On Being “Like” a Dad

How Fostering Two Little Girls is Changing My Life

I’m tired. It is the first time in my life that being back to work from Spring Break has given me more freedom to have my own life. It’s not that I don’t love the family that I have now. It’s just that I have a new sense of respect now for parents of young children. For example, for the first time I have an idea of what parents of a six and eight-year old mean when they say, “get through Spring Break.” That is because I have noticed how our six and eight year olds rely on us adults to give them structure. So, a break from school is to a family of little ones like trying to travel without a clear path in place. Yes, I’m tired, but I’m also overwhelmed with happiness as my heart has grown tremendously in the month since the girls started living with us.

On Being Like My Father

One one particular day during break, I took the 8-year-old on an errand with me. We drove to a landfill to dump some tree clippings that have been in my yard for a year and a half. It’s funny how kids motivate you to take responsibility for chores. If I didn’t do chores, there would be two bored children whose needs would supersede my attempts to get anything in my adult life accomplished. However, if I did not have the kids with me to take on errands with me, I likely would not have finished have of the projects that I did during Spring Break. I have to be a role model with four little eyes watching me, so I find the push to finally do what an adult should do. No wonder my own dad, and Denise’s dad, have been so busy their whole lives. They work for their families, but not for themselves. I finally understand why people with kids want to work so hard for their kids. It’s their life. It is their calling. It is the future.

In Being Like a Dad to Two Little Girls

The girls have said it before: “He’s kind of like a dad.”

Yesterday, they said it again, but differently and right in front of me: “Daddy….”

Gulp.

“Well, I can’t replace your dad, but I can be like a dad,” I said.

Last night, I held them both during bed time and gave them prayers and bedtime stories. It was unreal. I may not be their biological father, but, I sort of am like a dad, now, to them.

A former Wesleyan pastor, and presently the CEO of his own organization which coaches people of all vocations on leadership skills, John Maxwell has taught me a few things about how to respond in new situations. Maxwell said recently in his podcast, which I now subscribe to, that being the leader of a [household] is the highest goal and the area in which he fears failure.

Fear of failure has usually manifested itself for me as possible rejection. Yet, in Maxwell’s mind, the possibility of failure as a parent is predominant above all other fears. I am recovering from my own feelings of insignificance; I once took a chip in Celebrate Recovery for my fears of rejection, after which I similarly repented for my submission to its twin, approval-seeking. I want approval of everyone–even from kids. This can make parenting hard when I need to put my foot down. But, it can also be an opportunity for personal growth.

I must daily confess to God any fear of failure that I have, while acknowledging that in order to be the best guide to those whom I lead, to model God’s grace in my life is one of the most important aspects of my journey as a foster dad.

Yet, I feel called to this life of fostering. My wife, Denise, and I, prayed for two years before we received the official foster care license. We continue to feel called and are working hard on this new journey together.

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Saying Goodbye to Grandpa Michael

My Aunt Lorri posted this information with a picture of my grandfather, Rev. William Franklin (“Frank”) Michael. I feel all kinds of emotions right now, as I am dealing with the reality of the loss of this person, who was likely the greatest man who ever influenced me. Grandpa Michael always made things ok. I recall being in preschool in the Assembly of God preschool, and having the tremendous warmth and excitement as I saw him coming to pick me up from school. I would ride in his car, while he would not say much. But what he did say was always interesting and left me feeling cherished.

On days when we would come to Arvin to visit, Grandma Audrey Michael would be near by while Grandpa would open the door, just to look at us kids and say, “Well look who’s here!.” In my 7-or-8 year old mind, I would picture someone’s pet walk up to the door and answer back to him, “a cat!” As I have looked through the photos of recent times and the past, I haven’t helped but to realize the tendency that he had to take interest in all of the kids in his family.

He also did a lot to care for his family in general. He would never hesitate to take care of a need in the house as long as he was available to do it. And this trait of love through service has been passed down to his children and grandchildren. It was in seeing this this trait in multiple family reunions and Thanksgiving gatherings that lead me to realize in a very dark time in my life that I wanted–NEEDED–to live to the standard of love-through-service that I had grown so deeply fond of in Grandpa Michael.

To this day, I am still in the process of seeking out how to live out this kind of obedience to God–love of his family through service. I fall terribly short of this, as Denise, my wife, may tell you I am so very hard on myself over this. But, I’m a perfectionist and I saw near perfection in Grandpa. Yet, I have to realize that as many may know his imperfections included stubbornness. By the way, I seem to have inherited that from him as well. In any effect, family was primary, while his call to ministry was secondary. He was not afraid to err, and he did not focus on faults because there were far more opportunities to help people grow by expressing Christlike love-through-service. Even as he took his call to ministry seriously, he understood the rule of life that many people in ministry struggle with–that is, your ministry is only as effective behind the pulpit as it is done at the home.

Another pieces of wisdom that I learned from Grandpa Michael is that “sometimes you have to take a family vacation even if you can’t afford it.” This truth is something that was very important for me to hear just as my own parents were separating. While it is probably not a good idea to go bankrupt over unneeded expenses, Grandpa knew what was more valuable than money–time with family. Money didn’t grow on trees (and it still doesn’t–I am a gardener and I should know this by now), but time with family is precious and cannot be bought. With the time and resources that God gives, the only really important thing in life was his family and then the pulpit.

My mother, Carolyn French, reminded me of this when I struggled as a teenager with anger and resentment. Raised by this great man, she saw through his faults, and knew that even if family gives you grief and dismay, they are still your loved ones. Love is something that is neither earned, nor is it something that can be exhausted. Love is that which none other has shown perfectly other than Christ, himself. If there was ever anyone who shared Christlike love in a way that I feel compelled to imitate, it would be that of Grandpa Michael.

Today, I am blessed to have Grandpa Michael as the role model that I needed when I was younger, and even now that I am still a little bit young. As I took Denise as my lovely bride less than four years ago, I feel that his example has equipped me with the tools that I need to learn how to love her with the love of Christ, just as he loved my Grandmother.

On bidding Farewell to 2017, and Welcoming a New Year, 2018

As I think about the year, 2017, ending, I have a lot to be thankful for. I have found a job in a school that has grown into a load of opportunities to grow and to influence young people and colleagues. It has brought me to the painful loss of wonderful people whose legacy I dream of living up to. It has also brought me 3000 miles of workouts (I am still amazed at this). Finally, it has made me really appreciate the gift of marriage, and the wonderful blessing of Denise to me.

In 2018, I want to be better at keeping my promises, and at attending to my responsibilities as a SPED paraprofessional, as a husband, a leader in the church, and in the community. I want to work on building relationships with people intentionally and make other people higher priorities in my life.

My word for the year, 2018, is “Followthrough.” It is a actually two words coming from the sport of golf meaning that your swing toward the goal, the ball, is merely the target, and not the stopping point. In other words, the energy put into the things that one accomplishes must be more than merely the minimum necessary. Rather, goals accomplished may take some tradeoffs, while, more energy may be required in order to reach a goal well.

I pray that the Lord will allow me the grace to forgive myself when I fall short, however. But I also know that the Lord will complete all things that he has begun for the purpose of His glory on earth.

For the new year, I give thanks for God’s renewal of all things.

Isaiah 58

On Community Leadership: Schools do More Than Just Educate. They Transform Community.

I work as a paraprofessional at JC Harmon High School. I live only ten minutes from there, and am often seen at the local grocery store by Harmon students who recognize me. It is my joy to be part of an urban community that is connected and that has resources along with a small town feel. The Argentine and Turner neighborhoods are part of the city of Kansas City, Kansas, but, have a unique identity that is evident when travelling along the Strong Avenue and Metropolitan Avenue.

Yet, our neighborhood is not immune to the struggles of poverty, drugs, violence, and domestic challenges. This Sunday, I learned that the second student of Harmon High lost a life due to violence – a student who I was hired to help educate, and who lives within minutes of me.

This evening, I read a blog post from our superintendent of schools of Kansas City Kansas Public Schools. Dr. Cynthia Lane wrote many words grievingly. Yet, one phraze has become her signature statement: “It is Up to Us!”

I agree. As a staff member in her district, at an urban high school, the life that kids see at school and in their community is up to me, and up to you. We are all called to take leadership in the neighborhoods and cities where we live. What will we do? Pray! Then? Talk with people. Then? Experience the emotions and turmoil of our students in solidarity. 
This young man was a member of a local church. He had been born in a refugee camp, and his family was granted status as residents and were resettled here in the USA. He was supposed to be safe here.

So what should I do? Jesus called me to take up my cross and follow him. During his ministry, he moved into the neighborhood and experienced the joys, sorrow, celebration and regret of the people. 

Can I also do this? I say that I can. As a minister, a paraprofessional in a public school, as a husband, and as a resident of Wyandotte County, I must live out my call to be in solidarity with the people who I am called to serve. 

We can do better. If we are willing to take leadership, then we are willing to move forward with the *attitude* of gratitude- gratitude for the lives of those whom we serve, and for the opportunity to take part in such a task. For, community transformation starts with us. Me. You. Us. Them.

