Monday, June 18, 2018

one pound, one ounce: a foster care post-mortem

As many of you know, our family has been marching forward on our renewed foster care adventure.  With our youngest adoptive daughter turning four this month, and the overwhelming need for foster care in our state, we began asking ourselves earlier this year whether we have the capacity to dive back in.

For us, the question was never really about growing the family, rather our core belief that as Christians we are called to use our capacity for the good of others.  With this in mind, we decided to call our local DCS office and begin the process of renewing our foster care license.

Cue a lengthy adventure that included nearly 30 hours of workshops and training, more paperwork than you can shake a ball point pen at, the purchase of a new van capable of holding all of these children, and a scramble to reorient our house to an appropriate environment for babies.  Within two short months, we were ready.

Thirty minutes after turning in our final paperwork, we received a call for a likely permanent (adoptive) placement for a 3 yr old boy.  Though his age was outside of our pre-established healthy range for our family (due to being only months younger than our youngest), we couldn’t help but see the need for an adorable little boy to find a loving home and say “yes!”

We walked that road toward a move-in date with the dear boy as he began to find his way deeper into our hearts with every hug.  However, after a month of progress, we discerned that he and our youngest were just too similar to ever live happily together and (when alerted to another family looking to adopt the young boy) we stepped aside.

Back to square one.

The next couple of weeks were an up-and-down adventure of taking our new understanding of our capacity and learning to say “no”.  Newborn twins.  An older 2 yr old.  A preemie still on oxygen support and with a feeding tube.  Finally, we got a call that seemed like a great fit: we invited a preemie baby boy into the family as a short-term foster son.

Baby Z came to us at 6 weeks old, but due to his premature 29-wk birth, was still 5 weeks away from his original due date, just over 4 lbs, and resisting weight gain.  We knew this would be a short term placement, and our task was to wake him every three hours, all day and night to make sure he ate to gain the weight needed for proper brain and body development.

We loved our time with Baby Z.  He was about as perfect as you could ever dream.  His eyes only opened for about an hour per day, but when they did, they stole your heart.  Our 3 daughters were captivated as was Robin who spoke with clarity:  “I need to remember this, because he will likely be the cutest thing my eyes will ever see.”

Baby Z and our 4 yr old

Five amazing, yet sleep deprived days later, we said goodbye to sweet Baby Z.  He was placed with his loving grandparents, which brought us great peace.

The exchange happened at the doctor’s office as Z got his weekly checkup.  When they put him on the scale, we saw a miracle.  He had gained a full pound and an ounce -- 25% of his body weight in just five days!  The doctor was amazed.  We were overwhelmed with joy.

The days after a placement come with some interesting feelings: The relief of renewed sleep.  The guilt of that relief.  The awkward empty feeling of a slightly less full house.  The sadness of a lost relationship.  The curiosity about the future.

For us, it also came with some processing.  Baby Z was about as perfect as it could get, and yet we realized it was still pretty overwhelming for our family.  Our (now) 4 year old really struggled, and we struggled as parents to both meet her needs and manage caring for a baby.  Further, our lack of sleep and its results alerted us that our mental health was not as stable as we supposed.

Ultimately, we realized that we just don’t have the capacity to be foster parents at this time.

This realization brought its own feelings: guilt--that we cannot help all the children that are in desperate need.  Shame--that our own weaknesses contribute to our lack of capacity to help.  Awkwardness--in the awareness that so many have supported us in this path that we are now stepping off.

But in the end, I return to the old poem: “‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.”

The reality is that we all have limitations.  Too often we allow our limitations or the fear of our limitations to hold us back from even attempting to sacrifice or make a difference in the world according to the way of Jesus.  As a family, our desire is to always be testing the waters of what we can sacrifice for others.  Sometimes that means that we step out and we have our lives & world changed forever, like with the fostering and adoption of our youngest daughter.  Sometimes it means we step out and hit a wall and need to readjust our understandings of our own capacity.  But without stepping out, we will never know which is which.

‘Tis better to sacrifice and reach your limitations, than out of fear for your limitations, never to sacrifice at all.

Finally, regardless of the premature end to this adventure, it was worth it.

The thirty hours of training.  The mountains of paperwork.  The house cleaning.  The van purchase.  The emotional roller coaster.  The sleepless week.

It was all worth it.

If for nothing more than one child’s life, for five days of healing and development.

For one pound, one ounce.

It was worth it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

standing and sitting

Tonight was a rough one for our block for a number of reasons.

At the top of the list, was being awakened at 4a by a young woman screaming as she fled down the center of the street, trailed by her would-be sexual assaulter.  Thank God, more than a dozen neighbors came out of their houses to chase away the attacker, as the terrified woman collapsed into an exhausted heap in the middle of the street.

