What is your pain teaching you?


My Father had it out for me. Not only because I was his oldest biological child but because I stood up for myself and the people I loved. I remember one car ride where my father was absolutely trashing my Mother and my older Brother. I had enough. I told him to stop. He was outraged. Not only would I not join in, his 12 year old daughter was going to tell him he was wrong. I was going to challenge the things he was saying. 

I remember these moments in the car so vividly. It was a cold, snowy, icy night. His face turned red, his voice grew even louder and he was not just scary any more, he was downright terrifying. Fearing what he might do next, I got out of the car at the first stop sign we reached.

He followed me slowly in the car. Threatening his 12 year old daughter, hurling insults and tearing me down. A man does not do this, only a monster does. 

But I didn’t get back in the car that night. I walked halfway home before my Mom came and picked me up. I was hurt, angry, disappointed and wondering why he hated me so much. Maybe I really couldn’t have my own opinions or challenge those in authority over me if this was the result?

So I did what all good daughters of abusive/absent Fathers do. I became a people pleaser with “Daddy issues” who was looking for a male companion to fulfill her need for male validation. I became a chameleon who could mold into whatever my audience wanted. I could go to church on Sunday and talk about Jesus and then sleep with my high school boyfriend or steal from my Mother the next day. I could go on a missions trip one month and the next run away from home for a week and almost not pass my 10th grade year.

The guilt, the shame. It was heavy. But it didn’t stop me from unraveling. I was destroyed by the man who was supposed to protect me.

When I was raped in Uganda, I had no idea how deeply the hurt my Father unleashed on me would hold me back in the healing process. In EMDR therapy (a therapy specifically geared toward trauma) I went in to work on addressing my PTSD symptoms that resulted from the sexual assault and ended up spending way more of my sessions trying to heal from and confront the shitty things my Father would do and say to me.

The thing is, when you are never told by a single man that you have worth and dignity, when you are raped by a man, you just believe that this further confirms what you’ve been told all along, you truly are as worthless as he made you feel. 

And no matter how many times people can tell you that you are believing lies. Your core, the most hard wired part of you, can not release the lies that have become solidified truths. 

Challenging these core lies we believe about ourselves (for whatever host of awful reasons- media, religious bigotry/legalism, abusive homes, eating disorders) this has to happen from within ourselves. We have to work to break down the lies and replace them with our own truths we have fought for and acquired on our own. 

I have never found a man, a friend, a relative, a job, a new geographical location or experience that could give me back my identity. That, that I have had to find for myself.

It is a work in progress, believe me, it is. I am still messy, I am still broken. But you know what? I’m not allowing people to tear me down for my mess or my brokenness any longer. There is power in claiming who we are and what we believe without apologizing for it. 

I have asked myself this during the last year. And I would challenge you to ask the same of yourself: What is your pain teaching you? 

I ask this to get you to focus on how your pain has informed your current reality and understanding of the world around you. Chances are, if you haven’t done this, you could be missing out on some pretty cool opportunities to see your pain redeemed and used in incredible ways.

Once I started asking myself this, I became so much less ashamed of the hurt and pain in my life. Both self inflicted and brought on by no fault of my own. I started to be able to share openly and that has opened so many doors for me to love and encourage others in ways I would have never been able to otherwise.

Asking myself what my pain has taught me has allowed me the ability to use my brokenness for God’s glory. To love and see His people as He sees them. I count this as an incredible gift and it brings me unspeakable joy.

So, friend, what is your pain teaching you today? In this season? In this life? Do not allow the perpetrator of your abuse or the institution(s) that have kept you oppressed to steal your joy in this life. It’s the only one we get. You have made it this far, you’ve already won. Now is the fun part. Use what your pain has taught you to love and bless others. You won’t regret it and you will be richly blessed, I promise you.

The power of stigmas almost cost me my life


We have websites where people who are sick share their updates, fundraising needs and ask for prayer and encouragement. Families of those recovering from auto accidents, battling cancer, brain tumors, MS, you name it, there’s been a page dedicated to supporting the hopeful survivor toward recovery.

But not mental health. Not severe depression. Not those of us who have contemplated suicide. These battles are silent wars. Internal wars we are, most often, asked to bare on our own. Society expects us to hide away until we “get better” and then it might  be acceptable to talk about what we’ve gone through, with discretion.

