Monday, December 29, 2014

Becoming A Blackwell


On this day, two years ago, our family went to a court in Ukraine to make Cava our son. All of us were extremely nervous about going before a judge, as we had heard stories of how detailed, difficult, and personal the questions could be. All of us wanted desperately for Cava to become a part of our family, but this entire adoption hinged on his answer. We could offer him a home and a family and a new life, but if he told the judge, "No," that he didn't want to be adopted by us, then it would be over and we would have to leave heartbroken and without him.

But he didn't.

He said, "Yes." And that simple, three-lettered answer changed all of our lives.


Cava said that, more than anything, he wanted a family and to be in a family. Still, it is one thing to want something and it is something else to become part of a family. He had no idea of what this really entailed and, to some extent, we did not know what adopting a child into our family was truly going to be like. Adoption is living a life that is not about expectation, but about dealing with life on a day to day, often moment by moment basis. When we opened our home and heart to Cava, this meant accepting the vulnerability that comes with loving an adopted child and all of the hurts and pains that come along with it. And that first year was very bumpy, very emotional, and, ultimately, bonded our family more deeply together.

But with those hurts and sorrows also comes great joy. To see a child, whose eyes were once deadened and empty, become filled with life and delight is a miracle. To watch love begin to transform a child, so that they can not only learn to love his newly adopted family, but also, more importantly, themselves. To see themselves as not only loved, but lovable. It is to know that, while you weren't there for a lot of firsts, there are so many new firsts that you will experience with them. I will never forget that moment when Cava first arrived here in the States, got into our car to go home, and as we rode down the highway, he rolled down his window and yelled out, "I love America!" And he would. Of course, he would say many, many more times that he wanted to return to Ukraine long before he really ever got a love for the place he was now.

His second Christmas with us has just passed and the enthusiasm he has for all of it is infectious. He loves the lights and the sounds (I love how he sings along to Christmas carols even when he doesn't know all the words). He didn't have any of this before and all of it is new and filled with wonder for him. This Christmas, he began to learn about giving to others (through the shoe boxes of Operation Christmas Child). I love how, when we went to the Christmas program at our church, as the nativity story unfolded before him, he leaned over to me and whispered, "Papa, that's what you taught me about."

I love that his enthusiasm for getting new super hero pajamas can be the same as when we went to Walt Disney World.  He is full of boundless enthusiasm and still thrills over spotting a bird. I notice that I have become more aware of birds and butterflies and squirrels because of him. He has taught me to appreciate the little things and to see even the smallest of victories as moments of pure celebration.

So many people speak of what a great job Danelle and I are doing, but I have to correct them and say, "No, if Cava hadn't wanted this, if he hadn't wanted to change, then we wouldn't have gotten to where we are now." Cava has a good heart and he is learning that, even when he makes bad choices, our love for him doesn't change. Our love for him doesn't fluctuate depending on his behavior and this is something that is as foreign to him as English first was. It is slowly sinking in, but, like all of it, this is a slow process.

Cava has widened our eyes. We are not just an American family. Part of our dynamic and our make-up is now Ukrainian. That country now has a hold on our hearts, just as the United States does. We pray for his native country daily. We have embraced its culture, its heritage, its food, and have tried to incorporate these things into our celebrations and traditions. We are now connected to two worlds.

Adoption is a special, sacrificial and selfless gift of love. It gives us a new awareness of God's love for us.

I just recently did our annual report for the Ukrainian Embassy. I was amazed, as I began to write about the last year, at just how far Cava really has come in such a short period of time. He has made such huge strides in so many areas and he really isn't the same child that arrived here two years ago on January 19th. God has done a great work in him, in us, and through him. So many people have embraced this little boy from Ukraine in a way none of us could have ever imagined.

Cava loves Spider-man and he was surprised when I told him that he was braver than any super-hero. I told him how brave he was to agree to leave everything he had ever known to come to a new country and be part of a family. I told him, "You may not be where you want to be, but you are not where you once were. You have come so far and I'm so proud of the boy you are. I only hope that I can become worthy to be the Papa you deserve."

Cava has been a gift.

Over Christmas, my father asked me, "Knowing what you know now, would you still do it?"

