Speak life and other words to live by

This day began like any other: drinking coffee, saying good morning to the nanny, curling my hair and putting on makeup, slipping on a dress, and kissing my husband and children goodbye, before walking out the door,  turning on music, and running to catch a train into London.

Sitting on the train this morning, I am reflecting on what a journey the last few years have been.

We moved to London one year ago.

In that year, our lives have changed completely in ways we could have never expected. But somehow, the details fit together as part of a bigger story. As I reflect on the last few years, I see that each season in my journey was defined by a few words. These words have provided meaning and context – and have helped me to make sense of some incredibly challenging situations. Here are a few of the words that have defined my life over the last five years.

Quiet me with your love.

The Lord your God is in your midst,  a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17

Five years ago, I was at a park enjoying a BBQ with family and friends on a hot summer day. I was about 14 weeks pregnant. I began to feel a familiar pain in my barely-there bump and fear swept over me like a wave. The next day a visit to the perinatologist confirmed my fear that staying pregnant would be a fight – and that I would spend the rest of my pregnancy on bed rest.

For four months, time stood still as I waited (and worried) for the baby growing in my womb to be big enough to thrive. This words from this verse in Zephaniah became so real to me – God was with me, he was with our son. He was mighty to save – and because of his love I could be quiet.

When our son was born four months later - tiny but perfect in every way - we rejoiced that God had been so faithful in protecting our child. And then we named him Zephaniah.

Break my heart for what breaks yours.

About four years ago, our family of five was driving to Eastern Washington where I was competing in my first triathlon. As we drove through the mountains from Seattle to Lake Chelan, our three sons slept in their car seats and my husband and I talked.

We were beginning to talk about adopting a child from Africa. God had put adoption on our hearts. But at the same time, it seemed like everything else in our life was being stripped away. For many years, we had been a part of a church community we loved. But that summer, two leaders at  the church had confronted us, accusing us of a long list of sins. What had we done wrong? While the accusers list was long, it came down to one thing: our family didn’t fit their legalistic expectations of what a Christian family should look like.

In the weeks that followed, we were pushed out of a community we loved as we had our character and faith questioned. Most of what the leaders said was not true, but we were left alone, carrying a heavy burden of shame.

And so began a long season pruning – and of heaviness and brokenness. Looking back, I believe this was spiritual warfare. Just as God lit a match in our hearts, Satan tried to suck all the oxygen out of the room to extinguish the fire. But like one of those trick birthday candles that keeps burning no matter how many times you blow it out, God kept filling what was empty. Healing what was hurt. Carrying our heavy burden. And restoring what was broken.

Do you know what is dangerous? Open the Bible and the newspaper, side by side, and pray this prayer:

God, break my heart for what breaks yours.

In university and as a new Christian, this prayer had defined my passion for missions and ministry. As a wife and mother in a legalistic church, however, there was no place for broken hearts. The passion that God had given me for mercy and justice had been sidelined and silenced. In it’s place? I could make one hell of a cupcake. This is a long story that I will tell another day.

But the short version is this: when our family was pushed to the edge of our church community, we found a little room to breathe. God breathed on the flame he had lit in our hearts. In our brokenness, he filled us with a compassion for the broken. God bandaged up our wounds and called us deeper into community with his people – and with him.

Take nothing.

I’m going to tell you the truth. As a new mom, the main reason I went to Bible study was to put my children into the nursery so I could drink coffee with other grown ups. I rarely did the Bible study homework. It’s not that I don’t like to study the Bible – I do. But with three boys under the age of four, opening the Bible was a great way to fall asleep. Honestly just showing up (latte in hand) was all I could handle.

But sometimes that’s all it takes for God to speak to us.

Three years ago, we were living the American Christian dream: three kids + minivan + big house in the suburbs + private school + dad in a corporate job + stay at home mom. But I was feeling restless. With my broken, messy heart, I was fully aware that my life was too comfortable, too disconnected from the rest of the world.

Somewhere in my sleep deprivation, the words of Luke leapt of the page:

And he said to them, Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. Luke 9:2-3

The idea that the disciples were called to take nothing was like a breath of fresh air. No more stressing over which storage container to buy to organize crap we didn’t need. Just give it away. Take nothing.

We decided it was time to radically simplify our lives so that we could follow Jesus with more abandon. We sold our house, our cars and most of our stuff, and moved half way around the world.

Speak life.

Have you seen the movie The Devil Wears Prada? Or 13 going on 30? I love movies where the heroine works in a job in fashion or publishing in New York or London. As a stay at home mom of many, movies like this were sort of a guilty pleasure – an escape from endless breastfeeding, diapers and laundry. I would sink into the sofa with a glass of wine and imagine what my life would have been like if I had…until I fell asleep…

Except this time I woke up with a job in fashion in London.

About nine months ago I went out to drinks with a friend. I told her I was thinking about going back to work. She asked me what I wanted to do. I said I didn’t know. I had this crazy idea that it would be fun to work in fashion in London. So I looked for jobs – and found a listing for a marketing role with an ethical fashion brand. I wrote up a resume and sent off the email, feeling 100% confident that I would never hear back. Except I was wrong.

In less than a week, I had a job offer. In London. In fashion. Working for a company that was making a beautiful change in the fashion industry and improving the lives of thousands of people in the developing world. The job truly was a dream come true – and I believe both a gift and a calling from God.

But like all working mothers, I felt torn. I loved my family, but I also loved my job. After a decade in a church where women were discouraged from working outside the home, I felt conflicted.

Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life. Acts 5:20

One of the things I love about our new church in London is that the Pastor’s wife is a doctor. In the church community there are women who are homemakers and stay at home mothers, but there are also women who work outside the home. It is a church where women are valued for all of their gifts, including those that are relevant in medicine or ministry or business.

In the midst of my conflict over my changing role as a wife and mother, God gave me the gift of these two words: speak life.

These words have become my mission at the office. The company I work for is fantastic in so many ways, but I joined in a season when many were feeling discouraged. Trying to do the right thing – trying to do business ethically and sustainably in an industry that is anything but – is hard. These words have given shape to my work and little by little I’m seeing renewed hope and excitement around the office. These words have been a reminder that it was God who opened the door, God who called me to do the work I am doing, both in and out of my home.

The words have become a mission at home as well. I am learning to speak more gently and intentionally, to make the most of the precious time I have with my children. Day by day, my children are growing to understand that our lives are not our own. They grasp that God has called me to go back to work and that my work is helping thousands of other mothers and fathers to provide for their children. They are thinking about how the work they do can reflect the heart of God – and make the world a better place.

What about you? What are the words you live by? What are the words that have defined the different seasons of your life?

What the Bible doesn’t say about adoption and orphan care

Our adopted daughter Gabrielle and her brother Zephaniah sharing a moment looking out at our garden.

Our adopted daughter Gabrielle and her brother Zephaniah sharing a moment looking out at our garden.

What is the Biblical foundation for orphan care?

Is it James 1:27, which calls orphan care “pure and faultless” religion?

Is it the doctrine of adoption – that God has “predestined us for adoption” (Romans 8:15) and promised us a “glorious inheritance” (Ephesians 1:18) through Jesus Christ?

Or does the Biblical foundation for orphan care and adoption run deeper?

I am not claiming to be an expert here. I am not a theologian or a Biblical scholar. But over the last two years as I’ve read through the Bible studying everything about adoption and orphans, I’ve found a few interesting patterns.

The Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about adopting orphans.

With the exception of Esther being adopted by her uncle Mordecai (Esther 2:15), all Biblical references to adoption are about God’s adoption of us. Romans 8-9, Galatians 4 and Ephesians 1 basically say the same thing: we are adopted into the family of God through Jesus Christ.

There are only a couple of verses in the Bible about orphans. Job describes wicked men who “drive away the orphan’s donkey” (Job 24:3), Jesus promises not to leave his disciples as orphans but to send the Holy Spirit (John 14:18), and Paul describes feeling like an orphan when he was separated from the Thessalonian Christians (1 Thessalonians 2:17).

And then there’s James 1:27, which does tell us that pouring yourself out to care for orphans and widows is an example of true faith in Jesus.

We are adopted, but are we called to adopt?

Looking for examples of adoption in the Bible, Christians often point to the examples of Moses and Jesus - but honestly is child being abandoned by a desperate mother living in slave in Ancient Egypt and raised by the rulers of an oppressive regime really a good example of ethical adoption? While its honorable that Joseph raised Jesus as his own son – and it’s likewise honorable when men in the world today marry single moms and adopt their children – Joseph’s adoption of Jesus is an example not a command.

There’s nothing in the Bible that calls Christians to adopt. Likewise, these examples of adoption don’t have a lot in common with international adoption. The whole idea of flying half way around the world to adopt a child who was a complete stranger would have been impossible for the Biblical authors to imagine.

I am not saying Christian’s aren’t called to adopt.

I believe God does call many Christian families to adopt. I believe our family was called specifically to adopt our daughter Gabrielle. But this calling needs to be put in a broader context – understood as a part of a bigger story. James 1:27 is a great verse, but it’s just one verse. Believing that we are adopted into God’s family is central to understanding the Gospel. But should we adopt because we are adopted? Should we build orphan care ministries because of one verse?

Christians are called to remember

I believe remembering is at the heart of Biblical adoption and orphan care – and indeed at the heart of all ministries of mercy and justice. Christians are called to protect and provide for the fatherless in response to the Gospel. The Bible is the story of a God who remembers his people. In the Old Testament, there are countless examples of God remembering his covenant promise to his people - delivering them from slavery, protecting them from injustice, providing for their needs. The Cross is the ultimate act of God remembering.

While the Bible doesn’t call us to adopt, it does call us to remember. We were once fatherless and now we been adopted by a Father. We were like widows and Jesus is our Bridegroom. We were poor and we have been promised a glorious inheritance. We were foreigners and we have become a part of God’s family. We were slaves and we have been given freedom.

In my next post, I will go into greater detail about how remembering provides a foundation for a life of mercy and justice, including adoption and orphan care.

Don’t forget to subscribe by email or RSS, or follow on Twitter or Facebook if you want to read more. And if you enjoyed the post, please share or comment and let me know what you think!

 

 

Who are the fatherless in the world today?

I just checked Facebook and Twitter after a day at work and wow – pretty much everyone who has a blog is writing about adoption ethics, the orphan crisis and what we as Christians can do to help without hurting. 

It is time for this conversation to happen! When I took a sabbatical from blogging for a few months this spring, I needed a break. I was discouraged. After a year of relentlessly telling Christians to open their eyes to corruption in adoption – while also defending that adoption is can be beautiful when it’s truly needed – I felt so alone in the middle. While I may not agree with everything in Stuck or Child Catchers, I am thankful for these two extremes because all of a sudden people are wrestling with the truth about adoption.

