Saturday, November 30, 2013

8 Things I Learned in November


We're celebrating Christmas today with my husband's brothers and their families. It just so happens we're all together and already in the Christmas spirit. Yeah, so what it's still the last day of November. Everybody is excited and we're going to have a good time. But before I fully dive into Christmas, let's reflect on November. In no particular order, here are eight things I learned this month:

1. I have a personal goal to see how long in life I can go without ever cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving. Through the years, my grandma, my mom, Greg's mom, and Greg's grandma have done this well. And this year we're on a family trip in Branson, where we had Thanksgiving dinner at Dixie Stampede. Hello, whole chicken and an entire meal without silverware.

2. Christmas shopping online and early is the way to go. I didn't learn this, really. But I continued to practice this and have about two gifts left to buy. I'll buy them as soon as I'm inspired!

3. Traditions can be broken. I started to listening to Christmas music in mid-November. I was just ready for the message and goodness. So I threw my wait-until-after-Thanksgiving tradition out and turned up Needtobreathe's "Go Tell It on the Mountain," Bebo Norman's "Joy to the World" and all of Third Day's Christmas album. And then we put up our Christmas tree the Sunday before Thanksgiving mostly for a purely logistical reason of Thanksgiving being so late and that day working the best for us to be able to enjoy the tree.

4. I really could tell adoption stories for days. I wrote 11 posts on adoption this month and shared four others from other friends/bloggers. And, really, I could have written more. If you missed them, you can see the posts here.

5. You could come to Branson many times and do totally different things. We've been in Branson since Wednesday for what's our fourth time here. {We came in September 2008, October 2010 and Thanksgiving 2011. Our planned trip to Branson right after Christmas last year got snowed out, believe it or not!} We've found favorite restaurants and activities, but we've also happened upon new things each time.

6. I should amend my personal "I never drink hot drinks!" claim to "I only drink real hot chocolate. And I only drink it when I'm cold." It happened twice in two consecutive days this month, thanks to my mother-in-law. No worries, I still don't drink coffee or hot tea.

7. Amazon Prime really does rock. I'd had several free months years ago, but I'd never paid for a subscription once it expired. And then I did this month. Y'all. It's the best, especially when you live in a small town and try to avoid Walmart. I ordered a pack of 48 AA batteries this month. And nothing else. Well, nothing else in that order. There was another order of Christmas gifts a couple days later.

8. China doesn't need to wait for a special occasion. Or perhaps gathering around the table with dear friends who are like family is indeed a special occasion. Yep, for the first time in the 11 years and 3 months we've had china, I finally used it.

What did you learn this month?
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I'm linking up with Emily at Chatting at the Sky and others documenting their month's. Here are my past installments: JuneJulyAugustSeptember. October.

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Friday, November 29, 2013

{Adoption} The Future

Along the rural Missouri roads earlier this week, the kids asked which "city" we're in, when we'll get where we're going, and how long it's been since we left home. We answered their questions. But my 4-year-old boy has no concept of time or miles and my 6-year-old girl is just developing the ability the make sense of such measurements.

Our mini van is full of gifts for loved ones, suitcases for our five days away, much laughter, some Christmas songs (yes, before Thanksgiving this year), and little lessons. We showed them where the Ohio River meets the Mississippi River. We talked about what's ahead. And we let them be silly in their back-seat boosters.

Our family is blessed. We've been given much and have these amazing adoption stories that proclaim God's faithfulness.

But, honestly, I believe my son was created to be a middle child. He likes to make people laugh. He's mischievously independent. He's sweet and pays more attention to what's happening than he likes to let on. He's annoys his sister out of twisted boy love and I've seen him care for those younger than him.

This belief that he's supposed to be in the middle is part of why I believe God is calling us to adopt again. There a desire in my heart and my husband's to add another child to our family. We have preferences and opinions and thoughts, but we're trying to be open to where God leads. It's been a rougher journey this time than the other two times. But through it all I've heard God say, "Wait. I'm not done."

At the beginning of 2012, I decided it was time to start a third adoption process. So we put our desire out there. You’d think I’d realize I’m not in control of the minutes and hours and days. Here we are, waiting again. But this time my heart knows more.

We've updated our home study more than once. An adoption attorney has our family profile and has shown it to birth moms. We've researched agencies and consultants. We've thought we were on track only to be detailed in an emotional way. We're meeting with an agency in Louisville next month to see if that's the route we should go.

We believe we'll adopt again, even though we aren't sure how or when or who. We believe because we can look back on the way God created and grew our family and trust that He has a plan that will be better than anything we expect or plan.

While waiting, I've heard God speak to my heart about how this one will be different. I'm not sure how. Maybe we won't bring a newborn home from the hospital this time. Maybe this time the child won't physically look like us.

I can look in the rear view mirror of life and see where we've been. I take steps toward where I think we're going. But, honestly, I don't have much concept of time and distance with this journey this time.

And that's OK. The ultimate map maker has a plan. He's leading my family where he wants us. For his glory.

Some days I do want to ask, "Are we there yet?" just like my kids do. And then I'm reminded that life isn't about arriving as much as it is about the journey. I told my kids that when it took us 12 hours -- twice the usual time -- to go from our house to our condo in Branson, Mo., because we spent two hours visiting with distant relatives turned friends and then hours in the original Bass Pro Shops, where we shopped and ate dinner.

We meet God and people who become part of our stories along the way. We see the sights and gather for meals. We make pit stops and sometimes are delayed. I'm not sure where this adoption journey is going, but I trust the one leading us down the road.
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This is the 14th and final post in this month's adoption series. You can read all the posts here. Want more stories? Like 152 Insights on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Follow 152 Insights at Bloglovin'. Subscribe to receive "Insights in Your Inbox."

