Heavy Heart

I am sorry to tell you that over the course of the past 24 hours, the Canadian agency who was able to adopt from Ksenia’s region has chosen to remove her from Reece’s Rainbow and suspend her possible adoption for now. They are working on a special needs adoption program of their own, and apparently will not provide any further details about whether she will be relisted with them. This is hard to hear, after so many have prayed and been moved by her picture. Thank you for continuing to pray for her when the door may be forever shut on her future. I am hopeful that the prayers will move mountains.

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Canadian Heroes

***UPDATE***

One of the most fascinating political conversations I have ever had was in the company of a Canadian craftsman three years ago while visiting Toronto for a conference.  Gord is a man who was comfortable with social medicine, but dissatisfied with the insanity of the government declaring his home’s wood stove heating system was illegal.  I might have distracted him from his job rebuilding a buggy shed using traditional tools alone for the better part of an hour, but I think the diplomatic ties outweighed the lost time.

Gord: One Cool Dude at Black Creek Pioneer Village, Toronto, ON

And basically, I wanted to share that little story to catch the eye of all my Canadian readers, of whom there have been a few the past couple of weeks. I am so glad you’re here. I apologize if the Rowsdower/Final Sacrifice Canadian jokes were off-color. And now I have a job for you. It is a job only a Canadian can do. I am afraid it may break your heart, though.

Ksenia.  This precious little girl can only be adopted by a Canadian family due to restrictions of the region.  If you could possibly share her picture and move a heart who is open to heal the wounds and provide a chance…I will be your strongest advocate.  There are about 50 other women (conservative estimate) who are committed to financially support this little girl’s adoptive family.  Don’t worry about the 8 to 12 months it will take to rescue her.  There is no shortcut for someone else to get her out faster.  No one will be cutting the line.

Ksenia’s life of despair could become a world of hope.  A world of struggle for her will become a life of support and possibility.

There is a smile in this sweet girl’s heart.  Kids with Down Syndrome are slow learners.  They are not slow of emotion.

To my American readers, she isn’t able to receive any money yet, as she’s just been relisted.  Please pray for her.  Please share with your friends.

And to my Canadian readers, my Canadian Heroes, please help find this little one’s mama.  Please be this little one’s mama.  God will fill her empty cup and yours.  He will equip you for this task.

This precious little one is a reminder that every orphaned child with special needs overseas is at risk.  Even those cute little ones with the great pictures.

Don’t feel guilt.  You didn’t do this.

Feel moved.  Feel empowered.  Love this little girl with your hands tied behind your back and a mountain of paperwork in your way.  With trolls in the comments.  With all the “not yous,” “we could nevers,” and “If onlys” that weigh on your heart.

You don’t have to bring her home to make an impact.  You just can’t sit still.

Running Alone and the Holy Spirit

Remember Mel Gibson’s awesome Nike ad pitch from What Women Want? 

  Don’t you just want to be that kind of runner?  Well, let that go, and you’ll have me.  I want to run so I can catch up with my buddy S at 6 in the morning on Saturdays, trucking it at our impressive 13 minute mile pace, listening to sweet tunes, scaring deer and waving at passersby, saying hello in baby voices to dogs (ok, that’s just me).

I am a social runner.

When my dear running buddy, S found out her brother’s wedding would coincide with our planned trip to Traverse City for the Bayshore Half-marathon over Memorial Day weekend, I was bummed.  I actually thought about skipping it.

Then, in a moment of clarity, I realized Andy’s awesome Aunt A, who lives along the race course might be interested in running with me.  Through a series of unfortunate events, neither of us were able to train like we had planned.  Between injury and trips to scuba dive in Belize (I’ll let you guess who’s who), both of us met at the starting line under-prepared.  As I scanned the flags to organize the runners, I felt incredibly inadequate.  There were flags for 6:00 pace, 7:00 pace, 9:00 pace, and 10:00 pace.  Ever the honest person, I lined up at the “walkers” flag.  A biked up and met me there.

A few minutes later and we were off.  About three miles later, A sent me ahead and settled into a more comfortable pace for her.  Now, I have to tell you, A is no slouch when it comes to feats of athleticism.  She has completed a 50 miler, runs regularly, and is pretty much one of the coolest women you’ll ever meet.  There were only 5 women running in her age category.  There was only one category older.  I tell you this to tell you that at the age many of us will be signing up for nursing homes, A is running half’s.

