The Upside Down of Adoption

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Every morning at my house usually begins with my realization that I am completely surrounded! If you are even remotely claustrophobic then never have kids. There will never be another moment of personal space. The population of our king size bed goes from 2 to typically about 5 or 6 by morning.

Most mornings it’s like a game of pick-up-stix where I have to unfold myself from the pile of humanity and go get the morning coffee going but from time to time I get to sit and enjoy just being surrounded.

This morning I was flanked by one of our little guys Jude on one side who has been officially a Harding for a couple of years now and then by Aliza on the other side who was adopted three months after our boys.

I laid there looking at Jude’s cast on his arm that he broke a couple of days ago just playing like a crazy man out there in our neighborhood with his buddies. The side of my face is getting tickled by Aliza’s crazy puffy blonde locks that have almost as much of a mind of their own as she does. I love it. I. absolutely. love. it.

But in that moment I was sad, not for me, definitely not for them, but for the parents that birthed these kids. This one tiny moment is a single snapshot of the thousands of moments that their birth parents will never have.

When you go through the process of adopting you get completely engulfed in your own needs and the needs of the child or children. There are a lot of days that you just feel like surviving is the goal. Then once the court part is finished then there is the whole raising the kid, integrating them into a new family, loving them unconditionally (which is learned no matter who you are).

Long before the dust has settled in the new adoptive home the birth parent life has moved on for the better or for the worse. Just statistically you can assume their life is full of challenges because otherwise they would still have their kids. Some of them face mental illness, drug abuse, physical abuse, intense poverty, but still every morning they are waking up and THEY don’t get what I got this morning. They aren’t surrounded by the touch of their little people. Regardless of whether they even wanted them in the first place, that touch from your kids, that completely different experience they bring, that joy and trial they will completely miss.

So our dust has settled. Our crazy level is still at an all-time high, but so are these moments that will last forever.

Today my heart breaks for those parents’ lives separated by choices, circumstances, and things just plain out of their control.

To honor what they couldn’t be today and forever I’m gonna love them by loving the kids they lost.

Reaction Time

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We all have two versions of ourselves: the one that responds the way we know we should to a situation and the one that comes out in our “not so shining” first second.

The other day I had a moment where something came up and my mind began to run hard down that road between these two people. My knee-jerk response in my mind is to spit fire, hurl stones verbally and physically but I was actually physically apart from the situation so I really couldn’t respond.

That gave me that window of time that we all know as “clarity” to get myself in the right head and heart space to act like an adult that mirrors something like Jesus.

All of that got me thinking. I think all of us, if we are honest, try to go back and pinpoint when we have felt grownup. What does that even mean. In my mind, and well, some parts of my body I still feel 18 but then I do things like pay my bills on time, oversee a big decision at work, put someone else’s needs before mine and I think, “maybe I am an adult after all”

Then something will happen and my reaction reflects the same thing I saw in daughter Aliza the first time she got a brain freeze. It was as if she was being attacked by some unseen force that she was powerless to fight. She looked like a wild animal. I fly off the handle and say ridiculous outlandish things to my kids about how terrible they are or take some trite comment from someone as if they really meant it.

In those really low moments it brings me back to the reality that I’m just not there yet. Maybe every day that reaction time gets a little closer to automatic, maybe every week I’ll become more selfless, but until then I guess I gotta come to grips with the fact that we all must live wit: There are no perfect people. In this season of the greatest undeserved grace given in Jesus maybe it’s a good time to reflect back on how you can love the other incomplete, imperfect people in your life. I know I have been loved in spite of what I deserve. I hope my reaction time to all of that can grow…smaller.

Broken Crayons Still Color

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I recently took a trip for work to a conference up in Louisville. Our group rented a house because it’s actually cheaper than a bunch of hotel rooms and it allows for a little bit of culture on your trip.

I am one of those nerdy people who really loves conferences. I bring my own notebook, extra pens, and a ton of expectation. This particular conference is one our team had been to and sadly everything started to feel very “same song, second verse”, nothing against them but my conference mojo took a pretty hard hit.

