I’m No Missionary: Letting God Wreck Our Life Anyway

I listened to a homily today while I faced off with one of the few things I can control: our family dishes.

Let’s have an aside before we begin, to high five all the priests across the land who can take us to hermeneutics of seminary, reveal something new about the Divine, and drive it to heart personally, all within twelve minutes or less. Listen and learn non-denominational microphone mackers to your liturgical brethren of the concise pulpit.

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The main point from the homily was that Mary, the mother of God-made-flesh, is an ultimate example of responding to God with a YES and becoming a part of that divine response. But even Mary wasn’t given the final game plan and had to live by faith as events unfolded.

In our circle there has been a lot of discussion and fumbling tries to understand what it means to be a current buzz-word – “family on mission” – and the practical ways this can play out for a typical Christian family in America where there is never enough time or money or energy or fill-in-the-blank with what your deficit mentality warns.

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There is a movement for our families to figure out how we allow our lives to be a yes here and now, with what we are already doing. This is clunky and full of half-starts, because changing culture is hard and when it comes down to it, we just don’t want the inconvenience of it all.

There is an ingrained sentimentality that if you do mission work “over there” then of course it will be uncomfy.

Of course there will be bugs.

Of course there will be physical, spiritual, and emotional opposition.

Of course I had day-visions of demons while living that summer in China.

Of course my husband almost died from malaria gone-too-far while we were missionaries in Malawi.

Of course our friend was stabbed for a cell phone and left to bleed out while his four boys watched when serving in Costa Rica.

Of course.

“These things happen,” we rationalize. It is all part of the missionary gig to expect risk. We have normalized this opposition so much we become blasé to the dangers.

But what about here?

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We want Divine yes-breath to warm and woosh over our life but we get irked when it frizzes our hair out a bit.

What is the disconnect to expect drama and sacrifice for the “over there” missionaries so much we anticipate it, and let’s face it, junkies for the high of those stories, but attempt to avoid risk and inconvenience at all cost as “families on mission” here?

You always tell us how brave we are to do foster care. We are and we are not. Mostly, we just told God we are okay with a messy life and we are figuring out the rest as we go.

You always widen your eyes and ask if teaching in an economically challenged middle school is something we always dreamed of. We laugh. After eight years of being in that community, my husband feels a responsibility to continue in those relationships, especially in this current political climate to be a person of kindness to his many teenage refugee students.

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We by no means have this figured out but we’re trying to be open and there is a cost. There is heartache and unknowing and measly paychecks to the way we are setting up our life here. Sometimes I find myself telling off God for messing with what could have been a very easy life.

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I am left to wonder how pushing away hardship from our lives all these years hardened our hearts to the plight of people over there and paved the way for fear to be weaponized legally and seemingly instantaneously.

I live from the gut so when you yell at me it is either the safety of my children or the safety of theirs, I have a moment of confusion and second guessing, because I am not addressing issues from a position of cerebral authority – which is the only position our culture upholds as true.

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I teeter for a moment before I remember that is a straw-man argument. I don’t buy into that. There is my family and there is their family and there is your family and there is enough for all.

We have fallen in love with our comfortable, un-inconvenienced lives more than our fellow man. Both within our own city, and certainly with those beyond our borders.

I consider Mary from my viewpoint of a mother who is obsessively in love with her kids. Even Mary had to watch her son be publicly humiliated and slowly murdered. Even she. Safety has never been the banner of living a life for others.

So people of the church. It is time to decide. How do we live now?

 

 

 

 

Saying Goodbye

You cried when we walked away, dear boy, and I let you.  More than wanting to shield you from sadness, I want you to know this is the bitter to the sweet. It is appropriate to feel this. You are allowed tears in this life. We cry for the loss of it all and walk away resolved in hope.

You said you were happy he gets to be with his Mommy and Daddy again because everyone should get a chance to be with their mommy and daddy.

I lingered on your face a little longer at this comment. I watched your eyebrow lower and the tiny dimple to the left of your lip flicker with thought.

We were a placeholder. It was always our job and our privilege to say goodbye so their family could be whole again.

You mentioned you’d miss your fun times playing together.

This says so much about you, dear one; the three year old you shared a home with these past many months was not always immediate “fun”. You drew all the goodness and calm and happy inside him to the forefront.

He was so ready to love, though, and you allowed his love a place to land. You didn’t realize it, but every time you received him, you mirrored an unspoken truth of identity to his spirit; he was important – he was still worthy.

