My Christmas Message - ANGER

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Several of the folks delivering the “news” on cable networks come across as not only loud and contentious, but also angry. I don’t think I like angry people. I like relaxed people.

My problem with some angry people is that they are getting angry at the wrong things, in my opinion. What’s a good guideline for what to get angry about and what to be relaxed about ? How about thinking through what God gets angry about and what God tells us to relax about ?

Regarding what to relax about, He tells us not to worry about just about everything. He will provide for us, as He does the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Be relaxed about possessions – “for what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?” Be relaxed about rank or position. He turns this upside down…. “The first shall be last and the last first”. “Whoever would be first among you must be a servant”. “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.”

Then what should we get angry about ? The things that anger God – poverty, injustice, ignoring orphans and widows in their distress. We know all will be made right in eternity (Psalm 73). But during our time on earth, I think He would like to see us get worked up that there are 143,000,000 orphans around the world, there are 500,000 kids in foster care in the US, and 20% of the world lives on a dollar a day or less. My belief is that He wants to see this anger channeled into action. He wants us to “be doers of the Word and not hearers only”.

So, Merry Christmas and have a relaxing holiday. Then I would encourage all of us to come back good and angry at the start of the new year, and follow through on our anger.

Attitudes and a Special Couple

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On my third day at Gladney in September 2007, I gave a short intro talk and distributed a hand-out. The hand-out was Chuck Swindoll’s comments about Attitude. I’ve been very encouraged to see that it is tacked up somewhere on almost everyone’s workspace, including mine ! It reads as follows:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company….a church….a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past….we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude….I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you….we are in charge of our Attitudes.”

I was privileged to attend an event last week where I witnessed a vivid example of the realization that a godly attitude can trump any circumstance. Zeb and Allison Pent are a young couple in Ft Worth who learned earlier this year that they were pregnant. Just prior to hearing this good news, Zeb had an opportunity to travel to Ethiopia and see first-hand the orphanages and the massive challenges faced by the children who live there and the caregivers who struggle valiantly to meet their needs. After his return home, friends of Zeb and Allison wanted to share in their joy and throw them a traditional baby shower. But having been moved by what he saw in Ethiopia, Zeb with Allison’s wholehearted agreement, decided to turn the focus away from themselves and instead use their happy occasion to raise money for orphan care in Ethiopia (supporting the Gladney Center’s efforts there). Further into their pregnancy, they learned that their little girl would be born with major complications and would not survive. This news is among the most heart-wrenching a couple can hear. I know, because my wife and I heard it 17 years ago. Zeb and Allison named their daughter Glory and in spite of their heartbreak they decided to move forward with their plans for a baby shower to benefit the orphans of Ethiopia, which was the event I attended last Wednesday night. It was an emotional night and one that will have lasting benefit in a far-off country in ways we’ll never completely know.

I’ve never met Chuck Swindoll, but I bet he would agree with me that this is an amazing example of two people who certainly grieved, but who were able to rise above their difficult circumstances because of their attitudes. To be clear and to be true to the message of the evening, their attitudes were and are grounded in their Christian faith.

Adoption Rocks !

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Well, we all know that. This is the name we’ve given to a very special event set to take place at the Long Center in Austin on Friday night, November 13.

The background is this…… Last November, Sandra and Kevin Usleman wanted to do something special for their friends, Scott and Kristina Rehling, to celebrate in advance the Rehlings’ travel to Ethiopia to bring their daughter, Aynalem, home to the U.S.

What started small turned into a memorable evening of musical entertainment by well-known Austin bands. They performed for about 100 guests in the Uslemans’ backyard. Then Scott and Kristina got on a plane about 7 hours later bound for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

It will be difficult to duplicate the emotion of that evening, but one year later, we’re going to try. While the Uslemans’ backyard was wonderful, the Long Center is a more ideal venue for these performers and it seats about 250.

Once again, John Pointer has graciously agreed to play. And we are very fortunate to have Dumpstaphunk (includes members of the Neville Brothers) joining us from New Orleans. This will be an unforgettable evening benefitting the Gladney Center and our mission of Creating Bright Futures around the World. If you were there last year, I don’t need to say anything more. If you weren’t, here’s your opportunity. Trust me – you’ll be glad you got on the bus.

This is a unique event tailored to Austin – edgy and for a cause. I should apologize to my teenage kids who prefer I not say “edgy” or that anything “rocks”. But adoption does rock ! And I guarantee you that November 13 will rock !

Gladney Family Associations - Lifetime Memberships

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I have been so encouraged, but not surprised, by the number of Gladney families who have taken advantage of our new lifetime membership opportunity. Making this choice signifies commitment and our families are remarkably committed to Gladney, to our mission, and to each other.

Joining up for life is a value statement. Lifetime members are saying we value what really matters – family, friendships, connection, belonging, making a difference.

I view Gladney’s adoptive parents as having an ownership stake in Gladney by virtue of our lifetime emotional investment, as well as the financial investment. As CEO, I see myself as accountable to this group and as one who also has a shared interest, since 2 of my 3 kids were adopted from Gladney.

Ownership has privileges and responsibilities. The responsibilities are encapsulated in the urging that each of our owners also be Gladney Ambassadors for Life. Be willing to share your story. Be an advocate for Gladney and the cause of adoption. So as a GFA Lifetime Member, I hereby also confer upon you the title of Ambassador. A noble title – just one more benefit of lifetime membership !

Our Friends at Council for Life

Monday, October 26, 2009

What a morning ! This past Saturday was one of those cool, crisp late October mornings you dream about. An ideal morning for a 5K run / walk. And in fact, Dallas-based Council for Life hosted the Second Annual Take Steps for Life 5K benefitting the Gladney Center. More specifically, proceeds from the two runs have provided a significant portion of the funding for Next Steps, a program designed to help our birthmothers get back on their feet after they deliver and empower them for their futures.

Birthmothers arrive at Gladney in various stages of life with wide-ranging backgrounds and very different approaches for making plans – from essentially none to meticulous. Next Steps exists to help them all, but especially those who are not that clear on even what their next steps should or could be.

Council for Life is motivated by Christ’s love for each of us and the view that He wants us to choose life at every opportunity. Not only choose life over death, but embrace the abundant life He offers. We at Gladney heartily applaud all birthmothers for choosing life when they are confronted with an unplanned pregnancy. Our prayer though goes further – that these courageous decisions result in the abundant life for everyone involved – birthparents, their babies, adoptive parents, and even extended families.

For our birthmothers, the abundant life is rooted in dignity. And whether it’s housing, schooling, jobs or other skills, providing dignity is really at the heart of our Next Steps program.

