Monday, August 30, 2010

@Adoption The Orphan: THe Pro-Life Missing Link

It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish." Mother Teresa

About a year and a half ago, I was very excited to attend my first national pro-life conference. I was about to release my book “TO BE A MOTHER: ADOPTING GOD’S HEART.” It is a book that chronicles my experience into motherhood following the abortion I had when I was a teenager. I had originally intended to write a book solely on adoption until through much prayer and meditation I was sure the abortion story must also be told. I have since been blessed to have given birth to two children and blessed through the adoption of 4 additional children (one from Guatemala and 3 from Ethiopia).  I was very excited to attend my first pro-life conference. I checked in and was given a lanyard to place around my neck with a name badge. I was given a giant plastic bag filled with literature of pro-life organizations.  I couldn’t wait to sit down and browse through them.  I truly soaked up this conference experience. I loved the people and learned so much about the ‘Life’ issues that were outlined during the weekend breakout sessions. They included the following topics:

Stem Cell Legislation
End of Life Care
Starting a Pro-Life Ministry at Your Church
Domestic Open Adoption
Pregnancy Support Clinics
Sidewalk Counseling
Counseling and Caring for the Post Abortive Woman
Medical Procedures for Late Term Abortion
Roe V. Wade decisions
Students for Life
Global Abortion Issues
How to Cope with Infertility
Blogging for Life
Talking to secular people about abortion….

The list went on and on.  I was enjoying this conference but I found myself looking through the bag over and over for something. I emptied the bag and practically turned it inside out. Something was missing.

In between sessions, I walked from booth to booth, table to table and continued filling up my bag. I saw T-shirts. I bought T-shirts. I bought books. I signed my name on lists for newsletters. I enjoyed conversations with many people. I added contacts to my phone.  Still, something was missing…

My book “To Be A Mother” was released a few months later. It became a number best selling Amazon adoption book. I started an organization to instill pride and understanding of issues pertaining to Mothers and children globally called MOTHER THE WORLD.  I spent the year in what felt to me like two separate universes. I would give my abortion testimony at pro-life conferences.  The following week I would talk to adoption conference attendees about adoption. This went back and forth. I kept asking myself “Why does it feel like something is missing? Why does God have me in these two seemingly separate circles?”

Three of my four adopted children are from Ethiopia. They are what some call AIDS orphans (although most of us who have adopted don’t call them orphans anymore).  My children are orphaned because their parents died from AIDS. If they had never been adopted they would have either been on the streets to eventually get a disease and die at a young age or just die much earlier than most Americans due to poor health/environment. In a nutshell, their ‘lives’ would be shortened, meaningless and doomed.

My Guatemalan daughter was born in an area known for murdering girls as young as 5 after they are raped by gangs. The gangs do this to maintain control over the villages. They are terrorists. My daughter just turned 5.

My passion has grown so intensely for the orphan over the past 5 years. More specifically I am brought to tears at the thought of many of the 150million orphans who today are left to die.  Children in many countries who are HIV+ will die due to lack of proper care. In America we rarely hear of AIDS babies anymore because medical advancements have made it so that babies born to HIV+ mothers can be born without the virus. 

Also, children adopted with the virus if brought to America and given proper care will live a long full life. But still they are dying in many countries without anyone to even pray, hold vigil, protest or counsel the mother who has abandoned them at the orphanage steps.  These children in some facilities in Eastern Europe are left to starve alongside children with cerebral palsy, cleft palates and down syndrome. Some abandoned children that have been given to the orphanages healthy will go insane due to lack of stimulation, eye contact or tactile touch. In some countries if children are not adopted or fostered by the time they are 7 they will be left in an orphanage to languish, starve or to be sold into trafficking.

One story that I heard recently was of a 7 year-old child in Eastern Europe who was living at an orphanage and asked a friend of mine if she could bring her books next time she visited the orphanage. The little girl wanted to learn how to read. The orphanage director looked at my friend and said ‘Don’t bother her life is meaningless.”

Some girls in India are murdered when born as second daughters due to an outlawed dowry system that still continue to this day. There is an Indian village called “The Village Where They Kill Their Daughters” because there are no girls. They are either aborted or killed shortly after birth. And we know of the little girls discarded and abandoned in China due to the population controls.

