Friday, November 30, 2012

Blueprint 58 and Hearts for the Holidays

I just re-wrote that title like seven times. I was determined not to just type "update" and call it a day. Because this post IS an update; however, I might have already sixty-seven posts with that title (because I'm very creative), so I figured it's time to switch things up a little.

Anyways, a big thank-you to everyone who has already contributed to our baskets for the babies/kids in the cicu at CHOA. It means so so much to us to be able to honor Caden and the community that surrounded him by doing this. And one of our wonderful nurses left this comment on my post about our baskets this year: "We were just talking tonight about how much the families (and nurses) appreciated your gifts last year! Being in the hospital on Christmas is so difficult for our families here, and knowing that so many people are praying for them and thinking of them really makes a difference." These baskets make a difference, and they are by no means just from us - we consider them a gift from this community of believers and non-believers and heart-mamas and babies and friends and family. And it is beautiful. For realz.

Anyways, we are planning on delivering the baskets on December 21st, so if you still want to contribute in any way, let me know and we can coordinate with you! Also, I wanted to share some pictures of the baskets and goodies we delivered last year so you could get a better idea of just how generous and amazing y'all are, and what a difference these could make for a family stuck in the cicu for the holidays.

A few more house-keeping things for you:
 
Most of you probably already know this, but Adam and I started a non-profit mentoring program about 2 years ago. Finally, we upgraded our website and the fabulous Evenpar Solutions  helped us design and get it up and running. They were so wonderful to work with, and I highly recommend them. Anyways, if you want to know more about what we do in our neighborhood, or how to get involved, or how to support us etc, visit our website!
Also, we are working on getting mentors matched up with kids from our local elementary school for the new year. If you live in Atlanta, and would be interested in mentoring, I'd love to chat with you! You can learn more about mentoring on our website too, as well as download the mentor application and get started in the process. We believe pretty strongly in mentoring, and the boys we mentor are like family to us. The most surprising part of the whole thing, for me, is just how much they continue to change and grow us every day. We are way more lucky to have them than they are to have us!

You can also stay connected with what's going on with Blueprint 58 by liking our Facebook page (please?) There you can see pictures of cool things like Zack and Adam and my dad watching the Falcons-Saints game in a box with George Rogers, along with his Heisman trophy and Superbowl ring. No big deal.
Have I mentioned y'all are the best? For realz.

Quick recap:
*Want to help with our baskets for babies in the cicu at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta this Christmas? Leave a comment or email me (Becca1612 at hotmail dot com). Also, if you left a comment on the post: Hearts for the Holidays 2012, I responded to the comments directly on the post because I couldnt track down everyone's email addresses etc, so be sure to check back there!

*Check out our new website for Blueprint 58 (the non-profit mentoring program we run in our neighborhood). Also, like the Blueprint 58 facebook page.

*Finally, if you're interested in mentoring a child from our neighborhood - PLEASE let me know - We need at least 23 mentors by January (again, comment here or email me at Becca1612 at hotmail dot com). You can find out more information about what it means to be a mentor on our website.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pinpricks of Light


Night has begun its descent across the sky as we wrangle Jayci and Caden into their respective seats and start out for home. They laugh and dance to Lecrae, which Adam plays loudly, and joins them in dancing and singing at the top of his lungs (of course). I laugh and videotape and shush in equal parts. Finally, yawns begin and eyelids droop, so we switch to soft classical music, in hopes of children sleeping through the four remaining hours on the road. The sky ahead reluctantly relinquishes its hold on the day. Light gives way to shadow, but not before a brilliant show of purples and pinks and oranges streak across the sky. Striated grey clouds span the horizon end-to-end, deepening to charcoal until I can scarcely tell where black asphalt ends and ever-darkening sky begins. We drive into the blackness. Our headlights meet headlights ever-so-often, and perhaps we pass the occasional semi-truck. But otherwise, the dark continues unbroken.

My thoughts, inevitably, drift to this boy. Just a week previous, I was busily setting out snacks and butterfly wings for Jayci’s birthday party when he breezed through the back door. My excitement nearly matched Jayci’s as I shrieked, hugged him close, and tried to pay special attention to him without neglecting the birthday girl or her other guests. We readily agree when he insists he wants to spend the night, but has to go home to do his laundry. Which sounds suspiciously like an excuse, except that for all five years we have known him, Saturdays are for washing. So we agree to pick him back up after the party and cleanup are complete; except, on our way to get him, we get a call that he has been picked up by the police. And so while we drive through the dark to and from the beach, he sits alone in a cell.