Let us not forget it. If God places us here to take leadership to change the tone of our community, then God meets us with the personal growth resources needed to fulfill this task.

I’ll be the first to commit to do better. Who is with me?

My Prayer in Desperate Circumstances

As a person who is seeking God’s purpose in my life, I am learning daily that the most urgent things of life are not always what they seem to be. That is, when someone who you have known for a while is in a critical need in their life, it makes you realize that you have taken some things for granted. In the last year, my heart has been moved, more so than ever before in my life, to give to God my time in prayer. This means that the seemingly urgent things sometimes need to be put off in order to give God the tithe of my time and attention to another fellow human who needs God’s touch through a faithful servant. I am the only one, perhaps, who can touch one particular person who I see every day. I am feeling called more than ever to stop. Pray. Give thanks. Clothe. Feed. House. Advocate. Love. See Matthew 25 for the full picture.

As I lay my head tonight, I lift up my heart as a cry to the Lord that He hears the prayers of His people for the healing of Pastor and friend Densel Ball, that You, Lord, would answer the heart cries of His family by giving them comfort and everlasting refuge in You, in this difficult time. In Jesus name AMEN.

I have linked to a blog posted by Cornerstone Wesleyan Church last Sunday, where Densel is head pastor:

Special Note from Pastor Densel’s Brother Frank Ball

A Thought from a Nazarene-now-Wesleyan on Christian Holiness

Growing up Nazarene in the 1980’s and 1990’s, I became very bored of the idea that I needed only to be instantly redeemed from sin. In fact, I had been lead to believe that to be angry was to sin. I’d go to the altar to be cleansed of the negative thoughts, only to realize that the euphoria was temporary. Rarely was discipleship every brought up as a life ling growth process. I can recall being bored out of my mind as a 20-year-old in church merely because I literally thought that my role there from then, on, was to be constantly euphoric for my salvation.
I now attend a Wesleyan church with my wife, and am exploring the prophetic and prayer components of the Holiness tradition through the eyes of the International House of Prayer, along with my wife, Denise.

Euphoric episodes are not a good way to evangelize to someone with extreme mental highs and lows. Bipolar mood swings can bring someone down within hours of an altar call. 

The effects of a mood swing? I would think that I had apparently slipped into a bad mood, and that God would require another euphoric altar call experience out of me.

As Christians we can do better than to emphasize the crisis moment of conversion. I will acknowledge that the crisis moments of the nineteenth century camp meeting are credited to showing the role of the Holy Spirit in bringing conviction. Yet,  if the Holiness tradition is to survive, it must be emphasized that Christian conversion is a lifeling process. 

I just completed an education degree from MidAmerica Nazarene University which has informed the way that I see Christian discipleship. I have found it absolutely essential to understand that personal growth cannot happen in a vacuum. Rather, transformation of a person is a lifelong process. 

One major component of my studies in education involved what is known as a “growth mindset.” The growth mindset is the process of looking for guidance as to where God is working to grow the person from one’s strengths every day that s/he is alive.

You may take interest in reading an entry I wrote in 2012 in my blog: https://singsilence.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/am-i-the-prodigal-sons-brother/ .

Internship #4: Refuge KC

I have had the opportunity to know Rich Casebolt, founder of RefugeKC, for several years. Rich was one of the faces behind the counter of Eleos Coffee during their first five years. It was as one of his frequent customer contacts that I was able to learn of his intention with living in the Historic Kansas City (Missouri) Northeast Neighborhood (KCNE). The Historic KCNE is known for many aging buildings, a few of them noted for important residents of Kansas City’s past. In the 1980’s and 1990’s the KCNE was home primarily to immigrants of Italian dissent. Today, the neighborhood is amongst the most diverse in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area, in terms of ethnicity, household income (with a high concentration of poverty), language, and in national origin. This makes the KCNE a likely home and place for ministry for a family with missionary experience.

Rich moved to Kansas City form Oklahoma in 1999 to attend the Midwestern Baptist Seminary. While he worked on his Master of Divinity (MDiv), he met his wife who also was working on her MDiv. In 2005, they answered the call to serve in Thailand as missionaries, and spent six years living in different regions of the country. In 2011, the Casebolts brought their Thai language and missionary skills back to Kansas City where they settled in the Historic KCNE. It was shortly after their return that I came to know Rich at Eleos Ministries. Through this creative ministry of Eleos Coffee, Rich learned a lot about the people living on or near the main corridor of the KCNE, Independence Avenue. Soon, Rich would discover how a need within the community could be mitigated with his skills and experience as a missionary.

