Neko Case Sings With The Heart Of A Foster Parent

September 5, 2013 at 5:37 pm

neko-case-the-worse-things-getAlright, let’s get the obvious out of the way: I realize that the audio I’m about to post will offend some of my more sensitively-eared readers. Be warned, there is cussing. Not only is there cussing, there is the F-Bomb, the mother of all. Now, I don’t cuss. Nor do I personally advocate cussing, especially in everyday language. It makes you sound ignorant, crass and thoughtless. There is so much power in carefully chosen words that most cussing just seems like the easy way out to me.

However, in movies, art, and music, there might be a case to be made for the strategically placed obscenity. Sometimes there are no better words to express a deep angst of the heart. This song may be one of those exceptions. It hurts my ears when Case let’s loose with the expletive precisely because of the context; because of the way it happened and it’s supposed to hurt because the words were supposed to hurt their recipient. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For those who may not be familiar with Neko Case, she’s come through the musical ranks in a similar fashion to Wilco; starting with both feet firmly planted in “alt. country,” then stepping out into controlled pop experimentation. Case started out playing drums in Vancouver punk bands and is part of the power pop super-group New PornographersPitchfork recently tried to describe her voice, saying: “Case has a moonbeam for a voice: imposing in timbre, opalescent in tone, and always surprising in its sheer force.” That’s about right.

Case just released her new album The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You on anti-Records. Though I would love to write about the whole album, I have to admit that the first time I listened through, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the song “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu.” I have long been accustomed to the power of music, but I was simply unprepared for the salty discharge that seeped from eyes as Case sang a layered a capella tale about transcending an abusive childhood. I cried not only because Case candidly tells the story of an everyday encounter that is the tip of the iceberg of a child’s suffering, but because my wife and I have sacrificed a lot to help with that suffering.

We currently have eight children, four of whom are foster children. By no stretch of the imagination has it been easy. In fact, it’s often been pretty difficult. We can’t go in out in public with all eight children without receiving comments or visibly seeing people count with their fingers “1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4 . . . 5 . . . 6 . . . 7 . . . 8 . . .” usually accompanied by some sort of “Boy, you sure have your hands full” type of comment, or worse, a snarky comment about having too many children. It has cost us money to serve. It has cost us time to open our home. We regularly invite CPS and others into our home so that we can jump through their hoops to have the the privilege of sacrificing for children that aren’t biologically ours.

Though we personally do this from Christian motives, Case’s song taps into something deeply entrenched in our daily lives: we are giving love to children who might otherwise not know it existed. We are providing security to kids who desperately long for stability. I don’t say this to pat ourselves on the back, just to give you a glimpse behind the curtain. We are asked all the time why we would do this. Case makes a powerful case for why we do this in just 2 minutes and 38 seconds. This is probably a good place for you to hear the track for yourself:

 




 

The fact that Case took the time to write a song about this incident shows that it affected her and I can’t help but shout “YES!” as she insists that, as that child grows up, there is still love, despite their experience. There is a place for that child, they have value, despite what their Mom has done and said. Case not only documents the brutality of life but the hope of love. She not only lets us look into the shadows but points us to the light. No, it’s not comfortable, but then again, neither is much of life. Case sings with the heart of a foster parent and I’m grateful that she has put into song some things we wrestle with everyday.

Yes, I Know It’s A Lot Of Kids, But What Are You Doing?

July 14, 2013 at 11:17 pm

securedownloadLast week, we took all eight kids to the beach. Kristi and I did not anticipate this trip being much of a vacation for us. We were determined to go to the beach with 8 healthy kids and come back to the desert with 8 healthy kids.

When we first got our newest three foster children, I noted that if you go to Target with eight kids, “you will get stares. And comments,” so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to me that we got stares. And comments. I mean, we could literally see people counting with their fingers in the air (. . . 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4 . . . 5 . . . 6 . . . 7. . . ) I would spot them as we walked by and help them finish: “Eight. We have eight kids.” This, of course, was always greeted with a look of astonishment and a chorus of WOW! That’s a lot of kids! or Well God bless you! or, Well you’ve sure got your hands full, don’t you?! Like I don’t know I have a lot of kids! 

How have we come to this, that a large family is looked at like some sort of spectacle. Now, I’m not saying every Christian family should be a large family. Not by any means. We never intended to be a large family. But, what I am saying is that there is something very backwards, very idolatrous of a culture which frowns upon large families. Have we really lain so low on the altar of self-worship that we can’t imagine being put out by raising the next generation? But I digress.

