October 2nd in our house is what we call MORE LOVE TO GIVE Day. Most people in the adoption world call it “Gotcha Day.” We persevered through 85 days of praying, fighting, and waiting out our process in Ukraine, and somehow “Gotcha” just didn’t seem ample.
Words in general seem pretty inadequate when you finally realize that the years of preparation actually do culminate in the rescue of formerly fatherless kids. In our case, we spent many days going back and forth between two different orphanages wondering if we actually would get to adopt our girls. The day we actually got to pick them up was surreal. It was like watching a scene in a movie. It was hard to believe it was really time.
On this day 5 years ago, our girls changed out of the clothes they had been sharing with at least 20 other kids and put on the new clothes we brought for them. It was one of the saddest things in the world to realize that they literally had nothing to bring with them. They were entering a whole new reality that started the minute we pulled out of those orphanages. This picture is of Olivia watching the only life she had known for 5 years get smaller and smaller in the back window.
Today we celebrate 5 YEARS of leaving the orphanages behind. Today we celebrate the sovereign hand of God who graciously did what we could never have done. We remember that He provided everything we needed to give our daughters a hope and a future. We remember that we were motivated by love and we are still dependent on it every day. We are excited to celebrate today leaving the old behind and pressing on to the fullness of all that is still to come.
If you are an adoptive family…what are your Gotcha Day traditions? How do you celebrate? What are you most grateful for? We’d love to hear from you!
It’s so important that we understand that adopting or fostering is not the only way to be faithful in the call to care for widows and orphans in their affliction. The call is universal to the Church. Engaging in orphan care is not optional, however in recent years the adoption movement has sent out a strong message to consider adoption. That actually is not a bad thing. It’s a good thing, and it’s a good thing that encouraged us in our interest in adoption.
However, there’s another reality that isn’t as broadly proclaimed. Even though you should consider and pray about fostering or adopting, the reality is that God may lead you to say no. There are many who can and should foster or adopt, but there are some who can’t or shouldn’t. Maybe it’s a can’t and shouldn’t for a season. Maybe it’s a can’t or shouldn’t for a reason.
We need to be so careful not to judge the faithfulness of others through the lens of our personal calling. We need to celebrate and support those who adopt, and we need to honor those who pray about it and are not specifically called to foster or adopt.
That being said, it does seem from Scripture that everyone is called to engage in caring for orphans (or former orphans). In the past couple weeks, examples of this have come through the Facebook feed, and they are examples worthy of sharing.
First of all, Jason Johnson posted this amazing graphic. It very simply shows all the ways that churches, families and friends can help out in caring for the (formerly) fatherless. The examples he gives are incredibly significant, and they really are standing on the front lines with adopting/fostering families. If the call to foster or adopt isn’t something you’ve felt, these are great examples that anyone can do. Even the things that seem relatively small are incredibly big for families who have brought fatherless kids into their home.
If you are friends or family of a foster or adoptive family, picking up the phone and asking if any of these things would be a blessing to them would be a great place to start.
Second, we led worship at a church near our home this Sunday and heard a great story. This is a young church plant that would be considered small by many standards. However, that church family rallied around a young couple in the early stages of adoption. They held a garage sale fundraiser for adoption expenses, and in one garage sale they raised $6,000. That is such a great story and such a great example of how everyone can participate in caring for orphans.
You may be called to foster or adopt. You should pray about it. God knows there are thousands of kids in need of families. However, don’t feel bad if you don’t feel called to it. There are so many other ways to participate.
If you have any examples of how you’ve seen people care for orphans without actually fostering or adopting, would you mind sharing in the comments? If you’ve fostered or adopted, what are some of the ways people blessed you?
5 years ago today we were staying in what was our 3rd Ukrainian apartment. We had been in Ukraine for three weeks and were awaiting our 3rd appointment with the State Department of Adoption. When you adopt blind you only get three chances to choose a child (or children). Our first two appointments did not go well, and they kept telling us, “We don’t have any children.” If the 3rd appointment ended the same as the 1st two, we would have had to return home empty-handed and start over.
We were tired, frustrated, angry, filled with confusion, and were considering just coming home anyway. We were burning through our adoption fund. Nothing was working, and hope was running thin.
