Fan Club Friday: Doorpost Collections

Doorpost Collections nativity advent calendar

Okay, yes, I am writing about my own business today.  

Maybe I'm not supposed to do that, but I figure that since this is my blog, I get to decide what I post.  And to be honest, I've been excited for a long time about the day when I could finally announce Doorpost Collections.

Before I tell you about the Advent Collection I've created, let me first tell you about my awesome husband.  I never thought that I could own a business with Andrew.  We are so different.  But it is precisely because we are so different that I now cannot imagine owning a business without him.  

I can make crafts, and I can write.  Oh, and I know how to be nice to people.  Those are the extent of my business skills.

I created an advent calendar and script for our own family when my oldest was an infant, and it was at Christmastime last year when the teenager living with us suggested, "MR, you could totally sell these.  I bet people would use them."  

This had truly never crossed my mind, but then I thought, "Sure, why not try?  'If you build it, they will come.  Right?'"

nativity advent calendar

Wrong.  

My dear husband is a business analyst, and he gently explained to his naive wife that this is not the way entrepreneurship works.

Have you thought about marketing?

Where to sell?

Shipping?

Packaging?

Sourcing?

Pricing?

No, no, no, no, and ... no.

So, all that stuff on Etsy and basically everything that is not the actual calendar, storage box, or script itself?  That is all my guy.  I had a dream, and he made my vision a reality.  

It also helps that I'm trying to sell a craft, and Andrew works at the ultimate craft store, Hobby Lobby.  

Anyway, enough bragging about him.  I could go on and on about how opening a business has changed our marriage for the better and made me see things in him that I never noticed before, but I should probably talk about my products.

Currently, Doorpost Collection only includes items for the Advent season, but I plan to expand the shop to include an Easter/Lent collection as well.

nativity advent calendar

The standard advent calendar includes a 16x16 inch burlap board in its natural wood color, but there is also a whitewash option.  The board comes with 25 miniature nativity objects to be placed on it from December 1-25.  These items have been sourced from a variety of retailers, and a few are handmade.  Each miniature was carefully selected to tangibly represent a part of the story of Jesus' birth in the Bible.  

Inspired by Scripture and Noel Piper's Treasuring God in Our TraditionsI created a script to be read individually or as a family during the month of December.  The script tells the story of Jesus, but it also includes other verses of Old Testament prophesies and New Testament promises.  Each day, the beginning paragraph of the script is repeated, but a new portion is also added which corresponds to the miniature being placed on the board on that specific day.

nativity advent calendar

A handpainted and numbered 25-drawer storage box for the miniatures can be purchased separately or in addition to the nativity advent calendar.  If you're a DIY kind of person, I've included the script as an option to purchase separately, as well.

If this product sounds simplistic, it is.  That's what I wanted it to be.  The Christmas season is often so full of chaos that the true Reason for our festivities is lost.  Selling these advent calendars isn't about money for me; it's about bringing Jesus back into people's homes.  It's about giving parents a tool for teaching their kids to adore the Savior.  It's about redeeming a holiday that has been distorted.  

nativity advent calendar

I'll leave you with this letter I've written.  You'll find it in your box if you order from my collection.  

You can check out Doorpost Collections on my website, InstagramFacebook or Etsy.  

 

***

Dear Friend,

I grew up in a home that did not acknowledge Christmas.  Classmates constantly questioned my religious background, wondering if I was Jewish or Jehovah’s Witness.  My response was and still is, “No, my parents are devout Christians.”  For reasons I couldn’t understand at the time, my parents chose to entirely forgo this holiday that the world has a tendency to misrepresent.

My husband, on the other hand, was raised in a family where Christmas has always been the year’s biggest celebration.  Yet, even with all of the festivities, the true meaning of advent was lost on him, as well.

Adopting our oldest child caused us to consider, for the first time, what we desired holidays to be for our own family unit.  I devoured Noel Piper’s Treasuring God in Our Traditions book in only a few days and then attempted to implement some of her wisdom into our home.  Unfortunately, the advent calendars and script which she sold when she wrote the book were no longer available.  So, I decided to make my own.

