Tag Archives: Christianity

adoption

Adoption: The True Heroes are the children

adoption
(Upper right) Lolita, myself, my wife Julie and Mary in Riga, Latvia, throwing keys off Lock Bridge Aug. 24, 2014. Lock Bridge is special to many adoptive families, who write their names on a lock and throw the keys in the water to signify a pact has been made that the family and adopted child will stay together forever.

By Bill Sammons (as told to Melissa LeGates)

Time is running out for millions of orphans worldwide, who will age out of orphanages and foster care, and find themselves homeless. We were blessed to provide one of them with a happy ending and a forever home. It was a long journey to get here but worth every minute of heartache. This is our story.

If adoption is a roller coaster, and it is, then we completely jumped the tracks in September 2013.

For more than a year, my wife Julie and I had been trying to adopt Irada, a young teenager living in a Ukrainian orphanage.

We hosted her in our home for four weeks through a non-profit called Project 143, a program that facilitates orphan children from Latvia, Ukraine and China to visit a host’s home over the summer or winter holidays.

Project 143 runs their “Hope Program” to give children a chance to experience life in a nurturing and stable family environment. The program has a special emphasis on hosting older children, children with special needs and sibling sets because these are the ones most overlooked.

They are not an adoption agency, and not everyone who hosts a child adopts that child. That is not their end goal; however, Project 143 is a great way to get to know if a child matches your family dynamics before taking that big step into adoption.

Our first hosting experience

When we hosted Irada, we fell in love with her.

Somewhere along the line, she started calling us mom and dad, and even changed her last name on her social media sites to ours.

So we rushed forward with the paperwork to adopt her before she would age out of the system. When I put her on the plane to go back to the Ukraine, I feared I may never see her again because of all the hoops you have to jump through to adopt.

I just never dreamed it would be by her choice.

Every adoption has its trials

Then, one day out of the blue, my wife received a message that Irada had changed her mind and decided to stay with her friends in the Ukraine.

We went into grieving mode. We were also mad. And sad. And confused.

I decided my heart could not stand another loss and thought I wanted off the adoption roller coaster completely.

Learning how to dream

However, my wife was a different story. One day she saw a picture of a teen girl from Latvia waiting to be hosted through Project 143.

She told me there was just “something special” going on in Lolita’s eyes that captured her, so she forwarded her picture to me. I decided that I was willing to get back on that hamster wheel to provide this girl with a good home and shot at living a decent life protected by a family who would love and support her.

Some people ask why did we adopt a teen?

I jokingly tell them, “I am too old to adopt a baby”. But really I’m too old to adopt a baby at 57.

We purposely decided to adopt an older child because generally people do not want them. And, they still need homes and supportive parents for the rest of their lives – not just until they reach age 18.

We didn’t want or need to start from scratch again. A teen was a much better fit for our entire family, especially for our daughter Mary, who is still young. We also wanted Mary to have an older sister.

My other two sons have families and lives of their own now. They no longer need my guidance as much, but I still love having kids around.

I especially love kids who were not blessed with moms and dads, homes and sports programs, and a community support system.

I like helping kids learn that they are loved and that it is okay to love back.

Most of all, I like helping them learn how to dream!

Plan B

It’s easy to romanticize adoption, and we did to some extent. However, I assure you the romance of adoption is short-lived and real-life remains.

My wife and I have always kept in mind that adoption is not a fairy tale ending for the child. It is “Plan B” for adopted children.

It is second best for their life, and it would not be needed if Plan A had worked out with their birth parents and families.

Instead of being a fairy tale, adoption is more like an epic battle.

It is a life or death battle for the body and soul of a child. One we had never met but knew we already loved.

Combatting sex trafficking and child slavery through adoption

Adopting orphans also helps to fight a huge global problem – sex trafficking and child slavery.

These children in orphanages around the world have no options and no one to care for them or about them.

In the Ukraine, six out of 10 girls, who age out of orphanages, end up in prostitution or being trafficked. Seven out of 10 teen boys who age out enter into a life of crime just to survive.

The numbers of orphans are unfathomable

In 2010, Project 143 was established and aptly named after the estimated 143 million orphans in the world.

