Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bankruptcy By Way Of Tooth Fairy

Everybody knows raising children can be expensive. My son lost two teeth this week and I joked the Tooth fairy is going to put us in bankruptcy. Especially when you consider seven mouths times 20 teeth. In our house it requires some creativity when it comes to money. Fortunately my wife is the deal finding, bargain shopping, won't pay full price, clearance Queen of the world.

Our family decided years ago to do our best to live debt free. I would rather drive a beat up passenger van with 140,000 miles as opposed to being slave to a loan company for a little more comfort. We struggle with money like most others, but we have adopted some principles to live by. It's about changing behavior and not so much about making more money.

The first principle is not to finance anything. If we don't have the cash, we probably don't need it. Secondly, is shopping rule number one, "we buy cheap". My children can quote this upon request. This does not necessarily mean the absolute cheapest. We shop for the best deal with quality in mind. My wife is naturally wired this way. For me it has been a work in process. I enjoy convenience, but it is expensive. It is why a 20 oz. soda cost twice as much as a generic 2-liter. Just another reason God knew what he was doing when he placed us together.

I think for us it all came down to priorities. We had to decide what we value most. There was a time when we picked kids up from daycare in the evening, went home for dinner/bath time, and next thing you know it was bedtime. Quality family time was lacking. Our relationships were suffering. This was clearly not God's will. We feel nothing that causes family fragmentation is God honoring. I am not being critical of others; this is about our family decisions. It is a work in process and a humbling one at that. It wasn't easy moving from the nice subdivision to our old handyman special. It wasn't easy, but God always honors commitment and has blessed us over and over again. Today, my wife works at home, educating our kids and soaking up every precious moment. We have been blessed with more children and our family unit continues to strengthen.  We may "buy cheap", but we are rich in family.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Need Is Great

I feel very blessed for the opportunity to serve as a foster parent. For nearly 6 years my wife and I have had fourteen different children in our home. Unfortunately, we said goodbye to many of these sweet kids. I have been amazed by the beautiful spirit each one possesses. Especially considering the severe abuse and neglect in their past. Most have been so grateful when they arrive just to have regular meals and someone who says I love you and will keep you safe. They begin to strive instantly once provided with opportunity and support previously missing. Obviously, some have more difficult needs that require individualized attention. If the truth be known, they have been more of a blessing to us than we have been to them.

Some placements have become permanent as with our twins, Christian and Samantha. I can remember my wife walking through the door the first time with those tiny six week old babies. We argued over who was going to stay home and love on the new additions and who was going to go pick up our other kids. I lost that battle and looking back I maintain a little bitterness. Through answered prayers, from an awesome God, they were adopted on July 18, 2008. Others have come and gone and took part of our hearts as they left. We are often told "I could never do foster care because it would so hard to let go after becoming attached". I will be honest in sharing that it is very difficult and painful. Our opinion has been that it is about the child first. Some were part  of our family a week and some over a year. Looking back, I wouldn't change a thing even knowing they would one day be gone. Every minute has been precious just knowing we got to be a small part of their young lives.

In West Virginia there are currently around 4,000 children in foster care. Nearly 1,000 are legally eligible for adoption. Many homes take in the maximum number of kids allowed and without these limitations would take more. There is a need for loving families to open their hearts. There is a need for Christians to allow Christ's kindness to flow through them, to care for those who need them most, to love outside of their biological family tree, and to change some one's life forever.

I am saddened as I look around and see all the potential. Those who think they are not capable or don't have enough time. From the empty nesters who could provide a strong foundation to the young family just getting started. It doesn't take someone who is perfect or you don't have to wait for that perfect time. Actually, the perfect time is now, just as the need is now. God will give you all the ability, wisdom, and resources you need. If there is one thing I know, He always honors commitment. I realize every day I don't have to be a foster parent, I get to. I consider my foster, adoptive, and biological children a true blessing.

WV Foster/Adoption Info.

National Info.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

He Knew What He Was Doing

I'm sure twenty years ago I would have no idea I would be where I am today. Married with seven kids and fostering seven other children who have since moved on. Working as a union rep while my wife homeschools our kids. Driving a fifteen passenger van and teaching Sunday School. Are you kidding me? It still seems crazy today just thinking about. Such an unlikely set of events which adds up to where I am today.

I think back to how random it was that I ever met my wife. I had been working a series of odd jobs after returning to West Virginia from the military. I helped an upholstery shop one time for about three weeks to get caught up on some work, only to be let go when the workload lessened. The shop owner happened to mention my name over coffee to a friend who was a foreman for a glass company. I received a call and was offered a job on the spot. A year later, through a co-worker, I met my beautiful wife. We had little in common and were separated in age by seven years. She had only been out of school for a year. For two people with little in common we were instantly drawn to each other. I can remember talking for several hours that first night as if we knew each other for years. The following day she told her mother she met the guy she was going to marry. Amanda really enjoyed the "I told you so" when her mom later served as her maid of honor.

