4th.

IMG_4595.JPGPatriotism has always been a thing I didn’t totally know how to engage with.
I mean, I like our country. I do. I’m grateful for it. But it’s not a blind patriotism that I revel in. I’m more aware of our brokenness as a country even as I’m more aware of some of the pieces that make us such a unique and beautiful country to live life in.
That said, especially in these last few years, patriotism has felt trickier than ever to me. Listen, I know how it seems: I went to grad school and got some degree in global development, read some books about how colonialism wrecked the world and how deeply racism has been ingrained into our society, and think I’ve got it all figured out. I totally would think that about myself if I was me 8 years ago. I know I don’t have it all figured out. I never will. I don’t think I’m better than everyone that voted this past Fall to “Make America Great Again.” While, we all have our own opinions, and I’m growing in confidence in my own just as those with opposing views, I don’t think I’ve arrived at ultimate truth in terms of how someone is supposed to engage with their country.

[I write the caveats because I want to be balanced. I write the caveats because I want everyone to like me. I write the caveats because I hope the people that don’t agree will listen to me if I cover up my deep thoughts with fluffy clouds of words that sort of hide the intensity of how I actually feel. I write the caveats so the people that have been suffering for years in ways I don’t understand won’t think I’m an ignorant bigot that thinks he speaks for all marginalized people groups. I write the caveats because I’m insecure.]

Let me tell you where I’m at this year though:
I feel more patriotic than ever. I’m also more disheartened by the state of our country than ever. What a mix, right? The complexity of it all is where I’m at though.
I feel like facebook and twitter and think pieces and major media all want me to pick a side. And let’s be honest, if you’re around me much or you read my facebook posts and pretend to know all the complexities of my political leanings, you can probably at least guess that I’m more disheartened than proud. That doesn’t mean I hate my country though. You can lament the brokenness of something and still work like hell to try to make it a place of safety, love, and hope for everyone seeking to find their home in it’s borders.

I’ll tell you why I’m disheartened:
I get scared because my oldest Latina foster daughter and our Black niece went for a jog down our street together the other day and I started thinking about people in my city that stab people without shame when they don’t like something. I thought about groups of people that showed up to intimidate and condemn a Latino church to hell just months ago right down the street. I’m scared when I think about how other people say they “don’t see color” when lives are taken as we pretend like “all lives matter.” I think about how I sat at a table with someone who came to our country with refugee status a few years ago and through her best english attempts, told me that she was confused at how the United States could keep her family separated when all she ever thought was that this was a place of love and hope. I think about my favorite doughnut shop owner, that happens to be an immigrant: When I came in yesterday before even ordering a thing, he bursts into questions about the travel ban and how will it affect him and what does this thing on the news mean and who do I know that might be able to help him get his elderly mom here from their home country that is without argument one of the most dangerous places in the world. He walked to the back before I could order a doughnut as he mumbled something about how bad sales are in July and how he’s wondering how it’s all going to work out.

What a mess. And as a White dude that’s mostly lived a lucky, privileged life due to my hardworking parents, gender, and race, I get that I don’t even get the half of it.

I’ll tell you something else though:
Whether I agree with going to war, whether or not I align more and more with pacifism as I grow older, I’m grateful for people that have fought for the freedom for me to be mad about this in the first place. I’m grateful that many people paved the way for me to walk beside those coming into our country with refugee status because for deeply complex reasons, their country wasn’t able to arrive at the same stability we have here (even when the courageous soldiers that fought on their behalf may not feel like this is what they fought for and man, that’s hard too). I’m grateful for a country where even when I don’t like how it’s all going, I’m allowed to say that and not be targeted by extremist groups like friends I’ve had that have lived their lives in different parts of the world. I’m grateful that we live in a place where my wife can walk beside children of immigrants and speak to them in their native language and bring bits and pieces of the things they call home into their new home, that doesn’t happen everywhere. I’m grateful that I get to go through life learning from the perspectives of Native peoples and African American peoples and Latino peoples and all of the kinds of people that are too often silenced that are in the communities I find myself in- in some places of the world I wouldn’t have a chance to learn from anyone that didn’t look and think just like me. There is a lot of beauty in all of this. Even as it feels overshadowed by darkness sometimes, I can hold onto hope that redemption is being birthed even when I can’t see the process.

