Friday, April 21, 2017

Adoption Story Beginnings: The Day That Changed Everything

Adoption Story Beginnings:  The Day That Changed Everything

April 20, 2004 - the day that changed everything.  The Woods' nest was empty.  The cubbard was bare.  There was only my wife and me.  Hurting.  Helpless.  Hoping.  Praying.  Half a year short of 10 years of marriage.  The twins were in heaven.  Discouragement reigned.  But hope was not lost.  God was working.  We were foster adopt trained and equipped; and ready to have our home filled with children.  The phone rang.  On the other end was a message; but not the message we were expecting.  A child was available; but not a foster to adopt child.  An emergency placement, temporary in nature, was needed.  We had a choice.  We didn't really want children in our home who would potentially be leaving in a day or a week or month or a year.  We wanted children to come to our home to live, to stay, to be ours, forever.  But the message regarding this child, Selena Ann Salazar, wasn't that.  She needed a place to stay for an indefinite and undetermined amount of time.  We had a choice.  No guarantee, just a choice.  A choice to say, "Yes, we'll take her" or "No, not at this time - you'll have to find another place."  Four months earlier, God had brought me to a place of healing from a wound that had left four year old scars.
Four years prior in March 2000, we had a little girl enter our home to live.  Kelly was her name.  Three months shy of four years old, her mother had just died of cancer.  Her aunt knew she needed a home; and she knew of our desire to have children.  So we took her in to our home.  No paperwork.  No training.  Just a home filled with love looking for a child to give it to.  And we gave it to Kelly...for three months.  Then she was gone.  In God's providence and wisdom, He took her from our home and allowed her to go back to a less than favorable situation.  But that's another story for another post.
This story is about the power of one decision.  Four months earlier from the day of that monumental phone call, God had brought me to a place of healing.  A place of surrender.  A place where I had to let go of the hurt and pain.  Pain wrought out of loss.  Loss of Kelly.  Loss of Jonathan and Jenny, our beloved twins who left this earth August 16, 2002.  Loss of any other chance to have biological children.  I never wanted children again in my home that I had to risk losing at any level for circumstances out of my control.  But that December 2003 day, God rocked my world.  He said (my summary), "John, you don't have the right to say no when I give you the opportunity to provide love and care and hope and help meet the needs of a child or children, whether that's for one day, one week, one month, or a year or longer.  Those children, the least of these, are My children; and they face greater risk than you've ever had to face.  You can't let pain from the past keep you from providing life-changing love, My love, to a child that I choose to bring into your home."  After that December encounter with God, wrought out of time spent that morning reading Psalm 37, I literally held up my hands in surrender and said,  "God, whatever You want and whatever You ask from me, I'll obey.  I'll do it.  Considering the risk You took for me so that I could be Your child, I will take the risk of showing any child Your love that You allow to come into my home for whatever period of time.  My call is to be faithful to answer Your call; and if You call me to take a risk for a child, temporarily or with permanence, I will do it."  I took my wife to lunch and told her I was ready to pursue foster adopt training.  We did; and we received the phone call on that April 20, 2004.  And we said YES.  Thirteen years ago today, we said YES. We had no guarantee of any timetable that Selena Ann Salazar would be with us.  All we knew was that a place of refuge was needed for this little three month old, ten pound girl; and we had a home to provide for her.  And so we said, YES.  Our lives would never be the same.  
The next day, April 21, 2004, we headed one hour west of Breckenridge to Abilene to pick up little Selena.  And we picked her up as an emergency placement; but God already knew that she was a permanent placement, forever chosen before the beginning of time by her Creator, to be a part of the Woods' family.  And on that same day, April 21, 2004, when we picked up little Selena, we also found out that we had been chosen to be the parents of Brandon and Bradley, who were already adoptable.  So Selena came to live with us on April 21, 2004, and six weeks later Brandon and Bradley would come to live with us on June 1.  
And so on that Spring day thirteen years ago today, my wife and I had a decision to make.  It would be a life-changing decision.  A decision that would change our family dynamic.  And more importantly, a decision that would change the family tree for Selena Ann Salazar (now Brenna Michelle Woods) and Brandon Leandro Walker (now Brandon Mark Woods) and Bradley Ray Walker (now Bradley Michael Woods). One decision.  A decision carrying with it innumerable blessings - a decision that would reap salvation on so many levels.  Salvation for Brenna from a lifestyle and life cycle and history of prostitution, drugs, and separation from God.  And salvation for Brenna through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ July 25, 2013. Salvation for my boys from a sexual predator/offender and drugs and abandonment.  Salvation through a personal encounter with Jesus for each on July 17, 2008. SALVATION - ALL made possible because of a decision made thirteen years and a day ago to say YES.  Yes to God.  Yes to Life.  Yes to Brenna.  Yes to the journey of parenthood. And yes to freedom from the cycle of death, devastation and darkness for all three.
Thank you, my heavenly Father, for your wisdom and guidance to help us make the right decision.  Thank you for the life you've given Brenna and the joy that she is and that she brings to our family.  And thank you for the healing you brought to my life and heart from the pain of devastating loss so that I'd be open to Your leading on April 20, 2004 to say Yes to Your plan for my family.  Give others courage, I pray, to be willing to trust You and take a risk to do what is right and best; even when it doesn't make sense.  Thank you for being faithful.  Thank you for your salvation.  Thank you for being My forever Father.  I love you.  - John            

