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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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.

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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One More….

One more rule.

One more standard.

One more “legislative mandate”.

One more background check.

Oh, and in the meantime, let’s try to let “kids be kids.” Really?!? How is that even possible when the State, at times, appears to operate with an “Us against Them” mentality trying to prove how bad each of us really are as foster parents? How do children feel like other children when we have to clear everyone off the trampoline so they can jump alone? Are we running a leper colony or a home? How do I allow them to just be children when every movement is critiqued and questioned even though I’m probably a better parent than 95% of the people making the rules?

One more pile of paperwork.

One more appointment.

One more daily log.

One more training.

Oh, and in the meantime, try to “parent them like you would your own children.” Really?!? Because last time I checked I never keep a daily log, clothing inventory, and doctor’s note on each of my own children. I never have to get clearance each time I take my children out of state to see their grandparents. I never have to ask permission on whether or not my own children can do ______________ (fill in the blank).

Family Reunification is always best.

Family Reunification will work out.

Family Reunification at all cost.

Oh, and in the meantime, what am I supposed to do when the biological parent completes their neat checklist, kids are returned, and EVERYONE knows this is not a safe home? Am I supposed to just sit there and think, “Well, that’s cute. At least they are with their real mom and dad”, especially when the newly hired state caseworker tells me I really don’t have a stake in this child’s permanency? Did you see the article about Florida the other day? 477 children died after being involved with the child welfare system and were allowed to go home and/or stay with their parents. How’s reunification working out for you now, Florida?

Look, I get it. I’m not naïve, and really I’m not some mad, disoriented foster parent. In fact, I’m a firm believer in things that matter like, not using physical discipline on children in care, making sure the home is clean and safe, limiting physical restraints, decreasing the over medication of children in foster care, running ‘appropriate’ background checks on individuals that need them and a few other key issues. I get it, I do.

So, who am I?

I am a foster parent who cares. I am a director within a child placing agency who cares about his foster families. I am a guy who is tired of the state and national organizations throwing around the phrase “best practice” like they’re handing out turkeys at Thanksgiving. Most of those state and national people have fancy degrees, BUT no real life, foster care experience. Frankly, they can keep their “best practice”, because I have a degree in “best dad” which kicks their butt any day. I’m an advocate for kids in care, I’m an advocate for foster parents, and when biological parents get it right, I’m even an advocate for them. But, I will never be an advocate of best-practice-mumbo-jumbo or individuals creating new laws/legislation/standards to protect their butts — while being willing to throw foster parents under the bus and/or tie their hands where they can’t “parent the way they would their own children” or “let kids be kids.”

Children in care deserve awesome moms and dads. Foster families deserve awesome case managers and agencies focused on them and not focused on maintaining a 300 page rulebook. You want to see “kids be kids”?? Loosen the reins, take a chill pill, come out of your office and stop going to “best practice” conferences. Allow those of us who rock to show you how it can be done. Then, let’s talk about how to make foster care better.

If none of that sounds very appealing to you state office employee, legislator, national certification guru, then maybe you should just resign, walk away, and stop wasting these children’s time. After all, they have a life ahead of them and they really don’t need you.

Keepin’ it real,

Concerned Foster Parent, Child Welfare Worker, and Advocate

Side note: The agency I foster with rocks, our case manager rocks, and our state caseworker rocks (we are lucky!). This blog takes a collective perspective I’ve been wrestling with over the past few months (years), regarding foster care, rules, restrictions, etc…thanks for reading.

Trust, Rescue, Redemption, Love and Sacrifice

Foster parents aren’t super heroes. We don’t wake up and put on capes and go save the world. In fact, if our lives were a movie, it would be full of messiness, doubt, failure, and a lot of heartache. And yet, even in the midst of all that, a hero does emerge and His fingerprints are visible all throughout foster care.

