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Are We Ready for the End of Roe v. Wade?

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Backstory

Early on in marriage, my wife Jill and I learned we wouldn’t be able to have kids of our own. With this in mind we discerned that God was inviting us to become foster and adoptive parents. Over three short years thirteen kids came through our home and four stayed forever.

Building a family this way has been the hardest and best part of being married.

But here’s the thing. Our boys’ birthparents chose life. And Jill and I are forever grateful. Thank you Jesus!

Their story and the fact that they made it here alive inspired me to make the video: “Are We Ready for the End of Roe v. Wade?” If Roe v. Wade is overturned, more and more kids from unplanned, even crisis pregnancies will be born into this world. Who will step up to generously love and support these moms, dads, and kids in need?

While there are literally millions of different ways to love and serve families in this situation, I am inviting pro-lifer’s everywhere to open their heart to the possibility of engaging this need as foster or adoptive parents.

This particular call isn’t for everyone, but I believe it is for many.

My sincere and prayerful hope is that through this simple video, God would plant the seeds of this call in the hearts and minds of hundreds, even thousands of people.

And breathe life into a revolution of care.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What are you trying to accomplish with this video? I created this video for two reasons. First, I want to spark conversation among pro-lifer’s around the question: “If Roe v. Wade is overturned, what more will need to be done to serve and advance the cause of life?” Second, I want the video to be an opportunity for pro-lifer’s to consider, perhaps for the first time, a call to be foster or adoptive parents. I can’t imagine a better place for foster or adoptive placements than a happy, healthy, and holy pro-life family.

Q: What did you mean when you said that infertility was a gift?  That’s a good question. It was hard to decide whether or not I should include that line. Ultimately I thought the risk of turning off some and tuning out others (neither of which would ever be my goal), would be outweighed by the value of helping yet others look at this area of their marriage differently.

Infertility, reframed as an opportunity rather than an obstacle, has been an important part of our foster care and adoption story. It took many years for God to re-frame this cross in our hearts and minds; for him to reveal his deeper purposes, love, and provision through our inability to have kids of our own.

And, if it weren’t for infertility, there would be so many things that I love and hold dear that I never would have known or experienced; my four sons, extended years of worldwide mission in the early 2000s, growth and transformation in my relationship with God, deeper layers of insight related to who I am as a man, husband, and father, etc..

Rather than a perduring obstacle it has become a beautiful doorway to discover God’s incredible, unending love for me and my wife. So, in the truest sense of the word, it has become an irreplaceable gift.

Q: I’d like to learn more about becoming a foster or adoptive parent. What should I do next? 

I would suggest two things.

First, talk with a foster or adoptive parent that you know, about their experience. This is something I wish my wife and I had done more of before we jumped in ourselves. We said ‘yes’ to foster care with great faith and hope and then figured out the details later (and it turns out the ‘reality’ of it all was really important). And before you meet or speak with someone about their personal experience prepare a list of questions to ensure the conversation is aimed at what you would really like to learn. Sometimes we foster/adoptive parents can ramble on about our experience and that isn’t always helpful. There is so much to process. :)

Second, I would take a look at the steps outlined on this webpage here. There is a lot of helpful information about the necessary steps to take to learn more about getting involved with adoption through foster-care.

Additionally, you might be interested in learning more about private or overseas adoption. Again, speaking with someone you know who has done either of those (private or overseas adoption) would be the best first step. And then asking them for further direction on which agency you could reach out to to learn more would be the best next step.

Q: As I learn more, how do I know if God is calling me to become a foster or adoptive parent (or both)? Through a combination of prayer, good counsel, and patient discernment, I believe God will make it very clear if this is His call for you.

First, through prayer, begin (or continue) a conversation with God that simply asks: “God, are you inviting us to become foster or adoptive parents?” As you have that conversation with God (and your spouse, of course), pay attention to the various ways God may want to communicate a response.

Second, through good counsel discuss your interests, desires, dreams, fears with a wise person that you trust. Allow them to ask you hard questions, to play ‘devil’s advocate’, and to speak truth into your life.

Finally, through patient discernment, take note of what is unfolding in front of you. Is a door opening or closing? Is it time now or later or not at all? Are your convictions growing or waning? If God is calling you to this there should be synergy between your desires, prayer, good counsel, and discernment. If there isn’t synergy among these areas (prayer, good counsel, and discernment) or there isn’t peace in your life about this decision, this may not be the right time.

