The Fight for the Fatherless

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We recently watched the newest remake of the film Annie.

You know the classic story: the plucky red-haired orphan finds herself a father in the wealthy industrialist, Daddy Warbucks. In return, Daddy Warbucks learns to love the little girl and fills a hole in his heart that, previously, he didn’t know existed.

This latest version of the film foregoes the Depression-era setting for present day New York. Annie trades her scarlet locks and fair complexion for a curly brown Afro, and the Daddy Warbucks character is now Will Stacks, a cell phone service tycoon.

Despite the changes, the plot follows a similar arc with a few new songs added. Of course, the new Annie sings “Tomorrow.”

Eva has been singing that song quite a bit, too, although she’s changed the lyrics a little. She wandered into the kitchen the other day, singing:

When I’m stuck with a day that’s gray and lonely
I just stick up my chin, and win, and say–

So I joined in and we sang together:

The sun will come out tomorrow
So you got to hang on ’til tomorrow, come what may!
Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you tomorrow
You’re only a day away

And as we sang, I felt an awful lot like Daddy Warbucks. Or Will Stacks.

I’m so grateful for everything this little girl and all our children have brought into our family. But that’s the thing: adoption and orphan care is frequently portrayed as giggles and smiles, love and hugs, happily-ever-after. Like a fairy tale movie.

The families walking this path know that’s not the story.

Suzanne and I are at the CAFO Orphan Summit in Nashville now, and I attended one of Russell Moore’s workshops yesterday. It was cheerily titled, “How the Orphan Care Movement Could Wreck Itself… and What’s Needed to Avoid It.”

He cautioned that the worst thing we can do is sentimentalize orphan care. Adopting a child is not the same thing as “adopting” a dog or a cat or a highway.

Instead, we understand that adoption is at the heart of the Gospel: we adopt because we–all of us who are followers of Jesus–were adopted into God’s family. We love because we were loved first. We share a new spiritual reality: we are truly brothers and sisters.

And because adoption is at the heart of the Gospel, it is opposed by God’s enemies. The enemy hates children, Dr. Moore explained, because they represent newness of life, the promise of the future, and–ultimately–the hope of Christ. The enemy wants to destroy anything that bears God’s fingerprint, so we shouldn’t be surprised that caring for orphans will involve risk and cost and sacrifice.

Children in adoptive families and foster care families don’t want to be there. They want to be in their birth families but sin, loss, and circumstance have intervened.

It’s not an easily resolved fairy tale.

So what does caring for the fatherless really look like?

It’s expensive and it’s paperwork and it’s waiting. A lot of waiting.

It’s loss of culture, home, food, friends, and family–pretty much everything the children have known.

It’s a lot of visits to the doctor and dentist.

It’s late nights and early mornings. It’s uncertainty and frustration. It’s loving kids who have suffered trauma and rejection and loss. It’s loving them when they reject you.

Honestly, it looks like a lot of hard work. Jesus enters into our human experience the same way–why should it be different for us?

Anyone who steps into this journey knows this–or will learn it along the way.

But in the hard work and the sacrifice, in this fight for the fatherless, God meets us, often in ways we could not have expected. And there’s a surprising joy there, too.

Not everyone is called to adopt or take in foster children but we are all called to the fight. How? Bless a family who is fundraising with a financial gift. Words of encouragement go a long way. Or bring a meal. Or childcare for an evening or a weekend. We’ve had folks drop off toilet paper, milk, and paper towels at the house.

What else could you do?

Woven Together, our county’s orphan ministry, has organized volunteers to remodel family waiting rooms at the local DCFS agency and Center for Youth and Family Solutions. They also organized a drive among several churches to collect over 80 journey bags for foster children who might be suddenly uprooted from a home with nothing but the clothes they’d be wearing. The journey bags are backpacks that include a change of clothes, pjs, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a toy or book–essentials and a few special things so the kids would have something to call their own. These are great examples that involve all kinds of people in the work of orphan care.

Caring for orphans will not make your life better or easier or move you to Easy Street. The call to follow Jesus is a call to cross-bearing, an invitation to come and die. But those who are called often find themselves richer for having taken this journey.