Good people do this. They can look beyond a behavior. They can see a soul. They make all the goodness in others rise effervescent to the surface.

We left them there, your foster brother and sister, a newly reunified family at the park, with the wind rushing cold announcing a winter sunset.

You said goodbye to the kids and stayed near their stroller making silly faces as I gave updated bottle and rash ointment and clothing instructions to the adults.

Then we drove away and just like that they were gone.

People ask me how I can do this to you, sweet child. Allow other kids into your home to share your toys, your parents, your emotional space. Let you have to wait a little longer sometimes and ride an emotional wave of goodbyes.

I promise you, my love, that we will only place you in situations that will stretch you but not harm you. This is our family life and we’re in it together.

If I could give you two gifts it would be a generous spirit and a resilient heart; knowing that when you give there will still be an abundance and that feelings only strengthen your heart.

We get to have generosity and resilience because HOPE lives inside us. Hope is why you can love a child as your brother these many months, then wave goodbye in a park parking lot.

Hope.

That it will be restored. That there is a future. That the slow-burn of healing will outlast any resistance.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ…

We drove away and I could see you both in the rearview – you in the backseat and their family by the swingset.

You cried while the sky drizzled a million blessings on your head and I prayed wordless exhales of gratitude for you, my son, and hope for the son with his rightful family I just left at the park.

 

 

 

Welcoming Interruptions and Inefficiency

I have started this blog post exactly countless times.

I come to the pen or keyboard daily to construct bridges from words and to extract what needs a portal from the land of ideas to our concrete world.

It is this exact moment, as any mother in the long history of mothers will verify, that the happy baby can only remain that way through holds and the child capable of shimming up doorjambs to reach the nether tops of the fridge, who can burp the alphabet in one pass, is wildly incapable of pouring his own glass of water. Inevitably, the toilet overflows. Interruptions, invariably.

I have popped down our hill to the grocery store no less than three times the past eighteen hours, because while I can remember the queso fresco and green chiles and all the yummies to make kid quesadilla lunches feel like an event, I cannot make it back with the cheddar.

This is what my life feels like. A lot of hustle. A steady stream of interruptions. A lot of inefficiency and little productivity.

It is easy to become annoyed or pile on the shoulds. Falling asleep (again) on an Elsa duvet wedged between a sleeping child and a hard plastic doll feels like self-betrayal. During the daylight interruptions I had mentally promised to conquer. this. shiz post bedtime. Yet; sleep wins every time.

I scroll through the squares and start chastising myself for why I haven’t figured this be a woman, be a wife, be a mom thing out yet. I readily forget the lady reading in a hammock with hot cocoa is in her twenties without kids.

We are here, muck deep in mid thirties. Sweating children, cheating time, and praying for rest. Still, we dream.

Can the presence of divinity and social change begin with tiny domestic acts right here? We are audacious enough to believe they can. Right here, in the emergency run for Iron Man pull-ups, in the swaddle of a crying baby, in the quesadillas cut just so and the interruptions for water refills.

This year I look forward to more writing and an attempt to be more zen about interruptions. I rest in the fact that during this phase of life, living big means tiny acts at home, for the tiny humans here and for myself. Little increments at a time. Together we will make a whole life.

To my fellow thirty somethings (or 40 somethings) with all the children and all the ideas and none the sleep and little the money, a word from a poet:

be easy. 

take your time. 

you are coming

home. 

to yourself. 

-the becoming   wing by Waheed

Love and a little more ease to your hustle and mine.

 

10 Things I Wish I Knew the First 30 Days of Foster Placement

 

ONE. This is messy and broken work on the inside. It will also show up messy and broken on the outside. If the kids are young (and especially if there are young bios in the house) there will be a constant onslaught of food on the floor, and broken toys, and ruined clothes, and dirty dishes piling up. It will feel crazy on the inside and crazy on the outside. This is normal.

 

TWO. Black out the calendar. This is not a time to be room mom or do playdates…yet. Start small. Stay home. When the kids can play safe together venture into the backyard. When you can all play safe there, venture to a small fenced in park. These are bunker down days. It will not be your usual pace. You’re used to functioning at a high capacity; from a productivity level it will feel like you are accomplishing nothing. This is normal. You are actually doing quite a lot of important foundation work.

