Category Archives: Adoption

The Orphan Crisis: 7 ways to “Learn to do Right”

A little over a month ago I was visiting an overseas orphanage with a friend when I was given a reminder as to why we chose to adopt.

I’ll never forget walking into that first room. It was about 20 feet wide by 25 feet deep. It was packed with 27 cribs, each crib holding two infants. Among the 50+ crying infants were three caretakers feeding, changing, then switching to the next child. I was as overwhelmed experiencing it as they were trying to maintain the rotation.

 

We were told the orphanage averages having at least one infant dropped into their custody a day. The week prior to our arrival, 5 babies were received in just one day. On the day we visited, there was a pair of twins they were nursing who couldn’t have weighed more than 3 lbs each.

In the next room I counted 39 toddlers with shaved heads. Not a single adult in sight. They had obviously just received benefit from an overstocked supply of neon colored sunglasses from the 80’s. At the time, they were their prized possession all pining for me with outstretched glasses to help them put them on. The moment I put them on, they would turn around and take them off, then come back for me to help them again. For a moment I was stumped why they would do this. Then it became obvious they just wanted my attention.

One stood in the corner crying. His glasses were broken. I’d have paid $100 to magically have another pair appear. Heartbreaking.

Last week, in seven days, seven babies died in that orphanage. It wasn’t the fault of the caretakers. The babies that come into this place are often overwhelming malnourished, sick, or both. They do what they can. However, “what they can” is often not enough.

It was a reminder that in a world with more than 150 million orphans, there are only thousands adopted each year. It was a reminder to me that I cannot sit idly by. While none of us can single-handedly solve the orphan crisis of our world, we must do something.

Scripture makes it clear that the orphan is close to the heart of God:

 “But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.” – Psalm 10:14

And Scripture is clear what we are to do:

“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” – Isaiah 1:17

 

What I love about this passage in Isaiah is not only our call to defend, take up the cause, and plead the case. But we are given the permission to LEARN how. This assumes one really big thing: That we don’t already know how. This is good news, because that’s what usually paralyzes us… the fact that we don’t know what to do or where to start.

Here are a handful of things I’m LEARNING about caring for the orphan. I believe all are necessary and appropriate as we consider the orphan crisis today:

  1. Adopt and/or pray for or provide for adoptive parents: This is the obvious one. But there are thousands of families right now considering adopting. Maybe you’re one of them. Keep praying. There are thousands more in the middle of the long and laborious process of adoption. Maybe you’re one of them. Keep praying. One thing I know about the long process: We needed prayer during this season like we needed air. There are many who are willing and want to adopt, but cannot imagine finding the resources to do so. Helping provide the resources for a family to adopt is a bigger deal than you know. For us, it was critical. If you don’t know an adoptive family to help, check out the ABBA Fund. We’ve partnered with ABBA at ANC and have a fund set up to specifically help adoptive families financially. It’s great organization doing great things providing resources for adoptive families: www.abbafund.org
  2. Provide care for birth parents: While many children are orphaned because of the death of their parents, there are many parents who would choose to keep their children if they could. I have friends in Ethiopia who have literally intercepted a young mother (and many others) attempting to abandon her child at the orphanage. If anything, just to find out if their situation is indeed redeemable. Not only did they step in to help this young mom, they provided a home for her to live in, and a job to move forward in life. Both mother and child are now like a part of their own family. Obviously, not everyone can invite a family into their home, but there are ministries and missionaries out there working to help single moms and poor families so that they don’t have to give up their children. We should find these people and orgs and seek to help them. Here’s the website of my friends in Ethiopia: www.noordinarylove.org
  3. Sponsor a child: Sponsoring a child has been around for as long as I can remember. In the last few years the process has evolved from partnering with organizations only seen on national TV (leaving us wondering what’s really happening) to some very personal opportunities with ministries on the ground that you can not only know their leadership, but also be a part of their ministry on many levels, and even see first hand where your resources are going. These sponsorships are literally changing the paths of orphans. They provide better living conditions, clothes, food, care, and education. One of my favorite orgs is called “Help End Local Poverty” and is directed by my good friend Chris Marlow. For more info on orphan sponsorship through H.E.L.P check out www.helpendpoverty.org
  4. Fight to improve the process: I’m a rookie at this, but I know it needs some reform. It’s a crazy balance between due process (and we DO need due process) and unnecessary red tape and politics. We don’t want to lower the bar, but we do want a more effective process. What I do know is that EVERY CHILD DESERVES A LOVING FAMILY. One of the leading orgs in not only educating but also fighting for the orphan through seeking to improve the process is called Both Ends Burning. Find out more at www.bothendsburning.org
  5. Educate the Church: This one is on us as pastors. I’m amazed at how often scripture is clear that we are to fight for the fatherless, yet we do so little. And this isn’t just for the American church. My hope is to somehow add to our global pastor training a heart for the orphan. The answer for adoption in third world countries is not international adoption alone. America cannot save the world, but we can lead. We need a culture shifting movement of Christians willing to see the issue in their own land. And to see it as apart of the Gospel lived out. We need to use our influence and leadership to equip the church to be the church. (Anyone know an org already doing this? Please let me know.)
  6. Improve orphanage conditions:  The adoption process takes years at times. I’m not sure of the numbers, but with millions of orphans in some countries and only thousands adopted, that leaves thousands if not millions spending their entire childhood institutionalized.  Recent studies show in America that 1 in 4 orphans who age out commit suicide. This statistic is staggering to me. What this means is that we must care for the un-adopted orphan. My friend Caroline Beaudreaux at the Miracle foundation is doing just that in India, a place where adoption is difficult yet the orphan crisis is massive. Their focus; making the conditions the best they can. Improving nutrition, healthcare, education, etc… To find out more check out www.miraclefoundation.org
  7. Orphan Prevention: There are many ways to get involved in a holistic way towards orphan prevention. Almost all of them have to with poverty reduction. One of the most creative and effective ways I’ve seen is through an organization called The Eden Reforestation Projects in Ethiopia, Madagascar, and Haiti. Through environmental stewardship, Eden is creating jobs, restoring communities, educating children, and planting churches all through the seed of planting trees and addressing the issue and impact of deforestation. It’s amazing. And it works. To find out more check out www.edenprojects.org.

