Saying it Better Than I Can

From Jodie (guest posting at A Bushel and a Peck)…

Joy and grief live side by side in our house…

As adoptive parents, we need to honor the grief our future children will experience and the grief our current kids are experiencing. Coming home will not “cure” a child, even if the child is a baby, from the loss that all adoption stories begin with.  Coming home is the beginning of the healing process, not the end.  Honoring the grief, really acknowledging it, is the first step in helping to heal our kids’ broken hearts.

From Molly (guest posting at (in)courage)…

I don’t know about you, but I’m simply awful at doing a Bible reading plan. A few years ago I read this article about Bible reading plans that I so resonated with. The basic premise was that she often fell behind on a daily read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan and often came to the Word guilty, and then reading only to try to check boxes off the list of chapters for the day. And for moms with young children, it’s just the reality that “life” happens…

He wants to speak.
He has spoken.

And He will welcome all who will come to Him.

I’m stepping forward into the new year, completely confident of one thing: I will fail.

But can I try again and again? Yes.

Is there grace enough for all my failures? Absolutely. Every single one of them.

A prayer from Life as a Vapor by John Piper…

Father, deliver us from the self-deception that makes us believe anxiety is mere precaution, and that unfaithful precaution is anything other than cloaked anxiety. O, how devious is the self-protecting soul! Have mercy on us, and make us bold. Free us from fear and from prudential avoidances of love. Make us more eager for the joy of giving than for the security of keeping. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Saturday Seven

1. I have to admit something. I stopped reading the blog that hosts 7 Quick Takes Friday a long time ago. There is nothing wrong with it but it just didn’t make it when I cut my blogroll by fifty-percent. But I like doing these short, quick posts every-once in a while so I kept participating but it felt wrong. Thus, for 2011, the Saturday Seven is born.

2. I almost didn’t even want to look back at last year’s resolutions. I already know they were not all accomplished but here is a run-down:

  • Become parents: done. And I don’t think we are doing too bad a job (but I’m always open to learning how to do it better)
  • Read thru the Bible: Not so much. I read half of the Old Testament and the Gospels. It just did not happen this year.
  • Eat at home: Mostly done. We enjoyed our CSA this summer but it was way more food than we could handle. I still need to figure out how to cook for four people, including one with a food intolerance (me) and three with very limited food preferences.
  • Read five books: Well, I did not read all the ones I listed but I did read To Kill a Mockingbird, I’m Down, Cringe, Love & Logic Magic for Early Childhood, The Help, Growing Up Black in White, The Girl in the Orange Dress, and The Connected Child. Plus, a lot of children’s books (notable mentions go to Grace for President, Corduroy, The Hello, Goodbye Window, The Jesus Storybook Bible and Bear Snores On).
  • Get in shape: Hah! Our elliptical machine stopped working and we gladly said goodbye to it last week via Freecycle. I ran like four times. I took many walks pushing a two-year-old and large baby this summer. But, no, I did not get in shape.

3. Things that did happen in 2010 that I did not predict:

  • I got my nose pierced (after wanting to do so for nearly 10 years).
  • We bought a mini-van. We are now one of many, many silver mini-vans on the streets of the suburbs of Detroit.
  • We cared for six children in our home – five boys and one little girl. I didn’t expect to have this many placements our first year of foster parenting. And I didn’t expect to love being a mom to a little girl so much (after years of saying I only wanted boys, M changed my mind).
  • Enrolling a child in preschool at the private school my husband and I attended. Eating my words.

4. Goals for 2011…

  • A new wall color for the living room, hallway and kitchen
  • Finally watch the tutorial DVD that came with my camera
  • Memorize 24 Bible verses
  • Connected and happy boys
  • More prayer, more Bible reading, more journaling/writing
  • Cook one new recipe per week

5. Some things I am really looking forward to in 2011…

  • The arrival of my best friend’s baby boy (any time now!)
  • A new niece in March…or February 🙂
  • Preschool soccer games
  • Reading books on our new iPad (I’ve already started with Same Kind of Different as Me). Our house is being overtaken by books – I am happy to have this space saving way to read.

6. My favorite television shows of 2010: Mad Men, Parenthood, 30 Rock and Modern Family. My favorite movie on 2010: The Social Network (although, most others didn’t stand a chance because I could not stay awake for them).

