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.

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.

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.

Snuggle Time and Love

Early on in our six-year old’s life we began a tradition called ‘snuggle time’.  Essentially, it is the time right before going to sleep where we lay in bed and snuggle her.  It was something that quickly became a favorite of hers and she would often tell us, ‘I’ll always be your nuggle-bug’.  Yes, nuggle, instead of snuggle.  This tradition has carried over to our second child and she appears to like it as much as her older sister.   We also started night-time devotionals and prayer with our daughters at an early age.  Something they are still quick to remind us of if we ever forget, especially on the nights they are avoiding sleep!

Since coming to our home in October our four foster children have been exposed to devotional, prayer, and snuggle time.  And, while we do not ‘snuggle’ them.  We do make a point to do devotionals and pray together.  Then we give each of them big hugs, tell them how much we love them, how proud of them we are and then we tuck them in to their beds.  And, if we ever forget, much like our biological daughters they are quick to let us know.

Funny thing is, these practices are just habit for us as parents.  And yet, tonight our 9 yr. old foster son asked Staci, “why do y’all give snuggles?’ Staci explained it is our way of showing love to our girls and then proceeded to ask him, “Didn’t you’re mom and dad snuggle you when you lived at home?”  He thought about it for a long time and then said, “No, but when I get home I’m going to teach my dad to tuck me in and read the Bible.” 

His statement is humbling and reminds us that they are watching how we love and how we parent.  It reminds us that our love will extend back into their home.  That our actions as parents now, will be reflected by these children when they are reunited with their biological parents.

These are the nights and statements that make what we do worth it, while also breaking our heart for the children we have grown to love.

If and when these children get to go home;

  • We hope their parents understand how precious these little ones really are. 
  • We hope their parents learn to tuck them in and read the Bible.
  • And, we hope these children remember what it is like to have a mom and dad make them feel important every night before bed. 

In this life we never know how our love will impact others.  But, this we do know…..Our love has already begun to create change beyond the present!

Chosen, A Mother of Six

“From Paul, God Himself chose me to be an apostle and He gave me the promised life that Jesus Christ makes possible.”  2 Timothy 1:1

Being a mom of six isn’t always easy.  There is always laundry to be folded, dishes to be washed, messes to be cleaned up, hugs to be given, stories to be heard, hurts to be fixed, snacks to be made, and love to be given.  But, this is the promised life that Jesus has made possible for me.  He has fought for me to be given this life of endless laundry and dishes, because I have been chosen (for now) to be the mom of an additional four children who are all beautiful inside and out.

This life of endless hugs and ‘I love you’s’.

This life of pouring myself out into others, but getting so much more back in return.

This life of continual blessings.

A life that can be hard at times, but then I’m reminded that I have been chosen, and, for me, that makes all the difference in the world!

The Gospel Alive

IMG_20130102_201755

One thing we love about being foster parents is the fact that the Gospel regularly comes alive in front of us.  Since the first day we took children into our home we have continually expressed our love to them and reinforced how important they are to our family.  The three youngest were pretty quick to reciprocate love back, although never encouraged nor expected.  The oldest child, the boy, has been the most guarded with his words of affection.  And then, sometime around Christmas he began writing us little notes.  Each note simply said, “I love you” or “I love you so much”.

These notes are his way of sharing his heart.

Reading these notes and watching all of this unfold we are reminded of our own lives and the spiritual conflict we have had with accepting God’s love for us.  And yet, regardless of our response, God has always affirmed His love and affection to us.  Gradually, over time we came to a place where we began to affirm our love back to Him.  It wasn’t overnight, but it took time, trust, and experiencing God’s pursuit.  Similar to the process it has taken this young man to understand we love him with no strings attached.

In our opinion, the beauty of foster care is the opportunity we have to love deeply, regardless of any return of affection.  To put ourselves out there day after day to love these children and affirm their importance not only to us, but to the world as a whole.  Much like God has always done for both of us.

Simply, the Gospel has come alive within our home and for that we are humbled and thankful.

***The note above is his most recent one.  I walked in from work this afternoon and he was very excited to give me the note he had painted earlier in the day.

7 Things in 7 Days

Last Wednesday our family doubled in size as we took in a sibling group of 4.  Tonight, as a couple, we sat down and discussed what we have learned in these few short days.

  1. Simple things to us, may be completely unknown to foster children in our home.  Examples from the past 7 days, sewing, ironing, smoking a rack of ribs, homemade cooking for most meals, and going to Chick-fil-A to eat.  All of which our new kiddos had never seen nor experienced….Yes, we said they had never experienced Chick-fil-A!
  2. You can get all the training in the world on how to serve ‘foster children’, but what about the training for challenging ‘biological children’ who clearly outshine any foster child in the behavioral category?!?
  3. Professionals will schedule appointments at the last moment, seriously, phone call at 4:00 PM needing to come by ‘today or tomorrow’.  Appointment occurred at 5:30 PM.
  4. We as parents are way more efficient parenting 6 then we ever were only parenting 2.  We believe this boils down to survival of the fittest, if you are not efficient, you will be overrun by legions of small children, piles of laundry, toys in abundance, and much, much more, in short you will dieeeeeeee!!
  5. Doing homework with four children turns our dining room into a small Sylvan Learning Center, seriously, maybe we should franchise one into our home?  (**sidenote** Keith thinks it is extremely hot watching his wife operate in her professional skill set as a teacher, dang that woman is smart and patient!)
  6. Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart, Braum’s and other local grocery stores now own all of our money.  If only stock options came with each purchase–we would own a majority share within months!  Seriously, 6 kids can destroy a lottttttttttt of food.
  7. As a parent of 6, it is perfectly okay to not only be ready for bed at 9:00 PM, but to go to bed at 9:00 PM.

Bonus:  We have been incredibly blessed and our hearts are full, more so, than we could have ever imagined!

– Howard Party of 8