Thursday, December 27, 2012

New Year's Adoption Consultation Discount - Extended!

You've been contemplating adoption for some time now, how about making your New Year's Resolution to GO FOR IT!

Let's make 2013 the year that you open your home to a child through adoption!

Today through January 11th, we are offering 10% off our Consulting Services and 20% off consulting services through our Minority Adoption Program.

For more about Christian Adoption Consultants, click here.

Why hire an adoption consultant?  Click here.

Ready to get started?  Click here for our application.

Have more questions?  Click here to contact me.

(This discount does not apply to our Do It Yourself Program and may not be combined with any other discounts) 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

13 Years Ago Today

It's a Christmas tradition around here.  Every December 23rd we head to Fredrick Meijer Gardens as a family. 13 years ago I was dating a boy and he proposed to me under this gazebo.

I just wrote an entire blog on how we met and how we dated and how he proposed. But I just realized none of that matters much today so I deleted it. It's a good story. One with lots of romance and humor and DRAMA. But I'll save all that for another time.

For now I'm immensely grateful that Jamy asked me to marry him 13 years ago today. We went to the gardens this afternoon with Isabelle and Jackson. We had lunch together at the cafe and walked the gardens. We watched our kids look in wonder at the ornately decorated Christmas trees and hollered at them not to run too far ahead of us.  

And just like he always does, Jamy pulled me under the gazebo for a quick kiss among all the people and the Christmas music. It seemed more meaningful this year after everything we've been through.  

I realized I would say "yes" again.
I would say "yes" again to the memories we've made.
I would say "yes" again to the family we've created. 
I would say "yes" again to the traditions we've started.
I would say "yes" again to the joy we've had.
And I would even say "yes" again to the heartbreak we've been through.

All of these things have made our family who and what we are today. They've deepened our faith in Christ and in each other.  I've learned a few things since that day 13 years ago. I know more about who Jamy is. I know more about grace and forgiveness. I know more about patience and sacrifice. And I hope in another 13 years I'll know much more.  

I'm thankful God's dreams for our family were much grander than I could have ever dreamed. When I said "yes" to Jamy I assumed we would live a fairy tale. It turns out it was much different than I envisioned. But the story God is writing has been so much better.  

Saying "yes" to Jamy has been one of the best decisions I ever made. Merry Christmas Eve Eve, Babe. I'm so proud to be your wife.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Hello Winter

Had you asked me a few days ago if it felt like winter I would have looked at you with one eyebrow raised. It was in the 60's in Kansas City. Within 36 hours you would have thought Snowmageddon was upon us. (Definition of Snowmageddon in Kansas City: there will be a slight dusting of snow which causes schools to shut down, roads to close, mayors to issue states of emergency, and people rushing the grocery stores for all of the bread and Gatorade.)  

But this doomsday was pretty legit since there was a thunderstorm followed by snow which was followed by the chaos of freezing roads everywhere. Which we promptly drove on with our small children to begin our holiday. Merry Christmas.

So, just like I did this fall, I'm bringing in the season with a list of "currents" to offer a glimpse into my life as it looks right now...

My parents mantle full of memories.  Yes, mine says "Susie."

Location:  Somewhere on Highway 69 in Indiana headed to celebrate Christmas with the VanSyckle clan in Michigan. It's snowing and we're anticipating running into another big storm before reaching Grand Rapids. Our "cars in the ditch number" is up to 44. Perhaps I should be holding on and praying rather than blogging right now...

Watching:  For signs that the world is ending [see: Mayan Calendar]. I think all the power companies should get together and turn off all the power for ten minutes today just to freak everyone out. 

Eating:  Jamy's Kool-Aid tropical punch popcorn. As a Christmas gift for his staff he gave them all made-to-order popcorn of their favorite Kool-Aid flavor. Don't you wish Jamy was your boss?

Drinking: Peppermint Mocha Lattes with the hopes of swigging some egg nog soon. Tis the season.

Wanting:  To embrace this season of advent. I've tried to be purposeful in slowing my own heart down and focusing our family on celebrating Christ's coming and anticipating his return.  

Needing:  This vacation. Our family is beginning ten days of family and togetherness. Although there will be much loss of patience and stress, there will also be many memories created, joys shared, and much needed down time.  

Loving: My husband like crazy. This time last year we didn't spend the holidays together. This year we've taken nothing for granted; putting up the tree together, going to see Christmas lights, shopping for gifts, doing the Jesse Tree with the kids. There's a sense of gratitude now with, well, most everything.

Creating:  Dreams with my husband. Thirteen hours in the van creates space for this. We've been dreaming of the coming year and how to be intentional about our marriage, our family, and our future.  

