Sunday, August 31, 2014

progress {adoption}

Finally, some news to report. It's not much--and I don't even fully understand what it means--but it's something. We learned that C's case has seen some movement in DRC.

The Suppletif Judgment and Judgment are complete for her case, which I THINK means that the next steps in the court process are CONA (a 30-day waiting period to make sure no one comes forth to claim her as a biological relative) and the Act of Adoption, the finalization of C's adoption. Paperwork comes in at different times and in different orders, so we are not totally sure where we are in the process, but this is something, at least.

One adoptive mama said it took 2-3 months after CONA to get the Act of Adoption, and I've heard it takes a while to get paperwork to be able to travel and file paperwork in DRC.

It seems like we still have a long way to go, but we are one step closer to meeting our Sweet C, and for that we are rejoicing.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

it feels good to feel good

I've gained some poundage since my last checkup at the doctor's office a year ago. I'm pretty sure this can be explained by one or all of the following situations:

1 -- I have been working out more. Muscle weighs more than fat, so maybe I am getting so abundantly muscular that it's over taking my body. Sounds plausible enough.

2 -- I am not stressed about volleyball, and therefore I am remembering to eat and feed my children and exercise and breathe and sleep and talk to God about the good stuff in life and not just the bad. (I am not joking. I probably lost at least ten pounds every vb season.)

3 -- I am eating chocolate to take the emotional place of the little chocolate-colored girl I'd like to be hugging and kissing and tucking safely into bed at night.

That said--and despite the anxious feelings that #3 often brings me--I feel good. I feel really good.

And it feels good to feel good.

One major change that can be attributed to this good-feeling is the regular workouts I am experiencing. Sure, I'm getting great workouts at home while chasing Brecken all the way down our winding driveway and hoisting a sleeping Brody out of his car seat to carry him to bed, but I've also made some time to sweat it out in a gym (or in a parking lot, wherever the sweat session may lead) or in a lap-pool (It's true. More on this later...). 

And I'm feeling the difference.

I just feel better when I'm moving, when the sweat is rolling, when my lungs are on the verge of explosion and my legs are cramping and my arms can't lift a jug of milk after I'm done with all of it. Seriously. It does feel good, in a weird sort of awful way.

I feel good when I wake up the next morning and have a hard time getting out of bed because my abs won't allow me to sit up straightaway and, instead, I have to roll my weak little stomach muscles around to the side to sit up like an overstuffed bear awakening from a winter hibernation.

And trust me, when I started my "regular" workouts (regular=more than an occasional "when I can squeeze it in" long run down our country roads) back in July, I went big. I'm not sure about the psychology behind my choice to do one of the hardest workouts I could find right out of the gate, but that's what I always seem to do.

I think maybe it's related to the self-fulfilling prophecy; if I go into a workout knowing it's the hardest level, I can justify failure because I didn't try to work my way into it; "I haven't been working out, people." On the other hand, if I fail at the lowest level of intensity, I want to quit immediately and drown my sorrow in a Cappuccino Caramel Fudge Sundae, because in my former-athlete mind I am a huge unathletic, failing waste of space. 

I started with Level 3 of Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred. I survived that. So after about a week I decided to join a local gym and take their more intense classes. I survived that, too, but it sure wasn't pretty!

And now, all of a sudden, Bradlee and I are trying to learn how to swim for an informal Mini-Triathlon. We are basically being forced into this one by our friends. Lake-swimming isn't something one should just jump into--pardon the pun--quickly. However, this Mini-Tri takes place in just over a week and we are still trying to learn how to swim. (I can survive in the water but I won't get anywhere quickly, nor will I do it gracefully.)

Sadly, I've Googled "How to swim" repetitively while attempting to figure out this whole breathing-while-swimming thing. I look absolutely ridiculous in the water and will only practice when no one is looking. Because that's the type of person I am. Too proud, I suppose. (That said, I am of the firm opinion that our children need us, as parents, to be alive for them when this thing is over, so I'd rather not drown. Bring on the froggy floaties. We'll take two.)

I have a tendency to want to keep up with the Joneses of muscular duration, strength, and speed, but I'm too old for that, and I refuse to be a slave to the gym. There are better things to do with one's life. I will not be in the gym every day unless I'm getting paid for it. I'll just get there when I can and be happy for some muscle rest when I can't.

Exercise de-stresses, releases toxins, increases energy and empowers potent endorphins that make us feel good. Not to mention the fact that it usually makes your cool clothes fit better.

I'm feeling good, and if you're not, I suggest you get your move on. Walk around. Dance. Do some sit-ups here and there. Hike. Jump into the most difficult and ridiculous class you can find. Do whatever you like. Just do something. I promise it makes a difference.

It feels good to feel good. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Stitch Fix and Your Mom

After yesterday's somewhat heavy post about our slow adoption process, I feel it's time for me to tell you about another Stitch Fix experience to lighten the mood around here.

Happiness on your doorstep!

As usual, I was grasping for gifts to get my mom for Mother's Day. (It's not that my mom is hard to please, it's just that she says she doesn't need anything.)

I even tweeted about my desperation here:



Then I got a response from Stitch Fix:

So I tried it. (Might as well, right?) I gave her a gift certificate to Stitch Fix, and although she didn't understand it immediately, she got the idea pretty quickly and jumped right in to schedule her first fix. She hates trying clothes on in the store, so I thought maybe this would be a new way for her to shop that would be more enjoyable.

And guess what? My mom actually kept something she got in her box! Then she scheduled another fix to follow! I count that as a success.

I won't post pics of her fix, because she would kill me, but they really did send her cute stuff that suited her well! I can't wait to see what she gets next!

Also, on a similar note, the customer service team at Stitch Fix has always been absolutely fabulous to work with. Last time I wrote a post about Stitch Fix, I even got a personal thank you via email from them. So sweet!

I will get another fix on my schedule soon, as I've earned some credit through referrals. (Yay for their referral system!)  I'll post another update when I get it in the mail, along with pics and my (mostly) unedited thoughts.

To check out Stitch Fix, go here. (Full disclosure: That's my direct referral link. Referrals earn you/me $25 in credit!!) Trust me, even your mom will like it!

 **Also, I received a Birchbox in the mail a while ago, and I'll share my thoughts on that soon, too.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

the obligatory adoption update

And no, this quote, as it applies here, isn't about a breakup.
 
Here it is: The obligatory adoption update. 

I say it's obligatory because there's nothing new to report. We are still "in court," waiting on judges to rule that Sweet C is our daughter. It's not fun, this waiting. But we are making the most of it and continuing to enjoy our silly boys as we pray fervently for her health, safety, and swift official addition to our family and appearance in our home.

DRC adoptions have slowed down TREMENDOUSLY since we began this journey in Spring 2013. When we entered the DRC adoption world, parents could expect to complete the entire process with a child in their arms in about a year. Under those circumstances, our adoption would have been complete. 

That's not to say that there weren't problems. One of the coordinators at our agency told us that any completed adoption from DRC is a miracle. Malaria is a real threat to children's health, as is dysentery (as we learned in a way that hit too close to home), malnutrition, measles, violence...you name it. 

But that's also why we chose to adopt from DRC, and we know adoptions can be very difficult, so we didn't enter this blindly.

However, that doesn't change the fact that we'd like to have this sweet girl in our arms so we can love and protect her daily. Brody and Brecken are ready to be her big brothers, and I am ready for another girl in this house to balance things out a bit! (Seriously, have I mentioned the vast amount of tooting in faces, missing the toilet, peeing in the shower and general grossness that happens in this house daily? We need Little Miss here to put these boys in place.) 

It's not that I don't enjoy talking about this adoption. I really do. It's just that there's not much to report for our specific case (or there is a ton to report in the DRC adoption world, depending on how you look at it, so "where should I start?"). I am usually fine when talking about C and the adoption process. I often talk about it sensibly and without emotion. But sometimes I catch even myself off-guard when I begin speaking and my speech ends in ellipses and little sobs of heartache. I don't know why the emotion bubbles up sometimes and other times I can talk about her as if she's just around the corner, but it happens nonetheless (and it's rather embarrassing when the emotion comes, although I know it shouldn't be).

