Hold On Tight

Someone from our Foster Care agency posted this video. It’s from 2017, so I’m surprised it hadn’t come across my newsfeed till now. If you can’t watch it, the voiceover says:

We’ve done well in life. With help from our adviser, we made it through many market swings.

Retirement age couple, straightening up the house. They sit at a table when the doorbell rings.

Sure we could travel, take it easy. But we’ve never been the type to just sit back. Not when we have so much more to give.

The scene is obviously a situation of a social worker dropping off a new foster child to their home. Then their title of “Empty Nesters” is crossed out and replaced by “Foster Parents”.

So yeah. Here I am crying at work.

But interestingly enough, it wasn’t so much the twist at the end that got me. I’m actually a little too realistic (cynical?) to think that a foster child would so quickly give a hug with this look of comfort and appreciation. Real life drop-offs don’t always work that smoothly.

Most of ours have not been dramatic, just strangely casual. Like we’re having friends over for a playdate, and no one’s really talking about the elephant in the room. The first night has never been all that emotional.

The part that really got me was the shot at the table.

Here they sit in anticipation. They pour a cup of coffee because what else is there to do? Everything else at this point seems so trivial. You’ve cleaned the house and prepared as much as you could since the call probably came only hours before. But to watch TV is irritating and senseless. You can’t go anywhere. So here we sit like waiting for the doctor to come out of surgery with an update.

They share a glance of mutual understanding that says “We both agreed to do this. Get ready, cause it’s about to happen.” Then they chuckle, knowing that they may very well be in over their heads, which is entirely possible.

Because then the foster child comes. And you get the privilege and burden of not only the experience, but also knowing all the gruesome details that would cause a child to be in this situation to start with. It’s the difference between knowing and understanding. Between head-knowledge or heart-knowledge. We could all guess pretty accurately what abuse or neglect happens to families in the system. But when you hear the reports over the phone while you’re looking at the child this happened to – it becomes real. When you become closer to the birth family and hear the cycles of trauma that have been around for generations, the grief becomes insurmountable.

That’s when you realize that nothing in this world is perfect, and the best you can do is to do something. Simply take an action with heart full of hope that maybe it will make a difference at some point.

So they look at each other and smile, with the head-knowledge that their hearts are about to be challenged. But we’ve never been the type to just sit back anyway.

Then they hold hands.

Holding hands when you’re dating is only sensational. You do it just to see if she’s as willing to hold your hand as you are. But when you’ve been married for a couple decades, holding hands is a way to rededicate the vows you gave years ago without having to say a word. When things around us get tough, she will grab my hand and say “hold on tight.”

Too many times we’ve been at that same coffee table, after a really long day with the foster kids or after getting disappointing news, and we hold hands and say “hold on tight.”

Whenever we hear of couples getting a divorce, “hold on tight.” When we hear of infidelity or a spouse passing away, “hold on tight.” When we hear of children who grow up and fall away from their faith or give up on trying, “hold on tight.”

Because if you were to ask me in the best and brightest of days, I would rather be thanking God for this woman in my life than anything else. So in the darkest of challenges, we have to remind ourselves that even though this moment is difficult, this is better than anything else. Fighting for this is worth it. This. We can’t lose this. We can’t let this go.

Because it seems as though the people around us are all facing the worst of circumstances. It’s like they are being dragged away from the fairy-tale life we all dreamed of, the life we seemed to all be living just a few years before. And now attacks are coming from every angle and it’s enough emotional weight to make you physically cringe inside.

Hold on tight. Say it again and again as often as you need to. Take the ones you love the most and fight through the sleepless nights and longest days to make it work. Better to have this than live any other life.

So we go back to the table from time to time. Reset. Pour a cup of coffee. Turn off the irritating and senseless TV. Share a glance of mutual understanding. Acknowledge that we may not know what to do next. But take my hand. Hold on tight. Release a nervous laugh. God’s got this. Our task is to simply be willing, faithful, and ready to go,

because the doorbell is about to ring.

I Forget I Have Foster Kids

Sometimes when I get home from work, it’s quiet. That means my wife is busy or resting and the kids are all upstairs or across the street playing. Other nights I get home and one kid screams “DADDY!”, one gives me a big hug, one gives me a long hug, and one tells me a story.

Then later on I tell one kid to pick up toys, one to clean dishes, one to put up dishes, and one to take out trash.

When school is in, one needs to go to bed on time, one has paper homework, one has computer homework, and one has a project.

All of them are stubborn in their own ways. All of them are helpful, smart, and innocent.

When they have a bad moment, one can be bossy, one tends to hide the truth, one thinks the world is ending, and the other throws a fit.

At their best, one is charming, one is helpful, one is sweet, and one is kind.

Unless you know each of them really well, it’s probably hard to tell which two are our biological kids and which two are our foster kids. Most days I get lost in the crazy schedules, things to do, and things to remember that I forget I have foster kids. They are all children in my house. I’m responsible for them. I also have to feed them, discipline them, and make sure they bathe and sleep from time to time. And in doing all those mundane things, I neglect to remember their circumstance.

Sometimes I intentionally “forget”, when someone comments on how close in age they all are, I respond with a definitive “Yep.” to avoid the awkward and unnecessary conversation. Sometimes I forget when they do something important like a band performance, or someone compliments me on how great they are. I puff out my chest as if I’m responsible for the majority of their life where they were raised to be great kids before I came into the picture.

Late at night is typically when they miss their mom the most. And not just their mom, but their former lifestyle. They miss all the things that we would consider less than appealing, but they wish to go back because it was theirs. It’s all representative of the last time their family was together. The life they’re in now is our life. We’ve grafted them into how we do things. We’re conscious of their preferences and traditions, but day-to-day life happens and those tend to slip away.

Today they both got braces. That’s a big deal! A really big deal they might remember forever. And the memory will be associated with having done it in their foster home. That’s neither good nor bad. But it’s in these moments I wonder if they think about their family and if they’re wanting to show off their smile to them.

They have moments where they miss their mom more than usual, and it’s neither good nor bad that they do. They forget to think about their old life, and that’s neither good nor bad. They absolutely love some of the things they get to do by living with us, and that’s neither good nor bad.

When they get injured, I wonder if I’m handling the way they’re used to (probably not – I’m more interested in how they got injured to start with.) When they wake up in the middle of the night, are they a little disappointed it’s me that came to check on them? When they come home with a good or bad grade, did I react to an appropriate amount?

But in forgetting that they are foster kids, it’s not that I feel like I’m purposefully taking ownership of them. I still know they have a mom who loves them. We advocate for reunification and make it our mission. It’s just not at the forefront of my mind. Then occasionally we have a rough day, and like waking up to a bucket of ice water, I remember “oh yeah, this is all really hard for them.”

I suppose it’s just like getting over a breakup or a loved one passing away, where time takes over and the moments of sadness and heartbreak happen less often than they used to. Right after the event happens your heart races so much you can feel it pulsing through your veins; you can audibly hear the beats pounding. But give it time and it levels back out to a new normal.

So it’s not that we would actually be doing anything different. But simply knowing and remembering creates an empathy to care for others.

It’s driving for miles not acknowledging a single road sign, but suddenly a “Proceed with Caution” catches your attention. Remember someone’s situation, know that this moment might be difficult, and intentionally put love first. In hard times, that’s all any of us need: to be known, loved, heard, and remembered.

Awaken in Prayer

This past month a few people organized an event where churches all around the area would pray for every person in Nashville. To participate you got a packet with instructions, pamphlets for guidance, and a list of 15 first-names and their address. The instructions were to pray for each name everyday and send them a note to simply let them know they had been prayed for. I don’t know the official numbers, but if I’m just estimating that there are possibly 750,000 names and 15 names per person, that could be almost 50,000 people praying…

for every person
by name
every day
for 30 days.

That’s amazing to me. Tens of thousands actively praying in a positive way for strangers not knowing their demographics, circumstances, or backgrounds. Faceless people.

Using some pretty basic googling skills, I could have a picture of every person on my list within a few minutes. (Welcome to the digital age!) I chose not to, but it wasn’t hard to assume the race and class of the people on my list judging by the sound of the first name and knowing the zip code. My list had addresses from a more affluent side of town. But even then, my first thought was all these people could be in any number of circumstances at the moment. They could be undergoing loss, or health problems, or stress, or hopelessness. Or… not.

I didn’t realize there was a booklet in the packet that provided you with a daily prayer example, ironically I did a very similar thing. I came up with something to ask for that would fit anyone. In many cases, what I would want someone to have prayed for me that day. A few examples:
Soften their hearts
Give them guidance
Give them a Stronger faith
Bring someone in their life to bless them
Health
Them to see God at work in their life
Stay pure in heart
Give them peace
To forgive and be forgiven
Give them daily bread
Find their Purpose
Bring them joy
Lay their burdens down

It wasn’t weird to me at all to pray for people I didn’t know. I would take the paper and stare at each name, one by one. I felt like I was getting to know them. Often I would get an image in my head of what circumstance they might be in, and that maybe this prayer was something they really needed. Who knows if any of it would’ve been accurate, but it just proved to me more and more why doing this was so important.


Our church hosted a time of prayer on Wednesday nights during this period. Just a dimly lit room with soft music, papers with guided prayers or lists of more names were available, and some blank cards to write letters to people in our congregation. This was something I didn’t know I needed. It was so refreshing and relaxing to have a period of dedicated time to simply sit with my thoughts. I prayed for some people in my life and wrote a card.

When it was almost time for it to end, our minister walked over to me and my wife and prayed over us. He spoke words of encouragement, validated our efforts as parents and foster parents, and asked for God to be close to us during these stressful days. Whether he knew it or not, this past month has been excruciatingly stressful, having had an uncle pass away, losing many of my co-workers to outsourcing, having to work extra hard and extra long days, on top of the normal busyness of a life with kids and foster kids. All of this boiled up and overflowed in the form of moisture in my eyes.

Now, I’ll cry at a movie or sometimes when telling a really personal story, but not simply by someone talking to me. Like a facade falling off a building, the false sense of strength and composure I had been presenting to the world came crumbling down. I was exposed and thankful. For a moment I could breathe again. I realized in all of these days of praying for other people, I neglected to pray for myself. You would think that’s a good thing, but that’s not what we’re called to do. We’re called to love others AS ourselves, not instead of ourselves.

I really appreciated being prayed for. Maybe the people on my list did too. My guess is the creators of the project knew the double-meaning of Awaken when choosing the name. The initial thought being that we would Awaken the people of Nashville to a life with Christ. But just as important, that we, the Church, Awaken to become Christians who desire to pray for others. Christians who want the best for our unknown neighbors. People willing to take time to bring a name before the God we believe has the power to make a difference.

If we believe in an all-powerful God, and that He has called us to love and good works, then we should be inspired to pray. Those prayers will then compel us into action to treat each stranger we encounter as if they may be the person we just spent 30 days praying for.

Food and Music Therapy

Currently, our foster kids are 13 and 11 years old. For an extended weekend, my wife volunteered to watch their half-siblings, both toddlers, to give their grandmother a break. My wife may whine a little in the midst of it all, but she has the biggest heart of anyone I know. See, for the rest of us, our selfishness hushes our heart before we get too attached. Her heart beats the living daylight out of any selfishness before she realizes that we’re now watching six kids for five days.

We suddenly realize that we may have an opportunity to let all four kids see their mom (whom we absolutely love) for the first time since last Spring. So we make plans on Saturday for her to take them and I will stay with our two kids.

I decide to do something different for lunch, since it’s now only three of us, and go to a new Japanese restaurant. Before getting settled in, my wife calls and tells me that the place “didn’t have the records”, didn’t really care to try, and left them no option but to leave disappointed. So now my wife’s just pleaded and balled her eyes out in front of strangers, the older kids are upset and confused, the younger ones are tired and hungry.

“Come meet me at this restaurant,” I say.

I get the waitress to get us a big table: 2 adults, 3 big kids, 2 little kids, 1 baby. I order a variety of plates and one sampling of sushi, just for the fun of it. Everything is being served just as they walk in. The restaurant is mostly empty, dimly lit, and quiet.

I can see the distress on their faces turn slowly to relief with every dish of rice, chicken, and soup. We divide everything up. “Can I try that!?” “Can I have more?” 

Then comes the sushi. Almost everyone tries the California Roll. Three of us eat the raw fish.

It was weird, and yummy, and fun.


As if that wasn’t enough for a weekend, the next day I had to drive the little siblings back to their family. The four of them have been like Velcro on each other for five days, and now it was time to separate the pieces. We meet in a parking lot and transfer bags and car seats. They’re about to leave and I try to get the older boy to come out and give hugs when I realize he isn’t because he’s trying to hold back his tears. 

The first few minutes of the drive back he was sobbing into his hands. The girl is stronger than all of us put together; she’ll hold it all in and put on a good face for her younger brother. 

I put on a CD of what is probably our favorite album from our favorite band, “Indian Summer” by Carbon Leaf. Track after track of good, catchy, poetic songs. No one was talking so I turn it up loud and let the music fill the lonely, empty air. I can sense them starting to get in to it a little. Heads bobbing. Humming. Drumming. 

Some of their songs have a melancholy tone. The sentimentality doesn’t allow you to listen without thinking. Then comes the best one with the repeated line “When all of your tears dry, let your troubles roll by…” Over and over and over again. Not like a nagging voice, but like a mother rubbing your back to calm you down. I’ve heard that song a thousand times and never cried. But I hear him sniffle. Then I hear her sniffle. Then I sniffle.

And by the time we make it home, the tight chest-pain of sadness had been released with a deep breath.  


Life is busy and noisy. Too busy to sit at a table without distractions. Too noisy to let an entire album play and soak it in. Too often we forget how to recenter and refocus. I, for one, am thankful that in a weekend of really heavy events, which is just a snapshot of a really heavy year, we were able to come out on the other side. Heads up, eyes dry, arms around each other.

If the world could use anything right now, I think it should be:

meals around a big table with the ones you love

and good music

In the Practice of Service

Our church participates with Room In The Inn, a program which buses homeless from downtown to local churches to give them a dinner, shower, and warm place to sleep during the winter months. We saw there were open spaces for volunteers on Christmas night, for men to stay the night as Innkeepers and for anyone to help in the kitchen. Lately, we had started to notice situations where our kids and foster kids were showing selfish or entitled attitudes. (I know… kids being a little selfish sometimes. Crazy, right?!?!) And they were a little too confident of the big presents they *might* get for Christmas.

So we signed our family up to help with Room In The Inn for Christmas night. We did it for two reasons. It’s definitely not because we’re simply wonderful people; every bone in my body would rather be at home enjoying the lavish presents I just got this morning. But if we’re going to claim that we are Jesus followers, and as such are to treat other people as we want to be treated, there should be some evidence to the fact.

The second reason was to give the kids an opportunity to serve. It seemed even more appropriate to bookend the getting of presents in the morning with the giving of food at night. What I didn’t want was to bring them in just to gawk at homeless men and say “look at these poor people on Christmas night!” Cause it’s not like that. Talking to these men, you’ll quickly find out that the stories are all over the place. Not everyone is in a helpless, hopeless situation. They more or less may just need shelter tonight. Ironically, I could tell the story of our foster kids to most of them, and they’d be the ones having pity on our kids instead.

What I want for our kids is to be in the practice of service. Service isn’t to be done because the recipient deserves it. It isn’t to be done only if you are emotionally beaten into submission. Service is a practice, a mindset, a lifestyle.

I know they wouldn’t necessarily enjoy doing this. I didn’t want this to make them feel guilty about the presents they got. And I hope they don’t resent us for forcing them here. If it all works out like I’d want it to, serving will become second-nature for them, and tonight was just practice.

The heart of giving is in the act itself. Of course, most everyone who gives willingly says that you feel more blessed than being the recipient. And of course, the recipient is blessed by what was given. But the beauty is in the action of service. I’ve heard the economy explained in a similar way. There’s not a finite amount of money, like a pie, and if someone has a bigger slice it leaves less for others. Instead it has the ability to expand with both the earning and spending of money.

Giving is the same. We’ve seen stories of people with the smallest amount, still being willing to give even in their meager situation. The economy of service grows in the receiving and giving.

The smallest acts can make the biggest of differences. One of the men tonight asked if Tom still volunteered here. I knew exactly who he was talking about. He said 20 years ago, Tom struck up a conversation with him in a store and got him a good job with the Parks Dept. He hadn’t forgotten it to this day. I went on for five minutes about all the other good things that I knew Tom does and has done for people.

Earlier my wife mentioned reading about how some have a Christmas Eve tradition to go to a restaurant and leave an astronomical tip. I remember delivering pizzas during December, really hoping for generous tips to make the holiday season a little easier. Now we’re in more of a position to be the tipper. And that’s fun!

And in telling those two stories, (Tom helping a guy find a job and leaving big tips), I see a significant difference between serving and giving. An act of service is on a different playing field than blind giving, especially anything above basic needs. Most of the men taking shelter tonight are familiar with the routine of getting a meal and a bed. Many are down and asleep as soon as they’re done eating. Tonight one man mentioned a tooth ache, and one of the kitchen helpers made him a cup of warm salt water and found some medicine to help alleviate the pain. The giving is appreciated but soon forgotten, but the serving will leave a lasting connection.

The more I acquire in life, the more I realize I don’t need all this stuff. We spend years trying to get all the things, then they quickly lose their appeal. Scarcity drives desire.

Fortunately for us, the foster care system provides a stipend that takes care of the kids’ needs. But what we appreciate the most are acts of service. A night of babysitting. Grandma being able to pick up the kids from school when they’re sick. Childcare at church, especially when we had toddlers last year. Bringing a meal, so we wouldn’t have to worry about dinner on busy days. Those acts of service take more effort and intention than a tangible gift, but they mean so much more. (Although, who’s really going to turn down a gift card?)

Receiving shouldn’t be expected, but giving seems to be reciprocal. I remember so many times people served us in unexpected and generous ways. Like when we were living in Florida out of college, ignorantly trying to make it on our own, a number of people gifted me with odd jobs. As lame as a worker as I was, I’ll never forget all those opportunities.

The main reason I serve now, is because I’m “returning the favor” by passing it on to others. It’s influential to serve (watch any number of commercials copying the pay it forward concept). There is more to be had the more that’s given.

On Christmas night, it’s not lost on me the luxury of being able to choose to be in this smelly old gym instead of at home with my family, surrounded by a choir of snoring men who didn’t have that choice. I’m also not ignorant enough to think that many may be here tonight because of poor choices they’ve made. And at the same time, I’d guess they’ve had so many things happen TO them, that had the same happen to me, I’d be exactly where they are. But good grief, it’s Christmas and they’re here. That hurts. I mourn all the events they’ve endured leading up to having to be here on Christmas.

So people in churches all over the city are serving tonight, because they all recognize they too have been recipients of great gifts.

Giving isn’t only for those who deserve it. The beauty of serving is not found in the outcome or the reason. The beauty of serving is found in the service itself.

“For God so loved the world that He gave…”

“Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…”

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…”

So in response to a good Christmas, first look back and acknowledge the times others have served you this past year, then find an opportunity to serve. Start by looking at the people around you. Do something little. Something helpful. Time. Attention. Support. Validation. Encouragement. And of course, babysitting. The opportunities are always there.

Dad Revalations: Whatcha doin?

Last fall, I was working on putting up a fence around the back patio steps where there’s a significant drop-off around the perimeter. The social worker conducting our home study left no room for misinterpretation by saying, “um, so we’ll need to do something about this.” Point taken. By using anything I could gather from around the house, and only the necessary items from Lowes (like the fence part because my wife said the chicken wire from the garden wouldn’t suffice), I managed to get something up that resembled a fence.

The last piece wouldn’t sit level so I used the closest thing within reach which happened to be the kids’ yellow duck-head-handled garden tools. As I was scraping around the edge of the patio where my 2-year-old son loves digging in the dirt, he noticed I was doing one of his favorite activities. I could hear the tap-tap-tap of his little shoes running up behind me, a pattern that only occurs when he’s excited, like for bath time or we’re getting a piece of cheese.

“Daddy, whatcha doin’?!” and laid his little hand on my shoulder. If he’s asked me that question directly before, I don’t remember it. This may be the first time I’ve noticed it because I was doing something “manly” around the house (with a yellow duck-head-handle rake) and my son wants to know what I’m doing. This calls for one of those “Well, son….” type of responses. And now I totally sound like my dad.

My kid watches me. When he copies me doing something nice, it’s cute. When he copies me doing something less than admirable, I become hyper-sensitive to everything that I do.

Lately, I’ve been noticing how he picks up on what other people do. He’ll sing the songs his sister sings. Something about a robot from a Pinkalicious show. Maybe I spelled that wrong; I’m purposefully trying to not show interest in a show called Pinkalicious.

He also has picked up the habits of our foster kids right now and their favorite word, “No.” Supposedly, as a parent you’re supposed to ignore “junk behavior.” Maaaan, that’s hard to do when a toddler straight-face tells you NO, like a boss.

It’s the bandwagon tendency in all of us – to do what we see, what’s around us, what others are doing. Sometimes completely mindless, as in the clothes we buy from the store because it’s what they’re offering this season. Sometimes it’s a little intentional, like fixing our hair just a little different or the shows we watch. Sometimes we hear the singing of the Sirens and we float through the air following the scent of the next best thing.

Image result for cartoon follow scent

When I was a teenager there was this trendy saying that was used often, maybe you remember “what would Jesus do?” It was typically used as a litmus test for the various situations teens got themselves in. “Would Jesus pick this girlfriend or that girlfriend?” “Would he cheat on his midterms or would he…. not cheat on his midterms?” 

As popular of a phrase as it was, I’m sure it was very helpful to many people. But I think there’s a better question to be asked. Not what Jesus would do in the situation we put ourselves in, but what would He be doing? How would he be spending his time? 

If we want to know what it is He would be doing, we need to look at what he did:

  • He cared about people on a very personal, individual level
  • He spent time resting and in prayer
  • He was forgiving of those who knew they had failed, and critical of those who proudly said they had it all together
  • The woman at the well who, even with a past, was the catalyst for a whole community after having a conversation with Him
  • You have the woman caught in adultery and he protected her from attackers and showed her mercy saying “Go and sin no more”
  • The poor widow with the two coins he said was the greatest of givers
  • He challenged people to be better and have a stronger faith
  • He cared for the sick and hurting
  • He cried with His friends
  • He willingly gave His life and His life’s work
  • He prayed for others
  • and countless more examples…

We do what the apostles did, like when they said, “”Lord, teach us to pray.” We ask questions like,
“What should I be doing instead?”
“What am I capable of that I’m not currently taking advantage of?”
“Who needs me?”
“How can I help?”

Instead of navel-gazing, waiting for someone to fix us, we can have a broader perspective. We can look at life with a wide-frame lens from a higher vantage point and wonder what’s possible. We can take a moment to look around at the good things already happening and ask “God, what are you doing over there? I can tell something’s going on. I see You’re up to something. What is it? I want to be a part of that?”

Hopefully, it will be like the many times my kids’ shoes will tap-tap-taps up to me, lay their hands on my shoulder and say, “Daddy, whatcha doin’?!” I hope they find me doing great things. I hope they want to do those things, too.

This is good; this is bad

My birthday started out wonderfully. Dreamlike. A movie scene after the couple finally gets together and there’s a montage of scenes with the happy couple going on a variety of dates. Smiling and snuggling and laughing. But like every movie, this too must end. That afternoon my father-in-law was working on a remodel project and I helped him move a dresser upstairs. It took much longer than expected, and by the time we finished it was birthday party time. I rushed to tell everyone to leave where they were and meet at the restaurant. As I watch my father-in-law drive off, I turned the key in my Jeep, and it wouldn’t start.

Phone is dying. No one is answering their messages. Jeep won’t budge. I’m left alone to sulk in my broken ‘how much is this going to cost’ Jeep for almost an hour. By the time we made it to dinner, I wasn’t… delighted. I made a valiant effort to put on a good face.

I don’t even try to fix it till after Christmas on a bitter cold day with all four kids (two foster) in the house. Couple the guilt of leaving my wife to tend the flock with my having to get tools and parts back and forth across town. The sun goes down just as I get the new starter home. My shivering makes it difficult to get the cords connected and bolts in place with ease.

But, and it’s a big but (that’s a kid joke right there), we replaced the starter last year and the whole cost was covered under warranty. No $150 for a starter. Do-it-yourself free labor. 

I come back inside while she’s trying to get dinner ready, the house is still a mess from Christmas, and the kids have lost all sense of sanity. Nothing seems to be going right. So, what does one do to get a few happy endorphins to feel better? Turn to Facebook.

I try making a post complaining about the hard day, but be funny at the same time so people don’t think I’m just whining. There should be a word for this. Something similar to Vaguebooking or HumbleBrag. It’s wanting sympathy with a mixture of my passive aggressiveness and desire to be liked. Complainedy? Comedy complaining. FunnyFuss? HumbleGrumble? HumorMoan? I’ll get my people on it and have something soon.

Thing is, it takes me an hour to type up this simple post because someone cries or hits or screams or draws on the table. The moment it’s posted, my dad texts back about me successfully replacing the starter for free and says “Life is good!!!!!!!!!!” This is not how I currently feel or the words I used in my WittyPity post. But an hour ago Life Was Good for a brief second when the Jeep started up on the first try. But not the next minute when I walked in the house and kids were crying. But life was still good. Life was also bad.

Being stranded in a dead car on your birthday is bad. It’s OK to want sympathy. This is where a “helpful” person would say to you, “Well, there are people out there who don’t even have cars to break down.” I don’t really like this advice; it dismisses my pain in the moment and doesn’t get my car running either.

The starter was replaced under warranty (this is good). I’m on my back under the car in 20 degrees and no light (this is bad). The car starts (this is good). All the kids are upset and screaming (this is bad). Dinner’s ready (this is good). Kid throws dinner on the floor (this is bad). It’s bedtime (this is good). Bedtime takes an hour (this is bad).

It can be both. It can be both at the same time. I remember feeling relieved when I first understood the concept of the difference between joy and happiness. You can be a joyful person without being happy all the time. I can be sad and have underlying joy. I can have good and bad moments. Life is good AND life is difficult and hard and tiresome.

When a bad thing happens, it’s cathartic to call it what it is. Dismissing and ignoring can make it worse or cause you to bottle up emotions.

Husband advice: this is where your wife comes home and complains about a rough day and instead of trying to fix it, let them talk and then you say “that sounds like a really rough day. How ‘bout some ice cream?”

Never be afraid to call bad what it is. Never neglect to recognize good when it happens.

And be who others need you to be in their moment: Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

“Congratulations” and other misguided remarks

This past week we got the call we’ve been waiting for since September. Would we be willing to take two boys in as foster kids? Really, we’ve been waiting for almost three years, since our last placement was a month before we began expecting a baby, which put foster care on a hiatus. This would unofficially make our seventh placement. Unofficially – since one was only 24 hours for respite care (more-or-less babysitting) and one was not through the system.

My wife texted me “we may be getting 2 boys.” After she found more details, I stepped out of a meeting, called her, we talked, we agreed, and she left to pick them up. I walked back in the meeting and apologized that I might be a little distracted since we just found out we’re getting foster kids. There was a bit of a reaction from the five people in the room, and I remember someone saying “Congratulations!” and “How exciting!”

Soon after, it came up at a business lunch and the room applauded. I’m not sure why. But lots of “That’s great!” and “Congratulations!” were shared. The waiter had even overheard me talking about it and offered his own “Congratulations” as we left.

Afterward, I felt strange about their reaction. I didn’t share the news as if I just found out we were expecting another baby. Trust me, foster care is not worth it to simply be in it for attention. At the moment it was heavy in my mind. The only reason I shared the information was because that’s all that was in my head. I wasn’t much for casual conversation either. But still, the reaction didn’t match how I was feeling. “Congratulations” didn’t seem… appropriate.

I feel really bad for knocking someone’s genuine excitement. It’s not their fault they don’t know my perception of the situation. I probably wouldn’t know what to say either. Especially since I seem to lose my entire vocabulary when someone mentions a death in their family. “Oh, wow, man, hmmm.” For some reason, “Sorry to hear that” doesn’t want to escape my voice box.

The snobby-foster-care-insider in me, now that we’ve been through this before, knows that this is not a congratulatory situation. Especially since the agency gets kids from DCS and not a voluntary placement, if you’re called on for foster care, something bad happened. I once heard a story of a single mom needing help with kids only because the she was going for a major medical procedure and had no one else that could care for them. But even though she didn’t DO something bad, something bad still happened.

Most of the reasons for a child’s removal are neglect, abuse, abandonment, incarceration, and substance abuse. If we get a call, one of those things happened. “Congratulations” isn’t the best word.

I don’t think down on anyone who might have said that to me. What else are you really supposed to say?


The next night I had already agreed to participate in the Thanksgiving Service at church, so we risked ultimate chaos and went with our new additions. Of course, everyone was excited to meet them and say hi. In the parking lot afterward, a friend walked out with us. He knows our story, what we do and why, and has adopted, too. While I was buckling the kids in the car, he stood by with this huge smile. The same look he had when they were introducing themselves inside. He stuttered, nearly dumbfounded, he managed to get out, “I… don’t know what to say, but congratulations.”

I realized then that he might really know why we do foster care. And his use of “congratulations” might be spot on.


A few days later we went out to eat with friends and they said, “we talked about doing foster care but just don’t see being able to handle more kids right now.” And we responded with a resounding “Tell me about it! Hopefully, we’ll get daycare set up real soon. We’re not in this just cause we love kids.”

*awkward silence*

“….then why DO you do it?”

Oh, yeah I guess that sounded strange. The why is the same reason for how “Congratulations” might be an appropriate saying. We don’t want a large family necessarily. Our initial thought would be to adopt out of the foster care system. But after our first placement, we only want to foster, and we realized why we were chosen for this service.

Kids, if at all possible, need to be with their parents. Even in the worst situation, terminating parental rights still leaves the child with a loss. Better than the alternative, but a loss. We could all agree on the world being a better place if houses were made up of strong, healthy, together families. Foster care is an opportunity to take a struggling family unit and breathe new life back into it.

Adoption is a different story altogether. But in foster care, as much as we love these children, and as much we try to do a good job parenting, they are not our kids. And I don’t want them to be. Because if I did, I would be dishonest to our ultimate goal, which is to reunify the family. I want these kids to be with their mommy and daddy. I want their parents to be thriving in a healthy and stable environment and to take their kids back with full confidence.

Our two placements that were the longest were the easiest to let go. Because the process worked. Because in the end, we happily, with full confidence, gave the kids back to where they belong: to a mommy who worked hard to get her life back, and get her kids back. This is the moment where “Congratulations” was welcome a word.

So when foster parents get a call to take in kids, “Congratulations!” on the opportunity to take a family in a bad situation and give them a chance to thrive.

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.

Parenting is Hard

“Adulting is hard.”

No. Shut up. Parenting is hard. Adulting is nothing. Nothing, I say!

I’ve been an adult without kids AND without money, or any prospects. Still, it was nothing compared to this madhouse. I’ll concede adulting without kids can have it’s tense moments. We were living in Florida by the beach during most of that time – (it’s already sounding better). Did you have a bad day? Things not going great? Someone yelled at you at work? You can just…. leave. Just like that. “I need to get out. Let’s go to the beach.” And you go. Gone. Like a boss.

But now we’re parents. During our last vacation, we stayed at a VRBO house a few blocks from the shoreline. I had visions of using the bicycles provided and cruising down to the water whenever we felt like it. But where does the baby ride? Can one backpack hold all the sunscreen, snacks, diapers, hats, toys, towels? What if our daughter freaks out at the big street and refuses to cross? We managed to get in one short bike ride to a park by one of us driving there and the other riding a bike. Then swapping on the way back. Basically the same thing, right?

In our first years back in Nashville, there would be a random Tuesday night where my wife would say something like, “I’ve been wanting to go to the mall for a jacket.” Or whatever. And we’d go. Across town! With a strong probability that we’ll spend all this time and walk away with nothing besides a coffee. And it’s totally cool.

But now we’re parents. Last night at 7pm we debated whether we could make it to Walmart and back for a few school supplies, but quick enough for bedtime. And without losing our minds. It’s literally the closest store to our house, only a few minutes away. And we really don’t know if this is going to work out or not. (Especially challenging since we have two foster kids with us now. They’re not any worse, it’s just all the issues of one child – times four.) We go.

Obstacle 1: Sharing. We decide not to use the new handheld scanners because that’s asking for an argument on who gets to hold it. Result: success.

Obstacle 2: Right inside the door – Halloween costumes are out. I say, “If we have time, we’ll take a stroll through on our way out.” The children seem pleased with this compromise. Result: deferred.

Obstacle 3: Opinions on school supplies. It’s just a sticky notepad. We don’t need tears cause you wanted purple. So I take the older kids to walk around while she takes the baby and gets the list. Result: success (point deducted for baby whining when we all walked away).

Obstacle 4: Potty. OK. We’re all going. I don’t care if you don’t need to. Girls together. I take the boy. The stalls are occupied. And will be. No one’s moving. Like a standoff. There’s another restroom in the back of the store. Result: deferred.

Obstacle 5: Walking through the entire store. My plan is speed. If I walk fast enough (and they follow) we can avoid all the eye candy. Everything is eye candy. Everything is touchable. And we’re off! Weaving in and out of aisles and racks. Going off course to avoid having to stop at all. I can hear “Look at this!” sounds in the distance, but I will not be deterred. Result: success.

Obstacle 6: The family restroom lock doesn’t work. I choose to guard the door while sending the girls within eye-sight to the electronics section. Things like cameras and tablets are usually locked down, so we should be safe. Result: success (point deducted for not washing hands).

Obstacle 7: Confidence. This was probably my fault. We’ve been here for 20 minutes without a meltdown or argument, so our walk back to the front was much slower. I get back to the wife, and I’ve lost a kid. Eye candy! He got stuck in the toy aisle. Not far away and he already looked scared like he was in trouble. I’ll take it. Result: success (point deducted for losing a child).

Obstacle 8: Clear instructions. So as I promised, I’ll let them browse the costumes. I sent them ahead to kill time. But I didn’t clarify what the word “browse” does and doesn’t mean. We finish the school supplies and stroll back. By the time we make it, the boy has found a knight costume and he’s in full regalia, battle ax in hand. Result: fail.

We checkout and everyone gets a bag to carry. We make it to the car and home in a reasonable amount of time. All in all I’d give us a B+.

If it really was just parenting, that would be fine. You do homework, you play, you snack, you go to bed. But it’s doing homework while the baby is throwing his food he refuses to eat. Food he loved last week. It’s snack time, but they all want a different snack and I’m trying to sort through bills and remember to email the teacher. It’s playtime, but having to be referee and negotiator when “I called it first!” while prepping dinner. Or it’s bedtime and the baby is not sleepy and the other needs a drink of water, and has to use the bathroom, and didn’t get a hug, and had a bad dream. You haven’t been in there long enough to have a dream!

See, it’s not the parenting part alone, it’s household management. This should be a degree in college. Get an MHM Degree. Masters in Household Management. If this was actually a class, I might be interested. I admire the ones who seem to have this mastered.

BUT – and it’s a big BUT (a line they would laugh at) – the fact they would laugh makes it all worth it. It’s the giggles and sweet moments. The thank you’s that surprise you. The fact that parents remember being frustrated at the playground, but all the kids remember is it had a pirate ship and so they play pirates for the next three days.

Most parents needs validation from time to time that what you’re doing is hard. I catch myself trying to talk about my hard day to someone and it all sounds superficial and petty. “Really? You had to make cookies and do bath time after Wednesday night church? Wow. That must be so hard.” But it is! Stress is stress, whether you’re meeting a deadline at work or it’s the second dish to be broken this week.

My advice to myself: Take a breath. Keep perspective. Don’t make the little things into big things. Soak up the good times. Put everyone to bed happy, including yourself, and give yourself grace if tonight it didn’t happen. Remember your principles. Take time for yourself. Be thankful in all things.

It’s worth it. Parenting is hard. And you’re doing great.