Finding God In... FOSTERING

Dear ones, we're about half-way through this amazing series. I hope you have been greatly encouraged by the testimonies of those who have shared part of their stories with you. As a slight reprieve, I want to feature a post this week about fostering. Gabe and I are foster parents and we met this amazing lady when she taught our licensing classes. I would in no way categorize fostering as a 'dry-season' or a dark place... however most of the children that we get to love on and bring into our families are in extremely dark places (or have been in the past.) What they have been through is no joke (as you saw with Lizzie and her post last week.) But God is, of course, in this whole process as well. And I am pleased and privileged to have my friend Dana share a bit of her family's journey.

 

The ONE.

Foster Parenting is not something I grew up dreaming of doing. In fact, it only came as a result of a really tough personal season of “laying it A.L.L. down”. Growing up, I always knew I would be in ministry, and for many years I was sure I would be a missionary to the nations, touching hundreds of lives. And for a season I did just that. Until God me into something unexpected. He called me to the ONE.

Through a season of unplanned detours, both career-wise and heart-wise, my husband and I ended up putting down roots in Missouri in the summer of ‘07. We moved with a specific passion and goal in mind: to foster teenagers. And not just any teenagers, but those with severe emotional challenges suffering from the effects of unspeakable trauma. In short, God has called us to parent those who are facing their last chance to have family. When children experience abuse and neglect at the hands of those who are tasked with protecting and providing for them, it wreaks havoc on their mind and emotions. Couple that with the often-traumatic experience of being brought into foster care and shuffled from home to home, our young people learn quickly they cannot trust a single soul except for themselves. Many of the teens who come to us have not really been parented at all. No curfews. No respect. No good night kisses. No boundaries. No peace. No soccer games. No safety. Just Fight Flight and Freeze in FULL operation mode. Cue the challenging behavior.

This can all get very overwhelming, to say the least. My husband and I often feel inadequate, worn out and ill prepared to handle the tremendous brokenness that meets us at our door every time a new young person moves in. Until I remember the ONE. There is something about Jesus’ story of the 99 that is both life giving and perplexing. The fact that Jesus would leave the 99, to find the ONE, speaks volumes to me on a daily basis about what we do in our home. In all honesty, my family could use our resources elsewhere and probably touch and encourage many many more than we do today = the 99. But instead, He asks for my focus to be on the ONE. The ONE. When I let myself think about how powerful that is, I am stirred deep within at the honor it is that He allows us to have access to the ONE.

The ONE who spent her entire life being sexually abused by a step parent who was supposed to love and protect her. The ONE who was passed off to a local pimp at 11 years old because her “mom” was done raising her. The ONE whose step dad murdered her mom – who instantly became an orphan. The ONE whose parents consistently chose their addiction over their own child over and over and over again. The ONE has a face, a name, a story, a soul and a purpose. The ONE was fashioned by the Creator in her mother’s womb and He has not abandoned His desire for her despite the hell she has endured. The ONE is called. The ONE has a destiny. The ONE can and will be redeemed. This is why we foster. For the ONE.

 

To find out more about the amazing ministry that Dana and her family have, please check out their website www.dogwoodranch.org

Between God and Jonah- When Rowing to Shore is a Very Bad Idea

This summer at Camp Barnabas was chock-full of GodStuff, but none more pronounced than what God taught me through our daily devotionals. Camp did 4 days of devos over Jonah– one day for each chapter. Multiply that times 9 weeks of terms and I got a whole ‘lotta Jonah. You’d think for such a short book that I would have run out of material, but God had other plans. To see part 1 of this series, click here. Still in chapter 1, I hope you've had a chance to read through this very short chapter. If not, here's a quick link. Read it aloud to yourself. See what strikes you as you read it. I'll be right here...

Okay, so Jonah... or rather, as I did with the first #Jonahpost, I want to talk about the sailors again. Oh man, those poor sailors! I think they must have been rather perturbed to find themselves the innocent bystanders in the middle of this cosmic, supernatural show-down between God and Jonah. Except they weren't bystanders at all were they? They were smack-dab in the middle of a very real storm, with very wet rain, very huge waves, very blustery winds, on, as the NIV says, a "tempestuous" sea. Their lives were in danger in a very real way. And all because this crackpot Jonah decided to run away from God on their boat.

