Wednesday, June 29, 2011


"To topple the 'stronghold of our experiences' we must 'let God be found true, though every man be found a liar' (Romans 3:4). The only One who has a right to shape our lives is Jesus Christ. We must determine to allow nothing and no one to shape us, not even our personal experiences, unless they are consistent with the promises of God. In truth, who is ruling our lives, God or our experiences?"
Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlefields 

Who is this child?
I heard once that personhood can be defined in three parts: (1) Identity, (2) Acceptance, (3) Approval. This intrigued me, as I have become increasingly convinced that our precious adopted children's wholeness and healing directly correlates with their understanding and belief in who they are. Do you remember what God the Father said about Jesus when He was baptized? "This is (1) My Son, (2) My Beloved, (3) In Whom I Delight!" (Matthew 3:17) Jesus received this public affirmation from His Father--his identity as a son of his Father, his acceptance as one who is loved, and the approving delight of his Father. When we ask the question, "Who is this child?" as parents, we have the opportunity to partner with the Holy Spirit to see God's eternal purposes manifested in his or her life, going way past the surface issues of behavior into the depth of their identity in Christ.

What is God Seeing? What is God Saying?
My favorite example of this is found in the story of Gideon (Judges 6)-- I love this story! There is Gideon threshing wheat in secret, hiding in a wine press so that the Midianite enemy can't steal it from him. And then the Angel of the Lord shows up and says, "The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor." Notice, Gideon is not even wearing armor, he has no sword, he is hiding in justified fear--there is nothing about him that would indicate that he is indeed a "might man of valor." What in the world was God thinking?! More importantly, what was God seeing?

Facts or Truth?
Do you see the huge gap between the Word of the Lord and the facts at hand?!  There is a disturbing and direct opposition between God's words and what can be seen at the present moment. In this situation it is key to recognize the difference between facts and truth. Facts are simply an accurate description of a circumstance. Facts change, but Truth--God's Word-- remains.

How often do we look at our children and see only a repeated negative behavior or character trait. We must look to who they are in the Spirit. Notice, God did not say, "You will be a mighty man of valor once I finish my work in you." I don't know about you, but to me it almost feels like God made a mistake here. But rather, I think what is going on is that God saw something in Gideon in the Spirit, something that had not yet manifested but was, nevertheless, TRUE. Also, let's take note that God did not attack him with words like, "Gideon, you are a gutless wimp. Shape up here." As with Jesus, God spoke out loud into Gideon his identity in the very midst of the facts that spoke as loud as any words, "Fearful, not Mighty."

Calling Forth the Treasure
Part of our role as fathers and mothers is to speak WORDS OF LIFE and TRUTH
into our children--into, over, and in the midst of their brokenness, their pain and their sinful behavior. As I mentioned in my last post, Parenting in Grace: Identity,
you may find this "Parenting Forward" as counter intuitive as we have. It feels at times, especially in the heat of the moment when you are so disappointed, angry or worn-down, as if you are lying. But I think what is actually going on is that in that awesome moment of opportunity (that looks suspiciously like another behavior issue that you need to get control of!) you and I are actually "speaking those things that are not as though they were." (Romans 4:17) You are calling forth by declaration, or what my good friend Michelle calls "calling forth the treasure."

Words that Shape Identity
Stephen and I have discovered a wonderful benefit from doing this over the years. As we have declared Truth in the midst of opposing facts we have equipped our children with language for them to use when they think about who they are. Proverbs 23:7 says, "For as he thinks in his heart, so he is."  You and I have the awesome opportunity, given by God Himself, to speak words that shape how our children think of themselves and in doing so over and over throughout the years, we are actually shaping who they are--partnering with God to transform them from orphans into sons and daughters! Now that is something worth doing regardless of the cost!

A Real Life Example
Now, before I close, I'd like to give you an example from our experience. And please know that this is not how we always do things. We have tried to make it a part of the culture of our family, but we have missed the mark often--and still we see God be faithful. I thank Him for that daily. But let me tell you one story.  (Excuse my incorrect grammar as I strive to honor my children.)

One of our children came to us with an amazingly honed coping skill; this child could lie with the best! I am talking impressive here. At first we thought time would take care of this problem. Surely love and security would replace the need to lie regularly. As I fixated on the problem (never helpful--lesson learned!) I became anxious and fearful of where this behavior would lead our child. One thing I knew-- I needed prayer, for myself -- and for my child. As a group of trusted friends prayed, one felt strongly that God was saying that this child was actually a person of integrity and that they would in fact have a reputation for integrity. Now, at that point the facts were directly opposing this word and I had no vision for it, but by faith I made a choice to believe. It seems like a no-brainer now, but at that point it was a real leap! 

I vividly remember one day when something had been taken and our child looked me in the face and denied responsibility. I knew this was a lie. But how kind was God to remind me right then of that word--this is a person of integrity. So, with everything in me wanting to say, "You are a lier. Again you have lied. What is wrong with you?!" (I know that is ugly, but my fear for the future caused me to have such a strong reaction,) -- instead I declared out loud the Truth of this precious child's identity, calling that thing that was not as though it were. "You, my child, are a person of integrity. What you are saying is a lie, but you are not a lier. This is not who you are." And from that point on, over the years and to this day, we are very careful to publicly and privately celebrate this truth when we see it, and declare it as truth when we don't.  

I do want to clarify that there were still consequences to the lying; we aren't talking about sweeping things under the proverbial rug. I am thrilled and humbled to say that years later this amazing young person sat in an office at school and when asked what their strengths were, these were the words that came forth (the way our child thinks when asked about who they are), "People know they can trust me and rely on me." And it is absolutely true--this is the reputation of this young person. How thankful to God we are-- for it is clear to us that this is His hand at work. 

What are some of the "push backs" of this approach to parenting? What do we do when our child says, "No I'm not!" at our declarations? Any thoughts?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

An Adopted Child's Perspective on Adoption: Andrei

We wanted to share some of the stories of adoption from the point of view of the children, both biological and adopted. It has been fascinating and faith-building to hear them tell their own stories of life from their perspective. The sixth in this series is from a truly wonderful young man, our son Andrei. He is 19 and preparing to enter his freshman year in college this year. 

I didn't know any other way of living.
Our sweet son as a little boy in Russia.
His beloved great-grandmother gave
us this picture.

Most kids grow up thinking their life is pretty tough. For me it actually was. The first memory of my childhood included my dad coming home from the army. That was the beginning of it all. After he came home, my parents got their own apartment. It started out pretty great but then it all started falling apart. My parents quickly went through their money by buying alcohol and tobacco. They even sent me out to buy it for them. By age six I had experienced more sadness and pain than any child should even know of, much less live through. I didn’t know any other way of living. To me, this was normal. When I was around six years old, I remember my parents telling me that some government officials were coming to ask my brother, Sergei, and me a few questions. I remember this because that was the first time they were sober in a long time. When the government came, some lady asked me if I was happy, taken care of, and fed. I told them I was happy, treated well, and had food three times a day. When the lady perceived that I was lying, she went to the refrigerator and opened it. There was nothing in it. When the lady left, so did Sergei and I. 

What really mattered to me was that I could not see my brother
I was placed in an orphanage for young kids and sent to school. The government paid for my lunches at school. I didn’t eat them. Instead I saved them until school ended and took the food to Sergei. He was placed in a children’s home nearby. I didn’t mind it in the orphanage. I was happy to be near my brother and be able to take a bus to see my grandmother a few miles away, but then something changed. Sergei was placed in a foster family. I was happy for Sergei but I couldn’t take it. Soon I had anger problems and I remember that I would steal things and get in fights. My grandmother became worried about me, so she sent me away to a boarding school for orphans. I hated it. It was far away from everything that I knew. I was constantly beaten there. That didn’t matter to me so much because what really mattered to me was that I could not see my brother-- and my grandmother was getting too old to visit. Finally my grandmother came to visit me. When I heard that she was waiting for me, I couldn’t believe it. It was April 1st, April Fool’s day, but she was there. 
Andrei with his protective arm around Sergei
the day of their reunion in the orphanage.

Every day felt like a battle for survival to me
Andrei (right) and Sergei with their
great grandmother who loved
them and cared for them.
That day she took me back to her apartment. It was heaven. There was nothing better on earth for me. I was able to visit Sergei in the foster home. That summer I even went to Ukraine to visit my grandmother’s sister. It was nice to spend a summer where I wasn’t beaten or constantly hungry. The worst thing that happened to me in Ukraine was that I scraped up pretty bad from a bicycle crash and was bitten by a German Shepherd. At the end of the summer I went back and went to a new orphanage. My grandmother was too old and didn’t have enough money to take care of me. I was around 8 years old then. This orphanage was no better than the one before. Everyday felt like a battle for survival to me. Everyday I was afraid of being beaten up. It became so bad that I became bitter and violent. My temper was short. After being there for about six months, Sergei was placed in this orphanage. He was placed in the little children’s area of the orphanage. 

