True religion leads to compassion

True religion leads to compassion

Compassion has a special call on my life, in particular “True religion is this that you care for the widow and the orphan.” I’ve spent the last decade caring for my widowed mother. Now that she is set free in heaven, I turn to the other concern . . the orphan, the one with little or no voice, and a lifetime of emptiness unless someone comes to offer a heart and a home.

Most of us have seen dramatic scenes of orphans in foreign countries, but the need is also very close to home.

Right now, there are over 100,000 children in foster care in the U.S. waiting for adoption. 100,000 children with no certainly or continuity of love in their lives.

Far too many of them will time out of the system when they turn 18, unprepared for life alone, set loose without a life foundation a family provides, untethered.

Little wonder so many end up in prison within ten years. Where else will they be for Christmas or Thanksgiving, while families gather all around them, behind closed doors?

While 100,000 sounds overwhelming, it becomes less so if we break it down by state and look at the resources.

Texas edges out California for the sad honor of the highest number of children at risk, 13,091 children. My state of Florida comes in fourth, after New York, with 5,127 children waiting for forever homes.

How can our compassion move such numbers?

Look at the second column in the data below, which represents the number of churches in each state. Texas has more than twice the number of churches as available orphans. If half of the churches in Texas practice true religion and one family adopts a child, with the congregation supporting them, the foster system would be empty, except for emergency, temporary placements.

And over 13,000 lives left out in the cold in Texas would begin to heal and grow toward the light.

In Florida, in less than one out of three churches one family could adopt a child, and empty the list of Florida’s foster children waiting for adoption.

Look at your state and calculate the odds. They aren’t insurmountable, are they?

State Children Waiting FY 2012* Churches*
Alabama 1,155 10,760
Alaska 786 1,050
Arizona 2,910 3,771
Arkansas 1,020 6,343
California 13,091 22,798
Colorado 916 3,813
Connecticut 1,385 2,909
Delaware 243 1,009
District of Columbia 303 825
Florida 5,127 16,805
Georgia 1,645 14,380
Hawaii 223 1,163
Idaho 278 1,776
Illinois 2,936 13,097
Indiana 2,318 9,204
Iowa 961 4,766
Kansas 1,853 4,615
Kentucky 1,999 6,859
Louisiana 1,088 7,983
Maine 480 1,539
Maryland 559 5,816
Massachusetts 2,468 4,039
Michigan 3,583 11,169
Minnesota 983 5,628
Mississippi 890 7,718
Missouri 2,065 8,973
Montana 403 1,518
Nebraska 904 2,595
Nevada 1,879 1,248
New Hampshire 182 1,033
New Jersey 2,226 6,713
New Mexico 836 1,796
New York 6,056 14,767
North Carolina 2,070 17,625
North Dakota 210 1,252
Ohio 2,655 14,657
Oklahoma 2,803 6,737
Oregon 2,062 3,646
Pennsylvania 1,924 15,539
Rhode Island 223 703
South Carolina 1,330 9,479
South Dakota 397 1,368
Tennessee 2,514 11,179
Texas 13,148 27,505
Utah 566 2,582
Vermont 226 692
Virginia 1,517 10,952
Washington 2,865 5,393
West Virginia 1,404 3,432
Wisconsin 1,129 6,045
Wyoming 107 803
Puerto Rico 818
Total 101,719 348,067

Now, I’m personally too old to adopt, and have health problems that would even preclude fostering right now, but my heart is there. I can support those who do, and I am doing so right now with my words.

If you cannot adopt, perhaps you can help provide funding to people or programs for those who wish to adopt. You can offer respite care to foster parents, or ongoing support for those who adopt or foster.

Several families close to my heart have responded to this call. Some have adopted internationally as well as domestically.

The one I know the best, adopted at five weeks, is now almost six years old. Since he is African-American and his parents are Caucasian, it is unlikely he can ignore the obvious, that he isn’t “just like” his brother and sister. He’s asking questions about where he came from. Last week he asked his mother, “If I didn’t come from your tummy like (his siblings), then is the other tummy my mommy, too?” The conversation ensued, gentle answers to his probing questions, the why’s and how’s of it all. After he heard that his birth mother had been too young, etc. to care for him and gave him up for his good, he reflected. “That must have been sad for her (his birth mother). I am glad that God made something happy from something sad.

