Archive for category Adoption

Congratulations, Michelle

I’ve known Michelle Higgins for about 20 years. We were in the youth group together at New City Fellowship (PCA) in Chattanooga. We also attended Chattanooga Christian School together where we both sang in the choir and even performed in a stage adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” together. (I was Mr. Darcy and Michelle was the mother, “Mrs. Bennett.”) Later, in college, we were ministry interns at that same church for a summer where we had some crazy times learning about how to love and serve as church staff. Later, we were able to hang out again when she and her family relocated back to St Louis where I currently live. Michelle came here to get her MDiv from Covenant Theological Seminary, the denominational seminary of the Presbyterian Church in America. Since then, we’ve been able to collaborate on a number of events and our churches, New City Fellowship in St Louis (PCA) and South City Church (PCA) have been able to grow together as sister congregations in our presbytery.

I finally got to watch her talk this morning (I’ve been chasing my kids around, gimme a break) and I want to say that I personally endorse and support everything she said. I know she’s getting flack about what was said about adoption/abortion, and I want to say a hearty “AMEN” about her comments. I am now an adoptive parent and I have been a foster parent of 10 other children. I believe that abortion is murder, but the church in America can’t shout about abortion legislation without putting foster care and adoption in that same conversation.

If you watch her message at Urbana 2015 and think that she’s “blaming white people” or promoting hate of some kind, then I’m sharing all this to let you know from my personal experience that Michelle Higgins loves White folks. Her life is a testimony of the reconciling power of the Holy Spirit to break down the walls of division. In my 20 years of knowing her, she has been a compassionate and prophetic voice to both White and Black folks (and more).

I deeply respect her for being willing to say things that will get criticized. I’m not too comfortable even writing this endorsement because of the flack that I might get! But we need prophetic voices to say these things and not flinch. So, Michelle, thank you and congratulations for how God is using you at such a time as this.

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What I learned taking a week off from leading worship

A few weeks ago, I took a weekend off from leading worship. I had a good excuse: I was adopting my foster son into our family forever. The adoption happened on National Adoption Day, on a Saturday morning, so I was not going to be at rehearsal. It was also a good opportunity to sit with my wife and kids through a whole service at our own church to see what it’s like to be one of the congregation. It was not as hard as I expected to be one of the worshipers who is not in control of the music. In fact, I was very thankful afterward for what I experienced because it made me more excited to get back into my job and lead.

Distractions

One thing I learned was that there are a lot of factors that the musicians have no control over that distract our people from the singing. We came in right as the service was starting so I was not exactly focused until the middle of the first song. Then my kids were a big distraction. They ask questions, squirm, make noise, wander off, cry, or just about anything else they can do to occupy my attention. As a music leader, this gave me a renewed sense of peace that those people who seem to not be engaged on Sunday are not necessarily that way because they are unspiritual or I am doing a bad job. It could be just that they are not as prepared, unfettered and focused as the music director gets to be. So I want to give myself and the people I serve some grace because there are a lot of distractions. I also want to be more deliberate about doing what needs to be done to focus attention on the worship process – parents and kids alike.

Mistakes

There were a few mistakes the week I took off. They weren’t major, but they were noticeable. Some mistakes were only known to me because of the inside knowledge I have about song form or whatever. The good news is that despite the mistakes, my participation as one of “the people” was not derailed by a few gaffs from the leaders. I looked at the team that was leading, my friends, and their mistakes were not that important. It was actually endearing to watch as they worked around the problem and came out on the other side without getting mad or breaking down. As a leader, this gave me more peace about the process of preparing for worship. We can mess up! It’s not we should be deliberately negligent to prepare because love and hospitality require that we make an effort to do a good job. However, the fear or failure in performance is not there if you know that you are leading for family, not judges.

Joy

I love my job. I enjoy leading. Taking a week off made me miss my job and want to get back in the saddle. I believe that the Lord has given me gifts and passion and joy to lead the worship songs. It was a special time to be able to sing with my wife and kids, but we all are committed as a family to my role in our church and it brings us joy to be able to do that. Today, I’m in the office getting songs together, preparing charts, contacting volunteers, and it’s just adding to my excitement about being able to sing and play for the Lord again this Sunday. It’s the best job in the world.

 

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Inertia

Imagine that you and your family are traveling through space in a house shaped rocket. Everyone is moving together within the rocket and getting stuff done. Things are in their places and the people inside are thriving. A new baby is added to the family, but because the baby grows in the mother’s womb, the baby doesn’t affect the trajectory of the rocket.

