The Mercy of Adoption

Adoption Article
Harrison Josiah and Clara Marie were welcomed into the Wilkin family on November 13th. Until the adoption is finalized, their faces can’t be shown.

As a child I played “house” like every other little girl. But, to my knowledge, I didn’t pretend to be a mommy with little kids bouncing around me. I cleaned imaginary stoves or sat in my imaginary recliner clicking on a remote control to watch whatever TV show my little heart desired. Apparently that was my adult utopia. But I distinctly remember one day, “dusting” the paper VCR that I had made and taped to the inside wall of my plastic Muppet Babies play house, seeing a “rainbow” of children before me. And for some reason, I decided that meant that one day I would have kids that were different colors than me.

Fast forward to fourteen years old. I was in Romania and had the opportunity to visit an orphanage one day. Heads shaved to prevent lice, I thought they were boys. It was an all-girls facility. Short and scrawny from malnutrition, I thought they were all younger than ten. Come to find out, most of them were older than me. I had no idea how to process the concept that none of them had been adopted. Why weren’t there more people out there who could show compassion and parent them?

It was then that I remembered my little vision of the rainbow of children, connected the dots, and decided that, someday, I would adopt. I knew I couldn’t rescue every child from an orphanage, but I could do my part.

Just before my husband and I got engaged, I knew I would have to bring this up to him. We were on a pretty fast track toward marriage, and if he wasn’t interested in adopting, we weren’t right for each other. Not only that, but I was more interested in adopting than having biological kids. I wanted to adopt first. Thankfully, Wyley agreed adoption was something he wanted, too.

For different reasons that came up over the years, we didn’t get to fully launch our adoption journey until nine years into our marriage. That was a lot of years of being comfortable with “just us.” I was perfectly happy without kids. I didn’t pine for them. I’m the kind of girl that has a lot of dreams, a lot of goals, and lot of potential. I want to make the most of it. It was hard for me to “be ready” to put those things on hold to focus on enlarging my family. But it was something I knew I was called to from a young age, and because of that, I also knew it was not something I should put off any longer.

We opted to adopt through the foster system, also known as Fos-Adopt. Foster children are at the highest risk in our country of being trafficked, and the best way to combat that is by giving them a safe, loving home.

My mom was a social worker while I grew up, working directly with children in foster homes, and I remember hearing horror stories, both of terrible foster homes and terrible foster children. We knew, going this route, that it was likely the child or children we’d be welcoming forever into our lives would be “special needs”, having come from a place of some sort of abuse. While this frightened me, and I was warned about it from many concerned friends and family, I felt the challenge wasn’t too great for me. I thought about the idea of adoption – how it is God’s idea; how He demonstrates it every day, taking in “special needs” children who have been abandoned and rejected and abused – who abandon and reject Him on a regular basis – but His love does not waiver. They need Him, and that’s all that matters.

I began to pray desperately for them, that wherever they were and whoever they were with, God would protect them and bring them to us quickly. I couldn’t stand thinking about our kids enduring abuse while we were just waiting for them to come home.

Eleven months after we started our fos-adopt process, we met our babies. I honestly didn’t expect it to be that fast, and, being a planner by nature, it took me off guard. The holidays were coming up, and I had not envisioned Christmas with children. But if they needed us, we were ready for them.

Harrison Josiah and Clara Marie. Two, half siblings who are as adorable as they come. The meeting was unceremonious, lacking in fireworks, and frankly, a little off-putting in the cold county building where we signed on the proverbial dotted line. Their background is mainly a giant question mark; Birth Mother is MIA and Birth Fathers are obviously different (apparent by ethnicity differences) and unknown. We know very little about them, other than their ages (two years and six months). Even their ethnicities are officially unknown. We know Birth Mom tried to abort Clara, but she sought the abortion too late into the pregnancy. Thank the Lord.

As our lives and world did an enormous flip and we (and they) are still going through some major adjustments and challenges and sacrifices, I allow the Lord to remind me why this process is so important. I thank God for this mercy called adoption. Without it, we would have no possibility of entering the family of God. We would not have heaven to look forward to. We would have no eternal, heavenly inheritance.

