12/31/13

I'm not writing a New Years post



I don't feel very filled up with insight and wise words this evening.  I'm not reflective, or even anticipating a brand spankin' new year.

I don't have the feeling that I'm turning over a new leaf, or starting a fresh page.  I didn't buy any champaign, and don't have any fireworks...even if I did the fact that it's like five million below zero outside would keep me inside (because I'm a big wimp).  My "Littles" went to bed at 7pm, and my "Bigs" went to bed at 9.  There was no way on God's green earth that I was going to enjoy their presence until midnight and then suffer the fallout of crabby kids tomorrow.
Today was enough to have me rocking in the corner...well maybe not literally but deep inside was a whiny little girl threatening to come screeching out.  Needless to say children asleep in their beds is a glorious way to end any day.

My husband also went to bed at 9.20pm.

I guess I'm just a ba-humbug lamo New Years grinch.  This night feels a little anti-climactic.

I'm am thankful for another year.  I'm thankful for the amazing year we just survived.  God is so good, and has been faithful every step of the journey.  I am truly undeservedly blessed, and thankful for so many things, but mostly this night feels just like every other night.

I'm not apprehensive about another year because I know who sovereignly holds it.  I'm not anxiously waiting for a "clean slate" because that was already purchased for me through the atonement.

I must admit that I am excited to see what God has for us just down the road but I know that I'll only be given enough light for each step along the way.  I can make all the plans I want but it's the Lord that directs my steps.

I gave up on "plans" a long time ago.  They went the way of many New Years resolutions. I know I'll fail, but I rest in God's undeserved grace, unearned favor.  I know that as I focus on Him, and keep pressing the gospel down deeper into the cobwebbed corners of my heart that this same grace that saved me will continue to transform me.

There is a certain peace and rest in that.

This year I resolve to eat more tacos at more Mexican taco stands.
I think I can, I think I can....

I lack the brain power right now to write anything of value so I'll share my friend's words with you. This is written for a specific church body, but It could be applied to the Church universally as well as we use this time of year to redirect our focus.





Happy New Year, from the Burlando clan.
I hope that you are blessed in all the ways that matter in 2014.



Soli Deo Gloria,

12/23/13

Just in time for Christmas


There are so many Christmas memories being made for this little man.  
It's fun to experience this season through his perpetual sense of wonder and enthusiasm.
After having Santa show up at a couple different Christmas programs/parties he is officially a fan.



Santa was his new best friend.


 That's what -40 degrees Celsius looks like.



It turns out we have some strange traditions here in Canada...like instead of eating our cookies we make houses out of them. 




Today Elijah finally got his casts cutt off.
Daddy and his boy were up super early on this very cold day to drive to the city.
He wasn't so sure how they were going to take those casts off.  When they brought out the noisy saw, he told them "No, no thank you.  No like it".  


This brave boy happy was happy to see the casts go.


He came home to his first real bath in several weeks.
We got all the gnarly-ness scrubbed off, lotioned him up and it's so nice to see his little legs and feet again.
He has some new incisions though that were hiding behind the casts.  This is where they lengthened his Achilles tendons.  




He's not so sure about using his new straightened legs and feet though.  Now that his feet can bend those tendons are a little sore.  It's crazy how fast muscles atrophy too!  His legs look like skinny little sticks. He'll be on his feet again in no time though.  Mommy is making him do all kinds of exercises.

Tomorrow is Christmas eve! 
I'm thankful for so many things right now. At the top of the list is the gift that we celebrate at Christmas.  
Jesus giving us himself.

"Hark the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn king!"
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"

That last line just blows my mind every time I hear it.  

"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, 
because he has come and has redeemed his people. 
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us 
in the house of his servant David
as he said through his holy prophets of long ago,
...to remember his holy covenant...
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
though the forgiveness of their sins,
 because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace." Luke 1:68-79

"Glory to God in the highest, 
and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests."

I want to share a super adorable video made by some very dear friends of mine.  The camera man (Dad) is my pastor, and these cute kids are my kids best buds.  So, because they have way more talent than we do,  I'll send you a Merry Christmas wish from another family.



and a classic...because I love Christmas music.

"O come, O come Emmanuel"





12/22/13

I'm Offended

This past week has been one big mouldy internet stew filled with careless words, over reactions, offence, and demanding of rights.

It's like watching civilization implode.

I have considered sharing my knee jerk reactions, irritation, thoughts, predictions, and disappointment over the Phil Robertson bruhaha but I think the interweb is filled up with a good variety of responses to that already.  I find it all rather fascinating actually...in a rubber necking an gnarly accident kind of way. In case you haven't had your fill.

Here's some wisdom and pointing out of irony by Albert Mohler .  There is a reminder not to arm ourselves for the wrong battle by Stephen Miller.   A reminder that grace can be strong, and that love can be tough by Jenilee Goodwin.  A post about why the suspension of Phil will backfire by Trevin Wax.  A diplomatic call for genuine diversity by Russell Moore.  An entertaining rant and prediction by Matt Walsh.   Some thoughts on intolerant tolerance by Joe Carter.   And a reminder to watch our words by Anne Voskamp.  An article about the genuine conflict being ignored.  And a faux interview that would actually include not painting groups of people in the worst possible light.

It's been an interesting little experiment as the rubber meets the road for issues of "Tolerance"...both from Christians who end up acting more like a pack of angry little elves than Jesus, and for uber "tolerant", highly evolved, progressives who love to harshly condemn viewpoints that don't fall in line with their own.

This odd, bizarre, moment of cultural upheaval is a lot of things but one thing it's not is surprising.  At all.

This has been brewing for years now, mostly under the radar, but now that it's taken down a pop culture icon the general public has taken notice of the hypocritical intolerance of modern "tolerance".

To quote a book I read recently "A call to Resurgence"

"Today there are not sins.  There is only one sin, and that is calling anything a sin. 

"A few things are perhaps most curious about the new tolerance.  One, it denies moral absolutes while holding to the moral absolute that there is no moral absolute.  ...  I hope you see that the statement itself saws off the very limb it's sitting on."

There are a lot of things to learn through this spectacle....which is usually my focus because I have a lot to learn.

