Foster Dad 6: Tears Before Laughs

Did you notice babies know how to cry without being taught?  But smiles and laughs are responses we try to stimulate in them by nurturing happiness into them and modeling laughter for them.  Why is it that babies automatically know how to cry but laughter is something we teach them.

I remember our foster baby’s first actual tears, which made his crying all the more real.  Even before he had tear ducts, he knew the behavior of crying.  I also remember my wife’s and my anticipation of his first smile.  We tried tickling him once but he didn’t know what that was.  I made millions of funny faces at him.  We smiled at him all the time.  We said endearing words to him.  We showered him with affection.  We played with him.  We also discerned the not-real smiles.  You know, those facial twitches that weren’t genuine smiles.  We wanted our baby to smile (without the pressure, of course).  And then it came, that first smile with emotion and later that first giggle with delight.  And, we as parents swoon over that.  We feel proud as parents to introduce the emotion, response and reality of joy into a child’s life!

Babies remind us that we are readily aware of our brokenness as humans when we come straight out of the womb.  We have no problem crying as soon as we enter the world.  As infants, we grasp a sense of hardship, struggle and pain.  We somehow know that life won’t be easy and we are not whole.  As adults though, we become wittier in covering up our brokenness.  I can’t say we’re always wiser about dealing with our brokenness as much as we just become wittier in faking our brokenness.  In essence, we are less honest about our brokenness than when we were babes.  Then, like trying to learn to laugh, we go through life in search for happiness.  We look for that good, which the ancient philosophers spoke about.  But like infants who need others to teach them how to smile and laugh, we’re supposed to discover that joy is not something we spontaneously discover by ourselves.  We need others to show us, pour into us, and give to us.  We need family, friends and, most of all, a savior.  I think we’re all striving to have those genuine smiles in a humanity that too readily knows sadness.

Foster Dad 5: 3 Things I Tell My Foster Son Daily

Since the second day we received our foster son, there are three things that I tell him daily: We love you.  God loves you.  Jesus died for you.

I tell him, “We love you,” so he would know that he is safe, accepted in this world, and well cared for.  I tell him this so he would know that we are here for him no matter what and that we are glad he came into our lives.  I want him to know that he is part of our family for as long as God would have him with us and that today he is not rejected, discarded or unwanted.  He is dearly loved.

I tell him, “God loves you,” so he would know that he is not forgotten in this vast world by the One who created it.  I tell him this so that he would know the eyes of the heavenly Father are upon him and that no matter what brokenness, losses or pains he may have faced or will face, he is still and ever will be loved by God.  I want him to know that his life was no accident, but everything about him and his story is a miracle.  I want him to know that grace unbound is available to him.

I tell him, “Jesus died for you,” so that he would know the extent to which he is loved, that his Heavenly Father held nothing back from him.  I also tell him this so that he would know he doesn’t need to be perfect.  He can admit to being broken.  He can feel lost sometimes.  He can be flawed.  He can because the Son of God died as an atonement for his sins to be the grace he needs in every broken part of his humanity.  Whatever he may feel is lacking in himself, Jesus has accomplished for him by his sacrifice.  I tell him this so he would know the incredible act of love that was done for him and that he can accept this grace if he chose.

So today, before he goes to sleep, I will tell my foster son, “We love you.  God loves you.  Jesus died for you.”  Lately, he’s been responding to me with smiles and “coo’s”.

Mourning over My Mentor: Howard G. Hendricks

When a great man leaves this world, it leaves behind a sad emptiness and an inspiring legacy.  It’s like a tragedy that makes you cry but enriches you as a person.  I’ve been crying all day upon learning that Howard Hendricks passed away this morning.  He was an influential mentor to me.  Both he and his wife Jeanne became dearly beloved friends to my wife and me.

“Prof” as he was fondly called, poured into so many lives, including mine.  On a number of occasions, people referred to me as one of “Howie’s boys.”  I learned later that “Howie’s boy” was a term given to those who sat under his mentorship.  I came to proudly embrace the term, however it was not a term of elitism because anyone could’ve been Howie’s boy.  He discipled generously.  It was what he called his “ministry of multiplication.”  In the end, the legacy he left behind were not grand stadiums or shiney trophies, but ever-blazing torches he fanned in the souls of many who would live for God with relentless passion.

