Wrestling with selfish love

paciBaby D is two months old. I know his snuggles and sounds, his sleeping and eating patterns. I dearly love this little guy like he is my own.

Every week I get him ready for his visit with his biological parents. Every single week I choose to believe that he is safer in the arms of his heavenly Father than he is in my own. I bathe him and get him dressed and kiss his little cheeks and pray over him and hand him over to the social worker.

This journey is so wonderful and so hard. The thought tugs at my mind every day – what if we have to give him back? And the thought that I hate and constantly have to battle with truth whispers in the dark – if he goes back to his family, was this all worth it?

Last night I sat and talked with a sister in Christ and fellow foster parent. I snuggled little D’s downy head in the sling on my chest as she chased her active 10 month old foster son through the room. Their little guy is heading back to his biological family in a couple of weeks. We talked about the fostering journey – so wonderful, so hard.

We talked about the choice to love – the choice to love deeply because these children are valuable, not because we can keep them or because they somehow enrich our lives. The loving choice to give foster children discipline and structure because we love them and not because it’s easy, knowing that they will be growing up in someone else’s home.

For several weeks I’ve been pondering how selfish my love often is. How often I love people, even my own children in some respects, because they add something to my life.

Today I watched a video about hospitality linked in a post on the Gospel Coalition site (for the next two days you can watch it free with the code from TGC). This quote from John Perkins stuck out to me so much, especially in light of my own ponderings and conversation from last night.

“So how do we do justice – is to see God’s image in this humanity and to serve this humanity. The problem we have is the way we do our charity and how we think of them. We approach them like we’re going to give dignity to them. You don’t give dignity to people – you affirm it. Hospitality is saying, “you are significant. I honor you. I love you. You are under my roof.” Love and hospitality is the platform that makes justice – and any kind of justice – available.”

I don’t give little D dignity. God created him in His image and gave him dignity. As I open my home to him and snuggle him and love him and cry and pray over him, it’s not because I in my goodness of heart choose to lift him up and give dignity to his life – it must be motivated by the dignity, significance, honor, and value that God created him with.

Foster care challenges us to love not because we benefit from loving. Foster care challenges us to love because people are valuable and God loved them first – because God loved us first – and commanded us to love the orphan like He loves them. Not because we need to grant them dignity and worth, but because God already created them with dignity and worth and commands us to recognize it.

If D goes back to his family, will it have been worth it? Yes. Yes. A thousand times yes.

Because it’s not about me and what I get out of it. It’s about God and a little boy He loves so dearly.

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Safer in His arms

Feet 6.12.14Two and a half weeks ago we got the call – our first foster baby.

For a little over two weeks we have been transported back in to the land of new-baby-dom, full of a variety of pacifiers (why are there so many? After eight years of mothering that Babies R Us pacifier wall still mystifies me), bottles, diapers, lost sleep, and snuggles. And we have completely and totally fallen in love with this little guy.

But he is not ours.

It was easier to say it before he was placed with us, but he really isn’t ours.

This weekend I met with dear friends over Bibles opened to the book of Exodus and we talked about Jochebed, Moses’ mother. God’s timing was not coincidental for me to ponder this crazy-sounding act of faith – crazy faith that causes a mother to hide her baby from a blood-thirsty Pharaoh, and then carefully lay that sweet little one in a basket and float him down the Nile river. I mean really… that sounds insane.

But it’s not crazy at all. God keeps bringing me back to this truth – sweet baby Moses was safer in a little basket boat on the Nile than he was in the arms of his mother. He wasn’t alone. God Himself was watching, guiding, providentially protecting.

And then I thought of Hannah, leaving little Samuel, newly weaned, at the temple with a priest who didn’t even know her name and who had apparently not been the most stellar of fathers himself. The text makes a point of saying that “the child was young,” and that every year Hannah would make “a little robe” to bring to him at the yearly sacrifice. I have to think that to her mother’s heart, that sacrifice was far more than the animals they brought. She would see her little Samuel again, and once again she would leave him. She didn’t leave him alone, however, she left him in the very presence of God.

I’ve heard a lot of people comment to me lately that they could “never do foster care.” I used to say the same thing. I fully believed it – and I still do. I can’t do this. It’s too hard for me. But my God is bigger- and through Him I can do all things.

