Sheltered Children

Sheltered Children

After birth, leaving the hospital with my first was extremely nerve wracking. I recall looking into the nurse’s eyes as she went over discharge papers with us and feeling a sudden wave of fear and anxiety.

Is she really letting this baby come home with us?

The reality of bringing home a straight-out-of-the-womb newborn began to sink in, and I secretly hoped she could read my mind to hear what I could not bring myself to say.

We are NOT qualified. We don’t know what we’re doing. Can we just stay here where it’s safe?

Bringing the nurse home with us was not an option either, so we were immediately thrown into the deep end of this thing called parenting. That first month was grueling of course, and I felt discouraged thinking this was just the beginning. Then I started hearing crazy things like parenting only gets harder. With a smile, seasoned parents would assure me that the easy part was now.

Well that’s a cruel thing to say to a puffy eyed, sleep deprived, hormonally imbalanced new mom, I thought. But six years later, I now realize that what they were saying was true.

Today, I have three children, and while the oldest is now already six, I still sometimes find myself feeling just as unsure as the day we first brought him home. I sometimes wish he could still be in my womb where he was safe and warm or even be that newborn I held all those sleepless nights. He is growing faster than I can keep up with and there are always more questions than I have answers.

And what if the ways I am parenting my children and the decisions I am making are not actually good for them?

When I was a little girl, I almost killed my pets so many times, all with good intentions. Like my fish that almost died in just a few days when I tried to clean its tank out. Without the slightest clue as to what I was doing, I very carefully grabbed the fish with my slippery, tight fists and then ever so gently placed it down on the dry, fuzzy carpet beside me. I thought surely it would be safe on the nice soft ground.

And so, there it flipped and flopped through all the lint and dust while I spent the next half hour or so diligently scrubbing its tank. In my mind, I was hoping to do something good for the fish, but by the time I was done and finally looked down, I found it half dead.

A little extreme I know, but this is one of my fears. That even when doing my best, I inadvertently harm my children or scar them in some way without knowing it. That even in my best efforts and greatest intentions, I would somehow mess them up and one day they will walk away from me hurt, bitter, and/or disappointed.

This past year, this has been on my mind constantly as our family has been trying to make some big decisions. For example, the question of whether to homeschool our children or not has been a hot topic. I know the idea of homeschooling raises a lot of eyebrows, but I personally love the idea for many reasons. Even still, is that the right path for our family or am I just afraid, and will our kids be too “sheltered”?

Then on the flip side, I also wonder if I’m not sheltering my children enough because this was also one of our main concerns while contemplating orphan care and having other kids stay at our home. How will our own children fare? Will they grow to hate us for allowing a stranger into our home? Will they feel jipped of the time and energy and love they would have to share? Will they see and learn too much at too young a age?

Within just the first hosting alone, we already had to talk to our two-, four-, and six-year-olds about messy divorces, scary jails, bloody suicides, and broken families that sometimes fall apart. I remember the terror in my kids’ eyes as he described the details of some of the horrific things he went through. It shocked us all, but this was the reality that the little boy in our home dealt with and shared with us on a regular basis. We also saw the product of such trauma in the form of physical aggression, angry outbursts, and emotional instability starting from the second or third night when he lashed out at me with teeth, spit, and nails.

All this and more our kids were exposed to, and I could see their minds and their eyes widen in seeing this other world they never knew existed before. My motherly instincts of course kicked in many times, and I wanted to quickly assure them that such things would never happen to them. Nope, not in our family. I wanted to tell them that they were safe and we would be fine. There was nothing to worry about.

I could never really come to say those words, however.

No, as my children’s worlds collided with that of this little boy’s, we were all stripped of any false, flowery, fluffy illusions of safety. This was the reality of not just this kid’s life, but of life, period, in a fallen world. I could no longer fall back on empty promises of a life free of pain or suffering or even that mommies and daddies would always be there for them and protect them. That would all be a lie.

Yet what the beautiful part about these intense and raw interactions was the amazing truth that still remained. Whenever these moments occurred and we really had nothing left to say or do, we held each other close and huddled together in prayer.

We prayed to the only one who is pure, and good, and righteous, and just, and sovereign–Jesus Christ–and we thank God we had access to Him in every single moment of need. As a parent, I have never felt more vulnerable than in these times where I could not promise my children good in their life, but I also felt all the freedom in the world to know and to be able to tell them that the Lord God who has overcome this world is for us and with us.

