Father Figure

First, a little about me. Like Heidi said in the first post, we aren’t writers. Words and I have never been best friends. I am a horrible conversationalist, and I dislike public speaking more than just about anything. I feel like I’m better at typing than talking, so that’s the only reason I’m a little bit confident about this blogging thing. I love Jesus. I love my wife. I love my family and friends. I like to laugh. I like sports. I like music. I like being outside. I’ve always had a heart for kids, and I often say that I like kids more than I like adults. I find it easier to have a conversation and develop a relationship with kids, likely due to my childishness. I can relate to them a lot better than I can relate to most adults.

I wanted to call this post ‘Who’s your daddy?’, but I’ll do my best to keep my immaturity at bay.

We were thrust into a very strange (unconventional, to use Heidi’s word) situation. We have been married for 2 and a half years, and have no kids of our own. In the span of 6 months, we decided to look for a new adventure, moved to South Carolina, and were entrusted with caring for 10 kids, ranging in age from 18 months to 15 years old. Every stage of childhood and adolescence in one house, with 2 people who have babysat and worked with kids, but have never had to raise kids on their own. Overwhelmed, unprepared, lost, and scared would all be accurate adjectives to describe how we, or at least I, felt the first few weeks.

It’s been difficult for me to figure out what my role in the lives of these kids. We’ve been at this for 6 months now, and I’ve never considered myself to be a father to these kids. When people ask me what I do, I tell them I’m a foster parent, and I consider myself to be a father figure, family teacher, and friend (unintentional alliteration, I swear) to the kids, but dad is not on that list.

Psalm 68:5 says that God is a father to the fatherless. When I think about being called to foster care and adoption, I believe this is at the heart of that calling. I struggle with the fact that even though our kids are in foster care, most of them still have fathers, and if they don’t, they have a father figure already in their life. Where do I fit in their life, and what is my responsibility as to them as a man? I change diapers, I do time outs, I discipline, I help with homework, I laugh with them, I comfort them when they’re sad, I pray with them at bedtime. I do all the things a dad should do, but I don’t feel like their dad. I feel like a long term babysitter. I don’t even know if I should feel like their dad. They already have dads, even if they’re crappy ones. Add to that the fact that I live and work in a transition cottage. We are the buffer between the horrible situation and a long term home. They only spend a few weeks up to a couple months with us before they either move back with their parents/guardians or move to longer term housing on campus.

Maybe it’s just my own insecurities about the fact that I have never raised kids before, and I have no idea what I’m doing. I jumped into the middle of it all. I didn’t get the opportunity to start from the beginning like “normal” parents. I went straight into a situation where I was potty training one kid and talking about rules for boyfriends with another. I’m helping kids learn their colors and learn algebra. I often wonder what I got myself into, leaving a stable job that I liked to move 800 miles away, to a place where we didn’t know anyone and the insects try to kill me, to a job parenting someone else’s kids.

Luckily, there are many more moments that confirm that I’m doing the right thing. I know that this is where I should be, and I trust that God is using me to positively impact these kids. I know that God put kids on my heart, and led Heidi and I to Thornwell. I feel very blessed to serve a God who makes children a priority and commands his people to care for them. There are a lot of examples of this in scripture, but here are a few of my favorites:

Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. (Psalm 82:3 NIV)

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17 NIV)

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9 NIV)

My (most recent) struggle is this: What is my role in the lives of the kids that come through our cottage? The struggle is real. If you are struggling with the same stuff, I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful, but I hope you know you’re not alone. I am blessed to work in an incredibly supportive environment filled with people who are cultivating a culture of Godly community. If you’re reading outside of Thornwell, I hope you have that or can find it, because it has been invaluable to our survival down here. If you are a part of Thornwell, thanks for being a part of it.

–Mr. Jon

Soundtrack to this post: Relient K – mmhmm

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Unconventional

Unconventional: not based on or conforming to what is generally done or believed: unusual, atypical, irregular, abnormal.

           In my research about blogging, there were many suggestions on how to capture an audience, what not to write, and ways to address your readers. And while we surely don’t want to bore you with our posts, we need to be honest: we’re not writers. We love to use proper grammar and tell funny anecdotes, but we will never claim to be gifted in the area of written stories. We like voice inflection and using our hands and hearing reponses when we share. We find this idea of a blog to be a tad unusual, unconventional if you will. 

         So, why would we put ourselves in such new territory? We have been called to make some pretty big changes in our life  over the past year. God is shaping us through this crazy adventure He has taken us on. Are we the only ones who are being stretched to be stewards of God’s Creation and bearers of His Kingdom to a broken world? Surely not. We want to share our story, our unconventional calling. “Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out!” Psalm 107:2 NLT

         We got married and had quite a time getting settled, but once we seemed to find a routine in our lives we found ourselves craving something more. We suddenly felt out of place in a very welcoming environment. Stable jobs, an active church family, buying a house, and raising a puppy hardly seemed like a life to be unhappy in. It was a challenging period in our marriage as we discussed and prayed about how to address this. After doing a random job search, I found a description for foster parents. It seemed harmless, as well as unalarming to us since we have always planned to foster or adopt children. But thanks to Google, a few quick clicks around the internet, and we found ourselves looking at fulltime, paid careers in residential group homes hundreds of miles away. Within a month we were saying yes to a job as family teachers at Thornwell Home for Children in South Carolina. Future posts will hold more specifics and personal stories about that decision, but for now let’s just say that we were 100% sure and 100% unsure about what God was calling us to. Many people were confused about how we came to this decision, why we would move from our familiarity, and when we’d be back living in Michigan. We asked the same things! This was exciting and frightening to us, but we felt above all else, God was moving, unconventionally. 

          All these changes and we hadn’t even started our job yet! We had no idea how crazy we actually were for following this call. We will be sharing about the ups and downs of being family teachers periodically. It is an intense and active position. We are learning new things everyday. We work alongside some amazing people who model, train, and encourage us as we learn how to do our job. It is essential for us to be flexible in this field, and there are constant reminders of a need for God’s grace. It is unconvetional to say the least. God is surely using this new career path to draw us to Himself. With that, we have heard God’s voice consistently louder in our marriage leading us to parenthood. This comes as no suprise to most. It is assumed that children come next in our timeline of events. Yet, it is not a usual, regular calling to be parents. We are moving to a life as foster and adoptive parents. Let us clarify something about this: we are NOT currently adopting children. There is no active process happening for adoption or even private foster kids. This simply means we have confirmed God’s leading that the legacy children bring will not look the same for this Sampson family as it does for many other families. It means that we may never have children that share our blood, but ones that will be loved just the same. God is entrusting us with an unconventional family.

          Since we met, Jonathon and I have desired to be more like Christ, to help people in need, to love like Jesus did. It is evident that God has a purpose for our family, whatever that may look like. Our desire is to be intentional about the lessons God is teaching us on a daily basis, and as He leads, share them with you. Please join us on this journey!