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

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Understanding Atticus

For anyone who's read this blog for any time now knows, one of my all-time favorite books is To Kill a Mockingbird and that a role model for fatherhood has been for me the character of Atticus Finch. He was a literary figure who personified in so many ways what a man of real character and strength were. He also reminded me in many ways of my grandfather, Papa Fred, who, after he died, was spoken of as a man who never said an unkind thing about anyone. As well as my Uncle Richard. Both were quiet men of inegrity.They did not need to prove themselves but showed strength through their generosity, gentleness, and by being true gentleman.

How would I feel if I suddenly discovered they were racist?



Uncertain of my understanding of them.

It would shatter and shake my idealzation of them.

This is exactly what happens to Jean Lousie Finch (aka Scout) in the sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird entitled Go Set a Watchman.  

Before the book ever hit shelves, all one knew about it was that Atticus was a racist.


How could the man who told this same daughter, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it," be a racist? Is that contradictory?  Isn't that out -of-character for a lawyer who defends a black man wrongly accused of rape? How can I reconcile that dichotomy?

Look at one of our founding fathers: Thomas Jefferson. He wrote that "all men are created equal," but did not believe this. He considered giving up his slaves until he realized that would be the end of his wealthy lifestyle. Jefferson was a man who loved to spend money on collecting nice things (to such a degree that he died in debt). His comfort was more important than his conscience. Yet those words "all men are created equal" are no less true despite being written by a man who did not live up to such platitudes. Jefferson was a man of his time. A man of deep flaws and racism was a part of that. Jefferson will also play a part in the debate of this novel.

Atticus Finch is no less a product of the South he lived in. (It's funny that so many people talk about him as if he were a real man and that this has struck such a nerve in them). I'll admit, I was very, very reluctant to read this book. I was one of those who looked up to and admired this fictional man for the portrait of standing up for what you believe in even when everyone else doesn't. One of my favorite quotes from To Kill a Mockingbird is:

Like the character of Jean Louise, "I just don't like my world disturbed without some warning."

To Kill a Mockingbird is about the loss of childhood innocence, about seeing the reality of the town's racism Go Set a Watchman is about Jean Louise losing her childlike idolization of her father and the reality of the fact that racism is even in him. She begins to question herself and what she really knows. At one point, she even thinks, "Everything I have taken for right and wrong these people have taught me . . ." (The very same people who are spewing vile, racist remarks).

"There's a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep them all away from you. That's never possible," he tells Jem in To Kill a Mockingbird, but in Go Set a Watchman, we see that, in some ways, Atticus is one of those "ugly things" because of the segregationist attitude he has. This is hard to take for Jean Louise and for the reader, who adore and idolize him just as much as if they were his own children. How could we not?

"Integrity, humor and patience were the three words for Atticus Finch." That is how Chapter 9 of Watchman begins. This is how his daughter sees him. This is how we see him. The first novel is told through the eyes of his children. Children who idealize their father. They don't see the man, the see their version of him. That is how we have come to see him and we don't like to have that image shaken. It is a childish view that not only Jean Louise, who is now 26, has to come to grips with and a view we, the reader, have to do the same with.

Her description of her father starts as, "Atticus Finch's secret of living was so simple it was deeply complex: where other men had codes and tried to live up to them, Atticus lived his to the letter with no fuss, no fanfare, and no soul-searching. His private character was his public character. His code was simple New Testament ethic, its rewards were the respect and devotion of all who knew them."  Who wouldn't want to be described like that?  That was the man we all thought we knew, just like she did. Chapter 9 describes how she and Jem knew their father like no other child because they were so often with him. But they didn't. Because children never really do. It is only as we move out of childhood, past our own selves, that we can begin to see our parents as people. Flawed, imperfect people. Idols tumble. This is all part of growing up. That's part of why growing up can be so painful.

It is like being plunged into icy water for Jean Louise to discover a racist pamphlet like The Black Plague among her father's things or to see him just sitting there, in the same court where he defended Tom Robinson, listening to the rantings of a racist speaker. He listens. He says nothing. He does not get up and leave. He doesn't disagree with this man. Is this really the Atticus we thought we knew and loved? This is what Jean Louise must confront in herself. Her childhood memories and the world where she grew up is shattered even more than they were in Mockingbird. Why? Because, unlike in the first novel, her father is no longer the man of strong character who stands alone. This time, he sits in silence and, she fears, in agreement.

