Wednesday, November 20, 2013

First annual. Definitely.

Last winter when I blogged about a budding new ministry/non-profit that I was starting with my friend Amy, I referred to it as my fourth baby.  I never stopped feeling that way, beginning on the plane ride home from Atlanta when God started developing the vision in our hearts to the moment we walked away from an empty banquet hall after seeing that vision come to reality.  This little ministry, Called to Love, is definitely my thing.  Not MY thing meaning I own it, but rather it's the thing for me.  The perfect task for my gifts and passion.  I have not been so exhausted emotionally and physically in a really long time; but I have rarely felt so fulfilled and confident that I was exactly where I supposed to be. The weekend was not flawless, but overall it went better than I could have hoped.  The feedback was mostly positive, and even the negative was shared in respect and love, offering suggestions and insight, not harsh criticism.  It was clear that God was working in the hearts of the mamas who came, including ours!
We held the retreat at the Oregon Garden Resort, which has a fantastic Grand Hall where we had all of our meals and main sessions.  The venue is not perfect (chairs are uncomfortable, the meeting hall is far from the hotel rooms and the parking lot is too small), but it met our needs and the staff was great to work with.  Thanks to Amy's creative decorating skills and the twinkling lights, the place looked great.  (PS: I stole all these pics from my FB friends, so thanks for that, ladies.)

One of our biggest desires was that the women would CONNECT with each other in real ways, not superficial chatter.  That began happening on the first night, as we saw conversations springing up all over the room.  Each night around 9:45 pm we had to ask women to go back to their hotel rooms so we could lock up.  It happened so naturally, it was amazing to watch.
This picture cracks me up, because these two girls are not new friends, but sisters.  :)  Also, that fireplace is to die for.

Another fun part of the weekend was the vendor tables.  We had 10 different vendors, either promoting their non-profit or selling merchandise to raise funds for their own adoptions.  There was plenty of time to walk around and chat and drink coffee while looking at all the goodies for sale.

One of our team members put in HOURS of preparation for the Encounter room.  It was kind of a prayer room, but so much more.  She designed several different stations for us to stop and reflect on the theme that we adopt (or foster) because WE have been adopted by God.  It was a time carved out from a busy weekend for women as individuals to be alone with God.  We got the idea from a similar concept at Created for Care, and then Jessica just ran with it, adding her own spin.  I couldn't believe how she transformed this rather boring room into a completely tranquil environment.

On Saturday morning we had a panel of six adult adoptees answering questions submitted by the moms.  We learned that panels are kind of tricky, because we want the speakers to be free to share their thoughts, we wanted each to have enough time to tell us what was on their hearts, but we were also on a time schedule, and six was probably too many for 40 minutes.  :)  Although it didn't turn out exactly as we had envisioned, they shared some incredibly valuable insight.  I don't have a picture, but that night we also had a panel of three birth moms.  It was emotional, but really great to hear their stories.

I cannot talk about the weekend without talking about the worship.  It was obviously a highlight for many of the women, as reported over and over again in their evaluation forms.  We were so blessed to have some of our dear friends from church come and lead the worship time.  They are absolute professionals with no agenda other than bringing glory to God.  It was incredible.  I don't have a picture of all of them, but this is Kristin and Lori, with my partner-in-crime, Amy, in between them at the podium. The LOVE marquis letters were made by Amy, and they were pre-tty bright!  One mom commented that as she closed her eyes in worship, LOVE was burned into her retinas!  Ha! Sorry if you had headaches, ladies, but it was just too awesome not to use.

There were so many moments in the weekend where I could feel God's presence and favor.  One small thing was on Saturday morning, when we realized that the huge storm the night before had blown away all of our signage, except for one good a-frame sign.  We had several volunteers, panel members, speakers, and breakout leaders still to arrive, and it is very hard to find the building without good signs.  One of our team members, Tricia, and I were standing outside trying to figure out what to do, because the arrow on our one sign was pointing the wrong way.  At this PRECISE moment, a woman walked by and said "We just had an event at our church this week and I have a bunch of big arrows in my car.  Do you want them?"  Boom.  She brought the arrows, Tricia got scissors and tape, and our problem was solved.  Coincidence?  I think not.
But my favorite story of the weekend unfolded slowly and ended with a fabulous bang.  Literally about 10 minutes before registration began, I got a call from our Sunday morning speaker.  She had been diagnosed with pneumonia, and was extremely ill.  She was in the hospital with a PICC-line for antibiotics and was on bed rest.  She would not be coming to speak on Sunday.  I can only give credit to God that I did not panic. I told Amy, and we both just said...OK!  We didn't have time to talk or think about it, we just prayed that God would tell us what we were to do for that session.  Put it on the back burner until we get these women registered.

