It wasn’t supposed to be about children. The Lord‘s followers had had the greatest experiences with Him so far! They had been to the mountaintop with him and personally saw His glory. They saw Him cast out a violent demon from the raving child. They had personally confessed that He was their King and God!
But now that they were back in town and had time to settle, there was time to contemplate the big question. They all brought a lot to The Master’s kingdom, but who brought the most? Who is the greatest?
Peter could say that he was the greatest. After all, he was the one who often spoke for the others. He was their self-proclaimed leader. He was in the Lord’s inner circle and scored a personal invitation to the mountaintop. Didn’t Jesus even say that he had the keys to the kingdom?
James and John could say that they were the greatest. After all, they were part of the inner circle too. They also had been with him on the mountaintop, but without Peter’s stupid comments! And above all, they were related to the Lord!
The list could go on. Philip brought his practical side. Andrew was one of the first disciples. Nathanael could talk about how the Lord took away his doubt. Thomas wasn’t afraid to speak up. Matthew could handle money. Simon the Zealot could claim that, after all, he had the most zeal. Judas was a cultured southerner, and probably the best educated. Each of them had a claim to be the greatest!
But when the Lord came to them, he ignored every one of their claims. Instead, he went and brought Peter‘s child to them and set him down among the men.a Using the child he showed them that, If you even want to enter the Kingdom, you need to trust Him like this child. You need to realize that you are totally helpless and dependent without Him. You need to trust Him without question. The greatest ones in His Kingdom are the ones who will humble themselves like this child.
But the child wasn’t merely an illustration. The society of Jesus’ day cared little for children, yet He took time to show how much they mean to Him. Our Lord treasures children, and has sent His personal angels to care for them (Matthew 18:10).
He is always open to children and welcomes them. It is the trusting children, not the proud adults, who will receive the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 19:14).
He promises that when you care for and lead a child, you are caring for Jesus Christ Himself! (Matthew 18:5)
But He also warns of the terrible fate that awaits those who would mislead children. If you are the cause of them turning away from Jesus Christ, you are better off to tie a big stone around your neck and drown yourself in the ocean! (Matthew 18:6) It would be better for you to destroy your body than to give into temptations that would hurt these children! (Matthew 18:7-9)
And finally, we should value children like the Lord values them. He doesn’t want any one of them to perish. Like the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine safe sheep to find the one lost lamb, so He cares for each one of them! (Matthew 18:12-14)
May we love and care for the children in our lives the way our Lord loves them. And for all of us, May we come to Him with the trust of a child!
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Luke 2:10
I’ve always appreciated joyful people. They’re rare. People who regularly brighten a conversation, a room, a relationship. Joyful people are good to be around. We can all be joyful and encouraging at times, but I find it just as easy to be negative or simply apathetic or detached. I don’t consider myself gloomy, but I also do not consider myself joyful.
God has been pricking my conscience the past year in this regard. My lack of joy should bother me.
Is joy the most overlooked and underappreciated attribute and command of God? It’s so easy to turn God into a series of shall’s and shall nots, rules and ceremonies. For me, it’s often easier to focus on the Passion of the Christ and His suffering than on the joy of His resurrection and what that portends for our future. Really, though, it’s easier yet to focus on the things of this world which often grab the attentions of my heart. The continual tyrannies of the moment seem designed to sap my strength and enthusiasm. But when I think of what God wants from me, I think of communion with him, love, justice, grace, patience, charity, stewardship … .
But joy? Over the years, I read the verses about joy, but not really. My heart did not hear.
I never gave joy much thought, until the past six months. In response to several specific prayer requests, God just kept bringing it up in my life, over and over again. Multiple lessons in places far and wide. Even before the whole Covid19 debacle, God laid it on me repeatedly that joy is a choice, a choice God commands, like love. The Covid19 “events” have been an invitation to depression and anxiety. It is not a time for feeling joy. These lessons in joy stand in contrast to circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Yet, First Century Rome was not a time or place for Christ followers to feel joy. Prison, beatings, being human torches in Nero’s garden … . And yet, there’s Paul voice, coming from a Roman prison in the midst of such misery, as he awaits his own execution: Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice.. Phil. 4:4. In the midst of true hardship, real deprivation and facing imminent death – rejoice, again I encourage you – REJOICE!
Like love, joy is both a feeling and a choice. Sometimes it comes naturally, but for most of us, myself included, joy is not a natural, regular feeling. It’s not that I don’t like joy, it’s just I’m satisfied with far less than true joy. Comfort, security and routine suit me just fine, thank you. C.S. Lewis captured it well when he said, “We are half hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us. We are far too easily pleased.”
Joy is more than an antidote to depression. Joy should be more than an occasional experience. Like love, however, joy must be chosen, pursued and cultivated. I recently shared with a group of dear brothers what God has been teaching me in this regard over the past several months, and a brother asked me to reduce it to writing to share. So, here’s where I am and what God has me working on.
First, big hat tip acknowledgment. My brother Pastor Travis gave a sermon during the great quarantine/house arrest that we watched on Facebook. In fact, it was the first sermon by Travis that I’d been able to watch for at least a year. It was on how to choose joy, which was one more of many many not subtle lessons on this topic from God. Perhaps because we have genetically similar brains, I liked his organization of the topic. So, the first three points are slavishly taken from Travis, however, not necessarily the subpoints (I only wrote down the three sermon points in my notes!).
FIRST and FOREMOST: CHOOSE GOD
Brother Lawrence reminds us in Practicing His Presence, “Our only business is to love and delight ourselves in God.”
God is the foundation of existence, of truth, and of meaning. Without Him, we are afloat in a meaningless practically infinite void of space – both physically and morally. Without God, we are no more than our experiences, for better or worse. Curiously assembled molecules on a blue dot in the middle of an empty, cold expanse. As Jesus taught, without Him, our castles are built on shifting sand.
God is our hope for eternity. God gives us grace, when our nature warrants judgment. God gives us himself, the Spirit, for power and the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Gal. 5:22. God is love. He is never changing. He authored our lives, our salvation, and our sanctification. And gives us all of this and more, for free, as His gift. All of which should lead us to the second point.
SECOND as a result of choosing God: CHOOSE WORSHIP
“The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” Ps. 28:7
God revealed himself to us in time, and those revelations are recorded in Scripture. As the last paragraph indicates, God warrants infinite worship. He is truly Awesome. “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” Heb. 12:28-29.
If you do nothing else all day to nourish your spirit, praise God. Praise Him for who he is. Praise Him for what he’s done and what he’s promised to do. Praise Him for the creation around you. Praise Him for making you and putting breath in your lungs and thoughts in your head. Praise Him for the people he’s put in your life, even the ones you might not be fond of.
