Hoop Dreams & A Boy

True confession,  I’m 35 and I’m a little bit on the chubby side.  Okay, who am I kidding?  I’m fat.

My hoop dream days have long passed me by.  On a good day I can still get a little rhythm in my shot and maybe do a thing or two with the dribble, but those good days are rare.  In fact, they are very rare!

Long ago I let go of the impressive intramural games and men’s league games I played in during my early twenties.  I am but a shadow, albeit an overly large shadow, of that guy.  The funny thing about those games was usually this, I always played better when my girlfriend (now wife) was in the stands.  It was a pride thing.  I wanted her to know the guy who just dropped the most points was leaving with her.  It was a little pride, selfishness, love and arrogance all rolled up into a basketball.  In that moment, I wanted her to feel pride, so I played for that pride.

That was then, but fast forward to now….

To give you some background, out of all of our children, our son has struggled the most with his foster care and adoption journey.  It is hard for him to embrace the idea of new parents and not going home, as it is for most children in his situation.  So everyday we fight for his heart and we love without ever knowing if the affection will be returned.

Recently he invited a friend to spend the night.  At one point I found them outside playing basketball, so I joined in.  We played H-O-R-S-E.  I won.  We played P-I-G. I won. (They are only 11 years old, but don’t rain on my story!) Then we played 2 on 1.  The two kids verse the fat guy.  About half way through the game, it hit me.  I wasn’t playing for fun (although I was having a blast).  I wasn’t playing to win (although I wanted to win).  I wasn’t even playing “because that is what good dads do”!  I was playing for his heart and his pride.  With every move, every dribble, and every made basket it was like I was the 20-year-old kid, back in college, playing for the girl in the standsExcept this time I was playing for the heart of a boy on the pavement next to me. 

His friend kept saying, “Man! Your dad is so good!”

Inside I kept saying, “Yes, I am..let me love you, let me prove how much I want to be your dad.” 

Swish….I’m good enough.

Behind the back, between the legs…That was for you.

Off the glass…Game time.  Do you see me?  Do you see how much I want you to enjoy being my son?

It was a surreal moment and easily the single most important time I’ve ever picked up a basketball in my life.

Adoption is coming. 

Game Time.

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Her Story Too

I could see it in her eyes.  The disappointment.  She didn’t say a word, but I knew what she was feeling and thinking.

Adoption is coming soon. In the midst of all the preparations, our soon to be adopted children were asked by their case manager what they wanted on their adoption day cake.  Our biological daughter, who has been on this journey the entire time, desperately wanted to be asked as well.

She wanted to have a voice in the celebration and the cake decoration decision.  She wanted to be a part of the story, a part of the day.

She is 9 and as much as she gets it, she still struggles at times.

Later that evening, I pulled her to the side and I asked her how she was feeling.  She simply stated, “I want to be able to share the story too.”  It makes sense.  We often hear people talk about how the foster children are having their story rewritten with adoption.  While that may be true, we cannot forget that biological children are also having their stories rewritten. 

She was four or five when she began encouraging her mother and me to become foster parents.  To be a “mom and dad for kids who needed it.”  My career had led to her being around the foster care world her entire life.  To her, taking in kids was the natural thing to do.  At her young age and in her innocence she didn’t fully comprehend all the things she might or might not be giving up.  She just knew we had to do it.  Over the past 3 years we have seen her share her home, her stuff, her parents, her friends, her grandparents, her holidays, her extra-curricular activities, and almost every faucet of her life with four other little people who needed it.  She has never blinked.  She has been a champ through it all.

So much so, that I think we, at times, have forgotten how much her life is different.  This has become our normal. But, in our desire to heal the wounds of those we have brought into our home, we can never forget the sacrifice she made to take this journey. 

I think that is why she wanted to be included in the cake decision.  Because, this isn’t just about the children gaining a family, it is also about a 9 year old giving her family.

She is brave.  She is kind. She is pure.  She is love.  And, she reminded me tonight that this is her story too.

It was a reminder I needed more than she’ll ever know.

