Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Adopted and Adopting

This is a more philosophical post.  If those are not to your taste, I take no offense.

Our family holds to the theological framework described as "Reformed" theology, a branch from the stream  of the Protestant reformation, generally by way of Scotland and England (ie - the Westminster standards).  I know of a family at a sister church to ours (also in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church) that adopted a little boy from U.  Our former pastor (since retired) adopted both of their children locally.  There was recently an issue in our denominational magazine about adoption, with a somewhat breathless article about a family's recent Eastern Europe adoption, and some more reasoned articles from adoptees, etc.

But for all of that, I think Reformed people tend to have a hard time adopting.

Susanna's last family update may hit on a contributing factor.  The standing (bad) joke among some friends of mine is "Presbyterians do it decently and in good order".  The apparent chaos of God's providence can be scary (it is to me sometimes).  But if we really hold to such a high view of God's sovereignty and glory in all aspects of our lives and the universe, why can't we trust that the ways our lives may be "messed up" by adoption are good for us, and utterly necessary to our sanctification?

My wife plays the harp, and took her bachelor's degree in it.  Before I met her, I did not really appreciate orchestral music (favoring Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, who still make cameos when I am doing work in the garage).  I did not appreciate orchestral music because I had no clue how complex and textured it was.  The theme or leitmotif was about all I could remember from a piece.  After many years (and concerts), I can honestly affirm that Sibelius on a fair-to-middling day wrote much better music than Hank or Johnny on a good day.  I understand it better.  I can see the long-range order, the development of a work part-by-part, and appreciate what is being built. 

And so often I don't get God's harmonies.  They grate, I can't see past this passage to the next, and I sometimes feel like I am trapped in a John Cage concert (thank God I am not - I mean that earnestly - God actually knows where He is going with all this).

But if you fear "terrible experiences" adopting (like some might categorize the experience of our old pastor), is it not perhaps more likely that we just refuse to understand what God seeks to do in us, the children, or everyone else around?  If we elevate our idea of order, we risk making an idol of our preference (or a societal norm, or what other people might say, or whatever). 

If ever our perception of events is allowed to be normative in our thinking, we are resisting God.  The only reality that matters is His eternal, inscrutable, and most wise decree in all circumstances, and His revealed will to us in Scripture. 

If we affirm that we were dead in trespasses and sins, but while we were yet sinners Christ died for us so God could adopt us, how can we be so cold?  (And I am asking this of myself most of all.)

If God the Father could make us His children in the face of our deadly (and in our old nature still continuing) rebellion against Him and His love, why do not more Christians imitate their Father?

If we Reformed claim to understand the doctrine of Adoption, why are we so slow to apply it?

So let us flee every idol, whether of comfort, custom, order, luxury, system, hobby, career, or desire, and do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly before our God.  Then, whatever He puts in our path to do, let us do it well.

    Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
    1 Thessalonians 5:12-18

PS - That the streets of the New Jerusalem are paved with gold is not intended to elevate beauty or give us an ideal to imitate.  Rather, the effulgence of beauty is inescapable in the city of God, the temple of the Lamb.  Beauty, order, system, are all effects, the cause of which is the utter dominion exercised by Christ in His kingdom.  If we want beauty, order, or system here and now, let us seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.  The elevation of the secondary to the place of the primary is idolatry.  If God is first in our lives, whatever falls into place for the secondary things (like food and clothing) will be welcomed as more than adequate and gratefully received. Just a thought that was somewhat apart from the preceding, but which I wanted to note as well.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

You in?

I have been recently convicted that I need to spend more time studying the Bible.
I have been slowly chugging through the OT, reading a chapter of Proverbs a day, but I wanted to do something more.

So, I have resolved to copy the book of Psalms (by hand, into a notebook) before January 1, 2015. It might be crazy, but on the plus side, even if I fail in my resolution, however much progress I make will be good for me! 
Who wants to join me? I find that these things are easier and more fun with companionship, so if you want to join me in my resolution, let me know! There aren't really any rules, I have been doing two a day and I am trusting God to provide for Psalm 119 day (maybe I will be on a plane going to BLG !?)
You in?

