Sunday, December 30, 2012

Just one more day!

Hello dear friends! I hope this blog finds you all having enjoyed a wonderful Christmas with your family and friends, and getting ready for a fun New Year's Eve! We have been busy, busy, busy -  between work and the holidays - but we finally made it out to Arkansas for Christmas with Rusty's family. I have so many fun blogs to share over the next few weeks, but I wanted to write tonight to let you know that you only have ONE MORE DAY (Monday) to give your 2012 tax-deductible gift to The Sound of Hope!

If you've never given before and you want a quick summary of our work, our 2012 Report is now on our blog - so be sure to check that out. But I'll give you an even shorter version here - WE NEED YOUR HELP! We have accomplished some incredible things this year, and we have even bigger dreams for 2013. We want to see the first 5 little girls brought into our new Children's Home in Thailand... we want to build a Children's Home on the land we bought in India... we want to start a Children's Library in the refugee camp for our sweet kids from Burma who risked their lives to get an education... and we want to be sure all 115 children at our carepoint in Swaziland get to go to school this coming year! And of course, that's not all. The 217 children we care for have big needs, but they won't be met without your help.

We are working so hard to bring rescue, protection, and holistic care to children in need, but our work can't continue without the support of generous, compassionate people like you. We need people to partner with us - people who have big hearts and big dreams to change the world! And I know that describes SO many of YOU - my wonderful readers! So please...

   Give for the little girl growing up in a brothel in India.
       Give for the little boy in Swaziland who needs an education.
           Give for the little girl in Thailand at risk of being sold into slavery.
               Give for the little boy who is afraid of being forced to fight as a child soldier in Burma

Your gift can take these children from a life of despair, to a hope-filled future!

As 2012 comes to a close, please pray about giving a year-end gift (or signing up to be a monthly donor) for The Sound of Hope. And consider sharing our website or this blog with your friends on facebook and twitter. Help us continue our life-saving work! Even a small gift can make a BIG difference in the life of a child in need!

***Thanks so much for your continued support and love. I hope you all have a blessed New Year!***

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Announcing a BRAND NEW Sound of Hope!

If you just read my blog then you're probably wondering why I've been MIA lately. (Sorry friends!) But if you're also my friend on FB or twitter, then you know the reason I haven't been blogging, is because of the CrAzY hours I've been working.

I don't actually remember the last time Rusty and I had a real (full) day off, but I do know it was before Thanksgiving. And since we got home from our Arkansas Thanksgiving visit, we've been working a lot of 10, 12, 15, and even 18 hour work days. But I'm thrilled to announce that alllll that work was worth it, because this week we revealed our BRAND NEW logo, website, and online store for The Sound of Hope!!!

For a while now we've known that in order to continue our full-time work with The Sound of Hope, we needed to focus on improving our organization. We've been "getting by" with free websites and printwork designed by friends, and while we're grateful for that getting us this far, it just didn't do our work justice. The children we serve overseas have INCREDIBLE stories, and we want to make sure people hear them, see them, and have a way to respond to them. So this Fall, we hired an amazing firm to make The Sound of Hope even better!

The team at Ideogram has worked tirelessly to create this awesome site for us, and we're so excited to see it live! On our homepage you'll find an interactive slider that shows each country we work in, our main video for that country, our latest tweet, and the projects we're currently fundraising for. (Move the boxes with your up & down & left & right arrows.)

Click on the map (or the menu in the top right of the page) and you can visit 4 country specific pages. For the first time, you can see (in detail) where we work, how many children we care for, and exactly what we do in each country. You can also find our latest country specific videos, blogs, and fundraising projects. There are 2 brand new Feature videos too - check them out on our India & Swaziland pages! (I'm just going to brag on my husband for a minute here, ok? Rusty did an amazing job on these 2 videos, so you will definitely want to watch them! :)

There are several other new pages, but I'll let you peruse the site and discover them yourself. I do want to point out one more INCREDIBLE addition though. This week, we opened up our first ever online store for The Sound of Hope!

For the past year I have been collecting merchandise from around the world to sell in our shop. We have so many beautiful, unique products from India, Thailand, Burma, and Swaziland - and I'm so excited to finally share them with you! There's original art, handmade jewelry, silk scarves, handpainted brass bowls and MUCH more! And the best part is - every single purchase helps us provide RESCUE, PROTECTION, and HOLISTIC CARE to children in need.

It's been really exciting to see how people have responded to our new site and the store! In just 3 days our store has had over 2,000 page views and a ton of orders. I believe this will be a great tool to connect new people with our work around the world! (And a big THANK YOU goes out to Alison Wilkey for the gorgeous product photos she did for us! :)

So, what are you waiting for?! Go check out our new site and shop in our new store! (If you place an order by Monday the 17th, you should get it in time for Christmas :) And please help us get the word out by sharing our new site with your friends via email, facebook, and twitter. 'Tis the season for year-end tax-deductible gifts, and we need your help to finish 2012 strong!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Remembered...

