18 December 2014

a messy curve ball

It has been almost two years since Brad sent an email to our former caseworker asking how we could help support their office.  Almost two years of working in the Foster Care Emergency Clothing/Supply Closet on the 5th floor.  Almost two years of typing up lists of things needed, then celebrating as the items are donated.

There are days that I've wanted to be done with it.  Days when I have wrung my hands because organization is just not my gift.  But God is faithful.  He has sent people to come work with me when it feels too much.  He has brought order to a place that wasn't orderly.  I can't take credit for any of that. So I keep going, because getting to work in there is a privilege.

This week a big curve ball came.  This week is not the week for curve balls, in my opinion.  Curve balls shouldn't come the week of Christmas parties, and travel plans, and last minute runs to the store for One More Gift. God did not ask my opinion though.

I saw the prep-work over the last month or so.  The stick-on baseboard had been peeled from the wall - tearing away parts of the drywall.  The receptionist mentioned last week that they were getting new carpet.  This made me panic a bit.  New carpet means moving EVERYTHING on the floor.  There is A LOT of stuff in that closet. But I was also excited because for almost two years we have talked about some better strategies for organizing in that closet.  Specifically some built-in closet rods for hanging clothes. This would be the perfect time!

I asked if they would let me know when they planned to do the carpet in that room because we would like to do a few upgrades.  She even told me there were some shelves we could have if it would be helpful.  She called me the next day to tell me they had a temporary room picked out to use while awaiting the carpet.  I asked her is she had a time frame, she said no.

Brad and I planned to run in together Tuesday morning to check out this temporary room and figure out how many folks we would need to ask to help us move everything.  Brad ended up having to go to the doctor so I went solo.  I only had a handful of minutes to run in, because I had another meeting on post.

When I walked in the office, I saw that the waiting room had new carpet.  I mentally congratulated whomever chose carpet squares because that is just perfect for the 5th floor. As I waited for the receptionist to come back to her desk, I noticed the hallway had new carpet too.  Someone recognized me and let me into the office, as I stood outside the closet door, I wondered how they got the carpet squares from the hallway under the door to the Emergency Clothing Closet.  For some reason I tried to shove my toe under the door to see if I could feel where the carpet squares ended.

Then the receptionist came around to unlock the closet door and told me, "They put the carpet down last night."

My heart sank.  The room was a wreck.

last week/this week

last week/this week

I could only glance around a minute or two.  There was no place to start. Moving things around now would be senseless.  I knew this job would require help.  And a lot of it.  All I could think was that Christmas was coming and everyone is busy.

When I got down to my car and started driving toward post the tears threatened to spill heavy.  I thought about all the work that would need to be done and wondered where to start.  But that didn't get me choked up.  This is a short-term problem and it will be resolved.  God will send the workers and the funds and it will be better than ever. No doubts.

But I thought about kids that might come in to care this week.  I worried because it would be hard to find what they need in that mess.  Children removed from their homes days before Christmas.  This thought is what triggered the eyes-full-of-tears.  I stopped myself short of a full-on ugly cry.  Mostly because I was driving. I tucked away that thought behind the busy hustle of a Mary Poppins play and tracking down wrapping paper and making dinner.

In the midst of kids mentioning "oh, and I would also like...for Christmas" and parents asking, "did we get everything we needed to?"  There are children getting picked up and taken from their homes through no fault of their own. They ride away with strangers to a building they aren't familiar with and wait to go home with someone they have never met.  And I pray that maybe this year, maybe in our county this year, it won't happen.  But the holidays are some kind of hard with all the magical expectations that are impossible to fulfill and sometimes the weight of it can just make a body break.  And the truth is, the best thing that can happen for some kiddos is to be taken away from all that they know for a time.

And when that happens, I desperately want them to be given a bag, and some new clothes, and a toy to call their own.   

So I need your help.  If you are willing to move around a bunch of stuff, let me know.  If you have installed some really great closet-orgainizer-system-thing that works well, let me know {or if you know someone with this area of expertise, let me know!}  If you love to walk in to a mess and organize that bad boy, let me know.  I need you.  We need you.  We can do this together.  I don't have a firm timeline yet.  I will work around the schedule of whomever can help.  We may be able to carve out some time tomorrow or Monday or we may need to wait until after Christmas. 

So join me?  Pray hard this week for the kids who may face the unimaginable?  Pray that they will be comforted in their brokenness.  Pray that the caseworkers will be able to locate what they need in that mess. 

And pray too, for the ones that are going to willingly take on this messy closet.  We need your prayers.

12 December 2014

#GiveHope

A single LEGO by itself is pretty small.  And insignificant.


{although it will pack a powerful punch when hidden in carpet.}

It's amazing what a bunch of small pieces can become when put together.



Each Christmas Russell County DHR requests a wish list from every child in its care, and then attempts to grant these wishes. This year Cora Reid Greene Home for Children is launching “Give Hope” to aid in this mission.
We are collecting new toys, electronics, and clothing items to be donated to Russell County Foster Children as Christmas presents. We’re asking you to partner with us in “Give Hope”, and provide a meaningful Christmas experience for some of the most vulnerable children in our community.

 
Your small gift to The Cora Reid Greene Home for Children's "Give Hope" campaign can become something amazing for kids in foster care this Christmas.  Our small pieces -- our gifts that come in different sizes and shapes -- combine to create something bigger.  A gift to unwrap that says, "you are loved, you are remembered, you matter."  You can donate securely via paypal using this link. 

This is a busy time of year for a lot of people, so if you are thinking about doing it, maybe carve out the 5 minutes now to get it done?  Click here.

If you are local and you would rather do a little shopping yourself, here are the details for drop-off:

Donations will be collected at 1606 5th Ave Phenix City, AL 36867 (Next to Trinity United Methodist Church) starting December 1st. Collection Hours will be 9am-12pm (Monday, Wednesday, Friday), and 1pm-4pm (Tuesday, Thursday). We'll also be opened Saturday December 13 from 10am-12pm to receive donations.
Please contact us at (334) 560-3062 or at helpus@crghome.org for additional information or to schedule an alternate drop off time. All donations are tax deductible.

And this part might feel weird, but if you are on social media, consider following The Cora Reid Greene Home for Children here:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/crgh4c
Instagram: http://instagram.com/crgh4c
Twitter: https://twitter.com/CRGH4C

Social media is an incredible instrument for getting the word out to people that may not know about #GiveHope.  It works best when y'all participate in sharing posts, etc!

Tweet, update your status, post instagram pics as you shop and use the hashtag #GiveHope. Retweet, share, and tell your friends!  As always, if you are unable to give today, I get it.  I truly do.  Your prayers are a gift.  Always!

09 December 2014

give a little bit {or a lot!}

I had to run in to Target last night to exchange something we had purchased earlier in the day.  Of course, it was from the holiday section so I had to walk across the store.  As I weaved through the aisles and passed-by the endcaps, all I could think was, "This place is a wreak-hole."

Seriously.  It wasn't just a little messy.  Please note, I am not one of those people that is generally put-off by a mess.  It looked like someone asked Lincoln + Franklin to remove everything they could reach from as many shelves as they could in five minutes.  And then try to hide it in a new place nowhere near where it belongs.


{Not my picture, but you get the idea, right?}

Total mess.

I felt so bad for the workers.  I can only imagine how long it must take to re-set it all for the next day.

I wondered if I should stop and fix an endcap.  But I had five guys waiting in the van for me so I thought that might be a good idea that would end horribly. I did however think that if we all tried our best to leave stores neat this season, wouldn't that help with the mess?  Wouldn't the mess be a bit more bearable if all of us did a little bit to help?

And then an idea hit me.

As you know, Brad is working hard to gather donations for foster care kiddos this Christmas season.  The county he works with directly has especially asked that he work toward gathering items for teens in foster care.  Gifts for teens often cost more. . .in homes with already-squeezed-tight-budgets this makes it hard to fulfill those wish lists.  I have read some painfully sad articles this week about what Christmas has been like for some teens in foster care.  They open gifts that are for younger kiddos, knowing no one was thinking of them when it was wrapped.  Or worse, they open nothing.

I want to help.  But our budget is small too.  I feel like the gifts I could buy wouldn't be much more meaningful for the teens either.  I don't want to add to the heartbreak.

But then I walked through that wreak-hole Target last night.  I thought about my not-huge-budget and I know some of you have a similar budget too.  Sometimes we are afraid to give anything because what we'll give feels small.

So instead of holding back, let's just give small.  Let's put things back on the right shelf at Target, and pick that shirt up that fell off the hanger at TJMaxx.  And let's donate toward some bigger gifts for teens.  Your $5 + my $5 plus some of our friends' $5 will eventually be enough to buy a Kindle. And a $100 visa giftcard.  And some Beats.  And an iPod touch.{Please note::  You can absolutely give more than $5!  And you can even give less than $5.  If you can't give today, pray!}

So my challenge to you today is to give small.  Give your little bit.  Watch it add up and we can all celebrate together.  Let's do this together.  Let's lock arms and let go of expectations of buying the best gift and instead give the best we can together.

You can click here and safely donate specifically toward Christmas gifts for our local foster care kiddos. 


{And let's smile genuinely at those store employees every single time we run out this season.}

If you aren't already following The Cora Reid Greene Home for Children on social media, here are the links.
The Cora Reid Greene Home for Children

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/crgh4c
Instagram: http://instagram.com/crgh4c
Twitter: https://twitter.com/CRGH4C

Share any + every post on your social media pages.  The more the merrier!  I will post updates of total gifts we receive so you can see how it adds up!

24 November 2014

multiply your spending power

In my National Adoption Month post, I promised to make a list of places you can shop + see your purchase multiplied as it benefits children in crisis.  Christmas feels like a great time to spread some of that purchase power around.  I know its not always practical to purchase items like this for people on your list, so don't really consider this as a gift-buying guide, although it would be nice if it works out that way for you!

I feel like I might first need to let you know something important.  There are a lot of children in orphanages with living parents. They are called 'poverty orphans' by some.  The children are placed in an orphanage because the birth mother/family feel like they cannot provide for their basic needs.  The parent(s) believe the child has a better chance to survive in an orphanage rather than in their arms. This is unimaginable for a North American birth mother, I know, but before you throw your rocks - open up your heart. These parents make an excruciatingly difficult decision because they feel like there is no other option. By spending your money differently, you can help provide some options.

I am passionate about this and over the course of a few years we have slowly been making changes in our purchase patterns.  We are still slowly making changes, even if you just choose to buy one thing from an alternate source this year, it matters.   Most of the time, these items cost a bit more than if you just picked something up at Wal-mart -- which is why it has been a long, slow process for us to make changes.  However, an added benefit of shopping with intention is that you whittle away some of that constant feeling of not having enough.  When you carefully shop and select products that benefit someone's entire family, it reminds you of how much you truly have. Honestly, even those of us on tight budgets have fairly fat closets compared to most of the world.

For us, it started with coffee.  I have written about it here before, so I won't go in to too much detail.  We drink coffee every single day, so we felt it was important to know that the people that grow our coffee are given a fair wage. When farmers receive a fair wage, they are able to provide for their families safely and with dignity.  This is a small change that makes a big difference. {and I am certain the coffee is better!}  Currently, we buy our coffee from Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Co which provides life-changing work for communities in Rwanda.  That is a pretty big benefit just from switching coffees!

Land of a Thousand Hills slogan sticker
From there, it moved to accessories.  There are so many options for purchasing accessories.  I have a few scarves from fashionABLE and I love them.  Of course, they cost more than a scarf you'll find at Wal-Mart or Target, but they come with a handwritten note from the woman that made them.  I am OK with having fewer scarf options, knowing that the scarves I wear have made a big difference in the life of someone else.  It is the same with jewelry and handbags. I have a bag from Freeset and a bag from JOYN, they are well-made and I get compliments on them.  They aren't cheap, but the money I spent on them helps a mother provide for her family or helps a victim regain dignity through work.  That matters.  I have jewelry from 147Million Orphans, Bead For Life, and the ApParent Project.  All of it has been worn for years and I always get compliments on it. Always. It is unique and often one-of-a-kind.  It reminds me every time I wear it that my small choice can make a big difference. 
cuff bracelet from 147 million orphans
One of my favorite make-a-difference-purchases has been my Sseko sandals.  I really adore this company and their passion for empowering women in Uganda.  Every graduate from their classes has gone on to university.  That is huge in their country.  Once when I posted a link for Sseko Tie Sandals on FB someone commented that they were "pricey."  And I get it, I do.  They are the most expensive sandals I have ever bought myself - {a clue to our budget}.  They are so worth it, though.  I have had them for two years and they show no signs of falling apart.  Plus I can purchase new ribbons and accessories quite inexpensively.  They are the absolute best shoe to pack on trips {in the summer!}  They are comfortable enough to wear all day and can be styled to wear to a wedding or a day at the park.

ssekos in the family pic!
Recently, I signed up for a monthly box from Fair Trade Friday - a perk of ditching my iPhone and its expensive contract!  You can also purchase one-time boxes which I think would make awesome gifts!  100% of the proceeds from each box goes to the empowerment of impoverished women as an avenue to introduce them to the Gospel. Pretty great return on investment there!  Everything in the boxes comes with a tag stating where it was made, and often has the artisan's name on it.  Also the items are packaged in such a way that they could easily be re-gifted.  Win, win!

see all the awesome in one box??
Unfortunately, I am not super smart with tech stuff, so I only know how to add links through words.  Someday I might learn how to embed them right into the post, but for now, I thought a link to my pinterest board with all of the above websites (as well as a few others) would be the easiest way to allow you to browse around.  You can click on it, and it will take you right to it.   If you ever have any questions whatsoever, please do not hesitate to ask!     Follow Amanda's board shop with a purpose on Pinterest.
 

22 November 2014

National Adoption Month

National Adoption Month.

By now, surely you know this is a thing.  Right?

Remember I wrote it about it here?  And reposted it last year.

I wanted to refresh the post a bit today.  There is a big push this year to #FlipTheScript for National Adoption Month.  In some ways, I get it; but in other ways I just want to get people to know there is a script at all.  I am desperate for folks to know there are ways to be involved in the arena of adoption and orphan care without ever adopting.  My agenda will never ever involve convincing someone to adopt.  Never ever.  {And I know they say never say never and songs have been written about it but still, I think its safe to say that is not my job.}  [I found this article yesterday after writing this part of the post.  I think it is lovely.  Warning, there are some curse words so if that will turn you off to the whole thing do not click through.  It is honest and true and touches on the variables of adoption and the discussions around it so very well. Click here to read it.]

So I'll start with this. . . Technically, National Adoption Month began as a campaign to recruit folks to adopt via foster care, I think.  However, it has become a much bigger conversation starter. There is so much more to orphan care than just adoption.  Obviously adoption is an important part of it, but adoption alone leaves gaping holes in the lives of vulnerable children.  And every adoption story begins with great loss, and that great loss can be carried for a lifetime. Keep that in mind always.



So what can you do?  Here are some ideas:

1.  Pray for an adoptive family/foster family.  Do you have friends that are adopting?  Do you know someone that is waiting?  Pray for them.  Often.   Pray that their hearts would be encouraged as their soon-to-be child(ren) wait.  Pray for hope in the heart of that waiting child.  Maybe take it a step further and send them a note telling them you are praying?

2.  Encourage an adoptive family/foster family.  This could work either pre- or post-adoption.  Send a gift card for dinner out.  Celebrate with them! Throw a shower! One friend handed me a wordless book at PWOC one week for "our child," this was months before we got 'the call.'  This simple gesture reminded me that I wasn't waiting alone. 

3.  Pray for a waiting child.  This will require bravery.  Look at your state's photolisting.  Find a child with whatever parameters you choose and pray hard.  The children listed here are legally-free for adoption which means the parental rights of their birth parents have been terminated.  You can find the listing by clicking here.  Pray for the just-right family to open their home to him/her.

4.  Support family preservation by sponsoring a child.  This is critical.  We can change things dramatically by starting here.  There are many places that do this well.  We sponsor through Compassion International.  They are just one of many that do this effectively within the local communities via local leaders. Sponsoring a child allows that child and his family to have basic needs met.  This alleviates some of the tension these families face which then allows the children to get an education. An education opens doors that wouldn't normally be opened for these children. Sponsorship is a long-term commitment with long-range outcomes. Research an organization to ensure you want to partner with them for the long haul.

5. Pray for foster care programs that are starting in other countries.  Yes, our foster care system needs work, but when done well it serves a good purpose.  Some parts of the world are just starting to build foster care programs.  Pray earnestly for them. I have friends on the ground in Guatemala that are ministering alongside a foster care start up.  You can click here to learn more about it.

6. Help your local foster care office.  We had an 'in' with our local office so I was able to find out quickly how we could help.  Their immediate need was getting that emergency clothing closet up and running.  Other offices may have other needs.  I surely appreciate every single thing that has been sent to us for our local office.  But if you have been itching to do something local - now is the the time. If nobody calls you back (because they might not, they are busy folks) then you march down there with a Wal-mart gift card and a few backpacks or warm hats or something.  Attach a note that says you want to help support their office, tell them you bought the gift card so the caseworkers could get things for children that come into care.  Ask them to contact you about how else you can help. Also, maybe mention that you appreciate their hard work on behalf of children.  They will call you back or email you shortly.

7. Read. I still highly recommend Orphan Justice and Adopted for Life as good starting points.

8. Shop Smarter. This is huge.  The dollars we spend at this time of year can potentially multiply if we spend wisely.  I am going to make a list of places to shop in the next day or two.  I will link to it from here when I finish.  Promise.  Here it is! Click here.

Thanks for reading this far, I know it is a lot of information.  And really just the very tip of the iceberg.  Adoption has forever changed me, but not because it is a real-life fairy tale.  My faith has been stretched in the waiting and in the loving and in the day-to-day.  My heart has been softened to the struggles of children that carry so much weight on their shoulders.  My perspective has changed about our government agencies that have been tasked to play the role of 'guardian' for children.  I am burdened for the Church to know the many ways they can support children in crisis and then to act.



If you aren't sure about how you can get involved, feel free to ask.  I would love to chat with you more about it.  The need is great, the opportunities are vast, and our God is able.

21 November 2014

For the love of Christmas

So I am working on a National Adoption Month post that is morphing into a big, long link list that will need to be broken into separate organized posts. . .which cannot be done while the dudes are awake.  So it will wait.

But this, I feel cannot wait.

I stumbled upon a bunch of lists for "Elf Alternatives" yesterday.  And the absurdity of it just hasn't left me.  The online Christmas wars give me a lump in my stomach.

There are a million ways to celebrate Christmas.  Can we just be confident that the way our friends choose to do it is best for their family?  Can we trust that our decisions for our own family are good and not feel defensive about them?



I really do not care if you elf or not.  I don't think 'elfing' makes you a more fun parent nor do I think 'not elfing' makes you a better Christian. {Yes, I made 'elfing' a verb.} If you copy and paste someone else's elf ideas I do not criticize you for not being creative.  If you dream up 25 over-the-top-out-of-the-box elf schemes I will not accuse you of having too much time on your hands. Promise.

Let's give space for our friends to do Christmas the way that works for them + their people and not throw rocks if it looks radically different from our own Christmas traditions.

If a friend laments about needing to find one-more-gift for her sister-in-law, rather than launch into the story of how your family just draws names, look her in the eye and tell her you hope she finds the just-right-gift-in-her-budget + without a lot of stress. This will be a gift to her.

