Sunday, August 30, 2015

Where my Trust is without borders

Note: this blog post was intended to be all about our home study visit that happened yesterday, but I just couldn't get myself to push this other post out of the way.  For those of you anxiously waiting to hear about the home study visit- I will update on that soon, I promise.  Just know that it went well, and was a nice, informative, encouraging afternoon.

A few weeks back I saw a really cute shirt in one of the fundraising groups I belong to on Facebook that said "Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders"  and had the outline of China printed in the background.   I had never heard this phrase before but I thought it was so fitting for this international adoption process.  I liked it so much I almost ordered it, but I didn't because we're really trying to save money for our adoption, and if I ordered every shirt on that site I loved, I'd have a new wardrobe every week!

Fast forward a few weeks and I found myself in church today, and the worship team started singing a song with the same phrase in it (in hindsight, I'm sure the song is what inspired the shirt idea).  I just can't emphasize enough how closely this song aligns with our adoption journey. (see lyrics and video at the bottom of this page)

We are embarking on the journey I've always known I was meant to take.  From a young age, I knew I was called to adopt, but since James and have been married, I've let my fears convince me that it wasn't the right time.  Well, as I shared in one of my first posts, I was called out by the Holy Spirit in March that I need to TRUST and FOLLOW and let the Lord lead us through this journey.

Shortly after deciding to move forward with the adoption, we knew that we needed to re-balance our schedules and make church attendance a priority in our lives, and have been blessed beyond our imaginations by joining a new church congregation at Madison: North.
Even though I think we've only been able to attend maybe 5 or 6 times total due to summer travel and house guests, I know beyond doubt that this is our church home.

At one of our first visits they had an insert in the bulletin advertising a parenting workshop for parents of adopted children (which I wasn't able to attend, but at least I know I must not be the only adoptive parent in the congregation!)  Since then, one of my close friends has told me her neighbors attend this church, and they have adopted multiple children.  I have yet to meet them, but look forward to that encounter.
Every other time we've been in attendance, the message has spoke directly to something I've had on my heart that day or week, and this morning was no exception.

I decided two weeks ago that I'm going to make a concerted effort to focus my Sundays on gratitude.  I will make every effort to get thank you cards written to those who have shown us help that week, and I will spend time in reflection for the many blessings we have witnessed in our life that week.  It is important for me to do this type of exercise when going through a stressful situation -- it's all to easy to get sucked up into the whining, complaining, fatigue, and annoyances of the endless tasks, paperwork, and fundraising efforts.  However, every time I take a step back and think about the people who have spoken kind words to us, who have said they are praying for us, who have donated money, pop cans, or garage sale items to our cause, I am AMAZED at the love that is being shown.  It is so humbling to think that there are that many people who even think of you, and who are interested in your lives.
It's also important for me to give acknowledgment that God is doing what He said He would-  He is providing a way for us to bring this child home.

This morning I woke up about an hour earlier than I needed to, which is normally something that I find really annoying.  What usually happens is I wake up feeling awake and refreshed, but convince myself to take advantage of more sleep time, so I fall back asleep, only to find myself feeling exhausted and cranky when that alarm goes off.  Today I decided to break that habit, so I got out of bed, came out to the living room, and sat down with my breakfast in front of the window overlooking our yard.  I was amazed at how quiet and still the neighborhood was. I enjoyed taking in the sights and the sounds of a foggy, wet morning after 24 hours of off-and-on rain showers.  The crickets and cicadas were still chirping, and a few birds could be heard in the distance.  I could hear the gentle "drip, drip" of the rain drops falling off of tree limbs, and for a moment, it seemed I was perhaps the only one in the neighborhood awake.  I was overcome with gratitude-  for our house, for our yard, this neighborhood, and again, all of those who have helped get us to this point in our adoption journey.  I also found myself reflecting on the dear Granddaughter of a friend who nearly died in a tragic near-drowning 2 weeks ago today.  Despite original Doctor reports that it may be weeks before she even regained consciousness, and threats of brain damage and a long, long road of recovery, that little girl walked herself right out of the hospital just two days ago-12 days after her accident.  She had thousands of people praying fervently for her, and God has heard our prayers and has saved her for a bright future.  Hallelujah!

Fast forward a couple of hours, and what does Pastor Joy talk about at church?  GRATITUDE.  She challenged us to spend the next two weeks jotting down items each day we are thankful for, and talked about the importance of reflecting on gratitude, even in times of difficulty.  The message was based on 2 Kings 6, and how things are not always as they first appear.  How when God gets involved, our circumstances seem so much different (a fish turns into a feast, a sacrificed man turns into a Risen Savior, a Giant falls at the stone from a slingshot, etc).    Of course my mind immediately added on "and two people from Kentwood, Michigan, will travel across the world to rescue an orphan and bring them back home to show them a lifetime of love and guidance."

