Agencies, Social Workers and Adoption Types (Oh My!)

Once you truly understand your own story and why you want to pursue adoption, you will have a clearer sense of what TYPE of adoption makes sense for you.

There are two basic categories of adoption*, with many subsets: DOMESTIC ADOPTION and INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION.   (*A third type of adoption is Embryo Adoption, which I’m hoping to have a friend share more about in a future post.  Check out the link if you’re dying to know more now!)

  • Domestic adoption is more of what I’m covering here as it can include any adoption from the US, including private adoption, family member adoption, adoption through foster care system, etc.
  • International adoption is any adoption of a child not born in the United States.  (Note: I do have many friends who adopted internationally, including one woman’s story I’ll be sharing throughout this month’s blogs.  If you have specific questions for them I’d be happy to pass those along to my friends!)

**Since I’m not experienced in all the adoption areas, I encourage you to check out this website for a more comprehensive look at each type of adoption to see what might be a good fit for you.

As you explore adoption options that might work for your family, I’d like to remind you of a couple things to keep you from getting paralyzed in fear or inaction:

  • Every adoption type has it’s own unique risks and blessings.  I think most of us want to find the quickest and least painful way to adopt a child.  We think we can minimize our risk by choosing the “perfect path”.  (BTW, if you find that path please let me know because I’m still looking!)  But nothing in life worth doing is risk-free (from purchasing a home to getting married, from pursuing a degree to writing a book).  As I told someone recently, if you have a passion to adopt or a passion for orphans then there’s a greater risk to your soul in NOT stepping out than in stepping out.  Don’t choose not to adopt simply because you’re afraid of choosing the “wrong path”.
  • There isn’t a “right” way to adopt and all adoptable children are equally worthy of adoption.  Often we get so amped to share our stories of adoption that we can make it sound like our way is the best or only way to adopt.  We might come off at times like the only right way to adopt would be through foster care, or from Ethiopia, or ___________ (fill in your story).  There’s not some chart somewhere that graphs which children are more worthy of adoption than others- all children are worthy and your path will be unique.  Whether you adopt a healthy five year old from the foster-care system, a one year old with down-syndrome from China, an infant through private adoption, (or any other variation), you shouldn’t feel guilt because you think someone else’s story was “truly sacrificial” or more important.  Like I said, let other people’s stories inspire you and stretch your mind to embrace a story you might not have considered, but please let’s drop the “should” because they really don’t help anyone!

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I’d love to share a few personal starter stories of friends who have adopted.  You’ll hear more of their answers through more blog posts.  To protect privacy, I’m giving made-up names for these friends and their children, but most are happy to talk more if you’re interested in following up with more questions.  I also give one caution: each story represents someone’s unique experience.  Since adoption agencies and regulations shift from year to year (eve in the three years since we adopted!) I advise you not to use these stories as guides not rules.  I tried to provide links to any agencies listed, even if the experience was negative, because it’s possible that agency or group that didn’t work for someone else would work for you or has updated to become more user friendly.  With that said, let’s get started!

MEET TERRY! 

  • She adopted two children internationally.

We were adopting in prehistoric times- late 1980’s.  We were told the State/DCF will not provide any sort of adoptions [Carrye’s note: this is no longer true!] so we checked out other options.  Catholic Family Services– we would have an 11 year wait as neither of us was catholic.  Thursday’s Child- were possessive of the adopted child pose placement- ridiculous rules.  My sister’s neighbor adopted from Korea thru FCA and had a great experience.  We were basically self-educated on adoption; it was difficult to find agencies to work with.  We were limited in which country to adopt from due to cost and time off work for various residency requirements (prior to FMLA) and due to family extreme prejudice, what “kind” of baby would be accepted.”

  • What organization she used: Straight placement through Family and Chidlren’s Aid of Norwalk.  They currently have an office in West Hartford and name changed to just Family and Children’s Aid.
  • How she raised funds: “We used up any savings we had.  Made two payments prior to placement and third on delivery.  We were on our own.”  [Carrye’s note: the landscape of adoption fundraising has changed significantly- more details on that to come!]
  • Her suggestion for people just starting out: Keep a binder with a list of organizations you are looking at.  Try to keep a note on each place- who you contacted, how did you feel about pre/post placement requirements (rate 1-5), how comfortable were you while discussing (rate 1-5), how about the financial requirements + the inevitable incidentals that come up (rate 1-5).  Be sure to list anything that feels wrong- requirements, timeline, $$$, etc.  Just a few word, not the kitchen sink.”  🙂

MEET CAROLINE!

  • She adopted through DCF Foster-to-Adopt program in CT. 

We considered both private and DCF, but a few factors that influenced our decision were cost, waiting time, and understanding the need for safe and loving homes in the foster care system.”

  • What organization she used: Waterford Country School
  • How she raised funds:  “Not Applicable- the state provides all the funding for DCF adoptions through foster care”
  • Her suggestion for people just starting out: “We were fortunate enough to have friends go through the process before us so we had a good understanding of how it worked.  We took it one step at a time, and prayed and talked about it as a couple a lot.” 

MEET LISA!

  • She adopted an infant through Private Adoption in the US.

“We decided on private adoption because we knew we wanted a newborn and a child that wasn’t foster to adopt where we had the chance that the baby might be taken away from us.”

  • What organization/agency she used: “Waterford Country School did our home study and pre and post placement visits.  Our adoption agency was American Adoptions.”
  • How she raised funds: “At one point we did a small fundraiser but we mainly had help from our families.”
  • Her suggestion for people just starting out: “I would want them to know that it can be a long process. That at times you will feel all you are doing is paperwork and paperwork that tells all the small details about your life.  The waiting can be hard and seems like it can take forever but in the long run the wait is totally worth it.”

