Created for Care: Final Reflections

Last night I shared my fourth post about finally experiencing true forgiveness during my Date with God Session. I felt like I was floating on a cloud when walked out of that session. The burden and weight had been lifted, and my heart was overflowing with love.

My next break out session was called Connecting While Correcting lead by Tona Ottinger. Tona talked about Dr. Karyn Purvis' techniques for creating healthy attachment while also correcting behavior. The whole idea is that discipline is executed in the context of love and relationship. Tona discussed how the majority of our time is spent correcting our children's behavior. A smaller amount of time is spent empowering our children (e.g., helping them achieve rest, eat food, drink fluids, brush teeth, etc.). Parents tend to spend the least amount of time connecting with their children, squeezing it in if there is time. The goal is to reverse that pattern by spending the most time connecting and the least amount of time correcting behavior. In order to create a strong foundation...

1. We must have compassion for our children that never expires.
2. We must give our children a voice (otherwise they will fight, flight, freeze)
3. Embrace the privilege of saying "yes" because it shows our children that they are seen, heard, valued, and considered when told yes. Many of our "no's" are selfishly driven.
4. Keep a balance between structure (saying no) and nurture (saying yes) from both parents.
5. Practice repairing mistakes that we make along the way.

Tona shared several strategies to correct behavior while also connecting with our children. These include:

1. Playful Engagement (e.g., You better put your shoes on before I tickle you)
2. Choices (e.g., You can put on your shoes, or Mommy can do it with you)
3. Compromises (e.g., Ask, "Would you like a compromise?" or "Can we make a deal?" because it gives them a voice and some power)
4. Re-Dos (e.g., "Can you try that again with more respect/kindness?")
5. Time-In (e.g., Help our children regulate their emotional reactions by using sensory tools in a time out area that is still close to the parent).

I was so happy to get a refresher on these points and additional information, as we learned most of it during our home study process. I was also reading 123 Magic when I went to the retreat. Since coming home, I am trying to use both 123 Magic techniques and the ones learned at the retreat. The kids respond well when we use them correctly! The most trouble I have is when my compassion expires or when selfishly I don't want to take the time to use them.

My third break out session was about orphan care organizations around the world. I decided to attend this session because I am searching for ways to stay involved in orphan care. I am pretty confident we will adopt again, and sometimes I wonder how we will ever stop. Seeing how much Tucker has thrived and grown since coming home makes it hard for me to ever deny this to another child. My own heart has grown in ways that it never would have had we not adopted, and I don't want to ever live a life apart from God. So, I am searching for opportunities to stay in this dependence on God while serving orphans...not because I have to but because I get to.

After my last break out session, I went to visit my friends who were all painting in a session led by my friend, Laura Kirkland, who is an artist for Glory Haus. The painting I'm holding below was actually painted by Laura, and she let me keep it since I went to a different session. Love it (thanks again, friend)!!

Once the girls finished their paintings, we had dinner, had another incredible time of worship, and went to Beth Guckenberger's third session. Beth spoke all throughout the evening about how Satan is at the center of loss, conflict, and condemnation but that God's heart is to reconcile, redeem, repair, and rescue. She spoke of relational conflicts and how badly we need to forgive others. After having finally experienced forgiveness and healing, her whole talk had me on the edge of my seat. At one point, she said, "I'm not waiting for you to come to me. I am coming to reconcile with you," and she spoke of a public display of love and forgiveness. She later said, "We will do more for orphans once we reconcile our relationships." I mean, was God speaking to me through Beth or what?!

I knew then that when I got home, I wanted to experience that public display for forgiveness for this person. About three weeks ago, I wrote him a 7 page letter sharing much of what I learned and experienced at the retreat and let him know that I forgave him. I took this letter to his house and handed it to him in front of his family. I was nervous, but it was so good for me to see him with his family and remember that he is just a person who made mistakes, but he is also a person who is everything to his family. This was my public display of forgiveness. I have never heard back from him since, and maybe I never will. My love for him is not dependent on his actions because I am choosing love.

After Beth's third session, a panel of women gathered to answer our questions about adoption, family, foster care, marriage, etc. One woman had been a foster parent for many years. Another woman has experienced three open adoptions with three different birth mothers. The third woman was adopted from Korea as a baby. The next woman has adopted several children with special needs, and the last woman has a large family created by both children who are biological and adopted. The questions and answers were SO good!! I learned a lot during that session. I'm pretty sure we experienced the perfect mixture of serious, funny, sad, and happy. We laughed. We cried. We listened. We celebrated. It was good.