With all the noise, I’ve been praying about what else needs to be said – if there’s anything helpful I can add to the conversation.

About two years ago, Family Hope Love stopped being a typical Christian mommy blog about our family’s adoption. Almost two years ago, we found out that the second little girl we hoped to adopt would never come home. She was “stuck”. We were heart broken. In my grief, I began to read everything I could about adoption. Ethics. Corruption. Trafficking. Orphan care. Poverty. Injustice. I read literally thousands of pages of research.

At the same time, I read through the Bible from beginning to end focusing on everything about widows, orphans and foreigners, the marginalized, oppressed and poor.

And somewhere between the stacks of white papers and empty coffee cups and notes in my Bible, I began to see the orphan crisis and how God’s people are called to respond in an entirely new light.

Light pouring through jars in the souk in Marrakech

Light pouring through jars in the souk in Marrakech

Following the Father of the Fatherless

“Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.”
-Psalm 68:5

Who are the fatherless in the Bible?

From beginning to end, the Bible is a story about God, who calls himself a Father, adopting a fatherless people. God’s people are called to protect and provide for the fatherless in response to what we have received and as a reflection of the Father’s heart.

God’s compassion is not limited to the fatherless. Throughout the Bible, we see God’s heart for the “least of these,” (Matthew 25) including orphans, widows, strangers and the poor.

When Bible speaks of the fatherless, it is referring to children who would have been highly vulnerable in ancient Jewish culture. God designed children to grow up in families and with loving, protective fathers. The fatherless in the Bible represent all children who lack the protection and provision of a father. In a similar way, widows would have been vulnerable to exploitation. Men as husbands and fathers are called to protect and provide for women and children. Widows and orphans are particularly vulnerable because they lack the very person God intended to care for them.

It is interesting that the Bible seldom separates orphans and widows. From Deuteronomy to James, God calls his followers to defend and care for orphans and widows together. There is an assumption that widowed mothers are caring for fatherless children – and that these families are vulnerable.

If God’s compassion is not limited to orphans, should our compassion extend only to orphans who have experienced the death of at least one parent? Or as the people of God are we called to protect and provide for all who could be considered fatherless?

Who are the fatherless in the world today?

The modern equivalent of the Biblical “fatherless” is a term used by academics and journalists: orphans and vulnerable children. Like the fatherless in the Bible, orphans and vulnerable children in the world today are often destitute and defenseless.

This term recognizes that orphans are often among the most vulnerable children in the world. Yet at the same time, there are millions of children in the world who are not technically orphans but who are vulnerable.

The majority of the world’s orphans and vulnerable children live in vulnerable families. When the head of household is a single or widowed mother, an older sibling or an elderly relative, the family is more likely to be vulnerable. The one thing nearly all vulnerable families have in common is poverty. Families living in poverty may not be able to provide children with food, clothing, shelter, school fees or medical care.

As we think about the fatherless in the world today, I think it is helpful to consider the “fatherless” in three categories:

    1. Children who have experienced the death of one or both parents and who are truly orphaned, without the love and protection of a family. Some of these children live in orphanages or on the streets, others are trafficked into forced labor or prostitution.
    2. Children who are fatherless but not technically orphans, including children who have been abandoned or separated from their families by abuse or neglect. This group includes many children living in orphanages and on the streets as well as children who are trafficked and exploited.
    3. Children living with vulnerable families – or in other words the orphans and widows God calls Christians to care for in James 1:27.

As we consider the orphan crisis and how we are called to respond, we need to see that God’s heart extends not just to orphans but to all children and families who are vulnerable as a result of poverty and injustice. Yet, making a distinction between children who lack the love and care of a family and children who live in vulnerable families is extremely important.

Want to read more? To be continued…come back later this week for the next post in this series!

Please note: Much of this post is an edited excerpt from the first chapter in my book, In Defense of the Fatherless. I am currently seeking a publisher for the book (prayers appreciated!). I am also seeking contributors who share my passion for inspiring Christians to address the root causes of the orphan crisis. If you want to know more about how to get involved, please comment and I’ll email you!

We cannot fix a problem we do not understand

This is my adopted daughter Ella, now 2.5 years old.

This is my adopted daughter Ella, now 2.5 years old.

I want to start by saying I am thankful for Jen Hatmaker, a Christian adoptive mom and writer. She’s the author of one of the most thought-provoking books I have read this year, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. She has a huge platform – and something about the way she writes invites women from wildly different perspectives to give her words a chance.

I was excited when Jen jumped into the conversation about adoption ethics two weeks ago with a  courageous post challenging Christians to stand up against unethical adoption. She put her finger right on some of the ugly issues in the Christian adoption movement. She wrote honestly about money and corruption and the harmful way some Christian’s claim God’s sovereignty to ignore injustice in adoption. In Jen’s words:

“We cannot be complicit in what amounts to trafficking.”

Amen and amen. Jen’s blog post sparked a helpful debate in the adoption world. Agree or disagree with the hundreds of people who commented on her blog, her words struck a nerve. Like many Christians in the adoption community, I was eagerly waiting Part Two of Jen’s series – hopeful that she would continue to speak truth to this important issue.

But I was disappointed with Part Two of Jen’s series – and here’s why.

I believe God calls Christians to care for orphans, widows and vulnerable families in response to and as a demonstration of the Gospel. If you spend a few hours studying what the Bible has to say about orphans and widows – and about poverty and injustice – it’s clear that God takes our response to his grace seriously. How we care for the least of these reveals how we truly feel about God. So if how we care for orphans is serious business, I think it’s time to be far more careful in how we define the orphan crisis.

