Days That Matter

Rarely do you wake up knowing that today’s events will change your life forever.

There are some days you think should. Like going to Disney World on a vacation you’ve been planning for months. We’ve been to Disney, maybe 4 times? And I can’t really tell you when the last time was.

As foster parents, we’ve had four placements and I remember each one of them. Two of the placements only lasted a week, but still I remember them. I remember their personalities, a few of the things we did. And I think about them often. I wonder if they remember us. If they do, I hope it’s a positive memory. Maybe we said something encouraging that stuck with them.

Tomorrow we’ll be taking in two kids only for the weekend, or respite care. This time because their long-term foster family has an out-of-town engagement and need certified “babysitters.” But even if it won’t last long and there won’t be any earth-shaking moments, I know the memory will stick with me. I will take a picture and keep it with the others we’ve printed of foster kids over the years. I will commit their names to memory. My wife, I know, will find incredibly honest and insightful encouragements to tell them. She will get their attention, force eye-contact, smile, tell them why they are wonderful, and hold their attention till she’s confident it stuck.

These three days will be a blip in their lifetime and they will most likely not even remember it. But we know the purpose we’re serving. We know what it’s like to be a foster parent and needing a break. We know the uncomfortable feeling of staying at a strangers house. We know the loneliness and heartache of not being able to see your parent. We know the rejoicing of a family reunion.

It’s a couple nights of figuring out who sleeps where. A couple days of playtime. A few meals directed by their preferences. Even though it’s only a couple days, we’re still anxious. It’s been spinning around in my head. We’ve cleaned the house and keep asking each other if we’ve done all the things. “They need a bed and food. I think we’re good.” There’s a heightened sense of life in this house. Tomorrow will be a day that matters.

I’ve heard it mentioned lately that if you’re not doing something that makes you uncomfortable, then you’re not living life to the fullest. Foster care fits that mold, but there can be periods of downtime between placements. I can almost physically feel weighted down because in that time, I don’t have something forcing me to stand up straight. When you are faced with something uncomfortable, you rise to the occasion. Even if it’s a mental situation, you physically adjust your posture, breathing, alertness, consciousness.

So then going to period of not being challenged, it’s like gaining weight and feeling lethargic. I can see how it might even send someone spiraling down into despair, simply by not having to rise to the occasion. Companies with poor employee engagement are a result of not providing challenging work or a sense of accomplishment.

Your challenge doesn’t need to be monumental. Foster care is not everyone’s cup of tea. Incremental action has the same effect (think of the eating an elephant one bite at a time adage). But the downtime is why I found myself getting involved in community organizations over the years. I needed something to keep my hands busy. One of the monthly health challenges at work was to simply show kindness every day. Imagine starting your day, and rather than “ugh I hope traffic isn’t the worst”, instead having the thought “I need to find an opportunity to be kind.”

How have you challenged yourself as a Christian? Not included: having your phone prompt you a verse to read every morning. But have you talked about your faith to someone outside of your church. “Oh I wouldn’t want to impose. That would be…”  what? Uncomfortable? Exactly.

It doesn’t have to be that exact thing. You be you. But answer honestly if you have challenged yourself in any way that feels uncomfortable. What is one thing that you can do tomorrow for yourself, your job, your family, your future, your neighbors, or strangers that might make a positive difference. Can you plan to do it? Can you follow through on this one goal? If so, then you will wake up knowing the feeling that today’s event will change your life forever. Today will be a day that matters.

Dad Revelations: Giving

We just got back from vacation to the “happiest place on earth,” Disney World. My daughter is 8 years old; prime age for princesses, magic, all the rides, all the stores, everything! She’s a great kid, very polite and understanding. She gets all giddy-excited at the sight of anything remotely fun. From a dad’s perspective, it’s perfect. I don’t dread it. I’m happy because she’s happy.

When you become a parent, you instinctively care more about your child’s happiness than your own. And you’re OK with it! Their happiness IS your happiness. You want to give them things that make them happy. And being at Disney, I want to give her EVERYTHING!

I’m also cheap, so the temptation doesn’t last long. We watched the parade at night where all the floats are lit up in dramatic neon fashion. Of course five minutes before the parade, vendors are walking through the crowds selling glowsticks and light-up toys. She wanted one and we said “no.” The parade was entertaining enough, but I knew she would love a glowstick, and it stung to see her disappointed face.

The next day at the park, our second and final day, I see a vendor with balloons for sale. And I just had to. To give her that surprise/gasp/squeal moment. To give her a token of appreciation for being so good the past two days. To show her love. To make her happy.

I wonder if money wasn’t a factor, if this would be harder or easier. I use the bank account as the reason for not giving her things, whether it’s the main excuse or not. The other reason is to not spoil her, to prepare her for the life lesson that you don’t always get what you want. I really don’t like being the one to have to teach her that lesson. I guess that’s the benefit of being a grandparent, giving without restrictions.

After Disney we went to the beach for a couple days to intentionally relax. We’re done with the kid thing, the beach is the grownup thing, right? If you ask her which was more fun, she would say Disney. But I know better.

My girl was born with sand in her toes. After a hesitant start when we arrived (feeling safe in the water and getting comfortable in the sand) she was a free spirit. The kind that is unfettered, fluid, imaginative. She fluttered like a butterfly from her sand castle, to the the water with her buckets, to looking for shells, to just running cause it feels good to run. She didn’t know she was having a good time. She wasn’t expected to or told this was going to be fun. It was completely natural… and I knew it. Nothing could draw my attention away from watching her. I knew I could give her the beach, and it would be the best present. That balloon stayed back in the hotel room, forgotten.

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I bet God wants to give us all the things. But as a father He knows what’s better for us than we do. We ask for Disney, balloons, glowsticks, money, no traffic, our team to win, stuff. Maybe He allows us to have those things sometimes. But He gives us the beach, if we’ll take the time to notice. He gives us leaves changing colors, music, family, worship, love, hope. Then… we stop to enjoy those gifts, unfettered from the mundane. He watches, and is satisfied in seeing us stumble into true happiness. And we thought we wanted glowsticks.