A Fun-Filled Fall Retreat

Our Fall Retreat with Cru at Davis was this past weekend. We had a great time. We just took two kids (Isaiah and our foster daughter), while Judah and Bethany had a sleepover with their cousin.  It was just two days/one night, in order to encourage students with midterms coming up to still come—and they did; we had about 100 students there. It was great to have some time to get to know more Davis students, as it has been a bit of a whirlwind trying to get to know the movement here, and challenging to remember names. We enjoyed hearing from Matt Mikalatos and his wife, Krista, as our speakers. In his unique powerful and funny story-telling style, Matt brought to life for the students what God’s love means in terms of both responding to it on a personal level as well as responding to it by wanting to tell others about it.

It is funny how different the retreat was than our NAU retreats. In Flagstaff we had a smaller group of students, we knew every one of them, Jeremiah and I had our hand in every aspect of the retreat, and we often were in an informal setting—camping or at a church in a nearby town. This one was at a retreat center, and I didn’t have to focus on preparing food at all…

One of the ways we were able to serve at the retreat was through leading worship. It was fun to be able to play my violin with Jeremiah leading. In the last few days I have been reflecting on why I love to worship with my violin.  There is something about playing my violin with worship music that allows me to stop focusing on myself and my surroundings and allows me to enter into worship more fully. In a sense, it allows me to feel like I am in the music—part of the praise drifting up to the Lord’s ears. It is hard to explain why it is more intensely personal for me than when I am singing with the group. I think it is because it allows me to bring my own expression to the songs, joining with the beautiful corporate praise and adding a new layer to make it more complex, more full. I also hope that, as I pour myself into those little notes flowing from my fingers and focus my heart on seeing and being in awe of God’s beauty, that it also allows others to see His beauty more fully—for it is He who made music and designed expression itself for our enjoyment and His. Another thing I love about it is that each time I play and improvise, following Jeremiah’s lead, I am weaving something a little bit new and different, listening and reacting and feeling the movement of the song—building with it, driving forward with it, melting away as it resolves… Moment by moment worship.

Another thing I was reminded of at this retreat is how having a baby with you breaks down barriers. Not being an extrovert, that initial approach to new people is still not easy for me. But when I am holding a baby (in this case our little foster daughter), girls just approach me and smile at me. This reality reminded me of the Spring Break trip to the Dominican Republic when Judah was a baby—I had no trouble finding Dominican students to talk to.  The girls here also loved meeting and holding the baby (when she wasn’t trying to get down to crawl around the floor), allowing me to talk to them.

Overall, I think the students had a great time, and were encouraged to see God more clearly. Isaiah’s favorite part was seeing Banana slugs, with listening to the talks coming in as a close second.

A New Fostering Experience

As many of you know, shortly after we moved to California, we began the process of re-licensing for foster care here in Yolo County. We have been licensed for over a month now, and received our first placement 3 days after getting our license, right about the time the students moved in and started classes at UC Davis. It has been a bit crazy, but we are thankful to be able to serve in this way again. Our hope remains to eventually adopt, but we now understand more fully the importance of providing security and love to these children for a season while hoping that, if possible, they can return to their biological families. I have also grown in my compassion and love for the birth mothers—they so often do deeply love their children, but are either trapped in addiction or abuse, and/or have never seen health or appropriate parenting in their own lives. We are not against them.

The emotional ups and downs of being a foster parent are strong. I am quickly growing in a deep love for this child and I get to treat her as my child–snuggling with her, feeding her, playing with her, laughing with her… Yet I get to take her to visitations with her birth parents several times a week (a juggling act schedule-wise in and of itself), constantly reminding me that she is not mine, that I don’t know how much longer she will be with us, that I will likely never know how she will turn out as a child, teenager and adult. I get this little snapshot of her life, in which I can pour in as much stability as possible—a little foundation of health (not perfection, mind you, but health).

Another aspect of the emotions of it for me relates to my position in it all. I have done nothing wrong, and yet there is a sense of nervousness for me in dealing with the government. It isn’t entirely rational—I have worked for the government before; I have good position before the government; I have been approved as having a safe, exemplary home for children. Yet the authority and power of the government is so great, and the power of a foster parent to have any voice is so nonexistent, that it is nevertheless intimidating to be involved. Until I get to know the social workers and others involved in the case, there is a trepidation and uneasiness in my heart—a fear that I will do something wrong and someone will be mad at me (OK, my sin issue of people pleasing is tied into this too). Interestingly, this fear is greatly diminished once I get to know the social workers involved, because I then can believe that they know my desires in the matter are good. Nevertheless, the experience of feeling that initial trepidation gives me more compassion for what the birth parents must be going through. The government is a great power that has just intersected their lives in a very negative way, and they have to work hard to re-gain a good standing before that power, something that likely is more than some of them can bear emotionally. Keeping that in mind allows me to let the birth mother’s critiques about a tiny little dry spot on the baby’s skin to roll off my back. She is not trying to critique me as much as trying to preserve some sense of involvement and control in this roller-coaster of a process.

Another new reality of this experience has been a little taste of what it means to be a multi-cultural family. Having a little baby who does not match my skin color has been interesting. Thankfully, where we live it has been a positive thing. I have enjoyed the fact that I have more meaningful interactions with strangers of color—it is as if having a child of color with me breaks down invisible barriers that were present before, and people approach me and talk to me. I know I have much more to learn, but it is exciting.

As much as I want to have a multicultural family long term (as prayerfully we will be able to adopt a foster child at some point in the future), having a child of color even temporarily has made more real for me the fears that I won’t be able to provide connections to a child’s birth culture that he/she needs. I have several good friends from different cultures, but I want more. Yet I don’t always know how to pursue that. I know how to be colorblind functionally—I smile at everyone and see a unique individual in each face I pass. But that is different than having real connections with particular cultures. That is something that takes tremendous intentionality. And I don’t want a child to resent not having more connections, or coming to the place where she is expected to know things that she doesn’t because she was raised by Caucasian parents. I don’t need to worry about this, I know, but it is an awareness I have.

I will continue to be a learner and see how God will use this in my life for as long as we are called to care for the children God brings into our home.