That God May Be Glorified

Mission San Juan Baptiste

One of my greatest fears about moving back to Dallas is that my friends will find me such a different person– mainly, a sadder one. I don’t enjoy certain things the way I used to, and here’s why.

Having done foster care, I’ve seen another side to the world that I was blind to before. Once your eyes have been opened, it’s really hard to close them, as in, sometimes it’s hard to sleep at night. In a sense, I think that I have survivor’s guilt. I can’t hug my own kids without thinking about the kids in our own backyards who aren’t getting hugs. When it rains, I don’t rush to play in it, I cringe thinking of children sleeping on the streets. When I spend a few extra dollars on organic food, I think about how our 5 year old foster child drank “Monster” from his baby bottle because his mom didn’t take care of him properly, and what a few dollars could’ve done to feed our 10 year old all those times he was starving. Whenever we have extra time or money, I feel guilty spending them on fun things when, in reality, they could be spent on all of the hurting children around us.

It’s never been more clear to me that there is nothing wrong with the wonderful kids that these things happen to. My favorite and also saddest moments about foster care have been when I catch a glimpse of who these kids would’ve been without their trauma. They are so special, so soft and sensitive, so full of curiosity, until the circumstances of their life beat it out of them. Our foster children don’t get the luxury of nightmares about “bad guys” and “monsters”, they have real life memories and flashbacks.

My children did nothing to deserve their loving parents and stable home. They did nothing to deserve their food. And yet there are kids who don’t get any of those things.

I brought all of this to a friend of mine, and she pointed me to a place in the gospels where the Jews ask Jesus about the blind man, saying, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” and Jesus responds, “Neither. It was so that God might be glorified.”

 

This reminder stuck with me for days. Every time I was hit with the “why” question, I remembered that God is glorified through all of it, even this messy icky stuff that I can’t make heads or tails of. I don’t need to see the end of the story to know that God already has been glorified in our three foster care situations.

Even if it has made me a sadder person. Maybe I needed to be sadder. More sober. Maybe God is glorified even in my sadness and changed personality.

For instance, ever since we started taking in foster kids 1.5 years ago, all the “Mom Wars” and petty parenting issues have seemed so hollow, so pointless. The conversations in my head usually go like this:

Cloth vs. Disposable Diapers: “Um, is your kid’s bum covered? Is the poop falling on the floor? Good. Sounds like you did the right thing there.”

Vaccine Wars: “Did you accidentally give your kid Hep C? Did your 3 year old test positive for heroin? Did you abandon your children with meth addicts? No? Whew. You’re doing better than much of America, so good for you.”

Hospital vs. Home Birth: “Did you abandon your baby after giving birth? No? Is your baby alive and healthy and not addicted to crack or meth? No? Well, sounds like the birth went awesome! Keep up the good work!”

See what I mean? If you hear these kind of stories day in and out, going back to the normal sheltered suburbia of “mom problems” sounds so insignificant and unimportant.

If you knew the mom that I was back when I was pregnant with Gregory (you know, back when I had just parented one kid who wasn’t even out of the womb and yet knew EVERYTHING there was to know about parenting!), you would know that I needed some perspective.

So, even though this fresh perspective is currently making me a sadder friend, I also hope that it’s made me a wiser and more compassionate one.

Our Texas-Sized Announcement

Melissa Jean Photography - Family Photographer-19-XL

The time has finally come for the Cone family to announce some pretty big news– we are moving back to Dallas this summer. Jesse has accepted a fantastic full time teaching position at a large classical school in Dallas, where he’ll get to work alongside one of his best friends in their English department. Jesse has also always wanted to pursue PhD studies at the University of Dallas, and this will enable him to do that without putting our family in any debt.

This decision was not made lightly, but we feel that God has made it very clear to us by opening all the right doors and already fulfilling many of our needs. Jesse has wanted to begin PhD work for quite some time, and this will give him that opportunity. On my end, it has been my desire for many many months now to be a stay at home mom. As a part time working mom these past couple of years, I have always felt torn between the two worlds, and like I am not able to enjoy either very well. Jesse’s new job will make more than enough money for us to live comfortably on, along with providing us great benefits.

But there are definitely downsides. What grieves us, more than anything, is that we leave our families behind in California. It has been my greatest joy these past 3 years, getting to see our parents become grandparents. I will miss not watching this on a daily/weekly basis. But, in the interest of not crying my eyes out forever, I have to also remember that Texas is not THAT far away, and that we will now have the money to visit often. With a teaching job, Jesse will be given all the same generous holidays and vacations, and we can see family as often as possible.