And again, I saw their eyes light up and twinkle and mature as they witnessed our prayers being answered. They saw for themselves not only the darkness in this boy’s life, but they saw his life being transformed in Christ. They experienced God’s faithfulness in the midst of tragedy and they clearly saw that although mommies and daddies are not perfect and do not have all the answers, healing, provision, restoration, and the like, all come from God.

We prayed and He answered.

Now I see a greater confidence in my children than I’ve seen before. Little by little, their faith is growing, and I realize more and more this is my greatest job. Not to try to protect them myself from the elements of this life, but to simply lead them straight through all the clouds and rain to the God who is the only true shelter from the storm. This is the way I want my children sheltered…in His grace.

We still don’t have all the answers like if homeschooling will be in the cards for us or what our next placement will be like. But together, we are learning to trust God in all things.

When we ask our children now if they would like to have another kid come into our home, they immediately jump up and scream yes! They are excited, and so am I, to be on this adventure and journey of faith together.


Sweetness in the Letting Go

Sweetness in the Letting Go

This past Monday, our Safe Families son, Rell, was returned to his home. On many levels, letting him go was extremely difficult because our entire family had come to love him so much. Still, his going home was by far one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced.

On Monday morning, my husband and I enjoyed a peaceful hour drive through scenic roads and rolling hills with Rell in the back. With many thoughts running through my mind, I sat quietly in the passenger seat looking out the window. It was finally time for him to return to his family where his mom and siblings had been waiting for him for so long.

As we drove, all three of us began to reminisce about the crazy day we first met and how he cried and screamed at the top of his lungs the whole way home. He giggled thinking about his former self because he was now such a big boy. Now almost an entire year later, it really felt like we were returning a completely different boy. Behind us, this handsome, bright, young man sat swinging his legs playfully, bobbing his head to the music, and asking us curious questions of all sorts.

Then as we drew closer to his home, the area must have looked familiar to him because he sat up a bit taller in his seat and I could feel the excitement within him stirring. Then suddenly, he looked around and told us with such confidence, “umma, appa, this is my neighborhood!” I smiled at the sweet introduction to his home and felt pleasure in being able to see his world for a change.

For months, he had adapted to our world, ate our food, played our games, and had gotten used to all the different ways we lived, all while being separated from his entire family and everything he knew. It never hit me like this before just how hard all of that really must have been for him. Now being back, it must’ve felt so good to see places he knew, and I got to see a whole new side of him I had never seen before emerge.

He was home.

It was also in this car ride, in that very moment, that I finally felt myself truly surrender. Surrender had been a key theme for me this past year, but I think without knowing it, I had been holding on to many things–to him, to control, to my ideas of what is best, to my place and position in his heart, to what I wanted for his life and ours. Although there were many times God had asked me to surrender before (and I thought I really had), I suppose surrendering is a process that takes time.

Even in the days leading up to his departure, Rell expressed so much excitement about going home, so much to the point that I wondered if he would even remember us, let alone miss us, and that honestly hurt.

But finally, by the grace of God, with every mile we drove deeper into his world and closer to his home, I felt closure begin to really take place in my heart as I let go and surrendered to the Lord. I felt strangely at peace and could even share in Rell’s joy and excitement in leaving us as I let go of what I willed and accepted God’s will for us all instead.

Then finally, we pulled into a gravel driveway where not even a minute later, his mom appeared right beside us. Right away he darted toward her and she swept him up into her arms, kissing him all over and relishing the sweet moment of finally having her baby back at home. His brother, too, was there and the two of them together exploded with excitement, racing to catch up on all the time they lost. And the smile on Rell’s face…

That was everything.

I had imagined what this moment might feel like many times before, maybe sad and even perhaps a certain level of rejection. But now that it was actually happening, I was surprised to find I felt my own burst of exhilaration and joy, a kind of high I’ve never felt before. There were no tears of sadness but only of joy. In that moment, I remembered this was why we did this–for God, for him, for her, for them–and it felt not only great…

It felt right.

Watching them, I was overwhelmed with praise to God for how He kept this family together. To witness God’s restorative work and to see a miracle like that take place, I was completely humbled to have been even a small part of something so magnificent and beyond me.

Now being back at home with one gone, things of course feel a bit different…

For example, my older son no longer has his go-to hockey buddy. My 4 year-old daughter is sad she no longer has someone who willingly plays “dad” in her game of “family.” My 2 year-old baby keeps calling out “hyungah,” which means big brother, because he is so used to being home with just Rell during the day. My husband still blurts out Rell’s name while calling out to all the kids, and I keep taking out four sets of kid plates when all we need now are three.