But I know where it comes from. My little heart aches sometimes...daily, really. And sometimes--like last week--a picture of her comes my way and it literally knocks the wind out of me. My heart skips several beats and I have to consciously force myself to breathe because she is so fearfully and wonderfully made, so beautiful and unassuming, sitting there with the arm of a fatherly figure wrapped around her in protection and love. She's almost too perfect to look at when I know it will be a while before I can hold her.

I'm so thankful she's in a home with a sweet foster mom and so many others--including a fatherly figure--to take care of her. But I still wish she was with us and that was Brad's arm wrapped around her tightly with two little knuckle-headed boys tickling her toes or giving her sweet (although sometimes intrusive) little kisses. 

So there it is: We are still waiting. We are still praying. We are still hoping. We are still believing.

Friday, August 15, 2014

celebrations

In the last week, I have been able to celebrate a few momentous occasions with some pretty amazing people.

1. A couple at our church finalized their adoption-through-foster-care of a sweet little guy who desperately needed a family who was able to provide him with unconditional love and a stable environment, something his birth family was not able to provide. Now he has a great family who can provide all of the above and then some. Congratulations to this great family, whom we met through our church adoption/foster care ministry! We are thrilled to celebrate with you and can't wait to celebrate other adoptions and homecomings with this amazing group of people!

2. The second celebration is a little near-and-dear to my heart. I was able to play a very small role in putting a foster mom in contact with someone who would eventually become a forever mom to one sweet little baby girl! It's a very long story, but God orchestrated some key conversations, heart decisions and court rulings together in order to place a precious child into the arms of a family that was longing to have another child. I must say this: A seemingly small conversation or word to or from someone else could be absolutely life-changing. Please do not neglect to be intentional in your conversations, even the "small-talk" ones. You may never know how God can use something you say or hear to absolutely rock another person's world (or your own!!) for the better.

3. ALSO, although I am not directly involved in this one, a very sick little boy got to come home to his forever family from DRC this week. He MIRACULOUSLY got an Exit Letter that vey well might have saved his little precious life. He has been in and out of the hospital, and he still has some hurdles to cross, but he is doing much better now and he is HOME with his family. THAT is something to celebrate!

(Contrast this story to that of Ben Dillow, who died in DRC while waiting for an Exit Letter. His tragic story here and here.)

There's been a lot of crap in the world these past few days. Let's not forget to celebrate the good.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

dear Christian college peoples

I'm going to share with you one great tip about thriving in college: Don't do what I did.

Seriously. I did about one-hundred-and-fifty-three things in college that were downright ignorant, and I didn't even have the excuse of alcohol in my system on which to blame any of those stupid decisions.

I won't spend this entire post rehashing the past with an itemized list of the 153 dumb things I did. Instead, I will generalize my ridiculousness into four broad categories and pray that you don't do these things.

How to be an idiot in college:

1. Focus entirely on your grades and accolades. I was born with this perfectionistic persona that, when given the power upon which it thrives, has the ability to ruin my life without my even knowing it. (Procrastination is the daughter of perfection, by the way, because in order to be perfect you must first formulate your ideas and plans for an absolute eternity before even beginning to work on anything. This kind of takes you out of the dating game--let alone any other game--for a while.)

For me, perfectionism meant that college was a very stressful time. It's tough being "perfect" (read: trying to be perfect), especially when you realize that no one really cares that you aced every single test in your sociology class or that you jumped high in a track meet. (I mean, your parents probably care, but they also probably want you to live a life of influence more.)

Perfectionism also meant I spent a lot of time studying and practicing. This, in turn, meant I didn't spend a lot of time building relationships with others, particularly with people I now realize God put in my life for that very reason. Sure, I spent a lot of time with athletes because I really had no choice (and I did enjoy those people...M-I-Z!!), but I didn't spend a lot of personal time trying to build relationships with those people. I was too busy trying to earn good grades, make high jumps, and find approval.

In short, I spent a lot of time on ME. Trying to make ME better. Working on MY grades. I didn't realize it at the time, but trying to be the best was the most selfish thing I could have done, even though I felt I was doing my best for the right reasons ("Using God's gifts to glorify Him" but not caring enough about others to let them in on that secret.) While I was all about working hard, I lacked the level of self-sacrifice required to truly impact someone else's life for Christ in a time when I had the greatest opportunities to do so.