We all went back to the lake house, but it was after midnight at that point. I think we finally fell asleep after 1:30 a.m. and woke up early the next morning for breakfast, one last time of worship together, and Beth's final session. She talked a lot about our families...both our marriages and our children. My favorite thing Beth talked about that morning was about the V-Wire Activity found on various ropes courses. You can see in the picture below how the wire begins close together and then spreads further and further apart. Two people must lean into one another in order to stay on the wire all the way on the other end.

Picture compliments of http://www.bar717.com/programs/
Beth shared that they set up a ropes course, and the first time some business men were trying the V-Wire activity, she thought that maybe they set it up incorrectly because the men kept falling off the wire. The consultant who helped them create the ropes course told her that the men were in a posture of self-preservation, positioning themselves in a way that if they fell, they would be able to catch themselves. He told her that the only way to accomplish the V-Wire was for each person to posture themselves in a way that is totally invested in the other person's success. They must put themselves in a position that if the other person moves that they might fall.

She used that to draw a parallel to how we need to posture ourselves in marriage. If Ryan and I are going to stay on the wire, we are going to have to give each other everything we have and stop worrying about our own needs. By removing our selfishness, we can fully invest in the success of each other. I LOVE THAT.

Beth encouraged us to let God see all the dark parts of our hearts and allow Him to fill them. The whole idea is that when we achieve healing, we can provide a space for healing for our children.

When we forgive, we can heal our wounds.
When we heal, we can love better.
When we love, the people around us can flourish.
When people flourish, they find ways to impact the world around them.
And it is then that people can be the hands and feet of Jesus.
And living out their purpose to bring glory to God.
After enjoying a meal of Hot Pot outside of Atlanta, we drove home, stopping in Tennessee to drop off Lauren. I got to meet her daughter, Lucy, for the first time. It was incredible! Jen and I then made the journey to Cincinnati, shared a hug goodbye, and drove our separate ways. I made it home just after 10:30 p.m. My house was clean. My boys were sleeping happily in their beds, and my heart was overflowing with love for my husband happily let me go away for four days to experience the Created for Care Retreat. I still tell him thank you for letting me go. It was honestly one of the very best weekends of my entire life.

Hot Pot (famous in Chongqing) with the girls after the retreat!
Meeting Sweet Lucy Lu on the way home


Created for Care: Reflections Part Four

In case you missed Part One, Two, or Three of my experience at the Created for Care Adoptive and Foster Mom retreat, check them out!

When I left off last time, I was just about to write about the Date with God Session. When we walked into the room, I saw various stations set up around the room to help us connect with God in a creative way. I don't know about you, but sometimes I have a hard time just "being with God" in my day-to-day life. Maybe it is my three active and LOUD boys...maybe it is my awful addiction to Facebook and email; regardless, I find myself connecting with God in two primary ways at home: listening to Christian music and reading Christian books, especially the Bible. What I loved about the Date with God session is that I saw so many other ways to spend time with the Father that I had never previously considered including...

String Art
A teepee that could be closed for quiet/private time
Prayer Wall (map of the world)
Praise Wall (chalkboard)
Bowl containing pieces of paper with various people's names from the Bible including scripture
An open tent for journaling and/or reading
Additional comfortable places to sit and read, pray, and journal

I know I am not including all of the stations, but to be honest, the hour long session went by so quickly. I wish I could've spent 2-3 hours in that room. After the person leading the session explained each station, I quickly decided that I wanted to first take communion.