Loss + Gain = Adoption

A reality is sinking in for our family.  The reality that adoption via foster care only becomes possible through the tragedy of loss.

Loss of family, loss of parent(s), loss of familiarity, and the loss of what is known.

Yes, adoption is beautiful. Stories are redeemed. Lives are restored. New chapters are written.

But first, loss occurs. There is a decision or a moment when the original plan is fractured or broken. The heartache of that is often times messy, especially in foster care.

Many well meaning friends and family say things like (and, that is okay);

“Those kids are so lucky (blessed) to have your family..”
“I bet those kids are really thankful they have y’all.”
“What you are doing for those children is amazing..”

In theory, yes, they are in a better home.  Safe, secure, and cared for.

But, that does not make the loss any less painful or tragic.  The emotions are still raw and real.

I received a text message this week.  It said, “at 4:00 PM I’m signing the papers to extinguish (relinquish) my rights.”  I called the number back, shared my heartache for the choice that had to be made, and promised I would do my best to protect, love and care for his children.  Then I prayed for him and with him.  I asked God to walk with him through his heartache.  I also asked God to walk with our children through their loss, and ultimately redeem all that has been broken.

He cried and my heart sank.

Yes, we are thankful (blessed) to have the future opportunity to adopt four beautiful children, but in the end, our gain, was only made possible by their loss.

The redemptive story in our home begins with a loss.  As parents we must understand that, we must own that, and we must prepare to walk through that.

Just The Foster Parent

A few weeks ago my wife and I sat in a courtroom along the back wall and listened as several individuals gave their opinion about a case involving four precious children in our home. We were silent spectators.

Well, not exactly silent.  My wife made several beneath her breath comments as the children’s attorney made inaccurate statements about the case and the children.  It became very apparent while we were sitting in that court room, that we were in fact, just the foster parents.

The judge had an opinion.  Even though he hears hundreds of cases and has never met the children.

The CPS worker had an opinion.  Even though their contact is limited to one visit a month and most of their information is provided by us.

The biological parents and their attorneys had an opinion.  Even though the only reason we were sitting in that room at that moment is because somewhere along the line they failed miserably and needed us to take care of their children.

The children’s attorney had an opinion.  Even though during the 26 month process he has never met the children, nor us.

And yet, there we were, sitting against the back wall of the court room, spectators of all that was occurring regarding the four children whom we feel we know best.

We get it.  Biological families matter.   What we are not sure everyone else gets is this, foster parents matter too.

As not only a foster parent, but a director within a foster care agency I can recount many stories from foster parents who go to a court hearing or a permanency meeting without a voice.  I can go through several cases where a foster parent was opposed to reunification and that somehow made them the bad person.  When in fact, it just makes them a parent who cares.  I could tell you about time after time when a CPS worker has pulled the “We are CPS–Kings of Child Welfare” card on one of the families I serve.  But, I do not need to tell you all of those stories.

What I want to tell you is this—-We are not just the foster parents.

We are humans who have opened our hearts, our homes, and our families to serve children who need it.

We are moms and dads who take parenting seriously.

We are individuals who have real emotions that we can’t turn off just because the case is going a different direction.

We are people who do the messy work of foster care, long after a home visit, therapy appointment or court hearing has ended.

We are advocates for the children in our home.

We strive for their best.

We care deeply and passionately about the children in our home.  Our lack of agreement with an outcome does not make us wrong, it just means we are passionate about the little lives at stake.  Because to us, it is not just another case, but it is a child with dreams, passions, fears, hurts, wants, needs and someone has to fight for and protect that child.

We are not against the biological parent.  We just don’t have as much time to be worried about them, because we have their child to take care of, and frankly, that is more important.

So, Judge, Case Worker, Attorney, and other important people, next time you’re making big decisions, please remember we are not “just the foster parent”, but we are the very people who know the kids the best and we care greatly about what happens in their case.  Even if we don’t agree, our voice matters.

– the Foster Parents

One Sunday. Really?

In a few weeks, individuals throughout the global church will focus on something near to the Father’s heart, the orphan. For this, I’m very thankful.

