Ten (Thousand) Reasons

This morning my heart is singing of God’s goodness, so I thought I should share ten (thousand) reasons I’m counting my blessings.

1) Brownies baking. Nothing like that scent ruminating through the house.

2) Open windows, allowing the warmth of this finally-Spring morning.

3) Filling the clothesline with freshly laundered clothes for the first time this year.

4) Noticing the first sign of growth in my tomato and pepper seedlings.

5) Balancing the checking account, being able to pay bills and taxes, and depositing more blessings to take their place.

6) I actually really do enjoy keeping our detailed financial records. I’m a geek, I know.

7) Having middle school students ask if their brother could have one of the student Bibles we’ve been giving away. Filling in a teen’s name on that first page is such a privilege.

8) Noticing the inside cover of one of those Bibles, given out only a month or two ago, already filled to overflowing with this 8th grader’s favorite verses.

9) Planning for the Sunday worship set and finding the perfect song to flow from the a cappella Doxology. Oh, I simply canNOT wait to worship with my people.

10) Coffee with a student who is searching for Jesus. Sharing the story of redemption, the free gift of grace. Explaining God is love. How freedom and healing is found in Christ alone.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXDGE_lRI0E]

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Why is Adoption So Difficult?

The April 8th reading from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest says,

Our Lord’s Resurrection destiny is to bring “many sons unto glory.” The fulfilling of His destiny gives Him the right to make us sons and daughters of God. We are never in the relationship to God that the Son of God is in; but we are brought by the Son into the relation of sonship. 

As Kevin and I were reading that day’s devotional together, it brought to my mind an answer to question I had been pondering concerning adoption. Why is adoption so expensive, why does the process take so long, why is there so much pain involvedPerhaps adoption needs to be a long and painful process for us just as it was for our God. 
Romans 8:15 (and other New Testament passages) proclaims the adoptive relationship we have Yahweh.

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

And how did we receive that Holy Spirit, friends? But through the sacrifice offered by our adoptive Father himself – giving his son to humanity, watching his torturous crucifixion, being forced to turn his back on Jesus because our sin was so black, and then sealing our adoption through the supernatural bodily resurrection and ascension of that same Christ. 
All for us. 
He wanted to invite us into his family, to be his sons and daughters, so desperately that he did more than wait a year or two, sign papers, deal with heartbreak and devastation, sign more papers, and finally bring that child home. No. God waited for thousands of years as his children rejected him, then gave him hope that they might possibly draw near to him, only be saddened again by their disobedient disdain. After centuries of waiting, he offered part of himself – his Son (the son who was already in perfect communion with him, who would never disappoint him or leave him, never disobey him) – as payment for our adoption. 
Ok, so I guess the thousands of dollars, the piles of papers, and the months of waiting really can’t compare.
Lord Jesus, if you call us to adopt, please keep this perspective fresh in our hearts. Amen. 

