Thursday, November 28, 2013

An Imported Tradition

It seems so long ago that Michelle and I lived in Bolivia.  It's been over six and a half years now but there are some things we will never forget.  One of our favorite memories was "importing" the tradition of Thanksgiving to Bolivia for our staff and our kids.  One year we even had a short-term mission trip literally import Thanksgiving by bringing us all of the dry and canned goods we couldn't purchase in Bolivia.  We brought Kaya our American tradition of our staple Thanksgiving foods and the tradition of stuffing ourselves silly.  After the first year the staff and children even began to come to the dinner in elastic waistband sweat pants! 

It wasn't the food or the fun though that made these days memorable.  It was the immense portion of gratitude we shared that day.  For on that day the struggles of discipline or school would disappear.  As we took time to share what we were grateful for it was never generic answers.  They were always heartfelt answers about people and events that literally changed life.  After the first child would speak tears would already be flowing.  Those expressions of gratitude were things like, "I can only imagine where I would have been without you...", "I've never knew what unconditional love meant..", "I wouldn't be here today without you."  Children literally giving thanks for saving their lives, the gift of family and experiencing grace and forgiveness. Hearing these words, seeing their faces, remembering exactly where they had been made those days uniquely special.

Paul tells us to give thanks in all circumstances.  Our circumstances are better than most, almost all actually.  As we celebrate thanksgiving let's take some time to give God praise and glory and express our gratitude not only for our blessings but above all for the incredible blessing of his grace.

To those of you who have and continue to partner in Kaya's work in Bolivia - Thank You!  We cannot do this work without you and your partnership helps us change lives.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Pursuing God?

I've always thought that to be an interesting phrase.  To think that we pursue God when most of history is about us avoiding God all together.  Even from the beginning of time, in the Genesis story of Adam, Eve the serpent and the apple it seems we are more likely to hide from God than to seek or pursue God.
What's most amazing is that God has shown us the exact opposite in scripture.  In scripture we witness a decidedly and surprisingly incarnate God.  Think about it for a moment.  Just a few examples: God provides a lamb for Isaac, God is present in the burning bush for Moses, appears in the road (Numbers 22:22) as Balaam tries to ride contrary to the Lord's instructions.  All decidedly physical manifestations of God's presence in our world and just a few examples from the Old Testament.

What's interesting about the idea of pursuing God is that not only is God decidedly incarnate, God is decidedly unpredictable.  When I think of times in Scripture when God is incarnationally present most are unexpected.  Sometimes hoped for, but mostly unexpected.  Moses was not going to the Red see to encounter God's presence; he was going to flee danger.  Yet there Christ was there.  Daniel did not enter the Lion's den to meet Christ.  Yet there Christ was present again.  Nobody would have ever anticipated that the King of creation would be born into a stable.  Yet there he was.  The disciples did not expect to encounter Christ on the road to Emmaus, nor did Paul expect to encounter the resurrected Christ.  Yet there Christ was.

In Numbers 22 it's Balaam's donkey who first sees the angel of the Lord.  In Luke 24 the disciples probably walk for hours with Jesus before they ever realize who they are with.  Why?  Because they weren't ready, they weren't looking, they were distracted, they were probably expecting God somewhere else.

So how do we pursue God in our world?  Is it our job to place ourselves in a time and space to create what the mystics call a "thin space" where we meet Christ?  Sometimes we act as though encountering Christ is some discovery we have made.  I don't really think it's our job to encounter Christ.  I think our job is rather simple: to be faithful to what God has called us to do in daily life and be prepared to meet Christ there.  Maybe it's in a moment of desperate need, maybe simply walking to our next destination, but I think Christ always simply meets us in the time and place of God's choosing.  Our prayer can simply be to be ready and open.  I don't think we've ever been particularly good at pursuing God.  If we were really serious we would probably follow Jesus' most direct instructions in Matthew 25, but even those are decidedly ordinary.  Maybe it's time we stop discounting the multitude of places we may meet Him in common, ordinary life.  The incarnation if a surprisingly and shocking revelation of God's nature to the world.  If Jesus was found in the stable, healed with mud on someone's eyes and shocked the disciples on a boat maybe we should focus less on pursuing and more on meeting Christ where he meets us.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Foster Care

First, before I get to my real point of posting I have to say that I've been terrible at keeping up my blog.  It's one of those things where intentions just don't translate into reality.  I'd like to say it's because we have a baby at home, etc, etc, but mostly I just don't do it.  So I'm going to try to do better!

This week I was saddened to read about a foster youth who was arrested for allegedly killing his younger foster brother.  (See the orginal article here:  First, I was sad because I would hope that we could provide juveniles with some degree of privacy.  I understand this is a serious issue, but we also still live in a country where you are innocent until proven guilty.  Unfortunately for this young man an entire state has already met him for the first time as someone who would kill a 5 year old.  At 17 that's a tough first impression to get over if he is innocent.

Unfortunately I fear this story gives people a negative impression of foster care and probably feeds into a bad stereotype.  I know many people who often say they are "thinking" about foster care and articles like this really can taint the waters.  When it's left as the only story you hear it can continue to further the misunderstanding that it’s the youth's fault they are in foster care.

I could be wrong about this, but I'd be willing to bet this is the only article the Omaha World Herald has written on a foster care youth this year.  They may have written about the reforms, but have my doubts as to whether or not the press has introduced its readers to any other youth.  So what you have read is one story of one child.  In Nebraska we have over 4,000 children in foster care and you've seen only one story where things went terribly wrong in a system of children writing amazing life stories.  The problem even for those other children though is that they need help writing those great stories.  The system is far from perfect and there are a lot of reasons why.  But you want to know one of the biggest reasons?  There are not enough people willing to care for youth.  I can almost guarantee you if the system was filled with foster parents waiting to take a teenage boy into their home that boy in the story would not have ever even been in that situation.

I believe strongly in what Father Flanagan said "There are no bad boys.  There is only bad environment, bad training, bad example, bad thinking."  It's been something that I've believed since the days we lived in Bolivia to today.  We’ve also been blessed to see first-hand, both in Bolivia and through foster care here, the difference that a loving investment in the life of a youth can make.  We were blessed to have a boy of that same age stay with us and it’s a great story that continues to be written.   I don't want to minimize that there are sometimes real biological or chemical issues that can affect behavior.  That's true for any child, in our out of state care.  We need to stop judging children for their behavior though.  It's so easy to blame a child for his behavior without looking at our roles as parents, teachers, the church and society.

There are thousands of children in foster care today that need support and help.  There are no bad children.  As a matter of fact there are a number of great children waiting for a safe and secure home to thrive in.  There are children that have not found a healthy, supportive and loving environment to grow in and people to take the time to recognize their needs and maybe even recognize that they need extra help for a biological or chemical imbalance.  It's our job as a society to fill that gap.   To be the family who makes the effort to welcome a new child into our home and make that investment.  I can tell you first hand foster care is not rocket science.  It’s regular parenting PLUS you get support from professionals just a phone call away.  Imagine raising your own children with someone you could call for advice or support anytime of the day.  Most importantly though you get the reward of seeing the change that love and investment in the life of a child can make.

It made me sad that the facts existed to produce that article in the first place.  What about you?  Did that article make you sad, angry or disappointed?  If so, what can be your role in helping ensure another article like that is never written again?  There are both 5 year olds and 17 year olds waiting to find a safe home.  Can you be an agent of change?  Can you be that home?