Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Adoption Nazi

In 1995, the TV show Seinfeld had an episode called “The Soup Nazi.”  The owner of a soup restaurant demanded that his customers obey his strict ordering procedure, and if they failed, he yelled at them and said, “No soup for you!”

In 2011, as Kelley and I were going through the adoption process for the first time, I read a book on adoption by a nationally known Christian man.  As I read his book, he reminded me of “The Soup Nazi.”  He was very harsh toward people who asked him adoption questions that he felt were offensive.  In the years since, I’ve read a few other things, usually short articles, which essentially repeated the condescension of that book.  I read one this week, and that’s what triggered my memory of my 2011 “Soup Nazi” feelings.  So, I titled this little piece, “The Adoption Nazi.” 

Kelley and I have adopted two girls and have lived through adoption for the past seven plus years.  We’ve received ALL KINDS OF QUESTIONS about adoption, our experiences, our daughters’ stories, our reasons for adopting, etc.  But not a single time has anyone asked us a question with an attitude of disrespect or with intent to hurt us.  So, we just answer the questions as best as we can.  Our two adoptions only make us EXPERIENCED, not EXPERTS.  We’re experts on OUR story, but that’s it!  Our story isn’t like many other people’s story.

A lot has changed with adoption in my lifetime.  When I was in elementary school in the 1980’s, I knew one kid at school who was adopted.  His name was Anthony.  Everyone in our grade knew he was adopted, but we didn’t ask him any questions.  I also knew one family at our church that had adopted three boys.  One was a teenager when I knew him, and two were preschool age.  In time, that family wasn’t able to keep those two little boys.  I was too young to be told any details, so my whole adoption experience as a child was, “Don’t ask any questions.” 

The older you are, the more likely that your experience with adoption is even more different than people in my generation.  For those who are 70 or older, WOW has adoption changed!  That generation lived through times when a teenage girl they knew might “go out of town” for a few months.  In reality, that girl was pregnant and her parents shipped her off to live with a relative until she had given birth and placed the baby with an adoptive family.  A few months later, the girl returned home and went on with her life as best as she could.  And kept her pregnancy a secret – to save herself and her family from shame.

Kate is our oldest daughter.  Her birth mother was adopted, too, although their adoption stories are much different.  Kate’s birth mother was adopted out of a foreign country by an American family.  That country changed its adoption policies in the MIDDLE of the family’s adoption.  The process was long, intense, and the family wasn’t sure it was going to work until they got off a plane with their then 2-year old daughter in the USA.  Therefore, Kate’s birth mother’s father was a little uncomfortable with our OPEN adoption of Kate – his granddaughter.  It took him some time to overcome his hesitations and fears.  Even though he had adopted two children of his own, he STILL had questions for us.  Some of them weren’t easy to answer.

If you’ve experienced adoption from either side, and someone asks you a question that offends you, just show them some grace and remember that not everyone is as “adoption aware” as you are.  Then, KINDLY ANSWER THE QUESTION (to the degree that you feel is appropriate)!  You have a golden opportunity to share a part of your story and with someone!  How often do you get to tell people, sometimes STRANGERS, your most important stories?  Everyone with kids – biological, adopted, step, foster – gets asks uncomfortable questions about their kids from time to time.  Uncomfortable questions aren’t limited just to families of adoption.  So instead of acting rude, condescending, or using the opportunity to write a rant blog or even a rant book, just use it as an opportunity to do a little ADOPTION EDUCATION. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

My Freshman Security Blanket

Thirty years ago this fall (1987), I was a freshman at Franklin County High School in Carnesville, GA.  I had gone to school with the kids from my town since 2nd grade (1981), but kids from the three different towns in our county funneled to the same junior high and high school.  So 7th grade was almost like a new school, and 9th grade was even worse - because you didn’t know 2/3 of the 11th and 12th graders, and they were BIG!

