Monday, July 29, 2013

Fear and Punishment: The Glory of God in Foster Care

Any foster parent (or anyone who regularly deals with mistreated and abused children) can attest to how often interactions with these children can remind us of the abuses they have been exposed to in their short lives. Over the weekend, I had one of those moments, which was heartbreaking, soul-crushing, convicting, and in the end still brought me hope.

Little Miss (our three year old foster daughter) was being a little monster. If you have tried to consistently discipline and instruct a child this age, you know that even on the best of days there are struggles. However, this was not the best of days. She was absolutely terrible and defiant. After getting a timeout (for doing what, I really can't recall at the moment, because all the timeouts of the weekend seem to blend together),she screamed for almost half an hour in our home's designated "time-out area" (in the hallway with all the doors shut and the baby gate up). Timeout is only supposed to be three minutes, but for the timer to start and run, you have to stand facing the wall without screaming. She was screaming, jumping around, and rolling on the ground.

About 20 minutes in I resigned myself to a long fight, so I got up and changed from my blue jeans and polo into a shirt and khaki shorts. When I came back into the living room, I noticed I had forgot to put on my belt and my shorts were loose. So I went back to the bedroom and grabbed my belt and walked back into the living room. I stopped and talked to my wife, who was editing pictures on the computer. I joked with her for a minute and popped my belt a couple of times, making the distinct sound of the leather snapping together.

Across the room, Little Miss screamed, "Don't hit me with the belt!" and ran as far as she could away from me down the hallway. I was shocked. I hadn't looked at her, touched her, or even acknowledged her presence in the last ten minutes. My heart completely sank and any frustration I had with her over her recent defiance and disrespect immediately washed away. For all of the bad things she had been, in this moment she was a scared little girl, terrified that she was going to be beaten.

Mustering as much control as I could over my emotions (I wanted to start crying, to be honest) I put my belt on, then walked over the baby gate and took her in my arms, looked her in the eyes and said, "I promise I will never hit you or hurt with you with anything. I will never whip you with a belt. Ever. I love you." I then kissed her forehead and put her back in timeout. She is barely three and yet already has enough horrible life experience to equate the popping of a belt with violence, fear, and pain. 

I'm not here to say I'm staunchly pro- or anti-corporal punishment, but being a foster parent I am not allowed by law to use physical punishment with children in my care. But at some point in this baby's life, she has been angrily and violently dealt with, to the point that she in that moment was afraid of me, someone who has never physically hurt her a day in her life. 

"So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.We love because he first loved us." 1 John 4:16-19 ESV 

Why am I a foster father? To show children who may have never truly been loved in their lives the love of God the Father, a love that knows no limits or bounds for His children. A love that is eternal, from the very foundations of the world. A love that was most truly manifested in the dying Savior Jesus Christ, bleeding on the cross of Calvary. Jesus Christ, who is the great King and the Ancient of Days, was humiliated like no other, all for the great love with which God loved us. A love that gives us confidence on the day of judgment that we will not be forced to stand on our own works and righteousness, but that of Christ.

So the fear that I heard in her voice and saw in her face is similar to the fear that we see referenced in verse 18 above, which is a fear of punishment. I want her to see the love of the Lord, which is a love of discipline for her own good, born out of a desire to glorify God and to lead her in that path, not a desire to lash out over a bruised ego in anger. Lord Jesus, by Your Holy Spirit fill me anew with the strength to demonstrate the fruit of Your Spirit to Your Glory.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Like a 3 Year Old - The Glory of God in Foster Care

Last Sunday, a couple of hours before we were to leave for church, Little Miss (our 3 year old foster daughter) stated, "I'm ready to go to church." I said, "We will in a couple hours." She responds, "I gotta put my church clothes on." So we play and hang out all morning, then about 30 minutes before we leave, I tell her that she needs to get dressed for church. "No," she said. Those of you with children at this age know that "no" is said freely and often. So I gave my usual response, which is something like, "Yes ma'am, we are going to put our church clothes on, we don't tell adults no." She then throws herself on the ground. I then say, "If you aren't standing up and putting your clothes on by the count of three, you're going to timeout. She slowly gets up, but when I get to three she says, "No, I don't want to." With that began a 15 minute fight to get her to do a three minute timeout where she stands in the corner and faces the wall with no screaming, crying, hitting things, or laying down. To be transparent, I was really pretty frustrated at the whole thing. I was thinking to myself, "Why did she throw that fit, when I know that she enjoys getting dressed up in her 'pretty dresses' to go to church and see our friends and play in the nursery? And on top of that, why won't she just take the discipline (three minutes of standing in the corner with no crying) so she can get out and be done with it? I wish she knew that I'm doing this for her own good, that she will learn to be obedient and respectful."

