Friday, December 31, 2010

What To Expect When You're Expecting

When I found out we were expecting our first baby, my feelings ran the gamut as much as my hormones did.  I was elated, nervous, impatient, giddy, anxious, and absolutely overjoyed and overwhelmed at the idea of becoming a mom.  I started reading books, eating certain foods and avoiding others, talking to other moms, and coming up with my birth plan (yeah, I know that’s kind of a joke to some, but the organizer in me needed a game plan).  I was TOTALLY engrossed in this amazing transformation happening to my body and my psyche!  I loved this little person growing inside me.  I’d never seen her smile, stroked her hair, smelled her skin, heard her cries, or tasted her kisses, yet I would have literally given my life for her.  Fast forward through a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th pregnancy, and despite being a veteran mom, I was still surprised every time by the awe I felt with each new life. 

So I laugh at myself for not expecting to feel the same way with how God is growing our family now.  I’m falling madly in love with this child growing inside my heart.  I think about him or her or THEM all the time (yes, we are open to siblings)!  Some thoughts are trivial, like bedroom arrangements or if we can buy smaller chairs to fit everyone around the table.  Recently, I looked online to see if my favorite Pottery Barn stockings were still available. I just knew when I ordered the kids each one a few years ago that we would NEVER need another stocking for our mantle.  Gotta love our plans, huh?!  Other times my thoughts jump to heavier places, and all I can really do is turn my mama tears into prayers.  These are His children first, and we must trust Him to protect their little lives while they wait for us to come. 

So what do we do in the meantime?  When pregnant with a child inside your womb, you know when to expect their arrival.  Adoption is a different story since so much of it is completely out of our hands.  Many have asked us about the process and what it entails, so I thought this would be a great FAQ #2.  Let’s talk straight logistics of the process. 

First, we selected an adoption agency.  This was a huge research project since I wanted a reputable group advocating for orphans in the most ethical manner possible.  I could do an entire post on the agency we selected, but you can click here to read a little about Holt International’s work in Ethiopia.  I love that Holt’s mission is more than just adoption.  They are building hospitals, providing education, and getting help into rural areas so orphan numbers don’t continue to grow. 

After an initial application with Holt, we moved to the home study portion.  Because our agency is out of town, we contracted a local social services organization to do our home study.  We filled out more paperwork than a house purchase (30 question survey, tracking down birth & marriage certificates, daily schedule forms, financial data, letters of reference, lots of background checks, DMV records, federal fingerprinting, physicals and blood work, and other fun paper chasing).  As crazy as collecting data seems, every appointment and notarized document makes us feel one step closer to our child.  The home study also involves training, personal and joint interviews, and a visit to our house – I’ll let you know how all that goes.

In the meantime, we are working on a dossier, which is a fancy name for more official paperwork.  The dossier includes much of the above, with a higher level of security to get things legally ready for Ethiopia.  It’s pretty funny to think of our family being represented to another government in a manila envelope.  We’ll make sure not to send oatmeal cookie crumbs or batman stickers on anything important! 

Once the dossier is submitted to Ethiopia and translated accordingly, they begin matching us with a child (or two!).  This is determined through our application information (i.e. gender, age, medical needs, etc.).  Ethiopian adoptions are almost evenly divided between girls and boys, and since we aren’t specifying a gender, it will be fun to see if our boy streak continues.  As for the age, we want to keep our birth order the same, which means we’ll qualify for children under age 4.  I’m thinking a newborn and a toddler would be perfect, and I’m also thinking I’m crazy!  Good thing God is in complete control, and He knows who our family needs and who needs our family.  That’s so reassuring to me.

After being matched with a child (this is called a referral), we await a court date to appear in Ethiopia.  Not every country requires this, but Ethiopia prefers to have all the paperwork done before the child leaves the country.  So one or both of us will go before the court for adoption approval, and then we’ll both return about 6 weeks later for a permanent appointment. Finally, we’ll bring our precious ones home for the first time.  Whew! 

