Micos Family

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. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

More Than A Street Child

Just a week ago, we received a new client at Mercy House.  He's a lovely boy of 11 years. We fed him on the street several times and he was always polite, appreciative and pretty shy. His name is "MJ".
He drew my heart toward him once when we were doing wound care in the street. A very sick young man was being treated and, while we were treating him, he was asking us for money. MJ kicked his foot and told him in Tagalog "you don't ask people for money when they are already helping you".
And that stuck.
I could not forget that small comment.
It said more than those words I heard.
It said "I have a sense of right and wrong". 

Feeding "MJ" at McDonald's with his tropa (MJ in stripes) 

 So, imagine our reaction when we brought some American visitors to the government shelter for street kids just THREE DAYS after this McDonald's feeding and saw MJ at the shelter. He had been picked up by the city's task force that is assigned to take children off the street. When we saw each other at the shelter, he began to smile and then he hung his head in mock embarrassment, as if to say "they caught me".    We had devotion time with the children there and acted out the story of David and Goliath. MJ was chosen to play Goliath. He stood on a stool and played the part with gusto.
When it was time for Goliath to "die", he kicked his legs in the air and had a fake seizure. The children watching were in stitches.
Just a week later, we pulled into McDonald's again for visit with  the street children who congregate there and, lo and behold, MJ was in the street again. He ran from us and hid around the corner of the building. We went to him and asked why he was hiding. He said he was afraid we were going to take him back to the government shelter or that we would tell on him. We promised we wouldn't do either and brought him some lunch. I wanted to ask  him that very day to come with us and be admitted to Mercy House but my social worker was not available and I wanted to make sure we did it "right", so we said our goodbyes and  left him. My heart was heavy but I was glad he had a good lunch and some clean water to drink. 
The next week, we returned to the government shelter to have a sibling visit for one of our clients, and there was MJ AGAIN!  This time, I was determined not to say goodbye without a plan. So we counseled him on the spot about his willingness to come to us. We talked to him about going to school, having a family setting, getting off the streets for good, giving up sniffing solvent and a host of other things he would need to consider, even at just 11 years old, before he could come to Mercy House.   The biggest request we had of him is that he NOT run away from the shelter for a whole week. We made an appointment to see him a week later. When we returned seven days later. He was there. Waiting. With a big smile and saying he was READY.
So, on October 1st, we were ready too and he became a part of the Mercy House family.

Admission Day at Mercy House 

Admission Day meeting/introduction/orientation

The usual protocol for us when we receive children from the street is to admit them, help them get settled in with an orientation about the rules, an introduction to all staff and housemates and then, when we feel like they are comfortable, we start unraveling their histories, a little bit at a time to find out if there are any capable relatives around who have been looking for these children.
What we found in the case of MJ was a lot more than we bargained for.

His father is in jail. We took MJ to visit him. He loves his father and he began to cry when he saw his father from far off.  But his father will likely never be able to parent him again due to the seriousness of his charges and the time he will serve.  MJ does not want to believe this. He has built a fantasy around his father that does not include a true picture of the man.

We then located his mother and found a homeless woman who often roams around but sometimes lives for free in a public building. She struggles with her own poor life choices and tries to care for several children who decided not to become street children as MJ did. One of them is a 14 year old girl who is extremely ill.
Mj's "big" sister. Please pray for her healing!

When my social worker sent me a brief message and photo during her counseling time with the family of MJ, my heart just broke. I immediately thought of contacting my friend, Claire Henderson, who runs a beautiful ministry to sick and dying children here in The Philippines called "Children's Recovery Unit" or "Helping Hands".  I sent Claire this photo and the diagnosis the mother was given and asked for her input. Her input was one of the most beautiful messages I have read in a long time. It was along the lines of "I will take her in our home in Baguio as well as her drug-addicted mother if she is willing".
Can you imagine???? I was simply asking for advice as this is waaaaayyyy out of our league.
So, we have made plans to transfer this mother and child to CRU for a stay where we are asking you to pray for a few things.
First, for the mother's addiction to drugs to be broken. She told us she has not used them for a time. We cautiously hope she is being honest.
Second, for this beautiful girl to be healed of her illness. If not healed, that her pain can be well managed and her quality of life drastically improved.
Third, through Mercy House and CRU, that this family would be introduced to the love of Jesus and the complete healing of heart and soul that only comes through HIM.
In our ministry,  we are aware that serving a street child is not just serving a street child. It is serving his family, helping him connect the dots of his broken life, finding every family member who has ever loved him, opening doors to hopeful reunification and, after exhausting all avenues locally, exploring the option of a brand new family.  Serving our kids involves partnership with other organizations who are strong where we are weak.  It involves being willing to drive many hours sometimes to obtain help and just trusting the Lord with the outcome.
Because MJ matters so very much. He is a beautiful boy created in the image of God.  There is a plan and a purpose for MJ.
HE IS MORE THAN A STREET CHILD.  So much more . . .

