Foster Care is Hope

Unleash Your kingdoms power
Reaching the near and far
No force of Hell can stop
Your beauty changing hearts
You made us for much more than this
Awake the kingdom seed in us
Fill us with the strength and love of Christ

We are Your church
We are the hope on earth

(Rend Collective – Build your Kingdom Here)

We had a high schooler in our cottage who didn’t want to be here (to be fair, none of our kids want to be in foster care). He had lived on his own before after running away from his last foster home, and would rather be anywhere than in a group home cottage with 7 other boys, all at least 6 years younger than him. This all was after 10 years in the foster care system with 15 different foster families, a boarding school, inpatient treatment, and a potential adoption that was disrupted due to a medical emergency in the family. We had many conversations with him about living independently and we worked with him to develop his independent living skills, find a job, and get his learners permit. One day we were having a conversation about the future and he said something to the effect of “when I leave here I’ll live in some sort of slum, because that’s what happens to foster kids.”

Many foster kids feel this way, especially high school kids who are close to aging out of the system. They don’t have much hope for their future, and unfortunately, many current statistics support that. Kids that are aging out of the Foster Care system are much less likely to graduate high school or get a stable job. They are more likely to be homeless or incarcerated. Teen pregnancy is much higher among foster kids. Those are just a few statistics to tell you what you should already know: growing up in the foster care system is not an ideal situation for kids. However, it doesn’t have to be this way.

We are the church. We are the hope on earth. When bad things happen, people always ask where God was and why he allowed it to happen. I don’t have an answer to the second question, but I believe that when bad things happen, God is in the church. God is in the men and women responding to the situation with a loving and helping heart. Rend Collective says here: “Jesus wants to set the church on fire, so the world can warm themselves around us and find life and safety.” We, the church, are called to be the light of the world so that when disaster happens, and all seems dark, there is a light that represents hope and warmth to all.

Whenever a child is abused or neglected, it’s a disaster. It’s the darkest times of that child’s life. It’s often something they’ve never experienced before and it’s completely overwhelming in the worst way. Foster Care brings light to the child so they can feel the warm love and acceptance of  a family. They can feel the hope that things don’t always have to be as they had been. Psalm 10:17-18 says Lord, you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them. You will bring justice to the orphans and the oppressed, so mere people can no longer terrify them. Mere people can no longer terrify them. That’s a hard thing to say in foster care, because sadly there’s always the chance that they will be sent back in to a situation where they may be terrified again. But we trust that God knows what he’s doing, even when it doesn’t make sense to us. 

God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. (Hebrews 6:18-19)

Foster care is a lot of things. It’s hard, frustrating, fun, messy, and so many other things all at the same time. Ultimately though, foster care is hope. Hope for children who have never experienced it. Hope for a future that may not have been possible. There is hope for foster kids. There is hope for the foster care system. That hope is the church, and the people that strive to love like Christ loved. You have the chance to be an embodiment of the hope of Christ. You can be a strong and trustworthy anchor for a child who has never experienced a secure attachment. You can become a foster parent. You can support foster parents. If you have questions, please leave a comment or use the contact us section to send us a message.

Advertisements

Uncomfortable

We know that saying goodbye to kids we have loved is a part of the job. We know that sometimes we only have a few hours notice when a kid is leaving. We also know that when kids go home, there is often a great deal of uncertainty about the situation they are returning to. But simply knowing those things isn’t enough. Knowing you’re a part of a broken system doesn’t make it easier when the system fails. Yesterday was an uncomfortable day. We got about 2 hours notice that a boy we love very much was being returned to an uncertain situation with his mother. We were blindsided by a perfect storm of the foster care system. 2 weeks ago we were told that his mother was working on a treatment plan, but DSS (Department of Social Services) was likely going to recommend termination of rights. Thursday we were told that the judge did not listen to DSS recommendations, and did not see enough evidence to keep the child in the foster care system. They outlined a transition plan that would have him moving home for good around Christmas. Yesterday the judge decided to change their mind, and ordered that the child be returned to his mother later that day. Caseworkers were surprised, supervisors were surprised, and we were obviously floored by the news. So we left the training we were at, picked him up from school, and explained to him and his teacher what the new plan was. Everyone cried. Then we came home and I helped him pack his clothes while Heidi collected paperwork and toys that were scattered around the house. We got some pictures and lots of hugs. Our teammates came over to say their goodbyes. Then the transporter showed up, we loaded all of his things into the van, and then it was goodbye. Hopefully not forever, but now there’s an empty bed at our house and an empty seat at the table. While I was doing bedtime with our other kids, I called 2 of them by his name. I’m going to miss him.