I took some bread and juice and found a quiet area of the room. I sat down and just started praying. I knew that before I did anything else, I needed to ask God for forgiveness and really think about the Cross and what Jesus endured to pay for my sins. I have made so many mistakes, so many mistakes. I have been disrespectful to Ryan, short-tempered with my children, unforgiving to others. The tears fell down my face as I confessed those wrongs to God and visualized how Jesus suffered so that I could be forgiven. It was painful to take ownership of Jesus' crucifixion, and yet, it was probably the sweetest time of communion I have ever had. A woman kneeled beside me on the floor and asked if she could pray for me. She said such a beautiful prayer, and I treasured each and every word. I later wrote in my journal...
Dear Lord,
I have been looking forward to this moment, this time, to be intentional with talking to you. I wanted to start our time together today in communion. I needed to confess my sins and lay them at your feet. I am so painfully sorry for my responsibility of the nails, the thorns, the scourging, the suffering that you experienced on the cross. My actions have brought you pain, heartache, suffering...and I beg your forgiveness. Thank you for being the sacrifice for my sins. Thank you for loving me and never leaving me and pursuing me always. Thank you for helping me become whole. I needed to say those things to you before I did anything else....
After my time of communion, I felt like I could really continue in my time with God. I looked around the room and was drawn to the String Art station. I sat down at the table, picked up some blue string, and began winding the string around the nails. I began thinking about the hurt I had been carrying in my heart for 4 months, the pain I let consume my thoughts for so long. It was a hurt that I allowed to affect the way I loved my family because when your heart is full of unforgiveness and anger and bitterness, your ability to love is diminished. I meditated on the situation as I wound the yarn around and around and around those nails. I later wrote in my journal...
...I chose string art next because, Lord, I wanted to meditate on the issues of my heart. As I began winding the string around the nails, I first thought about how difficult it is to love people who are hard to love...those who are different and those who hurt us. I was reminded of your truth that you love me unconditionally through my sin. I have to love * through his. You know the depth of the hurt, the pain in my heart. As I wound the string around the nails of my sin and his, I realized it will be work. I will go in circles over this situation until I release it to you. My forgiveness of him comes between YOU and me. I will love him because you do. It isn't my love that will pour through...it is Yours. I will choose love because You are love. You are sovereign and good and all things work for the good of those who love you. You have called me to fulfill Your purpose for my life. I desperately want to know what you have for me next. Nonprofit? Adoption? What do you want me to do next? Yet, today I realized that I don't think I get to know your desires until I move through and beyond this unforgiveness. I am keeping myself in bondage and hindering Your ability to work through me.
I don't want to be Pharaoh. I don't want to the frogs to be gone tomorrow. I am ready today. Now, I am releasing this weight, this burden, of my heart. I am not going to allow it to harm me any longer. You are a God of restoration. You can bring restoration to *, the *, and our relationship. You can restore it all.
Today, right now, I am choosing love. I am choosing grace. I choose you, Lord. I long for more of you. I am hungry for your word and want to be light in a dark world. I pray that you will show me what you have for me next. My family is wholly devoted to you. Take us. Use us. We are Yours. I want to be obedient to what you have for us. I am ready.
Thank you for your love, your mercy, your grace. Thank you for forgiveness that makes us white as snow. I love you.
Do you see this knot in the picture above? After I had wrapped the blue yarn around all of the nails, I had just a very small piece left to tie the final knot. I pulled it so tightly and struggled and fought to make this knot. The yarn was shredding and falling apart. Then, I smiled to myself because it was just like where I was in my journey to forgiveness. At that moment, I was having to fight and stretch myself to let go of my hurt. It was like God was asking, "Are you sure you are ready? Are you really ready to forgive and have closure?" Finally, I tied that knot. I was ready to forgive, and I was finally free.
Just as I finished, I looked up and saw a woman sit down across from me. I asked if she was the woman who had prayed for me after I took communion. She said that she was and introduced herself as Kathy Lee. I shared with her how wonderful that string art station had been and how God used it. I explained the parallels between winding those strings and my journey to forgiveness. I told her about the person and situation that had brought so much heartache to my family. She listened intently and then shared that she and her husband had experienced the same kind of pain by the same type of person in her life. I knew then that it was no coincidence that she was the one who prayed for me and that she again was sitting across from me. Kathy shared some of her story and how her family moved forward. Kathy and her husband made the choice to love the person who hurt them. Love truly does conquer all.
After talking with Kathy, I went to the open tent area and laid down on the cushions to begin journaling. I wrote the letter to God that I have shared here in my blog. I had chills all over as I wrote those words and just felt SO STRONGLY in the presence of God. It was such a special time in my life that I never want to forget. Once the letter was complete, I opened my Bible to see how God would speak to me. I opened to 1 John 3:1 which reads, "We are children of God because we have His love within us. Beloved, we are God's children now...." I then saw 1 John 4:7 which reads, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God." I had just discovered the connection that love gives birth to forgiveness, and wouldn't you know it, when I walked back by the string art station later, the word formed with nails was BELOVED. Incredible. There are no coincidences.

Next I walked by the Praise Station where people wrote various thoughts praising God for His goodness. I wrote...

Throughout the past couple of months before the retreat, I could not figure out why forgiving this person had been so difficult. I hadn't struggled with unforgiveness since I was 18 years old. When I discovered that LOVE was the answer, it made me realize that I actually had stopped loving the person who hurt us. Hate had filled my heart, and by choosing love and feeling the love that God has for this person, I was able to forgive.

