little encyclopedia, soaking up facts and spitting out random, “Mom, did you know______?” I love it. When he was four he became obsessed with rolly pollies. He would find them, declare that they were lost without parents, and put them lovingly in his (many) bug catchers. Often he would ask me to babysit his beloved find. Let’s just say some of those endeavors didn’t turn out so well. This year we have moved on to caterpillars and butterflies. For anyone who doesn’t know this about Conor, he has an extensive entomology collection that contains numerous preserved butterflies. Our son’s never-ending pursuit to be just like Dad has made him a lover of entomology as well.

Last week Caleb found a wooly bear caterpillar hanging out in our front lawn. Excitedly, he brought it inside and put it in a bug catcher with leaves for the caterpillar to munch on (no slice of cherry pie available…sorry, Eric Carle). We then decided to put it in a more suitable place so that he could raise it to become its intended tiger moth self. So a shoe box has sat on our kitchen table for the last several days where we all take peaks at the caterpillar to see how he’s doing. On several occasions he has escaped and we’ll find him somewhere else on the table top, searching for the outside world.

Last night I got to wondering about how long this process would take. After a few internet searches, Conor and I discovered that wooly bear caterpillars take several months to make their cocoon and transform to a moth, most lasting all through the winter with their transformation in the spring. That’s at least 9 months from now and Conor and I knew immediately we could not keep the caterpillar that long. The website also urged that even though this idea of raising is quite tempting, it’s best to observe the caterpillar from a distance and not rob it of being in its natural habitat. Our home is simply not the best place for this caterpillar to live. So this morning we broke the sad news to Caleb. He protested and tried to find solutions but in the end was quiet about it.

This afternoon I saw him staring at the caterpillar, still in its box. Quietly he said, “I think it’s time to put the caterpillar outside.” I watched him take it outside and when he came in he followed up with, “I think it’ll be better for him to outside because every time he escaped and I would put him back in his box, he curled up and tried to get out of my hand. I don’t think he liked being trapped.” He was worried that he would get cold and lost and I explained that God made the caterpillar to know exactly what to do during winter and how to take care of itself so that he stays safe and becomes a beautiful moth. Still trying to resolve all this in his head, he said with his voice thick with tears, “I just wish we could raise him and keep him forever.”

And in that moment, I knew we weren’t just talking about caterpillars anymore.

(by Elizabeth)

Saturday night my family was welcomed into a friend’s home for a great evening of dinner and conversation. Our friends specifically wanted to have us over because they wanted to ask us about our experience fostering, as they themselves are praying through beginning that journey as well (I’m giddy about this because we LOVE it when our fostering community gets bigger!)  They asked us pointed questions.  They wanted to know the nitty gritty and the heart of what we do and why we do it.  At one point one of them asked what the hardest part was.  I’d been thinking about this a lot in the recent weeks and that night I had my answer.  You see, the hardest part of fostering you would think would be letting go of the children we’ve cared for, or exposing our biological children to things that are less than desirable to them. You’d think it would be the constant wondering what the outcome will be for this particular child who is no longer just a case # to us, but a family member, or saying no to that placement request when you know the homes available are few.  You’d better believe all those things are very difficult, but honestly, the hardest part about fostering for me has been the outside world around us who looks in on what we’re doing.  

This post is not intended at all to offend or belittle anyone.  I’m writing this because I once lived in ignorance like so many of you.  Never would I have dreamed my eyes would be opened like they have been.  I don’t blame anyone.  I’m not mad. But it does get wearisome to bear and I want to bring you to a place of understanding as I too have been.  Here are some key things I have noticed and experienced that can be helpful. 

 

1. Please don’t ask if we’ll get to “keep this one”.  Many know we hope our ultimate goal of fostering will be adoption but we also see the beauty of the here and now needed for these children and want to provide a haven for as long as they need. While this can be a battle of constantly wondering if adoption will become their goal, we aren’t effective day-to-day if we operate under this mentality.
And they’re not a puppy or a watch we received as a gift. They’re a child.  

2. Please don’t ask us all the details about the reasons they came into our care.  Not only are we not allowed to share this information with you, it really isn’t any of your business and should not affect how you feel about them or treat them. In some cases when it’s necessary for you to know something to more effectively care for them, we’ll share that with you…privately. 