I was a little kid my whole childhood, but by 9th grade, I was particularly little: about 5’3” and 110 lbs.  I was 14 but I looked 12, and I stayed that way for two more years.  I learned to keep my mouth shut, but as a quiet kid, that was easy.  I knew to avoid confrontations and to be friendly.  That was good enough 99% of the time.  But there WAS this one time it wasn’t good enough, in the fall of my freshman year.

Our school had about 1,300 students and two lunch shifts, so the lunch room was big and you can imagine the crowd from the numbers I just gave.  The room was a rectangle, and most of the time, the tables were lined up end to end running length-wise across the lunch room, so there were LONG rows of tables. 

I ate lunch with the same friends every day, but the only two I can remember are Jeff Wood and Robby Peterson.  After we ate, we went to the library for the rest of the lunch period to read Sports Illustrated, discuss college football or basketball, etc. 

One fall day at lunch, clearly too early in the school year for some people to figure out who I was, we were sitting at lunch in these long rows of tables by some 10th grade boys.  I didn’t know them but I remembered them from when I was in 7th grade and they were in 8th.  But they were bigger now.  And I was not.  I remember the boy’s name sitting to my left, but I won’t tell it.  As we were eating and talking, he suddenly grabbed my jacket collar and pulled my head right up next to his.  He threatened me and told me all the things he would do to me - and for what I still don’t know.  I imagine he was just showing off by picking on the smallest kid around.  When he let go, I leaned back and looked down the long row of tables to my right.  I was looking for my big brother. 

Keith was sitting in the same row as me, about 75 feet down, but at the table behind me.  I had seen him sit down earlier but I wanted to see if he was still there.  He was. 

I got up and my friends followed me.  I stopped at Keith’s chair and told him what just happened.  He saw the fear, and probably tears, in my eyes, and he got that enraged look in HIS eyes that I was familiar with.  He said just one word: “WHO???”  My finger, hand, and arm shook as I pointed out the guy and his friends.  They were easy to spot because they were still laughing.

Keith bolted out of his chair and I was scared he was about to get in trouble because of me.  I watched as he charged through that skinny row of chairs and backpacks.  He squatted down behind the guy and tightly put one arm around his neck and one arm around the neck of the guy sitting beside him, both of which had stopped laughing at this point.  He jerked them close, just like the guy had done to me.  I couldn’t hear a word of what he said, but I watched for a few seconds before heading to the library, and none of them made any kind of move.  I have a good idea of what Keith said to them and it wasn’t PG.  His language had always bothered me, but in that moment, I didn’t care what he said to them. 

A few minutes later, Keith came and found me in the library.  He said I wouldn’t have any more trouble out of them.  He just said, “I took care of it.”  And he did.  For the rest of that school year, that boy wouldn’t even look at me.  Any time I passed him in the halls, he looked away.  It was like I was the one who had threatened HIM, and in effect, I HAD.  He couldn’t mess with me unless he was willing to mess with my big brother, and he wasn’t willing to do that. 

Keith was an 18-year old senior, born in November, one of the older kids in the school.  He had no problem with confrontation.  After high school, he joined the Army.  He told me he was a “Tabbed out (Ranger) Airborne Infantryman.”  He participated in the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf War during his four years, and later rejoined the Army and participated in the second Gulf War.  And he was my big brother during my freshman year of high school. 

Ninth grade was the “good ‘ole days” for me.  Not only was Keith not around for me in 10th grade, but my family moved to Portsmouth, VA: another new school, about the same size, and no security blanket.  I was all alone.  And to make matters worse, I was the new kid, the new, little kid with a very Southern accent.  As always, I kept my mouth shut, but when I was occasionally picked on, I had to deal with it on my own.  It made me miss and appreciate my big brother every time. 

My family moved again before that year was over, and I found myself in yet another new school, of similar size.  During 10th grade, I realized there was something physically wrong with me.  I still hadn’t grown a millimeter. 

