Saturday, April 19, 2014

Not about a bunny...But not really about a cross either...

It's Easter weekend. I've been thinking about what that really means lately. We tend to associate Easter with a bunny, eggs, chocolate and spring candy. But I think that we all know one thing. That's not the meaning of Easter. But what is? Because I think that many of us have it wrong.

Some might say that Easter is about the Spring Equinox. Some say that it is actually a pagan holiday celebrating fertility. Others may say that it is just a time to welcome in spring. A time of renewal and rebirth. Some think it means nothing at all.

Christians. What do we say about Easter? I am going to suggest something that might sound slightly unusual, but hear me out. We tend to wrap the meaning of Easter up around the cross. But I suggest that if the cross becomes the center of Easter than we too have missed the point.

This week that we call Holy week, when Jesus intentionally made His way to Jerusalem to be put to death on our behalf, is very important. Scripture details many things that happened...The final supper...The betrayal of Judas...Peter's denial...The release of a known criminal...So many events that led to the beating and crucifixion of Jesus.

But that was Friday. And Jesus was not the first to be crucified. In fact, I've read that Romans were not even the ones to invent crucifixion. They may have "perfected" it (found ways to make it more painful and take longer to die), but they did not invent it. The fact that Jesus died on that cross is important but it is not the most significant nor should it be our focal point this Easter.

So it's not a bunny rabbit. Not a pagan goddess. Not about spring. And it is not about the cross. So what is Easter about? It's about what happened after Jesus quoted his victory speech. It was a short speech. But it was packed with power and loaded with a punch. After nearly six agonizing hours of (yes, the Son of God felt pain) pain on that cross, Jesus said "It is finished". And he allowed Himself to die. He stopped pulling Himself up and sank down to the point where His ribs crushed His lungs and He suffocated. Many may not realize it, but that was usually the cause of death in crucifixion.

Yet His words "It is finished" were not to say that His mission was ending. In fact, it was just beginning. With those words He conquered the power of death. His life is not what was finished. Death is what was finished. And this was just the beginning.

Again...the cross. Not the point. That was Friday. Easter is about what happened next. What happened three days later as they found the tomb empty. What is Easter about? It is about that empty tomb. A tomb that the body of the Messiah was laid in and sealed shut. Guarded by Roman soldiers. A tomb where the stone was rolled away and found empty. Easter is about a Messiah that was put to death in our place. And then rose from the grave so that we may live.

Perhaps that isn't even enough though? Perhaps that tomb wasn't really empty. We know that there was no body in it. In fact, it is after this that Jesus begins to appear to His followers (in some rather humorous ways too). But was the tomb truly empty?

I believe that the tomb was physically empty, yet it was quite full. Full of the world's - past, present and future - junk. Out failures. Our short comings. Our sin (ohhh, there's that ugly word that we so often like to shy away from. I'd apologize for using it but the truth s that I'm not sorry. We all have sin and I won't pretend like it's not there. We're born into it). When Jesus died on that cross He stepped outside of time and took all of that on Himself. And He took it all to the grave with Him. And when He rose again He didn't bring any of it back. He left it dead. It is why we can read in scripture that we are made new. We are no longer dead to our former self but we are made alive in Christ. It's why Ephesians tells us that we are members and citizens of Heaven. And why 1 Peter tells us that we are a chosen people; a real priesthood. That sin was left in the grave. We can either leave it there or we can go pick it up again.

That's the meaning of Easter. Life. Life abundantly. Freedom. Freedom from all our junk. Easter is a time when we remember and celebrate that gift. It's free and it's eternal. And there's nothing we could ever do to earn it. And there will never be a need to earn it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Why I support PA House Bill 162 and open adoption records


First of all, what is HB 162? Long story short, it is a bill that, if passed, will open up original birth certificates for adoptees. This may not sound like much, but if passed, it will be a step forward in opening adoption records to adoptees over the age of 18. You can find out more here: PA Adoptee rights

In case you didn't know, I was adopted when I was 8 years old. I spent the first 8 years in and out of foster homes and with different family members. When I was adopted on Sept. 11th, 1993 I was given a new birth certificate. In fact, I have a digital copy of it only laptop. It shows that the date filed was August 23, 1984. The parents listed are my adopted parents.

Let me pause for a minute and say that I love my adopted family. Sure, we have our issues and flaws, but they are my family and I love them. They took my in and loved me as one of their own. I am extremely thankful for them every day.

Ok, back to HB 162. Obviously, my birth certificate that was filed on August 23rd of 1984 does not have my adopted parents listed. In fact, it has the names Kimberly Krezdorn and Raymond Keiser. The birth certificate with my adopted parents was, in fact, not filed until sometime in 1993.

