What are you risking for the gospel?

In 30 minutes I’m heading to Tulsa to tell our foster care stories at the Oklahoma Foster Care Forum.

The oft-quoted Jerry Seinfeld said, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

I’m not sure how true this is, but I do know that later on this morning I will be in Tulsa standing up in front of a large-ish crowd at the Tulsa version of the Oklahoma Foster Care Forum. And I will sort of wish I was dead.

Speaking in front of crowds has never been something I’ve aspired to. I’m much more comfortable behind a computer screen or in a living room. So when I was asked last April to speak at the Oklahoma City version of the Oklahoma Foster Care Forum I suggested that Craig and I do it together instead, knowing that if Craig was there I would default and make him do the bulk of the speaking. That plan didn’t work out, though, and I found myself with 2,155 type written words tucked inside a purple folder with white flowers on it, willing myself to stand up in front of a bunch of people I’d never seen before (and a few I see all the time) and not die.

Fast forward to after that event – I did not die. I also didn’t turn into John “Golden Mouth” Chrysostom or anything. It wasn’t my favorite thing to do ever, but it really didn’t kill me either, so there’s that. I think my comfort level increased by the fact that the topic I was presenting on was one about which I am passionate. I’m generally quiet by nature, but if you start asking me about the foster care crisis in Oklahoma, I suddenly build a soapbox and jump up on it. Because we really do have a foster care crisis in Oklahoma and I think most of us are content to defer to our preference for convenience as a way to excuse our lack of involvement in the biblical mandate to care for widows and orphans.

Speaking on the topic of foster care is one thing, but sometimes it takes more than rhetoric to show you believe something to be true; sometimes it takes getting your hands dirty. Sometimes it means getting buried in what feels like a grave of bureaucracy in order to be available to do the necessary thing to which God calls His Church. Sometimes it means providing meals and meeting needs for other families who have given themselves to the task. And sometimes it means being willing to die to self in front of a large group of people and take a personal risk at the gain of stirring the heart of even one more family toward the cause of foster care.

Because some things require sacrifice, be it time, money, public speaking, or all of the above; for me, foster care has become that thing.

All of us are called to die to ourselves for the sake of the gospel. The oft-quoted Luke 9:23-25 reminds us, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” The question is, what does that cross look like? It should look a lot more like work gloves than Facebook status updates. It should feel more scary than safe. And it should come from conviction not condemnation.

Because that’s how the gospel works.

 

Pizza Truck!

The Hall's Pizza Kitchen
The family of Chloe’s Latin teacher from last year opened a food truck this summer: The Hall’s Pizza Kitchen. Chloe was bound and determined we would track them down this week and partake. So we did. You all, it was seriously good. Wood fired pizza from a truck! Who knew? Our only regret is that we didn’t order two pizzas instead of just one. Ah, well, next time…

We went to a picnic yesterday.

Lincoln Liquefied Gas TrainWe were on a list that got an open invitation to attend a “foster family appreciation picnic” at someone’s ranch in Chandler, OK yesterday. It was for families like ours as well as families who work in foster care in some capacity. The email promised a “cook out, horse-back riding, fishing, hay rides, face-painting and just a great afternoon in the wonderful outdoors.” Craig was out of town this weekend and I’m generally always on the hunt for things to do with a large group of kids that fits the following categories: fun, free (or cheap), and takes a lot of time. This one seemed to fit all three, so off we went.

Kiddie TrainThese kinds of events are usually hit or miss – they are either going to be awesome or lame, super crowded or barely attended. We had no idea which way this one was going to go until we got there and when we finally did get there (it was about a 45 minute drive from home) we made a snap judgement based on a quick first impression and I had to rally the 9yo-and-over troops to just hang in there with us for a little bit and to try to see this from a 3-and-4-year-old’s perspective and try to make the best of it. Fortunately for me I didn’t have to convince them too much. All of the girls seemed to have their intuitive switch flipped on yesterday and they quickly figured out that this wasn’t your average rodeo.

Wagon RidesThey embraced it for what it was and off they went: Kiddie Train? Check! Wagon Rides? Check! Horseback riding? Check! Fishing? Check!

Sweet SiblingsAnd once we’d made up our minds that we were going to enjoy this, we did. We’d brought a friend along with us (because what’s another kid when you already have 6?) and there were 8 of us altogether. I told the crew I was comfortable with them splitting up and heading off on their own so long as they had a buddy with them. Maddie reached for A4. Chloe claimed R3. Katie and Anna paired up and that left me with my favorite 9yo. No arguing, no complaining about the pairs, just a family doing what a family does. It was beautiful.

