Foster Parenting: An Unexpected Lesson

(Generally speaking, my posts don’t require a preface.  I feel that this one might.  This post was basically me trying to make sense of the many thoughts swirling through my head late last night:  a therapy session of sorts.  You are more than welcome to read along, but if your mind starts to wander around the middle of the post, I’ll understand. )

 Today my wife & I had the privilege of sitting through our first Foster Parent Review Board session.  As “newbies” in the world of Foster Parenting, we are still getting the hang of the whole process.  So when the case worker advised us that we were encouraged to attend the Review Board meeting, we jumped at the chance to learn a little more.  Since I had no idea what to expect, I decided I would go into this meeting with ears wide open and mouth wide shut. (I know that “mouth wide shut” isn’t technically possible…but I think you know what I mean)  I hoped this approach would allow me to look at the situation objectively and see what’s best for our foster son.

What I experienced in the meeting was nothing like I had anticipated.  In a seemingly cold and sterile review of the situation of this little boy’s life, God took the chance to teach me something about myself: something I wasn’t all that excited to learn.

Prior to the meeting itself, we had discussed the review session with our foster son’s Guardian ad litem, and he mentioned that he doubted either of the parents would show up for this review.  Right or wrong, the thought that went through my mind was “It figures”.   Having spent the last 3 months caring for this little boy, I had managed to convince myself that the sparse details I knew of his family situation were proof enough that he was treated as an afterthought.  I used the scripture from Psalm 127:3, “Children are a heritage from the Lord…“, as a stepping stool to get on my proverbial high horse.  Firmly in saddle, I rode into the conference room.

The session began with introductions, and I was glad for this.  It would be good to know all the people involved in this case.  One by one, moving left to right around the table, each person stated their name and their role.  Board member.  Another board member.  Case worker.  Guardian ad litem.  Father. Case worker.  Wait a second!  Did that man say “Father”??  Sure enough, I looked across the table and immediately saw the resemblance to my foster son.  This was his dad.  He had shown up after all: an interesting twist, to be sure.  My turn came to state my name, and then my wife did the same. 

After stating our role as foster parents, I purposefully avoided eye contact with the father.  Having formed a less than flattering opinion of this man I’d never met, I couldn’t bring myself to look at him.

The meeting began by the social worker reviewing the reasons that the baby was removed from the situation to begin with.  As I heard these, I thought to myself, “How embarrassing it must be to have a group of strangers sit around and talk about why you were not fit to keep your own child.”  They detailed the fact that the father was now out of work.  This was one piece of information I was aware of, so it didn’t shock me.  What did startle me was that when asked about this situation, the father responded that his plant had closed for an extended holiday break, and he was now working two jobs to do what he could to make ends meet.  I found myself looking at him as he gave his account.  As he finished talking, he looked my direction and I caught his eyes.

The entire time we have enjoyed the privilege of caring for our foster son, I had drawn a picture of hardened, selfish man who cared more for his own whims and desires than for the basic needs of his children.  What I saw in his eyes couldn’t have been farther from the portrait I’d sketched. 

I saw a man that was embarrassed to have to admit these things in the company of strangers that held sway over his child’s future.  I saw a man that had become overwhelmed by the health challenges of his newborn and simply didn’t know how to stop the snowball from rolling downhill.  Here was a man working multiple jobs to provide shelter and food for his family, and somehow I was still looking down on him because of the TYPE of job he was able to secure.  This was about the point that God tapped me on the shoulder and said, “The only reason your roles aren’t reversed is because of my sovereign, sustaining grace in your life.  I have a plan for you.  I have a plan for him.  You are currently caring for his son because it’s what I have designed.  Don’t you dare think that your path makes you a better person that is any more deserving.  It’s my grace that deserves credit…not you.”

Gulp.

I had never considered myself to be an arrogant person.  Confident? Sure.  Arrogant?  Certainly not. 

The fact that I prided myself on my lack of arrogance should have told me something.

Before this meeting, my wife and I had talked about how difficult it was to pray over this situation.  On one hand, we really wanted to pray for the family of our foster son to be restored…but on the other hand, we knew we loved him and felt we could provide him with a strong family environment.   After my Boardroom Revelation (too dramatic?), I no longer found it hard to pray in the right way.  God’s will is all that needed to be prayed over this matter.  Nothing else.

As the meeting wrapped up, the review board advised us all that they were recommending that, after a few more steps, our foster son be reunited with his family.  Five minutes earlier, this news would have caused me to question the wisdom of that decision.  But that was back when I thought I was the magic.  I now knew better.