This new birth certificate is my legal proof of identity. It lists my new name and new parents. My original birth certificate is useless as a form of legal identification. Yet, it is not so useless to me and other adoptees. It is a part of our identity. Part of who we are. It is a part of who I am. And, as it stands now, I have no legal right to have it. It still exists, mind you. It is locked away in a fire proof safe in an office in Berks County. For some, having their original birth certificate can begin to repair a broken sense of identity. It can begin to show where we have come from; who we were - leading to who we are now. Simply put, adoptees grow up with many questions. An original birth certificate can begin to answer a few of them.

I do not think that it should stop with a birth certificate. I believe that all records should be open to adoptees once we reach adult age. Think about it. I am able to freely access my criminal record, driving record, credit history, etc. Yet the ONE set of records that I want - records that are ABOUT MY LIFE - I am denied. Why? Because some government agency thinks that I do not have the rights to it. Because they believe that protecting the anonymity of birth parents is more important. I have seen some studies showing that approximately 95% of birth parents welcome a reunion with their birth children. Plus, anonymity is NOT guaranteed during the adoption process. As one US Supreme Court ruled,

"A birth is simultaneously an intimate occasion and a public event - the government has long kept records of when, where, and by whom babies are born. Such records have myriad purposes, such as furthering the interest of children in knowing the circumstances of their birth."
If a birth is a public event, then why is MINE made private?

Why are these records so important? Because they hold answers. I am very fortunate. I was reunited with much of my birth family when I was 16 years old. They've been able to give me many of the answers that I was looking for. And they, as well as my adopted family, have poured out so much love to me. Not every adoptee is this fortunate. Many grow up and never get the answers that they want. I support this bill for them, probably more so than I do for my own gain. Still, while I have a lot of answers, there are more that I want. I want to see the records. I want to see the reports that were filed. I want to see the reasons my birth parents listed for signing away their rights. I want to see these records because it is a part of who I am. And I am being shot down in accessing them. To see my records I may have to file a court order. I may have to hire an attorney. And even then, I can still be denied. If you have never been adopted - never had a large chuck of your life torn apart and gaping holes left in its place, you may not understand why this is so important. But trust me, as one who has experienced that, it is incredibly important. And it is a terrible injustice that some government agency that no longer knows me can deny me these records. These answers.

So, what does this all mean with HB 162? Well, this bill has passed through Congress and was moved to Senate. It is currently sitting in committee and awaiting a vote that may or may not happen. If the bill passes, it will pave the way to  opening more records.

If you want to help, here is a list of senators that sit on the committee. Please consider sending an email supporting this bill.  A sample email is below. (all contact info and sample email come from THIS FACEBOOK EVENT PAGE)

Email address for members of the Senate Aging & Youth Committee:
Bmensch@pasen.gov, Washington@pasenate.com, kward@pasen.gov, jscarnati@pasen.gov, dargall@pasen.giv, lbaker@pasen.giv, senatorschwank@pasenate.com, stack@pasenate.com, yudichak@pasenate.com, evogel@pasen.giv, rvulakovich@pasen.giv, swanger@pasen.gov

Dear Senators, 
I am contacting you to express MY SUPPORT for HB 162, restoring the right of adult adoptees to access their original birth certificates through the same process as all other citizens. Please support this bill and pass it to the full Senate for a vote. 
Sincerely, 
YOUR NAME
YOUR CONTACT INFO

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Mission Field Confessions Part II: confessions from back home

A little while ago I wrote a blog being honest about some things that I felt as a missionary in Kenya. If you missed it, you can read it here http://raydsmith.blogspot.com/2014/03/mission-field-confessions.html

I've been thinking about this topic since I wrote that. Here are a few more confessions about being back in the US now. Hopefully this one is a bit more lighthearted.

1. I sometimes forget which side of the road to drive on. I know, you'd think that it should be pretty simple...we drive on the right side of the road in America. But after driving a bit in Kenya on the left side, sometimes I still have to question for a minute before turning onto the road.

2. Along with that, I sometimes have to remind myself which side of the car to get in on. Again, should be straight forward - steering wheel is on the left, get in on the left. But, when I'm walking to the car I sometimes have to pause and remember what door I want to get in on. I've often caught myself walking to the passenger door of my own car or the driver's door of someone else's car.