Horse RidingSo why, then, did I almost break down crying on multiple separate occasions while we were there? What went wrong? I’m still trying to pinpoint exactly what it is we all ended up experiencing while we were here, but there was a profound display of the brokenness of our world that someone was making an effort to redeem for one short afternoon, but the irony of the situation was that all of us were there because of some really hard stories, really tough situations, really bad choices made by someone on behalf of someone else. And for a couple of hours we could each forget our own situations, but we were staring square in the face at everyone else’s.

Horse RidingI think my first round of almost-tears came and I started to name what caused them when Millie casually mentioned that we’ve been doing a lot of fun stuff since the boys came. There’s an element of truth in what she said – we never would have come to this picnic had we not been involved in foster care, but I’m not really sure what else she was thinking of at that moment other than some other things we’ve done lately that we would have done anyway whether the boys were living with us or not. But I wanted to focus in on what she was thinking – that it was because of the boys that we were doing fun things and I agreed with her that we had done a few extra fun things because they were part of our lives now. But I asked her to look around at all the kids and families and stories. I said that there is a sadness in that because what most of these kids really need is to be consistently involved in normal family life – to live in a home where they are expected to do their homework, expected to put away their clothes, expected to participate in the family dialogue, expected to love and be loved. And that a lot of these kids didn’t have that. But they did have a series of fun events and I’m not sure what that means for them. We were quiet for a while.

3yo gazingWhile I was at the corral watching some of my crew ride horses and some of them wait their turn, I entered into a conversation with a grandmother who currently has custody of several of her grandchildren. And she told me her story. And I affirmed her for being present in these kids’ lives. And she talked about her own kids and how they weren’t fit to be parents and how she vowed to do everything she could to make sure she kept the kids away from their parents until they got their lives straightened out. And I held back tears.

Brotherly LoveAnd as I was in line for a hot dog and some chips, a little girl, maybe 6, initiated a conversation with me. “This is my 3rd year to come to this picnic!” And I exclaimed on her behalf about how fun that was and how we were rookies as this was our first year and there was a pang in my heart because, Lord? She’s been coming for 3 years? And how many picnics’ worth of foster care will our little guys start measuring time by? And I almost cried again.

Going fishingAnd then there was the fishing – boy, do these boys love to fish. And I don’t. So it was awesome that there were some folks there at the ready, complete with poles and a worm buffet, to be there with those kids. And they did so with such grace, such patience. As one guy was helping us untangle a cord, he casually muttered, “Fishing is just an exercise in controlled frustration,” and I laughed and said, “Sounds an awful lot like parenting, no?” And he laughed, and we kept at the line a little bit longer.

Fishing AngelsAnd one of them took a smoke break and another rummaged a cooler for some sweet tea, though I’m certain he would have replaced that with a beer in a heartbeat if he could have, and I quietly declared them all saints for the day. They laughed and I said, “Maybe that’s the first time anyone referred to you that way, but the work you did here today is important and it matters.” And I thought to myself, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,you did it to me.

We shared the pond with a handful of boys from a local boys’ home and we cheered with them when they caught fish and we listened to them as they dispensed advice on where the best spots were and we beamed with them as they bragged about how many they’d caught that day and for a moment we were family. But it was a fleeting moment and we will likely never see any of those boys again, nor do we even know their names. And I pondered again on how many of these events these boys have attended with strangers-as-family-for-a-moment, who loved well for 45 minutes, but then drove back home to their own quiet lives. And the tears sprang up again.

Picnic BusBecause these boys? They are precious. And sure, I only interacted with them for one short moment, but they were courteous and polite and funny and interesting and…heartbreaking. And I looked at my two guys and I looked back up at them and something in me broke. Because that scene you see above? It’s likely what lies in the future for our two if someone doesn’t step in and soon. And while I’m grateful for the group home these boys can go back to, thankful they aren’t sharing space under a bridge tonight, I wanted to just bring them all back to my house and say, “Be in my family. Let me love you like you deserve to be loved.”

But I couldn’t do that. And this time I actually cried.

