Minding the Gap

mind the gap

mind

verb (used with object)

  1. to pay attention to
  2. to apply oneself or attend to
  3. to look after; take care of; tend
  4. to feel concern at; care about.

gap

noun
  1. break or opening, as in a fence, wall, or military line; breach
  2. an empty space or interval; interruption in continuity; hiatus
  3. wide divergence or difference; disparity

A few weeks ago I was searching for a deal on flights to Serbia and the best fares all required at least one lengthy layover. One option was an eight-hour layover in London. I have a dear friend in England that has gotten married and become a father since the last time I saw him so I checked to see how much it would be to stay overnight. When I found that it was $400 cheaper, I sent him a text to see if they’d be in town, booked the flight, and began packing. My overnight stay with his precious family turned out to be a great decision. Besides falling in love with his sweet wife and the best-natured baby boy I’ve met, I realized exactly what I was traveling to Serbia for.

I had two hours of train (or “tube”) rides to get from Gatwick Airport to where they live in Essex and along my journey I quickly noticed that before each stop there was a recording warning those departing to “Mind the gap.” When I exited each train I turned and found signs on each car and tiles on the ground spelling out the same warning. I’ve done a little research on why the warning is given. The phrase was coined in 1968 to remind passengers to pay attention to the space between the train and the platform. Some of the platforms are curved and the train cars are straight. So, in some places the space between the platform and the train is quite wide and creates a hazard for passengers if they aren’t “minding the gap”.

After my quick visit with the Brits and a brief layover in Poland on the 100th anniversary of their freedom, I arrived in Serbia to be greeted by my brother Samuil. Samuil and I are cut from the same cloth. We are both gifted networkers, love Jesus, and we both attempt to squeeze every minute of purpose out of every day. So I knew from the moment I climbed in his car at Tesla Airport that the days that followed would be filled with adventure.

Twelve hours of sleeping off my jet lag led to me awaking on Monday morning ready to do whatever God had planned for me. As I prepared for the day I pulled the hoodie pictured above out of my luggage. I walked past it at Heathrow just before boarding my plane to Warsaw and impulsively went back to purchase it. As I lifted it from my luggage the words stuck in my head. They would replay in my mind throughout each day that I spent in Serbia. “Mind the gap, Kaci.”

On Tuesday my friend Pam and I spent the day with government officials, social workers, and several foster parents. The day began with an unexpected newspaper interview (If you paste the link into Google translate it will translate the entire article) in the same paper that has covered parts of our story in the past. We were there to discuss the way foster care and orphan care are done in the US and ways to better prepare orphans for independent living. The day was humbling and enlightening. The truth is that we fail in SO MANY ways to care for orphans in America and we aren’t doing any better than Serbia is when it comes to preparing the next generation for independent living. I quickly realized that everyone in the room had things to learn from one another. The day turned into more of a think tank on ways to “mind the gap”.

Tuesday night we had dinner at a transition house in Belgrade. Pam asked the youth living there if they could have dinner with anyone in the world, alive or dead, who would it be. One girl said that she would want to have dinner with the Aleksander Vucic, the Serbian President. She happened to be sitting right next to me and spoke English so I turned and asked her what she would ask him. Her response, “Does he care about the youth of Serbia and if he does what is he doing to keep us here?” This precious nineteen year old girl, that is stuck between a very hard childhood (her platform) and living out her potential is desperately looking for someone with power to “mind the gap”.

Wednesday we taught foster parents, social workers, and leaders of several NGOs on trauma informed care and fundraising. At the end of our teaching we had a Q&A time and once again it turned into a think tank on ways to “mind the gap”.

Wednesday night I had a drink with a friend that is a Colonel in the Serbian Army. On our walk back to where I was staying we briefly discussed his experiences with war. I quickly realized that little is done to care for veterans in a nation where military members have experienced more combat than this military wife can fathom. Noone is “minding the gap”.

On Thursday I climbed in the EUS (Samuil’s organization-Evangelical Student Organization) van and drove to Novi Sad for a conference on human trafficking that was organized by my friend Marco. The conference was amazing! SOO many people showed up to learn and lend their voices and I could not be prouder of what has been done in Serbia to “mind the gap” for victims of trafficking since my last visit in 2011.

Friday morning I overslept and awoke to my friend Mila at the door (with breakfast-because she’s a hero). She made me coffee while I threw my clothes and face on and after a much-too-short catch up on all that she has been doing to “mind the gap” by opening a crisis pregnancy center and helping women who’ve experienced abortion find healing; my friends Bojan, Rachel, and Marijana arrived to drive me to meet Sofija’s biological brothers.

