11/29/13

You're not Pro-life you're Pro-birth


You got me.
It's true.
I'm one of those wacky pro-birth folks.   I am pro-babies being allowed to be born.
I can't help it.  Somehow it just seems natural to me.

I love it when babies are born.

Regardless of the circumstance of their conception, or even what sort of condition they are born into, I have a strong conviction that they should be welcomed simply because they exist...simply because they are a unique human life.  They are not a "potential life" they are a life with potential.  To be honest even if they didn't have "potential" as judged by the world, they still don't deserve to be sentenced to an unnatural death.

So, I will admit it, and actually wear the label with honour.  Pro-birth.

For some reason that term is used as a sort of weapon.  It tends to give people a good chuckle, as they smugly high five each other for coming up with some worn out, non offensive, rhetoric.   But, I guess if that's all you've got, go ahead and call people nonsensical names like pro-birth, "fetusfetishist"  or "fetuphile".  Because that makes you sound all progressive and clever...really.  *wink'*

"You don't actually care about babies after they're born, you only care about fetus's."  

 It's such a silly stereotype. It just really needs to be put out of it's misery.

It's like saying "you don't actually care about Kindergartners you only care about toddlers!"

 I can't, for the life of me, make that logic work.   If you care about Kindergartners, you will protect the right of the toddlers to live long enough to become one.  If you claim to care about children you will fight to protect the rights of ALL children regardless of age, gender, race, developmental stage, or location.  That's called equality.

 You have to first be a fetus in order to become a baby that is born, just like you have to be a toddler before you can become a Kindergartner.  They are not two different people, or two different entities, they are different stages of development.  I am pro- embryo, pro-fetus, pro- neonate, pro-infant, pro-toddler, pro-preschooler, pro-child, and pro-adolescent.  They are all simply classifications for different ages of a human child.

Call me an extremist but I have a very strong hunch that dismembering a defenseless child is wrong.
 I know it's kind of an "out there" theory, but it's one I'm sticking with.

I would call that position "pro-life" but I'll proudly wear the "pro-birth" label too...if you insist.

By the way, I am also pro-first day of Kindergarten, pro-gotcha day,  pro-losing a first tooth, and pro-wedding day.  I guess I'm just  "pro" any big events that signify the graduating from one stage of life into another.   I'm just sentimental that way I suppose.

I am both pro-birth and pro-life...because it's pretty hard to have one without the other.




Soli Deo Gloria,

11/27/13

First Steps



One year ago today my son took his first steps.

We were only a couple months away from meeting him and he was living with some wonderful foster parents.
They were helping him to recover, to get healthier, and to prepare for the big change ahead.



One year ago today my son took his first tentative, shaky steps.
One foot in front of the other, a forearm crutch in his hand.

I wish I could have been there to see it, but I am thrilled to have these moments captured.

As I try to imagine what was going through his head as he took his first steps at 6 yrs old, I know that moment was a big deal to him.  
He is keenly aware that his past lack of ability to walk made him very vulnerable.  
Several of his anxiety meltdowns this past year have ended with him trying to unintelligibly explain situations to me.  While I haven't been able to make sense of the tales, the part I can always catch is him wailing 
"No can't walk! No can't. No can't get out.  No can't walk"
 I hear the powerlessness, desperation, and vulnerability in his voice.
Whether he's telling me stories about a scary dog, or a "pa" man...his not being able to walk has been a source of terror.
One year ago today,
I know he felt a glimmer of empowerment, and independence. 


I also suspect he was nervous, excited, and proud.
I think, in his mind, a whole new world of possibilities opened up that day.



He was off walking, and he's never looked back.
So thankful for the people who cared enough to give him that gift. 

As he sits here now with casts on both legs,  I am starting to get excited to see what comes next for him. 
Will we ditch the forearm crutch? Will he have the balance to stand alone?
Will he learn to run?

I guess we'll find out in a few weeks. 





Soli Deo Gloria,

11/26/13

How to screw up orphan care in the name of Jesus

Is that even possible?  Is it possible to try to do something God commands us to do, and get it wrong?  It is possible to do harm, while seriously attempting to do good?

Absolutely.

My passion for orphan care began at a very young age. I was a child who grew up dreaming about building an orphanage one day.  It would have nice dorms for the kids, a nice cheery play room, gardens, a play ground, and a well stocked cafeteria.  When other junior high girls were flirting with boys, I was drawing up plans for how my orphanage would be constructed.  I would fill it with Carla's children...and give all those poor orphans a place to thrive.  It was my dream.  My desire to be a part of orphan-care in a third world country, was driven by genuine concern.

Over the years my view of building and operating orphanages has changed slowly but drastically.

What I'm referring to in the title is when unhealthy, unbiblical, or just naively unhelpful practices fall under the umbrella of "Christian ministry".  I am not anti-Christian ministry, anti-orphan care, and as much as I cringe to admit it I'm not even anti-orphanage....just anti-habitually doing things in a way that hurts kids.

Some things done with the name of Jesus attached, are merely using his name in vain.

"“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain."

 Taking an endeavor, and stamping Jesus name on it is not something that should ever, ever be taken lightly.  This includes Christian charities.  It's serious business when we claim to be corporately representing God.

For that reason, I decided to focus solely on orphan care done by non-profit, privately run orphanages. There is little doubt that government run institutions, the common other orphanage alternative, is often worse. Governments raising kids has always been a bad idea but that's a whole different blog post.

