whatever it takes: a rallying cry for adoptive and foster families

Adoptive and foster families, this is for you.

You, who went through all the training, requirements, meetings, interviews, and red tape. It was crazy-thorough. Then you brought your child home.

whatever it takes: a rallying cry for adoptive and foster families

And you learned that all that preparation was kind of like going through earthquake survival drills – learning first aid, how to take cover, how to evacuate safely – versus actually living through an 8-point earthquake. It was like the difference between learning CPR versus actually having to administer it on someone who has no pulse.

Some of our kids came to us carrying grief and trauma equivalent to that 8-point earthquake.

And we love them. But it’s hard because they are hurting, and hurting people hurt other people, and we are here to do everything possible to break that cycle.

But some days we don’t know what to do with them. There your kid is, doing that same behavior that’s driving you both crazy: Rages. Lying. Something unmentionable involving bodily fluids. And yep, we love them, but they don’t always believe it so they test our love. Sometimes they push back hard. These attachment issues are no joke, friend.

Some days we pray and do one thing, and the next day we pray and feel like we need to try something else. We’ve learned to live in grace on a moment-to-moment basis.

I know your house used to be your sanctuary, but now, some days it feels like a warzone. The atmosphere’s changed and you barely recognize it: tense, palpable, high-alert, heavy. Sometimes you feel the weight and pressure of it in your gut. You’ve learned that you need God’s wisdom and presence in every moment, too.

And I know it may not feel like it anymore, but this is still your turf. Your territory. The spiritual attack is real but you own this space. You are the boss here. And as much as their behavior might contribute to the chaos, your kids need you to fight for dominion.

Don’t lose yourself, friend. Your kids need you to still be you – and they need you to find them in the darkness. There’s a uniquely brilliant person in there behind all the trauma and behaviors who is dying to get out and be known.

And there’s a real you in here, too. You may feel like you lost yourself somewhere between the airport and the millions of appointments, but you are becoming refined. Strong. Whole, and more you than you’ve ever been before. You didn’t think you could be this tough, did you? You had no idea you’d be able to do all this. And here you are. This is you, doing all the stuff.

I hear your excuses; I’ve said them to myself plenty of times, too. I know you don’t feel like you’re enough. You don’t feel like you’re getting enough done, getting enough sleep, getting enough exercise, giving enough smiles, giving enough hugs to those kids. But those feelings aren’t the boss of you. They don’t change reality.

You are enough. You’re doing enough. God is enough to cover you in this time as you’re seeking Him, trying to shine light in darkness and find truth in trauma.

You’ve spent hours making phone calls, researching, getting references, making appointments, sitting in those appointments, wondering if this intervention is going to work for your child. Wondering if this professional is going to help your child, or if they’re going to do more harm than good.

You’ve missed some friends and social activities because things are different now. You wonder before every engagement if it’s going to be worth the effort, or if all the hoopla will evoke too much aftermath. We used to take for granted how easy it used to be, back when we never worried about overstimulation, hypervigilance with boundaries, and attachment issues.

You are the families who’ve been not just willing to go to the broken and hurting, but you’ve welcomed them into your own homes.

You are on the frontlines. And the church will see significant, exponential victory to the extent that it cares for those on the frontlines.

You’ve given everything you’ve got for the advancement of the Kingdom, and you’re giving people a vivid picture of how much God loves them. You are showing God’s heart for humanity – the same Spirit of adoption that He showed us.

In pockets around the world, the church is waking up to the power lying dormant in adoptive and foster families. The church is realizing that assumptions and lack of awareness about what these families endure have hindered not only the healing of the broken, but the growth of the Kingdom.

And there is a contingent of humble, repenting congregations rising up to do whatever it takes to support those who have already been doing whatever it takes – and in some cases, it’s taken everything – to walk out the spirit of adoption.

These teams – those who directly care for the broken, and those who support them in it – are unstoppable. They are mighty, gritty, capable of exploits, and not afraid to play hardball with darkness.

They are changing nations and generations. Together, they are living out a message that the world cannot ignore.

So you, my friends, are rocking this. Keep pushing through, and do whatever it takes to get some rest. To get some space. To find the you that you recognize again.

