Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Gray Matters

The brain is an amazing and profound thing.
People who study the brain will never be out of a job because the research to be done is never-ending.
By 4-years-old, a child's brain is 90%  of its adult size!
Do you remember from your high school biology class that the brain needs patterned, repetitive stimuli to develop properly?

That's why we learn best through repetition. "Practice your math facts every night." "Write your spelling words three times each."

That's why weight lifting is done in reps and sets. Doing three sets of ten bicep curls, timed closely together, builds strength and muscle mass. It sends a patterned and repetitive message to the muscle cells that "you will be working at this level," so they make the necessary molecular changes required to do the work more easily. Curling the same weight at random intervals throughout the day won't produce the same results because the signal to the muscle is inconsistent and insufficient (Dr. Bruce Perry). 

When parents respond to their infant's needs with loving care, pleasure and human interactions become tightly woven together. Neural pathways are formed to associate human interaction with pleasure. This is important neurobiological "glue" that bonds and creates healthy relationships. As the infant's brain develops, these loving caregivers provide the template that the child uses for human relationships. Attachment is the memory template for human-to-human bonds and shapes the child's worldview on relationships (Dr. Bruce Perry).

"Children who don't get consistent, physical affection or the chance to build loving bonds simply don't receive the patterned, repetitive stimulation necessary to properly build the systems in the brain that connect reward, pleasure, and human-to-human interactions," (Dr. Bruce Perry).

But what about the babies who don't get consistent, physical affection or the chance to bond with a loving caregiver? 
For some, this lack of stimulation can be devastating. It can reduce levels of growth hormone enough to cause the child to simply stop growing.
These babies can consume more than enough calories each day, have shelter, and get a clean diaper when they need one. But if they don't experience what it means to be loved by a primary caregiver in the first months of their life, nutrition will be treated as waste, and they won't grow.

Without love, children literally. don't. grow.

Scientists and psychologist call this "failure to thrive."

I call it heartbreaking.

Remember my friend Laura? She lives in Mbarara and cares for abandoned children out of her home and the deep goodness of her heart that was transformed by Jesus so many years ago.

Today I got a message from her saying that she received a 3-day-old girl who was abandoned at the local hospital.

I ache for that baby.
I ache for the baby's mother who probably just made the hardest decision of her life.

But there is still a reason to rejoice!
The Lord's hand of protection is on this daughter of the King, and I'm confident that baby girl has received loving care and affection from the moment she was placed in Laura's arms. Not only will her physical needs be met, but Laura will be attentive and responsive to her emotional needs, as well. A bond will be formed. Neural pathways to connect pleasure with human interaction will begin to form.

I rejoice for that baby!
I rejoice for Laura, who the Lord saw fit to bless this baby girl in her most crucial weeks of life!

Baby girl's lowest and most central brain regions, where development first begins, will be given a good start.

And if you ask me, that is a reason to rejoice!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Rewrite Your Story

In a sermon I was recently listening to, the pastor said:
The call of orphan care is not a call to simply "save the orphan." The call of orphan care is to share in the suffering of the orphan. It's to intentionally position yourself, your family, your community, to suffer alongside the orphan. To say, 'Your suffering, is now my suffering. Your story, is now my story. I willingly position myself to suffer alongside you.
This truth has been echoing in my heart ever since I heard that beautiful and difficult-beyond-words call to higher living.

Why is it beautiful?

Because when we participate in orphan care, we participate in something near and dear to the very heart of Christ.

It's beautiful because we were all orphans at one point, and then Christ willingly came to suffer for us so that we could become part of His family. He made our suffering, His suffering. He made our story, His story.

And why is it difficult beyond words?

Because it's not in my human nature to willingly and purposefully take on suffering.

Suffering is something most people, including myself, try to avoid. Are we to intentionally seek it out on behalf of the orphan?

It's easy to say a prayer for the orphans. Send some money. Read a blog. Attend a children's choir concert composed of orphans from Africa or around the world.

These are the comfortable things. These are the things that make us feel good that we're doing our part in "saving the orphans."

But is that really the heart of Jesus when it comes to orphans? Is that all He requires of us?

Micah 6:8 says, "Act justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God."
Isaiah 1:17 says, "Learn to do good. Seek justice. Correct oppression. Bring justice to the fatherless. Plead the widow's cause."

That sounds a little more purposeful to me.

When we face difficulties in life, when we struggle, when we suffer, we do all that we can to move past that point of despair.
If we're sick, we go to the doctor.
If we lose a loved one, we grieve and then seek comfort. We remember the good times.
If we have a seemingly impossible decision to make, we seek wise counsel.

But if we are called to suffer alongside the orphan, what are we going to do about it? How do we move past this point of despair?

How do we look at the orphan and say, "Your story is now my story"?

For starters, here are ten ways to do orphan care without orphanages.
Each one must examine his or her own heart to see how the Lord might be moving. What He might be saying. How he might be leading.

All I know is that it's not easy. There's no simple solution. There is no one right answer.

Christ is the Father to the fatherless and the only one who can redeem lives.
Look to Him. Study the example He set for us. Seek His heart.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Battle Cry

This is the anthem of "the least of these" and our call to stand up and be their advocates. 

"These could be our daughters and our sons
And just like a drum I can hear their hearts beating
I know my God won't let them be defeated
Every child has a dream to belong and be loved.”

“Boys become kings, girls will be queens
Wrapped in Your majesty
When we love, when we love the least of these
Then they will be brave and free
Shout Your name in victory
…when we love the least of these."

“If not us, who will be like Jesus
To the least of these.”