See, I get that this stuff is hard. It is dark, it is not easy to face. But, just like physical ailments that we often share about and ask for support for, could you imagine if we continued breaking down the stigma attached to mental health and we could have the same level of support and understanding for the suffering we are enduring as we fight to overcome the challenges of our mental health?

Often the conversation around breaking down the stigma of mental health and suicide comes far too late. Often, we start talking about how we could have prevented a loved one from taking their own life after they already done it.

But why? Why can’t we have these conversations more openly? I mean, I’ve been told to be more cautious about sharing my own mental health journey so openly because of employment discrimation or people “treating me differently”.

I get that it’s a risk. Believe me, I do. I experienced this in Uganda with Abide. I was spoken to and treated as “less than” because of my mental health. It was an awful experience. I was hurt in ways I don’t know that I’ll ever reconcile. But you know what? That says a lot more about the folks I worked alongside of than it does about me.

As a social worker, as someone who has dedicated her life to fighting for justice, I would be compromising my core beliefs by remaining silent about my personal journey with mental health. 

Does that mean it’s always easy to share about it openly? Of course not. It’s pretty damn hard most of the time.

But I have seen God as completely redemptive in this area of my life. He has continued to show me purpose and internionality of this specific way I have suffered. He has allowed me the opportunity to share with folks who are also walking the painful road of battling Bipolar, Depression and suicidal ideation.

I do not believe the God delights in our suffering at all but I do believe that He is so good that He can take our pain and turn it into something beautiful and good.

I have the capacity to love and walk alongside others who have experienced the trauma, suffering and brokenness in a way I would never be able to had I not walked similar roads myself.

God is giving me the gift of being able to praise Him through the darkest and most discouraging days because He has shown me so much purpose birthed out of my own pain.

I encourage you to get honest with the folks in your life about your own darkness. Whatever that looks like. Sugarcoating it or dumbing it down does nothing to help you heal and it certainly takes glory away from God as your walk toward recovery.

You will be so surprised how God can and will bless this level of honesty and transparency. I promise. 

It’s a Church problem when my life is “radical”


I was reading Luke Chapter 9 today. As I read Scripture now, namely the accounts of Jesus, the words are vivid and I feel as though I am actually hearing Jesus speak them.

If you know anything about this Chapter, Jesus gets real. It begins by Jesus telling His disciples to go out and love His people. He tells them to take nothing with them. They are to go and tell about the Kingdom and to heal the sick. This Chapter is such a real picture of Jesus’ relationship with His Disciples. The Disciples wrestle with their identity, with His identity. They wrestle with their calling.  In the middle of the chapter, Jesus says, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.  If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed”?

Then the Chapter ends with two men telling Jesus that they want to follow Him and He requires that they drop what they are doing immediately to do so. One had to bury his father, the other wanted to say goodbye to his family. It is Jesus who tells them that when they commit to Him, there is no turning back, not even to bury or say goodbye to their relatives. This all sounds pretty radical, doesn’t it? The things Jesus was saying went against cultural norms and personal preferences ALL THE TIME.

I wonder what most of the American church is taking away from this Chapter when we read it? What do we think, as disciples now, Jesus is requiring of us? What radical, uncomfortable, counter-cultural decision(s) is He stirring up in our hearts and in our lives?

I have long been confused as to whether or not I had been given a different Bible and account of Jesus’ life than most of the Christians I’ve encountered in my lifetime. But you see, I have a new joy in reading Scripture. A freedom I did not have before. The Bible for me, up until this year, was a Book used to bind and condemn. A Book that I have watched Christians use to morally elevate themselves above those that I see Jesus more clearly in than most who claim His name.

Jesus is with the weak. He is with the poor. He is with the oppressed.

And yes, Jesus is also with you, middle and upper class America, but it is so much harder for me to see Him in your luncheons and fancy skits on Sunday mornings when I know that there are people waiting 4 months to get into homeless shelters in Pottstown, Pa. When there are countless broken homes and neighborhoods you are “scared” to step foot in. When you have “too much” going on already and making time to live intentionally with people who are suffering in your community is not really going to fit into your schedule. When your missions budget and benevolence fund fail in comparison to your budgets for church functions and entertainment.

If the church is not at the center of movements toward justice, then who is? If Pastors will not get up in front of their congregations on Sunday morning and preach with conviction about things that matter, who will?

Is it easier to pretend that it just boils down to a difference in political opinion or career path?