Happy with life and the world
Happy with life and the world

That is the key of adoption.

It is sad when a woman is pregnant and cannot, or will not, keep her child. (But at least she loved him enough to give the child life.)

When we, with a heart of compassion, step up the plate and care for the one who needs us, we are God’s hands, making something happy from something sad.

Check out these sites for more information.
http://www.heartgalleryofamerica.org/
https://www.adoptivefamilies.com

On March 3-5, 1025, The Dropbox will air across the country. It’s an award-winning documentary on one man’s response to an orphan’s need, profoundly moving. You can watch the trailer here, and check out local theatres and buy tickets below. (I heard some cities are already sold out, so don’t wait until the last minute.)

http://www.fathomevents.com/event/the-drop-box/buy to buy tickets to The Drop Box.

Have you personally been touched by adoption, or are you contemplating opening your family heart to another?

I miss the manger

The neighborhood is so dark in January. When I walk my dog at night, I miss the sparkle of Christmas lights on houses. I miss the bright warmth of Christmas trees shining through windows.

Christmas lights
Christmas lights
Most of all, I miss the soft glow of the manger scene, the gleam on the faces of the shepherds and wise men. But is it more than light in a dark room that I miss? Could it be the innocence and purity of that scene?
 © Jack H Thompson
Manger light © Jack H Thompson

After all, when the wise men left, Joseph was warned in a dream to take the child to Egypt. As they slipped away in the night, Herod sent his soldiers to kill all male children in Bethlehem under the age of two.

The dark world, full of pain and hurt, seemed to quickly absorb the light.

As I face the hurt or pain in my life, and in those I love, I could easily slip under the weight of darkness.

My child and grandchildren are going through a painful experience. My mother sinks further every day into her own dark world of dementia, yet still painfully aware of what she is losing. My sister has suffered months with undiagnosed misery. My brother went for what we’d hoped was an easily treatable cancer, only to find it much more daunting, and he faces many weeks of radiation and chemo.

I am certain you have your own list, pockets of pain or hopelessness. Prayers too long uttered. Joy so slow in coming.

Wailing seal © Jack H Thompson
Wailing seal © Jack H Thompson

Oh yes, the darkness is very present. Always threatening to overcome the light.

But we can’t stay at the manger. That was just the beginning. It was only a glimpse of the light.

In the strangest twist, it took the greatest darkness of all, that manger-child growing into a man and allowing himself to be nailed to a wooden crossbar and hoisted up, for the cruelest death the Romans could produce, all the fury of hell thrown at one body. The blackness of death. And three days. Three long days and nights of darkness. Loss. Hopelessness.

Then morning came — the day we’ll celebrate months from now, with odd objects like bunnies and colored chicks and baskets of candy – and with the Dawn of Morning Light came the light that overcame the darkness.

Morning light in Galapagos
Morning light © Jack H Thompson

What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn’t put it out. John 1:4-5 The Message

We won’t find what we need longing for a warmer, more secure time. Nor in turning away, ignoring the pain, or anesthetizing the pain with food or busyness — whatever the drug of choice. Not waiting for a better future, the someday when everything will be right.

The light we long for is either present, here, now, or it isn’t powerful enough for all that we face.

In another strange twist, we don’t run after the light. The light finds us. We look around, and see.

leaving darkness © Jack H Thompson
leaving darkness © Jack H Thompson

God’s Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness,
those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,
down the path of peace. Luke 1: 78-79

Each time His light flashes into our lives, illuminating the way like a crack of lightning, our certainty grows. Over the years, every experience builds our story, within His story.

Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him. II Corinthians 3: 16-18

So if the darkness is pressing in, if your road is through the gloom, even through the valley of the shadow of death, don’t lose heart.

I’ve heard his voice. I’ve seen the light enough times to know it is there, even when I can’t see it.

At times, we have to sit in the shadows, wait for the story to play out. But in the fullness of time, he will appear. Watch for the light.

We couldn’t be more sure of what we saw and heard—God’s glory, God’s voice. The prophetic Word was confirmed to us. You’ll do well to keep focusing on it. It’s the one light you have in a dark time as you wait for daybreak and the rising of the Morning Star in your hearts. II Peter 1:19 The Message

What kind of darkness has pursued you?
How have you been surprised by the light?