MEET BRIANA!

  • She adopted through the DCF foster-to-adopt program in CT.
  • What organization/agency she used: “…[we] used a private agency through Waterford Country Schools. It was grant funded to use WCS.  We had heard that a few families from our church had gone this route and had a great experience.   We knew we would be getting the same social worker who came highly recommended.”
  • Her suggestion for people just starting out: “Go sit in some information sessions and just get things started.  It seems overwhelming but once you get the ball rolling there are people around to hold your hand through the process and make it very doable.  We were blessed to be supported with amazing social workers.” 

TERMS DEFINED!

Home Study: This is essentially the review of your home and paperwork (performed by a social worker) of your family background/situation to make sure your home is safe and your family is able to care for a new child.  At first I viewed this as a test that I was afraid to fail, but it’s better to view it as preparation for you and your social worker.  If your home has minor issues (peeling paint, needs updated child safety locks, etc) your social worker doesn’t “fail” you…they tell you the areas you need to fix to bring your home up to their standards.  Then you continue your process!  It also gives the social worker a chance to get to know who you are uniquely as a family.  This information helps future social workers or, in the case of private adoption, birthparents who are looking to understand what kind of family they’d like to place their child in.

Social Worker: An adoptive social worker is a licensed professional who helps families/children in various steps of adoption.  They can work for agencies or the government.  We had one social worker (primarily for us as parents) that did our home study and called us to tell us about potential children we were matched with; another we only knew briefly as she was in charge of actually finding placements for the children that came into DCF care; yet another social worker (technically our son’s social worker) visited us regularly while we were fostering our son and gave us updates on paperwork and where the State was in our adoption process.  The social worker who did our home study also checked in on us periodically while we waited for a placement, went to the hospital with us to help us pick up our baby, and checked in on us afterwards as part of post-placement services.  Our two long-term social workers became friends to us, and were both present at our son’s adoption in court!

Me holding our son for a first official post-adoption family picture with our amazing judge in court.

This has been a lot of information to throw at you at once, but I hope that it’s been helpful!  Tune in next time to learn about Open/Closed adoptions and my personal story for those that are afraid to know their adoptive child’s birthparents.  I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation!

 

 

 

 

Adoption Starts With a Story

November is National Adoption Month and I’m celebrating big on my blog! Maybe you’ve always wanted to adopt but your questions so far outweigh your answers that you wouldn’t know where to start.  If that’s you, I hope you’ll find encouragement, practical advice, and some resources to move you even a little farther along in your journey.

If you have no desire to adopt, I hope you’ll still find a fresh awareness of adoptive families as you learn more about the journeys of myself and a handful of friends.

If you don’t like kids at all…well…check back in December.  🙂

So why should I be telling you about adoption?  For one, because I’m not an adoption expert.  (The first thing you should know about adopting is that you don’t have to be an expert to pull it off.  It helps to have some facts and to prepare yourself for your journey, but what you most need is a heart to connect with a child and perhaps the physical ability to chase them around a grocery store.  But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.)

The truth is, I’ve invested numerous hours in personal adoption research spanning private domestic, overseas, and foster-care adoption.  I’ve had in person or phone interviews with a few agencies.  I’ve made intentional meetings with friends who are adoptive parents, wielding notebook and pen to jot down their every insightful thought on adoption.  I have relatives who have adopted and graciously allowed me to peer into and even be part of their family’s story.  I’ve read and skimmed through stacks of books and websites to satisfy my curiosity on the subject and prepare for our own adoption.

I’ve also spent months getting licensed (home study, paperwork, background check and all that jazz) in order to adopt a child through foster-care adoption in CT (DCF).  In 2014 we brought an infant child into our home and were able to finalize our adoption in court about a year later.  So I have a lot of practical experience and a passion for adoption that kind of just oozes out of me at this point.

But I’m not an expert because I’m not sure such a thing exists in adoption world.  “Adoption” is a term that refers to such a wide range of families, situations, and constantly fluctuating legalities, that no one person really has the definitive answers.

Some of you are thinking, “EXACTLY!  How can I adopt when it’s so hard to find answers?  P.S.  I thought you were supposed to be encouraging me, not overwhelming me.  Gah!”

Before you lose heart, the beautiful thing about so many kinds of adoption is that there’s no one right way to do it.  Instead of feeling trapped by overload, breath in the fact that options are your friend.

Also, you don’t need all the answers to get started.  I believe it’s far more important to know others who have taken the adoption journey ahead of you- to know you’re not alone- to know where to turn when you need some advice.  That’s where this experienced-but-non-expert comes in.

When I first started out, adoption was like this crazy out-of-reach dream that only a handful of people I knew had accomplished. Mostly it was for rich celebrities and people with perfect houses who vacuum wearing pearls and take family pictures where everyone is not only smiling but wearing matching clothes custom made by a clothing company I can’t pronounce.  Minimally, it was for people who knew what they were doing.

Then I started talking to people about adoption- normal people with kitchens that sometimes piled up with dishes like mine and whose children weren’t glowing and angelic 24/7.  And these people didn’t claim to have all the answers; in fact many of them had more questions than before they started.  But they’d adopted anyway.  I found out that adoption isn’t perfect and neither are the people that open their lives to it.  And in those imperfect stories I found courage to step out.

Think about it a different way: suppose you were a high school senior who didn’t personally know anyone who’d ever been to college.  You were faced with a bajillion college choices, application deadlines, and majors to pick from.  You might have lots of great information and guidance counselors, but you’d be daunted without being able to hear someone’s story first hand.  How did they pay for college? How did they feel confident in their decision of schools?  What do they wish they’d known before they started their freshman year?  What you need is a story.

