Thursday, November 1, 2012

Time to MOVE!

I am merging my 2 blogs into one little spot on the web.  The new blog is titled "Our Home for His Harvest," and it combines our orphan ministry with our every day life (ministry!) within our home and family.  We hope to see you over there!   :)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Host an Orphan at Christmas

The deadline is quickly approaching to sign up for orphan hosting for the Christmas holidays through New Horizons for Children (November 1st deadline for most of the children).  Here's the latest New Horizons video, and our Sandija is one of the children featured on it (near the end).  Get the word out!  These kiddos need families willing to step forward to share the holidays with them.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Her Decision

We received an email from Sandija's roommate at her orphanage.  It was short and very sweet, telling us that Sandija has decided not to be adopted because she does not want to leave her family and friends in Latvia.  She ended the email by telling us that she is so very sorry for Sandija's decision.  You see...her roommate is older and will soon find herself released onto the streets.  She sees the road a bit more clearly than Sandija sees it.  

There is a whole range of emotions that flood in with this news... There is relief that we finally have an answer after 2 months of waiting and praying.  There is anticipation at seeing God's closed door and moving forward to His open window.  There is great sadness, knowing the statistics for girls in Latvia and knowing that Sandija is just 2 years away from aging out of the orphanage.  There is complete reliance on God to step in and care for Sandija like only a Father can.  We open our hands and release her into His care.

It was such a big decision for a 14-year-old.  One of my sweet close friends worded it perfectly:  "Bless her heart---we're all so human.  She was given the option of an 8 course meal or Skittles and she chose the Skittles."

We tuck into our souls the memories we have of Sandija...the hard times overshadowed by her amazing ability to love...the way she would find me in the kitchen every day, come up behind me, hug me and say, "Mama, what you doing?"...the way she gave up her money every time to buy a gift for someone in our family...the 5 long hard weeks of sacrifice and tears to pour into her something she had never had before.  

And a precious memory that will never leave me...  We were driving in the van one day, and we were listening to music.  Steven Curtis Chapman's song Remembering You came on, and every time the chorus played, we would all point to each other: I'll be remembering YOU!  And we will always, always be remembering her...our host daughter from the other side of the globe.

Here is the song Sandija said was her song to us, and in turn, we said it was our song to her too...

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Safe Families for Children

Imagine being a single mom who has recently lost your job.  You have 3 children under the age of 5, and you desperately need to get another job before your rent is due in a couple of weeks.  There's nobody who can take care of your children, and you cannot afford daycare right now; so, you take to the streets looking for a job in stores, restaurants, wherever you can find to go.  You have a choice to either leave your children alone in your apartment while you go job-seeking, or you can take them with you.  You love your children and don't want to leave them alone, so you opt to take them with you.  Yet you find that nobody will hire a single mom with 3 children in tow.  Frustration mounts, groceries need to be bought, rent and bills are coming due.  

Really, what would YOU do?  

Bethany Christian Services used to receive many calls from parents just like the one I described, wanting help.  Because Bethany had no such ministry to help with this particular need, they had to say, "I'm sorry.  Unless your child has been neglected or abused, we cannot help you."  Then, Bethany decided to do something to help these desperate parents who were in temporary crisis.

It is called SAFE FAMILIES FOR CHILDREN, and I'm quite excited to introduce it to those of you have never heard of it.  Tonight we went to a meeting where a sweet lady from Bethany Christian Services passionately introduced our orphan ministry team to this truly amazing aspect of their services.  

Safe families for Children is not about foster parenting, and it is not about adopting.  It is about being a host family stepping forward to help families who are in temporary crisis.  It is Biblical hospitality, where a host family temporarily cares for the children until the birth parent gets back on their feet (i.e. gets a job, saves enough money to put a deposit and first month's rent on an apartment, pays off medical expenses, has drug rehab, etc).  Most children stay in their host families' homes for 35-45 days, though some stay for shorter or longer periods of time...all depending on the arrangement made between the host family and the birth family.  The birth family voluntarily seeks the help of Safe Families, and the host families voluntarily offer their home to care for the children.  Because it's all done on a voluntary basis (no court orders, etc), a sweet bond is allowed to grow between birth families and host families.  It's all done in love.  The love of Jesus...    

