Sunday, November 3, 2019

Please Don't : "Biblical" Discipline and Kids from Hard Places


It was back in the year 2000 I was first introduced to the "Biblical" parenting methods I'll talk about in this post.  My husband and I along with our two young children (3 and 5 years old at the time) moved from California to Washington State. 

We found a great church that focused on the deeper things of God's word and we grew in our faith by leaps and bounds. We also noticed the children of the members of our church seemed extraordinarily compliant, obedient and quiet during family-integrated services. 

My own kids were (and still are) wonderful people. But I was curious about how these parents were able to teach even two year olds not to interrupt adult conversations and to go to sleep on command with no "night time routine" required.  

It didn't take long for a fellow mom to introduce our family to "Growing Kids God's Way" by Gary and Marie Ezzo.  We bought the manuals, we devoured the chapters and instituted the methods in our own family. It was not a drastic shift from the way we were already parenting but it was certainly a much needed "tune up" in some areas in which we felt we were lacking. 

There are things we LOVE about GKGW and I want to talk about those first:
1. Children are not the center of the family, Jesus is.  Our lives do not revolve around pleasing our kids, they revolve around pleasing our Maker.
2. Children learn to ask FORGIVENESS when they hurt someone rather than just throwing an insincere "Sorry". The onus to forgive is on the offended party. 
3. Children learn a good work ethic and are not handed material gifts liberally
4. Children learn to think of the feelings of others and not just themselves
5. Very young children learn sign language in order to circumvent the frustration of not having the words to express themselves

There are other great things about this method and, in our family at that time, we had only biological children who had been wanted, loved, nurtured and cherished from before they were born. 

But a few years after we began following GKGW, we became adoptive parents. And here is where my heart BREAKS for families who can not stray from GKGW. . . 
Adopted children are always "children of trauma". They are OFTEN "children from hard places". They are frequently victims of abuse, neglect and insecure or absent attachments.  
Even if you were handed a new born baby, straight from the womb to adopt, you are being handed a child of trauma.  Why? That child has not only lost his/her first parent, that child was gestated in the womb of a woman likely wrestling with her own life's pains and the decision to relinquish him/her. The stress hormone in that baby's pre-birth environment can and will have negative effects on the growth and development of that child.(

The precursor to GKGW is the Ezzo's book "Babywise".  In Babywise, parents are encouraged to place their infants on a strict eating and sleeping schedule that the parents deem suitable. Gary Ezzo goes so far as to reference God the father's refusal to take his son off the cross when He cried out as the basis for not going in to your infant when he/she cries out.  
Imagine a baby who has come from a place (be it birth mother or inattentive orphanage) where his needs are not met when he cries out being placed into a "Babywise" family where his needs are not met when he cries out. Eventually, babies stop crying out. And parents may believe this indicates he is satisfied and content when in reality, he may have simply given up. The consequences as he grows up can be life-altering.  

The aspects of both GKGW and Babywise that pose potential damage to children of trauma are:

1. This is a totally parent-driven approach which authoritarianism is highly prized. When a child has trust issues, this approach quickly becomes a "me against them" in the child's mind and he will often rebel in every way he can. You can not "out spank" a child with a strong will from a hard place. He will take your punishment and turn it into fuel for his anger. Trust me. 

2. This approach promotes Pharisaical behavior, in my firsthand experience. A child learns what behaviors win approval of adults and he does them. He learns what behaviors provoke the "wisdom maker" (paddle) and he avoids them. The premise of the book is that when a child is made to obey outwardly, his heart will follow.  The Biblical description of the nature of man says different. 
Our hearts are wicked and without a regenerating relationship with Jesus, we are not capable of any good thing. 