They showed me something I didn't usually see... love
The day Sergei came, I met my future parents, who were at the orphanage to adopt Kristina and Pasha. They showed me something that I didn’t usually I had fun with them until they had to leave. That’s when I became my brother’s keeper. I made sure that no one was going to touch him and if someone did, they were going to have to deal with me. Through out my stay at the orphanage I learned to defend myself and my brother, I skipped school, got in fights, learned to siphon gas, and steal. But about a year and a half after I met my future parents I was called into the director of the orphanage’s office and was told that i was going to be adopted.

I decided I would go to America
The long process of adoption began. It took what seemed to me like forever. Then finally I had to be taken to court in St. Petersburg, about 2 hours away. I had just turned 10. The law required me to go to court and decide for myself if I was going to be adopted or not. No matter what I decided, Sergei was going. I was excited and scared. For a second I thought I would stay in Russia but I couldn’t be separated from my brother. I decided I would go to America.

When I left court, I saw my new mother and father, and by new brother, Pasha. I was so excited. On the way back to the orphanage to pick up Sergei, I threw up on my mother's green dress and stained it. I was so scared she would be mad or that I would be in trouble, but nothing happened. After we picked up Sergei, we flew into Moscow. We went to the circus and lived like kings for the first time in my life.

Andrei and Sergei at the Russian Circus.

Andrei, Pasha, and Sergei in

I remember the first six months were hardest
Andrei (with Kristina) seeing his new home
for the first time.
I remember coming to my new home. Everyone was happy and everything was new. Even though I was in a new place, surrounded by new people, my old troubles and habits followed me. I was still angry and difficult to deal with. I remember the first six months were the hardest. Soon after coming to my new home (we were adopted in June), my whole family went to the beach where I met even more family. I was overwhelmed by the new people and the disability of not speaking their language. I would throw fits and curl up in a corner for hours. I would hurt myself. There was something about pain that brought comfort to me, something familiar. As the time passed, it became easier but it took years to break old habits.

Enjoying the beach.
First 4th of July with new siblings
and cousins.

School was difficult.
I remember that school was difficult. I went into third grade when school started in August. Language was a barrier but I was happy to be surrounded by my new friends. Many of those people are still my friends today. One in particular was Vasya Hillis. He was another boy who was adopted just several years before me. He and I became best friends and would always be together. Many things have changed over the years, but not my friendship with Vasya.

Andrei (on left with armor and sword) with his third grade class.
Andrei (right) with his best friend Vasya Hillis, son of
Susan and Brian Hillis.

I hope to major in business...

As time went by, things got better. I would be lying if I said my old “demons” left me but it’s a daily struggle even to this day. As I moved from elementary school to middle school, to high school, I became more involved in things. Currently I am 19 years old and looking forward to starting college in a few months. I serve on the sound team and am a youth group leader at Northlands Church. I was involved in Cross Country and student leadership at St. Pius X Catholic High School. I served as a worship leader both for my Christian middle school and in youth group. I served as a children’s church leader as well. Through my involvement, I've learned many skills that will help me in life. In college, I hope to major in business while taking ROTC and then join the army.
Serving on the sound/media team at church.
Running Cross Country at St. Pius H.S.

God never fails to reveal something in my time of need.

Andrei (in red towel) and his brothers being prayed
over after being baptized.
After my adoption I learned quite a few things about God. There has to be a reason why I went through the things that I went through. Jeremiah 1:5 says, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." Jeremiah 1:19 “They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you declares the Lord.” Time will tell what God’s plans are for me. John 13:7 says, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” I’m heavily involved with the church. I’ve made personal commitments to help others and to bring them closer to Christ. My faith is a constant struggle because of my past but God never fails to reveal something in my time of need. He has given me many words over the years from many people that I look up to. I have heard His voice and guidance on many occasions. If it was not for hearing His voice I would not be the person that I am today. One day everything that I went through will have a meaning and a purpose. Jeremiah 1:17 says, "Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, "I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Defined by Behavior?
You will find that we speak a lot about identity in this blog. Stephen wrote a post about it in March (you can read it here) and I’d like to continue the thought. One of the most important roles we have as parents is to recognize and call forth our children’s identities. Now, it takes no effort at all to do this if we define an individual’s identity by his or her behavior. If our child lies repeatedly, then we may decide she is a liar. Or if we have a child who is filled with anger and angry outbursts, then we identify him as a child with anger issues. There is a certain logic to this approach, and it certainly yields some benefits as we seek to parent our children well. None of us want our adopted child to remain defined by their behaviors learned in an orphanage! So we patiently (or not!) focus our attention on these behaviors in the desire to set them free.

