Archives For Adoption

Loving When It Hurts

February 6, 2017 — 2 Comments

Have you ever purchased furniture that comes in a box? Our office is full of IKEA desks and bookshelves from the Swedish furniture titan.  As I begin each assembly, I open the manual, look at the simple pictures, and review the short list of required tools. Filled with unbridled but unfounded optimism, I naively dive into the assembly.

However, as each project unfolds, my frustration inevitably grows.  The simple pictures are never simple to follow. In fact, I’ve never reached the end of a project and thought, “That was easy!”  Each piece takes far more time to assemble than anticipated, eroding my patience to pitiful levels and causing me to mutter Swedish words.

This doesn’t just apply to furniture assembly. For many of us, when we first stepped out into the work of loving and serving others, we had a simplistic (and perhaps naïve) vision of just how easy it was going to be. Turns out, loving others is far more complicated and difficult than we originally imagined.

Several years ago, my wife and I attended a summit designed for families walking through adoption and foster care. I imagine that most of the attendees found themselves in the same place that I did: armed with the ardent conviction of our call to love and care for orphans, widows, and vulnerable children. God has been unmistakably clear in His charge to the Church to care for them. To Laurel and I, our next step seemed obvious: Kids in crisis were in need of a safe place to live, and we had room in our hearts and our home. The math was simple, and love rooted in the Gospel compelled us to respond.

But cheerful brochures with smiling children hide the reality that between those moments of giggles are a lot of tears.

Our family took a deep breath, and plunged head-first into a world of addiction, hurt, and pain. We opened up our home to provide respite care, knowing that loving people is an inherently dangerous thing to do. We genuinely believed that we were ready.

Nothing could have prepared us for what was coming.

Our experience in welcoming a child turned into the single most painful season of our lives. I experienced fear like I’ve never felt it before. Pain and resentment became constant companions—and the most wrenching pain that I experienced was watching the people that I love the most become deeply wounded.

Here is what I’ve come to believe: There are no simple ways to love others. Love is costly. Indeed, as people invited to incarnate Christ in a broken world, if our love looks anything like Jesus’ love, it could cost us everything that we’ve got. Faithfully loving others like Jesus loves them inevitably means that you will experience hurt.

Stepping out to welcome the foreigner, protect the widow, defend the fatherless, and love our brothers and sisters living on the fringes of society isn’t comfortable or safe. Empowered by the Holy Spirit and motivated by the same wild, scandalous love that once rescued us, we are called to step into the good works that God has prepared in advance for us. If you have embarked on a journey to love the vulnerable and found it to be more difficult than you imagined, do not lose heart!

How are we to respond to the pain that accompanies living lives marked by costly love?

 1. Expect that loving others is going to be hard.

Don’t believe the IKEA manual claim that the task ahead of you will be simple, or that trite explanations and simple solutions are going to fix all the problems. Real life rarely presents itself in a sanitized, comfortable way.

Instead, lean into the truth that the world is broken. We know that Jesus has won the war—but the battle rages on. We shouldn’t be surprised when life is painful. We shouldn’t be surprised when relationships are difficult. We shouldn’t be surprised when hurt people hurt us.

We are to go into our service with our eyes wide open that “in this world you will have troubles” (John 16:33).

What’s the benefit of expecting it? It helps us to more fully enter into the beautiful moments of life—the hugs, the smiles, the “I love you’s.” Enjoy these moments. Savor them. But don’t be surprised when they’re intertwined with heartbreak.

When we expect challenges, we increase our ability to savor the moments of joy and cling firmly to the second part of the verse from John’s gospel: “Take heart, for I have overcome the world.”

 2. Call for help.

IKEA manuals always have the same last picture: Call someone.

Pierre, a friend of mine, told me that in rural Rwanda, it’s common knowledge that you always need at least four close friends, people you can call at any time, day or night. It’s four, because that’s the number of people it takes to carry a stretcher.

Strong lifelong friendships don’t just happen; they take intentionality and commitment. Invest in the relationships that matter, and they will sustain you in all seasons of life.