In those ways, there is a sense of something missing. And I won’t lie, it was the sweetest sound when Rell unexpectedly called me the next day to say hello and that he missed us. Yet in these moments of missing Rell, I just picture his sweet face and where he is now, back at home, safe and sound, and most importantly, in God’s arms and in God’s perfect plan for his life. Then I smile and find that perfect peace once again.

To not only be part of God’s plan, but to truly surrender to it, there is nothing sweeter and there is no greater freedom or joy.

My husband and I along with all the kids have loved this opportunity to care for this one child, and we are excited to do it again.

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. ”
Psalm 139:14

The Judge, the Mediator, the Goodbye

The Judge, the Mediator, the Goodbye

I went to court for the first time in my life last month. We were there regarding the boy we have been hosting, and I was the plaintiff petitioning for custody. His mom was one defendant and his father yet another. Each of us sat at our own table and pleaded a different case before the judge.

The judge.

Apart from the case at hand, the hardest part about being in that courtroom was addressing this man in the big black gown. With every question he directed towards me, I stuttered awkwardly, “Yes sir…I mean your honor. Yes sir, your honor.”

I could hardly swallow those words because I felt so uneasy about the power this man carried, yet I was to give him all due respect. In his hand was the power to direct the course of this boy’s life, but could he really make the right decision?

The question was which home is best and what is the best interest of the child?

Was it back home with his biological mom or dad where things seem so unstable and uncertain yet that is where his real family is? The thought absolutely frightened me because although I wanted him to be with his family, I also fiercely wanted to protect him because he had become family to me as well.

Before the final hearing, however, an order was given. We were all mandated to go to mediation before the final hearing. If we could come to an agreement, our resolution would be sent to be signed by the judge. There would be no need then for a final hearing and for the judge to make any other final verdict.

Mediation. The last time I was in mediation was when I had a tiff with a girl in elementary school and we had to go to mediation with the school counselor.

Could this really work out? I was not so sure, but we had to try. So on two different occasions, we met with the county mediation team to discuss this case. At first, we seemed to only go in circles around the same issues we’ve been going around this whole time, and the truth of the matter still seemed to sadly be far from being found. I mostly sat silent as mom and dad went back and forth with different accusations. I only wanted to know what was really going on behind the scenes with each of these parents, what was truly in their hearts and minds, and if I could trust them to care for this boy like they said they would.

Then in the middle of all the commotion, the Lord began to speak to me and asked me very simply, “Will you trust Me.”

I knew right away that meant to do the very thing I was most afraid to do, and that was to return the boy to his home. As the idea whirled around with my doubts and fears, I looked up at the parents who in my eyes, seemed to be so unqualified. They had messed up so many times before, and how did we know they wouldn’t do it again?

I wanted to take them to trial, to have them stand before the judge, and for the judge to make a just decision based on all the wrong that had been done. Yet instead, here we sat with the mediator and God was prompting me to overlook their past wrongs and to show grace because the court was also ready to do so if I were willing.

Again, very gently, God reminded me to trust Him and that these “unqualified” people were the ones He chose to be this child’s parents. No matter what the outcome, God wanted to give them another chance.

So we have decided to wave the white flag. To agree with the Lord and to trust Him.

This is ultimately what we hoped for in the first place anyways, and this is what we’ve been praying for all along. Reunification. Yet now that I know he is going back, it has become so hard to let go.

Over time, I think the reality that he was not really my child was somehow forgotten as I got lost in his love. Turning off the mommy switch is somehow so much harder than it was turning it on.

And when that day comes for him to leave, I’ll have to put on a smile–the biggest, cheerfulest, and in some ways, the fakest smile there is. Because he’ll be absolutely ecstatic (as he should be), and although I will be ecstatic for him as well, a huge part of me will also be dying inside. And that part of me, I will never be able to express to him.

Even now, he doesn’t know how I cherish every single moment we have left together. I linger a little longer in every hug, every read aloud, and every long, lively, detailed conversation he pulls me into. I stare at him a little longer after he has fallen asleep each night because I know these nights won’t last very long, and although this year has felt more like an eternity, our time together now feels like it wasn’t nearly long enough.

Even if he had left afterjust a couple months like he was first supposed to, it would’ve been hard. Yet with so many more days, weeks, and months we had together, he has become this thread that has woven himself into the very fabric of our family.

He has become a part of us.

So as the day draws near when we will have to say goodbye, a part of me deeply fears that his leaving will unravel me.

I don’t want to say goodbye.

