Gotcha Day 1,826

It was the morning of September 10, 2008. We had stayed the night in Cheboksary, the capital city of Chuvashia, while your paperwork was getting done. Tatyana, our Russian coordinator, was helping us get the official court documents of your adoption hearing. We also got your Russian passport, which we would need so that you could travel home with us to Texas. By mid-afternoon, we had everything we needed and we grabbed a taxi ride to the baby house in Alatyr.

We got to Alatyr just before 5pm. The doctor at the baby house normally goes home before 4pm most days, but he stayed late because he wanted to see that everything went well for our reunion with you. When we arrived, they had a small celebration arranged for us, with fresh pastries made by the cooks at the baby house and fresh fruit. They brought you in to see us and your Mom and I had not been as happy to see anyone in our lives. For the first time ever, we looked at your sweet face knowing that we were officially your parents. We spent a few minutes eating and talking with the baby house doctor and a couple of staff members, but needed to leave pretty quickly because we had an hour and a half drive to the station where we could catch our train back to Moscow.

On the drive to the train station, you sat in my lap (car seats are not all that common in taxis in Russia). We had some cheese crackers and a few other snacks for you to eat. I fed them to you during the drive and it began to sink in that our family was finally together. I could hardly take my eyes off of you, and I think that was the moment when I knew that I loved you, and would do anything for you.

We got to the station and boarded our overnight train to Moscow. As we got to our compartment, Tatyana and Pasha left us alone with you for a few minutes. We sat you down on the bench seat, and then sat down on the bench across from you. You stared up at us with those big eyes and I wondered what was going on in that little head of yours. At that point, the realization that you were now completely our responsibility hit me, and I think it may have hit your Mom then, too. We sat for a minute or in silence just staring at you. At that point, I looked over at your Mom and my honest reaction was to say to her: “Holy s**t we have a baby!” Not one of my more eloquent moments, I know, but we both then busted out laughing and I think it helped get us out of the sheer moment of terror in which we found ourselves.

We settled into our compartment and the train departed the station. We sat up for about an hour or so, and then began getting ready for bed. We got you in your pajamas and set up the pull down bed for you. Your Mom took the upper bed, so I was laying in the pull down bed across from you. We stared at each other for a long while after we turned the lights out. I just wanted you to know that you were safe, and that I was there for you. Ever since that night, I’ve always wanted you to know that. I hope that you never doubt it.

That was Gotcha Day number 1. Today it’s Gotcha Day number 1,826. Five years later, and we are so thankful to be your Mom and Dad.

Our Day in Court, Part 2

After finally getting through the gauntlet of crazy travel (see previous post), we arrived at court in Cheboksary. The only person we were allowed to bring in the court room with us was Natasha, who would be our translator during the hearing. We had met her briefly on our first trip to Russia back in May because she had translated some documents for us that were filed with the government. The two people we were used to traveling with, Tatyana and Pasha, were not allowed to be in the court room with us. This was really hard for us because they were our security blankets. Anytime we went anywhere in Russia, one of them was always with us, so that already made us feel a bit uneasy.

The court room was very interesting. We were using the criminal court room because the civil court room was apparently unavailable. The room was fairly large with the ability to see about 100 people. It was very stark with minimal ornamentation. The jury box was on our right and on the left hand side there was actually a small cell with bars, which was a bit surreal. The only other people in the room besides us and Natasha were a doctor from the baby house and a representative from the Russian Department of Education, both of whom we had met before. There also was a court reporter, and then eventually the judge came in once the hearing started. The entire hearing was in Russian, and Natasha had to translate everything for us.

There was construction going on outside, so they had to close all the windows so that we could hear. There was no air conditioning, which caused the room to heat up as the day went along. We had been told this judge liked to really drag on the proceedings and grill potential parents, so we were extremely nervous. Most adoption cases last about 60-90 minutes, ours would end up lasting almost 6 hours.

After the judge made some opening comments and set out some ground rules, I was asked to stand and he began asking me questions. The questions ran the gamut. He asked me where I worked, what I did for a living, what our family and home life was like, what our religious beliefs were, what my childhood was like, how we planned to discipline, if we had pets, etc. All of this was already answered in the paperwork we had provided, but I guess he just wanted to cover it again to show that he was being thorough.

He then asked me why we wanted a child from Russia, and how after meeting you briefly for a few hours we were sure that we wanted you to be our daughter. I’ve had people ask me that same question a few times over the past five years and I really don’t know that I have ever given them an answer they are satisfied to hear. But all I can tell you is that I knew that after all the paperwork, poking and prodding by doctors, crazy travel arrangements, and whatever other hurdles that we had to overcome to get to that moment, I absolute KNEW you were meant to be our daughter. The only thing I have ever been that sure of before or since is knowing that your Mom was meant to be my wife. It’s something that I know at the very core of my being, and that’s because God planned for it all along. You were never a mistake, you were never unplanned, you were never unwanted. Never. Period. NEVER! I’m more sure of that with every passing day that I take a breath. If for any reason you ever feel any differently about that, you absolutely put it out of your mind because it simply is not true.