At that time we were doing a read through the Bible in a year devotional plan. On August 6th, the reading included this passage from Habakkuk…
And the LORD answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. (Habakkuk 2:2-3 ESV)
We felt like this was a word from God directly to us. We could give up and go home, or we could choose faith and hope. We both took time to write the vision we felt like God had given us for our family and for adoption. We decided to not give up. We decided to go to our last appointment trusting that God would finish what he started. It was a freeing experience for both of us. We still had no idea what that 3rd appointment would hold, but we were resolved to go and see.
The top picture above is from Holly’s timehop. I tweeted out that abbreviated version of Habakkuk after we wrote the vision. It was a declaration for us. It was an overflow of our commitment to trust God. Within an hour of writing the vision, talking and praying, committing to wait for the appointed time. We received an e-mail that included the 2nd picture above.
We’ll never forget seeing their picture for the 1st time. It was our “you’ll just know” moment. It was God’s perfect timing. Even though we thought we couldn’t wait anymore, waiting a little bit longer allowed us to experience what God prepared for us all along.
Even when you think you can’t wait anymore…you can. You can hold out a little longer and wait for God to show you what He’s up to. You can write the vision, and you can wait for God to execute His plan in His perfect timing.
We’re grateful for this reminder from 5 years ago. When it seems slow…wait for it. It’s worth the wait.
Confession: I could very easily be the laziest person in the world. It’s an interesting phenomenon how my workaholic tendencies interact with my ability to not get off the couch. I like to think that the fruit of my sanctification is what moves me off the couch to do work. If you could’ve seen me as a kid, you would know that it’s only the Holy Spirit that could have made me into somebody who enjoys giving my all.
This post (like the last one) was inspired by what we saw when we watched the London Marathon up close and personal. 40,000 runners signed up to do what only about 1% of the population will ever do, and that’s run 26.2 miles. That number may be skewed a bit, because I don’t think they took into consideration the people who do close to 26.2 miles a day just to survive in the developing world. Sorry. Had a missionary moment. I digress…now back to it!
Back to the 40,000. In our day and age of morbid obesity – both in adults and children, heart disease, diabetes, and other over-eating complications, the dedication of marathoners seems to shine a little brighter. The younger generation struggles to pry their fingers off of their video game devices or whatever they’re watching on youtube to become active for more than a bathroom or snack break. Some of them melt at their first exposure to the sun because their pasty white (at least my kids fit that description…please adjust description to match your kids’ pigmentation) gamer skin hasn’t seen the light of day since school let out. Seriously, I’m worried. I digress…again…back to it!
The 40,000. Our society is motivated so strongly by instant gratification. It’s heart-breaking. It is becoming more rare to find people who only expect to receive great things after working hard for them. It’s more common to find people who think they’re owed everything. We live among people reaping the benefits of the hard work of the generations before them. Few are willing to step up today to live in a sweet spot of dedication, sacrifice, and persistence. Too many simply bail when things get tough.
So, on April 26, 2015, when we watched all of those runners battle through the 26.2 mile trek, I kept thinking about their discipline. 1% of the population knows what it’s like to spend 1/3 of a year giving hours and hours in order to experience the reality of crossing that finish line. Experienced runners know that they have to get stronger and faster. They have to run longer. They need to pay attention to what they eat. They need to give their body enough rest. They have to trust whatever training plan they’re running, and the brutal truth is they have to run, and they have to run a lot.
There are some physical specimens that can show up and run a marathon without training (I’m talking about you Paula Radcliffe), but normal humans have to work their tail off. Day in day out. On the track. On the trail. Early mornings. Late nights. Weekend free time. Spending money on shoes and underarmour. There’s just no way to finish without discipline and training.
In the first marathon post, I talked about being a part of something big. When you signed up for a marathon, you signed up for something big. Those who signed up, especially those for the first time, knew they were signing up for something that would come at a great cost to them. They knew it would cost them blood, sweat, tears, and toenails in order to experience the joy and satisfaction of finishing the race.