At the Safe Families for Children website, there are videos that give a view into how safe families work.  It is a precious ministry for both the birth parents as well as the children.  I encourage you to look into it personally as a choice in orphan ministry, and I especially encourage you to take this to the leaders of your church and introduce this as a ministry your entire church can do in carrying out James 1:27.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Connecting Across the Globe

New Horizons for Children had a fund raiser, where for a donation of $50 to their ministry, we could send a gallon baggie filled with goodies for our host child.  The New Horizons staff and volunteers took these baggies to Ukraine and Latvia when they went to interview more children for their hosting program a couple of weeks ago.  

We sent  Sandija letters, cards, song lyrics, material for sewing, lollipops, gummy bears, tights, dental floss, squiggly shoe laces, batteries for her mp3 player, gum, pistachios...and more.  

Today we were blessed to receive some photos in our inbox.  Sandija's roommate has periodic access to email.  She wrote us a sweet note, saying that Sandija loves us and that she enjoyed her goodies that we sent.

Here's a momentary smile...excited to hold her bag of gummy bears...

And yet, sadness in those eyes...

For all the ups and downs of the hosting period, we wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.  Even if she chooses not to be adopted, she will always know that there's a family in this world that loves her.  That's something that cannot be bought with money.  It goes down into the very depths of who she is.

And now it's time for a new group of children to be selected for hosting during the Christmas season.  Please consider giving of yourself this Christmas to invest in a child's life in a way that is bigger than you can possibly imagine.  Please see New Horizons for Children for details.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Big Decisions for a Teenager

What would YOU do if you were a teenage girl from Latvia who absolutely loved your American host family and were offered to be adopted by them?  Sounds simple, right?

Put yourself in her shoes for a moment...  You DO love your American host much so that you told them they are the first real family you've ever had...and it has been your lifelong dream to have a family who truly loves you. 

And yet you also love Latvia for all its beauty and it's familiar food and language.  You have birth family scattered across your homeland.  You rarely see them, but you have dreams of reuniting one day.  Whether they are real dreams or pipe dreams, it doesn't matter...still dreams of the heart.  

And you have freedom.  Freedom to dye your hair any color, any time.  Freedom to wear your lip ring without rules. Freedom to have a boyfriend that nobody has to approve.

The fact is that, although adoption means the priceless gain of a forever family, it also means loss.  And as a teenager, you have the large weight of the choice.  

Look at one small example: 
* To stay in the orphanage means you can go to bed late at night, after a day spent doing whatever you want to do.   There's nobody to impose rules on you, and yet there's also nobody to tuck you in or tell you that they love you.  There's nobody to wash your sheets and make sure you have fresh pj's.  
* To be adopted means you will have lost your freedom to roam the streets, go wherever you feel like going, and go to bed late after hours of watching whatever you want to watch on TV.  And yet you are tucked into a clean cozy bed, kissed goodnight and showered with love you've never experienced before.

Yes, adoption involves both gain and loss.  And you, at an immature age, have the weight of that decision.  How do you think you'd answer when asked if you wanted to be adopted?

It's quite possible that you'd say exactly what Sandija said: "I don't know."

Our last day with Sandija before she left for Latvia

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Our Journey in Orphan Hosting

During our 5-week hosting period, I purposely kept my comments on this blog fairly neutral and quiet.  I found myself in an odd situation, wanting to share the reality of hosting an orphan with those who truly wanted to know...and yet not airing our host daughter's laundry for the world to see.  I felt a need to protect this child as a Mama protects her young.  And, thankfully, the weeks of hosting were so tiring and jam-packed with activity that I rarely had time to write much.

But now, I sit to write what I still am unsure how to word...unsure of how much to say and how much to keep to myself...  I pray that I walk this line with integrity, sharing only what God places on my heart to share...because there are many orphans like Sandija who need someone to be their voice...and yet Sandija needs a mama who will work on her side and keep private things private.  So, here's my attempt to walk that tight rope...