Turns out that worship is also FUN, especially when done with others and to music. Indeed, even God sings! Zeph. 3:17.
Lift your face to the one, most high King of Creation, and sing praise. Your spirit will lift with your praises.
THIRD: CHOOSE GRATITUDE
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” Ps. 107:1
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Phil. 4:6
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thes. 5:18
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Col. 3:17
Before you ask God for anything, give him thanks. If you are able to breath and form a thought, give thanks. If you are able to lie your head down to sleep, give thanks. If you have water to drink, give thanks. Before you ask something from anyone, make sure you’ve expressed gratitude to and for them.
Make it a point to show those close to you appreciation every day. I’ve been married going on 27 years, and this past year, my wife and I made it a point to try and tell each other things we appreciated about each other. It’s a small thing, but it makes a difference, particularly over time. After years of being together, it’s easy to forget to articulate the many things we like about those close to us.
A life founded on God and centered on regular and deliberate worship and regular and deliberate gratitude, produces a life of joy.
FOURTH: MAKE AN EFFORT TO BE A JOY TO BE AROUND
Work for joy!
“Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.” I Cor. 1:24. In this day of great concern over infections and social distancing, make it a goal to be a GOOD social infection: seek to bring joy, encourage worship and appreciation.
Foremost, choose the fellowship of believers. Give thanks and praise to God with other believers. Seek to surround yourself with people that put their faith in Christ and who also want to live lives of praise and gratitude. Historically, hermits are not known for being joyful spirits. Perhaps related, who you spend the most time with will be one of the biggest influences on who you become.
Of course, that works in reverse too. You can have a huge influence on who those closest to you become.
Be careful not to cop out of a relationship and say, “they’re just not joyful!” Maybe you can help them turn it around. Or maybe, consider whether you may have been part of the problem through commission or by omission? Suffice it to say, I have been. As part of this journey of understanding the practice of joy, God laid it on my heart, what have you done to bring joy into your soul mate’s life? It was painful for me to realize, I was far too often part of the problem or by omission, i.e. missing in action regarding coming along my bride to encourage and help her. If you haven’t already, make it a point to pray, praise and give thanks with those closest to you and consider to what extent you are a source of encouragement and joy for them.
Choose to have fun with those close to you. If screens are a thing in your house, which is likely if you are in an American house with other people and even more likely if you are in a house by yourself, have screen-free times planned, scheduled and committed to during which you do something fun. Play a game. Tell a story. Sing a song. Pop water balloons on each other’s heads. Whatever your people enjoy, do it. Be deliberate.
Be deliberate in choosing God. Nothing speaks to our priorities more than how we use our time. When you read the biographies of the great men and women of faith, you repeatedly see the same two things: they were ruthlessly committed to their time with God in scripture and to their time in prayer. And like Brother Lawrence, prayer need not be a formal, set aside time or place. It is an ongoing, regular and real conversation with God.
This is where God has me now and as I am working on cultivating a spirit of joy.
Thank you for reading this. I hope you pursue and have a life filled with joy. God bless!
There is a lot of talk about marriage in the church. It is a constant subject in pulpits, books, blogs, and social media. Everyone has an opinion about marriage — from philosophers, to musicians, to politicians, to movie stars.
Through all of this talk, we are bombarded with several false myths:
“Marriage exists to make you happy”
“Everyone has the right to marry whomever they want“
“Love is all you need”
“You should leave when your partner no longer makes you happy”
“Half of all marriages end in divorce” (this myth is refuted here)
Unfortunately, the church is often guilty of making things worse. We thunder at the evils of this world, whether it be a new celebrity scandal or the latest political attack from homosexual activists. We are quick to attack the broken world, yet we ignore the broken people that we pass by every day.
In the church, we are glad to lift up a happy, wholesome marriage, but we are too quick to shove them aside when problems arise. When a marriage starts to disintegrate into separation and divorce, we tend to fall to one of the two extremes: we either gloss over the issue, ignoring real problems, or we pronounce judgement on the victims, isolating them when they need us the most.
What does Jesus say about marriage? What does He say about divorce? How can we apply His commands in our broken world today?
When we were first considering adopting six children; we went to the authoritative source on all things important – the blogosphere, and found several blogs written by families who had adopted large sibling groups. The sites were typically profuse regarding the decision to adopt, fluent regarding the initial stage, but then the posts became fewer and fewer between. That fueled my adoption paranoia: they started happy and optimistic, but then it went bad so they stopped blogging – didn’t want to share the horrors and strife that ensued. Or so I imagined from the darker crevices of my mind.
Well, having ten kids, six of whom we were given custody of 18 months ago as part of the adoption process, I’ve become one of “them”: after an initial flurry of blogs, I recall blogging once in the past 18 months about our return from the airport from Latvia. Now I know what I had before only suspected – it isn’t a desire to hide the horrors of our situation. To the contrary, the Lord has more than answered our prayers and richly blessed our family, as I’ll explain more below. No, it’s just that 24 hours has become much shorter. On the rare events we have any available, uncommitted time at the end of a day – I like to spend it in some form of a semi-vegetative state.
So for those few and far in between who might be considering large group adoption from Latvia, I offer some observations in no particular order from our experience thus far, a few of which may translate to adoptions from orphanages in general:
Our Latvian children loved Ketchup® and sour cream, on EVERYTHING. Now, after 18 months, they simply really like those on most things.
Don’t sweat the small stuff and they’re all small.
Make sure you like your dentist. Lesley was there at least weekly for about six months.
Kids flourish quickly and learn English even faster.
Sanctification. I wrote previously about how adoption further personalized the Gospel for us. As I explain further below, in the past year I’ve learned how it also furthers my sanctification.
Everyone has their eyes on the stress of the new kids. The stress from the changed family dynamics can be more difficult on your biological kids, particularly where the “new” kids outnumber the original kids. The process was at least equally disruptive to both sets of kids, but nearly all the focus naturally goes to the new kids.
Structure is king a.k.a. we’ve made rules for EVERYTHING! It started about day 3 when we were consuming more than a gallon of milk a day. First new rule: limits on milk consumption.
The common guidance we received was to cocoon our family for most of the first year. We didn’t do that. Instead, we signed the new kids up for the same sports our bio kids were doing, which meant a lot of soccer teams, year round swimming, gymnastics, music and martial arts. It’s worked for us. With seven boys under one roof and many kids 10 and under (then), the activities gave added structure and plenty of positive outlets for energy.
Our kids have become good friends with each other.
You quickly realize how much you taught your children from the youngest years when contrasted with a child who hasn’t had the same, consistent level of parental involvement.