Like Atticus, Go Set a Watchman is imperfect. It doesn't have the seamless layers that unfolded in To Kill a Mockingbird. Sometimes the flashbacks to childhood seemed to slow down the narrative in this newer work. The narrator's voice is not as strong as in the original novel. Nor does it have the plot driven by a court room trial. Both books have humor and a sense of humanity, but this lacks the brilliance of writing that the first novel had. Unlike Mockingbird, Watchman is a good novel, not a great one. What it does have to offer is for us to confront our own illusions about race. We live in what can often be a racially divided country. Like she did in Mockingbird, Harper Lee is playing a part in this discussion again through Watchman.

But is it a great novel?

No, it's a good one.

While Mockingbird was a novel of childhood memories that is seen through the haze of nostalgia, Watchman is about disillusionment and becoming one's own as an adult. This new novel doesn't have the court room drama to help drive the plot along and this new work can get bogged down in the debate of race that it can be more pendantic in its narrative.

Unlike To Kill a Mockingbird, I don't see me rereading this new novel every few years. But I'm glad I read it so that I could make my own decision about it - and isn't that the point?

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Pure Joy Of Smiles

Our friend, Cristy Brice said, "The more you pray for someone, the more you love them." This is so true. For two years I have prayed every day for T. The more I prayed for her, the more I loved her, and the more I loved her, the more I prayed for. This created a "T" shaped spot in my heart. Now that she's here, that has only grown. As with Cava, I love to see her smile.

I love to see her experience joy and laughter, as well as love. I love seeing her run and play and enjoy being a child. Whether it's visiting the Catawba Science Center . . .

Having a family silly string fight . . .

Or simply blowing bubbles . . .

Or unleashing rolls of paper tape . . .

But no matter what the reason, I simply love seeing T smile. As I have told her many times, her smile makes me smile. And how could it not?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Good Gifts

For anyone who doubts that our God gives good gifts, I offer this as proof:

Indeed, God gives good gifts. Why? For us to not only delight in them, but, ultimately, to delight in Him.

As James 1:27 tells us, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no shadow or variation."

The fact that "T" is now here, in America, with our family, is all due to the grace of God. He is a loving Father and truly a Father to the fatherless.

God works in miraculous ways. It all started with me doing the simple act of opening a door for a little girl. But how that small act rippled with significant waves that I never would have guessed how profoundly it would affect all of us. What for me was just doing what I have always been raised to do, open a door for a lady, became an act that showed a little girl that she was noticed and that she was important. Like any child who craves to feel loved and worth, she sought me out and, when we left, I am sure she thought I, like so many others, had abandoned her. I felt like I had and I found myself asking God, "Why?"

A little over two years later, I am finding out that He had been telling me, "Not at this time," and that He had not forgotten.

I cannot truly express the profound sense of joy I feel at being reunited with "T." To be able to hug her again. And I, inwardly, do so with gratitude and deep thanks. I know that, once again, this is God generously allowing us to be a testimony to Him. This is a gift. A good gift. A gift that glorifies its giver and will be a witness to all who see. They will see His light, His love, His goodness. This is truly a moment of miraculous beauty.

Is it any wonder that my Bible verse for today was I Corinthians 13:7-8, "Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything it is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen."

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Inside Out In The Adoptive Child

When asked what I wanted to do for Father's Day, I had one response, "Go see Inside Out." I absolutely love Pixar's films and am constantly amazed at the artistry and the talent they have for crafting stories that truly move the audience.

The film is about an eleven-year-old girl named Riley, who struggles with her emotions when her family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco. The emotions (Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust) try to help her adjust. Then Sadness touches one of the "core" memories, which changes it and sets in motion a whole big inner adventure with Joy and Sadness ending up in the labyrinth of Long-Term Memories. Like many of Pixar's best films, this one stirs up many of these same emotions in its viewers and pulls them in more than most live-action movies can. It is one of Pixar's most complex and best films.

Yet, as I watched this film, I sat there wondering, "What are Cava's core memories?"

Riley's first memory is of opening her eyes as a newborn and seeing her parents smiling at her. This became her first "core memory." It was the beginning and the basis for the memories that followed.

The core memories are what formed Riley and her perception of the world. She grew up an only child with loving parents.

But what would those core memories be for someone who has spent their life in orphanages?

Scientists even say that newborns experience great trauma when they are rejected but cannot process the loss of their biological parents. Bryan Post in his article "The Adopted Child: Trauma and Its Impact," wrote that, "Far beyond any cognitive awareness, this experience is stored deep within the cells of the body routinely leading to states of anxiety and depression in the adopted child later on."

How does this loss underlie so many of the emotions and memories that will shape these children?