Thinking:  About plans for the new year. We've got a few changes coming. Good changes. Scary changes. Changes that God has ordained and we're excited to step into.

Wondering:  What life would have been like had Jamy and I chosen a different path. What if we hadn't chosen forgiveness and healing? This Christmas would have looked so different...I'm glad we made it.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Little Latin, A Lot of Cuteness, & A Good Reminder

Last weekend Whitefield Academy had their annual Christmas Concert.

It was full of what most kid Christmas concerts include: crying little ones, the girl who must scream the words to the songs. Jackson even had a sweet little girl in front of him who looked to be doing an interpretive dance to every song. Isabelle's best friend conveniently hitched up her tights in the front row. I'm thankful another mama was able to tuck Jack's shirt tails in before the kinders got on stage.

The wonderful and horrible part of the Christmas concert is that it includes the entire school, Pre-K through 12th grade in one night. I love getting a chance to see all of the students who are crazy talented. But one big drawback: after 3rd grade the entire thing is in Latin. This means a full two hours of trying to explain what is being sung to my kiddos who are trying to sit still. Basically: not happening (the sitting still part - the Latin happened all night).

But in the end it was worth it. We celebrated Christ's birth with our school that has become like family. And in the wake of the tragedy in Connecticut that morning, I was especially thankful that I was watching my kindergartner and first grader sing their little hearts out.

This part made me cry.

Such a good reminder of what Christmas is really all about. Christ came as a baby. And he'll return a conqueror. I needed to hear this on December 14, 2012 as we live in the horror and beauty of these two advents.

But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people..."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Elf = Parenting Fail

On top of being very purposeful about the Christmas season (you can see these posts about our Jesse Tree and gift-giving), we also wanted to begin a tradition that was for pure fun. We started Elf on the Shelf.

We've told our kids about Santa (gasp!) Actually, we've told them the whole story, that Santa was a real man named Saint Nicolas who gave gifts extravagantly to others because he understood God's extravagant love for his people. This book has been a great tool to tell his story.

We've also used these videos from Jelly Telly to answer questions about why we celebrate Christmas.  

But let's get real. The Elf on the Shelf is way more about fun and silliness and creating memories than about communicating the real meaning of Christmas to our kids. But I was still a little stuck on the creepy little elf that Santa sends to sits on a shelf and spies on kids to compile his "naughty and nice" list. Until I read this uh-mazing little letter from Santa explaining the elf in a gospel-centered way. What?! It's true. In it Santa denounces the "naughty and nice" list, and explains sin, grace, and forgiveness.  That sold me and I bought Eli, our little elf the next day.

Come December 1st, this package arrived on our doorstep, straight from the North Pole.

Ever since, Eli has been getting into mischief every night. The kids love waking up every morning to see what he's been doing while they've been sleeping.

So last weekend Jamy had a great idea of having Santa call them. Using a little website to personalize the message, Santa called each of them individually to tell them he's stopping by our house Christmas Eve and that they're both on his "Nice" list.
This is where the huge parenting fail comes in.
  1. We won't be here Christmas Eve.
  2. Santa had written a letter saying there was no "naughty or nice" list.
  3. We didn't even realize the mix up until the kids promptly wrote these notes to Santa. 

Since Isabelle's is hard to read, here's the text:
Thank you for calling. I wish you knew but I am not going to be here on Christmas Eve. I hope you love Jesus. I got a card from you and a preset and you said you did not have a naughty or nice list. But when you called me this morning you said I was on your nice list. Why is that? 
P.S.  I think there is so many of you. 



House number: 1146

For Grandma's house
I had to include this important part of Bella's letter!


So, we did what any good parent would do. We scrambled to fix Santa's clear flub. That night, Eli delivered the kids letters to the North Pole directly to Santa. He arrived the next morning on our dining room table with an explanatory letter from Santa (you're right, there's no list but I know you're learning to trust Jesus and love and care for others...) along with some coins to put towards their gift for others in the World Vision Catalog.

That night lying in bed, Jamy asked if we were horrible parents keeping up the charade. I just smiled at the memories we're creating. We'll pay for therapy later.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Congratulations Caleb and Rachel

Caleb and Rachel have had a big month. They're beginning a new ministry in a new city in a few weeks.  Caleb's band, Pas Neos released their new album a few days ago. And they had this sweet girl, Aaliyah Mae on December 14th.

Caleb and Rachel began consulting in late July this year and found out in the fall of their upcoming move  on January 1st. Knowing this might complicate the adoption process, we decided to pray for what Caleb and Rachel thought was impossible: for their baby to be born by the end of the year. And they began to share their story with family and friends through this video.