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Y’all, my time with these men who share my daughter’s blood was priceless. They were kind, welcoming, and honest. They are good men (both in their thirties), and they want to know Sofija. Their Mother’s story is one for another day and there are two more siblings I have yet to meet, but sitting in their home and seeing my daughter’s eyes, and smile, and ears, and hands was one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given. I also met Sofija’s sister-in-law and niece (both incredibly beautiful). These people are Sofija’s family which makes them OUR family.

Friday afternoon was spent shopping with my friend Tatjana that started the transition homes that brought me back to Serbia and then attending Samuil’s birthday celebration. On Saturday I flew home.

I missed church on my first Sunday home because.. jet lag. And I missed this last Sunday because our family caught a nasty cold over Thanksgivin. While sniffling and fighting a fever I sat and watched a sermon via Facebook live from the International Christian Fellowship in Belgrade. It was their tenth anniversary and it only seemed appropriate that I watch the ten-year celebratory service of the community of believers that gave me all of the friends I was able to connect with on my trip. Jonathon Lamb was the guest speaker for the service. He is an author and minister from Oxford, UK.

In the middle of his message, Jonathon quoted 1 John 2:6 “Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” It is one of my favorite life verses. In fact, I believe that all of 1 John 2 is one of the most powerful passages in the Bible and I highly encourage you to click the link, read it, write it down, read it some more, and make it your daily challenge. Trust me! Trying to live it out WILL be a challenge. But if each of us who calls ourselves “Christian” would actually make it a daily challenge to live our lives as Jesus did, we would never have to question whether or not we’re “paying attention”, “applying ourselves”, “taking care of”, or “feeling concern for”; the “breaks or openings”, “empty spaces and interruptions in continuity”, or “wide divergence or disparities” of this world.

Mind the gap.

 

We’re all orphans.

Sofija is home and I’m still sifting through the dozen or so blog posts that are running around in my head. While I’m sorting my thoughts and seeking wisdom in what I share, I want to address something that has repeatedly come up since I first began sharing our struggles. Between the messages and emails I’ve received from people sharing their opinions and the ones from people sharing their own struggles, I’ve received another kind of message. Many people read my blog who have no connection to adoption or autism or mental illness. Several of those people have written to me with sincere questions. Things like, “Why is she so aggressive?”, “Why does she hurt you?”, and “What exactly is wrong with her?” Please don’t stop asking questions. Questions beg answers and answers give me an opportunity to educate. I like to educate.

The Bible is packed full of orphan references and I have to be honest. Until adoption was a part of my life, I always skimmed over those verses with the prideful thought that they applied to someone else. Going through the adoption process I scoured scripture for verses that may prepare me to love my daughter. Within days of meeting her, I realized that I was just as orphaned as she was.

Let’s compare me as an adopted daughter of God to the little girl who joined our family through adoption:

– My daughter doesn’t trust my love. She doubts every promise I make. She keeps waiting for me to stop loving her; for me to fail.  / Yep. I can relate.

– My daughter puts her hands over her ears and hums when I’m trying to tell her how much I love her and how precious she is. / It is a daily struggle to believe anything God’s word says about my worth. I stay busy and keep my environment noisy to block out His voice.

– She also puts her hands over her ears, hums, and closes her eyes immediately after asking for something she really wants. She’s preparing herself for disappointment and she often misses my “Yes” because she’s not looking or listening. / Story of my life.

– My daughter hurts herself and puts herself in dangerous situations and then apologizes to me for not loving herself. / All. The. Time.

– My daughter runs away from the place and people who love and protect her. / More times than I can count.

– My daughter resists all rules that we try to put in place to teach her and keep her safe. / I hate rules.

– My daughter will repeat a bad choice over and over and over again without learning from her mistake. / Grrrrr

– My daughter hurts other people because she is afraid of being hurt. She always wants to be in control so she hurts others before they have a chance to hurt her. / This one is not a huge struggle for me. However, I will openly confess that I’ve been there, done that.

– My daughter will be destructive in order to escape a situation where she isn’t in control. / Been there, done this one too…

– My daughter will lash out at me in order to get my attention. / I really wish I didn’t relate to this, but I do. It’s sad how often I forget that I have God’s undivided attention.

– My daughter will try to hide from me when she knows she’s done something wrong. / Dangit. This is another “more times than I can count” offense.