So, thanks to everyone involved with Council for Life for your role in creating an environment where dignity thrives and the true abundant life is apparent and available to our birthmothers.

Gladney Cup

Friday, October 2, 2009

Good morning !

It's 4:15AM in New York. Well, I showed up 45 minutes early for the bus to Bethpage. Must not have read the email too carefully.

This is the start of what promises to be an unforgettable weekend in New York - the sixth bi-annual Gladney Cup golf tournament at Bethpage Black today and Winged Foot on Monday, two famed US Open golf courses. Bracketing events in the city on Saturday and Sunday night. Sunday evening's event is a gala honoring Mike McMahon, my predecessor as Gladney's President. The event will be hosted by Hugh Jackman. Kerry Butler will perform, as will Pat Green.

On Monday night, Jim Nantz will emcee the awards ceremony at Winged Foot. Gladney is fortunate to have wonderful and talented adoptive parents and friends.

The whole idea is not just to put on a first-class event and have fun, although that is important.

We are raising money to fund our humanitarian aid efforts around the world. To focus on the children left behind; on those who will never find a permanent family; on those aging out of the orphanages. We want to play a role in giving them "a future and a hope".

The 4:45AM bus will be here shortly. The weather is holding up. It should be a great day of golf, except I'm told the course is brutal.

Calling All Artists

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Have a little artist in your home? Here's their chance to make their mark. Knowing that children have endless visions of sugar plums and candy canes, Gladney is looking to its "babies" to design its annual holiday card. Budding artists can submit cover art, the inside verse . . . or both!

Entry form.

Gladney and the Prayer of Jabez

Sunday, September 13, 2009

There are a lot of ways that people can support Gladney. Usually we focus on folks volunteering their time and talents, providing financial support, increasing awareness of the joys of adoption, etc. Another area that could receive more attention is prayer. Gladney has a noble, child-centered mission of Creating Bright Futures Around the World, a mission that is surely aligned with God’s heart. Why not pray for Gladney ?

I do. And I think the prayer of Jabez is a good framework. The prayer of Jabez has been around for a good while, 3000 years or so. (See I Chronicles 4:10.) About 10 years ago, it was “dusted off” in a book by Bruce Wilkinson. (After all, I Chronicles is pretty hard to find.) Here is the prayer, replacing “me” with “us” and “Gladney”…….

“Oh, that you would bless Gladney indeed
and enlarge our territory,
that Your hand would be with us
and that you would keep us from evil.”

“That You would bless us” – This is not a selfish prayer. It’s not focused on material blessing. We simply want what God wants for us. We want governments to find favor with us, birthmothers to locate us, adoptive parents to work with us, and sure, financial support, all designed to improve the lives of children around the world.
“Enlarge our territory” – We want to make a greater impact; we want to expand our influence; we want to be among the leaders in the adoption and child welfare discussion.
“That Your hand would be with us” – I want to know that God’s handprint is on everything we are doing at Gladney.
“And that You would keep us from evil” – If we are on the front lines doing God’s work, we’ll encounter resistance. Here we simply ask God to go before us.

I hope you’ll join me in this prayer. Let’s watch God work.

Interstate 35

Monday, September 7, 2009

I have made the drive between Austin and Ft Worth over 200 times in the last 2 years. I’m frequently asked if I’m tired of it. My stock answer is: “no, it gives me time to think”.

And this is true, but it is also giving me an opportunity to learn some things about myself. I’m not a nice person when it comes to highway driving. In fact, I’m a profiler. There, I admit it. The only people who don’t drive like idiots, who keep to the exact right speed (not necessarily the speed limit) and stay in the exact right lanes at all times are 54 year old males. It may be a coincidence, but I happen to be a 54 year old male. My profiling and lack of patience just get worse if the offending vehicle has an out-of-state license plate. And if there’s an OU or Texas A&M bumper sticker, well let’s not go there.

On every trip, I am either hurrying to get to Gladney or hurrying to get home to Austin, so I tend to keep my speed a bit above 70. Therefore, so I don’t go postal during one of my next 200 trips, I do have just one request of all drivers on I-35 between Austin and Ft Worth…..IF YOU ARE IN THE LEFT LANE, PLEASE GO FASTER THAN 70. OTHERWISE, DO NOT GET IN THE LEFT LANE.

It feels good to get that off my chest.

Intrepid Snake Killers

Monday, August 31, 2009

(This post interrupts my series on Religion and Politics)

It turns out the job of Gladney President is more multi-faceted than I expected.

A few days ago at about 5:30PM, I got a call from across the building in our Development and Accounting area. Several of the women spotted a snake under the equipment – a copperhead, they said. So when they called me, my first thought was “ok, deal with it”. But I didn’t say that. They said they needed a man to come over. My reaction then was “I’ll try to find one”. Much to my chagrin, I learned that they had already called Richard, Roland and Marshall. I was the last resort – what a blow to my ego.

Fortunately, I found Scott and we bravely walked over to do our manly duty. Scott was braver than I was. He got down low with a flashlight and flushed the sucker out and then I killed it by dropping a paver (large brick) on it.

It turns out it wasn’t exactly a copperhead. It was perhaps 18 inches long, not as thick around as a dime and light brown.

HOWEVER, in future retellings, it will grow – to, say, eventually 6 feet. Its color may change to black, red and yellow. And Scott and I went in, grabbed it by the tail and snapped its head off. In fact, now that I think about it, was Scott really there ?

Religion and Politics (continued)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

In my last 2 posts, I referred to myself as a liberal, evangelical Christian and explained what “evangelical” and “Christian” mean to me. According to my definitions, both are fairly black and white. Either you are or you aren’t.

“Liberal” is more gray. What I mean is that I find myself increasingly tilting toward the liberal view on more issues than not. This was percolating within me long before Obama’s election. Likewise, the timing of this post does not relate to Ted Kennedy’s death. My brother-in-law claims I was brainwashed by reading the New York Times every day for 12 years. That’s probably the best explanation for my political shift. That and my travels around the world, which I believe moderates conservative thinking. I use liberal and conservative rather than Democrat and Republican. Hyper-partisan politics has spoiled my appetite for either party, although we do know that Jesus was a Republican. (See II Hezekiah 7:13)

(Back to the New York Times. It has at least 2 things going for it. The paper covers the world like no other and as an institution, it is aggressively compassionate with regard to the neediest, both locally and around the world, and I love that.)

There are too many issues for one post, so I’ll start off with foreign affairs, which I’m more passionate about (as opposed to domestic policy issues).

Foreign Policy

Yes to engagement - There’s nothing to be lost by dialogue, by making the effort to bring rogue nations into the world community. You don’t have to trust them; just talk to them.