I wish our faith journeys would be more like watching normal people run marathons. We’ve signed up for something so much bigger than us. We see the stories of greatness surrounding faith. We understand the super-natural is a big part of it. We believe that it’s a big deal. But then far too many sign-up and expect to just be able to dominate the rest of their lives of faith. The truth is that training and discipline is required. It continues to cost us in order to experience the greatness of finishing. We are constantly having to evaluate what our spiritual priorities should be in order to be faithful. We can’t just act so entitled that we deserve to cross the finish line just because we signed up.
We are signed-up to run a great race, and we need to train. We need to see the big picture as fuel to get us off the couch and to sharpen our faith. There is room to grow. There are skills to learn. There are commands to obey. There is training to benefit from. There are trainers available. There is discipline to be had.
Watching people finish was an amazing experience, but as each one crossed the finish line I thought about the countless hours of training they put in to finish. If it wasn’t for the life behind the scenes, the public race would’ve been much different.
Where in our lives do we need to get off the couch? What disciplines are we feeling compelled to pursue? What training is available to sharpen us in our faith? How much is pursuing the fullness of God worth? Salvation is not something we can earn. Our training and discipline are not what give us eternal life, but because we’ve been given salvation as a gift, it is our joy to work out our salvation through discipline and training all the days of our life.
Spiritual disciplines train us for the greatness of God’s Kingdom. It’s hard to train, but it’s worth it in the end to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
This blog was supposed to just be about how nostalgic it is that our oldest is off to his first week of church camp! Between the two of us, we’ve probably been to 100 weeks of camp. For quite a few of those weeks we were the Youth Pastors taking other people’s kids to camp and Holly is a Youth Pastor’s daughter so she might have been to even more. When the opportunity came up for Jake to go, we were so excited for him to experience something we have seen provide life-changing scenarios for so many people. That was what this blog was supposed to be.
Instead, it’s like this. For those of you who have spent time as Youth Pastors, you know there is always that kid that shows up late to every event or whose parent never picks them up. You go to all that work of getting the information out that provides every detail. As far as you know there’s no excuse for not knowing when and where to be, and there’s nothing more frustrating than that one kid holding up the whole bus that was supposed to leave an hour earlier.
So, on Sunday morning I rolled out of bed excited to preach Psalm 91. I took my time a bit and was getting ready to get in the shower with plenty of time to pray and go over my notes when I got this message from Griffin. Griffin is the Student Ministries director of the church where I happened to also be preaching that day…
…see I thought he was just asking me when I was going to be there for mic check and to upload my sermon slides. As far as I knew I had plenty of time. This message came 30 minutes after the time Jacob was supposed to meet the bus to leave for camp.
I can’t describe the sheer panic and horror that flooded throughout my body. We knew Jacob was going to camp, but for some reason we thought he was leaving MONDAY morning. Turns out it was Sunday.
Imagine my delight to have to share this lovely thought with my sound asleep wife. Fling door open. Lights on. Rip covers off. “Jacob leaves for camp TODAY!” Griffin said if we could get there in an hour, he would wait (God Bless that man!). So, we got the list, threw it all in the bag, got he and I ready, and somehow made it to the church right at an hour later.
God has a sense of humor. It’s amazing how he manages to help me find the grace that I may have lacked for others earlier in life. Now, we’re that family. We’re the late kid holding up the bus. We arrived to a very jolly Student Ministries Director who was able to find the humor in us being that family. We threw Jacob’s stuff and Jacob on the bus, and they literally shut the door and took off. By that time, I was now late for my arrival time to check my mic and load my slides.
It made for a memorable Sunday morning. I went on to preach two services, confessed my mistake to both services, and at lunch still felt the horror. It’s a little better today, but we still can’t figure out how we missed it. We’re organized people. We’re good with dates and calendars. Jacob usually knows when every small group and other student activity is, but he missed it too. Crazy. We both knew the date, knew I was preaching on that same date, and yet somehow thought that date for me and date for Jacob were two different days.
There are no words, and we were happy to provide entertainment for so many. At the end of the day, they made it to camp (after a flat tire on the bus – OF COURSE!), and we’re praying for them all to have an amazing week.
Maybe next time we’ll just be able to write the blog we intended. Much love and thanks to Griffin for his patience, sense of humor, and love for our students. We appreciate it so much!