There was once a time I imagined my future with this boy if he were to stay with us. I imagined driving him to college, meeting his wife for the first time, and I even imagined what kind of father he would be to his children. Many weddings I attended this year, I shed even more tears than usual, especially as I watched the sweet traditional mother-son dance, because I couldn’t help but imagine the possibility of dancing with this boy on his wedding day as well. Oh the unspeakable joy and honor I would feel. All this and more flashed before my eyes at some point in our time together.

And our time has been so sweet. These days, we get to enjoy more fits of laughter than fits of rage, more growth than breakdowns, more healing than pain. We have so much joy and peace with him with us. We’ve overcome trauma, bad dreams, many boo boos, and more. Together, we’ve moved mountains, and now that we know all his favorite dance moves and favorite places to hide in hide-and-seek, now that we know how to read every facial expression he makes, and now that he just made it into our Christmas card family photo with that beautiful, A+, model smile–now that things are getting really sweet and good–it’s finally time to let go.

He has adjusted beautifully to our family and has learned to love us as his own, but I know that deep down inside, he has also been desperately longing to return back to his home every single day as well. I must remember that he did not come for us to keep him as our own but for us to send him back when it was time.

So it is with absolute heartbreaking and genuine joy that I wish him the absolute very best when he returns. There, he can build all those memories and more with even greater peace and joy because he’ll know he is right where he has always belonged. And for that reason alone, I can let him go and celebrate with him over this ginormous victory.

Furthermore, we also don’t have to worry about standing before the judge again. The verdict has been made through the mediator.

What’s more is that the ultimate Judge in heaven has spoken. God has given not just this boy’s parents a second chance, but He has given us all another chance as well. Before we stand before God the judge, He has sent us the mediator, the man Christ Jesus, with whom we can come into agreement over His blood, receive His pardon, and be given another chance. Every one of us who are otherwise unqualified, have been given a second chance and declared qualified to stand innocent before God through Christ.

I thank God for these second chances, for His forgiveness, and I pray that not only his parents but all of us can walk with our heads lifted high in a manner that is worthy of the Lord and pleasing to Him.  

Be a good boy, Rell Rell. We will miss you greatly and will be praying for you. It has been the greatest honor to have you, to know you, to love you. Thanks for joining the family and equally taking the brave chance of opening your heart to us so fully the way you did as well. God is always with you, and we love you so, so much.

Black Hair — Different but the Same

Black Hair — Different but the Same

My husband makes fun of me because the first time I ever stepped foot into a barber shop was earlier this year with our host child, Rell. He chuckled while looking at me endearingly, but what he was really saying in the nicest way possible was that I grew up in a little Asian bubble and that I was not cultured. While I beg to disagree on the bubble, he was right that it was in fact my first time in a barber shop, and it was not just any barber shop–it was a black barber shop. We had to make sure of it.

Rell is half black, and his biological father’s exact words when guiding us to pick the right barber was, “Make sure the people cutting his hair look like him. We don’t have the same hair like you.”

We knew exactly what he meant.

So we made a few phone calls, got on yelp, and found some places that seemed to fit the bill. The next day we went in, and Rell got a very nice, clean shape up. It looked great! Before he even got down from the swivel chair, I was texting pictures to his father to get the thumbs up.

Thankfully, dad was very pleased–phew. Hair, I know, is really important to his father.

But as the months have passed, Rell has seen that in our family, I am the one who cuts everyone’s hair in our home. Nothing fancy, but I can get the job done. And whenever it has been haircut day, I could see Rell watching from the corner of his eye as everyone else in the family got their turn in my makeshift barber chair and got their hair cut with my amateur set of Bed, Bath, & Beyond clippers.

I knew right away that he wanted to be part of this as well. He can care less about his hair and even less about how well I can cut it, but he does desperately want anything and everything that says he is part of our family too.

The reason I never offered to cut his hair though was because I was too afraid of messing up. From the beginning, this was one of the first things everyone talked to us about (his hair), and all I was told, really, was to diligently rub in this olive oil lotion after bath times and then comb it real good with this special brush, both of which were one of our first purchases when he came.

This ritual has now worked its way into our daily bedtime routine, and I thoroughly love doing it–I run my fingers through his textured, soft, curly locks, marveling at how God made us all so different and beautiful in our own way.

I love his hair.

Cutting it, however, has always been an entirely different story. Oh no… I dared not try… it felt completely foreign.

But his eyes. Goodness gracious, his eyes. Big, round, and you can see them glistening a mile away. Every time I got out my hair cutting kit and everyone got lined up, there he would be looking so sad in the corner of the room with his eyes crying out, “how about me!” For a while, however, he never said a word, but the other night, he finally had it in him to say something out loud.