My girlfriend Carolyn from Project Hopeful tells me that children orphaned in Ethiopia with HIV will die faster if they don’t think they are going to be adopted. They lose hope and would rather die than live without a family.

There are still 150 million orphans globally. Very few will be adopted. Many are suffering as they starve, are in pain from their diseases or acutely lonely waiting for someone to say “you matter.” For most of them that means that they will die believing they did not matter to anyone.

So, in the past few weeks I have had a clarity that I have been praying for. I have had an epiphany of something so simple. I know so clearly what the missing link is. It is the orphan. When I mention this to my pro-life friends they usually nod in understanding that this is something so simple that they can’t even believe we missed it. Yes we talk about adoption at these conferences but we rarely discuss orphans internationally and how so connected it is to the sanctity of life issue. I don’t recall ever seeing a pro-life break out session titled “How to Practice Pure Religion by acknowledging the Vulnerable Orphan.” I haven’t seen any break out sessions even remotely close to that.  Why has this issue been omitted? I believe that because the orphan is so close to God’s heart that somehow this has been so hidden right under the noses of the pro-life movement that we have lost our ability to smell and see what is so clearly evident. The unborn are so important. I know because I grieve the choice to abort my daughter everyday. The sick and elderly in America are also important. All of it is crucial. But that is just the point. It ALL is important. I can no longer attend another pro-life conference that is a broken chain. We can see these children, minister to them and give them life. How can we possibly consider ourselves pro-life when we ignore 150 million human beings whose lives are being disrespected?. How is it that we have avoided this topic in our breakout sessions?

I will say that on the other hand I am not totally comfortable at the avoidance of the abortion issue at adoption conferences either. There are 1.5 million unborn human beings killed in America every year and more globally. I consider them orphans defined in James 1:27 too. 

Adoption doesn’t necessarily mean pro-life and pro-life doesn’t necessarily mean adoption advocacy. This fact really gets to me. I have met many Christian adoption advocates who believe in abortion. I have also met many pro-life individuals who have never ever even given a second thought to the 9 year old left to die in Russia due to the fact that no one has bothered to take him for a walk in 9 years. It is twisted to me!

Choose life! Respect life! Sanctity of Life! Chosen! Are these just cute t-shirts and bumper stickers to us? If we believe that we are created/woven by God, how can we discriminate based on age (whether an 8 week embryo or 80 year old alzheimers patient)? How can we omit the 150 million missing links in between that chain in pro-life conferences?  As pro-lifers we have miraculously and thankfully remembered the unborn, the ones we can’t see. I am so grateful for that. But we are blinded to children that we can reach out and touch if we make a choice to offer life back to them through adoption, orphan advocacy or proper medical care.

I am making this observation and presenting it to the pro-life community because I believe in my heart of hearts that it is going to be received well. I would love to see a 40 days for the Orphan Campaign or a new pro-life fund started to support those who want to adopt HIV+ or down syndrome baby. But let’s remember that a chain with a missing link is not strong and will be broken.

Jesus wanted us to take care of the orphan. Jesus has been and is being stripped away from this world. To be blunt: there is a battle to abort Christ from the hearts of people everywhere. In many countries the orphan crisis is due to a lack of respect for life that has developed due to the fact that the message of loving the least of these is non-existent. Christianity is dead and dying in many countries. Christ is not welcome. Soon discarding children, disrespecting life becomes accepted as the norm. In America now we are killing people that we cannot see (the unborn, those in nursing homes, in hospitals). Today, in other countries children are left to die in plain sight on the side of the streets and in soiled cribs in government orphanages. If we think we are immune to this happening here in America then we are wrong.  If we as a pro-life community don’t step up for the 150 million children that some call in-valid (invalids) then we are just being hypocritical. If we only advocate for the unborn and elderly, then aren’t we as bad as those who tell us that a human being only matters once they are through the birth canal? We cannot become guilty of discriminating against the missing link of living children that have been given life and then abused, discarded, ripped apart, raped and starved. We need to be consistent in respecting life…all life and the orphan is no exception.

