Monday, March 10, 2014

Big Life Update! Big and Scary Adult Type Things

Ben and I are beginning to walk along the road to homeownership! It is certainly an exciting time in our lives, and we feel extremely blessed by the Lord to be able to afford a nice home. We have a spare room stacked to the ceiling with boxes that we can’t wait to pack up and unload into a new place.

We are so happy. But my social worker conscience is conflicted.

I’ve been to a developing nation, where the houses looked like this:

This is in Punta Gorda, Belize, where just a short car ride away will lead to a stunning vacation resort. When Ben and I took a mission’s trip to Belize in high school, it was difficult for us to wrap our minds around the fact that two totally different worlds existed so close to each other: one world consists of frivolous wealth, the other of humble people scraping out a living no one in America would even consider having.

But did you know that people are indeed living like that in America? In South Dakota? I work with those people every day. I drop 22 children off in the poorest parts of Sioux Falls in building I wouldn't even want to step foot into and then go back to a completely different world--a world of comfort and security, where my biggest worry is the downstairs neighbor calling the landlord again because we are too loud upstairs. Today one of my students didn’t want to get off the van and go home. I told him he needed to or he would miss supper. Looking me straight in the eyes he said, “I don’t eat supper. Or breakfast. I eat lunch at school.” Talk about a knife to the heart. After looking in a fridge bursting with food earlier that day, I couldn’t find anything that appealed to my taste buds so I drove down to Subway and got a sandwich and two cookies. My student had only eaten a small school lunch and the snack provided for him at my program and wouldn’t eat again until lunch the next day. How fair is that?

Please don’t tell me that his parents need to stop being lazy and get a job. The reason he is at my program is that his parents work multiple jobs just to pay the rent and try and feed five mouths. I know because he told me. If he didn’t come to my program, he’d go home to an empty house, supervised only by his eleven year old sister, and his tummy would rumble out of hunger. I am so glad he gets to come with me instead—that he gets to eat a small snack, play soccer with his best friend, and just be a kid for a few hours before going back to a much harsher reality.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the social work program is that not everyone falls into poverty or trouble because they are lazy or that they refuse to work. Feel free to argue with me all you want on this one, but until you’ve studied society and worked with people in poverty, your point of view is limited and subjected to the preconceived notions that have been building in your mind for years—I’m still fighting to tear down my own preconceived notions myself. For someone who has always worked hard and fought for what I have, it’s not easy. It’s hard to look at people and be willing to hear the whole story. To look beyond the simple answer your brain comes up with to explain why my eight year old student and his two sisters don’t get to eat supper or breakfast. It’s simpler to write their parents off as lazy and mumble under your breath that you’re sick and tired of seeing welfare moms waste your hard earned money. (I challenge you to go out a purchase the book "Nickle and Dimed: On NOT Getting by in America," by Barbara Ehrenreich and see if it changes your mind. I'd love to chat with you about it!)

I challenge you to do some research--to actually read that book and be willing to consider a new point of view. To volunteer with low income families and see your heart and mind transform. It has been so wonderful to see skepticism and doubt blossom into compassion and empathy in my own life. I absolutely cannot wait to graduate and take my licensing exam so that I can be a social worker—so that I can be a part in watching people‘s lives change for the better.
 That’s one of the biggest reasons Ben and I felt that we should buy a house. We were both blessed to grow up in families with enough money; where breakfast, lunch, and dinner was always a guarantee. We were kids every minute of every day, because someone was always there to take care of us and to worry about big scary things for us. We didn’t realize until Belize that not everyone had a childhood like that. It would take a few more years for that to really sink in. But when it did, we decided to do something about it.

We want our home to be a blessing to others. We want it to be a place where people feel welcomed, cherished, and loved. We want laughter to ring around our dining room table; we want our couches to have permanent indentations in them from the friends that frequently sit around to share their lives with us. We want to open up our spare bedrooms to missionaries who need a place to stay while traveling. And we want to foster children who through no fault of their own are being stripped of the very childhood Ben and I were freely, undeservedly given.

