Category archives: Family

5 Great Resources That Help Kids Keep Christ in Christmas

by Peter Witkowski

December 11, 2017

The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung covers the entire Bible in ten amazingly succinct and beautifully illustrated chapters. DeYoung created the book to be the one resource you use to tell your family about how Christ came to us as a baby to bring us back to Eden by dying on the cross. I encourage you to read this book with your young children during the days leading up to Christmas. You could also cuddle up by the fire and read the entire volume in one sitting with kids of all ages. All members of your family will enjoy reading The Biggest Story. And if you want to watch the story, you can buy the animated video of the book.

A Family Christmas Treasury by Adrian Rogers

Adrian Rogers desires for everyone to experience the joy of Christmas found through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He begins each devotion with reflections on a Bible verse and ends each devotion with a family activity such as writing a Christmas card to someone you love or creating a jar to collect money for church. Each devotion is designed to engage both you and your children. If you are looking for a Christmas devotion for you family, I encourage you to try A Family Christmas Treasury.

The Expected One by Scott James

Scott James wrote this great little book specifically with your kids in mind. Each devotion contains a Scripture passage, a small explanation of the verse(s) and 2-3 questions (with answers) to prompt some family discussion. The chapter also features a small question to help you apply the passage to your life. This book begins on December 1st and ends on December 25th so it does not follow the traditional Advent calendar and does not come with song suggestions. But if you are a touch creative and have young children with short attention spans, I think you will really like The Expected One.

Prepare Him Room by Marty Machowski

Marty Machowski shows your kids the beauty of the Christmas story by having you light candles, look at nativity scenes, and reflect on Scripture. He built each week’s devotion around key passages from the Christmas story. He placed a chapter from his original Christmas story about the orphan Bartimaeus at the end of each Advent week. In addition to being biblical and easy to understand, the devotions are also infused with object lessons, Christmas carols, and crafts. Marty Machowski has helpfully planned out your entire family’s Christmas devotional calendar. Moreover, you can download the music mentioned in the book here. And you can buy a teacher’s guide here if you want to bring this study into your Sunday school class room. If your family likes Christmas traditions, grab a copy of Prepare Him Room.

All Is Bright by Nancy Guthrie

Nancy Guthrie created a devotional that your kids can do. Each day features a one page devotion and a coloring page that accents the lesson. If you have a child who loves to color and who wants to explore the Christmas season on their own, you will want to grab a copy of All Is Bright.

Peter Witkowski is the Associate Pastor of Preschool and Children at First Baptist Church in Eastman, Ga.

5 Great Resources that Help Keep Christ in Christmas

by Peter Witkowski

December 8, 2017

The Christmas season can be a stressful time filled with a barrage of parties, shopping trips, and community events. Christmas is often crazy busy for families, but it can and should also be a time of great refreshment.

Is there better news than Christ has come to save us from our sins?

If we hope to focus on spending quality time with our families and reflecting on the gospel this Christmas, we must first focus our hearts on the beauty of Christ. We must first bolster our walk with the Lord and then bolster our family worship times. In Deuteronomy 6:1, parents are told to keep God’s word in their hearts. To teach our kids about God, we must be learning about God and growing in our faith.

Finding good devotional resources for Christmas can be taxing. Below are five great options. While not an exhaustive list, I hope my reviews will get you started in the right direction.

If you have a favorite Christmas devotion, I encourage you to mention it in the comment section below.

Come Let Us Adore Him by Paul David Tripp

Paul David Tripp masterfully interacts with the Christmas story, providing his readers with a wealth of practical applications. His book seeks to help keep us from losing sight of Jesus during the holiday season. Derived from a series of Christmas tweets, each devotional includes a scripture reference and ends with a parent’s section that will help mom and dad bring the devotional into family worship times. If you are seeking to warm your heart and your family’s heart towards the gospel, I encourage you to grab a copy of Come Let Us Adore Him.

From Heaven by A.W. Tozer

A.W. Tozer’s book reflects on his love for the Lord and for poetic expression. The author masterfully paints pictures and shares illustrations that help readers understand that the Scriptures associated with Christmas are plum with meaning. The devotions which have been compiled from Tozer’s sermons and editorials cover all 28 days of the Advent season. I encourage you to read From Heaven this Christmas.

Hidden Christmas by Timothy Keller

Timothy Keller beautifully reveals how the Christmas story pierces our dark and broken world with the light of the gospel. Though not designed as a devotional, the 145-page book will help you grasp the major themes of the Christmas story and will fit nicely into your devotional life with heartwarming reflections on the gospel. If you want to refocus your heart this Christmas or desire to be a better witness during the Christmas season, I encourage you to read Hidden Christmas.

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by John Piper

John Piper helps his readers grasp the important themes of the Christmas story by focusing on the secondary or theological texts of Christmas found in Acts, Hebrews, and the Pauline Epistles. It is a great resource, highlighting the beauty of our savior in short, two to three-page devotions. My wife and I have found Piper’s works encouraging and thought provoking. You will greatly benefit from reading The Dawning of Indestructible Joy.

God is in the Manger by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoffer’s words point the readers’ hearts to the true meaning of Christmas. Featuring the martyr’s sermons, poems, and personal letters, the book challenges readers to grapple with the Christmas story for the purpose of knowing God more. Arranged according to the traditional church calendar, the first four weeks are devoted to the themes of waiting, mystery, redemption, and incarnation. The final section features devotions for the twelve days of Christmas. If you are looking for a new and thought-provoking devotion, I encourage you to grab a copy of God is in the Manger.