As a professor and mentor, he spoke to me candidly.  When I gave my first crack at being a writer, I showed him thirty pages of a book manuscript I wrote.  He read it.  We met.  And he said, “Your idea is great.  Your writing needs A LOOOT of work.  Have you ever taken a writing class ever in your life?”  HaHa.  That instigated me to diligently study writing at seminary.  He’s one of the reasons I disciple others and pour into others’ lives, because he said, “I do this for you so you can do it for others.”  He’s one of the reasons I found my passion in teaching the Bible when he said to me, “You’re the guy we’re looking for” to validate me as a teacher.  He could never be found at fault in building up himself, because he was focused on building up others.  He’s the reason I don’t believe in retirement, that as long as God has me here on earth I’m here to serve Him.  As Prof said, retirement will be in heaven and we have all eternity for that.  He helped me to believe that “the man of God is immortal until God calls him home,” as he exemplified.  But he always said that behind the great man that everyone perceived him to be was his wife Jeanne.  If you met her, you would know what a pair they made and the grace she was in his life.

My wife and I saw him and Jeanne only months ago last September.  I was moved to see an old man who was like a spirited child before God with an unwavering faithfulness.  During our visit with them, I was amused by the few times he repeated to me, “I think I’ve concluded that you have not change a bit!  You look exactly the same!  Incredible!”  Then he laughed.  The most touching moment was when the four of us stood together with our arms around each other in a circle to pray and before we prayed he looked over to Jeanne and said with a big, warm smile, “This is my lovely wife.”  What a man he was.  There are those who inspire by what they teach.  There are those who inspire by what they do.  Then there are those who inspire by who they are.  In his life and in his passing, I am inspired to live well.

My tears of sadness over losing him are paradoxically juxtaposed by delightful visions of him joyously dancing before Jesus with his one index finger waving in the air.  Good-bye, Prof.  I’ll miss you deeply, but I will see you at home one day.w: Prof & Jeanne

Foster Dad 4: Who My Baby Is To This World

As a foster dad, I’ve been touched in the recent weeks by the attention my baby gets and by the effect he has on people.  I can’t walk anywhere with him without being stopped at least a few times by people wanting to see or interact with him.  He is a people stopper.  But what touches me most was noticing the effects he has on others.

I love the joy he brings to others when he spontaneously smiles and causes them to smile.  I love the hope he gives to others when they hear he’s a foster baby and see his present well-being.  I love the love he generates in strangers when they meet him and instantly fall in love with him.  I love the appreciation of mystery he evokes when people look at him, then look at my wife and I, and realize something isn’t matching!  I love how he melts my heart in our conversations together.  I love his sensitivity for peace when I sing to him and his soul quiets.  I love how he stirs others to be inquisitive by his curious nature to look at everything.  I love how he moves others to live when they see his precious life.  I love how he is a reminder of good when they see the purity of his soul regardless of where they think he came from.  I love that he is an inspiration to others by his story of redemption.  I love the encouragement he offers others by him simply living and growing.  I love that in the midst of his broken background he brings so much beauty into this world.

And I love that he doesn’t even know he’s such a blessing to others.

Foster Dad 3: Don’t Get Too Attached (?)

We met with the county social worker handling our little baby’s case.  Besides being inundated with the plethora of appointments we need to take the baby to as part of court and agency required assessments and services, we were also told that if the adoption were to happen, we would not expect it to happen until up to 24 months later!  She told us though that we should know more clearly where things are heading after 12 months!  But during that time, we’ll get no updates on the case’s progress.  So at least for 12 months, we wouldn’t know where things were heading; we would be in the dark for a year.

People have said to us, “Don’t get too attached to the baby because you may have to let him go.”  They suggest we should hold back from the baby, otherwise if we allow ourselves to fully love him and include him in our lives we may get seriously hurt.  It makes sense to protect oneself emotionally; self-preservation is natural and key to living.

