Saturday, May 31, 2014

Welcome Summer Adopt Shoppe Giveaway

The Joy in the Journey Ministry team is super excited to welcome summer this year!  We have some AWESOME things in store for you this summer as we celebrate one year of connecting and encouraging adoptive families.

To ring in this exciting summer, we've partnered again with our incredibly talented friend, Kate, at The Adopt Shoppe.

Kate's pieces are always a rare commodity, but, get this...she designed this piece specifically for this giveaway.  Just because she's amazing and supportive and we love her. :)

The winner of this giveaway will get to select one of these bracelets (choose yellow or teal as shown), which sport the phrase "Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders" from the Hillsong United song Oceans.  This song always reminds us of the beautiful voices lifted up at the 2014 Joy in the Journey retreat and has become a mantra for our team as we seek to fulfill our mission.

You can enter the giveaway through Facebook or Instagram:
Leave a comment on the picture of the bracelets on FB or IG tagging a FB friend or IG follower that does not already know about Joy in the Journey.
You can tag up to 5 FB friends and 5 IG followers and receive 1 entry each (please leave separate comments for each entry).

Winner will be randomly chosen when Joy in the Journey FB page reaches 1,000 fans!
Good luck!

Redeemed - My First Mother's Day

On the heels of Mother’s Day, my husband and I celebrated 11 years of marriage. It’s amazing to think that with each year of marriage it sounds like just another year. However, I wouldn’t describe our last year as “just another year.” In fact, when I look at each year of our marriage, I can look back and say to God “Oh, I see what you were doing there.” We have loved hard and we’ve lost hard. Some years we felt like we would barely make it through and felt like we were crawling across the finish line of our anniversary. However, each year we grew stronger in our partnership.

This year God turned our mourning into dancing as we adopted our adorable little Zoe! For the last four years we have miscarried within the first few months of the year. However, this year was different. We experienced that our God is a redeemer! On February 18, 2010 we had our first miscarriage at 10 weeks along. We took it hard. On February 18, 2014 we had our match meeting with Zoe’s birth mother. He didn’t just redeem our heartache, He redeemed it to the day.

On our way to the hospital to meet our daughter! 

People would ask why we waited so long to have children. Eventually, they stopped asking when we were going to have kids and started asking IF we were going to have kids. We would explain we wanted God’s best. We didn’t move forward with adoption until both my husband and I clearly heard from God.

Since becoming a mom, the main question I get is “How’s motherhood treating you?” Honestly, I have no idea how to answer this question. It’s so amazing and yet so humbling. No matter how I earned the title “mom,” God has entrusted me to raise this child. Those years of waiting allowed me time to humble myself and prepare my heart for this thing called motherhood.  

We are so thankful to have experienced the process of becoming parents with God on our side. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He made our match. He orchestrated the timing. He was working behind the scenes even when we couldn’t “feel” Him.

Before we had placement, I had a nagging thought in the back of my head. I always wondered what made me think I could be a mom. If I entertained it too long, it would roll into all the ways I could mess it up. After placement, I realized I couldn’t mess it up. God made our match and He wired me to specifically care for Zoe. Once I came to this realization, the nagging ceased and joy filled its place. I soak in each moment and I try not to forget to thank God each day.

This was my first Mother’s Day and I got to stand for recognition in church. It was the most beautiful thing. As I stood, I felt like I was giving testimony to what God had done in our lives. I felt like by standing I was representing God’s faithfulness and redemption. I am honored that God could use someone like me and that He trusts me so much to be a mom. Not just any mom, but Zoe’s mom.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Decade of Mother's Days

It hit me this oldest is 9 which makes this my 10th Mother's Day as a mom!  The last decade of Mother's Days have been filled with some of the most joy-filled {and some of the most difficult} days of my 34 years on Earth.

As I reflect back on those special days that have marked my journey of motherhood, there are several years that stick out in my mind as milestone years...those that have shaped me into the woman that I am today and that have given me a passion to connect and encourage other mothers along the way.

Mother's Day 2004-We'd been married just over 4 years and desperately wanted a baby.  Month after month, I held my breath and then allowed grief to overtake me when I realized that it wasn't yet time.  Though I wasn't quite a mother yet, my heart was ripe with anticipation and I was less than appreciative when a sweet older gentleman at church handed me my Mother's Day pen and rose and reassured me that "some day" I would be a mother.  Though his words felt condescending at the time, he was correct and, little did I know, our days of questioning "when" were about to be over (I was about 2 weeks pregnant).

