Thursday, May 19, 2016

Fostering Hope--For No Reason At All

Triggers.

I remember when my dad died I went into a a survival mode. Busied myself in those first few hours after he died with making funeral plans and eulogy prep. If I went fast enough the thinking went, I would stay numb to the sudden loss and the tragic/traumatic way that loss happened for me personally.

By that night, we had a dozen or so friends and family in the house essentially sitting sheva with us and my mom gave me my dad's watch. This relatively cheap, unremarkable wristwatch. It had no value or memories tied to it, but it was the bolt that came loose and broke open the dam of everything I was trying to avoid. I lost it. Over a dumb watch. I still have that watch and it reminds me both of my dad and the moment the dam burst for me. It somehow went from ordinary to sacred.

And now we're in our first fostering situation. It has gone surprisingly well. It is simultaneously very difficult. But M. is a good kid who was loved in his previous foster home. And that helps. Every once in awhile though, M. seems to lose it for no reason at all. He melts down with screaming and tears or shuts down with disengagement and attempting to sleep to avoid interaction.

There is nearly two years of stuff beneath the surface that we don't know a ton about. Two years of landmines planted in everyday civilian territory. And one of the primary complexities of foster parenting so far is that we keep setting off these landmines without easily being able to identify why they are going off.

Triggers.

We can have an absolutely great stretch and then one thing, maybe a sound, a smell, a sight, a word, an action, activates the meltdown.

All kids have them. In fact all people have them. They may not always trigger screaming meltdowns, but they set off memories, fears and emotions that often haven't been fully processed or dealt with. Things we don't even know are there.

The challenge of foster parenting is that in some regards, you have to willingly go in and try to set off these landmines so that you can learn what they are so that you can then learn to deactivate them before they blowup and people lose appendages in the aftermath. (OK the metaphor might be breaking down). It's counter-intuitive. Most of the time, I'm thinking, lets avoid the danger or the implosions and try to not set off the triggers. Don't rock the boat.

But allowing M. to store a ton of volatile, undealt-with emotions doesn't seem like good parenting.

And I think there is an AHA moment in this.

God is a really good parent.

Pastor Knut Larson told the story of when his staff would play basketball together every week as a bonding opportunity. It was primarily about physical health and building concepts of team. But watch out if you were the new guy. Things would start innocently enough but then Larson would instruct some of his seasoned staff members to "Bump Him". They weren't malicious, but they fouled him a couple times pretty aggressively without calling the foul. Larson wanted to see what these staff members would do when injustice happened. The theory is you won't really know what a person is made of until you how they respond when they've been bumped a little.

And in God's love for his kids, he allows a good bump now and then in order to see what comes to the surface. The Bible says that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.

Somehow an indictment has been brought forth against God suggesting that if God were really good and loving, there would be no bumping. This seems like a very watered down version of what goodness and love are really about. I'm not saying hurt your kids. I'm suggesting that helicoptering and hovering and overprotecting your children isn't protecting them at all. It's leading to a generation of emotionally immature/unintelligent young adults who end up on the road to depression and anxiety because life isn't working out as perfectly and cleanly as they anticipated. They get bumped. Goodness and love are about being there in meaningful ways when the bumps come along.

Every broken person has bumps and ever bump has a potential story of beauty and redemption.



Monday, May 16, 2016

This is How We Change the World

Today was the day. 'M' joined the Thompson family. (Name and photos can't be posted while children are in state custody).

It was a whirlwind. He is a sweet kid. Ornery. When he smiles it is contagious.

Chaia was great too. M was crying as bedtime was quickly approaching. Chaia went in her room and brought out her favorite stuffed animal to give to him to console him. It's Tubie Bear...a custom made stuffed bear that has a G Tube in it's belly. Pretty sweet moment.

We are on this steep, intimidating learning curve in which we have to catch up on nearly 2 years of this kiddo's life. What does he like? What does he dislike? Triggers? Joys? It's a little daunting, but one day at a time right?

He has bonded with me pretty quickly. I appear to be the unofficial bedtime-routine-snuggle-rocker. I had him asleep three times and went to put him in his bed and he woke up panicked and gripping my arms pretty tightly. Each time he tried to keep his eyes open to make sure I didn't try anything (like putting him down or leaving the room). He likes music. So I sang. I've got a couple classic go to songs...but for whatever reason, I ended up just softly singing "You are loved, You are safe, You are home" over him until he fell asleep. These are the words I pray will sink in for him for as long as he is with us...not just as a part of the Thompson family, but as a part of the family of God.

