Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

  This Christmas I feel incredibly blessed to be celebrating as a family of four!  It's been so exciting to watch Levi experience Christmas here for the first time.....seeing the wonder in his eyes and the excitement at each new thing.  He literally comes downstairs each day and ooohs and ahhhss over the tree as if he is seeing it for the first time. 
    I think my favorite ornament this year is the one below.  First because I love the sweet girl that gave it to us.....whose love for this little guy is so evident, and who did so much to help him come home.  And second because I so wanted Levi to have a 1st Christmas ornament hanging on the tree like his big brother, but it just didn't fit.  He's already had two Christmas', they just weren't here...with his family.  I love that this ornament acknowledges that, and that it celebrates this being his first Christmas home.  

Some of our 2013 Christmas memories........

  Going to see all the lights at Lasalette.....lots more oohhhs and ahhhs from Levi! '

            Making lots of Christmas cards and art projects for friends and family!  Caleb helped to come up with a list of gifts we could give to Jesus.....things like giving to and serving others......several things on the list included making cards for people, like the mailman (Caleb wanted to give him mail since he always brings us mail : ) ) and neighbors.  We also made cookies, are returning a borrowed item, and are supposed to give the neighbors dog a dinosaur.  Hey, he's three so I just went with it!

Cousins getting to enjoy one another!

                                        Singing happy birthday to Jesus and celebrating with cupcakes!

                                                      Pure joy and excitement over dinosaurs!                                

Levi opening his very first Christmas present this year.  He was pretty excited about being allowed to rip paper!

  Getting dressed up and taking lots of pictures.....I'm fairly certain this was not a highlight for either of them, but they humored us pretty well!

                                          Reading about the most amazing gift given to us!

And acting it out as we read......

        Some more gifts for Jesus on Christmas morning.....Caleb picked out some bunnies for people in Asia.  "They're furry. They're cute. And they can change someone's life. A pair of rabbits will quickly multiply, providing a steady diet of healthy meat, and plenty of bunnies to sell. Rabbits are easy to feed and can be raised in a small space—an important consideration in the crowded areas of Asia."

          And Levi picked out some chickens!! For the people of Asia, a pair of chickens can create a steady income. Chicken eggs provide food for the family and the extras can be sold at market. Through this simple gift, you may help a malnourished child become stronger every day because of the tasty eggs.

                                                         Love my boys!!!!

                                 Our first year with the three gifts....this was their "myrrh" gift : )

And their "gold" gift.....microphones and a stage built by daddy! 

              And as if all of this wasn't enough......I received an email from our facilitator this morning......within the message were these words...... "One of your dreams was to be able to adopt from Ukraine. We would like to give you a small present. If you felt that the cost might have been an issue, several items from the cost breakdown list will be on us."  I think God is offering yet another confirmation that this was the direction we were supposed to take....the person we were to work with.  And again I am blown how He truly does make it clear.  I'll elaborate in another post soon.  This advent season I have learned so much and have experienced Christmas in a whole new way.  I'm so thankful for the opportunity to be purposeful this season and to learn alongside my family how we can celebrate the greatest gift......without Him, the rest of this wouldn't exist or hold any true meaning.  Merry Christmas!!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Thank You!

        I don't care what anyone says, you can never say THANK YOU enough! While we may feel that it doesn't scratch the surface of how much we appreciate all of the support, prayers, and encouragement, it will have to do!  Just wanting to say a huge thank you to everyone who has been supporting us in purchasing bracelets, through the auction, with donations etc.  The donations just keep coming in steadily and it's truly amazing.  I feel like I am updating our little thermometer daily, and it is truly blowing me away.

       SO many of you have handed us an envelope, a folded check....a folded PILE of cash....and mentioned it was just a little, you wished it could be more.  Please please please do not think that any amount is insignificant, or not enough.  You have no idea how much every penny means.....I wish you could see, as I do, the numbers increase...increase...increase.....with each "little" donation.  It's the collective efforts, the sacrifices of MANY that are making this possible.

       And even more than anything else.....the prayers.  It is so humbling and so amazing to really step back and think that people are praying for our family, for our future children, for this entire process.  God is in control, this was His praying on our behalf is invaluable.  Thank You!!!!  

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Little Reminiscing....

        It's hard to believe it's been one year since we heard the words, "Congratulations you are parents!" (again!).  One year ago today Luke and I sat waiting in a courthouse for what seemed like hours.  We weren't in a room being questioned the entire time like many families, but rather sat in the waiting area for someone to show up.  We were finally called in, one at a time, to a small room where we each answered about three questions.  All I wanted to do when we left was to go get our son and head home!  While I knew it was going to be hard to wait the thirty days, I never could have imagined just how agonizing it would be.  It was also on this day one year ago that the news shared the possible ban on adoptions by Americans.  Initially we thought we would be unaffected, but soon found that there was a possibility that we would not be able to return to bring our son home.  I couldn't imagine what we would do if this became a reality.....and now one year later I really cannot imagine.  But I do know that many families are still grieving the loss of their adoptions....families and children who met one another...promised to return....and are left unable to be reunited.  Please continue to pray with me that mountains will be moved and these children will be able to come home!