Q: Are you planning to do more videos related to this topic?  I’m not sure. At this point, I’m going to wait and see what kind of response this video generates and what topics / questions emerge that might warrant additional videos or blog posts. What sort of topics do you think would be good to address as a followup? If something comes to mind, send it my way through the contact form on the about page.

Q: Are you launching a particular initiative with the release of this video? My goal has not been to ‘start something’, but rather to ask questions and engage in conversations with friends and strangers alike concerning the place of foster care and adoption in the broader Pro-Life movement, as well as the possible implications, in the future, if access to abortion is significantly decreased.

Q: Is this video connected to a particular pro-life organization?  No, it’s just me, my wife, and a trusty friend with a video camera. And while we are happy to personally support a few different pro-life organizations and a crisis pregnancy center locally, this video is not connected to any organization or non-profit.

Q: Who produced the video? Sacred Stories produced this video. You can find out more about them here. I think they did an outstanding job, but then again I’m pretty biased. *big grin emoji*

The Gift of Chaos

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On November 28, 1998, the priest presiding at our wedding asked, “Will you accept children lovingly from God and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?” Jill and I answered, “We will.” In the moment, the question didn’t seem especially significant. We had no idea how profoundly it would impact and shape our married life.

Both Jill and I were cradle Catholics who came alive to our faith during college. We shared a vision for a life together on mission, and shortly after our marriage, we landed in Wellington, New Zealand, for the first of many evangelistic adventures. But just before we arrived for those months in the land of kiwi fruit, our life was turned upside down by a diagnosis of infertility. While we were growing as disciples of Christ, we were grieving as Mr. and Mrs.

“We Want to Be Their Parents.” We were confused, angry, and sad, but not defeated. Remembering our wedding day yes to children, we began imagining other ways God might want to bring kids into our home. Private and international adoption, working with birth moms considering abortion, adoption through foster care—each of these choices presented unique opportunities and daunting challenges. Our hearts moved toward foster care, the one option that didn’t seem to be attracting a long line of applicants.

Top Left: Adam, Malachi, Andrew, Christian, and Jill (Summer 2018)

Top Left: Adam, Malachi, Andrew, Christian, and Jill (Summer 2018)

In our first eighteen months as licensed foster parents, thirteen children came through our home. Some would return to their birth families; others would be adopted by another family member. Jill and I decided that if any of our foster kids didn’t have those possibilities, we wanted to be their parents. That’s how our family grew to include four boys, each one as lovable as he is unique.

Andrew is the barefoot snake lover and winner of pie-eating contests. Christian is the imaginative, tree-climbing bookworm. Then there’s Malachi, the high-energy, athletic, and risk-taking socialite. Finally, there’s Adam, the cautious, cerebral Lego master.

Adopting these boys turned out to be the easy part. Becoming a virtuous father for them is a much harder process—not because they are bad kids, but because the challenges they present have often mixed poorly with my dreams and expectations.

Mysteries and Mayhem. Growing up, I was a son who knew what was expected of me and gladly fulfilled those expectations. There wasn’t a rebellious bone in my body. Getting grounded or opposing my parents was foreign to me. Our home life was remarkably free of conflict. It was peaceful and happy, marked by deep mutual respect and great love for one another. From Sunday morning hikes to regular card games to cheering on our favorite sports team, our family genuinely enjoyed being together.

Naturally, this is how I envisioned my own family would be, even if it came together through foster care and adoption. Joy, love, mutual respect. It’s what families are made of, right? Why would ours be any different? But it hasn’t always been that simple.

While there have been times of profound love and happiness, my experience of being a dad has been marked by seasons of pain and heartbreak. What caught me off guard was the sorrow of not recognizing myself—my mannerisms, preferences, or personality traits—in my adopted sons. Kids, even biological ones, don’t come with user manuals, but my boys were an absolute mystery to me.

They love mud, snakes, and danger; I want things neat and tidy, nonreptilian, and safe. But it wasn’t mainly our differences that distressed me. It was the fact that, like many kids from homes without safe and trustworthy parental figures, these boys found it normal to openly challenge authority, treat each other without respect, and damage property like it was their job. My response was to blow up and scream, “You just don’t do this!” What I was really screaming was “You aren’t behaving like I would!”

I was at a loss. How much patience and self-control was it going to take to be a dad? Apparently, a lot.