That number continues to grow.

Our Lolita, also called Lola, was one of them. Not anymore! She officially took our last name Nov. 19, 2014 and her adoption was final Dec. 15.

She is our happy surprise at the end of the adoption roller coaster. ­­

If I could have custom-ordered a daughter from the Sears Roebuck catalog, she would be it. She is gracious, kind and loving.

She will do great things in this world, and we look forward to celebrating her accomplishments with her as she grows into a young woman.

I adore this girl as much as I adore my Mary, my Josh and my Nick. In my heart, she is not my adopted daughter.

She is my daughter, period.

A divine tasking

The Bible is clear that we are supposed to take care of orphans (James 1:27). We are each called in different ways to accomplish that task. We opened our home but many others helped support us emotionally and financially.

Some people hear our story and treat us like heroes. But I assure you, we are not.

We are not any more special than the next guy, and to be totally honest, we winged this entire adoption thing.

We got through this difficult two-year process because we serve a mighty God. During our darkest times (and there were many), we cried out to him often. Our faith carried us through because we were not, and are not, big enough to do it on our own.

Adoptive families raise money and tell their stories on social media and blog sites, but the kids are the amazing ones.

The true heroes of the story

These kids are tough. They are survivors.

They leave their environment, friends and everything familiar to them to travel half way around the world…praying and hoping for a better life and people who truly love them. They have no guarantees.

They go to a new school. Many have to learn a new language. They have to assimilate into a new family and learn to care for people they barely know.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, simultaneously they have struggle against their own history of abandonment (and for some the aftermath of the horrors of war, abuse, dysfunction, drug use, etc.), just to get through the day…then the next day.

They are the ones we should celebrate! They are the true heroes!

For Julie and me, it was stressful but a whole lot easier mentally and spiritually. Our hearts were broken—cracked wide open—in preparation to love one of God’s little ones.

He called. We answered.

Adoption is a blessing

We have been immensely blessed throughout our epic adoption battle. We now have a second beautiful daughter whom we love and she loves us back.

Along the way, we have met people we might never have encountered otherwise. They have poured into our lives, helping us financially and emotionally, and we are all richer for it.

As much as we would like to, Julie and I cannot cure the adoption epidemic in the world. But for now, we knew we could help one child.

We are honored to call Lolita our daughter, and we will love her intensely and unconditionally as Jesus loves all of us.

If you would like to learn more about Project 143, go to http://www.projectonefortythree.org/.

me

Melissa LeGates is a freelance writer and retired Air Force journalist who specializes in features and B2B writing. She is also a colored pencil artist and blogs about it at coloredpencilenthusiast.wordpress.com.

my husband and I

His and her story: Surviving heart disease, getting a second chance at life

By Chris and Melissa LeGates

His story:  Support the AMA. You may need them someday; I did at 48

I am two years shy of 50. So when I experienced shooting pains going through my arms while watching television this July 4, I thought it would pass.

Then all the sudden, it literally felt like an elephant jumped on my chest. I could barely breathe, and I told my wife to take me to the hospital.

I know – bad idea! I already got the lecture at the hospital from the nurses: always call for an ambulance. So why didn’t I?

Well the short answer is I never suspected I was having a heart attack.

Abnormal symptoms

For the past year, doctors had been trying to find the origin of those shooting pains, especially in my elbows. Three different doctors had diagnosed me with pinched nerves and essentially told me there was nothing I could do except take medicine to ease the inflammation or get surgery. I didn’t want to get surgery so I just put up with the pain.

My blood pressure was good and my cholesterol was low.

Other than smoking (and eating crappy food as my wife liked to point out often), I was healthy as an ox – or so I thought.

Unimaginable pain

On the way to the hospital, the pain got worse. I kept chanting over and over again, “Please just let me get to the hospital. Don’t let me die.”

I couldn’t even walk into the ER. I collapsed on the sidewalk outside, and I literally couldn’t move my arms and legs.

My wife ran inside, and nurses came out to wheel me in to the ER.

From there, it felt like an eternity until they gave me something to relieve the pain. In reality, it was probably about a half an hour of pure torture waiting for test results.