Face PaintingBecause who is going to be the keeper of these boys’ memories? Who will they go back to to help them remember the time they got a dragon painted on their cheek and road a horse named Noah and got to help themselves to coolers of sodas?

Who will be the grandparents to their kids? Who will love them for the rest of their lives? Who will be present with them in all of their future joys and sorrows and experiences?

I can’t answer those questions and I don’t know if I will ever be able to. And it makes me cry.

State Piano

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They worked hard for it and today it showed. Proud of these three and another year of piano and persevering through an unusual student/teacher relationship to make it to this. Way to go, girls!

My Six Kids

Oklahoma City RedHawks GameWe took the boys to an Oklahoma City RedHawks game tonight. True, it was no Cardinals game, but it was still baseball. They lasted through the middle of the 7th inning and particularly enjoyed their new hats and yelling, “GO REDHAWKS” at the top of their lungs every time a batter took a swing. Didn’t matter which side the batter was on. They also enjoyed the cotton candy. Yep, they are definitely real kids!

Good times, good times.

Sunday Morning Family Reset

Morning DevotionsI’m not spontaneous very often. Okay, I’m not really “leave the house” spontaneous very often, except in cases where I find a rare weekend of a little freedom and think, “Gee, wouldn’t it make all kinds of sense to use every spare moment of this weekend and, you know, paint a hallway?” I’m that kind of spontaneous, but I’m not really, “Hey, I think I’ll call up a friend and see if they can meet us at the park in 10 minutes” kind of spontaneous. This character flaw of mine actually cost Chloe a friend once upon a time because that friend’s mom was that way and she’d call quite a bit to see if she could drop her daughter off at our place in five minutes or pick up Chloe in ten or some such. I very rarely took her up on these offers and as such, she stopped making them. End of story.

It was just the five of us girls this weekend and while that was all kinds of good for part of it, it was all kinds of hard for another part of it. Something in us just let down our guards and everyone became an easy target for everyone else. There was definitely a mixture of exhaustion and stress playing into that, but if we’re to be completely frank, it was mostly just sin.

Today was really our only and best day to sleep in a little. I didn’t wake up until 8:45 and it was bliss. Millie bunked with me again last night and we just stayed in bed all snuggly warm under the covers for a bit this morning before we defaulted to her on the iPad and me on my phone. We stayed that way for about 15 minutes before I just had this sinking feeling that today was going to take another wrong turn for the Dunham ladies and I needed to do something about it. Stat.

At 9:30 I decided it was time to be spontaneous. I woke up the stragglers and told everyone to put on shoes and a jacket, grab a blanket and a Bible and meet me in the van. We headed off to Lake Hefner for a little family reset time.

I can’t say it was particularly profound, though it was good. And I’d like to say we didn’t sin against each other with our words, actions, or thoughts today, but we did. But I can say we worked a little harder, we were a little more intentional, we were a smidge more loving with each other. And maybe it’s going to take a lifetime of resets to keep working on loving each other well, but it’s worthy work and we will keep at it. By the grace of God.

Massage is Counseling for the Body

First off, I want to say I have great friends. And my great friends think I could use a massage. One set of great friends thought I could use one last August and another set thinks I need one now. As it is, I had THREE gift certificates to go get myself a massage and I have a weird confession to make: I hoard stuff like this. My mentality goes, “I’m going to use that after this really major thing happens because that’s when I’ll need it most.” And then that major thing happens and another major thing pops up so I’ll save it until after that one. You see where this is going. I end up never using them.

So the last gift certificate I received actually came from my church and is for a salon owned by a family in my church (or previously owned, they recently sold it, but still work there, so the connection is still intact and I promise I’m going somewhere with this story really soon). Because I know them and I know that they know that I have this gift certificate, I’m feeling compelled to use it. Soon. But I want to use the others first because I’m anticipating theirs being the best and I want to save the best for last and yes, I realize I’m rambling tonight and I don’t know what to do about that.

So. Today I went to use the one I was given by our Veritas teaching staff as a thank you gift last August. Last. August. Complications, though: the salon changed names and changed locations. But their old website redirected to their new one and the massage therapist was the same, so I took a chance and booked it.

I knew I was in trouble, though, when I arrived and pulled my minivan up right in front of their urban hipster salon and parked right next to the silver, chic motorcycle you see in the photo above. I walked in and got once-over’d by the hot pink haired, full sleeve tattooed receptionist and ID’d as non-hipster from the second I stepped in. She asked if I had an appointment and I told her I did and then I pulled out my gift card and explained it was for their previous name, but that the massage therapist card that came with it was still with them and would they still accept it?

