the cops are getting punchcards

this is a re-post from a post I made on Medium

We’ve had the police at our house close to 20 times in the past 90 days. Our story of adoption, sonship, breaking of trust, and healing.

Since losing our two oldest sons, Ezra and Price, in 2010, Robyn and I both have a more visceral understanding of human tragedy. 13 months of cancer treatment, 2 weeks of hospitalized bed rest for Robyn, holding two sons in our arms as they died 8 months apart… you shed any focus on petty things.

We’ve become what I call negative celebrities — we’re the saddest story people around us personally know. This wrenching of our hearts from ourselves tugs on a part of a person, and more often than not when someone first hears our story, they share one of their saddest stories in reply.

I often tell about an oil change I got — a 16 year old kid came to pull my car around, and noticed the tattoos on my arms. He asked, and I told him I’ve lost two sons, and this is where I carry them on me. The kid blurted out “my girlfriend had an abortion last night.” I hugged him and talked a couple minutes, and that was that. It’s become common for us.


This led us to adopt from foster care.

We knew from our friend Jesse there are many kids in foster care needing families. We’d become intimate with tragedy. A hard past doesn’t scare us, and we believe we can be a part of a child’s healing as he completes our family. Our friend AJ made a video interview of a kid for the Heart Gallery, and in November of 2012 when Robyn saw it she knew he was our son. He moved in October of 2013, and legally became our son January of 2014. He was 14, and had been in foster care ten years.


My son and I.

Adopting a teenager has been difficult. Or rather, raising a teenager who’s lived what our son has. First, the good bits. He’s smart. His grades are great, and have been great through a decade of foster care. That’s rare. He’s funny, he’s witty, and he’s socially engaging. He loves his little brother, our 4 year old. He’s brought volume to our home, mostly in a good way, and is full of energy. He smiles a lot.

Foster care is a broken system, where kids can live in 12 homes in 10 years, from trailers to traditional homes to group homes to institutions.

Case workers and group home staff aren’t paid well, and the stressful positions have incredibly high turnover. Case managers are loaded up with so many children to look after, they spend little time with each, and become exhausted quickly. More turnover. Kids are brought to “adoption events” where they’re introduced to various families in what our son called kid auctions. All this teaches kids to perform and deflect rather than connect.

In our experience, we’ve found staff members at group homes are often inappropriate with the teens, treating them as buddies instead of kids who need mentoring. During our visitations, staff would try to get our son to have Robyn bend over in front of them. When he got a phone after moving in with us, staff would text him sexual innuendos as jokes.

Children need permanency.

They need safety to allow them to develop, to grow, to look inward and outward both, taking in the world and learning how it works. Kids need to have truths instilled in them of the value of a person, the perseverance of hope, and the beauty of learning. You can’t just tell a person this, it has to distill from your daily living. When we take away the feeling of safety by dismantling permanency, we’ve ripped away a child’s ability to focus on anything but survival and self.

Keep all this up for a person’s entire formative years, and it’s no wonder our son has a tough time trusting. Or finding much value in people. Or having any belief authority is looking out for him. Still, we wrap our arms around him, hoping if nothing else he can learn from us hope is alive, he has great worth, and will always fit with us.

We were as prepared as we could be for difficult. We connect deeply with what we interact with, Robyn and I, and so have made many friends who are adoptive parents, specifically of teens. Facebook groups, meetings, classes, books, and adoption coaches round out our “village,” along with professionals and incredible friends who’ve been through tough times with us before. My point — we didn’t jump in this thinking we’d save some kid and bask in his gratefulness as the sun rose and set on beauty every day. We’re used to messy, and it’s ok with us.


When our son turned 15, a few months ago, we noticed an increase in intense behavior. He’d sneak out at night all hours, and we couldn’t figure out what he was doing. He’s a teenager, with wild hormones and all, but porn was becoming excessive — devices in the house I didn’t even think could access it (that old flip phone from the storage closet?!) would go missing, and we’d find them days later with search histories to make a sailor blush. We wound up having to sell off our gaming systems.