I think we, as Christians, who are passionate about orphan care and who like to put our money where our mouths are, need to really reflect on this issue for a bit even if it's uncomfortable.  I'm not a skeptic on the outside looking in, trying desperately to find flaws, but rather someone with a lifelong vested interest in orphan care and the ethics surrounding the issue.

 When you start talking about discernment in ministry people are quick to point fingers, but also quicker to defend things that should be indefensible.   "There is no perfect system (church, organization, person etc.) ...." is the typical excuse.  I'd like to counter that with a resounding and well thought out.. "duh".

 Just because there is no "perfect" system for orphan care doesn't mean we shouldn't have some very high standards when kids are involved,  ESPECIALLY if we are going to tag Jesus name onto something and label it a Christian ministry.

 No one defends an abusive foster home claiming that "some of the kids turned out ok, only a few of them were molested...but the parents do a lot of other good things".  How absurd would that sound? Actually that façade of "but they're good people" hides abuse in too many families too...but that's a different topic.

Over the past 14 years I have been deeply involved with various forms of "orphan care" in my home, and with orphan care ministries.   I can't speak for every single orphanage, or every single individual experience, but I have learned a few things along the way.

The main point being: Orphanages are not ideal, they are not entirely helpful, and in fact I believe are actually harmful in many cases.  Even "good Christian orphanages" are inherently problematic for many reasons.

An orphanage should never be the first option, or the last stop for a child.

In some cases an orphanage is one of the few options available in countries where adoption is discouraged and international adoption is closed.  I think they can best be used as a temporary arrangement to provide the basics of nurture to a child in crises.  There are kids, who just have no place to go.  A far better option is smaller family based foster homes, but that transition is slow in some countries. Permanency should ALWAYS be the goal.  By permanency I mean life long, healthy loving guardian/ parent/ parents...regardless of race, or location.  Every child needs a family. Period.

Although some form of family based care is always a goal, in no way do I romanticize kinship, or reunification efforts either.  While those avenues should always be researched first and strongly considered...it's incredibly naive to assume that just because a child has living relatives that they would be safe living with them.  There are reasons beyond poverty for children being relinquished, apprehended or abandoned.  Sometimes that door back toward biological family is closed. That's just reality.

So here we go, fasten your seat belts.

10 Ways to screw up an orphan, in a "Christian orphanage".

1.  Make children into orphans.  

Encourage child abandonment with the attitude that an orphanage can raise a child better than parents can.  Many "children's homes" and orphanages are filled with children who are not actual orphans but rather "social orphans".  These children have been brought into orphanage care for a variety of reasons.  Some of them come from horrific abuse and neglect, but many children are brought into care because the offer of free education, a bed to sleep in, regular meals, and free childcare becomes an attractive option for parents struggling to keep food on the table, and their kids out of trouble.  I have known an orphanage, that while it boasts "outreach" programs into the community, actually prohibits or at least strongly discourages "helping" the families of the children interned at the orphanage.  If you can raise money to house and feed an interened child, you can raise money to support, love, and serve whole families.  Families should be kept intact when at all possible....thus preventing making a child into an "orphan" unnecessarily.  Getting involved in a real and personal level with families in crises requires a lot more creativity, wisdom, sacrifice, risk, and grace than does collecting kids.  One problem is that many ministries want concrete ways of tracking success.  Numbers, stats, conversions, kids interned, meals fed etc. all look good in a year end report.  Whereas "we developed solid relationships with many struggling families in the community and just made ourselves available to them, serving them in whatever way was needed.  We followed the prompting of the Holy Spirit and are trusting the fruit of that to Him" just doesn't seem to qualify.  We should, if at all possible, avoid making "poverty orphans".  There are worse things in life than monetary poverty....feeling abandoned, without hope, unloved, and without a family is at the top of the list.

2. Set up a structure where abuse can thrive unchecked.

Child abuse can happen anywhere, it's true.  Power hungry adults who will prey on children are generally deceptive, charming, and very good at hiding in plain sight.  For this reason there is no "immune" organization, or family.

However, there are systems, structures and attitudes that will attract, and even protect, perpetrators instead of making it very difficult for perpetrator to have access to children.   There are also certain structures that make reporting abuse next to impossible for the children, and that make it easy to cover for perpetrators on the rare occasion that abuse is reported.

Orphanages are notorious for abuse.

All kinds of abuses happen in "children's homes".   Psychological, physical, emotional, verbal and sexual abuse is not strange phenomenon in these places.

Orphans living in orphanages are among the most vulnerable population of children that exist.

The problem structurally with some Christian orphanages is that, the main priority is to bring in donations to support the cause.  In order to keep money coming in an orphanage must keep up a certain utopic, heroic image.  Reports of child abuse will tarnish that image, wound a leaders reputation, and reduce financial support. A carefully crafted, fiercely protected public image, nice facilities, and an impressive website can hide some pretty ugly reality being ignored on the ground.

We as donors and supporters have the false assumption that if lying or corruption is regular practice in an organization, that those who know the truth would blow whistles and that the needed changes would just happen.  At least that's the pseudo reality I lived in quite comfortably for a while.

The problem, structurally, is that often those who know what actually goes on behind the public eye, those who know the kids, or witness the abuses of power, are indebted to or dependent on the organization for employment.  That, and a heavy dose of fear, guilt, loyalty, and hierrarchal bullying keeps people quiet.  Those who get brave enough to raise concern are labelled disloyal, and are immediately discredited, slandered, and removed.

