3 things that Fostering and Adoption have taught us

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3 things that Fostering and Adoption have taught us...

Almost eight years ago Jamin invited us to one of the first Every Child Initiative meetings. The ECI was so new it was just an idea without a name. We left church that day asking ourselves why Jamin would invite us to such a meeting. We actually didn’t make the connection that our daughter adopted from China seven years earlier would make us good candidates to participate in the initiative. Since that day we have fostered approximately 32 children some for a night, some for months, some for years, and one that we officially adopted two years ago next month. We have learned a lot on this journey.

Sticking with the church-appropriate lessons, here are our top three:
1. God’s plan, not ours. (Jeremiah 29:11)

This is not the coffee mug and plaque version of this popular life verse, it’s the years of wandering in the desert version wondering what the heck God had in store for this child and how your family fits into their story. It’s the total surrender to all the things you said you didn’t want to do.

“Don’t send us babies. We don’t want to be up all night.”

We brought five babies home from the hospital. We also took many placements under the age of two.

“Don’t ask me to work with the biological parents, they are really messed up.”

Now some of those biological parents are parenting in healthy ways and have become our friends.

“Whatever your plan God, please don’t let it include an open adoption.”

But that was exactly his plan to stretch us and mold us. We talk to our son’s birth mom every week and see his birth family once a year.

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2. Don’t worry He gives you everything you need. (Matthew 6:25-34)

If we had to stop and actually have everything perfect and in place before we took a new placement, we never would have taken the first kid. We learned to step out in faith and God always came through in far better ways than we could imagine. The most notorious example is the two-month-old baby that I took in the middle of the night without waking anyone up to tell them. The baby just needed a place to stay for a few hours and would be gone before anyone even woke up.  Instead, Baby L stayed for 29 days until she was placed with her forever family. It’s only because of God and the angels He sent us that we made it through those 29 days with three babies under two! Just finding three open daycare spots were a huge miracle!

We have learned when you step out in faith God will provide just what you need.

3. Proclaim the gospel to a watching world. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Although we were both raised in Christian homes, we were not raised to proclaim the gospel. Being asked to share our grace story was the most intimidating part of joining Summit Church. Through foster care and adoption, God has provided us the easiest opening to share the gospel with a watching world. Trust me, when you roll up at Publix with three kids of three different races and they are all calling you mommy it’s inevitable that some sweet and curious person will ask “are they all yours?” The door is kicked wide open and you can’t help but tell people what Jesus has done for you and what he can do for them!  You may as well shout it from the produce section because they already think you are crazy!

Every person reading this blog has a part to play in the Every Child Initiative. You can pray for the children and their bio families, your prayers are always appreciated. On some of the hardest days it was the prayers of others that got us through. You can volunteer to provide wrap around care to a fostering family. It wasn’t until our last placement they we humbled ourselves and let our resource coordinator organize meals for our family. The Griffith family not only organized meals and rounded up baby clothes, they rocked babies so we could give the toddlers a bath and fold a load of laundry.  If God is pressing on your heart today to consider fostering, Safe Families or adoption, take the first step, don’t wait.

God has a plan, He will provide all that you need, as you are a light to the world.

Christy Kutz

7 Years of the Every Child Initiative

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One of the major initiatives of Summit Church is the Every Child Initiative, which exists to envision, equip, and empower disciples of Jesus to have gospel impact in the lives of vulnerable children. 

Each year, we set aside some time to look to the Father and ask Him to intervene on behalf of these children throughout the world, but also to show us how He might have us as a church and as individuals step deeper into joining Him in caring for them.

It’s that time of year again. This week, November 12th, is global Orphan Sunday and we will join hundreds of churches and thousands of believers throughout the world crying out to the Father on their behalf.

Read more about Global Orphan Sunday from of our partners here at http://lifelinechild.org/orphan-sunday

Just consider some of the statistics. Right now there is an estimated 140 million orphans throughout the world. In the US there are approximately 400,00 kids in the foster system with over 100,000 of them waiting to be adopted. In Florida alone there are upwards of 22,000 kids in the foster system with over 500 of them being here in SWFL. In fact, in southwest Florida alone we need over 100 new beds to meet the current needs of our region so kids don’t have to be sent to different counties and so siblings don’t have to be separated. And these numbers are just scratching the surface.  They don’t take into account child labor, human trafficking, and babies facing the prospect of abortion.

The needs are immense, but our God knows them all and is able to meet each one.  One of the ways He has purposed to meet those needs is through us, the church.  There is no way around it. God, the Father, cares about the fatherless and as His people with His Spirit inside of us we get to care about them, too. And because we are convinced by what the Word of God says, there is no way to wiggle out of it.  The question for each of us is how will we join Him in what He desires for us and for them.  Not everyone is called to bring a child into their home, but every child of God is called to imitate their Father by stepping in.

So what does it look like for you? Some of you know right now that the Lord is telling you to adopt or foster or something like that and we want to encourage you to be obedient to what He is saying. If you’re married, talk about it with your spouse. Maybe He’s telling them the same thing.  That’s actually what happened with us.  Seven years ago on Orphan Sunday, we felt the Lord calling us to be a foster family. That fall, we stepped out in faith and seven years later we can look back and see how the Lord has grown our faith and changed our family. We are so grateful for the opportunity that the Lord has given our family to step in on behalf of the vulnerable. That was the call on our family.  What about you?  Maybe God isn’t telling you to bring a child into your home, but you can still be actively engaged.  You can be a part of our wrap around ministry. You can be a court appointed advocate.  You can volunteer with one of our partners. Or maybe it’s something else.  Let’s seek the Lord in this matter and let’s be faithful to do whatever He tells us. We are asking you to be intentional in asking the Lord how you can and should be involved. Make it a priority to gather with us on Sunday evening at our University Campus for a night of prayer and worship specifically focused on these issues.  Seek the Lord this week to see what He has for you leading up to next weekend.  This week during our services, some of our partners will be present and able to answer any questions that you have about what they do. Pray through what the Lord might be saying to you in relation to those partnerships. 