Of course we were worried about the leaving the house, but aside from spending a ton on a full security system install, couldn’t figure out how to stop it. We’d had multiple conversations, and our son would simply say he couldn’t sleep, and was out walking around the golf course near our house. We explained to him this was not safe, nor allowed. His stories seemed off, and we weren’t sure what was really going on.

At the recommendation of our adoption coach and some professionals on our team, we started calling the police when he would leave. He’d broken out of doors, windows, balconies. He’d unlock various rarely used doors and windows during the day so he’d be able to get back in through them when he left in the evening — it was to a point he was leaving nearly every other day. Making the call to the police the first time was awkward:

– Hello, 911, what’s your emergency?
– My son has left the house and is missing.
– How long ago did he leave?
– An hour.
– Ok… has he done this before?
– Yes.
– And does he come back?
– Yes, he always comes back. But I think he is doing something illegal, and am trying to get some help.
– Ok, but he’s your son?
– Yes.
– And he comes back the same night?
– Yes.
– So what do you want us to do then?

And we didn’t really know, honestly. At this point it’d been weeks of him leaving every other night (that we caught — I’m sure many other nights he just got away with it), and we were exhausted. We’d hear him on our balcony climbing back up (it is easier to get on from the ground, and connects directly to his second story bedroom door). We’d find him on the roof. Or crawling in the dog door. I’d take a flashlight onto the golf course at 2 in the morning when I’d find his bed empty. So the cops… I don’t know. We knew something was going on, and we were looking for help.

It wasn’t unjustified, our thought he was doing something not quite right. At home our son had been more and more disrespectful, cussing us out, sullen behavior, and some minor physical skirmishes with me (two of which did get the police involved). He’d been increasingly inappropriate at home. I’m sure the lack of sleep he was getting wasn’t helping him or us.


So eventually, a neighbor called. Then another. And again. We discovered our son had been on people’s properties, being inappropriate, at all times of the night. And morning. He’d turn on the shower in his second story bathroom, point the shower head up so it sounds like the water would sound with someone in there (not an even fall — great trick actually), turn up his music, and climb out the window. We thought he was just taking long showers (it’d be 20–30 min).

Unless someone pressed charges, the police couldn’t do much. And no one wanted to; I don’t think they wanted the headache, and hoped it was simply a one time thing. They probably thought they were doing us a favor, and if it’d been a one-time thing they would have been. As more occurrences came to light, we realized there were deeper issues to address than the behavior itself. We’d already been in family therapy for a while, and being in foster care calls for regular therapy as well — our son was not new to talking, and is in fact great at it. But it was having no effect on these behaviors.

And the police were getting called for sure. We started learning names. I have a dozen cards on my nightstand. We’d see them out at a restaurant and say hello. Police would come to the house and already be aware of our situation from their co-workers talking about it, wherever police hang out.

In a meeting with our adoption coach, she recommended our son needed a safe outlet to address whatever was causing these actions, and therapy 2–3 times a week wasn’t touching it. We looked for help finding a place like this, and it was extremely difficult. Crisis centers weren’t comfortable they could address our son’s specific needs. Responses would take days to get, in a situation which needed solutions quickly. We weren’t sleeping much.

Someone recommended a process Florida has set in place which allows for in-patient behavioral help in a more intensive setting. Our home was very tense at the time, and we were told the process could be rushed and be done in 2–3 weeks. It wound up taking nearly 2 tough months, with more police and difficult situations happening the entire time.


This past Monday, we brought our son to a place he’ll be able to receive the care he needs. He is still our son. We’ll see him a minimum of 2–4 times per month, and talk to him often. We’ll have family therapy all together a couple times a month as well. The program can last 5–8 months. It was a hard decision, but it is what he needs if he’s going to start the healing from years of being moved around the system. We are hopeful.

So why share this?

