Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Why We Do What We Do

I shared this at the King's Home Hear the Hope banquet last night - modified slightly for reading instead of hearing.

The role of the father at King’s Home is vital because so many young people in our world have never had a healthy father in their lives. Psalm 68:5-6 tells us that God is a “father to the fatherless” and he “sets the lonely in families” – and that’s what the King’s Home youth program does. As much as possible, we provide a home and family, a place where at-risk teenagers can rest and grow to become better versions of themselves.

I am Amanda Roper and this is my husband, Dave. We are house parents in one of the girls’ home, and we currently have 7 girls, ages 13 to 17, and two biological children, ages 6 and 8. When we were asked to speak about what King’s Home has meant to us, I meant for Dave to do the talking but God just wouldn’t stop pouring words into my mind.

King’s Home has meant a complete life change – Dave had a successful law practice and I was ten years into a career in IT when we packed up our children and moved into a house with teenage girls. Dave and I used to spend approximately 60 hours a week apart and now we are together most of the time. We’ve had to learn how to work side-by-side and communicate well, and we can appreciate each other’s gifts now that we see how we use them day in and day out. We live where we work now, so my commute went from two hours a day to 30 seconds. I used to sit at desk for nine hours a day, and now I hardly sit down for 16. One morning not long after we started this job, I walked out of my apartment at 6:30 am to relieve my boss’s boss who had covered the overnight shift. I had traveled with my boss, and with his boss, but I had never greeted either of them in my living room in the morning. This work is a strange hybrid of full-time office job and stay at home parenting wrapped up with an administrative team who supports us and tells us how to fix it when we’re wrong.

It has given us an opportunity to show our children a life of service – as James says, to “be doers of the word.” It’s about teaching – how to shop on a budget, how to be appreciative, and how to serve. It’s about how to cook, and be considerate, and how to tell the truth in a kind way. Sometimes it’s about teaching them how to receive the truth so that they can the people that God wants them to be.

We celebrate with them when they make good grades or get good news, and we hold them accountable when the NEVER have any homework and their grades show it. We take them to the doctor and we attend their school meetings. I’ve been to so many wisdom teeth extractions that the nurse in our oral surgeon’s office greets me with a hug and calls me by name.

This work is about making sure they have the things they need and some of the things they want. It’s about figuring out how to squeeze $800 worth of groceries into a Volkswagon Passat in the Sam’s Club parking lot, and about teaching them Bible. I love it when I’m teaching our devotion time and they ask me question after question. Most of the time they are hungry for the Word; sometimes they reject it, but we do our best to teach it anyway, trusting God’s promise that His Word never returns void. We take them to church and we spend countless hours praying over them.

The job is hard, the hours are long, and the exhaustion is real, but having a front row seat in their lives as God chips away at their frozen hearts, smooths out their rough edges, and fills their broken places is worth it. And, there is the bonus of reliving our own youth, too. We go skating, shopping, bowling, and tailgating. Last year we took them to church camp, the beach, and to an indoor water park in Ohio – and if you haven’t been to youth camp as an adult, you’re missing out. We joke that is our retirement job because some days it’s hard to believe we get paid to have this much fun.

We are officially called Family Teaching Parents because our job is to teach, but we do a lot of learning, too. We learn the latest slang, the latest makeup trends, and the latest music. I’ve taken a crash course in Type 1 Diabetes and I’ve learned how to cope when 10 children are calling my name and asking all the questions until I fantasize about living on a deserted island. That usually just means I need a nap. We are learning how to love them even when they try to prove to us that they are unlovable. They are not unlovable, despite what their past tells them. I am learning patience and how to respond gently, how to listen without fixing and how to remove weepy mascara stains from my clothes. Sometimes they really just need a hug and a good cry.