 

THREE. The anxiety of new placements for kids often expresses itself in their bodies. Runny diapers and faucet faces while their stress levels are high is a natural body reaction. The constant snot on furniture and people and your sweater and everything will probably feel gross and stressful while colds spread through the household. It might add to the feeling of chaos internally and externally. This too is normal.

 

FOUR. Create a family language with foster and bio kids of public space and alone zones. All toys and items in the living room are for everyone to use. Bedrooms can be where they have toys that belong to them they don’t have to share as well as a place bio children can go to take a break from foster kids if needed.

 

FIVE. Our certified babysitter family members want to help. Often, however, the behaviors and high-attention needs of our foster kids are overwhelming and out of their know-how to handle. It has been a more beneficial (and relationally healthy) use of our time to have our certified family spend special time or do special outings with our bio children and to use respite families or daycare providers who have foster specific training if we need babysitting help for longer than an hour or two.

 

SIX. Consistency is key. The kids are learning. Even if it seems like they don’t know anything about self-regulation or body awareness or food organization of social interactions or simply how to lay down to go to sleep at night. They are watching and they are learning. Stay consistent. You might not see results yet, but nothing can replace putting in the time and effort now at the forefront to gain the connection and structure and responsiveness and felt-safety the kids will have a few months from now.

 

SEVEN. Have a behavior plan before you are both standing in the thick of it. Have your script ready. Know what you will say, what you will do, and what the child will do. We all imagine ourselves to be a hybrid between Mary Poppins and Karen Purvis; in the heat of it, we are not. Don’t get caught reacting. Know what you will say and do for redirection, direction, and behavior interventions.

 

EIGHT: Set up relational boundaries and expectations with the bio parents early.

 

NINE. Don’t feel bad contacting your social worker about things big or small. They are here for you.

 

TEN. There will be nights you will go to bed in a panic or storm of doubt or near tears wondering “Did I even look my bio child in the eye today? Did I hold the foster kids enough today?” There will be moments when strangers ask you why you do it (foster care) and in the midst of the hard you will come up blank. For the life of you, you cannot remember. Don’t be alarmed. It feels hard because it is supposed to feel hard right now. I recently heard a seminar by Lorraine Fox, a professor with years in the field, who reminded us that love is not the results. Love is the effort. The results are not ours. Only the try.

 

 

When You Don’t Want to Christmas at Christmastime

My son asked for an Elf on the Shelf and my chest constricted. It was like he doesn’t even know who I am. Or hasn’t been paying attention to the amount of managing happening around our home while we transition temporarily to a family of seven. But Christmas isn’t about managing systems to him. He believes with all his six year old little heart that trixy informant of perma-surveillance will move itself. To my son, Christmas is still about the magic. The miracle.

Usually at Christmas I want the house scent cinnamony, the harmonic carols loud, and every last twinkle light twinkling. But not this year. This year boxes of decorations are still shelved in the garage. The door stands naked of adornment.

We have a minimally decorated tree in the corner, bottom half empty because two year olds. We have a basket of holiday books on the hearth and an advent book on the table. That is it.

I don’t want the decorations. The candles and the presents, the tinsel and movies can’t be Christmas. This year, more than ever, I need it quiet. I need it calm. Even the usual garlands and wreaths feel claustrophobic to me. I can’t change the chaos happening around me in the world or our home but I can decide how much noise to bring in.

When it feels like every nerve ending is fried with the sadness and need of humanity, what is desired is calm and the soothing comfort of hope.

When you don’t want to Christmas at Christmastime, possibly, you are not the problem. Possibly, you are aware that the main thing needed this year across the world and in your own heart’s home is hope.

Hope coming. That is Christmas magic. That is the only Christmas we need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Loving Everyone Isn’t Actually Loving

This isn’t a theological debate or an invitation to list all the ways I’m wrong or to remind me that loving everything about someone isn’t real love. I have listened to all the arguments over the years. This is simply me stating my opinion which is by no means shared unanimously by my church, family, or household for that matter. But I am not afraid of losing any of you, especially those of you who have been touched significantly by this hot topic and still disagree with what I’m about to say.

This is a coming out story twenty years in the making. Much isn’t expressed here, but the main points are.

We’ve been waving the “Love Everyone” banner for quite a while now as a church culture and I have a problem with it. I think it is cutting more harm than blanketing good.

