Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Family Photos


        Life is crazy these days.....and I often feel like we're moving in fast forward and slow motion all at the same time.  The daily maintenance of life as a family of five keeps us so busy that my head is often spinning.  It's that period of adjustment that we're all working through in our own ways.  I stand by my belief that things are going as good as they could be, despite the challenges and the sometimes very draining days.  God is so faithful and though I sometimes long for the easier road, I'm very often reminded that God did not intend for this life to be easy...and so I feel continually reminded that this is exactly where we're supposed to be.  

And I'm trying not to count these days as good days or bad days....but each day as a gift....each struggle brings progress, new understanding....new opportunity to demonstrate unconditional love.  In the moment it is easy to declare it bad....but to call the journey to healing bad would be foolish. 

The updates are few and far between these days and maybe not so explicit, but just know that we so appreciate your prayers. 

We had the privilege of taking family photos with a friend at the park recently....such a blessing.  Not only was it such a fun, relaxing time for our family, but the images are such a reminder of the joy that these little ones bring.  The genuine smiles, silliness, and personalities that they depict remind me of how blessed we are each time I see them.  And I'm so thankful that God has allowed us the privilege of this journey with each of them.....




































Monday, October 13, 2014

The Truth About Adopting the Older Child

      Okay, I'm going to attempt the challenge.....to try to share, while being respectful of the privacy of personal information, some of what I've studied and experienced about adopting the older child.  I've benefited from some of the transparent information others have shared about their experiences... and want to convey the true beauty of adopting these precious children, through all of the challenges.

       Though the process of adoption begins with the paperwork....the waiting....court dates...gotcha days.....it really truly begins when the child is home.  Then it becomes reality.... So let me share my truth about adopting the older child.....in case, like me, you wondered how it would be to ignore the warnings about disrupting birth order....to look past all of the crazy stories people want to share with you....to choose to trust God and not the feelings of uncertainty and fear.......

So, for me....adopting the older child means that.......
         
Sometimes, the honeymoon stage you often hear about.....it just won't happen.....I say, let's dive right in....I'm glad you feel comfortable enough to be you.....

Often times you'll feel sick and devastated over what your child has endured.....and all the more thankful and certain that God brought you together for such a time as this......

Often times you'll be amazed at their resilience....character.....love....despite everything they endured.

Sometimes you'll wonder if you'll ever get a second to yourself....ever?  And then you'll remember how fast time goes by....and how thankful you are to be wanted and needed and privileged to be mom to these gifts.....

Sometimes you'll wonder why you thought it was so much work with (insert number of children prior to adoption) and how people do it with (insert number of children higher than your current number).

Often times you'll wonder how you possibly managed to carry the smallest child, purse, backpack, and one million other items to and from the house and car without an extra set of hands.....

Sometimes you wonder....if the feelings you're feeling are normal....are okay.....

Sometimes you will feel like you're neglecting your other children......and then you may be reminded that it's probably good for them to learn that the world does not revolve around them...and that it's probably good for them to learn about what others endure and how we can help them......

Sometimes you will cry with your child as they struggle to maintain control over all of the emotions....and then you wonder if you've made things worse by doing so when they see your tears and cry even harder.......and then you get the opportunity to tell them that you're crying because you love them so much and you hate to see them in pain.....and they learn just a little more how much you care......

Sometimes your child will ask if they can take your little ones outside to play on the swings....and they'll think it's Christmas.....and so will you......not that you'll get anything done because you'll probably be running from window to window taking pictures of how sweet they are together......

Sometimes you will struggle with feeling frustrated at the irrational behaviors....at the purposeful pushing of buttons......feelings are fleeting....and the lessons being learned and trust being built take time....they're way more important than giving in to those feelings....

Often times you'll find yourself giggling together and being silly and realize how much fun it is....

Sometimes you will have to remind yourself that their family age is 0....and treat them accordingly....and you'll have to try to explain that to little ones who have trouble understanding....so much time spent explaining explaining explaining.....but progress is happening and hearts are learning compassion and understanding.....

Sometimes you will find yourself wondering what you will do if you hear "mama" called one more time......and then you read a post about a family grieving the loss of their child and the perspective is suddenly aligned.  

Often, you will take two steps forward and one step back....or one step forward and two steps back......and it's okay..........

Sometimes you will need to hear from another who has been there.....are we doing things the right way?  Did you make progress?.......

Often you will wonder if your heart can take all of the love you and joy you feel.........

Sometimes you will have to teach and re-teach, assure and reassure, that it's okay to say how you feel.....it's okay to talk about where you came from and the people you miss.....we know you're where you want to be....

Often you will be thankful for the lessons you're learning in true gratitude and what really matters......when one is planning what they will purchase next for their sibling and you ask, what about you?  And the response is a shaking of the head and waving of the hand over all that she has...and saying family with a smile.....

Sometimes you will learn what it really means to give and think of other first......when one tries to put on a smile, but it's overshadowed by the sadness for those left behind........

Sometimes you'll have to reassure your child they are not crazy....no...the crazy ones are those that hurt you and filled your beautiful mind with those lies......

