Saturday, March 8, 2014

An Adoption Update: Choosing your Team

the home team
One thing I am more certain of today than ever before is that adoption is never an accident.  It is a beautiful orchestration of many days, months and weeks (and sometimes even years), lots of work, tons of prayer, a wide variety of people, different organizations, families, friends and community all coming together to help facilitate something AMAZING taking place.  It certainly is a team effort.  From hiring the right professionals to enlisting the assistance of friends and family for both prayer and financial support.  You absolutely cannot do this kind of thing alone.  

This truth is both frustrating and freeing.  There are times when I just want to will my way through this on my own strength and effort...this leads to frustration pretty quickly because there is only so much one can do when pretty much most of everything is out of your hands!  What I am learning is that by inviting people in who genuinely care and want to understand and support, the burdon is lighter, the celebrations sweeter and the joy multiplied...freedom.  It is truly beautiful.

Sure there are moments when I wish I could just get pregnant and have a baby and get on about my life, but God's plan for our family is special and I choose to celebrate that and embrace this adventure and all of its uncertainties....this whole experience is a gift we have been given. 

Back in the fall, I was in hyper research mode as we neared our timeline to make a decision about which agency we wanted to choose to work with for our adoption.  I literally spent hours each evening reading different agency websites.  For me, the more I learned the muddier the waters looked.  Do we use a traditional agency? Which one? A facilitator? A consultant? An attorney? A national agency? A faith-based agency? Is licensing important? Do we want to use a local agency? Can we list with more than one? What are the reputations of these agencies? Reviews? On and on and on... and of course depending on what website you were reading, everything seemed peachy-keen, until you read the next website which raised questions about what I had just read as "truth".... it was so super confusing and unknown.  We had several friends who shared their experiences and recommendations which we found to be extremely helpful, but still, nothing was just jumping out at us for what we were looking for, despite several phone conference calls, webinars, tons of information shared and hours of research.

The reason this is such a major decision to make in the adoption process is because when make the choice of an agency (if that is the path you choose), you have to pay money to apply with them (and they might not accept you!), then you have to pay them (usually) a few thousand dollars to be listed with them (ie. become a client of theirs and to receive all of the services they offer) and then the fees go forward from there.  We knew this was going to be a major investment of not only our hearts but also our money.  So we wanted to make absolutely certain that (in addition to God) we were trusting our family's future to people who work with integrity, understand our family, are pleasant to work with and who are reachable and responsive to our questions and needs throughout this process.  

By chance, I was sharing my research frustrations with a friend of mine who is an adoptive mother of two cuties, who is also passionate about adoption.  She was telling me about a friend of a friend (of a friend?) who recently adopted after working with an adoption consultant company with great success and she recommended that I at least check them out.  

That very night I looked them up and we loved them right from the start.  Faithful Adoption Consultants have been absolutely fantastic.  They are a faith based organization run by women who are themselves adoptive mothers.  They are serious about prayer and about trusting the Lord in each and every adoption they are involved with.  I cannot say enough wonderful things about them- finding them was an absolute answer to our prayers.  What is unique about them is that they are not adoption case workers with a particular agency.  They are experienced independent consultants who network with dozens of agencies and attorneys all across the country.  So by hiring them, we did not have to make a decision about choosing one specific agency, we receive the benefit of their years of experience in this industry and the contacts and relationships they have established with licensed, reputable professionals across the country.  A true answer to prayer.  

We have been "active" with them since January 1, 2014, and what this means for our family is that our baby could be born anywhere in the lower 48 at any time.  We might have a couple of month's notice of his/her arrival or we might have less than twelve hours to pack and travel to where ever they already are!  Talk about a wild adventure!   It is certainly an exciting chapter for our family!

I will continue to explain more about this process and our personal experiences in future posts, but will sign off for now.  If you want to check out FAC on Facebook, they have a very active and amazing community of support and prayer there that is pretty amazing to behold.  We feel so blessed to be a part of it!  

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday- the beginning of Lent

Spring is just around the corner...
I received an email from my mentor Shelley today where she described Lent beautifully.  She wrote, 
"It is the beginning of a time to disconnect ourselves from what distracts and what holds us in its grip, that which causes us to repeatedly do what we wish we wouldn’t. Or it can be a time that creates a sacred space for us to do what we often wish we would in following Christ. 