One day, a man of Karen ethnic identity came into the shop seeking assistance with little to no English. In that moment, he discovered that they had both acquired Thai as a secondary language, which enabled Rich to guide him to resources that he needed. The Karen are an ethnic minority group originating in Myanmar, who have sought political recognition over the last century with little success. With decades of turbulence and fighting amongst Myanmar residents, many Karen have fled to refugee camps along the Myanmar-Thailand border. Some have spent their entire lives in refugee camps with few opportunities to seek better lives for themselves or their families.

A very small percentage of people who are able to apply for refugee resettlement through the United Nations are ever resettled. An even smaller percentage of refuge-seeking people are resettled in the United States. Once the U.S. Department of State admits refugees, local Non-Government Organizations which receive some federal funding, oversee the remaining journey for their path to new life in the United States. Yet, this final step in a refugee’s resettlement is often overseen by people who are swamped with hundreds of new people per year. My own research on refugee arrivals in Kansas City showed that over 1,100 individuals arrived in the metropolitan area in 2016 alone. Furthermore, over 140 Syrian refugees were resettled in the Kansas City Metropolitan area between January and November of 2016, representing 1 of 18 nationalities now represented among new Americans arriving in Kansas City every year. The number and diversity of the refugees arriving in the area makes personalized care very difficult for the two organizations in the Kansas City metropolitan area currently receiving funding from the federal government as official resettlement agencies–Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) and Della Lamb.

It is here where Rich’s vision came into view one year ago. As he realized that his missionary experience matched well with the need for long-term case management serving the local refugee community, it became apparent that he would need to call on the Body of Christ to respond. In late 2015, Rich stepped out of his barista role at Eleos Coffee to file with the State of Missouri his registration for RefugeKC, Inc. As this entry is written, RefugeKC, Inc is celebrating its first birthday.

RefugeKC was founded in 2015 to fill the gap in Kansas City area services offered to the refugee population. The web site states that the focus of RefugeKC is to “welcome the stranger” as a way to glorify God. Also stated is the vision for welcome the “new-American neighbor” through gospel-focused services using mobilization of local churches. Working with the Wall Project is one small step through which RefugeKC has begun to approach this goal.

My wife, Denise and I, attended a recent mobilization event hosted by a Congolese congregation and sponsored by the Wall Project. The Wall Project was started by Natalie Moultrie with the mission to engage in an “intentional cultural exchange and connection of believers from people of different ethnic backgrounds and denominations…” (quoted from a pamphlet received at the event). This was a celebration of Christmas, with a potluck and gift exchange. The music and message in the preliminary service was in Congolese. Denise and I observed the tactile nature of the culture represented on the stage. We swayed with them and clapped. The Holy Spirit arrived, regardless of whether or not the words were translated. We were among people who had made a choice to step outside of our comfort zones in order to be in solidarity with people who have been forced outside of their countries. We also met South Sudanese and Haitian brothers and sisters, amongst other local of American nationality.

Engaging people to collaborate for a common vision is a large part of RefugeKC at the present time. I discovered, in a pleasant surprise, that collaboration is embedded in the legalities of running a 501 C 3 organization. For example, RefugeKC holds monthly board meetings on a monthly basis in compliance with the IRS requirement for registered 501 C 3 organizations. Underneath the this technicality is a large part of why I may one day wish to start my own organization. If the CEO choses wisely, each member of the board potentially brings with him or her valuable perspectives and expertise. This makes members of the board critical assets as the CEO continues to cast her vision. While the the CEO is strong in the vision, he needs to rely on people whose strengths compliment his. For example, the CEO may not be an expert in administrative matters, and much less with the legalities of processing donations to the organization. Yet, the board may be able to introduce a qualified person with administrative and legal skills and experience to the CEO as a potential team member. As my high school youth pastor once told me years ago, this is why it is never good to burn your bridges.

Speaking of contribution of skills, I spent a large portion of my internship hours researching the refugee community in Kansas City. With the research, I created a brochure (it can be seen below in rough draft form). I am also researching the Syrian culture with interest in how RefugeKC may reach new Kansas City residents of Syrian origin with gospel-focused services.

Future vision casting for RefugeKC includes an after school program with hopeful launch in 2017 and a resource village several years down the road. Rich and I have discussed my involvement in assisting RefugeKC into 2017 with the first focus–the after school program. In the broad scope of things, I find myself gravitating into an urban missionary role in the KCNE. RefugeKC supports a vision that is very similar to what I am prayerfully seeking along with my wife.