Monthly Archives: July 2011

Small Victories

It’s been a week since we brought our little girl home from Ethiopia. It feels like the Hatmaker household has experienced five years of change in one week. Technically I guess we have. One little girl, Five years old. If you’ve been to my BLOG before, you probably already know some of the ups and downs of our adoption journey. If you’re new to our journey, and for context, it might be worth a quick look HERE to get caught up.

As an update, I figured I’d start by saying I am completely loving this journey:

  • I love seeing Matawi bond with Gavin, Sydney, and Caleb.
  • I love seeing her attach deeply with Jen (And I mean deeply).
  • I love watching her experience new things. (Ice for example. That was funny.)

But here’s the dealeo… It’s hard parenting a (a potentially stubborn) five-year old girl anyway. Add a massive language barrier, a history of abandonment, and neglect (among other things) and the rules all change. As an adoptive parent, that might be the hardest thing to sift through: Is she doing this because she’s a stubborn five-year old? Or is she acting this way because she’s wounded?

As a parent/human/dude, here are a few things I’m learning that I thought I’d share:

(Lesson One)  I’m learning to enjoy the little things. One victory at a time. It’s too easy to focus on the losses and miss the victories. Especially when they’re small. But honestly, I’m LOVING every little victory along the way. If I didn’t, I’d go crazy. So far, I have three direct victories related to me:

  1. I’ve become the “go to” guy for gum: Jen has respected this boundary. I buy the gum. I give the gum. Jen calls me the gum pimp. For those of you who’ve seen the videos… you know how much Matawi values Gum. It’s interesting to see her communicate with me during the gum transaction. She’s still not sure about showing too much appreciation for me…
    “Matawi. Say Thank you, Daddy.”
    “Thank you……. Mommy.”
    “No, thank you, Daddy.”
    “Thank you….. blah, blah, blah.”
    “No. Matawi… say thank you, Daddy.”
    “Thank you… (Insert blatant face smirk)… doddy.”
  2. She let me read her a bedtime story last night instead of mom (YES!). Of course, for some reason she invited the dog to join us (Whom she hates). It’s as if somehow she was letting me know to keep perspective. She was throwing me a bone. And the dog. She’s a tricky one.
  3. When no one else is available, she’ll let me drive her around the neighborhood on Sydney’s scooter. “Daddy, Moto.” Aw yeah. So far that’s it.

Those three things sum up my week’s interaction. I’ll take‘em.

(Lesson Two)  I’m learning to truly look at the big picture: My desire for Matawi to be healed in two weeks… even months… is so naïve. In fact, it’s ridiculous and selfish. It’s very “western” for us to think a week of central heat and air can solve a third-world orphans problems. She needs to experience years of consistency and unconditional love to know this is real. My prayer right now? (I’d really love a hug) But the truth is, I’m praying for an emotional healthy child… one day. Whatever day that is. Hopefully prior to her teen years. I pray to God she learns what it means to have a healthy relationship with her dad prior to her dating years.

(Lesson Three)  More than anything I’m gaining insight about what it means to be reconciled to a father. Even one we couldn’t have imagined having a relationship with.  The sacrifice of this earthly adoption process is but a crumb on the table compared to the Bread of Life given for us. I’m increasingly humbled by the knowledge that, I am but an orphan… adopted… and given new life. All my years of rejecting God, misunderstanding God, accusing God, holding Him at arms length… and his relentless pursuit. Amazing. Thank you Jesus.

So for now… I’ll take what I can get. And love every moment of it. We continue to see amazing glimpses of restoration. We are filled with hope. According to what the “experts” say… we’re on the right track. And it feels that way. Thank you Jesus.


Missional Momentum

Over the last couple years I’ve had the opportunity to sit with a number of pastors seeking to increase the missional posture of their church. As expected, this has proven to be easier for some than others, and more of an art form than a science.

