Bored

I’ve been hearing the complaint ‘I’m bored‘ quite a bit recently. I suspect it’s because I’m still relatively new to this parenting business; give me a couple of years and I’ll be, well, bored of hearing it and I’ll stop noticing it. I haven’t found a skilful retort to it yet, and I doubt I ever will.

The truth is that I spend much of my life bored. Not in terms of needing entertainment or occupation; between my job, family life, TV, movies, books, dogs and video games there’s plenty of stuff for me to do.

No. I’m bored of something that’s always there.

I’m 42 and I’ve been in pain for over 16 years. Illness. Pain. Sickness. I’m bored of it. I’m bored of the audible crunch of bones in my neck and spine when I turn my head on a cold morning; I’m bored of medication every day; I’m bored of explaining my condition; I’m bored of having to spend so much money fighting it; I’m bored of doctor’s appointments; I’m bored of not being able to play football; I’m bored of being sore after walking, standing, sitting or lying for more than an hour (all told I do a lot of walking, standing, sitting or lying for more than an hour); I’m bored of answering the question ‘does your illness define you?’, a question only ever asked by people with no chronic illness themselves; I’m bored of it affecting my sex ‘life’; I’m bored of not a single Christian ever having had a ‘word of knowledge’ about Ankylosing Spondylitis because they’ve probably never heard of it and certainly can’t spell it (and yes, that includes people from Bethel as well as your personal favourite healing ministry); I’m bored of well-meaning but ignorant advice; I’m bored of the guilt at not doing the physio I should be doing; I’m bored of doing the physio I should be doing; I’m bored of missing out; I’m bored of being tired just because I’m ill; I’m bored of my lowered immune system; I’m bored of people telling me about their ‘bad back’ because they think they relate; I’m bored of people thinking they can’t talk to me about their stuff if they know I’m sore; I’m bored of people asking ‘how are you’ and not really wanting the answer; I’m bored of the voiced and unvoiced judgements … if only you’d do xxx then you’d be better, you are a bit overweight, after all; I’m bored of having to opt out of moving chairs and tables because it will hurt and worrying about what people think of me for opting out; I’m bored of listening to that worry and helping move the table and then being in pain for a day; I’m bored of choosing between playing with the kids or being in pain later.

And here’s a truth. Others are bored of all that too. It’s part of the curse of chronic illness. Sometimes I wish I had an acute illness. Cancer, or something else that has an end point for better or worse. When people first find out about your chronic illness, they’re sometimes interested. They ask questions which you answer wearily because they show interest and you think they might want to help or ‘walk with you’. And they do, for a while. They pray with and for you. Maybe they help with something that you can’t do. But then, mostly, often, they get bored. They never say it, of course; they may not even be aware of it themselves. But at some point it becomes clear that this disease isn’t going away, that it isn’t my fault, that the prayers aren’t going to be answered like that. One time a couple of people offered to sit and pray with me regularly for my AS. I was thrilled. We met twice. So people back off; they don’t walk with me and my wife. They check in every now on. But they haven’t got time for me and my illness. A small handful have. But people back off. They get bored of my need, my story, my pain. People get bored just walking with me, with no apparent end to the journey.

I’m bored of that. And deeply, pathetically, tearfully, grateful for those who do just keep walking at my pace. Which is slow.

Oh so fucking slow.

Advertisements

Why we’re foster parents: it’s not about us

In December last year – around 4 months ago now – my wife Bev and I became foster parents. Within a short period we went from being a family of two adults and two dogs to two adults, two dogs and two children. The children came to us around the same time, but are biologically unrelated. It was the culmination of a long process of thinking, discussing and praying which I chronicled previously in this blog (links at the end of this post).

It’s an exhausting, exhilarating, life-enhancing, sleep-depriving, money-hoovering, faith-stretching, relationship-testing endeavour. Around the time we began to foster, some kind souls were praying with and for me in the context of a work meeting. One lovely person, in the course of his prayer, said something along the lines of “We thank you, God, for this expression in Dave and Bev of the desire to be parents.”

