Foster Update: Horizontal Because Vertical

In the Ask Pastor John podcast this week, John Piper talks about adoption. He recounts his family’s own story of adopting a newborn African-American girl when he was 50 years old and had raised four boys. She is now graduating from high school, and he talks about how beautifully adoption has worked out for his family. It wasn’t without risk – adopting was pretty much the opposite of everything he had experience with, and he wasn’t sure how it would go.

He told his story in part to counteract some of the difficult stories that have surfaced about how hard adoption can be – adjustments might not happen, families can be devastated, kids can be disrupted, and more. That’s the reality of the broken world we live in.

But there’s beauty and joy in adoption too, because there’s beauty and joy in God’s adoption of us as sons and daughters. Think about that for a second – God could have saved us and left it at that. He didn’t have to make us part of his family. But not only did he declare us holy in the courtoom on the basis of Christ’s substitutionary death, he brought us into the living room and told us to make ourselves at home. He made us his children and promised us an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. The Father planned our adoption, the Son accomplished it and the Spirit applies it every day. Unbelievable.

And that’s why we can adopt earthly children no matter what may come. As Piper says:

Be encouraged that not only is it (adoption) a beautiful thing to imitate, but that your own experience of it is the guarantee that God your Father will be there for you in every single challenge you face in adoption. Because of our experience of the vertical, we can now take the massive risks of the horizontal, knowing that He’s going to be there for us in every way.

Because of the vertical, we can take the risk of the horizontal. Yes, it’s a risk. Anyone who has adopted knows that it feels like there’s no safety net sometimes. But the net is there, and it will hold.

That brings me to this update: it looks like our adoption of our two foster girls (Okay, are they really foster girls at this point? It’s been more than two years. Let’s just go ahead and call them family.) will finalize in late July or early August. They keep pushing it back, but no one ever accused the government of being efficient.

Our social worker brought us a massive stack of paperwork to read through, including all the medical records they have on the girls and their parents, and the chronology of how the girls ended up in foster care. We can’t share details in public, but if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance their lives were much different than yours and mine. God’s grace in plucking those girls out of the life they were in is indeed remarkable. (Where they ended up may be a little questionable …)

So, we’re on track. School is out now, so five kids at home every day will be a joyful (and some days not-so-joyful) challenge to navigate. And hopefully by the time school starts in August, two girls in the commonwealth of Kentucky will have a new last name.

[Listen to John Piper give counsel to couples considering adoption.]

Saltshaker Parenting

A few months ago, I started a new job doing marketing for a company called Dynamic Directions. We do coaching and consulting for financial advisors, but are reaching into other industries as well. One of the cool things about the job is being exposed to lots of new ideas and concepts about business, leadership, entrepreneurship, etc. Many of the things I hear apply to many areas of life, not just business.

As part of the job, I’m reading a book called Setting the Table by Danny Meyer, a successful restaurateur in New York City. It’s a fascinating read about his philosophies of how and why he runs his restaurants. I highly recommend it for anyone in business, but again, the principles apply to more than just the business world. One in particular struck me the other night as perfect for parenting.

He talks about learning to lead his staff and instill his own drive for excellence in them. When they didn’t live up to his high standards – for setting the table exactly the right way, for treating guests with his standard of hospitality, etc. – he kept getting frustrated and upset, until a mentor in the restaurant business gave him an  illustration:

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“First” he said, “I want you to take everything off that table except for the saltshaker  … leave the saltshaker by itself in the middle.” I moved it … to what looked to be smack-dab in the center. As soon as I removed my hand, he pushed the saltshaker three inches off center.
“Now put it back where you want it,” he said. I returned it to dead center. This time he moved the saltshaker another six inches off center, again asking, “Now where do you want it?”

I slid it back. Then he explained his point. “Listen. Your staff and your guests are always moving your saltshaker off center. That’s their job. Is is the job of life. It’s the law of entropy! Until you understand that, you’re going to get mad every time someone moves the saltshaker off center. It is not your job to get upset. You just need to understand: that’s what they do. Your job is just to move the shaker back each time and let them know exactly what you stand for. Let them know what excellence looks like to you. And if you’re ever willing to let them decide where the center is, then I want you to give them the keys to the store. Just give away the restaurant.”

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That’s exactly like parenting. I’ve been frustrated lately because my kids don’t seem to be getting it. They
don’t obey right away, their table manners are atrocious, they pee in the yard, for crying out loud (and I’m not just talking about the boys). Two seconds after I tell them not to talk in that crazy voice, they’re doing it again. Five minutes after I ask them to clean up the garage, it’s still a royal mess.

Yes, some of it is simple discipline. But that doesn’t fix my attitude. I find myself getting frustrated and mad awfully quickly: Just do it the right way! I already told you! Why aren’t you listening to me?!?!?!?!

You know what? It’s not my job to get upset. I should expect things to not go well. They’re kids. They’re sinners. They’re going to disobey. They’re going to have accidents. They’re not going to listen.

Instead of getting upset (again), I need to move the salt shaker back to the middle.

It’s good to have high standards. God calls us to have expectations. But our kids are  not going to reach those standards the first time or the fifth time or even the tenth time. Meyer uses a technique he calls constant, gentle pressure to impart his standards for excellence, and I think it works for parenting too.

Constant, gentle pressure. Constant, because you can never give up – explain the standard every time. Gentle, because you don’t want to break them – don’t react from anger. Pressure, because you want them to reach the standards – excellence is obtainable.

Our kids are going to fail. So are we. (That’s why there’s a little thing called grace.) So next time, instead of getting mad, take a deep breath and move the saltshaker back to the center.