Friday, December 16, 2011

Santa Revisited: Who Is This Guy? More Answers and More Questions

My last post attempted to answer a question I had been anticipating for about one year:  Why doesn't Santa Claus visit Ethiopia?  After all, if Santa visits 'all of the world's good boys and girls and brings them gifts', then why, for the past ten years, did he not once make a stop at our son's home in Ethiopia?  Simple question, not so simple answer.    

I am a planner, so long before our Ethiopian blessings arrived home, I began to look critically at many of our customs, traditions, and celebrations and ask, "Why"?  Why do we do this or that?  What does it mean?  Most importantly, is the way we celebrate consistent with our faith?  Consistency is huge for me.  It probably has something to do with my friend-diagnosed 'messy head syndrome', but also because in my life the teachers I am apt to follow are those whose actions and life match their words.  Those who lead by example, even when it is not convenient. How did we want to lead our children?  So, a decision we felt that needed to be made this year was whether or not we should hop off of Santa's sleigh or ride it with the best of them?  What does choosing either of those two alternatives mean to our family, to your family, to our faith, to our convictions?  

As I said previously, I have always enjoyed hearing the original story of Saint Nicholas because the authenticity and simplicity of the message was unmistakable.  But, where did this whole idea of an costumed, sleigh-riding, gift fairy originate?  If Christmas is about the birth of Christ, how did we get from there to here, here being a season where we claim Jesus is the reason, yet may wind up using the majority of our energy stressing about everything other than preparing our hearts for Jesus.  No wonder we get get confused about the true meaning!  Yet, even if we admit and profess that Jesus is the gift, I would guess most of us still feel some sort of pressure in the Christmas consumer department.  Why is that?  

A short history lesson helped answer a few questions for me.  When researching Santa and his various aliases and transformations throughout time, it came as no surprise that profit, not charity caused the unfortunate demise of Nicholas' intent.  In his book Nicholas: The Epic Journey from Saint to Santa ClausJeremy Seal points to the industrial revolution in the late 1700's as the watershed event that began mass production and mass consumption.  Since then,  commercialism has exploded and the original intent behind gift giving has been warped and transformed, with Santa serving as the unsuspecting scapegoat.  Here is a brief timeline:
  • Nicholas was an early church leader, a 4th Century bishop in Myra, which is current day Turkey.  He worked for justice and cared for those in need.  
  • Nicholas died on December 6, 343.  This is currently his feast day.  (Question: Then why do we blend him and the birth of Christ together on December 25th?)
  • Around 400 AD, Nicholas had many miracles attributed to him.  (Question:  Is this consistent with your faith tradition? )  
  • In 987, upon his conversion to Christianity, Price Vladamir I brought St. Nicholas with him to parts modern-day Russia, the Ukraine, and Belarus.  St. Nicholas becomes Russia's favorite saint.    
  • In the 1100's, French nuns begin giving candy and gifts to needy children on December 6th
  • In the middle ages, we witness the transition to Sinterklaas, who arrives in the Netherlands along with a new twist on the story   .
  • In 1809, Diedrich Knickerbocker's History of New York describes St. Nicholas as an elfin Dutch burgher, not a saint.  This begins the emergence of a distinctly American figure.
  • Twas the Night Before Christmas was first published in 1823
  • In the 20th Century, it appears to me that transformation continues to take on a more secular feel as we see images of what is now Santa, who is no longer wearing a miter and carrying a crosier (the bishop's hat and staff), but appears with his red hat and is increasing used to brand and sell items (think Coca Cola).  (Question:  What does Santa giving gifts on December 25th, which is Jesus' birthday, have to do with celebrating the feast of Saint Nicholas, which is December 6th?)  
That is a neat timeline of St. Nicholas, but I have yet to figure out how and why we began celebrating the generosity of St. Nicholas on Jesus' birthday?  Anyone?  The best I could come up with as a possible answer is that the Roman pagan celebration of Saturnalia, a debacherous event that carried on between December 17th and 23rd and involved gift giving, may have merged with the early church celebration of Jesus' birth in order to keep the peace.  The idea of giving gifts to one another because the three wise men brought gifts to Jesus is a neat story, but the early church did not really celebrate Christmas, they observed Christmas.  In my mind, we seem to have possibly merged a pagan feast with the observance of Jesus' birth and also merged the feast of St. Nicholas with the birth of Jesus.    

So, that is all great and wonderful;  however, how do we or don't we celebrate Christmas in 2011 middle-class America?  We are not monks and I very much enjoy being part of society and interacting with people.  After all, Jesus did tell us to, "Go out."  However, I absolutely do not agree with the commercial aspect of the holiday.  It seems counter intuitive to the very nature of Jesus.  In my last post, I stated that we were hopping off of Santa's sleigh.  Cut and dry, we were going cold turkey.  Sayonara, Papa Noel!  Well, that was easier said then done.  Yes, we have been detoxing from Santa and beginning each day talking about preparing for Jesus' birth.  A few times per day I remind the kids and myself that Christmas is a celebration of God incarnate and not Santa or gifts.  We are intentionally talking about the humble, simple, and generous life Jesus lived and how it was most important to him that we care for the poor, sick, and needy.  In short, we are focusing on giving to those in need and not receiving.  First and foremost we are giving gifts to Jesus by following Matthew 25 "Whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters, you did for me."  Now that, my friends, seems consistent with how our family wants to celebrate Jesus' birthday.  Our first present to Jesus was to become a sister to an HIV+ mother in Ethiopia.  We will become friends, but even better, she will receive the medication and holistic treatment she needs to live healthily and see her kids grow.  We want our children to enjoy the magic of the holidays and celebrate Jesus, but also want to warn them about not living by the world's standards, but by God's.  

A funny thing happens when you pull Santa from Christmas.  The world still reinforces him.  Mommy says Christmas is not about Santa and furthermore Santa is NOT watching you while you sleep.  For crying out loud, we receive enough middle of the night visits, we do not need our kids thinking anyone is watching them.  However, friends, teachers, strangers, and people everywhere will reference Santa to our kids when out and about.  Just the other day when I picked my littles up from preschool, they exclaimed, "Guess who called us today at school?  Santa!!"  Then, on the way home a motorcade fit for the president drove by....escorting none other than, Police Officer Santa, in full Santa garb riding a motorcycle while honking and waving to everyone.  It was cute, but again, what does Santa have to do with Jesus?  None of this stuff bothers me, because like I said, I like to be part of society, it helps keep everything in perspective for me.  I believe it is also consistent with the Gospel.  How do we witness to to others about Jesus if we are holed up, blackballing everyone and everything we disagree with.  Some of my closet friends are people of different or no faith.  I would like to be a good, faithful witness to them and others.  All of these encounters out and about give us something to talk about when we come home, together as a family.  Isn't that what parenting is all about?  Teaching our kids what we believe to be important and necessary in this life.  

