Thursday, June 28, 2012

Adoption Update :: We Need Your Prayers!

I know it's been quite a while since I blogged about our adoption, and I apologize for the lack of updates. The truth is, this process has been a lot more difficult than we realized it would be, and a lot more emotionally draining. 

You see, I'm extremely familiar with international adoption, and we thought we knew what to expect when we began this journey. We have so many friends who have adopted through the years, and I've followed their blogs every step of the way. I just love seeing these precious children come into their forever families, and I knew we would have a similar story someday! So I have read blogs and articles and helped with fundraisers. I know what a homestudy and a dossier and a waiting list is. I've read all about cultural differences, language barriers, and bonding & attachment issues. So when it (finally) came time for us to begin our adoption process, I knew I was ready!

Or so I thought. Boy was I wrong.

We had researched the requirements for adopting from Thailand and knew we met them all - except for the 3 years of marriage required. So we spent February looking at agencies online, March in Africa, and right after our 3rd anniversary in April, we were ready to move forward! We found 3 agencies that looked promising and set up phone interviews with all of them. We thought we would pick the best one, submit our application that week, and begin our homestudy. But it didn't happen that way at all.

What did happen, was the realization of a lot of strange rules, red tape and closed doors. I know that the requirements for every country are different, but I've never heard of someone having the difficulty we have had moving forward (especially when they meet all the "official requirements"!) Every phone call we had was more discouraging than the next. We were told about closed programs, 3 year wait times (and that is just to get matched!), the inability to choose gender, and for most programs - that we would have to be infertile to even apply! Considering we haven't even tried to have children, we have no idea if we are infertile or not. (And considering infertility is not an official requirement to adopt from Thailand, we weren't expecting that road block!)

By the end of the week, we were devastated. Adopting from Thailand seemed impossible. I cried... a lot. We went through so many emotions... frustration, confusion, anger, and sadness. I went from feeling as if I were "pregnant" to going through what felt like "adoption infertility". It seemed every door was closed, and it felt so hopeless! I couldn't talk about the adoption without crying. I couldn't look at anything adoption related or even child-related. I got angry reading other's adoption blogs because it seemed so EASY compared to what we were facing. Suddenly, a 1 to 2 year wait time sounded like a dream!

I have this sweet little handmade bunny I bought in Thailand last year, that I thought would be cute on our child's bookshelf someday (at that point we didn't know we were adopting). Now it sits on my desk to remind me to pray for our little girl. I know this sounds silly, but for a couple of weeks I couldn't even look at it! It was just too painful. Several of you (without knowing what we were going through) sent me sweet facebook messages during this time telling me you were praying for us and our adoption. I apologize for not responding to them - but I just couldn't find the words. We were both just too full of questions and emotions. We kept wondering if we'd heard God wrong...

After a couple of weeks of wallowing living in this hopelessness, I got a phone call from our mentor Michael. He spent quite a while talking to me and getting me "unstuck". I cried on the phone while he told me that I had to stop speaking death over this process (because our words carry power) and that it was time to start praying through this like never before. He talked a lot about Faith --- of being sure of what we HOPE for and certain of what we DO NOT SEE. (Hebrews 11:1) It was exactly what I needed to hear. 

And so - we picked ourselves up, looked at our options one more time, and decided to push forward. When every other door seems closed, we are choosing to (try to) walk through the one that might be open just a tiny crack! There is one agency that told us they would be willing to submit our profile to the Thai Red Cross. This is not an application - it's just a preliminary profile to see if by any chance the Thai Red Cross (TRC) might make an exception for us. Typically, only infertile families can apply to this program - but because we don't know if we're infertile, and we don't have any children, she seemed to think there could be a chance they would overlook that rule and consider us for an adoption. She also thought the fact that we have lived in Thailand, work in Thailand, speak basic Thai, and have so many connections to the country and culture could work in our favor. So we have taken a chance and submitted our profile and photos to the Thai Red Cross.

