Sunday, June 19, 2016

More than Game 7

I was 5 or 6. Wearing my Bernie Kosar jersey (with helmet!)

We were playing the Broncos. I don't remember much of the game. I do remember that we had gotten my sisters' Barbie horses and hung them on the ceiling fan. Probably so moral question marks there, but we were going to beat the Broncos, political correctness be damned.

So we lost. In heartbreaking fashion. Again the next year. In ways that cause people to make documentaries and deem a city and sports franchises cursed.

And that was how my dad and I forged a bond. He took me to an Indians game against the Mariners in 95. We beat them and advanced to the World Series to get smashed by a ridiculous Braves team. Then in 1997, we lose the 2-1 lead in the 9th inning of game 7 of the World Series and the best team in Cleveland in my lifetime came up short. And my dad and I talked sports virtually every day on our lunch break when I worked with him in the summers. That bond translated into him showing me how to throw a curve ball, coaching my little league teams, teaching me the ins and outs of basketball, going with me at 9 in the evening to the gym to work on my shot in high school.

I remember him coming up to me before the first game of my junior year of high school basketball. He found me in the hallway right before we were going to run on the floor for warm ups. He told me, "Make this your coming out party." I was so pumped. I went out and missed my first 8 shots. We lost. NBA career was decisively put on hold at that point.

But my dad taught me sports and it was through the lens of the Browns, the Cavs and the Indians.

And 11 years ago in June, he had a massive heart attack. I spent 10 minutes performing CPR to try and keep him alive. He died.

And now I have two kiddos. And Chaia is to the age where I can start to tell her about what my dad told me about. She knows the Cavs need 4 wins to be champions and that they have 3. I let her go to Buffalo Wildwings for game 1 with me and we got slaughtered and I couldn't decide if it was a terrible or terribly perfect introduction to Cleveland sports fandom.

And we fell behind 3-1 in the series and there was this odd feeling in me (I even posted it on Facebook) that either we would have the most monumental turnaround in NBA history and have the most amazing story of curse reversal for Cleveland sports...or we would lose game 5 by 30 points. In my mind there was no other option.

And we started winning.

And now it's Father's Day, and I know it's merely a dumb sport and there are so many more important things in life than if Tristan Thompson can get a double double and defend adequately when they screen and roll him into mismatches or whether JR Smith can get it going offensively or if LeBron can continue to play at the insane level he has played at in the last 2 games.

I miss my dad. And the thought of the Cavs taking a crack at history tonight makes me excited and nostalgic and sad all at the same time. I'm invested in the game because if we win it will bring some sense of closure and satisfaction to a bond that my dad and I had that was taken away too soon. If we lose, it will give Chaia her first taste of the bitterness of Cleveland fandom.

I had my plans all laid out to go watch the game in Cleveland and then had a change of heart Saturday night. It's Father's Day and I want to be with my family. And share this thing with Chaia.

So enjoy the moment Cleveland. Savor it Ohio.

I need to go find a couple mouthguards to hang from my ceiling fan.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Thing About Family

Fostering M has been interesting. Especially as we're leading a church.

This past Monday was more bug than windshield. (See previous post.) We had a discipleship meeting at our house in the evening. We had dinner with the folks from C3 we're investing in and M was a train wreck. Hot mess. Crying and screaming. It probably wasn't as bad as it seemed, but it had literally been all day. We actually just apologized and canceled the rest of the evening.

And here's what I'm thinking on. Here's the thing about family. It takes work. Tenacity. Resolve. Grit. Commitment. Love. Fierceness.

We're committed to this idea that one of the most redemptive stories in the world is articulating to someone that hasn't found safety and comfort and love and purpose in a family that these things actually exist and are what God wants His kids to experience. That sounds incredibly beautiful. Until you try to communicate safety and comfort and love and purpose to someone who has zero trust and zero attachment to you. My friend who is also fostering put it really well...the very thing that these kids need is the very thing they seem to be trying to sabotage. It's heartbreaking, but it's also expected. M has been calling everyone mama including me and lots of strangers. It's a word that doesn't have much meaning for him. There's no safety or nurture or woman that he identifies with that word.