Every year, this disconnecting from what distracts is a challenge I try to give myself, one year it was from reading the news (I'm kind of a junkie and then after I'm caught up on current events, I feel awful about the world we live in and fearful for everyone's future get it), another year it was Facebook, last year I tried giving up sweets- which lasted about 48 hours.  Sometimes I can do it, other years not so much.  One year I tried giving up caffeine AND sugar and I will just tell you that was miserable for everyone, so I have found it is better to take things a little bit slow.  But on that point, sometimes I have been known to take things too slowly and never actually start!  So I've been trying to figure out how to disconnect this year, and here I am, over half way through the first day without a plan.  But....

As I've been pondering this topic the past week or so, I continue to feel drawn toward the perspective of "adding in" vs. "taking away."  By that, I mean adding into and protecting a sacred space to press into Christ and into my God-given identity by creating space to become more of who He is calling me to be. He is my true source of life, and I want to focus on living my life (all the time for that matter, but especially during this season) in a way that intentionally connects me deeper to Him. 

So this year Lent will look different for me...I'm going to seek him with a wide open heart and new eyes through 

1. a 40 day photography project - an opportunity to pursue Christ through my lens

2. a 40 day writing challenge- an opportunity to pursue Christ through intentional time of writing

3. a 40 day intentional prayer challenge- an opportunity to sit at His feet and listen for His voice

4. a 40 day book reading challenge (not speed reading, but just making time to slow down and read good books!) - an opportunity to step away from all of the media and noise that influences my life and slow down the pace of life a bit

I'm expectantly excited to be surprised by all He has for me along the path these next 40 days. 

“Lent is an opportunity, not a requirement. It is meant to be the Church’s spring time. A time when, out of the darkness of sin’s winter, a repentant, empowered people emerges. Lent is a season in which we ought to be surprised by joy. Our self-sacrifices serve no purpose unless, by laying them aside this or that desire (appetite), we are able to focus on our hearts deepest longing, Unity with Christ.” – adapted from Bread and Wine.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Because Sometimes Life is Just Messy.....and You Just Have to Keep Moving Forward

In the blog world (and in real life too) people speak often about their word for the year.  This is the word that will inspire, encourage, teach, refine, reveal truth and spur many life lessons for the chooser. Last year, my word was 'perspective' and what I learned last year about perspective would take me months to untangle here in coherent words.  It was profound.  

My word this year is 'forward.' In my heart-listening for what my word for 2014 should be, I stumbled across this post by Ann Voskamp and my heart pounded the whole time I read it.  There was a deep 'yes' in my spirit-like she was somehow articulating exactly what I have been feeling as we transitioned into 2014 and all of it's newness- and I knew it was supposed to be my word as well.  To be certain, claiming this word as my own feels unsettling.  I don't know where I'm going, I don't know where I will be personally this time next year, or who will be (or may not be) sitting around our table.  What this word says to me is that by responding obediently to nudges toward action, that this next year will be a year of major changes in my life...and who likes major changes??  So this year, I'm moving forward.  Un-stucking myself.  Acting with courage.  Walking forward by faith into the here we go....toward preschool, potty training, big girl beds, personal transformation, deepening our marriage, adoption, and even home transformations as well.

I have been feeling very stuck lately- in many areas of my life for a variety of reasons, and so to 'hear' the call of "FORWARD!" over my life for this year, has left me feeling a bit shaky in my beloved Danskos.  I feel like I have been camped out in a valley of shadows for quite some time.  Waiting for things to change but not knowing how or when, and also noticing that they are also somehow changing all the time right before my eyes!

When you are in a valley, you easily notice that there are mountains all around- mountains that feel impossible to conquer, or at least like they will take everything I have to climb them...mountains called, 'adoption,' 'waiting well,' 'adoption fundraising,' 'continued progress toward making our house our home,' 'being a good steward of all we have been given- ie. living on a tight budget with an attitude of abundance and gratitude rather than struggle,' ' finding my God-given identity amidst the foggy blend of my roles and life-stage,' and not to mention the ever popular and necessary 'taking better care of myself in every area of living.'  Not to mention helping Lily transition from toddler to preschooler and all that comes with that sort of I-can't-believe-it-metamorphasis...Yeah, that's all.  

With the right attitude, these challenges and potential life changes can seem empowering, energizing and bursting forth with hope and fresh starts, but I have been living in a place where it has seemingly been raining grief, loss, struggle, setbacks, battle and a paralyzing lack of energy to deal with the challenges, progress or change.  

