Monday, February 25, 2013

Woven Together

I have a confession to make. I am just now, finally,  almost five months after bringing Joy home from the Philippines, feeling the love for my new little one that I imagined I would feel from the very beginning. My adoption journey has been very different than some of my friends. When I first saw Joy's picture, I did not have that epiphany moment, saying "She's the one! That's my girl!" I never fell completely in love with her picture. I guess it was because I knew there was a possibility that the Philippine government would say "no" to our request to adopt her.  My prayer was always..."Lord, if this is your will, please let them say yes. But if not, please bring the right child into our family and the right family for her." After  the intense and LONG wait when we received word that Joy was ours, I was so excited. I tried to imagine what she would be like and how she would fit into our family. I prayed for her every day and wondered often what she was doing. But NEVER in my imagining did I think that she would react to me the way she did.  And honestly, it hurt me deeply. I wondered what we had gotten ourselves into and how I could love a child that disliked me so much.  I worried that we had "ruined" our family and what would happen if she never changed. Our transition was rough. I cried many tears. Joy cried many tears. My 8 year old son asked his children's pastor for prayer because he was "stressed out" because of the way his new sister was acting. My 11 year old daughter became frustrated very quickly. I had to remind myself often that God is in this adoption journey and He has a plan. I had to trust Him that it was going to be alright and He knows what is best for our family.

Joy came from an orphange where she was loved since she was born. I didn't realize her ties would be so strong and she would grieve so deeply. I am so grateful to her caretakers and the orphange directors because it is a testiment of their great care for the children. In the beginning, Joy cried for them often. Now that she is more comfortable here and has learned to love and trust us, Joy speaks frequently of her many "Ate's" who cared for her and the orphanage directors who obviously love her dearly.   Now just a few months later, I stand amazed at what God has done so far. He took this little, scared and hurting girl and He weaved her into our family. He took my fears and insecurities, and helped me understand and love Joy in a very special way.

Now, I cannot imagine our family without our spunky, loveable, adorable little girl. She makes me laugh with her funny phrases. She makes my day brighter with her many hugs and kisses. She lights up the room with her smile.  She praises Jesus with all her heart. She melts my heart with her prayers for others. Joy enjoys playing with Natalie and Micah now and they get along like they have always been siblings! She has truely woven her way into our family and into my heart.  I am so thankful to have the "feelings" of love to finally go along with the actions. 

 I am so thankful to God for giving us our little Filipina girl and I can't wait until her adoption is finalized so I can show off her beautiful little face!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

4 Ways YOU can Make a difference

In our fast and busy lives, we tend to ignore, put out of our minds, or just totally forget the fatherless. When God called Darren and I to adopt, our hearts were totally wrenched as we read statistic after statistic of the many neglected and forgotten little ones around the world.  I believe that we as Christians have a great responsibility and we as American Christians often have not only the responsibility, but the resources God has blessed us with to take care of His little ones.

There's an anonymous quote, which I may have quoted before, but it gets me every time:

“Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when He could do something about it.”
“Well, why don’t you ask Him?”
“Because I’m afraid He would ask me the same question.”

What can you do to help the 140 MILLION orphans around the world? Here are 4 ways you can make a difference today!

1) Pray that God will give you HIS heart for the fatherless. This can be a dangerous prayer! If you search the Scriptures, you will find that God loves His children and He commands His people to love and care for those without family. His heart breaks for those little children. When you ask God to give you His heart, I believe that God will challenge you in ways you never thought possible.

2) Consider sponsoring a child. There are many avenues through which you can sponsor a child monthly. Our family sponsors a little girl in Nicaragua through Latin American Child Care. There are other programs such as Compassion or World Vision which are great programs. This is a way to provide for a child in great poverty, so that they can stay with their families. So often children are abandoned because parents don't have the money to care for them. This is a solution that shows the love of God and these programs share the love of Jesus to those in great need. Many familes come to know Jesus through these programs and it prevents many children from becoming "orphans".

3) Support adoption & open up your heart to see if God would have you to adopt. You might think you would not be a good candidate for adopting a child, but I believe there are many families that God is calling to adopt. Children NEED the love of familes! Even if God does NOT call you to adopt, I believe every Chrisitian should support adoption. You can do this in numerous ways. Here are just a few.
-Donate financially to those who are taking the step of faith to adopt.

-Bring meals to those who have just brought their new little one home. The transition time can be rough, and even a meal or two can be an amazing blessing!

-Offer to help watch siblings while new adoptive parents go to doctor's visits, therapists and dentist visits with their new little one. These visits can be numerous, especially when first coming home, and having someone help watch the other children is a God-send!

-Get involved in an adoption ministry in your church...if your church doesn't have one-start one!

-Advocate for children who need families.

-Host an orphan for a month or two. There are many programs out there where you can host an older child or teenager. Some of them are not even available for adoption, but the difference you can make by connecting with their lives is unbelievable.

4) Support foster care and pray about becoming foster parents. There are children right in our neighborhoods who have been transferred from family to family. They are hurting and confused. We need loving, Christian homes to provide stability to broken children. If you don't feel called to become a foster parent, find some way to support those Christian parents who you know are taking care of those precious children! They need your prayers, love and support. It is not an easy job and God didn't call any one of us to do it alone. A few ways you can support these parents: Make a meal (food is always welcome!), invite them over to your house, give them a gift card or money to help purchase needed items, and let them know you are praying for them!! Advocate, learn and teach others about fostering and adopting. 