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A tale of the perfectly imperfect tree

It was our third-annual tree hunt. This has quickly become a favorite tradition, even if my favorite people to share it with were home with sickness. We missed you, Goodrich Family. It certainly was much colder this year (35 degrees) than last year (72 degrees), but the adventure was still there.

{Read about the tree hunts from 2011 and 2012.}

Years ago, my late father-in-law planted some spruce trees near his country house because he thought would make good Christmas trees. They've long grown taller than wasn't suitable for a Christmas tree, but, really, they make good Christmas trees. They just need some trimming ...


Yeah, that top half of the tree is our tree, actually.


My husband likes to use a chain saw. Notice the fallen dead tree in the background. Yes, he tended to that detail for his mom.


Mission complete. And then my husband went to shoot at some targets while the kids and I went inside to drink my mother-in-law's homemade hot chocolate. Yes, I drank some. I know, I don't do hot drinks, hardly ever. But for the second day in a row, the coldness got the best of me and I truly enjoyed a warm cup in my hands. And, hello, it was real hot chocolate.

Oh, yeah, so the finished tree ...


It's perfectly imperfect. The top had to be trimmed more once we got it in the house. It's basically sitting in the middle of part of our living room. The bottom, already droopy limb has too many ornaments on it because that's where my boy wanted them. I prefer white lights, but decided to use what we had that would actually work. Yes, there are more lights on the front right side that anywhere else, especially the top back left of the tree. And it's impossible to put either the light-up star or cloth angel on top.

But I love it. 

My perfectionist-leading, Type A self looks into the living room and sees the imperfections. But I hear my kids talk continually about how beautiful the tree is and watch my son usher my mother-in-law in because she must see the tree. The kids hung most of the ornaments. And my husband was patient with the stubborn partial-lit strands of lights.

This is our tree. It's perfectly imperfect. 

We'll gather the gifts for people we love under it. The kids will continue to show it off. I'll probably sweet up some fallen needles and water the oversized plant in my living room. We'll talk about the ornaments that represent stories and places and people.

I'll glance into the living room for the next month and be reminded that, like the tree, life is perfectly imperfect. It's the moments we don't expect and the ones that don't go according to plan that we're faced with moments that could bring us the most joy. Seems appropriate that even our Christmas tree helps me close out the year with the message of embracing imperfection I've been learning and hearing this year.

Truly, those colored lights help me not be able to walk on by without noticing the beauty. I want to be like that in life too.
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I'm linking up with Jen Ferguson's Soli Deo Gloria party, where embracing imperfection is encouraged, and with Jennifer Dukes Lee's #TellHisStory because this tree certainly represents God's story in my life this year.

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{Adoption} Books & Resources

The following list of resources is compiled from my own experience as well as recommendations from friends who have adopted or care about adoption. Admittedly, I haven't read them all, but all the titles are linked to Amazon, so you can learn more about them. If you make a purchase through my link, I'll earn a very small credit that doesn't change the price for you but helps support this blog. 

Children's Books
"A Mother for Choco" by Keiko Kasza :: For ages 2-6 years old, this book is about a bird who learns physical similarities aren't required for family.

"A Sister for Matthew" by Pamela Kennedy :: For children of ages 3-5, this story is about Matthew getting a baby sister from China. In this comforting story, Matthew learns that his parents will always love him very much. And he also learns that a child need not look like her family to be a part of the family.

"Audrey Bunny" by Angie Smith :: In this sweet story, Caroline picks out a stuffed animal bunny with a mark over its heart as her toy of choice from a barrel of many. The themes of being chosen and being made uniquely by God are perfect to read to an adopted child or any child really. The book isn't necessarily an adoption book, but, you know, it's really is because it's about God's creation. {Read my review here.}

"I Love You Like Crazy Cakes" by Rose A. Lewis :: Multiple friends recommended this one that's suggested for kids 3-6 years old. It's story of a woman who travels to China to adopt a baby girl, based on the author's own experiences, is a celebration of the love and joy a baby brings into the home.

"I Wished for You" by Marianne Richmond :: Recommended by Mary, this book follows a conversation between a little bear named Barley and his Mama as they curl up in their favorite cuddle spot and talk about how they became a family. Barley asks Mama the kinds of questions many adopted children have, and Mama lovingly answers them all.

"Little Miss Spider" by David Kirk :: A book-loving friend recommended this one, which is familiar to me. I know Miss Spider, but I'd never read this one. It's a sweet story of adoption for elementary-aged kids. When Miss Spider hatches, her mother is nowhere to be found, but Betty the Bettle fulfills that role.

"Rosie's Family" by Lori Rosove :: This is a book Mary recommended about belonging in a family regardless of differences. Rosie is a beagle who was adopted by schnauzers. She feels different from the rest of her family, including her brother, who is the biological child of her parents, and sets forth many questions that children who were adopted may have.

"Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born" by Jamie Lee Curtis :: We got this book as a gift when Cate was born and we've read it many times since. While the details don't line up with our adoptions specifically, this book aimed at kids 4-8 years old is good reminder that children cherish their stories. We believe in telling our children our stories and will continue to reveal more details as they grow up because we don't want their adoptions to be mysteries to them.

"Ten Days and Nine Nights" by Yumi Heo :: Another book for elementary-aged kids, this story follows a little girl as she and her family prepare for the new baby that will soon be joining them. This one seems ideal for older children who are about to become big sisters and brothers.

"You Were Always in My Heart" by Mary Beth and Steven Curtis Chapman :: I won this in a giveaway on another blog and it's been a good one for my daughter, who is 6. The Chapmans are advocates of adoption and I'm glad they penned some encouraging words about the subject.

Infertility & Adoption Stories
"Bringing Home the Missing Linck: A Journey of Faith to Family" by Jennifer Jackson Linck :: Jennifer was part of my adoption series earlier this month with her post about her son's birth mother. I'm looking forward to reading this book!

