Friday, November 25, 2011

Who do you worship this Christmas?

I love Christmas. I love the "cultural" Christmas stuff - Christmas lights, Christmas songs, Christmas cookies, Christmas bells, Christmas wreaths, you name it!

I love kids in applique Christmas t-shirts and even love staying up half the night to finish them in time for the church kids' Christmas program:
seriously... is it asking too much to get all three to look in the same direction AND smile sweetly at the same time???

But most of all, I love what Christmas means.  It's more than just the birth of baby. It's a time I can celebrate that my God, who loves me so, came to earth and lived here as a human and He could really truly empathize with the human experience. When He became one of us in order to die and sacrifice himself and reconcile us back to the Father. Amazing.

And it is SO hard to focus on that between all the red-nosed reindeer, Christmas cookies, shopping lists, and cooking/baking there is to do. And have I mentioned the Christmas COOKIES?? :)

But we were created to worship Him.  And we worship all the time; except it's not always Him. Because we were created to worship, we find things to worship. Want to know what you worship? Look at where your money goes and where your time goes. That's what you worship.

That means I often worship my family, sewing/crafting, and the internet.

I should be worshiping the Creator of the Universe. I was created to worship the Creator of the Universe. Instead I'm worshiping my sewing machine, cute fabric, and facebook. Seriously? Ugh.

So every Christmas I strive to celebrate in a way that honors the One that all this hubbub is all about.  Waaaaaayyyy back in high school my youth minister challenged us to donate the same amount of money that we spent on Christmas presents. I thought it was a great idea... and never really did it until a few years ago.

So now I pass the challenge along. How are you spending your time and money this Christmas? Who (or what) are you worshiping? Is it an item? A trip? A coveted toy for your child?  Those darn-good Christmas cookies?  What if we all cut our Christmas budgets in half and spent one half on the gifts we want to give, and gifted the rest in a way that would be used to glorify God: feeding children, restoring justice, clothing the naked, loving the downtrodden and oppressed?

Or what if the "things" we gift to one another reflected the way we want to honor Jesus? I got a present of a beanie baby chick one year with a card that said the giver had donated a flock of chicks in my honor to  Heifer International. I've never forgotten that gift.  What if the gifts you give your family and friends (who, most likely, need nothing) bettered the lives of others?

Soooo... in case you need any ideas, here are some of the things we will be spending half of our Christmas budget on this year or have in years past. These are places you can either donate directly to or buy items that support their programs:

Connected in Hope Beautiful scarves and woven bags made by Ethiopian women who used to carry heavy loads of firewood down Mount Entoto every day.  Carrying firewood is six hours of backbreaking labor for a few dollars. Now they can weave beautiful scarves and bags and feed their children.  What's more, they gain the respect of their community (the women who carry firewood are social outcasts; even the police mistreat them).  I met these women and was honored to meet them. Read more about my experience with them here.  Be a part of this amazing empowerment initiative.

Heart for Africa - GO! Go to Swaziland and ask family/friends to donate to your trip cost instead of asking for presents.  Or sponsor someone who is going.  Or check out what HfA is doing through Project Canaan. Another empowerment initiative bringing resources and jobs to the Swazi people so that they may bring about change in their own country. Help provide a baby home for babies who would otherwise be on their own.

Invisible Children (link to shop) - 100% of your purchase goes towards supporting Invisible Children's (link to agency) programs to try to end the use of child soldiers in central Africa.

World Vision:  Donate to support their programs that provide clean water to communities, or purchase livestock to enable communities to thrive and feed their families.

Support a family that is adopting!  If you know someone adopting, even if they aren't actively fundraising, consider giving them an anonymous (or known) gift towards their adoption.  You can often do this in a way that is a tax-deductible contribution (check with the family about that).  Not everyone is going to adopt an orphan, but everyone can be a part of caring for them and helping bring them home.  So many people donated to our adoption and now have "stock" in our family - they are a part of why Amani is no longer an orphan and we will forever have a special place in our hearts for those folks!

The challenge is this: slow down and use this most wonderful time of the year to worship the One. I pray my life may always reflect the heart that God is molding within me. I pray my children grow up and remember that Christmas was about honoring Jesus, not about getting stuff under a tree. I would SO much rather spend our Christmas money and know that, as a result, hungry children are no longer hungry, suffering people are no longer suffering, downtrodden women are uplifted, the desolate no longer feel alone.

Those are the true gifts of Christmas.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An Open Apology...

I'm sorry!

I don't think I really understood how crazy life would be after we brought Amani home. Had I known, I might have issued this apology earlier.

This apology goes out to everyone who is normally in my regular, everyday life. Or even some of you I don't see or talk to every day but every once in awhile. And to those people who have left me message(s) and I still haven't called you back.

And most of you haven't heard from me. Or gotten return emails from me. Or seen me. Or been able to schedule those playdates we used to have every so often.

I'm really am sorry.

I feel like lately I am just doing all I can to keep my head above water. I'm like a duck. When you see me, I probably look calm and put-together... but underneath I am paddling like the dickens just to have my eyes open.

I'm trying to be honest when people ask how it's going with Amani. But when we are out in public, he's in the sling, so he's happy and smiley and blowing sweet kisses at everyone. So it probably looks like I'm lying when I say how hard it's been.

But it is still hard. I just finally was able to return a phone call today to someone who called me while I was in Ethiopia. And it was the first non-family, non-close friend phone call I've returned in a looooong time.

Let me explain what exactly is hard:

Amani is friendly. He loves people. He would let anyone hold him and often reaches out to whoever I'm talking to. That seems wonderful to those who aren't in the adoption world.  However, it is very dangerous to allow a child to grow up not knowing the difference between strangers and family.  And right now, we really need him to realize who his family is (and what a family is).  It's not good for attachment purposes for him to even have little connections with strangers (and strangers right now is pretty much anyone who isn't me or Rob).  That's why he is always in the sling... he can't pass himself off to anyone that way.  He's been cared for by a variety of women all his life so he has no clue about what a family is.  He does great at the church nursery for that very reason... he's cool with a variety of caregivers; that has been his normal.  We've asked the nursery workers to page us if he even so much as whimpers and they think we're being over-protective. It's not that at all. He'd be just fine with someone else comforting him. We want that to change so that he can have healthy attachments with everyone in his life.

Also... he still struggles with anything that is different, chaotic (like us trying to leave the house on time every morning), or that he just doesn't like.  And he only has one way of expressing that he doesn't like something: absolute meltdown.  For example, I'm trying to keep him out of the bathroom. Just turning him around and trying to send him in another direction could provoke a 5 minute crying spell.  That's why I'm exhausted all the time.

Please don't read this thinking "gosh, life must be so terrible for them right now."  The thing is, it's hard. But it is supposed to be hard. I'm glad Amani is reacting in a normal way to the fact that his world went from one tiny room in an orphanage to our community here in Greensboro.  I'm glad he is healthy enough that he's reacting to the crazy change.

Just because it's hard doesn't mean it's bad.

But I do apologize to those of you who might be feeling like I've dropped off the planet. Don't take it personally when I say no to playdates right now. It's not you, it's us (ha ha!)

And we are getting better. Slowly but surely. I'm still praying for compassion and patience and peace every morning but I have a God who grants it. And just having him home brings us so much joy.

He is worth every second of the craziness!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The World I'm in...

I love the glimpses I get of my kids' imaginations sometimes.  Riley's friends have been great about including Amani when they play. Last week, the boys told me that they were "robot-coyote-superheroes" and that Amani was their King. Amani had no clue, of course, but he happily sat on the step at the playground as the boys ran back and forth.

Another day, I kept a friend of mine's little boy for the morning. I managed four little ones for half a day! We had a great time (I really do think I want four kids!) but one of my favorite parts was when the three oldest ones decided to dress up. Riley was in his ironman costume, Allyn put on a princess/dancing dress, and Pearson (our friend) chose a cowboy hat.  And here's the conversation that followed:

Riley: Hey Mommy. Pearson and I are Superheroes. I'm Ironman and he's a Cowboy. We live in Cowboy world.
Pearson: Yeah! Yeee-Haw!
Allyn: Well, I'm in princess world!
Riley: Yes you are.  And we all have a LOT of work to do!

I love how quickly they can launch themselves into another "world."

Lately I've noticed I've launched myself into another "world."  It's unfamiliar to me, though.  I'm in the world of second-guessing and, to be honest, I'd rather be in princess world with Allyn (and you know I am NOT into princesses).

For some reason I am second-guessing everything we do with Amani lately. He'll have a great day and I'll think we're really doing well and then the next day will be just really rough and I will wonder if we're doing everything wrong.  Anytime he cries for an extended period of time I worry about what that's going to do to him in the long run.  I worry all the time if things I'm doing or not doing now are going to come back to haunt us in ten years.

I am simultaneously aware of how resilient kids are and how crucial these first few months are with him.

And we made a mistake already. Not a huge one, but one that's set us back a bit. Ugh.

We went out of town to my in-laws both to visit them and to participate on the senior retreat with the youth group. We were only there two full days (three nights) but it turns out it was too soon for traveling. Amani seemed fine the first day, but then the second day he started having some trouble falling asleep. By the time we'd made the drive home, he was crying all the time again. He cried for about 5 hours straight on Sunday evening. I could barely get frozen waffles toasted for dinner that night!

