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.

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

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.

Adoption Update

It’s Update Time

It’s been a little more than two months now since we’ve been home. I hate that we didn’t keep up with the updates between leaving China and now. It’s been a busy few weeks with doctor’s appointments and follow-up home studies. On top of that, continuing the remodel of our house and getting ready for Christmas…

Sometimes when your boat is cruising into active seas, you need to put down the excess stuff and focus on navigating to calmer waters.

So let me take a few minutes to catch you up. Here’s the highlights of the last couple months:

Doctor’s Appointments

In early November, Aila had her first round of doctor’s appointments since arriving in the US. She’s had other appointments since we’ve been home and for the most part everything has come back normal. She had a long-awaited eye appointment TODAY at the butt-crack of dawn. The doctor has scheduled an MRI soon but this means that Aila will need to be under sedation during this process which always gives us a bit of anxiety. Not sure yet when all this will take place but please pray for us and for little Aila through all of this. I know at some point maybe we will get beyond all these discoveries and diagnoses and we’ll know everything that’s going on – everything that we need to watch and maintain – and we’ll find a groove.

Progress Isn’t What You Think

Not to say that we’re not finding a groove now. We are. Things are actually moving along quite nicely. She’s attaching well. She’s coming into her personality. She’s more mobile. More expressive. More demonstrative. Her skin is clearer. Her eyes are brighter. She’s sleeping pretty okay… sometimes. She knows how to tell us she’s hungry or sad. She loves Daniel Tiger. All these things are good things and give me comfort knowing that she is beginning to know her place in this party of six and we couldn’t be happier about it. But the new discoveries, especially the ones that require sedations and surgeries kinda interrupt our rhythm and we long to get back to creating our normal flow.

I know the radio silence of the last couple of months may have caused you to believe that everything was without worry and full of endless perfect moments and that our family never felt interrupted or out of sorts or perplexed by the addition of a new family member. Most of that is accurate. Most of the time. But it took us awhile to get there. And we seem to take a step back here and there.

Kelley was recently chatting with another adoptive mom who will be on the plane in less than a week to go bring her new little boy home. This mom was asking questions about what to expect and things from the Mom-perspective that she didn’t anticipate but could pass along. This is a brilliant observation that I think all of you adoptive parents out there should know…

For many of you, when you pick up your child and go to your hotel room, the first few days and nights will feel like perfect bliss. It’s likely you child sleep through the night. It’s likely he’ll never cry. The sad part of this is the reason why…

For most of these kids, they’ve learned that crying does no good. Nobody’s coming. Nobody’s gonna pick you up. Nobody’s gonna comfort you. So they stop crying.

Heartbreaking, right? I cry now just thinking about it. They don’t wake up at night. Or if they do, you never know because they make no noise to indicate that they need you. Because nobody’s coming. So for however long they lived in the orphanage, they stopped calling out. They just stopped. And then you get them home. And you love on them. You hold them. You kiss them. You play with them all day long. You keep them awake at night just so you can see their beautiful eyes and tickle them and make them laugh. And in the process of the playful interactions, she bumps her head on yours and she cries. She cries! For the first time, you hear her cry. And you comfort her. You pick her up. You kiss her and hold her and rock her and sing to her and tell it’s gonna be okay. And she calms down and looks at you with those deep dark brown eyes and you melt and she begins to unlearn what she once thought was true.

Someone will come. Someone will care. Someone will help calm. It’s okay to cry. Someone is coming.

Over time, these little moments happen again and again and the serve as little hooks in her little heart that she begins to hang her trust upon. She begins to think, “I can tell someone I’m in need and they will respond.” And she learns to cry again.

For parents who haven’t adopted, to celebrate this may seem a little backwards and in fact it is. Why would you want a crying baby? Well, we don’t actually want her to cry all the time. But we do want her to know that if she cries, we will be right there. If we walk out of the room and she whimpers – no matter what – one of us will turn around immediately and go pick her up. I told her the day we met that I’d never leave her lonely. She was left in an alley behind a hospital when she was days old. Then she was left in an orphanage. Then when she had open heart surgery at a year old, she was left alone in the hospital with only the attending doctor to check on her from time to time. She will never be alone again. And when she cries to tell us she’s scared or overwhelmed or insecure. We consider that a step forward. Progress. She’s just gone from believeing that no one hears her cries to knowing that when she cries we pick her up. That my friends, is a win.

