Sunday, June 4, 2017

Begin In Wonder

Recently I've begun a new blog that asks the question, "How can we lead a more meaningful life?" It is an exploration of curiosity, asking questions and finding new perspectives through literature, poetry, the arts, nature, science and philosophy. It's a place to undertake wondering and wandering in this glorious world around us. It's meant as an encouragement and a place of nourishment. It's about finding new ways to learn how to pay attention and be present. It's about making the connections between creativity and creation, thought and awareness, science and spirit. If this is something that interests you, here is the link for you to check my new blog out:

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Four Years Ago

Our time here is short and but a vapor. It passes more quickly than we often realize and, more often, would like to slow down. We blink and our children are grown before our very eyes. As it's been said so many times before: The days pass so slowly, but the years so fast.

Four years ago today, our younger son arrived in the United States from Ukraine.

There are many who might be surprised by this, but when I think of Cava, I don't think of him as my "adopted" son. No, I only think of him as my son. It's hard to imagine our family without him in it. 

Too often we hear how much we must have changed Cava's life, but what people fail to grasp is how much he has changed ours. Cava has brought an infectious enthusiasm and joy for life that has infiltrated our very dynamic. He is brave and kind. With the latter, this year there's been a girl who has bullied him and other kids at Cava's school. Whenever something like this occurs, it takes Cava out of where he is and puts him back in the frame-of-reference of the orphanages back in Ukraine. He has a hard time with cruelty and meanness in others. This girl tormented him. Recently, she was sent to another school. To my surprise, Cava was worried about her. He, in fact, was the one who suggested we pray for her that night before bed. There is a compassion in him that reaches out to the very ones most of us would choose to hold an anger towards. 

When there weren't enough snack cakes at a party, Cava offered up his to someone else because he didn't want them to go without. That staggers my imagination that a child who grew up where children were all about self-protection and getting for themselves because no one else looked after them, that he is caring and concerned about other kids. 

Watching him interact with others and seeing how they love him is amazing. People are in his corner and root for his success. He draws the embrace and tenderness of those who meet him. We go to a lot of doctors' offices and, not too long ago, as we were sitting in the lobby of one, one of the young assistants came rushing out to see Cava. She knows how much he loves birds and, using her own money, she bought him a beautifully illustrated book on the subject. "When I saw this," she smiled, "I thought of you." Cava returned that smile with his own big grin and then with one of his big "Cava" hugs. As his play therapist says, "He has everybody here wrapped around his finger."

Cava is truly a special and unique child. Not a day has passed that I have not, with a heart filled with gratitude, thanked God that He allowed us to have this blessing of a boy in our family. 

No, it's not always easy. Adoptive children offer their own set of unique circumstances and issues, but those challenges only makes the successes that much sweeter. 

There is a light and a life in Cava that inspires and makes me want to be a better, more kind and compassionate person. 

Yes, he has grown and changed a lot in these past four years and he has helped us to do the same. He has broken open our hearts to the hurting and least of these in the world. 

For anyone considering adopting, I will say that it can be hard, challenging, difficult and you will have times that you feel like you're overwhelmed and drowning, but I would give up my comfort and my daily routine joyfully for this child. Nothing of any great value is ever easy or simple. Adoption is a lot of hard work and even more patience. To those who make the excuse, "Oh, I could never do that." You can. When it's your child, you find a way. You find the strength. And you find God in a way that you never did before. 

God commands, not asks, us to take care of orphans and kids in foster care. Scriptures are filled with verses calling us to do so. God does not give us the option out, so we must take a good look at ourselves and admit:
1. We believe what God commands.
2. We don't.
3. We just don't care.

We have to decide. There are far too many kids in orphanages and foster homes that need forever families to love and care for them, to love them into the kingdom of God. How can they see the love of a God they can't see, if they can't see the love of people around them who they can see? We are to be the hands and feet of Christ to these children. We can offer God our obedience or our excuses.

I pray that the journey our family is one will, through Christ, inspire others to overcome all fears and trepidations, so that they, too, can step out in faith to adopt or foster kids who desperately need someone in their corner to remind them they are loved, they are special, they are of value and they are of worth. That is what God does when we are adopted as His sons and daughters, so, too, must we do that for children who are meant to become our own sons and our own daughters. 

