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

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Hard Time With The Holidays

Most of us tend to think of the holidays in terms of joy and cheer, family and friends, and celebration. But for many adopted children, any holiday is a time of great stress and anxiety. I know I have witnessed this first hand with Cava. There is so much stimulation around holidays, Christmas in particular, that he is in sensory overload. For him, like many adopted kids, there is also the struggle to deal with their past. Christmas, like their birthdays, were just another day that went by without fanfare.

This year we had Cava do a Shoe-box for Operation Christmas Child. We explained to him why we were doing this and how it would go to a child his own age, possibly to one in Ukraine. His response floored me, "How come I never got one?"  How do I answer that? All I could say was, "I don't know, buddy, but you're not in that situation now and there are millions of other kids who still are."  It wasn't just about not getting the shoe-box, it was the internal question of, "Why wasn't I worth giving one to?" His reaction stems from a poor self image of not feeling deserving of getting a gift.

For him, as much as he now loves Christmas and getting presents, he still deals with all of the years where he received nothing. He has no memories of his mother, but for many adopted kids, they do remember their parents. For them, Christmas may be a time of guilt, anxiety, sadness, anger, and loss. They may feel betrayed by their parents abandoning them. They may have happy or sad memories about Christmases past. They may feel a loss of traditions they once had.

Adopted kids feel abandoned and often wonder if it was their fault. What did they do wrong? They may not think themselves worthy of enjoying all that the season offers: from the festivities to the gifts.

Christmas may cause them to relive painful memories. A certain smell or sound may trigger something deep within them that causes them to act out.

Children who've grown up in orphanages have experienced great loss. They have been rejected by their birth families. It may be important to sit down and let the child express their painful emotions during what we see as a "joyful" season.

Some parents may try to make up for all that the child did not have only to find the child ungrateful or by showing difficult behavior. It's key for us, as their parents, to try and understand the motivation behind the behavior. Maybe all the busyness of the holidays are too overwhelming for the child. The excitement may be too much.

There are complex feelings going on in these children, much of which they may not be able to understand and express themselves. But as their parents, we need to be their to love them, offer them support and reassurance. The best gift we can give them is a sense of security and peace.

Here are two great links that deal with the subject matter:



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Did You Know?

Did you know St. Nicholas was an orphan?

Born into a strong Christian family, his parents died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young.

Nicholas would be raised by his uncle. He would then grow up to become known for his reputation for secret gift giving and putting coins in shoes that were left out for him. He would also become the model for Santa Claus.

When you adopt a child, you never know what a difference you will make in their lives. The love of a family can impact not only the child but, when they grow up, they might make the difference in the lives of others.

"The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic God's giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves."

- Saint Nicholas of Myra

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

On This Day, Two Years Ago . . .

Two years ago today, we boarded a flight that would take us to a country that would change our family's lives forever. We were filled with a mixture of excitement and nervous anticipation, some fear (we knew a family who had just come back empty-handed), but we were praying and trusting that God, who had led us to undertake this journey in the first place, would not abandon us and would lead us to the child that would become our son or daughter, brother or sister.

One thing that stands out from this day, before we even set foot on a plane, was going through the security check. We had gone through the scan and were waiting on our bags, when the TSA agent noticed something wrong with one of our bags - Benjamin's. He has eczema and we had packed a new, unopened jar of lotion for it in his carry-on bag. The agent informed us that, since Benjamin was underage, he couldn't go through a pat-down and which one of us, my wife or I, would take his place? Now, if I had not stepped up, I wouldn't have dared to get on a flight that was about 12 hours with my wife, so I said I would. He asked if I wanted to go behind a curtained-off area, but I just wanted to get it over with, so I declined. While I was getting patted down, I jokingly asked him, "I don't get any Barry White music or mood lighting or something?" And, when it was over, and we made our way to the gate, I lamented to Danelle, "He didn't even offer to take me out to dinner or anything."

After we had gone through this ordeal, Benjamin suddenly realized that he'd left his coat in my Dad's car, since he drove us to the airport. My Dad was now on his way back to the beach where he lives. Since we were headed to Kyiv in December, Benjamin couldn't go without the winter coat we had just bought for him online.  Danelle immediately got on her cell phone, called him, and my Dad was kind enough to turn around and meet her, as there was no way that I was not going to go through security again.

