You can’t always get want you want…when you don’t know what it is

Have you ever gotten exactly what you wanted, only to find out it didn’t feel as good as you had thought? At least in that moment you have the satisfaction of accomplishing something. Even worse, many of us wander through business, family and life doing what we’re told we should but not knowing where we want it to lead. As my life has gotten busier the last couple of years, I’ve been forced to evaluate what I want, not just selfishly but for those around me and as a Christian with a purpose much bigger than myself.

Kids – I want to raise healthy, secure, independent kids who serve the Lord. My friend Dr. Meg Meeker says our goal is to raise a healthy 25 year old. Whew! Pressures off when the 3 year old isn’t exactly as I’d hoped he’d turn out. But at the same time, what am I doing now to begin to really build all of those characteristics into my children? We all know how fast the years slip by.

Business – We all chase things like expansion, profit and growth. But why? Ultimately, what does it give us? At The A Group, we have a plan that shows how growth will allow us to impact more faith-based organizations who are doing great work. And personally, I know what that means for me, my family, and for my ability to give. Now that’s a reason to get up every morning.

Once you know what you really want, lining up your days, weeks and years to get to that goal makes more sense. Every day you should take another intentional step. Some steps will be small but they’re all headed in the right direction.

Ask yourself, what am I doing today to get closer to reaching my goals? Or better yet, maybe you need to ask yourself, where am I headed anyways?

Stretched but not broken

Have you ever tried to get 5 sleeping kids out of bed and to the basement at 3am during a tornado siren? I have — as of last night. Actually, this whole year has been full of firsts. Some exciting, some scary and some just really, really hard.

Just this time last year, I had barely shared with anyone my surprise news that we were adding child #5. I was still in shock myself. We would be watching our family grow from 2 to 5 kids in just 15 months. For a few weeks, I really feared we wouldn’t make it. I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew it wasn’t good.

If I’ve learned one thing, though, it is that we really don’t know what we can handle until we try. Our family has been stretched. Stretched to where it was painful some days, but we made it. I’m learning patience. I’m learning priorities. I’m learning to take things one day at a time.

Every once in a while I wonder what life would be like today if we hadn’t adopted our boys or had our daughter. We’d be a “normal” family of 4 with more money and more sleep. We’d probably be taking a Disney cruise for spring break instead of budgeting for diapers and formula. But of this I am sure — I wouldn’t be as utterly dependent on God for daily strength. I’d still be walking in a false sense of control.

I’m grateful that God stretches me without breaking me. I look at my sweet 5-month-old daughter and can’t believe that I get to rock a baby to sleep again. His big plan is just right. And Disney cruise or not, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Not expecting this…

New year’s day usually stands for a fresh start…expectations…and new opportunities. It took that to a new level for us this year when on January 1, we found out we were expecting – yes, as in expecting our fifth child. Though that doesn’t really seem like the right term since we very much were NOT expecting this.

Since then, we’ve slowly shared our news with friends and family. We’ve gotten lots of fun questions and reactions, including:

“Come on, when you found out, didn’t you laugh?”

No, let me be perfectly honest. We both sat on the bathroom floor and cried. For two weeks I wouldn’t talk about it. Go ahead and judge…yes, I know every child is a blessing. But understand this – we spent the last two years in a state of “unknown” and we really just felt like we lost control of our great life plan…again. I guess we didn’t learn the “we’re not really in control” lesson through the adoption process. I hope we get it this time.

“Did you always want a big family?”

I remember a conversation we had when my oldest daughter was about 3. We were trying to decide if it would be OK if our oldest was an only child. We really liked our life. Then we decided we probably could handle just one more child, and life would be perfect. We never saw ourselves having lots of kids. But we are finding that there are lots of surprising advantages to having a big family.

“You know God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

I think God over-estimated us. But I hope He proves me wrong.

And my favorite…“How do people with four young children find time to get pregnant?”

No comment.

Here’s what I do know: God has never let us down. I had no idea how we would handle a one and two-year-old last year when we brought home our boys from Ethiopia, but we’ve more than “handled” it. There is no doubt those boys were meant to be Littons. God’s plans have always been bigger than ours. I’m just starting to wonder how BIG they really are…

Are all Christians called to adopt?

Ethiopian orphan

A baby we met last year in an orphanage in Ethiopia.