Often times you'll be amazed at the intelligence.....the abilities...the talents.....

Sometimes you'll have to do things that they're fully capable of.....brush their hair, pick out their clothes.....choose what they write about....choose what they draw.......just do it.....they've been independent for far too long.....

Often times you'll answer a hesitant question with "yes" and be rewarded with more excitement, hugs and kisses than you could imagine....

Sometimes you'll have to drop everything and let them get it all out.....however that may look.....

Often times you'll have to reassure them of your love.....that it's not conditional.....that you're not angry when you instruct.....

Often times it'll appear that attachment it there....fully.....but you'll need to remember that it's more than bonding and loving each other.....it's staying consistent and true through the hard and challenging times and building trust.....over time....

Sometimes you'll feel like they don't trust you.....that they're trying to control the situation....yes...they probably don't and they probably are......for so long their brain was focused on survival, they may not have the tools they need......it will come.....

Often times you'll marvel that it's only been (insert time since child's been home).....these children are incredible.....



So that's my truth....yours may look different....or you may still be considering if you will have one....if I could offer any advice, it would be....don't let the fears of the unknown or warnings of others ever hold you back.....keep your ears attuned to the still small voice of God and His leading....because no matter the challenges you will face, He is so faithful.  He will not only equip you with exactly what you need....give you strength you'd never have on your own....and be there every step of the way....He will also fill you to overflowing with joy and gratitude.....and so many blessings.





Thursday, October 9, 2014

Show Me Your Ways.....

        Our girl is incredibly lovable....super sweet, always giving hugs and kisses...telling us she loves us over and over throughout the day.  She's picked up some English and one of her phrases is "I love you so much, very much."  I love it.  And when I say that I hear it 500 times each day, I'm not exaggerating.  Sometimes it's like she's on autopilot as she's doing her school work, but softly saying in a distant voice, I love you so much very much.  We are so thankful that she loves affection and wants to hear that we love her time and time again.  I think we truly are making up for all of the years I wish we could have been telling her.....

          And of everything we hope for and desire for our daughter...to know she is loved, unconditionally and always, is one of the greatest.  She's already opened up and shared bits and pieces of the pain she has experienced, and we so badly want for her to know how precious she is....how much she did not deserve those things....  But even beyond our love for her....most of all..we want her to know the love of her heavenly father...

         At first I felt frustrated that we couldn't really explain this most important concept....the fact that she is a child of the king, that she is a treasure, made in God's image, and loved unconditionally by Him.  And today as I reflected on the many ways God is working, I realized that we really can....not with words, but in so many many other ways that He has provided....

         I know she has some concept of who God is, but I'm really not sure what exactly that is.  She suggested that we pray a few nights when Caleb and I were sick, so that we would get better, which I thought was super sweet....surprising even.  And one night recently, she wasn't herself....we could tell something was bothering her.  She said she was fine at first and then later asked to talk to me (big step! woohoo!).  In all of her sweetness and compassion, she was so sad for her best friend that has not been adopted (pleassee ask if you'd like more info about this sweet girl!!).  I was so thankful for her openness and for the conversation that followed as well as ways I was able to help her.  But what will forever remain in my memory was as she was expressing her gratitude for a family and she said "thank you Nicole....and (holding her hands up towards the sky) thank you God."  She is one special girl.

       She recently started Awana with Caleb.....it's a children's program through our church, held at a local elementary school and it's a lot of fun.  I wasn't sure how it would go as Luke and I can't be there on that particular night.  My parents and aunt are there so we figured we would give it a try.  She.Loves.It.  There's a time where the kids recite the bible verses that they've learned throughout the week and I hoped this wouldn't be a deal breaker if she just sort of sat there the entire time....  So last night was her second week and this morning I asked if she wanted to work on the verses each week and try them.  I really wasn't even sure I should ask, but she agreed and we started working on it.  Within a few minutes she was reciting the verse to me.....and I was thinking, is this real life?  She said it randomly throughout the day after that, excited to tell it to Luke at dinner time, and excited about how proud we were.  And I realized....here she is, hiding God's word in her heart.....though she may not know what the words mean now....someday she will, and they will be there.  So cool.

       Each night before bed we all pile onto our bed and read a book that each child chose, followed by the Jesus Storybook Bible.  Since Keira came home, we have been reading ours in English while she reads the same page aloud in Russian or Ukrainian.  I sometimes wonder what she thinks about what she is reading....if it's really making sense..or it's just mere words on a page.  But it's a start, and I'm so thankful for even that.

      Just before she came home, I remembered an old email I saved from when we adopted Levi.  A family had offered to share a link to some christian Russian radio programs that one of their family members had done some years ago.  I had requested the link, but never ended up using them with Levi as he was too little to care about sitting and listening :)  I fished through my old messages and finally found it.  There are dozens of them, and they are (I think) designed for bedtime.  Bedtime can be tricky around here, although we have already come a long way in finding what our girl needs.  She was mesmerized by Levi's bedtime routine and all of the things that she missed as a baby (she recognized this and verbalized it) so we have learned together how to make bedtime a positive experience.  I wanted to include these radio programs, so I purchased an old ipod from craigslist and just finally got it all to work.  She was beside herself with excitement tonight and lay down to listen.  The deal is, she has to be in bed at a certain time, but can stay up reading/playing quietly until a later time.  Tonight, she came in early to say she was going to sleep (early, what? on her own?!).....listening to the program had made her tired....and she loved it by the way.  I wish I knew what they said, but just knowing that she is hearing about God in her own language, in another way, is so very exciting to me.

