It’s been about 6 months since I started this blog and I’m glad that I’ve been able to write some of my thoughts down on paper, albeit electronic paper. This is all thanks to my wife who is credited with urging me to start a blog in an effort to prevent undue Facebook arguments with innocent passersby. You see, I’m very thoughtful. Or maybe I should say it thought-full. I have a lot of thoughts that everyone should have the privilege of hearing…or at least that’s my unbiased opinion about my unbiased thoughts. Although I haven’t found a good way to completely eliminate responding to the lunacy I see on social media, this blog has served as a good tool to help channel those thoughts into a more productive, and less harmful medium. And when we get down to the brass tax of how things like social media, blogs and other such avenues can be used for good, preventing division is definitely in the top 3.
But anyway, now onto today’s thought: My wife and I recently had the privilege of speaking on a panel for soon-to-be foster parents in the Charleston, SC area. We have been foster parents for a solid 7 months now, which by my standards makes us experts, and so we agreed to speak on this panel to answer any questions that these bright eyed families may have. I call it a privilege because walking up to the front of the class was an honor and having the opportunity to speak directly to their fears and uncertainties was not a burden but a blessing. To use our experiences to help those around us is at the heart of everything we should be doing as human beings, and it was an honor to be in the company of such amazing people, answering questions alongside another foster family, a pediatric therapist, DSS case worker, and former foster child (now adult).
One question that stood out to me came from a gentleman who said:
How should we respond to people, other Christians, when they say ‘You’re gonna be foster parents?! Good luck…you should talk to Jim first to hear about his bad experience…’
He then admitted that he understood his friend’s comment was a product of fear but that this friend of his brought up a good point. You see, there’s a risk associated with bringing a stranger’s child(ren) into your home. What if they decide they don’t like you and damage your home? Or how about if they become physically violent as a result of not being shown how to appropriately handle their emotions? How about if they are a budding arsonist? Or the worst case scenario that is always quoted: what if they claim they were touched inappropriately? Any one of these scenarios has the potential to turn your otherwise peaceful and admirable life upside down, but this last one has been brought up with just about everyone when they find out we’re foster parents, and presents a very real fear for would-be foster parents.
To me, this is a very profound statement, not from the guy in the audience asking the question but from this Christian who has a fear of fostering based on Jim’s experiences. To depict this in one of my favorite stories ever told, let me take you on a little journey. It’s circa 1400 BC and a group of people known in their time as the Israelites are camped along a large river making preparations to cross into and claim a section of land for themselves. For years they have been nomads, running from their former captors and wandering about in the desert trying to find a place to call home. To prepare for their pending river crossing into hostile territory, they sent 12 spies to wander about in this section of land to scout it out. Their mission was to come back with some intelligence on the thickness and height of the natives’ walls, the kind of food they have, the richness of their soil, the topography, and the strength of their armies. The story picks up when the spies return with their respective reports in the book of Numbers 13:27:
We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak! The Amalekites live in the Negev, and the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the hill country. The Canaanites live along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and along the Jordan Valley.
That was the report from 10 of the 12 spies. End of story, right? The Israelites turned around and decided to lay their roots elsewhere. If the story ended there then there wouldn’t be much to talk about. It would be a closed and shut case of good intelligence gathering through espionage, and prudent decisions made by world leaders. Except that every good story has a continuation that starts with the word “but…”
But there were two spies who dissented. Joshua (my own namesake) and Caleb went on to tell everyone that, while all these things were true, the facts contained in the reports were accurate, and they would face potential losses in an invasion, the land was still within their grasp. Yes, the walls were thick. Yes, the armies were large. Yes, the people were tall and strong. Yes, there were many different nations occupying this section of land. But they were called to enter this land and through a bit of planning and faith, it was a promise that would be delivered on.
It was probably at this moment that everyone started booing Joshua and Caleb and calling them ignorant bigots. Or maybe that’s just what would happen if this story played out on social media today. Everyone listening to Joshua and Caleb though began grumbling and complaining. So, instead of crossing the river to claim what was currently occupied, they turned back and wandered around in a desert for another 40 stinkin’ years. Good call guys, way to play it safe. In the words of the famous theologian, Charlie Sheen: #winning.
Well let’s fast forward another 40 years and now Joshua is the leader of these Israelites. He has now returned to the same river and is making preparations to cross it and invade that same section of land from 40 years prior. The only difference? Those people who occupied it back then have had 40 more years to prepare and build thicker walls, larger armies, and store more supplies. How did Joshua respond to this now greater threat? In Joshua chapter 3, the story unfolds when Joshua tells his people:
Today you will know that the living God is among you. He will surely drive out the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites ahead of you.
This epic tale continues as the Israelites, led by Joshua, take city after city, town after town, claiming the entirety of the land…Doing what they were supposed to be doing all along. The same section of land that the 10 spies said was impossible to take 40 years ago. The same section of land that has had 40 years to prepare for the Israeli invasion. So what’s the moral of the story and how in the world does this relate to this stranger’s question of fear?
Well, all too often we sit back from a place of comfort looking at the facts and make the prudent decision to not cross the river into hostile territory. It’s the safe decision, right? The reports say that crossing the river is dangerous; danger leads to loss; and loss leads to pain. Clearly, crossing the river will lead to pain, so why don’t we just sit right here and avoid the pain.
Here’s the reality though: In this story, Joshua was leading the charge into this new territory in order to claim what was wrongly occupied. The same can be true for us if we would only decide to cross the river. Although we are no longer called to occupy a physical plot of ground, we are now called to reach those who are occupied or held captive with pride, fear, isolation, doubt, self-loathing, hate, selfishness, etc.
The modern day version of the tale I just wrote about looks more like a group of Christians emotionally running towards the chaotic life of a recently separated family who reaches out for help. It looks like a friend comforting a recent widow after the casket is buried and the funeral ends. It looks like someone inviting a co-worker over for dinner. And yes, it looks like families welcoming kids from difficult places into their homes. It is sometimes messy, risky, and utterly exhausting. But if we can’t overcome our fear and cross that river, then who will?
But since fear is a very real thing, the whole point of this post is not to eliminate fear, but to figure out how to respond to it. My personal belief is that fear results from a lack of planning or a lack of faith. So here are some steps that have helped Joy and I in our own river crossings:
Plan Ahead– Faith is not simply being blind to the obstacles around you. It means that you plan to the best of your ability, while making sure to leave room for God’s adjustments, and have faith that God will fill in any gaps. Proverbs 21:5 says:
Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty.
Being foster parents present some unique organizational challenges. This is compounded by the fact that we haven’t ever been parents before. The logistics of midnight diaper blow outs was life changing for me. To overcome this, Joy has done a fantastic job over the past 7 months of creating systems that help keep things running smoothly. When things don’t run smoothly and disaster strikes, we develop a plan to recover from it quickly. Planning matters.
Build your Faith – Faith has the ability to stave off fear, knowing that your plans will succeed in spite of what the reports may say. This is why it’s so important to build your faith now in small doses, before you cross the river. Hebrews 11 starts out with:
Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.
Cross the River – When we graduated the foster care class, we received a framed photo of a verse from Isaiah. It’s found in Chapter 41, verse 10. It says:
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
Crossing the river is the only way to reclaim what is wrongly occupied. When you do so, fear will creep in. Doubt will seep in through the cracks. The presence of fear on the other side of the river is the exact reason why verses like this exist; to serve as a reminder. But don’t be afraid, for this verse also serves as a reminder that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be.
So, in conclusion of this very wordy post let me just say this: I don’t personally remember the names of 10 of the 12 spies because they are insignificant. The ones who decided to respond in fear instead of with good planning and faith had no impact on history or those around them. The two who spoke about the need to plan and to have faith, and then cross the river, were Joshua and Caleb. I remember their names because they are names worth remembering. They are names that changed the world.
The world is quite literally waiting on Christians to man-up and cross the river. Are you going to turn around in fear? Or are you going to cross the river and change the world?
Plan ahead. Build your faith. Cross the river. And in all things, choose Love.