Sure I can put on my happy face and be social and appropriate- it is not like I live in a puddle of tears, but when it's quiet, and it's just me, or it's an especially tough day, or I cannot remember the last time I actually accomplished something from start to finish, or things tend to pile up and overwhelm me and I just feel stuck and fear that circumstances -big life circumstances- will never change...that is when the tears tend visit.  When it feels like the life I always imagined living will just never be real for me- for others, sure, but not for me.  I know it's in those quiet moments that the enemy attacks me in my weakest and most vulnerable, tender places, but trust me, in those moments, it feels like a war is raging in my heart for hope.

thank goodness for this precious gal who both pushes me to my limits and also fills my heart with so much love I feel like it could burst.... (and sometimes all within the same 5 minutes!)
So when God revealed to me that my new word for this year was 'forward'- I knew it was time to pack up my bags from my camp ground in the valley of complicated comfort and stuck-ness and get ready to cover some ground.  So here is a little summary of what has been going on here in the "FORWARD" department (even though some of it feels like I have actually been moving backwards- especially with a busy toddler in the house!) the past couple of months...

Making our house into our home is a HUGE passion of mine.  With trying to save every penny for our adoption, we have a pretty tight budget, so the process of getting to make things "new" in our home has been slow (which is actually a good thing!).  First I decided to tackle our downstairs living spaces that have been on my short list since we moved in:  our dining room, our front door and Lily's playroom.  Keep in mind, they were not awful- which is why they lasted this long, but they were not "us" and not having them the way we wanted them, kept me from decorating them or adding finishing touches on them, which kept them from feeling truly settled and restful to us (me especially).  I am a home-decorating loving fool.  I love to fiddle, change, research, rearrange and dream up ways to make our home more lovely.  But lately I have been guilty of too much dreaming and too little changing which was leading me to get stuck in the "it's never going to be the way I want it to be" category- a state of ingratitude and ugliness of the spirit. Ugh. 

So back in the fall, I began to take some baby steps toward transforming our dining room into the room we imagined it could be.  When we moved in, it was painted a light cheerful yellow color that blended in and washed out the white trim and wainscotting.  It had some really big and heavy custom curtains on the windows which I'm sure were lovely in their day (and probably pretty pricy), but were totally not our style.  So we (finally) pulled them down and it was an instant lift to the room.  One of those "Why did we wait so long to do that simple little thing?" It really lightened and brightened the room.  

a better glimpse of the true color of the walls...

sooo much brighter and happier!
My next project was to paint our front door.  When we moved in it was white, now it is black.  I think it really makes it stand out and the white trim pop a lot more.  Here are the before and afters...


We also finally got a dining room table!  Our dining room was a glorified running and play room for over a year, so to actually have a table in there where we could entertain friends and family has been!  We purchased it at a local furniture consignment store.  Lily and I had been watching their inventory closely for months and we finally found this gem.  We didn't want anything too perfect because we wanted to actually be able to use it without fear or worry of scratches etc. So it has a little love already scratched into it and we absolutely LOVE it.  I don't know, but having a dining room table makes me feel like a grown up.  We have used it TONS already and I am excited for all of the gatherings to come....  Of course I don't have a great photo of it, but this is a photo of some of our great friends enjoying some raclette.  (Which by the way is awesome if you have not tried it!)

Then began the (seemingly never ending) process of finding the right color for the walls.  I knew I wanted to have a nice cozy shade of gray, but in case you did not know, there are MILLIONS of shades of gray!  Some brownish, some yellowish, lots of blue-ish/purple shades, some greenish.... I kept the sample guys at the Home Depot paint department busy with my never ending requests for random specific shades that I found in magazines, books, online etc.  Just when I thought it was my last trip to the HD, I would stumble across another few shades that I wanted to try out.  Our walls looked like this for months.  Literally months.  It got to the point where we no longer noticed how crazy our walls looked!

I actually almost forgot to take a photo of the 'before' - so disregard the primer on the walls!  You get the idea.... these splotches/samples were on almost every wall in the dining room in order to get a sense of the colors in natural light and the evening light....
We still hosted several gatherings in this crazy state of 'undone-ness' and our crazy, paint-sample-y walls always started great conversations. We conducted polls from our guests on their opinions of the paint and all the while I continued to stumble across new and interesting shades of gray to try.  But eventually we landed on the color of Rockport Gray by Sherwin Williams, and after months of crazy walls, I finally got on the stick, summoned the mental energy to empty the giant cabinet of stuff so we could move it away from the wall and I could actually prime and paint!  Talk about forward progress!

walls primed and ready for paint

We have 12 foot ceilings on our main level and it was a challenge (and time consuming) to maneuver our giant ladder and drop cloths all around the room but it was love at first sight for me with this color. LOVELOVELOVE!  I immediately wanted to paint our bedroom in the same color....but that is a project for another year!