One is to watch words and choose them wisely.  Be wise and discerning, because in our age of words travelling at the speed of light the consequences of carelessness can be monumental. Social media has an atomic bomb power to it, and inflammatory words can light a fuse we never intended to light.

 Be bold, be counter cultural, but be gracious. We will be judged by God, and our fellow man, for insensitive words and foolish talk.  That doesn't mean for a second that I don't think words can be distorted, twisted, or misused as ammunition for slander.   I know from personal experience that they can be.  People can make unfair assumptions, and interpret wrongly anything that is said, regardless of what's actually said.  At the end of the day, no matter how much care you use, some people are just not going to like what you say...because they don't like who you are, or who you follow.

Church, in this "post-Christian" culture we need to be extra kind, extra calm, extra gracious, and extra tactful when we give honest answers to questions regarding volcanic issues and when we engage in cultural discussion.  People are watching and listening.  Bait will be laid out, and traps will be set.  Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.   Notice I did not say be accommodating and tolerant of everything, but if the world is going to hate you don't let it be because you flap your gums and are rudely obnoxious. Not every bump in your path is a hill to die on.

 Truth is important (too many Christians are inclined to sacrifice it on the altar of social acceptance) but knowing when and how to speak truth is important.  I don't claim to have that one figure out yet, but I know that every truth doesn't need to be spoken all the time, just like every sin doesn't need to be called out all the time. Check your motives, assess the strength of your relationship, and monitor your heart. Be gracious.  Be led by love, not a desire to prove your right-ness or assert your own "rights" even in a culture swirling with absurdity.  Our freedom is not found in anything this world has to offer, and our "rights" were laid down with our old selves at the foot of the cross.

Another thing I've been pondering is the notion of offence.

Why do I think I have the right to be offended by something someone else says and then freak out based on that perceived slight?

I saw a meme the other day that said "Your rights end where my feelings begins".  It could be true to the extent that I should be willing to lay down my own rights for the good of someone else, but I don't think that's what it's saying.  I let that thought percolate a bit and came to the conclusion that this statement is utterly absurd but it pretty much sums up our culture. "I have the right to demand that my fleeting feelings are affirmed, validated and honoured and if at any point in time I don't feel those things someone will pay".  

I "feel" like I've fallen out of love so I can bail on a marriage.
I "feel" like my sensitive little feelings are hurt, so I can slander you.
I "feel" that you are inconvenient to me, or are a threat to my lifestyle, so I can kill you.
I "feel" irritated, so I will disregard everything you have to say.

Do you see the problem with putting subjective, self coddling, feelings over the rights of someone else? It's crazy narcissistic hypersensitivity.

This is epidemic in our culture and society.  Like, insanely ridiculous.  I strain my memory to try to figure out when all of this started happening.  Was it always so, or has the internet and the ability to say anything, any time, to everyone, made us all nut balls?

Why would I think I have the right to be offended by something someone I don't know, have no relationship with, and who wasn't talking to me anyway, says?  

It's one thing to read articles, and tweets from various view points to try to better understand how to engage culture, to understand society's deeper questions and motives, and to attempt to figure out where completely different perspectives and world views are coming from but it's another thing to go out of our way to be offended by stupid things other people say.
I can disagree, and even express my profound disagreement if I wish to, but seriously folks.  We've got insane thinking it's our duty.

Why on earth does one tweet, tweeted by a nobody nowhere near to you cause you one moments outrage, or offence?  Why on earth would it be worth the effort it takes to be offended?  I was scrolling through the "#hasjustinelandedyet" craziness and while her tweets were ridiculously ignorant and foolish, I can't for the life of me figure out why so many people took the time to care what she thinks or says. Passionately, vehemently care.  Referring back to my previous point, careless hurtful words have consequences and she paid with her job and reputation. That's bound to happen, but we live in an odd world when careless, insensitive words can go viral and bring down a trial by social media lynch mob.

 The thing is, usually words hurt and sting because they come from someone we know, and maybe even care about.  Someone who is close to us has the power to hurt us with their words because it feels like a betrayal.  A perfect stranger ranting obscenities into the internet air should really have no affect on us whatsoever.  I really just don't get it.  We are not obligated to respond (although I admit the pull to do so is strong)

Here's an incredibly novel idea.  If you don't like what someone is saying, or writing, there is usually a small "x" in the top corner of your computer screen.  There is also the option of turning the magic box off altogether and finding something else to do.  Problem solved.  No further action required.

You cannot (and probably should not) control what other people think and say.

My friends, what you can control is your reaction and response to it.

Sometimes controversy sparks some very needed and constructive conversations.  By all means, engage, our world needs people who are checked in...but do it thoughtfully, respectfully, cautiously.  Shoot from the hip reactions are typically never the best ones, and for crying out loud LAY OFF THE ALL CAPS.  (It makes you look like a crazy person before anyone even reads what you have to say).  Thankyou, and you're welcome.

Another crazy idea is, if you don't want to know what someone thinks regarding an issue, don't ask them. Crises averted.  If you ask someone their honest opinion, and they give you an answer you don't like, you have no justification for rage.

If you love to go looking for things to be offended about, you have issues that would be better served through therapy than Twitter or Facebook.

Reality is that there are no shortage of ignorant people saying ignorant things (I know that I am sometimes one of them, as my foot makes it's way to my mouth on occasion)  and sometimes the best thing to do is just bear it, or keep scrolling, because it just doesn't matter all that much.

 If I called my lawyer, demanded someone's head on a platter, insisted on an apology, or wrote a scathing letter to everyone who refused to validate my feelings, or said a insensitive or rude remark regarding disabilities, adoption, race, my faith and values etc. I'd have little time and emotional energy for anything else.

Sometimes people say things using the wrong words because it's never occurred to them to say it any differently.  Sometimes it's because they are from a different generation, different culture, and different era...and weren't given the hand book necessary to engage in PC conversation.  Occasionally it's appropriate to gently guide someone to a more respectful, sensitive way of saying something but most of the time I look for the heart behind their words rather than getting hung up on actual words used. Often the meaning and heart behind the less than ideal choice of words is caring, and kind.  If the heart behind the words is cruel and hostile, it's still not generally worth my time to respond or care.

We need to be slow to judge motive and intentions, and quick to show a generous grace and forgive.