Holt has an average waiting time of 12-18 months from start to finish for their Ethiopia program.  I’m really praying that we’ll have new faces on our Christmas card next year.  There’s lots of fundraising to do since each of these steps requires chunks of change, but thankfully it’s all just chump change to God.  I’ll tell you about how the money part works in the next post.  We’re already blown away by financial support from friends, family, and even strangers.  It’s a great story we’re watching unfold thanks to many of you playing a special part!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Why Ethiopia?


    It’s so much fun talking with friends, family, and strangers about our adoption journey.  We're  overjoyed with the support and encouragement so many have offered, and we’ve already had some great dialogue about adoption.  I thought it would be helpful to post a few FAQs in case you’re wondering some of the same things.  The #1 question is, “Why Ethiopia?” so let’s start there!

     When we first began researching adoption, we actually started looking at the needs right here in our own backyard.  Do you know there about 100,000 children needing forever families right here in America?  A really mind-boggling statistic is that we have approximately 300,000 churches in the U.S.  If one in three churches had just ONE FAMILY that could take a child into their home, there would be NO MORE ORPHANS in the United States.  We definitely believe in the power and call to domestic adoption, but we also felt God nudging our family to keep researching.  Here’s what we discovered: 

  •   There are 143 million orphans in the world today.
  •  Approximately 1/3 of the world’s orphans live in Africa.
  • 15 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS
  • 5 million orphans live in Ethiopia alone. . . that is 5 million McKenzie’s, Luke’s, Jake’s, and Sam's without a mom or dad in that one country alone.
  •  AIDS, famine, and war are the main factors of why so many orphans don’t make it very long.  It’s literally a matter of life and death for these kids!     

     Many orphans in Ethiopia's care system die each year due to not enough food, clean water, or medicine.  I mentioned this in a previous post, but it’s worth saying again:  While we have the luxuries of American culture, around the world 26,000 children are dying EACH DAY from preventable diseases and starvation.  Many of these kids have a death sentence from the very beginning of life.  There is a great need for adoptive families in every country, but Ethiopia is somewhat unique because there are more orphaned children than there are people willing to adopt them. 

     We honestly didn’t choose Ethiopia for shock value, but it’s funny how Africa seems extreme to American minds.  We simply recognize a need and believe God has called our family to this country for this season.  Every orphan needs a family no matter where they live – in America, Ethiopia, and everywhere in between.  God doesn’t love us any more because we’re going across the ocean to join His work, and He also doesn’t love the orphans here in the States any more than the ones on the other side of the globe.  While I love the Red, White, and Blue, I’m ultimately a citizen of God’s kingdom, and I feel certain that there are no borders, racial distinctions, or other man-made barriers. 

     Christ came to redeem the entire world, and He is sending the Forrester family to Ethiopia to love on some of His children there.  It’s a lengthy process and it comes at a cost, but we are desperate to get there quickly and have complete faith in God’s sovereignty.  We are really excited and so very humbled that many of you want to join us in this adventure.  I can’t wait to post more of the FAQs so you can get involved in this humble effort!  Until then, thank you for your generous prayers and cheers of support.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Express Mail From God

      I absolutely love the looks of joy and excitement when I surprise my kids with a fun outing, a new pair of shoes, or even something as simple as a pack of chewing gum.  Just the act of giving a gift of time, service, or an item can change the course of their day and mood.

     This verse popped out at me this week:  “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”  Matthew 7:11 (NIV)

     Why am I always surprised by all the God-gifts that fill my own days?  After all, God delights in His children, and I think He gets the same pleasure out of watching us delight in His gifts.  So as we’re busy wrapping presents for those we love, take a moment to unwrap one for yourself sent Express from your Maker!  It may not come in the packaging you expected, but it’s still exactly what you need.

