our work

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Who Cares?

In 2013, my family sold all our stuff in America to embark on a life in The Philippines, the country of my husband's birth.
That life was to be  committed to serving children in orphanages who have visual impairments or blindness.
We had an organization of sorts, that committed to helping us raise our support. We had some money of our own to help us get started and we had a good working knowledge of the country's orphanage system as we had already adopted from The Philippines four times prior to our "big move".
But we were not prepared.
We were not prepared for the ministry God had already expertly carved out for us. And it was not with visually-impaired children.  It was the most unlikely, under-served, cast-aside group  that we have since come to love with all of our beings.


We were led into this ministry in the most unusual way.  Every Saturday, we would drive to the orphanages where we were already serving a child or two, pick up the children and bring them to our home for a day of classes that included academic tutoring, Bible study, a healthy meal, art and physical education.  Many Saturdays, after the long drive, we would stop at McDonald's for a treat after the last child was dropped back off at his orphanage. At McDonald's, we noticed many dirty, loud, seemingly "high" boys in the parking lot begging or helping to park cars (guiding them and expecting a few pesos in return).  One day, my husband invited three of them inside for lunch. One was a much older boy living as a girl. He was wearing very short shorts, a little bit of makeup and jewelry clearly intended for a female. He was with two younger boys.  Not only did we invite them in, we talked to them about their lives. We asked where they slept and how they made the money they needed to buy food.  They were very open with us. Shockingly open.
Open enough to break my heart in a million pieces and make me wish I had a shelter to invite them into on the spot.

That was very naive thinking on my part. I now know you can't just walk around inviting children off the street to come and live in a shelter but, at that time, I just felt a fire light in my heart for these boys. And that fire didn't die. It only grew as we passed more and more street children and began to really NOTICE them. It exploded in me as we visited a government shelter that rounds up these children periodically. We started to look for them everywhere we went.  We began to talk to them. Buy their lunch. Ask about their hopes and dreams for the future. Ask what they wanted to be when they grew up.
The saddest revelation of all . . . not one of the children we asked could come up with a single thing he wanted to BE.
Ask any American child what he wants to be when he grows up. You will get answers like "a doctor", "an astronaut" or "a ballerina".  They have a dreams. Goals.
Ask a Filipino street child and you get stared at like you have three heads!
Who has time to think about what he wants to BE with a first-grade education and what-will-I-eat-today on the brain?
Now, ask that same child how much he can cash in a kilo of scrap metal or plastic for and you'll have a conversation! Ask him which restaurants give out their leftovers at the end of the day and, watch him brighten up!
For us, that was  just unacceptable. For us as parents, as Believers in Jesus Christ and simply as human beings, the life these boys were living was not okay.
So, we contacted our local Department Of Social Welfare and Development to find out what we needed to do in order to open our own shelter for street children. We contacted our initial sending organization and shared our passion with them for these street boys and were informed we'd need to part ways. And it was with much stress and some fear that Mercy House was born.

One of the biggest discouragements as we set off to reach these boys came from a well-meaning friend who is very wise in terms of fund raising. We knew we would have to raise our own funds as we no longer had a sending organization. This friend said to us "it's easy to fund raise if you have babies and girls in your care. People love to donate to babies and girls. But older boys? It's going to be an uphill battle."

I believed her.

She has experience in this arena.  I felt like we were doomed but, as long as our own initial funds held up, maybe we could help a few street boys turn their lives around, expose them to the gospel and do a little "good" before we had to go back to the US, tails between our legs, and start our lives over.

 Because WHO CARES about street boys? They are dirty, rude, spend their days bugging local vendors, sniffing solvent from plastic bottles to get high, committing theft and vandalism, peeing in public, cursing at each other loudly while patrons try to enter and exit stores and restaurants.
They have often been put into government shelters (from which they run away at first opportunity), been involved in sexual crimes - either as victims or perpetrators, and been rejected again and again by their families and then by the public that surrounds them. There is a nickname for them here that translates to "fog boys" because they just hang around pointlessly.
They are an annoyance here as you can't stop at a stop light without some of them washing your car windows and expecting payment, whether you wanted your windows washed or not.
So, WHO CARES about boys like this? They aren't little anymore. They should take responsibility for their own choices!  Maybe they LIKE living on the street!
Who cares?  God cares.  He loves these boys. He made them for a purpose. He gave them life and has a plan for them.   They may not be tiny, helpless babies but they are just children in so many ways.
When we bring them into our center, we get to see, up close and personal, how they shift from "thug" to "child" in a very short time.
We get to watch a miracle each time a street boy comes in and begins to submit to our authority, come to us for help, let us meet his needs, TRUST us to be kind and take care of him! We are privileged to watch their disbelief and then understanding as we teach them that God loves them and that their lives can be a testimony of redemption.  That they were made with a PURPOSE.
Three years into this ministry. It still hasn't gotten "old".  We are revived with each new admission.
We are astounded every time a child, who has been his own "boss" for so long, accepts discipline and correction without running away or lashing back.   We are humbled when one of them expresses a desire to have his sins forgiven and start a new life as a follower of Jesus.
And getting to baptize a child whom we once fed on the street!!! There are few joys that compare!