Our job is often uncomfortable. Kids are uncomfortable when they first meet us because they are unsure who we are and where they are. We hear a lot of uncomfortable stories from kids about past traumas and current issues. We have to answer a lot of uncomfortable questions, and tell kids a lot of uncomfortable news. Family Teaching, and foster care and adoption in general, are inherently uncomfortable things. Children are removed from the only comfort they have ever known, if they’ve ever been comfortable, and are placed with you. Too many times they find real comfort with you in your house just to be moved to a different house or reunited with family and their concept of comfort shifts again.

Uncomfortable, as unpleasant and painful as it can be, isn’t always bad. If you are uncomfortable, that means you are aware that things are not as they should be. Feeling uncomfortable means you want something to change. The reason we became Family Teachers, the reason we are passionate about foster care, adoption, and orphan care is that the thought of children who aren’t being provided for made us uncomfortable. Just because we responded to that uncomfortable feeling doesn’t mean it went away though, if anything it made it worse. Every child that we interact with has an uncomfortable past, so we are surrounded by it and immersed in it. But the more we learn, the more uncomfortable we get, which makes us want to work harder to change whatever we can.

Even though it seems counterintuitive to do something that makes you more uncomfortable, we wouldn’t have it any other way. We don’t enjoy hearing the stories and answering the questions, but we do it because we can. I know that not everybody can do our job. You need to be a special kind of person to work with the kids that we work with. Heidi and I feel like we have been blessed with the empathy and energy that it takes to work directly with kids, and we are part of a community of like minded people at Thornwell that do incredible work every day in the face of a mountain of uncomfortability (I don’t think that’s a word). We do it because we can, and we do it because we have access to the ultimate comfort.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.[a] If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3-6 ESV)

What makes you uncomfortable? It’s not the same for everyone, but everyone has something. We were at an orphan care conference last weekend, and one of the speakers pointed out that every Christian is called to do something. If you follow Christ, you have a duty to better the kingdom in some way. Is the kingdom better because you’re a part of it? Orphan care, foster care, and adoption are close to our hearts, but for you it could be something different. Figure out what that is and do something about it.

Never say no to your kids

Obviously you need to say no to your kids. Multiple times a day. “Can I have ice cream for breakfast?” “Is it ok if I get chocolate on the DVD player?” “Can I lick the dog?” No, no, and no. There are plenty of times when kids need to hear no. So my title is a lie. You should definitely say no to your kids. It helps them set healthy boundaries, lets them know what is right and wrong, healthy and unhealthy, appropriate and inappropriate. But maybe there are times when you should not say no to your kids. A better title probably would’ve been ‘Why you shouldn’t say no to your kids as often’, but that wouldn’t have been as dramatic. I was participating in a men’s bible study on marriage this spring, and I received some of the best parenting advice I’ve ever heard. The advice: “don’t say no to your kids.” Confused yet? Parenting is confusing. At least in my (limited) experience, it is.

What that advice means, is if your child asks you to do something with them, don’t say no. If a kid wants to spend time with you, you should always say yes to them. Kids know what they want, and they usually aren’t shy about expressing it. I’m hungry, I want to leave, I have to poop, etc. And usually when they ask, they mean it. So if they say that they want to spend time with you, they probably mean it. They truly want to spend time with you. We could talk about quality vs quantity time, but what I believe is, quality time happens within quantity time. You can try and plan quality time through special activities, but usually the quality moments happen during unplanned time together. Swinging on the swings, playing catch, going for a walk, even something as simple as eating a meal together can turn into the moments that kids remember most.

Jan and Mark Foreman, parents of 2 members of the band Switchfoot, recently wrote a book entitled Never say No: Raising Big Picture Kids. Admittedly, I’ve only read the introduction and a devotional consisting of short passages from the book. Either way, sofar it’s fantastic, and I plan on reading the whole thing. In the introduction, they share how they describe this concept to other curious parents.

“Never say no to all the dreams and creative ideas your children have. Never say no to the realization you can become different than your mom and dad. Especially never say no to your kids’ requests to join them, like playing dress up or going surfing with your teenager when the weather’s cold and windy. If you say no too often, they’ll stop asking.”

