7 Billion Ones {photography/storytelling project}

In the latter part of 2015, I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting photographer Randy Bacon, and his sweet wife, Shannon.  They invited me to be a part of their amazing movement/project/mission called “7 Billion Ones”.  Their goal is to excite others in believing that “Your Story Matters”, and to instill inspiration through images and words.

I am not a person who takes a ton of selfies, and I certainly don’t like to have my picture taken, but the purpose and validation through this cause was well worth stepping in front of the lens.  My purpose for being in it was this:  to share my story so that others in similar circumstances can be inspired to never give up.

Even if I only have an audience of one, but that one person is moved to encouragement by my story, then it is well worth it.  We never know how sharing ourselves with others can directly impact lives.

You can check out my story by clicking the link below.  Spend some time exploring all of the stories on the 7 Billion Ones website.  I promise you will find a great deal of inspiration from the multitude of others who have stood in front of the camera and told their stories.

7 Billion Ones Story

And, dear friends, keep telling your own stories.  Our lives, full of characters, drama, sadness, and joy, are what makes this big ‘ole world go round.  You never know how your story will affect others; even if it is only an audience of one.

Blessings,

Caroline

Courageous Love Photo Gallery

Courageous Love Gallery at Big Momma's Coffee House (Missouri)
Courageous Love Gallery at Big Momma’s Coffee House (Missouri)

May is National Foster Care Month in the United States, so I thought I would share briefly with you about a project I have been involved in.  I was asked to write the adoption stories of a handful of foster families for a local exhibit put on by a photography studio.  The exhibit, titled Courageous Love, was dreamed up by the owners of Freedom Photography.  They too are foster/adoptive parents and live each day knowing the eternal difference that families make when bringing foster children into their home.  You can read their story here:  Colors Don’t Matter.

The gallery is going to be a traveling one and will be hanging on the walls of various businesses and community centers around the area that we live.  The hope is that it will draw attention to the needs of children in foster care who are waiting to be adopted, and to encourage people to consider becoming foster/adoptive parents.  My family was also featured in the gallery, and we were really blessed to be a part of it.

Here is the one of my family:

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As I spent each night writing out the stories of how God has used these families to open their homes to children, I could not help but be reminded of the importance of obedience in faith.  The choice to step out in blind faith, cling to the hope of a living God, and prayerfully care for His children, were themes that jumped out at me while I wrote the stories of families.  It was amazing to see how the separate journeys of the children and the adoptive families crossed paths to unite and become a part of each other’s lives forever.

The photographers thanked me immensely for helping them out with this project, but to be honest, I count it a blessing to be a part of it.  Getting glimpses into the lives of some special children, and special parents, reminded me that a life lived within the full measure of His presence and the hope that lies within, is a life well-lived.  Story after story spoke of the prayerful desire to fill their homes with children while also meeting the needs of the most vulnerable in our community.

If you would like to take a peek at the photos, click on the link below to be taken to the website.  The stories of each family are found next to their images in a black thumbnail with white writing.  Click on it to enlarge so that you can read it!

Freedom Photography Courageous Love Gallery

If you are a photographer or know someone who is, here are some ways that you can help out foster families and kids in the system:

  • Offer to take senior pictures for free for teenagers in foster care
  • Offer discounted photo sessions for foster families and foster children
  • Suggest to other photographers to get involved with galleries such as the one described in this blog post
  • Put brochures up in your studio about the needs of foster children
  • Offer to take pictures at community events that feature foster families

Above all, let’s all pray without ceasing for the over 400,000 children and youth in foster care in the United States.  Nearly 115,000 of them are eligible and in need of adoptive families.

Out of the Ashes

Photo credit: http://freedomphotography.smugmug.com/
Photo credit: http://freedomphotography.smugmug.com

Looking at the image above of my family causes me to think of how blessed I am. We are a family filled with lots of love, lots of trial and errors, lots of do-overs, and lots of moments that leave us laughing.  Looking at the image above makes my heart happy, and yet, it also makes my heart a little sad.