Benjamin was thrilled that he was getting to fly again, get out of school for a month, and go to a foreign country, where he was, in his mind, going to meet his younger sister (as he only prayed for a sister and, when we prayed that God was lead us to the right child, boy or girl, he would pray after us, "Don't listen to them, God, I want a sister"). He loved the small screens on the back of the seats in front us that he could watch TV or a movie or play video games on. One of the movies our flight was showing was The Odd Life of Timothy Green, which is a film about adoption and the notion of having the "perfect" child (I blogged about this movie http://snapshotsfromourjourney.blogspot.com/2013/05/revisiting-odd-life-of-timothy-green.html).

There were some who had warned us not to take Benjamin. "You don't know what could happen to him over there." Our response was, "If we are going to trust God on this journey, then we are going to trust Benjamin to him." We also explained why we thought it was important that he experience a foreign country, that he saw where his brother or sister was coming from, to meet that child when we did, and to be part of the decision as it affected him just as much as it did us. This was a decision we never regretted and was critical to Cava being adopted by us, as it was Benjamin who had spoken up first and said, "He's my brother." If we had left Benjamin behind and then brought a brother home, I'm not sure how much worse it would have been when he had to share a room with him and then go through all of the difficulties of those first few months. It was also interesting to hear from others, afterwards, who contacted me to let me know they were taking their kids because of our experience.

We did not know that we would embark on one of the happiest periods of our family's lives. Spending so much time with each other and in such close quarters, we found that we drew closer together and enjoyed not only discovering Kyiv and Ukraine, but each other again. The country would change us and become a part of our hearts in ways we could not imagine. Not a day has passed since we left that this country has not been in our thoughts and prayers. One day, when Cava is older, we hope to return and show him the beauty of a country he never experienced.

There was so much about this trip that would indelibly change our lives and open them to so much more, that would draw us out of our small, insular lives to a richer, more compassionate ones. Cava would make us see our world anew and help us to understand the very grace of God more deeply. We would also watch the impact he had on people around us (family and friends), as well as those who would follow our blog and our journey.

But we did not know any of this yet.

All we know was that we were answering the call to adopt and were waiting to see what He had in store.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Healing The Hurts

There are so many hidden hurts and wounds in an adopted child. Some of the pain shows itself immediately in angry rants and tantrums or acting out or meltdowns. But there are so many more that don't. Some slowly reveal themselves in tiny glimpses and some may never be fully known. These kids have faced deeper sorrows and pains than most of us will ever know. They struggle with identity, fitting in, being accepted and accepting themselves, as well as giving and accepting love. I cannot imagine all that goes on in the head and heart of a child who knows abandonment, abuse, and neglect for most of their young lives.

Oftentimes it can feel overwhelming and I am at a loss as to help our own adopted son heal. I can feel helpless in the face of his hurting.  I feel inadequate and far from up to the task, but God has chosen me to be a father to this boy. If He has placed Cava in my home then He will also supply the strength, patience, tenderness, understanding, brokenness, peace, and whatever else is needed to raise this child who has such a deep well of sorrow, loneliness, and pain.

It can be heartbreaking.

It can be made more difficult when the child is unable to express the "why" of their actions, as they may not even understand, and can offer only an answer of, "I don't know." And he oftentimes really doesn't know why. He can be a child who just acts and reacts. It's fight or flight!

As his parent, I can easily feel the frustrations and the failures, the discouragement and the defeats. But I have to lay all of the agony and the anxiety on the altar before God. I have cried out, "I know you're a great God who is big enough to create universes with just Your words, but right now, I need you to be small enough to heal a little boy's heart."

Therapy and play therapy help. But even those are limited in their ability to truly heal this broken child.

We understand that it's not a quick fix or an overnight process. Yet this knowledge does not make the pain and the struggle any easier.

Too many people have told me, and continue to do so, "I couldn't do what you're doing." They are shocked when I respond with, "I couldn't either." I can see their surprise in their faces. I also add, "Not without God's help."  Even then it often feels far too overwhelming.

I cannot understand or heal all his wounds, but Christ can. Only Christ can. As the Bible teaches us, "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5). We pray fervently and daily (sometimes hourly) for Cava's healing. We cannot heal or change him, only God can. Only God's love can. Where we are inadequate, He is more than enough. We give Cava to Him. We pray that Cava will have peace, that he will truly know the love of his heavenly Father, who loves him far more than we do and loves Cava enough to work on the hearts of a family in North Carolina to the point they went to Ukraine to adopt this little boy in a village they had never heard of before.

