Sunday, May 27, 2012

Three Starfish and the Global Orphan Crisis

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When we hear of large scale crises, many of us probably feel a tug to help in some way, but then begin to feel so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem and start to reason that our small contributions may do nothing to solve the problem on a larger level.  Therefore, instead of doing any small something we end up doing nothing.  Thankfully, there are many wonderful organizations that exist to help organize and pool our 'small somethings' to make useful larger impacts.  

When looked at in sheer numbers, the global orphan crisis is staggering.  Over 140 million children are orphaned around the world.  Our minds simply cannot process this magnitude.  Numbers on such a large scale do not make sense to us.  Thinking for a second that the entire state of California has a population of only 37 million, we can begin to grasp the enormity of this crisis.  It is HUGE and to complicate matters, the orphan crisis is simply a symptom of the underlying injustices that lead to orphaned children and a host of other preventable circumstances.  

Recently, a good friend and I were talking and she politely reminded me that "I could not save them all."  I knew exactly what she was saying and trust her judgement and well-meaning intentions.  Of course, our little family could not help 140 million children.  We are treading water with the single-digit five that we have been blessed to parent.  Those words, however, pointed out what Richard Stearns (president of World Vision) talks about in his book The Hole in Our Gospel.  That is, until we have a personal connection to the injustices, the problem remains distant from us.  They are "someone else's kids", "someone else's problems."  However, my Christian faith and the example of Jesus himself tells me that is the not the truth.  Orphaned kids around the world are our problem just as caring for an aging next door neighbor is our responsibility.  We cannot simply sit back and do nothing because the magnitude of the problem is so great and most of it is occurring outside of our state or country borders.  Jesus came to unite all of us, yet we still cling to our divisions.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. emphatically stated, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."  Friends, our world is filled with injustice.  Pick any area and take up a cause bigger than yourself.  It does matter, if only to one we can see from the parable of the starfish adapted from Loren Eiseley:

One early morning, after a fierce storm had hit the coast, I strolled to the beach for my morning walk.  Horrified, I saw that tens of thousands of starfish has been washed up on the beach by the winds and the waves.  I was saddened by the realization that all of them would die, stranded on the shore, away from the life-giving water.  Despairing that there was nothing I could do, I sat down on the sand and put my head in my hands.

But then I heard a sound, and I lifted my eyes.  There, in the distance, I saw a man bending down and then standing up, bending down and standing up.  Curious, I rose and walked toward him.  I saw that he was picking up the starfish, one at a time, and throwing them back into the sea.

"What are you doing?" I yelled.
"Saving the starfish," he replied.
"But don't you see, man, that there are tens of thousands of them?" I asked, incredulous.  "Nothing you can do will make a difference."

He did not answer me but instead bent down, picked up another starfish, and cast it back into the water.  Then he smiled, looked me in the eye, and said, "It made a difference to that one!"

As you can see, doing something, regardless of how small it seems, does matter.  Furthermore, our actions (or inaction) will not only matter to that one starfish, but to entire generations, present and future, who have experienced that starfish's story.  If everyone would get up and start throwing the starfish back into life-giving water, they all could be saved.  I know that sounds idealistic, but it is true from a sheer statistical perspective.  We have enough food and water to provide everyone on this planet enough sustenance.  Once basic needs are met, we can start working on repairing human dignity and providing the tools necessary to build and sustain communities.  I often wonder what our world would look like if countries were to take a mere fraction of a percent of what they use on military spending and divert those resources to build up rather than destroy, unite rather than divide.  

In our home, we are humbled that God has used our imperfect family to change the course of history for three starfish.  Their present situation has been drastically altered as they moved from a situation with little to no hope into one with safety, security, and love.  From a place where hard work may never amount to anything to a place where hard work is generally rewarded, education usually means relative security, and basic needs are met consistently.  In addition, I believe their story had impacted those around us: our family, community, and others we come in contact with day in and day out.  To know that other families have decided to adopt or foster because of what they have witnessed in our home, moves me to tears.  That, is God at work...moving hearts, transforming lives.  But remember, it takes action on all of our parts!  Finally, to think about how Sporty, Big Sister, and Sissy will grow and one day have families of their, not that is where I really see God at work.  Thinking about this major life change for them, that is, to be the starfish that got picked up and cared for, brought in and loved, nurtured and trained into adulthood.  Thinking about how that will impact their children and their children's children and how God will continue to use the rescued to rescue.  Do you feel it?  Yes!  That is God building his starfish at a time.  

Father God, thank you for rescuing me.  I love because you first loved me!  Thank you for infinite love and new mercies.  Thank you  for trusting and empowering us to parent five of your most precious children.  Far from perfect we are, but here we stand willing.  Thank you for teaching us about your love and your character.  