Each time (and it happened more than once) we got the looks, the stares and the counts, I have to confess: my first thought was something along the lines of Yes, I know it’s a lot of kids, but if only a couple of you gawkers stepped up and helped the orphans, I might not be such a spectacle! Hear me: I am not defending my initial thoughts. Nor do I believe that every single family is called to foster or adopt. I’m just saying that continually strikes me as odd that we have opened up our home to help with one of our modern blights and we are continually rebuffed by society for not fitting in.

I mean, come on. It’s not an easy thing to even get licensed to foster. It takes months and lost of intrusiveness on the part of our government. It costs; time and money. And you don’t stop sacrificing once you have the foster kids. That’s only the beginning. You are literally opening your home in ’round the clock service. You have visits by “first responders.” Visits to pediatricians. Visits from CPS. Visits from your licensing agency. You have continuing education hours. You have to re-certify your license. You have to feed the kids the state has asked you to care for. If you’re lucky, the state will help pay for food. If you’re lucky, the state will help pay you to keep the child(ren), though they will look for every opportunity to not pay.

And yet, none of that matters. We are compelled to serve in this way, so we are compelled to sacrifice in order to sacrifice. It would just be nice if we weren’t gawked at in the process. It would be nice if we didn’t have to seek people’s approval because of our sacrifice. And, thankfully, we don’t.

Thankfully, we have all of the approval we could ever hope for, and more. Do you remember when Jesus went out to his crazy cousin to be baptized? And, as He came up from the water, the Spirit descended on Him in the form of a dove and a voice came from Heaven, saying “You are my Son in whom I am well pleased?” What if we knew that, when God looks at us, He says the same thing of us. What if we trusted that Jesus was, even now, interceding on our behalf? That we were free from seeking man’s approval, so we are all the more free to love sacrificially. Because we now that e have everything to gain and nothing to lose?

Then, and only then can we walk along the pier, under the lighthouse, and, without pause, say, with a smile: ”Eight. We have eight kids.”

All Aboard The Crazy Train! An Update And Some Random Thoughts

May 21, 2013 at 12:37 am

securedownloadMy wife Kristi and I have been foster parents for almost one year now. Trust me, I know how crazy this is to most people. We already had four biological boys of our own. But we didn’t feel like our family was done, even though it was done biologically (trust me, I had the surgery). So, last July we began praying for a bigger van. We simply outgrew the normal minivan. A minivan could no longer hold our love.

Last week, we picked up our new 12 passenger van. And just in time, too.

I can’t give a lot of details, but our world has became a lot more chaotic. In fact, it’s a beautiful madhouse. Late last week, we received a call asking if we could take three more foster kids. We said yes. So, we went from 5 kids (our 4 sons and Baby G, who we’ve fostered for almost a year now) to 8 kids in our home. It helps that the other kids are Baby G’s biological siblings, but It doesn’t help as much when 8 kids are fighting, fussing, whining, pottying (on a potty or in diapers) or falling asleep at the most inopportune of times.

We never set out to become a big family. But then again, we never opposed being a big family. That much should be obvious with four biological sons of our own. But there’s something unexplainable about foster parenting. Someone recently told us that as you begin to love the kids God places with you, your heart expands to love each additional child for the season they are with you. That is very true. But it’s hard. In fact, sometimes it sucks. Our house is loud. It can get messy and lots of things break. We sweep/mop/vacuum/wash dishes/load laundry/fold laundry/put away laundry/wipe privates, change diapers, wipe mouths, tables and floors, etc., multiple times a day. Every day. And, in addition to the normal household chores that any children bring with them, foster children often bring problems of their own with them (though the problems are most often not their fault) and these kids are no exception. But then again, biological children are not always a walk in the park either. This type of life requires sacrifice.

But then again, it always takes sacrifice to love others, doesn’t it? And this has led me to lots of thought and prayer lately.

I am passionate about foster care and adoption. We have four biological children of our own and then decided our family wasn’t complete. But I know people that aren’t called by God to be foster parents. And that’s OK. I am under no illusion that you are called to be a foster parent, especially of multiple children. And I’m OK with that.

Just don’t tell me how crazy I am for opening my home. I already know that. I can’t even go to Target without getting stares and comments. Even in the heart of Suburbia, large families are not the norm. I understand that you may not be called to open up your home. But I have to ask: how has God called you to sacrifice? Even though I may not know personally, I can guarantee you that God has called us to more than a comfortable American life where we put our church sticker on our car and call it good.

How has God called you to sacrifice? How has God called you to embrace and enter the suffering of the world He loved enough to send Himself/His Son to die for? Just like I believe that ”Not Every Local Church Is For Every Person,” I believe that not every Christian is called to sacrifice in the same way. But all Christians are called to sacrifice. Something.

