Saturday, June 25, 2011

Summer Bucket List

There’s 104 days of summer vacation
And school comes along just to end it
So the annual problem for our generation
Is finding a good way to spend it

Like maybe. . .
Building a rocket
Or fighting a mummy
Or climbing up the Eiffel tower

Discovering something that doesn’t exist
Or giving a monkey a shower

Surfing tidal waves
Creating nanobots
Or locating Frankenstein’s brain

Finding a dodo bird
Painting a continent
Or driving your sister insane

As you can see
There’s a whole lot of stuff to do
Before school starts this fall

So stick with us ‘cause Phineas and Ferb
Are gonna do it all
So stick with us ‘cause Phineas and Ferb are
Gonna do it all!

I love the theme song of Phineas and Ferb.  I’ve somehow memorized this tune -- even though I've never watched an episode -- and it really summarizes my sentiments.  Of course, “It’s Summer” (by Selena Gomez) is also a fitting song but probably not as little-kid-friendly.  Whatever beat we’re jamming to around here, electricity is in the air as we embrace this sizzling season.  

This summer, nostalgic activities are all the rage.  I’m combining a less structured approach (i.e. no camps or formal programs aside from swim team) with an intentional bent towards nature, crafts, physical activity, and treats that we can enjoy right in our own home and community.   We brainstormed our summer “bucket list,” and it’s great fun splashing into new activities.  

It's fun to reminisce about the "good ol’ days". . . when we played outside till the streetlights flickered on, caught fireflies in jars as the sun melted down, built lemonade stands on hot sidewalks, smacked gum while sorting baseball cards (at least this is what Brian says he did), searched for cloud pictures in the sky, and played endless games of catch, freeze tag, and wiffle ball. 

But why do these have to be fleeting memories?  I’m inspired by tons of great blogs, articles, and websites with summer fun ideas, and our family chalkboard is bursting with upcoming activities.  

So, be intentional this Summer 2011 . . . grab a child (or in my case at least 6 or 7), and make a memory to share with generations to come.  After all, there’s 104 days of summer vacation so let’s find a good way to spend it!

P.S.  We’re still in June, and we’ve already enjoyed some major milestones!  Super Sam turned 5, Village Green Swim Team is in full swing with lots of ribbons being collected, Miss McKenzie turned 11, our adoption dossier is finally on its way to Ethiopia, and we’re crossing more items off our bucket list everyday. 

Yes, homemade Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream was on my bucket list!
Click HERE for the yummy recipe we used.  I'm definitely doing this again.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Moving Forward

     It’s official!  We’ve moved a very small step forward in bringing our child(ren) home.  Many of you prayed with us as we faced some crossroads with plans to adopt from Ethiopia.  After much discussion and prayer, we feel directed to continue our journey with this special country.  Once our home study was completed, we mailed it along with a few legal documents to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  While a home study considers parenting aspects, this next document is adoption pre-approval based on our standing in the eyes of government (good thing we’ve paid all our taxes!). 

     At exactly 1:27AM today, I awoke to the beep of a text message stating our paperwork was safely in hands of government officials.  For those in the adoption world, you know it means we’re still way out in the process, but every stage builds on the one before so it’s worth celebrating.  I found a few things funny about the text message confirming the papers were safely in the right office:  1). The government is now texting.  Really??      2).  My kiddos are all out of town, and I still woke up in the middle of the night for something child-related.  I can vividly remember being kicked in the ribs by a stretching baby, or having to go to the bathroom several times a night during pregnancy.  Bringing a child into our family through adoption is still waking me up at all hours too – and I LOVE IT!

     Speaking of the kids being out of town, I’m enjoying a very rare 48 hours of solace.  It’s not often (and I mean really not often) over the past 11 years that I’ve found myself home alone.  A few days ago, Brian came home and suggested he take the kids to visit family in NC while I have a little quiet time for myself.  Have I ever mentioned that I am blessed with the best husband ever?  While I slightly resisted the idea of everyone leaving me, I must admit it’s been a really sweet gift that I needed.  So what’s a woman to do by herself?  Well, shopping, beach bumming, lunch dates, Barnes & Noble, gym time, chick flicks, quiet time with God, and reading!  Thank goodness I’ve got some precious pics from Easter to gaze at while I await their return. . .

