OBLIVIOUS!….?

Oblivious, that was me! I don’t think I should have been. At the time, I was serving as an Outreach Pastor, my wife and I had just completed a three year adoption journey to bring our daughter home from China and our church had participated in Orphan Sunday.

Just over a month after we brought our daughter home from China, I attended my first Summit Conference, put on by Christian Alliance for Orphans. This particular year, the conference was held at Saddleback Church in Southern California.

Through our own adoption journey and my role as an Outreach Pastor, God was really stirring in my heart to engage our church at a deeper level to care for orphans. Because of our own adoption journey, the focus we had presented to our church was primarily on adoption. I also began to realize, many of our international ministry partners were already caring for orphans in a variety of ways.

One of my goals at the conference was to research and learn ways we could begin to implement an orphan care ministry at our church. I was especially excited to attend one of the breakout sessions at the conference entitled, Building Church Ministries 101: Launching a Church Orphans’ Ministry.

There was a large turnout for this particular session as many churches had interest in engaging more into the orphan care crisis. What I quickly learned in this session was, the audience was mostly made up of lay people who had a passion for orphans. It didn’t take long to sense a common frustration amongst many of these lay people about the lack of support from their pastors about orphan care ministry.

Now there might have been more pastors present at the session, but they likely were staying quiet like I was out of fear of not making it out of the building alive.

Even though I was a pastor myself, I could certainly understand their frustrations as I was experiencing some of this same type of pushback or lack of interest in my efforts to introduce an orphan care ministry.

This was my first experience to witness a widespread lack of support amongst pastors on a topic that couldn’t have a more clear Biblical mandate, caring for orphans and widows in their distress.

Just one day later at the conference, I can safely say my world was rocked, in a big way. We watched the debut of a brand new documentary called, Faultless: The American Orphan. I don’t know how I could have been so oblivious to the foster care system in my own country, but I was.

I had no idea that at any given time in our country, there can range between 400,000 to 500,000 children in the custody of the state. Of this larger number of children, at any given time, close to 100,000 of these children are eligible to be adopted. Simply put, the parental rights of those 100,000 children have been terminated.

The title of this documentary speaks for itself. These children, through no fault of their own have been neglected, abused and are in situations bad enough that those outside their worlds notice there is something dreadfully wrong.

The sad reality is, our society and culture have masked that we actually have orphans living amongst us. I understand the sensitivity of how we label these children, but have we gone so far to protect them that now we don’t even know they exist? These children go to school with our kids, they live in our neighborhoods, but do we even know they are there?

What I was so struck by was the heartbreaking statistics of vulnerable children who are placed into the foster care system. Let these statistics sink in:

  • 80% of children in foster care have physical or mental health issues
  • 70% of the current US prison population has spent time in foster care
  • 80% of death row inmates have been in foster care
  • 65% of the US homeless population has spent time in foster care
  • 51% of foster kids will be unemployed after aging out of the system
  • 71% of girls who have been in foster care will be pregnant by the age of 21
  • 60% – 70% of those caught in sexual human trafficking in the US have spent time in foster care
  • Only 3% will attend college

This information rocked my world! Again, how could I be so oblivious to the realities of children who live in the smallest of rural communities, to the largest cities in our country, and everywhere in between?

In light of these staggering statistics, where does The Church fit into this crisis? The sad reality is, the frustration with pastors I was exposed to in the breakout session at Summit many years ago, is one I have now experienced on a wider scale personally as we have worked to engage churches in orphan care through our ministry, Faces With Names.

Having served previously as a pastor for many years, I understand the overwhelming work load many pastors already are facing. Having served as an Outreach Pastor, I also understand the numerous requests pastors and churches receive on a weekly basis.

A common response I often receive from pastors is, we are already doing too much. My question is, what if you are doing too much of the wrong things? Other pastors I speak too are narrowing their focus to such a small degree, there is no room to even consider another ministry option.

Either way, so many churches have eliminated a sacred space and left little to no room for something so close to the heart of God.

The unfortunate reality is, we will either deal with these children now, or we will deal with them later as adults. If Christian families and churches would be willing to step into their lives at a young age, there is more of a chance to see healing and restoration in their already broken lives.

Statistics show, the longer a child is in the foster care system, and the more placements or homes they have lived in, the more likely they become one of the unfortunate statistics listed above.

If we deal with them later, they will likely be the ones selling drugs in our towns, stealing our cars, breaking into our homes, selling their bodies voluntarily or involuntarily and making up a large percentage of those filling our prisons, living homeless on our streets, and requiring assistance from the government.