The second law of sockdynamics: socks trend towards total disappearance. If you think your socks don’t match now, just wait. Our kids have turned a fashion into mismatched socks. I also try to only buy black sports socks for my boys since they can be worn with everything and for all occasions and all fairly closely match each other. Lesley also bought laundry bags for each kid to put their socks into, zip shut and keep socks together through the wash dry cycle. The bags quickly went the way of half the socks: disappeared.
Life is loud at our house. We live the definition of boys: noise that moves.
All meat is “chicken.”
There are a lot of cool people in the adoption community.
Americans are friendly. (Our new kids tell us this.)
Feeding candy to our little new kids was like feeding Gremlins after midnight. For the first year, we purged high fructose corn syrup from our house and greatly limited candy and processed sugar consumption. We also fed them a lot of Omega 3.
Everyone likes Nutella and it makes everything edible and makes anything a dessert.
One of our children on their first day in a new Bible study class at church – each child had to tell the class something special about themselves. Our child proudly told the class he had a Mom and Dad. The teacher, not familiar with us, looked puzzled.
That same child, soon after arriving with us back to the States, now our child being adopted, was puzzled and perplexed one night at dinner. He asked earnestly, “Why when we were hosted was everyone nice to us but now they’re not?” I asked him what he meant. He explained that when we hosted them, our biological son Sean of about the same age shared everything with him and was alway pleasant, but now he does not share as much and they sometimes fight when they play. “Do you fight with Joshua and David [his biological brothers]?” I asked. “Yes,” he answered, which I knew having seen it often. “Well,” I explained, “when we hosted, you were a guest in our home. We are pleasant and tolerant to guests because we know that at some point they are going to leave. That is what it means to be a guest. But you are no longer a guest here. You are family and Sean is now your brother. Do you see the difference? You are no longer a guest; this is your home and you are family.” You could see the lightbulb turn on in his young mind as his face lit up. He smiled and looked down at his plate so his brothers didn’t see the tears streaming down his cheeks.
More hugs and kisses now when I come home from work.
One child often voluntarily gets up early and make me an egg sandwich, exactly the way I like it, before I leave for work.
Homeschooling ten children has been quite a challenge, particularly when six of them barely spoke English. Our three youngest had not learned to read at all (even in Latvian) while in Latvia. To help with the workload, we incentivized the big kids, particularly with teaching the little ones to read. We had small rewards for different milestones, culminating with our grand prize: a trip to Disney when we felt they had mastered beginner reading by reading through the dozens of early reader Bob books. All of the kids did a great job and they all learned to read far more quickly than we anticipated.
The trip to Disney was magical (and exhausting)! We were thankful to have our good friends (and personal Disney experts), the Josephsons, with us.
Most importantly, the adoption of our children has brought us closer to our Father in heaven. We find God most when we come to the ends of ourselves. Adoption brings me further outside myself and my natural limits, and thankfully beyond my abilities I find more of Christ and far less of me. When I married my beautiful bride Lesley, there was a paradigm shift – living with and for someone beyond just myself. I was not a Christian when I met Lesley so it was a paradigm shift. Having children was another paradigm shift. Not only did it deepen my comprehension of a deeper love (and a better understanding of the Gospel – the intimate, painful nature of a father sacrificing his son), but it also brought me into regular contact with my weaknesses and failings. Parenting is good at that in my experience. Adoption even more so. I have found it somewhat ironic that “outsiders” sometimes tell us they see us as special servants because we adopted a group of kids. Maybe that’s so, however, having ten kids has caused me to realize what a wretch I am in the flesh and how I am in need of a savior and in need of the strength of Christ in my daily walk. It has been humbling. Which is a good thing.
If you are interested in hosting, see here, here (play the video!), and here. There are a lot of children out there yearning for a family, for a mother and father to love and protect them. If interested in adoption, see here. I encourage you login into these sites and view the pictures of the many children and read their stories. If you are considering hosting or adoption, pray hard and trust God. It will not be easy, but you will be glad you did. He will provide.
Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. Psalm 95:1-3
It’s official! The six children we set out out to adopt earlier this year are our children … … at least in Latvia. God provided the way and has been with us every step. He has more than answered our prayers, blessing us abundantly.
I’ve intended for months to write a “thank you” post regarding God’s overwhelming love the past several months, particularly as expressed through his people. Life has been a bit hectic, however, the past five months, but in a very good way.
After many months of paperwork, interviews, and more paperwork, we have one more trip (our third) back to Latvia to process U.S. immigration for the children to be admitted as citizens. We spent most the month of August in Latvia for our “first” hearing (which actually entails two formal court hearings, two informal meetings with the adoption judge and an interview at the U.S. embassy). Like the children’s visit last Christmas, Inga, the then-orphanage director, was with us every step of the way. She attended every hearing and spent nearly every day with us. Inga prepared a (large) rental home for us and reserved a large van with a full time professional driver (required for passenger vehicles in excess of 9). She also brought us several home made and excruciatingly delicious Latvian tortes. She taught us how to make eastern-European styled pork roasts. Inga planned an itinerary and showed us the sights of Latvia from well known Cesis castle to Rundale Palace to off-the-beaten-path places like Barefoot Walk , the delicious bread of Liepkalni bakery (the best rye bread I’ve ever had), Viking boat tour of the Dauguva, a fantastical doll museum in Preili and the nearby ruins of Kokneses castle and several other interesting places. Perhaps my sweetest surprise was the afternoon we spent with master beekeeper Jana Bisu, eating honey directly from a few of his hundreds of hives.
We returned to the loving embrace of dozens of our friends and families at the airport. As I mentioned on these pages before, it was a celebration of life and a lifetime memory. It has been the only time I’ve walked into an airport terminal to the sound of vuvuzelas blaring and people cheering — and for us! We were embarrassed and encouraged and loved. Our Latvian children were primarily bewildered. All were exhausted after 24 hours of travel. It was a welcome home kiss from God.
A week after we returned, several members of our church coordinated a clothing and stuff donation drive. There was so much donated that donations not only filled one room – they filled several. There was the ‘girl sweater’, the ‘boy pants room’ etc. The kids’ favorites were the toy room and the sports room. Within minutes they were riding scooters and bikes up and down the church hallway. We were encouraged to select as many items as we wanted. Unwanted items were sold at a local thrift store for which we received a gift card. Following our ‘shopping’ spree they treated us to a reception/celebration. Many friends and family participated and we felt so loved and encouraged.
