We truly are a family redefined. We are husband, wife, son, daughter, step children, biological and adopted children and most importantly, Children of God.

A friend pointed out that I needed to update my blog header. After our adoption from Ethiopia, I had updated it stating how the adoption of Sara Joy completed our family. Well... the journey continues. After much prayer, we have decided to follow what we feel is God's calling for us...we went to Ghana with the intention of adopting a four year old girl, Isabella Hope. Little did we know that she would be the catalyst to bringing home not only her, but her half brother and sister. We will now be adding not only Isabella Hope to our family, but also Mary Grace (9) and Gilbert (6) who we will transition to the name Nathaniel Timothy. The shock is wearing off and the JOY and EXCITEMENT are overwhelming. Now truly, our family is complete. The great part of journeying with God, is that it's always an adventure. He knows where we are going, and for us it is all a marvelous surprise. Looking forward to sharing our family adventures as we walk daily through life and as we venture off to Ghana to bring home Mary, Nate and Isabella! It's always an adventure redefining our family!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Two months home

In just a few short days, Mary, Nate and Isabella will have been home with us for two months.  TWO.  MONTHS.  On some levels it feels like that can't be right - actually on EVERY level it feels like that can't be right.  Nothing about it feels like two months.  Some things make it feel like time has just dragged out, others made time fly.  I came to this page many times (after I managed to make it to the computer during the course of a day... in the beginning, I didn't) after the kids g0t home to update this page.  I've always been one to be brutally honest though, and my brutal honesty might have scared some people away :)  To say it was NOT pretty,  would be an understatement.  As things are getting better though, I feel more inclined to share... not to scare people off, but more to paint a picture of (our) reality, so maybe you don't set too high expectations (like I did), romanticize the homecoming (like I did) and just have this all around polly-anna attitude (like I did) only to disappoint yourself when reality slapped you in the face.

If you are one of those families who adopted a sibling group, older children, or just one of the two of those, and your transition has been smooth -  congratulations!  I applaud you.  I'm not sure what I did wrong, but to tell you the truth, I'm happy for you.  It's your story.  It's how YOUR adoption was meant to be played out.  Not every adoption was meant to be played out that way.

First, let me just say, I love my kids.  EACH and EVERY one of them!  We have adopted two other times.  Once from China (Anna was 13 months at homecoming) and once from Ethiopia (Sara was 19 months at homecoming).  Their transitions into our home were smooth.  (And to think that at the time I considered Sara to be an "older child" adoption :)  When we originally started the adoption process our mind was on one child, younger than Sara.  God obviously had other plans - because we ended up with THREE, only one of which was ONLY  TWO WEEKS younger than Sara :)  My mind was prepared for one.  My heart open to more.  Once we got the news that we were adopting three, I'm not sure my mind caught up with the enormity of it all.  I had our previous adoption experiences firmly planted in my memory and I expected life to unfold that way.... blissful... except times three.  I was going to be triple blissed :)

The wait to bring the kids home was excruciating.  (This reminds me, I have a friend who is in a deep season of waiting - please pray with me that her waiting is over soon!  It's one of the hardest parts of the adoption to endure).  During the wait, I once again romanticized about their homecoming... how happy we would all be, how grateful we would all be to be finally in the same home.... yeah, if that was a romance novel, it was a fiction romance novel.

Never during the wait time do you think about the things that are really going to happen.... if you did, you probably wouldn't continue on :)  Maybe God makes it that way so you will continue on... kind of like He makes us forget the pain of childbirth, or no woman would have more than one child unless it was a multiple pregnancy!

Visions of bonding on the airplane on the way home, everyone enjoying new experiences were replaced with five really tired people just trying to survive the flight.  We were tired, cranky and quite frankly - smelly.  There were times where I would have given ANYTHING for a bed to lay on and to sleep soundly without thinking about a child for just 30 minutes.  Our grand homecoming into the United States was replaced with wondering if we would even get to fly from Dulles to Columbia, SC because there was a snow storm that pretty much shut down everything in SC for days.  We got in about 30 minutes before the real storm hit.  THANK YOU GOD!!!!  However, it was just another stressful part of our journey.  After flying forever, our 1 1/2 hour drive home took about 3 hours.  

Immediately we struggled with boundaries.  The house was like a jungle gym with anything and everything part of the playground.  Jumping on things (even the new furniture we bought just for them that I was sure they would cherish as much as I did), breaking things, not caring for things, using the bathroom with the door open, never turning off a light, leaving toys everywhere, issues with appropriate use of language, not being responsive to requests, the famous "eye roll"...... I don't know why I expected anything different... after all, they are still kids, but somehow, for some reason, I expected something different.

It didn't help matters any that Tim was gone when I brought the kids home.  He was in Spain, and would be for a few weeks after I got home with them.  Thankfully, I had Cameron traveling with me, and a big help in the first weeks home!

Just days after getting home, Isabella gets sick.  She gets a fever and it goes away.  Thankfully we have a friend who is a doctor and he came to check her out.  You don't want to be THAT mom who takes her kid to the emergency room for a fever (that responded to Tylenol by the way), but my motherly instinct told me that I needed to do something more than the Tylenol.  I had a kid who I knew basically nothing about, coming from a foreign country with diseases that I know nothing about... so I called our Dr. friend.  He came over and said "yeah, you better go to emergency".  (ALWAYS listen to those motherly instincts).  A late night run to the emergency room and the Dr. said probably just a virus, but did some bloodwork.

Three days later the bloodwork was back, Isabella had Malaria and was admitted to the hospital.  I hadn't slept in days, well  more like a week, and now Isabella was going to the hospital.  I had five other kids at home, and no husband.  This is where I have to sing the praises of my friends who came and took over my house and my kids while I just stayed at the hospital.  I didn't even call.  I couldn't.  I was too tired.  I knew they were in good hands.  

After Isabella ended up in the hospital, Tim cut his assignment short and came home.  He knew it was all just too much for me to handle on my own, and he wanted to be home with his kids, especially with Isabella being in the hospital.  Thankfully he was able to catch a flight home the very next day.  

