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.

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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.

Day 5 – The Finding Spot

We spent our last day in Jinan trying to take in the city that has been home to our daughter for the two years, four months and twenty-seven days of her life. Trying to make sure we didn’t forget this place. We want to tell her the story of the city, the people, the country that gave her her start in life. The place that fought for her life and gave her the chance to find a family.

So we set out to visit her finding spot. We don’t have a lot of details surrounding the day of her birth or the days after. We don’t know her birth mother or father. We don’t know why they made the decision they did. We likely never will. However, the medical records we have state that she was found near the Children’s Hospital of Jinan. We hopped in a taxi, Kelley, Aila, and I, and we went to see this sacred place.

I’ve had a dream about this place. In my dream there was a small inset stoop just off the street on the backside of the hospital where the workers might park. (Side note: We caution not to add too much romance to the storyline; only let it be what it is and the pieces that are missing can just be missing. No one is required to know all the whys and wheres and whens. That’s why we trust God. Because we know He knows.) I can’t help but be grateful to God for the care and love that Aila’s birth mother showed her. I can’t imagine having to make this kind of decision. Her birth mother, maybe ashamed, placed her in a spot she knew she herself could remain anonymous, inconspicuous, and that this little baby would be found and immediately treated and placed in the hands of caring and capable hands until a family could come for her. I’m forever grateful to her. Her decision saved Aila’s life and gave her a chance. How do you say thank you for something like this?

The cab driver dropped us off at the ER entrance. We looked around there a bit. We knew her finding spot was not actually on the hospital campus proper but we really wanted to get a sense of this place. We continued to make our way down a side street past street vendors and small shop owners and past a couple small alleys. As we turned a corner, Aila tucked into Kelley and began to whimper lightly. Did she recognize this place? What this response totally unrelated? Who knows.

But then we saw it. Or at least we saw what I imagined it might be. A back street behind the hospital where employees could park. A place inconspicuous and yet accessible to hospital staff. Maybe this was it. Maybe not. But as we walked it about 50-60 yards in, we prayed. We prayed for her birth mother. We prayed for Aila’s heart and emotions as she will one day face the truth of her history. And we prayed God would help us all as people who love her deeply that we might be able to show her the love that God set in motion the day she was born.

We thought seeing her finding spot would be more overwhelming than it was. It was kind of like the last puzzle piece. You already know what the image is going to look like. It’s not like that final piece was disguising any big secret. It just completed the process. That’s what this was for us. At least as far as helping to shape the foundation of the story of how she came to be and how we came for her.

As we walked away, Kelley and I surrounded Aila and prayed and thanked God once again for preserving her life and I whispered in her ear, “you’ll never be left alone again.”

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Day 3 – The Orphanage and Gotcha Day

I tried to write this last night as the day was winding down but I kept falling asleep as I’d write only to wake up and find a long string of incoherent characters on my iPad. I decided I could write when I had time this morning. Yesterday really wiped me out.

It’s hard to describe the emotion of the moments leading up to our arrival at the orphanage. As we were driving it would come in waves over me and I’d quietly sob looking out the window wondering what was to unfold over the next few moments.

We’d seen pictures of the orphanage before. In the pictures it looks amazing but I was a little skeptical that this was an accurate picture of how it truly is in real life. We drove from the city out into the countryside surrounded by lakes, giant mountains, and natural springs. And then like a magician unveiling his surprise, the orphanage seemed to appear from nowhere, backdropped by beautiful mountains and lush gardens. This place was actually more fantastic than the photos can depict.

You can sense the love and heart the staff puts into the work they do. This isn’t really an orphanage. It’s actually an institute who’s sole purpose is to improve the lives of children. One of the staff members, Charlie, seemed to know everything there was to know about our children and radiated joy with every word he spoke. Charlie takes the bus in to work every day and has done so for more than five years. And for five years he’s poured his heart out into these children.

As we arrived, Charlie ushered us into the main atrium where we’d meet our children for the first time. We were there for only a matter of seconds when the first family was presented with their little boy. We all broke down and began weeping openly. The emotion of the morning had built up to a breaking point I guess. A few minutes later the second family got to meet their daughter. We all gathered around them to make sure someone was taking pictures and videos of the moment.

Charlie came in a few moments later and asked to speak to the parents of Zhou Long’ai (that’s Aila’s Chinese name). He began talking to us through our interpreter. They both started to express concern on their faces. Immediately, I began to plan for a worst case scenario. Our interpreter turned to us and said, “Your daughter… She is sick… She is not well. She has developed… He paused for a moment and pulled out his phone to find the English word for what he was trying to say. He turned the phone around for us to see what he’d found. Hand, foot, and mouth. Seriously!?! Dang dude… Why you gotta do that to me, bro?! Freaked me out for no reason? Hand, foot, and mouth? That’s no big deal. All of our kids have had to endure it. Charlie ran off and a few minutes later, there she was…

I’m not sure how I got there. Translation? Teleportation? Some naked cherubs came and picked me up? Who knows? Maybe I ran. All I know is as soon as she came through the door the world hushed and we were all crouched around her and her nanny saying hello for the first time. She studied each one of us and at the moment of her choosing, reached out for Kelley and it was like the world burst into new life all around us. After a few minutes I couldn’t stand it any longer. I reached out my hands to her, patted my chest and said, “Baba,” (the Chinese word for Daddy). She reached back to me and quietly whispered, “Baba,” and just like that all the agony was washed away. All the resistance, all the heartache of the last fourteen months was a distant thought and I was wrecked. Still am. Crying now as I write this out. I’ve had the privilege of being present for the birth of two of my children. It’s a special moment unlike anything else in the world. I can’t write well enough to describe to you what that moment is like when this child you’ve been praying for for fourteen months reaches her chubby little arms out to you and whispers, “Daddy.” It’s a moment unlike any other. We prayed for months that she’d know we were her family and as we drove away from the institute I whispered in her ear, “I told you I was coming for you.” She laid down on her momma’s chest and went to sleep.

The rest of the day was spent filing out more papers, signing things, drafting petitions, getting visa photos made, the notary, and the CCCWA. There we sat before an official who asked us the final questions we’d be asked in this adoption. I’ll never forget the moment. She said, “Do you promise to love her? To never harm her or abuse her? Do you promise to give her a good education? And do you promise to be her family forever?” Of course you know how we answered. And then she said, “Congratulations!”

That was it. Fully legal and finalized adoption. She is ours and we are hers.
Forever.

She is unlike any other.

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Almost There

I went to bed last night with what I can only call “surreal anticipation.” I know today is significant. There’s a baby bed in our room. That hasn’t happened in years. We’re in China for crying out loud. This is really happening.

All this anticipation woke me up early. Like, 4AM early. But today was worth an early start. I thought I’d go get some coffee. There’s a Starbucks near our hotel but sadly it doesn’t open till 8:30AM…. what?!? So instead I settle in with a nice hot cup of Nescafé instant coffee. Mmm… Nevertheless, it’s hot and kinda reminds me of actual coffee so I’m good.

My sister reminded me of a passage in Ephesians where we’re told that God took pleasure in the work of making us his children. That our adoption is actually the revelation of our sonship. The purpose of adoption is to reveal the identity of the father. When we see a child alone, we react with one simple and very natural response, “Where is this child’s parent?” It’s unnatural for a child to be without parents. Orphans don’t know how to answer the question of sonship. So when someone says, “Who is responsible for the care and nurture of these children,” the father can say, “They belong to me.”

This is what adoption does. It identifies the father.

I stayed awake this morning with an awe of the weightiness of what today will forever become for us. I am eager to say, “She belongs with me.”

DAY FOURTEEN | the bright sadness

Great stuff from The Bright Sadness today in the journey of Lent.


 

The Prodigal Son came home.

But the story only holds the weight it does because first he left. We should resist skipping to the reunion and homecoming. First we should understand his leaving, and perhaps ourselves a bit better along the way.

Right after telling Kingdom allegories about rogue sheep and missing coins, Jesus tells this, the story of a man who had two sons. The youngest son convinced himself he was unhappy and did what those convinced of this often do: he began changing his circumstances. And so this son asked his father for his share of the inheritance. He was cashing in his chips and leaving. Inheritances being what they are, the son had essentially looked his father in the eye and told him to drop dead.

“I hate my life. I want to cut ties and start over somewhere else, as someone else.”

The father obliged. Days later, his boy and his belongings were gone. (Luke 15:11-13)

More… DAY FOURTEEN | the bright sadness.