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.

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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

Dear Biological Family

There are a few things we would like you to know. 

Your children being taken away from you was not their fault.  They did not ask to be neglected.  They had no choice in the matter.

You get to see your children once a week.  Please, please enjoy your time with your children.  No doubt, they look forward to visits all week.  But, then when you are not engaged or choose to be grumpy with them, it makes them feel like crap.  Do you know who is there to pick up the pieces when you treat them bad and break their hearts?  We are, the foster family. 

Your children want you! They do not care about the money we spend on them or the trips we take, or even where we go out to eat.  They only want you.  So, this isn’t a competition, you win.  At least, we hope you win.

We are not your enemy.  In fact, foster parents aren’t the enemy.  We are here to love and keep your children safe until you can get it together and start making mature decisions that have positive impact on your children’s lives.  We are not here to judge you, belittle you, or talk bad about you.  In fact, we are here to cheer you on!  We are here to build you up in your children’s eyes, but also have the hard conversations with them when you choose to make a bad choice.  Even in that, we try and keep it positive.  We want them to believe in you!  Oh, it is hard some days, really it is.  Because remember, we are the ones picking up the pieces and defending their little hearts.  So fragile, so hurt, so confused.  We don’t understand the choices you have made, but we also have never walked in your shoes and lived  your life. 

We need you to hear this.  Your children are so incredibly precious that nothing should ever be placed over them.  You should fight for them, sacrifice for them, and give all you’ve got to get them back!  Until then, we promise to love them so deeply that it will hurt when they leave.  We promise to keep them safe, secure and surrounded in love as they walk through this journey.  We promise to protect them as if they were our own biological children, and honestly we treat them as if they are.  We promise to be there to pick up all the pieces that were broken and put them back together as best we can, even if it is really hard sometimes. 

No, neither of us could ever understand what it is like to have our children taken away from us, but we do know how to love, protect, defend, and sacrifice for your children like they are our very own. 

We are rooting for you.  We want you to succeed.  Your children want you to succeed.  Please make the right choices, cherish the moments you have with them, and understand that no matter what, you are their parent, and that makes you special to them and to us.

Sincerely,

The Foster Parents

 

It’s Okay to Suck, Really It is.

As Foster Parents we have heard it several times, “Oh, y’all are amazing!!  I don’t know how you do it!!” 

True Confession:  Sometimes we suck as foster parents.  There you have it.  Real life.  Transparency.  Open book.

We wish we didn’t.  We wish it was fairy tales, cotton candy, and white picket fences.  But, let’s face it.  When we willingly opened ourselves up to take on four children that we did not have anything to do with for the first 20 months, 5 years, 7 years, and 9 years of their lives we opened ourselves up to a BIG task!

From day one, we began to take on the stress of their trauma, the frustration of their boundaries, their struggle with food issues, and the heartache of their hearts.  

We willingly chose to do something fundamentally in contrast to our human nature side that shouts ‘protect yourself, protect your family, protect your nice little life.’  Why on earth would we choose to reject that shout?? Because, we hate playing it safe, and well, we hate white picket fences!!

But, that does not make it easy. 

We get asked the same question 20 gazillion times!  Not 19.999999 gazillion, literally 20 gazillion.  Most people’s patience runs out at 11 gazillion, so give us some props people.  Just last week we had a 10 minute conversation about glow sticks and if they would make your skin light up if you busted it open.  After answering the question 17 times, there was absolutely no redirecting, NONE, I tell you.  They just kept going and going and going.  What the crap?!?   At that point, one of us (whom shall remain nameless) said, “We are done, and now we will never get that 10 minutes of oxygen back EVER, thank you.”  Therapeutic?  No.  But, we are being transparent, right? 

Food issues??  Oh man, these are hard!  Some of it there is no rhyme or reason too, they simply Will. Not. Eat. It.  As parents, one of us understands this a little, the other one is a ‘eat what I give you kind of person’.  So, do we always make the best decisions with food issues?  Nope.  But, the children never go hungry!!  So, pat us on the back, right?

When we have been told for the 37th time that a parent was arrested for stealing from the very store we are walking through, our heart will usually do two things.  First, it will break that a child had to experience that and secondly, it gets mad that a child had to experience that!  Seriously, last night, while at Target we went through our whole family with one of our foster kiddos asking the question of, “Have they ever stolen anything?”  Rest assured Nana, Gigi, Papa, Gramps, Uncle Paul, Aunt Jessica, Aunt Christal, and Uncle Tim you are all free and clear of any theft charges.  We do our best to love the biological family, but dang if their choices don’t occasionally piss us off a bit! 

Let’s see, what else makes us not so awesome?  We raise our voices, we get frustrated, we feel burn out, we wonder why we can’t be more therapeutic, we ignore questions  after they’ve hit their 20 gazillion max, and we don’t always respond in the way that each individual child needs in that exact moment.

But, you know what?  It’s okay.  God didn’t call us to be foster parents because we were perfect (well, one of us is, the other not so much!). No, He called us because He knew we would say ‘yes’.  And, most days, a ‘yes’ is hard to come by when He wants His people to do something really, really hard! 

It’s okay, because we love.  We love like crazy! 

It’s okay, because we admit our wrongs.  We are a family of grace and forgiveness and ultimately, that starts with us, the parents (suck!).  If they see us admit failure, they are more likely to understand it is safe to do so too.

It’s okay, because we are committed.  We are committed to see the lives of these four kiddos changed. 

It’s okay, because even when we are frustrated with the biological family, we know they love these kids, just in their own way.  And, it’s okay if that is different than our way.

We are okay, because He called us.  We are, broken, flawed, unworthy, struggling, and yet, useable. 

What we know is this:  It is okay to not always have it together, to struggle, to lose our patience, to get frustrated, to be stressed, and to not always respond therapeutically with every single question.  No family is ever perfect, including ours.  We are just willing to learn how to be better parents and love these kids better, even when we are not very lovable ourselves.

So, on the days we suck, we remember, it has never been about us, but it has always been about them and Him and that is more than enough to get up and try again. 

NOW, NO. MORE. QUESTIONS ABOUT GLOW STICKS!:-)

-Howard, party of 8

To Fix or Not to Fix…

Most of us like to ‘fix’ things.  Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to fix things in the physical/structural sense.  I, for one, have very limited skill when it comes to tools, carpentry, mechanical and/or work revolving around such.  Likewise, I have very limited interest in ever really learning. 

And yet, most of us would be hard pressed to disagree with the fact that we all have this built in desire to ‘fix’ something in us, in others, or in our world,

  • our weight
  • our appearance
  • our attitude
  • our life situation
  • our job situation
  • our spiritual walk
  • our relationships
  • local/national politics
  • world issues
  • And, on and on and on…..

So, is it any wonder that most of us inherently address fostering the same way?  We want to ‘fix’ the child and in the process we forget that it is just a child, with a lot of brokenness inside them.  Most of which, we have very limited capacity to touch, if we don’t first accept, love, receive, admire and affirm who they are ‘unfixed’. 

As foster parents, we can get so busy in the ‘innocence of fixing’ that we forget we are just called to the journey.  God enables the ‘fixing’ in His season, but more importantly, in His timing.  (This can be really, really, really hard!)   

The reminder to myself:  Don’t miss the journey, because you are too caught up in the ‘fixing’.  Model love, model boundaries, model appropriateness, model acceptance, model patience, model trust, model healthy relationships and one day, maybe,  just maybe that kid you started out trying to ‘fix’ will be the best adult he or she can be. 

Let the journey continue…….

 

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.