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Day After Maggie

Writing is cathartic for me.  It's part of how I work through the grieving process when I'm hurting and struggling with pain.  Phillip Yancey and Dr. Henry Brand wrote a book called Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants.  I certainly don't want it.  I don't know many people who do, or even consider pain to be a gift.  I agree that it is; but that's a blog entry for another day.  I love to write.  It helps me.  So one of the best ways for me to process my grief and hurt was to write about it.  So I did.  And I will continue to.  As much as has been posted and written regarding Maggie, its hard to believe its only been 19 hours since her passing.  It has become surreal already.  I don't want to be or seem over dramatic about this; but I have to write about it.  The hurt doesn't go away in a day or a week or even a month or year.  Honestly, it probably never goes away.  Does time heal all wounds?  Nope.  For some wounds, its certainly can be better than with other wounds or scars.  The sting of losing a dog as a family member and family pet will certainly lessen with time.   I was telling my children last night how its been five and a half years since we made this very same decision with our first Chihuahua Daisy.  We still miss her.  We still love her.  We still share cherished memories and stories about Daisy.  The sting is not so sharp.  It's not so painful.  It has gotten better.  And I believe it will with Maggie too - in time.  But for now, the stab of pain is still very fresh from the loss.  
I went to bed last night and got up this morning early and did what I always do.  I looked in the laundry room.  I've done it for so long that its almost become inherent.  The doorway to the laundry room is two steps from the doorway to my bedroom, so I have to pass by it often every day.  And when I do, I look.  And when I look, I'll remember.  Sometimes it will bring smiles.  Sometimes it will bring tears.  Sometimes I'll pause and linger and reminisce, captured by the moment and the memories of what that tiny little room represents and brings to memory.  Life.  Love.  Loss.  Other times I'll zip by that room on a mission like its not even there.  But it is.  And whether its a lingering glance or an lengthy look; I'll never it see it the same again.  It's clean now.  No more mess.  The smell of Maggie still persists.  But that, too, will fade.  The mess has moved.  It's no longer in the laundry room.  It has made its way to my backyard in the form of a hole that now holds my lifeless pet.  It's a muddy mess.  And so is my heart.  A big muddy mess.  I stepped outside last night on the porch before bed - to think, to leave tears, and to let Maggie know I still loved her.  Yep - I was talking to my deceased dog.  I know she's not there.  I know she can't hear me.  Heck - she couldn't hear me for years before yesterday.  Talking to hear - it wasn't for her benefit.  It was for mine.  And as I made my way this morning past the room to feed and let my Golden outside, I did it again.  I walked outside again, this time out to the grave as raindrops fell from the sky.  Tears fell.  Heart still broken.  Words expressed into the gloomy morning.  Healing happening - slowly, surely in the serenity of that moment.  That process, or some form of it, will probably go on for a while.  In the evening.  In the morning.  Yep.  Life will go on.  It always does.  Good and bad, rain or shine, come hell or high water.  Life will go on.  There's no timeout because of my pain.  Time keeps on ticking. And so I must move on too.  It will be a new normal for my family and me.  One without Maggie but with the sweet memories of her.  In some sense, life will go on and seem like business as usual.  In another sense, it will never be the same.  But we'll adjust, ask for God's continued help and guiding hand to lead us through this valley that will soon pass by, and be better for it.  
As I read my tribute to Maggie to my family last night, I was impressed and encouraged at the life lessons and the probing questions that it invoked in and from my children.  Questions about life and death and eternity and God's hand in and through it all.  There are lessons to learn.  There's always truth to glean.  God never wastes a hurt.  I believe that.  And I don't believe he'll waste this one.  He's at work in the Woods' family - in my children, in my wife, and in me.  And I'm grateful at how He'll use this season of pain to make us more like Himself.  I pray that He does, knowing that nothing that passes through His hand does so by accident.  I'm thankful for that - because I'm gonna need a lot of help.  For our good and for His glory.  This first day after Maggie is Yours, Lord.  And so am I.  And I need Your help today.  And so does my family.  You are in control, and I (we) trust You.  Amen.                 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