That sentence stayed with me, in a good way. I have a deep respect for the person who prayed it; he’s an intelligent, thoughtful and kind man. I’ve hardly had a spare moment since that prayer was prayed so couldn’t really give much attention to why the sentence had struck me so deeply. Until last week, when a brutal bout of tonsillitis forced me into bed for a few days; when I wasn’t asleep or watching TV, I could just think. In thinking about that prayed sentence, I began to realise why it had struck me so deeply. In saying what I’m about to say, let me make clear that I’m not criticising at all the dear man who prayed that prayer. There’s no reason for him to know my deepest motivations and drivers. And I’m only speaking for myself (and my wife, Bev); I hold no expectation that the same should be true for others.

The truth is that my wife and I have never really wanted to have children. We never desired to be parents. We have never felt a biological or emotional or spiritual urge to give birth. As far as we can tell, doing this is meeting no need in us. Don’t get me wrong: we love doing it. It brings us great joy; our lives are immeasurably enhanced. We are richer people for having these two children in our care, and we love them deeply. It’s a beautiful thing when one of them leaps into our arms for a cuddle or plays a game with us. But for us, that’s not the goal. All of those things; they’re grace given freely and abundantly by God, to us, through these two beautiful divine image-bearers.

So why do we do it? Because God does it for me, for Bev and for everyone who’ll notice and acknowledge. Though my wife and I, and you, are naturally different and cut off from God, He still makes an active, personal, focussed decision to love us and welcome us into His family. It has cost Him much to enable that to happen; we are welcomed into His bloodline at the expense of that blood itself.

So if God has done this for me, then it’s incumbent on me to do all within my power and ability to help other people realise it. So in our own broken, imperfect, faltering ways, in welcoming two children not of our blood; in making an active, personal, focussed decision to love them, we are saying to them and to others – see this? This is but the palest, limpest, most feeble hint of what God has done for me and for you.

We’ve done it also to militate against our hypocrisy. Bev and I speak, pray and preach a lot about the Christian imperative to justice, to ministry amongst the poor, to serving those with less and opening our homes to people whose homes are gone or broken. Fostering brings those we might label as ‘poor’ out of the charity projects, off the streets and the distant estates and into our home, around our dinner table and gives them almost unfettered access to our bank accounts. I am forced, now, to walk what I talk 24 hours a day.

A final reason, linked to these other two. If these two are true, then it’s our belief  – our conviction – that fostering and adoption should be a more central opportunity for Christians. We believe that it should, for many, be a first option not a fall-back. We believe it may just be one of the key invitations to the church of this era. We’ve been deeply challenged to see people we know – single and married – foster and adopt. My wife was herself adopted, and she knows that through that she was bought to a safe childhood and to life in Christ. So we’d be failing hypocrites if we didn’t at least do the same ourselves.

That, then, is why we foster. We are blessed and privileged to do so. That’s all grace, though. We do it not for the benefits, not out of our own desire; but simply because we can and we believe God would have us do so, as He has done for us.

The story can be found in these posts:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

 

Towards Another Future, Part 3: New Car Syndrome

Part One

Part Two

You all know it. You’ve never heard of something, or paid much attention to it. Then you acquire it, find out about it, visit it or … whatever … and then you can’t seem to avoid seeing it everywhere. The syndrome is well-known especially with cars  – you’ve never noticed that make of car before, then once you buy one it seems to be in front of you at every set of lights.

