The New Year is Here !

Friday, December 31, 2010

We got a call about 10:05 this morning (December 31) from our son and daughter-in-law in China. It was 5 minutes after midnight (January 1, 2011) there, so the New Year is already rolling in around the world.

It makes me think of New Year’s resolutions. On just a few occasions, I’ve set out to keep New Year’s resolutions. My average failure date has been around January 15.

What I usually do about this time each year is pull out my “bucket list”, which I created 20 years ago, before the term existed, I think. I’ve got about 50 items on it that I want to do before I die. World Series – done; Christ statue in Rio – done; Great Wall of China – done; attend all 4 major golf tournaments – done; travel to Israel – not done; write a book – not done; become fluent in another language – not done, not even close.

If I live to an average old age, I can probably finish the list by doing about one a year. It would be nice to know how long we’re going to live… sort of. However, since we don’t, I think we should heed the word of encouragement in Psalm 90 – “teach us to number our days”. My aim in 2011 is “to number my days” – to make each day count.

What’s your 2011 aim or resolution; what’s on your bucket list ?

MTV

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Last night, Gladney was mentioned a couple of times and our website shown briefly on MTV’s show 16 and Pregnant. When I first learned that we were working with MTV, I was nervous about how we and adoption would be portrayed.

Wow ! My first reaction was simply relief. Then it just got better from there, as the show was so well done, even though the ultimate outcome was a bit different from the norm, but I don’t want to ruin the ending for you.

The Gladney references were nice, but what was even more powerful was the performance of our caseworker, Ashley Whiteside, and ultimately the poignant story itself.

The birthmom, also named Ashley, was of course confronted with an unplanned pregnancy. The show chronicled her emotional ups and downs during her pregnancy and after her delivery, focusing on the difficulty of her decision.

This episode of 16 and Pregnant vividly depicted 2 things for me:
• How much a birthmother loves her baby and the anguish involved in making a selfless decision
• The difficulty of being a teenage single mom who cherishes her baby, but also desires independence and the future she had been planning

I watched the show with my wife and college-age adopted daughter and it sparked some interesting discussion in our home. If you watched it, I trust it sparked some discussion in your home as well. If you missed it, I’m told you can watch at mtv.com.

CCAA

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

CCAA – China Centre of Adoption Affairs. To those of us in the field of international adoption, CCAA is an imposing, almost intimidating, institution, as they oversee all adoption activity in China.

On my recent trip to China, I had the pleasure of traveling to Beijing to visit with CCAA’s management team, led by Director-General Zhang. After lunch, a 4-hour meeting and dinner, I came away with 4 observations:
• CCAA is imposing.
• The leadership, and I’m sure the staff, of CCAA care deeply about the vulnerable children of China and are passionate about their well-being and about the international adoption community handling everything we do with absolute integrity.
• CCAA’s leadership team is fun and enjoys a good laugh (often at my expense). “What happens in Beijing stays in Beijing.”
• Finally, and not surprisingly, our own China treasure, Gongzhan Wu, knows everyone at CCAA.

It was a memorable, but exhausting, day. I flew back to Shanghai late that night and fell asleep at the gate, barely rousing myself for the final call to board. Otherwise, I might still be in China.

The Carols Say It Best

Sunday, December 19, 2010

“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.”

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope; a weary world rejoices.”

“Light and life to all He brings; Risen with healing in His wings.
Mild He lay His glory by; Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth; Born to give them second birth.”

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns !
He rules the earth with truth and grace.”

“Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ, the Lord.”

“King of Kings and Lord of Lords; King of Kings and Lord of Lords !
Hallelujah ! Hallelujah ! Hallelujah !

George W. Bush's Gladney Plug

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I just finished reading President Bush’s book, Decision Points. I can see why it’s received such favorable reviews from his supporters and critics alike. Besides giving the reader a real peek under the tent, it is a balanced account of his presidency, in which he humbly acknowledges things he might have done differently as well as the accomplishments for which he is justifiably proud.

Of course, my favorite part of the book comes early (page 28, to be specific), where he mentions that he and Laura approached Gladney before ultimately giving birth to their twin daughters.

