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.