Thursday, October 31, 2002

blue's clues theology

My daughter was recently watching an episode of "Blues Clues" in which Blue and Steve skadoo into a blank piece of paper. It seems like a dull place to be, but Blue has brought along her "Big Bag of Words," and as Blue brings out the words, they alter the world around them.

I know it sounds silly, but while I was watching the episode with Evangeline, it triggered a series of deep thoughts about Jesus' nature as Logos and the creative force of God's word in the cosmos.

John says of Jesus "Through him, all things were made and without him nothing was made that was made." Right, we've got that concept down; Jesus as God created everything. But I started thinking about Jesus as an expression of God through words; i.e., it was when God spoke that light was pulled from darkness, and the sea and dry land were formed. Merely thinking of it didn't create it, but Logos did.

This also started me thinking and as I did, I watched one of my metaphysical constructs deflate and fall apart. I suspect like most Christians, I in my mind think of Jesus and the Father as separate beings even while I acknowledge they are one in a mysterious sense.

But think of it this way: Jesus is the expression of the Father's character and his will through words. Can you separate yourself from your own speech? Not really; it's our speech that makes us who we are. Our cultural baggage, our personality, our character, just about everything about us is conveyed through our speech. We shouldn't confuse a person with their language (although we often do by regarding people who speak differently from us as stupid), but in a very real sense the two are inseparable.

In that sense, then, it makes sense to Jesus qua Logos as the fullest expression of the Father's love, holiness and character, and as the Father-himself-but-not-quite.

I'm not expressing it well since it's past 2 a.m. and I can't sleep right now, but I think I'm onto a new way (for me, anyway) of understanding the Trinity.

not for everyone

Foster parenting is not for everyone. It's not even for everyone who realizes they're "not everyone." Like other people have said, it's demanding, it's draining, it's upsetting and a ton of other negative things.

I was a foster father for nine months. (My son left two weeks ago.) I have never cried as much or as hard as I did during those nine months because of the emotional and developmental damage I've seen him suffering from as a result of his parents' neglect -- and he was just neglected, not beaten or molested. Compared to some of the stories I've read and heard about, my son's case was pretty mild.

I say "Don't do it" because none of the people I've talked to who want to become foster parents have any idea what they're getting into. Contrary to the advertisements you hear on the radio, it's not about helping some unfortunate but adorable child for a little while until their parents can take them back. It's not about doing a nice thing for somebody. It's hell.

My wife and I were accused of neglecting our foster son because he fell so often he got scraped knees and huge welts on his forehead. (He was 2, but his mother had never let him walk, so he really didn't know how to do it when he came to live with us.) We got off lightly on that one, since the worst that happened was my wife was grilled about it on the phone for a few minutes, but it's a frightening experience because you never know what some blithering fool of a social worker will do next.

I also was told by the district supervisor that I should keep my emotional distance from our foster son. That's the worst possible advice I can imagine giving -- we're talking about a child who already was emotionally neglected. She essentially was urging me to compound the abuse. People who follow that advice -- and their numbers, it seems, are legion -- do some pretty horrific things to their foster children.

Going the route that I did -- loving the child as my own, celebrating each triumph with him, walking him through developmental stages, and pushing him constantly to improve -- involves a tremendous sacrifice emotionally, physically and spiritually. And when the child leaves, it's like burying one of your own.

If my wife is willing to do it in the future, I'd like to take in another foster child. Despite the very real heartache it's caused me, I want to do it again. But it's not something I recommend.

thanks for checking

At the last court date in September, our foster son's attorney, the state and the biological parents' attorney agreed that the biological parents could come to our house to pick their son up for unsupervised visits.

The justification was that we were listed in the case file as "friends of the family," so clearly we would have no objection. I can easily see other overworked social workers trying to ease their workload by asking the foster parents and biological parents to take on some of the burden.

In our case, I called the caseworker and told them that we categorically did not approve of the arrangement and wanted it changed, only to be told there was nothing she could do before the two visits.

The first visit was stressful, but passed without incident. On the second one, the parents never showed up, and we ended up scuttling our plans for the day because our son had to take a nap. The mother finally called us around 3 p.m. -- the visit was supposed to start at 10 a.m. -- on an unrelated subject and we discovered that she had decided to change the date of the visit, but never bothered to tell us or the caseworker.