2. Stay in on the weekends. Now, to be fair, my reasons for not getting out into the social atmosphere often were legit. I was usually traveling with the track team, and we began attending meets in December or January, thus taking me out of the weekend party scene often. But when I was able to stay around school for a weekend, I made it a point to be as lame as possible. Seriously.

Ok, I didn't try to be lame but I dabbled in lameness for quite a while there. I had a pretty serious dilemma on my hands regarding alcohol, so instead of facing it head-on I decided to avoid it, thus acting like it didn't exist.

On one hand, I had the belief that alcohol wasn't all that bad in moderation. (But what was moderation, and what if I had an addictive personality? Note: I do have an addictive personality: Chocolate, scarves, ice cream, furniture...) However, on the other hand, I had this bad feeling that if I went to a party where beer was in excess I would be "guilty by association," thus ruining my witness to others. In truth, I didn't have much of a witness because of point #1, above: I was self-absorbed.

And then there's this, which is kind of sad for me to report, but I feel that it's necessary for full disclosure of my lameness: I had this great idea that I would not drink a lick of alcohol until my 100th birthday, which I asserted made me a "rebel."  I know. So sad. So sad, in fact, that even my mother realized it was pathetic and tried to get me to drink a fruity beverage when we were vacationing in Mexico. I declined, of course, because I had my ideals to which I had to be a slave. (My mother is not a drinker, by the way, lest I get her in any sort of trouble.)

This isn't to say that I didn't go to any parties. I did, but I tried to avoid them like the plague. At the very least, my avoidance of parties made me lame. For sure, though, my lack of effort in the social scene made it appear as though I thought was "holier than though," even while struggling with feelings of immense inadequacy. What a mistake. I missed tons and tons of opportunities to build relationships and point others to Christ while being vulnerable, and I am often haunted by the opportunities I had but never took advantage of.

3. Date someone your freshman year for a few months, then continually allow that person to string you along on a sad little leash for four years. Oh, and pretend to be friends the entire time he's dragging you along. Oh, and try to over-spiritualize decisions as often as possible. "I feel like God is telling me that we need to spend more time outside." "I think God's plan involves us taking a weekend to think about our relationship and any areas of improvement that might need to be made." "My niece loves you; she must be able to see Christ's love in you."

Blah.

This is a great way to be thoroughly confused for four years, to go on dates with egotistical drummers who are not your type at all, to have guys in the "friend-zone" who are thoroughly confused about why you aren't dating, and to take yourself out of any other sort of dating potential that could have ever existed. (Clearly, this all turned out okay, because I got to marry Bradlee a few years after college, but what a waste of time, energy and brain cells.)

Do not do this. Trust me.

4. Learn how to study everything but your Bible. Possibly the worst possible thing I could have done in college. I read my Bible in college. I read a lot of books about the Bible in college. I went to FCA and AIA and Bible study groups, and I led Christian camps for teens several times.

However, I didn't have a clue about how to actually study the Bible. (Meanwhile, I was studying my tail off to earn good grades in subjects I would never again use in my life. Good call, Jenny.)

My lack of knowledge and experience in studying the Bible after graduating from college was absolutely embarrassing, thus making my prayer life flat and my focus obscure. I'm not going to tell you that I always opened my Bible at night to random books, read a few lines at a time, and then stopped a few chapters in due to utter confusion, but it might have happened a few times.

Most people know just enough about the Bible to be absolutely dangerous. They know that Jesus turned water to wine, so they use that as an excuse for drinking a bit too much rum on Saturday night. However, they forget the part in the Bible that says "do not be drunk with wine." However, other Christians use verses to claim that the above verse means alcohol if off limits entirely while ignoring other parts of the Bible. And then others use 1 Peter 5:8 ("be sober-minded") out of context, relating it to alcohol, when it really refers to keeping a stable and watchful mind and attitude of faith.

People tend to see what they want to see in the Bible, and without careful study and prayers for wisdom and discernment, we tend to interpret its words the way we want to interpret them. When we don't fully understand--or work toward full understanding of--the Bible, the Enemy uses half-truths to destroy us.

I can't help but wonder how much my college life would have been different if I would have understood the skill of studying the actual Bible (or at least BEGUN to hone the skills necessary to study it, as I am still learning so much about this).