Just to the left of the Praise station, the Prayer Wall had been set up with a map of the world. I immediately noticed this post-it note below that was created by one of my 3:20 sisters.
Amy, Jennifer, Whitney, Kelley, Laura, Lauren, and I received our Log In Date last year on March 20, 2013, which meant that China had reviewed our dossiers and accepted us as adoptive parents. We became 3:20 sisters, and a chandelier is how we've envisioned ourselves. When one of our lights grows dim or even seems to burn out, the other lights will shine brightly around us. I stared at that note on the wall, touching each child's sweet name.
Olivia...Tucker...Lucy Lu...Lucy Love...Regis...Esther...and Lizzie.
One year ago, these beautiful, seven children were orphans in China. Collectively, we prayed for God to move mountains to bring them home. We prayed for travel before government closures. We prayed for discernment when one family was told their child was too sick to bring home (They disagreed and brought that sweet miracle baby home anyway!). We have prayed for God to heal broken bones, heart conditions, and lungs. We have prayed for God to allow one daughter to hear for the first time in her life. We pray for God to heal the emotional scars from their lives in orphanages. We have supported one another through at least 8 surgeries and have celebrated incredible milestones that our little ones have achieved so far. 
Once again, I had the sweetest time of prayer for these children, thanking God for bringing them all home to us. No longer orphans but LOVED AND SPOKEN FOR! My prayers lingered on Brighton Mae, Regis' sister, who will hopefully come home in a couple months. Soon, she will be with her family who will love her and celebrate her life forever.
So many times we have prayed like the one in Mark 14:36, "Abba, Father...everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."
Such a difficult prayer to say yet filled with such courage. Going through the journey of adoption helps you see that there is real beauty in suffering because it produces perseverance, character, and hope (Romans 5:4). When you believe that God is ONLY GOOD and that He loves you unconditionally, you are able to see that even the most difficult circumstances in life are purposeful and born from love.
I am starting to see now how God used our painful situation for good. I think sometimes we continue down a path because it is comfortable. I really believe God allowed us to endure something painful because He knew that it would be the only way that we would move into the next chapter of our lives. Pain can be a very motivating tool, and in our case, it has given us the courage to move forward in a new direction. I still miss what was comfortable, and yet, I am beginning to see the treasure in where God is taking us next.


Passion Into Action T-Shirts

Just a quick update to let everyone know that shirt sales ended yesterday, and the order was placed late last night. The printing company is supposed to send them to me in 7-9 days, and then I will sort and ship them out. I am expecting you to receive your shirts the week of April 7th in plenty of time for Easter. Thanks to everyone who joined this Forget the Frock movement! We had 6,295 hits on that blog post and 434 t-shirts were purchased. See below for the breakdown in style, size, and color! A huge thanks to my husband for helping me double and triple check each order. Once I figure out the breakdown in costs (shirts, PayPal fees, shipping, etc.) and calculate the total amount that can be donated thanks to your participation, I will announce the organization that won! I can't wait to see how that money will be used for good!

9 4 1 6 17 13 13 2 0
7 2 2 6 10 16 16 8 1
16 13 7 9 24 18 18 9 2
32 19 10 21 51 47 47 19 3


Created for Care: Reflections Part Three

My last two blog posts have given PART ONE and PART TWO of my reflections from our Created for Care adoptive/foster momma retreat on Lake Lanier, Georgia. I'm excited to dive into Part Three today.

Karaoke and acting out scenes from Dirty Dancing (Bucket List Item #63)
After finishing our first session with Beth Guckenberger and listening to music Friday night, the girls and I went back to our lake house and let loose. Let's just say the karaoke machine was center stage, and we all took turns singing (can we even call it that??) songs from the glory days. Once again, my cup was filled through all of the encouragement of that day and all of the laughs that night. I'm pretty sure we went to bed around 1:00 a.m. and then woke up around 6:15 a.m. the next morning to go run a 5K.

Like I've mentioned before, Ryan and I started running again the day after Christmas after feeling like we were in just physically, spiritually, and emotionally in a rut. I was really excited to actually run outside rather than on the treadmill in my basement. We got to the lodge just before 7:00 a.m., took a quick picture with the rest of the runners, and walked over to the start line. I think it was about 45 degrees outside, which is about 40 degrees warmer than it has been in Indiana this winter. Ready, set, go, and off we went down the huge hill outside the lodge. We continued to run alongside the road, under an overpass, by a golf course, through a wooded area, and then eventually across the bridge that connects the island to the mainland. After running a bit further beyond the bridge, we turned around and ran back to the lodge. I'm not going to lie, it was hard! My lungs were not used to the cold temperatures, and the hills reminded me of Bourbon Chase (2009 and 2012) all over again! Regardless, I finished with a decent time and was glad I did it. My friend, Lauren, and I are going to run it together next year, which will make it even more fun!