– She screams and fights and does everything she can think of to get out of a vehicle when she doesn’t know where we’re going. She’s so afraid that we’re going to take her some place scary and unfamiliar and because she doesn’t trust us to provide or protect, she fights. / I look forward to the day when she is as tired as I am of trying to escape the journey.

I could probably list out a dozen more ways that I relate to my daughter’s orphan heart. For those wondering why she does what she does or what exactly is wrong with her, it all boils down to that one thing… the heart of an orphan. Autism has removed her filters. She doesn’t know that the socially acceptable thing to do is try to hide her orphan heart. So all her struggles are out in the open. If you haven’t caught on, I prefer “out in the open”. I crave transparency and I thank God for giving me a girl who leaves all her brokenness out where I can see it.

If you can’t relate to me and my girl, I apologize for wasting a few minutes of your time. If you can relate, just know that you’re in good company. Two of my favorite people in scripture are Esther and Moses. Both orphans. Both changed the course of history. U.S. Presidents Andrew Jackson, Herbert Hoover, and Alexander Hamilton were orphans; as were first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Nelson Mandela. Tolkien and Tolstoy… orphans. Babe Ruth… lived his entire childhood in an orphanage.  Steve Jobs… orphaned and adopted as a baby.

Being an orphan (or even having an orphan heart) should not define anyone. My daughter has many struggles and I will continue to do everything in my power to help her overcome those struggles for as long as I have breath. Those struggles do not define her. Just as my own struggles do not define me. And just as your struggles should not define you. Sofija was created in the image of God. She is wonderfully made. He has a plan for her future. Plans to give her hope and to prosper her. She was created to overcome. All those things also apply to me… and to YOU.  You want to know something amazing? Even if you don’t believe it all, it’s still true. And just like I refuse to give up on my daughter, God refuses to give up on any of us.

Isaiah 43:5 "Do not be afraid for I am with you.  I will bring your children from the East and gather you from the West."
This little girl was an orphan. Now she’s my daughter.

Now go watch a Batman, Spiderman, Superman, or James Bond movie. They’re all orphans and they all make it really hard for people to love them. But… their stories all end well.

Have you found your ‘thing’?

I have.  I’m supposed to gather stones.

In the book of Joshua (in the Bible) the Israelites FINALLY get to cross the Jordan River and enter the Promised Land.  In the process of crossing the river, the Lord speaks to Joshua and tells him to have one man from each of the twelve tribes go back and gather a stone.  They are to carry the stone on their shoulder to the place where they stayed the night (in the middle of the riverbed that God had dried out just for them).  The stones were to serve as a reminder that God cut off the flow of the water just so they could walk into the territory that had been promised to them.  Hope I haven’t lost you, but this story is extremely significant to me at the moment. You see….

From 1998-2000 our family lived in a little Korean city called Tongduchon (I’m quite certain I spelled it wrong.)  Those two years opened my eyes to something that I previously had no idea was going on in this great big world. I could not walk one block down the streets of Tongduchon without recognizing that all around me, women were living in slavery.  I began to build relationships with girls from the Philippines who were promised the world by a woman or man who brought them to Korea and held their passports while forcing them into prostitution.  My friends and I did what we could to help the girls make money outside of “the clubs” and we successfully raised money to buy the freedom of a few who were able to return home to their families.  What we did never felt like enough.

While living in Korea we vacationed in Thailand.  If my eyes had not been opened to the sex-trade in Korea, they had no choice but to acknowledge its ugliness in Thailand.  Everywhere we went we saw older white men walking around with young Thai children that they had purchased for their time in the country.  While shopping we would have flyers thrust at us by children with price lists of the sexual acts they were willing to perform.  Thailand was one of my most beautiful and disgusting life experiences all rolled into one package.  At the time I was five months pregnant with Seth and I cried myself to sleep on several occasions over the thought of bringing another life into a world that contained such ugliness.  My heart ached for those children.  Where were their mothers?  I could not imagine anything I could do that would ever be enough.

In the last few months of our time in Korea we noticed a change happening in the business of sexual slavery.  When we first arrived the girls were mostly Filipino.  By the time we left, they were mostly Russian and Eastern European.  It was a very strange phenomena to be in a place where you rarely saw anyone who looked like you and then come across someone who did and not be able to communicate with them.  The Filipino girls always spoke English.  The new girls did not.

