Pamilya Ko

Pamilya Ko

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

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"The Story of My Life . . ."

The image above is a stack of life books.  We are making one for every child in our center. These books are full of pictures of our Mercy House kids, their housemates, staff, friends from school and fun outings we've been on together.   Some of them even contain pictures of birth family. A few of birthmoms and dads . . . sacred stuff.

Life books are a tricky concept, depending on who you ask.

As I sat at my big, wooden table last week, picking out pictures for each of the children in our center, my mind went back to the four times we adopted while still living in America.  All of our kids came to us with life books (and one with a CD of photos including birth mom on the day she gave our boy to his child caring agency).  She was a beautiful woman.

As an adoptive mom, the life books were both precious to me and they stung.  Here, before me, in pictures is  a whole host of people who knew my child first.  Here is a list of my son's favorite foods and I'm not even sure what some of them ARE . . .  Here are people who hugged him when he was three and who called him by a cute nick name I only just learned about.  Here are the staff members he ran to for comfort when he was sick or hurt. . . and here is the favorite caregiver he called "Mommy" for years, the one he cries over every time we turn to THAT page. The one he doesn't want to talk about to me because I wouldn't understand and he's not sure if it's okay to feel the way he feels about leaving her.

And in my insecurity and jealousy, I sometimes wanted to hide that life book from my older adopted son.  But I never did.   I just wanted him to love me best of all and, in the early weeks and months in our home, he didn't.  He missed the people who knew him first.  He missed them to the point of tears and silence sometimes.   He went to a place I wasn't allowed in his own heart and mind. And he grieved there. 

And what a heartache for a new, excited, starry-eyed, madly-in-love mother!

But it could not be  about ME and my feelings or wants.  It had to be  about my son and his need to grieve the loss of adoption before he could appreciate the gain.

And I can not promise we did all the right things in relation to our son and his life book but our solution to watching him grieve over it was two fold. First, we kept it in a drawer where he could access it anytime he wanted.    Second, we made a commitment to show only positive emotions related to that book no matter how many times he needed to look at it, tell the same stories and call that caregiver "mommy".     He set the pace.  He managed his memories in the way he felt was best for him.

And it was.  In time . . .

In the early days home, that life book came out every single day. As time went on, it became weekly, then monthly and then, maybe twice a year or when an adoptive family visited us.  And I am so THANKFUL for that book.  How wonderful to see the life he had and the faces he saw!  That old jealousy and insecurity has long-since been replaced by curiosity and appreciation.  His devotion shifted and my fears that it never would made me laugh at myself when I remembered them.

So, as I sit on this side of the adoption equation, making those life books, I know some of the pictures in them will sting the new parents.   But more than that, they will comfort and encourage the children. They will remind the children of us, still loving and praying for them,  even when they are far away.
Over time, the children may forget the names of the pets or the visitors or even the staff in those photos, but our prayer is that they will NEVER forget that they were loved twice or even three times by sets of people whom God sent to leave footprints on their hearts . . .until He carried them all the way to you.   The final stop.


Monday, January 26, 2015

The Redemption in the Rescue

Today was one that will be unlikely to be forgotten by those of us in the midst of it.

We were referred two brothers.  There's nothing exceptional about that. Our Child Caring Agency gets referrals often.  We generally are referred children from temporary institutions who are in need of permanent care.

THIS call was for children still in the family home.  These children were suffering immensely at home from abuse, starvation and oppressive poverty.
 The home was little more than three cinder-block walls and one wall made of clap board. The smell inside was indescribable.  The children were using one corner of the room as a bathroom.  They were alone.  They were not being cared for by anyone.  There was no food anywhere in sight and the children were often seen by neighbors digging through garbage and eating whatever they found.

These precious boys were guarded and afraid as we talked with them. We were surprised to find out they are seven and nine because they are the sizes of four and five year olds.  Several concerned neighbors gathered around and asked us to take the boys somewhere better "for the sake of their future".   The neighbors were caring and kind but they, too, were poor and had little to share with these brothers.  It was not because they didn't want to help. They simply couldn't.
The city social worker, who accompanied us, had been called repeatedly for help with these boys and had not yet found an organization able to make the journey to their far-away squatter community to intervene.  Many are full here.
And what we found there made me wonder why God called US there instead of someone far more experienced in this kind of child rescue.  But He called and we went.