Isabella recovered quickly.  The people at the hospital treated her like a queen.  EVERY resident that ever existed was in that room to see her.  It's not often you get cases of malaria popping up in Florence :)  There wasn't much exciting to see though... I guess that's unfortunate for them, but fortunate for us!

I'll admit that bonding has been hard and it has been a s-l-0-w process.  I set myself up for something different, so when it didn't happen, I beat myself up about it.  Bonding, I've discovered, is a two way street.  You can't bond if only one person is doing the bonding.  I'm not sure that my kids were quite ready to bond immediately.  Anna and Sara were much younger when we brought them home.  They kind of "had" to bond.  I was meeting their every need.  Anna bonded fiercely and quickly.  Sara bonded quickly.  But with older adoptions, you are not meeting their EVERY need.  They are independent.  It can be difficult.  That, combined with the fact that really, I don't think they were quite ready to bond at all - with anyone, and it made for a slow start (and we're still in the "starting" phase).  I think to bond, you have to trust.  Trust takes time.  These are kids that have been moved around multiple times in the past two years.  While they understood that they were being adopted, I'm not sure, even yet, that it has made it to their heart that this is PERMANENT.  Maybe their mind understands it, but I think that their hearts have a bit of healing to do before they will fully understand.  It will take time.  It will take.... just being here, I guess.  But, I'm happy to say that in small areas, bonding had begun.

One thing we are having to deal with, that I didn't really anticipate was "discrepancies" in what we were told was the kids' history / situation and what the truth actually is/was.  I'm not going to go into detail here, but suffice it to say, it's sad to not get the truth.  The biggest issue has been with regard to age.  My children came home with birth certificates that put them at 7 (about to turn 8), 5 (about to turn 6) and 4 (about to turn 5).  This is CLEARLY not the case.  It's embarrassing when I take them to the doctor and have to present the age on their birth certificate for insurance purposes until we are able to get it changed.  I immediately have to explain that the "age issue" is being worked on, is part of the reason we are here... etc.  One night at the dinner table, I just straight up asked the kids  how old they were.  They all looked at one another.  Nate hid his face.  They all claimed that they had an age that was significantly older.  Without any evidence, we decided to head to the pediatric dentist and our pediatrician to see independently what they came up with.  I didn't tell them what we were thinking, just asked for their opinion.  Isabella sat in the chair first at the dentist.  I said that she was "three".  I got a crazy look from the dentist.  I told her I needed some help verifying actual age.  Independently, she put Isabella at 5-6.  We are having her turn 5 in April.  She put Nate at 6-7.  We just had him turn 7 in February.  She put Mary at 9-10.  We will have her turn 9 in April.  This was right in line with our original thinking.  Mary is not especially happy with her age.  I truthfully think she wanted to be older than Anna (10).  She was the oldest of the three and I think she got used to that position.  She was typically the oldest in her foster care homes as well.  It will be an adjustment, but she will have a birth certificate and supporting documentation to at least support the age we have given her (and the other kids) and will not have to feel like she (or the others) are lying anymore.

The kids are all enrolled in school in the fall.  Sara and Isabella will hit kindergarden together.  It will be fun to see them travel through their school years together.  Nate is going to go into second grade.  He's ready for it for sure.  He might struggle a bit in the beginning, but he catches on quickly.  Mary we are enrolling in third grade.  Age wise, she could go into fourth, but I'm not sure that she is ready for that.  She struggles some with reading, and since that is the basis for all other subjects, she needs to have the time to get it mastered.  She and Nate both read books daily and we found a great website to test them on the books they are reading to ensure comprehension is there.  

The first few weeks home, I cried more days than I didn't.  I'm not afraid to admit that.  I'd go into the bathroom at times, close the door and just cry.  I was tired.  I was stressed.  Crying felt seriously good at times.  As the weeks went on, I cried fewer days than I didn't.  I OWN that accomplishment :)  The kids are slowly learning the rules of the house.  As the rules are followed, I become less stressed.  I also quit handling the kids with "kid gloves".  They needed to feel like part of the family, so they needed to contribute just like the rest of the family.  Each of them got about five chores.  They got to choose their own from a list of 15.  Isabella and Sara have assigned simple chores.  Cameron's main chore was to babysit while Tim and I were gone :)  Anna, Mary and Nate split the remaining 15.  They are simple things, but they are things that contribute to our household.  For each chore there is a "pay rate".  They love the pay and I like getting help with some of the work.  It took some stress off of me, and truthfully I think helped each of them feel like part of the family.

It's funny actually, but there is very little of our "transition" home that was what I expected.  Isabella was a pretty easy transition - I saw a very stubborn side of her in Ghana.  I was prepared for a difficult transition.  Besides getting malaria, with her it has been easy.  Mary has been a bit more difficult.  In Ghana I saw a child who was very mature and eager to please.  While she is still eager to please, I find that she is so eager to please that she will lie.  Not good.  She also has an eye roll like I have never seen before and she used it on me frequently in the beginning.  NEVER imagined that.  Nate... well, I thought he would be the easiest of them all.  I haven't quite figured him out yet.  He cries / whines at the drop of a hat and NEVER wants to be wrong or in trouble (yet manages to not follow the rules frequently).  He is not a very "snuggly" kid.  You can tell that hugs are uncomfortable for him and rarely, if ever, initiated by him.  I figured Sara and Isabella would fight like cats and dogs.  Just the opposite.  They are inseparable.  I figured Mary and Anna would be inseparable.  They fight like cats and dogs.  God has completely turned my world upside down!

While things are getting better, they are far from great.  I still struggle with myself and my feelings of replacing "what I thought was going to be" with "what is".  "What is" is what God intended for our family, and He's refining, stretching and teaching me throughout this process, each and every day.    I still find myself wondering when we will feel "bonded".  I don't know the answer to that question.  I feel like with Isabella that has really begun - both for me and for her.  Mary and Nate may just take more time.  That's not bad - that just "is".  