Yes to building real coalitions – Like the first Gulf War; that worked

Yes to the United Nations – Although flawed, we should try and work within its framework. What’s the alternative – isolation or go form our own UN-equivalent. Nobody would join.

Defense Budget

I’m as American as they come. This last 4th of July, I kept switching channels so I could hear “America, the Beautiful” and “Stars and Stripes Forever” again and again. My dad had a bad singing voice, but he always sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” before every sporting event. Therefore, I always sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before every sporting event. I get choked up when I return home from traveling overseas and see “Welcome to the United States of America” at the airports.

BUT, I question the need for a $600 billion defense budget. What about, say, $400 billion. That would still be 6 TIMES the budget of China, the next largest on the list. There’s a lot of good we could do here and abroad with that extra $200 billion. And while I’m at it, why is this never debated ??? Congress just rubber-stamps this budget year in and year out. Debate exists only at the margin, if at all.

Foreign Aid

There are several different definitions of foreign aid. Using the most common, the US distributes about $30 billion / year, or roughly 5% of our defense budget. Measuring foreign aid as a percentage of GDP, the US is one of the stingiest developed nations. It wasn’t always the case. Recall the Marshall Plan, where the US played a huge role in rebuilding post-WWII Europe. Some historians say this was our country’s finest hour.

I don’t claim to have the answers. I would just like to see a civilized debate on these issues, absent the name-calling and abrasive behavior that has become the norm in politics and in the media.

What I find really draining and counter-productive are so many TV and radio newspersons (loosely defined) screaming at each other. Whoever stops screaming first or whoever actually shows the grace to let the other side finish a sentence, whether liberal or conservative, I’ll choose your side.

Religion and Politics (2nd Post)

Monday, August 24, 2009

In my last post, I described myself as a liberal, evangelical Christian. I explained what the word “Christian” means to me. Here I will tackle “evangelical” and save “liberal” for my next post.

To me, evangelical simply means I’m excited about my faith. It’s my framework – the lens through which I view life. Therefore for me, it’s a natural topic of conversation. Why wouldn’t it be ? I don’t look for opportunities to weave it into every dialogue and I don’t stand on the street corner and preach. By the same token, I don’t shy away from talking about what I believe to be the answer for people who are searching for truth and meaning in their lives.

Maybe I’m wrong. I’m willing to risk it. I’m prepared to stake my life on belief in the unseen world. Perhaps this does make me a “nutcase” as I noted in the previous post. But I don’t think so. Ecclesiastes 3 says: “God has set eternity in the hearts of men.” Blaise Pascal, 17th century mathematician and philosopher, put it this way: “Inside each man’s heart is a god-shaped vacuum.” Intuitively, we know there is a higher (unseen) power. Based on my reading of the Bible (and other books touting different views) and validated by my life experience, I choose to believe the higher power is the God that is revealed in the Bible.

If someone thought they knew the key to filling the vacuum that Pascal refers to, but kept the secret from me, I’d be very disappointed. I think I have the secret. But it’s not a secret. Examine God’s word.

So, evangelical Christian – guilty as charged.

Religion and Politics (1st of 3 Posts)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

(This has nothing to do with adoption or the Gladney Center; it just relates to me. I assume if you read my blog, you may want to know more about me. So here goes….)

At the risk of inspiring scorn from almost everyone who might read this, I think of myself as a liberal, evangelical Christian. Is there anyone else out there in my quadrant ? The word “liberal” continues to carry negative baggage and many people equate “evangelical” to “nutcase”.

Let me work backwards on these terms. Here I’ll define Christian. In my next two posts, I’ll define liberal and evangelical.

For some, being a Christian means going to church fairly often. For others, it means God will judge you favorably as a Christian if the good outweighs the bad, and therefore you make the cut. It’s really difficult for me to get my arms around this concept. Good deeds – 5463; sins – 4489; therefore, I go to the good place when I die. (Heaven; not Texas) But if the numbers were reversed, I’d be sweating for eternity. I don’t buy it. What if I just missed by one too few good works ? What if it’s a tie – where do I go then ? This is the logical extension of what a lot of people believe – “oh, I hope I’ve been good enough”. Well, you haven’t. Neither have I. Not even close. Do you really want to see your ledger ? I don’t.

I believe God inspired the Biblical authors, so I’m inclined to look there for my definition. Many passages make it crystal clear that true faith in Christ is what matters.

Romans 10:9 states it plainly:
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.”

That’s pretty straightforward. When I say Christian, that’s what I mean. There, that was the easy one.

Sad

Monday, August 17, 2009

Today is a sad day. Stealing from Chuck Swindoll, we are in charge of our attitudes; not our circumstances. Today, Phillip, our oldest, left Austin for his senior year at Furman. I’m happy for him, because he loves it there. But I’m sad for me.

Here’s what I want to say: Don’t leave; don’t grow up; just stay a little longer; let’s play more croquet, golf, pool; let’s watch another episode of Sportscenter, Sunday night baseball, Tiger.

What I need to say: Leave; I’m glad you’ve grown up into a mature young man of character. Don’t forget us back here in Texas, but live your own life and live it passionately. And remember, one person can change the world.

I’m proud of you, but I miss you already. Happy and sad – I still have some more attitude work to do.

Voices

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It’s hard to overstate the power of the spoken word. Each of us has the capacity to speak life into others by encouragement. I’ve witnessed people come alive, reach their potential because others believed in them and spoke this belief to them.

What voices do you listen to ? Not only external, but internal ? I choose to play back to myself voices of encouragement, starting with God, whom I believe spoke the world into creation and speaks life into each of us. How does His voice come alive ? For me, it’s by internalizing His word, such that calling His word to my mind is a natural, almost automatic, reaction to circumstances in my life, both good and bad.

I also play back voices of encouragement from family, friends and fellow-workers. Gladney is a very encouraging place to work. Almost everyone here seems to actively think of ways to encourage. What a refreshing change for me personally. Even though I worked for financial institutions that I’m still proud to be associated with, encouragement was not exactly a valued commodity. Without realizing it at the time, I got a little beaten down; maybe lost a little life.

I’ve learned that everybody – all levels and all personality types – appreciates an encouraging word and becomes just a little more alive when they hear one.

Russia

Monday, August 3, 2009



I recently returned from Russia and Bulgaria and was able to describe the highlights of my trip in audio posts to my blog. Accompanying me on the Russia leg were Rich Hill, a Gladney board member, and Marshall Williams, a Gladney executive. It was a wonderful trip and I'm very encouraged about both countries - in terms of widespread concern about their orphans, as well as opportunities for Gladney. It's hard to capture a trip in a few pictures, but I have tried to do that for the Russia portion - me and my traveling companions, our in-country team, me and a few of the adorable kids, and a shot of our team with government officials in Pskov. More to come - next from Bulgaria.

Report from Bulgaria

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Marshall Williams and I are now in Bulgaria. Hear what Marshall has to say on this short audio update.



The Russia Journey Continues

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hi! Here's an update on our Russia journey.



I'm in Russia!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

While in Russia, visiting with Gladney's in-country team and visiting orphanages I will be recording my experience. Please check back for more and be sure to leave a comment letting me know what you think!

Enjoy!



America

Thursday, July 2, 2009

What did you do to ensure your birth would take place in America ?

Absolutely nothing, of course.

And yet you and I are fortunate to be US citizens, whether we believe it’s by happenstance or by God’s grace.

I have had the opportunity to travel overseas quite a bit and find myself questioning where to draw the line between my pride in being an American and my recognition that Russians, Japanese, Ethiopians, Chileans, Austrians all share a similar level of pride in the heritage of their countries and the accomplishments of their countrymen.

And yet America is a special country.

• We do have a unique history.
• We remain the beacon of hope for many around the world.
• Most of the world still looks to America for leadership.
• American culture permeates the world.

And the list could go on and on.

In 10 days, I’m traveling to Russia and Bulgaria. I will thoroughly enjoy experiencing the sights and sounds of their cultures.

But one of the highlights of the trip will surely be returning through US Customs and seeing the sign that says:

“Welcome to the United States of America”

I get a lump in my throat every time I see it.

What should we as the American people do with our birthright, with our good fortune ?

Gloat about it ? Horde it ? Obviously not. We need to be good stewards of undeserved grace and share our blessings, as we are reminded in Luke 12:48…

“From whom much has been given, much will also be required.”

Dad

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fathers’ Day is fast approaching. Phillip, Hayden, Sam – are you paying attention ?

My father passed away 8 years ago after a lengthy battle with a still unclear neurological disease. Almost every day, memory of him still enters my mind.

Dad offered occasional pearls of wisdom, like: “don’t sweat the small stuff”, and “pick your battles”. However, his impact on my life was based on what he did more than what he said. Although he rose to Chairman of his company and worked fairly hard to get there, never did I doubt that Mom, my sister and I were his top priority. Dad made sure we all felt special. Growing up, many of our good times revolved around sports, especially Cowboy games at the Cotton Bowl. I can still remember exactly where we parked, the route we walked and where we sat – fond memories that are etched permanently in my mind.

As I got older, I realized what a unique man Dad was and how fortunate I was to be his son. He walked the talk – he modeled character. Here’s a picture of Dad:


• Quiet confidence
• Humility
• Easygoing nature
• Balance
• Sense of humor
• Joy and contentment

Character is contagious and I’m convinced that Dad’s will live on through the generations.

I still miss him, though.

The Journey

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

“Life is a journey.” Now there’s a cliché, but what does it really mean ? A journey – a process. Process can oftentimes matter more than results or outcomes. We have some control over process; less so over outcomes. It’s true in business dealings; it’s true in parenting; it’s true in spiritual matters. I don’t feel pressured to produce results outside of my control, but I do feel a sense of urgency about the processes I can control.

Teddy Roosevelt’s famous quote from a speech delivered in Paris in 1910 captures this sentiment:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

The man “in the arena” is a taker of risks without regard for the outcome.

In Martina McBride’s song “Do It Anyway”, we’re encouraged to dream big without regard for the outcome. A few lyrics:

“You can spend your whole life buildin’
Something from nothin’
One storm can come and blow it all away
Build it anyway.

You can chase a dream
That seems so out of reach
And you know it might not ever come your way
Dream it anyway”

I’m convinced that we’ll get the most out of our journey if we give, if we dream, and if we risk - all without regard for the outcome.
The Gladney Center for Adoption and doctors from Cook Children's hospital traveled to Ethiopia to provide medical care to children living in orphanages. Watch this heartwarming adventure. For more information about how you can help children, please log onto gladney.org.

Monday, May 25, 2009

What Really Matters …. I changed the title of my blog a couple of months ago. It can be read as either a question or a statement. Either way, what really matters is people – those close to us, those in our wider circle, and also those we don’t know who desperately need our help. As I’ve noted in prior posts, at least one-third of the world’s population is just struggling to survive each day. These people also matter.

I’m reminded of a powerful little booklet entitled “Tyranny of the Urgent”. The author drew the distinction between the urgent and the important, suggesting that almost all of us allow the urgent to crowd out the important. The urgent matters are essentially the daily tasks in front of us, while the important matters are relationships – vertically with God and horizontally with other people.

As a Type A personality, I need this lesson drummed into me every day. Type A’s talk about being Type A and chuckle. But it’s not really funny, because many of us wish we weren’t. We need to learn to enjoy the experience of allowing the important to push aside the urgent. I know “what really matters” in my head, but I need to live it each day.

Working at Gladney has awakened parts of the relational side of me that had been gathering dust. Gladney is nothing if not relational. Within the Gladney community, we call it Family for Life and we mean it. Beyond the borders, we’re doing everything in our power to impact the lives of children left behind in orphanages around the world. What really matters ? It’s right in front of us, if we’ll see with the eyes of our heart.

ESPN

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I was never too good at sports, but I have always loved to watch them – live and on TV. My TV is usually tuned in to ESPN and I imagine I have watched ESPN Sports Center several hundred times.

Imagine my surprise when on Thursday, May 14, I was on the Noon segment of Sports Center ! I can now go to my grave in peace.

Here’s the story – Mike McMahon, Gladney’s President for the last 20 years, was given 4 tickets to the Rangers – Mariners baseball game last Wednesday night – first row; behind home plate.

The game was back and forth all night. The Rangers won on a walk-off double in the bottom of the 11th, a good enough game to make the highlights on Sports Center the next day.

My colleagues are witnesses to the fact that during lunch on Thursday, they saw me on national TV for about 2 seconds where the camera captured me behind Hank Blaylock, who got the winning hit.

The saying goes: “We all get our 15 minutes of fame.”

I’m content with my 2 seconds.

Distractions !

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I’m on a flight from LaGuardia to DFW – delayed; no surprise there. A dad and his 3-year old boy right behind me. Uh-oh.

I was trying to read the latest TIME. And this dad started to read to his boy. This turned out to be more distracting than I expected. He was British and it sounded like J. K. Rowling reading “Harry Potter”, only he was reading “The Cat in the Hat”. It was mesmerizing. By the time he got to little cat z, I was on the edge of my seat, because I couldn’t remember how he cleaned the spots off the snow. It turns out, if I heard right, that he had “voo” under his hat. And it worked !