Folks have always praised me for my work in Uganda and now, most recently, my work in Pottstown. I get a range of comments, “You are such a good person”, “I could never do what you do”, “being a missionary is SUCH a calling”… When starting to share in group settings, folks will admit to feeling intimidated by “all I’ve done”.

This has made less and less sense to me the more I hear it. The more I read Scripture and dig in to understand the accounts of Jesus and the Gospel message, the more I am genuinely confused by most Christians I know.

And it boils down to this simple fact: AS A CHRISTIAN, MY LIFE SHOULD NOT BE CONSIDERED RADICAL.

When we read Scripture and when we REALLY understand who Jesus was, what He did for us and what that means we are called to do for his people. When that happens, our lives must look drastically different. That’s not a difference in theology, political party or career path. It’s the Gospel message. It’s what it means when we call ourselves followers of Christ.

It’s not adopting a child once. It’s not serving at a soup kitchen once a month and it’s not going on a 1 week missions trip to another country or inner city to “experience” how other folks live.

When we are truly responding the the call of the Gospel. When we are allowing God’s redemptive power to transform our lives. When that happens, it’s not going to be one specific act or trip or cause you involve yourself in. Instead, it will be your life that reflects Him and how He has sacrificed and loved you well.

If there is one thing I know that God has not called us to, it’s comfortability. He has not asked us to remain in our racial, socioeconomic, theological, cultural, religious, sexual or political categories because it’s safe and familiar. He hasn’t asked us to serve those who look like us and think like us 99% of the year while we reserve the other 1% for the “less fortunate”.

Jesus breaks down barriers and He flips over shit when His Temples aren’t being used for what He intended. Jesus had a righteous anger when religious folks cared more about the legalism than the love of people. Sound familiar?

So, I really don’t think Jesus would take kindly to our excuses that we are “uncomfortable”, that our “schedules are full” or that we do “enough” for justice. His life was justice, His life was reconciling a broken world.

Jesus wouldn’t see my life as radical, He’d see me as a messy, broken, sinner who sometimes gets it right when she loves people well and fights for them the way He constantly fights for us.

On being authentic through the valleys

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I was in grade school. My Father was the first member ever officially excommunicated from the church I spent the better part of my life attending. I remember the shame and embarrassment I felt. I remember the confusion. Why didn’t he want help? Why couldn’t they help him? Why did they give up?

My family was the really messy broken one. My house was the one parents weren’t sure they should let their children come play at.

But it didn’t have to be this way.

Reflecting now? In this season. In my own mess. In my own brokenness. Which some of you read about here.

Others could have stepped forward. Others could have shared about their family’s mess and brokenness.

Because I don’t think this whole Church community thing is ever about comforting or coming alongside of your brothers and sisters from a place of superiority, but much like Christ, getting on a level playing field.

The church is yearning for authenticity. It has been crying out for its people to be real. It is tired of maintaining its pride at the cost of keeping its doors closed to the very people Jesus wants to usher in.

Because what happens when we act like we have it all together? What happens when we mask the pain and we pretend it isn’t as bad as it really is?

We do not give space for God to work. We take power away from what He is doing in our lives and we are actively saying we do not need Him as badly as we do.

We tell those that are not as good at hiding their crap that, “they are not welcome here”. Because those who enter here have their stuff in order, at least to some extent. You can’t be falling apart and if you are, you better not let anyone know it.

Everywhere I go I am in search of real, authentic Christian community where people let their crap out.

I haven’t had much other choice in this season of my life other than authenticity. I may have chosen a louder, more public form of authenticity than some are comfortable with. I’ve seen the looks, I’ve received the comments and the messages. You don’t scare me though.

You see, at the risk of making you a bit uncomfortable. At the risk of, “Did you see what Kelsey posted?” I’ve been challenged in this season to be authentic and to be more open about how God is working in my life. Not the sugar coated, nice, church answer. The down-and-dirty real deal truth.

Why?

Why not?

I have nothing to lose but the chance at authenticity.

I have nothing to lose but the chance to help build a community of people who desire to be real and raw about how God is working in our lives.

Because I desire for folks on the outside to see that followers of Christ do not have their crap all together.  That, through example, in a very REAL way, you are welcome in your mess. That yes, even people like me can love Jesus.

When you can have grace for everyone except yourself

In this season, I have been reminded of how very good I am at extending grace to others but how hard it is for me to extend grace to myself.