Textbook or professional answers are practical tools to move us along in our journey, but personal stories fuel our courage to begin and a passion to sustain us in our journey.

That’s what I want this month to be about on my blog: personal stories to fuel your courage to begin.  Passion to sustain you in your journey.  And if nothing else, some heart-opening stories that give you a clearer window into adoption than you had before.  I hope you’ll check in often this month.

Here’s what you can expect in the coming weeks:

  •  My personal story of our DCF adoption including what it’s like having biological kids and an adopted child.
  • What real adoptive parents wish they’d known when they started out (and other answers from adoptive families.)
  • Some obstacles you may encounter/potential resources to help!
  • Links and references to adoption agencies…
  • Further adoption community resources…
  • And more!

I hope you’ll check back in often!  If you are considering adoption, I’d love to hear your questions!  If you’d rather meet in person to connect and ask the gritty questions, send me a message here or connect on FB and I would be happy to meet or chat with you.

If you have adopted and want to add your voice to the conversation, please do!  We all need your story.

 

 

To Kill a Brother

“Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”

(Public Domain)

The last time I felt so sick to my stomach over racism was in a little town in South Carolina where my Memaw used to live.  We’d driven down to visit her and on a whim decided to take a stroll through the quaint, brick buildings at the town center.  If the place were once thriving, you’d never know- there were few people out, and you got the sense that the world around had moved on, or rather out of town.

There we stumbled upon the “Red Neck Store” which innocently advertised itself as a purveyor of southern souvenirs- a unique local gift shop maybe.  We were so wrong.  Though the store was tiny and much too warm, I felt more suffocated by the shocking contents that assaulted me.  It took us longer to process the evil than it should have; oh, there was some light-hearted “red-neck” merchandise, alright… right alongside KKK outfits and other blatantly racist paraphernalia.

As our disgust caught up to our sheer shock, we shuffled uneasily towards the exit.  As we turned to leave, the salesman motioned towards some t-shirts with a picture of Obama, who’d recently been elected for his first term.  “They’re guaranteed to burn!” he called out, hatred glowing in his eyes.  Nail in coffin- we got out of there fast and didn’t look back.

How could such overt racism exist in my modern world?

Fast forward to present.  I don’t watch the news.  Call me irresponsible, call me out on my self-imposed bubble, but my heart can’t usually bench press the weight the news throws at me.

So admittedly I found out about Charlottesville through Lina Abujamra, a blogger I subscribe to.

As her words scrolled through my brain, my heart quickened and I found my fingers typing a search for news that would take my soul and stomach back to the horror of that red neck store and my shattered picture of humanity.  I watched a recap clip of the tragic events that was too short to convey the full story, yet somehow too long a moment to have to stare in the face of evil.

“Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”

And I cried- not merely for the loss of life- not merely for those hurt and scarred- but because I’d naïvely allowed myself to believe that somehow we’d moved beyond such base actions.  Yes darkness seemed to have a choke-hold on the world, but weren’t we slowly getting better as a people?  As a nation?  Hadn’t the hard fought war for freedom for all changed not just our legislation but at long last our collective hearts?  At least a little?

We weren’t perfect in the “love your neighbor” department- no sir. And truthfully books like The New Jim Crow have opened my eyes to see that socially acceptable racism still exists even if overt racism is declining.  And I lament along with many of my ongoing complicity in such racist structures and beliefs, though I don’t always know how to perpetuate change.

But my stomach feels especially sick at the real-time use of the phrase “white supremacist” because I thought that language was buried deep within the pages of my history book.  Where has all this hatred been hiding? What is its origin?

I think back to the first recorded murder in the Bible, when Cain and his brother Abel walked with God.  Genesis says God was pleased with Abel’s sacrifice, but not with Cain’s.  Such a simple sentence, but it was the catalyst for Cain to draw an irrevocable line. Cain’s pride was assaulted.  His sense of His worth and identity were thrown off and he was filled with anger.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”  (Genesis 4:6-8)

Cain didn’t want to look at himself and his issues.  He’d rather draw an imaginary line between himself and his brother and cast the blame on the other side.  His frustrated desire for success? accolades? validation? swelled into lethal anger.

I picture myself for a moment as Eve, the boys’ mother.  Death was still fresh and ghastly, something not yet normal.  Did she crush under the fresh realization of what her disobedience in the Garden had cost her?  Even as she wept over a boy lost to death, did she cry bitter tears over the broken depths of her living son?  Did her own stomach churn at the horrible knowledge that creation from her womb had taken the life of creation…that brother could kill even brother?

Did she fall to the ground and ask God to forgive and to heal, to turn their hearts back to Him?  Did she realize with sobering horror, as I did, that she herself had the capacity for equally grave selfishness?

This week I’ve struggled with fresh revelation of my own brokenness- my own capacity to diminish, overlook, and cause pain.  How sobering to think that I’m simply not so different from the people on the other side of the line that I find myself drawing.  The righteous and unrighteous.  The sinner and the saint.  The peacemaker and the racist. The moral and the killer.  But my lines aren’t any more helpful than the lines others draw.

Because no matter what line we draw, don’t we always end up on the “right” side of it?  Isn’t the line somehow about ourselves?

At its core, racism is about elevating ourselves.  It’s the full-grown sin of seeking our own good and interests, of needing to validate ourselves at the expense of someone else.  It’s the desire to define ourselves AGAINST others- to be on the “right side” of the line of perceived power or beauty or significance.

But no such line exists.  Because God defines us and loves us not comparatively or based on who we are, but unconditionally based on who HE is.

There is no line.