I took note of three types of neighbors during this trauma:

The first are those who did nothing.  Perhaps they heard and just rolled over in bed, or peeked out the window and simply watched from a distance.  Regardless, God help us for the ways in which we ever stay detached from the needs of others.

Thankfully, there was a solid core of a different type of neighbor -- those willing to stand up & get involved on some level.  These were the neighbors who called the police, turned on their porch light or were willing to step outside.  They were willing to put themselves in a bit of risk to be visible and present for a neighbor in great need.  I am so thankful for neighbors like this -- those willing to live here instead of moving out and those willing to act on behalf of others.

Finally, as I walked down the block toward the woman on the street, I saw a man whose neighboring rose to another level.  He was an older man, still shirtless from sleep despite the chill in the air, who left his porch, walked out to the woman crying in the street and simply sat down next to her in the middle of the dirty street.  He wasn’t really saying or doing anything in that moment.  He was just being present with her, making sure she was not alone.

The world needs more neighbors willing to step off the porch, sit down and just be present with others in the midst of their pain -- for safety, for support, but also just human connection.

Hebrews 13:3
Regard prisoners as if you were in prison with them. Look on victims of abuse as if what happened to them had happened to you.

Philippians 2:5-7
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Jesus:
Who, though he was God, did not consider his status as something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he gave up his privilege by taking the very nature of a servant, embracing our humanity.

Monday, September 12, 2016


I grew up a good Baptist.

This meant that childhood me was absolutely certain that those with Charismatic leanings were complete fakes.  They were just highly emotional people who lacked the proper understanding to know when they were getting swept up in a wave of nonsense.

...until I met this pastor in college.  He was intelligent.  His education in Biblical studies far surpassed mine.  He was very even mannered.  And it did not take much investigation to conclude that his pursuit of God over time put mine to shame.

AND then I found out he was a Charismatic.


What was I to do with that?  He didn't fit into any of my assumptions about those kinds of people.  In fact, in all of the religious check boxes that I valued, he had me beat.  Could I really tell him he was not smart enough to know better?  Or that he was too shallow?  Or that his faith was fake?  And if so, what would that say about me in comparison?

I was forced to reconsider my assumptions.  That's the importance of experience.

Consider this:
  • We can believe that if we train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not depart (Proverbs 22:6)
    • ...until we connect with a loving old pastor whose children have chosen a different path.
  • We can be convinced that God will always provide for all of our needs (Matthew 6:26)
    • ...until we are told the stories of children starving to death.
  • We can be assured that God has promised to protect us (Psalm 121:7)
    • ...until we meet a neighbor who lost her God-fearing grandson to gang violence.
  • We can declare that God will never give us more than we can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13)
    • ...until we hear of the cries of the Christian brother who faced trials to the point of mental & emotional breakdown.

It is all too easy to reduce our God and our faith to simple promises or universal proverbs and in doing so we miss the complexity of both God and the world in which we live.

We badly need the stories of others to break us out of our simple certainty.

May we seek and treasure those stories.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

life beyond the siding

Our new house is part of a great neighborhood revitalization project.  They take old homes that are falling apart and do a fantastic job completely redoing them, hoping to spur neighborhood growth and change along the way.  Ours is the first house on the block, which comes with a fair bit of anticipation for seeing some of the "revitalization" hit our street.

But in the week since we have moved in we have had neighbors:

  • go out and buy us donuts and sweets to welcome us.
  • mow our yard and trim our weeds on multiple occasions.
  • bring us a bag of clothes for our little one.
  • come from several different houses when they saw our shed delivered to help us carry it piece by piece around back.
  • make sure to come share the trash & recycling schedule when I put everything out on the wrong day like a fool.
  • spend some time sharing some great wisdom from life experience with us.
And I am reminded once again that life and kindness and wisdom and generosity are not related to the paint on the house, the quality of the grass, or the cost of rent in a community.  There is plenty of vitality on my block.  The houses just need some work.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

the flattery trap

Whoever flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his feet. // Proverbs 29:5 

As many of you know, we have a move ahead of us.

Processing this with my 9 yr old daughter Kali the other night, she said to me, "Daddy, at our new house, I don't want to tell our new neighbors you are a pastor right away or put a bunch of crosses around our house, because I don't want them to think that we're just being friends with them so that they will become Christians."


There's some wisdom there.

At the bare minimum, Kali has acknowledged that there is a difference between "loving" other people for a purpose and just loving her neighbor.

One of those loves is manipulative, deceitful, and hollow (even in its good intentions), the other is simple, authentic, and dignifying.

Proverbs 29 acknowledges that manipulative neighborly kindness is like setting a trap.  This metaphor expresses a power dynamic of hunter & unsuspecting prey.  Perpetrator & victim.