Eternally Yours, 
Seven Grateful Starfish 

Friday, May 25, 2012

My (Take It or Leave It) Advice To Expanding Families

Sometimes I wonder why I feel so (insert any or all of the following): tired, stressed, over-exerted, anxious, TIRED, pulled in too many directions, over-touched, under-appreciated, TIRED, and did I mention TIRED? 

Then reality strikes: we have added five kids to our family in five years.  My husband has an unpredictable job schedule.  I followed God's call into Seminary.  We do not have family living close by.  My mom died.  My dad became widowed.  No sooner was one child up and walking that another arrived.  No sooner was he toddling that two more arrived.  Our original oldest was displaced, our youngest was crunched into the middle child role by a child probably only six months (if that) younger.  The new youngest screamed her brains out for months any time I put her down due to fear of being abandoned and just plain fear.  Our new oldest didn't speak English and was completely immersed in a culture and country completely foreign to him.  And if that wasn't enough, we felt that God had one more child planned for our family, so we added Big Sister and will plan to repeat the past sixteen months of adapting ALL. OVER. AGAIN.  

If I were given the chance to do the past few years over again, I would hope to have the humility to not be so stubborn and independent and to just ASK FOR HELP.  If I had any common sense (which my five-year-old claims there is no such thing) I would do things differently.  Here is what I would do:

  1. Get help immediately!  Raising children is meant to do me done in community and since a lot of us do not have the immediate support of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. it is important to create one's own community or village.  I stumbled through this one, but finally accepted that I either need to grow a few more eyes and limbs, or have a mother's helper come in.  I chose the latter and feel so much better on the days when she is here with me.
  2. Get consistent rest.  I know this is challenging when infants/toddlers/scared children need our comfort in the middle of the night.  Getting rest, in my opinion, is the most critical and most often neglected part of being a well-functioning mama.  We are not superhuman...somehow our society propelled into an overly-caffeinated, sleep-deprived culture where rest is considered a weakness.  I disagree.  We need more sleep, not more caffeine.  I don't know about you, but caffeine adds to my anxiety.  If you need help figured out how to get rest, see point one.  
  3. Create margin.  I heard a wonderful sermon series on this a few months ago and the point really stuck.  Margin is the extra time, energy, or resources used to pad your lifestyle so that there is something left over to do nothing with.  Make sense?  For me, a good example of margin is making sure that all chores are done and all kids are in their bedrooms and not talking to me by 9:00 p.m. every night.  (The littles are in bed earlier.)  Then, my husband and I are able to have some consistent, quality time together without being interrupted by the gremlins.  When this does not happen, stress levels rise and subsequently carry-over to the next day.  I need margin...we all need margin.  
  4. Schedule date nights out or in.  Set some grounds rules about this time.  For example, no talking about the kids (this is VERY hard to do), visit restaurants or places that were enjoyable before having kids.  Make sure both spouses have the same expectations about how this time will be used.  This requires communication and brings me to point five.
  5. Communicate!  I discovered something recently that is both humorous and extremely frustrating.  I communicate using words and my husband....does NOT!  I need words to communicate a point or message and oftentimes he has already used up his daily allotment of words by the time he arrives home.  We realized that our communication methods were so different that we were not meeting each other's expectations.  Therefore, we are making a consistent effort to hear and by heard.  Sometimes this may require getting professional help, which brings me to my final point.
  6. Get Professional Help.  There is no shame in seeking out help for your family.  With lots of moving parts and rapid changes taking place, it often helps to have a trusted mediator take an objective look at one's family unit.  This could be a pastor, minister, counselor, or psychologist.  I read a ton of books, most written by the 'go to' experts in the field of adoption, attachment, grief, loss, etc.  I also read a lot of marriage, parenting, and relationship books.  However, my husband does not share my interest or passion in devouring this material from cover to cover.  Therefore, I do think grief and loss counseling and/or family counseling may benefit our entire family unit.  
To sum this up, the most important piece of advice that I would pass on to a family growing at a rapid pace or simply growing in general is to GET HELP.  This could be in the form of a preschool, babysitter, mother's helper, neighbor, friend, counselor, relative, or any combination of the above.  Whatever the choice, reach out, establish a plan, and DO NOT FEEL GUILTY.  I repeat, do not feel guilty.  You are a good mom.  I am a good mom.  And we all want the best for our children and families.  Parenting is hard work.  Parenting multiple children is even harder.  I am turning in my superhero cape and having a few more slices of humble pie.  I need help and look forward to a FUN summer with my children and mother's helper now that I have swallowed my pride and reached out.  More eyes, more hands, more feet = more fun and less stress for everyone.  

Happy Summer Everyone!  

What piece of advice would you pass along to families in the building process?  What has benefited you?  What have you found to be a waste of time and energy?  
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Thursday, May 24, 2012

What Have We Done (To Our Family)?

There probably comes a time in most people's adoption journey, perhaps after the initial high and excitement wear off...maybe after the honeymoon period when life settles into a new chaotic normal, when a pesky feeling starts to creep in to one's thoughts and maybe even their words.  Panic may set in as he or she begins asking (silently or aloud), "What have I/we done?  Oh my gosh...this is permanent and I have forever altered the size/shape/feel of our family.  This is so much harder than I imagined.  What if I can't do this?  What if I fail?  What if our family fails?"  I can't remember when these questions popped up initially, but they have been present in one form or another for a good part of our personal adoption journey and I wonder if these or similar questions have linked to your adoption journey as well?    

I think these questions and feeling are completely normal and I wish people openly discussed them more often.  Simply being honest about feelings and fears does not mean one regrets the decision to adopt and may actually be healing for individuals and families when done in a constructive and supportive environment.  Adoption is hard and is not, in my opinion, God's "Plan A" for children or families.  God designed creation and reproduction beautifully in a miraculous and a specific way and even though Scripture tells us time and again to care for those who cannot care for themselves, that does not mean it will ever be easy.  (Of course, parenting biological kids is not easy either!)  In fact, I am nearly certain we purchased our family a ticket to the life-long hard road.  But do you know who is on that road with us?  Jesus...every stinkin' step of the way.  So, where else would I rather be?  As the saying goes, "God doesn't call the equipped, he equips the called."  

With that being said, I will be completely honest and tell you that there have been many nights, when after the hustle and bustle of the day comes to a close and I am finally, FINALLY off of my feet for the day, I listen to the silence and wonder what we have we done?  What are we doing?  On the flight over to Ethiopia last month to attend our court hearing, I had a silent battle with God during the 13 hours in the air.  Me: God, I am not sure about this.  Really, God...I just don't know if I can handle another child right now.  Especially one who has been through so much hurt over the past five years.  What if she doesn't want this, God?  What if?  I can't do this God.  No, I can't.  Please take this cup from me.  God:  Why are you always trying to get ten steps ahead of me?  If you couldn't do this, you wouldn't be doing this.  You do realize this is not about you, right?  Right?  You can and I have provided abundantly for you so that you could share that abundance.  One step at a time...crawl if you need to, but keep moving forward knowing that you are not alone.  Me:  But I am scared, God.  Really scared.  I know how this goes.  Transitions are hard.  Grief is real.  God:  The choice is yours, that is beauty of free will.  You can continue on the path I have set before you, experiencing the heartaches and blessings, all the while learning more about my heart and your purpose or you can divert and call it a day.  Me: I am not a quitter and I am not going back...back to a time and place when I was capable of making it through the day on my own without your help.  No, now my days are long and tiring and stressful (at best) and I need you every second of day, but I also feel your presence more abundantly than every before.  You are so very real and I know you are with us.  God: Remember to have faith like a child.  Look for me in your children, listen for me in their words.  Their hurt is my hurt, their joy is my joy.  In them, you will find me.  

And so we go.  Big Sister was officially added to the family roll call in April and should be home any day now.  I know some of you think we are crazy.  That is completely OK, because I also think we are crazy.  Life is hard and one way or another, all of us end up exiting this life.  I want to make sure my prayer and worship are not just empty words or pretty songs, but rather that they are filled with meaning and action and that they are not about me.  Are there times during the day when I want to scream out, "Stop touching me!"  Are there times during the day when I do scream out, "Stop touching me?"  Absolutely!  Do I lose my patience, throw temper tantrums like a two-year-old, have off days, sad days, angry days, resentful days, and everything in between days?  Yes!  Are there days when I gaze through the chaos and glimpse Larry and Moe playing together, and wonder, if just for a second, what would have been?  Temporarily grieving the loss of a simpler, perhaps easier life?  Yes, I do.  But, I try not to linger in any of those thoughts or feelings.  I allow myself to feel them, to express them, to pray over them, but not to linger in them.  

