Celebrating Adoption

The Lord preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.

As a child, reading was often my way of escaping the harsh realities of my childhood.  I would go to the library and check out as many books as I could, hoard them in my bedroom and read till my eyes were blurry, immersed in the characters’ lives and relishing every happily ever after.  The stories that seem to captivate me the most were the ones about orphans, such as Oliver Twist, The Boxcar Children and Anne of Green Gables.  Yes, these stories abounded with tragedy, but the tragedies are seen through a romantic filter that casts the misfortunes in a less harsh light and the happy endings in a warm fuzzy glow.  My overactive imagination even led me to believe that I was an orphan who discovered that my step-father was a Russian spy, and it was up to me to save America from nuclear annihilation!  You are probably wondering, where is she going with this?  Is she going to address reading, her childhood or her overactive imagination?  I promise I am going somewhere, so just follow me on a journey that another family has traveled.

My husband and I made the decision years ago for me to home educate our children.  Thus, to help make ends meet, I have often provided childcare in my home.  Every child that has come into my home has been divinely appointed by God for a period of time.  I know that sounds bold, but I believe it to be true.  I never advertised, but the doors always opened through my husband’s work, our church or by word of mouth.  Each time, we prayed and felt led from God that we could be a blessing to each of the families.  I considered it an honor that parents and grandparents trusted my family with their children.

At the time of my daughter’s high school graduation, another door opened.  This door would prove to be the most challenging, yet one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  A friend’s coworker had decided to expand her family through foster care and, eventually, adoption.  She was looking for someone to help her with childcare.  After talking, we found out how close we lived, and that proximity would be a blessing for both of our families.  I decided that, since the door had opened, I would walk with this family on their journey.

To give you some background, let me introduce the Klines.  At the time, this couple already had four children of their own, ranging in age from ten to sixteen.  They are an exuberant family, full of love and energy.  Both Chris and Jolene are passionate about children and God, and already felt tremendously blessed.  They felt their hearts were big enough and they wanted to share those blessings with more children who did not have a forever home

Within a few weeks, they received a phone call from an agency that two siblings, ages two and four, needed to be placed immediately.  They were also told that adoption was a strong possibility.  They received the children on Friday, and my first day was the following Monday.

These two little ones were a whirlwind of energy that some might call absolute chaos!  I have to admit, after the first day, I wasn’t sure if I had the stamina for them.  My son said, “Mom, you got this!” when I voiced my doubts.  As Ethan spoke those words, it was as if God was speaking to me saying, “With my strength, you can do this.”  I am so glad that my son echoed God’s sentiments; it gave me the courage to continue.  A little over a year later, the Kline were able to adopt these two little fireballs.  One of the moments I will treasure most in my life is hearing the judge pronounce the adoption official while the whole crowd of family and friends gathered with them in the courtroom whooping joyfully.

Adoption is not always a romantic picture like the ones I read in books.  It’s full of challenges.  Often, these children have experienced trauma of some sort and feel rejected.  They often do not experience the typical bonding that infants need to feel secure and accepted.  This can hinder them in all areas, including physically, developmentally, socially and psychologically.  They do not even experience some of the normal rites of passages that most children receive, like birthday celebrations or family vacations.  Even the very definition of a mother and father confuses these children, causing them to often devalue the importance of these roles.

Despite the challenges, I have witnessed healing victories through the Kline adoption journey.  I’ve seen a young boy follow his daddy like a shadow, trying to emulate his father mowing the lawn or building a deck.  I see a young girl who could not wait to have her name on the sign that hangs in her home with the rest of Kline family.  I also saw this same young girl who told me this past weekend she was a little nervous about spending the night because she does not ever remember not sleeping with her sister, someone she just met less than 3 years ago.  I see two children who cannot wait to go camping and spend Thanksgiving with their grandparents, because they now have traditions.  I have seen two parents who already had a full life, by all measures, open their hearts and home, embracing two little people by providing love, stability and consistency.  This has come at a cost for them: nights of lost sleep, adding to an already busy schedule, and the challenges of how to best parent these two little ones.