I started seeing doctors in the spring of 1989, and on September 27, just after I started 11th grade, I was put on a testosterone regimen, which continues to this day.  I was sized for my class ring on September 18, 1989.  When we got the rings on January 24, 1990, just four months later, mine didn’t fit.  My finger had grown from size 8.5 to size 10.  And it wasn’t just my finger: I had grown 4-5 inches taller and about 45-50 pounds heavier.  It happened so quickly that, aside from needing bigger clothes, I didn’t think about it.  But as I looked back on those four months, I realized that I was no longer getting picked on.  Keith was no longer needed.  But he was still missed. 

I have 3 brothers, but our ages are spread out so that I was only in high school with any of them for a total of two years.  Keith is 4 years older than me, but I have an August birthday so I was the youngest kid in my class.  I’m just two years older than my next brother, Ken, but he has a September birthday, so he was an extra year behind me (and always the oldest kid in his class).  So he was a freshman when I was a senior.  And he was already bigger than me, so he didn’t need me as a security blanket.  By that time, we were both at least 5’10” and 170 pounds.  People left him alone.  But he missed out on something else: the comfort of knowing that your big brother is just a few chairs down the row.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Riding in the Car with My Wife and Two Kids

Kate is four and Karsten is one.  When my family drives somewhere, even just 10 minutes away, Kelley and I can’t speak a word to each other unless we yell.  

Karsten whines, cries, or starts saying CONTINUALLY, “ahh unh, ahh unh, ahh unh, ahh unh (brief pause) unh ahh, unh ahh, unh ahh, unh ahh.”  

Kate eventually gets tired of it, so she tries to drown Karsten out by LOUDLY singing OVER and OVER,

“There WAS a FARMER,
and BINGO was his NAME-O,
E-I-N-G-O, E-I-N-G-O . . .”

Kelley interrupts to say, “Kate, it’s B-i-n-g-o.  Buh Buh Buh –B!”

So Kate STARTS OVER and may or may not spell Bingo with a B the next of 10 times she sings the song.  We’ve told her plenty of times that it’s B-i-n-g-o, but I think she spells it wrong just to be annoying. 

Meanwhile, Kelley and I are still trying to talk so our volume has risen to about 9, and that’s when it SUDDENLY hits me that my HEAD is about to explode!  It doesn’t slowly build, IT HITS ME ALL AT ONCE.  You’d THINK I’d see it coming. 

I went 34 years without a wife and wondered if I’d EVER have children, so I should probably just smile when this stuff happens.  But smiling isn’t my first impulse!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Fanatical Thanksgiving

Part of my sermon from this past week:

I've observed this over the years: People who are God-focused make people who are self-focused uncomfortable - believers and unbelieversThose who make God their priority and love Him with all they've got can't help but acknowledge Him CONTINUALLY.  They see God's hand in everything, and they accept their current situation in life as a divine calling

Other people, even some who claim to be Christians, call them a name they INTEND to be NEGATIVE and CRITICAL.  That name is FANATICS.  But look at the meaning of that word:

Fanatic - a person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal.

I hope you've been around a JESUS FREAK lately, someone who is FANATICAL about their Savior.  I hope it made you SMILE, but if it made you UNCOMFORTABLE, I hope you had to ask yourself, "I love Jesus, so why is this person's FANATICAL LOVE FOR JESUS MAKING ME SO UNCOMFORTABLE?"  I hope you saw that you had NO GOOD REASON for your feelings.  I hope God used that person to CONVICT you for your own second-rate devotion to Him.  And mostly, I hope you're ready to be FANATICAL about Jesus, too. 

If you're not FANATICAL about Jesus, WHY AREN'T YOU?  The Bible teaches that God is to be our SINGULAR PRIORITY, and His Kingdom is to be our FOCUS.  (Just to name a few references, Matthew 6:33, Matthew 22:34-40.)  That sounds fanatical to me!

This Thanksgiving, I hope you'll surrender yourself to God's calling, and become FANATICAL about WHO HE IS, HOW HE WORKS, and WHAT HE WANTS.  And that you'll celebrate our National Thanksgiving Day with true, genuine FANATICAL thanksgiving.  

