Friday, August 4, 2017

Parenting from Heaven

ParentingParenting. Ahhhh…the joys, the pains, the mistakes, and everything in between.

It’s hard to believe my Bulgarian children have been home just a few months shy of two years. I vividly remember those first few days with them in our apartment in Sofia (Bulgaria’s capital). I was in tears virtually every single night. I thought, “What have we done?” Those early days (especially those in-country) were hard.

I remember communicating with friends back home who had walked similar paths, and they assured me it would get better. At the time, I thought we would never climb out of the pit we were in. But, they were right…it did get easier. Not easy…but easier.

Initially, Joel and I discovered many bad habits that had to be “un-done”. Now try to imagine doing that when speaking two different languages. Even so, we had to be consistent from the start. It’s hard for me to conceive now, but I had a very difficult time with Josiah (my now 9-year-old) initially. He would do anything Joel asked him to do, but basically laughed in my face whenever I said anything to him. For those of you who have had the privilege of meeting my son, you know that’s nothing like the young man you’ve met. But, I’m telling you…he was a different little boy back then.

Joel could tell Josiah to listen to me or to do something I was trying to get him to do, and he would obey Joel. But me…I got nothing out of him but more arrows flying to my already broken heart. I couldn’t understand why he hated me so much.

It wasn’t long before our translator, a native Bulgarian, explained that in the Roma culture, women aren’t respected, and the Roma boys are taught they don’t have to respect them. Even so…that was unacceptable, and that paradigm had to shift.

Joel immediately started teaching Josiah to respect me. It got better when we were back in the United States, but we still had a long road ahead of us. When Josiah’s understanding of the English language improved, his behavior towards me (and his younger sister) improved greatly. I remember one day Josiah and Katerina got into argument about something silly. The argument quickly grew a little more heated, and Joel and I witnessed him hit his sister. That did it. We’re not raising a bully!

I immediately went to a sobbing Katerina to try and comfort her, and Joel took Josiah outside for a “man-to-boy” chat. By the time they were finished talking, Josiah walked into the house and went over to Katerina to apologize and ask her forgiveness. Then, Joel asked Josiah to share with me the things we learned.

“I never hit girls.”

“Mommy is just as important as Daddy.”

“I treat girls with love.”

“I love my sister and need to protect her.”

There were other items mentioned, but those were the big ones. And, honestly, after that conversation…to my knowledge, Josiah has never hit another girl. He’s certainly not perfect and has a lot of learning left to do when it comes to relationships with people, but I know that lesson was drilled into him.

Fast forward to last week. I was in the hospital, and my long-time friend, Kandi, was at the house taking care of the children for me. She called me after the kids had gone to bed and said she just had to share something with me. She relayed a conversation between Josiah and Austyn that occurred at the dinner table earlier that evening…

A: “I got in trouble today.”

J: “What did you do Austyn?”

A: “I had to go to timeout, because I hit ________.”  (I don’t remember her name, but it was a little girl in his preschool class.)

J: “Austyn! You know we never, ever hit girls. Never! Okay?”

Austyn nodded.

J: “Now, I want you to back to school tomorrow and tell her you’re sorry and won’t do it again.”

Austyn agreed, and the scolding by his big brother ended. After Kandi finished relaying the story to me, I smiled through tears up in my hospital room, and I shared, “That was from Joel. He made sure Josiah and Benjamin understood that boys don’t hit girls, and men don’t hit women.” Now…Josiah was reminded of that teaching and passed it along to his littlest brother.

Even from Heaven, Joel’s legacy lives on strong, and his parenting continues to shine boldly through our home.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Lesson My Son Taught Me

We just finished supper at our neighborhood Taco Bell. Not something we do often (McDonald’s is closer), but it was a special occasion. What was the occasion? It was Monday evening, and Mommy forgot to plan supper! Seriously.

I finally wrangled all of the kiddos into the car, and we were getting ready to pull out of the parking lot when Josiah started saying something over and over about the poor lady. The other kids were drowning him out with their chatter, but he finally got my attention.

“Mommy, she’s poor. Look at her holding the sign. Can you give her some money?” He pointed to the woman on the corner of the shopping center exit.

I couldn’t believe he even understood what that was all about. Where had he learned this? This is my child who, along with his two siblings, was living in an orphanage in Bulgaria just 20 months ago. When I asked him how he knew about people holding up signs and things of that sort, he reminded me I had explained that to them before. Oh… How could I have forgotten that? Widow brain is alive and well it appears.

I knew I didn’t have any cash on me, something I rarely carry anymore. However, my son kept asking what I was going to do for her, so I checked my purse and wallet…just to make sure. This time, my memory was spot on. No cash.

I told Josiah I had nothing to give her, but I would be sure to get some cash to keep in the car for these types of occasions from now on. He then asked me how I paid for dinner. Smart kid apparently didn’t accept my answer. I reminded him I paid with a card that worked like cash. His next response was completely unexpected.

“Mommy, I have money in my bank at home. Can you drive me home to get it, and I’ll give her that?”

How do you respond to your 9-year-old former orphan wanting to take money out of his piggy bank to give to the sign-holding lady on the corner of the shopping center? I was honestly taken aback. At this point, I knew God expected me to respond.

I’ll admit I pass by many of those people without ever making an effort to do anything for them. Not because I’m not willing, but because I never have cash and don’t ever seem to bother to think of what else I might have. I know some sign-holders might not be doing it for the right reason, but that’s not up to me to determine. If God prompts me to do something, it’s up to me to obey. This time, the prompting came through my son.

