Bittersweet

Last night we finished our Foster Classes.  It really is way more bittersweet than we expected.

It was 9 weeks, every Monday night, 6-9pm.  Clara and I rode together every Monday, I would drop Clara off in Clayton & then head west to Chesterfield for work.  Then at 4:30pm do it in reverse, grab a fast dinner, get back to Des Peres for 3 hours of Class.  After class, we always chatted with friends we made & then we headed home for Clara to pack lunches and get to bed.  I would head out to Mom’s to pick up Beau (the Border Collie) who had been picked up by Mom on her way home from work.  Usually I (Brian) would hit the sack around 11.  Mondays were LONG days.  But they were so good.

And last night was the last of those 9 weeks.  It flew by.  Even with me (Brian) getting antsy sitting still so long, we loved being there.  We loved the 17 other people in class with us along with our 3 instructors.  Our entire group grew into more of a team, a support group, knowing that we will need others who understand what Foster Care is truly like & the struggles it will inevitably bring.

We walked away with very little anxiety or apprehension of the future.  We drove down 270 South last night going home talking about how much our faith will grow during this.  We aren’t perfect (or even close), we aren’t rich, we both have full-time jobs, we don’t have a huge home (and it still needs repairs!), we aren’t expert parents, we are not counselors or doctors.  And that is all okay.  When God called us to love kids in Foster Care, He didn’t expect us to be 100% prepared and have it all together.  Why not?  Because God does have it all together — we don’t have to.  We just are called to trust Him and keep taking steps forward.  Talk about a relief — we can surrender all the fear, anxiety, uneasiness and apprehension toward ‘fear of the unknown’ and just trust that it will NOT be perfect or clean, but God is good — and He is faithful.  We are going to choose to trust that, every day.

I’ll (Brian) admit, I struggle with this a lot.  I like to strategize, and figure things out ahead of time.  Things like:

  • What if our house doesn’t have enough space?
  • Do we need a Minivan?
  • What happens if we can’t save enough money for the roof or A/C we’ll eventually need?
  • We need to get the bathroom fixed ASAP!
  • How will we handle it if something happens during the day and we’re at work?
  • Where will kids go to school?

They are ‘valid’ things to consider, but inevitably foolish to stress about when they are in the future & I can’t really do anything to control them. So we decided last night to continually surrender the future, the things we can’t anticipate & certainly can’t prepare for — it doesn’t do us any good.  The only thing that will do us any good is to ask God to prepare us, give us patience & wisdom to handle what will come, whatever it may be.

In complete unexpected honesty, it is an exciting place to be.

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3 Weeks of Class Down

So we are overdue for a Foster Care Training update!

So last night was our 3rd week of STARS Class (Foster Care Class), and this was probably the heaviest week of material thus far.  Everyone ‘knows’ or has ‘heard’ about abuse, whether they have experienced it or not.  Most everyone says it’s horrific or unbelievable, but emotionally we are rarely engaged — perhaps more sympathetic than empathetic.

So the backstory — every week we watch some videos portraying situations and scenarios with Foster Kids, their birth families and their foster families.  They are pretty enlightening videos because we can conceptually ‘know’ the hardships, but seeing them portrayed on screen completely engages your mind to process and ’empathize’ with the situations.  This weeks video was predominately about abuse — verbal abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse.  It hit both of us hard, we ‘knew’ those awful abusive things happened to kids, often being the very reasons they are removed from their homes, but we just knew it as a concept.  Seeing it portrayed was truly horrifying — to ‘experience’ the things that innocent children are subjected to is overwhelming — very emotional.  It wasn’t easy, but I am thankful we had an evening on that topic, because it is prevalent.  And ‘knowing’ is completely different than ‘seeing’ the realities played out before you.  For me, it helped me understand the shift from sympathizing to empathizing — and I hope that we will continue to grow in that understanding.

In all of that however, it reminds us exactly why we are doing this.  It’s easy to forget, or quickly & quietly slip back into the ‘fear’ or desire for comfort, but there are kids who need a safe home.  Maybe they need a safe home for a season so their parents can get life back in order, or maybe they need a safe home forever.  Regardless, we believe we are called to “stand in the gap” and help however we can, however God leads us.  It will not always be easy, there will be good days and bad days.  But God has called us to this, and He will be faithful to guide us on those awful days as well as the good days.  No doubt this process will grow our faith tremendously, when we know we are completely unprepared, ill-equipped and inpatient humans!