The Almost Adoption

My heart is in that hurting sort of place. I knew these kind of days would resurface, even after coming to a place of peace and contentment with our childlessness. But it seems to be impossible to completely ignore the desire and if I lost all hope that may not even be healthy, I don’t know.
Keeping the balance between hopefulness and contentment is where Jesus must come in. 
But in these moments of sadness and wanting, of deepest yearning and tears, I thought I would share with you another portion of our journey down the road of infertility. (This particular story was hinted at in this post all those months ago.) Come with me, won’t you, to June 2012? The days were extremely hot and our house was kept shaded by the closed drapes. In the midst of the heat I wasn’t exactly thinking about options to expand our family, but then one presented itself. 
A dear friend of ours said she had an urgent matter to discuss with us and asked if she could come over for a visit. Our minds were racing, scrambling through the possibilities. You see, this friend was one of the only people with whom we’d share our interest in adoption. She was most certainly coming to us with a related circumstance. 
Wasting no time, she laid out the situation – There was a 19 year old girl, from a good family, living in a nearby town and attending community college. She had just found out that she was pregnant, eight months pregnant. This young girl, who was likely scared out of her whits, wanted to give her unborn child a wonderful adoptive home to be a part of and she was wanting to do an independent adoption. The baby could be born within the next four weeks, so if we interested in this opportunity we would have to move quickly. 
Before we knew it, Kevin and I were alone in our living room, staring at each other and wondering, “What now?” 
You should know we had done absolutely nothing to prepare for the possibility of adoption. All we knew was this is normally a long, detailed process, and we weren’t sure how to begin. For the next four days we operated in turbo mode. We found an adoption attorney (we had never had any experience with a lawyer of any kind), we paid a $2,000 retainer plus the $500 consultation fee, we communicated with a third party who was speaking on behalf of the 19 year old girl and her family, we filled out the paperwork, we contacted a social worker who was willing and able to do an expedited home study (for an increased sum of money, of course), we had references write letters of recommendation on our behalf, we wrote our own letter to the birth mother.
This was the fastest, scariest roller coaster we had ever been on. There were days (hours, really) that felt extremely defeated. There is no way we are going to be able to do this all in time. Then there were moments of hope. Oh my goodness, we have all of our ducks in a row, this could really be happening. 
And in the midst of all of these meetings and this turmoil, we had to decide whether or not we were going to join the Bible Quizzers for a week in Seattle. Ack. It certainly wouldn’t look good to the birth mom if we skipped town at this crucial time. But we had heard nothing back from her or her lawyer since moving speedily forward on everything. We were playing a waiting game and had no idea which direction the mother was going to go. We had made commitments to quizzing (and the money had been paid) and we didn’t want to back out of our responsibilities if nothing was going to come of this adoption scenario. Does one of us stay and one of us go? 
For a short while I was considering staying in town to work with the birth mother, and Kevin would go to Seattle. But after over a week of no communication from the family or the lawyers, we knew it wasn’t looking good. And so rather hear the devastating news all alone, I opted to go with Kevin to Washington state. 
Thankfully this turned out to be the right decision. We finally heard from our lawyer the day we were flying back to Buffalo – The birth mother had decided to go with an agency adoption. The case was closed. The matter settled. I am still grateful for the lawyer we had chosen to work with. She was generous enough to return our $2,000 retainer since she had done no further work on our behalf. And I was able to spend a week not dwelling on the heartbreak and stress and anxiety of the pending situation. I was with my husband and our teens, and the other leaders on the trip proved to be wonderful encouragement to me as well. 
And here we are, 10 months later. We are still interested in the pursuit of adoption, but we’re not Dave-Ramsey-ready for that financial commitment. Our conversations on the subject continue and we are trying to make the choices that will be best for us and best for the child we bring home. 
But, dear friends, in the meantime you can pray. And please, if you know of someone who is looking for a Christian couple to adopt their unborn baby or infant, feel free to connect us to them. We are willing to wait for God’s perfect timing in this process. 

Thursday Girls

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Kirsten, Martha, Laurel, Marella, Melanie

Thursday from 7:30-9:00pm is one of my favorite times of the week. I mentioned it along with a whole slew of weekly youth encounters a while back, but after the four fantastic hours I spent with these girls tonight, I just had to elaborate.

Back in September I felt I needed to make a conscious effort to spend more focused time with the high school girls. I sent out a letter to each of them – at least 20 – and invited them to my house on Thursday. This would be a sort of “small group” but without any particulars. We weren’t going to have an “agenda” per se, but just follow the conversation wherever God would lead. (Conversation amongst high school girls is certainly not hard to come by, after all.)
That first Thursday, my girl Kirsten showed up. And for the next few weeks it was just the two of us. Kirsten, a 12th grader, is one of the quieter girls in the youth group so I was thankful to have this time to share hearts without distraction. I believe it is largely due to those evenings we spent together that we have grown into really close friends. I am going to be geniunely broken-hearted to send her off to college in the fall.
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Kevin snagged this impromptu picture of Kirsten and I at Dare2Share
At that point in our Thursday girls group, Olivia and Marella started showing up. This added a really great dynamic to what Kirsten and I had going on, and the four of us decided to read through the book Head-to-Soul Makeover: Helping Teen Girls Become Real in a Fake World This proved to provide an excellent environment to be honest, even raw, with our struggles and to encourage one another to make real changes in our lives to become more Christ-like. 
Shortly thereafter, I felt led to personally re-invite a couple girls to join our group. Pretty soon Martha and Laurel had joined us, and the six of us formed a fantastic small group. 

We are the quieter, thoughtful types, the ones who want to fit in yet know that fitting in wasn’t worth sacrificing our truest selves. We’re the “good girls,” the ones the grown ups love and the peers don’t really get. We’re the never-miss-church types, who just need space to be real every now and then. We love talking about quirky television shows, eating far too many cookies, drinking cup after cup of tea, and settling in for some heart-stirring conversation. (These descriptions are the reasons reading Graceful was the perfect choice for us.)

A few weeks ago, I decided it was time for a fun photo op. I programmed the self-timer to a 10-continuous-shots setting and let the crazy ensue. We had a blast posing, expressing, laughing, spelling “Cumberbatch” out of blocks, and shoving entire cookies in our mouths. These are just a handful of the collection. I want to cherish these Thursday Girls

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“Expelliarmus!”

