Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Respecting People (Napoleon Dynamite)

June 7th, 2012

Movie Bible Study

Clip is from Napoleon Dynamite, deleted scenes.  Choose the kickball scene and play.

Read Matthew 5:22.  Ask “What does this raca mean?”  Explain it is a term of disrespect or contempt.  Say, “I’m going to give you permission to say some things now that yo wouldn’t ordinarily say, but let’s avoid cussing.  Tell me some words or signs of disrespect that people show toward one another.”

“What does God says about this.”

“What if they deserve it?”

“How does God see those people?  What is His relation to them?”  See if the group can realize that God created those people, too.  When you insult someone, you insult the one who created him.  It’s like insulting a kid in front of his parents.  How do the parents take it?  It makes them very upset, of course.  We have to realize that God feels the same way when we show disrespect for one of His creations or one of His children.


What if someone is doing the same to you?  How do you react?  Matthew 5:11-12

Unicef Working Against International Adoptions

February 20th, 2012

A version of the article below was first printed as an editorial in the Paducah Sun in November, 2011.


Don’t trick or treat for UNICEF this year.  UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) is tricking us into believing they advocate for the welfare of children worldwide, but in reality they are treating the children as pawns in a battle for ethnic purity and nationalism.  If you donate money to UNICEF, you are contributing to an organization that is working to stop international adoptions.

When the Matheny family boarded American Airlines en route to Burkina Faso to pick up their adopted child, the airline played a promotional video for UNICEF.  The touching images and script convinced the Mathenys and other passengers to donate when the bucket was passed around the plane.  To their dismay, they later found out they had contributed to an organization that is working to stop international adoptions.

UNICEF has done admirable work in the past to improve the lives of poor children in war-torn or undeveloped countries.  They have dispensed vaccines, promoted breastfeeding, provided emergency food supplies, endorsed education for girls, and much more.  All this serves to make their opposition to international adoption mystifying for those of us who promote adoption and care passionately about the welfare of all children.  But it also makes their influence more dangerous because the public may put blind trust in such an organization and assume the officials will only work in the best interests of children.

The best interests of children, however, are taking a back seat to the best interests of nationalist ideology.  UNICEF has apparently embraced the philosophy of anti-adoption forces who believe that children should not be removed from their country and culture.  These forces believe that international adoption denies the children their heritage and their right to be raised in kinship groups. They believe that children should remain in their native country in orphanages, foster homes, or native adoptive homes.

Most people will agree that a native adoptive home is ideal; however, it is just not a practical reality in many poor nations.  Ethiopia, for instance, has 5 million orphans, and part of the country is in a famine.  How realistic is it to count on those 5 million kids being adopted by other Ethiopian families? Foster care is also not a realistic option in many developing nations. Besides, we know from our own American experience that foster care has its own set of difficulties and is still not as good as a permanent family.  And an orphanage, at best, is still an institution.  Institutions don’t raise children as well as families do.  So child welfare advocates should be working toward placing children in adoptive homes, regardless of the culture.

Not UNICEF.  UNICEF’s official statement does not blatantly oppose international, or inter-country, adoptions.  This quote, taken from “Unicef’s position on Inter-country adoption,” conveys their halfhearted endorsement: “Inter-country adoption is among the range of stable care options.  For individual children who cannot be cared for in a family setting in their country of origin, inter-country adoption may be the best permanent solution.” Even though UNICEF is not officially antagonistic toward international adoption, their policies make it very difficult, and sometimes impossible, to adopt from other countries. Consider Haiti, for example.  Current UNICEF policies require birth records for all children being adopted internationally, but most birth records in Haiti were destroyed by the earthquake.  Since most Haitians are not in an economic position to adopt, these children are consigned to live out their lives in orphanages, if not in a refugee camp.

What is my vested interest?  I have a potential daughter in Ethiopia.  We were well on the way to bringing her home by Christmas when UNICEF-funded officials removed her and 37 other children from the orphanage where she lived. They took them back to their native region to try to find homes for them there. My “daughter” is between 9-11 years of age and no one has wanted her yet.  Why try to find a family for her when she already has one waiting for her?  UNICEF is also subsidizing the native families who choose to take one of these children.  This in itself is troubling.  Where is the guarantee that some of these families won’t take the children just to get the money?  While UNICEF’s motives may be good in some respects, the implementation of their idealism has heartbreaking consequences for many children.

