The Little Choices

I Samuel 17:39

“David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.  “I cannot go in these.” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off.”

As I read this verse amidst the account of David and Goliath I was reminded that beating Goliath is not the hard part of the battle.  Sure Goliath was a huge, huge “giant”!  He was tough, arrogant, confident, and a trained warrior, but David was sure that with God’s help he would take out Goliath.  You see, facing Goliath wasn’t hard for David, because he made the right choices leading up to the battle.   As I read this story verse 39 jumped out at me.  Leading up to this verse David tells King Saul, “I’m your man!”  So, Saul gives David his blessing and then places his own armor on David.  But, David realized real quick that it wouldn’t work for him.  And, you know what? The battle was won in that moment.  David could have easily gone along with everyone else.  All the other soldiers were fully armored up.  He could have bought into the lie that the “real warriors” have big swords and shiny armor, but David didn’t buy into that philosophy.  Instead he listened to his heart and who God called him to be: a shepherd boy with a sling and heart for God.   It was an easy choice for David, so he “took them off.”  The battle was won in that moment.  He didn’t need what Saul offered to beat Goliath; he just needed what God had already given him.  If David had gone out to war wearing that heavy armor he probably would have gotten his head knocked off and we would never have read about him, other than “shepherd boy David gets head knocked off by giant.”  But instead, we are able to read about King David, the man after God’s own heart, because he learned to make the right choices along the way.

Often times we find ourselves beat down and struggling when we look at the Goliaths in our own lives.  When in reality the things we should be keeping a close eye on are the little choices that led up to the Goliaths.  The battles in our lives are decided with each choice we make.  I look back on my life and remember huge failures.  They didn’t just come out of the blue and surprise me, they happened because I didn’t pay attention to the small choices before I faced “Goliath.”

I also enjoyed reading verse 39 because it says this, “he took them off”.  Now the verse is talking about armor, but I think it can apply to our lives.  What do you need to take off?  What has the world tried to offer you?  Maybe it is inappropriate love and friendships, maybe it is habits, and maybe it is temptations.  Don’t let the world run you down.  Begin to win the battle with the little choices.  Goliath isn’t nearly as scary when you make the right choices along the way.  Oh, and if you are familiar with David’s full story you also know he faced other “Goliaths” in his life, and he didn’t always come through.  But, if you go over his entire life story, you will also see it was the “little choices” that lead David to defeat.  And yet, God forgave and cleansed David of all unrighteousness, much like God does for you and me when we fail and then confess our failures to him.  So, don’t lose heart, keep seeking God, making the right choices, and taking on your “Goliaths” with God on your side.

May we not only have the heart of a warrior, but also the heart of wisdom, insight, and the faith of a shepherd.  Be blessed.

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So, We Will Love

Our imperfect human side always tries, and often succeeds, to get in the way of what God really wants from us as parents.  As worldly creatures we like being better, doing better, and getting more done than the next person. We want to prove our worth in others eyes.  As foster parents, we want to show our kids this is what “good” parenting looks like.  We want them to see our “normal” and we want that to be their new “normal”. 

But, in reality, we are not any better than their biological parents.  While we do not abuse our children physically, emotionally, or sexually.  Nor, do we  neglect our children, but, we still sin.  And, sin is sin in God’s eyes.  Therefore in His eyes, we are really not any better than the parents we are supposedly protecting these children from.  Our judgement of the biological family, for the choices they have made and make, is clearly just as wrong as the choices they have made and are making.

We are beginning to  understand more and more each day that we are not only here to love the children, but also their parents.

At the end of the day, God has called us to love and protect these beautiful children.  We get to play an important role in their lives for now.  Our goal should never be about how much better of a parent we are than their biological parents.  Instead, the goal should be love.  We are here to show these children they are special and they are loved.  To show them they make our world crazy better every day!  We get to kiss their hurts, celebrate their accomplishments, praise their great works, and tuck them into bed every night after we pray for their mom and dad.

Our imperfect human side wants to make this about us.  But, God’s plan has always been to make this about the children.  And, in that, the biological parents are a clear extension of their children and God’s plan for redemption.

So, we will love.

We will love not only the children, but we will love their mom and dad.  We will pray for them.  We will root for them.  We will encourage them.  And, we will remember, this journey is about love, grace, and mercy for all involved.

