The Russian Adoption Ban

Photo Credit: Nico Paix on Flickr (Creative Commons)

Photo Credit: Nico Paix on Flickr (Creative Commons)

I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I feel about the recent ban on the adoption of Russian orphans by parents in the United States, and honestly, that has been a little overwhelming.  When I found out that Putin had signed the bill into law, it felt like I was just told that I can’t have children.  My heart is in Russia.  It has been for years.  And now the door from here to there has been bound up by politics.

And there is nothing I can do about it.

When I shared with a friend how I was feeling, he said, “But, you still can have kids.  There are other countries.  There are kids here who need to be adopted.  And you can probably still have your own.”  As selfish as it may sound, that hurt almost as much as the news of the ban itself.  Other countries, domestic adoption, biological children…that has not been my dream or my heart’s deepest desire.

You wouldn’t (or at least you shouldn’t) tell a woman who had just been told by her doctor that she was infertile that “everything will be okay, there’s always adoption and fostering and surrogacy.”  No, you would mourn with her the loss of a dream.

So that is all I am asking of you at this point.  Mourn with me.

And mourn with the hundreds of thousands of Russian orphans who are waiting for their forever families, who now have a that much smaller chance of ever being adopted, because the largest population to adopt them is no longer allowed to.

And pray.

Pray for the Russian people who are speaking out against the ban.  I don’t want to speak generally or ignorantly about the Russian government, but free-speech doesn’t mean the same thing in Russia that it does here.

Pray for the proposed reform of the orphan care system in Russia.  If you know anything about its current state, you know that it really is not the best place for a child to grow up.

Pray for Russian families, that their hearts would be opened to adoption, especially of special-needs children.  There is a rather large stigma against adoption in Russia and that stigma is even larger when it comes to adopting a special-needs child.

And finally, pray for the orphans, in Russia and around the world.

Mournfully yours,
breylee♥

Why I Skipped the Candy Aisle…

Yesterday after work, I went to the grocery store.  Milk.  Shampoo.  Bread.  Toothpaste.  It was just a quick trip to grab some generic staples one would find in any home.  I also purchased my weight in canned cat food, a romantic comedy, and some *ahem* feminine hygiene products.  (Shout out to my male readers if you are still with me.)  Slap a bottle of wine, a tub of ice cream, and a bag of chocolates in there and my cart would have practically screamed, “Single girl going home to her cat and a little screen time with Ryan Gosling.”

I mean, ladies, amIright? *swoon*

But I didn’t buy any wine…because I think wine is rather gross.

And I didn’t buy any ice cream…because I basically forgot.

And I didn’t buy any chocolate…because I don’t support child slavery.

*insert sound of record screeching to a halt here*

Say WWWHHHHAAAATTTTT?!?!?

You heard me.  Chocolate and child slavery.  Believe it or not (and I do pray that you’ll believe it) most major chocolate companies source their chocolate from farms on the Ivory Coast of Africa.  Okay, that part is actually easy to believe.  But how about this:

These farms use forced child labor.  Also known as child slavery.

Are those of you I didn’t lose at the mention of tampons still with me?  Good, because this is something everyone needs to hear.

According to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, there are approximately 284,000 children working on cocoa farms in Africa.  Many were kidnapped or purchased from their families and are now forced to work all hours of the day in deplorable and dangerous conditions, while being fed little to nothing and beaten if they fail to meet their daily quota.

The cocoa beans their little hands harvest are then processed into the chocolate that makes the candy you may be passing out to other little hands next week.

Little hands that don’t know the sting of a switch or a whip.  Little hands that have never felt the deep pain of true hunger.  Little hands that are tucked safely in to their own bed each night and then rub the sleep out of little eyes when it is time to get up for school the next morning.  Little hands that are held and kissed and loved.  Little hands that experience so many things stolen from the little hands that were used to make their Halloween candy.

Doesn’t look quite so appetizing anymore, does it?

They spend the years of their childhood harvesting the millions of pounds of cocoa beans required to meet the worldwide demand for cheap chocolate.  All so that those cocoa beans are a little cheaper to harvest.  Sure, the savings get passed on to us…but at what cost?

Do you really need your chocolate fix so desperately that you would be willing to enslave a child to provide it for you?  Because that is what happens when you purchase from a company that buys products from slave owners.  You may not be the one carrying the whip, but you are financially supporting the company that purchases from the man who does.

That purchase pays his owner.

Some complain that budgets are tight and fair-trade chocolate is expensive.  How can you be expected to shell out that much extra cash for candy?  Try explaining that to the ten year old boy who farmed the cocoa beans used to make your candy bar.  Explain to him that his childhood, his safety, his comfort, his education, and his life are less important to you than saving a few bucks at the supermarket.

Go on…tell him.

I don’t mean to be Captain Guilt Trip with this post, but this message needs to be heard.

Fortunately, it is being heard, and people are finding ways to make a difference.  I’ve gathered together a few other great blog posts and articles on this topic that I would strongly encourage you to read:

Here, at Rage Against the Minivan, blogger Kristen Howerton shares a bit more information about the chocolate slave trade.  She ends her post with the BBC documentary “The Bitter Truth,” a heart-wrenching exposé on the use of child slavery in the chocolate industry.  If you do nothing else, please take the time to watch this documentary.

Here, at FoodisPower.org, is a great article detailing the appalling conditions children face when taken into the slave trade of the chocolate industry, including a few first hand accounts of former child slaves.  I would encourage you to peruse their website for more information on this and other issues in the food industry.

Here, at Sidewalk Theologian, blogger Jess writes about her experience of learning more about child slavery in the chocolate industry and how we can make small choices that could have a big impact in this area of social justice.

Here is a great article on ways you can still celebrate this chocolate filled holiday without supporting child slavery.

Finally, here is a well researched, comprehensive list of recommended and not recommended chocolate companies, updated October 23, 2012.

I hope you will all take the time to look at the above resources and pass this information on to a few of your friends.  Perhaps this new knowledge will influence your shopping habits as it did mine.

And hopefully in the near future, this issue will no longer be an issue.  But that, my dear readers, is up to us.

Sweetly yours,
breylee♥

Inviting God Into My Closet

When I was a little girl, I loved to build forts.  Toss me a couple of pillows and a handful of blankets and I would recreate the Taj Mahal in my bedroom.  Send me outside to play for any amount of time and you would find me up a tree with my little brother trying to turn the twigs we had gathered into the most epic tree fort your eyes had ever seen. Once, I even tried to talk my dad into letting me have free access to the lumber and building supplies we had in our garage, as I was fully convinced that I could build my own playhouse in the backyard if he would just give me a hammer and a few days off from school.  (Yeah, that one didn’t happen.)

As fun as fort building was, I didn’t always do it for recreational purposes.  Sometimes, building a fort was my way of building walls of protection around myself.  I was an insecure child.  My home life wasn’t perfect.  (It was far from terrible, I promise, but things weren’t always great.)  Sometimes I felt completely overwhelmed by what was going on around me and inside of me; and when the environment I was in did not feel safe, I had to find a way to create an environment that did.

When those moments came, when I found myself feeling sad, angry, or frightened, I would clear out the floor of my closet, set up a little nest of blankets and pillows, bring in a lamp and a book, and read until I fell asleep.

My closet fort was my safe place.  In it, I could hide from the world.  With those doors closed, nothing could hurt me, scare me, or make me feel bad.  The outside world could not touch me.  I was safe.

A few weeks ago, I shared this old coping mechanism with my therapist, Bethany, after she shared an image she had of me, as a little girl, crawling into my closet for a safe place to cry.  We were both a bit blown away by the accuracy of this image.

Later, in a different session, I was sharing with her how unsupportive M had been when it came to my struggle with depression, and how difficult it was for me to so often hear, “It’s all in your head.  I don’t understand why you can’t just get over it.”  (I know M tried.  It just wasn’t something he was fully capable of understanding, so I can’t blame him for his insensitivity.)  

I told Bethany that, in the aftermath of our breakup, I realized how greatly his words and attitude had hurt me, and I knew that the right man would be able to understand what I had been through and show me compassion as I occasionally continue to struggle.  She responded to my revelation with, “You need someone who will crawl into your closet with you.”

Wow.  Yes.  Exactly that.