And I can't help but ask:

So what memories bring Cava joy?

Or sadness?

Or anger?

Or fear?

He can definitely go through many emotions all in one day. Or one hour.

The only happy memories Cava speaks of from his life in the orphanage system is watching movies because it was his solitary escape from his surroundings. Movies on DVDs are where he discovered Spider-man and Disney.  And it sounds like he spent a lot of time watching TV.

Yet how much does that leave lacking in his emotional development?

After the movie, while we were eating dinner, I asked everyone to name a core memory they remembered from their childhood. It could be a happy one or a sad one, whatever they chose. Cava picked the day we came to adopt him as his happy memory. We all joined him in the joy of that moment and told him how that was a core memory for all of us as a family.

How can we, as his parents, now form new core memories that will shape his life?

I think one of the key things we can do is to allow those emotions to come out of him and not suppress them or deny them. One of the things we have worked on with Cava is learning to express his emotions in a positive and healthy way rather than suppressing them or releasing them only through fear and anger. It is critical for us, as his parents, to help guide him when he's stuck on a negative emotion and to help him understand that feelings come and go. We need to help him navigate the interplay of emotions so that he is able to balance them as he continues to grow, which is a necessary tool for him to develop.

This film has provided us with a way to discuss emotions and how memories can be formed by more than one of them.

We can now talk with him about the purpose of emotions like sadness. Or about the emotions he is feeling and try to understand the memories that may be connected to that emotion at that moment, as well as what triggered it to help him in the future.

How many other movies can provide parents that opportunity?

A book I highly recommend is The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, PH.D.

To read the full article by Bryan Post, in which he has 10 great ideas for helping heal the trauma in an adopted child, go to this link:

To know more about the whole-brain child, go to:

To hear a report from NPR entitled "Science of Sadness and Joy: 'Inside Out' Gets It Right," go to this link:

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Seeing Annie Through New Eyes

As a kid, I remember my parents taking me to see the Broadway musical "Annie." It was one of the first musicals I got to see on-stage and it made a huge impression on me. The story of a plucky, optimistic orphan struck a nerve in an America going through the Great Depression and into FDR and his progressive New Deal. The musical played off this sentiment, especially with the hit "Tomorrow." I loved the musical and found myself humming tunes like "It's a Hard-Knock Life."

In 1982, the film version of the musical came out. My parents took me to see that one, too, and I even had the soundtrack. I listened to the songs and knew all the lyrics, but they were just that - words to songs. They had no real meaning for me. All I knew of orphans were the Romanian ones that had gained worldwide attention because of the poor condition of their orphanages. But that was another part of the world and not part of mine.

Then we adopted Cava.

I remember the first time the trailer for the newer version of "Annie" came out in 2014. "I wanna' see that!" Cava declared loud enough for the theater to hear him. Since the 1982 version was on Netflix, I suggested he watch that one first. Big mistake!  The cruelty of Carol Burnett's Miss Hannigan caused a visceral reaction in Cava. He began to yell at the screen. It had obviously struck a deep nerve in him. During "It's A Hard-Knocked Life," he shook his head at the girls doing back-flips on their beds and having pillow fights. "If they were in Ukraine, they would get it," he said. When I asked him what he meant, he wouldn't tell me but just shook his head.

We didn't watch the whole film. But what struck me with what I did see again was how much deeper the lyrics were because of my connection to orphans. Hearing Annie singing with longing for her parents to return for her is heartbreaking. Especially the lines:

Betcha' they're young,
Betcha' they're smart,
Bet they collect things
Like ashtrays, and art!
Betcha' they're good -
(Why shouldn't they be?)
Their one mistake
Was giving up me.

How many orphans and kids in foster care can echo those sentiments?  Inside, all of them long for parents that love them. 

Even the catchy "It's A Hard-Knock Life," strikes at their feelings of loss, loneliness, hunger, and feeling that the world was against them and that no one cares. It's all hidden behind the up-beat rhythms and tempo of the song. This is a reality for millions of children around the world and now, whenever I hear that song, it strikes hard at my father's heart.  

The summer movie series started today and the first film we saw in it was the remake of "Annie." This one is updated with an African-American Annie played by the talented Quvenzhan√© Wallis. In this version, she's not an orphan but a foster kid and Miss Hannigan is her foster mom. 

It has many of the same elements as the original but, somehow, Cava did not have the same angry reaction to this film as he did the other. He had seen this one before when it came out on DVD, so when I took him to the theater to see it, I knew he wouldn't get angry and begin to yell at the screen. Still, as I sat beside him, I found myself moved not by the story on-screen, but by the one in the little boy beside me watching it. 