I purposefully didn’t share any of this these past few months on our family blog, which has a fair amount of subscribers. Even in this article I chose not to use our son’s name (though if you’re someone who knows us personally obviously it’s different), and I’ve left out many details. Our son has a level of privacy which I question if I’ve pushed too far even with what I’ve written.

But we are not alone in adoption struggles, or struggles with a teen at home in general. And for months we searched, trying to get advice, trying to find somewhere to help. We found very little of people sharing their stories. It felt we were all alone in this experience. We needed to know what to do, and we were torn constantly. I write this to you who is battling this.

And it was difficult. I write to share how little we know about mental health, how little is in place for people trying to care for our kids, how tough it is to get real help when it’s needed. We were literally told from one crisis center “wait until he hurts someone, then we can get police involved and do something.” How horrible. Our son doesn’t need to be detained or jailed — he needs to heal.

Robyn and I need to heal as well. We’ve lost two children, and it hurts. I get it. I am not mad at him. It’s no different than if he was my biological son — there is no giving up. Our son has had it rough, and has become strong where he needed to in order to arrive at today in one piece. In that process he’s had other areas of himself he didn’t get to build on. I hate that he had to go through that — I hate it every day — but he did. So now he needs some healing. We are his stability, his safety. And we are not going to sit idly by and let him blame his past either — he’s got so much future ahead. Good future. He is a walking mass of potential.

Foster care is a broken system. Kids need permanency. Familiar faces. Great role models. When they do get adopted, there needs to be better post-adoption support to help healing begin and continue. We had to claw our way up the ladder to get what was necessary — as a striking contrast, if we’d just called and said “this is too much, we give up,” as many adoptive parents do in these situations, someone will come within a few hours and bring the kid out of the home. That’s horrible — getting help is the right method, and should be an easy one to understand and complete.

We’re looking forward to when our son comes home and we can continue our healing together under the same roof. Home.

9 things I want my sons to know

We adopted Charles in January, and are watching Charley grow up faster and faster (what’s the rush?!?!) I miss Ezra and Price, and wonder what they’d be doing now. Being a father has made me want to clarify the lessons I’ve learned. If I could give my sons some things to think on, it’d be along these lines. In no particular order.

  1. 1) Create. Consumption is easier and easier as technology evolves and the world becomes smaller. It is easy to fill your day with others’ creations, and I do think that’s important. Even more important is to learn to create something ourselves. Whether this is some sort of art (painting, writing, music, architecture, culinary), building an intentional family or living environment, a business… learn a craft. Set aside a time each week, or even daily, where you work on creating something.
  2. 2) You will never answer all of your questions, and that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep asking. “The pursuit of happiness” was mentioned in the US Declaration of Independence rather than the word “happiness” by itself, even though the other two “inalienable rights” were present tense – life, and liberty. It is simple to live accepting anything; it is rewarding and difficult to wonder. Question what you are told – I mean this in a curious, mindful way, not confrontational. Question for your own understanding. No one owes you explanations. Let your curiosity lead you to furthering yourself. What your mind worries on matters.
  3. 3) You will always have lonely times, but you are loved. We are mysterious; we are obvious. No matter how loved you are, in the truest sense, you will have days and moments no one can know with you. You will feel there are thoughts heavy and explosive inside you which burn to be expressed but you cannot find words for, or someone to express them to. This is normal. Address these things, through your creating, and let solace be ok sometimes. Remember your loved ones, though, and let them be a part of those parts of you. Working out how to express feelings which are difficult or confusing for me has led to my most intimate friendships.
  4. 4) Someone always has it better than you, and someone always has it worse. After losing Ezra and Price, we heard often “I hugged my kids a little tighter tonight.” Unsaid, but ringing in our ears every time, was “since I still have them.” Realize someone always has it worse than you – but please don’t let your lesson from this be to have more gratefulness for what you have. Don’t base your gratefulness off of others’ situations. Let the knowledge life is hard spur you to tear down your pride, and help those around you. Your troubles become much more bearable when you’re helping someone else through theirs.