In the Summit opening session this morning, Aixa Lopez, an adoptive mom in Guatemala (where adoption is very counter-cultural), commented about her own family’s journey, “Normal Christians do hard things; this shouldn’t be extraordinary.”

Amen.

VIDEO: Our Lifesong Story

Adoption is an expensive undertaking, especially international adoption. Expenses often run upwards of $30,000. But Lifesong for Orphans is doing a fantastic job of easing the burden for adoptive families.

We received Lifesong grants for all three of our adoptions, and the good people at Lifesong asked if they could share how God has worked in our family through caring for orphans. You can watch the video below (which was shown for the first time in public at the CAFO Orphan Summit in Nashville, TN, this week).

Besides their help with adoption funding, Lifesong (which is based in tiny Gridley, Illinois) is doing good work around the world. Please take a moment to visit their site and see how you can help them care for the children that Jesus loves.

Gowin Family Adoption from Lifesong for Orphans on Vimeo.

http://www.lifesongfororphans.org/adoption

Directed & Filmed by June Bae
Music: “The Father’s Heart” by Tony Anderson & “Coming Home” by Zachary David http://www.musicbed.com

 

This is what 19 years looks like

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Suzanne and I celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary a couple Sundays ago.

How, you ask?

It started with taking the family to church in the morning followed by lunch at home together (pictured above).

Then Suz took five kids to Winter Jam in Peoria for the night while I took four kids to choir at the church.

Happy anniversary, everybody!

(Suz says next year I’m taking her away. To an island. By ourselves. I hope she’s right.)

Is God Angry With Us?

Because of an interview this past weekend, I was reflecting on my personal discovery of Isaiah, back in the spring of 2010. I remember with fondness a short season I had with all the kids in school (before the new ones came), chores caught up at home, and available time to spend hours in the Word. It was a season where I eagerly and purposefully pleaded, “Lord, please reveal to me your heart, so I can be more like you.” I will honestly admit that this is often not how I come to Scripture, but it truly was during that season.

My journey began with Isaiah 1, where I was blown away. I had never seen language like this to describe God.

God is ANGRY with his people! He calls them “a brood of evildoers.” They have rebelled against him so much that their whole bodies are beat up, from the bottoms of their feet to the tops of their heads. They are covered in welts and nasty unbandaged open sores because foreigners have come and desolated their people and their land. If God had not saved a remnant, they would have been totally demolished like Sodom and Gomorrah.

Even more than their land and their bodies, their hearts are as far away from God as they could possibly be. So much so that God says, “What are your sacrifices to me?” When they come to their place of worship, he tells them to “Stop bringing meaningless offerings!” They are “trampling his courts.”  He “cannot bear their worthless assemblies.” Their prescribed festivals “I hate with all my being!” God is so tired and “weary of bearing them.” When they lift up their hands in prayer, he “hides his eyes” from them. He says, “I am not listening”–those hands are “full of blood!” Their incense is “detestable” to Him! He even goes on to say that the “faithful city has become a prostitute!”

My heart is racing even now as I read those words in Isaiah. Have you ever heard words like these from God??

Now, before you want to jump to conclusions like: “Well, that was the Old Testament God… He was authoritarian and domineering and far away from His creation… That was before Jesus”– look back at the beginning of the chapter.

Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth!
    For the Lord has spoken:
I reared children and brought them up,
    but they have rebelled against me.

This Old Testament God calls his people his “children” and he raised them and cared for their needs as any loving father would. But he is so sad that they have rebelled against him anyway. He says that even the donkey and ox know their master and their home, but his own children are far from him. They do not know or understand him at all.

This makes me want to cry. I think any mom or dad would want to cry after their beloved children have turned their backs on the ones who love them the most.

So here is the clincher in verses 16-17. The part that stopped me in my tracks. God tells them to clean themselves up. “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right.” This is the part where I expected to read about how God wants us to worship the right way. Change our hearts when we go to the house of worship. Pray more. Do our sacrifices better. Don’t do things for show. But this is where I was blown away.

Here is the equation. How do we “learn to do right”?

Seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

What?!? This doesn’t sound like worship? What about church? What about Bible studies? What about my quiet time??

