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Posts Tagged ‘orphans’

winter treeI thought I could write today. I thought I would title this post, the Widow’s Lament, but really, to what end? I am forging on, for good or ill, the way I usually do, with busyness and tasks. In this way, I can push back the other, that unnameable thing some call grief, but the word barely scratches at the guts of the experience.

Williams Carlos Williams wrote a beautiful poem entitled the Widow’s Lament, but it also carries the hope of renewal within it, set in the spring. For me, it is still winter, cold short days and bitter wind and frozen tears falling white.

I sought out scripture about widows, and we, like orphans, defined by our aloneness, are cast upon the body for care and love. I am grateful for it, I can say that plainly for my capable self is perilously close to shattering her illusion. Keep busy. What is worse? To collapse under the weight of it all and cast one’s being into the flurry of well-intentioned voices and pursuits or brave it well by appearance and lose support? Where is the middle ground? I am not a blubbering mess, not really, but I am also not a tower of strength. Stay close, my people, the way is long.

True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us. [James 1:27, CEB]

I found these words, I dedicate them to my children, that they might know something of the truth (written by Lauren Bacall, at the death of her beloved husband, Humphrey Bogart):

A new beginning for me, the making of a life without Bogie . . . And from the time of his death–and more and more–his teachings have permeated by being. With each passing year I find myself repeating more and more often to my three children and to many of my friends his words of wisdom . . . how two become one and is that one way people live on after death? . . . So imagine my shock when I realized, at the tender age of sixty-five, that with all the above, the final truth is this: I live alone. I need a reason for all that I do, not just fill my days but to unleash my energy, to make me feel warm, that I matter, to satisfy my emotions. When I travel, which is often, who do I buy things for? My children. to whom do I send postcards? My children. Who do I call? My children. they are my connection. My connection with yesterday, today and tomorrow.

And so I imagine it will be (and is) with me: my children and my God and the people who love and need to be loved.

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orphan babyI can certainly relate to little Prissy in Gone with the Wind who says, “”I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies!” I don’t either, not really. Having built our family through adoption, this aspect of womanhood has eluded me. And yet I know, there is potential for great mystery and anguish; joy and sorrow.

Genesis 29:31, 33a, 34a, 35a
When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. . . . She [Leah] conceived again . . . Again she conceived . . . She conceived again . . .

In the example of Rachel and Leah, it is the unlovely and cast-off sister whose womb is opened from the beginning and she bears four boys in a row while her sister remains barren. Each child’s name is a message to Jacob (who isn’t listening):

  • Reuben could be translated to mean, “see my misery” or “see, a son!” (as in look, pay attention)
  • Simeon means “one who hears” referring to God who heard her prayers, perhaps Jacob would too?
  • Levi could be translated to mean “attached,” in a way that Leah had hoped Jacob would finally attach to her as the mother of his sons.
  • Judah could be translated as “praise” which appears to be her final understanding, that children are about God, not man.

I discovered, after many years of tears, that my inability to bear children had to be accepted as a reality before reality could change. Once I could thank God for who I was and our circumstances, we could move on to adoption and discover the family God intended.

You would think, after the debacle of Sarah and Hagar (surely that story was told through the generations), the women would know that God’s timing was God’s alone and could not niggled with. But they did not. One sister thought the births would change Jacob’s heart and he would finally “love” her while the other wife resented her sister’s fruitfulness. But nothing good comes from resentment or jealousy or envy. . . ever.

Women have not learned much through the ages, I’m afraid. There are still women who intentionally invite pregnancy as a solution to¬† their problems (perhaps that boyfriend will marry her or that husband will stay closer to home). There are women who see pregnancy as a curse and continually interrupt that cycle through abortion and morning after pills. There are women who have babies without thought to the impact of that child on their finances and futures; there are women who bring children into the world in hopes the grown child will for the mother in her old age. And now, there are even surrogate mothers, who carry a child for someone else or women who defy nature somewhat by artificially inseminating a child or taking hormones to increase their chances of birth and unwittingly produce litters of babies.

I am not casting judgment, not really, but it’s all a bit out of hand. Just as there are pets languishing in shelters, there are unwanted children in foster care and orphanages all over the world.

They are the responsibility of us all.

Yesterday, the Russian government, once again (for this is not the first time) has placed into law a ban on Americans adopting Russian children. This was a strictly political move and shows little concern for the children themselves. When we adopted our daughter from St. Petersburg in 2006, her orphanage alone had over 150 children and it is only one of thousands of orphanages in the country. In the United States, in 2011, there were over 401,000 children in foster care, many of whom could be adopted.

Babies are amazing, no doubt. Making babies can be an act of true love. But we must remember, there is a future to every child born that must be embraced by all of society, no matter their color or race, their health or disability. A child born is part of the family of God.