As I worked on this project, my heart changed toward Christmas and Jesus.  I had originally created the calendar to teach the story of Christ’s birth to our children through a digestible story and tangible objects, but I really ended up teaching the story to myself.  Writing the script that we would read in our home required extensive Bible research on my part, and seeing Old Testament promises fulfilled through the Messiah brought renewed joy to my spirit.  I found myself eagerly anticipating each evening during the advent season, when we would gather as a family and add another piece to the burlap board.  Seeing the wonder of the Savior through the eyes of my children sparked my own wonder, too.  For the first time in my life, Christmas had meaning.

The name, Doorpost Collections, was chosen with intention.  We, like the Israelites, are a forgetful people.  We need objects and routines which stir our affections for Christ.  My prayer is that, as you display and use Doorpost Collections in your home, you will be enabled to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

                                                                                 All glory to Jesus,
                                                                        Mary Rachel

15% of Doorpost Collections’ proceeds go directly to Peru Mission.  For more information, visit www.perumission.org.

Would you still love me if...?

Almost 11 years ago, I was told that I had HIV.

***

As an unemployed, broke college student looking for an easy way to make cash, I thought that donating plasma would be just the thing to put a little change in my pockets.  So, I headed off to the plasma donation center.  The process went smoothly, and I left thinking that perhaps I could become a regular plasma donor in lieu of finding a "real" job.  The girl at the front desk did remind me that the center would call me after completing some testing to ensure that I was a worthy candidate for continued donations.  At that point, though, I was already deciding what to do with the extra 80 bucks per week. 

I took my exams and then went home for my first Christmas break as a college student.  About halfway through the month-long break, I received a phone call from the plasma center.

Receptionist: "Hi, is this Mary?"
Me: "Yes, this is she."
Receptionist: "I am calling about your results from the tests we did at the plasma center."
Me: "Yes ma'am..."
Receptionist: "It appears that you have an abnormality in your results."
Me:  "Which is..."
Receptionist:  "I'm sorry, I cannot disclose that information to you over the phone.  You'll have to make an appointment to come in and talk with one of the nurses."

I still had about two weeks remaining of Christmas break, and I would not be returning to Norman from my home in the Dallas area before then.  I told my mom what the receptionist had said, and we concluded that I was probably anemic.  I still worried somewhat about my test results, but mostly I enjoyed the rest of my holiday and didn't give much thought to the impending doom.

A new semester began, and I made my appointment to speak with the nurse at the plasma center.  She firmly planted me in a chair in a private room and jumped straight to Question #1.

Nurse:  "I'm going to need you to tell me everything about your sexual history.  How many partners have you had?"
Me:  "..."
Nurse: "Uh, ma'am...?"
Me: "Zero?"  

That woman didn't know me from Adam, but she definitely thought that I was lying.  She reminded me that "now is not the time to hide information" and asked me the same question about my sexual history (or lack thereof) in at least four different ways.  She also presented several other questions before announcing, in a most exasperated tone,

"The reason I'm asking you all of these questions is because your tests came back positive for HIV."

"Contact your doctor, good luck, and have a nice day."

It was not a nice day. 

I couldn't get out of that place fast enough.  I ran to my car and sobbed, unable to comprehend how this had happened.  I thought through all of the possible, and even the impossible, scenarios in my head.  Could I have gotten HIV from kissing someone?  Did a doctor once use a dirty needle on me?  I was responsible for the personal care of many adults at camp.  Did I get some bodily fluid into a cut one time?  Did I ever forget to wear gloves when changing someone? 

unconditional love

There were no other explanations.

I made an appointment with a family practice doctor in Norman, and I waited for what seemed like ages to get in as a new patient.  Then I waited for more test results.  Every hour of waiting was agony.

As it turns out, I do not have HIV. 

I don't think that the family practice doctor believed me about being a virgin any more than the nurse at the plasma center had, but he did explain that about one in every 10,000+ tests for HIV will come back with a false positive.  I was the one in 10,000.  I would not be allowed to donate blood or plasma again, but by then, an extra $80 per week was so not worth it to me.  I breathed a big sigh of relief and moved on with my life as normal.  Now, almost eleven years later, I can think about that story without being absolutely horrified.      