One of the times I always feel choked up with patriotism is during baseball and basketball games (I don’t really care about football that much). This last year I remember  being at a Blazer game and feeling super confused by what it means to be proud of being an American when there is so much I don’t feel proud of. Today as I’m reflecting on that, I’m stepping into the idea that it’s okay to trapped in the complexity. It’s okay to be mad at injustice and grateful for the opportunity to bring an end to oppression. I lament the brokenness of a nation that cost the lives of Native peoples that I may never fully understand, I lament that my freedom has been achieved even as slaves were brought here years ago and their ancestors continue to be mistreated, misunderstood, and killed because of their color. I lament that we are being led into a time where hate and bigotry is being equated with honesty. I lament that we call ourselves the land of the free and the home of the brave and we craft policies and procedures that are birthed out of fear and the oppression of others. Today, I also celebrate that while I believe there is more we can do to welcome and express that kind of love that I’ve come to know through my faith and community, that in many ways there is hope in the love that is coming to life in the face of brokenness. I celebrate that my community is made of people from all walks of life, from different races and ethnicities and languages and socioeconomic foundations and interpretations of faith, in some places that would never occur in someone’s wildest dreams. What a gift and curse. The reasons I have hope often come out of the places where someone else lost theirs.

Today I sit in the complexity of lament and celebration waiting for love to keep growing and wisdom to continue molding us into place where every person would know the joy of having hope in something far beyond themselves or even their best interpretation of government and rose-colored history.

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5 Years

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In the first few months everything seemed fairly magical.
I remember sitting at the tall table right when you walk into to Gov Cup and talking about all sorts of things: trying to impress each other with our music taste, what kinds of food we liked and didn’t like, what our families were like, what our faith meant to us. From the trivial to the deeply personal all on our first date in downtown Salem. I thought it was going to be that feeling forever. Even though I knew that another person couldn’t complete anyone, I sort of thought we might be the exception. I thought we were going to have some sort of match-up that was unlike anyone else’s.
I remember texting my brother while you were in the bathroom (for an exceptionally long amount of time I might add. Was there a lack of toilet paper? Were you texting all your friends about how good looking I was? Were you sitting alone just giggling about how hilarious my jokes were?) I was telling him about how much we got along and how quick we seemed to hit it off. I was texting him all the things I could text about you before you came back.
After we parted ways over the long weekend, I was so sad you would be out of phone service and we couldn’t non-stop text. I was checking my phone every few minutes to make sure you didn’t send me one last text I could respond to before you were out of service. I went to high school play that night to watch some of our kids perform and kept getting glared at by the people around me for looking at my phone while the kids were acting their hearts out (sorry, kids! young love is hard to compete with!). It was all I thought it would be if I ever ended up meeting someone I could marry one day.
Anyway.
That was the first date.

Look at us now.
Things don’t always feel so cute and magical. Sometimes we have the perfect moments to ask each other all the things we’re thinking about and wondering about and deciding about life like we did in those first few months of texts and phone calls and coffee dates. Sometimes we still ask and dream and laugh together.
Sometimes we also just sit and stare silently because life is tired and that’s okay.
Sometimes we are deeply caught up in our love for each other and sometimes we fall asleep early on the one night we have to get away in a ritzy hotel and that’s okay too.

People always say not to let the sun go down on our anger but usually we do all our best and most vulnerable, insecure jabs toward each other when the sun is down already and sleeping it off is the best way to remember that we really do love each other.
One way I know that I love you so deeply because there is not a person on this earth that could make me feel as awful and as loved as you have the power to do. In the best and the worst, you’re my best person and I love that.