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Spring Fever

     Spring fever is setting in big time.  I see the light at the end of the tunnel. . . school tunnel, that is.  We are about four weeks away from wrapping up the school year.  23 math lessons left to be exact, but who's counting?  

     Thankfully, I've learned to schedule our school year according to my style -- an early start in August when we're excited about clean notebooks and sharpened pencils, and an early finish in May when the sunshine is beckoning us to abandon it all for whatever whimsy we can find.  Seasons are a beautiful thing, and I think this one is my favorite.  Just as Thanksgiving holds anticipation of Christmas, spring means summer is coming!  

     We operate similar to a college schedule, which means we also take spring break a little earlier.  We enjoyed a great week together embracing all the local hot spots (aka: a staycation).  Since we're rubbing pennies together for adoption expenses, we got a little creative and still had a good time on a smaller budget than other years.  

     We searched the house for items to list on Craigslist and a week before the spring break adventure, our wares made a great virtual yard sale.  It's amazing what people will buy, and it's more amazing what the kids were willing to part with! With money they earned, they chose the activity.  When all was said and done, we had some nice pocket change to live it up in Hampton Roads. We certainly accomplished the daily schedule our "planner children" set.  

     So if a picture is worth a thousand words, here are some to re-cap our time.  For everyone else on spring break during the next little bit, enjoy every minute.  It's a great taste of summer comin'!

Paddle boating and picnic at Newport News  Park

Lots of pizza was consumed this week!
A few nights on the VA Beach oceanfront
(thanks to the hook-up of a great friend!)

Sam LOVED the coffee bar!
Jake lost his first tooth!  Thankfully the tooth fairy doesn't take vacations! 
Family art night with lots of fun creations

Friday, March 18, 2011

What's the update with the adoption?

     This definitely tops the list of frequently asked questions these days, and I love it.  Like a mama who loves to talk about her L & D story or one whose face lights up as she recounts cute quips from her child, it warms my heart when sweet people ask me for updates on this adoption journey.  I must admit that lately, I’ve been hesitant to respond.  Not because I don’t want to talk about it, but because I’ve been holding on to lots of emotions unsure of how to wrap my heart around them.  And maybe because I don’t have good answers that allow me to control the outcome of this journey. 

     Just a quick recap of what’s been happening on the international adoption scene:  Ethiopia’s adoption program has been on the radar for needed reform these past several months.  There have been child trafficking cases and corrupt agencies who are being exposed, and this filthy part of humanity just makes me sick.  As a potential adoptive parent, I am adamantly in support of the highest standards of ethics, and I want to fight for the rights and preservation of families above all.  But the divide in the adoption community has been how to handle that.  Initially the main social services agency in Ethiopia felt that reducing the # of adoptions (potentially by 90%) would help eliminate the corruption.   This could lead to potential shutdown of adoptions altogether as we saw happen in Vietnam and Guatamala a few years ago.  While officials are weeding out evil, what happens to the innocent children?  They face indefinite institutionalization which has proven detrimental time and time again.  And what about those who have special needs who face death if they do not receive better medical care?  I know of many cases like this personally where a child would have died in a matter of days if they remained in the care of a third world orphanage.  So can there be another solution for these children while at the same time protecting them from corruption? 

     I don’t claim to have answers.  I wish I did.  I like things neat and tidy that I can fix.  But in times like this, I’m just trusting God to watch over His children and give us wisdom in the meantime.  I’ve prayed for God to break my heart for what breaks His, and there have been a lot of breaking points lately.  I’m starting to understand what friends meant when they said adoption isn’t for the faint of heart.  The reality of this uncertainty is that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.  Through these recent up and down reports, God has used this time to expose us to some special needs situations that we may not have been open to before.  Who knows what is in store as we trust Him with the greater picture?

     We’d be most grateful for your prayers too. . . that we would be able to clearly discern if we are to remain with the Ethiopia program during this tumultuous time, that we would have clear direction if we are to switch to another country such as Uganda, and that we would trust Him completely for the medical needs of our future children.  I’m so glad that it’s not a burden I have to bear alone.  These Ethiopian babes are God’s first, and He’s holding them and us tight! 

