Monday, July 30, 2012

Some of My Favorite Adoption Resources

One of the things I do working in adoption is direct people to good resources. There are lots "out there," but only a few are worth a family's time and energy.  Here's just a few of my favs...

Adoption Blogs (follow them)

Apart from having the most fantastic name ever, Kristen's blog offers witty insight as a mother of four via birth and adoption. One of my favorite posts was just last week about educating kiddos on adoption. Also, check out her "What I Want You To Know" guest post series. She's got several posts from birth mamas that offer incredible insight.

Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet

One mama's journey to adoption and thoughts on faith and parenting. especially love Sara's thoughts on "entering motherhood through the back door." She speaks honestly and openly about infertility and her birth canal from the U.S. to Africa. And get your hankies if you want to meet two of their beauties here.  

Adoption Books (read them)

I'm recommending this book to all of my clients (adoptive parents and birth parents alike). This is written as a guidebook for birth mothers thinking about making an adoption plan. Super helpful for adoptive parents as well to hear what the birth family is going through and navigating an ongoing relationship.

My friend Randy shares his thoughts that the reality of being pro-life also means being pro-child. And he's got some ownership in it with nine children (five of whom are adopted). My favorite chapter likens the adoption movement to the underground railroad; helping women choose life for their babies and families willing to set aside their comfort to do it.

If you want the theology behind James 1:27 - this is it. Amazon calls this "a practical manifesto for Christians to adopt children and to help equip other Christian families to do the same."  

That's all for now. But be careful. If you read these resources and feel like adoption is for "someone else," you might be surprised...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Good Reminders

If you follow my Instagram feed, you saw this last night. (That's my friend, Sarah's head).

I attended an old fashioned hymn sing at my church. We've been in the Psalms this month and to cap things off, we sang tonight in response to the Psalms' call to worship an amazing God. Afterwards in the gallery an artist showed his artwork depicting the psalms and playing were Psalms that musicians in our church had put to music. I love our church, by the way.

It was a good night to rehearse truths from the Psalms. You see, things have been rough around here for the last three and a half years. And that's putting it lightly. If you're following along, you know I'm going through some changes (again: understatement). I've described these last few years in our life like I keep getting hit by waves (not the ones that lick your toes mind you; the ones that knock you down) and just when I'm struggling to get up, another one rolls in and crashes around me. That's the thing about life in a broken world, it just keeps coming. A few nights ago I was reading these verses in Lamentations:

Hope has been my theme for awhile. Because the truth is, my heart is aching in the midst of the waves. I long to make sense of where I've been and long to know where I'm going. But I'm reminded that He is good to those who wait for him, to those who seek him. He is faithful, he is my portion, and therefore, I will hope in him.

And singing these songs tonight did something more than reading them. Songs can go deep into your heart, into the places you need truth to really sink in.

So there I was, with a little boy sleeping on my lap, a little girl standing next to me singing at the top of her lungs and worshiping, and me with one hand raised and tears streaming down my cheeks. We sang one of my favorite songs. It's worth the read:

The Lord is My Joy, Nathan Partain

The Lord is my Joy, the Lord is my Joy

When all that I have is lost,

The Lord is my Joy.

The Lord is my strength, the Lord is my strength,

When I am too weak to go on I find,

The Lord is my strength.

My all in all is he, My healing King

My Master tends to me,

For him my soul shall sing.

The Lord is my rock, the Lord is my rock,

When all I have faith in fails,

The Lord is my rock.

The Lord is my delight,  the Lord is my delight,

Above all the joys of life,

The Lord is my delight.

My all in all is he, my breath, my song.

In him I have everything,

To him my soul belongs

I wait, and wait upon you, To come for me in rescue.

Give strength, my heart is failing, Yet still, my lips will praise you.

And with his wings he covers me, He keeps his watch when I’m asleep,

I offer all my thoughts and dreams, I give my savior everything.

You who gave your only son, I dare not doubt your steadfast love.

Come, I beg you take my life, if am yours then all is right.

My all in all is he, my closest friend.

I put my trust in him,

On him my soul depends.

You can listen here and even download for free. Good words about a good God.  

I'm glad I went to the hymn sing tonight. It turned out to be good reminder for my soul.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Book I Read Every Day

I admit it hasn't always been this way. I promised that this blog would be honest and I'm about to be super transparent.

I didn't always read my Bible like I "should." I don't even really know what that means. But I'm a rule-follower and I love checklists.  Like I make checklists just so I can check things off. So reading the Bible often became a rule-following, check-it-off-my-to-do-list, self-righteous, religious-ritual thing. Rather than a spending time with my Maker thing.

