Orphan Awareness Month – Everyone has a story

For those of you all that don’t know November is Orphan Awareness Month.  I wanted to write an update / blog post  on this topic because orphans simply put break my heart.

Almost every trip I get the opportunity to lead serves at an orphanage in Belize City.  It is, for me, the worst part of the trip.  I hate it.  I hate seeing kids the way they are there.  I hate seeing survivalist mentality cause a 3 year old girl to bite, hit, pull hair to get a McDonald’s toy.  I hate seeing lying, cheating, stealing from children not much older than my nephews.  They have no other way.  They must protect themselves because for their whole lives no one else has.  I hate it.

I hate it also because it challenges me.  It challenges me not to love on and play with those kids because that comes naturally to me.  God has blessed me with the ability to love on and play with children with ease.  No, it challenges me to ask critical questions of myself, my family, my sphere of influence.  Are we doing enough?  Is there more?  Is there hope?  Do these kids really have a chance?

I won’t bore you all with information on orphans in the world.  Here are the only two things that you need to know.

  1. There are A LOT of orphans in the world
  2. We are COMMANDED by God to do something about this.
    • Matthew 25:40 – Whatever you did for the least of these you have done for me [my paraphrase]
    • James 1:27 – “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world”

Everyone has an orphan story or more appropriately everyone should have an orphan story.  It is a commandment.

This past year my Twitter / Facebook feed / timelines have been flooded with stories, pictures, links all relating to something about orphans.  Some of them are happy, some of them are challenging, all of them I believe God placed directly in front of me for me to see, read, dwell on.  (Note: The Lord speaks through EVERYTHING even social media.

  • Stories of placements, like my high school classmates B and A who were placed with a little girl just recently and are adjusting at home.  Or my former co-worker T and her husband who are adjusted to being parents of a lively young girl.
  • Stories of adoptions in progress: Coworkers J and A in the last stages of adopting E; staff members from our churches in the states working to adopt children from all over the world.
  • Stories of our teams serving in orphanages all over Central America and Caribbean. Lives being touched, people being transformed, kids being able to be kids.  Kids given hope.
  • Watching this year as kids from the orphanage in Belize City weep as our team files out of our last day of ministry.  They were so filled with love for our team that they had no other response.  When we left they said, “you’ll be back this year.” And I got to go and tell them that the same team, same people, were coming back this year just like they said!!!! Oh the joy
  • Playing basketball with E the child that A and J are adopting from Belize and seeing how different he is than the rest of the children.  E is full of life, full of hope, full of JOY.  I can’t wait to continue to follow his story.  To read about their story, you can read A’s passion here
  • Watching as a participant takes a special need child out of his bed, carries him outside, and sits with him in her lap so he can participate in VBS!

These are stories of people fulfilling God’s command and loving on orphans, showing them Jesus through their actions, through coloring, wrestling, singing, dancing, braiding and adopting.  These are stories of people who are willing to be uncomfortable to love on the least of these.

Most everyone has an orphan story.  What’s ours?

To understand that one has to understand a large part of our life.  In 2007 Amy and I returned from Belize, our international mission trip checked off our Christian to do list, now it was time to start a family.  So we tried.  After what seemed like an eternity (6-months), we found out Amy was pregnant.  We immediately told everyone we knew (Note: Bad Idea).  We scheduled the first ultrasound and went excited to see our baby.  We sat in silence as we learned that Amy had a miscarriage.

Devastated we walked out into the parking lot, held each other and prayed through tears to give this to God.  His timing.

Fast-forward a few months and Amy is now able to travel to Belize again in 2008 due to not being pregnant (Note: if it were not for this trip in 2008, we wouldn’t be here today.  Amy felt God call her here during this trip).

On this trip we spent some time at the orphanage in Belize City and as we looked around it hit us either all at once or separately, I honestly don’t know.  But we were called to adoption.  We talked little of it on the trip, there are too many other things happening to process something so significant but we both prayed a lot.

When we got back home, the time for prayer was over it was time for action.  I called everyone I knew in Belize.  I called the one agency that I found that was open to doing adoption in Belize.  I heard over and over that it was not possible.  God, I thought you called us to this?  Ok God.  Your timing.

Amy and I sat back and regrouped.  We prayed and then we found an amazing Christian agency specializing in domestic adoptions.  We go into to the office, meet with the director and case workers and fill out an application.  By the end of 2008, we had completed our home study, our adoption training, and our family profile was on file at the agency.

And then it was the waiting.  As Tom Petty said “the waiting is the hardest part”.

Fast-forward: July 3, 2009 we received a call that a birth mom had seen our profile and wants to meet us.  (Note: We chose to pursue an open adoption because we wanted to minister to the birth mom and show her Jesus through our love and acceptance of her just as much as the child).