As we were all standing to leave, the Father–who had never spoken up in prior sessions unless directly asked for a response–looked at us and said, “Thank you for taking care of my son.”  Eight words had never resonated so deeply in me. 

Just 15 minutes earlier, I was questioning whether the man across the table was deserving of his own son.  In those next 15 minutes God used my own arrogance to remind  me that just over 2000 years ago, He probably questioned whether I would be deserving of His.

As I mentioned, I went into this meeting hoping to learn something.  Mission accomplished.

Does God laugh at me?

laughing-jesusI’ve often said that simply observing people will give proof that God has a sense of humor.  Attributing a sense of humor to God brings me to another question.

 

Does God laugh at me?

 

I’m not talking about a spiteful laugh at my personal sufferings or trials.  I’m not even thinking of a condescending laugh due to my own failures & weaknesses.  I give Him more credit than that.  The whole plan of salvation tells me that He loves me too much to find pleasure in my pain. 

 

The laughter I’m thinking about is the laughter of a father when his children explain their reasoning to him. 

 

I love talking to my kids and finding out the reasoning and rationale for their actions.  Usually, the most entertaining explanations take place when they’re being reprimanded.  In the spirit of fairness, I try to give my little ones a chance to explain their side of the story…and this brings me to my original question about the laughter of a father.

 

A normal exchange in my house will go like this:

 

<My daughter & son sitting in front of me…tear stained faces…still sniffling>

 

Me: OK…Emily, I’m going to talk to Carter first, so I need you to be quiet, ok?

Emily: (Nodding…and still sniffling)

Me: Carter, why did you hit your sister in the head with the TV Remote?

Carter:  Because she said I had to play with the Barbie that has brown hair…and you said I can’t hit her with my hand any more.

Me: (Catching myself cracking a smile) That is no reason to hit her.  Just tell her you don’t want to play with the Barbie and then find something else to play with, got it?

Carter: Uh-huh.

Me:  Now Emily…why does Carter have a hand print on the side of his face?

Emily: Because the TV Remote bounced too far away after it hit my head, so I hit him with my hand.

Me: (doing my best to look stern)  Both of you sit there with your hands on your lap and think about what you’ve done…I’ll be right back and then you will apologize to each other! (Quickly turning and leaving the room before I succumb to the laughter that has been welling up inside me)

 

After making it to the hallway, I find myself laughing out loud, shaking my head, and marveling at the honest, yet faulty, reasoning of my children.  While I can’t excuse what they’ve done, I can’t help but laugh at the explanations they find plausible. 

 

Then I wonder if God laughs the same way when I try to explain my actions to Him.  Does He chuckle when I tell him that even though I know He has promised to meet my needs, I’m going to manipulate my own finances in order to cover something that I perceive as a need?  When I fail to fulfill my role as husband or father, does he give an amused smile at my feeble rationalization?   

 

In the same way that I do not let my children get away with their offenses, I know that God won’t simply ignore the fact that I’ve done wrong.  But since he created me, I have to think that He knows how ridiculously incapable I am of living up to His standards without His help.  With this in mind, I’m sure that my excuses to Him sound as feeble as my children’s explanations do to me, but the fact that I am able to love them despite their attempts to justify themselves gives me hope that He sees me in a similar light. 

 

I understand that actions carry consequences, but when the discipline is all said and done I wonder if God gives me the equivalent of a pat on the head and says “You crazy kid, when are you gonna learn that all you have to do is listen to me? “…and then laughs.

 

Maybe this is all a little too simplistic, but hey…it’s my thought process just the same.

 

Either way, I’m just hoping to avoid a Heavenly Time-Out.  After all, II Peter 3:8 says But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day”. 

 

 

That means one of God’s “5 minute time-outs” might last until I’ve reached retirement.

 

That’s not funny, God.  Please stop laughing. 

 

 

Reading this post can help you drop 2 pant sizes!!

asterisk1There are so many things about the Holiday Season to love, and today I’m going to share one of them with you.  Now before you add me to your boycott list for not saying “Christmas” Season, let me clarify that I was speaking of the entire season that includes Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.

All three of those together constitute The Holiday Season.  I have no problem wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas. 

So Merry Christmas!

 

OK…now that we have that disclaimer out of the way, let me address the real focus of this post—Disclaimers.  You gotta love them!

 

It seems that a little asterisk and subsequent explanation means that almost any claim can be made without fear of being taken at face value—or at least without fear of legal action resulting from the claim itself.  And this is never more evident than the aforementioned Holiday Season.  With today’s rampant consumerism cranked up to a fever pitch, it seems that any & every product imaginable is available on a TV infomercial for only 3 easy payments of $19.99.  The most inventive and entertaining of these offerings tend to be in the fitness & weight loss category.

 

From a contraption that resembles The Rack of Medieval fame that promises to sculpt your abs to electroshock belts that promise the very same results, it’s fairly evident that the old adage “A fool and his money are soon parted” rings true here in the 21st century.

 

One of my favorite features of these ads are the computer generated models that show people’s obese shape simply melting away—right before our very eyes!  Then VOILA!  The camera cuts to a man and woman standing poolside, showing off their 2% body fat levels.  This pair looks as if they were chiseled from the finest granite by Michelangelo himself.  And best of all…you, too, can have this same body!!  All you need to do is purchase the little inflatable fitness orb that allows your crunches to be 715% more effective (how do they come up with this number?!) when placed under the small of your back! No, rolling up a bath towel and placing it in the same spot will NOT accomplish the same thing!!  How dare you ask that?!  It’s preposterous!  The secret is in the thermogenically enhanced combination of space-age polypropylene and recycled tires that comprise the orb itself!  Anyone who ever graduated from Men’s Health Preparatory School for Male Fitness Models knows this!

 

As you can see, there is a myriad of options to help you achieve the perfect body, but there is one thing that all of these choices have in common.  The Disclaimer.  The Fine Print.  The Loophole.

 

If you pay attention, most of them will have a little message along the bottom of the screen that says something to the affect of:

 

*…when used in conjunction with regular exercise and a sensible diet.  Results may vary.

 

And there you have it…the true magic. The Asterisk Statement. If you think about it, just about anything will result in weight loss when combined with regular exercise and a sensible diet.  Even the rolled up bath towel falls under this category.  This realization is what makes these infomercials so entertaining.  It’s all about the presentation, the celebrity spokesperson, the design breakthrough, the snake oil.  And the amazingly affordable payment plans!

 

That last part is what makes my blog such an incredible value to you, the Reader.  I don’t charge you one red cent to stop by and read.  You’re welcome to stop by as much or as little as you like.  No matter how often you visit, you can be assured of this one little known fact: 

 

Reading my blog will cause you to drop those unwanted & unsightly pounds that have been driving you crazy!! ** 

 

 

** when read in conjunction with regular exercise and a sensible diet.  Results may vary.

 

 

Insomnia, thy name is Baby

Perhaps I spoke too soon.insomnia1

 

Yesterday I wrote a post extolling the wonders of getting a full night’s sleep—made possible by my 7 month old son sleeping through the night.  I was on that particular high for the entire day and into the evening.  As my head hit the pillow last night, I was looking forward to a second consecutive night of restful sleep.  But alas, it was not to be.

 

As quickly as the previous night’s sleep sprung itself on us, the disjointed slumber returned with the same celerity.  Once more we became unwitting participants in the nocturnal world we so desperately try to avoid.  As I sat in the darkness with our little cherub, I was struck with a question.

 

Who is the genius that came up with the phrase “Slept like a baby”?

 

Isn’t this phrase normally used to describe a peaceful sleep?  I wonder if the coiner of this phrase ever had children of his/her own.  I can’t imagine they did.  They were probably friends with someone who had a baby, and happened to stop by and visit during the 15 minute nap that the baby happened to take.  As they observed this brief intermission to the insanity that takes place in the house, the only thing they noticed was the serenity that seemed to blanket the baby.  This is how “slept like a baby” originated.

 

What the history books do not tell you is that this newly minted phraseologist inadvertently slammed the door on their way out of the house: the action of someone without children of their own.

 

Baby’s eyes popped open suddenly…the panicked mother spun on her heels to see if the baby had heard…her eyes met the eyes of her child…the child inhaled deeply…the mother braced herself for the inevitable…the infant winked knowingly…and the silence was shattered once more. 

But the true damage was done. 

 

The phrase “Slept like a baby” would be passed from generation to generation, and its meaning would mislead millions.

 

Sleep like a baby?  No, thank you!  I want to sleep like my 7 year-old.  She can sleep through ANYTHING!  Come to think of it, I wish my baby slept like my 7 year-old too.

7 year-olds are the new standard.

 

From now on, I’m going to do my part to dispel the notion that sleeping like a baby is a good thing.  I challenge you to do the same.  When someone at work asks you how your night was, tell them you slept like a 7 year old.   Sure, they’ll be puzzled at first, but the ensuing explanation will enlighten them as well.  You’ll be doing a good thing for your fellow man/woman, and that realization will set your soul at ease—allowing you to sleep like a 7 year-old that night.