The Bible became this to me when my life literally hit the fan a while ago. My time with Jesus soaking up His truth became the only thing that made sense. The only thing in my life that offered any kind of peace.  And now I read my Bible just about every day. It's become like food to me. Sustaining. Life-giving. 

And so, every night I find a cozy space. Usually curled up with a blanket on my couch or on my back porch with little globe lights above me. And always with a mug of coffee in one hand and a pen in the other.  Ready to underline and circle and remind myself of these truths. It's my attempt to etch them into my soul.

Because the reality of my life (and probably of being human) is that I forget. I forget the truth that the gospel (literally the good news) brings. Because the worst news is that I'm more messed up that I'll admit.  And the most amazing news is that I'm loved more than I'll ever imagine.  I forget who I am. More importantly I forget who HE is. I forget that He is good and faithful and loving and sovereign and enough.

Life pulls at me at every direction and tells me lies. That things will work if I'm in control. That I need something; a relationship, a career, a parenting technique, a [fill in the blank] to be fulfilled. Now I notice when I don't read truth every day. Not because it's not checked off.  Because my heart isn't in check.  

That's why I read this book every day. Because I forget who He is and need to be reminded who I am.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I Haven't Bought Shampoo in Six Years

It's true. And not only have I not bought shampoo, but add to the list toothpaste, deodorant, Tylenol, body wash, cold and allergy medicine, band-aids, razors, and most of my makeup.

Now before you think I have waaaaaaaaay more issues than I do: I actually use these products. It's just that I've gotten them for free for years now.

A typical weekly free haul

It's because I coupon *gasp*. I should also clear up that I am not "one of those" like on TLC's Extreme Couponing. I don't have 423 packages of Raman noodles in my basement or 109 stacks of toilet paper in my daughter's room. I also do not check out at the grocery store with a skid. (Although when some of those women leave the market with 23 free dark chocolate bars I do think twice).

It started when a co-worker and I discovered The Grocery Game. She happened to be a dietitian and a cheapskate thrifty like me and convinced me that it worked. I started shopping at Meijer in Michigan (oh, how I miss you) and would save anywhere from 65-75% of my grocery bill.

Then I discovered Hip2Save, a coupon and savings blog that is uh-maze-ing.  I watch the blog daily to find deals. I score a ton of free samples and often purchase designer items for 5-10% of the price.

Most of my deals come from local drug stores. I remember my first trip to CVS. "You spent $43 at CVS?!" Jamy was in disbelief. You see the idea at these stores is to spend money on things you can actually make money back on (through a store savings plan that gives you credit). BUT, the next week he was a believer when I got $258 worth of products, didn't spend a cent, and had $53 to spend next time. We've essentially been living off of that first $43 for 6 years now for most of our health and beauty products (even my makeup).

But are you one of those who spends 40+ hours a week couponing? Are. you. kidding. me? No way.  I spend about 15 minutes a week going over weekly deals and cutting coupons from the Sunday paper or internet. And I check Hip2Save daily. My goal is to save at least 50% off our grocery bill each week (it's so sad that after moving to KC the grocery stores don't offer half the deals Michigan did).

The truth is, I love deals. I'm one of those women that when you say, "I love that dress!" I'll say, "Thanks - I scored it for $4.23!" True story by the way.
$4.23.  (Originally $123)  For real.
But maybe someday it will get out of hand and you'll see me on TLC stocking up on cat food...

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Story of Hannah's Dream Adoptions

Only God could have written this story...

When we moved from Michigan in 2009, I had left a job in Grand Rapids that I could have retired from. I worked at a prenatal clinic for the under-served as a social worker facilitating group prenatal care, teaching as a lactation counselor, and case managing women needing some extra help. I loved it. When we moved to KC, I took a job as a social worker that just wasn't a good fit. Good agency. Good people. Just not for me.

Several months after our move, I got an email randomly about a man starting an adoption agency needing a social worker. It was this guy"Do you know where IHOP is?" he says so we could meet for an interview. Prior to this, I thought IHOP was where you ate pancakes. Turns out we met here instead. And Randy tells me his story, his passion for adoption, and how broken the system is. And instead of whining about the system and telling others to fix it, he tells me he wants to change it by stepping into it and fixing it himself. While he's talking, I can feel my heart resonating with his vision. And I tell him my story. I can tell there's a connect, but at one point he says, "So I'm not even sure why I asked you to meet me. To be honest, I need someone with a Master's degree." (That is not on my resume.) I tell him I know a guy...