We met in the agency ‘living room” with the birth mom and birth grandma and it was awkward, uncomfortable and weird.  I mean what do you talk about?  Job interviews are weird and stressful.  Imagine their stress.  They are interviewing parents!

We get a call a couple of days later and they chose us to be parents!!  Immediately Amy and I began to set into motion “operation get ready for a baby.”  We had already way way baby-proofed the house including window cleats (it was a requirement per the home study.  If you don’t know what those are, google it!).

So we got the nursery ready, had a small baby shower, car seat in the car, baby clothes washed, diapers purchased.  I put in for vacation at work and Amy worked with her principal on her exit plan.  She completed a year’s worth of sub-plans and explained when she got the call she would resign effective immediately.

It was the last Monday in July and I was waiting for the carpool van to swing by my entrance to take me back home from work.  I got THE CALL!  She had the baby!  I screamed, hollered, and acted-a-fool!  Through tears, I called Amy.  She did about the same thing.  She went to tell her boss that she resigned.  I went and said I was on vacation for the next two weeks!

The agency explained that they would go see the baby and mom and would have her sign all the appropriate paperwork and give us a call on Tuesday.

Tuesday night as we sat and shared our joy with our small group, my phone rang.  Everyone squealed!  I covered the phone and said “IT’s THEM!” in the loudest whisper ever I am sure!

I sat on my porch in our rocking chair and said “this is Josh.”  It wasn’t our case worker; it was the agency director (Uh Oh).  She explained that when she went to the hospital that the mom decided against adoption and was going to keep the child.  I sat in disbelief.  I managed to hold myself together through the next 7 or 8 minutes on the phone, of which I could not possibly recall.

I went back inside.  Tears started streaming.  Amy noticed.  What’s wrong?  Then the floodgates opened.  Through heaving sobs, I told our small group.  They cried.  They huddled and prayed for, with, and over us.  Everyone left.  And we were there alone in our house.  One phone call.

In shock and anger, I screamed into my pillow and cried yelled and cursed the most emotional prayers I have ever prayed in my life!  God why did this happen?  God (insert many expletives).  God tell me why this happened immediately.

The next day was Wednesday.  I woke up went into the nursery, closed the vents and shut the door. I went down stairs into the garage and took the car seat out of Amy’s car.  I didn’t want her to have to deal with that.  And then we went to work, Amy to ask for her job back and me to remove my vacation request.

Imagine the questions, our answers, and then the looks.  A lot of BOLD, expletive-filled, pleas to God! “Why did this happen God. You said it was your time.  You called us.  God Why”

Thursday came and went.  Amy was feeling funny when we were at the Y and said all the jumping around in her workout class made her chest sore.  I thought she just didn’t want to work out so I laughed at her and said “suck it up” or something entirely insensitive.

Friday.  The pain is seeming to dull.  Or maybe we are shutting down.  I go play basketball at 5;30AM and when I come back I had 4 missed calls from Amy.  Panicked I call her, thinking somethings wrong.

Amy: You know how you have been praying God tell me why this happened?

Me: (silence)

Amy: Well, I have the answer

Me: (Many expletives) is that?

Amy: I’m pregnant!

Me: (silence and a lot of crying)

Fast forward 9 months and we welcome Madeline Grace into our world.  God answered.  God’s timing not ours.

Is that our orphan story?  Yes, but not the whole thing.  It’s just a part or maybe even just the beginning.  Amy and I still feel as called to adoption as we did in 2008 / 2009.  God has placed a call on us and I like to believe we will be obedient. When?  We don’t know. We do know that it will happen in His perfect timing.

My prayer for you all as you process everything that you are thankful for next week with your family.  Think of those who don’t have families.  Think of those children, those orphans who have never had any family..ever.  And think about how you will obey God and love on the least of these. How will you get involved?

What will your orphan story be?

Waiting for the school bus.  When did she get this old?

Waiting for the school bus. When did she get this old?

My besties!

My besties!

Jojo and daddy styling and profiling WHOOO!

Elijah and daddy styling and profiling WHOOO!

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I don’t have any old shoes

How is God Teaching me?

Often times on our Praying Pelican Missions trips, we (staff) tell our teams that they can feel free to leave any donations at the end of the week to the local church.  The local church then distributes those donations to the local community as each has need.  One comment I often hear is the following:

“Man I wish I knew we could do that.  I would have brought my old shoes to give away.  I can’t leave these.  These are my nice shoes.”

Granted these comments are few and far between BUT I have heard them and it got me thinking.  God doesn’t want our old shoes.  He wants our new shoes.

