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 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.

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:
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 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.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Celebrating Cava

On Tuesday, Cava will turn ten. It's hard to believe he will be in double digits.

On Saturday, we threw the second birthday party we have ever thrown for Cava. His birthdays are bittersweet in that we weren't there for the first eight of them, but we cherish the ones we do get to have with him because we are so thankful that this precious boy is now a part of our family.

For his theme this year, Cava broke from the expected super hero one and went with Phineas and Ferb, though this was mainly due to his love of Perry the Platypus (although you can call him Agent P).

As I began to decorate the house, Cava would come up to me, hug me, tell me that he loves me, and then thank me for putting these decorations up. He was grateful that, to what most of us would not seem that big a deal, was, in fact, meaningful to him. These weren't just party decorations, these were acts of love and another way of showing him that he is special and that his life should be celebrated. For a kid who spent eight years of his life never having his birthday acknowledged at all (not even someone simply wishing him a happy birthday), it means the world to have someone to publicly tell him, "We are glad you are here. You are important. You are loved and wanted."

The party was to begin at one, but long before the appointed time, Cava was watching out the window for the possible arrival of any guest. He was so excited when he spotted the first vehicle - his Aunt Tiana's van. As 1:00 drew closer and closer and most of the guests hadn't arrived, he became anxious and I had to calm his nerves. Each time he saw someone pull up, he was out the door to greet them. And once our friends and family were there, the festivities began!

There were games aplenty! First up: Pin the Tail on Perry!

No Phineas and Ferb party would be complete without Dr. Doofenshmirtz trying to put an end to it with one of his "inators" and, true to form, he brought his Birthday-inator in the hopes of sabotaging Cava's 10th birthday party. But Agent C, as we called Cava, and the other agents at his party, each took aim with a Nerf gun to hit the self-destruct button (Why does he always put those on his inators?) and put an end to his dastardly scheme.

Fortunately for our party, we had two dead shots (Camryn and Shane) who hit the "Self-destruct" button.

For those who know their Phineas and Ferb will remember the song "My Undead Mummy and Me," which played as the kids raced to wrap their "mummy" first.

Jack and I even got in on the act, but, alas, we did not win!

This was followed by our Candace-inspired game: Busted! Kids had to pop as many balloons as they could sit on. It's amazing how much longer it took me to blow them all up than it did for the kids to pop them.

Of course, games are a lot of fun, but any true Phineas and Ferb afficionado knows, a day (or a party) isn't complete until you build something. So all of our agents sat down with a table full of craft items to build whatever their imaginations could come up with.

Once their creations were done, it was time for some cake and ice cream.

With Cava, I have come to realize just how meaningful hearing "Happy Birthday" being sung. His birthday's have gone from silence to celebration. To see those people who truly love and cherish him gathered around to let him know this is overwhelming. 

Putting together a birthday party is a lot of work. It takes a lot of time and thought. Yet all of that is worth it when Cava comes up to me and tells me, "Papa, that was the best birthday ever. Thank you."

When I look at Cava, I don't see an orphan, I see my son, my child. All I feel is love for him. When he smiles that big Cava smile, I can't help but smile. I love that there is joy in his eyes and not the deadness that they first had when we met him. One of my favorite sounds is the sound of his laughter. 

When I look at Cava, I see a child who no longer thinks of himself as worthless, but sees from the outpouring of love, that he has great value. He went from being ignored to being embraced. Since today is Orphan Sunday, I pray that next year, there will be one less orphan and one more child who is celebrated the way we celebrate our son.