The Blessing Jar {Part #3}

In January of 2013, our family started our so-called “Blessing Jar”.  The idea came from a conversation I had with my son after picking him up from school.  To read about it, click here.

Blessing Jar3

Throughout the year, we intentionally added our spare change to the jar.  We never pressured our kids to put money in it, but were pleasantly surprised when they eagerly added money they found in parking lots, and money given to them as gifts.  Thanksgiving weekend of 2013, we cashed out the jar and talked to the kids about where they wanted the money to go.  After discussing the various options, they decided upon a local group called “The Gathering Tree”.  They feed homeless and impoverished people in our community, and rely almost solely on the kind acts of donations of money, food, and man-power.  You can read about the first time we delivered our Blessing Jar money by clicking here.

As we approached Thanksgiving this year, we decided that it was time to share the collection of change in our Blessing Jar.  I asked the kids, “Who do you want the money to go to?”  I listed several options in our community, and even included organizations that help animals (we are pet-lovers).

To my pleasure, our two oldest children suggested the money should go back to “The Gathering Tree”, and they wanted to make sure it was used to help feed people who do not have food or a home.  With the help of a friend who has been heavily involved in the group, I arranged the time for us to meet up with the people who started the group.

This morning I reminded the kids that today was the day we emptied our Blessing Jar and gave the money away.  They were both really excited.  After talking more about it with my daughter (age 6), she decided that she wanted to bake some muffins to take to them as well.  We spent the morning baking Banana-Zucchini-Chocolate Chip Muffins!  They even decided to donate all of their weekly allowance to the jar.  Unbeknownst to me, my mother had decided to pitch in as well and help the kids with their money collection, so after a quick stop to pick up her portion of the donation, we headed down to center where a meal was getting ready to start.

As we stood there waiting to deliver the money to the gentleman who started the group, we watched as the line for a warm meal (they cook very nutritious meals) grew quite big.  Even after working in the field of social services for the past twenty years, I was a bit taken back by the number of people being fed.

We were pleased to give the group quite a bit more than we were last year, and our hope and faith is that God can take it and multiply it to meet the needs of this community.photo 1 (14) photo 3 (4) photo 2 (11)photo 4 (1)

If that were the end of the experience today, then it would be just fine.  However, shortly after delivering the money, a gentleman came up and hugged my friend.  He told her how much he appreciated all of the help she and the group has provided him.  “They changed my life”, he said.

As we stood there listening to him, tears started to well up in my eyes, my friend’s eyes, and the eyes of the gentleman before us.  This gentleman explained that before he became homeless (he told us he was a farmer before his current situation), he used to judge others who were homeless.  He also did this even during his homelessness.  As he watched the group show kindness to each other, he learned how to treat others with compassion and to not judge all within any group based on stereotypes.

After we left the center, the kids talked about the people who were there eating. They were glad that the money we gave will help feed them again.  My daughter was also glad that she baked some muffins for them to eat.  While tucking my son in bed tonight, he talked about maybe someday helping to serve the meal.  I told him that I would check into that for him, but I think that would be an awesome thing to do.

As my husband and I processed the day, I told him that the fellow to whom opened up to us had been on my mind all day.  My husband agreed.  The fact is that it does only take a little bit of kindness to potentially change someone’s outlook on life.  For that matter, kindness can not only change an outlook, it can change a life.

To be reminded by a homeless man that there is great power and potential when judgement is confronted by compassion is probably one of the most humbling reminders of all.  

To look around the room today, and see people who are struggling, who may only get that one meal of the day, who may be sleeping under a bridge tonight, who may be lonely, depressed, thankful, or prayerful, and to watch them ask about each other’s well-being, smile, hug, and show kindness to each other, was a blessing.

The Blessing Jar project started as a seemingly simple way for us to teach our young children about compassion and generosity.  We are finding, though, that we too are gaining lessons from it.  We are learning that despite our own challenges (and we have them), we have so much to be thankful for.

We are also learning that when you set out to change the life of someone else, it is often that your own life is changed for the better.

Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. -Luke 6:38

What Adoption Means: Perspective of a Blessed Aunt

“What Adoption Means” Post #5.  This message came to me from a woman who watched her sister’s journey through adoption. She considers herself a proud and blessed aunt!

“My sister desperately wanted to be a mom and was struggling to get pregnant. When we were in high school, my sister would talk about wanting to adopt children. It was an idea placed on her heart early.

I remember one conversation with her when she said “I have always wanted to adopt. Does it really matter if I adopt before I have biological children?” I agreed with her and watched from a distance as my sister and her husband began the challenging task of navigating all of the requirements, background checks, health screenings, and home visits to be approved to be put on a list of parents wanting to have children. The process is lengthy-it took about two years to go through all of the requirements.