***

I haven't told the amazing part of all of this, although it is pretty amazing that I don't have HIV. 

When I was informed that I had a communicable disease, I had recently started dating Andrew.  We had known each other for about five months and had been dating for two, maybe.  After sitting down with the nurse that day in the plasma center, I debated whether or not I should break the bad news to Andrew.  For some reason, I decided that I should.  I remember sitting in his bedroom and crying for hours (literally) before I could get the words out.  When I finally did say something, it probably sounded like this: 

"IthinkIhaveHIV, IhavenoideahowbutIdon'tblameyouifyoudon'twanttobewithmeanymore."

Silence

For a long time. 

I felt sure that he was thinking of the kindest way to break up with me.

I don't remember exactly what he eventually said, but he wrapped his arms around me, told me that all would be well, and reassured me that he still wanted me.  He knew that staying with me meant that everything about our future would change if I did have HIV.  And it didn't matter.

unconditional love

***

We've been filling out stacks of papers for foster care, and tucked into the middle of one of those stacks are five pages of check boxes.

Will you accept a child whose parent did _____?

Would you accept a child with ________?  What about ______?  What if he/she has _____?

Essentially, all of these check boxes are asking the same thing:

Would you still love a child if ... ?

There are legitimate reasons for checking certain boxes and leaving others blank.  By no means are we checking every box.  However, my heart breaks for all of the times that one of the children in the system has asked the question (verbally or otherwise), "Would you still love me if ... ?" and someone has answered, "No.  I will love you, but only with strings attached."

There will be a host of tough things about foster care, but I can't wait to look into a child's eyes and say, "You're loveable because I love you" or "I love you for no other reason, except that you're (insert name here.)"  

I want to do this because this is how I have been loved.  My husband loves me this way daily, but ultimately, he is a mere reflection of the vast, unconditional love that Jesus has for me.

Maybe a foster child has heard words of reassurance before, but likely she hasn't.  So whether she's hearing, "A thousand times, YES!" for the first time or the 51st, I hope those three little letters take root, and I hope that, deep down, she believes them.

Postpartum Depression After An Adoption: Yes, it's a real thing.

*I originally composed this entry about a year ago on Blogger, but I'm reposting it here because I think that postpartum depression following an adoption is still a real and relevant issue that needs to be brought into the light.*

***

postpartum depression after an adoption

I have put off writing this post for awhile.  Partly, I didn't realize until recently that I was haunted by postpartum depression for the better part of a year following Piper's adoption.  The bigger reason for my delay, though, is that I was afraid to admit my struggle.  People discuss postpartum depression in general, but not typically following adoptions.  Well, it's time for that to change.

When Caroline (my biological child) was born in August 2015, I struggled with some semi-expected "post-baby blues" for a solid three months.  During that time, I held onto the hope that the things which were causing distress and insomnia would one day return to "normal," if only I could ride out the waves.  

And things did return to normal.  My hormones quit freaking out, I didn't cry at the drop of a hat anymore, the pain and swelling subsided, I got my pre-pregnancy body back, Caroline learned how to sleep, we found a solution to reflux, and Piper remembered that she had been potty trained at some point before her baby sister arrived.  We continued making daily adjustments, as adding a person to the family seems to somehow multiply the craziness of parenthood, but was am able to successfully navigate the difficulties as they came instead of being overwhelmed by them (most days, of course).

Flashback to June 2013 when Piper (my adopted child) entered the world.  The depression hit me like a ton of bricks before we even left the hospital.  Instead of dissipating in three months as it did following Caroline's birth, the despair worsened.  Piper's birth brought changes which were gut-level and permanent.  I wasn't dealing with a recovering body or out-of-control hormones; I was plagued by intense emotional trauma which people who haven't adopted have difficulty understanding.  Nothing would ever be "normal" again.  

I am not a doctor, but I am convinced, from personal experience, that postpartum depression after an adoption is a real thing.  Four years ago, I was in the throes of this depression and didn't know it.  Thankfully, I have now arrived at a healthy place in which I can objectively look at that period of my life and attempt to explain some of the reasons for my depression.