I recently discovered that November is National Adoption Month, leading me to spend some time examining scriptures relating to adoption.  I found it interesting that the Bible addresses how to treat the “fatherless” over 42 times in the Old Testament.  It encourages us to “defend the poor and fatherless” in Psalm 82:3, and describes God as “the father of the fatherless” in Psalm 68:5.  In the New Testament, Jesus makes clear to his disciples the value of children, and admonishes us to have faith like a child.  Paul often relates the salvation experience to adoption, where we become the sons and daughters of God.  In 1:27, James remarks “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”  Even the Holy Ghost, the very indwelling of God’s spirit in our hearts, is described in John 14:18 by saying, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.”  In this verse, “comfortless” is translated from the Greek word “orphanos”, meaning fatherless.  God gave us the gift of the Holy Ghost so we will not be fatherless!!  All of these scriptures demonstrate that God cares deeply about the fatherless.

Although I celebrate with the Kline family, I am also challenged about my own responsibility to the fatherless.  What can I do personally to help these children?  What is my responsibility?  Friends, what is your responsibility?  I am not calling all of us, or even myself, to start adoption procedures, immediately.  Adoption is something that should be considered prayerfully, not made in a moment of passion.  Yet, I can still reach out to those families who have adopted and encourage them in their journey.  I can minister to those in my local church who are from broken homes and be a mentor in their lives.  I can reach out to children in my neighborhood who need a positive light to shine in their lives.  I can financially commit to places like The Lighthouse Ranch for Boys and Tupelo Children’s Mansion, two Christian organizations that support and defend broken and fatherless children.  I can be blessing in so many ways, and so can you!

The Fire of Contentment

Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. Philippians 4:11

My mind has been a swirling vortex, full of ideas of what to write about next.  In the midst of this vortex, I created a written list and promptly misplaced it.  If you are familiar with the Myers/Briggs personality temperament, you can guess that I identify with being a P versus a J.  Maybe someday I will blog about personality tests, but right now I should go back to the lost list.  I remembered that some of the thoughts on the list included writing about gratitude, habits, hygge (google that term, it’s a great idea to embrace) and ideas to strengthen marriage.  I am sure that I will eventually write about these topics, but none of them seemed to inspire me for this week.  One of my goals for this blog was that I would listen more intently to the whispers of God and let His voice influence my writing.  In the past, the next idea would solidify as soon as I finished posting my latest blog, but this week I had the swirling vortex!

I started my morning out frantically trying to narrow down a topic and put my fingers to the keyboard and write.  Still the swirling vortex, so I decided to take a walk.  I bundled myself up in layers and headed out in the frigid air.  This cold November walk around my neighborhood cleared my head and made room for the voice of God.  Not an audible voice, not really a voice at all, but rather the smell of someone’s wood-burning fireplace reminded me of one of God’s principles.  It amazes me that if we take some time, remove distractions, and pay attention to our surroundings, God can use simple ideas to illustrate His principles.  He wants to speak to us, we just need to be present and listen.

I actually stopped for a few moments to inhale the aroma of the wood burning while the principle of contentment permeated my thoughts.  According to the dictionary, contentment is defined as the feeling of satisfaction with one’s possessions, status or situation.  Why would the smell of wood burning remind me to be content, you might ask?

One of my greatest dreams is to own a home with a real wood-burning fireplace.  I don’t want a substitute like a wood stove or a gas fireplace.  I want an old fashioned fireplace, one where I could hire Dick Van Dyke to be my chimney sweep while he sings about Mary Poppins.  I love the idea of waking up on a cold morning, stoking the fire, curling up with a warm throw, and reading my Bible against the backdrop of flickering flames.  The smell and the sound of the wood crackling would instantly calm the swirling vortex.  I envision decorating the raw edged wooden mantle with heirloom mementos and pictures of my family.  I imagine future grandchildren making s’mores at the fire on Christmas Eve while listening to their Poppy reading The Littlest Angel and Luke’s account of the birth of our savior.  Yet, I live in a home with no fireplace or mantle while I content myself with the smell of someone else’s fireplace.