Summit, we praise God for you and the way you serve your community and world.  Let’s keep going. 

Jamin & Vicky Stinziano

Jesus, Abortion & the Church

As the Executive Director of Pregnancy Resource Center, I hear many stories.  Stories of destruction.  Stories of regret.  Stories of redemption.  Stories of life!  And I am always intrigued in the part the Church has within each story.   Life stories that promote adoption or support foster parenting and even stories of those being rescued from human trafficking.  These stories reflect the grace and mercy of God to a watching world.  Many of our own patients have been showered by great generosity and love from partnering churches who believe that every life matters.  But there is still much work to be done. 

In a recent poll by Lifeway and CareNet*, it was revealed that four out of ten women who have an abortion were actively attending church at the time of their abortion. When asked, these women said that they felt the church would be an unwelcome place for their unplanned pregnancy. They feared judgment, gossip, and the “scarlet letter” their pregnancy would bring.

Many of the stories we hear, sadly confirm the study.  But, as it is often said, where there is a challenge there is a great opportunity.  And today there is a growing opportunity to truly transform our community into one where every baby –and mother- is wanted. PRC recognizes that there is still much stigma in the church for unwed pregnant women, we thank God for the open discussions that are happening to change the dialogue with which we speak of abortion and the unwed pregnant woman.

One of the hallmarks of PRC is our integration program, which seeks to connect our patients with life-affirming communities like a local church.  We do this through mom’s groups, special events and one-on-one discussions with our patients. But is there more to be done?  The answer is yes! We all must begin to seek and to see women who find themselves unwed and pregnant, in the same way that Jesus sees them. And we must understand that they are not just outside our church doors, but may be sitting right next to us in the pew.

Jesus- equal opportunity grace shocks our reality.

Jesus said “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Jesus came for the very woman who today leaves a Sunday sermon to go to an abortion center on Monday.  He came “while we were sinners”.  He also came for the one out of four who is walking in shame and grief, unable to talk about her past.  He came to set the captives free!

If we examine the four gospels, we find that Christ consistently reached out to the marginalized of society, including those viewed as practicing the worst sins, and met them with compassion instead of judgment. We read many stories of Him eating and drinking with tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, and other "sinners." This fellowship with the religiously reprobate earned intense ridicule from the religious elite of Christ’s day. Many of these sinners not only had the audacity to eat with a holy rabbi, they had the guts to ask Him to help them – and Christ readily granted their requests. 

If you examine the Gospels, you will not find a single example of a person who received Christ’s healing contingent on his or her lack of sin. Every one of us can shout a hardy “amen” to that!  But the reality still remains – how many pregnant unwed women do we see in our churches? And the most indicting question- why don’t we?

Jesus- His words from our head to our heart.

What would abortion in Lee and Collier look like if we loved more like Christ?  When the adulterous woman was about to be stoned, Jesus said “if you are without sin, cast the first stone”- by that simple statement the crowds dispersed.  Jesus then said to her “Go and sin no more”. 

We learn several things from this story- no one is free from culpability and also no one is free to condemn others.  The Bible teaches “for all have sinned”.  As followers of Christ, the way we ought to look at those who are held captive to sinful patterns of behavior should reflect the way God looked down on all of us- with great sorrow but yet with grace. If we would simply remember from where we have come, we CAN and should be able to love and extend grace to everyone- especially when their sin is so easily recognized. A pregnant unwed woman needs to, not just hear about grace, but experience grace.  She will experience grace as the church comes around her.  

There are so many things we learn from Jesus- We see what Jesus’ priority was action first through life-saving intervention and then the words- “go and sin no more”.  Actions authenticate the words.  Jesus cared for this woman first so when He speaks, His words have authority because of what she saw and experienced.

Jesus- we want to look and sound more like you.

Not long ago I was standing in a line and overheard the discussion of two women talking about their friend whose daughter was caught having sex in the band room at school.  They talked about how they could see this a “mile away” because of the behavior of the mother.  It seemed the mom “must have had an abortion or two” and they were sure the same would follow the young girl. To my astonishment they said “better that she has an abortion than for her to not finish school or bring that baby into that home.”  The saddest thing of all was that I knew those women attended a local church. 

Christ freely offered compassionate help to all He met, regardless of their lifestyle.  “God sends the rain on the just and the unjust alike.” His goodness and mercy were always available and freely given. 

One question often asked is –“But if Christians offer such compassion to those living in sin, don’t they condone sinful behavior?”  As it is often in scripture, there is a divine tension between what we are called to do and what God is doing.    Notice that Jesus did not wait for the woman to repent and change her lifestyle. He just said “Go and sin no more”. Jesus was not speaking of sinless perfection. He was warning against a return to sinful lifestyle choices. His words both extended mercy and demanded holiness. Jesus was always the perfect balance of “grace and truth”. It goes without saying that the woman caught in adultery did not return to her infidelity. She had met Jesus. She would not be perfect. No one is. But she was forever changed. Her eyes had been opened to the depravity of what she was doing. Sin no longer held the appeal it once did. When we meet Jesus, sin no longer holds its fatal attraction. Grace changes things. 

What if the Church followed that pattern? Can we be that? Yes!!  I believe the church is the perfect place to be just that.  

Here are three things to keep in mind if we are to reflect the perfect balance of grace and truth.  First remember from where we have come.  1 Corinthians 6:9-11; “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were.” Second, remember that we were saved by grace not of works, so that none can boast. Third, we never look more like Jesus than when we extend grace to sinners, “of which I am the chief one”- 1 Timothy 1:15.