This dad then engaged in silly talk with his boy, who was laughing hysterically. And it made me happy and sad at the same time – happy for the times I was silly with my kids when they were younger and sad that I wasn’t sillier more often.

Secession

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Well, our Governor backed himself into a corner last week by suggesting that Texas might just secede from the Union. The media ran with it, as did his opponents. Probably an over-reaction, since Texans have joked for years about our right to secede.

The joke is probably on us. Most of the rest of the country would be inclined to say “don’t let the door hit you on the way out”.

While there is an amusing side to this, generally speaking, secession is not a terribly productive approach to any problem. It’s tantamount to disengagement; it closes the door on communication.

At the institutional level, an example is “get the US out of the UN”. If the rest of the world won’t play by our rules, we’ll simply disengage. The half-serious Texas secession bantering is another example. As is the classic example of secession from about 150 years ago. That one didn’t work out too well, either.

I’m more interested in bringing it down to an individual level. Sometimes we secede from relationships; we disengage. In general, men are more guilty than women. We say “we’re going into our cave” and everyone chuckles. But it’s not that funny. It’s a conscious decision to secede, to disengage. I confess I’m a hypocrite – I like my cave. In fact, I’m in my cave right now writing this and watching basketball.

I would like to encourage all of us, especially the men, to not secede. Ultimately, we may find that as we secede from relationships, we’re really seceding from life.

Orphans - Nighttime

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

As each one of us drifts off to sleep at night, we are left alone with our thoughts. For me, most nights these are pleasant – fun events of the day, family activities, upcoming plans. Or I might be thinking this bed is too hard; this pillow is too flat; I’m cold; I’m thirsty.

As the darkness settles in each night on the millions of orphans around the world, I wonder what they think about. Of course, many of them are not even in orphanages; they’re street children. Their thoughts may run along the lines of: “I survived today; I hope I can survive tomorrow. I wonder where I’m going to sleep tomorrow night. I wonder if I’ll find anything to eat.”

Whether on the streets or in orphanages, their only thought may be how cold or sick they are. Have you ever gone camping and been cold and stayed awake all night wishing the morning would arrive ? I think of the Scripture: “weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning”. But for orphans, joy doesn’t come in the morning, because they’re still suffering – cold, hot, sick, hungry.

I bet as they drift off to sleep, sometimes their minds are filled with fear. The little ones fear what our little ones fear – spiders, snakes, wild animals – but the orphans’ fears are based on reality, not imagination. The younger kids may fear the older kids. The older kids probably don’t have fears or do they ? As they get close to aging out of the orphanages, they must fear the future. Their fear is life. How am I going to survive ?

In some cases, as these orphaned children close their eyes at night, their thoughts may roam to a deep sense of longing – longing to be cared for, longing to be held by someone. Longing to see the face of their mommy or daddy, even if they’ve been abandoned. Longing to see a sibling, if they can remember any. Longing to be part of a family – a permanent, secure, caring family. My guess is that many do not even think about this, because it is beyond what they can hope or dream.

At Gladney, in the foster care centers we operate and the orphanages we support, we do what we can to provide a safe, nurturing environment, to offer medical care and to give nourishing meals. We maintain a low child-to-caregiver ratio, so that kids can be held. We focus on programs for kids who are about to age out of orphanages, so they don’t have to dread the next stage of life.

We aim to replace fear with hope.

We aim to provide these children a future.

Jeremiah 29:11 resonates loudly: “ ‘For I know the plans that I have for you’, declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’ ”

A Large, Unknown Country

Saturday, April 4, 2009

I want to tell you about a country. It’s the 8th largest country in the world, measured by population. But nobody knows it exists. How can this be ? Because it’s a diaspora – it’s spread all over the earth. Population – 143,000,000.

No slogan or constitution or history to unify them. No President. No flag. No anthem. The only unifying threads are poverty, hopelessness and despair. The world’s orphans are found in every country – some in orphanages; most on the streets. Almost all in the least developed countries of the world. THEY ARE MANY, BUT THEY HAVE NO VOICE.

Where do they get a voice ? From those who have true compassion and are in positions of influence – government leaders, as well as private citizens. Who is doing more to address the orphan crisis around the world ? Let’s not mince words. It’s certainly not the governments – either the US or foreign. All too often, they create barriers to solving the orphan crisis. Poor countries don’t have the resources; rich countries don’t care - it's not a high enough priority.

What about the UN ? It exists to give voice to the voiceless; hope to the most marginalized people in the world. Is there a group with less of a voice than destitute orphaned children ? The UN’s track record is mixed. Their various arms do address some of the problems, but they create hurdles as well.

This massive worldwide problem is not given nearly the attention it deserves, precisely because orphans do not have a voice. And it is a massive problem from so many perspectives. Unaddressed, it will mushroom into a much larger problem as orphans (street children and those in institutional care) become young adults and try to integrate into society. Sadly, most will fail.

What can be done to confront the global orphan crisis ? It takes compassion. It takes resources. It takes awareness. More than anything, it takes courageous, visionary leadership. There is a stirring in the hearts of people in this country and in other developed countries – a drumbeat, a growing concern for the plight of the orphan. People motivated by their faith and those motivated by a general sense of concern for their fellow man. People ready to be led in this cause.

Gladney will be a leader. We will lead both from faith and from a general concern. As for myself, I want my heart aligned with God’s heart. His heart is for the orphan. His concern for the fatherless echoes loudly throughout Scripture. It can't be ignored. We will lead and we will pray that world leaders choose to align their hearts with the heart of the One who created us all, who calls us to “choose life”, and who is as concerned with a despairing orphan in sub-Sahara Africa as with the government official dining on fine wine and caviar. In fact, I am fairly confident that God is more concerned for the orphan.

“When you did it to the least of these, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Maybe one day this Federal Orphan Republic will be a much smaller country.

Reflections on Ethiopia

Friday, March 27, 2009

Posted by Phillip Garrott


I'd like to share with you all a portion of an email that I sent the day before I left Ethiopia, on December 6th, 2008.

"There have been many times that I have been extremely lonely, but it has been an excellent lesson in patience and understanding. Loneliness is inner emptiness, and understanding that lets you gain a perspective on what to fill yourself with. It has been a lesson learned over a long time, and I admit that I have been broken in order to reach the position that I am in now. But I am thankful for it. We really must learn how to be alone if we are to be with people in a safe and meaningful.