Those who have cut their ties with an orphanage ministry, will often be too "nice" to talk about it.  In this strange little culture of Christian ministry we often live in a sort of dysfunctional denial fueled by a fear of conflict, an unbiblical concept of "love", and a "we can't judge!" cowardliness.  Among Christians there is also a genuine desire to not be "that person" who makes waves.  No one wants to be considered the traitor, even if they are speaking the truth.   This whole set up allows abuse to go unchecked for decades.

The structure in place that allows this façade and abuse to continue most effectively is an organization that lacks accountability and integrity, and is fueled by keeping up a public image.

3.  Prop up orphans as a "mission trip" attraction.

I should tread carefully here because I have not only taken week long "mission trips" to an orphanage, but also led them. I know many other genuinely caring people who do too.  We have been on the observing side of things, watching groups of well intentioned fanny pack toting, cargo pant and strange hat wearing, volunteers come and go from an orphanage every week...and we've been in that group of people. My husband actually worked as mission trip group "host" for a bit.  We are well acquainted with this type of volunteer work.  My desire is not to paint with an overly broad brush, or villainize "short term mission" trips to orphanages, but it has to be said.

Children are not tourist attractions.  They are not animals in a zoo, to be exploited for revenue.

 One of the most effective ways to generate needed income, attract new donors, and keep children "sponsored" is to have a regular rotation of visitors.  This is just reality. While many people have life changing experiences on these trips (I know I did), it comes at a very high price to those children.  I fully realize that many people who go on those trips work hard, and go with a sense of wanting to serve and help.  I also realize that some orphanages rely on this work, but sometimes the actual work is less essential than the income those "mission trips" generate.  It can be less about needing volunteers, and more about needing new donors. 
 That's not wrong in an of itself but it creates a structure where children are very vulnerable, and are exploited.

 I have studied a lot of issues regarding early trauma, attachment disorders and the myriad of psychological, cognitive, and emotional effects that typically come with being an orphan.  I don't have room to go into details with all of that here but I can say that the more I understand and learn, the more I realize how damaging orphanage settings can be.

When you take a child, who has lacked so much essential bonding and nurture, and then teach them to cuddle with, snuggle, and manipulate perfect strangers (from the time they can barely toddle)....it's a disaster.  You are taking children who all likely struggle with attachment disorders to some degree, and then actually encouraging the sociopathic, manipulative, unnatural behaviors that those attachment disorders already create.  It's insanity.  I have seen so many children,who have never known a long term caregiver, who have lost their ability to trust and "attach" to another human in any sort of healthy way,  run up to strangers (short term mission trip folks) with arms open and big smiles on their faces.  On the surface the child seems super friendly, or desperate for love (which they actually are deep down inside), but below the surface it's all a game and a sign of severe damage. The visitor comes away with an emotional high thinking they have a "special connection" with a child who actually has very little ability to "connect" with anyone.  They have merely learned to play a sick game.

Anyone who cares for, or who has adopted a child out of an orphanage setting deals with these behaviors on a regular basis.  Kids fortunate enough to be adopted out of an orphanage have parents who love them enough to help un-do these dysfunctional behaviors, but many kids will never have that.  Teaching a child with attachment disorder how to trust, bond, have empathy, and love is an uphill battle.  Teaching that child to have appropriate boundaries with strangers, and not to be manipulative is just as hard. So, when I see those red flag behaviors being rewarded and encouraged....It makes my brain explode.

Rotating "visitors", staff members, and caregivers also put the kids at increased risk for sexual abuse. Running a children's home is like putting up a beacon that says "Vulnerable kids here...whole packs of them!".   Vulnerable kids who know how to keep quite, do what they're told, and who have no one in their lives who will fight for, protect, or even hear them if they do complain.


4. Don't allow the kids to get "too attached" to a caregiver.

If you want to pick out one thing that will screw a kid up more devastatingly than anything else...and make them more vulnerable to all the other abuses it is this one.  There is a wide variety in quality of care in children's homes but the biggest determining factor for how damaging an orphanage is for a child, far above anything else an orphanage can boast in, is the turn over rate in caregivers or "houseparents".  Red flag number one in my opinion.

I have known a children's home that was being run well, where some of the houseparents had been there for 30 years.  They were invested in the kids lives, obviously loved them, and had committed themselves to raising them.   They were "their" kids.  They actually operated more like a permanent foster homes within an orphanage.

On the other hand I have known children's homes that have a regular rotation of staff coming and going.  Some "houseparents" stay for months, some for a couple years but in between that time is a steady rotation of the children between the various "family style homes"/ dorms.  Some kids get to move homes, and parents every few months.   *Sigh*  I can't even begin to express how senseless, tragic, and horrifically damaging that is.

What's MORE tragic than this obvious dysfunction, and harmful practice is the ignorance that fuels it.  I have actually heard it expressed that it is better for kids to move frequently so that they don't get "too attached" to caregivers. Too strong a caregiver/ child bond makes moving them more emotional and difficult. They prefer the nice compliant emotionally detached children who no longer care where they live, to the pesky one's who have established some sort of a healthy bond to a caregiver and grieve when they are taken.  It's similar to the terribly misguided theory that leaving babies alone in cribs all day makes "good babies" because they eventually don't cry any more. Holding an infant too much will "spoil them" making them all needy and "normal".  If you want to raise a generation of psychopaths and sociopaths..this is a fail proof way to do it.  Guaranteed.  I've also noticed a tendency to heavily medicate children with deep, unaddressed, psychological damage.  When the child becomes problematic, and the RAD behaviors become too much for the staff to handle, don't actually deal with the root issues...just drug 'em.

5. Cut them loose.

At some point every kid "ages out".  Whether it's a private orphanage,  a government run foster system or an institution.  It's inevitable.  The cute little orphan morphs into a not so cute, often delinquent, teenager..and then gets cut loose.  These kids often leave the system (what ever system has been created) with no foundation in healthy relational skills, life skills, and little to no outside support, family or community.  I know so many of them.  They struggle.  If you haven't completely messed up a kid yet, just wait....when you cut them loose, forbid them to return, and turn your back on them you will finish the job you started back when they were laying in the nursery crib.

6. Never reflect.  Never change.  Never assess how effective a certain method is.
If you never have to find, interview, or check up on the generations of kids who have aged out of an orphanage then you are saved the tough work of self assessment, repentance, and change.  It's easier to continue on in status quo.  Keep raising money, keep bringing in kids, keep taking their pictures, keep shoving them out when they get too old.  Don't ask questions, because the answers might not be good for business as usual.  Don't go looking for long term fruit, because the rotting piles of compost are a bit messy to trudge through.  It might involve some reality based clean up work. Oh, and another sub point is never accept constructive criticism, or the suggestion that there might be a problem.

7. Saturate the children in legalistic, heavy handed religious hypocrisy.
This is where things go really bad spiritually for kids.  I am not suggesting that a Christian ministry or children's home should not be teaching the children.  Part of our responsibility as caregivers/ parents is to help children to grow spiritually, ministering to their deepest needs with a gospel rich, natural, loving example based instruction. I think not doing that, as a Christian organization, is misguided and spiritually negligent.  However, as soon as you trade genuine loving example and parental guidance with fear motivated, rule heavy, hypocrisy laced, religiosity you have a recipe for disaster.  Combine that with a child that is already psychologically damaged, vulnerable, and hurt and it will not produce passionate Jesus loving adults. It will produce rebellion and deep lasting resentment.  Of course, God can and does redeem and transform people out of any circumstance, even the most damaging childhood's but this will be in spite of point number 7 not because of it.  This sort of thing is a huge hindrance for the gospel to take root in a child's heart, not a help.

8. Feed them a crappy diet.

I don't know why the words "orphan" and "candy" seem to go together.  For some reason groups who visit orphanages always, always bring candy.  It's no longer a "treat" but a staple, and the kids have rotten teeth and and health problems to show for it.

This may seem less important but since we're talking about a child's well being, and lasting damage that can be done during those crucial years of childhood...this is making it to my list.  When you are entrusted with a large group of kids, you have a serious responsibility to God and those kids. Various countries and orphanages will vary greatly in the area of diet, especially when there is a distinct scarcity, but in Mexico there is a problem with obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.   There are plenty of poor folks, but not a lot of starving people.  I have noticed that orphanages sometimes take pride in a cafeteria full of overweight kids, like that somehow shows that they are well cared for.  What people don't realize is that kids can be plump but terribly malnourished.  If the basic food groups kids are being fed is starch, grease, salt and sugar, there is a big problem.  A problem that the kids will pay for with their lives and health for years after they leave the orphanage.  A mission trip group can eat like that for a week, but when a child eats that way every meal for 18 years, it's a huge problem.  If a child doesn't see a vegetable or fresh food for months at a time (even though they are readily available), it's problematic.

  When you are entrusted with a child, you have the responsibility to do everything you can to help that child thrive mind, body, heart, and soul.  Giving the kids a head start with high blood pressure, rotten teeth, and heart disease isn't a gift you should be sending them on their way with.  Feeding kids a reasonably healthy diet will also make them feel better, behave better, and learn better.

9.  Refuse accountability in leadership

Every ministry, church, or organization will rise or fall with the quality and character of leadership.  When a leader of a Christian ministry has fallen into sin, has little integrity, has a inflated sense of ego and pride...the entire ministry will suffer. No question.  It's no different with an orphanage ministry.  It doesn't matter if it is a sainted founder, a CEO, or a pastor...there MUST always be high biblical standards for leadership. That leader must have the humility to willingly submit them-self to the accountability/scrutiny of other godly people who will love them (and the cause) enough to tell them the truth.  This isn't an area that can afford to be compromised, especially when children are involved.  There can be a team of wonderful, humble, servant hearted staff on the ground level doing the work, but if healthy leadership is lacking it will trickle all the way down to the staff, and kids.  If the roots of a tree are rotten, the rot will eventually spread to the fruit trying to be grown.  Things like real accountability in leadership, character, integrity, solid theology, and humility are essential components in any ministry leader, and someone who runs an orphanage can be held to no lesser standard.  Raising hundreds of kids is no small task, and the leader will be held accountable before God for that great responsibility.  A leader should care so much more about the mission, the goal, and the well being of the kids, than their own sense of control over those things. One sign of questionable leadership is a fierce desire for ultimate control, and a slowness to pass the baton, even when that time is overdue.