We have found, underneath all the problems and poor adult choices and petty crimes, lies a precious child who longs to redeem some lost years. He wants to play with action figures, draw and paint, be tucked in at night, have his cuts and scrapes bandaged and just be a child.
So, if you live where they do, and  you see a street boy, take a minute. Talk to him. Ask him what he wants to be. Ask him why he's working instead of going to school. You will definitely be surprised at HIS surprise.

Because people usually don't. They just keep moving. It's only "fog".

Monday, August 22, 2016

HE'S BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!

The title I wanted so so very badly to be able to share for my next blog post is, in fact, the title of THIS blog post!  Arjay is back at Mercy House!  I know some of you precious readers prayed with us for this very thing. For you, I am abundantly grateful.

And here is how it all went down . . .
Three nights ago, I received an urgent text from Arjay's father.  He lives and works far from the rest of the family and his text was begging us to go pick up Arjay from the family home and bring him into Mercy House. Arjay had been fighting with his mother, calling her awful names, pushing her in the heat of anger and threatening the other children in the family.
The mother packed up four of her other children and left the home, leaving Arjay there alone.

We texted the mother and father back and forth and agreed to go  and counsel with Arjay.  We informed the parents that we are not a jail and if he refuses to come into shelter, we will leave him right where we found him. We don't "snatch" kids off the street. Ever.

The following day, my social worker went to the home and nobody was there. She searched the "normal" places the street kids congregate and, no Arjay.  So she came back feeling a little defeated.

Today, we decided to go together back to the family home and have one last counseling session with Arjay if we could find him and with his mother if we could not. After that, his case would be closed for us unless the city task force rounded him up and called us to fetch him.

As we got nearer to the shanty where Arjay's family lives, we could see it was empty.  But right out front stood Arjay!!!! He came running when we called him. He was absolutely filthy.
He told us he has been sleeping in the back of a truck at the gas station because he's scared to be home alone and he's been parking cars for money in the evenings.

Until last night.

He got into an argument with an older street boy last night and that boy tried to stab him!  Arjay ran, terrified, to the Barangay Hall and they took a report from him.  They also informed him that if he continues to live as a street child, he will eventually be killed or jailed.

And then we came . . .
We knew from the look of him that he has not been faring well. He is covered in infected bug bites. He has lost weight. He is much more subdued than we have ever seen him.
But sitting in the back of our white "Mercy House" truck, he confessed that he misses all of us and he really and truly wants to come back. 

That's all we needed to hear!
He shared with us that he had not eaten in awhile and we took him right to McDonald's. After eating, we brought him back to Mercy House with us.
We counseled with all of the kids, reminding them that everyone needs second chances.

And now, he's here.
We have no idea what the Lord will have us do and for how long but we are praying for clear guidance and that we will be able to serve this child in every way that he needs.

What a privilege to get to pick up where we left off.
What a gift!

Don't stop praying for this boy. When God puts a child this heavily on our hearts and troubles us about him long after he's gone, we can be pretty sure that he has a BIG purpose.

So, it is with GREAT joy, gratitude to the Lord, and a little bit of "pinching myself" that I type these words just one more time . . . HE'S BACK!

He cleans up well

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A God of Second Chances . . . And Third, And Fourth and More

If you read the blog post right before this one. You already know Arjay. You know how he came into care at our center and that he was a MAJOR behavior challenge.  You know that he was reunited with a relative who truly wanted to help him and seemed very prepared to handle his high energy and behaviors.

What you don't know is this . . .
after just ONE WEEK with his relative, Arjay ran away.  He went right back to the street.

We were with a visiting medical team at a local pharmacy. I was crossing the street to enter the pharmacy and skipping down the street right in front of me is a very dirty, shoeless, orange-haired street boy.  It was, of course, Arjay!   I called to him and he smiled the most genuine smile and came running toward me.  I wrapped him up in a tight hug and said "I miss you so much" in Tagalog.

I asked him to please come over to the car so Daddy Anthony could talk to him. He hesitated and looked a little fearful - worried he would be scolded for being back in the street.