– Howard’s Party of 8

Ponderings about Spring, Newness, and Clutter

We love Spring.  The sounds of the air.  The earth reblooming after a dormant winter.  The signs of new life.  The celebration of resurrection.

The freshness of a new season.  A time to reflect and prepare for all that is new.

But, in order to prepare for all that is new, we sometimes have to spend time cleaning out and decluttering our lives from all that is old.  Somewhere along the way, we have convinced ourselves that more is better.

  • more activities for our children
  • bigger homes
  • better cars
  • more items to fill our homes
  • more commitments in our lives
  • more hours at work and less at home

But, what if true contentment is found in the less?  What if our children really do not need another sports team, band, ballet to participate in or student council to run for?  What if we don’t need another 50 to 60 hour work week to prove our worth?  What if all they need is us and all we need is them?

  • game nights
  • family vacations
  • weekend trips together
  • daddy/daughter dates
  • cooking and making messes together
  • family devotional time together
  • father/son weekends
  • mommy/daughter outings
  • fishing trips and camping trips
  • nights away from cell phones, laptops, and electronics
  • days spent at the park, picnic lunches and duck ponds
  • movies nights and snuggles before bed

Have all of these things been exchanged for one more practice, one more tournament, or one more weekend away?  Or, has Facebook, cell phones, Twitter, text messages and Instragram suffocated the families ability to connect?  Have we determined that our worth is in our jobs and not in our family?  Or, as parents have we determined our worth is in the success of our children, so what is one more activity really going to hurt?

Spring is a time for newness, freshness, and a time when the dormant comes to life.  But, in order for the dormant to come to life, sometimes we have to toil the soil, brush back the dead and cluttered and give the new seedlings room to find sunlight, raindrops, fresh air, and the crisp breeze.  Then we can sit back and watch nature do what it does best; come to life and blow our minds with it’s ability to create beauty.  Much like our children have the abilty to do.

Spring is a time for resurrection.  What does the clutter of our lives teach those around us about Christ?  2 Corinthians 5:17 states, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”.  Has the new come?  Has the old gone?  Is our value in Him, or has it become more about us, what is our’s and what we do?  We tell our children their value is in Christ, but do we affirm that to them through our lives and their lives with the things we prioritize and cram into our schedules?

Is it time to declutter?  If so, what better time than now?  Our children learn their example of expectations and clutter from us, their parents.

As Spring blooms, what example will we set in decluttering our lives and freeing our family from the ‘rat race’ expectations of our society?

Just the ponderings of us, the Howard’s-Party of 8….We’d love to hear your feedback.

Messy Redemption

Redemption is messy.  Being a part of the redemptive story hurts.

We knew this going into foster care.  Even so, somehow, we convinced ourselves there would be times where we would be able to compartmentalize the brokenness, pain, and heartache.  Yet, being an effective foster parent, does not allow for one to compartmentalize, it means we willingly take on the pain, heartache and brokenness.  Trying our best to carry the burdens of the children in our home.  To be their protectors, caregivers, keepers, and defenders.  Much like Christ has done for each of us.

It doesn’t get easier.  No, in fact, it only get’s harder as we go deeper with the children and hear more about their story.  It only hurts worse as we see their biological parent fail them week in and week out.  Even if the children just blow it off as, “dad must of just been tricking us”, when they don’t get the much anticipated present they were promised last visit.  We get mad at dad, but then we remember,  he is broken and lost.  We are too.  He needs redemption.  We do too.  We remember, redemption is messy.

Yet, it is worth it.  Because we know redemption is in the works.  We know the story being written is greater and more unimaginable than we could ever imagine.

Redemption is messy.  But, the new story being written is beautiful.  We do not know what the next chapter holds, but we know we are ready: pain, heartache and all.

After all, this journey is not about us, but about them and Him, and redemption.

It Starts With You

In every community there are needs. Needs that are big and needs that are small. Needs that require expertise and needs that just require hearts.  In every community there are people.  People who can help and people who need help.  What are you doing, in your community, to be the Change?

You might not think you can offer much, but you can.

  • Time
  • Compassion
  • Resources
  • Networks
  • Presence
  • Expertise
  • Your Voice
  • Skill
  • Love
  • Willingness
  • Desire
  • Committment
  • Awareness
  • And, your Heart

In every community there are needs. What need, in your community, can you meet?