I often hear from DHS workers how they have worked with grandma, mom and now the children. The generational cycle of poverty, destruction and addiction is not only robbing these families of their God given potential, it is often blinding them of the enormous love God has for each and every one of them.

I love the statement my wife Susan once made and we now use as motivator in our ministry efforts:

“We believe, every time a vulnerable child or orphan is placed in a loving, healthy Christian family, through foster care or adoption, they are literally being snatched out of the hands of the enemy, and given a hope and a future.”

I know the hearts of most pastors is to reach the lost and to see peoples lives transformed. When we pray for revival in our towns and in our churches, are we only praying for those who will come in and make an immediate positive impact in the lives of our churches? These new people we have been praying for will provide leadership, they will serve, they will tithe, they won’t cause the pastor any headaches or additional work.

If we are honest with ourselves, this would be our selfish prayer. But what about those vulnerable families and kids who are not easy to deal with? If The Church is really going to be the answer to the foster care crisis, it will likely be more compared to taking up our cross daily for the sake of others than it will be easy wins.

Amazingly enough, that is exactly what Jesus called out for His followers to do, take up our cross daily. Not a popular subject most of the time, even to pastors. I write this blog with a continued desire to bring awareness to pastors and churches, there are vulnerable kids and families who desperately need our help!

But I must admit, I also write this blog with a bit of frustration at pastors who are ultimately the gatekeepers of what ministry transpires in their churches and are unwilling to even consider caring for orphans and vulnerable kids. I certainly understand how orphan care can seem like a very peripheral ministry idea.

But consider this, as pastors, have you ever tried to explain to a person who has never tithed before, why it is important to tithe? Tithing is a concept on many levels that makes no human sense and is often hard to explain why one should participate.

I equate orphan care for the church in the same way I equate tithing for the believer.

It might not make sense, but in God’s economy, it is better to participate than to not participate.

I love this quote I heard Andy Stanley make as he was addressing foster families at his church, NorthPointe.

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“Foster Care is the best and most significant ministry we do, and I really, really believe that. It will never be huge, but it will always be significant. It will will never make sense financially, but we are going to do fund it anyway. It means there aren’t going to be as many positive stories as there are heartbreaking stories, but that is just the nature of ministry. I really do think even though initially it seemed like a little sideways energy, a little bit off focus of what we do in terms of planting churches. I really believe there is not a more significant ministry that we do. Which means from my perspective as your pastor, as a church planter, of all the things I’ve seen, there isn’t a more important thing that we do as a church.”   Andy Stanley

I appreciate this heartfelt expression from Andy Stanley on the importance and significance of churches participating in caring for vulnerable children through foster care. The reality is, starting an orphan care/foster care ministry already parallels many of the ministries you already have in place. I have said to many pastors now to date, all we need is your support.

You already have people in your church who are passionate about caring for orphans and vulnerable kids. Support them, unleash them, and watch how God blesses every aspect of what you are doing through your church.

There is this pesky little verse we find in Matthew 25:40 where Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

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To those lay people who are frustrated, stay encouraged, and pray for your pastor. For pastors who are not interested in orphan care/foster care yet, would you ask God how He might want you to lead your church in caring for the most vulnerable amongst us? For the pastors and churches who get it, thank you! It’s not easy, but it’s worth the effort.

Every negative statistic from foster care represents an individual. Every one of those individuals has a face, with a name. Their real life stories can be swept into the abyss of negative statistics, or they can be embraced by loving families, from loving churches who can introduce a Jesus who can bring healing, restoration and salvation to all things broken.

I was Oblivious! Are you?

Faces With Names, serves as a catalyst ministry to engage and equip churches to create the culture of orphan care through foster care, adoption and global orphan care. To learn more about how we can serve your church to help care for orphans and vulnerable kids, please visit our webpage: www.faceswithnames.org

Craig Groeschel – “Orphans Embraced” Every child in need has a face, a name and a story.

One Handed Driver

As the story goes, it was just boys being boys. In the mid 1920’s, in a small town in Northwest, South Dakota, a negro league baseball team was using a local ball diamond for practice. This is a historical story all to its own, but not for now.

African American baseball players in rural South Dakota. Talk about a natural draw for any group of curious young boys, especially in a small town with not much to do. To add to the excitement and adventure, the boys climbed up a latter on the side of a building for a rooftop view of the practice.

As one of the boys made his way up the latter, another boy thought it would be funny to pull the latter out from under him. This young, nine-year-old boy fell to the ground and broke his left arm.