"The Eye of Adoption" by Jody Cantrell Dyer :: I saw the author tweet that her book was free for the Kindle, so I downloaded it. She addresses infertility and adoption with a tell-like-it-is voice she hopes connects others with her story.

"Infertility: A Survival Guide for Couples and Those Who Love Them” by Cindy Lewis Drake :: This is the book that inspired me to set some boundaries while seeing a fertility specialist. And those boundaries are what nudged us toward adoption. 

"Love in the Driest Seasons: A Family Memoir" by Neely Tucker :: I'm adding this one to my own to-read list. After witnessing the devastating consequences of AIDS and economic disaster on Zimbabwe's children, this couple started volunteering at an orphanage where a critically ill infant, abandoned in a field on the day she was born, was trusted to their care. Their decision to adopt her challenged an unspoken social norm: that foreigners should never adopt Zimbabwean children. Against a background of war, terrorism, disease, and unbearable uncertainty about the future, this story emerges as an inspiring testament to the miracles that love and determination can sometimes achieve. 

"No Maybe Baby" by Marcy Hanson :: Marcy has been doing an adoption series on her blog this month too. This is her book that takes readers through seasons of infertility, foster care and adoption. 

"Our Road to Family: An Adoption Story" by Kristen Nicole :: Kristen also was part the adoption series with her post about how she was led down a path to domestic adoption - twice! I have the PDF version of this book, just waiting my attention. 

Music
"Children of God" by Third Day :: I really like this song and the video is really great too. The lyrics are based on words from Ephesians that speak to our heavenly adoption.

"I'm Adopted" by Slugs & Bugs :: Thanks to Randall Goodgame for summing up the gospel in one children's song that adults {well, this adult, for sure ...} also love. Plus the song is like a celebration of adoption, a process that isn't always easy but always worth it. You can hear it and read about it here. And you can buy it for 99 cents. Totally worth it, people. Oh and it's on YouTube too.

"Wanted" by Dara Maclean :: This song inspired the theme of this month's adoption series.

Resources
"Before You Were Mine: Discovering Your Adopted Child's Lifestory" by Susan Tebos and Carissa Woodwyk :: This is an excellent resources that asks questions of adoptive parents so they can compile thorough information of their child's story, which truly begins at conception and not adoption. {I talked about this book in my earlier post about documenting stories.}

"The Connected Child: Bring Hope and Healing to Your Adoptive Family" by Karyn Purvis, David Cross and Wendy Sunshine :: Recommended by a friend who has adopted internationally, this book is written by psychologists who specialize in adoption and attachment and want to help readers build bonds with adopted children, deal with learning or behavioral disorders, and discipline adopted children with love without making them feel threatened.

"My Family, My Journey" by Zoe Francesca :: This is a baby book to document milestones aimed at adoptive families. This one was recommended to me by Melaine Dale, but it sure seems like something I'd love.

Are there other adoption-related books or resources you'd add?
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This is the 13th in this month's adoption series. You can read all the posts here. Want more stories? Like 152 Insights on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Follow 152 Insights at Bloglovin'. Subscribe to receive "Insights in Your Inbox." Many Amazon affiliate links are included. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

{Adoption} Another Road to Family

Kristen Nicole and I connected this month, thanks to adoption stories we both love sharing. She's even written a book about her experience. I know you'll love hearing about her journey to family as much as I have. Thanks, Kristen, for sharing your story here. And, friends, stay tuned because there is an extra special opportunity at the end of this post! 


Believe it or not, adoption had always been something I had planned on as being part of my life. As a teenager, I was convinced that one day I would adopt a little boy from an orphanage in Africa. Little did I know how difficult international adoption was. This was long before I met my husband, and long before I peed on more pregnancy tests than I could count hoping for just one plus sign! I was still young and naïve about life, but I knew that I would adopt some day.

Turns out I was right, I just never realized how soon!

Fast forward six years past my teenage dreams and I was married, teaching kindergarten, and wanting very badly to be called "Mommy." Month after month, we would get excited when I was just a few days “late," only to be heart broken when one of those little sticks told us that we were once again not going to be parents.

This up and down heart breaking cycle went on every month for about a year and a half before we decided to go to the doctor.

Because of a family history of fertility issues, I was convinced that the doctor would tell me that I couldn’t conceive or that I would have to start fertility treatments. I was pleasantly surprised when the doctor told me that all my tests looked fine. Then it was time to test my husband. Turns out that he has azoospermia or, in laymen’s terms, zero sperm count. We were shocked and devastated.

From the moment we got married, we knew we wanted to be parents. Now we felt that dream was smashed.

Once we realized that conceiving a child together was impossible, I really started pushing for adoption. I knew we’d adopted someday and it seemed like we were being told that now was the time. My husband was a little hesitant at first, but I convinced him and we started looking into adoption. We were at first floored by the all the expenses and were so grateful when my parents agreed to help shoulder the financial burden so that we could be parents.

To make a long story short, we decided to use a law center instead of an agency. Mainly because I wanted to be a mommy and I wanted to be one right away. The law center had much faster matches than any of the agencies that we talked to.

We definitely made the right choice because just 18 days after starting our adoption journey, we were matched with a baby girl! That beautiful baby girl was born just three months later and today is an amazing 4-year-old girl.

When we decided to adopt again we used the same law center. We started our second journey exactly three years after our first journey. This time we were matched in just four days! About two weeks after we were matched we found out that the baby was a boy. He was also due on our daughter’s birthday! We just knew this was meant to be. Three months later, our precious little boy was born. He was born exactly one week before our daughter’s third birthday. He is now 16 months and a big "momma’s boy."


