Archives For Family

(by Elizabeth)

Our girl is leaving this week. ¬†Remember her? I’ve been processing this in a million ways since we initially found out about her move and thought I’d share those with you. ¬†When the finality of the decision for a child to leave your home happens, there’s this sharp exhale like you just got kicked in the stomach. ¬†We were told a little over 2 weeks ago about this decision and it took us by huge surprise. ¬†It really shouldn’t have though, because when she came in late July we were told it would be only a few weeks until a home for the entire sibling group could be secured. ¬†But when days turned into weeks and months, our hearts didn’t remember that it was only temporary and we invested in her as our own and dared to hope she might stay forever.

There’s the initial grief and numbness. ¬†This time it felt like the miscarriages we’ve suffered where a part of you gets taken without your knowledge or permission and you feel so hollow. ¬†After a while of this I kick it into high gear and try to compartmentalize my feelings. ¬†People offer their sadness, prayers and concerns about how we’re doing and I’m able to smile and say “it’s fine and for the best”. ¬†I can move through each day without thinking about how I really feel about it all. The whole house is eerily quiet about it. ¬†Our boys never utter another word about her leaving and change the subject when anything does come up about it.

My heart learns to build walls to protect itself and cope by letting myself feel how utterly tired I am of caring for other’s children. ¬†Every tantrum or difficulty from her has me saying inside my head, “It’s good you’re leaving, I didn’t want to raise you anyway.” ¬†I start to think about how life will be easier when she’s gone and relish in the thought. ¬†These are terrible, guilty thoughts. I cry out to God, saying¬†“I don’t want do this anymore. ¬†I want to be done”. ¬†It’s hard not to question when He’ll release us from this calling and so hard to remember the immense joy we get out of caring for His kids.

And then I think about her and agonize over how her entire life as she knows it is about to change in a few days and she has no clue. ¬†She’ll be totally caught off guard by night after night of sleeping in this new home and wondering where is that mama and dada she grew attached to. ¬†That’s probably the hardest. ¬†It’s more than I can handle sometimes.

When I lament like this, I find that there’s always a turn. ¬†A friend encouraged me to write a lament and commented that inevitably there’s a point when you see the “but God” and you can see His faithfulness. ¬†She’s right. ¬†With every cry and disappointment, confused thought, all my anger and brokenness – it is all met in Him and in His sovereignty and goodness. ¬†Matt Redman has a song I could just about put on auto play:

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

There is the truth! ¬†I know He is faithful to us and to our girl. ¬†And His plan didn’t change for her the moment we were caught off guard by her move. ¬†When I feel like I’ve totally lost control on her future, I remember that I never had it in the first place and she’s in His best care no matter where she lives. So I move on to celebrating this. ¬†I’m able to celebrate all the progress she’s made here and the joy she’s brought to us. ¬†I remember her coming to us, hardly a smile and mostly unfeeling eyes, totally insecure. She’s leaving us a mischievous, giggly girl who hugs everyone and bravely walks through the day. ¬†I celebrate my family and friends who have risked our hearts for her and I’m proud once again that we said “yes” to God in this calling.

Finally, there is a lot of prayer, which ties all of these feelings together. ¬†I beg God for His favor towards her all the days of her life. I always ask that He put someone in all my kids’ paths at every step of their lives who knows Jesus and shares Him with them. ¬†I pray for her safety and for her to know security through her caregivers. ¬†I ask Him to hold us while we cry and keep sending His faithful promises to us. ¬†I ask Him to help my boys with¬†their feelings and beg Him to let Conor and I lead them wisely and lovingly through their own grief. ¬†I pray that He will keep using us in His Kingdom and keep proving to me that His way is the best for us to follow.