And now that we've been home three days, I'm still seeing some behaviors we'd already gotten through. It is so frustrating and heartbreaking to see.  Tonight as he fell asleep, he did some of the same things he did when we were in Ethiopia to try to keep himself awake. And he's been going to sleep for me without so much as a whimper and the past two nights we've had full-on crying & kicking.  Argh.

But the good part is that we know how to handle it better now. And Amani knows now that it is possible to go away from home and come back. And I've been keeping him close (in the sling), where he's happy, so he's been great during the day.

For those of you wondering about his surgery update... I found out this week that he will need one more surgery. I can't tell you how bummed out I am about it. I really had convinced myself that he wouldn't need any more.  And I was so sad that I forgot to ask big questions like, "will he be under general or local anesthesia?"  But the good news is that, unlike the last one, this is a surgery we can put off for 6-8 months. We'll have more time to stabilize our relationship before he has to be in recovery again. I am SO thankful for that.

And while I'm so sad that my baby has to have surgery again, I am praising God that we live in a place where his surgeries are no big deal. We can improve the quality of his life without any hassle and he's getting surgeries he would never have had access to in Ethiopia.

God is good! :)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Help Me Send My Husband AWAY...

... to Swaziland, that is!

Sometimes I think we have been nonstop fundraising ever since Rob's first trip to Swaziland in 2008.

It's kinda true.

So now we're raising funding for his next trip (the one I had really hoped to be on... sigh).  And I thought I'd have a "Help Me Send My Husband AWAY" Sale.

I sew lots of stuff and I am a terrible entrepreneur. I just hate selling it.  But when I have a good reason (aka orphan-related trips to Africa or adoptions), I find a way to put some prices on my hard work!

I'll put up some stuff on the "Store" page of the blog and as soon as it's all gone, I'll add some more stuff! Kind of like an on-going deal-of-the-day kinda thing.

First up are some super-cute turkey barrettes (and one owl): $3 each!

Email me at yklj AT triad DOT rr DOT com and let me know if you want one! Shipping is $1. And, if you care, let me know if you'd like the clip to be pointing left or right!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Orphan Sunday

Today is Orphan Sunday. Hopefully you will hear something at church today about orphans. I know our church did not recognize it last year and I came home really discouraged. So I decided if I wanted our church to do something I'd have to ask... so I'm speaking at church today along with a friend of mine who went to Swaziland recently. I am NOT a public speaker. I hope it goes well.  I'll post what we said later this week.

But for now, I want to leave you with some resources in case you haven't heard anything about Orphan Sunday today.

Click to see the Orphan Sunday website and video

Also, a friend of mine posted this last week:
How Does God Feel about Orphans?
Read it. Don't skim it. READ it.  God has a LOT to say about orphans.

And some of my favorite links to info on how to care for orphans:
Heart for Africa - Travel to Swaziland to empower local churches to help the orphans in their community; learn about Project Canaan as HfA comes alongside Swazis to help them create real change in their country.
It's Not Okay With Me. - Janine Maxwell (of Heart for Africa) tells how God called her to Swaziland
 Is it Okay With You? - Janine's second book.  Both are a MUST read.
Orphanology - A great book not just about WHY Christians must care for orphans, but HOW churches should go about doing so. It has some great adoption stories and ideas for other ways to care for orphans outside of adoption.
Lifesong for Orphans - What an amazing organization. We did our fundraiser, Both Hands, through Lifesong. They partner with orphanages overseas, help churches here establish adoption funds for church members who want to adopt, and much more.

I'm beyond thrilled that our church is recognizing Orphan Sunday today. We'll spend 7 minutes of our service time talking about how God loves orphans and calls us to love them too.  Last year I read about churches that had adoption and foster care booths set up for after the service so that people could come by and get more info. There's a church in the Raleigh area that called social services and asked how many foster homes they needed... and then hundreds of families from that church became foster parents!  This is why we do Orphan Sunday. I pray that next year our church does even more than our 7 minute presentation.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Special Kind of Crazy

I use a lot of self-deprecating humor. Or so my husband tells me.  But one of the things I've said about myself lately is that I'm a "special kind of crazy" because I want to go through the whole adoption process again for another child.

I really shouldn't say it like that.

Because our society has already set adoptive families apart as something "different."  Someone told me I am "brave." Someone else told me I am "strong."  Someone told me I am "called to adopt."  Someone else told me they could "never handle what I'm going through."

And all of those people were trying to give me compliments. And I surely appreciate compliments, but the problem with all of those statements is that they take God completely out of the equation (okay maybe not the "called" one but stick with me, I promise I have a point here).

I believe that you certainly need strength and bravery to adopt. But I needed much more than I have on my own. I relied on God during the entire adoption process to see me through and I am relying on him even more now that Amani is home.  Yes, I needed to be strong and brave; but I am not, in fact, all that strong or all that brave.

I believe whole-heartedly that God wanted us to adopt. Was it a calling? Well, a calling implies that my family was picked out especially to adopt. That we were set-aside to do so.  But the Bible clearly states that ALL Christians are to care for orphans. If it's a calling, then we are ALL called. So the Cassells are not all that special. We just chose to be obedient in the form of adoption.

And let me tell you, no, you cannot "handle what I'm going through." Neither can I. It's hard. Getting Amani home was HARD. Having him home is hardER. I can't handle it. Not by myself. God gives me strength and patience and compassion every day to be able to help Amani transition into our family while making sure my other two children (and husband) get their fair share of attention. And to not yell at the big kids the 45th time I've told them to put on their shoes (um... more prayers needed here.)

When I set myself apart, even jokingly, I am limiting God.  God can use each and every one of us to make a difference in the life of an orphan. Everyone. Not just the "especially crazy" ones.  My family is not set apart. We are not special. We were merely obedient in adopting. God doesn't think any more highly of us and so chose us to adopt. No, He will use those who are willing.

So why do we wait? Why do we say no?  Why aren't we willing?  What excuses do we give for NOT adopting? For NOT sponsoring a child? For NOT fostering? For NOT traveling overseas to work with orphans? For NOT mentoring a child here.

Are we waiting for God to call? He already has.

Are we waiting for finances to be in order? I didn't see anything in the Bible about caring for orphans only after making sure we have nice cars, kids in brand-name clothing, and a giant retirement fund set up.

Are we waiting to feel ready? Trust me, you're never ready. When I was pregnant the first time, I read every book I could get my hands on and still wasn't ready for that newborn I brought home.  With this adoption, I read every book that was recommended to me, did trainings, talked to other parents, and we still weren't ready when he came home.

Are we waiting for a big-enough house? In Ethiopia, there are 45 babies in one room. More than that many boys sleeping in bunk beds in one-room barracks.  We have enough space, I promise.

If we wait for those things we'll be doing just that: waiting.

November is Adoption Awareness month. I guess I want you to be aware. But more than that, I want families to be inspired to adopt. How hard is it? Well, yes it's hard. But there are children raising themselves, going to bed alone, dying alone.  Do you know what a difference we can make?

This Sunday is Orphan Sunday. Again, I guess I want you to be aware there are orphans. And I want you to be aware that you can do something to help them.  But more than that, I want people to rise up. To DO something.  Just because we've already adopted we aren't "off the hook."  Rob's headed back to Swaziland next summer. The only reason I'm not going is 'cause we're not ready to leave Amani yet. You can bet I'll be there the following year.

'Cause guess what? We are all that special kind of crazy. You... yes you reading this right now. I am officially calling you crazy.  So now you're aware.

And you can go make a difference in the life of a child.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Adoption Month and an update

Just a quick blog update! November is Adoption Month and I had to share the facebook status of a fellow adoptive mama, Lyndsay, today:

Today begins NATIONAL ADOPTION MONTH... Pray for the day that it is just a "given" that we find it unacceptable that children would suffer and die alone because our vehicle and house payment took precedence and priority.

Wow. I don't think I need to say anything after that.

But for those of you wanting an update on Amani and on "how we're doing," here is the latest:

Amani has gained a pound an a half in the four short weeks he's been home. I'm not surprised... sometimes I think he's part vacuum-cleaner.  He really is a great eater.

I am FINALLY starting to see some improvements in his breathing since his surgery! Praise God. I seriously was thinking we'd had the surgery for nothing. We go back to the ENT soon to see about what our next steps might be.  We have a series of other doctor/specialist appointments this month as well. So pray for Rob and I as we make some decisions for him about his health.

And things are getting easier. The last four weeks have been hard. Some days have been REALLY hard. Adopting is hard. I knew that before. But knowing it and living it are two different things.  We are not out of the woods yet, but I'm getting paid back with some beautiful smiles and snuggles. And I have I told you he gives spontaneous kisses? They are the drooliest, slobbery-est kisses, but I love them!

And he got to meet his grandpa!!! My dad has/had cancer and was going through radiation treatments while I was in Ethiopia (our family rarely does drama one event at a time) and so we had to wait for him to be cleared before he could come down to meet Amani. It was a wonderful gift that he was finally cleared and could come.  My dad has always made those funny "clicking" sounds at my kids, especially when they were babies. It just so happens that that is one of Amani's favorite things to do...they're buddies already.

Oh yeah... and we celebrated Halloween: