Archives For Family

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?

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?

 

Over the past year of fostering, I have heard many statements like:

“I just don’t think I could foster, because giving back those children would be so hard.”

You are right. It is heartbreaking, especially if you are struggling with not supporting the situation, or have truly bonded in a special way with the child or children that have been in your home. There is a grief process, like any other loss. But you work through it, and move forward, looking to the next child that you can provide, love, support, and safety to.

“It just seems like this is a better place for them.”

On the surface, this seems like a nice, complimentary statement, but underneath the surface it says something different: It says that we know the exact answer for the child, and it is our way. But what if we aren’t the best place? And how would you feel if someone thought there was a better place for your child? These are things I try to remember when thoughts like this sneak into my head.

“I am afraid they are going to change my kids.”

You are right about this (but probably not in the way you think). Your kids will be changed. Ours have been completely, irreversibly changed. Our four year old will now tell new placements “don’t worry, you are safe and loved here!”, and our six year old will go over the house rules (which he himself may or may not follow). They learn empathy, loss, and how to properly grieve as each child leaves or stays. They learn bad behaviors, and how to react or not react. There are good and bad consequences, with the good outweighing the bad by far. They learn how to love someone who needs it desperately.

So why do I share these little tidbits with you? Because as hard as these different statements and questions are to work through, it isn’t what I would consider to be the most difficult part of fostering. Difficult, yes. Heartbreaking, yes. But not the hardest part.

The hardest part of fostering is saying no to a child you have fostered who needs to be placed again, and you know you can’t take them. To know that the right answer is they aren’t a fit, for whatever reason, and that it would be a disservice to them and to you to reacclimate them to your home.

It is as if you are looking at their desperation and then turning away to act like it isn’t there. It is gut-wrenching, as if you have rejected a family member, because you know it was necessary to be healthy. But it hurts.

Walking through that experience is like walking through a tragedy in slow motion. Everything is second-guessed, you assign blame to yourself as if it would make you feel better, knowing it won’t. You try to bargain, to hope for a miracle. But you know…and that makes it hurt worse.

I share this because I want people to realize that in spite of the pains of fostering, the hurt, anxiety, and questions that are spurred on by the different weaknesses that are so glaring in the system, we won’t give up. Even though we realize there are heartbreaking decisions that lie ahead, children that will go home to both wonderful and turbulent homecomings, we will still love them whether they stay a day or a year. Most of all, we see the potential for other families that are much more stable then our flawed, sinful, human family that would be wonderful co-laborers in this process.

Don’t let fear keep you from considering what love can provide for a child.

Nothing trumps His love for us.

Sometimes it helps me to do a little reflecting in the morning, whether on important or trivial things.  So today, I have a few questions for you…

Answer one, answer two, or answer them all! Just a few questions to get the mind rolling today…I will give you my answers in the comments section later this morning.  Take a few moments, jot down your thoughts, and have a great day!

1. If you could do anything for the rest of your life, what would you do?

2. If you could have dinner with three people (past, present, or future…;), who would they be and why? Okay, that’s two in one, but roll with me.

3. What is your biggest barrier to pursuing what you are passionate about?

This week, we gave a boy away.

A boy we had raised since he came home from the hospital.

We raised him so his mother could put her life together. So his father could realize the importance of family. And in the process, we learned to fully embrace a child, to love wholeheartedly and without condition, and to nurture him as if he were going to stay forever. Our boys accepted him as our own, love him completely, and babied him without end in their own ways.

At the same time, we encouraged his parents, cheered for their successes, reached out to support them, and prayed for their lives to be positively changed and renewed. They were.  His mother worked through her issues, never resented us, worked together with his dad to love him during visits, asked questions to learn how to better be a parent, and went above and beyond all requirements needed to regain custody.

And so this week, we gave away a boy who we love with all our hearts to parents who love him equally as much, and have earned the right to raise their child.  I wish I could say that we all live happily ever after with no problems, and that this is an everyday occurrence, but it isn’t. And for that, we are blessed.