It’s important to have dreams.  They inspire us and motivate us to set goals.  The poet Langston Hughes said, “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.”  Personally, I want to fly and have no desire to stay on the ground.  But being content doesn’t mean you give up on your dreams.  It just means you recognize where you are, or what you have, and choose to be satisfied until your circumstances change.

Unfortunately, choosing to be satisfied can be hard in today’s society.  With the advent of social media, it is very easy to compare my life to the lives I see in the pictures of others.  Their lives are on display in amazing vacations to exotic locations while my latest vacation had to be canceled due to budget constraints.  I see their beautifully designed homes with aged wooden floors that gleam in the sunlight while my twenty-year-old kitchen linoleum is dull and lifeless.  I see an Instagram influencer in an adorable fall outfit with mid-calf leather boots while I try on multiple leather boots for my fall wardrobe and can’t find a pair that fit comfortably over my bunions.  Comparison to someone else’s Instagram life can rob me of my contentment!

I could cancel all my social media accounts and maybe that would make me content.  But, somehow, I don’t think that is the answer.  I need to learn to look at other’s people lives and rejoice with them over their successes and blessings.  I also need to recognize that what I am seeing is just highlights.  What I am not seeing is the everyday nitty-gritty of living, where the wooden floors are full of dust bunnies, or the hours they spent shopping for boots.

Paul, one of the greatest missionaries ever, says he learned that whatsoever state he was in to be content.  This is a man who was beaten multiple times, shipwrecked three times and imprisoned.  He made a conscious decision to be content, even knowing that he would likely die while in prison.

If you look at my Facebook highlights for the last nine years, you might think that my life has been amazing.  You will see the times my family has traveled on the East Coast, you will see pictures of family and friends visiting us, and you will see marriages, graduations and celebrations.  You will see some amazing highlights, but what you will not see are life’s challenges that I don’t post on Facebook.

I haven’t been shipwrecked like Paul, but I have moved to a new state where I desperately missed my family and friends.  I could have stayed miserable, but after some time, I had to choose to be content and find joy in Pennsylvania.  I haven’t been beaten with whips, but I have had two surgeries in the last three years, and dealt with an auto-immune disease on a daily basis for the last 15 years.  I could bemoan the fact that one of my fingers is deformed because of my condition, but instead I choose to use my fingers to write.  I have not ended up in prison, but have had to deal with hardships, including losing a beloved mother-in-law and my husband losing his job three times due to layoffs.  Even in the midst of those hardships, I chose to be content and count my blessings.

Like Paul, I too have learned to be content, even if the fireplace is still just a dream and a wonderful smell in my neighborhood.

Celery vs. Cookies

“Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.” Philippians 4:5

November marks the beginning of the holiday season for the Collins family.  We slowly bring down our stash of Christmas music, listening to Bing, Dean and Frank croon our Christmas favorites.  We visit our favorite stores to check out their holiday displays.  We discuss, and sometimes debate, the Thanksgiving menu.  We take our Thanksgiving side dishes very seriously and any elimination of baked beans or corn soufflé’ could cause a feud!

As Thanksgiving approaches, I have been contemplating strategies on how to balance healthy eating with enjoying the holidays free from guilt and deprivation.  I put that sentence in bold for a reason: it’s loaded with words like “healthy eating”, “enjoying”, “guilt” and “deprivation”.  And then I have the nerve to think of strategies!  Why in the world would I put all those words together in one sentence and ruin my holidays?  We are Americans and the holidays are about excess: excess spending, excess decorating, excess eating, excess entertaining, etc.  Part of my flesh cries out in a high shriek, “Keep up the exercising, but eat what you want!”  The other part of my flesh speaks in a loud condemning voice, “Stick to your calorie allowance, don’t eat any of your favorites!”  As a Christian, what voice do I listen to and what should be my plan?