Another quote that I love from the book is “A thousand no’s can be dwarfed by the power of one yes.” It’s amazing to see the look on a child’s when we say yes to something that’s always been no. Some of our kids have never heard yes when they’ve asked a question. Whether it was from parents, relatives, or caseworkers, the answer has always been no. They’ve never had a chance to get what they want or to think creatively. They’ve been told what to eat, what to do, where to live, who to live with or simply given no attention at all. Whether it’s a second bowl of cereal at breakfast, or another blanket on their bed because they’re cold, a simple yes can work wonders in developing a relationship with a kid. Especially in our cottage, forming relationships is a difficult but vital part of our job. I’ve found that if you can make a kid laugh, it will be easier for them to trust you. When they trust you, they listen to you. Not to say all defiance is distrust, but for us that is often the case. To a certain extent, they need to know you’ll say yes to some things before they accept you saying no to another.

For me this is really easy to connect this concept to our relationship with our Heavenly Father, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this part. 2 Corinthians 1:19-20 says

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me [Paul] and Silas and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.

He always has been and He always will be. He says many times that he wants to hear from us and He is always available for us. Of course sometimes He says no to us when we make requests, but whenever we want to spend time with Him, the answer is always yes.

I write this somewhat hypocritically. It sounds great and makes perfect sense, but this is something that I’m not good at. I’m trying, but it’s really hard to push 4 kids on the swings at the same time when it’s 90 degrees outside. I know I need to do better, and I have seen results when I say yes to our kids, however reluctant that yes is. But it’s still tough.

July 7th

July 7th is a pretty big day for Heidi and I. This year on July 7th, we celebrate 3 years of marriage as well as 1 year as employees at Thornwell. I have been blessed beyond comprehension by my wife, and we have both been blessed by Thornwell more than we could’ve imagined.

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” (‭Ruth‬ ‭1‬:‭16‬ NIV)

This verse was read at our wedding. Ever since I’ve known Heidi, I’ve known that she has a passion for traveling. She has always talked about going crazy places to do crazy things. That’s reason #1438 why I love her: She is always thinking about what is next, where we can go, and what we can do to advance God’s kingdom here on earth. She has incredible vision, and as much as I want her to just settle down and take a breath sometimes, our marriage is better, and I am better because she is constantly pushing us to be better.

When Trenton Livingston read that verse to our family and friends, I don’t think I took it seriously. I’ve been around enough to know that change is one of the only constants in this life. But I was a paramedic and she was a teacher. We were starting the process of buying a house. We had family and friends that we cared about. We were serving at our church locally and internationally. We were in a good place. But God being God, He called us out. He said “Hey, remember that verse that you picked for your wedding? Did you mean it? Will you really go where I go?” I guess for some reason I assumed that if we were going to move somewhere, it was going to be internationally. I figured that all of our family and friends were in Michigan and New York, and if we were going to follow God somewhere else, it would be to serve him in a different country. I was wrong. Really wrong.

This led us to Thornwell. Selling the house we had owned for less than a year, quitting jobs, having to tell family and friends that we were moving. There was a lot of confusion from others and uncertainty from us. There were a lot of questions and doubts about where we were going and what we were going to be doing and why.

July 7th is the day we began our Family Teacher training in Clinton, South Carolina. There is never enough training to prepare you for this job. This is primarily a ‘learn by doing’ job, and I feel like we have been mostly successful in doing that (another advantage to an EMS background.) Music is a big part of our lives, and during our transition down here, Oceans by Hillsong meant a lot to us, or at least to me. “You called me out upon the water. The great unknown, where feet may fail.” Taking this job felt very much like stepping out of a boat in the middle of a lake. We had no idea where we were going, what we would be doing, or if we would even survive down here (thanks to fire ants, I almost didn’t!) But, as per usual, God was faithful. There were plenty of times early on, and even still, that we felt like we were drowning, but he was always there to make sure we didn’t die. “Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander.” We’re in deep. We’re doing nitty gritty, hands and feet of God stuff. It’s not glamorous, not prosperous, often it’s not fun, but we’re doing it. We’re definitely deeper than our feet could ever wander. I didn’t even know that this job existed a year and a half ago, but now I’m in way over my head.

Another one of my favorite worship songs is How He Loves. I see God’s love every day when I look at my wife of 3 years. I see His love in the faces of the innocent lives He has called us to care for. If we can comprehend the tiniest sliver of how loved we are, then we don’t have a choice but to love others. I think the second verse of Oceans sums it all up really well, so I’ll end with that.