We love them to the best of our ability, acting as stand-in parents while they are with us, and then we let them go. Some stay three weeks, some six months, and some much longer. Some of them never wanted to be at King’s Home, and some aren’t ready to leave when they go – and we are learning to say goodbye in both circumstances.  I sometimes feel anxious at the thought of one of them leaving, worried that I haven’t done all that I’m supposed to do for her, but I’m learning to trust God with the timing. Their presence in our home is never an accident, so while we have them, we do our best to fill them with good things – medical care, education, social skills, God’s word – we pour and pour and pour into their lives. Then, we give them space to decide for themselves what do with it – much like you probably do for your own children. At the end of the day, only God can change the heart and we know that He does and that He is actively changing hearts at King’s Home – the teenagers and our own. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sweet Georgia Brown

We said goodbye today. Twelve years is a very long time to love an animal. 
We knew she was sick when we went to bed last night, but we hoped it was just a stomach thing and she'd feel better today. Friday morning she had walked three laps and behaved like her normal happy self. 

This morning, I woke up to find Dave sitting in the bathroom floor with her. Her breathing was very labored and she refused to get up. I think we both just knew this was it for her, but we decided to take her to the emergency vet just to make sure it wasn't some freak illness and we'd done everything we could. Dave had to carry her to and from the car. I've never seen a 70 lb dog look so small. 

We got to the vet in time for her to assure us that she was dying and that there was nothing else we could have done to help her. She said she likely had a tumor on her spleen that burst, and that she sees that so often in old Labs. The staff there were awesome. They gave us space to love on her in the busy ER and made an impression of her paw for us to take home. 

We will miss her, but she had a long and healthy life, and you just can't ask for more than that. 

Godspeed, Georgia. You were the very best. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Just Fishes

In our house, the birthday kid gets to choose the menu for their birthday supper. We've basically always done it that way, now we just do it more often. Luke chose fish tacos, green bean casserole, and cookie cake for his birthday supper last month.

Fish tacos, people. He loves them. The only other time I've made them while we've lived here, it was at his request and I cleaned out the freezer supply of Tilapia. I was preparing my grocery list and I decided to check the food room before going shopping, just in case.

Because I'm kinda thrifty and I don't like to pay for things I can get for free.

What's this food room, you say?

The Food Room looks like the stock room of a grocery store and it's full of donated food and stuff. Like, we hardly ever buy meat because we use what we find there. I've become a master at making a meal out of what I find. It's a personal challenge for me. How much free food can I feed them?

I regularly go there with a list of things I know we need in my head and I regularly find those exact things. And weird stuff, like children's multivitamins or tylenol, probiotics, school snacks for the littles, the exact number of cans of Rotel I was about to go buy, a specific kind of hair conditioner that one kid needs. Really, it's mind blowing. Dave and the kids, all of them, are probably sick of hearing my fascination with the food room. It's always what I name as my best part of the day at supper that night.

So, we went to the food room and we collected a really nice haul, cereal, Pop-Tarts, hygiene products, Italian bread crumbs(!), but the meat freezers were looking pretty sparse. I knew the chances of me actually finding Tilapia for fish tacos were slim because I've only ever seen pre-breaded Tilapia there and that was months ago. Just as we were preparing to leave and I had resigned to buy the fish, the man who picks up the donations started unloading his van.

He had 5 lbs of Tilapia.

Do you know how much I need to feed 12 people fish tacos?

5 lbs.

As my pastor would say, I nearly had a spell.

And now Dave really thinks I'm with obsessed with the food room. He said, "It's the best part of your day again, isn't it?" Yes!

But I told him, it's God's most consistent way that He shows me that He hears me. I talk to Him all the time and He answers me all the time but it is never more clear than by provision. And a consistent pattern of providing wierd and trivial things just about does me in. I get so giddy about how much God must love me to send me a bottle of evening primrose oil and five pounds of fish.

When I think about the process that happens to stock our food room, He blows my mind again. It might seem magical when five pounds of fish shows up right when I need it, but it doesn't happen by magic. People make the donations that stock the food room. People bring meals to families when there is illness. People pay the bill to keep a neighbor's power on when he needs help. Obedient people are the hands and feet of God's provison. 

"If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?" James 2:15-17

So I go to the food room and I take my fish and my vitamins and my weird hair products and I vow again to be so obedient that someone else will see God's work in their own life.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Broken

This happened.