We will also miss the school that we have worked for these past few years. We got to be students there ourselves many years ago, and then we got to be teachers. The school has taken care of us in so many ways, and the friendships we have made there will not be forgotten.

We’ve been through a cross country move a time or two before, but never with two kids, so we are probably in for one wild ride. Luckily, we know that God has already opened so many doors, He will be faithful and guide us through this process. Please pray for our family during this crazy transition! Stay tuned for more updates!

The Harm In “Finding Yourself”

Finding Yourself Cover

I’ve wanted to share this for a while– 8 months, in fact. Last May, I was the speaker at the 8th grade graduation for the school we teach at. As I finish up my “birthday week”, as I so affectionately call it (I love birthdays!), I thought I’d share it. It’s what I believe to be true about the harm in finding yourself.

I’ve removed a few of the more personal stories including names about the class, but other than that, this is it, word for word. I had more than one person come up to me afterwards, in disbelief, asking if I’d actually written this speech or if I’d copied it from somewhere on the internet. Ouch, right?

Without further ado, here it is!

Greetings graduates, faculty, parents and family members.

This is a very special class. The quality of the speeches just given demonstrate that, more than anything. These are kids who know and care about each other. They are a class of dynamic personalities, that, when brought together, immediately foster camaraderie, without even trying. I cannot tell you the joy it brought me as a teacher to enter the classroom and see the kids laughing and, oftentimes, singing with one another.  I cannot begin to describe the joy I felt when when this class noticed one of their own struggling, and immediately began volunteering to lend him books, meet with outside of class, and even create special study guides for him. This is not a class of jealous individuals, whose pettiness gets in the way of their unity. Junior High is a terrible and trying time for many, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at these kids and the way they behave together.

This is definitely a class that knows how to have fun with one another. But we didn’t just play hard, we studied hard as well. I can proudly say that every single one of these kids has pushed themselves academically this year in ways they didn’t think possible. No matter how many hard questions I threw at them, these kids were willing to think deep and answer honestly. I promised that I would never lie to them, and in return, they were able to say what they were really thinking instead of giving cliche answers. Through their turned in essays, their creative writing and their willingness to open their hearts in discussion, I felt like we were able to foster a classroom community of complete honesty.

 

So let me be honest.

 

You are all about to embark on 4 years of high school. For me, Junior High was probably the most miserable I had ever been in my life. Until I got to High School. High School took my internal misery to whole new level. You would never have known it by looking at me. I participated in every sport, only received two Bs in all 4 years, and even graduated a year early. I had tons of friends, a date for every dance, and was Student Council President for two years.

But I couldn’t find that missing piece in order to make myself happy. I prayed over and over again that God would help me to be happy, help me to find whatever it is was letting me down, but it wasn’t until my first baby was born, 2 and a half years ago, that I suddenly “got” it. Something inside me clicked, and I was able to stop running from my unhappiness. Being a mother taught me a few things, and as you head into High School, my prayer is that you would keep them in mind.

 

I. Choose to love others over loving yourself. “Finding yourself” will only make you miserable.

Our culture is focused on ways for us to find ourselves, to identify our dreams and go for them. Our culture tells us that if only we could find ourselves and unlock our hidden potential, we will be seen for who we truly are and be happy. It’s so deeply ingrained in our culture that your life is your own masterpiece, we don’t even realize it’s a lie anymore. Our culture has stopped caring if opinions are true, valuing instead whether or not they are forcefully believed with one’s whole heart.

Let me give you some good news. You don’t have to find yourself. You have already been found by one whose love will give you more happiness and fulfillment than you could ever handle.  But God can only meet us in the present, not in the past or future. When we are thinking of ourselves, we are usually thinking of the future and how we are going to have it figured out, going to train hard to become the best athlete, going to get all As and get into a great school, or going to get a great summer job at a waterpark. Sometimes, “finding ourselves” means digging deep into the past and uncovering things about the way we were raised or experiences that changed us. But “finding ourselves” despite the present verb tense, is rarely ever something that keeps us focused on the present, the here and now.

You will probably regret lots of things from high school. Just ask your parents for their old yearbooks, and you will see a lot of haircut and fashion decisions to regret. But the one thing you’ll never regret is loving others.