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

–Mr. Jon

Father Figure 2

The first post I ever wrote was about my struggle to find my place in the lives of these kids. I wrote:

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 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.”

     That was 6 months ago. Now with Fathers Day upon us, I feel like I have been able to settle in and find my place as a ‘substitute dad’ for the kids that pass through Bryan Mac. We have started to use that term more with the new kids that we get. We tell them that we know they already have a mommy and daddy, but for a variety of reasons, they can’t be with them. So as long as they are with us, Ms Heidi and Mr Jon will be their substitute mom and dad.

     I haven’t been doing anything different, my motivation hasn’t changed, I just feel like I have a better understanding of what I’m doing. There are definitely still days that I feel overwhelmed and lost, but more and more I’m feeling comfortable in my role as a Family Teacher and foster dad to a bunch of great boys. I am blessed to work with a lot of strong Godly men that have, whether they know it or not, greatly influenced me on my path towards confidence. They share what has worked, what hasn’t, what they have enjoyed, and what they have struggled with. I have been lucky enough to live life with some amazing fathers. I have been able to observe their interactions with biological and cottage kids, and share my insecurities and triumphs. 

     I have also been very fortunate to be surrounded by strong examples of godly men my entire life. My father is the hardest working and most selfless man I know. He has dedicated his life to serve others as an ER nurse, and has been a leader in our church for as along as I can remember. His example of how to be a good husband and father while helping others is a big part of why I am at Thornwell doing my best to help these kids. 

     We daily see the ways that not having a father impacts the lives of kids. I recently finished reading Father Fiction by Donald Miller, a great first hand account of how growing up fatherless can change you for life. Fathers are the first teachers. Kids aren’t born with hatred, kids aren’t racist from birth. Comedian Dennis Lears says “Racism isn’t born folks, it’s taught. I have a 2 year old son. Know what he hates? Naps. End of list.” Fathers, or Father figures, are vital to the success of children. We build the foundations, start them on a course. Not to diminish mothers, because their role is equally important, but every child has a mother, not every child has a father. 

     Most of what we do in the assessment homes is tearing down false foundations. We don’t get to start at the beginning with our kids. We have to help them unlearn habits and language that they may have learned at home so they can begin to build healthy foundations for their future. They often move on to a more permanent cottage, where the Family Teachers do a fantastic job of teaching kids the skills needed to make a positive impact on society. 

     I feel like I say this a lot, but I love what I do, and I love where I work. I’m so thankful for the great fathers and father figures that I have been blessed to learn from. Thornwell is a blessed placed to have so many men willing to do what it takes to advance Gods kingdom through his children. 

–Mr Jon

A side note on Charleston. Incomprehensible evil and brokenness, just 2 hours away from us. But there’s hope. Those 9 souls are dancing in heaven. The doors of the church were open for worship this morning. God is still God. There is a spirit of brokenness in that community, but there is strength. There is forgiveness. There is unity. The young mans mission was to divide, but this will only make them stronger. 

This Job . . .

It was one year ago this week that Heidi and I accepted the offer to become family teachers at Thornwell. We never could’ve guessed how this place and this job would impact our lives. We feel exceedingly blessed to have found such a wonderful place full of wonderful people. We love every day we work with these kids. Ok, maybe not every day, but most days. This job is a lot of things. This job has taught us a lot of things. It’s been incredible and terrifying. It’s been fun and sad. Often in the same day. I love doing this job. I’m doing what God wants me to do. I’m not much of a list person, but here’s some more things about this job.

This job is:

Stressful. Heartbreaking. Frustrating. Emotional. Difficult. Exhausting. Exciting. Fun. Inspiring. Important. Rewarding. A calling. Needed.

This job has taught me:

Most “bad” kids are good kids who are struggling with something big. But there is such a thing a truly bad kid.

Even the bad kids can be sweet.

I’m not as patient as I thought I was.

I’m more emotional than I thought I was.

I’m selfish.

Some parents just don’t care about their kids. Some parents work really hard for their kids.

Regardless of what they say or do, all kids are still just kids.

Kids need choices.

Kids are smart, funny, clever, and have good memories.

Kids are unbelievably resilient.

No matter how bad parents are, kids still miss their mommy and daddy.

Age is just a number. Kids who are the same age can be very different developmentally, behaviorally, and socially.

I understand kids better than I thought I did. I still love working with kids.