"Parenting Backward"
Stephen and I have found that parenting with our focus on the negative behavior is limited in its success, however. I see it as “Parenting Backward” in a way. I mean by this that when I focus on my child’s anger, for instance, I become so easily absorbed and enmeshed in the issue of her anger, how it originated in her past, and the depth of the problem, that I find myself struggling with feelings of anger myself, along with anxiety, frustration, and even hopelessness. Being clever, I realize pretty quickly that the problem is far too great for my parenting skills! The pain, lack, neglect, abuse and rejection our adopted children have experienced is far beyond my own experience and understanding.

"Parenting Forward"
Over the years we have become increasingly focused on our children’s identity in Christ and have learned to “Parent Forward” so to speak. Our goal is the same—to bring our children into freedom from the coping behaviors that were born out of distrust, pain and the need to survive. With this approach of “Parenting Forward” however, we identify the problem (never too hard to figure that out!), we acknowledge the connection to the past in our own minds and occasionally with our child, and then we begin to speak aloud to ourselves and to our child his identity in Christ. We call forth his righteousness in Christ and parent into his future, rather than parenting into the issues of his past. In other words, we choose to make decisions regarding our child based on what God has to say, rather than on the sometimes compelling evidence of their behavior. We are careful to speak these truths publicly (even if it is just at the dinner table) and often. As our children have gotten older we have found that texts, emails, facebook messages, letters left on their pillows, etc. are also good ways to "call forth." 
For instance, we believe that one of our sons has a strong leadership gifting, but we often see him waiting to be led and in a place of passivity. Stephen and I have encouraged and even at times required him to take leadership roles as we work at parenting him according to his identity in Christ. When he has failed, we work it through, allowing him to face the consequences, and then try again. This has been a long process with some painful times and mistakes on our part, but one that is now bearing clear and recognizable fruit in his life. 

Focus and Answers
This approach is not always easy. It is counter intuitive for most of us not to place our full focus on a problem in order to solve it. Many of us have even been trained to do exactly that—looking intently at the problem in order to find the solution. But I believe in the Lord there is a better way! As we look intently at our beautiful savior and focus on His words about our child, we will find the true answers to the complicated and difficult issues our adopted children face. Paul did this when he addressed the issue of blatant sin in his letter to the Corinthians (1Corinthians 6). In the midst of dealing with their sin Paul says, “…do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you?....” Do you see how Paul declared to them their identity in Christ here? He did not say, “do you not know that you are sinful fornicators?”, but rather he called out that which was good and true, reminding them of their identity and pointing them to the future, not the past.

Transfixed by the Problem
This Parenting Forward can only be done as we parents set our thoughts and affections on Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I find it quite difficult to do at times. Have you ever been in a situation where you find yourself drawn to look at something you really don’t want to look at and you know you should wrest your eyes away, but you just can’t? I remember when I was in elementary school our family was in a pretty bad car wreck with a hook and ladder fire engine. In the end we were all fine, however my youngest sister had gotten pretty beaten up. I’ll never forget hearing my mother call out, “ Don’t look at Pammy. Don’t look at Pammy.” (She was covered in blood at that point and my mother wanted to protect us from fear and terror.) Well, you know where this is going! Of course, I couldn’t help it—my eyes were drawn as if by a huge magnetic pull to her. I have recently realized that that is exactly the way I am sometimes with my children. I become aware of a behavior that needs our attention, a gaping wound not unlike my sister’s in a way, and find myself transfixed by it and it’s connection with such a complicated past, as well as my inability to “fix” the problem, and I think to myself, “You’ve got to tear your eyes away from this. It is not helping to gaze steadfastly at this problem. Rather, it is producing fear, anxiety and even emotional distance from this precious child.” I sometimes find it so difficult not to dwell on the problem. I know enough about our amazing God to know that when I pull my eyes away from the problem and intently look to Him, that anxiety falls away with ease, solutions come, my heart is warmed again to my child as I catch again some of God’s thoughts about him or her. I am able to Parent Forward into the beautiful, freeing and whole person.

Transfixed by the Answer
Our faith cannot be in our parenting nor can it be in our child. Our faith must be in Christ alone. I have found that when I mistakenly put my faith in my child to behave a certain way, to display a certain amount of progress and healing, then I open myself to be blindsided by disappointment, frustration and even anger. All of these emotions lead quickly to anxiety and emotional distance. However, when I place my faith in Jesus, in what He has called us to and what He has declared over our family-- in essence, when I become transfixed by Jesus, the answer-- then I can remain standing, even when the storms rage around me.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What's the problem?