Please prayerfully consider adoption or becoming a foster family. If you aren't called to adopt, find a way to come alongside those who are. Find a way to mentor or sponsor or help the fatherless of this world.  

Trust me, when you do, nothing makes it all worth it than to see a child go from forgotten to favored, from loneliness to love, from despair to dreaming, from emptied to embraced, from abandoned to adored. 

Nothing changes you like seeing a child begin to grasp their meaning, their purpose, their worth and to hear them call you "Mommy" or "Papa." To hear them say and mean it, "I love you." 

If you do, your life will never be the same again - thank God!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

What's New?

For those who have been following this blog for the last four years have probably noticed - there hasn't been a new post since November. Many have asked or messaged me about whether or not I will be returning to write anything new for this blog?  My only answer is, "Possibly."

I have, however, started a new blog entitled Begin With Wonder and it picks up, in many ways, where I left off with this one. If you have enjoyed or been challenged by my posts like "Vulnerable Messiah" or "Go Into The Stillness" or "In The Valley With Job: Dealing With Depression And Loss," then this new blog fits right into that niche. While it's not a blog with stories about our family, there are posts that deal with my faith in terms of my daily life, a great part of which involves being a husband and father.

So, if you have missed reading my blog posts, then check out the new site:

Monday, November 7, 2016

Take Up The Cause

"Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow."
- Isaiah 1:17

To find out more:

Friday, November 4, 2016

Happy 12th Birthday, Cava!

Twelve years ago today one of my personal heroes was born. While I was not present for his birth or for his first eight birthdays, he is no less my son than the boy who was born to us. When we adopted Cava, I had no idea of how profound an impact he would have on my life and that of our family. Sure, from the moment we first met him there was no doubt in our minds and hearts that there was something special about this boy with the big smile and even bigger hugs, but we did not grasp how much so. As I have watched this amazing child develop in the, almost, four years since he arrived in America, what has struck me is that he is how truly brave a kid he is.

I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like to, at only eight years old, choose to start a new life with a new family in a foreign country where everything from the language to the rules to the sights and sounds and smells are unfamiliar. I cannot begin to comprehend all of the things he has overcome in the eight years before we ever met him. I cannot grasp all of the hurts and wounds he has suffered through no fault of his own and yet, to do so while still retaining a compassionate and loving heart. He has a real sense of fairness and will stand up for other kids if they are left out or made fun of. 

Cava's bravery and his deep drive to better himself has caused him to strive and achieve goals that I never imagined possible in so short a time: going from being unable to make it a week of school without getting suspended to making the honor roll for all of last school year.  Or to be elected to student council. Or decide to play soccer. One of the things that I loved most was when, before one of the soccer games, he went off to play with some of his teammates (not an easy thing for him to do since he is still wary of playing with other boys). When I see him trying and putting himself out there for possible success or failure (and being able to now handle the latter with grace and kindness), I want to be more like him. 

In so many ways, Cava and I are very similar. As a child, I was short, skinny and shy (all of which made me a target for being bullied). At times, I was and still am very solitary. Too often I have allowed fear to control what I did or didn't do in life, but as I watch Cava navigate the world with our love and affirmation, he makes me want to put myself out there more, to take more risks, to be more like him. It's because of his bravery that I have opened myself up, let down my guard more, and allowed myself to be vulnerable enough to share parts of my life to others (such as writing about my struggles with depression). Because of my own pains and loneliness, I not only have empathy but understanding of Cava and he has helped to make me a better parent. I have had to rethink parenting and how my own actions and reactions can affect his (or Benjamin's). He is teaching me patience and gentleness always have the greater impact. 

Cava has made me see the world with new and fresh eyes, with an appreciation for what is simple and meaningful. I cannot see a bird without thinking of him (and the same is true for a good many other people). 

People who know Cava love Cava. You cannot help but love his enthusiasm and his joy. He greets those he knows with that big smile and even bigger voice (The boy can be loud).  I have never seen people react to a child the way they have to him. There is something so special in Cava that he draws you in. I cannot go anywhere without someone wanting to talk to me about him. 