Because you’re in there, and you’re powerful. You’re changing the very nations with your daily steps to love your family and maintain dominion in your sanctuary.

praying for liftoff: a message to adoptive and foster families, and the Church who loves them

Way back in June we got the email. But way back in June, October feels decades away.

It crept closer though, and we had flights, hotel, rental car, childcare, everything – all our ducks in a row. Within a week of departure, we had both vehicles in the shop, both vehicles back out of the shop, a cellphone busted and subsequently replaced, and last-minute dinner with friends.

praying for liftoff: a message to adoptive and foster families, and the Church who loves themAnd then twenty minutes before we were supposed to leave, we lost our keys.

Friends, we haven’t lost our keys in ten years. Maybe twenty. But an hour later, we still hadn’t found them and we finally threw up our hands, rushed our goodbyes, and took the Stagecoach into Anchorage.

We made it just in time – good friends made up for lost time and met us in Departures to take the Stagecoach home with them for a three day sleepover. We skipped baggage check, made it through security, found our gate.

Our first trip away, just the two of us, since going to Bulgaria five years earlier – not exactly a vacation, more of a business and ministry trip – but it was 72 hours of purely adult time, mostly together.

And after all that rush, we waited.

I didn’t realize how many tiers they have now for boarding classes.

The announcements start rolling: “Now boarding passengers with small children and those needing assistance.” Wait seven minutes. “Now boarding First Class.” Wait another five minutes.

Now boarding VIP members,” which, at this point, sounds pretty unconvincing because you’d think that status wouldn’t need to wait for the third turn – in which case, we can file “VIP” under I don’t think that means what you think it means.

After these three groups, they successively call Gold Star Members, Gold Star Members with Glitter, Members Who Refrained from Scowling While Enduring Security, Members Who Packed Tooth Floss, Members Who Actually Use Tooth Floss, and finally, District Twelve, may the odds be ever in your favor.

We found our seats somewhere around District Ten, stowed our bags, and settled in for the redeye. And I forgot how magical liftoff is: the sudden rumbling, the intense increase in speed, feeling more pressure as it constrains you into your seat, getting louder and louder until suddenly — lightness, like driving from a gravel road onto new pavement, and the ground tips diagonally out the window.

I wrote earlier in the month about how we should never confuse humility with cowardice, and I preached it back to myself as we left our kids and excuses behind, preparing my message for the mission ahead.

We need to care for adoptive and foster families because these are the people willing to bring the mission field right into their own homes. These are the radicals, a force to be reckoned with in fulfilling the Great Commission – so why does the Body of Christ not nurture and protect such a battalion? Why do we generally seek to enlist adoptive and foster parents, but do so little to maintain them after the papers are signed, and the balloons are deflating? Why does the Church at large leave these families to languish with a mere pat on the back? How do we help the Church understand what these families really signed up for?

These are the families traveling through life as those needing assistance. They are First Class, they are VIPs, but they’re often relegated to the Church’s tail-end, left to fend for themselves in thin air, barely breathing, as they fumble for oxygen.

These are the questions I took with me to Colorado Springs, to tape an interview for Focus on the Family’s radio broadcast.

We’ve partnered with their ministry for years. More accurately, we partnered with them years ago until we adopted, and the pressure constrained us to our seats to such an extent that the fasten seatbelt sign didn’t go off until sometime in 2015. Even then, the turbulence kept us from wandering too far up and down the aisle before the sign came back on and we had to rebuckle.

But the email came in June and it was an opportunity that would take a special kind of idiot to refuse — so, not being that special, so we took it – not just for us, or for me as a writer, but for adoptive and foster and special needs families who desperately need this message to get out. Because they are exhausted in their cramped seats and they need to get up and roam the cabin a bit before they can’t take it anymore, and yank the hatch open to jump out.

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

– Philippians 1:4-6, ESV

A day and a half later, I sat in a studio across from two men I greatly admire. During a thirty-minute conversation, while we barely skimmed the surface across the gamut of adoption and foster ministry, we emphasized that caregivers need to be cared for, too – and how that doesn’t always look like what people think. We talked about how adoptive, foster, and special needs families need more than lip service and affirming nods, because “support” is also often filed under I don’t think that means what you think it means.