I need someone who will crawl into my fear, my anger, and my sadness without reproach and without looking back.  I need someone who is willing to hold me while I shake, rage, and cry.  Someone to sit quietly by and simply be with me.  He doesn’t need to solve my problems, he just needs to be there to support me through them.

Honestly, I am still that little girl, curled up and crying on her closet floor.  A cancelled wedding and a broken heart will do that to you.  While I may not have literally crawled into my closet the day I received that phone call, I certainly began to build a figurative closet of protection around my heart.  It had been broken and needed to be guarded, so I did that by closing my heart off to the outside world.

As I was driving to work Wednesday morning, struggling with some thoughts and recollections I thought I had dealt with months ago, something struck me.

I need God in my closet.

While I may not be ready to let anyone else in, I need Him there.  I need God to join me in my fear, in my anger, and in my sadness.  Only He is trustworthy enough to see it all.  Only He is gracious enough to sit with me in silence with no judgment.  Only He is able to be exactly everything I need when the world around me forces me to withdraw into my safe place.

Only He can be trusted to never, ever, ever break my heart.

I need God in my safe place so I can once more trust in Him to be my safe place.

Maybe then I can begin again to open my heart to the rest of the world.

Guardedly yours,
breylee♥

“The Event” (Or, what my roommates have been calling my recent break-up.)

About a month ago, the relationship I had been in for the past 2+ years ended.  Amicably.  Somewhat mutually.  (He broke up with me, but it was for reasons I had been thinking about as well.)  But it was still not without a great deal of pain.  And grief.  And tears.

Right after the break-up, I was in a daze.  I knew what had happened, but I still could not wrap my head around the conversation I had just finished.  I was sure he would call me back, say “just kidding”, and things would be the same again.  I would be very upset with him for pulling such a cruel prank, but I would forgive him and everything would be okay.  Even as I dropped my groceries on the kitchen floor and told my roommate what had just happened, I could not seem to process the reality of the situation.

She hugged me and I heard her cry a little bit; I honestly thought to myself, “Tears.  Yeah.  You’re supposed to cry when your heart is breaking.  I should probably be crying.  Okay then…why don’t I feel like crying?”

Shortly thereafter, I did feel like crying.  And then I could not stop.  It was as if the floodgates had opened and nothing short of an act of God could close them.  The reality of what had happened was finally setting in.  Our relationship had ended.  The man I had imagined spending the rest of my life with was no longer in my life.  I had just been broken up with by my very best friend.  The plans we had, the trips we would take, the colors we would have at our wedding (did I forget to mention that we had started planning a wedding some time before?); all of it was over.  Completely, irrevocably over.  Even though I knew it was for the best, I could not imagine my life going on without him by my side.

I took the next day off of work, vacillating between tears, confusion, anger, and phone calls.  I called my closest friends to let them know what had happened.  I called my friend who I was to move in with in a few months to let her know that the boy I was moving to be closer to had just broken my heart, and, needless to say, I was no longer moving.

Work the next day was a blessed distraction.  I didn’t much feel like talking to people, but a couple of my work friends came to my desk to see how I was doing.  Their caring helped me make it through the rest of the workweek until it was time for me to head home that weekend, because you are never too old to need your family when you are struggling.  Something about being in the home I grew up in helped to calm the sudden panic and heartache I had been experiencing during that first week.

At the encouragement of my roommate, I also began journaling as a means to process through this experience.  I think that was probably one of the best pieces of advice I received.  Externalizing and analyzing my thoughts and feelings has taught me so much over this last month.

I have learned a lot about grief.  It is not a pretty thing.  Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance to not arrive on your doorstep each in their own tidy little package.  Rather, they pepper your entire life, ready to rear their ugly heads in absolutely no sensible order at the slightest provocation.  There is no easy “12-Step’ program to overcoming it.  Instead, you must simply take life as it comes to you, one day at a time.

I have learned a great deal about myself, what I want in a relationship, and what I don’t want.  There was so much that was absolutely beautiful and right about the love we had, but there was also so much that was not.  I am now able to look back on our 2+ years together and see more clearly the signs that it should not and would not be a forever love.  There was nothing wrong with him.  There was nothing wrong with me.  But there was something wrong with us.  (I want to be sure that no one gets the wrong idea from any of this.  Yes, I was hurt.  Yes, I am angry at him sometimes.  But he is not a bad person.  Please be clear on that.)