Now imagine a 3 year old joining the rocket family. The 3 year old arrives by riding an asteroid that slams into the side of the rocket. Everyone and everything is tossed around and mixed up. Life in the rocket gets completely disorganized and chaotic. Within the first days of the traumatic event, the family gets things stabilized. Meals resume. Sleep happens. Emotions return to normal. Within the next few months, they slowly get stuff put back in it’s place and they start to thrive again. The addition of a new family member creates some new logistical challenges that have to get worked out. Can they make these changes work in the limited space and resources of the rocket?

How did the asteroid happen to strike the rocket? The child and his asteroid were traveling through space in one direction when they met the rocket moving in another direction. Their life immediately took a new turn when they slammed into the rocket. They have a lot to learn on the rocket about how things work and who does what job. Life on the asteroid was very different. Now they are on the rocket and they have to adapt in order to thrive.

A reality starts to set in for the rocket family and their new child. The rocket is now on a different course because of the impact of the asteroid. They were heading one way and now they are heading in a new direction. How do they get back on course? How long will it take? Do they even need to return to the old direction? What has been lost as a result of this change?

About 2 years ago, my family and our “rocket” was struck by an asteroid with a crazy 3 year old ball of chaos and questions and fears and giggles and songs. Our family was thriving and doing our thing, but when we got hit by this change, the trajectory of our lives was forever altered. Even 2 years later, we are still trying to put our lives back together into some form of order. But, it’s not really going to ever go back to what it was. Especially because in a few weeks, we are going to legally adopt this asteroid baby. Then we are going to baptize him into the covenant family with a new name and a new trajectory for his life and ours.

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wpid-img_20140529_184624.jpgI might be entering into a phase of life when the basic work of living life takes up all my time such that there’s no time left for contemplative  activities like writing. Living life right now consists of some fun new developments that are part of my calling to follow Jesus. He has invited us into some scary places, but His rod and staff are a comfort and the yoke He has placed on our shoulders is both “the cross” in that it costs everything and yet it is also “the empty tomb” because it gives everlasting life.

Currently, my family is hosting two foster children. One is a 3 year old  boy who is a non-stop flow of questions and energy. He has been with us for 6 months now and he is still wrestling with both the trials of his formal home as well as the loss of his former life.  The other foster placement which we just received last week  is a 4 week old infant who is still a little bit in shock that the womb-home of her mother has been replaced with a loud and crazy home of big kids, dog barking and strange caregivers. Currently, she needs to be held and rocked and swaddled almost constantly when she is awake.

Fostering is a strange life. It’s hard to describe it to people who haven’t lived it. It’s both intensely personal as you become “Daddy” overnight to a stranger and yet it’s intensely impersonal as you are treated with cold, professional indifference by the vast bureaucratic  web that these kids are caught up in. Foster parents are asked to love and nurture a child in their home as one of their own all the while knowing that at any moment a phone call could bring an abrupt end to your relationship with this child.

The other thing that I have going on this summer is a little project in the works that a few of my colleagues and I are cooking up. We have called it the “Worship Ministry Workshop” and it’s a kind of low-key conference to encourage and equip our volunteers. I’m working together with Michelle Higgins and Mary Higgins from South City Community Church and Jules Gikundiro and Adina O’Neal from New City Fellowship – South to put this together. The plan is that we will give our volunteers an time to draw near in intimacy with Christ without rehearsal agendas, to receive gospel-refreshment directed at our particular struggles as worship musicians, and then to share some of our vision for what God can accomplish through our teams.

At this time, I am filled with anticipation for what God is doing  in his musician servants in St Louis right now. The ground is tilled and the season is approaching for a Spirit-filled movement in this city to see a new thing come into being, a new wine-skin of songs and expressions for a new generation of saints. I mean something bigger than the next flavor-of-the-month music trend. I’m talking about a revival of the Holy Spirit working to heal and restore this broken, fractured city into the family of Christ. Of course, he’s always at work, but I just feel like his Spirit is opening the eyes of my heart to see how vast his love is for this community.