Understand the need. Engage the need. Be the Change for the need.

Do not wait on the world around you to act, because they may be waiting for you to lead them.  It starts with Me and it starts with You—–Be the Change.

**Practical ways to start.  Contact the local Food Bank, local mentor programs (Big Brother/Big Sister, etc.), local Foster Care/Adoption agencies, local after school programs, local homeless shelters, local women’s shelters, local tutoring organizations, local children’s homes and find out where they have needs.  Expose yourself to your community and follow your heart and passion to serve.  Be the Change.

The Human Factor

In the beginning, we agreed that we were all in as a couple when it came to Foster Care.  We knew we would love a child or children for a season.  We knew we would empty our hearts, knowledge, and compassion into every child that came into our home.  We would get attached, we would love until it hurt, and then when it came time to say good-bye, we would say good-bye and share our grief with each other.  We still believe this, we still own this, we are still walking this.

But, nothing ever really follows our nice laid plans, right?  The Human Factor always throws us a curve ball and leaves us standing there wondering, what the what?!?

We tell ourselves on a daily basis, reunification with biological family members makes sense.  It is good for children.  We’ve read the stats, we’ve heard the research–reunification leads to less trauma long-term.  We know it, believe it, and own it……then, BAM, the Human Factor says, ‘but, what if?’

  • What if we are the better placement long-term?
  • What if biological parents continue to make selfish, detrimental choices?
  • What if biological parents never own their mistakes, only repeating the cycle?
  • What if they don’t protect these most incredible gifts?
  • What if they don’t love them?
  • What if they quit their job, because their simply too tired and the job is too hard?
  • What if they can’t maintain stable living?
  • What if they don’t help them with homework?
  • What if they don’t go to ‘Open House’ at the school and let their child show them every single thing in the room, including the stickers in their locker?
  • What if they don’t believe in them?
  • What if they don’t provide meals, clothing, and other items needed for them?
  • What if they choose their needs over their child’s needs?
  • What if they drop them off with complete strangers, over and over and over again?
  • What if they are just too tired to be a parent that day or night?
  • What if they don’t properly fasten them in their car seats, making sure their most precious possessions are always safe?
  • What if they don’t teach them to cook?
  • What if they don’t play catch in the yard, draw pictures, and laugh until their sides hurt as a family?
  • What if they just suck as a parent?
  • What if the children are just a status symbol and a way to get another check?
  • What if they don’t take the  children to church?
  • What if they don’t show the boy how to treat women and show the girls how to respect their bodies and hearts?
  • What if they don’t model an appropriate relationship, so their children know what love and happiness really looks like?
  • What if they use drugs?
  • What if they never ‘get it’?…That these children are truly God’s greatest gift to parents.

Our brains tell us, reunification is best, but our hearts are thrown off by the Human Factor that takes a journey of its own.

Regardless, four months in, we are still owning this, believing this, and walking this.  Now, if someone would just tell that stupid Human Factor to shut up and leave us alone!!

– The Howard’s – Party of 8

This Is Your Home

“Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.”  – Sarah Dessen

Since the first day our children were placed with us we’ve tried to make them feel at home, and not just at any home, but their home.  When they arrived we had their names and pictures up in their rooms.  We had new sheets and comforters on their beds.  We wanted to create an environment where they not only felt accepted, but an environment where they felt comfortable.

Over the first ninety days we feel like we have had some success.  And yet, even with some success we still see uncertainty in their lives.  We were reminded of that tonight as our 9-year-old foster son came around the corner from the kitchen and said, “Mr. Keith, I fixed your trash bag.”  He was referring to fixing the bag in the trash can.  He started to walk away and then I called his name and said, “hey buddy, you didn’t fix my trash bag, you fixed your trash bag, because this is your home too.”

It sounds so simple, but we think it is impactful.  It reminds him and his siblings that for this season they are a part of our family and this is their home. They may not readily accept it.  In fact, they may never accept it, but we are not responsible for their response.  We are responsible for being proactive to help them feel at ease and at home.