He has lived a "hard-knock life." Those aren't just words. They were very real for a very large part of his formative years. Like Annie, he longed for a family to love him. Whenever I heard him singing along, I found tears welling up in my eyes. When he softly sang along, he meant those words in a way that no one on-screen ever could know. I found myself in tears as I heard him quietly singing, "The sun will come out tomorrow . . ." Not only because of his past, but because this little boy still struggles with fitting in, with belonging at school and with his peers.  He knows what it's like to be "stuck with a day that's gray and lonely" in a way that I never have, but yet he keeps trying, keeps working hard, and has a great, big old heart full of love. 

During the latter part of the film, he leaned over to me and whispered, "Papa, I'm glad you adopted me."

"I am too, buddy," I whispered back and took his hand in mine.

"If I would've stayed there, I would've stayed so angry all the time," he confided. 

Later, he asked me, "What does 'hard-knocked life' mean?" After I explained it to him, he laughed, "Boy, that sure was me."

"But not now?"

"No, not now."

And I'm glad that he isn't.

Love is changing him. He knows he has a Mom and Papa that love and care for him. Like Annie, he is getting a happy ending. 

Still, I cannot help but think of all the other kids in orphanages and foster care who haven't gotten theirs. Are you the family they are longing for?

Please prayerfully consider adoption or becoming a foster parent. Give them a new tomorrow. One that's filled with love and hope and a family. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

A Bigger World

Cava and I were on our way back home from Charlotte and had hit traffic. I don't deal well with traffic and I could definitely feel Cava's anxiety levels growing (as did our impatience). Knowing that I needed to take both of our attention off the traffic, I began to engage Cava by playing different games such as who could spot a plane first or a bird. This quickly began to relieve the tension and stress. As we saw a plane coming in for landing, I started to talk to Cava about flying here from Ukraine. Then I asked him, "Cava, how did your life change when you came here?"

He didn't answer right away or reply, "I don't know," as he usually does, but actually stopped and thought before answering, "My world got bigger."

"What do you mean?" I asked, curious as to what this meant to him.

"Before, in Ukraine, it was just the boarding school. Nothing else. Now there are so many other places I know about that I want to go to and I have more choices."

"Choices for what?"

"What I can be when I grow up or things like that. Life is better."

I loved this. I loved hearing that he saw his life now as an open door instead of one being slammed shut on him. He has opportunities he never had before and he sees that. By adopting Cava, we gave him more than just a family, we gave him dreams that he never had before because these dreams have the potential of coming true in a way that they never did before.

For him, this is no less magical than finding a magic wardrobe that's a door to Narnia.

As the author Victor Hugo wrote, "There is nothing like a dream to create the future." To that, I would also add, "There is nothing like a dream and the love of a family to create the future." And I am so thankful that we have been given the opportunity to be a part of this with him.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Awards Day Anxiety

Today was the awards day at Cava's school. Unlike last year, this year, he was not receiving one. This, of course, caused anxiety in my wife and I since we were worried about how Cava would take it since he, like all the kids in his grade, would have to attend the ceremony during the school day. How would he deal with not getting an award and having to sit there to watch others receive one or more, especially kids from his class. It has been a bumpy school year this year and we did not want it to end on a bad note. The night before the awards day, we set Cava down and explained to him that he was not getting an award but that we were no less proud of him. We spoke to him about being happy for one's friends when they get one or more. We also talked to him about how it's okay to be disappointed, but it wasn't okay to let disappointment become bad behavior.

Cava took the talk well, but we were still nervous about how this day would go. Knowing what time the awards ceremony was, I know I was praying for Cava. It's hard for him to feel left out. I imagined my little boy having to sit there and watch others around him going up, getting their award and hearing others applaud for them and feeling like he was, once again, not of value. After eight years of hearing that he was bad and that he wasn't smart, he desperately craves validation, acceptance, and approbation.

Despite watching his friends around him get awards, Cava kept it together and didn't get angry. He congratulated them. It was only after the ceremony was over that he got sad and began to cry when he noticed other kids' parents were there and we weren't (something we had not thought of and had not talked to him about). But he even handled this well and asked his principal for a hug. He gave her a big hug and she gave him a big hug back. We absolutely love the principal of his school and are thankful to have her, as she is extremely patient and understanding of Cava and he adores her.

While Cava may not have received an award today, his Mom and I couldn't have been more proud of how he handled himself. This was a huge step forward for him. Way to go Cava!