Monday, November 3, 2014

My Mom the Teacher

Kathleen Virginia Casey Elders
July 4, 1950 - October 30, 2014

My mom, Mama, died at 2:55am last Thursday morning.  She found out in late July that she had cancer.  And that it was bad.  And that there was little hope of surviving it.  By the time she went to the doctor, what started as ovarian cancer had spread to other parts of her body, including her lungs, which is what ultimately took her so quickly from the time of her diagnosis.

I won't go into the details of the last 22 years of my mom's life here.  She and my dad divorced in 1992-3 when I was 19 years old.  Here's what I primarily tell people about my mom: She taught her four sons to know and love Jesus.  She was faithful and obedient to the highest call God gives mothers.

Deuteronomy 6:4-8  "Listen, O Israel!  The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength  6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today  7 Repeat them again and again to your children.  Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.  8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders.  9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."

She taught us, as well as countless other children at Poplar Springs Baptist Church in Lavonia, GA, many things I used to take for granted.  Back then, as a traditional Southern Baptist Church, we went to church on Sunday mornings at 10am for Sunday School, 11am for worship, and then again at 6pm for Discipleship Training, and 7pm for worship.  Yep, we spent 4 hours at church every Sunday, and I never thought it was too much.  For several years of my childhood, Mama was my Discipleship Training teacher.  During those classes, I learned the 39 Books of the Old Testament, the 27 Books of the New Testament, the Ten Commandments, the Eight Beatitudes, and the Twelve Disciples.  I remember her teaching us the Books of the Bible 5 at a time: "Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.  Again - Genesis, Exodus . . ."  She taught us the Twelve Disciples 4 at a time: "Andrew, Simon Peter, James and John. Again - Andrew, Simon Peter . . ."  I don't know why she started with Andrew when Scripture starts with Simon Peter, but that's still the way I say them - Andrew first.

As for the Books of the Bible, it helped that my church also did the "Bible Drill," where students stand holding their closed Bible in front of them, and the teacher calls out a Bible verse.  The first person to find it steps forward and reads it.  I loved the competition.

As I said, I used to take all those lists for granted.  I thought it was normal for every Christian to know them.  I learned otherwise as I grew up.  When I took my first youth ministry position and started teaching students regularly, I saw that most church kids not only don't KNOW the Books of the Bible, but they aren't even FAMILIAR with them.  That was in 1997, and since then, at every church I've served, I've had a standing deal with my youth: the first one to come to me and recite all 66 Books of the Bible will receive SOME AMOUNT OF MONEY (it has changed through the years).  To this day, nobody has ever done it.  Learning 66 things in order isn't impossible, so the reason has been that nobody has CARED to do it.  I'm glad my mom taught me before I reached an age that I didn't care.

Then I had another eye-opener.  At Erskine Theological Seminary, one of the schools I attended for my Masters, I had to take a Bible Survey course.  It was a semester-long overview of the entire Bible.  I loved it, while most students didn't.  Why did I love it?  Because I already knew a lot of the stuff we were tested on, and I made an easy A.  Other students spent long hours trying to memorize all the things I learned as a child.  During tests, I was always the first student finished.  It was honestly the first and last class in my seminary education that I felt was remedial.  When my friends in the class asked me how I knew all that stuff so easily, I told them about my mom.  I was shocked that so many pastors and pastors-to-be didn't know these BASICS.

Aside from the lists, Mama taught my brothers and me what it means to know who God is, how He works, and what He wants.  She made Bible stories come to life, and I can still remember the characters she drew and cut out to use on her flannel board to teach us Biblical truths.  I'm trying to pass on what I learned from her to my 3-year old, and in the future, to our 1-month old.  I cared that she taught us all those things way back then, but the older I get, the more I care and the more it means to me.  Especially this week.