Just over fifty years after this incident took place, I began the annual summer journey with my family from Southern California to South Dakota. Thirteen hundred miles stood between me and my own South Dakota adventures.

No doubt, there was joy in the journey. This was back in the day when car seats and seat belts were only a distant thought. Sleeping in the back window of our 1973 Monte Carlo I am sure wasn’t safe, but we survived.

One of my favorite memories of our many trips, and one I got to brag about to my friends was sitting on my dad’s lap, getting to steer the car. In my young boy mind, it seemed like I drove for hundreds of miles. I am sure letting me drive the car as a young boy was a break from the monotony for my dad over the many miles we traveled.

I remember my dad’s right hand reaching down around mine in any instance where he needed to take control. It was my earliest recollection of watching my dad drive with only one hand. It was a driving style I would learn and take on myself.

It is amazing how much we learn sometimes without realizing we are even learning. To this day, I am a one handed driver.

I am sure the opportunity to drive on my dad’s lap didn’t completely eliminate the question every parent endures on a long road trip, “Are we there yet?” Twenty hours in a car is a long haul no matter how old you are.

As we drove through Hot Springs, South Dakota, we knew we were getting close. There was an excitement that filled our car as we rolled up to Grandpa and Grandma Mills house on Galena Drive. They were usually sitting on their front porch waiting for us. A wonderful image burned into my memory.

Our annual South Dakota summer adventure officially began as we stepped out of the car and took our first breath of the fresh Black Hills air. Over the course of the summer, I had the privilege of watching my dad interact with his dad.

I could tell my dad viewed his dad as a hero. Now as an adult, I am amazed at how often I recognize and say about myself, that is just how my dad did it. I am sure my dad said the same thing about his dad. But with my dad, there was a twist in how he learned from his dad.

The real life consequences of boys being boys was a broken left arm of a young nine-year-old boy. In most cases, a broken arm is a routine fix with a cast and a month or so to heal. This broken arm would be different.

My grandpa never spoke about how he lost his arm, so the details are vague. What we do know is, the break in his arm contracted an infection that turned into gangrene. The result, a young, nine-year-old boy had his left arm amputated well above his elbow.

The only thing I ever heard my grandpa could not do was wash his own elbow. I am not even sure that was true. I am pretty sure I watched him figure a way to accomplish this simple task that any two handed person could easily do.

My dad learned how to tie his shoes with one hand, button his shirt with one hand, bowl one handed, (my grandpa is in the South Dakota Bowlers Hall of Fame and bowled eight perfect games in his life) and learned to drive with one hand.

I am a one handed driver because my dad was a one handed driver. My dad was a one handed driver because his dad was a one handed driver.

My Grandpa - South Dakota Bowler Hall of Fame

My Grandpa – South Dakota Bowler Hall of Fame

This legacy of learning is now four generations old in the Mills family. If you asked Hugh Mills kids about how influential their dad was in their lives, it would be very clear the admiration they have for their dad.

It breaks many modern day statistical facts of the success a child growing up without a father might experience. My Grandpa Mills never had the chance to learn a single thing from his father. My Great Grandpa Mills was killed in WW1 before my grandpa was ever born.

I am reminded of two other nine-year-old boys we became acquainted with in our first year of marriage. These young boys’ were in Susan’s special education class. There were just five young boys in her class designated as emotionally disturbed.

On one particular day, one of the boys acted out in a way that required multiple adults to restrain him. A rage and profanities no nine-year-old should even know. The event became so dangerous the police were called in to control the situation.

The other boy indicated his ongoing deviant behavior was driven by the desire to be arrested. In his young mind, this was the ticket to go and be with his dad who was serving time in prison.

As I have lived in the orphan care world over the past seven years or so, I have learned the stories and tragedies of orphans and vulnerable kids with no one to love them and lead them by example. Too many times I have heard the stories from foster care social workers who worked with grandma, mom and now the kids. A generational cycle of poverty and destruction.

I have wondered before why I have been so blessed with two men who dramatically shaped my life with love, guided by a desire to live with character and integrity. I have certainly made my fair share of mistakes along the way, but my recalibration is guided by the Holy Spirit and desire to surrender to Christ.

My Heroes! The men who shaped my life.

My Heroes! The men who shaped my life.

It is amazing how much we learn sometimes without realizing we are even learning. Learning to become a one handed driver is only symbolic of the greater benefit of the men in my life who shaped who I am today.

There is not a church in America, rural or suburban, who does not have kids who are in state custody, otherwise known as the foster care system, in close proximity to their building. These vulnerable kids go to school with your children, yet many of them are unknown and forgotten. How can this be?

