Monday, August 13, 2012

Jesus and the Olympics

I feel like I’m experiencing déjà vu.

1996…. women’s gymnastics team wins the gold medal for the first time in history.
Elizabeth, my ten-years-old daughter, decides she wants to start doing gymnastics. I said YES!

Sixteen years later…..2012….. women’s gymnastics team wins gold for the second time in history.
Luke, Gracie, and Sara, 10, 9, and 8-years-old, ask to start doing gymnastics. This time I say no.

This post will probably offend people. It totally goes against American culture….the American norm. I’ll probably sound too radical to most of my readers and people will write to let me know all of the benefits of getting your children involved in sports.

Believe me, I wasn’t always hesitant about involving my children in extra-curricular activities. When Elizabeth asked to start gymnastics, we signed her up the next day. She had already had three years of ballet and a couple of years of soccer, not to mention involvement in community plays. When she started gymnastics, we discovered she had amazing talent. After only a couple of months in the sport, she became a level 5 gymnast and was competing with the team. She went to gymnastics camps and was told by big coaches that she had the talent to be one of the greatest gymnasts our country ever had! In two years, she was competing as a level 8 gymnast! Amazing!

But it didn’t come without a price. Five hours per day of practice, five days a week; hardly any family dinners together; driving 45 minutes back and forth each way to get her to the best gym in the area; big monthly training bills, as well as leotard and meet bills, etc. But the greatest price we paid was that our family was not Christ centered. We were Elizabeth centered. We were gymnastics centered. We were competition centered. We were achievement centered. There was no room or time for true servant living. We didn’t study the Word of God and pray together on a regular basis. We didn’t spend our time helping others—we were way too consumed with our own schedules—didn’t have time for anyone else.

In the end, although Elizabeth had the talent, she didn’t enjoy gymnastics anymore and the meets were too stressful for her. She quit and joined a dance company instead. She was amazing at that as well! The dance studio was closer to our house, but not any cheaper, and she was still involved about 18 hours per week. Our family life still was highly focused on our children and their talents and their achievements, and their desires— instead of on living the lifestyle Jesus taught us by his example.

Now, looking back, I have to ask myself, “How did it benefit Elizabeth in the long run to spend so many hours of her life focused on her physical talents in dance and gymnastics? How did it benefit our family? How did it benefit anyone outside of our family? What did it add to her soul? Did it prepare her for Heaven? Did it win anyone else’s soul for Heaven?

I’ve heard the justifications for heavy sports involvement……

”Your child learns to be a leader and can be a witness for Jesus through her sport.” Ok….if she really has leadership qualities, then I bet she can learn to be a leader as her parents teach her the Scriptures and get her involved in caring for the needy.

“Your child has a better chance of doing well in school and not getting involved in drugs if she is involved in sports.”
Ok, but who are we comparing her to? Sure, sports will keep her off drugs compared to her just being left to herself all the time. But a lot of time working together, playing together, praying together, and studying the Scriptures together as a family will also keep your child on the straight and narrow.

“Sports are good for your children to keep them physically fit”
True, but it isn’t necessary to run your whole family around your children’s sports schedules in order to keep them healthy. Families can go to the pool together, can go on bike rides, can go to the park, can go hiking, etc…….and the WHOLE family can be physically fit, instead of the parents sitting on the bleachers all the time!

There are many other valid reasons for children to participate in sports. I’m not knocking all sports involvement. But American families have turned their whole lives around and centered their families around their children’s extracurricular activities rather than around the Word of God. And it’s showing in children’s character—instead of humility there’s pride; instead of thankfulness there’s a sense of entitlement. And they know how to make their parents feel very guilty if they don’t get to be involved in every fun activity at their fingertips.

So as the 2012 Olympics has now come to a close, I congratulate everyone whose hard work paid off and landed them the chance to compete for a medal. And I share the joy with those who got to go home with one. And I especially rejoice with those who exalted the name of the Lord by glorifying and thanking Him for their successes. I recognize that there are a select few who, through their hard work and determination in their sport, will be shown open doors all over the world to share the gospel with the lost. Praise God for these!

But unfortunately, that’s not the norm for children whose families run their lives around the talents and passions of their kids. For sure, if we felt the Lord calling us to spend an enormous amount of time with one of our children in a particular sport, we would do it. We want to be open to anything God has for us and follow His path for our family. But where we are now, we know it’s more valuable for our children to exercise the gifts and callings of the Holy Spirit and to be an integral part of a family whose focus is learn to walk the way Jesus did on the earth…in humility, servanthood, sacrifice, and love. And in response to our kids’ fleeting desire to join gymnastics, we assured them that when they get to Heaven they will be able to do all the flips and twists their hearts desire!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Is It OK to Fundraise for Your Adoption??

