Saturday, December 13, 2014

Compassion Fatigue and the Furlough

Compassion Fatigue: a gradual numbing to the needs and hurt of others facilitated by being continually inundated with images and stories of extreme poverty and hardship while not experiencing those events firsthand.

For the first time in almost a year and a half, since packing up our willing-ish family and letting go of our place in the United States, I was blessed to return there just a few weeks ago.

I left with a considerable level of  fear. 
There you have it. 
Not the confidence of a child of the King but plain old worry and fear. 
Common and Sinful.

I don't think it's any secret to anyone who knows me in "real life" that I'm afraid of flying. The irony of my Heavenly Father is that he would send me almost as far as possible in the opposite direction of people I treasure and then to require that I get on an unfathomably heavy piece of machinery for about 20 hours of prayerful uncertainty.  I was uncertain. Not Him.  The flights were fine and actually enjoyable in spots.  The variety of movies blew my mind and I watched SIX of them between Japan and Atlanta.  I ate my meal in peace with not one miniature person asking me for a bite or needing a napkin. Just me, my movies and a tray of beef and noodles. Okay. And saki. I tried saki for the first time because I could.  Meh.

Of course, I arrived safely and every minute hurtling 38,000 feet above the Earth was worth it to spend time with the people that live deep in my heart and kept a part of it in America with them when I left.
Taco Bell with my Bio babies
Hanging with my handsome Daddy

Cook Out and shopping with Mom

As if these weren't enough good gifts, my sister surprised me at the airport, my brother and his family came to see me as well as some unexpected friends who drove hours to hear me talk about the work of Mercy House and give out some hugs.   I am blessed.  And I am fearful.

The fear I harbored in coming to the US again was so little about the flight or any changes in the country I left. I was not afraid of ISIS or a mall shooting or even of changed relationships between me and the people I love.  Not much.

I was afraid I would get "Compassion Fatigue" and not want to come back to The Philippines.   I was gripped with fear that seeing my loved ones,  living in a home with no geckos or bugs, having the freedom to go anywhere and never be stared at even once would over ride my desire to come back to the ministry.  I was unfettered for the first time in more than a year. I stayed up late. I slept in. I had full and uninterrupted conversations with other English-fluent adults who understood even the jokes and sarcasm specific to my first culture. I basked in "me time".  It went from feeling odd to feeling freakin' awesome in a matter of a day!

This furlough was an experiment of sorts.

Upon arrival, I just could not get enough of American life.  Everything smells good in the states.  You can drive for miles without a single urge to cover your nose (unless you're in the car with teenage boys - ha ha).  I immediately noticed how CLEAN it was. I never gave any thought to how clean my home country is before. It just was.  I noticed there were no children roaming on busy streets - or any streets- who were not safely in strollers or held by adults.  And where were all the stray dogs with obvious signs of nursing pups nearby? I didn't see even one.   Drinks have free refills in the states and food portions are immense.  There is too much of the good things and none of the heart-wrenching scenery I take in daily in Asia. At least not where my people live.

These observations made me feel guilty.  I love The Philippines.  And it's not fair to compare her to an already-developed nation.  She can't stand against that kind of scrutiny.  I knew when I was doing it that it was wrong.  But I was playing a mental game of "will I still love you when this is over?" with my two countries.

I was honored to speak at several gatherings about our work with street children and orphans. Every time I spoke, my heart pricked. Every time I showed our ministry slideshow, I tried to hold back tears.
Most of the time I couldn't.  They just came. 

I saw their faces and thought of the feeling of their hugs.  One of them always puts his face on my neck in the morning.  I know that warm hug as well as any. It's like my morning coffee. Just a part of the day.  One of the nice parts.

And as good as life in America is.   And as much as I ache for my big kids, family and loved ones when we are apart, it was apparent that no trappings of good smells, big drinks or clean streets could rob me of that magnetic draw to The Philippines.  It may be going too far to say I was made for this country but I often think that way.   Does God make people for countries other than those of their birth?   Does he place people in one country for many years while preparing them for another? It feels like "yes".