Initially, they told us there was an abnormality on the EKG but they didn’t think I was having a heart attack.

Then they gave me morphine, and I was half in and out of consciousness. I just kept saying “Thank you. Thank you”. I was just happy to get rid of that pain.

Then about an hour later, they came back in and said the test showed blood markers for a heart attack, and they were calling in the cardio cath lab to open me up and check for a blockage.

My wife says I signed paperwork and verbally gave them permission to do surgery, but I honestly don’t remember any of it.

I woke up in a hospital bed the next morning without my clothes and my wife…wondering what the heck had happened. I had no idea I even had an operation until the nurse told me.

The next two days were scary.

Surviving a widow maker heart attack

I had experienced a widow maker heart attack, which means the largest valve in my heart was completely blocked. They say most people don’t survive a widow maker, hence the nickname.

That is sobering to know that if I hadn’t made it to the hospital when I did I would be dead.

The next day I was told my heart was only operating at 30 percent of its strength. I didn’t like hearing that.

I’m too young! This cannot be happening

I cannot say I never thought about this day coming. I think every smoker does in the back of their mind, but I did not think I would have to deal with health stuff like this until at least 20 years from now.

I have smoked ever since I was 16. Through the years, I would tell myself I had time to quit smoking and repair my body before I got old.

I even watched my step-father die from smoke-related cancer and environmental poisoning in his 50s.

It devastated my mother.

When he was dying in the hospital, he begged me to stop smoking but of course I didn’t.

Smoking was cool.

It was what my friends and many of my family members were doing in the 1980s. It is what my co-workers and I did to release stress at break time every day since then.

All three of my children still smoke. We have had many of conversations over the lite end of a cigarette that we probably wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Smoking is a low key way to bond with people and that is probably the hardest benefit to lose.

However, I am a Christian. I knew God didn’t want me to smoke, and I was slowly tearing down the temple He built. I was ashamed of my smoking but it still didn’t stop me from doing it.

I even quit for months at a time but I just never quite succeeded until the day of my heart attack.

A simple choice: Quite or Die?

The day after my emergency surgery the cardio doctor came in to visit me. He looked me and said, “Do you plan to quit smoking?” I said “yes” but I’m sure he has heard many patients say the same thing and not quit.

He replied, “Good. Because you can either quit smoking and live, or keep smoking and die. The choice is yours.”

I wish I could say I quit for God, my wife, kids or some other noble cause but I didn’t.

It was the pain.

Words don’t do it justice; I never want to go through that kind of pain again.

If I can change so can you!

It was time to make some serious changes in my life. Now, I am one of those annoying people that lecture others about smoking if they give me a half a chance.

My grandfather had a heart attack in his 50s and my uncle in his 40s. My dad is a survivor of heart disease as well.

After my grandfather had a heart attack, he became kind of a health fanatic. He watched what he ate and used to walk religiously to keep in shape. He lived another fifty years after his heart attack.

So I knew it could be done.

I feel great!

I currently feel better than I ever have in my life. People don’t believe me when I tell them I had a heart attack this summer.

I credit that to God bringing me through and the care from the nursing staff and the cardio rehab folks at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital.

I was lucky, and I know it. Many people don’t get a second chance.

About 2,150 Americans die each day from these diseases, one every 40 seconds. Each one of those people had family and friends mourning them. That is a lot of unnecessary grief.

Here are a few more facts. Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans…# 1 killer.

More than 787,000 people in the U.S. died from heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases in 2010. That’s about one of every three deaths in America.

If I had to do it differently, I would have never picked up that first cigarette 30 some years ago but no one can turn back time.

What I can do is never pick up another cigarette again.

I pray my three children stop smoking now! I pray that my grandchildren never start! I pray that my friends and family kick the habit!

Support me: Please donate

And, I can support the American Heart Association.

That’s why two Saturdays from now (Oct. 18), I am walking for the AMA Southern Delaware Heart Walk in Georgetown.

So please consider donating money to my AMA page at http://bit.ly/1nYFmj6.

The American Heart Association provides people with information, inspiration, recipes and the latest research. You can check them out at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/.