    On the other side of the same coin, someone will always have it better than you. Be proud for them, and strive always to better your self, never to become someone else.

  5. 5) Much of the beauty comes from the pain. It is cliché to say I wish I could take away all the pain you’ve felt, and will feel. Rather, I wish you could fully comprehend beauty without pain, although I don’t think we can. You will know loss, and you will know struggle – although I hope not too often. When you experience pain, don’t push it away – embrace it. Surround yourself with the people who care, whether that’s one person or one thousand. There is a song I love, called Why It Matters, which at one point says:

    Like the statue in the park
    Of this war torn town
    And it’s protest of the darkness
    And the chaos all around
    With its beauty, how it matters
    How it matters

    The beauty I mean, in life, is the recognition of those things which matter. The things which tug at our soul, connect us to others, and form who we are and who we are to one another. Look for those things.

  6. 6) People have great value. In the Bible, we are taught to love our neighbors as ourselves. Across most spiritual teachings is the idea of recognizing the value of life. We are not islands, but instead we are the sea. Know your friends and family, those people who have dedicated themselves to your betterment, and do the same for them. Hold your relationships with other in high regard, and never take them for granted. You will have some people only for moments, and others for a lifetime. Look for the value in each.

    You yourself have great value as well. God calls us sons and daughters, and goes as far as saying your body is a temple. Pay attention to the things you let in your mind, your body, and your relationships. Be intentional about taking care of yourself and others.

  7. 7) There is so much to learn and see. Really, I could sum this up in one word: explore. So much more than traipsing through a jungle (although hey, that’s incredible too!), this is an approach to life. Learning how an atom moves, or how clouds can carry  heavy loads while floating nimbly through the air, is as much exploration as lacing up your boots and climbing a mountain. I advise you do both. In the same way, explore your mind. Know yourself, and pay attention. Explore the mysteries of spirituality. I personally believe the Bible, but have spent much time exploring what other teachings say. Know why you believe anything – explore answers like a diver probes a shipwreck.

    There is so much diversity in the world. In who we are, in how we live, in what we create and in the land itself. Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know. No matter how much you know, there is more to see. Relish this. Pay attention to where you are – be fully present. You can be inspired by the smallest moments.

  8. 8) There is always hope. No matter what you have seen, felt, been through… there is always hope. There are good people all over the world. You have, in yourself, the ability to love and be loved. The ability to change someone’s present, or future. To change your own. The past does not write your future.
  9. 9) Your mom and I love you. If you haven’t heard it enough, we love you. We always will. We may not always LIKE you, but our love is a constant for you. When it’s all too much, when you’re alone, when you’re confused, amazed, broken or victorious, we love you.

There is so much more to say, but if you can carry these things you do well. And of course, if you want to know more, talk to your Mom or I anytime.

greater grace

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When I was young my mom made what seemed to my brother and I an unprompted decision to make church a part of our lives. I hated it. It was equal parts boring and whacko, and neither he nor I wanted anything to do with it. She didn’t make it a choice though, so we kept going, making jokes and laughing from the back. As months went by, winter approached and my mom signed me up for the church’s annual youth retreat, at Cedar Springs Camp in Lake Stevens, WA.

It was 1995 I believe, so I would have been 13, turning 14 that December – just a few months younger than Charles is today. There was a worship leader named Scott Underwood who was popular at the time, and at the retreat a couple of his songs connected with my teenage heart. The services were held in a temporarily converted gym, and the camp owned a bunch of extra pews which were pushed way back in a corner. I remember long after the 150 kids and adults had gone out to eat and play, I lay in a sea of old pews in the dark, singing those two songs. To this day it is one of the most memorable spiritual experiences I’ve had. They were simple songs:

Greater Grace
Long ago even before
You made the world
You chose me
Through what Christ would do
A greater grace
You gave to me
You are the source
And Jesus is the means
Forgiveness, adoption, acceptance
Is Your grace
And I fall on my face
And I yield to You
Lord, I Love You
Holy are you Lord, Your mercies never end
You provide for our needs, You’re more than a friend
Your grace is so unchanging, You’re faithful and true
Lord I love You Lord, I love You
Yes, I love You, la da da
Lord, I love You, love You
Your love for me is great no matter what I do
You are there to pick me up, I’ll always need You
My life I want to be a reflection of You
Lord, I love You

Yesterday morning, as I sat in the heavy wood chair in Judge Katherine Essrig’s courtroom  in Tampa, an incredible young man legally became our son as much as he already was in our hearts. I thought of that moment in 1995, when I had been awed by God’s desire to know me. The magic of adoption stems from the wanting – the peace of knowing you are safe, loved, and chosen. In fact, choose is a synonym for adopt. On January 17th, 2014, we chose Charles, and he chose us.

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When Ezra was born, I began to understand what people had told me about fatherhood, and the many parallels between how a father should be to a son and how God is to us. Like many young fathers, I shared how incredible it was to simply sit on the bed or couch with Ezra long before he could even move, just being with him. How I didn’t want him to do something for me, but instead just to want to be around me.

Our journey with Charles started November 2012 when Robyn first saw his Heart Gallery video. In March of 2013 we started our classes to be able to legally adopt a child, in June we met Charles for the first time at his 14th birthday party, and in October he moved in with us. Throughout, we have continued to fall in love with our son, getting to know him and loving him getting to know us. Charles says “my family is weird, and so am I. I fit right in.” He is so right on every level.

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After Ezra was born, and we were pregnant with the twins, Robyn and I were sure we had a perfect picture of our family. Charley and Price would be just under 2 years younger than Ezra – 3 boys within 2 years of each other. It did not happen.

When Robyn first watched Charles’ interview, on November 15, 2012, and felt such an immediate, strong serenity this was our son, we almost didn’t believe it could happen either. That our family could feel whole again. Yesterday, that changed.

We quartet of Matthews’ have all felt deep loss, and Robyn and I have cried many times at the hole Charles has had in his life this past decade. No parent should outlive their child – and no child should be without a family. As we move forward in this crazy family, we each need a greater grace. We need forgiveness, acceptance, and adoption. We need each other’s patience and understanding. We know love cannot immediately heal, but is the salve to begin the process. Our home these past months has felt more like a family than it has since we lost Ezra in 2010. Charles is helping to heal our brokenness in the same way I hope we are giving him the love and safety he needs to heal.

Charles Xao Matthews – welcome home. We love you.

~ Mom and Dad

charley, charlie

Back in July I mentioned we’re adopting from foster care. This entire time we’ve had a specific kid in mind who really stole our heart, and we’re proud to say we’re now officially moving forward with adopting him!


His name is Charlie. Kinda like how some of you spell our other son’s name – Charley.

He’s 14.

And he’s amazing!

Our good friend AJ Hurley is a master of all things film, and interviewed Charlie a while ago in a piece he put together for the Heart Gallery, a great organization in Tampa (well, nationwide) who photographs and videos children in foster care and lets the community know there are kids in our own neighborhoods needing families, love, and a home. Jesse Miller, who is pretty much a sister to us, runs the Heart Gallery here in Tampa and was the driving force behind making these videos happen. Another good friend of ours, Dan Weisberg, is the voice you hear. Ever since Robyn saw Charlie’s video, she knew we would be his parents.

You’ll have a chance to get to know Charlie more as we spend more time with him. We are excited and blessed to be able to take this step forward in our life and in his. We know it will be work – family always is! Already we know Charlie is much like us – a funny, smart, amazing person who has experienced  loss and tougher life events than many. We feel a kinship to him, and are looking forward to continuing that relationship.

We’ve started visits with Charlie, and the timeline until he moves in with us is not definite yet. We are really enjoying this time of getting to know him. Feel free to pray for us and him as our family continues to grow!