As we were meeting and greeting the mamas whose names we had prayed over, one of them had a question about the vendor tables.  I began chatting with her about her table, and I instantly liked her.  She's an attachment specialist, a counselor and therapist, and she had just started a ministry with a desire to focus on supporting adoptive and foster moms.  She said she felt God calling her to help fill the gap that exists in the support and care of weary moms.  (So, kind of exactly what our weekend was about.)  She mentioned that she had previously run an adoption agency and placed over 100 kiddos (so, experienced and knowledgeable), but this current non-profit only has only one client. A friend of hers had gifted her this weekend as "kind of a launch" for her ministry.  All I can tell you was that the Holy Spirit was practically standing behind her, frantically pointing at her head, saying THIS IS YOUR GIRL!  Her name is Susan Killeen, and she was instantly likable, humble, and the exact opposite of self-promoting.  At this point, she still thought we were just talking about her 8 foot vendor table!

I asked Susan if she ever did any speaking.  She said something like, "Yes, kind of.  It's one of my goals in the future, but I mostly do one on one right now."  I smiled and called Amy over.  We told Susan our situation, and asked if she would prayerfully consider speaking on Sunday morning, even for 10-15 minutes.  Her eyes filled with tears and she said "In front of EVERYONE?"  I reminded her that this weekend was her launch!  How about a rocket launch?

I continued to check in with Susan throughout the weekend, and she was incredibly nervous and scared, but admitted that she already felt like God was giving her things that our women needed to hear.  Every time I talked with her, I liked her even more, and felt more sure that we had made the right decision.  Even if she was only mediocre, God wanted her up there.

It turns out...she's NOT MEDIOCRE.  She took the podium on Sunday morning and just knocked our socks off.  She was eloquent, wise, FUNNY, insightful, personal, and absolutely perfect for what we needed to end our weekend.  When she left the stage, the women gave her a standing ovation.  After we closed, her table was surrounded by women wanting to talk with her, thank her, buy her Bible study and get her business card.  We feel like we have this wonderful new partner in ministry--our very own resident expert and friend. I'm so sorry for our original speaker, Kerrie, who is so sick!  But I have absolutely no doubt that it was God's plan all along for Susan to be our Sunday morning speaker.  She will be invited to many, many more Called to Love retreats.  Check her out on FB, Hope Rising Coaching Services.

Lastly, I want to mention that Amy and I did not pull of this retreat alone.  We had an incredible team of eight mamas by our side.  Hardly any of them knew each other before this year, but we've come together with a common goal and no other desire than to serve these moms.  Each of them is incredibly capable and willing, and none of them has any ego.  We never had to over-think the tasks we were delegating, worry about anyone being hurt if they were asked to do too much or too little.  We could not have done it without them.

This is my soul-sister, Amy.  We have a lot in common, but we are also very different.  Our gifts and strengths wonderfully complement each other, and I never feel a sense of competition with her. I love being her partner.  She is an amazing woman of strength and resilience.  She's entering her third year of waiting for her adopted children from Ethiopia, and the wait is enough to undo anyone.  I am in awe of her grace.  My only regret is that we waited until the last session was over to take this picture, and we had both been bawling approximately 3 minutes prior to this photo.   (Also, the L and the O were sagging.)  It's a good thing we work well together, because we are absolutely sure that this ministry is here to stay.  In case anyone was wondering, this was not a one-time retreat.  We learned a lot and have room to improve and grow in several areas, but it was clear God's hand was in it.  It was definitely the first annual C2L.  First of many.