As I sit here reflecting on Thanksgiving, my heart and my mind are full. 

First of all - let me just say how special it is to spend this holiday at HOME. This is the first year we've been with our family since 2008, so it is extra-special! Even if it's not my home (we had an early Thanksgiving with my family on Sunday), after spending 2 Thanksgivings in Michigan and 1 overseas, I am especially grateful for Moms who cook all day, family coming together, beautiful Fall foliage, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and lots and lots of delicious Thanksgiving food!

We had a wonderful day today with Rusty's Mom & Memaw in Arkansas, and enjoyed an afternoon at the movies seeing "Life of Pi". It was really neat to be watching a movie set in India today - when last year we spent Thanksgiving Day in India! This day a year ago, I remember that I was terribly homesick (the only time I have truly been homesick in all my overseas travels). I missed my family, I missed my favorite meals, I'd just been extremely sick for 2 days, and I wanted to be HOME.

I remember all that, but watching "Life of Pi" today made me remember the beautiful things about our Indian Thanksgiving too. It's true that last Thanksgiving looked VERY different.... but we made some precious memories with some people we love a LOT.

We spent some sweet time with our kids at Asha House last Thanksgiving (as you can see in the corners of the collage above), and let me tell you - "Group Hugs" from these cuties are something I am very thankful for! I was also blown away when I was given a BEAUTIFUL, handmade, red saree as a very special gift! Simini and Sapna (bottom left corner) sneakily made it for me and surprised me on Thanksgiving. It is a gift I will always treasure.

We were excited to spend the day with Jyoti (middle left) who we've been supporting for 4 years. The last time I saw her she was only 2, and terrified of white people. This visit though, she told everyone, "MY Auntie is coming!" and covered us in hugs and kisses all day long!

And, as a special treat that night, we took the Asha House staff out for a special Thanksgiving Dinner. It wasn't a "typical" Thanksgiving meal, but we really enjoyed our time together, eating a feast of Indian and Chinese food!

And so, tonight, I find that while I am home, my heart is in two places. It is here, in the States, with our families.... but it is also half a world a way with our sweet children and our Indian partners. I re-read this blog I wrote last year and I was humbled all over again. We have so much to be grateful for.... much more than just turkey and pumpkin pie. 

So as you end your Thanksgiving night, I would ask that you take a moment to read this. And as you reflect on all your blessings... stuffed with an abundance of delicious food... together with your family... snuggled up in your warm, beautiful home... please read this. And please consider showing your gratitude for ALL your blessings by giving to those who are less fortunate.  Those precious children you see above will not have blankets or warm clothes this winter if you and I don't do something about it! So please give a donation today towards "Christmas in India", and let's bless others as we have been blessed.

Donate Now

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

9 months later... (an update & an opportunity)

Last Saturday marked 9 months since the day we announced that we were adopting a little girl from Thailand. It was a difficult "anniversary" for me. It was hard to realize that if I had been physically pregnant in February, then we would already have our little one in our arms. Instead, we are very likely a full 2 years (at least) away from that day.

It's not easy. It's not easy to have this empty spot in my heart and my life where my daughter belongs. It is confusing (and very hard to explain to others) that I am missing a child I have never met. But there are days when I almost cannot bear the ache I feel. There are days when I would give anything to have her in my arms... or even just to see her face!

If you've been following our journey, then you know it has not been an easy one. We thought we would choose an agency in April, complete our homestudy and dossier this summer, and be on a waiting list by now. But that was not God's plan. We have, instead, walked through many disappointing conversations and faced many closed doors. It would be easy to feel hopeless now, except that something truly miraculous happened last month!

For several weeks I had been putting off contacting the last few agencies on my list, simply because I wasn't ready to hear a final NO. I knew they were all a long shot for us, and I (foolishly) just wanted to hold out hope instead of actually contacting them (silly, I know). Well, I got a stern talking to from a friend and fellow adoptive mom (thank you Malerie!) that I needed to get on with it! It was just the push I needed to take the next step.

That week, I emailed EVERY SINGLE agency/contact I knew of that might be a possibility for us. Some I never heard back from. Some told me NO. And one kind man suggested I "reach out to other agencies" or "try Korea". I don't know what it was about that email that did me in, but for some reason, I decided to respond and lay it alllll out on the line. I told him that YES, we had tried ALL the other agencies and NO, we were not eligible through any of them because we didn't have "documented infertility". I told him NO, we did not want to adopt a child from Korea (not because we don't love Koreans) because we feel specifically called to Thailand. I listed off alllll our connections to Thailand - that we speak basic Thai, that we have lived in Thailand, that we work in Thailand, that Rusty has a Thai driver's license, and made it clear that it was "Thailand or BUST" for the Jackson family.

And then I told him I understood that we weren't eligible for his program, but thanks for listening.

And then something miraculous happened.