     On a much lighter note, March has been a whirlwind already.  Some highlights include:

*Brian and I celebrated 13 years of wedded bliss.  I really think I’m the luckiest girl on earth, and I still can’t keep my hands off this man after all these years!  Life is sweet with him by my side.  It’s also birthday month for several in our family so it’s been one big sugar-high!

         *The Adoption Home Study is pretty much complete. . . the family interviews were just precious, and I really wish I had recorded them.  The kids met with our social worker privately as we strained our ears to hear answers from the other room.  When Luke was asked to share something about himself, he said, “I want people to know that I love God, I love my family, and I love the Dallas Cowboys!” Glad he has his priorities! Later when asked if they had any questions about our adoption plans, McKenzie said, “No, but I really like your earrings.”  That’s my girl!  When Jake and Sam were asked if they were hoping for a brother or sister, Jake said either was fine, but Sam was completely honest when he answered, “I want a boy so I can beat him up when we wrestle.”  Hope they don’t take off points for that one!   So now we’re pulling together some final documents, and then the real waiting will begin. 

     Finally, here are a few action shots from this month:

All 8 Grey/Forrester cousins celebrating Jack's 3rd birthday

March 7, 1998 . . . "To Infinity and Beyond"

Luke meeting cousin Charlie for the first time

Delicious Birthday Cupcakes!

Taking a stroll down the streets of Colonial Williamsburg

Monday, February 28, 2011

And The Winner Is. . .

Red Carpet galas are flooding the airwaves – the Grammy’s, the Emmy’s, the Oscars – it’s clearly Hollywood’s season to celebrate their own. 

All this hype got me thinking…what kind of awards show would God put on? The world gives trophies for beauty, talent, and popularity, but I have a feeling God’s criteria is exactly the opposite. Actually, I was just reading a great verse that confirms this hunch. 

Philippians 2:29-30 says, “Welcome him with Christian love and with great joy, and give him the honor that people like him deserve.  For he risked his life for the work of Christ, and he was at the point of death while doing for me what you couldn’t do from far away.” 

Here, Apostle Paul describes the true award-winners: those who offer their lives for the work of Christ. The “God-Oscar” is presented to those who willingly give up titles, prestige, and possessions. They live as a love offering to their Maker, raising the bar for faith and sacrifice. The applause of Heaven is reserved for such as these.

Just for fun, I’ve listed my own nominations for God-Oscars. This is just a short list, but if you know of an individual or organization that deserves honor, would you kindly leave a comment or send me an email? You just never know what might touch someone’s heart and get their mission spinning in a new direction!  By clicking on any of these names, you'll be directed straight to a website with lots more information about their activity.    

Christie Cotney -- Christie fell in love with Jesus last year and quit her job, sold her car, and left her comfortable American dream to serve the people of Uganda. She is the hands and feet of Jesus as she brings education, clean water, medical care, and compassion to the Bugaboo Village. There are lots of ways to partner with Christie to see lives changed for eternity.

Orphan Helpers -- This is an incredible Hampton Roads-based ministry changing orphanages in Honduras, El Salvador, and Panama. Only 1% of orphans will ever be adopted, so what happens to the other 99%? Orphan Helpers provides loving, caring, Gospel-centered support to government-run orphanages in Central America. I’ve had the privilege of traveling to many of these places to witness the mission being carried out ... today’s orphans truly are tomorrow’s helpers when their lives are given eternal purpose through a ministry such as this. 

Sanctuary of Hope Children's Home -- With a staggering number of orphans in the world, some of these children can be found in Nairobi, Kenya, home to 600,000 people within six square miles. Pastor and Mrs. Karau have started two children’s homes right in the midst of the despair and suffering. True miracles are taking place as children are given hope and security through the tender love of this ministry. You can also read more about Esther, a two-year old our family sponsors to help with medical needs.    

