Saturday, December 27, 2014

Celebrating Christmas This Year


   Last year we decided to celebrate Christmas a little differently....with a renewed purpose (I wrote about it here).  I really need to be intentional about things, otherwise time just quickly passes by along with all of my "plans."  This year it's been more of a challenge to plan intentionally with all of the changes in our life, but we are trying....and really, these are the best memories!

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1.  Decorating - We're one of those families that decorates the day after Thanksgiving....we just can't wait.  The kids were SO excited this year.  I decided to start a new tradition since we have to wait until Luke wakes up in the afternoon to start decorating.  We spent all morning making Christmas crafts which the kids then used to decorate their rooms.  The loved it and worked way more diligently than I ever expected......



     We had a bunch of extra lights from who knows where so Luke helped each of them put them in their rooms too.....anyone who stepped foot in the house was likely dragged to see their rooms....




         Every year is so much fun, and each of the past two years has allowed us to watch a child experience this for the first time.....such a joy!  Last year Levi was so obsessed with the tree, it was as if he saw it for the first time each day.  This year was Keira's turn to oohhh and ahhh and hear the memories from each ornament.....




2. Gifts for Jesus -  One thing I love about homeschooling is how we can incorporate this into our school days.  Just like last year, we sat down and brainstormed ways we could give gifts to Jesus this year since it's His birthday we're celebrating.  I tried not to give much direction at first but with Caleb's four year old wandering mind and the communication barrier with Keira, I realized that some examples were needed.  They were so cute, so sincere.....and once they seemed to understand, they were excited!   

     Keira has an incredibly giving heart.....it's something she does constantly.  Using her shekels (Awana money) to buy gifts for Caleb and others....using her allowance to buy gifts for friends and family....giving away her own things because it's someone's birthday or she just wants to make them smile.  I've been trying to teach this concept to Caleb for the past couple of years, so seeing his sister be so giving is really helping to reinforce this for him.  So the first gift was something unplanned, which I've realized is sometimes even better!  The two of them could not have been more eager and excited to go through their toys and pick out things that they could give to two little boys across an ocean who had to leave most of their toys...and really everything....behind.  I was so proud of them.  They realize they have so much....way more than they need....and they weren't hesitant to give some of it away.  (Of course they are not always this way! We have our share of me me me struggles!)  They were excited last week as we put together the finishing touches, trying to remember each family member and sealed up the box, ready to go.  

     The giving started to catch on....when we'd go to a store and Caleb would see the person ringing the bell, collecting money, he'd ask to give something......."I helped them!" he said, so proud.  It really doesn't take much.   

     

        We had decided to make some Christmas cards and put together a small gift for someone without a family.  This obviously hits close to home for our girl, and though we did not have anyone in particular in mind, we talked about nursing homes where people are sometimes forgotten and lonely.  They took great care in making their cards and were excited to give them.  I found a nearby nursing home, not really sure how this was going to work.....Levi brought the small gift, Caleb and Keira held their cards proudly.  "Um, hi....the kids made these cards and have a small gift....we don't know anyone here, but were wondering if there is someone here without a family....."  I hadn't really thought this through and wondered if barging in unexpected was the best idea.  The woman went off to find out and the kids started to look nervous.  She told us to follow her and led us to a woman sitting alone, drinking coffee.  "This is Shirley," she told us.  And to Shirley she said...."See, there is a God!"  She explained that just the day before Shirley had been saying there was no Christmas for her....no one for her.  Now I'm holding back tears, trying to introduce myself and my children and translate for Keira.  I could not have been more proud of my children in that moment, nor more in awe of God.....I had just looked up a place to go that morning, piled the kids in the car and hoped we'd find someone to give these to.  He knew.  The kids gave their cards and pointed out the details....Levi gave the gift that he'd tried to open twice and eagerly watched her open it.  A worker helped her to put on the bracelet  and we told her how pretty it looked.  She was very quiet, but so thankful.  Keira said she was crying a little.....Levi gave her a hug and kiss and she did the same to him.  Caleb gave a hug and they all wished her a Merry Christmas.  They wished everyone they saw a Merry Christmas as we left.....and received so many smiles.  It was so quick.....just a few minutes......but I wonder what an impact they left.  And I have not stopped thinking about Shirley.  In the car as we drove away Keira said she was a little sad......I know her heart went out to this woman.  I know she understood.  She told me she wanted to make more things for her and bring them soon.  She told me she liked Shirley.  Me too, I said....me too.  I think we need to adopt Shirley....and I'm excited for our next visit.  And as I reflect, I remember this gift was supposed to be for Jesus....and yet I feel like I'm the one receiving.