I answered questions for about an hour, and I’ve never been more nervous in my life. The room getting hotter didn’t help either, and I honestly thought on more than one occasion that I might pass out. I had sweat completely through my shirt, and sweat was literally pouring down my head and neck. When he finally said that I was done, I’ve never been more glad to sit down.

At that point, it was your Mom’s turn. He asked her very similar questions for about 45 minutes. Your Mom is usually so cool under pressure, but I could tell that she was just as nervous as I had been. Because our translator was standing to our right, your Mom would look to her to get the translation and answer the questions. The judge told her that she needed to look at him when answering her questions, even though he had to hear it from the translator as well. But she did so great, and fought back emotions because she knew that she was doing it for you.

Once the judge had finished questioning us, he began to ask questions of the doctor from the baby house and the representative from the Department of Education. He checked with them to make sure all procedures had been followed: like seeing if you had been made available only to Russian couples until you were 8 months old, if anyone in your birth family was able to take care of you, and if they had seen us interact with you when we visited the baby house. At that point, it was close to noon and we took a break for lunch. Your Mom and I were still so nervous that we really could only eat some soup at lunch.

We headed back to the courthouse around 1pm and we started up again. At this point, it was just a lot of reviewing of documents that had been filed, reviewing pictures we had provided of our home and our family, and answering a few more clarifying questions here and there. We stopped at about 3pm so that the judge could make his decision. We waited in the hallway for about 45 minutes, and were called up to the small civil court room to listen to the judge’s decision.

As the court reporter read the information from the judge, which confirmed the details about you and us that had been presented, your Mom and I were listening to Natasha’s translation intently. What lasted maybe 2 minutes seemed like an absolute eternity, until finally at the end we were the words “the adoption has been approved”. We both smiled and almost broke down into tears. When the case was adjourned and the judge left, we walked out in the hallway to share the good news with Tatyana and Pasha. I looked over at your Mom and she was starting to cry, and I told her that she couldn’t do it because I would break down and it wasn’t likely that I would stop. We were both so emotionally drained from a long trip, a long process, and a long day, but we could not have been happier.

We knew that we’d have to go home to Texas one more time without you, but that in about 10 days when the waiting period was over, we knew that we’d be taking you home, too. On August 28th, 2008, what God had always known finally became true to the world: you were our daughter.

Our Day in Court, Part 1

We arrived at court in Cheboksary, Russia on the morning of August 28th, 2008 the most nervous either of us had ever been in our lives.  It had already been a rough few days en route from home in Dallas, Texas, and your Mom and I were already in rough shape.

On Saturday, a few days earlier, we were loaded up and sitting on the plane at the Dallas airport waiting for the airline to push back from the gate. We were scheduled to connect in Chicago en route to Moscow, but unfortunately, after several delays due to mechanical issues, they ended up cancelling our flight. Our connection from Chicago to Moscow was only a once a day flight, and it didn’t run on Sunday at all.  That had us worried whether or not we’d be able to make it to Moscow by Monday in time for the medical screenings we had to get done prior to our court date.

The airline was able to put us on a flight to London, and we then flew on their partner airline to Moscow on Sunday.  While we made it in to Moscow on the day we needed to be there, it was about 9 hours later than expected, and we found out that our luggage did not make the trip with us.  It would be 2 days before we’d get our bags, just in time to catch the train out of Moscow.

On Tuesday night, we went to the train station so that we could go to Alatyr to come visit you after a three and a half month wait since we first met you.  We got there and discovered that our tickets had been issued for the wrong day.  Tatyana, our translator and coordinator while in Russia, went to go get the tickets straightened out only to find that the train was full.  If we didn’t get on this train, we likely would not be able to see you on this trip, which would have crushed us.

Tatyana began frantically looking for someone to sell us their tickets, kind of like looking for a ticket scalper at a rock concert.  Because of the time crunch, she really didn’t have a lot of time to explain what was going on, or to translate the conversations she was having in Russian.  Add the fact that we were running back and forth on the platform behind her dragging our big and heavy bags, it should go without saying that we were freaking out.

We finally got tickets on to the train, but we didn’t get our own cabin as we had on our previous trips. Since we got on the train late, and didn’t get to our specific car until nearly a half hour after we left the station, the only beds left in “steerage” were uppers. I hadn’t slept on a bunk bed since I was in college, so getting into a cramped train bunk for a guy my size was no small feat. When I finally made it into my bed with the use of several very ungraceful moments, I noticed that one Russian woman had gotten a ton of enjoyment watching me struggle maneuvering into the bed. Since I had a lot of rubels and dollars in my backpack, along with a few pieces of electronics, I didn’t get a lot of sleep that night since I kept one eye on my bag at all times.

We got off the train the next morning, and made our way to see you at the baby house. It was a very short visit at less than an hour, but it was like a drink of cold water after a long walk across the desert. Since the last time we had seen you, we had been at home finishing up your nursery, getting everything we would need for you when you got home, and anxiously awaiting for our family to finally be together. We left Alatyr to make the two and a half hour drive to Cheboksary, checked in to our hotel, and had dinner. While we were relieved to finally be at our destination, it was still the night before one of the most important days in our lives: when we’d be in front of a Russian judge explaining why we should be your parents.

