Our Christmas Offering

Recently I recorded a podcast that will air later this winter. It was an opportunity that I have been excited about for months on months. After the recording call ended I immediately felt two things. First, gratitude. I was, and remain, immensely grateful for the opportunity. Secondly, I began to worry. I second-guessed my performance and replayed in my mind what I would do differently…for days! I even worried about a portion I may have blundered. Real spiritual and mature of me right? That’s what recovering perfectionists do.

It wasn’t until the Sunday after the recording, that a thought hit me. If all I have to offer is myself, then I will always come up short. However, with God, my offering is always enough. 

I think this truth goes for more than my podcast offering. It additionally applies to our Christmas offerings as well. We want our families to remember certain things about their holiday experiences. We know that only a few gifts our children receive will make it into their long term memory, but the environment that we create for them will carryover into adulthood and last a lifetime.

I’m fairly certain that Mary and Joseph felt similarly. Most likely they questioned how they would ever live up to parenting the Messiah. How does one go about raising the Son of God? In offering themselves with God, they were offering exactly what Jesus needed as fully God and fully man. So too, in offering ourselves with God, we offer all that is necessary this Christmas season.

As we seek to provide a warm, rich, holiday experience for our children, let’s remind ourselves this one thing: No matter what our goals are the Christmas season, with God, our Christmas offerings are always enough.

Merry Memory Making,

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Christmas Books to Round Out National Adoption Awareness Month

As we close the last day of National Adoption Awareness Month and turn our eyes towards Christmas, I propose a few more seasonal stories to warm your heart. Tales to remind us of great needs in the world and our abilities to make a change not for every child, but perhaps for just one.

My daughter and I have already listened to and are listening to again, The Christmas Doll. The older kids and I are nearly done with I Saw Three Ships, a new favorite from last year.  I can hardly wait to read aloud Holly and Ivy; a book that spurred me on two Christmases ago just after we met our youngest adopted son and were realizing this would be a long journey. Just how long, we had no idea! Finally, The Matchbox Girl is a beautifully illustrated, sorrowful tale that reminds me of our need to not pass people by. We must look to help in each situation as the Holy Spirit leads us and make a difference in the lives of children God puts in our path.

May you find these stories to be welcome addition to your holiday reading. If you like these, you might also like more of our Christmas favorites over here.

Happy reading and Merry Christmas!

 

 

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Ten Books for Teens to Highlight Orphans and Celebrate Finding Home

This is the last in a three post series analysis of books highlighting orphans and celebrating adoption. Download a free printable list of over 50 Books to Highlight Orphans and Celebrate Adoption or see my picture book and chapter book posts for direct links.

These books are rich in words, setting, and storyline. They will be treasured even as they teach and equip your teen. I hope that you and your family enjoy them as much as I have. I linked the audio version of Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. Trust me, you will enjoy listening to this book! The harmonica pieces throughout bring the story to life in a way that words on a page alone cannot.

Happy reading and Happy National Adoption Awareness Month!

 

 

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20 Chapter Books That Highlight Orphans and Celebrate Finding Home

On Monday I shared with you my new booklist which contains over 50 Books to Highlight Orphans and Celebrate Adoption. Today I am featuring twenty chapter books from that list. I made a few notations on the printable list that you will want to reference. Each of these stories are stories worth reading and rereading on their own merit. It just so happens that they also contain orphans searching for a place to call home, or plotting to return to the home they have lost, and all of them eager to find a sense of belonging and a place to be known and loved.

These books are like old friends. Once you read these stories, you will be changed by them. The eyes of your heart and mind will be opened a bit more to the life experiences of others and, in turn, to the world as a whole.

One thing that strikes me about this compilation of books, is the quantity of books with boys as the main character. Oftentimes many protagonist are female. That is not the case here. Boys will find The Sign of the Beaver, Maniac Magee, and A Single Shard as wonderful book companions which leave them with an itch for adventure and a desire to become a man. Additionally, Little Men, Just David, and The Green Ember are rich in truth, goodness, and beauty, and provide narratives that encourage bravery of heart and noble acts of service.