This Christmas, as I focus on my God humbling Himself as a baby on this earth, I think about the tremendous adjustments and challenges and sacrifices He made so that He could make adoption possible. It doesn’t matter how often I disobey and reject Him, He is always still there, loving and forgiving me, and my future is secure in Him. And He has modeled for me what I get to give to Harrison and Clara: an earthly family that will love them no matter what, and who will show them the way to being adopted into the family of Christ.

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The Reality Parent’s Christmas


Steph Bru

Christmas can be an incredibly stressful time. Now that I have stated the obvious, I should be more specific. It can be a very stressful time for parents, especially of young children. Who am I kidding? Breakfast is stressful. Getting a small person to put their shoes on can be downright stroke inducing. It is a season of life that is best greeted with low expectations, cheap assembly-required home furnishings, and a sense of humor.

I try to help families set themselves up for success. A big part of that is having realistic expectations. So, the following is my gift to you. Any bubbles that burst as a result of this tip list were intentional, but in the nicest way possible.

1. Become a democracy (very temporarily). What I mean by this is, give everybody who talks a vote. Not everybody wants to do everything, unless your son is Buddy the Elf. Some kids are done making a gingerbread house forty-seven seconds in, would rather play Legos than go caroling, and find driving around looking for lights similar to an extended Time Out. More is not necessarily better, it’s just more. So, rather than giving your family a daily holiday assignment, let each individual pick what they like most, and make those items the priority. You are less likely to incur meltdowns with a more relaxed agenda, with lots of time for free play in between outings. You are also less likely to feel like a failure because you didn’t make reindeer candy canes or string popcorn garland.

2. Keep your routine. Ahh routine. The buzzkill of every spontaneous, creative type, yet the soothing balm to the overstimulated child’s soul. All of the good, fun, exciting stuff that normally takes place around the holidays (gift shopping, relatives visiting, school productions and neighborhood parties) is also messing with the predictability of your child’s little world. The more that daily routine is disturbed, the more likely you are to see your kid losing it. Be selective. It is in your children’s best interest for you to be very picky about activities that mess with meals, naps, and bedtime. Protect it and them. You can still infuse Christmas sprit into the ordinary. Read Christmas themed books at bedtime, use fancy holiday dishes and light candles at the dinner table, and play carols in the car.

3. If it’s not about the gifts, then don’t make it about the gifts. Many parents, myself included, are looking for ways to be intentional about keeping Christ and the spirit of of giving and goodwill as the focal point in their homes. There are all sorts of creative ways to do this, ranging from the simple to the Martha Stewart. Limiting the amount of presents has it’s merit, but has more to do with stewardship than anything. Kids should not be shamed for wanting stuff — it is basic human nature. Receiving gifts can be a lot of fun! Having new, cool stuff to play with and show your friends is a a major goal in childhood!

The seed that we want to plant and water each year is that giving and serving is the greatest expression of love. Taking our cue from The Father, we show others our love, and a glimpse of His love, when we give of our time, our talents, and our treasures. Children can absolutely participate in this, in more ways than I could ever list, but to name a few; making a card for the mailman, doing a sibling’s chore, picking a family gift out of the World Vision Catalog, shopping for a foster child, being a Secret Santa to a neighbor, delivering and decorating a tree for an elderly couple.

You see, this stuff is powerful regardless of whether you put two or twenty gifts under the tree this year. Let your priorities and budget guide the amount of presents you purchase. But we do not become givers at heart by buying less; we become givers at heart by realizing and experiencing the power and joy that come along with blessing others. Focus on giving more opportunities for that.

I hope these little reminders help you reevaluate your priorities and your schedule for Christmas and the days before and after. May your little world be calm and bright.