3. Please don’t assume they are so much better off with us than with their birth family.  It depends on the case (because that may, in fact, be true) but sometimes these kid’s parents are able to work through their issues and provide a good home for them, even if it doesn’t meet our high standards.  And for sure do not tell my older foster child that they will never know more love and safety than they will have with us and how blessed they are to have us.  This is confusing for them.  All our kids know is that they were taken from their parents and in most cases, that’s the best love that they know and they don’t think there’s much wrong with it.  

4. Please do not assume every foster child’s birth parent is a horrible person who should be banished from the Earth and never gain rights to their child again.  They are human and deserve to be treated with respect.  Yes, they are faulty, but you and I could be there if not for God’s grace and a lot of other factors. Don’t assume they don’t love their child.  More times than not, a lack of parenting education and role modeling is the issue, not a lack of love for their child.  

5. Please do not tell us continually that you don’t know how we do what we do and that you couldn’t ever give a child back after caring for them.  It’s not a cake walk over here.  We’re not saints and don’t have any kind of giftedness that you don’t have. If you can give love and safety and structure, you can do it too.  Maybe you just don’t want to. And that’s ok, but don’t tell me it’s because you couldn’t do it.  Besides, that’s really not helpful for us to hear.  Instead, why don’t you tell us that you see how difficult it is and ask us how you can pray for us.  

 

Now after all that I’ve got to say, the community that surrounds us in the form of our local church and family and friends, has been unbelievable through this journey.  If you’re one of those people reading this, please know we love you, we feel your support and you are our lifeline some days. It would be unreasonable and unfair for me to expect total understanding from anyone who has never fostered, but I hope this helps bring a little bit of new insight and understanding to you. Foster care is an unfortunate reality.  It’s a terrible, ugly beast.  Little by little, child by child, we will conquer the beast. Thank you for joining us in that. 

 

Today, my post is about something different.  It is about celebrating a milestone that I believe in, that I am humbled is possible, and that blesses every part of my life.  Today, my post is about my wife, Elizabeth.

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10 years ago today, I married the woman I loved.

I had no idea I had the capacity to love someone as much as I love her now.  And in 10 more years, that will be even more.

We have walked through joy, suffering, celebration, pain.

Together.  Sometime on the same page, sometimes not.  But together.

I have watched her mature into a strong, independent, thoughtful woman.

I have watched her become an extravagantly beautiful, amazing mother and wife.

Every morning, I wake up next to her and thank God for blessing my life with her presence.

Every morning, I wonder what in the world she sees in me, and thank God anyway.

As we have journey through ministry, whether in music or in fostering, she has been a source of joy.

Let’s be honest…she is the only sane person in our household, and she’s incredible.

When I hear the song “When Love Takes You In” (which I know she loves), I think of her

My goal is that as we continue in life, she will think that of me.

So why all this mushy stuff in a post?

Love is a choice.  Marriage is a choice.  Choosing to make your spouse and your family a priority in your life is a choice.  As we have struggled (and sometimes not) through our first 10 years of marriage, we have realized that choosing to make our relationship a priority is easier said than done.  I remember my Dad telling me once that we wouldn’t always be at home, but Mom would, and so she took priority.  God first, then her.  I still remember that, and when I get things out of wack, I harken back to it.  So no matter how many children we love, how many successes we encounter professionally, our goal is to remember to make each other a priority.  To support, cheer, encourage each other, and to correct, challenge, and remind each other to follow hard after Him.  So I write this to say that I love my wife with all my heart, I am beyond blessed to be married to her, and I look forward to the next 10 years, and what the future holds in our lives!

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I love you, Elizabeth!

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My friends at Shameless Plug (who are gifted artists and worship leaders, by the way) were kind enough to nominate our blog for a Liebster Award, which helps to spotlight blogs with less than 1,000 followers.  Part of the deal is that I answer some fun questions so that you can get to know me a little better, so here goes!

Q.Which is your favorite season?

My favorite season is fall.  Nice and cool (most of the time), and you have the end of the baseball season and the beginning of football season at the same time…I love it!

Q. What is your favorite movie, and why?

My favorite movie is probably “Chariots of Fire”…there is something about watching the scene where Eric Liddell wins the race after taking a stand for what he believes that is both motivating and convicting.

Q. If you could take your ideal vacation, where would you go and what would you do?

I’m torn.  I love Australia, but would love to hang out in Alaska or the Seattle area and see the gorgeous views as well.