Sometimes social media brings out the best in humanity. Sometimes is does the opposite, but we’ll leave that for another time. I loved seeing all the Father’s Day posts yesterday. It is so much fun to see the joy and excitement of new or almost Dads. It is also refreshing to see a generation of young fathers rising up who have a strong commitment to represent their Heavenly Father by being a good dad. It is humbling to see those who have sadness and have posted about Dads who have passed on. Regardless of life-stage, honoring Fathers is a beautiful and right thing.
For many, though, honoring a Father can be a difficult task. Stories of absent, disengaged, or worse yet abusive fathers are just as prevalent as stories about good fathers. For many Father’s Day can be a painful reminder of the harsh realities of a Father who is not committed to being a reflection of love, care or provision. The statistics of fatherlessness are real, and they affect many people both near to us and far away.
One post on Holly’s Facebook page really grabbed me. She posted a mini-montage of pictures of her dad to honor and celebrate him as a father and grandfather. People liked and commented, but there was one comment that jumped out. Holly’s dad is a 60+ year old Youth Pastor. There are not many who can persevere in that vocation for that long, but he loves it. He loves students. He has a way of believing in kids who have no one else to believe in them. He has a heart for the outcast. He finds a place for those with no place. By consequence of showing up and loving teenagers, he is able to functionally serve as a Father.
The comment was addressed to Holly, and it said, “He’s a great man thanks for sharing him with those of us who didn’t have our dads around when we were kids.” This is so amazingly strong. We spend a lot of time talking about the Fatherless being orphans or kids in Foster Care, and that’s fair enough. However, there is a whole other arena of practical fatherlessness that is much closer. How many kids have Dads who are disengaged, absent, imprisoned, or just gone? How many kids are being raised by a single mom? My Father-in-law has been able to provide partial Fatherhood to hundreds if not thousands of kids in his 40+ years of youth ministry.
It got me thinking. Good Dads can be shared. Maybe we should even say they should be shared. Maybe that’s part of God’s provision for being a Father to the Fatherless. Holly and her sister were not any less fathered or cared for by sharing their Dad with other kids. As a matter of fact, it was good for them to see how blessed they were to have an engaged Dad. It also allowed them to be a part of being “family” to those who needed to experience “family”. They grew up with people in and out of their home daily, as well as, having people who stayed with them from time to time that became “family”.
There is an incredible opportunity for Good Dads to be Good News to kids who have had a lot of bad news on the Dad front. Finding ways to show up to kids without Dads is actually not that difficult. Here’s another great thing. You don’t even have to be a Dad yet to function as a Dad to kids who need one. I’m hearing more and more of young couples being available to foster or mentor before they have biological kids, and I think that’s amazing.
If we embrace the idea that Dads are for sharing, it opens up a world of being a blessing that can literally change the world. There are likely functionally fatherless kids in your social circles already. How can you show up there and include them in your family dynamic (with your wife’s support and input of course)? If you can’t think of any, have you checked out mentoring programs? Some only require and hour or two a week. In a short period of time you can become the most predictable part of a kid’s life. Some should check out opportunities to volunteer in church student ministry programs. Some should even consider the possibility of fostering or adopting.
If you start praying about ways to engage the fatherless, those are prayers that will be answered. It may be easier than you think. Fatherlessness is the root cause of most every horrible statistic you can think of. Engaging with fatherless kids can literally change the world!
For the Dads and families of Dads who are being shared…thank you! I hope you realize the amazing privilege it is to be counted as a Father to the Fatherless. Even though sometimes it feels like you’re not making that much of a difference – you are. Let’s pray for more testimonies like the one on Rick’s montage. Let’s be open to all the ways God can be a Father to the Fatherless.
I am currently 9 days into an 11 day trip to Africa. It has been the busiest trip I’ve ever had here, and we have spent 35+ hours driving to different parts of the country. The picture above was taken at the Leaders Conference we led in a village called Apokor. The further you get from the main town and cities, the less likely it is that the kids have seen a lot of white skin. Anyone with white skin in East Africa is called “Mzungu.” During our sessions in the village, I was the only white skin around. Ann and Nicky are here from the UK leading some healthcare training in different areas, but during the day it was just me.
The 2 1/2 days we were in this village, I spent most of my time teaching. During that time many kids would pop their head in the door to watch and stare. During breaks I would walk around a bit, and the brave ones would shout, “Mzungu!” and run away.