Peter Witkowski is the Associate Pastor of Preschool and Children at First Baptist Church in Eastman, Ga.

Love to Give: An Adoption Story

by Alison Contreras

November 30, 2017

We weren’t a couple that “always knew they wanted to adopt.” It’s not something that we discussed before we were married.

What we definitely did discuss was our desire to be parents. I married my husband because he helped me be the better person I’d always wanted to be. In fact, that was the thought that made me giddy on the night we were engaged. This was the man who would father my children! Yes, children, plural. We both hoped to have a large family.

I do remember, however, the first time we discussed adoption. We were living in Mexico City, sitting in the pink living room of our tiny apartment that would shake every time a truck drove by, momentarily causing us each to wonder if it was actually an earthquake. The sunlight was streaming through the windows and I brought it up. “What do you think about adopting?” Like many couples who first have this conversation, we were waiting for children. At that point it had been over a year of trying to grow our family, which for NFP (natural family planning) teachers, we knew signaled something might be wrong.

What about international adoption? Do you think we could parent a child that didn’t look like us?” Those were some of the first overwhelming questions that we pondered. We didn’t exactly come to any conclusions, but I do remember my husband’s response. If we have love to give, why wouldn’t we adopt?

Fast forward a year. It was the summer of 2011 and we were back to living in the states. I was able to receive medical care to remove endometriosis. Three months after that surgery, during a dark and hopeless time if I’m honest, we conceived. Our son, Samuel, is now five. He was a blessing from God, a healing balm for my soul. It was when I was holding him in our rocker when he was just days old that I had one of the most profound spiritual moments of my life. “Enjoy this child I sent you and this moment, right here. You do not love him because you bore him, but because he was meant to be your son. You will love your other children in the same way.” In that moment the message I heard was blindingly clear. I’ve gone back to savor the peace that moment brought me many times during our adoption journey. God is faithful. He could be trusted, completely. We were called to adopt.

Now, if only God would have told my husband that so clearly!

What was so evidently a call from God needed more time to grow in my husband. And its not as if anyone “just adopts,” as our story is evidence of. He was right to see the many logistical hurdles to reconcile. So we began pursuing adoption as we do most things: researching as much as possible. Over the next few years we attended several in-person sessions and orientations of local agencies, trying to figure out what would be the best avenue for our family. Foster to adopt? Domestic adoption? International? If international, what country? Through a long process of elimination, including a desire to honor birth order, we eventually decided to adopt a toddler from China. I had lived in China during a summer in college and was always drawn to the country. Plus, I already spoke some Chinese.

Then, in August 2015, just a week after we made the decision to adopt from China, my husband was unexpectedly let go from his job. Fortunately, he found another one rather quickly and just three months later, within a week of starting his new job, we began our homestudy. It was November 2015, and we were beyond excited to finally be starting the adoption process.

Then came a massive swerve in our plan. In January 2016 we got the sudden call about a potential domestic adoption situation from a friend. Here was a woman making an adoption plan. Would we be willing to adopt a baby to be born in two months? This was much faster than we’d planned, but God wouldn’t ask it of us if it wasn’t possible.

We said yes.

I met the mom and we hit it off. Meeting her and learning how facing an unintended pregnancy took such courage in every aspect of her life was humbling. This adoption was not about our desire for a child, but about her plan for hers. We just happened to be two people who fit together in this puzzle of loss, creating something so much more than our individual parts. Planning an open adoption, we were in contact over the next few months and I was actually able to be there for the birth of her daughter, our daughter, and spend three amazing days in the hospital with her. With input from her first mom we named her “Evangeline,” or “Good news.” There we were cocooned up in our little world of mutual love for this little baby, protected from the outside world. We loved this baby girl incredibly during those first few days of her life, and our original questions about adoption became suddenly irrelevant as they were undoubtedly answered. With a resounding yes, we learned first hand just how quickly we could love a baby that we didn’t birth, who didn’t look exactly like us.

However, we were not meant to parent Evangeline for long. Her mom changed her mind and we relinquished Evangeline back into her care not a week after leaving the hospital.

This was another incredibly dark time. Just writing that sentence hardly captures our emotions at the time. Had we done something wrong? Had we misinterpreted the call to adopt? What was so wrong with us that we couldn’t conceive and now we couldn’t even adopt to grow our family? My life felt so bleak and my faith was full of doubts. I was crumpling inwards, but God was constantly pulling me outside of myself. This wasn’t about me. Adoption wasn’t just about us. Yes, we had love to give, but our first promise was about treating everyone involved with dignity and respect, and trusting in God’s plan enough to know that we were where we should be. We wanted to adopt because we had love to give to a child, and this situation hadn’t depleted that love. We had more to give. So after taking a few months to get our bearings and heal, we continued on with our Chinese adoption.

We were able to update our homestudy for an international adoption and get our complete dossier submitted by October of 2016. We settled in for a long wait. I was thankful for our domestic adoption situation because with international adoption we wouldn’t have the same opportunity to meet our child’s mom and experience first hand what exactly it took to make a decision to place your child for adoption. We were adopting a “waiting child,” a child whose parents couldn’t be found and who needed parents. The laws in China are different than the U.S. in that parents can’t legally place a baby up for adoption, forcing mothers and fathers who can’t parent to abandon their children in public places so they will be found and hopefully cared for. We would likely never meet our child’s first parents.