10.  Let the applause of men be your motive.

This is where any act of social justice, mercy ministry, or orphan care gets a little tricky.  Motive. Why do we do what we do?  Is it because we have been so transformed by the knowledge that, although we didn't deserve it and could never earn it, that we have been shown God's scandalous grace?  Is it out of an overflow of the immense love we have for God, because we have begun to understand how much He first loved us?  Is it that we have been so filled, and awakened by the Holy Spirit that we have a fiery passion to sacrifice and love even those most unlovely among us?  If that is our motive, there will never be room for (and we will make a conscious effort to avoid the lure of) "red carpet" treatment for certain donors, people pleasing, bullies with "friends in high places", or making policies based on who will write the biggest check and gain the most notoriety.   If the motive is "look at what I've done, my name will be in lights, let the little children come unto me"....we've become wicked glory thieves.  If the applause of men, and pride, become a motive for any orphan care the kids will pay a very high price.  When affirmation, recognition, and "fear of man" become a motive (and an idolatrous source of pride) biblical principles, unwavering ethics, and a healthy fear of God will be tossed aside.

So there you have it.   10 ways to damage a vulnerable child under the umbrella of a Christian ministry.

My intent isn't to be inflammatory, fingering pointing, or cynical...but to tell the truth about something that is often overlooked in orphan-care circles and churches. These are issues that anyone who supports, donates, or works in orphan-care ministries should be asking themselves.  Watch for those red flags, and keep asking "how can we do this better?" 

When an organization stops asking that question (and actually listening to the answers) they're already lost.

We, as Christians, should be concerned for children in crises, and children without parents. We should be involved but we need to be wise and discerning in how we do that orphan care.

Ask questions.

- Look for solid evidence that a ministry is working with families in crises, and makes every effort to keep families intact.

- Look for long term stability, and strong caregiver/ child bonds.

One way to assess this is to do some investigation into where the kids are 10 years after they "age out".  Do the kids ever come back "home" to visit on holidays?  Are they still involved with and loved by their former "houseparents"?  Are a majority of them thriving adults, contributing to society, and breaking the cycles of broken families, child abandonment and abuse...or are they filling up prisons, rehab centers, and grave yards.

If an orphanage doesn't do follow up research, doesn't have long term relationships with the orphans who were raised there, and refuses to take an honest assessment of what's happening to the kids who age out...then there is likely a problem.

 - Look for signs that the kids well-being is the FIRST priority.

Is the leadership opposed to adoption? Are the children protected from abuse and exploitation?  Do any of the house-parents adopt the children in their care?  Do they help facilitate children finding permanent homes?

How are the staff treated? Often times "staff" consists of faithful volunteers who live and work at the orphanage. What is the turn over rate for these volunteers, and why?  Do people who were very committed, and who genuinely loved the kids, regularly disappear?

If you are in leadership at an orphanage ask others (especially the people who are on sight working with the kids) how things can improve, learn from other organizations and leaders, listen to input, reflect, and ask the Holy Spirit to shine light on blind spots and things that may have been overlooked.  Be willing to make changes as problems are brought to light.  That humility, and regular repentance, is exactly what should set apart a good ministry leader.


We can't claim to care about kids, and not do that tough work of light shining and repentance on a regular basis.  I know my job as a parent to just five kids requires constant re-evaluating methods, trying different strategies, and lots of time on my knees asking for guidance (and forgiveness for messing things up).

While I would prefer to see every orphanage shut their doors, and every single child placed into a loving home...that's just not realistically going to happen.   I think it's possible to run orphanages better than we historically have...and I also think they should fall out of vogue in favor of orphan prevention, foster homes, and adoption.

It is with a heavy heart that I write this post, not a sense of gloating or arrogance.  I desire to honour those who I know are working hard, and loving kids in orphanages (I have many dear friends who are doing just that), but the reality remains that we need to do better for vulnerable kids, and we need to set our standards for orphan care higher than merely building and filling orphanages.

"A father to the fatherless, a defender of the widows, 
is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families, 
he leads forth the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious lie in a sun-scorched land." Psalm 68:5,6

OrphanJustice.com Chapter 4 - Orphans and Orphanages from Johnny Carr on Vimeo.





Soli Deo Gloria,


11/22/13

What a big, messy, adoptive family needs from a church



Sometimes I'm afraid we've withdrawn too much from our grace account, that we've required too much support, or been loved more than we deserve already.

Time and time again my little family has been served and loved.

When you begin to live in  community with a group of people who genuinely love God and love people "church" becomes more to you than something on your weekly "to-do" list, or a place you go to worship.

The Church is people.

It is the redeemed people of God from the remotest corners of the world, from every tongue, tribe, and nation.  Regardless of where they are we are one big extended family.

On a local level "the church" is more intimate community.
We all need, as Christians, a local church to be plugged into.  We were created for community.

The local church for us, has been a lifeline these last couple years.

God used our community to walk through our recent adoptions with us,
to encourage us when we were despairing,
to challenge us when we grew apathetic,
to guide us when we needed wisdom,
and to correct us when we start to forget who we are in Christ.

They have reminded us what it is to be loved and served by such a generous God, so we can continue to love and serve others.

We aren't a family every church would appreciate.  We take up space, we're noisy, kind of messy and lately we've been pretty needy. We embrace chaos, leave a trail, and can't seem to get our act together.  Not even long enough to put on a good show for Sunday morning.

We come with special needs, hyper kids, sketchy attitudes, and stubborn sins.  Parenting is hard, special needs parenting is relentless, adoption is utterly draining, and the redemptive work that goes on in my living room is both incredible and terrifying.

The very nature of our family has the potential to make people feel uncomfortable, and I believe it is a rare thing for a church to be able to fully embrace that.  Keeping us at arms length, would be cleaner, easier to calculate, and less challenging.

