Hosting Reflection #31–You must lose your life to find it

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‘Honey, you’re changing that boy’s life.’ ‘No.  He’s changing mine.’ ”  This line from “The Blind Side” stands out to those with a heart for kids in need as well as those who have never given these kinds of kids kids a second thought. 

It’s pretty common for those from the outside looking in, see people like me as someone who is in this to make a positive impact on a child’s life… a do-gooder on a mission to change the world one child at a time.  And perhaps it does begin this way, but it doesn’t end there. 

So many times I meet families who give of themselves to host an orphan for the good of the child.  And within a matter of a few short weeks, somehow the tables are turned.  By the end of the short hosting program, families often say “I never expected to be so blessed by hosting.  I feel like what I have given to this child is only a fraction of what they have given to me.” 

I was no exception to this trend.  When I first heard of hosting, I wanted to give up whatever I could if it meant it could change the life of an orphan.  And I can say, without a doubt, that Sasha’s life has changed since 2010.  What I did not expect, and have found to be exceptionally true, is that I feel like he did even more to change my life.

– – –

As I am approaching our 3 year anniversary of hosting Sasha, I’ve been reflecting on our whole journey.  As I look back over the things that I wrote during that time, my prayers, challenges, fears, and miracles, I have come to be reminded of some big sacrifices I made just to have him here for Christmas. 

The first challenge I faced was finding a way to have an entire month off of work.  I was working part-time in an office where I had virtually no benefits or paid vacation.  I knew it would be a risk to take that much time off.  I pretty much told them, either I get the time off or I will quit.  What, quit?? Did I just say that??  I had no idea what kind of job I would find if I did quit, but faith reassured me that God was all over this and not about to let me down.  Within a week, my boss said they would find a temp to cover while I was gone and I would get my job back whenever I returned.  Amazing!

Next, I was in my 3rd semester of graduate school.  I was scheduled to take an exam the same day that I was supposed to pick Sasha up at the airport in Chicago.  With 8 hours between the university and airport, I knew it would not be possible.  I told the professor what I was doing and asked if there was any way I could take the final earlier.  Her first response is that dates and times of final exams are non-negotiable and there are no exceptions.  Hearing that, I resolved to pray and if she did not reconsider, I would just have to withdraw from the class and start all over again in another term.  Within a week, the professor sent me an email saying that I could take the final exam early and if any other students complained, they could take it early as well if they are also hosting an orphan for Christmas. ; )

Finally came the finances.  While I had gotten an unexpected check that covered nearly the whole cost of hosting, there were still many other expenses that went along with it.  There were costs of flying my dad to St. Louis to attend host parent training, getting an unexpected hotel room on my way to pick Sasha up at the airport, lost income from not working for 4 weeks, as well as all the other items and outings that I got for Sasha while he was here.  I honestly don’t know how I got through, but God provided. 

– – –

Now, I don’t share all this to gloat about all the things I have done, but to share how much had to be given up in order to bring Sasha here.  For a 33 day stay, I put my financial stability, job, and education on the line.  I risked some very important parts of my life in order to make a difference in Sasha’s. 

And his life was changed.  He experienced a loving family for the first time.  He experienced safety.  He heard the truth of God’s Word.  He was accepted unconditionally.  He was forgiven.  He was given the opportunity to have a family forever.  He has been changed knowing that he has a family who will always love him. 

And yet, in all of this, I feel like he has changed my life even more.  He has changed my life by showing me what it means to move beyond a painful past, to trust, to be vulnerable, to be open to love, to be hopeful.  He has changed my life by letting me live out this love that I had only heard about. 

Before Sasha, I thought I had life.  It wasn’t until I actually put all the important things in my life on the line for him, that I really found out what life is all about. 

And, my dear friend, what about you?  Have you really discovered what life is all about?  If you continue holding tightly to the trivial things you have, it’s going to be hard to see what life really is.  Take a good look and see what it is you can start putting on the line.  It’s when you do that, that you will actually find what your life is for.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it,
but whoever loses their life for me will find it.
Matthew 16:25 (NIV)

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Hosting Reflection #30–The Love of a Dog

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“Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them… And filling an emptiness we didn’t even know we had.” 

Committing to bring an older orphan into your home for 1 month can be a scary thing… for many reasons.  How will they act? How will we communicate?  How are they going to treat our family?  How will they connect with us?  How can we make them feel comfortable and safe?  It can be overwhelming and nearly impossible to really plan. 

