Six Things Foster Care Has Helped Me Learn About Teaching

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I’ve been a teacher for a long time.  I’ve been a foster parent for a shorter time (though on many days it’s hard for me to remember my life before foster care).  While professional development certainly has its place, some of my biggest lessons as a teacher come from living with my eyes open.  And if there’s one thing that foster care does, it’s open eyes.  Here are a few ways I’ve grown as a teacher because of my experience as a foster mom.

Safety first

Absolutely nothing else is going to get done until you can convince little people that they are in a safe place.  Nothing.  This is critical and non-negotiable.  I must be honest and reliable.  This classroom must be a place where we take care of each other.  We can never tear each other down.  Never.

Give the babies voice

Everyone has a story.  Even the tiniest learners have lived a lot and want to share their experiences.  It is so important for them to know that they are heard.  We live in a world where it’s ok to shush and dismiss children.  Our classrooms cannot be like this.  Listen to the stories.  Ask about their weekend.  Remember that they have soccer on Wednesdays (write it down if you must, but for goodness’ sake, remember it) and ask about it on Thursday morning.  This is important for all kids.  It’s double and triple important for the kids that try hard to fade into the background.  And it’s quadruple important for the kids who yell and throw stuff.

They’re having hard time

When kids are melting down, it’s not about you.  Their behavior may be challenging, but they are children.  They are not out to get you.  It’s super helpful for me to remember in those moments that they are not giving me a hard time, they are having a hard time.  I even say this to them, “I see you’re having a hard time right now, what can I do to help?”  Sometimes this works to resolve the problem.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  But it always sends the message that I am big and safe enough to handle your emotions and behaviors and we are on the same team.

Don’t say things that aren’t always true like they are

Things like, “Don’t worry, mommies always come back.”  Or, “Hurry up or we are going to leave without you.”  Mommies don’t always come back.  Teachers don’t leave students behind.  Say what you mean.  Your words matter.

I love them, but they’re not all mine

Since I’ve started teaching kindergarten, I’ve become more maternal with my students than I ever was before.  Something about their cuteness and their eagerness to learn makes them super endearing to me.  We spend lots of time together, my students and I.  We learn and laugh and sometimes cry.  I feed them breakfast and bandage their skinned knees.  I help them negotiate peer relationships and cheer when they finally learn to tie their shoes.  I love them, there is no doubt about this.  I think about them when we are apart.  Sometimes I even lose sleep trying to figure out a way to move them to the next level in guided reading.  But they are not mine.  The year ends.  I send them on.  I cannot be everything for them.  And this is not my job.  God has sent me two babies for whom I must give it all.  The rest of them I love and let go.  I don’t say stuff like, “I feel like they’re all my kids.”  Or “I’d adopt them all if I could.”  Because it’s just not true.

It’s not that serious

Almost all of the time, whatever feels like a gigantic problem today won’t feel like that in a year.  Sometimes, not even tomorrow.  We all have personalities… even when we are little.  Sometimes we click and sometimes we don’t.  It doesn’t matter.  We all have bad days.  We all throw temper tantrums (some of us are just quieter and more eloquent than others).  Everyone deserves a blank slate and it’s my job to make that happen for my students every single day.  Yesterday was great or terrible.  Today is a new day.  We’ve got this.  Let’s make it happen!

Whatcha think?  How has life made you a better teacher?  Or foster parent?  Or person?

A greater grace

Try as I might, I can’t hear it as a challenge.

It’s a sermon about forsaking worldliness and embracing Jesus only.

At other times, in other places of my life, I might hear it as a call to behavior modification.

In this season of affirmation, I hear it as the love song of a jealous God.

One in passionate pursuit of my heart, my affections.

I don’t hear him asking for more.

Perhaps I know, now more than ever, that he has to have it all, because I cannot even begin to handle it.

It’s these words that stick, that throb in my heart,

But he gives us a greater grace

(James 4:6)

In the tiptoeing balance of being in the world without being of it.

A greater grace.

In the moments when looking after orphans and widows is easy but keeping oneself undefiled by the world is not.

A greater grace.

In the conflict where it’s less right and wrong and more broken and human and messy all the way around.

A greater grace.

In the season when I ask for resolution and what I get instead is resolve.

A greater grace.

Not just more of whatever grace I can muster up on my own.

No.  Grace wholly different.

Grace made of different stuff.

Grace breathed through with jealous affection,

Not eked out with grit and willpower.

A greater grace.

For me.  For you.

For all of it.

When being pro-life is hard

I like to talk about politics.

Just, mostly, you know, with people who agree with me.

(Aren’t we all this way?)

The truth is that I tend to lean left in a church that tends to lean right.

Except for this.

I am pro-life.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness… my brothers, this should not be.

(James 3:9-10)

Today this hits hard.

Do I see the imago dei, the fingerprints of the Creator, in the unborn?

Yes.  No question.

It’s after that that things get murky.

It’s years and decades later when brokenness and drama, addiction and despair, unfortunate circumstances and poor choices twist and bend the image.

It’s generations of poverty and abuse, vicious cycles that promise relief and refuse to be broken.

It’s arrogance and contempt dressed up in suits and high heeled shoes.  Hiding behind desks, behind benches, behind stained glass steeples.

This is when I struggle most.

This is when being pro-life is hard.

With my tongue I praise God.

I praise him for the Little Ones who call me mama.

Little Ones whose first parents chose life.

Little Ones whose imago dei shines all over my home, all over my life.

And I want to curse men.

Men who ought to know better.