My answer was an emphatic, "YES!"

Adoption is not easy. It's about becoming a family and all of us relearning what the really means. It is getting past the pretty pictures of what a family looks like on a Facebook page to what a family really is: the nitty-gritty, daily struggles and moments that, while hard, are what create stronger bonds of attachment. It is about how tears often lead to breakthroughs. It is about how tears can also be full of so much love and joy for those moments when your adopted child has success. I will never forget how, when Cava received the Citizenship Award at school last year, the school cheered for him and, it was through their cheers, I saw how much others loved and rooted for him. Tears of joys streamed down my cheeks. It was one of the proudest moments of my life because I knew what it not only took him to get there, but what it took our whole family to reach that moment. And it was a moment of hope that there would be more such moments in all of our future. It showed me how much bigger adoption was than just our immediate family.

Cava is my son. I take great delight in telling others this. He is as part of me as Danelle or Benjamin.

He has come a long way in two years and he has a long way to go, but I am just thankful to God that He has chosen our family to be a part of this sweet, wonderful, miraculous boy's life.

What I love is not just how much Cava has changed, but how much he has changed us.


Selfie taken by Cava of he and Benjamin on the way to court (12/29/12).


Selfie Cava took of he and his brother two years later at home.









Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Dark Matter Of Love



Masha is an eleven year old girl who grew up in an orphanage in Russia. Along with twin boys, Marcel and Vadim, she is adopted by the Diaz family. This 2012 documentary deals with the very first year of how not only these children, who've never known a family or how to be in one, adjust to a new life in a new family and a new country, but how the Diaz family relearns how to be a family with adopted children. It does not take them long to learn the reality of bonding and the attachment issues that come with children who've spent their lives in the orphanage system. This is a journey that is far more difficult and heartbreaking than they family had imagined. The Diaz family hired two of the leading developmental psychologists, including Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia School of Medicine Dr. Robert Martin, to help them navigate these new struggles using scientific discoveries used in a world-renowned therapy program.

While this is not an easy film to watch, I highly recommend it for any family considering international adoption or for those families who have adopted. 

As Karyn Purvis has written, "Adoptive parents become the biological parents through connection. We change their biology."

For those who have Netflix, this film can currently be streamed. 



Here's the official link to the film:
http://www.thedarkmatteroflove.com/

Here's a trailer for the film:


Here's a link for support:
http://adoptionsupport.org/index.php/dark-matter-of-love/

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

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:

http://www.professorshouse.com/Family/Adoption/Articles/Holidays-with-an-Adopted-Child/

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/31/four-adopted-siblings-lots-of-holiday-stress/?_r=0


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:
http://www.bridgewatercandles.com/


Here is a link to Rice Bowls:
http://ricebowls.org/


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

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cava On Being Adopted


Since it is National Adoption Month, I thought I'd let someone who knows this topic better than I do guest blog for me. So I talked to Cava for awhile and here is what he told me:

When I was in the boarding school in Ukraine, I wished that I could be in a family. I wanted a Mommy and Papa to love and take care of me. I always dreamed for a family but I never thought I would be in one.  I was so happy to be adopted so I could get out of the boarding school and never go back. I hated it there. No one cared if I was sad.  No one gave me a hug or told me they loved me.

When they asked me if I wanted to be in a family, I said, "YES!"

I was so happy that someone wanted me.

But I was scared, too.

I wanted to come to America but I did not know what it would be like. It was hard because I did not know what people were saying. It sounded like, "Blah, blah, blah." It made me mad because I didn't know and that people didn't understand me. It made me sad too. Sometimes I wanted to go back to Ukraine because I knew what they were saying.

I did not know what it was like to be loved. At first I did not believe that you and Mommy loved me. I wanted to be but I didn't know what I was supposed to do. But even when I was angry and I hit or kicked, you and Mommy and Benjamin loved me. It took me awhile to love you back.

Nobody had told me they loved me. Nobody told me I was good or smart. Nobody cared about my birthday. It was not special and I was not special. But now I am. People here love me. Mommy loves me, and Papa, and Benjamin, and Granddad Bob, and Aunt Kristen, and Aunt Tiana, and Mrs. Yulia, and Mr. Jack, and Mr. Philbeck, and Mrs. Cristy, and Mrs. Tuttle loves me. Lots of people love me. They think I am special.