That was around the point I lost my cool. The next day I called the caseworker and called my son's attorney and told them that they had to find a new way to do visits because the biological parents were not welcome at my house. I actually threatened to get a restraining order against them if I needed to.

If we ever take in another child, or if Isaac comes back to us, I'm going to lay down "no contact from birth parents -- ever" as one of my non-negotiable terms, no matter what else the state thinks it has in its files.

a grief observed

Our foster son left a little over two weeks ago, after about nine months in our care. I've taken it pretty hard, and I have to admit I've been very grateful to have a job that keeps me busy about 40 hours a week.

My daughter, though, has not been as fortunate. She just turned 3 yesterday, and I honestly don't believe she remembers life before Isaac. To her, it's though her brother has been suddenly taken away, even though we never used that term to describe him and began telling her weeks in advance that Isaac was going to be returning to his mommy and daddy.

After Isaac left, our daughter started having trouble sleeping at night. She asks for him on a regular basis, and it's been fairly obvious at times that she expects to be next. Obviously we're concerned, and went to see a family counselor for advice on how to help her cope, especially since we have a baby coming, likely within the next few days. (She told us we're doing the right things and that Isaac probably will morph into an imaginary playmate over the next few months.)

Our daughter's doing better, but if there are any foster parents reading this, I need to know: How did your children handle the loss, and what did you do to help them cope? 

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

The wozzlebug

It slinks about on four feet, leaving tracks that resemble a bear's whenever it passes through mud or snow.

It has a long tail sharp teeth and cruel claws, and, if that's enough, at six feet tall, it towers over its prey when it stands on its hind feet. Children, understandably, are terrified at the mere sight of it, as are a few adults.

"It" is the wozzlebug, Clark Township's once-feared but now-forgotten bogeyman that was blamed for the bloody deaths of chickens, rabbits and other small farm animals and wild game at the turn of the 20th century.

The wozzlebug scare, recounted in the writings of Emma T. King, ran from 1901 to 1907. The monster was said to frequent the area near St. Mary's Cemetery on Madison Hill Road.

The wozzlebug drew professional investigators and reportedly brought the attention of reporters from New York newspapers.

Serious-minded adults and skeptical children find it easy to scoff at the idea of a wozzlebug, but monsters like it fill an important role in our culture.

"Monsters have always been with us," said Susannah Chewning, an English professor at Union County College. "Monsters always represent what we fear most."

In that sense, the wozzlebug, despite its humble roots in a turn-of-the-century farming community, belongs to a long and proud tradition of things that go bump in the dark.

Among the wozzlebug's more noteworthy compatriots are shapeless menaces like the dreaded "black man" whom Puritans believed lived in the forests of Massachusetts and led the godly into sin and witchcraft, and Grendel, the monster defeated by the Anglo-Saxon hero Beowulf.

"They don't respect the things that we define as civilized," Chewning said of these monsters — hence the wozzlebug' s association with a cemetery, or Grendel's forays into Heorot to eat people as they slept.

"The whole concept of the bogeyman is that universal monster we're all afraid of," said Chewning. "What they represent is our fear of the unknown, our fear of nature, the things we can't control."

The legend spawned by the wozzlebug survived another 20 years, only to vanish amid the economic hard times of the Great Depression, when life seemed hard enough without needing a bogeyman to spice things up.

That hardly seems fair when you consider the enduring life of the New Jersey Devil. Not only does he have his own hockey team, the New Jersey Devil still has ardent believers who claim to have seen him lurking about the Pine Barrens.

"I think the ones that persist are the ones that have the least shape, because everyone's got different nightmares," said Chewning.

Chewning believes the wozzlebug might have met its end at the hands of another creeping monster: development. As more farms disappeared, the horrifying empty spaces between homes shrank to cozy quarters.

The Pine Barrens, of course, is still wilderness.

The inspiration for the wozzlebug finally came to light in 1907 when authorities discovered it was nothing more sinister than a hobo who was stealing food to take back to his "home" — a hole he had burrowed out under the O'Donnell mausoleum in the cemetery.