Photo via


Posted in Current Events, Family, Marriage, Parenting, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What Shall I Give Her?: Thoughts on GoldieBlox, William’s Doll, and the Confusing World of “Girly” Toys (Part 2 of 2)

INTRODUCTION: In the first part of this piece, which appeared yesterday, I related how I’d been bombarded by the viral video commercial for GoldieBlox — construction kits marketed specifically to girls in order “to get girls building” — while considering Christmas gifts for my own four daughters. After an initial rush of enthusiasm from consumers, GoldieBlox experienced some backlash for peddling pastel toys while simultaneously claiming that they wanted to “disrupt the pink aisle.” All of which raised interesting questions that get at the heart of our culture’s confusion about what it means to be a female: Are traditionally “girly” toys and games (dolls, tea sets, princess play) inferior to traditionally “masculine” toys and games? In order to encourage girls to engage in more “masculine” play, do we need to make separate-but-equal toys (i.e. traditional boy toys in pastel hues)? And if we answer “yes” to the two previous questions, aren’t we demeaning girls? So where does that leave us?

Today I’ll attempt to tackle some of these issues based on my own experience.

Who’re you calling “girly?”

I consider myself a bit of an expert on girls and women. I don’t do research in a lab or anything that counts in academia, but I’ve been a girl and now I’m a woman with four girls of my own.

My daughters have spent most of their lives in rural Vermont. We don’t have a television or smartphones; the only “screen time” they get comes via some games on my iPod and whatever DVDs they check out of our local library. The only magazines that come to our house are The New Yorker and The Economist. Two stores in our town have any toy section to speak of: T.J. Maxx and Ben Franklin (which is a five-and-dime). They have never been in a movie theater. And, because we never learned the gender of our babies before they were born, each girl spent most of her first year in gender-neutral onesies.

In short, my daughters are about as close as you can get in America these days to having been raised in the woods by wolves.

Nevertheless, without encouragement from me and very little external exposure, at about three years old every one of my daughters hit a “princess phase,” as if a Disney gene was suddenly activated. By four years old, it was Barbie. At five, ponies and puppies. Our house is full of baby dolls, tea sets, fairy wings, and pink tutus. These are not things that my daughters saw in commercials, or were given because they’re girls — they’re mostly things that my daughters saw in stores or at friends’ houses and longed for. And my girls play with both boys and girls, so they’re exposed to toys on “both sides of the aisle.” I have almost no experience with boys, but as far as I can tell my daughters’ male contemporaries tend to be drawn to completely different toys.

So I don’t believe toy companies are to blame for creating the concepts of “girly” and “boyish;” I think they’re reinforcing differences that may largely be hard-wired. Their marketers are experts at determining what products and branding will appeal to girls, and what will appeal to boys. And in my experience, there seems to be something innate in many girls that’s attracted to pastels and flowers and princesses and babies — an innate something that isn’t as present in many boys.

Of course, it’s not so simple. Our house is also full of cars and train sets and Legos and model dinosaurs. Each of my girls went through a year when she’d wear nothing but dresses — and the following year she’d refuse to wear anything but pants. When discussing their interests with my two oldest daughters, one told me she was interested in “swimming and sports,” and the other in “dog training, hunting, fishing…and ballet.” Good parenting, it seems to me, is moving beyond what the toy companies tell you to buy for girls (or boys), and just noticing who your kids are. Paying attention to our children when we choose their toys is how we ultimately “disrupt the pink aisle” — or not, if they’re really longing for that tutu. Because parenting isn’t about creating “girls” and “boys,” it’s about creating people — people who know what they like and have had their skills affirmed.

What’s interesting to me is that boys’ toys don’t come under anything like the amount of scrutiny applied to girls’ toys. Sure, there’s some concern about weapons and violent video games, but when was the last time you heard somebody complain that the toys being marketed to boys were too “boyish?” Why aren’t more people lamenting that baby dolls and toy kitchens don’t come in “boy colors?” We complain that girls’ toys aren’t preparing them for STEM jobs, but I look around and see many grown men (including my husband) participating actively in childcare and house chores. Why aren’t there toys to prepare young boys for this? The last I heard on this topic was Alan Alda and Marlo Thomas singing “William’s Doll” in “Free to Be…You and Me” — in 1972.