Part of me feels like by putting this all out there that I'm a "bad mom".  It doesn't feel right that bonding is so difficult.  Logically, it's not going to happen overnight.  Emotionally, I want it to.  What we want and what we get are sometimes two different things though.  I'm so very thankful for my support system throughout this process.  I'm thankful for my husband who was open to not only adoption, but multiple adoptions, and adopting a sibling group of older kids.  I'm thankful he can look at them and say they are his.  I'm thankful for my mom and my mother in law who have been there for me when Tim has been gone.  They have sat through many, many appointments and spent more miles on the road than they did at our house just to help me out.  They have been a blessing.  I'm thankful for a special Florence friend (you know who you are), who arranged for meals for our family, who comes to my rescue at the drop of a hat and who is just there for Godly encouragement mixed with a bit of humor :). I'm so very thankful for my "I've never met you" friend who has walked what feels like a million miles with me throughout this adoption process.  We navigated some pretty rough water together.  We've cried, laughed and celebrated on this journey together.  She is in a valley right now in her process, and I'm praying God will part the sea for her soon!  I love  her and her family dearly and I pray that someday we can get rid of the "friend I've never met" designation :)  We WILL meet someday, I'm sure of it!  I'm thankful again for my mom who has been my cheerleader throughout this process.  I never expected her to understand where I am or what I'm going through, and whether she understands it or not, she is cheering me on.  Thanks  mom!

The other night all eight of us went out to dinner for the first time at a sit down restaurant.  I was hesitant at first, not knowing how all of the kids would behave.  Prior to bringing the kids home we would frequent this place often, and they seemed surprised when we came in as a family of eight rather than a family of five.  They treated Mary, Nate and Isabella just like part of the family though.  It felt good.  I think as we have more of these family times together that the bonds will grow stronger.  I fully expect that one day, I'll look back and not be able to remember feeling this way.  I won't know exactly when things changed, when we bonded, but I will know that we did.  

Spring and summer are right around the corner here in SC (sorry all you Michigan folks still dealing with snow :).  We'll plant flowers and watch them grow.  We'll plant a seed and watch as the plant sprouts, the greenery grows and the flowers bloom.  We'll spend day after day in the pool soaking up the sun.  All the time, the seed of "family" has been planted in our hearts, as we nurture it, I'm confident that the beauty of the flower will appear - as we soak up the SON.  God knew this family and what it was and what it would become.  Before any of us were born, He knew our lives would come together as this - as family.  I'd be lying if I said it's been easy, but it has been worth it.  

I guess my message for anyone adopting older children (because it IS different than adopting younger children) is - expect NOTHING.  Don't set a stage to be disappointed.  Don't map out how you should feel and when, because it likely won't happen the way you plan.  Don't romanticize the adoption, it's going to be hard on both ends.  And finally, be prepared for God to stretch you in ways you never thought you could be stretched.  When you think He's stretched you as far as you can go, He'll stretch you more.  It's part of the beauty in loving and welcoming older kids into your home, heart and family.

PS.... it's THURSDAY and I don't think I've cried ALL WEEK!!!!  See... there is progress and a light at the end of the tunnel :)

In Christ,

Thursday, October 31, 2013

For A Time Such As This - Part 1

Wow!  It has been quite some time since I updated this blog.  Not because there hasn't been much going on - but because there has been a LOT going on.  We've been busy.  There have been things going on on the adoption front, but not much movement - until this week.  I'm going to share all about that later, but for right now I have to share a story.  

I've been told many times that I should write a book.  I was told that long before we started our adoptions.  It's more than adoption, it's about God.  It's about His walk with me through becoming a Christian, dealing with blindness, adopting, marriage.... all of these things.  God has shown Himself in so many ways through all of these things.  The biggest "theme" in my life has been the people He has placed around me *For a time such as this*.  No matter what that "time" was, God has used people and used them profoundly around me.  There are times when I didn't even realize why or how He would use them.... and then BAM!!!  They show up back in my life "for a time such as this".  I'm going to tell you one of those stories.

I'm sure you all remember my last trip to Ghana.  It was in August.  I don't remember if I shared it on here, but I know I shared it on Facebook how my luggage got lost... for FOUR days.  Anyway, God used that luggage experience in two profound ways.  One way I will not share here, at least not now, but let's just say it removed people from harms way.  Literally.  How he used that luggage experience became clear to me right after I left Ghana.  There was no mistaking it.  AND, it had to be lost for four days.  Any time shorter and the protection it provided would not have been there.  Only God.

Well, the second God-thing happened Saturday night in the airport in Ghana.  We had arrived on  Thursday night, went back to the airport on Friday - no luggage.  Went back to the airport on Saturday - no luggage.  At this point, I broke down.  I had to have my luggage in order to take the trip to Kwahu where my children were.  It is HOURS away from Accra which is where the airport is and where we were staying.  I begged and pleaded with God to make the luggage arrive that day, but it was not happening.  At this point we had to make a decision, either head to Kwahu without our luggage (not a good choice as everything we had for our kids was in our luggage, and we only had minimal stuff for ourselves), or call Kwahu and ask that the children be brought to Accra - which is what ended up happening.

Anyway, we waited in the airport for the flight to come in from London.  As we sat, I noticed a family that looked to be an adoptive family.  They were caucasian and they had two Ghanaian children with them.  They were sitting in a waiting area.  Cameron and I had some time to kill while waiting for the flight to arrive that "might" have our luggage, so we found a seat in the waiting area as well.  We ended up striking up a conversation with this family.  The lady's name was Stacey.  She was there at the airport waiting for one of her older children to arrive in Ghana from the US.  She was spending an extended time in  Ghana as she and her husband were working to build a home for children in Ghana and also were staying throughout the process to adopt their two little girls.  