But then I come back to the story of Peter. The story of how Jesus’ main man betrayed Him three times. THREE TIMES?! How that didn’t make Him love Peter any less. In this story we see Peter, a messy, broken man, screw up BIG TIME out of fear and human weakness. He knew Jesus tangibly and He denied Him.

As a disciple, He walked closely with our Lord. He came to know the love, service and grace of Christ poured out on him, the other disciples and everyone that He touched.

Jesus wasn’t surprised by this and we shouldn’t be either.

“Be on the alert, because your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

The part of this story that I may tend to focus on? And if you’re like me, you may as well. Peter knew Jesus, knew how good He was and He still messed up in such a big way. 

I mean, there’s no coming back from that. You can’t deny Jesus and still have a place at the table…

But that isn’t the story is it? 

Peter didn’t tell a little white lie. He didn’t just struggle with lust or greed. He didn’t deny Jesus one time and then get his act together the other two times. He watched Jesus suffering and denied even knowing him THREE TIMES.

And then? What did Peter get?

God used Peter to teach the other disciples and used him as a pillar of the early church.

Because this whole following Jesus thing? This is not based on how good we can be. On what we do. It is based on how good He is and what He can do through the most messy and broken among us. 

And that is why following Christ still captures my heart. Despite my fears, my doubts and my wrestling, this is why I am still drawn to the Gospel message.

I find myself relating to Peter in a big way. I find myself denying Christ, messing up BIG TIME and asking God, how can you still use me? How can you still love me? How can you still have grace for me?

And then He reminds me that I am focusing on the wrong part of Peter’s story again.

I hear a whisper, “Kelsey, you can choose to be a Peter or a Judas”.

Judas and Peter both denied Christ.

Peter chose to trust in God’s mercy and Judas was overcome with despair.

How easy is it to be overcome with despair? How easy is it to be a Judas? To not trust that God can really use us in our mess and in our brokenness? Even after we screw up and deny him?

And that will keep us in darkness, that will keep us from really living in light and living the life God has for us.

Today I am choosing to be more like Peter and less like Judas.

I will focus on the part of the story where God uses Peter’s mess constructively to teach the other disciples and to help him build up the early church. I will acknowledge God’s ability to use me, but only so long as I choose to live in His mercy and not in my own, self imposed shame and despair.

I’m sorry but you do “see color”.

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What do you mean when you say you are “color blind” or that you “don’t see color”?

In my experience, you are saying that you don’t assign negative meaning to a person’s skin color. You are saying that you are not racist or prejudice.  You are saying that you truly judge someone on the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

And you want to mean this, I know you do. The conversation is uncomfortable and sweeping it under the rug feels a whole lot easier.

Because you have friends of various ethnic and racial identities. You may have even fostered or adopted outside of your race. Maybe you voted for our Black president. Maybe you are angry at the injustice we have seen for young Black men at the hands of law enforcement. Maybe you value all lives as sacred and mourn a death the same regardless of the race, religion or background of that person.

But here is the thing, our desire to maintain our colorblindness will keep us stagnant. For we have made progress but we still have a long way to go.

May we not forget how much further we have to travel to bring His kingdom to Earth for all. Because all men ARE CREATED EQUAL but all men do not experience an equal reality.

Because even if you want to believe that you do not assign meaning to skin color, society won’t let it go so easily. It is deeply ingrained. It takes unpacking, it takes assigning new meaning. It takes CELEBRATING DIVERSITY and ACKNOWLEDGING COLOR.  It takes acknowledging the racism in all of us, challenging our privilege and it takes GETTING UNCOMFORTABLE.

I remember being in a class called “Institutional Racism” at Temple. I remember thinking that I was just there to observe others learn, to see their metaphorical light bulb turn on.  I figured I had already sorted this “race thing” out. I had Black friends, I had a godson who was Black, I voted for our Black president. I even went to Africa and loved so many people there (Shuddering at the thought of this mindset now).

My professor, a middle-aged man originally from Ghana said, “Everyone has racism in them. It is not claiming you “aren’t racist” but instead, looking inside yourself, challenging your views and unpacking the meaning media and society have taught you to assign to different skin colors”.

He said, “Because you see, there is only one race. The human race. We have built up “race” as a social construct, one in which we have derived a system of power and subordination based on the pigment of someone’s skin “.