And this is the issue with Jen’s post. She writes:

Here are the real numbers: Around the world, there are an estimated 153 million orphans who have only lost one parent (“single-orphaned”). Obviously, not all these children need adopted. Most single parents raise children valiantly in their own community and extended family. There are about 18 million orphans who have lost both parents (“double orphaned”) and are living in orphanages or on the streets.

These may be the real numbers, but these real numbers do not tell the whole story – and that’s the problem.

Often Christians talk about adoption and the orphan crisis as being a little like pulling a child out of a burning building. If the problem is 18 million children who have no one and no alternative to life in an orphanage or on the streets, then adoption is the answer. But what if the problem is not 18 million children who have no one? What if we’re pulling children out of buildings that aren’t fire simply because someone pulled the fire alarm? Or what in other cases adoption is a little like pulling a child out of a burning building while leaving her family there to die? If we do not know how many people are in the building – or indeed if it is even on fire at all – we cannot make wise decisions.

Most of the world’s orphans are not living in orphanages or on the streets. And at the same time, most of the children living in orphanages or on the streets are not orphans.

Jen is right that most of the world’s orphans are living with their single parents. But what she’s missing is that millions of double orphans are also living with their families, being raised by grandparents or aunts and uncles or siblings. Being a double orphan does not necessarily mean living in an orphanage or on the streets. Likewise, children who are living in orphanages or on the streets are not necessarily orphans who have experienced the death of a parent.

If you dig deeper into the statistics about children living in orphanages, you’ll discover that approximately 90% of the 8 million children living in institutional care worldwide have families. The primary reason children who have families end up living in orphanages is poverty. UNICEF estimates that there are tens of millions of street children worldwide, but these children are often living or working on the streets because of poverty, abuse or trafficking – not the death of a parent.

While’s Jen’s statistics are simple, they are also misleading. Most of the world’s double orphans do not need international adoption – and many of the most vulnerable children in the world are not orphans at all. If we want to be faithful in protecting and providing for the “fatherless”, we must do more to understand the complex issues at the root of the so-called orphan crisis.

We cannot fix a problem we do not understand.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to write more about this issue – to answer the questions “Does God call us to protect and provide for the fatherless?” and “Who are the fatherless in the world today?”

 

 

Changes in international adoption | Lots of helpful links

Do you feel the tide turning?

When I began to speak boldly about corruption in international adoption a year ago, I faced a lot of opposition. The adoption and orphan care movement was growing quickly within the Christian community, as thousands of families and churches where embracing God’s heart for orphans. At the same time, there was a lot of fear that talking about corruption in countries like Uganda or Ethiopia would lead to these countries closing to international adoption.

But I believe something is changing.

More families are telling the truth about their adoption experiences. Leaders in the Christian adoption and orphan care movement are calling us to question what we’re doing and to consider what will make a lasting difference. While I still see the adoption movement as a bit of a flood that has the potential to devastate vulnerable communities in the developing world, I think the tide is changing. I think a growing number of us who take seriously what the Bible has to say about orphans and widows are questioning whether what we are doing is helping without hurting.

I believe we still have a long way to go.

Every time I see a 147 million shirt or read an adoption agency website about 163 million orphans or listen to a sermon about the orphan crisis, I want to scream wait! There are millions of orphans in the world today – but roughly 9 out of 10 of them are living with their families. These families are often at risk of poverty and injustice. As Christians, we’re called to orphans and widows – to vulnerable families. When Christians think “orphan crisis” their first response should be supporting kids with their mothers and fathers. Empowering these families to have a path out of poverty. Fighting for justice and against corruption. Protecting and providing for the least of these in response to the grace and mercy we have received from our adopted Father.

So until every Christian grasps that living out James 1:27 means supporting families first, I will keep speaking the truth.

I am thankful that I am not alone on this journey. So for the rest of  this post, I wanted to share with you a few things I have read and watched. I hope you will find these as helpful, thought-provoking and heart-breaking as I have.

  • Mercy, Mercy. A heartbreaking story of an Ethiopian family and a Danish family connected by adoption. Please, please, please if you are considering international adoption, watch this documentary. Nearly every family that has adopted from Africa can see something of their own story in this film. It is raw and transparent and hard. It should lead us all to question deeply when adoption is truly the best choice for a child.
  • Red flags wave over Uganda’s adoption boom. Article and news report about international adoption in Uganda from CNN
  • Lots of helpful posts from The Rileys. This week alone, Mark and Keren have shared a thoughtful story from an adult adoptee, a painful story from an adoption that failed as a result of corruption, and their reflections on the Pepperdine Conference about Intercountry Adoption: Orphan Rescue or Child Trafficking?
  • A Place of Mercy: The OTHER side of orphan care. I met blogger Erika while we were both “stuck” in Uganda in 2011. We both spent months in Uganda living in orphanages with the children we were hoping to adopt. For both of us, this meant seeing a side of adoption and orphan care that is invisible when you go on a short-term mission trip or a quick adoption trip. Erika’s experience has compelled her to ask some terrific questions:

What if poverty did not decide whether or not a child became an orphan?

What if parents who love their children are able to raise them and watch them grow into adult hood?

What if parents were able to feed and clothe their kids and able to send them to school?

What if we could keep kids from becoming orphans!

Wherever you are at in your journey, I hope these resources will be helpful. For those of you who share my passion for reforming international adoption, keep up the good fight. For others who are consider adoption for the first time, I hope you will not be overwhelmed. I am not against international adoption. I love adoption and I feel incredibly blessed to be an adoptive mother. My hope is that all this spilled ink will empower you with information to make the best decision for your family – and to do what is just and good.

If you are wondering why things have been quiet here at Family Hope Love, it is because I started a new job in January. I am leading Online Marketing for People Tree, an ethical fashion brand based in London. Between learning my new job and caring for my family, I have not had as much time as usual to devote to this space. But going forward, I am ready to engage more deeply with the growing tribe of Christians who are passionate about adoption and orphan care. 

Thank you for reading and joining me on this journey. 

The courage to ask better questions | Holly’s moment of truth

My friend Holly is one of the few fearless voices in the adoption blog world. Holly and her family lived and served in Democratic Republic of Congo for four years. During this time, they supported an orphanage in Eastern DRC called Tumaini – or “Reeds of Hope”. While living in DRC, Holly adopted two children and began facilitating international adoptions from DRC. As Holly was working with adoptive families, she was also becoming more aware of the poverty faced by families living in DRC. She began to ask herself some hard questions – and ultimately stopped facilitating adoptions.

This photo is from Holly's blog and is of children at Tumaini in Eastern DRC

This photo is from Holly’s blog and is of children at Tumaini in Eastern DRC

Since moving back to the United States, Holly has continued to be outspoken about the truth about adoption from Democratic Republic of Congo. She courageously shares her blog with families who have seen and experienced corruption first-hand. She listens to the stories of families who have been threatened by their adoption agencies. She faces all sorts of criticism from adoption advocates who wish she would just shut up. But she keeps telling the truth.

If you are not familiar with Holly’s blog – Alama ya Kitumaini which means “Signs of Hope” – you need to make yourself a cup of tea and pay her a visit.

I suggest you start with this post about Holly’s journey – her moment of truth. When she began facilitating adoptions from Tumaini, she struggled with the question of whether or not the children were adoptable. All of the babies at Tumaini had living fathers and had experienced the death of their mothers during or after childbirth. After a little more research, Holly discovered that the babies could meet the definition of orphan under United States immigration law as long as their fathers were unable to care for them – and had relinquished their rights in writing. But something about this definition bothered her. In Holly’s words:

Maybe for some of you it isn’t obvious, because it was certainly clear that the fathers in both cases were “unable to care for the child”.  What was bothering me was what was missing from that definition.

It was love.  Love was the missing part of the definition.  Even though extremely poor, those two fathers LOVED their babies.  And had every intention of coming back to get their babies one day.  Most of the fathers and families that drop off their babies have that same intention, it was love that motivated the action to bring the babies to the orphanage in the first place because they were doing the only thing they could to keep them alive.

Yes, they are unable to “care” for their children and yes, if you asked them if they want their babies to go to the U.S. or europe to be adopted (i.e. to be given food, healthcare, education, advantages they would never dream of being able to provide for their children), most would say yes.  If you asked them “can you care for your child?” And then followed that question up with,  “because if you can’t, your child can be raised by a loving family in America.  He/she can be adopted. Do you want this?”.  The answer would be adoption.

The choice was “adoption to the states” or “home with you in desperate poverty”.  When adoption is the only alternative offered to destitute poverty with the family, I began to wonder if there was really a choice at all.  In fact, I began to feel the injustice of such a request…

 Click here to read the rest of Holly’s  post. If you are thinking about adopting from Africa – especially Democratic Republic of Congo – take time to read everything!

The questions that Holly raises in this post are so important. As Christians, asking the question “is it legal?” is not enough.

Sadly I know more than a few Christian families who blatently disgregard the law when it comes to international adoption. They do not care if a child meets the legal definition of “orphan” – and they are willing to do almost anything in order to “save” a child.

But even following the law is not enough. We are called to something higher. We must ask deeper, better questions. I believe there have been thousands of situations in Uganda, Ethiopia and Democratic Republic of Congo where desperate mothers or fathers have placed their children for adoption because they felt they had no other choice.

While I believe in principle that a mother, father and extended family should have the right to choose what is best for their children within the boundaries of the law - it is not really a choice if the only alternative to adoption is desperate poverty – or death.

Imagine a family living in a village in rural Africa. The parents are young, poor, struggling to care for their first child. When their second child is born, there is not enough to go around. The mother is starving and her body does not make enough milk to feed the baby. Nearby someone is building an orphanage and a school. When missionaries from the orphanage visit the family’s home and offer to take the baby – who is severely malnourished – the parents say yes. They are desperate. They love their child, but feel they have no other choice.

And then a year later, a couple on a short-term mission trip visit the orphanage where the now one year old girl is living. They meet her – and they fall in love. The assume that because she is living in an orphanage, she must be an orphan who is available for international adoption. They begin the process to adopt her. Somewhere along the way, they discover the child has a family, that she was abandoned because of poverty. Now they face a difficult decision.

What should they do next? Should they fight to bring the child home? Or should they reach out to the child’s biological family? Should they hire an investigator to figure out whether the family would care for the child if they could? What do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

The moment of truth | She Can Laugh

My last post has definitely struck a nerve.I am thankful to see more and more families truly wrestling through the issues with international adoption. Many of you have said something very important – this is not all black and white. Sometimes it is hard to know what is best for a child, even when we are willing to surrender our own desires.