Another great example of support we received came through our daughter’s American Heritage Girls troup. The coordinator approached us saying they wanted to bless us with their annual service project. Together we came up with the idea of doing a ‘yard make-over’ to prepare our home to put up for sale. The outside had been at the bottom of the priority list with basic survival as a large family at the top of the list for several months so the yard was definitely in need of some TLC. By 9am that day mini vans lined our street and whole families marched about our lawn armed with rakes and shovels. Dead leaves were removed; flowers were planted; and 20 cubic yards of mulch was spread. The transformation was incredible and trumped only by the support we felt.
The love we’ve received has been incredible, very welcomed and appreciated. Through the past year, so many friends and people we do not know have prayed for us and/or given us encouragement, time, money, food, clothes, toys, furniture, bicycles, bedsheets, computers, games, puzzles, medicine, dental care, yard cleaning, house cleaning, packing/moving/unpacking help, and I’m sure there are at least another dozen areas of help we received. It has been an overwhelming wave of love. There are too many names to name. To each and every one – THANK YOU!
A few folks commented that we are “saints” for adopting six children at once. Heh. They are correct in the theologically accurate, New Testament sense that we are “saints” because we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ as our lord and savior. In the colloquial sense, however, I can assure you that I don’t feel “saintly.” What we experience is just what every other parent experiences, it’s just we’re getting a more concentrated dose of it lately. Parenting and marriage exercise the fruits of faith. Or to put it less diplomatically, few things expose our fallen, self-centered nature more readily than parenting and marriage. At least that’s the case for me. Being an adoptive father of a large set has shown me more areas than I care to admit where I really need to be more like Christ and less like me. “Areas” … that’s too generous. More like territories. Like Newfoundland size territories.
But while being stretched over the past year exposed my weaknesses, God yet again showed me that He is far bigger than my shortcomings. He provided beyond my weaknesses and beyond our expectations. He is a mighty and awesome God who provides for his children. We might not feel saintly, but we feel incredibly blessed. We serve a holy and almighty God. He provided the way and loved all twelve of us abundantly, particularly through His people – the church. We thank God for each of you who faithfully loved and supported us this past year.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for times of adversity. – Prov. 17:17
After 23 hours of travel, I turned my phone back on as the plane taxied to the gate. Within seconds my phone rang, “Are you here?” my friend Allen asked. He was picking us up in a large passenger van he picked up from the rental lot for us earlier in the day. My brother Travis should be waiting also with his truck to move our luggage. Allen asked me to give him a 30 second warning prior to exiting the terminal. He said there were a few folks waiting for us.
Our kids emerged one by one from their various rows on the plane. We were excited to be back in North Carolina. Some groggy. One son had to be shaken awake; he stumbled toward the door. Then the text messages started pinging. Same line of enquiry: where are you? Let us know when you’re close to leaving the terminal. There are a few folks here …
To depart Terminal 2 at RDU, you climb a flight of stairs and walk down a long partitioned hallway, about 50 yards long and emerge at a “meeting place” and a Starbucks. After the obligatory airport bathroom ordeal with ten children, we thanked God for our passage, sent the warning text, and ascended the stairs to exit.
We walked about ten yards down the hall and heard them before we saw anything. It sounded like the vuvuzelas common to southern hemisphere soccer games, but maybe an octave higher pitch. Exiting passengers further ahead looked back, scanning the crowd and grinning.
There was a horde waiting for us. A wonderful, beautiful throng of family and friends, cheering and hooting. It wasn’t vuvuzelas; it was at least a dozen children running around with birthday whistles blowing as loud as they could. My brother estimated there were somewhere between one hundred to two hundred people. Our children were stunned. Our youngest adopted son was overwhelmed. I found him and he rested his face against my shoulder. I would like to say that I was overwhelmed, but I was too tired.
For three weeks, Lesley and I had counted to ten repeatedly throughout the days, counting to make sure we had all the children with us. In the past 23 hours, together we probably counted the kids dozens of times as we travelled through several airports. Now, everyone was lost in the crowd. After the first ten minutes of hugging and embracing, I realized I had no idea where any of our kids were in this crowd. I didn’t even know where Lesley was. It did not matter. We were home, with friends. We were absorbed into a giant human love sponge.
On the ride from the airport, I felt great. Home is so much more than a place. It is where you belong. It occurred to me that this is a glimpse of what our real homecoming one day will be like. Surrounded not just by the people of God, but in the presence of the author of life Himself.
Our friends were telling us something much more than welcome home. They were celebrating the new lives added to our family. They celebrated our adoption. They celebrated the wonderful gift of life. His people love life. We “get” adoption, particularly those of us that have been close to it. Adoption is a celebration of the new family, but for believers, it is also a celebration and reflection of the eternal father’s adoption of His children, of those that have placed their faith in His son. Each one of us is adopted.
Sometimes God is not subtle. His holding us up along this way has been so clear in ways big and small. Even symbolically. As our friends arrived at the airport to greet us, a giant rainbow showed over the airport. Several friends said that as they approached, the rainbow appeared to end at our terminal.
It is good to be home. The children are doing really well. In our travels and at home, God has abundantly provided. He continues to make the way smooth before us. He strengthens and encourages us, particularly through his people. We are grateful for and continue to covet your prayers. It is humbling. Please keep praying!
There’s still some adjusting. Our youngest daughter still doesn’t really get “America.” When we pull into our neighborhood, she still yells “America!” We returned to the start of soccer season, homeschool, co-op and a busy work schedule. We have little idea of how to figure out the new “normal.” But God is clearly providing, one day at a time. Last night, our “middle” adoptive son proudly recited John 3:16 to us. Last December, he hardly spoke a single word of English.
How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.
Are you crazy? I’ve heard that question from others and internalized the question to myself a few times since we decided to adopt six children from an orphanage in Eastern Europe. And five of them are boys!
It was not our idea. It’s not that we did not want to do this. To the contrary, we are excited and eager (in fact frustrated by the tediousness of the process). God has given us a love and passion for these children that only increases over time.
But that’s the thing: this was God’s doing. Not our own. As I’ve explained earlier, not only was this not our idea, it was counter to what we had planned and contrary to the little rules we agreed would govern hosting or adoption. God has made clear to us that He has different plans.
How did we know it was God’s will for us and not an emotional response or reaction to what we ate for breakfast? How can you ever be certain whether God is leading you or whether you are simply rationalizing your desires as being the will of God?
Well, we knew because we heard God talking to us the way He typically does: through His Word, through His People, through the circumstances he put us in, and by that very quiet urging deep in our souls. Through the solid convergence of these four, God spoke to us. The more we prayed about it, the louder all four seemed to speak to us.