This man helped me start to unplug my ears, to uncover my eyes. He helped me to start looking within as an answer to the “race problem” in our world.  Instead of considering myself the exception, I now began to consider myself part of the problem.

It is easy for us to say that we are “colorblind” or that we “don’t see color” because we don’t have to. For my white brothers and sisters, this is what white privilege is. The PRIVILEGE to not experience the world as one who is discriminated against on the basis of skin color.

Challenging our privilege and unpacking the meaning we have assigned to skin color takes time. I’m convinced it is a never ending journey. But it is a journey worth starting and I invite you to start on this journey with me.

We can do better. We must do better.

Coming out of the closet: I have Bipolar Disorder and I will not live in shame

“How are you doing?” … “When are you headed back?”… “Why did you come home?”

These are hard questions for me. Most of the time I don’t know how to answer them without lying. People don’t want to know the real answer. Believe me, they really really don’t. Maybe the nice version, but not the whole, heavy version.

So here it is, “I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. I couldn’t concentrate or follow through on tasks. Every day I feel like a failure. I see what others are able to accomplish and I can’t grasp why my concentration is so bad. I feel completely disconnected to the people around me, to the things I should feel excited and passionate about. Often, it is painful to be around people.  I think about death more than life. A few weeks ago I wrote a “goodbye” letter and was planning how to end my life because I felt no release and believed that I could never live a “normal” life”

These words are hard to accept and to write down. I don’t like saying them out loud and I REALLY don’t like the thought of posting this publicly.

Disclaimer: I understand how troubling the last line must be for many to read. For any concerned: Regarding the professional, mental health support I am receiving. My therapist and psychiatrist both know about the “goodbye” letter I wrote a few weeks ago. We have taken all necessary precautions in what I will do if I experience this level of suicidal thinking again. I have since been working through being as transparent and real in therapy as possible. I prayed about whether or not to include that part, as the original post did not include it. I felt that I would be hiding a part of this story that God could use to reach and help others. I believe in sharing it, I am able to take its power AWAY. I am thankful I am no longer in that place and pray I will be able to use that as a way to love folks fighting a similar battle.

Because I am a human and self preservation is real. Because I know after writing what I just did I run the risk of many people looking at me differently. Because I want to maintain the small amount of dignity I believe that I have left. And until three weeks ago, I wasn’t even real with my therapists or psychiatrist about how bad it is.

Because I graduated magna cum laude from undergrad. Because I am a co-founder of a successful NGO in Uganda. Because I am a Social Worker and I am supposed to be able to serve and help others. Because I should not need so much support and help myself.

But I am writing this at the beginning of a new journey. I am writing this in a season that has been dark and very hard to navigate.  I write this as I finally take ownership over my diagnosis, not excusing it away or allowing myself to accept the shame our culture might encourage us to feel. 

I am hoping this post will help create understanding. I am hoping this will challenge you in your own shame. I am praying that if you have been guilty of shaming others walking this painful road, even without knowing it, you would be challenged to love better and move toward understanding and support.

I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at age 17.  The diagnosis was re-confirmed at age 24, along with MDD (Major Depressive Disorder) just this past November. Until now, I would often find myself saying, “I am diagnosed Bipolar but I don’t really think the diagnosis is true. I think I struggle with depression mostly.  It comes and goes”.

Why did I do this?

Because people with Bipolar Disorder are crazy. People with Bipolar can not manage normal lives. Because my Father’s undiagnosed Bipolar ripped apart my family. 

The first two are lies I am that I am continuously trying to challenge. These are lies that society will tell us. We will often allow these lies to breed shame and embarrassment around this Disorder. But these lies, along with the reality of what my Father’s undiagnosed and untreated Bipolar Disorder did to my family have really kept me from owning my own Diagnosis. Taking ownership does not mean letting it become your identity, but instead, realizing it is part of who you are and adjusting your life and needs accordingly.

I believe that starting conversations around mental health and in this case, Bipolar Disorder, can really help us move forward individually and as a community of people who want see mental health care and support improve.

Now, why have just now taken ownership of it? Why am I choosing to post about this publicly? Am I not scared people will judge me or use this against me? Don’t I think people will look at me or treat me differently?

Yes, I am terrified. I am fearful of all of those things I just mentioned because I have already experienced it. I am terrified of becoming my Father, someone who was passionate and loved well for so much of his life, but who was tormented by Bipolar and did not ever believe there was anything abnormal or wrong with his thinking.