2. Serving and loving others is the key to happiness.

What is so magical about loving others? Why does it become the key to happiness? Is it just that when you are serving or loving others, you are too busy to focus on yourself and your own problems? It can’t just be that the busyness distracts us. We can all think of a lot of other ways to keep busy and numb. I was extremely busy in high school, but it didn’t make me happy.

Like I said earlier, God can only meet you in the present. When we serve and love others, we become keenly aware of what is going on in the present. When we are living in the present, God is able to meet us there and fill us with peace and unconditional love. Serving others is the key to unlocking our heart, opening it up and leaving room for the Holy Spirit to fill us.

This is why the famous play, Les Miserables, states, “To love another person is to see the face of God”. When we serve others, we end up meeting Christ and experiencing his love for us. For me, it happened when I was suddenly called upon to serve a crying baby 24/7. There’s no time to “find yourself” when you’re a mom, and when I stopped having time for the things I thought would make me happy, I started actually being happy! Being a mom to Gregory taught me how to love and serve others, and showed me that it was the only thing that was going to fill that empty void.

The one thing you’ll never regret is loving others.

 

3. Because Jesus demonstrated love, the church should also demonstrate love.

When we go to church, we should be expecting to be taught how to love and serve others, for it’s through these things that we learn about Christ and His love for us.

We may have lots of arguments about why homosexuality is wrong. Why abortion is wrong. Why one should believe in a new Earth, why one should be baptized a certain way. These arguments are easy to teach and regurgitate at others. What’s harder is to see past all that and love them. You will never convince anyone else by being right. The only hope that you can have is that through your love, they might catch a glimpse of what it means to be found.

When we read the Christmas Carol, we talked extensively about the order of the 3 dreams Scrooge experiences. He went first to Christmas past, for Scrooge needed to remember what it felt like to be loved before he was able to face the truth of his own situation. Confronting someone before loving them never works. If you can’t figure out how to love someone first, then you have no business confronting them. To be honest, many of us would rather just skip straight to the part where we throw our arguments out there so we can feel how right and how truthful we really are. But we shouldn’t even be doing that until we learn how to love.

 

Pope Francis said it well: The church is a love story, not an institution.

 

The church is a good place to be then, because The one thing you’ll never regret is loving others.


You are already on your way, as you’ve demonstrated to me throughout the year. You’ve taught me that junior high doesn’t have to fall prey to the stereotypical problems, but can instead be wonderful. I only hope that I can learn to love future 8th grade classes for their own unique personalities, instead of secretly wishing they were all you guys again.

10 Things I Never Knew About Foster Care

10ThingsINeverKnewAboutFosterCare

(You can see a recent update/followup to this post here)

Lucky are those who are born in a house and live with their parents all their life without having to leave them and live with another family. Becoming a foster carer is one of the most beautiful things a person could do, especially in today’s day and age where there are kids piling up at orphanages. The real reason for me to come up with this post was because our neighbour with the help of blueskyfostering.com just became a proud mother of a girl she just adopted. If you are still in the dark about a few of the facts of foster care, I would recommend you continue reading the following post.

1. When it comes to your kid’s background and story, you will be the last to know about almost everything. It’s frustrating, to be sure, because as the foster parent, you want to know what you’re in for, right? But confidentiality takes precedent. I know someone who didn’t even know the name of the child’s birth parents until months after the placement began. You definitely won’t know who the prior placements were or why they left unless you do some of your own digging.