We got a call about our son on December 7th, 2016, just a few weeks after being eligible. Here was the face and file of a child who needed parents. He was so obviously our son. But would this really happen? Would we get to parent him forever? Looking at his file I saw his birthdate. Somewhere on the other side of the world, he was making his entrance at almost the exact moment we finally jointly decided to pursue adoption back in 2015. It had been him all along.

There was more paperwork (mostly immigration paperwork at this point) and waiting, and we were finally able to board the plane to China to meet him in March 2017. We met our 18-month old son one year to the day that Evangeline had been born, St. Joseph’s feast day. His Chinese name given to him by his caretakers was “Zi Zhong” or “faithful son” which we found especially compelling and it remains his middle name. We chose Mateo for his first name: “God’s gift.” Our older son was thrilled to have a sibling that would stay with us “forever and ever” and immediately began learning all that being a big brother entailed. The laughter we heard those first few days in the hotel in China was a long-awaited gift.

Adding a toddler to your family is not the typical route, and we definitely had challenges those first few months adjusting to our new family. While we had been waiting for Mateo for years at this point, this adjustment came with grief for him. Although he gained parents and a family, he also suffered an incredible loss of all that was familiar to him those first few months of life. However, his resilience and infectious laugh are reminders that God does make all things new. We’ve been home eight months now as a family of four and it’s still a gift each day to consider how it came to be. With all of our waiting and seemingly wrong turns and dead ends, Mateo would not have been here as our son had anything else happened.

Adoption has shaped a family, created brothers, and allowed us the privilege to parent a beautiful child carefully created by God. But the effects of adoption extend far beyond our family unit. Adoption has given grandparents another grandchild to dote on, aunts and uncles another nephew, and our neighbors another explorer to adventure with. So many people are richer because Mateo is in our family. We are the lucky ones.

Adoption has brought life to our home once again and we’re praying we get the opportunity to adopt again. We couldn’t have adopted again so quickly had it not been for the generous support of friends who helped us crowd-source our adoption funds after experiencing our failed adoption. Please consider how you can help promote adoption in your community, especially over this giving season!

Alison Contreras lives with her family in Hyattsville, Md. She teaches couples in the D.C. area about their natural signs of fertility as a Creighton Practitioner at Caritas FertilityCare.

Photograph by Melissa Green

Adoption: Multi-Racial, Multi-National, Heaven-Blessed

by Rob Schwarzwalder

November 28, 2017

Editor’s Note: This article was adapted from “National Adoption Month: My Family’s Adoption Story,” published in The Stream November 26, 2017.

On Thanksgiving this year, gathered around our table were people whose ancestors came from Africa and Europe, South America, and Southeast Asia.

I’m talking about my wife’s and my children.

Our multi-racial sons and daughter were adopted. Race and ethnicity are acknowledged in our family, but as benign issues. Love and laughter, firmness and faithfulness: these have been the integrating factors of our family life, not hair texture or skin complexion.

Children create family. Whether adopted or biological, children bring disparate people together into a small human community of affection, support, enjoyment, and wisdom.

About 110,000 children are adopted every year in America. About 52,000 are adopted from the foster system, the others through private agencies. Most adopted privately are Americans, but a significant but shrinking percentage are adopted from other countries.

Of those 110,000, about 18,000 are infants.

Thousands of loving and committed American families have sought to adopt from abroad, but it’s become tougher in recent years. The State Department provides troubling numbers: In 2004, 23,000 children born abroad were adopted by Americans. In 2016, that number had fallen to just under 6,000.

Why? Because the five countries from which American families adopted the most—China, Russia, Guatemala, South Korea, and Ethiopia—have revised and tightened their adoption policies. There are a variety of reasons, ranging from stupid national pride (“we can care for our own!”) to bureaucratic corruption.

There are more than 400,000 children in foster care. Of them, roughly 112,000 await adoption.

Children with developmental problems languish in foster care or orphanages. Older children, virtually all of whom have been abused in ugly home environments, await loving homes. Often, they wait in vain, as potential adoptive families are wary of bringing into their homes children who might bring serious problems.

This is where the church needs to step in. If a family adopts a particularly needy child, be he six months or 16 years, the local church must do more than just hold a dedication ceremony and bless the family with prayers and smiles. 

Those families need help. They need the services of professional counselors, therapists, remedial educators, developmental experts, and health caregivers. Churches need to be prepared to support, financially, families whose children need that kind of help, possibly for years. 

Churches are not banks—resources are limited, admittedly. But when “bigger and better” church buildings are under construction in every state in the union, surely some money can be dedicated to help with needs far more profound than another 30 spaces in a parking lot.

Thankfully, the adoption tax credit ($13,460 per child) has been restored to the new Republican tax reduction plan. In 2015, about 64,000 American families used the tax credit to help them adopt. The tax credit has been a blessing to hundreds of thousands of middle-income families throughout the country—including mine.

The credit helps, a lot. But it still leaves a lot to be done. The churches need to be front and center in helping families adopt children who need homes. 

One of the many blessings my wife Valerie and I experienced when we adopted our children was receiving financial assistance from the adoption fund my church had set up. This remarkable ministry comes alongside church members who adopt and helps them pay the substantial up-front costs.