I had this experience in relation to the fostering journey the other night whilst engaging in one of my other passions: film-watching. It was one of the films that had been clogging up our hard-disk recorder for a while; we’d missed it at the cinema because I think it was one of those that received little or no release in South Africa. It was The Place Beyond The Pines; a fine, engaging and beautifully shot, emotionally driven crime-drama. Ryan Gosling is a motorbike stunt driver who quits his job when he discovers he has a young son in the town his show has stopped off in. In an attempt to buy his way into the son’s life he falls into a life of crime, which puts him on an intersecting path with a good policeman (Bradley Cooper) attempting to pick his way through a corrupt police department. It’s hard to say much more without significant plot spoilers; but what there is throughout the film is a sometimes effective, sometimes contrived parallel between the two main characters and their families. As the film progresses we move into a kind of territory where the film almost becomes a parable for the idea of sins of fathers being visited on children – and the chilling reality that could represent. It’s never less than involving, though in truth the film loses some impact by over-stretching its point and its running time. As is often the case, less would have meant more.

My ‘new car’ moment side-swiped me somewhere in the film’s later stages, when a relatively minor part of the film’s story evidenced itself as about fostering/adoption. Previously I’d have brushed over it; it’s not a film about fostering and adoption, really. However three important characters are clearly in this territory. When that dawned on me, the rest of the film became refracted through that lens. Was this how all fostered or adopted children grow up? If they’ve come from birth backgrounds that aren’t supportive, are the children unavoidably destined to be affected by the lives of their birth parents? What is the role of the adoptive or fostering parent, then? Are you destined to fail, or can you make any difference?

I’m by nature prone to worry, so I guess it’s inevitable that this line of thought would present itself at some point. On deeper reflection too I’m aware of my wife’s own experience as an adoptive child: loving adoptive homes make a huge difference. There’s always going to be issues, however. Issues of rejection, identity and heritage to name three. The dance between nature and nurture appears to be a complex one indeed.

We’re on this road now, though. Maybe not forever; and we’re not committed to the destination yet. Truth is, we don’t even know what the destination is. It’s comforting, predictable and also a little strange that all these similar looking cars suddenly seemed to have joined us.

I rated this film 7/10 in imdb.com and 3/5 on rottentomatoes.com

Towards Another Future, Part 2

For the first part of this story, click here

It takes a community to raise a child. Bearing that and our position of community leadership in mind, we became acutely aware that any decision we took on the issue of fostering would have ramifications above and beyond our immediate family. More than that, we knew that if we did end up caring for children we would need help, advice and support. Everybody in a parenting role needs that; if you take the traditional biological route you tend to get built-in networks of people at a similar stage. We wouldn’t have that; so we’d need to seek it out. So it seemed only fair to include our networks in the decision taking process.

An important distinction to draw is that we didn’t want to remove responsibility for the decision from ourselves. This was and will remain our decision. However it’s clear that God likes to speak in and through relationships – the Biblical prophets proclaimed truth to a people, not individuals; Jesus taught crowds; Paul wrote letters to be read out to gathered congregations. So we invited members of our local community to gather around us and help us listen to God around one specific question: What is God saying to us about fostering? Not should we foster; not what sort of child should we foster; not to get parenting advice … although all of those are important and helpful. No; we wanted to get a sense of what, if anything, God might be saying to us about fostering.

IMG_1966

We specifically invited a group of local people who know us and have some specific experience or knowledge in this area; we then flung the invitation open, inviting people not local to pray and support us from a distance. On Saturday we gathered – about 15 of us – over breakfast to listen to God and each other. Bev spent some time with the children present, enabling them to contribute to the process; I spent time with the adults. The children painted a picture of what our family’s future could look like, and the adopted children present wrote down for us what they felt we should know. With the adults I outlined the story so far; we listened to God in silence and through Scripture; we listened to God through each other; and we prayed some more.

It’s a humbling, vulnerable process inviting people  – even people you feel you know well – to speak so directly to you. It involves a willing ceding of control, a crucifixion of the desire to be in command. As we did so, we were graced with a few themes of what God might be saying. One was around the importance of children in His purposes; another was of the fact that we are all  – children or adult – dependent on God for good things; we would need to continue to depend on others throughout this process. We became aware of issues within ourselves and the process and the culture around us that could make the process of fostering a difficult one. We were pointed in the direction of other people and places we could look for wisdom, insight and support.