I probably would have learned that life is about pointing others to Christ, not living a perfect life.
I probably would have learned to pray for wisdom and discernment on the alcohol issue (which would have made me more effective in sharing Christ).
I probably would have learned to make decisions by picking something and going by faith instead of wavering forever in dating relationships.

I probably would have made a bigger impact on people around me, instead of trying to impact my transcripts, my claims to fame, and my dreams.

College people. You have great opportunities ahead of you. Do not squander the time, talents, and Truth you've been given. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

DRC adoption (another life lost while waiting)

We got new pics of our girl yesterday. She looks like she is two years old. She was standing up in an old, long-sleeved, footed, one-piece PJ outfit with sandals strapped around her little feet. I couldn't help but think about the clothes we have for her here at home that she will probably outgrow while she wears old long-sleeved PJs with sandals.

Like these:



I will say that there has been A TON going on regarding the DRC adoption crisis, as Both Ends Burning's Kelly Dempsey testified in front of Congress regarding the crisis situation and the desperate need to get involved. In addition, Congress requested that BEB create another petition to urge Obama to discuss the situation with DRC's President, Joseph Kabila. No word yet on whether or not that happened, but they did officially meet up at the US-Africa Leaders Summit earlier this week when Kabila was in the US.  

Secretary Kerry did discuss the situation with President Kabila, but it appears as though there's nothing new regarding Exit Letters. This announcement from DOS basically says nothing, but there it is in case you want to read it.

I should also mention that my senator's office (Roy Blunt) has been particularly AMAZING in responding to this situation with empathy and true concern for the kids involved. They email me about once every other week to keep me updated, and Senator Blunt has gotten deeply involved (as have many other members of Congress) to try to bring kids home. Senator McCaskill has also been fairly helpful, often agreeing to co-sponsor resolutions. Billy Long has not been helpful at all, but I do give his ONE empathetic staff member props for pretending to care for a little while there after a friend of mine got his ear and gave me his contact info. Unfortunately, Long was "out of pocket" when I requested that he inquire about a Congressional letter, but the helpful staff member has promised to help in the future in any way possible, and I will let you know how well he makes good on that promise.

But that's not really all that has been happening in DRC. Meanwhile, while we are praying and scrambling to get things moving in DRC and dreaming about holding C sometime (any time!), another little one lost his life in DRC while waiting to join his family (and to receive better medical care) in the US.

Little Ben Dillow was five years old and had legally been adopted by a family in the US, but due to the Exit Letter suspension he was forced to wait too long to join them here. He had severe medical issues but was not issued even an emergency medical exit letter. Instead, he died without a mother to hold him. My heart ACHES for his family and the loss they have suffered for no good reason. Please keep this family and others affected by this suspension in your prayers tonight.
This is an absolute tragedy. This should not have happened (again). This is our motivation.

Prayers and warm hugs for the Dillow family. 

(I stole the above picture from Jenny Marrs' blog over here. (I love her blog.) Click here for more information about Ben and about the Exit Letter Suspension's effects on Jenny's family.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

dreaming big in Kenya

Folks, I have mentioned Generation Next before. It's the nonprofit that's been completing school building projects, distributing backpacks full of supplies, hosting medical clinics, and ensuring that barriers to education are eliminated in Kenya. GN has impacted thousands of children in their local community (Branson, MO) and abroad, and they are about to embark on a brand new adventure in Kenya: a gated 5-acre Christian School complex.

The plans for this place were drawn up nearly three years ago, with the school being the "ultimate dream" for Generation Next and its founder, 18-year-old Riley Banks.

Plans include four classrooms, a library, dining area, hostel for volunteer organizations, host house, administrative offices and a garden, as well as a security gate with a guard. All of this will sit on five acres near Kibwezi, Kenya, and all of it is the culmination of years of hard work, prayers, laying a foundation, and dreaming in a huge way.

I have a sneak peak of the plans for you, but you can visit Generation Next's website for complete plans and drawings.



This BIG DREAM will impact hundreds of children in Kenya who would not otherwise have a fair shot at an education, but it comes at a cost. (Nothing great ever comes without some sacrifice.) It is estimated to cost around $130,000 to make this dream a reality.