“The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God” – Exodus 23:19

The Lord doesn’t want our old shoes.  He wants our new shoes!  The concept of first fruits was established in OT (Old Testament) times for the farming based Israelites to offer God their first products of their harvests or animals to God.  A test of faith.  When they trusted God with their first then they believed in God and KNEW that He would take care of the rest!  It didn’t just apply to crop harvests….

“God spoke to Moses ‘Consecrate every first born to me – the first one to come from the womb among the Israelites, whether person or animal is mine” – Exodus 13:2 – The Message

The first BORN.  Not just the first FRUITS were the Lord’s.  This was livelihood for God’s people, literally it was food or family.  And God required that of them and requires FIRST FRUITS from me…from you…from us.

And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance.” Colossians 3:22 – The Message

God asks that we offer him our first and our best.  Our best in work.  Our best and first in pay (tithe / offering).  Our best in first in TIME.

The Lord has shown this to me loud and clear this week as I led a trip of individuals pouring out their best, their first fruit to the local church in Belize City.  I was blessed to serve alongside of true servants of the Lord who grasped that giving God their best would result in Him renewing them, restoring them and rewarding them and I didn’t do the same.

Each night I got to bed late and each day I woke up early and I didn’t spend time with the Lord.  I didn’t give God the first fruits of my time.  I didn’t give him my best.  I kept putting it off and waiting for a time that was better for me, when I wasn’t too tired.  I relied on excuses like “He needs me rested to lead this team” or “I have to be on my game.”  Instead,  I should have offered God my best, my first fruit of time of the day and let Him do the rest.

My challenge to me, to you, to us: Let’s examine our lives.

  1. Where are we offering God our first fruits?  Let’s celebrate those and celebrate how God has been faithful.
  2. Where are we NOT offering God our first fruits?  Is it financially?  Is it in how we work?  Is it in how we love our family? Is it in how we spend time with Him?  Let’s refocus and shift.  The thing about God is, if we do our part and obey then God does his part and blows us away with his faithfulness.

God doesn’t want our old shoes.  He wants our new shoes.

Work Update

I had the tremendous opportunity to lead a return team to a church in Belize City.  It was a fantastic week of ministry.  We did Vacation Bible School at the Orphanage in Belize City and the church simultaneously, ministered to over 600 kids at 3 different schools, and met the physical needs of over 10 families.  More importantly, 5 people surrendered their lives to Christ during the trip WHICH NEVER GETS OLD!  Praise God!  I love my job!  It is a true blessing to watch life-change happen directly in front of me!  Thank you for partnering in that!

Home Update

  • Birthday – Jojo turned 2 years old!  What an amazing little man, full of life and love for ALL people and a HUGE servant’s heart!
  • Schools – Amy and I are in the process of investigating schools for Madeline and Jojo for next year.  The school in the village may change management and Amy and I are looking into potential schools in Belize City.  Also Madeline rode the school bus by herself for the first time ever today!  I (Josh) cried.
  • Ladies Night – We (Amy) is hosting ladies night for our church on Saturday night.  Amy is excited for this time of fellowship and playing Just Dance on the Wii!!
  • Youth Ministry – One of the youth came over on Monday to use the internet and do homework (Note: why the schools require computer work for the kids and don’t offer computer time when they know kids can’t afford food much less internet at home or an internet cafe is beyond me!  Amy would like to give some teachers a piece of her mind). Anyway, the youth came over, got some good food and had a nice relaxing time doing homework.  It was great to be able to love on this youth!

Praises / Prayer Requests:

  • Praise – 5 people received Christ last week during the trip I led!  Praise GOD!!!
  • Praise – The trip was life-changing for our staff, the church, and the team!  Praise God!
  • Prayer Request – The team as they transfer back to “normal life”.  Pray specifically that this mission trip is not the peak of their spiritual walk but rather a launching point for new heights!
  • Prayer Request – Wisdom and discernment as Amy and I weigh all our options for schools for Madeline and Jojo next year.
  • Prayer Request – Youth, C, and her family.  They need to be lifted up for healing, emotional, and provision
  • Prayer Request – Ladies night that it would be a great time of fellowship specifically for Amy.

Thank you for praying. Thank you for loving. Thank you reading.  We love you all.  And we continue to pray for you all as we together realize that God doesn’t want our old shoes and wants our new shoes.

Where are you going to work on giving God your first fruits this week?

– All our love

Princess of the house

Princess of the house

Notice the shoes

Notice the shoes

Birthday boy

Birthday boy

Amy and Jojo

Amy and Jojo

this is swinging in Belize. I  thought they were literally going to wrap the swing around the cross beam

this is swinging in Belize. I thought they were literally going to wrap the swing around the cross beam

Jojo and daddy being silly

Jojo and daddy being silly

One of the girls during school ministry this week

One of the girls during school ministry this week