As I am writing about some hard issues, can I begin with a bit of a disclaimer? Please do not to judgment as you look at other people’s adoption cases. There is often more than meets the eye – and often adoptive families choose not to tell the whole story because they are protecting their child’s privacy. More than anything my hope is that as you read this blog you would examine your own heart. If you are in the adoption process, I hope that you would strive to be in a place emotionally and spiritually that you can sacrifice your own desires to do what is best for a child or family. At the same time, when you see injustice, do not be quiet. If you know of an adoption agency, lawyer, ministry, orphanage or leader involved in corruption, speak up. As far as I am concerned, if you have accurate information and especially if it’s your personal experience, proclaim it from the mountain tops. The culture of silence in the adoptive community is like a cancer.

If you see a family that may be heading down the path of escalating commitment I wrote about this weekend, find a way to speak the truth in love. How should you respond if you see a family doing something unethical, corrupt or even illegal in their adoption? The Bible calls us to first examine our own hearts and then to go to one another – in humility, love and grace – to point out wrongdoing. If the person will not listen to us, we should go with two or three witnesses. If they still will not listen, then we should consider taking steps to hold them accountable – be speaking publically or this contacting authorities in the United States or Uganda. Some of you may disagree with me on this. There is a ton of fear in the adoption community – a worry that if we talk about corruption more countries will close. But if we are never honest about the corruption, how will we ever fight for justice and change?

With my little disclaimer out of the way, I want to introduce a new series of posts on Family Hope Love. In this series, I will be linking to other bloggers who have shared Moments of Truth in their adoptions. I’d also love to open up this space if you want to share your story.

What is a moment of truth? It is that point in the adoption process where the adoptive family realizes there is more to the story. Often adoption agencies, orphanages, lawyers and government officials don’t tell the whole truth – and adoptive parents are left picking up the pieces. Sometimes we discover the truth about our child’s history before we travel – other times it is not until we’re already home. No matter when we discover the truth, we have critically important decisions to make. Do we continue trying to adopt a child? Do we switch to a different adoption agency? Do we stay connected to the biological family? Do we contact the authorities about the corruption we experienced?

Our first moment of truth happened more than two years ago. We had a referal for a baby girl in Uganda. When we first heard about the child, we had been told her mother and father were married and dying of AIDS and that she was living in an orphanage. Our hearts were broken for her. We fell in love with a picture of a beautiful baby girl – and the idea that she would join our family. As we rushed to finish our dossier, we received horrible news. The little girl had died of an infection from a small burn on her hand. We were devastated. Once the orphanage had nothing more to lose, however, we heard the rest of the story. The little girl had never been living in an orphanage. We had been given a referal for her while she was still living with her mother. The mother was not married – nor was she dying. She was young and had been raped. She was scared, poor, vulnerable. This moment of truth allowed our family to see that our adoption agency was too inexperienced. We switched to adopting independently – a better choice in Uganda at the time (though not anymore). We have had several other moments of truth over the last few years. But for now,

I want to share this space with my friend Marci who blogs at She Can Laugh. Marci just wrote up the story of how they chose to walk away from a little boy they hoped to adopt after they found out he had a family:

She Can Laugh: A Ugandan Adoption Story

Can I share a little story with you?

It is a cautionary tale about an adoption that almost happened and how if I had allowed it to proceed, it would have been one of the biggest mistakes of my life. Recently there has been a whole lot of buzz in the (adoption) world about families risking and sacrificing all to parent a child that the US governing entities has not allowed them to bring home… while this is horrifying and tragic, and my heart breaks for the adoptive parents dealing with this, there are things that are even worse… Christian families placing the end of “adoption” above the means of justice. I wanted to share our story, not because we did it all right and perfectly (and not because I want to reprove others who have found themselves in a difficult spot with an ethically compromised referral), but because we very well could have been “that family” being told “no” by the US embassy if we had done things differently.
No one, especially potential adoptive parents want to hear about adoptions that don’t work out… but please read this! And please take time to read it all… (I know, I skim too, but this isn’t a “skimmer” type post). Thanks!
The Need for Adoption?
It all started exactly two years ago. On January 14th 2011 we got these photos of a precious baby boy, who was about 4-6 months old. We were smitten from the moment we saw him. Furthermore, we knew he was our son; his name at birth was Ezra… the very name we had planned on naming our next son… we were sure it was God’s plan for him to be ours!

Click here to read the rest of the story on Marci’s blog.

 

 

How did we end up here? | Adoption and the path of escalating commitment

I have never met an adoptive parent who began the time-consuming, heart-wrenching, wallet-emptying process of international adoption with a desire to traffic a child.

Our family adopted for a few simple reasons. We wanted one more child and could not get pregnant again. We believed we had been adopted by God and that adoption was a demonstration of the gospel. We thought there was an orphan crisis that was particularly acute in Africa - our hearts were broken for the millions of orphans in Uganda.

Nearly every adoptive family I know had similar motivations. We love children, we want to help a child in need.

But something ugly often happens in the adoption process. The sincere desire to adopt in order to help an orphan morphs into a consuming need to adopt – to bring a child home at almost any cost.

There is a growing movement among Evangelicals in America challenging every Christian family and church to do something about the orphan crisis. Thousands of churches are launching orphan care ministries. Millions of Christians are going on short-term mission trips. And a growing number of families are considering adoption.

