Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Hope in 2013

This Christmas may very well be our last one as a family of three. By next Christmas, we will likely either have another child in our home or have had a child over the course of the year. The goal of foster care is to provide a loving, nurturing home for a child in a circumstance where their biological parent(s)/family are unable to do the same. And through this the ultimate goal is to reunify the family. But even with these children coming and then going, I don't anticipate ever seeing a child in our home as anything but family, no matter how short the stay. So even if/when they return to their biological family, they will be forever etched in our collective memory of our little household, increasing the count by one.

I say all of this because Christmas has me thinking heavily about "hope" and the anticipation that comes with the season -- And I can hardly get through any retrospective or introspective moments without bringing it all back to foster care.

The Christmas season is a long one. Even in families that draw a hard line at Thanksgiving for the start of the season, that still accounts for nearly an entire month of the calendar! And for others, the season begins weeks before that as they anticipate the approach of Black Friday and preparations for the biggest shopping deals. Because to go blindly and unprepared into the most hallowed of American holiday traditions is imprudent and illogical! For me personally, we can't begin talk of Christmas until Santa has personally traveled the critical portion of 34th street before the eyes of millions.

And while I make light of the timing and reasons for which we anticipate Christmas, there is no doubt that there was a sense of anticipation that accompanied the first Christmas as well. When talking about it with our son, who is two years old, we often talked about God bringing light into a dark world. We use candles through the advent season to mark our family devotion times and to remind us of this light. In the creation account, in the midst of darkness, God spoke and light came into existence. After humanity sinned and was separated from the Maker, we have been in a desperate quest to find that metaphorical light that might shine into our desperate darkness. Lots of hints of a future filled with light were dropped, but God's chosen people lived in a deep darkness because their best efforts to shine that light fell short of what was needed to create a permanent glow.

Enter Christ.

God, the only one capable of creating a permanent light to shine on the shadows, entered into human history. The anticipation for the coming Messiah was high, but I imagine that the anticipation was not abated by his arrival and I know that hope was not fulfilled the first time Jesus' tiny fingers wrapped around his mother's own fingers. The Savior had come, but salvation was not yet achieved. Hope and anticipation became a palpable reality, but it wasn't until those same hands matured and were pierced by nails that all of this hope could be fully understood (and not cohesively explained or properly defined until hundreds of years after John had written his last letter).

The final result was an opportunity to be called God's children. He came to eliminate the space between the Creator and His creation.

This Christmas, we were in a state of heavy anticipation. We had pushed our paperwork through quickly to make sure we were certified as foster parents so our home would be "open" for children before the holiday. We were constantly watching our phones while we waited for the call finalizing our certification. Since then, we have continued to hawkishly watch our phones for the news that a child needs a home. So coupled with the anticipation of Christ's coming we have been watching and waiting for a new child to join us. While we don't have a foster child for Christmas this year, by this time next year our family will likely have been turned upside down by foster care.

God made it possible to call Him "father" and to know that we have a new home. Likewise, we want to provide a home to children who need it, hopefully alleviating hurt and pain and possibly leading to the eventual adoption of some of these children. But regardless of the end result, every child that comes through our home will be a part of our family.

This Christmas, we anticipate our forever home because of Christ. We can be a part of his forever family because of his love and sacrifice for us. And we cannot wait to show that love to children and provide forever homes to some of them.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Five Years Since My Baptism

Today marks 5 years since I was baptized at Northridge Church (formerly North Baptist). Our lead pastor wrote about that particular Sunday in a blog post shortly afterwards that you can read here.

The decision to be baptized by immersion was a difficult one for me. I wrestled with it for over a year before I finally made the decision. In the end, it was about my pride and my image before other believers. I was infant baptized, became a follower just after high school, but didn't see the significance of baptism for years.

Then my conscience bothered me regularly. I thought that because I had been a believer for a few years, I had effectively "accepted" my infant baptism and didn't need to perform a ritual I associated with being a "baby Christian". But eventually the conviction grew too strong and I submitted to God's word -- I had nothing to lose but my pride and so much to gain (including the joy of publicly declaring my faith and the ability to become a member at the local church that I love with all of my heart).

I haven't regretted that decision once. It was the start of a dramatic shift for my wife and I as we began to grow by leaps and bounds in our faith, both independently and together (we had only been married for 6 months at that point). But the most dramatic shift was our involvement in our local church.

Not long after, North Baptist changed names to Northridge Church and built a new wing to house our growing regular attendance. In another blog post, this one about our first Sunday in the new building, has a comment that I posted (dated Feb 9, can see the post here).

Heather and I tagged ourselves and some other people in pictures of the first service in the new building on Facebook. Shortly after, a few of our friends saw the pictures and commented on how amazing our church looks and sounds from all they've heard.
We are so blessed to be where we are. We know that wherever I have to go for school and work, we'll always be trying to find a way to come back and settle in Rochester so we can be a part of this family and ministry. It's so amazing what God has done here!

That was almost three years ago, shortly after my qualifying exam for my Master's degree in Biophysics -- when I expected a long career in scientific research. We found a way to settle in Rochester after all, but in a way I never would have guessed.

To God be the glory for plans, purposes and possibilities that are far beyond what I could imagine. I am so thankful that He is God and I am not...

Sunday, November 17, 2013

It's a Boy!

We had our second home visit this Friday. It went great, and our case worker had some encouraging words for us.

We also learned that it's been decided for sure: We are going to be open to only boys.