Instead of another NO - I got a different kind of email back. An email that said, "I'm sympathetic to your case." An email that said, "Call me and let's see if I can help you."

I'm pretty sure I cried - then and there! And of course, picked up the phone to call him IMMEDIATELY!

Tim shared with us that the infertility rule in Thailand is really an "unwritten rule". It's not that Thailand wants infertile families, they just want to be sure that the family is a good placement for a Thai child. They are afraid that if the family adopts, then has biological children, that the Thai child will be pushed to the side. However, he said that the fact that we have SO many ties to the country and culture, and SO specifically desire to adopt a Thai child, should also make us a "good placement" for a Thai child! In his words, we deserve "special consideration."

And so, this precious man has decided that he will give us that "special consideration" and that he will advocate on our behalf! We could not be more grateful!!! I'm sure I thanked him 5 or 6 times on that one phone call alone!

So, here's the plan. We have filed an adoption application with an agency in New York ($50). The next step, will be completing an "Adoptive Family Profile" ($300 - we are still waiting to receive it) where we share more detailed information about our family. Then, Tim will submit our AFP (Adoptive Family Profile) to the Director of a specific orphanage he works with in Thailand (that happens to be in a city very near and dear to our hearts!) At that point - we will update you all and ask you (beg you!) to FAST and PRAY with us. This woman has the power to deny us, or give us pre-approval (which would allow us to move forward with our homestudy). We will need God to MOVE A MOUNTAIN for us (and we know He is capable of that!) Once we get a response, we will go from there!

I know to some of you this may sound like a long shot, but we are SO encouraged by this opportunity. On our phone call with Tim he told us several times, that on any other day he would have just turned us down (because we didn't meet the specific requirements for his program). "But today," he said, "something just made me read past undocumented infertility and read the rest of your story." I have no doubt that that "something" was GOD working on our behalf!

There are lots of other neat details about this specific agency and this specific orphanage that I will share with you in our next update (this one is long enough already! Sorry!) but I want to be sure I can release names/locations before I do. For now - if you would please go ahead and start praying for FAVOR for us with this agency, orphanage, and the Director of the orphanage in Thailand, we would appreciate it so much!

And so, after 9 months of waiting, our hope is renewed! We are encouraged by seeing God's hand in our story, and we are eagerly anticipating more good news! THANK YOU all for the prayers you have already lifted up on our behalf. I have no doubt that your prayers were part of what made this "impossible" situation possible!

"... I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small  as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." 
                                                                               - Matthew 17:20

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Confession :: I've Been Accusing God

A few days ago, we were having a skype chat with our mentor, Michael. He asked about our finances, because he knew that we'd been looking for monthly ADMIN donors for our non-profit (those are the people who give to the things that keep our organization going - salary, travel costs, office expenses, etc.) We've been low on ADMIN donors for a while now, and we've had a couple of months this Fall where we almost didn't get a paycheck. Michael was trying to encourage us not to be fearful, because He knew God would come through.

When I responded to Michael about this issue though, something interesting happened. I meant to give an explanation of how I was feeling, but instead, a confession came out. (I'm a verbal processor, so sometimes when I speak things out loud, what's been going on in my heart finally makes it to my head.) I told him that I wasn't worrying about whether or not God would provide for us, because I'd realized being fearful about this, was me accusing God of something He had never done.

God has always, ALWAYS provided for our needs. We have had lean times, but we have never gone without. We have wondered where the next month of pay would come from through our organization - and then God would show up, miraculously, with not just a check - but a 6 figure check that would take care of us AND our 200+ kids overseas! I could tell you miracle story, after miracle story or how God has provided for us (including the time we didn't get paid for 10 weeks - and a friend who had no idea showed up on our doorstep with organic beef from her farm. PROVISION! Or the time we didn't know how we were going to get home for Christmas, and then we got an anonymous Christmas card with $2,000 cash inside! PROVISION!)

And yet, there have been times (even this Fall) that I have doubted God. I have worried, and paced, and wondered what would happen. I have gone through all the "What ifs" in my head. What if we stop getting paid - what will we do? What if our organization ends - how will we care for these kids?  What if we can't find another job - how we will care for ourselves? What if our adoption never happens - will we ever get our daughter from Thailand? What if, what if, what if.

But I was convicted - heavily - last week, when I realized my "What ifs" weren't just questions. They were accusations. When I stress out about the worst case scenario, what I'm really saying is, "I don't trust you God."

And if I believe that God is IN CONTROL of my life, then what I'm really doing is ACCUSING HIM of failing me. I'm accusing Him of not taking care of me. I'm accusing Him of all the horrible possibilities - that aren't yet reality.

If we were in a courtroom, I'd be unjustly accusing a man of crime He didn't commit. And the worst part is - God has 28 years of the proof of His provision in my life (and an eternity full of incredible character witnesses) that PROVE that this crime (of abandoning me, of letting me down, of not providing for my needs) will NEVER happen.