We talked for awhile while we waited for the plane.  We got to know a little bit about one another.  In the meantime, our driver, who apparently had to leave to take another family to the hotel, left.  When the flight arrived we waited some more.  NOTHING and I do mean NOTHING happens in a timely fashion in Ghana.  The "lost" luggage was to be brought to a little room downstairs in the airport.  This was where were sitting.  We waited awhile and went over to the counter.  We were sadly informed that no, our luggage had not arrived (again) and not only that, but they didn't know when it would arrive.  It was truthfully lost.

I broke down.  I was so tired of wearing clothes to bed.  I was so tired of not shaving my legs (I know.. .too much information).  I was tired of having NOTHING to give my kids.  I was tired of driving back and forth to the airport at a late hour.  I couldn't help it.  I broke down in tears.

Stacey came over and asked me if I was ok.  I told her the situation with our luggage and she offered me so much help.  She gave me her number.  She gave me directions to places I could find necessities while we waited for our luggage to arrive.  She gave me information for a cheaper place to stay, as we were only supposed to stay at our hotel for one night before leaving for Kwahu.  She offered me anything she could.  

After finding our driver, we parted ways with Stacey and her family.  I found her on Facebook and sent her a friend request.  That was pretty much the end of that. 

Fast forward 2 1/2 months.  I found myself in the middle of a mini-crisis last week.  Ok, it was a HUGE crisis.... there were some serious implications to what was going on.  Without going into detail with regard to the issue, I needed people to pray.  A meeting was being held on Monday (this past Monday) that could change the course of our adoption.  I begged for prayer.  People answered.

After the meeting on Monday, it then became critical that I get my three kids' passports.  Our visa exit interview was scheduled for less than a week away (it's happening in just three days) and it could not happen without those passports.

Enter Stacey into the picture.  I got a message on FB from a "Stacey". Now remember, Stacey and I had only met in an airport and only talked for a couple of hours and then we had no further contact.  I didn't remember her last name.   I'm also going to tell you, that in the adoption community, it's not uncommon for a strange to help another "adoptive" stranger. You don't have to be "friends" you just do what you can do for one another, when you can do it.

So, I got a message from a Stacey asking if she could go to the passport office for me on Wednesday.  She would be there trying to obtain one of her daughters' passports and she would like to do what she could to assist with ours.  I gladly accepted.  I didn't know who this "Stacey" was, but I was  so thankful for her help.  She asked for our kids names and dates of birth - heck, I probably would have given her our social security and bank account numbers if she said she needed those... I just felt I could trust her.

I was telling my son and husband about this "Stacey" that had volunteered to sit at the passport office all day if necessary to obtain our passports.  One of them asked who Stacey was.  I simply said - I don't know. She's adopting.  I don't care.  She is willing to help.  Cameron said "Mom, isn't that the lady from the airport".  No... I don't think so.  

So, Stacey had sent me a facebook message asking for a bit more information.  I responded to her and said - by the way, do you happen to be the lady that we met at the airport?  Are you THAT person?  She responded with yes, she was THAT Stacey.  I was floored.  Really I was.  I don't know how Cameron remembered that, but I'm so glad he did.  I would have continued on like this woman was a stranger, and while I don't know her all that well, she is far from a stranger!

She found out so much information for us on Wednesday.  I'm so thankful she was there for us.  She was not able to obtain the passports for us, but she was able to provide me with some much needed information.  Today (Thursday) we still do not have the passports, but I'm hopeful that they will print tomorrow.  Stacey actually has plans to be back at the passport office tomorrow because her daughter's passport is scheduled to print.  Imagine that timing... only God.  So, she is going to the passport office at 8 AM tomorrow morning and will then call me with an update on our passports!  

Standing in the airport in Accra, I NEVER thought in a million years that I would hear from Stacey again.  I felt like her brief time in my life was meant just for that day and time at the airport, to keep me calm and level-headed during a very stressful time.  I love God's plans though.  He connected our lives I think more for THIS time in our lives than  THAT one.  Amazing!  

Stacey, if you read this - thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you are doing for us to help us get our kids home!  You have been truly God-sent!  You are my first "For A Time Such as This" story.  To anyone who thinks this is a "coincidence" or just luck, or a stranger just helping out... I'm not even going to try to convince you about how truly wrong you are.  God placed her in my life for just this very time.  For A Time Such As This!  I'm sure of it.  

Praying for a positive update tomorrow with news on how our adoption is moving forward!

In Christ,

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

ABC's of My Heart: H = Honesty

I kind of feel strange even writing this, but for those who are adopting, maybe you will get something out of it.  Maybe you won't feel so alone if you are feeling some of the same things that I'm feeling right now.  I'm going to just be honest!

I've got three kids in my home.  A 14 year old, a 9 (almost 10) year old and a 4 year old.  Life is about to change..... BIG TIME!  Soon I will have a 14 year old, a 10 year old, a 9 year old, a 6 year old, a 4 year old and a 4 year old.  That's a HUGE change.  

I've been looking forward to this time for so long.  It seems like forever.  We are getting close.  The immigration paperwork is complete.  The kids' files have been reviewed and their orphan status conforms to US Law.  We are waiting on passports and I'm praying we will hear something this week on those.  Then, we just have the medicals and the visa exit interview - and a L.O.N.G. flight home with three new children.

I've anticipated this time for so long and yet at the same time, I fear it.  I'm working diligently to get the kids' rooms set up so everything will be ready when they arrive, yet I'm savoring  the time we have while things remain the same.  Truthfully, I'm scared.  I think it's normal.  I think I'd be niave to think that everything will just transition smoothly.  It's hard to get a smooth transition when you bring a new child into your home through childbirth.  It's hard to get a smooth transition when you adopt one child.  I think it would be kind of crazy for me to assume that I'll get a smooth transition with bringing THREE home.  Not only will I be bringing three home, but I have three already IN the home.  I will be doubling the number of children in my home.  I think it's actually SMART of me to be afraid.... because it means I'm thinking logically and not idealistically.  Trust me when I say, there is NOTHING ideal about adoption.  It doesn't start ideal and it doesn't end ideal.  It just starts and ends and I'm thankful to be part of it.... but being thankful doesn't make it easy.