I'll leave you with a couple wise thoughts to ponder.  I must admit I've learned many  all these lessons the hard way (and probably will again...daily)

"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" Proverbs 15:1

"when words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise."  Proverbs 10:19

"A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offence.  Proverbs 19:11




Soli Deo Gloria,

12/13/13

Official Family Christmas letter


Dear friends far and wide,
may those who live far stay near to our hearts, and those who are wide lose some of their girth.

Blessings to you this Christmas.
This year has been a spectacular one.   We have a minimum amount of vomit to report, and the police have never once arrived to investigate the strange noises that come from our home.

I (the mom) have managed to keep the children alive another year.  That is no small task and requires constantly saving children from their own stupidity.  I have hope that the constant nagging, reminding, and restating things I've said a million times may have penetrated some skulls.  I have found a new hobby this year as well.  I have discovered the joy of long hot showers without children peaking through the curtain, or joining me.  It's a blessed experience and one that I hope I will be able to keep up with as the years go by.  My accomplishment this year is that I have had no crying in my closet, while clinging to a bottle of wine, episodes while trying to homeschool my brilliant children. I believe we have turned a corner and may survive.

Eldest Daughter is a prodigy.  In fact we're placing all our bets and hope for family honour on this one.  She spends most of her time doing good deeds, and helping the poor.  She is a very talented basket weaver, and has great potential as a Drill Sargent.  We have high hopes that she will also make it into a community college someday and be a catalyst for world peace.

Eldest Son broke a record this year for the most words spoken in one year. He also had special recognition for the sheer volume of nonsense words used.  We are currently in negotiations with our energy company and are in the final stages of a plan to harvest his gratuitous amount of kinetic energy.  We are confident that we will not only be able to power our own home, but most of North America.  We have a patent for this new energy source and we have Al Gore lined up to be the bearer of good news. It seems that this child may be useful to us after all.

Son Two joined our family this year through adoption.  He has begun to come to terms with the reality that he must be associated with us, and that embarrassment will be his new lot in life.  His hobbies are collecting air-miles, and making escape plans.  We have set up a foundation to fund his future therapy.

Son Three  is excelling in a variety of activities.  He is a star at playing Mine Craft and has quite a collection of homes, chickens, and cows on his estate.  We are very proud of his achievements.  We had always hoped that one of our children would be a rancher.  We know his tenacity will pay off one day, and that his cunning intelligence will be a great asset in the penatentiary system.

Youngest Daughter is a perfect little princess who can do no wrong.  We are very proud that she earned an international award for highest decibel achieved by a human voice. We all now have profound hearing loss but have decided that this is a blessing in disguise.  We have had to have her de-clawed and so far this has been an excellent solution to violent outbursts.

The Dad of the home is still trying to figure out how he ended up with five kids.  He continues to work hard, bring home the bacon, and eat most of it too.  His current hobbies are shovelling snow, driving kids to their various activities, and changing light bulbs.

As another year draws to a close, those of us who are able to count past five, count our many blessings.
We hope that your home and family is blessed this year, but just only just blessed enough that you still feel envious of ours.




Merry Christmas




12/5/13

Orphan-care Ethics - join the discussion.


I recently wrote a post that had been in my heart and banging around in my head for a long time.  I felt compelled to get it out of those places and work it out on "paper".  Little did I know that it would gain some momentum and climb to 7,000 hits in just a few days.  That blew my pea brain a little.

It was written based on our own observations, stories from others, and a hunch that these problems are not the exception but much more common than we would like to believe.

My biggest fear when hitting "publish" was how it would be received by those who work in orphan care, and orphanages.  It's a sketchy thing to stick your neck out and speak about something that is also fiercely defended in many Christian circles.  I understand that deep loyalty, because I feel it too.  Shooting an arrow at the sacred cow of "orphan ministry" generally doesn't go unnoticed so I fully expected and feared a negative reaction.

Surprisingly, the points made, and concern raised resonated with many others who have worked in orphan care, or are passionate about serving "orphans".  To my shock the reaction I've received has been a collective sigh of relief that someone is talking about it.

The very people who I feared the most negative response (former and current orphanage workers) from, are the ones who have written to tell me things like

"I read a blog post that you wrote with a title along the lines of, 'How to screw up orphan care in Jesus name'. As I read it, I literally looked over my shoulder, wondering who had told you what I saw, and what happened to me.
I have been burned, by my experiences as a staff member at what is considered one of the best orphanages in -----. It has just occurred to me that several of the things you wrote that seemed like they could have been lifted off the pages of my own journal, might not have been based on my experience, or any other orphanage workers experience, but that maybe, this kind of behaviour is commonplace. I am a 'whistle blower' who was systematically bullied and shunned by my North American colleagues, discredited and disposed of. The things I opposed were the exploitation of children, the practice of switching group mothers every three months, and some instances of abuse and neglect. It was not about the children or about Jesus. I think it once was, but in the end, it was not. "

Do you remember that red flag I mentioned about dedicated staff/ volunteers regularly disappearing? That red flag has been confirmed time and time again. Major. Red. Flag. Flashing beacon screaming "something is going on here". Of course there will always be people who didn't fit, only planned on staying a short time, or had a difference of vision which produced a natural parting of ways.
Too often that "parting" is dramatic, devastating, and triggered by higher up dysfunction and damage/ PR control. Staff can be banished for mentioning, and raising concern privately, about the children's well being, theft, corruption, unethical practices, habitual lying to donors, child abuse etc. They will leave silently crushed, betrayed, and justifiably cynical. The absence will be covered with lies and an appeal for "loyalty to the organization", "unity among the staff", and demanding people be "team players". It's all pretty text book. I just wish I knew where this text book was so I could burn it. I know a better book we could use....
The root problem of most institutional dysfunction is undealt with sin (like pride), but the fallout of that when amplified within an organization, is vast, complicated, and the destruction left affects many lives....both the vulnerable children, and those who love them.

My goal isn't to sit around licking our wounds. The goal is always to use the story that God has written in our lives, both painful and delightful, to encourage others. Experiences can teach us, grow us up, open our eyes, and motivate us to chase hard after Jesus and HIS mission. This honestly has little to do with the staff/ volunteers who have been burnt by orphanage ministries. We are merely a symptom of an underlying dysfunction. What really matters are the children that are brought into orphanages, the children we are accountable and responsible for as donors, supporters, volunteers, and ministry leaders.

We can do better Church. Rise up and care for the destitute, the vulnerable, and the orphaned...but hold fast to a high standard.
Here's what it comes down to.

Donors are the life blood that keeps places running status quo. It's donors that choose which ministries to support, and money talks. Orphanage ministries realize that and as a result "policy" is too often driven by what will bring in funds (and keep it spent at the top), rather than best practice principles, ethics, and what is best for the children. Idolizing orphanages, and sainting their leaders is a sure fire way to allow corruption to flourish.
Any ministry will rise or fall with the quality and character of leadership. An orphanage is no different. The difference is that breaches of integrity can be so easily covered, and there can be little, to no real accountability.
"Christian" orphanages are a fast moving train, with decades of momentum. If tracks can't be switched, the fuel can be diverted elsewhere.
"Once a movement becomes an institution, the next step is to become a museum unless a course correction is made to get back on mission. Once the mission of an organization becomes the preservation of the institution, the original mission stops, and the Holy Spirit stops showing up in power. What people used to give their lives for has somehow become simply another job. The remnant that is left behind exists solely to tell the story - not to keep writing it. In one generation a movement can transition to being an institution and then a museum." 
Mark Driscoll (A call to Resurgence)
We can always compare certain orphanages to worse conditions, and worse situations out there. There will always be "worse". We can compare "Christian" orphanages to horrific government institutions, or to kids huffing in back alleys, but proving one orphanage is "better" than another one is not our standard.
Jesus is.
It's that simple really.
Simple and yet completely impossible, at least in our own strength and wisdom.
Comparison is a strong human tendency but it shows a huge lack of understanding of the gospel, and God's grace if we constantly justify our own sin by comparing ourselves to those who we see as "worse". That is exactly what can happen with orphanage ministries. We can't call steaming pile of manure what it is..because we're too busy justifying it and covering it up. People don't question it, because they can always find something "worse".

On a personal level we can't repent, embrace God's scandalous grace, and grow if we don't acknowledge our own depravity, bent toward self destruction, and sin. The Christian life is one of repentance and surrender, not self preservation.  The same principle applies to ministry. What if the gospel not only transformed our own hearts, but the way we do orphan care? Ministry success comes with inherent pitfalls, and too many orphanage ministries aren't prepared for, and don't have the leadership structure in place to withstand the temptations as they grow.

Every orphanage is different and will vary in quality, but once you start digging deeper many are so very similar in flawed premise, methods, abuses, and structure. They are still orphanages. When you put an orphan into an orphanage he is still an orphan, when you place him in a family he becomes someone's child.
Some orphanages will try very hard to avoid the "we've always done it that way" trap, use different innovative methods, and do better. Some do a good job at loving kids, putting the kids needs first, and making a difference in their lives. I whole heartedly cheer on those attempts, I really do. In a perfect world every orphanage would shut it's doors, but we don't live in a perfect world, we live in a very broken one. We can't fix that brokenness but we can enter into it with a message of hope, and an overflow of God's love.

We can never, ever have an "end justifies the means" mentality as Christians, especially when it comes to ministry. The means is the end. The process is where we remain faithful, stay on course, and are sanctified through fire. The "means" is where the fruit is cultivated. The "end" is the accumulation of all those small choices, and those decisions made when no one is watching. The "end" is the sum of a lifetime of integrity, character, and faithfulness, in the hands of a Sovereign and merciful God. That "end" is God's business, not ours. We must always focus on the process....regardless of the "end".
Strength in ministry does not come through seeking notoriety, money, influence, and control. Strength comes from knowing where our strength is found. It comes with realizing just how weak we really are.

There has been plenty of discussion happening lately and there seems to be a consensus that donors need to be more aware of how orphan ministry can best be practised, and supported.  In my last post I brought attention to 10 redflags to watch for. I know we could come up with many more, but I'd like to flip this over now and start brainstorming, and gleaning wisdom for what we should look for and strive for in orphan-ministry. So many of you have so much more experience and knowledge than I do on the topic and I would love to hear from you.
If you have ideas you'd like to share please join the conversation by clicking on my Facebook page icon. If you have any experience, in any sort of orphan-care, or as a foster/ adoptive parent who has a keen awareness of what institutionalization does to a child, I would very much value your voice in the discussion.

How can orphan-care best move forward?  
What are some things currently being done that are producing lasting fruit?
What are innovative methods of caring for children who may never be adopted? 
What widely accepted methods need to be questioned, and what methods should replace those?
As Christians how does that change what we do, why we do what we do, and how we do it?


Soli Deo Gloria, 

12/3/13

'Tis the Season









Elijah thought we were a little crazy at first, but soon got the hang of things.

Last Christmas we were counting down the days until we could bring him home.  I hung an extra stocking along side of the other four, simply because I couldn't bear not to include him with my other children. 
 It remained empty, but I loved seeing five stockings hanging by the fireplace.  

This year he's home.  
His stocking is hung, and he will wake up on Christmas morning with gifts under the tree.  
10 months he's been our boy, and I'm so thankful that we get to celebrate Christmas with him.


{Cece helping bake some Christmas cookies, in her festive dress}



Like something out of a magazine right?





This time of year things slow down a bit.  A time to catch our breath, and curl up at home.
Minus all the trips to town running kids to appointments, and activities of course.


Elijah loves the snow.  I took the snowman pictures a month ago before he had his surgery.  We now have much more snow, and the temperature has dropped.  


We're so photogenic.







Soli Deo Gloria,

11/29/13

You're not Pro-life you're Pro-birth


You got me.
It's true.
I'm one of those wacky pro-birth folks.   I am pro-babies being allowed to be born.
I can't help it.  Somehow it just seems natural to me.

I love it when babies are born.

Regardless of the circumstance of their conception, or even what sort of condition they are born into, I have a strong conviction that they should be welcomed simply because they exist...simply because they are a unique human life.  They are not a "potential life" they are a life with potential.  To be honest even if they didn't have "potential" as judged by the world, they still don't deserve to be sentenced to an unnatural death.

So, I will admit it, and actually wear the label with honour.  Pro-birth.