Finally, I have learned so much about the importance of friends, family, and faith when it comes to getting through difficult times.  I could not have made it this far without the amazing support system that has surrounded me during this last month.  Phone calls, emails, and text messages just to say “I’m thinking about you,” “I’m praying for you,” and “I love you” have meant the world to me.

I could not have survived this had it not been for my family.  I have spent more time on the phone with my mom, dad, and brother in the last month than I think I had in the last several months.  They have been willing to just sit and listen as I pour out my feelings completely uncensored.  They have been on the receiving end of my very misdirected anger.  And they have stood by me through all of it.

My friends and family have been there to provide a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen to all of my ups and downs, and they have brought joy back into my life.  They have shared with me their experiences with grief, consoled me and reminded me that it will get better, and given me tools to deal with my own grief.

And I absolutely could never have gotten through this without God.  As cheesy as it may sound, He has been my strength during this time of great weakness.  I really don’t know how to explain it without using a ton of platitudes and sounding even more cheesy, so I’ll just leave it at this: In Him, I am learning what it means to really trust. I am learning what it means to be vulnerable. I am learning what it means to be held.

God is good.  Thanks for listening.

Much love,
breylee♥

My heart’s one desire…

I want to adopt.  Oh how desperately do I want to adopt.  My whole life I have wanted to be a mother, but only in recent years (perhaps the last 5 or so) has God moved my heart toward adoption.  Specifically, international adoption.  More specifically, adoption from Russia.  (Goodness knows that may change, but that is where my heart is now.)

My heart breaks for children who live without forever families.  Children who do not know the gentle touch of a mother’s goodnight kiss or the pure joy of play wrestling with daddy on an afternoon at home.  Children who spend their days and nights in an orphanage with dozens of other children and very few staff.  Children who have learned not to trust because their basic needs are not being met by those who are there to protect and care for them.  Children who know how to self-soothe not because they have naturally reached that stage in their development, but because self-soothing is the only kind of relief they have ever known.

I cannot wait for that day when I look into a tiny pair of eyes and just know, from somewhere deep within my soul, that they are my baby.  That, before He even thought the world into existence, God had chosen to give me the privilege of raising that little child.  Regardless of whether our lives intersect while they are an infant or a teenager, God planned for us to become a family.

I am excited, but I am also terrified.  I know that adoption is no easy task.  Years of paperwork, tens of thousands of dollars in legal and travel expenses, endless sleepless nights of worrying if your child will ever come home.  And then once they do…Will they accept you and your spouse as parents?  Will they ever be able to move past their attachment and trust issues so they can rest peacefully knowing that you are there to protect and love them?  Will they continue to suffer the negative effects of their early childhood spent in an orphanage for years after they come home?  Will they be able to handle all the changes that come with being adopted?

Will you be able to handle all the changes that come with adopting?

Will I be able to handle all the changes that come with adopting?

Is this something I am remotely capable of?

Can I even do this?

Can I?

Longingly yours,
breylee♥

[This post is largely inspired by my reading through the archives of an amazing blog Rage Against the Minivan over the last couple of weeks.  I would highly, highly, highly recommend reading her blog.]

So…I guess I’m back.

Did ya miss me?

I don’t really have much of an excuse for such a long, unannounced hiatus, but I’m pretty sure the 3 of you who actually read this blog won’t really mind.

Anyway, rather than regale you with the fabulous details of my life since my last post (I’ll probably get around to that later, but I make no promises) I want to forge ahead with something that is both a bit new and a bit old.

When I began this blog, I was in something of a state of limbo with my life.  The path I thought I was supposed to be headed down (becoming a teacher) suddenly turned out to be anything but what I was supposed to be doing, but I had no idea what new path I should begin exploring.  I had spent years mapping out the terrain of what it would take to reach my goal of becoming a science teacher, only to discover that I was not the biggest fan of the scenery.  I was lost.  A huge part of who I had been, something I had shaped my identity around for years, was now no longer a part of my life.  Well, at least it wasn’t a part of my life in the way I had imagined it would be.  It was like starting back at square one right when you were about to reach King Kandy’s Candy Castle.  Not fun.