I then started thinking about how this played out much like my relationship with God plays out. As my Father, He wants me to love Him above else and serve Jesus as Lord and Savior. In doing that daily, I should live selflessly, sacrificially, loving others, taking up my cross, bearing others burdens, all in worship to glorify God our Father in Christ through the enabling power of the Spirit. Yet I screw up and drop the ball all the time. And not just well-intended mistakes where I tried really hard but just couldn't, but childish and selfish mistakes. I also look at circumstances where I either don't get what I want, or not in the time and place that I demand it, and (both figuratively and occasionally literally) cry and throw fits. Then, when discipline comes my way in order to test, shape, mold, teach, and sanctify me, I STILL resist and throw more fits. Instead of realizing that as believers that we are being disciplined because the Lord loves us and wants nothing more than to conform us into the image of His son, Jesus Christ, that we may have a more perfect communion with Him. Hebrews 12:7-11 (ESV) attests to this: "It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."

Praise God that even when I don't want it, He loves me enough to strengthen me to persevere, that at the end of the day, "My soul makes its boast in the LORD." Psalm 34:2 (ESV)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Foster Care - He Bids Him Come and Die

"When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die." Dietrich Boenhoffer.

When I first read this in Boenhoffer's book "The Cost of Discipleship" something inside of me stirred. My heart jumped inside my chest. A feeling of excitement permeated my body, but alongside it came an innate sense of fear, quickening my pulse. It is an altogether beautiful and terrifying quote. Boenhoffer refers to the call by the Lord Jesus that "if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23 ESV) How often do we really consider the cost of what Jesus is saying here? That if we are to come after him, which as Christians is the very purpose and goal, to pursue the Lord for His glory, then we are to die daily. And not a death that happens painlessly in your sleep after a long, full, rich life, but a bloody, gory, shameful, tortuous death. That is what the very definition of death on the cross. However, there is a promise in the very last two words of that sentence. If Jesus ended it before the "and" in the sentence, it would seem a very gloomy and terrible calling. However, Jesus said "follow me." When we take up our cross daily, we are following in the footsteps of the One who took up the cross already, "who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God." (Hebrews 12:2 ESV) Christ already defeated sin and death and already purchased His bride, the church, by His blood. Therefore we have nothing to fear when we take up the cross, for while Christ's cross was one of wrath and condemnation, our cross is one of sanctification, making us more like our Creator in order for us to one day enjoy perfect communion in His presence and until that day to grow closer to Him and more like Him.

What does this all have to do with my experiences as a foster dad? Today I was reminded that these children first and foremost are not my own and that while they may call me Daddy and I may fill that role, there is no guarantee that it will be that way permanently. The thought sickens me. Even after one month, these children have captured my heart. But in my thoughts of despair and hopelessness, came the words of Dietrich Boenhoffer. "When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die." So simple. So elegant, So beautiful. Christ has called Christians everywhere to die to the flesh, to die to themselves, to die to their hopes and dreams. But not to wallow in death, but in order to be resurrected in Christ."Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him." (Romans 6:8 ESV) It isn't wrong to want to love foster children as your own and to treat them as such and it certainly isn't wrong to treat them as if they were to be permanently part of your family. My sin is in the questioning of God's will, thinking to myself, "God, why would it even be a possibility for us to not keep these kids forever? We love them so much and we take such good care of them. We can provide them with a loving Christian home. You can't take them away." The God of the universe has no reason to listen to me and every reason to rebuke my questions, yet He loves me and reminds me that regardless of the future with these kids, I am to love them as God loves His children, to take up my cross and follow Jesus.

"The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" (Luke 17:5 ESV) This is my prayer for myself and all the other foster parents God has called into this incredibly hard but incredibly fruitful ministry.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Foster Care: One Month Later

Today marks one month that we have had our two little ones in our home. It has been one of the most (if not the most) challenging months of my whole life. Sleep has become somewhat of a luxury, as has significant relationship time with my wife. The stress and demand of being constantly needed, wanted, and called upon can sometimes be overwhelming. However, the little things that happen along the way seem to overcome all of the strife and hardship. The little blessings from God that come in the form of these two little children have helped sustain me. Listening to my wife sing the baby to sleep, ministering to his little ears about the love of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Being sick recently, and having our 3 year old give me a big hug and say, "I'm gonna make daddy feel better." Seeing a transformation and an attachment grow in both of them in one month's time. Seeing my mom and dad instantly and simply slide into the role of "Gram Gram and Pop Pop (hope my Arrested Development loving friends appreciate what we did there)". Hearing our sweet girl pray to get to go to the zoo again (which funnily enough is progress for prayer time). I could continue on, but I'm tired and am ready to spend time with my wife.

Most of all, after one month of being a full-time foster dad to a three year old and nearly one year old, I see my own sin and depravity and God's lavish love poured out on me in spite of it all. Whether I am kind, caring, and loving to the kids, or impatient, sarcastic, and angry with them, God loves me just the same and gives me exactly what I need regardless. I love these kids and do whatever I can to give them what I believe they need as their father, yet I am sinful and make mistakes and fall short of glorifying God in my parenting daily. But this promise from Jesus in Luke 11:11-13 floors me every time. "11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him." Wow. Our Heavenly Father is so amazing and "all the promises of God find their Yes in Him. That is why it is through Him that we utter our Amen to God for His glory." (1 Corinthians 1:20).