  • Regardless of how an adoption story unfolds, the emotions leading up to the addition of a baby or child to a family have been all over the map.  Coming back down from the highs of being chosen by a birth mother and the actual moment of taking that baby home in the carseat for the first time can be likened to running a marathon.  At the beginning, adrenaline carries you.  In the middle miles, supporters come alongside you to encourage you in your weariness of the process.  The last haul to the finish is practically unbearable, and you keep reminding yourself over and over that this is something you wanted to do.  Then, there is a glimpse of the finish line that drives you to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Finally, it's over.  You did it.  You ran a marathon.  (You adopted.)  Elation surges through your veins as you take in the fact that a dream just became reality.  But then, after they hang the gaudy medal around your neck, after the photos, after the many pats on the back from friends and family ... it's usually a Sunday and so it's back to work the very next day.  Your muscles are sore in a million places that you didn't know existed, and even though life will never be the same for you, everyone else has already forgotten and moved on, because it's another random Monday, and that's what they're supposed to do.  In a marathon, and throughout the adoption process, adrenaline can carry you quite a long way.  And then the actual thing happens, and maybe it is what you expected, or maybe it isn't, but either way, the adrenaline subsides, and you can hardly find the strength to get out of bed in the morning because that thing you just did took all that you had.  
  • Watching Piper's birth parents walk out of the hospital empty-handed left me with a profound sense of guilt that I couldn't shake.  For weeks after Piper came home with us, I would cry at even the thought of Anna (her birth mother).  I knew that there was nothing in me to make me more deserving of raising a child than she was, and yet, I was the one who was holding this sweet baby in my arms ... the baby who she loved and carried for nine months.  I was supposed to be happy, and I was, but I have also never hurt for someone else more.  I hated that my joy was, to a certain degree, connected to her sorrow.
  • Sometimes, when people become parents for the first time (or the second or fifth), it brings them closer together as a couple.  This was not the case for Andrew and me.  Communication has always been a struggle in our marriage, and then we added the difficulty of raising a child, causing each of us to put walls up and seek comfort within ourselves.  He was a great dad, and I was an okay mom, but the two of us began slowly drifting apart like continents.  It wasn't noticeable at first, but after several months, the slight separation became a chasm that neither of us had the resources to bridge.  This part was not specific to adoption, but it played a part in my depression nonetheless.  (Counseling helps.)
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  • "You got that thing you wanted, aren't you happy?  Isn't motherhood wonderful?"  I came to dread these two questions, or any variation of them, and they bombarded me constantly.  All I could do when asked them was nod weakly and give the response that people wanted to hear.  The real answers, "Yes, but I still feel empty," and, "Yes, but motherhood is plain hard 90% of the time," were too messy, and I began to believe that my most genuine, raw emotions needed to be hidden from the world.  I especially felt that I could not share any of these thoughts with our adoption case worker.  During our home study preceding Piper's birth, nearly every aspect of our lives had been opened up for outsiders to scrutinize.  The most minuscule of offenses, such as a traffic violation from high school, could have been used to determine that we were unfit parents.  We had both spent weeks upon weeks trying to prove that we were worthy of raising a child, and even after we brought our daughter home, there was still a period of six months during which Piper belonged to our agency and we were not her legal guardians.  I was always careful to portray the "right" image to everyone out of fear that someone would realize that there were better moms out there for my baby.  Y'all, it is exhausting to constantly have to feign perfection.       
  • "What did you most consistently feel throughout the adoption process?" a friend recently asked.  Fear and anxiety.  Those were persistent.  There were moments of joy and excitement, but I'm convinced that even people with complete trust in the providence of God experience doubt about the unknown.  Will I be able to handle an open adoption?  Even after the baby is born, the birth mom can decide that she wants to parent.  Will we get to keep our baby?  Is someone ever going to look at our profile and think that we are enough?  Will I bond with this little person?  These people know more about me than my husband does.  How will this child fit into our family?  What if ... what if ... what if ... ?  Adoption is risky, and the anxiety surrounding all of these question marks kept me up at night, which certainly did not help with my mental state.
  • When Piper was born, we had struggled with infertility for almost three years, and then we endured for another year and a half before we were blessed with the miracle of pregnancy.  (Doctors had said that IVF was our only option.)  Four and a half years.  In the grand scheme of life, I know that this is truly the blink of an eye, but infertility feels like an eternity when you're wading through it.  I thought that becoming a parent for the first time would take away the pain of not being able to have biological children.  Don't get me wrong: I loved Piper immensely from the moment she was born, and she could not have felt any more "ours" than if I had carried and given birth to her.  I know this because the feelings for our adopted newborn were exactly the same as the ones for our biological one born two years later.  Piper was and is the most precious girl on earth.  But she didn't take away the sadness and anger that we had experienced leading up to her birth or the questions afterward.  What is still wrong with us?  