Now we need you - all of you - to saturate this process in prayer!!! I am not going to say this is our only hope, because I know God ultimately knows who our daughter is and He has a plan to get us to her. But I will say that this is the very best option that we know of right now - and the only option we have found that will allow us to adopt a healthy, young child (2 years old or under).

I know this seems like a longshot - but I have seen God work INCREDIBLE miracles when it comes to orphans and adoption. We have had friends all over the world be told that things are impossible - only to have God show up and fling open doors that no man could open! So we are praying for Him to open this door for us, so that we can at least start the adoption process. With 3 year wait times (and longer), it is killing us that we haven't been able to officially begin our adoption. Any news that will help us take that first step, is a way for us to get closer to our little girl!

Thank you in advance for covering this in prayer!  I will keep you all updated with any news I hear!

Jesus looked at them and said, 
" With man, that is impossible. But with God, all things are possible." 
 ~ Matthew 19:26

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Miss Alabama IMPACT Award

Just a few days ago, I shared some of my favorite Miss Alabama Pageant memories with you, and explained how important my years in the Miss America Organization were to me. I absolutely would not be where I am today without the incredible experiences and relationships I have from my time in the Miss Alabama family. Without the scholarship money I won while competing, I wouldn't have been able to graduate college debt free. (And had I been saddled with student loan debt, Rusty and I would not have been able to start our non-profit organization The Sound of Hope). I also wouldn't have learned the poise, confidence, and public speaking skills I have - which are vital to my role as the Executive Director of The Sound of Hope. My time as a local titleholder in the Miss America Organization, and my years competing in The Miss Alabama pageant helped shape me into the best version of myself that I could possibly be. And although I never won the title of Miss Alabama or Miss America - God used those programs to get me exactly where I needed to be today.

I believe "to whom much is given, much is required."  My life is richer because of these incredible programs, and I really wanted to be able to give back to something that gave so much to me. So a few months ago I approached my husband Rusty with the idea of creating a new award and scholarship for a contestant at the Miss Alabama Pageant. He loved the idea of helping another young woman through college, and encouraged me to go for it. He had a side job that allowed us to save up some extra money over the past few months..... and so, this year, the Miss Alabama IMPACT Award was born!
The Miss Alabama IMPACT Award

Award Stipulations:
25% of the score is for the contestant's service work done with her platform
25% of the score is for her involvement and service above and beyond her chosen platform
25% of the score is chosen through a vote by her fellow contestants
25% of the score is chosen through a vote by the Pageant Moms – the volunteers who work with the contestants during pageant week
The Miss Alabama IMPACT Award is given to the contestant who is making the biggest IMPACT on the world around her. She must demonstrate exemplary involvement and service, as well as exhibit grace and kindness to her peers and everyone she works with. A good description of this young woman would include words like generous, hardworking, enthusiastic, engaging, compassionate, and inspiring.

The winner of the 2012 Miss Alabama IMPACT Award & $1,000 scholarship
was the beautiful Beth Milam, Miss JSU!

I got a chance to talk to Beth for just a few minutes at the luncheon (we're having a lunch date soon!) and I was amazed when I heard that she just got back from Haiti 20 days ago! What are the odds of a young woman with a heart for missions winning my award? Isn't that incredible!?

I have had so many people stop and tell me how glad they were that she won, and how deserving she is of this award. It made both me and Rusty so excited to know that we have the privilege of investing into the life of such a special young woman!

But you know, the funny thing is - God turned this award into something so much bigger than I had planned. I just wanted to give back to a program that I believe in. I wanted to help give another young woman the opportunity to graduate college debt free! There are so many deserving girls at the Miss Alabama Pageant each year - but only 1 gets to walk away as Miss Alabama (and only 9 others get to place in the Top 10!) I wanted to provide an award that would allow one more young woman to be recognized and honored. But God wanted to do more....