Is It OK to Fundraise For Your Adoption?

I’m answering this not so much because we’ve personally been questioned by people, but because I know families who get a lot of flack from others about the fact that they are “asking others” to help raise the money needed to adopt their children. Mind you, we are talking here about children with Special Needs, and mostly children who are older. I haven’t actually seen anyone do fundraising to adopt a healthy baby.

We did recently get this comment on our Facebook Fundraising page:
“If God can't help u. How can we help u. lst allowed God 2 help. Dan we can help.”This came from a complete stranger and I don’t know what gave him the idea that God isn’t helping us with our adoption. I also don’t know if he realizes that God usually helps people through others.

To be totally honest with you, the very LAST thing I want to do in this world is ASK people for money!!! YUCK!! I absolutely loathe it! I don’t like making people uncomfortable, and asking someone to part with his/her money definitely makes them uncomfortable!

This is why until now we have only adopted from foster care. We knew we were to care for orphans, but we never considered adopting children from an orphanage overseas because we don’t have an extra $30,000 lying around, and it would take a LOT of extra work to earn that kind of money above and beyond our budget. So we adopted four children in the last three years from the Georgia foster care system and we paid virtually nothing. Early this year when we decided to adopt again, we figured we’d do it through foster care again….not much paper work…..caseworkers already know us…..simple home study update……no expenses, etc.

But then I started connecting with families who were adopting special needs children from orphanages all over the world. And what really surprised me was that the majority of these families are about where we are economically, or worse off—very basic middle class families, living on simple, tight budgets. And many of them were doing fundraising activities to help them raise the money they needed to bring these children home.

I was humbled to see people humiliating themselves all over the place—on Facebook, out in public, with their e-mail contacts, etc. etc.—asking people to care as much as they do for the discarded children who nobody wants to be bothered with…..asking for a petty $5 gift from people so that eventually…..eventually…..while the children wait in orphanages with sub-par care……the parents could finally raise enough money to travel across the world and give those precious little ones a real family.

But if God was in it, then He’d surely provide the money for these families to adopt!”  Christian people….is this your real view of how God works? Do you think that everything that “God wants” he just “makes” happen?? He’s just going to pour the money down from Heaven? Isn’t this what His CHURCH is here for? Shouldn’t we be spending our lives doing the works of Jesus? Sacrificing our own comforts to provide for the needs of others? Remember the words of 1 John 3:17-18: "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." A light bulb went on in our hearts and minds a few months ago. We don’t have to stick to safe and easy and cheap adoptions. American orphans are not more important than orphans around the world. We shouldn’t make our decision based on what involves the least effort and prayer on our part. We do not have $33,000 to adopt, but our hearts were drawn to two boys, ages 9 and 12—for whatever reason parents’ hearts are drawn to particular children. And we decided that they were worth our effort. They were worth our humiliation.

I’d quite prefer for Norman and I to get second jobs and take out loans to complete these adoptions. I’ll reiterate: I would MUCH, MUCH, MUCH prefer to work more hours and borrow the money than to ask a single soul to partner with us in raising the money we need to adopt these two boys. But if we do that…..if we do it all on our own……then what are we doing to encourage other families like us to take a step of faith and adopt special needs children when it seems a financial impossibility? And what are we doing to raise awareness in the Church and point out to fellow Christians that it is ALL of our responsibility to provide for and care for these children? We feel compelled to do fundraising because we want it in people’s faces that there are children available NOW for adoption, and the only thing keeping them from finding a home, in most cases, is lack of finances.

So we put together a 550 piece puzzle (and after hours of work and dizziness our dog chews up one of the pieces!) and we ask people to donate $5 to get their name on the back of a puzzle piece so we will always remember their kindness.  And then we scour our house and find every small thing of value—jewelry, crystal, etc. etc. and we put together an auction and remind our friends every day to bid on the items (but it seems that these little valuable trinkets aren’t so valuable to other people!) And when we can’t think of anything to “sell” we just copy and paste our tax deductible Donate Button on our page and ask people to read our story and donate “if God puts it on their hearts.” But after three weeks of this, we’ve raised less than 1/33 of our total adoption costs.