All Nations Church -- I might be a little biased, but at our church I see scores of folks who offer their lives for the cause of Christ. I listen to my children re-tell Bible lessons and sing words of worship long after we leave the church doors. Their teachers are eternity-changers waving the banner of Christ week after week. Many in this congregation feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and reach the prisoner. By God’s grace, All Nations is a place where the least, last, forgotten, and forsaken are welcomed and received. What a privilege to partner with such a group! As a side note, Brian just finished a message series called, “The New Normal.” In case you want to listen, you can easily download the messages on iTunes or visit the message archives here. 

 Compassion International World Vision -- Both of these organizations are reputable forces in the fight against poverty and disasters. With a huge reach into over 100 countries, they need our help. This is a powerful way to battle malnutrition and preventable disease, end child trafficking, educate and empower girls, provide crisis relief, and so much more. Sponsoring a child in one of these impoverished countries can literally be the difference between life and death.

P.S.  I love Paul’s descriptor in the end of Phillipians 2:30, “…and he was at the point of death while doing for me what you couldn’t do from far away.”  So much of what these people and organizations do seems so far away. They go into places many of us may never go, but our prayers and financial support bridge the gap and truly honor them. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by the many needs, but if each of us does just a little more, we’ll see a snowball effect. There’s no trophy on earth that compares to the honor of participating in the work of Christ!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My Words. . . Not My Own

     So I was having major blogger guilt by the fact that I haven’t posted in a few weeks, and then I realized I should just get over it and jump back in without another second to lose.  I laugh because I never imagined joining the blogging world before a few months ago.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE reading other blogs -- I just didn’t think I wanted to read my own.  Oooh!  That’s when it hit me.  I was caught up in those two little words, “my own.”  My own words, my own time, my own money, my own family, my own house, my own life, and even my own Jesus.  I don’t really want to let people into my world of  thoughts and mental processes.  Ouch!  A sense of entitlement comes to the surface even in how I attempt to posses my own words.  Despite the fact that some people refer to pastoral ministry as living in a glass house, I find myself pulling the shades down tightly around me.  I seek privacy in the sacred spaces, and sometimes I get pretty possessive when I find something that I can keep “my own.”  

     But interestingly enough this is opposite of God’s thinking.  All that I am and all that I have belongs to God. . . even my words.  I’m just borrowing human skin to carry around His instruments.  It comes down to a stewardship issue for me.  God breathed life into me, and I have a daily choice of how I’m going to manage those breaths.  Can I be transparent enough to share my struggles if God can use them to encourage someone else?  Can I be bold enough to ask for help if God wants to grow someone else’s faith by meeting a need?  Can I be humble enough to offer thanksgiving if it can bring glory to God?  Can I be silly enough to laugh at my humanity if God wants to reaffirm someone else’s security?  Oh, how I want to.  I want to let go of bubbles and opinions and pre-conceived notions.  I’ve decided that blogging is a good tool for me, too.  I don’t need a ticker that counts how many people see what I write.  I want to give my words as an offering to God and as a written record of His grace working itself out in me.  I want to keep letting the SON shine in as I find peace in being vulnerable before an audience of ONE. 

     On another note, these last few weeks have been filled with lots of fun news for our family.  First, we are so very thrilled to welcome Charles Lee Grey to the family!  He was born January 28th to my brother & sis-in-law, Seth and Hannah.  I had the wonderful chance to spend a precious day in Atlanta with baby Charlie and big brother Chase.  We are counting the days until our next visit in a few weeks.  This auntie wants to smell her some baby!

     I’m also ecstatic about welcoming another member to the family, but this time it’s an addition happening by marriage.  My sister, Mary Kathryn, is now engaged to marry someone we’ve all come to love and respect, and we are so very happy about God’s choice for her husband.  It’s going to be a wonderful day in the not so far-off future when she becomes Mrs. Ben Profitt and we have another brother and uncle in our crazy clan!

