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!


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