One more week, One less orphan

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There are one hundred and fifty three million orphans on this planet.

Next week there will be one less.

He’s our newest nephew. And we are boarding a plane this morning to join his new parents and brother for the final two weeks of their adoption adventure in China.

It’s not just that we’re suckers for an international trip. I mean, really, I haven’t turned down a stamp in my passport yet. But we’re also suckers for this adoption thing. It’s powerful. It’s love in action. It’s redemption. And we’ve been lucky enough to walk alongside multiple family and friends as love welcomes another child home. This time we get a front-row seat for all the firsts.

Now, here’s the part where I confess that I always thought if I was making an adoption-trek to China, it would be to bring home MY very own babe. In fact, years ago, I was the one googling china-based adoption agencies and medical definitions (nearly all of China’s approved adoptions are for “special needs” kiddos). My arms ached to hold a child, and my attention turned towards those who were aching to be held.

And then we didn’t qualify financially. Cue a hard left turn in my heart. Or more like a brick wall. Yes, China requires a certain financial threshold that we didn’t have. There wasn’t really an explanation of why China had planted in my heart as THE PLACE – but it was. And really, it’s not that drastic of a threshhold, but for two kids who had thwarted the idea of the “American Dream”, we fell short. I was devastated. Not only had my womb failed me, but now my bank account had as well.

Many twists and turns, including a failed domestic adoption, have shaped our road since then – most of them unexpected, none of them leading us to parenthood so far, but all of them a deep part of making us the couple who’s jumping on a plane to China today.

See, when I heard that there were 153 million orphans on this planet, I knew. I had no doubt. No doubt that we were to play a part in changing that number. I didn’t know how yet, but you don’t really need to know the final step to take the first one.

I’d also heard that it would only take 7% of the world’s Christians to END the orphan crisis. 153 million orphans is a lot, until you compare it to 2.2 billion Christians. Those numbers floored me. But another number jumped out and grabbed me: 93%. If adoption is close to God’s heart (and it is). If He’s commanded His people to take care of the world’s orphans (and He has). If ending the crisis would only take 7% of His people to respond (and it would). Then what about the other 93%? What might God be calling them to do? And it’s this … to just say yes. Just say yes to whatever part God is asking you to play, and trust Him to be big enough to tell you whether that’s part of the 7% or the 93%.

As much as God’s Word talks about adoption (hint: lots), it talks about community even more. It shouldn’t surprise us that something so close to his heart would be best displayed in community.

I don’t know what it is for you. Each day I’m learning what it is for me. When we first said yes, I thought it meant we’d adopt. And maybe we still will someday. But so far our yes has looked like a lot of different things … like mentoring and tutoring and camp-counseling and teaching and reading and advocating and babysitting and listening. And googling the heck out of new words adoptive friends are using. And listening and learning more about the heartbeat of God with every step. 

And today, it’s getting on a plane so that this world will have one less orphan.

What would it look like in YOUR life to work towards one less orphan? It may not be as far fetched as you think.

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When grown-ups color …

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When grown-ups color, a whole new world is created.

Yesterday I sat among a room full of coloring grown-ups. It’s our fifth year at Royal Family Kids Camp, and the preparation day always – ALWAYS – leaves me more than just a little choked up. Because grown-ups … Engineers, Doctors, Lawyers, Administrators, BIG IMPORTANT GROWN-UPS WITH BIG IMPORTANT JOBS … sit down to color a sign. A welcome sign. They always know the name of who they’ll be welcoming, but they don’t always know their face. Or their favorite color. Or whether they’ll get off the bus with a frown or a smile.

But they color. And they guess. A little pink flower here, a little hand-drawn airplane there. And a name.

And then comes the welcome. With colored sign in hand, an army of grown-ups prepares to meet a flood of 6-11 year olds. As each child steps off the bus, their name is called and their counselor for the week runs forward with their hand-drawn sign, welcoming them by name. Gets me every. Dang. Time.

Because I know it’s a glimpse. A glimpse of a welcome we will receive someday when we leave this place for a new Somewhere. Be it an angel or an ancestor, someone will greet me by name, and maybe they’ll even have a sign with my name on it. Not so that they’ll recognize me, but so I’ll recognize them. And know that they’ve been prepared and waiting to celebrate the day I’d arrive.

Now today is the day I’m celebrating arriving HERE in this life. 35 years ago today I met my Mom and Dad. They were ready for me, with a name and everything (thanks to my Mom’s favorite soap-opera). It’s hard to think of a better way to spend your birthday than with a hundred little faces yelling out a “happy birthday” across the camp from a zip-line or a swimming pool, and co-counselors offering sincere hugs telling you you’re special even as they run off to the next activity. To be honest, I really like a birthday that’s not all focused on me. It’s a lot less suffocating.

Still, a little focus on me is a fun thing. And today I got it from a special source. I’ve written about her before. Amanda is the girl who came back, the girl who taught me big things, and now will be forever in my heart as my favorite-birthday-cake-preparer.

Amanda rallied our cabin full of girls to create a “birthday cake” made of apples and drizzled in caramel. They carefully carved out letters from apple slices until they had H-A-P-P-Y B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y, and then surprised me with it with a song at lunch time. Little did she know that caramel & apples are one of my favorite combinations. This girl – this feisty, fierce, and (this year) FRIENDLY – eleven-year-old has blessed my socks off. Again.

And I’m convinced it all goes back to the coloring. To the grown-ups remembering what it’s like to be a kid, and then being as kid-ly as they can, so that the kids can SHINE in all their kid-dom.