We need to hold UNICEF accountable for what they claim to be:  an organization that advocates for the best interests of all children.  It is in the best interest of homeless children to be adopted by families that want them, regardless of what country they live in.  Color and nationality are not as important as love and family. You would think UNICEF would know that.

Another Miscarriage

February 20th, 2012

I wrote this on September 23, 2011, but didn’t want to post it then, so I’m posting it now.


I am grieving today.  I’ve been crying off and on since yesterday at noon.  Our adoption agency called with bad news.  The girl we are trying to adopt, the girl we already love and pray for daily, has been taken away.  There are some anti-adoption forces in Ethiopia and other developing countries who are trying to prevent children from being adopted and leaving the country.  They came to our orphanage in Addis Ababa and took 30 children last week, our sweet girl among them.  I can’t even write about it without crying.  They’ve been taken somewhere in the south of  Ethiopia to try to find places for them there.  If they can find family willing to take them in, they will pay them a stipend.  If they can’t find a home for them, they will place them in a different orphanage somewhere in the South.

I can’t for the life of me figure out why they would take children who have waiting families when there are so many who don’t.  And why would they take them from a good orphanage where they have food and a good director who obviously loves them?  And why take them to the South, where there’s a famine and they can’t even feed their own people there?

I know some people don’t understand why I would grieve over a child I’ve never even met, so I’ll explain.

1) It’s like a miscarriage (I’ve already had two). You are attached to and love this child even though you’ve never held or met the child.

2) I’m so heartbroken thinking about what she is feeling.  She had already experienced the loss of her parents — she’s an orphan — and the disruption of being put in an orphanage, and now they’re taking her to another orphanage?  She was already attached to the director and caretakers and children in Addis.  Why tear her away from that?

3) Who’s taking care of the kids in this transition?  Are they just terrified?  Our girl is the only older girl in the group.  Is she able to comfort and play mother to all these little kids who are surely holding on to her?

That’s just a start.


So now we pray with faith that God will bring her to us anyway.  He can do that.


9th Month

September 9th, 2011

I love September.  I’ve been going around all day singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” because it is.  I love the stillness.  I don’t know why it’s so still in the day in September, but it is.  The crackly dry of the grass and leaves and the chirpy buzz of the frogs and cicadas settle into the warm, windless afternoons and evenings.  There’s an atmosphere of fullness and completion, like summer has done her job and now there’s a lull.  It’s open-window weather.  It’s sit-outside-in-the-evening weather.  It’s satisfied and finished and waiting weather, kind of like a pregnancy.  It is the ninth month of the year, now that I think about it, so it is the finished and waiting time of pregnancy.  The black-eyed Susan vine I planted from seed is finally blooming and the Mandevilla has curlicued its way down the whole fence with its myriad of tropical pink flowers.  The Mexican sunflower is getting a little ostentatious with its vivid orange blooms and the cypress vine is like a charismatic little autocrat taking over the whole garden with its ferny foliage and delicate red blossoms.  The hummingbirds are happy about the new garden conqueror.  Since the bee balm has gone to seed, they need a new nectar source. And I sit in the sun and wait, complete, and listen to the loudness of the September stillness.

Nine Months of Labor

September 6th, 2011

We finished all the homework!   Adoptive parents have to complete a minimum of 10 hours of education on adoption, parenting, orphans, attachment, etc. before they can adopt internationally.  Ours took more than 10 hours.  We had to watch 4 hours of a DVD set and then write essays on the content. Then we had to do an online tutorial and take what was essentially a comprehensive test.  Much of it was informative and helpful, but it is a lot of work.  AS IS EVERYTHING ELSE INVOLVED IN ADOPTION.  As I’ve been telling people, it’s a part time job you don’t get paid for.  There’s one thing I want all adopted kids out there to know:  Your parents really wanted you.  Nobody goes to this much trouble for something they’re kind of interested in doing; they have to really want it.   There are nine months of labor in getting a child into this world.  I’ve done that three times.  Well, there are at least nine months of labor to adopt a child.  It’s is just a different kind of labor.  But it can be tiring, painful, annoying, and burdensome, just like gestating a child can be.  I think we just finished the second trimester.  At least I hope we have.  Now we’re looking forward to the arrival of our child.