So, what am I afraid of?  Well, I have three children in my home now with three different personalities.  Sometimes they mesh, sometimes they clash.  I have three more coming into the picture with three of their own little personalities.  Six adolescent personalities in one household - meshing and clashing at all different times.  Three of the personalities I really don't even know all that well yet.  I think I know things about Mary, Nate and Isabella, but I have a TON to learn.  I've got a lot of catching up to do with them.

I'm afraid I won't be as successful as I want to be with homeschooling them and getting them caught up to their appropriate grade level.  I've never done homeschooling before and what if I'm no good at it?

I'm afraid of what the kids have been through and what it will bring to our home.  I mean, they are not babies... our oldest newcomer is 9 and the youngest is four.  They've lived pretty substantial lives already and have a lot of experiences and memories that I'm sure they will eventually share - both good and bad.  I'm all about the good, but I'm afraid of how I will handle the bad.  I mean, I'm an emotional basket case.  I read a sad book and I cry.  I watch a sappy TV show and I cry.  Hearing stories of loss from my kids... I'm not real sure how I will handle that.  Being strong in the face of an emotional situation is not one of my strong points.  Maybe it doesn't need to be though... maybe saying nothing - just loving these kids to death will be enough.  I pray that's the case... I pray God gives me wisdom along the way to help me deal with everything that this adoption will bring our way, in the best way possible to benefit these kids.

Stupid stuff comes to mind... like I have NO idea how to do their hair!  I know... it's stupid, but think about it... it's something you have to do every day.  What if you didn't know how to take a shower and yet you were expected to do it every day?  Not only that, but I bet the kids have some sort of expectation for me to at least know how to do SOMETHING with their hair....maybe they can teach me ;)  I know, I know...  you will say that the kids won't care.  I will though.  I want to give these kids the best... just like I give the three that are in my home now.  Doing hair should be standard practice.  Unfortunately for me, it's not.  I'll learn.  I'm praying they will be patient with me during my learning curve.

Food.  That's another big thing.  What in the world will I fix them that they will enjoy and that the rest of my family will as well?  Who knows.  I guess rice will be a staple for them for awhile, and after some time I'll just have to work on transitioning them over to "American" food.  We all think it is wonderful and that they will absolutely love it, but it's the same as taking our kids somewhere and having them eat foreign food.  The textures are different.  The smells are different.  The ingredients are different.  It will take them some time to get used to it all.  With my other two adopted little ones - they came home when they were small.  They were barely on solid foods.  There wasn't really a "transition" for them, because they hadn't gotten used to anything solid.  These kids are different.  They have.

One of the biggest things I'm afraid of is that they are too old to really consider me mom.  I know it sounds silly, but again, I'm being honest.  Mary is 9.  I wonder if she will ever really look at me and think "That's my mom".  I want "mom" to be something more than the person who financially supports us, loves us and cares for us on a daily basis.  I want "mom" to mean to her - the person who is emotionally invested in me, the person I turn to when things are bad, the person who will protect me fiercely and love me even more fiercely.  I want mom to mean security and home to her.  I want it for all of my kids.  I don't want it to mean guardian.  I want it to mean so much more.  Part of me wonders if that will come.  Will I ever be to them what I am to my other kids?

I think getting so close to the end of the process has brought this all to the forefront of my mind.  I really think I'd be stupid NOT to be thinking about these things.  They are important things.  They are more important than "Do I have enough clothes for them?" or "Will they like their room?"

I'm trusting in God to handle all of these details.  I kind of freaked out when I found out that we had THREE waiting for us in Ghana instead of the one we had originally anticipated.  God gave me peace with it and showed me that these were my kids.  He has shown me a love for them that I never thought I would have.  It is fierce.  It's protective.  It's stronger than I ever thought it could be at this point.  It's all God.  But that doesn't mean it's not scary.  I want to do it right and I have never navigated exactly these waters before.  Now that I think about it, I think being scared is good.  It puts me at heightened alert.  Really, it means I'm thinking, and more than that, it shows that I know that I don't have all the answers.  Oh Lord knows I don't have all the answers... but I do have Him.  I will trust in the Lord with these children.  I will trust that the Lord will give me guidance on how to navigate these new waters.  I will step out in faith.  I can be scared and not take my eyes off of Christ at the same time.  As long as my eyes are on Christ, it will fall into place.

It's hard to explain the feelings of excitement and fear that are mingled together.  I think though that it's normal... at least for me it's normal.  I remember when I adopted Anna and I finally received her referral, I was so excited.  I shared her little picture with everyone.  Then I got home from work and I thought "Oh. My. Goodness... WHAT HAVE I DONE".  It's the whole idea of the change that is to come.  No matter how positive it is, change is always difficult.  The same thing happened when we adopted Sara.  Tim and I were married, we had the routine established with the kids.  I was working at the time so there was that added stress in my life.  We were so looking forward to Sara's referral and then it came.  One day on the way home from work, after we got her referral, it was a particularly stressful day at work.  I just started crying.  Tim asked me what was wrong and all I could say was "did we just make a big mistake"?  It was the fear of change.  Not knowing how we would handle each and every situation that would arise.  Obviously I overcame these fears or I would have never adopted after Anna.  Or after Sara.  Yet, here we are again.  Adoption is the biggest blessing in our lives.  It's amazing.  It's beautiful.  It's heartbreaking.  It's heartwarming... and yes, it's even scary.  I think it's a healthy scary though.

Please pray with us as we navigate the end of this process.  Please pray with us that our kids' passports are issued EVEN THIS WEEK!!!!  God can move the mountain that will make that happen!  My kids need to come home!  Even with my lingering questions, I'm ready!  I think we are all ready.

In Christ,

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

ABC's of My Heart: G = God in Ghana

I have a story to tell, but for some reason..... I'm just not ready to tell it.  The right words aren't coming.  So... instead, I'll do it through pictures.  God is in each of these pictures.  The fact that I have these pictures means God is working.  