Feel free to also argue with me about why we shouldn’t open our home to foster children. Please tell me how unprepared and unexperienced we are, because I will ask you when we will know we are ready. What would be the most convenient time for us to do this? When we have more money? When we have kids of our own? When we have more time?

Life isn’t predictable. We can’t wait to do the work God is calling us to do—which we feel very strongly that he has called us to foster—until we are ready, because I honestly believe that we are never ready for any of the things God brings into our lives! I wasn’t ready to make big decisions about my future when I was 18, but I did and it’s turning out pretty darn well for me. I wasn’t ready to be a lead teacher working with a group of challenging kids, but no one has died so far and kids continue fighting over who gets to hold my hand every day, so I’d say I’m doing okay. I don’t think it will ever be truly convenient for us to foster—heck, it’s not going to be convenient to parent our own future children! We will most likely always feel that there are not enough minutes in our days, days to our weeks, and weeks to our years. We will never have stacks of cash lying around collecting dust, but we are doing our best to use the money God is blessing us with for good.

I’m also going to throw out that I have studied human behavior and child psychology more in depth than most foster parents have, and that by currently working with a challenging group of kids I am cultivating a rich garden of experience. Will this prepare us fully? Heck no. I’m not kidding myself—I know what kids are capable of. At-risk kids are capable of even more! It will probably feel like I am getting run over by a bulldozer when we first get started. Re-read the above paragraph to understand why I am so excited for this anyway. We are fully aware that the life we are choosing to live is not going to be easy and safe. But we serve a big God and are excited that by his strength alone we can stumble through anyway.   

I have challenged you to fight with me twice, but I hope that you picked up that those challenges were dripping with sarcasm. I don’t want you to fight with me—I don’t want you to mail me a letter listing all the reasons we shouldn’t do this. I know all the reasons. Trust me, I’ve been studying this for three years and living it for a full year now. I know a little bit what it’s like to work with rough kids. But I cannot justify buying a nice house, decorating it all up and just sitting in it. Having it. I can’t. Not when I have students lying awake at night praying the hours will pass until its lunchtime and they can eat again. Not when there are kids out there wondering when dad will stop drinking and slamming mom up against the counter and threatening to choke her again. Not when parents who need help are stealing away the few precious years of childhood kids have by forcing them to be far more responsible than they should have to be.

Here are some practical things you can do for us! 
  • Pray! That this is truly the Lord's will for us and that the house passes all inspections and that we can close and move in April. That when we decide to officially pursue foster care in the next two years that we pass all the tests and inspections. For peace of mind and wisdom if tough kids come through our doors. For Christ to reach the hearts of those tough kids so that they know, even from a short stay with us, that he loves them and has good plans for them.
  • Consider donating some of your old kid stuff! We have a small stack of kids books right now. It's a start, but we'll need more! If you like to garage sale, consider keeping an eye out for kid's stuff. Some things you might want to look for are: nice, gently used board games, clean and in good condition stuffed animals, children's DVDs and BluRays, and toys such as plastic food and legos. 
  • Offer practical advice on parenting. We will have no clue what we are doing sometimes--but what parent truly does? Before clucking your tongue or shaking your head or asking us what we were thinking when we handled a situation the way we did, please stop and remember what it was like to be a first time parent. Don't lecture us. But please help us in a kind way! 

Also, please don't read this post and think I am looking down on you for not doing the things we are so eagerly planning for. Ben and I truly believe that God blesses each of us differently--we all have different gifts that God has a unique plan and purpose for. For us, it is foster care and opening our home to those who need it. We know that not everyone can do this, but we encourage you to figure out what the Lord IS calling you to do! Perhaps after reading this you feel God calling you to foster, and if so please message me if you have questions! Or perhaps you feel God calling you to do something else. I urge you to listen, because he will bless you for your obedience.  

I can move into my new house with a heart full of happiness knowing that we will use it for good, no matter how difficult that good might get. I can’t wait to get started packing. 

"Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the father will honor anyone who serves me."
- John 12:26