You can learn more and register for the Worship Ministry Workshop here: http://wmw.ticketleap.com/worshipstl/

WorshipMinistryPromo

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Foster parenting and the polar vortex

It was interesting to see all our friends posting pics of their families out sledding, making blueberry waffles and snuggling in front of a movie during their snow-cations this week. In our home, we had a little bit different scenario. Sledding was not an option mainly because our 2 year old foster son is a toddler and not quite able to hang with his foster siblings physically mostly because he is extremely small for his age. Blueberry waffles might have been nice, but in general, our toddler FS is locked into a daily routine which involves a series of predictable events beginning with picking out a packet of instant oatmeal for breakfast. He doesn’t respond well to a suggestion like, “Instead of picking out your oatmeal like you do every morning, why not delay eating for about 45 minutes while we fire up the waffle iron?” What about sitting on the couch and watching a movie? Toddler FS is not able to quietly focus on something for that long. He can watch about 10 minutes of Sesame Street before he’s roaming around the room looking for something to do. More often then not, he’s climbing in my wife’s lap or my lap and grabbing our faces to get our attention. A lazy morning of TV is not an option. 

However, there were some really good times in our home during the polar vortex event of 2014. We made doughnuts from scratch and let the kids help (a few meltdowns and timeouts here and there). We had home made hot chocolate with made from scratch marshmallows (my wife is a real “homemade” geek as you can tell.) We painted our kitchen wall with chalkboard paint (after the kids were in bed) and then let them decorate it the next morning. We had dance parties, hootenannies, wrestling matches and other gross motor skill outlets. The snow storm has also forced us to be fully present in our kids lives for 5 days instead of dropping them off with someone else or escaping to our screens all the time. Even though the storm outside was often matched with a storm of  conflict and discipline inside, I am thankful that we were considered worthy to become like Jesus in his suffering for the opportunity to live-out incarnate love.

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Death, Taxes and the Word of God

Last night, I was getting our federal and state taxes done. As an employee of NCF, I don’t make a ton of money. I’m not boasting about that; I’m just sharing to let you know that I usually expect a refund after taxes. However, the outlook is not pretty this year. It looks like we will have to pay a chunk to the tax man this year.

Doing the taxes was a process of reviewing the year of 2012 for my family. It was a sad reminder of some of the trials that we have had to go through. There were the medical bills from my son having his finger amputated. There were 3 trips that we made to attend the funerals of our grandparents. There was all the extra income that my wife and I earned which basically all went toward an adoption that failed (by the way, you don’t get to take the adoption tax credit for an adoption that never happened.)

Needless to say, I went to bed last night a little angry with God. In my anger, I was asking questions like, “why do we have to pay taxes out the nose when we’re down here doing the work you called us to?” “Paying taxes on income that was lost on  a failed adoption – why don’t you give me a nice paper-cut and pour lemon juice on it?” “When do we get a break, God?”

At the same time, I have these songs stuck in my head. I’m listening to a lot of new music that I’m planning to introduce in the next few months. I’m really excited about these songs, and I’ve had some of them on repeat in the office all day. So, last night, the songs keep floating up to the surface of my thoughts as I’m trying to be mad at God. One song, that we are going to sing this Sunday, is a Brenton Brown/Andi Rozier tune called “Word of God”.

Jesus, faithful Word of God
The anchor of my heart
You’re everything You say You are, Lord
Greater than my deepest needs
The ground beneath my feet
Your promises won’t fail me now

The line “Greater than my deepest need” started to work on my bitterness. Is this what I really believe? Can the Lord Jesus meet us in the places of our deepest need? When the reality of our lack of money smacks us in the face, can the Lord Jesus be greater to me than my deepest need. I can testify that the Word of God, communicated through these songs was “the anchor of my heart” when my trials, the storms of fear and weakness, threatened to dash my hopes against the rocks. The old Ben Franklin quote “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes” is a lie. The Word of God is the only firm foundation. His promises stand forever, and they will never fail us.

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Our New Foster Placement

Monday afternoon, we received word that a newborn baby girl was at the hospital who needed a foster family to take care of her. We said yes, and the next day, we brought her home. It was her first few days of life and already, she was in the middle of a family crisis so bad that we needed to be her parents for a little while.

My family and I have been on a circuitousness path that has brought us to foster care. We were a pre-adoptive foster home that ended in a mess, and we have been through a failed private adoption. Finally, God opened our eyes (mine in particular) to how foster care is actually the place we need to be right now.

The big difference between fostering and adoption is that foster care is all about “reunification”. The big goal of fostering is to see the child’s parents restored to the point where they can be reunited with their child.  If that doesn’t work out, the team of professionals  looks at the other options for the child like relatives or an adoptive home. I had always backed off of foster care because I knew our desire was to be an adoptive home. I thought we can’t work toward reunification when we actually wanted to adopt. It’s a conflict of interest.