There is so much of a story that needs to be told, but I guess you just have to wait for the right time to tell it, and now is not that time.  I tried to get it all out in words, but it's not happening right now.  So, for now, this is My God in Ghana!  Please continue to pray that my children come home soon!

In Christ,

Friday, August 2, 2013

ABC's of My Heart: F=Finances

Malachi 3:10 - Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  Test me in this, says the Lord Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

Finances are often a very touchy topic.  I'm going to share our financial situation with you.  I'll say from the beginning, it hasn't always been easy.

I have always been a VERY frugal person.  I would spend money on things, but I always made pretty wise choices and lived within my means.  I got that from my parents.  When I was in college and had my first "real" job, I always found ways to save.  I contributed to my 401K almost immediately and I never ran up credit card bills that I couldn't pay.

When I married for the first time, managing finances became difficult.  No need to go into the story there, but needless to say, money moved freely from our home and the financial situation was difficult.  When we separated, things got worse for awhile before they got better.  I was a single mom, on my own, raising an infant and taking care of all of the expenses that go along with that.  It was very difficult and money was tight.  I literally lived from paycheck to paycheck.  That was something that I was not used to.  If something came out of left field in terms of a financial obligation that I was not prepared for, I would often have to turn to my family for assistance.  It was very difficult.  That time of difficulty just further instilled in me the need to be frugal.  Not stingy.  Not cheap, but frugal.

I was VERY blessed when I moved to South Carolina and had a new job that gave me a great financial promotion and the cost of living was less here than it was in the north.  I had room to breathe again.  Room enough in fact that when I moved forward with adopting my daughter, I did not have to borrow any money to pay for the adoption.  I was blessed!

At that same time, I became a Christian.  I learned the principal of tithing and God and I wrestled with that for some time.  I had been through such a rough time that holding onto "my" money meant a lot to me.  After some great soul-searching though, I came to the conclusion that I was not trusting God with my finances.  First of all - everything I had, from my clothing, to my house, to my money, to my children were HIS.  EVERYTHING!  I was holding on tightly to something that was not even mine.  God blessed me with it and expected me to be a good steward of it, given one condition - that I hand 10% back to Him, to use to further HIS kingdom.  Imagine someone blessing you with $100 and saying, I will entrust you to spend the rest of the money in an honorable way, but $10 I'm asking you to give back to me.  Really?  What are you going to say?  NO?

I said no for awhile.  I gave money to the church but it was not a tithe.  It was just a portion of what should have been my tithe.  I figured God understood though.  I mean He saw how I suffered for many years trying to get my finances in order and how I needed now to build up my savings.... No... while God DID see all that, He didn't put a place in the bible that said "give your tithe to the church unless you are Charity and have had a really difficult time, then I understand... obey me when you get back on your feet".  I have yet to find that statement in the bible.  

My time of not tithing was a time of disobedience.  

Enter Tim into the picture.  Again, a blending of finances.  Ugghhh... that part is difficult.  Especially since each of us had been married previously, had established households in the past and each had children from our previous marriage.  We came to the table with different views on finances.  Thankfully Tim and I were both pretty frugal with money.  There were issues in his previous marriage regarding finances, again, not worth going into, but finances were a point of contention.  Tim and I thankfully came from pretty much the same arena in terms of living within our means and saving...then there was the tithe.

We had agreed from the beginning that we needed to tithe.  It was very difficult though.  We had to purchase a new home, we had private school to pay for, child care, child support -  all those good things.  We decided to be faithful though.  We were of the same mind that God can do more with 90% 0f our income than we can do alone with 100%.  

We have never been to the "Financial University" where they introduce the envelope method, but it's one that we adopted from day one.  I had this process long ago.  When I went from getting paid weekly to getting paid once a month I thought I would D.I.E.  So, I would take my income and put it into four envelopes so it would appear as though I was getting paid weekly again.  It worked well.  To this day, Tim and I still use the envelope method.  We have two mini-accordian files that serve as our "envelopes".  Each part of the accordian file is labeled with a category - house, vehicles, haircuts, groceries, medical, eating out, entertainment... you name it, it's in there.  For our monthly bills that are paid on-line, of-course there is no envelope, but those expenses are accounted for on our budget spreadsheet.  We now get paid twice a month and at each pay period, Tim goes to the bank and withdraws the amount of money that is specified for each category.  When the money is gone, so is our use of that specific category until the next pay period.  We are not "sticklers" about it.  If something comes up, we will use our debit card or do what we need to do, but for most things, especially non-necessities- like entertainment for example.  When the money is gone, we are done being entertained :)

We also don't use credit cards.  There are times that we set up credit cards, for example when we bought our patio furniture we used a line of credit, but it was no interest for six months.  We paid it off prior to the due date.  We did the same when we needed new tires for our truck.  Our only criteria when doing that, is the agreement that we pay it off prior to the due date.  Even our Expedition we financed at 0% interest.  We were not able to do that with the car we just purchased so we pay HUGE payments and plan on paying the car off in about a year.  I don't like borrowing money.  Besides our mortgage, we have one credit card.  We use it for things that are a necessity to have a credit card for.  Purchasing our airline tickets to Ghana, reserving hotels... things like that.  Always though, we pay these off with very little time accruing finance charges.

Tithing is sometimes difficult for us.  I find myself slipping back into the mindset of - we need this money more than God does right now.  Especially with the expenses related to the adoption piling up.  It's a battle.  I feel it always will be.  The one thing I've promised myself though is that when we tithe, it will NOT be out of obligation or out of "guilt".  God doesn't NEED our money, He wants us to give it to Him willingly and with a joyful heart... not a begrudging one.  

We've slipped up every once in awhile, but for the most part, we get back on track, and what I've always found, is that God really can do more with 90% than I can do with 100%!  God is faithful.  We don't always have everything we WANT, but God has surely given us provision for all that we NEED!