We faced a lot of challenges as a young married couple. God used a difficult event to get our attention. Our first daughter suffered a severe seizure lasting nearly thirty minutes. We were so close to losing her. It was out of nowhere. She had no history of medical issues and none since. I believe it was our wake up call. See, I was saved as a young child and always knew God expected more from me. Amanda was a new Christian at the time. We both grew up in church and knew it was where we needed to be.

I am so thankful God made us like-minded when it comes to our values. We always seem to be on the same page in our obedience to Him. We don't disagree about tithing or modesty issues. My weaknesses are her strengths and her weaknesses, which are few, are my strengths. We are a team in every sense. It seems very unlikely that we would have ever met, not to mention end up together today. Not to God though, He knew what He was doing.

Friday, January 20, 2012

What Makes A Hero?

Webster's defines it as a central figure in any important event or period, honored for outstanding qualities. For my boys it's Ironman and Spiderman. For young men maybe it is the latest sport star. Many think of our troops and first responders. I definitely have much respect for those who put the safety of others before themselves. With all that being said, what makes a hero?

In the Bible we can read about heroes of the faith in the book of Hebrews. Men and women of different status all pleased God for one reason, their faith. When I think of great faith I often think of Noah. An ordinary man with extraordinary faith. He had no special physical power. He was just like you and me except for the strength of his faith. Noah simply obeyed God and took him at his word. What if we used this criteria to select our heroes today? Would anyone measure up?

Someone with the faith of Noah or Abraham today would still be thought of as a lunatic. It helps prove the Bible is perfect and just as relevent today as it was thousands of years ago. We can learn so much from these heroes. Moses refused to enjoy sin for a season. He showed us the importance of having eternal vision.

It's sad that most great athletes are just naturally thought of as great family people. When the truth is many are horrible fathers and husbands. Just look at Tiger Woods. If you step back and look at it with a clear perspective it makes sense. Do you really think these athletes achieve such a high performance level by putting their families first? Of course not. Tim Tebow is clearly the exception.

We need to first realize anyone who is human is capable of sin and can let us down. Christ should be who we look up to most and try to pattern our lives after. Our kids don't need Ben Roethlisberger or Lebron James to look up to. They need Pastors and Sunday School Teachers. They need the mechanic next door who supports his family, leads his kids in devotionals, and helps spread the gospel. So what makes a hero? I guess it depends what measuring stick you are using, God's or that of the world.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Offended Or Convicted

It seems like social media has changed society. We now have instant access with just a click of the mouse. The good, the bad, and the ugly traveling along the information super highway. Unfortunately it is another dangerous gateway attacking the innocence of our children, but that is another post for another day.

Whether it's Facebook or Twitter, no matter where you are, you can know that Mary had a turkey sandwich for lunch. As with most advances in technology there is always good and bad. I am thankful to keep up with old Army friends from all around the country. I am not thankful to read filthy words. As a Christian I don't appreciate foul language at all, especially in a public forum. Aside from my faith I also consider it unprofessional and lazy. It is a quick way to emphasize a point without having to think or use any creativity.

Many times I am very encouraged when reading status updates. When someone shares how they made it through a trial, became a daddy, or returned safely from Iraq it does my heart good. I want to encourage others that way, but mostly I want to honor and please God. This makes me wonder if I am striving to be Christ-like and my words offend others should they go unsaid? Does this mean someone is offended or convicted? Is there a difference?

The Bible speaks about whatsoever are honest, just, and pure. We are told to think on these things. If our words fall in this category we should share, but share with the right attitude. We are instructed to preach the truth with love. That is not always easy to do. With that being said, we should never be ashamed of sharing our values. We should also not be surprised when the "world" is unaccepting. We know we will suffer persecution. In terms of eternity it is a small price to pay.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Then There Was Jayna

Here is something from about 4 or 5 years ago. I hope it is enjoyable.

Jayna Grace is our blue-eyed beauty with the platinum blond hair of an angel. That is where the angel comparison stops. She is full of passion and very emotional. There is no slightly upset or somewhat happy with Jayna. We have come to realize that with her drive she will be faithfully serving Christ with everything she has, or a serial killer. She is all about daddy, but tries to deny that when she is alone with mommy. She is the first kid awake in the morning and generally the last to fall asleep. Ms. Gracie has little fear of discipline and periodically test her parents to see what she can get away with. She is also not afraid to love. She loves her family, friends, and Sunday school teachers and will let it be known.

