Monday, June 29, 2015

Good Gifts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Inside Out In The Adoptive Child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I can't help but ask:

So what memories bring Cava joy?

Or sadness?

Or anger?

Or fear?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How many other movies can provide parents that opportunity?

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Seeing Annie Through New Eyes

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

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

Then we adopted Cava.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"But not now?"

"No, not now."

And I'm glad that he isn't.

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

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

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

Friday, June 12, 2015

A Bigger World

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

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

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

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

"Choices for what?"

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 8, 2015

Awards Day Anxiety

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Our Yard Sale Saturday

Can I just say that I hate having yard sales with a purple passion?  I do. It never fails to amaze me that no matter how cheap you mark an item, someone always wants it cheaper.  And it doesn't matter if you are trying to raise money for a good cause or not. So, despite the fact that we are raising money to bring an orphan here from another country, someone will still try to haggle on price.

That said, our family was extremely blessed by the generosity of those who donated items for our yard sale. Friends, people from our church, and from my wife's office all were kind enough to give, so much so that our living room made us look like we should be on the show Hoarders.

We were given everything from a flat-screen TV to a tiller, a lawn mower to kitchen appliances, along with lots of clothes, books, DVDs, CDs, clothes (adult and kids), furniture, framed art, gardening tools, and a host of knick-knacks and collectibles. As we spent our nights sorting and pricing through everything, I didn't focus on the immense task but on the immense blessing of having people care so much to donate so many things. We were also had the help of our dear friends Jack and Yulia, who gave up so much of their time, tables to display items on, as well as donating items for the yard sale, including home-made brownies to sell. Their company made this daunting task easier and far more enjoyable.

Long before we had our yard sale, we were praying for our yard sale. Praying for good weather (despite weeks and weeks of not having any rain, the week leading up to our yard sale got rain) and praying that people would be generous of heart and wallet, as all of the money was going towards our hosting of "T." Most don't realize that in hosting, you are not only paying for them to come over, but that they come with little or next to nothing. Some only come with the clothes on their back. We would be buying her clothes and shoes, along with other necessities. We would also be taking "T" to the dentist, the doctor, and the optometrist while she was here. All of them kindly donated their services. Our family also prayed that we would be good witnesses to those who came to our yard sale. That this would be an opportunity to not only share about the needs of orphans, about hosting, but also share the gospel. I have found that whenever I have shared about our having adopted and are now hosting it has led into the reason why we do this and about the love of Christ.

Since the yard sale started at 7 am, we were out and setting up at 5:30 am. Did I say that I am in no way, shape or form a morning person?  And, of course, there were already people there wanting to look through everything before we were ready. Any serious yard sale shopper knows that the time listed as the start time is only a suggestion, right?

Yard sales stress me out - big time! Being an introvert, I have to force myself to to interact with potential shoppers and to keep it together when they irritate me with their haggling. I restrain myself from questioning their attempts to convince me that a $5 item should be sold for a quarter. It's hard to not constantly remind them of why I am even having this yard sale in the first place. I can't just ask them to leave and stop bothering me or, when they offer me a quarter for something, offer them a quarter to go away.  Yard sales test my patience and I have to pray myself through the five hours it takes to have one.  As Romans 12:12 tells me, " . . . be patient in tribulation . . ."  (I insert yard sale in the place of tribulation, I'm sure the Apostle Paul would understand if he had ever had to work one).

While there were a few who wanted to haggle, many more not only paid what the items were priced, but even more to go towards hosting "T."  Quite a few made donations without even buying anything. Once more we were shown that this is clearly God's will for our family.

We would like to thank all of those who donated items, to those who donated their time, and to those who came out to support.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

You Can't Save Everyone

By and large, the response to our hosting "T" this summer has been extremely positive. Yet there are those who take such opportunities to make comments that are basically shallow and ignorant.

Recently I was telling someone about our hosting, how we came to meet "T," and the whole amazing story that God has clearly orchestrated and, to my surprise, the person I was telling this to said, "You know, you can't save all of them."

It took me a moment before I replied, "I'm sorry. What?"

Matter-of-factly, they repeated, "You can't. You can't save everyone."

"Actually, I can't save anyone. What I can do is love a child enough to adopt them or, in this case, host them for the summer."

"Yeah, but you've already adopted one kid. If you go over there to adopt the next one, won't you just meet another child and want to adopt them, too? You can't adopt all of them."

Now what I am taking out of this is, "You've done your part. You've adopted a child. You can stop now," as if I filled some sort of quota in moral responsibility. This person was displeased, perhaps out of guilt, that we were undertaking this.

Yes, I believe God has called us to take care of the orphans. He clearly called us to adopt Cava and has, now, made it abundantly clear that we are supposed to be hosting "T," as all of the events that have occurred making it possible for us to do so have His hand prints on them. We are awed and amazed at how God has worked and will continue to work once she is here.

We cannot change the lives of all of the orphans in the world. But we have changed the life of one, our son, and now we are blessed to be given the opportunity to have an impact on another's. "T" is not a cause, she is a child. She is not a problem to be solved, but a child to be loved. From the moment that "T" comes down that escalator at the airport, we will greet her with smiles, hugs, and lots of love. "T" being here, with our family, is all a part of God's awesome plan. He has included us in it and is using us for something bigger and greater than ourselves. We are humbled by this. This is an act of faith, love, hope, and abundant joy.

Katie Davis once said, "I have learned that I will not change the world, Jesus will do that. I can, however, change the world for one person. And if one person sees the love of Christ in me, it is worth every minute. In fact, it is worth spending my life for."

How can I not?

Our family will be given the opportunity to show "T" the love of a family, the love of Christ, and of a heavenly Father who has loved all of us enough that He has brought all of this about.

There will always be those who will question and criticize, but I am not to be guided by them. I am to look only to a God who has answered two years of prayers by bringing this precious girl into our lives again. For that I am thankful.