His Word on Adoption
I am somewhere in the second year of my one-year read through the Bible program. Every time I do a read-through the Bible program, I’m surprised how God anticipated my falling behind. So often the readings (which should have been completed weeks (or months!)) ago coincide perfectly with God answering my then current prayers and questions.
Last Christmas season was no different. As the orphans were with us, I was much more diligent in my daily readings. And those readings several times reminded and encouraged me regarding God’s heart for orphans and widows. Some of such passages follow:
Orphans and Fatherless
James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Exodus 22:22-24 You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.
Deuteronomy 10:18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.
Deuteronomy 24:17-21 “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.
Psalm 68:5, 34-35 Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. … Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord; exult before him! Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.
Psalm 82:3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
The Bible does not, however, compel Christians to adopt. Adoption is simply one way to serve in a manner pleasing to God. We are however mandated to be servants of the living God:
Matthew 20:28 “Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Romans 13:9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Acts 20:35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Matthew 18:2-5 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me”
Proverbs 24:11 Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
John 3:15 That whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
I have also recently been encouraged and reminded that adopting and being entrusted with parenting a child or children is an incredible gift from God. The costs (and frustrations) of adoption are small price compared to the blessing received:
Psalm 127:3-5 Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!
In studying the Biblical rationale for adoption, I was reminded of an interesting historical note. Who is the most famous person you can think of that was adopted? Moses!
Acts 7:21 And when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son.
Every Christian is Adopted
As Lesley and I approached the “deadline” during hosting to decide whether we were going to pursue adopting our children, someone recommended that we read Adopted for Life by Russell D. Moore. I bought it and added it to the “top” of my “most urgent” reading pile of books. In quickly perusing its contents, I was convicted by the fact that each one of us professing Christians are broken orphans who have been adopted. God quickly reminded us and convicted us of His words in this regard:
John 14:18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
Romans 8:15-17 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Gal 4:4-7: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
These passages remind us all who we are. Contrary to what the world might have you believe, you were no accident of nature or circumstance. You were created by the God of eternity who thought of you before time began. He has a plan for you. Each one of us, if we’ve accepted Christ as our Lord and savior, each one of us is a child and heir of the almighty, infinite and eternal God. What an honor and what a gift!
Christ’s Hands – the People of God
The second way we knew this was God moving us was through his people. Our Christian brothers and sisters came out of the woodwork to love on us and the children. It was incredible. The love, encouragement, prayers and material support were continual. And what a huge difference that made to us. God provided. No material needs were unmet. Friends gave us furniture and bags of clothing for the children. Nearly every meal for a month was delivered, without our having to ask.
I like to eat. As a result, I work out. Running is the most accessible way to exercise. One early morning while the children were with us, I went for a run. When I returned home, there was a car in our driveway. A friend had brought us breakfast. I saw the woman bringing a GARBAGE BAG apparently filled with food into our house. I was amazed. An entire garbage bag filled with food? That’s a lot. Kind of incredible. Even with ten kids, that’s more than we need for breakfast.
I was wrong. She didn’t bring a bag filled with food.
SHE BROUGHT SIX BAGS OF FOOD! We’re still eating some of it nearly four months later.
In fact, despite having to feed twelve people three meals a day for a month, I don’t believe we cooked more than two or three times for dinner. Our friends continually brought food. And everything and anything else we needed.
When God gives, He gives abundantly.
We wanted for nothing, for which we will remain thankful.
God fed us, through His people. God encouraged us, through His people. God provided for us, through His people. God loved us, through His people. God’s people prayed for us and our way was smooth.
Even now, as we build a new home and go through the expenses of the international adoption process, God blesses us through his people. Good friends of ours run the website http://homeschoolmania.com and are selling adoption friendly clothing and donating 100% of those sales proceeds as well as 50% of all online proceeds towards our adoption effort. Further, several friends have donated directly to our adoption agency designating their donations towards our adoption costs. God continues to provide for and encourage us through his people.
Circumstances and Urging
The final pieces that confirms this is God’s leading and directing is when our present circumstances and internal feeling of being led align with God’s word and the influence of God’s people. It was not simultaneous, but over time, Lesley and I each felt convicted that we were to adopt these children – to bring these children into our home as our children. I am convinced and every adoptive we have spoken with tells us: both parents must feel called to this. If one does not feel called to adopt the children, you should not do it. Over several weeks, Lesley and I varied back and forth, but as time passed we found ourselves with the same conviction. We explored several easier alternatives, but each time and in various ways, God closed each of those doors.
We have other friends we’ve made during this journey where they felt led to adopt particular children, but God firmly closed the doors. In our case, the desire and the circumstances have thus far aligned. One circumstance seemed quite obvious – after it happened. Nearly five years ago we bought a piece of property on which to planned to build a home designed for homeschooling and a lot of books. We prayed for years that God would bless that effort and use the home for his purposes. But it never worked out. For years and for various reasons, we were simply unable to move forward with construction. Everything came together towards the end of 2013 – finances, design and builder. While lying in bed on the night we committed to hosting the six orphans, I realized that earlier that day Lesley and I had also signed the contract to build our house on that property – after many years of waiting and prayer. The design was very easy to modify to accommodate 10 children! The timing and convergence of circumstances did not occur to us until after they occurred. There have been other events, some significant, that have occurred since to make the way clear for our adoption effort. It confirms our conviction that this is entirely God’s doing and timing.
Finding yourself in the midst of God’s will and His timing, is exciting. It reminds me of body surfing large waves in the Atlantic. A very large force moves you in ways and fashions beyond your control and often differently than what you anticipated.
Thank you for your prayers and support. God is Great!
We pray for children
who sneak popsicles before supper,
who erase holes in math workbooks,
who can never find their shoes.
And we pray, for those
who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,
who can’t bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers,
who never “counted potatoes,”
who are born in places where we wouldn’t be caught dead,
who never go to the circus,
who live in an X-rated world.
We pray for children
who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,
Who sleep with the cat and bury goldfish,
Who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money,
Who squeeze toothpaste all over the sink,
Who slurp their soup.
And we pray for those who never get dessert,
who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
who watch their parents watch them die,
who can’t find any bread to steal,
who don’t have any rooms to clean up,
whose pictures aren’t on anybody’s dresser,
whose monsters are real.
We pray for children
who spend all their allowance before Tuesday,
who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food,
who like ghost stories,
who shove dirty clothes under the bed,
and never rinse out the tub,
who get visits from the tooth fairy,
who don’t like to be kissed in front of the carpool,
who squirm in church or temple and scream in the phone,
whose tears we sometimes laugh at
and whose smiles can make us cry.
And we pray for those
whose nightmares come in the daytime,
who will eat anything,
who have never seen a dentist,
who aren’t spoiled by anybody,
who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
who live and move, but have no being.
