Adoption Day!

Today is August 20th.

This morning we dressed up real nice, loaded the family into our car and headed an hour away to a small town Texas court house.

Today is the day that we stood before a judge with huge smiles on our faces… hand in hand as one family… to officially make this boy our son.

Joshua Deondre Price

Although he will still go by Deondre, Sara and I wanted to give him a name that had meaning. We felt like Joshua was a good fit for him. Joshua was a man that feared God and that had many obstacles to overcome in his life… many battles to fight. He trusted the Lord through it all… and that’s our prayer for our boy too… that he would walk with the Lord through all of the trials that he may face in this life.

This past year has without a doubt been the most life changing for us. We sometimes sit on the couch at night and try to imagine what life was like those days before we had children in our house. Did we really just eat delicious food almost every night and then watch 24? How was that even possible?

We think back to those early days of him being in our home. Scared. Uncertain. Untamed. He had been through so much, and we had very little clue about what to do with this kid that all but fell from the sky into our living room. Each day brought new challenges that made us realize that we were clueless.

Today we celebrate all that God has done to get us to this place. How He has changed our hearts and placed a love deep inside of us for a boy that we did not know existed for the first 5 years of his life.

It’s really crazy to think about what we may have been doing when he was born. For me, I had just completed my sophomore year at Texas A&M, and was spending the summer working for an inner city ministry in Brenham. During those three months, the Lord really worked in my heart and gave me a love for kids from hard places. I spent many days hanging out in the projects with kiddos getting my eyes opened to the reality of what many people right in our backdoor experience day in and day out. I think my mind would have been blown if I had known that at that very moment, God was bringing a little boy into the world that would one day share my last name and call me “Daddy” instead of “Mr. Ryan”. Crazy how He works to prepare us for things in life.

Adoption isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination. There are so many broken pieces that need to be mended together, and many of those pieces simply may never get the right fit. But, days like this are high points. Adoption day is a happy day for our family and we praise God that Deondre is excited about being adopted by us… although it’s still up for debate about whether he is more excited about getting to drink Coke on this day or being in our family for the rest of his life.  😐

We’re grateful for all the craziness that you bring into our family, little boy. We wouldn’t be complete without you.

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Worship Thoughts: The Solid Rock

As a worship pastor at my local church [New Life], I get the privilege of piecing together a selection of songs each week that can be collectively sung by a group of people in worship. In a very real sense, the songs we sing together represent what we believe about God. They make up the voice of our people collectively.

As I have grown as a leader of worship, I’ve really seen the importance of what it means to tap into the voice of our particular group of people and make sure that what we are singing is an accurate reflection of what our people believe and what we are going through. This is why I am passionate about writing songs for our church to sing corporately as well as bringing in more mainstream songs.

I believe that it’s really important to make sure that we sing things that give an accurate view of what it really means to follow Christ. Yes… it’s a lot of fun to get excited and sing at the top of our lungs about how awesome it is to be in love with God… how every day is better than the last… how our joy is overwhelming. But, the reality is, if you follow Christ for more than a few years, you’ll find yourself in seasons that make you wonder, if every day is supposed to be better than the last, then why am I experiencing so many increasingly worse days right now?

I find great solace in some of the hymns of our faith that, thankfully, are being brought back into our church’s voice.

One of the hymns that most resonates with me as I lead our church body is The Solid Rock.

I had sung this song countless times in my life. But, it wasn’t until this past year that I began to identify with it.

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on his unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood, support me in the whelming flood. When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay.

On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand

As we have found ourselves on this messy journey of fostering and adoption over the past year and a half, I’ve found that I have been relating to the Lord in a completely different way than I did before. As we swim in a sea of uncertainty and deal with behaviors in our child and in our own hearts that we wouldn’t have imagined dealing with at any point in our life, I find it difficult to sing songs that tell only one side of the story.

There is little hope for me to sing “every day with you is sweeter than the day before”… because all that makes me do is doubt that this God exists… or better yet, feel guilty that my life doesn’t match those lyrics.

But, when I can stand [or lay flat on my face] and muster up the words “when all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay”, I’m reminded of the bigger picture.