(I am aware that many of the readers of my blog have many more children and responsibilities than I, and I don't presume to tell you how to use your time! I am also aware, however, than many of these readers are even more acutely aware of the importance and power of the Word of God than I, so I think they will accept my challenge in the right spirit.)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Happy Anniversary, Love!

It's been a good 7 years, and always getting better.
Praise God for that!

Thanks for being a wonderful husband and papa! It suits you very well,  and I am so excited to see what God has in store for us in the future.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Papa's Response

(See Mama's post below)

And I am thankful to have the best wife in the whole world.  Not because of what she does or who she is in herself, but because of whom she has been made in Christ.  She is the best wife because she loves her family tremendously, and loves Christ more.  And this is of God's good grace.

Q.1 What is your only comfort in life and death?                                                                

A. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.

    What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
    “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
        we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
    No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
    -Romans 8:31-39 

And yes, I miss Ana very much.  But I must also trust that God can care for her through the orphanage just as he will care for her through our family.  And it is not mine to begrudge his timing.

PS - Mama's breakfast cookies, for which she was heating up the oven with the unfortunate yogurt inside, were delicious.  Cookies for breakfast are good for you when they are nuts, dates, apricots, and a bit of  honey.

I am a failure (but Christ has conquered)

Since Papa has been home, we have really felt the hole in our family. When we are all gathered together, we are not all there. We won't be all together until Ana has joined us!

Since Papa has been home, Satan has been trying to convince me that I am not good enough, and God has been reminding me to rely on Him.
It seems like every time I walk into the kitchen I cause some kind of disaster; today I nearly burned down the kitchen by turning on the oven while the towel-wrapped slow cooker was still incubating yogurt--by God's grace I noticed before open flames broke out. The slow cooker should still be usable, it is just a little fuzzy now in the places where the towel fused to it. Yesterday I managed to throw smoothie all over the kitchen while trying to cook something with Porgies on my hip... 
Because I am a sinful person, I am dying to blame someone else for all this, but nobody else is to blame. 
I feel like my life is a series of smaller disasters making up a larger disaster.

"who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”
Romans 9:20

My life may look disastrous (at least to me) but it is not a disaster. It is in the hand of God from beginning to end, and it is accomplishing His purposes!
Also, I feel inadequate because I AM inadequate. If I think that I can be a perfect mom, I am wrong. If I think that I can do any kind of good on my own strength, I am wrong about that too.
God is my strength, and it is by His grace alone that I can do anything worthwhile.

So I will never be good enough.  I will never be organized enough, or flexible enough. I will always end the day wishing that I had been a better mom, or a better wife, or a better friend. 

It is absolutely my comfort that God will always provide for all that He wishes to accomplish in me, my family, and His church, and I can trust him that foolishly burned towels fit in His perfect plan.
No matter how complicated, busy, or painful my life becomes, I will always have rest in Christ who has accomplished perfection on my behalf.
To Him be all praise and glory!

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

Saturday, July 5, 2014

God is Good

Smooth travel to Frankfurt.  Ze Germans.  They don't let a German-made safety razor blade through... not even a Merkur Super-Platinum Rostfrei.  If the loss of my razor blade is the worst misfortune to befall me, I have nothing to complain of.  With the possible exception of euro-denominated overpriced kaffe. But it was good, so I concede that front as well.

I am sad to not be visiting Ana today.  That is not a complaint,  simply a fact.

Thank you all for your prayers.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Final thoughts

It has been a singular week.  Ana gave a happy squeal when she saw me this morning, which delighted her papa.  We talked and sang and said psalms and played with her rabbit and owl and reviewed her family photo book many times.  I think her baba does show it to her.  She likes the photo of mama (reaching out her hand to brush it), and small Porgies is interesting to her.  I think she knows the papa photo is me, and I asked her to remember me.  She likes her owl - when I put it away at the end of the visit, I believe she was looking for it (arching up her back to crane her head around, and lifting her right shoulder to an extent that made me think she might be capable of rolling if she really meant to, or may become capable with a bit of work).  She had good grip on my fingers, which was encouraging.  Yesterday afternoon I did feel her wiggle her toes (which are all bunched up) as I gave her a foot massage.  It was hard to say goodbye.