We went back to the lake house, grabbed some breakfast, and got ready for a full day of sessions, worship time, and delicious meals. Our second session with Beth Guckenberger started the day off perfectly. Beth shared so many incredible stories and words of encouragement that morning. I couldn't take notes fast enough. One piece that I absolutely loved is when Beth talked about how we ask God to lead us to "green pastures" (e.g., good jobs, happy marriages, healthy children, good financial standing, etc.), but when we are living in that reality, we tend to live independently from God. The reality of life is that God is directing us to places where we have the opportunity to receive from Him repeatedly...a place where we are in a posture of dependence and in a relationship with Him.

For the first time in my life, I can honestly say I know what it is like to live with a posture of dependence and in relationship with God. Going through the adoption process for us was a time when we knew we had no control. When we first made the decision to adopt, it was out of true submission and obedience, because as many of you know, we had other plans for our lives. We grieved the loss of our "worldly" dreams when we began our journey. God was so full of grace in our selfishness, and He quickly showed us REAL and TRUE joy and excitement for the new dream He laid out before us. We lived with a posture of dependence on God as we navigated our way through seeing Tucker's picture for the first time because he did not have the special need we thought God had called us to pursue. We kept out eyes on Him as we waited for preapproval, our log-in-date, and most certainly during our 132 day wait for our Letter of Acceptance (LOA). That was a very dark season of our adoption journey, watching my closest adoptive momma friends get their LOAs, go to China, and bring their little ones home while we still waited. A posture of dependence indeed.

I was very honest about how I felt (the joys and the heartache) during our adoption process, and so when I tell you that I cannot wait to adopt again, you might think I'm crazy, but I will tell you this. I would rather spend 132 days in close relationship and in total dependence on the Father than the rest of my life living independent from Him.

The first two months of being home as a family of five was quite the transition. With time, God grew my heart, and the love I have for Tucker is as strong and deep as it is for Noah and Liam. Since January, I have been praying for God to show me what He wants us to do next. Should we help start an orphan care ministry at our church? Are we supposed to adopt again? Should we start a nonprofit organization? We want to continue living in obedience and in a posture of dependence. God allowed one door to close, but we haven't felt real direction toward any major next steps with the exception of this t-shirt fundraiser, which ends today.

At the same time, I've been struggling with unforgiveness. Like I wrote in that previous blog post, someone we love hurt us in a deep and painful way. It is a situation we have shared with very few people because of the complexity and factors involved. It fully consumed my thoughts and my heart in November, December, and half of January when I finally committed to pray about it rather than replay the events every time it came to mind. I hadn't struggled with unforgiveness like this in over 14 years. Before I left for this retreat, I told Ryan that I really hoped that my time away would help me reach true forgiveness for this person.

During our second session, Beth Guckenberger talked about Exodus Chapter 8. Moses told Pharaoh to let his people go and warned him that if he didn't, a plague of frogs would infiltrate the entire land. Pharaoh didn't let Moses' people go, so the frogs were found everywhere throughout Egypt: their homes, their food bowls, their beds, their water sources, on people, everywhere. After some time had passed, Pharaoh said to Moses, "“Plead with the Lord to take the frogs away from me and my people. I will let your people go....(verse 8)” Moses replied, “Tell me when you want me to pray for you, your officials, and your people. Then you and your houses will be rid of the frogs. They will remain only in the Nile River (verse 9).”

What would you do if frogs or any other kind of pest had completely permeated your home and your life? Wouldn't you say, "Get them out of here NOW!" if given the opportunity?

Do you know what Pharaoh said??

Pharaoh said, "Do it tomorrow" (verse 10).

Beth challenged us to think about our own frogs, what we are allowing to infiltrate our hearts, our minds, and our lives. These frogs are spoiling everything and are preventing us from living out the life God intends for us. We put off eating healthier, reaching out to estranged family members, exercising regularly, achieving better work/life balance, spending time with our kids, etc. until tomorrow....just like Pharaoh.

I knew immediately that my frog was the unforgiveness that I was carrying in my heart. The bitterness was deep inside, and I had been putting it off and putting it off, believing that the wound was too deep to feel forgiveness.

Beth told other stories that left a huge impact on my heart that morning, and after having lunch with friends, Stephanie, Lauren, Kelley, and I walked together to our Date With God session. I knew before leaving for the retreat that this 60 minutes of intentional time with God was going to be a pivotal part of my weekend. Little did I know that this is the place where I would finally feel peace for the first time in 4 months.


Created for Care: Reflections Part Two

I am so excited to continue sharing about my experience at the Created for Care Retreat for adoptive and foster moms. Some of the women who organize the retreat read my previous blog post and felt so encouraged by what I wrote. Little do they know it gets better...a whole lot better. :) For those of you who missed my Reflections Part One, you can click the link to take you back to that post.

