Friday, December 28, 2018

Why I won't set goals for 2019

Over the last several years my husband and I have met with our best friends to go over our goals for the next year. The goals ranged for all of us, and while I had never really done goal setting before I gave it a whirl. Mostly I enjoyed the double date night out. I am here to say that after three years of this, I am quitting.

Each year I have tried setting goals, something crazy has happened in the first few months of the year and it completely ruined and derailed everything right off the bat. Examples? A concussion from sledding which derailed my training plan for a race, a foster baby who was sick the entire time he was with us which derailed every single thing in my life but was totally worth it.  I am an all or nothing kind of person, for better or worse, and this just wasn't working. My goals became a list of things I saw at the end of the year that I didn't accomplish, glaring unchecked boxes of failure. Setting goals made me so hyper focused on accomplishing them that I seemed to become inflexible and obsessed with the completion of it. If I set a goal and didn't hit it, I felt awful. In fact, I started adjusting them often to make sure they were attainable. I wondered what the point of it all was.

So, at the end of this year I had an ah-ha moment. For me, goal setting sucks.

Here is what I do know:

I have things I love and care about and so I am going after them full speed.

I am fostering and with that I am raising awareness, writing, encouraging others and involving myself in every way I can. I will not always be a foster Mom, but while I am I will invest what I have to the cause.
I am working in Kindergarten where I give my all in helping to love those kids, teaching them and being a consistent source of encouragement in their lives. I won't always be in a Kindergarten class, but while I am there I am all in.
I am a Mom to three young boys. I am going hard after their hearts, being intentional with how I speak to them, how I interact with them and how I listen to them.
I am a wife, and I am committed to putting in the hard work of being married. I continue to invest in my spouse and our vows however that looks year by year.
I have a call to ministry and am being diligent in my schooling, stepping into each opportunity that comes my way and putting myself into positions where I am being coached, mentored and invested in.
I desire to be like Jesus, who was selfless, kind, caring, compassionate and gave His life to serve and love others. If I desire to be like that, I will spend time in prayer and scripture, in relationship with others who live like Jesus and then living that out in community with others.

If we know what we are passionate about, we can commit fully to those things and be present in each of them- relentlessly seeking to apply whatever gifts and talents and resources we have to the things that we love.

Do we make plans? Yes. Do we have things we desire to do and need to make a plan in order to accomplish it? Yes. I had to follow a plan in order to train for the two half-marathons I ran. We make budgets so that we can save and plan for trips, emergencies and spontaneity.
Goals though? Goals try to turn my life into a neat and predictable roadmap for which it is not.

Something I did last year and will do this year is ask some reflective questions. These help me look back over the last year and also look forward with intention and purpose into the next year.
Some examples are "What are my top three memories of the year?" or "What was the most humbling experience of the last year and why?" and "What is one thing you are most grateful for from this past year?"

What about you? Are you a goal setter and checklist driven person? Maybe you are like me and don't like to stick your life on a list with tunnel vision but hope to find movement and purpose with what is in front of you. I am not saying there is a right way or a wrong way-  but finding what works for you may be the best thing you can do for yourself heading into the new year! Don’t get me wrong, I am a hardworking, get crap done kind of person. My point is, I am making sure that what I am investing my time and energy in, isn’t just self-gratifying but actually matters on a deeper level. I’m not going to set goals for the sake of checking things off- busying myself with a list of things I must do. I’m going to make it my “goal” to live a life of great intention and investment in the lives of those around me not to check it off but to live fully into who Christ has created me to be.





Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Wilderness of Foster Care

I have been fairly quiet in this space as it relates to Foster Care.

I find myself at a loss for words most days, everything that can be said has been said and our family is in a season of waiting. This is a familiar space for me, one of wilderness. Rachel Held Evans says in her book Inspired, "Rarely do the people of God reach any kind of promised land without a journey or two through the wilderness" and that is the truth.

"It is disorienting, it forces the point, it brings to the surface your fears and doubts and struggles. It strips you down to your essential humanity and inherent dependency. Here is where you find out what you are made of and who your family are. You are forced to leave everything else behind and quiet yourself and just listen"

Eugene Peterson is one of my personal heroes and he passed away earlier this week. He translated the Bible into words I could easily grasp and digest in my daily reading called The Message. This January I decided to read the Bible through in 2018 like I have in years before, but I chose to use the Message version this time.

Eugene has an oft quoted saying that has been a personal anthem of mine in the last several years, especially as it relates to foster care. He wrote a book called "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction" and that phrase is exactly what this life of faith looks like. It is a marathon of endurance, one of trust and hope even when we get tired. It is quite literally one foot in front of the other without an end in sight.