What God wants from us in worship is much more practical and doesn’t just happen on Sunday morning: Take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. Look after the most vulnerable, the ones who are taken advantage of by others, the ones most avoided and forgotten by the rest of the world. THIS is what “religion” is supposed to be. This is true “worship!”

Sound familiar? We have read it so many times in the New Testament it has become old news. But read the equation again:

 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1: 27)

Our New Testament God and our Old Testament God are one and the same. His love for us is the same, and the worship he expects back from us is the same. He is the same loving and intimate Father.

Similarly, in Hosea 11 (another prophet like Isaiah who is called to preach repentance to a rebellious people), God talks about his love for his children, how he “taught them to walk.”

I led them with cords of human kindness,
    with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
    a little child to the cheek,
    and I bent down to feed them.

Does that sound like a harsh, overbearing, distant father? No, this is a beautiful picture of a Daddy bending down to scoop up his beloved child and swing her around like a princess!

Many times in the Old Testament, God is shown to have an intimate relationship with his children. And he yearns for relationship with them.

I long to redeem them (Hos 7:13)

So here is the answer to my question when I asked God to show me his heart: Take care of the vulnerable, those without someone to provide for and protect them. Period.

We all can relate because that is what we all were before He adopted us into his family. We were fatherless, far from our Heavenly Father. Since we understand what it means to be redeemed, to be a part of a family, shouldn’t we do everything we can to help others have that kind of relationship, to not be alone and destitute? God even calls himself the “Father to the fatherless” in Psalms 68:5. Should we not do the same, in whatever way He has called us?

Or is God angry with us? Are we doing all the “church things,” and avoiding the mess and inconvenience of taking care of others? I want to ask myself this question every day. Is my worship selfish, for me to feel good? Or does it honor God, and in doing so sometimes not “feel good” at all? Is my life a sweet incense to the Creator, or do I just stink?

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Rom 12:1)

2014 Adoption Video

I, Suzanne, am about to head out to Atlanta, GA tomorrow for my favorite adoptive mom’s retreat, Created for Care. I get to meet with some of my closest friends and meet new ones. I get to eat my food and coffee warm without reheating it 11 times. I get to go to the bathroom without hearing “mmooommm…..” I get to share stories with other moms who understand each other, laughing and crying, encouraging new moms and gleaning from those who have done this for a while. And I get to come home refreshed, hopefully a better mom than when I left.

Plus I’m packing flip-flops.

I always go expecting God to speak to me and fill me, and He does not fail. Last year, we were in the early stages of a whirlwind tour of adopting the three siblings of our oldest boy. The early part where you have sent a LOT of money and paperwork and still are not sure if your state is going to say “yes,” if Ethiopia is going to say “yes,” and if you can even handle adding three older kids to your already full house of six kids, three of whom are adopted as well.

But the moment the conference started with the song “He is With Us” by Love and the Outcome, the words cut straight to the depths of my soul–that God was telling me that I can trust Him, that He knows what He is doing, even if I have NO CLUE.

It is a hard road, but I know God is with us through it all and that we can trust Him. I am SO thankful for this upcoming weekend and for some quiet and space to hear what my Father wants to tell me this year. (Thank you, dear hubby, for giving me this gift, and being Superdad while I am gone!)

Every mom wants a “new baby video.” Here is ours of our newest three kiddos!

Our Adoption Story Featured on Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Site

While we were in Ethiopia this summer, we happened to cross paths with Dave Ramsey’s video producer, Jason Crossman. Turns out Jason was staying at the same guest house while he was doing some work in the area. He and Suzanne chatted over breakfast one morning and then he asked if he could interview us. We started using Dave’s Financial Peace principles several years ago and that approach has been instrumental to our ability to afford the expenses for three adoptions.

The video was released last fall (not sure how we haven’t posted it sooner–oh, I know: we have nine kids).

You can also see the video on Dave Ramsey’s site.

January’s

On Monday, January 12, 2015 we finalized the re-adoption of our most-recent four kids in court. This is basically a formality since our adoption is already legal and binding without this extra step. However, through this process we legally changed their first and middle names, and they will each receive an official US document, similar to a birth certificate, that will help them some day when they want to get a job.

