Sunday, December 29, 2013


From Susan: 

The Principle

I have found in all aspects of life, be they spiritual, practical, emotional, professional, developmental, or relational, that it is the foundational principles that provide the strongest and most stable supports for any host of perplexing questions.  About two months ago during my time with the Lord I sensed His Spirit whispering to me in prayer one morning,

Change to Love  
Love to Change. 

I understood that this simple truth is a guiding principal for nurturing our children and husbands and everyone else the Lord places in our lives! This freeing principal is so inexpressibly helpful and hopeful, that I have to pass it on!!! I believe it to be TIMELESS and AGE-INDEPENDENT!  

Let me explain what I understand it to mean:
  1. My goal in any relationship is primarily to LOVE, NOT primarily to change the other person!
  2. The path to this goal of love requires a change INSIDE of me! I must change in order to love them; it is NOT my goal or job to love them in order to change them! 

The Story

I remember the feeling of being deeply worried and distraught one day, when one of our young adult daughters was living on the streets with her boyfriend. In prayer I asked the Lord, "show me how to help her." The answer came back clearly, in 4 words:  
Surprised, I asked, "Then what is my job?" 
And this answer was only 2 words:  
So I did. We talked every day or 2 for the 3 years she was on the streets, and I would pray for her, and often say, "I know who you are; you are kind, loving, compassionate, beautiful, and have a real heart for the Lord. You are not living like who you are, but I know who you are, and I believe someday you will make the choice to live like the person God made you to be. Do you want me to pray for you before we hang up?"  And the answer was almost always, "Yes, mommy."

Through a series of miraculous circumstances, this sweet daughter was indeed rescued off the streets over a year ago and is going so well. In fact, I have been on and off the phone with her all day about celebrating her 23rd birthday in several days! Here is the picture of her getting the shoes she had been longing for as a Christmas present. She was so happy about the gift that she cried when she received it! 

The Scripture

As children adopted by the Lord ourselves, we recall that Jesus Himself "changed to love." 

He changed by leaving heaven's glory. He who was rich beyond all splendor, entered earth's humble and broken realm, "all for love's sake became poor."  In that oft-quoted passage from Ephesians 1:5 His goal was to love us. "In love, He adopted us!"  Or John 3:16, "God so LOVED the world that He gave..." Or I John 4, "In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us!"

And that amazing thing I have observed, unexpectedly, is that when our primary GOAL is to pass on to our children the love we receive from our Father, and from Jesus who is Emmanuel, and from His Spirit who is our Friend and Counselor, eventually they do CHANGE! 

The Picture

So, here is our family acting out the Christmas play, as is our custom over the years. 

What I love about it is the diversity birthed by Abounding Love --a love that is learning to replace criticism with prayer, offense with forgiveness, disappointment with hope, and most of all, to replace my changing them with my loving them. 

Happy New Year to each and every one of you! And may this be a year where each of us, every day, lives out this prayer: 

Today, Lord Jesus, change me so that I may love them well, that I may love them the way You love me! To love them as if they are You! To love them the way our heavenly Father loves You! Amen and Amen and Amen!

Monday, December 16, 2013


From Beth:

It was definitely a surreal experience to be sitting in that soviet-style government office back in the fall of 2000. My husband Stephen and I had flown to St. Petersburg, Russia, to complete our first official trip in the painfully slow process to adopt our son and daughter, Pasha and Kristina. Like so many of you, we were not prepared for scope of what would be required of us to bring our children home. There was the financial and time out-put, of course. The paper work alone was a huge source of stress and effort! Anyone else out there know the tune to that song?! But there was also a considerable and unmeasurable emotional and spiritual cost as well. Joyfully given, but as I said, unforeseen. 

So, that morning sitting across the desk from the stern woman who seemed to hold the fate of our children in her rather intimidating hands, Stephen and I were already experiencing a sense of relief at being so close to the finish line of a long race. We eagerly awaited the official approval of our adoption, sure that we had dotted every proverbial "i" required of us. So, what happened next totally took us by surprise. 