So the powerful, so-called beautiful and self-imposed significant must create that line to maintain their self-worth.  In our insatiable pursuit of our own happiness and meaning we’re willing to diminish, abuse, and even kill their fellow creations…our brothers and sisters.

God fleshes this internal struggle out in His exhortation to Cain: “If you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you but you must rule over it.”

James 1:14-15 puts it this way: “…but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

Our temptations feed broken desires that incubate sin which, in its ghastly full grown state, produces death of all kinds. We have to address those desires and the broken places they come from.  James 4:1-3 continues this thought:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

We’re so focused on ourselves.  Our desires and motives are so skewed by our selfish lens. On our desires and pleasures.  And I’m preaching to myself here, just so you know.

Yet God offers some powerful tools to subdue those very desires that try to destroy us.  Some of the most practical daily advice is simply to talk less and listen more:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)

Our anger, even our justified anger, apart from God’s heart simply makes things worse.  It leads to more human lines, more division, and less of the righteousness that God desires.

So what else do we do to find victory over those broken desires and places in our lives? Come to God with humility and acknowledge our broken deeds and desires.

James 4:7-10 says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

I’m not the first to suggest that this is a time to repent: to acknowledge the broken places of our hearts before God and before our brothers and sisters.  Time to turn inward and realize where our own selfish tendencies, unchecked, have left us to ignore and harm others.  It’s a time to repent of generations of evil perpetuated against whole groups of people.  It’s a time to listen to other people’s stories in such a way that our own hearts break over their struggle.

And it’s time to stop drawing lines that kill our brothers.

All Bible References from:
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Favorite Five [Shopping] For Freedom

I’m no Oprah, but this girl can still make a list of favorites.  I’ve struggled in recent years with the stark contrast between my excess and other’s lack.  My plenty with another’s need.  And though I know our consumerism is part of the problem, I’m encouraged to find organizations that are creating equalizing opportunities through the very products we buy.  It’s a huge step in the right direction!  You’ve probably heard of organizations like TOMS (the one-for-one charity) or World Vision’s Gift Catalog, but in recent years I’ve connected with some other amazing organizations with crazy heart and a beautiful mission.

With each of the five organizations I’m listing below, I’ve either made a personal connection with a team member, or I’ve personally bought their items.  I can vouch for their work and mission and I’m excited to share them with you today:

1: IMAGINE GOODS

This is a fantastic company I stumbled upon during my involvement with Love146 which seeks to end child trafficking and modern day slavery.  Love146 realized that the t-shirts they sold to promote their organization might actually be perpetuating the very child labor they were seeking to end.  As a result, they partnered up with “Imagine Goods” which provides former victims of trafficking with sustainable employment opportunities.  When you buy through them, you know that the clothes you’re wearing didn’t come at the cost of unfair labor for someone else.  Here are some of the things I’ve bought from them!  (I hope you enjoy my cheesy selfie-modeling poses.)

(Top Picture: “the Kate dress“.  Bottom Picture: (skirt no longer sold) Shirt: The Empowerment Women’s T-Shirt–  SHIRT QUOTE: Empowerment is equipping an author with pen and ink to write their own story.)

AND Better yet, they’re running a sale through Sunday July 23rd! So now is a great time to try them out!

2: NEW CREATION- Design for Justice

I ran into this Harrisonburg, VA based organization through ImagineGoods actually.  While I haven’t ever been to this physical store (it’s on my to-do for one of our next trips south!), they have quite a unique story.  They call this place their “porn shop takeover” where they bought up a building that once perpetuated the trafficking industry and turned that into a powerful weapon against the evil it once stood for.  In their words, their mission is ” counteracting human trafficking through education, awareness, design, + the hope of Christ”.

 

And of course…I bought their “Justice and Coffee” shirt.

Next on my list to buy from them is one of their cool art prints or perhaps some survivor-made lip gloss that supports trafficked victims right out of Nashville, TN.  🙂  Win-win.

3: TRADES OF HOPE

Trades of Hope is very similar to the other two organizations in the ways that it empowers women to support themselves through the production and sale of products.  I love that Trades of Hope reaches out to a variety of women in multiple countries and addresses multiple reasons for poverty (disease, cultural discrimination, trafficking, etc).  But what I additionally love about Trades of Hope is that their sales approach also provides employment opportunities for “Compassionate Entrepreneurs” who sell largely through host product parties.  They sell jewelry, hand-bags, scarves, home-goods, and more- and for each item you can see a little bit of information about the artisans that created the product.  It’s a great way to combat poverty and start some conversations through the items you wear and have in your home!  I’m actually hosting my first Trades of Hope party this Thursday through my May Friend-Post Blogger, Sharon.  So if you’re interested in more information, please check her out!

4: NIGHTLIGHT DESIGN

Also during my time with Love146, we had a man visit and share about his heart to change the trafficking climate by addressing the very men who perpetuated the demand for trafficking.  Since then, he has shifted ministry roles, but he now finds himself working with a mission out of Bangkok Thailand which created “Nightlight Design” . This organization mirrors the others in the way it empowers the trafficking survivors right out of Thailand.  My understanding is that you can “host” a party with friends, church, etc, where Nightlight will send you a box of items to sell, and you return any unsold items and the profits from sales back to their team.  You can also purchase online!

5: AMANI YA JUU (Amani Africa)

Call me crazy, but one morning I woke up with the word “Amani” in my head.  Having no idea what it meant, I looked it up and discovered it means “peace” in Swahili.  So months later when I talked to a friend who worked with an organization called “Amani Ya Juu” I was understandably intrigued.

