In search of forever families

Happy family heaving fun in the park.November is many things. A time to celebrate veterans. A time to give thanks. A time to parse the difference between a yam and a sweet potato.

It’s also a time to remember children who need a forever family.

November is National Adoption Month. Special thanks to Nineteen Ten Church’s Jason Brown for the reminder.

The initiative’s roots date back to 1976 when Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, a Democrat, announced an adoption week to recruit families for his state’s foster children.

In 1984, Republican President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the first national adoption week. About a decade later, Democrat President Bill Clinton expanded the campaign from a week to a full month.

Caring for orphans is rightly a national, bi-partisan concern. As President Trump stated in his 2019 proclamation of National Adoption Month, “…every child — born and unborn — is uniquely gifted by their Creator and endowed with both potential and immeasurable value.”

We should do everything we can for the children in need of a family, and for the families who take them in. It’s the highest of callings.

“Our son has ADD, PTSD and a bunch of other acronyms,” an adoptive father of an eleven-year-old told me last week. “He experienced every kind of abuse you can think of: physical, verbal, sexual, even neglect and starvation.”

The young man has been with his forever family for about five years. Progress is slow, but he is making headway.

“You can’t deal with adopted children, particularly those who have been through trauma, as you would your biological children,” the father continued. “They’re angry. They think you’re going to throw them away anyway, so they try to get rid of you on their terms. They want control.”

Adoptive parents know the struggles: tantrums, meltdowns, manipulation, threats, violence.

“Our son threw scissors at his teacher and flipped over desks,” the father remembered. “He’s a very smart kid, but he’s still often in trouble.”

Another forever dad honestly described how his adopted son has disrupted their family system:

“We don’t want to reward his bad behavior by taking him places, but we don’t want our other kids to miss out. When we do take him, even if he’s not acting up, he’s constantly interrupting.”

There are no easy answers. There is only perseverance.

The 2018 film “Instant Family” portrays some of the challenges of adoption. It will make you laugh and cry. If you haven’t seen it, watch it with your family over Thanksgiving.

President Trump’s adoption month proclamation pays respect to families who have taken the plunge:

“We recognize the loving and devoted individuals who are part of God’s plan for every child by taking on the role of a parent through adoption. We celebrate the beautiful families created through the generous act of adoption.”

I think about these special families whenever I meet a contributing member of society who tells me he or she was adopted.

Nineteen Ten’s Pastor Brown noted that if just one family from every church in Texas adopted a child, all kids in Texas’ foster care system would be home for good. One family per church doesn’t seem like a lot.

Perhaps that stat would make a good topic of conversation at Thanksgiving dinner, once the sweet potato / yam question is resolved.

 

Kevin Thompson writes regularly for The Boerne Star. Read more at http://www.kwt.info.

Online grocery shopping leads to faux pas

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We Americans live in an ever-advancing convenience culture, but grocery shopping has remained relegated, for the most part, to the aisles of antiquity.

We roam through paths of produce and staples much like market-going Egyptians or Greeks did in the third century before Christ.

Someday, stores will resemble giant vending machines with conveyor belts and robotics that assemble and spit out orders like a Snickers from a snack machine.

Today, however, grocery shopping is still incredibly inefficient, and then they go and put the milk in the back! But not before burying the bread in the middle!

I know, it’s a ploy to get me to fall for that inflatable slip ‘n slide.

Like you, I have been hungry for a way to make getting groceries – and ibuprofen – less painful.

So, when our friendly local grocer introduced online ordering combined with curbside pickup, I logged on to what I thought was the correct, red-colored web site. I proceeded to order $112 of groceries for curbside pickup…IN WAXAHACHIE!

Waxahachie is just south of Dallas. I live hours away near San Antonio.

I wrongly assumed I could easily switch my store preference to my hometown.

Instead, I had to visit a completely different web site and re-select all $112 worth of groceries – which somehow now cost me $118.

At the end of the process, the web site asked “Substitutions OK?” That’s code for “We’ll charge you no matter what’s in stock and throw something in your basket. You won’t remember what you ordered anyway, so don’t worry about it.”

I clicked OK.

When the appointed hour came, I pulled up curbside a little early. I needed to go inside the store “old school” and get some things I forgot to order online.

In the deli line, I noticed a red-shirted personal shopper taking a long look at me. I knew what he was thinking: “That’s the guy who’s getting cinnamon raisin bagels because we’re out of plain. Oh yea, he’ll eat anything.”

Back at the curb, so many cars were in line that it made picking up one’s groceries nearly as time consuming as shopping for one’s groceries in the store.

