Wednesday, July 27, 2011

saying goodbye, again

If and when you make the ginormous decision to be a foster parent, learning to say goodbye is inevitable.

When our family took the plunge into the world of foster care, back in 2008, we were as prepared as we could be for this to happen. We anticipated children coming and going. I dreamed of the many faces and personalities that would become a part of our lives for a period of time. The weeks of foster training reminded us that in most cases, children will be returned to their birth parents or a relative. This, after all, is the primary goal of foster care.

It's a tricky thing to sign up for. Apart from God's leading for our family, I cannot imagine doing this. I mean, why would I want to care for a child or children, get attached to them, only to have to say goodbye after 30 days, 3 months, 6 months, a year, or even 2 years? How could I do that? How could I put my children through that pain of loss? It's not just a tricky thing to sign up for, it's a crazy thing to sign up for! In essence, when you choose to be a foster parent, you are saying yes to:

- your family dynamics changing, again and again
- driving your foster child to visits, doctors offices, various appointments
- possible behavior problems
- unknown health issues
- emotional ups and downs and many tears
- doubts that you ever should have done this
- giving your heart and love to a child you don't know
- reorganizing the space in your home
- the reality of having to say goodbye
- trusting God for this child's future when they leave you

It's one thing to offer your life up for such a cause when you are married...
- when you have someone who is living the challenges and joys right beside you
- when you have someone to talk with about the decisions that need to be made
- when you have someone to cry with, to pray with, to dream with, to trust with

But what about offering up your life for such a cause when you are single?

My longtime friend Becky has chosen to do just that. Today she just said goodbye to a 10-year old girl that she parented for the last month. This was her third foster daughter and her third goodbye.

I have watched her sacrifice her time, her money, her privacy, her personal space, her freedom, her possessions, and her preferences to name just a few things.

I have watched her sacrificially care.

I have watched her humbly ask for help.

I have watched her trust in the Lord through the challenges, not denying the turmoil but choosing to love regardless.

And really, it's been a beautiful thing for me and my family to witness, up close. I can gather my children together and point to Aunt Becky as an example of how sometimes God calls us to do hard things. And sometimes we are called to do them seemingly alone.

When they look at their Aunt Becky, they can see a real life example of how following Christ means losing our own lives; abandoning our own desires, so that we might demonstrate the good news of Jesus to others.

I thank God for my friend. I am praying for her as she has had to say goodbye to a special little girl.


Friday, July 15, 2011

my dad

Today my Dad turns 62. Wow.
We used to call him "the boy" because when my Mom married him, he was 14 years younger than she was. Yes, my Mom robbed the cradle as they say.

I will always be thankful for the time that "Joe" came into my life. My "real" Dad died when I was just 10 years old. My little world was shaken and I could not grasp the reality that I would grow up without him. I missed
having a Dad.

Joe was a friend of my parents for years prior to my Dad's death. He was no stranger to my Mom and he was among one of the single men that sought to take her out to dinner in an attempt to get her living life again. Although Joe was a part of a big family - one of seven children - he did not have his own family and had little experience with children in general.

When he and my Mom started officially dating, she came with a package! My sister Jennifer and I were just kids - ages 10 and 12 at the time. Our oldest two sisters were married but certainly still very much a part of our close knit family. If Joe married my Mom, he would have a ready made family and would also be giving up starting a family of his very own.

The two main words that I believe define Joe's character are: sacrificial and loyal

I remember one winter when we were experiencing a snow storm and driving was near impossible. My Mom really wanted to see Joe (they were still just dating at the time) but the several feet of snow was keeping them apart. In a gallant effort to be with her, he put on his skis and actually skied to our home! As a young girl at the time, I thought this was the coolest most romantic thing ever.

For not having any experience with children, after marrying my Mom, Joe jumped right into his role as Dad. He never tried to replace my "real" Dad; he was himself. He was learning as he went along. I'm sure my sister and I presented many challenges to him, but his love and care for us was always marked by sacrificial love and loyalty.

I can see Joe's face among the crowd at my many, many softball games. Sometimes I would have 3-4 games a week and he was always there. Always.

I can see Joe sitting beside me in a car in a parking lot at Villa Cresta Elementary school, patiently teaching me how to parallel park.

I can see Joe waiting up for me when I came home from dates with boys.

I can see Joe's smiling face when he became a grandfather for the first time.

I can see Joe's face and imagine his arm supporting mine as he walked me down the aisle on my wedding day.

I can see Joe's scared face beside my children's scared faces as we rode the Tower of Terror together at Disney.

I can see Joe's face in airports as he waited among the crowds to meet his grandchildren that were adopted from Russia. I can see both Stephen and Abbie in his arms.

I can see Joe' face in a courtroom in Bel Air, celebrating our adoption of David and Jayda. Long before we even knew we were adopting these precious children, Joe embraced them as if they were already his grandchildren.

I can see Joe's eyes tear up just about whenever he reads a Father's Day card from one of his daughters or grandchildren. His sensitivity is a refection of his love for each of us.

I can see Joe's face and hear his laughter as he spends time with our big loud family. He is quick to laugh at himself and even quicker to help any of us when we need it.

I don't know why my "real" Dad died when I was just 10 years old. There is never an easy explanation for things like this, but if ever something amazing could come out of something terrible, Joe is that for me. He has truly been the very best father a little girl could ask for!

Happy Birthday Joe, Dad, Pop-Pop.....You wear many hats and have many names!

I love you for each and every one!

*Note to readers: the various pictures show what a good sport my Dad is! In my family, dressing up in various costumes is part of the fun!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"sometimes being a mom sucks"

Yep. I confess. That's the horrible sentence that I muttered under my breath, just loud enough for Matt to hear, while I was preparing dinner for my family tonight. I didn't say it angrily; just very matter of fact. This of course makes it no better, but for someone that can speak with sarcastic, angry tones, I can at least celebrate that by God's grace I controlled that part of it.

When your child stands up to bat for his very first tee ball game, being a mom is amazing.

When your child rides his or her bike for the first time without your hands steadying it from behind, being a mom is amazing.

When your child reads his or her first book and you know that you are the one that spent hours teaching them letter sounds and phonics, being a mom is amazing.

When a stranger compliments your child's good behavior in a restaurant or store, being a mom is amazing.

But sometimes being a mom stinks. It doesn't have to be that way though.
(I am changing the word from "sucks" to "stinks" because I know that word is offensive to some - my apologies).

Today, I felt that way and those words flew out of my mouth because...

I was hungry.

I was tired.

I was trying to grill food outside and make food inside and serve it to my family outside. There was a lot of running in and out. I was getting irritated.

I was standing while everyone else was sitting, relaxing, talking.

Everyone got their hotdogs, hamburgers, caesar salad, fresh peaches, and drinks before I did.

In fact, by the time I was ready to sit down and eat, everyone else was finishing up and the kids were eating fudge pops.


Do I always have to be last around this house. Is Mother's Day the only day I get to go first? And I went last all day long! Can't I go at least second at dinner time? Why always last? These were the attitudes within my heart that I didn't speak. But I was thinking them and believing them and building a great case for myself.

As I sat inside alone, having lost my appetite, I knew my statement was born out of self-pity and unbelief in God's word.

It's true that being a mother is a call to sacrifice; to daily serve others before yourself. Actually, this is the call of everyone who calls himself or herself a child of God. But caring for small children (& big children too) all day long just affords you constant opportunities to serve. And serve. And serve.

And serve.

And put yourself last. Again. And again. And again.

And again.

When my heart is believing that this job is a glorious gift...

When my heart is resting in God's promises that He gives grace to the humble...

When my heart is thankful that He has ordained me to disciple these four precious lives, that they might know and follow their Creator...

Then being last is the greatest thing.

And being a mom doesn't stink! It only stinks when my eyes are on myself and when I am believing and living the lie that putting others before myself is a foolish waste of time. It only stinks when I am believing and living the lie that true happiness can be found in doing what I want, when I want. Everyone else, please step aside, it's time for ME.

These verses are the ones that immediately came to mind.

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."
Romans 12:1

"Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. "
Romans 12:10

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,
Philippians 2:3-7

"God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble"
James 4:6

I thought of Elisabeth Elliot and her book "The Shaping of a Christian Family."

This portion greatly encouraged me and gave me a fresh picture of what mothering is all about:

"A talented woman was asked by a friend, 'Why have you never written a book?'

'I am writing two' was the quiet reply. 'I have been engaged on one for ten years, the other five.'

'You surprise me!' the friend said. 'What profound works they must be!'

'It doth not yet appear what they shall be,' said the woman, 'but when He makes up His jewels, my great ambition is to find them there.'

'Your children?'

'Yes, my two children. They are my life's work.'

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

re-meeting shaun groves

Years ago, when Matt and I were hanging out with our friends Dave and Kris Bannasch, they handed me a CD entitled "Invitation to Eavesdrop" by Shaun Groves.

Kris was really impacted by the song "Welcome Home" and after listening to it myself, it became one of my instant favorites. Thanks Bannasch fam' for introducing me to Shaun Groves!

About 6 months ago, I had the privilege of "re-meeting" Shaun through his blog. I am always encouraged, most often challenged in the best of ways, and I sometimes find myself laughing to the point of tears. Shaun continues to speak and sing but only if he can take time to promote Compassion International. He doesn't charge a dime to the public or promoters and uses these opportunities to share the needs of children around the world in hopes that the awareness will lead to more child sponsors.

When Shaun posted that he was creating a new CD, I was super excited to support him and I hope you give it a listen (links provided below) and then make a purchase!

Just yesterday, he invited people to interview him via email so I took him up on the offer, forming three questions that I thought would best give you a window into his heart and how that translates into his music.

So, allow me to introduce you to Shaun Groves.

As a parent, what are some practical ways that you have sought to lead your children in caring for orphans, the homeless, and other vulnerable people both here and abroad?

We sponsor a child through Compassion International for each of our children when they reach age five. Our kids come up with some of the money it takes to sponsor these children, and my kids write their sponsored kids letters every other month. It's a great way for my kids to learn generosity, gain perspective, make a friend on the other side of the world...and learn geography and penmanship!

And every Wednesday I take my kids to our church's food pantry to stock shelves, count cans, break down boxes for recycling and fill grocery bags. They understand by now why some families come to the pantry for help and why it is that we're helping them as a family. Lots of conversations have been had about how we're working with God to help other families and about how other families have helped us in other ways over the years.

Our church also has an incredible children's minister who gets older kids involved in serving littler ones. So our oldest - now ten - is a teacher's aid on Sunday mornings every other month. She loves it and has so much fun doing it that she doesn't realize she's establishing a good habit of serving others in her church family.

Lastly, we're adopting siblings from Ethiopia right now - a long process we're halfway through! And this was a decision we made as a family. We talked about the need in Ethiopia and about how their mom and I wondered if we should do something to meet that need as a family. As we learned more about adoption we shared that with the kids and talked through the decision with them. We wanted them to pray and let us know what they thought God wanted us to do. We let them weigh the sacrifices, talk through how they'd divide up our limited space and whether they'd want to limit their extracurriculars so that every kid in the family could do something they love, etc. There was a lot of discussion. And in the end, they decided with that adoption was something God wanted us to begin together. I think this decision, more than any other, has taught them that sometimes generosity requires sacrifice and that what we sacrifice is so often given back to us in unexpected and spectacular ways.

Is there a particular book that has impacted you that might help someone who would like to take a step in reaching out to those in the Third World?

I think anyone who wants to help others - anywhere in the world - should read When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert. The book caused me to reexamine the efficacy of every mission trip I'd ever been part of as a young person and turned me into the world's biggest fan of Compassion International and other holistic development organizations and initiatives. They work. The book convincingly explains why. Development, not charity, releasing the whole person from systemic need.