But among the many variables, we’re beginning to see a few common threads emerge among those seeming to gain “missional momentum”. Here are the top three practices we’ve observed:

1. Those pursuing the “and” of EXALTATION and INCARNATION.

As church leaders we often make the mistake of thinking what we do on Sunday and what we do throughout the week operate independent of one another. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the majority of our weekday ministries pick up where Sunday leaves off. Missional momentum seems to be directly impacted by how effectively we utilize our gatherings to give bible precedence, priority of vision, and permission for our people to live on mission throughout the week.

2. Those discovering new ways to ENGAGE the NEEDS of their community.

Missional flow draws attention to the natural process necessary to engage an “unreached” people group. It starts with (1) engaging culture, then (2) forming community (on mission), followed by (3) creating structure or congregation. At the very core of a biblically missional effort lies a demand to engage culture. We simply cannot engage culture without engaging the needs of culture. Churches gaining the most momentum seem to be those utilizing existing structures to meet the needs of their community – as much as – or even prior to their own.

3. Those recognizing what they CAN’T do and HELPING others who CAN.

Many church leaders today are starting from a good place: Reality. For some, the ship they are trying to turn makes the titanic look like a two man raft. In their wisdom and experience they are piloting groups rather than blowing up ministries and starting over. They are pioneering new strategies through existing structures. But they know it will take time… and they can’t do it all at once.

This is where church planting and partnering with existing ministries or non-profits comes to play. A surprising amount of missional momentum is being found by churches committed to help others plant churches or who are willing to partner with those already engaging the needs of culture in ways they’d find difficult to do themselves.


Meeting the Kids

Here’s a video from our first meeting with the kids in Ethiopia. Now that Ben has passed we can share it publicly. Such a sweet moment.

 


Wounded

I’ve learned a lot about God from being a parent. As a dad, I have a glimpse of what unconditional love must feel like. I have an almost unreasonable hope for each of my kids. And I hurt deeply when they hurt.

Just the same, I’ve learned a lot about God over the last year and half on our journey to adoption. But I’ve learned even more about US and how WE respond to God (as His children) than anything else: Initial excitement and hope followed by overwhelming confusion, unreasonable fear, and even conditional rejection.

Let me explain.

To be at the transition house in Ethiopia is an amazing thing. The children are playful. Everyone is hugging everyone. Affection expressed. Laughter. “Mommy” and “Daddy” are terms of endearment offered with hopeful exuberance. You can’t help but think, “This is gonna be great! Our kids love us. They want to be held. They appreciate our gifts. I dare say, this might just be easy for us!”

When we first took our daughter (Remy Matawi) from the transition home in Ethiopia it was all giggles and smiles. We drove off with her donning her new shoes and a pink backpack that held everything she owned. On the way to the home where we’d be staying for the week she sat in Jen’s lap with eyes wide open, observing everything that passed by her window. She was adorable.

As we arrived at our destination and the cab drove away, something happened. Terror struck the heart of our little girl… and to say the least… she had a meltdown. She tightly latched onto Jen with both arms and legs, calling for me, eventually clinging to both of us with tears pouring down her cheeks. It became obvious that she was not only deathly afraid of her new environment, but she was also fearful that we were going to leave her there.

The next 24 hours were a blur. She pulled out of it pretty quickly after realizing we weren’t going anywhere (A shuffle through a suitcase filled with her new clothes didn’t hurt either).

Here’s how Jen put it in a recent BLOG:

As soon as the three of us went to our room for the night, and it became clear we were all staying, she popped right out of that shell. She giggled and chattered and did her little Ethiopian dance (the cutest thing you’ve ever seen). She tried on clothes and played with her toys and fawned all over us, yammering the whole time about who knows what. The three of climbed into bed together, Remy sandwiched between us, and she was the happiest little lark in all the land. For 15 minutes, it went like this:

Mommy, I love you so much!

Doddy, I love you so much!

Mommy, Doddy, Matawi.

Mommy, Doddy, Matawi, Beniam, Gabin, Sinney, Cilab.

Giggles.

*She kisses her hand and puts in on my face.*

*She kisses her hand and puts in on Brandon’s face.*

*She puts our hands to our lips and then to her face.*

Mommy, I love you so much!

Doddy, I love you so much!

Giggles.

Mommy, Doddy, Matawi!

It was adorable. But day two was different. Not for Jen. But for me.

