Monthly Archives: April 2016

We Were. We Are. He Is.

us(pp_w343_h428)A couple of weekends ago, DH and I gathered with 100 other adoptive, foster, and pre-adoptive couples for our 4th annual Together Called marriage retreat.  It is always a time we anticipate greatly. To say that this year was our favorite is an understatement.  We were so blessed to be a small part of the event.  We met so many new friends and were incredibly honored to hear their stories.  We hugged old friends who we hadn’t seen in a long time.  We learned together.  We worshiped together.  We prayed together.  We shared meals together.  We openly discussed our struggles in a safe environment. We were unmasked and vulnerable together.  We drank coffee by the fire.  We spent time in fellowship and laughed until we cried. Sometimes we just cried.  We enjoyed the beautiful views.  We even watch snow fall.  In April.

We were urged by our speakers to have open discussions with our spouse throughout the weekend – to share favorite memories, reminisce about where we’ve come from, reflect on where we are, and dream about where we might go.  We were inspired to complete our “We were … We are … He is …” statements.

Most of all though, we were reminded that through this crazy journey of life, we are enough because HE is enough.  That can sometimes be difficult to remember in the midst of folding laundry and cooking meals and making beds.  Helping children through trauma and tantrums and bad choices, as adoptive and foster parents often do, can make anyone weary.  And feeling the shame of not measuring up to whatever standard we use, can be utterly crippling.  But this weekend brought encouragement and hope to press on. To keep running the race set before us, looking to Jesus.  We truly are enough, because He is enough.

Many couples have commented about the refreshment, restoration, and connection that this weekend has offered them. I’m so thankful for that. Because that’s what this work is all about.  DH and I were humbled to serve with a remarkable team who tirelessly worked to make this time together simply unforgettable and hope-filled.  Seeing the Father work through so many families was truly inspiring.  We are already counting down the days until next year’s retreat!  Mark your calendars for March 31-April 2, 2017!  We’re back at Bear Creek in Macungie, PA, and would be absolutely delighted to see you there!


web-35(pp_w765_h510) web-37(pp_w765_h510)______________________

NicoleNicole is a daughter to the King and a wife to an amazing man. She is a classical homeschooling mama to four, by birth and adoption. She is a part-time newborn photographer, a founder and adoption photographer at Red Thread Sessions, a contributing blogger at No Hands But Ours and an advocate of orphan care and adoption. When she’s not with her family or behind her camera, she loves to blog, create, give life to old furniture, spend time at the beach and read. She strives to live her life to glorify our Heavenly Father.  With His love, all things are possible.

Introducing the Avery Madison Grant

Avery Foot ObituaryJeff and Shaena Foot began their adoption journey in March of 2013 with expectant hearts. In September 2013, a young woman expecting a child decided they would be the best parents for her baby. On April 9, 2014, Avery Madison Foot was born and joyfully welcomed into their family as a little sister to Caitlyn and a beloved daughter. They delighted in the God-given privilege of being called to be her family. On February 28, 2015, at 10 months old, that calling changed as Avery was unexpectedly taken home to heaven.

In the midst of grief and their new calling to preserve Avery’s memory and build up others through it, the Foots have been led to bless other families pursuing domestic adoption. Partnering with The Sparrow Fund, the Foots have established the Avery Madison Grant, specifically for the purpose of coming alongside and helping families adopting domestically who demonstrate financial need.

Our existing grants focused on internationally adoptive families, so we are looking forward to this new opportunity to focus on families called to adopt children domestically.

To learn more about how to apply or how to give to build the funds available for this grant, please click HERE.

avery button sq

Here it is, W___. I’m telling them {advocating}

WM letter

Dear Uncle and Aunt,
I am very happy to write this letter to you. My name is W____. I’m thirteen years old. I study in the senior class here, and my favorite class is Table Tennis. I desire to be adopted by an American family. When I see some other children going abroad, I really envy them. I hope that you could help me find a family soon. Thank you! Below are some of my homework (Chinese and math homework.) Best regards, W___

Dear W___,
I am glad to help you! I am going to share about you with as many people as I can. I will also tell them about how you are a little shy but have a lot of friends, often chatting with the other children in your class and whispering in their ears, and how you love to smile. I know your papers say you have what we call “CP,” but I’ll make sure families know how you can play basketball and ping pong, help your foster mom and dad out around the apartment where you live without any trouble or fuss, and that you’re a healthy kid.