2. You will often feel very alone and like there’s no one who understands, even other parents. Foster parenting is so different than normal parenting, and there’s so little that you can share with others. On top of it all, parenting a traumatized child (every foster child is traumatized, in some sense, because leaving one’s home is terrible, no matter how bad of a situation they were in) is extremely different than normal parenting. You can’t operate using normal parenting tactics, because you could be triggering a past memory. The pressure is also a lot greater, as there are many cooks in the kitchen. When you make a big decision for that child, 5 other people have to also give their input and approval.
You also won’t be able to compare notes with other parents, even if their kids are similar in age. Kids who have undergone trauma develop at a different rate. While they may not have the ability to focus and sit still like other kids their age, they also have hyper aware capabilities that could rival those of an FBI agent. They won’t follow the normal patterns for growth and development.
3. Expect hours of phone calls and logistics every single week. On top of all the normal phone calls that one has to make for kids (school, doctor, dentist, after school activities) you also need to coordinate with a therapist, CASA worker, social worker, CSA visitation workers, birth parents and any TBS workers (special behavioral mentors). In our case, we times that by two since we have brothers. Last Friday, I counted the amount of business related text messages I made in a SINGLE afternoon– TWENTY-FIVE. If your child has any medical needs (most do, in some form), expect 6-8 hours worth of phone communication per child, per week. I’m not joking.
4. Expect little to no control. This is a large one. It’s very easy to experience foster-parent-burnout trying to control all the factors. The truth is, foster care is a huge lesson in letting go. You will hardly be able to predict the child you have, much less control anything about them. You won’t know when or if they’re being returned to their family, and you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to put a timeline on it. Come up with a few plans and contingencies, and then forget about it and focus on the day to day task of loving them. If you’re anxious about controlling things, the child will be too.
That being said, it’s easy to lose sight of what “normal” used to mean for you and your family once your foster care placement begins. Before it all begins, come up with 3 things you won’t budge on (special time once a week with your bio kids, quality of life, how far or how often you’re willing to drive to visits, etc.) and then consider everything else part of the “gray” area that you’re willing to let slide, if need be.
5. Don’t expect appreciation or affirmation from the kids. This may seem obvious, but after a while, when you’ve been “in the trenches” for a while, it’s easy to feel resentful towards your placements. Don’t they know how much you’ve done for them? But biological kids don’t know that they’re supposed to thank their mom for giving birth to them. Why should foster kids be any different? Kids are supposed to be hardwired to trust their caregivers and focus on other things. If they’re not thanking you, they’re probably comfortable and it’s a good sign.
6. Get ready to ask for help. Have a huge support system lined up ahead of time, because you’re going to need it. Foster parenting is a lot more exhausting than normal parenting, and there is no shame in asking for as much help as you can get your hands on. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed.
7. Plan in breaks. Have the names of family, friends, or official respite care ready to go ahead of time. Don’t feel guilty for needing a break to recharge your batteries. Attaching to kids placed in your home is incredibly draining, like trying to grow a limb overnight. It’s also exhausting for the kids! They probably need a break from you too.
8. Kids will try to exert control over something as a way to process the changes in their life. They just will. The trick is, are you going to control what it is that they get to control? Find things to give them choices about, and make sure you like the outcomes. For instance, if you’re serving vegetables for dinner, give them a choice between two of them so that they’re less likely to fight you. Food will almost always be the thing they try to control, because it’s such a basic part of everyday survival. Don’t go head to head with them, or it will turn into a long and ugly power struggle. Just give choices that you can live with. Having some measure of control will make the child feel safe. If you don’t give them something to exert control over, they will find it in some way or another. I know someone whose foster kid would resort to wetting the bed, just to have something they could control.
9. Never assume a child’s behavior is due to any one thing in particular. Ask don’t assume. You could not make up the stories that some of these kids have for their bizarre habits or actions.
In our training, we heard about a kid who refused to eat dinner at the same time as her foster family. The parents were angry, and kept trying to force her to eat with the family as a house rule, thinking she was being obstinate. Turns out, she came from a home where there was never enough to eat. She always ate last because she wanted to make sure her younger siblings had eaten enough first. It was a habit that she couldn’t break, and she was ashamed to talk about it.
I know of another kid who refused to pick up his toys and would always say, “throw them away!”  Turns out, he wasn’t being obstinate– his previous foster parent used to punish him for everything by throwing away his toys. He was saving his feelings and pre-empting the strike.
10. Have a therapist or confidant on speed dial– for YOU. We’ve been to over 60 hours of foster care training, and without fail, there’s always been that one parent who cannot shut up about their case. They are so torn up inside, that the moment they get into a room where they can talk, they NEVER STOP. They hijack the session and do more talking than the instructor!
And I completely understand– there’s SO much to talk about and process! Foster parenting is an incredible journey, but it’s a marathon. You need someone to talk to. If you’re married, prepare for foster parenting to be the hardest thing you’ve ever experienced together. Before you know it, the miscommunications pile up and can begin ripping a marriage apart. I’ve heard this from 99.9% of the foster parents I’ve talked to. Are you the 1% that’s above it all? If you’re thinking that way, you probably aren’t. Get a therapist ready to go. The success of the child in your care depends on it.
Did I miss any? Feel free to leave other helpful pieces of advice in the comments!