God tells us to carry one another's burdens and essentially that is all we are doing.  That does not require riches or perfection, a college degree, or any other elite skill set, it just requires compassion.  That's it.  So, whether we are carrying the burden of an elderly parent, sick child, lonely neighbor, out-of-work friend, grieving widow, hungry family, orphan child, or homeless wanderer...whether near or are doing your part to level the playing field.  One day, we all may need someone to carry our burdens.  I imagine that is how God wants us to live our lives.  Not throwing up walls and boundaries between us and "them", whoever the them may be, but breaking down walls, reaching across all lines that separate and divide, and coming together in the love of Christ.  So, yes we have gloriously wrecked our simple two-child home.  We cannot afford college and our food bills are atrocious.  My home if filled with toys, noise, mess, chaos, and lots of sibling bickering, love, and prayer.  We have signed up for the Marines when we our training would have pointed to the Cub Scouts.  We are in over our heads, but exactly where God wants us: out of the boat!  

Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  -Galatians 6:2

What fears, questions, or concerns have entered in your home post adoption that you wish others would discuss more openly?  Why do you think they are not more openly addressed in our training?  

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Spiritual Warfare and Adoption

Never before have the spiritual forces of good and evil been so real and active in our home as when we followed God's heart to care for the least of these.  Since beginning our first adoption in 2008 up until present day, I am more convinced than ever of God's love and devotion to the marginalized in our world.  I feel God's comforting arms wrapped around our home and hear God's still voice reassuring us, "I am with you".  I am equally convinced of Satan's hatred and disdain toward God's children working to live a life of Christian purpose, fulfilling our call to care for those neglected by the world.  I have never before felt these kind of spiritual forces armed with hatred, attempting to throw us off course as every turn, seeking to turn us against one another, trying to instill fear and worry and all kinds of nasty, Satan-like vices in our home.  

Satan is ANGRY, friends.  Because he knows what this ultimately means for him, and it ain't good. The clock is ticking.  He sees God's children getting the message, the message!  The message that underlies, in my opinion, the entire purpose of faith in Christ. The one that is jam- packed into the Old and New Testament.  I feel God at work and instilling God's message of justice and love in Christians around the world, regardless of denomination or affiliation. People are on the move!  God tells us to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly (Micah 6:8).  The prophet Isaiah (58:6-7) tells us that "this" is the kind of fasting that pleases God: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the chords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke.  To share our food with the hungry and provide the poor wanderer with shelter; to clothe the naked, and not to turn away from our own flesh and blood.  Most of Jesus' messages in the New Testament were about loving God, living in Christ, caring for people, loving one another, and not being defiled by the world.  Jesus himself tells us, "Whatever you did one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."  Could it be any clearer?  It makes sense then, that when Satan sees God's children mobilized around the globe (praise God!) in increasing numbers fighting for the least of these, that he would become infuriated an unleash all powers in his disposal to thwart efforts.  

But, I've got bad news for you, oh nasty evil one: you lose!  You may have thrown me through a loop the first go-round when we decided to step out of our comfort zone, turn our back on the world's values, and welcome Sporty into our home.  Yes, back then I didn't know how much you hated the oppressed, the orphans, the afflicted; nor did I realize how much you you had on the line.  Now, I know. My family knows. Those is our adoption community know.  We are armed with prayer and perseverance, with love and support, and with the will of God.  And if God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)? The movement has begun.  At no other point in history have Christians been more equipped and mobilized as they are today.  We know the truth.  We know who God cares for.  We are resourceful and passionate and seeking to live out our life's calling.  And, we know that if we claim to love and follow Christ, we must do as he did. So we do, and we pray that more will get the message and join the kingdom movement.  We march forward despite Satan's best efforts to keep us back knowing that following God's will is the means to a purposeful life on earth.  

I have scoured the Bible looking for passages that speak to spiritual warfare and combating these evil forces.  Two that have really helped me pray against evil are Luke 10:19-20 which says, "I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.  However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”  I pray those two verses a lot with my children, because they are subject to the spiritual battles as well, as we have sadly yet boldly learned over the past few years.  Chapter 8 of Romans is my other "go to".  The gist is that through Christ we are made righteous and nothing can separate us for Christ's love.  We are to die to the flesh and live in the Spirit.  

So, as we have been preparing to bring Big Sister home, it should have come as no surprise that our family has been under attack.  Satan, the coward that he is, always likes to kick us while we are down.  In the hustle and bustle of getting ready to expand our family, Satan tried at every turn to throw up road blocks, big and small.  As we enter this home stretch and await Embassy clearance, I humbly ask for your continued prayers.  Please pray that God protects our family, surrounds us with his love, and gives us clarity, wisdom, and courage.  Big Sister is coming from a broken background and will need lots of love and comfort during our initial transition.  Your love, prayers, and support and always greatly appreciated.  We look forward to introducing our newest child very, VERY soon.  

And in case you are wondering how the story ends for Satan, this is what the Bible has to say in Revelation 20:10:  And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.  
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