What’s In A Name

Do I believe that even if I changed my name or had a different name, that my name would not be written in heaven? No. Do I believe that if my name had been plucked from a list, or if my birth parents gave it months of consideration and it has a great significance (I don’t really know if this is the case) that I would be any less ‘me’. Again no.

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

-Romeo & Juliet Act II Scene II

 

I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately with friends about names.

A couple of people I know are often referred to by their surname and do the same with others, in a nickname type way.  For me this always strikes a nerve.  As someone who was fostered age 15, but never legally adopted, my name, in particular my surname, for me doesn’t always fit with my current family identity and life.  I don’t share a surname with the majority of my ‘now family’, and sometimes that hurts or seems to jar.  My name belongs to my birth father, his father and his before.  It belongs to me in the sense I have always had it, but not in many other ways.

For most people their surname is part of their identity.  It is part of their lineage, of where they have come from.  It represents belonging and often ties you to someone else.  When someone gets married, the lady often takes the name of her husband, representing becoming part of his family. Your mother’s maiden name is a common security question used.  Your surname is something that is used to help identify you.  At work I daily sign for packages using my full name, telling the courier my initial and surname.  Yet is it really a major part of who I am?

I find it hard sometimes when I am identified through a name which in some ways is removed from who I am.

When someone is adopted they take on the name of their new family, their ‘forever family’.  This helps the person feel a part of their family, and gives a sense of belonging and identity.  Sometimes new middle names are given.  Rarely is a new first name given however, as it is such an integral part of who you are unless you are very young.

Most people introduce themselves using their first name.  It is often one of the first words you learn to say and write.  It is ‘who’ you are.  Yet is it?

I have many issues with Katie Hopkins, but the outburst of hers that made me beyond angry was on ‘This Morning’ when she talked about names.  She suggested that a child’s name speaks to something of their parents.  She said that it clearly indicates what ‘class’ a child comes from and helps her to decide if she want her child to play with them or not.  This rant was beyond ignorant in so many ways, not least of which that if a child has been adopted, the family, circumstance, situation and class even that they now belong to, could be entirely different to the one they were born into.  The name they were given is not and nor should it be a summary of who they are.  She claimed she wouldn’t judge a child on their surname, but surely doing it on a first name is just as wrong?

A similar issue can arise for people of different race or nationality who perhaps change their name to avoid discrimination, or to ‘fit in’ more.  Something which makes me sad they would feel they have to do!  I recently watched a video where a brilliant actress was saying she wanted to change her name because friends couldn’t pronounce it.  Her mother’s reply was “If people can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Dostoevsky and Michelangelo then they can learn to say Uzomaka”. http://www.upworthy.com/the-perfect-response-for-kids-with-hard-to-pronounce-ethnic-names?c=ufb2

When a new company is being started, the name is one of the most important choices- it needs to be amazing for the brand to thrive.

Often, now more than even parents look for significance, or meaning behind the name before naming a child.  Baby name books are looked in, names whittled down, sometimes only chosen once the baby is seen.  Children are occasionally named after family members, places, or significant things.  More and more especially it seems in ‘celebrity’ culture, parents are trying to find the most unique names possible.  Thought goes into a name.

But again I ask myself, especially for those adopted.  How does it affect someone? That someone else has chosen your name, identified you in such a significant way, and then may no longer be a part of your life, or even was a negative part of your life.   Is what you are called really part of who you are?

As I said for me this is a daily thought.  I have a rather unusual name and even now people ask me if there is significance that it’s a French name, or do all my siblings have such unusual names, or what does it mean?  And I struggle.  I also struggle when my foster family are all together and people comment on our names.  Or on occasion when people ask why my surname is different to that of my family.

But now, this is what the LORD says– he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

-Isaiah 43:1

The names of people and their family names in the Bible have a great deal of significance.  Someone’s name often spoke of their character or where they came from. What ‘house’ they belonged to.  Adam means ‘human’, Eve ‘source of life.  Jesus of course, before he was even born was given the name ‘Emanuel’ – God with us.

“Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!  See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands. Always in my mind is a picture of Jerusalem’s walls in ruins.”

-Isaiah 49:15-16

 

Even in this promise from God to Israel; God speaks of Israel’s name written on the palms of His hands.  Luke 10:20 also speaks of our names being ‘written in heaven’.

Do I believe that even if I changed my name or had a different name, that my name would not be written in heaven?  No.  Do I believe that if my name had been plucked from a list, or if my birth parents gave it months of consideration and it has a great significance (I don’t really know if this is the case) that I would be any less ‘me’.  Again no.