A Father’s Day Gift. One Father’s Day morning a few years ago, when my boys were between five and ten years old, I reached the limits of my endurance. Even before we were able to start breakfast, a disagreement broke out. It might have been about who would lead the prayer, where someone might sit, or what was for breakfast. Chaos again—and on Father’s Day no less! It was better to walk away than blow up.

I lumbered into my bedroom and wept. Loudly. I knew everyone could hear me, but I didn’t care. Years of heartbreak over “how things are supposed to be” came gushing out. “Why did you do this to me?” I asked God. “I wish I had never said yes.” There it was: my first admission of something akin to regret.

And then, from within, I heard a still, small voice. It whispered, “Gift.” Immediately I thought, “Yes, God, you are right. Jill and I are a gift to these boys. Where would they be without us?” Again came that inner voice. “Not only are you a gift to them, but they are my gift to you.” Life-altering words spoken into a heart hanging on for dear life.

The Gift of Chaos. With those little whispers, I realized that the very chaos of our situation is also God’s gift to me. He is transforming a judgmental, demanding dad-heart into something more patient and understanding, amid the uncertainty that is our family life.

How else was I going to be released from the hold that selfishness, a thirst for praise, and a desire for control had on me? God knew that it would take a calling much bigger than myself and my own resources. Now I can better imagine how Paul might have felt when he begged God to remove the “thorn” from his flesh and was told, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:7, 9).

Since that moment of surrender, my parenting style has changed. Instead of reflexively yelling and doling out punishments, I now value remaining calm and responding in a way that fits my sons’ actual needs and temperaments. Harsh punishments aren’t motivating for them; love, patience, and understanding from Mom and Dad are.

And here’s another change. Now, the joy of being right where God wants me outweighs my old dreams of a “perfect” family.

There’s the joy of watching my eleven-year-old serve at Mass, as he does his best impression of a Little League right fielder: winding his altar server ropes instead of holding the prayer book for the priest.

The joy of lying in bed with my nine-year-old, helping him get to sleep by talking about what heaven might be like—even though the football game on TV awaits.

The joy of repeatedly reminding my ten-year-old to twirl his spaghetti with his fork and not his fingers—and remembering that it’s an honor to be his dad, no matter what he does with his food.

I’ve come to grips with the truth that God never promised me a perfect life, only a perfect Savior. And that Jesus has been—and always will be—for me.

Question: Let's keep the discussion going in the comments below. How has 'chaos' been a blessing in your life? What would be different for you if problems became opportunities for growth, not simply nuisances to be avoided? 

Note: This article was originally published in the June 2016 issue of The Word Among Us. (www.wau.org

The Only Thing Parents Can (and Must) Control

Growing up I never thought of myself as a control-freak or knew very well it's emotional bedfellow, anger.  Sure, as a 10 year old I might've gone berserk on my neighborhood friends about the rules of Ghosts in the Graveyard or publicly berated my high school buddies at Burger King over the merits of Notre Dame football (and the demerits of Nebraska football, go Irish!).  But really, no one who knew me well would've described me as a kid with anger issues.  

Years passed, college came and went, and these occasional flareups of anger and control faded into the background (like the parachute pants I wore in the 80's), presumably never to be heard from again. 

Until I became a dad. 

Fatherhood has brought out the best in me, but also the worst.  How about you?

Think back to day one. The baby comes home and you can control virtually every aspect of their life (what they eat, what they wear, and where they lie down), except for one very important thing: when they sleep. 

So it begins. We as parents are confronted, immediately, by the fact that what our children choose to do is ultimately out of our control.  

As they get a little older and learn to walk and then to run, the stakes get a little higher. And as they get a little older and learn to say 'no', the stakes get even higher. 

At times, as a Dad, it feels like very little, if anything, is under my control. A house full of boys has a way of making this even more real. The holes in the walls (many), the broken windows (multiple), and the autographs in pen on the backseat of the van (Malachi) are all testimonies to the fact that I am not the only one with access to the nuclear launch codes.  Stuff happens in my house whether I authorize it or not. 

After watching my blood pressure skyrocket, vocal chords weaken, and the relationships with my sons suffer, I cried 'uncle'.  Something needed to change.  For many years I thought it was the boys that needed to shape up. After a lot of reading, prayer, soul searching, and a particularly powerful trip to confession I discovered it was actually someone else that needed the work: Me. 

Here's he truth that was staring me in the face all along: I can't control what my kids think, say or do, only how I respond to what they think, say, and do. I can't control them, I can only control me.  

Holy emotional bombshell, Batman.

