Foster Care is important

I know we finished the ‘foster care is’ series, but I can’t stop thinking about a picture and I think this title is fitting. If you haven’t seen the picture, it was posted on Facebook by the East Liverpool, OH police department. (I’m not going to post the picture, because even though it’s shockingly real and helps to shed light on a huge nationwide problem, it’s not really fair to the individuals in the picture. The problem needs to be seen and addressed, but public shaming isn’t the best way to do it. If you still really want to see it, it’s here.)  It shows two adults who appear to be unconscious in the front of the car, and a 4 year old boy in the back seat. According to the police report, the vehicle was pulled over due to erratic driving and the officer found the female unconscious and the male severely altered, saying that he was attempting to drive the female to hospital. Both adults were given Narcan (a medication that reverses opiate overdoses) and were successfully revived and arrested on a variety of charges.

It’s a really hard picture to look at, but, as the police department said in their Facebook post:

We feel it necessary to show the other side of this horrible drug. We feel we need to be a voice for the children caught up in this horrible mess. This child can’t speak for himself but we are hopeful his story can convince another user to think twice about injecting this poison while having a child in their custody.

As a paramedic, I was able to see the struggles of heroin addiction first hand. I’ve given Narcan to bring someone back from the brink of death and listened to them cry about how addiction has ruined their lives. This isn’t a post about the adults or the illness that they are victims of though. This is about the 4 year old in the back seat wearing the dinosaur pajamas. It’s about the system that he is now a part of, and will forever be connected to. It’s about, as the police department said, being a voice for the children caught up in this horrible mess.

Foster care is important. It’s important because that 4 year old, like hundreds of thousands of other kids, didn’t do anything wrong. He was placed in a very unfortunate situation and needs someone to speak up for him and protect him from the brokenness that he’s known his whole life. Foster care is important because we have a chance to be that voice. We can protect that child and others like him from the evils that their caregivers can’t escape.

That picture is really hard to look at. The picture of the little Syrian boy in the back of the ambulance is absolutely heartbreaking. As horrible as those are, they are real, and they highlight a need. Orphan care is important because those kids need our help. They need our voice. Obviously I am passionate about foster care, but you can ‘find your something’, as Jason Johnson says. Find what you can do to help children here or abroad and do it. Foster care, orphan care, and adoption are amazing opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus. The first part of Deuteronomy 10:18 says that  He [God] ensures that orphans and widows receive justice.  He ensures that through people like you and I. We need to love these children like Christ loves his children. Meeting them in the midst of their brokenness and being a consistent and loving force for good in their lives. Love God. Love People.

 

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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

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

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