Foster Care Teaches Us to Trust God

“For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.” Psalm 33:21-22

Without fail the number one thing foster parents hear on a regular basis from friends, co-workers, family, strangers, and church members is this, “I could never do that. I could never love a child and then have to give them up.” You know what? Neither can we. But, it really isn’t about what ‘you’ or ‘we’ can do. It is about what God wants to do through us. For Him to be able to do that, we have to be willing to trust Him. Foster care teaches us that it is okay to not have full control of outcomes, because we were never asked to write the ending, we were just asked to play a role in the middle chapters. Do you know how crazy it can make someone if they don’t know how the story ends? Let me tell ya, crazy. So, we learn to trust. There are hundreds of thousands of children out there who need a family to love them for a season. They need mom’s and dad’s to say, “I got you, right now.” But, too often people sit on the sideline and say, “I can’t, I just can’t..” To open your life to foster care, you have to trust that God knows and cares about the ending even more than you do. You have to learn to trust Him, when agencies, individuals, friends and biological families let you down. Trust pushes individuals to believe God will see it through, despite the pain, messiness, and uncertainty they will experience in the process.

Foster Care Reflects God’s Heart for Rescue

“He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.” Psalm 18:19

When Adam and Eve took the bite, rescue was set in motion. God’s plan has always been to rescue His people. That has never changed. Foster care is clear evidence of the fact that He is still in the business of rescuing His kids from the worst situations. It is the visible, tangible process through which He calls His people to join Him in the process of providing rescue for children who most need it. It is easy to get jaded by the world, look up and see many horrific things happening and ask, “Where is God in all of this?” We’d challenge you to look for Him in foster care; a place where countless individuals give up their personal agenda’s to take on God’s agenda of rescue. You find Him in the sibling group taken from the drug house in the middle of the night, in the baby experiencing withdrawals from drugs in the NICU, and in the child taken from a home with no food, no water and no electricity. God swoops in and rescues His kids. Rescue is in each and every story. We are called to be His hands and feet, but if we do not show up, then who will?

Foster Care Reflects God’s Heart for Redemption

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:23-24

God is most definitely in the business of redeeming individuals and families. Foster care displays that time and time again. Foster care is about second chances and the most difficult thing about seeing someone get a second chance is there will come a time when you don’t believe they deserve one. That is when God teaches you about your own redemption and He reminds you that you really didn’t deserve a second chance either. In foster care God acts to redeem His family, both in the physical and in the spiritual. Biological parents get a horrible rap, sometimes deserved, but in reality a lot of them are just people who have made a bunch of mistakes, like you and I, and they need redemption. They need a God to speak deeply into their souls beyond the poverty, the addictions, the habits, the failures, and the brokenness and say, ‘you are mine and you matter’. Foster care reveals God’s redemptive work, in His timing, and in His own way. Being a foster parent also teaches us that our redemption is constantly at work and that all of us are in need of a second chance.

Foster Care Reflects God’s Heart for Love and Sacrifice

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:12-13

Ultimately, foster care teaches us to love in ways we never ever thought was possible. It pushes us to love others, our children and ourselves in a whole new light. Foster care teaches us to turn to God for the strength to love on days we do not think we have any love left to give. Being a foster parent rewires our hearts to look past behaviors and directly at a child, understanding they are a precious creation of the creator and reminding us to love them as He loves them. It also teaches us what it is like to sacrifice our own life for that of another, a child. Foster care brings Christ’s words in Matthew 16:24-25 to life, Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” During this journey, our selfishness, our desires, and our agendas are held accountable in light of God’s love and sacrifice.

We do not know how our journey will end, we haven’t been given the pen to write the final chapter, but we know this, we are thankful we chose to say ‘yes’ to God, when it would have been much easier to say, “Get lost. Foster care is for someone else.”

Trust, rescue, redemption, love and sacrifice are each woven into the fabric of foster care. As foster parents, we will never get to wear a cape, but we have been able to watch the real hero of the world do His work and show us His beauty and that is more than we could have ever imagined.