AFTER (I don't yet have any official 'after' photos, for a reason I will explain later)
Our dining room is pretty standard sized, but going from the yellow color to the gray has added depth and dimention that has been so unexpected and lovely.  The space seems significantly larger than before and the white trim pops, as does the white cabinet.  I also love how it looks with the wood of our table and chairs.  It was a major upgrade in our opinion and so simple to accomplish!   That being said, I did not realize the challenge of painting a room with so many different wall surfaces - every indentation, corner, the bay windows and the 12 foot ceilings....kind of a bear to paint....not going to lie.  But so very worth the effort.  Next up for this room is wall art and some window treatments, but that will be a gradual project that unfolds....(ie. more pinterest and houzz research required!) But for now, in this space we are pleased with the feels a little more like home now.

While the drop cloths, ladders, primer, and paint brushes were out and handy, I decided to tackle the paint color in Lily's play room.  We spend a TON of time in there and it too was painted a yellow-ish neutral taupe color that I just did not love.  It was a decent enough neutral color that it was not crazy, but it just wasn't us.  We removed the heavy green custom curtains (no photo, sorry, but just picture the dining room curtains but in a forrest green shade).  We tackled the project of finding the right shade of gray (again)- one that would blend nicely with the dining room (since our floor plan is pretty open and these rooms are near on another)- but also one that was unique to the play room and a tad bit lighter.  I wanted to brighten the space a little bit so we changed the color to a really pretty shade of gray that is a 26% increase in darkness of the color Revere Pewter by Sherwin Williams.  (I will spare you on how we landed on that exact shade, but its the darkest they could increase the color without overflowing the can) but changing to this color has been such a lovely improvement for us in this room...well, at least for me.  I don't think Joe or Lily really minded the other one, but I really did not like it. Now I feel like I can finally continue to make this space into a cheerful, kid-friendly room where lots of creativity can happen...for both Lily and myself! ha!

the sample colors on the playroom walls...again, I almost forgot to take my 'before' photo! Tip: it helps to write the color name in chalk below the color sample on the wall, so when time passes, and you make a decision, you don't forget the color's name!
walls all primed and ready for much brighter and happy already!
* Sadly, I don't yet have an after photo for this post.  But I will share one with you when we get one because we love how it turned out!

All in all this painting project (obviously not counting the months of color selection) took me about a week.  I basically primed and painted each room, plus one bedroom upstairs was primed as well.  And by the time I got everything moved, moved back, cleaned up and painted using nap times and evenings after bedtime, it took about a week.  My mom was kind enough to take Lily for a day so I could focus on painting as well, which really helped.  We are thrilled with how it turned out and it feels great to have these rooms on their way to feeling more like home to us....  but needless to say, during the week that this project was underway, the rest of our house was a total disaster and recovering from it all (laundry, organization etc took about a week as well)!  But isn't that always how it goes?

Speaking of disaster...the reason I don't have my official "finished" photos for you is because before I could take them, we had a flood in our kitchen thanks to our unruly dishwasher and our house currently looks like this:

kitchen before hardwoods taken out
our dining room full of kitchen cabinet contents and appliances

our family room full of cabinets, tables etc
laundry room...guess where I could not reach when I painted it last spring?  Heehee....
basement below where the dishwasher is in our kitchen....UGH.
where the water flooded into our family room...bringing with it some hardwood floor stain.  Lovely.
Soooo....we have had industrial sized fans and dehumidifiers blowing in our house for a week straight now in effort to get everything dry again.  It literally sounds like a jet engine and it is next to impossible to have a conversation in a normal tone of voice.  We have filed a claim with our home insurance and they have been awesome so far sending people out to help us get our floors dried out, removed, our cabinets taken out and get things like the subfloor dried out so the damage can be properly assessed.  We do not know yet what our next steps will be, but it goes without saying that sometimes, life is just messy and full of unexpected twists and turns.  We certainly did not plan on re-doing our kitchen right now, that is for sure!  But, it is absolutely something we planned on doing sometime down the road...I guess God had a different time line for us in this.

Kitchen BEFORE the flood in our home study photos
our kitchen today...
Needless to say, fixing up our kitchen a little bit more to our liking was not in our plans or budget for the next several years, let alone the next several weeks!  It is exciting but also a little bit overwhelming as many decisions will have to be made in a relatively short period of time.  But first, we will have to see what happens and what our insurance people say.  Right now, we are grateful for my parents who are letting us stay with them until our house returns to feeling like home again!

Yes, life is just messy sometimes so here is to moving forward and finding beauty amongst the ruins.  Thanks for reading all the way through this long post- I wanted to bring you up to date on what has been going on the past few weeks around our house and give you a little glimpse into why I have not had much time to write here- again.  *sigh*

I hope your life is full of beautiful (happy) messes these days ...but hopefully not as crazy as our messes are right at the moment!