     Finally, I always want to remember to how special Valentine’s Day 2011 was.  My 1,000 Gifts List continues as I thank God for the way He loves me in such special ways:

67.  Sacrificial love (John 3:16)

68.  Heart shaped chocolate-chip pancakes

69.  “No school today” because we can make the rules

70.  Almost 70 degree spring ticklers

71.  The Master’s Creativity shown through colors, shapes, and sizes exhibited at the
       Norfolk Zoo

72.  Chick Fil A’s 100 calorie chargrilled fillets with 20 grams of protein

73.  Mushy kisses and carefree laughter that teach kids what marriage can really be

74. Starbucks White Chocolate Mocha (skinny) ordered Extra Hot and delivered by an Extra Hot

75.  Family candlelit pizza dinner eaten on fine china and crystal while dressed in our finest

76.  Shoeboxes filled with homemade Valentines that surpass Hallmark any day

77.  Leftover Christmas gift cards that provide a night at the movies for a family of 6

78.  Gifts of LIFE that show Christ's love


Thursday, January 27, 2011

God Winks

     It's been quite a week -- one that keeps my head swirling and heart pounding.  From the get-go, I needed to stay on top of it before it got on top of me.  So last Saturday I called a family meeting to get a gameplan.  With pencil and paper in hand, I blocked off chunks of time to accomplish the mission ahead -- the typical stuff that fills up a family week -- school projects, piano recitals, hosting multiple ministry events, gymnastics classes, and adoption stuff just to name a little.

     Thankfully we kept on track, but I was reminded that it's not the big ticket items that make life so sweet.  While great joy is found in scheduled plans, life is really made up of all the God winks in between.  I've been on a journey to find God in the midst of the daily good and bad - when things go as planned and when they go amuck - when I'm looking eyes wide open and even when I'm burying my face in the pillow.  Because that's how God's grace is.  It's found in the ordinary, and it opens up the joy windows no matter what swirls around us. 

     I've been making a list of God's gifts, and the act of recording them has awakened me to what living really is about.  I was challenged by one of my favorite bloggers, Ann Voskamp, to begin making a list of everyday gifts.  You can read more about this beautiful project HERE, and I invite you to join me in discovering God's personal touch in every single moment of your life.   

     In celebration of Ann's newest book, One Thousand Gifts, she created this wonderful montage of living fully right where you are.  If you have just 5 minutes, be inspired by spending them here:

And my list of 1,000 Gifts continues:

49.  Words on pages that write on my heart

50.  Pizza & movie nights cozied up together

51.  Clearance sales to clothe growing bodies

52.  Salty tears

53.  Blue-eyed babes lined up for TB tests to prove their readiness to grow our family

54.  Anticipation of another precious nephew

55.  Spin bikes that pedal away tension from long days

56.  Connecting through texting

57.  Dreams of God-sized ideas

58.  Heat in our home

59.  Fire in our hearts

60.  Child-whispered prayers

61.  Muddy shoes

62.  Grandparents love

63.  Burdens that keep me running to Him

64.  A clean van

65.  Lists to keep me on track

66.  Joy in His faithfulness

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Labor of Love -- Widow Project Update

     We are so thankful for the generous support of our “Widow and Orphan” Project which took place on Saturday, January 15th. A 20-member team donated 4-plus hours to a local widow for this “Extreme Home Makeover.” Beforehand, our team asked family and friends to sponsor their efforts, with all donations going toward the Forrester family adoption fund. 

     We accomplished so much for this widow and her family – free of charge! We were able to install and repair her bathroom fixtures, front porch handrails, and a ceiling fan; landscape her front yard with new mulch; paint her hallway and bathroom; hang blinds; deep-clean her house; haul away trash; and cook a hot meal for her family. 

     To all who donated to this cause, we are deeply appreciative. We are especially grateful to a local company, United Restoration, for donating all of our many supplies. Our excitement is growing as we inch closer to providing a “forever family” to 1 or 2 Ethiopian children.  

     We’re about 25% toward the total cost of these international adoptions. If you would like to join us in this mission, you can give a secure, online gift by clicking on the tab at the top right.  

With grateful hearts,  

Brian and Jessica

Chad & Mike - our construction pros!
Kendal (above) and Shanda (below) -- painting professionals!

Meg tackling the linen closet
Ben & Lia (above) working on the outside
 and Jacob and Tess (below) working on the inside! 

Paige making a hot meal to leave for this sweet family!
Lady L (our sweet new friend we served) and Jess