In his book Eugene says, "And yet I decide, every day, to set aside what I can do best and attempt what I do very clumsily--open myself to the frustrations and failures of loving". 

I have found nothing more frustrating that Foster Care. I have hardly found anything that feels so much like a failure as Foster Care does but there is only one option for me and that is loving in the midst of it. It may not be what I am best at in the moment, but love is a choice not a feeling and I choose to show up with love. Love looks a little different each day. Some days it is quiet, rocking chair, brushing hair and kissing owies love. Some days it is emailing, calling, firm tone and word rallying advocacy. Some days it is both.

This system is failing children day after day.
It is very broken and it starts at the top...and that change doesn't come easy or free.

I believe those who love Jesus need to engage the system more than ever, but I also will be honest in saying when Sunshine goes...we will most likely step away from the role we have carried and will take a long sabbath before deciding how to engage again. This season has left our family beaten and bruised and drained and weary. I have found myself unable to pray because I don't know what to pray for, the previous prayers seemingly unanswered.

As I wrestle with the realities of a broken world and I engage in brokeness on a daily basis in the form of a precious child, I know there is no solution outside of God to heal these wounds.

The limbo she is in is damaging to her development and future. Children were not meant to live in the "in between" and there is nothing our family can do about it. Talk about feeling helpless.

I have never endured a season where God did not teach me something new about my own brokeness and need for Him. I know at the end of this I will find a new depth of love and dependency on God because He is faithful in that. I am unsure of the damage that will come before that though, to my family and to her. That is the honest and hard truth of it all. We will continue. We will endure. We will break over and over again because we believe this is where we have been asked to love like Him and when it is over I will lay shattered in a million pieces as the child I have raised as a daughter leaves and we learn to grieve and feel relief all at once.

Nothing is black and white, there are no easy answers for anything hard in this world. There is no perfect equation to solve foster care or any other hot topic our world is faced with on a day to day basis- but there is only one way to engage it all and that is with love.



Thursday, October 18, 2018

Mom Guilt- Fake News

Mom Guilt.

This is not a new phenomenon- my own Mom shares stories of the guilt she has felt, and just like the guilt I have felt- it isn't warranted.
The difference is we now have this double-edged sword called "social media".
We get to see and experience what everyone and their *literal* Mother do during pregnancy, birth, post-partum, newborn days, toddler days, school days and beyond.
We have an up close and personal view (sometimes too personal) about what methods are used for conception, birthing, and placenta care (yeah, this wasn't a thing when I had babies but holy hot topic now)
We know how and why someone feeds their baby, how they sleep at night and what their thoughts are on crying it out and vaccines (by the way, I am pro both).

On one hand this is great, we get to see a multitude of options and learn there is more than one way of doing this mothering thing.
On the other hand, these methods are presented as if they are the best, the only way and the smartest way.
"If you loved your child as much as I did, you would do XY and Z and I have read so many articles supporting my right way, because the internet is never wrong and the source was good so I am right and if you are not doing it my way you are wrong and you don't love your child."

Fake News.

If you don't breastfeed your child will get sick all the time, it's hard but you should do it.
You should work outside the home so your children know what it means to be a confident and independent woman.
You should  co-sleep because of your baby needs you.
You should not vaccine because it is a conspiracy.
You should carry your child 24/7 because that's what people in other countries do.

More fake news.


The truth?
You should do what is best for you and your child.
You will also find out that what is best for one child may look different when you have another child. You may find that you try one way and it doesn't work so you try another way.
You may have ideas about how you want to raise your child but it changes when you are in the thick of it.

It is okay to do your own thing as a Mom. We all love our children- even Mom's who aren't capable of safely parenting their children for a season or forever...LOVE their children.
 We all want the very best for our kids.
The very best for my family will look different than the very best for your family and that needs to be okay.



With my kids 10, 7 and 7....I am out of the "new Mom" phase, and for those of you who also fit that category I am talking to you now....

You and I need to speak truth and encouragement to new Moms because it is HARD.
New Moms are trying to figure out this thing on the fly, just like we did.
They don't need jaded Mom's to say things like "You'll miss it" when kids don't sleep because that is a lie. You will NOT miss not sleeping all night long.
Please don't say "Just wait until they get to ____ age", that doesn't help.
New Moms don't need to hear how to do things, they just need to know they are doing a good job.
If you're asked advice, couch it in "this worked for me but it may not work for you" otherwise- keep your mouth closed and just be there.
Be there to listen, to say "You are doing great" and that is it.

Guilt by definition means "feelings of deserving blame especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy."

