My mind is spinning each day with details, details, details about the Called to Love retreat this weekend. I feel like I’ve talked about it so much that everyone I’ve ever met knows everything there is to know about it. But then the other day some friends asked, “Now, what is it exactly?” It’s kind of like when I’ve chatted with another school mom every day for months and months, and the first day we met she may have told me her name, but now we’re practically best friends and I don’t know her name! Maybe you have heard me yammer on about C2L for months, but don’t know the scoop and feel embarrassed to ask!
So here is the full story. You might as well read it, because I won’t blog until the darn thing is over.
Background: In January of 2013, my good friend Amy and I traveled to Atlanta for a conference for adoptive moms (Created for Care). She was entering her third year of waiting for her children from Ethiopia, and I was six months home with our adopted toddler after a 2.5 year wait. I can’t speak for her, but I was hanging on by emotional threads at the time. I felt like I was failing as parent to my adopted AND bio kids, I was googling things like “post-adoption depression” and could not figure out why everyone on f@cebook seemed to have no issues with their adopted toddlers. I loved my son and still felt confident in our decision, but I was unprepared for the difficulty I had bonding with him. I thought by 6 months home it would have all clicked into place and we’d be madly in love with each other. I was filled with guilt for my lack of affection and ability to parent confidently, and I was frustrated with him for his destructive and defiant behavior–some of which was personality, some toddler nature, and some a result of his own attachment struggles. I felt even MORE guilt for my own feelings, because I fully recognized the immense loss my child had just been through, and saw with my eyes how traumatizing it was. But he honestly seemed to be recovering more quickly than me! I knew I loved him fiercely, but I felt like I was drowning in the experience of parenting him and his siblings. I had wonderful support from friends and family, but none of them had experienced this personally, so even with them I often didn’t feel like I could be totally honest, because I didn’t want them to worry about me.
Less than 2 hours after we had landed in Atlanta, I sat in a hotel room with two moms who both looked me in the eye and said “Yes. I’ve been there. We adopted a toddler and it was very hard. It took years until we found our groove. But IT’S GOING TO GET SO MUCH BETTER. You’re going to be OK and so is your son. I know you love him.” The tears just flowed. I felt like someone had offered me a life boat, and I climbed in. The rest of the weekend was full of similar conversations. The discussions were full of HONESTY AND HOPE, two things I needed so badly. I was told over and over again, “Yes, it’s hard, but it’s worth it. Your child is worth fighting for. It’s going to get better. Seek the Lord and He will give you what you need. I GET IT.” It was exactly what I needed and was truly a game-changer for me as an adoptive mom.
Amy and I were not rooming together, and barely saw each other all weekend, because we were spending time with other adoptive moms and being renewed in our own specific ways. During the weekend, they encouraged us to do retreats in our own communities. At one point during the weekend, we met up in an almost empty meeting room and one of us said: “We’re so doing this, aren’t we?” And the other said, “Oh heck yes we are.” I don’t remember who said what, but we were both 5 steps into planning before we got on the plane ride home. For five hours straight, from ATL to PDX, we dreamed and planned what it could look like to create a retreat for foster and adoptive moms on the west coast.
The Beginning: Once home, we put some feelers out to adoptive mom friends of ours in the Northwest, and immediately had about 7 other friends and acquaintances who were on board to be our “team.” They just happened to be some of the most intelligent, capable women I’ve ever come across, and they were ALL IN. We discussed the huge need for support and encouragement in this unique role. On advice from our attorney (who happens to be one of the moms on our team!) and the founders of the original conference in Atlanta, we chose to start a non-profit organization that would be the foundation of the retreat. Our purpose was simple: encourage and support adoptive AND foster moms in any stage of their journey. Amy and I prayed and brainstormed and prayed some more about a name, and decided on Called to Love. It may sound cheesy at first, but it took the broad vision for this ministry and brought it down to a very simple directive. We are called to love these children. No matter what. Not called to be heroes or rescuers or perfect parents, just LOVE. Our theme verse is Isaiah 43:1: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, and you are mine.” We were incorporated as state-sanctioned non-profit organization on March 20, 2013.
Immediately, God started flinging doors open for us. High quality, sought-after speakers and session teachers agreed to come for little or no charge. We strongly desired to hear from adult adoptees and birth moms, and both started coming TO US, willing to use their story to encourage these moms. Foster and adoptive moms from all over the country were expressing great interest. Amy is the budget guru, and she worked and reworked the budget dozens of times. We chose a venue, and found the magic number to be 90 women. If we could get 90 paying registrations and carefully watched every penny we spent, we could pay all of our bills and neither of our families would go into debt–other than the initially investment to secure a contract. We took a leap of faith and opened the registrations up. We didn’t get bombarded, but slowly and surely, moms from across the country from Michigan to Florida have took their own leap of faith and committed to attending a brand spanking new event. Last year we had 103 moms attend, this year we will have 188. We are so grateful for how far God has brought this little dream of ours to fruition, and want to give all the credit to Him. I’m overflowing with joy to have the opportunity to offer a lifeboat to some other moms, and I pray that they will climb in and receive His abounding love and grace.
To read more about what God did at Called to Love in 2013, click HERE.