While in the check-out line, turn off your cell phone.  Put it in your pocket or your purse and make eye contact. If the store clerk tells you "Happy Holidays," you smile warmly and tell him that you hope his shift is full of the kindest customers.  This will be a gift to him.

If you hear someone say that they hate Christmas music. Don't shut them down by telling them about how you listen to it year round. Ask them why.  There might be a whole lot of heaviness behind that statement and finding a safe place to unload it might just be the best thing for this person. It will likely be a gift.

While scrolling through FB, if you see a picture of a child with Santa, tell them how precious that child is rather than mentioning that you choose to keep Christ in Christmas and therefore lock Santa out. Also, if a friend shows her nativity set online, please refrain from criticizing how many wise men she has there - or the fact that they are there.  {Believe it or not a lot of us have FB friends that aren't Christians and the online bickering about our differences is weird + confusing.  And also ugly.} Be kind, this will be a gift to your FB friends' friends. 

Now hear me on this, if your friends are posting about all the Random Acts of Kindness they are doing, or if you see pictures of these advent activities that make you whither a little inside because of their grand scale, break out some Taylor Swift and 'shake it off.'  Decide not to judge the people that choose more elaborate plans than you, rather give yourself grace and trust that you are choosing just-right for your people.

Of the millions of ways to do Christmas, the most important one is to see people where they are and give them some love.  Celebrate the ways that we do it differently.  Make eye contact, linger long in conversation. Ask about your friends' traditions. Pray for the things that stress your friends out - even if you have chosen to unload those things so you won't be stressed. Look for ways to be a gift to someone else.  Refrain from posting articles that condemn other people's Christmas traditions. {Please for the love, refrain!}

It isn't as complicated as we tend to make it. Love God. Love people. Especially at Christmas.

"He said to him, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 22:37-39

16 November 2014

balloons


Have you ever watched a child with a helium balloon?  Sometimes I forget how much bang you get for your buck with balloons.  My boys love them.  They potentially bring delight for hours (days if you pay for that extra stuff they spray in them!)

I have to say 'potentially' though, because there is a little bit of a dance we need to do when we get balloons.  It involves trust and what seems a bit like loss of control.  If the boys let Brad and I tie the ribbon around their wrists, the potential for fun increases dramatically.  There have been a handful of times that one of our sons has refused to have his balloon tied to his wrist.  This usually leads to wailing and gnashing of teeth moments later when the balloon floats away to the clouds.  Usually that same son will be the first one to have his balloon tied to his wrist the next time balloons are around.  Sometimes, though, he'll still be afraid of losing his balloon so he'll hold the ribbon tightly anyway.  Or worse, he'll clutch it tightly to his body, which greatly decreases the fun potential.  This strategy can backfire instantly when the balloon pops under pressure.  Again with the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

If our boys trust us to tie their balloons to their wrists - and also trust that the knots we tie will hold - then they can fully enjoy their balloons.  They run freely across the yard and watch their balloon dance behind them.  The balloon can follow along on a bike ride or up the steps at the playground and zoom down the slide.  Sometimes they'll just sit and watch their balloon float lightly above them swaying in the breeze.  It is crazy how much delight this brings the boys.  Of course, when they are delighted so are we.  It might be as fun to watch them play as it is for them to actually play.

It starts with trust though.  And what feels a bit like loss of control.

Isn't that the way it is with us too?  When God gives us a gift, something He knows will bring us delight?  If we cling tightly to it and don't trust Him with it, we risk losing it immediately.  Sometimes we trust Him a little bit, we tell Him we trust Him but our actions don't send the same message.  We smother our gift for fear of losing it.  Or we hold it so close that we aren't really free to enjoy it.   But if we really trust Him?  If we allow both hands to be open and believe the way He gives it and the way He secures it is best?  Then we are wide open to delight, to run free and laugh and climb high and sit still.  Whatever we choose, if we have trusted Him freely, we are free to delight.  Not only does this bring delight to our Father, but those around us can't help but smile at the scene too.