Saturday, November 23, 2013

Together, we make a bigger ripple

At 6-years-old, Polina is experiencing her "firsts" in a family. Tonight, it was her first time seeing Christmas Lights. It was freezing....but worth every shiver! If you hang with me, there's more pictures at the end of the blog.

Unfortunately, these celebrations don't come without a heavy heart. Orphans are stuck and kids are dying.
Meanwhile, most of us are wearing rose-colored glasses (that's my nice way of saying we are ignorant and self-indulged.) I used to find it easy to covet for a bigger house, a newer car, the hippest clothes and accessories, and more toys for our children.

Then I held the orphans. While I still have these consumertastic (like my new word?) tendencies, they are much more in-check now.

I'm happy to report I am no longer ignorant. I've realized... even our humble homes are mansions,  our vehicles are excessive, our demand for trendiness is narcissistic and our overindulgence of materialistic items is vainglorious. (no, I didn't make that word up, though I wish I did).

If only I could change the world.  I'm trying to cast my stone, you know, make a ripple? I'm just a little stone in a big quarry, and there's lots of water in this world!

None of us can change the world ourselves, but if we each cast our own stone and make ripples, those ripples will eventually overlap and the world will be changed for the better.

Can I encourage you to cast your stone with me in two simple ways this holiday?

Forget, ignore, avoid the consumerism trap of Black Friday, etc. and shop with a purpose.

At Givington's, the cause of your choice receives up to 50% of your spending. Books, Coffee, Fashion & Apparel, Office Products, etc.  My own organization, Polina's Promise, is on the list. So are many other deserving organizations.

Fellow Russian special needs adoptive mom Tesney Davis is a  Noonday Ambassador. Buy your jewelry and accessories from Noonday who uses fashion and design to create economic opportunity for over 1,000 artisans in 10 countries - helping families stay together and supporting adoption. I dare you to read about their impact.

Admittedly, I'm new at this shopping with a purpose thing. There's many other ways out there to do this. Just Google it. 

I further challenge you to give 10% of what you spend.  I have more ideas in the giving realm as I've been doing that a big longer.

Steps to Sofi - $700 gets this family a court date
Polina's Promise - assisting special needs orphans and families worldwide
Peach's Neet Feet - sponsor a custom painted pair of shoes for a child who is disabled or fighting serious illness.
99 Balloons - providing a monthly night of respite for special needs families
The Johnson's or another Grace Haven Family - Adoption Grants
Ability Tree - growing able families and accessible organizations
Project Hopeful - advocating for orphans with and bringing education about HIV/AIDS

Whatever it is you're going to do this holiday season, don't forget to slow down (okay, maybe I asked you to do three things) and bask in the small things...the truly important things...the family time, awe in the children's eyes, the truth of redemption and mercy and hope that we celebrate. And if you choose to shop with purpose and to give, know that you're bringing some of those things to someone else's life.

Here's a peek at what redemption, mercy and grace at Christmas time look like from Polina's perspective.

Waiting for the lights to come on

Standing in front of the Christmas Tree

Warming up with a hot drink

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Christmas Need?

It's a big topic this time of year. How do you handle gifts at Christmas time in an attempt to avoid the consumerism of it and focus on Jesus? In 2011, Jen Hatmaker wrote a popular blog "The Christmas Conundrum."  It is circulating around my Facebook circles right now.

I like Jen. She makes me laugh. She has a much greater sense of humor than I do. I find myself trying to downsize Christmas at the time of my adopted child's first Christmas in America as she was at the time she wrote the blog. She offers this, now popular, solution to the consumerism.

Four gifts:
Something you want,
Something you need,
Something to wear,
Something to read.

It has a nice poetic rhythm and rhyme to it. It's better than "everything I want" and "the more the better." Many, many of my Facebook friends follow it.

I discussed it with my 9-year-old son today and he confirmed my thoughts.

"What would a need be mom? You said something to wear, and we have a warm house and plenty of food. You already provide for my needs." Oh how this child blesses me beyond words.

What are we communicating to our children about NEED if we go this route? In my humble opinion, if we give socks and underwear as a gift at Christmas, we are sucking the supernatural, enchanting wonder out of it. (Note: Christmas IS supernatural, enchanting and wondrous even without Santa Clause!)