As a teenager, I had always pictured my life as getting married, getting pregnant, and then adopting internationally. Well, I did get married to an amazing man. However, I will never be pregnant. Although that used to be a hard pill to swallow, I know now I would have never adopted so soon or gotten the chance to be Mommy to my two amazing kids if life hadn’t take the turn it did. Life never turns out the way you plan; sometimes it turns out better than you could ever imagine!
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Since she brought her children home, Kristen Nicole has written a book called "Our Road to Family," documenting her journey. Kristen is a kindergarten teacher and resides in Pennsylvania with her husband, two beautiful children, a dog, a cat, and 10 glow-in-the-dark fish. You can follow her on Twitter and keep up with news about her book on Facebook

Here's the official description of her book: 

“My husband and I are adopting. Does anyone know what that means?” There was more than one answer to that question for Kristen and Dan, and this remarkable story takes you through their adoption journey from beginning to end. From fertility issues to two successful adoptions, Kristen eloquently sheds new light on each step of the adoption process. With an inviting and friendly style of prose, she guides readers through the heartache of having to let a child go and onto the joy of holding her child for the very first time. An honest portrayal of a different road to parenthood, this story affirms the real blessing that adoption can be.

And Kristen is kindly giving one of you a paperback copy of her book that released last month. To participate, use the Rafflecopter below. A winner will be announced Saturday, Nov. 30 as we close out National Adoption Month. (UPDATED: Congratulations, Jessie Voiers! You win a copy of Kristen's "Our Road to Family: An Adoption Story." I sent you an email with details.


a Rafflecopter giveaway


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This is the 12th post in this month's adoption series. You can find them all here, as they are published throughout the month. 

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

B-E-N, Ben, Ben, Ben!

My nose has finally thawed out enough for me to tell you about Ben's 4th birthday party. And, yes, I'll get around to telling you why my nose was so cold.

But, first, my favorite picture of the birthday boy ...


That's how you blow out a candle with a mouth full of Kit-Kat. Just in case you ever wondered.

I've decided I really like morning birthday parties. They've become a trend around here, and I like it. Five families of friends and cousins joined us for a couple hours. Turns out, I fed my kids cake, M&Ms, nachos and kettle corn for lunch, but, hey, everybody had a good time!


The kids colored soccer ball pictures for our Compassion International boy Jean in Ecuador who shares Ben's birthday. Soccer happens to be Jean's favorite sport, which worked well with my sports balls-themed party. Jean turned 12 today. We collected some money to send his family in what's become a good way to make giving tangible for my kids.

{We started this last year at Ben's birthday party and continued it for our Compassion girl at Cate's party six months ago. You can read about how we incorporate giving to Compassion International as part of my kids' birthday parts in this post from earlier this year. And if you're inspired to do more, you can always sponsor a child.}


Continuing with the sports balls them, we lined the kids up for a rousing round of Pin the Ball on the Bat. Ben was disappointed when I told him we weren't playing pin the tail on any variety of farm animal, so he was thrilled when I tweaked the party tradition.


And then there was the baseball pinata he's been talking about for days. He had the bat picked out for days too. So, yes, he was ready to take a swing ... and collect candy.


There are kind gifts, a delicious cake from my friend Courtney, and concession stand snacks. And there was a house full of other families who are our people. We did miss Ben's best buddy Davey and family, who were recovering from three cases of strep throat and some ear infections among the three kids. All of these friends are like family and the family are like friends.

It's really the best kind of community. These people of ours came to celebrate our boy. And then a couple friends even cleaned up the crumbs that covered the floor afterward. True friendship, I tell you.

And then we went to watch Murray State play Eastern Kentucky in football. It was 44 degrees out, if you're curious. The game was exciting and we were in the sunshine into the fourth quarter. And then I realized my nose my numb. The layering and hot chocolate didn't help that my nose. For the record, you know it's cold if I'm holding and drinking a hot drink of any kind!

Oh and then they game went into overtime, of course. But Racers held on and kept the Colonels out of the end zone when it mattered and ended the football season with a win.


Memories were made. My nose has thawed. The kids are sleeping off all the sugar they ate. A happy day indeed.
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{Adoption} Ben is 4!


My boy turns 4 today! I tend to associate his birth with Thanksgiving as he was born the Monday before the holiday and the turkey we ate that day was 2.75 times bigger than my baby. But this year his birthday is the same day as National Adoption Day. You can read his adoption story here and you'll find the introduction to my guest post on No Maybe Baby below. 

Ben,

Without adoption, our family wouldn't be what it is. And without you our family wouldn't be like it is. You're loud, messy, sweet, funny, mischievous and always moving. These are the adjectives that have described you since your first days of life and they continue to be true.

Four years in, my boy, and you continue to surprise me. During your parent-teacher conference last month, Mrs. Sands told us how you help your friends clean up when they're finished with center time. Well done, son.

Honestly, I'm still not entirely sure how to be a boy mom, but you're teaching me, that's for sure. You challenge me and encourages me to live in the present. You notice more than I expect yet you don't want to give many details beyond recess about your school day.

Yes, I have to correct you repeatedly. I remind you to slow down and be careful. I wonder what you're up to when I don't hear you. But you're learning. And you still take naps many days and sleep about 11 hours at night. All the going and talking and moving about requires precious sleep!

I'm learning too. I'm learning that this life right here, right now is worth it. Ben, you love us fiercely and have so much energy that you can channel into filling people's lives. Admittedly, some days I inadvertently squash and box your energy, but I'm constantly praying that God helps me encourage you to channel it as we learn together.

You adore your sister and believe you can do anything she can do, play any game that involves a ball, climb and run and jump, sing often, surprisingly sit still to read books, and draw others in with your social personality.

You remind us often with your words and actions that you're becoming quite a big boy. Your independence challenges me sometimes as a momma, but I know it will serve you well in this life. You like to talk about our plans for the day, what movies you've been watching, what road trip is coming next, and when Cate and Daddy are going to be home. And you always thank God for the four of us.