President Bush states: “We were fortunate to know about a wonderful agency called the Edna Gladney Home in Fort Worth. Founded by a Methodist missionary in 1887, Gladney had become one of the premier adoption homes in the world.”

He concludes this episode by noting their trepidation in contacting Ruby Lee Piester with news of their pregnancy and her thoughtful response.

Thank you President Bush for your Gladney endorsement ! Should you ever run for office again, you’ll be relieved to know that you can count on my endorsement as well !

Shanghai Children’s Home

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I just spent two weeks in China and Taiwan. One of the highlights was a tour of the Shanghai Children’s Home, an orphanage that houses over 600 children of all ages, most with special needs ranging from very minor to more serious. I was able to witness the deep commitment of the Home’s leaders and the passion of their care-givers. Most importantly, I saw many of the children.


Every time I visit an orphanage, I think to myself that these are the cutest children ever and that proved to be the case once again at the Shanghai Children’s Home. When you enter a room with about 20 three-year old orphans, you just want to embrace them all and give them a dose of fatherly affection. Invariably, one really captures your heart. For me, this time it was a smiling little boy who playfully pointed his “gun” (thumb and index finger) at me. I did the same back to him and he laughed and I was hooked. It was hard to leave.

I am so grateful for the work of the Shanghai Children’s Home and the support they receive from the Chinese government. It makes me proud that Gladney has worked with the Home for nearly fifteen years and that Gladney parents have volunteered at the Home.

I’m pleased to announce that we are formalizing our partnership with the Shanghai Children’s Home and will work even closer together in the future.

Christmas in China

Monday, December 13, 2010

Few things in life can compare to the joy of sharing in a worship service with Christians from all over the world. Yesterday, my wife Rebecca, son Phillip, daughter-in-law Katie and I participated in a Christmas service in China. Singing “Joy to the World” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” with Christians from over 30 countries was very moving, as was the pastor’s message on joy – the importance of recognizing that we serve a joyous God.

I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to worship with Christians in Russia, China, Germany, Ethiopia and other countries, as well as at the UN, and experience first-hand the truth of Revelation 7:9, which says: “…a great multitude, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne…”

For me and Rebecca, yesterday’s service was especially poignant, knowing that we would be saying our good-byes to Phillip and Katie right after the service and not see them again until July. Although Rebecca’s tears were a little more free-flowing than mine, I’ll confess to a constant lump in my throat and the occasional use of my handkerchief to wipe away my tears.

Perhaps the most memorable part of yesterday’s service were the children’s choirs, representing many countries. As proud fathers popped up all over the church to get good pictures, I was struck once again by the realization of how similar we all are. Just about every parent in the world wants the same thing – to see their children grow in character, live in peace and freedom, and have the opportunity to flourish.

Client Satisfaction

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Client satisfaction is taken very seriously at Gladney. But what organization doesn’t say that ? Just over 2 years ago, we upgraded our approach to assessing client satisfaction by engaging an outside firm to survey our clients several times a year.

We’ve learned a lot from this process. First and foremost, we mainly have very satisfied clients, who are likely to recommend Gladney to a friend. This is quite gratifying. And no, we don’t hand them a survey minutes after they’ve received placement of their baby or older child ! We’re not trying to game the system.

But the offsetting reality is that not everybody is happy with us all the time. We really scrutinize the survey data, seeking to uncover any systemic issues. What we’ve learned lately is that while we communicate often enough, Gladney should be the initiators of the communication more often.

Occasionally we receive feedback about the overseas experience, such as “my dinner wasn’t cooked quite right”, “the shower was cold”, “the internet connection was spotty”. To that, I simply say: Welcome to travel in the developing world.

Gladney strives to do our very best on the things over which we have control and we’ll never take the view that we have “arrived” with respect to client satisfaction. We’re always looking to improve. The adoption process, domestic or international, is an emotional one. At Gladney, we want to do everything possible to smooth the ups and downs, even providing hot water, a well-cooked meal and a reliable internet connection when we can !