3. I still look the wrong way when walking across a street. Most of us learned early on in life "look left, then right, then left again" to cross the road. Well, in Kenya, you look right first because cars drive on the other side of the road (well, they're supposed to. In reality, they're usually on whatever side of the road they feel like being on). After my first 6 months living there and nearly getting mowed down by bicycle taxis, motorcycles, busses and trucks, I finally got in the habit of looking to the right first. Coming back to the US, I can't seem to get into the habit of looking to the left first before walking across the road. Though, in all fairness, it may not be fair to say that this is a result of living in Kenya. I've had a bad habit of just walking without looking at all for a while. Even this morning, walking into the grocery store, I nearly got hit by someone. In my defense, there was a "yield to pedestrians" sign and I did cross at the sign. So...yeah, I'm totally faultless here.  I don't know, maybe looking the wrong direction from time to time is a positive step!  :)

4. I still utter some Swahili phrases during the day. I never learned as much Swahili as I wanted to. But the little bits I picked up I still use without even realizing it. Usually it's common, everyday phrases like "excuse me" or "thank you", etc. Often it is met by confused looks by others.

5. I miss samosas! Seriously, they are one of my very favorite foods. And there were only a few places that made them right. And I miss them. You know it's bad when you are on a first name basis with the local samosa cook. Even worse when you would SMS him to prepare an order for you. Even worse yet when you walk in and you are met with a smile and an "AHHH, Mr Ray! How many samosas do you want today!?"

6. I DO NOT miss rice and beans! If I never eat rice and beans for lunch or dinner again, I will die a very happy man! Seriously, I like spicy food, but it was not just a "like" there. It was a necessity just to have some difference in the taste. If it taste the same every day, throw a ton of hot sauce in it so you can't taste it anymore. Focus on the burn instead. At first, the beans were just a means to eat chapati (which I ALSO miss!) and the rice - I could take it or leave it. After a while, even the thought of dipping chapati in the beans wasn't enough to help.

7. Going off of the previous one, I also DO NOT miss peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and potato chips for dinner because rice and beans got boring.

8. When I go to a restaurant I still, without realizing it, choose what I want to eat plus two or three back up selections. This was important in Kenya because very often the restaurant would not have your first choice. I was at this place called Iroco Boulevard once. I asked for a plate of chips (what they call french fries). I was told that it would be three hours until they were ready. Three hours...I asked if they had whole potatoes. They did. Okay, follow me here. French fries are quite simply cut up potatoes deep fried. Whole process should take less than 30 minutes. I offered to go in the kitchen and make them myself. That was a no go. Again, three hours until they would be ready. I went through my 2nd and 3rd choice meals which they were also out of. So I left and found a new place to eat. Shame too. That used to be such a good place to eat. I think that the day I saw their demise was when it took well over an hour for a club sandwich to come out of the kitchen. How do I know it was that long? Because I read the ENTIRE newspaper and still had no food.

9. My first week back in the US I went to a Starbucks and asked for a coffee. The barista (wow, I don't think that I ever used that word before!) asked what kind I wanted. I stood there confused. I actually didn't know how to answer that question for a minute. I got used to asking for coffee and praying (um, begging God is probably more like it) that it wasn't that Nescafe 3-in-1 instant garbage.

10. I DO NOT miss malaria. This might just be the longest I've gone without malaria in a long time. The last time I had it really bad (Christmas 2012) I was literally praying that God just killed me to make the pain stop. The actual prayer was something like "God just kill me or heal me. I don't care which one anymore". And no, that is not an exaggeration. Between the malaria and the quinine treatment, every single inch of me was in pain. All day and night.

11. Still, I'd rather get malaria than a cold. If you catch it early it's can be easy to treat and goes away faster than a cold.

12. I can proudly count in Swahili to the very high number of ............FOUR! WOOO-HOOO!! Moja, Mbilli, Tatu, nne. There was a time I could count to ten. But the number ten always scared me because the Swahili word for ten is only one letter off from a slightly vulgar word. And two of my Kenyan friends once taught me the wrong word...so I usually stopped at nine. Just to be safe.

13. Last one. This one could be an entire blog but I will try to keep it short. For now. Coming home was difficult. The circumstances were very trying at the time. Now, I am at perfect peace with the decision to stay home. Recently (maybe in the past month or two) I've finally stopped living with one foot out the door. I've firmly planted both feet here. In the USA. In Chester County. And I feel such peace about it. I'm even happy and rested. More than I have been in many months. One of the best compliments I ever received was when my friend Jeremiah once told me before leaving for my first 6 months in Kenya "You look like peace". I feel like I am finally getting back to that place again. And it feels good. Really good.




14...Okay...one more...I'm actually really happy that I will be able to watch live the return of Jack Bauer after a 4 year absence! Yes, I'm a big nerd when it comes to the show 24. And yes, on May 5th my phone will be off for two straight hours.