Female protagonists in these books are among the greatest in children’s literature, perhaps all of literature. Who can forget Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables), Pollyanna, Betsy, from Understood Betsy, or the beautiful Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm? What if we all played Pollyanna’s glad game or learned to be comfortable with our varying degrees of aptitude as Betsy did in her oneroom schoolhouse? These young ladies, and many more, await your eager readers and family read aloud times.

A few of these chapter books have some sensitive content. Four of those are: Listening for Lions, Indian Captive, Ruby Holler, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I loved each of these books and have read or am currently reading all of them aloud to my two oldest who are seven and nine. However, if your children are sensitive to death, and some mention of domestic violence, then you may want to screen these before presenting them to young ears.

Can’t wait to hear from you which of these chapter books become some of your family’s favorites!

 

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15 Picture Books to Celebrate Your Adopted Child

adoption-picture-books

As we near the close of National Adoption Awareness Month, I would like to share one more book list. (Be sure and see yesterday’s post with a complete list!) These books focus on your adopted child. To preface this list, no one book is going to tell your child’s story. For your child’s story is unique to them. The Bible will tell them the story God wants to write for them, and it will help your child deal with any troubling family histories–have you checked out Jesus’ genealogy lately? However, these picture books are tools and stepping stones to continuing the conversations that you have ongoing in your home. They can be, in the words of Linda Sue Park, mirrors and doors. Your child may see himself or herself reflected in these stories, or they may come to realize that there are children all over the world who are longing for a home.

Please let me know which ones are your or your child’s favorites!

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Over 50 Books to Highlight Orphans and Celebrate Adoption

It is wisely proposed that you will be the same person ten years from now aside from the books you read, the places you visit, and the friends you make. Today I want to offer you a list of over 50 books that highlight orphans and celebrate adoption; books that may forever change who you are and who you are becoming. The common thread of these books are that the main characters are orphans, or their lives directly impact orphans. An orphan/ adoption story doesn’t a good book make, but a host of great literature is composed of stories of tragedy, triumph, and grit of young men and women who have lost their families and the journey that they take to overcome the difficulties of their past and present. These are stories that will either reflect your own life, or provide windows to view and learn from lives unlike yours– perhaps lives that you and I can impact for eternal good.

Whether you are an adoptive parent, or a biological parent, seeking books to celebrate your adopted child, champion the cause of the orphan, or encourage your child’s journey, I am sure you will find many stories on this list that will forever capture the heart and imagination of your family. I suggest you pre-read these stories to determine which ones will be best suited to your children if you have children who are sensitive to sorrow. I have personally read each book and would read them to our family according to the age separation that I made on the booklist.  Some of these stories have happy endings, some do not. I have noted the books which present with violence and sensitive content. You know what will be a trigger for your child for either healing or hurt. Many of our children come from hard places, therefore, while reading stories with death or domestic violence will not affect some children, others are highly sensitive and may need to read more lighthearted tales.

Snag your booklist here: Books to Highlight Orphans and Celebrate Adoption

Another note which I have made on some of these stories involve worldview. Your worldview is the paradigm or framework with which you answer the main questions of life: why are we here, how did we get here, what is the chief end of man, what happens to us after we die? If this is a new topic for you, you may want to read more in my post, Mothers with a Worldview (here). Specifically, in A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the word magic is capitalized signifying that magic is a deity. This promotes a worldview of mysticism. Additionally, a few passages in the fascinating fictional book, Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter, struck me as promoting a naturalistic worldview. (Read more about this worldview here.) Freckles is a book worth reading and highly recommended! The characters and beauty of the limberlost will remain long after the last page is read. However, though these are two wonderful books with touching stories about orphans, there are also conversations worth having concerning them. (As a side, I noted profanity in the book, Freckles, due to a few times in this book when the Lord’s name is said in an irreverent manner.)

Many of us, no doubt you if you are reading this post, want to supply our children with books rich in truth, goodness, and beauty all the days they are growing in our home. Further, we want them to choose such books for themselves when they are grown and gone from our nest. I have come to the conclusion that many books are good and beautiful, fewer are true, good, and beautiful. Each can be read and appreciated when they are looked at through the proper lenses. We want to equip our kids to recognize and differentiate those books which are simply good and beautiful, and those books which are all three. Next we want them to cling tightly to the true, esteem that which is beautiful, and take the goodness with them always.

I hope that in reading the books found on this list and having conversations about them, that this end of instilling truth goodness and beauty will be met in your home. Further, that the hearts and minds of your children will be encouraged and equipped to show love and kindness to all people, accept who they are and their story in your family, and dream big. With God, all things are possible!

If you have other suggestions to add to this list or specific questions about any of the books therein, please leave a comment or email me at Brooke.Cooney.1@gmail.com. Also, a loving thank you to Kasia at Simply Pchee for designing this beautiful download for us all to print and enjoy. Visit her amazing design sight here.

Now, download your booklist by clicking on this link, clicking on the picture, and printing your copy! Books to Highlight Orphans and Celebrate Adoption

Happy Reading!

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Of Foster Adoption and Stage Fright

Occasionally, I have a reoccurring dream in which I am on stage for a dance recital and have no idea of the choreography. In full costume and makeup, several thoughts fly through my mind while butterflies race through my stomach. I haven’t practiced this dance. I wasn’t taught the choreography. I can’t wing the whole number!

This may not sound so bad as far dreams go, unless you have years of dance training and performance opportunities as I had in over 16 years of ballet, tap, and jazz lessons. Then, with this knowledge, it will conjure a feeling of abject fear at such a scenario.

Venturing into the foster and adoption world can seem much like being pushed onto a stage full of bright lights and an audience made up of expectant smiles only to realize that you don’t know the steps, you weren’t taught what to do, and you can’t wing the whole thing. In short, you feel overwhelmed and ill equipped.

Six years ago, when my husband and I began the training process to become foster, and, ultimately, adoptive parents, we felt as if we didn’t know exactly what we were doing. We knew God was calling us to adoption, but we decided that He revealed the need for us to foster as well. We were not sure how to love with an open hand to relinquish the children we would foster back to their families should reunification become a reality. We had no idea the system, with case managers, court dates, and guardian ad lietms, would be so taxing on our schedules, emotions, and everyday thoughts: on our family. Quite frankly, we never imagined we would still be in the thick of adoption six years later.

Although we no longer feel as if we have been shoved out on a stage sands choreography, we do feel that the stage hands and the lighting crew aren’t always at the ready. We feel like, to further this scenario, we have the steps of the process, but our production crew doesn’t always have our backs. We aren’t winging it, but we are wondering why with so much practice the production isn’t yet executed with precision. In other words, we are dancing the steps but weary of the show.

But God.

We can testify and do so repeatedly of God’s faithfulness and goodness throughout this entire process which includes one child adopted and one more awaiting adoption. Bringing our child count to a total of four. God has worked in ways that can only be attributed to Him. He has provided for us in gifts from His people. Didn’t he say something about owning cattle on a thousand hills (see here)? We haven’t, nor can’t out give God, and we haven’t, nor can’t frustrate His plans and timing in adoption matters.

Foster care and adoption is not like my reoccurring nightmare because God equips us for every good work before we are presented with the opportunities to carry them out. In fact, it may be more like another real life dancing experience I had.

A lifetime ago, when I was a young 18 years of age, I tried out for the dance team at two universities. The first, which also happened to be my first choice in schools, I did my best and didn’t make the team. The second university, I had a full scholarship but lacked a desire to attend. At that second tryout, I knew the dance and picked up on the choreography quickly. However, that afternoon when it was my turn to perform solo, my brain froze. Unlike any other performance in my life, I completely forgot all of the steps. The school representatives were gracious and let me try two or three times with the same results. Even though I flopped the audition, I still received a call later that evening that I had made the team!  That was 18 years ago now, and I don’t remember the timing of everything, but I do remember that I turned them down, turned down the full-ride, and ended up at my top choice school with a meager scholarship and the chance to meet my husband my freshman year.

Foster care and adoption is more like the second story in that you’ve prepared, failure isn’t fatal, the process will be trying and frustrating at times, but God’s ways are higher and His knowledge beyond ours. He sees the bigger picture and knows that bumps along the way shape our character and faith in such a way that we look more like Him when we finish our performance and we end up right where we need to be.

If you or someone you know is considering foster care and foster adoption, you might want to check out these past posts here. Also know, cold feet are a natural part of the process!


 

 

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Lasting Lessons from Hurricane Irma

I took one last look at my husband as my four children and I drove away from our home on Florida’s west coast. With his hands clasped in a prayerful pose and nervously lifted to his lips, I darted another quick prayer that we would be home again soon and find everything and everyone as we left them. I knew Ron and our family were anxious about my 500-mile evacuation to my parent’s home in Alabama. The last time I had set out on the solo parent mission was six years earlier. We didn’t make it even two hours into our journey when I  totaled our SUV and landed myself and two older children in the ER. That trip was an attempt to help victims of a devastating tornado in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. This trip was an endeavor to escape the potentially fatal winds of the category five storm dubbed, Irma.

Irma was the largest recorded hurricane to date. Our city, thankfully, was sparred the brunt of the winds and the storm surge, but not before wrecking everyone in the state’s nerves as we braced to see what path this storm would take and how strong she would come in. Irma resulted in the largest mass exodus of people from Florida. We were among millions driving away from the storm to seek refuge in neighboring states. With gasoline scarce and roadways pregnant with fleeing evacuees, we drove out early on Wednesday morning trying to beat the traffic. We were successful in that endeavor. Finding US 19 traffic free and momentarily plentiful with gas, the kids and I successfully made the 10-hour trip in 11 hours.

As the state of Florida experienced one of the slowest weeks in history, all Floridians felt the oppressive weight of uncertainty. Regardless of our geographic location, we were all considering the possible loss of life and property. We were reevaluating priorities and esteeming relationships above material possessions. So many of us wrestled with the question of evacuating or staying to assist in the aftermath. Hunkering down, or hustling away. Many for the first time realized that the cone of uncertainty is a real threat and not an ideology to keep people glued to their local weather forecaster nor a way to sell bread and water.

Now, nearing a month after Irma, there are a few lessons we must remember even as the debris continues to be cleared away and the aftermath begin to look more like the prior glory of central and southern Florida. Granted, our area was spared the most it could have been and the more southern portions of the state are still experiencing aftermath in ways that I cannot fathom at this point. Please consider as you read these thoughts that our home suffered no damage and we weren’t left to wrestle with the total ruin that some of our fellow statesmen, along with the Caribbean Islands, are dealing with. Prior to landfall, we prepared for the worst and prayed for the best.

  1. Community continues to be the cornerstone of civilization. It was amazing to see how much humanity is highlighted in the darkest hours. The community among friends and family was fully displayed as texts were sent, storm shutters and plywood boarded, water shared, and safety plans made. It was a beautiful sight to behold. We held each other’s hands both figuratively and literally, encouraged one another, and prayed for and with one another. We braced the storm with faith in our God and His sovereignty no matter the ultimate outcome. In today’s digital era, we can falsely believe that all you need is a deserted island, Amazon Prime, and a laptop to experience all life has to offer. Rest assured, physical community cannot be replaced, merely inadequately replicated online.
  2. Debris remains long after the headlines have shifted. We continue to require cleanup locally. Most people have cleaned their yards, but piles of brown limbs and leaves accumulated on streets, as well as many large downed trees, remain. News is purposed to sensationalize every situation for a season, but the seasons for real catastrophes linger dramatically longer than the seasons of national news headlines. When our Facebook temporary profile pictures move onto the next cause, people in affected communities cannot. Like a death in the family, the world moves on, but the day to day has forever changed for the family who lost a loved one; and in the case of Irma, loss of physical needs. Therefore, our eternal perspective and our service perspective are longer term than our television screens.
  3. We are smaller and more helpless than we daily imagine. When a category five hurricane is ripping through islands and countries and seems to never slow down, it is amazing to see how big God is and how small we are. Only God can calm the storms. Man can simply brace or run. We taunt our pride in self-sufficiency, only to find in the face of natural disaster we are ultimately inadequate. We can plan, pray, prepare, and protect to the best of our abilities but the outcome is out of our hands. We are in control of far less than we daily realize.
  4. We, the Church, are known by our love for one another. Local teams of people from our church were out immediately after Irma hit, cleaning up debris and fallen trees in neighborhoods. This service of sawing and cleaning up trees cost a reported $6,000 after the hurricane. When a neighbor of one of our church members realized the team at his neighboring home was a volunteer clean up team, his mind was blown! These teams helped people both locally, and some continue to assist further south in Naples. When we help others, Christ is glorified and people begin to question the reason for the assistance being offered.
  5. The objects of earthly importance are not those which we use daily. When we crammed our car full of items we wanted to spare in the event of total devastation, we took documents and photo albums we rarely consider or use. More importantly, we placed the people we care most about in the car to carry them to safety. Things can be replaced. Little we use in the day to day is so priceless it can’t be duplicated or done away with. Irma made us consider how little we really need and how valuable people are.