National Adoption Month

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November has always been one of my favorite months – the weather, Thanksgiving, football, although the football season is essentially over for me as a diehard Longhorns and Cowboys fan. I’m already looking ahead to March Madness and baseball’s Opening Day.

Back to another reason that I like November - it’s National Adoption Month ! At Gladney, we are celebrating in so many ways. It is a wonderfully intense month for us. The calendar seems to have multiple events every day. This was especially true last Sunday, which was Orphan Sunday.

Sunday evening, I had the opportunity to serve as keynote speaker for an orphan concert featuring Aaron Ivey and Bernie Calcote. Several hundred from the Christian community in Austin were in attendance and it was a wonderful night. I brought the average age up by 10 or 15 years. I wore jeans, of course, but I couldn't bring myself to untuck my shirt.

Here are my remarks. I hope you enjoy them and that you will respond to the Call to Action, if you haven’t already become involved in the orphan care movement.

Gladney's Values

Monday, November 1, 2010

Clear, well-communicated values reflect the convictions of an organization.

Gladney values INTEGRITY above all; is built on pillars of PASSION and DEDICATION; and is driven by COMPASSION for the vulnerable.

This may be a great statement, but it’s meaningless if we don’t walk the talk. Examples abound of corporations (and non-profit organizations) that say one thing and do another.

We do live these 4 values at Gladney. They empower our staff. They define our culture. They transcend, and even bridge, differences. They serve as a compass for us. They form the basis for the reputation Gladney has built over 123 years of service.

As I interact daily with my Gladney team members, I’m absolutely convinced that their personal values align in word and deed with these 4 organization values. I wish you all could wander the halls with me and witness how powerfully these values frame what we do each day at Gladney.

Back to School

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I’ve always enjoyed provoking my kids. It’s part of the Father’s Bill of Rights. I would ask them if their homework was ready the night before the first day of school. I thought it was funny; they didn’t. Another way I provoked them was to use the word “routine” – “back to the routine”. They hated this word, and still do, I imagine.

So, is routine good or bad ? Probably good, but only to a point. Need to have room for busting out of the routine, being spontaneous, and avoiding a life that’s too comfortable and too predictable.

On the other hand, there is something appealing about settling into a routine or rhythm. Maybe rhythm is a less troublesome word to kids.

The school year, which has just begun in Texas, does establish a sort of rhythm for our lives. Almost everyone in Texas knows where they’ll be on Friday nights in the Fall, that being the local high school football game for those of you from Mars (or New England).

Gladney’s year essentially follows the school year. We are now settling into our Fall rhythm, which includes, among other events, 18 Gladney Family Association kick-offs, board meeting and staff retreat – all designed to set the tone for the year. We’ve got a great year in front of us. I encourage you to choose to be a part of Gladney this year, the rhythm as well as the spontaneity.

Laughter

Monday, August 30, 2010

Laughter IS the best medicine. On Sunday morning, I boarded an early flight. I was tired and probably had a sour expression on my face. Boarding in front of me was a mom with her 2 year old boy. He had the most infectious laugh I have ever heard and he laughed from the time he got on the plane until after he got to his seat.

What was interesting for me was watching the expression change of everyone already seated as this little boy walked past each row. Without exception, everyone’s expression changed from the same sour one I originally had on my face to a big smile or even laughing out loud with him. It was like seeing the impact of a rolling wave.

A nice reminder to me of how laughter can be contagious. This little boy changed the mood of an entire planeload of people in about 5 minutes.

My Job

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Someone asked me the other day what I would want to be doing if I didn’t run Gladney. I was stumped.

I have no desire to return to the business world. There is no other job in the non-profit arena that I could be this passionate about.

So I thought some more. Maybe I could teach. But the only subject I am an expert in is Longhorns football and there’s no course in that.

I do have this crazy desire to wander all over the world, especially the remote areas. But that wouldn’t pay too well and I still have 2 kids to get through college.

State politics would be interesting. But I have red positions on blue issues and blue positions on red issues, so I’m probably only electable in a purple state.