The self-appointed keepers of Clark's folklore and heritage introduced a new generation to the wozzlebug and other Clark legends in the 1960s, but it failed to endure.

A wozzlebug revival is not beyond the realm of possibility, said Chewning. Although the legend is not widely known, she considers it likely a few parents still trot out the monster when they share scary stories with their children.

The thought of the wozzlebug gaining new notoriety is one Municipal Historian Brian Toal finds amusing, and he plays into the idea at once.

"The children should be aware of the wozzlebug," he said. "Be aware, be warned. The historian has spoken."

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

that empty feeling

I wander the house in a daze, looking for the boy who isn't there.

I hear him running my way, making that peculiar humming sound he makes when he's excited, but when I turn my head to look, the hall is empty. There are no arms stretched out to grab me, no face bursting with a smile that stretches from ear to ear.

At times the silence is too loud, too empty. I want to hear those songs he's nearly learned from us, the ones where he doesn't know half the words and can't pronounce the other half clearly. I listen, but his music is gone.

Isaac lived with us for only a short time, no more than nine months. A foster child in our care since mid-January, he's returned to his parents and I'm left dealing with the loss of a son who was never mine to keep but who will always be a part of my life.

It's hard to believe it's only nine months since the day a worker with the state foster care system dropped him off at our house.

Even though he was 23 months old, he could barely stand for five seconds without falling down, but that didn't keep him from getting into mischief.

Less than five minutes after he arrived, Isaac had tried to chew on the dog's bone, pulled our potted aloe plant off the shelf and fell more times than I thought was possible.

Isaac was put into foster care because of neglect. His parents bathed him fastidiously and gave him food, but neglected him in nearly every other way. Other children his age are little boys; he was a big baby.

As the days slipped into weeks and the weeks became months, Pinocchio gradually became a real boy. Progress came slowly at first, but it built speed steadily.

We started with walking. I took him to walk the dog with me religiously, and by the end of the spring, he was walking like any other 2-year-old, although he still fell more often and more clumsily than other children. There is a reason his nickname is "Lumpy."

He learned within a week how to climb stairs and within two months, he learned how to climb back down.

We taught him to wait quietly for a meal instead of whining, and then we taught him to ask. He learned to eat with his fingers, and then how to do it with a fork and spoon.

The boy who could sit still only for "Sesame Street" soon learned the joys of curling up with his abba or eemah and being read to.

Longest in coming were his language skills. When he first arrived, Isaac could say "tickle-tickle-tickle" and "gootchy-gootchy-goo," but little else that was recognizable.

The day he asked for crackers by holding out his hand and saying "Some" was one of the sweetest days of my life. It meant that at some level, he finally was understanding why we use words.

But as the year stretched on, there was a shadow growing over my happiness. As much as I love him, Isaac is not my child. The state believes he belongs with the people who gave birth to him, and so to them he has returned.

It's a decision that has filled me at times with despair, with fury and with bitterness. At times, it has left me incapable of functioning even on the most basic levels at work and at home.

I'm mad. Mad at the state for putting my son back with people who don't know how to take care of a child, mad at his parents for what they've done to him, and mad at myself for not being able to keep the promise I made to Isaac to keep him safe.

Friends tell me to have faith, that God sees what is happening and will take care of Isaac. Cold comfort there, since my faith is in a God who did nothing but sit on his hands as his own son was tortured to death.

I cry at the injustice of it all, and I long for a day when this world will make sense. It's fundamentally wrong for a child to suffer as Isaac has suffered, and it's wrong the way my daughter has suffered.

I see it in her eyes when she asks about Isaac, the way she calmly announces what he wants to watch on TV or what toys he wants to play with. She misses him.

Not quite 3 years old, Evangeline has learned a lesson I would have preferred not come until she is old enough to understand it better: Loving someone is an invitation to pain.

In time, I am told, the pain will lessen. The ache in my heart will dull and there may even come days when I don't think of the son I have lost.

But for now, none of that matters. He's gone.

Copyright © 2002 by David Learn. Used with permission.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

a 'christian' christmas carol?