I am overwhelmingly blessed to be married to and working with such an amazing woman.

     It’s coming to the end of National Foster Care month. This job has opened my eyes to a world I knew very little about. Foster care is a world that I am now passionate about, that I feel called to. It’s a world that changes lives, and makes things better for a kid who has never known what good can be.  This job has been a blessing to me, and I hope and pray that I have been able to bless these kids as much as I have been blessed.

     Just because National Foster Care month is ending, and soon we’ll stop posting daily pictures and articles about foster care and helping kids, the importance of this job doesn’t diminish on June 1. I know residential foster care is different that fostering in your own home, but the principles are the same. You use what you have been given to help kids who need it. Blessed people bless people. So what are you doing to bless? How have you been blessed? You don’t need to do what we did; we know it’s not for everyone. You need to be kind of crazy to work in residential care, and a whole different kind of crazy to work in assessment. If it’s not helping kids by opening your home, help out those who have been called to foster care. Collect clothes, toiletries, toys, and other things that these families will need. God calls us all to action. Here are some more things you can do.

This job is incredible. I’m so happy that Heidi and I answered God’s call to do this job.

-Mr. Jon

A light at the end of the tunnel

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27 NIV)

The phrase “let not your hearts be troubled” has been in my mind a lot recently, mostly because my heart has been troubled. We had to take a 7 year old, who we love like one of our own, to an inpatient psychiatric facility to address issues including self harm and highly destructive behavior. When we dropped him off, he was terrified and sobbing, and honestly, so were we. It’s not fair, it’s not right, but it’s what was needed for him at the time. He’s back in our cottage now, but I think I’m more nervous and concerned about him now than I was when he was in the hospital. I hope and pray that he learned something from his time there. I really want to see him improve and stay with us, but I know that if he doesn’t change or gets worse, he needs to go somewhere that can help him more than we can.

I recently heard that a friend was going through an impossibly difficult situation and the phrase “a light at the end of the tunnel” popped into my head. Then I began to think about some of my wife’s family and some other friends going through similarly impossible situations. The more I thought about it, the more it developed itself something that I hope can be helpful. Too often Christians like to use notoriously cliche verses and phrases in a good hearted attempt to help those who are hurting. “All things work together for good,” “Death has given way to victory,” “Death, where is thy sting,” “Let not your heart be troubled.” Those are just a few of the ones I thought of, I’m sure you could come up with more. Yes, there are times when those are helpful, but when an unexpected tragedy comes along, death stings. Your heart is troubled. You feel like nothing is going to work together for good and the situation is a total loss.

As a disclaimer, this is the voice of observation, not the voice of experience. I am incredibly blessed to still be on earth with my immediate family and close friends. But I have spent a lot of time around grieving families. One of the privileges of working in EMS is the invitation into the most vulnerable and difficult situations a person can ever encounter. To think that as a complete stranger you are allowed to be the first to comfort the loved ones of a person who has just passed on or been injured is a tremendous honor. It’s a very strange experience to tell a wife that you did everything you could for her husband, but it wasn’t enough. You learn to balance empathy with efficiency. You learn helpful phrases like “They didn’t suffer” “We did everything they would’ve done in the hospital” and “You did everything that you could to help them”. That last one is big, because invariably family members will feel guilty and wonder what they could’ve done differently. That’s a very normal reaction, but it can be harmful if it lingers.

I feel like this has been scatterbrained and heavy, but that has been me the past week or so. I hate that, because I try hard to be a positive person. Here is the encouraging part. This is the happy ending: There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Going through life can feel pretty dark. It can feel like you’re in a tunnel and there’s no way out. The tunnel is dark, and it’s long, but it will end. Jesus is the light at the end of the tunnel. At times it’ll be easy to see the light, through friends and family, through nature, music, memories, or whatever ways you connect to God. Other times it will feel like darkness is all around you, and there’s no way out. That’s when you need to be intentional about seeking the light. You won’t want to. You’ll want to sit and wallow, you’ll be tempted to let the darkness win. But the only way to get through a tunnel is to keep moving forwards. I love how David Crowder says it in his song Come As You Are.

Come out of sadness
From wherever you’ve been
Come broken hearted
Let rescue begin
Come find your mercy
Oh sinner come kneel
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal

Come as you are. Angry, confused, bitter, miserable, depressed, lost, broken, hopeless, desperate, doubtful, alone. Come as you are.