How we learned about our future daughter

August 23rd, 2011

Here’s the link to the article we read when we first heard about the girls in Ethiopia. It’s from Sara Darling’s blog.

Living on the Margins with Mr. Smith

July 6th, 2011

There’s a gaping hole on our block today. Steve Smith, known simply as “Mr. Smith” to everyone who attended Tilghman over the past 30 years, died of a rare form of hepatitis. It was bad enough when he retired from Tilghman two years ago and left a void, but now that he’s gone from our neighborhood and our world, that house on the corner is dark and melancholy.
And I am sad. I so regret that I did not spend more time with him. He was one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. I’m sorry that I wasn’t a better neighbor to him. I got busy, like we all are, and he could be a bit intimidating, so I let that stop me at times from visiting him.
Mr. Smith moved onto our block about four years ago. We live on Clark Street in an area that is deemed “marginal” by banks and real estate companies. That word was actually used on the transactions when we signed our deed. Clark Street is marginal because it can go one of two ways. It’s on the periphery of good and bad. Two blocks to the south of us is a trailer court. Four blocks east is a housing project and commercial district. Two blocks west is the most desirable area in the city limits, but it is literally “on the other side of the tracks,” because the railroad separates us. And two blocks north sit two reputable and influential churches.
The houses on Clark Street are also marginal. All of them are older: some are gracefully aging, and some are decrepit. Some neighbors have been renovating, landscaping, and building on new additions. Some neighbors have neglected their homes to the point that small varmints share their attics and basements, and some have abandoned their homes altogether. The neighborhood is either on the verge of gentrification or delapidation. We live dangling between redemption and degeneration.
I thought it was most fitting that Mr. Smith moved into our “marginal” neighborhood. He was very marginal himself. I never could figure out which way he was going to go. He was always on the edge of being really good or really bad. Most parents were taken aback at first by Mr. Smith. One friend told me her husband had been so offended by Mr. Smith at the Back to School night, with his theatrics and flamboyance and jumping on his desk, that he almost didn’t let his daughter stay in the class. By the end of the year, the family loved him. And that was true of his students.
What other teacher would introduce Milton’s “Paradise Lost” to his students with a ghetto retelling of the story where Jesus drives up in a Pimpmobile to confront Satan? Maybe some students were offended, but I think it’s brilliant to use the vernacular of the listeners to convey a difficult concept or masterpiece. That was, after all, Jesus’ own method of teaching.
Mr. Smith’s histrionics compelled his students to pay attention to him, which was exactly what he wanted. He often used shock value to drive his point home or even to force his students to look more honestly at themselves. I think sometimes adults misinterpreted his banter with the students. When Mr. Smith retired, he started teaching part time at the community college. We got word about a year later that he’d lost that job because the administration thought he was racist. I told my teenage son. “What?!” he said with agitation. “No way. He’s not racist. He just hates on everybody equally.” But it wasn’t hate; it was just that he spread the insults equitably. It was his way of pushing the boundaries with the teens. He would insult students by calling them names (I won’t even print what he would say here), but he still conveyed his deep fondness for them. When one of my teenage friends went through a dark and terrible time and started wearing all black, Mr. Smith stopped her in the hall and said, “Darling, why don’t you just go ahead and slit your wrists and jump off the top of the school?” It actually made her laugh. And she pointed out that he was the only teacher who noticed and said anything.
Paradoxically (of course), he was voted Most Polite by his high school classmates. After hearing many stories about Mr. Smith, I was astonished, upon first meeting him, at his chivalry and solicitude. I was going to be substitute teaching for his English classes, so I came to talk to him. Rarely have I been treated so well by a man. But then, several weeks later when I couldn’t find the papers in his classroom that he had left for me, he came storming into the room in his big fluffy houseshoes and threw them on my desk. Light and dark. Chiaroscuro. Marginal.
Also paradoxical was his dress. Despite the theatrics and flamboyance, he was one of the most conservative dressers on campus. On his last day at Tilghman, the school declared “Mr. Smith Day” and the entire faculty came dressed in his daily uniform of khakis, blue oxford shirt, and red striped tie.
Each Christmas, I take my teen Bible study group caroling in the neighborhood. The most anticipated stop each year has been Mr. Smith’s house. The first year we knocked on the door, we could hear him cussing us out for disturbing him on a cold December night. But after he saw his students, he was a most gracious and appreciative audience, querying his former students on what they were now doing. Each year, one of these students would stay after the caroling and they would talk a long time.
It will be hard to go caroling this year and walk past that lifeless house. It’s conventional on Facebook for the kids to post “Rest in Peace” when someone dies. I’m not going to use that phrase for Mr. Smith, though. I’m not sure “peace” is the right word. He was too full of life. So I think I will just appropriate another popular motto: “Live, Laugh, Love, Mr. Smith.”

