"For in you the orphan finds mercy." - Hosea 14:3

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Orphan Sunday 2014


Orphans are not problems to be solved, but children to be loved. And there are 153 million of them worldwide. 

Orphan Sunday is this Sunday, November 2nd. It is a global opportunity for the church to stand up and, as one voice, proclaim the plight of the orphan. 

Let the orphan know that they are not alone, they are not forgotten, and that they are loved. 

How can you make a difference in the life of an orphan?

For more information, go to the following sites:

http://orphansunday.org/

or

http://www.lifesongfororphans.org



Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tony Merida & Orphanology

Awakening: Biblical Foundations for Orphan Care

"The church of Jesus Christ is the most powerful force in the world. It has the power of the Holy Spirit, the best news in the world, financial wealth, a multitude of troops, access to technology, and for the first time in history, the ability to travel to anywhere in the world in a day or two. Indeed, the church can turn the world upside down by acts of mercy and the proclamation of the good news. Orphan care and adoption is part of this redemptive mission." 

Awakening: Biblical Foundations for Orphan Care - Dr. Tony Merida

Friday, November 7 - 6:30pm - Parkwood Baptist Church, Gastonia Campus

Child Care Is Available For Infants - 5 years old


Schedule: 
  • 6:30pm - Dr. Tony Merida - Biblical Foundations for Orphan Care
  • 7:30pm - Dessert Reception and Adoption & Orphan Care Exposition 
Here is a link to Parkwood's site for the event:


Pastor, professor, husband and father of five, Tony Merida is a leading evangelical voice on biblical exposition, church planting, global missions, and orphan care. Merida is the founding pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC. He also serves as a professor of preaching and church planting at Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. His books include Faithful Preaching, Orphanology, Proclaiming Jesus (EBook), and eight volumes in the new Christ-Centered Exposition commentary series (B&H), of which he also serves as a general editor, along with Danny Akin and David Platt.


Merida and his wife adopted four Ukrainian children -- all siblings -- in 2009 and then a year later adopted a fifth child from Ethiopia. Within a span of two years, their house went from having no children to five children. 

"I'm hopeful for the future," said Merida, "There seems to be a great interest in caring for orphans among evangelicals. I'm no expert in this field. I'm just a pastor and trying to help people connect the dots biblically, and I hope the next generation will take it further, practicing true religion."

"Adoption isn't the only solution to the orphan care crisis. When you look around the world at 140 million-plus orphans, many of them are not adoptable. They're not available for adoption. And in many countries, you can't bring these children home. And so I think the church should be thinking creatively and intentionally about how to care for these kids in terms of maybe sponsorship, in terms of helping to educate them, in terms of taking the Gospel to them. A big one would be transitional assistance for children who are not adoptable -- how can we get them jobs, how can we get them into society and help them have a successful life? Churches could even underwrite an orphanage."

A link to Tony Merida's site is:
http://tonymerida.net/

Monday, October 27, 2014

Cava's Pumpkin Project


Cava's teacher assigned her class the project of decorating a pumpkin to look like a storybook character. They have to read a book, decorate a pumpkin to look like a character from that book, write a report on that character, and present both the pumpkin and the report to the class. For anyone who's ever read our blog knows, none of this is an easy task for Cava.

First, he had to pick a book. His choice is one of my favorites from childhood: Adventures of Little Bear written by Else Holmelund Minarik and beautifully illustrated by Maurice Sendak.



Because Cava still struggles with his reading, particularly in the area of retention, we read the book together, taking turns reading each chapter, and then discussing the chapter after we'd read it. Of course, he would still have difficulty with having to "Describe the character (Interior and exterior traits). "What does that mean?" he asked me and I attempted to explain in a way he would understand. I wonder how many third graders could describe the interior and exterior traits of a character from a book? How many adults can?

We went to a nearby pumpkin patch so that Cava could pick out the perfect pumpkin to become Little Bear. He found one that he thought might be it and handed the pumpkin to me so I could carry it while we walked the rows and rows of pumpkins to make sure this pumpkin was the one. It wasn't. But after going through all the rows, he remembered one on the first row that he liked better so we had to go back and find it, which, we luckily did. 

Back at home, I washed the pumpkin off and, once it had dried, Cava started to paint his pumpkin with brown acrylic paint.


After he applied the first coat, we let the paint dry before adding the second. It took about 3 coats for the pumpkin to be our bear brown that we wanted. Then I sketched out the nose and snout, as well as the ears, so that Cava could cut them and glue them onto the pumpkin. When he was done, this was his finished product.


He was really proud of his work.