Don’t become a statistic! Donate to AMA and choose life!

Her story:  Support heart disease survivors even if you want to strangle them

When my husband asked me to walk for the American Heart Association this October, I looked at him like he sprouted a third eye and jokingly said “who took over your body and where did you hide my husband?”

In many ways, it has felt like I’m married to another man than the one that had a heart attack this July 4th.

Actually this new and improved man is the one I thought I was marrying when we met on a dating web site years ago.

One of my chief criteria in a mate was absolutely no smoking.  My dad smoked in the house when I was growing up, and I hated it.

I vowed to never marry a smoker, and Chris reassured me he didn’t smoke anymore.

Big tobacco companies are the only ones who benefit from cigarettes and they are laughing all the way to the bank

We married in early November 2009. By late November, we faced a stressful family crisis and he resumed smoking.

I was livid but what could I do.

As a non-smoking spouse, you always feel like your significant other cares more about puffing up that expensive pack of cigarettes than they do you. The smoker, of course, doesn’t see it that way and feels you should support them no matter what.

It is a no win situation.

The only one who actually wins in the nicotine racket is the huge companies pushing cigarettes.

What other business can get their customers addicted, turn their teeth yellow until they fall out, and still people willing line up to pay them over a $100 to $200 a month for a product that ultimately maims or kills them?

It is called addiction; it is just a legal form of it.

We argued about his smoking often over the years but I finally gave up. I realized nagging him wouldn’t stop him so I turned my anger and concerns over to God. It wasn’t easy.

I also continued to pray and petition God for him to be released from this horrible cycle.

Almost widowed at 44

In the back of my mind, I feared I would be a widow by 50 because of his poor health choices. For some reason, I just carried those negative premonitions with me even though I know many smokers live into their 70s and 80s.

Ironically, my husband had bought Rick Warren’s new cookbook and Christian prayer guide called “The Daniel Plan” — on his own without my nagging or urging — a month earlier. He also got really interested in researching the Mediterrean diet.

I was ecstatic. My prayers were being answered, and we were all set to get healthy.

We had even outlined a specific timeline for him to quit smoking, for us to start this new lifestyle diet together and for both of us to start exercising more.

Then Boom out of nowhere I find myself watching my husband literally have a heart attack in front of me on a hospital bed in the Seaford ER.

I suspected on to the way to the hospital he was having a heart attack but we are so young it was hard to believe death was knocking at our door.

Sponge bath at 40

Two days later, we hit another milestone in our marriage, when I gave him a wet wipe “sponge” bath in his hospital room – and not the sexy kind either.

It was sobering to realize my husband was so weak, he couldn’t even bathe himself.

That is something most women don’t have to even think about until their 60s or later. We were in our 40s.

Both of us worried what else was in store for us?

At that point, he didn’t even know if he could work again – let alone ride a bike, run after our grandsons or travel around the world like we dreamed about.

Luckily for us, God still has more for him to do on this earth, and he has fully recovered.

He will have to take six different types of medicine for the rest of his life and carry nitroglycerin with him wherever he goes. But he is fine for now.

Halleluiah!

But for a few long hours that first night, I really didn’t know if he would die all alone on a cold, steel operating table or recover from this.

It is a horrible, numbing feeling and in the back of your mind lurks unexpressed anger.

Yes, I said anger.

My husband did this to himself. How could he be so selfish?

And the worst part is as a family member you aren’t even allowed to be outwardly angry because your loved one is in pain.  And, you are supposed to be nice to people in pain.

So instead I smiled, hugged him, kissed him but inside I just wanted to “lovingly” wack him a good one.

If I wasn’t so afraid it would stop his heart, I might have done it.

We aren’t helpless against heart disease

I know I am not the only one in this position so I wanted to tell my story to reassure men and women who love a smoker, there is hope!

I believe the most powerful thing you can do is to pray for those smokers in your life and just love on them.

Most smokers I have met don’t want to smoke (if they truly admit it) but feel powerless to stop (which they will never admit to anyone even themselves).

I also try to remember smoking isn’t the only risk factor for heart disease.

So is being over-weight, and I have struggled with yo-yo weight loss and gain all my life. I’m currently on the gain side.

