Monday, April 7, 2014

They Hear What Matters Most...

A few nights ago I led our church in communion, where we remember the sacrifice Jesus made for us. I was excited to have an opportunity to focus on the blood of Christ. I walked through the details of Jesus' suffering. His tormentors placed on his head a crown of thorns that sent blood down his face. They lashed him over and over with a lead-tipped whip, ripping the flesh from his back -- a punishment that often killed. But he survived only to carry a heavy cross out of the city to a hillside, with the rough wood scraping against his raw, bloody back. When he arrived, they drove nails into his hands and feet to hold him onto that cross.

But I made some silly mistakes in my talk. I'm easily frustrated in "public speaking" situations, because I can get a script down perfectly, but then make some sort of silly mistake that I had never anticipated, drawing the attention away from what I came to say (or at least, it feels like it). In this particular instance, I simply forgot to tell the group to sit down. They stood for probably 4 minutes of my communion talk before I saw the cues to give the room permission to sit. Maybe I could rationalize that I was giving them a small taste of suffering, so they could relate to what Jesus went through?

Regardless, I walked away flustered. I had a bunch of other administrative tasks on my mind, as well as a leader-training event directly after the service. It's hard to focus when your pride is hurt. I like to joke that I won't ever have to write an autobiography because wikipedia's page on the seven deadly sins is already pretty thorough, but the reality is that pride is the big one for me. And my pride was pretty wounded.

But sometimes we need to hear it from the right person to remember what matters most.

At bedtime that evening, as I do almost every evening, I read to my son from the Bible as we snuggled together. We wrapped up our Bible time and then prayed together as a family. Then he said something that totally amazed my wife and me.

"The mean people hurt Jesus. They put the points on his head that hurt him. And they put him on the tree, on a cross. Jesus died. But God's not dead he's surely alive. And we go to heaven if Jesus is in our hearts."

Yes. My son is two and a half years old. And he said all of that. The "God's not dead" line is from a song and we've talked many times about how Jesus died and didn't stay dead (more so lately as we are approaching Easter). And we've talked at length before about believing in Jesus or having "Jesus in our hearts" in order to be with God forever.

But that evening, when I was talking about Jesus on stage making blunders that would leave me nursing my pride, my son heard me talking about Jesus and the crown they place on his head. Then he connected all of these scattered teachings that we've shared with him over his life and fit them into a narrative that brought tears to our eyes.

My son didn't see me "mess up" as I stood up there. He heard what I was passionate about. When people say that toddlers will hear and repeat everything, they are telling the truth. The words we speak and the things we do are a reflection of what is in our hearts -- and if we speak hurtful things or respond without love, our children see it and act in kind. And while I was stuck on minor details, my son was picking up on the story of our Savior. This is the same story that rocked me to the core nearly 10 years ago and changed the course of my life for eternity.

I know he doesn't grasp it yet. But he heard it. And we will talk about it. My whole life I've been a doubter and a skeptic, and I bet that won't change any time soon (see, there's more doubt). So we'll wrestle with this "God thing" together and we'll chat about who Jesus was, what he said, and why it is worth considering.

Our children don't hear all the little mistakes that we beat ourselves up over. But they do pick up on what matters most to us. And I'm so glad that in all of that, my son heard about Jesus.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Our First Foster Baby

We finally got our first call for a foster care placement last week. We were able to go together as a family to pick up little Baby M. He was 1 1/2 weeks old and so tiny! We just loved him right away. He was so sweet and easy-going, and it was such a joy having him in our home.

Nothing is ever certain with foster care, but we were told that this should be more likely than a normal case to be permanent (and I mean, adoption permanent). On top of that, we were his third home in ten days (and that's not counting the hospital), so regardless of length of stay, we knew he needed someone to invest in him and attach. Can you imagine a little baby who hasn't had any chance to start the attachment process by two weeks old? Young as he may be, that has to be damaging.

So, anyway, we loved on him, fed him through the night, and enjoyed his sweet smiles and little baby sounds. Our first full day with him landed on Josh's day off, so we got to be together as a family of four for the day. Big Brother A did well with Baby M, although he probably wasn't super thrilled to be sharing the attention! Some favorite moments were our walk with the double stroller and family story time on the couch.

Just look at those sweet little hands:

24 hours after picking up Baby M, we got a call from the case worker asking us to please bring Baby M for pickup by his bio family immediately. We'd heard of quick turnarounds before, but this was pretty unexpected. Again, we'd been told he would probably be with us for a while. They don't generally move a child from emergency care to a permanent home for a one-night stay, as every move is a disruption to the child's life. If there had been any indication that Baby would leave so soon, he just wouldn't have been placed with us, for his own sake.

Baby's clothes and belongings were hanging up to dry on the clothes bars, including the new things we'd bought just for him and the very few items he had come with. We got a second call to please wait about 15 minutes to leave, so we tried our best to collect ourselves, throw everything in the pay dryer in the basement for as long as possible, and pack both boys into the car. We even tried to squeeze in a quick moment of goodbye. We've never done this before, and we didn't know what to expect or what the bio parent needed from us. We didn't have time to ask.

We got to the right area on time, but we had the wrong address and couldn't find the right building despite multiple phone calls, so we showed up 15 minutes late and totally frazzled. Add to this our emotional state and frustration at the situation, and I was left unable to even tell them what time he'd last eaten (what time was it now, anyway?). Little Baby M was carried straight over to Dad's car, and that was that.

We were left to figure out how to cope. We'd just finished moving up the newborn things from the basement. There was the new little pack of tiny diapers and the pacis that Baby M had used. Bottles, clean and dirty, were still at the sink. Baby's swing and pack n play were set up for naps. Burp clothes were scattered in convenient places for fast clean-up during feedings. And those sweet little newborn clothes that we had picked out just for him - those were still drying on the clothesbars - too damp to send with him, and too late to return to the store.

We're hoping we can still use those little baby things. We're hoping it will be soon. It's hard to wait so long, finally get a placement, and be without a foster child again so soon. It's hard to know how much you're allowed to miss someone when you always knew they might leave soon - but you also knew they might stay forever. It's hard to feel justified in mourning someone that most of our friends didn't even get to meet. It's hard not knowing if Baby M is getting good care now. It's all just hard.

We're so glad to be doing what we're doing. We're so thankful for the support we've gotten from friends and family. We're grateful that Big Brother A is still small enough that this is only confusing, and not heartbreaking, for him. By the time he's old enough to feel more of the impact, we hope to have a better idea of how to cope and how to mourn in a way that will best support him. We're glad that we have a big God, whose plans are always best, and we will continue to lean heavily on Him.

I'm reminded of 1 Peter 1:22, which says, "Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart." There's no room for cautious love here. We're hoping to work with babies, children and families who are in difficult situations and desperately need love, stability, and unafraid attachment. Whether these kids are in our home for one day or hundreds before saying goodbye, I hope that we will always be heartbroken when they leave. I want to love them deeply - from the heart - just as Jesus loves me.