Here are the questions he had to answer about the book with his responses:

1. Describe the character (Interior and Exterior character traits).

Little Bear is curious. He likes to play with his friends. He enjoys pretending to go to the moon, that a log is a boat, and that there are mermaids in the lake. He loves his mother and father. He is sad when Father Bear is away fishing. He wants to be a great fisherman like his father.

2. Why is the character important to the story?

Little Bear is important to the story because he is the main character. All of the stories are about him and how he acts with his family and friends.

3. Does the character remind you of yourself or another character from a different story?

Little Bear reminds me of myself. He is like me because he has trouble going to sleep. He loves his mother and father. He gets hiccups like me. We both like to pretend, play with our friends, and celebrate our birthdays.

4. Do you like the character? Why or why not?

I like Little Bear because he is funny. He is playful. He is nice to his friends. He loves his parents.





Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Dog For Cava

For those who have followed our blog, it is no secret that Cava has wanted a dog of his own ever since he got here (to read more go to Perusing Pets http://snapshotsfromourjourney.blogspot.com/2013/02/perusing-pets.html). Early on, he was not ready to have and take care of his own dog. Still, his desire to have a dog of his own never wavered or faltered. Cava, like so many adopted children, want equality so that if one child has a dog (just as Benjamin has our dog Chloe), then he should have the same thing.

As his tenth birthday approaches, Danelle and I decided that it was now time for Cava to have a dog of his own. But what would be the right kind of dog for, not only Cava, but our family and for Chloe. It is vitally important to us that this new dog gets along with everyone and fits in to our family dynamic. We also wanted this dog to be a rescue dog, since we are strong believers in giving existing dogs a home.

While researching different types of dogs, Cava somehow latched on to Chihuahuas. Don't know what the rhyme or reason why this particular breed of dog struck Cava's fancy and all he could answer when I asked him was, "They are soooo cute!"

After making the decision to get Cava a dog, we began making the rounds to all the shelters and Humane Society, as well as the local PetSmart and PetCo when they had dogs there for adoption. We knew this was a process, as it took us awhile to find Chloe (technically my sister Kristen found her) and we understood that one can't rush into getting a dog because we wanted this dog to be a part of our family and did not want to have to give a dog back because he or she didn't. Danelle and I made sure to explain this to Cava and we went over our reasons for not just jumping at buying a dog to him each time we went somewhere to look at dogs.

Today we went to the Carolina Poodle Rescue in Pacolet, SC. Originally, we registered with them and after they spoke to our references, our vet, and then I got interviewed for thirty minutes (to get a good idea of what we were looking for in a dog), we got invited to come down and scheduled our appointment. Then we traveled down to the farm. We were shown five dogs and got to spend time with them (around 2 hours), play with them, and watched how they interacted with Chloe. Most importantly, we looked to see which dog Cava would bond with and which dog would attach to him. In the end, it was a Schnauzer mix called "King."





On the way home, we bounced ideas for dog names around until we found one we thought fit and that Cava liked. We settled on Dashiell (after mystery writer Dashiell Hammett) and we are going to call him "Dash."

Once at home, Dash got a bath. Like Chloe, he wasn't that fond of it.


After a bath, Cava was delighted that Dash was playful and loved chasing him around the house. I loved hearing Cava giggle and see how happy he was with his new buddy. I cannot wait to see how these two scamps bond.


If you're interested in the Carolina Poodle Rescue, here is a link to their website:
http://www.carolinapoodlerescue.org/

Monday, October 6, 2014

Cava's Disney Dream

Long before he knew our names, Cava knew the name Walt Disney. Back in Ukraine, he watched Disney movies and, just as he did with super heroes, he felt a connection to those characters. When we adopted Cava, one of the first things he did when he got to America was to ask when were we going to Disney World. One would have thought he had won the Super Bowl. He is obsessed with Disney, so much so that anything he watches or even books he reads, he usually asks, "Is this Disney?"

Since Cava has ADHD and anxiety issues, we didn't think it was best to take him to a theme park that would be crowded with lots and lots of people because we knew he would not be able to handle it. So we waited.

As Cava progressed and time passed, Danelle and I began to plan our trip. When the Walt Disney Planning DVD came in the mail, the boys were ecstatic and watched that DVD over and over and over again to the point where I considered using it as a target for skeet shooting. One thing we realized as we planned this trip was that we could not go during a peak season, as it would be far too overwhelming for Cava to handle, so we decided we'd go in October. Normally, we are not the kind of parents to pull their kids out of school to go on a vacation, but we knew that this would also be a prime opportunity to deepen our family bonding, especially between Benjamin and Cava. Another reason we planned this trip was that Benjamin, being in high school, will be going off to college in a few years and this will probably be the last time we'll go to Disney as a family of 4 with him living at home.