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Any change, any redirection, any assessment of the present requires a stop. Plain and simple.

Isaiah 1:16b-17
. . . stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

When our high energy Boston Terrier, Rocky, is over the top and we are trying to settle him down, it has to be cold turkey. We have to stop throwing the toy or stop engaging him in any way. That little dog is addicted to the high of chase and retrieve. He is not able to stop himself. He would probably keel over in exhaustion before he would stop if we didn’t make him stop.

There are stories in the human world that are not that different. They call it intervention.

So, based on this scripture, here’s the way it might work:

  1. Stop doing what you’re doing.
  2. Learn a better way.
  3. Seek justice.

It makes sense really because the process of learning a different way or better way to act, behave, operate in our world will reveal the injustices that proliferate in our society. The better way is littered with the shredded souls who tried and failed, who went back to the old way, who could not master themselves or the demands of change.

Everyone needs help after the stop. Just the learning alone is treacherous.

My daughter is an ESOL (English as a Second Language) learner. Even after 5 1/2 years in this country, she struggles with the nuance of the language and the vocabulary that is unique to a variety of subjects. But, she is determined all the same. She stopped the downhill pull in high school and decided she would attend community college. But the challenges did not stop. And as she plugs along, she has experienced unfair treatment and mockery by students and teachers alike. We are working together to remedy this, but it’s a slog.

In the bigger picture, Isaiah writes, once the path toward justice is found, then we are strengthened and we can take what we have learned about stopping, learning and seeking justice to reach out to others, those others oppressed by the powerful, the disengaged, the blind proud.

Orphans are at particular risk. Without love, how do they survive? What choices will they make to get what they can get, to show the world, to play the odds.

Jesus said the poor will always be with us [Matthew 26:11], but must the orphans be relegated to this statement as well?

If every family of moderate means or every single adult would adopt just one orphan, what would happen? Start there. We are without excuse in this country. Even if we don’t have the courage or interest in the orphans of the world, shouldn’t we, at the least, adopt our own?

In Old Testament times, the poor of the poor were the widows. So much depended on the willingness of families and children to care for them, but often, they could not. There was no legal provision for them. And although most widows fair much better in our society financially (unless there was nothing to begin with), they are still in need of emotional support. I know I have stumbled here as well, intending to reach out, but getting too caught up in my own world.

Isn’t that the way of it? My own world, my little sphere, my own boundaries.

Isn’t it time to just stop and take a breath, to look around myself, to assess the way, to learn something new?

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All executions were performed outside the city walls. Anything that was unclean or tainted was destroyed or thrown away there. Jesus broke up a lot of traditions, but the greatest one was starting something holy in an unholy place.

Hebrews 13:12-13
And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.

Two thousand years ago, the followers of Christ were considered unclean, much like lepers. They were law breakers and rule breakers. They were teaching others that the temple traditions were no longer necessary. They were breaking down societal structures. They all deserved to be cast away and thrown out from the protection of the city gates. This was the mindset of Paul of Tarsus and the crusade of his companions to obliterate the Christ-ians.

Now, some two thousand years, the tables have turned, and the very same believers in that former renegade, Jesus of Nazareth, are the ones who inhabit the “city” and have created their own order and culture of “righteousness.” It seems that anyone who might question or disagree with the current regime is cast outside the camp.

They are a new set of Pharisees who are putting people under microscopes before they are allowed inside.

But I believe Jesus is still outside the city. Jesus is still rubbing shoulders with the prostitutes and homeless, the poor and the outcasts, the disenfranchised and the orphans, the persecuted and the different, the prisoners and the ex-prisoners. The way of Jesus will always be the way of paradox. When we become to comfortable, we may have strayed onto the wide road [Matthew 7:13-14].

I am equally challenged here. I may go outside the “camp” for a visit, but every night I still run home to my comfortable bed and my air conditioning, my habits and my rituals.

I am yet afraid outside my “personal city” walls. I am afraid that I will be lost, that I will be hurt, that I will be shut out.

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There’s probably not a pastor or Christian fund raiser who hasn’t used the phrase, “it is more blessed to give than receive,” but it seems everyone has focused on the monetary piece of this and missed some other crucial possibilities. Giving is not limited to dollars and cents.

Acts 20:35
In everything I [Paul] did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ “

To be honest, I can’t even find a place where Jesus actually said this phrase in the gospels. That’s a bit problematic for me but for argument’s sake, let’s assume Paul wouldn’t make that part up.

But what else is he saying? I hear him emphasize the importance of hard work and how he and his followers met their own needs and still had enough to also meet some of the needs of others.

Paul gave what he had and in this case, I’m thinking it was his strength, his knowledge, his dauntless faith, as well as the fruit of his labors. As a former Pharisee, he was probably a good student. He knew what it meant to study and then to teach. He was smart. He was committed. He was zealous. When he became a follower of Jesus, he practiced and worked as a tent maker. He worked.