This may seem self-evident to you, but the way Christians treat one another says to me that we don’t believe this. I am weary of Christians believing that because we’re not all called to sacrifice in the same that we’re not all loved by our Father in the same way. While most of us would never be so blunt as to word it that way, this is exactly how we treat one another. The ones who passionately sacrifice on behalf of those caught in sex trafficking/slavery sometimes look down on those who aren’t called to serve in the same way. The people giving their lives to the homeless want others to share that passion. Those fighting abortion passionately ask “Where. Is. The. Church?” Those, like me, who open up their homes for kids with no home wish that more Christians would do the same.

But instead of celebrating and encouraging and equipping the beautifully different ways Christians can and do impact our culture, we cast dispersions at those who aren’t called to serve like us.

Now, I’m going to be brutally honest; if you claim to follow Jesus and you’re not living sacrificially in some way, I urge you to repent. I’m not sure you can truly belong to God’s family and live for yourself. However, that’s really not the group I’ve been thinking/praying about.

I am far too quick to dismiss those who are not like me. But at the same time, I tire of people that are just like me. After all, “variety is the spice of life,” right? What kind of world would it be if we all liked the same music or movies or food? I am deeply concerned that we are creating non-necessary dividing lines within the big freak-show tent of Christianity. I am far too quick to think that if you’re not called to serve in the same way that I am, then you’re not called by God at all. And that’s just nonsense. We don’t all like the same music. And that’s awesome. We don’t all like the same movies and I thank God that I’ve never had to sit through Titanic or Avatar (the 3D thing, not the animated series) even though I can appreciate that those may be your thing.

Why do we all take for granted that our passion (trafficking, abortion, homelessness, poverty in all its forms, health, water, children, hospitals, literacy, etc., etc., etc., etc.,) is the only passion? If that were the case, we might make a large dent in one issue without making any dent in others and making little to no impact on the big picture. Why are we so quick to elevate our own passions while diminishing others (hint, I think it’s because, even in serving, we are arrogant)?

This whole journey has reminded me that God’s people are nothing more than a beautiful circus of crazies and freaks. Instead of judging one another for not serving in the same way, why aren’t we one another’s best cheerleaders? Instead of looking down on each other for not serving in the same way, why aren’t we reaching back to grab the hands of those who aren’t yet serving at all? Instead of believing that our focus is pitch-perfect, why aren’t we all listening to the beautiful symphony of God’s will to reconcile all things to Himself through the Son while we try to find our part in the orchestra?

If the world will know that we belong to Jesus because of our love for one another (John 13:35), I wonder what our false judgment of one another tells those who are paying any attention?

The Gospel Love of Foster Parenting

March 6, 2013 at 1:26 pm

In order remain licensed as foster parents, Kristi and I not only had to go through the intrusive and long application process, we have to do continuing hours of training every year. So, not only do we open up our homes, our lives and our hearts to children in need, we have to continue to jump through hoops to have the privilege of doing so. But I digress.

This past Saturday, we attended a 6-hour training. As might be expected, some parts were more helpful than others. But the thing I most clearly came away with from the day of training wasn’t part of the training at all. Instead, it came from thinking about the fact that, in many ways, foster parents have to beg to open up their lives and how much that is an embodiment of the Gospel. I kept thinking of 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, where Paul commends the Macedonians who begged for the chance to serve:

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, [2] for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. [3] For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, [4] begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—[5] and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

I had to spend six hours of my Saturday in order to keep a baby we love. The Macedonians begged in order to give more money than they could afford (don’t show these verses to the Financial Planners in your church family)! What compelled them? Paul tells us in verse 9: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Grace. Grace compelled the Macedonians to go to great lengths to seek opportunities to give and serve. Yes, Foster Parents have to earn the right to give of ourselves, but why would I complain about jumping through some hoops when grace reminds me that Jesus “for the joy that was set before Him” gave everything. He became poor so that we might become rich. How could the Macedonians not give exuberantly? How could we not joyfully pursue the opportunity to serve?

During one of the sessions, the teacher made a remark to the effect that foster parents don’t have the option of not opening their hearts to these foster children. These are kids who need love, stability and consistency and love. You have to love them knowing that they can’t give anything in return. You may have them long enough that they learn to love you in return. But you may not. Not only can these children not repay you, they may bring troubles and headaches, visitations, appointments, health issues, family issues, legal issues with them. Some of these kids may even resent you for trying to love them and let you know it. But they need love whether or not you want to give it. They need it more than you need to keep it.