 

And in the unfortunate event that you ever find yourself awake in the early morning hours, feel free to send me a message.  Chances are I’ll still be sleeping like a baby.

Sleepless, No more!

BREAKING NEWS! BREAKING NEWS!sleepless-nights

 

This just in: My wife & I got a full night’s sleep!

 

To most people, this doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment.  But to us, this is an accomplishment of epic proportions.

 

Since we welcomed our 7 month old foster son into our home back in September, we had yet to enjoy an entire night of uninterrupted sleep.  Until last night.  When I woke up this morning and looked at the clock, through my bleary eyes I read the numbers “5:57”.  After some quick mathematical calculations, I realized that I had been asleep for almost 8 hours in a row!

 

That gladsome realization, coupled with the invigorating feeling of refreshment, placed me in such an elevated state of ebullience that the only response was for me to use unnecessarily large words and to borrow, paraphrase, and proclaim a line from the great Lewis Carroll:

 

“O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”  I chortled in my joy.

 

Sleep is one of those things that the legendary rock group Cinderella sang about in 1988.  You truly “Don’t know what you got (till it’s gone)”.  If you ask them about the song, they may try to convince you that it was about love (or some emotion resembling love), but if you really press them I think you’ll find that they will admit it was really written about sleep.  They were notorious for being an exceptionally well rested band.

 

So, my friends, as I approach this glorious day with nary a hint of grogginess, I can only hope that last night was not merely a temporary oasis in the barren desert of sleeplessness through which we have been wandering. 

 

The benefits of being well rested are too many to list, but one particular benefit of my son sleeping through the night is that he will be restored to my good graces. 

 

And I can stop referring to him as “The Frumious Bandersnatch”. 

 

Callooh! Callay!

 

 

The Face of Smoking

 

smoking

Somebody please help me understand. 

 

What is the purpose of taking up a hobby or activity?  Isn’t it usually done to bring some level of enjoyment to one’s life?  Generally speaking, if you spot someone engaging in an activity that they’ve begun voluntarily, you’ll notice a smile—or at least sense an overall satisfaction with said activity.  This brings me to my question of the day.

 

Why do people smoke?

 

 

I have the distinct coincidence of working with a large number of smokers.  No matter what time of day, if you walk out the side door of our office building you will encounter anywhere from 2 to 147 people huddled in small coveys of collective smoking.  The blanket of second-hand smoke has actually caused our concrete office building to develop a persistent cough. 

 

I’m not here to proselytize smokers into quitting.  I know they should.  They know they should.  We actually agree on that point.

 

My issue is one of perplexity.

 

Why do they do it in the first place?  I have yet to see a single smoker look happy while smoking.  While it’s true that every person has a unique genetic make-up that sets them apart from every other human being, it’s undeniable that the single act of smoking makes them all share an uncanny resemblance.

 

The squinted eyes.  The tightly pursed lips.  The rattling cough.  The shallow breathing patterns. The overall look of someone who is undergoing an appendectomy without the benefit of anesthesia. It just doesn’t appear to bring the least bit of enjoyment. 

 

So why would someone even want to start smoking?  I just don’t get it.

 

 I’m sure there are those that will argue that it’s due to the addictive quality of the nicotine.  While that explains why people CONTINUE to smoke, it does nothing to answer why someone would even want to START.  I would think that just looking at other smokers would turn people off to lighting up for the first time.  Apparently, I would be wrong.  Perhaps this is something I will never understand. 

 

As I read the above description of smokers’ appearances, I realized that it is the exact same list that would apply to my appearance if I were forced to attend a Scrapbooking Convention.  This is why I choose not to scrapbook.  Avoiding my own displeasure is reason enough to steer clear of those events.

 

I don’t need a public service announcement from the cast of Law & Order to convince me it’s not a good idea.

 

 

Slow down, everyone…

jack-johnsonWhat’s your song? 

 

No, I’m not asking if you’re currently singing…or rapping…or whatever else it is that you do whenever you do when you’re convincing yourself that you’re as good as any of the contestants on American Idol.

 

 I’m not really asking whether you have a CD or iPod with you.  These days, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that you do.

 

What I’m curious about is whether you have a particular song that you really identify with.  Is there one that captures your approach to life?  Sums up your current mood?  Identifies you as a Space Cowboy?