My plan for this blog was so I could have a place to sift through my life and try to discover the new path I was to travel, a place where I could attempt to figure out exactly what the ‘rocks in my jar‘ actually were.  I wanted a place where I could process through life as I rediscovered my values, discovered new passions, and explored the many opportunities around me.

So, basically all I’m saying is that…I guess I’m back.  Hope you enjoy.  ♥

Yours (take 2),
breylee♥

First snowfall of the year!

Happy December everybody!  Can you believe the first of December is already here?  I haven’t even come to terms with the fact that September ended two months ago, let alone the fact that winter is indeed upon us.  However, the winter wonderland I awoke to this morning is helping me along in that process.  :)

It’s been ages since I posted last, and I am sorry for that, but I promise I have a good excuse!  Last week was Turkey Day and driving up and down America’s mitten to visit four sides of family (my mom’s extended side, my dad’s extended side, M’s mom and grandma, and M’s dad’s extended side) certainly took a lot out of me.

Sadly, no Turkey Day themed crafts were a part of our celebrations this year, but there’s always hope for next!

Seriously, we put almost 600 miles on the odometer over the course of four days!  Thank goodness that boy of mine loves to drive, because I do not.  All in all, it was a lovely holiday weekend.  The rest of my family loved meeting M for the first time (and I’m pretty sure he enjoyed it too) and I loved seeing M’s family again.  I only wish everybody lived a bit closer!

But, enough of that fall holiday talk, a new season is in town:  WINTER!!!  Yes, you read that right.  Winter.  In all caps (to show excitement).  With three, count them, three exclamation points (to show even more excitement).  Now, I’ll be honest with you, there are some things I do not like about this season.  Biting cold winds.  Car doors that are iced shut.  Driving.  Other drivers, especially those who don’t think it is necessary to use their lights, wipe the snow off their brake lights, not tailgate, drive at a safe speed, clear their windshields (front and back) completely.  However, there are tons of things I LOVE about this season!

This love of winter isn’t a new thing. This turkey feather came from a Thankful Turkey made by either my preschool or kindergarten class.

First, let’s talk about the first REAL snowfall.  I’m not talking about that wimpy stuff that melts before it even hits the ground.  I’m talking about the big, fluffy, winter butterflies that coat everything they touch with a beautiful layer of white.  The kind of snow that makes you stick out your tongue and start singing that song about snowflakes and milkshakes!

Winter from Greenridge

A prime example of what a real first snowfall looks like. I just took this picture out my bedroom window and it has barely been snowing for very long.

Another reason I absolutely love this season because it brings with it one of the happiest times of year:  Christmas!  (Now, just because Christmas didn’t receive the ‘all caps lots of exclamation points’ treatment doesn’t mean I’m not as excited about it.  I just thought that might be a bit of overkill.)  Who doesn’t love decorating their home in shades of blue, white, green, and red; wrapping (homemade) gifts (in newspaper that will be recycled); covering a beautiful pine or spruce tree with lights and ornaments made by your little ones in their kindergarten class?  (Okay, so I don’t have any of those little ones, but I was one once and still love putting up my twenty-year-old handmade decorations that my mommy has saved.)

Back in 2008, the last time we were all home for Christmas, rather than buying a tree-farm tree, my dad cut a branch from one of the huge pines in our side yard. This was by far my favorite Christmas tree ever!

Back in 2008, the last time we were all home for Christmas, rather than buying a tree-farm tree, my dad cut a branch from one of the huge pines in our side yard. This was by far my favorite Christmas tree ever!

The best part of the Advent season is seeing family you don’t get to see often, sharing stories over a delicious meal, and celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.  That, and these tasty treats are everywhere:

I know that Jesus is the true reason for this season, but these bad boys run a close second in my book. Yum! (Click the picture to read a lovely legend of the origin of candy canes.)

So, despite the occasionally nasty weather, the icy roads, and the terrible drivers, I very much so look forward to this time of year.  And I hope you do too.  Happy holiday season to you all!

Snowily yours,
breylee♥