I’m sure there are some great stories of Mr. Smith out there.  Please post them here to share.

One girl from Africa

June 28th, 2011

We received a somewhat shocking email yesterday about the girls we are trying to adopt from Ethiopia.  One of the girls had one missing document and couldn’t be adopted without it.  They orphanage had stepped up efforts to locate it when we said we wanted to adopt her and they felt confident they could locate it.  They were going ahead with all the preparation to get them both ready to go with us.

Yesterday’s email said she’d been returned to her biological family and was no longer available for adoption. We assume they located some of her relatives while searching for the missing document.

I was so shocked that I couldn’t even process the news at first.  We’ve had pictures of both these girls on our fridge for 5 months.  We’ve been praying for them and expecting them to move in with us by the end of the year.  I had been working out all the logistics of how to incorporate two more people into our small house.  I had been convinced that it would be great to bring two girls who are friends over here together so they would have each other during the transition.

We knew from the start that these girls aren’t ours until the court says they are, so we hadn’t let ourselves get totally attached yet.  But still, when you have the pictures, you start to get attached.  Worst of all here, we don’t know which girl is which in the pictures.  We asked the orphanage director to identify them in March, and he said things like, “H (I can’t make her name public) is thinner, darker, and taller.  S is brighter, fatter, and shorter.”  Well, they are sitting down and they look so similar that many people who see the pictures ask if they are twins.  And, really, what use is the adjective “fatter” in describing Ethiopians?  We studied the pictures quite a while and couldn’t make any decision about which one is which.  So we will just have to keep both pictures up there, and we’ll find out which one is ours when we get to Ethiopia.

I’m not grieving this like I might have under ordinary circumstances when an adoption doesn’t happen or a baby is miscarried.  For one, we always knew the paperwork was incomplete, and one adoption agency had finally turned us down because of document problems.  We also knew that at any moment, another family whose application and dossier were complete could choose one of the girls before we could get them.

But the main reason I’m mostly all right with this is because of my prayers for the past several months.  At one point, I got very concerned about taking half-grown children from their country and culture and all the children who were their “family” at the orphanage.  Would it be better for them to be raised in the US than in Ethiopia?  From the standpoint of better healthcare, nutrition, and education, probably yes, but not necessarily from an emotional and spiritual standpoint.  Ethiopian children are very happy, despite having nothing, but maybe that’s partly because they have nothing.  Maybe God wanted them to stay there.  So I prayed for that, for what God wanted.  If it was His will for them to stay there, I prayed for them to find a family there (I really didn’t expect them to find biological family members). If it was His will for us to have them, I prayed we would get them.  If it was His will for us to raise them and educate them and disciple them, then for them to go back to their native country and serve there, then I prayed that would happen.

So you see my prayer was answered, and I realized that almost as soon as I read the email, but my mind still reeled from trying to absorb everything.  I’m sad when I look at the pictures, but happy for her, too, if she has newfound family.  We wonder how the remaining girl feels, if she has lost her friend.  I don’t know if the orphanage would tell her yet that we are coming for her.  But we are.

Two girls from Africa

June 27th, 2011

So if you read “Intractable People” posted earlier, you know we have been trying to adopt two girls from Africa since February.  I went through three agencies to find one which would take us as clients.  The agency who accepted us (I can’t name them yet) was originally established to facilitate adoptions of special needs children, so they were more open to working with our unconventional situation.  We received preliminary approval from them two months ago and have been completing paperwork and finding a homestudy agency since then.