Companionship and fellowship with people my own age has been severely lacking – even amongst some of my Ethiopian friends. Amharic is a very tough language to learn, and most people don’t speak but a little bit of English. Please, please, please…cherish the friendships that you have surrounding you, and the friends that are always there for you. There may come a time when you have to branch out on your own away from everything that you know, and live without those around you. They may not understand you always, and you may disagree on who should be President or where to go to dinner – but relish that! It hurts really badly when they are gone. Now may be the only time in your life that you live in such close proximity with so many people. Even though it can be tough, be strong and know that you will look back on these days with smiling faces.

Now, I know that for me, all of this is exacerbated by the fact that I am living in a foreign country. I also want to emphasize that I am not completely alone over here. Just over the fence (less of a fence actually…more just concrete) is an American Family working for the same Adoption Agency. They are two parents (Ryan and Abby) in their late 20’s early 30’s which three kids, two adopted Ethiopian children, Marta (12) and Enoch (2), and Baby Ezra (7 months). I have essentially played the part of the elder brother to them in the time here, and younger brother to the parents. This experience has taught me much about the importance of family, some lessons which I should have learned a long time ago.

I’ll just say this too - for the most part I've worked with infants aged 0-2 years old. I’ve been doing developmental charts with them 2-3 times a week, essentially writing down things that they can and cannot do, taking their picture, and sending it to soon-to-be-parents. Babies are smelly and dirty, cry a lot, never cooperate, can’t tell you anything about what they want or don’t want, and generally are just unpleasant to be around…but those few shining moments when they flash you a smile, and you see that they aren’t just blobs but are the most perfect form of innocence and beauty that have ever seen, all that other stuff goes away. They are also a gift. To give a child to a parent who has never had children before, and was told time and again by doctors and lawyers that they would never, ever have children…I can’t describe that moment in words.


Life runs at a different pace over here, one that I hope to emulate and show you all when we get back. If I have realized one thing, it is that the United States forces us to “move, move, move” until we can’t move any longer. That, in Ethiopia, is simply not the case. One is never too busy to take time for a coffee break with friends, or a walk outside. It’s those things that keep us sane. To be constantly moving means to neglect the opportunity to sit and relax. I DARE you to plan a Saturday with nothing, or take a walk once a day. Be human! There is more to life than books and studying, and the relationships that you have with each other are mere vapor in the air, a mist in the morning. Soon, it will be gone. Learn from each other, we have so much to teach each other.

Ethiopia has taught me much, but it is nothing that can't be comprehended and examined back in the states. It may be easier to draw your mind away from the commonplace and routines that frequently suck our time away, but it is possible - dare I say necessary. Just take a trip to the coffee shop with a good friend and discuss. Read a book that makes you think. Stay away from things that tell you how you should think, and what to believe. I came to the realization the other day about the question we used to ask in high school and before: “Why do we have to know this?” It’s not so much the material, but teaching yourself to develop the skills associated with that certain discipline. If you just start to consider things on a different plane, from a different perspective, then your true interests will emerge, your real passions will become exposed, and you will be far more excited and driven towards your goal. "

United Nations

Friday, March 20, 2009

“Get the US out of the UN”. This sentiment, sometimes seen on bumper stickers, runs counter to the leadership role we need to play in a fractured world.

During the time I lived in Connecticut and worked in New York, I volunteered with the Christian Mission to the United Nations Community, an NGO (non-governmental organization) working within the structure of the UN.

As a result of that experience, I want to defend the UN…… sort of.

First, after meeting with hundreds of diplomats during my 10-year involvement with the Christian Mission, I am convinced that the UN as an institution and the large majority of the diplomats who serve there are well-intentioned. Well-intentioned and hardworking, but not always effective.

Second, I believe the UN is widely misunderstood in the US. It is viewed as a counterweight to our power. Although not stated this way in their charter, I’m convinced that the real purpose of the UN is to give a voice to the marginalized people of the world, and that is a noble purpose.

The day-to-day activities of the UN are carried out through a handful of large committees that range from peacekeeping to economic development to global health. One of these committees covers human rights, including children’s rights. This is where the UN intersects with the mission of Gladney.

The International Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989 and is considered a binding treaty among member nations. Its provisions focus on the rights, the dignity, the welfare and the protection of the child, as well as the preeminence of the family. It states: “The child should grow up in a family environment” and with respect to inter-country adoption, “the best interests of the child should be the paramount consideration”.

What if the world really operated this way ? What if these provisions were actually enforced ? We can dream, and we can try and work with the relevant UN agencies. Which brings us to UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund). UNICEF is part of the solution and part of the problem. UNICEF has done wonderful work around the world for the benefit of impoverished children. Sadly though, they are not inclined to see inter-country adoption as part of the solution to the millions of children in orphanages and on the streets. Nor do they give much credence to the efforts of adoption agencies to invest in the countries where they work, which Gladney does extensively.

The UN and UNICEF are not perfect, far from it. However, I am convinced they are well-meaning and capable of change. At Gladney, I encourage collaboration and Gladney has taken initiative to foster more collaborative behavior with other adoption agencies. My hope is that the US will begin to work more collaboratively within the walls of the UN, and that UNICEF and international adoption agencies would not work at cross purposes, but instead would collaborate effectively to improve the lives of children everywhere, especially the millions who have no concept of family.

Live TV

Friday, March 13, 2009

I may have a new career opportunity. Two weeks ago, I made my TV debut. I was interviewed live on the Not So Perfect Parent segment of Good Morning Texas, which is broadcast on the ABC affiliate to the Dallas-Ft Worth Metroplex.

The interview is the second of the 2 links. The segment began with a video that wove together our adoption story of Phillip, our oldest, with his work for Gladney in Ethiopia.

I've been debating whether or not to post this to my blog, but since I did not have any "deer in the headlights" moments, I decided to go ahead.

However, I have not received any calls from agents looking to manage my TV career, so I guess I'll continue in my present role at Gladney.




Financial Crisis

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I am 12 years removed from the banking world, but I have an opinion on the current financial crisis, and since this is my blog, I’m going to share it.

So, how did we get into this financial mess ? Greed ! Now there’s a startling revelation. TIME magazine recently identified 25 people to blame. It’s a compelling list. Certainly, we can cast blame toward regulators, government leaders, rating agencies and the consumer, but I would lay a disproportionate share of the blame at the feet of the money-center banks and the investment banks.

I worked for one of those banks for most of the 90’s and can perhaps offer an informed, if somewhat dated, perspective. This perspective predates the housing and mortgage crisis, but seeds were sown well over a decade ago that I think gave rise to the current crisis. The story I relate here was multiplied tens of thousands of times over. Nothing illegal or unethical; just out of control and short-sighted.