My plea to both the pro-life and adoption community is to please fight from being habitual and predictable in your approach to your causes.  For the adoption circles I ask that you stop trying to be careful in avoiding the abortion crisis. I ask that you become bold enough to focus on the truth that we are alive because He has knit us in our mother’s wombs. When mothers decide to abandon them they become orphans.

To the pro-life community I pray that we hold ourselves truly accountable. I pray that we don’t get so caught up in our typical routine of only praying at clinics and fighting against abortion legislation. All of this is important! But it is incomplete because the missing link is ignored….Those we call pro-choicers ignore and disrespect the unborn...if we ignore the orphan then we are choosing to invalidate their lives too..

I know some of you may think…”I can’t do everything. I have to decide on what I am standing for.” It is true we can’t do everything. But we don’t have to do just one thing either. And if we stand for one thing let’s stand for the lives of Human Beings of all ages. We can advocate for the unborn and the orphan. We can pray during 40 Days For Life, write a letter to the senator, and hold a fundraiser for an orphanage. I will stand in front of our clinics and pray and I will also be happy to advocate for a viable human being to be kept on life support. I will do this even though my passion leans heavily to advocating for the lives of the orphan who have remained totally invisible in some circles even though they are massive in number.

The next time I attend a pro-life conference I really hope there are brochures and literature advocating for children like mine and the ones still without families. I hope and pray that I can watch as my passionate pro-life friends take the plunge to “unorphan” one of these discarded children whose lives have been forgotten in places like Africa, China, Russia……I know that if I can get my hands on any of the bags given away at the next conference I will be filling it up with MOTHER THE WORLD brochures to encourage orphan awareness. I am starting to work on them tomorrow in anticipation that the pro-life community will no longer be comfortable holding conferences with a broken chain and missing link…MOTHER THE WORLD!

@ChristianAlliancefororphans "Pure Extravagant Religion"

In 2000, I was blessed to be the contracted band for the wedding of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. It was an exciting time for me. I was in my element on the Plaza stage leading my band of 16 musicians, surrounded by A-list Hollywood cele
brities and honestly, I didn’t feel out of place. Granted, I didn’t feel like a movie star but I did feel confident in my abilities as a young band-leader. This was not a typical wedding. It had been reported that they spent 3.5 million on the wedding. And while most of my weddings were not 3.5 million dollar weddings most of them were in the 200-500k range and several a year were million+ dollar weddings. I had played the Plaza hundreds of times before thiswedding and on this night felt at home and at ease enjoying gazing at the movie stars on the dance floor and at their tables from where I was at center stage.
At one point during the night, I stepped back from my position in the front line of the band to hand the microphone to Art Garfunkel another to Jimmy Buffett, Steven Stills, Jimmy Webb, Bonnie Tyler and Mick Jones from Foreigner. I then sat down giving cues to the band while they performed. I remember being infinitely aware that this was probably the pinnacle of my success as a NY bandleader. I have done many parties for celebrities since then and before. But this wedding stood out. But as I sat on the stage, surrounded by Grammy and Oscar winners, a thought passed quickly through my brain. “NOW WHAT?” I was acutely aware that even though I enjoyed being there and loved my job, the level of fulfillment was only ‘so-so’. In the months after this wedding I started to become annoyed with people wasting 80k on flowers
that I would see thrown into a garbage bag or the dumpsters filled with filet, salmon and caviar. This also was just about the time that I started to feel pulled toward the orphan, adoption and other issues related to children and people struggling and suffering in America and around the world. I developed a really bad attitude about the spending that occurred at these weddings, parties. I would tell myself “there are children dying of Aids in Africa. All of that food could feed a village in Guatemala!” I became a bit undone….
But something changed a few years later as I started to indulge myself in thinking about the Extravagance of God. I am not going to suggest that we should be wasteful, but sometimes it really is okay to use the best wine all throughout the party. Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding….(and really good ‘port’ wine apparently). My oldest daughter and I watch ‘SAY YES TO THE DRESS.” I am shocked at the 7000 dollar dresses. I hope my daughters know that the $7000 dress is probably not in their future, but there are times when it is appropriate to be extravagant with your children and throw a wedding or party to celebrate their life. I pray we can be extravagant in our love to each other like Jesus is to us. Sometimes this will come in the form of extravagant food, clothing or parties… but mostly I hope our actions can become invaluable treasures and contributions to the world.
When we decided to adopt our children we had to make a conscious decision to sacrifice our lifestyle, our prior way of existing in order to pour out our hearts and souls to these children. Most people I know who have adopted children are not rich but it is as if they have consciously made a decision to ‘bank on God’. In other words, they are playing the ‘God market’ not the ‘stock market’. If we believe that the center of God’s call to us is to serve and take care of orphans and widows (James 1:27), then are we also willing to invest in the church of PURE EXTRAVAGANT RELIGION? God calls this type of service to orphans and widows and diminishing the world’s influence on our lives- PURE RELIGION. Do we have more faith in our worldly pension plans and new 30k cars and big houses than we do with taking a leap of faith to pour all we are and all we have onto the feet of Jesus’ call?
I love the story of Mary (the prostitute) who poured out the most expensive oils onto Jesus’ feet. She took her life savings in the form of oil to anoint the feet of Christ and fill the environment, the house, the community with fragrance. Extravagant love really means pouring it into God in a gesture of faith without boundaries.
John 12:1-11
Jesus arrived in Bethany where Lazarus lived. The home that they were in didn’t belong to Lazarus though, it was, according to Mark 14:3, “Simon the Lepers” home. Most of us would never ever think of eating in a lepers house. And many of us would never consider adopting an HIV+ child or allowing the HEP C child to play or wrestle with our kids in our living room. But Jesus went there to eat. Jesus would play with the HIV+ kid, He would give His love extravagantly back to the down syndrome baby and the child crying at the side of the road. Jesus gave His life extravagantly. It was a good time at Simon the Leper’s house. It was also a place where something miraculous and truly great took place.