There are rules about rooming foster kids. Children over 4 years old cannot be in a room with a child of the opposite gender. Since we're in a two bedroom apartment with no guarantee of a bigger place by the time Aaron turns 4, the safest thing for us to do is to take in only boys. It would be just terrible to have a little girl grow as part of our family and then have to move her to a different family when Aaron turns 4. Being open only to boys avoids this potential disaster for a little girl in our home.

This is exciting in a lot of ways. The idea of Aaron having a little brother to play with is pretty great. They can share clothes, toys, and hopefully some of the same interests. Of course, we were a little excited thinking of little pink things and bows and ribbons and new experiences; but we're hoping to be in this for years to come, and we'll have other opportunities for a little girl in our family. But for now...

It's a boy!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

What foster care doesn't mean - Part 2

This is Part 2 of my attempt to dispel some confusion about foster care. You can read the first part here. My goal is to explain some of our motivations for stepping into foster care and to respond to some of the more common questions, thoughts, and myths that seem to appear again and again as we share with others and as we read online.

Here are some things foster care doesn't mean.

It doesn't mean we don't understand the risks and the pain...
When we mention foster care and our desire to eventually adopt children out of the system, people usually respond with concern about a number of perceived (and accurate) difficulties. They are usually concerned about the influence of foster children on our son (I addressed this in the previous post). But they are also frequently concerned about the behavioral, social, physical, and psychological needs that accompany these children.

I promise you, we understand the risks. We've discussed what might come. We've talked through some worst-case scenarios. We've cried for children that aren't even in our home yet. We have no experience, but we've taken every opportunity to learn, read and try to understand the hurt that we will inevitably experience.

Most of the kids in the system have been removed from their homes. For some of them, the removal was initiated because of abuse to the children directly. Some come with a history of sexual or physical abuse. Many of them are years behind their peers developmentally because they didn't have an environment conducive to natural development. The very act of thrusting them into our home will be another shift that will cause pain, frustration, guilt, and fear for these children.

We are aware and we are ready for this pain. We will have a (figuratively) messy family and a (literally) messy home.

It doesn't mean we are better than anyone else...
Foster care is not our attempt to look sacrificial or to appear more holy than anyone else. We have been overwhelmed and convicted over the last year or so to forego growing our family biologically and pursue opportunities to reflect God's grace through the fostering and adopting of children without a home. This conviction led to this decision, but we recognize that it is not the best decision for every family. I will do my best to be respectful to the choices other families make, all the while trying to gently encourage Christians to consider opening their home to foster care and adoption as a means to alleviate suffering in the world while reflecting God's adoption of us into His spiritual family.

Foster care also doesn't mean that we are better than the parents of these children. Most of the children that move through our home will not stay. Our home will be a retreat, a place of rest, a place of growth, and a chance at normalcy before they return to their biological family. In an ideal world, parents would provide a nurturing home for their children and there would never be a reason for an outside group to remove them. But we live in a fallen world and sometimes these children need a temporary home that is safe from some of the damaging consequences of sin. In this situation, the best thing that can happen is for complete reconciliation -- that families would be reunited and that parents would come to a place where they can bring their kids back home to a safe environment.

But as we bring kids into our home, it will be hard not to see the parents as "the enemy". We will have to constantly fight against our prideful belief that our home is better than the one they came from and might return to. If a child is freed for adoption, we will advocate hard for them to stay with us, but as long as the opportunity still exists for a child to return to their biological home, we will pray for those parents and do our best to support them as they attempt to reunite with their children and be parents. Adoption is a second-best option in a world where the best possible option, healthy natural families, is simply not a reality for every home.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Thank you!

Thank you to all of our wonderful friends who read our post An Update and a Silly Way to Help and responded. We got feedback almost immediately, and we are so appreciative of your love and support!

We now have some of each diaper sized newborn through size 5. Each person who offered something offered a different size. Amazing! And some kind friends also passed along their bottles for our use.

Thank you Leanne, Emily, Nate, Gretchen, and Chris! It seems like a little thing, but having these diapers in hand is so exciting and makes me feel more ready to welcome any baby into our home. You have been a blessing to our family!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

An Update and a Silly Way to Help

Hi Friends!

Josh and I have made lots of progress in getting ready for little "Foster Baby". It's a little complicated at times thinking through what it means to be ready when we could have boy or girl, at any stage from newborn-leaving-the-hospital through... well... however close to Aaron's age we let them talk us into.

We were given a second dresser for Foster Baby and have freed up 1/2 of the closet space in the Nursery. Our homefinding social worker had requested that we do these things, so this was an immediate priority. We even have a growing collection of emergency clothes. I've tried to get a few clothing items for each age range to keep readily accessible. We may pick up a child who literally has nothing but the clothes on their back (which might not even fit right), and we need to have enough to last until we can go shopping. Of course, we have baby boy clothes hanging around, but our social worker hinted that we might want to find some pink for our emergency closet, too. And I also wanted some cute going-home outfits in case we do bring home a new baby. We want that child to have the same special photos and memories that we tried to make for A.

As we mentioned before, we have a bed for A. That frees up the crib for Foster Baby. That's another requirement before we can start foster care, so that was an exciting bit of progress. I even dug up a bottle (a single bottle!) so that we can serve formula in a pinch. We'll probably have to expand that collection a bit.

We have an awesome babysitter lined up to watch A during our classes. That was a huge answer to prayer. He was super happy about hanging out with her and went to bed just fine for her last week. It's so helpful knowing he's in good hands and allows us to really focus on our classes.

How you can be praying for us:

  • Getting all of the homework and paperwork done can be a bit overwhelming. Josh works a lot of hours and, well, I'm just not used to homework anymore. The paperwork tends to be composed of thought questions, scenarios, and self-assessment, all to be answered in paragraph format, so it's a lot of writing. Pray that we'd give Biblical and meaningful answers even when our hands (and heads) are killing us.
  • Please pray that we'd continue to grow and learn and prepare ourselves and A, so that we'd be ready for what's ahead.