Jamy thinks I'm crazy. "Uh, who did you meet with again?" After meeting with some random man I come home and want to quit my job with a salary and benefits and step into a brand new agency with no promises. "You just have to meet him. I'm telling you, Jamy, God is in this." So the next day Jamy and I meet with Randy and we were hired. Jamy as the Social Work Supervisor and me as the social worker. (Yep, Jamy is the boss inside and outside our house.)  
*Note this is the extremely abridged version as God did about a dozen miracles to make this happen.

This is baby Bethany.  She was the first Hannah's Dream baby.
She and her family hold a special place in our hearts.

And it worked. We stepped into a broken field; one where adoption is about making money, using birth parents, and taking advantage of adoptive families and created an agency the way we thought it should work. Hannah's Dream Adoption's worked to further the cause of adoption and life by providing compassionate care for birth and adoptive families. We worked to create a culture of life and set the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6). Because in America, over 4,000 babies are aborted every day. If our prayers are answered and Roe vs. Wade is overturned tomorrow, we'll have 4,000 babies who are still unwanted and need homes. As a church, we need to answer that call and tell the world that we want the babies. But we didn't just want to care for the babies. We wanted to serve and care for the birth families as well. Tell them their lives are precious and valuable. Honor them by giving them choices and a voice and support.

Richy, Jess, and their family just after Tristan was adopted.

So for the past three and a half years I've had the insane privilege of doing something that makes my heart come alive. I've worked as the social worker for Hannah's Dream Adoptions. I've written home studies for adoptive families, counseled birth families, and consulted with families nationwide. And I've loved every minute of it. I've spent countless hours in families homes hearing their stories, how God has called them to adopt, and watched as they've welcomed children into their homes. I've sipped hundreds of cups of coffee across the tables from birth mamas; listening and counseling and crying and laughing. I've coached at bedsides at the hospital praying and encouraging and weeping.  

And now the journey is coming to a close. Hannah's Dream has been operating on such a low budget that it's become unfeasible now to continue. So come the end of the summer, we're ensuring that our families get the best ongoing care from another fantastic agency and closing our doors.

Most of the team at a Zoe Foundation Banquet in 2010
 Me, Tracie, Jamy, Angela, & the Chief - Randy
 (we're missing JoAnna and Mitch)

And it's hard. A team was created at Hannah's Dream that is unmatched. We have labored together, prayed together, laughed together, and "done life" together for years now. They've become family to me.  

But in the three and a half years Hannah's Dream Adoptions was in existence, dozens of families were created. Dozens of babies were rescued. Dozens of birth mamas know they are loved and honored for the incredible sacrifice they have made. Dozens of families now have an extra chair at their dining room table.

And in the past three and a half years, I've been changed too. God has wrecked my heart in ways I didn't know it could be, showed me passions I didn't know I had, and created relationships of eternal weight that I didn't know were possible in this lifetime.

Andy, Becky, and their sweet baby Roland.
The last Hannah's Dream baby.

Not pictured here are hundreds of pictures I'll have forever etched in my heart. Sitting around a conference table with lots of laughter and prayers with a team I was proud to walk beside. Beautiful birth mothers sipping their tea across from me sharing their heart and their tears. Adoptive families sitting on the leather sofa in my office recounting how they were called to adopt a baby. Labor and delivery rooms filled with prayers and tears and laughter. And visiting precious babies in their new homes who know the amazing love of two families.  

It's been worth it.

And now...I'm on to something new

Friday, July 13, 2012

Why Hire an Adoption Consultant?

A lot of people ask what I do. I do a few things. I work as a birth parent counselor, an adoption social worker, and an adoption consultant. When I get to that last job title, I often get sweet smiles mixed with blank stares. Because it sounds good but has people wondering, "uh, so what is that exactly."
This is sweet little Zola (her parents consulted with me)

When families start on an adoption journey, it often takes a lot to get to the decision to adopt and have the couple finally be on the same page. But that's just the beginning.  There's actually dozens of decisions ahead. Who will do our home study? How do we find an ethical attorney? How do we raise all this money? How do we find an agency that will care well for our birth family? Open or closed adoption? What race are we open to? What about special needs?

Creed's family began consulting in October and brought him home in January!

As the questions keep coming, everyone inevitably turns to google. And you can imagine where this might lead you. You could find an amazing agency, or just one who spends all of the adoptive family's money on some fantastic marketing (rather than good, quality care for both the adoptive and birth family).

So, in an effort to help families navigate what can be a very overwhelming, time consuming, and costly process, I work as a sort of "adoption coach" to help families adopt.