        After we left the nursing home we made our way to the Providence Rescue Mission.  We had been making piles of things we really did not need so that we could give them to people who do.  Clothes, shoes, jewelry, toys, etc.  I'll be honest, we almost always have a pile.....but it's usually of things we just don't want, or have outgrown.  I felt like we needed to take this a step further, so we tried to find things that were new....or gently used, that we like and use but really could live without.  It felt more like a gift this way....more like we were actually getting the point....there was some level of sacrifice.  I don't remember where Keira and Levi were at the time, but as I piled everything by the door, Caleb asked what I was doing.  When I reminded him about the items he ran to the play room and told me he had to find some more things to give.  "This is the give away pile right here" he told me seriously.  They're never too young!  We've made many trips to the mission throughout all of our adoption yard sales, and we've never had the experience we did this time.  The kids helped to carry the bags inside and the gentleman inside asked if they'd been here before.  I explained that Keira hadn't so he gave us a little tour.  It was so sweet for them to really see how this place helps so many people.  To see how the things they gave would be used and given to others.  They looked around in awe.  And again...I think we received more than we gave.  
  
        My mom started a new tradition with the kids this year too.....making boxes for Samaritans Purse....to go to a child in need.  She spent time with each of them, explaining how it works and what the purpose is.  They chose a gender and then went shopping for them....picking out what they thought that child would like.  Again they were SO excited about it.  And this year they added an option of sending them to Ukraine, and to Ukraine they went!  Keira wrote in Russian in her card.....I can't help but wonder what that child thought when they opened their box.      




     Finally was their Christmas morning gift to Jesus.  We did this last year and weren't sure if we'd come up with a new idea or do it again.  But two weeks ago in school just so happened to be "G" week....and the curriculum we're using had chosen to go with "Goat" for the theme.  I ordered some goat related books from the library, totally random.  One was titled Beatrice's Goat.....I hadn't read it in advance - no time for that - so as I started to read it and realized it was about a family in Africa who had received a goat from a family far away (much like we did last year with our Christmas gifts from Gospel for Asia) I decided to deviate from our daily plans and use it to really explain the whole concept.  Basically, some people from far away had kindly given a goat to a family.....and through the story, you see how it changes their lives.  One goat.  A whole families life changed forever.  It took a long time to explain each page, but I know that even Caleb understood in a whole new way.  It was such a great way for them to understand how such a gift could really make an impact.....rather than just clicking "buy" on a chick or bunny on Christmas morning.  They asked several times when they were going to pick which gift they'd buy for a family.  On christmas morning I laid out the pages from the catalog that they could choose from.  Bunnies, chickens, blankets, mosquito nets, bibles etc.  Levi picked the chickens right away - a chance for a family to earn a steady living selling eggs or chicks......and Caleb the rabbits - animals that will quickly multiply, providing meat and more bunnies to sell for income.  Keira had talked about buying animals for people this entire month.  But as she looked at each page, she changed her mind......the bibles, she said.  "Levi chickens, good, Caleb bunnies, good.....I think bibles.....want people know God."  



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3.  Celebrating - There are so many fun ways to celebrate Christmas, in addition to decorating and our gifts for Jesus.  Each year we find new ways to make memories and add to our family traditions.  This year we went to our first Live Nativity....and it was beautiful!  It was in Newport which is a bit of a hike for us, but it made it so special.  Just traveling over the bridges was a thrill for the kids (they literally thanked us for this as if it was part of the surprise!).  It was a perfect, clear night.....cold, but beautiful.




     Live animals made it so much fun....and so much more real.  Children's voices singing, candles and stars lighting up the clear night sky, and so many people gathered in silence.....it really just made me stop and reflect.....