My kids still have a list of things they claim to want, but I like to remind them of what has happened to the 'ghosts of Christmas gifts past' that they so desperately wanted.  This year, they were to ask for one thing that the really wanted, with the understanding that just because you want it does not mean you are going to get it.  Case in point: Sporty asked for an IPod Touch.  (Santa would be a great excuse for this request though...sorry, Sporty, errr Santa is all out this year!)  

I am beginning to realize that Santa is just another player (and innocently costumed figurehead) in our consumer-driven, possession obsessed society.  Will removing Santa solve the bigger problem of over-consumption?  Probably not, but it could be a start.  At the very least, I hope that it helps our children to become critical thinkers so that when bigger inconsistencies and questions of faith arise in their life, they can pray and think through the situation and hopefully have peace with their resolution.  My hope is that they will ask questions, that will no doubt annoy their teachers, about why we celebrate this or that holiday a certain way.  Saint Nicholas certainly was a kind and generous man looking out for the poor and oppressed.  However, I am still not making the connection with celebrating him on the birth of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.  As the day draws near, we are looking forward to celebrating Jesus' birth by giving to the poor and oppressed.  I am very excited about this new tradition and sharing with our children what our gifts mean.  

How does Santa fit in to your Christmas celebration? What are your thoughts on how St. Nicholas became Santa Claus and how that transition may have changed the holiday's initial meaning and intention?  All opinions respectfully welcomed! 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

What If We Never Had?

Last night, I watched Sassy jumping up and down in front of the digital picture frame in our living room exclaiming with such delight as the pictures scrolled, "My grandma, my grandma, my grandma.  Then, that's my mommy, my mommy, my mommy."  As I watched her joyful expression and listened to her voice, I heard her claiming us as our family.  Two emotions simultaneously washed through through me.  I was elated and delighted that we were indeed her family.  That was her grandma and I was her mommy.  I felt so lucky, so blessed for her to call me mommy with such certainty.  With all of my flaws and shortcoming, I was still her mommy, and she was glad.  The other emotion I felt was a deep sadness, for her first family and their loss.  For the family that did not get to see her healthy, for the family that does not get to hear her giggle, watch her grow, see her dance.  My heart hurt.  Then, I was slammed with an even deeper pain.  The pain of what would have been had we not said yes.  If she were not in our living room jumping up and down around the Christmas tree, where would she be?  Perhaps just in another family in cozy America.  But then, I would not be her mommy and that photograph would just be of someone else's grandma.  My heart hurt and in that instant I realized that a seemingly simple decision, to say yes, changed the course of direction for our entire family.  That was all we had to do, just say all of our imperfectness, all of our shortcomings, and all of the ways that we don't measure up.  In all of that mess, God could still use us.  

A freshly cut Christmas tree, digital picture frame with scrolling photos of our family, and our dancing two-year-old princess.  It was a beautiful sight, yet racing through my body I felt the pain and suffering that would exist if all of the families welcoming children into their homes had made other choices.  If those families had thought they did not have what it takes (whatever that it may be).  What would have become of their children?  I know the answer to that because it is what is happening to the millions of children who do not have homes.  It is an ugly, dark, horrid reality.  God designed us to live in community and we need one another to thrive.  In my opinion, family is probably the most critical part of the wholeness equation and without one, well, we can see how things begin to fall apart before the child is ever even given a fair chance.  

As I watched Sassy claim us as her family, the mix of emotions was almost too much to handle.  There is nothing special about our family yet we have been blessed beyond measure.  I cannot bear to think of what would have been had we not said yes, if we focused on our countless shortcomings and reasons why God could not be asking us to do this.  My simple prayer today is that if you hear God whispering that you could be doing something to help the millions of orphans and widows worldwide or the half a million of children in foster care in the United States, that you believe that He could in fact be asking you to say yes.  Say yes to loving him by caring for those he holds nearest and dearest.  Matthew 18:5 says, "And whoever welcomes one such a child in my name, welcomes me."  When Sassy and Sporty arrived, broken, scared, and dejected, they brought wholeness to our family.  God, thank you for giving us the choice and the courage the say yes.  Thank you for blessing us through your love as it shines through our children.  

Friday, November 4, 2011

Adopting The Ungrateful Child

With Orphan Sunday coming up this weekend, I wanted to talk a little bit about adopting ungrateful children.  One would think that after investing so much into the lives of adopted children, the children could at the very least be grateful or appreciative for the gift of life in abundance given to them.  Instead, they are oftentimes whiny and self-serving, unappreciative and even disrespectful and disobedient.  Instead of asking what they can do to help the family to which they have been adopted into, they asked to be served and given more.  "I want this, give me that, that's mine" can often be heard or implied.  With each passing day the children take and take, being filled like gluttons, they distance themselves from the feeling and fulfillment they once had the day that they realized they had been adopted.  What a joyous day that was!  

The adopted children I am referring to are not Sporty and Sassy, our precious gifts from God. (Even though...gasp...they do act like children everywhere and sometimes forget to be grateful.)  No, the children I am referring to are those (myself included) that have been adopted into the kingdom of God.  Ephesians 1:5 states, "God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure."  Yet, we often forget about what a gift it is to be adopted into his family what that gift means for how we should be living our lives.  We see, we want, we take, we want more.  How much more is enough?  Will it ever be enough?  I would like to suggest that there is nothing, NOTHING this world could offer you that will ever truly fulfill you.  Sure, you may find fleeting pleasure and satisfaction through a new job, advanced degree, new car, a relationship, and/or new latest greatest tech device, but does it ever last?  I think you already know the answer to that.  

Isaiah 58:11 tells us, "The LORD will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring."  Only in the Lord can one find true fulfillment.  You can believe it or deny it, but it is the truth.  Those of us (again, myself included) who have tried to find 'it' elsewhere before being rescued know this truth.  We have the scars.  I love, love, love our God.  One who chooses to adopt ungrateful children not because of anything we have done or not done, but because that is how much he loves us.  And because he adopted us into his family, we choose to share that gift wherever, whenever, and however possible.  

One of the happiest days of Sporty's life was the day that his nannies at the transition home ran in to tell him that "Yes, you have a family.  You have been adopted!"  He shares that story and the   deep joy it brought to him.  He was no longer an orphan, he had been chosen, adopted into a family who would love, cherish, and care for him to the best of their abilities.  That is exactly what God does for each one of us!