A common response I get from pastors when talking to them about caring for orphans and vulnerable kids is this, we are already doing too much!

Having been a pastor, I get it. But the question I think in my mind is, what if we are too busy doing the wrong things? There is an ongoing spiritual battle for the very souls of these vulnerable children.

When we are too busy doing other things to care, the enemy is winning, capturing these young souls with the purpose to kill, steal and destroy, with hardly any effort.

There are hundreds of thousands of vulnerable kids here in the US and millions of orphans around the world who lack any loving guidance in their lives. The unfortunate statistics tell us they are the ones who will likely break into our homes, steal our cars, sell drugs to our kids, sell themselves on the streets and take the lives of those who we love the most.

On my most frustrating days of trying to bring awareness to care for these vulnerable kids to pastors and churches, I am reminded there are those who are still answering the call to bring hope and a future to these valued children, made in the image of God.

Last week, I was honored to be present at the adoption proceedings of good friends of mine who brought a sibling group of four into their family. These kids had spent 1525 days in the foster care system. But on this day, they became a part of a loving family. I wish you could have seen the joy and relief on these kids’ faces.

Later on this same day, I attended a Wednesday night service at my church where the guest speaker talked about near death experiences. You might be asking; how does this relate? This particular speaker has interviewed over 1,000 people who have experienced near death experiences.

Those who had returned from their near death experiences spoke about going through a life review with Jesus prior to being resuscitated. What I was struck by were the things most important to Jesus in these life reviews. I can assure you, it was not about wealth, status or accomplishments, but about relationships. The most important thing to Jesus was how we treat people.

I guess when Jesus said, whatever you do for the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do unto me, He wasn’t joking. I get that foster care and adoption are difficult. But there is this other pesky verse Jesus talks about in taking up our cross daily. The cross is never easy, but it certainly is selfless.

So how do we follow the call by Jesus to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily in a culture where comfort is the ultimate goal? What if someday a vulnerable kid wrote about the impact you made in their life? The possibility of a legacy you left that broke the cycle of generational poverty and destruction.

I count it a privilege to be able to say, “that is just how my dad did it.” My grandpa was a one handed driver. My dad was a one handed driver. Because of them, I am a one handed driver, and so much more….

A Tribute to My Dad

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It is hard to believe it has been one year ago today we stood by my dad’s bedside and witnessed him peacefully breathe his last breathe. It still seems so surreal being present in a moment you never really want to experience. In the blink of an eye, you face a new reality that forever leaves a void in your life. As a Pastor, I have stood by grieving families in their time of loss. But even with the familiarity of grief, the compassion and sympathy I have given by the grace of God, nothing prepares you for the personal loss of one who has made such a monumental impact on your life.

World's Greatest Dad

World’s Greatest Dad


Through the outpouring of love and prayers for our family during my dad’s brief illness and passing, we were reminded of the impact he made on so many. My dad truly left a legacy of kindness. His infectious smile, famous bear hugs and sincere interest and concern for the individual made a lasting impression on so many. My dad never met a stranger and was drawn to those in greatest need. His unselfish lifestyle truly exemplified Jesus. He really did think of others first and on so many occasions put others needs before his own. Not that his time was mine to give, but I am glad to have shared my dad with so many others. There is a profound recognition of just how special my dad was in the unique stories of love, care and generosity he showered on people.

Through the stories of others, we have certainly gained comfort. I can even say, I have sensed a feeling of personal pride to be able to call him my dad. But the stories we have heard from others come as no surprise to our family. What my dad did for others, was our norm. My earliest childhood memories are of my dad making my brother and I feel special through his time and actions. He and my mom provided such an eclectic set of life experiences for us that have truly shaped who we are today. Our life experiences are a reflection of the journey my parents made from Rapid City, South Dakota to Southern California and now Oklahoma. A mixture of life experiences, people and cultures I don’t believe I will be able to reproduce for my own children.

Some of my greatest memories of my dad growing up was around sports. I remember him pitching the baseball to me and chasing the ball one after another. Of him always being at my soccer and baseball games growing up. I can count on one hand the number of games my dad missed my entire childhood and high school years. I never went to a game without a perfectly polished pair of cleats prepared by my dad. My dad loved to to have fun. Trips to the beach, to Lake Arrowhead, the Rose Parade, Disneyland, Dodger and Angel games, season tickets to the California Surf and LA Aztecs of the old NASL professional soccer league were all part of our childhood experiences. When it came to riding big wheels down our long steep street we lived on, my dad was right in the mix with us and all our neighborhood friends.

Racing was also a big part of our lives. In our early years, before my dad started racing off-road, we never missed the Winternationals in Pomona. Since he was a school teacher, we always knew we were going to get sick with him about the first week in February every year to go to the drag races. I don’t know what I missed in school, but I am pretty sure it wasn’t as important as those amazing memories with my dad. Once we hit the off-road scene, we had some fun times out in the desert and especially the races in Las Vegas. We spent many hours at the shop getting the cars ready, well at least somebody did. I just learned how to sweep really good and make lunch runs to In-N-Out. We also enjoyed numerous Nascar races at Ontario, Riverside and Charlotte.

My brother and I learned an amazing work ethic from my dad. He taught us how to build, roof, work on cars and fix things. He was a Wood-shop Teacher, a roofing company owner and a referee for numerous sports. The banner that hung in his shop read, “Best is Better than Good.” He was always on the go. But he never left the house without kissing us and our mom goodbye and telling us he loved us. He worked hard during the school year for us to go on vacation most of the summer. Every year growing up, we would spend just over two months in South Dakota. Us California kids were exposed to a Midwestern life filled with fishing trips, time on the farm, Mount Rushmore, Friday nights at the local dirt track and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally when it really was crazy and out of control. Enjoying all these amazing experiences with our cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents.

In my college years, my parents moved from California to Oklahoma. It added more memories of working together with my dad and the official launch of his bus driving career for Oklahoma Wesleyan University when I was a soccer player. One of the great joys of his life was driving the athletic teams to their games and getting to know the players and coaches. He especially loved when the teams won to ensure some victory laps around the circle drive in front of the LaQuinta Mansion upon arrival back on campus. One of the prouder moments of his driving career was bringing the 2009 Men’s Basketball Championship Team back to Bartlesville. He also loved his championship ring he wore proudly.

One of the things I miss the most about my dad being gone is our daily talks on the phone. I realize how fortunate I was to have such a special and close relationship with my dad. What is so great about this unique relationship with my dad is my brother can say the same thing. He was the source of great council, comfort, wisdom, encouragement and faith. He always believed in us, told us how proud he was of us and expressed his love for us. Even as adults, it was so reassuring to know this type of love from our father. I have said before, I have never questioned God’s love for me as my Heavenly Father because of the amazing example my dad lived out before us.

My dad truly lived a life sold out to Jesus Christ. He was a person of great faith. As I have had the opportunity to look through his Bible after his passing, it is a well marked and well worn Bible. His time with God was surely the source of the humble and servant minded person he was. There were many times my dad would share with me the opportunities he had to share Christ with people. Many of those stories included perfect strangers standing before my dad with tears running down their cheeks and accepting Christ. One of the great experiences of my life was witnessing my dad lead his dad to Christ. My grandpa was eighty years old at the time and accepted Christ less than a year before his passing.

Because of my dad’s great faith and service to Jesus, we attempt to carry on his legacy. Although our hearts are sad and we miss him every day, we remain steadfast in our faith and love for Jesus. We strongly believe in the words found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” We love you and miss you dad!

What Happened to Sunday?

imageEarlier this summer, I had the privilege to lead one of our mission teams from Heritage Church to Christchurch, New Zealand. Our team flew out of Chicago late Saturday afternoon for our long journey. Our first flight took us to Los Angeles where we would catch our long flight over the Pacific Ocean to Auckland. We left LAX around 10:30 pm Saturday night for the twelve hour plus flight. In the course of our journey, we flew over the International Date Line which ultimately propelled us forward a day. We left on Saturday night and landed on Monday morning. In all my travels, this is the first time I have actually skipped an entire day during the course of a flight. I must admit, not having the chance to live out a day messes with your mind a little and at the very least throws the rest of your week completely out of whack.

This novelty of international travel to New Zealand of missing a complete day is a good story and conversation piece. But for me, it has become much more than a novelty or conversation piece. This experience is something I have reflected on over the past two months and continue to reflect on even now as I am writing. It has caused me to ask myself, What Happened to Sunday? There is so much wrapped up in this question for me. It has caused me to reflect on the days and life I have been given. What opportunities I have captured and seized and what opportunities I have forfeited out of complacency or aborted out of fear before they were ever given life. As long as God gives us breath and grants us another day to live, we are given 86,440 seconds, 1440 minutes, 24 hours in each day.

There is something about missing a day that doesn’t seem fair or right. Sometimes we miss days out of choice, illness, tragedy or neglect. In my case on the way to New Zealand, I gave up a day to gain an even greater experience of new friendships, new ministry opportunities and the beauty of God’s creation in a place I had never seen or been before. Ultimately, as I have worked through and reflected on the significance of what God has been trying to teach me through the experience of missing Sunday, I continue to come back to the plight of millions of orphans who miss days, weeks, months and years of their lives. For so many of them, there is no positive story or gain by giving up a day. For the orphan, they just forfeit another day of their lives unloved, untouched and uncared for in way too many cases.

Last year, I read a statement from Dr. Russell Moore in a proposed resolution he submitted to the Southern Baptist Convention in 2009 on Adoption and Orphan Care. Dr. Moore wrote, “Upward of 150 million orphans now languish without families in orphanages, group homes, and placement systems in North America and around the world.” Overall, there was not much information in this particular statement I was not already aware of, but the word that grabbed my attention and has unsettled my spirit ever since is the word, “Languish.” I am sure I had heard the word before but did not pay much attention to it or fully understand its meaning. As I sought out the definition of languish, my heart broke even more. Languish: To be or become weak or feeble; lose strength or vigor. To exist or continue in miserable or disheartening conditions. To remain unattended or be neglected. To become downcast or pine away in longing: languish apart from friends and family; languish for a change from dull routine.

For millions of orphans, they would long to ask, What Happened to Sunday? If it was only a matter of losing one day of their life out of care free living, selfishness or even complacency. But for most, one day turns into weeks, months and years until they lose the capacity to even ask what happened to Sunday if they ever had the ability at all. These institutionalized children often suffer delays emotionally, physically and socially because they lack the very basic needs God created for children to develop within a family. So children who would otherwise have no emotional, physical or social delays, develop such issues due to a lack of touch, love and food a child needs to grow and develop. For those orphans who already have special needs, their plight can often be worse because their value is perceived to be even less than the other children.

So the spiritual battle for the very soul of every orphan wages on. An enemy who comes to kill, steal and destroy those most precious to God happens every day around the world. So I continue to ask myself, how do I converge the desire to make everyday of my life count for God knowing the lives of so many precious children waist away day by day simply because of the environment in which they live. How do the nameless faces become real to those who love God and call upon His name? How do we make Sunday real to those children who at this point cannot even fathom what it would mean to be a part of a loving family? So what is your role in making sure you don’t reach the end of your life asking, What Happened to Sunday?

Heart Connection

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As an adoptive family, we are use to getting a wide variety of questions about our family. In light of our current situation with Hope’s heart surgery, the question that has risen to the top of the list is, “Did you know she had a heart condition before you adopted her.” I have come to realize what people are really asking is, “Did you choose her, knowing she had a heart condition?” The simple answer to that question is, yes. If it is possible to distinctly remember something when you are fighting to keep your eyes open, I distinctly remember the first time I heard a prayer request in an international church, the day after I arrived in China about a little girl who needed open heart surgery. A few days later, I held this same little girl in my arms. Her little blue fingers and blue lips were a clear indication of her need for heart surgery. Who would have known, other than God, it would take a heart connection for me to fulfill the call God had placed on Susan’s heart eight years earlier to adopt a little girl from China.

The way God stirred my heart towards Hope was through the open heart surgery I experienced when I was five years old. It was because of her heart condition that we chose her. Last Wednesday, July 3rd of 2013, a prayer request was answered from April of 2009. Hope had the open heart surgery she has so desperately needed for over four years.

Some of the reflections I have had over this past week associated with Hope’s surgery:

I am grateful to my parents for all they endured as a result of my open heart surgery. I better understand what they felt and the emotional toll it takes on a parent to watch your child experience this type of surgery and the recovery that ensues.

I am thankful to God for the gifts and abilities He has given to a talented few who have the knowledge, wisdom and precision to repair a damaged heart. For the nurses who serve unselfishly through the day and night to ensure a speedy recovery.

I now know why I am so extremely closterfobic. The number of tubes and wires attached to your body coming out of this type of surgery is astonishing. For children, your hands are strapped to the bed to preserve the many essential wires and tubes. To this day, I still can’t have anyone touch around my scar without becoming closterfobic.

I am grateful for special friends who stand beside you in both good times and hard times. Who serve unselfishly and with the humility of Christ. Whose presence brings a level of comfort even when no words are spoken.

I am thankful and grateful to a couple who we do not know and have never met, who opened their home to us while they are away, and gave our family a place to retreat to and stay during our entire time in Peoria. It is a witness of giving with an open hand and using what God has blessed them with to bless others.