Sadly year after year the number of international adoptions is decreasing. More countries are closing their borders to international adoption in response to corruption or political pressure.  Fewer countries are open to international adoption just as more families are beginning the adoption process.

As a result, there is intense, growing pressure on countries such as Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. Adoption agencies scramble to start new programs. On the ground they fight to partner with orphanages – and to find adoptable children. In many African countries, corruption is the status quo. It is difficult to get anything done without paying a bribe here or there. Money talks. Soon lawyers, orphanages and government officials involved in adoption realize that it is a lucrative business.

They see no harm in talking a desperately poor family out of a child. They give in to corruption, rationalizing that the child would have died in Africa, that their life will be so much better in America.

Imagine a naive family walking into this mess, completely unaware of the ends to which many adoption agencies will go to place a child for adoption. Somewhere in the adoption process, they begin to notice a few inconsistencies.

They realize the lawyer working on their case has a reputation for being corrupt.

They hear that the orphanage where their child is living has been neglecting the children while the orphanage director is living comfortably.

The day before they go to court, they discover the child who they believe is an orphan has a mother and father, siblings and grandparents.

In court, they hear the only reason the family cannot care for the child is poverty.

They begin to wonder if the family even understands what adoption means.

But at this point, they are too deep in. For months, they have been falling in love with a child they believed was an orphan. And now he or she is with them, in their arms. They cannot imagine letting the child go.

And on top of this, everyone at home is behind their adoption. Friends and family have prayed and given generously. There have been baby showers and there will be a big welcome at the airport. Their church supports the orphanage where the little girl was living. The family cannot imagine disappointing everyone at home.

And so they ignore their consciences. They rationalize the corruption. They come up with Christian-sounding excuses for trafficking a child. When United States officials investigate and discover the child was never an orphan, the family fights back. They hire lawyers and vow fight to the bitter end.

They rally the support of their friends and family, church and community. People write their senators and tell the media. Soon their story is everywhere. They call the Embassy evil, argue the United States government hates orphans. They call the laws designed to protect children from trafficking “red tape”.

And now they are in too deep. They have walked down a path of escalating commitment. They began the process to adopt full of love, faith and a sincere desire to welcome an orphan into their family. But somewhere along the road, they lost sight of what is truly important.

Sadly, this is not just an imaginary story. This is a true story – a story that is repeated with slightly different details over and over again. Many families who adopt from Uganda, Ethiopia and Democratic Republic of Congo have walked down a similar path. Somewhere in the adoption process they noticed corruption – and they closed their eyes.

Out of fear or pride they looked the other way. Out of cowardice or arrogance they trafficked a child and destroyed a vulnerable family.

It takes courage to ask the hard questions – and to walk away if you discover that the child you love does not need a new family. It is brave to tell the truth, especially when adoption agencies who profit from corruption will go to great lengths to silence families.

Friends, I will keep beating this drum as long as it takes. It is time for the Christian adoption and orphan care movement to wake up to the reality of corruption – and the truth of Scripture. The Bible is crystal clear that exploiting the poor, destroying families, paying bribes and denying justice are sin. The Bible is also clear that we are called to protect and provide for orphans and widows - and the reality in the world today as in the world when the Bible was penned is that most orphans are living with widows and that these families are vulnerable to exploitation. Protecting and providing for these families – preventing children from being abandoned - must become a priority. It is time for change.

 

 

 

 

If your hearts are broken today, don’t forget tomorrow

I wrote this blog post the day after the school shooting in Connecticut that happened on the 14th of December, 2012. This post is my reflection on my own reaction. Living a few thousand miles away, the violence felt very far away. Living on the other side of the world, it was hard for me to see my children in those children’s shoes.

What happened yesterday in Connecticut was horrible. My heart breaks for the families who lost their loved ones. My heart also hurts for the millions of people across our country who are angry and grieving.

How should we respond to the violence against children in Connecticut yesterday? It is right to be sad. To be outraged. To stop and think. To ask questions. The horrific events have sparked a debate over gun control and how best to protect our children from evil.

What I shared yesterday was a reflection on my own response. Why didn’t it upset me nearly as much as it upset my friends in the United States? I think the simple answer is that it felt far away. But honestly, my reaction did not go far enough. Because the school violence felt far away, I didn’t put myself in the shoes of the parents who lost their precious children. Most of America did. This story hit close to home. Mothers and fathers across our country were devastated as they imagined this happening to their own children.

What happened in Connecticut was evil. The world is broken. Sin is real. And people need Jesus.

I think blogger Jen Wilkin puts it really well:

As a mother watching someone else’s horror play out on a screen, I want to feel this to the core of my being. I want it to inform my thoughts and actions in a way that leaves me changed. Because on days like today we learn just how broken sin has left us, just how bleak is our landscape without a Savior…On days like today I will reflect again on the ravaging effects of rebellion against God, multiplied across millennia, manifested in a freshly printed headline. The more shocking the headline, the more I must come to grips with my minimized reckoning of the severity of sin.

We all minimize the severity of sin. Living in the United States or in the United Kingdom, it is often easy to forget just how broken the world is. Things like poverty, war, slavery and hunger often feel very far away. We do not often put ourselves in the shoes of mothers and fathers living half way around the world.

If your hearts are broken today - if you are angry at injustice and evil today – don’t forget tomorrow.