But when we look at this child, feel him in our arms and listen to him when he coos, cries and “talks,” we find that we both choose to love him and can’t help but to love him.  We look at him and see that what he needs is not a babysitter but parents.  As of now, we’re called to be his parents at least for this period of his life.  If after a year, he leaves us, he may not remember us and, yes, it will surely break our hearts.  But I have to honestly say my sense of love has been challenged in a practical way.  I’m challenged and called to love him not because I know he will be here for me in my old age, or that I’ll get to be at his college graduation, or that I’ll get to help tie his first tie, or that I’ll get to play ball or Legos with him when he becomes a boy.  I don’t have any of these foreseeable things as certainties in the future.  But what I have with him is now.  And right now, I choose to love him with the risk that in a year this may leave a deep hole in my heart.  I choose to love him because what he needs right now is a father.  I choose to love him because if you could see him like the way I see him, you have to love him.  I choose to feed him, change him, burp him, embrace him, buy toys for him, play with him, sing to him, read to him, talk to him and pray over him… right now.  The love I’m learning and choosing to give is one that expects nothing in return.  It is a love that is offered now with no guarantees for a future.  But I do believe that while I may not have a future with him, the love I sow in him now (though he may not remember it) will leave an imprint on his soul for a lifetime.

Foster Dad 2: What We Need Most

Our foster baby’s first visit to the doctor was memorable.  This was just three days after we received him into our lives.   Aside from finding out some surprising pieces of information that I’m not at liberty to share, I saw our baby for the first time completely without his clothes on.  The doctor tenderly undressed him to examine him.  We knew he was underweight and extremely small even for a newborn, but seeing his thin arms and legs and bony ribs where there should’ve been more baby fat broke my heart.  I had to look away briefly to hold back from suddenly crying in front of the doctor.

With more details and labels that the doctor gave about the baby, we were cautioned that this child needed extra care.  She said their hospital unfortunately sees many of these kinds of cases with infants.  But when she told us that fortunately there are good people like us to care for these children, it shamelessly gave me a sense of proudness.  Proudness in that we can stand in the gap of brokenness for the orphans whom God loves, as the Bible says.

But there was something else the doctor said that stuck to me.  After naming the risks affecting our baby, she said that if this baby is loved well by good parents, he will grow and develop.  That was the medical remedy for our baby – love!  Interestingly, this was the second time that week that I heard someone say to me that if a physically at-risk baby is loved by good parents, he will grow.  Love makes us grow was the principle that echoed through my mind.  I began to think of how true this is not only for us when we’re infants but throughout our lives.  It’s profound to think that of all the things we work so hard for – money, careers, degrees, fame, fortune, or pleasures, the one essential that nourishes our souls and physical well-being is love.  With all the things we desire, the one thing we most covet, whether we realize it or not, is to be loved.  In our contemporary age of relational skepticism and excessive positive psychology, a main social mantra of our day is to love yourself because many have resigned to think that no one will love you as much as you should love yourself.  But the love needed for the soul is not a self-love.  It is a love from another – a love from outside of us.  It’s not enough to generate love within yourself for yourself.  There’s something about receiving love from another that you could not give to yourself.  Love inherently involves an outside person, connectivity and relationality.  Love implies sacrifice, selflessness, empathy, and seeking the good of another.  None of these could be achieved in self-love.  Yes, love makes us dependent.  I know we hate that word, “dependent.”  We like the other word, “independent.”  But that’s why love is humbling – you have to depend on someone else to give you what you cannot give to yourself.

In the same way, our baby is a humble child that has to depend on someone else to love him.  This little infant reminded me of what our lives needed – genuine love.  Money will not nourish our souls – nor gadgetry, nor materialism, nor pleasure.  The love of a good person will.  So love your wife, husband, children, best friend, sister, brother… for your love nourishes them and helps them grow; and they dependently need it from you.

At the end, the doctor asked us if we were in it for the “long haul” with this baby.  I replied immediately, “Yes.”