After a wonderful visit with my North Carolina people, I headed to California for the wedding of my husband's youngest brother.  He's adding yet another "white chick" to the Filipino family. I knew he would.  I could tell from his teen years.  Welcome to the family! 
And my furlough wrapped up with some precious time spent with my husband's side of the family.
This time solidified what I knew to be true.  I did not have "compassion fatigue".  I was not tired of the ministry or the country I now call home.  Just hearing so much Tagalog spoken and eating the familiar foods again confirmed it.   I was starting to feel excited about going back - not fearful and certainly no sense of dread.
With the California family
 So it's confirmed. I don't have compassion fatigue at this point.  I pray I never get it.  I pray YOU don't get it either.   This visit to my first home washed me over with gratefulness.  The number of friends, new and old, who came to find out what is happening at Mercy House or just to catch up and have a meal together  was more than I even would have hoped for.  Thank you, my friends and family for caring about me, my family, the street kids of Cavite, Philippines and the fatherless.   Thank you for the way you give and pray and encourage.  And for those who opened their homes and just wanted to talk about "regular life" thank you for reminding me what it felt like to be a mom talking to another mom - not a missionary - for just a few minutes.  It's grounding to have those reminders.  It was sweet and of much more value than it may have seemed as we stood in your  kitchen and talked about our kids.   Thank you.  And again . . .

 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.
Philippians 1:3 

Thank you for loving, bearing with and understanding.  I pray I can be even a fraction of the friend to you all that you have been to me.  You friends and family members will be the benchmark of what a furlough should encompass.  And you have made it very hard for the next furlough. It couldn't have been much better.   

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Privilege of Sacrifice

2 Corinthians 8
And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.
In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us."

I love this passage.  I hate how misused and taken-out-of-context it can be.  This is a narrative about the generosity of the people of Macedonia toward the ministry of Paul.  He was proud of them. He was commending them for giving despite their own trials.  It was simply a compliment.

It is not a command.

And yet, time and time again I have seen and heard missionaries, pastors and other full-time servants of the gospel lift up this passage and implore their hearers to "give beyond their abilities".   I cringe.

I love reading about the hearts of the Macedonians. We have "Macedonians" in our lives who support our ministry with generosity and we know, for some of our donors, giving to Mercy House is a huge sacrifice.  We have even had friends "urgently plead with us" for the privilege of giving. People have contacted us and asked how to give to our work and had to email me several times to ask -but persevered- because of out sheer busyness, I was lax in replying and out of sheer desire to give, they were compelled not to give up on us. 

When it comes to money and the mission field, there is an innate awkwardness that just IS. We subsist on the giving of our friends, family and those who have a heart for the things God has given us a heart for.  And we pray it doesn't change those relationships and make them "weird". 

But I will never be that missionary who makes my loved ones feel guilty for drinking "five dollar lattes", or taking a beautiful vacation.  NEVER!

 I lived a long and fairly prosperous pre-mission field life.  We worked hard and became debt-free except for our mortgage (Thanks, Dave Ramsey). We took family trips. We entertained in our home a lot.  We had a motorcycle, three cars and I had the privilege of being an at-home mother and homeschooling my beautiful kids.   And we gave to the work of the gospel in The Philippines because, even back then, this country had our hearts.
BUT . . .
I've also  been on the receiving end of pleas from ministries, church building programs and special projects from my brothers and sisters in The Faith that were simply guilt-inducing.  I watched videos of fly-encrusted babies with distended bellies.  I was told repeatedly that most of the world lives for a year on what I spend on one trip to Wal Mart.   I was reminded that mothers around the world watch their babies die of illnesses that I can just whip out my amoxicillin and ibuprofen and take care of easily in my own kids in three days or less.  Often, the idea of giving up my over-priced coffee to save children was mentioned because I could provide clean water to a whole village for the price of said beverage.

And all of those things are real and true.  They are happening.  I have seen them or their victims first hand since moving to this country.   

The plight of orphans and street children is awful here.  The challenge for those of us on the front lines is to balance the sharing of their stories with faith that the Lord moves hearts to give and we only need present the opportunity.  