I know that sounds strange to say it makes me sad, but truthfully, it invokes a sliver of sadness.  It is not my children or my husband that do this to me.  It is the thought that my family…my everything here on Earth….was created out of the terrible circumstances of others.  The birth parents, grandparents, cousins, siblings, and other relatives that will not be pictured on the couch together with my children are on my mind.  My children will most likely never be embraced by their birth grandparents.  We have some limited contact with a sibling of my daughter, and we send letters to my son’s birth mother, but these things do not replace or ever will replace growing up in their families of origin.

I love the little ones I’ve been charged of taking care of.  I love them so much that my heart can’t help but break for what their birth parents have or are going through.  Substance abuse, mental illness, instability, homelessness, severe impoverishment…you name it….these are the things that make up the lives of birth families of the sweet ones I tuck in at night.  I know that the Lord formed my family.  I know that He took the messiness of life’s problems, and created the portrait of love above.  I know this.

Adoption has blessed me in some many ways.  It has fulfilled that deep longing to live for and love on a child.  It has broken me, humbled me, and rebuilt me again. Taking in someone else’s child has brought me to my knees in tears and in prayer. It is complicated, requires full attention, and yet, it is beautiful.  It is beautiful.

Still yet, my heart aches for those out there with whom my children come from that are missing out on the hugs, kisses, temper tantrums, scrapes, good dreams, bad dreams, and longings of children learning who they are in the world.  It was not meant to be this way.  Fathers and mothers were not meant to abandon their children, have severe addictions, or struggle with mental illness.  Still, here I am benefiting from these tragedies.

People may look at our situation and think, “What a great thing that has happened for them.”  I think that way too, but still, in that quiet place of my heart, that place that is secret, I grieve for my children’s birth mothers.  I carry them with me.  I think about them when celebrating the goodness of my children.

I know the day will come when my children will learn and fully understand the circumstances that opened their paths to our hearts and our home.  I know that day will be hard.  It saddens me.  It worries me, and it humbles me.  It also builds my courage to do a better job as a parent, to try each day anew to meet my kids where they are at, and to gently guide them as they grow.

There’s a lot of love on the couch in the photograph above.  There are moments of utter chaos and craziness that comes with three young children.  There are moments of exhaustion, and moments of exhilaration   There is definitely plenty of happiness that goes around.

There’s also a family sitting there that has shed tears, whispered prayers, and spoken hope.  There are two parents who know that out of the ashes of mistakes, darkness of addictions, and pain of regrets, this family…our family….was created.

Colors Don’t Matter

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Matt, Heidi, Jaz, Shiloh, Sean, Annika, and Isaiah
Freedom Photography

Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.  -Psalm 127:3-5

One day while sitting at a park bench watching my daughter play, I sat next to a woman who was also watching children play.  Something about her seemed so familiar.  Although I rarely do this, I said to her, “Do I know you from somewhere?” This start of our conversation led to the realization that we have mutual friends. We also learned that we are both adoptive mothers of children out of foster care.  We exchanged Facebook info, and each went our separate ways.

I’ve been wanting to share more stories of the “Backyard Missionaries” that make a difference in our communities.  I think of foster/adoptive parents as missionaries serving others in their own backyards.  I’ve asked Heidi and Matt to share their story….here it is.

Heidi has always had the desire to adopt even before she and Matt tried to get pregnant.  After six years of marriage they opted not to pursue infertility treatments, and instead, put their pursuit and efforts into adoption.  Although Heidi yearned for pregnancy, once they began their journey of adoption, she quickly became excited about what was in store for them.

Their first son, Isaiah, was placed with them through a private adoption agency. They were blessed to be matched so quickly, but also noted that they were very open to race, and other issues such as prenatal drug usage.  This level of openness certainly helped to speed up their placement matching.