Inside the house

Right outside the front door

The children came with us easily after our social worker and the local city social worker had all the documents signed and the nearest relatives briefed on what was taking place.  The boys did not cry or even feel the need to hug anyone as they left. They just came.  Stoically.  Silently trailing behind us, all the way to our vehicle.
I walked beside them and put a loose arm around their shoulders.  I rubbed their hair a little on the walk and told them in my very best not-so-good Tagalog not to worry and that they were safe now. I asked them if they were hungry as soon as we entered the car and they both nodded.
My husband asked if they liked Jolibee and the older brother quietly admitted they had never been.  Jolibee is THE fast food restaurant of The Philippines and we were surprised that they had never been even once.  It was settled.  We were going to Jolibee!
The boys were in awe of all the big trucks and buses we drove by. They chatted with each other a little more excitedly as motorcycles whizzed by our car.  They pointed at large buildings and exclaimed how tall they were.
It was then that we realized they had probably never been outside their own squatter community! They were amazed at the very mundane things we pass all the time.  Their barangay was pretty remote and it made sense that they had simply never left.  Our social worker inquired and it was true. They had lived their whole lives in that very place we had just taken them away from.
We pulled into the parkinglot at Jollibee and the boys pointed and marveled at the tall sign out front and the bigger-than-life bumblebee mascot at the front door.
They both ordered chicken and spaghetti and could not sit still as they waited for their food to come!


 And as I type this blog post, those two beautiful boys are sleeping upstairs at Mercy House. The little one is under a Winnie the Poo comforter (thank you, Australia) and the older boy is under a Wall-E blanket (thanks, USA) and I am still processing all that happened today.
I have a few immediate thoughts to share.

FIRST, there is nothing heroic about what we did today. It simply had to be done because we drove to where we heard there was a need and saw heart-breaking suffering.  We are not "awesome" and we sure aren't super Christians.  We came here to help and God is revealing needs.  I sang praise songs in the car the whole way to Jollibee in pure thankfulness that God would even use us like this. We are so unqualified in so many ways.  But that's ANOTHER blog post . . .

SECOND,  don't you DARE call your child over to the computer and show him the conditions of these boys' lives and then chastise him for not eating his peas or picking up his toys.  That is unfair on so many levels.  You and your child can not even conceive of this kind of poverty unless you've been here or somewhere like here.  I never could.  In some ways, I still can't.  If these boys were raised in a loving family without abuse and poverty, they would probably be feeding their peas to the dog under the table as well. That's a PRIVILEGE.  Just hug your picky eater and thank your Father in Heaven that he will likely never have to find his dinner in the trash bag of an impoverished neighbor. You don't deserve your life but neither do these kids deserve theirs. 

THIRD,  the message stuck on "repeat" in my mind as I met the mother of these two today is "there but for the grace of God, go I".  I could so easily be that young woman who made a litany of poor choices brought on by a cycle of poverty that probably started with her great-great-great-great grandmother and will continue all the way to her children's children's children without a miraculous intervention.

FOURTH,  if we ever doubted our calling to this country and this particular ministry, today redeemed our call.  Never have I felt so certain that God ordained a place and time.  He did. He is so good and so faithful and so real.  There wasn't one aspect of this day that could be legitimately called a "coincidence".   GOD DID THIS.   He wanted it done and it is.

But it's also a work in progress and we will trust Him to complete that good thing that He started. These children are, for the first time in their lives, in a safe place. Their needs are being met. Nobody is going to hit them. They will go to school. They will learn about what Jesus has done to reconcile sinners to God.  They will be safe.
They are safe.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Not Like Us, Older Child Adoption Part 2

Most of you readers are aware of the fact that, back in 2006, our family welcomed a child into our home from a disrupted adoption.    I detailed the events surrounding that decision and the hardships that came as a result of it in a blog post that went  viral here.
Although this particular son has had struggles common to kids from hard places even since that time, I firmly believe he has been healed of the worst of the damage and God has done a miracle for him.
We are still in awe of that healing, eight years after placement.

But I share with you today, not so much as a four-time Philippine adoptive parent but as the director of a Child Caring Agency that is in the throes of preparing our first group of children for their "forever families".