This should not be.

One look at my own self and I remember again my own desperate need for rescue, for redemption.

Who am I to speak condemnation, to speak death, to men made in the image of a gracious God?

A God who is still, ever, passionately pursuing their hearts in need of rescue.

A God who is for them, who is fighting yet for their freedom.

This is when it gets really real, friends.

This business of being pro-life.

Will we step in to fight with our gracious God for the hearts of men?

Will we speak life and refuse to condemn?

Will we choose to see his image, his fingerprints, in every life?

Including the ones that are already born.

You do what you are

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Ever since I was a tiny thing, I would have told you that justification is by faith alone

But that a truly regenerate heart would inevitably result in good works.

What can I say?  I was indoctrinated well.

I think good theology is important.

I am also a big believer that those of us who claim to follow Christ darn well better show up and do a thing.

You show me your faith without works and I will show you my faith by what I do.  (James 2:18)

As I’ve mentioned lots of times before, I am a doer.

You show me a list of fruit and I want to check them off one by one.

Love.  Check.

Joy.  Check.

Peace.  Check.

This morning I see a picture of a redbud tree.

It is beautiful in springtime bloom, resplendent in pink flowered glory.

Not because it made a checklist.

Not because it worked its tail off.

Not because of daily quiet times, monthly service in the community and an offering automatically debited from its bank account.

Just because it is a redbud tree.

It does what it is.

It can’t, in fact, do anything else.

I am immediately drawn to this image.

It resonates with the word that I have chosen for this year.

Be.

The flowers, the fruit, the beautiful display pointing back to a loving Creator

Friends, it’s true.

You do what you are.

So, if you are a compulsive doer like me, give yourself permission to relax for a minute.

Be.

Be loved.

Be a passionately pursued, wildly cherished, extravagantly loved son or daughter of the King.

Settle yourself down there.

Let that sink in for a long, long moment.

And then go.

Do what you are.

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Lead with Joy

We’re talking about trials this morning.

I’m not a fan.

But I am a fighter.

Consider it pure joy, James says, whenever you face trials of many kinds.

I want to dismiss him out of hand.

And then I read about the word consider.

It’s also translated lead.  Go before.  Go first.

I hear echoes of Joshua headed out to conquer Jericho.

It would make sense to lead with fighters.

The ones with strength and tools to dismantle a wall.

But the commander of the Lord’s army is clear.

Lead with the worshippers.  Lead with the ark—the tangible evidence of the presence of God.

Lead with a song.  With a shout.

Lead with joy.

Friends, the truth is that I feel like I am facing a wall.

A trial in the most literal sense.

And I want to lead with the fighters.

It makes sense.

And so I struggle to linger here

When there is strength to be built and tools to be gathered.

But I am choosing to lead with joy.

Not the giddy happiness that relies on circumstance.

But the settled hope of one who has seen redemption with my very own eyes.

The stubborn faith of one who knows the tangible evidence of the presence of God.

The day may come to fight.

And don’t you worry, I’ll be ready.

But this day, I am choosing to lead with joy.

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Love that surpasses knowledge

I’ve got two pages of sermon notes from the last couple of weeks.

Little seeds of thought that might or might not sprout into blog posts.

I’ve spent the past half hour staring at them and, friends, they are not sprouting tonight.

It’s this… this that is catching me.

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love may… know this love that surpasses knowledge.

(Ephesians 3:17-19)

I like knowledge.  Give me a Greek word and a concordance and I am in my glory.  I’m weird like that.

But here’s the thing.

It’s not knowledge that draws me to repentance.

It’s not knowledge that rescues me from my own mess.

It’s not knowledge that gives me hope for redemption that is so much bigger than me.

It’s Love.

During the closing song at church today, I felt a very clear call to respond in a specific way.

And you wanna know what?

My first response was nope.  Not happening.

And in the fifteen seconds that I wrestled with God, it wasn’t knowledge that won me over.

It was Love.

Love that’s never failed before.

Love that provides enough for our needs and more than enough for us to share. (2 Corinthians 9:8)

Love that calls us to not be afraid, but just believe. (Mark 5:36)

Love that rescues us from our mess and amazes us with hope for the future.

Friends, if we know nothing else today, let’s know this.

Let’s know it together

This Love that surpasses knowledge.

Fear Not

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But I was afraid, he told the Master, holding out the one talent that he had buried. (Matthew 25)

We dismiss this servant too easily, I think.

This morning, he is the one that catches my attention.

Instead of investing the money in the marketplace like the other servants (with, you know, all that risk), he hid it away.

Just in case.

It hardly seems a terrible choice.

Some might call it frugal, even.

But one thing it certainly was:

A fearful choice.

The call to generosity is a tricky one for rule-followers like me.

I like specific instructions.  Numbers.

So while my heart is drawn to generosity, I see myself here too.

In this servant.

You never know, I reason.

I might need it someday.

And so, sometimes, I hold back when I should pour out.

And I let my overthinking win out over my first instinct, over my (dare I say it?) Holy Spirit breathed intuition.

Because I am afraid.

Fear not, the same Master says.

Again and again.  Three hundred times and more.

Fear not.  I have redeemed you.  I have called you by name.

You are mine.  (Isaiah 43:1)

I know this to be true.

And I desperately want it to change me.

To change my hoarding into agape.

To change my fear into faith.

I’m not there yet, friends.

But I’m sitting with those words awhile tonight.

And maybe you should too.

Let’s not bury our talents.

Let’s hear the truth instead.

You are mine.

Fear not.