It was my favorite coffee cup.

Dave and The Littles gave it to me for Christmas and I loved it so much for how it fit in my hand and for how it reminded me to chill out.

One of them broke it while putting it away in the cabinet.

The heartache that followed was disproportionate to the actual event. She was devastated because she knew I really loved it and she had let it crash to the floor. She cried like she had been hurt. I thought she might have cut herself badly on one of the pieces, but she hadn't. It was just her heart.

When she came running out of the apartment with tears streaming down her face, all I could do was scoop her into my arms and hug her - my heart hurting because hers was.

It was then that I realized we had gathered an audience. Four teenage girls stood around us to make sure she was okay, but also to see what I would do. The Holy Spirit whispered to me, "They are watching to see if you are mad at her. They are waiting to see if you will be angry."

I wasn't.

I turned her face to mine and said, "A coffee cup is just a thing. Did you step on it?" She shook her head and continued to cry as I went into our apartment to clean up the broken pieces. The girls gathered around her to comfort her, repeating my message, "It's okay...  we can get another one,,, at least you weren't hurt..."

I don't believe in coincidence, so I saved that broken cup so I could think about it later. She saw it sitting on the stove at bedtime and started crying all over again, and so I told her what God had whispered to me. I told her she was forgiven before the cup had even hit the floor and I reminded her of her job here: to show others how to be a kid in a family where there is grace and forgiveness, where what you learn is more important than the mistakes you make, where people matter more than things. I told her that she didn't mean to let the cup fall out of the cabinet, but that it was no accident that it had because someone standing in that hallway needed to see that scene play out that night. I reminded her that we work here, and that sometimes that work is work-work, but sometimes it's just showing someone else a different kind of family.

God is constantly showing me that our reaction to the broken speaks volumes.
"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart - these, O God, you will not despise." Psalm 51:17
He wants the broken ones - and thank goodness because, aren't we all?

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Aging and Eight Year-Olds

Ella will turn 8 at the end of this month. Eight. Eight years feels like a lifetime ago. Time is so tricky that way. I remember things from before we had kids and think "Oh, that was just a couple of years ago" and then I remember that my first born is about to be 8. It really is true that time passes more quickly as you get older. How does it do that?

I turned 35 in December and I'm finding it very weird. I know 35 is the new 25 or whatever, but I feel strangely suspended between old and young. I'm not really either, but kind of both at the same time. Am I young enough to wear shorts with a 3.5 inch inseam? Probably not. (I do it anyway. It's hot, yo, and my husband likes them.). Am I old enough to be this intolerant of nonsense? Probably not. (The directness of my manner just gets more direct with age. I might be downright unbearable if I make it to 80.) Maybe 35 is the midlife version the pre-teen years.

Whatevs, man. I'm old/young and my daughter is venturing into 'tweendom - depending on whichever made up source you read that defines life stages. Don't even get me started on the whole Millenial/Gen X/Gen Y nonsense. I think "tween" replaces "pre-teen" now but with a few extra years on the front side? I don't know why we need a new term for a perfectly good one. See "intolerant of nonsense" and "direct manner" above. Also, I may be turning into my father. 

She is an amazing kid. I say that with complete humility. I don't know how she got that way. I don't really consider that a credit to myself or my superb parenting skills. She has been a challenge to me since she looked directly into my eyes and sized me up minutes after she was born. I was still lying half-naked on the operating table being put back together and she was bundled like a burrito and had just been screaming her head off until they put her in my arms. I just stared into those knowing eyes until the nurse told me to kiss her. I mean, is that normal? I know the wide open, wise, old eyes in a newborn aren't but does the maternity nurse usually have to tell a mother to kiss her newborn? We're strange birds, she and I. 

No, her amazing-ness is more a testament to God and all the prayers I've said/cried/screamed over her. I would have jacked it up royally without Him. Parenting is hard. It shines a light into all your broken places and makes you do something about them. Eight years in and I still wonder every day if I'm screwing up. I still pray what I prayed when she was 4 days old, incessantly screaming in the middle of the night while I cried in desperation, "Please God, don't let me screw her up." 