And just like that, I was running alone.

I passed a few walkers, but didn’t see many other people running at my pace, and certainly not continuously.

Just like every time I’ve ever run more than five miles, the sense of futility overcame me.  On a quiet stretch, in open sun, with just a few other runners ahead of me.  No one cheering from the sidelines.

Why are you doing this?

Everyone ahead of you is walking faster than you’re running.

Sure, you’ll finish, but just stop running.

You’re being ridiculous.

This doesn’t matter.

***

Today marked the end of the Easter season in the Catholic church’s calendar year.  Today was Pentecost, when Christ bestowed the gift of the Holy Spirit to His followers.  I also happened to be teaching the Children’s Liturgy of the Word (Oh my goodness, the most fun ministry ever.  I’m sure God doesn’t even count this as service because I get so much joy out of teaching it.).  So, I went to mass wearing this:

Not your typical Mass garb

And I told the kids about my friend, S.  And how much I missed her when she wasn’t there.  And that A stayed with me for three miles.  And then she went away, too.  And then, when I thought I was all alone, and wouldn’t be able to run the whole time…

Jesus sent some helpers.

All along the way.

Families in lawn chairs, volunteers at the water stations, kids holding homemade signs, and coach Susie who ran alongside a fellow runner for all of mile 11 and invited me to join them.

All saying: You’ve got this! 

When I couldn’t find a way to do it alone, God found a way for me to not be alone.

Preparing for the children’s mass this morning, I made some medals for the kids to decorate for the hands-on part of the lesson.  I asked them to make medals that showed how they were being helpers with the Holy Spirit to nurture, inspire, connect, befriend, and comfort.

Holy Spirit Medal

According to the children’s liturgy book, Celebrate the Good News, the name for the Holy Spirit in Greek, Sophia, is feminine.  And it means sister, mother, beloved, hostess, chef, tree of life.  The feminine part of God’s three persons is decidedly a helper, an encourager.

I hope I’m not going too far, but I think the Holy Spirit is a midwife.

What is a midwife?  Someone who works endlessly to stand aside and let a woman say “I did it myself.”

So, I finished my race.  Running the whole time.  Ten of those miles at a 12 mph pace.

And every step, I was alone, but not on my own.

Travel Games for Preschoolers

…and some other things I do to keep the kids from going crazy on long car drives.

Well, Memorial Day weekend is upon us, as well as a season of travel. Mostly by car. With kids. A lot of them. Let’s go into battle prepared.

I should say that I don’t feel the need to constantly entertain or even silence the kids, but I do realize we travel more than the average family, and it would be too much to ask a three-year-old to prepare entertainment for the road. She’s just busy focusing on whether or not she is going to get a happy meal. A little planning makes our whole trip better.

We don’t have a DVD player. I am not a TV purist or anything. Two years ago JR stepped on our third portable DVD player and cracked the LCD right in half; I knew there were no more DVDs in our future. Let’s face it, there’s only so much entertainment one human child can get from watching Dora sing “Give us back our Treasure!” for the thirty second time anyways. We also don’t do handheld video games.

Here’s what we do instead to keep the kids looking forward to at least some of the car-time.

Once the car is packed and ready, including the kids, I run back in the house and grab one of those re-useable grocery bags for each of the kids (even the baby).

This is a sampling of some of the things I put in each kiddo’s bag:
Hoss, Baby:

  • Bottle of water
  • Baby toys (cars are his new favorite)
  • one board book
  • one marshmallow peep
  • one small bag of Chex
  • old cell phone
  • washcloth (for chewing/peekaboo with sister)
  • toothbrush (he seriously can’t get enough of it)
  • Baby blanket for when he sleeps

Lumpy, 3-year-old:

  • Sippy of water
  • 2 pieces of chocolate
  • baby doll
  • blanket for baby
  • blanket for Lumpy
  • One file folder
  • three colored pencils
  • 4 sheets of Dora stickers (to decorate folder)
  • one book
  • 3 diaper wipes (She loves them. I don’t question.)
  • sunglasses

JR, 5-year-old:

  • Flip top bottle of water
  • 2 pieces of chocolate
  • 20 popsicle sticks in a small diaper wipes container
  • roll of tape
  • tiny stuffed animal
  • handkerchief
  • blanket for if he falls asleep
  • 2 washable markers
  • Tag book and Tag pen (to be shared with Lumpy, too)

Cal, 6-year-old

  • Flip top bottle of water
  • 2 pieces of chocolate
  • math wrap-up
  • Pen
  • Fresh, clean notebook
  • new garage-sale chapter book (whew–no more motion sickness for her!)
  • CD player, headphones
  • Soundtrack to Mama Mia, and a mix CD I made for Andy when we first started dating
  • Workbook she can complete without help (mazes, grammar)
  • Blanket for if she falls asleep

Peace…for now

The goal is to give them activities I have seen them complete on their own for a long time, and ideally with a minimum of mess. It really helps me to know that I have some options for entertainment in the car besides what I provide them from the front seat.