Mary enters the room and brings Jesus a God honoring offering. She approaches Him, breaks open her alabaster jar, and pours it all over his head. She then falls to her knees and pours what is left on his feet and wipes it with her hair.

The fragrance of the perfume fills the room as tension fills the air.
 Judas rebukes her.
 But the Lord Jesus is just as quick to honor her.
Jesus blessed her gift and made sure that her selfless act would be remembered forever. Jesus visits the home of the Leper, dines and then allows a prostitute to pour out the oil she bought from selling her body in sin to men onto His feet. This boggles my mind. Jesus enjoys when sinful people extravagantly honor Him in serving Him, in glorifying Him. Mark 14:9, “I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

So a few months after the famous Plaza wedding I stood at another wedding at the Plaza. The father of the bride told me that they almost lost their daughter to cancer when she was a child. They popped the most expensive champagne for her wedding. The father gave a toast in celebration of his daughter being given life when they were sure she would die. I watched on realizing that an expensive wedding was appropriate…I still wondered and was frustrated at what seemed like wasteful spending at other events and then I realized that each one of us is precious….

Today my (neice in law-that means my brother in law’s niece-) was laid to rest. She was 10. Her name was Giovanna. She died of cancer. I think about how blessed she was to have extravagant love poured onto her as a child surrounded by loving parents and family. I know that had she lived to see her wedding we all would have wanted to pour the expensive champagne.

I think about Gio and I then think about all of the children in the world who do not have one person to lay vigil as they die. I think about all of the children who will never have a champagne toast in their honor because they have no mother or father to shower them with love.
I think specifically about a little boy named Baxter in Eastern Europe who is HIV+ who may never have a chance to learn how to read or ride a bike because no one was extravagant enough to ‘bank on God’ and pour extravagant love onto him…I cringe and am brought to tears in thinking that he could die without one person laying vigil at the side of his bed. And I think about how he has a ‘disease’ that if treated is totally manageable…if only someone was willing to be extravagant enough to bank on God and pour their savings on him (like Mary did to Jesus).

Today I was at a birthday party where two adopted children were pampered and surrounded with love. I think about my little girl and my friend’s daughter and I can understand how their lives are worth well more than extravagant love..the kind of love that would fill a room with expensive flowers on their wedding days. I remember how my girlfriend and I prayed for these children and how it seemed risky to ‘invest’ in these children who were qualified and considered by some to be ‘unplanned’ and ‘unwanted’.’ But in ‘banking on God’ with them the incredible thing is that we are the ones that feel like we are soaking in some kind of expensive oil of Christ’s love.