 My kids have been known to show up at our Sunday morning gathering with patched jeans, mismatched socks, and bedhead.  My three year old has been known to run around wearing a tu-tu and fairy wings but we're there.  With bells on.  God knows we try but "put together" is sometimes just beyond the realm of possibility when we leave the house at 8a.m.

 The best part is no one cares how "put together" we seem, because they love us.
They see us with Jesus' eyes and we've got no one to impress.

We drive for an hour and a half each way to meet together with our church every Sunday because we love them.  We don't only go to be served and to drink from the gospel fire hose (which we are and we do) but we go also to serve, encourage, and welcome new people because it's not about us, our preferences and "our needs".  Not a bit.  There's something bigger and more transformative happening here.  It has everything to do with God's glory and nothing to do with ours.

When you get a whole group of people together who know that this mission is not about them, their preferences, their glory, and their needs, people are freed to truly serve each other and it's amazing to witness how those needs just naturally get met.

So, just when I think that we've been too needy already,
required too much grace,
needed too much support,
and taken too much patience
Jesus' people show up and prove to us once again that God's grace just doesn't run dry.


I'm going to go out on a limb here and tell you exactly what a family with young kids, adopted kids, foster kids, and kids with "special needs", need from a church.

It is not a flawless performance,
a long lists of programs,
a coffee shop in an impressive library,
or a wide variety of family based ministries,
but rather a church that keeps it's eyes on Jesus and his mission. Those things can be useful and nice but they aren't the main thing.

We need a church that is being what Jesus designed the Church to be.   A place we can be real with our struggles, our scars, and our fears, knowing that we are loved enough for people to speak truth into our lives, even truth that's hard to hear sometimes.

 Families like mine (the big messy ones with lots of kids)  need a "village" that is so saturated with the gospel,
so well fed,
so Holy Spirit empowered,
so committed to living in genuine community,
so intentionally discipled and living under the authority of the Word of God that they can't help but leak all that love, humility, gratitude, mercy, boldness, and grace all over each other's lives.

That, my friends, is the church that we need.

Living in community is messy, it requires effort, it is refining and sanctifying but it is a beautiful thing when people (who are so diverse that if it weren't for this ragtag little family called the Church would probably not even know each other) love each other deeply and sacrificially.

So when you hear the word "church"
I wish you could see what I see, the view from here.
I want you to know that we don't have to do this faith journey alone, in fact we're not supposed to do it alone.




















                                                                                                                                                             
For all the meals that have filled my freezer,
for all the offers of childcare during difficult times,
for every time a college student has taken time to sit and hear the stories of a 10 year old boy,
for every time a "grandma" has encouraged me, and reminded me how much my rowdy kids are loved,
for every time that our pastors have shown up to support, encourage, and make each one of my kids feel like they are valued,
for every time my oldest daughter is complimented, encouraged, and mentored by young godly women
for every time my son with a disability is not seen as a disability,
for all the countless little ways that we are shown genuine sacrificial love...

Thankyou Jesus' people both near and far.  Thankyou for letting God use you.





"The church is not an institution for perfect people. It is a sanctuary for sinners saved by grace, a nursery for God's sweet children to be nurtured and grow strong. It is the fold for Christ's sheep, the home for Christ's family. The church is the dearest place on earth."  
The Village Church.

A recent message from a series on "The Church" from my own pastor and home church.

2013-12-01 - The Church Scattered from Grace Fellowship on Vimeo.

Soli Deo Gloria,

11/18/13

Keeping Up

I've been pondering this little old blog for a bit today.

It's been a little hobby of mine for five years now but it's been mostly the same for all of those years. A pretty steady number of hits on each post, a pretty steady number of readers, the same number of 'followers' month after month, year after year.  I'm actually kind of ok with that (especially since I've never really made the effort to achieve anything else or aspired to be a "big blogger"), but being the 'same' all the time get's kind of boring.  Or maybe it's just me that's gotten boring...which is quite likely too.

 Every once in a while I try to assess, evaluate, and try to decide what I want to do with it, if I want to continue, or if I have actual goals associated with my little form of online therapy.

I've also been trying lately to update myself, and I'm trying to keep up with the changing world of social networking and blogging.  I admit I feel like a low tech girl in a high tech world.

I recently opened up my first Instagram account. When I created my account last week, I was shocked to see that I might be the only person I know not on there.   I had to borrow my daughters (second hand) iphone to do it too.   I still don't have a smart phone, in fact I may be the last person on the planet who uses a regular old flip style cell phone.  I fear I have become irrelevant, maybe even obsolete.  A full fledged old fogie.  I can't even figure out Pinterest...or stand to look at it long enough to figure out why it's relevant to me.  But I refuse to be left behind!...although I'm pretty sure I'm limping a solid distance behind the crowd.

I've been observing some other blogggers and blogs and I realized that I needed to try a few new things to keep you all involved, interested, and intrigued.

Because clearly my witty humour and charming personality simply aren't enough.

So, with some trepidation and fear of being perceived as (or actually being) narcissistic I opened a Facebook page just for my blog. Ta-da!

 I have a personal page as well that I spew all over, and clutter up with all kinds of jibber jabber but I decided it might be better to have a page that is more of an interactive community...and less nonsense posts from me.

 I so appreciate those of you who have joined me here...some of you for nearly five years.
I would love a place for readers, lurkers, commenter's, and friends to be able to stay up to date, be involved, ask questions, make comments, and share their own story.  Think of it like us getting together for coffee...or sitting in a porch swing with some ice tea (in the summer...right now the tea would be a little heavy on the ice).  Come and hang out, stay in touch, and share your own voice.
I've had no shortage of sharing mine...now I would love to get to know you, the reader, better.