But, I’m also saddened and heartbroken. You see. I cannot begin to wrap my mind around why the orphan is only worth one Sunday in churches worldwide. I have a hard time understanding why the church chooses not to preach about our role and responsibility to the orphan on an ongoing basis. Is the orphan not our problem, our responsibility, or our call? Has scripture misled us all these years? Was God not serious when he clearly told us what ‘pure and true religion’ was and is in James 1:27?

I have been attending church for all of my life. During that time, I’ve heard three messages on our responsibility to the orphan. Yes, 3, that’s it! The first was in 2008 when I stood before the congregation I served in Waco, Texas, and preached about God’s heart for the orphan. Prior to that point I had never sat in a local church and heard a message regarding the church, the orphan, and our role to serve as followers of Christ. How ironic it is that we like to celebrate our own adoption into God’s family, but rarely do we call people to reciprocate that same love, commitment and sacrifice to be a family for someone else.

Do you know why that is? I don’t. But, I tend to think it is because we don’t like messy, life changing mandates to be placed on our lives. We like clean, simple, concise calls that only stretch us so far and guess what?? Often times, church leadership is not immune from that same desire. After all, if they call their people to serve in that capacity, what does that mean for them? Will God call them to do the same? So, we avoid preaching things that might get extremely messy. Instead we preach on the simple; the things we can control, manipulate, or quantify.

It is sad. The church was never intended to be God’s pep rally; we were intended to be His hands, His feet, and His body. Instead, somewhere along the way we convinced ourselves that salvation is all about our experience with God and not other’s experiencing God through us. And when it’s about us, it is easy to forget them; the orphan, the fatherless, and the lonely. When we are busy fitting God into our lives, it is easy to forget that He wants our lives to be all about Him.

The work of the orphan is messy. The orphan forces us to stare directly into the brokenness of our world with all of its sin, selfishness, heartache, disease, poverty, addiction, homelessness, neglect, abuse, generational cycles, failure, and struggles. And none of these fit very neatly into our calendars on our iPhones, or our Sunday morning ‘experiences’. So, we avoid it. But, we shouldn’t.

Underneath all that brokenness is God in action. He is the God of the orphan, of you and of me. He is the God of adoption and sonship. He is the God who defends the fatherless and sets the lonely in families and He is the God who calls all of us to follow Him on this journey. He never promised it wouldn’t be messy and heartbreaking, but He did promise the redemption story would be worth the ride.

On November 2nd, I’ll applaud those churches remembering the orphan and at the same time my heart will be heavy wondering, what if? What if the church really rose up and heard God’s heart? How could we change this world, but more importantly, how could we change the life of that one orphan in Africa, that one foster child in America, that one child abandoned, or that one teenager ‘aging out’ of the foster care system? How could we live out our adoption and act like adopted children who have love to give, resources to pour out, and a life ready to be interrupted? How could we join God in doing what He is already doing, loving the orphan?

Join me. Say a prayer and ask God to rise up the Church on behalf of orphans worldwide. And, then ask God to move you and I to join Him, our Father, in this cause, a cause that is near to His heart.

3 Simple Steps to Get Involved Today:

Educate: Connect with local groups who serve foster children, learn about the needs they have from the smallest to largest. Connect with a family who has fostered or adopted. Spend time understanding their heart, the process, and their needs. Connect with organizations that serve orphans on a global scale. Listen to their needs. Basically, spend time becoming familiar with the orphan on a local and global scale.

Pray: Ask God what it is He would have you to do. Not everyone is called to foster and/or adopt a child, but we are all called to do something. Ask and then listen.

Engage: Whatever it is you feel He is calling you to do, do it! If we wait around for someone else to do it, who is to say it will ever get done. The orphan needs me and you to obey and do whatever it is God is calling us to do. Education and prayer will only go so far without action. Get involved and do something.

P.S. I’m a big fan of Orphan Sunday, http://www.orphansunday.org and the Christian Alliance for Orphans. I hope you will be too.