His grandma insists she will take his name off the lease. Fed-up she declares through smoke from her ever-present position on the leather sectional, the TV blaring old westerns. We stand helpless and stare at her, the cardboard cutout of John Wayne we gave her a few years ago pointing his gun cheerfully at our hearts.

We agree to think and pray about taking him in. Because how could we not, really? But angry teenage delinquent requires deeper commitment, stronger conviction. So we consecrate our vacation to prayer, as much as we can with two busy children who don’t love to sleep. And so he presses in on my heart often that weekend. As we watch Jayci chase her shadow in the sand, and Caden delicately and uncertainly step into the ocean. When we sit down to steaks from the grill, and when I lick my chocolate-covered-potato-chip ice cream cone.

And as we walk down the boardwalk, he flits through my mind like the butterfly shadows darting across our path. We walk to the end of the pier, herding children away from the edges, and I quietly observe fish pulled out of the water and dumped unceremoniously on the cement pier, flopping and gasping, desperate to make their way back to the only environment in which they are equipped for survival. Which of us, I wonder, would be like that fish out of water if we took him in? Probably both, I decide. Flopping and gasping and uncertain and pulled apart by unseen forces.

I trace a heart that has been carved deep amidst the scratches and time-worn sun-stains of the pier railing. As I trace, I remember the first time I met him: I knocked on his door, just as I had knocked the 146 doors before his. Metro Kidz! I yell loudly in response to the shouted who is it?! that answers my peppered knock. As I wait, I silently trace the letters scratched in the door in disbelief: S-T-A-N-L-E-Y.

Come in, the voice beckons, and I am hesitant, slowly turning the knob and peeking my head inside the dimly lit apartment. And so it began, and we chose to enter into his story. To be a part of his life, one for which anyone would say he has every right to be angry. But from the start, I remind Adam as we walk, from that first tracing of paint scratched from metal-dinged door, I remained convinced he would someday be ours.

His grandma decided to take him back, and so he is out on bail until his court date in December. And yet somehow, I know that he is still ours. Maybe not how we thought he might be (though maybe someday that will change). But until then, we belong to him and he to us. And so we pray and look at the dark road ahead with confidence that this path we are on will lead us home.

Again we prepare to leave for a through-the-night drive as darkness falls. Our bags sit haphazardly packed despite specific instructions and reminders from Adam’s mom. But before we leave, we pull buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese and hash brown casserole from the oven. Jayci dances excitedly around the campfire as the boys from the football team saunter through our gate at regular intervals, starting thirty minutes after we had told them dinner would start. We reluctantly turn away a few boys who quit the team or who never played, determined to make this a special celebration of the team we built, however rag-tag and uncertain it may have been.

After everyone has eaten their fill of hot dogs and macaroni and barbeque chicken, we stand around the glowing embers of the campfire to roast marshmallows for smores. Jayci eagerly dashes inside to grab the stack of certificates we painstakingly filled out the evening previous. I was determined, I told Adam, to give the boys awards honoring their character, not just their abilities on the field. I realize they will think it’s lame, I tell him, but I can only hope that one day our words and truth spoken over them might reverberate in their hearts when they need it most, when they are sitting in their darkest place.

And so we stand around the coals as the fire simmers down. I stare at the coals, noticing the way they are lit from within, spreading heat and light to the rowdy boys laughing and jonesing and huddled around them. And we celebrate our boys, calling them leader, telling them we appreciate their commitment, their honesty, their cheerful heart, their quick wit and positive attitude. They duck their heads, and tease one another, and brag how their award is the best one of all, and roll their eyes in equal measures. They give Jayci the “best cookie-maker award” and me “best team mom.”

Later, I log onto facebook and see they have posted pictures of their certificates, of their smores, their t-shirts, and that their statuses declare their undying devotion to the Anteaters of Adair Park. Tears well in my eyes because tonight, under charcoal smoke spiraling up into blackest-sky, the dark doesn’t feel thick and suffocating like tar. Rather, it’s inky-black with the promise of futures not-yet-written. Because you all believed that these boys belonged to us, and to you, and that they were more than just statistics and future inmates. Because you bought t-shirts and prayed and cheered and made banners for them to run through. Because of hope, we can shed glimmers of light into a darkness we still don’t fully understand.