So God and the Gladney Board willing, I think I’ll keep doing what I’m doing for a good while. As you may have heard me say, my job and my passion are one and the same, and you can’t be more blessed than that.

Aguascalientes

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In Genesis 12, God tells Abraham that he has been blessed, so that he will be a blessing to others. Out of an overflow of gratitude comes a desire to serve others.

When I was a teenager, gratitude and service were not even on my radar screen. My screen had a great big ME in the middle and not much room for anything else. However, today it seems that many teenagers and young adults have grasped the concept of gratitude and how it translates into service – none more so than our Gladney teenagers who just returned from Aguascalientes, Mexico.

Supported by Gladney staff and 2 intrepid Gladney moms, 11 teenagers transformed an orphanage through their hard work and compassion. More importantly, they transformed lives – the orphans and their own.

I have yet to meet anyone who spends time in an orphanage and leaves the experience unchanged. It carves away a little piece of your heart. My guess is that God prefers to work through people who have bumps, cuts and bruises on their hearts. A week in Mexico certainly tenderized the hearts of 11 Gladney teens.

Hayden's Graduation

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My most recent post referred to 2 graduations and a wedding in the Garrott family in May and showed pictures of our son, Phillip. In early June, our daughter Hayden graduated from Vista Ridge High School here in Austin. So I wanted to post a few happy graduation pictures of Hayden with her proud parents. Occasions like graduation are so special not only because they represent a sense of accomplishment on the part of the graduate, but they also serve as significant milestones in life's journey for both the graduate and the parents. As parents, we have mixed emotions - we share in their joy of accomplishment and their excitement about moving on to the next stage of life, but we also recognize that they will never again be under our roof or under our protection in quite the same way. In short, they have become adults, so I guess our pride at helping them get to this point should trump any nostalgia about wanting to go back and recapture fond memories from their youth. Having said that, Hayden and I will always be Shoshones.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The last several weeks have been eventful for the Garrott family - 2 graduations and 1 wedding. Our oldest, Phillip, graduated from Furman University and 6 days later married Katie. Rebecca and I are beyond thrilled to have Katie as a daughter-in-law. Here are a few pictures from our 10 days in South Carolina - just a handful of casual pictures of Phillip with his parents, Phillip with Katie, Phillip and his roommates, Phillip and his best man, Riley. The second to last picture includes Phillip's sister, Hayden (far right) and his younger brother, Sam (far left). More pictures to come from Hayden's June 5 graduation.

Joy and Happiness

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Yesterday, I joined several Gladney families at the new Yankee Stadium for a baseball game. I’m a diehard Yankees fan. We had sunshine, a close game and a lot of runs. I came early and stayed late. That’s a recipe for happiness. It doesn’t get any better than that or does it ?

On Thursday and Friday, I had the opportunity to attend the 6th annual Christian Alliance for Orphans conference. The conference was powerful – inspiring speakers, helpful breakout sessions and great conversations with other conference attendees who are focused on the plight of orphans. On Thursday, Stephen Curtis Chapman gave a short concert, closing the evening with beautiful worship music. That night I experienced something deeper than happiness. It was joy, which for me is relaxing in the confidence that God is in charge. Moving worship reinforces this reality. At least it does for me.

Joy is not dependent on circumstances, but happiness is. Had the Yankees game been rained out, my happiness would have vanished. But nothing could have diminished my joy on Thursday night or can undermine my joy in general.

When I have the opportunity to experience happiness and joy back-to-back as I have the last 3 days, I am reminded that I would gladly trade many moments of happiness for the foundation of joy that comes from faith. Joy is lasting. Happiness is fleeting. Joy is power for living. Joy overcomes.

Volunteers

Monday, April 12, 2010

Volunteer…. Now why would anyone want to go and do that ? You don’t get paid. In fact, it may cost you money. It takes time and no one has any extra time. It involves commitment and we tend to shy away from commitment these days. So why does Gladney have so many wonderful volunteers ?

