What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been (Or, How We Ended Up Adopting 4 Kids At Once)

1609748_10152747830981450_8847613442827972572_n

 

In the swelter of the 2012 Phoenix summer, my wife Kristi and I became foster parents. This was something we had prayed about for a long time but we kept having biological kids, so the time just never seemed right. We had four boys of our own but we loved the idea of opening our lives and home to those who had no home. We were compelled by God’s love to embrace sacrifice for the benefit of others. When our youngest son was old enough that we could open our home to kids without disrupting our birth order, we did exactly that.

After becoming licensed for foster care, which was its own adventure, we had two placements, each for five days a piece. The first was a baby girl named after a character in the Twilight series. I was quickly made aware that people actually do read those books because several people recognized the name. I have not read or watched Twilight so I was unfamiliar with the name. Our second placement was a little Native American boy. No one was certain of his age and he mumbled everything except when he told our agency case-worker that he would kick her ass. He said that clear as day.

Then we got a call from CPS asking if we could come to the hospital and pick up a two-day old baby boy named Gage. Sure we could! We were foster parents and who doesn’t love babies! CPS told us that Gage had three full-blood siblings who were living together in another foster home way on the other side of town and that the plan was for him to eventually go be with them. That was fine with us. He was cute as could be, but we were foster parents who signed up to foster. We already had four boys for crying out loud!

But then we had Gage for months. And months. And months. And finally, parental rights were severed for all four siblings, so we began the process to adopt him while the other foster home began the process of adopting his two brothers and sister. Then we got another call from CPS.

This time, they asked if we would be willing to take the three siblings. One of the brothers was in a full-body cast with a broken femur and no one knew why. The ER doctors said that the foster Mom’s explanation did not match the injury so they had to declare it non-accidental. The kids were removed immediately. Elizabeth and Paul spent the night in a CPS office while Danny was in the hospital by himself. We drove to the other side of town to meet our CPS caseworker outside of the hospital where Danny was and we went from 5 kids to 8.

It wasn’t long before we thought “Oh crap, what have we done?! We know 8 kid people and God bless them, but we don’t think we’re those people.” We wrestled with a lot of things. We questioned whether or not we were just being selfish. We questioned whether or not we could give all of the kids the love and attention they needed, especially with three young kids who had already lived in multiple homes.

While we were trying to find clarity in a murky situation, some good family friends from our church told us that they wanted to adopt the two middle boys, Danny and Paul. We all prayed and talked and it seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit. This would have put us at six kids (which was still more than we had ever thought we would have). So in October, 2013, our friends Chris and Amy became foster parents. “WOW,” we thought, “How cool?! The siblings would grow up knowing each other! They could still play together and have sleepovers.” It seemed like a perfect fit. They took Danny and Paul in November of 2013 to begin the adoption process.

But within a month, Amy received a diagnosis of stage 4/terminal breast cancer and everything changed.

Kristi and I once again struggled with whether or not we were 8 kid people and whether or not it even mattered what we felt. As a pastor, I’ve taught about dying to self in order to follow Jesus. Were we willing to put this into practice? Were we willing to die to ourselves 24/7 for the next ________ years? We prayed and asked whether or not it was selfish if we felt like we were not supposed to adopt all four kids? We concluded that it didn’t matter what we thought about whether or not we were 8 kid people or not. God had intertwined our life with these kids and they had already captured our hearts.

We told Chris and Amy that, in the midst of their cancer battle, if they still wanted to adopt Danny and Paul, we would support their decision. This was what we all felt was best. But no one anticipates cancer. There are some things you can’t prepare for, so if it ever got to be too much, we would take the boys back and adopt all four siblings.

They called on Christmas Day. I drove over there and picked up Danny and Paul, heavy with the burden of cancer and excited about a new phase of our own life. We were getting two sons for Christmas and facing the loss of a friend. If ever there was a bittersweet day, that was one.

Since we had already begun the process of adopting Gage, CPS expedited the process for the others as well. In January of 2014, we adopted all four of them, becoming the Thomas Ten.

Our friend Amy passed away in April and I preached her memorial service.

Though it has not always been easy, we don’t for one second-guess or question our decision. Though we get stares when we go out in public and drive a 12-passenger van, and we wish things had happened under different circumstances and we miss our dear friend Amy, we have no doubt that this is where God has led us.

So next time you see a large family out in public, instead of gawking, ask them how you can help. After all, you never know their story.

Why I Am Resigning From Ministry

resignation-letterAs if our family hasn’t experienced enough change over the past year, on Sunday, November 09, 2014, we announced to our Church of the Cross family that, effective December 31, 2014, I will resign from all ministry leadership roles. I will no longer be on paid staff. Nor will I continue to serve as an Elder or Missional Community Leader in the Church of the Cross family.

This has been a long-coming but difficult decision. I have “officially” served in some sort of Christian ministry (paid or otherwise) for the past 19 years. This is the church we moved back to Arizona to plant. This is the church that has been our labor of love for the past six years. No one makes significantly intentional life decisions like this without lots of consideration and counsel. This is a big deal to us and we don’t take it lightly.

Perhaps I should say that it speaks loudly about American Evangelicalism that I feel the need to insert the emphatic notion here that this decision is not the result of sin (OK, yes, we all sin, but there is no disqualifying sin here). It speaks even louder about American Evangelicalism that I feel the need to urgently assert that this decision is not the result of a lapse in faith, or even joy in Jesus. There is no division within the church or its leadership and there is no bitterness that I know of. In fact, things with the church are going well and we are anticipating a season of health and growth.

It’s just time (Ecclesiastes 3).

But this is more complicated than just feeling the need for a career change. I know people that change careers more often than they change their underwear. OK, not really, it just sounded funny. Resigning from ministry brings many complications not necessarily associated with changing other careers.

How do you tell people you need a break from teaching others when it seems like that’s what you’re gifted at? How do you tell people you need a break from your job when your job is to care for people? You can’t take a break from caring. How do you tell people you need a break from your job when your job is “Christianity”. You don’t take a break from Jesus.

There are many jobs that you can job indefinitely at and it frankly doesn’t matter one squat in the woods if your heart is in it or not. I once worked at TCBY serving suburbanites and their kids frozen yogurt and assorted toppings. Never once did I feel passionately about it. But, over the course of months, I’ve heard from several people the concern that it doesn’t seem like I enjoy my job anymore.

It used to be that you picked a career and stuck with it until the pension. Both of my parents were elementary school teachers until retirement. But are there some jobs you just shouldn’t do any longer if your heart’s not in it? Teaching, maybe? Fighter Pilot? Probably? President of the United States, certainly? Pastoring? Most definitely.

In fact, a good seminary or wise leaders (those things are not always the same) will try to discourage potential pastors with such dire warnings as: “If you can picture yourself doing anything else, go do that instead” and, “If you’re heart’s not in it, step aside.”

As if that’s not enough pressure on pastors, I can think of no other “career” that has so much potential to wreak havoc on one’s sense of identity. It’s a difficult thing when your job performance is directly tied to your spiritual health. When your job is to lead others into spiritual maturity and you walk away from your job, it must be because you’re not succeeding at spiritual maturity yourself, right? Well, that’s at least how it’s often perceived. There is rarely a criticism of a pastor’s “job performance” that is also not a character critique. But I’m not resigning because ministry is difficult. If that were an option for me, it would have happened a long time ago. Of course ministry is difficult. But that’s not what I’m wrestling with.

Though we might not like it, we all know that we have a life cycle. We are born and we will die and we have a finite number of days in between. Over the years, I have come to believe that (as a Protestant speaking of the Protestant model) local churches also have life cycles. I’m not convinced that every local church is meant to last indefinitely. In fact, we probably push many local churches to keep gasping long after life support has been removed (let me say here that Church of the Cross is quite healthy and is actually experiencing exciting growth).

It’s only natural then, to wonder whether everyone who is called to elder is called indefinitely. Some churches place term limits on elders. For some reason that has never set well with me. Other churches let elders serve ad infinitum. This also doesn’t seem quite right.

Though the qualifications (with the possible exception of “able to teach”) to elder are nothing more than every Believer should strive for (1 Timothy 3, Titus, 1, etc), I wonder if certain men, like some certain churches have “life cycles” and if every mature Believer is called to an “official” ministry role. I know “qualified” people who do not “aspire” to the office of elder (1 Timothy 3:1). Is someone serving “officially” in a local church indefinitely tied to that role?

In other words, I am questioning my “life cycle” as an elder among (1 Peter 5) Church of the Cross. I have no doubt that God gave Kristi and me a clear vision for a gospel-centered/Jesus-focused/missional in suburbia/family-friendly/semi-liturgical family of people following Jesus that was meant to continue with or without us.

Our church has held to the conviction of shared leadership from the beginning and it is simply time for my time in the spotlight to subside. Convictions have not changed. Family sticks together, especially in the tough times. Church of the Cross will continue to follow Jesus with or without me because I’ve never been the one to hold it together.

When we adopted four children at once, our ministry focus changed. I had a very insensitive person whats-next(Colossians 4:6, Ephesians 4:29) tell me that I should resign from pastoring because I didn’t have enough love to spread between 8 kids and a church family. But that’s not it at all. I’m not “liberal”, but I do have a bleeding heart. I care for people beyond my capacity. The real issue has not been one of capacity but of priority.

Our ministry has shifted.

As such, I can no longer say that my heart is fully in “church ministry”. And if that’s the case, it’s not fair to anyone for me to continue. In fact, it’s probably better for everyone that I step aside. That person who said I lacked love didn’t understand the depth of love it takes to step aside for the good of others. I don’t say that to pat myself on the back. I say that just to let others understand what a difficult journey this has been for us.

Because I love God and His people, it is best that I lay aside the “official” weight of caring for others so that I can best care for the family He has brought under my roof. Because I love those God has brought under my roof, we will not withdraw from Christian community. My faith has not wavered. My convictions have not faltered. We will not withdraw from community, worship or God’s mission. But, our ministry has shifted.

We ask for your prayers because we don’t know what’s next. We are confident that this was the right decision for our family, but that doesn’t mean the next pieces have yet fallen into place. Please pray for peace, for wisdom, for clarity, for direction, for joy and for perseverance. Please pray for the Church of the Cross family during this time of transition. Please pray for our elders as they shepherd our church through this transition.

Thank you to all the family and friends who have journeyed with us so far and continue to travel through life with us.

It’s time for what’s next. Whatever that may be.

Don’t Look Back

dont-look-back-youre-not-going-that-wayThough it has not necessarily been intentional, I have erased by entire blog every few years. The first time it happened, I was switching from a website I called Colossians Three Sixteen to Holiday at the Sea. Some sort of malicious WordPress hackers had corrupted every single file on my server. I just didn’t feel like trying to salvage everything, so I abandoned it all.

This time, I knew that I was switching servers and I had the choice whether or not to import everything.. And I chose to abandon everything I’ve written here over the past few years. I’m sure it’s still out there online somewhere, but it’s time in life for a fresh start. Read the next post to understand a bit more.

Onward and upward.

Or something like that.