I’m aware that there’s a long, dark history of treating women like second-class citizens (a history that continues in many places today). I’m also aware that it’s hard to be a woman; the mixed blessing of being the childbearing sex saddles women with a load of physical and emotional challenges and choices. But it seems to me that the particular beauty of being a woman in the developed world today is that you CAN choose: You can choose toys from whichever aisle you want; you can choose to stay home and raise your children or enter the workforce with more freedom and rights than ever before. Whether it’s as quick or as uniform as we’d like, change is happening. I don’t know why women are so underrepresented in STEM jobs, but I suspect that the right question isn’t so much, Are little girls building enough? as, Do more women WANT these jobs? If yes, why aren’t they in them? And if no, why not?

The real problem with the GoldieBlox commercial, in my opinion, is that after repeated viewings of the two-minute-long ad, I was able to identify the actual GoldieBlox construction set only twice. The rest of the girls’ fantastic Rube Goldberg machine was constructed from exactly the toys that GoldieBlox mocks as “girly:” baby dolls and tea sets and pink feather boas. This is certainly what happens in my own house, and probably every other house: Kids NEVER use toys the way they’re “supposed” to; they will ALWAYS come up with something more creative. Just the other day, my daughters built a campsite for their Barbies, which was attacked by an army of plastic dinosaurs. (Thankfully, the Barbies outsmarted the dinos by offering them poisoned ice cream sundaes.)

In short: You don’t need to spend $29.99 to get girls building. They already are.

Posted in Being a Woman, Culture & Media, Current Events, Parenting | 1 Comment

What Shall I Give Her? Thoughts On GoldieBlox, William’s Doll, and the Confusing World of “Girly” Toys (Part 1 of 2)


In our house, we try to fight against Christmas becoming all about gifts. Our children get presents, but since we buy sparingly I spend a lot of time considering what to purchase, because I want it to be meaningful. We have four girls, so while considering toys this year I couldn’t avoid the GoldieBlox phenomenon.

For those who missed it, GoldieBlox is a toy company whose stated mission is “to get girls building.” Concerned that men vastly outnumber women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs, GoldieBlox designs storybook and construction sets for girls. Their “Princess Machine” commercial, in which three girls design a Rube Goldberg machine throughout their house, went viral this fall — and, no doubt, sold lots of GoldieBlox sets.

My own finger hovered over the “Add to Cart” button on the GoldieBlox website. Then I stopped, because something I couldn’t quite name was bothering me. When a friend passed along Natalie Miller’s critique of the GoldieBlox commerical, it put words to some of my GoldieBlox issues, specifically: Isn’t it strange that a company that claims it wants to “disrupt the pink aisle” made a toy that’s…pink and pastel, with cute little snap-on plastic animals? And that the GoldieBlox stories feature a slim girl with fluffy blonde hair and enormous green eyes? Miller’s bottom line is that GoldieBlox has managed to simultaneously disparage girly-ness (traditional girl play isn’t “smart” enough) and celebrate girly-ness (to get girls to build, we need to make pastel building toys), thereby perpetuating a kind of “separate-but-equal” gender confusion.

As I debated buying GoldieBlox I thought, Wait a minute, GoldieBlox is telling me that I need to buy my girls this whole new thing in order to get them to build. But they already have Legos and Bristle Blocks. They already love Legos and Bristle Blocks. Why wouldn’t I just get them some more?

Before I continue: I’m sure that GoldieBlox sets are great, and that my girls would love them. GoldieBlox needn’t be the ultimate solution to the under-representation of women in STEM jobs; it’s a toy company trying to sell toys. Of course they tell us that girls need GoldieBlox in order to build, in the same way that Gatorade tells us that we need Gatorade in order to quench our thirst. Don’t blame the marketer; you don’t have to buy what they’re selling.

But the GoldieBlox phenomenon — both the initial craze and the backlash — seems to embody our culture’s struggle with what it means to be female. When applied to adult women, we’ve labeled this struggle “The Mommy Wars:” Are enough women represented in high-powered jobs? Should more women stay home to raise their kids? The GoldieBlox debate is “The Mommy Wars” applied to toys: Are the toys marketed to girls (Barbies, princesses, baby dolls, tea sets) giving our girls body image issues and making them dumb? How do we design toys for girls that will make them more like boys? But wait — if we do that, then we might have to make the toys “girly,” and that’s BAD, right?!?

