15 January 2015

better is better

Shortly before New Year's I felt myself getting a little excited about setting new goals.

That little excitement was immediately squashed by the resident bully that sometimes gets all bossy-faced in my head.  Do you have a voice like that too?  One that sort of pretends to be on your side while derailing you from good things - by making you feel silly for considering those good things?

Or maybe that's just me?

Thankfully my true-self bossed bossy-face into submission.  My brain is a regular battlefield, folks.

It helped that our co-pastor preached a basic step-by-step sermon about setting goals and it came with a dry-erase magnet for keeping track.  Beyond the goal {or resolution} needs to be a compelling reason.  And then a daily routine to put it into practice.

Brad bought me some fine-tip markers and I filled out my goal tracker.  I even posted a pic on social media for accountability.



And I joined a couple groups on FB to further help with accountability; one group that is tracking our work-outs and another group to help move toward eating clean food. I think both of these fall under the umbrella of better health.

I'm not going to lie. When I read the list of things to cut-out of my diet I wanted to quit.  I mean, like send my friend a message and ask her to take me out of the group.  There was NO WAY I was going to be able to do all that. I think I waited a day before commenting.  It forced me to read up on 'clean eating', and I decided to just choose a few areas to focus on.  Another friend also texted me about some of the changes her family made and how they did it.  She sent me a link to this blog -  100 days of real food.  And I felt like maybe it wasn't impossible after all.

I told her that my new mantra was "better is better."  For example,  if I buy 100% whole wheat bread instead of the regular wheat bread I had been buying, I am making a better choice - and better is better.  But a day earlier I had thought that if I didn't buy bread made with sprouted ancient grains then I might as well just quit.  {In all honestly, I thought I needed to sprout my own grains and make my own bread and if I couldn't commit to that I might as well quit now.}

It seems ridiculous that I could decide not to begin a journey because I might not be perfect the next day.  Doesn't it?

But, I do this.  All the time.  In all sorts of scenarios.  Are you with me?  That bossy-voice will pop up and say, "you'll never be able to get out of the house on time."  Or, "you'll always have to take a walk-break when you run."  And, "you are the worst at scripture-memorization." I'm tired of that bossy-voice, so I determined to adopt #betterisbetter across the board.  I'm going to celebrate the better choices I make and share them with you.  But keep in mind, I'm celebrating my better choices -- the choices that I make that are better than the choices I have made in the past.  This is huge.  This isn't about being better than someone else - the only person I am comparing myself too is the Amanda of the past. Plain and simple.  I prayed over my small goals and believe the small steps will eventually reap good fruit. I keep thinking about what Paul said here in Philippians:
Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3: 12-14 NASB
Yes, I press on.

 ---

For the sake of authenticity, I feel it important to add that I have no idea where my wipe-off goal-tracker thing is.  Our fridge is not magnetic and I have no idea where I had it last.  At least I wrote down goals, I didn't do that last year.  #BetterIsBetter :)



Did you write down any goals? Have any #betterisbetter moments to celebrate?

07 January 2015

organizing in the middle of heartbreak

There is this weird twisty part of me that always comes out when I walk out of the foster care office.  One part that wants to just dismiss it and maybe quit coming, another part that wants to have a good cry, and still another part that wants to be angry.

The story often changes, but in a way its always the same.

Yesterday, I went to get some work done, we had made a lot of progress getting things back in order after the mess before Christmas but there were still some things that needed shifted around. I brought a couple clothing rods, Brad's drill, a screwdriver and some high hopes.  I met a friend in the lobby and we headed up to the 5th floor.  The receptionist mentioned that a child had found a toy to play with earlier from the closet.  Its always fun to hear about that sort of thing.

As we discussed where to start one of the caseworkers came by.  She told me about a sibling set that came into care before New Year's.  And they still hadn't found a home for all of them.  They were taking turns sleeping at already-full foster homes.  Almost a week.  Bouncing around from place-to-place after being taken from your only familiar place.  Can you even imagine?  The caseworker asked me to pray hard.  She told me of another incident that was a first in her 21 years, a child had to sleep in a hotel overnight instead of a home.

Y'all.  

Organizing donations seems so meaningless after a conversation like that.  Making shelves neat + orderly while families are split wide open + children are left in the mess, seems senseless. It feels silly almost.

But our time was short, so we got to work. My friend began the inventory while I figured out how to add clothing rods to our new tall shelves.  {An idea that another friend messaged to me via Pinterest a few months ago!} I started measuring for the holes I would need to drill when the receptionist walked in with a little dude, she explained that he was bored with the toy he had chosen earlier and asked if he could pick another.  "Of course he can!" I replied excitedly, with maybe too much giddiness in my voice.    I immediately realized he was one of the sibling set we had just talked about and my heart sunk.  He was spending his day here because he wasn't old enough to go to school like his sibling had.  All day at the government office.  He wouldn't look at me, even after the receptionist tried to have him tell me "thank you." He just kept his head down, eyes to the ground.  I put my pencil down and squatted down to try and make eye contact for a minute.  I told him I hoped he liked the puzzle he picked out. He didn't even shrug.

They walked out and my friend and I chatted briefly about how hard it must be for him.  The air felt heavy as we got back to work.  Without much more conversation, she finished the inventory, while I hung the clothing rods.  As we worked,  I could hear snippets of conversation from the receptionist's desk.  It all felt like too much. We had to unpack the shelves and move hanging clothes, then re-adjust the items on the shelves. The rest of our work was more-or-less a race against the clock to get done before it was time to pick the little guys up from Mom's Morning Out.

We got it done, and I was able to snap a picture of our progress.  It felt good to have something to celebrate after the heaviness of the morning.


I carried around the image of that little boy all day -- his head low, his eyes lower.  When I took this picture of my guys at nap, I couldn't help but wonder if that little dude had a place to nap.


Later I replayed a conversation I had Sunday with a couple in the coffee shop.  We were talking about foster care and some of the state limits on children per bedroom, etc.  The husband said they had room but his wife couldn't do it because it would be too hard to give the kids back.  I tried to acknowledge her feelings while also mentioning that its important to think about what you are giving a child.  She added that she couldn't do it with a dog, let alone a child.  And the conversation ended there.

And I get it.  I so get it.

But there are children that are desperate for a safe place to stay.  Children that stay in different homes each night waiting for a place to go. And there are homes with rooms that sit empty -- empty because it would be too hard for the adults. No matter how earnestly I try, I can't get get past this without a good bawl-fest.

Our churches could change this.  We can change this.

I know its not that simple.  I know the system is a mess.  I know that even if that couple from church decided today that they wanted to foster a child it would be months {MONTHS!} before they could open up their empty rooms. I know all that.

But I also know I saw that little boy with his head hanging low.  And its my job to tell his story.  And pray.  And beg you to pray too.

His story is unfolding all across our country.  And across our country churches are full of folks with empty rooms in their homes.

Y'all we can change this.  So I'll keep going back there.  And I won't let anger or apathy take root, and I'll beg God to keep my heart tender.

I know some of you want to do something today.  You'll pray but you also want to act.  One small thing is helping fill our gaps in the clothing closet.  Here is the most recent list of clothing needs.


We take new clothing as well as shoes, socks, undergarments, diapers, and toiletries. I am always happy to answer any questions you have.  If there is something you might like to donate that I didn't list, ask - it might be just want someone needs!

You might want to do even more.  I'd love to hear about it.


22 December 2014

when Christmas feels heavy

On the Monday before Christmas some lists feel impossible.  The weight of it unmeasurable.

Maybe your to-buy list was longer than your budget allows.  And you're anxious about what to do for those last names you've written down.  You feel a little knot inside as you fight the inner battle of heaping guilt on yourself for not planning better and wishing  you had a bigger budget. 

Maybe you are staying with family.  And its tense.  But nobody wants to talk about it because all the talking doesn't bring resolution. Feelings have been hurt by words that were said in the past.  You struggle against guarding your heart so tightly that neither joy nor sorrow can get near you. 

Maybe this Christmas has an uninvited guest.  A diagnosis that holds on to each moment.  Maybe this is your 5th Christmas with that same diagnosis and you flail between resenting that it is still present while rejoicing that you are still beating that nasty disease. 

Maybe you are in an in-between place.  You don't know what is next and you are tired of trying to answer the questions that are repeatedly asked.  You long to hold on to some concrete answers, but all have are open-ended possibilities and no guarantees that they will work out.

Or maybe this Christmas is your first without your loved one.  You are bracing yourself against what might come on that once magical day.  In some ways, you just want to get it over with, and other ways you wish it wouldn't come at all.  You prepare the best you can, knowing full-well that the grief will arrive unannounced and likely forcefully. 
--
We struggle days before Christmas with this weight that we would love to just brush aside.  But it is too heavy to get out from under and too near to pretend otherwise.  We clench our fists and dig in our heels, bracing for the whirlwind.

And I wonder.  What was it like in Heaven in the days before our Savior came?  The angels that announced His coming said, "Do not be afraid."  Is it because they were just on the other side of witnessing something terrifying themselves?  Our Savior that came willingly as a helpless infant --He left gleaming perfection for dirty earth.  And heaven watched it unfold.  The words that describe heaven in the Bible leave us wondering, because our earth-words don't come close to capturing all-the-glory we will one day know.

He left Glory for this mess.  For you.  For me.  He sees our hurting places and knows the weight we carry today.  He is with us now.  He is God with us, our Emmanuel.  We can unfurl our fists and relax our guarded hearts.  We can trust that He is enough for all of our to-do-lists and struggling relationships.  He brings victory to the broken places, even before all is well.  He came to be with us for these moments.  So give Him your heart and ask Him to hold it.  Trust Him to make you strong and courageous.  Believe that the angels' message was for you too, "Do not be afraid; for behold I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."


Our Savior has come.  He is with us.  He goes before us.  He carries us through. And even as we continue to trudge through the deep, dark, brokenness we have this hope.  He has walked where we walk and He goes to prepare a place for us.  His love shines in the darkness and promises to bring us home.

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.