I don’t think that Jochebed put Moses in a basket because she loved him less than other mothers loved their babies, or because it wasn’t hard for her. I don’t think Hannah left Samuel at the temple because she loved him less, or that it was easy to do so. I think they did these crazy-sounding things because their understanding of God was bigger, their faith was deeper, their need had driven them into utter dependence upon Him alone. And God saw them. He knew them. He loved them. And He used these faithful women to mother faithful men through whom God would work in unbelievable ways.

This morning I packed little D’s diaper bag and put on his teeny-tiny onesie and teeny-tiny socks and handed him over to a social worker for a family visit. I was tempted to fear. Tempted to dig in my heels and resist. Tempted to think that I know what’s best for him. My pride rears up and thinks, “he’s safer with us.”

We not are in this crazy ministry of foster care because we don’t love this little guy like our own, or because it is easy for us. But oh, we serve a great big God. And I know He sees us. He knows us. He loves us. He can use us however He wishes because it isn’t about us.

While D was at his visit I prayed for him with AG and LB. Tears rolled down my face as AG prayed in her sweet 8-year-old voice full of faith.

“Thank you for baby D and that we can love him and maybe keep him. I pray that his biological parents would come to know Christ. And I pray that whatever home D grows up in that he would learn about Jesus and be loved.”

We’re trusting him to you, Lord – he’s safer in your arms than in ours, and I trust that your ways and plans are best. We know you see and know and hear us. And you see and know and hear little D. And you know his family inside and out.

Do big things, Lord. We ask you to make yourself evident and known in D’s life, however you choose to do it. Thank you for the privilege of mothering little D however long we have him with us – mark his life, Father. May he grow into a man who loves you with all of his heart.

And oh, for grace to trust You more.

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Taking every thought captive, Jr. edition

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I vividly remember having some serious emotional breakdowns around kindergarten and first grade. We’re talking, sobbing suddenly and uncontrollably at the water fountain for reasons that are hard to explain. It’s no wonder I married a mental health professional.

We joke about my childhood emotional instability, but watching my six year old struggle to hold on to any kind of rationale when strong emotions are swirling and bubbling out of control inside of him is no laughing matter. Lately he has fallen apart over quite a variety of things, most fairly inconsequential.

Somehow, when my son is losing it over things like slight frustration with his shoes, or not getting to play the game he wanted, or running into a tiny bit of difficulty with his math, any shred of patience and perspective seems to vanish from his mother, too. Once again, I am thankful I married NP.

NP and I have been talking a lot recently about examining our thoughts and feelings, accepting (aka, not living in denial!) that we are thinking certain thoughts and feeling certain feelings, but realizing that those feelings do not define us, our thoughts are not necessarily true, and we don’t need to act on them. In so many words, we’ve been talking about taking our thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and choosing to believe what is true even when our feelings tell us otherwise. After all, our hearts are deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9).

This hasn’t magically cured LB of emotional outbreaks, but it has given me more tools in my toolbox for how to respond to him. And more importantly, we are laying the foundation for him to understand that his feelings are real, but he must take his thoughts captive and make them obedient to truth.

Have an emotional exploder of your own? Here are some of the approaches we take.

1. Recognize the reaction-mismatch. NP talks often about matching the size of the response to the size of the problem. Big problems need big responses. Little problems need little responses. When we mismatch those and overreact to small things or underreact to big things, trouble ensues. This has been a good reminder to me in my own life (not that this mom ever overreacts to small things… *ahem*), and it has also given us a vocabulary to use in pointing out to our kids that while the problem may be valid, their response needs to be in proportion.

“Wow. That is a big response! It looks like you are feeling frustrated with your shoelaces. Do you think this is a big problem, or a small problem? If it’s a small problem, what kind of response should you have?”

2. Identify the thoughts. This one has been huge for us. When a math problem stumps and shoulders slump and utter despair seems to leap out of nowhere in the schoolroom, we spend a lot of time identifying the thoughts behind the reaction, and pointing out lies in our thinking. [This works best after step 1, when they have had time to calm down a bit!]

“What are the lies in your mind right now that are causing you to react like this?” {I can’t do it, this is too hard, this isn’t fair, etc.}

3. Replace the lies with truth. After we identify the things we are telling ourselves in our minds, then we work at taking that thought captive and replacing it with truth.

Is it true that you can’t do it?
What could we replace that thought with?
This is challenging, but I know there is a solution. Maybe there is a different approach I could take to help me figure it out.

Yesterday we went out geocaching – which turned into a long, hot hike in the sun, with all of us wearing rain boots that had started to chafe against our legs. We were uncomfortable, but the reaction was definitely mismatched to the size of the problem. BW was literally screaming, LB was overly-dramatically limping and whimpering, AG was oozing eight-year-old-girl-attitude, and Mom… was unhappy with her unhappy campers. So we identified the thoughts.

It’s too hot! It’s too far! This isn’t fun! I don’t want to do this anymore! My feet hurt!

Then we talked about true things we could replace those thoughts with that would help us change our attitudes.

It is really warm outside, but we will be back to the van in a little while and the air conditioning will feel so good! My feet are sore but soon I’ll take these boots off. It’s fun to spend this time together as a family! God’s creation is beautiful – listen to those birds singing!

It took a while, but AG’s face brightened, LB stopped complaining, we celebrated BW’s explorer skills when he found a tiny and well-camouflaged toad, and the last hot, sweaty leg of the hike was much  more enjoyable.

At this stage of life, working through this process is sometimes about surviving the day, to be honest. I just need everyone to CALM DOWN! But, it also falls into practically teaching them what it looks like to take their thoughts captive – to realize that their hearts are deceitful, and that it is very easy for them to lie to themselves and not live in faith and truth. Right now, we are talking about shoelaces… but one day, we’ll be talking about much bigger things with huge ramifications. One day, they will be grown adults who will desperately need to live out the practice of being STILL and KNOWING that He is God.

O Lord, teach them – teach me – to take every thought captive and cling to what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Teach us to cling to you and your Truth.

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A call to die

‘When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.’ – Deitrich Bonhoeffer

I’ve had some interesting conversations with people I love this week. Conversations about trusting God when He is pulling us far from what is comfortable, far from what is safe.

Following Jesus isn’t safe. It’s worth it, it’s the only way we find real life, but He calls us to die along the way. Following Jesus is a call to individuals who were dead in their sins to come, die with Christ and live through Him, and continue to put to death the remnants of the old self. We were created by Him and purchased by Him – this life isn’t ours to live.

Last week we received our foster care license in the mail. A piece of paper that says we are approved by the county to have our hearts broken.

We are hoping to foster to adopt, and the idea of adding another child to our family is exciting (albeit overwhelming). I’m looking forward to pulling our baby carrier out of storage, getting out all of those chunky plastic non-chokable toys. There are locks on the cabinet doors and baby gates at the ready.

When each of our children were born I had talks with the Lord about how these babies were not my own. They were His. They were entrusted to me for a time to love and raise and teach and disciple. If I made motherhood about me – about my control, my image, my comfort, my ability to manage – ugly things happened.

Fostercare is a whole new level of knowing that this child will not be mine, and it can’t be about me.

If I make it about me, I will root against the biological family, hoping they fail to work their case plan, praying they fully abandon their child. I would be praying for permanent, legal brokenness in an entire family. Ugly things will happen if I make it about me.

As a follower of Jesus entering this world of fostering, I’m wrestling with knowing that ultimately it’s His kingdom, not mine. He is the only one in control – I am not, and don’t need to be. All I need to know at this moment is that He has called us to this path and I need to obey. Perhaps we will adopt the first little one placed in our care, or perhaps He will ask us to be agents of reconciliation in a broken, hurting family who has never had people faithfully pray for them, model love for them, ask God for both justice AND mercy on their behalf. Perhaps He will ask me to love and care and pray for their little one for a time while they become better prepared to parent their own child, and then kiss that little chubby cheek goodbye and entrust her fully to her Father’s care.

Either way, these kids aren’t really mine, are they?

This morning Romans 12 rings in my heart.

…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (12:1)

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. (12:9)

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. (12:12)

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. (12:14)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (12:21)

This life is not mine. These children are not mine. It’s not about me.

And so, I put that paper license in the file, not knowing what lies ahead but knowing that God will be with us through all of the joy and pain of it. He called me to die to myself years ago, and this is yet another step on the journey.

Following Jesus isn’t safe. It’s a call to come, die, live through Him alone, and continue to put my old self to death. But walking with Him is worth it. Not a single sparrow will fall to the ground without His knowledge, and even the hairs of my head are all numbered. I do not need to fear, even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

After all, we are not walking alone.

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