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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

.I Don't Have to Give up my Bleeding Heart.

I walked into the classroom, inhaling the smell of chalk dust and stale air. I smoothed my hands over the little dress I wore - in following the dress code it covered my knees which were already covered in little tights. I was in second grade, in the small Christian school that I attended throughout my entire formative years. If I close my eyes, I can see and smell the room - even remembering the arrangements of the desks. I sat in front of him - the trouble-maker, the fidgeter, the boy who constantly receiving consequences - going so far as to disrupt the entire class multiple times a day. He was defiant and mouthy and loud. He was bored with school, with us, with the teacher. He knew exactly how to press the buttons of our middle-aged teacher, and he would send her into a tailspin - every single day. There was a lot of turmoil in my second grade classroom, and much of it was exacerbated by him.With hindsight, I think he must have suffered from sensory processing disorder or ADHD or both. But back then, over 25 years ago, he was just labeled as a "naughty boy".

Even in second grade, at just eight years old, I was quickly learning that I was wired differently than a lot of my peers. I can remember watching my little class mates tease that "naughty boy" at recess, and upon seeing the hurt in his eyes, pain would surge through my body. When tears threatened to spill onto his cheeks, tears would also threaten to spill onto mine. I felt weird for me, but more than that, I felt hurt for him. And so, I stood up for him - over and over and over. And for some reason, my peers never turned their cruelty on me, but my defense of the boy never really diminished their cruelty on him either. I remember being that little eight year old girl, laying in my white twin bed with the gold embossing, and not being able to sleep at night, because I would think about this boy, and how much he must hurt every single day that he was in school. I was so sensitive to his pain.

That day that I walked into the classroom, like every other morning, I had a plan. I walked over to the boy and touched his shoulder. I whispered, Can you try to be a good boy today, to listen to Mrs. Figary, to obey? Please?? If you do, I promise that I will play with you at recess. I guess, that day, my pleading must have worked, because I remember playing with him at recess - or having him chase me around the playground while trying to kiss me - while I squealed in mock protest. From that day forward, I whispered that plea to him every single morning of the remainder of that school year. Some days it worked and some days it didn't. Regardless I continued to empathize with him and feel for him, and everyone else around me.

That was the year that I discovered that God had created me with a bleeding heart. I was eight years old. I didn't have the words to understand, but I had big feelings and extreme empathy for people around me - adults and peers alike. I was sensitive, and I cried easily - mostly for the hurts of others. I was a moody child because I was intuitive about the feelings of others, and would literally take them upon myself. It's a lot for a child, so at home I would sulk and my pendulum of moods would swing wide and far. The emotional distress of other people was a lot for me to handle, and I did not always know how to process that. I also did not entirely understand that not everyone felt things the same way that I did. I always had a circle of friends, and I was never bullied or mistreated, but I often felt different - like an outsider - and I quickly learned to build up walls to protect myself from being suffocated in empathy and feelings. I felt misunderstood a lot. I was so aware of my surroundings, and of the feelings and emotions of others, that many times I had to close off my own feelings in order to protect myself from being completely overwhelmed. At times, when I felt too much, I pushed relationships right away - closing myself off completely. This destructive pattern followed me into my adult life.


It has taken me over 30 years to really begin to understand the way that God has hard wired me. I am learning to embrace the title bleeding heart, and truly that does define me well. Through the adoption process of our youngest son, traveling to a third world country, falling in love with a street boy and a country so different from my own, I have begun to see how purposeful God was in the way He created me. My bleeding heart was not an accident - it's not a mistake, a disorder, or a weakness in itself. Yes, absolutely there are weaknesses in me, because of the sensitive way in which I am molded. I have to give those weaknesses to Jesus every, single day, but I don't have to give up my bleeding heart. I don't need to be fixed. I now know that this extreme empathy that God tenderly put inside of me - that ability to empathize with underdogs, with hurting people, with the marginalized - that ability that I have to ache right alongside a person that aches, is a gift, and every step along the way in realizing this gift has been preparation for my future life in Ethiopia. This awareness for the needs and feelings of others is being fine-tuned for purpose in the Kingdom. The excruciating sensitivity to the people that cross my path is necessary for what lies ahead.