Who would have thought we’d be where we are today when we first got married 5 years ago? I thought our life together was going to be full of crazy adventure that drove me crazy as you made me jet off to Spanish speaking countries all over Latin America. I thought we’d be living somewhere in the Caribbean eating mangos and living in a sweet barrio somewhere beautiful and challenging.
I thought we’d just start thinking about having biological kids, that was the five year plan.
While I didn’t think we were above it, I never thought we’d wonder how we would make it through each other brokenness.
I never thought we’d question why we loved and cared for kids.
I thought we’d play lots of board games and drink sweet drinks late into the night instead of sitting around while I watch Survivor and you tell me every five seconds how dumb it is.
I thought we’d go to more indie concerts because we were never going to be an old married couple.
I thought we’d have more tattoos and that I’d have a better beard.
I thought you’d have convinced me to run a marathon by now.
I thought we would always know how to love and respect each other well and that we’d always choose to communicate and listen to each other and support each other in everything we did or didn’t do.

But you know what? I like us.
I really do like us.
I like that we’re figuring out our crap together and sometimes not together, and that both ways make us better partners for each other.
I like that we eat too much ice cream together.
I like that you don’t make fun of me for still playing candy crush.
I like that our conversations are rarely about what new music is out and mostly we get excited when we hear a Nelly song on 107.5 (but then simultaneously bummed out because YIKES when there are 4 year old ears in the car and also wondering why we were allowed to listen to that at middle school dances/sporting events).
I like that you’re not afraid to push me and make me uncomfortable.
I like that we have rhythms of life together that make sense for us even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else.
I like when we kiss.
I like that we are figuring out how to love and raise a few people that live in our home and are a deeply important part of who we are as a family, even when people think we’re doing it all wrong.
I like the way you still dream and hope even when I don’t. I like when I still dream and hope even when you don’t.
I like that we read way more kid’s books than grown-up books these days.
I like that you still make me laugh more than anyone else.
I like that you put up with my jokes.
I like that your heart and my heart weirdly smash up against each other in a perfect way as we’re figuring out what love in our community and our world looks like.
I like driving your car and listening to country music when you’re not in there because even though you’ll never really know, it’s strangely satisfying to think I’d make you mad if you did know (is this a sign of an unhealthy relationship? Red flag? Sorry, not sure).
I like making you things with peanut butter for you because I still hate pb it but I know you really love it alot.
I love the way you point me to true Love even when you have no idea what you’re doing.
I like figuring out faith and hope and depression and anger and all the things inbetween with you.
There’s no one else I’d rather walk through that stuff with. No one.

So anyway, I guess what I want to say is: I love you.
I know for lots of people it’s like, “oh cute, five years. they think that’s a long time.”
But for me, it does feel like a long time. It sort of feels like forever (even though it’s obviously not and it’s like what do we know we’re still kids!).
Thanks for still being married to me, Lace.
You’re still the bee’s knees and other weird phrases people use to express their affection. Here’s to a night of mediocre cheap food and arguing with the four year old while I try not to lose my mind at all the sassiness and hair living under our roof.
Happy Anniversary, Hotcakes.

 

Friday

IMG_2270Foster care is such a tricky thing. I guess I can’t speak for all families, but I can speak for myself. It’s frickin’ hard.
This picture is a good snapshot into the trickiness of it all.
It looks beautiful.
Cute.
So “precious.”
If I had a dollar for every time we have been told that our youngest is adorable, we would be well on our way to making a dent in the student loans that will forever loom over our heads. And it’s not like it’s bad to hear that, I mean she can certainly use all the positive words she can get. It’s just that, there’s a lot of depth to the brokenness that runs much deeper than the intricate braids that Lace weaved into her hair the night before. Like I know she’s beautiful, but also she knows how break down two twenty something adults with a quick glare and a few choices words digging at our deepest insecurities.

Currently I’m overwhelmed with the enormity of emotions in our home. I’m coping by eating a doughnut on the rooftop of an overpriced grocery store. The fact that I had attempted to give up doughnuts for lent and confessed to some friends the other day that I have an unhealthy relationship with food is not lost on me as the sun has now turned to rain on this rooftop oasis. The doughnut, as it turns out, is not helping and is sort of stale. Good Friday indeed.

