Sunday, December 30, 2012

My Beautiful Winter Baby

Sometimes in the day-to-day stuff of life I forget how stunningly beautiful she is.
Thank goodness for pictures, which capture single moments.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The First Tears of Christmas

You know my heart.  You know how I ache for the poor.  I know you will understand why I cried my first tears of Christmas.

Yesterday I received word that my aunt and uncle donated money in my family's honor to Feed My Starving Children to provide an entire box of food (216 meals!) to a family in need.  The beautiful card I received in the mail took me by surprise, but it was the sweet words of explanation written by my family that brought the onset of tears.

I have an overflow of joy in my heart today as I imagine what it will look like when the box of meals is delivered somewhere in the world.  I can picture relief in the worried eyes as hands reach out to accept the food.  I can see excited children gathering around the fire, waiting for the water to boil so they can taste the meal.  I picture their tummies full as they close their eyes for bed tonight.  And looking carefully, I can see a worried forehead wrinkle decrease a bit as the knowledge of food for tomorrow sinks in.  Hope. 

Yes, this is a merry Christmas.  A merry Christmas indeed.

Thank you, my thoughtful relatives.  You have made my Christmas. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Letter 2012

Warm greetings from our family to you!  As I type our Christmas letter this year, I think about each of you and how my life has been blessed by you.  Perhaps you are one of my family members, knowing me since birth and wondering each year, "How did she get to be so old already?"  Maybe you are one of the friends I have picked up along life's way in grade school, college, camp, church, or work.  Maybe you are one of my friends connected through adoption, and maybe we have never even met in person yet.  Regardless of how we know one another, I am grateful for you.  My life is rich because of you.

2012 was a big year for us, namely because of the sweet face in the center of this photo.  We were blessed beyond measure to welcome a daughter into our family this year.  Feven joined our family in April, and life has been a wonderful, crazy ride since!

Feven has a tender heart which we see in the way she interacts with us and also with her baby dolls.  We will often find her rubbing her dolls' backs to help them get to sleep, or feeding them food with a big wooden spoon from the kitchen.  She surprises us with hugs and kisses, and enjoys getting them in return.  She is also inquisitive; she tips her toys over to figure out how they work.  Zac is sure she'll be an engineer like him someday!

Parenting, while wonderful, has also given us a good kick in the butt!  Transitioning from a family of 2 adults to 2 adults + 1 child-who-needs-you-all-the-time has not been easy.  I'm grateful for my husband Zac who walks this journey beside me and sometimes picks me up and carries me onward when the going gets tough.  The first 6 months were overwhelming and trying, but in the last few months we've felt ourselves getting in the groove more and more.  Our family is getting our rhythm down, and it feels good.  I hesitate to write that down for the world to see because inevitably acknowledging it will mean something will change and go incredibly wrong to make life fall out of the groove.  However, in desperate hope that this won't prove true, I will let that sentence stay in the Christmas Letter.  :)

As far as other life updates go, Zac still works for General Mills and still loves it.  His job fits him perfectly and he enjoys going to work everyday.  I left my work outside the home when Feven came and began work as a full-time mom.  I occasionally substitute teach at my favorite school or babysit my niece, both of which infuse me with new life and make me a better person and mother.  Our hobbies have taken a backseat to our new job as parents, but from time to time Zac will get out in his workshop and build beautiful pieces and I will take pictures or make cards or sit with my knitting friends and pass the time.  My love of reading has been challenging; each time I pick up a book I become so relaxed that my eyelids quickly drop.  I enjoy reading, but I'm just too tired to do it well these days!

It has been a good year.  A year of much learning, much leaning, and much joy.  As each year is completed, I feel like I'm seeing another segment of a tapestry come together.  As I sit and look ahead toward 2013, I have no idea what it holds.  What will I experience and how will it shape me as a person?  However, as I look back on the 31 years completed, I see how each year fit together with the one before it and after it to create something beautiful.  What will my tapestry look like when my life is done?  I don't know.  But I am certainly enjoying watching it come together. 

