This past year, in a hard and painful but right-for-right-now decision, we let our license as a foster care home expire. We spent the whole past decade orienting our lives around helping the children and families in the system, and it was a big piece of identity to let go.
Truthfully, I used to pray for the day our lives would be normal again. “When we’re done doing foster care” seemed like a goal that would be the end of explaining and defending our lives, as well as blessed relief from the end of the upheaval of not knowing how many people would actually be in our family from one day to the next. I thought I would not miss the chaos, but the day after was truly bittersweet.
It didn’t take long for me to fill the hole foster care left in my life with continued work in the system, this time as a CASA volunteer. CASA volunteers perform the role of guardian ad litem in the court system. It is our job to be the voice for the child in each case. This past week, due to a scheduling circumstance, one of my children accompanied me on one of my visits to see the kids I'm currently advocating for.
I worried about what she would think because sometimes it’s hard to not judge others for not having the same standard of living we enjoy, and this family definitely has a different standard of living. I know what most people see when they look at their homes and lives. I shouldn’t have worried. She’s a kid who is now used to seeing pain and poverty. She spent the whole ride home talking with me, and not about what was wrong with the home we’d visited as I expected – she spent her energy talking about what was right. What the parents did well, what the home had to offer for the kids, even her observations on the kids’ demeanor and behavior. Her entire perspective is changed.
I needed this breath of fresh air as a mama of children that have given up more than most, continue to disclose trauma to us that we previously were unaware of, and will always have scars to bear from the past ten years. I still struggle with my own insecurities and some American-isms on how families should be and how they should operate. Fenced yards, closed doors, family vacations, and all of that. That’s not what our home has looked like, for sure, and sometimes I still battle the lies that that makes me a bad parent. I battle my own desires for comfort and privilege - fancy trips and better vehicles and a finished renovation and no worries about going and doing whatever we want whenever we want, and it’s my children who continually are leading me to something deeper. Something more sacrificial than I want to consider on my own.
I don’t mean this to sound like our kids are the holy models of virtue and uprightness that you can’t identify with. They’re obviously not. They’re normal kids. That’s the beauty of it! They are average kids who are just willing to show up with their possessions, their family time, even their safety on behalf of those who need it most. They’re kids unafraid to pressure their parents into giving when we’d rather not and showing kindness when we’d rather be cynical. While I’m angst-ing (a verb, now. You’re welcome.) over all the dangers and the reasons why not and everything I think might go wrong and all the privileges that I enjoy that I don’t particularly want to give, my kids were always out there in front. Pushing us to lay down our adult notions of what we feel like we deserve and what we feel like we need and asking us to show up for the people who need it most.
My kids look, to me, like the One we’re waiting for: the God who came here, all the while knowing what kind of sacrifice he would be making. Knowing the violence and pain that would be coming his way, He could’ve chosen a home with all the material things to make his life easier, but instead he chose a humble working-class home. He knew how people would talk and judge when they saw the people he chose to hang out with, and he did it anyway.
What are we willing to do knowing the consequences? Where are we willing to show up even if it’s uncomfortable? Who are we willing to associate with – who are we willing to let our kids associate with in order to love others well? What are we willing to sacrifice to live a lifestyle of love?
This is the invitation for all of us this week: Lay it down. Whatever ‘it’ is. Could be money, could be comfort, could be material belongings, could be our illusions of safety, any of it, all of it. Lay it down. Live a down-to-earth lifestyle of love.
Just Beyond Yourself by David Whyte
Half a step
and the rest
There is a road
“Jesus said to all of his followers, “If you truly desire to be my disciple, you must disown your life completely, embrace my ‘cross’ as your own, and surrender to my ways. For if you choose self-sacrifice, giving up your live for my glory, you will embark on a discovery of more and more of true life. But if you choose to keep your lives for yourselves, you will lose what you try to keep. Even if you gained all the wealth and power of this world, everything it could offer you, yet lost your soul in the process, what good is that?”