Q. If you had a chance to take 3 things with you to a deserted island, what would they be?

My wife, my kids, and a piano.

Q. What type of cuisine do you enjoy the most?

I eat almost anything, but love to have Pho…it is one of my favs.  And I apologize for not having the slash above the o!

Q. Which band/artist would you like to see live in concert (if you haven’t already)?

David Ramirez.  I love the artistry of his lyrics and the authenticity with which he plays.

Q. Do you have any hobbies you’d like to take up? List it/them!

I would love to learn more about electronics when it comes to rerouting them to digital technology.  Yes, I am a geek.

Q. Who (one person) inspires you, and why?

My father, Lanny.  He is 63, serving full-time in music ministry after retiring from teaching music, and getting ready to embark on a whole new journey as well.  He works hard, loves hard, and follows after Jesus even harder.

Q. What is your favorite ice cream flavor?

Mint Chocolate Chip!

Q. Do you want to build a snowman?

Of course!  Every year our family builds a snowman and takes a family picture with it.  Sort of like tradition.

 

So now it is my turn.  I have several blogs that I am going to nominate, and ask them to answer a few questions about themselves:

Brandon’s Bits–This is a blog by my friend, Brandon Jones, who is a pastor in Herreid, South Dakota.  He writes highly intelligent, intellectual, and thoughtful blogs that you should check out.

Frayed Parent–This is by my friend, Jamin Garoutte, who also doubles as my counterpart in trying to remind each other to blog.  But when he does (get on it!), he blogs honestly and thoughtfully.

Heart Mommy’s Strawberry Shortcake–This is a blog by a foster mom who does a wonderful job of sharing the struggles, joys, and doubts and fears of fostering.

Worship Synths–This is one of my resource pages for my craft–keys.  Love it!

 

And the Questions for these bloggers:

1.  What motivated you to start blogging?

2.  What is your biggest challenge right now?

3.  If you could have a conversation with one person, who would it be?

4.  What is your biggest goal for the next year?

5.  If you could share one thing with your readers, what would it be?

 

Thanks to all who participate, and may this shed some light on your blogs!

(by Elizabeth)

There’s a lot of things you learn through foster care trainings but one thing I was not prepared for last year is how difficult Mother’s Day is for a foster mom. Last year, to be honest, Mother’s Day was terrible for me. I grieved for the 3 children I had mothered throughout the year who were no longer in my care, and for the one I carried in my womb for a precious 8 weeks before losing. No one told me how hard that would be and how it would sneak up on me and surprise me, like the nasty prank of getting water doused in one’s face.

Here I am a year later and the water’s been thrown in my face again, just as surprising.  Not much has changed, except this year there are 3 more little lives I have mothered and no longer care for.  The babe I hold today, I am reminded, is not really mine to celebrate either. There is painful awareness of the “real mom”.

I have friends who are foster moms without biological children and they often tell me that they aren’t sure whether they can really embrace the title of “Mom” because their status seems so unsure and wishy washy, sometimes literally changing weekly or monthly.  Though I have two biological children, I feel their pain with each child that comes and goes.  The Enemy sneaks in and taunts us, saying we’re not really their mom, like it’s just a childhood game of “house”.  The lies are countless and if we are not careful, so easily believed.  The dream of one day celebrating Mother’s Day with children who are truly ours forever is so strong that it wraps around me and chokes me sometimes.  I press on towards that day, but I also know that in part, the Enemy would love for me to be so fixated on it that I neglect the ones who are just passing through here.  It is important that we are mothering them, and we’re not just playing “house” – we are participating in a holy war and calling.

Fellow foster mom, I celebrate you this weekend.  I see your thankless job and am proud of you. I know your heart of pain and fragile hope.  I know you are remembering all you have mothered and are aching for them.  Though your arms may be emptier tomorrow than you’d like, wear the title of “Mom” proudly.

Happy Mother’s Day.

 

Throughout our fostering experience, Elizabeth and I have taken some time to try to answer questions we hear, share the emotions (good and bad) that we feel, and raise awareness for the importance of fostering.

No matter how we describe fostering, words fall short.

One of the necessary parts of fostering is that the children are protected throughout the process as much as possible, so pictures are fairly limited.

There goes the “a picture is a thousand words” platitude.

About a month ago, a video was released, though, that communicates the journey and feelings that a foster child might feel throughout the process of being removed from their home, and placed in care.

