Fostering and Adoption: how we gave up the family a long time ago

There is an interesting overture before the legislature of Arkansas that, if it succeeds, would put a bill before the state that would outlaw adoption and foster care by unmarried people who live together.

I find it interesting because it is addressing the very problem that, I believe, ended the current debate about same-sex marriage before it started: when we (and by that I mean the “royal we”-- the culture of our nation) granted same-sex couples the right to foster and adopt orphans, we tacitly allowed them to also define themselves as a family. How, then, could we possibly deny them other similar legal rights as a family?

So the people of Arkansas have realized that-- or at least they have recognized that granting same-sex couples (and other unmarried couples as well) the right to adopt, they put the “traditional” understanding of family under threat. This is a pretty bold move, given the widespread acceptance of divorce and even co-habitation in our society.

At the same time, I have to say I’m sympathetic to the response from the “other side”-- in this case, including the social workers and others who want to see the huge numbers of orphans placed with families that can care for them better than the state. Is it not the case that ANY willing parent-- single, unmarried, homosexual-- who will offer love and care for a child is better than none, leaving children in state care?

And this is where the rubber meets the road: if the church dares to demand that such measures be taken (i.e., stripping same-sex couples of the possibility of adoption), we must step up to improve our participation in adoption and foster care ourselves. We are biblically mandated to do so (James 1:27) if we claim to take the practice of our faith seriously. How can we say that unmarried couples must not be allowed to adopt, when they are willing to do what we are not?
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Blog tour: The Children's Extravaganza

Waterbrook Press invited me to participate in another blog tour-- where I read and review books on my blog(s). This time, it is the “Children’s Extravaganza” (their term) which is a set of three children’s books they have recently published.

We read through the books-- of course we read them with Jack and Molly-- and got their opinions as well as forming our own. I’ll take each one in turn and offer sort of a mini-review.

The first book we read was God Gave Us Heaven, by Lisa Tawn Bergren. In it we follow a family of polar bears, with Little Cub asking Papa questions about God and heaven throughout the course of a day. It is a sweet story, and Bergren takes care to answer many important (and complex) questions in a way that is understandable to children. The artwork, drawn by Laura J. Bryant, is fun and cute, and both Jack and Molly liked it. In fact, Jack and Molly liked this book the most of the three. Marcie and I liked it a lot as well, though both of us thought that a few parts toward the end open the suggestion that everyone eventually goes to heaven. Apart from that concern-- and the subtle notion that polar bears have souls and go to heaven because of Jesus, which I don’t consider a huge problem in a book like this-- we liked the book and thought it was very helpful to begin conversations with Jack and Molly about eternal life and heaven. I’ll rank this one an 8+.

Bergren has written nearly 30 titles in the publishing world, and God Gave Us Heaven is her fourth. I hope she will offer us more.

When God Created My Toes was a cute idea-- speculate about what God thought about creating the different parts of the body (which, of course, we know already: He pronounced them “very good” in Gen. 1:31). It was done in rhyme, which made it easier to follow for the kids. While some of the rhymes were a stretch, several of them offered interesting and good insights. Jack and Molly liked it okay, but it wasn’t a favorite for either. And we didn’t love it, either-- mainly because a number of the pictures (drawn by David Hohn, some of which made Jack and Molly giggle) portrayed the children doing mischievous things, which we didn’t think we wanted our kids getting ideas from! Overall, I’ll give this one a rating of 6/6+.

Both
When God Created My Toes and the last book, God Loves Me More Than That, are by Dandi Daley Mackall, who has written many, many children’s books (over 400!), and has other titles published by Waterbrook, as well.

Last, but not least, was God Loves Me More Than That, which we all liked very much. Focusing on how great is God’s love for us (Ephesians 3:17b-18, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”), this book does a good job of offering something of a balance to the many wonderful books that focus on a parent’s great love (think Guess How Much I Love You?). The illustrations (again drawn by David Holm) were terrific-- my favorites of the three books-- and complemented the book so well. I had no parental or theological concerns about this one at all, in either the content or the drawings, and it’s a toss-up about whether this one might not be my favorite of the three. Marcie felt like it might be better for kids a little younger than ours, though Jack seemed to connect with it. I rate this one as a 10.

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Tragedy and loss

I’ve recently read two posts from bloggers who, somehow, have managed to candidly capture in their posts the shock, the depth of pain, the sense of loss that they have experienced.

Amazingly, both of these writers appear to have written their words even during their experiences. Their words are as beautiful as they are tragic, in part because they are so vulnerable and exposed in them. They are also beautiful because they seem to be inviting others-- not to share their pain, but to understand it.

So many Christians I have known are afraid of pain, many because they have been so sheltered from it. But our world is full of pain, and it is quite likely that more than half of the people you encounter today are facing suffering of some sort. What would you do if you knew of it? How would you come alongside them in their pain? As one friend (who pointed me to one of these posts) wrote, “I am currently working on a doctorate in biblical studies... a Ph.D. does not address this.”