What’s their motivation ? As is probably the case for volunteers that support other organizations, I think it boils down to two things: 1) Gratitude – a deep recognition of blessings and a compulsion to respond, and 2) Other-centeredness – “living from the inside out”; looking beyond oneself at the world in need around us.

A non-profit organization’s success hinges to a significant degree on the commitment and passion of its volunteers. Gladney’s board of directors models this volunteer spirit as they devote extensive time in providing guidance and oversight to our management team. The Gladney Family Association (GFA) volunteers carry this torch locally by putting together calendars of events year after year to ensure that our families stay connected and supported.

The opportunities to volunteer on behalf of Gladney range from outreach and education to event planning and execution to providing transitional care to participating in service and heritage trips to being available to support our birthmothers.

Our volunteers are the best ambassadors for Gladney. They have a story to tell; they tell it and they act on it. Lucky us !

Russia

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Many of you may have heard the sad story that was reported yesterday about a woman from Tennessee who sent her 7-year old adopted son from Russia back to his home country on a plane by himself accompanied only by her note of explanation. I’m not here to sit in judgment of that woman. Who knows the trials she went through to get to that point ? Sadly, she appears to have made a poor decision that will likely send that boy down an even rougher road than what he’s already endured.

What bothers me intensely is that she didn’t think through the wider ramifications of her actions. She had other options, but the one she chose may jeopardize future adoptions from Russia to the US. And that’s a tragedy.

I’ve been in several orphanages in Russia. They have all been clean and well-run by caring adults, usually with medical backgrounds, many of whom have turned their backs on more lucrative careers in medicine because they felt a tug to help these kids. Don’t get me wrong about the orphanages – they are severely resource-constrained, but the orphanage directors and their staffs make it work somehow.

According to UNICEF, there are 740,000 orphans in Russia. All these children deserve a family and it will be a shame if the unfortunate actions of this woman and a few others create yet another barrier for these children to grow up in permanent, loving homes. The vast majority of Russian adoptees are thriving with their American families. This is well-known, but not well-publicized. My hope is that this is allowed to continue.

Russia is a proud country. We in the US would do well to understand their heritage and culture better. If we as a people and as a government were doing better at building bridges, these isolated incidents would be more containable as they would be understood through more of a common prism. As it is, these isolated incidents are allowed to dominate the collective conscious and the exceptional cases set policy to the detriment of all concerned.

The Cost of Adoption

Thursday, March 11, 2010

It’s that time of year – bluebonnets about to spring up here in Texas, St. Patrick’s Day, Spring Break, Daylight Savings Time, and of course, March Madness. In a few days, we’ll all make our picks. My heart is with Duke, but my head says Kansas.

The other thing that’s around the corner is April 15 – deadline for filing taxes. Which brings me in a roundabout way to my topic – the cost of adoption.

When Rebecca and I went through the process over 20 years ago, we found the cost somewhat daunting. Since then, no surprise…. the costs have risen. However, when we went through the process, we had to walk 5 miles to school through the snow uphill each way….. no wait, that’s a different story. Here we go….when we went through the process, there was no adoption tax credit and no hint of company support. Today, the tax credit is about $12,000 for most couples. And please don’t rely on our crystal ball, but we believe the tax credit will be extended.

And today, many enlightened corporations demonstrate their support of adoption by reimbursing a portion of the costs. Also, there are numerous non-profit organizations whose mission is to help couples that are struggling with adoption costs. ABBA Fund provides interest-free loans; HelpUsAdopt.org awards grants; Pathways for Little Feet provides financial assistance as do many others.

As an adoptive parent who is now about to be viewing the teen years of my kids in a rearview mirror, I can say it has been more than worth it – much, much, much more than worth it.

In fact, the parable in Matthew 13 really resonates. It’s about the man who found a pearl of great value and sold everything he had to obtain it. The parable refers to the Kingdom of Heaven, but I am going to stretch a bit and apply it to the value I place on our kids. They are pearls of greatest value. Adoption is a story of pursuit. Cost is a part of the pursuit. There is no comparable return – the value, the adventure, the joy dwarf the cost.