Recently Cava has had a rough patch at school and, one morning, as we were waiting in the car line to drop him off, his voice, small and full of anxiety, said, "Papa . . ."

"Yes buddy?"

"Can we pray that I have a good day today."

"Of course we can," I replied and we did. We prayed together. And we do this every morning. I also told him how he can do this throughout his day. "Whenever you're feeling angry or frustrated or upset, stop and pray inside. Pray for peace and for all of those bad feelings to go away. God is with you in school. He wants to help you."

The Psalms tell us that, "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit." (34:18)

I've told him about how Jesus told his followers to let the children come to him and explained to Cava that Jesus still wants children to come to him. I said, "Whenever you feel overwhelmed and feel like you won't be able to control yourself, stop, close your eyes for a moment and picture Jesus holding you just like Mommy or I hold you when you're hurting." This is something all of us really need to do throughout our day and how much with just realizing the love He has for us will truly transform us and our day.

We work to help Cava gain the tools for being able to deal with his hurts and frustrations. It is a slow and difficult process. It has setbacks, but we have to keep seeing these as just setbacks and not defeats. And we have to give them to God. We have to see that the hard times, as well as the victories, are all part of his plan. This isn't easy.

This morning, as I was doing my Bible study, I was reading in the book of James where it tells us, "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing." This is not an easy verse for me. I am not one who traditionally "counts it all joy." I tend to be one who complains it all difficult. Yet I know that I need to give this to God as well and let Him work on me just as He will Cava. I need that patience, not just to help Cava, but to help myself learn to trust and obey God, especially in those moments where I am left wondering, "Why?"

The book of Psalms is my favorite book of the Bible. The reason for this is that the psalmists were real. They tended to start their psalms with, "Why? Where are you God? Why is this happening to me? What are You going to do about it?"  They aren't afraid to ask these questions. Real questions. But, in the end, they always finish their psalms with the realization that, "I may not know and understand this, but I will put my trust in You and You alone."

Ultimately, all of the pain and the struggles and the sorrows and joys - all of it - are for His glory.  

It's also knowing that nothing is beyond Him. Only His arms are long enough to reach past the prison bars of Cava's hurts and anger, to reach that scared and frightened child with a love that will set him free. I can't. My wife can't. And we will only become more defeated if we think that we can. 

God has put us in this place.

When He led the Israelites out of Egypt, He did so by a way that had mountains and a desert on one side and a sea on the other. Why? I'm sure even Moses wondered this. But God had a plan. He wanted them to see, as He wants us to see, that only He can truly deliver us. Only He can rescue us and it will be to His glory and not our own. We cannot take credit for any of it.

One of my favorite authors, Wendell Berry, wrote that, "it may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings."

I have definitely begun my "real work" and started my "real journey" then.

Nichole Nordeman is one of my favorite singers and she has a song called "Miles" that really hit home with me lately. In it, she sings:

It may be miles and miles before the journey's clear.
There may be rivers, may be oceans of tears.
But the very hand that shields your eyes from understanding
Is the hand that will be holding you for miles.

All of this is a lesson in trust and obedience.

As a parent, I often view my kids as a kind of mirror of myself. Their hurts are my hurts. Whatever they are going through, positive or negative, are often seen through the prism of my past. I try to guide them from my failures, my loneliness, my pains, and my own bad choices. Sometimes this can be very helpful, in that my solitary nature can have great understanding and empathy for Cava's.

But that is not enough.

That is a feeble kind of love compared to the one that the Holy Spirit can impart. This kind of love is the one that 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 speaks of, " Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." This is a love that will heal Cava. He needs this kind of love just as I do. It is only with this kind of love that we will know peace and healing.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Failures & Fatherhood

When Benjamin was around the age of 4, he got really mad at me about something and, like some miniature Donald Trump, angrily told me, "You're fired!"

My response?

I threw up my hands and declared, "I wish I could quit! The pay is lousy and the employee often has no respect for me."

Both of us spoke out of frustration. But I wish I had taken the higher road. It definitely wasn't what Atticus Finch would've said. Although he is a fictional character, he is one of the gold standards by which I measure myself by and try more to emulate as a father. I strive to be that patient, that understanding, and to have the strength of character that he has and tries to instill in his children.

