Protecting the Religious Right (to Discriminate)

Yesterday, the Texas Senate passed a bill that allows religious-based organizations involved in foster care to discriminate in the provision of services based on “sincerely-held religious beliefs.” It previously passed the House and there is no reason to suspect that Governor Abbott will not sign House Bill 3859 into law.

As an attorney, (but not a constitutional law attorney, mind you), I have a strong suspicion that this bill violates the Constitution’s protections of religion, right to privacy and, as only recently affirmed by SCOTUS, protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation. We shall see.

But this is not a post about the law. This is a post about my views on the matter as a Christian and a foster parent. I’m appalled, but unfortunately not surprised.

There has been a growing movement among conservative Christians–especially in Texas, I think, though my lens is distorted since that’s where I am–to protect the right to refuse people services based on religious belief. This is both theologically untenable and ridiculously counterproductive from the standpoint of evangelism and discipleship.

House Bill 3859 allows faith-based organizations to refuse to: (1) place children with certain families because of the family’s differing religious views; (2) place children with persons or families whose homosexuality–as the Methodist Church would put it–is incompatible with Christian teaching; and (3) provide certain services (abortions or vaccines, for instance) to children in their care. There is no question that this legislation is motivated by conservative Christian lobby groups.

I hear about this bill and what the Christian churches involved in lobbying for the bill say through the legislation is: “My right to force my values on other people is more important than helping children without homes. I want to help children without homes, but only if I can do it my way without any risk of repercussions.”

That is not a witness to the Christ who tells us, “whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.” Nota bene that the statement does not read, “whatever you do for the least of these who believe in me just like you do….”

The Texas foster care system has been judged by a court to be illegally deficient in the protection and services provided to foster children. There is a shortage of foster parents and a surplus of children who need homes.  Is this really the time to move for the right to exclude foster parents who are otherwise qualified and vetted to take in and care for children from “the system?”

As you’ve likely guessed, I’m pretty passionate about my own interpretations of the Christian faith. But I’m also not so egotistical and prideful as to have surety of my religious understanding so as to completely discredit, disregard and disrespect those of other beliefs–Christian or otherwise. Nevertheless, there comes a point where I feel that the hypocrisy is so blatant that I cannot help but take offense and I am filled with a righteous-seeming anger that the actions of other people acting under the banner of Christianity are besmirching my faith and sabotaging my own ability to evangelize and disciple to the world. It’s an uphill battle when you have to start a conversation about your faith with, “No, that’s not really what Christianity is about. I promise.”

Just last night I was in a church meeting where the perennial question, “How do we get more millennials to come to church?” came up. The best answer: stop doing stuff like this! Stop putting self-affirmation in front of helping people and making the world a better place? Millennials smell hypocrisy like a bloodhound tracking a scent, not that they need to be able to when judgment is thrown before mercy in such blatant manner! People are leaving the church (or never giving it a thought in the first place) not because of outdated furniture, color schemes or worship styles but because some make of it an instrument of oppression and transgression rather than one of confession and profession.

As a foster parent, how dare the government spend time trying to exclude some of my willing helpmates rather than actually fixing a deplorably broken system for the benefit of the children? It makes my life tougher even as I’m trying to help. That’s not good for an already-overburdened system.

There. That’s enough said about being appalled. Why am I not surprised? Because this is just one more milestone on the current trajectory of many Christians. We see this in the demand for people to say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” and talk about the “war on Christmas” or the “war on Christians.” A little secret: no one needs to make war on Christianity for the relevance and the effectiveness of the church to dwindle into nothing–we’re doing a great job of that ourselves.

More broadly, it’s an indication of current trends in American culture–let’s blame others so that we can discriminate against them rather than truly trying to solve the suffering of the world.

When our priorities are correct, the revelation of our faith in Jesus comes naturally and is inevitable. When we make our goal protectionism over all else, I’m afraid that Jesus turns away from us in shame. Can you blame him?

A Season of Rest (Or Perhaps Activity)

I haven’t posted in a long while about our foster situation, and those who follow the blog to keep up with that aspect of life for K and I deserve to hear the news that there is.

There’s not much. We’ve decided that it’s best for us to refrain from taking a new placement on until K has finished seminary. Since she’s working full-time and going to school (and will have to commute to Dallas a few days each week starting next Fall!), it’s best for us that we wait until she’s got less stress and activity going on and we’re both a bit more settled. I don’t understand how she does it as it is except for the fact that she’s an amazing woman.