I share because TWO disrupted adoptions further broke the heart of my broken son and it is my deepest desire that the children from our orphanage should never suffer that same pain.

I write because TWO American families had to cope with the hard decision to find a new family for a child and those families walked into adoption with, I'm sure, the best of intentions and the highest of hopes. They spent countless dollars and offered many prayers for the child that would be theirs but they could not stay the course.

And I write for a little boy who currently lives in our center but could so easily follow the path of my own broken son if not for an adoptive family who understands . . . who is patient . . . who sees hidden treasure underneath the damaged earth.

This is a child who spent years on the streets.  He begged. He parked cars. He scavanged in the trash to make a few pesos from recyclable items.  He took the money back to a very poor mother and she used it to provide for their family.  He was abused both on the streets and at home.  He's 12 and small for his age with a HUGE personality.

This is a child who could easily grow up to be a pastor, a politician...  or a disrupted adoption story.

He already has some innate strikes against him in terms of a successful placement.
He's older.
He's a boy.
He's very very behind academically, although he's smart.
That HUGE personality may look like RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) to some well-read but inexperienced adoptive family.
And THAT is where my fear and heartbreak meet and THAT is why I want to speak out on behalf of this child and so many others like him who wait in this country for a fresh start and a forever family.

Because I am American, I can really only speak to my own adoptive culture and community although I suspect in places like Australia and France - places with plenty of access to adoption literature, professionals who will analyze your child into oblivion and  to internet horror stories - might follow a similar pattern.

This little boy is NOT like a typical American child.  Because he is neither typical nor American.
He's a Filipino former street child who spent much more time on the streets and  in inadequate shelters than he has spent in a solid, safe family setting.  He, and others like him, have some coping strategies that might make a new family hesitant to receive him but I pray that someone will because as we see those survival mechanisms fade away, a beautiful boy is emerging.  This child is going to make some family happier and more alive than they have ever been. In time.

Some of the behaviors you MIGHT see in an older adopted child are:

1. "Over Loving"- for an infant, crying physical closeness and lots of eye contact help get those basic needs met. For an older child, sometimes the words "I love you" will come out too soon in an effort to communicate to his new family that he has needs and wants you to meet them.  An older adopted child might scare his parents who have read in countless adoption books that when a child is too loving, too soon, he is being "superficially charming" and probably has an attachment disorder.
In some children, that is true.  But I submit to you that the children we have worked with do not even understand what real parental love looks like, for the most part.  They mimic what they hear those happy TV families say and it yields positive results so they continue to do that.  As time goes on, we see the kids in our center start to say "I love you" less and less as they begin to receive love from us and our staff. They start to prefer us to strangers in public and they begin to make eye contact when they say "I love you".  And I am not naive, I feel the change in this child.  I can see it.  His forever family will, too.  If they are willing to wait for it.

2. "Over Asking" - kids who have had to fend for themselves will often ask for everything under the sun.  It is annoying. It feels like they are "using" you.  It is worrisome and embarrassing, especially when the child asks a family friend or a casual acquaintance for food, money, etc.  If your new son or daughter spent time begging, this is a behavior that has granted them lots of goodies and it takes time to extinguish.   A child needs a LONG time of having his needs met consistently by other people before he stops "looking out for number one".   He will get it eventually.  Three months into care with two of our boys and they already get it.  The asking for things has diminished.  The thankfulness has increased. Again, it takes time and it takes reminders that it's not nice to ask people for things all the time.

3. "Over Helping" - your older adopted child may believe he has to work to stay in your family. The children in our center have chores and work hard but most of them came in and tried to do EVERY chore ALL THE TIME.  If a child saw a staff member sweeping, he would try to take the broom and finish.  He would offer to change dirty diapers, do ALL the dishes for this HUGE group of people and even cook the food.  Kids who have been on the street are used to working for what they get.  Even begging is work. It is hard work, actually.  The kids spend hours in the hot son approaching strangers and dealing with a lot of rejection, harsh remarks and being ignored. Very hard on the spirit of a child but "work", just the same.  Families must reassure their new child that no matter how much - or how little- they do by way of chores, they are wanted, loved and will always be a part of the family.