7. Here is my first verse for 2011…

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

Adopt from Where You Feel Led

I saw this post on Rage Against the Minivan recently. It is Kristen’s response to the question, “Why adopt from there when there are children here?” I agree with her – it is an irritating question. It implies that non-American children as less worthy of a loving family. Obviously, it is absurd (and probably, from some, racist and ethnocentric).

We chose to grow our family through the foster care system for many reasons. We always knew we would adopt and I had always just assumed it would mean traveling to another country and picking up a little baby. I know that I was so näive and uniformed until someone enlightened me about waiting kids in the United States. Once we knew, we could not deny the call we felt from God. We may still one day pursue an international adoption. It is something we still talk about from time to time but I am glad we learned more about the facts of our country and the potential challenges of adopting internationally before we jumped in to any adoption.

I want to say that I agreed with a lot of Kristen’s post and that I really respect her and appreciate her sharing her family’s story. I met her briefly at the Together for Adoption conference and she is one of very few mom/adoption blogs that I make a point to read.  But what didn’t sit right with me about her post is that it sort of implies that adopting from foster care in the United States is too hard. I asked her if this was her intention in the post and she said it wasn’t, that she was just pointing out the things that deter people from adopting through foster care. This is the excerpt of her post that sparked a few things I have already been thinking about for a while:

Having worked in group homes for many years, I can say that there is truly no comparison between US foster care and third world orphanage conditions.  And adopting from the US foster care system is an excruciating process.  Most DCFS offices are understaffed, underpaid and incompetent.  Even with the best-intentioned staff, it is simply not set up to adequately care for the number of children in state care, and the permanency of children is what hangs in the balance.  I could complain all day about how poorly foster parents are treated by the system . . . but the real injustice here is to the children, who sit for years in a limbo between family preservation and adoption…I don’t have easy answers, but I do know that the system is very broken, and it is failing children by making it so difficult for prospective parents to adopt kids in fostercare who need families.  If I wasn’t so exhausted from our own battle, I would pick up the torch and fight for reform.  Some day, I will.

The foster care system is messy, this is true (both international and private domestic adoption have their share of issues as well). It is easy to become frustrated and, from reading the comments on her post, you will see that people have had difficulties adopting through foster care. One commenter, in particular, called it a “nightmare.”

Personally, I just don’t believe that “because it is hard” is a good reason not to do something. I want to be honest about the foster care system – sometimes it will suck. Sometimes it will feel like it is not really working. Sometimes you will say goodbye to kids you are completely in love with.  But it is what we have to work with here in the United States and I really believe the best way to reform the system is good foster parents.  There are many but we need a lot more and abandoning the system does nothing.

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:35-36 ESV)

If being treated poorly and dealing with incompetent people is what needs to be done to prevent a child from being one of the 19,000 who age out of the system every year, it is worth it.  There is a story I heard from a presenter at the Together for Adoption conference that has been haunting me. This is what he was told by one foster kid:

I’m 20 years old. I have a job. I’m going to college. I don’t need financial support. I just want some where to go for Christmas.

To me, this is the true “nightmare.” As a Christian, my goal is to continually model my life after Jesus Christ. I fail miserably all the time, specifically in the areas of patience and humility.  Maybe I am failing right now, feel free to let me know. But Jesus was treated unfairly, dealt with incompetent people, and felt great pain so that he could come and die for my sins and the sins of this world. Being a foster parent pales in comparison.

This is not my argument against international or private domestic adoption. I fully support both and rejoice when I hear of children coming in to families this way. But it feels like foster care gets a really bad rap in the adoption world sometimes, even in the Christian adoption world. I’m not saying it is for everyone but I am saying more people, specifically Christians, need to open up their hearts and minds to the possibility.

Since January, we have had six kids in our home. We were told that we would be adopting M & T but that did not happen. What did happen, though, was an amazing blessing that we never would have been a part of had we not been foster parents. We helped a family reunify. On paper, no one would have said it should or would have happened that way. I’m very confident that the right thing happened and now our family is bigger than we could have imagined. M & T’s mom calls us family – literally introduces us to people that way.