He has promised to never leave or forsake me, and to be my helper. (Hebrews 13:5-6)

He has reminded me how he cares for the lilies and the birds, and that I am worth even more to Him! He has promised me His Kingdom! (Luke 12)

He told me I could cast all my fears on Him, because He cares for me! (1 Peter 5:7)

He cares for me so much, that He sings over me and rejoices over me! He has promised to save me! (Zeph 3:17)

He has promised to give me good gifts, because He is a good Father. (Matt 7:11)

He loved me so much, that He sacrificed his own SON for ME! Can you imagine a love like that? (John 3:16)

Over and over again He has declared His love for me. He has proved to me that He cares for me. He has shown me how He provides! How DARE I accuse Him? And yet, I do.

We all do this, all the time in our lives. What if I get sick? What if I lose my job? What if Obama wins? What if Romney wins? - And then we follow that up with accusations of the worst case scenario. When we say, "If I lose my job, my family will probably starve!" We are really saying, "God, I know you won't provide for my family!" When we say, "The world is going to end if Obama wins! Obamacare is going to end us all!!!" What we're really saying is, "I trust my government more than I trust my God. God you aren't big enough or good enough to take care of me!"

HOW DARE WE?! How dare we accuse God of these lies, when all He has done is provide for us, care for us, and love us well? How dare we accuse an innocent man?

But we do. We did it to Christ on the Cross, and we are doing it again everyday with our fear. How much it must break the heart of God to be unjustly accused when He has proven again and again how much He loves us and that He will always care for us!  

I can tell you today, that I have been convicted of this and it weighs heavily on my heart. I don't ever want to allow fear to cause me to hurl unjust accusations at my God again. I don't want to grieve His heart! Instead I want to meditate on the TRUTH.

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." - Jeremiah 29:11

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Few of my Favorite Things :: Fall Giveaway Winner!

Whoops! It's after 8pm and I almost forgot to pick a winner for our little blog contest! It's been one of those crazy days... you know, when you have a yellow jacket nest in your wall, and you've had 200 of the annoying little buzzing suckers inside your home in the last week, and you're starting to get a nervous twitch... and the pest control guy finally comes to kill them with a special poisonous fog he sprays in your walls... - oh, wait, that wasn't your day? Just me? Oh, okay.

ANYWAY - all our bizarre drama aside (seriously, the weirdest things happen to us!) it's time to pick one lucky lady to win A Few of my Favorite Things for Fall! And the random # generator picked...

Comment #1 was Becky Belks! She said...

My favorite fall items.... Everything, from the weather, to the trees, 
to football, to the clothes and BOOTS!!!! Favorite time of year!

Congratulations Becky! You're getting all these goodies! I don't have your email address, so you have 3 days to contact me (erickabennett (at) gmail (dot) com) and claim your prize. If I haven't heard from you by midnight on Sunday night, I'll pick a new winner Monday morning.

*Thanks for entering everyone! I can't wait to share my WINTER Favorite Things with ya'll!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

DIY Monogrammed Burlap Door Decor

Alright friends - as promised, today I'm going to show you how to make your own Monogrammed Burlap Door Decor!

The idea for this pretty piece came from Life as a Thrifter. I fell in LOVE with her Fall decor pics, but couldn't find a DIY explanation for her door hanger. So, I got our my craft supplies and decided to figure it out on my own.

For this project you'll need:

  • 1 embroidery/quilting hoop (any size you like, mine was 14 and 1/2 inches  across)
  • Approximately 20 inches x 20 inches square of burlap
  • black acrylic paint & a foam stencil brush
  • 1 large initial stencil
  • Low temp hot glue gun
  • Ribbon

I just happened to have all these items laying around (except for the quilting hoop, which I got from the basement at my parent's house. Thanks Mom!) so my piece was completely FREE! Whoo hoo! If you were buying all these items you could probably make this for around $25, or less. (But check the thrift store for a hoop before you hit the craft store because they're like, $17 new these days.) 

So... first of all, you're going to need to put your fabric in your hoop. If it has any wrinkles, I would suggest ironing it first. Then unscrew the top of the hoop, pop out the round insert, lay your fabric over it, and pop the insert back in. Then screw the top back in until everything feels tight.

Next, prep for painting. If you bought a big stencil, then use spray adhesive (or double sided tape) to stick it down in the center of your hoop. 

Now - here's a little bunny trail. For those of you who don't feel like buying a big stencil, let me tell you that you can make your own! You can do this easily with your printer, a piece of cardstock, a black marker, and some packing tape. Just print your letter the size you'd like it onto your cardstock. (I couldn't get my J big enough, so I actually hand-drew mine and then colored it in with a sharpie :). Next, cover your entire piece of cardstock with clear packing tape (this is so the paint won't soak through. I covered mine front and back, overlapping each piece just a little.) Once that is done, cut out your letter with some sharp scissors. Finally, tape the side back that you cut through, and you'll have both a stencil and a cut out of your initial! (I have heard of people doing this with freezer paper and an exacto knife, but I didn't have either of those and wasn't about to go buy them. The cardstock, tape, and scissors worked just fine!)