This mariner would be less than amused.

Yet how often do we find ourselves in the middle of a massive storm of someone else's making that suddenly becomes very much our business. The waves meant for them- blast us. The winds meant to blow them away- encircle us. The rain meant for them- saturates us. And before we know it, someone else's storm has become one that consumes our own lives.

Let's see how our mariners are doing.

11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”

12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”

13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.

The verse here that gets me every.single.time. is 13- despite having very clear instructions on how to obediently and swiftly exit stage left the sailors "INSTEAD... did their best to row back to land" (emphasis mine.) Whoa! Wait a minute. I'm confused. At what point did these poor saps think it was a good idea to get between God and Jonah? They had instructions. They knew what to do. And yet they took it upon themselves to save him. Suddenly the sailors decide that they have some weird responsibility to save Jonah from the wrath of God... and they actually try to fix his situation.

I would love to point fingers here, though I think that 4 others would be pointing back at me.

Haven't we all, even in the middle of someone else's storm, tried to row them to dry land? As dangerous a place as it is, we have chosen to insert ourselves into (what we consider) a solution to somebody else's issue with God. We boldly and recklessly stand between them and God Almighty thinking we have a better solution, a better way to shore, a better idea of how to fix the problem.

Arrogant much? And extremely costly- both in time and lesson.

It's time to throw our Jonah's overboard dear ones. As hard as it sounds, we have to remove ourselves from the supernatural battle (i.e. spiritual lesson) going on. Jonah's storm of disobedience does not give us permission to become his salvation (more on that in the next newsletter!)

Notice that the storm stopped ONLY once the sailors obeyed instructions- which involved throwing him into the sea. The storm affecting them so mightily came with Jonah and immediately left with him as well. I can only imagine the same effect can be had when we listen to God and obey His instructions to us about the Jonah's in our lives.

You may be asked to throw him overboard, you may be asked to row him to shore. But take care to listen and obey. So often these storms not of our doing involve our very intentional 'sacrificing of him to the seas' in order to be walking in our own obedience.

Search your lives dear ones and see if you're trying to row a Jonah to shore. It's a hard oar to hold, a dangerous position to be in. Inserting yourself between God and a Jonah is a very precarious position to be in.  Ask God for the courage and wisdom to throw him overboard if that's what's necessary.

Crocodile Rolls and Other Not-So-Snuggly Things

Our house has a weekly "sleepover" where my two boys and I get to go to sleep in the "big bed" together. It's a fun night that we all look forward to, filled with wriggles, giggles, reading, singing, and various episodes of borderline insanity that may (and more often than not, does) occur when you try to put two boys under 5 to bed with Mommy. It takes hours sometimes.

I love these times. I am very well aware that both my boys will eventually grow out of thinking this is best thing since sliced bread. I am all too cognizant that one of these days getting to sleep over with me just won't have the same draw and excitement as it once did (cue sad puppy faces with Sarah McLachlan music...) Knowing my time is fleeting with them, I cherish every moment we get to do our sleepovers.

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One of my favorite moments of these nights is after we've read, and done hugs and kisses, and answered questions, and watched Bible stories on my phone, and sung several songs (mostly made up by the oldest)- we then finally settle in to just straight up cuddling as they fall asleep. It's my most favoritest ever! Despite the fact that both of them take after their daddy and sleep at approximately 145 degrees, I love their little cuddles.

That is... I love the potential for their cuddles. More often than not, however, it takes them a bazillion years to actually lay still and fall asleep. Me? I'd be out in about 4 seconds if given the chance. The boys take quite a bit longer to totally unwind. They are both wrigglers. My 3-year old does this rolling thing we have dubbed "The Jonah Death Spiral"- just like you'd see on Animal Planet (though with considerable less teeth and tails.) He just rolls and rolls and rolls before he can get comfortable. It's not unusual for him to wake up with the blankets wrapped around his little body a dozen times. Too often there are still a number of things not.quite.right in their little world that cause the wriggles to continue- too hot, too cold, jammies are bunched, have to go potty, the door is still open, the dog is in the way, etc. etc. etc.

And all the while...

I just want to lay quietly and cuddle. In those times my only desire is that they be still and lay with me. I want that Hallmark movie scene. Rarely does it happen, but it is wonderful when it does!