This Sunday, as we bring awareness to the millions of orphans around the world, please take some time and reflect on the extreme abundance that you have been blessed with.  Think, pray, and reflect on how you may be able to use what you have been given to change, shape, and better the lives of those whom society has rejected and deemed not worthy.  Because you know what?  They are worthy.  

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?   When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’  “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:37-40)

Orphan Sunday 2011 from Christian Alliance for Orphans on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Adopting Older Children: Transferring the Bond

Sometimes God blesses us with knowledge and wisdom and sometimes he chooses to bless us by letting us remain blind to a particular truth until he believes we are ready.  The latter blessing is what I would like to share in this post.  In the words of Dick Cheney, you have your 'known unknowns and your unknown unknowns'.  The same is true in the world of adoption.  

When we decided to an adopt an older child, we knew there would be a host of unknowns.  We read, studied, connected with others who blazed the trail, and did all that we could to prepare ourselves.  The known unknowns were hurt, grief, and loss.  However, there are simply some things that can only be revealed in time, especially when language and culture barriers are factored in. 

From day one, Sporty referred to us as mommy and daddy.  In and of itself, for him to immediately bestow those euphonious titles on us was a huge gift from God.  It is not natural, yet it was completely natural.  Deep inside though, he was going through an internal struggle.  Yes, he knew we were his mom and dad and yes he understood the meaning of family.  Even so, his heart and mind were trying to come to terms with everything that had just happened.  When one experiences so much loss, I imagine it is hard to truly open yourself up to anyone.  I imagine one is skeptical to trust the permanency of anything, including family.  That is just another known unknown, one we were prepared for.  The unknown unknown, something that has now been revealed, was the extent of the bond Sporty had with one of his primary caregivers at the transition home.  While I was prepared for him to mourn his family and grieve the loss of his country, I simply did not realize that God had provided our son a mother figure for his entire stay at the orphanage.  Because older children tend to have much longer stays (often years) in the orphanage, I image that time to be scary and lonely.  True to his Word, God did exactly what he promised in the Gospel of John 14:18.  He did not leave Sporty as an orphan, but provided a special caregiver to love and mother him, while he was waiting.  

Very recently, as we have been able to communicate more clearly and openly, Sporty shared with me stories of how his special caregiver loved him and protected him when he was alone.  How she went out of her way to make him feel special and loved.  He gave me all of the letters she wrote to him and wanted me to know that he cared for her very much.  He shared how much he misses her and wanted to know how she was doing.  He cried, I cried.  I told him I was so happy that she was there to love him before we were able to get there, how it was OK to love her, love his first family, and love his forever family.  We talked and bonded and I could sense his guards coming down.  He had been carrying around a secret and his allegiance was divided.  We were his family, but she had his trust.  The bond went from his grandmother to his caregiver and rested there, safely on a shelf, until we proved our worthiness.  

I am tearfully overjoyed to share that the 'mother bond' has been officially transferred.  The light in Sporty's eyes and the amount of hugs he asks of me everyday are symbolic representations of what is going on inside.  While he has always accepted me as his mother figure, I believe I am now officially his mom, with all its rights, duties, and privileges.  

Thank you, God for unknown unknowns and for your promise to care for the fatherless.  Thank you for counting us worthy to be on the journey of our lives.  

"If you exploit them in any way and they cry out to me, then I will certainly hear their cry."  
Exodus 22:23

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Our Court Date: The Face Of Injustice

Adoption in an act of mercy, not justice.  That phrase repeats over and over in my head. It has since June 2010 when through a series of conversations, life group studies, and sermons God made it clear that he was speaking.  As Margaret Feinberg discusses in her book The Sacred Echo,  when God wants to communicate a message, the same theme will resurface in many areas of your life.  God has continued to echo this message long after we returned home.  

Adoption is indeed an act of mercy.  That is a relatively simple truth, one that our family embraces.  Yet, that same truth leaves me empty handed and confused in the justice department.  There are many injustices in this world.  Often times, the mountains seem too big to climb.  I wonder if perhaps people feel that because that cannot fix it all, they shouldn't bother doing anything.  I wonder if the size and complexities of the issues make it impossible to see the forest beyond the trees.  I cannot speak for others, but I know that our adoption experience has made it clear to us that we must always be fighting for justice, whenever and wherever possible, for the glory of God.  

When we attended our court hearing in Ethiopia, our adoption agency told us things would happen in a predictable and relatively emotionless (stoic was the word used) manner.  In short, we were told the birth relative (if there is one) will attend court in the morning and relinquish his/her rights.  They would stand before a judge and give their account.  Then, the birth family would leave the court and be taken back to the guest house where he/she could meet with us later in the day if desired.  We would definitely not see each other at court.  After the birth family has long departed from court, we would enter the courtroom and give our account.  We would answer any questions the judge asks and tell her about the countless hours of training and preparation we have been through.  She would look over our file and if everything was complete, we would be declared the forever family of Sporty and Sassy.  Yay!  Throw some figurative confetti and high five our travel group...simple and straightforward is what we were expecting.

The following account describes how things actually went down.  Around 9:30 a.m., we piled in the van and drove to court.  Once we arrived, our agency representative got out and and ran up about 1000 stairs to the office.  Five minutes later, he came back out of the building, hopped in the van and we all drove back to the guest house.  Due to some confusion or mix-up with the schedule, we would not be meeting the judge until the afternoon.  We walked up 500 stairs (at 8000 feet elevation) back to our room and sat on the couch just long enough for our phone to ring with our representative telling us to hurry up and get back in the van.  So, down the stairs we ran, hopping into the van, driving wildly back to the court decapitating a few donkeys. (OK, maybe that part did not actually happen, but I can not be certain because my eyes we closed!)  We were dropped off in front of the courthouse and hurriedly walked up 1000 stairs where we exited the stratosphere and entered the courtroom.  What happened next was not in our handbook.  

As our travel group piled into the middle of the waiting area (think teeny-tiny version on the DMV with chairs for about a quarter of the number of people in the room), I turned around the see our son, Sporty, walking in.  What?  We were told no children would be present.  OK, breathe.  Breathe again.  We've got this.  Then, following directly behind Sporty was his aunt, head down and eyes full of tears.  WHAT?  Can I say, what?  Wait just one second.  We were told no children, no birth family...not until we had both separately given our account to the judge.  And what about stoic?  I did not see or sense stoic.  I sensed heartbreak, shame, guilt, sadness...a deep and dark sadness.  I began to sob as my eyes met hers.  I knew, without ever seeing or meeting her before who she was.  Our son's aunt.  The only living relative left in his family, yet unable to care for another child.  This was not how she envisioned her life.  This is not what she wanted for her children or her family.  Her family had already been through so much.  Illness, death, sudden death, poverty.  She was the face of injustice.  At that moment, we became forever entwined with injustice.  Our family = injustice.  And because it is our family, we take up the cause.  