Since we decided to adopt 18 months ago, I’ve often been surprised at peoples’ responses. Many times we hear “Oh, that’s so great. I sure could never do that” or “I’m not called to adoption” or something similar. It’s as if people assume we’ve become official adoption recruiters and they are set to defend their “adoption-less” family. I’ve been careful to say that God clearly called our family to this journey. That’s all.

On a recent trip to Haiti, I visited an orphanage full of children. It was the first time I had been in an orphanage since our sons came home last summer. Suddenly, across the world from my son’s country in Africa, I was face-to-face with a hundred other Judahs and Levis. Precious children, each in need of a loving family. As I looked in their faces, I had to believe that God has a plan for their lives. With approximately 2 billion Christians in the world (“Christian” in this instance is a loose term, I know) and  approximately 147 million orphans, the numbers don’t add up to me. Maybe everyone isn’t called to adoption. But I can’t help but wonder why God wasn’t calling a follower – maybe a family in the US, or in Europe, or even a Christian Haitian family – to change the future for just one of these children.

I wonder a lot what would have happened to my boys if we hadn’t decided to answer the call to adopt, and believe me, there were times I wasn’t positive we could do it. I’m not sure if another family would have stepped in, or if our disobedience would have meant a hopeless future for my little guys. I don’t know the theologically correct answer, but I’m glad we’ll never know.

Just as often as people defend their right not to adopt, I also have people say “I think that’s something we’d love to do someday.” To which I usually politely reply, “It was an amazing experience for us.” But just once, I’d like to shock somebody and say, “Stop thinking, start praying and get going.” Ask God if there is a child somewhere in the world, maybe even in your back yard, who he has assigned to you. Could it be that he’s calling Christians, and we’re not hearing?

Do missions trips provide lasting change?

Haiti Orphanage

Two girls in a rural Haitian orphanage with lunch (two pieces of bread brought by UN soldiers) and wearing new clothes recently given to them from a visiting missions team

I just returned from Haiti after 5 days doing video production work for an amazing organization, KORE Foundation. This year I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Ethiopia and Haiti, seeing extremely rough conditions and unimaginable poverty. With each trip, I get a jolt of reality. While it’s not my reality, I’m faced with the reality that the majority of the world doesn’t know my life. The stats are staggering and we’ve all heard them:

  • 22,000 children die each day due to poverty.
  • At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.
  • Almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day.
  • The average Haitian eats only one meal a day, meaning many do not eat.
  • 70% of Haitians do not have electricity.
  • 90% of Haitians do not have running water.
  • 80% of Haitians lack adequate sanitation.

But as big as the numbers are, the statistics are hard to grasp. We don’t see it, so we can’t believe it. It isn’t until I see it firsthand as I did this week. I don’t get it until I see a child in an orphanage pumping water from a shallow, contaminated well and drinking water that is so dark you can’t see through it. When I hold an orphan who is very sick and has been lying alone for hours on a piece of plywood that is his bed. With no medicine available, no parents to rush him to the ER, he is alone. When I hold that child, I really get the statistic of 147 million orphans in the world. The one face makes the statistic real.

A tiny baby girl at a Haitian orphanage

A tiny baby girl at a Haitian orphanage. At 8 months, she was nearly the weight of my newborn babies.

I’ve had these experiences numerous times in life. I come home and I hold my kids close. I give a little extra to my favorite causes. I am truly grateful for what I have. But inevitably, life takes over and I forget. I start to think about the things I want. I feel sorry for myself when I don’t have “enough.” I lose perspective.

I’m always grateful to have a fresh dose of a new reality. But I don’t want to lose it. I want to model for my children what it means to live a selfless life. I want to be grateful that I live a reality that most people will never experience.

How do you keep a perspective of gratitude when the world we live in fights to draw us back to selfishness and entitlement?


5 Marketing Mistakes You May Have Seen at the Catalyst Conference

Catalyst 2011 kick-off session

After a few days in Atlanta at the Catalyst Conference last week, I’m refreshed, energized and a little surprised.

As one of the premier conferences in Christiandom, Catalyst also commands a premier price for the many ministries and organizations that line up for a chance to exhibit, sponsor and promote their message to the 13,000 attendees.

For some smaller groups, a Catalyst-size budget (including exhibit space, displays, giveaways, travel, etc.) is a major investment. Which is why I am always surprised at the lack of attention to detail. Just being there is not enough. As usual, greatness is in the details.

