Sunday, January 20, 2013

Two Babies, and adoption ethics

I want to tell you the story of two babies I met when I spent six weeks in Cameroon in West Africa.  And I want you to read to the end of this post - even if it's hard.  Because the heart of God longs for justice and mercy and so should ours.

As labor pains grew stronger the young mother found comfort in knowing her mother was near.  Grandma Victorine called on Brenda the missionary who had given her a wonderful job working at the missions center.  Brenda came but soon after baby David was born his Mama began hemorrhaging terribly.  Knowing they needed immediate medical care Grandma and Brenda got a taxi and put the bleeding Mama and her newborn baby in and told the driver to head to the nearest hospital.  But when they got there the hospital refused to allow them to come in because the Mama was poor -even though Brenda said she would pay the whole bill and begged them to take her in.  So they started off to another hospital but by then Mama had lost too much blood and she died in Grandma's arms in the back of a dirty taxi.  Baby David was an orphan.  His Mama had died and his father was not in the picture.  If Grandma Victorine hadn't been employed at the mission she probably would have put him up for adoption.  But she wanted him very much and with the help of Brenda and her family she was able to keep and raise her precious grandson.  I watched Grandma carry him everywhere she went and I saw her sing to him and talk to him and the look of love in her eyes was beautiful.  But without the help of the missionaries giving encouragement and employment it could have been a different story.
Victorine and Baby David

We had just entered the orphanage and were sitting on a long wooden bench when I felt the softest touch on my leg.  I looked down and there was a tiny child with big sad eyes looking up at me and just leaning on my leg.  At first I thought she was a boy (she was wearing boys clothes), and I thought she was just wanting attention.  But suddenly I realized she was so weak she was leaning on me to keep from falling down.  So I picked her up.  As I felt her frail little body and looked closely at her hollow eyes I knew something was very wrong.  The baby was very lethargic, her skin was covered in painful looking bumps and she had a high fever.  As she laid her head on my chest I also noticed that her breathing was very shallow and labored.  I honestly thought she was going to die in my arms.  There was no sign of hope in her brown eyes.  As we talked to the orphanage workers we found out that just three days before they had found her alone in an abandoned building eating dirt.  They thought she was about two years old.  They named her Brenda after the missionary.  Two weeks later we were able to visit the orphanage again and I was terrified that I would find she had died.  But as my eyes scanned the group of children I saw her - she didn't even look like the same child.  Her skin was glowing and she had gained weight.  She sat at a big table with other kids eating a doughnut.  But the emptiness was still in her eyes and it broke my heart.  She needed a Mama, not just physical care.  That was in 2001 and still 12 years later I am haunted by her eyes.  I wonder if anyone welcomed her into their home.  I wonder if she was able to have the love she deserved.  My heart still aches when I remember her and it is often.

Baby Brenda
There is a needed discussion happening in the world of international adoption.  It is a painful discussion, a controversial discussion but a very essential discussion.  It reminds me of changes that have (and are) happened with international missions. 

Back in the olden days missionaries from Brittan or America or wherever would sail away to live a life of service to God in a foreign mission field.  But often what would happen would be the white missionary pushing the western traditions down the throats of nationals right along with the Gospel.  There of course were exceptions - but many people were turned off on the idea of missions because respect for the country and the people and traditions was trampled all over in the desire to share the Good News of Jesus.  The Western missionary actually turned people off on the Gospel because of their pride thinking that everyone would be better off if they lived the way we do.  Nationals who loved to dance and drum and wear colorful clothes were told to stand quietly and sing and wear suits and ties.  The choice became choose the One True God or choose your homeland.  Not a very attractive choice.

Long before we began our own adoption journey, I wondered about international adopting.  I saw something similar to what happened with missions going on and it troubled me.  As I have been educating myself more and more I have been even more saddened at what happens in some international adoptions.  I also want to state that I am talking specifically about international adoption.  Domestic adoption is full off needs too and we likely will adopt locally at some point.  An orphan is an orphan wherever they live and we are followers of Christ are called to help orphans.  But helping orphans doesn't always look the same. 

The truth is that not all children in orphanages need to be adopted  by someone from America, or Sweden or wherever.  The truth is that there ARE thousands of orphans all over the world who desperately need families to open themselves to adoption - children who are abused, sick and dying who need to be rescued and adoption is the only way out for them.  But the truth also is that our sometimes prideful attitude can have devastating results on families who are vulnerable in two thirds world countries.  The truth is that a baby like David - who is an orphan but has loving and capable family who want to raise him in his own country does not need to be adopted by me.  Loving Grandma Victorine needed help to be able to raise him and the missionaries were available to give that to her in a perfect job that enabled her to wear her grand baby on her back while cooking etc.  But, sadly often times in African (or other poverty stricken areas) orphanages can be very corrupt and they can do everything they can to talk a vulnerable family out of keeping a baby just because the demand from us is great for new babies who are healthy.  So, rather than adopting the thousands of abandoned and abused children who desperately need homes, in our ignorance and sometimes pride we actually create more orphans by demanding a healthy infant.  It is often ignorance that leads to this.  But it is also often pride.  Yes, we have a lot more money and safety and opportunities than so much of the world.  But, that doesn't mean that we should bring all the children who are in need back to the US with us.  Should we be bringing orphans into our families and churches and country?  YES!  But we need to be aware that not all children are indeed orphans who might be offered to us.  We need to be aware that there is corruption in adopting and we need to pray and research and do all we can to not make the problem worse.  God calls us as His followers to "visit widows and orphans in their distress" (James 1:27)  and many times that means that we need to bring a child or baby into our homes as our own.  But many times I believe that means that we need to reach out to families who want to stay together but just need help.  What if rather than adopting that healthy newborn whose mother has died of AIDS, we find out that her Grandma or Aunt is healthy and able and wants to raise that baby in the family she was born into?  What if we sponsor that child or family?  What if we put some of the thousands we are spending on adopting into giving small business loans and training for a family so that they can afford to purchase formula to feed that baby?  Just because a desperate father brings his newborn to an orphanage doesn't mean he understands or wants that child adopted.  When faced with the choice of letting their baby starve to death or giving up parental rights to keep them alive - wouldn't any loving parent choose life?  That isn't really a choice. But what if there was another choice?  What if the orphanage did all they could to support the family in crisis?  What if there was a milk and medicine program?  What if there was job training?  What is there was another option?  One reason we have been pursuing moving to Zambia is because of the example of the House of Moses.  We want to help where we can and we were attracted to this baby home because they don't seek to adopt out many babies.  Their primary focus is in supporting vulnerable children and families.  Please take some time to look at the website and ask yourself ... what if?

Now, some of you might be fuming right now.  Because you KNOW that there are children who really need to get out of a bad situation, who have no other options and who should be adopted.  So please hear me that I believe in adopting 100%.  I am giving up childhood dreams in order to adopt and be a Mama to children who really need one.  And Africa is where I believe some of our Someday Babies are.  And there are so so many.  There is a definite orphan crisis - and adoption is very close to the heart of God.  When I think of children who need adoption I think of Baby Brenda.  Left to die in an abandoned house.  So hungry she was eating dirt.  Covered with sores and near death.  If her parents were alive and came looking for her - I would fight tooth and nail to never allow her to be with people who would abuse her so.  A loving parent would never intentionally leave a child to die when there are many many orphanages where they could safely drop off a child if they didn't want to or didn't feel they could provide.  There are children who greatly need to be adopted.  And often children who need to be adopted actually have biological parents living.  Parents who abuse them, starve them, or leave them alone to die. Please hear me on this: I am NOT saying that the only children who should be adopted are children who are orphaned by death.

The worldwide orphan crisis feels daunting.  It's a huge huge problem.  As followers of Christ we need to examine our hearts and be part of the solution.  If our part is in supporting vulnerable families and poor communities or opening our heart and home to children who have no options.  It could be done by welcoming orphaned kids into your Sunday school classroom, by supporting families who are adopting, but starting an orphan care ministry at church, by donating coats and pajamas to foster kids, by sponsoring a child, by praying.  It's not an optional thing for followers of Christ - we are all told to visit widows and orphans in their distress (James 1:27).  It's true Christianity. 

So what practically can we do:
1. PRAY, pray and pray some more.  If you are in the process of adopting PRAY.  If you know someone in the process, PRAY.  The truth is that we can't know all of the background on every child that might be offered to us - but God can.  Ask for clear direction and truth when He gives it to you!
2.  Use agencies who have good track records.
3.  Look for orphanages who strive to support the communities they are located in - not just orphanages who adopt all children out to "wealthy" Westerners.  Look into the community if you can and find out what the orphanage is doing.  Find out how the orphanage owners are doing?  Are they living in comfort while children in the orphanage are wearing rags?  Ask God to show you what you need to see. 
4.  If possible, adopt where you live!  Many missionaries in Africa end up coming home with a child or two.  They are on the ground, in relationships with rescue home and they have the deep advantage of knowing what is going on, and being able to see what children need them.  I know it's not always possible to move to Africa or Asia or wherever --- but if you are living there look around and be open to what God has for you!
5.  Be willing to accept children who might not appear "perfect".  Many of the children available for adoption are not newborns.  Many have health problems.  Pray for God to give you His heart for children who need you - and then be willing to act even if it isn't what you first envisioned.
6.  Don't give in to corruption.  Have the correct paperwork.  Make sure the orphanage has the correct paperwork.  Don't rush things or pay bribes.  Unfortunately, the more corrupt adoptions that take place the higher the risk of that country closing its doors to adoption completely.  Don't be part of that!  Take the higher road working with reputable agencies and orphanages so that children who need homes won't be trapped in a country that is closed because of child trafficking!!
7.  Pray some more.

I hope that you read this will grace and saw my heart.  There are some fuming arguments going on in the adoption world, and rather than add in an argumentative note my desire is to help push towards better adoption options, to help open people's eyes to the vast need for adoptive families, but also the deep need for support for families who should be allowed to stay together.  I want to challenge followers of Jesus everywhere to open our eyes and to not be part of the problem.  This is only possible through the wisdom and guidance of God - and He is a good God who loves every child.  Let's be part of His justice and mercy to the fatherless.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Stretch Marks

I've always been amazed at how a pregnant woman's belly grows over the nine months before the baby is born.  I remember looking at my sister's adorable belly when she was about ready to pop - and just thinking it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  I could see my niece's little bum poking out and it was just incredible.  I often hear women complain about stretch marks from pregnancy (and I am sure I would too if my life had included the natural way of having children), but I always feel a little twinge of jelousy.  Because even stretch marks are part of the amazing thing that happens to a womans body!  They are signs and reminders that the woman's belly was pushed and stretched farther than that mommy thought was possible - and the outcome was a beautiful baby. 

Stretch marks are gorgeous to me.

I was reading a blog called Kissies From Katie and one post stood out to me because Katie (a single woman who has adopted 13 little girls while living in Uganda) shared (August 15, 2011) about one of her daughters having lived through suffering that no child should have to face.  She shared about how she longed to be there to wipe away her little girl's tears during the years before she was her mommy.  She said that adoptive mamas have "different kind of stretch marks" and even though I am on the beginning of this journey, I can already feel the stretch marks where my heart didn't think it could stretch another inch.

In our decision not to adopt a healthy newborn here in the states this year a big part of me that had held onto the dream of a newborn baby got stretched.  (and even with how painful that choice was I feel more peace every day and am excited to see how God works this situation out for His glory!) That part of me that I am ashamed to say has felt entitled because I can't carry a baby to say that I should definitely be one to get a newborn has been stretched.  In the back of my mind I have thought that someone who already has had babies should adopt the ones who aren't newborns.  Shame on me!  I am NOT entitled to anything!  Every breath is a gift, and I am so glad that God used this stretching situation to knock me down a few notches.  I needed it, and I will probably need it again (yah, I'm on the stubborn side).  It is stretching for me to know that while some are given adoptions of newborns (and that is a beautiful gift and those babies need forever families too!), but I need to be willing to do what God has put on our hearts at this time, and that likely doesn't mean a newborn. It stretches me to accept that some of our Babies are probably on this earth already.  It stretches me to know that they will go through someone very sad and painful before they call us Mama and Papa.  It stretches me to see siblings and friends with growing families, preparing to give birth to newborns. (yes it does stretch me even though I rejoice and LOVE seeing all these new babies and feel total joy for each birth) It stretches me when I see pictures of babies on facebook with documentation of every first - steps, tooth, haircut, Christmas ... and knowing that somewhere out there our Babies are having firsts too, firsts that we will never know.  It stretches me to know that people may hurt our Babies and we won't be there to defend them.  It stretches me to know that our Babies will be sick and we won't be there to cuddle them.  It stretches me to think that our Babies are going to sleep and we won't be there to tuck them in at night. 

It would be easier to not have to think about all this, but because I have loved our Someday Babies for years now, and because I have covered them and their birth parents with prayer for 8 years - my heart is united to them even before we meet.  And I can't love them and remain unstretched.

I praise God that He is with them and that He is working on me and my sweet Farmer Boy, preparing all of us for the day we will be a family.  Until then, I'll continue being stretched and being grateful for the stretch marks.

Saturday, January 5, 2013


"The more possessions you own, the more your possessions own you".  I heard this quote years ago on an Adventures in Odyssey" episode (I listened to Adventures in Odyssey til I was older than I would like to admit!) and it stuck with me all these years.

As my sweet Farmer Boy is busy sending letters of interest to schools in Africa, starting his student teaching, and gearing up for his LAST SEMESTER of college, I am starting to look around at all the stuff we have accumulated.  I must admit, the thought of packing up all this stuff makes me dizzy.  Bleh - I dislike packing!  As we think about a big move to Africa (Lord willing), I can't imagine how much stuff we will have to leave in storage as we will just be taking a couple of suitcases when we go.  So my New Year's job is to begin downsizing.  It's refreshing to get rid of stuff and feel more free! 

The problem I keep facing is how sentimental I am!  I still have petals from the first wild rose my Farmer Boy picked for me about a year before we started dating .. thankfully I pressed them in the book of Ruth so they aren't taking up any room. ;)  More difficult are the many stuffed animals I have from childhood, the baby stuff I have been saving for our Someday Babies (which feel like more our Maybe Babies now), and the cards written by people I love.  That isn't even touching the dishes and kitchen stuff!  So, I think what helps me is thinking that we can give away some of our stuff to someone who can use it!  I've always been the kind of person who believes that the good china, that special dress, the quilt great grandma made should be used because every day is a special occasion.  I hate to think of waiting all my life to use something special and then never get to enjoy the beauty or fun ... Because of this I hate to think of dishes and useful things of ours sitting in boxes while we live in a different continent.  I'm not really sure what we will do, but I hope that we can give a lot of our stuff to others to use!  I wish we had a little house to set up cute with all our darling wedding gifts and things we have collected and use it as a guest house for missionaries visiting the states, or someone who needs a place to live ... wouldn't that be so fun!?

Well, this is a rather rambled post - just something that has been on my mind a lot over this past week and probably will be on my mind for some time to come as we prepare to move.  I don't want to be owned by things that are not even close to the importance of the people we come into contact with on this earth.