We have had several social workers, lawyers, judges and therapists – all who work for the system – in and out of our lives this year. Two of them were incompetent. The many others were lovely to work with and deeply cared about the kids. Our current social worker is so ridiculously amazing that I’ve said thank you so many times that I think I have totally freaked her out. These people are not thanked often and their job is difficult. I would not want the pressure of deciding whether I should take away someone’s child or possibly leave them in a dangerous situation.

There are problems in foster care and in all forms of adoption. I wish all 163 million orphaned and vulnerable children in this world had a loving and safe home. Personally, we feel called to the half-million here in need right now. Adopt from where you feel you are being led (to me, that is the best answer to why you pursued any form over another). But, before you decide, please don’t write off the kids in foster care. At age three, we know the chances for adoption decrease for kids in the system. If you are non-white and male, those chances keep dropping. Both our boys fall into that category. There is still risk of losing them at this point but I fully believe my God gives abundant strength and peace even in the face of what seems too hard.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)

Radical

I’m reading Radical by David Platt right now with one of the girls from our high school youth group. We read a chapter per week and then discuss it. I think a chapter per week is about all I can handle.

From Chapter 3 – Beginning at the End of Ourselves:

It is the way of Christ. Instead of asserting ourselves, we crucify ourselves. Instead of imagining all the things we can accomplish, we ask God to do what only he can accomplish. Yes, we work, we plan, we organize, and we create, but we do it all while we fast, while we pray, and while we constantly confess our need for the provision of God. Instead of dependence on ourselves, we express radical desperation for the power of his Spirit, and we trust that Jesus stands ready to give us everything we ask for so that he might make much of our Father in the world.

Easier said than done but certainly a challenge I hope we can embrace in our own lives. On that note, I loved hearing about what Francis Chan and his family are up toRadical and Crazy Love have many of the same themes. I’m so thankful for these two pastors and the example they are setting forth.

7 Quick Takes Friday

1. The kiddos are headed out for their first overnight visit today. It is a little strange but we are going to take advantage of the free time and hang out with our friends, Rob & Elizabeth tonight. Actually, Elizabeth and I are headed to Café Muse for brunch as well. Whenever I see a free morning on the calendar I think, “Who can I get to go to Café Muse with me?” The food is so good and it is the ultimate girl-time treat. It is also always a bonus when I get to go with someone who hasn’t been before. I’ve already checked out the specials for this week.

2. I’ve had a mental list of names I like for a long time (I’m not the only one who does this, right?). I’ve often joked that we are lucky that our kids come with names because D and I rarely agree.  If it were up to me, we would probably have a group of little hippies (Story, Sunny, Love, Mercy, River, etc.)  I just find it really interesting what people decide to name their kids and why. I’ve been enjoying a new blog: You Can’t Call It “It”. The author posts on different name categories, meanings and even offers name consultation.

3. D is reading Brothers, We are Not Professionals by John Piper. He has been reading me some fantastic quotes from the book, this one in particular was striking (he is speaking to pastors but I think it something we all need to hear):

The issue of racial prejudice and snubbing and suspicion and mistreatment is not a social issue; it is a blood-of-Jesus-issue. When you get the conviction and the courage to say something about it to your people, tell them you are not becoming a social-gospeler but a lover of the blood-bought blessings of the cross of Christ…

It doesn’t matter whether your church is in Mississippi or Minnesota, your people are tinged by racism-to put it softly. Time passes swiftly, memories are long, and we have not come very far in the heart.

Piper gives some examples of horrific post-1960s acts of racism. Then says…

These events are the blood-red tip of a deep, partially subconscious iceberg in American culture. It affects all of us. But few in the majority culture feel it or admit it. That is the privilege of being the majority. Your color and your ways are assumed. Whiteness is not an issue for us, we say, so why should blackness be an issue? We are näive at best.

4. I ditched the book I picked up at the library last week for one my boss lent me that seemed more appealing. I’m Down is a memoir of a white girl growing up in an all black community. It has been a fascinating read so far and, often, really funny as well.

5. I’m also reading Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood: Practical Parenting from Birth to Six Years. I really love some of the benefits of this method of parenting including giving your child choices and teaching them empathy at an early age. I’m looking forward to discussing this with a group of ladies from church who are also reading along.

6. D and the kids hung out with his mom yesterday and she sent them home with these cute dolls. Grandmas are the best!

7. I’ve been envious of all my friends with cable lately but only because Mad Men: Season 4 starts this week. It will likely not be available until the fall on DVD so I’m going to have avoid all the spoilers until then. D sent me this review of the fourth season and it sound likes Betty only gets crazier.

