Hold the Hugs. High Fives and Fist Bumps, Please.

I still remember her. She was the best. My 1st grade self loved her big smile and her early 80s old-lady perm. Everyday, she’d stand by the classroom door at the end of the day and hug each and every one of us. I was excited to go to school everyday because of her and her Mr. Rogers-ish ways. It’s a parents’ dream—a kid who loves school and has a teacher who showers their son or daughter with affection.

Except when it’s not exactly a dream.

Touch is a powerful thing. It can hurt tragically, and it can heal supernaturally. It makes neurons fire in our brain like the fourth of July. Touch is a remarkable God-given tool to build relationship and connection from the neighborly casual to the most intimate. And, it’s something our children who have had hard starts often have a hard time with. Some kids can’t get enough of it; some kids struggle to accept and receive it at all. And when they struggle with touch, we as parents struggle along with them.

When our kids are small, we can hold them, literally “wear” them, cosleep, guard those moments when we feel trust and connection can build. But, those small kids grow bigger and our strategies to help them give and receive appropriate physical touch have to grow with them.

A few weeks into the school year, what do you do when you realize your child has the warmest, sweetest preschool teacher in the world or the veteran 1st-grade teacher who has a poster above her desk that says FREE HUGS HERE? You thank God that your child got that teacher and that you know he or she is being taught by someone who cares about their heart and not just their brain. And, then, you might want to think about writing an email with a gentle request. Touch is important in the classroom; research and personal experience tell us so. But, high fives and fist bumps can do the trick and allow you to save those hugs and kisses for home.

Want a little jump start on that email? Here are two examples to get you started. The first is for the teacher of a child who goes after hugs and kisses from everybody; the second is for the teacher of a child who has a hard time giving and receiving affection. Copy and paste, switching out names and pronouns as appropriate. Or, simply let them be a starting point to create an email all your own. I’d love to read your final product, if you do. Send it to me; maybe yours will become the template for another family.

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Regarding a Child Who Gives Indiscriminate Affection

Dear teacher,
We so appreciate you. You know how to successfully teach a child to do something he or she has not yet done before–which would be magic in and of itself. But, somehow, you manage to not only teach a child but teach him or her in a room full of children. Each one of those children learns in his or her own unique way. And, each child comes from a different place and brings his or her own unique needs into your classroom everyday. What you are able to do by teaching each child individually and the entire class corporately is nothing short of an everyday miracle. We don’t take that lightly!

On top of all that magical teaching stuff, we know you care about each child. You care about their stories. We can tell. We can tell when you look right into their eyes and greet them in the morning (that doesn’t go unnoticed). And, we can tell when Jenny talks about her day and quotes little things you said (yeah, she does that). She knows you care. And, that’s so so important to us as parents…really really important. It’s because we know you truly care that I’m reaching out today and asking you to do something for Jenny that may seem slightly counterintuitive.

Jenny had a hard start. Children who aren’t in safe families where big people take care of little people often learn strategies to get what they need. One of those strategies is physical affection. It makes sense really. Big people respond to little people when they put their arms up and when they want hugs or a kiss. It works. But, it isn’t right. Our job, as moms and dads, is to show our children that we’re the big people who will take care of them, that we’re not temporary, we belong to them and we belong with them. Some days, John and I send that message well to Jenny and she receives it well. Other days, it’s a real struggle on both sides.

Would you be willing to help us in all this as you have Jenny in your care? It would be really helpful if you would partner with us to teach her that there are better, safer strategies than physical affection to get what she needs. At home, we are working on teaching her that we are always available and willing to give hugs and kisses but if there’s something she needs, she use words and simply ask for it. She often hears, “You know, if you need something, all you have to do is ask!” Another thing we have tried to teach is that hugs and kisses are for family, and high fives and fist bumps are for everyone else. We want to guard hugs and kisses as best we can so she learns boundaries and sees them as a “family thing.” So, can I ask you to do something that may feel a little strange at first? When she reaches out to hug you–as I expect she will–can you redirect her with a high five or a fist bump?

We want her to continue to feel the care from you that she has been because that’s important. We want her to know that we’d never send her somewhere we didn’t think was safe and that we trust you to take good care of her and teach her well. We know touch is a great way for her to experience that care. But, I truly believe that she’ll get it through the high five or fist bump paired with the consistency and personal attention that we know she is getting from you.

Let us know what you think as you find time to respond. We would love to keep the lines of communication open so that you are not only partnering with us, but we are partnering with you.

-Jenny’s mom

Regarding a Child Who Struggles to Give and Receive Physical Affection

Dear teacher,
We so appreciate you. You know how to successfully teach a child to do something he or she has not yet done before–which would be magic in and of itself. But, somehow, you manage to not only teach a child but teach him or her in a room full of children. Each one of those children learns in his or her own unique way. And, each child comes from a different place and brings his or her own unique needs into your classroom everyday. What you are able to do by teaching each child individually and the entire class corporately is nothing short of an everyday miracle. We don’t take that lightly!