It had been 24 hours since Sasha’s plan landed in the US and we were finally getting home.  His plane had arrived in Chicago on a Tuesday night and we had planned to make the 5 hour drive the whole way home, but the snow had gotten really bad and we had to stop and spend the night in the hotel.  The next morning Sasha got up very early, he was still stuck in old time zone ways, and we continued the drive back home.  He was good but very quiet.  We talked on and off in Russian, but I think he was still trying to make sense of everything… and I don’t blame him!

Once we got home, he really started to settle in.  He got to meet the rest of the family, move into his own room, and adjust to the time change.  But I think the thing that helped him most of all was our family dog, Pepper.  On that very first day at home, I heard him say his first English phrase “Come here Pepper” and my face and heart smiled.

Sasha took to Pepper so quickly.  He love to play with him… and try to trick him sometimes too.  He loved to give him treats, take him for walks, and just love on him.  He told me about the dogs at his orphanage, which he seemed to love as well.  But I know with him, and many other children like him, dogs are more than a fun pet.

Animals are not as socially complex as humans, tending instead to live in the moment.  Dogs, in particular, are forgiving and loving creatures that do not play the same mind games and dance the same confusing social dance as humans are so want to do. 

~ Dr. Gregory Keck, Parenting Adopted Adolescents

Sasha is a thoughtful, kind, empathetic kid… but he didn’t entirely come to us that way.  He came to us guarded, unsure of what to expect, naturally trying to protect himself.  He probably had just as many questions as we did.  How will these people treat me?  What will they do if I make a mistake?  How will they react if I make a poor choice on purpose?   How much do they really care about me?  What if they don’t like me?  What if they don’t love me?  Imagine the pressure…

But Sasha did not have to worry about any of that with our dog.  He knew he would be loved no matter what by Pepper.  Our playful and highly tolerant dog was always there to give Sasha attention, physical touch, and companionship.  I truly believe the bond that Sasha made with Pepper in those first moments at home helped to put Sasha at ease in our family.  The love he felt from Pepper and the love he showed back to Pepper opened the door for Sasha to share in our family’s love. 

Sasha was not a huge fan of taking pictures while we hosted him.  But towards the end of his time with us for hosting, he wanted to be sure to get photos of the special things from our home to take back with him.  Who was first? Pepper.  He wanted the picture to be perfect and he was no longer camera shy when he requested several shots with the dog until he he was happy with just the right one.

Trying & trying until it was just right!

Since we hosted Sasha and he returned back to his home country, we would often call him on the phone.  Nearly every time we talked with him on the phone, he asked how each member of the family was by name, including Pepper. 

Pepper turned 16 this year.  Over the past year or so, his brother and sister (from the same litter) passed away, so we knew his time was coming soon.  This summer, I told Sasha that Pepper was getting old and probably would die soon.  Sasha was so sad to hear this and insisted it couldn’t happen. 

Just this past week, Pepper had to be put down.  We have not gotten to tell Sasha yet.  In Pepper’s 16.5 years with our family, some of the best times were when Sasha was with us.  That little dog made all the difference in our hosting experience with Sasha and, I believe, in his life as well. 

Thank you little Pepper for leading the way and showing an orphan unconditional love in the purest form.  Thank you God for using a little animal to change in the life of a hurt boy and our family!

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:15-17 (NIV)

 

A little clip of S & Pepper on our first full day at home and 1 week later on Christmas

Hosting Reflection #29–Unexpected Opportunities in Unanswered Prayer

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“Pray for no rain!” is always what they say around my church when it’s time for an outreach event.  Last Saturday, I volunteered at our Easter outreach, where its expected that thousands of people will visit the church to have fun with their kids for the holiday.  There’s always lots planned indoors and outdoors… which means the weather is usually a factor in the ‘success’ of the event. 

3 years of God’s provision!

Every time there’s an event like this, the church and especially the planning team make it a point to pray for no rain.  This way more people will be willing to come, be welcomed to the church, enjoy their time with their family, and possibly be introduced to Jesus.  And honestly, at some huge events, there has been miraculous proof that God stopped rain and gave us an awesome day for the outreach.  See the video-

But what happened this time? It rained.  A nice cold cold windy rain.  Not just for a little while, but for most of the event.  I was so blessed (insert sarcasm) to be stationed outside… I was supposed to be helping the little kids explore a real ambulance with an EMT in the middle of the parking lot.  I was scheduled to be out there for 3 hours, but within 30 minutes, the EMT wanted to shut it down and go inside. 