Ew. Yuck. Ouch. No.
I reject the notion that you or I as a Mom deserve any sort of blame.
I reject the notion that you or I are inadequate for this job.
You need to reject that too.
You have everything you need to do this Mothering thing well, and you have the option to use the tools and resources you need to seek out help in the areas you feel you lack in- that is your call.

If you need to step away from social media because it leaves you feeling inadequate- DO IT.
If you need to hide a few "friends" because they consistently bring you discouragement- DO IT.

We get to decide which voices we listen to, who has input in our lives and who we trust.
Be careful with it, be wise and be YOU.

You are a good Mom.
You are doing the best you can with what you have and every season is a challenge- but you are up for the task.
You do you and we will do us and let's raise a tribe of humans that lift one another up for the differences that exist because they saw it modeled by their Mama's.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Abide

Abide


Abide



Jesus says, “Come...abide in me”

Abide means to bear patiently, to wait.
Abide

Jesus says, “Come...abide in me”

Abide means to bear patiently, to wait.

When I slow my breath and take note of its rhythms I am forced to surrender other thoughts.

I am intentionally learning to wait- but not for answers, for His presence.


“I am the Way. The Truth and The Life” He says

The Way
The Truth
The Life

The Way

  • the way of peace
  • the way of hope
  • The way of trust
  • Of knowledge
  • Of purpose

The Truth

  • the Truth I seek about who I am in Christ
  • The truth about how loved I am
  • The truth about my purpose
  • All of this is found in Him

The Life

  • the Life lived fully
  • The Life that breathes life into me
  • The Life of sacrifice
  • The Life of meaning


Jesus is always the answer to the questions

Ann Voskamp says “Peace is a person not a feeling”

So I breathe slow
The thoughts race and I push them aside to focus on Him
I purposefully abide, wait, bear patiently … in Christ because I am nothing without Him.

I will go my own way, tell myself a false truth and toil at a life focused on self if not for Him

He is my first step
My steady
My way
My truth
My life

Abide in me

Abide in me

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Beauty from Ashes

In this world of foster care there is always loss involved at every turn.

Someone experienced loss at some point in their life which was not dealt with properly which lead to poor decisions which inevitably repeated throughout generations. 

Loss begets loss and so forth.

When a child comes into care the foster parents are eager to know and love these children while recognizing the profound loss they have just experienced by the traumatic but necessary removal from their family. Children want to be with their parents no matter how terrible the situation they came from is- it is hard to fathom but it is true.

The loss of a child and the ability to parent that child is profound. The parents that lose the right to tuck their kids into bed, choose their clothes and kiss their owies love them deeply- it is never about whether they love them enough or not- it is about if they can safety care for them and that’s the hard truth.

Our family is for reunification.
We believe families belong together and that regardless of what we think we can provide, nothing replaces a parent.
We have witnessed a beautiful reunification with our own foster son when so many thought it would never happen, we believe in grace and second chances and hope.

We also believe in the opportunity for children to grow up in a safe home, taken care of and provided for in ways that love alone cannot. We are for reunification until we aren’t and that’s where we landed with our current situation.

We began praying for a new path to be paved for Sunshine’s life- we begin to plead that God would move mountains to provide Sunshine with a safe and permanent home that would allow her to grow into the beautiful person God has created her to be. 

We have had countless restless nights with little to no sleep, pleading on the behalf of this precious girl. We have pushed and advocated and written emails and letters and made phone calls and texts doing our part as her foster family to give a voice to our hope for her.

In the midst of all of this we have not stopped praying for her birth family. We have prayed they would get the help they need to make the best choices for themselves and that the rest of their lives would be full of healing and hope and the love of Jesus- even if they aren’t parenting this child. 

Today we believe that God answered our prayers in a way that could only be described as a miracle. The details don’t matter- and I couldn’t share them if I wanted but believe me when I say, “only God”.

While we rejoice in this we recognize the loss that has occurred and will occur because of this and we don’t take that lightly- there is a tension we embrace in this crazy system and it is hard and ugly and beautifying collectively.

The road ahead is long- there are multiple things yet to come and more decisions to be made and, yes... more loss. But we believe God will be faithful- He will be faithful to our family and to Sunshine and her future.


“To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.”
Isaiah 61:3 NLT



Monday, July 2, 2018

The Kingdom Of God




I grew up going to church. Not only did I spend most of my weekends attending at least one service, I was also involved in serving other people on a regular basis. As a middle schooler I would work in the kids department, serving on the drama team or as a small group leader, or even in the nursery. As a high schooler I struggled to find any connection and found a safe haven in serving with the middle schoolers (that was my first and last time doing that amen). Soon after I graduated high school I was a young married and opened my home to many high school girls for bible studies, and served in student ministry at church. Outside of this I have a list as long as an Office Depot receipt of places I had served. Everything from the welcome booth to envelope stuffer... I'd pretty much done it all with the exception of anything music related. The Lord did not see fit to bless me with anything related to that, even though as a young person I prayed nightly for at least a decent voice.

Serving was safe. Serving was steady. Serving was comfortable.

Unfortunately there is no growth in the comfort zone. All of these things that I was doing, all of the serving... I was fully capable of doing it on my own. I didn't need God in these places. That's not to say what I was doing wasn't good or important or needed- it is just that I was fully capable of doing them within my own limits but is that really what God is calling us to?
This is similar to where to people of Israel found themselves in Isaiah 58.  They were going through the "religious motions" of their day. The first few verses of this chapter say that these people were delighted to learn about God, they even say they were "hard on themselves"!! How often do we burn ourselves out serving, believing we are doing what God wants us to do?  They ask God, "we have been fasting and working and serving and where are you God??" God uses prophet Isaiah to call them out of their comfort zone and complacency into a life of real faith and reliance on God. Isaiah 58:6-12 says,


"No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply. Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes'

The same way that God used the prophet Isaiah to call His people out of there comfort is how He used the Holy Spirit to call me out of mine. The Kingdom of God is born in these wild places of discomfort.

As the Holy Spirit began to move in my heart to step out of my comfort and into the things His heart is after, we began to position ourselves to say yes to what was next. We were doing life with other families who were feeling the same stirrings in their hearts, knowing that God was calling us to something more, something different, something even scary and we were all in. We began praying prayers of "God we will do anything" and asking what He might have in store for us.
Sometimes we have no idea where to even begin, we know God is asking us to live into what He has for us but where do we even start? Thankfully scripture gives us a good guide. Matthew 6:9-13 tells us how to pray,
 This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one."
As Christ followers part of our role is to partner with God in bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth, this idea of “already and not yet”. As believers we are actively taking part in the kingdom of God, although the kingdom will not reach its full expression until heaven- we are to bring heaven on earth.
So how could we bring God’s Kingdom on earth?
The thing about prayer is that it works, and as we continued to pray, God was faithful and put things in front of us we could not ignore.

In 2015/2016 we became aware of the foster care situation in our State. We got up close and personal with it because our best friends adopted through the State and saw what the impact of a solid foster family could have on a child. We saw the desperate need for quality foster homes and the devastating statistics. Like many people I had a distorted view of what foster care actually looks like, and like most people I was wrong. In Oregon there was an average of 7,600 children in foster care on a daily basis. And in our county alone there were 514 kids in care, and only 97 community foster homes, these are homes that aren't relative or family friends. That is a huge discrepancy, especially when you think about the number of churches there are in our state...why wasn't there more of an outcry about this?

The fact is, kids in foster care are not the state's kids, they are God's kids and therefore as the Church they are our kids too. Our responsibility. Our burden. Our mission.
We had been praying bold prayers, positioning our family to say yes to what was next and knew that God was calling our family to foster.

Now, this wasn't what I was expecting. In fact, this was the farthest thing from my mind. When I began saying "We will say YES to whatever you have for us God" I definitely envisioned our family moving to South Sudan. I am a think second type of person, so mentally I had already sold our belongings on Craigslist and I was prepared to raise my kids in a hut, barefoot and sweaty. THAT was scary and adventurous and crazy, but what God had in store for us was far more scary, and far more vulnerable than I wanted. Sometimes God does call people to move far away and live in a grass hut, and sometimes the call is far closer to home. There was something about this that felt too risky... this was my hometown, these kids went to our schools and I shopped at the same stores as the parents and it made me sweaty just thinking about it.
But just like there is no growth in the comfort zone, there is no comfort in the growth zone and did I actually mean what I said when I said I would do anything? Jennie Allen says in her book Anything:
Christ never intended those who walked with him to feel comfortable and safe.
This was meant to be a risk-it-all pursuit.

The goal of foster care is reunification if at all possible and that is not as easy as it sounds. This is hard, it is risky for your heart, risky for your family and risky for the kids you may take into care. You open your home and your heart to a world of unknown and it often feels like a blindfolded journey. But we press into it because as Isaiah said,
You will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes....
Then your light will shine out from the darkness"

In February of 2016 we got a call just a mere 24 hours after our home was deemed safe by the state and while we hadn't finished our entire home study we could take placements if needed. The call was for 8 month old baby boy Z,  and we said yes. Over the course of the next few months we loved on him and cheered for his Mom. She was doing everything she needed to get him back, and we told her we were on her side. I developed a great relationship with her and through that she shared with my her unknowns about the baby she was currently pregnant with, knowing she was not wanting to parent another child. I was able to connect her with friends of ours who were hoping to adopt. Three months after Z was placed with us he was reunified with his Mom and just a few short months later our friends adopted her baby and we all remain in contact to this day.
We could not have known that our YES to foster care would have led to this, our YES led to a YES of keeping a baby she could have aborted and a YES to adoption and YES to life.