Lay down your burdens
Lay down your shame
All who are broken
Lift up your face
Oh wanderer come home
You’re not too far
So lay down your hurt
Lay down your heart
Come as you are

Jesus loves you. Jesus wants to hear from you. He knows what you’re going through (Hebrews 4:15). He doesn’t care if you yell, scream, doubt, blame, cuss, ask questions, or anything else. He wants you as you are, not as you think you should be. Jesus’ whole ministry was meeting people where they are, as they are. It’s no different today than when he was walking on the earth. Don’t feel ashamed. Don’t be embarrassed that you’re mad at God or just cussed in a prayer. He knows what’s in your heart, so it’s no use hiding it from him with your words.

There’s joy for the morning
Oh sinner be still
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. You will get there. It might take a while, and it’s definitely going to be difficult, but you will get there. The light is always there.

Come as you are.

–Mr. Jon

Invictus

     Too often our kids, and foster kids in general, feel like they have no control. They (often rightly) feel like they have no voice, that they are just one part of a system that decides everything for them and doesn’t listen to what they want. Because of this, they look for any way to feel in control. We most commonly see this play out via defiance, running away, and occasionally violence, but there are a lot of things kids do to feel like they are in control of their lives. They are part of a broken system in which they have no choice. They want to be with their parents and family, but because of drugs, abuse, neglect, etc., that’s not possible. They want to at least be with their siblings, but instead they are put by themselves with foster parents who are commonly motivated by something other than the child’s best interest. It’s a no win situation, and it’s through no fault of the child that this is happening. I wish I knew a way to fix it, but unfortunately, it is what it is.
     Children need structure and discipline, but they also need control. If kids don’t have anything to control, they look for something to control. When they look for something to control, it rarely has a healthy outcome. They try to control what happens in their relationships with manipulation, shutting down, and pushing back. They try to control what happens to their body with drugs, sex, and food choices. They need to feel like their opinions matter, they need opportunities to choose what happens. But along with choices, they need consequences. One of the toughest things for us to teach is the concept that choices have consequences. I like to reference the Choose Your Own Adventure books when talking to the kids. They are a good visual and practical example of how choices affect outcomes. We preach to them that when they make good choices, good things happen, and when they make bad choices, bad things happen. Of course this isn’t always the case, but if our kids can understand that, it’s a strong base for us to build on. The Teaching Family Model does a great job of helping us teach this to our kids. If they make good choices, they earn positive points and can earn extra privileges, and if they make bad choices, they lose points and lose privileges. This even works for our little ones who are too young for the system. If they make good choices at daycare, preschool, and around the cottage, they can watch movies and play on the computer. If they don’t, they do timeouts and miss out on dessert.
     Currently our cottage is all elementary boys and younger. With the nicer weather meaning more outside playtime, I got out my copy of The Dangerous Book for Boys. It’s full of great projects and lessons for boys of all ages. This poem is in a part entitled “Seven poems every boy should know.” They’re all good, but this one struck me because of a conversation we often have with our boys. “Were you making a good choice or a bad choice?” Usually when we have to ask this, it’s because they made a bad choice. We are certainly quick to praise them when they make good choices, but we ultimately want them to get to point where they can recognize their own behavior and correct it as needed. We know that this probably won’t happen while they’re in our cottage, or even while they’re at Thornwell, but I keep going back to advice I was given during pre-service training. Think about a rocket aimed at the moon. If you alter the trajectory of the rocket by 1 or 2 degrees, it will miss it’s target by hundreds of miles. If you can make the smallest changes in the life of a child, that can result in big changes down the road. “Can” doesn’t always mean “will”, and there are times where a kid won’t change during his/her time at Thornwell. We’ve only been doing this for 7 months, and there have been a few kids like that. They are who they are, and nothing we do will change that. But for the majority of kids that have come through our cottage, even in the short time we have them, we see a change for the better. We hope and pray that those changes stick once they leave.
Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
 I am the captain of my soul.
[William Ernest Henley]

Foster Care vs. EMS

As I get more accustomed to life as a Family Teacher, I can’t help but think about how much my previous job as a paramedic set me up to be successful at Thornwell, specifically in an assessment cottage. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there are a lot of of similarities between Emergency Medical Services and  Foster Care.

A little background: I’ve worked in EMS for 5 years in 2 different states. I worked and volunteered as a Basic EMT in Western New York for 3 years, and I spent the 2 years prior to moving to South Carolina as a full time Paramedic in Port Huron, Michigan. Prehospital Emergency Medicine is something I have a strong passion for, and even though I am not currently involved in EMS, I still care about it very much, and it’s a calling I hope to return to at some point in my life.