He wasn't.

We talked to him about the reasons he left his relative's home. We asked what he was doing with his days. We reminded him that he could easily be picked up by the city's task force and placed into a shelter for youth in conflict with the law - a VERY rough place with much older boys and a lot of victimization. 

And then we asked the question that all of this chit-chat was heading toward

"Do you want to come back to Mercy House or stay in the street?"

He thought for awhile, mentioned not wanting to leave his friend who will be alone in the street without him and he said "the street".  
My heart broke a little. I know what awaits him out there. There are dangers he has yet to experience but probably will - assault by police, older men, drug addicts, being robbed or used in awful ways.

But we don't force any child into care. So I kissed him and told him I loved him and he skipped away.

In the two months between that day and today, I prayed often for this child. He never left my heart or mind.  I need more time with him . . .

So, yesterday, my social worker and I paid a visit to his mother to bring her some vitamins for her children. We planned to ask her if she had seen Arjay and if she knows where he is. 

We approached the home and who answered the makeshift door? Arjay himself! 

His big smile revealed how happy he was to see us.  Little did he know, I was probably a thousand times happier to see him.
His mother informed us he had just come home the day before in the middle of the night after being on the streets in Manila. 
She also indicated she does NOT want him there. She has to feed him, and discipline him, and she is too burdened to do either very well.

The Family Home

We offered to have him back at Mercy House. His mother tried very hard to encourage him to go. 
He told us he DOES want to go to school (did I mention he's EXTREMELY smart?), he told us he misses everyone at Mercy House. He kept making eye contact and looking away. Again and again.

But in the end, he was unsure about whether he wanted to come back so we discouraged him from coming.  We told him that he is welcome anytime and that if he showed up outside our gate, he would welcomed. 
But we also told him that he needs to be SURE.  No doubt about getting off the street. No "maybe" or "next time" or "probably".
So, the only thing we can do is pray and wait.
And ask YOU to pray.
Please pray for Arjay to come back.
He knows he is loved and wanted here.  But he also knows there are rules and a bed time and chores and accountability. All things he hates and does not have to contend with in the street. 

Freedom now or a future later? 

That is the burden of choice placed on the shoulders of a 12 year old who has neither the insight nor the maturity to make it. 

We covet your prayers. What a joy it will be if the next blog post I write bears the title "He's Back".

We don't give up easily. We pursue. We forgive. We love hard and overlook offenses.

After all. They are still just children  .   .   .

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Never Enough

Admission Day

 April 19, 2016. The local government in our new town contacted Mercy House seeking help for placement of a 12 year old child who had been on and off the streets for FOUR years. Do the math . . ... FOUR YEARS. That means he began to live the life of a beggar, scavenger, self-protective, "look out for number one" child at the age of eight. Eight . . .

He was so guarded when he came to the center for the first day. He had tears in his eyes but would not let them fall.
The other children tried to welcome him and offer him clothing from their own closets since we live far from the market now, didn't know he was staying and needed a little time before shopping.
He refused the clothing. He tried to fist fight with the biggest resident we have.

On the first day.

He needed to establish himself as "top dog" so he would not be hurt or taken advantage of.
He wouldn't look in our eyes when spoken to.  He would not come when called.  He wanted nothing to do with us.  He asked our caregiver how he might get back to the place where he was in the street. He asked if there was a jeep or a bus from Mercy House to the street. 

We informed him that there is no bus or jeep but, as we tell all the children, we are not a jail. If he would please just stay for one week and if he is still unhappy at the end of a week, we will take him wherever he wants to go within reason.  He agreed.

By the end of the third day, he was coming when called. He gave a few reluctant hugs and started to obey us when we asked him to tend to his personal hygiene.  His resistance was wearing out.

By day five, we asked him if he would like to have a visit to his family home and be a part of some counseling and planning for his new, better, brighter future. 
He agreed to go.
His "home" when he was not in the street

This is the home he led us to. Inside was a mother ready to give birth any day, a grandmother and many young siblings.  We talked and prayed with them and left feeling pretty hopeless. The needs were OVERWHELMING and the notion that this child could ever return here was dismissed. He was not wanted or tolerated. He had caused too much trouble and the family was exhausted.

We Understood.

We expected this child would live with us while we started the long road to either family reunification or adoption. We planned for his school enrollment, had his medical check up completed, fashioned a nice bed, purchased clothing and shoes and prepared for a minimum 2-year stay with us.

And that was fine. It's what we do.

Although this child proved to be one of our more challenging in regard to behavior, and seemed to have little desire to change, we continued to include him in every aspect of life at Mercy House- chores, tutoring, church, devotions - and he made all of those things a LOT harder than they had been prior to his arrival.

