Thursday, May 14, 2015

CAFO2015: A Call to Care for God's Children

Two weeks ago, I attended CAFO2015, the Christian Alliance for Orphans' annual Summit. This was the third Summit I've attended, and as always, there are highlights I'd like to share.

I have to start with the biggest highlight of all... After two years of trying to convince my sister Lori to attend Summit, she finally made it! It was awesome to have her there with me and even more awesome to hear her share on a panel discussing raising foster and adoptive children of a different ethnicity. Lori -- a mom to biological, adoptive and foster children -- did a fabulous job, and I was a proud little sister. I want to be like her when I grow up.

Big Sis Lori and Me

Another highlight for me was the privilege of leading CAFO's African American Church Initiative. This initiative began with a racially-diverse, energetic group of folks at CAFO2013. It has grown to include over forty people with the same passion -- igniting the African American church with the message of James 1:27: caring for orphans and vulnerable children. It was great to witness a new crop of advocates attend our luncheon. I can't wait to see what God will do with this amazing group of believers.

As for other highlights, I'll give a brief summary of three...

1. Jedd Medefind's "Stages of Justice Engagement"

In the first general session CAFO President Jedd Medefind gave the most compelling talk I've ever heard from him. He listed the four Stages of Justice Engagement: Waking, Advocacy, Disillusionment, and Commitment Amidst Complexity. His explanation of the "Disillusionment" stage was illuminating and convicting. I've witnessed this stage in my own heart when I've struggled with fatigue or boredom or resentment in my calling to serve vulnerable children. Jedd encouraged us to remain humble before God, ourselves and others. He encouraged us to embrace "Gospel humility", realizing that we ourselves are not saviors. As sinners saved by grace, we are actually part of the world's problems. And he reminded us to serve enthusiastically, while remembering that "Instead of our enthusiasm driving our theology, our theology should drive our enthusiasm." 

2. Bishop Aaron Blake's Call for the Church to "Stand Up" for Foster Children

Bishop's live interview with Family Life Today during Friday's general session was a real treat. Bishop Aaron Blake shared the testimony of his ministry to young men from his community in Texas. Over the years this ministry grew from mentor in the local public schools to foster Dad of five teenage boys. He told the story of the day his foster sons literally burned his house down. Though the fire was accidental, the boys assumed they would be forced to leave Bishop and his wife Mary's home and be placed in other foster homes. Bishop's message to them was, "You boys are engrafted in. Nothing you can do can separate us." That message sunk in, so much so that one of those five sons, Diego, performed a rap for us that morning. The name of his song? "Engrafted."

3. Dr. Karyn Purvis' Call to Loving Discipline

I'm sure I've said this before... more than once. I LOVE Dr. Karyn Purvis. Dr. Purvis has done more to encourage me as adoptive mama than anyone else on this earth. I've blogged about Dr. Purvis a couple times before, but I just have to mention her again. Dr. Purvis' Connecting While Correcting workshop reiterated her oft-spoken theme, "Preciousness. This is always the message. Our children must be reminded that they are precious." As always, she was practical, sharing tools to discipline our children, especially our children from hard places. She empowered us with tools like "time-in", where we have the child complete a task or chore beside us, instead of time-out, where we send them away from us. My favorite part of her talks, though, are those nuggets, those passionately-spoken words that are stand-alone sermons. My fave nuggets from this talk... "As the parent, you're the coach, not the warden." And the reminder to discipline as God does. "When I'm disciplined by God, I know I'm loved."

As always, CAFO2015 was a huge blessing. Will you join us at CAFO2016 in Orlando, Florida?

Saturday, May 9, 2015

This Mother's Day... Without my Mom

My Mom with former Baltimore Mayor & State's Attorney Kurt Schmoke 

I haven't shared much here recently. While the whirlwind of my life has slowed some, most days I find myself pushing through, working through fatigue and grief.

I haven't even spoken about the upheaval in my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. My hometown that I still love deeply. I've watched lots of footage. I've had several conversations. I have many, many thoughts. 

I just haven't felt led to write about it.

And yet life goes on...

Tomorrow is Mother's Day, and I'm finding myself experiencing a mixture of emotions. I'm happy to be a Mom. So blessed to have four beautiful, healthy children. Children that amaze me with their multiple gifts and talents. Children that make me laugh until my side hurts. Children that also drive me crazy - almost literally. 

Children that God saw fit to bless me with through the miracle of birth and the wonder of adoption. My children make me grateful for Mother's Day. 

I have lived Psalm 113:9... "He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the LORD!"

Yet... I'm also feeling the sadness of having lost my Mom on January 10 of this year, exactly three weeks to the day after I'd lost my Dad. My Mom was an amazing woman. I shared a little about that here in my last post.

Losing my Mom has set me up for a series of "firsts". My first Easter without her. My first child's high school graduation without her. My first Mother's Day without her.

I debated sharing my heart on this, since I knew I'd risk being a "Debbie Downer" on such a beautiful holiday weekend. But then I read something in Essence Magazine yesterday that made me want to tell this story. To share the downside of holidays that those of us who have lost loved ones experience, especially in the first year of loss. 

When I read an article featuring singer/entertainer Kelly Rowland (formerly of girl-group Destiny's Child), I felt I needed to share. Kelly's mother passed away unexpectedly of cardiac arrest last December. Kelly had recently begun a family and had welcomed her first child, son Titan, the month before her mother's death.

Her words:
"When you lose a parent, you're always getting over it, because you spent so long with somebody and then they're no longer there. I woke up the other morning and I was on my way to the gym. I picked up my phone to call her and I was like, Oh my God, I can't talk to my mom."
In my last post I shared about feeling this same way. So many times I've seen something, heard something, felt something, and thought Wait 'til I tell Mom. 

I even thought about how she would feel about her beloved Baltimore, and the recent turmoil the city has experienced. We would have talked about Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who attended Western High School with me many moons ago and also attended my parents' church, Douglas Memorial Community Church. We would have talked about the riots. We would have talked about a possible precedence being set by Baltimore City's State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby when she indicted all six officers implicated in the death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray. 

But I said I wasn't going to write about it, didn't I? Maybe I need my Mom's weigh-in before I write. Maybe it's not as interesting to write when I haven't gotten her perspective. 

I don't know, but one thing I do know... I miss my Mom like crazy.

This Mother's Day, please remember those of us mourning our moms in your prayers. And... remember what a blessing your Mom is in your life. Make sure you tell her. Love her well. She might not get it all right all the time. But neither do we.

And if you're a Mom, thank God for the life He's blessed you with. This exhilarating, exhausting life of mommyhood. Being a Mom is a gift from God. May we cherish it as so.

And... allow yourself to be pampered. After all, you're a Mama. You deserve it!