Last Wednesday, we all got up at 3 am (and we didn't even have to wake up the boys) so that we could be on the road to Florida by 4 am (since it is just a little over an 8 hour drive). I must admit, the idea of such a long drive with Cava was not one I had been looking forward to. He gets very restless and irritable when it's a 4 hour drive to the beach. Before we ever set foot in our car, we stopped and prayed. One of the things I prayed for was that we would all have patience with each other. I told the boys not to view this as a drive from point A to point B, but to enjoy the ride and to see things that they've never seen before. We also made sure we had the portable DVD player for them, which they used to watch that Disney Planning DVD yet again. Danelle and I were amazed at how well the boys got along with each other. There wasn't the usual bickering and getting on each other's nerves over the smallest details. As we approached the Welcome to Florida sign, Cava was bouncing up and down in his seat, clapping, and shouting, "We're in Florida! We're in Florida!"

We arrived in Orlando shortly after lunch. We dropped off our bags at the house where we were staying, grabbed some lunch, and headed straight to Epcot, since we knew we would not need a full day to cover that park. As we drove up to the parks, Cava couldn't contain himself as he squealed with delight as he saw the Welcome To Walt Disney World sign. Despite the overcast skies and the fact that the prediction for weather for our entire trip was for rain, the Blackwells would not be deterred from having fun.


The boys even made a new friend . . .


What they enjoyed about Epcot was learning about science and exploring new cultures and foods. We let Cava pick where we ate dinner on the first night and he chose Japanese. Our only requirement for food was that they try something new, which was easier for Cava who will try new things than it was for Benjamin. 


Yet it was Benjamin who ordered the tastiest dish: Udon Noodles.


The boys loved the rides Soarin' and Test Track.


Though we were all exhausted, we stayed for the amazing Illuminations Fireworks.  

The next morning, we once again did not have to wake the boys as they were up and ready to go, especially since our Thursday was devoted entirely to the Magic Kingdom, my favorite of all the parks.  This park was crowded and we worried about how well Cava would do waiting in the lines. He is not the most patient of kids and tends to get easily frustrated and simply wants to quit, especially when one sees wait of more than 30 minutes. Before we ever got to the park, Danelle and I had made the decision that the goal would be to enjoy where we are and what we are doing and not get caught up in a mad dash to do it all. If we could tell that Cava was getting tired and frustrated, then we would simply take a break: go see one of the shows or sit down and have a snack and something to drink or let Cava play on one of the playgrounds. I don't mind sitting down and just people watching, which is something I love to do anyway, and what a great place to do it with people from all over the world there. I love hearing all of the languages being spoken and seeing these families having fun together. 



A lot of times Cava wanted to ride a ride with either Danelle or myself, so our hearts burst with joy whenever he picked to ride with Benjamin. We also knew how much this meant to Benjamin, who loves being a big brother and calls Cava his best friend.


We had an early lunch at the new Be Our Guest, which is the restaurant in Beast's castle. Out of all the places we ate in all of the parks, this one was easily our favorite. And despite having to wait in line for 30 minutes before the restaurant opened to ensure that we got inside, Cava did great. He and I stood in some shade and chatted. As we did so, he told me, "Back in Ukraine, I never thought I would ever get to be here, but here I am." There was such happiness in his voice as he said this.



In October, Disney has Mickey's Not so Spooky Halloween Party. 

The park closes at 7 pm for anyone who doesn't pay the extra fee. Kids and adults can dress up and they have special Halloween events, such as Club Villain where Cava danced with bad guys from Disney films to songs like the Cupid Shuffle and Happy. The boys also got to go trick or treating. They had a blast going from location to location because cast members would give them big handfuls of candy. After I saw there were Reese Cups involved, I got one of Disney's free trick or treat bags and joined in.

As I have said, Cava is not the most patient of kids and when I suggested we watch the Boo To You Parade that night, he didn't want to wait but said, "I'm ready to go." I kept telling him, "Trust me, Cava, you'll want to see this." He was not convinced and, although he wasn't happy, he didn't get angry or have a tantrum. Once the parade started, his whole demeanor changed: his eyes and smile got really big. 



That night, the boys had no trouble falling asleep and they were up and ready again, early the next morning to tackle Hollywood Studios. 


First on the agenda was Star Tours. The boys love the Star Wars movies, so they loved being a part of the action.


And they had to sit next to each other on the ride. Of course, all rides end in the gift shop and the boys were ready to spend their money.