Recently, I was having lunch with a friend of mine when he, out of the blue, asked me, "Do you ever feel like a bad parent?"

Without even having to think about it, I blurted out, "Constantly!"

And I do.

A lot.

Many have this perception of me as laid back and easy going and I wish that were the truth. But I'm not. Not really. I tend to be stressed and tend to feel like I'm behind the eight ball most days between working, marriage, raising kids, taking care of things around our house, and whatever else shows up on my plate that day. One of my favorite quotes is by John Lennon who said, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." And it is!

Back in the Fall, on a Sunday, I told Danelle that I was going to go hiking up Crowder's Mountain with just Benjamin because I felt like I needed some one on one time with him. Since he started high school and has become a teenager, I often feel as if we are often at odds with each other. He and I have always had a close bond and I don't want to lose that. As we hiked down the mountain, as hiking up it I was too out of breath to have a conversation with him, I laid out my heart to him about how I felt we were usually butting heads and I didn't want us to grow apart. To my surprise, Benjamin replied, "I don't feel like we are. You're a great Papa. I know that you love me and want the best for me." I was glad that he saw it that way.

Parenting is a very hard job. I often mess up. I second-guess myself. I can easily get it wrong. And all of this makes me feel like a parental failure. Sometimes I let things build up to such a point that, like a dormant volcano that suddenly becomes active, I erupt.

There are days when I am frustrated and frazzled and wondering, "How early is too early for wine?"

Sometimes I have to remind myself that we did want these children and that they are blessings from God. Some days I thank God for them and other days I just pray that a roving band of gypsies will pass by.

Parenting can be especially challenging when I'm dealing with a child who has all the hurts and hidden wounds that Cava does. He has ADHD and anxiety issues and PTSD. He requires far more patience than I have and I'm often asking God for more patience and grace (both for him and myself).

When I screw up with either of them, one of the hardest, but most important things I can do is go and apologize to them and ask for their forgiveness. The first time I did this with Cava, he was stunned. He had never had an adult tell him that they were sorry for their actions or their words.

It's funny, but I am constantly reminding Cava that he doesn't have to be perfect and that he's going to make mistakes, but that I still love him no matter what, but do I allow the same for myself?

I love being with my sons. I love spending time with them and cherish that time because I know one day, especially with Benjamin, they will be leaving our home.  I love them both for their differences and similarities. I try to spark both their imaginations and creativity. I promote their individuality. I try to really listen to them, though sometimes I fail the worst in that area, especially if I'm busy doing something else.

One thing I learned from my Mom was to celebrate the uniqueness of each child by spending time with just one of them, doing whatever they love to do the most. This may mean I have to just sit and listen to Benjamin explaining what a raspberry pi is and what it does. Or it may mean sitting down and working on a puzzle with Cava. But, by doing so, I let them know that they are special.

When I look at them, I see them as my sons and not as chores or duties.

One of my favorite TV shows is Gilmore Girls.  It's one of the most literate TV shows I've watched and I love all of the cultural references and the soundtrack, which is music I love. Benjamin's watched it with me on Netflix and he asked, "Why can't you be more like Lorelai?" She's the mom and her relationship with her daughter Rory is, oftentimes, more of a pal and best friend than as a parent. I replied, "Because I'm your parent, not your buddy."

Not that long ago, I saw a story about how Kelly Ripa's daughter doesn't like her because she is her parent and not her friend. I'm not sure why I was surprised, but I was to see that many people took her to task for this. We live in a culture that has too many adults wanting to be their child's friend and not their parent because being a parent is sooooo much harder. But what I see from my own kids is that they want boundaries and need me to set them. They need rules and discipline (not authoritarianism). As Ephesians 6:4 tells us, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."

Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett said, in an interview, that they don't correct or discipline their children because it's "too negative." What????

That is not parenting.  But too many think it is and that's why our culture is the way it is.

So I struggle with trying to find a balance.

I would like to be somewhere between Atticus Finch and Andy Griffith.

Finding this balance means that sometimes I have to choose: either my house is a mess or I am.

It may mean that whatever task I'm doing will have to wait while I deal with some issue or problem, or just take time to spend with whichever child needs my attention at that moment. It means that I will screw up quite a bit but that I just have to realize that no matter what I do, they will find something to blame me for in therapy when they've grown up.

