Why Do We Care About Things That Don’t Matter?

Ugh…

Recently there’s been some really wasteful coverage of a story that has since garnered its own hashtag (#redcup). It has been successful at two things. One, it has granted Starbucks some free advertising worth hundreds of millions of dollars. (Thank goodness, right? They really needed that boost. I was so afraid they were going under.) And secondly, this hothead instigator from Arizona has gotten the attention his ego was craving.

I don’t know why, but we seem to give the microphone to the guy yelling the loudest. Thankfully, more and more people are realizing what needless noise this is and are trying to distance themselves from the toxicity of this ruffian with an agenda.

It’s stupid stuff like this that keeps people from seeing Jesus for who he really is.

Homeboy is a bully. Ugh. So sick of it. 

On Sunday, an Instagram user shared a photo of a red Starbucks cup with these words beside it: “If one family in one out of every three churches adopted a child from foster care there would be no more orphans in the United States. But please, tell me more about how offensive this red cup is.” 

Children are dying — yes, literally dying because of neglect, abandonment, or abuse while families work their souls to the edge of madness just trying to complete the adoption process before it’s too late and their child dies in waiting. 

One family was just weeks from traveling until this morning when they got word that the child they’ve been fighting for, praying for, crying for, heartsick over, had passed away of malnutrition and neglect before they could get to her. Are you kidding me? You think the most important thing we could talk about right now is graphic design? You wanna cry about paper cups in the name of Jesus while that baby and thousands others die? You go right ahead. Let that judgement fall on your head. But for those of us who care, who know the fear of, “Are we gonna get there in time? God please keep her safe,” who cry themselves to sleep at night, who beg God, who lobby for quickness, who hurt for children without a family, we need to shift the conversation and take action… like NOW!!!

So my wife had a great idea and put together some really easy ways you and your family can help today; some that cost no more than your favorite seasonal latte.

If, instead of talking about why snowflakes and reindeer on a coffee cup are the crux upon which the entire Christian narrative hang, you’d rather talk about things that actually matter this holiday season, the lists below are a great place to start. We even provided some fantastic gift ideas at the end. Please feel free to add to the list in the comments section below.

AMAZING ORGANIZATIONS

CHUNMIAO LITTLE FLOWER

This orphanage cares for medically fragile babies in China. They can always use monetary donations and medical supplies: http://chunmiaolittleflower.org/current-needs-list/

MORNING STAR FOUNDATION

This artist donates money to help babies in China with broken hearts. Buy a Christmas gift and help fix a heart. http://morningstarproject.org/love-project/shop/

TOGETHER WE RISE | SWEET CASES

Did you know most kids in US foster care transport their belongings in garbage bags? You can change that by giving them a personalized duffle bag. https://www.togetherwerise.org/projects/sweetcases

LIFESONG

Buy an advent calendar to support orphans and your donation amount will be matched up to $750,000 (now through Dec. 31, 2015) https://www.lifesongfororphans.org/get-involved/advent/

APPARENT PROJECT

Handmade jewelry and home goods to help support families in poverty. Host a fundraiser to help protect first families and donate the money raised to an orphan care program or to a family that is adopting. http://www.apparentproject.org

HALF THE SKY

Sponsor a child in the the Half the Sky foundation programs in China. Donate to the organization or sponsor a student in the China Care Club. http://www.halfthesky.org

SHOW HOPE

Pray. Advocate. Donate. Your donations cover orphan care and specific surgeries. http://www.showhope.org

ONE LESS

Help prevent human trafficking one child at a time. http://www.onelessministries.org/content/about/our_story.asp

COMPASSION INTERNATIONAL

Sponsor a child for less than $2 per day and help end child poverty, provide medical assistance to families to give their babies a better chance at a healthy life. http://www.compassion.com

GIFTS THAT GIVE BACK

SEVENLY

Seven-day campaigns that give $7 to a weekly charity for every item purchased. http://www.sevenly.org/collections/show-hope