This woman slammed her fist down on the desk and in a severe tone said, "You cannot adopt these children." When our translator and amazing advocate, Sasha, explained to us what she was saying, we were absolutely dumbfounded. How could this be? What else could we possibly do? We had jumped through every hoop, and some of those hoops more than once as the time passed. 

It was then that Stephen experienced one of those moments that you remember and tell about for the rest of your life. He said that as we sat there, with this dread coming down on us like her fist on the desk, that he heard the Lord's voice as clear as ever he has heard it. Our wonderful, kind Lord met with us right there in that ungodly office--He is indeed EMMANUEL! GOD WITH US. 
Stephen said out of the blue he heard God say, 
I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. (Revelation 3:8 NIV) 
I include the scripture reference here, but at the time, although he knew it was from the bible, he didn't know exactly where. After we left the office (there were lots more harsh words directed at us before we could leave) Stephen shared with me that such a peace and assurance came over him at that moment, totally in opposition to the atmosphere in the room, that he knew that whatever that woman said or did at that point would carry no weight and have no influence in the end. 

Dear friends, the call to adoption is an open door that Father God placed before us and our children. Undoubtedly many of you, like us, have had similar occasions when someone has come along, and with some authority of their own, reached out to slam that door shut. And I am not just talking about the part of adoption that is the process of getting your child into your home, all the official paperwork finally completed and officially approved. For if adoption is the transformation of an orphan into a true Son or Daughter, then to some degree many of us are still adopting. As we parent our children, loving them through their grief, trauma, attachment issues, and search for identity, you and I enter into the powerful and efficacious expression of the love of the Father that we call adoption, both for our children and for us. 

It is good for me as a mother of 7 to remember how the Lord intervened in that Russian government office all those years ago, for since then there have been many different versions of that scene played out over the years--times when the enemy has tried to stop the process of my children living in their full inheritance as a true son or daughter. That door of adoption God opened for you and me will not be shut! 

And that spot right there, in the center of that doorway, is where this mother will take her stand!

Father God, together as a community of mothers and fathers, we thank you for the open door of adoption through which your love continuously flows to us and to our children. We are in total reliance on You God, for we cannot open that door, nor can we keep it open over the years-- BUT YOU CAN AND YOU DO. May each child represented by each reader of this post enjoy every single bit of their inheritance as a True Son, a True Daughter. Amen. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013


From Susan:

This past Friday night, diving home at 5:30 PM, it was already dark in Atlanta rush-hour, when the long line of stopped traffic gave me just the time I needed to call my old friend Tina at the stop light and propose our two families do a spur of the moment meet for dinner at a little hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant that night. So we met at Main Moon, 5 O'Kelleys and 5 Hillis', including our sons Alex and Will who are now in college, best buddies since first grade! Will is married and he and his sweet wife Lara are expecting their first son! Will and I have had wonderful conversations over the years, and he looks down the table and says, "Mrs, Hillis, what I am really looking forward to about being a dad is being able to pass my heavenly Father's love for me on to my little son. When I think of how much God loves me as my Father, I always see how much I experienced this from the way my dad loved me. And I am really excited about being able to do the same--pass my heavenly Father's love on to my little son!" Will glances down the table and smiles at his dad, John, who is beaming. 

God will give you everything you want?

As we walked out of the restaurant, giving each other hugs and re-hugs, my hubby, thoughtfully, hands me the fortune-cookie I can't eat cause I am fasting, saying, "at least you will get a fortune"! Here is what I read on the little slip of paper after popping the cookie into crumbles:
God will give you everything you want! 

NO JOKE!  Here is the picture of it where I taped it to the inside of my coffee cup cabinet as a daily reminder! 

Well, you can imagine what kind of a debate THAT kicked off in the Hillis car! My husband Brian says, "THAT is NOT true!  I want a million dollars and God is not going to give me a million dollars!"  Alex says, "I think maybe it IS true. That verse from Psalms says that if we trust in the Lord He will give us the desires of our heart. It means that when we walk closely with Him, we will want everything He wants, so it IS true! He will give us everything He wants!"  
And I sat simmering on whether it is true.

