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Friday, March 20, 2015

A Bad Word

I remember back in junior high school, having a then-deep and philosophical conversation with one of my equally-deep 12 year old friends about what makes a bad word "bad".

We surmised that we should be allowed to freely use the F-word or the Sh-word or ANY word as long as we didn't deem it "a swear".   We decided, between the two of us, to use these words and see if we could erase their "badness" by insisting they were just sounds and syllables with no inherently evil meanings.    We substituted mundane words with swear words and the sting began to fade.  We laughed long and hard at some of the creative ways we wove our new-found verbal freedom into colorful tapestries.

We ran into problems with this "logic", however, when overhead by our drama teacher during a break between classes.  Apparently, she hadn't self-actualized enough to appreciate the fact that those words were just sounds from our throats. To her, they had definite and unpleasant meaning.    Oh, the shallowness of the adult world!

I have run into many discussions that seem to be about semantics but are about so much more in this life in The Philippines.

Many people here speak English and speak it well. Some of the words here are used based on their meaning, though, with no regard to or even awareness of how the words can be perceived. Connotation matters. A lot.

Case in point:  More than one educated adult here has asked me if Ezekiel is "a mongoloid"?  The first time it happened, my jaw hit the floor. We haven't used that word in the US for at least 30 years. It's considered derogatory.  They are not much on "people first" language here.  Thankfully, I hid my knee-jerk reaction and answered "Yes. He has Down Syndrome".   I understand the language is simply a label and not INTENDED to shoot any hurtful arrows at our family.  The askers always go on to tell us about some precious family member or friend whom they cherish who is also "mongoloid".
Another word that is used often here as a simple descriptor is "retarded".  In test results given by professionals, children are often referred to as "mildly retarded, moderately retarded or severely/profoundly retarded".   I suppose it would be easy to get all riled up but, the core meaning of the word is "delayed in development" or "arrested in development".  And I've never once heard it used as a put-down here. It's just a fact.  A person with a low IQ who is not meeting his milestones on the bell-shaped curve will be labeled "retarded".  So what?  It just lets us know, as workers and as parents that we should adjust some expectations for timelines and give a child some extra grace and guidance. 

My ethnocentric thinking has to die a little each day here. And that's a good thing.

But the REAL reason for this post on words and their impact and who decides what we can and can not say is THIS word:


If a "parsonage" is where a pastor lives, isn't an "orphanage" where orphans live?  Many cringe at this word.  It's archaic.  It's harsh.  It summons images of little girls in rags singing "It's a hard-knock life for us . . . "    The term "Child Caring Agency" or "CCA" is used here often to describe the place where we live with a slew of unrelated children who have no capable or living parents to raise them. 
I don't mind the word "orphanage".  It leaves no questions.  On the other hand, not all of the children in our care are TRUE orphans. Some are in mid-steam of eventual abandonment.  Some have loving mothers who just have no means to care for them and are trying to improve their lives and receive their children back. One set of siblings here even has TWO biological living parents who are together and working to bring their children home. 

But most don't. 

Most have a story that goes like this: " Mom and dad split up. Mom found a new man. He doesn't want to raise anyone else's children SOOO . . . . I became a street child. I begged and scavenged and eventually got rescued or referred to Mercy House.  I'm an orphan because the adult meant to love me decided having a boyfriend/girlfriend was more important than keeping me safe."  

The second most common story we hear is:  "My dad left us when I was a baby. My mom is in jail (or left us to work far away) and the neighbor/relative she left us with couldn't feed us so she took us to the local police to relinquish us. Mom is never coming back."

It's not the glamorous "both parents died in a small-engine plane crash off the coast to Tibet" story that makes orphans in the movies.  It's just bad adult choices trickling down to injure children.

So, they live in an orphanage, or a child caring agency or a care facility or whatever term suits you best.

The facts are the same. 

We look in the eyes of children every single day who do not have a single somebody in the world saying to them "I will be here forever. You are MINE always. You belong with ME.  We are your final and only FAMILY.  My last name is your last name.  When we go on vacation, you go. When we cry over the loss of a family pet, you'll be right here in the circle.  When the hostess at the restaurant says 'Jones party of 8' - that means YOU, too.   When we pick up that gray-haired lady from Minnesota at the airport and she starts handing out $5 bills, get in line because she is YOUR grandma, also. "

We, at Mercy House, can not, in all fairness, say those things to the children in our care. And Oh, how we love them! We tell them that all the time. We hug and kiss them and tuck them in and tell them about Jesus.  We nurse them when they are sick and teach them the rules of fair play. But we can't say THOSE things unless we want to break trust and be liars.  Or adopt them all.  And I've thought of that, believe me.

I think you get the idea.   Adoption is the cure for the ailing hearts of children who have never been told those things and do not even know, for the most part, that it is what they need to hear. 
How blessed you are to be on THAT side of the equation. I was there.  It was glorious.  Now I'm here. It's both heartbreaking and precious.  I know what these children need most and it is not a better orphanage.  Mercy House is wonderful. It's family-style.  We are proud of the work we do and stand clean before the Lord knowing we are doing the best we can.

But we aren't YOU.

We are no longer an adoptive family with the power to change the world for that child on Special Homefinding.  

We need YOU to say "forever". . . and to mean it.

Will you?  

"FAMILY" . . . now that's a good word. 

 English Standard Version
"So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin."  James 4:17