It crushed me, in a good way.

It is by a producer who goes by the name “Heschle“, and he produced this video to increase awareness for the needs of foster children, and quality foster homes.

Will this answer all your questions and make everything make sense?

Nope.  But it is worth the 15 minutes of your time.

Have you ever thought about how a child feels when they are ReMoved?

(by Elizabeth)

As a foster parent, you must keep up your licensing with a certain amount of training hours and quarterly visits from your licensing worker.  Last week our licensing worker came to the house to do our quarterly visit, but this was also time for us to begin preparing to renew our license for another two years.  Hard to believe it’s already been two years. She asked us a series of questions and among them was this: What has been the most rewarding part of the last two years?

Conor quickly spoke up with a steady confidence, “Watching our (biological) boys learn and develop through our fostering.”  While I have many other rewards to add to that, I do agree that reason likely tops them all.  I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit since then.  To unfold my thoughts on it, I need to take you back a few years.

3 years ago, when my boys were nearly 2 and 4, I felt the stirring in my heart to be involved in missions.  I remember a conversation with Conor where I was struggling with the joy of being in the throws of raising two small children, and yet wanting to be able to leave and be part of a short-term mission trip. Conor encouraged me to go on one, which I did, but in the process we also spent time dreaming about a day when our entire family could engage in a mission trip together.

10 months later, after our initial interest in fostering had been expressed, a supervisor from MBCH came to our home to discuss what that meant (i.e.: what in the world we were getting ourselves into!).  I will never forget what she said when we asked her about her thoughts on fostering with young biological children in the home.  She said, “You tell your children about missionaries all around the world who share Jesus with people.  Your family is going to get to do that inside the walls of your own home.”

I hear some people say they would like to foster “some day when the kids are older”.  God’s timing is certainly unique for all, and if He has in fact called you to fostering, He will have the perfect timing for you to engage in that. But I would like to share with you some reasons why fostering while our children are young has been one of the best things for them.

1. My kids will likely not remember life before fostering.  Some of their earliest memories will be our home filled with kids, of all ages and races and backgrounds, that we are loving and giving a home to.
2. Children are a lot stronger and capable than we give them credit for. We explain to them, in terms they can understand and process appropriately, why we are doing what we are doing and they get it. I think they may even get it better than you and I some days.
3. Allowing children with other backgrounds to come in our home and be part of our family teaches them a lot.  We really don’t worry about them picking up poor behaviors. Most of the time they are the greatest teachers to those new kids about the “family code” in the Scholes home.  And if a poor behavior is repeated in one of our biological kids, they learn from Mom and Dad about what’s appropriate and what’s not, and the behavior can be corrected all around.  What a fantastic way to actively train our children to respond to the Word of God’s authority in our home in light of what others may be doing that goes against that.
4. My kids love fiercely.  They know what it is to stand up for family, to be a helper to their brother.  They know what it is to love another child and yet watch them leave, and they still think it was worth it.
5. Fostering has not been without challenges for us. Fighting, bullying, name-calling, unfair advantages have all been part of it.  While my mother’s heart would love to shield them from this, it isn’t the real world and they are learning how to deal with conflict right inside our home in a place where they can fall back on the arms of love, support and understanding.
6. My kids have witnessed their Mom and Dad on their knees, begging for strength from God when we had no more.  They have seen us turn to God’s Word for guidance and encouragement. They have seen us struggle to work out the gospel call.  They are part of God’s bigger story right here in their own home. 

Maybe God has not asked you to foster. But maybe He has and maybe having young kids is the only thing holding you back. If that’s you, I urge you to rethink that decision to wait. For us it has meant we’re on a mission trip together most every day, and it’s a wild adventure!

(by Elizabeth)

I’m the one who he snuggles into at night as I sing his song.

I’m the one who he gives his silly, giggly smile to first thing most every day.

I’m the one he follows around throughout the day and imitates.

I’m the one who held him and fed him at all hours of the night as a newborn. 

I’m the one who has cheered on every milestone.

I’m the one who makes his world all better when he’s been hurt. 

I’m the one who kisses his peanut butter and jelly face and gets sticky from his hugs.

I’m the one who is training and shaping him as his independence grows.

I’m the one he runs to when I come back from being away for a short time.

I’m the one he calls “Mama”.