 

The reason I ask is that I’m sitting at work on a Saturday, handling issues caused by problems with customer’s phone lines and listening to customers lament the fact that their lives are basically ending because calls cannot complete like they should.  They’re losing “millions of dollars an hour” because people can’t call them to make sure that the store is open today.  While I understand the urgency behind being available for your customers, the level of panic—and rampant animosity—staggers me.  This brings me to the song.

 

Fittingly, it began playing on my iPod just as a customer was reaching verbal escape velocity and preparing to truly go ballistic and reach orbit.  As they were railing about their opinion of my company, my abilities, and my mother; I heard the familiar intro to one of my favorite songs of all time.

 

As I placed the source of my anxiety on hold and turned up the volume on my speakers, I heard Jack Johnson begin to offer his sage advice in the form of the song “Inaudible Melodies”.

 

“Slow down everyone
You’re moving too fast
Frames can’t catch you when
You’re moving like that

Inaudible melodies
Serve narrational strategies
Unobtrusive tones
Help to notice nothing but the zone
Of visual relevancy
Frame-lines tell me what to see
Chopping like an axe and
Maybe Eisenstein should just relax…”

 

Too be honest, it’s really just the one line that makes this one of my favorites.  “Slow down everyone, you’re moving too fast…” That’s just great advice.    

 

That mentality is one of the things that I miss most about my time in Brazil two years ago.  While we were helping a village on the Amazon River, we basically woke with the sunrise and turned in as the sun went down.  Watches were pretty much unnecessary.  Even though we had certain things we needed to get done during the day, there was very little rushing around.  When you’re not tied to a time clock, scheduled lunch breaks, sports practices, appointments for avocado-alfalfa sprout facials, or tee times….life just seems to slow down. 

 

As for the rest of the song, I really have no idea what he’s talking about.  I’ve heard that it’s based on his study of silent films while in college, but to figure that out would require too much work.  I’m too busy slowing down.

 

So there you have it.  That’s my song (of the moment).  Or perhaps that’s my line of a song (of the moment).  Either way, it’s mine.

 

Your turn.  What’s your song? 

Two Words That Say So Much

clapper-boardTwo words. 

 

Two words comprise the majority of many conversations in my house right now.  With only two little words it seems that meaning is conveyed, feelings are expressed, inquiries are made, and bonding is accomplished.  Wanna guess the words?  Go ahead.

 

Nope.  Whatever you guessed, I have a feeling it was wrong.  That’s ok.  I wouldn’t have gotten it right either, if I weren’t personally involved in most of these conversations.  So…the two words?

 

“What” & “Awesome”.

 

8 letters in total.  4/13 of the alphabet.  Countless hours of conversation with my 4 year old son.

 

When they decide to make a movie about my life, the child actor chosen to play Young Carter is going to have an incredibly easy script to memorize.  Of coursre, the role will require an innate ability to emote with the eyes and a propensity for physical comedy, but the script itself–less than complicated.

 

Since I’m certain that I will be asked to act as an Authenticity Consultant/Screenwriter on the film, I thought that I would provide some authentic sample dialogue to give you an idea of the flow of these conversations.

 

Setting: Family living room. 

            I am watching a football game on TV. 

           Young Carter is playing with his action figures on the floor.

 

Lights.  Camera.  ACTION!

 

Me: Hey Buddy, watch this touchdown pass!  It’s AWESOME!

Carter:  (never looking up from his toys) What?

Me: Look!  It’s awesome!

Carter: (still not looking up) What?

Me: Hey…look…awe–

Carter: What?

Me: (growing increasingly exasperated) This touchdown was awesome!

Carter: What was?

Me: The touch—down.

Carter: Awesome?

Me: Just watch

Carter: (shifting focus back to his toys) Look what Spiderman can do…it’s AWESOME!

Me: (rewinding the game to the touchdown play) What?

Carter: It’s awesome!

Me: (confused, but still searching for the beginning of the play on the TV)  What?  The touchdown?

Carter: (now equally confused) What?

Me: (pausing the football game again and looking at Carter) What?

Carter: (blinking)….

Me: (blinking)…

Carter:  I bet Spiderman can play football.

Me: What?

Carter: (looking me right in the eye) Spiderman. Can. Play. Foot. Ball.

Me: (in a defeated tone) Awesome.

Carter: What?

 

Riveting.  I know.  I should probably go clear off a spot on the top of the mantle for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar that I’m sure to win.  It can go right next to the Spiderman action figures.

 

Imagine that.

 

Me: An Oscar winner.

 

Awesome.