On top of all that magical teaching stuff, we know you care about each child. You care about their stories. We can tell. We can tell when you look right into their eyes and greet them in the morning (that doesn’t go unnoticed). And, we can tell when Jenny talks about her day and quotes little things you said (yeah, she does that). She knows you care. And, that’s so so important to us as parents…really really important. It’s because we know you truly care that I’m reaching out today and asking you to do something for Jenny that may seem slightly counterintuitive.

Jenny had a hard start. Children who aren’t in safe families where big people take good care of little people are affected in significant ways. One of those ways is in giving and taking in affection. It makes sense. When a child hasn’t experienced safe and sufficient nurturing as a baby, closeness can be really hard. It can make them feel vulnerable and threatened. We’ve been working on that as a family, practicing giving and receiving hugs and kisses. And, we’ve celebrated a lot of growth there. But, we’ve always been very careful, intentionally guarding that closeness, reserving hugs to family only and practicing the exclusivity of our family, something Jenny, unlike most children who have not experienced a hard start, needs to learn.

We are excited to have her a part of your class this year, but we’re also a little anxious. We are concerned that as we widen her circle, the small but significant successes we’ve seen may be hindered. Would you be willing to help us in all this as you have Jenny in your care? Would you be willing to reinforce what we have been working so hard for at home? One way you could do that is by not giving her hugs or kisses; they’re a “family thing.” We do want her to trust other caregivers who we trust and build appropriate connections there. We aren’t opposed to touch; we know touch is important to connection. But, high fives and fist bumps are best for her (and they’ll go a long way with her!). Hugs and kisses are for family, for people you love; high fives and fist bumps are for everyone else, people you like and who like you. That’s what we want her to learn–which is way more important to us than all the letters and numbers combined.

Let us know what you think as you find time to respond. We would love to keep the lines of communication open so that you are not only partnering with us, but we are partnering with you. If you have questions, we welcome you to ask. I can’t promise I’ll have an answer for you, but I’ll do my best to find one as I know you are doing for my child and the rest of her class.

-Jenny’s mom

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Kelly-NHBO1-150x150

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.

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Beyond Folded Hands {a guided prayer kit to take orphans to the throne of God}

I’m not an artist. I’m better with words. At least, that’s what I’ve always believed, that’s what I’ve always told myself. I feel at home with a pen in my hand. It’s familiar and comfortable. I know what to do with it, and I am confident that the ink on the page will eventually produce something I can be content with. But, a paintbrush, not all that different in size and shape from my pen, feels utterly foreign and somehow makes me feel like a child again. That’s how this project started.

There’s no technically correct art. No syntax, grammar, logic, spelling. No thesis statement or 5 paragraphs. Art is free expression, spontaneous and authentic expression. Perhaps that freedom is what unnerves me. I prefer rules and order. But when I embrace that freedom, I am able to see things that all my rules and definition block out. I am able to pay attention to things that are often silenced.

Last spring, I started talking to Erin Leigh. I asked her to help me. I asked her to help me discover how I could use artistic expression that I knew made me weak to engage with God in new ways. I wanted to learn how to pray beyond folded hands and closed eyes. It was risky and scary, but I loved it. It was good, and I wanted to share it and bring others with me.

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Months later, Creative Conversations With the Creator is the result. It’s a kit that comes with an 8-page guidebook and everything you need to complete the various activities in the guide, including a quality watercolor palette and brush, pens, practice sheets, watercolor paper, a photograph focal point, and beautiful artwork by Erin Leigh created exclusively for this kit. Using the pieces included, you are invited to learn new ways to engage with God and put them into practice through projects that build on each other to bring the fatherless to the Father. Included is even an opportunity to return a piece to us to be handed as a gift to a child in China who waits.

Valued at approximately $50, we are making it available for those who make a suggested donation of at least $45 to The Sparrow Fund. If you are local and would like to pick up your kit, the suggested donation is $35. Donations beyond the cost of producing the kits will be used to fund orphan care initiatives in China. Get your kit now while supplies last HERE. We are so excited to link arms with you as we go deeper together.

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Kelly-NHBO1-150x150

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.

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OH HAPPY DAY shirts

oh happy day shirts collage 670 wide

Our most perfect design yet.

Inspired by the Chinese boys hosted in the Philadelphia area who sang this song over and over everyday after hearing it on their first Sunday in America.

They sang the words. Now, we’re wearing them.
Remembering the boys and all the boys and girls they represent as we do.

 All proceeds from sales of this shirt will go towards funding our orphan care initiatives.
our orphanage trips. supplies and gifts. new programs.

Details:

Shirts come in adult and youth sizes. The adult shirts are our favorite shirt ever— a super, super soft tri-blend. The youth sizes are a cotton/poly blend that is really comfy for even the most sensitive kiddos. Adult sizes come in heather grey, denim blue, or teal. Youth sizes come in heather grey, denim blue, or bright pink.