*Hosted at Conversion Diary

Unintended Consequences

This post may be long and repetitive. But I was asked to share this in church and thought I’d share what I said here as well.

Since I was in high school, I knew God wanted me to adopt kids someday. I cannot explain why I knew that or how God told me exactly but I remember having that thought as early as age 17. When I prayed for a future spouse, I prayed for someone who wanted to adopt kids. So, when D and I started talking about getting married and the future, adoption was always part of the plan.

Around the same time I started thinking about adoption, I also began to struggle with anxiety. This is something that was a big part of my life through most of my college years and early twenties. I would have to talk myself out of bed some mornings because I was just so burdened with anxiety and worry. I tried many things and sometimes it would get better but I would habitually return to worry. For me, it really came down to an issue of wanting to be in control. Anything I couldn’t control, I worried about.

A few years ago, I started doing research on adoption and foster care as we thought about how we might grow our family. I knew God wanted us to adopt but we did not exactly know from where or how. I was continually pointed to things on foster care, specifically the story of one couple who shared about their foster children through a podcast. I was so encouraged and blessed by their story and I suggested D to that he start listening to the podcast as well.  James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” It became clear that we were being called to live out this verse through foster care and adoption. We could not get the stories or the statistics we heard out of our minds:

  • A half million kids in foster care in the United States.
  • 130,000 kids WAITING for a family (literally adoptable at that moment).
  • The likelihood of adoption decreasing for children over the age of three.

I began praying for the kids who would come into our home and I loved them before I knew their faces or names. I cried for them and I thought about them often. You might think that is crazy but that is the kind of thing God does. But in addition to my desire for these kids, I was also faced with the reality that becoming a foster parent puts you in a place of vulnerability and very little control.

It was getting to a point where not taking the next step seemed like disobedience; God was clearly telling us to do this. As soon as we made the decision to start the process with an agency, the worry struck. I was worried about what people would think. I was worried about if we could afford me cutting back my hours at work. I worried about getting in over our heads. I talked about all these worries with Dan but they were not worth holding up what God was saying to do so in March we attended our first class to become licensed foster parents. After about ten months we were licensed and they called us about a five year old boy who needed a home. S was with us for five weeks. In those five weeks, we cared for a kid who was used to having no rules, we established boundaries, we formed a relationship with his parents and, ultimately, we were part of his family being reunified. Just two days after he went home, our agency called us about M & T.

In the past three months, we have been a family of two, then a family of three, then a family of two and then a family of four. We have parented an energetic five-year-old boy, a sweet but determined two-year old girl, and a newborn (perhaps our biggest challenge). Our situation in both cases has changed on a daily basis. Some days we were told S would be with us for a long-time and then suddenly he was returned home. We continue to learn more about M’s past each day and wonder what is going on in that sweet little head of hers. We cannot control their past and we cannot control their future. I can honestly say, with each sudden or unexpected change of plans, God has given me peace.

I’ve received a few comments about how relaxed I seem as a parent. Friends who have known me for years and have known me to be a “not-so-relaxed” person are surprised by this. While we do wonder what will happen with M & T, I do not find myself overwhelmed as I once would have been with the “what-ifs” of the situation. While I don’t expect that my tendency to anxiety is completely cured, I know that I am a different person because of what God has done.

What we expected of being foster parents was the opportunity to live out God’s heart for the orphan by caring for kids who needed a home. We hope to have positive relationships with our agency, our kids and, if possible, with birth parents. We hope to adopt kids who cannot return to their family. Ephesians 1:4 explains that we have been adopted by God and this experience has at least given me a small glimpse of His love for us. But for me at least, the unintended consequence of all of this has been a deeper trust in God with a new found ability to give over to Him my worries and fears.

Feeling the Love

Having two kids has made me a bad blogger. While time is less available to write, I feel like I could make it happen if my mind was working like normal. That probably says more about me than it does about parenting. I’ve cut my hours at work which requires me to focus a great deal when I am in the office so reading and writing while not at work seems like too much effort for my brain (but maybe my brain would function better if I spent more time reading and writing).