So, my new addition is linked in the top right corner of my blog.  If you so desire you may click on it, and hit "like" on my page.  I will be tickled, and all giddy in the dorkiest of ways.

I realize that I might sit here with crickets chirping like the last kid picked for the dodge ball team, or the kid who finds herself alone at a junior high cafeteria table...but I'm ok with that too.

This is merely a little experiment, not a popularity contest, or a need to be validated.

After all, I survived the literal sitting along in Junior High, and was often picked last for teams in gym class...so 15 "likes" might actually seem like a step up.

In other news,
this little man is doing amazing.
Seriously. 
It's almost annoying how resilient he is.  

Thankyou to those of you who prayed for us, and for him.  It has all gone so much smoother than we expected and were prepared for.

I am so thankful that I can now walk on two feet, and have two free hands.  I'm not very graceful or fast, and I don't have full range of motion in either ankle/ foot yet....but I can now carry my child again.  I can make dinner, and sweep the floor, and bake, and even carry laundry up the stairs!

I never ever thought I'd be thankful to be able to do those things, but I am.  I'm almost giddy about it. I have two feet, and I can walk on them.   Some things we should just never take for granted.

Maybe I'm more keenly aware of that now that Elijah's ability to walk has gone backwards about 20 steps.

It is an honour to be this little guys Mama.








11/11/13

Uncomfortable

Quick update:   Thankyou for praying.  The surgery went very well yesterday, and his recovery has been much smoother than anticipated...so much so that we were sent home from the hospital a couple days early! Yay, for not sleeping another night in a noisy crowded pediatrics hospital room.   Little man is being as brave as can be.  

                                   
 ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A week ago I was enjoying the citty of Seattle, the company of my sister and nephew, and absorbing  some encouraging and challenging messages from the speakers at the "Resurgence" leadership conference R13.  (click here for a highlights reel)

Here's a sampler 



It was such a great time, and there was SO much wisdom shared for those who are leading ministries, serving in various capacities, or just living their lives on mission with Jesus.  The  atmosphere of the conference was one of deep authentic humility, purpose, and unity.   I came home refreshed.  The whole conference is available free online...it's an excellent resource.  You have to sign into an online account to access it but it's totally worth the couple minutes it takes.  Also don't be deterred by the first few minutes of volume in the intro by Mark Driscoll.  The whole conference wasn't as intense as the first few minutes, but it was all really good. Mark also gives a very informative missiological lecture regarding the cultural shifts and "death of Christendom" in America.  Every speaker has his own unique style...and like one preacher stated, it takes all kinds of preachers to reach all kinds of people.  I love that each of the speakers is unique in their gifting, and style, but united in the gospel.  Rick Warren had so many helpful, and wise things to say regarding temptation, character, integrity, and humility. 

 I'm so glad I was able to go and be there in person, It was surreal to sit only a couple rows away from pastors that I've listened to online for years.  The line up this year was Matt Chandler, Rick Warren, Crawford Loritts, Greg Laurie, and Mark Driscoll.  In all honesty the preachers I appreciated the most were the ones I'd barely heard of before, like Crawford Loritts.  His message was so good.  


 It was a bit of a challenge to travel alone with crutches but where there's a will there's a way,   I've been told I have a bit of a strong will.  In fact, I learned that this strong will can actually be a bit of pride that keeps me from asking for help, even when I need it. I learned some of those lessons the hard way. 


 The Hubster and the kidlets did just fine while I was away.  The house was tidy, the kids were alive, and he even made sure to take all the kids swimming before they met me at the airport so they would be clean.  


On the agenda for this week is a lot of time spent in a hospital.  Early tomorrow morning we drop a few kids off at Grandma and Grandpas house and take Elijah in for surgery on his legs.  


 It's a fairly delicate surgery that will lengthen his tendons and ham strings.  We have been told to expect that he will be in a lot of pain, that he will be in the hospital for the rest of the week, and that he will be in leg casts for about 8 weeks after that.  The spasticity of his muscles present some extra challenges with recovery.




I praise God that my broken ankle is healing and I am able to get around a bit without crutches now and carry some weight on my foot.  That will make caring for him not only easier but logistically possible.  It kind of feels like we've been transitioning from one challenging season to another, to another this year.  I'm realizing more that each one of these challenges has better prepared us to face the next one.  None of it is wasted.


 How often are we like the little boy going through surgery?  Scared.  Doubting.  Wondering why we have to go through it.  Wondering how it is that we can be loved by our Father and still be allowed to suffer. 


We are putting our son through this because we know (or at least trust) that this will be what is best for him.  It will cause temporary affliction, pain and distress but it will have long term gain.  We know that he will struggle to even begin to comprehend this truth.  He will likely just wonder why we're allowing him to be hurt.  He may wonder why, after working so long and hard to walk, that we have taken that from him.  

How often do we respond to trials in our own lives that way?  
 As my heart breaks to know my child will endure some really rough days ahead, I know our Father is not uncaring when we endure hardship either.  

A good parent pushes their child out of what’s comfortable, and even allows some rough
 stuff, in order to have them grow and become strong…but the love remains unchanged.