Tonight is for celebrating

December 19, 2013 — 1 Comment

(written by my wife, Elizabeth)

Tomorrow two of our foster sons will leave us to return home to their Mom. ¬†It has been five months since they came to live here and they have changed our lives forever. ¬†All of them do. ¬†When a child comes into our home, we readily accept them and embrace them into our family – into our rules, practices, traditions & memories. ¬†We would not have it any other way. ¬†But when a day like tomorrow happens, it really stinks because it means we’re giving back one of our own.

Since we found out about the surety of the boy’s departure from our home last Friday, I have been stuck in negativity and cynicism. “Why did this happen so quickly? Is this really the best thing for them? Have we taught them enough for them to be ok even if things aren’t ok there? What’s the likelihood of their returning to foster care?” On and on I could go. ¬†And like any well-meaning person, pride has gotten it’s grip tightly on me, telling me that our home and the way we raise our family is the only right way. ¬†I want to be in control of their outcome and I want proof that what we’ve done is worth it for them.

And then tonight happened. ¬†We debated on what we should do with the Christmas gifts we had bought them that have been wrapped under the tree. It was decided that we would let them open them tonight instead of taking them wrapped to their Mom’s. ¬†The joy on their faces, opening those gifts picked just for them, was a celebration. ¬†As I watched them, a hundred memories came back to me of the last five months pushing away the cynicism, causing me to celebrate.

  • A 5-year old who once would bite his nails from anxiousness no longer does so and lived up to my challenge to have nasty fingernails for me to clip ūüôā¬†
  • A 3 yr old who could not sit still and process stories now sits for 2-3 books paying attention to the plot
  • Loud singing of “I love you, Lord” each night along with their bodies knelt in prayer together
  • Boys who will now open their mouths to speak instead of mumbling everything and grunting when displeased¬†
  • Children who know the love of aunts and uncles, grandparents, friends and teachers
  • A boy who once fought for every ounce of attention and material possession furiously working to pack Christmas Shoeboxes for children around the world
  • Returned whispers of “I love you” when being tucked in at night
  • Manners!
  • Joy over now having their very own Bibles to read
  • Children who know what a marriage looks like
  • Boys who were fearful and avoiding of men now thrive on wrestling, hugs and interaction with them
  • Two children who know that Jesus loves them personally and that He will always be with them

So tonight is for celebrating. Tonight the worries of “what if’s” are set aside. Tomorrow they will leave us but they go with so much more than they came with, always accompanied by the One who answers all the “what if’s”.

Great is our Lord and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. Psalm 147:5

Morning Musings

October 9, 2013 — Leave a comment

How much do you love your city?

Really.

What would you do, how much would you sacrifice for the good of your city?

Time.  Family.  Relationships.  Entertainment.

What if how much your city prospered determined how much you prospered?

Think about how much that would change our motivation.

If the family has given control over spiritual development to the church, has the church  given control over social and cultural development over to the community?

What we do about this stuff?  And do I have any answers?

No, I don’t have the answers.

These are the thoughts I have had for several weeks and months as I struggle through reconciling work, home, and ministry in my life.  As you can see, there seem to be a lot more questions than answers.  For me, this is a healthy way to process through and come to grips with my own insecurities, inadequacies, and weakness.  To be a leader, this has to come first.  For me to pawn off my weakness as personality is simply lying.  To fixate on it to the point of depression is ignorance.  But to cohesively learn to walk the line of self-evaluation combined with self-confidence can lead to helping grow from our points of weakness AND strength.

What does this have to do with the myriad of questions I shot out at the beginning?  This.  If our fixations are simply on us, we have missed the boat.  If our idea of raising healthy, spiritually rounded children is to drop them off at Sunday School, we are guilty of laziness in the home (I know I am).  If our idea of helping community is just joining forces with community groups doing good instead of being the creative cultural force other community groups are joining with, we are guilty of taking the easy way out.  If we are worried about our perception more than our reality, we will never. be. effective.

As I have walked through the idea of compassion and how we function and live as the church, it has convicted me of how much work must be done in my own life, let alone in the lives of my children, my church community, and the community as a whole.  So where does that start?

So where are you in this journey?

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?

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