The most important thing for me is to let them know that I love them and that most of my actions are born out of that love. Sometimes they are misguided, but I work hard to make them independent and, more importantly, godly men when they grow up. I have to be a role model to them and they will notice far more what I do than what I say. But I want them to know that, no matter what, I do love them and I thank God that He has blessed me with the opportunity and honor to be their father.

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Gift For Good

Since Christmas is soon approaching, I thought I would highlight a potential present that also does good for others. This one is Bridgewater Candles.

They are out of Spartanburg, South Carolina. The candles are made here in the United States. What I love about this company is that they donate a portion of every sale of each jar candle to feed an orphan. They do this through the organization Rice Bowls, a non-profit organization that wants to feed orphans worldwide.

There are over 140 million orphans in the world and every 2 seconds an orphan dies of malnutrition. This company wants to help change that. Their motto is "Light a Candle, Feed a Child" and they have already fed 4,081,614 meals. They even have a page where you can see in what countries they are feeding kids and even see the kids themselves.

Here is a link to their website:

Here is a link to Rice Bowls:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Kingdom Of God

In the book of James, Jesus says, "Listen, my dear brothers: Has God not chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised to those who love Him?" 

There are over 300 verses in the Bible about taking care of the poor.

There are over 50 verses about taking care of the fatherless.

Clearly God has aligned Himself with the downtrodden, the outcast, the vulnerable, and the marginal. He identifies Himself with the broken, the lonely, and the forgotten, so much so that His son came to this Earth as one of them. And yet, as His followers, we, so often, pretend not to see them or we dismiss them as someone else's problem or someone else's ministry. "That's not my gift," we might say to excuse ourselves, but if Jesus so identified Himself with the poor, how can we, as His followers, not do the same?

There are millions of kids who are in the foster care and orphanage systems.

There are millions who are trapped in sex trafficking.

There are millions trapped into forced labor.

26% of those trapped in sex trafficking and forced labor are under the age of 18.

In Eastern Europe and Slavic countries, 50% of the kids who age out of the orphanage system never make it to the age of 20.

Over a million kids are homeless in the United States alone. This figure goes up to over 100 million world wide.

How can we, as followers of Christ, allow this to happen? After all, part of what Jesus said He came here to do was "to proclaim release to the captives" and "to let the oppressed to go free." Are we working that these words are truth to the millions who are poor, who are oppressed, who are fatherless?

Are we "defending the cause of the fatherless and the widow" and, in this time when immigration is forefront of American debate, loving "the alien, giving him food and clothing"?

Do we, through our indifference, not strive for their justice? 

We are all made in the image of God, but do we truly see others that way?

Job 29:11-12 says, "Whoever heard me spoke well of me, and those who saw me commended me, because I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist them."

Will the same be said of us?

Do we offer help or excuses?

Do we not "weep for those in trouble?" Do our souls "grieve for the poor?" (Job 30:25).

Jesus was filled with compassion. Compassion is "the emotion that one feels in response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help."

Am I the good Samaritan or am I those who would move to the other side of the road and pretends not to see the suffering of someone else in desperate need?

The Lord is continually spoken of in scripture as a "refuge" for the poor and oppressed. Are we spoken of likewise? How can we not be if we are being made to be like our Lord and Savior? 

Do we speak up for those who do not have a voice in this world?

Gary Haugen, founder of International Justice Missions, said, "Justice is doing for others what we would want done for us."

Isiah 1:17 tells us, "Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the cause of the widow."

I think, too often, we read the scriptures with a highlighter, only marking the passages we like and quickly skipping over the parts that make us uncomfortable or challenges us. Often we are afraid of who God is going to call us to love because we know that He loves the most unlovable and has called us to do likewise. 

Do we pour ourselves out in loving the unlovable? 

Do we see them as precious? 

Our heavenly Father does. 

Jesus told us, "When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors lest they also invite you back; and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just." (Luke 14:12-14).

Jesus loved the poor and the broken. 

Do we? 

Or do we close our eyes and our hearts to their plight?

If Christians were obedient in taking up the cause that God has called us to do, there would be no more poverty, or orphans, or sex trafficking in this world. The world would know us by our love, which is how Jesus said they would know His followers. 

So how will we answer to Him when He asks what we have done for Him, done for the least of these? 

Here are just a few links to ways you can get involved:

International Justice Missions

Compassion International

Lifesong For Orphans

Habitat For Humanity

Reece's Rainbow

Sole Hope

Cross International