For some reason that term is used as a sort of weapon.  It tends to give people a good chuckle, as they smugly high five each other for coming up with some worn out, non offensive, rhetoric.   But, I guess if that's all you've got, go ahead and call people nonsensical names like pro-birth, "fetusfetishist"  or "fetuphile".  Because that makes you sound all progressive and clever...really.  *wink'*

"You don't actually care about babies after they're born, you only care about fetus's."  

 It's such a silly stereotype. It just really needs to be put out of it's misery.

It's like saying "you don't actually care about Kindergartners you only care about toddlers!"

 I can't, for the life of me, make that logic work.   If you care about Kindergartners, you will protect the right of the toddlers to live long enough to become one.  If you claim to care about children you will fight to protect the rights of ALL children regardless of age, gender, race, developmental stage, or location.  That's called equality.

 You have to first be a fetus in order to become a baby that is born, just like you have to be a toddler before you can become a Kindergartner.  They are not two different people, or two different entities, they are different stages of development.  I am pro- embryo, pro-fetus, pro- neonate, pro-infant, pro-toddler, pro-preschooler, pro-child, and pro-adolescent.  They are all simply classifications for different ages of a human child.

Call me an extremist but I have a very strong hunch that dismembering a defenseless child is wrong.
 I know it's kind of an "out there" theory, but it's one I'm sticking with.

I would call that position "pro-life" but I'll proudly wear the "pro-birth" label too...if you insist.

By the way, I am also pro-first day of Kindergarten, pro-gotcha day,  pro-losing a first tooth, and pro-wedding day.  I guess I'm just  "pro" any big events that signify the graduating from one stage of life into another.   I'm just sentimental that way I suppose.

I am both pro-birth and pro-life...because it's pretty hard to have one without the other.




Soli Deo Gloria,

11/27/13

First Steps



One year ago today my son took his first steps.

We were only a couple months away from meeting him and he was living with some wonderful foster parents.
They were helping him to recover, to get healthier, and to prepare for the big change ahead.



One year ago today my son took his first tentative, shaky steps.
One foot in front of the other, a forearm crutch in his hand.

I wish I could have been there to see it, but I am thrilled to have these moments captured.

As I try to imagine what was going through his head as he took his first steps at 6 yrs old, I know that moment was a big deal to him.  
He is keenly aware that his past lack of ability to walk made him very vulnerable.  
Several of his anxiety meltdowns this past year have ended with him trying to unintelligibly explain situations to me.  While I haven't been able to make sense of the tales, the part I can always catch is him wailing 
"No can't walk! No can't. No can't get out.  No can't walk"
 I hear the powerlessness, desperation, and vulnerability in his voice.
Whether he's telling me stories about a scary dog, or a "pa" man...his not being able to walk has been a source of terror.
One year ago today,
I know he felt a glimmer of empowerment, and independence. 


I also suspect he was nervous, excited, and proud.
I think, in his mind, a whole new world of possibilities opened up that day.



He was off walking, and he's never looked back.
So thankful for the people who cared enough to give him that gift. 

As he sits here now with casts on both legs,  I am starting to get excited to see what comes next for him. 
Will we ditch the forearm crutch? Will he have the balance to stand alone?
Will he learn to run?

I guess we'll find out in a few weeks. 





Soli Deo Gloria,

11/26/13

How to screw up orphan care in the name of Jesus

Is that even possible?  Is it possible to try to do something God commands us to do, and get it wrong?  It is possible to do harm, while seriously attempting to do good?

Absolutely.

My passion for orphan care began at a very young age. I was a child who grew up dreaming about building an orphanage one day.  It would have nice dorms for the kids, a nice cheery play room, gardens, a play ground, and a well stocked cafeteria.  When other junior high girls were flirting with boys, I was drawing up plans for how my orphanage would be constructed.  I would fill it with Carla's children...and give all those poor orphans a place to thrive.  It was my dream.  My desire to be a part of orphan-care in a third world country, was driven by genuine concern.

Over the years my view of building and operating orphanages has changed slowly but drastically.

What I'm referring to in the title is when unhealthy, unbiblical, or just naively unhelpful practices fall under the umbrella of "Christian ministry".  I am not anti-Christian ministry, anti-orphan care, and as much as I cringe to admit it I'm not even anti-orphanage....just anti-habitually doing things in a way that hurts kids.

Some things done with the name of Jesus attached, are merely using his name in vain.

"“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain."

 Taking an endeavor, and stamping Jesus name on it is not something that should ever, ever be taken lightly.  This includes Christian charities.  It's serious business when we claim to be corporately representing God.

For that reason, I decided to focus solely on orphan care done by non-profit, privately run orphanages. There is little doubt that government run institutions, the common other orphanage alternative, is often worse. Governments raising kids has always been a bad idea but that's a whole different blog post.

I think we, as Christians, who are passionate about orphan care and who like to put our money where our mouths are, need to really reflect on this issue for a bit even if it's uncomfortable.  I'm not a skeptic on the outside looking in, trying desperately to find flaws, but rather someone with a lifelong vested interest in orphan care and the ethics surrounding the issue.

 When you start talking about discernment in ministry people are quick to point fingers, but also quicker to defend things that should be indefensible.   "There is no perfect system (church, organization, person etc.) ...." is the typical excuse.  I'd like to counter that with a resounding and well thought out.. "duh".

 Just because there is no "perfect" system for orphan care doesn't mean we shouldn't have some very high standards when kids are involved,  ESPECIALLY if we are going to tag Jesus name onto something and label it a Christian ministry.

 No one defends an abusive foster home claiming that "some of the kids turned out ok, only a few of them were molested...but the parents do a lot of other good things".  How absurd would that sound? Actually that façade of "but they're good people" hides abuse in too many families too...but that's a different topic.

Over the past 14 years I have been deeply involved with various forms of "orphan care" in my home, and with orphan care ministries.   I can't speak for every single orphanage, or every single individual experience, but I have learned a few things along the way.

The main point being: Orphanages are not ideal, they are not entirely helpful, and in fact I believe are actually harmful in many cases.  Even "good Christian orphanages" are inherently problematic for many reasons.

An orphanage should never be the first option, or the last stop for a child.