Foster Dad 1: Accepted and Not Alone

When we got our baby on a Tuesday evening almost a week ago, he arrived as a tiny little thing in a carriage.  One of the first things we noticed was how he responded to being held.  I said to my wife that it seemed he hadn’t been held much, or at least not as much as he needed to be.  That was not surprising since the first 18 days of his life was spent in the hospital in an intensive care sort of room.  We could tell from his body language that every time we held him he soaked it in, not in the sense of delight (though I think that was a part of it) but in the sense of feeling at ease, safe, secure and loved.

It struck me how much an infant who is just introduced into the world understands the most basic human need and knows when that need is not met.  I think this baby wanted to know the answers to two of the most fundamental questions of being human:  “Am I accepted?” and “Am I alone?”  Am I accepted in this life?  Am I alone in this world?  These core questions are questions of the soul.  They need an answer; in the absence of a positive answer everything else we do, pursue or become feels shaken, uncertain and even trivial.  No matter how much money, pleasures, things, achievements or social networks we have, unless we know we are accepted and not alone in this universe, our souls feel empty and our lives feel incomplete.  It’s no wonder that throughout the Bible, God demonstrates in profound, bold and affectionate ways his undying love for his people.  This Christmas that celebrates the birth of Jesus, the Son of God who died for us so that we may have the opportunity by faith to be reunited with God, is a loud cry from the halls of heaven and the quietness of a manger that in Christ we are accepted and we are not alone.

As my wife and I continuously hold our baby, embrace him tightly, shower him with kisses and stroke his little back, we let him know that he is accepted—he’s in our home, our lives, our prayers and our hearts – and that he is not alone—we are here for him and we’re not leaving him for as long as God would keep him in our family.

Thanksgiving: Not How We Normally Understand It

I recently read Philippians 4:6-7 again.  It’s one of those familiar passages that catches your attention because of the result that’s promised at the end of it: the peace of God that guards your heart.  Who doesn’t want peace?  In the urban city centers of L.A., peace is a coveted commodity from the homeless man to the Beverly Hills dweller.  The path to peace is in having the faith to present your requests to God.  But then, the verse tells us something unexpected, atypical and almost illogical.  You’d have to do a double take on it and ponder on it for a moment to allow it to sink in.  It mentions ‘thanksgiving’ but not in a way that we normally understand it.

Thanksgiving is generally thought of as a response to fortune, blessings and favor.  So during the Thanksgiving Holiday, we encourage each other to be thankful by thinking of the good things that you received which may have overlooked during the year.  You thank God for your health, safety, family, a roof over your head, etc.  By doing so, we develop a positive attitude of thankfulness.  But this really isn’t the thrust of these Bible verses when it talks about thanksgiving.

The verses tell us to pray and petition with thanksgiving in our hearts.  The thankfulness does not come after a blessing has been received, after a prayer is answered, or only for things you already possess.  The heart of thanksgiving accompanies the request.  Thankfulness is not merely responsive; it is preemptive and proactive.  Well, how can you be thankful when you haven’t received?  The thankfulness is an attitude of the heart toward God, and it is a way in which you interact with God.  You can talk to God with gratitude and thanksgiving.  Your prayers and petitions can be out of a honest desperation, need and yearning, but it doesn’t have to be absent of thankfulness towards God who hears you, loves you, watches over you, and is able to provide for you out of his wisdom.  In this way, thanksgiving is unceasing and it remains when prayers are answered and when they are not, because thanksgiving is part of the way you pray.  Thanksgiving then is a power to us even in our times of need and not only a reaction in our times of plenty.  It is not in the things you have that give you peace.  It is your secure relationship with God, whom you can cry out to with thankfulness that welcomes the peace of God into your heart.

This Thanksgiving Holiday, seize thanksgiving as a way you pray and not only as a reaction to prayers answered.  Pray for something you have not received yet and try being thankful in that request before God.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Philosophy of Bruce Lee & Yoda

What do Bruce Lee and Yoda have in common where they speak truth into life?  They are two of my favorite celebrities.  Both martial artists.  Both philosophers.  Both hold the same understanding of the difference between well intentions and actualization.  Many of have a number of well intentions, but well intentions alone do not create real changes or events until they are actualized.