The Church- A new dialogue that extends grace

What if we all began to talk differently about an unplanned pregnancy?  What if we stepped in as a life-source to men and women contemplating an abortion? What if they heard such things as “we will be the family that loves you through these challenges”?  “We will be the father-figures to those babies”.  “We are with you for the long haul” What if we said “Go and sin no more” because of the love and support of this church?  What if we stopped talking about “them” and started talking about “us”?

If each one of us wants to stop the need for abortion, we must start to look, sound and act more like Jesus.  His words and actions are filled with grace which leads to repentance.  Every one of us knows, that is our story too.

- Janet Custer, Executive Director of the Pregnancy Resource Center of SWFL

*CareNet is an organization that support pregnancy centers throughout the country. 

Radical

 [In 2012, my wife Jill and I (then 32 and 30 years old, with no children) participated in a Hosting Program for older children from Colombia eligible for Adoption.  We were matched with then 15-year-old Liliana (Lili), who spent 3 weeks in our home in December of that year.  We spent the next 18 months finalizing the Adoption, finalizing in May 2014, shortly before Lili’s 16th birthday]

I was recently asked to summarize the adoption in one word.  The only one that seemed sufficient, the only one that came to my mind was “radical.”  The person who asked quipped that he agreed with the word, and then began reciting back the specifics of the adoption (the age, the language barrier, the international component), eventually offering his affirmation that “radical” was appropriate.

But that wasn’t really what I meant.  I wasn’t speaking to the uniqueness of the adoption.  I was speaking to something much deeper; something inside me that was forever, radically changed.    

I - Radically Idol-Smashing                                          

Radical is defined as “affecting the fundamental nature of something.”  Prior to the adoption journey, my collective nature revolved around enjoying a relatively ordinary Western Christian existence, punctuated with fine dining, fine golfing, taking vacations, and obsessing over my bank and retirement accounts.  One hand focused on spiritual disciplines, the other polishing golden calves of comfort, pleasure, and financial security.  Inserting a 15-year-old Colombian orphan into the meticulous spreadsheets that I used to micro-manage my life, finances, and anxiety caused a critical cell error.

I never realized the grip idols had on my heart until a Kingdom calling rubbed up against it. I prayed.  I needed clarity.

“Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me…” – Luke 9:48.  Jesus with the mike drop. 

I can recall reading this verse one particular day, staring at one such life managing spreadsheet, contemplating the adoption and whether to move forward.  I just recently finished reading Kyle Idleman’s Not a Fan – Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus.  I was “Christian who just read a great book” guy.  Burning hot like a cruise missile with no guidance system.  I wanted to be a Completely Committed Radical Spurgeon-Bonhoeffer-Stinziano-esque Follower of Jesus.  But I waffled.  The flesh was willing; the spirit was emaciated.  I had an impressive arsenal of “We can’t because X” retorts prepared, side holstered for any attack to my idol worship.  I knew that to move forward, I needed radical smashing of the idols in my life.  Honestly, I was on milk, and wasn’t ready for solid food. 

Fittingly, the Spirit (and my Wife) revealed to me an idea that was quite elementary, yet eluded me.  The idea that the “X” in every I can’t, wasn’t “counting the cost”.  (I used Excel to count rather effectively.)  It was an idol.  We can’t because [we want biological children first].  We can’t, because of [money].  On and On.

Turned out - God smashing idols was rather simple.  He simply turned “We can’t because of Idol C”, into “We can, because we believe his ways are greater than ours.”  For the moment, for the season, the mustard seed of belief in that, was enough to say Yes.  

II – Radically Refining

I had read, and heard, and knew about the “issues” with adoption – especially adopting older children with significant trauma in their history.  As all three of us began to adjust to our shared new reality, things began to get difficult.  Really, really difficult.  I defaulted to white knuckling it.  I committed that I would never succumb like the “immature” people who I would see post with venom about their failed adoptions.  I would be able to power through.  I would be able to hold it together, no matter what was said, or what happened.  I would succeed, where others had failed.

I was mistaken.  And I had developed a lethal case of PEB – Pride, Expectations, Bitterness.

I’m accustomed to succeeding in the challenges that I set for myself.  At work, in my personal life; achievement is always a driving factor.  Naturally, I expected to be excellent as a father to Lili (Pride).  I expected her to be a grateful, obedient, perhaps even reverent, daughter. (Expectations). And when she wasn’t those things, but was hurtful, disrespectful, disobedient, and ungrateful, I became (Bitter). 

I few years ago I was in one of those meetings, doing one of those cringe inducing “icebreakers”, where you talk to someone you don’t know at all for 5 minutes, and then they get up and introduce you to a whole bunch of other people that you don’t know. The guy who introduced me, when describing my general traits, told the group that I was “altruistic.”  I had never heard that word, so I recall looking it up later.  When I read the definition, I was pleased: “altruism is the practice of selfless concern for the wellbeing of others.”

It didn’t happen in a single moment, it happened over time.  I began to believe that the adoption was a story of my personal Altruism.  I started believing that I was so selfless for pouring myself and my beloved finances out to complete the Adoption.  And when my Altruism was met with the reality of Lili’s brokenness, it provided enormous space for bitterness to grow.  And it did.  I was bitter.  The enemy was stealing, killing, and destroying my joy.  I was cognizant of the issue; aware of the sin; but the enemy had me trapped.  I felt helpless to change how I felt.  And I felt this way, for a long time.  I needed radical refinement.  Radical re-alignment of my thoughts and desires.

God showed up.  He reminded me that Altruism is perpendicular to the Gospel.  He reminded me that only one has ever truly poured out for others.  He reminded me that I can’ be truly self-less, because He promises that my nature is to be truly self-ish.  And he introduced me to a word that I was only vaguely familiar with: Repentance. 