3.child learns to conceal his true heart in exchange for pleasing the adults in his life, the problem is compounded.  Now we have a "hidden behavior" or "covered sin" issue to add to the mix. Aside from guiding our kids to choose things that please God just because we love him, we are tasked with figuring out if our child is obeying to avoid punishment or obeying because He longs to do what is right.  
For some adopted children, learning to manipulate others has been his source of survival. 
When behaviors are demanded from a heart that is not sincere in manifesting those behaviors, we are inadvertently creating pharisees.  This is a comfortable place for many adopted children who already have attachment issues. They PREFER to behave in a way that pleases you but can not stand the expectation of true heart work - where parents acknowledge their pain and ask them to share and express it. The thing a wounded child needs most - the raw business of unpacking his trauma and putting it into perspective - often feels to "out of control" or GKGW parents. 

4. Spanking.  Spanking is a very big part of both Babywise and GKGW.  Whether or not you spank your children is a debate for another place. We did. And then we didn't. 
Using physical discipline with an adopted child often feels like bullying to him. Or revictimization. 
The use of terms like "rod of correction" make parents feel that spanking is a mandate. God corrects us with a "rod", right? 
Many theologians would argue that "rod" of correction is the shepherd's crook, used for guiding, not striking, the sheep.  And the bible does plainly state in Proverbs 23:13 that we are not to withhold correction from our children and "correcting with a stick" will result in a child making life-giving choices.  So spanking is not forbidden in the Bible but neither is it commanded. In these instances, parents must seek the face of God on the approach that best meets the needs of their child while communicating to him that he is safe. For us, spanking doesn't communicate that to a child from a hard background. So we don't.  

"Rules without relationship breeds rebellion".   When the bonds are not strong, the rules and discipline will not have the effect you desire. I promise. 

When GKGW started to feel uncomfortable for us, as adoptive parents, we began looking for a better way.  I was handed Michael and Debi Pearl's "To Train Up a Child" and I read in horror as intense amounts of spanking and FOOD WITHHOLDING were touted as Biblical parenting techniques. 
I was in tears by the middle of that book and only finished it because it felt like watching a train wreck. I could not look away.  

A quick internet search of this little "gem" will fully explain my terror at the thought of any parent implementing the principles in this book. Children have died.  I do not assert the Pearls are at fault for parents misusing this book but I do assert that the methods in this book are overly cruel, harsh and loveless, despite what the author's try to portend.   

After a little additional search, prayer and the understanding we don't need a book or method to parent but we sure wanted to have a Biblical guide, we found "Shepherding a Child's Heart" by  Tedd Tripp. 

We read it. It resonated.  Yes,  spanking is advocated here. We just omitted that practice and soaked up the gentle wisdom. The premise of this book is RELATIONSHIP with a child that points him to Jesus. The focus after discipline is on restoring the child/parent relationship to an open and loving place.  The parent is in authority, of course. But the goal is not simply outward obedience but a deep understanding of what puts any of us, adult or child, into a right relationship with God and the blessings that flow from that. 
It's not a perfect text. Only the Word of God can claim that title. 
But, for us, it answered what was wrong with other popular ideologies and fit well for a child who was adopted or biological. And we, as parents, learned about our own hearts and need to surrender fully to our LOVING father at the same time. 

So,  please, adoptive parents,  do not follow any cookie cutter approach to discipline. Do not simply look at the well behaved children of your friends and do what they are doing. Don't take my advice for any of this without deep prayer and introspection.  If it feels too heavy, rigid, unloving or if you see your practices putting DISTANCE between you and your child, STOP THEM.  The spirit of God in you will tell you when you are on the wrong path with your child. Will  you listen? 

For further reading:

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Giver, Not the Gift

This is quite possibly the only post of this nature I will ever write.

First, because it GREATLY contradicts my philosophy on missions and guilt and friendships and money. It's uncomfortable.

And, second, because I vowed early on never to be "that" missionary but here I go . . .

A couple of months ago, I was listening to a podcast by David Platt. He is NOT the guy you want to listen to if you enjoy  complacency in your faith walk or if your comfort zone is a place  you've planned to occupy until there's nothing left to binge watch.

Yes, the guy who wrote "Radical". That's the one.