Those who have seen the progress he has made in such a short time are astounded by it. We were just at the library this week and the children's section librarians all remarked on what a remarkable kid Cava is and how they love to talk to him and listen to him talk, especially about his love of reading (something else we have in common). 

He has made my life and my family's life so much richer. It is as if he has always been one of us. We cannot imagine our family without him in it. Not a day passes that I don't thank God that He was so loving to us to allow us to be a part of this boy's life. 

Cava has come through so much and I know there is so much more that he has to go through, particularly in regards to coming to terms with his past, but I would go through the depths of hell for my son. 

Ever since he saw the movie Aladdin, he likes to ask me what would I wish for if I could only have one wish. Without missing a beat, I reply, "That you had always been with us." He grins and says, "Oh yeah, me, too." Of course, he also adds, "And for Legos." He loves to hear me say that answer because it reminds him that he's deeply loved and wanted now. Just like he also wants to hear me tell the story of the treasure chest (Treasure Chest) because it's the story of how he is of great value and worth to our family. I like, as he gets out of my car to go to school each morning, how he turns and smiles at me whenever I call out, "Have a great day, treasure." But he is. I cannot imagine a greater treasure than the gift that he has been to my family and I.

Whenever I see him, without even thinking, my heart inwardly says the simple prayer of, "Thank you."

Happy twelfth birthday to my hero, Cava.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Treasure Chest

How many of us fail to grasp our own self-worth?  Too often we are shaped less by who we really are and more by who others perceive us to be. We allowe their criticisms and comments begin to define us from an early age. The German poet Goethe once wrote, "If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he out to be and could be." This is sage advice that I try to remember in my parenting and in my interaction with others.  Too many of us hear negatvie things about who we are when we are young and that shapes and defines so much of how we perceive ourselves. This is especially true of children who have grown up in abusive homes or situations. 

Oftentimes, it can be hard for Cava to accept love and that he is of value and great worth.  His identity and self-image has been shaped by hearing only negative things about himself. Those cold, harsh words reverberate in his soul and those voices echo in his mind whenever he struggles, so much so that he becomes plagued with self-doubt. As his Papa, I try to help him see who he really is: an amazing kid who has so much to offer the world.  Knowing that he has a hard time understanding the abstract, I gave him this image.

Once upon a time, there was a treasure chest in the middle of a village. People passed by this chest, but thought nothing of it; after all, it looked neglected and forgotten. Because the chest was unprotected from the sun and the rain, the chest did not appear special or of any worth. Weeds grew up around this chest. Then, one day, a family came to the village. They noticed the chest and inquired about it from the people of the village. Nobody who they asked gave the chest much thought. "Can we have it?" the family asked. "What do we care," the villagers replied, "it's just an old beaten chest."  So the family picked up the chest and took it back to where they lived. Once inside their own home, they slowly began to pry the chest open and when they did, they found it filled with treasure. Gold and jewels and riches like they had never seen before. They could not believe that the villagers never thought to open it themselves. Oh how their lives were changed by that treasure they found.

Cava loved the story and he talked about what he'd do if he found treasure (buy books, Legos, a bird). Then I revealed to him, "You are like that treasure chest. Nobody had noticed what was inside of you before. They didn't take the time to even see. But we adopted you and we began to see what an amazing, awesome and special kid you were. We saw that you had so many wonderful things inside of you: your intelligence and your kind heart. Each day that we spend with you, we see something new and valuable about you. There is such great worth and even you did not see it before. I cannot wait until you begin to grasp what a treasure you are. In all the history of the world there has never been and never will be another you. God created you uniquely you. He made you special and others now see that as well - at your school, at church." He smiled his big, warm Cava smile. That, too, is treasure.

How many of us need someone to tell us that we, too, are great treasures? That we have value and worth? How different would the world be if more people heard that? To know that they mattered. That they were seen and not forgotten? 