 Mother's Day 2005-I was totally in awe of her...our sweet, beautiful baby girl that God had blessed us with just three months prior.  I carried her into church, with her baby seat on one arm and her giant diaper bag on the other, as a new mom figuring out how to raise and nurture this little angel.  Though we had some questions about why she had this special need and, subsequently wore an awkward hip brace that we lovingly referred to as her "baby swing", nothing could steal our joy.  We were parents and felt so blessed to be given with this opportunity.

Mother's Day 2007-We entered church that morning as a complete family (or so we thought).  Our second baby was 7 days old and I'd experienced about 10 hours of sleep since his arrival.  I was in a sleep-deprived stupor but feeling like a superhero because we'd gotten our newly-formed family of four out the door and into church ON TIME.  We were still riddled with uncertainty as our little guy had been diagnosed with the same hip dysplasia that afflicted his sister, but we were committed to praying for a miracle for him and that was our focus on that Mother's Day.  (The rest of that story is that God granted us that miracle and our son was cleared even before treatment, a miracle even our pediatrician acknowledged!)

Mother's Day 2011-My eyes welled up and overflowed with tears as we watched the choir sing.  Why we thought it was a great idea to spend Mother's Day morning watching the African Children's Choir while neck-deep in awaiting our referral for an African child is STILL beyond me.  The choir was amazing and energetic and it really was a fun concert, but my mama's heart was aching so much for the babe who had stolen our hearts though we hadn't yet seen his face.  THIS Mother's Day, during the long wait for a referral, was the hardest one yet.  I was grateful for the two I had in my arms, but longed for the one that was still growing in my heart.

Mother's Day 2012-Difficult is the only word I can think of to describe this Mother's Day.  We'd FINALLY officially passed court just two days prior.  Our case was finally moving and I was grateful, but my arms ached for the baby that we'd had to leave in Ethiopia 5 weeks before.  I cried out to God so much on this day (and the days surrounding) to care for our little baby and to speed things along to get us back to him.  Though I'd thought the previous year's Mother's Day was hard, this one stretched me beyond what I could handle.  And, in that stretching, the Lord was there, holding me in His arms and comforting me as I cried.

Mother's Day 2014-This Mother's Day {TODAY} is one filled with joy for me.  My three babies are under one roof and have poured accolades from "You're the best mom ever" to "We love you mom; we wouldn't be a family without you."  And, I am overwhelmed with appreciation that I get to parent these little lovelies.  It's a responsibility that I pray I never take for granted.

Our journeys are marked with ebbs and flows.  My journey of motherhood has taught me that I cannot do it on my own.  I am forever grateful that He will never leave me or forsake me and that He places people (other mothers, friends, and family) in my path to encourage me and pick me up when I'm having a hard time finding the joy in my journey.  My prayer is that I would intentionally encourage those who are struggling in their journey and rejoice with those who are filled with joy.

Wherever you are along your journey, I pray that you find joy today, that you celebrate your blessings, and that the Lord is near.  Happy Mother's Day.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Fostering: Finding Joy in the Little Moments

I’ve been a foster parent for a little over two years now.  I’ve experienced many joys and many struggles.  I’ve learned to open my heart and love 100% despite the fact that I may not get to love my little ones for long.  I think most people are afraid to become foster parents because of the loss.  I won’t lie.  That is one of the hardest parts.  But today, I don’t want to write about the loss. Being a foster mom, being a mom period is hard. Because it would be easy to let the weight and pains of life erase the memories of the good times, I want to share some of the joys that I have experienced along the way, the memories to which I cling when the tantrums seem too much, and the knowledge that we are making progress even though the behavior is regressing.  We must cling to the joy, if nothing else but to keep us sane.  

When my first set of girls came to me, I gave the oldest the option to call me Miss Sheryl or Mom.  She chose to call me Miss Sheryl.  Actually, the first week I believe she called me "Hey you".  LOL In that first month with me though, she went from calling me "Hey you" to "Miss Sheryl" to "Mom" all on her own.  I remember the week she slowly started calling me "Mom".  It melted my heart.  I told her that I loved hearing her call me that.  It was a sign that she was slowly beginning to trust me.

The youngest called me "Mom" from the first night.  She was so little and mom was the easiest thing to say.  As time went on, she would look at me, put her hand on my face and say "my mommy".  Tears came to my eyes the first time she said those words.  After that, it kind of became a game.  She would say "my mommy," and I would say "my Z".  I treasured those moments.  Every morning she would greet me with a huge grin and a hug.  I must say, since I had to wake up early, that was the best way to make the morning better.  Every evening, when I picked her up from daycare, she would race to the doorway and leap into my arms.

