Happy Monday! Thanks for being here for Make A Difference Mondays, a place to get intentional about starting our week focused on the positive as well as put our heads together to dream up ways we can make a difference in this world! Julie, Kristin, and I are excited to be filling in for the next couple months as co-hosts for MADM!

Necklace from ViBella
This past October my sister Kristin and I had the privilege of attending Allume, a blogging
conference in South Carolina. Among the amazing speakers and sessions were some incredible organizations that work to better the lives of people around the world. Three of these organizations sell jewelry made by women and men around the world, offering a fair wage to people who would otherwise be living in poverty and providing the opportunity for them to support their families.

We were so blessed and encouraged by each of these organizations (and bought jewelry from all of them!) that we wanted to share each of these companies with you, our reader, in their own words.

My daughters love to get “stuff.” It doesn’t matter what that “stuff” is—one child ran out of her room this morning, thrilled because she found a blue “fuzzy” (aka lint) in her room, and wasn’t it so soft?—but regardless, their penchant for wanting more runs high. 

Even though we do Advent Acts of Kindness each year, the idea of Christ-centered giving to others during the Christmas season is still something we’ve struggled to foster in our daughters. 

On the other hand, they love to be “helpers.” So this year, I’ve decided to start incorporating the “stuff” and the “helping” together. Each day during the month of December, I’ve planned out an activity for us to do together. Some days, we’ll do something fun together, and look for spontaneous ways to give to others (i.e. take a trip to an indoor playground and leave quarters on a vending machine). Other days, the day's activity will center around giving to others (i.e. making Christmas cookies or baskets of goodies to give away). 

Chris and Steph Wolf and their children Sally, Claire, and Elijah
This week I'm so excited to share a dear friend's story about international adoption. Steph and I connected in college, and although we no longer live close to each other, I love seeing the way God is moving in her life. A couple of years ago, she and her husband Chris adopted their son, Elijah, from Uganda. Here's their story:
Meeting their son in Uganda
God began stirring my heart for adoption at a young age. I remember my Cabbage Patch doll having an “adoption certificate” and being fascinated by that. As a college student, I babysat often for a family who had brought their daughter home from China. As a mom, one of my best friends is a foster mom that loves on many kids that stay for various lengths of time. I can look back now and see that these were all threads that God wove into the story of my life as a way to prepare me to be an adoptive mom.

Christmas. This word, this season, so easily becomes overwhelmed with thoughts of the baking, the card-making, the gift-giving, all of the hustle and bustle of too much busyness packed into the mad rush of weeks from the day after Thanksgiving until December 26th. And while no one thing is “bad” or “wrong” in itself, when all piled one on top of the other, I find myself scarcely able to breathe.

Every December, I struggle with how to refocus my family’s attention on Christ, on giving, on thinking of something or someone other than ourselves. I feel like my little light upon the hill begins to waver and weaken rather than shining brighter and stronger during the season of the birth of my Savior.

Until two years ago, when two friends and I decided to fight back against the holiday insanity and joined forces for our first Advent Acts of Kindness. 

This month we've been sharing a post every Monday about adoption. As we were talking about it as a family, my son Donnie, who turns 13 this week, asked if I would interview him. Of course I agreed. In our home, we try to be as open and honest with our children as possible. Donnie came to us from the foster care system when he was eight years old. Prior to that time, he had been living with both his biological parents. Over the next couple of years, attempts to unify his family were unsuccessful. Donnie was adopted by our family in 2012 but was still able to have visitation with his biological mother. Both of his biological parents are now deceased, but Donnie is still able to see his older brother on a regular basis. Here is his perspective on adoption.
Donnie during a BMX race

What did you think about foster care at first? It was hard. And boring at first. You didn't know what to do. The rules were different. And you couldn't see your parents everyday.

What do you think about adoption? It changes your life. 

What did you think when you heard you were going to be adopted? I was excited to get adopted and be a part of the family.

Were there things that were hard or sad about  being adopted? It changes your life. You have another family and you don't see your other family as much. 

This past week I came across a Facebook post from a dear friend sharing about all the trouble her son has experienced as of late. Things beyond his control -- hospital stays, medical bills, and stolen vehicles -- all within a couple months' time. She ended by saying they are just "done."

And I paused, stopped scrolling. Taking in the gravity of what it must be like to experience all those troubles so close together. I know I want to help.

I copy her status and send it to the elders of my church, asking if we can help.

We’re a small group, meeting on Sunday mornings in a local school with nothing about us that would appear flashy or showy. But we’ve committed to giving away 50 percent of everything that comes in each week to meet the needs of our community, and I know this is another way we may be able to help.

Over the past couple of years, I have loved being a part of this small community of believers. We’ve been able to help the homeless through serving meals and volunteering at local shelters. We’ve painted schools and planted trees, given money to help missionaries working with abused girls, given funds to people when their house burned down and paid for single moms to attend a retreat just for them, among many other things.

Eleanor and I with a check for strangers we've never met
And it isn’t too long before I get a reply back, Yes, we’d like to help. Of course we’ll give. How does $5,000 sound?

And I can’t help but smile. SO thankful to be part of this community. No red tape. No bureaucracy. No one wondering what they’ll give back to us or how we’ll see a return on the money.

Just a simple Yes, we’ll help.

I message my friend, wondering if I can meet her the next day to give her a small gift from Kyle and I for her son. She agrees and we plan to meet at her place of work.

The next day, as I come in the front door, I’m greeted warmly with a hello and a hug. My friend and I spend the next little while talking about life, catching up. I realize it’s been too long since I’ve seen her.

Kathy with her parents
and older brother Glenn
at her three-week-old placement
Today, I’m interviewing my mother-in-love (don’t you just love that?!) Kathy, who was adopted by her parents as an infant. I wanted to share her story because from the very beginning of meeting
Kathy she has exuded love and exuberance for adoption. There was no one who was more excited (or could relate better!) to the adoption of our first daughter, Jasmine. And when I asked her if she’d be willing to share her story, she did not hesitate to say yes. Here is her story (in her own words):

Kathy's brother Glenn in 1975,
serving in the Air Force
I was adopted at 3 weeks old. My parents couldn't have children so they adopted a son and me. My brother was 3 years older. Back then they were on probation for one year. My legal adoption was Sept. 20, 1955. I had a great family, with very loving parents. I always knew from little on that I was a chosen child; that's what my parents would always call me. I learned the word adoption probably when I was old enough to know what it means, about five or six. 

“What’s so bad about your life, anyway?” he spat at me. 

I recoiled from the tone – and the truth – of his words. Though our argument was resolved within the next ten minutes, the words remained, beating within my head, resonating in my heart. 

Because the truth is – nothing. There’s nothing truly "bad" about my life. My family is in relatively good health. I have a roof over my head, food to eat, financial stability. I have the freedom to be flexible with work and the jobs I take on. I’m blessed with supportive friends. I love our church. I work with great ministry organizations. 

On the surface, life looks good. So why do his words ring true

Oh, this is my sweet Jazzer girl!
How can you not smile at her cute little self!?
There are very few topics that I get excited about as much as orphan care and adoption. Maybe it’s because two of my kids are adopted, but I just love the idea of taking care of kids that need a home. With November being National Adoption Month, we thought it’d be the perfect time to talk about adoption -- so this month, every Monday, we will be sharing about different aspects of adoption.

Today, we'll start by talking about orphan care and what you can do to help children in need, even if you don’t feel called to adopt a child.

Five ways to support orphans other than through adoption: