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

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.

Strike Beyond the Surface!

Recently in my Wing Chun group as the students were training with hitting pads, the lesson I emphasized was to hit beyond the pad; don’t just hit the surface!  I repeated over and over and then I had to demonstrate it for them to hit at the point that is beyond the surface.  When I showed them, they saw and felt the level of power that was generated, which had nothing to do with an increase in my musculature or pounding the surface harder.  It had to do with where I was focusing.  I recognized a target that I couldn’t necessarily see but perceived was there.  The tendency of the students was to simply strike the surface of the pad, which meant they were just hitting the lining.

I think we often tackle issues in life in the same way.  We are allured to hitting the surface issues of life, character and problems only because, frankly, that’s what we see in front of us.  We tend to focus on what are in front, but these are often not the critical matters.  When we target only the surface, we fail to realize that the main issues lie beneath.  And most likely, the deeply embedded issues fuel the problems and challenges we experience on the surface.  In other words, they are the roots of our difficulties.  How often do we struggle with the same marital problems, self-esteem issues, financial troubles, emotional ailments, etc. because we only hit the surface.  In the end, we run the hamster wheel of repeatedly and tiresomely attacking the surface matters and never really making a substantial dent in the root issues that allows us to triumph and move forward.

It reminds me of the lesson Jesus taught when he healed a paralytic (Mark 2:1-12).  When this physically paralyzed man was brought before him, he did something unexpected – he forgave the man’s sins.  A person looking on might think Jesus missed the point.  Obviously, this man’s problem was that he was physically incapacitated, so what he really needs are his legs healed.  Right?  Did Jesus not see that?  Or, perhaps Jesus saw something beyond the man’s problems on the surface; he saw the condition of the man’s soul and nature; he saw the man needed the healing grace of God for the restoration of his human condition, and the physical ailment was just a surface matter.  It was suspected back then in the Judaic religion that physical handicaps could’ve been judgments from God for sins in his life.  So by forgiving this man’s sins, Jesus met the spiritual needs of his soul and in turn restored also his broken body.

God is insightful and precise in targeting the real problems of our lives.  We think it’s financial.  We think it’s relational.  We think it’s circumstantial.  But really our issues are spiritual, and the spiritual affects all other areas.  God wants us to ask the spiritual questions of who He is, what He says and what He wants.  He wants us to address the conditions of our souls, our secret sins, and our relationships with Him (or lack thereof).  While we fret over troubles on the surface, God is like a fighting coach in our corner screaming at us to strike beyond the surface!  Don’t just hit what’s in front you!  Because unless you hit the real target, you’ll never knock out the challenge you’re facing.

Fighting Well in Relationships

Sometimes when I counsel a person about relationships, two things tend to come out from the person: he doesn’t want to lose her but, darn, this is hard.  My general response is if it’s that important to you, you have to expect to fight for it.  The wonderful and beautiful things of life don’t come easily.  Superficial relationships are easy because you never have to fight for them.  They can come and go and wouldn’t phase you.  But it’s the truly significant, meaningful relationships that we put ourselves through the pains and aches of fighting for.  And I believe we do so, because we genuinely believe that we would rather spend a lifetime fighting for this person than to spend a life without that person.  I know it feels bad fighting with someone but it’s not so bad to have found someone you feel is worth fighting for.

A common counsel I give to couples is to learn to fight well.  Fights are guaranteed.  If you don’t fight, you’re not in the norm – not that it’s necessarily bad, but it’s not the norm.  If it is a significant, deep, and meaningful relationship, fights are likely because you put more of yourself into it, you invest more into it, you expect more out of it, you depend more on it, you hope more from it and you make yourself more vulnerable to it.

So fights are assumed.  I think the goal is to fight well.  One of the keys to fighting well, that I counsel couples on, is to redefine what it means to fight with each other.  Don’t fight with each other as in you’re fighting against each other (e.g. blaming, accusing, judging, demeaning, attacking); this kind of fighting uses the pronoun, “you” a lot – you did this, you don’t do that, I hate it when you say that, why didn’t you do that?

The redefinition of fighting with each other is where “with” means alongside.  Fight alongside each other.  There’s an issue between us – how can we tackle this?  We are all messed up to some extent.  We have our past, our insecurities, our quirks, and our brokenness that we bring into a relationship.  To be lifetime partners means: how can we fight with each other against the issues that we face and stand in our way?   Fighting alongside each other as partners uses the pronoun, “we” a lot.  It’s a shift in mentality where you don’t see the other person as the enemy or object of blame.  The other person is your soulmate, your partner… your batman.  Instead of fighting each other, fight the problem and don’t make each other per se to be the problem.  Fight the insecurities in the other person, fight the inability in the other person to trust, fight the past burdens you both have carried, fight the poor communication…but fight against these together.