They had a special way of slowly opening up to me and wiggling into my heart.  It was the little things like when they would want to snuggle next to me while watching a movie or want me to put my arm around them during story time that showed me they were allowing themselves to receive my love.

When the oldest would get grumpy, I would ask her if her Love Bucket was almost empty.  I would scoop her up and give her a big hug and lots of kisses. Her Love Bucket emptied quickly so it took a lot of quality time and hugs to fill it back up. But it was very much worth it.  The first time she told me she loved me, I cried.  I knew it was genuine.  It came without prompting and totally of her own free will.

I remember the very first night that my second set of girls came to me.  The baby woke up and looked at me with huge eyes.  I could tell she was confused and scared.  She didn't know who I was or why she was there.  It wasn’t long before she started calling me "mommy" and running to greet me every day.  She would tell me that she loved me.  Those once scared eyes became filled with love and joy.  She had my heart.

When I had my second set of girls for 6 months, I began to evaluate how far we had come. I'm pretty sure I didn't sleep for the first eight weeks that they were with me.  I literally was either sitting on the floor next to the bed of one child or rocking back to sleep the other child almost all night.  I was averaging four hours of sleep each night, and they weren't consecutive either.  After a few months, they began to sleep in separate rooms; and if they did wake up, it was once and back to sleep in a reasonable amount of time.  I called that progress! :)

These little girls had blossomed so much!  I loved watching their personalities unfold.  They loved music and dancing.  It would crack me up to see them "dance".  It usually involved a lot of bouncing, jumping, and falling down.  If a song came on the radio that they didn't like, they felt free to voice their opinions.

The older child struggled with expressing her needs/desires.  For the first couple of months, it meant meltdowns and very long tantrums.  It took several months, but she finally started using her words to let me know how I could help her.  She came a long way from those first few weeks of 30+ minute tantrums! Whining continued to be an issue for a while, but I was proud of her progress.

Bonding took heaps of work.  It takes effort.  Letting them know they are loved and safe is a daily task.  Due to their situations and circumstances, they don't naturally trust right away.  I get that.  I've been hurt in life too.  Trusting isn't easy for me either.  I don't have a plethora of friends because I too have issues allowing people into my life.  I get it.

Knowing this causes me to work harder to show them love and safety.  Hugs and kisses are given freely.  Books are read while they are sitting on my lap, not beside me.  Every once in a while, something happens and you know they are beginning to receive that love.

One day after having my second set for a couple of months, I arrived at daycare to pick up my little ones.  My 16 month old baby saw me at the door. She RAN across the room smiling and laughing.  She practically fell into the baby gate trying to get to me.  I picked her up and she laughed her precious laugh.  It made me incredibly happy!  She was showing me in her own little way that she was happy to see me, that she knew love.  I almost cried tears of joy.

When my 2 1/2 year old asked to stay home from daycare, not because she was sick, but because she wanted to be with me, I knew she was learning that I loved her.  We had conversations almost daily about how much I loved her and how smart/precious/beautiful she was.  I could tell those words were sinking into her soul.  She began to sing songs about Jesus' love because I told her constantly that He loves her.  She was learning the truth of His love as well.

I currently have an interesting relationship with my last set of foster daughters.  They are with their bio family; however, I have been able to stay in touch with them and even baby-sit them a couple of times.  It has been bittersweet.  The last weekend that I had them, we had several precious moments.  The oldest girl asked me if we were a family.  I said, “Yes, a very special family.”  Her response was “good”.  Her younger sister told me all about Jesus and how He died on the cross for us.  It blessed my heart more than words can say.

It is by these moments, these heart-felt moments, which I’m reminded why I allow my heart to be made vulnerable to children who come and go.  They are worth it.  They deserve to be loved 100%, no matter how much it costs me. And it costs me everything.  They need to be loved, cherished, and shown that there is more to life than pain and chaos; that there is a God who loves them more than they can ever imagine; and that no matter what happens in their life, THEY ARE LOVED.   

This is why I am a foster mom.  I can’t imagine going through life not knowing the love of my Abba Father. It is my goal and my desire to see that every little one who comes through my door knows their worth and value.  This task isn’t easy, but it is worth it. Because they are worth it. 

For all of you moms, who struggle finding the joy because of the mundane or because of the difficulties in life, remember the hugs and kisses.  Remember the first time they said “mommy” or the first time they apologized and meant it.  Those moments will carry you through the dark times.  Don’t lose heart when the tantrum is going on an hour or the sensory issues seem to be over taking your world.  You are making a difference in their lives by showing them love and keeping them safe.  You are doing a good job!  Look for the joy in the little moments, and you will find a way to keep going.  It still won’t be easy, but it is worth it.