We keep trying to simplify something that’s actually very complex — to divide the issue into Choice A and Choice B — and we get completely confused.

But now I’M going to solve it all!

No, not really. But check back here tomorrow for Part 2!


Posted in Being a Woman, Culture & Media, Current Events, Parenting | 1 Comment

Cyber Monday: Themba International

Editor’s Note: Themba International recently launched an online men’s accessory shoppe. See below for images, links and the story of how Themba came about! Today is the last day to use discount code BLACKFRIDAY to receive 30% off your purchase.


Have you ever wanted to do something, but you didn’t think you had what it took to accomplish it? Have you had a project you’ve wanted to start for a long time, but you keep putting it off, waiting for the perfect moment (that never really comes)? I can say that those things are definitely true of me. There are a few dreams in my heart that I deeply desire to accomplish, but most of them are still on the back burner. For one of those dreams, however, I’ve found myself running full speed into that great unknown.

My best friend Vanessa and I had been talking since college (which was over seven years ago — a scary thought!) about starting small fashion businesses in developing countries that would provide training and jobs to people that were unable to provide for their families’ basic needs. She was a fashion designer and I studied business and had grown up sewing clothing, so we wanted to use what skills we had to help others.

A couple of working women at Themba Int’l..

Vanessa and I had worked on a few projects around this idea, but I mostly stayed on the sidelines – cheering her on and helping with little things here and there. We both worked for Invisible Children, where she started a program called MEND that employed women in Uganda who made handbags that were sold in the U.S. The program is still thriving, and is a model for what we’re doing now. (I had a separate position on the business side of the company, and now have a full time job in fashion.) Vanessa moved to South Africa (where her husband is from), and our friend Jeff approached her about helping him with a newly started nonprofit that was focused on investing in a community of people in the townships. The nonprofit was named Themba International, which means “hope” in the local Xhosa language. Jeff asked me to come on board to help manage the operations. I thought about it  – supporting my best friend, joining in a mission to serve the people of South Africa, and getting to do something I had always wanted to do – how could I refuse?


We opened a small workspace in Jeffrey’s Bay, and Vanessa spent a year training a few women in the township how to sew. They became a close-knit community, and she met with them to study truths from the Bible like generosity, love, and having great value in God’s sight. One week, after a discussion about generosity, one of the women applied this principle by sharing the only food she had for her family – one small loaf of bread – with her neighbor who had nothing to eat. When I heard this story I was moved to tears, and it was stories like this one that made us more determined than ever to help. If no one else was going to provide these women with jobs, we would at least try. About a year ago, we started giving part time work to the women, who would sew simple pocket squares. It was the easiest thing we could think of making. After a time, they started making ties and bow ties as well. A few months ago, we had built up a collection of about 500 of these products, and Vanessa sent them to me to sell, so that we could continue our work in the community.


Not knowing where to start, I became overwhelmed at first. But slowly but surely I started mapping out a plan of action. I asked a lot of people for help (which I usually avoid at all costs)! I called my friend Kat Harris, a photographer in New York, and a few of my friends who were models, to see if we could get the products photographed. I worked with other friends to build a customized website. I researched pricing and shipping and packaging, and so many other things that I was totally clueless about. I am still in the process of trying to spread the word about our products, finalize the packaging, find the time to develop a social media strategy – it’s a work in progress!

So far, this journey has taught me to take risks, to not be afraid to ask others for help, to believe in myself, and most of all to trust God to do the impossible. If my friends hadn’t encouraged me to join Themba, I probably still would have been waiting on the sidelines for when I “had it all figured out.” But now I realize that if you just take the leap, you will be surprised by how much you can learn and accomplish that you never thought was possible. And if you wait for that perfect time, it may never come. I hope that Themba will become something that is able to bless the people in South Africa immensely, and I can’t wait to see how it grows. I’m also finding myself with renewed vision for other dreams that I’d left on the back burner, and as I watch life being breathed into this dream of mine – it gives me hope.



Posted in Beauty & Fashion, Being a Woman, Culture & Media, Current Events, DIY, Social Justice, Theology & Philosophy | 2 Comments