TOMS

With every purchase, TOMS helps provide shoes, sight, water, safe birth, and bullying prevention services to people in need. http://www.toms.com

THE GIVING KEYS

Employing people transitioning out of homelessness. http://www.thegivingkeys.com

WARBY PARKER

For every pair of glasses sold, a pair is distributed to someone in need. http://www.warbyparker.com

147 MILLION ORPHANS

Apparel, merchandise, and the Run for 147 racing fundraiser to support orphan care. https://www.147millionorphans.com/store/collection/51

FREE WAYS TO TAKE ACTION

Follow organizations like Reece’s Rainbow or AdoptUSkids. Study their faces. These are real kids without families. Pray for them. Pray for their protection.

Pray for the families working so hard to bring them home. Encourage them. Promote their stories. Offer to host a fundraiser. Donate stuff for a yardsale or auction. Donate sky miles for travel. Donate hotel points for stays. Make freezer meals. Don’t waste the abundance God has given you.

You and I both know there’s enough anger, bitterness, sadness, brokenness in the world. What if we spend our energy fighting for things that matter instead of getting distracted by all this noise that’s so utterly inconsequential.

Please feel free to add to the lists with organizations and companies that support adoption and orphan care.

And as always, your voice adds value to the conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Happy Gotcha Day

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Today marks one year. One year since our hearts melted into a puddle. One year ago we were standing in the natural-lit atrium of the Children’s Welfare Institute in China waiting to meet our sweet little girl. Would we recognize her? Would she come to us? Would she be healthy? Well-nourished? Nothing can adequately convey the emotion an adoptive family feels in that moment. I’ve never been so nervous. We waited for what seemed like hours. Two families met their little ones ahead of us. We have no idea if we’re next or not. The next nanny comes out, a tiny, round face buried in her shoulder. Is this her? Something in us tells us this is her. We both frantically scan the room for our guide. He calls her name… It’s her. It’s her! I don’t remember how we got from one side of the room to the other, but the next thing I remember is running my hand across her hair and looking into those dark eyes set atop her blushed cheeks. I wanted to stay in that moment forever. It was everything I imagined and nothing like I could’ve expected.

We’re home now. A year goes by so quickly. We’ve spent the last week looking through photos from that experience. Her hair is longer, softer. Her eyes are brighter. Her skin is clearer. But the overwhelming difference? She calls us Mommy and Daddy. She has a family. There’s a thing that most parents go through, almost unknowingly, with their naturally born children that adoptive parents pray about, work very hard to achieve. It’s called attachment and it’s the golden egg.

Reshearch tells us if attachment doesn’t happen within the first few months, this precious soul may not ever attach to her family. It’s hallowed. Every strategic moment. The cocooning. The co-sleeping. It’s hard and it gets harder. And then one day, she freaks out when you try to leave the house. A lot of parents of a three year old might hear this cacophony and wish for an escape to the coffee shop. But for adoptive parents, it’s a serenade. Most mornings, it’s not uncommon to wake up with a toddler on your face, but her cute, weird sleeping face, mouth gaping, tells the story of a little person who is at peace.

A year later, there’s no doubt… this little girl is home.

14 Words of Fatherly Wisdom

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Throughout the month of June I’ll be sharing some “father” themed posts on the blog. There are three things I hope for of myself and of dads around the world this month. 1) I hope that we push ourselves to put away the distractions (phone, tablet, whatever…) and be more engaged with our families. 2) I hope that we find ways to lead our families into bigger stories. And 3) I hope that we realize how big a deal it is to be a father, and yet maintain enough perspective to embrace our humanity and forgive ourselves when we fail in our pursuits of #1 and #2.

My Many Fathers

I’m in my mid-30s (ok, really probably my late-30s…) and in my time on planet Earth, I’ve had a number of “fathers” who have poured into me and helped me become who I am. My Dad, who his friends call Roger (because that’s his name), and my kids call Pop, has been married to the love of his life, my mom, for 40 years. His dad, my grandfather, and the namesake of one of our boys, was a heroic sort of man who, sadly, passed away a few years ago. I miss him still. These two men in my life have been two of the All-time Greats. But there are other mature men in my life who have played the role of a father at times as well; mentors, leaders, counselors, friends… If you’re a guy, regardless of age, marital status, whether you have kids or not, I hope you have someone in your life who can play the role of father for you, especially if yours has passed or is absent. As I think about my “fathers,” I remember some of the things they’ve shared with me along the way.