For the Love of a Dog - A Tribute to Maggie

It seems kind of silly, doesn't it?  People get worked up over pets like they're important.  They are just pets after all, aren't they?  Cats.  Dogs.  They come.  They go.  You get another one.  It's that simple, right?  If only it could be.  But even if it could be, would we really want it that way?  Would I really want it that way?  Is the love of a dog as a family pet really that big of a deal?  Considering my current emotional status as I pen this blog, the answer is a resounding YES.  As my wife would say, I'm a hot mess right now.  I have been since yesterday - and at moments over the past few months - when I realized that the time was drawing near to say goodbye to Maggie.  She's been our little chubby, playful, energetic, scarfing up her food Chihuahua family pet for over 18 years.  I got her for Jennifer on Valentine's Day in 1999 right after she was born on December 23, 1998.  We've had 18 Christmases with Maggie as our family pet.  Four years before Maggie we got Daisy, a Chihuahua that came from my MeMaw's last litter of Chihuahua puppies that she raised.  Daisy was with us for over 16 years until her health declined to the point that mercy and compassion was in her best interest.  And we let her go on July 1, 2011.  Maggie was still a spry, energetic 12 year old Chihuahua with a lot of spring in her step remaining.  Now, her spring and her step are gone - long gone.  All that's left of our little Maggie is fleeting breaths, blind, painful, struggling steps due to the wear and tear of many years of arthritis, atrocious breath, and sleep in her warm doggy bed.  No more barking at 5 a.m. at the laundry room gate because she's hungry and ready to be fed and go potty.  No more messes.  No more peeing on the floor.  No more getting stuck behind the laundry room door or the dryer.  No more falling over when trying to potty.  Nope.  No more. The time has come for mercy and compassion and tender love to be exhibited by her family.  And  today, January 17, 2017, is that day.  Honestly, I wish it weren't.  I know its the right, humane, decent thing to do.  I know its in Maggie's best interest.  But I hate it.  Because I love this little dog.  I love her with all my heart.  My wife and I have never known our married life without Daisy or Maggie.  Today that will end.     
My wife and I sat down with our four kids at the table last night to talk through the reality, rhyme, and reason of this decision.  It was hard - really hard.  We let the kids share their feelings and emotion.  It was real.  It was raw.  It was beautiful.  They've never known their 17, 15, 13 or 11 years respectively without Maggie in our home and in their life.  We went around the table.  Each shared their love for Maggie.  Things they said included, "I don't want her to suffer any more."  "I love her but I don't want her to be in pain any more."  "I will miss her a lot."  And in her thirteen year old maturity, Brenna said, "I've been praying for Maggie every night (to get better).  I know this is the right thing to do.  I don't want to give her up, but I know that I can't be selfish and have her for myself."  Wow.  All my kids love our pets.  Brenna loves pets with passion - especially dogs.  She has really struggled in recent days regarding Maggie and what was soon to be the inevitable.  She was the last one to speak at the table of the four kids; and what she shared brought her mom and I relief and thankfulness.  She demonstrated an attitude of selflessness instead of selfishness.  I am proud of her, and all my kids, for being so understanding during this hard time in our family's life.  You see...the truth is that Maggie was family.  Sounds odd to say, but this dog that I and our family loved for eighteen years was more than just a pet.  Before Jennifer and I had children of our own, we had Daisy and Maggie.  They were, in a sense, our children.  We loved them and cared for them as our own.  I will miss Maggie.  I will miss the times when she howled while Brandon was practicing his trumpet.  I will miss her attacking the vacuum each time it was turned on.  I will miss her bossiness that she demonstrated when Belle (our Golden Retriever) thought she was in charge.  I will miss her loud, persistent 5 a.m. wake-up barking calls from the laundry room announcing that she was ready to eat and use the restroom.  I will miss you traveling in the front seat sitting and sleeping next to me on the long journey to MawMaw's house as you did innumerable times before.  And on and on and on. I.  WILL.  MISS.  HER.   
And now, as I finish this blog, it's evening; and Maggie is gone.  She no longer resides in this house; but she will always be a part of this home.  I can still smell her scent on my hoodie from holding her close this afternoon. She passed on around 2:30 p.m. this afternoon at Hometown Animal Care.  The hardest part - letting her go, literally.  I couldn't believe how hard it was to literally hand Maggie from my arms to that of the vet technician.  I didn't want to let her go.  I wanted to kiss her and hold her close as long as  I could.  Because I loved her.  She was well loved.  She was a great family member; and she will be greatly and dearly missed.  She now rests cozily, peacefully in our backyard in front of the Oak tree with lots of shade.  No more pain.  No more struggling.  Sick and suffering no more.  She's at rest.  Kind of sounds like heaven, don't you think?  Now I don't know if there'll be dogs in heaven or not; but I do know this:  I would love for Maggie to be there.  That's God's business.  I told my youngest daughter Bethany this afternoon as she said her final goodbye to Maggie, "She's at rest now.  She's at peace.  And she's in God's hands."  And she is.  And when I wake up in the morning, the first morning in 18 + years without Maggie, I'm sure I'll peek in the laundry room expecting to see Maggie curled up quietly and comfortably in her bed or needing help getting out from behind the door.  She won't be there.  I'll be listening for your early morning bark.  I know it will be silent.  And the silence will scream, and tears will be shed.  And I'll remember again just how much I love you Maggie.  And I'll make my way to the backyard, and walk out to that Oak tree where Maggie is resting and smile; for I know it was her time.  She had a good life.  We the Woods' family gave her our best love for 18 years.  Thank you God for allowing Maggie to be ours for so long.  Its been our privilege and pleasure.  The memories are sweet and bittersweet.  And thank you Maggie for giving your best to us.  We are better for it, and we love you.   
Love, John, Jennifer, Brandon, Bradley, Brenna, and Bethany                                 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Integrity...Honestly?