Many people have kindly asked how we are doing with two kids. Two very young kids. For the most part, I think we are doing fine. But I would be lying if I said it was easy. The regular challenges of raising kids combined with the unknown factors of this situation can be stressful and hard.

T is ever changing. As soon as we think we have a good routine down, he grows or changes and we need to re-vamp things. Not much different than any other newborn (I’m assuming). M is doing great but you cannot help but wonder what is going on in that sweet little head of hers. Every week we take them to a one hour supervised visit with their birth mom and we watch for behavior changes after that. Up to this point, we have not really  seen any but that makes me wonder as well. At one point on Wednesday, I was trying to put a very tired toddler to bed while a very inconsolable newborn cried. It was not my favorite moment. But all of this also happened Wednesday:

  • I was able to spend the morning with several new moms talking about all the things that are probably only interesting to us while our babies ate, slept and played and while M wandered around being her sweet little self (and munched on Goldfish and Aunt Heather’s apple slices).
  • A generous friend gave M a birthday gift. Then she filled up my car with diapers, wipes and baby supplies. I knew she had put some stuff in my car but I cried when I opened the trunk. It was overwhelming and so incredibly kind.
  • While at our visit yesterday, the kids’ birth mom wished me a Happy Mother’s Day. I was speechless. That is the type of thing that makes foster care so rewarding and heartbreaking at the same time.
  • We received kind words of affirmation from one of the administrators at our agency telling us that the staff “speaks highly of us.” I hope that does not sound boastful but we deeply desire as Christians to have positive relationship and reputation with our agency. It was nice to know that we are doing something right.
  • I was able to return to helping out at the youth group on Wednesday nights because a friend (and parent of two girls in our youth group) has kindly offered to watch the kids.

That was just Wednesday. On a weekly basis, we have friends and family helping us in many ways, including providing free child care. People have brought us meals. We have not bought a package of diapers since early March and from what I can tell, we are all set well into the beginning of summer. We have baby clothes and equipment thanks to the generosity of D’s sister and family. A few women at church have lent or given me baby carriers that they are no longer using. I could go on and on and on. All this to say, you don’t have to foster or adopt to live out James 1:27. We are so blessed to be surrounded by people who understand God’s heart for these kids.

Are you in?

Confession #1: The last time I read through the entire New Testament was when it was assigned for my New Testament class in Seminary.

Confession #2: The last time I read through the whole Bible in a year was when it was assigned for my Old Testament Introduction class one semester and my New Testament Introduction class the next semester in College.

Recently I read this blog entry by JR Vassar.

He states,

The most important thing you can do in 2010 is cultivate a devotional life that facilitates the intimate nearness of God. You won’t accidentally get close to God. So, for 2010, I wanted to encourage you to embrace a focused intentionality in your devotional life.

He also gives some great practical advice on how to do this. The main thought is this: have a plan and stick to it.

If you want to read the whole Bible in a year, here’s a link from Bethlehem Baptist Church that provides a plan that gives you 5 days off a month (in case you need to catch up). You will read 4 different sections of Scripture each day.

If you want to read the whole Bible straight through, Genesis to Revelation, here’s a link for that.

If that seems too daunting of a task, then how about just reading the New Testament in a year? That’s only about a chapter a day. Here’s a link for that.

Finally, there’s always the problem of forgetting to read for a few days. Well, now you can have your passage emailed to you or you can subscribe to have it sent to whatever you use to read blogs. Here’s a link for that.

There’s no excuse not to. I think it’d be awesome if all of us (because really, it’s just our friends who mainly read this) committed to each read through the Bible this year. Even if you don’t consider yourself a Christian, read the Bible and see what we believe and why. We all can do it. Stop thinking of your excuses, just do it.

I’m in.

Are you in?

Prosperity

From The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis:

“Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it,’ while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home in earth.”

Luke 16:15

“What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.”

Quote of the Day

From The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

Father, I want to know Thee, but my coward heart fears to give up its toys. I cannot part with them without bleeding, and I do no try to hide from Thee the terror of the parting. I come trembling, but I do come. Please root from my heart all those things which I have cherished so long and which have become a very part of my living self, so that Thou mayest enter and dwell there without rival. Then shalt Thou make the place of Thy feet glorious. Then shall my heart have no need of the sun to shine in it, for Thyself wilt be the light of it, and there shall be no night there. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.