There is so much more to say, but for now, a final note: Valerie’s and my children are not adopted. They were adopted. Now, they are just our children. And, with each of them having come to know Christ, are God’s. At this Thanksgiving and always, these are truths for which we are eternally grateful.

Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Lecturer at Regent University. He previously served as Senior Vice-President at Family Research Council.

The Unexpected Blessing of Adoption

by Harold Harper

November 27, 2017

Orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes.” – Excerpted from Radical by David Platt

It is not surprising to me that the month we celebrate Thanksgiving is also the month that is recognized as National Adoption Month. Our call to adoption is one of the things I am most thankful for in my life. As unexpected as our adoption assignment was, I remain grateful that we were attentive to the voice of God and the call to adoption that he had for our family. We are forever changed by that invitation from the Lord!

The holidays are also a time to reflect on another gift that I am so very thankful for and that is the gift of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I can’t imagine how Joseph must have felt when he found out that he was invited by God to take Jesus into his life and family. God’s plan was for Jesus to have an earthly father and mother in Joseph and Mary. This special couple had the privilege of joining God to provide for and care for Jesus until He was old enough to start His earthly ministry.

In 2010, after much prayer and research, God confirmed His plan for our family to move forward with international adoption and specifically, special needs adoption in China. We learned of so many waiting children with medical needs that needed the love of a family and medical care. After many months of prayer and mountains of paperwork, we found ourselves matched with an incredible little boy living in China that needed a family. As crazy as it sounded at the outset, it was God’s plan that we adopt him and bring him back to the United States as a member of our family. We soon learned that we were set to travel and that he would become a part of our family on Valentine’s Day of 2011—a plan from God we could never have foreseen or imagined.

When adoption day arrived, we found ourselves surrounded by Chinese government officials, travel guides, interpreters, nannies, and a dozen other children waiting to be adopted. Squeezed tightly in a small government office, we signed page after page of official papers to become the parents of Josiah James Harper.

A translator interviewed my wife and I, asking numerous and sometimes odd-sounding questions, such as why we would want to adopt this child. Why wouldn’t we, we thought? We were asked to promise never to harm or abandon him—a commitment we could easily make. Fingerprints were taken, as well as a footprint of Josiah. After signing the papers with a notary official at our side and completing the extensive questioning, we were finally finished. Josiah James was our son. The meeting lasted less than an hour, but God’s assignment had been many, many months in the making. What an awesome privilege to receive and complete God’s “Josiah James” assignment.

The more I watch God at work in Josiah’s life, the more I understand why God sent us to China. His plan was clear. God has especially great things in store for our son just like He had for the Josiah we read about in 2 Chronicles 34. What an honor for us as a family.

Josiah has brought so much joy to our family and to all those who know him. We expected to be the ones blessing Josiah, yet it is Josiah who has quickly proven to be a profound blessing to us. God has done a great work in our midst, and we are humbled and grateful as He pours out His love on our family.

What might God be asking of you and your family? Is He inviting you to join Him and embrace a child in need? I encourage you to follow His leading. You will be forever changed.

Harold Harper is Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff at Family Research Council.

From Zero to Zelie: Our Adoption Journey and What We’ve Learned

by Daniel and Bethany Meola

November 10, 2017

November is National Adoption Month. To recognize this important issue, we are publishing personal adoption testimonies this month.

Adoption is very near and dear to our hearts. After six years of marriage, and many prayers for a child, earlier this year we welcomed our daughter Zelie-Louise Layla Rose into our family through adoption. This experience has been a profound journey of faith for us—a pilgrimage—and God has taught us so much through it, and through the people we’ve encountered along the way.

Our adoption story, in a nutshell: we were married in 2011, experienced the heartache of infertility, and in 2015 discerned a call to adopt. Adoption is a calling; not every couple without children is called to pursue it, but all couples should discern it. We then completed our home study (the state’s approval process for pre-adoptive parents) for domestic, infant adoption and after a year and a half of actively waiting, we were chosen by our daughter’s birthparents in February 2017. Zelie was born on April 6, 2017, and we were blessed to be with her from her very first moments after birth. She is a beautiful, energetic, delightfully happy baby who brings immeasurable joy into our family!

Being so personally close to adoption, and being such a new adoptive family, there is both so much to say and at the same time no way to adequately capture all that adoption means to us. Nonetheless, here are a few things we have learned about adoption so far.

Adoption is…

…an act of heroism. And by that we are not talking first about adoptive parents like ourselves, but of birthparents. Selfless love means putting another’s needs ahead of your own desires, and that is exactly what birthparents do. It’s crucial to say that birthparents don’t “give up” a child for adoption, but rather “place” a child or “make an adoption plan.” The latter speak to the proactive love and generosity shown by birthparents in choosing a family for their child, despite the pain and heartache that it can mean for them. We will always teach Zelie that her birthparents are her heroes for their loving decision to place her in our family.

…a response to a loss. This truth is necessary to acknowledge, that adoption happens because there is some crisis or difficulty so grave that a child cannot be raised by his or her birthparents; this is undeniably a tragedy. In a perfect world, we’d have no need for adoption (nor would infertility exist), but in this actual world, adoption is a loving response to a difficult situation, and a powerful example of bringing hope and beauty out of very hard circumstances. It’s important for all involved in adoption to be mindful of the losses involved, especially as an adopted child grows and processes his or her feelings about it. Here, open adoption (some level of ongoing contact between the adoptive and birth families) can help answer a child’s questions, provide connection with his or her heritage, and offer an opportunity for the child to stay connected to the birthparents.