Just weeks later in November they were matched with their birth mom due just before Christmas. Last Friday I called Rachel while they were on tour to let her know their birth mom was in labor and to hop the quickest flight to meet their baby.

Over the weekend they've been falling in love with their daughter and thanking God for His divine timing and goodness.  

The sweet Instagram shot they used to announce they had a daughter to family & friends

I know I shouldn't be surprised anymore with God's faithfulness to families who have said yes to God's call to adoption. But each time I'm amazed at how he writes these families stories.  

Congratulations Caleb and Rachel - I'm so glad you prayed for the impossible.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pure Joy

I stumbled across this amazing video today.

This adoptive father made a moving statement when talking about what our culture values and the cost of adoption:
The pure joy that will come from the rescue and a ransom of a child's life is probably the most satisfying thing you can imagine.
It reminds me of a powerful quote from another amazing adoptive father, Derek Loux who said:
My friends, adoption is redemption. It’s costly, exhausting, expensive, and outrageous. Buying back lives costs so much. When God set out to redeem us, it killed Him.  And when He redeems us, we can’t even really appreciate or comprehend it, just like Dimitri will never comprehend or fully appreciate what is about to happen to him … but … he will live in the fruit of it. As his Daddy, I will never expect him to understand all of this or even to thank me. I just want to watch him live in the benefits of my love and experience the joys of being an heir in my family. This is how our heavenly “Papa” feels towards us.

Is adoption hard?  Yes.  

Is adoption costly?  Yes.

Is adoption worth it?  A thousand times yes.  Just ask these kids.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Choosing Gratefulness

This morning was rough. I had a restless night of sleep, was running late to a women's Bible study this morning, and then dropped my iPhone on the way out the door. I immediately knew this was a costly mistake. I picked it up and noticed the glass screen had shattered and shards of glass got in my finger as I swiped it to unlock it.

This was not my actual phone.
If you can believe it, mine was much worse.
And white.
With a cute case that was supposed to protect it.

I knew in that moment I had choice to make. I could literally sense a check in my spirit as I held my shattered phone. I could choose gratefulness or frustration.  

Frustration would have been the easy choice (and admittedly my usual go-to). In my line of work, my phone is an important life line and it's crucial not only to have a working phone, but to have access to my email and the internet. But the cost and time to replacing the screen?! Ugh! That was not in the plans for today.  

All of those thoughts ran though my head in a matter of milliseconds. But the damage was done. I knew I needed to replace it and change gears for the morning. And I chose gratefulness.
I chose to be grateful for an understanding and helpful husband.  I maneuvered around the broken screen and called him for help. His immediate response was empathy and he took ten minutes out of his work day to figure out the most cost effective way for us to fix the phone.
I chose to be grateful for my location.  I was initially frustrated that I didn't have my laptop with me to find where I needed to go. It turns out I was a tenth of a mile away from a store that replaces broken screens.
I chose to be grateful for the extra time.  What was I to do without my phone to make calls, without my laptop to work, and without even a watch to keep track of the time while I waited for the repair? I headed to Panera for an hour for an egg souffle, a dark roast coffee, and catch up on some reading without distractions.  
I chose to be grateful for the provision.  Instead of being frustrated and irate that it cost so much to replace the screen, I was thankful we had the cash in our bank account.  We've been through seasons when it wouldn't have been there. And within an hour and a half I had my phone back, good as new.

Maybe it was because I just came from Bible study that I quickly chose gratefulness rather than cussing out my "protective" case. Maybe I was trying to hold it together in front of the other ladies. Or maybe God is doing his work in my heart so that I see an eternal perspective rather than what's right in front of me.

God used this little event in a driveway to continue to teach my heart about what's really important; he cares way more about my heart response than my iPhone.  

Now if you'll excuse me I have to head to Amazon to shop for an Otterbox (the kind I always made fun of other people for having...)

In Her Own Words: An Adoptive Mama Shares Her Heartache and Her Joy

You might remember Tim and Stacey from this post. In it, I alluded the the heartache and loss their family had gone through to get to the point of celebrating the addition of the daughter. Their story is a powerful one of the hard road of adoption, the emotions of waiting, and the goodness of God. I encourage you to follow more of their journey at their blog, Tim and Stacey Adopt.

"Stacey... well, this is not a phone call I want to make." 

When our social worker called me to tell me that our adoption was failing, I was waiting at a stoplight across the street from the hospital. I was on my way to see the little boy who I thought was my son. The little boy who had been born at 4:43am the previous day, weighing in at 7 pounds 7 ounces, 20 1/2 inches long. It was February 14th, 2012, it was Valentine's Day, and when I woke up that morning I was a mother. 

Or at least I had thought I was. 