4. "Over Touching" - The children in our center crave physical attention almost all the time. They want to hold hands, sit on our laps (even the "tough" street kids), kiss our cheeks and just be close. They are getting their needs met, parents.  They may smother you a little, at least for the first few months.  You have to do what is comfortable for you but here, we let them.  We feel such a privilege in getting to meet those unmet needs.  We are preparing them for you in hopes that the behaviors that will scare you into a counselor's office might be a little lessened by the time you meet them.  But they won't be gone. They may even start over because you are somebody new.  Please, I beg you, hug those kids.  Let that 12 year old sit on your lap at home.  Cradle him while you watch a movie. Do it. Don't chastise him for acting younger than his age.  He is putting his heart on the line and asking you to go back in time  with him a little.  The phase won't last forever but the strong bond and healing that come out of it will.

5. "Over Hurting" - the smallest physical injury, a small scratch or a mild bump, might cause your new son/daughter to over react.  They are asking for your undivided attention. They are checking to see if you will come to their aid when they get hurt. They are finding out how much you care about even the small things. On the street, there was no one to kiss those boo boos and put on a band aid. We go through a box a week when a child is new to our center. They can not get enough having those tears dried - even if they had to squeeze them out themselves.  Just like the other "overs", it will fade with time.

I am working hard to be professional and controlled as I type this post but my insides want to splash out onto the screen and BEG you adoptive families not to disrupt the adoptions of the precious kids in my center.  I KNOW them. I ADORE them. I dissolve into tears when I think of them having to endure this kind of pain after the lives they have lived. I know it happens.  I know it could possibly happen to my precious boy in the photo.   Or our others. 

But I also believe there are things WE can do on this side of water and things YOU can do as you wait that will help improve the chances of a great, long-lasting placement for even the children who are older and from hard places.

We'll take care of our side the best we know how but can I just ask THREE small, simple things of you hopeful adoptive parents?  Just THREE . . .

FIRST:  Bury the fantasy!  Falling in love with a photo and a write up is natural in adoption. I have done it four times.  I was "in love" with my kids the moment I received that referral photo and learned the details of their lives.  I built an image in my mind of what my sons would be like and when they were not, it was hard.  I realized they are NOT like "us".  Their voices, their preferences, their personalities- were nothing like the grateful Tiny Tims in my mind who fell into my arms and said "thank you for rescuing me".  Not even close.  Please do not build a mental fantasy around your new child before you meet him. He won't live up to it. He will disappoint. And so will you.  You waited SO long and prayed SO hard for this child  but don't let the "wanting" be better than the "having".
Together, you will find your groove and be the family that God intended.

SECOND: READ LESS, PRAY MORE. There are wonderful books about adoption, attachment, bonding and disorders of such.  I encourage you not to delve too deeply into those.  I know that RAD is real but I also know a lot of money is made from the psycho-analysis and medication of children from hard places. That money might be better spent on family activities and that time better spent in prayer.  With our twice-disrupted son, we opted for counseling, out-of-home respite and lots of other interventions and, for us, there was no "miracle" in those things. The miracle came when we began to accept our boy for who he is and change our own expectations and hearts toward him and his past.  Beauty really IS in the eye of the beholder. Cliche as that is, there is so much truth there. If only I had known .  .  .

THIRD: Give it a full year.  I would venture to say that the changes adoption causes in a family are so drastic that life is upside down for a long time.  Even with a child you adore at first sight, your lives are nothing like they were before "gotcha day" and you all need to step back and find your new normal. In all four of our adoptions, our family was happy but stressed for several months after placement. By the one-year mark, for most of our adoptive placements, we were feeling pretty "normal" and even considering another child.  Remember that at one-month post placement, your family looks nothing like it will at one-year post placement.  Please, just give him a year.  I think you'll be glad you did.

I know this post is general and that every child and every family are different. Each sending country has cultural issues that will not be in line with Filipino culture but, at the heart of all of this, is the common thread. Adoption is hard and if God calls, He equips.

Trust Him. Enjoy your child. Journal the hard and the good. Somebody, somewhere, someday, will need to draw from your life and find the hope to keep, and not disrupt, their adopted child.

For HIS Fame,
Nikki Esquivel
Middleman Community Support Center, Inc.
"Mercy House"

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.