…a powerful act of hospitality. Borrowing from this beautiful piece by adoptive father Timothy O’Malley, adoption expresses great hospitality and welcome. There is a reason why Scripture speaks so often of us as God’s adopted children! “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son … so that we might receive adoption” (Galatians 4: 4-5). Zelie will always have her precious heritage from her birth family, including genetic connections, her looks, and so forth, and we will help her cherish that part of her identity. But when we adopted her, she became fully and truly a member of our family as well. She is forever our daughter. (Side note: this is why adoptive parents bristle when asked, “Do you have any of ‘your own’ children?”) As Timothy O’Malley explains, the hospitality of adoption is a message that speaks to the heart of all parenting: “Adoption reminds us that every act of parenting is a moment of hospitality, a moment that allows love to flourish anew in the world… a love that always comes as gift.”

…a challenging process. Adoption is not for the faint of heart! For potential adoptive parents, the process involves lots of paperwork and an examination of all areas of your life, at times feeling excessive or downright invasive; likely lots of waiting as you hope day after day for “the call”; and a deep vulnerability as you entrust your family’s growth to the Lord, mediated through the very earthly realities of agencies, lawyers, and prospective birthparents. Seen in the right way, trying to adopt is an incredible opportunity to grow as a couple in patience, humility, and trust. The delicacy of the adoption process, and the strong emotions involved, means that it’s also crucial to work with ethical adoption professionals who safeguard the rights and dignity of all those involved: adoptive parents, birthparents, and the child. For couples hoping to adopt, prayer is so important every step of the way.

…a miracle of love. The sacrifices given do not compare to the great gift received—a blessed, unique child—who is a miracle of God’s love never before seen on this earth! When we received Zelie into our arms, you could say we went from “zero” to a fullness of love who smiles and dances around with the wonderful name of Zelie. We marvel at how such a tiny infant can not only draw love and laughter out of us, but also so wonderfully love us in return. Zelie is an unrepeatable miracle of love entrusted to us by her birthparents and by God. For this unfathomable responsibility, we will be forever grateful and we will love Zelie every day of her life.

Daniel Meola is a catechetical specialist at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C.; Bethany Meola is a stay-at-home mom who loves being with Zelie full-time. The couple lives in Bowie, Md. and blogs about their adoption at http://www.adoptionpilgrimage.blogspot.com

Following God’s Call to Adopt in Ethiopia

by Maggie Banga

November 7, 2017

November is National Adoption Month. To recognize this important issue, we are publishing personal adoption testimonies this month.

Shortly after we were married, my husband and I felt that God was calling us to live out our married life as missionaries. We joined the Comboni Missionaries, and after a one year period of formation we were ready to go to mission. A small village mission in Guatemala was chosen as the best match for our skill set and we began to study Spanish. However, two weeks before the planned departure our mission was changed. We would no longer be going to Central America but instead, to our great surprise, to Africa.

We went with a commitment to serve as missionaries for three years wherever we were sent. If someone had told us that we would be serving in Ethiopia for more than six years and that when we did return our family would be majority Ethiopian, we wouldn’t have believed it! We had never thought of nor planned to adopt.

In February 2010, my husband and I arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The sounds, the smells, the sights—everything that was so new and strange slowly became familiar. The community that was once foreign and unfamiliar became our home. We had the desire to share our love more deeply and to welcome a child into our family. We wanted to adopt a baby from Ethiopia. Living in Ethiopia, the process was slightly different though not less complicated than in the U.S. We began working on the paperwork.

We met with the Missionaries of Charity and expressed our interest in adopting a child. On April 30, 2012 (the feast day of Our Lady of Africa), they matched us with a six-month-old baby girl from Northern Ethiopia with intense eyes and big dimples. Her name was Emebet, which in Amharic (a language commonly spoken in Ethiopia) means “honored woman” or “special lady.” I immediately relocated from the south where we were living to the capital to visit with her each day.

During the five week period of waiting to become her legal parents, we felt she might be taken from us before she became our adopted daughter as we saw her battle meningitis and then shortly afterwards measles. It was during this difficult time that my husband felt for the first time like her dad. Visiting her in the afternoon, he found her sick with measles, which is such a contagious disease that she had to be temporarily placed in an isolated part of the orphanage. She was face down and crying desperately in her crib in fear, pain, and loneliness, her body covered in a rash and her nose running from the illness and the tears. He scooped her up into his arms, laid her head on his shoulder, and sang softly, rocking her back and forth. She grew quiet and settled. A couple minutes later she lifted her head and pushed herself back to gaze into his face—who was this who was holding her? He smiled at her and whispered confidently, “I’m your dad and will hold you now forever.”

We continued to open the plan of our family to God’s love. Many changes related to orphan care and adoption were taking place within the country, and it was a very challenging process, but two years later to our amazement we welcomed two more children into our home—Isayas, a 14-month-old active and happy boy, and Teibe, an eight-month-old affectionate and snuggly girl. Isayas’s name is the Amharic version of the prophet Isaiah, meaning “God is salvation.” Teibe’s name comes from Therese Bethlehem—her first name is in honor of St. Teresa of Kolkata (Mother Teresa) and her middle name reminds us of the joy and hope that was sparked there with the birth of Jesus.