I think the heart of these two ladies is right: to come alongside them, we must understand their pain. We don’t have to share it-- I think many who are the midst of suffering feel strongly that the only way others can understand IS to share it, but I disagree-- but we must understand it. I’m grateful for the vulnerability of these two who, in the moment of their suffering and pain, invite you and me to have a glimpse of what pain looks like, that we might understand.

I invite you to read the stories of:

Rae (AKA SmockLady) who faced her first miscarriage
Denny (AKA Songstress) who lost her husband at age 33
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Family man

I’ve mentioned Andrew Peterson before; he’s a guy with a lot of talent whose book I reviewed a while back, and he’s also a talented musician, singer, and songwriter.

One of Andrew’s songs that I love is “Family Man”-- it’s one of those songs that I wonder at how he ever performs live, because I don’t understand how he doesn’t choke up with tears.

Well, others love this song too. One church staffer created a video for the song, and it’s a pretty incredible video. Take a look:


"Family Man" from Trevor Little on Vimeo.

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Self-assessment and life plans

Following up on my comments about health and risk, the next question about personal health assessment-- regardless of how you scored on the tests-- is, “what are you going to do about it?”

This is where
a recent post from Michael Hyatt, the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, is very helpful. Michael gives a concise yet complete guide for creating a “Life Plan” which is a self-assessment of how things are in your life, how you want them to be, and how you will get from one to the other.

For example, Michael talks about assessing his own health-- which he is generally happy with (Michael has completed two half-marathons in the past 18 months, so he’s in pretty decent health)-- and where his concerns are. He says:

here’s what I wrote a couple of weeks ago in my Health account: • I feel great. My stamina is great. It's been a long time since I have been sick. • I feel good about my weight and my overall fitness. • I am running (or cross-training) four days a week for at least 60 minutes. • I am not presently doing any strength training. I am concerned this will eventually catch up with me. • I am eating pretty well, but I could be more consistent in choosing more healthy foods.I would share more, but, frankly, it’s too personal.


Michael has a lot of good report of what he learned from doing his life plan, and he even offers a basic template you can download for creating one of your own.

I think this is a solid idea; whether it is related to health, family life, career, church and ministry involvement, or other areas of life, most of us don’t put enough thought and reflection into what lies ahead-- or how easy it will be to get there. Thanks, Michael, for giving us some great food for thought.
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Health and risk

I’ve got something of an awful family history health-wise, with Diabetes coming down from one side of my family tree and heart disease/attacks coming from both; add to that the prominence of things like breast cancer (my mother and her mother both had it) and Lupus (my grandmother and one other relative), and suddenly Marcie is justifiably anxious about my health and longevity.

Which is why I was very interested to find this set of risk-assessment quizzes from the School of Medicine of Washington University in St. Louis, in partnership with Barnes Jewish Hospital and the Siteman Cancer Research Center. It offers a brief but comprehensive quiz that will assess your degree of risk for Diabetes, heart disease, stroke, Osteoperosis, and twelve types of Cancer.

I’ve worked through a handful of them, and I’m pleased with my results:
  • Diabetes = below average risk
  • Heart disease = much below average
  • Stroke = below average
  • Prostate Cancer = below average
  • Lung Cancer = much below average

Keep in mind, all this quiz can do is assess what degree you are “at risk” for these health issues. A clean or encouraging word from this helpful site is great, but it doesn’t excuse you from attending to your body’s health needs through exercise, dietary discipline, and keeping stress and anxiety levels in check.

That’s why I especially appreciate that, when they return your quiz results, they also include suggestions for how to improve your scores, as well as buttons that answer questions such as, “what makes up my risk?” and “what does my risk mean?” Beyond the basic quiz results, these folks offer a surprising amount of information in an interactive, semi-personalized format.
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Baby news

Many of you know that we are expecting twins in late fall.

You may NOT know that we visited the doctor today and had an ultrasound. Both babies are healthy and right on track for growth and development.

And, it turns out, both are girls.
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A note to sitters about TV

For all the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other babysitters out there, here’s a rule of thumb about appropriate TV shows:

Don’t assume that it’s safe or appropriate to watch just because it is animated or drawn.

We were recently at someone’s house for a visit, and they don’t have young children. (No, you don’t know them.) One of these adults turned on the TV for Jack and Molly while we (Marcie and I) were in another part of the house. When I came in, they were watching a show that was an animated cartoon-- so the assumption was that it would be a safe show for them. But, in fact, it was a show with a fair amount of violence and themes that we would prefer to introduce our children to more gradually and through a different channel (sorry about the pun) of communication other than television.