Foster and adoptive families have strapped in and buckled down, and when the drinks were served, the plane hit rough air and the mess went everywhere. People with good intentions came by and dumped cleaning supplies and a bucket of water into the tight quarters, but it further spread the mess, increased the discomfort, and crowded the occupants.

These families need the people around them to understand the context of their situation so they can help clean up the mess and not just add to it.

These families know what it is to grow in faith to the point of needing more from God – not just wanting more in our ease and selfishness, but needing more to meet the service and vision He’s called us to. We remember being needy and hurting, too. They’ve been willing to walk in the mess of missions and ministry, and have not been afraid to get their hands dirty in the hard work of caring for others.

These families need to be reminded that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It’s not necessarily supposed to look finished yet. We may still be taxiing on the runway. That is okay.

Churches, extended families, and communities can learn how to support adoptive and foster families. We were able to take this trip because our church, family, friends, and community chose to learn how to stand alongside us. We could not have done it without a team of people willing to grow along with us.

Our friends come along side us, releasing the pressure of false expectations and ignorant assumptions. They know what it looks like in our homes behind closed doors. They know that some days, there’s a raging mess, screaming fits, and people either refusing to eat or gorging themselves on hidden food – not to mention what the kids might be doing.

These friends — they know it’s hard. They know you’re doing your best. They know that you never feel like your best is good enough, but they keep reminding you that it is good enough, because He’s good enough.

And it’s okay, you’re still taxiing.

These families need a community willing to step outside the glittery rainbow image the media has sold them, and into the often-gritty picture of reality in adoption and foster care. When that happens, they won’t give up on the Church because they’ll see that the Church hasn’t given up on them.

The Church – God’s Kingdom – is not built on those who quit, but on those who stay.

– David Pepper

And all our people are behind us, praying for liftoff.

____

You can listen to my interview here. Enjoy. :)

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praying for liftoff: a message to adoptive and foster families, and the Church who loves them

the second day: when we don’t know what’s ahead

We walked the woods and I wandered to the spot where we buried someone precious a few years ago.

the second day

The piece of bark was just laying there, right over the grave. This skin torn off of a living thing, leaving it exposed, vulnerable, and in pain.

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.

I think often about this “second day” space: this time between heartbreak and victory, between the bloody cross and the empty grave, when we don’t know what’s ahead.

We hoped for something huge and desperately longed-for, but it was thrown in our face and spat on. We didn’t know what was coming.

We tried to build a fire for warmth and light, but we’re still freezing, the smoke is getting in our eyes and we can’t see anything else.

We thought those contractions meant we were close to delivery, but found out we were only dilated to one and a half centimeters.

When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.

The Kingdom is on the cusp of something amazing and huge. He is waking up His people in a way we haven’t seen in our generation, and maybe in a way He hasn’t done in many generations. This is a great time to be His people, but we have to endure the hard work of waiting.

We walk a tense line between faith and not moving ahead of God to push fruit, forcing something to work on our own. We don’t want to miss His move of certainty by stepping without Him, tired of waiting for the prophets and giving the sacrifice on our own. We don’t want to build the golden calf in our impatience for God’s answer, as the Israelites did when they squandered their loot from Egypt in making a work of their own hands to worship.

For weeks now, God has been reminding me that He restores, redeems, and refines us in our encounters with Him. And we often encounter Him in our need, in the quiet, dark place of the second day where we hurt and have no answers and are brought face to face with our need for His light, His answers, and His comfort.

In this second day space He is putting things back together for His people, as though He was working in the dark soil of our very foundation and identity, and making things right in ways they have never been before.

So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

– John 16:20-22, ESV

The second day is a day of smoldering ashes. Our woodstove is the grave of that tree. We lay on more kindling and push things around a little closer to the coals.

We shut the door. We watch.

The smoke starts spinning in there, the coals start glowing and flickering. It’s only a matter of time before you hear it – the deep whoof, the sound of ebullition — all is bright and burning.

It is the second day. We’ve been waiting for a long time and the momentum is increasing, and God is about to ignite something ferocious, contagious, and powerful for the Kingdom.