It’s a weird feeling to have 2 callings. I feel very strongly called to EMS, and I miss it tremendously, but I also feel an equally strong calling to help out kids who can’t help themselves. I know there are a lot of people who struggle to find any type of calling in their life, so I’m not trying to gloat or sound self important, but the struggle is real. Every time I hear sirens or have an ambulance fly past me I miss it, and on the days that I’m struggling with my current job, I wish I had never left EMS. At the same time, I know that if I went back to full time EMS, I would miss spending my time with kids, and doing my best to provide with them with what what they’ve had stolen from them: a normal childhood experience.

That being said, here are some of the commonalities between my last 2 jobs:

24/7/365:

Bad things don’t always happen between 9 and 5 Monday-Friday. People don’t stop making bad decisions on major holidays. Kids don’t have issues when it’s convenient.

Unpredictable:

When most people wake up in the morning, they have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen that day. You have a good idea of what’s going to happen at work, you have a set schedule for school, you have dinner plans and tv shows you’re going to watch. Working in Foster Care and EMS (and other jobs), you never know what your day is going to look like. You could go from sleeping to doing CPR in a span of 5 minutes. You could have to handle 3 separate tantrums with just the 2 of you. We never know how bedtimes are going to go, or how kids are going to react to correction, so we need to be ready to handle a multitude of situations. It gets a little easier once kids are with you for a few weeks because you start to learn their habits and reactions, but they can always surprise you.

Dependent on people being hurt:

The worst parts about EMS and Foster Care is that in order for you to do your job, something bad has to happen to someone else. The sad fact is: Thornwell wouldn’t be open if parents didn’t abuse and neglect their kids. If people didn’t misuse drugs and alcohol, we would need a lot fewer foster parents and paramedics.

Trauma:

All throughout EMT school, Paramedic school, and countless CE classes, I learned about trauma. I’ve been learning about trauma for a long time, and I still am. I deal with more trauma as a family teacher than I ever did as a paramedic. Every child that comes into our home has experienced trauma. It’s a very different kind of trauma, and requires a very different approach. There’s no golden hour for a kid whose mom likes meth more than them. There’s no splint for a broken family. There are a lot of differences between physical and emotional trauma, but the goals are ultimately the same: Pain management and as much of a return to normalcy as possible.

Secondary Trauma:

Since we deal with trauma on a daily basis, in EMS as well as in foster care, it’s easy for us to be affected by it. Heidi and I are blessed to work at a place that retains their employees 4 times longer than the average residential foster care group home. There is a strong support system and a community of believers here that we know has dealt with or is dealing with the same things we are. That makes it very easy to talk openly about how we’re feeling and what we’re struggling with. There is a huge push right now for improved mental health and open conversations among public safety folks due to an alarmingly high rates of suicide and PTSD among fire, police, and EMS personnel. Thankfully, there are not similar trends in foster care, but burnout is just as real and just as possible. It is easy for Heidi and I to see how the average tenure for our line of work is only 9 months. There were a number of times during our first few months where we felt overwhelmed and asked ourselves how much longer we could keep this up. Thankfully, we serve a God who is strongest when we are weakest, and we are surrounded by encouraging friends and coworkers.

Protocols:

Just like in EMS, we have protocols. The Teaching Family Association provides us with a set of guidelines as to how to handle different situations with different kids, and we have a basic outline of how each interaction should go. We are given the freedom to work within the guidelines, and are trusted to analyze a situation and respond with the appropriate intervention. One of my favorite things about EMS was the freedom to choose my own adventure. I was given a set of skills and guidelines for when to use those skills, but I was free to use or not use whatever I felt was appropriate for a certain situation. The same is true for Family Teaching. We are given skills and guidelines, but due to the inherent unpredictability, especially in an assessment cottage, we have the autonomy to make the decisions that we feel is most appropriate. Most often that occurs after consultation with our supervisor (or med control), but we feel like we are trusted and supported in the majority of the decisions we make for our kids.