We will provide respite care for other foster families on occasion–essentially taking a child or set for a weekend or a few days when their foster family needs a break or has to travel. This allows us to stay as an “active” family and not have to start the entire application process over again when we’re ready for our next placement.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to enjoy the time that’s just the two of us (and our Corgi Berwyn, who may be the neediest child ever). We’ve been enjoying the opportunity to be “adulting”, which for us does not mean the burden of living up to all of life’s responsibilities and adult demands but doing the things you don’t have permission to do when you’re a kid–like staying up late to watch TV and eating candy for dinner. It’s a word we’re taking back. I’ll let you know if we have any success with that.

It’s a year-and-a-half of a last hurrah before we transition again to the chaos and joy of raising children.

So, if you don’t see much on this site about children for a while, that’s why. Of course, you don’t have to have kids in your own home to be learning about them, and if I have any interesting experiences I’ll be sure to share them here…

First Day of School

Maybe “school” isn’t the right word for it; at five months (Abe) and almost two-and-a-half (Bess), there’s not going to be a lot of hardcore academics. There will, I’m sure, be the learning of things  just as important–how to make friends, how to deal with the unexpected, how to adapt to unfamiliar places (already a competency for them).

Yesterday afternoon we got the call that the children had (finally) been approved to attend the Montessori School where we’d wanted to put them. Some background:

One of my partners at the law firm has her son there in the nursery; her daughter just graduated into kindergarten from the school. On top of that, this partner’s husband is a Montessori-certified teacher himself, so if it gets the stamp of approval from him, that speaks volumes. We toured the facility some months back before taking our placement and were well-satisfied.

Here’s the rub: private school is expensive. The school was solidly out of the price range for a church-worker and a young attorney with a start-up law firm. But, foster children are sometimes eligible for pre-public school education to be paid for, and the Montessori School just happened to be one of the two places approved by CPS for such funding.

When we first got our placement, the original CPS worker had told us that she’d filed the NCI (the funding program) paperwork for us, but that it could be 30 to 45 days before we’d get approved. “No problem,” we said and set about using vacation time to each each work half days in the office and half days at home.

This week K was bound for Dallas to attend internship orientation for her seminary program. We knew this in advance and hoped that the NCI would clear before then.

Thus, it came as a shock when we found out mid-week last week that the NCI paperwork had in fact not been submitted. Fortunately, we now have a good team behind us–our DePelchin clinician has been excellent all the way through and we now have a solid long-term CPS worker who knows the ropes.

Our CPS worker faxed K the paperwork we needed to fill out the same day it was discovered that the first worker had not submitted anything, and we were assured that things would be expedite as much as possible.

That left me taking off three days of work this week to manage the kids. I had great help from our parents (with whom it was nice to get to spend the time), but it was still exhausting. So, when we got word yesterday that they could start today, we were both relieved. I’m finally back to the office full-time, where spare moments can be devoted to writing instead of chasing little ones. At the same time, it does feel strange to spend so much time apart from them today.

I’m excited to find out how the first day went (and excited to have another full day in the office tomorrow)!

Some Clarity

A few weeks ago, K and I met with the ad litem in the kids’ case (the attorney appointed by the court to represent the best interests of the children). He’s a good guy and provided us with a lot more clarity about the situation than CPS has.

Unfortunately, the news was not the news we wanted to hear. Not only does the ad litem believe the children will be going back to family, but he indicated that they would likely go back well before the twelve months for the permanency plan is complete.

We’re likely to have Abe and Bess for a few more months, but it is very unlikely that the two will be our “forever family,” as they say. The upside is that the ad litem believes there will be a safe place with family for the kids to return to: the situation was described to us as “a good family with a wayward daughter” (the mother of the children). That being the case, it probably is in the best interest of the children to return to family members who can love and care for them. But that will not make it easy to let go.

I’m not sure if knowing this far in advance is a good thing, either. Yes, it gives us time to prepare for the day when we will have to send the kids away; if worked through properly, that could prove very helpful. Conversely, if we don’t work through the impending loss in a positive way, it could be quite the opposite. Most of all, K and I must be careful not to guard our hearts too much–we need to give these kids all the love we can in the time that we have with them. And, nothing is done until it’s done. Despite the high likelihood that the kids will go back, nothing is a sure thing yet.

This puts K and I in the awkward position of needing to decide what our plan  will be in the likely event that the kids go back to family. We’ve started to discuss, but a plan is still in the works. We’ve decided it will be best to take some time off before accepting a new placement to make sure we’ve properly worked through our emotions. How much time has not been decided. With our available time away from work largely exhausted for the rest of the year, our next placement would need to be school-age children if we accept a placement sooner rather than later. If we want to try again with small kids, we’ll likely need to wait until 2017. No decision has been made about this.