God has been pursuing me for years into a beautiful heart-relationship with Jesus. He has been refining me, and teaching me to invest my sensitive self and deep emotions into the Kingdom. It has not been an easy journey. The hurt has run deep, the feelings consuming at times, the pain of being misunderstood intense, but it is a journey that I have needed to take. Yes, I am a natural burden bearer, but what I have had to continue to learn is how to bear those burdens by unloading them at the feet of Jesus. Compassion is all about entering into someone's pain, but slowly I am learning not to stay inside of that pain and how to hand it over to the One Who promises a light yoke. (Matthew 11:28-30)

The Kingdom needs all kinds of people. The Kingdom needs me and my bleeding heart. Little by little I am learning to embrace that truth, and embrace who I am in Jesus. I don't have to give up my bleeding heart - there is space for all of me - for such a time as this.

How about you?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

.You May Say That I'm a Dreamer.

But I'm not the only one.

I will always be a dreamer with fire in my eyes and a passion in my heart - a heart that bleeds for people. Sometimes it feels far more like a curse than the gift that it was created to be. And today my heart bleeds and aches because it seems like so many people are hurting. I am so ashamed to admit that many people are hurting at the hands of Jesus followers. This confuses me. I thought we were the ones to bring Good News? I thought we were to bring peace, grace, mercy, and LOVE?

Many, many years ago when Jesus walked this earth, incarnated into our lives, and demonstrated exactly how we should live, He had a fascinating conversation with a Pharisee. (A religious, pompous, hypocritical legalistic leader of His day - hard to imagine anyone like this, huh? ahem.) The Pharisee was trying to trip Jesus up with a question. The answer Jesus gave sums up all of life for a Jesus follower - every single thing hangs on this answer. Everything. Everything we believe, how we act, what we say, how we live. Every. single. thing. The question was brief and housed in trickery and mockery, Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Matthew 22:36  

Jesus' answer was simple.

 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. Matthew 22:37-40

Love God. 

Love people.

Everything springs out of this. That's it. If we continually go back to these two things, and let love for God and for all people dictate the way we live out this one life, then we are serving God exactly the way Jesus expects us to serve Him, and we are living our lives in obedience to Jesus.

The Pharisees were extremely proud in their religiosity and morality. They held strictly to the religious laws and rules. They made rules for their rules in order to avoid any possibility of breaking them. But inside the rules, the legalism, the piety, the pointing fingers, they lost sight of the plank in their own eyes - they lost sight of their call to love, and even sadder is the fact that they lost sight of Who they love.

Our heart is central - we are to focus on loving God with a love that stems from our heart - everything we have and are - with our entire being. We should be so wrapped up in love and adoration for our God, that it is outrageously noticeable to everyone around us. When we do that, we are freed to love people with that same crazy kind of love that makes people question how and why and where this love is from. It can't help but point to our Jesus. Every time one of my four children disobeys, or needs some redirection, we talk through the two greatest commandments, because seriously everything, everything goes back to these. Try it. Try living out these two commands, and notice how it impacts all of life.

I am dreaming of a world where Jesus followers are known by a great big love that points to our great, big God. I am dreaming of a world where Jesus followers follow Jesus in His example of loving people - all people - the misfits, outcasts, outlaws, sinners, the sick, the lonely, the imperfect, the invisible. I am dreaming of a world where we are known by our love. (John 13:35)

It sounds a lot like the Kingdom that Jesus was constantly talking about. A Kingdom filled with love. Can you imagine? I'm going to keep dreaming.

Please tell me I'm not the only one.

Friday, March 21, 2014

. A Follow Up Conversation About Orphan Care.

I have received several messages regarding yesterdays post, which I was prepared to receive. I responded to each, but I think there were enough questions to warrant a small follow up post for those of you who have the same questions. (If you have not read yesterday's post, you can find it here.)

I tried to tackle this subject delicately, because it is polarizing. I do not want this space to be a place for conflict, inflammatory statements or judgment, however, I do want it to be a safe place to dialogue with the ability to be open and transparent. I may have been too delicate in my approach yesterday, and it appears that it left some people questioning whether or not I am even for international adoption at all any more.

For the record - I am.

Yesterday, I wrote about tackling the core tragedy in orphan care by focusing on family preservation. This is so important. But please hear me say this - there really are children who need familes to step up and adopt because it is too late for family preservation for them - for whatever reason. The answer is not for these children to grow up and languish in an institution, and that is where adopting families step into the orphan care paradigm. What I was trying to explain yesterday, though, is that international adoption is not enough to solve the orphan crisis. It is too big for that. The orphan crisis is just going to perpetuate for generations, unless people simultaneously adopt the children who are already past the point of family preservation, while at the same time tackle the core tragedy of why children are being orphaned in the first place.