A friend of mine writes:
My daughter is in 4th grade this year, which makes her old enough to join our church's puppet troupe. Overall, I think this is a good thing, as they are a creative group which allows kids to use their talents to express their faith in a positive manner. However, I am a little annoyed at the blurb about their annual Christmas Dinner Theater in the latest church newsletter:

"This year the troupe will be performing an "original" musical entitled "A Christian Christmas Carol." The story takes place in Iowa where Scrooge finds out the REAL meaning of Christmas."

Excuse me, but isn't that already the point of Dickens' novel?
I have to admit, just the idea of a "'Christian' Christmas Carol" makes me want to barf. Dickens was writing against the exploitation the rich often had of the impoverished in industrial England, a situation too often seen elsewhere in history and the world. You could view it as a works gospel, if that's how you choose to see it, but it also stresses the importance of community and our obligation to other people, an aspect of the gospel often ignored by the evangelical community today despite its prevalence in the teachings of Jesus, James and others.

Chances are the bulk of the people seeing the play already know What Christmas Is Really About™ and are just going to feel warm and fuzzy seeing the same basic message hammered home again. There's more meat in the original story as Dickens tells it than that, but I suppose it doesn't make us feel as comfortable as the other way.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

when god is evil

About six weeks ago, I told a friend of mine that if what is happening to Christian is all part of some plan of God's, as far as I was concerned, God could shove his ineffable purposes up his ass. I have no great desire to deal with a God who lets these things -- and much worse -- happen to little children.

About six weeks ago, I told a friend of mine that if what is happening to Christian is all part of some plan of God's, as far as I was concerned, God could shove his ineffable purposes up his ass. I have no great desire to deal with a God who lets these things -- abd much worse -- happen to little children.

David asked, "Then what?"

My response: "Where else can I go?" There's no one else available. God may very well be evil in the sense that we typically understand it, or he may just be indifferent. But there's nowhere else to go.

Put it another way, since my life is going to be screwed up anyway, I'd rather have God screw it up for me then do it myself.asked, "Then what?"
My response: "Where else cean I go?" There's no one else available. God may very well be evil in the sense that we typically understand it, or he may just be indifferent. But there's nowhere else to go.
Put it another way, since my life is going to be screwed up anyway, I'd rather have God screw it up for me then do it myself.

Sunday, October 13, 2002

elmo's new and improved song

Two weeks ago I taught Isaac some important song lyrics:

La la la la la la la
Elmo stinks.
La la la la la la la
Elmo stinks. (etc.)

We hate his music,
we hate his words.
We hate Elmo.

He sings it very well. I hope he takes it home with him Tuesday.

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

the bell tolls

Update: After telling us on Friday the kids would be headed back to their parents at the end of the month, and then telling us on Monday they would be returning by Oct. 23-ish, the state told us Tuesday morning that the children will be returning next week, on Oct. 15.

Nice of them to give us a chance to get our bearings.

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

marking time

Isaac will be leaving our home and our lives by Oct. 28, quite possibly earlier. We appreciate your prayers for him, for his parents and for our daughter.

And, as Forrest Gump says, "That's all I have to say about that."

Sunday, October 06, 2002

crop failure

I thought everyone would find it amusing to know that although I planted close to 10 pounds of seed potatoes this spring, I harvested only about two pounds of potatoes this fall. Yes, it's true -- in the world of gardening, where you supposed to reap more than you sow, I managed to suffer a loss.


Maybe next year ...

There's no question the soil is deficient in nutrients. I was piling compost on to keep the stalks growing, which should provide the nutrients and a proper pH balance, but the consensus seems to be that I planted them about six weeks late and didn't add enough compost.

There's a trick with tires I intend to try next year. You keep filling them with compost (or straw, if that's your preference) and piling a new tire on top until the end of the growing season.
My brother, knowing my commitment to organic gardening, enjoyed commenting that I didn't use enough Miracle Gro.

big trouble at big idea

Big Idea Productions has jumped the shark. That's the essential conclusion of Christianity Today, which interviewed former employees of the animation studio who believe it's going to go belly up after its new "Jonah" movie flops.