Jayna has done some strange things in the past. There has been times we did not know whether to yell or laugh. I can recall multiple times when one of us would scold her and the other would have to leave the room to avoid cracking up in front of her. One Saturday afternoon I was watching the kids while Amanda was working. Jayna was about 18 months old and was taking her midday nap. I decided to go on the porch and visit with a neighbor. When I returned inside I was greeted by Jayna who was now awake. She had brought one dozen eggs from the refrigerator to the couch and was in the process of cracking the eggs and smearing them into the couch. This also happened to be a relatively new couch. She went through a toilet fascination phase. For a period of time the bathroom door had to be locked from the outside. Jayna has attempted to drink the toilet water with a straw and when a straw was unavailable she would soak a sock in the potty and then straight to her mouth. It is very important that the commode in our house is flushed after every use. It was common to find the plunger stuck to bathroom walls and cabinets.

Our little angel is also famous for stock piling house hold items in her bedroom. It is not unusual to find vacuum cleaner parts under her pillow. Some items found under her bed include toothpaste, deodorant, money, jewelry, fly swatter, bottled water, and many more.

We realize that her potential is unlimited. When describing one of his children, Dave Ramsey said he knew his daughter was going to go off, they just needed to aim her in the right direction. That is definitely the case with Jayna. We understand the importance of good parenting and the actions we take today will affect our kids decision making when they’re away from home. I don’t just want to “hope” my kids turn out right. I want to scratch and claw working hard to give them the spiritual, physical, and emotional guidance they need. I know God honors faithfulness and commitment.

Update:
Jayna is now seven and thriving as a home school student. She loves music and has a beautiful singing voice. She is a leader in our home and is very helpful with the younger children. Her kind helpful heart is on display daily. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Dad's Needed

What's the greastest job in the world? Is it President of the United States, NFL quarteback, or maybe Krispy Kreme taste tester? Nope, the best job is definitely being a Daddy. It is not even close. I think of the feeling everyday returning from work and being greeted like a celebrity. They don't see all your flaws, they only see, "Daddy!" The overgrown child to climb all over and tell rediculous stories. The one who offers free lawnmower rides and fixes things with loud drills. The one the little girls want to marry and the boys want to grow up and be like. Doesn't matter your occupation, to your kids your the coolest Data Entry Processor of all time. Moms definitely get a raw deal in this equation.

The problem is the current Dad shortage. There are plenty of fathers, and yes there is a difference. So what defines a Dad? Is it biological? I have two adopted children and two foster who I love the same, so it's not that. Maybe it is being a provider. I think that is important, but that alone clearly does not meet all their needs. What about a disciplinarian, teacher, counselor, or mentor? I think it's all these and more. It is someone who shows up again and again and puts the needs of his kids before his desires. Their emotional, physical, and spiritual growth are a priority and take precedence over the golf course and video games.

I clearly have room for improvement as the leader of my family. Us Dads often take for granted the amazing privilege God has given us. Our children should never be considered a burden. They are a blessing, a gift from the Lord. We need to take a stand. It is not about our past failures. You can't unscramble eggs. We only have today foward. Our children and God always deserve our best no matter how small that may be. Time is such a valuable resource that is nonrenewable.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Junk Food Bandit

Here is something I wrote about 5 years ago. I just come across it. Hope you enjoy it.

The Junk Food Bandit


Kendra is our oldest and is a very sweet girl. She is the kind of child that makes you want to keep having children (and so we did). She is often called a “little mommy”. Kendra is very nurturing and cares deeply for her younger siblings. It is hard to believe she is in school. We are very blessed to be able to send her to a Christian school where she has thrived. Kendra has a content spirit and really enjoys life’s simple beauties, such as clouds, stars, and spring colors. While her behavior is normally good, she does seem to find mischief from time to time.

Kendra is a healthy eater and is usually willing to try new foods. She also enjoys sweets which she is only allowed to have occasionally. At times she has attempted to satisfy her craving using a few different methods.

One time when she was around four years old Kendra was moping around the TV room. I believe she was not allowed to play in the toy room from misbehaving. She eventually crawled up in the recliner and buried her head in the cushion. This was not uncommon behavior. After about twenty minutes I went to talk to her and she wouldn’t answer. When I picked her up I discovered that she had been straddling a bag of chocolate chip cookies. In our estimation she must have eaten 12 to 15 cookies. The moment was only lacking a picture. Cheeks full of cookies, eyes bugged out and the most sad expression I’ve ever seen.