Amani also allows artisans to create sustainable income through the creation of products.  But Amani has such a unique focus on the communities established through each of their centers (Liberia, Kenya, Uganda, and Chattanooga, TN).  Each of these community centers uniquely reflects the women involved, and provides far more than just training or employment.  Especially in light of the refugee crisis of late, the stories you’ll read about the women who launched Amanai and the centers will truly inspire you.  They are bringing so much life where once was grief and pain.

AND I had the pleasure of visiting their Chattanooga storefront last November-

and was in love with their unique toy items, clothes, greeting cards, and more.  Here’s some pictures to give you an idea:

(This skirt has POCKETS!!! Yes, please!)

Such a great shop, and you can find many of these items and more online as well!


Thanks for hanging around to see a few of my favorite shops for freedom.  This is part of my promise to post about some cool ways you can be part of changing the world with your own “less to be more”.  I’m looking forward to sharing more hands-on opportunities with you soon!  What organizations have you worked with that are empowering people and changing the world?  I’d love to hear about them!

Be the Hydrangea

I have a confession to make: I’m in love with hydrangeas.  (I don’t care who knows it.)  My obsession started when my parents moved from their beloved CT home to distant Alabama.  My Mama, who passed her sweet sentimental genes on to me, had carted and cultivated a blue hydrangea, that had been transplanted from my great-grandmother’s plant, to various homes she’d lived in.  Though they moved in summer and the hydrangea was in full bloom (not the best time to move it), my mom couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her plant behind.  So she recruited one of our moving helpers, (bless his heart), to dig up that whole giant hydrangea plant, and pack it in all its uprooted strangeness into my mini-van.  I promptly taxied it to my own home like I was a flower ambulance driver, and dug it a new home with all my heart.

The spring after they moved, I watched that hydrangea’s signature green leaves burst forth in full health.  There would be life yet for this organic bridge of generations.

Or not.  The plant was alive, but its poor shocked system wasn’t ready to re-bloom just yet.  Not the first year.  Or the second.

I waited patiently.  One winter (remember that key detail), I went outside for the mail or one of the other two reasons you go outside in the frigid New England cold.  And there, blowing down the road like a frosty tumbleweed, was a dried up hydrangea blossom.

Call it the innocuous catalyst to a winter-crazed mind, but I latched onto that plant in a symbolic way.  Suddenly I had to know all about hydrangeas because how often does one casually breeze by your mailbox in the dead of winter?

Did you know hydrangea literally means “water vessel”?  (That’s one fact I found out in my hydrangea frenzy.)

Water vessel.  Water carrier.

These robust flowers are so named for their appetite and ability to draw up water and the bowl shape of their flowers. (*)

I believe we’re meant to be like these hydrangeas. (That’s right. Be the flower.)

Once Jesus sat at a well with a Samaritan woman who had gone all kinds of wrong in her life.  And even as she went to draw physical water for herself from the well that day, Jesus promised her “living water” which only He could offer.  He said “Everyone who drinks this [physical] water will be thirsty again,  but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

Later, in John 7 Jesus says, ““Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.”

This world has only satisfied me to a point.  After awhile, even the greatest physical experiences leave me missing something.  Whether friendships, food or family; vacation or vocation.  It’s temporary.  It doesn’t last, and I keep returning to the well each day, seeking a pure joy and hope, but never filling myself completely.

Yet when I realize my physical world isn’t everything and I thirst for something greater, I’m finding that God DOES offer that living water that somehow floods my soul, offers me lasting purpose and hope, and, yes, satisfies me when I allow myself to be transformed by it.

But when we begin to thirst for that kind of water, we’ll find its not meant to be contained.  No, I believe we become carriers of that water, like the hydrangea, overflowing with hope to others.

You are meant to carry water and spill it over in every place that you touch.  We are meant to be spreaders of Hope and Life to our families, our co-workers, those that seem to have nothing and those that seem to have everything.  When we thirst for living water we’ll find its an endless well and we’re not meant to hold it in but to let it flow, and this is the mystery of His Spirit.

I don’t know where you’re planted and drawing up water- I don’t know specifically where you’re meant to overflow with Hope.  But I do know, you were created for this.  You were made for the only Water that satisfies and you were made to overflow.

This world is struggling in more ways than we can count right now.  If ever there was a (political, social, racial, economic, resource-scarce, confused, unjust) time to seek God’s heart and let it spill over in compassionate action, now is that time.  And we are the water carriers.

P.S.  My hydrangea finally did blossom, and just this year my mom took a cutting of it to her new home, so the legacy lives on!


Stay tuned!! In the coming weeks I plan to highlight a few practical, tangible ways you can make a difference with issues such as human trafficking, poverty, and more!  If you’re currently involved with an organization or know of a group that is meeting physical needs and empowering the powerless, please pass along what you know!  I’d even be happy to have you guest post about your experiences. Thanks for joining and for all the ways you share hope.

 

*Hydrangea Meaning

You Are Here

My most philosophical lesson this week came quite unexpectedly from my three year old.

I picked him up from preschool and we went with a friend to New Haven CT to volunteer at Love146 for a couple hours.  (BTW, they are absolutely a fantastic organization, devoted to ending slavery and sex trafficking both in the US and abroad. Check them out!!)

Anyway, I had my friend drive because I’m not a city driver.  Not remotely.  Just this weekend I botched a simple parallel parking job in my tiny town and had people on the curb awkwardly giving me directions.  I played it cool and joked that I’d love to tote those lovely people with me to help in my next driving fiasco.  I don’t think they saw the humor in that.

But please, enough of me.

As my friend drove, my son inserted himself frequently into our conversation, and gave a running commentary of things he saw out the window.  At one point while we were a long way from our destination, my little man suddenly perked up.  “We’re Here!” He shouted in rapture, apparently believing that our shortcut off the main road meant we’d arrived where we intended to go.

