I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

A free bird leaps  /  on the back of the wind  /  and floats downstream

till the current ends  /  and dips his wing  /  in the orange sun rays

and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks  /  down his narrow cage  /  can seldom see through

his bars of rage  /  his wings are clipped and  /  his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings  /  with a fearful trill  /  of things unknown

but longed for still /  and his tune is heard  /  on the distant hill

for the caged bird sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze  /  and the trade winds soft

through the sighing trees  /  and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn

and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands  /  on the grave of dreams  /  his shadow shouts

on a nightmare scream  /  his wings are clipped  /  and his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings /  with a fearful trill  /  of things unknown

but longed for still /  and his tune is heard  /  on the distant hill

for the caged bird sings of freedom.

Maya Angelou


The caged bird sings of freedom.  Oh man, that line stops my heart a little.  I can’t read this poem without picturing 8-yr-old Maya telling the story of her life, and my heart aches with brokenness and sorrow at the memory of her struggle. But it also holds on to hope and grace, because the caged bird DID sing. Because the little 8-yr-old refused to let anyone else author her destiny — and her beauty and her courage and her LIFE created this significant, lasting, unimaginable legacy. I share the sentiment of much of the world as we mourn the passing of a magnificent light, and am grateful she fought so hard to be heard.  Grateful I had the opportunity to hear her.

But today, reading these words, I also can’t help but think of my boy, whose wings are clipped and feet are tied. And the millions of other boys and girls who stand on the grave of dreams, longing for things unknown. For a family, for love, for a life worth living.

Honestly, as I keep trying to write down how I feel about all of this, or even just explain some of the basics, words escape me. I want to pull up other blogs to show you – I want you to read everything I have read and see everything I have seen. Then maybe you will understand how we got here. Why my heart breaks for these babies, singing of freedom against all odds, defying bars of rage. I don’t feel like my words will be adequate enough to honor these children. I don’t think I have it in me articulate so many emotions.

To start, we can talk about children with disabilities in Russia and Central and Eastern Europe. The fall of the Soviet Union left many nations struggling with independence and financial instability. Thirty-five percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Combined with years of ignorance about disabilities, centuries-old social stigma, and misinterpreted religious dogma, a culture has been created that sees children with disabilities as worthless. Literally, not worthy of life.  Think about that for a minute. In Asia, there are similar issues, but added factors are the one-child policy in China, and the cultural preference for having a male child (who will care for you in old age). Giving birth to a child with Down Syndrome (or any other disability) is financially and culturally crippling. No one will offer a voice of hope.  No one will offer help. It is more common to abandon a baby with Down Syndrome that it is to keep him/her. (I don’t say this to judge. I have also read that in the U.S. 90% of pregnancies diagnosed with DS are terminated. These are just facts. This is just the reality of the situation).

If not terminated, left for death at birth (or killed), these children are placed in baby homes. As true for any country struggling with extreme poverty, these orphanages are underfunded and understaffed. Even the best baby homes will struggle with proper nutrition and medical care (because let’s be honest, if there is a cultural mindset that says this “type” of child is a burden, void of hope and unworthy of a future, top-notch medical care (early intervention, therapies, etc) is not going to be a priority. Not to mention how much stimulation the child misses from the natural attention of a parent. After a certain number of years (it seems to vary from 4-8ish), the child is transferred. Usually to an adult mental institution, where they often don’t make it through a year. Here are some before and afters of children who “aged-out” of baby homes and into institutions:

1002183_10151866716809783_311141061_nbefore and after

They are often given adult dosages of sedation drugs and then left in cribs.  Period.  Forever.  I think this post does a good job of summarizing the common scenario.

But let’s be honest, even for children without disabilities, or even minor disabilities, aging out of the system later (in your teens), doesn’t offer much more hope. Most of the children end up being used in various illegal activites, most commonly drug and sex trafficking. Older children have spent their entire lives waiting for someone to come for them. I have read a number of families’ blogs who have taken a chance and adopted teenage boys – boys who still long for a mama to love them and a family to call their own. In China, children are unavailable for adoption after they turn 14. This birthday is no celebration for these children, who have forever lost their chance to be called son or daughter. I have read (and can’t find right now, I’m sorry! Just start Googling and don’t stop!) letters from children begging for a family, for a chance, for someone, ANYONE, to just believe in them. How can we not see their faces in Maya’s Angelou’s words?

Orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes.  -David Platt

Go to Reece’s Rainbow.  Look at all the caged birds.  Watch this documentary about Ukraine’s forgotten children (okay, okay, I know it’s long, but save it for slow night…knowledge is power).  We have to hear them singing, and we have to be willing to do something…anything. I have more good videos on my FAQ – The Heart.

But JUST LOOK at the difference a little love can make.  These photos come from one of my favorite blogs, called No Greater Joy Mom (her hubby has an awesome site called No Greater Joy Dad).  They are both worth your time, I promise.

This is Dusty, who weighed only 20 lbs when he came home and went right to the hospital for malnutrition. Only 10 months later, Dusty looked awesome at 30+ lbs.

This is Dusty, who weighed only 20 lbs when he came home and went right to the hospital for malnutrition. Only 10 months later, Dusty looked awesome at 30+ lbs.

Belle was adopted when she was 3, and little miss weighed only 15 lbs.  Thirteen months later, this beautiful soul was up to 26 lbs and filled up with love.

Belle was adopted when she was 3, and little miss weighed only 15 lbs. Thirteen months later, this beautiful soul was up to 26 lbs and filled up with love.

You can also watch a SHORT clip about the Cox family, who brought home Mia home from Ukraine in 2011.

These children aren’t worthless.  They deserve to claim and name the sky just like any other child. To dream, to laugh, to love.  But we have to believe that.  Really believe that.  We have to be willing to do something about it.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom.

Keep singing little man.  Mama hears you.

Monkey in the Middle

My sweet little baby boy is almost two, and it honestly feels like just the other day that he came screaming into this world, then I blinked, and here we are. Oh, this boy. This beautiful, big-brown-eyed, infectious giggle of a boy. He’s my tender-hearted warrior and I can’t wait to see who he becomes. Mark my words, he’s going to be amazing.

Snug as a bug in a rug

Snug as a bug in a rug

His birth was really special for me. I had tried for a natural birth with Sissy, but somewhere is my 24-hr labor I lost my mind. Drugs were the only solution. I don’t regret it, and she is no worse for the wear. But I wanted a different experience the second time around, and we opted for a birth center. His arrival just felt so much calmer (minus a few epic moments during transition), peaceful and intentional. I know a huge part of it was because I knew (at least somewhat) what to expect. But it was also telling of his nature. He is happy to go with the flow, take his time, and snuggle with Mommy.

Cheee!

Cheee!

I have SO many of these pics because this boy just loves to cuddle up. I can’t stop myself from these selfies because I don’t want to forget this time. My girl wasn’t big on snuggling until, well, actually, until he came along. 🙂 So I’ve just tried to soak up every minute of it. I love feeling his little warm body on my lap and smelling his hair. I still let him drink warm milk because I know it means I’ll have a few minutes of quiet and cuddles. It still feels like he’s my baby, despite his nearing birthday.

Daddy is SO hilarious!

Daddy is SO hilarious!

E2 also LOVES to laugh. He will be at the top of the slide by himself and I can hear him say, WEE, then giggle as he comes flying down. If you want to feel funny, he’s your man. He just likes to be happy. If someone else is laughing, he joins in. He absolutely adores his big sister, and goes out of his way to try and make her happy too. He will bring Sissy her shoes, or her water, or her lovey – and then it hurts his feelings if she doesn’t want it. I just can’t get enough of this bug. Oh, one more cute thing, and then I’ll move on. If he gets hurt (or Sissy hurts him), he will hold the offended body part and come looking for me, whimpering. It’s a soft cry, and he will do it until the moment I kiss/hold/acknowledge his hurt. Once I see it, he can move on. I love that – he just wants to be known.

Sometimes, she let's me play with her :)

Sometimes, she let’s me play with her 🙂

But he’s also a wild child. As he runs into full-fledged toddlerhood, I see my baby disappearing before my eyes. He’s revealing a stubborn side, and learning quickly from Sissy how to drive Mama crazy. He loves to do everything by himself, and will point to places at the playground I can sit to give him space. If I try to “help” him on a scary part, he will get down and start over again. I will probably have a heart attack before he starts kindergarten. He also loves airplanes, like his Daddy, and getting dizzy. Recently, when we were at the park, Daddy K was spinning both kids like crazy in a tire swing. I literally had to look away because it made me queasy. E1 buried her face in Daddy’s shirt and said, “Too much!” Bug threw his little head back and laughed. We are in trouble.