We got back to the hotel, and since neither one of us had a decent night’s sleep in the last 4 or 5 days, we didn’t have a hard time falling asleep. I woke up at about 3am and my mind starting racing about what was in store for us the next day, and I couldn’t go back to sleep. Your mom woke up about 7am or so, we got ready and headed out for breakfast. With our stomach in knots because of nerves, neither one of us ate very much. We arrived at the courthouse a little before 9am, ready to do whatever we needed to do to bring you home.

To be continued….

We Don’t Dance Enough

Last Sunday at church my wife pointed out a little girl across the aisle.  She was probably about four and she was dancing away as the band played a fast-paced song.  We both laughed and enjoyed watching as she continued to joyfully move with each new song they played.  I looked around the rest of the room, and with very few exceptions, most of the adults were just standing there, not moving to the music, and many not even singing along or showing any kind of emotion.  It dawned on me that this was a bit like how we live our lives.

For those of us that are pursuing Heaven and have given our lives over to Christ, we have been given the most amazing gift of forgiveness, mercy, grace, and freedom.  And how do we react?  We stand there, motionless, showing no expression of our gratitude for what we’ve received, or joy in knowing the incredible gifts we have received from our Savior.  And yet we wonder why people don’t want any part of the God we claim to know and love.  We can’t understand why they aren’t clamoring to know more about the forgiveness that Jesus bought for us with his very life.  We just don’t get why people wouldn’t want to go to Heaven where we’d get to worship our King and Lord.

I think we need to ask ourselves why anyone would want to go to a place where they would just stand around showing no emotion during the most incredible worship service anyone has ever seen or heard.  We are to be examples of what a life looks like when its been changed by God and one that should be overflowing with joy.  In a crowd of people on Earth standing around and waiting for something to happen, we need to be dancing!  I don’t necessarily mean dancing in the literal sense, but I mean that the joy we have in our lives needs to be evident to those around us.  We should stand out like this little girl dancing while our world is playing incredible music around us, and not like stiffs acting as if nothing special is taking place, or worse, like the world is crashing in around us.  If we aren’t living a life where people can look at us and think, “what’s different about that person”, then we very likely are doing something wrong, or doing nothing at all.

Our lives are to be our greatest witness, and if we act disinterested, miserable, or hateful, then why would anyone want what we have?  Our world is already full of anger, depression, violence, and a host of other problems, and we allow those things to impact our witness.  We can’t expect to act the way we should every second of every day.  We are broken, after all, and that would be impossible.  But unless those around us see that we are happy and fairly well-adjusted people in a world that can wear you down, then we need to remember what is truly important.

Let the words of Paul to the Romans remind us of how we are to live:

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.  Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.”- Romans 12:12-13, 21

 

Meeting Day

We arrived in Cheboksary on an overnight train from Moscow.  We didn’t get to see much of the city that day, because we were rushing to get a few things done before we grabbed a taxi to head two and a half hours away to Alatyr to meet you.

It had already been a whirlwind trip.  We had only found out a little over a week before that we were matched with you and all we were told was that you were nearly a year old, and you were in the little town of Alatyr (and we had no idea where that was).  We went with Tatyana and Pacha to a government building so that Tatyana could go see someone in the local office.  I think it was the regional director in charge of caring for children, but honestly, we were so nervous we didn’t ask a lot of questions.

We then grabbed a taxi to go to Alatyr.  The driver was the short burly man with a mustache and a 3-day beard that drove a Volga (the Russian equivalent of an old Mercedes Benz).  I got in the front, and your mom, Tatyana and Pacha got in the back.  The whole ride to Alatyr, the driver, Tatyana and Pacha were talking in Russian, so we had no idea what they said.  It was kinda fun to see how animated the driver was, though, talking with his hands and very loudly.  The car smelled like smoke, but I didn’t care because it was an adventure.

I slept a little here and there along the drive, but while I was awake I enjoyed the view.  I looked out at farmland that honestly didn’t look a lot different than parts of America that I had driven across as a kid.  We went through these tiny little towns with shacks lining the road, and I wondered what the people were like living there.  I imagined that they were probably a lot like every other person I had met from a small town: quiet and with a strong work ethic, trying to provide for their families as best they could. When we finally got to Alatyr, we took several twist and turns in this tiny town.  We drove past a little soccer stadium, which I imagine filled up a lot like high school football stadiums in Texas on Friday nights

We got to the other side of this town, and pulled down a dirt road, past a few garages.  We then pulled around the corner and saw the baby house: a relatively small 2-story U-shaped building.  We got out and they led us through the courtyard, into the building and up some stairs to a big room with chairs and couches lining the outside walls.  We were introduced to the doctor and a few caretakers, but everyone only spoke Russian, so it was a little difficult for us to follow what was going on…..and we were so nervous.