At almost-8, she reads voraciously, devouring 300 page books in a few days, and she always has a book. I love it so much. She has taken piano for two years, and though I often have to harass her into practicing, she says she loves it. She still plays soccer, and watching her transform into a beast on the field satisfies some kind of animal instinct in me. Though she is often prickly at home, she is kind and considerate of others. She keeps her room a hot mess, but she is also very creative and creativity usually doesn't have time for organization. I'm hoping it learns, but hey only another decade and she'll be keeping her messy space somewhere else. 

Only another decade. We have a lot of ground to cover in a decade. Tricky, tricky time. 

Please God, don't let me screw it up.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Tale of Two Picnic Tables

In early Spring, I hosted a tour of our house for a local church group and they asked about our current needs. We can always use small things like toiletries, cleaning products, and towels/bedding, but this day was warm and beautiful and we were really missing our deck furniture. Ours was damaged in the fall and we had to get rid of all but a few chairs and cushions. I told them we would really like to have a table with enough room to seat 14 people for supper. I explained that with the change of season, we like to open our doors and extend our living space to deck and that we often eat supper outside on nice evenings. I also explained that it is sometimes hard to root teenagers out of the house and into the fresh air and sunshine, and that a welcoming deck space encourages them to wander out of doors. They really seemed to like the idea and asked a few questions to get ideas about what I wanted.

Fast forward a couple of months later and Dave started getting antsy. He priced patio furniture that would meet our need for durability and decided we couldn't spend that much money. He looked at designs for picnic tables and estimated what it would cost to build them himself. We talked about it a few times, and each time I reminded him that patio furniture was the only thing I said we needed when that group toured our house and I encouraged him to wait. One day he went to the store to buy lumber to make the tables and realized he could buy them for less. He came home and we talked about it again, and again I encouraged him to wait. Several days after that, we went back to the store and bought two picnic tables - enough space to seat 12. He drove one of them home in his truck and planned to come back for the other one two days later. 

As he was unloading the table and planning who to call to help him haul it up our back stairs, I received a call from our administrative office. The men who had toured our house were there to deliver two picnic tables and benches, which they had custom built to seat 14. 

I laughed. 

The men brought the tables to our house and Dave helped them move them onto our deck. He also confessed his impatience and shared with them the impromptu lesson God had just taught him about waiting. 

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Picnic tables are a very simple, tangible example of things for which we have asked and waited, but it shows us clearly that waiting is hard. Waiting without worrying and planning for all possible scenarios is even harder; I think that's called patience. For me, it's an unnatural state of calm where I have to continuously shut down the worry and planning and empty my head about whatever I'm waiting on. I've had good opportunities to practice over the last few years, but I still struggle. Waiting on God to answer prayer is even harder. Sometimes the answer comes immediately, and sometimes I have to wait and wait. God always answers, but sometimes I end up explaining why I have four picnic tables instead of two.  

"Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." Psalm 27:14

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Career Week

"What do you think I should be when I grow up?" he asked me. 

"I don't know. That's up to you. What do you want to be?"

"I don't know," he answered, worriedly. 

"You have time to decide," I told him, "but whatever you do, do it for God. Do it so that people know you love Jesus and so you can teach people about Him."

He nodded, seriously, "Okay."

That was our conversation this week as Luke dressed in his soccer uniform for Career Week. Three days later, still pondering, "Mom, dogs and cats don't really do much." 

"What do you mean?" I asked him. 

"For Jesus," he said seriously. 

He knows we believe God called our entire family for this work - little kids and pets included. "God uses animals, too," I told him. "Sometimes animals help people calm down when they are scared or mad." 

He's still thinking about how to work for Jesus and I think he'll get it figured out. 

Ella easily chose to be a lawyer for her dress up day, and it fits her. 

I still have a list of things I want to be when I grow up, but for them I pray that whatever they decide to do, they do it for the Lord. 

"And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men. . ." Colossians 3:23