I imagine God is the same way with us. I love the idea that He looks forward and longs to just cuddle. To be quiet and still together and relish the companionship; to hear each other's breathing, to listen to the beat of our hearts, to feel the warmth of each other. Moreso, how much must He love it when we just snuggle close to Him and fall asleep. It takes such a intricate combination of childlike trust, love, exhaustion, and satisfaction with life to get to that point of snuggly, gooey parental warmth! Oh how He must long for it just as I do with my kids! For as much as I cherish those brief times, I know He must as well.

Psalm 46:10 shows His desires for our snuggles perfectly. Look at all the wonderful translations of this passage-

"Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted amondesign (7).pngg the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." NSAB

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” ESV

"Be in awe and know that I am God. I will be exalted among th e nations. I will be exalted throughout the earth." ISV

"Stop your fighting--and know that I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth." HCSB

How often do we spend too much time and energy doing spiritual crocodile rolls? We wriggle, we want to talk, we need to go potty, we are too hot, we are too cold, we lost our blankie... and all the while our Father, Abba, is patiently and eagerly anticipating our snuggly stillness. Cease striving, be still, be in awe, stop your fighting... 

 

 

Snuggle with Abba more dear one and get some REST!

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Ragged Around the Middle

This last week has been hard. I mean HARD! No, nobody died, I didn't lose any limbs, the house did not burn down, and all our pets and houseplants are still alive... and  yet, I feel like I've been beaten on the inside with a baseball bat. I am tired. No- I am exhausted both emotionally and spiritually. I may look okay on the outside, but man! I am ragged in the middle! I am goo on the insides.

I probably should have seen the potential for a bad week on the horizon. After all, I came off an incredible spiritual high in Houston over the weekend at a Beth Moore conference (#LPMLIT). The Holy Spirit was so palpable there, I had such a soul-renewing experience. I felt that God and I worked some stuff out and He just poured lavishly into me. It was wonderful! My parched soul got some much-needed God balm.

I should have known when I fell sick on the way home on Sunday that there were thunderstorms in the distance. I got home and spent the next day with a high fever and was pretty sure I had been run over by a truck. Two of my 3 kids were sick as well, and between them all they managed to pass the ick around to each other for the entire rest of the week. Just when one got over it, the next one took up the puke baton. I've spent more time cleaning up vomit (on light carpet no less, insert sad face..) than I can remember in recent memory (and I'm a nurse!).

Both my boys decided to go ahead and go through baby boy puberty this week as well. My oldest fell head-long  into "I am 5, hear me roar, I don't need you, I won't obey you, I will personally do everything in my power to make your life miserable" mode. Awesome. He's like a tiny bull in my china closet- and, much as I hate to admit it, he did a lot of damage to my psyche this week. The middle kid, who is going through "I am finding my independence, I don't want help with anything, my brother is trying to kill me, I have all these new emotions that I don't know what to do with so I'll just cry ALL the time like a pre-pubescent teenage girl". I am telling you, I literally have PTSD from his cry right now.

My daughter continues to have some pretty serious GI issues with not being able to keep food down. We have a specialist appointment scheduled and it cannot come soon enough. The poor baby can't help herself but she is a hot, sticky, smelly mess more often than not.

Whew! They are exhausting. And, full disclosure... I really don't like my kids right now. I love them, they are mine and I suppose I'm responsible for them, but my love bank is going on empty with them during this particular season. It's just the truth, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. They are just so HARD right now.  I know I'm not alone and I know I'm not the first mom who has seriously considered sending her kids to a boarding school in Antarctica... indefinitely. (I'll send them birthday cards.)IMG_9190

Perhaps what is really the kicker for me is I feel there is no small part that I've played in this. Their behavior can only be (at least partially) due to my parenting skills- or, lack thereof. Ouch. It's a hard pill to swallow and one that goes down with no small amount of shame, frustration, discouragement, ire, guilt, regret, and anger. At myself. I am so bad at this at times!

I'm their mom, I desperately want them to be successful and happy, obedient and respectful. In short, I want to raise normal human beings who I don't constantly fear will spontaneously combust with sin. Is that too much to ask?