Faith's Victories and Trials

Almost all of the posts we have shared to date have been upbeat, positive, focusing on delightfully awe-inspiring testimonies of how the Lord has blessed our famlies and our children through adoption. I have felt, acutely, that it is time to share the other side of the story. In reading Hebrews 11 this morning, the hall of fame of faith, the first half is full of all those victory stories about "conquering kingdoms, ...gaining what was promised, shutting the mouths of lions, ... whose weakness was turned into strength (v.33f)." Yet the other half of Hebrews 11 describes the rest of the story: "Others were tortured,...faced jeers,... were put in prison, stoned, sawed in two,...destitute, persecuted and mistreated...they wandered." Now that all 10 of our kids, ages 17-26, are walking into young adulthood, I feel I have figuratively walked through a broad variety of both faith's victories and its trials. I could almost write my own "Hebrews 11" chapter for our family, replete with examples from both halves of Hebrews!

The Lie and the Truth
When we have walked through the latter half of Hebrews 11, the lie that I have feared on certain occasions when the facts appeared hopelessly bleak was this: "Your adopting them may make no difference in their lives." The truth is that "Jesus' love does and will make a difference in their lives."

They Expect a Funeral; Jesus Expects Breakfast!
Along these lines, I have had the story of Jesus' approach to Jairus' daughter ringing in my mind this week. What was her problem? The crowd and the little girl's parents had determined she was dead -- they were hopelessly bleak. Jesus arrives on the scene with a different view, "The child is not dead but asleep." (Mark 5:39) Do you see it???? Everyone else sees the problem is 'death' while Jesus sees that problem is simply 'sleep.' They are expecting a funeral and He is expecting breakfast! May the Lord wake up that glorious person He has created inside of each of our children and inside of us, even when the facts make us feel like we are being sawn in two!

9 of our 10 treasures!
Returning Prodigal or Older Brother?
I will close with a personal illustration. One of our 10 kids has especially struggled the past year, having selected friends who influenced her to make bad choices, such bad choices that she ended up in jail to serve a six-month sentence. We were so sure we were called to love her, pray for her, call her on the phone, and encourage her to be salt and light there in that place. The only possession she was allowed to keep was her Bible, which we encouraged her to fill her heart with every day before leaving her cell. Just before she was released, on one of our last calls she said, "Mommy, my friend Butterfly is really sad I am leaving." When I inquire about why Butterfly is sad, our daughter explains, "Butterfly really likes that Bible you sent me, and she has been reading it. Do you think you could send her one? Can you talk to my friend Butterfly now? She is standing right here beside me." I could only praise the Lord that even there, He could use something as simple as a telephone and a Bible, to help our daughter pass along His love (and we did send Butterfly her own Bible). There are many prodigals who must approach what may seem like 'death' before they begin to walk more fully into life. My dear husband always has scared me a little by the number of times, in discussing our children, he has commented, "I would much rather have a prodigal [who returns] than an older brother." And Jesus' advice to all of us parents of current or former prodigals is this: "Don't be afraid; just believe." (Mark 5:36) I can almost hear Him saying, "I can handle this!" What a relief. Because of this truth, our lives at home can be "joyful, full of gladness for all the goodness the Lord has shown to us." (I Kings 8:66)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Biological Child's Perspective on Adoption: Rachel

We wanted to share some of the stories of adoption from the point of view of the children, both biological and adopted. It has been fascinating and faith-building to hear them tell their own stories of life from their perspective. The fourth in this series is from our precious Rachel, who is a junior in college and an wonderful young woman.

Rachel's Story:
...the potential to redeem and restore broken lives...
I thought a lot about how I wanted to start this blog post. Should I begin with the first time my parents brought up the idea of adoption? Should I begin with when I first met Kristina and Pasha, the first of four adoptions? Or should I go further back, and begin with life before the adoptions? I could write a book on this experience, on adoption and how it has affected my life, and my family's life, but what I really want to emphasize is that adoption has not only dramatically changed me, but has come to define my life and my view of the world around me. As many of you surely know, melding individuals who previously knew nothing of each other into the most intimate of relationships - a family - is a weighty venture that has the potential to redeem and restore broken lives, for both those who are adopted and the family into which they are adopted.