I am both thankful and grateful for the prayers of so many on behalf of Hope and our family. I believe in the power of prayer. I praise God for answered prayer.

I am thankful for both sets of our parents who have ultimately provided the foundation of our faith to trust God in times of uncertainty. We are thankful to Susan’s parents for being here to help in so many tangible ways during our hospital stay and beyond.

I am proud of all of my kids for how they have handled this entire situation which is completely out of the norm of our daily lives. Reagan and Katelyn have done so well in so many ways and I am so proud of them both. They have supported their sister and encouraged her on her path to recovery. I am proud of Hope for her bravery and determination to go home as quickly as possible. She is a resilient little girl.

Words will fail to express how blessed I am to be married to Susan. On this day, we celebrate our fourteenth anniversary. It is fitting that we celebrate this day of our marriage in the hospital for our adopted daughter from China. If it were not for Susan’s obedience to the call God put on her heart to adopt a little girl from China, her persistence over eight years to encourage her stubborn husband to consider adoption, I would have missed out on so many experiences and miracles God has blessed our family with. I am forever grateful for your compassionate heart for the vulnerable and your faithfulness which brought Hope to our family. I Love You Susan!

This heart connection I share with Hope goes far beyond a single surgery. It speaks to all I have learned and been exposed to through our adoption journey. It speaks to the passion God has placed in my heart to care for the fatherless. It speaks to a better understanding of God’s love for me and how He chose me, even though I had a heart condition full of sin. It speaks to how our family has been enriched and changed for the better as Hope has become a daughter and a sister.

The one common congenital heart condition Hope and I both shared was a physical hole in our hearts. It is not unlike the spiritual hole in the heart of every person who is born on this earth. Just like the physical hole in our hearts needed to be repaired to ensure life, the spiritual hole in every persons heart can only be filled and repaired through Jesus Christ, to ensure life. Children’s hospitals usually have one common theme, create environments that mask and distract from the seriousness of the condition these precious children are facing. This world also has a common theme, to create environments to mask and distract from the seriousness of our condition without Christ. Jesus Christ has a heart connection with you. He chose you, knowing you had a heart condition.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Baby No. 59 – Abandoned

It is hard to fathom what goes through the mind of a mother who has just carried a child in her belly for nine months, given birth to the child and then with the help of the father or on her own abandons the child in the toilet of a public restroom. This newborn baby with the placenta still attached was shoved down a traditional Chinese squatty potty and left to die. Thankfully, someone heard his cry and he was rescued. A section of the sewer pipe was cut out with this little boy stuck inside and delivered to the hospital. As I watched the video of this unfolding, there it was, a section of the pipe carefully removed exposing the face of this beautiful baby boy. Baby No. 59. The name he was given based on the incubator he now occupies in the hospital. Every face has a name. Sadly, some are simply a number, because those who should care the most have abandoned their role in giving a name with true meaning and purpose. Here is a link to the video to watch for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=As3VY7gEPnQ

This incident was hard enough to watch on it’s own, but it also stirred up emotions I felt very strongly when we were in China picking up Hope. Here is something I wrote while we were in China last year:

“We also received all of our notarized official documentation on Thursday. One of the forms was the certificate of abandonment which really brought about a range of emotions for me. I was sad for her biological parents because they missed out on such a wonderful, bright little girl who is so full of life. Sad for Hope knowing that dealing with being abandoned by her biological parents is something she will deal with through out her life. In the midst of those sad feelings, happy for us that she gets to be a part of our family and we get to be her parents. With those feelings comes a sense of guilt of being happy that she is with us when the best thing would have been loving biological parents. Emotions we will all have to wrestle with over time.”

Like Hope, this little boy will someday be asking the question, why did my parents not want me? The sad reality is, these parents are giving up a future of happiness and joy of knowing their child in the moment of abandonment. You so often hear children who have been abandoned say, do they ever think about me? Do they even care what I have become? There is a sense of emptiness I feel even writing about this and knowing Hope will be asking us these questions someday.

With all the happiness and joy Hope has brought into our family, with a personality that lights up the room and an intellect that will allow her to accomplish great things someday, I will have to try and answer her question of why she was not wanted. In those moments, my heart will break for her and the parents who chose to leave her in front of a hospital at three months of age. No matter how much love we have given her, no matter how successful she might become, long after her heart has been physically repaired, she will carry a wound, an emotional hole in her heart that will always wonder, why was I not wanted? Why was I not good enough?

So What’s in a Name?

