Warrior Bride

Warrior Bride

Don’t just be “pro-life” on a picket sign. Be pro-life in every phase and in every way. Foster care and adoption is our yes to life. 

Last week our fost-adopt journey turned the corner for a new chapter.

As is usually the case with social services*, slow and sparring information is the only information, so I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised when my wife got a call from the county saying, ‘birth mom is out of prison earlier than expected and she has a visit due this week… can you make it up town tomorrow?’

Classic.

So it is that we were faced with the last-minute audible to gear up and get going.

And so we did.

But not before having a bit of a spiritual-psycho-emotional freak out.

You see up to this point in our fost-adopt journey (on baby number 2; Selah adopted last year, we’ve been licensed for about 3 years), we haven’t had what I would call the typical foster family experience…

We haven’t had to give kids back after years of bonding and attachment; we haven’t had to travel 30 miles twice a week for biological family visits (as some of our dear friends have-mind you with their other kids and family life moving ahead at normal pace/scheduling); we haven’t had to deal with multiple family members and the ups and downs of them making progress, back sliding, court mandating chaos that can be the very essence of foster care.

As I explained it to a friend recently, when you become licensed for fost-adopt your technical title is a “resource family.”

This means that you are like an expendable tool to be used at the disposal of the system, the kids and the biological families needs. This is the lens that you are trained to assume as a foster mom or dad.

Suffice to say, easier said than done.

Herein lies the essence of our spiritual-psycho-emotional freak out: you’ve held, carried, nourished, kissed, swaddled, midnight fed-in short loved the crap out of a being that-in this case-we’ve had since he was 2-days old.

All of this largely “uninterrupted” (meaning: most days, no ones come knocking to pick him up, take him away or even call to check in!). And when it’s like that-very few bio family visits and very few calls/court dates-you begin to really live the illusion that this child is yours.

And then one day you get a call with a stark reminder that, at least legally, that is not the case.

And so we have a  mental shock to the system and the mind begins to reel… ‘what if he is taken away… worse still, what if he is taken away and given to birth mom where he is abused or neglected.’

Stop for a second, imagine if you will that one of your biological kids was dropped off one day and handed to someone you barely know and definitely do not trust (and also has a history of abuse/neglect). Well biological or fostered, we do not know the difference-that is what it feels like.

So doubt, crisis, fear creeps in…

Insert the mental/biblical picture that God gave my wife…

It’s the picture of Abraham laying his son Issac on the altar. It comes from Genesis 22.

You remember the picture

IMG_0148

22 Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called.

“Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”

2 “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”

It’s gnarly.

So many questions here-I get it… what’s God thinking about? What’s God’s deal? Just flat-out: why? Well besides the fact that I’m not here to talk about all that today, I do think the answer is 4 words into the first verse… God tested Abraham’s faith.

Ironic how that was essentially the title of a sermon I shared just 1 week prior. The one point was essentially this: God is using all things as a manner of testing and preparing us for what comes next. (And prayer, by the way, is our gift for having eyes to see this.)

It’s no different right here, right now with our little 7-month old baby boy.

A second truth paralleled in our lives with this passage is this: our kids are not our own.

Whether our kids are biological or fostered or adopted-not anymore than our past, present or future-do they belong to us.

I allude to the concept of time because that is the dual thing that God is asserting ownership over by the way, in this passage.

You see he’s not only testing Abraham’s faith, he’s not only reminding Abraham that he owns his son, but he owns what his son represents.

And what Issac represented was the hope of another son-Jacob, who was the hope of Israel, whose hope was Jesus, who is the hope of the world.

I digress, except to say this: he holds the people and he holds the plans.

Same is true for us right here, right now.

So hand him over…

That was the bright idea my wife got.. AND the reality we get the chance to live.

Starting today, in the new normal, of driving up to the group home to visit birth mom, making sure that she gets an audience with her son.

And the prayer that helps us navigate this all?

It is prayer no longer for 1 life, but for 2.