Right now I'd give myself a solid C- in this parenting assignment. I'm sure there are those who would say that I'm being too hard on myself, but I'm admittedly frustrated. So, because I'm a writer, you get to share in my vent. I'm at my wits end with my boys, and my heart hurts for them, over them, and because of them. This parenting stuff is difficult and not for the faint of heart!

I don't have any reality-shifting insight into this. Except to say that once I get over this emotional muscle-soreness, then it is on like Donkey Kong with my boys. I won't be outwitted, outwilled, or outwiled by two kids that combined don't weigh as much as my left leg.

A few lessons I'm leaning on:

  • I am reminded hourly how much I need God's help and wisdom in this season. He is a perfect parent, so I can't go wrong by committing this way (again and again and again) to His direction.
  • I am sobered by how my kid's behavior is a reflection of my parenting. It makes me think on how my behavior reflects on my Heavenly Father's parenting. Am I an accurate representation of Him?
  • I realize that as much as I want them 'normal', that they are exactly that- they are sinful little heathens that need Jesus. Their behavior is nothing less than what is to be expected. They are as normal as normal can be.
  • So, going off of that, I DON'T want them normal... I want them exceptional. I want them different than others. I want Jesus for them. I want more for them than what their own little fallen nature can offer.
  • I am very much looking forward to the end of this season, yet need to remain resolute in hashing it out day to day while we are in it. As much as I want to throw up my hands, throw in the towel, take up chain smoking, and punch a wall (let's be honest here), I know that I am called to more and better. These little sinful aliens wrapped in adorable child costumes do need me, and need me to show them better. So I'm required to step it up. I need to model Jesus more and better- consistently and regularly, intentionally and with passion.
  • I am not naive to the fact that I am battling for my kid's hearts and souls with Satan. He's fighting for them as well. This ALONE is motivation enough for my endurance...
  • I am grateful for God's gentle patience with me and His guidance through this.IMG_9192

So, without a victorious closing paragraph, today Mom I just want you to know that you're not alone. Momming is difficult and it downright sucks at times. We don't have to like our kids all the time. I'm giving us permission to dislike them occasionally. It doesn't change our love for them, but it's a more honest take on this thing called motherhood. We're not perfect and that's okay. God is perfect and as long as we're leaning on Him, we'll be good to go.

On those super hard days and season, lean harder into Him. Or, as I heard Beth Moore say this last weekend, rather kneel down in front of Him- this will get you praying instead of fighting and ultimately out of the way for God to clock your kids Himself. Let their Daddy take care of it!

Are You a Disobedient Helper?

My boys are the best disobedient helpers ever! They have mastered it completely. We put up Christmas at our house yesterday and my 4-year old was feverishly jumping between me and Gabe in an effort to "help"' us decorate. Our 'Little Napoleon', as you've heard me call him, has an opinion on just about everything you can have an opinion on- regardless of whether he knows (or has even SEEN) what he's talking about. But the child also likes to help, and is never short on advice (again, regardless of his experience on the subject). Despite that, he has a servant's heart and he is a <good> helper, though I think he likes the IDEA of helping much more than the actual helping.

Because more often than not, helping involves doing something I've told him to do- he has to do it my way and obey me. And many times, it's not as glamorous as it sounds.

Take for instance, putting up the lights on the house. Jesse was ecstatic when I told him he could help his daddy put them up. I'm positive he was sure I meant that he would be on the ladder, putting up each light in just exactly the places he thought they should go. I'm also equally positive that standing next to daddy on the ladder while holding a string of lights off the ground was NOT his idea of helping.

But it WAS helping.... or at least in theory it would have been helpful...

As with most 4-year olds, his version of helping lasted all of about 2 minutes, at which point he dropped the lights and proceeded to complain that I wouldn't let him help.

"Mommy I want to HELP!" (strong emphasis on the HEEEELLLLPPP!)

"Jesse, if you want to help mommy, you have to do what I ask you to do. I already gave you a job."

"But I'm helping NOW," he stated as he gently dumped over an entire box of lights onto the ground. "I'm going to help daddy put these up!"

Not. Helpful.

I can't tell you how many times I've caught myself telling my children that if they want to help, they have to DO what I tell them to DO. THAT is the most helpful thing to me. It does me no good to tell them to clean their toy room and I find they have made their beds instead. It's nice, it's great they did that.... but that's not doing what I told them and needed them to do.