And at the risk of patting ourselves on the back, we want to be very transparent about how we got here and how we remain here.  I mean, in "money talk". . .

We sold all our "stuff".   We allocated $50,000 of our own money to start Mercy House.  We've been given donations - big and small - by friends and strangers.   God has moved hearts and endeared our ministry to them. It's all HIM.  ALL.  HIM. He could have called any family and used any carbon-based life form to come over here, meet and touch these beautiful abandoned kids. We're thankful He's using us. Just thankful.

But that's OUR story.  

It's not meant to be a prototype for anyone else's story.  The selling-it-all-and-going  Christians are nothing without the staying-and-working-and-giving  Christians.  Period.  We're all pieces of the same puzzle.  Equal.  Vital.  Privileged.   I sometimes think the staying-and-working Believers have a more challenging call than those of us who are the sell-and-go types.  Sometimes.

So, we want to use this little space on the blogosphere to thank our staying-and-working partners, our coming-for-a-short-visit friends,  our praying-for-you-daily partners and our I-sent-you-a-box donors.  Those boxes are like water in the desert to our hearts. Pieces of home. 

 Thank you for your sacrifice.  Thank you for enjoying the privilege with us.  


2 Corinthians 9:7 says:
" Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Welcome Home, Anak!

So . . . you're adopting a child from The Philippines who will be more than three years old when he comes home?

Let me share some wisdom with you that I pray will make the transition easier for all of you. 

You probably already know that The Philippines is a wonderful place from which to adopt.  The children in care here are generally in small orphanages (by worldwide standards) or foster homes.  They have most likely been loved by their caregivers and the staff turnover for caregivers here tends to be low.  It is highly possible that your child is leaving a place where he was well cared for and loved  in exchange for a life of permanency and inclusion into  your nuclear family.  

And this is SUCH a great thing!  Every child deserves to be claimed, given a last name that matches his family and told "forever".

Ezekiel's Adopiton Day

And so, after 21 years of marriage to a Filipino, four international Philippine adoptions and, now a new life running a child caring agency in The Philippines, I am feeling like I have a few pearls of wisdom to offer families adopting  older children from this wonderful place I now call "home".  

I share these based on my own experience and I understand every child and every situation has nuances of it's own. 
Take what helps and reject what doesn't. 


1. The children here eat lots and lots of rice - and I don't mean Uncle Ben's.  Invest in a rice cooker and some jasmine rice to welcome your new one home.  The familiarity of a staple food can go a long way in easing transitional jitters and, if he doesn't like the other food items offered, at least he will have some rice (and soy sauce) to fill his belly while you figure out his diet together.  Some safe bets for early-homecoming meals if you don't have access to authentic Filipino food?   Roasted chicken with rice,  fried fish with rice (even young children here know how to navigate around fish bones), or baked pork chops with rice.   Basic cross-cultural foods.

2.  Your child (school age) may ask for and use baby powder.  It's used in elementary schools here for keeping cool. Every morning before school, our Mercy House kids have me put powder down the back of their shirts and they also put a dusting on their faces. Everyone does it.   No biggie.

3. Children here are never alone.  They don't sleep alone, they sometimes even shower with a same-gender housemate, they travel in little groups.  Your child may be very afraid of that beautiful bedroom you worked so hard to decorate JUST FOR HIM.  He has probably never slept in a single room before.  Add to that the cultural superstitions here about "ghosts" , "white ladies" and the "tik tik" that comes to lick the bellies of pregnant women in the night and you have a recipe for a terrified child.  I hate to tell you that a simple night light may not do the trick.  Some of our toughest-acting street boys become frightened children when the lights go off.  

4. Even in the hottest places, air conditioning is often not available in living spaces so, if you use air conditioning at home, your child may get very cold, even when you are not.  In time, they adjust to their new environments but in the interim,  his insistence on wearing that hoodie or snuggie everywhere you go is not just for dramatic effect.  He's probably freezing! 

5.  Your new child may be very afraid of your indoor pets.  There are lots of pets here and may dogs and cats but they are generally kept outside and, we have noticed, they aren't very big.  Your "big" dog here is probably  the size of a long-legged beagle in the US.  There are street dogs everywhere here and they are pretty small by western standards.  Give your new child lots of time to get to know your pets.  He may need it. 