Here are fourteen words of wisdom as passed along by my “fathers.”

1. Buy a plunger before you need a plunger.

This should seem obvious but think about how many times this advice has proven true in your life. Maybe it’s not a plunger but you get the idea, right? Be prepared.

2. Call your parents every week.

I suck at this one. I’ve gotten better but I don’t like to talk on the phone. I’d much rather sit face-to-face but since my parents and I live 750 miles apart, face-to-face doesn’t exactly come easily. So instead we use FaceTime. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for this piece of tech. Maybe you like Skype or Google Hangout better. Whatever form it takes, make it a priority to call – and not just on holidays or birthdays either. Just call. Just because.

3. Never wear a clip-on tie.

It only takes a few minutes to tie a tie. And the more you do it, the faster the process becomes. Clip-on ties are for children. You’re a man now. Tie the dang tie. And please… PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE… don’t wear a clip on bow tie. Go to YouTube. Watch a tutorial and learn to tie it properly. Not only will you get major style points but you’ll earn mad respect from everyone around you.

4. Compliment her shoes.

It tells her you’re looking at more than her “assets,” that you respect her independence and her attention to detail. Shoes are an expensive accessory. She deserves to have them noticed.

5. Never leave a pint unfinished.

I can only think of one reason to leave an unfinished glass on the table ::ahem:: but other than that, you don’t have anywhere you need to be so badly that you can’t sit still for a few extra minutes to finish it. Beer is made for stories, for laughing, for crying, for being there, being present. Why rush it? You won’t get these moments back.

6. You can tell the measure of a man by the measure of the things that bother him.

It’s okay to be bothered. Really, it’s good to be bothered by some things. The millions of orphans in the world, for example. Or, terrorist groups killing innocent people. But somebody taking your parking spot? Nope. A colleague talking trash about you? Not really. Get stirred up about important stuff and let the little guys fight over the other crap. It’s not worth your time.

7. Always stand to shake someone’s hand.

Because honor is HUGE. You want to received honor? Show honor. We tell our kids all the time, “You are honorable. Show it.”

8. Ask more than you answer. Everyone likes to talk about themselves.

My friend, Tom does this better than anybody I know. It’s almost a competition to see who can ask more questions about the other one. But he’s so darn good at it that I get sucked in to answering his question and before I know it I’ve been talking for fifteen minutes. Arrgghhh… Darn you, Tom!

9. Go with the decision that will make for a good story.

My wife and I decided a few years ago that more than anything we wanted our family to live a better story. We’ve shaped most everything in our life to be able to do this. There will be lots of decisions that you have to make along the way and most of the time you’re not choosing between something that sucks and something that’s awesome. Most often you’re trying to decide between two really good options. At the end of the day, sometimes you just have to choose one. Just make sure you’re writing a good story along the way.

10. When you walk, look straight ahead, not at your feet.

You’ve been given dominion over the earth. Why are you walking timidly? You are a conqueror, a king, a leader. What are you afraid of? Set your face to the world, man. You have nothing to fear.

11. Nice guys don’t finish last. Boring guys do.

Oh my gosh… This has been me. B-O-R-I-N-G. BOR-ING. No hobbies. No passions. Not willing to take risks. Not giving my life for someone else.

Kindness, mercy, compassion, meekness… these are all characteristics of the strong. The ones who love with their hearts out. The ones who ignite others to live for more. Be gentle. Be last if that’s your lot. Be quiet when you must. But by all means DO NOT BE BORING!