I can honestly worship a God that calls us to hard things and brings us through what seems like end-of-the-world storms… and be left with nothing else to say but, “All my hope is in You. All my strength is in You.”

It has been a beautiful thing to stand in front of a group of people whose stories I know… Parents dealing with bringing kids from hard places into their family and wondering where the light at the end of the tunnel is… Couples searching frantically for jobs and coming up dry… Women struggling to see the goodness of the Lord in light of their recent miscarriage… Students seeing for the first time that this world is broken. And yet, when we begin singing this song… when those different voices with all sorts of different stories combine, I can feel the energy from our people. A desperate cling to the hope found in our Savior.

It’s a really tremendous thing to be able encounter.

May our churches be filled with sounds and words that resonate with where we are and that point us to a God that is firm through the fiercest droughts and storms.

The [uncommon] Movie Moments of Adoption

Let me be clear… the vast majority of moments in our home are far from note worthy, melt-your-heart, “I’m saving the world” moments. We spend most of our time trying to make “time-out” work for us and reminding ourselves that God is in the middle of this whole journey, so we need to be patient.

We recently watched October Baby in theaters… which is a pretty note worthy moment in and of itself! We can’t even remember the last time we were able to make it to the movies since kids came into our lives. Granted, we went to an 11:20am showing and brought a 5 month old baby with us… yup, we’re definitely those people!

We loved the show. Cried several times through it.

On our drive back to the house, I looked at Sara and jokingly said, “Deondre better look us in the eye one day and say, ‘thanks for wanting me’ or I don’t know what I’m gonna do!!”  We laughed and reminded ourselves that it’s highly likely that those words may never come out of his mouth… I just need to swallow that pill now.

The reality is, those lumps that come up in your throat when you watch emotionally charged movies about crazy adoption stories where children are rescued and lives are changed… those teary eyed moments where you feel like real Shalom peace has arrived in a situation and all is back in place… those moments just aren’t frequenters to our home.

But…

Just the other day we had one.

Just the other night at dinner we had a movie moment with our 6 year old. Wish the film crew would have been sitting at our table, dang it!

As we were eating our dinner together, I just started talking with Deondre about adoption out of the blue. We have been dropping those conversations sporadically with him over the last few months to prep him for what is coming very soon.

I told him that in just a month or two, we are going to officially adopt him and his name will look like ours. I explained that we would go before a judge… and he would be a happy judge because this is an exciting thing. We may even have a party afterwards.

It wasn’t a big shocker that he was relatively silent through this whole explanation. Just staring at his plate like he always does when we talk about things he has no clue about.

After some silence and a few bites of dinner, I asked him how all of that made him feel.

He didn’t say anything.

So, we pressed him again… “Deondre, how do you feel about all of that? What does your heart feel about being adopted and living with us forever?”

He remained silent, but without any fanfare, he took his little brown finger and began drawing on the table next to his placemat (like Jesus telling a parable).

Puzzled for a moment, it finally clicked for Sara and I. He was drawing a smiley face.

Each day at school, Deondre either gets a smiley face, straight face, or sad face. His life basically revolves around smiley faces. For him, this was his stamp of approval on the whole thing.

At that moment, we felt it. It was one of those Shalom peace moments. Teary eyed, lumpy throat, “where is the film-crew?” moments.

Now, that moment was quickly followed by, “Finish your food or you won’t get dessert!”… but, we’ll take all of the small glimpses of grace we can get around here.

We’re so excited to be nearing the end of this fostering journey with our son and making it all official. I can’t wait to write that post into our family’s legacy!

Mingling With Brokenness

When I think back on the things that our little guy walked into our home with a year ago, the list was rather short. I assumed there would be a piece of luggage… maybe not the fancy kind that you see scattered throughout airports… but, I figured there would be something simple… something to transport his most valuable possessions and some underwear at least. That wasn’t the case though. He walked into our home with nothing.

However, it doesn’t take long at all to realize that children in the foster system carry around plenty of luggage… especially older children that have been yanked from their homes and moved across the state.