I had one very specific request...
Rachel (center) enjoys a tea party with her
Daddy and two sisters.
I have a very vivid memory of my parents sitting me and my two sisters, Emma and Julia, down at our round kitchen table, and calmly asking us what we thought of bringing two children from Russia into our family and our lives. I must have been around eight, and while the talk of this far away land of Russia and potential new friends and siblings was exciting, I had one very specific request: I did NOT want a sibling older than me. As the middle child, I felt very protective of my spot in the order, and didn't want to deal with yet another older sibling (as much as I loved Emma, I often suffered from the common bossy older sibling syndrome when we were young). After I had told my parents this sole request, I jumped headfirst into the exciting yet unknown idea of adoption. I remember putting a world map up on my wall, looking at the different countries and focusing especially on Russia. That simple kitchen-table talk stretched the comfortable boundaries of my world to include the unknown and exciting world stretched out on my wall.

"Rachel, Mommy wants to talk to you."
For almost two years I waited for my new siblings. I imagined what they would look like, what their names would be, whether they would speak English, what kinds of movies and games they liked. Finally, one year after that kitchen table conversation we got a call from my mom who was in Russia with a friend, Susan Hillis, visiting orphanages and had just met two orphans who just might be our siblings - a brother and sister named Kristina and Pasha. My dad talked excitedly on the phone with her as my sisters and I stood by, and then he looked at me and said, "Rachel, mommy wants to talk to you." I stepped up and nervously took the phone in my hands as my mom said from millions of miles away "Rachel, I know you didn't want an older sibling, but Kristina is two weeks older than you. Would you be willing to set that aside and welcome her into the family?" When I think back on that moment, I just want to laugh at how futile our plans for our lives stand in the face of God's awesome vision for us. Kristina was older than me by TWO WEEKS, shattering my plans but in the end giving me a best friend with whom I have shared homework and friends, experiences and fights, emotions and secrets. I am so thankful that God wasn't limited by my narrow vision and fears.
Rachel (center) embraces Kristina as we pose in the orphanage
for our first photo as a family of 7.

Kristina embraces Rachel at the beach
The adoptions have shaped my life completely
Rachel (in red shirt) welcoming Andrei and Sergei
home at the Atlanta airport.
Two years later we adopted Andrei and Sergei (as many of you might already know from reading my other siblings' accounts, we met Andrei and Sergei the same day we met Kristina and Pasha, and prayed for them every day for two years until God pretty much said "enough already, why don't you adopt them?" And we did.). As I said before, the adoptions have changed and shaped my life completely. When I meet new people I talk about adoption; when I wrote my college application essays I wrote about adoption; when I picked my major I thought about adoption; when I show friends family photos I talk about adoption. I say all this to show that adoption doesn't just change those who are brought into your family - it changes you to the core. It expands you, challenges you, and fills you up until it overflows into every area of your life.

God bridged the gap between each of my family members
All 7 children, Rachel on the right,
hugging Andrei.
People ask me a lot of questions about my family. Do you feel more loved than your adopted siblings? Who are you closest with? Did you feel neglected by your parents? I can honestly say that my family is one unified unit, not separated into the "biologicals" and the "adopted"; I can also say that I NEVER once felt neglected by my parents, or that the adoptions caused them to not care as much about me. When I respond this way I almost always get a surprised look at the least, a doubtful "Really?" at the most. At first I was both shocked and offended at people's disbelief, but then I thought it over. Maybe the human heart is not infinite, and from an outsider's perspective, stretching it to not only accept but incorporate 4 strangers into your family seems almost impossible to do fully. But what I know for certain is that God's love is infinite, his heart is universal, and his vision is endless. God bridged the gap between each of my family members, connecting us with threads of supernatural love that cannot be broken and that pulled and shaped us into a wholly unconventional and wholly beautiful family. Yes it's hard, and there were bumps and bruises on all sides, from having to share my friends with Kristina to getting used to having smelly, loud boys in the house (who were also handsome and wonderful of course). And yes my family doesn't look like many peoples'. But thank God that he is strong enough to heal the broken parts in all of us, and to not be constricted by terms like "normal families". I love my family, and I love God for bringing it together in such a powerful and beautiful way. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Greg Haswell, pastor of  Northlands Church in Atlanta, Georgia, shares a powerful truth to adoptive and foster parents as we partner with God to transform orphans into sons and daughters. You will hear more from Greg at HOPE AT HOME 2011, September 23-24 in Atlanta, Ga. Register now!


