I hate rollercoasters. Seriously, for the money people pay to ride the things, I’d pay you twice that much to keep me off one.
I simply don’t trust them, especially the hastily-assembled rust buckets you find at your garden-variety county fair. Yeah, the one being operated by the dude named “”Lefty” with no teeth.
Oh, and with no right hand either. Wonder how that happened…
These contraptions do not inspire confidence in me. I’m a guy who likes to hedge my bets. I like a routine. I don’t gamble. I don’t even try a new restaurant unless someone has recommended it.
But every now and then, I see a country road leading off who-knows-where, and I wonder, “What adventures might wait just down that road, just around the bend?”
It’s not my fault really – I was raised this way. My mom and dad grew up poor-as-dirt in the Great Depression. While I was growing up, they saved everything. We hardly ever ate out. My first real pizza was after I’d escaped to college. But I was able to go to college because of all those years they saved every cent. No, the safe way is not all bad.
So when I tell you you’re going to have to take risks in life, I’m not doing so as some irresponsible nut. I’ve spent most of my life making the safest choices. But that’s the problem. When I should have been trusting God’s voice and stepping out into the void, I stayed sequestered in a tidy little bubble-world of my own creation.
That’s why it’s ironic that tonight I sit here in my home with a baseball bat by my side. It’s around midnight, and I’m waiting for someone to come through the door at any moment, looking to do my family harm.
And you think you’ve spent some wild Friday nights…
I got to this unfortunate place by listening to God and trying to help some children in our area. My wife and I began foster parenting several years ago, and since then it’s been like a rollercoaster ride of emotions:
Children taken away from their parents. Parents either neglecting their kids or being incarcerated for crimes. A governmental system stretched to the breaking point, with some workers simply checking off the boxes and not paying attention. Babies dropped off at 1 in the morning, with few details and garbage bags full of their clothes…or often, the wrong clothes.
We’ve been given kids only to discover later they have extreme mental challenges or are developmentally delayed. One extremely large 4-year-old girl, obviously the product of abuse, did nothing but scream, flail about and rip her clothes off. We were so frightened we finally called the police to help.
Sometimes you have to admit when you’re overwhelmed.
Then there have been surprises, like the 4-year-old Hispanic boy who arrived while I was at work one day. In our fostering classes, they warned us that kids would often arrive traumatized. They suggested big guys like me do everything possible to look non-threatening. You never know when a kid from a dysfunctional family might have been abused.
So when I got home to meet this little guy, I immediately knelt down on the floor. With my best Misterrogers impersonation, I said, “Hey there, buddy. I’m Dave. (stretching out my arms now) I’m so happy you’ll be staying with us!”
The 4-year-old stares at me for about 5 seconds…which seem awkwardly long since I’m kneeling there with my arms wide open like Al Jolson about to sing “Swanee”. Then the kid ducks his head down and suddenly takes off running in a full sprint toward me.
If this were one of those family comedies, the camera would now be showing a close-up of my face. You’d watch it switch from my non-threatening smile to abject terror as little Pablo proceeded to ram his knee directly into my chest at full speed. Now that he had knocked me over, he then took my head in his hands and began trying to slam it into his knee.
Someone had taught little 4-year old Pablo some killer MMA moves. And I got the pleasure of being his practice dummy!
Still, none of these experiences could prepare us for this evening’s stakeout in my study.
Without being coy, I can only give a few of the details because of legal liability. Let’s just say someone close to one of our little foster girls got out of jail and had allegedly told people in jail he was coming after the little girl to abduct her and flee. This person was in jail for a major drug sting in our area resulting in millions of dollars in hard drugs being confiscated.
That day when he was released on bond, child services called and told us to get the girl from daycare quickly, in case he went there first to get her. As I broke every speed limit rushing to the day care, the guy tried to call my wife, presuming she didn’t know what was happening.
My afternoon was suddenly like a scene from an action movie, except it was my life on the screen.
Since I’m a public person and easily found, we worried about him coming to our home. When child services said this was a good possibility, my wife told them, “Wow, I wish we could just not be here for a while!”
The lady on the other end of the phone replied, “Actually, that would be a very good idea. Leave town now.”
So that afternoon, my wife packed up all our small kids in the SUV and headed for a friend’s house on the other coast. All my teenagers found friends to stay with for a few days. Now everyone was gone, and I was sitting alone in the dark like Clint Eastwood at the end of Gran Torino, pondering what to do about the thugs in his neighborhood.
As I sat in my chair with my trusty baseball bat by my side, I remembered that movie didn’t end so well for him.
While I prepared that day for a possible showdown, friends called to make sure we were ok. A couple even offered to let me borrow a gun for the night. They pointed out that people like my expected guest were not foreign to firearms, and I might be wise to fight fire with fire.
Though I’m certainly not against gun ownership, I wasn’t so sure. I’d shot a gun on just one occasion, at targets in a firing range with an experienced friend. Though I figured I could handle it, something was telling me to pray about it first. Thankfully, I heard God speak up with the sensitive tone with which He would usually address me…
“OK, Mr. Bigshot, you’ve preached about trusting me to your congregation. And with your family out of the house, you’re not protecting them, just yourself. So…why not just trust me? And if it makes you feel better, I’ll let you sleep with the baseball bat…”
I went to bed that night finally around 3 am, with my bat by my bedside. Right before I started to slip away to sleep, I laughed out loud to God. “What a trip you’re taking me on, Daddy! I never dreamed my life would get this scary… or have more purpose. Thanks for making me feel so alive.”
We’re not completely out of the woods yet. Some of the caseworkers joke that with the three foster kids we now house, we parent the children of the highest-risk criminal cases in the area! Just last week, our next door neighbor came outside at 1:30am to find a car sitting, watching our house. When they saw our neighbor, they quickly drove away. Never a dull moment…
But I think I finally know now what all those people on the rollercoasters feel, when their car is ticking up to the top of the big drop-off that sends you careening around the tracks. The ominous sound of the car against the rails, “Click, click, click…” as you prepare for your stomach to be shifted into your nasal cavity.
The difference is, those people only stay on the ride for a while and quickly return to safety. It’s quite a different thing to embrace the chaos (a family slogan of ours these days) and decide to let God keep you on that ride indefinitely.
If you’ll do that, I can promise you’ll eventually get used to the ups and downs. The anticipation of the next crisis doesn’t scare you as much anymore. No, you never completely get used to a life on the rollercoaster, but one thing is for certain…
You’re never tempted to go back to a boring, meaningless existence either. You’re hooked on the rush of the extreme life. You’ve made the rollercoaster your home. And as you look over, you see the smile of your Father in the seat next to you.
His smile says there’s nothing to worry about. It says, “Go ahead, son. Put your hands in the air and let’s enjoy the ride together!”