What is more risky? To commit to abiding by Pure Extravagant Religion by ‘banking on God’ or sitting comfortably while the ‘world’ or ‘wall street’ brokers control our life savings….? Shouldn’t we want to be saving lives rather than committing our lives to saving?

When the groom comes back to His bride (the church) after being gone for awhile, and asks, “So how are my children? Have you been making sure that you are caring for them?” What are we going to be able to say?

I hope we can turn to the One and say….”Beloved I poured out everything we have on these children because you told me that in order to honor you I had to take care of them and not be influenced and polluted by the world…so I took all we have saved, every flower from our garden I have bathed them in, every rich fruit I have fed them with and with the most expensive linens I have clothed them with…….and I am amazed to see that new flowers are growing, new fruit is budding and I have filled your closet with the finest silk and velvet from gifts that have been laid at our doorstep…”

What do we believe in ?

There are 147 million orphans…many are dying today. Some of these children do not have one person to care enough to even pray for them. Some are left to starve naked because they are handicapped and have no one to even bring them a banana. Christ wants us to clothe them, feed them and open our homes to them (Matthew 25:31-46).

I remember being on the fence with not knowing whether we should throw an investment onto our children via adoption. I remember being afraid but I know now that I am not going to ever regret the choice we have made to ‘bank on God’. I will never regret pouring what we had saved onto the feet of God’s call to ‘go’ and adopt these children. I know that had I been a goat standing in front of God as someone who failed to recognize the face of Jesus in the eyes of these children I would have wished I had taken the step to join in participating in “Pure Extravagant Religion” while I was still able to.

My children may never get the 1 million dollar wedding. But I no longer judge or criticize the work I do. I realize that there are times that as parents we should pour into our children in celebrating their lives extravagantly. It just grieves me knowing that each life deserves celebrating but for 147 million orphans that rarely means a birthday party. It grieves me to realize that each birthday deserves the special party with tea and dress up and gifts, but so many children have no one to say “we are so glad you were born!”

Get out the good oil….pour it into God’s bank…live your life extravagantly for Him. Believe in Him and be able to look Him in the eye and say “we recognized you when you were a stranger, an angel unaware in the form of the orphan child .We took you in and poured out the finest scented oil on you….then we celebrated Your life and lived and practiced Pure Extravagant Religion for the rest of our days!” And it is a pleasure to be where we are surrounded by the pleasure of Jesus.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Boy am I Getting Ugly!!!

It was a long ugly year. It was also one that I will never forget. I learned so much about ugliness this year and discovered pure amazing beauty as well . I learned that when we step out to reveal our own ugliness, we disarm pretense, we create a safe house in our presence for others and we find that there is liberty in expressing truth and ugliness. It is sort of like washing off the thick make up we had been wearing for weeks on end just to go ‘au natural’ with a clean and freshly washed face. Each wrinkle, sunspot, pimple, mole, in the light of day is beautiful in its authenticity. Kicking off the three inch heels we have worn to give us stature only to run barefoot, feeling the sand, mud, water, in-between our toes, shows us how alive we really are when we walk in humility. Exactly a year ago I released my book, “TO BE A MOTHER.” I was reluctant at first to tell my story about the abortion I experienced and the deep pain, regret, shame, guilt and remorse that I felt. But through prayer it was clearly revealed that this story of God’s grace and redemption must be told. The day before the book was released it dawned on me how naked I would be and how ugly the truth was in my past. I was so afraid and doubtful but knew it was God’s will for it to be written in all of its naked ugly truth. The best lesson I have learned this year is that God loves me as ugly as I can be and as ugly as I have been. I have stood in front of women (whether it is one woman or a crowd of women) in my ‘ugliness’ and reminded them that they are loved and of value because God tells us that we are significant in our imperfection and ugliness. We try so hard to keep the make up applied, the high heels on and the pencil skirts pressed. But sometimes our quest for beauty just makes us feel dirtier and uglier by worldly standards, when we refuse to let the scars be shown. Sometimes the most beautiful parts of us are our scars, moles and age spots that we try to hide.