So, he quoted Leonard Ravenhill, a British pastor who was openly critical of the First World church until his death in 1994.  And here is the quote:

Cringy? Convicting? Annoying?  It's going to hit different people in different ways.

I PROMISED early on in the life of our ministry here in The Philippines that I would not be that missionary. . .you know the one.  The one who comments about how giving up your Latte for a month could provide clean water for the Hookabooka people for seven centuries (I made that up but you know the type).  I very much do not want to be the missionary that makes her friends feel guilty for going to Disney World six times a year while kids languish in the streets of Asia eating from trash cans.
I'm not the Holy Spirit. 
I don't convict people.
I don't decide how fellow Believers distribute their God-given resources. 

But IF this quote by Ravenhill is to be believed, the Body of Christ has to do better.  We have to.

That includes me.  

I know what you're thinking. 
"Ah, giving must be low at Mercy House right now so it's time for Nikki to pull out the big guns".

And I respond to that,
"Not at all. This is not about our ministry alone and it's not about  'getting more money' out of
first world Believers. 

It's highly probable that I'm "preaching to the choir" here because the people who take the time to read a blog post about missions are probably already giving sacrificially, serving locally and praying fervently for the gospel to go out worldwide.  

This post is for YOU.  First world Christ followers. It is solely intended to benefit you. Not our ministry or any other ministry.

Check this out:
I recently did a short study on Philippians.  Chapter four contains a couple of the most quoted (and misquoted) scriptures in the Bible. One of them is Philippians 4:19 which reads

"and my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in 
Christ Jesus"

Missionaries LOVE that verse.  Anything that reminds us that God cares about our needs and will supply them is balm to our living-on -love gifts souls.

But Paul did not write that verse for himself or his fellow missionaries. That scripture was for his supporters!  Read the whole chapter. Paul is praising the church at Philippi for being his ONLY supporting church and reminding them he is not seeking more "stuff" from them but that he is seeking the fruit of the gospel.  Paul reminds the church at Philippi that the fruit of his work is to THEIR credit. 

How beautiful is that?  
The gospel goes out and the messenger is not given the credit but the ones who support the messenger are.  

I love God's economy.  
It's nothing like the world's.

The "silent partners" are the ones in the spotlight . They are the ones for whom God will "supply every need".  

That makes my heart sing. 

How desperately I want the Lord to bless every Believer who invests in missions. And His word says He will. He will provide for your needs as you provide for those who GO.

As I type this blog post, my mind travels to some precious faces in the First World. I imagine you sitting down at your computer and clicking on our web site to give. I imagine you writing a check, getting a stamp and giving "old school" through the regular mail as you think of us and share your resources with people thousands of miles away who don't have their basic needs met and who do not know the saving love of Jesus.

And I am smiling right now.

I don't know if the quote by Leonard Ravenhill is true. I suspect for many it is. 
But for those who do sacrifice for global missions, I believe God IS providing for your needs. He said he would.  His word is trustworthy. 

And if God has pricked your heart while reading this blog post, can I ask one tiny favor?

Don't stop feeding your pets! 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Adoption is Not the Gospel

There. I said it.   It has been  gnawing at my heart, mind and spirit for nearly a decade and I was never brave enough to put it in type and own it.  Now I am. And I will say it again.

Adoption is NOT the gospel.   The gospel is the gospel.

I am a four-time adoptive mother. I am an orphanage director. I love and support adoption and find it a beautiful picture of the growing of a family through an avenue not dictated by biology. It's an act of obedience for the families called to it. It's an adventure in "dying to self" that we might never experience any other way.

For many families, adoption is the will of God. It yields blessings too many to number. Yes! God does set the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6) and He calls us to look after orphans and widows (James 1:27)

But it is not the gospel.

Countless books, posts, summits and quotes tout "adoption is the gospel" or is as close to the gospel as a picture we could paint with our flesh here on earth. And I disagree. And I realize I'm nobody and I am disagreeing with the likes of John Piper, Russell Moore and numerous   learned scholars who could bury me in any argument any day of the week with all but one brain cell tied behind their backs.