In Charist,

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

ABC's of My Heart: E = Envy

1 Peter 2:1 - Therefore, rid yourselves of all malace and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.

A feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else's possessions, qualities, or luck.
Desire to have a quality, possession, or other attribute belonging to (someone else): "he envied tall people"; "I envy Jane her happiness".

Have you ever lived with envy in your heart?  I have.  I lived it for a long time.  It's difficult.  It's all-consuming.

There have been many times in my life when I felt envy.  It creeps up all the time.  In most every aspect of your life you can find ways to envy.  It's not something conscious; no one wakes up and says "I think I will envy someone or something today".  It just happens.  It comes out of discontentment in your heart.  Discontentment for what God has so richly blessed you with.

I'm going to be honest here and tell a story of myself.  I'm going to preface it with, I KNOW my feelings are envious and I battle them daily.  I fight envy with God's Word... but just because I fight the battle, does not mean I have won the war.  The war will only be won, when I'm taken to my eternal home.  But, know that I do fight it.  Know that I know it's wrong.  And also know that I don't let it get the better of me.  I recognize my sinful thoughts and I force myself to change.

It's so easy to envy.  There are so many things, so many possibilities for envy to creep in.  Circumstances, money, home, children, grades, job, promotion, car, lifestyle, hair color, eye color, health, body build, relationship status... the list goes on and on.  The list is different for everyone.

Tim and I are in the middle of a very stressful adoption right now.  It's getting better, but for awhile there, I found myself in tears quite a bit.  Things were just not going our way.  We were matched with our kiddos in February and went to court for them in March of this year.  Court happened without a hitch (many don't have that same blessing).  Then our troubles started.  We waited on our court decree.  You have to have the official, signed court decree before pretty much anything else can happen.  It was the bottle-neck in our adoption at this point in time.

As we waited, I saw people who went to court the same time we did, get their documents and move on.  I saw people who had met their children AFTER we did, get their court decrees and move on.  I saw people who went to court AFTER we did, get their documents and move on.  It felt as though everyone was moving on but us.

There were times when I felt very bitter.  Very resentful.  It took a look into God's Word to really set my mind straight.  God commands us to rid ourselves of envy.  Here I was sitting right in the middle of it.  I was surrounded by it.  My heart was full of it.

I forced myself to stop and think about what I was envious of.  I was envious of the situation that other families were in.  Now mind you, many families were in much worse situations than we were in, and I didn't find myself envious of them.  I was envious of what I desired God to work out for my family, but wasn't.  I wanted God to intercede and He was not.  I was angry with families who were moving forward while my children, and our case was left sitting behind - going nowhere.  Completely unfair.

Here's the thing though, I don't get to determine what is fair. God does.  Not only that, begrudging someone because of the blessing bestowed upon their case, in no way, shape or form changes my case.  Not only that, it doesn't change their case.  The only thing ENVY does, is eat away at the heart of the person who is carrying it around.  It also, in my mind, demonstrates the level of trust you have for God in your life, being sovereign and working things out for your good.

I forced myself repeatedly to put my envy aside.  I struggled with it, but God battled with me, and we won.  What I really needed to look at - instead of the situation I WANTED for my life (that others had), was the situation that God gave me, and how I could use it for His glory.  It was a weekly, if not daily, if not hourly at times, struggle for me.  But God always stepped in and fought the battle with me.  I learned that I could be happy for others while in the middle of a difficult situation.  In the end, all that mattered was that children were moving forward in their adoption process.  Families were being united.  Kids were coming HOME!  It's the passion of my heart to see these things happen.  I was able to let go and let GOD!

God left us in that waiting place for three months.  It was a LONG three months, but it could have been longer.  It could have been worse.  As time passes, I see circumstances that are happening that could not have happened if our case would have moved through the system quickly.  God-orchestrated things that I might not have experienced had I been given the opportunity to move things through the system quicker.  While it was difficult, I am beginning to see that God was working a timeline that I was not aware of.  That's the difficult part I guess - and it's where faith comes in.  Trusting in something you can not see.  If only God could have e-mailed me His timeline, His reasoning... but that's not God.  God is about faith.  And in the end, the true blessing is having faith come to fruition.  It's where I am now.

My timeline had our kids home in June.  It's now almost August so obviously my timeline didn't happen.  But God's timeline is unfolding and I'm in awe of what is happening.

The point is, envy is a slap in the face of God.  It's saying "I don't like what you've given me and I want more or I want different".  To overcome envy I truly believe you have to fight the battle with God's Word and then learn to appreciate all of the blessings God has given you and learn to celebrate with others the blessing God has given them.

In Christ,

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

ABC's of My Heart: D = Doubt

Psalm 94:19 - When anxiety (doubt) was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

Well, I'm back at it this week.  Again, this is not the original post I was intending for my "D" post, but it is what I felt laid on my heart, so I decided to skip my original "D" post, and write this one.  The best laid plans are meant to be broken when the Lord lays something on your heart to write!

Tim and I opted to have a day of fun with Cameron yesterday.  Tim took the day off of work and we packed up early in the morning and headed to Carowinds with Cameron and his friend (our "adopted" son) Christopher.  I love these two boys!  Christopher is Cameron's best friend and they spend so much time at one another's houses, that we often joke that we share custody of the children.  It's a great relationship that they have.  

Anyway, we had plenty of time to talk as we drove the 2 1/2 hours back and forth.  Five hours in the car with two fourteen year olds is some good, quality talk time!

After a GREAT day at the park, we headed back home late.  I was thinking about the day as we were driving.  I kept telling Tim to watch for deer as we drove because the road we were traveling on was wooded and is known for deer crossings at inopportune times.  For some reason I got to thinking about a deer jumping from the side of the road, slamming into the side of the car, coming through the window and killing me.  Morbid, I know.  I sometimes can't help the things that I think about though.