I have pressed the big two into responsibility by telling them that if anything doesn’t go back into their bag, I won’t replace it when we go on our next trip. They have been talking about these bags for weeks now. Worth all five minutes I spent jamming stuff into them from the toy room and office!

I am also planning a secret note club, as my kids have become letter-senders recently. I am packing a stash of envelopes and stationery and return address labels I keep getting from charities who I will never support because they spend my money sending out unsolicited address labels.

If you have any suggestions, I am always looking for a little inspiration. Leave a comment below or like Big Little Days on Facebook or Twitter to share!

Flying Rainbow Flags

Every day I read something about gay marriage, gay adoption, or the freedom to be gay.

Every day I read about the sanctity of marriage, protecting children from stigmatism over their parents’ orientation, and the need for discretion.

Like many Christians, I feel the rift between the church embracing brothers and sisters and surgically extracting a sinful nature, that for gays and lesbians intersects with their sexual relationships, beyond monogamy into its core…a core that is so deep it is embedded in their very selves.

People who are gay are fully embraced if they are celibate.  The inclination isn’t the sin; it’s the practice.

But, if a straight person’s inclination leads to sinful practice, too–you know, get married so you don’t burn, but it’s better to be single–they at least have an out.  A gay person is told there is no way to focus the sinful nature (lust) in God’s plan for him or her.  A person who is burning because of their very nature has no place in the Christian church.

Christ’s one desire for His church was relationship.

Christ’s one desire was not purification of our selves into the most glowing example of righteous living ever seen.

Christ’s desire was to bring all of God’s children back to the Father through acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice as payment for our sins.

Except gay people.

That’s just not true.

And so, I offer instead an alternative understanding that has finally allowed me to have some peace on the matter.  Yes, as a straight, Catholic conservative.  But the political side is a different post.

If, like many people of faith, you love God but are truly unable to reconcile the place for gay individuals in Christ’s church, I ask you to consider them as God did for all of us.  When there was a desire in our very nature that most of us could not deny.

If your child came to you today and said “I am gay,” what would you do?


I would fly a rainbow flag outside.

I would proudly introduce my child and romantic partner as a couple.

I would encourage abstinence until marriage.

I would stand behind him as they adopted a child.

I would counsel her to strengthen her marriage.

I would not let him walk this path without me.

And now that I have children of my own, and understand God’s love for us so much more, I know that even if I am wrong, and I was meant to condemn my child, classify the sin, cast out my child from our church…God knows my very heart.  He knows I was being faithful in my heart to Christ’s commands to love one another.

And God loves my child more than me.

He’s not going to set them, or anyone, up to fail.

Shut Your Mouth

Why are people so obsessed with criticizing a big family?  Want to know a little secret?  Not every family of two is that way by choice.  They might be on our side.  And yes, I do mean side.

There is an assault on large families that is being propagated in nasty little side comments from patrons in grocery stores.

From Sunday school teachers.

From family members.

(Yes, yes, insert nasty comebacks to mean comments here.)

But here’s what is remaining unsaid.

When people make comments like this, they are really telling me I am at war over what my family should look like; they are saying I need to defend myself.

That means when I have a bad day, I am careful about what I tell people.

That means when our adoption is facing a roadbump, I cannot tell people about it.

That means when homeschooling is challenging, I turn to anonymous internet groups to ease my fears.

That means when I struggle with answering God’s call for my husband and me to remain open to life, I can’t ask for advice.

Because the answer to all of these problems is immediately: Maybe that’s God’s way of telling you that your family is big enough.

Maybe.

But, wouldn’t the evil one’s response be the same?

When the answer to every challenge we face is seen as an opportunity to advance a more acceptable agenda.

This is how people drift apart.

When we act like adults, and we say nothing at all.

I am incapable of changing anyone’s mind when I ask for just what I need

and so instead I just shut my mouth.