We returned to North America last year, after more than six years in service. Our youngest is now four years old! This week we will be blessed with the visit of a Norwegian family that also adopted a boy and a girl from the same orphanage at the same time that we did. We supported each other through the process and waiting period and our kids were friends with cribs next to each other.

We see each of our children as a miracle. We delight in them and in the relationship of the three of them together. They bring joy to us as parents and to our bigger family, their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

It has been amazing to help them to understand our family and how they came to be part of it. We brewed delicious Ethiopian coffee on a recent Sunday morning and it gave our family an occasion to share, rejoice, and ask questions. The coffee was grown in the region where our youngest child Teibe was born. “Where was I born and what do they grow there?” the other two wanted to know. This was a small piece to an ongoing dialogue our family will have about adoption and God’s love and plans for each of us.

We can’t imagine our family without our three kids.

Ask God about his plan for your family. Could you welcome another child into your home?

Maggie Banga and her husband are Comboni Lay Missionaries. They live with their three adopted children in Hyattsville, Md.

Foster Parenting and Adoption: Answering God’s Call to Love

by Kathy Athearn

October 31, 2017

November is National Adoption Month. To recognize this important issue, we will be publishing personal adoption testimonies over the next four weeks.

Did you know that there are thousands of children and youth in foster care who are waiting for permanent, loving families? For most of us, we can’t imagine what life would be like if we hadn’t grown up with the love, protection, and guidance of our families. God created us to be in a family. 

So how can we, as a church and as caring communities, help children that are waiting for families? We can open our hearts and minds to what the Lord wants us to do. Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves includes helping orphans. Consider fostering children to show them God’s love. You can also consider being a family that provides respite care for foster families. In addition, you can provide clothing and toys to foster families or meals during their times of transition. Finally, providing words of encouragement and praying for foster families is extremely helpful.

To help you picture what fostering a child is like, I would like to share my family’s personal experience. My husband Mike and I have been licensed for foster care since the summer of 2013. We are currently waiting to receive a call to foster a girl between the ages of five and seven. However, this will not be our first foster child. Our first foster care experience began four years ago.

There is an eight-month-old girl who needs a placement today. Are you interested?” Not much more information was given to me on July 12, 2013. My heart and mind were racing. I was excited to talk to my husband, Mike, but I wasn’t able to get ahold of him at work.  (We had been licensed to foster a child between newborn and five years of age.) The social worker needed an answer as soon as possible. So I called her back, telling her I knew that Mike would say “yes.” Shortly afterwards, I got ahold of Mike and we met each other at the agency’s transition home where the social worker and baby girl were waiting for us. 

When I saw little Nazarene sleeping so peacefully, it was hard for me to imagine her circumstances being so bad that she had to be removed from her mother’s custody during the night. She was sleeping so soundly that I questioned waking her, but I wanted to comfort her. So I picked her up and held her tight. She was beautiful and innocent. This was the beginning of our family’s relationship with Nazarene and a long road of unknowns. 

Foster parenting requires flexibility and patience. If we didn’t believe that our Heavenly Father is sovereign and in control, it would have been much more difficult. 1 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” We had to trust God’s plan as we took Nazarene to visit her mom on a weekly basis for two years, and wonder if she would go back to her mom who was dealing with severe mental and family problems, or if we would eventually be able to adopt her.

Finally, in January 2016 our family adopted little Nazarene. We gave her a new middle name, “Faith.” The love that Mike, Joy (age 12), Lydia (age 10), our extended family, and I have for Nazarene is indescribable. We love her profoundly and pray that she will one day know how much her Heavenly Father loves her—sending his Son to die for her.

In addition, thankfully, we have a good relationship with Nazarene’s birth mom—e-mailing her pictures of our little girl and meeting her twice a year. Our prayer is that she, too, will realize how much God loves her. 

If you feel God opening your heart and your home to a foster child, please contact a local agency that can answer your questions and provide you with additional information. Here are some links to help get you started:

[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8a)

Kathy Athearn is Correspondence Writer at Family Research Council.

10 Things Every New Father Should Know

by Daniel Hart

June 16, 2017

On Christmas Eve of last year, my son was born. As someone who is slow to react to big, life-changing events, the birth of my son left me mostly stunned and awestruck. For weeks afterward (more like months, if I’m honest), I would often have to remind myself that this tiny new human being was actually my son. Even though I had accompanied my amazing wife through the entire journey of our baby’s birth, it sometimes felt like he had suddenly appeared in our home out of the blue, as if a stork had flown into our backyard one day, deposited him in the grass, and flew away with a smirk.

There were times when I felt a bit intimidated by him. That may sound odd to be scared of a newborn, but occasionally it seemed as if he stared right through me, deeming me an unworthy father. This made me worry that he might not like me, that he might not smile or giggle at my attempts to entertain him, that he might cry at my attempts to soothe him, that he might wriggle away from my touch.

Well, guess what? My worries have proven to be unfounded. In honor of Father’s Day this Sunday, I present the top 10 things I’ve learned about fatherhood since the birth of my firstborn son six months ago.