What is everything you want for Christmas?

And I decided that this IS a MARVELOUS Christimas fortuneduring this season when everyone asks "what do you want for Christmas?"  C.S. Lewis comes to mind, with his penchant for reminding us in Surprised by Joy that everything we want is Jesus' and that all those other things we think we want are unsatisfying substitutes for the only One who will satisfy our souls. 
SO, let me tell you about my "everything I want."  I want and pray for more and more closeness with the One who satisfies, and for "a believer in the life of every orphan," so that each may come to know that only One who satisfies our deepest longings.  I also want God to miraculously raise all those wrecked lives and broken hearts in the Philippines and Newtown and my town and your town. And for His people to participate wholeheartedly in that plan!
Let me finish with the "everything I want" for each of our children.  As they mature and receive families of their own, we want them to be able to say what Will said--that they are EXCITED about passing on their heavenly Father's love for them, our children, on to their own children. For all of you with little kids, THIS is the kind of thing that awaits you! Not every day and not with every child. But it IS there and I say to you parents who are washing clothes and cooking and driving carpools and making crafts and training and disciplining and for some, feeling stretched by December's demands---your Father's love is flowing from you to your child. And even if they do not realize it now, someday many of them will. These daily acts of service and love through your hands ARE changing tbe world!!  And I pray YOU get surprised one night when your son is getting ready to be a daddy and glances over at you across an ordinary table and says, "What I am really looking forward to about being a dad is being able to pass my heavenly Father's love for me on to my little son." ....AAMMAAZZIINGG!!!
Let me close with a prayer for "everything I want" for each of you: 
  1.  A Vision of God's long-range view of His glorious purpose for your life -- that life-long flow of our Father's love for us, on to our children, and then through them, on to theirs! (Ezekiel 37:1f. I will put my Spirit in you and those dry bones in that valley....every one of them....will live!)
  2.   A Plan for implementing the vision;  this plan is NOT primarily mastery of parenting principles but rather, living at the 'tipping point' of the "God is my Father and I am His beloved" life; (Ezekiel 43:11 after the vision of the future hope above comes the vision of the plan: "make known to them the plan")
  3. Caring for yourself,soul, emotions, body, spirit, as the Father's beloved child. Only in this way will you receive what they need from you, for them! (Ezek 44:3 Sons and daughters of the king sit in His presence in the inner room "to eat bread [of heaven] before the Lord!" Try it--you will like it!!

God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him! (J. Piper)
Merry Christmas - and May God give you everything you want for Christmas!  And then, may you pass it on! In your home, in your city, in your world! 

Monday, December 9, 2013


We want to introduce you to Jordan Barr and her wonderful family. Jordan is a senior in high school and is in the midst of the college selection process. She hopes to major in Nursing and eventually either become a Nurse Practitioner or a Physician's Assistant. Her story of adoption will inform and inspire you! 
Jordan (2nd on the left) with her newly expanded family.

I was born into an old-fashioned upper middle class family: two parents, two kids, and a comfortable suburban neighborhood.  When I was seven, however, my family made a decision that changed my life forever.  I still remember my parents sitting me down with my little brother and explaining that we were going to add a new member to our family by adopting a child from Ukraine.  My brother and I were excited to have a new playmate.  My only stipulation was that the child be younger than I, thus preserving my position as oldest child.  We spent months preparing for the arrival by teaching ourselves Russian, getting bedrooms ready, and imagining what the child would be like.  By the time my parents finally left for Ukraine, we thought we had become used to the idea of adopting. We were wrong.