So, I followed her lead and went inside. I liked it much better where it was warm, dry, and there was no chilling wind cutting through my layers.  After just a few minutes of being inside trying to warm up, I began to wonder what I was supposed to do for the rest of my time.  What’s the point of being here?  Could I just go home?  I didn’t want to sit for the rest of my time. 

So, after a while, I went back outside to see if people were still around.  Surprisingly there were still lots of families with their children coming inside, dodging the rain, and hanging out under the church’s awning with their kids waiting to see some other vehicles. 

There were some more volunteers who had not given up so easily and were toughing it out for the kids, getting wet in the rain.  The church had some umbrellas, but they were nowhere to be found at the time.  I brought 2 with me, so I ran out to my car and brought them back to share with the volunteers.   They were so grateful. 

I hung around a little more, tried to warm up, then went back outside to still see lots of families still cowering from the rain because their kids wanted to see the school bus and fire truck so bad. 

By then, the umbrellas had mysteriously appeared and I knew I could put them to good use.  I thought of the times the parking lot and door greeters would walk ladies from their cars to the church with an umbrella when it rained.  I grabbed the biggest one I could find and found the closest person around who looked fearful of jumping into the rain.

The rest of the morning, I spent my time sharing my umbrella with moms, dads, grandparents, and children who were in need of shelter from the rain.  When you share an umbrella, a stranger can’t stay a stranger for long.  You gotta get pretty up close and personal.  During those few minutes, I got to help them out, talk with them, and see their kids enjoying the event.  

It was so special to me to be able to take some time with each of those people.  It wasn’t just about keeping dry, it was about going the extra mile, making someone comfortable, getting to know a visitor to the church, letting them know that we care and want to help. 

In the last 20 minutes of the event, the rain stopped and I was able to put the umbrellas away and go back to helping at the ambulance.  But, as my shift ended and it was time to go home, I thought back:  I hadn’t wanted it to rain.  We prayed it wouldn’t rain.  It made me freezing cold and grumpy when I was supposed to be ministering.  But, it was the rain that gave me those personal moments with so many families.  I got to be close with them, talk with them, care for them.  If I could do it all over again, the only thing I would change would be to have more time of rain, so I could have spent more time with more people… not make the rain stop.

That made me reflect even more.  How many times do we pray for something we think should happen, it doesn’t happen, then we get grumpy, frustrated, angry, or upset?  How many times do we try to tell God this is not the way things were supposed to happen?  But what if through all that negativity, it is really an opportunity God is trying to share with us?  An opportunity to act, to care, to help, to be personal, to minister, to grow….

And what about orphans?  If I had it my way, there would be no orphans in the world.  I can’t speak for God, but I trust His will and that he has a plan for all that’s happened in their lives.  Instead of getting frustrated with the problem of having millions of orphans around the world and praying for God to fix the problem, what if it is really an opportunity God is trying to share with us?  An opportunity to act, to care, to help, to be personal, to minister, to grow…

How is He speaking to you to minister?  To carry the umbrella of care and be close with someone in need?  We may wish the negative situation away, but I believe those are some of the most precious times we can have with others and with the Lord. 

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
Psalm 34:18a (NIV)

Hosting Reflection #28–Holding on to God’s Promises-video

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NHFC’s Christmas orphan hosting program is almost over.  Today I had the opportunity to meet with 4 families as they said goodbye to their host children at the airport.  It is a heart wrenching thing to experience.  I wasn’t even parting with a host child, and I was still brought to tears at all the emotions and seeing the families part with the children they have come to love over these past 4 weeks. 

The days after departure can be the hardest.  I’ve heard from many host families that missing these kids and knowing what they have returned to is one of the hardest things they’ve ever had to do in their lives.  And at just the right time, it seems, this little gem has been created.  Something the families can hold on to, a memory of the children who have touched so many lives, and a way to help them pray for their children. 

This video, the hosted orphans holding on to cardboard promises from God’s Word, has become an NHFC hosting tradition.  We have families either choose a Bible verse for their host child, or select a verse together with their host child.  They are usually very meaningful, something that fits the child well, as a life verse the host family wants to pray over the child and explain the meaning and trust in that verse to their host child. 

It is so touching to see the video. Each of the 77 photos is a real orphan who was really ministered to by everyday families this Christmas.  The power of God’s Word in their lives can truly change their situation.  Knowing about God’s promises and taking the truth of these words with them to their home countries can make all the difference to these children.