Continuing my list of 1,000 Gifts this week:

36.  Making memories with friends while constructing gingerbread houses

37.  Heartwarming Christmas carols in a hot tub on a very cold night

38.  Baking day with my momma and 4 little elves

39.  12 miles on a steep incline of a spinning bike just so I could eat extra 7-layer cookies

40.  Walking into a clean house and flowers on the table from a thoughtful husband

41.  Christmas movie marathons late at night because who needs a bedtime during this fun season

42.  Girlfriends who can jump in conversation from hair color to international adoption plans without skipping a beat

43.  Fundraiser plans coming together as a reminder that God is our Provider

44.  Positive medical exams and blood work to make sure we’re physically fit to welcome more children home

45.  Notes from kiddos instructing us to empty their piggy banks so we can get their new sisters or brothers home fast

46.  Times with extended family that remind us that family times really are the happiest times

47.  Grace under pressure and peace that passes our understanding

48.  Simplifying this Christmas so we can truly celebrate Christ

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Unwrapping the Gift of a Moment

God decided to add His own Christmas decorations today as He blanketed the grounds in white. It’s amazing how the city comes to a halt much like the feel of a holiday.  I must admit that my first plan of action was to ignore the warnings of bad roads and just plow through my to-do list as planned.  After all, I’ve got a lot of “important” tasks to get crossed off  (32 items on today’s to-do list to be exact) so why should I let a little fluffy stuff interfere?  But thanks to the wisdom of my husband who really didn’t want me driving, my day turned more purposeful than my planning could have ever accomplished. 

Most mommas find out really fast that a “snow day” entails work of a different kind.  Days like today involve several loads of clothes in the dryer in between rounds of frozen fun, lots of extra dishes and mugs from my children and their friends who find their way inside to warm up, more cooking than normal because their appetites seem bigger than the snowmen they build, and a very heightened sense of child energy that requires triple the usual amount of coffee to keep up.

But I feel like I received a special gift wrapped in white today.  I was forced to abandon my plans, and I received the gift of a moment. I know it sounds cliché, but so many times our days are so full of things to do that we forget all the individual moments that make up a day.  I don’t know about you, but my focus can easily be on what needs to get done instead of what I can do with the moments I’ve been given right now.  Today’s moments – not tomorrow’s or the ones next month or next year – open my world up to so many opportunities.  When I do my best with the present moment, it puts me in the best place for the next moment.  They only come one moment at a time, and I can count on grace to open my eyes to the power each one hold. 

So while I didn’t get to the post office, doctor’s office, bank, grocery store, library, or get much done in the home academics world, instead I unwrapped beautiful moments one by one.  I was able to watch children eating snow, listen in and occasionally offer thoughts on growing girl conversations with my oldest and her friends, help little boys construct their own ice skating “patch” with water carried from the bathroom sink, and serve up nourishment of both words and bread.  On days like today when I wanted to do what I thought mattered most, God graciously opened my eyes to His desires for my moments.  And I think that ended up being what truly mattered. 

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. . .”
                                             Matthew 6:34 (The Message)

“We must not allow the clock and the calendar to blind us to the fact that each moment of life is a miracle and mystery.”
                                          H. G. Wells

“Every moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such.”
                                         Henry Miller

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Daily Gifts

     Twinkling lights, apple spices, Christ-child carols, and a spirit of giving fill the atmosphere with anticipation in a way that makes December a month like no other.  I was reflecting the other day on some of my favorite Christmas gifts – my first tea set, a cordless curling iron, the trampoline from our parents, the music box from Brian – and my heart was warmed by the thoughtful and sacrificial love shown with each of those special gifts.  These carefully selected goods weren’t purchased to overshadow the ultimate Gift, but they were in celebration of our ultimate example of giving. 

     I believe God smiles upon gift-giving.  After all, He was the first one to bestow gifts in a tangible way.  He wrapped His most precious gift in tinsel of skin and ribbons of swaddling clothes to breathe love on a lost world.  That baby boy King gave all Creation hope and a future, and the grown man Savior ultimately gave His life for our eternity.  He is the gift that keeps giving through the hands and feet of His children.  Our gifts of love to the least of these, our hearts of service to those in need, our talents and treasures in worship can overflow from under our Christmas trees this year.  I think they’ll fit perfectly with the pretty packages.