I expressed my ugliness to a Mexican woman walking into her abortion and gave my testimony for the first time ever in bad Spanish. She ended up keeping her baby. She smiled and waved to me as she left the clinic. I felt beautiful even though I was wearing sweats and a baseball cap.

I told a crowd of women of the ugly day that I wanted to kill myself post abortion. Later, after the event, a woman volunteered to help me carry my things to the car. She confessed her own abortion. I was the first person she had told in 27 years. She cried. We laughed in liberation in the empty parking lot outside of a conference center. We both saw how free she felt once she confessed. It was a beautiful day even though it was cold and rainy .

This summer I was present when a baby was born that had been close to being aborted. I had shared my ugly story with the mother. She shared many ugly stories of her life to me. We both saw Jesus in the face of this child and felt beautiful even though we both hadn't slept in 48 hours.

I was present when a friend of mine had a nervous breakdown in front of my eyes. I don’t believe she would have been able to express her ugliness had she not known of mine. I watched later as she pulled herself out of it and developed an acceptance of her own ugliness. We found beauty in Christ’s grace that day….

I am a different woman now. I have been transformed through ugliness this year. I am so grateful to Jesus for moving the mountains inside of me to make me comfortable enough sometimes to sit in the ugly valley and know that I can make it up to the mountain top to view His beauty too. The ugly valley in all of its ugliness is sometimes where He wants us to be in order to show others HIS true beauty.

I thank God for surrounding me with women comfortable with the ugliness of this world. I thank God for friends like Carolyn, Traci, Leslie, Cindy, Diana who will pick up an ‘ugly’ HIV + child and open their arms and homes to them only to see God in their eyes.

I am grateful for my new friend Teresa who will go into orphanages in the Ukraine and hold and hug an ‘ugly’ child left to starve to death because he has cerebral palsy.

I thank God for Lynette, Sundy, Deborah who will shine a spotlight on the ugliness of human trafficking.

I praise God for Denice and Pam who are relentless in their passion to save the ‘ugly’ unborn babies.

I thank God for Rebecca and Madonna who hold their 'ugly’ down syndrome babies and love them unconditionally.

I thank God for Jodi who is willing to go to ugly places like Haiti and Uganda or advocate for the orphan in DC revealing the ugly truth about an at times flawed process...

Thank you Jesus for Eileen who with her relentless Kolfe Mama attitude unorphaned Solomon who is sure to breathe new life into America representing all of the 'ugly' street kids and discarded children in Ethiopia.

Thank you God for Elaine who has never met a teenager or young adult that she didn’t want to put her arms around and call ‘child.’ There are too many young adults who never know the comfort of a mother. I have to believe the world is a better place because she faced her own ugliness and was able to embrace their’s with joy and acceptance.

I am not the same as I was a year ago. The ugly truth has been a direct and fast path to witness unbelievable beauty that was unavailable to me when I tried to cover up my spiritual blemishes. My friends are beautiful with dirty fingernails that have dug into the messes of this world. I feel so much more put together these days as I walk with these ‘dirty fingernailed’ women. We dig deep, searching to find, as Mother Teresa put it “Jesus in disguise,” in the orphan, trafficked, post abortive and so called flawed children of God with their ugly diseases, birth defects and so far from ‘Gerber baby’ demographic faces. The women I call my friends these days are not the ‘pretty women’ type by worldly standards either. But I believe it is fine with us because our quest is not to fulfill an image of acceptance from the world. We are ‘ruined’ for the world and may never be perceived as beautiful to anyone looking at us with expensive designer rose colored glasses. My friends and their children are beautiful even if the world calls them ‘ugly’ sometimes…WHO THE STINK CARES!!!!! We are alive and more beautiful walking with mud in our toes, dirty fingernails and our messy, imperfect children. Such an honor to dance next to girlfriends like mine with their muddy feet and scars exposed for all of the 'pretty perfect people' to see….

Thank you Jesus for beautiful friends bold enough to run, walk, stumble and fall in a very ugly world!!!!!