Friday, May 26, 2017

What I wish I would have known

1. Fostering is going to hurt. A lot. You will think about the heartaches your foster kids have endured and it will break your heart. You will never see suffering in the same way again.  Their stories will stay with you in your head, and their faces will forever be imprinted on your heart.

2. People won't understand why you choose to foster, sometimes even your closest friends and family. Most will be supportive, but there will be those who discuss your choice behind your back and say things to your face that will feel like a punch in the stomach. It's okay. It's part of the process.

3. You will realize just how selfish of a person you are. Flexibility is your best friend when you foster, and you will absolutely hate how annoyed you get at interruptions. It will make you or break you, so my advice is to let it make you.

4. It can cause remarkable tension within your original family unit. Relationships will have to grow to accept a new person, and it will most likely be a difficult transition.  You will have to be intentional to spend extra time with your bio kids, and give them a listening ear.

5. You will get angry at alcohol and drugs for how they come between the kids you care for and their families.  You will want to scream with anger at how the parents will allow harmful behaviors to have priority over their own child.

6. You will become very frustrated by the hoops that have to be jumped through, and the system that you have to work with. It will get so frustrating that you will want to quit...often.

I also wish I would have known...

1. It will change you... forever. Your eyes will be opened to a different world that you didn't know existed. You may have known that children were mistreated, but when you live with the face of one who is neglected or hurt, you suddenly can't help but enter into their pain.

2. You will grow to love these kids with a fierce, protective love.  You will do whatever it takes to help them understand how much you want them to succeed.  You might even rub your foster child's back every night and sing the same song over and over, just hoping that someday when they are older, they will hear that song and have a comforting memory associated with it.

3. You will wake up each day with a purpose greater than yourself.  You won't be able to walk away from this other world that you have entered into. Your life will become less about having a bigger TV, and more about making sure your foster child has a bike.

4. Your family will be forced out of their comfort zone, and it will be good for them.  Their eyes will see suffering in a new way, and it will have a face attached to it forever.  They will have the opportunity to learn empathy, a skill that involves entering into someone's pain.

5. Your life will stop being so much about you, and more about how you can leave a mark on a child's life that you may only have for a few weeks or months. You will come up with clever ways to help that child feel love, regulate their emotions, and you will pray that they form a bond with you. Because bonding is one of the most important "skills" for them to acquire.

6. You will come to appreciate the system that surrounds these children and tries it's best to help the child achieve long term success.  You will realize that the Case Workers, Guardians, Parent Coaches etc, are all over worked, under-payed, and doing the best with what they have. You will not always see eye to eye with them, but you will need to learn how to work together in order to make successful transitions a possibility.

Foster parenting can be a wild ride, but it's one I'm thankful I've had the privilege of being on. I am a different person today because of it.  I pray often that the little lives we've loved in our home will never be the same. That they will grow and flourish into incredible human beings because someone was willing to help them during a time of transition.

If you are thinking about fostering, but worried about what it means, I get it.

Just know...It won't be an easy task, but it will be rewarding. You may wonder if you can continue, and you may even take breaks from it along the way.  You will learn that you need boundaries and self care.  You may find that your involvement in the system looks different from time to time.

The point is, these kids are worthy of your time and attention. They are worth getting up in the middle of the night for. They are worthy of a caring home with a comfortable bed.  They are worth it.

What I wish I would have known, is that your life may change forever, but you won't want to go back to the way it was before.

Friday, May 19, 2017

I want.

Image via Unsplash

I have been experiencing an unusual case of the "I wants" recently.  It's most likely due to the promise of Spring peeking right around the corner, that brings with it the desire to renew the old stuff in my life.

I look around my home and see all the projects that would seemingly make my life more meaningful when completed.

I walk into my closet and am faced with the disorganization I have allowed to invade my everyday existence, and find myself scheming how I can acquire the latest and greatest tools to make that space work.

My kitchen suddenly seems outdated and frustrating with it's creamy laminate floors and stock kitchen cabinets. I'm unsettled and ungrateful.

I often feel guilty when those thoughts creep in.  After all, I've lived major portions of my life without perfection in home essentials, so why do I care so much?

I suppose there is something to be said for the way I am wired.  I am a Creative by nature, so I love the renewing and restoring part of any project. I am inspired by color charts and the way textures can beautifully compliment each other.

There's nothing inherently wrong with finding pleasure in creative endeavors, but there is something off when we strive for perfectionism at every turn.

When our wants become an unending distraction to what our soul needs, we are the losers.

I'm challenged by the idea that our focus should be centered on the important work of renewing our minds. Of allowing the Spirit of God to remake our inner beings. We must cast off the distractions that take away from the ultimate goal of seeing. The goal of seeing our lives through the lens that our Sovereign God desires us to.

We must allow our sight to be restored.

In Mark's Gospel we read a telling of the interaction between Christ and a blind man named Bartimaeus.

 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.
Mark 10: 46-52

We have to be willing to throw off the cloak...the things holding us back from our healing. Matthew Henry writes the following, "The gracious call Christ gives us to come to him, encourage our hope, that if we come to him we shall have what we come for. Those who would come to Jesus, must cast away the garment of their own sufficiency, must free themselves from every weight, and the sin that, like long garments, most easily besets them..."

In my life the weight that often besets me aren't the big things.  More often it is the little annoyances, frustrations, and feelings of discontent that hold me back.  They fill my mental real estate and create a web of clutter that I often allow to mess up my day.