Steve and Maria with their sweet little guy, Asher

Consulting offers:
  • Shorter wait time - adopting through a consultant can take as little as six to ten months
  • Referrals to multiple agencies in adoption friendly states - agencies that provide quality services and are trustworthy  More on this approach here.
  • Financial advice - knowing the resources available to an adoptive couple will help them make sound, wise financial decisions and save time and money
  • Education and guidance for your adoption - I work with families personally and give them a step by step reference manual that guides them from their first questions about adoption until their adoption is finalized.
  • Higher level of protection and security from adoption fraud - I can advise couples on the warning signs and help them find the right agency and adoption situation for their family

    Scott gave Elizabeth a consulting package for Christmas.
    Abraham joined their family in June.

I have the privilege of working with families across the country and helping them grow their family through adoption. These pictures are just a glimpse of what I get to share in.

You can check out more on consulting at Christian Adoption Consultants or email me. Feel free to connect with me by email and we'll set up a time to chat over the phone (or if you're in KC, I'd love to grab a coffee with you). I would love to see if consulting would be a good fit for your family.

This is Stacey and Tim. They began in January, matched in June, and had their daughter in September!

*Thanks to my sweet clients who shared pictures of their families with me.  

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

My Husband Cooks

You should know I don't cook. And when I say I don't cook, I mean not. at. all. If you invite me over for a dinner party and I offer to help, what I'm really offering is if I can add ice to the glasses or fold the napkins or wipe down the counters. Ask me to chop the onion and I'm out.

Growing up, I remember Ma often starting a Monday by saying, "OK Sweetie, I should teach you how to cook this week." And I would respond (probably with a respectful eye roll) by telling her very practically that I was planning on marrying a man who would cook for me. Even though she rolled her eyes right back and never did really teach me, I'm sure she never really thought it would work out for me. Or maybe she added that to her prayer list for my future husband (man of God, SUPER patient, appreciates quirkiness...good cook).

And that's exactly what happened. I married a cook. And he's turning into a chef I tell you. Below are some Instagram pics to prove it. (Yes, I take pictures of his amazing food - follow me on Instagram if you want your jaw to drop often).

Fruit Chimichangas (or heaven on a plate)
THIS is a typical Saturday breakfast

Here's the great part. He LOVES it. You can see from the pictures that he puts a ton of thought and creativity into each of his dishes he makes for his family. For some crazy reason, cooking helps him destress. The Food Network is my husband's ESPN. And he rarely uses a recipe. In fact, if he makes something that I especially like, the convo will go something like this:  
Me: Babe, this is really good. Will you pleeeese remember how you made this for next time? 

Chef Extraordinaire: You know there's no way I'll remember exactly how I made this
So, that's one downside to his creative genius; it's different every time.

"Just dessert" he says...

As you can see, I made out pretty good. And so did my kids. I mean, had I not married Jamy my kids would be eating mac and cheese and frozen pizzas and store bought crackers. And maybe some Lunchables or something else I feel is balanced like the food pyramid. But instead we have a man in the house who makes sure we're fed with yummy, healthy (ok - that's not always true), and beautiful food. Saturday mornings he'll make a full on breakfast of potato pancakes (my fav) or fritters or egg bake or cinnamon rolls (we'll talk about why I want to lose a few pounds later).

BUT, I do make a mean tater tot casserole. (I know I just lost all my organic-clean-eating friends in the blog world. Deal with it.) I told one of my birth mamas this once and she almost spit out her Starbucks across the table laughing. She offered to teach me to cook. So until I get some cooking lessons from clients, when I'm up to cook at the VanSyckle's tater tot cass it is people.

Yes, that rice is in the shape of a heart

So we have a good system going. He cooks dinner and I clean up. Although admittedly I get the much better end of the stick.

There is one drawback. Neither one of us can make chocolate chip cookies to save our life. Sorry,  kids.  Oreos it is.

*Update: after Jamy read this post, he says, "What?!  You posted those pictures?" I guess the eggs were a little "messy" in one...  My apologies, Babe.

Monday, July 9, 2012

My Heroes

Every so often I sleep with my phone. When I know one of my birth mama’s due dates is approaching or we get news at her last prenatal appointment that “it’s almost time.” So my phone is on my bedside table at night. 

The call usually comes at a less than perfect time like when I’m poolside with the family, in the middle of the night, or during the busiest work week. (Actually, once it came during a dinner party gone horribly wrong for which I’ll be forever grateful.) 

And I rush to pick her up or meet her at the hospital; breathing heavy, eyes going a little wild with the pain, and struggling to make sense of the beginning of the now imminent goodbye.

And so we labor together. I coach. She breathes deeply. I encourage. She groans. I pray. She rests. 