When Christine Caine (Founder of the A21 Campaign) was born, she had on her birth certificate only a number, no name!  She was ‘nameless’.  Yet she was given a name by her adopted parents, and she could not have a stronger identity or such an amazing legacy.  She is an incredible woman of God.  Her name does not make her more or less so.

In Nazi concentration camps, Jews were often stripped of their names to try and take away their humanity or their identity, given only a number, sometimes tattooed on their skin.  There were so many being put to death it was ‘easier’ to just identify them by numbers.  Yet strong amazing souls still remained, even stripped of their names.  Survivors who were influential in art, literature, theology and so much more.  They were so much more than just a number or even their names.

I have a first name, 2 middle names and a surname, all dictated by my birth family.  Yet my name does not define who I am.  My character, my actions, my heart and the life I lead (I hope) do that.  I may well one day change my surname to that of my foster families.  I may get married and take my husband’s name.  Or I may indeed just keep ‘my own’ and all of the identity that it comes with.

It is strange sometimes to think when someone calls my name across a room, that it carries with it so much of where I came from.  But where I came from, and the first 15 years of my life, are as much a part of me and who I am as the recent 13.

…As Juliet says, ‘that which we call a rose’.

I would love to hear your thoughts, but please as ever keep comments respectful.  Thank you!

‘Forever Family’s’ and Finding a Place Called Home.

On Thursday the 28th June, I ventured into London because I was really keen to get to an event.   I went to a Fostering and Adoption consultation that was put on by Krish Kandiah from the Evangelical Alliance (http://www.eauk.org/  @eauknews  @krishk) and Care For the Family     (http://www.careforthefamily.org.uk/ @care4thefamily)

It was a really great informative and inspiring evening.  It was so encouraging to hear what the Church is doing in this area, and the plans to do more.  It was also brilliant to see a room full of Christians who are fostering, have adopted, or who are in the process.  It was great to learn from each other, share with each other and encourage each other.

Now I know this is a very sensitive and personal subject.  However as someone who had a really great experience of being fostered by an incredible Christian family, I feel I am in a privileged position to encourage others and share the benefits, and how it can be done so well!  But as someone who has also seen a number of times how it has not gone so well, including a short placement in emergency care which was wasn’t pleasant, and what happens when difficulties overcome potential, I also feel I know a little about how it shouldn’t be done, and what some of the obstacles are.

I was Fostered when I was 15.  My foster family in lifestyle, happiness, choices, beliefs etc could not have been more different than what I knew.  It took a long time for me to start looking after myself.  My foster family showered us with grace, love, and affirmation (I had a terrible self-image, and deep set apathy and almost hatred for life).  It took a long time to stop swearing, acting in a self-destructive way, and to accept their ways of living, and that we could be a family.

When I turned 16, the thing that showed me in the most definitive way that we were now family, is that after only a few months, my foster parents wanted me to continue to stay at home (I was offered sheltered accommodation etc), and wanted me to regain my youth.  They supported me throughout 6th form.  We went on holidays, we spent time together just playing games or watching TV.  My mum taught me how to really care for myself and love myself.  Somehow over time, we became very much a family.  My family’s decision to care for us, and step out in that way, literally radically transformed my life, my prospects and my hope and future.

 

There are 59,000 Children currently in the care system in the UK.  Currently BAAF (British Association for Adoption and Fostering- (http://www.baaf.org.uk/) state that 6,200 children need adopting in the UK.  The Fostering Network (http://www.fostering.net/) state that 8,000 children currently need foster placements.

The Evangelical Alliance alone is in contact with 15,000 Churches.

The maths is simple.  If just one family in each if these Churches, supported by the Church as a whole took on the mission to Foster or Adopt, then the need for the whole of the UK could be covered by the Church!!

Fostering and Adoption shows with words and actions the impact God has had on our lives.  Our compassion (to co-suffer, be moved into action with empathy) on such vulnerable children (70% of whom have been abused or neglected), shows the love of Jesus in the most practical way.

I have a huge heart for Children, and can’t wait to show mine (whether fostered adopted or natural) Jesus and real love as my family did for me.  I am very passionate that anyone on Church if capable, whether they have their own Children or not, should make room in their lives for those children who need families.  I believe that it is a Biblical principle, and one of the best ways possible, to show in a practical, every day way the love of God, and to literally be able to transform someone’s life.