As I tied my apron around my back and called over the first child to be cut, he bravely walked over to me and asked me in his husky little, high pitched, 4-year old voice, “Why every time me go to the barber shop and not you do it. Every time. Me want you cut my hair, umma. I don want to go to the barber shop anymore.”

Goodness. What could I say to that?

Well I could have probably explained to him very nicely that his hair is a little different, and that umma doesn’t know how to cut his hair. Except in my gut, I knew this was a really big deal, something that would speak volumes to him today and tomorrow and everyday as he looks at his “different” hair. It was also an opportunity, an open door, for me to draw him closer to us and to close in on the distance that has been growing between us lately.

It has been almost nine months since he came to us and since he is only four, that is almost a fourth of his life. He came to us like a baby and now he is this big boy who has not only learned to ride a 2-wheeler, use the potty, write the ABCs, and maintain a conversation, but he now also thinks very deeply with higher order feelings.

He asks lots of questions, knows when things are not fair, and everyday, I feel like he realizes a little more how different he is from the rest of us.

For example, he sees how Korean relatives come over and don’t interact with him the same as the others because of the language barrier. Although, he can now speak almost just as much Korean as my other kids. He sees how the others go to Korean school, and he doesn’t because Korean school is on the weekends and many weekends he is visiting with his parents… otherwise we would put him in too. He sees how strangers pause and look at our family, especially him, whenever we go out. He then sees them ask us questions about who he is to us and where he came from.

Through his 4-year old eyes, he sees and sees and sees and knows that he is different… and this one night, he was asking me with the same concerning look: can I please just get a haircut… can I please just belong like everyone else.

So yes, I said yes. Of course I did. I gave him a haircut.

I took a deep breath, rolled up my sleeves, youtubed a couple videos, turned on the clippers, and slowly began trimming my way around his perfectly shaped little head. I even had him pray aloud that God would help Umma not to mess up his hair.

At first, it was hard. I could see how the texture of his hair really did make a difference and it responded differently to every touch of the blade. The fading was particularly unforgiving, and I had to have just the right pressure and angle to get it right. But as I persisted, I got into a rhythm and found it wasn’t really all that different like I thought. I just had to work slowly section by section and be a little more delicate with each touch.

And every time I came around to the front of his head and caught eyes with his, there he sat smiling at me, beaming with joy.He was so happy.

When I was done, I gave him a big kiss and passed him on to my husband to be bathed, thanking God I did not butcher his hair. Then there I was left in my kitchen with nothing but hair that had fallen to the floor all around me–some curly, some straight, some thick, some thin, all different. Slowly, I began to sweep it all up until it was all gathered into one pile. Then I smiled, because once it was all brought close together, I couldn’t even tell the difference from one strand of hair to the other. It was all just hair.

And that is how I have come to see Rell in relation to us. Standing alone, he may seem very different from the rest of us. Different hair, different skin, just different. But as we have gotten closer and closer over this past year, I have seen how we are really not that different after all and share so many of the same qualities as well. Although he will always have his God-designed differences, just like all of us do and awesomely so, we are also so much the same. We are people. We need unconditional acceptance and love and validation. We need time to play, time to mourn, time to celebrate, time to laugh, time to cry. We also need family.

These days, I look at Rell and while acknowledging and celebrating his unique background, traits, and culture, I love that he is also one of us and we are like him as well.

We are different, but not as different as we think. I love Rell, I love his hair, I love our differences, I love our similarities, I love our coming together. We are family.   

Can You Hear Them? 

Can You Hear Them? 

I will never forget the first cry of an “orphan” that I heard. 

It was four years ago, just a month or two after my daughter was born, on a cool autumn night. The leaves had just changed colors and it was everything pumpkin from oatmeal to lattes to yummy pies. I was having major cabin fever after my recovery from birth, so my husband and I decided to go out to a movie for the first time in ages. My parents gladly agreed to watch the baby because she was such an easy and happy newborn. I was so happy to be out I even agreed to get popcorn and two different candies to make a good trail mix (my husband’s favorite), and this was our way of splurging. 

It was nice.   

We, however, only got into about an hour of the movie before I saw my phone lighting up in my bag on my lap. At first I ignored it, but it kept going off every minute or so, so I finally checked to see that it was my parents calling me. Quietly, I excused myself to answer the call, and as soon as I did, all I could hear was my daughter wailing in the background. I could hardly hear the words my mom was trying to say, but I gathered enough to know that we should go home immediately. 