I’ve faced my own demons in life time and time again, but the journey into foster care has shown me the depth of human brokenness like nothing else. It’s not just that our littlest ones parents are broken, honestly I’m not sure I’m less broken than she is, we are just different kinds of broken. It’s amazing how the choices of a few (all of us in this story) can have such far reaching consequences. A little girl went into care years ago, and all of us in our own ways (bio parents, foster parents (past and present), friends and family, and mostly the little girl with the flowers) will carry it with us all the way into forever.

This Good Friday is such a reminder to me that evil is real and it’s present in systems and hearts and nature itself. And yet, hope is real. It’s more powerful. Even when it seems dark. Hope is all I’ve got. I don’t even know why I’ve got it, but I do. And I’m grateful. So grateful for a hope and a love that wins in the end.

any title i can think of seems like it will invoke pity or you’ll think that i think i’m some sort of hero and i don’t and i just want you know about a little of our life with two of the coolest girls in foster care that we could have ever dreamed of.

hello to our current little family of the last nearly four months…fullsizer

You girls, know what’s fun? Sitting around playing Uno in the glow of our newly strung up Christmas lights and blaming our farts on each other. There is something strangely healing and sacred about moments like these. Moments where we all come from different pasts, we’re all facing different futures, and tonight we sit and we laugh and we look at each other and we help each other and our bellies are all full of the same meal I ate nearly every Sunday night for all of my childhood. Chips and Beans. It’s nachos. But for some reason we never called it that. Tonight it doesn’t matter what we call it. We’re just eating it and farting around the house while we laugh and life feels alright.

But it really isn’t.

I don’t know if either of you girls know this, but I’m usually a pretty positive guy. I really am. I’m always trying to see the positive. It’s annoying. Sometimes I’m actually rude in the ways I’m trying to figure out how to make everything seem like it’s okay. Today I’m recognizing (once again) that things aren’t okay and that’s just how it is.

Remember how cool it was to be with so many people on thanksgiving this week?
Me too. Sort of…
Except for the parts that I was terrified that someone would say some sort of general comment about the groups of people you identify with and Aunt Lacey or Uncle Seth would lose their minds and say something we regret…except we wouldn’t really regret it at all. It’s weird how much energy goes into planning out arguments that never happen. And I’m grateful for the love extended to our unique little team this weekend. (Side note to the rest of the world: I love my wife’s side of the family, they’re 100% my family too. I love their support and compassion and desire to walk with us however they can figure out to. They’re wonderful people that I deeply love. These rants aren’t even close to some sort of reflection on anyone else’s problems outside of our own mess.)

It was also cool except for the part where we’re basically having a day to revel in our own gluttony and we’ve been busting our butts for the last 4 months to try and continue the work that’s been done in your life to help instill some healthy ways of viewing food and here I am eating 3 pieces of pie in front of you and keeping constant vigil to make sure no one is sneaking you food because I’m scared you might associate this place as being the place where you get all the food we never let you have because your nutritionist is worried about your health and most days we are too. Also I’m feeling pathetic about my own self because I’m annoyed someone just snuck you an extra bite and also I’m eating too much pie because Aunt Lauren is really good at making pie and right now I’m using this sweet, perfectly baked pie to make myself feel better except I know it won’t and I know that’s exactly what I’m trying to teach you not to do and I’m doing it anyway.

It was cool except for the parts where I felt like we had to know where you were every single second because you’re mildly into stealing and breaking things and I’m actually worried you’re going to just haul off and punch our 3 year old niece in the face and you don’t even get why it’s a big deal and you have absolutely zero remorse. Luckily only a few of those things happened! So at least we’ve got that, right?! Genuinely and non-sarcastically proud of you for holding it together until the last few family moments were cut short when you tried to break everything you could see and we had to put you in the car seat as you screamed and cried and told us how awful we were.