Here are 5 mistakes organizations make in their event marketing strategy:

1. No call to action

You must approach any marketing with one question, “What do I want my audience to do?” For some, Catalyst is a strictly a lead generator while others engage in demos or donor solicitation. You have to know what you want, and you have to make it clear. If you don’t ask, you won’t get it.

2. Too much information

At best, you may have a few minutes to talk with someone who is hurrying to the restroom before they head back into the next session. Your best bet is to spark interest, establish ongoing contact, and have a post-conference follow-up strategy. If your presentation is memorable, you’ll have more time to get into details later. Practice your elevator speech and make sure there’s a good hook in it. Ask yourself, “would I be interested in this message if I weren’t paid to share it?”

3. Assuming numbers = success

Around the country this week, there are event reports being proudly circulated to management. 250 new names. 500 registered for our iPad giveaway. All fine results. But the only result that matters are those that convert beyond a statistic. I’d rather find 5 people who truly connect with our message than 500 who just want a freebie. Develop strategies that generate success, not just numbers.

4. Not being present

Catalyst’s theme this year was “Be Present” and it’s a piece of advice many exhibitors would be wise to take. It is tempting to pack up early, to arrive late, or to assume that missing one session break won’t hurt. But you never know when the right person will wander by your booth. If you must take breaks, take a team large enough to always have a fully-staffed booth.

5. No follow through

From time to time at conferences, I throw my business card in the bowl or enter information at a number of booths just to see what kind of follow-up I receive. If I give you my information, use it. Take the time to send some simple emails letting contacts know that you enjoyed meeting them. Have an easy system to “rate” contacts based on potential. Put a simple “1″ – “5″ on the back of an interested individual’s business card or sign-up form. And jot down a personal note, such as “very interested in our projects in Haiti.” A follow-up that says “Great to meet you and talk about our work in Haiti” shows that you were paying attention, and gets theirs in return.

Don’t assume that all who are interested will call you the minute they get back to their desks. It is very unlikely that any information even makes it back with attendees, which puts the ball clearly in your court. Reach out. Many exhibitors won’t – making you stand out all the more.

 What other mistakes (or successes) do you see at event exhibits?


“But how are you really doing?” The realities of adoption, 4 kids and big life change.

I can’t tell you how many times, over the past few months, someone has stopped me, looked deep into my eyes and said, “But how are you really doing?” Maybe it’s because I look a little frazzled while chasing two toddlers in opposite directions around the church halls. Or perhaps it’s because on top of that my work has increased significantly in the past few months. Or possibly they’ve just heard all the adoption horror stories and can’t believe that we doubled our family and are still standing.

So here’s the completely honest, totally transparent truth: We’re still standing. We’re often exhausted. But we feel like we’re won the family lottery. I can’t imagine that out of the 147 million orphans in the world, there would be any two more suited to be Littons. They’re full of energy. They love to laugh. They know what they want. And they seem to be picking up my dancing skills (which could be social suicide later in life, but makes for fun family dance parties now).

But don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. Adoption is hard. Having four kids, three pre-school aged, is really hard. But following God’s will is not. On the tough days, I fall back on the knowledge that if God ever called us to anything in life, it’s this. The first thirty days I clung to that as my promise that we hadn’t made a mistake. There were a few days that I was continually in tears and really just wanted my life back. But when I know I’m on a mission bigger than my own, that perspective carries me. And really, isn’t that what life is all about? Regardless of what we’re doing on a daily basis, we should live as if we’re on a mission bigger than ourselves.

“but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31)

Have you ever had to take hope in the fact that you’re on a mission bigger than yourself?

Those we left behind

We’ve been home from Ethiopia three weeks now. Right now our sons are sleeping soundly in their bedroom – happy, full-bellied and enjoying new discoveries every day. They’re safe and where they belong. And after a year of waiting, that’s a blessing we don’t take for granted.

But as happy as we are to have them home, I can’t help but remember the children left behind. We spent a day in an orphanage and met beautiful children. Our agency works with this orphanage and most of these children had families they were happy to tell us about:

“I go to Texas.”

“My mom and dad will be here soon.”

But unfortunately this wasn’t the case for all the children, and three continue to haunt me.