The transparency that the adoptive parent offers is so amazing and challenging. They had to answer what seemed to be crazy questions such as “Are you willing to parent a child that is a different race than you?”, “Would you be willing to parent a child with illness and if so, what level of illness can you handle?”

As a non-adoptive parent, these questions seemed to be so strange, yet I saw that they were necessary, but I thought about the fact that if my children would have been born with health challenges, I wouldn’t think twice about keeping them and loving them.

Around Christmas, my sister and brother-in-law received their much-anticipated letter-they were approved and pregnant women would be viewing their profile in hopes of choosing them as parents. They put that letter under their tree as their most prized gift.

On April 1st, my sister called me. She was choked up and tearful as she told me “We have been chosen!” My first thought was “this is the worst April Fools Joke ever!” but I burst into tears as she assured me that this was real and that they would have a son. He was born about fourteen to fifteen hours later and three days after that, they were at home with their son.  My nephew.

That first month of a waiting period for the mother to change her mind was rough, but the time came and went. They have a semi-open adoption with the birth parents. They exchange letters and pictures. When they lived in the same area, they would meet up with the birth mother. They went to her high school graduation. My nephew knows that this woman is his “tummy mommy.”

When he was 3 months old, my sister found out she was pregnant. Two shocking phone calls in one year! She had a daughter.

People asked questions and insinuated that one child was their real child and the other was not. This probably fired me up more than it did my sister (maybe all that adoption training had prepared her). They are both real!

Fast forward 4 years. My sister got another call from the adoption agency. A young woman from Guatemala had delivered a baby girl in the United States and could not parent her. She left her with the hospital. My sister and husband prayed a lot about this. We prayed a lot about this. This adoption was very different from their first experience. There was no family history, no medical history, and there would be no contact with the birth mother, and this child looks the most different from the family. The conversations my sister and brother-in-law will be having with each of their kids will be so different.

Adoption is hard, it is scary, and it is costly. The journey isn’t over when the baby is placed into the adoptive parents arms.

If you have a family member that is on this journey, support them in any way that you are able.

I love being an aunt to this crazy trio. I am so thankful to the women who acted so incredibly unselfishly and put the needs of these two babies ahead of their own. They have given us all a gift-not just the adoptive parents-but the extended family as well.

I am proud to say that I am the blessed aunt of three awesome, very real, kids.”

What Adoption Means: God’s Perfect Plan

“What Adoption Means” Post #4:  This message comes from a professional in the field of social work.  She has worked with families in both domestic adoption and foster care.

“After having watched many families have  failed adoptions through a birth mom changing her mind or a foster family who has loved a child for years and releasing them to reunification, through it all, God’s hands are evident and the children who will join them in the years to come through adoption are clearly in God’s perfect plan and design.”

Adoption work is heavy at times.  It is not always happy, and regardless of what happens in “cases”, someone (foster, adoptive, or birth family) suffers some level of loss.  Through it all, though, one witnesses and is an active player in the unfolding of God’s plan in the lives of children and families.

What Adoption Means: A Life so full of Love

This message was sent to me from a fellow blogger.  Her words of “What Adoption Means to Me” cut right to my heart.  It was as if I was reading my own story; similar in our journeys, despair, and revelation of a mighty God.

I love adoption stories.  I just love them.

You can read more from Amanda on her blog, FrommyplantoHis.

“When I think of adoption the first thing that comes to my mind is redemption. I know when I say that, some people’s first thought is going to jump towards the biblical analogy of God adopting us as heirs. Yes, that form of redemption plays a part in my response, but it goes so much deeper for me. It is redemption of faith, hope, and love.

When I found out our last attempt at fertility treatment ended in failure, it felt as if a nuclear bomb had gone off in my life. Our next step was a hysterectomy, leaving me forever barren. Everything that I had ever hoped, dreamed and desperately prayed for was gone. I no longer knew who I was with the future I’d envisioned shattered. My life was a wasteland. I wept from a place I did not even know existed.

I had prayed many, many times for pregnancy. I knew God was capable of providing an affirmative answer to my pleas. I knew he was capable of miracles and I believed that if I kept praying long enough, eventually I would get mine. I had placed all of my trust in God to provide what I had longed for since I was a little girl.

When that prayer was answered with a resounding “No,” I lost a lot of my faith in God. I lost my faith in praying. I wondered aloud, “What is the point of praying if God was going to do His will anyhow?” I had no idea how I was ever supposed to hope again if my dreams were hopeless. For a time, Satan began to convince me that I was not worthy of God answering my prayers and that was why God did not provide me a miracle.