So that's all I have for today- I encourage you all to spend time reflecting on the seas in your life you feel are uncrossable, the mountains that seem un-passable?  What is holding you back from taking that step of faith into the unknown?  God has promised us if we put our trust in Him, He will provide, and He will lead us through.  I pray that He might speak to your heart and show you the way to love and trust.

Perhaps God seems far away right now.  Perhaps you feel as though you are sinking in oceans deep, and have no life line in sight to grab onto. Just remember, that even when you can't hear or see God, He is always there.

Here are the lyrics to the song I mentioned above, and a video clip if you'd like to hear the song for yourself:

"Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)"

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

Oh, Jesus, you're my God!

I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine 

"May the Lord bless you and keep you.  May the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you.  May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you Peace."

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Fundraisers Galore!

We are still waiting to hear back from our home study agency to start scheduling our home visits, so our paper chase is on a temporary hold.  During this time, we are trying to take advantage of our spare time by getting as much fundraising out of the way as possible.

Our t-shirt sales ended this week and overall, I would say were quite successful.

I thought I would share a review of my experience with the T-Shirt sale, in case any of you adoptive parents are considering doing a campaign to raise money for your own journey. Even if you are not an adoptive parent, maybe you have to do a t-shirt campaign for another organization or cause.  Either way, here is a recap of our experience:  
My biggest surprise was how much better the adult shirts sold than the toddler's or children's sizes. I was thinking that the bright colors of the shirts combined with a very kid-friendly design would really be a hit, especially among adoptive families (and you better believe I was cross posting that sale all over different adoptive family Facebook groups).  Unfortunately, we ended up only selling 6 toddler sizes and 3 children's, and we ordered 1 of each category.  This seems to be a fairly common occurrence- maybe it's because parents figure their children will grow out of the shirt too fast to make it a wise investment, but who knows.  The good news is that we sold 75 adult shirts (and yes, at least 5 of those were for us, but I am still very pleased!)

We used the website TeeSpring, mainly because I had done a couple of purchases through them for fundraisers put on by the animal rescue I volunteer with and found them to be very user friendly, simple, and easy to work with. I know that with the first sale the rescue did some of the shirts came in sized a little weird, and Teespring was very flexible in offering refunds to buyers.  There is also zero upfront investment from the seller, and they handle all of the shipping, which is nice.
In case any of you are considering a T-Shirt fundraiser for your own journeys, here are my personal opinions based on the experience we have had so far-

In hindsight, here are the downsides to using Teespring:
-The only times to reach anyone by phone is during working hours
-I kept having issues where it would show I made a purchase successfully but then I never got a receipt.  Upon further review, it would show my order was cancelled, even though I never requested that.  I really hope it was just a glitch for me and no one else!
-You have do launch separate campaigns for children, adult, and toddler sizes, and because we sold so few of the kid's and toddler's shirts, we netted almost zero profit from those campaigns.
-They do not disclose to you who ordered, so if people don't let me know, I will never know exactly who placed orders, and what colors and designs they chose.

And you have to take the bad with the good, so here are the perks of using Teespring:
-The design tool is very easy to use and they have a large selection of pre-loaded graphics.  I did have a little trouble getting the Mandarin characters to carry over (I guess it's glitchy when you have two languages in one design), but the support team was very responsive in getting it fixed right away for me when I called them
-The site is fairly advanced, and lets you offer promotions, discounts, and up-sell incentives to buyers
-They handle all of the shipping
-Communication with buyers and sellers is excellent- clear, concise, and very quick
-I love the feature that allows you to message all of your buyers for your campaign
-Not having to pre-buy the shirts and then re-sell them and worry about shipping them out was a HUGE perk for us!
-The shirts shipped in less than 12 hours from the campaign ending, so they are very quick!

All in all, we made a little over $630 profit from the sale, which I am very happy with.  Subtract out the $150+ we spent on shirts for ourselves and our little one, and we still made almost $500, which will certainly be a help to us.  I knew going into the endeavor that it wouldn't be a huge money maker, but what is more important to me is that every time someone wears one of these shirts, it will help raise awareness for orphans worldwide.  I hope to make a photo book for our child of everyone wearing their new shirts so they can always know how many people contributed to their adoption.

One tidbit of wisdom for any sellers-  keep reminding people, even though you feel like you are being so annoying about it!  We launched a 21 day campaign, and had a very slow 10 days in the middle, and then everyone seemed to scramble to get their orders in at the last minute.  I created an "event" on Facebook, as well as posted on my own timeline. Ask your friends to share your posts to help spread the word.