I told the boys that whatever they bought, they and they alone would have to carry those items for the entire day and that neither Mommy nor I would be, especially since I was the one with the backpack full of snacks, small bottles of water, ponchos, suntan lotion, etc. I recommended that they wait until before we were leaving to buy something. Benjamin agreed right off and I was waiting for Cava to get upset. Whenever he goes in a store, he wants to buy something, anything that strikes his fancy, and, if he has money of his own, he cannot hold onto it but immediately wants to spend it. I was proud of him because he put things back and did not get upset. One of the biggest areas of trust was convincing him constantly that he would get souvenirs and that we, as his parents, would take care of him, especially when Benjamin got a t-shirt before he did.



Our next fast pass was the big one: Tower of Terror. This was the ride both boys wanted to ride the most and the one that made them both very, very nervous. Once we got into the basement of the Tower Hotel, Cava got anxious and it was obvious to me he was scared. I bent down and told him that I was nervous, too. "Hey, let's make a deal," I told him, "if you can make it through this ride, I'll give you an extra dollar to spend. If I can make it through this ride, you can give me a great big Cava hug and kiss. Deal?" I put my hand out and he shook it with, "Deal." This ended up one of his and Benjamin's favorite rides. It surprised me how much Cava loved all the rides I didn't expect him to (Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Test Track, Tower of Terror). Another of his favorites was Rock N Roll Roller-coaster. As he had with Space Mountain and Splash Mountain, this boy wanted to sit in the front car with me. I was a bit nervous since this coaster goes 0 to 60 in a split second, it has loops and corkscrews, loud Aerosmith music blaring, and it was in the dark. But this was another of Cava's favorites. He even rocked out when he got off it.


I told him, "You are one of the bravest people I know," and he just took it in stride, but he is and it has nothing to do with his riding any of these rides but because of the amazing strides he has taken in his life, especially coming from his damaged background.

One of the things Cava wanted to do most at the parks was to meet the characters. And he had his list of those he really, really wanted to meet. Mickey, Goofy, Donald, and Captain Hook were on that list, but at the very top were Chip and Dale. The smile on his face when he did was, as the commercial says, "priceless."  After I took his photo, I inquired of why he loved Chip and Dale so much. He replied, "They are crazy and get into trouble like me."


Something Cava loves to do is draw. This is something I have heartily encouraged in him and worked on his overcoming his perfectionism, in that he gets easily upset and defeated if his doesn't look exactly like the one he's trying to draw. The first souvenir he bought with his money was a book that showed you how to draw classic Disney and Pixar characters. So, because of his love of drawing, we decided to sit in on an animator's class where they teach you how to draw one of the Disney characters. Our class got the task of drawing Mickey Mouse. 


Because I know how hard he can be on himself, I sat next to him. Sure enough, this was one of the few difficult moments he had the entire trip. As soon as he thought his Mickey wasn't as good as the one the professional was drawing, I heard him mutter, "I hate this!" I leaned over to him and encouraged him to keep going and I pointed out the strong points of his work in progress. Although we were only in the drawing class for fifteen minutes, it was a struggle to get Cava to complete his drawing. He did and, when we came out, he was upset. I looked at his and told him, "This one is better than the last Mickey you drew at home, isn't it?"

"Yes," he reluctantly agreed.

"So that means you've gotten better, right?"

"Yes."

"Then why are you upset? That means you're learning." 

"But it doesn't look like that teacher's," he said, his eyes filling with tears and his voice cracking with hurt.

"Yes, but he has been drawing for years and even went to school to learn how to draw. He also teaches this class so don't you think he should be able to draw Mickey better than us?"  He agreed and I told him, "Cava, you haven't been drawing all that long. You keep getting better and better. Your drawings at your age are better than mine. And, though I have been drawing for years, I have a hard time copying someone else's drawing."  We sat for a moment and I just reminded him that he is an amazing kid and that what I love about his drawing is that it wasn't like anybody else's in that class. Once I got him to come around by teasing him and telling him that if he keeps getting mad because his latest drawing is better than his last, how mad was he going to get when it was better than that teacher's? Then I pretended to get really angry and throw a mock tantrum. He laughed and all was fine again. Cava is having to learn that he doesn't have to be perfect and that he can make mistakes and still be loved and accepted.

Heading over to the Pixar area of the park, we decided to try and wait in the 45 minute line for Toy Story Mania. Once inside the line, I had to take a photo of Cava in front of the Candy Land mural on one of the walls. This reminded me of when he first got here because Candy Land was the first game I played with Cava and that he loved playing over and over again.