I think orphan care is as much about orphan prevention as anything else, and that all goes back to family preservation, as I talked about yesterday. When we step up and take care of families, we are taking care of these at-risk children, who without intervention, could potentially end up orphaned in the future. I am very passionate about this need of tackling the core tragedy - not just the ramifications of the core tragedy.

Not too long ago, I believed that international adoption was possibly the best solution for the orphan crisis, but now I understand that is most likely not true. I understand it because I have lived it with my two Ethiopian sons. I have held their grief racked bodies as they sobbed and raged. I have listened to heart breaking questions with no answers. I have witnessed the depth of the loss that they have encountered, and I see the way it impacts so much of their lives. It is a deep pain that I have never witnessed or experienced before this. International adoption is a good solution for a lot of children who no longer have the option of family preservation. However, there is so, so much loss that occurs for these children when they are stripped of everything that they have ever known - including country and culture. It is much more complicated and muddied then I first naively thought when we began the adoption process four years ago. I still think it is viable and necessary for some children, but now I see just how much of a loss there really is for them. So, I yearn for more children to be able to stay inside their birth country, through domestic adoption, in order to ease the loss for them a little more. I am also adamantly not saying that the loss is too devastating for internationally adopted children that God cannot redeem it. He can and does. I have also witnessed huge healing and redemption in my boys.

You see, all of this is complicated. We live in a complicated and broken world. Nothing is as it was intended, so we will continue to flounder and fight for solutions only to find better solutions that we first missed. I don't think the messiness of this should scare us away, though. There is a time and a place for us in building His Kingdom, and it is now. Our generation is needed and has been specially hand picked by God to be right here, right now for a great purpose. So let us have open, honest dialogue about this. Let us be united for these children - for these families. I honestly believe there is a beautiful hope for the future of orphan care, and I want to be part of it.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

.Why Orphan Care Must be More Than International Adoption.

Today marks three years since we brought Jamesy into our permanent care. Three years ago we landed once again on Ethiopian soil, and for the first time in months my heart slowed and beat out a new rhythm that felt like home. It was adoption that drew us to that country - that continent. God opened our eyes to orphan care, and we became obedient. But now after three years in, we realize that our eyes were just beginning to open back then. Our lives are always changing and growing - emerging as we learn and grow and do better when we finally know better. And we have learned a lot along the way. Where at one time, as we were learning and growing, you read this blog and you read passion and devotion for international adoption in my words. And some of you read dogma and pride and self-righteousness and forcefulness as well I am sure, and I apologize. Truly I am sorry. It is part of why this space has grown silent on these matters. I am a quiet girl who turns fiery when I am passionate about something. Writing is one of my only outlets and how I process what is in my head and my heart, and so this blog received the brunt of my growing pains.

Yes, I've been quiet for awhile now in my advocating for international adoption. I still love adoption. I still believe in it, value it, champion it, but I also have seen the other dark side of it, and now even question whether it is truly a top solution in orphan care. I still whole-heartedly believe that every Jesus follower is called to orphan care - nothing has changed that view. I still am very convicted by James 1:27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. I am an orphan advocate and a justice advocate, and I strongly believe that so was my Jesus. Something in my heart broke, though, when I began to understand that orphan care is way bigger and more complicated than I originally thought, and that to find the solution we really have to go so much deeper than international adoption - because the problem as a whole is just too big for that. 

I am going to be very careful here in what I write, because I have two precious children from Ethiopia who I am responsible to protect. However, after living with Jamesy for three years and with Habi for almost two, I can honestly say that in a perfect world, the world in which God originally intended us to live in, adoption was never His plan for these children. Adoption was never God's original plan. Adoption springs from great, horrifying tragedy that should never be. The suffering and overwhelming devastation that flows from all that these two children have lost was not part of God's original plan. I now firmly believe in my heart that God's original plan was for Jamesy and Habi to grow up in a loving, nurturing home with their birth parents - not with us. It is only because we live in a broken, messed up world that they are now in our family, and don't get me wrong, God can and does redeem the mess. But the mess leaves deep scars, and we experience that reality every single day in the brokenness, trauma, guilt, shame, and grief that accompanies our two boys.

Bringing these boys to America and into our family didn't automatically heal them or {flinch} fix them. It doesn't tackle the core. My heart is broken and bruised realizing the tragedy that is the fact that my sons cannot grow up inside their birth families. As much as it hurts to write this, because of how fiercely I love my boys and now see them as my 100% sons, if I could give them anything in this world, I would give them their birth families - whole, healthy, and thriving. But I can't give them that. So, we all do the best that we can with the grace of God pouring down over us. It was not God's first choice for these boys to grow up in our family. Please read carefully, this does not negate the beauty that has occurred inside our family because of adoption, the way the gospel has taken on life to us, or the amazing way in which God redeems, restores, and renews our boys. It doesn't take away from the amazing work that God did inside of my husband and I because of adoption. But knowing what we now know, without going into personal details, we have come to the conclusion that orphan care has to be less about international adoption - it should never start there - it should never be the first plan of action in tackling this need.

So God has been opening our eyes to family preservation. This is huge and hard and not as romantic or as flashy looking as adoption. I now think that when it comes to orphan care, and when we feel the call (as I believe all Jesus followers will), this should be our first priority - keeping families together, discipling them, nurturing them, sharing Jesus and the gospel with them, extending mercy wherever and whenever needed, helping them sustain a living and giving them the life-skills to pass on a hope and a future to the generations behind them. I believe that our number one priority in orphan care should be keeping families together - not advocating for international adoption. I have heard it said before, and now I get it and believe it, international adoption is just a bandaid slapped over a bleeding, oozing, gaping wound. 

We've got to do better. This is too big, too deep, too mammoth of a problem for a quick patch-job, and we've got to get to the core of the tragedy that ultimately places children in situations where they are orphaned, abandoned, living in institutions and waiting for international adoption. The core begins with family - birth families. So, let us start delving into orphan care right there - we have to.

Let me stop here and shout that I do not think that international adoptions should end, and I do not believe that they are wrong. So if you are reading this post and are inside an international adoption, please, please hear my heart - I am not anti-international adoption. Remember that I call two Ethiopian boys my sons. Don't hear me say anything like that. I just firmly believe that it is not and cannot be the the answer to orphan care - it is one small teeny-tiny bandaid fix - a necessary one at times, yes, but we must, must, must look beyond that and move deeper inside the root of the problem to find a real solution. Adoption is a teeny part of the solution, but it should not be the main or only focus. The core tragedy will never see justice, healing, or a sustainable solution if we only focus on that one minuscule piece. Yes, we need Jesus followers to respond to the tragedy that has forced children into the need for international adoption - absolutely these children need to grow up in loving families, BUT at the exact same time we need to be tackling the core and fighting for family preservation.

This is where God has opened our eyes and is drawing our hearts with Mercy Branch Inc. We know better now than we did four years ago, so we are begging God to help us to do better. We are obeying God's call to extend the mercy of Jesus to street kids - kids that are not viable for international adoption but still very much fall under the umbrella of orphan care. And we are learning more and more about the importance of working toward birth family reunification with these kids - because many of them do still have families. Yes. they have been abandoned by their families for so many devastating reasons (reasons that I whole-heartedly believe have solutions and can be stopped as the Church would step up and out), and most live as orphans. But stop for a moment and think what God could do if someone would step in and disciple these children and their families into beautiful, redemptive reunification. What would happen if someone even stepped into a family's life and helped prevent that family from feeling as if their only choice was to abandon their child to the street? How might a generation in Ethiopia be changed by this? And for those kids who have no remaining family or where reunification is impossible and international adoption is just not viable, what then? What if godly, whole Ethiopian families stepped in and brought these children in as their own sons or daughters in domestic adoption? What if these children, who undergo the tragedy of losing their birth family, could still remain inside their continent, country, city, culture? Would the trauma scars not run quite so deep if they were not removed from every single thing that they know?

We don't have all of the answers. We do not want to pretend to be an authority on this. We are just beginning this journey of asking God how He wants us to attack the core. We are just beginning to see how much bigger the solution is than international adoption. We will probably make mistakes along the way, but we have to try to tackle this from the inside out. We need to be part of the fore-runners in fighting the core tragedy that causes the need for international adoption. We hope that our ministry with Mercy Branch Inc. will be a small part in that. We are determined to pour our lives into helping birth families stay together and giving them tools to raise their children well, and when that doesn't work fostering domestic adoption, so these children can stay where they are. Ethiopia needs them - its future depends on a generation of godly men and women that are also involved in tackling the core tragedy.

We realize, even this, is a drop in the bucket, and we are praying to keep our hearts open and sensitive to the Spirit's leading. But this is the direction our hearts are beating. Here is a small taste of that heart beat.

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