Thank you for your love, support, and prayers in our lives in 2012.  We look ahead to 2013 with anticipation and gratitude.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Luxury of Time

This December has been unusual.  It's typically a month where my expectations greatly exceed the realm of possibility and I rush around trying to grasp just a touch of what I think I'm supposed to be thinking, feeling, and doing.  This December is uncharacteristically...quiet. 

Our family's fall schedule had us running around like crazy people and December was the welcomed finished line.  It was the tape that broke as we gasped for breath from running for 3 months straight.  Now that we're here, it feels just as good as I thought it would.

In a month that has so much to offer, it is a complete luxury to have time to enjoy some special things.  For example, we had no plans one warmish December evening, so we went as a family to the Holidazzle Parade downtown.  It was on a whim and we had a blast.  Feven loved seeing the floats covered in lights coming down the street.  Each time one passed, she would look up at us with her big eyes and ask for, "more?  more?" 

Zac and I grabbed cups of hot cocoa one evening and sat in the living room, admiring the newly-decorated tree.  Our conversation was without agenda, and meandered here and there uninterrupted by children, phone calls, or chores.  It was a treasure.

Yesterday Feven asked to play in the snow.  We had no plans all day, and so it was easy to grant her this wish.  We put our winter gear on and went into the backyard where I built her a horse and a puppy to sit on.  The temperature was a beautiful 36 degrees with warm sun and no wind.  We could have stayed out there forever.  Before we went in we also threw snowballs, crawled in the snow, and pretended WE were horses.  What a wonderful, memory-making afternoon.  All because we had TIME.

I'm beginning to think that the sweetest things in life happen when there is no agenda. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Learning to Live

If you've read three or more posts on this blog, you're bound to have an idea how I desire to live fully yet get bogged down in to-do lists and logistics.  It's a constant battle for me, and many days I feel I'm losing. 

Today I had a sweet victory which can only be credited to Feven.

This morning a dear and brave friend invited us over to her house to paint Christmas wrapping paper with her and her children.  I loved this project for many reasons: we were reusing packing paper that came in shipments she had received from online stores, we made our own stamps by wrapping string around tissue boxes and blocks, there were a variety of paint colors to mix and match, and we were spending time with good friends. 

Feven and I arrived in our paint clothes and were quickly swept into the project.  With Feven in my lap, I tried to teach her how to paint.  She enjoyed dipping the tissue box in the paint and pressing it on the paper for a few minutes, but then the urge was too much for her and she tried to touch the paint.

Now, having a messy tissue box is one thing, but having a messy child is another.  The child can do far more damage to a room than an immobile tissue box.  I tried and tried and held her off for as long as I could, but soon it was unbearable and it was just time to let her touch the paint. 

She reached for it with boldness and placed her entire hand in the paint.  She made a few blob hand prints on the paper, but was more interested in smooshing around the paint.  After a few moments, she reached for my hand and got paint all over my wrist and forearm.  Oh my, this was going to be a disaster!  I gave in and just let her lead my hand where she would. 

And do you know where she brought my hand? 

To the paint.  She took me by the wrist and pressed my palm into the cool, wet paint.  I looked up at my friend and we smiled.  I proceeded to make a few hand prints of my own on the paper.  What the heck, right?

Feven helped me dive in today.  I was too worried about messes and how we were supposed to be painting and it was as if she said, "C'mon, Mom, give this a try.  You're going to LOVE it!"

Leave it to her to break down my barriers of propriety so I could live fully.

Thank you, Fevo.  I have a lot to learn from you. 

And thank you, dear friend, for the sweet memories made this morning.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Giving a Good Gift

I've been struggling with how to participate in the gift-giving and receiving aspect of Christmas.  I don't mean to be a scrooge about it all; rather, I'm uncomfortable with the looming shadow of consumerism obscuring the small baby in the manger.

Is it a heart condition?  Perhaps.  Maybe my heart is just not in a holy place as I traipse through decorated malls and rummage through racks of clothes and shelves of candles.  Is it possible to make these times holy moments?  I won't put anything past God, but I'm skeptical.

