Coping Skills

We see it every day. Children who are sad, scared, and anxious act angry and destructive because they simply don’t know what else to do. They are experiencing a lot of intense emotions, and they aren’t quite sure how to handle them. They want to be helped, but they have never learned the right way to ask. All they know is that they’re scared. Kids who have born into traumatic situations don’t always have the emotional regulation and coping skills needed to make healthy choices in stressful and uncertain times. They are attempting to process adult sized issues with child sized brains. It’s really not a fair fight.

Infants in healthy environments quickly learn that crying is an effective way to get their needs met. When they are in an unhealthy environment, they learn that crying does not get their needs met, and could actually be harmful, so they stop crying. Once they are in a healthy environment, they relearn the effectiveness of crying. Sometimes, their needs are never fully met until they are toddlers or even school age children. This process often begins in foster homes after they are removed from their unfulfilling home. Once that begins to happen, they often revert to where their development was initially stunted. That means crying, or somehow being disruptive, when they have unmet needs. Over time kids (hopefully) learn better communication skills and ways to more effectively get what they need.

That’s why family teachers, foster parents, and parents in general have such an important job. Teaching social skills and coping mechanisms to kids doesn’t just help them to be successful at home and school. It gives them tools to use when they grow up and go out into a stressful world. Proverbs 22:6 says Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.  I just had a conversation with one of our boys about how sometimes we turn little issues into big issues because we’re trying to teach lessons about life that will help them when they grow up. Lessons that they probably should have learned already, but haven’t.

An incredibly effective way to teach these things to kids is through modeling. Kids are so often a mirror of what’s going on around them. If there’s arguing and yelling in their house, they are much more likely to argue and yell. If they’ve experienced sexual abuse, it’s much more likely that they will mirror that behavior with their peers. This is all they know, so they think it’s normal. They assume that’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s why the cycle of poverty and abuse is so strong. They don’t know any different. We get the chance to show our kids, maybe for the first time, how to interact respectfully with others and take care of themselves. As foster parents and family teachers our job isn’t just providing a home for children who need a safe place, it’s working to break the cycle of generational poverty and trauma that often leads to a child needing foster care.

Since I’m a non-confrontational person, I try to stay away from current event and political debates, but I have a hypothesis. What if rioting and unrest is the go-to for some people because as a child they were never taught coping skills to positively deal with negative emotions? Just like we see so often with our kids, these people are angry, anxious, fearful, and sad. Often rightly so. They want help and comfort, but they were never taught how to ask for help. So they act out. They respond with destructive behaviors, because they don’t know what else to do. They feel unheard and lost, so they make sure their voices can’t be ignored. I don’t have an answer for what’s happening now, but I believe that teaching social skills and coping mechanisms to kids can help future generations of adults better handle the inevitable hardships and negativity they will face.

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Foster Care is Frustrating

Google tells me that frustrating means to cause someone to feel upset or annoyed, typically as a result of being unable to change or achieve something. Sounds like foster care! From the application process to the actual foster parenting to the reunification of children with their families, there are many points at which you feel upset or annoyed that you can’t change or achieve something. Happens all the time, sometimes for days at a time. It’s important at those points to remember the big picture when everything else is frustrating you. Remember that the God who has the whole world in his hands, including the foster care system. An important phrase to remember is from Zechariah 4:10: Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin. Every step forward is an important step.

The process of becoming a foster parent can be very frustrating. So many forms and requirements. So little communication. So much waiting and inefficiency. It’s easy to become discouraged. You have a lot of time to wait and overthink your calling and decisions. It’s easy to give up and say “maybe this isn’t for us.” But remember do not despise these small beginnings. Every form, every class, every inspection is one step closer to providing a home for a child who doesn’t have one. The LORD rejoices to see the work begin. God wants you to become a foster parent. God has a plan for you, and he has a plan for the child or children who will be placed in your home. He rejoices in every step, however small, that you take in faith and obedience to that plan.

Parenting is hard. Foster parenting is harder. I guess I can’t say that for sure, because my only parenting experience is foster parenting (8 kids at a time), but I’m sticking with it. Kids come in to foster care with a lot of behaviors, good and bad. Working with kids to unlearn negative behaviors and teach appropriate alternative behaviors can be very frustrating. They have been doing those things for a number of years without any negative consequence, so they don’t understand why they shouldn’t be doing them. No matter what you do to try and correct those behaviors, they don’t seem to get it. Sometimes you see some progress followed by significant regression. Super frustrating. They experience your consistent love and safety for weeks and months, but are still terrified to take a shower or go to bed because they’ve been so scarred by their pasts. It can make you wonder what you’re doing wrong. It can even make you start to resent the child, or wonder why you’re even trying. You get frustrated with yourself and with them until it starts to become unhealthy. (I’m not just writing, I’m confessing. This has happened to me) Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin. Look for any positives, and rejoice in them. Even if it’s a seemingly small beginning, do not despise it. Progress is progress. Potty training is a great example. If they can go pee in the potty, you celebrate like they won an olympic gold medal. If a child who refuses to try any new foods nibbles a carrot, let them have whatever they want for dessert. If a child sees and believes that you care about their progress, it will motivate for them to continue improving.

The end. Saying goodbye. One of the most frustrating parts of foster care is saying goodbye to a kid you know shouldn’t be leaving. The foster care system, at least in South Carolina, pushes for family reunification or kinship care even if that seems to be against what is best for the child.  That’s just my opinion. I’ve seen it enough times to start to become bitter. I hope for the best, but I expect the worst. Of course I have seen many more times that reunification or kinship care is the best thing for the child. But it only takes one kid who was placed with a relative only to come back into care because the relative preferred drugs to kids. Just one time will make you question the system. It’s frustrating, but it’s out of your control. Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin. That child might be going into a very uncertain situation, but have faith that you have begun the work in them, and the impact you made with be with them forever. One of my favorite examples of this is an old physics problem. If you shoot a rocket at the moon, changing the trajectory by just 1 degree will cause the rocket to miss it’s target by thousands of miles. Any affect you can have in the life of a child can result in big changes as they grow up. It’s not just you though. It’s not fair to that pressure on yourself. God has a plan for those kids, and he will keep working in them long after they’ve left you. If you don’t believe me, Philippians 1:6 tells us I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

Every part of foster care can be incredibly frustrating, but it’s so much more than that. It’s an incredible opportunity to change a life for the better. If you’re on the journey of foster care, whether you’re at the beginning, middle, or end do not lose heart. You’re not on the journey alone. You are surrounded by a community of foster carers who wants to help you succeed. You’re supported by an ever present God who can move mountains to help you. Earlier in Zechariah 4, we’re told that It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. Nothing, not even a mighty mountain, will stand in Zerubbabel’s way; it will become a level plain before him! (Zechariah 4:6-7a) Replace Zerubbabel’s name with yours (unless your name is Zerubbabel) and have faith that your work is not in vain. Foster Care is the right thing to do.

 

Foster Care is Messy

How He Loves is one of my favorite worship songs. I love the imagery of “Love’s like a hurricane I am a tree” and “If His grace is an ocean we’re all sinking.” God’s love is an overpowering love. His grace is an all-consuming grace. But often times, especially in foster care, that grace and love manifest themselves in pretty messy ways. John Mark McMillan, writer of the song, says this about it’s most controversial lyric:

HEAVEN meets EARTH like a sloppy wet kiss

The idea behind the lyric is that the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of earth converge in a way that is both beautiful and awkwardly messy. Think about the birth of a child, or even the death of Jesus himself. These miracles are both incredibly beautiful and incredibly sloppy (“gory” may be more realistic, but “Heaven meets earth like a gory mess” didn’t seem to have the same ring). Why does the church have such a problem with things being sloppy? Do we really think we’re fooling anyone on Sunday morning, especially God? Are we going to offend him? I mean, he’s seen us naked in the shower all week and knows our worst thoughts, and still thinks we’re awesome. What if we took all the energy we spent faking and used that energy to enjoy the Lord instead? That could be revolutionary!

Foster care is messy. It’s a hand and feet, in the trenches ministry that looks sin and brokenness in the face and stands tall with the confidence that If God is for us,who can be against us? (Romans 8:31b). The foster care system is a mess. Working with kids from hard places can be a mess (literally and figuratively. This picture was taken after a 3 year old got so mad playing with moon sand that he took all his clothes off, underwear included) Foster care is hard and frustrating and messy, but through it all, God is present and working miracles in the lives of our children.

As messy as it is, and as dramatic as that last paragraph was, foster care really is a beautiful mess. It’s also a pretty fun one. Jon Acuff said “Messy is a lot more fun than perfect.” It’s such a privilege to provide a secure and loving family for a boy or girl who has spent their childhood  living in uncertainty and fear. We have so much fun with our boys, especially when it’s messy, and it’s always amazing to see a group of strangers turn into a big (mostly) happy family, if only for a short time. The opportunity to serve kids in foster care has changed our lives for the better, and it will be forever changed. Once you enter the messy world of hurting and needy children, It’s impossible for things to remain the same.

We see and hear an unfortunate amount of stories about how children are mistreated, neglected, and abused. These little kids have experienced lifetimes of traumas that would give adults nightmares. It’s our job to find the beauty in the mess. To show them God in the middle of the darkness and teach them that in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:37 emphasis added) 

Our kids come with baggage from past hurts and experiences that is incredibly complicated, but the changes that we see in kids over days, weeks, and months of showing them consistent love and support is remarkable, and there’s only one answer for it. We like to think that it’s our systems and our love, but in reality it’s much more like the song. Heaven is meeting earth like a sloppy wet kiss. Except in our case it’s more like a 2 year old eating spaghetti or multiple conversations about why flushing the toilet is important. Messy and dirty and sometimes pretty gross, but beautiful and redeemed.

First Birthday!

Our little blog is turning 1! Heidi made the first post one year ago and we could not be happier with the response we have gotten from friends, family, and colleagues. A lot has happened in this past year, and blogging has helped us share our joy, our struggles, our challenges, and our ever changing family with you guys. “Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow.” (Swedish Proverb) It has helped us cope with losses and it has helped us become better foster parents. I have been able to think through a lot of things and figure stuff out while writing that I probably wouldn’t have figured out on my own.

Some fun facts about our first year: We published 26 blog posts (27 counting this one) that were read 2,869 times by 1,934 people. Our blog has been viewed by people in 14 countries. The most popular post has been Uncomfortable, followed closely by Loving When It Hurts. Since we started this blog we have had about 35 kids come through Bryan Mac. Heidi and I had the chance to attend a great orphan care conference that continues to stick with us and inspire new ideas and ventures. We’ve started the process of obtaining our foster care/adoption license, and have moved from an apartment into a house closer to campus.

To celebrate our first year, we’re changing up the look of the blog. New year, new look. New look, same great blog. Heidi and I are so glad that you have enjoyed hearing from us, and we are excited to see what will happen in the coming year. Feel free to let us know if there is anything about our lives or jobs that you’d like to read more about. We’d love to hear from you!

Monday

For the first time since we began working in Bryan Mac, we currently do not have any toddlers or preschoolers. Our youngest boy right now is 8 years old, and the others are 10, 11, 11, 12, 12, 13, and 13. Our days are a lot less busy when we don’t have to chase around a 5 year old and cut up food at every meal. Our boys now can entertain themselves, shower without help, and sleep in. We feel like we have nothing to do.

So with a new group of boys, I have to again figure out what my role is as a father figure in their lives. They don’t need me the same way a toddler needs me. They have fathers and father figures that have raised them and influenced them. Many of them will be going back to those men at some point. So where do I fit in? Am I just a babysitter until they can go back home? Can I do something in the short time they are with me that will stay with them when they leave? It’s pretty easy to determine what a smaller child needs in order to feel loved and cared for. That’s a more difficult task with older kids, who are a little more set in who they are and have a better idea of what they need. Little ones are quick to tell you what they need and when they need it, older kids not so much. Our boys now talk a lot, but rarely do they tell us what they want from us.

I typed those first two paragraphs a few days ago, and I had a rough outline for where I wanted to go with this post, but I was struggling to come up with the words. I read some articles about being a dad, and was trying to put a bunch of random thoughts together to make some sense, mostly unsuccessfully

Then Monday happened.

A couple of things happened Monday that blew my mind in the best way possible. Monday was an affirmation that I’m where I’m supposed to be. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. One of our teenagers wrote us a letter thanking us for his Christmas presents, but mostly for being there for him and helping him make good choices and providing a substitute family while he is away from his biological one. Shortly after reading that I had a conversation with an 11 year old. It started by talking about why he hates going to counseling, and turned into an impromptu counseling session where he shared with me the story of his short but traumatically eventful life. He told me that he liked some of the other places he had lived, but Thornwell was his favorite. Even though he’s only been here for a couple weeks, he said he can tell that we love him and really care about him. Heidi is the emotional one in our relationship (She even wrote about it here), but that got me. I could lie and say that the room was dusty but I’m an honest person. I teared up. I’ve thought a lot about and written a lot about my role in the lives of our foster kids (here and here). My primary job as a foster dad, I think, is to be present for kids who have never experienced that. For a lot of our kids I am the first consistently positive experience they have had with an adult male. No pressure.

It’s a really good thing that Monday happened, because it’s been a long week. We’re at the end of a stretch of us being on duty 21 of the last 23 days, most of which was a rainy Christmas break. My original plan for this post was to talk about the challenges of living with teenagers. Like I talked about before, in a lot of ways it’s easier than having a house full of toddlers. For instance I’m wrote most of this at the dining room table while boys entertain themselves with video games. But, like I said when we interviewed at Thornwell, I prefer working with younger kids. Little ones are more straightforward with their needs and behaviors. It’s easier for me to relate to and connect with younger kids. My fake excited faces work a lot better. Adolescents are exhausting with their drama and attitude. Whenever I think about working with teenagers, I think about Ephesians 6:4 – Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Sometimes I feel like no matter what I do, the kids are provoked to anger. That seems especially true when I discipline them, even if it is the instruction of the Lord.

Presence is something that is demanded by younger kids. They require a lot of attention and energy because they can’t do things by themselves. With older kids, they need you to be just as present as you are for the littles, but they are more independent and don’t demand it the same way. So presence has to be intentional. Sometimes it’s easy, like when they want to play Xbox with you or throw the football. Other times, like when they’re being super annoying and talking back every time you tell them something, its a little harder to be present. It’s not right, because the times they are acting out are usually the times they need it the most, but I’m human.

But so are they.

They get frustrated just like I get frustrated. They think I’m annoying just like I think they’re annoying. They don’t understand me just like I don’t understand them. They hate being in foster care just like I hate that they have to be in foster care. They are broken just like I am broken. They are loved by God just like I am loved by God. They are given grace and mercy just like I am given grace and mercy. They deserve compassion just like I deserve compassion. They need help just like I need help.

Lord help me to see these boys how you see them, as children of the King. Give me patience, strength, and compassion to be present for these kids when I want nothing to do with them. Help me to love them like you love me. Thank you for putting me in a position to be a father to the fatherless, even if it is only for a short time. I am humbled and undeserving of the awesome responsibility it is to care for your children. Lead me so that I may lead them.

Amen

-Mr Jon

An Attempt 

It’s been a while since I’ve written out my thoughts. Jonathon has done such a great job of putting his emotions on our blog, so I’ve let him 🙂  A lot has gone on the last several months that I’m still just processing. My silence has been on purpose. We’ve had a lot of new, raw trauma – first and secondhand.

One of our sweet boys had a major surgery. We’ve seen many leave our home and campus that we weren’t prepared for. Going through our own adoption license training. All of this causes me a continuous heartache and tension. I’m a person who needs closure. I need a definitive end to something. I know that the deep meaning of foster care is just the opposite of that. There’s no closure. Kids are always in transition. There are sudden changes. Nothing is predictable. The nature even of my own cottage is to assess kids and move them. This is where I wonder exactly what God was thinking, calling me to this job and this home. I live without closure. It has, no doubt, been a journey of sanctification and trust.

Right now I think God is just keeping me here, in the thoughts of trust and sanctification. Daily I sink into the fact that I’m not in control, that I can’t really change anything, that I don’t measure up, that I can try at this job, but I don’t make a difference. I get so angry and frustrated at the things that should be simple, but for some reason they can’t be. It drives me crazy to not have the final say about my kids most days. I’m in charge, but I’m not in control. There’s a difference, and it feels as wide as an ocean.

My upbringing and ‘Good Christian’ side tell me to combat this by trusting in God and giving it to Him because it’s Him who does it all. He makes me measure up. He prompts the change. He makes the difference. He is just.

But let’s please remember that I’m a feelings person. Please. I need the feelings! But the fact is, they aren’t there. Trusting in God with my children doesn’t feel great. So I have to get a grip. Even when every part of my flesh is pulling me to control as much as I can, Jesus died so that I could be free of that temptation and desire.

Oh how easily I forget that God also knows my kids. I am more and more protective of each child the longer I am a mother. I learn how to love each one in a unique way. I love doing that. I feel like I’m made to do that. I was made to do that. I deeply value the relationship I have with each of our kiddos, but there are a plethora of people who make more important decisions or have more opinions than me when it comes to each kid’s situation. Many days being the actual foster parents feels like the least heard or valued opinion within a sea of other voices. Now, I understand that we are all working together to keep the child safe, but it just hasn’t felt that way. I feel bitterness and frustration creeping in on me.

I have to breathe. I have to tell myself that God is in control. I have to be confident that He has guided our steps to this specific job, even on days that I want to quit. He reassures me that even in the chaos, miscommunication, and factors of a broken system, God knows my kids. He can protect them better than I can. I have found a way on Earth to connect and relate to them, but He knows what their every thought is! He created them.

So I live in limbo. I live without the closure, ever attempting to trust a wise, all-knowing God with my most treasured earthly possessions. Writing is out makes it seem so simple. Getting past myself brings the complication.