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Buried Alive!

I need to share some straight talk with my blogosphere friends today about a dreamy statement I made many years ago. A statement that copious numbers of Believers and just plain old do-gooders make.  A statement of which I had no real grasp  when it was made. One with BIG ramifications:


I said those words when I was a teenager.  I said them again in college. I repeated them less-often as a young, busy mother but began to obsess on them after our first visit to The Philippines in 2005.   Finally, after much praying and selling and planning, we started our orphanage.

I love it. I love the work. I adore the children. I have a sense of purpose and usefulness that can only be described as "REAL" but the flip side of this life as Mama-to-Many is not at all like most would imagine.  Most days, I feel I am being buried alive.  And it's ok.

The kids here are wounded by terrible histories of abuse, neglect and abandonment.  They sometimes act out.  They need a LOT more attention than the average, well-nurtured child. They will do pretty much anything to get it.   But I love them. I get to kiss their scars. I get to remind them they are beautiful and valuable and accepted.  Some of them have never felt that before and when they start to believe they are worthwhile,  they almost appear to grow taller before our eyes.  And bloom.
On top of the treasured work of helping the kids heal, there is paperwork. A LOT of paperwork. I am abundantly blessed to have an amazing social worker who is more than capable of doing the bulk of the paperwork but we all have to do our part. The processing of a child for international adoption is a succinct art.  Every document must be properly executed, dated, submitted and updated. We have a strong commitment to making sure the children in our care are ready both legally and emotionally for a new family. This takes a whole"village". Professionals inside and outside Mercy House take part in the task and they take it seriously.   They have to.  It's precious human life.  There is no room for error.

Our precious social worker with some of the MH kids
And aside from the children and the paperwork, I am a wife and a mother. That didn't stop when we decided to open an orphanage.  Unlike some directors, we choose to live inside the orphanage with our own family and our Mercy House family. Why? Because we simply need to be close for the children in care to have continuity. Staff may come and go but it is our prayer that "Mommy Nikki" and "Daddy Anthony" offer a little peek at how it feels to have caring adults who stay.  Our prayer is their only move from our care is into their FOREVER families. It does not always work that way but that is always our goal.  Finding the balance between the roles of orphanage Mama, wife and mother-to-my-own is beyond challenging. Sometimes I have to put off the ones who deserve first place because there are emergencies of the melt-down kind.  Okay, not "sometimes".  "Often". I pray they understand. 

And then there are these street boys. Children taking care of themselves. They are often hungry and always dirty when we go to see them. When I look at them, I envision them in a school uniform, well rested, doing their chores or homework inside Mercy House.  I imagine clearing out a drawer for some clothing for them and getting that first "goodnight" hug when I tuck them in. I can not sleep some nights for thinking of these kids. I have lost a lot of weight since meeting them because, when I know the faces of children who are hungry,  my own food loses it's luster. It is something that is hard to explain if you don't live it.  It hurts a lot. But not nearly as much as being 11 and having no parents protecting you must hurt. We have to do more for these boys.  It is a fire inside me.  I have always believed that if you want to change a society, reach the boys. Help them to become responsible, Godly men and to start a new heritage. I want to be a part of that for these street boys. But it takes time, money and some other priority slipping down the list a bit. Sacrifices.

The issues of handling birth families, staff problems, anyone getting sick and, of course, the fact that we just bought land and are fund raising to build a permanent structure - ALL OF THOSE and more are scoops of fresh earth that have me buried alive.
This is such hard work.
Do I want to quit? Sometimes. Do I miss my life as a happy American driving my own car to Taco Bell and strolling through Wal Mart whenever I want? For sure! Do I feel like I'm only 1/2 alive sometimes for the ache of missing my two oldest children who are in the US? Every day.

But I believe I will never leave. I assume that, someday, I will die here in The Philippines doing this work I love and helping children know their God and find their families.  I will be serving with my husband and whichever of our own children feel called to be here. I wish they all did.

So, friends. When you say "I want to start an orphanage",  I hope you are wiser than I was. I hope the sacrifices and pain don't take you by surprise.  I pray you understand what you are REALLY saying when you utter those words is "Lord, I want to be buried alive".     Because you will be.  And you might even love it.


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Formula Worship

This is a post I have wanted to craft for many years now.  It leaps into my thoughts at unwelcome times and I try to chase it away.

I tell this post that it will offend many of my dear friends.

I claim that it is the enemy trying to encourage me to stir up controversies and I shoo it away.