I did not know about God in Ukraine. There was a church at the boarding school but they would not let kids come into it. Someone would stand on the steps sometimes and talk, but I didn't listen. When I came here, I learned about how God loves me. I learn about Jesus. I learn to pray.

In Ukraine, nothing was mine. Here I have my own room, my own clothes, my own books, my own toys, and my own dog. No one takes them away.

I get to go on trips like to the beach and to Disney World. I never thought I would go to such places.

I love being in a family because I am loved no matter what. I like getting kisses and being hugged and being told I'm special. When I grow up, I will adopt kids from other countries so they can know this, too.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Hurting & Healing


There is no greater pain nor deeper hurt than that of the orphan.
Nor is there a greater opportunity to show the redemptive power of love.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Intense Love


"Intense love does not measure, it just gives."
- Mother Teresa

Driving to work in my car this morning, Sara Groves' "I Saw That I Saw" came on my iPod and when the lines,  "Your pain has changed me. Your dreams inspire. Your face a memory," I found myself thinking about the orphans I met in Ukraine. 

I can still see their faces, their smiles, and their tears. 

Though most spoke no English and a few spoke a little, we somehow communicated during the time that we stayed in the boarding school with them. They would gather around me, to watch me draw and to request that I draw a picture for them, or we would play, or joke around and I loved whenever I could make them smile or laugh. They sought me out for more drawings or candy or to play. Some began to seek me out because I would give them a hug. They were precious, beautiful and broken miracles. 

How many of them dreamed of a love most of us take for granted?

As I spent time with these kids, most around the ages of 10 to 12, I felt a profound change taking place within me and God was using these kids to cut me to my very soul. They would not leave me even nearly two years since we left there. They needed so desperately to be shown attention, a smile, affection, and, ultimately, love. I imagined how these kids would  have responded to a Savior who would open his arms and say, "Let the little children come unto me." All hesitation would fall and they would run, as they did for me, to be by my side. 

They wanted arms to embrace them and, it broke my heart, that I could only do so only momentarily. The words of Jesus saying that "such is the kingdom of God" rang with such truth and clarity as I spent time among these children and I prayed that I could in my own, small way show the love of Christ to them. I don't know what impact I made on them, but I do know the life changing impact they have had on me and not a day has passed that I do not think of and pray for them. I opened my heart to them and had it broken and made full at the same time. 

I wish I could tell them that they have never left me, that I did not forget them, and never would. I wish I could have given them all a home where they would realize that love is not just a dream and to see the life and joy come into their eyes as they experience unconditional love for the very first time.

For now, all I can do is pray that there are others out there who can. Others who will ignore the fear and heed the call to fly half-way around the world to call a boy or a girl a "son" or "daughter." 




Saturday, November 8, 2014

Don't Celebrate National Adoption Month



There are over 153 million orphans in the world. Over 100,000 of those are available for adoption.

There are over 397,122 kids in foster care. Over 100,000 of those are available for adoption.

Those are just statistics. Numbers. Numbers are abstract. We can easily distance ourselves from numbers. I could post charts and graphs that cover the statistics of these kids and what happens to them once they age out of the orphanage and foster care systems, but it would not have an impact beyond some thinking, "That's terrible," just as we do when we watch a tragic story on the news.

We can even distance ourselves from orphans. Orphans are just a word. We know there are orphans but, once again, that is abstract. I could post photos of orphans from around the world, but these would just be photos of some unfortunate child in another country that has no real impact on your life because it's impersonal.

We can have Orphan Sunday and National Adoption Month and National Adoption Day and National Foster Care Month all to raise awareness, but if people don't act, it is pointless. Awareness does not change these children's lives, action does.

Holocaust survivor, author, and humanitarian, Elie Wiesel wrote, "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference."

Yet most of us have an indifference to the plight of the orphan.

But those numbers are not numbers, they are children. Orphan is not just a word, they are flesh and blood kids who long to be accepted.  They are not problems to be solved, but children to be loved.