And then "Auntie Andrea" arrived from the US.  He liked her immediately. He wanted to sit by her and hold her hand. He showed more affections to her than he had to any of us up to that point. 
Thankfully, she allowed it. And even MORE thankfully, she bought him his very own Tagalog Bible.

We discovered he is an excellent reader!

Auntie Andrea went back to the US and he missed her. But he continued to read the Bible she gave him. He asked us to help him find John 3:16 and Romans 8:28 and Matthew 25:40. This child who seemed to NEVER be listening and rarely to be engaged in his environment was like a sponge, soaking it all in and keeping it in his own quiet way.

And we saw changes in him that we now recognize as a child starting to understand he is loved by God and created for a purpose.
Just a month into his stay with us, the "big boys" of Mercy House were invited to go to a Christian camp a few hours from our center.  He attended.  He came back very excited about the things he had learned. He told us he wanted to follow Jesus and have a life that is committed to him.

We were thrilled. 

Generally, "Daddy Anthony" will counsel with children who are expressing their desire to follow Jesus. We want to be so careful. No "easy believeism"!  We want to make sure they understand what they are expressing and that they are discipled. We want them to know what blessings are bestowed on them at the time of salvation and what the cost of obedience amounts to. 

Before we could have that conversation with this child, we were informed that a relative came forward who knew little of the severity of this child's situation and when she found out, wanted  to assume responsibility for him!

We were happy.
And sad.

This is what we DO. It's our greatest joy when  a child can be united with biological family and raised in his own country and culture. Yes, we love adoption. But it's not "first choice".  

Our hearts were both joyful and heavy as we met together with the biological relatives, local government representatives and realized this family was serious, committed and understood the needs of this child.  I never knew you could have joy and sadness at the same time until beginning this work.

You can.

Our Last Day

So, yesterday, we said "goodbye" to this precious treasure of a boy and entrusted him to his biological relatives. But more than that, we entrusted him to his Creator who still has that plan and  purpose for this life.

But, for me, it just wasn't enough.  Not enough time with this child. Not enough discipleship. Not enough training in manners and study habits and how to be respectful to others.

He wasn't "done" yet. 

I wasn't done yet.

But God, in His infinite wisdom, placed this child in our care for just one month and eight days.

For me, never enough.
For our Heavenly Father, who could do all of this without our help, no doubt, it was
Please pray for this child and a successful upbringing in the care of his relatives.
Please pray they are humble enough to call us if they need us.
We begged them to.
Part of me hopes they do. The selfish part who really loved getting to watch this boy change and grow. 
Now that I know this boy, I can not imagine him wasting his potential in the street when he is brimming with possibilities.

As always, thank you for supporting our work at Mercy House so we can be here when called upon in situations like this.
Without YOU, praying and giving and keeping us encouraged by reaching out, we're done.

To financially support our work at Mercy House, please click the link below:
Mercy House 

Or log on to: www.mercyhouseph.org under "donate"

Friday, February 12, 2016

Easy Come, Easy Go (And Other Misconceptions)

There has been much "giving" and some painful "taking away" these last few weeks at our shelter for street children, Mercy House.  I am both sad and happy to share the events with you in hopes that your heart for the fatherless will be stirred to prayer and action.

Because we never want to work alone.
And we would not make it here on our own.

If you read my previous blog post, you know that we admitted two boys in mid January. Those boys were right from the street and the older one was already deeply involved in using drugs and collecting revenue from the younger street children by force.
Three of our MH boys. The two new ones are the younger child on the far right and the one in red next to him. 

They stayed for almost two full weeks. They went to school. They attended church and devotions. They rarely presented behavior problems and they gave us hugs and willingly did their chores.
It appeared everything was going well. But the older child asked often to use the computer. He has facebook and used to spend his days on the computer at the local internet store after he begged for (or extorted) enough money to buy several hours.  He was clearly unhappy that we do not let the children at Mercy House be online. We just can't. He asked often to visit his family, although he did not want to stay there. He asked several times if we could provide the siblings some food. We did.
Then, all of a sudden, on a Monday, 12 days after admission, one of my older Mercy House boys brought the two new boys to me. He said "they want to go back to the street."
I thought maybe they were kidding.   They were not.
Mercy House is not a jail and given that the older boy, Mark, had run away from his past shelter more than ten times, I knew he was going to go if he wanted to.  I told them that I wished they would stay but I understood if they couldn't.
And they left, taking nothing but the clothes they were wearing and the flip flops on their feet.
We waited to see if they were coming back after a little walk.
They did not.
So we set out to find them in the streets where we always saw them and, lo and behold, there they were. They came to us with no attempt to run or hide. They knew we loved them and meant no harm.
Mark, the older boy,  was passing out envelopes to the younger street kids called "sobre".  The envelopes have a message written on them asking for money for food. The younger street children are expected to return those envelopes to Mark at the end of the day and he will give them a little bit of money and keep the rest for himself to buy his solvent and computer time.
the envelopes "sobre" that we took from one of our new admissions