Driving home, I wondered what it could possibly be. This was very unlike my daughter who was usually always content. Once we parked in front of the house and got out of the car, I could hear her cries from outside the house, piercing through the still night. Then as soon as I opened the front door and rushed in, I saw my mother frantically trying to soothe the screaming baby in her arms. We were told she had been crying non-stop for hours since we left and nothing seemed to work. Yet just as my mother passed her to me, like a switch, my daughter calmed down and stopped crying immediately. 

In awe, my mother looked up at me and said, “Oh my goodness… she just wanted her mommy…” 

That’s when it hit me for the first time. Right there as I stood in the middle of my living room floor holding my sweaty baby close in my arms, this thought rang in my spirit: what about the orphans.

Orphans, I thought? I knew I had always had a “heart for orphans,” or so I thought, but it never really meant more than that I knew they were there, and I felt really badly for them whenever the topic came up.  

But starting from this moment, something changed. Still holding my daughter, and with my family surrounding me, I looked up at everyone and whispered what I heard.

 “What about the orphans?”

Quiet, blank stares.

So I said it again. “What happens to the orphans? What happens when they cry and they ‘just want their mommy.’ What happens to them… ” 

My mind spun, and I could not sleep that night. All I could hear were cries–not my daughters–but cries of orphans that came from nowhere yet somewhere out there. 

Lying there with my eyes opened and staring up at the ceiling, I helplessly listened and tears streamed down to drench my pillow. I wondered how many were out there and felt so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the need. This went on for months, and although sometimes I wondered if I was making this all up in my head, the cries always continued. Some nights, I would even break down and cry aloud myself as if all I could do was echo and call back to a world I knew that was full of these children crying to no avail. 

That was four years ago, and so began our family’s journey into orphan care. Through a process, I knew God was calling us to respond and care for these orphans. No doubt there were many questions and concerns along the way, but it was no matter. The cries continued, and I knew I really had to do something this time.

But what I didn’t know was that the cry I heard that night four years ago was also more than just the cries of all the orphans out there. It was really just the cry of one.

It was one precious boy who was born around that time four years ago, in the same week as my daughter, but in a completely different home going through devastation and destruction. It was him who was crying out for help many of those nights that I heard and who was going to need a home four years later, just when things got really bad in his home and just when our home was finally ready, signed, and approved to host a child. 

It was his cry I heard in my heart that autumn night, and he was our first placement who is now in our home today. God allowed me to hear his cries to awaken me that night to not only the orphan crisis as a whole, but to hear and respond to the cries of the one the Lord knew we specifically could and would help. 

This one who was once out of sight and out of mind, is now family to us. 

Now, that one has a name that rolls off my tongue just as smoothly as does the names of my other three children. This one enjoys fruits and vegetables so much that it is almost always the first thing eaten on his plate. This one sleeps so deeply through the night, I can hear his breathing from the door the moment he falls asleep, and you can be sure that the second the sun comes up, he will begin to rub his eyes before making his way down to my room with the rest of the kids. 

This one is so real that I can’t believe he was once just a far off cry or possibly a figment of my imagination. Because now, I can’t imagine life without him.  

This one, he needs a home right now, and there is no greater joy or privilege to have him in our home for however long he needs. 

But he is just one

There are more…many, many more. 

And until their cries become real and loud to us, we will not be able to respond. 

In honor of Orphan Awareness Month coming up in November, let us pray, let us listen, and let us be moved to action. I assure you, the cries are real, and the honor will be yours to care for one, if not more, of these children in one way or another. 

Can you hear them? 