     So often I get caught up in the “big gifts” in life, but I don’t want to miss out on the daily gifts that are special-wrapped just for me by the One who knows exactly what I need.  That’s why the list-crazy lady that I am is so excited about what is transpiring as I daily make note of heavenly gifts being delivered more timely than any UPS shipment could.  As I mentioned in previous posts, I’ve joined up with an online community who is intentionally making lists of all the gifts around us everyday.  Of course, the goal is to post on Mondays with the group, and here it is Wednesday, but that’s okay.  Now I have another item to add to my list -- the gift of grace on me even in the little things!   What’s amazing about celebrating God’s daily gifts is that I’m seeing how uniquely God has made me and knows just what to surprise me with.  He’s not re-gifting someone else’s unwanted present, but He has the perfect size, color, and price-point for what this woman needs.  By searching for the gift in daily experiences (even the tough ones), it is making my relationship with the Giver more alive than ever. 

     I encourage you, friend, to not only be a giver during this season, but be open to receiving too – God has so many gifts wrapped just for you! 

     One Thousand Gifts is the online community of gratitude, and here my list continues. . .

25.  A loud van horn that did its job to keep our family from a near parking-lot accident

26.  New friendship formed while sweating and sharing hearts over cardio machines at the gym

27.  Anticipation of an entire 24 hours alone with the man who holds my heart

28.  Tough questions asked by our adoption social worker

29.  An overdue afternoon of eating, sharing, and shopping with my momma

30.  Paperwork, paperwork, and more paperwork that make me feel just a little closer to our new family member

31.  A white envelope filled with a sacrificial gift that will take a chunk out of our home study costs

32.  Middle of the night searches under sheets and pillows for a stuffed-puppy named “Sammy”

33.  Text messages from a fast growing girl that make this pre-teen trip oh so sweet

34.  Feeling the steam rise from mugs of hot cocoa and watching them warm little bodies

35.  Counting down to the birthday of our Savior with songs, lights, and smells to celebrate the greatest Gift of all

P.S.  If you’re looking for a meaningful way to give, check out my friend, Christie Cotney’s blog:  Compass In My Heart.  She just moved to Uganda and really needs help with child sponsorships for about 100 more children.  Each sponsorship provides a child with the opportunity to attend school, receive medical treatment, have a daily meal, and get access to other basic necessities.  I LOVE these kind of gifts!!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

When Grace Convicts

When we first felt God leading our family towards adoption, my feelings ranged from excitement to uncertainty, questioning to control, and an amazing sense of awe as we watched God unfold a corner of His plans.  This week has been different – in a hard, convicting way, yet I’m thankful for God’s sweet grace that holds me while I grapple with things that my finite mind is desperate to understand. 

I’ve been wrestling with conviction about how I’ve spent the past several years and how I’m going to spend the next.  There’s an exterior picture of faithful wife, devoted mother, and fairly decent citizen, and believe me when I say that much energy has been expended to find the perfect balance for these spinning plates.  Through God’s grace, He has accomplished things in spite of my weakness.  But because of grace, He is opening my eyes to so much more that He can do. 

Far too long, I’ve had a major blind spot, or maybe worse, it’s been just pure disobedience.  With a billion people in this WORLD who are living in poverty that I can’t even begin to imagine, and 26,000 children dying EVERY DAY because of starvation or preventable diseases, I have somehow managed to remain indifferent.  It's an indifference that shows up by how tightly I’ve held on to my plans, my possessions, my security, and even my family.  Even though I’ve donated money and supplies and taken missions trips abroad, for the large part, my life has revolved in a fairly tight American bubble with a focus on needs right here (don't get me wrong - I'm also called to meet the needs right here in my own backyard).  But my ignorance and indifference to the rest of the world have come at the expense of precious lives that Jesus loves just as much as He does me.  This reality has unsettled me to my core. 

You see I’m no longer content with balance. With a pretty picture. With control.  Because following Christ is none of those things, but instead it’s a messy, risky, dangerous place to be.  Jesus didn’t give His life for my American dream; He gave it as a ransom to save me from getting caught up in that dream.  Following what the world looks at as success leads to emptiness, but following the Savior is our ultimate reward. 