I am not a fool.  Obviously adoption is not the perfect answer to this scenario.  However, it is the only merciful answer given our constraints within the law and due to the unequal distribution of the world's (aka God's) resources.  Our son was legally declared an orphan over one year before we met him.  We knew of no aunt or family member at that point.  However she was there, she is there, she is family, and she has been done wrong.  We must continue to pray and work for justice while being merciful and obedient to God.  Our options and solutions will never be perfect this side of eternity; however, that should not preclude us from acting at all.  In John 21:15-18, Jesus asks Peter three times, "Do you love me?"  When Peter says yes, Jesus' response was the same each time, " Then feed my sheep."  Read Matthew 25:31-46 if you need further convincing.  These verses can be summed up in verse 40 when Jesus says, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of one of these brothers and sisters, you did for me."  Finally, the famed adoption verse.  James 1:27 says, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."  That verse is full of wisdom.  Do good, do not let yourself be polluted.  

The truth that God is continuing to reveal to me is that acts of mercy, one by one, are compounded and as our heavenly father is glorified through his hands and feet, fruitfulness increases exponentially in order to achieve justice.  On earth as it is in heaven, folks!  While one person certainly cannot change the world, one person can change the life of another, who pays it forward and testifies about the truth to another, who hears the truth and experiences life transformation and clarity that only God can give.  He or she takes the message and runs with it.  All the while, the person who initially thought they were 'simply adopting a child', has experienced a different kind of life transformation.  That person becomes one with injustice and can no longer turn a blind eye.  As Proverbs 24:12 tells us, "Once our eyes are opened we cannot pretend we do not know what to do.  God, who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls knows we know and holds us responsible to act."  

The best thing to come out of our court day adventure was our newly formed relationship with Sporty's aunt.  In a one and half hour conversation, we talked and bonded.  Grieved and loved.  Sitting around the guest house, we became family.  In traditional African fashion, stories are passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation.  In a meeting we recorded on video, Sporty's aunt described in detail how various relatives met, married, were sent off to war, had died, where they were buried, so on and so forth.  She handed down these stories to us, her family, and I have honestly never been so humbled and thankful.  We hugged, talked, cried, and tried as best as possible to communicate that we are all family, and what one family member faces, we all face.  Next year, when we return to Ethiopia we will be returning to family.  Thank you God, for letting us be transformed for your glory.  Let us never grow weak or weary.  

Monday, July 25, 2011

Adopting Again? Are You Crazy?

Well, I guess the answer depends on how you define crazy.  If you define crazy as giving up creature comforts, sacrificing even more scarce time, accepting unknown risks, and pretty much assuring our children that we will never be able to pick up the tab on their college education then yes...we are completely insane!

However, my definition of crazy is a bit upside down these days.  I would define crazy as wasting even a single day when God has asked us to move.  Crazy would be sitting back and thinking we've done enough and that it is someone else's turn.  Crazy would be thinking that there will always be tomorrow or next year to act, when in fact next year is not promised to anyone.  Crazy would be thinking we could do any of this on our own when our heavenly Father has made it quite clear that we have done none on our own.  

Thankfully, God has made his loving presence known in our household and we rely on his grace, mercy, and provisions to get through each and every day.  Sometimes minute by minute.  On our own, we have been in over our heads for quite some time.  As Beth Moore likes to say, "Baggage attracts baggage."  Without God, our home would be one big luggage turnstile.  I believe the day we welcomed Larry into the world, God had a sly grin on his face thinking, "This unsuspecting young couple has no idea that they are about to take the ride of their lives."  Wouldn't you like to take that kind of ride?  Maybe it's not adoption, but some other risk God is calling you to take for his glory.  Go ahead, take the first step toward whatever God may be calling you to do.  Step out of your comfort zone, trust him, rely on him, and watch your life transform right in front of you.  Then, watch that transformation impact those around you!  It is miraculous...and that is a guarantee.  

The truth is, while I sit here in my comfortable chair inside my comfortable climate controlled building, drinking my safe filtered water, and enjoying a cup of coffee all while having the luxury to put these thoughts into words, 30,000 people will die.  Yes, that is correct.  Each day, 30,000 of God's children...children God loves no less than you and I will die of preventable diseases.  

As Luke 12:48 says, "...from everyone who has been given much; much will be expected.  And from the one who has been entrusted with more, much more will be asked."  Even during an economic downturn, slow job growth, rising unemployment and a host of other negative economic indicators, those of us in developed nations are living far, far better than the majority of human beings cohabiting God's beautiful creation.  If you have clean water and more than one meal per day, you are rich in the eyes of 925 million hungry people in the world.  Water + Breakfast + Lunch = Rich.  Have you ever thought about it in those terms?  Forget about the cost of extracurricular activities, brand named clothing, college education, and a host of other luxuries.  Let's stick to the basics.  Can you make a difference, a huge life-changing positive difference in the life of someone?  If you are reading this than the answer is yes.  A big emphatic Y.E.S.  If you cannot adopt, consider sponsoring a child.  If children are not your thing, help build a well.  If you don't like water, visit your local food bank and ask for ways to get involved.  If you don't like food...well, I'm not sure what to say about that. :-)

Bringing it full circle, my one request, God, is that the child or children you have planned for our home are over five years of age.  I know you like to scoff at my requests, but as a persistent control freak, I just do not possess enough self control not to ask.  If you do see fit to bless us with another preschooler, I think it will be safe to safe that we will, in fact, be crazy by every definition imaginable.  Please do not let that happen.  I trust you.  Amen!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bloom Where You're Planted

As I have said before, God's timing is rarely our own.  Just when we think we have designed the perfect plan, God comes in and after a brief chuckle, reminds us that when we are seeking him and are willing to live out our lives according to his purpose, we must be open and willing to follow his plan, regardless of what it looks like...whatever time, whatever place.  

When I was in grade school, we would sing a song in church called Bloom Where You're Planted.  It was a simple song and for whatever reason, it popped into my head at least half a dozen times last week.  While searching for a copy of the song, I instead found this video clip from the movie Facing the Giants.  It was as if God placed that old song in my head so that I would find this clip and be reminded that he is the one who opens doors that no one can shut.  In addition he is constantly seeking to use each one of us, right where we are.  However, we need to remember to first do the work that is required on our part, in faith and in deed, so that he can do the work required on his.  

With an eleven-year-old-new-to-America son and three rambunctious preschoolers in our home, I would have laughed (and trembled in fear) if someone had told me six months ago that two doors were about to swing wide open.  I have been preparing myself for the first door, cautiously yet optimistically in a neat little box;  however, the second door caught me by complete surprise. 