So what are we feeling?

1.  Tears.

While we rejoice that our foster child has been reunited with his family, there is still a grief process for us.  And that is good. It means we poured ourselves into this child, and that he knows he is loved by us. Our boys reacted differently, with Caleb definitely showing more emotion as the older child who comprehends more, and Jack as the inquisitive one wanting to know when his baby will be back.  But even in the tears, we see the beauty of a story of hope, of redemption, and of love.

2.  Fears.

Everyone hears the horror stories in foster care of what could go wrong if children return home.  What if not all the needs are met?  Is the schedule going to stay the same?  Will he bond with his parents like he should?  What if they have questions and are afraid to call?  While all these questions can simmer to the top, our faith remains the same. God has provided for this child to this point, will He not continue?

3.  Cheers.

There are no words to express how proud we are of the parents of this child.  We have seen the growth, care, and love they have shown him and us through this process.  When most biological parents would tend to be dismissive or outright hostile toward foster parents, they have been grateful and inquisitive. Sitting in the courtroom as custody was decided was a joyous and wonderful moment for us to be a part of, and I sat there marveling at the beautiful picture of redemption that God had provided us. To think, what started in a dreadful way has a new beginning, a second chance. For that, we celebrate.

If you are a foster parent, don’t give up hope.

If you are the parent fighting for your child, keep working.

Love hard, Believe faithfully, Work diligently, Pray fervently.

Our work is just beginning. And that’s the beauty of it.

When you read this on Monday, I will be in process of having surgery on my left labrum (shoulder), and will have the joy of having my arm sticking straight out (like a handshake) in a sling for six weeks.  As a church staff, we have been joking about our youth pastor (knee surgery) and I being the weaklings who have bodies breaking down, which has been fun, and definitely brought some humor to two situations that are not the most fun for either of us.  For that, I am most grateful.  As a musician, I am not looking forward to six weeks (and more) of not being able to play the instruments I love to create music with.  Likewise, as a father with two active boys, I don’t look forward to not being able to wrestle and be as active with them as well.

However, when I look at this recovery, I can choose to go two ways:  Be angry for the limitations that hamper me, or be thankful that God will use this time to grow my walk with Him and my usefulness to His Kingdom.  So I am looking at six things I can learn while I am in “the sling”:

1.  Be intentional about spending time with God.

I am going to have some “down” time I’ve been told (yuk, yuk).  What better way to become the man, husband, friend, and minister God wants me to be than to spend intentional time refreshing with Him as I rest and recuperate.

2.  Appreciate the incredible person my wife is.

Elizabeth’s life is going to change, and I will have a great chance to be an intentional encourager, lover, friend, and supporter of her as she has to adjust as well.

3.  Learn to trust the teams that have been developed.

I am blessed to have wonderful teams that will do a great job of leading and shouldering responsibilities where I am limited.  It will be cool to see more leaders develop as I take a backseat.

4.  Thinking outside the box creatively.

It is easy for me to get in a rut.  Sit down at the piano, play guitar, pick up a banjo…can’t do that.  Creativity will have to be outside of my comfort zone.  This is a great growth area.

5.    Work on organizational skills and structures.

Those of you who know me well are probably laughing out loud.  In some things, I can’t administrate my way out of a paper box.  This will be a great time for me to work on prioritizing, structuring, and catching up on needed organization.

6.  Find ways to be thankful for the gifts I have been given.

Sometimes we don’t realize what we have until we don’t have it anymore, or can’t use our gifts as much.  While I realize God has gifted me musically, it will interesting to see how much I have taken for granted that I shouldn’t have.

What will you learn this week?

What are you working on?