That day, I was broken. I physically hurt. My husband and I crawled into bed, pulled the curtains, and I cried until my chest and my eyeballs ached. It felt a little bit like somebody had taken a crowbar to my chest out of nowhere, and all the wind had been knocked out of me. Emotionally, I was doubled over in pain, caught off guard, and still trying to catch my breath from the impact.

Some excellent advice I heard years ago was brought to mind: When the bottom falls out, lock your gaze on the cross. You'll find all the answers to all your questions at the cross. 

So that's what I did. I dug in, held on tight, and locked my gaze on the cross. 

About two weeks after that adoption failed, we were chosen again by an expectant mother and father. It was a messy situation. Paternity was unknown, and the adoption plan depended on paternity which wouldn't be determined until after the baby was born. Tim and I made the decision to not tell anybody about this match (and likely any subsequent ones) until we had a baby in our arms. While we waited on the paternity test, they changed their minds and decided to parent. That was failed adoption #2.

So we kept waiting. So far things had gone far from how we imagined... how could I have confidence that anything would change? It was not easy. It was not my idea of how things should go. But God does not make mistakes. He was working all those things for my good. 

We were "active" with a couple different agencies at the same time, with the hopes that we would be exposed to more potential adoption situations. We were notified of several different situations over the months, and were given the opportunity to have our profile shown. A couple were not a good fit, and we declined to be shown. With the others, we threw our name in the hat and hoped and prayed that this one would be "our" baby! 

Each time we got the phone call saying, "I'm sorry, but they selected another family," it was hard. Really hard. I felt defeated. I felt like God had forgotten us. He had brought us this far, then left us high and dry. Why would He do that to us? Days later I saw a quotation on a friend's blog that spoke deeply to me, and I wrote it down and began carrying it around with me as a reminder. Little did I know how true this would become for us, and very, very soon. 

Days later, in early June, a woman at work told me she had a good friend whose daughter was pregnant and they had decided to make an adoption plan for the baby.

I emailed her a PDF of our profile book to pass on to her friend, and gave her permission to tell her about Tim and I and let them know that we were wanting to adopt. Past experience had taught me to not get my hopes up, to not assume anything, to not look forward to anything. There are no guarantees, we had learned. There's a fine line between guarding your heart and cynicism, and we had been walking it.

My heart fully expected another no. This time, it was a yes. They wanted to meet us.

Tim and I went into this meeting with no assumptions and no expectations that this would actually result in a baby. She was not due for over three months, and a lot can change in three months. Additionally, they might meet us and decide we weren't the right family for them. It was completely their decision, as it should be. 

The door had opened, so we walked through it. That's often how adoption works.

By the time dinner was over, they had asked us what we needed to do next to continue with an adoption match. Wait, what? Are they saying they choose us?  They had. They had chosen us to love, care for, and raise their precious baby girl!
We were so excited to become parents to a baby girl! She was due in late September, and it was mid June. While we were excited, we were also fearful. Past experience had demonstrated to us that there are no guarantees in adoption, and that sometimes (or in our case so far, always) things don't work out like you hoped. We knew the next three months would be hard. We were in that place yet again of waiting, cautiously expecting, and hoping. Just like with our second match, we decided not to tell anyone.
One day I angrily prayed, "I just wish I could know for sure! If I KNEW for sure if this little girl will actually be our daughter or not, I could make it through these next few months!"

Not even a second after I thought those words, God spoke to my heart and said, I'm asking you to walk by faith, not by sight. You don't know how things will turn out, and that's the point. If you knew, why would you need me?

Throughout our nearly ten month process, hiring an adoption consultant proved to be invaluable. Not only did Susan provide support and encouragement (she "talked me off the ledge" several times, when things got especially difficult!), but it made all the difference in the world to have someone to answer our adoption questions and point us in the right direction when we had no idea where to go next. When we found ourselves presented with an unexpected private situation, her help became especially important as she became our main go-to person to walk us through the remainder of the process.

Norah was delivered via scheduled c-section on Thursday, September 20th. We spent time in the hospital with her birth family, which was a deeply emotional and special experience. Per state laws, her adoption paperwork was signed 24 hours later. That day, we became parents to the most precious baby girl. We are undeserving, and our hearts are profoundly grateful to her birth parents for giving us this most precious gift! 

Two days later, Norah left the hospital in our arms and we surprised our friends and family. And what a surprise it was! Thirty days later, we stood before a judge and he declared what we already knew in our hearts: she was completely, legally, irrevocably our daughter.   

So you see, this story has a very happy ending. I always knew that one day we would look back and say it was all worth it. And I was right. 