I thank God for the four of us too. You're just what our family needs. God knew what he was doing when he created your life and made us a family. We're all better with each other.

Happy fourth birthday, son. I love you more than ice cream.
________

In other news today, I'm also guest posting at Marcy Hanson's No Maybe Baby. Marcy and I connected on Twitter and she's recommended several books I'm excited to read and have included on an upcoming post about adoption resources. One of those books is hers. "No Maybe Baby" takes readers through seasons of infertility, fostering and adoption.

I would have told you I was pro-life long before I knew adoption was going to be my family’s story. But then I adopted – twice – and my definition of pro-life changed.

In 2007, I became a momma, finally, just seven months after giving up trying to get pregnant. My baby came because someone else chose life for her. And then about 30 months later, we brought home our second child whose life is owed to another brave woman. I’m grateful beyond words these two women chose life for the babies growing inside of them.

So, of course, I’m pro-life. But since bringing these babies home, I’ve realized pro-life is more than a political stance. It’s also a belief children are a blessing and not a burden. And I’m so grateful my kids’ birth moms recognized this too.

When we moms stand together, support each other, and commit to doing our best for our kids and the ones around us, then we’re pro-life. ...

{Continue reading at No Maybe Baby ...}
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This is the 11th in this month's series in celebration of National Adoption Month. Read all the posts hereWant more stories? Like 152 Insights on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Follow 152 Insights at Bloglovin'. Subscribe to receive "Insights in Your Inbox."

Friday, November 22, 2013

{Giveaway} 1 Girl Nation


I'm going to let you in on a confession that really may not be that much of a secret: I like pop music. Of course, then I feel old when I don't like the messages of many pop songs. If I don't want my kids to hear it {and when I say "hear it," I mean possibly pick up on any message that their little ears don't need to hear yet ...}, then I really don't listen to it either.

So when I heard about some pop music aimed at young girls that had a positive message, I was eager to hear it. My girl may only be 6 1/2, but she is quick to learn songs and repeat them. Cate was excited when I turned on the 1 Girl Nation CD in our mini van on the way to school recently. She danced in the back seat as she read the words from the CD cover and sang along.

After listening to the CD multiple times, Cate says she likes all the songs, but chooses "Love Like Crazy" as her favorite and "Daddy's Girl" as her "last favorite." She gets her ability to rank anything and everything from me, but I have no idea who taught her to dance.

So, why does she like them?

In her own words: "I like disco songs."

Yeah, I know. To my first-grade girl, pop music is disco music. I grin inside every time she says it, so I haven't really explained the true meaning of "disco." I guess they'll all be oldies by the time she's an adult anyway.
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About 1 Girl Nation :: Landing in the space where One Direction meets TobyMac, 1 Girl Nation is an exciting blend of upbeat pop music, with lyrics that are totally focused on living life for God, even while you’re young. The band stars Carmen, Kayli, Kelsey, Lauryn Taylor and Lindsey, who are five girls with a passion for telling their fans about Christ through their music. The CD's first single, "While We’re Young," can be heard on radio stations across the country and their self-titled debut album is available now! The primary audience is preteens, teens, and young adults, but, hey, parents can take it in too!)

You can keep up with 1 Girl Nation at the band's website, Facebook page, Twitter profile and YouTube page.
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Anybody have a girl who would love hear this positive pop music? Well, somebody is going to win a copy of 1 Girl Nation's "While We're Young" CD. This giveaway is open to U.S. and Canadian residents. A winner will be chosen randomly on Saturday, Nov. 30. Just leave a comment telling me some pop songs your kids like. And if you don't have kids or don't listen to pop music, just tell me something you do listen to.

UPDATED: Congratulations, Elizabeth Anne May! You and your girls will be able to listen to your own 1 Girl Nation CD soon. It'll arrive in the mail from FlyBy Promotions.
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Thursday, November 21, 2013

No More Perfect ... Holidays


Go tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go tell it on the mountain
Jesus Christ is born

I accidentally started listening to Christmas music last weekend, well before my usual post-Thanksgiving beginning. I was listening to a Needtobreathe playlist on my laptop when "Go Tell It On the Mountain" started playing. It's a favorite of mine. So I kept listening.

While shepherds kept their watching
Over silent flocks by night
Behold throughout the heavens
They're shown a holy light

The shepherds feared and trembled
When all above the earth
Rang out the angel chorus
That held a savior's birth

And then I switched to my playlist of Christmas favorites. On Nov. 16. A dozen days before Thanksgiving. This goes against my tradition, but I haven't regretted it, mostly because God seemed to speak to my heart.

Aside from being a great song, hearing Needtobreathe proclaim Jesus' birth made me think about traditions. Some of the most meaningful moments of the holiday season are traditions. They are the events and people that have been a part of your celebrations for as long as you can remember. They are what you look forward to the rest of the year.

Traditions are good. But they aren't everything.

Now in a lonely manger
The humble Christ was born
And god sent our salvation
That blessed this Christmas morn

As our kids get older, we've established new traditions, which mean not every tradition that has ever been can happen. Honestly, some of my favorite "traditions" have been created in the past couple years: We have a birthday party for Jesus with friends. We go on a tree hunt with our dear friends who have grasped onto the tradition with us. The four of us spend the first hours of Christmas Day home.

But those new traditions are mixed with the old. It's in that mix that I find God and remember what really matters. 

There is a caroling session to area nursing homes and a lunch with Greg's cousins that also are steadfast holiday events on our calendar. And among the traditions are events and parties that sometimes happen, depending on childcare or calendar space. Each year also brings new opportunities to celebrate and serve. This year, we get to travel to Dallas to meet my coming-soon nephew for the days between Christmas and New Year's.