When this realization sank in I experienced a deeper level of peace and freedom than ever before.

  • Freedom from the emotional tether that chained my highs and lows to my son's good and bad behavior.  
  • Peace from knowing that a storm of craziness could unfold around me, but I didn't have to respond in kind.  

So, as I learned to push the pause button between what my kids do and how I respond, I've noticed three amazing outcomes when I focus on self control (rather than the unattainable kid control): 

  1. Better consequences Have you ever been rash in doling out punishments for your kids, like canceling Christmas? That's how crazy it got one year, because my overreactions were having overreactions. A calm demeanor means I can stop and think and talk things over with my wife before a reasonable sentence is handed down.  
  2. Setting a more worthy example There is a far cry from being confident of the example you are setting in the face of adversity and the ongoing sadness and guilt of being an 'angry dad.'  Choosing my response rather than simply 'reacting' has afforded me this joy.
  3. Stronger father/son relationships Rather than immediately seeing my disgust and disappointment my sons are more likely to experience a dad that loves them no matter what sort of mess they've gotten themselves into. My hope is that they experience the difference between my disappointment with their choices and not my disappointment with them as human beings. 

If meekness can be defined as strength under control, I now see why this term described Jesus so well. He had all the power and strength a person could have, but channeled it to respond in the right way under the most extreme circumstances.  

  • Asking the Father to forgive his executioners.  
  • Confronting, in love, the men who accused the woman caught in adultery. 
  • Turning over tables when his Father's house was turned into a den of thieves.

This sounds a lot like what big strong dads are supposed to do. See the big picture, demonstrate patience, compassion, and mercy for the last and least, and only flex their muscles in the gravest of situations.  I'm not yet like Jesus, but I sure want to be. And the sooner I start acting like him, the sooner my boys might too. 

Question: What about you? What other benefits can you see for parents in putting a priority on self-control?

The Question that Haunts and Motivates Me as a Dad

Just recently my parents moved to the Twin Cities.  This marks the first time in 20 years that we’ve lived in the same city.  Now that we see each other multiple times each week, rather than just a couple of times a year, I've noticed that I’m a lot more like my mom than I ever knew. For example, it turns out we both really like things neat and tidy and we really really really don’t like conflict or going to the dentist.  

And now, looking back at my childhood I can see that I picked up these (ahem) preferences by just observing my mom, day after day, year after year.

It's true, apples don't fall far from trees.  It's also true that if your apples are adopted they don't fall very far either. 

Even though my sons (all of which are adopted) won't have the incredible blessing of my fair skin, thinning hair, and small hands, they will have something else I'm not always certain I want to pass along either - my example. As that uncomfortable truth sinks in, an equally menacing question pops into my head.

If my kids turn out just like me (which there’s a good chance they will), will I have done my job as a Dad?

Basically, I am asking: "Am I living a life worth imitating?"  It's an ass-kicker of a question for anyone, but none more so than for parents.  It can hardly be disputed that there will be no more formative influence on kids than mama and papa bear. 

Wait a minute, Catholic Ryan. What about Jesus? Shouldn't your kids imitate Jesus and not you? Yes, they should, but they will learn what a life lived in imitation of Jesus actually looks like from me.  Like Paul, I'm saying to my sons (until they can stand up on their own as disciples of Jesus) "follow me, as I follow Christ". I'd love to be able to say, like Jesus did of the Pharisees, that my boys should do as I say, not as I do, but it doesn't work that way in family life. 

So as a result I am smacked in the face with three truths about the importance of a parent’s example in a child’s life; three truths (two of which present daunting challenges and the last an incredible opportunity) that every parent has to wrestle with at one point or another.

1      Our kids are watching

Just last week I got the dreaded “you spend too much time looking at your phone” comment.  For a long time I thought they hadn't noticed how much time I spend looking at my phone.  Nope.  Sherlock One through Sherlock Four don't miss a beat. They are observing my every move trying to make sense of the world through what they see me repeatedly doing. For better or worse, they are picking up whatever I am laying down. 

2      Our kids are absorbing  

Have you ever watched one of your kids scold another one of your kids and think “I hate it when they do that” or “who taught them that?" Then seconds later it hits you, “oh yeah, that must be what I sound like.”  Shoot!  They are not only watching us, they are absorbing us.  I'm not sure what else I expected.  I guess I hoped my kids would be the first on the planet to learn more from words than from actions. 