But here are the truths I am allowing myself to believe instead:

We let mental health disorders have so much power when we sweep them under the rug and pretend that they aren’t there. Those of us with diagnosed and undiagnosed Bipolar (or other mental health Disorders) need to acknowledge our abnormal thinking and work toward interventions that work. We can not do it on our own and pretending it is not there does not help us or the people around us who are affected by our ill-managed mental health.

We take so much power away from how God works in and through our lives when we sugarcoat. When we make ourselves seem more “together”. When we present our past or current circumstances as better than they were or are. We are not really allowing others to see the full extent of what God’s redemption has looked like in our story.

My God created me this way. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. God knew that I would inherit this Disorder. He knew I would be fighting this battle. It was not a mistake. I am his Beloved and He did not intend this to breed shame but to allow me to serve in capacities I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

My God is near. He is with me in the darkest places. The only place I feel peace, the only time I feel okay, is when I think about resting in my Father’s arms. He is good, He is present, He is near even when I don’t believe He is.

So I will end by declaring this:

I will not allow my Bipolar Disorder to consume my life. I will work toward healing and will choose things that bring goodness into my life. I will acknowledge that my brain does not always function properly and that I may always need the support of medication, mental health professionals and constant accountability and support from the people closest to me. I will choose to seek God.  I will remind myself that His grace and mercy covers me fully and that it does not exclude my Bi-Polar Disorder.

He loves us through the messiest and most broken places in our lives. 

I love you to Uganda and back

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ORDER THE PRINT:

To buy a single print at $8, click HERE.
To buy two prints at $15 click HERE.
To buy three prints at $22 click HERE.
To buy four prints at $29 click HERE.
To buy five prints at $36 click HERE.

THE DETAILS:

It is $8 for the first print and then $7 for each print after that. I have it set up for you to make an order of up to 5 prints at a time (please email me if you are interested in a larger order). This print will make a great gift to anyone you know who shares a mutual love or connection to Uganda. It is perfect for framing or just hanging up on your refrigerator!

EMAIL KELSEY:
Kelsey@abidefamilycenter.org

SHIPPING (AMERICAN RESIDENTS & MY INTERNATIONAL FRIENDS):

If you are interested in this print and live outside of the US, please email me directly so we can decide on an appropriate shipping cost and I will send you a personalized invoice. Make sure you note your country of residence in the email.

Shipping in America: There is a standard $3 charge for shipping within the US, regardless of order size (If you order one print it comes to $11, if you order three prints it comes to $25 with shipping).

All prints will be printed and mailed within 48 hours of your order.

I have some additional prints on the way, stay tuned 🙂

-Kelsey

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Join us in this fight: Help keep Abide’s doors open

Dear supporters of Abide,

Budget Infographic Final

Abide Family Center has been operating for a year and a half. What a year and a half it has been.

76 families served. 268 children in their families, instead of orphanages.

79% of the businesses we’ve started have been successful.

23 families have been kept from living on the street by moving into our emergency housing.

17 babies have been deemed HIV- because of the formula we can provide.

Over 20 Ugandan staff hired.

60 Ugandan pastors mobilized.

We are raising up a new movement of people that say Ugandan children deserve families. That say poverty should NEVER be the reason a child is raised by an orphanage.

Our programs are working. And all over Uganda people are saying we need more of this. One orphanage director said, “We need an Abide in every district”.

But here’s the problem. We rely on donors just like you to allow our organization to run. We are so thankful for the generous donors who have supported us so far. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough income each month to keep us functioning as we need to.

As of March 1st we have stopped taking new referrals and will not start taking on new clients until our funding is more secure.

We have decided that if we cannot raise our operating costs in committed monthly donors (family sponsorships, corporate partners and monthly church support) by July 1st we will be forced to consider closing our doors.

Right now we bring in $3500 a month in monthly donors. We need $10,000 a month to give our families the care they need and deserve.

We believe so strongly in the work that we do. We believe it is God’s heart to see families restored and thriving. We believe Uganda deserves better for their children.

Would you join us in this fight and consider becoming a monthly donor today?