6.  The term for the bathroom here is the "CR" - "comfort room" . .. even if your child speaks a small amount of English, asking him if he needs the "CR" will be more easily understood than any other term for that crucial place! And since we're already talking bathroom talk, let me share something you will want to know if your new child isn't diapered.  Kids here often undress from the waist down and squat on the rim of the toilet seat to use the bathroom. And most child caring agencies can not afford to buy toilet paper so children wash themselves after using the restroom with a "tabo".  It sits in what we would think of as a 5-gallon paint bucket full of water next to the toilet and the child reaches over, dips and rinses.  No towel required.  There you have it! 

7.  Even our young children here in care like spicy foods.  They especially like having a tiny sauce cup on their plates that they can mix soy sauce, vinegar and labuyo (hot, small, red pepper) into.  After the meal,  our kids drink that sauce if it's not used up - to my horror!

8.  Please don't overwhelm your new child with material goods.  Here, having a pair of tennis shoes of your own is a pretty big deal. Very few children have bicycles of their own. They are generally shared property. None of the kids I've met in care have any electronics.  Hold onto the "easy to please" aspect of your child as long as you can.  The more you buy and offer, the more he will expect and, believe me, if he is older, someone in his life has likely told him that going abroad means he's going to be "rich".  Focus on the loving bond by spending time together, don't spoil the appreciation he has for  the small things by filling his life with "stuff". 

9.  The terms "mommy" and "daddy" are used here to refer to caregivers often.  Please don't take it personally.  I remember when one of our boys came home and was telling me a story about his "other mom" (caregiver) and it cut me to the heart.  I wanted to yell at him 'I'M THE ONLY MOTHER YOU HAVE! SHE DIDN'T ADOPT YOU! SHE'S NOT YOUR MOM"  but, of course, I kept quiet.  And I am so glad I did!  Moving to The Philippines has taught me that those family words are simply titles here.  The kids call our social worker "Mommy Love" and their old social worker "Mommy April" and they understand completely that these ladies are not their actual parents.  This is a term of respect for someone who takes care of you.  Your kids will also refer to their caregivers as "Tita, Tito, Auntie, Uncle" etc and will likely say "my sister in The Philippines . . . " when telling you about their housemates.  A sort of family created by love and not blood or birth is what they are referring to.  These early bonds are good indicators of future attachment and should be appreciated and not resented.   Hindsight is 20/20, huh?   I definitely wish I'd known this before adopting.  

10.  The Philippine culture is very emotional.  Your child's despedida (or going away ceremony) MAY be filled with tears from everyone who knew him before you.  I find this whole process so healthy for our children although it may leave us feeling like kidnappers who are doing something awful to a child we love.    There will be guilty feelings and questioning of whether taking your child from this loving family environment is a kindness or a cruelty.  Trust me, it is VITAL that children in care be adopted. I heard a poignant quote at a recent training seminar I attended. It was penned by an adult adoptee. She said:
"I had to give up everything I knew in order to get everything I needed".     The truth of these words will stay with me, especially  as we process children in our care for adoption. 

11.  This is a party culture!   From birthdays to Christmas to baby dedications,  The Philippines is a place of parties. The parties here are full of food, karaoke,  card playing, dancing and more food!  Christmas here is a country wide even with parades for weeks beforehand, and lots of festivities.  Many adoptees find Christmas in the western world very quiet and dull compared to the way it is celebrated here. 

Be encouraged! If you've already adopted your child and, like me,  missed out on some the information that could have made the transition easier, take heart!  The final observation I'll make about our Filipino children is this:


You are learning  to be his parent and he is learning to be your child.  You will find your own comfortable spot in these roles and that takes time and plenty of "do overs".     And isn't that the best thing about life?  Making new paths and holding hands along the way?

Enjoy your child.  Learn  his culture.  Bend and flex for him.   He is worth it.

Monday, October 6, 2014


I agonized over whether to blog this or not.  I considered the privacy of our family. The confidentiality of my son. The acquaintances who may have elevated our family too much and will be crushed to read this.   The close family members and friends who love this child.