As soon as we walked in the room, children ran to us. One boy, about 10, grabbed my arm, kissed me and said “I love you.” He held my arm and wouldn’t let go. At that point, nobody had shared any of their stories. I didn’t know if they had families or were waiting. But with this boy, I knew. I saw the desperation in his eyes. He knew that all his friends had families. He also was well aware that older children, especially boys, have a slim chance of being “chosen” by adoptive families. When we walked in the room, he saw his chance. He was looking for a family.

We also spent time with an amazing set of sisters – about 7 and 10. Precious, precious girls. I was told the older is a huge help with the younger children in the house. And I was also told they had been on waiting children lists for over two years. Two years! For two years, they’ve watched friends come in and out of the orphanage. They’ve seen other children be chosen by adoptive families while they wait. The director told me that the prior week the older girl had asked, “When will my family come?” The director told her honestly, “Honey, I just don’t know.” Then the older sister told her, “I don’t really need a family. I know I’m too old. But my sister, she needs a family. Please find her a family and let her go without me.”

To think that a ten year old girl would consider herself “unplaceable” and would give up her hopes of having a family so her sister could have a chance to be adopted….just blows my mind. No child should be in that situation. No 10-year-old should believe they are too old to be wanted. Every child deserves a family.

Our hands are full with two toddlers. I know my role for these children. As we walked out of that orphanage – me, my husband, my sister, and my brother-in-law – and drove away in silence, I knew that I was responsible to tell their stories. To let people know that I had personally met, hugged, played with and spent time with children who just need a chance. Children who so desperately want an opportunity to be loved. To be part of a family.

I truly believe their families are out there. If you would like more information on these children, please contact me.

Surviving Toddler Adoption: Small Victories

We’re home. A little over a week ago, we walked past airport security to a huge group of family and friends. We were so relieved, exhausted, happy and proud to introduce everyone to our little guys. We felt like we’d reached the finish line.

But the finish line was very much the starting gate. I’d be remiss if I ended our adoption journey with the joy of coming home. Our journey has just begun. And just like I’ve said many times the last year – adoption is not for the faint of heart. Bringing home two toddlers from a different culture, who aren’t used to being in a family setting, and who don’t speak your language is the greatest reward and the greatest challenge I’ve ever faced.

Judah talking on his phone.

I have the feeling we’ll look back at these first few months as the “survival period.” As hours and days pass, we’re celebrating the small things. Here are a few of our family victories from our first week as a family of 6:

1. Our toddlers’ hitting and spitting is on the decline.

2. We’ve all gotten out of bed every morning.

3. My daughters are fascinated with the new boys in our home. They want to help with everything from feeding to stinky diapers. Not sure how long this will last…but for now, it’s cause for celebration.

4. Nobody has missed a meal.

5. The boys are settling into a routine – they know where they sit at our table, where they sleep, when it is bathtime, etc. Structure is our friend!

6. Ceiling fans and cars are huge hits. Judah (age 2) notices the ceiling fan every time he walks into a new room, and Levi (age 1) is in car overload whenever we leave the house. When we drove downtown yesterday, he pointed out each and every car on the interstate during our 30 minute drive.

7. The full-fledged toddler temper tantrums (think Super Nanny here) that were so prevalent the first few days are almost non-existent.

8. Bedtime is easier. Now rather than leaving his bed 30 or 40 times before falling asleep, our 2-yr-old just stands on his toddler bed and yells at us in Amharic before lying down. I’m so glad I don’t understand what he’s saying.

9. Our tiny wiener dog no longer strikes fear and panic in my boys. They can tolerate seeing him through the glass door without screaming. Maybe someday we’ll even be able to let him back inside.

10. Joel and I have teamed up. With four kids in the home, we’re now outnumbered. We decided the only way we’re going to make it out alive is to stick together.

Thanks for caring about our family. Adoption isn’t all sunshine, roses and lullabies. It’s tough. It’s frustrating. And it’s challenging. But it’s also the way God chose to bring together our family, and we wouldn’t trade this for anything.

On our Way

Thanks to everyone who donated supplies and finances that I’m delivering to an orphanage in Africa this week. We are loaded down with the maximum bags and weights possible. I can’t wait to share pictures.

As we travel this week to pick up our sons, I’ll be blogging as much as I’m able at our adoption blog at Today’s post, “On the Brink” reflects on a tough week leading up to this trip.

Keep us in your prayers.