Shared Suffering

Shared Suffering
My father-in-law found out he was adopted when he was 26, newly married, and weeks away from welcoming the birth of his first child, my husband. His family was never going to tell him, but the secret accidentally came out one day in the middle of a family dispute. Since then, it has been a long road of trauma full of a million unanswered questions that have battered and left him bruised.
But what could he do? He didn’t know how to process the pain he felt or make sense of a life he suddenly felt he didn’t belong in. So he tucked it all away. He continued with his life as usual, began his own family, and tried to forget about his past. Already a grown man with many responsibilities and a million other burdens to worry about, there was no time, really, to understand… or to heal this area of his life.
Then one day, my husband and I felt the calling to welcome children in need into our home, and because we live with my in-laws, we had to make sure they were on board with this too. This was something he was not prepared for. In fact, he strongly opposed it when we first brought up our desire to foster or adopt and became very heated. He never imagined that we, his children, would ever have a child in our home like this, and he was not prepared to reopen those old wounds. He also questioned our ability to love these children especially when we already had three kids of our own.
“When they all get sick, who are you going to love? Who are you going to take care of??You won’t love him the same!”
The words cut through us all because we knew he was still hurting and that he never got over the years of feeling unloved and abandoned. Yet because my father-in-law is a tender man, it only took him less than a day to come around. That same night, he came over to me and my husband and said, “We gotta do it. We’re Christians right? If we don’t do it, who will?”
I love my father-in-law.
So with his blessing, we started the process. Before we knew it, we got a call for our first placement and within a few days, this little boy was standing in our home. It was a very emotional time for us all, but there was no doubt that my father-in-law, who was never known to shed a tear, was by far the most emotional of us all.
Over 30 years after his moment of realizing his tragic loss as a child, he stood face-to-face with Rell, a little boy who carried very similar scars he had. At first, he didn’t know what to make of it, but he couldn’t even get through the first meal before tears began streaming down his face and he had to excuse himself to his room where he spent the rest of the evening. No one knew what he went through in that room, but what we do know is that from that day on, we have seen healing and freedom slowly take place in my father-in-law’s heart as he has had to walk hand in hand with Rell on his own journey of healing as well. Together, they have overcome mountains of tragedy and pain.
And for Rell, there was nobody more qualified and suitable to help him on his journey than my father-in-law. Because when no one else understands, my father-in-law does. To be honest, there have been very difficult moments. Moments when I am tired of dealing with his tantrums and behavioral outbursts that I don’t normally see in other children. Moments when I am tired of waiting for him to come out of his blank stares because he doesn’t know how to respond “rightly” when I ask him to do something. Moments when I just wished he didn’t need me to hold his hand every moment of the day and wished he could go about his day with security and confidence. I became tired of being patient, tired of being kind, tired of extending grace.
But when I and everyone else tires, my father-in-law comes in quietly and ever so gently, and with kindness deep in his eyes, offers this little boy a hand to take that next step. They both know how hard that step can be, but together, they can do it and they have done it together everyday.
We are so proud of them.
The other week, our family went on vacation to the beach and Rell was so excited. It was his first time going in the ocean, and when we got there, he ran straight in with everyone else. Unfortunately, the same second he ran in was exactly when a huge wave came and smashed down on top of him, leaving him gasping for air and choking in the salty sea water.
After that, he didn’t go in again. 
Traumatized, he stayed as far back as possible and wanted me right beside him as he played quietly in the sand. Periodically, he would look up and see everyone else splashing in the waves, but nothing could convince him to go back in. Anytime I did try to get him to try, he would immediately shake his head no, and the one time he did get up to walk with me closer to the water, he ended up shaking and screaming at the top of his lungs until I carried him back to our towels.
Eventually, we all gave up and just let him be. That is, until my father-in-law drove up for the weekend to join us, and wouldn’t you know it that he was just who Rell needed to overcome his fear. I watched in fascination as the two held hands and slowly but steadily walked to the water’s edge. I knew Rell must have been trembling, but from behind, he looked peaceful and confident. Then slowly, the two began to touch the water with their toes, then with their fingertips, and soon enough, they were knee high in the water.
I couldn’t believe it. Before long, Rell was wailing in laughter as he kicked and punched through the wild waves that continued to crash onto his body over and over again. It was the most beautiful picture as I saw my father-in-law come alive from his past pain and use the most difficult time of his life to help another person in the same shoes.
And all the more I realized why Jesus had to come. Because in His life here on earth, He, too, experienced the same trials we each face and He is more than able to understand and to extend grace for each of us in whatever stage of life we are in. He does not tire of our situations and our unique trials, but He knows. He cares deeply for us and can help us take each next step. And with Him, we can overcome.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Hebrews 4:15-16

What Doesn’t Kill Him

What Doesn’t Kill Him

When a fetus is in the womb, it is safely held in a sea of water and protected from bacteria and other pathogens. However, the very second that water breaks and the infant begins to make its way out into the world, it must travel down a passage that is covered completely with microbiomes–various bacteria specifically prepared in the mother for that child to go through. Every baby’s microbiome is different and perfectly unique and tailored to that child. This bacteria completely covers the baby, gets into the eyes, ears, and nose, and is even swallowed.

Normally, this should hurt the newborn. After all, bacteria leads to disease and other harmful side-effects, even death. However, just as soon as the baby passes through this mucky birth canal, it is immediately placed warmly on the mother’s chest and offered its first meal at the breast.

The baby sucks and sucks by instinct, and if it doesn’t get it at first, he is still steadily taught, directed, and encouraged to feed at the breast because no alternative is better. Not even close. Then once the baby latches, liquid gold soon comes flowing into the baby’s body. At this time, baby is first introduced to this perfect milk that is full of immunities, complex sugars, and everything good to cover and complement the mess it just went through. It is the perfect match for that perfect bacteria that has been designed for the baby’s body, and together, they work to build up the baby’s system and its ability to fight off disease for the rest of its life.