When you were in the English class we taught, you worked so hard to learn “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” I know it wasn’t easy to get all the words and all the motions right. But, you did great.

our canopy bed picAnd, when you were a part of the photography workshop in October 2014 when you were only just 11, you were a superstar with that camera. You took one of my favorite pictures from the whole workshop!

I’ll tell them all that. I’ll be sure of it.

It makes sense that your heart hurts when you see your friends leave to be adopted. It makes sense that you would want to have a family too, one of your own who will take you home to live together for everyday forever. I will do my best to spread the word that there is a really great boy who really wants a family and who will make a really great son who is available to be adopted right now.

Your friend,
Aunt Kelly (and Uncle Mark too)
WM - 1

WM 2

Interested in learning more about this young man? He’s currently available for adoption from “the shared list,” meaning that any agency with a China program can help you. If you are not already committed to an agency, I recommend contacting Madison Adoption Associates (who gives $3,000 in grants towards adopting boys over the age of 8 and has confirmed they will give that in addition to income grants for the adoption of W___) or America World to learn more.


Kelly founded The Sparrow Fund along with her husband Mark in 2011. She works alongside Mark in his full-time purposeful work in China and works part time as a therapist at the Attachment & Bonding Center of PA, Kelly has a particular interest in (a) encouraging parents who are struggling to attach with their children, (b) helping parents walk with their children in understanding their own stories, (c) helping couples continue to pursue each other and grow together while they parent their children as a team, and (d) training and supporting orphanage staff in China to build relationships with children and each other. Kelly and Mark have been married since 1998 and have 3 biological children and 1 daughter who was adopted as a toddler from China in 2010. You can learn more about their journey on Kelly’s blog.

Glimpses of Together Called 2016

12 incredible raffles

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 5.35.27 PM

2 sweet-sounding friends to disarm us and lead us to the throne


2 ridiculous men in costumes to make us laugh and remind us to lock our doors

2 faithful servants willing to share their story to help us understand our own


10 kindred spirits committed to loving each other and serving together as He has called

TSF team

Over 200 husbands and wives committed to loving each other and their families well



together called 2016 stats

TC2016 breakout sessions

Wanna sneak peek at what’s in store for couples this weekend? Here are summaries of our breakout sessions and the friends who are guiding couples through them.


(Not Quite) Expert Marriage Panel

We’re together called to this parenting thing. At times, that “together” part is what seems the hardest. This session won’t be teaching as much as honest sharing as a few experienced couples field questions and share the real stuff behind their personal journeys of living out being together called in every season of marriage and parenting. (Note: couples attending this session will have the opportunity to anonymously submit specific questions ahead of time to make this time as fruitful as possible.)
About the panel:
11 years: Jeff and Julia Pearson have served together on Young Life staff for 11 years, have parented together for over 8 years, and answered the call to grow their family through adoption 2 years ago. They live in Glenside, PA with their three children (Ruby 8, Grady 5, and Davey 2) and are waiting to adopt Number 4. Jeff and Julia are passionate about Jesus, family, and adoption and are thankful that they get to live out their love for all three daily. Note: you may recognize Jeff as one of our gifted love doctors.

17 years: Mark and Kelly Raudenbush founded The Sparrow Fund in 2011, having been changed by the adoption of their youngest child and desiring to meet what they saw as a need among adoptive families. Kelly holds a Masters degree in counseling and serves as a therapist through the Attachment & Bonding Center of PA. After a 19-year career in the finance industry, Mark quit his job in 2013 to go on full-time staff with a large nonprofit serving students in Asia. Together, they consider it a joy to serve as a team and pour into both mothers and fathers who are eager to do the right thing for their families, encouraging parents to understand their own hearts more clearly as they seek to care for the hearts of their children. Mark and Kelly have 4 children, their youngest joining the family through adoption from China.