I know the key to real joy. I am aware that to the degree I pursue Christ, I will experience a feeling, or awareness that can't be taken away by simple circumstances.

When I am tempted by feelings of discontent, I have the power within me to focus on all the beautiful ways God shows up in my life.

First, He saved me.  For real.  I was a mess before He changed my life.  Before surrender I lived an existence of striving.

Secondly, He changed me. He made me into a new creation. And He's not done yet!  Every day I wake up is a day where God chooses to mold me into the person He thought of when He created me.  I only have to keep letting Him have first place in my life.

Lastly, He loved me.  Correction.  He loves me.  If all he did was die for me, it's enough.  But, that's not all He's done. He walked before us. He came to earth as a real person with real hurts and human perceptions. And in His walking on this earth, He gave us a road map to a life of joy.

Psalm 16:11 says that "in His presence is fullness of joy." Jesus knew the secret to joy was perfecting His focus on His Father.

Similarly, when we feel our gaze shifting to things that can't bring us lasting fulfillment, all we have to do is spend time with the One who gave us time. Prioritize Him!

In John 15:5, His words give life and hope. "...I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing."  To have true joy, we must abide (remain fixed in a state) in Him. We don't ever stop abiding. We don't ever stop living in His presence. And when we abide, we will produce much fruit.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Those don't come by accident. You don't just sort of acquire those traits. We remain in Him, and He lives through us.

So practically speaking, when I find myself zeroing in on the things I believe to be imperfect in my surroundings, it's time to check my motives. I have to ask myself why I am hyper-focused on it? I need to consider the possibility that I'm looking to perfection in my home, in my life, my family to be the source of my joy.

If i'm obsessing about the state of my surroundings, instead of the state of my soul, then something is off.  I'm very aware that the correcting of that skewed thinking can take time and purposeful redirection towards what really matters.

When the lack of perfection in my house and life is stealing my joy, I need to look deeper and make sure I'm not looking to the wrong things for my fulfillment.

I LOVE this passage of wisdom found in II Corinthians 4:16-18.

"Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."

My house, my things, my worldly possessions will decay.  Our bodies will decay.  And while we don't need to neglect the improvement of those things, the better fixation would be on our inner self. What we think about. What we choose to dwell on in those quiet moments.  Who we allow to control our inner dialogue. All of the outward striving to achieve perfection only serves to create a feeling of discontent and emotional instability.

I think we intuitively know that our bodies, our things are decaying. We know that there is more out there, which would explain why we feel like we need to change something again and again. It's why there are trends in the world. It's why there are "hot items," which will be old news before the year is over.  We are working to impress people (sometimes ourselves) and all along our Creator is saying, Come to me. I'm literally all you need. He says in Matthew's Gospel,

 "So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  (Matthew 6:31-34).

He cares about our needs. He will supply our needs. But, I think He desires to be our greatest "want."  He tells us to seek first His Kingdom...His Righteousness.

So the next time I feel that sick feeling of discontent in my gut, I'm going to remember that He invites me to worry less about tomorrow, and more about His plans for my life, and for the lives of those around me. I'm going to continue to enjoy creative projects, and re-do things in my home.  I'm going to continue to go work out and eat healthy food.  But, I refuse to obsess about things that God clearly tells me to stop obsessing about.

I want. It's how God made me.

I just want to seek and pursue His kingdom and righteousness first...before I seek that perfect wall color.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Strength through Weakness

I am not enough.

Selfishly, I want to be. I don't want to have to bow before Anyone and admit that I can't make it without help.  A lump forms in my throat, and tears well in my eyes as I contemplate the fact that my work isn't enough.

I never really understood until recently how much of a perfectionist I am. There is nothing worse in my human estimation than looking back at a situation and realizing that there were a hundred things that could have been done differently.

We all may know intellectually that failure is good, because it helps us grow. But that doesn't help in the moments when we look that failure square in the face and listen to what we think it says about us.

Some of us deal with speaking failure over a scenario before it's even happened. Certain personality types lean towards negative predictions, and I confess that at times I fall into that category.  If the plans that were laid out so neatly don't stay that way, then we think we are doomed to fail.  This kind of thinking needs to go.

I keep thinking about the people that followed Jesus while He lived out His earthly ministry.

They dealt with weaknesses. (Luke 22) With failure to understand what Jesus was doing. (Mark 9,10) One of them even went so far as to deny that he knew the Christ when it came down to it. (Mark 14) There was bickering and misunderstanding. There were moments when things didn't go as well as that band of believers thought it should. (Mark 4).

It gives me hope, in my weaknesses. Reading their stories, and how they came through it gives me courage to keep going.

Ministry doesn't have to be perfect.  It will be messy and unpredictable and wild.

A life of surrender won't be an easy one. There will be confusion and redirection...time after time.

However, through it all, there is one thing that remains...

The Word tells us -  “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." II Cor 12:9 ESV

We do our best. We allow God to work through us, no matter how weak we feel. And we rest in His provision of strength.  Sometimes we get to see the fruit. And, sometimes we don't. Faithfulness is what matters in each case.

Be encouraged that in the knowledge that the most unqualified and imperfect people have been and will continue to be used in the upside down Kingdom of God.

Father, it's yours. It's all yours. Every talent, every gift, every provision you've supplied to us.  We give it back to You, so that glory may be given to You, and You alone. Thank you for allowing your imperfect people to partner with You. To You be the glory, forever.