Bruce Lee said, “Knowing is not enough, we must apply.  Willing is not enough, we must do.”  Yoda said, “Do or do not; there is no try.”  Knowing, willingness and trying are great starting points for action, but by themselves are not the same as actual happenings or events.  They do not by themselves change circumstances or tangibly contribute to progress until they are applied and acted upon in a definitive way that creates real changes in the conditions of our selves, lives and society.  It is like the difference between potential and realization.  Our society’s extreme emphasis on the psychological optimism of potentials downplays the need for realization of those potentials.  Potentials don’t create real changes.  Realization of those potentials do.  Potentials are simply the possibility of something happening.  Realization requires the commitment, consistency, perseverance, focus and decisive determination to make something actually happen.  Otherwise, potentials that are never exercised or applied never materialize into something tangible nor have any real effect.

Many of us, especially those of us who are artists in this town of Hollywood, have ideas, intentions and dreams.  Where the rubber meets the road, where the child’s play is separated from the adult work, is where those who mature those intentions into actualization.  This principle is true with our dream careers, habits we’re trying to break, relationships we’re trying to mend, health needs we want to meet, and the discipleship we intend to walk.  There’s a vast difference between being just a dreamer and being a creator.  Saying to yourself I really want to do that, I dream of that, or I’ll start that tomorrow doesn’t produce any real effects.

So what is your obstacle?  Mentally, emotionally, circumstantially, physically?  Maybe today is the day that you take the first tangible step to kick that habit, heal from that old wound, practically love that person like you’re meaning to, reconcile that relationship, start that diet, paint the first layer of that painting, write the first paragraph for that story, read the first page of that dusty book, develop the first bar of that song, address that question of life, or take that first step of discipleship in Jesus.  Enough of the mere I know, I want to, and I’m trying to; and let’s apply the decisiveness, belief, commitment, determination, fortitude and perseverance to make it happen.  When we do the good we know to do, we’re not only better for it.  Our world is better for it because we’ve created some tangible measure of good that has a real effect.

Halloween & the Nature of Self-Change

“What are you going to be for Halloween?” is the typical question this holiday.  I enjoy the fundamental principle of being something other than what you are for Halloween.  No one walks into a Halloween party as themselves.  Nobody takes their kid trick-or-treating dressed in their normal Monday school clothes.  That would be sad.  The understanding is you’re supposed to put on a costume, turn into something that you aren’t and be something else.  And it’s understood that the measure of a good costume is how realistic it is.  The more realism, the more impressed people are.  In other words, the more convincing you are that you’ve become what you intended to be, the better the compliments you receive.  I’ve seen some pretty realistic Ghostbuster costumes with proton packs that look like they really would fire.

Whether your child becomes a fairy or a pumpkin and you become Batman or a zombie, the principle is to change yourself.  As long as you become something you are not, that’s fair game.  So you could be a UPS driver, a priest, a nun, or a baseball player.  And the more believable you are, the better!

I always liked Halloween growing up for this very basic principle of changing yourself into something else.  As much as we don’t like change and it causes us stress, change is necessary to our humanity.  Halloween is a great reminder that self-transformation is a key principle in life.  Salvation in Christianity automatically means change because God isn’t just saving us from hell but from ourselves.  He loves us enough to save us from our flawed,sinful and broken state.  A “new creation” is what the Apostle Paul called Christians (2 Cor. 5:17).

But changing well doesn’t come easy.  I’ve seen some very convincing zombie make-up, Darth Vader costumes and Iron Man outfits.  You couldn’t tell they weren’t the real thing.  To make a change that is not shabby where it looks like you “just threw something together,” it takes work.  Being believable takes effort.  It’s honest effort on the Holy Spirit’s part to work in your life and on your part to work with Him.

So this Halloween, I celebrate self-change, where what I become is not who I was yesterday.  I’ll become something better.

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