Through door number one, I will head to seminary in order to study God's Word and gain a better understanding of how to practically apply theology to today's generation and future generations.  Through door number two, I will immediately begin putting to use the knowledge gained through door number one.  Starting this Monday, I will retire my SAHM status and assume the  Director of Welcoming Ministries position at our church.  Through both doors, simultaneously and in ways unseen and unknown at this point in time, God will provide the opportunity to serve him, serve others, and grow in Christ.  While I can see a faint glimpse off into the distance, the operational and tactical details of his plan are still blurred.  Because he is a loving God who knows me most intimately, he understands that too many details all at once will distract me and cause me to be anxious.  So instead, he is whispering, "Put one foot in front of the other and trust that I am there.  When the time is right, more will be revealed."  I am excited beyond words to see his plan play itself out in our family, the life of our church, and the life of our community.  

Six months ago, I would have never imaged returning to 'work' this year because I was under the mistaken impression that God was going to keep me at home until all of our children were in kindergarten...because that was my plan, and why wouldn't God just fall in line with my plan and then I could just give him the credit?  Sounded good to me!  However, I completely trust that he is the one opening these doors because I feel his comforting presence and a peace that cannot be put into words.  Instead of worrying, I am acting and taking the steps necessary to make sure the daily logistical concerns are taken care of.  Instead of making excuses for why the timing is not right, I am trusting that he is always on time and praying that his strength is made perfect in my weakness.  

As Colossians 3:23 says, "Whatever you do, work at is with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not human masters."  As our family prepares ourselves, yet again, for change and growth, we will continue to pray that God makes his desires clear and provides all that we need to be successful.  We pray that are able to view every day as an opportunity to serve with all of our heart and bloom where we are planted.  

Below are two verses and the chorus of the song Bloom Where You're Planted.  I have not heard or thought about this song since grade school, but as always God's timing is perfect.  

Look at the flowers, look at them growing,
They never worry, they never work.
Look at the way our Father clothes them,
Each with beauty all its own
Each with beauty all its own

Bloom, bloom, bloom where you're planted.
You will find your way.
Bloom, bloom, bloom where you're planted.
You will have your day.

Look at the love that lies deep within in,
Let yourself be!  Let yourself be!
Look at the gifts that you have been given.
Let them go free!  Let them go free!
Let them go free!  Let them go free!

Photo Credit

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Adoption Homecoming: Boundaries ASAP

One of the most important and useful pieces of advice we received along our adoption journey was to set and enforce house rules and boundaries as soon as possible upon arriving home.  With all of the emotions tied to adoption, the sheer exhaustion of the experience, in addition to the children's unique histories, hurts, and grieving process, this is a lot easier said than done.  However, it is true and it is worth every bead of sweat your body will produce.  

Last weekend, a friend and fellow adoptive parent arrived home with her three new children.  Watching them walk through the international arrival gate at the airport was simply surreal and being there to watch them cross the finish line was an amazing gift.  Only four and a half months ago were we the ones walking through that same gate, being welcomed by some of the same faces.  Only, what felt like the finish line at the time had instead become a new starting block.  Looking at their new family, then looking at ours, an image of their new race and the one we have been running flashed in my mind.  There is so little time to rest, fuel up, and hydrate before the new challenges will begin hurling at them.  Grief, hurt, loss, defiance, discipline, cultural differences, food issues, etc. etc, etc.  Because all of these new changes could threaten to turn a home upside down, I can not emphasize enough how important it has been for us to create, maintain, and enforce boundaries while simultaneously establishing a loving and nurturing environment.  The two can co-exist happily.  

The boundaries will obviously differ from home to home.  However, it is important to work toward the vision you have for how you want your home to run and operate.  Don't bend the rules or make exceptions if it is only going to cause you to work harder and longer in the long run.  For example, healthy eating is important to us.  Therefore, we did not bend the rules for the new children.  Instead, we are working toward having Sporty accept that vegetables, fruits, whole grains, etc. are what's for dinner.  End of story.  Tonight, I watched Sporty inhale a plate full of cauliflower and broccoli.  Three months ago, he would have turned his back to the table and pouted.  It was also important for us to not share our bed or bedroom with any of our children.  Therefore, from the day we arrived home I slept in Sassy's bedroom on the floor next to her bed.  As the weeks progressed, I worked myself out of her room and back into ours.  What began as shrieks of terror has grown into a relatively healthy level of assurance that she is not alone and I will be there to comfort her when she needs me. It took approximately five weeks to work myself out of her room.  A third area that was important to us is listening and obeying.  While Sporty initially tried to test and manipulate the rules I gave him, I see this greatly diminishing and have actually begun to feel as if he realizes we are on the same team.  Instead of him putting up a fight or becoming passive-resistant when told to do something he does not want to do, he is actually starting to comply almost immediately.  We have our moments, but by and large things are starting to level out.  He has realized that if asks dad after mom just gave him a directive, dad will back up mom.  This obviously gets tricky when dad and mom are out of ear shot, but as parents we are learning to check in with each other.  

The advice that was given to us that I would love to pass along is that it is important immediately establish boundaries for whatever is important to you and your family.  Do not feel guilty or that you need to relax some of your rules, because that will probably wind up causing more headache and heartache than if you would have taken the hard and firm.  When a child joins your family, even if there are no children in the home, he or she is joining an already established unit.  Instant gratification rarely yields fruit and as we are learning there is no way to go under, over, or around the family building process...we all simply must plow through it.  

Our hope is that when we come out of the other end, we will be a more cohesive, happy, and assured unit.  By establishing our framework, creating some goals, and sticking to the rules, we are beginning to witness the fruit of our labor.  When the honeymoon ended and we found ourselves in the trenches, we dug in and stayed firm. My advice would be for you to do the same.  Be flexible where you can, realizing that your family is growing and adjusting.  However, do not compromise the rules and boundaries that have established and served you as a family.  

Hebrews 12:11 states, "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."  In addition Psalm 32:8 says, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you."  I find it most comforting to know to that while we are in the process of molding and growing our children, our heavenly Father is doing the same for us.  We are never alone and knowing that God will discipline and instruct us as we call on his name brings me much peace.  
Photo Credit

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Parenting and Adoption: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

Before having children, a lot of people look around at other families with kids (maybe even slyly smiling to themselves) and mistakenly assume they are going to do better.  We are going to have total control of our kids, is what many of us think BK (before kids).  We would never let our kid act that way. Or, our kids are never going to do/say something like that.  Hey parents, how many of you thought this way before having children?  How many still feel this way?  Exactly.  We've all had our share of humble pie and hopefully have learned not to judge others through it.  There is no more humbling experience, day in and day out, than parenting.  Praise God for helping us keep our eyes on Him!  