With so much uncertainty in a foster child’s life, it is up to the foster parent to create an environment that allows the child to feel safe, comfortable, and accepted.  Here are a few ideas we have come up with;

  • Create a space that is their own.  Easiest place is probably their bedroom.  Allow them to hang up pictures, pick out paint colors, etc.
  • Hang up pictures of your foster children around the home.  (Our extended family (grandparents) even chose to do this too!)
  • Hang up their art work, report cards, and other items that might be important to them.  Refrigerator recognition makes most children feel valued.
  • Help them unpack and hang up their clothes (if they will let you.)
  • Plan meals around food items they like.
  • Have them help you shop and cook.
  • Take them on ALL family trips that your own children would go on.
  • Ask them how they want you to refer to them in public.
  • Make sure they have their own things and that they understand those items will always be their items.
  • Give them chores around the home, so that they feel a part of the family.
  • Allow them to pick out family activities.  Empower them to have a voice, just like all family members should.
  • Allow them to decide what they will call you.  It empowers them and allows them a comfort level with you.  Three of the four foster children in our home now prefer mom and dad.  The fourth one is still comfortable with Mr. Keith and Mrs. Staci.  Both are okay with us!

As we do this, we hope the things we do will be, “but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that they can take with them for their entire lives, wherever they may go.”

We would love to hear from other foster parents about different ideas they have tried to create a ‘home’ environment for children who may only be around for short season.  Feel free to share in the comment section below.

Adoption Disruption…Let’s Be Honest Part 2

Phone call comes in to a local adoption agency and on the other end of the line is an adoptive parent who is struggling with the child they chose to adopt.  They have not lost their commitment, but they have found themselves at a crossroads of serious issues that need to be addressed with intense therapy and maybe even a residential program/environment.  The internal struggle raging within that parent occurs for a number of reasons; first, they are committed, second, they know the child needs more help than they can give and/or afford, third, most states are highly lacking in post adoption services, and lastly they feel like they are on an island.  Where does the adoptive parent turn in this situation?  Maybe Medicaid, if there child is still on state insurance, unfortunately in my state, Medicaid for an adoptive child does not cover residential treatment services.

When talking about adoption disruptions we have to be honest about the areas that are lacking in leading to greater success for the child, parent, and overall family.  The number one lacking area in most cases is the support this family should receive from the state, as a parent who is willing to adopt a child that otherwise may linger in the foster care system until they age out.  Often times, the family feels like everyone was there to cheer them on up until the day of adoption, but afterwards the state turns their back and holds somewhat of a “you chose to adopt the child, now suck it up and deal with it” attitude toward them.  This attitude rarely leads to success and most of the time leads to failure.  In fact, in some states if the family turns to their local child welfare office they are told the only way to get help is to turn the child back over to the state and have a charge of child neglect against them.  Say what?!?

Parents who have chosen to adopt children that are from ‘hard places’, as Dr. Karyn Purvis would say, should have access to greater support networks of therapists, treatment centers, support groups, and possibly access to a worker within the state agency that could address their needs and point them in the right direction.

But, this isn’t just an ‘adoption from foster care’ issue.  This also carries over to families who have chosen to adopt children from ‘hard places’ around the world.  You remember the lady who shipped the child back to Russia on an airplane?  Yeah, the one that helped get the ball rolling on the current political climate amidst Russian politicians regarding international adoption of their children.  I do not know all the facts, and to be honest, I don’t know any of the facts of that case, but I do believe there are several individuals with good hearts who adopt children with a lack of knowledge regarding the child’s past and then they get them over here to America and believe love and God will change all things.  When in fact, their child may need some intense therapy and support, in addition, the family will need therapy, support, and more in-depth training.  Instead everyone is caught up in the euphoria of ‘saving an orphan’ and we all want to pat them on the back and then turn the other way when it get’s hard.  And, if it gets really hard?  Well, we might just hear things like, “I knew they shouldn’t have adopted that kid from another country…what were they thinking?”, “It is such a shame, they spend all that money and now they are stuck with a kid that is broken?”, “It looks like they got themselves into quite a mess now.” or “That’s why adoption is so risky, I would never take that risk.”  And, these are just things church friends or Pastor’s say, that’s the sad part.

How can you help?