29 years: Pastor Bill and Kelly Rumbaugh have 10 (!) children ranging in age from 8 to 27 and two grandchildren as well. Bill is the senior pastor at New Hope Fellowship Church in Westminster, MD, and Kelly is involved with advocating for waiting children in China and runs a care package service for families adopting from China. With 8 children from China with various special needs, they have become more and more convinced of how God hand chose each child to complement their family in His perfect timing. They are passionate about navigating both the blessings and the hard stuff (which are also blessings) as a team.

30 years: Jeff and Cheryl Nitz bring both professional and personal experience to share as they offer insights, challenges, and encouragement to families whom God has brought together through adoption. Jeff is the Sr. Vice President of Adoption & Family Services for Bethany Christian Services. Cheryl is a therapist and the Director of the Attachment & Bonding Center of PA, specializing in working with families impacted by adoption, trauma, and attachment challenges. But, Jeff and Cheryl often say their best education has come from being parents to their four kids (two of whom came to the family through adoption) and grandparents to four. Most importantly, Jeff and Cheryl are presenting as fellow sojourners—sharing with other adoptive parents the joys and challenges and lessons learned and deeply committed to fostering a fun, growing, supportive marriage in the midst of chaos!

Life-Giving Speech

Parents have been assigned by God a place of authority in their children’s lives. What we say, therefore, has more power than most to frame their worlds. Our tongues carry the power of life and death, and this session will remind us how to harness their power for the good of our children, especially in the face of the messages that relinquishment, trauma, neglect and abuse speak to our children. Come discover how to leave a legacy of life-giving speech.
About the speaker:
Beth Templeton is the mother of 7 children, four of whom were adopted from Russia. With all 7 children now in their 20s, Beth has many stories to tell of the faithfulness of our God in her home, in her children and in her heart. Cofounder of Hope at Home based in Atlanta, GA (, she is passionate to come alongside adoptive parents as they colabor with God in the transformation of orphans into sons and daughters.

A Touchy Subject: Working Through Sensory Challenges as a Family

Some children thrive on touch, movement, sound, and lights; other children are on the opposite end of the spectrum, withdrawing from such activities. In this breakout, an experienced physical therapist will present an overview of Sensory Processing Disorders or Sensory Integration Dysfunction, including why adopted children are more susceptible to these challenges, in terms that are practical and easy to understand. A large portion of the session will be the presentation of activities, toys, and experiences for families to assist them in coping with and working through sensory issues.
About the speaker:
Physical therapist Sue Becke learned early about her future career in medicine, having contracted Polio at 3 months of age. She underwent numerous corrective surgeries and physical therapy for many years and grew up to realize the benefit of physical therapy for children with special needs and determined that if children were going to receive such services, there must be a “better way” to provide it. As a professional, she established an out-patient clinic which provided physical, occupational, speech, and aquatic therapies as well as counseling services for children and their families. Currently, she is self-employed, providing physical therapy services to children ages birth to 3 in Franklin and Fulton Counties in Pennsylvania and in Carroll County, Maryland. She enjoys using play to work through challenges that children may have; pool noodles, empty soda bottles, painters tape, and ivory soap are some of her favorite therapy tools! As an adult with a disability, she has a unique perspective on growing up with a disability and is passionate about providing practical strategies to families.