And I laughed at my sweet kiddo, but my friend and I both agreed that in some ridiculously simple but profound way- YES, we are here.

We were there in a moment.  No we hadn’t made it to where we planned to go, but that didn’t mean that the present was unimportant.  That didn’t mean that we were exactly in the middle of a meaningful “here”.

Lately I’ve found my heart struggling with “here”.  I find myself waiting to get through the morning routine, the bedtime routine (who am I kidding…there’s no routine)…just so I can savor a minute of peace at the end of the day.  If I’m supposed to meet someone for coffee later, then I’m counting down till the “then”;  if I’m planning out my next tattoo it feels so far away till just then… or lately I find myself waiting while God incubates something new in me- I know it’s growing there because I feel it- but the waiting part hardly seems fun.  The “then and there already” would be much better.

But then I look at my three year old.  This kid is all. in.  No matter what he is feeling or expecting, he embraces each moment with every atom of his being.

If I tell him he can have an ice pop, the kid gasps in amazement; if we’re hanging out in line at Starbucks he is full-on dancing to the store music, making use of every spare inch of floor tile.  If we’re at Walmart he’s going to embrace being a ninja turtle while we’re in the toy aisle.

If he sees a friend, even one he just met, that friend better not need a space bubble, because my son loves handing out enthusiastic hugs in the moment.   Sure he gets mad- sure he throws a fit when things don’t go his way.  But even that is a reminder of how fully immersed he is in “now”.

I get the sense that, for him, life is something that is here. now.  And the beauty of that attitude is that whether he’s up or down, he’s engaged.  He’s happy if an unexpected treat comes along; he’s not thinking about where he’s going next so any context is a social context; he’s not worried about where he’ll be in five minutes because that wide open field is calling his name right now.

Maybe that’s what God is trying to teach me.  Matthew chapter 6 says “Don’t worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will worry about itself.”  “God, give us TODAY our daily bread.” (What we need for this moment.) Or how about Proverbs 19:21 “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”  Why am I striving so hard for my way, my plans down the road, “later”- when there is rest letting go and believing God’s purpose will outlast, outdo, outweigh my own ideas.

Life is happening- now.  And I don’t want to miss it.  Even the hard parts- I’m believing there’s something now that is worth being present for.  Now is going to happen whether I like it or not…so I might as well soak it in.  Just ask my three year old…although, I wouldn’t take his advice on everything.


 

Quick Reminders!!!

  • Don’t forget to check in THIS Friday, June 23rd, for my next “Friend Post Friday”!!!!  You won’t want to miss hearing from my good friend Audrey Beatty.
  • AND the Gray Faith Study starts THIS Monday online!  Check back here for the first video and discussion guide or follow along at https://www.facebook.com/lesstobemore/  I can’t wait to get started!

 

 

 

 

Jazz Flute Freedom

Agawam, MA, circa 1997- the monumental moment when I chose to play flute in the middle school band.  My teacher seemed to think I was a natural, and my parents splurged to purchase that elegant silvery beauty.

“Blow into the flute like you’re trying to spit rice.”  (A fine analogy, for those who are accustomed to rice spitting.  Is this some kind of carnival game most people are familiar with?)

But I played well, in all my fifth grade zeal, when I actually took the time to practice.  Here’s a roughly fifth grade picture to bring you into better focus.

And then came the announcement that jazz band would be starting up…but it turns out flutists weren’t invited.  If you played any brass instrument, or maybe a sax or trombone- you were good to go.  But a flute…well…that simply wasn’t jazz material.

My memory is fuzzy, but I must have vented my disappointment to my classroom teacher.  He was one of my favorites- a balding red-headed Jewish man who spent Friday afternoons pulling out his guitar and singing us songs like “One Tin Soldier” and “Why Must I be a Teenager in Love”.  One day he pulled me aside, oozing optimism, to tell me the name of a popular jazz flutist- I think he even wrote it down for me.  What was his point?  “Just because there’s not a spot for you as a ‘jazz flutist’ in the fifth grade band, doesn’t mean you can’t be one.”  (Of course this was long before I watched the ultimate Jazz Flutist, Ron Burgundy. 😉 )

Jazz is a music defined not by instrument but by soul- flute or trumpet…doesn’t matter…what you breathe into that instrument makes all the difference.

I’ve been thinking more and more about women’s equality- something I grew up thinking we had all but achieved.  I’m realizing there’s a vast chasm between where we are and true equality, and unfortunately the Church has helped perpetuate that chasm.  I should clarify..I’m not oppressed in my church- far from it- in fact it is here in my church that I’m finally learning to become freer.  But I believe there’s more.

Here’s what I’m beginning to see: gender equality isn’t merely about equal rights or opportunities for women.  No.  It’s a journey to remember Eden and restore the value of a women alongside of men.  It’s a desire to understand how men (God’s creation/instrument) and women (also God’s creation/instrument) were made to work together in harmony.  It’s a quest to know that the Spirit or breath of God in me, in this instrument, is no different from the Spirit or breath of God in a masculine instrument.  It’s the BREATH that matters.

It’s the growing belief that embracing my full identity as a co-heir with Christ is not selfish- it’s not simply about my liberation, but the freedom of many.  For as I rise- free- I no longer limit the call, the influence, the plan that God may have for me.  None of us can know the awesome scope of adventure God has for us if we’re limiting ourselves based on human traditions and values.  (Or the fifth grade band teacher, as it were.)

As each of us, men and women alike, are freed from restraints of brokenness and human tradition, we rise free to liberate others.  People say that “hurt people, hurt people” but as Christina Cleveland said once, “Free people, free people.”  Liberated people, liberate people.  You can’t walk in the full liberation of the cross of Christ without impacting those around you.