The thing is, this really isn't just another adoption story about a couple who wanted a baby but couldn't have one, so they decided to adopt and it didn't go as planned so they waited some more, and then one day they finally got what they wanted. This really isn't our story at all, it's God's story. It's about our hearts, and it's about transformation, and redemption. God is in the business of redeeming seemingly hopeless situations, and redeeming ugly hearts who sometimes think He can't (or won't) do what He has promised. Spiritual transformation doesn't happen when we get what we want. It happens while we wait and trust, even when we have yet to receive what it is that we're waiting for.

God knows better then we do, and He is enough. I can trust, even in the midst of my darkest days, that God is working for my good. God does not make mistakes, God does not have a Plan B. 

Two and a half years ago, my perspective of God was too small. He worked in my brokenness, and He will do the same for you.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Flash Mob for Adoption

So, I'm helping to plan a flash mob.

Yep, you read that right. My good friend, Breanne, vlogs. Every day (almost) she turns on a video camera around noon and records whatever is going on in their family of five. Crazy? Yes. And I'm secretly jealous that her hair and makeup always look that good. She asked me recently to do a guest appearance on adoption. I love babies and all but nothing could get me on camera of my own free will, especially that close up.

So, back to the flash mob. Breanne does things BIG. She loves to have fun (we typically sit in coffee shops and occasionally coffee comes out our noses from laughing so hard). And she loves adoption. And she dances to Flashdance every. night.  (That part might be a lie.)  

Breanne thought, what better way to raise awareness and funds for adoption than with a flash mob?!  It took me all of 2 seconds to buy into it. You won't find me (ever) running in a 5K, but you WILL find me dancing in a flash mob for adoption in a few months...

Here's where you come in:

If you're local, we need you IN the flash mob. More to come, but we'll be converging in Kansas City in a few months to DANCE.

But right now, we need to get permission from Philip Phillips to use his song, "Home." So, we're starting an ad campaign to let him know. Watch this:

Let me break it down for you. You can get involved three ways TONIGHT:

On facebook, go "like" Hi Noon's page and share this status: 

Phillip Phillips, MOBS for Hope would like permission to use your hit song, HOME, for our FLASH MOB Fundraiser, that will raise funds for adoption awareness and help a family bring their baby HOME!

On Twitter, follow Hi Noon and retweet this:  
 MOBS for Hope needs permission to use your song HOME for our adoption fundraisin

On Instagram, take a pic of any house and add:
@phillhill #bringbabiesHome and your hometown

Subscribe to Hi Noon and follow the progress of MOBS for Hope!

Preparing Our Hearts With a Little Tree

There is a busyness that comes with this season that's exhilarating. The joy of spending special time with family and friends.  The excitement of finding the perfect gift. The wonder in our children's faces as they spy the lights and decorations and anticipate Christmas morning.  

But all of this bustling and hurrying and doing can lead to missing everything. In an effort to "get it all done" we miss it. Advent is a celebration of Jesus and His coming. Of a King who made himself a baby to rescue the world. Who stepped into the chaos of our world to give us ultimate rest and peace.

There is a beautiful tension in advent. It's the celebration that what we've needed has come and and anticipation and longing for Christ to come again. We want to be intentional in preparing our hearts as a family for this baby King and recognizing his ultimate place in our lives.

Since our kids were little we have celebrated Advent with the Jesse Tree in an effort to create this kind of space. The Jesse Tree is named out of Isaiah 11:1: There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse...  It is a vehicle to tell the story of God's redemptive plan since the beginning of time. I love that this tradition focuses on the entire story of God's great rescue plan and not just Christ's birth. Beginning with creation, every day we walk through stories of how God rescued and redeemed his people; stories of Abraham, Noah, Ruth, David, and Nehemiah. My kids can see God weaving together his plan and faithfulness across thousands of years of history.

We use this sweet little book, The Advent Jesse Tree by Dean Meadow Lambert. There are a ton of resources out there but I found this to be the best fit for our family. I love that it includes readings for children and adults along with scripture, songs, prayers, and questions for little hearts. We made our own ornaments out of the wood pieces you get at crafting stores and had to Mod Podge a few of the more unique ones. (Don't judge Joseph's coat of many colors/Hawiian Aloha shirt).

If you're wanting to do this yourself, the resources available are infinite. There are some families who get together to have a Jesse Tree swap, each choosing an ornament to make and creating multiples to share. There are printable versions of devotions and ornaments and Etsy and Pinterest are full of ideas. One quick caution: there are some variables to the devotions and ornaments so make sure they match whatever you choose. Below is our list: 

Each evening Isabelle and Jackson eagerly anticipate finding the handmade ornament hidden somewhere in the room, hanging it on our Jesse Tree, and hearing the story of God's redemption. Isabelle reads a portion of scripture from her Bible, Jamy reads the devotion, and we're quietly reminded that we can rest because Christ has come.  