Friday, November 01, 2013

The 411 on C2L

My mind is spinning each day with details, details, details about the upcoming Called to Love retreat.   I feel like I've talked about it so much that everyone I've ever met knows all about it.  But then the other day some friends asked, "Now, what is it exactly?"  It's kind of like when I've chatted with another school mom every day for months and months, and the first day we met she may have told me her name, but now we're practically best friends and I don't know her name!   Maybe you have heard me yammer on about C2L for months, but don't know the scoop and feel embarrassed to ask!

Others do know what it is and have asked for an update on how the planning is going.  So here is the full story.  You might as well read it, because I doubt I'll blog much until the darn thing is over.  First I'll give an update, then if you are totally lost, you can keep reading for the background on what the heck Called to Love is and why I'm making such a big deal about it.

T minus 13 days: We are 2 weeks out from the very first Called to Love retreat, and it pretty much is a part-time job for both Amy and me (with no pay, in case that was unclear). It's on my mind night and day and is leading to some serious insomnia.  However, it is a total labor of love.  Every little thing we're doing, whether it's answering emails, creating name tags, choosing menus or discussing table decor, gets me more and more excited. I want these women to have the same sense of refreshing and connection that I received when I attended Created for Care in Atlanta last year.  I want them to feel understood and loved.

Right now we have almost 100 moms who have paid and registered for an event that did not exist before last March!  Their trust and their sacrifice shows me that there is a need for this type of ministry.  These mamas are coming from all over the country, not just the Northwest.  We are still watching the bottom line financially and having to make decisions like: should we serve coffee at this session, or buy C2L pens for every attendee?  Should we get a gift for the breakout speakers (who are all coming for free) or get a tray of snacks on Saturday night? But we feel confident that God is going to provide just what we need, and more importantly, bring just the right moms who need this weekend.

We covet your prayers, if you are the praying type.  Our biggest request is for the women attending, that it will truly meet them where they are--that it will be a weekend of renewal and refreshing, that they will feel supported and encouraged. Pray for their families at home, many of whom are dealing with hurting children. Our second request is just that God would show His favor in the details.  From the right technology to accommodate several different speaker's visual presentations to the food allergies to the weather to the hotel room reservations to the feeling a mama has when she walks in a huge room and doesn't know anyone....our prayer is that all of those pieces will fall into place.  Not so that we look good, but so that there will be no distractions from the purpose of the weekend.

If you are local and looking for a way to help, we have 2 specific needs.  On Friday, November 15, we are looking for some humble servants to help women figure out the semi-confusing grounds of the Oregon Garden Resort as they arrive.  Our goal is to have teams of 2 work in 60-90 minute shifts, to stand outside, greet the women and direct them.  The times we need to cover are 2pm to 6pm, and we need it rain or shine.  (Thus the very humble servant aspect.)

The second need we have is indoors.  ;)  On Sunday morning, November 17th, at the end of our last session, we are going to have an extended time of worship and prayer.  I have already heard the stories of some of the women attending our retreat, and they (and their children) are in the middle of some very heavy situations.  We would like to invite outside friends to come and be willing to pray with any mama who needs it (and requests it).  You do not need to be a person of eloquent prayer, just a willing heart to put your arm around a hurting mom and seek the Lord's grace, wisdom and love.  I know it's often hard to sneak away on a Sunday morning, but the session is at 9:30 am and the prayer time will be around 10:30/10:45.

Lastly, if you feel led to give something financially, we won't stop you. :)  The best way is to give through our paypal account; you can click on the "DONATE" button below. Ironically, our non-profit is not set up for tax-deductable donations yet, BECAUSE we don't have the $750 needed to file with the IRS to obtain 501c3 status, and we don't feel comfortable asking for donations until we HAVE that status!  So, we are not desperate, not actively asking for financial gifts (outside of this paragraph), but we would love to end this year in the black, with perhaps enough to go after that coveted 501c3.

Thank you to everyone in my very own support group (yes, ALL of you) who walked through our adoption with us, holding our hands each step of the way.  Now I feel you cheering me on as I seek to hold hands with other adoptive/foster moms who may not have the same level of support that I have.  May God be glorified through it all!