I love adoption, and I think that everyone should be aware of the need for it.  But people also need to know that depression is a very real possibility that could come with adoption.  I hadn't expected this, and I've never felt more alone than I did after we brought Piper home.  

If you're an adoptive parent reading this blog and wondering if you're crazy because no one told you how hard and isolating this whole experience could be, you're not.  You're not crazy, you're not alone, and this really will pass (with lots of help).  

If you know someone who is adopting or has adopted, keep walking with them.  Ask the tough questions, and listen to the real answers, not just the ones that are easy to hear.  

Postpartum depression after adoption is, I would guess, far more common than most people realize, but the fog does lift.  There is hope.

One Thousand Gifts: The Joy Project

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"Some days I pick up a camera and it's a hammer ... the Farmer finds me with my hammer in hand, leaning over a plate of cheese grated and sitting in sunlight ... It is quite possible that the God-glory of a ring of shredded cheese may be lost on him ... Ridiculously happy over slips of cheese.  That I am, and it's wild, and, oh, I am the one who laughs.  Me!  Changed!  Surprised by joy!"

I roll my eyes, shut this absurd book, and go to sleep.  Who finds such joy in shredded cheddar?

Ann Voskamp does.  I started reading her book, One Thousand Gifts, in 2014, following the resolution of the most difficult time in our marriage.  The premise of the book is that, by naming the thousands of everyday gifts around us, we become more thankful and joyful people.  

It's a good idea, really.  But the plate of cheese scene was too much for me.  I am not a flowery or dramatic person when it comes to words.  I have this mostly-unbroken rule, though: If I start a book I will finish it.  

So I did.  I muscled my way through the remainder of One Thousand Gifts.  Although Voskamp's writing style frequently irritated me, I arrived at the last chapter of the book and got out of it what I believe she intended.  

What if I started naming my everyday gifts?  How would this change me?  Would it change me?  Would I find myself gushing over a plate of cheese by the end?

On October 11, 2014, I began naming my gifts and recording each one in my journal.  I didn't list something every day, but the first 304 were easy.  

2. Solitude

14. Legs that give me the freedom to run

34. Date nights

50. Amazon Prime

79. Health insurance

129. Pillows

180. Birds singing

210. When a favorite song comes on the radio

297. Pretty handwriting

Then I got lazy.  For whatever reason, I quit journaling as much as I once did, and the One Thousand Gifts Project was temporarily abandoned.  

Just before New Year's Day 2017, my husband and I, along with other members of our community group, chose a word that we wanted to define us in 2017.  

Mine was JOY.  The many mundane aspects of life had become monotonous to me, and I desired for something to be different.  On January 1, 2017, I picked up my pen again and resumed my "gifts list" at number 305, resolving to actually make it to 1,000 this time.

On September 16, 2017, an ordinary Saturday morning, I accomplished my goal.  

When I restarted The Joy Project in January, I knew that I would need to list an average of almost two gifts per day in order to finish before the end of the year.  Simple enough, I thought.  Some days, the gifts flowed out of my pen with little thought.

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365. When I can let my plans go and be okay

379. Walmart grocery pick-up

382. When Piper talks out loud to the TV

394. Conflict resolution

448. Speaking English

Other days, I felt as though I had already named every gift I've ever received.  

These were the moments that changed me.  