Why would I want to sit?

Why would I want to sit?

All of that to say, my little Bug is the coolest almost-two-year-old I know. His brother is also almost two, and a part of my heart worries about how bringing a “twin” into our family will affect him. To be clear, when I use the word “worry,” I don’t mean it in a way that indicates we think we might be making a bad decision. We are absolutely convinced we are doing exactly what God wants us to, has called us to, and will see us through. But as I try to prepare my heart (and my childrens’) for this change, I think about my Bug often. There are a lot of ways that the adoption process feels like a pregnancy to me. This is one of them. I’m sure I’d be just as worried about my Bug if I was pregnant. Sissy has already adjusted once to getting a younger sibling. Will this still be hard for her? Of course. But she will still have her “place” as the older sister, and Mama’s girl. Today she told me that having two brothers would be difficult (what 3-yr-old says difficult?) because it would be a lot of stinky diapers. Truth.

Bug will not be the baby anymore, and he will have to share a lot of attention (from Mama, Daddy and Sissy) with someone else.  And we will never know if something is happening because we added a third child to our family or if it’s specifically linked to adoption. Meaning, we will probably ask ourselves, “Would this exact same thing/emotion/issue have occurred had we delivered a little brother? Or is this because we chose adoption?” But there will never be a definite answer to that question. And truthfully it doesn’t matter. Because a son is a son. But I guess I want assurances that these feelings are totally natural no matter how your baby stops being the baby. 🙂

Pony like my big Sis

Pony like my big Sis

I remember when I was pregnant with E2, I told a friend I just honestly didn’t think I could love another baby the way I love her. And she just said, You will. Your love grows and stretches and somehow manages to change and stay the same all at the same time (paraphrasing, but that’s what I got from it). And when he was born I totally had these moments of guilt where I would just be soaking him in and Sissy would “catch” me loving him. I didn’t want her to feel replaced, and I hated that she might feel hurt. But we all adjusted. We all survived. We are all better with Bug in our lives.

I’m sure the same will happen with our Boo. I will feel guilty. I will feel enamored. I will feel torn. I don’t want my Bug to feel replaced. He is truly (and obviously) irreplaceable. I can’t stand to think of him hurting. But we will adjust, and we will survive. We will all be better with Boo in our lives. But my first little guy might still be drinking warm milk on my lap a year from now. Don’t judge. 🙂

Nothing like warm milk and my Mama!

Nothing like warm milk and my Mama!

Lee Greenwood, World War II and international adoption

I apologize, friends, for my radio silence. I just spent two weeks working in our nation’s capital. I recently accepted a new Reserve job at the Pentagon, which necessitates traveling to DC twice a year for two-weeks a pop. This was my first time out, and I have to admit, I had a great time. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough energy to update the blog during that time. And our process has stalled out a bit, so I think I was feeling a little discontent. A two-week break from everything is exactly what I needed.

I also think, even though I promised myself I wouldn’t, I started worrying about writing my blog posts in the exact right way, and making sure people liked them. But that’s not the point of this blog, and not why I started it in the first place (not to mention ain’t nobody got time for that), so hopefully I’m back to just sharing what’s on my mind.

Which is a lot, according to my new Air Force colleagues, ha ha. I just learned (after 34 years!) that I apparently narrate my entire life, which isn’t always awesome for those around me. One guy told me (and don’t blame him, poor dude had to work with me on everything for two straight weeks), “You don’t just wear your heart on your sleeve, your whole soul just oozes out of you.“ 🙂  So, there’s that. At least here on my blog, you have a choice about listening! Consider yourselves lucky! (And warned).

One of my favorite things to do in DC was ride the metro. I feel so grown-up when I ride the Metro. Being responsible for two tiny humans completely dependent on me doesn’t do it, but when I ride the Metro, I feel like I’ve arrived. I also had the opportunity to catch up with a lot of old friends, which I really enjoyed.  I appreciated the chance to re-connect, especially in our busy lives when there isn’t always time to slow down.