When Sandija came downstairs on her first morning in our home, she had a large lip ring (click photo below to see).  We contacted New Horizons, who returned our call later that day, and they told us that lip rings were not allowed while the children are being hosted.  The children had known this rule, and Sandija had chosen to disobey.  Welcome to Day #1 of hosting!  Here's a piece of reality: These kids in orphanages in Eastern Europe have extraordinary freedom to do whatever they want to do.  They roam the streets, go to bed late and have nobody to tell them the good and right path to take.  THEY HAVE NO FAMILY, and without family, they grow up doing what feels best.  Many of the children have all kinds of body piercings, as that is cool in the orphanages.  The photo below is one that I actually don't like at all.  The attitude on Sandija's face is definitely not one we support, but nonetheless, sharing this photo will give you an idea of the hard walls that these children have raised (and in a few minutes, you will get to see more photos where the walls began to come down).

By the third day of Sandija's visit, she was playing dress-up with the other girls and enjoying being a princess.  The lip ring was never seen again.  We told her how pretty she was without it, but she disagreed.

The hosting period was not an easy cake walk.  Let me try hard to word this with gentleness and tact...  When children are taught the ropes of life by other orphans, they often make wrong choices.  When they are used to throwing tantrums or pouting to get what they want in the orphanage, they expect this behavior to also work to their advantage in a family.  When they have been left to themselves for years with total freedom to do whatever they want to do, they learn to roam freely and do what feels best at the time.   And if you take that child and place them into a family (which they CRAVE desperately), they kick like crazy against the boundaries that they are not  used to.

And HERE is where the issue lies in the host family...  Do we accept the wrong behavior and just pretend it doesn't exist?  NO.  And family cannot exist in a peaceful way unless everyone is on the same page.  So what do we do?  We correct and redirect the wrong behaviors, while we encourage (teach for the first time!) good behavior.  It's the same hours we put into our newborns, with the constant maintenance and attention.  It's the same work we put into our toddlers, with the nipping of tantrums and the redirection to acceptable behavior.  And then, when you throw in teenage hormones, it can make for some long, hard days of work for the host family!

The choice was ours: Do we EMBRACE these issues and stick with this child through all this upheaval, or do we start counting down the days on the calendar until we can have our lives back again?  To say we weren't tempted to take the easy "well-we-tried" route would be a lie...because there were days when we were barely hanging on by a thin thread.  But, like one man said who was going through "hell week" with the Navy Seals (I'm paraphrasing from what I recall): "I can leave right now and quit.  I can go home and get a shower and some sleep and not have to deal with this torture.  But, the minute I wake from that nap, I will regret giving up something I've wanted my whole life."  For us, we knew that we could give up on this child and just do the minimum to get through the 5 weeks and then return to our normal (peaceful!) lives.  But, like that Navy Seal, when we awoke from our long wonderful nap in our peaceful home, we knew we'd regret letting this child's life slip through our hands.

The ugly truth is that entering into an orphan's life is entering into suffering.  And we all naturally run from suffering.  We all tend to want the path of least resistance, the road of few troubles.  And to take on an orphan (especially an older child with many past life experiences) often means taking on a life that is riddled with pain so deep that they simply do not know how to process it.  I think most of us WANT to help an orphan, but we want it to be easy and to feel like warm fuzzies that make us feel good about the "good deed" we are doing.  Well, reality bites deep sometimes, and the truth is that entering into an orphan's life is not convenient or comfortable.  IT. IS. SUFFERING.

It means lying in bed holding a child while they cry about things that are too personal and painful for me to write on this blog.  It means watching a life story unfold (through Google Translate) as a child tells us horrors that no child should ever have to experience.  It means having your family pushed at the seams by a child who doesn't yet understand that pitting Mama against Daddy is not acceptable.  It means having to soothe hurt feelings of other children when the host child absorbs most of the parents' attention, having never had a parent's attention before.

It means choosing to grit our teeth and push through the rough waters, as opposed to throwing our hands up in the air and giving up.  It means choosing to die to ourselves and giving up our lives for someone else when we really don't "have" to.

It is so easy to talk about "being Jesus" to others.  It is super easy to sing "I will love as You love" while we are sitting in our church pew on Sundays.  But to live it out when it's HARD...that is another thing altogether.

