Thursday, February 25, 2010

Gracious Advocacy and The Fuzzy Grail

I have decided that given my tendency toward fixation, writing something that is potentially controversial on my blog (even if it is my blog) may not be a good idea. Doing so appears to cause me to lose sleep tossing and turning thinking about who in Internetland now thinks I'm a jerk while also mandating that I spend WAY too much time checking back to see if there are any new comments. I didn't realize "That Friend" was going to stir up so many strong opinions. Just so that I am clear, here is a Cliff Notes version of what I was trying to convey this week. I believe that there is an orphan crisis in the world right now and that that isn't right. Yes, we can debate some of the global statistics on orphans, but we can't debate that there are far too many children throughout the globe who lack the love and protection of a permanent family. I believe that God cares deeply about the plight of orphans. Toward that end, I believe that there are many ways to meet the needs of orphans including prayer, sponsorship and adoption. I also believe that many Christians could and should do much more to defend and care for the world's orphaned children. In light of that, I think more Christians need to seriously consider how adoption could/should fit into their larger plans for family, which may or may not include birth children. I think all Christians who have the means and the desire for children should ask themselves "Why NOT bring an adopted child into our family?" and then prayerfully consider the answer to that question. Yes, it's fair to say that adoption can be seen as a "calling" but so is "love one another" and we are all called to do that. I want to see more of my fellow believers seriously explore the possibility of "love one another through adoption".
Enough said. I hope that was somehow conveyed.

This recent experience with attempting to articulate my feelings about adoption has caused me to think about what passionate advocacy looks like within the Body of Christ. I had no idea 10 years ago that adoption would become something that would consume my life. As a newlywed, I had no plans to take on orphan care on an advocacy level. A decade ago, the idea of even having children at all was WAY off my radar. I certainly wasn't thinking about becoming "That Friend, The Adoption Mom" And yet, this is now my life and it appears that adoption is the cause for which I was uniquely created to speak out. It fits my heart. It is my driving passion as I try to live out my faith in Christ practically in a hurting world. What gets challenging is trying to figure out how to fuse together passion and grace. I've always been really good at passion. Being gracious has been never my strong suit. "Just be sweet," I tell my girls. Sadly, that is easier said than done for me. My mother-in-law oozes graciousness in everything she does. Sometimes, I can't squeeze out more than maybe a drop or two, even if I'm trying really hard. And when issues of injustice are involved - forget about it. What does gracious advocacy look like? Is there such a thing? How does one marry the passion to speak up for the voiceless and make noise in such a way within one's faith community that people may feel convicted (hopefully convicted to action) with the ability to present ideas in a way that is permeated with grace and not judgment? Practically speaking, judgment isn't going to gain you any followers. Anyone remember that quote about catching flies with honey over vinegar? However, I'm not ok with not saying anything just so that people won't think I think I'm better than they are. Social agitators have changed the world for the better by being noisy enough to shake people from their complacency. My question is what does a social agitator look like today within The Church. How does she tell her story and get her message across to those who might "get it" if somehow empowered with the right information at the right time in God's plan? I hope that much like I have grown into motherhood I will grow into gracious advocacy. I will not be silent. I know that. But, I also probably shouldn't be so edgy sometimes either. I need to find that place in between. That place called "speak the truth in love".

On a lighter note, given that things have been a bit "heavy" around here lately, the girls recently got their first pairs of slippers and they could not be more thrilled. For some reason, Big Bear decided that she just HAD to have a pair of slippers. The problem is that slippers are out of stock EVERYWHERE where we live. I spent an afternoon lugging the girls from one discount retailer to another in pursuit of our "fuzzy grail" only to be told by a less-than-energetic teenager working at Targer that they only carry slippers at Christmas time. To which my it's-way-past-my-nap 3 year old promptly burst into tears. Enter I love this site, especially since you get free overnight delivery and they have a zillion shoes, and thankfully, slippers. After nap, Junia picked out a pair online and we ordered them. She jumped up and down when her slippers from "the 'puter" showed up at our door 24 hours later. They both wear them ALL the time now. They want to wear them everywhere so we have to continually remind them that slippers are only worn in the house. Pretty darn cute - but what else is new. In other news, we are actually in process on working with Gladney to gather information for another possible adoption. I guess that is a step forward. We are currently trying to learn all we can about birth order as it relates to adoption. We have some concerns that our happy little life that we've finally got simmering nicely after a year of transition might boil right over if Big Bear were moved into a Second Fiddle spot. We'll see where all of this leads us.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"That Friend" - Part Deux

Thanks to all who weighed in on being fellow "adoption freaks". Maybe we should start a club and try and sell people stuff.