My role at the bank was credit underwriting and business development (more the latter), working with large multinational corporations. We were encouraged to market everything the bank had to offer, except loans. All other products besides loans were fee-based income. One such product was derivatives, which in the case of my clients back then, were primarily interest rate swaps and foreign currency swaps. These instruments were initially designed as protection against interest rate and foreign exchange volatility, essentially insurance policies. Seems kind of quaint now; even archaic. Here’s the irony – the very products designed to minimize corporations’ risks became highly risky themselves.

What happened ? Corporations, specifically their treasury departments, were seeking other income streams. Many had become profit centers. They began to see these financial instruments as ways to make risky bets with potentially large pay-offs rather than prudent hedges. The banks were only too happy to oblige. They formed teams of math geniuses whose job was to design increasingly complex derivatives to satisfy the appetite of the more aggressive treasury departments, enabling them to make these bets. So, the banks greed fed the greed of the large corporations and vice versa.

Many years ago, when the banks first dealt with interest rate swaps and other derivatives, they focused on a matched book – ensuring counterparties were on the other sides of transactions to minimize their exposures to interest rate fluctuations. Eventually banks moved away from this conservative position and began to trade for their own accounts rather than simply on behalf of their clients, putting huge amounts of capital at risk. All designed to boost profits, because core lending was unprofitable or marginally so.

Were the investment banks any different ? Not really, except they weren’t as regulated. As a result, they weren’t as well-capitalized as the commercial banks. They had less margin for error. Their cultures encouraged outrageous risk-taking, resulting in outrageous bonuses in the good years. It’s no surprise then that as this system imploded, investment banks suffered disproportionately more than the commercial banks.

How does this relate to our current mess ? The same institutions that were designing and marketing high-risk financial instruments 15, 20, 25 years ago became more and more creative and aggressive with their financial engineering in the equities and mortgage-backed securities markets. Different set of products, different buyers, but the same mindsets, same cultures, same motivation – greed. One man’s opinion.

How does this relate to Gladney or adoption or families or children ? It doesn’t. It just feels good to vent.

Surprises

Monday, February 23, 2009

Adoption – now there’s a feel-good story. Everybody wins, everybody’s happy, right ? Well, like just about everything else in life, it’s not that simple.

I am frequently asked what has surprised me the most about the move from the corporate world to the non-profit arena. And my answer may surprise you ! I have discovered that the adoption field has its share of controversy.

Nowhere is this truer than in international adoption (what we now call inter-country adoption). Most developing countries do not allow inter-country adoption or they make the rules so restrictive as to have the same effect. This is partly because they don’t want to be seen in the community of nations as unable to care for their own, although frequently they cannot.

The controversy around inter-country adoption is even more deep-seated, however. In many nations, inter-country adoption is viewed as baby selling / child trafficking. On the surface, this sounds ridiculous, because our perspective is that we Americans are simply trying to provide homes and opportunities for disadvantaged orphans.

It turns out that there are a number of bad actors out there who are in fact simply looking to profit from inter-country adoption. This is disgusting, to say the least.

So how can you tell when your agency or facilitator is doing the right thing ? One way is to understand their commitment to the countries where they are working. How invested are they emotionally and financially ?

At the Gladney Center for Adoption, we raise substantial sums of money each year in humanitarian aid to improve the quality of life for the children left behind in every country where we operate. We focus attention as well on the children who are about to age out of the orphanages, not because there is any benefit to us, but because it’s the right thing to do. At Gladney, we seek to impact 100 children left behind for every one child who finds a permanent family.

Another way to determine that your agency or facilitator is doing the right thing is to understand their priorities. In every country where Gladney works, our priorities are 1) family preservation, 2) domestic (in-country) adoption, and then 3) inter-country adoption.

We are not alone. Several other leading agencies share these priorities and share in our desire to invest in the countries where we work. Collaborating with the “good actors”, working with the Joint Council and National Council for Adoption in their advocacy roles, and all under the umbrella of the Hague Convention regulations, we can weed out those who attempt to profit from suffering and improve the perception of inter-country adoption, so that it is widely recognized for the good intentions and positive work of the majority.

A Tribute to Birthmothers

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

It is not uncommon for anyone who has been touched by adoption to refer to “the courage of birthmothers”. But what does this really mean ? As a 53-year old man, it’s somewhat difficult to identify with a young woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, but I’ll give it a try.

After she gets over the initial shock of discovering she’s pregnant, she is faced with a very difficult choice. Society (and maybe friends and family) tell her to take the easy way out – abort and move on with your life. Her own heart may tell her initially that she can parent; that she can somehow make it work. But ultimately she decides to make the most selfless decision imaginable – putting the interests of her baby ahead of her own. She takes the high road – and this is courage.

She goes through the pregnancy – putting her life on hold for 9 months; getting sick; enduring stares; perhaps creating distance with friends – and for what ? So she can eventually place her baby in the arms of a couple who is not able to conceive, but is ready and able to parent. To persevere through pregnancy and delivery must take great courage. (Courage isn’t lack of fear. Courage is facing the fear of the unknown and moving forward anyway. I imagine any woman about to deliver her first baby qualifies as facing the fear of the unknown.)

And then she comes to the most painful moment – relinquishment. What must that be like ? She’s carried this baby for 9 months. She’s felt it kick. She’s completely re-oriented her life around her baby only to get to the point where she relinquishes. She leaves the hospital empty-handed. Here, I can identify a bit. As Rebecca and I struggled years ago to have a family, our biggest setback was the delivery of a still-born girl we named Jessie. The pain was enormous and the most difficult moment of all was wheeling Rebecca out of the hospital carrying flowers in her arms rather than our baby. We didn’t choose this, but birthmothers do. Birthmothers probably understand sacrifice better than any of us. (And courage is built upon sacrifice.)

And then the final stage – the months after delivery. Again, through our experience with Jessie, we can identify somewhat. People all around you offer well-meaning, but often misguided, words of advice. Usually along the lines of: “you’ll be fine; now it’s time to move on”. Well, it’s not time to move on. It’s time to grieve. And facing your grief takes courage.

I want to encourage everyone, especially us adoptive parents, to make sure that when we applaud the courage of our birthmothers that we don’t do it lightly, that we really think through everything that their courage entails – from their initial choice to the ultimate letting go associated with the grieving process.

Rebecca and I are forever grateful for the courage of Phillip’s and Hayden’s birthmothers. Our experience is multiplied thousands of times over each year. So, we celebrate the 2 birthmothers who changed our lives and the countless others who through their acts of selfless courage have given to so many the gifts of families.