How you can help:
We have a kind of silly task that we'd like to accomplish. We'd love to have a couple of each size diaper on hand to last us until we can get to the store. We're really not up for buying a bag of each size of diaper when we might not use it! So if you know of a place that sells 3-4 packs, let us know! And if not, if you have a few diapers you might be willing to contribute, that would be awesome. We have size 4 and 5 already.

And... Token pumpkin patch picture for 2013:

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Classes Begin

Josh and I attended our first of 10 classes for our foster care certification last night. They're 3 hours long, and our session is packed full of awesome people looking to extend their family through foster care. I'm so excited to get to know these people better. I hope some of them can be part of our long-term support network.

Just to clarify- these are not "classes" in the typical sense. This is what our "MAPP/GPS" course title stands for:

Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting / Group Preparation & Selection

What does that mean? It means that we don't automatically get certified because we attended the class. We're supposed to get as much information- as much hard truth- as we can from the courses, and then decide whether we're ready for foster care. They "aren't trying to scare you, but..." It's important that we make an informed decision, for the sake of consistency for kids. The social workers absolutely want to weed out anyone who might only last for a couple of weeks, putting a child/children through a whole extra round of adjustments. So, at the same time as we're analyzing our family and making our decision, our trainers are monitoring our homework, responses, and participation to decide whether to select us for foster care.

The class content was neat. There was some helpful information about how to use kids' behaviors to figure out what their needs are and how we can help them cope by using their own strengths. These kids won't be sitting down and explaining their problems; they're going to act out, and we need to be ready to respond in love, and grace, in a way that will help them sort through their hurts and learn how to help themselves. There were some video testimonies from foster parents, foster/adopted kids, and biological parents of fostered children. You can fit a lot of info into a 3-hour session, and we covered a lot.

One of the biggest impacts on me, though, was not the course itself- it was my first glimpse into the building where our class was held. It's the combined Visitation Center and Pediatrician's Office for our county's foster care. Theoretically, we'll be frequenting this building, as we're required to use this pediatrician's office for foster kids (this provides them with awesome consistency and doctors experienced with their situations), and most children will have scheduled visits with their bio parents and possibly even siblings. What amazed me was the level of security at this place. Metal detectors, purse search, card-swipe locks on the stairways and doors... I should have probably expected that (I can imagine all sorts of scenarios where that might be necessary) but I just didn't. Somehow, though, they managed to still make the actual visiting area look kid friendly. I'm pretty impressed with the level of thought the county puts into every. single. decision. for these kids. And this was another heavy reminder about the kinds of situations these kids are facing.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

What foster care doesn't mean - Part 1

Over the last few weeks since we began telling people about our plans to foster children, we've had a number of questions/comments that seemed to strike us as odd. We've also seen a fair amount of negativity towards foster care in online forums and blogs, usually centered around the same set of misconceptions about foster parenting.

Sometime in the near future, I will post more extensively about what foster care and adoption means for believers, but for now I'd love to cover a few points about what foster care doesn't mean.

It doesn't mean we can't have more biological children...
I wanted to start with this one to address the major motivation behind our decision to pursue foster care. As far as we know, Heather and I are capable of having more children biologically. We are overwhelmed by the need of foster children for temporary (and for some, permanent) homes and our consciences pushed us to make an intentional decision to pursue these children and provide that home they so desperately need in lieu of having more biological children. God may bless us with more children that share our DNA, but for now we are pursuing the desires and convictions that have overwhelmed our family since the day we got married.

For some reason, our society has over-glorified the bond of blood relations -- to the point that we have an entire industry built around finding ways to help infertile couples have a baby. God gives us family biologically through the cultural mandate humanity carries to "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth..." But at the same time, He demonstrated His love for us by reaching beyond blood relation to adopt us. We were lost children, wandering from worldly pleasure to worldly pleasure, satisfying our own craving, when God pointed right at us and said, "That one. I want to adopt that one." I think it is a beautiful thing when a family that struggles with fertility issues chooses to give a home to a child with no home and/or no parents.

Now I'm not saying that couples should avoid having biological children in order to give a home to those without one. And I'm definitely not saying that infertile couples should not find other means to have a child. We had one ourselves and he is one of the greatest joys of my life and among the greatest gifts God has given me. Instead, I am suggesting that people reconsider their image of the ideal family and include families that have pursued children that don't belong in that perfect picture, just as God has done for us. If you have energy for another child or you cannot conceive -- please prayerfully consider adoption/foster care as a means to grow your family!

Family bonds between believers are stronger and run much deeper than those of blood-relations. Blood is thicker than water, but the Spirit is thicker still...

It doesn't mean we don't love our biological son...
The rationale behind this thought focuses on the baggage and issues that children in the foster care system will bring into our home and into the life of our son. Frankly, the underlying belief is that Heather and I have a responsibility to bring our child up in the safest, cleanest, most spiritually sanitary environment possible to ensure his safety and eventual salvation. To invite a flawed child into our home, specifically one that will draw attention, resources, and time away from our biological son, would be akin to ignoring him and demonstrating our lack of love for him.

I am astounded by this response. To think that a decision to provide a home for a child, baggage and all, would not be a powerful testimony for our son strikes me as an attitude that lacks faith. I have a responsibility as a parent to do everything in my power to lead my son to a relationship with his maker and his savior, Jesus Christ. And hiding him from every negative influence is hardly the path to do that.