Just this morning, I sent Larry upstairs to brush his teeth.  A simple task that lately has been causing volcanic eruptions in our home.  I heard him run into the bathroom and thought,  "Wow, he is getting himself ready...quietly even!  We are making progress."  Then, he emerged ten minutes later.  A bald track in his head the width of daddy's beard trimmer.  Smiling and proud he exclaimed, "I didn't touch the razor, mommy.  I used the trimmers."  Well, at least safety was a consideration.  (If you're angry and you know it, take deep breaths.  This is becoming my mama mantra.)  Now, back the task at hand.  His teeth?  You guessed it...not brushed.  

So, it should come as no surprise that parenting adopted children is equally humbling.  Yesterday an adoptive friend made a statement that rang true.  Adoptive parents are often hesitant to share the difficult parts of the adoption experience, especially when it comes to discipline and household stress related to the adoption.  My guess (and it's just a guess) is that we don't want to be perceived as failures.  In addition, we do not want to scare anyone away from considering adoption.  

With that being said, here are two great truths in our home surrounding our adoption.  First and foremost, we would do it again in a heartbeat...and actually plan to, once we reach cruising altitude.  We will embrace (and brace ourselves for) every joy, challenge, struggle, and sleepless night.  There has been nothing about this experience that would stop us from stepping out in faith again.  Remember, God is the strength in our weakness.  Essentially, all we are doing is telling God he can use us and our bodies.  He does the rest.  We have done none of this on our own. (Philippians 2:13) Second, the past three and a half months have been the hardest we have ever been through.  Here is the mathematical expression:  take the emotional nature of the experience, coupled with everyone's world being turned upside down, in addition to living in a home with three (very intense) children four years of age and younger, add an eleven year old who is just learning English and is not used to discipline being enforced, multiply the noise level by four, and throw in two parents learning how to parent a pre-adolescent .  What do you get?  A whole lot of question marks and the need to seek Christ minute by minute.  

The past few months have been hard on our marriage.  We have argued like never before.  We have been so exhausted that we could not even reconcile before going to sleep.  We have disagreed in front of the children.  We have had to come up with new and (hopefully) effective discipline measures on the fly.  We have had to remain calm and collected beyond our physical abilities.  I have been angry.  I have been resentful.  I have grieved the loss of our old family unit.  The past few months have also been hard on our children.  Three children four years of age and younger need a lot of individual attention.  I am only one person, yet each of their mothers.  They each want my help, attention, praise, and affirmation...usually at the same time.  Our eleven year old needs attention too.  His activities are separate from the preschoolers.  He wants praise and affirmation and also the recognition that he is the oldest child.  He wants to do things his way and does not like rules enforced.  The daily business of life has been hard, very hard.  Most importantly though, we pray together daily as a family and know that day-by-day we are growing together, in Christ.  Our foundation is in Christ and He does not fail.  Because our foundation is strong, everything else is 'just a thang'! 

Looking back, it is easy to see how far we have come and how much we have grown.  In three short months we have all made exponential progress, but it has not been easy.  Every challenge is an opportunity for growth and thankfully, God gives us many do-overs.  If we do not get it right the first time, there is always to the opportunity to take a new approach the next time.  Like the title of John Ortberg's book, If You Want To Walk On Water, You've Got To Get Out Of The Boat, we know that in order to live our lives to the fullest and become more like Christ, we have to take risks.  We knew that adding another toddler plus an eleven year old boy to our family would be assuming some risk.  With those risks, may come stumbling and heartache, but also great reward.  

The past few months have been a dance.  An awkward, sometimes monotonous, gaggle of a dance...similar to what I witnessed while stationed in Germany when everyone at a night club did the electric slide all night long to each and every song that played with a few outliers doing there own thing here and there.  Gaggle, monotonous, uncoordinated dancers doing our best to grow in Christ.  That about sums up our family at the present moment.  

I often wonder why God waits until we are at our wit's end before intervening.  But then I laugh.  I know He is not the one waiting.  Instead it is me not listening.  He is there all along trying to gently guide and direct my path; however, I probably do not fully acknowledge Him until I am at my wit's end.  Psalm 32:8 says, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you."  I read it; I say that I believe it; yet, for those things I consider too small for God (the daily business of life),  I tend to rely on myself until I am about to break.  I envision a life of fully trusting God in the big and small details and continue to pray that He takes me there. 

So, there you have it...along with the glorious and magnificent is also the difficult and ugly.  Some days are downright U-G-L-Y.  Luckily, we have God's promise in Isaiah 58:11, "The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your need in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.  You will be like a well watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail."  I don't know about you, but when I read those words, I can feel and taste the refreshment.  That is our living God!  

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Career Versus Calling

There comes a time in most of our lives when we seriously begin to question our purpose here on earth.  For me, those questions began very early on (adolescence through college) and persisted into adulthood.  When answers could not be found, I simply looked around and tried to piece together the unspoken.  So-and-so appears to be very fulfilled on this track, maybe my calling will be found by just continuing along and one days things will click.  Or, this guy appears confident and collected, maybe if I keep acquiring knowledge and skills in a certain area, my purpose will become more clear.  Most of the time I simply thought to myself that nearly everyone else seems to be plugging along just fine without this deep inner conflict that keeps me awake at night.  What was wrong?

Thinking back to my college years, I remember the unanswered questions.  I would ask professors and mentors how they figured out which direction to take, but never felt a sense of peace about my own direction.  Being the first in my family to attend college, support and encouragement were readily given, but a family history in a certain area or calling was not present.  I would have to figure this out on my own.  When I finally decided on a path, a major course of study in Finance and a contract guaranteeing a commission into the United States military upon graduation, I thought things would fall into place.  A life of service appealed to me; plus I enjoy physical activity and being outdoors. That's it, I figured it out.  Or, maybe not.  The still voice in my head provided some clues.  'This is not the way.'  'Yes, you understand this material, but you will not find what you are looking for down this road.'  After a brief active duty stint and then a handful of years progressing as a financial analyst for the Department of Defense, the inner turmoil was no less prevalent.  I received formal training, completed my MBA, and moved around the country in search of promotions and more experience; yet, fulfillment and peace were not to be found.  'Why won't God just close this door and open the right one', I began asking myself silently and my husband aloud.  