I insist that there is no useful reason to share these thoughts but the thoughts persist and I am going to share them.  If for no other reason than maybe they will quiet down once they are out of my head and resting in the blogosphere.

Because I was guilty and nobody shared this hard truth with me as a younger mother.  I wish I had known.


There.  I said it.  You can stop reading now or you can continue and hear me out.  

 My husband and I raised our children in the very best way we knew how.  We used a formula from our favorite authors and inspired by other families who appeared to have Godly children.  And here is how it looked:

We took "Growing Kids God's Way".
We read "Shepherding a Child's Heart". Often.
We homeschooled. (The Biggie)
 I stayed home from the time our second child was born.
We did not allow our children to watch shows we deemed inappropriate.
We prayed with and for our children daily. 
We had family devotions.  
We were quiverfull and trusted God with the size of our family - which resulted in two biological and four internationally-adopted children.
We allowed only "courting" and no "dating".  
We worked hard to make sure our children were one another's best friends and kept outside relationships as secondary. 
We ate dinner together almost every night.  
We made our children use the "interrupt rule" (hand on a parent when they needed to interrupt our talking to someone else). 
We made sure they asked forgiveness when they wronged another person instead of just tossing out "I"m sorry" halfheartedly. . .

I'll stop there but you know me or others like me. You either ARE like me or you tried to be and felt you fell so very short because of mitigating factors like your husband not allowing you to homeschool or not being open to adoption or . . . 

I worshiped that formula.  There were MANY times I judged other families who did not follow one or more aspects of that formula. Most of the time, I trusted the formula more than I trusted my Heavenly Father, who gave me my children and loves them more than I ever could. 

When my children were 4 and 6, I was fairly certain I knew everything about Godly parenting and was doing a bang-up job - even with one hand tied behind my back.

But something happened that shattered any notion of my beloved formula being foolproof. Something so shocking and heart rending that I was left, mouth agape, holding my tattered copy of "Shepherding" and wondering what on Earth had just happened.

They grew up.

My little treasures who hung onto my every word began to question things I said.  They began to meet people outside our homeschool bubble.  People with opinions and beliefs that were different from ours.  They began to ask me hard questions that "because the Bible says so" was not a satisfactory answer to.  Questions with "why" and "prove it" sandwiched in.  They began to put their pinky toes into waters that has always been forbidden.  They wanted to separate "real" from "imagined" and although I know and knew in the deepest parts of my being that the God they grew up knowing and loving IS ultimate truth, I could not FORCE them to  know this.

And I was heartbroken and terrified. 

 I began to curse the formula. I undertook the arduous task of rethinking every parenting decision ever made by my husband and I and trying to figure out where we went "wrong". . . where we diverged from the REAL, TRUE, TRULY, REALLY, SUPER TRUE formula.  And I made the wanderings and questioning of my children all about me, forgetting one tiny detail that was a game changer. 

We are all sinners.  Me. My children. The "perfect" friends with their "perfect" families.
All of our righteousness is like filthy rags.
No one seeks after God. All have turned away.
He is God. I am not.
He is jealous for the hearts and affections of my children.
Total Depravity of man trumped by the
Irresistible Grace of a loving God
Once saved/ Always Saved
So I share this in hopes of encouraging you, striving mothers.  You who have a formula that you truly believe will result in your children following HARD after God all the days of their lives.  I don't know if the phrase "the formula doesn't work" will encourage you but I pray it FREES you. 
Yes, point your children to Jesus.
Yes, guard their hearts.
Yes, monitor their friendships and the things they set before their eyes.
But know in your inner most being that their walk with the Lord is NOT about you and does NOT depend on you.
Some of the most Godly women I know were raised in homes without a single Believer. 
Some of the most unGodly people I know were raised in Christian homes.
If I could go back . . . well, that's another post for another time. And I would make a lot of the same choices as a mother. But those choices would be filtered through the knowledge that they are not an insurance policy, guaranteeing Godly children.  They are choices made by the desire to be a good steward of the time I had with my kids before they grew up and began sifting through their beliefs and trying to separate the precious stones from fool's gold.   

And then I remember that I wandered and questioned, too. I took a Philosophy course at my secular college and studied Kant and Descartes and existentialism and relative truth and I began to question the faith of my childhood.  
And I came back stronger.
Because He is TRUTH.
And lies, over time, erode, exposing paper bones.
The Holy Spirit in me spoke a quiet truth into the noise of my doubt.

So, if you, mothers, are willing to learn from the life of another, please listen up.  The word of God is a solid foundation.   Do not fear for the hearts of your children. Do not trust the formula.  Trust the one who created and entrusted those children to you.  Trust HIS word.