But I’m not his mama.  I am painfully aware that I am not his mama, even though his own biological father encourages him to call me that “because I’m the only mom he’s really known”. 15 out of his 18 months I have been there every step, every day, playing the role of his mom.  Yet in 14 days that role will change in a second when the judge rules that he return home to his father.  I will be stripped of that role and responsibility in his life.  It is more than I can bear to think of how his little world will be altered.  It seems far from fair.
I have no resolution tonight, only weeping and grieving and real.

Praise the One who brings joy in the morning.

Thoughts.001

I’m pretty sure when I wrote that title the only thing going through my mind was “Wow, that’s a lot of do’s in a title”.  Then again, I couldn’t think of a less wordy way of saying it, so there’s that.

I went to a conference in Dallas last week, and spent some time hanging out with my best friend from college and with some leadership from my technology team as well.  Like many worship pastors, I wanted to get away, to refresh and reframe my outlook as well as do some long-term planning.  It was a good time of self-reflection that brought up some interesting questions for me to ponder…as Jerod’s wife, Jennifer can attest to, if you put the two of us together (Jerod and I), it makes for laughter, long nights, and deep discussions that challenge both of us.  There was one question that kept coming to me, whether it was in a discussion about my personal life, fostering, my marriage, or my ministry:

Why do you do what you do?

Why do I do what I do?  It made me think and evaluate all angles of that question?  Does my philosophy in worship ministry happen because it is what God has placed inside of me, and empowered me to do, or because it is popular, easy, or perhaps unpopular or difficult?  Do I function in marriage the way I do out of my own selfish ambition or desires or out of a desire to grow closer to my wife and to grow together in our faith?  Is parenting an extension of the love God has placed within me, or a necessary evil based on our own life choices?  And then fostering as an addition to all of that…is it done because we feel called to do it, or because we feel like we have started something and have to accomplish our “goal” of adopting as well?

All of these thoughts (good and bad) were rattling in my mind as we went to an evening session on Tuesday night.  One of the groups that was leading worship that night was All Sons and Daughters with One Sonic Society.  Being familiar with their work, and loving the raw, authenticity with which they write, I was looking forward to hearing and singing with them again.  A few songs into their time, I realized one of their songs quietly answered the questions I had wrestled with during the week.

The song is called “You Have Called Me Higher”.  Powerfully simple, the song describes the heartbeat of the reason to go the extra mile, the calling to continue to learn, to not count anyone out.  Here’s a few tidbits of what it means in my life, and why I do what I do.

I could just sit
I could just sit and wait for all Your goodness
Hope to feel Your presence
And I could just stay
I could just stay right where I am

and hope to feel You
Hope to feel something again

Have you ever been there?  When you feel like you are playing the waiting game, wishing and hoping and praying that something will change while you think you are completely sinking in the quicksand?  I have, and am, and will be in the future.  My wife would probably tell you that our bed is made of quicksand, because I don’t want to get out of it in the morning, and she would be right.  Yet, simply waiting without any action, or hoping without any momentum will leaving you right where you are.  The greatest times of repentance, of redemption, and of growth in my life have been the times I stepped out knowing God desired my faith and obedience.

And I could hold on
I could hold on to who I am and never let You
Change me from the inside
And I could be safe
I could be safe here in Your arms

and never leave home
Never let these walls down

If the people around me truly knew how much this paragraph embodied the feelings of failure, insecurity, and defeat I battle with, and my desire to just shut down, they would probably throw me out with the bath water.  Actually, I’m pretty sure my closest friends do, and they love me in spite of it.  It’s amazing to me how natural it is for me to think if I just close everything else out, things will be better.  But that inner voice of love (shout out to my Nouwen friends) keeps reminding me to share my insecurities with Him, to let go of the shackles, to break down the walls.  And the chorus to this song explains exactly why.

You have called me higher
You have called me deeper
And I’ll go where You lead me Lord
Where You lead me
Where You lead me Lord

Ultimately, for all the words I can and will continue to share about ministry, for all the stories I will tell about the joys and struggles of fostering, It is done because I know I’ve been called to follow.  I’ve been called to hurt deeper than I believe I can bear, to love when I am not loved in return, to teach when the ones I teach think it is crazy, and to minister to anyone and everyone, no matter what shape, race, gender, or class.  I don’t do this because it is noble, because it right, or because I want to look good.

I do it because I am called.  Higher.  Deeper.  Where I am led.

Why Do You Do What You Do?