I recently wrote about the United Nations pushing to close orphanages, and why I felt that it was a well-intentioned but bad move. I touched a nerve, and a few people really pushed back (which I love by the way). I wanted to share more on orphanages, and their part in caring for at-risk children. Continue reading
Recently the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution to encourage the closing of orphanages around the world. They didn’t say what would happen to the eight million abandoned or orphaned children currently in care facilities somewhere. Closing orphanages is a reasonable goal only if there are good alternatives. So far, very few viable options have been forthcoming, I doubt there will be. The UN is the same organization that has shut down international adoptions. It seems they are slowly taking away options from the ones who need options the most. Continue reading
There is a new Tom Hanks movie out called “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood“, about the life of Mr. Rogers. There is one scene that’s being mentioned over and over again in reviews. While sitting in a diner during an interview, Mr. Rogers asks a reporter to be silent for one minute. Mr. Rogers doesn’t speak, the reporter doesn’t speak, for one full minute. A full minute to just listen. There are no flashbacks, no inner-dialog, only silence. Two men are just sitting in a restaurant booth. A minute of silence with no action in a movie feels like an eternity. It’s something we all need to practice. Continue reading
This blog is not like most of my posts. Oct 25, 2019, is a day that people will remember for a long time in our town. It might be too soon for this, but here is a short take on a terrifying night that has changed many lives.
Thursday night, a firestorm tore through our small valley, leaving miles of destruction in its wake. The orphanage was saved, and no one can explain how other than the hand of God. I write this with the acidic scent of burnt brush, trees, plastic, and wood in the air. Ash is still in piles and swirls around my living room, blown through any random crack or window seal during the firestorm. As I write this, it’s pre-dawn on Sunday morning, looking out my window at large dark swathes of our town where homes once stood. I still feel the rush of adrenalin as I remember standing with friends and family and watching much of our town burn just 48 hours ago. Continue reading
The idea of social media and short-term missions was brought up to me three times in the last week. It also comes up a lot when you run an orphanage as to how much exposure the children should get online. When and how do we post to social media? What are we saying when we do? It’s a complicated issue. How do you engage people back home and not use photos of cute poor kids or needy areas? Continue reading
Do you feel called to open an orphanage? Trust me on this, lay down until the feeling goes away. If you still want to open an orphanage, continue reading.
I wish orphanages didn’t exist. The first choice for caring for abandoned children should be extended family. If the extended family is not an option, then children at risk should be placed with healthy families. Unfortunately, placement with a family is just not an option for many children. Most orphanages are filled with children who, for one reason or another, are not adoptable or are very difficult to place. Orphanages care for children with multiple siblings, children with physical or mental challenges, children with an extended family that cannot care for them but still hold parental rights, etc. So if orphanages have to exist (and they do), they should be great, and run by people with vision and the skill sets to make them a fantastic place for children to heal and grow into healthy adults.
Regularly, people contact me who feel lead to open orphanages. My first question is always: “Who is going to run it?” Putting up buildings is easy(ish), on-going funding is harder, but living at, and running an orphanage can be hugely challenging and is not for the faint of heart. Continue reading
We all have childhood memories that stand out. It might be a specific Christmas, a family vacation, maybe it’s just a moment from your childhood where the smells, sights, and emotions are still vivid in your mind. That time you sang karaoke with your dad, or when you made cookies with your mom. I hope these memories bring joy when they appear at those random moments. For children in orphanages or foster care, many of the memories they carry do not bring joy. It is our responsibility to tip the balance of good to bad memories in the right direction.
For most people caring for children at risk, the focus is on the basics. They might not have the know-how or resources to work on anything past keeping the children alive. In many areas of the world, orphanages struggle to stay open. It’s a day-to-day challenge to keep food on the table and the lights on. If the absolute basics are covered, you can start the next level of healing and restoration. As with anyone, the hierarchy of needs kicks in. The basics first, then the extras.
When a child first comes into a home, even if it is a stable, well-run home, the fear of uncertainty can take a long time to overcome. Food hoarding is very common with new children; they aren’t sure when they will be fed again because they weren’t fed where they were before. It takes time and consistency to bring a child to the point of moving forward. They also have a hierarchy of needs. If they don’t feel secure in the basics, they can not begin the healing process.
Once you’ve reached the level of providing the foundational needs, and a child knows at a profound level that they are in a safe place, the long process of healing can commence. A new chapter in their story can be written.
Joyful childhood memories are not created in a moment or an event; they are built over time. Childhood memories are a rich tapestry of intertwining threads brought together to create an overall image. It should be an image of joy, security, a connectedness that we all need. Only by consistently blending in the bright colors can you begin to soften the dark tapestry that has been the assembled experiences of a wounded child. You can never fully cover the darkness that exists, but you can brighten the edges, you can lighten the right areas. The darkness of the past, when handled correctly, can ultimately bring a greater depth to the child’s image of life. With God’s healing touch, those dark areas can be richly used down the road. God can use the dark experiences to bring empathy and understanding. But this healing doesn’t happen easily, or quickly, it takes years of security to bring perspective as a child matures.
It’s the collective details that matter. Not that we have all of the answers, but in our home, we have found that consistency and traditions go a long way to bring a sense of security into a child’s life.
One of the first things the other children tell a new child in our home is how OUR tooth fair works. I have a large ceramic jar on my desk, when a child loses a tooth, they know to bring it to my office, drop the tooth in the jar, and get the cash. (Yes, I know it’s disgusting, but I have decades of teeth in that jar.) Occasionally a child will come over with a convincing tooth-like rock to trick me; I’ve learned to ask to see the hole where the tooth came out. While writing this, two different children came over to show me their loose teeth, so I know to be prepared. We’ve had adults, raised in our home, come back years later and casually reach over to shake the jar to see how full it is. It’s a memory they’ve carried forward and blended into their tapestry.
My wife hates the backend of what we do, the fundraising, the paperwork. The public side of our work makes her crazy. She wants to be mom; she wants to create those memories. She gives every single hair cut; it’s an automatic one-on-one time with every child. They can talk, spend time together, and experience the moment. My wife also makes the birthday cakes, in a BIG way. Every child gets an elaborate custom cake on their birthday. Some of the older kids have started to help, learning baking and cake decorating, frequently decorating cakes for their own siblings. To most kids in ordinary families, a birthday cake is expected, usually picked up from Costco or the grocery store. For a child in a care situation, a cake means the world. It’s not uncommon for their first cake here to be the first cake of their lives. Also, to have that level of attention in a crowd of children in a home shows them that they are unique and deserving of honor. A cake to an orphan is not just eggs, flour, and sugar; it’s healing.
If you work in foster care or with orphans, thank you. Working with children as risk is hard work and not for the faint of heart. I hope that you’ve moved past the basics and are working to create new, better, richer memories for the children in your care. Whether it’s the tooth fairy, a birthday cake, or any other detail that creates special memories, always remember how important it is. It might not seem like it at the time, but you are working to create a new tapestry for a child, you are tipping the balance of memories in the right direction. The details you create bring healing to a child.
You can help me by sharing this on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online.