A few minutes later, someone entered the room carrying this little blond-haired girl in a blue and white crocheted dress.  I didn’t know if that was you or just another child waiting to meet their mommy and daddy some day.  They then brought you over to your mom and handed you over to her.  She showed off that big, beautiful smile of hers that you know so well, because she has shown it to you hundreds of times over the last 5 years.  I snapped a few pictures and still was in shock that it was you.

Your mom handed you over to me and I got to hold you for the first time.  You were looking around not sure what was going on.  I can’t imagine what was going through that little head of yours.  I’m sure you were scared, but you sure didn’t show it.  You were so brave, just a little shy.  The folks from the baby house pointed at you then me and were laughing.  I laughed along not knowing what was so funny, and then Tatyana said that they wanted to know if this was my first time in Russia because the baby looked like me.  It was tt that moment, that I felt at ease.  If they were joking with me than everything must be okay and everyone must be relaxed.  We spent about an hour playing with you, feeding you some bread, and talking with the staff about you (with Tatyana’s help, of course).

That was the day I knew that you were ours.  God knew well before any of us were born that this day would come, but none of us did.  It was absolutely miraculous to see it happen, too. While there were many hard times along our adoption journey, and many things that tested our patience, God carried us through it to get to you.  He knew on May 20th, 2007 that a little girl would be born to a young single mother, and that she loved you enough to realize that you deserved something that she could not provide.  I didn’t get to meet her, but some day I hope I will so that I can tell her what a beautiful thing she did, and that all the tough decisions that she made, and the hardships she bore were so that you could be here today with us.  She didn’t know it at the time, but she made it possible for us to be a family, and for our dream to come true.  That, in and of itself, should tell you just how special your birth mom is.

People will ask us why we went to Russia to adopt.  I can’t actually say what the exact reasons are that led us there, because only God really knows, so I simply tell them this: “Because that is where our daughter lived.”

We Get to Carry Each Other

People look at God, faith, and religion through their own unique lens.  Our opinions and beliefs are formed based on many different things, including our life experiences, the people who had an influence on us (especially our parents), as well as the events in the world around us.  We then hold on tightly to them, and sometimes defend them tooth and nail….it’s only human, as are we.

We have a tendency to lump people into the same category based on their labels: be it their race, age, nationality, sexual orientation, income, religion, etc.  This also seems to be a human tendency.  It’s not right, but we certainly all do it.  I know that I am guilty of it, even though I fight not to do it.  It’s how we seem to be wired, but like me, I hope others are fighting their instinct to paint people with such a broad brush.  In recent months, I’ve seen Christians being painted with a broad brush for different reasons.  The type of Christians I know, however, don’t match up with how we’ve been described by others.

Last week I got to go to the Summit Conference, which is put together by the Christian Alliance for Orphans.  Think of it as one of the pre-eminent conference on adoption, foster care, and global orphan care.  There were dozens of agencies, ministries, and advocates on hand to provide resources and guidance to those in attendance.  It’s pretty overwhelming to be at a conference with literally thousands of people from across the country who have a heart to care for orphans.

There are people who would like to paint Christians as close-minded or full of hate.  I fully understand that there are people out there who use parts of the Bible to defend their hateful practices, and believe me, it angers the true people of faith just as much as it does the person being persecuted. I would hope that people would see that there is a big difference in claiming to be a Christian vs. actually being one.  God has told us that many people who know His name will be surprised when they stand before Him and he says that He never knew them.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” – Matthew 7:21-23

Just because someone refers to themself as a Christian and attends a local church doesn’t actually make them a follow of Jesus.  If they twist the Bible to their own beliefs vs. actually trying to determine what the Bible is teaching us and form their lives around that then they believe in themselves and not God.  When someone impersonates another to do something evil, do we blame the group being impersonated?  Well, we certainly seem to do that when religion is concerned.

Recently, some are going so far as to call the rise in adoption and fostering efforts by the church as some form of discipleship initiative, as if the only reason why Christians are in the fight against issues like the global orphan crisis and human trafficking is so that we can indoctrinate new little Christians.  I find this latest broad brush stroke disgusting.  I’m not saying that every single person supporting this cause has the best of motives, but I would say that those that do not are in the vast, VAST minority.

Let me be as direct as I can be as to why Christians reach out to orphans: because it is a response and reflection for how deeply we have been forgiven and loved by God.  Once a person has honestly studied the teachings of the Bible, they realize with extreme clarity that we are called to serve and love others and Jesus did for us.  This is who we have become, not because of anything we have done or will do, but because the gift of eternal life given to us.  We do this not out of obligation, or in an effort to brainwash children, but to give them what they so desperately need: someone who cares for them unconditionally.

I am reminded of one of the lyrics from One, a song by U2: “we get to carry each other”.  To me, the operative word in that line is “get”.  We don’t care for others out of a command or requirement by God, we are freed from the chains of sin, guilt, and embarrassment to care for others, and show them hope, mercy, and grace.

We Celebrate This?