I have never met a cupcake I don’t like.

So I know excessive sugar intake is another key factor in creating heart inflammation, as well as eating crappy, high cholesterol food.

It starts with you

In the end, the only thing you really can do is change your lifestyle and hope it rubs off on others.

Personally, we have completely eradicated soda from our house, although we drink it as a treat when we are out. Unfortunately, we still crave it; I pray those cravings go away someday.

Instead at home, we drink reduced-sugar iced tea and water.

Now I realize that is a crime in Sussex County where super-syrupy sweet tea (usually one to two cups of sugar per gallon) rules the day and pretzel salad is considered a side dish on the par with broccoli and green beans.

Just try arguing with a Sussex Countian that pretzel salad is in fact a dessert, and you will have a cat fight on your hands.

You may have figured out I’m an out-a-stater infiltrating the ranks and married to one of the few native Delawareans left. I get knocked around enough for being a PA’er so it is time for a little ribbing back.

I used to make iced tea for our family with a cup of sugar per gallon (which BTW is the recommended sugar ratio for sweet tea recipes), and when my eldest step-daughter tasted it, she literally spit it out and exclaimed there was barely any sugar in it. Then she stirred in even more sugar before drinking it.

Once again I repeat, it had an entire cup of sugar per gallon. That’s a lot.

So reducing down to two thirds a cup of the sweet stuff per gallon is a big deal for my husband!

We are slowly changing our diet for the better and believe in moderation in everything we do.

And, we don’t put any foods off limit. We still eat bacon occasionally but we eat more fish and have cut out or reduced most white food stuff (primarily white sugar, potatoes and bread).

Now we are eating brown: wheat bread and brown rice. We also try to eat fresh and shop from the produce aisle.

What we have learned

I know this sounds weird but his heart attack has been one of the best things that has happened to us as a couple. We are more in tune with each other. We are kinder to each other.

We both better appreciate the value and fragility of life.

And, my husband continues to surprise me. Since his recovery, he has tried Indian and Thai food…something he would have never done before.

We plan on buying bikes and finding fun ways to fit more exercise into our lives. We are embracing this new lifestyle change, and it doesn’t feel like a punishment…more like a reward.

Support the American Heart Association: Donate Now!

Chris is the youngest person in his rehab group by about 20 years, and he has started encouraging the other rehab-ers to change their diet without sacrificing their taste buds.

This is also one of the core missions of the American Heart Association.

The AMA educates people on how to take their life back after surviving heart disease. They share a lot of information on their website at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/ and their You Tube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/americanheartassoc.

They even have a cooking channel called “Simple Cooking with heart”. You can subscribe to it at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVHKmryC1CUNsHDduY1f1Fw.

If you lost anyone to heart disease or know someone struggling with it now, the AMA is a great resource and a great non-profit to support.

I am proud of my husband wanting to walk with his rehab buddies to support the fight because heart disease is preventable for the most part.

You can help too! Please consider donating to his AMA page at http://bit.ly/1nYFmj6.  There is also still time for you to sign up to walk yourself at www.heart.org/southerndewalk.

There are two walks scheduled for this month: Oct 18 at the Delaware Technical Community College in Georgetown and Oct 25 at DTCC in Dover. Registration starts at 8 a.m. and the walk begins at 9 a.m. both days.

From our heart to yours, may God bless you and thank you for taking the time to read our story! Feel free to share it with others.

Fine artist Lisa Clough

Living with chronic pain – Artist thrives despite painful medical conditions through prayer, diet and a steady dose of painting

 

Lisa Clough (as told to Melissa LeGates)

When most people think about Christmas, they might remember the smells of cookies, pies or turkey cooking in the oven – or time off from school.

For me, I equate Christmas to having a sore throat. I had one every year of my childhood because of my compromised immune system. So I know it sounds odd but sore throats remind me of being excited to wake up and open presents.

Soreness, pain, nausea and tiredness have been a part of my life as long as I can remember. They are not exactly my friends but I have learned to deal with my chronic illnesses through my faith in God and his calling in my life.