We’ve spent the last year unpacking bag after bag after giant airport-sized bag of brokenness with our son. The reality is… we’ll continue this process long after adoption… long after he has been calling us Mommy and Daddy… long after our home feels normal to him.

There seems to be the thought floating around the Christian sub-culture that adoption is this simple, clean, two-step process… fill out the paperwork… rescue a child from some horrible situation… give them their first hug and warm bed… then, Bam!, they’re yours forever and you can move on to the next thing in life. You’ve earned your little adoption badge to wear proudly around other Christians and you can take pride in getting a few extra stares when you walk around public with a child that looks different than you.

I gotta be honest… I think we really thought it was that easy… or at least I did.

But those blasted bags still pile up around our home waiting to be unpacked. When we walk around and keep stumping our toes on the luggage and dance around cursing their existence, our prideful little adoption badge does us very little good.

As I sit here over a year into this thing, I have to say that the thing about foster care and adoption that is so riveting and redemptive at the same time is this constant mingling we do with brokenness.

In our Christian sub-culture, we have managed to find a way to sweep and mop and polish away the dirt and brokenness of this world from our lives. We have shelves filled with books on theology and best practices for doing just about anything… We eat organic… We even buy organic toilet paper… We devote plenty of attention on making sure that with our kids, only good goes in and pray that crap doesn’t come out… We try our hardest to fight against materialism and avoid our consumer driven culture. I’m not knocking any of those things… heck, we do most of those things!

At the end of the day our formula works pretty well. Our kids don’t walk around cussing people out on a regular basis… Our bodies feel better and free from chemicals… We are able to know tons of things about God and share them with others. It’s a pretty good life… no doubt.

But, as much as we’ve tried to mop around those bags laying around our house or sprinkle homemade organic compost on top of them thinking that they’ll turn into something that’s healthy, they simply don’t.

Brokenness refuses to let us go on with our managed life.

We’re forced to throw our theology book against the wall in anger and tears and actually cry out to God and ask for answers that just aren’t written down in a book. We’re forced to realize that there are many things that we aren’t going to be able to control over the next 20 years of our life as parents.

Although my heart aches for our son and I would love nothing more than to scrub his heart down with a giant eraser so that he wouldn’t have to carry any more bags ever again… I know that God is doing something wonderful in our life as we mingle with brokenness. We are getting to see pieces of him that simply are invisible to us when we lead our managed lives.

A lot of times, stories of adoption are presented as a package with a nice bow on top… it’s labeled “redemption”, and hearts are left warmer because they simply see a sad story turned happy.

We know that God is still writing the redemption story happening in our home, but the beautiful thing at this point is that our family is getting to mingle with “broken”, and it’s the best thing that has happened to us.

Horse Riding Lessons

Our little guy is positively obsessed with all things horses. Throughout the past year, we’ve thrown around the idea that putting him in horse lessons would be a really great thing for him. A chance to be able to succeed at something… to get away from normal and just be a kid and have fun.

So, we’ve been to two lessons now, and he is loving it. When he gets out there in the country and interacts with these giant creatures, he comes alive. It’s really fun to see him interact with his horse, Lily.  We really hope that he will find in her a silent listener to connect with… and begin to make sense of his first six crazy years of life.

It will be interesting to see how this shapes his future and how big a part of his life horses may actually end up being.

The First Day | Remembered

On this day in recent history (last year) we opened our front door to meet a little brown boy wearing a big, blue, dirty Gap winter coat, bright yellow t-shirt with the name of his pre-school plastered across it, and a recently acquired pair of hand-me-down tennis shoes from the CPS office he had spent the afternoon inhabiting.

The moments leading up to that car pulling in our driveway could be described as uncertain and scared on our behalf. Sara sat on our couch with a look on her face that said, “Ryan, you really don’t know what we’re getting into, do you?”. She was skeptical, nervous, worried, and flat out tired from a full day of working with teenagers that didn’t know how to show respect to an adult. I, on the other hand, wouldn’t be able to sit down if I had to. I paced our living room, glancing every 5 seconds or so out the front window to see if that car had arrived yet. We had no idea how this process would go down… what this child would be like, look like, feel like.