Do you ever wonder what would happen if you stopped being busy?  Over the last few days, I have been trying to work on simplifying things in my life.  Simplifying how I communicate, how I schedule, how I minister.  Why?  I want to make what I put my energy into count.  To spend time with my family knowing that my whole mind and heart are with them, that when I am with friends, I am with them and not my work.  That worshipping with my community of believers is a joy and not a responsibility.

A thought hit me this week as I self-evaluated.  How many things in my life that cause me to be busy are a result of my own selfish desires?  Before anything else came to me, this did: Ouch.  Who causes me to be busy?  Me. What person says to yes to everything I accept? I do.  The second thought was this: Honesty stinks sometimes.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

–Leonardo Da Vinci

In music, there is a fine line to walk in orchestration between create multiple layers that create a wonderful texture without too many layers that create multiple dissonances that muddle the overall goal of the piece.  Perhaps we have confused the insanity of life to be sophistication, when simplicity produced it all along.

I challenge you to simplify your life this week.

Your calendaring.

Your desires.

Self.

And see how sophisticated your family, friends, and community becomes.

 

Do you struggle with doing too much?

Why does foster care get a bad name?

Several reasons. First, the perception of foster care, and specifically, foster parenting, is broken, tainted, and any other negative connotation you can attach to it. Name a movie other than The Blind Side that gives you warm fuzzies about the foster care system (and that wasn’t your traditional foster situation). Having trouble? You shouldn’t be surprised. Whether it is television, movies, or the media in general, foster care is met with cynicism, rampant rumors and stories of corruption, and a general picture of families taking on extra kids to make money.

Is that true? In some cases, yes. Not everyone who fosters truly has the best intentions of the children in mind. But for every family who behaves that way, there are hundreds of families who do have the children’s best interests in mind, who simply want to provide a safe harbor, whether for a month or indefinitely, for a child. The real truth is that the minority who behave in inappropriate way outnumbers the majority who work hard to love the children who need it desperately.

Second, there is a general lack of information about what it takes to be a foster parent. I admit that until we began this journey, I fell into this camp. Did you know in our state (Missouri) it takes 27-30 hours of training (depending on which agency you are trained through), a very intimate personal and home assessment, and 30 hours of continued training every 2 years to keep a foster care license? Is it worth the 3 hour class for 10 weeks to prepare for being a foster parent? Most definitely. The knowledge we walked out with made us better parents in general, not just specifically for the situations we would encounter.

Third, there are the horror stories about the children. Let me be very clear: If you were to take the most well-adjusted child out of any home, inform them they couldn’t see their parents, and that they would be moved to another “home”, and you really expect them to calmly accept that result without acting out, please rethink your logic. Now imagine that same child being moved to a couple of different homes, whether because of circumstances of the home, or simply the way that life happens, and think about the walls that might go up.

When you understand the trauma that has occurred, both in the home, and because of the life changes, it seems plausible to me that not everything is going to be wonderful.

Boundaries will be broken, hearts will be hurt, and adjustments will be made.

But this is where the most important part of the equation is: If in that moment, we choose to love children where they are, we give them hope. Hope that they are worth something (which they are). Truth that they are loved (which they are). We give them the freedom to relax, even if it is just for a moment before they revert back to challenging everything. And that one sliver of a moment is what makes it all worth it.

What are other stigmas about foster care?

How can we dispel them?

I hope that these posts give some insight not only to why we foster, but why the truth about fostering is so important to know. If you haven’t read the previous post, you can find it here. My goal is to simply bring a little awareness to a need that is present in every community we live in.

Foster Parent. If you say those two words, you get that sympathetic look. The knowing nod, the phrases like “You’re such a saint…there is such a need…wow, that must be hard.” Two out of those three phrases is true. It is hard. There is a need. But trust me (and those who know me will back me up on this), we aren’t saints. There is no such thing as a perfect parent, foster or otherwise, and just because we are a part of this journey doesn’t mean we feel qualified. Most of the time, we feel the opposite. Honestly, it works better that way. The quicker you realize this journey isn’t about you, the better.