12. Do what needs to be done without complaining. It never speeds up the process.

Ever. And you look weak when you do. The more you complain, the longer you’ll be stuck in the mess. In fact, complainers tend to stay stuck in menial jobs. Nobody wants to promote a complainer. You don’t like the way management is handling it? Be a solution. Don’t agree with the methods? Hey, you probably won’t always be 100% on board, but I’ll bet there’s something you can champion. Focus on that and do it! If you make it a habit to support your leaders, I’ll bet you one day, you’ll be given the opportunity to influence the decision-making.

13. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

There’s always someone with more experience, more smarts, and bigger and better ideas. Challenge yourself. Grow. Learn. Remember… Don’t be boring. Ask more than you answer.

14. Women find confidence undeniably sexy.

Just saying…

The World Needs You

I love being a man, a husband, and a father. And I love the men in my life, both those who influence me and the ones I get to influence. You’ve been given strength. Become who God made you to be. Thank the men in your life who’ve influenced you. Be humble enough to show gratitude. And ask God to help you recognize when you can pour into someone else. The world needs better men. Let’s be there when they need us.

Orphans, Sexual Abuse, and A Giant Need

Aila had an appointment yesterday with a GI specialist. I’ll spare you the poop-filled details, but after hearing her history, the doctor’s FIRST exam was to check for sexual abuse. Her first thought was abuse. Not a last ditch attempt to find answers, but the physician’s first thoughts went to sexual abuse because she said she sees it so often with orphans and especially kids with special needs. They have no one to protect them.

Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be the issue for Aila. And while I’m beyond grateful for that, it is heartbreaking that we even had to consider it.

I liked Aila’s orphanage. I liked her caregivers. They seemed to genuinely care for her. But, there is no substitution for a family. Every child NEEDS a family. I’m reminded of this truth a million ways each day, but this hit me hard today. Our daughter spent 29 months in an orphanage and we believe she was well cared for during that time. Other kids aren’t so lucky.

I recently read about a girl, Jianna, who is about to age-out of the orphanage. She’s almost 14 years old and if she doesn’t get connected to a family, she’ll be on the street on her fourteenth birthday. She needs a family. More than ever, she needs someone to stand up for her, to be her advocate, to protect her and to love her. There’s not a lot of opportunity for a young teenage orphan girl if she doesn’t get adopted. This sad reality is what leads to so many girls entering sex trade and falling prey to abusive situations.

We’re so grateful that Aila was kept safe. But our hearts break for Jianna and the others like her who don’t know what life in a loving, caring family is like. I appreciate everyone who’s shared her file in hopes of finding her family. Several families inquired about her, but at this point, she needs a family already in the adoption process. So right now I’m asking you to pray. Please pray for this girl and her family. Pray for God to move mountains in the next six weeks to get a family to this girl.

http://reecesrainbow.org/?s=jianna

Jianna, Reece's Rainbow

Jianna

Did She Really Say It’s Okay?

Couple Holding Hands In Coffee Shop - from Matt Martin Photography

© Matt Martin Photography

Valentines Day can really suck sometimes. For many single people it feels like a cruel, taunting voice telling you you’re not enough. And although it’s been nearly a decade since I’ve been single, I remember the feeling.

Ten years ago, a few months before we’d met, my Sweet Kelley was a single mom with a 3 year old. I was a lost, sad, divorced 26 year old with nothing to my name but an old guitar and some clothes. It was not the pinnacle of life and love for either of us. Valentines Day SUCKED! Everywhere I went it seemed like a sea of people with someone special on their arm. Sharing gifts. Having drinks. Going home and having sex.

I was so pissed at Valentines Day.

How did everything go wrong? What’s wrong with me? I was pretty sure there were answers to both of those questions. I went home and started dealing. The problem for sure set most of its weight on my shoulders, which was a tough realization, but it made me really examine some stuff in my life. This examination was good. It didn’t help Valentines Day not suck, but it set me up for something pretty darn special.