Hosted orphans holding on to God’s promises!

It’s so easy for me to get caught up in the photos, thinking about these orphans, and the blessed life they have experienced during hosting.  I even get so caught up that I easily forget… that each of these promises is not only true for these kids, it is true for each one of us.  God did not just put these things in the Bible for them, they are there for every person. 

He has a plan for you.  He will never leave you. You can trust him.  He will wipe away all your tears.  Your life is a gift.  God treasures you.  He is your help.  You are his son.  You are created in his image. He loves you with an everlasting love. He is the closest friend. He will never abandon you.  You are His.  You are a blessing.  He came to give you abundant life.  He is your strength.  He is on your side.  He loves you.  You can always have hope.  Nothing can separate you from his love.  He is with you and watches over you.  God gave his only son for you.  You have been chosen.  He is your defense.  You are his masterpiece.  He chose you when he planned creation.  With Him all things are possible.  He calls you by name.  You are loved.

12ChristmasPromises

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
Isaiah 55:11 (NIV)

Hosting Reflection #27–Duty & Privilege

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Throughout this crazy week when months and months of campaigning have finally reached their climax, these two things have been on my mind – duty and privilege.

As an American, I have had the great blessing to be able to vote in many elections and I take that fairly seriously.  The whole concept of voting is pretty complex, the way it’s set up, how much it has evolved, what people think of it… and I’ve been considering those things this week. 

What is voting meant to be?  How do I really think of it?  People often say, “You must vote. It’s your duty as a citizen.”  And if it is a duty, to me that means it’s something you must do.  To me, I’d think a duty is an obligation for which you are held responsible and there will be consequences if you do not fulfill that duty.  In essence, there are no immediate consequences from not voting, you will not be sent to jail or fined if you do not go out to vote.  Maybe you will suffer some other consequences if you are unhappy with things in the government that you could have had a say in, but did not since you did not vote.  But for those who care about their role in the government, the issue at hand, and believe in the system, then it is a duty to vote.  Those people take it as a serious responsibility they are given and must fulfill.  …but at the end, it really is a choice that is left up to you to accept that duty. 

Those who see it as a duty, probably also acknowledge that it is a privilege to be able to vote.  There are people living here in this country who have not earned the ability to vote, and also for those around the world who do not give their citizens this option as well.  And when I consider all the people who do not have this duty to vote, I really do see it as a privilege; something we have been given especially beneficial that not all people receive.   It is a privilege to vote, to have a role in the government, to be heard.  Not all people have this great opportunity, so Pround to be an American... and advocate of EE orphansI am grateful for the chance to vote.  I am blessed to live in a country that gives its people this privilege.

And I think, how many people, eligible citizens, really step up to accept this duty and take advantage of this privilege?  In recent years, just over half of the US.  To me, it is sad to see that lack of enthusiasm and skepticism.  Imagine what the country might be like if that would increase…

As much as I am proud to be an American, (the song will always be one of my favs Winking smile ) this brings me to think about my true citizenship – heaven.  (Philippians 3:20) As a believer in Christ, I have also been given duties and privileges.  Things that God is counting on us to do and things that He has given us the opportunity to be a part of.  And for me, one of those biggest things is caring for the fatherless.

God has given us the duty to care for orphans. “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17 NIV) “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27 NIV)
God commands us to take care of the orphan.  It is a responsibility he has given us and he is counting on us to do.  We can ignore it and think there will not be consequences, but we cannot see into eternity to know what really could happen if we choose to neglect this command.

This duty is not something that I bear as a burden, but as an honor and privilege.  I am blessed to have the opportunity to do God’s work for these forgotten children.  What an special chance I have been given to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to witness true love, healing, reconciliation, new life, affect change for generations.  It is surely a privilege to be entrusted with such a great task.  I do not take it lightly and I do take it with joy. 

As a part of this campaign to reach orphans for God’s kingdom, the ‘turnout’ is also disappointing.  It’s hard to say all of the people who have stepped up for the cause of the orphan, so there is another way to look at it.  If we consider all the orphans in the world, and all the Christians, we would only need a turnout of 6% to care for all the fatherless children.  Only 6%!!  If just 6 out of every 100 believers in the world would wholeheartedly join this campaign, these children would have a chance.  A chance at hope, love, life, a family. 

What will it take to get just a few more to step up and accept this duty and enjoy this privilege?