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

In Her Own Words: A Breastfeeding Adoptive Mama Shares Her Story

I've known Elizabeth and Scott for several years. I remember when I first met Elizabeth at an adoption event. Her passion for adoption and motherhood were evident within moments. I was thrilled when they chose me to be their consultant and I had the privilege of seeing firsthand the amazing ways God would work in their adoption story by bringing Abraham to their family, their steadfast love for Abraham's birth family, and Elizabeth's commitment to breastfeeding their new son. Here's just a piece of their story.  For more of their amazing journey and crazy life, visit Elizabeth's blog, Finding Mercy.

I’m a stay-at-home mom of Evelyn, Annabelle, and Abraham, and wife to Scott. And while our little family draws a good amount of attention and awkward questions when out in public, my days are mostly filled with making snacks, changing diapers, and trying to not drown in the crazy that is life with a 4-year-old, 2-year-old, and 5 month old. 

Here we are.

God has written our family’s story.  It’s different than we planned, but it’s beautiful.

When I was 8 or 9 years old I met a family who had adopted a daughter from China. I remember listening to their story with awe and knowing that one day I would adopt a child. When Scott and I were dating and starting to talk about the future, he knew that choosing me meant choosing adoption.  It was still on my heart over a decade later. 

When it came time to add children to our family, we decided to start by having a biological child. We feel blessed that we were able to conceive and give birth to Evelyn and then almost two years later, Annie. I was also fortunate enough to be able to breastfeed both of them exclusively for their first 6 months of life and then both continue nursing until they were almost 2. It was important for me not only for their nutrition, but it was part of how I wanted to parent. I wanted to that intimate relationship of being able to soothe, comfort, and feed them from my own body the way God designed.

We decided shortly after Annie was born to begin pursuing adoption. We started the process to adopt from Ethiopia at the beginning of March. Three days after we signed on with our agency, the Ethiopian adoption program began to implode. If you've followed international adoption much in the last couple years, you know exactly what I’m referring to. The Ethiopian system grew too fast for itself and so the government slowed it down to almost a snail’s pace so that they could weed out the corruption that was coming to characterize adoption there. We were shell shocked. The timeline we had been given now meant nothing. No one knew if Ethiopia was going to completely close to adoption or what would happen. We tried to stay positive and keep moving forward, but we continually felt that it was not where we belonged.

After several people being brought into our lives and speaking to us in different ways (including Susan), we decided to switch to domestic adoption. Specifically, we wanted to adopt an African American infant. 

After completing our home study, we went active with our agencies at the start of the year. With the help of Susan and Christian Adoption Consultants, we were matched with Abraham’s birthmom at the beginning of May, and Abraham was born mid-June. 

Our story was unique though. I had decided that just as nursing was important for me with the girls, it was important to me for Abraham. I knew it would be a lot of work, but I decided to give it a try. Thankfully, Annie was still nursing when we were matched with Abraham’s birthmom.  On top of the nursing she was still doing, I started pumping nightly a year before Abraham was born. When we went active with our agencies, I started pumping in the morning as well. Then, when were matched, I added in several more pumping sessions a day as well as taking an herbal blend to help promote lactation. 

I spoke with Abraham’s birthmom about my plan prior to his birth. She was incredible about it and told me that I was welcome to feed him however I would like. So about an hour after his birth, we sat together in a rocking chair in the hospital nursery, and nursed for the first time.

We were the talk of the hospital nurses and social workers, but it was so worth it. So far he has been exclusively breastfed. There was one week when he hit a growth spurt and I couldn't keep up that we had to thaw some of those hundreds and hundreds of ounces I had pumped beforehand to give him in a bottle. It’s more than I thought my body would be able to do. Before he was born I said that I would just take it a month at a time and be thankful for every month that my body was able to keep up. I finally feel that we are at a point where I can say that we just may really be able to do this! I’m just now accepting of the idea that he may not ever need formula, something I never would have thought possible.

We have so much to be thankful for.  God has been infinitely gracious to our family and has provided in ways I never would have dreamed or thought possible. Adoption is so worth it.

Visit these links for more about Christian Adoption Consultants or Adoption Lactation Counseling Services or contact me for more information.

Monday, December 3, 2012

We're Doing Christmas Different This Year

You can count us among the parents who struggle with this season and what the holidays create in our children's hearts. Greed. Entitlement. Self-indulgence. Despair. The constant barrage of what we're told we need in the stores and commercials and billboards is overwhelming even as adults.  

How do we teach our kids what Christmas is all about with the world telling them the exact opposite? How do we tell them that Christmas is about a King who came from Heaven with a divine rescue plan? How do we tell them it's not at all about the lights and packages and busyness? Jamy and I have decided we won't just tell them, we'll show them. Because I need this reminder just as much as my kids do.  

Our kids have always received three gifts. We chose three since Jesus received three gifts (gold, frankincense and myrrh) and three seemed a much more reasonable and manageable amount. This way, Jamy and I are incredibly thoughtful about the gifts that we give Isabelle and Jackson. We don't buy everything we think is fun or cute or on sale. Jamy and I follow the same "rules" and thoughtfulness in our gift giving with each other. We purchase each gift purposely and intentionally. I'm so thankful we began when they were babies and they don't know any different.

My husband (who is the math police) will tell you they actually get five. They also get new jammies or slippers on Christmas Eve. And Jamy began a sweet tradition with them since their first Christmas of giving them a special book and writing them a note about the past year in the cover.

But even with our three gift limit, our kids are still bombarded with gifts during this season from doting grandparents, aunts and uncles, and dear friends. For the first time this year, I let them look through toy catalogs and complete their wish lists (something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read).

In years past, in an effort to focus their attention on Jesus, we had a makeshift manger under our tree. When we noticed Isabelle or Jackson offering a gift of service or kindness to someone else, they got a piece of straw to place in the manger to make a soft bed for baby Jesus. By the time Christmas Eve rolled around, the manger was full of soft straw in preparation for Jesus. Isabelle's African American doll was the closest Middle Eastern baby Jesus we had around and would arrive on Christmas morning, wrapped in swaddling clothes of course.

But our kids are getting older and Isabelle is on to us. ("Mommy - that's not baby Jesus, that's my doll!") Each year we're intentional about making Christmas day a celebration of Jesus' birthday.  We bake a birthday cake and sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus. But the only gifts that are shared are between us. This year we wanted to do something different to ensure Jesus got gifts. Something tangible for our kids to see, just as tangible as their wish lists and gift catalogs.

So this year each of the kids got a little empty bucket by a sweet little baby Jesus from a nativity. As they serve each other, as we spy little acts of kindness, they'll receive a quarter for their bucket. The idea is to create servant's hearts and cultivate fruits of the Spirit: obeying with happy hearts, steering clear of arguing and complaining, loving others as Christ loves us. The plan is that they'll take the money they've earned over the season of advent and use it to purchase something from the World Vision Gift Catalog. The idea is straight from Matthew 25:40; that what they've done for the least of these they've done for their King.

I loved watching their eyes light up looking through this catalog. As I explained the need for medicine and mosquito nets and books, they asked hard questions and we responded with hard answers. We showed them this video and watched their faces as they tried to take in the needs that are so foreign to them.  They are already making grand plans. Jackson plans to buy soccer balls for a village and Bella wants to purchase some small animals for a family.

My prayer is that this little advent family activity will teach their little hearts.

I pray it teaches their hearts gratitude.

I pray it teaches their hearts compassion.

I pray it teaches their hearts service.

I pray their hearts get a glimpse of their Savior, who gave up so much long ago so they could have the only gift of eternal weight.

This month I'll be blogging more about how we celebrate our Savior (and other fun traditions) during the Christmas season. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

On What REALLY Happened

People have been gracious. On the whole no one has asked for the back story about what went down with Jamy and I a year ago that left many (including me) shocked and stunned. I've only had one person ask; "so what really happened?" Others have been generous to let us take the lead and not ask too many questions.

Those close to us know details. And someday we hope to share these with our children so they know a part of their history and the story God wrote for our family.

Maybe someday we'll tell the back story publicly. Maybe someday Jamy will share the details since they are his to share. Maybe someday God will prompt us to share in an effort that He be glorified and others place their hope in him.

But for now this is what REALLY happened:

Sin happened.
What I thought would never touch me and my family personally...did. What I thought we were immune to... we weren't. What I believed I was safe from...I wasn't. We live in a broken and fallen world and sin hit home for us.  

Exposure happened.
We're promised it always will. Be sure, your sin will find you out (Numbers 32:23). I'm thankful Jamy had the courage to tell me what was going on, knowing that it could ruin us. But he was more concerned about his soul than he was for our marriage. This saved him.

Confession and repentance happened.
When everything hit the fan and Jamy confessed what had been going on, he was at the point of true repentance. He had men to walk beside him to show him his sin and show him the gospel. He was at a point of true brokenness and grief over his sin and it's effects.  

Forgiveness happened.
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus lived the life we could never live and died the death we should have died. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

It would have been easy to become bitter and angry and resentful on my end. I had been hurt and sinned against. But I couldn't get past the parable in the Bible about the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35. In it, a man was forgiven an enormous debt by the king and afterwards he failed to forgive a petty amount someone else owed him. How could I not forgive Jamy when I have been forgiven immeasurably more by my King?