I'm a parent and I'm going to meet my children's needs as they arise regardless of season or holiday. Even if we get them that more expensive pair of light up or name brand shoes for Christmas...isn't that more of a "desired necessity" than a NEED?

I know, I know, that doesn't fit our poetic scheme. But good gravy...I do not need my daughter reminding me later that a different color sandals was a NEED at Christmas so it must be a NEED now!

Moving on....and more about Jen later.

I then asked my son what Christmas is about other than Jesus. His answer was simply "spending time with family you don't usually get to spend time with." Most of our family lives distantly, so I asked if he would prefer to spend the money visiting them or buying more expensive gifts. He chose visiting family. I could not be prouder.

I went on to post the question on Facebook. I got 35 responses in less than an hour. Here they are, in order, without repeats, and nothing excluded.

Endless Wonder

Let's go back to Jen again. The year she wrote this particular blog, she was adding "something to give" to the mix. She and her husband, Brandon, were giving each of their kids $100

"to spend on the vulnerable. This is part of their Christmas present, because as you and I know, it just feels so awesome to be a part of Jesus' redemptive story. We will give them some options, and they can distribute their money however they want."

Now here is something I can get on board with! I love this Jen! (If you read my blog, please leave a comment so I can feel....honored!)

Now, if you're like me, you can't afford $100 per child. I'm going to make $100 for our family and we will choose where it goes together. Jen lists some great ideas with giving options as low as $10.

I'm going to give you some giving options that are close to my heart. I challenge you to pick one word out from the list above that you most feel you want to give this Christmas season. Talk to your kids about what they want to give. Then, pick a cause you feel most fits that gift, and GIVE IT! It will bless you to GIVE!

#1) Bring Sofi Home for Christmas: Sofi is an orphan. She has a family waiting. Her family is $1,000 short of fees to Sofi's government. If they can raise this amount quickly, they could possibly have Sofi home for Christmas....Sofi doesn't know or understand Christmas, and having her home for Christmas isn't what's most important. Having her home as soon as possible is. Everyday means something for this four-year-old little girl who can't roll over or eat solid foods because of severe neglect and untreated disability. I'd tell you about her awesome family, but it's really not so much about them, as it is about Sofi. Someone has offered a $1,000 matching grant to Sofi's family. Their you caring account is currently at $13,063.95. This donor will match dollar for dollar donations up to $1,000 between now and Dec. 1. Help get their you caring account to $14,063.95...and be blessed watching it grow and your donation be doubled! You can donate at:

#2) Help Special Needs Orphans in Russia and China: I created the non-profit Polina's Promise in my daughter's name. If you've followed my blog, you know the story. If you don't, is a good place to start. Donations made to Polina's Promise through Paypal are tax deductible and will go to providing training for physical, occupational, speech and developmental therpaists to work with special needs orphans and families in Russia or to furnish a special needs home for children in China. You can not specifically where you would like your donation to go, if you'd like. Just send your paypal donation to

#3) If domestic and/or interracial adoption is where your heart is, I happen to know an awesome family who is early on in their adoption and would be greatly blessed by your donation this Christmas. You can read their story at and you can donate t.o them through paypal at

Those are places where my heart is...orphans and special needs. This is where I find I can give life, family, hope, redemption, mercy, grace, love, joy, belonging and rescue! This is where I find endless wonder and supernatural miracles.

 If those don't appeal to you, have a look at Jen's list, or just go and serve a meal at your local Salvation Army or other soup kitchen. Suck up your pride and take the homeless person at the mall for lunch.

Just give this season....give to someone you wouldn't normally give to. Teach your kids what it is to sacrifice and to give. I promise you won't regret it!

If your family doesn't have their needs met....feel free to will go to my email and I won't publish it, but I'd like to help you find a place your needs can be met.

The rest of us...let's get real about what a NEED is. Make up your own categories...give, want, read, wear, play, create, sport, health...whatever you feel appropriate for your family at this time. Change it each year as your family changes and grows. But I beg you, don't pick categories based on their rhythmic quality and pay attention to what your categories communicate to your children. 

And here is Jen's blog:

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Best Present Ever!

I really just don't know where to start this blog. I'm exhausted...probably mostly from the emotions of this afternoon.