For two years after my hysterectomy, I fumbled through life, veering wildly between life plans. Some days I would dream of adoption, some days I wondered about becoming Foster Parents, other days I was set that we were going to be a “Complete as Two” couple and I would return to school to begin a lifelong career.

My relationship with God struggled. I was angry, at times like a toddler throwing a tantrum because I did not get “my way.” I wrestled with placing my hopes in Him. I had been raised to believe that prayer was the answer and I wanted to believe that, but a part of me feared what would happen to my Christianity altogether if I put my trust back in him and was again met with broken dreams.

My prayers remained shallow, terrified to rely on Him for any of the major desires of my life. My biggest dream had been denied. I searched for what His will really was for my life. Nothing ever really felt right except my dreams of motherhood, but all I could see was that I was forever barren and adoption seemed like a pipe dream. Time and time again I prayed for God to remove my desire to become a mom if that was not his will for my life.

We decided that I would at least finish up my bachelor’s degree, which would take about two years and then we would figure out where to go from there. I submitted my application and less than a week later, God made his will known.

We received a phone call out of the blue by a minister we knew wondering if we had interest in adoption. We had always been transparent about our struggles through infertility, so he was aware of our situation. He had a woman contact their church looking for someone to place her unborn child with.

It has always amazed me how clearly God can speak. After spending a couple of years wandering and wondering what I was supposed to do with my life, making hollow plans just trying on new identities now that motherhood seemed unlikely, suddenly, it was all laid out in front of us.

That first match ended in a late-term loss. The mother decided to parent in the end. We were devastated, but could no longer deny that this was the path that God wanted us on.

Picking up the pieces, we were matched again six weeks later to a young woman who would go on to become our son’s birthmother.

Describing the moment we met our son makes me tear up every time. There he lay on the warmer, no more than an hour old. The light the shined down on him might as well have been a light shining straight from Heaven.

God looked at us and said, “Him. He is your son. Everything that you have been through was for him. He was waiting for you all along.”

We still had the legal hurdles to get through, but from the moment I met him it was as if my soul recognized him as my son.

When we adopted our son, it was as if every twist and turn, every heartache and sadness suddenly made sense. God had in mind who He needed me to become. Prior to infertility, I was pretty independent and prideful. I talked the talk and walked the walk, but I lacked a sincere dependence on God.

God removed the one thing that mattered most to me and brought me to my knees, both in the sense brokenness and desperate prayers.  I learned what it was to rely on Him. He was the only one that could redeem the amount of pain that I was in. And redeem He did!

Sometimes I wish away the scars of our journey, but now I know that they are a reminder that God fought for my love and for my life. As Hebrews 12:7-11 talks of, He disciplined me as a father does to his Children. He did not deem me unworthy of His love as Satan attempted to convince me. To the contrary, God found me worthy enough to move through my life in a profound way, showing me that He wanted to fight for me as a father who loves his daughter.

We have since been blessed with a daughter. When I hold those children, I am humbly grateful for the journey God has given us. During the heartache, I could never have envisioned a life so full of love. I have been blessed beyond measure to have the privilege of raising these children and even more so, to experience God’s love so convincingly!”

 

Happy Sixth Birthday, Sweetie

babe

Today is my daughter’s sixth birthday.  Six-years-old!  It is hard to believe.  She is growing up so fast, but she still embodies the innocence of a little girl.  She is sweet, imaginative, affectionate, and emotional.  She also has a sharp tongue at times, and definitely stands up for herself.  

The other day I was watching another little girl while my daughter was engulfed in her swimming class.  This little one, petite in stature with blonde curly hair, was prancing around her mommy and obeying her every word.  She looked just like Tinkerbell.

I thought about the innocence of little girls.  Perhaps my own life experience came into play when dwelling on this, perhaps not.  I just know that girls have always had a difficult road to walk in life, and in many ways, I’m not so sure that it is getting better for them.

And then, I turned to my daughter in the pool, and I was profoundly moved by the thought that she was meant to be my daughter.  The little girl flopping around in the water, half listening to her coach, and giggling with her friends, is just the kind of daughter that I was destined to raise.

She is fierce.  She is unique.  She is tough.   She doesn’t take no for an answer easily, but she knows how to say no (which is exactly what I want in a daughter). She is sweet, temperamental, knows what she wants, and a little bit of an old soul in a little body.

Tonight as I was tucking her into bed, as usual, she asked me to sing her a song.

“Mommy, I don’t want a birthday song.  I want you to sing Amazing Grace, and I want the whole song, not just a little bit of it.”