Grace happened.
My goal is to be the tangible face of Christ to my husband. I want Jamy to have a glimpse of what Christ offers through my grace towards him. This doesn't always happen but I strive towards offering him grace in the big and small things daily.

‎True grace is shocking and even scandalous. It shakes our standards with its insistence on getting close to sinners and touching them with mercy and hope. And not just "sinners" in general, grace chooses to forgive those closest to us. Those who have truly let us down, those who have brought havoc into our lives with their careless words or selfish actions, those who stole the things most precious to us, those who cheated us, lied to us, and left us with nothing but pain.  This kind of grace is difficult to even think about and truly impossible to pull off on our own. It can only come from Christ who is at work in our lives. That's why true grace is more than just a nice idea or a pretty word, it is revolutionary. This kind of grace will transform lives, restore marriages, unify the church, and truly change the world.  (Phillip Yancey)

Work happened.
Both Jamy and I immediately went to work. We had a lot to work out. We let God do hard work on our hearts. He immediately got a group of men around him for gospel-centered accountability and who could speak truth into his life. We began individual and marriage counseling. The kids even went to play therapy for a season. We read all the quality material we could get our hands on, surrounded ourselves with people who challenged us to trust Jesus, and pushed hard into walking closely with Christ. Our lives literally stopped in order to focus on rebuilding our family.

Redemption happened.
Because we placed our hope in Christ, we have a new marriage and family. Our marriage has been saved. We will hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23). When we were faithless, he remained faithful. In the end, even with our hard work, it was Jesus that saved us.

And all of this "happening" really is the whole story. The only story that needs to be told. The only one that's really important. That God offers forgiveness, grace, hope, and redemption when we trust him.  

Photos by Atkinson Photographgy

For more of our story, click the marriage tab at the left.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Don't Forget!

This week your last chance to take advantage of Christian Adoption Consultants National Adoption Awareness Month discount! We are still offering 10% off all full service consulting packages and 20% off all consulting packages for those open to our Minority Adoption Program.  (This may not be combined with any other discounts and applies to all applications received by the end of the month.)

Who is Christian Adoption Consultants?  Click here.

What does it mean to hire an adoption consultant?  Click here.

Want to get started?  Click here.

What if you have more questions?  Click here.

Today could be the first step you take on the journey towards adoption! Have friends who are thinking about adoption? Make sure they see this post!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Turkey Bowl: Year 60 [ish]

The Turkey Bowl is an O'Connell Thanksgiving tradition that goes way back.

My mother is from an Irish Catholic family. And everything that phrase conjures up is probably true of the O'Connell clan: lots of kids (eight to be exact), a slew of cousins, a love of good beer and Celtic music, Catholic schools and confirmation, and lots of love and laughs to go around.

In an effort to get her husband and children "out from underfoot," my grandma shooed them out of the house Thanksgiving day so she could prep for the Thanksgiving meal. My grandpa gathered up some of his high school buddies from St. Therese and played football all day.

And so began what would become a grand tradition between several Irish families playing the Turkey Bowl every year the day of Thanksgiving. An old raggedy trophy is passed around to the winners. Eventually the two men who began it all, Dave O'Connell and Bill McCarthy became the inevitable team captains, doing more barking orders and jabbing at the other team than anything.

Patriarchs of the Turkey Bowl: Dave O'Connell and Bill McCarthy 

The players all gather at a host family's home (which changes yearly along with the field) for hot chocolate, coffee, and required pregame donuts. Then it's off to a nearby park or school to play while sveral women with kiddos too small yet to play stay behind to chat.  The game is on rain or shine.  And in Detroit in November that really means in the snow, sleet, or blizzard. Part of the uniform is always long johns. The fields can be frozen or muddy, and one year even covered in goose droppings. The O'Connells stop football for nothing.

By the time the brothers and sisters, cousins, their children and now grandchildren, and friends all show up there can easily be over forty people on the field. A rowdy game is played and we often met prospective mates of cousins and uncles this way. Two hand touch often always turns into tackle. One year when I was eight I hollered at my uncle Dennis for rolling my mom during a play. "Don't you know she's PREGNANT!" One of the favorite plays involves getting the ball to some of the littlest players. They usually got pretty far since no one feels ok about stopping a four year old.

It's been awhile since I've been to Detroit to play in the Turkey Bowl. This year, we played in Kansas City for the Midwest Edition with the Weston clan (my parents, Tim and Meg, and our crew). Jackson heard that Nonny is pretty good and she was first pick for his team. I'm proud to report I ran half the length of our backyard for a touchdown.

The dream lives on Grandpa.  You'd be proud.
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