When we reached out to a friend in the midst of the pain of adoption, she responded, “We are going to walk this together, and while we don’t know God’s big picture or the end result, I believe many lives will be changed and hearts will be saturated with the reality of true Kingdom loving. Don’t look ahead. Just do the next thing. Trust and obey. One loving act at a time.” In that moment, it was exactly what we needed to hear.

3. Look up. Constantly.

In moments of incredible trial, where do we fix our eyes?

  • We might look back and obsess over our past. Previous failures and “if-only” scenarios can crush us, if we let them.
  • We might look forward and fret over our future. This is especially easy when we still have questions about what is going to come in the next moment, let alone the next month or next year.
  • We might look inward and become paralyzed by our hurt.
  • We might look side-to-side and ask why other people seem to have it infinitely easier than we do.

Yet we are to be a people of hope who look up. This is not a cliché. These are true words. When life feels impossibly hard, we remember that we have nowhere else to go. As we read in Psalms 121, “I lift my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, Maker of Heaven and earth.” Look to Jesus, the One who perfectly shows us what wild, scandalous, costly, fearless love looks like in practice.

Friends, as you step out in the significant work of loving others, do it empowered by the Spirit and saturated in grace. Do it surrounded by a community of people cheering you on and supporting you. Do it knowing that God has promised to use all things, both the moments of great success and moments of heart-wrenching pain, for our good and His glory.

My hope is that we will be known as people who run to the suffering and the hurting, instead of running away. That we will stop to make time to respond to the needs all around us—even though doing so will bring both beauty and pain. That we would be prepared to live fearlessly and love boldly. And that we will continue to press into the dangerous work of loving like Jesus.

ChildrenExamine the marketing materials for most aid and development organizations, and you’ll notice that children are prominently featured in everything from clean water to refugee resettlement. Sometimes they’re depicted as desperate, wide-eyed, malnourished, and alone. Other times, images portray children flashing wide grins, full of energy and unbridled hope for the future. The innocence of youth is compelling.

Children are incredibly precious, significant, and special. It’s impossible to blame them for their current situation – and we are motivated to do something to help children achieve a brighter future. But for their good, I believe we need to stop making children the exclusive focus of our programs and shift away from an exclusively child-centered approach.

Why in the world would I be encouraging us to consider decreasing our emphasis on children?

Before you call me a Grinch and accuse me of possessing a “heart that’s two sizes too small,” here’s why I think it would actually be in the best interest of children if we stopped exclusively focusing on them:

Not all children in poverty are orphans.

Overly simplistic images of children by themselves and out of the context of their surroundings perpetuate a pervasive, damaging picture that all children in poverty are orphans. Orphans are particularly vulnerable and need special care, but to paint all children as orphans just isn’t true. The Better Care Network points to studies in Cambodia, for example, revealing that 75% of children living in orphanages are not actually orphans but have one or more biological parents still living. And even more have living extended family members. We need to recognize that most children have families and are best supported within the context of the family.

The picture above is a cropped version of this image. It’s time to stop cropping out parents, literally and figuratively.

Family

For deep, lasting change to occur, transformation must be experienced not only by children, but by their whole families. I’ve witnessed the gut-wrenching reality that when children are returned to families who have not received the support and care that they need as caregivers, children can end up in the same cyclical, heartbreaking situation.

Might it be that by focusing on children, we are undermining the role of families? Why are parents invisible and often forgotten? Perhaps it’s because paying school fees is far easier than walking alongside a parent who wants to start and grow a small business or become free from addiction.

Whatever the reason, loving children demands an equal measure of love for the family around them, no matter how difficult it might be.

Please understand, I am all for helping children! I simply believe that focusing exclusively on children to the exclusion of their families often proves to be less helpful, and possibly even damaging, in the long run.

Let’s seek out organizations and strategic approaches that focus on empowering men and women to provide for themselves and their families. When the family flourishes, children grow up with strength and hope for the future.

For more, check out When Helping HurtsThe Poor Will Be Glad, or download the free e-book Stop Helping Us!.