January 22, 2013 marked the 40th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade trial decision that made abortion legal in the United States.  The topic of abortion has really been on my mind the last couple of months.  I cannot tell you why, but it has.  I know it’s a sensitive topic for most of us, and so I have been debating for the last month whether or not I should write about it.  I’ve also seen a lot of editorials, news stories, and clips during this time, and I wasn’t sure if I would just be another “clanging cymbal” or if I would actually be adding something to the discussion to get people to think about why they believe what they believe, and what they should do in order to be a true change agent on this issue.  As I’ve wrestled with this decision, it finally dawned on me that if I’m spending this much time mulling it over, then there is my answer.  That, in a nutshell, is why this post didn’t come out two weeks ago.

To be completely upfront, let me begin by stating a couple things you should know about me and my own personal views.  I am a Christ-follower, an adoptive father, and I believe that life begins at conception.  I believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and that man’s fallibility cannot overcome the inerrancy of the Bible.  More simply put, I believe that God’s power to preserve his Word over thousands of years is a stronger force than man’s ability to make mistakes as the caretakers of the Gospel.  So now that we have that out of the way, let’s get back to the topic at hand.

The way that many of my fellow Christians and pro-life advocates have approached abortion is to push immensely hard to make abortion illegal.  I have a hard time thinking we can just pass a law and assume that the problem will solve itself.  We cannot simply legislate our way to morality.  Forcing someone to do or not to do something against their will shouldn’t be the default approach for abortion, or many other issues we are facing today.  Even if we legislate something, that doesn’t mean it will completely prevent it, otherwise, we would have no need for prisons or police, and we wouldn’t see stories of people going to other countries to get surgeries done that are illegal in the US.  Think about this: when God created us, he gave us free will.  He didn’t force us to love Him because that cannot be considered real love.  So making abortions illegal, will that mean everyone will automatically believe abortion is morally wrong?  Of course not.  Now, should we automatically stop our efforts to limit abortions, or make them illegal?  No.  But we should think, and rethink our approach to it.

We need to stop our vilification of abortion doctors, clinics, pro-choice advocates, and those who have actually had an abortion.  We come off like hate mongers a majority of the time.  Go look up John 8 and read the story again of the adulteress woman that the Pharisees brought to Jesus to get him to agree she should be stoned.  What was Jesus’ reaction?  “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7, NIV).  He didn’t ridicule this woman, he looked at her, and had sympathy for her.  Even though she was deemed to be a worthless sinner by her fellow man, Jesus saw her as valuable and ultimately, worth dying for just like all mankind.  Do we look at people who make mistakes, or make decisions to abort a child, for instance, as truly valuable?  I think more often than not, we don’t.

You see, God knows that mankind’s nature is sinful, and that as much as we try to fight it, we make mistakes.  He gave His life for us while we were still sinners who rejected Him, not when we had cleaned up our act enough to be presentable to Him (Romans 5:8).  Our best efforts, no matter how good they seem to us, fall so incredibly short (Isaiah 64:6).  He knows this, and that is why when we look at our fellow man, that we need to remind ourselves that we are all sinners, and that sin manifests itself differently in each of us.  We struggle not against man, but against higher powers that are at work against God and all that is good (Ephesians 6:12).  The ones we struggle against are deceptive, persuasive, manipulative, and cunning, and they use people in such a way that all of us have been deceived by them in many different ways.  That doesn’t absolve us and allow us to do however we see fit (Romans 6:1), but it should give us hope that God is merciful and loves us in spite of ourselves.

But we also need to value life after it is out of the womb.  We talk about people living in poverty as if they are worthless.  We criticize government programs that are designed to provide children with food and healthcare.  We also call their parents lazy, and a leach on society.  I’m not sure how we can effectively care for children in need without also helping their parents.  When exactly did God say that we should stop caring for children once they took their first breath?  If we truly call ourselves pro-life, let’s be completely pro-life.  Abortion is more about poverty and a lack of hope and support than it is about morality.  Do a search of stats online and you’ll see that a large number of abortions are by mothers who live below the poverty line.  We treat people so negatively sometimes that they would never turn to us for help for fear that they will be looked down upon, or that we’d look at them like the Pharisees did the adulteress, when in fact we should be looking at them like Jesus looked at her.  I’m not saying that government programs are the most effective way to care for the poor, or that government should do it vs. the local church, but our message of damning the poor and government assistance programs comes off as arrogant, uncaring, and selfish, none of which can be used to described the One after whom we are to model our lives.

So while I have some issues with some of the tactics of the pro-life movement, the pro-choice side certainly needs to stop and look at themselves to understand for what they are truly fighting.  I came across a video that has to be the most morally disgusting pro-choice video I have ever seen produced by the Center for Reproductive Rights (an odd name for an organization that works to eliminate the results of reproduction).  To me, it conveys the message that abortion is sexy. Watch it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2QXzzBFlCc, or here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aM9Y374l7-U, and then come back to continue reading.  (FYI – I posted 2 links for it just in case one gets removed.  The first link I had for it, the video got pulled…..maybe because they realized how tasteless it is.)