A good friend of mine, one of those friends who always happens to call and say the exact thing you need to hear at the exact moment you need to hear it, would always say reassuring things such as:  'Your career and calling do not have to be the same thing.  Just because you work in a particular field,  it does not necessarily mean that is where God is going to use you.'  I ate these words up and believe those statements to be true; however, they did not necessarily fill the void.  I wanted my career and calling to align.  This realization was the first the step into figuring out how to best use my life for God's purpose.  As the soul-searching continued, I began to realize that it was not up to God to close any door, it was up to me.  By changing my thought patterns and diving deep into my motivations, I had realized that fear (fear of the unknown, fear or failure) kept me hanging on many more years than I should have.  Although I loved many things about the military, I was not passionate about the type of work I was doing.  

When we started building our family, I made the decision to use that time to begin a new chapter both personally and professionally.  Yes, the decision to walk away from the familiar was difficult, but over the past few years God has shown me that I needed time, probably more time than I would have allowed myself, to figure out how to best serve Him.  By spending the past few years at home with our growing family, I have learned a lot about my strengths and limitations.  I have worked harder than I have ever worked in my life and yet am still driven.  I have learned that at the end of myself is where Christ begins and at the end of myself is where Christ wants me to live.  I try to see the world through my children's eyes, with awe and mystery and limitless possibility.  I ask God to use every day of my life to build the foundation for the next and proceeding chapters.  I ask that He not let me waste another day and that He please, please use me to fulfill my purpose for Him on this earth.  That humble, sincere asking and pleading was what was previously missing in my life.  This was not something I could figure out on my own, but only through prayer, faith, sweat, and perseverance would His plan be unveiled little by little.   

Recently on the radio, I heard a guest speaker saying something along the lines of:  'Where your greatest gifts and greatest passions collide, there you will find your purpose.'  This simple yet profound statement is how I envision the next chapter of my life.  As the plan begins to unfold, I am nervous and giddy, but prayerful and cautious.  I do not know exactly what it will look like, but have been given a glimpse and the daily reminder that I need to live at the end of myself so that I can hold the hand of Jesus as He walks me step by step.  God gave me (and you) special gifts and if we let Him, He will show us how to use them.  

1 Peter 4:10 says, "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms."  What are your gifts?  Passions?  How can each one of us use our passions and gifts to glorify God by serving others?  Wouldn't it be the dream of a lifetime to figure it out?!  
Photo Credit

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Match Made In Heaven

With Mother's Day quickly approaching, I thought the time was right to reflect on the perfect nature of our living God.  Last year for Mother's Day, I celebrated with my husband and two wonderful boys.  Actually, my wonderful husband took care of our boisterous boys so that mama could have a few hours of peace and quiet. (Something my own mother said she wanted for nearly every occasion, but we insisted on perfume, earrings, or the like.  Now I know...all she really did want was peace and quiet!)

Last year, our Dossier was in Ethiopia and we were waiting for our referral.  Initially (before God's nudging and us realizing the plan He had in store for our family), we had requested a little girl between 0-36 months.  On Mother's Day, we would have been waiting approximately two months.  On Mother's Day, our daughter was alive, most likely with her birth family and our son was waiting in the orphanage with older children, wondering who his new family would be and when they would arrive.  I remember praying hard for our children last year, children 8000 miles away whom we had never met.  I prayed that God would somehow unite us in spirit, in ways our eyes may never physically see, and give us peace and wisdom that only He could provide.  I also remember praying that our daughter was with her birth mother, being nursed, and was able to form a loving attachment.  (Because of the age range we were requesting, we felt we would be matched with a toddler, not an infant.)

How truly amazing God is and how perfectly he matches children with their forever families!  

Behind the scenes, His plan was unfolding.  Someone on the other side of the earth was either sick and dying or planning to give up their daughter.  A grandmother caring for her grandson has died suddenly, leaving no one able to care for him.  In a perfect world, no one would ever have to decide whether or not to abandon their child.  In a perfect world, medication would have been accessible so that birth parents would not have died.  In a perfect world, God's love would move people to care for one another and put others before self.  However, we live in a fallen world, a world fraught with injustice, social inequity, poverty, epidemics, and self-serving behavior.  How sad the state of our world; yet how our God continues to love us and work through the mess we create.

Last year, as we continued to wait for our referral, God opened our eyes to the countless older children waiting for homes.  While we never thought in a million years He would ask us (whose oldest child at the time was only three years of age) to adopt an older child, He insisted on waking me up every night around 3:00 a.m. until I got the message.  " you know that boy you have been praying about for months?  Yes, it is are his family.  Yes, you.  Why not you?  Just because you don't know anything about parenting a pre-adolescent doesn't mean you can't learn.  Be willing.  Trust me."  It was the voice of truth!  The other voices I was hearing up until God quietly got His point across, went something like this: "Surely you cannot do this.  What do you know about older kids, anyway?  Don't you have enough on your plate?  Three preschoolers and a non-English speaking eleven year old.  Good luck with that!  Be very, very scared.  Older kids could kill you...burn your house down, stab you in your sleep!  Come on, don't you read the news."  One thing I have learned over the years is anything that elicits fear and not love does not come from God.  Period.  I told those voices to take a hike and the rest is history.  

Well, not quite.  When I first told my husband that we, in fact, were supposed to be the family of 'that boy we had been praying for daily', he about fell over.  Then, to my amazement, he got up from the ground and said, "OK, let's do it!"  Then...the rest is history.  

We have now been home for three months with Sporty (11 years old) and Sassy (now 20 months old).  Let me just tell you how perfectly God matched us.  All of our children are strong-willed, independent, spunky, athletic, loud, and eager to learn.  I am amazed at how quickly (even though the days and nights have been very long, exhausting, and challenging) our family has created a 'new normal' and how quickly everyone has adjusted to their new roles.  How the children have formed new relationships with each sibling separately and also collectively as a new family unit.  How my husband and I have recreated our daily routines to account for the soccer practices, homework, and caring for four children.  Sporty, social yet shy, has jumped right into the mix at school, in our neighborhood, and on the soccer field.  He is neither a sociopath nor an arson.  Yet, sensitive, caring, intuitive, and is full of life.  Sassy, our little princess, dons her helmet and gets right in the mix with boys.  (Like her mommy, she doesn't realize how small she actually is!)  She mirrors my words, actions, and gestures and attempts to mother the rest of the house.  She is full of energy, curiosity, and spunk.  The three little ones are best friends and typical siblings.  While only 10% of the world's population is left-handed, currently 50% of our household right-brained.  (I'm not sure what this means, but thought it was an interested fact.)  

Oh, and just this morning Sassy did the (seemingly) strangest thing.  She pulled at my shirt and said, "Mommy, milk."  She has never done this before but in the past week I have sensed that memories of her past life are blurring and will eventually fade.  She looked at me, her mommy and blended together her old and new life.  I was not the mommy who nursed her, but in a nod from God spoken through two words from our daughter, He answered my prayer.  Sassy was indeed nursed and had formed a healthy attachment with her first mom.  God is faithful.  