But I decided after wrestling with the fear of man and trying to predict the possible fallout of sharing this family situation, to just be honest, let the truth speak for itself and I pray, most of all, that someone out there reading who has been down this road will feel less alone in just a few moments.


Just a couple of days ago, issues that had been boiling beneath the surface for years came to an I-can't-take-it-anymore pinnacle. On both sides.   

He packed and he left. 

He is technically an adult but he is not ready for the world.  He lacks some very crucial skills - like the ability to think of the feelings of others or the strength to stand firm in the face of temptation and peer pressure.   Likely, some of that lack is the fault of our own parenting.  It is also the fault of his own choices and years of  orphanhood and maybe even our life on the mission field.  

We told ourselves that the formula we used for parenting was a great one.
We still believe it is. We tried to point all of our children to Jesus at every opportunity.
We prayed for them. We PRAY for them.  We try to be good examples to them although we
know we fall so short so often.  

So as we serve orphans and abandoned children - street children - we are aware that our own "adult" son is probably living a life that would qualify him for services under some other ministry in our town.   My mind runs away with me as I consider the things he is probably participating in.  My heart breaks.  His innocence. His safety. His future.

But, ultimately, is not about ME. None of this is and none of this ever was. 

I am a mother and I "mothered" him.  I liked to believe that the allegiance of a mother, her listening ear and her helping hands can undo the years of not being anyone's son in a permanent way.  But again, that makes his life choices about me and they aren't. 

They are about his trust in his Heavenly Father and his willingness to humble himself in the sight of the Lord.

They are about understanding that our God is a jealous God and a consuming fire in the same fashion that he is a loving father and a faithful friend. 

This son has been taught the truth of God for many years. Long before we adopted him.  He has been loved, taken care of, provided for, guided and helped to choose a course for his future.   But that has been rejected in favor of going his own way. 

It feels a bit like a death but a lot more like a lesson.   How often are we "prodigal" before our father?  How many times have we taken all of his love and care for granted and been angry at Him for not simply footing the bill and allowing us to do whatever we please?  I know I have treated God this way.  Many times. It hits home in a new way now.   I have said, in effect "thanks for all the blessings, now leave me alone while I do whatever I want and try NOT to think of how it makes you feel."   

But in the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, I am NOT like the father.
I do not want my son back.

That sounds awful, I realize.  I am not saying I don't EVER want him back but I don't want him to come back and be the same.  I am praying that the son who comes home is NOT the same as when he left.   That he is humble.  And contrite.  And grasps the depth of forgiveness that will be extended to him. 
And it will.

But while I am praying for HIM to be these things. I want to be these things.  Lord, let me be humble and contrite. Show us where our own fault in this lies.  Most of all, let this - yes - even THIS bring glory to your magnificent name!  Holy. Sovereign. And Good.

It can and it will.  In HIS way.  In HIS time.

 Luke 15

23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

It's Real, Alright

Ephesians 6

12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

Yesterday.    It was an awesome and a terrible day all rolled into one.  If I ever doubted for even a moment that spiritual warfare is
a real "thing",  I'm a full-fledged Believer now.

Yesterday made this theologically reformed, not-exactly-Pentecostal Believer want to start binding and rebuking everything in my path.