In Paul’s time, some people could not work. Some people were sick (both physically & mentally) and could not help themselves. Widows and orphans were alone in the world and needed support. People were caught in the cycle and web of poverty and despair. Any different from today?

Paul believed that those who can work, must work and share with those who cannot. But, again, it’s not just the money, it’s the work itself… the labor, the strength to do what must be done.

I am a high energy person. I know this. I can usually get a lot done in a day. My parents, my mother in particular, brought me up with a strong work ethic. I have worked at some kind of a paying job since I was fourteen when I lied about my age and washed test tubes and urine bottles in a medical lab (back in the day). Since then, I have been a candy salesman, a waitress (several times over), a bookkeeper, a bartender, a filing clerk, an office temp, a secretary, an administrative assistant, a toy salesman, a Realtor, a teacher, an actress, a model, a spokesperson, a mascot, a director, a playwright, a magazine writer, a director of a nonprofit agency, a manager of a dance company, a manager of a theater company, a speaker, a trainer, a photographer, an entrepreneur, a web master, a librarian, and a branch manager.

But work is not just physical labor, there is also the work of my mind and my spirit. Writing is work. Speaking is work. Thinking is work. Planning is work. Problem solving is work.

And then there are other non-paying jobs like washing dishes, mowing a lawn, cleaning a house, photographing an event, planting a garden, driving a car, cooking a meal, and raising children.

If I am capable of doing any of this work, then I am capable of giving from the fruit of this work (money) or I can give the work itself. There is even more power in giving my self and my time. I can be present. My spirit, my time, my strength, and my energy are probably my most precious commodities… even more so than the dollars I make with my knowledge and labor.

Yes, it is more blessed to give… of oneself… that to receive… of another. Here I am Lord, send me [Isaiah 6:8].

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Acts 6:3
Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility [feeding the poor] over to them.

We each have unique abilities and it’s important to know what they are and how they can be used to serve the greater good. But have we narrowed our vision too much?

Some have used this story about the apostles calling for the choosing of the seven as an excuse for leaving the mundane tasks of service to others. In some churches, these are the “deacons,” whose task it is to handle the day to day needs of the church: they are the worker bees.

This mindset has created hierarchical structures and divisions. The apostles, although concerned about their own call to teach and proclaim the gospel, were also concerned about the needs of others. They knew it was their responsibility, as leaders, to ensure that the needs of all were met. This is how they came up with selecting/anointing seven additional leaders whose criteria for leadership was the same as their own: wisdom and the full presence of the Holy Spirit.

These seven were not “below” the apostles nor was their job description less important. They were filling an important role in the body. If there are people going hungry in our congregations, our neighborhoods, or even our cities and towns, then this role has been lost. And of course, we know that’s true.

If every church cared for the poor, the widows, and the orphans within its geographical reach, all of their basic needs would be met. Instead, the church is more concerned about the mortgage on the building, the color of the carpet, and the cost of benefits for the staff, etc.

Leaders in the church: make sure all of the needs of your poor are being met and if they are not, then stop what you are doing and get it done. And if the body of believers in a particular church are well off, then it should adopt a church family in the poorer area and meet the needs of their poor, their widows & orphans, together.

Idealistic? maybe. I would love to see a map where every church is pinpointed, large or small. I think, at the very least, the U.S. population would be well-covered with such an abundance that there would be enough for others around the world.

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John 14:18
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

I suppose, since my husband and I adopted our three children and we are engaged with the orphan care ministries in our church (where the body supports at least two orphanages in Africa and more than 70 families have adopted children both domestically and internationally), I am particularly sensitized to the term ‘orphan’ whenever it appears in scripture.

In James 1:27, he emphasizes the importance of caring for orphans and widows. They are a special lot who require our attention and care. In ancient times, orphans and widows were classless since they were totally dependent on the “kindness of strangers” or extended family. And really, have things changed so very much?

Orphaned children continue to be a tragedy in our culture today. In some parts of the world, the numbers are staggering. In Sub-Saharan Africa where community and the family are the norm, children are not just orphaned by parents, but also by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The adults in their lives are dying every day.

Jesus promises his disciples (and ultimately us) that He will not leave us as orphans: it is a huge promise. He is promising a relationship that will meet our needs… physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Either he lied or He’s doing that today.

But we’re missing it. The orphans of our world have not been able to depend on us. As a result, they learn to “fend for themselves.” They learn it is not safe to trust those around them. They learn to manipulate the system.

On some days, I can see myself in this self-sustaining orphan attitude. I have judged my adoptive parent, Jesus, as lacking somehow, not giving me what I want or when I want it. Forgive me.

I will rest today in the arms of my “family,” adopted, not just be Jesus, but the community of Jesus.

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