If I tell my gay friends that I love them, but disagree with their lifestyle choices, am I still loving them unconditionally? Am I not implicitly telling them I think they are broken? Not just broken – we are all in need of God. But twisted. Sick. Dismissing God from touching their lives. That’s a different language altogether. That is language slicing deep into identity and certainly questions any young adult grappling between God and self-loathing has already screamed these to the heavens during the years of owning their sexual identity.

I think many of us are caught in the disconnect between the Church’s official line that homosexuality is wrong and our heart’s intuitive whisper that it isn’t.

I’m going to do something radical and say we get to trust this still small voice as the Holy Spirit offering us a new way. A freedom way. A love without conditions way.

I refuse to look my gay friends in the eye and tell them anything other than they are beautiful and whole and imagined in the star-twinkle of a Mother-Father God’s halo and their life is already beating to the rhythms of divine wonder.

We have been so wrong about things in the past and misinterpreted Bible to justify the cause. All I am saying is we are behooved to entertain the possibility that as a whole, we have gotten this wrong too.

I am less concerned about maintaining either the evangelical or liberal party lines as I am concerned about the mental health and spiritual liberation of my friends.

Not in an “I love everyone….but” way. In an I love you way. Period. End Dot. Final Story.

 

More Kids? “More” Kids.

We have walked our family to the ledge again. This time we did it in full awareness of the cost. On Wednesday there was a text. On Thursday I was driving a two year old and two month old to our home. For the past month we’ve been at full go.

For a question marked length of a meantime we are a family of seven. They will definitely be with us until December. They will possibly be with us longer, depending on how healthy their parents can set up a home and how their court dates progress.

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I have been using up all my emotional reserves developing relational boundaries with the birth parents. Even so, we are still for the birth parents. We are rooting for them to figure it out. Generational poverty and subsequential lack of education is not a reason on its own to dissolve a family. When they know better they can do better. In the meantime, we are here.

You have more kids?

I like to think of it as we have “More” kids. Foster kids are normal kids. They’re also “more” kids. Because of their trauma background everything is more. Feelings, triggers, emotions, reactions, redirecting required, self-soothing strategies needing to be taught, body-awareness, food organization, every little thing is MORE. Parenting a “more” kid is physically exhausting and requires a deep well of emotional capacity and a good amount of general creative problem solving.

Honestly if it were just the infant our family schedule probably wouldn’t change our day-to-day that much. Nothing would feel drastically different.

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But it’s not just an infant. It’s an infant and a two year old  and our four year old and our six year old and our eight year old and we peel ourself into strips to pass out to each child to meet a need, wishing that strip wasn’t quite so see-through-thin to give. 

The days are hard and isolating since our one fun friend outing ended in a double-stroller underboob sweat up the canyon from the farthest netherlands of the zoo to the car and our other outing was a rushed drive to the emergency room. I have talked to the produce guys more than actual friends face-to-face this month. Raise the roof hands for our unlimited text upgrade so I can keep my humor with potty-mouthed real-time updates to my bestie.

These are bunker down days.

Except for the daily drives as my cheat to simultaneously get three tired tinies asleep for naps, we stay home. I am a non-stay-home, stay-home-mom. We are usually out taking in our world. I am not a homebody. My four year old is not a homebody. We are learning to be homebodies because we are needing to be homebodies for these little ones who have so much to learn and need a safe, predictable space to learn it.

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These are strawberries and quesadillas are good-enough days.

These are Jesus take the wheel days.

These are days when it’s not only okay that I am not enough, but preferred. I don’t want to be enough for this. Everything broken or hard in our scenario right now is layered physical and spiritual. I don’t want to be responsible for the energy and the healing. I only want to be faithful to be there and allow God to bring in everything else required. I don’t want to be enough for this but I choose to believe we live in a universe where all things will be provided for restoration. Therefore we can respond in generous abundance instead of have our actions tied to a mentality of lack.

We’ve seen improvement with the toddler, and growth with the baby, and bonding with all, empathy and sacrifice and generosity from our kids, and all the hard stuff in between and it all comes back to time.

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The hard part about hard work is the time required. There is no way to maneuver around it and the consistency needed in coaching and engaging with the kids. We have to put in the time, which means letting go of a lot of things. Our house is significantly messier, all flat surfaces covered in sippy cups and empty Coke cans and diapers and crusted cereal. RSVPing “no” to evites is my new intoxicator. And each child, except the oldest, is held to sleep because more than anything they individually want to know there is time for them alone.

We are exhausted. We are good.