Tonight, once again I stare out into dark night, looking for the light. Silhouettes and shadows take shape as my eyes adjust. And I find pinpricks of light poked through dark canvas of night sky. I search out one star, dim and pale and flickering as though barely able to will itself to shine. I think of him once again, of how to reignite his inner light when he is so surrounded and immersed in the darkness that sometimes seems to shroud our city’s streets. But I know we wont give up, because just as surely as he belongs to us, I can rest in the certainty that he belongs even more completely to the Author who pens his story and future with loving tenderness. And grace remains: the star flickers, and continues bravely shining its light, convinced that somehow it is making a difference in the universe, even in the great sky strewn with brighter stars and bigger planets and constellations. Because He numbers the stars, He calls them by name. And so He calls me. And Caden and Jayci. And Zack and Sabo, and all our boys. Each and every one. He calls their name and numbers their hairs and tonight I rest in the assurance of that great grace that the sun is coming with the morning.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Arrrruba!

Based on the comments and notes I received after I posted that I was back from Aruba, I apparently didn't do a very good job informing y'all that I was going to Aruba in the first place. You see, I must have gotten all caught up in the craziness of the November that meant traveling every weekend . . . Also, you're not supposed to broadcast when you're leaving your house empty for a week right? Although in our case, we dont leave our house empty since our roommate and dog and all the chickens are still here. Not to mention the twenty-some-odd kids who are pretty much permanent fixtures on the front porch even if we're not home. Good luck getting past them.

ANYWAYS, all that to say that we spent Thanksgiving, and the entirety of last week, at a beautiful resort in Aruba. Courtesy of my fabulous parents, who also gave up their top-floor-corner-suite for the sake of their lovely daughter grandbabies.
We had an absolutely wonderful time, although it was definitely weird to celebrate Thanksgiving without the usual trappings and "fall" traditions. Not that I missed it, necessarily, since I was spending my time snorkeling and reading and laying in the sun on a perpetually 85 degree day with an ocean view. Not quite so much laying, actually, since Caden has become the busiest, craziest, toddler boy known to man. Sigh.
However, I literally could not be more thankful for my seeing my family (including my sister who I haven't seen in nearly a year) and a beautiful week enjoying them in the sunshine.


One of my favorite days was when we went snorkeling, and Jayci was so brave and she even put her face in the water and breathed through the tube-thing (something I haven't even perfected without panicking and inhaling water). She is her father's daughter for sure.
Also, the following picture almost made me pee my pants on the boat, which would have been embarrassing. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hearts for the Holidays 2012

Let me just start off by saying that November might be death of me, what with all it's fun travels and events and craziness. Tonight, we are having 40+ people (mostly neighborhood kiddos and neighbor families) over for Thanksgiving dinner, because we leave on Saturday and wont be here for actual Thanksgiving. Adam is substituting teaching (for P.E) at the neighborhood elementary school all week, leaving me in charge of the turkey. Lord help us all.

ALL that to say that I have been meaning to post this for the last three weeks or so, and time keeps somehow getting away from me (apparently I didn't learn my margins lessons very well). We want to put together baskets for babies/kids in the CICU at CHOA again this year. But I dont have time to pour out my heart and tell y'all just how deeply I feel about this. SO I am literally copying and pasting this from last year. I hope you guys will be just as excited to help out again this year . . . We heard from nurses and doctors last year that the patients and their families were really able to enjoy the baskets we put together (I'm including a list of what we put in the baskets last year, so you can have an idea of what you might want to help contribute).


It's almost Thanksgiving. I know, I can't believe how fast time is flying either. But this year especially I am so aware of just how much we have to be thankful for. Caden is home with us. That sweet little face is getting chubbier by the day, and the feeding tube is out of his poor little nose. I am beyond thankful for both my little sweethearts. And for our new home, our ministry, and our family and friends. . . But I also recognize that even while Caden was in the hospital, even while his heart was fighting to beat, we still had so much to be thankful for. The amount of support, love, encouragement and prayers we had while we were in the hospital . . . it literally brought us to tears of gratitude on a daily basis.

We've realized, however, that not everyone with little ones in the hospital has people sending them itunes gift cards, money for parking, making them food, cleaning their houses . . . Beyond that, I can scarcely begin to imagine spending the holidays at my baby's bedside in the CICU.

Because we are thankful, and because we want to pass along some of the encouragement and love y'all showered us with during Caden's hospital stay . . . we are planning something fun for families in the CICU this holiday season. We want to put together gift baskets/bags/what-have-you for each child (and their family) in the CICU. We spoke with CHOA and they said they are staffed for 14 beds, can hold up to 27 children, but at their busiest usually have 18-20 kids . . . So we want to put together 20 bags.

What we want is your help. We would love for y'all to be a part of what we're doing. Whether it's by contributing ideas for what to include (especially from my fellow heart-parents - what would you have wanted when you were in the hospital?), money contributions, or if you have something specific you'd like to donate for us for the bags (maybe you make something like baby hats or dolls etc).

I'm always kind of nervous about doing stuff like this, because I'm afraid that no one will respond. But we feel led to love these families, who are undoubtedly facing some of the hardest moments you can imagine. And if a simple act of love and kindness can point them to Jesus, then I feel like it's something we desperately want to be a part of. So please humor me by at least contributing some ideas for us!

We are so excited to give back, to honor Caden's days in the CICU, and to thank you for all you have done for us and our family. And also to show those who loved and cared for Caden how thankful we are for the work they do day in and day out.  I really think this will mean a lot to the families who have to spend the holidays in the hospital, I know that we couldn't have been more grateful for every single note, prayer, gift, and encouraging word. Seriously, they completely carried us through each day, and I dont think we would have made it without them.

If you'd rather email me ideas, or want an address for sending donations, you can reach me at Becca1612 at hotmail dot com. 

--------------
We are going to get $5 Starbucks gift cards for ALL the nurses working on Christmas (both day and night shift).

I thought I'd include a list of everything we're planning on putting in the baskets because several people had offered to put together a basket. We are going to deliver these on December 23rd, so if you want to put together a basket, just let us know before then sometime!

- Nice journals and pens (so parents can write, journal how they're feeling, write down medical details, questions for the doctors etc).
 - Gum, mints (you dont always want to leave your baby's bedside to go brush your teeth, but also want to talk to the drs and nurses without scaring them) . . .
- Small packets of tissue
- Water bottles
- Packaged snacks (granola bars, crackers etc) or homemade goodies
- Gift cards (there are several restaurants etc nearby: starbucks, chickfila, panera bread, doc chey's, chipotle, and domino's are neaby chains, and there are also some local places right near the hospital - Rise n' Dine, Bad dog taqueria . . .)
- Gas cards (you drive back and forth a lot!)
- Travel-sized things of shampoo, body wash, lotion, etc.
- Hand lotion (you wash your hands constantly so they get super-dry)
- Small things of laundry detergent (if you stay overnight at the hospital, it's nice to be able to do your laundry)
-Antibacterial gel (have to be extra careful about germs!)
-Parking passes for CHOA

Monday, November 12, 2012

The big-fat 366 update

I am so behind on my 366 project. I've been taking pictures, just not processing, labeling and/or posting. So, here is my big update. I cannot even tell you how excited I am to put these into a book at the end of the year. Not to mention how proud I am that I actually kept up (at least somewhat) with something for a whole year. Booyah.


 
 Whew. And that, my friends, is the big-giant-catch-up-on-a-picture-a-day-post. You are welcome.



Sunday, November 11, 2012

Savannah and a marathon . . .

I am so far behind on my blogging that I am just now (on Sunday night) getting around to blogging about the Savannah marathon from LAST weekend. But you know I couldn't help but at least share the copious amounts of pictures I took.

Adam and his sister ran the Savannah marathon (to be fair, Adam decided to only run the half-marathon while Rachel ran the full). I, on the other hand, watched them run while eating Doritos. It was a shining moment for me.

The whole family ended up spending the weekend in Savannah, so it was fun to spend time with them and celebrate "team Stanley" and their fabulous athletic abilities (of which, again, I had no part).

Since all of this happened over a week ago, and I can barely remember what happened earlier today, my memory is a little fuzzy. Therefore, I leave you with a selection of photos from our weekend.

(See, I told you it was a lot of pictures)

Oh and I also got to meet and enjoy dinner with a sweet friend while we were there - it was such a treat!

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