Instead of listing the gifts that were obvious (#450: Our dog), I had to start noticing.  I had to find joy in not only the ordinary, but also in the disruption of my plans and in the hardest days when giving thanks was anything but natural.   

Why is my kid asking SO. MANY. QUESTIONS?

486. Piper's curiosity

Spring allergies.  All the sneezing and itchy eyes.

544. Those beautiful white trees that stink, making me think that God has a sense of humor

Yet another kid birthday party this weekend.

556. People liking our kids enough to invite them to parties

Sister's eczema is horrendous today.

613. C's eczema giving us permission to not bathe her every night

If someone else touches me today, I might scream.

664. Having little hands that love to hold mine

I didn't get to do that thing I wanted to do this morning.

753. How motherhood has taught me to be more flexible

These are ways in which I view the world now.  

The Joy Project is no longer about writing down hundreds of gifts but about turning everything into an opportunity for praise and gratitude.

Admittedly, I never sobbed over a pile of cheese, but I began noticing the tiniest details (844: The way that eggs cook, changing from clear to yellow) and finding the good in everything from daily tasks to the most potentially upsetting situations.

Even after nearly ten consistent months of choosing joy, naming gifts still feels unnatural and sometimes awkward.  My tendency is toward anger, frustration, and annoyance.  But because of The Joy Project, I am more quickly abandoning those attitudes and adding to my gifts list instead.  

Now that I've reaching one thousand, I think I'll keep going.  Joy can be found everywhere, if we choose to open our eyes to it.  Who knows, maybe I'll make it to a million one day.

Photos by Kate Bernard

Hiding in Plain Sight

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During my teaching days, I found it difficult not to get annoyed when that boy in my class was literally spinning around on his knees on the carpet while everyone else sat quietly and listened to the lesson.  Or when he was still doing his puzzle, even though I had called him to line up four times.  He didn't know why he was acting that way.  I didn't really know why, either.  But I did know that his parents had split up recently, and that he was coping with that the only way his little four-year-old brain knew how.  He didn't talk about it, but in his own way, he was screaming that he needed to be heard and understood.

As I dealt with that kid's situation, I started thinking about the people around me and how many of them might not be spinning on their knees during story time but still spinning out of control, helpless to stop life's unrelenting circumstances. I wonder how many of them are concealing deep sadness or anger, aching to tell their stories but petrified by the fear that there is no one who will truly "get it."

I've known people to commit suicide before, and typical comments after such instances are, "I just never realized he was that unhappy" or, "She always seemed okay." 

People have ways of "hiding in plain sight."

 It's easy to think, "I would tell someone if I was that miserable," but would you?  Would I? 

The darkest, most ugly parts of ourselves are the ones that we tuck away, cover up, and bury so deeply that no one else can find them. 

I'd like to think that I'm honest a majority of the time, but there are still pieces of me that I'm reluctant to share with anyone, even with those who love me the most. 

When it comes down to it, I'm afraid that no one will hear me, or that those who do might judge or laugh.  My biggest fear is that no one will care.

While the tendency to hide is undoubtedly part of the human condition, I also wonder how many unheard stories would get told if there were more people who practiced the lost art of just listening.  I'm generally more encouraged by a friend's silence than by a multitude of words which amount to little more than platitudes, quick fixes, or cliches.

I guess I'm writing this because I'm daily realizing that everyone is fighting a hard battle. 

I often have a short fuse with people.  To my own sweet girls, I sometimes want to yell, "Seriously, stop acting like that.  You're driving me crazy."  When talking with the friend who is making destructive decisions because her boyfriend just broke up with her, I have to resist the urge to shake her and say, "You're being a complete fool.  Just stop."

A person's situation is never as easy as "just stop."  There is always so much more under the surface than people are willing to or feel comfortable with sharing.

So I'm challenging you today, but mostly I'm challenging myself, to have some grace with those around you.  Smile a little more than you think is necessary.  Say less.  Listen more.  Remember the times when someone has shown you kindness.  Mostly, consider everything about a person before jumping to a hasty conclusion.  The outward signs of a perfect life do not always reflect the inward state of being.