Make Photo Watermarks Using MyMemories Scrapbooking Software

I was seventeen when I saw the groundbreaking, critically snubbed movie The Net. I was repelled by the lame story, but mesmerized by the reclusive world Sandra Bullock’s character built for herself, doing such unbelievable things as chatting on the internet, ordering pizza on-line (yes, hyphenated), and working wirelessly from home on web design. A single, well-orchestrated piracy scam stole her entire identity and wiped her virtual and real life off the map.

Now, nearly 15 years later, there are few of us who live a totally reality-based life. We talk daily with friends on secure servers and in less-secure Facebook Groups, sometimes with our real names, sometimes with our gravatars. We feel protected and secure, knowing we control the information flow. But, few of us (myself included) take any real care of the photos we share on a family blog.

On a Facebook birth support group I follow, a woman was shocked to see a post about waterbirths with her face as the preview image. Her son’s first moments in her arms were featured on this post without her consent.

In addition, many families share their adoption journeys on a family blog. Last week, I was shocked and outraged to hear that the photo of a little boy with special needs adopted through Reece’s Rainbow had his picture digitally stolen from his mother’s blog and used in what she could only describe as an evil way. This mother was devastated, as was the rest of the RR community. She took down nearly all of her children’s photographs. I was prepared to do the same.

Instead, I started looking into purchasing a watermark-creating software, or possibly using Microsoft Paint to stick my copyright on all of my photos, rendering them undesirable to would-be Google Image swipes.

After copying, pasting, and a few hours of manipulating, I came up with a great solution from a program already on my desktop. I had purchased MyMemories software in April to create our family profile for potential birth mothers. I was able to come up with a beautiful album in just a few hours, no talent required. I have been singing the praises of this program ever since. (I spoke with the CEO of the StoryRock Company today, and not only is he a cool dude in charge of a big organization, who still takes everyday phone calls, he has a huge heart for adoption…what could be better?)

Because, like Alton Brown, I loathe a mono-tasker, I was delighted to find I could create a translucent watermark for all of my blog photos in minimal time using the MyMemories software. (See link on my sidebar for a BLD-exclusive coupon code)

I want you to be able to easily create watermarks to safeguard your own pictures in a professional, less-distracting way than Paint can offer. Here’s my step-by-step guide using MyMemories to do it. Don’t be intimidated by the number of steps, I just wanted to be thorough.

1) Download MyMemories software and make some fun digital scrapbooks. Use my BLD coupon code to get $10 off and $10 in extra embellishments: STMMMS40044 for a total price of just under $30. Get it here.

2) Open MyMemories software. Select “Design Your Own” album type:

3) Select portrait album size:

4) Click the “photo” menu on the right:5) Click the camera picture, “Add”:6) Select photo from drop down menu and click the preview:7) Select “Text” on the right hand sidebar menu. Click large “T” to add a text box:8) Type your copyright text in the box (to get that nifty copyright circle, open MS word, and click “insert” then “symbol”…copy and paste into MyMemories text box):9) Change the text color to white or black (click the buttons in the text menu), then adjust the opacity to desired level. Position text box to interrupt the photo so it can’t be cropped and still have main part of image, then adjust opacity to minimize distraction. 10) Save album (the disk picture in left corner), then click “Share album” from top pull-down menu and select “Export Pages”:

11) Select destination (anywhere on the desktop should do…you need to be able to find this easily in a moment). Click “finish”:


12) Watch the pretty progress bar. Click “ok” and minimize MyMemories.

13) Find the little beastie on your desktop, and right click it to open it with your easy-peasy automatic software cropping-capable program (the rest of these steps are just to walk you through cropping the excess white space from the “album page” you’ve created. If you know how to do that, you’re already ready already). I use Windows Live Photo Gallery:

14) Click “Edit, organize, share”:

15) Click the cute little bitty version of your photo:

16) Crop your photo down from the rest of the big album page: 1-Click “Crop” 2-adjust the little box 3-Click “Crop” again:

17) Click “Close file.” Don’t be scared. It’s saving it automatically.

18) See? I told you it would be ok:

19) Woohoo! Go to your blog, delete the unprotected photo and replace with your freshly watermarked one.

Now, sit back and enjoy adulation from friends and family who didn’t know you were so high-tech. Marvel at the coolness of your blogging self, and rest a little easier the next time you want to share a photo with your family and 6 billion of your closest friends.