Throughout the next four years, it was just Matt, Heidi, and Isaiah.  They wanted  more children, and chose to become licensed as foster parents in the hopes of eventually adding to their family.  Within the first few months of licensure, they received a call about a sibling group of three children, ages 10 months, 2 years, and 3 years.  A few months later, they were called to take placement of another little one.  In a matter of months, they went from being a family of three to a family of seven!

They finalized their adoptions in 2011, and thought they were finished when they received a call from the local children’s protective services office in June 2012.  Matt and Heidi say “yes” to a newborn sibling of their children.  They continue to foster him, and if the case goal changes to adoption, they will add another little one to their amazing family!

For Matt and Heidi, the biggest joy is seeing their children grow and thrive.  They recognize that the road of life these little ones were walking before coming to their home was a difficult one.  It is indescribable to know that they have taken part in the incredible intervention of children’s lives.

Their oldest daughter really struggled when she came to live with them at age three.  She desperately missed her birth mommy, and was angry.  Matt and Heidi allowed these feelings, and helped her transition to their home by offering stability, love, and support.  The quick adjustment from a small family to a large one was quite challenging at first, and it took them a while.  Big is normal now, and they love it.

Questions from others such as, “Are you ever going to have children of your own?”, or “Which ones are brothers and sisters?” are ones that challenge Matt and Heidi.  Although they have two biological sibling groups, they are ALL brothers and sisters, and do not see each other any different.  As far as having their own children, Matt and Heidi know their children are their own, and quite simply do not understand why anyone else would feel different.

Adoption has changed their lives, formed their family, and has added incredible joy.  Adoption has taught them the value of diversity, and it is their uniqueness as Caucasian parents raising African-American and Bi-racial children that they embrace.  Their family motto is “Colors Don’t Matter” .  They have also learned that the ability to grow babies in a belly truly has nothing to do with the love and commitment of parenting.  Adoption has taught them that love truly has no borders and knows no bounds.

Heidi’s and Matt’s advice for people considering adoption out of foster care is quite simple:

“Be patient.  Have faith.  The system is not perfect.  Love the children.”

Matt and Heidi own a photography studio and are preparing to put together a gallery of images of families who have adopted out of foster care in an effort to promote this incredibly vital and worthy cause in our nation.  You can check out their website at:  www.Freedom-Photography.com

New Year’s Road

Taken with my iphone as I rode my bike in a 150 mile ride.

This past year was one full of discovery for me.  Through blogging, I have been reminded that everyone truly has a story to tell.  We are all story-tellers in our own ways.  Art, in its purest form, also speaks volumes of insight and revelations about the world we are living in.  Some speak through poetic ramblings and short-stories.  For others, the lens of a camera captures images that their eyes first took notice of.  Each photograph tells a story.  Writing really has become my therapeutic release, my story-teller, my window to the world, my humbling remembrance of how blessed I am, and an extension of the yearning to live out my faith in Christ.

I continue to learn that  parenting is an art form.  Like most artists, parents don’t just figure it out with one stroke of a brush.  Mistakes are made, and often, we are our own worst critics,  Parenting is also something that love and passion is poured into.  I have yet to meet an artist who is not passionate about his or her masterpieces.  Children are the masterpiece that we are always working on, and for that, I am grateful for “do-overs”, grace, and the simplistic forgiveness of children.

Throughout this year,I have been made keenly aware of the tightrope we all walk when it comes to protecting children in our own backyards, and around the world.  Not to sound cliché, but they really are our greatest resource for the future.  Through this blog, I have been able to express my deepest desires for my children, and for others as well.  I have also been able to connect to the child I once was.

I began this road of writing because I felt I had a story to tell.  I felt I needed to speak of infertility.  I knew there were others out there suffering from the sadness that comes when the desire for children is not fulfilled.  I also felt that my story of barrenness includes the incredible journey that is adoptive parenting.  I may stray from time to time from the topic of infertility with the posts I write, but it is never too far from my thoughts and my heart.  I am deeply compassionate about others who continue to search for answers, and who live daily with the unfulfilled longing for children.  I hope my words will encourage each of them to believe in joyful beginnings and happy endings.