Fights can feel pretty bad at times.  But victories are always sweeter!  Expect to fight for the relationships, marriages, and significant others that are important to you.  I think this is one of the practical applications to the biblical virtue of love being patience (1 Corinthians 13:4).

When you got the fighting down, the other f-word is forgive.  Fight well, forgive generously.  In so doing, I think we begin to mirror and understand how God has been loving us.

Well, that’s my relationship hodge-podge for today.  Hope it blesses you.

Wins & Losses in Our Foster Adopting

My wife and I are in the waiting process to be finally certified as foster parents, and THEN we begin the wait to be matched with a child.  2 months passed between the last two appointments we had with our social worker and now it’s been another week and a half since our last meeting with her, which is supposed to be our last.  Now we wait for her finish up the report on us and see if we are certified.  Our social worker is great but this process feels like forever!  On top of us getting fidgety from waiting, we’re also nervous about losing the baby.

But that’s the risk with adopting through the foster system.  We want to meet a real domestic need in our country where children are removed from their parents for the child’s well-being and these children need parents.  But the court offers the birth parents a period to get their act together, whether it’s ditching the drugs or the abusive boyfriend.  If the birth parent does all she is supposed to do according to court order, then she can get her baby back.  It would be heart-breaking for us I’m sure if that happened after having loved and parented a child for anywhere from 6 to 18 months.

But during our present waiting period, it has given my wife and I the time to refine the focus of our hearts in this foster adoption.  Our focus is one of grace.  It’s grace to the child if the child loses her birth parents and we are able to adopt her and offer her a family.  It’s grace to the birth parents if they earn the right to get their child back and we were able to care for their child and encourage them along in the meantime.  How can we not celebrate if we get the chance to permanently welcome a child into our lives for a lifetime?  But at the same time, how can we not celebrate if the birth mother overcomes some major demons in her life and achieves a healthy place to parent her own child again?  We have to see that the outcome either way will be a win.  The strange dilemma is while the outcomes are a wins, there is also pain in either outcome because it means someone has lost something whether it is us or the birth mother.  I think even if we were able to adopt the child permanently, my heart will still grieve for the birth mother who lost her child.  Is it possible to celebrate a victory and feel the hurt of loss at the same time?  Is it possible to feel like we won but there was a loss at the same time?  I think so.  It seems like a conundrum.  Mostly we think to put ourselves in a win situation and avoid the loss.  But I think when we strive to genuinely love and offer grace in the midst of brokenness, experiencing both win and loss is not uncommon.  The danger is in striving to live only in the win, we dismiss ourselves from exercising and experiencing real and profound grace.

Thank you for keeping up with us as we go through this foster adoption process. I will try to write more on it as we go through it.

Why Do We Keep Doing What We’re Doing Even When It Hurts

My wife and I have been going through a foster adoption application process (so we haven’t been certified yet but hope to be).  We’re part of a group of applicants going through the process, which involves taking classes.  In one of the classes, they brought in a guest speaker who was a veteran foster mom.  And by veteran, I mean she has fostered 43 children and adopted 4 of them.  Needless to say, all of us were astounded at the staggering number of kids she fostered, where she would’ve spent 6 to 18 months with a child.  In this class session, we were discussing the emotional difficulties of “letting go” of the child, which can be the case depending on court orders.  The tension is that to be “good” foster parents you’re expected to love and care for the child like the child is your own, but until the adoptions are finalized you may “lose” the child back to the birth parent at any time in the process.  For this particular veteran mom, it was not her intention to adopt all 43 children.  She fostered the other 39 kids because it was her intention to provide the foster care.

In the room of about 50 people, I raised my hand to ask the obvious question I believed was on everyone else’s minds as well.  “Since you’ve fostered a total of 43 children, how have you emotionally and personally dealt with letting go of the ones you didn’t adopt?”  She said, “We cry each time.  It’s very difficult.  My husband said, ‘The day we stop crying over letting go of the child is the day we have to stop being foster parents.’”  She explained more about the emotional joys of having a child for a period and the difficulties of letting that child go, especially after you have welcomed that child in as a part of your family and loved him/her if even for a brief period.  She believed strongly that the time she has with the children leaves a mark on them that will stay with them all their lives.  But I thought the next question I believed others thought too but no one asked, how could you keep doing this?  How could you keep putting yourself through that kind of pain each and every time?  As my wife and I go through this process, we dread the possibility of “losing” the first child we foster – we hope to adopt.  Though, we know the probability of us not being able to “keep” the first child we take in.  The veteran mom, however, answered the question that was on my mind and she said something simply that stuck to me.  She said, “We do this because we believe it’s our calling.”