I do not celebrate National Adoption Month because it should not be celebrated. It is not a call to celebration, but a call to action. I do not celebrate because these orphans are real to me, I've met them, learned their names, and a little bit about their lives. I do not celebrate because there are orphans in the world. And I see so many in the church doing nothing.

Gandhi once said, "Be the change that you want to see in the world."

In the traditional Irish hymn, "Be Thou My Vision," the opening line is "Be thou my vision O Lord of my heart." What this is asking God to do is to allow us, as His people to see the world as He sees it, to see others as He sees them. While we sing this, do we mean it? Do we see orphans as God sees them? He calls Himself a "Father to the fatherless." By His very admission, orphans are a priority. Are they for us, as His followers?

"A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families . . ." Psalm 68:5-6

Do we have God's passion for the orphans? If we are to truly be like Christ, how can we not?


One person who took up this call was George Muller. (To read my previous blog about his remarkable life, go to http://snapshotsfromourjourney.blogspot.com/2012/06/brief-profile-of-george-muller.html). Every day he would walk the streets of London and, as he did, he began to notice the orphans who lived on them and were badly mistreated by society. As he began to pray, God opened his heart to open an orphanage where these children could be taken care of and raised in a knowledge of the love of Christ. What started in his own home where he and his wife took care of 30 girls grew into three orphanages that took care of 100,000 children. Muller was a man who saw the orphans, saw the need, prayed and acted according to what God laid on his heart. He did not just feel sorry for the orphans, or merely pray for the orphans, he acted because he understood that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:14-16).


There is Katie Davis. At 18, she went to Uganda for the first time on a mission's trip. God moved on her heart with a deep love for the people, especially the orphans. Like Muller, she saw large numbers of school-aged children playing along the road or working in the fields. When she discovered that Ugandan schools required the students to pay fees and that most of the impoverished people couldn't afford to send their kids, she started an Education Sponsorship Outreach matching orphaned and vulnerable children with sponsors who could provide for their education. Today they sponsor over 700 kids. It was her friendship with the Karimojong people of Masese, whose poverty was so great that they were losing their children who were dying of starvation. Once more, God used Katie to start Masese Feeding Outreach to provide over 1,000 meals Monday through Friday. She also initiated a self-sustaining vocational program to train and empower these women. As if that weren't enough, she has adopted thirteen daughters. "People tell me I am brave. People tell me I am strong. People tell me good job. Well here is the truth of it. I am really not that brave, I am not really that strong, and I am not doing anything spectacular. I am just doing what God called me to do as a follower of Him. Feed His sheep, do unto the least of His people."

Both George Muller and Katie Davis' actions stemmed from a realization that God has called his followers to take care of the poor, the widows, and the orphans.  They don't view what they are doing as great acts but as acts of obedience. Too many of us shirk God's command to tend to the least of these, to take care of the widows and orphans. We allow others to do it and call it their mission, their purpose. But God does not let any of us off the hook that easily. James 1:27 tells us, "Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this:to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." Are we, as believers truly practicing "pure and undefiled religion?"

So I don't celebrate National Adoption Month. When I think of the orphans I met in Ukraine, my heart breaks with sorrow and not a day has passed that I don't pray for them. I try, in my own small way, to promote their cause through this blog. I attempt to show others that adoption is not about being a hero, but about being obedient to God's call. While not everyone is called to adopt, they are called to take care of the orphan. And there are so many ways to do that, both locally and globally. Don't be indifferent. Indifference will not bring change, indifference will not help heal these hurt and lonely children.

I celebrated when we adopted our son. I celebrate when I see others adopting and taking these children out of orphanages and foster care and in to loving families. I celebrate their birthdays and their lives. And I will truly celebrate when there is no longer a need for National Adoption Month.

Here are some links to sources about how you can become involved in orphan care. Check them out, pray about how you can be involved, and act. There is a child in the world who desperately needs you to do so.

http://www.empowerorphans.org/

http://www.lifesongfororphans.org/

http://icareaboutorphans.org/

http://orphancareinitiative.com/



Friday, November 7, 2014

Just Get Over It


Whenever I read an interesting article that I think may of be of help to someone else, I like to share it.

Below is an article I recently read entitled Children Who Experience Early Childhood Trauma Do Not "Just Get Over It" by parenting expert Jane Evans. It was originally posted on the Social Work Helper website. A link to that site is at the bottom of the article.

She writes:

Humans are relatively adaptable beings which is why we are thriving and not dying out like other species. Horrendous disasters such as the Philippines typhoon, the Boxing Day Tsunami, the nuclear disaster in Japan, the major wars of our time, horrific famines see great suffering, but these events also inspires survival through adaptation. It turns out we possess a strong survival mechanism in our brains directly linked to our bodies, fight, flight, freeze, flop and friend (fffff).


In fact, the survival part of our brain, which is primitive yet effective, is the first to develop in utero starting at around 7 weeks. It regulates our breathing, digestive system, heart rate and temperature, along with the ‘fffff’ system which operates to preserve our life.
If we have to dodge a falling object, jump out of the path of a speeding car, keep very still to avoid being seen, run for the hills from a predator, or get someone potentially threatening ‘onside’ we need this to happen fast. If a baby is scared, cold, hungry, lonely, or in any way overwhelmed this triggers their survival system and they cry to bring an adult to them to help them survive.
If a baby is repeatedly scared and emotionally overwhelmed and they do not get their survival brain soothed, so they can cope, they begin to develop a brain and bodily system which is on hyper alert and the World seems to be a scary place. Sadly, this not something they can ‘just grow out of’. Far from it as what neuroscience is showing us from all the recent findings. An early experience has a profound effect on the way in which a child’s brain forms and operates as the survival brain is on over drive and senses threat everywhere so works too hard, too often, for too long.
Babies and young children systems are flooded with potent stress hormones which help in the event of needing the 5 fffff’s, but they are not good to have at high levels for too long. Imagine the feeling when you truly believe you have lost your wallet with all your cards and money in. You feel a bit faint, your brain is whirring, your heart racing, breathing is shallow, and you may get the urge to empty your bowels or bladder. Hopefully, this may only lasts for the usual 45 minute cycle for those who are not traumatised.
Then stress hormone levels drop and you can think more clearly and resume your day fairly unscathed. What if you are 4, 9 or 15 years old though, how will you cope, especially as your repetitive early childhood trauma of living with domestic violence, unavailable or rough carers, chaos and unpredictability has left you traumatised?
As I referred to at the start, humans are amazingly adaptable in order to survive, although not necessarily thrive. So a child’s system adapts to get whatever basic needs met it can and to live to the next moment, think soldier in a war zone kind of survival. In an abusive environment this will make sense but it is not something a child can just stop doing as their survival brain is in charge and has to do what it has learnt to keep them alive.
The kinds of survival behaviours they commonly develop are:
Regression
Presenting as helpless may have made carers frustrated, even angry and rough with them but will mean they sometimes had to touch a child who presented as unable to say get dressed or wipe their bottom or feed themselves – this can look like immaturity and ‘babyish’ behaviour in an 8 year old but it has previously served a purpose
Being held and touched kindly is a basic human need and tragically children in Romanian orphanages who were not, died. Almost ‘pathetically’ children often devise ways which can seem strange, given their age and previous capabilities, to get some physical contact, even if it’s unpleasant
Children often learn to survive by being ‘like a baby’ as they have either learnt that baby’s get more kindness and attention or have some inbuilt ‘memory’ of this – this can be negatively viewed as regression yet is often an expression of trust in carers as they feel safe enough post abuse to seek out kindness from them so it needs gentle handling and holding until the child is ready to move on. Imagine you had never experienced physical closeness and gentle touch but were driven to seek it out, that takes real courage.
Dramatic reactions
When a child is in the ‘I’ve lost my keys’ panic state most of the day, it’s like a pan boiling on the stove and the smallest extra heat causes it to boil over
The survival brain leaps into action at the slightest thing, an accidental shove from another child, a small scratch on the arm, a lost pencil, a ‘look’ from another child and the 5 fffff’s are triggered, for most children that’s flight but if cornered and unable to escape, or previously over used, it will be fight
Children may cry more readily and for much longer and louder as they do not have the ability to self soothe or to be soothed easily as their brain has not been exposed to this and is not wired that way so telling them to ‘calm down’ is of no use
They are feeling things as deeply as they seem to be at this point and are not just ‘attention seeking’
Disassociation
Disassociation or ‘zoning out’ is another way the brain and body copes with high levels of potentially toxic stress hormones for overly long periods. It can also be a learnt survival strategy, submit, switch off and wait for the frightening, painful, incomprehensible act to be over. This ability to switch off can look like defiance or non-compliance as a child may just stare ahead and not respond to requests from adults
Children cannot continuously cope with the muscle tension, nausea, thudding heart, racing thoughts so finding something to fixate on to soothe them can become a great coping strategy and again will look as if they are being non-compliant whereas they are escaping from their trauma the only way they know how.
How long until they do ‘get over it?’
It’s a fair question as why it’s so hard for traumatised children to trust caring adults. If they were removed from the abuse and trauma as a baby or even directly after birth, surely they should not be having these dramatic reactions?
Going back to our survival part of our brain, this is not designed to be the dominant part of anyone’s brain as we also have an emotional memories part and a thinking, reasoning, socially able cognitive part which should mostly be ‘in charge’. All three areas are interlinked and share info back and forth all the time but mostly we need to think before we act and then we do better. However, if your start in life has made your survival brain ‘hyper alert’ then to manage this is like repeatedly trying to get a squirrel into a matchbox!
Children need us to be calm, kind, to use rhythm, patience and to try to step into their world and emotional state and show empathy.As practitioners it can be helpful to research ways of supporting traumatised children, pushing for appropriate training and most importantly being very aware of the extra strain that comes with working with and caring for traumatised children. However, with the right long term acceptance, kindness and support children can get a better chance at eventually being able to manage their reactive survival brain which has, after all, got them this far. 