Nan Teninbaum, the President of the Miss Alabama Board of Directors 

The President of the Miss Alabama Board was so excited about my award that she invited me to speak at the Miss Alabama Luncheon on Saturday. There, I got the opportunity to share my story with all the Miss Alabama Contestants and their families. It was amazing to get to tell them what God has done in and through my life since my pageant days! I have had several contestants and their parents come up to me since I spoke and tell me how much my story encouraged and inspired them.

Who could've guessed that God would use the fact that I didn't win Miss Alabama to inspire people?

I'd never thought of it before - but usually these contestants only hear from the current and former Miss Alabamas. They are incredible women - doctors, lawyers, business owners, models, etc. But the girls never get to hear about the lives of the other contestants who didn't become Miss Alabama. And the truth is - there are so many of us who are successful, inspirational women too! One of the contestants told me, "I just needed to know that there is life beyond the crown."

And there is. 

There is a rich, FULL life beyond the crown. As I told the girls at lunch - only one contestant will leave each year as Miss Alabama. But every single one of them will leave with scholarship money, incredible life experience, and some wonderful relationships. And it's what you do with those 3 things that can truly change the world!

Each woman that is a part of the Miss America Organization is so special, and they have so much to offer the world! It was an honor to get to remind the contestants of that, and I was so blessed to get to be back with my wonderful Miss Alabama Family! Thanks so much Nan for this amazing opportunity!

Here are a few more photos from the day....


My beautiful friend Courtney Porter, Miss Alabama 2011. 
Courtney and I competed together my last year at Miss Alabama, and we went to Auburn together too!

Ms. Judy - one of the many precious Pageant Moms who took care of me when I was a Miss AL Contestant! 
It was such a joy to see these ladies again (wish I'd gotten a picture with all of you!)


With Haley Ates (Miss Chattahoochee Valley) and Catherine Crosby Long (Miss Alabama 2003)

I was SO excited to see Katie Boyd, my BFF from my days at Miss AL! I love this girl sooo much! We have some great memories from 
the 2 years we competed together (she went on to compete for 3 more years and won over $45,000 of scholarship money!) 
Katie is absolutely precious, crazy talented, and in my heart, she will always be a Miss Alabama! ;)

I got to meet Miss America 2004, Ericka Dunlap!  She had one of my favorite crowning moments in Miss America history - she was so excited and emotional that she couldn't sit still long enough for them to crown her! Haha! I figure I would've been the same way. I have wanted to meet her for years, because she is a rare E-R-I-C-K-A!  I still remember how neat it was to see MISS AMERICA ERICKA in all the headlines when she won!

Opening number - featuring Jamie Langley (another amazing woman I competed with), 
Courtney Porter, & Dedra Eastland Pennington.

Beautiful Beth Milam, winner of the Miss Alabama IMPACT Award, in the final number!

Courtney Porter taking her final walk as Miss Alabama....

Your new Miss Alabama, Anna Laura Bryan!

*For those of you that want to see more pictures from Miss AL, I'll try to post some on facebook later this week!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Miss Alabama Week!

In case you didn't know - it's MISS ALABAMA WEEK!!! That probably doesn't mean much to those of you who aren't connected to the Miss Alabama Pageant, but for me it represents 2 years of wonderful memories with some of the most incredible women I've ever met.

2005 Miss Alabama Pageant Contestants with Shannon Camper - Miss AL 2004

I know there are a lot of people who think that "pageant girls" are vain, shallow idiots. Unfortunately, shows like Toddlers and Tiaras, and the sketchy behavior allowed in other pageant systems have only reinforced that idea. But the truth is - the women of the Miss America Organization are so much more than that!