Matawi continued to show unbridled affection for Jen. But something happened in her little mind that flipped a switch regarding me. I’ll never forget the moment waiting at the American Embassy for our appointment when I looked at her and said, “Ewedishale hu” (I love you in Amharic).

She looked at me. Scrunched her nose. Waved her finger at me and said, “No, Daddy. No Ewedishale hu”. From that moment on she wouldn’t let me touch her.

Ouch. Seriously. OUCH. I was embarrassed. I felt confused. I was hurt. And I didn’t know what to do. So I blew it off like a tough guy and said, “Okay, Matawi. It’s okay. I love you.”

As she clung to Jen’s neck she replied, “No, Daddy! Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…”

I got the lecture of my life in Amharic and had no idea what she even said. But whatever it was, she meant every word of it. And it was obvious she was serious.

The next day at the transition home we had an opportunity to sit down with the psychologist. He’s a brilliant young doctor who stands about 5’2” and simply adores the children. And they adore him. After a few moments of discussion, dialogue on how the kids are doing, and him explaining what was next on our journey, I shared with him what was happening between Matawi and me. He wasn’t surprised. And began to engage her in discussion on what she was feeling.

The tones of his words were soft and encouraging. The inflections in his voice brought comfort (to even me, and I didn’t know what he was saying). Then he turned to me.

“She says that she’s afraid you will hurt her.”

My heart stopped.

He continued, “It’s okay. This is common. You must understand that to her, “daddies” are unsafe. But she will change. She will learn to trust you. It may take a while. But she will.”

This is why the coming weeks and months are so important at the Hatmaker house. It’s why we need to be home and be together as a family as much as possible. We hope she sees a healthy and safe family. Even more so, we hope she FEELS a healthy and safe family. And daddy.

100% of the dads I’ve met so far who have adopted little girls from Ethiopia have experienced this. Matawi is deeply wounded. And while I hate that this is her story, knowing the reason for her distrust helps me process it. It allows me to not take it too personal (or at least it helps… some). And it gives me some hope. But it still hurts. Bad.

She continues to keep me at arms length, but somehow and for some reason, when I just start to feel like maybe she would be fine living without me, she throws me a bone. Like the moment when we were in the airport cafe and I stepped away to grab some WiFi. When she realized I was gone, tore down the terminal, yelling for me. Here’s the text I got from Jen:

“Remy is screaming for you and crying. Come back!”

This was weird. One, in my selfishness, it comforted me. I’m the grown up. I should not celebrate affection that spawns from her insecurity. But it just felt good knowing that while she was keeping me at arms length… she still wanted me within arms length. This is a good sign of things to come.

Since then, she does little things to show she really does need me. Pining for my approval on something she draws or writes. She’ll call out “Daddy” to draw my attention when she knows she’s done something good. While she still doesn’t allow touch unless she initiates it, this is good. In fact, it’s real good. And it gives me a glimpse into her little mind and heart.

I’m experiencing some emotions that I never knew existed. It’s like another world of feelings that blindside you repetitively, like a rollercoaster of ups, downs, loops, and turns. As with most things, I’m finding that adoption for dads is a different experience than for moms. That’s neither a good or bad thing. It’s just different. And there is much to learn from each of our experiences.

I love this journey. I love seeing Matawi attach to Jen. I love seeing my children and her interact and bond. I love seeing her “process” me. And somehow, deep within me, I sense through it all the seedlings of her restoration. I’m reminded as I consider the cross that things of great value come at great cost. And there is nothing to fear.

“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” – Romans 8:15

Many have said that adoption offers a perfect picture of our relationship with God. I wonder if it’s not even a better picture than the natural parent/child relationship. When I apply how I feel after pouring out so much of myself over the past year and a half, and I consider the journey it took to become her father, I get an even deeper glimpse of how God may see us. Even more so, I’m seeing how in our woundedness and humanity, we may wrongly perceive God.

Matawi does not yet see me as I am. She sees me through the lens of her experiences. And they are unreasonable. I’m not going to hurt her. She can trust me. I love her and cannot wait for the day that she fully understands that.