“Does bark always come off in the shape of a heart?” Cham asked.

No, I told her. Only God does that.

the year of deeper and wider

I first encountered one of my favorite books in sixth grade. I was pulled out of class for a gifted program, walked down the hall to an unfamiliar, sterile classroom, and listened to a teacher whom I did not know read The Wind in the Willows to us.

I hated it. If this was being “gifted,” I wanted no part of it.

the year of deeper and wider

Several years ago it showed up in Mattie’s curriculum. I approached it with doubt and suspicion, unsure about subjecting my kid to the same misery I’d experienced twenty years earlier.

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home.

We dove in, and within the first pages I was in love. Surely it was the same book from before – but this time it was beautiful and alive and magical, so it must be that I wasn’t the same person reading it. I’d grown deeper and wider. I’ve read it all the way through three times now, not counting that first go-round that almost inoculated me from it entirely. I’m so glad it didn’t.

The kids ate lunch while I stood in the living room and read the first chapter to them. This is the first time Cham, Andrey, and Reagan have heard it and I want their memories of it to be warm and filling, sticking with them.

Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said “Bother!” and “O blow!” and also “Hang spring cleaning!” and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously…

This is Mole, who has lived below in seclusion, discovering the world above for the first time. It’s also me, and probably you. I know what the spirit of divine discontent feels like. I, too, have flung work to the floor while yelling mostly printable expletives.

I came to this passage and stopped to look for a pencil. None were within reach, so I tore the cushion off the couch to check my stash and found five pens, a set of nail clippers, a broken animal cracker and, hallelujah, one mechanical pencil. I started marking sentences.

He thought his happiness was complete when, as he meandered aimlessly along, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed river. Never in his life had he seen a river before – this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free, and were caught and held again.

The story is fitting for all seasons – summer and winter, and especially those spiritual ones when you long for a river that runs deeper and wider than what you’ve been splashing in, and when you find yourself free of old barriers and able to test new waters that were out of reach not too long ago.

Testing new waters is impossible when you’re drowning in the deep end. We’ve spent a ton of time flailing and splashing there, but I’m thrilled to say that for the first time in four and a half years, it’s not where we are anymore.

Or, more accurately, it’s not that we’re no longer in the deep end, but that we’re no longer drowning in it – we come up for air sometimes, and can finally venture out into other waters a little.

Four and a half years.

By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spellbound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.

A big part of it is that one of our kids who needed his world (and therefore, our world) to be as small as possible is starting to experience victory like never before. I mentioned here a few months ago that choices are unsparing things. Sometimes we need the spirit of divine discontent to propel change, and over recent weeks his choices have been markedly and consistently different, by the grace of God.

He is experiencing the joy of a river that is deeper and wider. It’s a marvelous miracle. Most days (not all, I won’t lie) are warm and filling, and we hope it sticks.

The Kingdom is always of increase; our deep and wide is an insatiable sea.

This day was only the first of many similar ones for the emancipated Mole, each of them longer and fuller of interest as the ripening summer moved onward. He learnt to swim and to row, and entered into the joy of running water; and with his ear to the reed-stems he caught, at intervals, something of what the wind sent whispering so constantly among them.

– Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Physically it is winter around us, but we are approaching a spiritual summer like a fast-moving train. There is running water, a full-bodied river; we are learning and growing and anticipating fullness that overflows the banks and spills into thirsty places everywhere.

I wish I could read the whole book to you, but there’s a terrific version of it on Librivox here instead. You’ll hear more about it soon, though. We’re only on chapter three.

Wind in the Willows, and Bingley

have mercy: a little girl, her future family, and how we create more happy endings

I went to fetch the laundry basket but the closet door wouldn’t open. I pushed harder against the resistance, just enough to stick my head in, and saw boxes and gift bags and wrapping paper, oh my – a packaging supply avalanche. Usually we keep that stuff stacked behind the door. The culprit was curled up in one of the boxes, purring.

have mercy: a little girl, her future family, and how we create more happy endings

While I restacked everything I found an old gift bag with the tag still on it: “To Master Finnegan, with love from Amanda.” It was from his baby shower eighteen months ago, from my dear friend who moved away in August. I cried a little, and sort of felt like a weenie for doing so.