We pray for children
who want to be carried
and for those who must,
for those we never give up on
and for those who don’t get a second chance.
For those we smother
and for those who will grab the hand of anybody
kind enough to offer it.
The Roman Emperor Claudius II Gothicus, AD 268-70, is said to have been a large and fierce man. In his efforts to fight the invading Goths and Germans, he attempted to increase the size of the Roman army. Volunteers were few, due largely to what was essentially a life-long commitment of being a Roman soldier. Legend has it that the Emperor believed young men weren’t joining because they were too comfortable and too interested in pursuing women. (Some things never change. My classmates in college often were incredulous that I was volunteering for military service. I was often asked “Why?!”.) With dictatorial efficiency, Claudius solved that problem by simply outlawing marriage.
One problem, legend has it that the Priest Valentinus continued to marry Christians. When called before the Emperor, Valentinus refused to acknowledge the Roman Gods and reportedly witnessed to Claudius the truths of Jesus Christ. Claudius had Valentinus killed.
A few observations from this legend of Valentine, whom we celebrate each year with a festival of love and affection. He was martyred over refusing to surrender the sacrament of marriage to Rome and for proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ to a pagan emperor. This legendary Valentine sounds more like a man passionate for Christ and the integrity of the church and its sacraments than he does the ruby little cherubs we see on the front of Valentines Day cards who are committed to spreading kisses and romantic mischief.
If we want to celebrate Valentines Day consistent with the man for whom the day is named, we should honor this legendary martyr through observances he would approve and that would be consistent with his life. Foremost, we should take the opportunity to witness the Gospel of Jesus Christ to someone.
Second, we should look for a way to support the sacrament of marriage. For those of us married, that should start with tending to our own marriages. Are we entirely faithful – not just physically, but also emotionally, in our relations, and with our time as well – to our life mate? We should pray over our marriage, with our spouse. For those not married, give an encouraging word to your married friends and pray today for their marriages. Tell them you are praying for them.
Third, recommit today to loving in a manner worthy of our Christian calling — with all that we have and all that we are. We are called not just to love others and God with all that we are, but to love also our enemies and those we just do not like. May Christ so strengthens us.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:8
On the side of the church parking lot before a soccer game, Thea Lewis told me they will “rock your world” and implied we would never be the same again. Sounded like a threat to me. No. Thea assured that we would find ourselves most blessed. I wasn’t entirely confident. Thea and her large family have adopted multiples from overseas and are in the process of adopting another. She’s invested in the adoption community. She told me gritty, hard stories about the difficulties and pain of adoption. Her stories reflected what we heard from others that traveled down the adoption path: struggle, joy, pain, healing, brokeness, happiness, despair, lies, praise … drawing closer to the Lord. We had committed to host six orphans from Eastern Europe over the holidays and I was scared.
Our oldest child of four, our 13-year-old daughter, kept asking us when we were going to stop talking about possibly maybe someday adopting or fostering or possibly doing something like that. It’s time to stop talking and start doing she insisted. She gained access to the children “available” for hosting pages on the Open Hearts and Hands (“OHHC”) and New Horizons web pages and began emailing us pictures of available children from Eastern Europe looking for their “forever family.” Soon, our other three children joined the search. They happily offered that our hosting children for a month over the holidays would be their Christmas presents.
So we started reading the pages. Not surprisingly, it was heartbreaking surfing pages of pictures of orphans. Each picture carried a short caption giving insight into these children. Many expressed their desires for hosting – swim in a pool, learn how to pray and ride a roller-coaster were recurring themes. My wife and I quickly began setting our rules and expectations:
The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.
We restarted a family integrated Bible study at our church recently, which is fancy speak for a Bible study where everyone is invited – newborns to grandparents.
The class is committed to equipping and encouraging our families to study the Bible together. We use the Answers Bible Curriculum (“ABC” for short) published by Answers in Genesis. ABC is a comprehensive curriculum designed to cover the entire Bible. AiG explains:
Synchronized Sunday school for all ages!
Answers Bible Curriculum is a full-featured, chronological, 3-year Sunday school program. Its 156 lessons are synchronized across 7 age groups from preschool to adults. Each group covers Genesis through Revelation and learns the same material—but at different levels of depth—empowering exciting and easy discussion for the entire family.
The curriculum teaches both what the Bible says and also why we can believe it’s true and how to read it. In the first few lessons, the family is taught the meaning of inductive Bible studies, the foundational nature of scripture, how to distinguish between exegesis and eisegesis, and fundamental apologetics regarding the truth of scripture. Great content and all scripture based.
The curriculum is designed for churches, ie student guides, teaching materials and devotionals are organized by age. AiG is working on but has not yet released a family integrated curriculum; they have, however, released a family weekly devotional that tracks the lessons. For our class sessions, our leader Andy Wilson reviews the various age group lessons and merges them into a single class designed for all ages.
Perhaps most importantly, it has helped us improve our biblical discipleship within our family. We engage the same issues together as a family and have detailed study guides to reference and guide us in the Word. It has already become much easier for my wife and I to disciple our children on important issues of our Christian faith. Praise God!
The fact the Bible establishes marriage and establishes it between one man and one woman is compelling (and controlling) for Christians. For those that do not believe in the truth of the Bible, here’s info on an excellent compilation of “secular” reasons for man-woman marriage:
Lord of the Rings begins in the bucolic, family-focused good earth of the Shire, where generations of hobbits live the fantasy world version of the “balanced life.” They till the earth. They lift a pint with good friends. They live in family homes (holes, really) passed from generation to generation. But the Shire can’t actually exist without another group of people — a group that Shire-folk look at with suspicion and mistrust: The rangers.
Rangers (like Aragorn) hang out at the borders of the Shire, visiting only occasionally, and spending their time keeping all the nasty things at bay. They battle the orcs and trolls continually, fighting to keep the Shire oh so very Shire-ish. And they do it without any real thanks because it’s the right thing to do and because they want the world to be the kind of place that is safe enough, prosperous enough, to contain a Shire.
I think I offended a group of very fine, upstanding law students.
One week ago, I was speaking to a group of students about life in the “big law firm,” and I told them that one of their responsibilities was to “work like a rabid dog.” (I don’t know if rabid dogs are particularly hard working, but I like the image of a snarling, foaming-at-the-mouth young lawyer restrained from attacking the next pile of documents only by the chain on his ankle). Then I told them that they should not be “that guy” or “that girl” who leaves their colleagues at a critical moment because their kid’s soccer game is just So. Darn. Important. “That guy” makes people like me miss OUR kids’ games to make up for their lost work. “You’re in a community,” I said, “A community made up of your fellow lawyers, paralegals, and the secretaries, and you have responsibilities to that community just as you do to your next-door neighbor, to your fellow church members, or to any other part of the world.”
I didn’t stop there. “Lawyers work hard. They just do. There’s no magic bullet for the balanced lifestyle — whatever a balanced lifestyle means — instead, make sure your spouse and children are on the same page with you, that you’re united in your family’s collective and individual callings, and that you support each other as you confront the financial world, or any other part of the world you engage.”
From the looks on their faces and from the reaction of some students afterward, you would have thought I had placed a pile of kittens in a blender and hit “puree” . . . right in front of them. The comments came flying in.
“Are you really saying that more time with your kids isn’t good?”
“Shouldn’t we all be ‘that guy,’ and isn’t it your fault that you’re willing to stay late?”
“Look, I’ll stay 10 or 15 minutes late to wrap things up, but I’m just not going to sacrifice my family by working late.” (I wished him good luck with that philosophy and told him I’d never hire him).
“My family is more important than anything, and I’m not going to work any more than eight or nine until five.” (I told this fellow that “Wal-Mart is hiring.”)
In fact, the comments haven’t stopped. I’m still getting blowback from the talk, a full week later. Someone said that I was “mean.”
And they’re right. I am mean. But that’s beside the point. I may be mean, but I’m right . . . I’m factually right, and — more importantly — I’m morally right. In at least one limited but vitally important sense.
Nothing world-changing has happened within the limited confines of the nine-to-five work week. Nobody can wake up in the morning and say, “I’m dedicating myself and my family to my fellow man, but only so long as I keep exactly the kind of balance that would make my therapist proud.” Eight hours per day can help make one happy (maybe), but is happiness the point? Do we even know in any given day, week, or month what will make us happy over the medium to long term? We think we do, but I know many, many people who get exactly what they want . . . and then find out it wasn’t as great as they thought it would be.
I don’t think so much of happiness as I think of purpose. My purpose. My wife’s purpose. My kids’ purpose. Our purpose. If I may geek out a bit, let me draw analogy from Lord of the Rings. If you recall (and you should), the story begins in the bucolic, family-focused good earth of the Shire, where generations of hobbits live the fantasy world version of the “balanced life.” They till the earth. They lift a pint with good friends. They live in family homes (holes, really) passed from generation to generation. But the Shire can’t actually exist without another group of people — a group that Shire-folk look at with suspicion and mistrust: The rangers. Rangers (like Aragorn) hang out at the borders of the Shire, visiting only occasionally, and spending their time keeping all the nasty things at bay. They battle the orcs and trolls continually, fighting to keep the Shire oh so very Shire-ish. And they do it without any real thanks because it’s the right thing to do and because they want the world to be the kind of place that is safe enough, prosperous enough, to contain a Shire.
To put things more clearly, I think every family has to ultimately ask itself: Are we rangers or hobbits? It really is a family decision, by the way. If a wife wants to live in Hobbiton and the husband heads out to the wild lands, resentment builds in both directions, children feel abandoned without higher purpose, and marriages dissolve in acrimony and bitterness. Stay in the shire until the parents are unified in heart and mind and willing to take on the wild.
Of course, the obvious analogy is the “Shire” of America defended by the rangers (like the literal Rangers in the United States Army) abroad by the terrorists and radicals who seek to kill us all. But our culture lives or dies, prospers or withers, on the basis of much more than force of arms. Liberty at home depends on the courage and perseverance of a small army of police officers, lawyers, and civil rights activists. Economic hope and prosperity depends on entrepreneurs willing to invest their life’s savings, their dreams, and all their energies into new businesses. Even the much-maligned financiers provide capital that makes virtually any economic project of any consequence possible. For every employee drawing sharp lines at 5:00 p.m. there’s a boss or owner who has sacrificed much to create such an idyllic job.
In the past three years, I have spent more than 500 days away from home. More than 300 of those occurred on my deployment to Iraq, but the first full year that I was home, I traveled more than 100 additional days on business. In my civilian life, I’m a free speech and religious liberties lawyer, and liberty is often under attack here at home. I travel too much, and I’m trying to cut back, but there’s also work to be done.
At the same time, however, I’m blessed to have a wife who loves and supports me through all (well, ninety-five percent) of my travel. I’m blessed to have children who understand that “Daddy’s gone” because there are some things that are more important than ourselves, some things are worth fighting for. And I think they might even be a little proud of me. In short, Nancy and I made a decision many years ago that we’d be a family of rangers . . . dedicated to defending the Shire.
As a ranger, I’m not much count. I was a very small cog in a very big machine in Iraq. I labor hard on my cases and try to achieve justice, but it’s a big world out there, and so far my efforts haven’t reached nearly as many people as the efforts of fellow SixSeeds contributors like Tom “Saving Hundreds of Thousands of Lives in Africa” Walsh or Nathan “Inspiring Millions With My Books” Whitaker. And our family’s sacrifice is simply insignificant compared to the ultimate sacrifice made by men I knew and loved in Iraq. We do what we can do, however, and we do it with a common purpose.
When I speak to students, I know that most of them are hobbits, either by choice or destiny. Their lives and purpose will be defined within the four walls of their house, and their thoughts will be dominated by hearth and home. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, and there is a lot to love and admire about such a lifestyle. I want to live in a world that has room for a Shire, and I wish the Shire were larger, so more people could enjoy its bounty. But folks in the Shire need to understand that the life they live wasn’t created by their own virtue and that they are ultimately consumers of the liberty, prosperity, and security provided them at immense cost by the blood, sweat, and tears of others. So enjoy your kid’s soccer game and your five o’clock departure from work, but know that your liberty was bought with blood, your security is maintained with blood, and the degree of prosperity you have is largely created by the generations of risk-takers and hard workers that came before you as well as the boss or owner who works beside you.
As for my wife and me, we thank you for making the Shire such a nice and hospitable place to visit. But we can’t stay for long . . . there’s orcs on the borders.
The best things in life are always blessings from God, and so many of God’s best blessings are the simple things in life, the ones we easily overlook and take for granted — blessings like life, love, fellowship, laughter, good food, and interesting conversation. Some people seem particularly adept at recognizing and enjoying and celebrating such blessings. One such person is the Triangle’s celebrity chef Elise Johnson, whose persona and culinary expertise (and recipes) are known to many throughout this area through her TV cooking segments “Cooking With Elise”, her blogging at www.CookingWithElise.com and through her service as Chef Spokesperson for BJ’s Wholesale Club. Chef Elise recently published the following article and graciously consented to my re-posting it here. Bon appetit!
The Importance of Your Family Table
by Elise Johnson
I have been so happy and honored to welcome so many of you into my home for adult and children’s cooking classes over the years. I have been honored that you have entrusted your children in my care. I hope I have encouraged your family in some way and made a difference in your lives. I have been blessed to meet so many wonderful families over the years.
Many people do not realize (because I have made up for it over the years.smile) that I did not speak with ease until I was about seventeen years old. A terrible speech impediment (stuttering) caused me great anxiety and made even saying my own name nearly impossible. It was in my grandmother’s kitchen that I found a safe haven. This is one reason why I am so passionate about cooking with family and friends. As many of you know, my mission has always been to inspire families to connect in their kitchens and around their tables. In my own experience, cooking and eating together strengthens and nurtures relationships quicker and stronger than any other way.
Please consider the following:
Family Meals 5 or more times per week spells S-U-C-C-E-S-S. 80% of families value family mealtime, but only 1 in 3 achieve success
S = Safe, secure place to belong
U= Unlikely to smoke, drink, do drugs, and engage in premarital sex. Psychologists compare the family meal to a vaccination protecting kids from harm. Children who eat with their families 5 or more days a week also avoid fights, and are less likely to be depressed and contemplate suicide.
C= Courteous and Conversational. The family table is a natural training ground. Children learn social skills and manners. Children learn how to have pleasant conversations and how to talk things through. Children learn a better vocabulary. Learn to behave properly, learn how to not interrupt, take turns, learn how to share, and how be polite. Children learn how to listen. Children learn how to entertain guests which is a great lesson for life. Children who are nurtured learn how to care for others.
C= Connected and Committed. Stronger family ties. Place to belong – a place of refuge. Greater sense of identity. Children learn how to commit and keep a schedule.
E- Eat Better. Children who eat as family 4 to 5 days per week do better in school; get better grades. Test higher than children who eat only 1 to 2 times a week. Eat better. Eat more fresh fruits , vegetables, grains, protein, iron and fiber; less intake of soft drinks and sugar. Are less likely to suffer from eating disorders; have better weight control
S= Self Esteem. Mealtime conversation brings the family together, promotes positive self-esteem in children and starts a lasting and positive relationship with food and family. Families learn how to share the responsibilities of preparing and cleaning up meals before, during and after the meal.
S= Success in School. Children who eat 4 to 5 times a week together as a family do much better in school. They receive better grades, achieve higher achievement test scores ; have improved vocabulary and reading skills.
We recently welcomed my literary agent, David, from Oregon to our home. He told our family of his time at a homeschooling convention. The speaker from Focus on the Family asked the hundreds of families present to raise their hands if they cook and eat together at their family table more than three times a week. David was shocked to see only a few hands raise. It is stories like these that made me write my new cookbook, YOU NEVER COOK ALONE. You Never Cook Alone is much more than a cookbook however. This is one review on Amazon:
“”You Never Cook Alone” is not your average, “cookie-cutter” cookbook. Elise Johnson has written a cookbook that is true to its subtitle, “Stirring Memories, Feeding Souls and Building Legacies”. The pages are not only filled with delicious, mouth-watering recipes, cooking tips, and activity suggestions, but they are also overflowing with stories that will warm your heart with joy and laughter, and may even bring a tear to your eye.” You can read the book description and editorial review here.
My family has had the blessing of traveling the country this summer on a book tour. On my tour I have been interviewed by television stations, newspapers and national radio. I always speak about the importance of the family table, how families connect in the kitchen and if spending time in the kitchen and around the table with my family helped me speak, imagine what it can do for other families!
On Sunday, July 15th at 3:00 pm, I will be signing books at Quail Ridge Books & Music. Enjoy a Sunday afternoon book signing and taste samples of the recipes in my book, meet our family and be encouraged! I’d love the opportunity to share my story with you! You Never Cook Alone is also written from a Christian perspective! I have been thrilled to share my faith on national platforms. If you are unable to join our family, you can purchase my book on Amazon. It is also available at some Barnes and Nobles and of course at Quail Ridge Books. Even more important than purchasing my book, please pray for our family and all the people who pick up my book. It is my deepest desire to glorify God in all I do!
Enjoy your summer! May you make many memories in the kitchen and around the table together!
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Cor. 3:18
Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned … Titus 2:7
I am my father’s son. His blood runs in my veins and his lessons from childhood and from how he lives his life play a substantial role in who I am. In turn, as a father, each year I more clearly see the impact I have on the lives, beliefs, and worldviews of my children. In truth, it wasn’t until I had children that I better understood my relationship with my father and what a blessing it was and remains to have a good man for a father. See tribute here.
Research substantiates the significant impact fathers have in the raising (or not) of their children. The pathology of fatherless homes in the country is staggering. Children in father-absent homes are five times more likely to be poor. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states, “Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse.” See fathers.com. There is an overwhelming connection between young men raised in fatherless homes and violent crime. Dr. Loren Moshen of the Nat’l Inst. of Mental Health analyzed US census figures and found the absence of a father to be stronger factor than poverty in contributing to juvenile delinquency. A group of Yale behavioral scientists studied delinquency in forty-eight cultures around the world and found that crime rates were highest among adults who as children had been raised solely by women. Dr. Martin Deutsch found that the father’s presence and conversation stimulates higher performance at school. John Hopkins researchers found that young white teenage girls living in fatherless families were 60 percent more likely to have premarital sex. Dr. Armand Nicholi’s research found that an emotionally or physically absent father contributes to a child’s low motivation for achievement, inability to defer immediate gratification for later rewards, low self-esteem, and susceptibility to group influence and to juvenile delinquency. The loving father’s investment in the wise nurturing of his children’s spiritual, physical, mental and emotional wellbeing pays dividends for generations.
As important as our earthly fathers are, they can only help us temporally. God the Father also invests in the nurturing of his children, in the nurturing of those that have put their faith in His son Jesus Christ. Gal. 3:26. God’s investment in our wellbeing, however, pays dividends, not just now, but for eternity. He equips us and gives us hope for eternity. He also wonderfully provides for us in the here and now. Through God’s provisioning, through his Spirit, I can be the father and husband my family deserves.
The best I can do for the wellbeing of my children is to draw closer to and know my heavenly Father more, every day. Through His grace and guidance, I can be the man God created me to be, to include being the father God intended to the children he’s entrusted to me and my wife, and to further including being the husband to my wife in manner pleasing to God. Through Christ’s strength and through His wisdom I can guide and instruct my children, and more importantly, live, in the Spirit as I model my life before them. We teach what we know, but we recreate who we are. This fathers day, I recommit to drawing closer to the ageless and eternal One so that I may better live by and walk with the Spirit.