Everyone can and should care for God's children, and in turn many of them will come to know Him! Please consider these things and figure out your place in caring for His little ones! You can change a life (or two, three, four or more!) 

Friday, February 15, 2013

An update and some thoughts on special needs and the church

I cannot believe it has been over two months since I have written on my blog! A quick update: Joy is doing amazingly well! She has settled into a great routine, and really keeps us on our toes.  We have been blessed with wonderful teachers and therapists to help Joy, and everyone is truely amazed by the difference in her over the past 4 months! She loves her family, her teachers and her church family. Right now, the biggest struggle we have is figuring out how to help her in her learning abilities. She had an MRI about a week ago to help us determine what is going on in her brain. Honestly, I don't understand much of what the MRI told us. Her condition is very rare and every person who has this brain defect is affected differently, so now we go see more doctors. We will be taking her to do further testing to help figure out the best way to teach her. She struggles with speech and language, so reading is a HUGE challenge. She also struggles with numbers in any way, shape or form, so even simple math makes no sense to her right now. It really breaks my heart to see her struggle in these areas because I LOVE to read and I cannot imagine my life without this ability. I know God will give us the strength to help Joy in every way we can! Pray for her and for us as we continue on this journey of helping her to become everything God wants her to be. I love having her as my daughter, and I will love her no matter what. Even if she never is able to read. Even if she can never do math. Even if she has challenges her whole way through school.  BUT I want what is best for her and I want to help her in every way possible.

Having Joy in our family has opened up to me a whole new insight into special needs children and the church. While Joy looks like a child who has no special needs on the outside, she DOES have special needs. She has trouble sitting still to listen, because she sometimes doesn't process what she hears. She has trouble following a storyline, following simple instructions, and also sometimes remembering what has been told to her in the past. Her special needs are not on the outside, but they affect how she acts, which in some ways makes it more difficult as a parent. I feel like people are judging my parenting skills by the way my child acts, but I am getting over it! It really doesn't matter what other people think anyway!

 I have been in church my whole life. I went to church growing up (and still do now!): Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night. I went to Bible college. I found the love of my life at Bible college, and we got married. We've been in ministry for almost 14 years together now. We are transitioning from youth ministry to the lead pastors at our church here in Louisville, KY. Honestly, I look at the church (I am commenting on the whole of westernized church, not simply our local church!) and I wonder: Are we as the church really doing all we can to help special needs children and their families? What kind of support system do we have in place and how can we do better at reaching these families that desperately need understanding and support?  What about adopted children and families who have adopted. Many, many adopted children have special needs.  It seems we have created an environment in "church" that really is not friendly to special needs. We expect children to be quiet, slow down, be reverent. We expect them to sit still and listen, BUT some of these kids will never be able to understand a Bible lesson taught by a teacher. They cannot physically sit still. They cannot mentally process what a teacher is saying for 10 minutes. Have we shut the door on these kids? Have we made parents of these kids feel unwanted, unloved, unwelcome? Have we made them feel uncomfortable, maybe because WE are uncomfortable? Have we passed judgement when we maybe don't know what kinds of special needs the parents are dealing with? Have we made them feel embarrased by the way their children act? For example, Joy loves to sing. And when I say sing, I don't mean quietly sing. She likes to BELT IT OUT at the top of her lungs!!! Since she has difficulty with speech and language, she does not sing the words right at all! So here I am in middle of church and  you can hear Joy above EVERYONE else, singing words that make no sense. I have tried to quiet her to some degree, but I want her to know it is alright to praise the Lord with all her heart!  Thankfully, the people in the seats around me have never made me feel embarrassed or looked disgusted by how loud my child is. In fact, I have had several tell me how "precious" it is. I feel blessed by how everyone in our church family has embraced Joy and made her feel a part of our church family. I can't help wondering, though, does the "church" as a whole EMBRACE those with special needs and their families, or do we look at them with disdain or pity?

While many of these children may not be able to comprehend a Bible story or sit still through a lesson, what these kids and families CAN understand is LOVE. Welcoming arms. A listening ear. An understanding teacher. Others that will invite them out to lunch, even if their children are not "perfect little angels".  People willing to watch their children while the parents have a much needed night out.  I think many parents of special needs children have lost the strength to even enter the doors of church because overall the "church" has made them feel like a burden or a failure. The "church" has passed judgement on their parenting skills. The "church" has not even tried to understand where they are coming from and all they are going through: the therapies, the tests, the doctors.   I want to change this. I want to make a difference in the church. I want to make families feel welcome, no matter what kind of special needs they might be dealing with. I want to open our doors and love like Jesus loved. I want to create an environment inside and outside the church where we love and support children with special needs and their families.  I am not sure how to accomplish this, but it is something I am pondering. How do you think the church can do better at supporting special needs children and their families? How do you think we can make our churches more inviting or accommodating to families with special needs children? How do you think we as a church can LOVE like Jesus told us to? If you have suggestions, I would love to hear them. Please comment below or send me a private e-mail message.