And I watch in awe as a woman labors to give birth to a gift she knows she won’t keep.   

At this point I’ve usually walked with her for months. We’ve chatted for hours over coffee or tea. We’ve talked to doctors. We've talked about adoption and life and hurts and relationships. We’ve found an adoptive couple.  One that fits her mold of a “perfect family.” At least one she believes will be the perfect fit for her. She’s become a friend and I’ve come to love her. 

I love her bravery and strength. I love that she’s been through so much and still smiles. I love how she loves. She loves her baby so much that she recognizes she can’t give him what she so desperately wants him to have. 

And so I watch her smile as she pulls her baby to her chest and meets him for the first time. I watch the adoptive mother stand in awe at the miracle she just witnessed and the miracle that will be the beginning of her child’s story. He was soon passed from one mother to another. And in that moment his love was doubled. All because this amazing woman made a choice for life.

As I watched this story unfold again; it always shocks me how beautiful and messy and hard and wonderful adoption is. We chatted today; just days after watching this picture of sacrifice. She was crying. But she explained they were happy tears as she thought of her son and everything she had been through and how she had written him the beginning of a very good story.  

And I was reminded why these women are my heroes.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

We're Calling It the Monkey Bar Fiasco

We called it: Jamy and I said this would be the summer. And we were right.

It happened during "kindergarten meet and greet" on June 14th at Jackson’s school. (By the way, do you love this name? I think I’ll have a “meet and greet” next time I want to hire a plumber.) The time for us to schmooze his kindergarten teacher and let her know that he’s on track to become a rocket scientist, reads at a 9th grade reading level, and never picks his nose. Ever. 

But before I got to any of that important stuff, he had fallen off the monkey bars and we knew it was serious. I mean, this kid never stops. Usually just a quick hug from mama and he’s back to prepping for the Olympic horizontally mounted overhead ladder (we’re counting on the monkey bars to be a college sport to pay for college).

But this time was different and Jackson was babying his arm. On the way home I even offered him a slushy from Sonic. A ploy I had worked out to offer to his lame arm as a gauge to know if we were off to the emergency room.  When the kid didn’t even move, we made plans to get there fast.

Within 30 minutes of being at the local children’s hospital, we had a diagnosis of a “right radial fracture.” The doctor was shocked that Jackson even let her touch his arm much less do an exam before the x-ray. So he was sent home in a formed-to-his-body splint and several days later got his cast. 

And he's in this crazy super-bionic cast that’s waterproof (thank the good Lord). Essentially, they wrapped his arm in bubble wrap and then wrapped blue fiberglass around that. Seriously, he could easily put a hole in one of my walls with that thing (he’s already damaged some furniture with it it’s so hard!)

So now we’re doing the summer with Jackson in a cast up to his shoulder. And it totally slows him down and he’s struggling to keep up. Not. At. All. He’s a champ and you wouldn’t know he’s got a bum arm. He freaks everyone out with his running and climbing and general being a boy.   

But I have stopped him from training on the horizontally mounted overhead ladder. At least for now.  The scholarship can wait a few months...

*By the way, you'll have to deal with iPhone photos all over this blog.  I am not one of those moms who wears a Rebel around her neck all the time.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Crushing the Myth (And Why I'm Doing This)

So I’ve wanted to blog for a while now. Friends say I should do it. They also lie and tell me a ton of people will read it. 

So, let’s get a few things straight before I start typing God-knows-what into a silly looking format that only my mom will read…

  1. I am not funny.  Witty – sometimes.  Sarcastic – often. I usually find myself wishing there was a sarcastic emoticon while texting and emailing. This would get me out of a lot of sticky situations. 
  2. I am not profound.  My “profundity” can be found on my twitter. Anything past 140 characters and I’m done. So we’ll see how this all works out…maybe you should stop reading these after the first sentence or two.
  3. I’m regular.  My life is fairly average and I’m a normal girl. Full of the chaos of parenting and working and housekeeping and keeping my sanity. 
  4. I’m real.  If I’m anything I’m sincere and transparent. Usually to a fault. We’ll see how this rolls with the interwebs. (Again, it can’t be too bad with only my mother reading, right?)
  5. I can’t write.  How's that for "welcome to my blog - please read it." I don’t even journal for heaven’s sake which I know will send me straight to hell. (OK, not really ‘cause I love Jesus).

Because I’m really doing it for me and my family. To preserve memories. To remember the things that are really important. To preach the gospel to myself and actually write it out so I can hear it not just in my head but in my heart. So I can track the grace filled mess God is creating right now.  In my life.  

So here we go... 

{oh, and you should know...I really like coffee. A lot.}
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