I have moments of near-panic when I think about what we are doing:  first, that we are bringing two half-grown children from another culture who may not speak English into our home; second, that it’s going to cost a boatload of money — at least $36,000.  However, when I pray about these things, or think through what God’s already shown me, I’m okay.  I feel confident that we are working with God on this (as opposed to working against Him or just doing our own thing). Here’s why:

I learned about the girls first and prayed that if we should adopt them that Wayne would want them, too.  He did. When our children saw their pictures, they agreed on adopting them.  We even got attached to their pictures very quickly.  When my sister-in-law heard what we were doing, she was concerned and thought we shouldn’t take this on . . . until she saw the girls’ pictures.  Then she immediately knew they belonged with us. Second, our friends were so excited and supportive of us adopting these girls.  Third, Mike and Sara Darling and Philip and Sara Matheny were both adopting from Africa and they have taken us step by step through the process and instilled faith in us.  Fourth, when I finally found this agency to take us, the director told me she goes to this particular African country where the girls are every month, and she would be talking to the orphanage director in person in two weeks!  That was wonderful news since communication breakdowns were an issue.  Fifth, we had worried that our income would prevent us from adopting, but it wasn’t even an issue for this agency. And sixth, related to that:  when we finally sent in the application with the application money, we got a call from Wayne’s mom (who doesn’t even know yet that we’re adopting) telling us that she’s sending each of her children $10,000.  That’s almost a third of what we need !! And we had no idea it was coming.

So our last information about the girls was that the orphanage was getting them ready for us:  they were getting them checkups and gathering paperwork. Only one piece of paperwork is missing on one of the girls and they are working on getting that.  Sara thinks we could possibly have them by the end of the year because we won’t have to wait for a referral (that’s when they match you with a child).  There’s good reason to pray for that:  right now, the US will give each adoptive family $13,000 per child as a tax refund.  That’s in effect through 2011, but may change to a tax credit in 2012.  The refund would be a huge benefit to our family.

So pray with us for our girls.  We can’t wait to meet them.

Our Amish-style Barn Raisings

February 28th, 2011

First published in Shane Claiborne’s Conspire Magazine

My husband and I have explored the idea of communal living with some of our Christian friends, but, for various reasons, we have chosen for the moment to live the conventional American way in our own small hovel with our three children.  However, we actively seek to live in community with our church and our close friends and our neighborhood.  Three years ago, we took one more step toward “bearing one another’s burdens” and “having all things in common” with our spiritual family.  We organized some modern-day barn raisings.

Our group of friends range in age from 20’s to 40’s and we are all owners of “gracefully aging” homes that need love and maintenance. I thought it was inefficient, not to mention boring and joyless, for us all to be working separately on our own house projects when we could accomplish so much more, and have so much more fun, working as a group.  So we took a page from the Amish and instituted a barn-raising day.  Here’s what we do:

Five families meet every other month at one family’s house.
The host family chooses the project and assembles the supplies for completing that project.
The contributing families take care of all the food for the day.
The host family explains the project or posts a list of multiple projects to be tackled.
Childcare is shared or rotated.  Older children help with childcare or projects and younger children play.
All families contribute whatever tools they own to prevent renting equipment.
Only four of the five families are needed to proceed on a project, so scheduling a work date is not so difficult.

    Some of the projects we have cooperated on include removing a gargantuan basement furnace, clearing debris from a disastrous ice storm, demolishing a decrepit shed (the teen boys liked that one),house painting, landscaping, washing siding, repairing gutters, installing lights and outlets, patching drywall, and insulating under a house.

    When a single-mom friend moved into a fixer-upper, she was overwhelmed by the work that had to be completed by a move-in deadline. Our barn-raising group quickly agreed to donate one of our work days. We removed nails, sanded, and stained all her floors. Since we have five families in our group, we realized if we do one project every other month, that leaves room to donate one project a year

    Our idea has been so successful that other people want to join us or they express envy of our group, but we can only include 5-6 families if we intend to complete one project a year for each family.  So I’m working to facilitate the formation of some other groups from within our church.  These groups need to include people from outside our church, though.  Our friends include both Christians and non-Christians, so our group does, too.  This is a cooperative, mutually beneficial way for us to share lives. We all finally look forward to house projects. Our barn raisings allow us to share food, conversation, sweat, and love.