Background:  Last January, my good friend Amy and I traveled to Atlanta for a conference for adoptive moms (Created for Care).  She was entering her third year of waiting for her children from Ethiopia, and I was six months home with our adopted toddler after a 2.5 year wait.  I can't speak for her, but I was hanging on by emotional threads at the time.  I felt like I was failing as parent to my adopted AND bio kids, I was googling things like "post-adoption depression" and could not figure out why everyone on f@cebook seemed to have no issues with their adopted toddlers.  I loved my son and still felt confident in our decision, but I was unprepared for the difficulty I had bonding with him. I thought by 6 months home it would have all clicked into place and we'd be madly in love with each other.  I was filled with guilt for my lack of affection and ability to parent confidently, and I was frustrated with him for his destructive and defiant behavior--some of which was personality, some toddler nature, and some a result of his own attachment struggles.  I knew I loved him fiercely, but I felt like I was drowning in the experience of parenting him.  I had wonderful support from friends and family, but none of them had experienced this personally, and even with them I often didn't feel like I could be totally honest, because I didn't want them to worry about me.

Less than 2 hours after we had landed in Atlanta, I sat in a hotel room with two moms who both looked me in the eye and said "Yes. I've been there.  We adopted a toddler boy internationally and it was VERY hard to attach.  But IT'S GOING TO GET SO MUCH BETTER.  You're going to be OK and so is your son.  I know you love him."  The tears just flowed.  I felt like someone had offered me a life boat, and I climbed in. The rest of the weekend was full of similar conversations.  The discussions were full of HONESTY AND HOPE, two things I needed so badly.  I was told over and over again, "Yes, it's hard, but it's worth it.  Your child is worth fighting for.  It's going to get better.  Seek the Lord and He will give you what you need.  I GET IT."    It was exactly what I needed and was truly a game-changer for me as an adoptive mom.

Amy and I were not rooming together, and barely saw each other all weekend, because we were spending time with other adoptive moms and being renewed in our own specific ways.  During the weekend, they encouraged us to do retreats in our own communities. At one point during the weekend, we met up in an almost empty meeting room and one of us said: "We're so doing this, aren't we?"  And the other said, "Oh heck yes we are."  I don't remember who said what, but we were both 5 steps into planning before we got on the plane ride home.

The Beginning:  Once home, we put some feelers out to adoptive mom friends of ours in the Northwest, and immediately had about 7 other friends and acquaintances who were on board to be our "team."  They just happened to be some of the most intelligent, capable women I've ever come across, and they were  ALL IN.  We discussed the huge need for support and encouragement in this unique role.  On advice from our attorney (who happens to be one of the moms on our team!) and the founders of the original conference in Atlanta, we chose to start a non-profit organization that would be the foundation of the retreat.  Our purpose was simple: encourage and support adoptive AND foster moms in any stage of their journey.  Amy and I prayed and brainstormed and prayed some more about a name, and decided on Called to Love.  It may sound cheesy at first, but it took the broad vision for this ministry and brought it down to a very simple directive.  We are called to love these children. No matter what.  Not called to be heroes or rescuers or perfect parents, just LOVE.  Our theme verse is Isaiah 43:1:  "Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, and you are mine."   We were incorporated as state-sanctioned non-profit organization on March 20, 2013.

Immediately, God started flinging doors open for us.  High quality, sought-after speakers and session teachers agreed to come for little or no charge.  We strongly desired to hear from adult adoptees and birth moms, and both started coming TO US, willing to use their story to encourage these moms.  Foster and adoptive moms from all over the country were expressing great interest.  We wondered if we might exceed our 150 capacity!  Amy is the budget guru, and she worked and reworked the budget dozens of times.  We chose a venue, and found the magic number to be 90 women.  If we could get 90 paying registrations and carefully watched every penny we spent, we could pay all of our bills and neither of our families would go into debt.  We took a leap of faith and opened the registrations up.  We didn't get bombarded like we thought we would, but slowly and surely, moms from across the country have taken their own leap of faith and committed to attending.  We are so grateful for how far God has brought this little dream of ours, and want to give all the credit to Him.   I'm overflowing with joy to have the opportunity to offer a lifeboat to some other moms, and I pray that they will climb in and receive His abounding love and grace.