I broke down. I can recall sobbing to my wife, sobbing in Church, overwhelmed with my sin, overcome with shame.  I prayed for forgiveness, with an intensity I can’t put words to.  I went to Lili and told her that I had sinned against her and singed against God.  I asked her for forgiveness.  Like Him, Lili was gracious with me. 

Pride, to Expectations, to Bitterness, to Repentance.  AKA Refinement. 

The band can come back up….

III – Radical Dependence

 “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” – 1 Corinthians 3:7

No verse has confused me more along the adoption journey than this one.  I have leaned on these words when I’ve felt frustration.  When I’ve felt rejection.  When I’ve felt that I’m not achieving.  If I can’t give any growth, why even try?  Why try and share the word, or pray over her, or frankly, do anything?  At times, I felt completely powerless, and just as hopeless.  During intense flare-ups of my PEB – I’m thinking: “I’m doing a dang good job.  She is the problem.”  I’ve used this verse to self-righteously justify the moments when I “write off” Lili in my mind. 

“as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one” – Romans 3:10.  Paul with the mike drop.

It’ been a radical lesson, to learn and understand that she’s not the problem.  She’s never been the problem.  International adoption isn’t the problem.  Raising a teenager that I didn’t really “raise” at all isn’t the problem.  Her sin isn’t the problem.

A lack of worship is the problem.  An un-right view of the King is the problem. 

A distorted understanding of the calling is the problem.  So often I forget that God called me, called my wife, before the formation of the world, to become this child’s parents on earth.  He set in motion his plan, and left no detail unresolved.  He entrusted us to honor him by loving, shepherding, and reflecting who He is, to a child he has fearfully and wonderfully made.  And for no other reason than His Name, His Renown, His Glory.  Because he is good.

He’s taught me radical dependence in a world that worships the idol of fierce independence.  And I am grateful for it.

This is where I find myself today, and God willing, where I will find myself every day moving forward.  Identifying where my worship and view of the King, and understanding of the calling is out of whack.  Continually praying for radically clear eyes to see it.  Continually praying for a radically pure mind to respond to it.  And continually praying for a radically dependent heart to continue in love, faithfully walking through it.

- Mark Hindley

 

 

 

So Much More

By Desiree Mortensen

2016 was a wonderful year in my life. Many amazing and miraculous things occurred and I am forever changed as a result. My husband and I moved into a brand new home. My oldest daughter and her husband had a baby, thus making me a grandmother.  And for two months, I was momma to a newborn baby boy. 

 

"...for two months, I was momma to a newborn baby boy."

 

While we were in the throws of packing up all of our belongings to move from the home where we had raised our girls, I received a phone call telling me that our son had a baby brother who had just been born to our son's biological mother, and they had to find a home for him because he had been born with drugs in his system. They wanted to know if he could come to live with us. 


Becoming a foster parent was a long journey for Andy and me. Many many discussions and tons of prayer and seeking advice from others, confirmed what we had been sensing God saying to us. He wanted us to be foster parents because of the children who were in need of homes. In the Scriptures God says that He is the Father to the fatherless, and that He places the lonely in families. We had raised two biological children, and it had been a wonderful privilege from the moment each of them were born. Both were grown and out of the house, and we loved the idea of an empty nest, but, not more than we loved the idea of living our lives in obedience to the Father in heaven who had adopted us into His family. When the case plan moved from reunification to adoption, we knew only one thing. This little boy needed a forever home and so, we proceeded with the paperwork and after having lived in four foster placements in 2 years and nine months, our little boy became Ignacio Trey Mortensen. 


When I first listened to the circumstances being described to me, I will admit, I laughed. Not fun laughter, but, 'that is ludicrous' laughter. I was running late to take my son to basketball practice, and our home was a zoo with boxes everywhere because we were moving in just a few weeks. Though I laughed, I also knew I could not say no without talking to my husband and taking time to pray it through. We had not renewed our foster care license, we were considered 'one and done' and we didn't mind that title at all. I was quite certain that God would not ask us to bring a two day old baby with drugs in his system into our busy chaotic home, two weeks before our first granddaughter's due date. I was utterly certain my husband would say "Absolutely No". 

But, God. His ways are different than ours, higher than ours, the Scriptures say. The ways of the Lord lead us places where we would absolutely never travel if He wasn't leading that way. 

 

"His ways are different than ours, higher than ours..."

 

I remember many years ago, sitting in church, like I had many many times before. On this occasion, the person was talking about living on mission with God. He was talking about the kingdom of God, and how the citizens of that kingdom live their lives like Isaiah who, said to God, "here I am send me" when God asked the question, "who will go?"

That day, Many years ago I had told the Lord that wherever He wanted me to go, I would go, and whatever He told me to do, I would do it. 

I was His disciple, a citizen of His kingdom, and I wanted to live for His glory. 


I am prone to anxiety, and have had panic attacks that I would not wish on my worst enemy. Regardless, the promise I made to God that day in church, has always come back to me when I am faced with a decision. The strength to follow His voice has always followed my steps of obedience, and I am incredibly thankful for that. 

Andy and I briefly discussed the phone call after Trey and I got home from his basketball practice. We both sort of shrugged it off that night, but, also said we would pray about it. We went to sleep, after offering a quick prayer for the baby and for wisdom. The next morning was more of the same rushing around and quick comments about "praying about it" before Andy headed to work for what was projected to be a very busy Friday. I was headed to Trey's school for a Mother's Day Program. Each mom was asked to leave our phones at the door when we entered, because our kids requested 'no distraction' time from us. 

When I left the classroom two hours later there had been many missed calls and emails regarding the situation, and I found myself driving toward the hospital without really even thinking about it when I finished listening to the voicemail. The baby was being released that day, only two days after he was born, and they needed to know if we were going to take him, or if they needed to find another home for him as soon as possible. 