On the last day, I finished my last session, and turned it over to the local guys to wrap up. I went to the back to stand up and get some fresh air. It had started to rain quite a bit, so the kids who had been running around found their way to shelter at the back of the church hall. Most of them were within 10 feet of me, but mostly they would just stare.
One little girl stared me down from the back door contemplating whether or not she would be brave enough to come a little closer. Little by little she came closer and closer. I was leaning against the will with my left hand in my pocket. As she came closer, I extended my pinky toward her. Within a few seconds, she grabbed it, held on for about two seconds, and promptly ran away.
In about a minute, the same process repeated many times. Each time, though, she held on a little longer. The other kids watched in amazement at the bravery of this little girl. Many were older than her, but they didn’t have the courage to do what she did. Eventually, holding one finger wasn’t enough. She grabbed two fingers. Then she noticed my wedding ring, and she turned it round and round. Natalia made a bracelet for me which are in the colors of the Ugandan flag. My new friend moved her way from the ring to the bracelet and examined every part of it. Once she was on my wrist, she noticed the hair on my arms. She got a little more brave and started rubbing the hair on my arms. She began to laugh and giggle. Even after all of that, she ran away.
Being around these kids (and the adults) from the village is an amazing experience. They don’t have running water. Most don’t have electricity. Most don’t have shoes. None have the conveniences that we have. Many of these kids will stay in this village for their entire life. They are so happy to have “visitors” who help them and visit them. They genuinely have a love for God that affords them incredible joy as they can’t afford much else.
It was humbling and honoring to be the subject of this little one’s discovery. Eventually we became close enough to talk and play. The kids later put on a little show (video below).
At times, the reality that my new friends live in becomes overwhelming. I’m grateful for a big God who sends people to meet his children, and it’s a privilege to be a messenger of good news. Wellspring works extensively in this area teaching healthcare and helping with community development needs. The churches are networking and God is moving. The quality of life, while basic, is improving.
I would love it if you would take a moment to pray for the people in Apokor. They have asked if we can help them with a well, and we’re going to work on that. It would simplify a major part of their life and would allow them more time to work on other areas of community development.
This picture is a reminder that people at the ends of the earth can become friends and neighbors with whom we can be messengers of Good News. Statistics have faces and names, and this picture though…it’s worth so much more than a thousand words, and it reminds me of the opportunity ever before us. We can really be Good News to the poor…to the ends of the earth.
Comparison is King of our culture. Much of what we buy and have is because someone we know bought it or had it first. Much of what we want is triggered from seeing what we don’t have somewhere else. This phenomenon is alive and well when young people (and some older people) quietly compare what they see in the mirror with the airbrushed make-believe images on magazine covers. It’s alive in churches who see what another church has or is doing and decide to copy it. It’s alive in families where it seems like certain people have it all together, and we secretly long for what they have. It affects the houses we live in, the cars we buy, the clothes we wear, the books we read, the hobbies we try. The rule and reign of comparison runs deep.
Recently I ran across this video, and it reminded me of something important. Nothing is at it seems. After nearly 20 years of working with families and kids, traveling around the world, getting a peek behind the curtain, there is another truth at play. Everybody is struggling. In the midst of our personal struggles, it’s easy to look at others and long for the togetherness they have, but the truth is that they probably don’t have it together either.
The measures that we use are so contrary to what King Jesus values. King Comparison rules us in shame and guilt with a constant longing for what we don’t have. King Jesus rules in love, grace and forgiveness with a constant offer to possess all things and find ultimate satisfaction and acceptance. Comparison teaches us to look at our culture horizontally, Jesus teaches us to look vertically. Comparison forces us to use people for what we can get from them. Jesus allows us to value people and give to them. Comparison looks at the external. Jesus looks at the internal.
The truth is that King Jesus is a much better King than Comparison. Every day we get to choose which King rules over us. One is truth. One is lies. One is a never-ending chasing after the wind. One is grace and peace. One always leads me to what I don’t have. One celebrates all that I’ve been given.
So, as the 5 billion opportunities to bow to comparison come flying at us, let’s bring some perspective to that temptation. As good as the other stuff looks, nothing is as good as King Jesus.