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Mother's Heart: Some Truths About Mother's Day and Adoption

This is the journey of life, a journey of love

My thoughts are brought tonight to motherhood, the joys and the sorrows. For so long, motherhood was a sorrow for me. Sixteen years of marriage and infertility left my arms empty and a hole in my heart. Then God completed our family through adoption.
This is the mother I want to honor on Mother’s Day. The woman who gave life to my baby girl, who unselfishly protected her, who loved her enough to choose life for her. She was a young woman, but married. Already had two other children, a boy and a girl. 3 and 2. This family was very poor and lived with the paternal grandparents., who essentially were taking care of the children. When Kaylee’s birth mom became pregnant with her, she chose to go and live and work with her sister in another province to hide Kaylee from the grandparents. When Kaylee was born, there was a moment of wanting to keep her, but being born premature, they discovered that she was missing her left kidney and the husband and wife felt they would not be able to care for her properly or afford future medical care.

This was our little blessing. I pray often for this family as they must feel something is missing. They must wonder how she is. I wonder often is Kaylee looks like her siblings. Does she have her brother or her sister’s personality? This was a very brave woman that should be honored on Mother’s Day. I know she has to feel incomplete. But I know she has taken comfort in knowing that Kaylee is with a family that loves her very much and can help her grow into a beautiful young woman. Thank you, Lord, for giving this brave young woman the strength to put her child first and trust in You. Without her beautiful life, I would not have my beautiful daughter. Please send her a special blessing this Mother’s Day.
The other mothers I want to honor are those who have become mothers in their hearts and are waiting for a referral of their child. I know how desperate the wait can become, how hollow the heart can be. My prayer for you is that you take this waiting time to spend time with God and ask Him for courage and strength for the journey ahead. That the moment you lay eyes on your chosen child, the tears of sadness will become tears of joy. It is coming, I promise.
Be faithful. God already has it all laid out for you. You have chosen the journey, let God guide your steps. You are already a mother, you already love this faceless child. Use this time to grow in your walk with Jesus and prepare your heart for the joys that lie ahead. This sorrow will turn to joy. God is good all the time.
There are also the mothers who are waiting to travel. I know it is very hard to see your child through pictures, to want to give to them hugs, kisses, and love up close and personal. I know it seems like the process is taking FOREVER to be able to finally hold this child in your arms. God has planned the most PERFECT time for that. It is a feeling beyond all feelings to touch the face of this child, the one whose face you have only seen in pictures. To finally see those little eyes blink at you. What an amazing sound to finally hear them breathing. Hold fast to the promise that it won't be long. God has given this child peace that you are coming. They know they have a family. This part of the journey will be so incredible!! Just hold on.....
I have been a mommy to Kaylee for only a few short years. In this time she has taught me pure love. Her eyes see no creed, no color. She has a heart of gold. She has taught me to focus on the things that matter, not the ones that don’t. We have learned together that it is okay to do things our own way, as long as we are loving and respectful. She brightens up any bad day and her hugs melt my heart every single time. She is more than I could have ever dreamed she would be. She has brought me immeasurable joy and love. There is no way that I could ever live without her. We are like peanut butter and jelly smacked between two pieces of bread. We are stuck on each other! Her medical condition has taught me to trust in God and not limit myself on what I think I am capable of handling. Every single trial makes me stronger and more proud to be her mom. She is becoming a confident, bright, beautiful young girl. I am thankful that God chose me to share in her life.
Motherhood is a privilege, a journey. There are no perfect mothers, and no perfect children. My only prayer is that God continues to hold my hand as I hold Kaylee’s hand, as we journey through this life together. This is an incredible adventure, one that will sometimes have way more valleys than mountaintops, but when we are in the valleys, we can see the mountaintops, and when we are on the mountaintops we know it won’t be for long. This is the journey of life, the journey of love. I thank God for the journey. I praise Him for the beautiful gift of motherhood. This is no greater privilege.
Kaylee, mommy loves you very much. You are my sunshine and my fresh spring rain. We are on a lifelong journey together. I am so honored that God chose me to be your mommy.  I am honored that my first Mother's Day with you was in Taiwan holding your sweet hand. Please be patient with me as we go on this journey together. I love you so much. I am so glad you are mine.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mama's out there! May God bless you this year in your journey, wherever you may be in it.