Satan must have been hard at work in that car, because all of a sudden doubt started creeping into my head.  I began to wonder, well.... what IF that happened?  Now, I'm just being brutally honest here.  I'm not going to sugar coat my feelings or thoughts.  I'm pretty much a person who's known for "telling it like it is".  What if.... what if I think I'm saved, but I'm not?  For all of you hard-core Christians out there, I'm sure you sucked in a huge gulp of air and thought "no she didn't".  "How could a true Christian say such a thing".  Well, sorry... I am a true Christian, and I it's what I was feeling at the moment.  If we are all honest with ourselves, I'm sure at one time or another doubt has crept into your head / heart as well... It doesn't make me any "less saved", it probably just makes me HUMAN!  It got me thinking though....

So, I posed the question to everyone in the car.  Cameron - are you ready to die?  Yes.  Christopher - are you ready to die?  Yes.  Tim - are you ready to die?  Yes.  Of-course we had the lengthy discussion about wanting to die vs. ready to die.  I was talking about READY to die.  If they died, in the next second, would they have confidence in knowing that the next face they saw would be that of their Savior?  Yep, they were all confident.  So, what was wrong with ME????  We discussed it for awhile and eventually, the question came back to me.  Well mom, what about you?  I knew the question would come back to me, but I was avoiding it!  Here's the thought process I went through:

If I'm totally honest, I don't know.  I mean, I know the strength of my salvation and I know my faith is in none other than Christ Jesus, but I can't say that I never have a moment of doubt.  I'd be lying if I said I didn't.  Not doubt about Christ, but doubt about ME.  God is big enough.  He could pluck me up right now if He wanted to, with or without my making a decision for Christ (not that He WOULD, but he COULD).  He could do it against my will if He wanted to.  But He doesn't.  He wants it to be my choice.  I believe in the strength of the blood of Jesus Christ.  I believe that my sin sat upon his shoulders.  He bore the burden of my sin - both past, present and future.  He died before I lived and He died for me, knowing the full extent of the sins I would commit.  He bore them before I committed them.  He saved me in spite of them.  He saved me BECAUSE of them.  He died for me.  He was buried for me.  He rose for me.  I believe all of that.  I believe in HIM.

My problem lies in my humanity.  I can't help it.  I look in the mirror and I think - if it were true, if I were saved, wouldn't I be better?  Wouldn't I look more "different"?  Wouldn't I look less like the person I do right now, and more like Jesus?  I can truly say that upon my salvation, I changed.  My friends will attest to it.  I truly am a different creature.  I look though at  how much of the "old man" still lives in me.  I look at how much I feed the "old man" and I begin to wonder...  Was  it really Christ who changed me, or was it me trying to change me?  

In the end, I believe Christ changed me.  I believe that because I professed my faith in Him.  I asked Him to save me.  I asked Him to be Lord of my  life.  And the change in my life was more than I could have ever done on my own.  Ask Megan, ask Monica, ask Jaime (ok, maybe you don't know them, but they ARE real people :).  And in the end, I believe that Satan spurs and continues my doubt.  Satan feeds the doubt in your mind.  Satan LOVES nothing more than for you to wonder, because you can't live for the glory of God if you are wondering if you are even His.  You can't live for the glory of God if you are focusing on all that you still do wrong.  You can't live for the glory of God if you are a doubter.  You can be HIS, but you can't live for HIS GLORY.

I am His.  I know I am His.  I guess, after sifting through the truth and the lies, I am left with knowing that I am HIS.  My name is in the book.  The date of my birth into His family has been written and it can not and WILL NOT be erased.  I never thought of it that way before.  I often thought of my name in the book of Life as written.  Maybe it is actually written, I don't know, but I viewed it as written.  When I doubt, I see it in pencil...If it's written, it can be erased.  If not erased, my page could be torn out.  But after I just wrote that "the date of my birth into his family has been written"....it struck home with me.....

A mother has a child and the hospital documents the birth.  When I had Cameron, a birth certificate was given to me.  It documented the date and time of his birth.  More important than that though, was the date and time that was imprinted on my brain.  If our house caught on fire and the birth certificate was destroyed, that does not mean that Cameron's birth did not happen.  Sure, I could get another official birth certificate, but even if I couldn't, his birth would still exist.  The same is true of my birth in Christ.  I don't know if there is a real physical book.  I don't know, if when I get to Heaven, I'll see the penmanship of my personal Lord and Savior - what I do know is this.... 

No matter how many children I have (either through birth or adoption), I will always remember the date and time they became part of my family.  I will always know the date and time Cameron was born.  I will know where I was sitting when the judge in Ethiopia said "She is your daughter".  I know the way the room looks that I sat in, in China, when they said "You have passed!  There were no questions!  She is your daughter!".  I know the day my three Ghanian babies became mine forever.  I KNOW this.  You can't take it from me.  I don't need a birth certificate or a book to remind me of it.  Jesus is so much more of a parent than I am.  Jesus never forgets.  He knows all and remembers all.  Whether or not there is a book, I am written in the MIND and HEART of my Savior.  He will stand before His Father and say - She is with me.  Book or no book.  Literal or figurative...He will say,  "she is out family".  He knew me when He died at the cross.  He knew me when He was buried in the tomb.  He knew me when He rose from the dead.  And if He knew me before I ever was, He will know me when we meet again.

Doubt is a strong feeling / emotion - whichever it is.  But know this to be true.  My God is stronger.  Doubt may have its day, but God has me for eternity.  The only thing doubt can do, is prevent me from living my life for the full glory of God.  

I will continue to struggle with doubt, I'm sure.  But, when I lay my head down at night, I know that there is a Spirit living in me that will refresh my mind, that will renew my spirit and soothe my heart.  I know He is ALIVE in me.  

So, to make a long story short, if the deer smashed through my window as we drove home from Carowinds, would I be ready to die?  The answer is an unmistakable YES!  When I close my eyes for the very last time and when I take my last breath on earth - I will open my eyes in another place, fully sighted and looking into the eyes of the one who saved me.

Don't let doubt spoil your walk with God.  Don't let doubt stop you from living fully for the glory of God.  Fight doubt with truth.  The truth of God's word, because nothing will beat the power of Satan like the strength and truth of God's Word!

In Christ,