The amazing thing in joining God in His work is that it doesn’t earn me merit points or salvation for that matter.  It’s because of what God did through His gift on Christmas morning, that I can follow His example.  I’m not adopting a child because I want to be a rescuer, I’m adopting because I’ve been rescued myself and His grace calls me to get involved in His work.  Adoption is just the tip of the iceberg for this global call.  I don’t want to play games on this journey.  I want to jump in with both feet knowing that if we have to give up all our earthly comforts, it really won’t matter because there’s so much more to life than the here-and-now.  God has called us to not just declare His Gospel, but to live it out visibly.
So how does that play out for this TJMaxx/Starbuck’s/Vacation-loving, soccer mom in 2010?  What can I sacrifice to truly obey him?  I’m honestly asking myself that question every moment, every day.  I want to wear out my life on earth getting dirty for what matters for eternity.  It’s a daily war within my soul, but I have no doubt that God will keep pouring out grace to fight my flesh and embrace His journey.  I know it begins on my knees and in His Word, and I have confidence that He will direct me from there.

P.S.  God must be trying to get my attention with this video.  It came across my computer screen in three different ways yesterday so, yes, I want to share it with you!

Monday, November 29, 2010

One Thousand Gifts

     Black Friday.  Cyber Monday.  Free Shipping.  Earlybird Specials.  Tis' the season for deals, and every retailer on this planet is trying to lure us towards the perfect gift for everyone on our list.  For some reason, the glitz and glamour of the glossy ads aren't impressing me this year.  Don't get me wrong, I love shopping just like the next girl (maybe more), and I humbly confess that I used to own a t-shirt with the script, "Shopping is my therapy!"  But something is wrong when the amount of money we spend on one plastic battery-operated toy could feed a family in Africa for a month.

     How have we lost our way?  We fight to keep "Merry Christmas" in our retail establishments, yet aren't we the very ones taking Christ out of Christmas by feeding the consumer frenzy?  Keeping Christ in Christmas is more than semantics -- it's about actions, sacrifice, compassion, and crazy love.  I love giving gifts, and there will be several wrapped under our tree on Christmas morning, but I pray that the biggest gifts I offer this year will be those that can change lives immediately and eternally.  

     If you're looking for a different way to give this year, perhaps you'll find the perfect gift through one of these trusted sites:

     I don't think I could keep a goat hidden in my "Christmas closet", but wouldn't it be fun to surprise a family in the Uganda with one?  Just one goat can provide enough milk for nourishment as well as income from the sale of extra milk to purchase other necessities.  How about a couple of chickens for Christmas?  The protein from the eggs may very well keep a toddler alive all the way across our planet.  I'm getting really excited about my Christmas shopping now!

     P.S.  I'm so glad God gives me gifts of grace every single day.  I don't know about you, but I tend to overlook some of the most special gifts so I've decided to intentionally start jotting them down as a way to worship with gratitude.  I started my list in my Thanksgiving post, and I've joined up with an online community who gives thanks every Monday.  Won't you join me?  You can read more about this group here:

One Thousand Gifts

     This week I'm thankful for:

13.  warm covers over me and arms around me as I fall asleep

14.  children’s forgiveness given to an imperfect mother

15.  an evergreen candle filling the house with memories of when we had a “real” tree

16.  really good vitamins that balance out the Costco hot dog dinner

17.  6-second kisses around every corner

18.  candle-lit Advent talks on blankets around the Christmas tree

19.  photo cards from friends that I yearn to see in person

20.  the colors of fall not quite yielding to winter

21.  brisk family walks on the Noland Trail

22.  sweet support from friends joining us in our adoption journey

23.  rom-com movies with a man who gives me daily rom-com

24.  children who (for the time-being) think yard work is a game

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks

We read the books and discuss the theories of the first Thanksgiving, and my kids re-enact the Pilgrims' adventure to Plymouth Rock.  It’s a happy play they put on, one sanitized almost 400 years later with feasts, feathers, and festive dance.  Of course, with my three boys the “turkey hunt” is the highlight of their production, and I hear statements such as, “It’s not fair that we have to get our turkey from the grocery store” (yes, we are city slickers without apology).  I do my best to re-create Hallmark’s Thanksgiving around my own 21st century table, but I’m reminded that it’s not how the presentation looks.  I can’t imagine that the Pilgrims were caught up in their menu plans on that first Thanksgiving.  These were the ones who lived without shelter, faced sickness and disease, buried their own, and brushed the nose of death themselves. 