If I am truly being self aware I know that my hope of some new point of inspiration is what makes me love these type of trips, it’s what makes me love new photo apps, pouring thru blogs daily, not planning where I eat for lunch, just a quip of some breakout from the mundane to keep my mind and heart fresh.

I was beginning to feel that moment lost there in Louisville, until I went to the bathroom were we staying. (Yes I realize the irony)

The bathroom in this cool three-story house was completely covered in chalkboard paint, so that the people that stay there can leave a piece of themselves (yes again I realize the bathroom irony)

Some people leave a poem or a song lyric. Other people leave “Leslie Was Here” or my favorite “Steve is a butt”, but one simple musing caught my eye as I was brushing my teeth the last morning that we were there. Honestly it’s so simple that it could, and may actually be, on a cat poster somewhere, but someone wrote “Broken Crayons Still Color”.

I mean how simple but still such a great truth. Everyone is broken. I am broken. I have to face my own brokenness everyday. I have a ton of kids so that magically reveals to me how I will never be as good as the dad on This Is Us. (that’s a whole other blog) That little phrase reframes my memory of the new story of our adopted kids. I think about the people God used and God is using. That phrase erases my grudges, helps me give grace, helps me take the plank out of my own eye, helps me realize that other people have valid opinions, points, dreams.

All in all in that moment while I was moving from incisors to molars I felt my mind come alive, my heart warm, my soul breathe. If all of the broken crayons still color then there’s still a tomorrow worth living because we are all already out of the box, wrappers half-missing, factory point worn down, and some completely broken, but all still have color to bring.

Creative Collaboration vs the Island of Inspiration


Ironically over the past few days I have read two different blogs which each have made vehement cases for their position on personal creativity. 

The first blog painted a convincing  picture of the beauty of many fingers in the paint moving together to create something more than what one could. I have gotten to see that in action over these past few years in songwriting, design and filmmaking, so I felt moved to throw up that virtual high five. 

Then yesterday I ran across another blog that was towing the line of “trust yourself in your art”. He talked about the danger of feedback turning what was once a beautiful authentic expression of your inspiration into a whittled down, calculated, overanalyzed “Frankenstein’s monster” of suggested tweaks, which over the past few years I also have gotten to see in songwriting, design and filmmaking.

So then what do you do?

I go back to the thing I used to tell every new pledge during their trial period coming into my old college fraternity (which by the way half of you just quit reading because I said I was in a fraternity) I would always look them in their hopeful eyes and say,

“You have heard it said that the last shall be first and the first shall be last, but I add that the middle will always be the middle.”

Now this isn’t a pledge to mediocrity like it may seem but instead it’s a call to stick your hand out in front of the swinging pendulum that wrecks MOST everything in our society from social movements, church styles, fashion, politics, pretty much anything that can have two sides. 

How do I find the middle on creative collaboration vs the island of inspiration

1. Realize that your next piece of art is likely not your last. Don’t hold so tightly that you can’t allow other eyes. If it goes wrong, there’s always another song or another version

2. What’s the purpose of your creative piece? If it is something that reflects your team then let them be able to ratify what their name will be attached to. 

3. Reserve the right of refusal. If you have a clear vision for your art at the beginning then reserve the right to just simply say “I see what you are saying, but that is going a different direction than what this is.” 

Now the idea of any of that in your context might seem completely ridiculous. If that is the case then I will say with almost complete certainty that you are missing the one crucial piece of creative collaboration which is TRUST. 

Trust is the base ingredient of allowing anyone to be a part of your creativity. You can push a project through a lot of hands and socially navigate the yes’s and the no’s about it if you have a trust that flows both ways.

If someone I trust says no to my suggestion about their chorus melody, that doesn’t create some seismic event it just lets me know that I may have helped solidify their original idea. 

So start today with one of these things:

– Who is your team of trust or who could it be in the future?

– Do some evaluating: look back (since it is always 20/20) and see what was the outcome of your collaborative works and then of things you completely owned on your own. It will certainly help your next steps. 

– Lastly KEEP CREATING! everyday will have excuses, but everyday you can live against them. 

Peace,

Aric

REPOST: Anger done right… (Psalm 109)

I wanted to repost a portion of a post from last year. 

This Sunday Yancey taught through Psalm 109, where David is coming to God in his anger and hurt honestly and I was reminded of a time when I learned this lesson most clearly and God brings this back to my mind from time to time.

This takes me back to the week before we first lost our little foster daughter. Aliza had been with us for almost a year and we were in those last days when the fight was over and we had come to grips with the fact that in a soon we would drive her to the airport to leave our lives forever.

It was a Wednesday night. I was preparing to stand in front of our student ministry to lead out in worship. I can’t describe adequately the bitterness and anger that I had welling up inside of me. I was hurting.

I stepped up to the microphone and dismissed my usual candid chit chat and simply stood everyone. I might as well have heard the bell of a boxing match ring because was happened next was nothing short of as fight between God and myself. It was really one of the most memorable moments in my life as a worship pastor. It wasn’t my choice to stand and sing the true and unshakable truths of God, but I did it anyway.

There was a particular moment when we had reached the end of the song “The Stand” when we got to the lyric

“I’ll stand with arms high and heart abandoned
in awe of the one who gave it all
I’ll stand my soul Lord to you surrendered
All I am is Yours.”

The music crescendoed and I sang my guts out. I sang that truth through gritted teeth with as much anger as I could contain…
and as I did…I honestly did believe the words I was singing. I would love to say that night an incredible peace from God washed over me and let me know that everything was going to be ok, but that isn’t what happened.

The song ended, the bell rang, I left the ring. I walked off backstage and wept. That night was only one piece of the months of deep pain that would follow, but looking back now and it was a deep lasting reminder that God never left us in the whole season; that God was just wrapping me up while I was throwing punches.

It took almost two years for us to understand God’s “No” that we got in that time. It turned out to be three times he’d say “Yes”. But I was never promised that, we were just told to trust.

I’m glad that night I was able to stand and honestly be angry but not sin. It taught me something about God that my pious poise never could.

Letter To The First Time College Summer Youth Dude

I have been in full time ministry for these past 16 years and I absolutely love it! This morning I was thinking back to the first ministry job that I had as a summer youth minister back when I was in college. A lot of people get to be a summer intern under a youth minister and learn a bunch of stuff… not me! It was like “uh hey, there’s not a youth guy so here you go!”

I remember going into my office (because I actually had one). I would come in early. I had a cat that summer who would come with me (total other story but his name was Fletch #RIP) I would shut my door and open up my Bible and begin to get the cold sweats just pouring through scriptures and trying to figure out what I would teach on Wednesday night. I would pull out my cheesy church clip art book and go to the Xerox machine so that I could cut and paste together the weekly newsletter for the youth. I would take my list of youth, which was about as many as I have call me “Dad” on a daily basis now, and I would pray over them by name.

It was simple. I messed up a lot of stuff. I probably lead in a way that would have gotten me  fired from literally every other ministry position that I have had since then, but for that summer it was a beginning to what God was stirring in me for the rest of my life. God really got ahold of my heart for ministry. I just pray to God that I didn’t screw up most of those kids!

So inevitably there are plenty of those college students right now who are coming in this morning, sitting at that desk, hopefully not still piecing together old clip art, but you are doing all you can to lead students to know God. Just be aware, you ARE going to mess some things up, you ARE probably in over your head, but you ARE not alone even if you are the only one in the room. This summer will grow your heart for God in a way that learning in a class room could never do and that reading in a book could never explain.

Those two summers were spent dealing with 10’s of people while today’s summers are spent dealing with 1000’s, but all of these times and people I love.

If you are overwhelmed right now, good! It breeds the right dependence. Soak it all in and keep going. It will all be worth it.

music_group_clip_art#clipartmagic

When You’ve Bitten Off More Than You Can Chew and 7 Tips to Survive!

Check out this picture


Ok this isn’t a stock photo from an abandoned warehouse, it’s actually the window in my older boys’ bunk room bathroom. #dontjudgeme

I’ve let this one spiderweb continue on for a long time because I just think he’s done good work and also it’s fun to see what he catches.