Hallelujah Hallelujah
Jesus Christ is born
Hallelujah Hallelujah
Savior of the world
Hallelujah Hallelujah
Jesus Christ is born
Hallelujah Hallelujah
Savior of the world

Oh he's the savior of the world

No holiday is perfect. And, truthfully, no tradition is perfect. Traditions matter because of the relationships strengthened, the memories made, and the people served. But they are still full of us imperfect people. And they're subject to real life, of which we're not actually in control anyway.

Go tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born
Hallelujah Hallelujah 
Jesus Christ is born

Traditions matter. Holidays matter. Families matter. But perfection in how we celebrate doesn't. The only perfection that matters is this savior whose birth we're singing about. 
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I'm linking up with Jill Savage for the monthly Hearts at Home Blog Hop. Come join us as we embrace imperfection. It's been my theme this year and I've been encouraged greatly by Jill's book "No More Perfect Moms." Affiliate links included. 

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{Review} The Nativity Story app


Hey, kids, want to play with my phone?

With The Nativity Story app, you'll be wanting to invite them to play with your iPhone. Or iPad. They'll be thrilled, obviously. And as a parent, you'll be thrilled they're hearing/reading the story of Jesus' birth. Win-win, I tell you.

Ben (who turns 4 in two days!) just saw these pictures of them using the app and he volunteered: "Mom, you know I love that Christmas book on your phone. It's my favorite."

Aimed at a generation that doesn't know life without technology, this app is like a vintage pop-up book, with classic woodcut-style illustrations. Yet it's interactive. Kids can tap the screen to help Joseph and Mary find a place to stay, create sound effects, add character dialogue. The story from the gospel according to Luke can be read aloud, that to a narrator, or read individually. Plus there are donkeys, children, and angels to hear!

And those things things are what my kids mentioned liking about this app after going through the story six times one recent morning. Cate liked that she could read it herself or have the narrator read it. They liked making the characters speak and Ben especially liked hearing the animal noises. In unison, they also said they liked the baby.

As a momma, I'm really glad to hear they like Baby Jesus. Hopefully they'll continue to like him and, more importantly, love him as the son of God. The fact Jesus was born as a baby, just like they were, makes the Christmas story so real to kids. The way they embrace it melts my sometimes-cynical grown-up heart.

About the app :: Aimed for kids ages 2-10, The Nativity Story app brings the Christmas story alive. Where will baby Jesus be born? At the market? At a restaurant? At the inn? Readers of this book app can follow Joseph and Mary on their search for a place to stay in Bethlehem. Along the way they encounter a variety of colourful local people and animals. This is a fun and engaging way to share the original story of Christmas with the young generation and remind them what Christmas is all about.

Download here :: The Nativity Story - Popup Deluxe Edition for the iPad ($3.99) or The Nativity Story - Popup Mini Edition for the iPhone ($1.99)
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FlyBy Promotions offered me this iPhone app for free in exchange for a review of my thoughts. 

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

{Adoption} Meeting her birth mom

Cate was a little quieter than usual at first, but the more she told her about learning to ride a bike and her school, the more herself she became. Before too long, she was asking questions and telling stories packed with details as usual.

In this scenario that unfolded in a restaurant parking lot in October, my daughter had the chance to meet her birth mom. My 6-year-old girl told me later she didn't know how meeting her would be. As her mom, I was so excited about this meeting, even though I wasn't exactly sure how it would go either.

The circumstances of the day prompted the conversation weeks before between her birth mom and I. It was going to be logistically convenient for Cate to meet her. So we talked about it. I told her about how I thought it would be for Cate. She shared what she was comfortable doing.

And we did it.

And I'm so thankful we did.

Cate actually saw her birth mom when she was 3 months old and she's heard about her since. I showed her a picture of the woman who gave her life for the first time on her sixth birthday earlier this year. Each conversation we have reveals more about the story I love to tell.

I adored Cate's birth mom from the day we met almost seven years ago. We'd eat lunch at restaurants after her doctor's appointments, and we'd drive the 4 1/2 hours back home so thankful for her. Yes, she gave Cate life and gave us a family. But I also genuinely enjoyed being around her. Just a couple months shy of 19 when she birthed Cate, she's gone on to finish college, marry, and work as a nurse in the past 6 1/2 years.

For my daughter to get a taste of that last month was such a blessing.

We ended up sharing another meal together, this time with our extended families. At that table of 19, my girl chose to sit next to her birth mom. And her birth mom graciously and bravely got to know the Cate I'm proud to call my daughter.

Yes, Cate is only 6. But she's so accepting of adoption right now, which is why I believed it to be a good time for this meeting to happen. I also know how Cate remembers details of events and people. And her birth mom is a person I certainly want her to remember.

________

Like every child is different, I know every adoption is different. Birth moms process adoptions differently and want different kinds of relationships throughout the process and in the years that follow. And that's OK.

Our story with Ben's birth mom is different but one we also value and hold dear. A boy with a different personality, Ben isn't in the same place with Cate as adoption. And that's OK too. We still talk about it.

So much of adoption is faith. Faith in God. Faith in the birth moms. Faith in the process. Faith in the conversations that come as the kids grow up. But I believe adoption stories matter.
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This is the 10th post in this month's series celebrating National Adoption Month. Read all the posts hereWant more stories? Like 152 Insights on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Follow 152 Insights at Bloglovin'. Subscribe to receive "Insights in Your Inbox."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Giving thanks for community


The same year my son was born our small group from church started a tradition. I'm not sure we knew it was going to be a tradition, but this group of where the kids at least equaled in number the adults gathered around a table for a Thanksgiving meal.