Now we are rounding up my fellow-travellers to drive back to S.  It has been a good week, but indeed a singular one in my life.  Now to pray for speedy courts and second travel dates.  Thank you all for your support in prayer.  Jesus Christ has conquered his and our enemies, and reigns at the right hand of the Father.  Thus, we can wait patiently and trust his timing and plan, for it will be right. 

Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?  - Gen. 18:25

And they were astonished beyond measure, saying "He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak!" Mk. 7:37

Two of my favorite verses.

Now for travel.  Aptly derived from "travail".

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Last Visit

Today I will get to see Ana for the last time in a while.  It has been a good week, and I will miss her very much while we wait the second trip.  It has been good to get to know her, see her personality come through, sing to her, say psalms with her (though I cannot say them very well in her language, so we use English), and tell her about America, about Jesus, about mama, Tater, and small Porgies.  She has a book of fotos, a little bunny like her brothers have, and a little owl like her brothers have.  Hers does not have a name yet.  Maybe Tater will make one for it when she comes home (he is the namer-of-owls, his is Owlet, his brother's is Mr. Whoo-whoo).  On to the orphanage.

General Impressions

Visa fotos went extremely well this morning.  Ana did super in the car and walking through the mall (I got to carry her on this walk, which was nice). She had no issues with the middling-busy crowd, and sat for her photo like a champ, though the lady wanted her on a stool, so both the nurse and I worked to steady her, keep her head up, and point her nose generally at the camera.  Bravo, Ana.  It waa also nice to hear the staff calling her Ana and Anastacia.  Since the visa photos, I think they are generally convinced that we are serious, love Ana, and want good for her.  This has resulted in a degree of thawing in their attitude toward me.  They have made it easy to take Ana outside, for instance.

I would like to attribute as much of their reservation as possible to a concern for protecting kids from random foreigners and/or journalists, and I think this is a real concern for them.  Nobody needs a media circus, or even noise on the internet.  The direction the orphanage is heading seems positive, there's a lot still to do, and you cannot erase the consequences of the past. But you can take better care of them.

Babas are in evidence everywhere.  There have always been a few (three to six) babas with kids out and about when I have visited.  I spied a baba reading to a group of three toddlers on our way back from the exercise room.  When the storm blew through, there was a stream of babas and kids filing in the back door.  Good things to see.  (I continue to say baba because the term lelya has not penetrated into common usage yet.)

One more visit tomorrow.  It will be hard to leave Ana, and I look forward to the next trip.  I look forward more to when she is home with her brothers and her mother and me.  I look forward most to the new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells.

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,  prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place  of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."  And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  And he said to me, “It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.  The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.  But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Incidental Conversation

After breakfast, I took a stroll in the park and settled on a bench by the old church to jot thoughts and swat mosquitoes.  A resident had a similar idea, and after commenting on my shoes (Vibram five-fingers) sat down on the next bench.  I had offered a dobar-den to his comment, it being the wittiest reply available.  After a while he asked if I were from the town.  I smiled and said "ne, Amerikansky".  This is usually when people decide that I am functionally an imbicile, smile, and do their best to have done with me pronto. But this gentleman sat down next to me and started a conversation.

Turns out he has two kids, mid thirties, and four grandkids, aged 3-9.  He wondered if I was in P. on business, and I shook (shoulda nodded...darn) my head and said "adopt".  This got a puzzled look, and we attempted to talk for a while, I showed him photos of Tater and Porgies and Mama (by a dinosaur in So.Dak.), told him their ages, and then showed him a photo of Ana.  He was aware of the dom mediko-sozial, and my cartoon below helped him get the idea.  We had now spent about half an hour establishing what took you a minute to read.  He checked his watch, I checked mine, and we wished each other good day, and parted ways.  Now he knows that Americans really are imbiciles with funny shoes. But perhaps he at least thinks they are nice imbiciles.