That’s the call after all isn’t it? To find whoever we may be diametrically opposed to and love that person, pray for that person?

I fear it is a lost or dying 1st century art form. But in truth, we just so seldom get the chance to meet our “enemy.” Besides the person in the car riding my tailgate, I fear I have never really met the enemy Christ spoke of… until now.

And please understand how I’m using the word enemy. It is not to make biological mom bad, rather it is to explain exactly what I meant when I say diametrically opposed, and the person who has the potential to claim back what we love like it is our own feels like no subtle opposition.

In the end, this post was meant to be an affirmation of my wonderful and amazing warrior bride-Rylee. After all it was the biblical-word-image that God gave her, that she in turn shared with the world via social media, which in turn appears to have been an incredible encouragement for the faith and struggles of others.

When I saw her post I was uplifted and inspired by her… after all she is at the home front with these precious babes logging far more hours than I.
She is the frontline soldier of love-mending wounds, wiping tears (and bottoms!), channeling screams and demands, listening, waiting, loving patiently and graciously.

So in a way it is her baby even perhaps a little more than my baby that is being asked to the altar now.
And so it is her courage and faith and boldness and prayers that emboldens us both now to keep taking one step after the next in faith and preparation for whatever it is that God has next…


*And not to disparage the many incredibly hard-working social workers out there-I am constantly floored by the amazing volumes of work and case loads they carry-and enormously gut-wrenching at times too. These workers match any ministry or church hustle I have ever seen-those who really are devoted and focused that is.

 

So Embarrasing it Must Be True (1 Way to Test Your Calling)

So Embarrasing it Must Be True (1 Way to Test Your Calling)

Have you ever felt so isolated or rogue in a certain decision, direction, mission or calling in your life that it was almost embarrassing to speak it out loud…?

Out of the many proofs for Jesus’ resurrection there’s this 1 that is commonly referred to as “The Embarrassment Test.”

Basically it says that-at the expense of telling the story as truthful and precise as possible-an author of history will include even the most embarrassing details.

There are several facts surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection that would fall under this category including the following:

  • That a member of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish religious Elite high council-the same one that carried out the very execution of Jesus) asked permission to give Jesus’ body a proper burial.
  • That, after Jesus was arrested in the garden, and again thereafter when Jesus is brought to the temple (Peter and his thrice denial of Jesus), all of his disciples turn tail and run.
  • Finally, the fact that the very first eyewitnesses to the empty tomb are recorded as having been women!

And it’s this last one that gets special attention…

They say the fact that Mary Magdalene and “the other” Mary were present there at the tomb to testify how Jesus was risen is such a ludicrous and embarrassing element to include in the story because of one key thing:

The testimony of a woman in 1st century Greco-Roman culture was considered WORTHLESS! In legal proceedings it was considered equal to that of a robber. 

Women (and their word) were considered morally and intellectually bankrupt in that time. So as it pertains to the proof: because this detail is a major part of the narrative, then it is unlikely that someone is simply making this up.

I’ll give a more personal illustration…

My wife and I love dreaming about having another child. We have 5 as it is and I don’t have to be sitting next to you as you read this to imagine what your face looks like right now…

I know what your face looks like because I’ve seen the looks and stares and comments every time my wife and I go out for a walk with the 5.

Some people literally stop and stare. Some people stop us and say something. Most people just ogle and whisper to themselves as we walk by.

It’s not mean or nasty, its by and large probably just awestruckness… people ain’t never seen a family of 4 or 5 before… apparently… these days.

And my mom reminds me: it’s not just that we have so many but how close in age they are (5 under age 6)… which I submit is true.

In our town, in our context, in our community and even in our family and friends my wife is straight up embarrassed to even utter a word about her dream for giving birth to one more baby.

The other day she was processing, as we have done a dozen times before, her hearts cry… ‘are we crazy… is this wrong… can I do this…?’

In this moment, driving on the 5 freeway in the carpool lane (obviously) I was reminded of the embarrassment test of history, and I told my wife:

You know how I know this is right? Because, unless God was calling us to this, unless god himself had planted this desire deep in your heart, you would have to be a mad, crazy, weirdo to propose carrying and then delivering another baby whilst caring for 5 others!

I went on to say that the voice that matters now (besides God’s) is mine. And that, as hard as I try, I cannot come up with a reason, a hesitation or even a strong doubt that we couldn’t or shouldn’t do this.

I went further still and I affirmed our calling as parents-that we are both gifted in our wiring as mother and father to these children… and so long as God is willing to grant another one to us, it will be for the purpose of growing them up in one stinking righteous household.

So if God’s voice is clear

And if my voice is clear

Then there is only one voice left… the collective voices of this world.

And friends, I’m here to tell you (like I told my wife that morning on the freeway) that this voice is the one that matters least of all.

(FYI: if you’re not married find that one trusted mentor, friend or family member who knows you, your strengths and at least some of your true identity.)

If you’re looking to test if a certain thing is true, right or believable just try and get a sense for how embarrassing it might be or rather how much easier it would be to just leave it out.

I like to think of it like this: it’s so wrong it must be right. (Otherwise the author or originator of the story would have left it out!)

Now change gears from my calling to yours…

You’re currently the author of your life’s story. Well God is more the author, writer and director of the grand story, but as an actor in that story you are given a choice for the roles you play and how you play them.

My challenge question to you is: do you feel like you are seizing the decisions, directions and overall grand mission that God is nudging along through his Spirit?

If God is calling you to something, you have an obligation to walk into it… even if it would be considered worthless or embarrassing through the eyes of this world.

The question that remains is: what is it… what is that God-sized, God-breathed, outside this world mission, vision or calling that is beckoning you?

If you’re enjoying this blog; please repost and share! Thanks!

 

I Went to Jail Last Week (Fostercare and Freedom)

I Went to Jail Last Week (Fostercare and Freedom)

Last week I had the very unique privilege of visiting the birth mom of our most recent foster baby at the OC women’s correctional facility.

It was an experience I’ll never forget because of the sights and sounds, but really because of one moment in particular…

I was sitting at one of the visitation windows (with the concrete stool and phone-just like the movies) with my back to the glass looking at the view.

It was a very small box of an outdoor gated yard. I don’t think it’s used for anything (though it has the look of a prison yard break area), because although there is a high-rising gate, there is no doorway to enter from the building into the yard.

Stretching high above this outdoor area you can get a view of the face of the correctional facility. It’s a grey, non-descript, concrete, dreary looking facade with only slits of what must be windows cut at various places into the concrete… I am assuming these upper corridors are were the inmates are actually housed.

A place with no windows and no doors… a concrete mass as tough and hard as rock itself… from this vantage point you get the feeling like the building can’t breath…

Well imagine the people housed within it.

And that was my epiphany in this moment-sitting there with my back to the visitation window:

this place is the physical manifestation of no freedom.

For most people reading this you probably think, ‘duh there’s no freedom… it’s a prison… that’s the definition and essence of a prison…’

You may even be thinking: ‘architectural success!’ (If you’re particularly out of touch with humanity), but I assure you in that moment all the freedoms and privileges that I have been granted were suddenly thrust into penetrating pellucidity.

The week prior my wife had made the visit and came back shook to her core.

For starters, she had no idea what to expect… from parking to paperwork to grumpy prison guards, dirty, worn and cold passageways all the way down to the moment that she would meet our little foster baby’s momma.

The woman, for starters, was white. (Our foster baby is black). And from there, a list of subtle facial features and personality traits that spoke to the very hard worn path this woman must have walked. That we know she’s walked-from her own admission, court filings and the testimonies of social workers, etc.

The experience was harsh. And it’s safe to say that after a very trying couple of days already for Rylee (sick kids, sick herself, massive scheduling conflict with her husband) it was the straw that broke the camels back.

And my wife is one tough cookie mind you… she’s the same one that, while in college, did a home stay with an, I’ll say “complex,” family in Compton (while she lived in LA for a whole semester).

If that weren’t enough training and exposure to the context of how others live, she spent another stint living alone in Uganda where she spent her days tucked in crammed vans, riding on the back of motorcycles with foreign men and going to the bathroom in a whole in the ground (literally).

The prison and the people had rattled her.

Whatever Rylee’s expectation was, I had enough data points to go on for my visit the following week.

And not only that, but during the past 3 years a combination of working in our particular neighborhood of Costa Mesa while being a large church facility, has drawn in a very wide array of people from the street.

Some addicts, some mentally ill, some just merely transient. Over the years I’ve sat with them and prayed, sat with them and tried to find local services, sat with them and said, ‘no, sorry we can’t give you any money.’

But more than that, sitting with all those people I have this collection of faces-toothless and scarred and dirty and worn that have probably given me a unique insight into this mostly unseen community of people.

These folks… they’re not free. Not any more or any less than baby’s momma who’s locked up isn’t free.

Here’s my point: freedom is given and it is chosen. How we use the freedom we are given determines the future boundaries of that freedom. It can run unfettered or it can be restrained to a drop. It’s all a matter of how we invest the freedom we’ve been given.

And of course I would argue-using a Biblical worldview-that all freedom comes from God. The closer we are to him and the closer we pursue His suggested way of life-the closer we are to the purest form of freedom imaginable.

But most of us, not just these folks listed above in the more extreme examples, like to fiddle around and throw away our God-given freedoms.

Here are some ways I think we toss our freedom to the wind and some things that all leaders must be aware of in their own self-leadership:

  • We are free to chose our identities and yet they somehow are never fully committed. While we are not free to chose our race, gender or ethnicity we are totally free to chose the core convictions that form our life legacy. All leaders who wish to lead themselves well must understand that those 3 (race, gender, ethnicity) are only the foundation for everything else to build on.
  • We are free to chose the way we exercise our calling and yet most of us never really pick up our gifts and use them. How many of you even now-reading this post-resent 40 hours a day/5 days a week? Is that a joke?! Do you know what that amounts to over years, let alone a whole lifetime?!
  • We are free to channel our time, talent and treasure for the good of others yet most of us seldom ever do. Whether it’s allowing our finances to flounder into eventual garage stockpiles, endless goodwill clothes runs or even eating out 20/30 days in the month… whether it’s sharpening our God-given talent into weapons for world change… or whether it’s the ultimate irreplaceable commodity-our time. Turning all of these things into overflow so we can radically bless people outside ourselves seems to never make it onto the table.

  • We are free to build a family around a radical vision (much bigger and more complicated than to ‘ensure our species goes on’) yet most of us are content to let our kids grow up on the ‘non plan plan’
  • We are free to pray for and visit those who are sick, naked, hungry or imprisoned and yet we will go our whole lives before lifting one single finger.

The ball is in your court. What freedoms are currently being wasted in your life… or at least strongly under-invested? I would love to hear about your honest processing in this!

The First Real Test

The First Real Test

When was the last time you felt just absolutely put through the wringer? Dragged through the mud and left for dead? Okay maybe that’s a little dramatic but around my house this past week, you may not find a more apt description-especially if you’re my wife!

I asked for a week off from work for this nice little “staycation” we had all planned out. My wife-Rylee quickly deemed this week “sickcation.”

Here’s the week, at a glance…

Day 1: My oldest son wakes up vomiting and feverish

Day 2: I blow out my back while working out (newborn cries nearly all day unless being held)

Day 3: I get what the oldest boy had (newborn refuses to be put down)

Day 4: Next son in line gets what we both had (newborn’s cries can be heard across the street)

Day 5/6: The 2 girls fall with only baby and mom remaining (I’m still sick and my back/hips feel like arthritis early warning signs. Did I mention something about the baby being upset???)

I took a whole week off from work limping around, waking up in pools of sweat and standing there waiting for the next kid to drop.

Suffice to say it has been a real delight!

That’s not to say we didn’t try to make the most of it… we pitched a tent in the living room one night, had a bonfire the next. We went to Disneyland for half a day (2 of us with over 100 degree fevers) and we moved the TV from the bedroom into the living room where we finally learned how to stream our shows from the tablet to the TV.

Amidst all the drudgery of injury and illness there’s, of course, a few things I’ve learned…

ONE. Everything is a theory unless otherwise tested

Another way of putting this could be, “everything is a test of faith.” I don’t know about how you view the world, but I am convinced that challenges and difficult circumstance are absolutely put in our path as a means for teaching us something and growing our faith.

For example, the theory of having 5 kids is fine when everyone is healthy and whole and the very very newborn baby does literally nothing but eat, sleep, diaper change. It’s something else entirely when 4/5 kids go down hard with the flu and THEN the newborn switches gears-decides to develop a slightly more complex “agenda” for running our lives!

I had a college professor who once said, “life comes in 3 speeds: hard, harder and hardest.” I never liked the quote and initially would have argued him tooth and nail on it; but I’m nearly 10 years from that semester and that little extra life has taught me that, while I’m not resigned to some form of default pessimism, I do have a respect for what the hard can do in testing cute little theories.

TWO. There’s lots of sick people out there. 

One night earlier in the week we had my in laws over-mom, dad, grandma and grandpa and two sisters. As I was praying for the meal I found myself asking for healing and it wasn’t until after the fact I realized how many people in the room really were afflicted some way or another and were in need of a healing hand.

And that was just one very small dining room! That’s to say nothing of the updates I track on Facebook and the church network of people who are seriously sick or in the midst of life-threatening stays at the hospital.

Being sick, down and out on your expectations or perfect plans gives you a much-needed sense of perspective and empathy.

I feel a growing sense of empathy locally (for the little ones in my house dragging on with their snot noses and dreary eyes) and globally (for those nieces, neighbors, co-workers and all of their respective family members).

Growing in empathy and prayer that extends beyond ourselves is a habit that will serve us all the days of our lives.

THREE: You can give thanks in every season 

Now I understand that I’m an optimist and almost never have a problem finding the silver lining, but this time I wasn’t the only one.

Rylee just kept saying, “at least you were home with us this week to weather the storm.” As in, ‘could have been much worse if you were at work this whole week and I was home alone with 4 sick kids!’

The truth is: we have lots of things to be thankful for… that the kids got it all over with in 1 week, that Rylee still hasn’t come down with it, that I have access to cheap meds, that we have help from family and friends.

There’s always someone who has it worse, there’s always a way it could have been worse and there’s always a silver lining.

Being thankful IN the season we are not thankful FOR is a habit that will serve us all the days of our life.

FOUR: Everything happens for a reason

I don’t know why this week played out the way it did with all of the fits and pains and broken expectations of the perfect staycation.

Maybe it was God’s way of forcing us to rest. Instead of breaking our backs pulling long hours at Disneyland, driving all over the County for the best free sights and sounds or going for broke over the full backyard camping experience-instead of trying to pack it all in for the perfect weeklong staycation… we rested.

All the kids napped everyday. We laid around most the week. We binge-watched New Girl and Veggie Tales. Despite the headaches and passing of bodily fluids, it was a somehow a forced rest.

I don’t know all his reasons all the time but I do know sometimes we’re given some sort of insight and “some sort of insight” from the Maker of heaven and earth is no small thing. AND that’s enough for me to go off. 

Radical Love is a Lonely Business ď»ż

Radical Love is a Lonely Business ď»ż

Have you ever felt at odds with the world?

Like you were convinced that your chosen path or idea was the one, but support, encouragement and consensus were all so lacking?

I found this picture for today’s post and thought it was just perfect on a couple different levels for conveying the ethos of my message.

First the little girl’s wonder woman costume… In most all superhero stories there is a moment of isolation for them. They are naturally at odds with the world because they are not natural themselves.

The super hero is a foreigner-not endemic to the neighborhood, community or species. So of course their chosen path, their decided way will forever be at odds with those around them… even whilst saving lives and restoring hope, this isolation remains.

And so the little girl sits alone, almost forgotten, relegated to the curbside enjoyment of her dairy confection. Not that the little warrior princess is concerned for calories yet, she seems as if to say, “screw you guys then, I’ll sit here and eat my ice cream bar.”

My wife and I have found a similar truth to hold steady in our lives, in our own pursuit of putting love in action. Our family, truly pushed by my wife’s vision and hope, has been a part of a foster adoption journey for some years now (if you include the time it took us to get licensed and approved.)

Though we had always talked about adoption when we were early dating and even just after getting married, it was a whole different pivot point after having had a few biological kids already. Somehow, some way we managed to get our first placement two summers ago, and with no guarantees at any point, the placement of Selah became official when she was adopted this last December.

You might say: how could anyone have a bad thing to say about that?

But folks will oppose any manner of good thing. Especially if it is other-worldly.

You see the opposition for us in the decision to take on another baby from the county, for example, carries with it a more subtle variety than what some other love pioneers and revolutionaries might receive. People just kind of pragmatically question and doubt and probe… and they often incredulously ask the direct question “foster-adoption, are you sure?!” While there are a ton of outright haters, I will tell you: the share of cheerleaders, champions and voices of encouragement are few and far between.

You can imagine the responses when we decided to say yes to another fost/adopt placement less than a month from when our previous baby was adopted, bringing the grand total of (potential) Applebee children to 5-what is a SHOCKING and, for some, HORRIFYING number to think about by today’s “standards” (whatever that means).

Honestly once again the responses are just kind of dull. If people-our family or friends-have concerns they are largely keeping silent about it.

It’s not as if we are counting on people holding a parade and constantly praising our heroism, but here is just one more example of how our chosen path is just… different, different in the way it is received and understood… definitely different in the way that it is valued.

About two weeks ago Rylee (my wife) got the call for this baby and then drove out to the hospital and picked him up. That afternoon a 3-day old baby boy was added to our family. We picked up a baby. We just went and drove and got a baby. Are you picking up what I’m putting down?

So okay, yes, foster adoption placements like these are probably one of the most hilariously unnatural things around. One moment you got 4 kids and then the next you got 5 and without all the build up of a labor and delivery… and without the pregnancy announcement, without the gender reveal (party, nowadays), without the baby shower, without all the shopping, without all the fanfare, definitely without the maternity/paternity leave.

So I’ll confess, as a result of the overall lack of understanding and value, we are left feeling a little alone, a little isolated… like the little girl and her ice cream bar.

And while it’s not that people try to murder us, imprison us or send us back to krypton, there are days were the lack of support and encouragement remind us of a couple very key principles:

That we are never alone when we are holding fast to God-breathed vision.

That we are never closer to God then when we obediently follow his will.

That we are never living, loving, acting for an audience greater than 1.

That saying yes to giving life, hope and love is a defiant business, but get used to it. For it puts the grandest smile of all on your Father’s face.

If you’ve ever felt this way about any act of love or hope that you’ve taken then rest assured you are in good company. Perhaps the best of company.

Assemble any list you like of pioneers and iconoclasts: the Wilberforce’s, the Bonhoeffer’s, the Rosa Park’s, the Martin Luther’s, the Jesus Christ’s of Nazareth… make the list you want so long as they went against the grain in the name of love.

And I cannot help but leave you with a biblical truth here. Because of course if Christ was going to call you to this work of love he was surely going to outline some words of expectation and encouragement. Here is what Jesus said:

22 What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. 23 When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, their ancestors treated the ancient prophets that same way. -Luke 6

So what’s your call to action that you’ve been putting off? What’s the God-sized vision that you’ve been called to that has been minimized by the voices of the haters? Or what’s your list of love pioneers and hope revolutionaries?