For those of you who don't know what it takes to be Miss America (or Miss Alabama, or even a local titleholder in the MAO, as I was) let me tell you that it requires much more than a pretty face. These women are not only beautiful, they are also intelligent. As a matter of fact - 30% of their score comes from their on-stage question and interview competition (and I can assure you - I have NEVER had an interview that came close to the level of difficulty of a Miss Alabama interview!) They are also leaders in their schools, communities, and states, and they work tirelessly to promote their chosen platform. Their platforms are a type of community service - some examples would be Mentoring, Breast Cancer Awareness, or Curing Childhood Cancer. I know that one of the women I competed with, Deidre Downs, (who went on to win Miss America) helped raise over $100,000 for pediatric cancer research! These are women who are truly making a difference in the world!

Charlie's Angels - Me, Deidre, & Katie goofing off backstage!

Whenever I get the opportunity, I am quick to share that the Miss America Organization helped shape me into the best version of myself that I could be. I saw a vast improvement in my public speaking and interview skills during the 4 years I competed in preliminaries, and the 2 years I served as Miss Gadsden Area and Miss Auburn-Opelika Area. I would not have the poise or confidence I have today without my experience in this amazing organization.

I also wouldn't have the thousands of dollars of scholarship money I won! Did you know that the Miss America Organization is the largest provider of women's scholarships in the world?! With the work we do overseas I cannot stress enough how important it is for women to have the opportunity for an education. I worked so hard to pay my way through college - but even with a 4 year academic scholarship from Auburn University, several outside scholarships, and a job - it wouldn't have been possible without the money I was awarded at the Miss Alabama Pageant and local prelims. Because I was able to graduate college debt free, without the burden of student loans, my husband and I were able to start our non-profit The Sound of Hope. It's crazy to think that The Sound of Hope wouldn't exist if not for my years in high heels and evening gowns, but it's the truth!

2004 Miss Gadsden Area

And had I not competed, I would have missed out on some wonderful relationships! From the precious "Pageant Moms" that took care of us on pageant week, to the dedicated directors, board members and volunteers, and of course the beautiful, talented, intelligent, inspiring women I competed with! I have so many fond memories from this week back in 2004 and 2005. Goofing off backstage with the girls, learning dance moves every day, going to autograph parties and talent rehearsals, late night pajama parties in the Samford dorms, and getting to SHINE on-stage every night at the Wright Center! As exhausting as it was, we had a blast together during Miss Alabama Week each year!

With my precious friend Katie Boyd, on our way to the Brookwood autograph party!

2005 - Me & my Miss AL roomie Mallory Wooten

2005 - Ready for Opening Number!

Do you see the pic above? Talk about funny memories - we had the worst opening number outfits both years I competed! In 2004 we had to wear full length velvet renaissance gowns and headdresses, and in 2005 we looked like 50 green M&Ms! We shared a lot of laughs about those costumes! ;)

PJ Party with some of my favorite girls! FYI that is sparkling grape juice we're drinking ;)

Miss Auburn-Opelika '05 with the current Miss AL Courtney Porter!

With Melinda Toole in 2004 - the "Twinkies" strike a pose! ;)

It feels like just yesterday that I was up on that stage. I can't believe it's been 7 years since I competed, and 5 years since I've been able to attend the Miss Alabama Pageant. After 2 summers in Africa and 3 in Michigan, I am so thrilled that I get to see the show and watch a new Miss Alabama get crowned tomorrow night! It will be wonderful to reconnect with my Miss Alabama family and to introduce my husband to this part of my past.  

BEST OF LUCK to all the beautiful young ladies competing this year! After this week is over, I hope you carry as many wonderful memories with you as I have!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

"A Few of My Favorite Things" ~ GIVEAWAY WINNER!

Alright ladies, the winner of my favorite things giveaway is....

Comment #10

(did you hear The Price is Right theme song in your head when you read that? did ya?!)