God, forgive me when I keep you at arms length. I know you’re more secure than me. But I know you want me to trust. Help me to always see you as you are, not as I project you to be. Forgive my distrust. Forgive me when I look at you through my experiences and my pain and not through the lens of your truth. Heal my woundedness and insecurities.

Help Matawi to see me the same way. Help me to be the father she needs me to be.


Serving and the American Church

“Serving the Least” is on the rise in the American Church. This is a good thing. But it’s also (unfortunately) a new thing for most, and is requiring many churches to make some serious changes.

Leading people through change is an art, not a science. Especially when leading others towards engaging need for the first time. There are variables, many obstacles, and several paths that can lead to similar outcomes. Each of our stories will be unique, and half of the journey is discovery; don’t limit yourself before you get out of the box.

Here’s FOUR things to keep in mind when initiating movement toward social action:

Be Creative: Things will not go as planned. Serving the least is not neat and tidy. Church leaders will constantly have to be thinking about how we can accomplish specific things through unconventional means. This minimizes structural change and is necessary in (a) discovering existing forms that can best be adapted to accomplish our new objectives, (b) utilizing individual gifts to succeed in unlikely ways, and (c) thinking out of the box in an area where we’ve been conditioned to follow the norm.

Be Intentional: This is not something that will happen spending six hours a day at Starbucks sipping on a frapaccino. You won’t find out what you need to know at your laptop. Prayerfully drive through your community, meet with non-profit directors, city demographers, read books on culture and community, and meet with your mayor. Nothing we do should be without a purpose. If you plan an event to serve single moms, use the moment to capture information about their greatest needs. If you’re talking to a homeless man, ask them what are the misconceptions most people have about homelessness. If you’re mentoring a kid at school, find out if you can serve the mom as well. Being intentional means being a learner again. Know what you’re trying to accomplish and steward your efforts accordingly.

Be Responsive: There’s a huge difference between reacting and responding. When things do not go as expected, don’t throw up your hands in frustration. Don’t give up. Remember that God is leading this. And don’t allow the enemy to question all the things you’ve already settled. Be prayerful and find out what the next best decision is, then go do it. I know this seems a little happy-go-lucky, but don’t always look at failure as the end of the road, look at them as opportunities. Find alternatives and be open to changes along the way.

Be Persistent: Try and try again. I’ve seen groups go through a dozen different projects before they found one that “fits” their passion and experiences. Serving is certainly not a one-size-fits-all deal. If it was, we’d all want to do the same thing, and everything else would be neglected.


Championing the Call to Serve

I run into pastors all the time asking where to start in making their church more socially aware and active. My short answer:

You cannot outsource a call to social action; You have to champion it yourselves.

Pastor, there is literally nothing holding you back except you. You have the authority. You have the influence. You have the calling. And you have the gifting and ability to do whatever God is calling you to do. That being said, you should still start at home. Prayerfully involve your wife and family. Prayerfully digest the tension in your own life and ways. As we all know, we cannot lead others where we have not gone ourselves. But here’s three things I feel are necessary:

1)    Be Convicted: This has to be something that God is putting on your heart for the right reason. If it is not, it will just be burdensome to you and your leadership. Start with prayer and end with prayer. Ask the Spirit to show you where you yourself are falling short. You don’t even have to know exactly what you’re being convicted about, you just have to feel something, know something has to be done, and be willing to do something about it.

2)    Be Convinced: Settle the issue of theology. Study the scriptures on serving the least. Not everyone agrees, so expect conflict, pray and do some more research. One way or another you’ll either land on seeing social action as a significant piece of the gospel, a necessary part of a Christians life running parallel to the gospel, or something completely unconnected. Two out of three of those demand a response. Without being convinced that you are pressing forward out of biblical mandate or moral imperative, your leadership will lack the power and confidence you need. Those following can see the difference.

3)    Be Confident: Confidence is the fruit of the first two steps. When the tension comes, you’ll either forget why you’re doing it and bail or remember Gods leading and instruction and fight for it. There will be a time when you’ll feel you l have to remind God that it was His idea. He already knows that. Do you?

(Excerpted from “Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture”)