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“We Heart Cumberbatch”
aka “We love the BBC show Sherlock and the lead, Benedict Cumberbatch
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Each week, I am continually honored that these girls want to come together in my living room. I have never once dreaded their arrival (Yes, I’ll be honest and admit I am not the “perfect” youth leader and sometimes dread other youth events). My heart was happy when the last of the four showed up “on time” exactly at 5:30 tonight, as the other three had all arrived early. I love knowing they look forward to these times together, enough to ask if we could expand our time given no school/no piano lessons.

Thank you, Jesus, for connecting me with Kirsten, Martha, Laurel, Marella, and Olivia. I pray I am as much of a blessing to them as they are to me. 

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Spring Dust Bunnies

It’s been a Spring Cleaning kind of week. 
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the cat loved the new box

I finally got around to purchasing the printer/copier for the piano studio. (Thank you, Sam’s Club for saving me $30 off of the Walmart/Amazon price.) 

That, of course, led to rearranging book shelves, which led to dusting, which led to sorting out necessary versus unnecessary items
This sorting process somehow managed to get me into our bedroom closets which was a much dirtier experience than I care to admit. Nearly two year’s worth of dust bunnies, dirt and cat hair make a gross hour. BUT I finally conquered the luggage-storage and shoe problem we’d been having, so yay. Plus, Samantha (my American Girl doll) and Sally (my 22? year old, well-loved doll), their accessories, and a tea set have also found a new and improved home. Rather than being stored in a very un-sturdy cardboard box, they now have a safe place in that un-used extra-large luggage. There they shall wait for my own little girls. (Yes, prayerfully.) 
While going through our extensive 1990s/early-2000s Christian music cd collection, we decided to purchase a 128 Capacity CD Wallet.< src=”http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=ado0a-20&l=as2&o=1&a=B004Q88TE6″ /> We have all of our music on both of our computers, plus on an external hard drive so we almost got rid of all 120 of our cds. But this case will allow us to save space by getting rid of the cd cases (don’t hate us, please) AND use the cds in a (future) vehicle that will (hopefully) have a cd player. (Our poor Civic is awesome, but has not one “luxury.”)

In the midst of this media organization it occurred to me to perform a similar operation on my workout dvd collection. I extracted all 6 Jillian Michaels, 4 Bob Harper, 2 Holy Yoga, and 3 – 10 Minute Solution workout dvds and transferred them to a now-unused cd case. This is very exciting to me for 3 reasons:
  1. I don’t have to be slightly embarrassed to have guests see the large collection of fitness videos I own. 
  2. Our tv stand is now much less cluttered.
  3. Whenever I go on a trip, instead of choosing one or two workouts to bring along, I can grab the whole collection.
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Last night at 9:00pm (super late for me to be starting a project), I decided it was time to make one of my visions a reality. Ever since our visit to Chris & Katie’s Chicago home in December I had been wanting to emulate the way Katie had their board games stacked on a bookshelf right by their dining room table. Perhaps my beloved, but unused set of bookshelves could be re-purposed into a board game display. Besides a moment of exuding extremely poor judgment,* my plan worked out wonderfully. I am thrilled to have our games out in the open for guests to see and use, rather than digging through a very high closet shelf. Plus, my favorite bookshelves get to be utilized again! (Thanks again, mom and dad, for the thrifting find five years ago!)

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*I realized, yet again, how much I am becoming my mother and my grandmother, as I attempted to carry a terribly heavy set of bookshelves up the basement stairs by myself. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve “gotten after” them for trying to move or carry a piece of furniture without help.) To top it off, I didn’t even bother to clear the clutter from the staircase. Brilliant, Mel. 
The spare bedroom is now becoming the pre-yard-sale sorting ground. We’ll see what comes of that. Now that I don’t have to downsize for the foreseeable future, I won’t be needing to have the Mother of All Yard Sales.