In some cases an orphanage is one of the few options available in countries where adoption is discouraged and international adoption is closed.  I think they can best be used as a temporary arrangement to provide the basics of nurture to a child in crises.  There are kids, who just have no place to go.  A far better option is smaller family based foster homes, but that transition is slow in some countries. Permanency should ALWAYS be the goal.  By permanency I mean life long, healthy loving guardian/ parent/ parents...regardless of race, or location.  Every child needs a family. Period.

Although some form of family based care is always a goal, in no way do I romanticize kinship, or reunification efforts either.  While those avenues should always be researched first and strongly considered...it's incredibly naive to assume that just because a child has living relatives that they would be safe living with them.  There are reasons beyond poverty for children being relinquished, apprehended or abandoned.  Sometimes that door back toward biological family is closed. That's just reality.

So here we go, fasten your seat belts.

10 Ways to screw up an orphan, in a "Christian orphanage".

1.  Make children into orphans.  

Encourage child abandonment with the attitude that an orphanage can raise a child better than parents can.  Many "children's homes" and orphanages are filled with children who are not actual orphans but rather "social orphans".  These children have been brought into orphanage care for a variety of reasons.  Some of them come from horrific abuse and neglect, but many children are brought into care because the offer of free education, a bed to sleep in, regular meals, and free childcare becomes an attractive option for parents struggling to keep food on the table, and their kids out of trouble.  I have known an orphanage, that while it boasts "outreach" programs into the community, actually prohibits or at least strongly discourages "helping" the families of the children interned at the orphanage.  If you can raise money to house and feed an interened child, you can raise money to support, love, and serve whole families.  Families should be kept intact when at all possible....thus preventing making a child into an "orphan" unnecessarily.  Getting involved in a real and personal level with families in crises requires a lot more creativity, wisdom, sacrifice, risk, and grace than does collecting kids.  One problem is that many ministries want concrete ways of tracking success.  Numbers, stats, conversions, kids interned, meals fed etc. all look good in a year end report.  Whereas "we developed solid relationships with many struggling families in the community and just made ourselves available to them, serving them in whatever way was needed.  We followed the prompting of the Holy Spirit and are trusting the fruit of that to Him" just doesn't seem to qualify.  We should, if at all possible, avoid making "poverty orphans".  There are worse things in life than monetary poverty....feeling abandoned, without hope, unloved, and without a family is at the top of the list.

2. Set up a structure where abuse can thrive unchecked.

Child abuse can happen anywhere, it's true.  Power hungry adults who will prey on children are generally deceptive, charming, and very good at hiding in plain sight.  For this reason there is no "immune" organization, or family.

However, there are systems, structures and attitudes that will attract, and even protect, perpetrators instead of making it very difficult for perpetrator to have access to children.   There are also certain structures that make reporting abuse next to impossible for the children, and that make it easy to cover for perpetrators on the rare occasion that abuse is reported.

Orphanages are notorious for abuse.

All kinds of abuses happen in "children's homes".   Psychological, physical, emotional, verbal and sexual abuse is not strange phenomenon in these places.

Orphans living in orphanages are among the most vulnerable population of children that exist.

The problem structurally with some Christian orphanages is that, the main priority is to bring in donations to support the cause.  In order to keep money coming in an orphanage must keep up a certain utopic, heroic image.  Reports of child abuse will tarnish that image, wound a leaders reputation, and reduce financial support. A carefully crafted, fiercely protected public image, nice facilities, and an impressive website can hide some pretty ugly reality being ignored on the ground.

We as donors and supporters have the false assumption that if lying or corruption is regular practice in an organization, that those who know the truth would blow whistles and that the needed changes would just happen.  At least that's the pseudo reality I lived in quite comfortably for a while.

The problem, structurally, is that often those who know what actually goes on behind the public eye, those who know the kids, or witness the abuses of power, are indebted to or dependent on the organization for employment.  That, and a heavy dose of fear, guilt, loyalty, and hierrarchal bullying keeps people quiet.  Those who get brave enough to raise concern are labelled disloyal, and are immediately discredited, slandered, and removed.

Those who have cut their ties with an orphanage ministry, will often be too "nice" to talk about it.  In this strange little culture of Christian ministry we often live in a sort of dysfunctional denial fueled by a fear of conflict, an unbiblical concept of "love", and a "we can't judge!" cowardliness.  Among Christians there is also a genuine desire to not be "that person" who makes waves.  No one wants to be considered the traitor, even if they are speaking the truth.   This whole set up allows abuse to go unchecked for decades.

The structure in place that allows this façade and abuse to continue most effectively is an organization that lacks accountability and integrity, and is fueled by keeping up a public image.

3.  Prop up orphans as a "mission trip" attraction.

I should tread carefully here because I have not only taken week long "mission trips" to an orphanage, but also led them. I know many other genuinely caring people who do too.  We have been on the observing side of things, watching groups of well intentioned fanny pack toting, cargo pant and strange hat wearing, volunteers come and go from an orphanage every week...and we've been in that group of people. My husband actually worked as mission trip group "host" for a bit.  We are well acquainted with this type of volunteer work.  My desire is not to paint with an overly broad brush, or villainize "short term mission" trips to orphanages, but it has to be said.

Children are not tourist attractions.  They are not animals in a zoo, to be exploited for revenue.

 One of the most effective ways to generate needed income, attract new donors, and keep children "sponsored" is to have a regular rotation of visitors.  This is just reality. While many people have life changing experiences on these trips (I know I did), it comes at a very high price to those children.  I fully realize that many people who go on those trips work hard, and go with a sense of wanting to serve and help.  I also realize that some orphanages rely on this work, but sometimes the actual work is less essential than the income those "mission trips" generate.  It can be less about needing volunteers, and more about needing new donors. 
 That's not wrong in an of itself but it creates a structure where children are very vulnerable, and are exploited.

 I have studied a lot of issues regarding early trauma, attachment disorders and the myriad of psychological, cognitive, and emotional effects that typically come with being an orphan.  I don't have room to go into details with all of that here but I can say that the more I understand and learn, the more I realize how damaging orphanage settings can be.