Ten days after we pulled out of our driveway, we were pulling back into our parking spot. The kids and I were probably among some of the last in our area to make the return trip. We had waited to make sure there was power, gas, and open roadways. This time, as I looked through the window of the car, Ron was wearing a smile and open arms. Hands of prayer had turned to hands of welcoming praise. I hope these lasting lessons linger longer than the headlines in our state and local communities and we place the most value where eternal worth lies.

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A Mom’s Report Card

Let’s face it, most of us graduated long ago, but the truth is, we continue with the practice of grading ourselves and our efforts. Moreover, we grade ourselves on a scale of comparison based on the best we see posted by other moms or based on what we see of moms as poised in public settings. Much of our grading is based on our idealizations about other moms; what we assume to be true about them, and consequently what we know is not true about ourselves. Why can’t we cook like this mom? Have we given our children ample opportunities like this family? Are we doing enough to equip them to succeed in the future?

Our grading scale tends to be based on appearances.

Take for example, the mom profile picture I can post of me at my best verses the crazy-train selfies I send to my husband after a full day of mothering and homeschooling our four little people. Exhibit A, B, and C below.

Mom profile picture.

Text to husband a few months ago: I spend three hours of every day feeding our baby.

Text to my husband last week: Just unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher with baby in pouch.

There are of course more unflattering pictures and texts than this, but like I am going to post those!

When I talk with other moms, many of them sigh a breath of relief after I have confessed to my absolute need to repent of yelling at my children, loosing my temper, needing a mommy time out, or …you name it. We have all been there! Or at least I have been there more frequently than I desire.

There are no perfect mamas. There is only a perfect Savior. Yet, we will take the best we see posted or acted out with other moms and beat ourselves up that we are not meeting those standards.

Of course there are biblical mandates for parents. There are a multitude of resources for parents to seek out for better communication with and disciplining of our kids. However, the point I want to make to we mama’s constantly assessing our rank or status as a parent, is that God looks at our heart not our outward appearances. Lest we forget, in anointing the next king of Israel Samuel fell into a similar trap. He was looking for stature, strength, and a handsome appearance in the man that would be chosen to lead. But God had other qualities in mind:

The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.
~1 Samuel 16:7, NIV

I think we need to look at our heart this Mother’s Day and lay our report cards at the foot of the cross and our gracious Savior. Yes, some days we will accomplish, excel, and be on our game. Some days our children will behave as we have trained them to and hoped they would. But most days are muddled in the middle of planting, sowing, training, and teaching…repenting and trying again. Most harvest awaits a later day or an eternal time. Patience is a process and parenthood is a sanctification like few others I have ever known.  In the meantime mamas, between now and eternity, we need to look not at our outward appearance, our filtered Instagram or Facebook posts, or the mom next door, but look instead where the gaze of God falls–our hearts.

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. ~Psalm 24:3-4, NIV

The idol of comparison and appearances will get us nowhere. Likewise, shaming ourselves into thinking we are the only ones struggling to be the mom we want to be, and yet, can’t measure up to, will only make us feel worse. We must look at our heart, examine it, repent where we are in sin and ask the Holy Spirit to help guide us into the women He wants us to be. We must accept the grace God extends and the refining He provides. All our efforts apart from Christ are in vain.

This Mother’s Day, why don’t you and I rip that imaginary report card to shreds and spend some time thanking God for bringing us this far? We aren’t the same person we were last year, we aren’t the best images of ourselves we see on our social media accounts, nor are we what we see at our worst moments. We are image bearers of the Creator God, washed and forgiven in the blood of Jesus, and He looks not at our outward appearances, but at our heart. Our heart has a report card only God can assess and only eternity will reward.

Happy Mother’s Day,


 

 

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Thirty Balloons: An Adoption Tale

Once upon a time, there was a little blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby boy in need of a place to call home. He needed a mom, a dad, and a few siblings to grow alongside.

A few miles away was a family looking for a child to love forever. The family had a mom and a dad and two children searching for a child to coddle, wrestle, chase, kiss, and teach about the love of the King.

One day, after several months of seeking out such a child, the blonde-headed, blue-eyed baby bounced into their place of worship. He was safely held, that is,  in the arms of a family caring for him until such a time as he was matched with his forever family. For the daddy of the family in search of a baby, it was apprehensive love at first sight. For the mommy, it was a bit of confusion because she thought they were called to love a brown-haired, brown-eyed baby girl. More about her later as she wouldn’t come along for another year…but that would be getting ahead in the story.  After one visit with the baby boy in her home, the mommy, also, was forever in love with the blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby boy.

In fairy tales, evil always ensues before the damsel is rescued, the family reunited, or the kingdom saved. Real life mimics fairy tales because fairy tales mimic real life. This little boy’s story had many a dark and looming cloud.

For nine months the boy and the family grew to know and love one another. They shared firsts and celebrated milestones. The mommy and daddy, and the boy’s temporary family, sent e-mails, made phone calls, attended meetings, and petitioned judges before the blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy bounced into the family’s home to stay. (Only modern day stories include phone calls and emails, but they are no less valiant, mind you, than decrees and messengers riding through the night to save the kingdom, rescue the damsel, or reunite the family.)

All throughout these months, and the ones which would ensue, a host of people within the Kingdom began to pray and petition the King for the boy to be placed with this family. Countless men, women, and children throughout the land would ask the King to place the boy with the family forever, and, quickly! The petitions of the people were being heard and would be answered in time.

Shortly after the boy came to live with his soon-to-be family, the court discovered an error that had to be addressed for this story to turn a final page into the second portion of its tale. This error would take ten more months to come to light and, thereafter, be rectified.

All this time, the months were accumulating  while the boy was waiting for the royal proclamation to give him a family. It would be thirty months until the proclamation would be granted. Thirty months before the blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy would be given his royal name–that name which his family prays is already written in the scrolls of the Kingdom as in this kingdom. Thirty months until…forever.

Thirty months came and went before this big day arrived…

As the boy and his family experienced the declaring of the proclamation that would unite them for all of their life in this kingdom, they thought of how quickly the thirty months passed in retrospect. Like thirty balloons being lifted to the sky and released in a moment’s time with the wave of a hand, the loosing of a grip, the relinquishing of power.

The weight of the wait was intense and a load, at times, seemingly unbearable. But upon the royal decree, the weight instantly became as light as air. All the cares of the past were lifted away to be replaced by a focus on the future and on raising a knight for the Kingdom.

Lest you forget, fairy tales are full of woe before wonder, and this fairy tale will be like the others and, similarly, unlike. Good days and gloomy days lurk ahead, but this day was a day two kingdoms celebrated with thirty balloons and triumphant shouts filling the chasm between. Maybe, just maybe, one of those balloons reached the other side and greeted others who have waited in like fashion.

*This story is a prologue to another story still unfolding. If it weren’t for this one, the later would never be possible. Woe lurks, but wonder is on the other side. The Kingdom prays and the King whispers, Courage dear heart.


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