God opened my eyes after our private adoption last year failed. We lived out the worst case scenario that everyone dreads. We had taken this little boy home, given him our name, and then he was taken away. At the same time, we got to know his mom and saw how much this adoption broke her heart. No mom or dad should ever have to lose their child. God showed me that my kids, Joanna and Sam, would never be taken from us. He showed me that if we sacrificed the promise of adoption as the end goal, then fostering fit much better with our abilities, opportunities, and desires.

Kids need help from the church. Kids without parents need to be adopted. Kids with parents who have decided that it’s impossible to be a parent right now need to be adopted (not killed in the uterus). Kids who have been abandoned by their parents need to be adopted. Kids who have parents who are in trouble need people to help their parents through fostering. My point is that the happy ending for a child isn’t always adoption.

So we have this beautiful baby girl living in our home now. We have to be her parents right now so that her parents can get the help they need to be safe and nurturing parents. We are happy to see that there is a good outlook for reunification. We are happy to share that ministry with our kids. We are happy that we can be used for the kingdom. We are happy to follow Jesus’ words and deeds by caring for the orphan (even if “orphan” is only temporary state).

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Leading Us In Paths Of Righteousness

On the heals of my 33rd birthday, I’m following the Good Shepherd as he faithfully continues to lead my family and I into paths of righteousness.

  • My kids are completing their 3rd week of school and I have never been more thankful for the work of righteousness being fulfilled  at the Freedom School.
  • Last week, I was able to share music at the wedding of a former drug dealer and gang-banger who is now walking in faith and living in grace.  He requested one song in particular, “What’s Gonna Make Me Long” by my dad.
  • On Sunday, my wife had the first of what we hope will be many dinners with our Music Team volunteers. She hopes to have everyone on the team over for dinner in groups of 3 or 4 until we’ve hosted all of them. We are so thankful for the work of righteousness that God is doing through the NCF music ministry.
  • On Monday, we met with our friend Emily Nienhuis, who works for One Heart Family Ministries.  The Lord seems to be leading us back into the world of foster care. As a family, we have been through a lot of disappointments in the past 2 years. It’s been so hard to trust our Good Shepherd in the “valleys” as well as in the “green pastures”. More and more the Lord is bringing us to a place of complete dependence and trust for daily grace. We are going to get re-licensed to foster hopefully in the next two months. We plan to complete 9 weeks of training in 6 weeks, so there’s that to look forward to.
  • On Tuesday, my wife and I went downtown to buy the empty lot next to our home at a land tax sale. This process has brought a deeper sense of community with our neighbors who purchased the other half of the lot. It’s also given me a new appreciation for my neighborhood and the works of righteousness that God is doing in the great city of STL!
  • Yesterday, I led a group of NCF musicians who shared their gifts at the St. Louis University School of Public Heath Convocation. We had a great time, and it stretched us all to play our music in a different context. I’ve already said it, but I am so thankful for my team!
  • What’s next? Choir rehearsals start next weekend as well as NCF’s 20th Anniversary Celebration.

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The Purpose of Suffering

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. – 1 peter 3:10

Restore

The body of Jesus Christ was dead, laid in the grave, sealed with a stone, rotted for a day, and then he was restored to become the first of the new creation.

Confirm

Jesus Christ was accused, rejected, betrayed, and murdered. All that he said about himself and all the promised words of the Father appeared to be in questions until they were confirmed by the power of the resurrection.

Strengthen

Jesus Christ assumed a position of total dependence and humility with the Father. The fullness of his power was demonstrated by submission to being executed for crimes he did not commit. In the resurrection, his power was completely manifested over the curse, over death, and over every power in heaven and earth.

Establish

The finished work of Christ in his suffering on the cross and defeating death in the resurrection established a kingdom of light that will never pass away.

 

Suffering was the means by which Jesus became Lord and King. Now, as his sons and daughters, we participate in his suffering. The God of all grace has called us to his eternal glory in Christ, and so that these same qualities will be brought to expression in our lives, we are calling into suffering. His love for us and his purposes for us in his kingdom must include suffering.

Can you be restored without suffering?

Can you be confirmed without suffering?

Can you be strengthened without suffering?

Can you be established without suffering?

There is no short cut through Jesus words, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

 

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The story behind “How Deep The Father’s Love For Us”

I love to hear other songwriters talk about their craft. It’s a mix of mysterious inspiration and intentional choices. I’m a huge fan of Stuart Townend’s songs.

At about 1:00, he starts talking about the poetry. There’s a lot there that reminds me of the tragedy of adoption and the tragedy of the cross that I wrote about previously.

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