Our next big event is a Yard Sale/Bake Sale/Pop Can drive we are planning for September 13th.  I've been passing out flyers around my neighborhood and have already had a few friends drop off items to be sold.  Now it's time for me to get busy pricing those items and getting everything organized!  There was a post a while back in one of the fundraising groups I belong to about a traveling banner, and I lucked out and got on the reservation list.  It's a "pay it forward" process, where the only thing you need to do in order to use the banner is agree to mail it to the next person on the list... how neat!

If you live in the Grand Rapids area, come on out on the 13th to check out our sale!  We will have a TON of items, as I've got quite a few friends and family members donating so far!  If you'd like to contribute items to be sold, pop cans, or baked goods please let me know.  Or maybe you'd just like to help out the week before with sorting, pricing, or sign making... I'll be needing all hands on deck!
If you do not live near Grand Rapids but would still like to help out... you of course can mail us your bottle slips :)

Another tip I learned from one of the Facebook groups was to get a credit card reader.  Thankfully Square has them for free, and you get the first $1,000 in swipes processed without any fees.  Additionally, if anyone else signs up under me they get $1,000 in swipes free, and we get an additional $1,000.  I think having this device will really help our sale- I know there have been so many times I've driven past a yard sale and wanted to stop but I didn't have any cash on hand.

Here is the link to sign up:

If you are an adoptive parent, and looking for fundraising ideas, here are three very helpful Facebook groups I have found:
-Red Thread Trading Post
-Shop With a Purpose- Support Adoption Fundraisers
-Adoption Fundraisers and Support

I'm also working my way through the book "Adopt without Debt" written by Julie Gumm which so far has been very insightful.

That's all for tonight-  stay tuned for an update as soon as we hear back from our Home Study social worker.

Here is a picture of the banner which we will be using in front of the house:

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Blessings Abound

It has now been nearly three weeks since we began our fundraising journey.

I have been so amazed at the caring, kindness, and generosity we have been shown by friends, family, neighbors, and even a few strangers these past few weeks.

While our fundraising mission has only just begun, I am so encouraged and energized by how many people have offered us their time, their pop cans, trailers, tables, clothing racks, prayers, facebook shares, and more.

I've been putting at least a couple of hours in each night into this process, but I can see the first fruits of my labor already,  which is so encouraging!  Back when I was sitting in the movie theater in March hearing God's calling  that now is the time for us to take action, I just couldn't push aside the fear, the doubt, and the worry about finances.  And of course with every "But God..." protest, I was met with the answer of "TRUST ME." I had no other choice but to do just that... We dived into this journey feet first, knowing that in order to see this mission through, we would have to rely on the help of others.

Fundraising in and of itself is a very humbling process. Asking other people, especially strangers, to give of their time, money, or resources is never a comfortable process. Fundraising for yourself is even more humbling than I had imagined it would be.  I had so many reservations about asking others for help, but knew  that I wasn't asking on my own behalf, but rather on behalf of an orphaned child who deserves a loving home and a forever family.  That fact alone doesn't mean that it's really any easier to ask people for their money, time, or support, but it does remind me that I'm not asking out of my own selfish desires.

As my last post mentioned, we kicked off a T-Shirt sale which ends tomorrow.  I had no idea what to expect with this venture, but since it was a zero-investment effort, I figured it would be worth giving a try (not to mention I just really wanted some shirts to wear to help us spread the message about our journey!).
In hindsight, it was totally worth doing, even though it has amounted to about 1 hour of my time every day for the past three weeks.  There are certainly faster, easier ways to raise money, but what I love about the t-shirt sale is that when it's all said and done we'll be able to see so many others wear a shirt that I designed, and then hopefully show pictures of all these loving friends and family to our adopted child.  I'm hoping that by the time the sale ends, we will have made almost $500 profit from the sale... not a huge amount of money, but every little bit helps!

Another thing I've been pouring my time into is gearing up for a Yard Sale Fundraiser event.  We will combine the yard sale with a bake sale and popcan drive.  I've got a HUGE banner coming from one of the Facebook groups I belong to, it's been making it's way around the country to adoptive families for use... what a wonderful "pay it forward" idea!  I've been spreading the word on Facebook, and also made flyers that I've been passing out around our neighborhood.  A few neighbors had sales this weekend, and generously offered to pass out flyers at their sale for me (I hesitate going door to door handing them out as we've had a few suspicious individuals knocking on doors lately and it's go the neighborhood a bit on edge).  So far I've had one person drop off pop cans, another friend drop of items, and a large number of people tell me they are looking forward to helping us out on that day and are saving up items for us!  I feel so very loved and honored to know so many wonderful people.