As hard as last night was, we are still excited.  This journey has been fun so far, we have met some really amazing couples in our classes at OneHeart.  There are 8 couples in our class and a couple Singles, all have unique stories and all are compassionate folks.  One family in particular has 6 kids they have adopted, and they are renewing their license to open their home again!  It’s a blessing and encouragement to have a great class & the excellent trainers we do.  We definitely have a lot to be thankful for.

Not to mention, we have had SO much encouragement from our friends and family — THANK YOU!  We actually are going to be blessed with some bunk beds from Mama & Papa Madden (Clara’s Mom & Dad), even better they are bunk beds that convert to twin beds, so we can do either if needed.  That alone is a HUGE load off.  We still need to do some prepping for the bedroom we are converting.  Clara has some really neat plans to make it very homey and welcoming, so when kids come into our care and are struggling through a lot, at least they have a safe, comfy and cozy room to make their own.

We do still need to work on a few things — the baby gate for the basement stairs, fire extinguisher, replace the cracked shower in the bathroom with a new tub, get some ‘kid’ stuff to decorate the room with, and I am sure there are other things Clara can remind me of 🙂 but regardless, it’s all fun to tackle!

Thanks for your prayer, encouragement and asking questions!

 

First Home Study

So we had our first home study last night.  We were pretty nervous but our Social Worker is amazing!  She was helpful, very encouraging and excited for us — which was definitely an affirming step in this Foster/Adoption process.  Even more encouraging, she’ll be with us as long as we’re licensed as Foster Parents — big relief.

We are SURE that we’ve only learned less than 1% of everything we need to know, but we are excited.  We also learned that once some basics are done, fingerprinting, background checks, etc., we can be signed up to provide respite care!  Respite Care is temporary care for Foster Families.  For example, say a Foster Couple needs a break for a weekend just to get away, we could step in and provide care for the weekend, Respite Care.  We didn’t know this was an option for us so quickly — needless to say, we were thrilled!

Along with some paperwork last night, and a walk-through of our home we also got confirmation of some things we need to do at home to be ‘ready’.

  1. Fire Extinguisher (at least 5lbs) — clearly we needed this before… haha.
  2. Baby Gate for the Basement Stairs since they’re open to the kitchen, might be something I make, we shall see if there are rules about that…
  3. Carbon Monoxide Detector — for some weird reason ours is in the basement, but we need one in the kitchen!
  4. Bunk Beds — we have full-sized beds in both spare bedrooms, but converting one bedroom to a more kid-friendly space would be great, not only for welcoming the kids, but for practicality as well.  So I am on the hunt for a good deal.  I could probably build them, but my mother advised against it — haha!  In addition we’ll need to get bedding and mattresses.  Probably need to get some stuffed animals as well… ALL bedrooms need them obviously — even if Clara objects to Black Bear (who resides on our bed… when it’s made 😉)
  5. Finish some more paperwork, including Safety/Escape Plans, emergency phone numbers posted, etc.

We have a lot of other tasks we want to tackle too, like cleaning out all the junk in the basement storage rooms, getting some kid stuff at garage sales, etc.  But those are fun and not super urgent.  But we are excited — last night was a great meeting and helped confirm we are on the right path.

Thanks for all the prayers!  We know hard times will come, but so far this process has already been a blessing — and we thank God for that.

If you have advice or questions, NEVER be afraid to let us know 😊 Like Clara had said before, we didn’t realize how excited our family & friends would be — and it because obvious that we needed to keep everyone updated!

Adoption — Beginning of Our Journey

Knowing that it isn’t always easy to convey our heart on some topics (such as this), we decided it would be wise to put our thoughts down in writing.

Adoption — we have been praying about this for a long time, Clara for about the last year, Brian for a little longer. It’s hard to explain, but even when we have decided to ‘put it on hold’, the stirring within us has continued to come back into our thoughts and prayers.

Rather than rushing or making hasty decisions we decided to pray often and regularly about Adoption, specifically Adoption from Foster Care. There are so many kids who don’t have forever families or homes, and these are the kids who we believe we are most called to reach out to. After all, God adopted us as His children — us, broken, imperfect us. This is the root of the desire to adopt.

We know it will NOT be easy, but we are choosing to trust that God is bigger than the anxiety and He certainly can handle the potential issues that will come (as they would with any children, natural or adopted). We could (and have) come up with dozens of reasons why we shouldn’t do this — but through our conversations and prayers, it just doesn’t matter. We know we are called to at the very least pursue Adoption. And after a good amount of discussion, we decided to share the process with others (you). Perhaps it can be an encouragement to step out in faith in some area of your life – who knows how God could use this process in our lives and those around us.