But really, while I might sound desperate to you right now, the fact is that I’m not AT ALL desperate about whether or not we will have the money to complete the adoptions. God WILL provide. He ALWAYS does. Just a couple of extra real estate closings and we will have all the money we need. Or maybe He will provide a big donor…who knows?   NO….the reason I sound desperate right now is that I feel sad that more Christians aren’t helping.  Not just that they aren’t helping us…..if it were only we who were having slow results with fundraising we could chalk it up to perhaps not being very likeable, or not having the right kind of friends.  But I see SO many families working so hard to spread awareness about the need for families for these children, and I see the Christian response, and I am just……SAD.

So, we fundraise not really for our own benefit….but because the Church needs to be aware that they CAN adopt, that fellow believers WILL stand beside them and help them bring their children home, and that if they cannot adopt they SHOULD do something to help the families who are willing.

Remember….these adopting families aren’t asking you to support them on a monthly basis. We can all provide for our own children. But getting them home….this is a BIG endeavor…..and one that I hope fellow believers will not miss out on the blessing of being a part of.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Adopting Out of Birth Order

Should families adopt out of birth order?  I hear adoptive parents discussing this a lot, and I know that many caseworkers are against it.  For some families, the main concern with adopting a child older than those in the home is that the new child may sexually violate or bully one of the younger children.  While this is a valid concern, it’s not really the reason that some social workers won’t allow families to adopt out of birth order.  Their main issue is the psychological effect that adopting out of birth order has on the children and family as a whole. 
Our social worker has helped bring home over 700 children from orphanages in Eastern Europe during her career and she assured us at our first meeting with her that, while anything is possible, the likelihood of an older adopted child (from this region at least) acting out sexually or physically on a younger child is extremely rare.  She only knows of one case of sexually acting out that involved one of her families, and even that case was able to be worked out. When we adopted older children last year, we were vigilant about not leaving any of them unattended with our two-year-old until we knew in our souls that there were no dangers of abuse.  We also paid close attention to the emotional state of everyone involved and were hyper-aware of the children’s interactions until we felt at peace.  I’m sure we will be the same way in a few months when we bring our boys home, but from reading their descriptions and seeing their videos, we really don’t have any true concerns that this will be a problem.
I understand the psychology behind birth order placement and adoption   In fact, Norman and I are raising four children who are all technically considered first-borns.  Luke, age 10, is the oldest.  Then there’s Gracie, age 9, and according to ‘the books’, the first child of the opposite sex will also carry first-born qualities (very true in her case!)  Then, there’s Sara, age 8, who for most of her life, was really the oldest child of two, as she was separated from her older siblings until recently.  Finally, there is David, almost 4, who was our only child until about a year ago.  Plus, since there are 5, 6, and 7 years difference between him and the older children, ‘the books’ would say that he will also act like a first-born (and boy does he ever!!)  Not to mention that both my husband and I are first-borns……it would appear that our family is a model for absolute disaster!!!  As you can imagine, there is a whole lot of bossing around going on in this house!
I recognize the stress of a child being used to being the oldest in his family for his entire life and then having another child—a complete stranger—come into the family and “take over” as the oldest.  But when it comes to adding children by adoption, I don’t necessarily see how adding a youngest child is any less stressful.  Imagine you have a 4-year-old who is used to being the “baby” of the family.  If his mom got pregnant with a new baby, he would have the benefit of seeing her belly grow, and then when the baby was born, s/he would be a tiny little newborn who mainly sleeps and eats.  The 4-year-old might have some feelings of jealousy, but more often than not, he gets used to the little bundle of joy and grows an attachment for him or her.  Contrast that to bringing a two or three-year-old ‘stranger’ into the family.  This is not a tiny helpless infant, but a verbal, demanding, child who has a personality and a will of his own.  All of a sudden, the “baby” of the family is thrown into complete turmoil by this new addition coming in and taking over his position as the youngest.
So, really, any way you look at it, adoption stretches the members of the family.  It’s painful. It is not easy, and neither is walking the Christian life.  Jesus calls us to die to ourselves and put aside our own desires and learn to serve others in humility.  Now, I'm sure there are situations in which it is best not to disrupt birth order.  There could be special needs involved, special circumstances, etc.  So I'm not trying to say that it is always ok.  But for many cases I believe that a big answer to “birth order” issues is to learn to walk in humility. This is not easy for children, or adults for that matter.  Is your son or daughter used to being the boss, the smartest, the one with the physical advantages, the one with the psychological advantage??  Perhaps having an older sibling enter the scene would be beneficial to the development of this first child’s character.  There may be personality conflicts at first but doesn’t Christ show us how we can get along with others?  
I remember when we first decided to adopt again, early this year.  Luke made it very clear that he wanted to remain the oldest!  He wanted a brother “his age” but just a tiny bit younger than him so he could keep first-born status.  Now, no matter how much we love and adore our children, when we boil it down, isn’t that just pride speaking?  Why does he want to remain the oldest?  Because he has a psychological advantage over the other children and he knows it?  Because he’s the strongest and wins everything and he wants it to remain that way?  Because he’s proud to say, “I’m the oldest”? Because he doesn’t want anyone “bossing him around”?  I didn’t lecture Luke on his motives for wanting to stay the oldest.  But I showed him profiles of many boys around 11 and 12 years old.  I read their stories to him and how they keep getting overlooked because of their age and how each time parents come into the orphanage, they hope that they will be chosen, but they know that the parents want the little ones instead.  Thankfully, this tugged at Luke’s heart and he quickly changed his mind and urged us to get a boy older than him (and we are in the process!)
I mean, if every family had to adhere to the “not adopting out of birth order” guidelines that some adoption agencies set up, there would be very little hope for the older waiting children to be chosen.  The only families who would be able to adopt them would be those with teen-aged or older children.  These days, many parents in their 40s, and even 50s still have young children at home…..and these are the perfect families for taking the older children.
When we as parents are learning to walk in humility ourselves…..when we model it to our children by getting along with our spouse; by not getting easily offended; by not insisting on our own way; by submitting to one another in love—then we can teach the same virtue of humility to our children.  We can teach them to consider their siblings before they consider themselves.  To not need to have the last word; to not need to be the best, or the smartest; or the funniest; or the center of attention.  Face it—it’s not easy getting along with another human being 24/7.  Birth-order conflicts might make things even harder, but shouldn’t we as Christians be able to follow Christ’s example and learn to get along with anyone—especially a member of our family?
Jesus showed the ultimate level of humility when he left his THRONE in heaven, and left, in a sense, his status as GOD to come live on this earth as a human being.  Then he served and he served and he served!  He washed his disciples’ feet.  He told them that he did not come to earth to be served but to serve.  And he told them to do the same to one another.  I cannot imagine that he makes exceptions for those who conflict due to birth order.
The birth-order books have validity.  I don’t dispute that what they say is correct.  But they aren’t written from Jesus’ perspective.  They are pure psychology.  The books warn us that when choosing a mate, two first-borns make the rockiest relationship and will have the most trouble.  Apparently, when an oldest and a youngest marry, they have the highest rate of success.  And I guess when two “babies” marry, they just get absolutely nothing done and have a whole lot of fun!  But I don’t think Jesus would tell us to choose our mate based on birth order.  He would tell us to read Phillipians 2:3-8:   Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very natureGod, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross.”