But, folks, I don't see it. And I have adopted. I love my adopted children to the ends of the Earth.

The gospel, my friends, is the sacrificial death of a holy, perfect God on the cross for sinful, undeserving man.  The gospel is the ONLY hope for hell-bound sinners (that's all of us, by the way) to find life outside of the condemnation we all deserve. 

So where, in this list of descriptors of the gospel of Christ, does the Earthly picture of adoption show up?  Are we, the adoptive parents, the representatives of Christ? Are we saving our adopted children from a literal or theoretical "hell" when we adopt them? Are we laying down our very lives for the purpose of bringing children into our families?  It might feel like it some days but, I assure you, the act of adopting a child will not cost you your literal life. In most cases, anyway. 

And if it did, your death wouldn't pay for a single sin. Neither would mine. 

Wouldn't a more accurate picture of the gospel be we, as adoptive parents, changing places with our adopted children?  We would go live in orphanages as the fatherless and they would be ushered into our homes, no qualifiers needed. We would give up everything in our own lives and just simply hand it over to children who hate us ? Isn't that more in the range of the gospel than us bringing a beautiful child into our homes where we inadvertently get a host of benefits, not the least of which is being able to parent precious children who had no family. 

Adoption is GOOD.  Adoption is BEAUTIFUL and Adoption is HARD.  But when it is equated to the gospel, when it reduces the gospel to something even remotely reproducible by the very recipients of the pure love of God the Father, who had no sin in Him, it falls agonizingly short.  

The same scripture that calls us as Believers to "care for orphans" also calls us to "care for widows". But how many fund raisers have your friends held, how many Go Fund Me pages for the care of widows?  How many of us as Believers are rushing to bring widows into our homes? I never have. It never even crossed my mind to do that.  I wanted more children. That was at the heart of our adoption. Maybe that isn't the case for every adoptive family. But I wanted a bunch of kids. And I got them through adoption. 

Adopting my sons never felt like the gospel. It felt like what it was. Adopting sons. It was exhilarating and awesome.  It was obedience to the call on our family. But the analogy that adopting them was somehow a type of "salvation" for them or for us just felt awkward. And wrong. It's not like what Jesus did. It's what people do. We take care of each other in whatever way God tells us to. 

And where does  "adoption is the gospel" or "adoption is God's heart" leave our fellow Believers who aren't called to adopt children? Do they feel "less than"?  Do they somehow miss the full illustration of the gospel in their lives because they haven't adopted a fatherless child?  I pray they never feel that way.  I pray they understand adoption is a calling on specific families while CARING for the fatherless is a mandate for all of us who claim to belong to the great big family of God. 

Please hear my heart on this. I LOVE ADOPTION!!! I LOVE MY ADOPTED SONS and my biological children with all that I am. 
It is beautiful when the children in my orphanage are united with their forever families through adoption.  It's my heart's desire for the ones who also desire it.

But no human analogy - not adoption, not marriage, not organ donation, not soldiers dying in combat, not people selling all their worldly goods to move to the third world to open an orphanage, not any single act we can engage in can hold a candle to what Jesus did on the cross those 2,000 years ago to reconcile us to God.

That singular act of love, which needed no repeating for a new batch of sinners (unlike adoption which presents a continuous need for new families to reach out to new orphans)  and which could only be satisfactorily completed by God Himself, is final. And incomparable. 

Adoption is adoption. Worthy in it's own way.

The gospel is the gospel. Beauty beyond comprehension, sacrifice beyond replication , good news with no parallel.  

Perfect for the imperfect.  Holy for the sinful. 

Life giving and soul saving in  the only way a human soul can be. 

Adoption is not the gospel. The gospel is the gospel. 



Sunday, June 9, 2019

Remade: A Woman's Perspective on Mission Life

It has been six years since my family moved to The Philippines in service of street children. It has been an entire year since I've touched this blog and, to be honest, I had to reset the password because I had forgotten it. 