As I’m surveying our place settings, the thought hits me hard.  I am the Pilgrim.  I wandered away, I lost everything, and I nearly faced death.  God in his grace rescued me from my own self, and He paid the price so I could live.  Forever.  He set me on solid ground, gave me life, and placed me on mission. With grace we’re on mission to live Thanksgiving every day of the year.  Giving thanks – and giving because we want to say thanks.  Giving money, giving time, giving words, giving prayers, giving love, giving ourselves all to say thanks to the One who ultimately gave.  

Sometimes it take a near-death experience to make you really appreciate what you have.  Just as the Pilgrims recognized the significance of their survival that first year, may I never forget how my life was rescued for eternity. 

P.S.  I’ve got a great online community who worships God with gratitude, and I can’t wait to share more about how you can join in too!  For now, here are some things I’m grateful for this week:

1.  warm little boy breath in my face whispering for me to get up in the morning

2.  leaves spread all over the yard serving as the great equalizer of all our neighbors’     

3.  notarized signatures on adoption applications

4.  spices leftover at the bottom of warm mugs after the last sip of cider

5.  the daily question from excited children about how many days until the Christmas tree 
     goes up

6.  fake snow perfectly placed for a mall photo-op on a 70 degree November day

7.  cousin sleepovers and family bonds that overcome the miles between us

8.  sister chats and unspoken understanding

9.  quiet nights and warm, fuzzy blankets

10.  challenging books that make me want to really get it right

11.  baby-sitters who have the house clean and kids happy at the end of a special night

12.  extended gym time so an extra piece of pumpkin cheesecake won’t really matter

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Here We Go. . .

Playing catch up in life’s journal seems way daunting (and probably way boring for anyone happening to stop by this page) so I think the best place is to jump right into the current chaos.   We all know that life can be unpredictable and lead us down turns we never expected to go, yet when we look back we can see how every twist was part of God’s perfect plan.  I’m really excited about the latest example of that in our lives, and that is in relation to our adoption journey.  Yep, I’m saying it, OUR ADOPTION JOURNEY, which means it’s really happening.  Sometimes I have to do a reality check myself! 

For those who know me well, you’ve probably heard me mention that adoption was always a possibility for us, but then a few kiddos into our family, and I pretty much only gave that idea lip-service. I’ve admittedly been enjoying the newest stages of independence in our kids – I really love that we can safely ignore them in the early mornings while we catch up on sleep since they can all fend for themselves now, and I definitely was glad to see the diaper era go alongside the Wiggles (after all we’ve already changed 22,000 diapers by conservative estimates).  I’ve given away every last baby item in our house so I really felt like that train had left the station.  Until recently, which only by the grace of God, there was no denying what was stirring in our hearts.  Through a series of events and nudges, we began feeling like someone was missing from our dinner table, from our bedside snuggles, from our family circle.  This feeling was different from the desire to reproduce more of ourselves, it was more of a calling that our child was already out there somewhere waiting for us. 

To be perfectly honest, we fought that calling.  Brian and I tried to convince ourselves in so many ways that this was someone else’s call, but when it all came down it felt so right to say, “Yes, we hear you, sweet child, and we’re coming for you!”  I literally prayed over the globe we use for daily geography lessons asking God to show us where that voice was leading.  We talked about many options locally, but in the end we feel a global call to go to Ethiopia for our child.  I’ll have to save “Why Ethiopia?” for another post, but I will just say that God loves all the children of the world, and He is sending us there.

So if you’re kindly taking the time to read this, will you join us in prayer?  Pray for this harried momma who needs more of God’s grace than ever, pray for our sweet child who is waiting, and pray that paperwork and pennies will come together to make this dream become reality.

 The kids found Africa on the big globe at the Norfolk Zoo. . . I couldn't resist a picture!!