Friday, October 10, 2014

High-Pressure Baby Naming

Three years ago, we shared the naming of our first child with her birth parents.  We chose "Katherine."  The name means virginal or pure.  Something to aspire to!  Also, it's a derivative  of Kathleen, which is my mom's name and Kelley's mother's, mother's name (Kelley never met her grandmother).  Kate's birth parents named her Ava.  We don't know their reason for choosing that name, but for Kate, Ava's meaning comes from the fact that her birth parents chose it for her.

We found out about Kate in late June and she was born August 10, so we had plenty of time to choose her name.

We found out about Karsten on Tuesday afternoon around 2:30.  She was born on Monday at 10:37 am.  She was to be discharged from the hospital on Wednesday morning.  We had to say yes or no to the adoption quickly so that if we declined, another adoptive family could be identified.

It just so happened that when I got an unknown call on Tuesday afternoon, I let it go to voice mail.  I was in Pinehurst, NC playing golf on a planned 3-day trip with my friend and former pastor/boss, Charles.  We were on hole 14 at Deercroft Golf Club.  We had paid for a rarely offered all-day rate and were on our second round.  Before the call, I was wondering how many holes we could play before dark.  A few minutes after ignoring the call, I listened to the voice mail.  I told Charles, "That was Bethany.  That was THE CALL.  I have to call Kelley."  I stayed calm, but true to his nature, Charles did not.

I called Kelley and asked, "Did you get an unknown call?"  She replied calmly, "Yes.  I'm in the doctor's office right now and I can't answer it.  There are two doctors in here checking Kate out and giving her a breathing treatment."  (Turns out that Kate has pneumonia from a respiratory illness she's had recently - another story in itself.)  I told Kelley, "That was Bethany.  That was THE CALL.  You need to call them back, see what they say, and then call me back."  Immediately, Kelley's voice got all high, chirpy, excited, stressed - sort of like mine when I think Georgia has a chance to win a big game.

If you're thinking that I was just playing golf so I should've called, you should know that Kelley has handled ALL of our adoption correspondence - calls, emails, rejections, confirmations, etc.  So I wanted her to get all the info first - just like with Kate.

Meanwhile, I kept playing my final 4 holes.  I'll just say that I wasn't quite concentrating, and the 41 I shot on the front was a lot better than whatever I shot on the back.

Kelley called back when I was on hole 17.  She gave me the details and said, "We have to decide NOW because the baby is being discharged in the morning.  AND YOU NEED TO COME HOME RIGHT NOW!"  I actually hit 3 shots while we were talking - a poor chip and two poor putts with one hand - double bogey.  And since 18 was on our ride back to the clubhouse and I knew nothing could be done tonight, and since I had a 3.5 hour drive home through Charlotte traffic, we went ahead and played 18.

Charles and I got back to the hotel about 4:30, showered, ate the free supper included in the cost of the room that we forfeited for the night, and I left at 5:45.  Made it home about 9:15.  And that's when Kelley said, "We need to give them a name tonight so they have it to discharge the baby in the morning.  If we don't decide till later, it'll be an ordeal."  I already suspected this, so on the way home, I was asking Siri for the meanings of various, possible names Kelley and I had discussed.  We'd been on the waiting list since February and we started a list of possible names back then - but hadn't really added much to it.  So while we did have something to work with, it was limited.  All we were FAIRLY certain of was that we wanted a name that starts with K.  We didn't want to be, "Kevin, Kelley, Kate, and Sophia."  But we're getting pretty limited with K names.  Kevin, Kelley, and Kate.  My brothers' names are Keith, Ken, and Kris.  My step-sister's name is Kim(berly).  Kelley's sister's name is Kristi.  Kelley's cousin has children named Christopher, Collins, and Campbell.  See what I'm saying?

Being a golfer, I was familiar with a word/name, Karsten.  I knew that word was stamped into some PING golf clubs, but didn't know the history.  When we started making our baby name list, I looked up the name.  Karsten Solheim founded the PING golf company - actually, Karsten Manufacturing.  He was born in Norway but grew up in America, and his name was from German.