        And as I think of each way God is revealing himself to her, I've started to realize that maybe this is best.....okay God's way is always best....and maybe all of the words would have come to soon..maybe she wouldn't have been ready for us to try to share...maybe just seeing us live it out...seeing Jesus in us and in our friends and family..and learning about him through her own bible, radio program and memorizing of scriptures...is really best.  I know she sees Jesus in so many of you...who have gone out of your way to be so sweet and kind to her...your generosity and the many ways in which you've welcomed her and made her feel special, have gone such a long way.  She loves to go to church.....I thought she would be hesitant last week when I couldn't go...or just want to stay home with me...but no, she was not about to miss it, even if it meant sitting in on Luke's Sunday school class without knowing what was being said.  I remember after the first week, as we introduced her to people, her eyes got wide and she said "friend, friend, friend, friend, friend," as in wow there are a lot of friends here.  Thank you all for showing her Jesus love....we are so grateful.

                                       
                                .....oh, and the first bible verse our girl memorized today?


           
       

Psalm 25:4

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths.

        

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Big Question and The Long Answer

    The big question we get over and over again is "how are things going?"  Such a loaded question, but my quick answer is always that things are going really well....because honestly, in my opinion, they are going as good as they could be.  The long answer.....well, it's pretty long.  Because things are really really good....and really chaotic at times......challenging.....joyful.....rewarding.... draining.....and amazing.  Adoption is hard.  Having a baby is hard.  Any major life changes are challenging....and a huge blessing.....but they all require time to adjust to.  I think we've all shed more tears in the past month than in a while....tears of joy...tears of frustration....tears of empathy... tears from the overwhelming gratitude and love we feel for our family.  And we would not change a thing.

     We've really been communicating well overall....but there are still those moments of misunderstanding..... and time spent trying to convey our real intentions and unconditional love.  Changes in the routines that are depended on can cause stress....though always informing of what is going to happen next helps tremendously.  Teaching, for probably the first time, how to deal with all of the emotions that are being felt....to slowly watch as one learns to run to us, rather than away when challenges come.  Changes for little ones who also cannot verbally express their feelings, but rather act out, and need extra time and attention.  Meltdowns that become contagious.....one copying the behavior of another that we're trying to un-teach.  The time flies by each day and I struggle to slow...and fully enter each moment...  Falling into bed, exhausted, but so full, up often at night and then too early.......

     And yet....woken early to hugs, kisses, I love you's, massages (what?!)......excitement to show me skills practiced and perfected in the early morning (on her own!).  Pleadings for more school (again..what?!)......listening to giggles on car rides and voices all singing praise music.  One motivated to work harder in school because of the other......better yet....kids choosing to do school during playtime...without me!

       
         These faces each morning looking at me expectantly....excited for what's to come....

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 Mornings when daddy comes home from work....all running, jumping, cheering that he is home.....


Enjoying this beautiful weather that has given us a little "summer" with our girl.....


                               Watching as they use their imagination and play together....


Enjoying the joy of kids being kids....maybe for the first time for some.....


         
                         Getting to braid hair, help put jewelry on....pick out clothes......


The enthusiasm over snow pants....and costumes.......


Walking in to find all three squeezed together in one seat.....


                                                      Experiencing family firsts....


                  And seeing the tenderness between siblings....the unprompted offers to help.....


The careful consideration after the initial pulling of any and every one just moments before...


The wonder of such simplicity.......


And wanting to share it as a family.....one picked for each of us....we're reminded often that there are five.....our family.


    Calls to take a photo and capturing smiles without 75 tries....and having to act like a lunatic......




       
             Sharing each part of our lives with our girl and watching her take it all in......



                                    Insane excitement over pretending...and being silly....


In his own little world, reading Fudge Pup a book......


Loving life.......


Learning together....and making apple pie......


        More sharing of our lives before kiddos....every photo brought questions, giggles....opportunities to make connections....


           Desiring to help out...to learn how to take on responsibilities, receive an allowance, learn how to budget and save for something she desires to buy.....


             Getting out their energy....craving the attention as they show you trick after trick.....                  

                           Look at me, look at me!


      Girls night out with Meme and the gratitude and excitement over what was given.....The incessant chatter, giggles and enthusiasm over their first gymnastics class today..... ready to begin Awana together tonight......

    I could go on forever it seems.....  So when I say that things are going really well, I do not mean that they are perfect....that they are free of challenges and trials....but even in those moments, I know, are gifts...blessings....learning and progress taking place, building stronger bonds, attachment, trust.  And so many more moments of pure joy....exhausting but beyond fulfilling joy.