Here are just a few of the crazy blessings we've experienced in the past few weeks:

-One neighbor whom we've never met dropped off three huge bags of pop cans within minutes of me posting in the neighborhood group about our fundraiser
-Another "stranger neighbor" (someone from my neighborhood association Facebook group that I've never met) is letting us borrow 4 clothing racks and 10 tables for our sale
-A random stranger from one of the adoption groups I belong to on Facebook was having trouble ordering a shirt so she sent me all of her personal information and credit card number so that I could get one ordered for her! wow!  I felt so humbled that a total stranger would entrust me with that information!
-Another "stranger neighbor" got my email address from our yard sale flyer that I post and then blessed us with a $50 paypal donation

And the kindness continues on a daily basis...  God is certainly proving his point that if we trust in His Goodness and Faithfulness, he will provide the way for us to bring our child home.

We are so thankful that we chose this neighborhood to move into last year... it is such a family-friendly place to be, and has a big, beautiful park right in the middle of the neighborhood that we cannot WAIT to introduce our child to! As much as I'm trying not to get my hopes up for anything to happen shy of 18 months, I would really love to bring home our child next summer.

Another thing I'm so thankful for is having found a great church to call home.  While we haven't been able to get into a solid routine of weekly attendance this summer due to being out of town so often, it has become so apparent to us what a close-knit "family" this church body is, and we cannot wait to become more involved. (If you are looking for a great church and are in the Grand Rapids, MI area, you should check out Madison North too)
Today's message was based on John 15:5   "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

What an appropriate message for this season of our lives!   It is so true that apart from God's help, we certainly could not accomplish this mission on our own accord.  This journey is going to be long, exhausting, emotional, expensive, and at times, discouraging.  But we can rest in the confidence and assuredness that God will see us through, and He will provide for all of our needs along the way.
Today the speaker told a story about a clematis vine, and how it will attach to anything it can find.  In his case, they had one which had no trellis to climb, so it had began wrapping itself around tulip stems.  Of course the tulips died off, and the vine had nothing to "climb" and ended up right back on the ground.  They ended up clipping out the dead tulip stems and pulling them out of the grasp of the vine before finding something more sturdy to lean the vine on.

How often do we wrap ourselves around things that fade away, only to find ourselves right  back on the ground, rather than growing Up and Outward as we were meant to do?  I know I've caught myself clinging to my spouse, my career, my friendships, my education, and so many other things in my life for meaning and fulfillment, only to find my heart still empty and yearning for more.  Until we wrap ourselves around the never-ending love and support of our Savior we will continue to fall down, ceasing to grow in the way that we were intended to.

And so we will strive to abide in the Lord, and trust that he will deliver us through this journey.
 This isn't an attitude of "Well, God will take care of it so I don't have to..."  
We will do whatever we can to bring our child home to us.  We will scale back our budget, we will sacrifice nights out, we will spend our evenings and weekends pouring over paperwork, trimming flyers, researching fundraising ideas, sending out thank you cards, and anything else we can do to help speed this process along.

For right now, it's focusing on the yard sale and getting our paperwork process started.  James also needs to apply for a passport and we need to start ordering copies of documents for our Dossier.

I heard from the home study agency on Friday, and they will likely be contacting us soon to begin that process as well.  I will do another update when we learn more about what the home study process is going to look like.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Things are getting real....

(note: this blog post is a bit delayed, but this day was very important in our overall journey and I wanted to make sure I got it recorded here)

Today marked a big step in our journey-

We mailed in our homestudy application with the $300 application fee.
It took us over a week to complete the application- it asked about everything from how our family celebrated Holidays growing up to what our school experiences were to how we resolve conflicts in our marriage.

We also mailed in our first agency fee of $2900.

To say I was a bit anxious handing over these envelopes to the clerk in the post office is an extreme understatement.  But it was also such a huge weight off my heart, as if I was FULLY committing to this journey for once and for all.

I'm not saying we weren't 100% sure before this moment, but as you can call imagine, once you've invested over $3,000 into a decision, the chances that you'll get cold feet and change your mind after that are PRETTY SLIM!

 The rest of the day at work was so painstakingly long.  It was so hard to think of anything else other than our adoption- about the fact that our child is out there somewhere, and we are really in the process of bringing them home to us now!

The next step is to wait to hear from the home study agency, and we will begin our meetings with a social worker and find out what else is involved in that process.

We will also be hearing from the adoption agency soon, and will find out more about what goes into compiling our Dossier (the large collections of certified, notarized documents that gets sent to China for them to officially approve you as an adoptive family).

That's all for today... cheers to the future and to becoming parents!