Just think of all the unopened treasure chests there are in this world. Maybe we should each take the time to notice.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Baptism, Armor, & A Papa's Blessing

Before the start of his ministry, Jesus went to the River Jordan to be baptized by his cousin John the Baptist. As he was coming out of the water, the Spirit of God came down like a dove and a voice from heaven spoke, "This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased." Before Jesus could start his ministry, he needed his Father's blessing. He needed affirmation from God. In the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke this baptism and God's blessing of His Son is followed by the Spirit leading Christ into the wilderness. The Greek word for "led" is more correctly translated as "impel," which has much more force behind it. Jesus is impelled by the Spirit to the wilderness where he will fast for forty days. During those forty days, he will be tempted daily by Satan, though we are only told specifically of three. Why did God need to bless and affirm His Son's identity? Because that would be the very thing that Satan would come to question in his temptations of Christ. "If you are the Son of God," he always begins. But because Jesus had His Father's affirmation, He understood who He was in God and that is where His identity lay.

How many sons and daughters never received such a blessing from their own fathers?  How many became lost in identity because they did not understand whose they were or that their father blessed their identity?

When Benjamin was born, the first thing I did upon holding him was to whisper a prayer of blessing in his ear over his life. Then, each person who came to visit us in the hospital or when we first got home, before I ever handed Benjamin to them, I asked them to do the same. This is a Middle Eastern custom I had read about that I wanted for my own son. I wanted everyone who came in contact with him to bless him.

A father blessing their son is seen throughout the Old Testament, but when God does so for His only Son then how can I not do likewise with my own sons? Is this not a model I should follow?

Too many fathers don't. Their children grow up without hearing those words they so desperately crave, "I'm proud of you." I cannot even count the number of times Benjamin has heard this over his sixteen years or Cava now has since we adopted him almost four years ago.

Another image from scripture that comes to my mind when I think of this, is when David is told to go and take food for his brothers, who are fighting in Saul's army. It's a humbling task for David, who probably longed to be in battle himself and, during the long, boring hours spent in the field with sheep, probably imagined himself a soldier in battle. Yet he is an errand boy taking his brothers their meal. Yet when he gets to the Israelite camp, he finds his brothers, all of the other troops, and even the King hiding from the taunts of the Philistine giant, Goliath.

What happens when David offers to fight Goliath?

Saul tried to put David in his own armor.

Though Saul is not David's father, I could not help but get a picture of so many parents, including myself sometimes, when we try to mold our children into who we think they should be instead of who God is wanting them to become. We cannot put our children in our armor (or our ideas of who we think they should become or what they should do).  One of the hardest prayers I have ever prayed was in giving my sons completely to God: for His plan for their life.

As their Papa, it is my job to guide and instruct, but it's also to affirm who they are becoming. This is especially true of Benjamin, who will be going off to college in two years. I tell him how proud I am, not just of his accomplishments, but, more importantly of who he's becoming in terms of his character and his walk with God.

When I affirm who he is and who he's becoming then what I am doing is putting his future into the light of God's perspective. "Who you are and what you do," I remind him, "should all be for the glory of God." It is helping him to see that success is not to be viewed through the lens of our culture. True success is not the amount of stuff he has or money he makes, but the amount he loves and gives himself to others in order that they might see the love of Jesus through him. I am preparing him for when he leaves us so that he has a better sense of who he is in Christ. Blessing and affirming him is rooting him in where his strength will come from when he faces trials and tests and failures.  Just as Satan came to Jesus in the wilderness, he will come to Benjamin when he is out of our home. When he hears that sly whisper of suggestion, I want him to know that he is not who the world says he is, but who God says he is; redeemed through the blood of His Son, of great value and worth, precious and righteous.

Also, when I bless them it shows that I know who they are and about their dreams, goals and desires. I see their uniqueness in the way God created them differently from myself. I see their strengths and their weaknesses. I see their gifts and their talents. I see them as individuals. By affirming them, I am letting them know that I notice, I understand and that I bless their identities in Christ. I do this for my sons and would do the same if I had daughters.

I pray this blessing over Benjamin.

I will pray his own blessing over Cava.

They will not be the same prayers because they are not the same kids.

How much time I have with them on this earth, I cannot say. But in that time, I want them to know that their Papa loves them, is proud of them and blesses the men they will become.