So, on with our story...  We chose to greet each new day with God's grace to handle anything that happened.  Honestly, on some days, it was ONLY His grace that got us through.  This is not to say that Sandija was awful...not at all!  She was a mix of joy and pain, toddler and teenager, obedience and pouting sessions.  I told her often how wonderful she was, and I meant it!  But, it was only God's grace that could help our eyes see the light and hope in the midst of the trials.
We presented Sandija with her own Latvian Bible, and we began to introduce her to reading it.  Walls began to come down.  She really did want to read it and learn more.  Never underestimate the power of God's Word in a person's life!

With consistent prayer and tedious correction in love and with grace, we began to see some amazing changes in our girl.  If you want a quick visual, just scroll up to see the first photo on this post and then scroll back down to see this photo, which was taken on week #4 of her visit.  (Go ahead...really look at those 2 photos).

Yes, it was difficult.  But so was everything Jesus went through for us.  Why in the world would I expect that following my Savior (who was beaten and crucified for me!) would be EASY and comfortable?  Why in the world do we as Americans think it is our divine right to have an easy life?  Why do we run from those who will require great amounts of love and work on our part?   Why do we opt for our safe, familiar lives in our well-protected homes in our beautiful neighborhoods, while there are people suffering...people that we can truly help (and with more than an occasional donation to a food bank to ease our conscience)?

Our hosting period was riddled with challenges, even up to the last day.  But, in choosing to suffer with Jesus, we also got to see amazing God-sent transformations and miracles.  We saw Him soften our girl's heart.  We got to peek through the layers of hard shell and to see beautiful tenderness blossom forth.  We were given an open door into her heart, and she was happy to invite us in.

We also realized where WE need to strengthen the walls in our marriage in order to be strong enough to hold this child in our family.  We realized where WE needed to make changes in our parenting to treat all our children with the fragile care that we had to treat our host child with.  As God always seems to do, while we reached out to meet someone else's need, He reached out to meet OUR needs too.

Week 4 and 5 were mostly good ones, with walls down and hearts bare.  Good does not mean EASY.  Good simply means grace-filled.

And then August 2nd arrived, and we found ourselves at the airport at 5am in a somber mood.

Here she is as she was just about to go down the escalator with the New Horizons representative...grief apparent on her face.

Daddy gave her one last hug while she sobbed.  As she had told us, "This was my first time to be in a real family with a real mom and dad who love me."  And now it was time to go back to her orphanage...

And off she went...  (I had to tie her blanket onto her bag so that she would have it to comfort her on the long flight).

Two days after she left, we got a photo from another host mom whose older host child had taken this photo of Sandija in her bed after she returned to the orphanage.  (Scroll up to see the beautiful photo of Sandija with her pink flower on her head and then scroll down to see this photo of her in her orphanage).  Can you not SEE the difference it makes to be in a family?  This photo is heartbreaking, and yet it is the reality of her life without a family.

And here's a very ugly truth that you may want to avoid.  But I beg you NOT to run from this!  This is a real photo of a real "apartment" where orphans go when they age out of the orphanage.  Look at it...really look at this...

And another one....

And here's what it all comes down to...  Would I rather keep my nice, peaceful, uncomplicated life without entering into this child's life?  Could I simply say, "Well, we tried, and it is far too much work for our family"?  Am I really able to stay uninvolved when I know that Sandija would end up living in an apartment like the ones pictured above?  Am I okay with the fact that statistically, Sandija has a very very high chance of ending up in human trafficking or on the streets or as a victim of suicide after aging out of the orphanage?

Really, how much does my comfort mean to me?  How much does her life mean to God?  

The answers to those questions are the reasons that we have stacks of inconvenient adoption paperwork sitting on our dining table.  It is the reason we are running all over the state getting fingerprints done and papers notarized and doctor's visits taken care of.  It is the reason we lay down our lives and exchange them for the cross.

So, after all we have gone through this summer, do we recommend that other people consider hosting an orphan?  YES.  DEFINITELY.  It may not be as difficult as our experience, or it may be more difficult.  But, in the end, the question is always: How much does my comfort mean to me?  And how much does an orphan's life mean to God?

And really: WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?  Ask that question, and determine to do exactly what He would do.  After all, that's what it means to truly follow Him.  Everything else is just hay and stubble.