So, we’d humbly ask you to pray for us. Pray that we are patient, pray that the process is good and affirming, and helps prepare us for the future. Pray for wisdom for us; obviously, we have not done this before and have a lot to learn, that’s okay! Pray for the child or children who may find their forever family with us. Pray for the children who still need homes and families.

We know we cannot do this without the prayer and support of our family and friends. Thanks for being a part of our journey.

p.s. Another way you can help, if you have connections, experience or advice – don’t be afraid to share.

Questions you may have:

  1. Can we not have kids naturally? We don’t know, haven’t decided to try yet.
  2. Aren’t we afraid of the issues the kids may have? Um, yes… this is why we need the prayers of our family and friends.
  3. Are you really sure about this? Well it depends on the day! But we are going to keep walking this path unless God tells us otherwise. We want to keep seeking His will because yeah, it’s scary. But faith calls us to trust God, not always to play it safe.
  4. Do you know what you’re getting into? Yes and no – hard to really know the process until you take a step of faith, so again, pray for us please!
  5. Is it okay to talk about it? Of course, please ask us! That’s why we’re sharing this note now.

Be.

I recently read a book called “Hiking Through” (often I read backpacking books when I have an insatiable itch to go on a long backpacking trip but alas, cannot).  Aside from a man’s journey hiking the 2,160  mile Appalachian Trail, his constant reflection back on his life were all the things he’d missed out on by allowing himself to be busy and pursuing career or ‘stuff’ over being present and enjoying life.  Ironically enough, between managing a few too many things in my life, have been processing that idea for a few weeks.

This week I read a short something called “Your Story and His Story” and consequently it stuck a deeper chord.  The page long article written by Dr. R.L. Pratt Jr., caused me to ask myself some questions; questions I believe we, who call ourselves Christ followers, should consider.

Dr. Pratt presented the story of Hannah and Samuel (see 1 Samuel 2:1-10).  In reading we see a heartbreaking yet hopeful story of a woman who experienced great pain and great blessing.  Yet in the narrative we see a woman with a deep abiding knowledge that God’s story was bigger than she could see, and further that her story was a part of God’s.  We may not directly relate to the experience of long being without child, then having the blessing of a child only to give him back in service to the Father in the Tabernacle, but we relate unreservedly to the pain of life, the ups and downs.

Every human on this earth (every honest human) can give an account of the ways we have been frustrated, disappointed, then elated, and again felt the sting of disillusionment.  In reality our story may be nothing we would want to admit because it pales in comparison to Hannah’s story.  On the other side, our story may greatly surpass Hannah’s and be nearly unbelievable.  Here’s the beauty, it does not matter how big or small and comparing to others pain doesn’t help.  We still have a scar, we still have our own heartbreak.

But more importantly, how do we see our pain?  How do we see our ups, our downs, our insecure moments of doubt?  Do we allow it to throw our lives into complete turmoil or do we ask God to show us glimpses of how our story is intricately woven into the bigger story He is weaving.  I ardently believe that our stories are part of God’s greater story.  For example,

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have it’s full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
— James 1:2-4

There are many other beautiful examples of God using our stories as part of His story, but frankly the entire Bible is a testament to the ways God uses broken, normal, weak people to accomplish His will.  I believe it takes reading the whole thing (over and over) to really understand the depth of this.  Picking and choosing little moments really doesn’t do justice to the beauty within The Word.

In Hannah’s story, along with many other, I am affirmed that God has not abandoned me or gives little consideration to my pain (be it large or small).  He does not promise that He will remove the hurt of the world (remember Genesis & ‘the fall’), but He is faithful to be with me and use the pain to draw me close to Himself and restore our souls — everyone has heard Psalm 23.  Go read it now.

So, with my relative rabbit trails — I want to get back to what I set out to say.  How often do I dwell on my circumstances?  Do I allow myself to compare my story with that of another friend?  How often do I form conclusions that are false?  How often do I believe ‘something else’ will make me happy?  Do I let myself get caught up in dwelling on the worries of this world versus dwelling and abiding with Christ?  How often do I sit an relive the past or worry about the future?

I don’t want, nor do I believe God wants us, to steep in the mire or worry, regret or disappointment.  He has continually blessed us and throughout scripture promises to grow us and pour out wisdom through His Spirit.  If that’s not a blessing I don’t know what is.