Please don't mistake the year of blog silence for "life has fallen into a predictable routine".  The only thing that is predictable here on the mission field is that nothing is.

And being a woman on the mission field, I have found, brings a unique type of challenge. We are so relational. Plus, they don't sell tampons here but that is a whole other blog post.

Looking back over my older blog posts, I see that I am nothing like her anymore. She was so optimistic. She believed that she could reach even the most distant child's heart.  Her faith was stronger than it is at this moment and she wasn't as tired. But she is so much wiser now.

 Kids have come and gone. More than 85 children have been served in some capacity in Mercy House's live-in, residential care program. The coming in is wonderful. The "going" part can be brutal.  We have said "goodbye" for happy reasons like family reunifications or adoptions. And we have said "goodbye" for devastating reasons like running away or  the need to  transfer to another place more equipped to serve a particular boy.   Every "goodbye" does something to my heart.   And, even as a four-time adoptive mother, these six years have changed my view of adoption radically. Adoption truly is NOT for every child nor is it for every family.  Some of my boys who have been adopted are struggling in the most painful ways. Some are laying waste to their adoptive families with their trauma. And we have done all we can to prepare them. Those who are thriving are the youngest and most resilient. The brokenness of the world  takes no prisoners. Everyone in it's path feels the burn to one degree or another.
In the last year, my precious mother has been diagnosed with stage 4 bone cancer, my stateside children have had struggles that are unreachable here and we have undertaken a building project that has added a lot of weight to the load we carry.

But I suspect this life isn't so different to what it would have been had we not come 8,000 miles from our home land to serve. There would still be family sicknesses, struggles and people we lose physically and emotionally as life moves forward.

The distance magnifies the helplessness but the loneliness compounds everything.  The loneliness has always been and will probably always be the strangling part.   There have been countless times of feeling like I wanted to implode from having no one to talk through the hurts with.
 And as a Follower of Christ, He should always be the One. But there are times when a girl friend with a listening ear, no judgement  and lots of  "that must be hard" is what my heart wants most.  And can not have.  A friend guaranteed to spur me on and believe in my crazy ideas. The plans that others would say are too big or too silly to walk in.   The things I want to try that are too fragile to share in case they are crushed.
So I suppose when Paul said in Philippians that everything he once held dear he now counts as loss compared to the greatness of knowing HIM, he might have   meant things would be like this. 

But the OVERWHELMING peace and joy that follow us over here are the warm blanket over the hard days.  And now that we have been at this for six years, we have literally raised several of our boys from small street children to amazing young men who, although not given a family by adoption for various reasons, have found a PLACE that is their own.  Parents who will walk with them into adulthood, however flawed we are, and pour into them what was missing for those years the street stole. 

And God has drawn our oldest son, Aaron, into the work with us and that has been a great source of joy for me.  He has kept our immediate family here healthy, an illness here beyond the norm is a great fear as we just don't have the access (or insurance) we once did. 

If you asked me "if you knew then what you know now, would you still have come?" the answer would be, I would have come SOONER.  I would have RACED headlong into the distance and loneliness and other trials I have walked here.  I would not trade a moment of this life for the comfort of my old one.  I would not miss a second of holding broken boys while they grieve in exchange for an ounce of additional "me time".   Because THIS IS LIVING for me. It is not the calling on everyone's life (and I am thankful for that because so many of you are needed to stay where you are, serve in your workplace and family and be our champions from afar).  

So, to my precious friend who is on her way over here, family in tow, ready to tackle the crisis of fatherlessness with wide-eyed optimism. . .  hurry!!  

This life will not be easy. But I expect you know this. The enemy will come at your both guns blazing in a firestorm of discouragement in hopes of sending you away defeated.  So cling to the cross! 
The pain of the mission field brings the goodness of God into clarity.  The successes in ministry remind you that it is all HIM because we are more frail and less competent than we care to admit. 

"Superwoman" is a myth.   On the field and off.