Krish asked us to imagine the impact on the Church if at least on family per church were looking after children.  Imagine the impact on our often “Middle Class” Churches.  Imagine children in Sunday School who would never otherwise be exposed the gospel.  Imagine the topics at weekly prayer meetings which would include all the complexities of the children’s and their natural family’s lives.  Imagine the Churches praying for the poor, not just overseas, but those in their own families and extended families.

Imagine the impact on our nation.  If the Church were not seen as homophobic, hateful, bigots, or crazy ‘Bible Bashers’.  But as those who literally open up their homes and their lives to some of the most vulnerable in our nation.  Wouldn’t this help not only the children, but our communities to see who God really is?

Ps 68:5-6 says:

A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows,
Is God in His holy habitation.
God sets the lonely in families;
He brings out those who are bound into prosperity;
But the rebellious dwell in a dry land.

Wouldn’t it be great if this is what the Church and our God was known for?  Being the defender of the poor and the protector of orphans and widows?

Now don’t get me wrong.  I am not in any way suggesting that every Christian should foster and adopt.  As I have said I have seen many cases, including with Christians, where the complexities of their life, their circumstances, character or callings have meant that it would not be suitable for them.  And this kind of parenting is ‘Extreme Parenting’ that includes a great number of difficulties as well as rewards.

I realise there are hindrances to people fostering or adopting, but in my experience, even within the Church this is often out of a lack of understanding, and a feeling that it is only something particular types of people are ‘called to’ not God loving, every day loving families.  I do believe that everyone in Church has a role to play in supporting the families who do this wonderful thing.  I think that there needs to be an education and new perspective within the Church that this is not only an answer to the problem of infertility (which of course it can be) but also a mission field.

Unfortunately I haven’t always seen that.  I haven’t always seen the Church supporting those who already Foster and Adopt, who have ‘difficult children’.  Nor have I always seen the Church ‘promoting’ Adoption or Fostering, as there can be much misunderstanding on what it entails, and often a desire to see healing or natural conception when infertility is the issue.

So many non-Christian families do an amazing job of Fostering and Adopting, and seeing broken children grow and be restored.  But imagine how much more Christians can do; with God, with the Holy Spirit guiding and protecting, and with the network of help and support from others in the Church.  This is what Church should look like.

As Krish said in his article:

“Collectively we can begin to discover how we can instil a mindset change in our families and churches to open our arms and hearts to the children who need temporary and permanent homes where they can be accepted and loved unconditionally.”

http://www.fiec.org.uk/news/article/finding-a-place-called-home

One reason I am passionate about Christian’s Fostering and Adopting, is that is one of the best possible ways to evangelise- how better to show a child or others that God loves them, than by showing them that you love them, in a real, every day, sacrificial way?

Another reason is that fulfils a God given mission to protect the defenceless.  One issue I have become increasingly passionate about as I learn more and more about the issues of modern day slavery (which I will share more about) is how vulnerable to children in the care system are to abuse or sex trafficking.  This makes my heart so sad.

‘Police figures show an estimated 10,000 children go missing from care every year’

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-18675986

“Under the current system you can have a situation where a sexual predator is sitting in a car outside a children’s home targeting the children inside that home, a home that the police don’t even know exists,”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-18425293

“One of the victims living in a privately run residential home was abused by 25 men in one night.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01j6t1t

U.S:

“Yesterday’s report from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner makes for difficult reading. It highlights the risks of sexual exploitation faced by a “disproportionate” number of children in care.”

“As one tearful girl who called ChildLine said, “I just want a family. I just want to be loved”. Surely that’s not too much to ask.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/tom-rahilly/we-must-do-more-to-protec_b_1645438.html

I am not saying that Christian’s are perfect, or always get things right.  And I don’t believe that they always have the ‘perfect family’.  But I find it hard to believe that within the loving context of a Christian family, surrounded by the support of the Church, that foster children would go missing, suffer from abuse or be as particularly at risk.  I believe that the Church; that Christian’s old or young, single or married, with or without their own children can be the solution to this problem.

I hope that this has been in some way encouraging or informative.  Please feel free to comment as I know this is a very complex subject, with many levels, and some challenges I haven’t covered here.

Another way that Children overseas can be protected from predators or trafficking is by the protection of education or sponsorship where they attend classes and are monitored.

Vision Rescue http://www.visionrescue.org.in/ do an amazing work protecting and educating children in India.

Stop the Traffik http://www.stopthetraffik.org/ and other anti-trafficking organisations I will talk more about do some great educational work for children.

And of course sponsoring a child through Compassion UK http://www.compassionuk.org/ can be another way to not only help a child receive food, education and spiritual development, but protect them further from trafficking.