When I arrived at the hospital, I went right in to see the woman who had given birth to my son. I had never met her before, but, after praying for her so many times with Trey, I felt as though we already knew one another. 

Walking in to that hospital room that Friday before Mother's Day changed me. I sat on her bed with her and showed her pictures of the boy she had not seen in far too long, whom I had just left to enjoy recess at his school. 

She cried and thanked me and asked me if I would take the baby home with me so he could be with his brother. 

We prayed together and cried together and the Lord did a miracle in my heart. He replaced my stony heart, with a heart of compassion, even while I prayed for strength and courage for her to face the difficult days that she was walking into. 

I told her of the Father who created her in His own image, and I told her that He desired for her to know Him in a personal special way. 

I told her that she was beautiful, because she was made in the image of God and when I looked at her I saw that beauty. I told her of the everlasting love of the Father which is more satisfying than the love of any man on earth. 

She listened and she cried and we prayed and when I left that hospital room, I loved her. 

 

"We love because He first loved us."

 

I have no explanation to offer, but, my heart was filled with love for the baby before he even was placed in my arms.  Looking back, it is as if I can see the words written over us, like a banner. "His banner over me is love"

We love because He has first loved us. It is a verse from the Bible, a verse I have heard a million times, but, never did I realize its significance until I began to try to make sense of the events that began for me in that nursery. 

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believe in Him would not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

 God demonstrates His own love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

God is love. (1 John 4:8)

He had lavished His love on me, and I have sopped it all up like a sponge. I have love being loved by God. I have needed His Love, it rescued me from the pit that I formerly dwelled in, and it gave me the ability to stand firm, and to grow and to thrive as the years have gone by. 

His love has enabled me to love my son, even when I did not really understand so many things about him. The way that I had been loved enabled me to love him intentionally, and to love him sacrificially and to love him continually. As an act of worship for my Father in heaven who loved me that way, in spite of myself.

So, as I held the baby in my arms, I loved him. It oozed out of me without any effort on my part. He was beautiful, and, beside the fact that he did suffer from tremors, he was perfect. 

A few hours flew by, so, I left the nursery and walked outside and called my husband. When I explained where I was he told me to let them know that we could bring the baby home for the weekend to give them time to find a more permanent placement for him. 

I got in my car and called my daughters and went to Target to get diapers and formula and a car seat, then rushed back to the hospital and to the baby who had stolen a large chunk of my heart. 

What we thought would be the weekend, turned into two months.


God used the time with the baby to teach me so much about Him and the love He has for His children. He is faithful to give you everything you need to do what He asks you to do. His grace is enough, and experiencing the grace He gives is one of the biggest blessings of a believers life. 

When Jesus talks about being His disciple, He is very clear about the fact that it will cost you everything. He says, deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me. 

 

"...deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me. "

 

Deny yourself the comfort level that you have grown accustomed to, deny yourself the ease of life as you have known it, deny yourself of the money you've accumulated, deny yourself of your leisure activities, pick up your cross, the very thing that may well be used by God Himself to kill all of the remnants of your old nature, to be replaced by the nature of Jesus Christ. 

I was blessed by my husband's willingness to add to our chaos and bring the little man home, I was blessed by my daughter's attitude about it too. 

I was absolutely floored by the response of Trey. We weren't going to tell him that they were biological brothers, and on the first night home, it didn't seem like we would need to worry about it because the house was filled with people and lots of things going on, and he hardly seemed to notice the baby at all. 

Until the next morning. I had put the baby into his car seat and I looked over and saw Trey crouched down talking to the baby. He said, "it's ok little baby, no one will hurt you here, no hurting, just love"

When we decided we could tell him they were brothers, it took a few minutes to register, and then we saw the biggest smile, and his statement will forever be etched in my memory. With much expression he said, "you saw my mommy,??? did you tell her about Jesus Momma???"

He was thrilled to hear that, in fact, I had seen his mommy and that I had told her about Jesus, and the love He has for her. That He sees her and He is aware of her circumstances and that He cares and that He has a remedy for her, that He IS the Remedy. For her and for me and for her babies too. 


The biggest blessing of this period of my life is that God has answered my prayers and I have begun to feel broken-hearted over things that break His heart. Throughout the scriptures, it is clear that our Father cares about the orphan, the widow, the marginalized, the oppressed. He says that true religion, is seen as His disciples care for the the "least of these." He says that they will know we are Christians by our love. 

All that He has required of me is that I would love others the way that He has loved me. 

When the time came that the baby needed to move from our home, all of the emotions I experienced threatened to consume me. Trusting Christ with my sadness was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. 

Trusting God with the baby I love, in a government system that is not just broken, but, seemingly quite corrupt, still remains one of the most difficult things that God has asked me to endure. 


Never in my wildest imagination could I have predicted that the relationships that the Lord has given to me as a result of saying yes when He invited us in to the lives of Ignacio Trey and his baby brother. The friendship that has formed between me and their biological mother is priceless to me. It has been my greatest pleasure to help her to get into a rehab program, to see her get sober, and to see her place her trust in Christ. Trey's excitement about all of us being family in heaven is "exceedingly, abundantly more than I could have ever asked or imagined" (Ephesians 3:20)

It just so happens that as we give up ourselves to Him, He gives us all we need, and He also gives us so much more, to Him be glory!

The Gospel and Adopted Children

My wife Candice and I have been blessed with four children: two through birth and two through adoption.  Our journey from foster parents to adoptive parents is a story in itself; we took a winding road to adoption, fostering three different children long-term, and thinking we were going to adopt each time, only to see them go to their relatives.  We were and are so glad that they could be with their families, but letting them go after we’d come to love them was incredibly painful.  Finally we were able to adopt Isabel and Guy, and we know that the journey was worth every tear.