So—this call to humility….is this something that is only for the adults?  Are children too young to be expected to act humbly?  Is their nature simply to be “self-centered” without much hope of learning humility until they grow older?  I personally think that the younger we can teach humility to our children, the better!  I mean, if you think about it, ALL sin stems from pride.  Think about a sin that a person might struggle with, and then imagine a true spirit of humility taking over that person’s life….wouldn’t it be way harder to continue sinning? Not a day goes by in our home that we aren’t talking to our children about growing in humility and what that means practically.  And not a half-day goes by that we as the parents aren’t confronted with following after Christ’s example of humility.  It isn’t easy.  Norman and I both have very strong (first-born) personalities.  Gosh, sometimes it feels downright humiliating to keep my mouth shut and smile and overlook a perceived injustice.  And the same goes for him!  So we know how our children feel when we're asking them to do the same thing.  And I know that when our two new boys, ages 12 and 9 (and possibly a 6-year-old boy as well) enter the scene, there are going to be a lot of personality conflicts and a lot of jostling for position.  But little by little, all of our children (including our newest additions) will learn, by God’s grace, that the lowest position is the easiest to find and the one that comes with the greatest blessing! “But many who are first will be last and the last ones will be the first.” Matt. 19:30  This is the meaning behind “The Great Reversal” (the name we use for our music). 

I’m not saying everyone needs to adopt an older child.  Just because that’s where we feel God leading us doesn’t mean that’s where God is leading others.  Some people adopt little ones (and older ones as well) with very severe needs—these are the parents who truly amaze me!  They are completely laying down their lives for "the least of these."  I would never suggest that adopting an older child is more valuable than adopting one of these little ones.  I only want to say that if your heart is towards the older children like ours are, but you have a social worker screaming warnings at you not to adopt out of birth order, go to the Scriptures and follow what the Spirit would tell you, rather than the modern day psychologists.  These older children need loving parents and siblings too--and they are a huge blessing!!  In the end, I just pray that all of the children will find families and that the Church would rise up and open their eyes to the need, and heed the call of God to care for the orphans.  Be blessedJ

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