I am not sure what the Lord has in store for the road I will walk in 2013.  Will I be inspired to venture into other areas of writing?  Will there be heartbreak and heart-joy in this next year?  Will some doors open while others shut?  There is no way to tell what is destined to happen, but my faith in the Script-Writer of our lives is greater than the unknowns of the future.

May this New Year’s Road lead you all to delightful discoveries, faith-building experiences, and life-affirming moments that bless your sojourn in the world.

Favorite Fishing Buddy

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“The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” —John Buchan

My dad fished professionally for many years, and earned sponsors and endorsements from boat and bait/tackle companies.  He was featured in magazine articles, and won many notable tournaments throughout his career.  As a matter of fact, when I tell people around here who my dad is, most (if into fishing) “ooh” and “ah” over my dad’s knowledge of the lakes and his seemingly instinctual ability to catch fish.

Before the adoption of our son, we took him to the lake often to visit his “Papa” and play around on the water.  Once our adoption was finalized, and my son had the ability to hold a fishing pole, my dad headed out on the water with him and started teaching him all that he knew.  He is now 6-years-old, and has been fishing pretty regularly since the age of 2 years.  He can name virtually every type of freshwater fish.  He can top-water fish, use a variety of baits and tackle, and even use a bait-caster.  I think he would fish just about every day if we let him.

During visits with my son’s biological mother while we were fostering him, she often asked me if someone would take him fishing.  She wanted her son to have the opportunity to learn how to fish.  I’m not sure if this is something she enjoyed as a child, but it seemed pretty important to her for him to be a boy who fished.

She was quite excited to hear that my dad past-time is fishing, and that her son would learn to fish from one of the best around this area.  When I get images like the one above from my dad while on the lake with my son, I can’t help but think of his birth mother, and how often she talked about taking him fishing.

My dad may have won tournaments, earned money, and made a name for himself through fishing, but the joy on my son’s face and the time spent with his favorite fishing buddy is by far the greatest award he has ever received.

 

Road Trip!

We took a short road trip on Wednesday to the small town of Jasper, Arkansas (population 458) to visit my husband’s family.  Jasper is tucked in a valley between the mountains of Northwest Arkansas.  I grew up in a small city in the Ozarks (and I still live here), but, places like Jasper and other small towns were just a “stone’s throw away” from where I lived.  Having grown up in the Missouri Ozarks and hearing all the jokes about “hillbillies”,  I used to dream about living in a big city with tall buildings, art galleries, and stores with huge windows filled with lots of man-made desires of the retail kind.

When I sneak off to places like Jasper and take in the scenery, I’m very appreciative of the hidden nuggets of wonder and scenes from a time-gone-by.  The hills become my skyscrapers, old rock and wood architecture becomes my art gallery, and the landscape becomes my window to the beauty of creation.  I guess it’s true….”Tis a pleasure to live in the Ozarks!”

If you enjoy camping, canoeing, hiking, and finding unique little towns, you should travel to Arkansas and Missouri.  Just make sure to bring your motion sickness medication for the curvy and hilly roads!

Here are just a few pics of our road trip.  The pictures were mostly taken from my moving vehicle with an iphone, so please excuse the lighting and any flaws!  Enjoy!