Like most adoptive parents, we cringe whenever someone asks about our kids’ “real” parents (what are we, holograms?) or asks which ones are “ours” (if some of them aren’t ours, why do we feed them?).  Those who have adopted know that a parent’s relationship with and love for their adopted kids is not one iota less real than with biological kids.  When someone asks us which of our kids were adopted, we actually have to think about it to remember.  We aren’t ashamed of how our family came together, but to be honest, the word “adoption” rarely crosses our minds anymore.

And yet, parenting a child who was adopted is different from parenting a biological child.  It has a different set of challenges, and, we are coming to realize, a different set of blessings.  Isabel and Guy came to live with us when she was five and he was two – Ella was one and Cora was not yet born.  We’d fostered babies and toddlers, so we thought we knew what we were doing.  But no two children are the same, and Isabel and Guy brought different trials and joys than we’d ever seen.

At first, they were utterly wild.  They were hyper to the nth degree and didn’t seem to be able to calm down.  Guy would have emotional meltdowns when he was in a different room than Isabel.  And Isabel, as much as she loved Guy, was exhausted from having to be his parent; they’d been shuffled from foster home to foster home for over a year, and she had to take care of him in many ways.  Because they were still in survival mode, they formed relationships with adults very easily, but those were superficial; the children hoped that each new adult in their lives would provide for their needs.

God spoke to us through their neediness, and He still does.  Now that we have two biological children, we are beginning to understand the importance of a safe and nurturing environment in the first years of life.  Our biological children are confident and don’t question their identity or worth.  We don’t have to prove to them again and again that we love them and want to keep them; they just trust us because they’ve been able to since before they were born.  Our adopted children need ongoing reassurance of their place and their value; they are insecure and wonder if they are really wanted.  We love them all equally, but they each need something different from us.

We’re learning things about God through our children that we would not have had the opportunity to learn if we hadn’t adopted.  Here are a few:

 

1.  God won’t reject us or give us back.

Our adopted kids, after being shuffled from home to home – sometimes because they were “too much too handle” – always wonder in the back of their minds if we might give them away if they don’t behave.  In the early days, even after the official adoption, we told them often, “You kids are stuck with us forever, because we’re your forever parents.”  We don’t have to say it as much anymore, but we know they still think about it.  Guy freaks out if he’s the last one out of the house (he’s afraid he’ll be left behind), and Isabel often holds her tongue, not because she wants to be obedient, but because she’s learned not to rock the boat.

We understand better now how silly we Christians are when we fear that God will reject us because we’ve done something wrong.  We could no sooner reject any of our children as we could reject one of our limbs.  Once we have adopted them, we are a forever family, and none of our places in it depends on our performance.  Our place in God’s family is even more secure than that.  This truth makes sense to us in a deeper way now.

 

2.  God the Father loves us like He loves Jesus.

Even though we might have to parent them differently, in our hearts and affections, we make no distinction between the children who joined our family through birth and those who came through adoption.  They are all Siverlings, and we’re proud of them all.  In fact, we’re often torn over how much to talk about their adoption; on the one hand, we love adoption, and we want our kids to love it.  We also understand that if other families know adopted kids, they’re more likely to adopt, and we want to encourage adoption as a picture of the Gospel.  On the other hand, when we talk a lot about adoption, we feel like we’re pointing out a difference between our children depending on how they came to be ours, and we don’t want them to feel like they’re different to us.

 Ultimately, though, adoption has helped us understand that when the Bible says that Jesus is God’s “only begotten Son” (John 3:16), and that we are adopted into the family of God (Galatians 4:5), that doesn’t mean we’re second-tier children; the Father loves us as He loves Jesus, and He sees us through the lens of Jesus’ righteousness.  That is incredible, and we understand it better because we received our children through different means.

 

3.  Our neediness and baggage aren’t burdens for God to bear, but wounds He loves to heal.

 Isabel and Guy take more work to parent because of the love and stability they missed in their first years of life.  They have emotional baggage and behavioral problems that Ella and Cora don’t have to struggle with.  But as their parents, we don’t see them as a burden to bear.  They’re just our kids, and it is our delight to give them what they need.

We don’t feel like it’s “not fair” that we need to do research about childhood trauma, that we need to work with counselors and behavioral specialists, or that we need to meet with their teachers to discuss how our kids might behave in school.  We get exhausted like anyone, but it really is a blessing to feel that we can help them, and it breaks our hearts to think of kids still in the foster system that don’t receive the love and support they need.

This has helped us understand that we are not a burden or a headache to God.  He is infinitely patient and loving, and He delights in seeing our wounds healed and watching us walk in victory and restoration.  Whatever part we can play in our children living abundant lives, we will do.  As small and selfish as we are, that gives us a tiny glimpse into how God must feel when He sees us grow and mature in faith and find victory over our challenges.  Our kids, even when they are challenging, are a delight to us.  And we, even though we are challenging, are a delight to our Father.

 

4.  Other people might not understand what adoption means – we might be weird in the world.

Sometimes people wonder why we’ve adopted, when we’re able to “have our own.”  We’ve had opportunities to share that God clearly led us to grow our family this way, and that adoption is a picture of the Gospel.  We’ve been able to witness to people that we never would have had the chance to talk to if we hadn’t adopted.  We are different from our neighbors, and that gets people asking questions and wondering why we live the way we do.

We suspect that some people are more willing to ask us about adoption because we also have biological children; people feel less intimidated to ask questions if they think they won’t have to talk about infertility, which can be an emotional topic.

And having adopted children gives us opportunity after opportunity to talk about our adoption into God’s family, which also looks strange (and sometimes downright crazy) to people living in a culture that is all about self.  God coming to Earth to redeem us and invite us into His forever family is unfathomably loving and generous.   He loved us so much that He adopted us, problem children with all kinds of issues and hang-ups.  He knew exactly what He was getting into and what a project you and I would be, and He chose adoption anyway.  If our family can be a little picture of that, we’re delighted, because that’s the most important story in the universe.