I am far more emotional these days than I ever was before -- my heart breaks for the impoverished, the hungry, and the unloved in our cities and across the world. A missions-minded family might give up the luxuries of suburban life to live in a culturally diverse neighborhood with a high crime rate and poor schools. Or they might pack everything up and travel to another country without basic amenities to share the Gospel. In the same way, we see this as an opportunity to surrender our comfort for the needs of others.

I've heard it said that a church that isn't messy isn't fulfilling the Great Commission. If your building is filled with perfect people, then you aren't inviting messy, broken, flawed people to come in to hear about the Savior who came and dined with the messed-up people who needed Him most.

It's the same with our family. We will not avoid the mess. We will not pursue the perfect family. We will chase the messes at every turn. It's with the messes that God's glory is most obvious and his power is most evident. I was a mess before I knew Christ and now I'm a slightly more put-together mess with a Savior who covers my faults and fills in my gaps. I expect Him to do the same with our family -- to bless us in our efforts to give all that we have for the needs of others and to make His strength obvious in our weaknesses and in our limitations.

This post is already too long and I have so much more to say. I'll continue this in the next post.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Apple Picking

It's so very fun when our little guy starts to enjoy the things that Josh and I enjoy.

We try to go to the orchard once every week or two during apple season. Fresh-baked apple and peach desserts are so much fun, we love getting cider donuts from the shop, and very little can beat a juicy peach straight off the tree!

Our son totally gets it this year. He goes up to the trees and picks his apple/peach, and then disappears into his own little world, enjoying the sweet juicy goodness of fresh fruit. We have to watch him because he definitely does not understand how to pick a piece that is ripe and not rotten!

I treasure our fall tradition. It is so much fun that A is starting to love it now, too. I'm very excited to share these fun family times with our foster babies. Whether it's a moment that we'll cherish for years as a memory of children in our forever family, or just a little memory to send back with them when they return to a home that has healed and repaired in preparation to receive them back, I am eager to include them in this special part of what makes us family!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

We have a bed!

Josh and I hold strongly to the philosophy that there is plenty of gently used, beautiful baby stuff floating around our community for cheap or free. It's almost never absolutely necessary to go with new stuff. This makes having a baby on a small budget much more doable!

That being said, we've started the hunt for the couple of big items that we'll need in order to provide foster care to an infant or toddler. One of our biggest remaining needs was either a second crib, or a bed for our 2-year-old.

So last week, a day or two after our initial post about foster care, I got a text from a neighbor from our previous apartment building (who didn't know we were moving toward foster care, but was just texting "out of the blue"). Did we want a free toddler bed for A? And did we want him to drive it to us that day??

As I was still in the middle of writing a reply, thanking him for his generosity and the extra thoughtfulness of his offer to drive it to us, I got a second text from a friend: Did we want a free crib mattress?

I was totally blown away. Josh and I would still provide foster care even if we did have to buy a bed, and it wouldn't really be a big deal. But it makes me smile when God covers the little details anyway.

And A? He loves his toddler bed.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Bedtime Routines

One of my favorite parts of being a parent is the bedtime routine. We spend intentional family time together every evening as we put our son to bed. I go to great lengths to be available for this time, which means I shifted my work schedule so that I'm home every evening and if I'm hard at work at home I drop everything I'm doing to participate. It's a source of continuity amidst our chaotic schedule - our son looks forward to it and knows what to expect every time.

First is bath time. We don't do that every single night, but when we do it is my special time with him and I cherish it so much (and because I own that time Heather gets a short break from the chaos of the day). Every time we do bath I try to have something special to do - sometimes we have fizzy bath color tablets or we paint in the tub before the water is running or we find some toys that seem water safe and bring them to the tub. It's always an adventure!

Next is reading time. We usually allow the little man to choose 2-4 books to read (the quantity depends on his level of exhaustion and our evening schedule). Either Heather or I read these books with A, talking about the pictures, asking questions, and engaging as much as possible with the content so that he gets more than just words on a page from us.

We then move on to his Bible. We've used a number of kids Bibles since A was born, depending on his age (you can find a few we used here, here, here and here). Each had its strengths and weaknesses - some almost totally omit Jesus' death and resurrection, choosing instead to focus on the "classic" bible stories (David and Goliath, Noah and the Ark, etc). This is unfortunate, as no story is more central to their eternity or their spiritual growth than that of Jesus' sacrifice!

Our very favorite Bible, and the one we are currently using, is the Jesus Storybook Bible (found here). I cannot express enough how much I like this one. Every single story ties directly to Jesus. When discussing OT stories, it goes out of its way to make mention of someone who will come that will save us from our sin. When I read through the stories of God's love for His people it describes His covenantal love as the "Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love". It makes the stories emotional for me and I usually end our reading time with some tears in my eyes. I want A to know God's love - the full measure of grace and truth. Not just grace that doesn't recognize what God has commanded us to do for our own good and His glory. Not just truth that clouds our understanding that Jesus is the only one capable of atoning for our sin. And not a balance of the two, but full of both!

Then we pray. We used to have one person pray and we would ask A if he wanted to pray. If he did, then we would coach him through a simple prayer, otherwise one of us would pray. We've switched methods (thanks to a great suggestion by Heather) and now we each pray a little - this gives him encouragement and makes him much more willing to participate.

Lastly, we sing. One of us holds A and we sing together. We sing a modified version of "You Are My Sunshine" that takes out the "only sunshine" line and replaces it with his name (he isn't our only sunshine and he isn't the primary source of joy in our lives, that's reserved for Jesus).