And that liberation is abundant.

You are as free as God says you are- and if Christ has set you free from the law of sin and death, from the curse of the Garden, then you are free indeed.  Walk boldly in your freedom because your influence is not determined by a title, by what other “creations” define for you, but by your identity in God and the good works He’s prepared in advance for you.

What do you need to be freed from to walk forward boldly into what God may be calling you to?  Invite God to simply breathe into you as His instrument and create the soulful notes that only He can.  Then ask yourself, “As I walk free, who am I meant to liberate?”


Further reading:

Galatians 3:28: There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”

John 8:36: So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Romans 8:1-2: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death.

Hebrews 2:10-11: In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.

Acts 2:17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.’

(New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.)

 

 

What We Find in “Losing It”

This morning I had an appointment scheduled with a nurse at my new Endocrinologist office.  Trust me, I’d thought through the day- I was going to knock out three birds with one stone, stopping first at my doctor for 10am, then picking up my contacts while I was out, in time to mosey along to my three year old’s speech language appointment at 12:30.  No matter that I had an extra kid home sick today…I so had the day covered.

I stuck my oldest on the bus, packed up the boys and drove to my Southington appointment.  Except when I got to the office there was a sign on the door that said they were closed on Thursdays. Weird.  “Well, maybe just the doctor is out, but they have a nurse here…”   So I asked the lady at the opposite reception area…you know…just in case. 

(As I type this my rational self is shaking her head- “Seriously? The sign says “CLOSED” and you’re going to plow right ahead and confuse the poor receptionist there instead of admitting you made a mistake?)

She basically reiterated what the sign said- and to just heap some extra shame on myself, I asked her what phone number to call to sort this out with my doctor only to find out that (you probably guessed it) the contact number was ALSO on the sign.

So I called the number and apparently I was supposed to go to the New Britain office.  Oh.  The lady seemed as perplexed as I was: “I booked that appointment with you…why would you go to the Southington office?”  

  1. Maybe because I have three children and only 2 functioning brain cells.
  2. Maybe because this is the only office I’ve been to so I just assumed despite your phone reminder.
  3. Maybe because OH! there’s a Starbucks over there…
  4. Or maybe I because I just screwed up.  

I resented her question, but she quickly realized that I was flustered and kindly assured me I could call back and figure out a new appointment soon.  So I dragged the kids downstairs, determined to salvage the trip by at least using the bathroom, but found that it was being cleaned.

Back to the van! I looked up directions pick up my contacts anyhow.  Just to be safe, I checked their office hours.  BLERG! – turned out the eye place was closed on Thursdays.  Sensing a disappointing pattern here, but still determined to be productive in the 2 hours till my son’s appointment, I decided to find a place to have the oil in my van changed and also use the bathroom. (This is absolutely rational-people logic.)

So I found an oil place- full service- very nice people.  The guy told me all their names and said, “If you need anything you can just say, ‘Hey Valvoline Guy!'”  Great.  Valvoline Guy.  I can remember that.  One problem…it was some express change so you stay in your car the whole time while they work.  This was fun for my boys but now I was seriously second-guessing my brilliant decision to over-hydrate.  

In the end, the oil was changed, the kids got a fun meal, my bladder survived, and we made it to the speech appointment no problem.  Not the worst day of my life.

But this wasn’t the first time this week I’d made a massive mistake.  Saturday I was beyond excited to drive up to Danbury CT to hear a Noble Peace Prize winner, Leymah Gbowee, speak at PeaceJam (a gathering of mostly youth and college students).  She’s absolutely amazing, uniting Christians and Muslims and helping end a civil war in Liberia.  Well, an hour or so, a parking garage and some trying to get directions later…I realized that the lecture had already happened the night before.  I missed it entirely.  I was devastated and was ready to hop back in the car and cry my hour drive back home, but I ended up texting a friend who was helping with the Jam.  She told me they were in the gym doing some cool dance and open mic stuff and I should totally join.

Ah yes.  The college campus gym. Directions?  So I awkwardly followed some girls and walked completely out of my element into this gym full of students, where my friend was leading a group in a dance to Bob Marley’s “One Love”.

Next thing I knew I was reliving a former Zumba nightmare trying to follow along to an African Dance.  (How come college kids have so much energy and so little social inhibition?)

 

And perhaps around this time I started asking God, “Hey there…what’s going on?  If I missed this awesome lecture and drove over an hour, I assume there’s something I’m supposed to get out of this detour.

(Order the book via email at: amezetovic@winooski.k12.vt.us)

Well, this was one reminder that God sometimes works in our detours and even our ineptitude to accomplish His own plans.  I ended up meeting a Bosnian woman who had come to America 20 years earlier as a refugee.  She has since written a book of poetry about her experience, and currently works at a school teaching ESL to a student body that is 40% refugees.

I plan to connect with her more in the future and hopefully understand a bit more about refugees and how to help.

Though we often feel foolish or frustrated when plans fall through, when we go to the wrong place or at the wrong time, there’s always something happening.  Maybe it’s just a perspective we need- a letting go once again of our control, learning to appreciate what’s in front of us anyway.  Or maybe God is orchestrating something in our detours that we never would have known to “plan” to begin with.

 

 

 

Warning: High Maintenance Areas

I’m not high maintenance.  Pff.  Absolutely not.  Yes, I’ve been buying more clothes from for-real stores and from fair trade/wages organizations like Imagine Goods and Amani Ya Juu20161110_212757

but I’m still a thrift shop girl at heart.  My long hair means I don’t have a “salon” so much as some friends with haircutting abilities that I occasionally pay to keep me within the realm of acceptable split-ends.  I don’t require expensive jewelry; I admire fancy nails, but I can’t seem to maintain them myself; it doesn’t cripple me to have an imperfect house.