This post originally appeared on the PovertyCure blog.

There is nothing more powerful than a mom who wants to care for her children.

Alphonsine

Mothers have been reported to pick up cars when kids are in harm’s way. They have sheltered loved ones from collapsed buildings. And you know, when the cubs are around, you never want to mess with mama bear.

The microfinance model works because of moms. At HOPE, 68 percent of our clients are women—mostly mothers. With their passion—coupled with a little more capital and deeper community—moms will fight out of love to provide for their kids. I’ve seen this in my mom and in my wife. And I’ve seen this around the world in women like Alphonsine.

It was her five children who first motivated Alphonsine Kimuzaza to join “Peaceful,” a community bank an hour outside Kigali, Rwanda, in 2009. They needed books, uniforms, and supplies for school, as well as healthy food to eat.

And they just didn’t have enough.

Alphonsine identifies a loan of $167 from HOPE’s partner Urwego Opportunity Bank as “the spark.” It enabled her to purchase plantains and other foodstuffs for resale. And the business has prospered. Alphonsine has become a wholesaler, selling up to eight tons of beans and sorghum a week while maintaining her plantain sales. Her income varies, but she earns over $50 a day. She’s purchased a hybrid cow that produces more than two gallons of milk a day, and after her children have had their fill, she sells the remainder. Her income helps pay for all five of her children to attend school.

When she learned that three young relatives of her husband had been orphaned, she had sufficient resources to open not only her heart but her home to the children–adopting them, sending them to school, and meeting all of their needs.

“The fact that I have a successful business is not just my hard work. It’s God who led me to the right business,” she says.

But Alphonsine is working hard to achieve her dream, and she has eight powerful motivators. “I want my children to go to university,” she says. “That’s the reason I have to work so hard.”

So this Mother’s Day, hats off to you, moms. Strong, beautiful and made in God’s image, every day you move mountains to give your kids a better future.

See the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2012 Women’s Report, which celebrates entrepreneurial women—including moms—around the world.

This Mother’s Day, HOPE is honoring the creativity, dedication, and love of the women we serve as they work to provide for their families. Join us in honoring the many roles mothers like Alphonsine play through our “We Heart Moms” campaign.

In “The tragedy of orphanages,” a TED talk by Georgette Mulheir, Mulheir shares how the institutionalization of orphan care results in tragic results. Kids who grow up in orphanages are likely to experience significant social, physical, and cognitive harm.

Orphanages are also correlated with poverty, crime, and sex trafficking:

Moldova – study: Young women from orphanages are 10 times more likely to be trafficked than their peers.

Russia – study of orphans within two years of graduation from an orphanage:

  • 14 percent of women involved in prostitution
  • 22 percent hold a criminal record
  • 10 percent have committed suicide

The tragedy is that so many of these “orphans” have a living parent. Poverty is the largest driver of institutionalized care.  The solution isn’t building more orphanages; it’s finding creative ways for each child to grow up in a home.

We need to go beyond orphanages, and there’s a new book that helps us discover why and how.

You really need to read Orphan Justice: How to Care for Orphans Beyond Adopting, written by my friend Johnny Carr, national director of church partnerships at Bethany Christian Services.

Johnny’s book is a vital perspective that there is no one-size fit-all solution to the global orphan crisis.  And not everyone is supposed to adopt – but we’re all called to care for widows and orphans in their distress.

Orphan Justice encourages us to see Christ’s call for the Church—to restore the family. It enables us to realize the complexity of the problem and the many different ways we are to respond.

Adoption is one option. Providing family support services or taking part in foster care  are also alternatives.  For example, in Ethiopia, Bethany Christian Services supports community-based care. They place orphans in homes in that community—with the intention that the families will ultimately adopt them. It’s also about prevention. Helping families grow their income enables then to bring more children into their home.

Whether it’s coming alongside families or adopting a child, the Bible is clear about one thing: caring for orphans is at the heart of Christ’s mission for the Church.

For another post on orphan care, see When Building Orphanages Isn’t Enough.