Are you ready for the shocking answer?  Imagine a drum roll with a game show host’s voice announcing my answer.  “The voice Sherry chooses to listen to is….NEITHER VOICE!”  In this healthier living journey, I am striving to find balance in all areas of my life.  I should not eat everything I want, no matter how high my level of physical activity.  Neither should I be so strict that I deprive myself of everything and make my friends uncomfortable about their choices.

This leads me back to my bold sentence.  Let’s start with the word “strategies”.  As a Christian, I need to plan for success.  In all areas of life, successful people plan; in business, finances, relationships, etc.  I want to be successful in my healthy journey, not perfect, but successful.  In order for that to happen, I need to set goals and anticipate pitfalls.  These strategies include exercising regularly.  I have found, and there is science to back me up, that exercise keeps me thinking clearly and helps reduce stress.  Many times I overeat when I have brain fog or feel stressed.  I am less likely to reach for another cookie or a second helping of Buffalo Chicken Cheese Dip if my brain is clear.  Another strategy I am including in my arsenal is drinking enough water.  I have found that if I am well hydrated, I do not overeat.  Also, I am going to record what I eat, even if I run over my daily calorie allowance.  Honesty helps me stay on track and focused!

Now, that I have talked about some strategies, I am going to address the phrase “enjoying the holidays free from guilt and deprivation.”  First of all, what are the real reasons for Thanksgiving and Christmas?  Both seasons should reflect my relationship with Jesus: being grateful and celebrating the birth of my Savior.  I say “should”, but all too often, I fail in this area.  I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the seasons, forgetting what is really important.  This year, besides my daily Bible reading, I am planning on reading two books, both by Ann Voskamp, to help me stay focused on the purpose of the seasons.  One Thousand Gifts is a reminder to be grateful, and The Greatest Gift is about celebrating the life of Jesus.  Prayerfully, everything else, like spending time with family, holiday traditions and food, will stay in its rightful place with Jesus in the center.  

Still, I need to recognize that food is a part of our holiday traditions, from Thanksgiving side dishes to cookie baking to the annual Collins family Hot Chocolate Party.  And this is where I need to be free from guilt and deprivation.  I do not want to be the person in the corner eating only celery sticks (by the way, does anyone really like celery?).  I love my Thumbprint cookies and Haystacks.  I enjoy planning the menu for the Hot Chocolate Party with the homemade peppermint marshmallows.  Can I still enjoy these without guilt and deprivation?

Yes, I can!  I can exhibit the fruit of the spirit “temperance” in my life.  Temperance means having self-control, or, in other words, balance in my life.  This is a fruit of the spirit I lack in my life and struggle to develop.  If I am truly balanced, I am not going to indulge in a dozen Haystacks (toasted coconut tossed in melted chocolate) everyday, but I am also not going to exercise two hours every day and eat only celery sticks at the Christmas party.  Balance is enjoying a few haystacks.  Balance is not doubling the Peanut Butter Ball recipe (sorry, Ethan!).  Balance is doing hard math and halving some of the traditional cookie recipes (what is half of 2 1/3 cups?).  Balance is focusing on building relationships at the Hot Chocolate Party instead of just making sure my spread is big enough to feed all of Chambersburg!  Balance is the key for me to be successful.  

I am sure there are some of you who are really good at maintaining balance in your lives.  Yet, I believe there are others who struggle to find balance during the holidays, whether it be in food, spending or just being too busy.  Take a few moments to ponder your holiday goals.  I would love for you to share with me some of your strategies for finding balance.  Feel free to comment on my blog spot and share them with other readers.  Now, I suppose I should figure out what is half of 2 1/3 cups!