Okay - so you've got your stencil attached to your fabric, and the fabric is in the hoop. Double check that the fabric is tight, and go ahead and gently start dabbing your paint on. Be careful around the edges - paint can sometimes bleed on burlap. (If you've never painted a stencil before, take note that you should dab your paint on with the foam brush, don't use brush strokes. Also, hold the sides of the stencil down when you do the edges.)

Let it dry, then remove the stencil and see how it looks. If it doesn't look good, you can throw out that piece of fabric and try again. If it looks great, then you can go ahead and move on to the next step! (Don't be finicky about the edges - most people will see it from the street after all ;)

Next up,  you'll want to cut the excess fabric off around the edge of your hoop. Be sure to leave an inch or two to glue it down, but trim the rest away.

Now get out your hot glue gun and glue it down to the back of the hoop, bit by bit. I would suggest a low temp glue gun so you can press it down with your fingers (and you won't burn yourself). 

Now just add a ribbon to the top, hang it on your door, survey your work and SMILE! 

You just made yourself a beautiful Monogrammed Burlap Door Hanger!

*Post project note :: My Dad recently warned me that the wooden hoop might split because it's hanging outside and being exposed to the elements (cold/heat/rain/etc). He suggested I seal it with something. If you want to add in this step, you can seal your wooden hoop before you start this project. Just paint it with a coat of polyacrylic, spray paint it with a clear coat, or spray paint it to match your door. Mine has been outside for a couple of weeks and seems to be okay, but I still might give it a quick coat of Annie Sloan's clear furniture wax because I'd like for it to last a few years. *Happy crafting ya'll!

Monday, October 29, 2012

It's Fall Ya'll :: Seasonal Mantle & Door Decor

Well, if it wasn't Fall before, it definitely is now! Temps just keep dropping around here, and the leaves keep falling. I've been enjoying pulling out my boots and sweaters, and decorating for the season too!

I thought I'd give you a glimpse of my seasonal decor today. We've never really had the money to decorate for anything except Christmas (the joys of a non-profit budget ;) but this Fall I was able to buy (and make) a few things that I hope to add to each year. We'll start with my mantle decor...

What do you think? I know it's simple, but I really love it! If you haven't guessed already, I used one of my favorite art sources (vintage sheet music) for my focal point. This piece is from 1917, and I just fell in LOVE with that Southern Belle in her antebellum dress!

I think the Jack-O-Lantern adds the perfect touch to make it festive but not too scary (I don't know about you, but I am not a fan of scary Halloween decor!) I got it framed at a great local shop with cheap prices, and I'm excited about using it year after year!

The big candle vases are from WalMart, as are the big Pumpkin Spice candles. I couldn't find candles anywhere that would come close to the price of those at WalMart! And I'm planning to re-use the vases as Christmas mantle decor too.

Here's one more shot at night...

Now let's move on to my Fall Door Decor, shall we? 

I honestly love burlap year-round, but something about it just screams FALL to me, so I incorporated it in my mantle decor and on my front door too!

*Note :: I realize it looks a little sad with only 1 pot of mums, but I am notorious for killing plants so we didn't buy any more. Which reminds me... I haven't watered it in a week and a half... oops! (point proven!) Plus, I have a hard time spending more than $5 or $10 on something that's going to die eventually anyway (even if I do water it. Which I probably won't. Just being honest here.) Also, I probably should've swept the porch... (umm... I mean... I meant for those leaves to be in there... they are part of my Fall Decor! Suuure... that's it.)

There are so many great wreath options, but I wanted something a little more personal to welcome our guests. This project was easy, cheap, and I adore the finished product!

*Stay tuned because tomorrow, I'll show you how to make your own Monogrammed Burlap Door Decor! And don't forget to enter my "Favorite Things" Fall Giveaway!

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Few of my Favorite Things :: Fall Giveaway!

Well friends, it's your lucky day! Whenever I do a "Favorite Things" post, I always follow it up with a FREE GIVEAWAY! Because I like to pretend like I'm Oprah. It's fun.

You're getting a new CAAA---AAAARRR!!! 
                                                                           *said in my best excited Oprah voice.
Just kidding.

But you are getting a chance to win some fun freebies to make your Autumn days just a little more enjoyable. Sound good? Great! Here's what's up for grabs today...

#1 - A hand-knitted, rose-colored scarf

I love this color scarf for Fall! 
This is similar to the scarf I wore in our Fall Photoshoot
It's just beautiful paired with cream sweaters and chocolate brown boots!
This was actually knitted by a friend (not me - I wish) and it's lovely. 
7 inches wide by 54 inches long (not including the tassels)

#2 - 2 packets of Alpine Spiced Cider

One for you, and one to share with a friend (or your special someone!)
Mix together with hot water, 1-2 tbs caramel syrup, and a dash of cinnamon.
Top it with whipped cream, a drizzle of caramel syrup, and another sprinkle of cinnamon!
Now you've got the perfect hot drink for a chilly Fall night!