Without minimizing what happened in Connecticut, I want to ask you to remember that this “freshly printed headline” is a small part of “the ravaging effects of rebellion against God.” It is right to be sad about what happened in Connecticut, but it is also right to be sad about the evil and injustice that claim thousands of lives everyday, all across the world. I know that I need to put myself in the shoes of the mothers who lost children in Connecticut. But we all need to put ourselves in the shoes of the little girls forced to be prostitutes in India, small boys forced to be child soldiers in Congo, mothers who hold their starving children in Sudan, fathers who dig graves for their families in Syria. We should let the evil of what happened in Connecticut shatter our hearts. But we should not stop there.

For millions of people around the world, evil and injustice are not just the headline news. Evil and injustice are things they face day in and day out. May our grief over the shooting in Connecticut fill our hearts with compassion for the hurting, the lost, the broken. May we remember how we feel today the next time we are tempted to turn off a news story about poverty or violence far away. May we put ourselves in the shoes of the mothers and fathers who mourn the loss of their children – not just when it feels close to home, but when it happens on the other side of the world.

To end, I wanted to share a link to a post I found very helpful from Justin Holcomb at The Resurgence:

As we react to the shock and horror of violence against children, we should mediate on Jesus’ love and care for children. But God’s love should do more than just make us feel better—it should lead us to imitate his care for children, take action against evil like this, and pray for God’s peace and salvation to cover the earth.

Redeeming Santa | Reclaiming the heart of Christmas

 Do you believe in Santa Claus? 

This morning, I sat down over coffee with a few other moms to talk about Christmas. Inevitably the conversation drifted to the S word. In hushed voices as our toddlers played nearby, we wondered how to involve our children in the magic and joy of the Santa story without getting caught up in the consumerism – or missing the true meaning of Christmas.

When our son Asher was born 8 years ago my husband Mark and I had to figure out the whole Santa thing. Both of us grew up in families where Santa brought gifts on Christmas morning. Both of us eventually discovered the truth about Santa, but we had very different reactions.

Mark felt betrayed that his parents had lied to him about Santa and did not want mislead our children about the true meaning of Christmas. On the other hand, I thought the whole Santa thing was harmless fun. Over the years, how we “do” Santa as a family has evolved.

For our family, Christmas is a celebration of God reaching out in love to rescue us. It is a time we remember the mirace of our faith.

But we recognize that for most of our neighbors, Christmas is about Santa. It’s about gifts and cookies, presents and parties – about celebrating with the people they love. Before we moved to London, we lived in the most wonderful neighborhood. We loved our neighbors. And we wanted to celebrate the holidays with the people we loved.

And so we were faced with a question: how do we respond to culture as Christians who believe Christmas is about Jesus not Santa?

Do we embrace the whole Santa thing so that we can love and celebrate with our neighbors? We didn’t want our kids to be the ones spoiling the magic for others, blurting out “Santa’s not real” at the neighborhood Christmas party. But we also didn’t want Christmas to be all about stuff.

One of the most helpful things our family learned in the years we were members at Mars Hill Church in Seattle is how to engage with culture as Christians: receive, reject, redeem. We applied this to how we celebrated Christmas and the holidays with our neighbors, who were from many different faiths and backgrounds.

Receive. As Western culture has been deeply influenced by Christian tradition, there is much about Christmas culture that we can simply receive, celebrate and enjoy. In our neighborhood we had a tradition of gathering to sing Christmas carols and collect food for a food bank. As Christians, we could simply embrace this opportunity to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.

Reject. What about Christmas parties? Our neighbors threw great parties – but these parties often involved getting drunk. As Christians we believe that drinking is not a sin, but getitng drunk is. So while we loved to go parties and celebrate with our neighbors, we decided to be sensible – to have fun without getting drunk.

Redeem. This is where Santa comes in. As a family, we decided to teach our children about the real Santa. St. Nicholas was a real man who lived a long time ago. He was orphaned as a teenager. When his parents died, he inherited a lot of money. He became known for his generosity. He loved God and loved people – especially children. The real Santa gave freely to help the poor and to fight injustice.

Now this is a Santa that we can embrace. For our family, remembering and following the example of the real Santa is a way to reclaim Christmas from consumerism. Instead of focusing on the gifts we want to receive, we remember how much we have been given and we delight in giving to others who are in need.

Do you want to join us in redeeming Santa and Reclaiming the heart of Christmas? Here are three places to start:
Give generously. The Bible calls Christians to love our neighbors as ourselves. Last year we followed this example! Our family divided our Christmas budget for our kids in half. We bought a few gifts for each of our children. And then we invited each of them to buy gifts through Food for the Hungry that would help children in need. Our children delighted in having the opportunity to be generous – and we didn’t fill our home with more stuff we didn’t need.

Shop differently. Think before you buy. There are so many incredible businesses selling fair-trade, ethical, handmade goods. Shop on Etsy, upcycle something from Goodwill, buy jewelry from Noonday Collection or clothes from People Tree. Enjoy giving gifts that make a difference in the world.

Celebrate simply. Christmas doesn’t have to be insane. I normally drive myself crazy with lists this time of year. Places to go, people to see, stuff to buy. But this year – mostly because we’re new in London -  I have no crazy list. I have zero expectations of making Christmas perfect. And it feels good. It feels like a huge accomplishment that we got a Christmas tree. And do you want to know the truth? Most of the stuff on my lists was not really essential. We don’t miss it. Christmas this year will be simple – and I’m okay with it. You should be too. Stop looking at Pinterest and just give your kids a hug or eat a cookie. Simple.

What about your family? What do you do to make Christmas meaningful, intentional, missional?