I heard a story of a zoo that sought to free one of the eagles that had been brought to them injured some years earlier. When released from its cage, the bird merely sat huddled up on the wind-swept mountainside without unfurling her wings to the breeze  plucking at her feathers.  Months of cage dwelling had created a cage in her mind as strong as the bars of iron that had imprisoned her.  Despite the call of her nature, the desire of the keepers and her innate ability to fly away, she remained a captive bird till her death.   The cage had taken root in her mind. Similarly it seems that so much of human behavior is determined by mental boundaries rather than actual ability. There are examples of ‘mind manacles’ all around us; the gifted musician too shy to play in public, the skillful writer inactive and persuaded that no one will read their book, the innovative church member while unwilling to step forward is desperate for someone to recognize their as yet undisplayed potential, the orphan convinced that they are unloved and unlovable, the child with scolding and contempt still ringing in their ears drowning out encouragement and praise. People from all walks of life are held prisoner to lies that bind. Even when peoples circumstances change, their inner voices keep them constrained in old realities. 


The answer to this malady is to change the way we think. This is not just a choice to think differently, rather it is a decision to believe what God says is true. His truth, fully embraced, will deliver us from these bondages. This is because the things that we believe have great power to affect our lives. Here is a secret, we choose what we believe. We know we have an enemy who would love the right to define us. His desire is to steal, kill, damage and destroy our lives, and his words offered to us as “truth” will only diminish us. Jesus’ truth in turn, delivers us from fears, establishes us in God’s love, and brings lasting freedom. We choose whose voice we answer to. People who embrace Jesus’ words live in truth, peace, and blessing. 


Understanding this motivates us to be careful to hear, believe and declare God’s truth over our lives. In fact, for broken and bound people, this should be a top priority. The biblical teaching we expose ourselves and our families to is of great importance  Jesus calls us all to repentance, which in the original language, literally means that we “take a new mind” on the subject or that we “rethink it”. This kind of repentance means that whenever a thought, a feeling, or a perception is not in line with God’s nature or truth, we must resist it. We need to declare the lie to be a lie and embrace the freedom of God’s   truth. Often, this heightened focus is needed to pinpoint the lies that surreptitiously form the bars of our mental cages. We must seek out Truth, repenting (re-thinking) and conforming our minds to His words. 


Next, we must learn to deliberately declare that truth about ourselves and others. This will probably need constant repetition for it to sink in. Amazing fruit is produced when people in bondage start to declare and believe clear Biblical truths like; “I am a much loved child of my heavenly Father!” or “God dreams great dreams for me!” or “I have a valuable and unique contribution to make!” What freedom there is when orphans understand that God loved them that much, that He stirred someone’s heart to the extent that they sacrificed a great deal to secure a better future for them. So much changes when they realize that God’s dream for them is to know family life and love, and that He has planned an extraordinary future for them with a built in cheering section.


The desire to be loved, completely and relentlessly, is a deep need of the human heart. We all earnestly seek love, our eyes restlessly searching for any hint of it in people around us. Our hope in God’s love is no different. Can it be true that we are invited to experience His love, with its depth, height, and width beyond comprehension? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. His love never fails; it is unending and is available to all who ask. However, in ministry I have met many Christians whose “mind manacles’ keep them from experiencing His great love even though He urges us to cry out with intimacy “Daddy, Father!” Similarly, I have seen orphans surrounded by love and care, continue to feel unloved because they remain in mental bondage. Many adopted children remain broken and unwanted in their own thinking for years.


It’s time for us to decide who we will allow to define us. We will all either be defined by the enemy, our experiences, our past, our feelings and the perceptions of others, or by what Jesus says to us. Surely the One who created us and then redeemed us by paying for all our sin, shame, brokenness and poverty, has the greatest right to define us. The decision to agree and co-operate with Him in the destruction of the manacles of our minds is ours to make. There is a giant of a God in us who dreams great dreams for us, and it’s our job to believe in His words above all others. I hope that when its your turn to spread your wings, the cages that might have been in your mind, no longer exist.

Romans 12: 1
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed (transfigured, metamorphasized) by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

How have you been able to help your child break free of the mind manacles of the orphan spirit? Share your victories with us!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Identity and Destiny

I just love this last post you will read from Pastor Misha and Galya's adoptive daughter Nadya. I love the vulnerable honesty of Nadya's story as she recounts in her own words how she watched cars drive by her orphanage and wondered if one day such a car would bring a mama just for her. But what is more touching is what is behind the brief comments of that very mama, Galya, who the Lord would send to that orphanage just for her. I invite you to notice that Galya from the beginning began to understand her unique identify in Christ ("inquisitiveness and expressive eyes"), and as a student of her sweet daughter, Galya has come to grasp and to speak words of life into Nadya's destiny: "her strong desire won over and transformed her...Nadya accomplishes everything that she wants to." I just have to tell the non-Russian speakers who are reading this that 'Nadya' means 'Hope.'