Before I could sing out the first words of the song, I got choked up a bit.  This song declared itself to me following a call last week from a birth mother of one of my children.  Tonight, it declared itself again by the request of my daughter.  I sang as much as I could remember:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now am found;

was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear,

and Grace my fear relieved.

How precious did that Grace appear,

the hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares,

I have already come.

‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far;

and Grace will lead me home.

After I finished singing, I leaned over, kissed her goodnight, and said, “Happy Birthday, Sweetie.  Love You.”

The truth is that Grace led us both home…

to a life filled with ups and downs…

to moments of tears and moments of cheers…

to each other…

to love…

and, to the knowledge that we are incredibly loved by an incredible Savior.

Happy Sixth Birthday, Sweetie.

“Our children are not ours because they share our genes…
they are ours because we have had the audacity to envision them.
That, at the end of the day…or long sleepless night,
is how love really works.”  ~ Unknown

photo 1 (13)

What Adoption Means: Adoption Changes Hearts

Here is the second post regarding “What Adoption Means to Me” written by a foster parent:

“Adoption – a word I never dreamed would be a part of my personal journey – but God had other plans

And I am so glad He did! 

He brought a little red-headed boy into our home that opened our horizons to a world we didn’t know existed! 

He has and continues to teach us that choosing to make a difference in a child’s life will definitely change yours! 

Adoption changed us forever – our family, and most importantly our hearts! “

This family sought out to make a difference in a child’s life, but not necessarily with the intention of adding to their family through adoption.  When the case goal changed for the child in their home, they prayed, discussed, and prayed some more about the next step in all of their lives.

They knew that the Lord brought not just any child into their lives, but the boy who would become their son.

Adoption changes lives.  Adoption changes hearts.  

You Shook Me Up a Bit, Birth Mother

You shook me up a bit today, birth mother.  Your call at the last half hour of the work day broke up the busyness of paperwork.  The moment I heard your voice say my name, I knew it was you.  It was good hearing from you.  It is something that I do not mind at all.

I never know when you are going to call, but every time you do, I cannot help but be affected by it.  Life has been a little hectic lately.  In the madness of it all, I have found myself barely stopping to inhale, or even exhale.  There have been moments in the past few months where I have felt overwhelmed by parenting; overwhelmed by the challenge of striving to raise kind, happy, faithful, and disciplined children.

There have been moments where my sole focus has been on what the child we share does not do, versus, what he does do.  Yet, when I told you of his recent accomplishments, his strengths, his talents, and his quirks, you gasped, laughed with joy, and thanked me for giving him opportunities in life.  That…birth mother…that shook me up a bit.

The space between our words was filled with just a bit of silence.  That was okay, though.  The gravity of why we are connected carries much weight.  We are connected by a precious little soul.  We are connected by love.

You shook me up a bit today, birth mother.  Your words speared me right into the heart.  While my heart has been worrying about his day-to-day life, your heart has been carrying emptiness to which I do not know.  You told me about all of the pictures I have sent you through the years, and how they are dispersed throughout your living room, and how you surround yourself with pictures of him.  In some sense, it sounded like you have a shrine devoted to the precious boy we share.  This shook me up.

As our conversation ended, your words began to take a more sincere turn.  You spoke of your eternal love for him.  You spoke of your sadness that is carried around on a daily basis.  You told me about how you felt you had to lose him.  In some ways, you believed it was your choice; yet in other ways, it was a choice you had to make.  You hope for a day that it will not hurt so bad; that the loss of him won’t feel as heavy as it does.

And then, you told me that you love me and my husband.  I wanted so badly to say that I love you, too, but the words just would not come.  That…birth mother…that shook me up a bit and caused my heart to wrench.

Your final words to me are ones that stuck to me as I hung up the phone and drove to get the child that has stirred both of our hearts.

“I love him more than words can ever tell.”  

These words from you resonated deep down.

As I stared at the pink sunset declaring itself to me as I drove, the thought hit me that you were probably staring at the very same sunset. You were probably recalling our conversation, my every word, your every word, and details of the incredible child to which we share.

I teared up a bit.  I tuned into a station on Pandora.  As I stared into the sunset, thinking about you, and thinking about our child, I sang every word to the song that was playing:

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.  ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved;  How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.”

That…birth mother…that shook me up a bit.  

As I tucked our son into bed tonight, I held on to him just a little bit longer.  I told him that I loved him over and over again.  I stared into his soft brown eyes, examined his face, and kissed him.  I thought of you.

The truth is that I love your son…my son…our son…more than words can ever tell.  

All of my children have come to me through the sacrifice of someone else; through the sacrifice of another Mamma who carried them into the world.  The significance of this is something I do not ever want to take for granted.

You shook me up a bit today, birth mother, and I’m so glad you did.