When I left off last time, I was just about to share about our first main session after dinner. This incredible Christian band led us in several songs, and I wish I could explain the energy in that room. We were sitting in the very back row, and everyone was singing with all their souls. I have NEVER EVER EVER heard singing like that. You know when you're in church, and you get crazy chills up and down your body? It was like that but I had chills almost the entire time. Singing with 450 women who have shared suffering, longing, desire, passion, sorrow, anger, joy, and devotion...THERE ARE NO WORDS. I felt like we were all connected to one another, sisters in Christ, singing praise to the Father we have come to love more than anything in this world. As my friend Abigail once told me in one of the happiest times of her life, I felt like the whole place would just float right off the ground into Heaven. I continued to feel this way every time we sang together throughout the weekend. For the first time in my life, I had a glimpse of what it will be like to sing praises for eternity in Heaven. Every single woman was singing her heart out, and you could just feel the love and hunger for God in the room. I never wanted it to end.

After worship time had ended, Beth Guckenberger got on stage to begin her first talk. Let me just say that I am a pretty frugal person, but I enjoyed all four of her talks so much that I am really considering buying the DVDs from the retreat to watch them over and over again. They were that good! To share a little bit about Beth, she serves with Back2Back Ministries, which is an international orphan care ministry. The ministry operates in Haiti, India, Mexico, and Nigeria, and Beth's family lived in Monterrey, Mexico from 1997-2013 serving in the ministry. Once she began talking, I immediately felt like I never wanted her to stop. The way she moved through different pieces of her talk so seamlessly with such a calm voice and words that were so filled with passion and truth...I could have listened to her talk for hours and hours. 

Beth began her talk with an incredible story. Forgive me if I miss any details - I was so enthralled that I didn't take great notes. The story takes place at one of the orphanages in Mexico that Back2Back ministry supports. The man who ran the orphanage served a meal to the children early in the day, but after that meal, there was no food left. Beth said that this man should have contacted her so that she could give him an emergency supply of food containing beans, rice, tortillas, etc., but he didn't. Instead, when dinnertime arrive, he called all the children together and told them that they all needed to pray for God to bring them dinner. Each child began taking turns praying to God for food. This sweet boy named Joel raised his hand and asked the man what God brings for dinner. The man answered that he did not know. When it came time for Joel to pray, he raised his hand a second time and asked the man if God would bring meat for dinner. The man encouraged Joel to pray for just that, and he did. A few more children said their prayers for God to bring them dinner when Joel raised his hand a third time. He asked the man what kind of meat God would bring for dinner. The man said he didn't know what kind of meat, and the kids continued to pray. Joel again raised his hand and said something like, "I'm going to pray that God brings steak for dinner," and he did just that.

Meanwhile, on the other side of this story, Beth had previously met a man who came to Mexico to do business. He gave her his card and said that he would like to come visit the orphanages sometime when he was in town for business. Time passed when one day Beth's phone rang. It was the same man she had met, and he was asking if he could visit the orphanages during his visit. She agreed to take him around to visit, and then the man mentioned that he was at the convention center with all of this extra product. He wondered if maybe the orphanages would like to have it because he could not cross back into the United States with this product

***I wish you all could have been there to hear Beth tell this story. The story is SO much better in person!

Anyway, Beth had thrown away his business card and had no idea what kind of product he was talking about, so she asked him, "What kind of product are we talking about here?" The guy reminded her that  he worked for this meat distributor, and they were trying to get restaurants to sign contracts with them to buy their meat. He asked if her husband could bring a pick up truck to load up this meat. So, her husband left to help this guy, and Beth proceeded to call the orphanage that was closest to the convention center...the one where little Joel and the other children were praying for their dinner. 

The man working at the orphanage picked up the phone, and Beth said hello and asked him if he had any room in his freezer. The man was like, "Yeah, we have room. Why?" knowing that it was completely empty. Beth told him that there was this guy in town who had some extra food to put in his freezer. The man then asked, "What kind of food?" At this point, Beth is thinking to herself, "What does it matter what kind of food. It's food," but she said something like, "There is a guy at the convention center with a bunch of extra meat, and we're going to be by to drop it off soon." The man again inquired, "What kind of meat?" Now at this point Beth really was confused. She said something like, "When did the children at the orphanage get so picky?" and we all laughed. She said she wasn't sure but that she could call her husband to find out. The man thanked her, and they hung up.