 

5.  There are many lost sheep still out there.

Becoming parents through the foster system was a heartbreaking process.  Not only did we witness firsthand the consequences of parents’ sin on children’s lives, we were also made aware of just how many lost and hurting kids there are.  We’re so glad we belong to a church that pursues every child with the love of Jesus.  It will take the whole church to do what God has called us to do, because there are so many kids and families that need help.

We wish we could foster or adopt every neglected, hurt, and orphaned child.  We can’t, but we can spread the word to other Christian families about this desperate need, and encourage them to ask God what they can do to help.  We originally got into foster parenting because we wanted to adopt a child and then be done dealing with a broken system.  First, God stretched us by calling us to adopt two children (biological siblings).  Then He stretched us by calling us not to forget what we’ve seen or to stop telling others about the work to be done.

Before Orlando and Pam and Joe and Jeanne Basso got us involved in the foster system, we were totally unaware of this need in our city.  We can’t claim ignorance anymore.  Now that we have done what God called us to do in adoption, we must be an ongoing reminder to the Church that there are a lot of Isabels and Guys still out there, waiting for restoration of their families or for forever families.  God has called and equipped His Church to care for the orphans and widows (James 1:27).

The Good Shepherd is not satisfied with having ninety-nine sheep; He goes after the lost one (Matthew 18, Luke 15).  He came and rescued Candice and me, and He’s using us in the lives of our kids.  He invites everyone He’s saved to join Him in the great search-and-rescue; we get to participate with the King of the Universe in inviting the lost and broken into the family of God.  Foster parenting and adoption are one way to do that.  If all the people of the Church were willing to honestly ask God what He would have them do, and simply obey (through whatever heartache might come), it would completely transform the our community, and many people’s lives.  Isabel and Guy were lost sheep; now Isabel has prayed to accept Jesus with saving faith, and Guy is asking lots of questions and understanding more all the time.  We understand the parable of the lost sheep better than ever because of these kids.

 

Adopting two kids was the hardest thing we’ve ever done as a married couple.  And it was one of the greatest blessings of our lives.  As much as we’ve been hurt during this journey – falling in love with foster kids only to watch them go, and seeing the pain of children throughout the system – we wouldn’t change a moment of our story.  It has taught us to hold tightly to Jesus, and to trust Him in ways that we never would have learned on an easy road.  God adopted us into His family, and we are beginning to really understand just how incredible that is.  We are so thankful for the beautiful, messy grace of adoption.

 

-Mark Siverling

How did you decide on Uganda?

Do you ever have people ask a question that seems simple enough in their mind, but as you hear it you think, “Uh oh. There isn’t enough time to answer this question! It is too deep and too involved!”? That is how I feel about our adoption story.

 
 

My family consists of an amazing husband and 5 crazy little boys. Two of our sons are from Uganda, Africa. It is very clear to others when we walk into a room that I did not give birth to the two of them and this often leads to questions about where they are from and how we ended up choosing Uganda. This is one of my “Uh oh!” questions because I never want my answer to make people feel like this is the only path to choose in adoption. It is merely what God called our family to and so far it has been the only path for us. So here is my brief answer to these questions. My hope is to give you a glimpse into how God called, equipped, and blessed our family with these two little boys as sons and brothers.

When my husband and I were in premarital counseling our pastor encouraged us to think about and talk about what we dreamed our family would be someday. To discuss things like: how soon we wanted to have kids, how many kids did we want to have, what would happen if we were unable to conceive? In a very boring and anticlimactic way we both agreed that adoption was a way that God wanted to write the story of our family. We didn’t know details or specifics but we knew that God was aligning our hearts in the same way.

I heard a Christian speaker years ago talk about discovering your holy discontent. What is the thing that you can’t stand that God can’t stand either? I believe that as followers of Jesus, He gives each of us passions and desires that His heart beats for and we are given the privilege of being His ambassadors of truth in those areas of darkness on earth.

I know that God cares for the orphan (Psalm 10:14, Psalm 68:5-6) and I know that it is not a suggestion that followers of Jesus do the same, but a command (James 1:27). So as Christians seek to walk in obedience to God’s command to care for the orphan I believe He gives each person a “holy discontent” for different aspects of caring for the vulnerable. Maybe it is caring for birth mothers, children with special needs, domestic adoptions, international adoptions, foster care, respite care, etc. For our family, our holy discontent is international adoption.

God brought us stories over the years of children in under developed countries aging out of orphanages and care as early as the age of 5 because of the massive number of orphans and insufficient number of care takers or resources. This meant they were left to fend for themselves without any ability to do so and with all the dangers of the world waiting to snatch them up. We were made aware of devastating numbers of children being left as orphans by war and disease. With each new story, new fact, and new statistic we heard our hearts broke and yet at the same time it started to cause a fierce passion in us to fight for those children who had no advocates and barely any chance of survival due to their circumstances.

As we started to pursue adoption in 2013 my husband and I prayed that the Lord would continue to align our hearts. We never felt God audibly talk to us, but we both felt at peace and confident in each step we took in the process. We researched countries to find where our age, health condition, income etc. met the requirements of adoption. After we settled on Uganda, we researched adoption agencies. During our research we had questions about the ethics of the adoption process and the people we would be working alongside. We contacted agencies and people who had adopted with them. We had multiple doors close for us with agencies that at first we thought were a good fit. It was tempting to be discouraged but God continued to be faithful in leading us step by step. I tried to carefully document each step along the way. This was one of the most amazing things and when it was all over I was able to look back and see God’s faithfulness so evidently. There were days I thought, “What are you doing God?!” but He was always working in amazing and truly sovereign ways. His plan always works together for our good and for His glory as believers in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:20-21).