Then we watched Little Women with the kids – which is a stupid move if you are already berating yourself for being weepy. We got to the part where Beth is sick again – you know – and Jo comes home to see her before it’s too late. She runs into their sister Meg outside the house and she sees her pregnant belly – and I cried again, thinking of my other close friend who moved away two years ago and just had a baby a thousand miles away from us. I’m not usually a crier, but some days grief lances our hurts wide open.

And then, have mercy – Jo goes inside and sees Marmee, and Beth is on the bed, deathly pale. A smart person just leaves the room at this point. But, no. I stayed there and took it.

Chamberlain sat next to me and asked why Marmee was crying. I tried three times to answer her but couldn’t get any words out. “Ask Daddy,” I finally gasped, and fled to the kitchen because doing the dishes for a family of nine is less traumatic than watching Little Women.

I don’t know what Vince told her. I stacked plates in the cabinet and watched from a safe distance. But a minute later he joined me in the kitchen, blowing his nose on a paper towel and mumbling something about the more kids we have, the wimpier he gets. I’m not really sure; I couldn’t hear him because I was blowing my nose, too.

Terrible, awful, painful story.

Is it, though? I know it has a happy ending. I was just crabby at how it stirs up pain I’d rather not deal with. Stupid feelings, making me feel stuff. Some days I hate that.

And yet…we’re going to deal with some painful stuff right now.

I had a conversation last weekend with a new friend. I know her only through the internet, only because we have adopted children from the same place, only because of God.  Her name is Karrie.

She is adopting a little girl from the same town one of our own kids is from. She and her husband have ten kids already – his, hers, and theirs, some already grown and out of the house. They were done. They were moving on to the next phase of parenthood.

Enter Ella.

ella
Ella is two years old. She lives in an orphanage. Ella has a terrible, awful, painful disease called epidermolysis bullosa, or EB. It occurs in only 20 per million births. But three of Karrie’s children have it.

I want you to be willing to fight the resistance and look in here for a minute. This is hard stuff and we need to feel something about it.

EB causes the skin and mucus membranes to blister from slight friction or pressure. Normal skin has a collagen that “glues” its layers, which keeps them from rubbing against each other independently. But without that collagen, a touch becomes a terrible wound. EB can also create internal blisters in the esophagus and bowels.

ella2

These are hard to look at. Chamberlain looked at them with me and asked if Ella was laughing in the photo with her mouth open. I told her, No, she’s probably not laughing.

ella-1Have mercy. If I could flee from the pain in these photos, I would. But I can’t, so I’ll sit here and take it, and I hope you’ll take it with me.

ella3

There’s no cure yet.

But Karrie and her husband know how to care for EB; they were prepared for such a time as this. They know how to watch for infection and adapt meals for someone with EB. Their daily routine already involves lancing blisters, bathing a child covered in sores, and the tedious wrapping of wounds – which takes two to four hours per bandaging session, three or four times a week.

They are familiar with painful realities: You can’t hug too tightly. Certain clothing seams cause blistering. Blisters on feet eventually damage nerves so severely that children can’t walk. Fingers and toes web and fuse together, and fingernails and toenails are lost completely. Bandages alone can cost $1000 per month.

People with EB live in constant pain.

They also know that EB affects life expectancy. Even under the best care, open sores pose a constant risk of infection and people with EB tend to die from skin cancer or internal issues, such as bowel obstruction.

But Ella lives in an orphanage and is not receiving the most ideal, individualized care. She needs a family to come home to before it’s too late. Our family is praying that they can expedite the process.

If you’d like to help Karrie bring Ella home, they have a YouCaring page here. Ella’s adoption costs – including the homestudy, the paperwork, the processing, the fees, the apostilles, the airfare, the notarizations, the fingerprinting, yada yada – are expected to be around $25,000.

They need donations and publicity.

We can provide that.

We can give and we can share Ella’s story.

We want people to know about Ella, about EB, and about children living a terrible, awful, painful story who need a family before it’s too late. We can’t keep these children and our hard feelings stacked behind a door anymore, out of the way, not bothering anyone. We need to be bothered so we can help create more happy endings. Ella’s story isn’t over yet.