Pray.
Go.
Give.
Sponsor.
Host.
Minister.
Visit. 
Advocate.
Adopt.
Love.

Hosting Reflection #26–Living Out the Meaning of Christmas

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Christmas. What is it all about? It’s that time of year when we celebrate Christ’s birth.  We share our thankfulness that God gave him to us as the ultimate gift, so that we could find peace with God. Jesus willingly came to earth as a King in disguise, without the honor, dignity, respect, accolades that he was due… all for us.

And what does Christmas look like for us?  We receive gifts from family and friends, and give them in return.  Observe annual traditions of decorating, celebrating, and feasting.  We go to church and thank God for giving Jesus to us.

Sometimes I wonder what God thinks of all of this. Of course, I am no where near His awesome omniscience, omnipotence, majesty, mercy, grace, and love… but I still wonder about it.  What does He think when He sees what we have made of Christmas?  I am sure He is glad we recognize and celebrate Christ’s birth. I imagine that He likes to see our time together with our loved ones. “He delights in every detail of their lives.” (Psalm 37:23b) But does He ever yearn for us to do a little more?

Christmas is about Christ’s humility, ultimate sacrifice, and unending love.  What can we learn from that and bring into our Christmas celebrations?  What could we do to reflect that in our lives? What if we made Christ and His desires the center of our holiday traditions?

There are so many things that could become new family traditions that redirect the focus of Christmas back to Christ… Invite a needy family to your Christmas dinner, have your children buy gifts for a toy drive instead of for each other, lead your Bible study in volunteering at a homeless shelter on Christmas Eve, rather than spending money on family gifts put the money towards a family missions trip, invite the widow in your neighborhood to spend Christmas morning with your family, and of course the one nearest to my heart, share your Christmas with an orphan who is hungry for the love of a family and the love of God.

What a way to change the perspective of your Christmas, by welcoming a child into your home all in the name of Christ’s love.  It may mean giving up some of your traditions, some of your usual pleasures, some of your comfort… but that is exactly what Christ did for us. 

Can you just imagine God’s great delight to see you and your family honoring Him by giving your Christmas away out of love for an orphan?

Let me tell you, it is such a joy to know that your willingness to share your Christmas with a child who probably never imagined spending a holiday with a family.  Every moment is a gift.  Every time you look at them, it is a reminder of God’s goodness. Every bit of love you share is a reminder of how much Jesus loves us. And every bit of love you receive back from them is just a little taste of the immense joy God must feel when He knows we love Him!

There are only 2 weeks left for this year’s group of NHFC orphans to be chosen by Christmas host families. Only 14 days!  Please ask God what he would have you do this year to live out the true meaning of Christmas.

– View Waiting Children Here –


Give Christmas Away

Christ’s love has moved me to such extremes. His love has the first and last word in everything we do.
Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.
Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.
How? you ask. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.

 
2 Corinthians 5:14-21 (MSG)

Hosting Reflection #25–Blessed America

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In my own life, the 4th of July still tends to be one of those overlooked holidays.  For me, it is a party in celebration of summer and the theme colors of the party happen to be red, white, and blue every year. I hear patriotic stories and say “God Bless America” …and that is the extent of my celebration of our nation’s freedom.

However, this year was a little different. My parents recently returned from their 3-week trip to Ukraine.  They really enjoyed their time in Ukraine but they have also said several times that it has helped them gain a new appreciation for the United States. As they have shared that insight with me, my appreciation has grown as well.

I’m not sure how God goes about deciding who will live where, but I sure am blessed to be an American.  Born and raised in a nation that is always striving for continued equality, opportunity, and success for every person… no matter their skin color, intelligence level, no matter if they have parents or not.  Living in a city where I feel safe and protected by our public safety officers and military.  Where order, congeniality, and charity are shared without prompting.  Not many other nations around the world, even westernized ones, know these realities to the extent that we do here in the USA.

This July 4th, I got to spend time with some family friends.  Out of the 4 families on the trip, there were 5 children there who were not born Americans.  As I sat under the fireworks, my thoughts were on them.  I thought of them and the nearly 200 other children who are now in the US with host families for the summer.   I considered how far these children have come.  How blessed they are to experience life in the blessed and free nation that we know… and I take for granted. 

Now when I think of our kids, adopted and hosted, I will see a reflection of the American experience.  The blessing that we have to live in this nation.  Truly a place of safety, refuge, and freedom in this world.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord
Psalm 33:12 (NIV)

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