Can I be greedy and name a second book? Announcing The Kingdom by Charles E. Van Engen, Dean S. Gilliland and Shawn B. Redford is a book more about the theology of God's mission. For so much of my life I looked at caring for the poor and preaching the gospel as both good but unconnected. In the bible, they're not at all unconnected. Twice in the gospel of Matthew Jesus, in fact, is said to have "preached and healed" wherever he went. In His mind - the mind of God - ministry to body and soul went together somehow. This book does a good job of explaining why, of helping us understand the word "salvation" as something holistic, present and eternal, the way the authors say Jesus and other Jews did. Helped me understand why I felt compelled by God to care for those in need - it was no longer a feel-good tangent I was going off on for some unknown reason but it was very central stuff to the mission of God on earth.

With regards to your newest CD, "Third World Symphony", is there one song that just really stands out to you; one song that is especially meaningful to you and if so, why?

Depends on the day you ask me. Today I like Awake My Soul. My nieces and nephew just visited for a few days. There've been lots of laughs, watermelon, board games, late nights in our house this week. Awake My Soul reminds me that these are gifts from God, to be slowly savored and remembered and traced back to the Giver. Listening to that song this morning reminded me to notice their faces, every wrinkle, every freckle. To not be annoyed by the noise or merely tolerate it but to really hear it, to give thanks for it while these kids are small, while it all lasts. What a beautiful week we had - awake together.

Take some time to check out Shaun's new CD entitled Third World Symphony:

And here's where the album can be purchased:

Friday, July 1, 2011

lessons from sandy

In case you are just jumping in on this adventure, you may want to check out this post.

Sandy and I have kept in touch via cell phone, and last night our family decided to meet up with her at McDonald's for dinner. We found her sitting alone in the booth in the very back of the restaurant. Her face was sunburned and she looked a little worn out from the heat, but her bright blue eyes smiled when she saw us.

It wasn't easy finding out what she really preferred for dinner; it's her natural default to shyly ask for the cheapest thing on the menu. And even that takes some probing. But our heart was to give her whatever she wanted; whatever was her favorite thing. I took the approach of an interviewer and asked, "Sandy - in your opinion, what is the best thing to eat here?" She played along and answered, "Filet-o'-fish."

Mission accomplished.

Sitting across from her, looking into her eyes, I tear up myself, as I consider her situation in life. I try to hold back my tears but I'm not so good at that these days. She's not either and this unites us in a strangely warm way.

I shared with her that I often considered doing my own personal experiment, by holding a sign that says, "Homeless: Help." For a brief afternoon, I could see how people would treat me. She chuckled and agreed to help me by sharing her experiences of having to do this for the last few days. All day. I got her permission to share her story.

Since 2007 she has been living on the streets, in a shelter, or in a car with her boyfriend who recently left her - taking her few personal belongings with him. She has never held a "Homeless" sign before. It's awkward for her. It's embarrassing. But she doesn't know what else to do. She quit school in the 9th grade and aside from taking care of a home she once shared with her husband before his death, she has limited skills.

She has filled out several job applications at local businesses but no one has called her back as of yet. In the meantime, she needs money for food and a place to stay, so she picks up her homemade sign that reads, "Homeless: Please Help" and stands outside. One day she didn't get "a half a penny" but yesterday things were a little different.

  • One woman stopped and told her that she needed a rich man to come and take care of her.
  • A man gave her a dollar and then told her he would give her more money if she would get in his car and do things for him.
  • Another man didn't give her any money but promised money if she would get in his car.
  • Lots of people drove by and gave her the middle finger.
  • Several people yelled, "You're a b#*$#."
And though most people just drove by her, the most common verbal response was:
  • "You're lazy, just get a job!"
And if we're honest, even if we don't say it out loud, isn't that what most of us are tempted to think or already thinking about people holding signs?

Tim Keller's book "Ministries of Mercy" prepared my heart so well as I've begun a friendship with Sandy.

We had a great little dinner, talking about our lives, laughing at the children, and trying to figure out how we could be of help to her. She is trying to get a job and the type of work she feels she could handle include caring for pets, stuffing envelopes or other simple office tasks, and cleaning houses.

After dinner we were able to get her a few items we thought she could use, along with a drawstring backpack to carry her belongings.

It was strange driving away from her, knowing she would more than likely be sleeping on the streets on in a vacant truck she discovered the other night.