#3 - NYC's Park Ave Nail Polish

This muted tone goes beautifully with all your Fall fashions!
And the best part is - it dries in a New York minute,
so your manicure won't slow you down!


You've got several options to enter to win. 
Pick one or do them all for a better chance at this little prize pack!

               #1 - Comment below and answer this question: "What's one of your favorite things for Fall?"
               #2 - Follow me on Twitter!
               #3 - Become a follower of my blog (the button's on the right, by all the little square pics).
               #4 - Follow The Sound of Hope on Twitter!

*Remember to add a comment for every one of the entries you choose to do!
And don't forget to include your email address, so I can contact you if you win!

I'll announce the winner on November 1st!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Few of my Favorite Things :: Fall Edition

"Scarves around my neck and boots up to my knees 
Warm apple cider and Pumpkin Spice cream cheese 
Pretty Fall foliage that won't cost a thing 
These are a few of my favorite things..." 

I've been wanting to write this blog for weeks, but honestly, it hasn't felt much like Fall around here! It's difficult to write about "favorite things" like scarves and boots when it's in the 80's every day. But the nights are getting cooler, the leaves are changing, and even though it's going to hit 80 degrees again this week, I'm still going to say - It's FALL Ya'll! So it's time for a post highlighting a few of my favorite things in this splendid season!

#1 - Leaves Changing Colors

Both Rusty and I love this time of year... when God takes out His paintbrush and dabs deep red, rich orange, and bright gold across the typically green and brown landscape. It's crazy to think this is what it looks like when the leaves die... there is such beauty rendered as they succumb to winter. I must admit, I have missed Fall in Michigan this year. It was glorious the last two years... one day it's summer and then suddenly September rolls around and the world bursts into color! It's really extraordinary. (Just not enough to make me want to leave the South again! ;)

#2 - Fall Candles 

When the air gets crisp again, it's the perfect time to fill your house with the warmth of candles! It always seems warmer and cozier when we have candles lit, and I love the way they make my house smell. I usually do a mix of apple, cinnamon, and vanilla candles, but this season I've "FALLen in love" (pardon the pun) with pumpkin spice too! Yankee Candle has some delicious scents but I just can't justify $30 for a candle. So if you're looking for some that smell good and won't break the bank, Pumpkin Spice & Warm Apple Pie from good 'ol WalMart have made me happy this month! *Tip - I'm also using Glade Plug-ins for when my candles aren't lit. Their new Apple Cinnamon scent makes my house smell like I'm baking apple pie everyday!

#3 - Apple Cider

I know most of you are thrilled to death that Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back at Starbucks, but I'm really a Caramel Apple Cider girl! This time of year I crave apple cider all the time (probably because of all the apple cinnamon candles I'm burning! Hmmm...) I've found a great substitute for the expensive stuff at Starbucks though. 1 packet of Alpine Spiced Cider, hot water, 1 - 2 tbs caramel syrup, and a dash of cinnamon. Top it off with whipped cream, a drizzle of caramel syrup, and another sprinkle of cinnamon and you have a delicious Fall treat!

#4 - Fall Flavors

Speaking of Fall Flavors, have you tried the new Pumpkin Cream Cheese yet? I saw it in the store the other day and HAD to give it a try. Good thing I did, because it is DELICIOUS! Rusty and I have been eating it on toasted bagels every morning (maybe not the healthiest breakfast, but gosh it's good!) Pumpkin muffins with cream cheese frosting are another favorite for this time of year. You can get an easy recipe here!

Photo source : David Albers

Photo source :: Nordstrom
#5 - Scarves

If you know me at all, then you know that I adore scarves. Every color, texture, fabric, and length - I will wear them any day of the year! But once Fall goes around, they are everywhere (and I don't have to stick to thin summertime scarves anymore!) Pull out the cashmere, hand-knits, infinity scarves and all the beautiful woven scarves I bought in India and Thailand! They are beautiful and functional this time of year, and I'm one happy, happy girl.  

Photo source : Makeup Masala

  #6 - Gray Nail Polish 

  I know this may sound crazy to some of you, but I'm loving matte    
  gray nail polish on short nails for the Fall! Two of my faves are Pure 
  Ice "Kiss Me Here", and NYC's quick dry polish in "Park Ave" 
  (which is more of a rose-colored gray). 

#7 - Arbonne's Shea Butter Wash & Body Lotion

In keeping with the scents of the season, I always change my bodywash & lotion to fit the time of the year. In the Summer I like fresh and fruity smells, but when Fall & Winter roll around I like to smell like vanilla. Arbonne's Shea Butter has the most delicious, warm, vanilla scent and I LOVE that it's all-natural! Plus, the lotion does a great job of keeping my skin soft and moisturized in the cold!