One more shot of the ghost of an old amusement park
One more shot of the ghost of an old amusement park
Remnants of an amusement park called "DogPatch USA".  I remember going as a child.
Remnants of an amusement park called “DogPatch USA”. I remember going as a child.
more images from the abandoned amusement park
more images from the abandoned amusement park
"DogPatch USA"
“DogPatch USA”
Yes, people still lives in log cabins :)
Yes, people still live in log cabins 🙂
Lots of people float the Buffalo during the summer season!
Lots of people float the Buffalo during the summer season!
another image of the square
another image of the square
They call this "Little Switzerland"
They call this “Little Switzerland”
Ozark Cafe - over 100 years old & definitely worth the drive to eat there!  We were sad it was closed yesterday.  You can find out more about it http://www.ozarkcafe.com
Ozark Cafe – over 100 years old & definitely worth the drive to eat there! We were sad it was closed yesterday. You can find out more about it on their website: http://www.ozarkcafe.com
historic landmark
historic landmark
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I wish this little store was open! No telling what kind of gems I could have found in there!

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cute little food truck!

Heart Gallery

Have you ever heard of the Heart Galley of America?  It is a traveling exhibit that showcases photography and audio pieces of children in the United States Foster Care System who are waiting to be adopted.  There is something quite special when professional photographers take incredible images of these children.

The professional photographers who volunteer their time and talents are able to capture moments and images of children that show that spark in their eyes, that shy smile, or that one quality that stands out and draws one in.

The following statistics were pulled from the Heart Gallery website:

  • There are nearly 500,000 children in foster care in the United States.
  • Over 250,000 will never return home.
  • Over 123,000 need adoptive homes right now. 
  • More than 29,000 aged out of foster care in 2008, at age 18 without anyone, to live on their own, unprepared and unsupported.

The website offers you the ability to click on your state (for readers in the US) and check out if there is a Heart Gallery exhibit in your state.  You can also do a Google Image search for Heart Gallery Images and it will take you directly to many photos of children awaiting adoption.

Here’s a link to it:  Heart Gallery 

If you are a photographer and would like to volunteer your time and talent, contact the Heart Gallery and inquire about it!  It is an experience you will not forget and is a great service to children in need!

Siblings

“Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring, quite often the hard way.” 

-Pamela Dugdale

My husband and I are learning the hard way that nothing causes more trouble in the home than when the kiddos are mad at each other.  

The words I say to them are “You are brother and sister for life, so work it out.”

Let’s just see how that works for us…..

Grace is a Gift

Lost Hill Park

Yesterday, we took the kids out to local park to take some pictures.  I planned their outfits, made sure their faces were clean, and properly instructed them to not wipe anything (crumbs from their snack) on their shirts.  I am not a “photographer” at all, however, have a decent camera and every once in a while, I get lucky and capture a fantastic moment!

As we were walking along the trail and stopping to snap off some pictures, I tried to instruct them to look at me more often, not walk into the tall weeds, or stay on the trail, etc….but I do not think they were paying too much attention.  Their agenda was to have a good time while mine was to get some good photos of them.

We came across a partially dried up creek bed where we stopped to let the kids throw rocks in the water.  I said to them “Do not get in the water. If you step in the water you will fall.”  I took a quick picture of them and was preparing to take some more when my daughter took one step onto the slimy rock and down she goes.

right before the fall

Being the drama queen that she is, she screamed at the top of her lungs while partially soaked in water with the slime of algae on her.  The people walking on the trail were staring at us.  My son just continued to throw rocks into the water as if nothing happened.  My husband was laughing, although he was trying to hide it from me.  I quickly pulled my camera up, took a deep breath, and said “I told you that if you stepped in the water, you will fall down. We have to leave now.”  To be honest, I was fuming inside and did not see any of the humor my husband found in it!

This morning while thinking about our day yesterday, the Lord impressed this upon me.  “Caroline, how many times have I told you to step back from the edge?  How many times have you fallen, and stood up soaking with the slime of sin?” 

Wow – our Lord never fails to turn life into a lesson.  

He is the best example I have of being a parent who finds joy with my children even when things don’t go “my” way.  He is the forgiving parent who does not pack up and walk away.  He is the gracious parent who still wants to capture my moments of beauty despite the fact that I just wallowed in the mud.

Thank you, Lord, for reminding me that grace is truly one of the most important gifts a parent gives a child.