The key is, however, that both are always needed–this life giving breast milk and the pathogenic bacteria. With either one missing, the baby will not properly be able to build up the strength it needs to live.

It amazes me that even from the moment of birth, this is the reality we are faced with–we experience and even need both the good and the bad.

Deep breath.

This week we were asked to petition for guardianship over Rell. There was a sudden turn of events, and his parents were deemed incapable of providing for any of their children. So, his three siblings (who had just been reunified at home) were immediately taken by the state. CPS and the police came knocking on their door, and just like that, they were swept away from their chance at staying together.

“Fortunately” for Rell, he was still with us (just a few weeks shy of being reunited with his family himself), and there was a plea on his behalf to be left out of the system and to be allowed to remain in our home. “Fortunately,” they agreed, but only under the condition that we would file legal guardianship over him. “Fortunately” for Rell.

Guardianship. What does that mean? Basically it is the gray area right outside of adoption. We have rights and the freedom to make decisions for him and assume full responsibility over him, but we are not considered his parents. We treat him like family, but he is not really family.

I agreed right away because I love this boy, and I would do anything to keep him safe, but the title didn’t sit so well with me. I wished he could either FULLY be with us through adoption or FULLY be with his biological family. What is this sloppy in between that he has to live with?

Already there have been so many moments that have left him feeling utterly isolated in this situation, and I feel him wanting so badly to belong somewhere.

Sometimes he asks me, “Is mommy going to come get me?” Other times, it’s, “I want to live with my daddy foreva.” Still other times, he looks at me and says with a hopeful smile, “Umma, is you my mommy … foreva?”

He wants a FOREVER family, and who can blame him?

But nothing is certain in his world. I can’t promise him that he’ll be going home to his family because we don’t know if that’ll happen. We can’t tell him that he’ll be with us forever because we don’t know if that’ll be happening either. 

The more I thought about guardianship, the more I hated it for that reason. How is this in any way good for him? All of this, this messy dysfunction he was birthed into, feels way more hurtful than any child should ever have to go through and swallow.

But the other side of guardianship is this: we do get to have him for a time. We get to have him for today, tomorrow, and possibly for a month or even the next 14 years until he becomes an adult.

And for whatever amount of time we get to have him, we get to offer him something good–we can love him, care for him, but most importantly, teach him how to lean into God’s bosom and drink from the cup of His hands. There, he can taste the sweet love of Christ and be strengthened even in this difficult place. 

When he is scared, when he falls down, or when he has a nightmare as he often does, we don’t only comfort him ourselves. Rather, we IMMEDIATELY put him onto the heart of God because although we may not always be there for him, we know that God will. That is the one pure, good, and sure “forever” that we can offer and promise him.

In the middle of the night when he’s in tears and afraid, “Sing praise, Relly. Worship. Let’s sing loud and sing hard. Praise God and the fear will leave you. You’ve got to sing.”

When he’s struggling to ride a bike and he has fallen down for the 20th time, “Get back up Relly and ask God to make your legs strong. Ask God for strength to pump your legs. Pump harder! You got this! God is your strength! Say it! God is my strength! You can do it!”

With tears, I shout, declare, and even demand this 4 year-old boy learn these truths now because this is his milk after the muck. And there is no better alternative. 

Then just maybe, this unique combination of the terrible, messy hardship in his life along with the perfect love of God will create for him a life that is strengthened and able to sustain him. Maybe what doesn’t kill him really will make him stronger. And we don’t want to see him just make it… we want to see him soar, and sometimes we even see him soaring now. 

So although it is hard at times and we struggle to see the good in all this when we can’t understand, we trust that God knows what this little boy can handle, and we hope that this seemingly dark place is still all for his good.

For that reason, we can always rejoice and say, thank you, Lord. Even in this, we rejoice. 

If we are to really live, if we are to grow, and if we are to thrive, once we all inevitably experience each of our unique microbiomes of hardship, chaos, and pain that have been laid out for our lives, we must also IMMEDIATELY lean into the Father and drink of His sweet goodness. While our suffering in some form or another will always be there, so also will be the Lord and His goodness. He is so good. And in the end, God knows and wills and works to perfectly make it all turn out for our good.

“Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her;
rejoice greatly with her, all you who mourn over her.
For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts; you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance.”
For this is what the Lord says:
“I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;
you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees.
As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you;
and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”

Isaiah 66:10-13