This 45 minute line turned into an hour and twenty minute line since they had problems with the ride. We were closer to the front of the line and had already waited 30 minutes when this happened, so we were reluctant to get out of line. I expected him to get angry but, other than a few grumbles of, "I don't want to ride this anymore," he was fine. It helped that I had brought my iPod and let him watch Phineas and Ferb while we waited. As I have said, Cava impressed me with how well he handled waiting in lines. Most were only for 10 - 25 minutes, but even the longer waits (7 Dwarfs' Mine Ride, Pirates of the Caribbean) he might have complained a little, but what kid wouldn't - or many adults for that matter. I joked that Disney is the only vacation where one spends most of it in lines.

After leaving Hollywood Studios, which became Benjamin's favorite park, we went home early so that we could rest and the boys could swim in the pool at the house. Once more, we, as their parents, loved hearing their laughter and seeing how well they played together.


Our last day and our last park was on Satuday. This was Animal Kingdom. 

Cava loves animals. All animals, especially wild ones and birds. Our first Fast Pass for the day was Kilamanjaro Safari. And that boy was ready to see some animals. His head was looking all over the place for them and, when he spotted one, even if it was a duck, he exclaimed in excitement, "Look! Look!"


Here are few of the ones we saw:

Giraffes, which we learned make bleating sounds like sheep . . .


Elephants . . .


Lions, which we learned spend most of the day, about 18 hours, sleeping. If you added books, coffee, and chocolate to that life, I would say it was ideal!


Rhinos . . .


And so many, many others because we knew that the animals are fed early in the morning and that we needed to ride the safari tour first so that we could see them.

For lunch, we ate Indian food and Cava made some duck friends by feeding them some of his pita wrap.


After lunch, we then tackled Everest Expedition, a 199" tall roller-coaster that races upward and backwards. 



As with most of these type of rides, Cava wanted to ride in the front car. This became another of the boys' favorite rides.

After conquering Everest and getting wet on Kali River Rapids, we slowed our pace down to walk the Maharajah Jungle Trek. There we got to see even more animals up close: tigers, Komodo Dragons, bats, and, to Cava's delight, lots and lots of birds. There were everything from Asian Fairy-Bluebirds to Moluccan King Parrots. Cava stopped each time he spotted a new one or to pose for a picture.


Next stop was Dino Land. Once more, we loved seeing Cava and Benjamin bond. They would walk ahead of us, Cava holding Benjamin's hand, and talk and laugh. This alone made the trip and all of the money that it cost worth it. 


We finished our visit to Animal Kingdom with Festival of the Lion King. We had seen this show back when Benjamin was four on our last visit to the Disney Parks. Benjamin had told Cava all about how he was picked to get up and do the elephant noise and Cava desperately wanted to be picked this time. He sat beside me and, for the first time I had seen him at any of the parks, he began to rock anxiously. There was a forced smile on his face and when I asked him why, he answered, "I want to look cute so they will pick me." This made Danelle and I very nervous because we were worried about how he would react if he didn't get picked. Sure enough, the show started and he didn't. I could tell he was upset but he held it together. This was another huge step for him because he doesn't deal with disappointment well. Also because I knew he wanted to be picked because Benjamin had been and he is all about having what his brother has and for everything to be fair and equal. So I was very proud of how he handled himself and I loved seeing him laugh at the antics of the men playing the acrobatic monkeys. 


Other than a Mickey Mouse baseball cap with ears, a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, all Cava really wanted wasn't a toy, but a photo album. When he finally found one he wanted, he was so happy because he would have one to put his pictures in from the trip to show others, especially at school. 

When Sunday came, the day we were leaving, neither of the boys wanted to get up and we had to wake both of them. Cava didn't want to eat and he was irritable. He snapped at anyone who tried to talk to him. Then, he sat down on our bed, and wept. "I don't want to leave my Disney," he sobbed. I comforted him and told him that all of us were sad to be leaving, but that it was a good thing because it meant we had a great time. I told him we would have many more great times at other places. 

I was definitely melancholy driving home. Benjamin is getting older and will be off to college in a few years. I was aware of that throughout the trip and I loved it when he would hold my hand or hug me or when he would say, "I love you, Papa," or thank me for taking us to Disney. 

There can be many reasons for why people don't like Disney, the cost being one of them, but I would not take back any of that money for the experience we had, the memories we made, or the deeper bonds our family made there. For those reasons, it really was the happiest place on Earth for the Blackwells' vacation. For that, I want to thank Bill and Evelyn Nasworthy for their generosity in letting us stay in their lovely home. Because of them, this trip was possible for us. Thank you both, you cannot know how much it truly meant to us.