Why am I talking about this? Two reasons: First, I want to answer a question that I hear more than any other about foster care and parenting. Second, I want to challenge your thinking about how you can be involved in foster and adoption process.

“How can you foster children knowing that you probably will have to give them back?”

If you have fostered, been involved in the process, or have friends connected to foster care, you have heard this question asked, asked this question, or processed through this question at some point. And it’s a natural and valid question. I mean, who wants to set themselves up for the hurt and pain of attaching to a child, knowing that they very well could be moving that child back into a home they may or may not agree with or approve of? Nobody, right? That would have been my answer 9 months ago. Sometimes it feels like the right answer today. But this was the also the question that God used to wake me up, to make me evaluate and respond to my own feelings, and in turn change the way I view being a foster parent.

In a vacuum, I would like to think that the system is perfect, that everything runs smoothly, and that every decision made in foster care is the correct one. Truthfully, it isn’t, just like another system I am quite familiar with: my own. You see, my life isn’t perfect, everything doesn’t run smoothly, and every decision I make isn’t the correct one. So why am I prideful enough to think my home is the correct answer to each child? It isn’t…and no matter how strongly I feel about a situation, I am not in control. You see, I found that when I evaluated why I didn’t want to foster, it boiled down to fear of not having control. Control over getting attached and having to process grief, of not being able to adopt when it might look promising, of thinking decisions that were made didn’t line up with my desires. And like a slap to the face, God flipped those evaluations into reminders of why I could foster: As a person of faith, who better to be able to process choosing to love and having to sacrifice, needing to rely on Him during times when I had no control, and releasing my desires to provide for the needs of a child. What better way to demonstrate God’s love than to foster a child? It forces you to choose to love a child that may or may not love you back, whose stay may be temporary or permanent, and who has experienced unbelievable pain. That description mirrors my life: God loved me despite my lack of love to Him, in spite of my wandering, pain, and despair. Unconditional love whether I loved Him back or not.

You see, fostering isn’t about the parent. It’s about the child. A friend who is heavily involved in the fostering/adoption process once told Elizabeth and I that we could never underestimate the effect that 1 day, 1 week, 1 month, or 1 year could have on a child’s life when they had the opportunity to be in a safe place. It could be exactly what was needed. No more, no less. That has stuck with me. Instead of worrying about how I will deal with the emotions of the endings, I focus on how I can show love to the child with us today. What can I do to meet that child’s needs? How can I make them feel like they are no different than our two boys? What can I do to make them feel unique and special? And if they leave, like some already have, at that point I can reflect, grieve, and rejoice that I had the opportunity to love a child that needed it desperately.

“How can I be involved in the foster/adoption care?”

3 quick ways you can be a support in foster and adoption care:

1. Consider fostering or fostering to adopt.

I know, seems obvious. But actually go to an informational meeting. Get some training. Don’t just shut it down. When people ask me why the system has so many flaws at times, one of my answers is that people who could be instrumental in helping fix the flaws won’t get involved. Remember, these are children in your city that need your help.

2. Find out who you know that is involved and be their support.

Please don’t do this in an awkward, unsure way. Get to know their foster kids, baggage and all, just like everyone else’s kids. Love them. Understand that you won’t know all the background, and accept that. Babysit for them, pray for them, let them know you care. Be there when it’s ugly, and celebrate when it’s not.

3. Help be a person that changes the stigma of foster care.

Even if you don’t foster, or don’t even know people that foster, remember that not everyone is out to make money by fostering. In a majority of cases, foster parents want to provide safe havens for children who need exactly that: a safe place. Don’t contribute to the horror stories, rumors, and bad side of foster advocacy. Be a person who communicates that fostering is a way of loving our city, one child at a time, and ministering in a way that may never be seen by the foster parent, but will be felt by the child.

I’d love to hear what ideas for ways to advocate and support fostering and adopting that you have…thanks for reading my heart today!

Conor