You are my sunshine, my A sunshine
You make me happy, when skies are gray
You'll never know dear, how much I love you
Jesus thank you for my sunshine today

Jesus thank you for my A today

He enjoys the singing and we lay him down on that last line. Then we give him his little monkey and his Tigger doll - he holds one in each arm. Just before we leave the room, one of us always gives A one last bit of truth to fall asleep to...

Mommy loves you.
Daddy loves you.
But Jesus loves you most of all. He died on a cross for you because he loves you...

I love the blessing our little man is and I love his bedtime routine.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Entering Into Foster Care

Josh and I are excited to say that we’re planning to grow our family soon.

We are so very blessed to have had the opportunity to raise our son from a tiny bean in my belly to the big boy he is now. We are so thankful and in awe to have played that role in his life. This time, though, our role is going to be different. Josh and I have begun the process of applying to provide foster care.

We’ve felt called toward adoption since Day 1. We’ve generally leaned toward adopting domestically, but the sheer cost and paperwork process is daunting. We kept telling ourselves “This is not The Time. Later will be The Time. And we will know it.”

We always expected Josh’s income to jump once he got a full-time job. Positions in science can be pretty lucrative. But we’ve changed directions, and his new role in ministry is not going to leave us with oodles of extra money on a yearly basis. We no longer have an excuse to wait “until we have more”. We’ve accepted that our home does not have to be big; it does not have to be permanent; it does not even have to be “ours”. We’re still renting a two-bedroom apartment, and we have learned to be genuinely content with our blessings that God has chosen for us. We’re thankful for what we have, and we long to share it with children who have less. And there is a HUGE need for foster care, and adoption through foster care.

We’ve already been to an informational meeting. That’s the first step in the process. Our paper application is in the mail. We just need to get a couple of papers notarized before that part is completed. And then a long process of classes, homestudies and background checks will begin.

We still have a lot of questions. We don’t know how this will affect our 2-year-old. We don’t know what kind of baggage even a young child can bring with them (we’ll be fostering children under two). We’re trying to go into this well-informed and with expectations that are as realistic as possible. We know we’ll need loving and supportive people alongside us as we learn.

Most of all, we’re trusting in God to fulfill his promises:

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone.” (James 1:2-6)

We’re trusting in God to equip us for this great unknown that we’re entering into. If he has called us to this, he will surely provide us with all that we need. We’re excited to see how he’ll work through this!

I’m going to try to maintain two sections in this blog, aside from progress posts. The first:

How you can pray for us

  • Pray for open and honest conversations with people who’ve been there
  • Pray for supportive connections
  • Pray for the caseworker who will be assigned to us as a couple
  • Pray for the hearts of the little ones who’ll be in our homes -- who might right now be going through the hurt that will lead them into our lives


How you can help us

We’re going to eventually be looking for baby stuff- possibly a second crib, baby clothes, bottles. If you have any that you’re getting rid of (for free or cheap!) keep us in mind!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

First Full Day of Full-Time Ministry

Life for the believer is full-time ministry -- we create and build culture because we reflect our creator and we tell everyone we can about Jesus.

But today I attended service at our church, then sat in my office all afternoon trying to connect people to community groups that could encourage them and challenge them in their walk with Christ. Essentially, I was paid to do everything I can to promote the spiritual growth of others.

Because I am still learning the ropes, it took me forever to do next to nothing...

And I couldn't be happier.

My wife summed it up nicely with this fantastic quote:

"I know that not everyone can be more than a volunteer. We are so, so very blessed to be able to do this full time."

In many ways today is the first day of the rest of my life. I've stepped away from comfortable financial opportunities and a fruitful early career in scientific academia to serve God through the local church. I cannot wait for what lies ahead...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Weight of Tomorrow

At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in. ~ C. S. Lewis in "The Weight of Glory"

In less than 24 hours, I will stand before an audience to summarize a portion of my research from the last 5 years. Afterwards, I will be behind closed doors, defending the choices I have made in that research and attempting to demonstrate my value as a scientist and an academic. If all goes as expected, I will be rewarded with the title of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in the field of Biophysics.

The most common questions I receive are "Are you nervous?" and "How do you feel?"

Am I nervous?

The answer again and again is a resounding "no". I have nothing to be nervous about. I spent 4 years in my undergraduate career studying the digitization and analysis of biological information (bioinformatics). Then I went on to begin my graduate career, studying the motion of macromolecules using classical physics (computational biophysics). So, in all, I've spent 9 years studying this material. From a preparation standpoint, I should be ready.

That's not to say that I'm unrealistic about my expectations for tomorrow. I fully realize that there exists the possibility that I fail; that my committee decides that I am not qualified (yet) to carry the academic title that comes with a doctorate. But this realism does not immediately translate into anxiety. Instead, my lengthy preparation for this moment leaves me with a sense of peace, as I have done nearly all I could on my end, and I can comfortably leave the situation in the hands of my creator. I will answer every question to the best of my ability and give a clear picture of the boundaries of my knowledge and understanding.

How do I feel?

This is a different question entirely. I often respond with "fine" or "ok". The intent of the question is discern my level of preparedness and anxiety, to which my response is the same as above. But, in a moment of clarity, I decided that the best description of my emotional, spiritual, and physical state is one of "heaviness".

There is a weight resting on my chest. A heavy weight that presses harder when I think through the shift ahead of me. My post-doctoral plans are very, very different than those of most of my graduate school colleagues. They will not carry me into a long and storied career of scientific research that cures ailments and brings new and interesting knowledge to mankind. Nonetheless, I'm more excited about my chosen path than I ever was about the scientific career. The ailments I hope to treat and the knowledge I desire to acquire might have far greater impact for the eternal and the unseen than any on the path I already had before me.