Haiti, Culture and the Best Interest of the Child

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

At Gladney, our hearts ache for the people of Haiti, especially the orphans. We’ve all watched with interest the case of American missionaries trying to bring presumed orphans across the border to the Dominican Republic. While probably well-intentioned, the efforts of this group were misguided. International adoption is effectively blocked in most countries of the world. One reason is just what has stoked the controversy around the efforts of these missionaries – the fact that some of these children may not be orphans, but were simply separated from their parents in the earthquake. At the extreme end of the spectrum, with ill-intentioned individuals and groups, this leads to charges of child trafficking, which sadly enough, are occasionally true.

Foreign governments, our own Department of State and large well-funded NGO’s sometimes stand in the way of international adoption for another reason – a concern that the best interest of the child does not include any option which would remove him or her from their country of origin and their culture.

To a degree, we at Gladney affirm this view. That’s why we are beginning to explore the establishment of in-country adoption programs in select countries where we already operate. It’s also why our Gladney Family Associations around the U.S. plan several country-specific events each year. As an example, we have a number of Chinese New Year celebrations on the calendars this month. We believe it is important to provide each child adopted from overseas ample opportunity to fully appreciate the culture from his or her country of birth. That’s also why we are finalizing plans for our first “heritage trip” this summer – a group of families traveling back to Russia to enjoy Moscow and St. Petersburg and visit the orphanages in smaller cities.

To be clear, Gladney’s view is that in the best interest of the child, the need for a family trumps the need to remain in the country of origin, consistent with the International Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted by the UN in 1989, which states that “every child deserves a family”. Amen. Put another way, we don’t think it is in the best interest of any child to live in an orphanage, even those that are well-run, when there are loving families in the U.S. and elsewhere who are ready and able to provide permanent homes. Culture is vitally important; a loving family is even more important. At Gladney, we focus on both.

The Future of Gladney

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What will Gladney look like in 2020? To be honest, at this stage I’m not too sure. But we can go ahead and start the discussion now, and in fact we have. We have just kicked off the process of envisioning the 2020 finish line and figuring out how we’re going to get there. Not that our work will be complete in 10 years - far from it.

One thing I do know – we want to widen our impact.

This process has prompted me to think more about leadership. And I have arrived at a definition for myself as a leader. I’m not at all there, but it’s something I want to strive for – Bold in Vision; Disciplined in Execution; Humble in Spirit.

Does this leadership definition have applicability for Gladney as an enterprise? I think so. I am convinced that “widening our impact” will only occur as we collaborate with other like-minded organizations and even some who would be considered farther afield from us. I further believe that meaningful collaboration is grounded in humility. Is Gladney prepared to take the occasional backseat for the greater good of the causes we so strongly believe in? You bet. And that’s true leadership.

The Eyes of Texas - Sadder, But Still Proud

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The college football season is over. And it ended with a thud.

To this Longhorn fan, it almost seems like Thursday night’s championship game against Alabama wasn’t even played, since we lost our star QB, Colt McCoy, on his 5th offensive play. I have watched Colt play for 4 years and I must admit that although I am 32 years his senior, I have learned leadership lessons by observing him – watching him inspire his teammates, witnessing his humility and the way he deflects credit to everyone else, seeing him never waver irrespective of circumstances and rise to every challenge, and watching his teammates respond to him. And there he was on Thursday night rallying the troops from the sideline in the 2nd half.

Kudos to Gilbert Garrett, the freshman QB who went from dazed and confused to near legend in one night. (Almost a Clint Longley moment – “the triumph of the uncluttered mind”.) The Longhorns are in good hands the next few years as Gilbert has obviously learned something about leadership from Colt as well.

But Colt deserved a better fate this year. He didn’t necessarily deserve to win, but he did deserve the right to compete for the national championship. As the winningest QB in college football history, his name ought to be in the rarified UT QB air alongside Vince Young, James Street and Bobby Layne.

Am I still in mourning from Thursday night’s loss ? Let me answer that question this way….. I have almost recovered from Bart Starr’s quarterback sneak against the Cowboys in the 1967 Ice Bowl.