The car arrived… we looked at each other and debated if we should go meet them in the driveway or wait for the doorbell to ring. I’m pretty sure we debated long enough for them to get out of the car and begin making their way up our sidewalk before we opened the door and met them on the porch.

There he was… this miniature person… scared out of his mind… hiding behind the only constant he had during this crazy day that he had experienced. It was the case worker that pulled him out of school early.

She looked up at us with a gentle smile and informed us that he is really shy and had only said a handful of words to her throughout their day together.

He walked slowly through our front door… clinging to the caseworker’s leg. CPS had given him a few little cars to bring along and a black and orange blanket that had been handmade and donated to the system… some things for him to hold on to as his own. She also slipped us a small grocery bag with a pair of sock, undies, and an extra change of clothes… but, that was it.

There wasn’t much time for introductions… we quickly gathered around the living room and started to sign papers. It was probably at that point that Sara and I realized (but didn’t let on) that we had no clue what we were doing. We were signing papers… that’s something that adults with responsibility do. We were signing papers in order for this lady to be able to walk out our front doorwithout this child she brought in.

Meanwhile… this little guy had found a safe haven under the coffee table that all the signing was taking place on. He hid… clinging to the blanket and toys that he brought. He laid there and cried. As we tried to listen to the important things being discussed about the papers, we both were having to surpress the lumps in our throat that were being sent up to remind us that there was a real child under our coffee table with tears running down his cheeks. In a matter of minutes, it would be our responsibility to help that child make sense of everything that happened in the last 24 hours.

Within about 30 minutes, it was just the 3 of us. All the caseworkers had said their goodbyes and wished us luck. We had shown him his new room… pulled out our limited number of toys to try to entice him… but, our tokens were beginning to run out. Luckily, it was about to be dinner time and the only thing we could think of to take his mind off of things was to bring him to Gattitown.

Bear in mind… at this point Sara and I had yet to hear his voice. The only noises we knew from this little child were wimpers. At some point in the getting ready to go process, a word was released. I was so excited to hear his little country-ghetto voice appear.

And so we set out… placing a child for the first time in the newly bought booster seat that would now grace the back seat of the car that had seen me through college. This marked a new season in our life.

Looking back on that night is difficult for us. It’s difficult to remember the pain that such a small child felt. It is still incredibly hard for us to understand what it must have felt like to be picked up from school and driven in a car for an hour and a half to a cold, bright, florescent-lit office to sit for the remainder of the afternoon… and then to be dropped off in a home with two white people. No goodbye to the family that you had spent the last 5.5 years with… not even an explanation of why this all occurred.

Every few months, we are reminded of that afternoon when we dig to the bottom of his t-shirt drawer and find that worn down yellow t-shirt with the name of his hometown written on the front. It’s way too small for him to ever wear again. But, it won’t be thrown away. In between those faded threads are the only parts of his early life that he still has.

We hate that even still… as incredibly far as we’ve come with him… with the completely different child that resides in our home today… even still when the caseworkers drop by for a monthly visit, the fear in him shows its ugly face once more. The memories associated with caseworkers unravelling normal. We hurt for him. We pray that one day his life will feel secure and he will know that there will be no more unravelling in this home.

So, here we are… one year later. As this day approached, Sara and I went back and forth on whether this day should be celebrated or even talked about at all. We celebrate the fact that this blessing was sent to us one year ago. We celebrate the incredible progress he has made in this past year. But, we have decided that the celebration will be between mom and dad. To expect him to celebrate such a horrific day would be cruel and unusual.

We look forward to being able to celebrate a different day very soon… the day when his adoption becomes final and his name reflects ours. We pray that day will be one filled with amazing memories that we can all look back on and truly celebrate.

Fostering | The Ugly

I thought about going with a series of “the good, the bad, and the ugly”… but, I just can’t bring myself to actually write something online that I can’t take back that has both “Fostering” and “Bad” in the same title. So, I’m going to just kinda stick with good and ugly. Because, I don’t have the slightest hesitation in admitting that much of foster care is down right UGLY.

*Note… if you’re coming in a little late in the game here, before you ready ANY FURTHER, please read the post that talks about all the GOOD things we’ve experienced in fostering!