When grown-ups color, a “birthday cake” is carved out of apples and drizzled with caramel. Yum.

Apples

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Hard Candy Shells

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Four years ago, I sat in Church with my arms fiercely crossed. My heart was as hard as the look of stone on my face. I was captive to some pain in my life, and in no mood to hear an inspirational sermon. Many days I was good at hiding it – this was not one of those days. I was, in fact, sitting there at Church merely because it was easier than fighting about not wanting to go to Church.

Pain is like a candy shell – hard on the outside, even though I was mush on the inside, and all it would take is a little tap on a chisel to open it all up.

The message was on the ordinariness of Jesus’ disciples – how plain and dull and ordinary those twelve guys were. And yet they were called to do extraordinary things. The pastor then went on to share how he and his wife felt very ordinary, yet called to something extraordinary. They were planning to adopt. Because they’d heard that if just 7% of the world’s Christians cared for an orphan, there would be no more orphans. And they felt compelled to be part of that 7%.

7%

Tap-tap went the chisel. My arms fell to my side. Still rigid, but there was a crack in the ice. I was no stranger to statistics, but this one shocked me.

See, part of my pain and hardness that morning came from an all-too-familiar ache as I sat there and watched baby dedications before the sermon began. I sat there, just coming to grips with being infertile, and longing for nothing more extraordinary than plain old ordinariness.

I had the faintest idea of what a motherless child might feel because I was sitting there as a childless mother.

My arms were still crossed, but that hard candy shell was about to burst as that chisel chipped away. To be honest, the orphan care stats weren’t the focal point of the message – just one of the many illustrations that the pastor was using. But it was the one that penetrated my heart.

I went home and started exploring if it could possibly be true that the world’s orphan crisis really could be eradicated with just 7% of the Christian body’s efforts. My googling led me to an annual Summit put on by “Christian Alliance for Orphans”, and in May of 2010 my husband and I jumped a plane to explore this new world. Little did we know the floodgates we were opening.

The world of orphan care is as equally complicated as that of infertility – and to be clear, I think the two are all too often linked when they really are separate things, but that’s for another blog post. What I mean here is simply this: a lot of people start the road to infertility “just wanting a baby”, a simple enough concept until it gets complicated by doctors and thermometers and pee sticks. So, too, the intro point to orphan care is often a simple prick of desire – maybe to build a family, maybe to be part of this world’s greatest social crisis, maybe because of some indefinable nudging to explore. A simple enough concept until it gets complicated with attachment disorder and interracial dynamics and the all-consuming question of how to help without hurting. The more you learn, the less you know – but that becomes more and more okay, too. 

Today, I sit again at the CAFO Summit, amidst a crowd that is still full of many strangers, but no longer strange to me. It is a room filled with some of the most ordinary-extraordinaries I have ever met, living out the Gospel in all aspects of orphan care: adoption, foster care, family preservation, global and local initiatives, wrap-around support, mental health, and more. There are no easy answers in the world of orphan care. There are diversely opposing viewpoints and constant new lessons. But an aroma of surrender permeates the conversations and the praise.

And it’s not just about 7%, it’s about all of us. While it is actually true that it would take only 7% of the world’s Christians to care for all of the world’s orphans, making this the most solvable crisis on the planet, it is a call to us all – it’s a big ocean where every drop counts – the other 93% of us get to support those called to the deepest parts of that ocean.

All of us ordinaries have a place here – just you and me and all of us who have nothing more to offer than our plain ordinary selves – like twelve guys who used to follow a carpenter around. Just ordinary people called into an extraordinary story. Hard candy shells and all.

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Heroes among us

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I’ve written about heroes before. They are among us. Often in disguise. They could live right down your street, and you may never know it. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and there’s no age-limit.

So how would you know if you’ve ever met one? Well, if you’ve ever shaken the hand of a foster or adoptive parent, you’ve met a hero.  And don’t get me wrong – all heroes have kryptonite of some kind, none of them are perfect.  And no one should go into foster or adoptive care with hero-aspirations.

But the thing about heroes is this: most of the time the hero doesn’t even realize they are one until they’re needed most.

Heroes are most needed when the going gets tough, and there’s a hero in all of us, whether we know it or not. And the thing with adoptive and foster care parents is just this: they go into it knowing that the going will get tough – it’s an inevitable part of redemption – but what they may not know is what kind of hero they will find inside.

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One of my best friends is this kind of hero. She brought her baby boy home from Africa a few years ago.  He is beautiful and lovely.  He is vibrant and curious and full of life.  He is also wounded. He carries some emotional scars from his first year of life that is not uncommon within the world of an adoptee. Most of his first year of life is in shadow – they know pieces, but they may never know the full story, except that he was in need of a mom and a dad.  And my friends stood up and volunteered for the job.  But that isn’t what made them heroes.

What makes my friend a hero is the days and hours and minutes that she holds her son’s hand when he screams in terror at some unknown enemy in his young memory.  What makes my friend a hero is when she knows she’s not enough, and prays to the One who is. What makes my friend a hero is when she wants to run away, but she stays.  What makes my friend a hero is when she is brave enough to say “I need help.”

So when a hero like that calls, it’s amazing to be able to say “Help exists – let’s rally.  Together.”

I got to tell her about Finally Home Foundation, an organization that exists to “equip communities to rally around the heroes who are foster and adoptive families.”  Starting next month, I’ll be serving as the Southern California Regional Director for this great organization.

Equipping.  Rallying.  In community.

I mean, seriously, could there be a better job description?

To learn more or get involved, please visit www.finallyhomefoundation.net or email me at brooke@finallyhomefoundation.net

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