Friday, November 22, 2013

The Minnesota 500

If you've read my blog or seen my Facebook you know that I have an incredible amount of passion for the issue of kids in foster care who are waiting for a family. Recently that passion has expanded beyond those in the U.S. to include older waiting children in other countries. Recently my branch has been assigned 22 children over the age of 10 across the world who are waiting for a family. I can't get them out of my mind.

For this reason I have designed the Minnesota 500. I really believe that God is asking the church in MN to step forward and consider adopting older kids out of foster care and around the world. The 500 number comes from the 350 who are currently waiting and not in a preadoptive home in Minnesota and 150 of the children internationally that Bethany has been asked by various countries to find families for.

I'm meeting with pastors who will give me time to do so to discuss with them how to set goals as to how many children their congregation will step forward to adopt in the next few years. It is my dream over the next three years to have churches step up to claim a total 500 future adoptions.

So why am I telling you? You might have a connection to a church that might like to hear about my plea. Or, even more significant, you might feel like God is calling you to adopt.

If you would like to hear about the 22 kids that I'm referring to... or if you would like to connect me with your pastor, I'd love to hear from you....

To adequately communicate the passion I have for this, let me post here my gala speech from our gala at Bethany two weeks ago...

In our world today there are a multitude of agencies that exist to deal with the myriad of human needs that we find ourselves facing in a broken world -- homelessness, the incarcerated, those caught in human trafficking, hunger, unemployment, and on and on. And while many see us as not that different from the others, I want to explain tonight why we are unique and why I personally I am humbled by the opportunity God has given me to lead the MN branch of Bethany Christian Services.

Most of you know that my husband and I have adopted twelve children. In 1996 we learned that 120,000 children in the US were in foster care and legally free for adoption… and we felt God calling us to do our part. That began an incredible journey. Now ten of our kids are adults and we have four grandchildren – and my passion for 3children who wait has only increased over the years.

Have you ever asked yourself the question, “Why do I get out of bed every morning?” For seventeen years now I’ve had the same answer. I get up every morning because each year over 25,000 teens celebrate their 18th or 21st birthday and are forced out of foster care, alone and unwanted, never belonging to a family.”

Richard Stearns, CEO of World Vision, answers that question for his own life. He says, “I get up every morning because I get to be the answer to the prayers of a child.”

So what happens to those children whose prayers go unanswered? What happens to those who never know the love and safety that comes with family? The statistics are both alarming and sobering. Of these young adults who age out of the system:
30% are homeless,
63% don’t complete high school,
55% are unemployed,
62% have trouble accessing health care,
40% are on welfare;
42% get arrested,
26% are incarcerated,
60% of the girls are pregnant within a year of leaving foster care.
And over 60% of child trafficking victims across the United States are current or former foster youth

These numbers are what make Bethany stand out as unique from other non-profit organizations. We have been entrusted by God to change the statistics of the future. Every year here in the U.S., these 25,000 plus kids leave foster care without anyone to claim them and no place to belong. The average age now for young adults becoming financially independent from their parents is 27. How can we as a society release foster youth into the world without parents and expect them not to become a statistic?

Bethany Christian Services as a global organization envisions a world where every child has a loving family. In Minnesota Bethany has been working towards that end for over twenty years. Before a child is born we provide compassionate and wise counsel to those deciding whether to parent their child or make an adoption plan. We place newborn babies into families, we bring children from across the world into homes that are planning and hoping and dreaming of their arrival, and we work to find families for older children and teenagers in the foster care system. Today there are 350 kids waiting right here in Minnesota, and 143 of them have been waiting for a family for over three years. 9 We make a difference because each time a child finds that place where they belong, are loved unconditionally, and have consistent support, the likelihood of them becoming a statistic as an adult decreases substantially.

22 teenagers have recently been assigned to our Minnesota branch from our global office. They are older kids from Africa, Asia, Colombia, and Bulgaria and they have taken over my dreams and permeate my waking hours. I have read their paperwork, I know their stories and I have memorized their faces while creating profiles and working on a slide show. Their pictures are in my office... they are hanging on the walls around me.

Most of you don’t know that prior to coming to this position I worked for a non-profit agency that specialized in matching children in foster care with families. In my years there I was personally a part of over 500 children finding their “forever family.” But these 22 kids have hit me harder than any of those 500 ever did.

You may wonder why these 22 haunt me and I want to give you an honest answer. Even after all of my previous success as a recruiter and matcher, I don’t think that I can find these kids a family. The words “how would you like to adopt a sibling group of teenage boys from Bulgaria?” don’t come up naturally in daily conversation. The job is too hard. The task is too difficult. I don’t even know where to begin.

To make it even harder on me, I know for a fact that my husband and I could parent any of these kids. But our bedrooms are full -- in fact I’m not even sure we have a free couch this weekend. So instead of taking them in, I need to talk you – or someone else – into adopting them. And without God I know that is an impossible feat. I share the need but it is God who will speak to hearts and we at Bethany are praying that someone, maybe even you, will listen.

Regardless of the difficulty of the challenge, I compelled to tell you about them because I believe with all my heart that God is not ignoring the prayers of these 22 kids. It cannot be God’s plan for these beautiful teenagers to end up on the streets of their home country.

And it’s not just these 22. How can we say that it is His plan for millions of kids to spend their lives without family? And this is the problem: God doesn’t have a plan B. He looks to us. We are his hands and feet here on earth.

When the statistics came out about children aging out of foster care several months ago I saw that the number was continuing to grow. In 2011, 26,286 left the system and went out into the world without a family. That day I wrote a blog entry and I want to read some of it to you:

The God I serve would not intentionally let 26,286 young adults loose in a world with no support and without anyone to turn to in crisis. So I ask myself, “could it be that He asked His people to adopt them, but they said no?”

When I think of those 26,286 kids I no longer can ask myself why God didn’t do something about their plight. Instead I realize that He did a great job of caring for them ... He called His people … but they didn’t respond. It may not be as simple as 26,286 families saying no to God. But what if it is.

SO there you have it. This is the kind of stuff I've been doing lately -- and the MN 500 program is front and center in my mind -- in addition to raising money, supervising staff, and doing everything else I do at Bethany.

I'm believing God for this miracle.

Where Have I Been?

Where did the last two months go? I think I was immersed in life and today have come up for air. I was asked on Facebook to blog again, and so I am going to do that and try to answer the question, "Where have you been?"

I just read my 50th birthday post and made myself cry. Not because I was impressed with what a brilliant writer I am (though there is that :-) but because I am so incredibly grateful for where I am now and the life God has allowed me to live.

So.... here is where I have been.

1) I've been at church. A LOT. I am convinced that the group of people at Brunswick may just be those who "get church" and are attempting to learn how to "Do church" the way Jesus intended. I am quite invested in it as MY church, not just Bart's. I don't think this has as much to do with the church itself -- becuase we had some incrdible people in Belgrade, Luverne, and Mankato -- but because of my position in life. I can finally focus on something besides parenting -- which obviously I am still doing. But having 12 kids ages almost 15 to 27, is much different than, say, having 9 children between the ages of 5 and 15.

So at church I am playing in the bell choir, singing in the chancel choir, and recently joined "Testify" the praise band to play keyboards. I am thoroughly enjoying being part of a great music ministry. And I am also involved in a Women's Bible Study that meets weekly, a "Circle" that meets monthly, and I do a few other things here and there.

2) I've been at work! A couple weeks ago we had our annual Bethany gala which was so incredibly awesome. So many people were there who are friends of mine, as well as my board and awesome staff. It was a great night... and even a successful fundraiser!

I have developed a new initiative that I am going to blog about separately so that you can see what I'm up to without everyone from Facebook having to read through this drivel when I link the post. But the "Minnesota 500" program is a huge part of my life right now.

I end up working 50-60 hours a week but I love almost every minute of it.

3) I've been trying to keep up with my kids, though half-heartedly. I just don't have the energy to get caught up in the drama any more. So I have a "don't ask" policy. I figure if they want my advice or they need to know something, they will tell me. The exceptions of course are the three who are still in school and I get a little more nosy about them. The rest of them are adults though and supposedly "on their own" so I'm sort of viewing my home as a college residence hall like the one I used to manage back from 85-88. I never worried about the residents, never asked them where they were - it was just my job to be there if they needed me. So far it's working. I'll tell you about each of them in a minute.