I’m sorry, but making it legal for over 50 million abortions in the last 40 years is not something we should celebrate, and it should not be something we put as a milestone of what we as a people are working hard to achieve.  President Obama just hailed the work of NARAL, and actually used the word “celebrate” when describing Roe vs. Wade.  This issue is not about woman’s health and it’s not about empowerment, it’s about the basic idea of whether or not the elimination of life at any point in time is justified, and whether we should be spending more time fighting to eliminate the need for abortion vs. the protection of the right to have one.

Here are some passages of Scripture that helped me to understand just how precious we are to God, well before our conception and throughout our lives:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” – Jeremiah 1:5 (NIV).  Everyone ever conceived is known by God.

“You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” – Psalm 139:13 (NIV).  God uniquely designed each of us from conception.

“I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” – Isaiah 64:16 (NIV).  God writes our names on His hands.

Why do we spend so much energy in defending pro-choice and abortion and not enough on caring for orphans?  Why is the elimination of a life whitewashed by calling it a “choice”, or discussed as part of “women’s health”, or worse yet referred to by the government as “reproductive health”?  Isn’t it strange that abortions are allowed up to and beyond the point where the child could live on its own if it was actually born?  And if that child were to be born prematurely, wouldn’t we go to heroic ends and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to help that child survive?  I don’t say all these things to make anyone feel guilty.  I say them honestly to make you consider that we should be striving to be better than this.

Regardless of what you believe to be the most effective way to reduce, and hopefully eliminate abortions (i.e. education vs. legal means), I would hope that your goal is to help solve this issue.  I would hope that you expend more of your energy on caring for children and proving that the better choice is always life and that there are viable options for children that were unplanned.  We must take better care of the children already here who are neglected and marginalized, but we also cannot turn our backs on defenseless children just because they are still in the womb.  But we cannot fight for the rights of the unborn and then not do what we can to care for those already living and in desperate need of help.  If we don’t, then I think we are holding on to a double standard.  Let’s expend more energy on the care of children than on arguing pro-life vs. pro-choice.  My guess is that people can more easily remember the last time they argued about abortion rights than the last time they did something to care for an orphan, or a single Mom, or a pregnant young girl who thinks she cannot do it alone.

One of my heroes is someone that I have never met.  I have never seen her face, and I don’t know what she is like.  In late 2006, as an unwed girl in her early 20’s, she found out she was pregnant.  Even though prenatal care in rural Russia is not up to par, and abortions outnumber live births there, she made the brave choice to give birth to a child.  On May 20, 2007, her little girl was born and she made another difficult choice to release her parental rights.  She did all this not knowing that about 16 months later on September 10, 2008 that little girl would become our daughter.  I thank God every day that this young woman chose the path that the world deems more difficult, because if she had not, my life would not look like it does today, and my heart would not be filled with love for my beautiful, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Alina.  I also pray for God to look out for Alina’s birth mom and that He protects her and comforts her.  My hope is that she has found faith in God and that she has been adopted into His family.

God is Greater than Law

As you have likely seen by now, President Putin of Russia signed the bill that effectively bans inter-country adoptions to the United States.  Let me give you a few statistics that will help you understand the magnitude of its impact.

  • There are currently 52 families that have been matched to children, and are close to finalizing their adoptions.  Some of these are literally days away from being complete, and in most cases, the child will have to start the waiting all over again.
  • There are between 500-1000 families that are in the process of trying to adopt from Russia, meaning they had not been matched to a child yet, but were somewhere along the journey to find their child.
  • About 1000 are adopted from Russia annually (down from 5-6 times that amount just a few years ago).
  • Over 15,000 teenagers “age out” of orphanages every year, expected to live on their own without a family support system.
  • Approximately 110,000 orphans live in some form of orphanage in Russia, but there are nearly 700,000 total orphans in Russia.

In short, the numbers are dreadful, and they show us that the move today by the Russian government will not benefit children.  Russia is using this bill to directly retaliate against the US for passing the Magnitsky Act.  That bill was named for an attorney who uncovered details of a tax fraud scheme and reported the officials involved, only to be accused of tax fraud himself and was imprisoned.  While in prison, he was allegedly tortured and beaten, and then died of his injuries after not being given sufficient medical care.  With Magnitsky’s death still being investigated more than three years later, the Magnitsky Act denies US visas to any official suspected to be involved in his death, and also freezes their US assets.  So in effect, Russia is now defending rich, corrupt officials by making pawns of marginalized and defenseless children…..their OWN children, mind you.

Russia has defended itself saying that their bill was motivated by the nearly 20 cases over the last decade where Russian adopted children were abused or even died under the care of their American parents.  While I am all for defending children at all costs, I would say that this reason is a bit hollow given that the US and Russia just signed a new adoption agreement less than 2 months ago.  That agreement took about 15 months to negotiate, so if it didn’t cover all the Russian government’s concerns, can we really believe that this new bill brought about one week after the Magnitsky Act was passed is truly warranted to further protect their children?  Were they just not detail-oriented enough over that 15 month period to cover everything?  I don’t have to say this, but I’ll say it anyway: that’s just not believable.