#8 - These pictures...

When we were hired as iStock models, our photographers did a shoot for every season. Our Fall shoot is seriously competing with our Spring shoot as my favorite! We've seen these pictures on everything - from a billboard, to printwork & web pictures for the National Marriage Institute, to websites advertising mountain vacations! Here are a few of my favorites from that day...

What are a few of YOUR favorite things for Fall?

*Remember to stay tuned for my next blog - I always follow up a "Favorite Things" post with a giveaway of at least one of my favorite things!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Looking for an adoption agency is kind of like dating...

I've been thinking for a few days now about how searching for an adoption agency is kind of like dating. I've got this whole comparison worked on in my head, so humor me while I type it out, okay? Great.

The way I see it, searching for an adoption agency is a lot like dating. It's a rollercoaster ride. It's emotionally exhausting. There are high-highs and low-lows. There are a ton of unknowns. And in the end, you're trying to answer a super serious question...

Could he be THE ONE?

Could he be the man I'm supposed to marry? (Or, with an adoption agency, could this be THE ONE that will bring me my child?!)

So let's talk about dating. It's been a few years since I've done it (going on almost 5), but if I remember right, it starts when you notice him from across the room. (Or if you're adopting - when you find that agency in a google search). Or maybe a friend introduced you? (Or, maybe a friend suggested this agency?) Either way... you start to check him out. Eyes, hair, smile.... (and you check OUT that website... how long has it been since it was updated? Does it look professional? Is there a good amount of helpful information on it?)

Now, if you like what you see... and he likes what he sees, you might move to the next phase of what I'd call pre-dating, or as we called it when I was in high school and college... "TALKING". You know this part right? It's the "getting to know you part" where you flirt and you chat via phone, text, or email. (If you've decided to move into the "talking" phase with an adoption agency, then you've decided to actually communicate with them via email. You know, ask some preliminary questions, tell them a little bit about yourself, and "feel out" whether you want to move forward.) You'll probably ask your mutual friends about him too (and you will call any and every adoptive mom you know to ask what they know about this particular agency!)

Now, if you're lucky enough that "talking" moves into him asking you out on your first date, then you get REALLY excited! (If you're lucky enough to want to move forward with this agency, then you go ahead and set up a phone call to really talk seriously about your next step in adopting through them). You go crazy preparing for the date. You shower, you buy a new dress, you put on makeup. (You go crazy preparing for this phone call. You research and research some more, and then you compile a crazy long list of questions for you to talk about.) The closer the date gets, the more nervous you get. There are butterflies in your stomach! Will the date go well? Will you be asked on another date? Could this really be the man you're going to marry someday?! (The closer the call gets, the more nervous you get. There are butterflies in your stomach! Could this be THE agency for your family? Could you actually submit an application with these people? Could you trust them to bring home your child?)

And then, the date comes. (And then, the call comes). If he seems super sketchy, you might think, "I don't know if I can trust this guy" and make an excuse to go home early. (If the agency seems sketchy, disorganized, or shows that they don't have enough experience, then you might end the call and mark them off your list.) But if you're lucky, that first date goes GREAT! While he's driving you home, you let yourself start to get excited about date #2. You might even let yourself daydream about a future with this guy... (But if you're lucky, the call goes GREAT! You're impressed with the agency, and you and your husband start thinking... "Wow. We definitely want to move forward with them!") 

... and then... he drops the bomb. "I had fun tonight and all, but I don't think this is going to work out. I really only like athletic girls (or musical girls, or taller girls, or girls who want to be teachers - or something else crazy specific that is out of your power to change!) Let's just be friends, okay? (And then, the agency drops the bomb. Oh... you would make excellent candidates but you have to have proven infertility... or you can only specify that you want a girl if you already have a son... (or some other unexpected requirement that is COMPLETELY out of your power to change!) You aren't eligible for our program.)

Cue the tears. And the disappointment. And the "what's wrong with me?!" mindset. You thought things were going great and then he crushes you with this excuse out of left field. You might even start to question if you'll EVER get married - especially if he's the 4th guy in a row to dump you after the 1st date! (Cue the tears. And the disappointment. And the "what's wrong with me?!" mindset. You really loved this agency and you wanted to move forward with them, until they crushed you with that crazy requirement out of left field. You might even start to question if you'll EVER get a baby - especially if this is the 4th agency to stop your progress after the 1st phone call.)

And so it continues. I'm sure this comparison probably applies to people going through the referral process (could this baby be THE ONE?!) people going through the waiting process (ever been in a long distance relationship? It's miserable!) and people who've had adoptions go bad when they were much further into the process (I'll bet that feels like breaking up with someone you were ENGAGED to!)  but it all comes down to the same truth.

These are emotional issues. They are complex. They take 2 people (or with adoption agencies, a lot more than 2 people and a LOT of paperwork!) In the end - they will change your life FOREVER (you will find a husband... or you will have a BABY!) But even with all the pain... all the heartache... all the unknowns.... they are WORTH IT.

And ultimately, both processes are completely, entirely, in the hands of a loving God who truly wants the best for us (and our spouse... and our future babies!)


Just thought I'd remind all of you out there of that truth, just in case you've been facing some discouragement like us! We don't quit dating just because it's difficult and emotional... so don't give up on adopting your child! Your little one is out there, somewhere, it just might take a little more time to find them than you expected.

But I can't end this blog without sharing some good news too!  As of today we've been asked out on a "2nd DATE" with an adoption agency!!! We'll be submitting an application to an agency in New York sometime in the next few days! It's not a sure thing, but we have found someone willing to advocate for us with a specific orphanage and we're willing to give it a try. I'll post a follow up blog with more details soon, but if you could go ahead and begin covering this process in prayer, we would greatly appreciate it! Maybe this "date" will lead us to our "Happily Ever After" as a family, after all!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Our Week in Pictures

Since I'm still behind on blogging, I thought I'd do a quick catch up by hitting the highlights of the past week in a picture blog. Sound good? Okay, great!

Let's start with last weekend. We fulfilled our annual Jackson Family Tradition by driving down to AU for the Auburn vs Arkansas football game. It started out well... we were back on The Plains (my most favorite place in the world) to see the Tigers play. Arkansas was expected to lose terribly, and I was going to get to see lots of my friends!

I'm not sure where things went wrong... but they did. Terribly wrong. Auburn didn't even bother to pretend to play football, and we lost miserably (to what we thought was the worst team in the SEC).

That scoreboard says 7 to 24 Arkansas. My husband was one happy man!

Next, we both got CRAZY sunburned (how could I forget to wear sunscreen to an 11am game?). Then I almost overheated (80+ degrees in October? Seriously?!?) and had to watch the 4th quarter from under the bleachers by the concession stand. And to top it all off, I ended up with blisters on the bottom of my feet! I didn't know that was even possible...but let me tell you, it is painful.

It was definitely one of my roughest gameday experiences to date. But, there's always a silver lining.... and visiting with my sweet friends helped make a crappy day much brighter!

Before the game started, we ran into my friend from high school Randy White, 
and his sweet wife Merritt! It's been YEARS since I've seen either of them!

We got to watch the 3rd quarter with our friends Jefforey and Annah Grace, 
as well as Baby Morgan (present in the cutest baby bump ever!) 
We can't wait to meet Baby M in March! 

 Next up we randomly ran into Brian Keeter - twice! It was great to catch up with him!

On the way out of the stadium we spotted these guys. 
I don't care who you are... that's some funny stuff right there!

Nothing will ease the pain of a loss better than being on Bo Jackson's arm!
He told me not to worry, and to remember that it's always Great To Be An Auburn Tiger!

... and I couldn't walk by Cam without stopping to hold his hand. That #2 is such a stud! ;)

 By this point, I was super sweaty, tired, and sunburned BUT I couldn't leave without visiting Kira & Oliver's tailgate! 
Kira's family throws quite the party, and she also happens to have two super cute kids! 
It was so good to catch up with her...

And to finally meet her precious little boy Charlie! 

Before we called it a day, we had to stop by the KNWA TV van to see Rusty's friend Aaron!

And then we were finally back at the Stoves' house where we stayed. It was nice to spend some time
catching up with Candice (after snuggling and playing trains with Davis and Clay of course!)
And Rusty was glad to have Randall (not pictured) to talk sports with!


The next morning, we were off to Florida! We weren't able to go to the beach this summer, so we were very excited when my parents invited us down for a free trip on their Fall Break! My brothers and their wife & fiance were there Friday and Saturday (we were really sad we missed them!) and then we got to spend Sunday - Tuesday with my parents. We did nothing but sleep, read, lay on the beach, and eat seafood - which was wonderful! We are about to have a super busy few months of work, so it was nice to rest up and enjoy the gorgeous October weather!

 Me and my handsome man!

Me and my Daddy!

A family picture on our last night... if only Brent, Melissa, Jaron, and Michelle could've been there!


And if all that wasn't enough excitement for you... we got home just in time to welcome our dear friends Kevin & Malerie home from Korea with their precious daughter Gia! I can't even begin to explain what an incredible, emotional sight it was to see them walk off that plane holding their daughter!  We are just so happy for them and so in love with their sweet little girl!

Welcome Home Huguleys!!! (Photo by Heather)

Gia's first picture with Uncle Rusty and Auntie Ericka! 

The whole Welcome Wagon at the B'ham Airport (Photo by Heather)


*Whew! Talk about a crazy (but great) week! And I didn't even mention our awesome Community Group on Wednesday night or our fun dinner with new friends on Friday night! We spent today just resting from all the fun. Our hearts are full. Thank you God for all our blessings!