4) I've been trying to be a good daughter to my mom. She is an amazingly resilient happy person with a great attitude and a love for God and others that is insurpassable. She inspires me. But her to do list for me is like God's mercies -- new every morning -- and fitting that in amongst everything else is a challenge. She loves living at St. Therese and being part of our church and our family (but she can't hang out with us for a long period of time. She thinks we are exhausting. :-)

So, I suppose those of you who have been reading my blog forever and a day would like to know how the kids are. Here we go:

Kyle is doing great, turned 27 this week. Wow. He and his wife Christy live an hour north of us. Bart and I are "nannies" on Fridays for baby silas who is now 5 months old -- he does it most weeks but I fill in when he can't. He sent me the picture above this morning. Kyle and Chirsty are both teachers and Kyle has started his master's program. They live in a home they had built and they have a puggle puppy who is incredibly annoying.

Rand is in Mankato, still working at Lowe's, still doing great, still invtesting lots of time in Young Life. He visits us often -- and connects regularly with his birth brothers and his birth dad and his family. Some day I have to blog about that whole story. Simply awesome the way life has turned out for him.

The son who doesn't want to be named in the blog is coming to live at our house to live for a while starting today or tomorrow. Finished court ordered rehab a couple weeks early and needs to do aftercare in our area. His son, Aiden, comes up to see us often as Tessa moved up here with her parents and is only about 35 minutes from us. They usually join us for church and lunch on Sundays.

John has been living at our house for the past couple months -- since he got out of court ordered rehab. From what we can tell he is staying sober, and doing well. He seldom leaves the house except to go to work, and doesn't seem to have made any friends which is a really a good thing. Even though he and Courtney aren't together, she brings Isaac up almost every week. He just turned three in October and is a rambunctious crazy talkative loud little boy full of life and fun.

Jimmy had a job from August to October washing dishes, but is currently unemployed and living at home. He helps a lot around the house and doesn't cause too much trouble, but really needs to find a job.

Salinda is living at our house almost full time and has been since March. Gabby lives with us about half the time. Salinda has a full time job as an asst. manager at a fast food place and seems to be happier than she has been for a while. Gabby is learning and growing... precise, quiet, articulate, thoughtful -- everything Isaac is not.

Ricardo is in jail -- we don't know the story, we just see the website. Something about a pistol and assault and his brothers who have been in that jail report that he is heading for prison. We hope not. His story is the one that most breaks our hearts as he did so well while he was living with us.

Mercedes has three nanny jobs and works more than 40 hours a week. She gets paid good money, she is super good with the kids, and the families love her. She also is a big help with her neice and nephews -- her employers let her bring Gabby to work so Salinda doesn't have to pay for day care. Sadie turned 19 last week... hard to believe.

Tony is living with birthfamily. He had a job for a couple weeks, but apparently is currently unemployed. He is planning to come home for a few days at Thanksgiving -- and he was here for my dad's memorial service in October.

Leon is doing his second senior year at a different school and he is doing quite well. He is getting good grades and should graduate at the end of this semester. He has a job as a PCA and is a very willing and helpful chauffeur for his siblings.

Dominyk is having the best school experience ever. He is getting OK grades, loves to go to school, and seems to fit in well at the charter school he attends. He is going to be 18 in April -- hard to fathom -- and he has a girlfriend!!! I know, we were surprised too. He is 6' 3" and is obsessed with getting into the army -- although he still has about 60 pounds to lose. He just got a job at the place where my mom lives at the dining center.

Finally, Wilson is about to turn 15. He spends almost his entire life in front of a screen, but we have let that go. We have discovered that you can't really get addicted to drugs or impregnate someone if you are connecting to the XBox all the time, so we are letting him kind of make those choices on his own. He is getting excellent grades and is wrestling -- rumor has it he will have the varsity spot come January at the high school even though he's still at the middle school and in 8th grade.

Whew. Are you tired yet?

So, that's where I've been. I really wish I could find a way to keep blogging, but somehow it doesn't end up on the priority list....

I don't read blogs any more. I barely look at Facebook. My world is right here in front of me and it is so full it is overflowing.

If you haven't seen this video yet you should watch it right now. It's so incredible. And in it are the words to my current favorite song....

and all of the sudden, I'm unaware of these afflictions eclisped by glory -- and I realize just how beautiful You are and how great Your affections are for me....

When you hear this young man sing those words they will give them a way deeper meaning