When you take a child, who has lacked so much essential bonding and nurture, and then teach them to cuddle with, snuggle, and manipulate perfect strangers (from the time they can barely toddle)....it's a disaster.  You are taking children who all likely struggle with attachment disorders to some degree, and then actually encouraging the sociopathic, manipulative, unnatural behaviors that those attachment disorders already create.  It's insanity.  I have seen so many children,who have never known a long term caregiver, who have lost their ability to trust and "attach" to another human in any sort of healthy way,  run up to strangers (short term mission trip folks) with arms open and big smiles on their faces.  On the surface the child seems super friendly, or desperate for love (which they actually are deep down inside), but below the surface it's all a game and a sign of severe damage. The visitor comes away with an emotional high thinking they have a "special connection" with a child who actually has very little ability to "connect" with anyone.  They have merely learned to play a sick game.

Anyone who cares for, or who has adopted a child out of an orphanage setting deals with these behaviors on a regular basis.  Kids fortunate enough to be adopted out of an orphanage have parents who love them enough to help un-do these dysfunctional behaviors, but many kids will never have that.  Teaching a child with attachment disorder how to trust, bond, have empathy, and love is an uphill battle.  Teaching that child to have appropriate boundaries with strangers, and not to be manipulative is just as hard. So, when I see those red flag behaviors being rewarded and encouraged....It makes my brain explode.

Rotating "visitors", staff members, and caregivers also put the kids at increased risk for sexual abuse. Running a children's home is like putting up a beacon that says "Vulnerable kids here...whole packs of them!".   Vulnerable kids who know how to keep quite, do what they're told, and who have no one in their lives who will fight for, protect, or even hear them if they do complain.


4. Don't allow the kids to get "too attached" to a caregiver.

If you want to pick out one thing that will screw a kid up more devastatingly than anything else...and make them more vulnerable to all the other abuses it is this one.  There is a wide variety in quality of care in children's homes but the biggest determining factor for how damaging an orphanage is for a child, far above anything else an orphanage can boast in, is the turn over rate in caregivers or "houseparents".  Red flag number one in my opinion.

I have known a children's home that was being run well, where some of the houseparents had been there for 30 years.  They were invested in the kids lives, obviously loved them, and had committed themselves to raising them.   They were "their" kids.  They actually operated more like a permanent foster homes within an orphanage.

On the other hand I have known children's homes that have a regular rotation of staff coming and going.  Some "houseparents" stay for months, some for a couple years but in between that time is a steady rotation of the children between the various "family style homes"/ dorms.  Some kids get to move homes, and parents every few months.   *Sigh*  I can't even begin to express how senseless, tragic, and horrifically damaging that is.

What's MORE tragic than this obvious dysfunction, and harmful practice is the ignorance that fuels it.  I have actually heard it expressed that it is better for kids to move frequently so that they don't get "too attached" to caregivers. Too strong a caregiver/ child bond makes moving them more emotional and difficult. They prefer the nice compliant emotionally detached children who no longer care where they live, to the pesky one's who have established some sort of a healthy bond to a caregiver and grieve when they are taken.  It's similar to the terribly misguided theory that leaving babies alone in cribs all day makes "good babies" because they eventually don't cry any more. Holding an infant too much will "spoil them" making them all needy and "normal".  If you want to raise a generation of psychopaths and sociopaths..this is a fail proof way to do it.  Guaranteed.  I've also noticed a tendency to heavily medicate children with deep, unaddressed, psychological damage.  When the child becomes problematic, and the RAD behaviors become too much for the staff to handle, don't actually deal with the root issues...just drug 'em.

5. Cut them loose.

At some point every kid "ages out".  Whether it's a private orphanage,  a government run foster system or an institution.  It's inevitable.  The cute little orphan morphs into a not so cute, often delinquent, teenager..and then gets cut loose.  These kids often leave the system (what ever system has been created) with no foundation in healthy relational skills, life skills, and little to no outside support, family or community.  I know so many of them.  They struggle.  If you haven't completely messed up a kid yet, just wait....when you cut them loose, forbid them to return, and turn your back on them you will finish the job you started back when they were laying in the nursery crib.

6. Never reflect.  Never change.  Never assess how effective a certain method is.
If you never have to find, interview, or check up on the generations of kids who have aged out of an orphanage then you are saved the tough work of self assessment, repentance, and change.  It's easier to continue on in status quo.  Keep raising money, keep bringing in kids, keep taking their pictures, keep shoving them out when they get too old.  Don't ask questions, because the answers might not be good for business as usual.  Don't go looking for long term fruit, because the rotting piles of compost are a bit messy to trudge through.  It might involve some reality based clean up work. Oh, and another sub point is never accept constructive criticism, or the suggestion that there might be a problem.

7. Saturate the children in legalistic, heavy handed religious hypocrisy.
This is where things go really bad spiritually for kids.  I am not suggesting that a Christian ministry or children's home should not be teaching the children.  Part of our responsibility as caregivers/ parents is to help children to grow spiritually, ministering to their deepest needs with a gospel rich, natural, loving example based instruction. I think not doing that, as a Christian organization, is misguided and spiritually negligent.  However, as soon as you trade genuine loving example and parental guidance with fear motivated, rule heavy, hypocrisy laced, religiosity you have a recipe for disaster.  Combine that with a child that is already psychologically damaged, vulnerable, and hurt and it will not produce passionate Jesus loving adults. It will produce rebellion and deep lasting resentment.  Of course, God can and does redeem and transform people out of any circumstance, even the most damaging childhood's but this will be in spite of point number 7 not because of it.  This sort of thing is a huge hindrance for the gospel to take root in a child's heart, not a help.

8. Feed them a crappy diet.

I don't know why the words "orphan" and "candy" seem to go together.  For some reason groups who visit orphanages always, always bring candy.  It's no longer a "treat" but a staple, and the kids have rotten teeth and and health problems to show for it.

This may seem less important but since we're talking about a child's well being, and lasting damage that can be done during those crucial years of childhood...this is making it to my list.  When you are entrusted with a large group of kids, you have a serious responsibility to God and those kids. Various countries and orphanages will vary greatly in the area of diet, especially when there is a distinct scarcity, but in Mexico there is a problem with obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.   There are plenty of poor folks, but not a lot of starving people.  I have noticed that orphanages sometimes take pride in a cafeteria full of overweight kids, like that somehow shows that they are well cared for.  What people don't realize is that kids can be plump but terribly malnourished.  If the basic food groups kids are being fed is starch, grease, salt and sugar, there is a big problem.  A problem that the kids will pay for with their lives and health for years after they leave the orphanage.  A mission trip group can eat like that for a week, but when a child eats that way every meal for 18 years, it's a huge problem.  If a child doesn't see a vegetable or fresh food for months at a time (even though they are readily available), it's problematic.