 

This Is My House, This Is My Home Part 1

This Is My House, This Is My Home

Part 1- What is ‘Home’?

“Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do… but how much love we put in that action. ”  Mother Theresa

At the moment, my housemates & I are in the process of looking for a new house to rent. We have found a new house nearby, and are just in the referencing stage.   It’s an exciting time in some ways as it offers new opportunities, and a fresh start.  But it can also be really stressful because it requires you to re-define what “home” is, and to create a new home in an unknown place.

This move, along with a wonderful blog from my friend Sabine  (http://sabineamy.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/home-is-where-the-heart-is/), and the ‘Vision’ put forward by my Church (Hillsong) recently, got me thinking again about what home is?

In the last 6 years I have moved house 9 times!!  That’s more than once a year.  I have lived with family, with friends, in little rooms, in big rooms, in Derbyshire, in Cheshire, in London, and in Surrey.  I don’t mind moving house, but it does up-root you in a way little else does.  I have moved because I needed to and because I wanted to.  I have moved for convenience, for clarity, for necessity and for opportunity.

Recently I watched an episode of one of my favourite programmes One Tree Hill.  In it the characters discuss their home- Tree Hill, and what makes it so wonderful.  They reminisce on all that has happened there, how they grew up, fell in love, got jobs, and had families all within the context of this magical place they call home.  For them, no matter where else they go; Tree Hill will always be their home.

When you ‘Google’ home you get a lot of images of houses, but are they really homes?  Or does home conjure up more of an image of family, sanctuary, or something very different for you?

Now, for me, to be honest, ‘Home’ is a very interesting subject…

When I was 7 my half brother committed suicide and even at that age it changed me forever. My parents divorced and ‘home’ changed completely.

At one stage I was in emergency foster care then went to stay with a friend from school and had a new ‘home’ for a week.

Age 13 in my 2nd year of high school ‘home’ became a women’s refuge, for over a year, which seemed lifetimes away from where I grew up.

‘Home’ was next a council estate which has the least ‘homely’ place I ever knew.  It was a place, and situations that filled me with darkness and dread.  My only joy- a little cherry blossom tree outside.

One day in the summer when I was 15, home changed in a way I could never have anticipated.  I was put into foster care.  I was given a few moments to pack up my thing then taken to a new family, a new house, a new home. A strange family, a strange house, a strange home.   I didn’t know how long I would be there for or how life would change.

I say all this not to be dramatic, but to paint a picture.  For some people the concept of home is reasonable straight forward.  A house, a family, security, comfort.  For others it is a very different thing.  And for many, it is often changing as life progresses.

Over time, my idea of home changed irrevocably.  As I experienced the love of my new family, including boundaries, discipline, grace, and forgiveness, my understanding changed.  As I began to learn about Jesus, how he is my saviour, friend, father, comforter, protector, and family, my understanding of family and home again was dramatically re-defined.  I don’t think I could begin to even describe the process, or how my mind was blown by the understanding of God’s love and grace, and how that was put into action by my foster family.  And I definitely cannot explain, through all the changes and complexities, how a group of people, from such different backgrounds, understandings, and lives, were drawn together to become a family!

But that is what is so amazing about Jesus.  And that is what is so amazing about ‘Church’.  That a group of lonely, broken, incomplete people can become a whole, strong, loving, inseparable family.

And that is what my family have become to me.  That is what ‘home’ is now to me.  It has become a place of safety, comfort, love, security, hope, care, acceptance, forgiveness, freedom, and belonging.  And all because my foster parents, and sisters decided to lay down their lives for others, to give of themselves, to overflow with grace, and to be every single day, in every practical way, ‘Home’ and family to others.

And trust me, it was a challenge on all parts, but a challenge worth fighting for.

Home is a total sanctuary for me because of the love that pours out from my family  ❤

I will say, as a side note, that if you are a Christian, and you have never considered fostering or adopting, please do.  I know that it is not for everyone, and it is a challenge.  But if you have the love of Jesus in your hearts, and you want a practical, real, every day way of showing that love; you could literally transform a child’s life, and show them Jesus, by bringing them into your home.  There are thousands of children in the UK who have no idea of what ‘Home’ is, and what it means to be in a family.  You could show them.  I believe that it is an incredible evangelism, and God has put it on my heart, that as I was saved by my foster family in so many ways, how incredible would it be for me to do the same for other children who don’t yet know him…

Psalm 68:5-6 New Living Translation (NLT)

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—
    this is God, whose dwelling is holy.
God places the lonely in families;
    he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.
But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.