I decided to dig deeper into my wallet. I thought I had some gift cards in there I had been using to shop with. Certainly there was something left on them. The first one I picked up was for Walmart. We happened to be just next door to a Walmart at this particular time. I called the number on the back of my card to check my balance…zero. Nothing left.

Ok, Lord! I sense I’m to do something for this lady. What do you want me to do? Go to the bank and get something out? A gift card? Please direct me here. I don’t want to disappoint Josiah.

I had one more gift card in my wallet. It was a VISA gift card. Again, I called the number on the back to check my balance. This time…$23.87 was the response. I knew He was asking me to give it to her.

“Okay son, I’ve got something with some money available on it,” I shared with Josiah.

“So, are you going to give it to her?” he asked me.

Still a bit unsure, I responded, “I think so. I need to make sure I can get close enough to her, but as long as I can safely do that, I’m going to give it to her.”

We pulled out of Taco Bell’s parking lot and headed to the exit. I was able to pull up right beside the lady. She looked at me with pleading eyes before I ever rolled down my passenger window. As I started to do so, she hurried over to the van, and I simply said, “I’m sorry I don’t have cash, but I have this card with $23.87, and you can have it.”

She immediately responded. “God bless you!” And, as we drove away, I heard her start to pray, “Heavenly Father, thank you for what you’ve just done…” Her voice drifted off, and I heard nothing else as we were out of earshot at that point.

I looked back in my rearview mirror at Josiah, and he was grinning from ear to ear.

“Was that okay Josiah? Did mommy do what you hoped I would do?”

He nodded, while still grinning.

I simply thanked him for pointing her out to me early enough to allow me time to try to find something to give her. We then had the discussion about how everything we have belongs to God. Everything. He simply loans it to us while we’re on earth. I told him how I knew God was pleased with him, and he would be blessed for being obedient.

Thank you Abba for this gift of my son and for continually teaching me through the eyes of these former orphans. I stand amazed!


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Josiah – Our Little King

JTS1 When we received our referral, Josiah was noted as being the caretaker of his siblings. Having spent just under three years with his biological parents, the next four years of his young life required a forced maturity, so to speak.

Children in orphanages often resort to survival techniques to simply make it through the daily grind. For Josiah, he took that upon himself for his younger two siblings as well. While still very much a young child, to Katerina and Benjamin he became a parental figure, someone to look up to, a leader, and in many respects – someone to be revered.

In July 2015 – we made our first trip to Bulgaria to meet the three little ones for whom we had already committed to love and make our own. I’ll never forget the first glimpses of Josiah. He appeared in the play room, his arms around the shoulders of his siblings – in a protective manner. He had a “pleasant” look on his face, but I wouldn’t call it a smile, as he was a bit hesitant. While Katerina and Benjamin were much quicker to express delight in these people who would soon become their mommy and daddy, Josiah was old enough to know disappoint could still come.

Would these people follow through on their promise?

Would they really take us home to become part of their family?

Will they be like others we’ve seen come through these orphanage doors…”play nice” only to never return again?

He eventually opened up more during our first visit to meet him and his siblings, but it really took each of the visits that week to gain more confidence from our little king. It wasn’t until we arrived for our “pick up trip” in November that we saw a different version of Josiah. When all three of our children saw us walk through the door of their orphanage on November 12…they screamed with delight, and very soon sounds of “Mama…Tatko (Daddy)” filled the room. They came running up to us with arms open wide, ready for hugs. They covered our faces with kisses. And…right in the midst of the excitement was our little Josiah…as happy as you could imagine.

I need to take a moment here to explain briefly that Josiah was named, in part, after King Josiah of Judah in the Old Testament. He was one of the youngest kings on record, and took over the throne at the age of eight. Such responsibility for such a little guy, and yet he grew to be a very loved and godly king.

In much the same way, our Josiah held great responsibility at a very young age, not by choice…rather by default (similar to King Josiah). However, we are honored to now lift some of that off of his shoulders and allow him to be the little boy trapped inside the body of a young man. We long to see him develop peer relationships / friendships, to be able to love his siblings as an older brother and not as a parental figure and to not feel such responsibility for when his brother and sister make mistakes. It’s time for Josiah to finally live life as a child.

Some fun facts about Josiah:

  • He’ll try any food you put in front of him, and (for the most part) he’s not a very picky eater.
  • He was responsible for many kitchen prep items while in Bulgaria. His favorite? Cutting tomatoes.
  • He has a very loud laugh…more like a cackle.
  • He loves to tease and tries to pull fast ones over on you but is quick to reveal his secret…a great sense of humor.
  • He loves to wear “fancy” clothes (button-up shirts, khakis, etc.). They make him feel special.
  • He’s the only one of the three that likes watching TV or movies.
  • His favorite color is red.
  • He loves math and is really good at it.
  • He’s the mediator between his two younger siblings. We often catch him making them shake hands and apologize after an argument.
  • He speaks English now about 99% of the time…even with his siblings. He’s quick to correct his sister (“English please”), especially, when she reverts back to her native Bulgarian.
  • He loves to lead the mealtime prayer and makes sure we’re all holding hands and have our eyes closed.
  • He loves to help us with anything we might possibly need and thrives on praise (as they all do).
  • He adores his little foster brother, and the feeling is mutual. They became buddies from the beginning.
  • He has a very soft heart and while he rarely cries, when he does, it breaks us.

We can’t wait to see the life unfold God has called Josiah to, and we’re entrusting our little king completely to Him.