  When you are entrusted with a child, you have the responsibility to do everything you can to help that child thrive mind, body, heart, and soul.  Giving the kids a head start with high blood pressure, rotten teeth, and heart disease isn't a gift you should be sending them on their way with.  Feeding kids a reasonably healthy diet will also make them feel better, behave better, and learn better.

9.  Refuse accountability in leadership

Every ministry, church, or organization will rise or fall with the quality and character of leadership.  When a leader of a Christian ministry has fallen into sin, has little integrity, has a inflated sense of ego and pride...the entire ministry will suffer. No question.  It's no different with an orphanage ministry.  It doesn't matter if it is a sainted founder, a CEO, or a pastor...there MUST always be high biblical standards for leadership. That leader must have the humility to willingly submit them-self to the accountability/scrutiny of other godly people who will love them (and the cause) enough to tell them the truth.  This isn't an area that can afford to be compromised, especially when children are involved.  There can be a team of wonderful, humble, servant hearted staff on the ground level doing the work, but if healthy leadership is lacking it will trickle all the way down to the staff, and kids.  If the roots of a tree are rotten, the rot will eventually spread to the fruit trying to be grown.  Things like real accountability in leadership, character, integrity, solid theology, and humility are essential components in any ministry leader, and someone who runs an orphanage can be held to no lesser standard.  Raising hundreds of kids is no small task, and the leader will be held accountable before God for that great responsibility.  A leader should care so much more about the mission, the goal, and the well being of the kids, than their own sense of control over those things. One sign of questionable leadership is a fierce desire for ultimate control, and a slowness to pass the baton, even when that time is overdue.

10.  Let the applause of men be your motive.

This is where any act of social justice, mercy ministry, or orphan care gets a little tricky.  Motive. Why do we do what we do?  Is it because we have been so transformed by the knowledge that, although we didn't deserve it and could never earn it, that we have been shown God's scandalous grace?  Is it out of an overflow of the immense love we have for God, because we have begun to understand how much He first loved us?  Is it that we have been so filled, and awakened by the Holy Spirit that we have a fiery passion to sacrifice and love even those most unlovely among us?  If that is our motive, there will never be room for (and we will make a conscious effort to avoid the lure of) "red carpet" treatment for certain donors, people pleasing, bullies with "friends in high places", or making policies based on who will write the biggest check and gain the most notoriety.   If the motive is "look at what I've done, my name will be in lights, let the little children come unto me"....we've become wicked glory thieves.  If the applause of men, and pride, become a motive for any orphan care the kids will pay a very high price.  When affirmation, recognition, and "fear of man" become a motive (and an idolatrous source of pride) biblical principles, unwavering ethics, and a healthy fear of God will be tossed aside.

So there you have it.   10 ways to damage a vulnerable child under the umbrella of a Christian ministry.

My intent isn't to be inflammatory, fingering pointing, or cynical...but to tell the truth about something that is often overlooked in orphan-care circles and churches. These are issues that anyone who supports, donates, or works in orphan-care ministries should be asking themselves.  Watch for those red flags, and keep asking "how can we do this better?" 

When an organization stops asking that question (and actually listening to the answers) they're already lost.

We, as Christians, should be concerned for children in crises, and children without parents. We should be involved but we need to be wise and discerning in how we do that orphan care.

Ask questions.

- Look for solid evidence that a ministry is working with families in crises, and makes every effort to keep families intact.

- Look for long term stability, and strong caregiver/ child bonds.

One way to assess this is to do some investigation into where the kids are 10 years after they "age out".  Do the kids ever come back "home" to visit on holidays?  Are they still involved with and loved by their former "houseparents"?  Are a majority of them thriving adults, contributing to society, and breaking the cycles of broken families, child abandonment and abuse...or are they filling up prisons, rehab centers, and grave yards.

If an orphanage doesn't do follow up research, doesn't have long term relationships with the orphans who were raised there, and refuses to take an honest assessment of what's happening to the kids who age out...then there is likely a problem.

 - Look for signs that the kids well-being is the FIRST priority.

Is the leadership opposed to adoption? Are the children protected from abuse and exploitation?  Do any of the house-parents adopt the children in their care?  Do they help facilitate children finding permanent homes?

How are the staff treated? Often times "staff" consists of faithful volunteers who live and work at the orphanage. What is the turn over rate for these volunteers, and why?  Do people who were very committed, and who genuinely loved the kids, regularly disappear?

If you are in leadership at an orphanage ask others (especially the people who are on sight working with the kids) how things can improve, learn from other organizations and leaders, listen to input, reflect, and ask the Holy Spirit to shine light on blind spots and things that may have been overlooked.  Be willing to make changes as problems are brought to light.  That humility, and regular repentance, is exactly what should set apart a good ministry leader.


We can't claim to care about kids, and not do that tough work of light shining and repentance on a regular basis.  I know my job as a parent to just five kids requires constant re-evaluating methods, trying different strategies, and lots of time on my knees asking for guidance (and forgiveness for messing things up).

While I would prefer to see every orphanage shut their doors, and every single child placed into a loving home...that's just not realistically going to happen.   I think it's possible to run orphanages better than we historically have...and I also think they should fall out of vogue in favor of orphan prevention, foster homes, and adoption.

It is with a heavy heart that I write this post, not a sense of gloating or arrogance.  I desire to honour those who I know are working hard, and loving kids in orphanages (I have many dear friends who are doing just that), but the reality remains that we need to do better for vulnerable kids, and we need to set our standards for orphan care higher than merely building and filling orphanages.

"A father to the fatherless, a defender of the widows, 
is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families, 
he leads forth the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious lie in a sun-scorched land." Psalm 68:5,6

OrphanJustice.com Chapter 4 - Orphans and Orphanages from Johnny Carr on Vimeo.





Soli Deo Gloria,


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