What a beautiful picture of the love God has for His children. We take Him for granted. We rely on ourselves when things go smoothly and call out to Him when we need help. We complain when He doesn’t do things the way we think He should. We resent Him when He disciplines us. And yet He relentlessly loves His children. He pursues us when we want to run. He stands by the road, looking over the horizon for our return, running out to meet us when we’ve spit in His face.

Foster parenting is hard. It requires sacrificial love. But it has reminded me of the beauty of a Savior who has led the way of sacrificial love, taking on death so that we may live. How could we also not strive to serve?

“Maybe God Has Something Better Planned For You”

January 15, 2013 at 8:39 am

As many of you know, we are a foster family. That is to say, Kristi and I are licensed foster parents. We are currently loving our third foster child, whom we will call “Baby G.” (I have written about some of our foster experiences here and here).

We had our first two placements each for five days. That was quite the “introduction by fire” way of getting into foster parenting because five days is just long enough to begin getting attached but not long enough to really understand to whom you are getting attached. After a short break, we received our third placement, a 2-day old baby boy. We have now had Baby G. for six months. That’s quite enough time to understand to whom are getting attached and we have fallen for this little boy. He is truly a joy for our family and everyone who meets him.

I can’t share all of the details, but let’s just say that a relative recently came forward saying that they want to adopt Baby G. Up until last week, we had been assured by several people in the system that we would be able to pursue adopting Baby G. When we began to hear this from several voices, we really let our guard down and welcomed Baby G into our family. Our biological sons adore him. Neighbors ask if he can come visit. Teachers at the school ask about him when we don’t bring him with us to pick-up or drop-off. People in our church family stand in line to hold him. We have endured hospital visits with him. And now he might be leaving. I’m not going to lie: we’ve shed some tears.

It’s in the midst of tears that we’re often the most attentive. This can work itself out in a number of ways. For me, during this current situation, it’s resulted in frustration with Christians. I remember, a very long time ago, I found out that a girlfriend had dumped me and a close friend of mine nonchalantly told me: “God works in mysterious ways.” Of course he was right, but it wasn’t helpful. In fact, it was patronizing and aggravating. And somehow, this seems to be the drawer into which so much well-intentioned “Christian” advice is filed: “theologically correct but not helpful in the moment.”

One of the phrases that I have heard during our current test goes something like: “God probably has something better for you in all of this.” I understand the intent: “sometimes, we want what is not actually best for us.” But, the way it is often communicated, it actually comes across more as something like: “You think Baby G. is a good baby and that you’ve bonded with him and you want to raise him, but wait until you meet the next baby, he/she will be SO much better than you ever could have hoped for!”

Notice that there has been a subtle shift between those two statements. It is indeed true that “sometimes, we want what is not actually best for us.” But I don’t think this necessarily means that God will astound our earthly expectations with something newer, bigger, better and with a superior warranty. When we think of our own misconstrued expectations in this light, it helps explain why wer’e so often disappointed or even angry with God; I expected my life to be materially better and it sure doesn’t seem to be. Could it be that our expectations are misplaced?

God does not promise to make us more comfortable for our time here on earth. Perhaps God sometimes removes the earthly things we treasure, not because He wants us to look for a “better” earthly replacement but so that we would find our deepest satisfaction in Him; that we would love the Giver more than the gifts. Maybe that “something better” that God has planned for us is actually Him? You know the saying: you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone. But what if what we’ve really got is never gone? What if it takes the removal of things that get in the way for us to fully realize what we’ve had all along?

This is not to say that Baby G. has been a hindrance in our lives or that we have any such notion that he “gets in the way.” However, my relationship with him should prompt me to wrestle with the question: what if he does go? If he does, will we withdraw from fostering because we allowed ourselves to get too attached to this precious baby? Will we keep on pursuing the “foster path” and continue to offer the best home  we can to the children that God brings us? He is an absolute blessing. But what if my stress over him causes me to question my trust of God: God wouldn’t take him because we’re the best home for him (but who am I really to say that!). In that moment, I love the gift more than the giver. If something God has given me distracts from my love/affection/obedience, to Him,  it is no longer a “gift,” it is an idol

I do believe that what we want is not always best for us. Just think about when our children ask for candy for every meal. I also believe that God has better things planned for us than we do. I just worry that our expectation of “better” is not God’s. God is the good, better and best. God will not tempt us, but He will test us. His ways are better. He is the supreme fountain of love, security, identity, satisfaction and joy. He is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. When God orchestrates our circumstances to bring us closer to Him, do we really believe that He has given us the best?