             A little reminiscing.....and being thankful that one little boy made it home......

Look at that hair! Such a cutie!

Watching me walk away as we left to head back home.....that was one of the hardest moments.....

Friday, December 6, 2013

Christmas Anew: Expectant Waiting, Preparation, and Celebration!

         Ever since I found out I was pregnant with Caleb, I began to question everything.  Many of the things that I experienced as a child and never thought twice about were suddenly questionable....simple seemingly obvious decisions were agonized over and conclusions were reached only after hours of research, discussion and prayer.  There's something about being fully responsible for a precious-beyond-comprehension little life that can make you crazy!  But....while part of it may have been me being a "crazy" overly cautious mom, I know with great certainty that a great deal of my stepping back and examining everything has come by the prompting of the Holy Spirit. 

        I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has called us to change our plans time and again and to follow His lead.  Homeschooling is one prime example.....the thing we said we'd never do......that suddenly when our son was just a year old we were already talking about.  We made lists of pros and cons, I did hours upon hours of research online, examined every curriculum out there.....talked to every homeschooled teenager I know.  I even had a period of inward grieving for all that I felt my children were going to miss out on.  And now? I could go on for hours about how wonderful this change is and how grateful I am that God put this on our hearts!  I would have just done the normal, expected, obvious thing and sent my kids to would never have occurred to me to question this, even as a potentially crazy overprotective mom : )  (Please do NOT read into this what is not written.....I have nothing against sending kids to public school, this is just what we feel God has put on our hearts for our family).  

      All of that to say that in much the same way, God has been working on my heart for the past year about something we celebrate Christmas.  Growing up, my parents never did the whole santa thing with us, so it wasn't difficult for us to follow suit.  So I guess in some ways, our Christmas already seems radical to many in that sense.  But I've felt, since last Christmas, that so much was missing....and I was determined to take the time to figure this out before my kids were old enough to see a difference in how we celebrated Christmas from one year to the next.

      Advent.  Okay, I'm going to be painfully honest.....when I hear the word advent, I picture the wreath looking decoration with candles at church, and lighting one candle each week before Christmas.  That's it? So I started at square one.  Advent, what is it?  Turns out advent is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of Jesus' birth at Christmas.  And so began a time of figuring out what that will look like for not only myself...but for my family.  Purposeful planning for a time that should be understood and celebrated.

       I've started this year with a devotional specifically for advent.  Interestingly, I found a family one that my mom had bought for us last Christmas, in my own collection of books.  I think the kids are a bit young for it this year, but it got me thinking.  We will use it, or one like it, each year during Advent to prepare our hearts and to truly celebrate the coming of Jesus.  I love it especially because it has practical applications you can do as a family.  This also got me thinking......what about 25 days of gifts for Jesus?  What about counting down the days to his birth in true celebration.  But what would that look like?  I think it's sometimes easy to automatically want to do for others what we would want done for us. But I had to step back and think....what would Jesus want? And I found and you shall find! "And the Birthday Child tells us what He wants: Give to the least of these and you give to Me." And so that is what we will do......together come up with a list. Not a "getting" list of things we want for ourselves, but a giving list. A list of ways we can give to the least of these and in doing so, give to Jesus. Some of these things may require money, others just time or efforts....but all will be done to celebrate Jesus, to sacrifice and give to Him.

      And what about the big day? What about the actual birthday....Christmas Day? For the month of December in addition to the daily gifts we've decided on, we will sacrifice.....whatever it may be.....maybe not buying treats at the grocery store that we usually enjoy, or not ordering out one week.....but reminding one another throughout the month of ways we could sacrifice and instead save for Jesus' gift. And on Christmas morning we will put together all that we have saved and sacrificed for. The plan for now is to divide this amongst the kids and have them spend time choosing gifts. I love the idea in the blog above, for the kids to look through various catalogs and choose things for those in need. It may look different from one year to the next, especially as the kids get older and have more input. But the focus will remain the same.

      So what about gifts for one another?  I know you're wondering......I was too.  I struggled here.  Again I had this fear of them somehow missing out.  But I know I'd rather they understand and appreciate the true meaning of Christmas far more than I want to hold onto my own traditions and fears.  And I know that the true joy and satisfaction comes in celebrating Jesus and becoming the gift!  We finally came to the conclusion that we will do minimal gifts.....three actually.  It was something I'd heard before, but wasn't really sold on until I read this post.  So after we've taken our time to give our gifts to Jesus, we will give to our children.  Not because they've done anything to deserve it, but because we simply want to show our love for them and bless them.  But our plan will be to do three gifts each as follows, and to talk about the significance of each as we give to them: (Most of this was taken from the above blog post, I take no credit here!)
Gift #1: The Wise men brought Jesus myrrh.  Myrrh was a valuable gift of practical use.  It was used medicinally for all sorts of ailments from coughs to open wounds.  Our children's first gift will be a practical one.  Something they need and can use often if not daily - clothing, shoes, a bike will depend on the child and the year I guess!