In "The Weight of Glory", one of my favorite pieces by C.S. Lewis, Lewis paints a few incredible word pictures that capture the significance of the eternal. One of the most quoted is the following:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

When you ask me to talk about the things that I am most passionate about, I have a tendency to get very emphatic and excited. I have no fear of making my opinion known, to talk up a storm, and to share every detail I know about a subject. These passions can range from my scientific interests, to the details of Wolverine's adamantium skeleton, to Project Blue Book (the Air Force's systematic review of UFO sightings), just to name a few. But one passion stands above the rest -- my savior and leader, Jesus.

I consider myself an extremely self-aware, self-reflective person. I love to mark moments in time, to "build an altar" if you will in the moments and places where I have met God intimately. This was common practice for God's people throughout scripture: whenever God made himself clear to man, an altar was built to mark the place and the occasion.

For me, this is one of those moments. Nine years of work and study is coming to its end. My career trajectory is shifting dramatically to fall more in alignment with my passions. From tomorrow forward, nothing will be the same.

God has given me so much and I'm aware of the declaration that much is expected from me. My hope is that my ceiling is high. My heart feels heavy and I can't wait to consider more and more the weight of His Glory -- both in this life and in the next.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Heading Downstream

Living fish may go with the stream at times, but dead fish must always do so. There are plenty of such in all waters: dead souls, so far as the truest life is concerned, and these are always drifting, drifting, drifting as the current takes them. Their first inquiry is — what is customary? God’s law is of small account to them, but the unwritten rules of society have a power over them which they never think of resisting. ~Spurgeon in "Flowers From a Puritan's Garden"

There is a steady flow from our culture and our world that would have us surrender to the current. We could simply relax and enjoy the view as we drift further downstream. It is said that ignorance is bliss and this could not be truer than on this lazy river. Often, we do not know where we are headed. We do not know what lies at the end of the river. We don't know what sea we are floated towards. But we let go and "go with the flow".

We have an incredibly short time on this Earth. The average human lifespan accounts for less than 4% of the time that has passed since Christ was born. The fortunate among us will live to see a few previous generations leave this world, replaced by a few new ones. They will see the rise of new ways of thinking, of new philosophies, of new gods, and of new pleasures previously unimagined. But each these will pass away, as will every person that saw them come and saw them go.

And yet the scriptures speak frequently of the eternal things. These are things without any lifespans. They will exist forever. The scriptures insist that we are among those things. That we, despite having lifespans in the temporal, will last beyond in the eternal. We are not God, but we are like him. Though we have not always been, we will always be from this point forward as beings with souls that transcend the temporary.

So given what we know about our forever home and this temporary residence, why do we still insist on chasing after pleasures and pastimes with no eternal significance? The only joy worth pursuing is found in the soul-satisfying pleasure of knowing and savoring the Messiah, who conquered the very source of limit in our lives: death.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Deep & Wide, by Andy Stanley

I recently finished Andy Stanley's Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend, and I cannot recommend it enough. The goal is to create churches that cast a wide net and attract the unchurched with deep and meaningful life change.

The biggest takeaways focus on the big question:

How do we do church?

The crux of the message rests on Acts 15, or the "first church business meeting". Here we have Paul and Barnabas bringing news of the conversion of Gentiles to the Council at Jersusalem. There was discussion among this Jewish council about what is to be expected of these believers who had never been taught to keep the Law of Moses. Members of the Pharisees, devout followers and upholders of the law, declared triumphantly, "The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the Law of Moses."

Peter, Paul and Barnabas made their cases for God's intervention in the lives of the Gentiles and for minimizing the weight of the yoke of the Law for these new believers. Finally, we get an opportunity to hear from James, the leader of the Jerusalem Council...

"It is my judgement, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood." (Acts 15:19-20)

Essentially, the Jews expected the Gentiles to keep themselves pure sexually and not anger the Jews (by abstaining from polluted food, strangled animals, or blood).

That list of commands is a far cry from passage after passage presented in scripture for how to prepare sacrifices for atonement, regulations for "unclean" food and people, and the many, many other laws laid out for Israel. In fact, it looks like the most important thing isn't "what we do", but "who we know" (read: Jesus).

"Let’s rid our churches of anything that makes it difficult for those who are turning to God." ~Andy Stanley

I recently had the privilege of attending the Drive Conference hosted by North Point Community Church (where Andy is the senior pastor). It was an incredibly eye-opening experience for me. Every single thing they did was simply the best - the strive for excellence and quality was obvious. The music was loud and riveting. The videos were top-notch and stimulating. The speaking was clear, concise and interesting. This church has their target, "the unchurched", in mind with every program and every part of the experience.

Another major takeaway for me related to the teaching and preaching of the church. Here, it is far less about information - the goal must be transformation.

"People are far more interested in what works that what’s true." ~Andy Stanley

The simple example I heard Stanley present was that of David and Goliath. We know the ending to the story and we always know it ends the same way. So how can we go about presenting the material in an engaging manner that makes it lead to life change, rather than just the transfer of information. If you engage a person with something that works and will have a positive effect in their lives, they are more willing to start to believe the underlying biblical truth (and eventually, believe the Bible itself).

I cannot recommend this read enough - even if you are not a leader within a church or outreach focused ministry, this book can shape your idea of what it takes to make an organization that routinely focuses on excellence for the glory of God and the good of those who don't yet know Him.

Here are a few more good quotes:

"Every Sunday people walk onto your campus and determine whether or not they will return the following week before your preacher opens his mouth.  And that’s not fair.  But it’s true."

"Your environments determine what comes to mind when people think about your church."

"The physical environment does more than leave an impression; it sends a message."

"Let’s not do what a previous generation did and assume that what’s appealing today will be appealing tomorrow."

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Daily Dependence

What are you dependent on?

And I'm not talking about classic addictions like alcoholism or pornography (though those are relevant as well). I'm talking about the things that essentially determine your mood for the day.

Let's take coffee as a simple example.

Does your mood depend on whether you have had your morning coffee?

This is a fairly common one. I've heard the phrase "Oh, he hasn't had his coffee yet" multiple times before to excuse sour dispositions. It is as if we are entitled to a certain set of comfort amenities, and if we don't get these things we earn the right to be disagreeable with others.

"I have the right to do anything," you say - but not everything is beneficial. "I have the right to do anything" - but I will not be mastered by anything. ~1 Corinthians 6:12

Though Paul makes this comment as a lead-in to discussing sexual immorality with the Corinthians, I believe it is still applicable in many contexts. Essentially, there is incredible freedom in Christ, but we must be careful not to give up that freedom by becoming a slave to some worldly object.

Let's stick with the coffee example. I'm not a huge coffee fan, but I like a good cup every so often. And we have the freedom to like, drink, and enjoy coffee. God made coffee beans and we have this refreshing beverage that helps us perk up in the morning.

But in our freedom, we are called to find our complete satisfaction in God. Christ tells us that he provides the water of eternal life and we will never be thirsty again (John 4:14). And so we insult our Lord and Savior when we depend on anything else for our joy and satisfaction in life. In every moment, good or bad, we have a responsibility to honor God and to bring Him glory.

If we actually need something else to allow us to please God in a given moment (like coffee), then our priorities are not right.  God is all satisfying and should be motivation enough to show love to others.

I am aware that my coffee example is silly, but put your own personal addictions in there and what I am saying rings true. We are such an entitled people... if we don't get our morning coffee, or our lunch break is cut short, or they are all out of Skittles in the vending machine, or a breaking news segment cuts our favorite show short we suddenly stop reflecting the loving God who created us and we excuse the sin that results.

The list is nearly endless. Look at yourself and your own habits. What things, when taken away, turn you into someone who doesn't choose to please God first? There you will find your daily addiction to pleasure and comfort. Instead, choose to appreciate those things for what they are, but give every moment to God and reflect his love in every moment, despite the circumstances.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Parenting and Peanuts

Last week my wife and I discovered that our little boy has a peanut allergy. The specifics about the severity and sensitivity of the allergy are still to be determined by an allergist, but any level of sensitivity is overwhelming.

I guess it shouldn't come as a complete surprise, given his general skin sensitivity. Since birth, his skin has been easily irritated by lots of different things. Even some of the "sensitive skin" variants of lotions gave him red, rashy spots... forcing to use plain lotions without any additions (the logic behind all of this blows my mind). Eczema has been linked to an increased likelihood for food allergies.

Nevertheless, it comes as a bit of a blow to my wife and I to not only deal with the changes to our lifestyle, but also to avoid the game of blaming ourselves for our child's condition. The standard hypothesis in the field of immunology for the general rise of peanut allergies in the US focuses on our over-sterilized environment. In theory, because we sanitize the world for our children, they lack the exposure to pathogens necessary to develop a normal immune response to those things that are not pathogenic (such as peanut proteins).

We've gone out of our way to NOT over-sanitize our son's life. We don't wipe off his pacifier every time he drops it at home, we don't wipe every surface he touches, and he interacts frequently with lots of other children. We've been hyper aware of the need for contact with germs in the environment and have allowed him lots of exposure, just short of feeding him mold and the snot of other children. Despite all of this, his body sees peanuts as an intruder that must be attacked.

Our hope is that he will grow out of this allergy. Granted, it is far from the worst medical condition in existence. Many schools and businesses are aware of the dangers of peanut sensitivities and will do what they can to accommodate. And the changes to our lifestyle overall will be minimal if his sensitivity isn't too severe. We simply have to read labels, ask questions, and avoid direct contact (assuming that he isn't sensitive to airborne particles, but there is no evidence that he is).

As a follow-up to this, my wife and I have agreed that it is best if I choose a peanut-free diet as well. First, it gives me the chance to see what my son's life will look like as an adult. I can relate to his experience and share in his frustrations (albeit from the safety of my lack of peanut allergy). Also, it prevents my son from always being the only one left out in social eating situations. For instance, if we go to dinner or a party and the main dish involves nuts, my son and I can avoid it together. It's a chance to bond over a common diet and I really want to serve him in this way.

I love my little buddy and I just want to do my best to show him the love of Christ in all things, despite silly frustrations like peanut allergies!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Whatever Rules Your Mind

"Whatever a man depends upon, whatever rules his mind, whatever governs his affections, whatever is the chief object of his delight, is his god." ~Charles Spurgeon

This Spurgeon quote has been on my mind a great deal lately. It makes sense and is true for every single person. Take a look at what consumes your time. Examine what you talk about the most. Consider the things you enjoy the most. Whatever that thing might be, surely it must be your god.

We were created to worship. The intention was that our worship be directed at our Creator, but this is simply not the case for the majority of us. There are a variety of targets for our worship, and these things consume our thoughts and become the source of our joy (or misery).

In Romans 1, Paul talks through this Creator-creation relationship in some detail. He notes the clearly divine nature of God as seen throughout creation, while also realizing the fact that God isn't given the glory he deserves for it. Instead, humans choose to worship other people or their own desires... leading to a perversion of all that we see (this deviation from God is called sin).

"They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator - who is forever praised." ~Romans 1:25

What do you worship? What consumes your thoughts, actions and desires? There you will find your god.