Let me be clear and say that I want all children to be protected, and 20 is not an insignificant number of cases of abuse to me.  But given that there were over 32,000 adoptions from Russia to the US during that time period, that is .06% of the adoption case.  That is 6/100ths of 1%.  Quite literally, that seems like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

My wife, Brandon, and I have gone through the gamut of emotions today: anger, resentment, confusion, sadness, you name it.  We’ve spent a lot of time talking with people via email, phone, text, social media, etc.  We’ve also read story after story of parents who have had their chance at parenthood yanked out from under them.  I can’t imagine their grief, and I pray that they have family and friends as wonderful as ours who have wrapped around us and supported us from the beginning.

But the most wonderful redeeming fact through all of this is that we serve and are loved and comforted by an amazingly beautiful and gracious God.  He sees the actions of a handful of politicians in Moscow who are sacrificing the welfare of innocent children in order to protect the interests of their rich counterparts.  The Bible overflows with the message of caring for orphans.  Not much angers God more than people who take advantage of those easily forgotten by this world, and there is no one who better epitomizes that than orphans.

They are voiceless: we must give them a voice.  They are weak: we must be strong for them.  They are marginalized: we must make them the center of our plans for justice.  Even if we do not get the privilege of seeing the good that ultimately will win out over this evil, we must continue to fight for them.  The God we serve is just, and He will see to it that the guilty are punished.  We may also not be able to see how He weaves good into the ashes of this mess, but that, too, will happen.  We all must have faith that it will, even though it may never be apparent to us.  No group of men is stronger than Him, and the last verdict on this matter is already written, and the victory is God’s.

“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.” – Isaiah 10:1-2

“For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice, the upright will see his face.” – Psalm 11:7

All of this is obviously much easier to say or write than it is to truly feel and believe it.  It is also much easier to write this when it is not my child that has been torn away from me.  I pray for all those who are in that situation tonight, and that God’s people wrap around and support you.  May your faith in Him be made stronger amidst your own weakness, even while you can’t see how any good can come from this.  May you one day be able to look back on this as simply a sidetrack while on your journey to parenthood.  May you be able to look back and know without a doubt in your mind that God has woven together your family with the absolute love and care that only our Father could have.

“I remain confident in this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” – Psalm 27:13-14

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:21

Dear President Putin

With all the media attention rightly focused on the shootings in Connecticut, there is another story brewing that demands attention of its own.  In response to the new Magnitsky law (a measure passed by US Congress to deny entry of Russian officials believed to be behind the death of an attorney), the Russian parliament is on the brink of fully passing a bill of its own that would halt adoptions of Russian children by families in the US.

For those who do not know us, my wife and I adopted our daughter Alina from Russia in September of 2008.  It was truly an amazing experience.  We not only found Russia to be an amazing country, but we met people along the way that were truly gracious and hospitable.  Every moment we had throughout the process is a precious memory to us, even those moments that were difficult or emotionally taxing.  It was all worth it to experience the adoption journey, to complete our family, and to find out just how incredible Russia and its people are.

Our family heritage has included Russia since the day we first met Alina.  We had never set foot in the country before going to see her for the first time, but now a part of us will always be there.  Not only do we know people there, but we appreciate the Russian culture, and we want our daughter to always be proud that she is a Russian American.  When we see US and Russia relations tense up, it is difficult to watch.  It’s like seeing two sides of your family in an argument, and it’s unsettling.

So this morning, I did something I never imagined I would do….I wrote a letter to President Putin.  I’ve sent messages to US politicians a couple of times, and it always feels awkward.  But this topic is so near and dear to us that I had to do something, and this was the only thing I could think of.  I’ve included the text of my message below.  In the meantime please pray that the measure being considered in Russia does not get implemented.

To The Honorable President Putin,

I am writing to appeal to you to see if there is another way for Russia to respond to the United States’ passing of the Magnitsky Law.  While I do not fully know the politics behind this bill, nor am I well versed in the proper politics for handling such matters, it is hard for me to imagine that denying child adoptions to American citizens is the answer.

My wife and I adopted our daughter, Alina, from Russia in September of 2008.  We did not choose adoption lightly, nor did we choose adopting from Russia lightly.  It was only after much contemplation and prayer that we decided it was the right course for us.  In hindsight, we could not have imagined going any other route.

Alina is now a beautiful, funny, vibrant 5-year-old kindergartener who loves playing soccer, drawing, reading, and making us laugh.  We truly cannot imagine our lives without her, and we take our roles as adoptive parents very seriously.  We also try to be advocates for international adoption, and we speak out against anyone who may not have gone into the process with as much deliberation as they should have.

I know that the Russian government has done a wonderful job in recent years to place more children into families.  But Russia, just like the United States, still has more work to do.  Denying the adoption of children does not seem like the proper response to a political disagreement between our countries.  Having said that, I support reasonable measures whose sole purpose is to protect potential adopted children.

I know there is an overwhelming amount of support in Russia to pass a new bill that would halt US adoptions.  I ask for you and your fellow leaders not to deny the opportunity for children to be placed into a family.  I also ask that you continue to allow Americans like my wife and I to see firsthand just how amazing your country is, how wonderful the people are, and that your children are truly beautiful.