A pimp rented out the apartment above us and filled it with seven or eight of these girls.  My heart ached.  I watched them come and go.  I watched the Johns (mostly American soldiers) come and go.  I heard screaming and crying through our ceiling.  I smiled at them and took them cookies and brownies and ached for a conversation.  Once again, I felt overwhelmed.  What could I ever do that would be enough to erase the ugliness of what these girls were experiencing?

Something else happened while we lived in Korea.  Several of our friends adopted children.  A dialogue on the possibility of us adopting in the future began.  A dialogue that eventually led us to the home of the girls who lived on the other side of my ceiling in Korea.  A dialogue that led us to Sofija.

If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time you know it began as a way of documenting our adoption process.  Throughout our adoption journey I never took the time to document all that took place in our lives leading up to the day Sofija found us.  I find it so entertaining that we just knew she was meant to be ours when we learned about her even though we had no clue where in the world she lived.  When we did find out that she was in Serbia we actually had to look at a map to see exactly where that was.  And… it wasn’t until we were in Serbia (hearing the spoken language) that I began to realize that the girls living in slavery in Korea, the girls whose floor was our ceiling, must’ve come from there.

The day we met Sofija we were asked if we planned to prostitute her.  It had never crossed my mind that someone might suspect we had bad intentions for her.  But for the people who loved her in Serbia, such a fate was a very real possibility.  We spent three weeks in Serbia seeing things through gray-cloudy lenses.  The food was great.  The people were beautiful.  The oppression was heavy and real.  There was this feeling I got anytime I was close to the girls living in slavery in Korea.  The air around me would thicken.  It took an extra effort just to walk or breathe or speak.  It was like being under water.  I felt the same thing when I saw the children in Thailand.  For the entire three weeks that we were in Serbia, that feeling never lifted.  I felt the yoke of slavery.

I also felt the disgrace of discrimination.  People looked at us everywhere we went.  Not because we looked different or spoke a different language.  But because we had two children with us who are autistic.  They make noises.  They jump around and rock and spin and flap their arms and tap things and sniff things.  People stared with disgust.  We looked and looked and looked some more, but we never once saw another person in public that had any special needs.  They were hidden.

Last year I returned to Serbia and had the honor of getting to know people who have dedicated their lives to breaking the yokes of slavery and discrimination in Serbia.  I met parents who were forced to choose between keeping their child born with special needs and maintaining relationships with their extended family.  Those same parents have dedicated their lives to educating their children and taking part in changing laws regarding special needs citizens.  And…  God gave me the honor of building relationships with people who have a heart to bring His message to their nation.

Which leads me to gathering stones.

While we were in Korea and Thailand and Serbia, I did often feel like I was under water.  But you know what?  I wasn’t.  I was camped out in the middle of a river bed with the waters held back on every side of me.  I could feel the pressure and the moisture, but it never consumed me.  And now I have an opportunity to gather stones and take them back to that place where God held the waters back.

Those people I met who have a heart to bring God’s message of salvation and hope to Serbia have taken on something BIG.  Have you ever seen the movie Faith Like Potatoes?  If not, watch it on Netflix NOW!  My friends have taken a ‘faith like potatoes’ leap.  They have reserved two venues in Serbia for September 21st and 22nd and they have Nick Vujicic coming to speak.  If you don’t know about Nick, click on his name above and read his story.  He’s AMAZING!  Nick was born with no limbs and he’s proven that we are not defined by what the world says we are.  He’s proven that there is no special need that God cannot use.  He is a bringer of hope.  Oh. Did I mention that his parents are Serbian?  And… we’re gonna see him at Creation Fest in June!

On May 2nd, 2011, I wrote a post called ‘set up’.   Sleep evaded me that night.  My heart was aching for the people of Serbia.  I was there and I could see a lack of hope, a lack of God’s love, in the eyes of people everywhere I went.  It was that night that I begin to beg God for opportunities to bring hope and to bring His love to the people of Serbia.  Even if it’s never enough, I want to end this life saying that I gave it my all.

So… will you help me as I pick up a stone and carry it on my shoulder back to Serbia?

We’ve set up a fundraiser through wepay.  I’m working this week to transform my blog to accept widgets, but for now the link will have to suffice.

I have spent a year questioning why God stopped Paul (repeatedly) from going through Serbia.  Why he made him turn back south from Macedonia and didn’t let him cross the Adriatic Sea to reach Italy will be one of my first ‘Heaven questions’.   Whatever God’s reasoning, I do know that he has provided a voice and a time for Serbia to hear His message.  The voice is Nick Vujicic and the time is this September.