27 March 2015

#ThemeParkTherapy

A long, long time ago I was a classroom teacher.  I was awesome at some parts of it {my bulletin boards were spectacular!} and not-so-terrific at other parts {my plan-book was sub-par apologies to anyone that ever subbed for me}.

There are some moments I will always treasure from that time.  One in particular was a field trip to Lake Michigan.  We took our 4th grade classes across the state to PJ Hoffmaster State Park.  The majority of those kiddos had never seen a Great Lake, so when they got to end of the trail and the trees gave way to the dunes + the shoreline their surprise was audible.  It was so precious.
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In case you have never seen a Great Lake yourself, here you go:


See?  Beautiful, right?
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But back to the point.  The kiddos were just so surprised and delighted and awed by it and we got to see it all over their faces and hear it in their voices.  The students that showed no interest in math were enthralled by what they were seeing.  Students that were typically quiet in the classroom were suddenly chatty.  This experience leveled the playing field - we were all fascinated by the scene. I'm so grateful I was able to be a part of it.

I was thinking about this trip to Lake Michigan because The Cora Reid Greene Home for Children has launched a new program.  Its called "Theme Park Therapy" -- aka #ThemeParkTherapy.  The hope is to give foster families this type of shared experience to treasure for always.  A day when kids get to be kids and parents get to witness delight and awe and joy.  The goal is to send 56 foster kiddos + parents to Six Flags {its not Lake Michigan but I think the kiddos will love it nonetheless!}.  The total cost is $2500.  Basically, a donation of $45 would cover admission, lunch, + transportation to the park for one person.  Not a bad deal.


I love that the organization is covering the cost for the children as well as the parents, and that they thought to cover lunch and transportation as well.  Our family has been at a theme park before and felt a little stressed-out about the cost of food, or wondered if the entrance fee was really worth it.  Have you been there too?  This program eliminates that tension for the foster family altogether and just allows for them to have a special day together.

There are so many struggles that children in foster care face, they often miss out on some very basic childhood moments.   A trip like this can help restore a little bit of what has been lost.  It won't solve every problem or magically erase trauma and heartbreak, but it can give a foster family a delightful shared experience.  We recently read an article online from Foster Focus Magazine and it outlines a similar program and the results they have observed.  You can read Disney Therapy: Just a Spoonful of Sugar here.

The Cora Reid Greene Home for Children has set-up a special paypal page for donations specific to this program.  You can find it by clicking here.  

Also, Brad has encouraged crowd-funding for this as well. You can set up a fundraising page on Pure Charity and have your friends donate directly to your page.  This would be a super easy way for a Sunday School class or youth group to rally around our foster care community.  You can click here to find out more about this option.

If you have any questions about the program you can comment here or on The Cora Reid Greene Home for Children facebook page.  And don't forget to share this!


23 March 2015

run your race

Sometimes there are just words on repeat pounding in my head. Over and over and over.  Does this happen to you too?

Today, its "run your race."



Of course its rooted in a verse, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And LET US RUN with perseverance THE RACE marked out FOR US," Hebrews 12:1 {niv} [emphasis mine]

Oh, Hebrews 12 is jam-packed with goodness and even Hebrews 12:1 is chock-full of treasure itself.  Maybe just go re-read it one more time.  I'll wait.

And the follow-up is "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith." Hebrews 12:2a {niv}

Good Truth.

This metaphor about running a race is a drum-beat in my heart.  We all have a race marked out for us.  We don't all run the same race, except we do run at the same time.  Wild, huh?  My race won't look like yours, yours won't match mine.  Our course might overlap, at times we might even get to run alongside one another. We likely didn't start at the same place and might not finish at the same time.  But we get to run our race.  You get to run your race, I get to run mine. 

And the key to running well is keeping our eyes on Jesus. Oftentimes we get this part a little mixed up. We think we should match pace with other runners on the course so we look at what they are doing.  Or we feel bad about how poorly we are performing, we get upset with the results we are seeing right in front of us, and forget to look ahead. 

But when we focus on Jesus, we remember, He goes before us.  He called us to this.  He prepared us for this.  He will get us through this.  The highs, the lows, the hills and the valleys, He has marked the course for us.  He gives the pre-race brief, He'll direct us through every intersection, He'll encourage every step forward we take -- and He will stand alongside us when we just need to catch our breath.  He won't condemn our missteps, but He will do some course-correction.  At times it will be painful.  He'll remind us that its worth it.  He will cheer us when it seems there is nothing even worth cheering.  His delight in us will be evident with every slow clap and high five.  He will push us beyond what we thought capable and then a little further still.  He will stand at the finish line confidently awaiting our arrival.

We get to run our race.  You get to run your race, I get to run mine.   Is that cool or what?

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In somewhat related news, I ran a race with Walker this weekend.  Which is always such a delightful experience.

We didn't train for it.  At all.  So we are both hobbling around a bit two days later.  Our legs are sore, but we are still glad we did it.  We learned an important lesson about training better before the next race we run together.

I was also reminded about the kindness that is often found at these types of races.  All along the way there were words of encouragement.  Walker and I ran a pretty steady race, there were a lot of hills so we adapted our strategy and decided to walk the uphills.  It worked for us.  With the walk breaks, we kept trading places with a few other people on the run -- we'd walk and get passed, we'd start running again and pass them, etc. 

We were just a handful of the people on the course.   None of us ran the race exactly the same way.  Even Walker and I had some variances between us.  But we all ran that race Saturday.  We stood around afterwards discussing those hills and congratulating one another. We talked about other races we had run and even talked about upcoming races.  Nobody came up to us and asked why we bothered running if we were going to walk the uphills.   None of the early finishers mocked the late finishers.  Actually at the end of the race, the crowd of cheering onlookers grew as each finisher joined in the cheering for the other competitors.

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Oh that we would cheer one another on in this way.  What beauty if we would encourage each other as we run the race marked out for us, not only allowing differences in pace and style but celebrating those differences as well. Realizing that the best thing we can do for one another as we run, is to continually look to Jesus -- keeping our eyes on Him and reminding each other to do the same along the way. 

12 March 2015

Emergency Clothing Closet Needs

It's been a long while since I have posted an updated list of needs for the Foster Care Emergency Clothing closet*.  Winter always finds me with a sick kiddo or two and I inevitably have to cancel a volunteer day here and there.  When I get out of the habit of going, I start to pull back a bit.

When a few weeks away from the office turns into a month away, its hard to get back into the swing of things.   Especially posting the lists of needs.  It always feels a little awkward to do it again. This week, however, God has been using my own words to encourage me.  Of course, it was via conversations with Lincoln + Franklin.

Lincoln does this thing at dinner where he tells me what he is going to eat.  He tells me many, many, many times, "I am going to eat this chicken."  I tell him, "stop talking about it and just do it.

Yesterday the boys were picking up their room.  They were singing the "clean-up song," you know the one?  Everybody everywhere...  I took a peek and noticed that they were singing but not really doing any of the work.  I told them, "you can't just sing about it, you have to actually pick stuff up!  Just singing the song doesn't make it happen.

I've been to the clothing closet twice this winter without posting an updated list of needs.  As I got ready to go yesterday I  realized that just going down and doing the inventory doesn't really matter if I never share what is needed.  I am basically just singing a song and expecting the work to happen magically.  Tuesday afternoon I told myself I would get the list done.  Its now Thursday and I told myself that I have to stop talking about it and just do it. 

Sometimes I am exactly like a four-year-old.

But I am finally getting it done.

I know so many of you are eager to help so I apologize for not keeping you informed of what the current needs have been.  The list of needs is longer than it has been in awhile.  So keep an eye out for bargains.  Remember, we only accept new clothing at this time.  A lot of sizes have shirts but no pants, so if you find a deal on pants/jeans we can probably make outfits with what is on-the-rack. 
 



A few other items we need are toddler-size underwear for boys + girls; and 4T diapers. We could also use shelf-stable snacks that are individually packaged. We actually have LOTS of child-size backpacks and bags right now!  Yay!



*Foster Care Emergency Clothing closet - This is located in the Muscogee County Foster Care office.  The items are used for children that come in to care and might need a fresh change of clothes. I am always happy to answer any questions you might have about the closet :)

04 February 2015

four

Dudes, you are four.  I cannot even believe it.  And yet I can, because we just lived through "3."


I won't sugar-coat, three was a rough one for us.  Historically, it hasn't been my shiniest parenting year ever.  So in a way, I knew it would be a challenge. And surely you can acknowledge that it was.  The good news, though, is that we made it through.  And we all still love each other.


Don't get me wrong, though.  It wasn't all bad.  Not even close.  There is just something so delightful about a toddler becoming a bigger person.  I can't help but love the random questions you two have asked me over the past year.  Like last week when we were driving, Lincoln said, "Mom, do you love gum parties?"  I mean, you just can't find those kinds of questions everywhere.

I am still overwhelmed that I get to be your mom.  I mean, really, its a pretty amazing gig and I wouldn't trade it for anything.  Not even in the middle of the night after someone peed their sheets.  {But don't ask me then because I am probably not thinking clearly.}  [And also, those days will soon be far behind us.  Please, Lord, let it be.]

 Franklin, you've discovered that you love to take pictures with mommy's phone.  Like every chance you get.  You are super smart as you figured out how to open the camera without unlocking my phone, which I still don't know how to do.  Its always fun to find the many, many pictures you've taken while I was busy somewhere else.


You still love sweets like nobody's business.  And consistently beat all of us with your speed in eating them.  Its actually quite marvelous to behold.  {However, you have come around with some veggies too. Maybe this year you'll like even more of the green things!}


Lincoln, you still love music.  You cannot {CAN NOT!!} sit still when that salt-n-pepa geico commercial comes on.  No matter what you are doing, your body moves when you hear the beat.  It is adorable.  It's what you do.
You are a sensitive little dude.  You have the biggest heart and it can break pretty easily.  If Franklin is in trouble, you want to help him out.  You never miss a thing, you notice people's feelings as well as every smell everywhere.  Sometimes you point out how people smell, which is something I kinda hope you grow out of.

The two of you are heart-melters without even trying.  You'll defend one another in a split-second, and moments later it appears as though you are fighting to the death.  You each have your own unique qualities, while you still insist on flip-flopping character traits.  One day Lincoln is "the outgoing one" the next day it will be Franklin.  You won't be labeled.  And that is ok. 
I can't begin to imagine what kind of treasures we'll discover in the year to come! 

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.

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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. 
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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.