  • Send a letter to your state legislator stating the importance of Post Adoption Services.  (Send it to both State and Federal, be an Advocate!)
  • Start a local adoption support group in your area (with babysitting provided).
  • Engage local organizations that specialize in attachment disorders, special needs, etc. and see if you can set up free trainings for adoptive parents.
  • Give an adoptive parent a 2 hour break for a date night, a coffee, or a quick run to the grocery store.
  • Be available….sometimes just having a friend who will allow you to vent and listen makes all the difference in the world.
  • Avoid judgemental comments and instead pray for and lift up the family and child.  Afterall, this family is truly living out the Gospel!
  • Surprise the family with dinner, lunch, or even a Saturday morning breakfast from time to time.  Living on the adoption island, especially with a child from a ‘hard place’, can be really lonely.
  • Offer support and encouragement.
  • Set up a training for the children’s staff in your church, so the family feels comfortable with leaving their child in the children’s area and do all you can to allow those parents an hour of worship and renewal with God.   They need it.
  • Set up a Big Brother, Big Sister program within your Church or network of friends that partners up with an adoptive child, to give that parent additional support.

These are just a few practical ways to be involved and engaged.  As I mentioned in my previous post on Adoption Disruption (http://wp.me/p2yK8I-1x) when an adoption fails, it is human error, not God’s error.  But, we can all be a part of helping maintain these adoptive placements.  We can all be a part of supporting these families and incredible children.  We can all be a part of God’s work in walking side by side with these families that are struggling to maintain their home and the child they have fought for and prayed for.

Together we can make an impact, together we can be the Church, together we can live out pure and true religion.

Why Would You Do That?

“I heard you took 4 kiddos into your home…Why would you do that?”

This was the question posed to us a few months ago.  It was innocent, and yet, very misguided.  The question came from an elderly Christian who had spent their entire life in the church.  Honestly, we were thrown back by the question and the only response we could think of was, “Why would we not do it?”

The early church made waves, because they chose to do things that were radical, abnormal, crazy and full of love.  Now it seems that when people decide to do something truly Gospel driven they get the most push back from ‘comfortable Christians’ within the church.  These individuals simply don’t understand why someone would want to lay their own life down to serve the ‘least of these’.

Hear our hearts, we have no desire to cast stones at anyone, because on our best days we are still highly imperfect individuals and we know even on the church’s best day it is still filled with highly imperfect people. But, we do desire for people to start ‘getting it’, to start living out the Gospel in evident ways. That is why we hope our lives are a canvas for God to paint His story in all it’s beauty and messiness, to encourage others that although this work is hard, it is possible and even rewarding.

What if it became the ‘norm’ in the church to take care of the ‘least of these’? To live out true religion by taking care of widows and orphans, to be the good Samaritan to our enemies, to forfeit our gain for the gain of others, to act like the early church and pull all our resources together to serve others in the body and show the world who Jesus truly is not only through our words, but our very lives. How would the world respond to that church?

The world has heard about our Jesus, but isn’t it time we as Christians start showing them our Jesus?

Yep, we took in four foster children. Why would we do that? Because, despite our huge imperfections, the Gospel compelled us to do so.

The Little Girl Who Changed Everything…

3 months of sickness

baked potatoes from Wendy’s

gallons of chocolate milk

9 months of growth

a daddy frantically painting his baby’s room

30 hours of labor

a waiting room full of family and friends who stayed through the night

ice chips, ice chips, ice chips (for mommy) and IHOP, donuts and Sonic (for daddy)

an epidural that wore off as the intensity of the contractions went up

and, then….at 10:03 AM we met her, the little girl who changed everything.

She was beautiful.  The moment we saw her we fell in love.  In fact, we have never been the same since we saw her beautiful, innocent, sweet face.  Her dark hair, dark eyes and warm spirit captured our hearts.  Her laugh still brings joy to us like we’ve never felt.  Her caring heart influences our decisions as a family.  She helped heal the wounds of our miscarriage.  She gave us the chance to be a mommy and daddy.  In fact, from the very first moment, she wrapped her daddy around her little finger and she has never let go.

We love our snuggle time, reading time, and prayer time with her.  We love her creativity and her love of art and crafts.  We are proud of the little lady she is becoming.  We are proud of her success in school and we love her heart for animals.

Her birth, seven years ago today, changed our lives forever and we are glad we have not been the same since.  Being her mommy and daddy is a blessing, honor, privilege and something we cherish every second of every day.

Happy 7th Birthday Princess!!  We love you more than you’ll ever know……