From right outside of Kendra’s bedroom there is a set of steps going to the kitchen. The kitchen is connected to a large pantry, which contains some shelves used to store foods including snacks. That kitchen entrance is visible from the living room if you look through the toy room. One night Amanda noticed a pink flash out of the corner of her eye. It was Kendra sneaking to the pantry to get peanut butter crackers. Further investigation revealed this had been going on for a while. Twenty empty wrappers were discovered hidden behind her bed. She was caught probably three or four more times.

We have also had a time keeping her from eating on the school bus. She has learned the fine art of trading healthy snacks for chocolate and bubble gum. Usually the evidence would do her in since she would be wearing most of the snack on clothing.

This seems to be one of the few areas Kendra will defy us. It is sometimes difficult to discipline her for this since most of the time she is very well behaved, although we know it is necessary. I feel her outlook on life will never let her be motivated by money. She will have to do something in life that helps other people and is important to her rather than profitable. We could definitely picture her as a teacher, nurse, or full time mother. She often says she wants to have 20 children. It is funny to us that most people think we are peculiar for having a large family, but to our kids it is perfectly normal.

Update: Kendra is now 10 years old and is doing very well physically, acedemically, emotionally and spiritually. She now has 4 sisters and 2 brothers and excels as a homeschool student.

Monday, January 9, 2012

No Substitute For Experience

I can remember thinking as a kid that I would never get old. I couldn't wait to someday turn 18 as if that magically made me a man. I would instantly have sufficient knowledge to carry me through the rest of my life. Life would be easy since I would no longer have anyone telling me what to do. Boy was I wrong. Two months after graduation I was on my way to Ft. Leonardwood, MO for basic training. It did not take long for me to realize that for the next 8 weeks someone was going to tell me how to do everything and it would be in my best interest to listen. As tough as that situation was for a shy West Virginia boy who had never been away from home, I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. With the next six years as a soldier I met some of the greatest friends I ever knew, learned the importance of teamwork, and got the opportunity to participate in a lot interesting activities(like jumping out of perfectly good airplanes).

Once Uncle Sam was done with me I was sure I would be an instant success back in the civilian world. Wrong again. That transition was more difficult than going to boot camp. I really feel for veterans  today coming home from a warzone. They have it much worse than me and I know it is a difficult adjustment. We don't do enough for them. They are American heroes and deserve our support and prayers.

Today I am very happy with my life. I have a wonderful wife and seven beautiful children. I have a great job and belong to an awesome church. I learned that we will never "arrive". Well I guess I'm happy but not completely content. There is so much more I expect of myself. I know something is wrong if I am not constantly improving as a Christian, father, and husband.There is no substitute for experience. It is how we learn and grow. There is not enough text books printed to replace actually experiencing something. I think that is why it is so important we "aim" our kids in the right direction. Obviously we wont always be there once they are grown. I like to consider the areas in which I struggled and how I can give them a better foundation. I guess we never quit learning. I am excited for what's next in my life. Whatever that may be.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Slow Death of Customer Service

What is going on with customer service today? Good service has become mostly rare. Whether it's fast food, a nice sit down restaurant, or a retail store. The patron seems to be a bother more than a blessing. What has happened to "the customer is always right" or "service with a smile"? I have noticed a decline in my short lifetime. I can imagine it is even more evident to those older than me. Is it the busyness of today's world? The disrespect of this generation? Who is to blame?

I think one thing that feeds the issue is product demand. The owner is looking at bottom line. Is customer service a requirement or will we still wait 45 minutes for a steak and settle for an unkind, incompetent waiter? I think we know the answer to that question. The businesses are still full of people waiting for Ipads, Kindles, or whatever else we "got to have". The demand trumps the lack of quality service.

This leads to another point. Since good customer service is not required to keep our business, it is unlikely employers are teaching or emphasizing customer care. They are more focused on a strategy where you purchase their food, eat quickly, and leave quickly to make room for the next spender. Rinse and repeat, again and again until it no longer works.

It has become a sad part of our American culture. Have you noticed when you visit a spanish restaurant that the service is usually great. My families favorite place to dine is La Caretta in Elkview, WV where we are treated like part of their family. Great food that is reasonably priced and delivered promptly with a smile. What a concept, right? This courtesy may be rare, but at least it is not gone completely. I have noticed this varies in different regions. When I lived in Georgia I had very few complaints about customer service.

As Christians, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. I hope to teach my kids this principle. Our responsibility is to God and not based on how others treat us. I guess we can only control our own actions. God placed a large emphasis on how we treat others. I think this is an area where most believers struggle. We can only choose to treat others well in our daily interactions and pass it on to our children. Maybe we should also continue to support the few businesses who place a premiun on consumers.