The morning started off hard and painful as I woke up at 5:30 am to find out a man our family has known and loved for fourteen years passed away after a battle with melanoma.  It was a blow. He's a husband and a father. 
Just  a few hours after this tough news arrived, my social worker came bouncing in, smiling, and informed us that our license to operate fully as a shelter/orphanage was complete and we could pick it up the next day!! We have been waiting for this license for quite some time. It allows us to admit EVERY CHILD on our waiting list right now!!!  The sun began to peek through the clouds of loss that had settled over us that morning. I considered this news quite a gift in lieu of what the morning brought.
We began to make plans for the admissions and call the referring agencies to get the documents prepared.
And then, we had to discipline one of our older sons and he decided to positively over react and try to pack a bag to "leave".  
So after more than an hour of talking, crying, praying and discussing with him and another person involved in the problem, he settled down and began to think straight. He stayed.
Meanwhile, a younger child of ours who is almost always kind to everyone was caught being downright mean to someone younger.  We have not seen this side of said child. It did not bode well for him.  The hammer fell . . . AGAIN. 
Thereafter, our social worker decided to type a form and her typewriter began to smoke and then, with a POP and a flash of light, simply blew up.
I did the only thing any normal woman would do in the face of such blatant "murphy's law" situations. 
I took a long, hot shower.
And I thought about the events of the day.   And I began to have such significant doubts about EVERYTHING that I scared
I wrestled with this calling.  If my own children are going to act like absolute goobers at the drop of a hat, what business did I have bringing even MORE kids into the mix?  Who do I think I am?  Superwoman?  If I can't "manage" the five in my direct care right now . . . . Oh, so THIS is why certain denominations don't endorse missionaries with teenagers.  Yeah. I get it now. . . It's all been one grand delusion designed to copy some of my favorite heroes of the Christian faith but I am NO Amy Carmichael and my husband is no
David Platt. . . so what ARE we doing out here while the whole thing falls down around our ears?  Amateurs!  And the gall to bring my sons  BACK to their country or origin AND try to raise them in an orphanage?  I've cheated the very children I vowed to help heal.  
So in that vein, the internal battle raged
My tears mixed with the  water that we can shower in but dare not drink.  I had to cry as quietly as possible because there is absolutely no privacy in this echo-chamber of a home.   
Just when I had imagined   what our NEW life would look like back in America, close to my biological children once more,  I was reminded of Ephesians 6: 12-13.   
It's real.
It's hard.
I don't particularly care for it
But I know what to DO about it.  Two things are commanded in Ephesians 6.  I am to stand firm and I am to put on the whole armor of God.     If I had a dollar for every sermon I've heard on the "Whole Armor of God",  I'd be building us a new orphanage tomorrow.
And oh, how THANKFUL I am for that litany of sermons.   What I heard while sitting comfortably in my seat at church, probably holding a cup of coffee and scrolling through my Bible app, came in pretty darn handy in my shower in this developing country with my little gaggle of orphans walking home from school at any minute.
So it was then and there I knew.   We're standing firm.  We're staying.  I am not going to let my mind play around with leaving The Philippines everytime we have a hard day.  That's not fair to anyoneLeast of all, the kids in our care.   That's like getting married but keeping the divorce papers signed and in the top drawer "just in case . .. ".      
As far as putting on the whole armor,  I decided to start with the Sword of the Spirit.  I went to the Word. I read about the life of David.  Spent some time in prayer.  Asked for wisdom.  Poured out my heart.   And He really is so faithful and an ever-present help in times of trouble. He is everything His word says He is. 
Do any of you remember that gospel group from years ago called "Cloud Eight"?  They had a song called "If I Know God"
I  am such a music lover but of all songs to come to mind, this one is most obscure.  I haven't heard it or thought about it since the 90s, I'll bet.  It doesn't even have the most pristine theology, truth be told.   But the chorus says:
If I know God, He'll find a way to bless me
It's just like Him to turn things around.
He'll take a bad situation and work it for my good.
That's how life goes, if I know God.
And those words, coupled with  the sweetness of the scripture I had been reading and the communion of just talking to Him created such peace and clarity in me, that  any  doubts I had, ceased.   Especially any doubt I may have been harboring about the reality of spiritual warfare and the need to recognize it and do what the Bible says to do in the face  of it.
The temptation to run to facebook
                                      or the phone
                                      or my journal
                                      or even my husband
                                                       was overwhelming.   But God asked us to stand firm and to come to Him in the face of such battles. 
I am SO GLAD I did this time.   Spiritual warfare is so real, my friends.  But so is the one who can win every battle for us.    He warned us it was coming and He taught us how to confront it.  What a good and loving Father He is.
p.s. our orphanage/shelter  "Mercy House" has been nominated to win a $10,000 grant from a company called Kind Snacks. Please consider copying the link below to vote for us. It's free and winning would be a HUGE blessing to the kids in our care.
Thank you!!!