Day 12 – We’re Coming Home

I can’t believe it. This is it. We’re coming home! Six of us! Tomorrow morning we’ll leave Guangzhou early and head to Hong Kong to fly home.

I really want you guys to see this.

On Monday we were told that the result of her test would probably mean that we would have to stay an extra week in Guangzhou, most of those days without a guide or agency rep.

On Tuesday we were told that the results weren’t back yet but once they came back it typically takes eight hours or so to send the medical report to the consulate and after that another 24-36 hours to process her visa. Apparently you can’t just walk in to a US Embassy and walk out with your visa. Anyway, all of this would put our earliest window for departure at Friday afternoon but none of that was certain until we got the all-clear from medical.

This morning, Kelley, Aila, and our guide went back to the clinic. They were there all of about 30 min and the doctors had given her clearance. They walked across the street to the consulate and within about an hour Kelley walked out with Aila’s visa. (You can’t have your phone in the Consulate so I didn’t know all this was going down.) All the while, I’m on the phone with American Airlines pleading our case to get the cost down. The first price quoted was $2700 to change our flights to Friday. A little while later and some wicked negotiations behind the scenes of AA’s International Service Reps and the price had been reduced to around $450. Then Kelley got back and said that she had the visa — today. We can fly out tomorrow! I called AA back to see if we could adjust our itinerary from Friday to Thursday. She placed me on hold and a few minutes later, our itinerary had been updated and the total cost to change all six flights to Thursday?… $150.00.

Now, how’d all this happen? I’ve written about this a few times before, but it’s prayer. Specifically, it’s the Spirit of God moving through prayer. Prayer connects us like a major network of communications. We pray. God’s Spirit moves in others to act and out of response to that promoting, things that seemed impossible move out of the way. Walls that seemed too high to climb now seem like only a step. Prayer mobilizes His people — knowingly sometimes and maybe sometimes unknowingly — and things get done. Bold prayers and big, gutsy asks… You never know what can happen. All I know is two days ago it looked like we were stuck in a foreign country on the other side of the world and it was gonna cost nearly $5000 more in airfare, lodging, and food to get us home. God’s people began to cry out to him and out of that, our family is coming home TOMORROW!!!

I spent about an hour today on the pool deck overlooking the city here and reflected on this trip. No doubt, the last five days have been trying. Not at all what I imagined it to be. Frustrating, yes. Disheartening at times, for sure. Even moments feeling utterly defeated, helpless, beaten down. I’m excited to be home. To have doctors who speak English and who do things the way I’m accustomed. To eat American food. To drive my car. To breathe clean air. To sleep in my own bed again. To enjoy my new baby in my new house. But God had us here for a purpose. A purpose bigger than even bringing our baby girl home.

Sometimes I get too caught up in the urgency of the immediate to see God working. I’m too furious to recognize him.

But my wife is a champ at slowing down and listening for God’s quiet little whispers. She and Aila have been to that clinic five times over the last five days. The doctors are absolutely in love with this little two year old bundle of pure joy.

Today, I believe I may have seen at least one reason God had us stay. While they were at the clinic Kelley got to talk with a Chinese lady (who spoke English). The lady had lots of questions about adoption. As you know, we’re pretty big advocates for orphan care. The lady told Kelley that they’d considered adoption before, but it’s not very common here. Kelley took the time with this lady to encourage her. She told her that God can help you do anything, especially care for children. By the end of their conversation, this lady, with tears welling up in her eyes, said to Kelley, “Meeting you today has given me the motivation I needed to do this.”

One of my favorite songs right now is this song from Elevation called “Open Up Our Eyes.” There’s a powerful declaration, “Our God is fighting for us always/ Our God is fighting for us all/ Our God is fighting for us always/ We are not alone/ We are not alone!” That’s been a good reminder for us every night as we go to bed. This week has been hard, but God has been faithful. Our friend Kari reminded us tonight that sometimes it’s hard to see what God is up to but sometimes it’s enough to know he’s up to something and just trust him. It’s always good for those who love him.

We’re a few hours from checking out of the hotel and heading on our way. The room is asleep finally. As I look over my beautiful family at peace, I want to extend our deepest thanks and our humblest gratitude for every dollar given, every item donated, every encouragement, every favor called in, and every single late night prayer and petition. You have helped us do what we set out to do fourteen months ago…

#bringherhome

We’d love to see you at the airport!!!

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