I’m pleased to report that I have since found a solution for the pickup delay. I now schedule pickups for 8:00 p.m. or later.

I know I sound sophisticated, but don’t take me for an expert. I’ve committed plenty of mistakes.

Two weeks ago, I accidentally ordered so many bags of grapes that I got a cease and desist letter from Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

Then, last week more bunches of bananas showed up than we have monkeys – and we have a lot of monkeys. My kitchen felt like Costa Rica.

In a pistachio shell, online ordering is worth the five dollars they charge to send a personal shopper around the store on my behalf. He’s the expert anyway. And he knows exactly the substitutions I like.

Hitting the quotation mark

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Graphic credit: Drew Beamer

I have long been a sucker for quotable quotes. I can’t often remember stories, jokes or movie scenes, but a good quote jumps off the page at me.

As a high school sophomore, I started writing daily inspirational quotes on the white board of my basketball locker room.

My teammates likely thought I was outside my lane; I was just a scrawny bench warmer. But my coach didn’t seem to mind, and for good reason.

Coach was a Pennsylvania native who had come to Nashville to write country music lyrics. When that dream didn’t pan, he became an English department chair.

You read that right. A head varsity basketball coach who served as the English department chair of a 1,500-student high school. He was probably the only one in the country.

In English class Coach introduced us to his favorite quotes, like Booker T. Washington’s, “I shall allow no man to belittle my soul by making me hate him.”

He also had quotes on our locker room walls:

“Nothing great has ever been achieved except by those who dared to believe that something inside them was superior to circumstances.”

And the sign we slapped when we exited the locker room, “Those who work the hardest are the last to surrender.”

I drew many of my white board lines from a motivational book for young athletes that my mother gave me. The sayings weren’t complicated, but they were helpful, such as “Remember when you were at your best. Now get there again!”

I likely inherited my love of one-liners from Mom. Her walls are full of them:

“Worry is the advance price you pay for troubles that may never come.”

“I asked God for all things that I might enjoy life. He gave me life that I might enjoy all things.”

The quotes of historical figures are never far from my consciousness.

Margaret Thatcher: “Being in power is a lot like being a woman. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”

Mark Twain: “When I was fourteen, my old man was so stupid I could hardly stand to be around him. When I turned twenty-one, I was amazed at how much the old man had learned in just seven short years.”

Vince Lombardi: “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

I’m constantly on the lookout for new fodder, like this line lifted from my friend Steve Garrison’s email signature: “Think like a man of action; act like a man of thought.” Here are some other new discoveries:

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.” – Abraham Lincoln

“You can’t think your way into new ways of living. You must live your way into new ways of thinking.” – Richard Rohr

“Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – St. Francis of Assisi

And, finally, a great word for parents of small children on the power of trajectory: “If you’re an inch off on landing, no big deal. If you’re an inch off on takeoff, you miss the moon by a million miles.” – Neil Armstrong

Kevin Thompson writes regularly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

Advice for my college self

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Giving unsolicited advice is usually a bad idea, unless you’re giving it to yourself.

I recently attended my 20th college reunion. I’ll save you the math: I’m 42.

I graduated in 1999, which now sounds more like a sale price than an actual year of history. Our class motto boldly stated, “The century saved the best for last.” Yes, that’s the best we could come up with.

As I strolled a campus I’ve visited only a handful of times since graduation, I contemplated what I would tell my college-age self, if I could, from my current vantage point aloft forty-two years of experience.

This is not a definitive list. If there’s anything you learn from four decades of life it’s that there’s not much definitive in this world.

Nonetheless, truth, wisdom and perspective are accessible. So, here’s what I’d say to that handsome young buck, in between his Sadie Hawkins dates, of course:

  1. You’re about to make life-altering choices. Don’t agonize over them. There are many right options and only a few wrong ones. Spend more time and energy making your decisions right than you do fretting over making the right decisions.
  2. Your life up until now has been marked by milestones. Tests, graduations, licenses, liberties. These clear-cut goals can lure you into thinking summits are the point. They’re not. Find joy in the journey. As your friend’s tattoo will one day read, “The journey is the destination.”
  3. You’ve been rewarded for achievement. Not since kindergarten have you been commended for sitting still. Accomplishments require activity and effort, and there’s a good lesson there about the value of work. But keep it in check. We’re human beings, not human doings. Do less; be more.
  4. It’s good to explore your passions, but people pay for skills. You’ll need some practical ones to support yourself and your family. Money is not everything; it is something.
  5. Don’t worry about what others think of you. Think for yourself, and don’t be consumed with pleasing others. People aren’t usually thinking about you anyway; they are mainly thinking about themselves.
  6. Build up your patience and perseverance. The best things in life require a long process. Weeds sprout up quickly, as Jesus pointed out, but they’re useless in scorching sunlight. A shady oak took years to grow from a single acorn.
  7. Life is a team sport and a group effort. Help others, and learn to ask for help yourself. Then, be humble enough to receive it. “Alone we go fast; together we go far,” business consultant Ed Krei says.
  8. Watch out for perfectionism. It will sabotage your plans and relationships. Pursue faithfulness and consistency instead. You’ve heard Jesus said, “Be perfect as my Heavenly Father is perfect.” According to one seminarian, a more accurate translation is, “Be whole as my Heavenly Father is whole.”
  9. An onslaught of distraction is coming; learn to focus. You think cable TV and America Online are time suckers…
  10. The older you get, the faster life will go. Don’t wait to start down the path you want to be on. But don’t rush. In fact, “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life,” Dallas Willard said. That’s good advice, as is this: Life is a marathon, not a sprint.

A writer discovers a treasure trove

Nearly everywhere I go, I carry a pen and a notebook – or at least a note card. You never know when an epiphany might hit, or a quotable quote might come, or a repeatable joke might fly.

It’s simply hard to remember memorable lines – no matter how hard we try – if we don’t write them down.

I once referred to a notebook as my grown-up security blanket. Without it, I feel in danger of missing a moment.

At this point, I have journals and notebooks and note cards scattered all over the place. I recently found one stuck in the side pocket of an old briefcase I hadn’t used in years.

It felt like I had happened upon a Dead Sea scroll. Why, yes, I do consider my kids’ one-liners holy.

The unearthed notebook’s first entry was a collection of comments from a Christmas morning several years ago.

After all the presents were opened, our oldest son, eleven at the time, said, “Wait. Is that it?”

Our second son offered a similar line of questioning, “Did I get anything else?”

Our fourth son, age four, evidently hadn’t reached the age of jade: “I hope there are presents under the tree tomorrow.”

“There won’t be,” our third son replied.

“Disappointment is how you know you’re alive,” a friend told me recently.

This was confirmed by another friend who told me his Valentine’s plans for the rodeo and a concert had shrunk to “a romantic evening of laundry and frozen pizza.” Kids will do that to you.

Back at Christmas, our daughter was more interested in Santa’s operations:

“Does Santa have any friends?”

“Did you keep any of his texts?”

She’s not always so innocent.

I once asked her, “Is that your second cupcake?”

“No, it’s my first,” she replied.

“Then how did icing get all over your face?” I inquired.

She thought for a minute and said, “My brother threw a cupcake at me.”

Along with finger-pointing, questions flow freely in a houseful of kids.

-“Do doctors get sick?”

-“Was there ice cream when you were a kid? Were there shakes?”

-“How long is fifteen minutes?

-“How big is a Berenstain bear?”

-“When we die, do we turn into a dog or a cat?”

I have tried to make clear that God sent Jesus that we might live with him forever.

“MIGHT live?” a perceptive son replied.

My recovered journal reads on with more kid questions like, “Dad, why do you take a bath everyday?”

“Because dads sweat more than kids,” I answered.

“Do dads sweat more than grandpas?” a son wondered.

I’ll let him know in a few years.

Around a campfire eating s’mores one night, one son made up a joke, “What did the kid say after he ate s’mores? I want s’more!”

Around the dinner table, we often play “high-low” where you give your day’s best and worst.

Our most succinct son once summarized his day this way, “My good news is I have no bad news. My bad news is I have no good news.”

He seems to grasp Solomon’s wisdom in Ecclesiastes 7:18, “A wise man avoids all extremes.”

The Challenge with Choices

In a world of near-infinite volumes of digital bits and bytes, there’s something to be said for the physical.

With a smartphone, I can access virtually any piece of data ever discovered, or any song ever recorded, or any photo ever taken.

Still, at times, I want a hardback book or a vinyl record.

My family bought a retro record player not long ago. Since then, an extended family member has given us a stream of vinyls: The Beatles, Elvis, U2, Norah Jones, to name a few.

We now have about fifteen to choose from. It makes choosing music simpler, and the music is actually richer than listening on a digital device. Little known fact: Digital music squashes sound quality to make songs stream faster.

For the same reason I go with vinyl at home, I’ve been popping in old CDs in my old Land Cruiser rather than fiddling with a digital playlist on my phone. Limiting my options increases my focus and creates a more enjoyable experience.