Looks Like a Foster Child

This past summer we moved into a new neighborhood which meant our children would begin a new school.  At the start of the school year our children were anxious about what the new school would be like.  Would they make friends?  Would their teachers like them?  Would they be able to find their classes?  All very common concerns when a little one is being asked to start something new.  On the flip side the school and teachers had no idea who we were and how the make-up of our family came to be.

Recently a teacher of one of our daughters learned she was in foster care and upon hearing that, she said, “I had no idea she was in foster care”.  Why?  Because, “she did not look like a foster child”.  Selfishly, we were glad to hear that.  In fact, it was a momentary dang right moment. You know, “dang right she doesn’t look like she is in foster care, she is our child and looks like our child.”

The dang right moment was fleeting, because as advocates and parents with a heart for foster care we began to ask ourselves, what does that mean?

What exactly does a foster kid look like?

Unfortunately, society has their opinion.  Foster children are supposed to look sad, they are supposed to have behavioral problems, they are supposed to look disheveled and have clothes on that are too small or too large, or maybe a little too outdated.  They are supposed to be distracted and disobedient.  In fact, they might even look like a little criminal in a child’s body, because after all that is who they are, right??

No, that is not who they are.  Our kids are beautiful, smart, caring, handsome, curious, resilient, funny, strong-willed, courteous, and  thoughtful.  Our children are survivors.  They have seen many things, but are hopeful for a better future.  They are children who just need love and acceptance.  Not pity, judgment, or sympathy.

We hate that there are foster parents out there who have perpetuated this image by not making sure their foster children have all they need clothing and hygiene wise.  We hate that the stereotype of foster children being behavioral problems is perpetuated by a lack of understanding within the educational system regarding how trauma affects the brain in a child.  Ultimately, we hate that society has painted an image of what a “foster child looks like.”

People often applaud us for being willing to “do that”.  By “do that” they mean fostering.  But, we are not the heroes.  The real heroes are the children in foster care who walk out into the world every day looking to hold their head high and find love and acceptance all the while hoping someone doesn’t just write them off as a foster kid, especially because they look like it.  

Yep, you’re dang right our kid doesn’t look like a foster kid.  That’s because she isn’t.  She is a hero, a little girl who has taken the worlds best shot and is still standing on her own two feet.  In fact, that looks more like courage and resiliency if you ask us. 

 

It only takes a ‘yes’…

It had been a busy week and I was very ready for the weekend.  In fact, it was 4:30 on a Friday afternoon and things were beginning to wrap up nicely so I could go home.  That is when the phone call came in.  The call from the state asking if the emergency shelter our organization ran had room for 4 children.  I looked at the schedule for the weekend and quickly realized we would be out of compliance on 3 shifts and we had no one to fill those gaps.  Well almost no one, there was me.  Knowing I was the only option, I put the worker on hold and this is what came next. (brutal honesty)

Me: Jesus, what should I do?  I’ve worked all week and I’m ready for the weekend!!!!

Jesus: (not audibly, but very profoundly) Are we really having this conversation about your weekend being disrupted?  These children have had their whole lives disrupted.  You know what to do.

Me:  Crap! I’m not asking you anything else Jesus!!

I picked up the phone and told the worker we would accept the children into our shelter.  I then called my wife and asked her to go pick up pizza’s for the children in the shelter, because I had just taken these new children and I was headed to the shelter to keep it in compliance until 11:00 PM. My wife’s mom happened to be in town, so Staci ran and picked up pizza’s and even brought ingredients for making cookies.  She served beside me that night and was there when the children arrived at our shelter. 

Fast forward two months.  We now had our foster care license and we were preparing to take children into our own home.  Our plan of keeping sibling groups of 2-3 together had now become a plan to keep a sibling group of 4 together.  Can you guess which 4??

Yep, the 4 I almost didn’t take, because we didn’t have the staff and I didn’t want my weekend to be inconvenienced by working.  But, instead I said ‘yes’ and now 21 months later those 4 incredibly awesome and precious children still live in our home and are a big part of our family.  We have no idea what the future holds, but we are thankful we said ‘yes’, even though my selfishness clearly wanted to say ‘no!!!’. 

What will your ‘yes’ be?  Your ‘yes’ might just be what the world is needing today. 

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