In the meantime, we’re going to focus on getting and giving all the joy we can, continuing to strengthen our relationships with Abe and Bess and providing whatever we can to brighten their futures, whatever that future may be.

Homecoming

It is eleven-thirty on a Wednesday morning. I am at home, having gone to work earlier today even than this morning person cares to. My career obligations at a satisfactory point to wait until tomorrow, I sit at the chair in front of my computer, an old piece inherited by K and made from quality wood worn smooth by hands running across it, arms resting upon it and socked feet perched upon its lower supports, the padding where I sit long collapsed to a thin suggestion of cushion. It strikes me vaguely as a chair-shaped worry stone, smoothed by time and comforting to the touch. But that’s a matter of my perception more than the state of the chair itself.

Today, Abe and Bess embarked on their first visitation with bio-mom since their removal. A case worker from CPS kindly picked them up while K was at home and I was working and will be returning with them soon. So I sit here, typing to escape from worrying about what happens next.

Tomorrow, they will have been with us for five weeks. Time they’ve spent getting settled in, coming to trust us, starting to feel safe. On the one hand, I cannot imagine what their mother has been through this past month, walking around with two empty spaces following her where children had been. She should get to see the kids, and they should get to see her. K and I long before this process began decided we would support visitation with biological family during and even after the process of fostering and adopting, so long as it’s healthy for the kids.

As with so many things we think about intellectually and completely fail to really grasp until we’re in the moment, my thoughts are selfishly not on the good that will come from the meeting with bio-mom, the potential establishment of some sense of continuity and the reduction in long-term trauma that can come from the maintenance of relationships where appropriate, but instead about where my relationships will be when the kids return. The work K and I have done in loving and caring for Abe and Bess, their development of love for us, will it all be dashed against the rocks of remembrance?

In my heart I know that it’s foolish to think so, that the belief that love is a zero-sum game we play with the world is a falsehood that leads so many of us astray. It is not K and I against bio-mom, and only our making it so will push things in that direction. The insecurity I feel now is about me, not about the kids. It’s about my selfish desire to claim ownership over the children. There’s no place for that here, and no good to come from it. So instead, as I write, I try to use these words to center myself, to remember what I’m about and who I want to be to these children. This post is my pseudo-self-therapy of sorts.

And it seems to have worked. I feel ready for the kids to come home, done worrying about what will happen and ready to constructively start thinking about what I can do to make things easiest for them when they arrive.

Thrown a Curve Ball

K and I met with our DePelchin Clinician and our CPS Case Worker this past Wednesday afternoon. In general, the meeting went well, and it’s clear that the kids have settled in, feel safe and are happy. But our CPS worker threw us a curve ball–a doozy of a curve ball.

When this placement was first pitched to us, CPS had told DePelchin (and thus DePelchin had told us) one story about the reason the kids had been put in CPS custody. As part of that reason, we were told that the parents had reported that they had no family members available to care for the children. Since K and I are fostering with the goal of adoption, that seemed like a lower risk that the children go back to the parents or family than could be the case. When the children arrived later that day, we got a different story about the reason for the kids’ placement with CPS. That was annoying, but we had committed and weren’t about to change our minds about this placement simply because wires had gotten crossed somewhere.

On Wednesday, though, the CPS worker told us thata not one, but two family members were trying to go through the process to have the children placed with them. For the time being, this would be for interim care while the case proceeds through the court, but these family members would also have priority over us for adoption if parental rights were terminated.

These family members will have to go through all of the training, review, background check and other process that we had to in order to be cleared for possession of the kids. We have no idea of the likelihood that either could actually successfully complete the licensing process, but now we have a huge “what if?” placed in our way and the risk of us not being able to move all the way to adoption has greatly increased. To be sure, we had nothing close to a sure thing to begin with, but the new information shot into me fear, trepidation and anxiety. Understandably, I think, I’m angry and upset about CPS’s willingness and ability to share accurate information.

How much does this really change? Practically speaking, very little for the time being. I have fallen in love with Abe and Bess and I’m going to treat them as my own for as long as I can. What has changed, I suppose, is the realization of a certain conflict related to my own parental feelings. I now find myself unapologetically praying that the kids’s biological parents and family will fail so that they can be my forever family. Make no mistake, I am ready and willing to do whatever is necessary for the best interests of the kids, including letting them go if needs be, but I’m also pretty convinced that K and I are their best interest.

This potential struggle of conscience is something we’d anticipated early in this process, and I thought I’d come to terms with it quite some time back. What I didn’t anticipate was the fierce protectiveness and attachment of parenthood that settles deep in your heart and gut and latches on. This puts me in a weird possession, but perhaps one every parent feels–that unrepentant resolution that, if it’s the kids or someone/something else in conflict, it’s the kids every time. I’m not settled on the morality of this position, its righteousness or its place in my theology. Not by a long shot. For now, all I can do is describe how I feel as I sort through things.

Ask and You Shall Receive

No sooner had I published my post about our false alarm earier this week, than my phone rang. One of our placement workers on the line; they had another potential placement for us. This time, a 3-month old boy (We’ll call him “Abe”) and a 2-year old girl (we’ll call her “Bess”), just taken into custody by Child Protective Services today. We didn’t have much information to go on about the situation they’d come from, but we were ready to take the plunge. A quick conference between K and I and we were back on the phone with the placement worker.

She submitted us for consideration for the placement and we waited  an hour and a half that seemed to drag on forever. We got a call back just before noon that we’d been accepted and that the kids were coming to us that day. I rushed home from work to make sure everything was in order. K joined me sooner thereafter and we tried to busy ourself as we waited for the call from CPS that Abe and Bess were on the way.

They arrived around dinner time Thursday evening. After signing all of the CPS paperwork, our time as parents had begun.

I had intended to post something on Thursday, but I found no time to do so. Here we are, two mostly sleepless nights, and the sun is coming up again. We managed to get Bess to go to sleep around eleven last night (for some reason unknown, trying to put her to bed is one of her triggers, although after last night we may be easing our way thr0ugh that), so K spent most of the night up with Abe. Since I’m a morning person who doesn’t nap, K let me try to get as much sleep as I could last night. She’s a night owl who would much rather sleep in, so we switched off with Abe about twenty minutes ago.

Abe is asleep (only so long as he’s behing held–he’s currently comfortable in one of those wrap-carrier things so that I can type). Bess is still in bed and has a decent sleep debt from Thursday night (when she wouldn’t go to bed until after 5 a.m.) to catch up on. K is resting while we can. I sit at the kitchen table, a mostly-empty bowl of cereal beside the Ipad and a pot of coffee brewing. It’s the most peace and time for myself I’ve had in two days. We’ll see how long it lasts…

False Alarm

Monday night I got a call from our agency informing us that we are now open to receive a placement! It was after five when we got the call (I didn’t answer, so it was a voice message), so I called back Tuesday morning.

When I called, one of our placement workers informed me that they had a potential placement and asked if we wanted to be put it to take them–a brother and sister of 5 and 6 that, based on the information we had, looked like a great fit for us. I quickly called K (pulled her out of a meeting) and consulted with her.

After giving her the information, she had to go back into the meeting (a staff meeting at the church where she’s the director of children’s ministries) and give the devotional. I waited by the phone for her return call. It didn’t take us long to decide that we wanted to try to get the placement.

I called the placement worker at our agency and asked her to put us forward. Then we had to wait an excruciating few hours to know whether Child Protective Services was going to choose us for the placement.

They didn’t. As it turns out, when CPS sent out the message looking for potential foster homes, they neglected to state that there was a foster home already familiar with the children and that they were likely going there–which is exactly what happened.

Needless to say, K and I were exhausted by the emotional roller-coaster of the process, and understandably disappointed that things didn’t work out this time.

On the other hand, we now know what it’s like to go through the potential (emergency) placement process and the experience quickly built our relationship and trust with our placement workers (who were also left out of the seemingly-important information CPS had, otherwise they would have let us know up front that that might be the case).

We had an in-person meeting with our placement workers yesterday afternoon. This is a standard practice and I’d called Tuesday morning in part to set it up. We understood going into the foster-to-adopt program that there are a lot of variables and that there will often times be things we just do not know when we’re asked to make decisions regarding placements. To the extent that we can, we’ve made peace with that.

I can’t say enough how great our placement workers are–we came away from yesterday’s meeting extremely thankful that we have them in our corner.

And so now, we go back to waiting, watching our phones for that call from the special placement number, which could come at any time, wondering who the children will be and what kind of situation they’ll be coming from, imagining what it will be like but trying not to set up expectations, struggling to keep our minds and hearts open. Impatient.

Approved

Today, K and I received word that we have been approved for the foster-to-adopt and adoption processes (we’re not sure which path we’ll end up being led down, but either is open to us). We have another week or so to wait while our file is finally audited and the licensing procedure is complete.

It was five years ago that we started seriously thinking about becoming parents in this way. Almost three years ago when we started an application but stopped because we were told that we could not be approved while I was home-officing and meeting with clients at home. Eight months since we turned in our application for real. And now we’re potentially just a week or two away from becoming parents. The reality of it hasn’t fully sunk in yet, but we’re excited.

Fittingly, it’s also our tenth wedding anniversary this week. Lots to celebrate. And this section of the blog is about to become far more robust!