Lavish gift-giving

manger scene
I had a dream, so real that it felt something like what I imagine Joseph experienced when the angel told him about the baby Mary was carrying. In the dream, God said we would have a son, and we were to name him Jeremiah.

Not long after the dream, I began having serious “female problems.” My gynecologist ordered an ultrasound, which revealed massive ovarian cysts and endometrial tumors. He said there was no way I could get pregnant. So certain the dream was real, I went for a second opinion. That doctor said not only could I not get pregnant, but if, somehow, I should conceive, with the pregnancy hormones the tumors would grow faster than the child, causing his death, or severe deformities. I rushed out of his office in tears, and cried for hours.

Finally I surrendered and scheduled the hysterectomy.

The day before surgery, I went in for routine pre-surgical blood work. The next morning, the nurse called.

“Don’t come to the hospital. You’re not having a hysterectomy. You’re having a baby.”

I was ecstatic, but, recalling the doctor’s warnings, fearful at the same time. At the end of the first month I began to cramp and spot. The doc said I was probably losing the baby, to just go to bed. A crowd from church arrived and prayed. Within two days I was fine, and back on my feet.

At twenty-two weeks I went for my first in-office ultrasound, a brand new gadget at that time.

Instead of all my fears, there was a beautifully formed little boy with ten fingers and ten toes, all a-wiggle, and a four-chambered heart, beating regularly. No cysts! No tumors!

The rest of the pregnancy was normal. When our boy was born, I couldn’t stand to name him after Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. (Silly me, as if a name could change God’s design for him. You’d think after those miracles I would be obedient!)

More than twenty years later, my youngest daughter (YD) and her family decided to adopt, to do their part in saving one child from a life of poverty, neglect and/or abuse. When the call came that a five-week-old boy needed a home in two days, they had to make a quick decision and arrange work schedules. YD was still recovering from hospitalization with a serious kidney infection, and their lives were already stretched to the limit with work schedules and their two children. I admired their hearts, but didn’t think it was the right time.

Nevertheless, when they left for another state to get him, I went to the library and checked out every book I could find on adoption, cross-cultural adoption and bonding issues. I read about the children who refused to allow their adoptive parents to give them the love they yearned for, how they would back into a hug, never trust, never let go of some little rag they had brought with them, rather than receive from the parents trying so hard to give them what they really needed.

While I read, I felt God whispering to my heart.

“This is how you’ve been. All the years of struggle, wondering why you haven’t made progress, or why I haven’t changed your circumstances, you’ve been trying to do it yourself. And the times you have come to me, you’ve only backed into my arms.”

I learned that adoption is expensive, and marveled at their faith to borrow money to pay the fees, facing sacrifice for a year or two to pay it back.

God whispered, “I counted the cost, and paid with the life of my Son, so that I could make you my child. Will you let me love you?”

When I considered the choice my daughter and her family were making, purely out of the love of their hearts, with absolutely nothing to do with what the child would bring, I again felt God speaking.

“That is a small glimpse of my love. I love you because I AM LOVE. You cannot earn it, and you cannot lose it.”

Early in the afternoon, YD called to tell me the birth mother was on her way with the baby. “She only asked for one thing.” I waited. “That we keep his first name.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“Jeremiah.”

We had our Jeremiah, after all.

Now certain that God was in this, tears coursed down my checks. My heart swelled with love for the child I’d have to wait several more weeks to meet.

When they came home, as my daughter put him in my arms he began to fuss. “Jeremiah,” I whispered.

He turned and looked in my eyes, drew in a deep breath and let it out with a sigh. He snuggled against me with a look that said, “Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you?”
Grammi and Jeremiah

Talk about love at first sight!

Jeremiah is three now, with dimples that could charm the spots off a leopard and a smile that lights up a room.

And when I hug him, I am reminded of the God who loves me, just because it’s His nature to love. Who had been trying to love on me for years, and I wouldn’t really let him. Who paid a high price to adopt me into His family, even when I was pushing Him away.

So I light the candles on our Advent wreath and move the statues of Mary and Joseph and the donkey closer to our little manger. The child whose birth we are preparing to celebrate made it possible for his Father to adopt me into his family.

I sigh and snuggle into my Lord, so glad I’ve finally run, arms wide open, into His warm embrace.

Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son. Ephesians 1: 4-6 (MSG)

Won’t you come?