So I’m not high maintenance. Nope.  Not a smidge.  Um.  Except for when I am.

This holiday season I’ve been mulling over the idea of “joy”, mostly because I’m supposed to teach on joy this month.  Drat.  It’s more fun teaching something than learning it myself.

My joy seems to be wrapped up in my expectations.  I can sit here and look at all the other people with their “high-maintenance” whatevers who seem to require more of this or more of that than I need to be happy.  Or their personality is wired so that they really can’t function without a fully cleaned house…or they find an honest-to-goodness happiness in a really great manicure and monthly hair-styling.  And it’s easy for me to think that those things are a wee bit unnecessary- definitely not something to set your joy on.

Yet I set my joy on some high-maintenance expectations of my own.

Let’s start with coffee.  A friend recently told me she only buys coffee out a couple times a year.  Excuse me?  In a YEAR?  That might cover your birthday and anniversary, but what about Valentine’s Day and Groundhog Day?  What about the Starbucks monthly double-stars day?  What about days when the kids are going crazy or you feel hormonal?  What about the “I-happen-to-be-driving-within-10-miles-of-my-favorite-coffee-place” days?  What about RAINY days for heaven’s sake??!!

And then let’s get down to the actual coffee.  I, thrift shopper that I am, have somehow convinced myself that it’s OK to drop 5 dollars a pop on coffee. I’m quite a smooth talker to myself.

” Why, yes self, you DO have diabetes…you DO have a two year old who punched you in the face today…you DO feel a bit tired and YES if you miss this two minute window to buy coffee you’ll probably go into a catatonic state of lethargy from which there’s no return.  What kind of mother would you be if you DIDN’T buy coffee?”

And my joy is suddenly based on the latte-ness of the day, or whether the store has my favorite sugar free syrups, or how often I’m able to escape in java bliss.

Then Christmas tree shopping revealed more high maintenance areas.  We got a wonderful tree but we didn’t get our usual wagon ride and hot chocolate amenities.  A bit of joy deflated.  And even though I “let” my kids pick out a tree, I’m a master of getting them to ultimately pick one I approve of.  Because Christmas just might fall apart (for me) if I let the kids pick out the tree.

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So my gracious husband dragged in our fresh-over-priced tree, patiently stood it up and screwed it into the stand only for me to look at it with an overwhelming sense of discontent. (loss of joy).  The trunk was too tall…the lowest branches were dismally far away from the floor.  Dismally.  Yes I said it. I awkwardly asked if he could re-do it.  If he could possibly take the whole thing down, cut a bit of trunk here, a branch or two there.  Only because my joy hinged on it.

And then I almost started crying, because once he had trimmed the darn thing, the tree was closer to the ground but the branches he was forced to cut off left gaps all around the base of the tree.  Not one sad little gap that you can turn towards the wall so no one sees it.  Gaps everywhere!  And I panicked because we had already bought this tree and there was no going back and now Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas unless I could JAM some extra tree branches into the tree stand to fill out the bottom.  Seriously, I sat there like a mad-woman trying to wedge tree branches until my husband gently asked if I’d like him to tie the branch onto the tree instead.  Yes…we twist tied branches onto my tree this year like the equivalent of tree hair transplant.

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So our tree is complete now and it fills me with joy and it should.  That’s OK.  But it’s also symbolic this year of my expectations for joy.  Maybe I do have some areas of high maintenance that can threaten to steal my joy if I’m not careful, if I don’t own them and tame them through a little letting go.  Maybe we all have those places in our lives…maybe the things or people that give us the greatest joy, when lost or broken, are also the places where we have the potential to lose the greatest joy.

Is there a deeper anchor for my joy than my own high-maintenance places?  Is there a well of joy that runs deeper than my broken expectations?  Is there a source of joy that outlasts my temporary fixes?

I’m finding that a joy bigger than my circumstances must come from outside of myself.  For me, Jesus is more and more becoming that source of joy for me.  He’s becoming more than just a plastic figure or a pat answer and is soaking into the very fiber of who I am.  I’m not fully there yet…but my soul reminds me whenever I’m disappointed in this life that there’s a far deeper joy in the One I can’t see than in the things that I can.

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Where are you tempted to lose joy this year?  How do you refocus yourself when joy seems far away?

 

But Let Me Be Moved

God,

In the face of election results that grate on my soul, let me be moved.

In the footsteps of those fearless ones who dared to pick up the crushing burden of freedom for all, let me be moved.

In the midst of terror, injustice, and darkness, let me be moved.

The way is unknown, the task is immense, the voice of dissension is thundering and the lies are pervasive- but away with excuse, away with our hate, and away with the dark…and LET ME BE MOVED.

You are a Father to the fatherless, a Defender of the widow and the weak; I didn’t invent justice, it has always been YOUR cause first, so Let me be moved.

You are a Breaker of chains, a Freer of captives, a Champion of love, so let me be moved.

Yet don’t let me move without you.  Don’t let me run in human wisdom that perverts your wisdom, that shrinks your plan to a program or mere politics.

My anger will not bring about your righteousness, so give me righteous anger.

You say “have no fear” for You are with me- so change my panic to urgency for your will to be done.

My knowledge and life will pass like grass, so if I speak give me YOUR words which stand forever.

Your eyes are already open to injustice and brokenness, so please open MINE to see not only what’s wrong but also your solution.

I’m weak, but You’re stronger; I’m small, but You’re greater; I’m selfish, but You. are. LOVE.

So let me be moved to action, let me be moved to passion, let me be moved to unity…

But let me be moved…by You.

Photo Credit: Sam Burr