The problem? I was selfish. Impatient. Scared to be vulnerable. Scared to be honest. Afraid of being abandoned. So I hid. I hid my ugly stuff from the people who loved me. And because of this I could never form anything meaningful. I had trouble with authority. I had a broken relationship with my parents. I couldn’t keep my crap together. I was trying to be who I thought they expected me to be. It was tough wearing that mask all the time. I desperately wanted to be known but I knew that if they knew the real me, they’d tell me what I feared… you’re not enough.

I had often wondered if this is what God thought of me. How many times could I screw up before he was just done with dealing with me? I didn’t have trouble believing he loved me. But I couldn’t wrap my mind around the thought that he LIKED me. As I was driving to work one day, it hit me… he has welcomed me into his family in spite of my flaws. He accepts me as his son. But I think I used to view God’s love for me more like pity. I wondered if maybe John 3:16 should have said, “God took pity on the world and he huffed and begrudgingly sent his son to rescue the screw ups since they obviously can’t get it together…” This led to years of clawing for God’s approval, the approval of authority figures, the approval of peers. But on that ride to work I was shaken by the thought that God LIKES me. He looks at me through the lens of what Christ has done and he approves. Now, that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t inspire me to shake off old patterns and form new ways of thinking about things. But, I couldn’t get over this new revelation that God likes me. I’d spent 26 years in church, accepted Christ at seven, answered the call into ministry at thirteen, entered the ministry at eighteen. I knew the Gospel story. But I didn’t get it – the Good News; the Too-Good-to-Be-True News that says, “God loves you. God likes you. You belong to him. And nothing changes that.” Holy smack. I was floored.

A few months later I met Kelley. We spent lots of time at a coffee shop talking about this new way of seeing people (including ourselves). We talked about ways to care for people; people in our circles and people we hadn’t met yet. And what I discovered through these conversations was that if you can stop worrying about hiding the things you think people will run from and try your darnedest to see people how God sees them, nobody really cares about your scars and flaws. In fact, those things you try to hide become strangely endearing.

I started falling in love with Kelley through these conversations. I like to think she did too. She teaches me a lot about what God’s love is like. At one point early in our relationship I was having a bad day. Grumpy. Tired. Hungry. Probably sexually frustrated. Just not a pretty cocktail. Up to this point, if ever I was angry or frustrated or pissed about something, I shoved it down and put on the mask that life was dandy. It was ugly to be angry and therefore should not be on display. But she saw right through my mask and said something that still wrecks me. She looked at me and said, “It’s okay to be grouchy. Just say you’re in a bad mood. It’s okay.”

What the frick?!?! It’s okay?!?! It’s okay?!?! It’s can’t be okay… Could it be okay? Did she really say it’s okay?

I probably looked stoned. I’m not sure how long I let those words float around in my head before I spoke again. I’m not even sure what I said next. But I remember that my shoulders relaxed. My jaw relaxed. My breathing slowed. The knots in my stomach unravelled. My heart was at peace. This was a new feeling. I could be upset and it was okay to show it?

My Sweet Kelley has always done this for me. She makes it okay to not be okay. She set something free in my heart that day. I wish I could say that I’m as good to her as she is to me. Sadly, it’s not even close. She loves me in ways I didn’t even think were possible. She sets me free from my charades. Anything valuable in me is only visible because she took the time bring it to the surface when all I wanted to do was hide.

Love is hard work. It’s painful sometimes. Love is exhilarating and exhausting. Love is enriching and yet will empty you. And if you let it, love will overwhelm you.

But that’s right where I want to be.

I Don’t Believe In the Power of One

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I don’t believe in the power of one.

At least not in the way it often gets communicated. Most of the time the phrase you hear is, “It just takes one…” But the way I see it, one must influence one more and one more and one more… Hopefully, one becomes two and two becomes four and four (eventually) turns into thousands.

Hopefully, somewhere down the string of ones, someone finds the cure for cancer, or ends sex trafficking, or finds homes for all the orphans.

It doesn’t all rest on one, but I DO believe it starts with one. Caring for one. Loving one. Investing in one. One step at a time.

