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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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. 

 

#DisconnectToConnect

Do you like social media? I do.

I love to post pictures of my children, share insight into my passions, and like my friend’s status. I feel inclined to retweet a great blog post or article. I dutifully share quotes and statistics that call others attention to the needs of humanity and the brokenness in our world.

I like to look at my friends pictures, utilize the networking platforms within social media, and randomly creep on people’s profile pages (true confession).

I enjoy watching videos, checking my newsfeed, following the retweeted ‘tweet’ back to the original source, taking the latest challenge and sharing with others ways they can be involved.

But, what if I like social media so much, that all I ever do is like, share, and retweet? Will anything be different? Will I have done my part to create change?

The geniuses behind the social media movement would presumably say, yes.  On some levels, I would agree.  Social media has given me a platform to educate and encourage others about foster care and adoption.  It has given the non-profit organization I work for a way through which we can tell our story, call people to action and solicit donations.  I see the value in social media.

And yet, I am afraid.  I’m afraid my generation, my peers, my friends, and even I may be using social media as the easy way out, even unintentionally.

We sit at home, in our office, along the pews at church, or at a coffee shop, click a button, type a post, write a blog, and believe we have changed the world.

Boom. World change. Easy.

Or is it??

It is not as easy to physically go into our communities and find those who need our “hands and feet” to bring them good news and help. It is not as convenient to step out of our lives, disconnect from the created reality of social media and step into the messiness of those around us.  Maybe they don’t need another like or share.  Maybe instead they need a friend, a voice, resources, a listening ear, a ride, a jacket, a meal, our talents or even our homes.

If we are not careful, we will just become a generation of social media activists.  The poor will still be poor, the sick will still be sick, the hungry will still be hungry, the lonely will still be lonely, but our laptops will be warm while our coffee cups are full.  Generation fail. 

What if our newsfeeds currently full of bathroom selfies, beach selfies, gym selfies, church selfies, bed selfies, dog selfies, and  food selfies suddenly became saturated with selfies of widows, orphans, the elderly, the homeless, our neighbors and the downtrodden. Or, what if, selfies really weren’t needed anymore because our desire to be liked had been passed over by a desire to serve, love, comfort, and bring hope to others, all the while fulfilling needs within ourselves that we subconsciously had buried beneath one more post, picture, like, share and retweet.

I like social media, I really do. But, if I’m honest, social media can become a crutch through which I cover up my obligation to help others by just giving them a quick click.

So here you go, take this challenge, disconnect to connect.  You can like it, share it, retweet it, hashtag it or hide it, but in the end, please disconnect for a bit, go out into your community and use your life for real change, real purpose, and real connection.

Boom. World change.  It’s just that easy.  The world is waiting for you.

#worldchangebeginswithyou

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”   – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

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. 

Image

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.

They Are Precious In His Sight

Every year we celebrate a man, Martin Luther King Jr., who courageously fought for equality for generations past, present and future.  We highlight his courage, his love, and his character.  We look around and high five each other, because ‘we’ve’ come a long way.  And yet, most days are but a poor reflection of what truly should be.  We seemingly gloss over the ugliness of reality with catchy quotations spread throughout the social media world, while overlooking the messy brokenness that still wrecks entire communities. 

To understand some of this, one must only look to the numbers presented within the foster care system.  Numbers, frequently quoted in relation to a term known as ‘disproportionality’. 

In 2011, more than half of the children entering foster care in the U.S. were children of color.

Black or African American children are disproportionately more likely than other children to be reported, investigated, substantiated, and placed in foster care.  – Children’s Rights (www.childrensrights.org)

Does that quote catch your attention?  Now, we can all start cranking out excuse after excuse about why this might be the case.  Some of which may be valid points, as such, a lot of deep issues are built into disproportionality.  But, let me tell you about what I often struggle with as an advocate and professional in the child welfare field.  I struggle with the reality that there are a significant number of foster and adoptive families, who simply do not want an African American child.  Here is a list of things I’ve heard over the past nine years,

  • We are open to other races, but not African American.  We are just not sure we could effectively meet their cultural needs.
  • We are open to other races, just not African American.  We do not feel we would know how to deal with their hair and skin care needs. 
  • We are open to other races, except African American.  We are worried our extended family may not accept them.
  • We would prefer not to be placed with an African American child, because we are not ready for the questions people might ask us when they see us out in public.
  • We would prefer a Caucasian child, so that they will look like us.
  • We really want to have a placement soon, but we are willing to wait until it is a Caucasian child. 
  • We are open to bi-racial children, as long as, one of the races is Caucasian and the other race is not African American. 

Yep, I didn’t make any of these statements up.  Can I tell you something else?  Most states struggle to place African American children in adoptive homes.  In the state that I live, work, and foster in, children of minority races above the age of 2 are classified as ‘special needs’ adoptions and subsidies are provided in hopes of encouraging families to adopt such children. 

But wait, take a moment to read this beautiful quote from Dr. King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,

“….one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers….”

Let that sink in.  No really; pause, reflect, and let the beauty of that statement soak into the depths of your soul. Now ask yourself, why do we so often avoid the African American child in the foster care system?  Oh, we will take the Hispanic, Caucasian, or even Asian child, but “dadgum, we just don’t know how we’d parent that African American child.”  What the ___________?!? (you fill in the blank)

Now, to be fair, I could have written a completely separate blog (and, maybe I will) about all the beautiful stories I have seen of transracial fostering and adoption.  Families who love the children in their home, despite any differences in race.  Of moms and dads seeking out anyone and everyone they can find to give them information regarding what hair and skin products work best for ‘their child’.   Families celebrating differences and aspiring to immerse their child fully into their cultural heritage.  But, today, in the midst of all the quotes, posts, and reflections my heart stopped instead on the ‘why?’

We have come so far, but, ‘why’ are we still not there?  We can do better America.  Child after child in the foster care system needs us too. 

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

***I realize this is a heavy conversation and all parts of the conversation cannot be worked out and stated in a simple blog post.  I also respect families being honest during the licensure process about their personal limitations.  Regardless, as an advocate for children in foster care, I feel this is a topic to highlight, address, and bring to light. 

If you want to learn more about ‘disproportionality’ in Foster Care ask Google, or click on one of the links provided below.

http://www.ncjfcj.org/sites/default/files/Disproportionality%20Rates%20for%20Children%20of%20Color%20in%20Foster%20Care%202013.pdf

http://www.casey.org/Resources/Publications/pdf/RacialDisproportionality_ES.pdf

http://www.ncjfcj.org/resource-library/publications/disproportionality-rates-children-color-foster-care-2013-technical

http://www.childrensrights.org/issues-resources/foster-care/facts-about-disparities-in-foster-care/

https://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/cultural/disporp/

http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/afcarsreport19.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

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