When It’s Not Happily Ever After

What do you do when you discover that your adoption experience is not the storybook life you had envisioned, when weariness has replaced your warrior spirit. It is easy to talk about the beauty of adoption but sometimes difficult to find a safe place to be real about the hard parts. Painfully, what can be seen up close and personal is not always pretty. This discussion will focus on stripping our coverings of protection to reveal our struggles and find community with others who are willing to be broken open.
About the speaker:
Tiffany Barber is the mother of 8 children (aged 12 to 30), two of whom were adopted from China. Her life is full as she seeks to balance her roles as wife, mom, homeschooler, and nurse. Ridiculous and impossible are the best terms to describe their adoption story. They both felt called separately without a conversation between them. Although they were on the brink of a financial crisis, God showed up in miraculous ways to make a way for two former orphans to become a son and daughter. Yet, as amazing and miraculous as their journey began, coming home has been much more challenging. Tiffany writes about her struggles with adoption, faith, and family as a means to process her journey and encourage others in hard places. She believes that when trouble tests our limits and our faith, it can be our greatest opportunity to know God intimately and experience His presence as never before.

Play With A Purpose

“Play is the work of childhood.” – Fred Rogers. In this session, you’ll learn how to better harness the power of play in your family, specific focusing on strengthening the parent-child relationship using three distinct approaches (the arousal/relaxation cycle, repetitive claiming, and positive interaction). Over it all will include practical ways parents can use play to grow connection and attachment to their child or teen. (Note: a basic understanding of attachment is recommended for couples attending this session.)
About the speakers:
Daron and Heidi Holland began their life with adoption in 1977 when Heidi was placed in her forever family at 2 weeks of age. A few years and three adopted children later, they have become passionate about children from hard places. They both have been trained to teach the Empowered to Connect material which is based on Trust-Based Relationship Interventions®, Karyn Purvis’ research and methods for children who have experienced trauma. Heidi is also a trainer through Institute of Human Services. They have helped to begin a global orphan care ministry based out of Dayton, OH. They are passionate about helping parents work towards the goal of walking with their children to heal from their pasts and begin to feel safe, secure, and valued.

Being the Husband and Father You Long to Be

Few men fully understood what they were getting into when they chose with their wives to grow their family through adoption. Countless joys have likely been a part of your family story being written. But, along with that have come many unexpected challenges that often men are unable to easily fix. Instead of feeling like Peyton Manning quarterbacking a well-run team to a Superbowl win, family life can seem more like you’re coaching the Sixers on another 16 game losing streak. And to top it off, keeping your marriage strong and vibrant can now feel like a distant third fiddle to the demands of parenting and just keeping the bills paid. This session is an encouragement and challenge for men who are committed to cherishing their wives and children as God would want even when they may get very little in return.
About the speaker:
Jeff Nitz has spent the past 30 years working in the field of child welfare social work with experience in foster care, residential treatment, foster care adoption, international and domestic infant adoption as well as Safe Families For Children. For the past 21 years, he has served in various capacities for Bethany Christian Services, currently as the Sr. Vice-President of Adoption and Family Services where he helps to lead the U.S.-based service and marketing teams. Jeff has been married for over 30 years to his college sweetheart, Cheryl, and counts her as his very best friend. Together, they are the parents of four adult children ages 23 to 37, two of whom were adopted. Jeff and Cheryl attend New Life Presbyterian Church in Dresher, PA where Jeff serves as an elder and together he and Cheryl are involved in marriage ministry. As a licensed clinical social worker, he also enjoys serving with his wife in providing counsel to couples who are struggling in their marriage.

Fearless Parenting

There isn’t a mother on the planet who doesn’t wrestle with some fears or anxieties for her child. It can be so easy to live in the “what ifs” of life, especially as we face the after shocks of trauma from our child’s past. We probably all know we aren’t at our best when we parent in fear, and we long to be the kind of mother who is able to truly trust our Father God with our children. In this session, Beth Templeton will share the ways God has been teaching her to be a fearless parent and to enjoy the peace that comes when we let go of the “what ifs.” (Note: this session is specifically for women. If you select this option, wives will attend this session, while husbands attend Jeff Nitz’s session.)
About the speaker:
Beth Templeton is the mother of 7 children, four of whom were adopted from Russia. With all 7 children now in their 20s, Beth has many stories to tell of the faithfulness of our God in her home, in her children and in her heart. Cofounder of Hope at Home based in Atlanta, GA (, she is passionate to come alongside adoptive parents as they colabor with God in the transformation of orphans into sons and daughters.

Troubleshooting: Building Relationship When It Seems Like They Just Keep Getting in Trouble

We want our children to know they are dearly loved and that we’re for them. But, how do we do that when she’s driving me crazy with backtalk and bedtime hassles, or he’s hitting his sister and hiding lima beans under his pillow? We want good things for our kids, so it’s frustrating when they choose poorly. How do we discern the best response? When should we simply advise? When do we give them a choice? Do consequences have a place? When do they need to “make it right”? And, how do we convey hope in the midst of these challenges? At this workshop, we will start with affirming that, although we all have room to grow, you are what your child needs. At his or her very core, your child needs and desires a relationship with you. On that foundation, the path to effective discipline becomes clearer. Come join us as we talk about irksome and troublesome behaviors, the messages we want to send our kids, and practical tools to help our kids grow in maturity and become all God created them to be.
About the speaker:
Cheryl Nitz, ACSW, LCSW has worked in the field of adoption and foster care for over 30 years. In 1997, she began specializing in working with families impacted by adoption, trauma, and attachment challenges and is now a therapist and the Director of the Attachment & Bonding Center of PA where she and her staff are committed to joining with parents to help their children find hope and healing through the love and security their families provide. In addition to her professional experience, Cheryl often says her best education has come from being a parent with her husband to their four kids (two of whom came to the family through adoption) and grandparent to four. She presents as a fellow sojourner – sharing with other adoptive parents joys and challenges and lessons learned both in the trenches at the Nitz home and from the families with whom she has had the privilege of working.

Return to Joy

We all are bombarded by the world’s false messages on a daily basis. Disapproving voices of some friends and family who don’t support or understand our call to adopt may be drowning out a call that once seemed so clear. Negative emotions, nagging fears, and realities of daily life may leave us feeling stuck and overwhelmed. The lies of the enemy pollute our thoughts, choking out the life-giving truth of God’s Word, often becoming the only voice we listen to. Intentionally focusing on God’s True Words helps our families discern the lies of this world, strengthen our identity in Him, and return to joy. Whether your family is particularly struggling in this area or not, this breakout will give you practical tools to guide you and to use with your children to guide them in time with God and help them return to joy.
About the speaker:
Stephanie Smit and her husband have three daughters, two of whom joined their family by way of adoption. After 18 years teaching in the classroom, she stayed home after the both of their daughter, and that’s when her education in following God’s call really began. Through their three girls, God has revealed Himself most clearly. He not only worked a miracle in the birth of their biological daughter, He continued to show Himself in mighty ways throughout their adoption journeys in China and Bhutan that were anything but normal. Stephanie enjoys encouraging and connecting with other adoptive families through speaking and serving on the Board of Directors for The Sparrow Fund and managing “We Are Grafted In,” the blog connected to TSF.

Together Called 2016 {calling prayer warriors}

April 8th-10th has been marked on our calendars for only about a year now. It’s the largest event The Sparrow Fund hosts in terms of numbers as well as logistical efforts. It was born at a cafe as so many great ideas are. A group of women gathered there to talk about how we could better serve the needs of adoptive moms, how we could support women locally, how we could come together in unity to encourage and bless each other. We sipped our lattes and shared challenges and ideas in this faithful brain trust and landed on something big that kind of took all of our breath away. We needed something for couples, not women alone, not for simply a community of mamas; we needed something to build up marriages. It just made sense. The best way to serve families is to build up the partnership of a husband and a wife.

We started Together Called with 60 couples in 2013, filling all 60 spots in 15 minutes. In 2014, we added a few more couples, forcing us to have overflow housing at another hotel. In 2015, we moved to a larger place to open it up to a few more people while still keeping a small retreat feel. Now, this weekend, for Together Called 2016, we have about 100 couples coming—couples from 12 different states around the country who represent 334 children born to them or born to others and adopted into their families from at least 16 different countries around the world. The magnitude of the impact of pouring into these 200+ parents who are in turn pouring themselves out is incredible.

As April 8th-10th has gotten closer and closer and now is only days away, the magnitude has become more and more apparent but also has the mess that often comes with that. Where there is a place for transformation, life change, and healing as these marriages are and can be, there is also opportunity for weariness and a sense of never, impossible, and stuck to creep in. We need prayer in a significant way as our team—all of whom come with our own stories—seeks to serve each one of these men and women and enter into their stories. We want to honor that charge and be intentional to have consistent prayer coverage over the course of the whole weekend as we press on in it. The needs of the couples coming are that great—our needs as a team seeking to be effective conduits of His mercy and hope are that great.

If you want to pray at any time however you are led, please do. Let us know in a reply at the bottom of this post or on our Facebook page that you did because it will build us up and encourage us. If you want to pray over a specific time frame to be a part of consistent prayer coverage for specific needs that we’ll provide to you, then let us know via email and we’ll direct you as to how to do that.

where we'll be in a few days sans the Christmas wreath

where we’ll be in a few days sans the Christmas wreath

Adoption: As it was in the Beginning

It all started with prayer really, now that I think back on it. Adoption was not even on my radar that spring night, never had been. Even so, God broke into our world with the call to adoption, despite the fact that we had never even talked about adoption, much less prayed about it. We had actually been praying over the last year about something else. We were asking God to use our family in His kingdom. We wanted more than a Sunday morning faith; we wanted to serve Him—to make a difference.

Looking back I see that those prayers were the womb to receive the seed of adoption; those prayers prepared us not only to hear the call, but also they gave us the courage to say yes.

After that night in 1999 our prayers shifted in a big way. Like an umbilical cord connecting a mother to her child, our prayers attached us in a profound and supernatural way to our new children, creating a conduit for the life source to flow before we even knew boy or girl, one or siblings, domestic or foreign. Long before they came into our arms, our prayers linked us to them.

And over the 16 years since our children came home (turned out there were 4 of them!) the role of prayer it seems to me is even more important than ever. It has morphed from being a womb to receive the call or an umbilical cord to connect and nourish to a weapon to fight battles and a pillow to find rest. For as much as I love and appreciate good parenting, I have found that my prayer life is as practical a parenting tool as any other, and far more powerful!
Likewise, as much as I value “self care” in this long-haul journey we are on, I have recognized that my connection with God through prayer brings more rest and peace to me than I can get anywhere else.

There are also those times when I absolutely need to grab a trusted friend to pray, believing God with me for breakthrough. And in those really tough seasons when I am too exhausted or discouraged to do it myself, I have relied on friends to pray for me.

Most of us began our adoptions in prayer, and I want to encourage us all today to continue on in that same way, “as it was in the beginning…” I love this verse from Galatians:

Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up! (Galatians 3:1-4 MSG)

When we began our adoption story prayer played an obvious and key role. We rarely turned a page or started a new chapter without it!

So may it be for us in the years after that first trembling decision to adopt. The same God who brought your child home to you and took you through all the obstacles you faced is the very same One who is with you in the car pool line, at the therapist, in the kitchen and bedroom and bath, on the soccer field and at the doctor’s office…. and in those deep deep places of your child’s heart that bear the wounds of relinquishment.

Oh what goodness God has in His heart for us and our families just waiting to be birthed in prayer!!

Beth Templeton

Beth Templeton

Beth has been married to her husband Stephen for 27 years. They have seven children, ages 18-24. Several years after giving birth to three girls God called their family to the adventure and blessing of adoption. In 2000, they brought home a brother and sister, ages 5 and 10, from Russia. Then they returned to the same orphanage 18 months later and brought home two more brothers, ages 7 and 10. Beth’s heart has been deeply and forever changed as she has watched the love of Father God poured out on her whole family through adoption. She leads Hope at Home, a ministry dedicated to help adoptive and foster parents encounter the Father’s heart for their families, partnering with God to transform orphans into sons and daughters. For more parenting insight and encouragement in the Lord, go to Hope at Home.