Becca, you are the winner of a (4 oz) bottle of my favorite thing for Spring - Arbonne's FC5 Exfoliating New Cell Scrub, which is a $28 value!  This is the perfect skin care addition for you, since you're an on-the-go mom to 2 precious kiddos! After you've washed your face at night- just rub a dime sized amount over your damp face, wet your fingertips and rub it around in small circles. Then rinse! No need to leave it on for 10 minutes or anything crazy like that (who has time for that?!) It's gentle enough to use every night or you can just use it once or twice a week if you prefer. It's a quick, delicious smelling treat for your skin! And you will be AMAZED at how soft your face is after!

I'll be mailing your prize to you soon! If any of you other ladies would like to give this amazing product a try, just comment below and I'll be sure to contact you the next time I place an Arbonne order. Thanks for being such great blog followers! :)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Camp Grace

Meet Carrie and Lucas Farmer. Carrie is one of my dearest friends from college, and her family created the non-profit Vision Atlanta (which puts on an incredible ministry called CAMP GRACE each summer!)

From their website :: Since 2005, Camp Grace has offered children from the at-risk communities of Georgia a week-long, overnight Christian camp experience. Through the combination of incredible challenges, relevant instruction, and encouraging mentors these children are inspired to achieve greatness. Surrounded by a beautiful, natural setting and wonderful, caring people the children have the best week of their entire summer!

I can't tell you enough good things about this ministry. Carrie and I used to meet once a week to pray for our ministries in college, and I have seen her passion for the kids she works with for years now. I've also volunteered at a couple of Vision Atlanta/Camp Grace events and I have really seen the heart behind the ministry. It thrills me to see these at-risk kids experience something as incredible as CAMP GRACE. For many of them- it's the first time they've ever heard about Jesus. It's also the first time most of them have had adults (counselors and staff) who loved them, praised them, cheered them on, and prayed for them. For children who come from very rough home lives and dangerous communities, this is their encounter with GRACE.

Today was the 1st day of the 1st camp session for Summer 2012 - so if you feel led to say a prayer for the incredible staff and volunteers there, pouring into these sweet kids, please do! (And say an extra prayer for Carrie and Lucas, who just had a baby boy last week, and are now in the full swing of running camp!)

Last summer, Rusty and I got to visit Camp Grace and put together this video for them. Somehow I didn't get around to sharing it then, so I thought I'd share it with you all now! It really explains the ministry happening at this camp, and shows off the incredible facilities the kids get to use each week!

If you would like to donate to this ministry, or want more information - click here!

Friday, June 1, 2012

"A Few of My Favorite Things" ~ FREE GIVEAWAY!

If you read my post yesterday then you know it was all about my Favorite Things for Spring. Well just like I did with my "Favorite Things for Summer" post last year, I'm going to do a FREE GIVEAWAY for one of my favorite things! (I kind of feel like Oprah saying that... except I can't give you all a free car. Sorry about that!)

Anyway - up for grabs today is my favorite skincare product for the Spring -  Arbonne's FC5 New Cell Exfoliating Scrub!

I actually use this product year-round, but I'm especially fond of it in the Spring and Summer! With ingredients like Cucumber extract, Carrot extract, Mandarin Orange Peel, Lime Oil, and Grapefruit Peel, it smells so fresh and fruity! This is the perfect scrub to get rid of that dry skin from the winter. It makes your face feel so smooth and soft! And I LOVE that the ingredients are all-natural - no chemical dyes or fragrances, no cheap fillers, no animal by-products - just fresh, natural goodness for your skin!

The winner of this giveaway will receive a full-size bottle (4 oz) of the FC5 Exfoliating New Cell Scrub, which is a $28 value!  

To enter just COMMENT BELOW, and be sure to add your email address (so I can get in touch with you if you win!)

For extra entries you can follow our non-profit, The Sound of Hope on Twitter (1 extra entry), like us on Facebook (1 extra entry), or subscribe to our Blog (1 extra entry).  Just add an extra comment for each option you choose.

The winner will be announced next Thursday, June 7th!