It is difficult to grasp the amount of animated TV available these days, especially if you don’t have children under 20. I can name six or seven distinct channels that show animated productions, and some show only animated stuff. There is plenty of stuff that is animated, but is not even marketed to very young children. There is at least as much stuff that
IS marketed to children Jack and Molly’s age, but that we don’t want them watching. Many of these shows regularly portray one or more of the following behaviors and/or ideas as both appropriate and acceptable:
  • Crude language/joking
  • Disrespect for other people/their possessions
  • Whining and complaining
  • Jokes/mischief at others’ expense
  • Moral relativism
  • An almost religious/spiritual environmentalism
  • Thoughtless foolishness
Now, it’s true that many of the above are common behaviors/ideas among even young children, and many of the shows that are on portray exactly that: children acting like children. But something changes when any of these are shown on a show that makes them seem normal and right, and even appealing. Marcie and I simply aren’t willing to expose our children to that; they’ll get enough of it without feeding it to them through the TV.

On the other hand, the best shows deal with many of the same themes in a way that is good and helpful. Disney produced a show called “Recess” for a few years that frequently portrayed authoritative adults (usually school teachers) in a foreboding and somewhat intimidating manner; however, the show also regularly added in a plot development where the adults that appeared fearsome were shown to be caring, likeable people with normal lives. A show that our kids watch, called “Max and Ruby,” has older sister Ruby displaying a condescending and bossy attitude to her little brother Max in almost every episode; the resolution of every plotline, though, has Ruby realizing that there was something she didn’t know at work, and humility and appreciation were in order.

There are good shows on for children, and I appreciate that many production houses that market to younger children strive to offer some vallue in their shows, even if it is something on the order of a portrayal of decision-making in social circumstances. But it’s a safe bet that the parents of children you know have some distinct preferences about what their kids watch. If you don’t know what these preferences are, be sure to ask before you reach for the clicker.
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First wedding

My friend Paul commented that it has been a long time without a blog post-- right you are, Paul, and I do beg your forgiveness. What folks in my congregation know (but you blog readers of course have no way of knowing) is that I’ve been on vacation all week, having come to South Carolina to visit my family and friends and participate in a wedding.

In fact, we’ve just returned from the wedding a few moments ago (or from the reception, actually). My dear friend who was married today is someone I knew since before she was old enough to be in my youth group, and part of a family that considers me to be something of an adopted member. Her father, also a PCA pastor, and three other pastors-- including me-- officiated in the wedding today, so we tied the knot really tightly. Congratulations, Suzanna and Johnathan.

I’m delighted to report that my small part in the wedding went fine. I was asked to do the prayer of invocation only, which is an admittedly straightforward and fairly simple portion. Still, ever since seeing
Four Weddings and a Funeral I’ve been concerned that my first wedding-- or part of a wedding-- might possibly present similar problems. Not so today, so perhaps I’ve avoided the “first wedding jitters” or what-have-you.

And so, in honor of the bride and groom, Johnathan and Suzanna Stenbeck; in honor of my first wedding being behind me; and as an effort to apologize for not blogging this week; I offer you the following, for your viewing and laughing pleasure:

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Bits & Tidbits, 6/6/08

A few links and fun stuff for the weekend:
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My new hero

I was briefly distracted this morning by our church's list of Pastors-- the succession of Pastors through the 173-year history of Hickory Withe Presbyterian Church. If you haven't taken the time to look through this list, you should; it's a fascinating list of men.

I am the 28th Pastor of Hickory Withe Presbyterian Church. Of the remaining 28, 22 of them served the church for less than five years, and three more served for right around five years. Only three Pastors in 172 years have served this church for more than five years.

One of these men is my new hero:
Pastor S. S. (Scott) Gill served Hickory Withe Presbyterian Church for 44 years, 2 and a half months, from 1861-1905. Noticing those dates, I'm struck by the fact that, in his first year of ministry, Rev. Gill would have begun shepherding his flock through the difficulties of four years of the War between the States. Following that, he pastored them for another 40 years-- a simply astounding tenure in our day, and from the looks of the aforementioned list, an impressive tenure in his day as well.

I heard mega-church Pastor Rick Warren comment recently that, in his preparation for ministry, he contacted the 100 largest churches in the U.S. and asked them, "what makes a church healthy?" (Whether you agree or disagree with Pastor Warren's choice of source for this information, I hope you'll agree it's an interesting perspective to pursue.) One thing emerged from them: in all of these churches, the Pastor had been there for a long time. Thus, Pastor Warren began to pray specifically about his pastoral call: "Lord, I'll go anywhere you want, as long as you take me there for life." He and his wife Kaye said that, when they went to plant Saddleback Church, they were 25 years old and made a 40-year commitment to that area.

Marcie and I have long hoped for the same thing: that we might move only once after seminary. While we're barely four months into this pastorate-- let alone 40 years or more!-- and I still face ordination trials (tomorrow, by the way), I'm renewed in my desire for that by the example of Scott Gill.
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