The other day he definitely landed something larger than his normal haul. (Pictured above) His web is wrecked, it definitely messed up the “stealth” illusion of the web. I can only assume he has the feeling like when you win the life-sized teddy bear in the first 10 minutes of being at the carnival of “what am I going to do with this thing?”

It’s a great picture of our reality when either our own ambition or just life puts us in a place where we’ve definitely bit off more than we can chew. #BOMTYCC

I know I have been there. I don’t have time to list ALL of those stories in my life in a single blog, but I remember when my friend Kyle and I took a job to install a security system on a ranch with a quarter of the time we needed and a half-working trencher to dig through ground that hadn’t seen rain in months. It was a little slice of hell on Earth.

Or I can definitely say adopting 3 kids when we already had 4 biological kids rates in the “biting off more than you can chew” column.

Having lived through some of these instances I think I have gleaned a few universal tips to survive that hopefully can help you.

1. Admit it!

One of the most detrimental things that you can do when you have BOMTYCC is to pretend you haven’t. Maybe it’s our pride, maybe it’s just plain denial or even ignorance but part of maturity is realizing the place you are. Start there!

2. Fear = Good | Anxiety = Bad

Fear is just a big brother to tip 1. Fear is what helps a soldier stay alive in battle, helps a surgeon make the right cut, keeps a pastor’s teaching rooted in the Bible. Fear is your friend when you BOMTYCC. When fear gives birth to anxiety then you let it get out of the yard. When anxiety is driving the car it clouds all of the directions. Anxiety becomes the “thing” you have to deal with instead of all of the things that caused the anxiety in the first place, and when you BOMTYCC you don’t have time for that.

3. “You can’t go back, so go on!”

This has been a mantra for me. I can be nostalgic as all get out. The thing that can keep you frozen when you BOMTYCC is this grieving about the change in your situation. You tell yourself “ugh! Things used to be so much easier or simpler before.” Well guess what IT’S NOT ANYMORE #toughlove so stop trying to go back, stop trying to escape, and go forward, which leads to…

4. Do Something

Without fail you will never dig yourself out of the feeling of being overwhelmed unless you do SOMETHING. In your head all you can hear is “there’s so much to do”. In those instances when there isn’t an obvious first thing to do just do something. Once the ball is rolling you will see that you can climb the mountain, eat the elephant or whatever analogy you need to grab onto.

5. Find Cheerleaders!

Now I obviously don’t mean actual cheerleaders. That seems more like avoidance coupled with distraction and all types of unhealthy junk this blog isn’t addressing. #callahotline

Surround yourself with people who understand what you are going through and let them encourage you, let them remind you of scripture, let them buy your lunch and listen when you need it, let them into the dark parts that need the light.

Cheerleaders are NOT the other people who are in the same hole you are in. Cheerleaders are on the sidelines, teammates are in the game. Cheerleaders are not “nay-sayers”. The last thing you need is someone who is a constant beat down. Cheerleaders don’t use truth as a weapon.

The best cheerleaders are typically the ones who have been where you are and LIVED! 

6. Find Teammates

I almost didn’t include this one because it is such a fine line between teammates spurring eachother on and dragging each other down. #friendlyfire Everyone is wired a little differently and can be destroyed by a teammates tough love or by their defeat alongside you. Find teammates but be cautious of their influence. Make sure you have those strong cheerleaders.

7. Unplug

There is an inescapable constancy when you have BOMTYCC, but you MUST take the time to step back, take a deep breath, gain perspective by removing yourself.

I remember vividly after we had adopted our kids, my wife and I locked ourselves in our bathroom and just watched a show on Netflix together. The chaos that all 7 kids were raining on the house was gonna happen and when we got done watching an episode of New Girl it was still going to be there, but we were out of fight for 24 minutes and could step back into it after a breather to just feel normal for a second.

I will end with a passage of scripture that has always been in my hands growing up and if you aren’t a follower of a Jesus, I encourage you to download the Bible App. A relationship with Jesus goes deeper than 7 tips could ever go. Check out what is available to believers who lean into God.

Philippians 4:6-7

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

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