Essentially we emerged from a short but intensive morning with no answers, some wisdom and a few more questions to ask of ourselves and others. Which is what we expected, but perhaps we didn’t expect that strange sense of conscious disempowerment that comes from committing to undertaking the process in such a public way.  All of which may be strangely apt, giving us maybe a hint of what it feels like to be a child moved from home to home – disempowered, but held.

Which may be the point, after all.

This series will continue as and when there is more to report. For part one, click here

Towards Another Future, Part 1

This post marks the start of a new dynamic on this blog. The old stuff will continue – musings on a variety of issues will carry on as before. What I’m adding in this series is more about the recording of a journey my wife (Bev) and I have stepped into. We’ll be documenting this journey was best we can, with what I hope will be appropriate honesty without over-sharing. Thank you for joining us.

Photo from Bev Meldrum Photography (bevmeldrum.com)

Photo from Bev Meldrum Photography (bevmeldrum.com)

Before Bev and I got married, which was now over 15 years ago, we took the decision together that if we were to have children we would do so by adopting. Bev herself is an adopted child, as is her brother (from a different birth family). We decided that if children were to be part of our future, then we’d want to make sure others had the same sort of opportunity Bev had. She was always acutely aware how differently things could have turned out if she hadn’t been adopted into such a loving, stable, Christian home. That decision having been taken, we carried on with married life occasionally touching in with one another on the subject of children. Each time we did so neither of us felt any sort of stirring towards adoption.

However we sought to promote the idea. We see it is a profound expression of Christ-centred love. The Bible is rich with the imagery of God’s love for us expressed in terms of adoption into God’s plans and family; we would, when the opportunity presented itself, urge Christians to give more thought to the option of adoption as something they may be prompted to explore. We also took the decision to open up our home and lives to people with less than supportive home environments, as a result of which there is a small number of people with whom we have unofficial, but no less meaningful, parental-type relationships. These relationships are life-giving to us, not without challenges, but have seemed to express the heart God has been drawing out of us. Coupled with that, the church I’m now leading (St Peter’s, Mowbray, Cape Town) is not a large one, but it’s one that seems to have more than its fair share of people who have adopted and/or fostered children. We found it interesting to reflect that, without a great deal of effort, this seemed to have happened, to be the shape of this community.

Earlier this year that sense shifted up a gear or two. Through a series of social media connections, we were invited to join a discussion with a few church and NGO leaders in Cape Town, facilitated by British theologian and adoption advocate Krish Kandiah. In the UK Krish heads up an organisation called Home For Good, which seeks to promote the idea of adoption in British churches. He was facilitating the discussion in Cape Town to help us see what like-minded people here could do together. He also ended up speaking at our church the next day. Over that 24-hours, a fire was lit in us. We were encouraged that there were many others around in this city who felt similarly, and Krish’s experience and theological grounding gave us real insight. At a break Bev and I turned to each other. Bev voiced what I was feeling too  – that if we really wanted our church community to take this seriously we needed to be the ones leading on it. Maybe we needed to consider again what we ourselves were doing.

This lead to a series of discussions, dreams and thoughts between the two of us; which led us to the point where suddenly the possibility of fostered children in our future was a real, viable and heart-warming one. There are, however, a series of unanswered questions – around our visa status (we’re in the potentially year-long (or more) wait for approval of our application for Permanent Residency in the country), not least. This means, for instance, that official fostering is not yet an option. So we’re only, at this stage, considering fostering of an unofficial nature; certainly not adoption, and until we have visa clarity, not fully official fostering either.

We were, however, that we do not exist in a vacuum. We are in a position of community leadership; and to adapt an old saying, it takes a community to raise a child. We have a church community which we lead and for which we hold responsibility. A decision we take affects others.

So this weekend we invited our community to gather around us and help us begin to discern what God might be saying to us on the subject of fostering. That is the subject of part two, to follow soon.