The Bible is full of examples of God asking us to pour into just one person. Ruth loved Naomi. Eli invested in Samuel. John was the disciple Jesus loved. These are very personal one-on-one relationships. Certainly this doesn’t give us license to ignore the other people in our lives. But I believe God does ask us to take time to speak life one-on-one. I think we can all look back and say, “If it hadn’t been for _____________, I’d never have ______________.” There’s probably at least one defining moment in your life that stands out. Somebody (and probably a long thread of somebodies) had to act or make sacrifices to open that door that gave you that one moment. Your one moment is built upon a mountain of other singular moments. And these opportunities are opened to you through a personal relationship with someone else.

This is the power of one I believe. One must build upon another one.

So what is it? Who is it? Where are you investing? There’s this thing you’re supposed to do. Are you doing it? If not, what’s got you bound up? Are you afraid to jump?

When I was in my early twenties I travelled the country, hanging out with these raucous, tattooed, Jesus-loving rebels. We’d go do whatever twentysomethings do when you don’t have kids or major responsibilities. There was this place on the river that they liked to go. I’d never been but it sounded like fun. So we threw on our swimsuits and hopped in my van out to the riverside. When we got there I discovered the source of their enthusiam. We were sitting atop a 50ft cliff that went straight down into the Tennessee River. One after one, they jumped, each jump a little more daring than the next. Flips. Twists. Dives. Really stupid stuff.

I got to the edge of the cliff. Stared down at my fate. And took that one small step…

back to the picnic table where I’d been sitting and let those crazy fools do the jumping. I was terrified. I couldn’t do it.

This pattern repeats itself in my life. I love hanging out with people who challenge me to break the mold and think differently. But when it comes time to put those thoughts into action, I freeze. I can’t throw myself off the ledge. Do I do this with my faith?

I heard a sermon recently from a pastor friend in Raleigh. His opening thesis was this: Belief accepts. Faith acts. Belief knows things to be true but faith puts legs to those things and lives them out. The legs of my faith sometimes feel frozen on the edge of that cliff, unwilling to take a step toward the water. What if just one of my friends, instead of making it okay for me to shrink back and sit down, had said, “It’s scary. It might hurt. It’s a rush – and it’s worth it.” Maybe I would have overcome the fear that day.

When you’re on the edge you can only take one step. That step will either move you back to what’s familiar, safe, and comfortable or it will send you hurling toward the water. There were lots of one-steps that got you to the ledge. One more step could open the door to your destiny and inspire someone else’s.

She Knows We Are Family

From Kelley

I’ve wanted to post an update regarding Aila’s medical evaluations, but I couldn’t quite find the words. She had an MRI of her brain on Monday because one of her doctors suspected swelling. The good news is there is no swelling. But her MRI showed a condition called PVL, which is basically areas of brain damage due to lack of oxygen. I got off the phone with a list of referrals and a need to vomit. Because that’s how your body responds when you hear the words brain damage when talking about your baby girl.

I looked over at her trying to lift her leg high enough to crawl up on the foot stool in front of our chair. She desperately wants to scale that stool and tries over and over again, every day. And I got so scared, wondering if we were seeing her best days. Because what if this damage was progressive. What if it got worse? And let me tell you, doctor Google was NOT reassuring.

I called my husband and then I prayed. Here’s what God gave me.

We can’t fix her.

She will still have Down syndrome. She may have permanent brain damage. She may live to be 60 years old. Or she may not. There are no more guarantees on her life than there are on our own, and there are no fewer fears. We didn’t bring her home to fix her.

Adoption has always been about giving her a family.

That’s what God asked us to do. Be her family. She may have no future severe medical issues or she could see a specialist a month for the rest of her life.

Through it all, God wants her (and every child for that matter) in a family. And through some mystery, He saw fit that we should be the lucky ones to welcome her in.

And since that day three months ago when we stood in front of an official and swore an oath to always love her and be her family forever, we’ve seen gains. A lot of gains, actually. She crawls. She signs “eat” and “bottle.” She has grown 2 inches and gained 4 pounds. But above all that, she gained a sister, two brothers, a mama, and a daddy. And she knows who we are. She knows we are family.