Family Spon InfoGraphic

Sponsor a family.
Become a corporate sponsor
Host a Sponsorship Party (Email: info@abidefamilycenter.org)
Connect us to businesses and churches who you believe would be interested in partnering with us (Email: kelsey@abidefamilycenter.org)
Email me with any questions (Email: info@abidefamilycenter.org)

Children Belong in Families: Listening to the Voices of Adult Adoptees 

joseph

As the church continues to grow more passionate about orphan care, we should be increasingly interested in conversations around best practice and how we can serve orphaned and vulnerable children well. The voices we often leave out of the conversation? The children themselves. We can talk best practice, theory, policy and  research until we are blue in the face but we really need to make sure we stop and listen to the folks who have been and continue to be impacted by the very concepts and models we are discussing and creating. Not every child in an orphanage is going to have the same experience. Not every adopted child is going to have the same opinion of adoption. Not every child we keep in her family is going to be happy we did so. We need to listen to the voices from each side to help us better form our policies and program models. 
 
I have always really valued the insight of my friend Joseph Terranova.  I became friends with Joe and his wife Melissa a few years ago while living in Uganda. Joe and Melissa started a women’s economic empowerment not just for profit business called Tukula. I love them and the ladies who they work with. Although he was not adopted from Uganda, the experience he has had in Uganda along with the fact that he is an adult adoptee made him a perfect candidate for this guest post. I want him to help further our insight on what it looks like to be an adult adoptee who prioritizes children being kept in their families first, but who is also not against adoption.

Can you introduce yourself, where you were adopted from, why you were adopted?

 

My name is Joseph Terranova and I was adopted from Beirut, Lebanon in 1985. The reason I was adopted is quite complicated, but it boils down to the fact that there was a civil war in Lebanon going on in 1985, and many children had ended up being adopted from there at the time – we were adopted to countries all around Europe, and to the U.S as well.

 

 

Your life would have looked incredibly different if you were not adopted. Did you think about this often as a child? Do you still think about it now? Can you reflect and expand on this?

 

As a child, I didn’t really think about “what life would’ve been like” if I hadn’t been adopted. In reality, I felt really comfortable with my adoptive family, especially given the fact that my adoptive mother’s heritage is 100% Lebanese (a large reason she wanted to adopt from Lebanon).

 

It seems like I think about this question more as I get older. I think about what school I would’ve gone to, what religion I would be a part of, what language(s) I would’ve spoken – things like that. Most of all (and it may seem obvious), I think about who my family and friends would’ve been if I hadn’t been adopted – what they would’ve been like, how old they would’ve been, how many siblings I would’ve had. All of these “would haves” pop up for me periodically, and I have learned to never ignore them, as fear may have me do, but rather to reflect on and acknowledge them as honest questions in my life which have no definitive answer, but are nevertheless a part of who I am.

 

There is always loss involved in adoption. I want to make sure in this interview I don’t gloss over that. That’s why I believe that the “Flip The Scipt” narratives are incredibly important. What do you believe are some of the most prominent losses experienced by adoptees?

 

Well, I can only speak for myself here, though I’m sure other adoptees have experienced similar feelings. The biggest, and most obvious loss is that of biological family. I believe adoption is a beautiful thing; a Godly thing even. But in a very real sense, there is no true replacement for one’s biological family. And therein is the biggest loss, or losses, really – the loss of identity, culture (in an international setting) and in a profound sense, certainty.

 

 

In the last few years you were able to take a trip back to your birth country with your wife. Can you share a little bit about that trip with us? Did that bring about any change in your identity? Any sense of healing or peace? Any negative emotions?

 

In 2010 my wife and I went back to Lebanon. It was an unbelievable experience for the both of us, to see where I came from. My identity was strengthened by that trip in many ways, though probably less than it would’ve been had I not grown up with my adoptive Lebanese family (on my mother’s side). Not only did my wife and I go back to Beirut, but to the actual orphanage that I was adopted from. The most amazing thing about the trip back to the orphanage was that there was a nun (it is a Catholic-run orphanage) who was there in 1985. For me, it was like a connection like no other one in my life to any other person – a truly unique experience that I am thankful for. This experience, in a sense, brought about peace for me.

 

There are many folks who have been adopted internationally who have had negative experiences. Many feel that they were robbed of the chance to grow up in their family and culture of origin. As you  know, poverty, poor governance and lack of proper infrastructure have created the space for many children to be wrongfully placed for international adoption. How does your experience differ from these situations?

 

The need for me to be adopted was straightforward and clear – it was a situation for which there was no other solution. But for many children, other options would potentially exist, through organizations such as Abide, who strives to keep children in their families if at all possible.