With the highest regards!

Why, God?

When tragic events happen, such as the shootings Friday in a Connecticut elementary school, we are left with an empty feeling of being unsure how and why something like this could happen, and if it could have been prevented.  Many people also are left asking “How could God let this happen?” or “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?”.  Some Christians believe that it is not appropriate to question God, when in reality, He is the best one to which we should ask questions.  Even Jesus asked questions of God, His Father.  If you recall, on the cross He asked cried out “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)  So did Jesus sin when He asked this question or didn’t He?  Since Jesus lived a sinless life, then that leaves us to draw the conclusion that asking God questions is not a sin.

The book of Job is about a man who is tested by Satan.  Not only did God allow Satan to test Job, but He appears to all but offer him up to be tested, not once, but twice (see Job 1:8 and 2:3).  By all accounts, Job was a close follower of God, so it begs the question as to why God allowed bad things to happen to him?  Job lost all his children, his livestock, his wife rebuked him, and he was stricken with sores on his entire body.  Throughout the whole book, Job and his friends have a debate as to why this is happening to him.  His friends appear to be resolved that it obviously must be because of something Job did.  Eventually, Job turns his questions to God as he is wrestling with why all that had happened to him.

Ultimately, God doesn’t answer His questions directly, but asks him a series of questions instead, with the main one being “Where were you when I laid the Earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:4).  In the series of questions and statements about His creation, God is laying the foundation not for knowledge of His deeds, but for an understanding that our finite minds cannot begin to comprehend.  I think Job wanted a direct answer, but even if he had been given a full dissertation as to why it happened, he would not have understood or been able to accept it.  What he did get was an appreciation of just how much God controls, and how His plans are so much greater than what we can fathom (see also Isaiah 55:9).  We ultimately have to accept the fact that we are incapable of fully understanding God and His reasons.  Obviously, that is much easier to say than do.  But consider this: I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that Job is considered to be one of, if not THE oldest book in the Bible.  It’s a testament to just how long man has wrestled with how God works.  We are able to see that God has used Job’s story for thousands of years to let others know that we cannot fully understood Him because we are not God.

While God does not cause evil things to happen, He obviously is allowing them to happen and we wonder why that is the case.  We must remember that because of sin, man effectively made his choice to distance himself from having a close relationship to God (see Genesis 2 & 3).  God gave us free will because you cannot have love without it.  You cannot be forced to love something or someone, but we can’t seem to accept that fact when we wonder why God allowed man to sin in the first place.  He chose love above obedience when He created us.  Since the dawn of time sin has only grown, and man has sought to push God as far out of our lives as possible, and yet when bad things happen, we ask Him where He is and why He allowed this evil to come upon us.  We want a god made in our own image, and to do what we want him to, when we want him to do it, and to butt out when we don’t want him around.  That’s the kind of god man would create, essentially something like a celestial slot machine.  I wrestle with this question often, so I don’t expect to answer it fully for anyone here, but hopefully you can see the irony.

I can assure you that God certainly does weave good from tragedies such as this.  When bad things happen, we can more clearly see the good in people by their responses and reaction to the needs that arise.  We witness stories of how people pull together and help out their fellow man.  We hear heroic stories of how people saved one another during the tragedy, and we see that even people shaken to their core can overcome difficult tragedies.  We also see people who have experienced similar tragedies in their lives strive to help those now following in their difficult footsteps because they know exactly what it feels like to be in their shoes.  I’ve already read stories where people from across the country who are trained in dealing with these kinds of difficulties are already on their way to Connecticut to help.  Amazing, isn’t it?

Dan Malloy, Governor of Connecticut said “Evil visited this community today.”  I’d actually go one step further and say that evil actually resides in our communities continuously.  People might ask where God was yesterday: He was right there with the people who saved some of the children who otherwise may have been victims as well. He is in the people who have been praying and ministering to the families impacted by this tragedy.  You see, people are God’s plan A, and there is no plan B.  He expects us to display His love for others by helping them, and seeing that there is still hope when things seem to be the darkest.  God knows what it’s like to lose a child, because He experienced that when Jesus was crucified.  As a parent, I cannot think for one second that He didn’t feel anguish and heartache at the sight of His only son being beaten and crushed, but something that awful was not in vain, and He used that sacrifice to pay for the world’s sin so that we could be reconciled with Him.

It’s not a coincidence that when tragedies happen, those impacted tend to turn to God for answers and church attendance swells.  I just wish that we would learn to stay locked in with God and allow Him to help us wrestle not only with the difficult circumstances like this, but the trying times we have in our daily lives.  How much greater a people would we be if we focused on living justly and caring for others not just when tragedy strikes or when the holiday season is here, but constantly?   As it says in Lamentations 3:40. “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.”

How I wish that I would remember to follow God daily and ask Him to “Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress.” Isaiah 33:21-22.  My prayers and condolences continue to go out to those impacted by this senseless evil.