That was 2009. And, actually, Greg and I didn't get to go because Ben was born on that Monday afternoon. We brought him home that Tuesday afternoon, just hours before they had our first Thanksgiving. Not only did we not go, but my friend Sarah made the green bean casserole I was supposed to bring. And then our friends brought us plates overflowing with delicious food. We weren't at the actual table with them that first year, but we were with them and they were with us.

Community works that way. 

Four years later, we still gather around the table for a Thanksgiving meal. It happened Monday night, when I broke out my china plates for the first time. For 11 years and 3 months, that china has been sitting around, supposedly waiting for a "special occasion." Truth be told, I was persuaded to register for the china and really wouldn't regret had I not added it. But I have it. And I decided having it sit there was pointless.

Because everyday community is a special occasion.

We're not technically in an official small group with these people because we scattered to build relationships with other generations in our church, but these people are our community. We've mourned and prayed and dreamed and hoped and planned and played and cheered and cried and laughed.

And my girl friends even washed by hand the china plates I probably would have put in the dish washer. They're into the ordinary details like that. They're helpful like that. We're in this together like that.

That's Ben sitting on top of the couch in a blue shirt. He was a day old when this group gathered around a table, literally, to give thanks for how we gather around the table, figuratively, with each other in our daily lives. He's grown up knowing those other kids who surround him on the couch and their parents. He's grown up in community.

Among these four families, we have nine kids from 7 years to almost 7 months (two of them weren't in the picture ...). Yes, the adults were outnumbered last night. But we sat around the table, talking and laughing while we played a Thanksgiving-inspired version of The Game of Things. The kids laughed and played their own games in the living room. Just like us adults, the kids were excited to share life.

We jokingly talk about how Ben and Davey (sitting on the couch in the navy shirt), who are less than a month apart in age, may both be chasing after Caroline (purple rain boots), who is less than a year younger. Regardless of what happens, I'm thankful they don't know life apart from each other. And I pray they all inspire each other to chase after God. 

These are my people. This is my community.

I continue to be amazed about how God has build community up around me and my family. With these three families. And with others. Honestly, I wondered if that would happen here.

I moved back to my college town that is also my husband's hometown when I was 23. I couldn't imagine people my age would move into a rural college town on the edge of far western Kentucky. My dear college friend Jaclyn (in the grey sweatshirt), who stayed after she had her degree in hand, and I were thankful for each other when I moved back.

But God did more. He surprised us with community in a town I wasn't sure would be able to offer us new friends. And that community continues to happen right here around my table. 
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I'm linking this Jen Ferguson's Soli Deo Gloria party, where she shows true beauty this week, and Jennifer Dukes Lee's #TellHisStory because community is one of the best parts of God's story.

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{Behind the Scenes} A little quiet first


We didn't leave the house Saturday and it was lovely.

The kids played the Wii and stayed in their pajamas until well into the afternoon. Cate helped me wrap presents. Greg read the kids books. Greg and the kids raked up leaves. I scrapbooked and designed our annual Christmas letter {which may be my favorite yet!}. We ate lunch, watched some football, and cleaned up. Some friends came over for dinner and a couple games of Settlers of Catan that evening.

Y'all. We didn't the leave the house. And I loved every minute. I even answered the door at one point near noon and my hair still looked like a tornado had blown through.

Saturday was the week before our calendar begins to be packed. First up is  Ben's birthday weekend with family coming into town and friends come over for a party. Then it's to Branson for Thanksgiving. Then back home and it'll already be December. The all that it is Christmas around here begins: Parade. Jesus Birthday Party. Christmas with other attorneys. Huge Taylor Family Christmas Party. Christmas with Greg's office. Christmas with friends. Christmas in Louisville. Christmas at home with just the four of us. Christmas with Greg's cousins. A road trip to Dallas to celebrate Christmas some more and meet my new nephew.

And then it'll be January. And a new year.

I seriously love this time of the year. I like the parties and music and food and gifts and spiritual conversations that happen. But I loved being at home for a whole entire Saturday before the holiday season gets underway around here. God knew I needed that time. Like seasons are good for our soul, so is the mixture of quiet and celebration.

One way I intentionally embrace this season is do the Christmas shopping I love to do in the months leading up to the end of the year. I buy things along the way as I see gifts that remind me of the people I want to give them to. It makes it easier for me to find meaningful gifts and to enjoy the hustle that comes with Christmas parties and events. Remember, we're a family of extroverts, but, even so, there are only 24 hours in a day.

Speaking of buying gifts, DaySpring has some fabulous items on sale right now. Plus who doesn't love shopping online, where gifts can be purchased while you're sitting in PJs and then show up on your door step?!

Then go jump in the piles of leaves at least one more time ...


Pretty please? Here's to hoping you're able to embrace this holiday season that isn't too far from being upon us. We all have plenty to celebrate.
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I'm linking up with Crystal Stine's Behind the Scenes because these pictures of the kids playing in the leaves are a glimpse into our day spent entirely at home. For the record, it did start raining just as I asked the kids to pose for that last picture. 

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Monday, November 18, 2013

{Adoption} Documenting the stories


My kids have baby books like many others. I took out the pages on pregnancy and added pages to document the adoption process details. Thankfully, the baby books I've used were able to be altered.

"Before You Were Mine: Discovering Your Adopted Child's Lifestory" inspired me to document the adoption part of my kids' story. I'm one who likes to document in stories and pictures anyway, so doing this was a natural project for me. "Before You Were Mine" by Susan Tebos and Carissa Woodwyk is a excellent resources that asks questions of adoptive parents so they can compile thorough information of their child's story, which truly begins at conception and not adoption.

Our adoptions were independent, open adoptions that allowed us to have our babies in our arms since the days they were born. While it didn't apply to us, "Before You Were Mine" does discuss international and older-child adoptions. It's also filled with scriptures that connect adoption to the way God accept us into his family.

Included in our kids' baby books are the usual first words and other firsts, favorite songs, weights and heights to document their growth, family trees, and nursery pictures. But there are also timelines of the adoption processes, details on their birth parents, blessings from our family and friends who celebrated the finalization of the legal part of the process, and pictures of their birth moms from the days they were born.
______

Cate's book is titled "Chosen" and quotes Zephaniah 3:17 at the beginning. Ben's is called "Beloved," which I took from Deuteronomy 33:12. Here's a little story about Ben's book and how God showed up in the details:

I had Ben's adoption story book nearly finished before I found the name I wanted. One evening, I asked Greg for some suggestions and he rattled off a few that weren't meaningful enough to me. Then later, when I was bugging him again, he said, "What about beloved?"

Beloved.

Yes, that fits.

Then I was Googling Bible verses that used the word "beloved" that I could incorporate onto the title page of Ben's book. I skipped over several from Song of Solomon.

And then I read this:

About Benjamin he said: "Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders." {Deuteronomy 33:12}

I was thinking, SERIOUSLY? "About Benjamin ..." Really could it be more perfect? And the message is one I want Ben to know. He can rest secure in the Lord, who protects him.

Yes, God is definitely in the details.
______

Documenting childhood
And while I'm sharing about documenting kids' lives, here are some other resources I use that have nothing to do with adoption specifically:
And some notes about scrapbooking in terms of documenting their childhoods: My kids don't have their own scrapbooks. They have their adoption/baby books that I've added adoption-related things to as they learn more about their stories.

I've also started thick binders with plain 8 1/2-by-11 page protectors, where I slip in school work or certificates they bring home from school or extracurricular activities. I DO NOT SAVE ALL THOSE PAPERS THEY BRING HOME FROM SCHOOL.

I do choose to save some, like the occasional spelling tests, writing journals, special projects -- mostly because they'll be fun to look back at when they are older.

And then there is a family collection of scrapbooks organized chronologically with a few special books for vacations. I suppose they can fight over them or divide up the pages when they're adults. 


Adopted or not, how do you document childhood in your house? 
________

This is the ninth post in a series of adoption posts this month. You can find them all here, as they are published throughout the month. 

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

{Giveaway} The First Christmas


"The First Christmas Night" is a beautiful retelling of the birth of Jesus on that joyous night in Bethlehem so long ago. The poem begins with the arrival of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem and winds though Christ’s birth, the angels’ appearance to the shepherds, and the visit by the wise men.

'Twas the very first Christmas, 
when all through the town
not a creature was stirring -
there was not a sound.

Did you recognize the rhyme? Different words, but, yes, it sounds like "The Night Before Christmas." I love this version of the Christmas story because it's the one that really matters. It's like tradition meets truth. The simple, yet elegant, verses will appeal to little ones and are accompanied by the rich illustrations.

Just take a look ...


That's Cate showing you her favorite page, which says:

He had not a crib,
but in a manger instead, 
the tiny new baby
lay down his sweet head.


Here is another. Those wise men look so real!

When they finally found
the babe they had sought,
gold, frankincense, and myrrh
were the gifts that they brought. 
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About the author :: Keith Christopher is a composer, arranger, orchestrator, and educator, and he has served as editor and producer for several major music publishers. In addition to writing and studio producing, Keith served on the faculty at the Blair School of Music of Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He lives in Hendersonville, Tennessee, with his wife and two children.

About the illustrator :: At a very early age, Christine Kornacki developed a love for painting and bringing stories to life. After receiving a BFA in illustration from the University of Hartford, her dreams of illustrating children's books began to take shape, including illustrating best-selling "The Sparkle Box" for Ideal's Children's Books. Christine's recent work also includes illustrating the six-book series for the American Girl historical doll characters Marie-Grace and Cecile. She spends her days painting in her studio, which adjoins a charming cafe in New Haven, Connecticut.

About the book :: Publisher by Ideals Books, "The First Christmas Night" is a 32-page, hardcover book. Aimed at kids ages 4-8, the rhyming language can help them develop verbal language skills and learn to read. This book is ideal for family story time during the holidays, children's ministers and Sunday school teachers, and even Christmas carolers who want to set it to a tune! You can learn more about it at the book's website and Ideal Books' Facebook page.
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So who wants a copy? Just leave a comment below telling me a truth or tradition you love about Christmas. This giveaway is open to U.S. and Canadian residents. A winner will be chosen randomly on Saturday, Nov. 23.

EDITED: Congratulations, Carrie Coombs! You win a copy of "The First Christmas Night." I hope Elijah likes it and you all enjoy your Christmas as a family.
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I received our copy of "The First Christmas Night" free from FlyBy Promotions in exchange for this mention on my blog. This review is composed from my own thoughts and those my kids shared with me. I have no doubt we'll actually use this book for years to come. I included Amazon affiliate links because I do think the book is worth buying. 

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Friday, November 15, 2013

{Five Minute Friday} Tree

I've missed the Five Minute Friday link ups. It's been since August since I joined and even then that was the first one since May. Geez. But here I am. I wrote for five minutes last night when Lisa-Jo Baker offered a sneak peek to the word on Twitter. I should mention I wrote for five minutes while laying on the couch and watching "Grey's Anatomy." 

Five minutes. Just write. And then share. This week's word is TREE. 

I'm a summer girl. Give me hot days over snow. Days spent at the pool have always been among my favorite. I don't drink coffee or hot tea but give me a fruit slush or snow cone.

And then fall comes. And I love it. I look out my front door and see the tree. The one that arches over my yard. The one that welcomes mini vans and kids and bikes and strollers. The one that changes to a beautiful yellow and sends its leaves to carpet the ground.

And then the temperature dropped and the winds blew fiercely. All the leaves were down. The tree was bare.

Time is escaping my grasp. This season is blurring over into the next. And I'm reminded to embrace this day and this season and that tree.
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