Because I am a bit of a fixater, I have been thinking about this topic all day - particularly as it relates to respecting other people's choices. As one comment on my last post noted, "I think it comes down to being respectful of one another's decisions, not critical because they have made a different choice for their family." I guess what I have a problem with in the whole mutual respect equation is that I can respect the choices of another if I can at least understand the rationale and thinking behind the choices that have been made by that person. As a logical-to-a-fault person myself, I need to see the reasoning behind why people make the choices they do. Spell it out for me so I can see the world through your eyes and then I can move toward respecting your decision, even if it's not a choice I might make myself. As it relates to the issue of adoption, what I would like to hear from the loving, affluent (in comparison with the rest of the world, we in the US are ALL affluent) Christian families I know is why they are not adopting. I would like to hear the following case argued articulately: "We thoughtfully explored this issue and have decided we should not adopt because..." In those terms, it is - in my opinion - very difficult to make a case for why you as a Christian should not bring an orphaned child into your home. For us, it ultimately came down to that very question. We could come up with no good reasons why we should have some money in the bank, a roof over a heads and the energy and motivation to be parents and not open our home and our lives to an orphaned child. The issues that one could look to as reasons for not choosing adoption are many - "We can't afford it", "We don't think we can handle the issues that an adopted child would bring into our family", "We aren't infertile and already have children" - and the list goes on. Upon examining some of these "reasons", they start to look a bit more like excuses to me. There are some clear practical solutions that really do put adoption - thanks to numerous groups that support adoptive families both financially and emotionally - squarely within the grasp of most families. The various resources that are out there make the financial and "emotional baggage" arguments not nearly as salient. There is also a clear Biblical mandate for orphan care that has nothing to do with other personal issues like fertility or your own comfort. That nullifies another big category of "reasons". So then what it really comes down to is something more like "We just don't want an adopted child". That's the answer that, while probably most genuine, truly breaks my heart. God gives us direction to do many things that we don't necessarily want to do (or at least we don't think we want to do) and yet we do them. However, there seem to be certain things (like fighting poverty and injustice) that we think we just get a pass on and can be selective about in our obedience. I find that very troubling as the ramifications for our lack of collective action as The Church are serious indeed. And yet, it's hard to talk about any of this as an adoptive parent without seeming very self-righteous. "Look at us! Aren't we good little holy-rolling Brangelinas with our adorable blended family?" The idea that I might come off that way to others is incredibly distasteful to me given that I know God hates pride and arrogance; arrogance also never sells anyone on anything. We just talked at church this weekend about how Lent involves self-examination and confession of sins like arrogance which was defined in the sermon as "being overbearing, argumentative, opinionated and obstinate." Given that definition, I feel like I've stepped in it already with this post. What does this all look like, practically speaking? How can I respect your decision to not take up the issue of orphan care? I'm just not sure that I can. And how can I, given my own life story, say that to you in way that you will still see as coming from a place of humility, a place deep in my heart where I carry the burden of millions of children who have nothing, except maybe you as God's compassionate hands and feet? I'm not sure about that one either.

Maybe I'd better stick to trying to peddle mascara. That would be a lot simpler.

P.S. This rant is not meant to address anyone in particular. Rather, it's meant as more of general commentary on the state of how I see things. If you don't send me hate mail as a result of this post, I may even throw in a free eye liner with your next purchase.

"I find it exceedingly strange that any follower of Jesus Christ should ever have needed to ask if social involvement was their concern." John Stott

"The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, February 21, 2010

"That Friend"

I was recently asked by a friend if I was still going to be excited for her and help with her baby shower if and when she gets pregnant as she is hoping to do soon. She was joking but it made me think about how I am perceived by those around me, particularly those in the mom community. It made me wonder if I have become "that friend". You know, the friend who sells one of the many home-business-based products on the market, like the new girl you met a church who you thought you really clicked with until she started leaving you lots of messages about the various sales she was having on eye liner and mascara, messages that made you wonder if she really clicked with you as a person or as a customer. The issue isn't so much what you sell, it's how people think you view your relationships with them. I wonder if my friends think of me as viewing every one of them as potential "target", a sale to be made for the cause of adoption, especially now that we have moved beyond our own personal adoption into doing orphan advocacy work in our community (more on that later). One side of me hopes that isn't the case as I would never want to push how I have chosen to build my family on anyone else. That side fully recognizes that God calls all of us to unique vocations and we should be respectful of the different areas where our unique gifts and experiences equip us to serve. The other side of me knows that in my heart when I meet loving families, I am always thinking about how an orphaned child would love to find a home in any of their homes. I can see the faces of orphaned kids I met in Ethiopia who could easily become the children of many people I know and love. That's the side of me that isn't so worried about what others think and wants to stand on the corner and bang my drum as loud as I can for the cause of the orphaned child until someone listens. "Yes, I've chosen this for my family, and frankly, you should too if you are about God's heart for the poor, the lonely, the destitute and the needy," that fanatical side of me feels like shouting. So I guess that's what my experience with adoption has made me - a bit of a fanatic. I will be happy (and throw showers) for my friends who give birth to their second, third and fourth children because I love them and rejoice in their happiness but part of me will be sad that one (or more!) of those coveted spots in an amazing family headed by caring, creative, intelligent, Christ-loving parents was not given to a child who had nobody, nothing and nowhere to call home. If you have the energy and the resources to parent second, third and fourth children, I just don't understand why it isn't a given that at least one of them is an adopted child. I wish I could understand why not everyone "gets" adoption but I don't and that's hard. Since I may already be more of a weirdo than I realized, maybe I should start selling mascara too.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

CBS News and Feeling Weary

If you have adopted from Ethiopia or are considering adopting from Ethiopia, there is a good chance that you have already had a curious relative or friend email or call you about this recent piece from CBS.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Sadly, this is not the first news piece of late that casts international adoption in a less-than-favorable light. In late 2009, a similar story ran on an Australian news network that detailed the sad and tragic story of what it called "Flyaway Children". In both stories, the adoption agency featured was Christian World Adoption. And, of course, who can forget about our friends the missionaries from the church of "What Were They Thinking" in Haiti who really launched the media feeding frenzy over "international adoptions gone wrong". I have been purposeful about not saying exactly what I do in my career in the effort to try and preserve some privacy in the Wild West of the Internet. However, at this time, it seems appropriate to note that my background is in media analysis. As a media analyst, there are many things that I find troubling about what I am seeing being broadcast into homes all over the country - and all over the world - right now. Sadly, much of what is being shown is negative - images of children and families whose lives have been shattered by adoptions that are characterized by deception, inauthenticity and pain. What is being shown focuses on birth families and adoptive families alike who have been manipulated, abused and mislead in a process that seems like maybe "it just shouldn't be happening". I can't help but feel like international adoption is being distilled down to being about the Big, Bad, White, American, Often-Religious-Freak, Often-Infertile
Child Traffickers who are wreaking havoc on the innocent around the globe. Now, as an adoptive parent who does not relate to the aforementioned labels, I find these mischaracterizations offensive.

In analyzing media messages, it is imperative that we ask "How is this story being framed and why?" followed by "What part of the story is not being told here?" In the case of what we are seeing right now, it is fairly obvious that these stories are being framed to suggest that international adoptions are suspect and should be scrutinized because there is enormous potential for manipulation. While there may be some truth to this claim, it is not the whole truth. It is also important to note here that the story is being framed from the "child trafficking angle" because that angle post-Haiti (and especially post-Haiti-missionaries) is very saleable to a viewing audience. It has intrigue, scandal and deception, and sadly some truth to it too. All the makings of good reality TV - something that has been proven to rake in the ad dollars for networks. The problem here if we are going to indeed call these types of stories "investigative" is that they fail to examine the multiple sides to this incredibly complex story. From what I see in TV Land, there are few, if any, stories of successful international adoptions where adoptive families are happy, well-adjusted, and over the moon about their precious adopted chidren having completed an adoption process through a reputable, ethical organization who made certain that birth families were well-informed about their decision and few, if any, stories of birth families who are at peace with the decision they made and often grateful to the adoptive families for their role in their birth children's lives. If good investigative journalism examines all sides of a story, there are some serious omissions in this current media offering. I am not trying to defend CWA as I am not personally connected to the organization so as to know whether or not the claims being leveled against them are true or not. However, I am an adoptive parent and the generalizations being leveled at the whole lot of us are not only unfair, they are just not true, at least not for the adoptive families I know.

Do we need more scrunity of international adoption? Probably. Anywhere that vulnerability exists, there will be those who try to capitalize on that vulnerability for their own personal gain. Look around the world at anywhere where the people are poor and desperate and there are those who seek to do them harm working right alongside those who are trying to make their lives better. Certainly, those of us that care about orphaned children should welcome any investigation focused on protecting these vulnerable human beings.

When I see these stories, I can't help but feel tired. I remember joking during the adoption process about how we promised that we weren't "bankrupt pediphiles". The entire paperwork part of the process was so invasive that we felt like we were constantly having to defend ourselves. "Really. We really are good people who are really trying to do a good thing here. Really." In some ways, I thought (or maybe hoped) that having to defend our adoption decision ended once our paperwork was finally complete and we were "cleared" as acceptable candidates for adoption. Now, it appears that we, all of us in the international adoption community, are on the defensive again having to help a CBS-watching public understand that there really are desperate orphans around the globe with few options who really need people like us. As we consider another international adoption, it's hard not to question whether or not we really want to sign up for all of the hassle again. And then I look into the eyes of my two little girls - MY girls - the precious children of my heart who I now need as much as they need me - and I'm reminded of why we fight on for the cause of the orphaned child. All of their lives matter and so we must not "grow weary in doing good" as we live our lives in the public eye. We need to tell our stories to anyone who wants to listen and has questions about what they are hearing in the news. We need to shower our adopted children with affection so that people who don't believe that you can really love a child that doesn't come from your body can see that a family in love with each other really can look like a Benetton ad. And we need to pray. A LOT. As I look at the global situation for adoption of orphans, it's hard not to note how many additional obstacles are now in place in numerous countries that are impeding children from finding homes where they can forever be loved and cherished. I feel more strongly than ever that we need to intercede for the world's most vulnerable children asking God to protect them from those who would seek to harm or manipulate them whether they be corrupt governments, unscrupulous adoption agencies, or individuals seeking to profit from the desperate situation these children are in. We need also to pray that God moves to remove the obstacles that are forcing orphans to remain orphans when there are families willing to provide them with homes. It is prayer and faith that can "move mountains" and it seems right now that there are some mountains to be moved for the world's orphaned children.

"Let us not grow weary of doing what is good. At just the right time, we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't give up." Galatians 6:9

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Almost Wordless Wednesday - $1 Hats

I found these hats in the dollar section at Target. Could there be anything cuter for two bucks?!

Stay tuned for more coming soon on the recent CBS news story about Ethiopian adoption and the new Chris Rock documentary Good Hair.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Photo Friday - A Mix-N-Match Family

Ah, the things you have to do to find toys that resonate with your unique forever family. Evidently, Fisher Price does not make a transracial family for their Loving Family Dollhouse. Good thing you can order both the "black" and the "white" families and then mix and match. Not sure what you are supposed to do if you happen to be Asian or Latino as they don't even offer those ethnicities. I guess Fisher Price thinks the world really is that black and white.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mothers, Invisible Chords and "Snow Day"

Well, I didn't get back to the blog in a day as I had hoped but I did get back here and that is saying something these days. We've got a lot going on around here including some extra projects at work (me), bronchitis acquired from small children that seems to have taken up permanent residence in a certain person's lungs (Davis) and Valentine's Day at preschool tomorrow for Junia. She'll be decked out in pink and armed with valentines that you can plant in the ground and watch grow. (Thank you, Target, for an educational, eco-friendly non-Miley Cyrus Valentine's Day offering this year). We are also gearing up for an event with our inter-church orphan advocacy organization that we started after Orphan Sunday last year. We will be hosting a "We Heart Orphans" Family Day at a popular local outdoor venue that will bring together individuals and families in our community who are passionate about God's heart for orphans. We are really excited about how God is building a committed community in our region around the issue of orphan care.

A few things have happened lately that have felt very Mom-ish and have caused me to think a lot about being a mom, especially as I come up on my one year anniversary of life in Mamaland. Last night, I went to an informational meeting at Junia's preschool about Kindergarten readiness. Even though she won't start Kindergarten for another year and a half, as a chronic nerd, I was eating it all up, asking too many dorky questions and taking copious notes. I have no plans to become one of these parents (check out the article if you have not yet heard the buzz about The Myth of the Gifted Child) but I do feel as if I am to be a good steward of the precious minds God has entrusted to us and I want to do all I can toward that end. I was pleased to learn that we haven't screwed up our girls too much yet. I think so often about how smart they are and how they would probably be so much smarter with a different mom. You know one of those I-am-totally-fulfilled-as-a-human-being-because-I-am-a-mom women with the graceful perma-grin who never snaps at her kids as she creates their personalized life lesson plans and grows her own food. She also isn't bothered by how her kids trash her car with crumbs and other disgusting things and she wouldn't even consider leaving her kids in the germ-infested childcare at the gym so she can eek out 45 minutes on a treadmill. Her kids also have no idea who Elmo and Barney are. As you may have guessed, I am not that mother and hopefully that isn't too much of bummer for my kids.

What I have found over my almost-year of Mom-ing, it that you feel inadequate a fair bit of the time and that inadequacy is compounded when you compare yourself with other mothers. Some moms are very open in sharing and laughing about their areas of incompetence while others seem to have so much of their identity wrapped up in the title and role of "Mom" that they need to tell you how good they are at what they do and how extraordinary their kids are. I relate very well to first group of moms and want to run and hide from the second group. As a new mom, I've not found myself to be a huge fan of what I would call "Mom books", even though I have been given many by many thoughtful gift-givers. Most just don't speak to my unique life story as a woman and mother and I find most of them to be incredibly cheezy. However, I did find a nugget in one of the more badly-titled ones that really resonated with me. I am a self-acknowledged perfectionist who is also very self-reflective. Hence, I am always trying to improve in the pursuit of excellence. This makes being a mother of small children challenging for many, many reasons. Not the least of which is wanting to be a really good mom while also being very aware of the many ways I fall short of this goal. I know what I'm good at as a mom (some stuff) and I know what I'm not good at (more stuff here). For example, I can confidently say that I excel in dressing my children. I really do. They look pretty amazing just about any old time thanks to my handiwork. Now, can they read already at 2 and 3? No. Do I have grand plans for home schooling? Not a chance. Do I ooze nurturing? Rarely. But they do look fabulous. I'm also really good with the logistics of being a mom (hence the valentines that were purchased a month ago and great clothes bought on sale now to be worn next year). Beyond that, I can't say I feel like a Shining Star Mom every day when I wake up. Bottom line is that I compare myself with other moms as I try to gauge my own efficacy as a mom. In the book I mentioned, the author suggests that when we compare ourselves with one another as mothers we either come up short or become prideful, both of which are self-destructive. She writes: "Once I stopped comparing myself to my friends and accepted them for who they were - their strengths and weaknesses - I began to relax in my parenting...Separately, my friends and I were far from perfect. But when we used our strengths to help each other, our [collective] parenting came a little closer to perfection...God never intended us to parent in isolation. It saddens Him when we do. And it saddens Him when we push another person up on the "perfect parent" pedestal just because they are gifted in an area where we are not...Slapping the "perfect parent" label on anyone is injustice to you and to the person you label." I really appreciate the author's wisdom here and I hope to someday feel at home in my own skin as a mom with my own unique story. I also hope that by keeping myself connected with the other amazing moms I am blessed to know who love me and love my kids, I too will become a little more amazing as we raise our kids together.

In addition to thinking about my own experience as a mom, I've been thinking about birthmothers. I recently spoke at an adoption event and shared our story as well as some broader thoughts on God's heart for orphan care and adoption. The evening included a variety of speakers including a birth mother (a woman who had given up a child for adoption at 19; she's now in her 30's with 4 kids) and woman who was adopted as an infant and later went on to meet her birth mother at 29 (she's in her 40's now). What I found striking in both of the stories these women shared was the ways in which they described what almost seems like an invisible line that forever connects birth children to their birth parents, regardless of if this connection is desired or not by either party. The birth mother who spoke talked about years of feeling like something was missing in her life, only to realize later that what was missing was the child she gave up. She also shared about a serious medical condition that ran in the birth father's family and was later discovered in the biological daughter she had given up for adoption. The woman who shared from the perspective of an adoptive child talked about meeting her birth mother and noting some obvious physical and personality traits she shared with her birth mother, who was, upon their first meeting, at total stranger to her. One of the most obvious things she noticed happened when her birth mother got up to go to the restroom at the restaurant where they first met. As she walked away from the table, her daughter couldn't help but see that they had the exact same distinctive rear end.

As I listened to all of this, I couldn't help but feel sad as I reflected on my own daughters' experience. When teachers comment about how bright the girls are, I often think to myself "Was she smart?" When Junia gets hysterical and laughs so loud that its scrunches up her little nose, I wonder "Did she do that? Did she love to laugh like that?" When I watch Eden run, and she is SO FAST, I wonder "Was she an amazing athlete like that?" Thankfully, we have been blessed with a great deal of family history about our girls - more than many adoptive families - but what we have will never be complete and I grieve that. What I grieve even more is that I know my girls will someday ask these same questions as they try to trace back that invisible line to the woman who gave them life. I don't want their sweet hearts to hurt as they try to make sense of who they are without that biological anchor, but I am naive to think there won't be pain later on in life that results from the fact that I, and not another, am their mother. I pray that God will give them wholeness someday in knowing that they were dearly loved by the women in their lives to whom they are tied by invisible chords - chords that are forever tied to the body and chords that are fiercely anchored to the heart.

Just to rub it in: Here is what "snow day" looks like at Junia's preschool. The "snow" had to be trucked in from a local ice rink and most of the kids didn't have anything close to "snow gear", so they went sledding in stretch pants, some without mittens. My kind of winter...

Sunday, February 7, 2010


So I've been thinking again. That always seems to end up leading to a long blog post but apparently not tonight. Now that I have finished cleaning up from bath time and gone to back to Target to dig through the one dollar bins to find one more gift for Junia's Valentine's Day party at preschool (note: breaking one of the gifts you purchased some time ago to avoid the V-Day chaos is not a good plan, especially if you bought the exact amount for your child's classmates) and did about a zillion other things - including catching up on work - I just don't have it in me. I hope to show up here again tomorrow with something thoughtful. For now, here are some fun pics from a lazy Sunday. This is what our "winter" looks like. Also, how cute is this enormous hair clip I found for the Big Bear? You can rock some pretty fantastic stuff with a mop of shiny black ringlets.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Smile and More On Haiti

With all that is going on in the world right now, we could all use a little something to make us smile. It's pretty hard not to smile when a precocious 3 1/2 year old comes down the hall in her jammies adorned in a tutu, high heels and crazy hat. It's also hard not to smile when she asks you to take her picture and then tells her baby to make sure to smile if she wants to get some frozen yogurt later. Pretty charming for a kid who just yesterday had a chest x-ray because she can't seem to stop wheezing, even with antibiotics to fight the boogers that seem hell bent on world domination. It appears that this spunky little lady has been bebopping along, happy as can be, with pneumonia (thankfully it's very mild). The hippie in me wishes the little ladies were living life au natural but right now the realist in me in pretty thankful for strong drugs.

For those of you that are following orphan crisis in Haiti and the huge fiasco caused by "The Ill-Informed American Do-gooders" (sounds like a great name for a band to me), you may want to check out this week's story from Here and Now that features a woman from Save the Children. Also worth checking out are Randy Boehler's and The Howertons' (adoptive parents of a Haitian child brought to the US after the earthquake) comments on Unicef's role in the current situation.

Do your best to find something to smile about today and maybe later you'll get some frozen yogurt out of it.