3      Our kids are growing

Our kids are growing, which is to say they aren’t done yet and there is still time to adjust the mold.  Isn’t that incredible?  The story isn’t finished.  It is still being written for them and for us. Our example can (and must) help guide the way.  While we can’t control the outcomes for our kids, we can significantly influence the inputs they receive from us.

Whether I like it or not my kids are watching. The stakes are getting higher and more so than ever I am aiming to give them an example worth following.  In fact, on not a few occasions recently my behavior has actually changed as I've thought: "would I want my boys, in the same situation, to make the same choice when they are all grown up?"  

So, it's starting to sink in, one privileged dad-moment at a time. 

Question: What about you? How have you seen kids picking up on the example of their parents? Please keep the discussion going in the comments below.

 

Netflix Might be Melting My Brain (and What I Am Choosing to Do About It).

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A few weeks ago my wife went cold turkey on Netflix. As she said "enough already" I was caught off guard. I like Netflix and all, but not enough to watch it alone.

Our nightly show had become a reward of sorts after a long day's work and an eagerly anticipated trip into another world far from the day's troubles. I'm guessing if you have kids (or even if you don't or if you are single), you have a similar routine. Most people I know do.

But at what expense? This was the uncomfortable question that prompted Jill to cut the cord.

What intellectual, emotional, and spiritual effect was this nightly habit having? A little bit each day becomes a lot over time. So the better question is - what effect was a lot of Netflix having?

Dang it. Now that's a good question. And while I don't know the full answer, the little distance I have had from this nightly drip of all things Netflix has given me time to reflect on who has the upper hand. Me or the culture?

As you know the culture we live in isn't happy bedfellows with Christianity. It doesn't share the same aspirations for your life as say, Jesus. Like Chuck Norris, it's powerful, swift, and does it's thing without you even noticing. If it was clumsy and uncoordinated we would have it whipped already, but it's not. So we've been tripped up, handcuffed, and tied to the fence post long before we can even say "boo."

Not you? Think you are impervious to the culture's effects?

You (and me) whose mind is marinated in iPhone, sauteed in Internet and shot through with Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Think again.

Our minds (and thus the priorities and decisions that follow) are up for grabs and the culture we live in is playing for keeps. As my Dad, a WWII veteran, once remarked - "you either git or git got." This is the uncomfortable reality my wife's decision forced me to face. For too long I rationalized all the nightly shows as the days' just reward; an irreplaceable connection with my lovely wife.

There's a lot more to it, really.

We are at war.

But not in the typical us vs. them sort of way. The enemy isn't out there as much as it in here. Our love of pleasure, our unending desire to be entertained, and our general malaise are as much the concern as what's 'out there.' In fact, what's out there is simply capitalizing on what's in here. Targeted marketing. We're busy buying so they're busy selling. Win win. Except, it's not.

So the best defense, in this case, is a good offense. We must see to the right kind of change in our lives, before we "get got." The culture is happy to sweep you off your feet and take you with it. Very few of us put up much of a fight. So, we must be agents of change or be changed.

Here are three things to do as you begin to consider the impact that the daily TV drip is having on you, but first you must turn off Netflix (or Hulu or Amazon Prime or the old-fashioned TV) for at least one week.

Step 1: Replace it with another non-screen activity you'd like to do more of Exercise, prayer, book reading, journaling, sleep or talking with another person. The list goes on. I just shared the things most people want more of in their life. This is a great way to get started.

Step 2: Take note of your experience I'm guessing you won't know what to do with yourself at first. That's okay. Habits die hard. Take notice of the uncomfortable boredom that greets you. Resist 'just one show.' You can do it. What do you appreciate about these activities over/against television? How has your life been enriched? Write down the answers to these questions and consider their ramifications.

Step 3: Return, but only with intentionality My guess is that if you are like most people you never decided what sort of things you would watch and what sort of things you wouldn't. Not so anymore. You have begun a very healthy process of standing guard over what comes in. A steady diet of creme-filled donuts will have a certain affect on your body, why wouldn't a steady diet of the best Hollywood has to offer have a similar effect on your mind, soul, and spirit. So, if you return, do so with intentionality. Make some decisions about why you are watching and what shows will help you achieve those goals.

I haven't watched my last show on Netflix, but I hope that I won't go back without owning the decision. Not as a default when 9pm rolls around, but rather a choice that fits into the bigger picture of what is best for my mind, soul, and marriage.

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In the comments below: How about you? What guidelines (if any) do you follow to make decsions about the time/space that television occupies in your life?