In adoption circles, we often speak of how perfectly God matches children and families.  While this used to be a statement conveying blind faith and trust, it is now something I have witnessed through faith and with my own eyes.  Proverbs 3:5-6 states, "Trust in the Lord God with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him and He will direct your paths."  I only wished I could have embraced this truth so fully from the beginning, as it would have taken away so much of the stress that surrounds adoption.  

Thank you, God for trusting us in our imperfect and flawed ways.  Thank you for teaching us to trust in you always and lean not on our own understanding.  Thank you for working out all of the countless details to bring together and unite our entire family.  Adoption truly is a match made in heaven.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Found Abandoned

Found Abandoned.

Two words and yet practically everything we know about our daughter's past.  Not found abandoned with instructions attached.  Not found abandoned with a letter describing life conditions too harsh to raise a child.  Not found abandoned with a letter stating how much he or she really loved this child yet was unable to provide for her.  Not found abandoned with a piece DNA material attached to help us locate any family member that may be living.  The only information we have about our daughter's past are those two words, along with a police statement, a few statements from witnesses, and the location of her abandonment.  On a hopeful note, the location of Sassy's abandonment suggests that the person 'dropping her off' knew what they were doing and wanted her to be adopted.  

Left to my imagination, coupled with life conditions we witnessed when traveling and what I have come to learn about our daughter's personality, I suspect that someone loved her very much. Sassy's ability to give and receive love demonstrate either a strong attachment to a previous caregiver or a fierce resilience and determined spirit.  I suspect there was either a death in the family or life conditions that warranted making the most difficult decision of one's lifetime.  I suspect someone is still out there wondering if Sassy made it home and I wish I could just pick up the phone and let him or her know she has arrived, is thriving, and that all is well...except that huge gaping hole.  Who are you?  Where are you?  Does she have sisters or brothers?  Why didn't you just go into the police station?  Why didn't you provide more information? 

Years from now when Sassy starts asking questions, I hope my answers and the love of our family are enough to make her feel secure and confident; although I know they will not be sufficient.  Nothing our family can give her will ever fill that gaping hole.  An information hole and probably a hole in her heart.  Thankfully, our God is bigger than any life circumstance.  He can fill any hole, heal any hurt, and provide a peace of mind that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).  

When the time comes to discuss her past, I am confident God will provide the right words and give our family direction.  He always does.  At this point in time, I do not know what that will look like, but I trust that it will happen when the time is right.  Day by day, month by month, year by year, as we shower Sassy with our love, teach her about our faith in Christ, and  parent all of our children to the best of our abilities, we pray that God is working from within.  That He is behind the scenes, building the foundation, and instilling faith and confidence.  Our God is the God of all things seen and all things unseen.  Although the trials of this life may never make sense to me while walking the earth, I earnestly believe Romans 8:28 when it says God causes everything to work together for the good of those who Him and are called according to His purpose for them.  

In my opinion, Isaiah (who prophesied approximately 720-780 years before the birth of Christ), has some of the most beautiful, poetic, and profound statements in the entire Bible.  I will close this post with Isaiah 40:28-31.  A message of power, hope, confidence, and faith.  The passage states, "Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." 

Oh, and let us not forget...God has found each and every one of us abandoned.  So, while we may not have a police report documenting the conditions surrounding our abandonment, our hearts each have their own story.  Found abandoned has nothing on our living God!  

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Artificial Flavor: What is That Stuff, Anyway?!

With Easter just around the corner, my mind once again circles back to a question I have asked (silently) for years, but never took the time to look for an answer.  Artificial flavor is an ingredient listed on countless products in regular grocery stores.  Seems innocent enough...this or that product contains natural and artificial flavor.  But what does that really mean?  

The first thing I found out about artificial flavoring is that is has a lot to do with the sense of smell.  While food can only taste sweet, sour, salty, bitter, or savory the number of ways a particular food may smell is countless.  Therefore, by altering the smell (chemically), you essentially alter how the food tastes.  So, according to various scientific references on Wikipedia, the term flavoring actually denotes the combined chemical sensations of taste and smell.  Great, I thought my mouth was just in danger...but come to find out the chemical masterminds are after my nose too.  

But what are the actual chemicals?  How dangerous are they?  Here is the kicker: the FDA does not require that flavor companies (what on earth is a flavor company?) disclose ingredients as long as all of the ingredients are "generally regarded as safe".  Therefore, these companies can protect their secret toxic potions and $1.5 billion annual profit while quite possibly harming all of us and our environment.  

I do about 90% of our grocery shopping at Whole Foods.  While my mother-in-law jokingly calls it  "whole paycheck" I shop there for a reason.  All of their ingredients are natural, many are organic, and you will never find questionable additives or preservatives in their stores.  The average Joe and Jane can read AND understand the ingredients listed on the labels.  In addition, they are committed to sustainable food sources, protecting the environment, and supporting local farming operations.  I once had our local store manager explain to me the difference between a modified starch (safe) and a genetically modified food (questionable).  Furthermore, I find that my grocery bills are about the same regardless of where I shop.  By sticking to the basics (or shopping the perimeter of the grocery store), eating healthy does not need to break the bank.  

Like all parents, I want my children to grow up strong and healthy and I really do not believe that larger food chains have our best interest at stake.  In the year 1980, the world's population was approximately 4.5 Billion.  Today, it is approximately 7 Billion.   What do you think the big players in the food industry have done to keep up with the demand for food while not cutting into their profits?  That's right: chemically altered and artificially flavored food-like substances.  After all, the natural flavoring is just too expensive and hard to find according to the 'flavorists' know, those guys and gals who make a living from producing chemically-altered flavors at the flavor company.    

So, just when you thought reading food labels could not get any more difficult, think again.  The simple ingredient, artificial flavor, may not be so simple after all.  Crude oil and coal tar could very well be lumped with your (and my) morning coffee creamer and cute little chocolate-flavored Easter bunnies.  

My mom always used to say, "You ate such and such when you were a kid and you turned out just fine." (No comments, please.)  My response would always be that chicken used to be chicken and sugar used to be sugar.  Now, nearly everything is modified or altered.  While it is becoming harder to decipher what is good vs what is bad, it is not impossible.

When you are out shopping for your Easter treats, go ahead, flip the label over and take notice to just how many ingredients you are familiar with.  The basic ingredients in chocolate are: cocoa beans, sugar, milk, cocoa butter, lecithin, and vanilla.  I have a hunch you will be pressed to find any of those listed in the mass produced goodies.  

Now, on to my next pressing question.  An Easter bunny?  How to explain this one to our Ethiopian-American son?!?!  

Photo Credit