The thing about family is that it doesn't just happen. It takes work. Predictable patterns. GRACE. Patience. Love. Creativity. Consistency.

This is either about fostering or about church.

Jesus has brothers. Pretty clear in John 7. And they aren't entirely convinced that Jesus is the Messiah. "For even his own brothers did not believe in him." (John 7:5). See? I wasn't kidding. So Jesus is seeking to usher in this new movement of God and a primary metaphor he wants to use to convey what this movement will look like is FAMILY. It's why he calls God his Father. It's why when he is told his mother and brothers are looking for him, he says that those who hear God's word and put it into practice are his mother and brothers. (Luke 8:19-21) He's redefining family. Fascinating. Family isn't just a gift we're entitled to, it's a gift that he have to participate in.

I think on my naive days, I believed M would embrace this gift we were offering and there would be great bonding and healing and gratitude. But us declaring to him that he was part of the family didn't warm his heart and transform his life and make a bow on the story. We don't bestow family. We show family.

We grieve together, bleed together, laugh together, serve together, eat together, acknowledge to each other that our expectations of what family should be might be sabotaging the family that is available right in front of us.

M may be with us for a season or for a lifetime. And we will only experience the level of Family that we are willing to participate in together.

Again this is either about fostering or about church.

The anthem I feel like God is calling us to at C3 is to be a Family on Mission.

And this kind of family doesn't just happen. It takes work. Predictable patterns. GRACE. Patience. Love. Creativity. Consistency.

And sometimes our ideas of family will sabotage the chance at family right in front of us.

We've tried to be incredibly intentional in our home. Establishing a specific culture with specific rules that are reenforced with consistency and calmness (most of the time!). We say the same things over and over. "Gentle and Kind" "No hurts" "Teamwork makes the dreamwork" "show respect" "asking or telling?" We are trying to implement routine and structure. Language creates culture. Predictable patterns create culture. The likelihood of someone coming around to desiring to participate in the family they see is to do the same right things over and over.

Take it from Jesus, Not everyone will participate. Some will resist. Some will never trust. Some will never overcome their fear. Some will sabotage the thing they so desperately want. Some will believe there is better family out there somewhere else. There very well may be. But all we can do is seek to be family right here in front of them. Chances are they will find fault with whatever family they find themselves in or near and eventually move to the next one.

All I can do is seek to foster a family that offers love, safety and home. We have to lead the way in participating in family and my hunch is others will often desire to participate too. Stay the course friends and let family happen.

For each and every child and each and every child of God.

Saturday, May 28, 2016


It ended with me cussing and her crying.

That's our day in a nutshell. We're almost two whole weeks into this fostering deal. It has actually been pretty great.

Today? Something less than that.

It started with none of us sleeping well. There is this God-forsaken plague of pollen that has taken over Columbus. Shaina hasn't breathed through her nose in a week and has pulled out the Nettie Pot (she's a desperate hipster...where else could she turn?) to try and combat it. Meanwhile the two children are single-handedly keeping the Kleenex brand in business.

So we are under slept. M finds it beneficial to get up and scream like clockwork around 1 a.m. and then again at 5 a.m. The guy seems to be finding his way here, but he is not getting more than 9 hours of sleep in any 24 hour window (supposed to be more like 13 hours at his age.) We can't crack the code of how to get him the sleep he needs. It will come.

But it didn't come today. Today was something less than that.

So it was a perpetual whine and cry and sob and cling day. This is fine. The little guy has had his whole world flipped upside down in the past couple weeks. He's allowed to be sad and distraught. This isn't something we were surprised by. And we are optimistic that it will get better. But it didn't today. Today was something less than that.