So, the ugly…

Wow… where do I start? Honestly, my mind has no idea of how to even categorize some of the things that we’ve experienced over the last few months. I have written, erased, and then rewritten this post a few times now. So, I apologize if this is just a rambled mess.

That very first night that he walked in our door, we were slapped with the ugly. A paralyzingly shy child, hidden behind a caseworker, that by the end of the time of filling out paperwork had planted himself right under our coffee table with tears in his eyes. His case worker gave him a quick hug and was out the door… at that point, it was one terrified boy in a house with two strangers. We had been around him for nearly an hour by then, and had yet to hear his voice. At all. Seeing the tears in his eyes only made our eyes fill with tears and our throats get a little bit heavy. Sara and I both had that “oh crap” look in our eyes, and Little Bit had that “I want to be anywhere but here” look in his eyes.

So, part of the ugly from our perspective is having a little boy pray for his mommy every night and ask us repeatedly most days why he can’t see her… and we don’t really have an honest response for that. We just hold him and hug him and say how sorry we are… but, what in the heck are you supposed to tell a 5 year old about why he has suddenly been ripped away from everything he once knew and was never really told why? We had always imagined that any child that came into our home would be so glad to be out of the situation they were in, and that they wouldn’t want to go back. This is so untrue. From his perspective, everything was hunky-dory where he was, and the fact that he was just pulled right out of that is beyond his comprehension.

So, he doesn’t call us Mommy and Daddy, because he’s still holding out for the day when he’ll walk right back out that door and into the place he called home. All of this came as quite a surprise to us.

It’s definitely ugly to discover some of the things that he should have never been exposed to. To hear him tell us a story that he doesn’t even think is in the least bit odd, that leaves us with our jaws on the floor. It’s a hard thing to hope that his family really does get their act together and get him back. Deep down you just want him to never be in that place again and for him to just forget he ever knew them. We are constantly having to remind ourselves that we need to be truly hoping that they will turn their life around and that their family will be restored. That should be our goal.

We have also found that it can be kinda messy mixing foster care with your extended family. Of course our hopes are that when a child comes into our house, our family will accept them as one of their own and treat them like they were our child… which our family has done. They love Little Bit so much and he loves them right back. But, the tricky part is that he’s not really their grandchild or nephew. Like I said, at any moment, we could get a phone call and he could be out of here, and we’d most likely never have contact with him again. This is something that we understand… we understood it going into this journey. But, it’s difficult to expect your family to pull a child in, but at the same time keep enough distance to be able to let them go at the drop of a hat. There simply isn’t a smooth way to do that. It’s messy no matter how you play that situation out.

Connection has also been a messy aspect of this journey. We’ve found that we have all connected to him a bit differently, and on varying levels. Sara and I see him in different lights at times and feel different feelings toward him often. Our family and close friends seem to have all connected or not connected to him in different ways. I think that we really expected for a child to come into our home and that we would immediately feel a strong bond with them and never want to see them go. The truth is… it’s complicated. Horribly complicated.

Our feelings are tricky little beasts. We have had to beg God to make our hearts like His toward Little Bit. We’ve realized that we are far from the all-loving and perfect people that we had thought we were in our minds. HA!

But, through this difficult journey of connection, we have had to ask the hard question of whether our feelings have anything to do with the call that God has given us to take in these children. And ultimately, would our feelings have anything to do with whether or not we adopted a child. Well, we’re still on this journey, and still wrestling through this very question, but I have yet to find a string that ties the feelings aspect to the fact that God says to care for the orphan… in real tangible ways. So, whether we feel it or not, some things in life are simply hard. And I’m pretty sure that this could be a clear sign that we’re right where God wants us… where things are rarely easy. Of course, every child deserves to be showered with love by their family… and I would never suggest that you should take in a child and not love them. But, I’m finding that sometimes love looks a little different than we may have thought.

Yeah… it’s kinda ugly… but, it’s also really beautiful at the same time.

My hope is that this honest assessment of where we are will not make you think, “yup, this isn’t for me… I could never do that sort of thing!”… but that you would feel even more drawn to broken situations that are far from the way things are supposed to be.