How to get some for yourself:

  • Complete the short form HERE with your name, mailing address, how many shirts you want in what sizes/colors, and all that good stuff.
  • Pay for them ($20 per shirt plus shipping) via sending money to mraudenbush@sparrow-fund.org through your PayPal account (FYI – it’s the account for The Sparrow Fund, not a personal account…promise) or by donating via clicking the donate button on this website.
  • Share, tweet, and text using hashtag #ohhappyday to help us spread the word about these super cute first day of school or birthday or adoption day or casual Friday shirts (this one is optional, of course, but most appreciated).

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Together Called 2017 {prepare}

We know you have been too busy in the back-to-school aisles to be thinking towards spring plans for just the two of you grownups. That’s okay, because we’ve been doing it for you. Together Called 2017 isn’t until the weekend of March 31st-April 2nd, but plans are already underway to make the 5th annual marriage retreat being held this year at Bear Creek Mountain Resort in Pennsylvania’s beautiful Lehigh Valley an unforgettable one.

We can’t wait to tell you who is going to be serving you at this year…

{speakers}

Hagerty-348Nate and Sara Hagerty are parents to five (almost six!), whose arms stretched wide across the ocean to Uganda and Ethiopia to bring home four. Former Young Life staff, they were the inaugural speakers for Together Called in 2013 and have walked through older child adoption, interrupting the “birth order” and a decade-plus of infertility. Sara is the author of Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet (Zondervan, 2014) and has her second book coming out in August of 2017 via Zondervan. Nate runs a marketing agency for financial professionals. Most of all, they are followers of the man, Jesus, and have loved Him through pain, perplexity and joy — and want to find him in every unseen moment and help you do the same.

Hagerty Family

{worship}

Philip&JessicaMorlan_kissPhilip & Jessica are worship leaders and teachers for a nonprofit ministry called Seeds Family Worship. They partner with churches around the country to lead multigenerational worship events that equip families to live out the Deuteronomy 6 message. They joined Seeds in 2009 because of their great passion for God’s Word and His design for the family. They help families learn God’s Word through Seeds signature word-for-word scripture songs and love to encourage families to live out their faith at home as they lead and teach from their own experiences. (Look on most of our team’s most played playlists and you’ll find their tunes.) They’ll be joining us from Franklin, Tennessee where they make music and do life together with their five children, two of whom the Lord brought to their family through adoption (Madelynn-18, Sam-16, Hannah Joy-16, Gabe-15, and Isaiah-12).

Morlan_Maddy's Grad Family Pic

::WE WANT YOU THERE::

Registration for Together Called 2017 will be Sunday, October 9th at 8pm EST. Check our Upcoming Events page closer to that date for more details about the weekend schedule, breakout session speakers, whose sponsoring the whole deal so you are cared for well, and how to register.

Go ahead right now and put a reminder in your calendar to register that evening (or grab one of those post-it pads that you just put in your child’s new backpack and put reminders all over your desk). In past years, the retreat fills fast (as in, that night). We don’t want you to miss it!

TC2017 Bear Creek announcement

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Where We’ve Been {For the Boys}

If you’ve wondered where we’ve been, we’ve been doing summer with our families as you, no doubt, are. We hope that amidst the busyness of summer fun you’ve been able to soak in many moments of meaningful time with your families and with your Father.

But in addition to the normal events of summer, some pretty incredible things have been happening. (Isn’t that how He likes to work? Showing up in big ways while normal life is happening?) Three young friends from a Chinese orphanage are being hosted in the Philly area in hopes that, among other things, they would be able to find their families. However, these three have something in common that makes this task of finding families more difficult…they are boys…older boys. It’s because of this and because of them that The Sparrow Fund has started a special fund. Please take a moment to read more from Kelly, and prayerfully consider how you might be a part of this exciting new adventure!

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Jasper. Brett. Joel (4)

Three 8-year-old boys in South China were doing life together. They giggled together. They sang and danced together. They played ball together. They went to school together everyday for their first year of primary school and helped each other along as they practiced writing their characters. They were typical little boys in every way.

Except they lived here.

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In this room with about 30 others, they sleep at night, with legs curled up so they still fit in these little metal beds.

In mid June, all three they came to the Philadelphia area as part of Madison Adoption Associates’ hosting program. The boys were told it was for a cultural and educational experience, and they were told to be good. The families, including our own, committed to hosting them also committed to loving them well and advocating for them so that when they said goodbye in mid July, they’d know they were coming back.

One of the boys already has a family who has said yes to making him their son. But, two remain, including the little man who calls me Ayi.

for the boys collage

Check this out…

The Sparrow Fund has started a special fund called FOR THE BOYS to cover their approximately $5,000 USD orphanage donation. And, the team has secured a donor willing to match your donation up to $500. So, your $50 contribution for the boys will be matched with an additional $50, thus making a total of $100 available, $50 towards each boy’s required orphanage donation. 

Head over HERE to contribute and to follow along!

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