Karsten is Greek and means "anointed one," just like "Christ" means "anointed one".  In Low German, Karsten means "Christian."

I was pretty set on Karsten when I learned its meaning - although I've never owned a PING golf club!  (That's likely to change, now.)  The name Karsten identifies me with Jesus Christ.  Karsten is what I am - a Christian.  Jesus is my Savior, my Lord, and my priority.  I will raise our children to know and love Jesus and give them the very best environment to do so.

I shared the name with Kelley and she liked it, but she also kept coming up with other options.  Even this past week, before we got THE CALL from Bethany, she sent me a text asking what I thought of the name "Dylan" for a girl.  I told her I liked it.

After I'd bee home long enough to unpack my truck, and without us even discussing options, Kelley said, "So we're naming her Karsten, right?"  I was happy, but I just said, "If that's what you want."  Inside I was talking to myself in that voice I described like when I think Georgia has a chance to win a big game.  But there was still the middle name.  The complete naming of this child was all up to us.  I threw out a couple of names from Kelley's family, but she took just a few seconds to say, "Karsten Rose.  Rose is my Mom's middle name."

So quickly coming up with a name was much easier than I thought.  Kelley emailed Bethany our name about 10pm.  On Wednesday, we went to the hospital, which just happened to be in our own city, at 10:30am.  We got our first glimpse of our new daughter.  The experience this second time was so much different.  It wasn't as painful.  Our first adoption was painful and joyful all mixed together.  That whole hospital experience was the hardest thing I've ever done.  This time was just joyful.

Karsten was released to Bethany because we hadn't signed any papers, yet.  We went to Bethany's office, signed all the papers, and left with our new daughter by 2pm.  Kelley's family was calling and texting, asking for pictures and a name, but Kelley told them they'd have to wait.  Gena (Kelley's mom) was at our house, waiting.  Kelley planned it to happen like this: we walked in with our new baby girl, put her down in front of Gena, and said, "This is Karsten Rose."  Gena put her hands to her chest, and in her own high, chirpy voice said, "MY name???" and started crying.  It was just like Kelley wanted it to be - perfect.

So Karsten means Christian, and Rose is after Kelley's mom.  We think that's quite an inspiring name for this little girl.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Kate's Rebellion

As far as I can remember, Kate has reached a new FIRST in her young life: she has come up with her own expression to show her disgust or rebellion.  We were on vacation the past week, and that's when it started.  Kelley and I heard it a couple times each before we realized she was actually SAYING something PURPOSEFULLY.  I'm going to keep this as short as possible and show you a video to show you where she got her EXPRESSION.

Each time she said it, she was mad.  For example, on our way home from vacation, she threw her sunglasses across the back of the car against the window.  She's been told plenty of times not to do that, so I turned around and popped her on the leg (Kelley was driving).  Normally, that brings a few tears followed by an apology.  This time, she leaned forward, glared at me, and said something that sounded like "AHN-tie"!!!  She sounded like Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid.

Since it sounded like an Asian cuss word and we had no idea where she heard it, we'd been asking her who says that.
Kelley: "Kate, who says that?"
Kate: "Rapunzel."
Kelley: "Who does Rapunzel say that to?"
Kate: "Her mom."
Kelley: "When you say it, are you being nice, or mean?"
Kate: (smiling as she answered) "Mean!"

As soon as we got home Saturday night, I started the movie Tangled and watched it with Kate as I unpacked our stuff.  If I stepped out of the room I'd ask if Rapunzel had said it yet, and she kept saying, "No, not yet."  The movie was nearly over and I'd decided that Kate was making it all up, but then she started smiling and said, "Here it comes!"  And here's what I saw:

Rapunzel says, "I am the lost princess!  Aren't I!"  Kate doesn't know the words "aren't I."  She saw Rapunzel's scowl, heard the expression, and thought Rapunzel was expressing anger!

Kelley and I will probably be saying, "AHN-tie" when we're mad for the rest of our lives.