I want to be present.  I want to be.  I want my eyes and heart to be open to the ways God is moving around me each day.  I want to enjoy time with my wife, my family and my friends now.  Because we aren’t promised tomorrow or even our next breath.  I don’t want doubt or worry to cloud my thoughts.  I don’t want my ‘to do list’ to keep me from Abiding, dwelling and making my real home in Jesus.  I don’t to make it to 31 years of age and think, “Ugh, what have I even done with my life”, then proceed to list off my pathetic disappointments.  I want to choose joy now.

“You make known to me the path of life;
in Your presence there is FULLNESS of joy;
at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
— Psalm 16:11

I am going to choose to be.  And ask the Father to keep me. 

 

 

unrelated side note:  In case you were curious, hiking the entire Appalachian Trail is high on my wish list for the future.   I would consider accepting applicants for hiking partners.

Confessions

 

Sometimes life is overwhelming.  Be it just normal pressures we place on ourselves or things far more embarrassing…

And more often than not, the words & emotions are difficult to convey.  However, I suspect they are shared emotions of many today — and as such, it seems like I should be bold to admit they can be struggles, that they are real and present (despite the fact I think & know them to be ridiculous).

Let’s start with social media.  Can we just admit that it makes life more difficult sometimes?  Even when I know it’s unwise to assume the facade of someone’s online life is a perfect reflection of their real life — it can sometimes be painful.  Even if you didn’t want to be invited somewhere, being excluded or unintentionally feel ‘forgotten’, is a difficult & common emotion.  It’s obnoxious, but FOMO (as my younger friends and peers call it), the “Fear of Missing Out” is lame, but very real — and very divisive at times.

(NOTE: please know this isn’t a response to things friends have posted online recently 🙂 this is just culmination of thoughts that Clara and I have talked on an off about for a long time and the issue behind all of this is deeper, it’s a matter of heart, not circumstances — no worries!)

In addition I will sometimes, albeit not often enough, stay away from Facebook or Instagram.  That way I am not reminded of ‘whatever I am not or don’t have’ or ‘ways I am lacking’ — which is indeed a lie from the Enemy (Satan).  What I mean to say, it’s easier to avoid social media than fight against the lies we are told/shown every day.  Lies like, we aren’t good enough, you are less valuable than them, you aren’t as wise, smart, successful or attractive, you are forgotten, you are less loved… Those are hard thoughts — and lies we are all told constantly (in one way or another), whether we see it or not.

Regardless of this world — I know my heavenly Father loves me completely & perfectly (see the Bible, all of it).  But seriously, it can hurt to feel less loved than you should.  We’ve all been there, sometimes we are good at brushing off the lies, or speaking truth to ourselves.  But not always…  All that to say, we know the TRUTH — and I personally must repent of the moments that I believe the lies.  Jesus, send your Spirit, give us the Truth & help us abide in the Truth.

“Come to me, all who are weary & burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy — and My burden is light.”
— Matthew 11:28-30 NASB

We can’t expect to be perfect or lead perfect lives.  We can’t compare ourselves with all the ‘masks’ or ‘facades’ that we and our friends put online.  It’s not intentional (hopefully!), but people can’t show everything online — and shouldn’t.  But for me it is just too easy to see:

  • what I don’t have and/or want
  • what gifts others have and I don’t…
  • how great their homes, their lives all appear to look (compared to mine)
  • they’re more blessed & I am ‘behind’

Even IF those things are true, it’s not wise or good to believe the lie that any of those make a person more loved or valuable to God the Father.

It’s easy to feel left out in life too, not just social media.  We ‘think’ friends have ‘left us behind’.  So rarely is this true.  Satan, the Enemy wants to destroy us & community we have — we must watch for that & guard against it — (see John 10:10 and 1 Peter 5:6-9).

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

— John 10:10 ESV

John 10:10 says and reminds us that Jesus came to bring ABUNDANT life.  Not defeated life, or sad life, or, ‘left out and behind’ life or ‘limping along’ life — NO, he came to bring ABUNDANT LIFE.  I don’t know about others, but that’s a promise from Jesus direct, and it’s a promise I want to cling to, a promise I want to find constant peace in, and to abide in.

That’s my confession for now — and I thank God for the forgiveness of those moments when I believe the lies.