Ambassadors

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ambassador – That sounds like a great job. I want to be the US Ambassador to Bermuda or Luxembourg or Barbados.

When I was in New York, I volunteered with the Christian Mission to the United Nations and had the opportunity to meet with hundreds of Ambassadors over a 10-year period. I saw up close what characterizes a good, effective Ambassador – men and women who:

> love their country and are deeply committed to it
> have the authority to speak for their governments back home
> effectively communicate their country’s history, present-day challenges and future vision
> advocate for their national interest

So, what would it take to be an effective Ambassador for Gladney ? The same characteristics:

> love, commitment, passion for the organization
> authority from home base to speak on Gladney’s behalf (You’ve got that !)
> a desire to be an advocate – to spread the good word about adoption and Gladney

When you see a good movie, you become an Ambassador for it. You want to tell people about it. How much more compelling is it for you to be an Ambassador for the organization that helped you complete your family ?

There are a myriad of ways to be an Ambassador for Gladney, most revolving around sharing your story with others. Josh and Amy Bottomly have told their moving story in a book titled: “From Ashes to Africa”. I couldn’t put it down. It's a must-read for couples considering, or going through, the adoption process.

We’re all Ambassadors for the things that really matter to us.

Competition or Collaboration ?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

One of the challenges I have faced in the transition from the financial services world to the non-profit arena is reconsidering the appropriate balance between competition and collaboration. When I worked for Citibank and Price Waterhouse, competition was intense. It was a zero-sum game. We win; you lose, or vice versa.

Soon after I arrived at Gladney, I heard that placements had declined at another leading agency. My immediate reaction was: “Yes !” but I quickly caught myself and realized this was misguided. Fewer placements at any agency means fewer families created and fewer children helped. That’s not an outcome I or anyone would want to see. The cliché “a rising tide lifts all boats” applies.

As international adoption has become more competitive due to a shrinking market, Gladney has sought out other agencies with similar values in an effort to collaborate within legal and ethical boundaries. If well-intentioned agencies can work together to improve the practices in international adoption, everyone wins.

So, are we competitors or collaborators ? Well, both. We want to work together collegially, but I still want Gladney to be the best !

Perseverance

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Football teams talk about building for success around their quarterback or perhaps their defensive line or linebackers. If you could build your life around 3 or 4 key character traits, which ones would you choose ? Many of us would probably start with integrity, the basis of our reputations.

Another character trait that would be among my cornerstones is perseverance. I think people who persevere are attractive and stories of perseverance are inspirational. Examples of those who persevere abound – war heroes battling against all odds (the men at Normandy and Iwo Jima), sports teams that refuse to quit (“Remember the Titans”), people unwavering in their focus to accomplish a mission (Hilary conquering Mt Everest), families fighting together against a loved one’s illness. Even more attractive than those who persevere are those who persevere with grace, with quiet dignity, yet steely in their determination.

Sometimes the most compelling stories of perseverance are those of ordinary people struggling with the challenges of life. And that brings us to adoption. Adoptive parents persevere – usually with grace, not always quiet, but certainly determined. In most cases, adoptive parents have endured the pokes, prods and other indignities associated with infertility treatments, more often than not resulting in a devastating monthly report card. These disappointments can be compounded by pregnancies that end in miscarriages. Few things crush the spirit more than a blank sonogram. Eventually adoptive couples move on – to Plan B. They (we, since I’m an adoptive father) look back with perfect hindsight and see Plan B as Plan A.

But to be clear, the adoption process is not a picnic while you’re going through it. Even if things go as smoothly as possible, it’s still a rollercoaster of emotions – a sense that things are out of your control because they are and an excruciating wait that seems to last forever. By the time a couple has become an adoptive parent, they have undoubtedly persevered. Perseverance is a bond we share. And in a strange, unforeseen way, we are doubly blessed – we build family and we build our character. Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us: “suffering produces endurance; endurance produces character; character produces hope; and hope does not disappoint us.”

My father was not one to give a lot of advice and he was not exactly a patron of the arts. He did, however, have one poem that he liked a lot and it’s filled with advice from a father to a son – Rudyard Kipling’s “If”. It’s about level-headedness, balance, quiet confidence, humility and perseverance.



IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Likes and Dislikes

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Have you ever made a list of your likes and dislikes ? Do it and let me know how your list compares to mine:

Likes:
  • Dr Pepper – not Diet Dr Pepper or Mr Pibb
  • Gruene Dance Hall, Gristmill Restaurant and floating the Guadalupe
  • The fact that the greatest moment in baseball history is a 1939 speech – Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man alive” speech (two years before he died)
  • People who are in church because they want to be
  • The Air Force motto – “Integrity First; Service Before Self; and Excellence in Everything”
  • The 20 minutes before a UT home football game, where you join with 98,000 other burnt orange-clad fanatics and sing “The Eyes of Texas”, “Texas Fight”, "Deep in the Heart of Texas”, watch ‘em roll out the huge, most recognizable state flag, and see the video clips from the Horns’ national championship seasons. The game hadn’t even kicked off and I’ve already got my money’s worth.
  • Driving with no destination, purpose and especially, no map. Willing to get lost just to have a little adventure. Like Abraham, who “went out, not knowing where he was going”.
  • The first round of the NCAA basketball tournament - the upset round
  • Humility
  • Loyalty
  • Integrity
  • Candor
  • Perseverance
  • Breakfast at a New England country inn
  • People of conviction; people who have the courage to “stand in the gap”
  • Politicians who lead with humility and a servant’s heart – I’m drawing a blank here…ok, Nelson Mandela. Let me know if you think of another one.
  • The right kind of country music – you know it when you hear it.
Dislikes:
  • Ice cream squeezed out of a machine – it’s not ice cream
  • The BCS – I hate it
  • Partisan politics – I have voted for candidates whose positions I disagree with if they have shown the guts to vote against their party; in other words, to vote their conscience
  • Playing not to lose – don’t bother playing
  • Sloth – what a wonderfully descriptive word. It just sounds slothful.
  • Hot chocolate made with water
  • The Electoral College – almost as messed up as the BCS
  • The middle seat, with people on either side invading my space
  • Robert Mugabe – stronger emotion than mere dislike for a man who has plundered his country for his own personal gain and ignored the cries of starving children and others who are dying of preventable diseases. I’m convinced there is a just God and that Mugabe and his ilk will be the recipients of God’s justice.
To close on a positive note, I’ll toss out a few more likes:
  • An early morning ski run
  • The first crisp day of autumn
  • People who live from the inside out
  • People who run toward risk
  • People who don’t settle
So, are we on the same page or not ?