Nadya Remembers 
In the orphanage I used to think...

To me family means: when loving people did everything for me and my brother Igor. In our family I know that Papa and Mama care about everyone and that I won't go hungry. They buy me everything that I need. I used to think that their own children would be jealous of me and not want to take me in. But the family that took me is the best. At the orphanage everyone thinks that children love their own parents so much that they don't want to share them with anyone. When I visited the family, I thought: I really want to stay here. And that's what happened. Thanks to God! Mama and Papa bring me joy and love in my heart. I am proud of my family and will stay proud. At the orphanage we had a long hallway, and I would often sit there and look out the window, watching every car and thinking that it was Mama coming for me, and crying. At the orphanage there are no mothers or fathers, only workers. But in a family everyone needs us, and we need them. Here everything has great meaning for me. At the orphanage I couldn't find love, but in my family I always see love and goodness. At the orphanage, each of the children are looking for a mother and father and waiting, and they don't understand what a family is. I really love my family: Mama Galya, Papa Misha, Dima, Luda, Igor, Polina, Dannik, and Cornelia.

The whole Kozitsky family

Mama Galya Remembers...
Today she is successful...

When we brought Nadya from the orphanage, she seemed to be different from all the other children in her inquisitiveness and her expressive eyes, which clearly showed her search for something stable. It was difficult for Nadya to express her thoughts, as she had a small vocabulary, but her strong desire to know more won out over everything and transformed her thinking and view on life. Today Nadya is able to state her thoughts, she is very goal-oriented, she takes everything on with diligence, and she sees things through to the end. She is very gifted. She is successful in both the general and the music school. Nadya plays the xylophone beautifully, she loves to perform on stage, and she loves the English language. Nadya has a strong memory and accomplishes everything that she wants to.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Susan Hills shares....
All of our 10 kids, as well as many of our dear friends who have adopted, feel that they have two pastors...their American pastor here at home, and their Russian pastor Misha from St. Petersburg, Russia, along with his dear wife Galya.  A number of you probably read our earller post about one of Misha and Galya's precious adopted children, Igor.  For nearly a decade, about once a year either some of us from Atlanta go there to Russia, or Misha and Galya come here to visit.  What is it that has created such deeply interwoven bonds?  It is this Spirit of adoption, that the Lord seems to be pouring out all over the world.  It is so exciting to learn that it seems to look similar wherever we turn.  Here is a peek inside their story in Russia, from the perspectives of Galya the mom, and one of their other daughters, Irochka. 
Our dear friends, Pastor Misha and his
wife, Galya.

A great deal of grief burdened his soul
Mama Galya remembers... 
When we took Igor in, he was 10 years old. There was a lot to learn. Igor's character was good, tender-hearted, and compassionate. He drew very well and could make original constructions with building sets. Today he plays guitar, studies at a music school, and performs on the guitar in concerts and competitions. He sings beautifully in the church choir. He arrived from the orphanage very reserved and antisocial. A great deal of grief burdened his soul. But today you can't see that: he is cheerful, loving, and thoughtful, and he looks like his adoptive father. His good friends adore him. And he is the very best friend and brother to his younger brother Dannik. 

They dream about love and a family
Irochka remembers...
Some people think that if they take a child from an orphange, their own children will stop loving them because they will be jealous of the adopted child. I don't think so! Even though I live in a big family, Mama and Papa give each one of us special attention. Every day my parents give me, my brothers, and my sisters their sincere, pure love. Love that every child dreams about - all the children who are now in the orphanages dream about love and a family that will help them in difficult times, give them warmth, and comfort them. With one word a child can be given great happiness. I remember how my family went to the orphanage for the first time and saw the scene there. I looked at the children and saw their eyes and faces. They were totally empty, and that emptiness could only be filled by love and a family. They all wanted to be in a family, and I was so sorry for them! When we went home, we all talked about our impressions of the orphanage. We all began to tell our parents who we liked, and one day our mom and dad asked us if we wanted to bring a child from the orphanage into our family. We all immediately agreed with our parents, though they asked us several times. Now I just can't imagine our family without our adoptive brother and sister. I really want to envision Russia without orphanages.