The younger child was eager to come back to Mercy House with us. He was dirty, hungry and still wearing the clothes he had on the day before when he left. His flip flops were gone and he was walking between my social worker and I as we took him to McDonald's without even looking back at the group of boys, Mark included, who were calling his name.
always a second chance

While we fed him, he confided in us that he did not want to run away but Mark convinced him they would find his older brother, who he loves and is committed to. This young child wanted his family ties and agreed to leave with Mark. They did find his older brother and after a small meal, this young boy led us to his brother and we spent some good time getting to know them both and their stories.
big brother, Issac, coming from behind a building where the street children congregate

They expressed willingness to come into shelter with us and, since we had already investigated family ties when little brother came to us two weeks prior, we knew there was no capable family willing to care for these boys. There was plenty of family to be found. Just nobody willing. Some had tried and labeled these boys "too difficult" to keep at home, "disobedient" or "pasaway (naughty)".
So they came to us.
But not alone.
They introduced us to two of their friends, another set of brothers. These boys are 7 and 10 and have been on the street for about three years. They also asked for help. We recognized them from the government shelter.
brother one, age 10

brother 2, age 7

These boys were pleading with us to "adopt them".  They shared with us that their father is in jail and their mother left them. They were left in the care of a sick grandmother who could not feed them, so they went into the streets to beg in order to eat.  They met other street children who showed them the ropes and they migrated to Dasmarinas, a place where there is a large community of true street kids - not the ones who go home at night. The ones who have no place to call home.
We have to use great wisdom and discernment in admitting children, rescuing, right from the street.
There is risk in taking children in who have loving parents but just want to sniff and play and be "free".  So immediately upon admission, we inform all the authorities at the local Barangays where these children originated that we have the kids and how any searching family can find us.
We then go to the Barangays within a week of admission to search for ourselves.
Yesterday, we had a very tearful reunion with the ailing grandmother who wanted so much to care for these two precious boys but simply could not.
she was so relieved to see these boys healthy and cared for

my amazing social worker having prayer with the family

And now, we have unearthed a host of new needs and a deeper call to serve. This grandmother has tremors and appears to be extremely arthritic. She told us the older of these two children was her caregiver when he was still in the home. He took her to the restroom. He helped her eat.
There are others doing those tasks now but just seeing our new resident painted in that caregiving light deepened our love for him on the spot.
And that is where we now stand.
One boy gone. Four new boys who need us.
My own personal and somewhat selfish obsession with "the one who got away" . . .
Mark, white shirt, in school where he should still be 
I know in my heart and have always known "you can't save them all". But I so desperately wanted Mark to stay at Mercy House.  He is such a smart boy- academically. He is still a CHILD in so many ways. And maybe we will get our chance. I would take him back.
 Maybe we won't get another chance with him. My prayer is that seeds were planted during his time here that will make him grow to hate street life and long for a relationship with his Heavenly Father.  Maybe I won't even live to see this child become someone different.
Maybe he won't.
But we will continue to pray and reach out anytime we see him.
Upon his admission to Mercy House, my social worker counseled with him like she does every child. They fill out a questionnaire together.  One of the question is "who is at least one person in your life who has helped you?".
Mark's answer:  "nobody".
He can no longer say that in truth.  For that, we are grateful.

Please pray for our four new boys. No longer street children. Now learning to live as sons in a family.  Pray that they came to us in time. Pray that they lose their taste for all things "street" and, as always and most importantly, they see God's hand in their lives and are drawn to Jesus for life.

He gives. He takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Sunday, January 24, 2016


For those of you with hearts for the poor, the orphan and the abandoned children of the world, we want to share with you  the path of one boy, from street child to sheltered child.

You may wonder HOW we find the children who need to come into Mercy House. Yes, we live in a place where we see children begging and working on the streets all of the time. But not ALL of them are actually "street children".  Many of them go home at night, empty out their pockets to help an impoverished family and sleep under a roof of sorts. With parents. And food. Some even go to school.

Those who don't, those who sleep outside of businesses and restaurants, in piles like puppies with other street children, those who can not go home because there is no home- or no parents - or abuse and starvation and drug addiction - THOSE are the children we seek to serve inside Mercy House.