Do you worship money? For many, peace comes with the accumulation of money, while misery comes with the loss of money. They find their only joy when a paycheck arrives or a bill is lower than feared. This cyclic dependence on finances takes our thoughts far away from the Giver of all we have.

Do you worship health? Some live and die by the health of their bodies. Whether it is an obsession with their body image or the satisfaction that comes with frequent exercise and good eating habits, the need to be "in shape" is king. I'm not saying these are bad things. I would argue quite the opposite. Exercise and good eating are good things for taking care of what has been given to us, but they are temporary in the scheme of eternity and do not deserve our worship.

Do you worship your entertainment? The constant news cycle of celebrity marriages, breakups, court appearances and affairs gets old after a while. But many people feed off of the stories of celebrities more than they care even for their own lives. Humans are not to be worshipped. They are not worthy. They are made in the image of God, meant to reflect key attributes of His nature, but they are not God (and for that I am thankful).

Do you worship your children? This one can be extremely painful. For many, children are everything. Life consists of constant attention to the children, even at the neglect of marriage and other responsibilities. Children are to be loved and they are an incredible gift from God. But they will grow up and start their own families, often leaving lonely, devastated marriages in their wake. Be aware that children are a temporary fixture within a family... A father will always be a father, but he will not always have spiritual and physical authority over his children. But marriage is for life, and should be the center of a family. Be aware that children are not worthy of our worship.

Do you worship your politics? Mankind's problems will not be solved by electing the right officials. Times of peace and prosperity always give way to times of war and famine, and the cycle repeats again and again. Sure, policy and politics can often alter the frequency and amplitude of that cycle, but they are only temporary fixes in a world that will be ruled by sin and the Enemy until Christ comes again. Being informed and participating in the political process is a good thing, but winning souls for eternity is of far greater value than your party winning an election tomorrow.

I've found a way to attack a whole variety of worship situations, without admitting to my own faults. So where do I fall in this?

I struggle in a worship of knowledge. When reading scripture, I recently found myself comparing three versions of a passage side by side. Then I opened up my lexicon app to try to get at the root of a word I found confusing. Then I read two commentaries on the word before ending up on a sermon about the word. Did I walk away with any meaningful understanding of scripture that radically changed my life and made me look any more like Jesus? Nope. But I could tell you where every instance of that word was found in all of scripture.

Scripture study is a good thing, but it can be perverted if the goal becomes "knowing more so that I know more" instead of "knowing more so that I worship God more fully". While I thirst for knowledge, I have to pray again and again for insight into how scripture will change my life, instead of how I can know more about scripture.

And this is far from my only struggle, but I wanted to share one in this area.

What other things do you see people worship? How do you struggle in this area? Share in the comments!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Bacon: Savory Sizzle

For Christmas, Heather got me a set of magnetic poetry with a bacon theme. I could not have been more ecstatic about the opportunity to describe my desire for bacon in poetic verse.

Here is what I have so far:

bacon grease
the hot elixir of life
morning wonder between marvel and maple
juice & egg bring fresh taste
but bacon is about savory sizzle
then perfection in comfort my lovely hizzle
the only good bacon is from dripping hogs

Here is another short one in the corner. I believe my brother wrote it:

I love thick tasty hickory pork steak
desire more

My personal favorite? Heather wrote this beautiful line of wisdom...

eat lunch every day and cure rabees

Thursday, January 3, 2013

New Year, New Life

Every January, our culture is swept up in attempts to redefine ourselves with the New Year. People set out with high hopes to achieve their New Year's resolutions. As is obvious from my post yesterday, I'm not immune to the pull of the new year for setting goals to better myself.

But something is lost on our culture.

Ecclesiastes 2:11 - Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

Last January I joined the gym at work. I actually just wanted a place to jog and shoot hoops early in the morning before work while it was cold outside. It didn't cross my mind that other people would be chasing after weight loss goals for the new year. I arrived at my required pre-membership orientation with about fifty other people. Turns out, we were part of the "New Year crowd" that the gym regulars despised. Because of us, the gym is packed in January and February, but it always levels off again by March.

People are born. People live some length of time. Then people die. Nobody is immune to this cycle of inevitability. The reality is that we will not be able to bring anything we have earned or gathered in this life with us into the next. We spend our time chasing after a career, financial security, a particular body image, or a host of other fleeting things. In the end, "chasing after the wind" is the most suitable description.

But there is an attitude that I can only describe as uniquely Christian that should help us see opportunities change, transition and self-betterment like the New Year differently. This life is essentially a training ground. We have an opportunity to embrace Christ and become a new creation. This is not because of anything we have done or could do, but entirely because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. After we come to this intimate knowledge of our Maker, we spend the rest of our lives training in righteousness. Before a Holy God we are seen as perfect, because Christ's righteousness is imputed to us. But we still struggle with sin in a fallen world and we will until the day that Christ comes again.

That all being said, there can be eternal benefit to our pursuits. Instead of making all of our goals focused on the ourselves and what we want, we can fashion our goals after a longing to emulate Christ and glorify God. The mission at hand is simple: to turn goals with results that will fade with this world into glorifying opportunities for the redemption of this fallen world.

If my focus in my weight loss goals are for body image, self-esteem, or even just good health - they are all pursuits of vanity. But I hope that my weight loss goal is rooted in a desire to push off the chains of apathy, gluttony and self-pleasing and pursue God-honoring decisions in my eating and exercise habits.

The New Year provides a culture-friendly opportunity for reflection and self-assessment. With this New Year, look for new opportunities to please Him, instead of pleasing yourself. And if you don't know Him, I'd be happy to tell you more!

For Further Reading: