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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Just 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.

Patience is a virtue, pssssh!

Dear God,

So, my patience level may have been exacerbated today! They say patience is a virtue, but when that virtue gets overran by an army of six small children, two dogs, and a one messy house–all bets are off! Let’s see, I did okay when the puppy had an accident on the floor and by accident I mean #2, say it with me, POOP, blah!! I felt like I was a rock star when the bathroom sink overflowed, flooding the bathroom, the cabinet and the hallway for good measure. Plumber?!? Pssssh, I’m a mom, who needs a plumber? Besides, it was just water and could be soaked up with a couple of towels, what’s another load of laundry in our home, right? Nevermind, that my husband later found a full basket of SOAKED wash clothes still neatly stacked in the cabinet below. Oops, did I miss that? Next, one of my kiddos came home from their parental visit dejected because their parent wasn’t overly kind and didn’t really want to help them with their homework, I stayed pretty positive. Well, I started to explain maybe dad didn’t know how to do it, but that is when my husband caught my eye. You know the eye, the ‘not another word’ eye. What?!? I’m just being honest with our kiddos! God, aren’t you the one that wants me to be honest allllll the time?? Even if I didn’t get my say, we were able to go over the homework and our kiddo was able to feel huge success after learning how to do the work and blowing right through it. How’s patience as a virtue so far, right God??

Then it happened. I heard hysterical screaming coming from one of the back bedrooms. I went into the room to find one of our children throwing a HUGE tantrum because they did not get what they wanted. What did they want, you ask? The child wanted to use the kid’s bathroom. Really? So, instead of processing, ‘hey, there are two bathrooms, if I really need to pee then I ought to head to the second one”, the child stood right there in front of me and pee’d through their clothes all over the floor. In light of honesty and transparency, my first thought? Are. You. Freaking. Kidding. ME?? Second thought, walk away. So, I did. I left my husband to deal with it.

I know, I know….this child has been through a lot of trauma in their brief life. I know this child has not had consistency and sustained love. I know problem solving is hard for this child and that in times of conflict they regress back to a younger stage in their life, but when that child looked at me and pee’d all over themself, I got to be honest God, I sucked at being your ‘hands and feet’. I couldn’t do it, so I walked.

Did I pass the patience test today? Nope. But, there is always tomorrow right? You see every day I struggle with the questions like, will I be there for them when they need me? Will I love them like no one ever has before? Will I have the patience for the questions, the homework, and the mistakes? So many tests. So many factors out of my control. But, here is the crazy thing God. These kids, just like you, are so loving and kind. These kids, just like you, are so forgiving when I mess up and make a mistake. These kids, just like you, love me when I lose my patience!!

On the worst of the worst days I get unconditional love, grace and forgiveness. Who knew being a mom of six kids, two dogs, and living in a messy house could get you so much in life? They say patience is a virtue. I say patience needs to be quiet and take a backseat, because there are 6 kids, 2 dogs and a messy house calling my name right now!

Catch ya later God,

Your kid

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.

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.