And just over a week ago. That is who we admitted. His name is Mark.
We initially met Mark inside this government shelter for street children. That was almost three years ago. In this photo, he is in a yellow t-shirt on the far right. A smallish boy with light skin and a short haircut.
He had the same story most of the kids in the government shelter have. He is the child of drug addicts and at home, there is no food, no supervision and lots of heartache. So he took his chances on the street. On any given weekday, the government task force comes out to round up street kids and deposit them in this center. The kids often run away and are "re rounded up" multiple times. Mark is also a serial runaway.
We met him on the streets several times. Most recently, a month ago. And he looked nothing like the sweet-faced, fair-skinned little child we remembered from the government shelter.
He was thin, filthy, looked like he hadn't slept in a long time, was high on solvent and actively sniffing from a bottle held in his hand when we saw him. He recognized us and waved and smiled. It took us a few moments to recognize him because of his changed appearance.  We invited him inside McDonald's to eat a meal with us.  He told us that a month prior to that day, he had been released from the government shelter back into the care of his parents. He stayed home for exactly two days when the drug abuse and lack of food at home made the street a better option.   He spent his days begging for (or stealing) money in order to buy solvent to sniff and to purchase time at the computer shop. He had been my facebook friend for a few weeks and I wondered how a child with such a tumultuous life had the ability to have a facebook account.  Now I know.
After we heard his story, fed him a meal and prayed with him, we left him and went back to Mercy House. He had already sent us a facebook message asking us to "adopt" him.  We asked him to meet us the next day for counseling at the same McDonald's and he did.  We continued to talk to him, pray with him and let him know the rules and expectations inside our center.  We asked him to meet us again on another day for admission. We knew better than to admit him on the spot the first day. He needed to weigh his options. Think it over. Decide for himself.
He was there. On time.  And he was higher than we had ever seen him. It was unfair for us to ask him to stop sniffing solvent while he was still on the street.
Solvent takes away your hunger pains.  And your fear of the bigger kids on the street. And your thoughts about your parents and siblings.  It makes you feel like "Goku" (an anime character who has super powers) in Mark's own words.
So we brought a very high, red-eyed, dirty boy home with us to  go through withdrawal and get himself together.
Admission Day 

 Mark took a shower, got a quick tour of the center and asked if he could watch TV. He immediately fell asleep on the floor in front of the TV and slept for 17 hours STRAIGHT.  He woke up only once to be led up to his bed after using the restroom.  I checked on him often during the night, to feel his breathing, see if he was cold, find out if he wanted to wake up and eat something.  He just wanted to sleep.
The next day, we set out treating the many wounds on his body.
Many of the wounds were older but encrusted with dirt.  We were horrified to find out one of his wounds was a bite from a street dog. It took place long enough ago that rabies treatment would not have been effective for him.  So we prayed.
We decided to spend a week getting to know Mark, helping him to put on some weight (at 12 years old, he weighed 48 lbs upon admission) and finding out about his life both on and off the streets.
At the end of the first week, we asked him to lead us to his family home. His older brother was there holding his youngest brother, who was covered with a "mystery rash" of pus-filled sores.
The baby had sores on his scalp, and all over his body. The child caring for him had the same sores on his own feet and hands, as did the other sister.  The mother led me into a dark, dingy room and removed her shirt to show me a horribly infected breast oozing pus and a pregnant belly she claimed was six-months along but was only a small bump.  She is a meth user.
Their rented room is in the back of the alley  above and has no running water or electricity. The restroom is a 5-gallon paint bucket around a corner. The conditions here were dismal. I fetched my wound-care kit from the car and covered the mother with neosporin and clean gauze. I dared not treat the baby or children not knowing what they had.  After sharing the pictures with my friend who had been working with the poor for a long time. She confirmed it was mamasok (impetigo) and gave me a recipe of a cream to make.  We made it and took it to the family the next day.
A few days later, we visited them again, brought food and saw a HUGE improvement in the condition of all the family members.  Mark was relieved and happy to see his siblings healing up.
Mark has been to church with us once since admission, been a part of devotion eight times and asked me on four separate occasions what it means to be a Christian.  On January 22nd, Daddy Anthony shared a clear and concise plan of salvation from the Bible with Mark. He was ready to surrender his life to Jesus, experience forgiveness of his sins and start again!
Mark will be discipled at Mercy House.
He just started formal school today.
He eats three meals (with seconds every time) and takes daily vitamins.
He showers, brushes his teeth and has clean clothes each day.
He is a great dancer who leads the other kids in learning new dances.
He has a smile that can melt your heart and a tiny voice that is so sweet.
He gave me my first hug, unrequested, three days ago and I wanted to cry for joy.
Any life can be redeemed. There is no child "too street wise" or "too drug addicted" that the long arm of the Lord can not reach him.
 There is no sin too big that our God can not forgive it.  There is no family too broken that God can not mend it.  We are trusting in Him to use us as tools in His hand to reach out to Mark and his family until such a time that we know in our hearts they are unwilling and hardened and do not want to be helped. But even then, GOD STILL CAN.

Won't you join us in committing to pray for Mark and his whole family. There are five born children and one pre-born. There are two meth-addicted parents and a level of poverty that still sends shock waves into my heart, even though I've seen it before. 
Please pray that Mark's new-found faith is genuine and that he can grasp the deep love of Jesus for him. He hasn't felt much love in his own life.
We don't know the plans the Lord has for Mark and his family but we know that He led them to us. And us to them. To serve the best we can through the power at work within us - not our own.

As always, this is ALL HIM and little of us.  Just as it should be.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Squeezed and Molded: THE EARLY DAYS

Adoption is hard.  If you don't think so, you probably haven't done it.

And I'm not talking about the waiting and the fund raising and the endless prayers and worries and email checking and agency calling. Yeah. That's hard, too.

I'm talking about the ACTUAL bringing of a new child into an already-functioning family.
It's hard.  Pretty much for everyone. It's also amazing and miraculous. Even in the hard parts.

Before my family's move to The Philippines to start our own child caring agency, I was called on often by the adoption agency we used in the US to adopt our own four sons, Christian Adoption Services.  I was called on to mentor or walk with families who had just brought their children home and were struggling with some aspect of the transition.  I loved that ministry. I saw good fruit as families "got the hang of it".

I struggled with our own transition.  ALL FOUR TIMES.  Sometimes the struggles were tiny but often they were big.  And, don't get me wrong, I loved my sons. I wanted them. I would not have given them back for all the tea in China.  Most days.

If you are reading this and your adoption has been EASY, please bow your head right now and thank God for that. You are in the minority. In fact, I have never met anyone like you.  Every family who has ever confided in me about the early days of their adoptions sang very similar songs:

"This is hard"
"Why do I feel this way?"
"What have we done to our family?"
"I'm tired".

But those same families expressed peace and the deep knowledge that they were all right where they were supposed to be, on the many good days post adoption. 
I believe there are several reasons that the early days of adoption are hard for most families.  And I believe it is NORMAL for adoption to be "hard" in many aspects.
If it were easy, everyone would do it.
1. Unmet Expectations:  Before our children are home, we build a fantasy around them. We imagine how they will sound, feel, react and even smell.  And it is almost never a true picture.  Our fantasies rarely include the nitty gritty about another human - handling his dirty laundry, bathroom accidents, bad breath, rotten teeth or tantrums, poor sleep patterns,  "weird" eating habits and the time it takes to just warm up to another person.  These can all be big wet blankets on the party that has been going on in our minds for upwards of a year. 
Suggestion: start BEFORE your child comes home imaging him as a child who might struggle. Think of ways you will comfort him when he's crying for no reason. Make a plan, ON PAPER of some strategies you will use if he clams up and won't speak to you for a little while. Put into place a  "go to" plan for your other children if they encounter any negative behaviors in their new sibling that they are worried about. Include the whole family in these discussions of "what if . . .".  It may feel like focusing on the negative when what we really want to do is float on a cloud of dreamy love.  But, trust me, it will help balance expectations and give everyone a plan of action if early struggles crop up.  It will also paint a picture of the child as a regular child with regular child behaviors.
2. Sheer Exhaustion: If your child is from another time zone and he's not sleeping in your time zone, everybody pays.  If you traveled around the world to fetch him and you had to "hit the ground running" when you returned home, everybody pays with interest.  
Suggestion: REST together.  If your child naps at noon, have the whole family get some quiet time. The temptation to do laundry and clean house while he sleeps will be there. If you can afford to hire help for housekeeping, do it for the first month. If not, pace yourself and prioritize sleep over housework. I know, easier said than done . . .
From 3pm on, plan activities that will keep everyone awake. Take walks, color and draw together, sit in the grass outside and look for bugs and birds, play board games and cards - anything to stay awake until dinner, bath and bed time.  
If you are a rigid "everyone in his own bed" parent and your new child is afraid, you may have to take a 30-day break from your rules and make him a pallet in your room. When everyone establishes a sleep schedule and catches up from the trip and transition, feel free to get tough again. In the meantime, grace, grace and more GRACE.
3. Your Other Children:  If you have other children in the home when you adopt, there is a whole new dynamic to explore. Jealousy, new bonds, a pecking order and Mama and Papa spreading themselves  thin trying to  spend quality time with every child - all stones in the heavy bucket of adoption transition.  But there is HOPE .  . .  read on! 
Are your other children old enough to start learning to put other's needs ahead of their own? If they are not babies or toddlers, they are!  Explain to them BEFORE your new child comes home that "new sister will need extra time with Mama and Papa when she is still new. You might have to share us more than you want to. "   And do not let the guilt of the slightly unbalanced, TEMPORARY shift in focus drag you under the waves.  With some conscious effort, you will be able to regain more balanced parenting in a month or two.  And, depending on how you have parented your other children prior to adoption, a little dose of "it's not always about ME" might do everyone some good.  It always did in our own family. Selflessness in not natural to any of us and adoption is a good way for ALL of us, parents included, to get a crash course.  Painful though it is.
4. Too Much, Too Soon: Everyone wants to meet your new child. They donated to your adoption fund, they prayed, they listened while you cried during the wait, they dog sat while you traveled, they DESERVE to meet him.  The pressure of those meetings takes a toll on the family and the child. Nobody's comfort matters as much as that of your new child during transition. If the friends and family have to wait, graciously tell them via a blanket email, facebook status or quick phone call that you are having adjustment time and will see them as soon as you can. Assure friends and family that you are planning a drop in day that will be announced as soon as everyone feels human again!
5. Feeling Isolated: Do you have anyone you can really trust and talk to about your struggles in early adoption? Let's see . . . the family members who discouraged you from adopting in the first place would just say "I told you so" so, no. Not them.   The friends and family who are encouraging and supportive but have never adopted may listen and pray but will they really UNDERSTAND?
The ladies Bible study you stood before sharing about the beautiful picture of the gospel that IS adoption - they might be a good place to start but will you scare them out of adopting someday? Hard to say. 
You and your spouse may be on the same page but, if not, the last thing you want to do is discourage the one you are expecting to keep you somewhat afloat.    Are you both struggling?
The FIRST and BEST place to go for encouragement and help is to your knees.  Seek the face of God. Tell Him your struggles. He already knows them.  Ask Him to keep your heart focused on the "bigger picture".  Read His promises. They are no less true than they were before you added to your family.
 Chances are, you have at least one close friend who has adopted a child and who would walk with you through your transition time - the joys and the pain.  If not, call your adoption agency and ask for a mentor. Get into an online/ facebook adoption group and observe at first. Is this group sharing REAL or just FLUFFY? If they are open about their ups and downs, you have hit paydirt.  Stay there, share, read, support each other.  Someday YOU will be that family walking others through their transition time with assurances that "this, too, shall pass".  And it will. 
6. Borrowing Trouble:  You read so many adoption books prior to bringing your child home that you are now on the lookout for the symptoms of the disorders the authors specialize in.  Is it Reactive Attachment Disorder? Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Conduct Disorder? Borderline Personality Disorder? Institutional Autism? Full-Blown Psychosis?  The list goes on and on . . .
Educating yourself is a good thing. Hyper analyzing a brand new son or daughter is not.  It steals your joy and it is likely for naught.  When a child is new to a family, you are NOT seeing the true picture of the child. He is likely not yet comfortable enough or finished with grieving his losses or enmeshed enough to be his true self.  In the early days, all of my boys could have been labeled with one disorder or another. They were unattached. They didn't really know us.  They were acting out in grief over losing their old lives. They were sometimes in "fight or flight" mode.   Of course, there will be cases where your new child has a serious and yet undiagnosed behavior or mental issue but, in many cases I have seen and lived, waiting several months for things to smooth out also "cured" the "disorder".  Pain and grief can manifest in scary ways. But that doesn't define the child. Not forever. 

My hope as you read this is that you do not become afraid of adopting a child. This is actually written for those who have made the leap and are struggling in the early days.  I do believe the change adoption brings to a family, by nature, causes some bumps in the family path. Sometimes those "bumps" are small and barely register on the family radar. Other times, they rock the boat to almost capsizing.  Every family and every adoption is different.  
I have said this in former blog posts but I will say it again:
Your family, at week 2 post adoption looks NOTHING like your family will on week 22 or week 32 post adoption.   And a  year out?  Two years out?  You will likely not give a moment's thought to your early transition days. You will likely remember them more fondly than they actually were and you may have even adopted again by then.
Because, in the end, bumpy or smooth, easy or hard, adoption is WORTH IT.