The article makes a compelling case that the company overextended itself making this movie, forcing themselves to lay off staff and make across-the-board paycuts. They apparently even couldn't afford the wide distribution they've been touting for weeks on their web site. I was annoyed after all the hype about how Jonah was opening at theaters everywhere on Oct. 4, to find that it isn't opening here in Iowa for another two weeks.

Anyway, an interesting article. I'm afraid I find each of the scenarios presented rather plausible. I did find the one comment about a policy shift away from high quality video to "make money quickly through inferior merchandise" to echo my own thoughts rather eerily. The most recent "Larry Boy" cartoon we have stinks.

We have three Larry Boy tapes -- "Fib from Outer Space," "Rumor Weed" and "Angry Eyebrows." The concept started on a high note and went downhill fast. As tremendous as "Fib" was -- I consider it one of the high-water marks of the entire Veggie Tales series -- "Rumor Weed" was a disappointment, and "Angry Eyebrows" was just awful.

The animation quality was substandard, and in writing the story, they tossed out what until then had been a defining characteristic of Big Idea products: that you can have children's videos with Christian themes that don't hit you on the head with their message. I have two nephews in the "Angry Eyebrows"-targeted age group, and they both thought it was pathetic, even though they've loved just about every Veggie Tales tape they've seen.

Friday, October 04, 2002

foster parenting faq

A couple weeks ago you posted about the great struggle you and your foster kid were going through. You were as upset as I've ever seen you -- to the point that you couldn't go to sleep at night.

You ain't seen nothing yet, I'm sure.

So -- how has the story turned out?

That is something I doubt I will ever know until the Last Day when everything is made plain, and even then I'm still going to have a hard time understanding it.

Did he go back?

Not yet. The next court date is scheduled for Nov. 7, but we heard from his caseworker that apparently his law guardian (the attorney) has decided that he should be returned to his parents before the court date, some time this month. I didn't know that was possible, let alone legal, but that's what we're looking at.

Some time ago his parents were given paperwork to complete so Isaac and his sister could be enrolled in full-day day care while he is in their care. Two months have passed, but that paperwork has not been completed. Apparently once it is and he can be put into daycare -- a two-week process, I'm told -- he'll be leaving us.

We had hoped to take him and Evangeline to see "Jonah" this weekend as a special family outing, but the idiots at Big Idea misrepresented when the movie would be premiering, so that's not going to happen for another two weeks if he's still here.

I had hoped to have a family portrait taken of the five of us after the baby is born, but that's not likely to happen since Coyoge isn't due until Nov. 5.

We had been hoping Isaac would be here to celebrate Evangeline's third birthday with her, but it looks like that's not going to happen either unless we have a mongo early party for her.

He's been going on 48-hour visits for the past three weeks. I can't even begin to describe to you how those have been affecting him. He comes back grumpy, overtired, and regressed in nearly every form of behavior he has. He tried to bite Evangeline last week, and this week he started falling over more than he has in months, and has the bumps on his forehead to show for it.

Was there a last-minute intervention?

I have had several offers from well-intentioned people in my coverage area with political connections to intervene in the situation with a phone call or two. I so far have declined, and do not anticipate calling in such a favor.

Essentially I don't feel comfortable with the idea of trying to take control of the situation. That's not in my nature, and I don't think it's appropriate. As Christians we're not supposed to be in the business of controlling things to make them work out the way we think is best.

Secondly, there's the ethics of a journalist being indebted to a political figure in his coverage area. Being beholden to any political figure for something as personal as this is a bad idea.

Thirdly, if you think I've shared the entire situation on a public forum -- especially when the start page advises other people to exercise restraint in providing details of their cases -- you're nuts.

Fourthly, I'm not so big an idiot to think that I'm being objective about this. Just because I can't think of anything nice to say about a situation doesn't mean it's not there.

Do you have further contact with him?

At this point he is still living with us five days of the week. Once he returns to his biological parents, I do not expect ever to see him again. I will not be closing this forum, however.

Will he be coming back to your house?

Anything is possible. His caseworker has indicated that she does not believe his parents will retain custody of their children for very long, and that the state will need once again to remove the kids from their custody. (I still get a headache trying to make sense of that.)