We took a break after Z and I began shouting from the rooftops about foster care and the need for more families. I hosted meetings in my home and in coffee shops and did Facebook Live events and at our church and for church's all over the State. We needed to do more and I was determined to gather an army of people alongside us to step into this mess.

In June of 2017 we said yes to what we thought would be a short-term placement of an almost 3 year old girl, before moving to another state. Because I have summer's off this felt like a great YES and one we felt fully capable of doing. One thing I know for sure is that there is no for sure in anything, especially in foster care. We ended up having Sunshine for 7 months and advocated hard for her and her family to be reunited and when it happened we were relieved. We were tired and weary and ready for a break. Along with our biological children we had not anticipated 7 months of a 3 year old when we had originally said only infants and were expecting three months with her at the most.

30 days later we received a phone call that Sunshine needed to be placed again and could we say yes? I will be honest in saying this yes was harder than any of the previous ones. We felt misunderstood by God, "hadn't you heard our cry for a break?!" We felt we needed healing and rest and were planning on an extended period of this and the phone call felt like a punch to the gut. This part doesn’t often feel like the Kingdom of God, it just feels like work. But what it really is about is trust. My friend Shawn says that God’s love language is trust- that when we trust Him we show Him how much we love Him. And so we trusted God with the details and said yes.

Currently we are thick in the mess of it, parenting a child from hard places is unlike anything else and takes so much extra effort on behalf of all of us some days it feels like we are treading water. We believe we are planting seeds of trust, love and hope in Jesus believing that Sunshine and those involved in this situation would find hope and healing in Him.

You see- God does something beautiful when we step into these broken places. Just as Christ entered into our brokenness, we enter into the brokenness of others lives in order to bring God's Kingdom. Foster care is broken. Foster children have broken hearts and broken homes and the system is broken. Might we enter into this space of brokenness and chaos to bring Christ? We know we aren't called to easy things, but we are called to the things of Jesus. Ann Voskamp says in her book The Broken Way

What matters most is not if our love makes other people change, but that in loving, we change. What matters is that in the sacrificing to love someone, we become more like Someone. Regardless of anything or anyone else changing, the success of loving is in how we change because we kept on loving.”

God does far more in us than we could anticipate, and I have been stretched and pruned and fine-tuned and things in my heart have been revealed that never would have if I hadn't stepped into this. It is a painful and holy process, becoming more like Christ...but isn't that what we want? To be more like Christ?

I believe the church especially, the body of Christ, is uniquely positioned to impact the foster care system and bring the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth to kids in care, their families and those that care for them in the waiting period. We are trusting what Isaiah says, trusting that in living this way, in bringing God's Kingdom on earth we are joining Christ and becoming "rebuilders of homes" and playing a part in the restoration of others- even if we never see that fruit. We understand that God has called us to step into hard places for the sake of His Kingdom. We ourselves have been rescued. We have had our lives restored and we are in the best position to act.

I don't know what your life looks like. Maybe like me, you've been a part of a church serving for years and going through the motions but sense God stirring in your life. Maybe you know exactly what you need to say yes to, but you are afraid. Maybe you feel really comfortable where you are at and you are focused on your own family and can't even process taking on anything more. Can I challenge you to at least position yourself to say yes to what God might have next for you? My story involves foster care, and while there is not doubt more of us should be fostering, it is not for everyone. Your story is going to look completely different than mine, but one thing that will be the same is the willingness to have your boat rocked a bit. Some easy next steps for each of us...

1) Position yourself to say yes. What might be in the way of saying yes to whatever God is calling you to? Maybe you need to take care of your finances first so that if God calls you to up and go, you can. Maybe there is some internal work that needs to be done on your heart- whatever it is, take care of it so that there is nothing hindering you from what might be ahead.

2) Be in community with like minded people. This is huge. When you are in community with people who get what you are doing and understand the crazy risky stuff you say yes to, they will be your biggest fans, your best prayer warriors and when things start to hit the fan- they will have your back. You need people who are moving along the same trajectory as you, even if their yes looks different.

3) Pray. Ask how you, or your family might bring the Kingdom of God here on earth. I promise you God will be faithful to answer- just hang on to your hats!