I may have unlimited options in this information age, but I don’t have unlimited time, energy and knowledge to filter those options.

Hence, there is a diminishing return to expanding choices. Having too many choices can be debilitating.

In the mid-1990s, Columbia University professor Sheena Iyengar conducted a study in a gourmet grocery.

She set out twenty-four choices of jams. Sixty per cent of people stopped for a sample.

Then, she set out just six choices of jams. Only forty per cent of shoppers stopped.

However, thirty per cent of people who stopped for the smaller assortment ended up purchasing, compared to only three per cent of those who stopped for the larger display.

Fewer options drove greater sales.

In “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less,” psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that an increased volume of consumer choices causes anxiety in shoppers. Too many options causes paralysis, not liberation.

Schwartz cites a study that revealed a two per cent decrease in participation in an employer-matched retirement plan for every ten mutual funds added to the plan.

An expanding selection scared participants off, or at least prompted procrastination that resulted in inactivity.

Schwartz says that even if a person makes a choice from a large slate of options, he or she is less satisfied with it because of the regret that comes from contemplating the options not chosen.

This explains why a meal of Cane’s chicken tenders can be more enjoyable than dinner at The Cheesecake Factory. The latter’s menu is a tome. I’ve seen shorter textbooks.

At a family camp out last fall, a mom organized a taste test. She distributed about fifteen different flavors of Oreo cookies that Nabisco now makes. They included lemon, cinnamon roll and red velvet cake. Suffice it to say, some of them were a far cry from the original.

Unable to leave well enough alone and driven by Wall Street growth expectations, Nabisco is simply trying to expand its Oreo “franchise.”

In the meantime, milk’s favorite cookie falls victim to the fallacy that having more choices always delivers more happiness.

It’s Time for a Holiday Fish Tale

A great thing about holiday travel is you get to see your loved ones in their elements. For instance, your brother-in-law fishing in his bass boat on a dammed up portion of the Tennessee River.

“That’s why you never give up!!!” my brother-in-law exclaimed at one point during our excursion.

His motivating statement was not referring to a big catch, however. He and his fishing buddy, Dan, had just freed his stuck lure.

The process had taken about ten minutes and included the use of a “plug knocker,” a weighted tool designed to retrieve lines trapped underwater.

“Plug knocker” wasn’t the only vernacular I learned on Lake Chickamauga (‘mauga for insiders). There was also “Alabama Rig,” a massive, multi-hook lure my brother-in-law used. It resembled a small chandelier.

You could probably create something similar by placing a decent-sized magnet into a kitchen junk drawer.

The rig dangled and shined and spun as it hung on the line. In the water, it definitely looked like a small school of fish.

Alabama Rigs are for experienced anglers. As a novice, I used a spinner reel with something called a rattletrap.

“It took my kids a whole year to learn how to cast the Alabama Rig,” my brother-in-law said.

He takes my niece and nephew fishing frequently. Planning is part of his routine.

During our pre-dawn drive to Chattanooga, TN, I was in the back seat trying to catch some zzz’s. My brother-in-law and Dan strategized up front.

“Let’s start at Turkey Foot and catch three or four to get our confidence up,” he told Dan. He was completely serious.

I have historically considered fishing a game of chance. There are fish in a body of water like there are aces in a deck of cards. You drop your line, and, depending on your luck, you may be a winner.

My sister married into a family where such thinking is illogical at best and sacrilege at worst. To them, fishing involves as much skill as any other sport. It also carries the same hope of glory.

“On any given cast, you could catch the state record,” my brother-in-law informed me with the straightest of faces. “That’s why we come here.”

His nod to fishing immortality came midway through our nine uninterrupted hours on the water.

As with any sport, competition is part of the equation. Stealing a fisherman’s favorite spot on the lake is like sitting in Grandma’s pew at church.

“That guy is going straight for the bar!” my brother-in-law yelled to Dan who was closest to the throttle. “Go! Cut him off!”

Judging by the intensity of the moment, you would think Lake Chickamauga was only a few acres across. It is actually fifty-seven square miles. It was created decades ago by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Intensity is how we caught eighteen largemouth bass on a cold and rainy day in late December. My rattletrap accounted for only one of them.

We threw all eighteen back. For serious fishermen, it’s not always about the destination. It’s often about the journey.

Besides, we didn’t actually need the fish as proof of our success. Who wouldn’t take a fisherman’s word for it?

 

Kevin Thompson writes regularly for The Boerne Star. Read more at http://www.kwt.info.

 


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