I do not expect that he will be placed with us, however. Through some stupid actions of my own, and from some stupid attitudes on their part, relations between my family and my son's birth parents are fairly frigid. They asked at one point a few weeks ago to have Isaac placed in another home. (His caseworker essentially told them to go to hell, fortunately. I've loved Katherine ever since.)

Nor, I think, is the state going to be overly inclined to place him with us on their own since (as noted previously) we not licensed foster parents and were accepted only because we were willing, the parents wanted us to be his caretakers, and because we cleared a State Police background check.

Are you still willing to act as a foster parent in the future?
I think you can guess what I mean when I say this has been an especially difficult time, what Douglas Adams referred to as "the long, dark tea-time of the soul." I've experienced heartache on a level I never imagined possible, and every time I say I've given all I can and cried all the tears I have, that Cosmic Sadist manages to wring more from me and makes me cry all over again.

If I had the chance, knowing what I've learned, would I choose to do it over? Yes, I would. I've taught Isaac how to walk, how to eat with his fingers and how to use silverware. I've taught him how to dress himself and undress himself (although he still needs a little help with the sleeves), and I've taught him how to play.

He's developed a love of books, he's learned to play with other children. He's discovered how to climb a ladder and how to go down (and up!) a slide. He can use a shape sorter correctly, and he's even started playing with Legos.

He knows how to laugh now.

He can smile.

He's learned to sing, "La la la, la la la, Elmo stinks!"

He's learned how to understand simple and two-step commands, and he's learned how to express himself through two-words phrases and even requests like "Let me go."

Best of all, he's learned to love. Now that he's learned that, he can transfer it to other people, and -- I trust -- he'll remember that no matter how bad it might be, it gets better. He'll have faith that there's Love out there, and that it's seeking him out.

Isaac has done a lot for me too. I've had to learn patience, and I've had to grow more restraint dealing with and speaking about people I find contemptible. He's also given the faceless children of foster care a name and a face. From now on, for me, they'll all be Isaac.

But -- it's taken a bitter toll on all of us. It's left its mark on my marriage as well. And not just on my marriage, but on my daughter as well. Evangeline has been hurt terribly by this situation, and in all honesty I'd rather she were a little older before she had to learn the painful lesson that to love somebody else is to invite pain into your heart.

She is absolutely devastated when he leaves for a visit, and I can see it in her face and her reaction when we talk that she's afraid she's going to be leaving too.

I have to stay involved; that's not going to change. But I have to protect my family too. My wife says she doesn't want to do this again, and I need to respect that. So, no, I don't see it happening again in the foreseeable future.

Ask me again in 15 or 20 years.

What are you going through at this moment?

A number of things. Anger. Bitterness. Resentment. Resignation. Joy. Pride. Acceptance.

Most heretical of all, I'm trying to forgive God. As with John, I find myself asking, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect another?" It's hard, when the Almighty has turned his back on you, to remember what you once saw and to believe that there is a point to this all.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

dumbledore actor ill

I understand that the actor who played Dumbledore in the first movie is not doing particularly well and was replaced in parts of "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" with the actor who was doing stand-in pieces already. That casting change is expected to be permanent for the next two movies as well, if they are ever made. (I still want "Order of the Phoenix" more than another movie, personally ...)

I had heard it was the stunt double who would replace him, on the grounds they not only look alike but they sound alike. Similar I suppose to the decision to have Anthony Hopkins dub the dialogue for a scene in the video release of "Spartacus" since Laurence Olivier had died and the soundtrack had deteriorated too much to be saved.

Christopher Lee would be an interesting choice for the role. I don't doubt he could do it -- and he certainly has name recognition because of Saruman and Count Dookou -- but he generally plays villains, not genteel professors at British boarding schools.

I suppose it's sadly ironic that the actor died the year bfore Dumbledore probably is going to buy it in the books. Somehow I suspect Voldemort is going to be the culprit, rather than Hodgkins Disease, but one never knows.

"Harry Potter and the Chamberpot of Secrets" comes out Friday, right? (Yes, I'm awaiting it eagerly. Almost as eagerly as I'm awaiting the special-release DVD of "Fellowship of the Ring" and the cinematic release of "The Two Towers." It's hard to believe I'm 32 and this excited about a series of books for "young readers" ...)