Our Children Around the World

My wife, Melanie, and I have three biological children: Aidan (11), Gwendolyn (9), and Lincoln (2). Each one is a special blessing from God for our family. Aidan is our firstborn (aka guinea pig), an excellent student, a voracious reader, and about to go to middle school (eek!). Gwendolyn, you know, is our amazingly sweet and tough daughter who has a mitochondrial disease. Despite never speaking a word, she has taught us more about love and compassion than anyone we know. Lincoln, even in the throes of the “Twos”, is our injection of joy. He is also our living reminder to just trust God.

Uwimana - from Rwanda

Uwimana – from Rwanda

But Aidan was not our first child. Soon after we got married, Melanie and I sponsored Uwimana Emeline, an orphan from Rwanda through Compassion International. Her parents were killed in the genocide there. We sponsored her and prayed for her for over 12 years until she left the program. We even had the opportunity to send her a care package through some friends who went to Rwanda on a mission trip. We sent letters back and forth through the years. We don’t know what she is doing now, but we pray that God used our little bit of help to make a difference in her life.

In our family, the summer of 2009 is now “The Summer of Iliya.” At that point, with “only” Aidan and

Welcoming Iliya

Welcoming Iliya

Gwendolyn, we made ourselves available to adopt if we could find a birth mom interested in choosing our family for her child. We also decided to see if God would have us adopt internationally (even though we had no idea how we could complete the adoption with Gwendolyn). So, we joined up with New Horizons for Children, an Atlanta area orphan hosting ministry. They arrange for orphans from Russia, Latvia, and Ukraine (at that time) to spend 4-6 weeks with a host family in the US. Many of these children are eventually adopted here. We chose Iliya, a young boy about Aidan’s age, from Ukraine to spend 6 weeks with us. We were open to adoption. That was one tough, rewarding summer! Iliya had a hard time adjusting, and we had a hard time keeping him from just running into the road. He could be so happy and care-free, and then he could be very upset if he didn’t get his way. We read the Bible with him (he read in Ukrainian), prayed with him, held him when he rocked himself to sleep, and tried to show him what “family” is all about. By the end, he did not want to go back.

It was hard to let him go, but we knew that he was not God’s choice for our family. He got to come back with a family from Aidan’s school that Christmas. A third family tried to adopt him later. That fell through (long story), so we are not sure what is going on with him, either. Again, we trust that God will use the little we could do to make a difference. God used Iliya to change our hearts, though. We learned that any child we added to our family might have problems or concerns. We were ready to let God give us another biological child, even if s/he would be like Gwendolyn. He is the Author of Life and He is good.

Moses - Kenya

Moses – Kenya

After Uwimana left the Compaspassion, we decided to sponsor another child. We let Aidan have major input into our choice. We chose Ltalakwa Moses, from Kenya (also through Compassion). He is just a few days younger than Aidan which drew his interest. We are still getting to know him, but he seems to be a very happy boy.

We also have children out there we don’t even know. All through the year, Melanie prepares for Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse that sends shoe boxes of blessing to children all throughout the world. Each year we send four to seven boxes somewhere. They have gone to Ukraine, Bangladesh, India, South America, and more. Little blessings, but a big God to multiply them.

We have also had the privilege to serve in youth ministry, and we just finished spending three years on Wednesday nights with boys Aidan’s age helping them memorize Bible verses, pray in public, and enjoy church.

Why did I share this on a Bible blog? Because we believe the truth of God’s Word must be put into action. And we want to encourage you to do your part. If our family can reach dozens of children around the world in the name of Jesus, what could you do?

Religion that God accepts as pure and without fault is this: caring for orphans or widows who need help, and keeping yourself free from the world’s evil influence. James 1:27

There is Nothing Like a Daddy’s Love

I see my daughter, Gwendolyn, standing at the top of a staircase. She is dressed in a flowing white gown. Her strawberry blonde hair is swept up into teasing tresses. The aroma of fresh flowers drifts down to me. My heart is about to burst with love. It is her wedding day, and she is about to descend the stairs one last time before leaving her mother and me to start her new life and marriage.

Except that it won’t ever happen that way.

Gwendolyn has a mitochondrial disease. She can’t stand or walk. She can’t say, “I do.” Dresses are not wheelchair-friendly, especially when she wants to pull her legs up. She is nine years old, and it is likely that she won’t live to marriageable age. That’s the brutal reality I’ve had to mourn. But, even as I have let the wedding day dream die, I have discovered something greater from the heart of that dream — there is nothing like a Daddy’s love.

I can’t fix Gwendolyn. I am not going to discover the cure for mitochondrial diseases, no matter how many articles I read or doctors I meet. I can’t figure out what will motivate her to do something new in her therapy. I have no idea what tomorrow might bring for our family. But that’s OK.

There are times when Gwendolyn will only calm down if I take her in my arms and hold her close. She snuggles into my left shoulder just a certain way. At night, she needs me to sing her a hymn or two and whisper, “Daddy loves you” before she goes to sleep. Sometimes when I come home she just smiles and giggles. On fall Sundays, there is no place she would rather be than watching a Steelers game with me (before napping). I can bathe her, change her, brush her hair, and make her do her therapy. I can navigate a wheelchair, make her daily food, start her feeding pump, and administer her medications. I’m Daddy, after all. And there is nothing like a Daddy’s love.

My wife is tired. The daily grind is exhausting. I have a full-time job that pays the bills but demands my energy. Our other
children need Dad, too. I don’t know how we will pay for a wheelchair van or home modifications. I still don’t have that special needs trust in place. Our vacations are tougher, if we can take them. Life could be easier, right? But I am here to stay, for my children and my wife. They need me because there is nothing like a Daddy’s love.

My strength is sapped. I wonder what God is doing. Does God really care about what is happening to us? Then I realize I can climb into my Heavenly Father’s lap. He comforts me when no one else can. Even though I am broken seemingly beyond repair, He can fix my deepest needs. He provides our shelter, food, clothing, medicine, jobs, caring doctors and therapists, a fantastic church, and even occasional respite! If I stop to listen, through all the doubts and fears and questions, I can hear Him. He sings over me and whispers, “I love you.”

There is nothing like a Daddy’s love.

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. 1 John 3:1a

(Previously published in May-June 2013 FOCUS newsletter. Some editing done here.)