While looking through books with information about available Ukrainian kids, my parents fell in love with a brother and sister. They hesitated because the sister was a couple years older than I was, but they decided to visit the kids nevertheless.  Then they encountered an unexpected hitch. The kids had an unregistered older sister who was twelve years old, and my parents were not allowed to adopt her two siblings without also adopting her. Thus, my parents were faced with adopting three kids instead of one, and the oldest was almost a teenager. They called home to ask what I thought, and I immediately said, “No.” In my mind, twelve was much too old, and that was the end of it.  Of course, a seven year old can change her mind.  After spending a few hours thinking about how much I enjoyed spending time with my babysitter, who had been adopted from Russia, I reconsidered.  Thankfully, I got word to my parents before they had made their final decision and they were able to adopt the kids after all. If my parents had listened to my initial reaction, my life would be completely different.  Life might have been easier.  But now I have three siblings that are a crucial part of my family and I can not imagine life without them.
Jordan and Elena
Every time I tell this story people ask me how it felt to have three new Ukrainian siblings overnight. This question always seems odd to me because they did not gradually learn how to become Barrs. Even though the five of us were born into completely different worlds, we are a family. We love each other despite the differences in age, language, culture, background, and even sibling rivalry that could have come between us.  This adventure has also opened my mind to rejecting society's view of the “perfect” and “successful” life. I have recently participated in mission trips in urban Chicago and rural Guatemala, two very different places with radically different cultures. In serving the various people I met on these trips, I have seen further evidence that, when we overcome differences in culture and background, it opens up a whole new realm of possibilities. I am pursuing a career in nursing to continue to learn how to serve people in better ways, and I am excited to start making a difference in the lives of others.

Serving on a mission trip
A family is a sacred and special unit, and in any family the decision to have another child is monumental. Yet it happens all the time.  However, adjusting to one infant is a very different task than accepting three already grown children at one time. I can’t say much about adjusting to a new infant in the house. As for “older” siblings, there are little changes that need to be dealt with, like buying more chairs for the kitchen table and finding room for three more people to sleep. Those types of things came easily for us. 

And then there are changes that take more adjustment. The best advice I can probably give to other biological kids is to get ready for the adjustments that you’ve never considered, and see how God uses them for His glory. For example, you now get 1/3 of the attention that you are used to getting from your parents, sometimes even less. When you go out in public, the size of your family causes everyone to stare. Family vacations must be planned around seven people instead of four, which is a very difficult task when you realize how strong willed and opinionated we Barrs can be. These are some of the consequences of the adoption that I still deal with today, and I'm sure other biological children with adopted siblings have experienced to some degree.  
The Barr children today.
Although some of those consequences may appear to be bad things, I don't see them that way. Sure, having a large family can be annoying sometimes. But every family can be annoying. Because of the adoption my family is so much more dynamic and complicated than it was before, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I doubt you could find seven more different people if you tried, and that is a big part of what makes our family so special. The fact that we are not blood related has never mattered in the slightest. Every one of my siblings is very different from each other and each has a special role in my life. One brother is always there when I need to talk, the other is always up to join me on adventures. My sister is always ready to teach me how to do practical tasks like cooking dinner and I can always turn to my other sister when I want to explore my imagination and very limited artistic side. I honestly don't know what I would do without them all, and these past 10 years with them have been an incredible gift from God. 

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Thursday, December 5, 2013


Many of you know Jenni Means from her ministry to your children at H@HKids! She is a wonderful encourager to us parents in helping our children engage with Father God. This list of her favorite books is a truly important resource for us all! 

Who doesn’t love a good book! As someone who has been a reading teacher and is a reading lover AND a lover of children, I love it when I find great reads for adults or for children. And what could beat a great book about children!!

Here are a few of my favorites that would be on a MUST READ list for those with a heart for connecting children with our loving Father. After you check out these, won’t you send me a list of your favorites?!
Illustration by Baiba Baiba for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center.

The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name (Sally Lloyd-Jones)

The tagline from the title says it all: Every Story Whispers His Name. A great lens for presenting the Old Testament to children of ALL ages!

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd-Jones

Okay, anything and everything by Sally Lloyd Jones!

Eyes That See and Ears that Hear  (Jennifer Toledo)

This is THE book that I wish I had written! Jennifer Toledo reviews some of the many ways that God speaks to us, even from a very young age. This is a manual for parents to help guide their children in discerning the voice of God.

Children and the Supernatural: True Accounts of Kids Unlocking the Power of God Through Visions, Healing, and Miracles (Jennifer Toledo)

A must read for anyone in children’s ministry and for parents who want their paradigm to change regarding how God is using children of all ages in ministry today.