It was cool except for the part where I’m worried that you know enough to know that people are talking louder to you because they think you’ll understand their English when they yell at you. Or when people just keep trying to hug you instead of figuring out how to ask if it’s okay to touch you when I know that you actually hate being touched and I’m wondering if it’s more embarrassing for me to just let it happen or for me to speak up and then make you feel awkward when you see their confused face as they slowly quit trying to hug you. Or the parts where I’m constantly worried you’ll never come out of the room you’ve sat in for hours with the door closed. It’s less of a teenage, anti-social thing and more of a if I was you I’d probably really consider acting on my suicidal feelings really regularly too kind of thing.

PS to my wife: you’re some sort of something that is beyond my understanding. How you deal with all of this and ME on top of it. I don’t know how you do it. Because I know that the grouchiness and tiredness I feel is nothing compared to what actually comes out. It’s always worse than it seems to myself. And you still want to kiss me sometimes, even when my mouth is so quick to snap out words that break everything around me.

It’s all weird, isn’t it? And is weird even enough to describe it all? No it isn’t, but my bachelors degree in the Bible didn’t educate me with the words to really verbalize these moments. Well, maybe it did and I just spent too much time planning minesweeper. My bad if that’s the case. I probably learned some word in greek that would actually describe this perfectly. But here we are and I don’t know that word.

These Christmas lights were supposed to make everything feel like it’s all alright.
Isn’t that the magic of Christmas?
Aren’t the stories of Santa and snow and Jesus getting born and people loving each other supposed to remind us that it’s all going to be okay?

it isn’t working.

I guess that’s the thing about hope though.
When we don’t have the words, when we don’t feel a single ounce of it left in our bones, when nothing really makes sense, when we’re not sure what your life or our life is going to look like tonight or tomorrow let alone 10 years from now…we keep holding on anyway.
Today I was reminded that there is not enough we could know that could possibly reassure us that it’s gonna be okay. There is nothing we could know that would really make anything much better than it currently is. All we’ve got is the chance to love the people in front of us and the One that’s got us all here in the first place.
And if we love enough, I hear that the hope sneaks right into the parts of our souls and bones that ache for something more than we’re all experiencing right now.
So, there’s that.

letters you’ll never read

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Dear Kids,
Well, we’ve known each other for a few months now. In some ways we know each other better than anyone else does. In other ways it’s like we just met today and are more confused by each other than ever before.

Slamming doors or ignoring what I’m saying doesn’t surprise me anymore. Most days a shrieking scream of, “I don’t love you” and “You’re not very very nice to me,” sort of roll off my back. Some days though, some days that stuff really stings. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take it a little personally each time you ignored me or yelled at me or wished out loud that I was someone else.

There’s some good times too though! We also laugh. We laugh in ways that make everything feel like this is how it’s supposed to be. Like, maybe we’re all gonna be okay. We are, right? I mean we have the worst times but they’re smashed right up against the best times. Few things compare to dance parties while making dinner and listening to the Frozen soundtrack or bedtime stories and prayers for better tomorrows. Few things compare to the moments where even though we don’t share a language, we just finally get each other and can roll our eyes at the same screaming four year old knowing we’re in this together and can’t wait for Aunt Lacey to get home and help make us all feel better for the day. Maybe it will be okay. Maybe.

But I guess that’s the tough thing of all this. Today it feels okay, but we’re not really fooling anyone. Because the truth is: we have absolutely no idea how it’s all gonna turn out for any of us. Will we know either of you a year from now? Will the next place you land be a place where you know you’re loved without a doubt? Will you keep growing up to believe you’re unstoppable, beautiful just like you are, and capable of more than anyone treats you like you are? Will you be forgotten again and fall into the darkness of seeking out love in all the wrong ways? The kind of ways that never end up making anything better? I just pray that wherever you go, that someone reminds you of who you were born to be.

I’m overwhelmed at how much you’ve walked through while I’m sitting here on the porch of an overpriced NW grocery store sipping overpriced coffee and feeling guilty that I’m happy to be here on my own instead of coloring or practicing another language so I can communicate better. It’s not that I hate spending time with you guys…it’s just that I’m tired. Lucky for me, I can feel better knowing you get a little tired of being with me too sometimes. We’re all pretty messed up, aren’t we? At least we’ve got that.