She sooooo did NOT want to accept it. She tried everything she could think of to deny me the right to use the card. She tried the name change, but I pointed out the obvious, that their website redirected to the new one and the massage lady was still the same. She then asked if I’d won the gift card somewhere (like that should matter) but I assured her that, indeed, my friends had paid cold hard cash for the gift card. She then tried the whole “Well, our gift cards expire in 6 months and it’s been 9.” And I made sure she noticed that nowhere on that card did it say any darn thing about an expiration date and finally I think she got the message loud and clear: I was there to get a massage and I was going to use that gift card and I could very well out-reason her, Daffy Duck on my arms or no. She then pushed the health history form at me and told me to fill it in. I did so and nicely placed it back in front of her where she was busy texting in her lunch order or making fun of me on Facebook or some such and she didn’t bother to look up at me again. For five minutes. I finally slid the paper a little in front of her and asked if there was anything else I needed to do. She mumbled that I would be called shortly.

I’m going to stop right there and say to businesses everywhere: your receptionist is your first impression. This is true for doctor’s offices and for salons. I’m doing this place the courtesy of not naming them in this post, but you can better bet I will seriously think twice about stepping in there again. Unless I’m given another gift card. *grin*

But now I’m moving on because the massage therapist came out and she had a glowing white halo hanging above her head and she led me back to the room and she was quiet. And for the next hour I forgot all about Miss Hot Pink Hair out front.

It was while I was in there, though, that it occurred to me that getting a massage was equivalent to getting counseling, only for your body. I mean, you go, maybe reluctantly, or maybe enthusiastically, because you have a general idea of need or a desire to improve. And while you are in there, that happens, but in the process of that happening you are made aware of even greater need and you perhaps walk out of there in more pain than you walked in with, but in a different area, and you now know that that place you thought you needed to deal with is really small potatoes compared to the area you REALLY need to deal with.

And maybe you think one visit is sufficient, but really you’ve only opened up the issues and it will take subsequent visits to continue working on your newly exposed issues.

And suddenly you are grateful that you have three gift certificates instead of just one because, darn it, you are going to go again next week and the week after that. And just maybe by the end of it all you will feel normal again.

Or maybe you will just lie there psychoanalyzing your massage to death while getting it and come to the conclusion that what you really need isn’t so much a back rub, but a real live counseling session from psychic aware organizations like Askyourguide.

But then you will realize just as quickly that all your over-analyzing is true and if you go to a counseling session you will uncover thousands of things you’d rather not bring up at this point in time, so it’s probably better just to let that one go for now. And maybe get another massage instead.

Fish Photo Bomb

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Katie, eager to show off her newly minted Wikki Stix mask, asked if I might want to snap a photo. Not to be left out of the fun, Millie’s Wikki Fish decided to swim in as well. And that’s pretty much how this day rolled.

The boys are spending the weekend with a sweet, sweet couple and the 5yo girl they are fostering. I was a bit surprised by how conflicted I actually was when I dropped them off. I really only anticipated being relieved to have a little break for the weekend, and believe me, I am, but I still felt this weird, “When would you EVER drop any of your kids off with strangers for the weekend?” guilt. Alas, and sadly, the boys are SO trusting because they’ve learned to be and they were shy, but they didn’t question the situation. We did hug them about 4 times and I promised I’d be back on Sunday to pick them up before church. Here’s why they are away for 48 hours:

We’re heading to Tulsa super early tomorrow morning (okay, super early may be a slight exaggeration, but we have to leave at 7:45 on a Saturday morning and it’s going to feel super early…) to participate in the Walk and Roll for ALS Awareness on behalf of my mom. There are a lot of unknown variables to this time and it seemed best to have the boys stay elsewhere. Then we will dash back to OKC to prepare for the Veritas 8th grade class Oral Presentation Night. Once again, not the best environment for two preschool boys, particularly two who have been on the go all day and not napped as would have been the case had they been with us all day. Then on Sunday morning we will participate in the kids’ one mile run at the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. Remember that bit about unknown variables? Just seemed to make more sense to pick them up afterwards.

As it is, the six of us are enjoying what is perhaps the first Friday night we’ve had in 2013 with just the six of us at home, quiet, on a Friday night.

Blessings.