As I think about him and the hard road he's been on and the hard road still to come, I started to get fired up.

520,000 children in foster care nationwide.

Over 23,000 in Ohio.

The county with the most children in foster care in my state is my county, Franklin County.

Studies suggest that 1/3 of the homeless population in the country spent time in the Foster Care system.

Not only that, but 1/4 of all those incarcerated in the country spent time in the Foster Care system.

Not only that, but the case workers who are meant to be advocates for these children from vulnerable places are quitting in droves. Annually 20% of the case workers are leaving their jobs.

Now we can gripe and complain about the system...about what it keeps producing. Sometimes, I feel like that is what the church does best. Identify a problem and then yell at it or boycott it and then get louder when the problem doesn't evaporate.

The government can not fix this. Annually, we are throwing north of 5 billion dollars toward this foster care system that is clearly not solving much. That equals out to about 40,000 per kid in the foster system.

So we can shake our fists in hopes that proper legislation gets passed or we can stop waiting on government and own up to the fact that God is waiting on us. We pray, "God fix the system." And I'm growing increasingly convicted that God's response is, "I'm asking you to do the same thing."

What if we can engage the system? I'm not smart enough or into this deep enough to know all that this entails. But here's a few thoughts:

Ask tough questions. Begin to support foster parents in meaningful ways in our county (Take the time to be trained as respite care and give folks breaks to catch their breath). Begin to search out meaningful ways to honor and bless social workers who see awful things and often get painted as the bad guys. Adopt a child or a sibling group. About 1/4 of those in foster care are waiting to be adopted. Of course this is messy and complicated. Few things that are worth doing aren't! Have the courage to foster. Not just to adopt. Though adoption is a really good thing. But have the heart to support a family to get back on track with their lives. Reunification can be a beautiful picture of God redeeming the mess. The birth parents are not the villains. Nor is the judge or the case workers. Sin is the villain and the more we let God's healing agency be unleashed, the more families can be put back together...and what a story they will be able to tell!

You want to change the world? Reduce homelessness? Keep people from going down a road that leads to prison?

Offer the gift of stability. You don't have to have it all figured out. You just have to have a conviction that children matter deeply to the heart of God. And if that is true then they must matter deeply to His people.

I'm not sure I can fix the system. Many who are smarter and more strategic than me have tried and failed at that. But I think I can move the needle in my city. Maybe you can help me knock Franklin County off the top of the foster care charts.

And in the process, maybe we surrender the neat and tidy facade and join the chorus of a God who sings over His world, You are Loved, You are Safe, You are Home.

Change Starts Here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Call

The cell started vibrating on my desk. I looked at the screen. It was her.

Moment of truth.

Heart rate up. Breathing elevated.

Try to act nonchalant. Cool. Calm. Collected. Act like I've been there before.

"Hey Taylor". Voice cracked an octave higher than normal. My cover's blown. I've never been here before.

"I've got some news" she said, which was the only reason for her to be calling, so it seemed redundant to announce it. Or maybe it was frustration from my nerves mixed with my embarrassment of the falsetto greeting moments before.

"It's a go. You guys were selected!" she said breaking the disguise of her voice and now showing enthusiasm and joy.

Queue the thoughts flooding in and the adrenaline pumping.

Instead of two options...will we or won't we be selected...now there were variables upon variables of how this could play out.

And the paradox of peace and chaos that we've known throughout this life of faith...the notion that everything is out of our control and we wouldn't want it any other way... The idea that every ounce of worry is swallowed up by a gallon of conviction...the feeling of immense clarity and lack thereof came together in one giant ball of feels.

The call to make this happen wasn't something that just came about when that cell phone started ringing. It was something that has stirred in us for a decade.

This is right. It will be costly. But it is so, so right. (All things with meaning and substance are...just look at the cross.)

Family is right.

And in an instance, everything changes.

For us, for Chaia and for a little 22 month old boy she gets to call her brother.

We are foster parents.

He will join our family next Monday.

Maybe for a couple weeks, a couple months, a couple years or for a lifetime.

Whatever it may be, may we embody good news, safety and stability.

In so many ways, Change Starts Here.

(Appreciate the prayers)