Because of Polina's paralysis, her balance is not good. However, she is fearless and strong willed and doesn't typically listen to me when I tell her she is doing something that is unsafe and she might get hurt. Frankly, I'm surprised it's taken 9 months before she got hurt since becoming our daughter. Perhaps part of that is my over-protection out of paranoia based on the way the Russian Government is so quick to conclude American parents are abusive to their Russian adopted children. That's not a fun shadow to live under! But today, I was a step away and she learned the hard way.

She was sitting in a chair at the dining room table. We had just finished homework. She turned and tried to pick the dog up, shifting her weight and falling onto the tile floor. I saw it happen, but wasn't fast enough to catch her. I scooped her up off the floor before she could even start crying.

Here's the kicker: as tight as I held her, she held me tighter. She gripped her arms around my neck as she cried and I tried to calm her.

In that moment, the emotion was more than what I typically feel when my children are hurt. It was so much more.

Polina held onto me like a hurt child holds onto her mother.

I can't put that into words.

Regardless of the rough issues that have come along with adoption - those that I'm not ready to share publicly yet - in those moments, I got the seal of approval. She held onto me tightly. She wanted me to comfort her and hold her and make her feel better. She wanted her mommy like kids do when they are hurt. And I AM HER MOMMY!

Our neighbor happens to be a nurse. She checked her eyes for me and reassured me that her pupils were reactive and just to keep her awake for awhile. We had to take Carter to boy scouts, so went on a little dinner date and then to get some hot chocolate and practice writing with a new iPad app.

During this time, I couldn't help but think of another little girl hugging her momma's neck.

This momma has become a dear friend of mine. She followed our adoption and we met in person this summer. Her youngest son (she has five) has Spina Bifida and is the same age as Polina. She has such a big heart, she is adopting another special needs child. Meet Tracy and Sofi. Look at that hair! I wish I could show you her eyebrows!

Sofi spent the first 2.5 years of her life in a crib, literally! But now, she has a mommy, a daddy and five brothers.....waiting to bring her home.

This adoption is not only close to my heart because Tracy is my friend. You see, Sofi reminds me so much of Katya and Vika...girls that are stuck in the orphanage Polina came from. Girls that are ignored because they are believed to be "numb." Like Katya and Vika, Sofi eats mashed food, can't roll over and is non-verbal because she doesn't get the care she could in a family.

Reading what Tracy has shared on her blog reminds me of the way Katya and Vika responded to me when I took the time to tickle them, play ball with them, and hold them....things no one ever does with them....because they are "numb."

Tracy writes:

"She doesn't look at one thing for very long, but there were times that a caught her taking a glimpse at me.  Those moments were life altering....and when she purposefully put her arm on mine and rubbed my arm back and forth I knew that she knew somehow that we belong together.  

By the end of the week, as I was holding her (and holding back my tears), she put her head down and gave my hand an open mouth kiss (the way babies kiss) and repeated that motion about five times.  She struggles to make her body do what she wants it to do, but those small moments when she is able to is like a victory to me.  When I put her on the blanket, she would move her body side to side, trying desperately to roll over.  She's not quite there, but once she's home, she will learn to roll all over the place."
Here's the thing. While the Jensen Family is one signature away from a court date, they are also $3,500 away from that same court date. They may get their signature on Thursday, but they don't have the $3,500 (about $6,000 total needed).  This family has done so, so much fundraising. They've done their due diligence over the past 15 months since they started this process. Now it's our turn to stand up and fill in the gap. Don't make this little girl wait longer for her parents to bring her home where she will thrive in the caring environment every child deserves. 

Can you dig in your pocket, skip a pumpkin spice, and find $5 or $10 to help bring this little girl home? Do you have more you can give? Perhaps you could give in memory of someone or as a gift to someone who has a heart for the orphan? Maybe you're the type that is afraid of needles and gets queasy at the sight of blood so you can't donate blood or bone marrow. Here's your chance to give life without any of that.

How thankful are you for your family this November? Can you spread that gratitude to help a 4-year-old orphan be a daughter and a sister by Christmas? Christ was sent to give us a new chance at life. HE GAVE HIS LIFE!!! And you can help give a new life to this little girl.  

Polina wore a shirt today that says, "Best Present Ever." I was explaining to her what that meant. Please consider giving this precious girl and family the best present ever!

You can read more of Tracy's blog, see more pictures and find out how to donate on her blog.

Thank you for considering it.

Bless & Be Blessed!