The Inside Story for Girls ages 7-11, from Because of Jesus Ministries

Love this devotional style book for young girls. Filled with stories and activities/puzzles this would make for a great mother/daughter time or personal quiet time for girls.

Here Comes Heaven: A Kids Guide to God’s Supernatural Power (Mike & Marilyn Seth and Bill Johnson)

This is a book FOR kids about kids in a similar vein as Children and the Supernatural, which is for adults about kids. Genuine experiences and wisdom from beloved forerunners in children’s ministry, Mike & Marilyn Seth

Castaway Kid (R.B. Mitchell)

One of the few books that I read in one sitting.  Picked it up and couldn’t put it down.  The true story of an orphaned boy who eventually ages out of one of America’s last children’s homes. A young man’s journey from orphan to his identity as beloved son of God. I have used this book with pre-teen and teenage adopted kids to help generate discussion and healing.

Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch (Eileen Spinelli)

A top favorite children’s book! Although a Valentines story, I use this book all year round in many circles and age groups. It basically is a story of a man completely transformed just by the knowledge that Somebody loves him. LOVE IT!

Just a few ideas to add to your Christmas list or your shopping list to put some life-changing reading under your Christmas tree!!
So, now it is your turn--what books do you recommend? Share your favorites in the comments!

Monday, December 2, 2013


We so love hearing from our friend Tana Carder. The sixth of sixteen children, thirteen of whom are adopted, Tana is very familiar with adoption, needless to say! 

Many years ago, I gave my three or four year old nephew a multi-tool. It was not a real multi-tool, but a toy replica that cost me about two dollars at Big Lots. I was a financially poor (but rich in family) college student so it was what I could afford, but it was still a very small amount. I figured my gift would get lost or broken or tossed aside like many of the small toys of early childhood, and that was okay. It did get broken, but we fixed it. More than once. Because even though it was just a cheap toy, my nephew loved it. He carried it for years, fixing things, fighting off imaginary bad guys, or having it his pocket ‘just in case’ like men do. I think he may have eventually passed it on to a younger cousin. At any rate, that tiny gift that cost me very little lasted a lot longer than I expected it to.

I was thinking about that toy a few days ago because in December, I think a lot about gifts and giving. We give a lot of gifts to our children, as our Father gives to us. They’ll likely remember the big ones- loving parents, siblings, shelter, being introduced to Jesus as Savior. They may even remember some of the occasional gifts that really stood out- the dress your daughter really loved, the watch handed down from father to son for generations, etc. But what about the tiny gifts that cost you almost nothing? Five extra minutes to snuggle at bedtime. A cheerful greeting in the morning, even though you haven’t yet had any coffee. I know, sometimes these gifts can cost you a lot emotionally, a kind tone when you feel like giving a sharp response can be difficult. But most of the time they take very little effort or energy, and we parents don’t know the impact one of these little, honoring gifts is having. 

I sometimes greet my children in the morning by saying, “Good morning! I’m happy to see you!” It sounds cheesy, especially since I am not a morning person, but I mean it. Maybe it doesn’t resonate with them at all, just like I expected that toy to have little lasting value. Or maybe it’s sitting quietly in their hearts, “I make Mama happy just by showing up in the morning,” and speaking into their spirits that they are worthwhile people. It’s possible that the occasional extra five minutes to snuggle or talk at bedtime is just my little boy procrastinating, and maybe he won’t remember that sometimes I stayed when we both knew I had other things to do. Or maybe he’ll do the same thing for my grandchildren one day, whispering into their hearts, “You are loved. You are worth my time. You are more important than the tasks waiting for me.” Maybe these things are tools to carry around ‘just in case’ this world manages sometime to make them feel worthless. I hope so.

My prayer for you, dear parents, is that this Christmas, as you’re focusing on the big gifts--Jesus’ birth, time with family, special traditions kept, and memories made--you are mindful of the little gifts, and the riches our generous heavenly Father can turn them into for our children.