Yeah, I know that makes me a hypocrite now with all the rollercoaster talk. They say there’s always some point at which an analogy falls apart. For me, it’s where you actually board a rollercoaster.
I simply don’t trust those hastily-assembled rust-buckets you’d find at your county fair. Yeah, the one being operated by the dude named “Lefty,” with no teeth and no right hand.
Wonder how that happened…
These contraptions inspire no 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’s 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?
So when I tell you, you’re going to have to take risks in life, I’m not encouraging you to be irresponsible. I’ve spent most of my life making safe, conservative choices. But there comes a time when the voice of God is telling you to take a “leap of faith.” That’s when you’re supposed to trust him, in spite of your reservations, and step out into the void.
When we started fostering kids at-risk, that was a leap of faith. We saw a need and instead of expecting someone else to fix it, we did it. You can’t change the world waiting on someone else to take action. If you see the need, God expects you to do something about it!
“Doing something” doesn’t mean just posting a sad emoji on Facebook. The world’s got more than enough symbolic gestures masquerading as action. Seeing the need means I’m to be the hands and feet of Jesus and get to work:
Find a need and fill it; find a hurt and heal it.
That all sounds good and noble, but choosing to do goodwill takes you way outside your comfort zone. I knew fostering would have challenges, with troubled kids coming from even more troubled parents. But still, I never expected to be sitting alone in my home with a baseball bat by my side, waiting for someone to kick down my front door and do my family harm.
And you think you’ve had some wild Friday nights.
We’d started fostering a three-year-old girl who had ingested cocaine from her family’s coffee table. After they got her to the hospital, child services took her from her parents and put her in our care. Then a few months later, her parents were arrested on 2 million dollars worth of drug trafficking. So we offered to adopt the girl to keep her safe.
Needless to say, her dad was not keen on the idea of losing permanent custody. After he made bail, he told his friends, his first task would be coming to get the girl at our home. That’s when child services told my wife it would be wise for her to get the girl and the rest of our kids out of town.
So picture me, sitting alone waiting in my house later that night like Clint Eastwood at the end of Gran Torino. Since I don’t own a gun, I sat with my trusty baseball bat by my side. As the hours ticked by, I remembered that the movie didn’t end so well for Clint.
Not all our adventures since fostering have been quite that dramatic, but it’s always tough. They would bring kids to us, usually in the middle of the night, who had just been taken away from their parents. The kids were often confused, sleepy, and sometimes crying.
The transporters rarely bring enough clothes for the kids. Often there’s just a small bundle of random clothes stuffed in a plastic shopping bag. Sometimes the kids are easy to deal with, others have behavioral issues. Several brought to us were beyond our abilities to care for. Then there have been surprises, like the 4-year-old Latino boy who arrived while I was at work one day. In our fostering classes, they warned big guys like me to do everything possible to look non-threatening. You never know if one of the kids might have been abused. So when I got home to meet this little guy, I immediately knelt down on the floor. With my best Mister Rogers 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 seems awkwardly long since I’m kneeling there with my arms wide open. Then the kid ducks his head down and suddenly takes off running in a full sprint toward me.
In my memory, I see what happened next in slow motion. The little guy proceeded to ram his knee directly into my chest at full speed, which knocked me over on my back. He then took my head in his hands and began trying to slam my forehead directly into his knee.
Someone had taught a little 4-year-old boy some killer MMA moves. And I got to be his practice dummy!
Back to my Clint Eastwood stakeout…
That night I finally 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. “You probably think this is all pretty funny, me with my baseball bat waiting to take down a drug lord! This is probably your version of watching comedy on Netflix!”
Thankfully, I didn’t have to be Clint Eastwood that night. However, the next week our next-door neighbor came outside at 1:30 a.m. to find a car idling, watching our house. So I decided to keep the bat permanently next to my side of the bed as a homemade security system.
All these little adventures remind me what people on rollercoasters must feel right before that big drop-off sends them careening around the tracks. The anticipation of the ominous “Click, click, click…” up to the top as you prepare for your stomach to shift into your nasal cavity.
As much as I dislike them, I believe God wants us to make the rollercoaster our home. He never meant for us to live life with a steady pulse rate all the time. Though it’s scary at times, if you look over, you’ll see God smiling in the seat next to you.
That smile says there’s nothing to worry about. You’re safe, as long as He’s on the ride next to you.
Dave Gipson is a husband, father of 4 adopted children and one biological child, former foster parent, and pastor at Naples Family Church of Naples, FL. An author, Dave's new highly acclaimed book, "The Seven Surprises: Everyday Epiphanies on Being a Better Human Being," is now available. He also contributes regular commentaries to the Naples Daily News as well as other international publications. He has served churches for the last 25+ years, from Florida to the inner-city of Chicago. Rev. Gipson holds his ordination in the Southern Baptist denomination, and has two earned Masters degrees in Religion and Divinity. Read more at http://davegipson.net.Follow him on Twitter at @realdavegipson.