Come, Lord Jesus. Shine the light of discernment on what our lives show others about your radical call. Transform the way we live to more clearly reflect your sacrificial love. For we pray in your holy name. Amen.
(Rachel Billups from Down to Earth)
SHOW UP FOR YOURSELF
Each week, I’ll share a spiritual rhythm or habit that helps me. Some of them might feel uncomfortable to try. I encourage you to try it anyway - there’s no growth without stretching. If this stretches you too far, however, feel free to pass it by.
There’s been quite a bit of research done on the practices of silence and solitude and how it benefits our lives. It restores energy, helps manage stress, and makes us more adaptable to the world we live in. One study found that it is associated with developing new brain cells in the hippocampus – the part of the brain associated with learning and memory. Recent studies have even found that a personal practice of silence helps us increase empathy for others. In other words, silence is worth the effort it takes to practice, and in this loud, technology driven world, it takes a lot of effort.
Your challenge this week is to find 15 minutes of solitude and silence. This definitely doesn’t have to mean meditation or sitting the entire time, although it could. You can find silence in a lot of different places. On a walk, on your commute, during lunch, in the shower, doing the dishes. The key is to stop the noise. Turn off your phone. Don’t listen to music or talk radio. Ask your family or roommates to respect this time if they happen to be present. Stop and let your brain slow down. Breathe deep.
It’s hard at first. Your brain will tell you all sorts of things that you weren’t previously thinking about, but I’m going to caution you against “battling through”. A battle almost guarantees your silence experiment will fail. Just let the thoughts come, and then let them go. If you don’t stress about thoughts, they’ll come and go much more easily, and you’ll be able to move on. Maybe fifteen minutes isn’t long enough for your thoughts to quiet down – try longer. But eventually your brain will quiet, and the more you practice, the better you’ll get at it.
Show up for this spiritual practice, and I think you’ll be surprised by how it enables you to show up fully present for the rest of your life.
SHOW UP FOR THOSE NEARBY
Here is where the challenge will likely hit home every week. An invitation to show up for others in the every day. And if you do? Please share! I’d love to hear how you make this invitation your own.
A local congregation near where I live accompanies their Christmas and Advent series with this phrase: "Christmas is not your birthday."
It’s a little confrontational, but sometimes we need a kick in the pants to figure out that we have our priorities all out of whack. Here are some ways to remember whose birthday we’re celebrating by following His example of sacrifice.
· Consider giving away as much or more than what you have spent on Christmas gifts this year. Give locally, give globally, give it all in one place, or spread it around. Let’s remind ourselves we’re not the center of the universe.
· For every item that enters your home over the Christmas holidays, through gifts or purchases, give away one item of equal worth or usefulness (i.e. toy for toy, book for book, etc.). This is a practice we’ve been doing with our children for several years now, and not only does it remind them of what really matters and how lucky they are, it also really cuts down on toy accumulation.
· Every time you go through a drive-thru this season, pay for the car behind you as well. Don’t ask how much first; just do it.
SHOW UP FOR THOSE FAR AWAY
Here, each week, I’ll give you a non-profit recommendation to research and consider giving to. We can’t usually show up in person for people around the world, but one thing we can do is support the people who are.
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is, according to their website, “a worldwide ministry of Anabaptist churches. We share God’s love and compassion for all by responding to basic human needs and working for peace and justice. We envision communities worldwide in right relationship with God, one another and creation.”
One of the ways that they do this is through the use of relief kits. Relief kits provide valuable supplies to families whose lives have been disrupted by war or disaster. Last year’s kits went all over the world, including Jordan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea), Iraq, Ukraine, Syria, Lebanon, Haiti, Burkina Faso and Canada. Collecting basic hygiene supplies to fill each kit is a great way to do some of the actual work involved when MCC shows up for these families. Involve your own families with it – get hands on with providing relief for those in the most need. You’ll find lots of resources for learning about the countries and teaching kids about them as well at MCC’s website.
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