Court 2015This event being in January got me reflecting on how often a January event was a big part of our timeline throughout our adoption processes. Here is a list:

Jan 2010 – During a prayer with then-7 year old Liam about our two kids that we would be adopting (paperwork not yet finished for two young kids we were not yet matched with at the time), and with a tear in his eye, he asked me, “Mom, aren’t there older kids at the orphanage? What about them? That is not fair, that the younger kids get picked and the bigger kids have to stay there longer!” I agreed with him, and those words haunted me every day after. At some point I KNEW, as crazy as it seemed, that we were supposed to adopt an older boy who was alone and about to age out of the system. I didn’t know how that would play out, and I had many conversations with God and confusion for a while as to what He was doing with that, but my Father was busy teaching me patience and trust.

Jan 2011 – Brought Aidan and Eva, our first two adopted children, home as part of our family. Experienced Ethiopian Christmas (Jan 7) before we left, in which God fulfilled a promise He made to me about spending Christmas with our new kids, just not in the way I expected. As we checked into the guest house in Ethiopia and filled out paperwork, I distinctly remember writing 1-1-11 as the check in date and 1-11-11 as the check out date, and realizing that this was going to be a year of 1st’s.

Jan 2012 – On the 20th of this January, God specifically told me that NOW is the time to start getting ready for “our boy,”so we started our paperwork. Kieran showed up on our agency’s waiting child list two months later and God began a series of several specific ways in which He showed us that this was to be our son. Later in May, we found out that Kieran had arrived at the orphanage on the exact date, Jan 20, 2012, that He told me it was time! We brought Kieran home a few months later in October.

Jan 2013 – Starting making arrangements to look into getting Kieran’s leg fixed. Spent a week in February at Shriners Children’s Hospital in St Louis to do research and determine the issues, and then another week in Oct/Nov for a major leg surgery. It was during that hospital stay that we found out that Kieran’s three younger siblings were now unexpectedly at the orphanage. Finished the year in prayer and fasting as to what to do about that news, and decided just before Christmas that we needed to keep the four siblings together and that we would do what we could to bring them home.

Jan 2014 – Started the paperwork for our third adoption. Against all odds (including our state, who rarely says yes to large families, the true threat–at the time–of Ethiopia closing its doors, and the recently added USCIS PAIR process that adds much wait time to adoptions), God sped us through the process and brought the three new kids home that July!

Eleven years ago, when I was pregnant with Maura, child #3, I distinctly remember sitting in the back of our church at a wedding, and a man from our church warning us, “Now you know, you will now have to change from man-to-man defense to zone….” Little did we know how prophetic his words would be! I so often have told others I wish I was an octopus with eight arms, but now that is not even enough, with nine kids!

So here we are, Jan 2015. Wondering what God will bring this year. Trusting He will do His will in our lives, and praying we will learn more trust in Him and wisdom as we go.

Here’s to New Years!

A Grant, a Cruise, and a Video

As many of you know, adoption can be an expensive undertaking: international adoptions can cost $30,000 or more. That’s a lot of money, and most adoptive families don’t have that kind of cash sitting around. We didn’t and don’t.

Fortunately, we’ve come across many generous family, friends, and organizations that have helped us with the financial burden of adoption. One of those is Gift of Adoption.

With our most recent adoption, Suzanne applied for a grant from GOA. They notified us a few months ago that we’d been chosen to receive a grant, and then followed up to invite us to a fundraiser event in Chicago. So this weekend, Suz and I spent an overnight in Chicago, spoke at the fundraiser (a dinner cruise on Lake Michigan), and got to hang out with some really fine people who are helping families like ours bring children home. We had a delightful time sharing our story and were warmly welcomed by everyone we met.

GOA asked us to put together a video to introduce our family at the event. It’s shown above (also here).

We are genuinely grateful to Gift of Adoption Fund as well as Brian Knight, Lauren Monkiewicz, and the members of  the Illinois Chapter Junior Board who organized the fundraiser and invited us out for a special night–not to mention the numerous donors and event attendees. Families like ours have come together because of your vision and generosity. Thank you, thank you for what you’re doing.