     We continued our celebrating with our annual drive around to see the various lights....this year we stopped at two homes where you could get out and walk through the "exhibit."  Pretty elaborate.  The kids were thrilled!  Reading Christmas stories, devotionals and acting out the events of Jesus birth with our play nativity scene......watching our "Why Do We Call It Christmas DVD" and reading our "God Gave Us Christmas" book.  Christmas Eve service, time with family and friends....."What God Wants for Christmas" activity.....and trying as we celebrate in each way to keep the focus on Him.    






Starting our Christmas morning together reading the account of Jesus birth and acting it out with our nativity scene.....


            We stuck to our three gifts for each child again this year....explaining each (a Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh gift) as we went.  We gave them their "practical/myrhh" gift first, thinking they wouldn't be too excited about them.  But as our family grows and we travel to visit friends, we figure these will come in handy.  They.Loved.Them.  All they wanted to do was open them up and play with them, and that's just what they did.  They went to get pillows and animals they sleep with and everything.  All other presents on hold....they were having a blast!  They begged us to let them sleep in them - Keira even slept on the floor in hers that night....so silly.  


They loved their gold gifts, something for each of them that we knew they'd love, and we will venture to Legoland Discovery Center in MA for their "experiential/frankincense" gift.  It's so much fun to watch their joy and excitement....a gift in itself.  



I'm so thankful for my sweet, ever growing family! We hope you all had a very Merry Christmas! 









Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Progress and So Much To Be Proud Of


         It's been more of a challenge to update on how things are going around here this time around.  It's different with an older child....more private....and also just more impossible to find two seconds to sit down.  Most of my posts are blurbs I've written here and there so I can remember these times and memories.....and progress!
  
         I've wondered what this Christmas would look like this year....if this time of year would elicit strong feelings and emotions.  This is an excerpt from another blog that I read recently that really explains well a lot of what we see, and is a prime reason for my wondering....

  "For adopted kids, abandonment is a deep shame so entrenched, our kids don’t even know they are operating out of it. Whether with full memories in hand like ours or kids given up at birth, it doesn’t matter. The narrative is: I wasn’t good enough to keep. This sense of unworthiness is so deep, it takes a lifetime of intentional work to overcome. What that shame tells them is this: I am not worthy of love, happiness, or goodness. It seems ridiculous to parents who love them madly, who go to every game and concert, who sing to them and tuck them in, but those affections can’t erase the beginning of their story. They don’t feel worthy of happiness on Big Days, so they sabotage to hasten the disappointment before it gets to them first. Double bonus if their behavior triggers our anger, because then their shame is validated just like they suspected." (Full post here)

         Our girl is quite incredible.....the progress she has made in just three months is hard to believe...but even more so, the genuinely kind hearted, giving, sweet, loving, affectionate, intelligent, grateful and overall happy kid that she is just seems impossible.  Given the same life circumstances, I would not be anything like her.  I just know it.  We have our struggles.....and it's really hard sometimes.....but we are incredibly blessed.  Getting her to understand that she is all of these things, and more?  So very hard.  The sense of unworthiness described above is not an exaggeration.  And for those like our daughter, who have been told these lies all of their life, it makes it that much harder to reverse.  For whatever reason, she really wants to drive.  While I'm trying to ignore the fact that it's actually only 5 short years away, she's throwing me a hypothetical story of her sneaking out to drive the car while we're sleeping.  Totally joking, trust me.  But in our joking comes the serious.  "Would you not want me anymore if I did that?  Would you send me back?"  What?!!  And then my attempts to ever so slowly chip away at the lies.....of course not....always love....always my daughter......love when you listen, love when you don't listen.....love, love, love.....unconditionally, forever.  Smiles.  Holding my hand.  Content for the moment....but it will come again.

        No matter what we do there are questions.  It's so hard to not fully know what is going on, to not really understand what is being said.  I would be the same.....what, what are you doing, why, when, where?  Today I had Luke take the first picture of my little bump.  We did it with Caleb and I'm a bit behind this time around.  She wanted to know what we were doing so I pulled out the similar photos of me pregnant with Caleb....each month showing my growing belly.  Of course since we were in the middle of school they wanted to keep looking through the photos....Caleb when he was first born....then as he grew.  And then it came....."I wish you could see me when I was a baby......I wish I had pictures.....I wish......" and the tears.  Oh how my heart breaks in these moments, but I know it is nothing compared to what she feels.  And I just hold her and tell her I wish too.