And there are some major aversions to bonding. I'm not sure if anyone can fully understand this experience unless they've experienced it. But he will bond almost instantly to any male figures, including me, but also including complete strangers. He tried to climb up on a bench and into the lap of some random middle aged man at the playground yesterday. And on the flip side of this deal, he has a major aversion to women, especially women who have a role of nurture/authority in his life. Won't make eye contact. Won't show affection. Won't seek to be consoled. Again, we're new to this, but we're not naive. We knew that bringing a stranger into our home and inviting them into our concept and value of family would not just happen. We have to learn each other. The old adage that trust is gained in inches and lost in miles is something I believe strongly. So we are committed to taking this territory inch by inch by inch. It's going to happen. But it didn't happen today. Today was something less than that.

There is certainly some irony in that God has orchestrated our path to intersect this little guy's path and he will only bond and be nurtured and snuggled and show affection toward me and I have never once been mistaken for bonding-nurtury-snuggly-affectionate guy. God is shaping me to become something better as a dad and a husband and a pastor. But that shaping didn't happen today. Today was something less than that.

So basically we had a perpetual meltdown that would only subside if I could come up with some creative new engaging idea for him. Got a little backyard pool that would work wonders for keeping him occupied. But it rained and stormed through the day.

Chaia has had moments of absolute brilliance as a first time big sister. She often shares and is thoughtful and is genuinely excited about M being in our home. Today however was not that kind of day. Today was something less than that. Let's just say that she has learned what the word "Torment" means and has been warned to quit allowing it to be in her repertoire. And her ears got a bit of a pep talk to function a little better going forward.

So sprinkle in a bit of antagonism and torment with a whining/crying/sobbing clinging one, throw in an allergic reaction to life for an entire family, add a cup and a half of not sleeping for two weeks, and a day of rain and thunder and you've got a recipe for something less than a good day.

At bed time we pray together as a family and then I most often take M to snuggle him to bed and Shaina takes Chaia to do the same. For prayer time, Chaia was in my lap and M in Shaina's. Chaia needs time with her dad and M, whether he knows it or believes it needs time with his mom. That prayer and bonding time is important and a good note to end the day on. Except today. Today was something less than that.

Hysterics. Blood curdling screams because M not only had to watch me hold Chaia as we prayed, but he had to simultaneously be held by Shaina whom he is willfully refusing to have a bond with. Shaina took him out of the room to calm him and to allow me to have a minute with Chaia so that she knows her dad loves her deeply and when she came back, he was screaming but she was the only one with tears. That makes me feel awful. I get him to calm down and to fall asleep and I move him from my arms to his bed and he is out cold. The guy's gotta be exhausted between not sleeping and crying most the day. I do the slow exit to ensure is out for the count, then I go down stairs and pick up the toys and open the dishwasher and try to get things in a good place for when Shaina gets down the stairs from being with Chaia. I take the trash out and come back inside to hear M screaming at the top of his lungs again.

"Damn %&$#%#$!" is what I think I said. Not sure about it...but I'm confident I did not pray the Lord's prayer or a prayer of thanksgiving...and I went back up and started the whole thing over again.

And so here my point. It's simply to say that Fostering is not for the feint of heart. It is not some idealistic, over-romanticized version of heroism in which we come riding in on a noble steed and offer some unfortunate tiny human a chance at a better life and they immediately respond with gratitude and connection and love to that offer.

It's not that. It's actually something MORE than that. It's a long obedience in the same direction. It's a kid who had a day from hell knowing he's still safe and sound here in this home...our home...his home. It's him waking up at 1 a.m. 5 a.m. and any other time in the next few hours knowing that he's got a mom and dad who are still going to show up, punch in, and commit to love and support him no matter what. It's restoring the miles inch by inch by inch no matter how much it sucks.

Some days you're the windshield and some days you're the bug.

The windshield is awesome. It's on those days that you see momentum and breakthrough and your resolve is high and your tenacity fierce.

Today was something less than that. It wasn't a windshield.

It was a bug. We got splattered a bit, our guts scattered a bit, our souls smattered a bit and our hearts shattered a bit.

She cried. I cussed.

And we will get up and try again tomorrow.

Whatever you're going through, whatever demons of devastation and despair, however hopeless and heartbreaking it may happen to appear, I encourage you to do the same.

Because we should never count out the resilience of a tiny but fearless bug.