1. Fatherhood begins before the child is born.

Even when your baby is still in utero, he can still hear and feel your presence as a father. The amazing extent to which unborn babies are able to do this is continuing to be discovered by science. Just as he knows his mother’s voice and can recognize other sounds that he hears repeatedly, so too will he recognize his father’s voice if it is a consistent vocal presence. Praying with, talking, reading, and singing to your unborn child is not only a great way for fathers to feel more involved in their wives’ pregnancies, but this will also help the father bond with and grow in affection for his offspring as he feels the baby kick and squirm in response. I’ll never forget the time that I played a song on guitar and sang directly into my wife’s belly—my unborn son began kicking non-stop with such energy that my wife and I could only gape at each other in amazement.

The more that fathers feel the kicks and the hiccups, the more affection they will begin to feel for their child. There will also be plenty of opportunities to attend periodic ultrasound checkups—be sure to attend as many as possible, as there’s nothing quite like seeing the amazing silhouette and unique movements of your child to begin the bonding process.

2. Feeling a bit distant from your newborn is normal.

It’s no secret that the bond between a mother and her newborn is incomparably powerful. The fact that the mother physically gestated her child for nine months and is her baby’s only source of food makes the relationship beautifully symbiotic. The reality for a new father is that for nine months, he has literally been at a physical distance, and for the first few months after birth, he most likely won’t be able to hold the child as much as his wife because of nursing demands.

So if new fathers find themselves feeling a lack of intimacy with their newborns as a result, it’s important to remember that this is perfectly normal and okay. Just like with any relationship, the love fathers have for their children will deepen as they get to know them better.

This will play out in practical ways. In time, I learned that my son prefers to be bounced to sleep instead of rocked or swayed. He is absolutely transfixed and delighted by the sight of my wife and I washing dishes and eating. He loves to stand (with our support) in high positions and turn his head from side to side to observe all that is below him. He loves to rub my beard as I carry him around, even as he is falling asleep in my arms. He prefers to ride (and sleep) in the bumpy cheap stroller that is falling apart rather than the nice jogging stroller. As fathers learn the unique quirks and mannerisms that every child develops, his love will in turn grow and deepen inextricably. 

3. Blaze your own trail to get to know your child.

Every child is unique, and in the same way, there is no one right way to dive in to fatherhood. The important thing is to just dive in. Be okay with your child screaming in your arms, because that’s how you learn to soothe him. Be okay with your baby peeing on you as you attempt to change his diaper, because that’s how you learn the best changing procedure.

Let your own creativity be your guide. Make up a special song for your baby that he will get used to so you can lull him to sleep with it and sing it while you horse around with him during play time. Don’t be afraid to be goofy, dorky, and cheesy with your kid. The ability to be a goof with your child in front of anyone is a great sign that you are getting comfortable in your own skin as a dad. It will also give you bonus points with your wife when you can give her a break by rocking your child to sleep yourself or successfully keep your child calm in the baby carrier.

4. Lean in to the suffering.

Yes, there will be times as a new father when you will feel miserable, tired, frustrated, maybe a bit angry, or experience other unpleasant feelings. It will be when your back is aching from a solid 35 straight minutes of trying to get your baby to sleep, or from changing a diaper at 4 a.m., followed by an hour of inconsolability, knowing that you have to get up for work in an hour.

Instead of just stomaching these hardships until they’re over, lean in to these moments when you know you are suffering, and turn it into a prayer offering and sacrifice. Empathize with your baby’s screams instead of letting your frustration level rise, and offer up a word of praise and pleading to the Lord. Babies have an uncanny ability to sense when you are getting stressed, and their stress level will usually rise in conjunction with yours. Your calmness and humble acceptance of the situation will generally pay off. If it doesn’t, and your wife has to save the day, it’s important not to feel discouraged because you know you gave it your best.

5. The more you give, the more you will receive.

The nature of fatherhood is to sacrifice one’s self for one’s child. This may make fatherhood sound like a dreary slog, but my experience has been very much the opposite. Giving of yourself can take a multitude of forms, both large and small.

One (seemingly) small way that fathers give is simply by interacting with their babies as much as possible. Make eye contact and be as facially expressive as you can be—your child will imitate you and respond accordingly. Just as your baby has a symbiotic relationship with its mother through nursing, you as a father can have a symbiotic relationship with your child through interaction. Since your baby has its own unique personality and you have yours, the interaction you receive from your child will literally change your brain chemistry, and vice versa. This mutual gift of self is a beautiful image of the Holy Trinity—the Father gives all that He is and has to the Son, who gives Himself back completely to the Father, resulting in the fruit and bond of their shared love—the Holy Spirt.

6. Kiss your wife in front of your baby.

Don’t be shy about showing physical affection in front of your wide-eyed baby. Children thrive on seeing a physical reminder of the union of their parents and the love they share. This display of unity can take many other forms besides showing PDA. Sharing meals together as a family, with your baby seated between you and your wife or in one of your laps, is another great way to show your child that you cherish your family unit. When a child sees the physical union present between his parents, he will feel whole and secure, because he is the physical incarnation of the union of you and your wife.

7. Your role in your child’s sense of self is vital.

As we’ve discussed, the first month or two of a baby’s life is mostly characterized by the intense bond that the mother and child share through the symbiosis of gestation and nursing. It goes without saying that this is vital to the health and well-being of mother and child, but equally vital is the father’s role in helping to nurture the baby’s independence apart from the mother. When you physically separate your baby from your wife by taking him outside the house for a walk, engaging in rough & tumble play in a separate room, coaxing him to say “dada,” giving him his first bits of grilled hamburger, or presenting him to family, friends, and your church community, you are helping your baby become a distinct entity apart from mom, which aids in the development of his own unique identity and sense of self.