       We've had some Christmas memories shared.....some good......most painful.  Christmas seemed to be exciting, even with the limited celebration and surprises for the children there.  It was something, however small, to look forward to.  But as she recounted Christmas after Christmas where the one thing she requested was taken away, we began to see how much pain it involved as well.  Not the others.....just her.....why me?  Why was my one gift actually meant for the entire class?  And then the question....that it seemed she really knew the answer to, but just still had to ask.....will my things be taken away this year too?  And slowly again we try to chip away another layer....

        Sometimes we're honestly not sure what the best way to approach things is.....it's just different going from parenting toddlers to an eleven year old!  Things we haven't yet had to address come up and we're back to the drawing board....okay how are we going to deal with this one?  I'm so thankful to have someone who is on the same page as me, and who is incredibly supportive and fully involved.  I can't imagine how things would be if this were not the case.  Since almost the beginning, a sense of competition has started to permeate every aspect of life.  It's seeped in slowly, but has recently become overwhelming....and really started taking the fun out of everything.  Things Caleb never would have even noticed started becoming important.  We would just start talking about getting ready for bed and they'd be rushing to ask us who could pray first, or sit next to us while we read......and the reaction of whichever child did not get their way was never pretty.  We started trying to remember who did what first the last time, but that was impossible and overwhelming....and ridiculous.  There's also the constant need to please.....surprises and rushing to help me....so incredibly sweet and appreciated, but again over the top and maybe not so healthy.  I sought some advice from others who have adopted, and most advised against addressing this issue.  We understood why it was happening, and we understood that we needed to address it sensitively.....but to do nothing, or to let it continue would leave us all miserable, and that was just not an option.  And so we sat down, with Google by our side to help with what we couldn't convey (we really try not to use this as much as possible for several reasons) had a conversation about how much we appreciation the kindness, the gifts and surprises, and the desire to be close to us and take part in everything.....and also that there will never be a need to earn our love....it will always be there, unconditional.  We talked about everything not having to be a competition....how that is draining and not much fun for anyone....and how the bible teaches us to put other first.  There were tears and many reassurances needed, but it was one of the best conversations we could have had.  And we could sense the relief.....not permanently gone....but a load lifted.......

     And since......no the competitiveness is not gone altogether (it would have been ridiculous to expect so), but this.....asking Caleb where he wanted to sit during school as opposed to the usual race to be in the coveted chair (identical to the one beside it mind you).  And as he stated his preference (the typically desired chair), he stopped and then offered it to her instead.  And I stopped and listened in awe.....and then praised them.....especially the one teaching the gesture of others first.  The beaming smile and pride so evident were priceless.  It was her turn at the most sought after part of our calendar time.....one of the few things I actually do have them take turns at.......she divided the items, giving each of us (yes even me) an equal amount and we did the activity together.  And each day that it is Caleb's turn, he does the same.  And we excitedly compliment them as they put one another first and really enjoy the activities that were once a time of being consumed with themselves.  And oh how they love to hear us rejoice over this.  It's so much more than getting rid of the competition.... it's boosting confidence.....giving reasons to feel proud of one's self.....lessons in how Jesus wants us to live and love.....taking away so much pressure.....teaching them that they teach one another both positively and negatively and watching as they notice this on their own and desire the former, sometimes even grieving over the latter.  It was a great lesson for us as well....not to second guess....to know that the books, resources, others experiences are all highly valuable but not all there is.....that God continues to equip us to face things we haven't yet had to face, and he gives us the wisdom to do what is best for our family.  I don't know what I'm doing half the time....but thankfully God gives us what we need...one little bit at a time.  

        The hard days are now outnumbered.....they come less often and are rarely as challenging.  The bad dreams are fading and the friendships are blossoming.  We are so grateful for sweet friends for our daughter....truly the best and I know that this makes a world of difference.  The stomach ache's are few and far between, bedtime is no longer traumatic......there is so much hope for a future that never was, so many dreams and "when I'm big......."  We will forever be making up for the way too many lost years filled with a lack of love an attention....kisses, hugs and I love you's are never ceasing around here and we are really truly grateful because it could be so very different.  School is a challenge for many reasons, but even there, so much progress.....last week I told her I wanted to cry because I was so proud.  Three months and she's writing like this in English.....granted I told her most words to write after she explained in English what she wrote in Russian, but she spelled them each on her own.  After a couple of years of studying Russian, I have found writing to be the most difficult aspect on learning a new language and my writing does not come close to comparing to this.  So much to be thankful for and so very much to be proud of!  