But I also got an entire Saturday to myself. Did you hear me, people? An entire Saturday to myself! It was really exciting. So I rode the Metro (surprise!) down to the National Mall and wandered around aimlessly. I saw the Hubble 3-D Imax at the Air and Space Museum, and then the Jerusalem 3-D Imax at the Natural History Museum. Our world is honestly amazing, friends. I am in awe of its greatness. I took a pit stop in the Art Museum to recharge my phone (lost without GPS, sorry art lovers!) and then I headed toward the Washington Monument to find the Vietnam War Memorial. Instead, I stumbled upon the World War II Memorial, where a bagpipe band was performing in front of the fountains. I honestly don’t know why it made me so emotional, but as I walked around the memorial, my hand tracing state names and my eyes lingering on mementos and stories left behind, I started sobbing. The bagpipe band began playing Amazing Grace, and it was just. too. much. I stood, alone, in the middle of that memorial, frozen in time. Completely overwhelmed. I’m not sure with what…gratitude for the sacrifices of others, heartache for those who have lost, pride in our nation’s servicemen/women, awe of the legacy that generation left behind…it ALL just crashed over me. I stood there smiling and crying at the same time. Like a crazy person.

800px-Wwiimemorial

The World War II Memorial honors the 16 million who served in the armed forces of the U.S., the more than 400,000 who died, and all who supported the war effort from home.

The thing is, I honestly love the United States. I know we can be hot mess sometimes, and there is always room for improvement, but man alive, I believe in the heart of this nation. In her people, in her premise, in her promises. It’s why I still serve, and why I’m proud to be part of a family that serves. I secretly love Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA, and I can still remember wearing a gold ribbon on my overalls (only one strap connected!) at recess during Desert Storm. The colors of our flag entrance me,  and I can’t hear The National Anthem without catching my breath (or wanting to yell, Go Birds!) for a second.

So when I hear (or read this type of sentiment on the internet) the question, “Why would you adopt internationally when there are so many children who need homes here?,” I bristle a little. To be honest, it’s usually not said in a nice way. The subtle intimation that I am not patriotic, or that I am somehow letting this country down, is misplaced. It’s grossly presumptuous, and often ill-informed.

I am so thankful for the many blessings (luxuries, really) that I have been afforded because I was born in the United States. But I don’t think I deserve them more than anyone else. And I just can’t buy into the idea that a child is more or less deserving of a family based on the borders into which he/she was born. More or less deserving of having their basic needs met…their thirst quenched, their hunger satisfied, their souls LOVED. I can’t. I won’t. And I don’t think Jesus does either.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  Galations 3:28

I AM called to love my neighbor. And I guess I can see trying to make a case for other Americans being my neighbor. But then there’s the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37).  Jesus talks about a man who was stripped, beaten and left for dead. A priest and a Levite passed by, but didn’t want to deal with the problem, so they actually crossed the road to get some distance from the man, and walked on. The priest and the Levite were his “neighbor” in the traditional sense. They were his people — he was one of their own. The Samartian then walked by and was moved with compassion for the stranger (as one could argue, ANYONE should have been). He treated his wounds, and took him to shelter, paying for his care. The man wasn’t one of the Samaritan’s people. And yet he saw a need, and he met it. Because he could.

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers? ”The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

So, am I saying we shouldn’t do anything to help other Americans in need? Of course not. I think, as believers, we should always do what we can to ease the suffering of others. And there are obviously tons of ways to do that right in your own neighborhood. If you are ignoring the needs in your own backyard, and then traveling abroad to meet needs instead, maybe it’s worth examining your heart. But for me, choosing whose needs are worthy of meeting (or at least trying to meet them), is simply not dependent on what citizenship they hold. How could it be? I honestly don’t understand.

Without a doubt, children without families in the US also deserve our attention, our heart, our resources. Foster care needs loving families to step up, and it’s possible that will be part of our story one day. It’s a beautiful story to be a part of. But it’s not ours, not right now. And I don’t think it helps anyone to pit needy children against one another, shifting blame and casting judgment.

If your heart aches for these children, please consider turning that into action. Not everyone can (or should) adopt, but there are lots of other ways to be involved. I’m hoping to get it together enough to do a post on some easy ways to make a difference soon, as well as some basics on the reality of the global orphan crisis.

In the meantime, you can read this post for some more thoughts on who deserves our aid, or check out these few posts (statistics, making sense of the numbers) for a little more general orphan info.

Listen, I get that adopting one child isn’t solving any worldwide problems. I actually don’t think it’s my job heal the entire world…I don’t think I’m that important. But I think sometimes we can be so overwhelmed with the realization that we can’t fix everything, that we end up doing nothing.  And nothing is never the answer.  We have been called to do what we can, where we can. And we CAN bring our little Boo home, make him a part of our family, and love him forever.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.  Isaiah 61:1