8. Don’t sweat it when you fail.

There will be times when you will feel like a failure as a new father. For me, I have felt most like a failure (and still do) when I spend what feels like hours trying to coax my son to sleep, but to no avail. After a dozen different methods of cradling, patting, singing, bouncing, rocking, murmuring, and massaging have failed, unexpectedly strong feelings of anger and frustration will sometimes bubble up inside me, and after my wife takes over and I walk out of the bedroom still smarting from such a chastening experience, I sometimes fume inwardly that my own child, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, was not comforted by his father’s best efforts. These are the times when it’s important to remember that babies are constantly growing and changing from one day to the next. The rough patches that every baby goes through are just stages in an amazingly fast developmental process. So don’t sweat it, and be patient—your baby will soon outgrow whatever exasperating behavior you failed to overcome.

9. You image God the Father to your child.

I say this at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, but it’s true. As touched on previously, fathers have in their nature a unique way of introducing their child to the wider world beyond the home, while at the same time showing the child unconditional love. A child needs to have total and complete trust in his father and feel absolutely secure, just as we are all called to trust completely in Abba (“daddy”), our Heavenly Father. Fathers carry their babies to new environments and introduce, teach, and show their babies new sights, sounds, and smells in the backyard or in the neighborhood, just as God the Father did with Adam in the Garden of Eden. They help their babies develop new motor skills and strengthen their muscles by flying them through the air and letting them stand on their own two legs for as long as possible, just as God the Father challenges us to spiritually grow and mature.

Parents are the images of God to their children. The baby’s first experience of God is through the love shown to him by his parents. Therefore, God the Father is revealed to a child through their father in a way that is totally distinct and unique from their mother.

10. Take this advice with a grain of salt.

As you will find out, when it comes to parenthood, everyone on God’s green earth has an opinion about how to do it best, this blog post notwithstanding. It can all be a bit overwhelming. So, with that said, take my words of wisdom one last time: when there’s an opportunity for a nap, take it, and when there’s an opportunity for a beer, drink it. Happy Father’s Day!

We’re Better Together

by Daniel Hart

June 7, 2017

In a recent column for The Daily Signal, Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) makes a striking observation about the current unease that has infused our society:

…[M]any Americans—poor, middle class, and wealthy—feel that something is amiss. It is a feeling that cannot be reduced to economic anxiety. Rather, there is a sense that our social fabric is fraying.

And these concerns are reflected in objective measures of family and community health.

To cite just a few of the trends that may be grouped under the rubric of “social capital”: marriage and churchgoing have declined, distrust of the nation’s institutions has grown, mixed-income neighborhoods have become rarer, regional polarization has increased, and young men who are neither working nor looking for work have become more numerous and more isolated.

We do less together than in the past, and we are worse off for it, economically and otherwise…

We do less together than in the past…” This insight hits on a deep need that all human beings share: a sense of belonging. We all have the innate desire to be needed and to belong in a community. To accomplish this, human beings need to be together. This seems painfully obvious, but as Mike Lee observed, our society has seen a decline in two of the primary institutions that foster “togetherness”: marriage and churchgoing.

The benefits of marriage to individuals and to society as a whole are incalculable, but let’s focus on the particular power of marriage to bring people together. When a man and a woman marry, they are participating in something far beyond themselves. This is most apparent in the wedding celebration itself, which attracts family and friends from far and wide who gather in one place to rejoice in the mysterious union of two people. This union stretches far beyond the wedding day, however—from that day forward, two wholly separate families are now forever joined to each other “in law.” Marriage, therefore, brings people together in a truly unique and profound way, creating an “extended family” even beyond the newly minted immediate family.

While there are countless jokes that can be made about the drudgeries of “in-laws,” there is no disputing that marriage forges new familial bonds that last a lifetime, providing husbands and wives with both the trials and joys of having a larger family than they did before marriage. This in turn creates new networks of opportunity for “togetherness,” whether it be through expanded family reunions that yield new friendships and shared passions, or new job opportunities that are made possible through extended family businesses. In the same way, marriage creates a whole new network of friends and acquaintances for the bride and groom, who each essentially have the size of their social circle doubled.

The church provides the other great venue for bringing people together. Houses of worship will forever draw us to them because of the God-sized hole in our hearts—the innate desire to reach beyond ourselves and give thanks to our Creator for giving us the gift of life and every blessing in it, and for the ability to belong to a body of believers that gives us a particular identity as sons and daughters of Christ. Furthermore, churches provide avenues for ministering to one another in both practical and spiritual ways, whether it be hosting soup kitchens and clothing drives for the needy, hosting fundraisers for a family affected by tragedy, prison ministry, running youth groups and Bible studies, and on and on. In short, a church is a place where anyone can come and feel like they belong to a community and where they can find a helping hand when in need, either physically or spiritually.

The overarching point here is this: when we are brought together in genuine and deeply rooted ways, we find true fulfilment. Marriage and the church are the primary institutions of permanence in society that provide this union of persons. God, after all, is a union of Three Persons. When we are in communion with each other, we grow in virtue. Therefore, when we as a culture diminish and abandon these institutions, we deny our intrinsic human need to belong, and we miss out on the resulting opportunities to grow in virtue by ministering to our fellow man. So let us champion marriage and the church as the great forgers of “togetherness,” and therefore of human flourishing.

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