Oswald Chambers says, "My worth to God in public is what I am in private."  Sounds closely related to integrity.  Integrity, by definition, is...the quality of being honest and having strong, moral principles.  Doing the right thing in a reliable way.  I've always liked to define integrity as who you are when everyone's looking and what you do when no one's looking.  Integrity is not about a feeling; it's about rightness.  It's a matter of character.  Are you a person of integrity?  It's a choice.  And today, I had a choice.  Here's the story...my wife Jennifer took our 4 1/2 yr. old Golden Retriever to the vet this morning.  Belle could hardly put any weight on her left foot this morning when she walked.  She apparently played to hard this past weekend with her friend and fellow Golden, Crash.  Belle has a bum shoulder, and it looked like she aggravated it.  So we made the appointment with the vet; and Jennifer took her.  $136.50 later, Belle came home with two medicines to help pain and inflammation and instructions to take it easy for a week or so.  That total was interesting...because not long after my wife had shared with me the cost of the vet visit, I checked our online banking account. The debit transaction was only $36.50.  Something wasn't right, so when I came home for lunch, I asked Jennifer to see the receipt.  She immediately noticed that the debit card transaction had been run for the amount of $36.50, $100 less than the actual bill.  The vet receipt had credited us with payment in full but processed on a small portion of that.  My wife immediately said, "I need to call them and let them know.  That's not right."  My wife was right in her assessment.  Sometimes I hate it when that happens.  Nonetheless, she was.  Honestly?  Part of me didn't want to call.  They made the mistake, and they'll never no it if we don't call.  They'll never miss that $100.  Of course I never said any of this out loud to my wife; but an internal battle was going on inside my head and in my heart. So I picked up the phone and called.  Honestly, I hoped the conversation would go something like this..."Mr. Woods, thank you for calling and letting us know.  We're so sorry for our mistake.  Because of your honesty and integrity, we're not going charge you the remainder of the bill.  Have a nice day." But that's not how it went.  There was no offer of rescinding the $100.  There was no consideration of foregoing payment of the remainder of the bill because I did the right thing.  There was a "hold on a minute" moment, then a request for my payment information - which I reluctantly gave.  Then a simple thank you and goodbye.  
I would like to tell you that I felt great for doing the right thing.  But I didn't feel great.  I hung up wanting my $100 back.  I felt ticked that they didn't offer me some sort of "reward" or expression of appreciation for doing the right thing when I could've done nothing, kept the $100, and kept the information to myself.  It's a good thing I didn't make my decision based on my emotions.  If I had, I wouldn't have done the right thing.  I would've done nothing.  But I took the decades-old advice of Dr, James Dobson found in the title of one of his earliest works, a book entitled "Emotions:  Can You Trust Them?"  The obvious answer...no.  No you can't.  You can't trust your emotions...ever.  What can you trust?  Well, for me, as a Christ-follower, I trust God's Word, the Bible.  It is the reliable source of truth that guides my life.  And in the truth found in 1 Samuel 2:30b, God says this:  "...those who honor Me, I will honor."  And when I choose integrity, I choose to honor God.  And that is how I want to live and be known.  
How about you?  Are you a person of integrity?  Do you practice honesty and moral rightness in public?  In private? When everyone sees and when no one sees?  When its easy and when its difficult?  Honesty is truly the best policy.  And being a person of integrity - that's a choice you'll never regret.  And that's the honest to goodness truth...honestly!           

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Letter to my PTHS Class of '86 Classmates


Pirates Fight for Old Pine Tree High

For your Alma Mater dear

Pirates Fight for Old Pine Tree High

For victory is near

To old Pine Tree we’ll be loyal

Til the sun drops from the sky

Remembering until the end

Pirates fight, never die! 

 
Class of '86 Classmates and Friends:

There’s a quote that I use often by Gary Thomas, author of the books Sacred Marriage and Sacred Parenting, among others.  He says, as it relates to parenting, “…the days are long and the years are short.”  It’s true; but not just in parenting.  It’s true in life.  As I look at all the pictures and read all the posts connected to the 30-year class reunion, I’m overwhelmed with emotion -  joy, sadness, regret, love, and on and on I could go.  I regret that I was unable to attend.  But I cherish the memories and friendship that are connected to these pictures from thirty years ago and now.  I’m amazed at the beautiful transparency and honesty with which posts are shared.  Posts dealing with some of life’s most challenging, difficult, gut-wrenching issues – depression, suicide, pain and loss.  All very real.  All very raw.  I can’t help but think of the memories I have with two most recent classmates that we’ve lost – Steve Brantley and Craig Russell.  I played many years of baseball with and against Steve and Craig both.  Those were special times.  Steve was always bigger than life – literally.  Craig always carried with him an air of confidence – almost cockiness – in all he did.  They will be dearly missed, as well as those from our class, who passed on before them.  Who would’ve guessed that Craig would’ve been here Friday night and then gone a day later?  Who knew that he’d reached a place of helplessness and hopelessness?  Who knew that Friday night would’ve been the very last time for most to talk to him, touch him, hug him, help him?  The truth is that there are times when we all need help.  For different reasons and at different times, we each need help.  We need a friend.  We need each other.  I’m very appreciative of the vulnerability with which many of you, my ’86 PTHS classmates, have shared that vulnerability.  We all have a story.  Our stories are filled with joys and pains, mountains and valleys, ups and downs.  Each story carries with it similarities to other stories and uniqueness as your story.  Each story important and valuable and with a need to be heard.  Because we need to learn from each other.  We’re able to comfort and love and encourage others as their life stories intersect ours.  Those intersections may be frequent or infrequent; regular or thirty years a part.  When they happen; however, is not as important as this:  when they happen, they must be seen as opportunities to be seized.  Life opportunities – divine appointments, if you will – to make a difference in someone’s life who may need a kind word, a pat on the back, a helping hand, a bear hug, a listening ear, or the voice of truth saying, “You’re valuable.  You’re important.  Your life matters and carries inherent significance and meaning.”  All of us, at times, need that; and all of us, at a moment’s notice, need to be ready to give it away.  To do so means we must be vigilant to watch, to listen, to pay attention to those in our path while there’s time to do so.  We only have right now.  Yesterday’s a fleeting memory filled with lost opportunity.  Tomorrow is not promised or guaranteed.  We only have right now.  Craig’s tragic passing (and that of others like him) must serve as a neon flashing sign reminder that this thing called life, at best, is hard and very, very brief.  But it’s worth living.  And if it’s worth living, my fellow classmates, then it’s worth living to the fullest.  Make every second count.  Because your contribution to life, no matter how big or small it seems, may be the difference maker to someone who is watching you – your child, your co-worker, your friend of thirty years or the waitress that messed up your order for the third time.  Somebody needs you.  I need you.  And you need me.  We need each other.  So, take a risk.  Ask the hard questions.  Get your hands dirty.  Live with no regrets. There's no doubt that it’ll be worth it in the end.

Thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings, whether you know me well, remember me vaguely, or have no clue who I am.  I’m a dad of four and a husband of almost 23 years just trying to do life with all that I got.  Blessings, PTHS friends of the class of ‘86.  I won’t miss the next reunion.  Love and prayers to those of you hurting or in need.  If I can help, I’m available.  – John      

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Turtles and Fence Posts: A Simple Reminder for All Graduates

Graduates:  "if a turtle is sitting on a fence post, it had to have some help getting there."  That's the one thing I remember from the keynote at my college graduation from ETBU on June 1, 2016. It's still true today. You haven't got to where you are today without the significant of others in your life:  parents, pastors, teachers, friends, grandparents, coaches, siblings, counselors, and on and on it could go. You get the point. No man is an island. We all need help; and if you're graduating, you've had lots of it. Some you asked for. Some you didn't. Some you wanted. Some, not so much. Practical. Spiritual. Educational. Familial. Serious. Silly. Help of all kind.  It's has been extended to you to get you where you are today and to propel and catapult you into the glorious unknown of the future.  Help. You can take it or leave it. You can buy into it or sell it. The choice is yours. And the future is before you. Don't forget one important piece of timeless truth to live by on this topic of help from God's Word in Hebrews 13:7:

Remember those who led you; who spoke the Word of God to you. And considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.

In simple terms:  remember those who made a difference in your life - who went the extra mile on your behalf. Be grateful. Follow their example, especially those who don't just talk a good talk; but they walk a good walk. Be an imitator.

Be imitators of Christ...Eph. 5:1
Walk in a manner worthy...Eph. 4:1

God bless you graduates. And remember:  the turtle reached new heights with the help of others that he would've never reached on his own. You can do the same.

John

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Art of Spiritual Pretense...and How To Fix It

This past Sunday Tom Cottar, our Contemporary Worship Pastor, said during worship  that Church is a great place to pretend.  I agree. God used that statement to stir these thoughts on me.

Church is a great place to pretend...

- that I'm spiritual.
- that I've got it all together.
- that I don't need any help.
- that I can handle life's stuff on my own.
- that I'm ok.
- that I'm not the problem
- that everyone else is the problem.
- that I don't have any problems.
- that I'm not broken.
- that I don't need God.

Church should be a place where I can be real with God and acknowledge that...

- I'm a spiritual mess.
- I don't have it all together.
- I need help.
- I can't handle life's stuff on my own.
- I'm not ok.
- I'm the problem.
- Everyone else is not the problem.
- I have a number of problems.
- I am broken.
- I need God. I need Him a lot.
- And that He is ENOUGH for me, my brokenness, my helplessness, my insufficiency, my problems, my inadequacies, and my spiritual mess.

His Word says... "cast all your cares upon Him, because He cares for you." - 1 Peter 5:7
"My grace is sufficient for you..."

Thank you Lord. I don't have to pretend with you. You know me - the real me- better than I know myself; and I'm a spiritual pretender at times.  Thank You for loving me anyway...just the way that I am.

John