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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.’