    



Thursday, December 4, 2014

Merry Christmas!

 
Merry Christmas from our family to yours!




                                            Surprise!
Okay so it's a little hard to see....we tried....here's a bigger version





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From November 13, 2014

     Today we told the kids we are pregnant.  The plan was to tell them after our appointment on Tuesday but it turned out to be a crazy day and everyone was not in the best of moods so we decided there was no rush.  I've been fairly apprehensive about telling them.  Here were my assumptions.....child A would not understand what on earth we were talking about, child B would be very excited....though possibly swayed by the reaction of child C.....Child C would either be happy or very very upset, and maybe set back from recent progress.

        So today was going very well......I had the chance to sleep in (what?!) and was not woken up repeatedly throughout the night due to bad dreams etc. which was really only the second night in the past two months that this miracle has occurred.  I woke up to find Levi off at school already and a substitute in my classroom.  (this is not home school reality, I assure you there is no such thing as sick days or substitutes).  Luke had decided to start school and the kids seemed to be enjoying the "silliness" as they put it....despite repeated reminders from one child that "that is not how mommy does it!"  I was so excited that I ate my breakfast and sat down on the couch...totally unheard of.  I did receive some crazy looks for that one, but figured I'd take advantage : )  I watched as they completed an art project started days prior, with great care and attention to detail.....no protesting, just enjoying being creative.  Amazing.  The morning continued in this surreal way, so when Levi's bus pulled up (with a note in his backpack about his spitting and kicking on the bus - we'll ignore this one hiccup for the day), we decided it was a good time to share the news.

       We brought out the gifts (two of which I had bought a year and a half ago when I thought this may be a possibility) and had them open them one at a time.  A shirt for Keira that said "Big sister Keira"......she loved it.  And one for Caleb..."Big brother Caleb."  And then Levi's......"Guess hoooo is a big brother too! Levi."  Wow!  They were excited.....about the t-shirts.  They had no clue.  How is Levi a big brother we asked them?  Confused looks.  Caleb's rational was, "because he's three!"  Okay so we had to tell them....a few times.....that we are having a baby, but hey the shirts were a nice perk!

         Levi cried and put himself in what looked like a timeout.  He really just wanted lunch....school makes him sooo hungry.  Caleb jumped around cheering and rolled around on the couch.  Keira squealed, declared it "so cute" in her adorable English, and thanked us!  Good thing I was so worried.  Someday....someday I'll learn.  There were promises to help, and I was then treated like a queen the entire day....no carrying the diaper bag, no carrying Levi, no this, no that.  It did bring up some sad memories that were talked through later in the day, but was really a great opportunity to have a heart to heart chat.

         I really felt nervous when we found out......there'd already been so much change around here...and we were still really struggling in a lot of ways.  I just kept thinking it was sort of crazy timing....but also kept reminding myself that each time I've thought the timing of things was off, God showed me that it was actually perfect.  His perfect timing.  I can already see what a blessing this timing is....to share something as a family that none of us have experienced before the other or without the other.....all together we are on this journey for the first time.  And of course it goes without saying, the precious life that will make our family complete is an incredible blessing.  (Yes, I said complete.  Of course what I say is partially meaningless, but hey....we can have plans...God will determine what actually happens anyway.)

        So here's the vote.....
Caleb - boy (which is surprising since he has asked us for a big sister and then little sister for the past couple of years)
Keira - girl (she loves her brothers but already has two so it'd be nice to have a sister, and she wants her to sleep on the bottom bunk - we'll see how that goes over once the baby is actually old enough if the baby is a girl)
Levi - an emphatic NO to both boy and girl when asked....followed by a nodding yes for both boy and girl...and the cycle repeats.

       So if you thought our lives couldn't get any crazier.....neither did we!  But here we go on the next journey!