And we must ask ourselves, does that approach mirror the free and releasing love God shows us?

It's not enough to pursue God's love for our neighbors.  If it is to be found, it must be pursued in a way consistent with God's love.

So instead of flattering our neighbors in working for their salvation, may we be people who seek first to truly love our neighbors -- agenda free.  And when our neighborhoods are filled with the love of God...who knows what the Spirit of God may do?!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Letter to My Neighbors: Transition

In 2004, God changed my life and future by bringing Robin & I (freshly married and just out of college) to the Keller Park Neighborhood and Church.  At that time, I thought Keller Park was just a layover for me before moving on to seminary upon Robin’s graduation.  I was arrogant, narrow, & judgmental.  I knew the calling on my life was to see churches do things “the right way”, but had no understanding of what that really looked like.

Over the last 12 years, God used the amazing people of Keller Park and the Keller Park Church to develop an understanding of what it means to love our neighbor.  He helped me to see his beauty in the midst of brokenness and discover the potential for the Church to live in intentional community.  He taught me that some of the most meaningful moments of life are also the messiest.  He took my certainty about people and theology and left me only with the certainty that life is complicated, but God is good.

After a rough first 4 years, it soon became clear that the Keller Park Neighborhood & Church had won my heart.  I was no longer a young kid passing through, but had found a home.  For better and for worse, the people of the Keller Park Neighborhood and Keller Park Church are my people and that truth has come to define me.  I am a Keller Park Neighbor.

And it’s not just me.  Keller Park has been home to Robin and our 3 girls.  They have known nothing else than the open, messy, occasionally loud, exceedingly honest world of the Keller Park neighborhood, and we are so thankful for that.  Further, the KPC has been their primary source for personal connection and formation, a reality that has been a source of great grace for our family.

These past years have provided quite the transformation for our family.  We have gone from seeing the Keller Park Neighborhood and Church as a communities we could change, to seeing our lives changed in return--from seeing this place as a temporary stop to not being able to imagine ever leaving.

All of that makes the next reality complicated: after a long period of discernment, Robin and I have recognized that God is calling us to another place, with the transition coming this fall.

This transition is not coming as a result of any frustration or disgruntlement with KPC or the neighborhood, but purely as a result of trying to be faithful to the call of God on our lives.  I firmly believe the call on my life has always been to see the Church around America embrace values that look like Jesus.  We have seen that at KPC, and now God has been letting me know that he wants to use me to share the lessons we have learned with others.

While this transition will require moving, we plan to stay close.  Our Keller Park relationships are irreplaceable, and we desire to keep them strong.  We love you all deeply.

To the Keller Park Church: I am proud to have been a part of the family.  I am confident that you will continue to keep KPC weird in the best possible ways.

To my Keller Park Neighbors and KPNA teammates: Thank you so much for all of your grace and friendship.  I am forever changed by you.  Keep working hard at being the kind of neighbors you want others to be for you!  I will miss you much.

More information will be shared in the days ahead as to what is next for the Yazels, but for today, I wanted to just focus on the Keller Park part of our journey.

Ryan (& Robin, Kali, Sophie, & the little one)

Friday, February 26, 2016

On Gluten, False Stories, and Empathy

The other day, I saw an article that surprised, then saddened me.

Presidential candidate Ted Cruz promised that when he's president, there will be no more gluten-free meals for our armed forces!

WHAT?!  That seems like an extremely strange issue to make a position in a Presidential election.  Even more strange that he was taking a position against providing relief for people who may have food allergies.

The reason?  Providing gluten-free meals, for Mr. Cruz, is nothing more than an exercise in political correctness.  And he will have no part in that.

Mr. Cruz likely has no relationship with anyone in his life that battles gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease, or he would see the daily battle with headaches and other pains and realize this issue goes beyond political correctness. In the absence of those relationships, he has written what he clearly does not understand into a false story of political correctness.

And he's not the only one to do this.  We all do.
We are quick to write stories to simply describe the things we do not understand.

Gluten sensitivity.
Racial Discrimination.
Divorcees.  Addicts.  Single moms.  Gang members.
Catholics.  Protestants.  Evangelicals.
Republicans.  Democrats.

If we don't really get to know the people walking these paths, it's likely that (like Mr. Cruz) we have already written a story and printed a label.

Politically correct.
Race bating...

And there's really only one way to find out if those labels are wrong: dig deeper.
Get to know someone.  Ask questions.  Listen.  Listen again.  And again.  Pray for empathy, understanding, and Truth.

If we do this, we just might find out that the simple stories we have written about others are far from sufficient to describe the complexities of our human experience.

Hebrews 13:3
Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.