Then, she called her husband, and she said something like, "I don't know why [guy's name] wants to know this, but he asked what kind of meat you are bringing." Her husband replied that she wasn't going to believe it, but they were loading up boxes of the finest meats...so many cuts of steaks. She said, "Ok, let me call him back and tell him." Beth called the man working at the orphanage and told him they would be bringing by steaks to stock his freezer. The man stopped and shouted to the kids something like, "You guys! God's bringing dinner...and he's bringing steak!" It was only later that Beth learned that the children had been sitting together praying for God to bring them dinner for maybe a couple hours and that Joel had interrupted the prayer session multiple times and ended up praying specifically for steak.

I loved that story. Loved it. In fact, I still love it.

Almost two weeks have gone by, and I'm still thinking about Beth's story from that first session. What would the world look like if we all had the faith of a child...faith like Joel? I have some people in my life who I love very much, but they deny that God exists. I hope they read this story and that it plants seeds that will grow into full faith in the Father. There are others in my life who believe that God exists but that He doesn't have any influence on their daily lives. Instead they believe that they can only rely on themselves. This means that any times where they are anxious, they stew in that worry because they don't think God can bring peace. This means that every time they feel sad, they think they are alone because they don't believe that God will hold them through it. I think that because we live in a culture that embraces independence, self-reliance, and success that results in personal gain, our culture misses out on a God who brings steak for dinner. People are so busy taking care of everything that God never has an opportunity to show up and show off. Being in a relationship with the Father and depending on Him frees us from our anxiety, loneliness, sadness, anger, and hurt.

And when we are freed of those burdens, we can start healing.

And when we allow God to heal us, we can create a space of love and healing for our children, biological and adopted.

This weekend was the beginning of some significant healing for me, and I can't wait to tell you all about it.

Some of the organizers used glow sticks and danced like stick figures!

Photobooth Fun!

More music by candlelight

Missing these girls like crazy.

Stephanie, Kelley, and me (missing Sara Noll!)


Created for Care: Reflections Part One

Last weekend I had the incredible opportunity to join 450 women at Lake Lanier, Georgia for an adoptive and foster mom retreat called Created for Care. For the past week, I have been dying to share about my experience, but as usual, it is not always easy to find time to write for a couple hours, especially after being away for 4 days. Registration for this retreat opened at midnight one day in August, and I think it sold out by 8 o' clock the next morning.
Last Thursday morning I kissed Ryan and the boys goodbye and drove to Cincinnati to meet up with my friend, Jennifer, who adopted a daughter from China last summer. We then drove to Cleveland, TN to pick up Lauren, who also adopted a daughter from China last summer. We drove the rest of the way to Lake Lanier where we met up with five more friends, Stephanie, Kelley, Ashlee, Whitney, and Amy, all moms who adopted children from China this past year. We all talk on Facebook nearly every day, but this was the first time many of us would meet face to face. I was SO sad that my China sister, Carroll Lane, who was in China with us for two weeks, got sick and was not able to attend this year. I guess that is all the more reason to sign up to go again next year! We rented a lake house for the duration of our trip and spent the first night laughing, eating chips and queso, homemade guacamole, salsa, and desserts, drinking delicious wine (and some STRONG limoncello), and having heart to hearts about our experiences bringing our children home. The bond that we share is so incredibly special, and to all be in one place was priceless. :)

The next morning I woke up just before 8 a.m. shocked to hear most everyone out in the living room chatting. I thought for sure we would sleep in, but I think the excitement of being together (or maybe the fact that our bodies are not used to sleeping in anymore) brought everyone together early that morning. We had a delicious breakfast and shared more laughs and great conversation. I opened up to my friend, Amy, about some struggles that I shared on a previous blog post. Amy is so wise and had lots of encouragement for my heart.

Amy, Lauren, and me on our back porch overlooking the lake
As we sat around the table having some leftovers from the night before, I remember thinking, "If this (the time with my friends) is as good as it gets, then this whole trip is worth it." The time together was really that rejuvenating! My heart felt so full.

We drove to the lodge to register for the retreat around 2:00 that afternoon. After picking up our packets, we made our way around the different booths for various organizations selling tshirts and other adoption/foster care merchandise. If there is something adoptive and foster moms love it is T-SHIRTS. :) I think I wear mine the majority of the week. We love orphan care so much that we want to be walking billboards! My favorite one I bought says, "Speak Up" with Proverbs 31:8 written on it. This verse states, "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed." LOVE IT. I feel like that verse helps describe what led me to a career as a school psychologist, where I advocate for children who are in need of special education services, as well in my role in the field of orphan care. I would wear this shirt everyday if I could. I'm not going to lie. I'm wearing it right now...haha!