— Brian
(12:17 am, 8/31/16)

Simplicity

I rather like how you sometimes stumble upon quite profound truths, even in random emails.  Today I received an email from the subscription list for Rend Collective, the Irish folksy Christian group.  They tend to focus greatly on the community, the gospel & what God has called us to as believers in the Truth.  I like that.  But today’s email struck me, and I am thankful to have read it.  They were excited to discuss their new album, a follow up to their previous ‘Campfire’ album.  The first was naturally, recorded around a campfire.  The second installment will also be recorded around a campfire.  For many reasons I won’t go into — I love anything outside, outdoorsy or campfire — but that’s not the point.  In this email, a particular statement stood out in regard to worship and the idea is quite opposite the norm & haunting in it’s depth.  The quote reads,

We’ve been thinking a lot about simplicity in worship.  A phrase that’s been bouncing around in our camp has been ‘simplicity breeds authenticity’.

I personally found this incredibly refreshing.  I am possibly one of the rare folks I know who gets a bit overwhelmed by the flash of modern worship in evangelical circles.  It is not something that appeals to me, and I believe distracts from the core focus we are called to, the Gospel of Jesus.  Not only did I find this quote refreshing, but perhaps indelible.

In regard to simplicity and authenticity — I believe removing fluff helps us as broken people to remove the masks.  I don’t need to pretend to be better or more gifted in order to keep up with the flash of modern evangelicalism.  If the church culture teaches me we have to make everything better, bigger & more impressive — I am left to assume that I must also be better, bigger & more impressive.  Thus negating the Gospel and putting me on track to perform and slip on a mask when I am not measuring up.  Yikes.

In complete fairness, these thoughts are subjective — being my opinions, observations and preferences.  They are in no means brilliant and are probably not of great divine inspiration.  However, when I read the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John), when I read Acts and all the letters of the early church — rarely do I see mention about making sure our worship is anything more than simple.  The main focus is Jesus, the great Love of God the Father and the works of the Holy Spirit.  The emphasis lies more on humility, surrender, abiding in Christ, relying and trusting the Spirit, loving others, protecting the unloved and forgotten and being set apart and not captured by the snares of the enemy.  Do we really focus on that in our worship?   Or is it more about, “finding ways to draw people in…”?

Psalm 149 & 150 certainly speak of the instruments used to praise God, and things for which we should praise God, but I don’t get the impression it was meant to impress outsiders — it was meant to glorify God.  And in the Spiritual Kingdom established by Jesus that we dwell in, it is about worship in Spirit & Truth.  I cannot read John 4:23-24 without getting excited chills,

“But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
— John 4:23-34 HCSB

I love that verse, worship in Spirit and Truth, true worshipers — wow, isn’t that what we really long for?!

Resoundingly in the New Testament I read a narrative, a fervent teaching that the Gospel is enough to compel people to true worship, Romans 12 worship (Romans 12).  And don’t we want true worship?  If we are seeking to pull people into the Body of Christ through ‘excellent programming’ and ‘killer experience’ and ‘relevant sermon topics’ are we diminishing the grandeur of the Gospel?  Are we taking the power of God into our own hands?  Are we not confident enough in the Gospel’s power?

To me, worship is getting ourselves out of the way to adore God for who he is, without our issues or agendas.  But the flash of modern worship ‘feels’ like an excuse to add more between us and God, rather than remove and draw near to the Father.  When is the last time you heard that in church… “draw near to the Father”?

I was fortunate enough to bounce this ‘mental chewing’ off a co-worker today and was given a very interesting perspective.  Upon giving him the statement “simplicity breeds authenticity”, he provided the response, “authenticity can breed simplicity”.  I wish I was eloquent enough to unpack the thoughts in my mind, but my co-worker’s reversal of the words is very profound.  I agree upon further thinking that he is indeed right, meanwhile I still agree with the original statement too.  I suspect they are interwoven, which is typical of most things I have learned of God.  They are rarely as surface level as we may initially think, they are always richer, deeper and more beautiful than we would dare to imagine.  This is something I dearly love about God.

Simplicity breeds authenticity. 
Authenticity breeds simplicity. 

Perhaps this is all rather naive and idealistic, but if there is some truth to it, I want to take it seriously and draw nearer to God & His word to help me unpack it more.

When it comes down to it, none of these things — lights, impressive music, beautiful sets, professional production and/or created experiences are by any means wrong or bad — but if they detract from truly worshipping God, they should be sacrificed to Glorify the only one deserving — our Heavenly Father.