It was 2:30 am on the night I returned from China in 2009. I was wide awake from jet lag and Susan was hanging in there just to be able to hear about this little Chinese girl I had met. This conversation was a long time coming for her. She had felt God stirring in her heart almost eight years earlier to adopt a little girl from China. God had finally captured my heart for this idea of adoption. Of course it only took me eight years and a trip to China to do it, but I was finally coming around.

In the midst of our conversation about this little girl we only knew as Xiao Xia, I had this thought come into my mind. If we really do adopt this little girl, I want to name her Hope. I was still dragging my feet and unwilling to share this thought with Susan. If I offered a possible name, it seemed like I was crossing a threshold of commitment to adoption I had not previously been willing to make. Just about 2 or 3 minutes later, still not having shared the name, my concerns became irrelevant. Susan spoke up and said to me, if we adopt her, I want to name her Hope. You can imagine my surprise as I shared with Susan, I just had the same thought minutes before. It was in that moment I knew we were going to adopt this little girl who we would call Hope.

So in the middle of the night, we headed towards our computer to learn how you go about adopting from China. The Shaohanna’s Hope website (back then) was the first site we went too. As we sat there, we talked and cried together about what God was now stirring in both of our hearts. Susan repeated something she had read or heard Stephen Curtis Chapman say about knowing this was his daughter in China and he just needed to go and get her. Now I don’t know where this statement came from or even how accurate it was at the time, but God used those words from Stephen Curtis Chapman spoken through my wife to confirm the same feeling I had in my heart. Upon hearing these words, I wept uncontrollably. The jet lag helped, but I was up the rest of the night reading about adopting from China.

I thought God’s confirmation of a name and my willingness to finally say yes to adoption was a clear sign to move forward. God had honored Susan’s obedience and patience with a less than unwilling husband. I thought the hard part was over since we were now both on the same page. First thing Monday morning when I began to call adoption agencies, I was unpleasantly surprised when the first few agencies refused to work with us after I shared my story of meeting Hope and our desire to adopt her. What we learned was China did not allow pre-identified adoptions. Simply put, if you meet a child, your not allowed to adopt them. This would take a miracle is what we were told. Like finding a needle in a haystack.

So What’s in a Name? We would learn over the next three years before bringing her home, there was so much more meaning to the letters, H O P E, the name God had clearly given to us. HOPE: The Desire Of Fulfillment, Faith, Trust, Expectation, Belief. There were many lonely days on our journey where we had to hope against hope. On many occasions it felt like Susan and I were the only one’s who believed in the miracle of bringing Hope home to our family. Hebrews 11:1 says it best, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” In the end, our hope endured and allowed us to experience a God who still performs miracles in the 21st Century.

You Have to Start Somewhere

Every journey begins with the first step. I must admit I am somewhat jealous of those bloggers who have years of blog posts archived to their name. But just like me, they all started with their first blog post, they all started somewhere. I thought it would be symbolic for me to start my blogging journey on the day I began my journey here on earth forty-four years ago today.

I have always enjoyed writing. OK, now that I wrote that, I realized it might be an overstatement. Their have been seasons of my life where I have enjoyed writing. I wrote a monthly newsletter when I served for the Charlotte Eagles of Missionary Athletes International. I enjoyed sharing the amazing stories God did through my time serving in sports ministry. I enjoyed the writing I did while I was in seminary. I have plastic bins full of papers to prove my writing from seminary, and since they are all done and graded, I am going with the fact I enjoyed writing them. One of the goals I set for myself in 2013 was to start writing a blog. It has taken me five months and six days to get to this goal, but you have to start somewhere.

One of the reasons I have felt the urge to begin writing again is what God has been stirring in my heart over the past four years. In April of 2009, God rocked my world when I met a little girl in China named Zhang Xiao Xia. This little girl who I now call my daughter Hope has thoroughly changed my understanding of God’s love and the Gospel which I have always had a great passion towards sharing. The name of my blog is “Faces With Names” and expresses the longing I have to connect the reality of the faces of orphans we see in brochures, in videos and on television are real kids with real names. Psalm 147:4 says, God determines the number of the stars and calls each of them by name. If God knows the number of stars and knows their names, how much more does He know the names of every orphaned and vulnerable child who He created and designed in His image.

I completely understand the disconnect of not caring for orphans and their plight in the world. There was a time where they were a nameless face to me as well. But not anymore. Now, each day I stare into the face of a once abandoned child who we call Hope and realize God knows the names of every face, of every child. So I begin my journey of blogging to express the desire I have to bridge the gap of indifference to the estimated 153 million orphans around the world. Every face has a name! Are you willing to take the risk to ask God how you can know the name of at least one?