I calculated roughly how much money is spent on gifts at each of my family's Christmas celebrations.  Between the Christmas celebration with just Zac's immediate family and the one with just my immediate family, all participants are together spending just under $2,000.  Friends, that is not including the extended family Christmases at the grandparents' houses or the money Zac and I will spend on our Christmas with Feven.  This is only his immediate family and my immediate family.  Do you know what could be done with that money if my family decided to donate it one year instead of give each other gifts?  Here are just a few examples I gathered from Compassion International and World Vision.  It could be used...

to buy 115 mosquito nets to guard against deadly malaria
to protect 500 children from parasites
to provide 80 FAMILIES in Ethiopia with water, sanitation, and hygiene from a newly-built water reservoir

However, I can hear "Jingle Bell Rock" come to a screeching halt and the sound of glasses shattering in the background as I suggest not giving gifts at Christmas.  I think the tradition of gift-giving is just about as intertwined with the holiday as baby Jesus himself.

So family, relax, I'm not asking you to stop giving gifts this year.

I'm merely using these figures and this example to illustrate what is commonplace in our culture.  Every year we all dish out a substantial amount of money to buy presents for our family to show our love.  Considering the deep needs of the world, and the deeply rooted traditions of gift-giving, how can we find a balance and do good with the money we (inevitably) spend on gifts?

This is the first year that I have poured thought into the dollars that I'm spending to give the Christmas gifts I purchase.  I am thinking more about where my dollar is going when it leaves my pocket, and how I can do a double dose of good with my gifts this year.

When I buy an item from Kohl's or Target or whatever store I'm at, the dollar pretty much stops there.  It goes to buy a vacation for a corporate executive (okay, maybe that's a little extreme).  But you know what I'm saying.

However, if I buy from a different kind of store, my money doesn't stop there.  It keeps going.  Let me explain.

A few weeks ago I posted an inquiry to my Facebook friends to see if they knew of any individuals, organizations, or businesses who were selling products to raise money for people in poverty.  I had an overwhelming response to this inquiry and learned about many great places to shop for Christmas gifts.  This way, I not only receive a meaningful item to give to a family member, but I also help others in need.  No corporate executive vacations here!

To give you a taste of what I'm talking about, check out these organizations:

The Apparent Project benefits Haitian people.  Artisans there use discarded items to make jewelry, journals, and home decor.  By purchasing an item from The Apparent Project, you are helping Haitian families stay together and provide for their children.

The Breaking Free Boutique offers items made by women around the world who are survivors of sex trafficking.  An astonishing 100% of the profits go to support the work of Breaking Free, an organization that provides education and services to women and girls who have been victims of abuse and commercial sexual exploitation.

FashionABLE sells scarves to create a sustainable business for women in Africa.  This organization targets their efforts to women in poverty in Africa.

The International Princess Project sells beautiful pajamas made by Indian women formerly enslaved in prostitution.  They earn a fair wage and resources for their healing and restoration.

These are just a few of the many suggestions given to me by my Facebook friends.  Below is a quick-list of others for further exploration:

Serrv Fair Trade
Sharing the Dream
Heifer International
Adoption fundraiser - Oak from Haiti
3 Seams
Rafiki Africa Ministries
Not for Sale
Zion Project
Fair Indigo
Feed My Starving Children
World Wide Village
Olsson Adoption from Ethiopia

As you're considering what to give those you love, will you please look into a few of these options?  I think Christmas will be that much more beautiful when we can give not only a gift to our loved ones, but also a gift to those whom God loves around the world.

*Disclaimer - I have not looked extensively into any of these sites nor verified their credibility.  I see my job as merely passing along the good things I've come across.  Your job is to look into it as much as you need to for you, and spend your dollars wisely!  :)  None of these organizations have paid me or given me any products in exchange for being listed here.

**Disclaimer 2 - Some of my dollars this year went to pay for corporate exec vacations.  Unfortunately, some items on family members' Christmas lists could only be bought in BigBox stores.  I'll try harder next year, I promise!  But I do believe every step matters, and that my efforts and your efforts have not been in vain.