Calling.  There’s that word again.  What does it exactly mean?  I think most people desire to live for a calling.  It means you’re living for something greater than the satisfaction of your own desires even at the risk of pain and at the expense of peace.  Normally, we would avoid pain.  The simple humanistic rule is to pursue pleasure and avoid pain.  But when would we choose pain?  When would we willingly, consciously and intentionally choose to put ourselves in a place where pain is a likely result?  For this veteran mom, she bore her pain every time she let go of a child she fell in love with as her own son or daughter.  But she willingly bore that pain by choice because that pain had purpose.  The purpose was found in the calling.  The satisfaction she found in life was not pleasure per se (though there is reward in knowing the difference you made in the child’s life) but in the fulfillment of that calling.  In the foster classes, they keep reminding us: this is about the children not about the parents.  That’s our focus.  I think one of the powerful aspects of having a calling in life is you learn the virtuous, noble meaning of being a servant.  You learn to serve.  The foster parents I saw in the room with me were servants.  In living for what pleases us, we only know how to live for ourselves.  In living for a calling, we learn to serve that calling.  That’s when pain has purpose and pleasure has a new definition in light of the calling.  We begin to understand the meaning of something bigger than us.  I think it’s only when we discover living for something bigger than us is life worth living.

Is the Grass Always Greener on the Otherside?

Ellen and I met a guy visiting from Scotland while we were eating at the Village Pizzeria in Hollywood.  We asked him about places to visit Scotland, and he talked about how much he liked Los Angeles and wanted to live here.  He liked the weather a lot more than Scotland’s where it was unpredictable even during the summer.  He liked the culture, the atmosphere and the economic savings of being in Los Angeles.  One of the interesting things I noticed was how his love for Los Angeles contrasted the many people I heard from who lived in L.A. and were dying to get out of it.  I recalled one lady in our community group last week who voiced her desire to live in Scotland.  She stated positive reasons for living there, which could’ve been paralleled to the reasons for why the Scottish guy wanted to live in L.A.  Is the grass always greener on the otherside?  I think we all wrestle with this mentality.  I have and still do to some extent.   Most would intellectually recognize that living under this view is not good.  But there is an unhealthy and ungodly form of this view and yet a godly and healthy form.

To live under the notion that the-grass-is-always-greener-on-the-otherside, which most do so unconsciously, renders a life that is constantly dissatisfied.  It wouldn’t matter what one has or the circumstances one was under.  This view causes the person to think that whatever I have is not good enough and whatever someone else has or whatever something else can be offered is better.  The problem is once that something else is attained, the feeling of discontent still remains.  The grass-is-greener-on-the-otherside perspective often becomes a distraction from not only real contentment but also from purposeful living.  We can miss the purpose or the calling for why we are where we are when we are caught up in longing for the grass on the otherside and feeling disgruntled about our present “grass.”  The Bible teaches us to be content in all situations and circumstances, where joy is not bound up in what we have or where we are but is a quality sewn in our souls as a working of the Holy Spirit (Phi. 4:10-11, Gal. 5:25).

However, to be godly people we also need to maintain a view of the-grass-is-greener-on-the-otherside where we do look forward to something else and refuse to settle for what is.  It is a godly virtue and an aspect of faith to strive for what life can become, because we realize that God not only has in store something far better for our lives in heaven but also that God desires to redeem and transform our present world.  To settle merely for this grass on this side doesn’t render change.  Looking for that otherside causes a forward movement in an otherwise broken world, and where there is forward movement, change has to occur.  This means that a certain divine discontent has to remain in the believer of Christ (2 Corinthians 5).  It is that divine discontent that reflects the heart of God.  Because God envisions life to be much more than what it is, so should we.

So a harmonious tension exists in the Christian life.  On the one hand, the Christian knows true joy and satisfaction that is unshakeable by circumstances, where contentment is known in any situation.  But on the other hand, the Christian remains dissatisfied, realizing that life, the world and self need to be transformed into a greater vision.  The difference is twofold: one, the discontentment is rooted in true joy and, two, the discontentment follows the heart of God versus insecure feelings over life.  It’s easy to swing to either extreme, but doing so results in dysfunctional living.  Finding harmony in this tension is the godly art of living.