Amen Father. Glory to the name above all names, Jesus Christ.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Foster Care and the Glory of God

Hello blogging world. It's been a while. 2.5 years to be (almost) exact. I started this blog a long time ago, when I was a completely different person. I just read back through my posts from 2010 and can clearly remember the struggles, trials, triumphs and comforts of the time, but I see it all as though almost reading a biography, instead of an autobiography. God has changed me so much and revealed himself to me in so many different ways that while my driver's license and (hopefully) physical appearance haven't changed much since my senior year of college, I feel like a changed man. I am married, have a full-time job, a member of a new church, and a foster dad. I have seen my perceptions of who God is and what He is all about change and have had my theology turned upside down and shaken around. God has used men and women along the way to sharpen me, as well as to challenge almost everything I have ever believed or known to be true. It is absolutely amazing, yet also terrifying, to see how much God has shown me of Himself through His Word. Not that I have it all figured out. Not. Even. Close. To quote Paul "Not that I have already attained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own." (Philippians 3:12) God is so much infinitely grander, greater, and more glorious than I could ever imagine. 

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, here is my purpose for restarting this blog. Many of you know that Jennica and I have been foster parents for a couple of months now. It has been one of the hardest yet most rewarding experiences of my life. So, while mopping the kitchen tonight, I decided that it was time to step back in the blogging world to proclaim God's glory in foster care. This blog will not be a regular, set thing; more like just a natural outflowing of the build-up of life. I do not want this to be perceived in any way as a testament to my personal achievement, strength, courage, bravery, boldness, love, sacrifice, passion, etc... That is the last thing I'm going for here, because frankly, without Christ those are impossible things for me to display and only in Christ can they be fully expressed and enjoyed, for His glory. John the Baptist (who Christ describes in Matthew 11:11 as the greatest of those born of women) says it well, "He must increase, but I must decrease." It's all about Christ. He is the one who is eternally increased, enthroned at the right hand of the Father, and when confronted with this beautiful, powerful, awe-inspiring truth I have no choice but to decrease. Which is why any time I believe this blog is getting to much about me, I will (hopefully) have the foresight and humility to step away and refocus on the one thing that is truly worthy of all focus: the glory of God in Christ. 

"For God, who said, "Let light shine out of the darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Corinthians 4:6)

That is my life. 

Foster care is the ministry God has called my family to, but not because I believe we are special or different or called differently than many other Christian families. I don't see this as a unique calling, nor is it one that was given in a dream or vision. It is a calling that is given to all believers, everywhere, all the time. It is the beautiful truth of God, explicitly stated over the pages of the whole Scriptures. God loves the fatherless and the orphan. God, through Christ, took us who were spiritual orphans, with no true Father, only the false father of lies as our "father", and adopted us in a Spirit of sonship. The Father, through the death and resurrection of the Christ the Son and the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, has made us children of God, co-heirs with Christ. God did this for us when we had sin and depravity staring Him in the face. Our certain damnation outside of Christ was ours fully and outside of Him we chased and embraced it. "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together in Christ - by grace you have been saved." (Ephesians 2:4-5)

In foster care, these children are temporary (and sometimes permanent) orphans through no fault of their own. That is a claim that no man, because of our sinful hearts, can make before God the Father.  Yet even with our sinful hearts He chose to love us anyway and to love us enough to not leave us in our damnable state.

Therefore, when we see the widow, the orphan, the homeless, the alien, etc... we are called to love them with the same sacrificial love with which He loved us. In James 1:27, God calls us to live out the purest and most undefiled form of religion. Part of his description of that is taking care of widows and orphans.

But why be a foster parent? Surface level, we say we do it for the children. Which is true. We have had a 5-year old son in our home for a while and now we have sibling group of a 10 month old boy and 3 year old girl. I love all these kids as if they were my own flesh and blood. But many days, they have been so hard to handle that if I was in it simply for the kids, I would have quit. Pretty terrible thing to say, I know, but I think it's vital to see that even the most moral and upstanding temporal reason will collapse, crash, and burn under enough stress and frustration. On those days, when I've been running on little to no sleep and there seems to be no end in sight to the struggle but definitely an end to how much I can handle, the truth begins to grow more clear. It is those times, when the pain of having a child taken out of your home is tearing your heart out, or the struggle of adapting to new children is crushing you, that the true motivator, underneath all things, keeps you going. The glory of God in Christ our Lord. Jesus Christ, His glory, is beautiful, powerful, real, and at the end of the day all that I can boast or claim. 

This is not a truth that is always easily remembered or lived out, but one that is generally drawn out of me when I am at my weakest "But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' "(2 Corinthians 12:9a) 

I pray that the Church will come together and see this great need in our cities, counties, states, country, and world for a renewed passion for the orphans. Yes, I pray that we do it for the children, to give them life and love and an opportunity to have a family. But most importantly of all, for the glory of the God who loves and redeems us. 

"So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the GLORY OF GOD."
-1 Corinthians 10:31