After looking around, we went to a session for first time attenders to learn about different aspects of the retreat, and then we were released to attend our first break out session. About a month before the retreat, we had all registered for the 3 break out sessions we wanted to attend. There were about 8-10 choices for each session, and they covered a variety of topics such as...

Staying Sane While Raising a Large Family
Waiting: While You Wait, Learning to Wait on The Lord and His Timing
When Will Everything Return to Normal?
What African American Moms Want You To Know about Rasising Black Children in America Today
Foster Parenting: The Reality, Beauty, and Miracles in Foster Care

I ended up choosing the following three sessions:

Finding Me: Unveiling YOU so that Your Children Can Find You: Carissa Woodwyk led this session and made it so much fun! She was adopted from Korea and brings such a loving and honest voice to the retreat. 

Practical Realities of Connecting While Correcting: Tona Ottinger did such an amazing job explaining how to correct (i.e., discipline) our children while also connecting with them, as connection is what helps heal, trust, and grow, through strategies developed by Dr. Karyn Purvis. This session was a great refresher for me, as I had read Dr. Purvis' book The Connected Child during our homestudy process. 

Orphan Care Together: Joining C4C Adoptive Moms to Love Orphans Across the World: I learned about different organizations that exist to support orphans. I chose this session because I am trying to figure out how to continue my role in supporting and advocating for the fatherless. 

So back to Friday. We were released from our first time attenders' meeting and went straight to our first break out session. I had previously watched a video that was posted online of Carissa Woodwyk giving a talk, and I was excited to sit in on this session with her. Before she dove into her talk, Carissa reminded us to come into this weekend with no EXPECTATIONS but rather with ANTICIPATION. I loved that! She then began discussing the Enneagram, which is a 40 year old personality assessment to help people better understand themselves. I love any opportunity for self-exploration, so this was right up my alley. Carissa stated that our personal stories have impacted us and that our coping mechanisms have helped us create which "number" we are. 

Fortunately, I had taken this assessment a year ago thanks to a coworker who had given me the assessment. I am TYPE TWO: The Helper. The description of The Helper indicates that a Two has the gift of EMPATHY but an unconscious drive of PRIDE. It states: Twos have a natural ability to make empathic connections with others. Helpers actually feel what others feel or need. They are driven to connect with others emotionally and fill their needs. Helpers are talented networkers, making connections between other people. Twos may facilitate others in reaching their potential. They enjoy being in power behind the throne and enthusiatically supporting others. At their best, they are warm and caring. At times, Twos can be true altruists, where giving is as natural as breathing and free of expectation. In relationships, Twos look for emotional connection, intimacy, warmth, and affection. 

However, as with any personality type, there are both positive and negative aspects. On the upside, I can be helpful, affirming, caring, listening, accepting, praising, giving, serving, sensitive, supporting, complimenting, and compassionate. On the downside, I can be overprotective, possessive, complaining, martyr, guilt-inducing, demanding, and needy. A main struggle for a Two is that we do what we can to not have needs. We struggle with pride and make ourselves feel good about who we are by helping. A silly example that drives Ryan crazy is that I will ask him if he wants popcorn to eat while we watch a movie. If he says no, I won't make any even though I really want some. He is like, "Just make yourself some popcorn" while I'm like, "If you don't want popcorn, then I don't need it either." Twos don't want to need anything! However, by making Ryan popcorn, I would feel good by meeting his need. I wouldn't feel good about making it for myself, though. Interesting, huh?

So, for those of you who know me well, and for those of you who have never met me but read my blog, now you have a little more insight into my personality. I am so excited to learn more about myself so that I can become more of what God wants me to be. I am working to transfer my expectations and change them into grace. I have to remind myself to do this all day long because my expectations for myself and for others are much too high.

One very interesting part of this session is when Carissa had our groupd divide up into our number types. The majority (probably 90%) of the women in the room were numbers One or Two. A One strives for justice, equality, and fairness. Isn't that interesting that the majority of adoptive and foster moms were driven by JUSTICE and HELP? :)

After our first break out session, we all gathered together to eat dinner. The women who organize the retreat assign seating for dinner based on either which country you adopted from or a specific person with whom you want to sit. I sat with the women who were staying in our lakehouse and a couple other good friends, Laura and Jessica. We enjoyed a Mexican feast and some dessert and then left for the first Main Session with Beth Guckenberger. Before the session began, I remembered again thinking to myself, "If this is as good as this weekend gets, it will have been worth the trip." My cup was so full. Little did I know, it was just the beginning of one of the greatest weekends of my entire life.

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