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Bittersweet Birthdays


Ten years ago today, Cava was born.

I wasn't there for the delivery. The nurse did not put him into my arms so that I could hold him for the very first time. It would be eight years before I ever held my son for the very first time. As hard as that was for me, I cannot imagine being Cava and having to wait eight years to be cradled and held. When I did hold him for the first time, there was a look of pure contentment on his face that has imbedded itself on my memory forever.

There are so many firsts I've missed: first steps, first words . . .

When I look at the photo above (one of the few we have of him when he was little), I love him even more and all I want to do is pick that little boy up and hold him tightly to me. While Cava looks adorable in that photo, he also doesn't look happy. I don't see the joy that I so often see in him now. It breaks my heart to look at this photo and think of the years of hurt and pain that are in store for him. No child should have to grow up like he has. All children should be in families that love them, but the sad reality is that they aren't.

This photo makes me long to be able to go back in time and just hold him, tell him that I love him, tell him that he is precious and of great value. I want only to be able to comfort him when he was crying, when he was hurt, when he was scared, and to let him know that he was not alone. But I can't.

I can't undo the past. I can only focus on the present and his future. I can only take the time now to listen to him, which is something else that was new to him when he got adopted. And it means a lot to him that what he says is not only heard and understood, but that we think what he says is important enough to stop whatever it is we're doing to listen to him, and to respond.

It's important that I not only tell him that he is loved, but show him - again, and again, and again, and again. To show him he's loved even when he's at his most unlovable.

It's important to show him not only correction, but also grace. His life has been filled with the former and very little of the latter.

While I cannot change the past, I can comfort him now when he is sad or scared or has a nightmare about his past.

I can hold him, tell him, "Papa's here," and that, "No one is going to hurt you now."  Sometimes at night when I will check in on him and find him restless in his sleep, he is muttering something I can't quite make out, but it is obvious that he is upset. I caress the back of his head, kiss him, and tell him, "It's okay, Papa's here. It's okay now," and this calms him.

While I could not celebrate his first eight birthdays, I will celebrate with him for every one that the future has in store for us both. I will remind him again and again that he is my son and that we are his family.

No, I was not there ten years ago when my son was born, but I am here now. Cava will know that his Papa is there for him, in both good and bad times, and that no matter what, I love him. He will know that he is very, very precious and very, very wanted.

So, on his tenth birthday, I reflect on this miraculous gift that God has given our family. My eyes have tears that are both sadness and joy, but both flow from the deep love I have for my beautiful son.