Would you please pray that we would all weather this little storm well, to the glory of God. 
 Please pray for the wisdom of the surgeon (as some decisions will be made during the

 surgery depending on what they find), and for the recovery...and for patience for the entire


family as we each, in turn (or sometimes all at the same time), struggle to set aside our own


little self-kingdom, to serve and love as we have been so loved and served by Christ.





While the physical stuff is tough, another concern for him is more psychological and emotional.  We have worked so hard to help him feel secure, loved and protected this year since he joined our family, and I pray that he would feel confident in our love for him as he recovers....even as we have to push him, make him walk again, and do things that will cause him a lot of discomfort.  He is very prone to fear and anxiety when routines and locations change.

   
Heart wounds are slower to heal than tendons and muscles.

One thing I've had to learn this year is that my loving him has to cause some element of hurt.  Everyday I must stretch him.  I have firm orders from the orthopedic specialist, and his therapists, that this must be done.  Not doing it would be unloving negligence....but doing it hurts him.  All parents experience this to an extent because we must make our kids do stuff that that they just don't want to do, but parenting a child with CP has shown me even more how sometimes loving someone means that we must do what's best for them, and that growth means struggle.  

My son has given me such a clearer window into my own heart, and a model of so many spiritual, gospel truths that I can no longer ignore.

Thankyou my cyber friends for caring about our little family, and holding us up in prayer. 





"God may allow testing in your life not to break you but to make you stronger for the task ahead" 
 Greg Laurie  - R13

"You need to know what it feels like for the Holy Spirit to carry you, to be crushed and know Christ is sufficient."  Crawford Loritts - R13



Soli Deo Gloria, 

11/2/13

Gonna Fly Away....to Seattle.




{Halloween 2013}


The last couple days I've had a song stuck in my head.

I'll Fly Away  (with some alterations)


Some bright morning when this week is over
I'll fly away
To that home on Seattle's rainy shore
I'll fly away

I'll fly away oh glory
I'll fly away (in the morning)
On Sunday hallelujah by and by
I'll fly away

When the shadows of this week have gone
I'll fly away
Like a bird from these prison walls I'll fly
I'll fly away

Oh how glad and happy when we meet
I'll fly away
No more five kids hanging on my feet
I'll fly away

Just a few more weary days and then
I'll fly away
To a land where my BFF awaits
I'll fly away


If you want the song stuck in your head too, click here.  Because who doesn't love a good banjo.  You're welcome.

It's true.  I'm leaving them all behind.  My husband and all my kids.
I'm absolutely giddy about it, although my sheer delight is interrupted occasionally by pangs of guilt, not guilt over leaving but guilt over being so darn thrilled about it.  

I keep thinking I should at least feel a little hesitant, or sad about going...
but so far I can't even manage to muster a little tear, not even a fake one. 

If we can make our way through the snow storm that's on it's way, we will be driving to the City tomorrow and I will be waving goodbye to my 6 Treasures as I fly off to a strange and far away land.  Seattle.

I will be landing in Seattle and spending four days with my sister in law Brook and my nephew. YAYNESS!  
 This is my same friend and sister who has spent the last four summers as part of our crew. We've  known each other for nearly five years but I've never been to her home in down town Seattle.  My hubby and I lived near Seattle for three years back before we had kids, but he had been estranged from his sister since they were little kids.  We actually had no idea we were living that close to his only sister at the time.  Now that we are good friends, we live super far away from each other.

Another reason I'm going on a little mini-vacay is to attend a conference at my Brook's home church in Seattle.   Marshill Downtown has a pretty cool old building that they recently moved into, and now they're hosting R13.  
So excited.  Awesome bands.  Some great preaching.  Hanging out with a bunch of people who love Jesus and lean hard into God's grace.

Another perk is that there are several others flying down from my own church in Saskatchewan Canada.   




So in summary...
four days with no kids
mini-vacay 
hanging with my BFF 
going to a conference filled with some of my fave preachers (like Matt Chandler!!!!)
excellent live music from some of my favorite bands, and worshiping Jesus together with people from all over.
AND hanging with close friends from my own church family!

Awesomeness.   Even if I'm still using crutches. 

Now I'm just trying not to freak about this snow storm on it's way.   Can't miss that plane!

This is my first trip anywhere alone, which does make me a little nervous (I'm not a big fan of wandering through airports)
and it's my husbands first time parenting alone for any extended amount of time.  I know they will all do fine.  After all me having a broken leg for the past six weeks has been great practice for them.

Resurgence Conference 2013

You can even join me watch it for free online.

Did I mention I'm super duper excited?

These kids will be in good Daddy hands while I'm gone.  




Less than a week after I return home, Elijah is having surgery on both of his legs.  He will likely be in full leg casts for several weeks.  I'm glad I will be getting that few days of refreshment before we start on this newest stress adventure.

I'm hoping that by then I will be able to do some walking free of crutches, and that I can trade my cast, for his.   Both of us in casts is a bit tricky.

But I'm not going to think about, or stress about that the next couple months just yet, because tomorrow I'm going to fly away.


Tomorrow is also "Orphan Sunday",  a great time to reflect, dig deep, and ask God what he would have us do.  So many kids around the world are waiting to be loved, and to belong, waiting for someone to come for them, waiting for someone to say "yes".

Orphan care
Orphan prevention
foster care
Adoption

So many ways to be involved.

Francis Chan For Orphan Sunday from Christian Alliance for Orphans on Vimeo.

Hope is Fading – Orphan Sunday from Allan Rosenow on Vimeo.

Soli Deo Gloria,
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