But we think we can do it. Generation Next needs people who want to change lives to partner with them in raising the funds necessary to convert this dream into a reality. We've made it easy for you to help us fund this project by broadcasting it over at GN's page on Pure Charity. Pure Charity is an amazing platform that empower,s inspires and encourages nonprofits (and individuals) as they aspire to advocate for and impact others in huge ways.

By the way, donations for this project can be made directly to Generation Next or Pure Charity, but you can also "earn" money to give away by installing Pure Charity's browser plugin. The plugin is a GREAT concept that allows you to earn money as you do your regular shopping (Target, Nike, or REI, anyone?) and donate that earned money to projects about which you care deeply. Visit this page for more information about how the plugin works. You can even register a card to use when you shop local, thus allowing you to earn money to impact other while you spend money locally.

If you recall, members of Generation Next were in Kenya for about two months to get their newly-acquired orphanage, Gail's House, ready for children to begin living there. Unfortunately, that plan has now been altered due to some differences in beliefs between the charity offering the orphanage and Generation Next. In short, the other charity wanted to host clinics that offered birth control remedies that were not in line with the Christian beliefs of GN. This was a non-negotiable for both parties, so they have chosen to complete projects in different capacities, and GN will no longer be taking ownership of Gail's House. It was an amicable decision on both parties' accounts, and money that GN had already put into the project will be repaid to GN by the other charity. Some beliefs just can't be compromised.

Obviously, Riley and the GN team were discouraged by this turn of events, but you know what they say about closed doors.

The windows are now wide open. Let's help make this dream happen.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Noonday Trunk Show!

I do not belong at parties. People who go to parties are put together with coordinated accessories, cute hair and fantastic personalities. I'm all like, "Hey, my child went poo-poo on the potty today. Three cheers, anyone?"

But I am here to tell you about a party to which I'm actually doing the inviting.

It's a Noonday Collection trunk show, so that's kind of a big deal. If you've read my blog at all, you know I'm slightly obsessed with Noonday Collection.  It's an amazing company that sells handcrafted items made by artisans from around the world, thus creating greater opportunities for those artisans, their families and their communities. Furthermore, Noonday Collection offers trunk shows that serve as adoption fundraisers. It's a win-win-win situation! (Need a visual to help you understand their impact? Here ya go...)


My friend Holly is hosting her first trunk show this Thursday, and proceeds are going toward our adoption. (Holly is just about the most awesome person ever...if nothing else, you should come to this party just to meet her. I'm serious. Her heart for the vulnerable is humbling.)

Noonday Collection has all sorts of awe-striking accessories, necklaces, bracelets and earrings, all made by beautiful people from across the globe. I ordered this Bloomed Trio Bracelet earlier this Spring to support my friend Jess's adoption from Ethiopia. (Her son is HOME, by the way!!) I adore this bracelet, and it's cool to read the story of where it was created (Uganda) and by whom. It feels good to try to look good with these accessories, people!


Here are just a few of my favorite products (all can be found on their products page):


These shoes...these shoes!!
 

And word on the street (from author and Noonday Ambassador Jennie Allen) is that they will unveil a new tote on August 7, the day of the party!

But here's a disclaimer: I invite you all to join us in the party this Thursday, 7:00-8:30, and I want anyone to come to if you're able, BUT I do not want you to feel obligated to come or even to buy anything if you do come.

If you are interested at all, please do come join us for the trunk show (I can give you details and directions if you contact me). I think it will be fun, you will hear some great stories of impact from Holly, and you will see some truly beautiful art that you can wear or even display in your home. However, you don't have to buy a thing; NO PRESSURE. (You don't even have to wear coordinated accessories or have a fancy personality.) We are officially fully funded for our adoption, as I stated earlier in this post, but any money raised for us during this trunk show will go toward extra travel costs, as we will more than likely travel twice, possibly even more than that if this adoption process trails on and on the way it's been doing thus far. Estimates from others who have traveled suggest we will need around $2,500 in cash (WHAT?!) while we are in DRC, and that doesn't include the plane ticket. So I assure you, money will be put to good use. :o)

If you can't attend but would like to browse the collection, go here and contact me and I'll get you set up.