 

I have not had negative experiences in my life directly related to being an international adoptee. While unable to grow up in my biological family and culture of origin, I do not see this as something terribly negative, but something that was just meant to be the way it is. Everyone has hurtles in life, and some of my biggest ones have to do with the fact that I was adopted – but I don’t let this stand in the way – I am thankful to be where I am and to have had the blessing of growing up in a loving family.

 

 

How would you respond to the statement, “Adult adoptees are bitter, angry and want international adoption to be shut down so no other children need to experience the same things that they have experienced”? Is this an accurate generalization? Is this a far reach? Or do you think the truth lies somewhere in the middle?

 

Of course such a big generalization like this one cannot be taken seriously. Every adoptee’s experience is unique in their own way – some are good and some aren’t. It’s important to understand that sometimes “flawed” personality traits of adult adoptees are linked back to their adoptions, when in truth the fact that they’re adopted may have nothing at all to do with it. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

 

 

You have spent quite a bit of time in Uganda working to economically empower vulnerable women. Now you live back in America but are still engaged in development work. Can you think back to your time in Uganda and reflect on the relationship you saw between economic empowerment of vulnerable families and international adoption? What connections can you draw now or were you able to draw then?

 

This is a really good question. The economic empowerment of vulnerable families must be understood as a powerful tool to keep children in their families, especially in a country such a Uganda, where both the poverty level and number of orphans is very high. I believe it is a great injustice when a family is unable to keep their children because of economic reasons – and this is why empowering vulnerable families as a measure to reduce the amount of unnecessary international adoptions is, for me, a cause well worth investing in.

 

 

Obviously the first priority should always be to keep a child in his or her biological family. In your case, this was not possible. In your case a domestic adoption placement was also not possible. Can you personalize your response and speak to how you feel about folks who speak out against children being placed for international adoption who do not have the option of staying in their biological family or being placed in a family domestically?

 

Yes, both of these solutions were not possible in my own personal situation. And though many adoptees have come from situations similar, rarely is it the case that both keeping a child in their biological family and domestic adoption are not options. To those who may speak out against children being placed for international adoption without these options, I would ask them what the alternative might be. If they would rather see a child sit in an orphanage or other forms of institutionalized care, I would certainly question that. I believe that is an example of a really unfortunate solution to an unfortunate problem, when there are better solutions that exist. International adoption can be a beautiful thing and to me, is a solution that is often warranted, but only when absolutely necessary.

 

 

Have you witnessed ethical adoptions happen from Uganda? Have you had friends adopt children where you believe every effort was made to keep the child with the birth family and then look for a domestic placement? 

 

This question is a bit of a loaded one for me. While I’ve seen some ethical adoptions from Uganda, it pains me to say that these sorts of adoptions are rare compared to what I would call ‘unethical’ adoptions – adoptions where not every effort is made to either keep the child in his/her birth family, or look for a domestic solution. Too many times I have seen well-meaning but misguided adoptive parents know little to nothing about their perspective child’s background, and not ask questions or even consider for a moment what it actually means for that child to not have had the opportunity for solutions which are more in line with best practice. Too many times orphanages neglect to dig into the history of the child and especially to look for solutions other than international adoption. We have to face the fact that international adoption is a huge moneymaking business. I don’t doubt that good intentions are present, but good intentions aren’t enough, especially when it comes to the protection of children.

 

 

Because adoption does not come without incredible loss, we should work to keep children in their families first. What would you like to say to folks involved in the orphan care movement who continue to start orphanages and promote adoption of children when they could be strengthening families?

 

I would encourage those folks to do some research and to ask themselves and those supporting them some very serious questions. It may be uncomfortable, but unless we are introspective and ask ourselves about our motivations, we cannot come to the truth about the situation. And the truth about the situation is that often times it is our own selfish desires which encourage us to not take seriously the fact that real children and real FAMILIES are being affected by our decisions. Often times we want to be the hero. Often times we want to “change the world” without changing ourselves first. When one seriously wants what is best for orphans in our world, they must come to the realization that it is best for that child, if possible, to remain with their biological families. And if this isn’t possible, domestic adoptions are second best. Institutionalized care such as orphanages and children’s homes do not strengthen families or communities, but take children out of them. Yes, they’re sometimes necessary, but only when they are necessary should we consider promoting them as a solution to orphan care.