It's not helpful.

It's disobedience.

Or if they want to help me with cooking, but won't follow the instructions. Helping involves following someone else's orders. It assumes a certain humility during the act of service. Putting aside one's own prerogatives and following another's commands is innate to being an obedient helper... and therefore a USEFUL helper.

I imagine God is no different. If He tells me to do something and I don't, even if I do something else righteous or good or noble in it's place- I'm still being disobedient. And I'm not being helpful to anyone at that point. God cannot use people that refuse to obey what He wants them to do, regardless of how much they may want to 'help'.

Part of what I'm trying to teach my kids is that HELPING involves OBEYING. That's a hard-fought lesson from me, and no less a hard-fought lesson FOR me.

I'm sure it's no coincidence that every.single.time I have to tell them, "If you want to help me, please just do what I ask!" God's voice echoes back in my ears. Ugh! Raising kids shines so much light on my own walk! Funny how that works....

Search your actions today dear one, are you walking in obedience?

Are you being a useful helper?

 

Thank you for taking the time to read my heart today. Please comment below with thoughts and ruminations of where your walk is today. Please share and follow if this blesses you!

Why running away is exactly what God wants you to do

My young sons were playing in the park the other day with my husband. They had spent the better part of the afternoon there and it was starting to get dark. Time to go home. We recently moved to a new neighborhood within walking distance of this particular park so my husband decided to see if the boys were familiar with their surroundings enough to find their way home. "Boys, it's time to go home. Our house is that way, " he said pointing broadly to the west.

Except our house is actually in the exact opposite direction...

Jonah, our 3 year old, looked at Gabe, saw his pointed finger, and took off running in the direction it was indicating yelling, "Okay daddy!" as he bounded off. The boy loves to run. It took Gabe by surprise how quickly he bolted away- without question and with fervor- such immediate obedience. Blindly and unquestioning, Jonah heard his father's instructions and obeyed them with gusto. He was 50 yards away before he heard Gabe hollering at him to stop and turn around! If only our oldest, Jesse (or as we call him, Little Napoleon, was so immediately and blindlessly obedient... he simply looked up at Gabe during the initial instructions and told him promptly that our house was in the other direction- the boy's got internal GPS! But I digress....)

I love that my kid listens to his daddy. I love that, despite 'incorrect' directions, he still obeyed what he wanted him to do. Even if it didn't make sense. Even if it went against what he knows to be true.

If only we as Christians would obey our Father in heaven so immediately and blindly!

Even when He gives us 'incorrect' directions...

Scripture tells us over and over to have faith like a child. Abram had it despite God commanding him to sacrifice his son. Moses did it when God told him to meet with Pharoah while doing and saying some pretty crazy things. Joshua obeyed when he was told to simply march around the walls of Jericho. The Bible is littered with examples of obedience in the face of seemingly insane instructions.

I am constantly convicted of how little my own faith looks like a child's and how hard it is for me to achieve such faith! It shouldn't be so tough and yet it is! My head, logic, reason, and foolishness get in the way much too often for me to ever claim to have faith like a child. It is a sad state of affairs when my 3 year old shows more obedience and pursuit of instructions from his father than I do of my heavenly Father. Oh to run away with such immediate vigor in the direction God tells me to; without hesitation, without argument, without questioning the reasoning- even when the instructions seem to make no sense at all!

As a mom, it frustrates me to no end when my littles question me or delay their obedience. In fact it often infuriates me! I desperately want them to listen and obey. We have a song in our house about obedience- "When we obey we do it right away, we do it all the way, and with a happy heart." Gabe and I instituted it several years ago for the kids, but dadgum! does God not use it almost daily to convict me of my own obedience to Him! Funny how He works like that... and how often my behavior must frustrate Him (thank God for grace!! Amen?)

I want to be like my Jonah- who listens and obeys his father immediately, with excitement, as fast as his little legs can carry him; without thought or argument, without reasoning or suggesting a better direction.

So today, dear one, I challenge you to pursue running away with as much gusto and faith as you can muster. Look to where God is pointing His finger and GO!

Will you obey right away, all the way, and with a happy heart?

RUN AWAY TODAY

 

Thank you for taking the time to read my heart today. Please comment below with thoughts and ruminations of where your walk is today. Please share and follow if this blesses you!