Yes, I said illnesses. I have three that I have to keep in check to function each day, although you would never know by looking at me.

That has always been the frustrating part – convincing others I actually don’t feel well, especially doctors.

For so many years, doctors treated me like I was making things up. It doesn’t help that I talk really fast, especially when I am frustrated, so doctors always thought I looked too energetic to be sick.

My main complaints have always been nausea and fatigue. I have woken up with the feeling of being rested only about five times in my life. On top of having Celiac disease, Fibromyalgia and Ankylosing spondylitis, I also don’t retain REM sleep therefore I never really feel rested.

Here is a quick rundown of what those diseases do to me. Celiac disease is a reaction to eating gluten that damages the lining of the small intestines and presents it from absorbing parts of food important for staying healthy. So if I eat those cookies and pies, I immediately feel nauseated and end up in the bathroom. Fibromyalgia causes long-term, body-wide pain in joints, muscles and tendons. So it essentially feels like somebody is stabbing me in my side or legs some days. Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of long-term arthritis that affects the bones and joints at the base of the spine and over time the spinal bones fuse together. This is the reason why I cannot sleep with a pillow, and I really miss them. I cannot stretch like a normal person can when they wake up, because sometimes the muscles around my rib cage will tighten to the point where every breath is agony. And REM sleep, oh how I would love to get some. REM, or Rapid Eye Movement, is a stage of sleep occupying only about 90 – 120 minutes total of a night’s rest but without it people often feel drowsy the next day, which is my case every day.

However, it hasn’t been all bad. My sicknesses have afforded me plenty of time to stay inside and get better at what God has designed me to do – create.

I am blessed to make a living as a professional fine artist. I paint. I draw. I play violin. And if I have any energy left, I love taking on new hobbies like quilting, crocheting or working with mosaics and glass.

So I don’t really have a lot of time to feel sorry for myself.

Even as a child, I never blamed God for feeling so sick. While all the other children were outside playing, I was safely tucked away in my bed drawing or coloring. I have the best mom in the world, and she would bring me hot tea to cheer me up and make me feel better.

Those years struggling to find out what was wrong with me set the foundation for my craft. Although God designed me to be an artist, I don’t think it is some sort of magic and Poof, He made me instantly great. I have had to work really hard at perfecting my craft the same way a doctor learns the skills they need to cure others.

It also helps that painting for me is a type of prayer. When I create, I feel closer to God than almost any other time. If I go long without painting, I start to feel disconnected and depressed. It’s not just that I like to paint, I have to paint and create. There is a force driving that need in me. I can only assume it is His will pushing me, and I’m grateful for that.

So I paint whales, flowers, stars and planets, and anything else that pops into my mind. I love animals; they inspire a sense of awe and wonder in me. I like taking God’s creations and placing them in settings that don’t normally exist together. For me, it is like creating a new world inside our world.

So no, I don’t feel sorry for myself despite my pain. The knowledge that God is in control and that everything happens for a reason keeps me positive. Even now, I hear from others who have physical afflictions, who tell me how encouraged they are after hearing my story. If that alone is God’s reasoning, then it’s all worth it.

Plus, I don’t have it that bad. I have a roof over my head, a husband and family who loves me, art supplies and internet access to share my work. God also blessed me with an inquisitive mind and through internet-research I learned eating raw foods or embracing a vegan diet diminished my symptoms greatly. So now my health is in my own hands. If I feel poorly from eating like crap, I am the only one to blame.

I figure, worst case scenario, if I never feel totally well while I’m here or Earth, then Heaven is going to feel that much more amazing to me. Not only will I be able to worship non-stop, it will be pain free!

That is a pretty exciting thought for me!

Native Californian Lisa Clough is a self-taught fine artist who lives in Frisco, Texas with her husband Matt and two Italian Greyhounds. You can check out her artwork at www.lachri.com and watch her speed lapse painting videos where she invites you into her studio every Wednesday to learn painting tips at www.youtube.com/user/lachri. She also loves teaching art classes around Texas and offers online student consolation. “I feel when we are blessed with a gift and called to perform for Him, we should be working harder than secular artists to represent Him in the best way possible and grow our gift,” Lisa said.