I don’t want to over spiritualize things; however, I believe that all good things we experience on earth are just a shadow of the perfect example of a loving Heavenly Father. Through sin we have lost our relationship with our Father. We are orphans. Jesus sacrificed leaving His Father and came to us. He endured hardship and sacrificed His life so that we could be called sons and have an inheritance in Christ. I am so grateful that God called our family to international adoption. I am so grateful for the amazing little boys that call me Mommy, but even more, I am grateful to have the experience of catching a glimpse of the shadow of my spiritual adoption. Through every fear, worry, impossibility, and mountain that we experienced in adoption I felt God whisper into my heart in the most near of ways, “Remember what I did for you. Remember what I have called you to and empowered you to do by the Holy Spirit alive inside of you.”

So when people ask, “How did you decide on Uganda?” I want to spill my whole heart out, yet I also want to be sensitive to the leading that the Lord is having in their lives for the part of orphan care they are supposed to obediently play, the passion that God has placed inside of them reflects a portion of His heart. If you ask, God will show you how He wants you to be involved in caring for the vulnerable. He has placed a holy discontent inside of you that is unique to only you. Be quiet enough and still enough to listen. If international adoption is the road He has for you to walk, then from my experience I can say, hold on tight. It’s going to be the best and craziest journey of your life! There is no greater joy than to obey a good and perfect Father. 

-Allison Alexander

Plan A

Plan A:  An Infertility and Adoption Story

My husband and I adopted our son over 2 years ago. Occasionally we are asked how we knew adoption was the direction in which God was leading us. Usually we reply with some sense of confidence that it boiled down to two ways: through God’s Word and our circumstances.  

But those are our “tidy” answers. What if I told you about the night I prayed, “Lord, why won’t you just cause me to become pregnant? Then I’ll know that’s your will and I won’t doubt that I’ve made the wrong decision.” And His response is loving and reassuring in the quietness of my heart: Do you think you have any control over this process at all? Not a chance – adoption yearns for just as much of My Sovereignty as a pregnancy, if not more. In fact, you will need one million miracles for this adopted baby to become yours and you his. Just trust me to make my will known and take the next step. (Matthew 19:26, Psalm 121:2, Isaiah 30:21)

I wish I could say that I did just that. But the truth is I fought God over my “Plan A” for 5 long years, resulting in deep depression and struggling faith. You see, I did everything I knew to do “right”; accepted Jesus as my Savior, the propitiation for my sin and then to be a good little girl. And if I was, everything would be okay. I clung to Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28 and “reminded” God of them often. I’d experience a reasonable amount of suffering I presumed and then would get on to the good plans God had for my life. But the truth is I had so little clue what “good” I so desperately needed or what it even was. About what true prospering looked like. And it turned out to look like the stripping away of me and my measly little Plan A and allowing Him to put on Himself as the truest treasure (Philippians 3:8, Matthew 13:44); as the One causing me to prosper as I learned to delight in Him (Psalm 37:3-6). The One who gives me the peace and calm I so desperately long for to my core and thought the security of my plans would bring.

So I married and started the job I went to college for and tried to get pregnant after 2 years of marriage and after a year, I was. All I ever wanted – to be a mom. And a month later I was a grieving mother who never got to hold her baby. And then 10 months later I was a frightened mother losing not only another baby far away from home, but also half my chances of conceiving again and the growing realization that my Plan A was dying and therefore I felt like I was too.

We can handle this – straight to the specialist we go – we’ll figure it out and get back on track and then it will all be a distant memory. But it wasn’t. No simple answers and three failed cycles to be moved again to another state and in a situation that was far from stable and fitting for maternity leaves and baby registries. So we waited and worked toward smaller right now Plan A’s and just when you say “It can’t get any worse”, it does and you get the call that makes you regret those words and vow to never even think anything like them again. Father is in the ICU – likely not to make it through the night. Jump on a plane; get there. All plans on hold. Just watch the machines breath for him and sit with and pray with your mom and sister. Talk with doctors and nurses about things you don’t want to have to understand. Pray for miracles knowing God might say no. Plan A was becoming more and more evasive.

And then God does the miracles and dad pulls through over months and years and is a new dad that I get to know and mourn the one I had known; so thankful for the one who is here now.  And I realize that my mom’s plan A is gone and yet, look how beautiful she is. Look how becoming Gospel truth and peace and be still is on her – breathtaking – because He is breathtaking (2 Corinthians 3:18). And you’re thankful to know the God who does that; Who brings beauty out of ashes (Isaiah 61:3) and you begin to catch a glimpse of what “prosper and not to harm” really means in God’s Plan A. And your heart of stone softens to what He has been trying to lead you to all along and you are willing to take just. one. step. That’s it. And please come through God because if you don’t, I can’t even imagine what I’ll do.

And you know what? He does. Even though I’m untrusting, He helps me in my unbelief (Mark 9:24). Even though I break His heart for lack of knowing Him in His loving goodness and attribute falsehoods to His character and cling desperately to my idolatrous Plan A. He does. And He draws me near and He changes my ugly heart  (James 4:8; Ezekiel 36:26) and lovingly guides me to the next step – providing the resources, truths, people I need all along the way (Philippians 4:19). Until you can’t believe it! He’s been faithful a million steps and now you’re here and now you know Him in a way you treasure more than anything and boy are you thankful because are you going to need Him when you look in that baby’s eyes and hear his cries and know this is going to be so much harder than you thought. That there’s more ugliness to uncover and more wounds to expose and have set straight and healed. He does. He so faithfully does. Because we are His Plan A all along (John 3:16).

So how did we know that God was leading us to adopt? I really can’t say with absolute certainty we did. But, by letting go of our little plans, believing God’s word and responding to our life circumstances with hope that God’s ways, while often hard, are good and for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28), we were able to take just that next step and discovered that God really did have it handled.  Because our son was always in God’s Plan A and I’m so thankful he was.