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...