Rewarding:

These can be very heavy and depressing jobs. You’ve probably read some our other posts about how we struggle and cry our way through shifts, and you might wonder how anybody could do what we do and survive. The first answer is laughter. In both EMS and Foster Care, if you can’t laugh, it will be very difficult to survive in that line off work. Laughter is definitely the best medicine. But moreso, we do what we do because we know it works. We know that (most of the time) if we do what we are trained to do, people will get better. It makes all of the stress and craziness worth it when we see a kid who has grown more in the 7 months you’ve been working with him than the last 4 years that he lived with his parents. It’s really nice when someone who was trying to wrestle and fight with you 10 minutes ago can shake your hand and say thanks after a simple shot of sugar. They’re not all success stories, and for every diabetic that thanks you, theres a drunk who will cuss you out. For every kid who tells you they feel safer here than they ever did at home, there’s one who will smash barstools and yells that he hates it here. But through it all I firmly believe that good always beats evil. In the darkest room, one small light can illuminate the whole place. Cheesy, I know, but it’s true. On our most stressful and darkest days, one hug or one sweet comment can make it all okay.

Calling:

Nobody gets into EMS or residential foster care for the money. Both jobs could easily be considered ones that are overworked and underpaid. But to those who are called to these careers, we’d do it for free if we didn’t have bills to pay. It’s about the people, not the money. We can’t imagine doing anything else, because we’re sure that we are doing what we are called to do.

The world is always in need of people who are willing to help other people. EMS and Foster Care are just what I chose, there are a lot other great ways to help people. It doesn’t have to be a full time commitment, and you don’t have to move across the country. Look around you, and see what is needed. Foster care is something that’s dear to Heidi and I, so we would love it if you would research ways you can help kids in your area, or contact us to find out more.

I feel very blessed that I absolutely love the 2 careers I have chosen. I love the adrenaline rush and quick thinking required by a job in EMS. I love the time spent with kids and the chance to provide a happy and safe environment that I have as a family teacher.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (‭Colossians‬ ‭3‬:‭17‬ NIV)

–Mr. Jon

Living Love

     The more I think about the issues from my last post, the more I’m sure my job, and my life, boils down to one simple, yet exceedingly complex word: Love. My job as a man, husband, friend, and family teacher is simply to love. In my theologically untrained opinion, the overarching theme of the New Testament is love. According to The Man himself, if we don’t do anything else, we are commanded to love God, love each other, and love ourself. Of all the things we are commanded to do, if we love God and love those around us, everything else will fall into place (paraphrase of Matthew 22:37-40). One of my favorite passages about love is in 1 John 4. It’s a little lengthy, but worth it.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (‭1 John‬ ‭4‬:‭7-21‬ NIV)

There is so much good stuff in that passage that I could’ve just posted it on it’s own and been confident in this weeks blog. 

     There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (‭v. 18). When we get new kids into our cottage, they have often been taken into emergency protective custody, or EPC, by the state of South Carolina. This means that there was a report, and the powers that be determined that the child or children are in imminent danger and therefore must be taken without warning, and often without any of their belongings. Some of our kids had a swat team storm into their house and were taken by police with their parents being held at gunpoint. Some of our kids were called into the office at school and told that they weren’t going home after school and they had to go with a DSS worker. We very commonly encounter kids who are very fearful when we first meet them. Our job as family teachers, especially in an assessment cottage, is to make sure the kids know they are in a safe place. Anytime we get new kids, we tell them that our goal is to make sure they are happy and they feel safe. It is 100% ok that they are scared and unsure about their new surroundings, but we want to demonstrate the perfect love of Jesus, because we know that it drives out fear. We don’t immediately evangelize to them, and it’s usually a few days or weeks before we ever talk to them about Jesus, but we strive to love on them in very practical ways, by providing consistent food, shelter, and comfort that they may have never experienced. 

     I was going to do a post about the similarities between my current job, working in  foster care, and my previous job as a paramedic, but then I started typing and this happened. I’ll still do that at some point, but know that the biggest thing that the 2 professions have in common is love. Caring for those who need it most, when they need it most.

     I’ll be honest, I didn’t do a good job of this on our last shift. One of the things our kids need most is consistency, and I failed at that. I wasn’t sleeping well, which, combined with an early morning run in with a 5 year olds diarrhea made for a very grumpy Mr. Jon. I was nowhere near as patient as I normally am, which led to some interactions that, long story short, should have gone better. I am very thankful for a strong and patient wife, who was able to keep me in line, and for a gracious God who never stopped loving me. Listening to a sermon on grace yesterday really hit me hard. I am no different than the kids that are in my care. I am flawed and human, I’m annoying and defiant, but I am loved most when I deserve it the least. 

–Mr. Jon