Gift #2: The wise men brought Jesus frankincense.  Frankincense is the purest form of incense and was primarily used in worship.  When burned, the white smoke and sweet smell it produced was a symbol of prayers going up to heaven and created a meaningful experience for everyone present.  It's also symbolic, pointing to Jesus being full God, Emmanuel, God with us, the only one worthy of our worship.  Our children's second gift will therefore be an experiential gift.  Something meaningful to them and us as a family - maybe tickets to a show or event, or a coupon for a night out.  

Gift #3: The wise men brought Jesus gold.  Gold was as valuable then as it is now.  It was a precious gift, but also very symbolic in that it was given to princes when they were born.  And that is what Jesus is - royalty, King of the world, King of the whole universe, King of our hearts.  Our children's last gift will be a gold gift - something they really really want or we think they want.  This may be a gift larger in size, or sightly more expensive, or it may be small an inexpensive.  It will be something that they will value and appreciate....maybe something they've waited and hoped for.

       So that's really our family plan for now....the traditions we'd like to start now while our children our young. Sometimes I make myself crazy analyzing things, but I think it's so important to question why we do the things we do. What we want our children to really learn, remember, and hold true. Because if they're watching and learning from my example, I can't honestly say I'd be content with what that has looked like thus far. But God is continually refining thing at a time.....and I'm grateful for His patience and grace as I learn ever so slowly. I don't think this is how Christmas should look for anyone else....I think there are many ways to celebrate in a way that honors the One who's birth we celebrate. But I think for us....this is a good start. And as always, my fears and hesitations towards change and long held traditions have faded, and I'm excited for the new ways we'll experience Christ in the changes He's called us to make!

     “I’d rather only fill a child’s tummy than fill my house with anymore things.
Maybe that’s the choice our Christmas needs to make: feed our own wishes or feed the real hunger of Christ?” Ann Voskamp The Greatest Gift 

    While I fully intend to make a list of ways we can serve throughout the month of December each year with my children....I have started to brainstorm some ideas and thought I'd share them here.  Our boys are still a bit young to come up with a huge list, but I do plan to do a shorter, simpler version for the week or so before Christmas.  It may be as simple as them making a card for someone, or helping me bake cookies to give to a new neighbor.  So it will definitely look different each year as they grow.....but if you're looking for ideas, here's a few:

Baking or making something for those who serve us:
               Fire men
               Garbage workers
Chose an orphanage to help
Spend a day coming up with ideas of things to make inexpensively that others could use (pinterest!)
Make the ^ gifts
Check with how you can help the Artic Mission
Chose a foster child to bless
Chose a widow to make something for and bring it to her/visit
Visit a nursing home
Pay for someone’s items at the store
Do something unexpected for someone
Providence Rescue Mission - serve a meal, or meet another need 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Soaking It All In

           Around this time last year we were making preparations to take our second trip to Russia to make things official in court!  I had hoped and prayed that Levi would make it home for Christmas, but knew we were going to have to wait until this year to have our family together for the holidays.  And here we are.....boy does time fly.  Levi enjoyed his first Thanksgiving (although he slept through much of it with a 4 hour nap!) and certainly appreciated the large variety of food!  I am so thankful for this little guy......look at that face.......

             He literally soaks everything in.  ALWAYS.  No matter what we're doing, he is interested.....trying to figure out how things work.....what is making a to get it to do what it's doing....watching what we do and imitating......So.Smart. I knew that he would be amazed and intrigued by the Christmas tree and whole decorating process.  The boys and daddy put the tree together while I was out, so when I arrived home Levi kept pointing to show me what they had done.  As we started to decorate, he caught on quickly....bringing one ornament after another over to the tree and resting it on.  It's so much fun seeing everything through a child's eyes.....their awe and excitement.....their delight!

          Last year I was able to make our Christmas cards with Levi's pictures from the baby home...but this year it was so fun to take pictures at the park and with both boys!

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          We can't go to the park without taking pony rides......and it was also a great incentive for getting some nice smiles during out little photo shoot!  Caleb went first, and this time Levi showed his anticipation for his turn.  He typically waits calmly and is very serious about the whole endeavor.  I love watching the changes in his responses.  He pointed, vocalized his desire for a turn in his own way, whined and pulled towards the pony.  We've seen a lot of this more sitting back and watching, he's not missing out on anything!