An Eccles Easter

We were so blessed to have our Eccles Family with us for this holy weekend. They arrived in time for the Good Friday service (which was a wonderful time of remembrance and solemnity with our Ecumenical brothers and sisters), and we still had plenty of time for a late stew dinner and good conversation before bed. There really is nothing quite as lovely as conversation with our parents
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Saturday was a simply gorgeous spring day and we ventured out of the confines of our cozy home many times. We took a walk around the village while the Sour Cream Pound Cake was baking, admiring homes and wishing the canal was filled with its gentle waters rather than revealing the contents of its belly. 
After enjoying a light snack of Pacific Beach Peanut Butter (which I reviewed in yesterday’s post) and homemade crackers, we opted for an exploratory walk through the locally acclaimed Mount Albion Cemetery. It might sound strange to enjoy a cemetery so much, but you would not believe the beauty contained in this sprawling, terraced, park-like grounds. Not only is it intriguing and emotionally riveting to read the various epitaphs and calculate lifespans, but the walking path is just incredible (not to mention extremely aerobic.) 
By the time our walk was over, it was time to head to Medina for an tasty tour of Della’s Chocolates (we came home with Dark Chocolate Toffee & Coconut Clusters and Dark Chocolate Peanut & Raisin Clusters – a grown up kind of Easter treat!) and Rosenkrans Pharmacy and Gift Shop (where I couldn’t resist buying 2 bags of Easter M&Ms on sale for $1.99 each!) Finally we were more than ready for a sit down, early dinner at Avanti’s! (They don’t open until 3:30 on Saturdays, 4:00 on weekdays.) The boys split some spicy Buffalo wings and a Cheese Steak Hoagie Pizza. I ordered a delicious salad with apples, walnuts and crumbled Bleu cheese (my dad would be impressed with my love of that stinky cheese), and mom enjoyed an amazing-looking burger and fries. (I shared a few of her fries and a Buffalo wing, so don’t think I was too ultra healthy. :))
Sunday morning we enjoyed a celebratory worship service together at AFMC and rounded our time out with another filling meal. I opted to stray from the traditional ham or turkey dinner and made a pot roast with carrots, mashed sweet potatoes, biscuits, green beans, and that delectable sour cream pound cake with ice cream and strawberries for dessert. Yes, we were full! 
As we waved goodbye to our dear family, we opened the windows for a bit of fresh, 60 degree air and settled in to enjoy a true Sabbath Sunday together

A New Peanut Butter in Town

Something you all should know about me is I LOVE PEANUT BUTTER. I have had some serious addictions to the stuff in the past, but now I have a good, tasty, healthy relationship with it. Apparently Pacific Beach Peanut Butter discovered my love for this nutty spread and contacted me to review their new products. This company started just two years ago with a mother and son team eager to produce a peanut butter brand that would be all natural, delicious, and a whole host of flavor varieties. You bet your bottom dollar I said YES.

*There’s a coupon code for YOU, dear readers, to receive a free jar of PB peanut butter with any purchase. Code is at the bottom of this post. Happy Shopping!

I was thrilled to open my neatly packaged box of three 9oz. glass jars of peanut butter. My selection included: 

It’s been a week since popping open each of these jars and they are over half empty already! Ooops! But I think that’s a great sign. All of the peanut butters are slightly chunky, but just enough to prove they were hand-ground. They spread well, and are amazing if you follow the lid’s directions and microwave for 20 seconds. Mmm, melty goodness. 
I was impressed that the list of calories and fat calories are at least 30-50 fewer per serving that any other brand of peanut butter I’ve tried, yet the ingredient list remains short – peanuts, and the one or two additional “mix-in” flavor ingredients. I am all about a natural list of contents – none of this added sugars, oils, salts, etc.

Kevin and I, along with his parents and brother, all enjoyed sampling these great Pacific Beach Peanut Butter varieties. We made a light lunch out of the snacking and everyone commented how much they loved ALL of the flavors. We would highly recommend YOU try some of this peanut butter. I think the gifts sets would make an amazing option for a business gift or a special occasion gift basket. What a fun alternative to flowers or chocolates!

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The Cinnayum is by far my favorite. The only spice I love as much as I love peanut butter is cinnamon, so combining that flavor with the nutty spread is like heaven. I have been using this Cinnayum Peanut Butter on toast, graham crackers and even pretzels. 
I thought the Chocolate Peanut Butter would win out in a flavor competition, because, well, it’s my favorite combination of all time, but Pacific Beach’s concoction isn’t quite chocolately enough for me, although the family said they preferred the “hint” of chocolate to a stronger combination like I would have wanted. It’s a little less stir-able than the cinnayum, but still amazing with just a quick zap in the microwave. 
The classic organic, unsalted peanut butter is what I would definitely go back for again and again. It is a staple in my pantry and this brand hits the nail on the head. Great consistency, awesome flavor, no additives, few calories. Don’t ask me how they do it, but I commend them. 
I truly hope that Pacific Beach Peanut Butter finds success in this peanut butter loving world, and that you, my friends would cash in on this great offer and get yourself a jar or five of PB Peanut Butter. With any purchase you can get a FREE JAR of Pacific Beach Peanut Butter. Just use the coupon code blogger03 when you check out.