On to visa photos, thank you for your prayers, our Gospod Bog is faithful to complete what he began.

Also, you can just buy Bibles in the bookstores now. Hooray!

Lunch and Letters

Sausages, plums, and yogurt to drink.  I like the food here.  But I was not brave enough to order a salad from the deli.

And for my language-loving boy(s) at home, a Cyrillic magnet alphabet board!  Trusting Google Translate, it says I love you, and you can arrange yourselves according to the singular or plural, as apropos.  On to the notary.

Further visits

I have now had four visits with Ana, with four more to go.  It has been a pleasure to get to know her, and to see the beginnings of recognition of me.  God is faithful, and I trust that the rest of the week will go as well or better than the beginning.

Specific conditional comments:
Her ability to eat from a spoon was encouraging. I got to feed her for an hour on Tuesday, though not today.
I met her former baba, and Ana clearly recognized her and had a positive response, which was nice to see, and gives me hope that she will eventually bond well with her mama and papa.
She will vocalize when particularly happy, and will sometimes make whistles or gurgles in her throat; I have not deduced the meaning or cause of these yet.
Her left hip has some motion, though very restricted. Her left knee does go to 90degrees, or slightly more.

Comments on the orphanage:
The bad press received because of the despicable actions of the former director and her daughter has made the staff somewhat skittish.  It is worth remembering that the majority of people think they are doing the best job they can, given the resources and demands.  This is a subjective statement, plainly, but it is the sentiment I have observed.  I also think Americans have zero conception of the psychosocial effects of a bureaucr-archy such as the east bloc endured under Soviet hegemony (and which is not easily removed).  The staff, however, mostly came of age under Z's rule and in such a system.  Obfuscation is an elementary reaction.  Outright lying (as long as it doesn't put you in a bind) is fair game.  Snow jobs are second nature.  The paramount instinct is self-advancement, because if you don't step up you will be stepped on. This does not merely relate to job or social or monetary standing, but pervades all of life. Bear in mind that communism demands atheism, and though the church was allowed to limp through that era, her witness is not strong, and her methods generally favored self-preservation over evangelism. That is a hard lesson to un-learn (even in America). 

Susanna and the early adopters from P. saw the conditions there, which I cannot pretend to fathom.  Observing it today through American eyes, it remains a sad place, with the dangers of institutionalism evident, and the neglect of (at least) the grounds inescapable. 

Put on your comm-goggles for a moment, though. There is no god, the strong are praiseworthy, life is secondary to the state.  That these children are maintained at state expense should be commendable, ne? They would be dead, otherwise. The staff is really doing all they can, their salaries are low, and things really are much better than a year or two ago.  Why are the Americans so crazy? Can't they see this is a hard job in an old building caring for these kids nobody wanted? If it's such a big deal, let them do something instead of just yelling at us.

All of this is to say that any discussion of the conditions of the orphanage demands nuance, and hysterics are always counterproductive.  There are productive ways to help improve the situation there, and they should be pursued.  For instance, someone should adopt Owen (not sure if his file is still on RR). He is plainly delayed, but spunky and interested in his surroundings like the bed of irises outside in the back - they must have been lovely in April and May. He also cannot speak, but expresses himself in moans and groans.  It seemed to me that a great deal of his delays could be reversed if he were removed from that environment ASAP.  Remember that abandoned children come from moms who chose life.  If we have less of an orphan population in America it is because we have a more widespread murder problem.  We just make it medical and pretend a great sin can prevent lesser ones.

So please do find ways to help (like the P-project, see Susanna's site), prayer, and adoption.  Do not be deceived about the hearts of men and women (or orphans) - without Christ, there is no faculty un-corrupted, and while we may be dismayed by evil, let us not pretend to be surprised (else we display a shocking ignorance of our hearts and the cross of Christ).  And when we deal with people, especially the orphanage workers, let us by smooth speech break bones, by innocence outguile them, and by soft answers smother wrath, for histronics lead to no good, but persuasion and persistence pay off.

Today is notary, tomorrow visa photos, Friday is last visit and back to S.  Thank you for your prayers, God is faithful, as always.

Now for lunch.