This is just the beginning for me. As I said, I’m a rookie. And I’m taking seriously the call to “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless.”

Join me as we learn.


Hatmaker Adoption on Fox News

What a great moment at the Austin airport. Thanks to everyone who came out to welcome Ben home. Thanks also to Fox 7 News for capturing our story:


Coming Home

Yes I’m in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Yes Ben was cleared by Embassy today. We pick up his passport and visa tomorrow. And yes, we fly home Saturday. There are no words to capture the moment I held my son for the first time knowing I wasn’t leaving without him. But there is a video:



Adoption is Hard

Adoption is hard.

That’s what we’ve learned so far. I truly believe that a call to adopt is a call to suffer with the orphan. It begins the moment you decide you’re doing it. The fear and insecurities jump all over you as you begin to doubt, second-guess, and pick apart your ability to parent. The paperwork is no walk in the park (although typically delegated to the more capable spouse). And due process often feels like swimming upstream. On top of all these things lies the emotional task of helping your family process something you’re not sure you’ve processed yourself yet.

Although the journey to adoption is remarkably difficult – we’ve certainly heard – and are experiencing first hand that life after the adoption has it’s own set of challenges as well. Strangely its as if adoption unlocks a new set of emotions you’ve never experienced before. Honestly, I never knew they existed.

This is when real life kicks in. When you’re back at your house and you have new little people living with you, and they’re yours. Reality.

So far the most difficult time for me has been Remy’s difficulty “attaching” to me (I’ve written on this in depth in prior posts). According to the psychiatrist at the orphanage, this is normal.  She’s learned in her past that daddy’s are not “safe”. It will take some time for me to break that paradigm.

Although in the first week she decided she wanted nothing to do with me, a few days later we began to have some break-through moments. As I think back now, each at a time where she felt physically insecure. Once at the pool she magically decided (after rejecting me for a week) that she wanted daddy to be the one to hold her while she played in the water for about an hour. It was daddy she wanted to help her ride her bike the next day. And it was daddy whom she wanted to lift her up into the air to do cheerleader moves.

And it was daddy who bought her the pink bike, not the purple: “Ah yes, doddy… ‘dis one please, doddy. Pink. Ah no purple. Please doddy.” She affectionately held my hand skipping to the checkout line singing a made up little song about daddy.

Later that night (after an afternoon of “doddy push bicycle. Doddy again.”) We decided that I would attempt to do the bedtime routine alone. Everything went great until I was about to say goodnight and I decided to push the envelope, “Goodnight Remy Matawi… I love you.”

She looked at me and softly said, “Doddy….” Crinkled her nose, pointed to the door, “Goodbye”. She turned her head, plopped it on the pillow, and pulled the covers over her face. It was so close, yet so far away (At least she went to sleep).

I’m a bit proud of myself. I think in a good way. I’m thoroughly enjoying the special moments. And the not-so-special ones? The ones that don’t go my way? I’m learning not to take them too personally. I can get pretty insecure when I think someone doesn’t like me… so this is a good thing.

I’ve said this before, but I mean it more now than ever, when I look into her eyes I see hope. Hope of a restored life. Hope of healed heart. Hope of a future with a family who loves her. And hopes of Remy becoming a healthy, emotionally sound, mature young woman one day.

The other night when Jen was out of town, Remy was having a pretty rough time going to sleep. It was quite an evening. After trying every trick in the book, and out of desperation I asked if she wanted to lay down with Daddy. She nodded yes and took her place on the bed next to me (Yes!). I was scratching her back lightly trying to get her to settle down when she reached over with her little hand and started scratching mine. It was precious. No words were exchanged… I didn’t want to make a big deal about it… and make her think too much about what she was doing. just. avoid. eye. contact. After about 5 minutes she said, “Doddy… I love you”. Then she plopped her head the other direction, pulled the covers over her face, and fell asleep.

Something happened in that moment that has stuck. And we’re doing even better now. And while I’m selfishly happy for me about this moment, I’m even more happy for her that she is feeling a bit more safe with her “Doddy”. Ah yes, a huge step forward.  The call to adopt is indeed a call to suffer with the orphan… in many ways. But so far – one moment like this – with the hope of many more –  make it well worth it.


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.


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.