Even if it’s not all gonna be okay, at least right now we’ve got a lot of love between the four of us in this falling-apart-in-more-ways-than-one home.
I guess it’s true about love remaining when everything else feels broken and fleeting.

Love you guys (even when I’m not sure how to show it because I’m tired of the ABCs and re-explaining the same thing 47 times),

-Your weird foster dad

of children and meltdowns and always being tired.

Props to parents everywhere. One month in and I’m still confused about literally every single aspect of parenthood. I expect it will take the rest of my life to think I’ve figured any of this out. My eyes and my heart and my brain are tired tonight. Walking with newcomers and filing paperwork on their behalf and then coming home to figure out how we can best love our two foster kids right now has either two effects:
1. I’m sleeping so hard I am unwakable.
2. I’m not sleeping at all because I’m just staring at the wall wondering why life is so unfair for people that I’ve grown to love so deeply.

I’m not saying this to sound like some sort of do-gooder.
While there have been dark parts of my heart that I’ve battled in a quest against pride and failing intentions, I’m not in this for the reward. At a fancy dinner for work last night, someone asked if I had kids and I briefly explained our short journey into foster care over the past month, a few people gave some awkward, unknowing what to say sort of smiles and said, “well, that must be SO rewarding.”
I smiled and said, “yep.”
Inside though I’m thinking, “this is not rewarding. it’s heartbreaking. it’s sad almost every single day. we laugh and we play and we’re learning languages and cultures, but it’s all so heartbreaking that we’re here in the first place, this is not how it’s supposed to be.”

Life is weird.
If you asked me two years ago when we moved up to Portland what I thought we’d be doing with our lives, I would have been able to tell you that Lacey was going to be an incredible teacher (and she has been), but that is the only thing I could have possibly guessed would happen that is currently happening.
But, here we all are. And we’re all sort of alive and we all have got some love to share and we will laugh and cry and go to bed and sleep or not sleep and then get up and try again tomorrow and there’s that.

Parenthood: Semana Dos

IMG_3435Dear Foster Daughter #2,

What a week right?
You were dropped into our lives as surprise to both you and to us.
You get a couple of parents that just started trying to figure out parenthood a few days before you arrived. Not only do you get a couple of brand-new parents, but you also get a confused, wild, and excited foster sister that will want to hold your hand, and read books, and be louder than any of us really appreciate in the early hours of the morning.

We don’t even share a common language. And yet, I wouldn’t wish you to be anywhere but in our home as a part of our unique, seemingly ever growing family. I don’t even know how to ask if you’re actually doing okay or find out what you really need, and yet we’re what we’ve got. There is something so beautiful and complex about what we’ve got going on as a family. I don’t think I’d trade it for anything. We’re only just beginning to know each other’s stories, and I think our four stories combined are going to make a pretty good story all together in the months to come.

Another thing, your foster mom is really cool. I know that you know she’s rad because she can speak in Spanish with you. But she’s even better than you realize today. She’s full of wisdom and hope even when she has every reason to be tired and cynical. She smiles and extends patience when I’m done and ready to carry your screaming 4 year old foster sister out to the parking lot to have a “tough love” conversation that won’t make any sense because I’m just making things up.

At night when I’m trying to fall asleep, I literally just laugh to myself for a solid 10 minutes because, what the heck are we even doing, right? Like, the traumas we’ve all been through and the experiences we’ve all had, and the unknowningness of it all…it sounds like a recipe for a complete disaster. But we’re braving the storm and we’re gonna figure this all out together. You’re gonna teach me some more of your languages, I’ll teach you some of mine. I’m gonna try to learn how to be as brave and resilient as you and am hoping you’re gonna help me learn how to make delicious guatemalan food. In return, I hope that you will get some glimpses of real, messy love and learn to love doughnuts as much as I do. We’ve all got something to give, right?

I know that I tell your foster sister that I love her already, and I do. I’m trying not to overwhelm you with too much emotion in your first few days with us…but you should know we love you too. We are honored that we would be chosen to be your fill-in family for this unknown period of time. We can’t wait to see what comes next in the story that’s being told with our lives.

You are a part of our family today and for as long as you want.