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

Parental Judgement: Raising Kids with Anxiety 

     Something I haven’t liked about parenting is the judgment of other parents. People have such deep rooted ideas about what a parent’s job is and how they should raise their kids. When one family does it differently than another, there’s a mostly silent, sometimes voiced opinion that lingers. I won’t make general statements about all parents because I’ve seen very wise moms and dads understand how unique kids need to be treated. But we all know them. The looks, the comments, the sighs as people see how we deal with our kids in a way they wouldn’t. 
     This is a pretty significant part of foster and adoptive parenting. It’s a tough part of opening your home to kids that didn’t begin their life with you. As a foster parent, you’re trying to get a grasp of your child’s needs and personality. Life at home is filled with questions about their likes and dislikes, gently asking about memories of their past, watching them react to a scary, difficult time of their lives. Going out in public can be a fairly nerve wracking thing when you have a new, unpredictable person with you. I feel pretty anxious when we bring a new child to school, specifically. It’s normally in the middle of the school year, and their life has just been completely disrupted. I’ve known them for about 24 hours. If the school calls with a problem, I have no idea how to help them. I have only slightly figured out the child’s temperament or reactions. But what good parent doesn’t know how to handle their kid?

     I didn’t realize just how many judgements I took on when I became a foster mom. I have an amazing support system at Thornwell, a fantastic husband, and quite a bit of self confidence that keep me up on my feet, regardless of others’ judgements. But some days it still hurts.

     Many times I’ve stood outside our van or sat in the front seat while a child screams and kicks during a timeout or cools down. I’ve gently coached and encouraged a kid to follow instructions in public with no success. I’ve asked a waiter for help when a child throws food or drink or even licks the salt shaker. I’ve explained underlying conditions that may have caused a disruption for teachers or receptionists. We even had a kid run into the kitchen of a local restaurant. I see these things as part of raising kids. Although it was a whole different time, I remember my mom spanking us in the grocery store when we wouldn’t listen. Kids cause a disturbance most of the time, especially in public. Yet, people say the craziest things. 

‘Ma’am, are you gonna handle your kid?’ 

‘You must not know how to take care of him’ 

‘What did you do that made him so mad?’ 

‘Wow, your kid is loud’ 

‘Just pick him up and deal with it’ 

The response I’d love to give: Shut. Up.

     I’ve felt guilty some days because I try to explain myself to ‘those’ people. ‘We just got him yesterday. He’s in foster care’, ‘He has anxiety and he’s having trouble today’, ‘I’m sorry we’re bothering you. He’s just struggling because he doesn’t know me yet. He’s our foster kid’ 

     But I don’t need to explain that to them. Sometimes it’s necessary, but most of the time I feel that no one needs to know my kids aren’t really my own. They aren’t defined by that. They aren’t a charity case or need pity. They need someone on their side. Someone who will stand and listen even when they’re throwing shoes or when they’re trying to run away. I feel successful when I can go to a conference and an appointment and not tell someone the child is in the foster care system. A key point of fostering, in my opinion, is that you bring them into your home and life and treat them as your own biological children. When your kids are connected by blood, you can’t run from their problems, although many parents do. The same goes in fostering. You can’t just give up on them when things get complicated. That’s what you signed up for – kids. You can’t give up. God doesn’t give up on us. That’s the beauty of being in the body of Christ. Well, it’s supposed to be anyway. Living life together no matter what. 

     Jonathon and I just got back from vacation in California, and we visited the San Diego Zoo. We encountered a few families that seemed exactly like mine – a boy on the autism spectrum who openly corrected strangers when they called it a crocodile instead of an alligator, a mother who tried to calm a child who clearly struggled with anxiety with no success, a family with very disruptive children. My mind instantly brought me to a precious little boy of ours who had a meltdown for 45 minutes in his Halloween costume during school. The school staff was phenomenal in letting me talk him down and handle it how he needed. Some parents weren’t so nice though. So at the zoo, I said a quick prayer for that mom who was working so hard to keep it all together. It’s hard to do that. I know. One of my favorite literary characters said it best:

 “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

     I’m seeing that most parents are judged by others, even with ‘normal’ kids. I know that judgment on our parenting will only increase as we move towards adoption. As a foster parent, I could easily say ‘It’s not really my kid.’ (although I don’t!) But when we make a child permanently ours and they bite me in public or need inpatient therapy, it IS really our kid. My job as a parent and a mom is to fight for my kids – to stand up for them, to defend them, to treat them all with love and care no matter what their behavior, illness, or experience has been. And they don’t have to appreciate or recognize that. It’s a part of the Gospel that we often forget, God loves us unconditionally no matter what our relationship is with Him. So, when foster and adoptive kids can’t attach to our family because of their past, I will still be on their side. 

     Raising kids isn’t for the weak, and raising a child with anxiety all the more.