Saturday, January 23, 2016

Always - Gotcha Day!

A couple days ago was Levi's third Gotcha day.....three years since the day we picked him up.  What a relief it was to have that little boy in our arms and to land in America after all the uncertainty.  I remember the Sunday before we left we sang this song in church and it was such a comfort to me...such a reminder of where my focus needed to remain...on God's promises.

Oh, my God, He will not delay
My refuge and strength always
I will not fear, His promise is true
My God will come through always, always

This past Sunday we sang that song again and I marveled at how faithful God is Always.  Sometimes it's just hard to comprehend that this is the same little boy we met in Russia.....


I"ll never forget his little heart pounding so hard as they passed him to us....

But in no time, he was loving the attention!


Some things haven't changed.....like his love for Fudge Pup :)

But so many things have changed......



We received this photo in an email before we ever met him.  This little guy was so restricted....spending most of his days just sitting and watching.  And if you know Levi, he is NOT a "watcher."  

He went from one cast, to two casts, and then to these lovely shoes for 23 hours a day.....


and yet, nothing slowed him down......

"Well what if he stands up with them on...is that okay?"  I asked, knowing my little one so well.  Oh no, he won't be able to so don't even worry about it.  Within a day of having them, he was standing on the bar, shimmying his way along furniture and in his crib.  

His persistence can be frustrating at times when he's doing something he's not supposed to for the billionth time...he definitely gives me a run for my money...but oh how he has needed these qualities.  He will not be held down....you will not steal his joy....and he loves so freely.

Dropping off items at a local rescue mission.....not sure what to say to the group of people behind me speaking in another language, so I'm busying myself with the items.  "HI!!!!" Levi screams at them.  We walk into the nursing home, all a little apprehensive, but excited.  "Hi!!" Levi screams again and then walks over to kiss an elderly woman's knee.  "Oh, okay then, thank you!" she says.  Loves, so freely....it doesn't matter who you are, or how different you may be, just love.  


As always, the progress is slow, but it's always there...slow but steady....
And these are the moments when I really can't believe this is the same little guy we met a few years ago....


            I had to snap a picture of him putting his shoes on by himself on the correct feet for the first time!!  You know...his slow but steady progress helps us to slow down and appreciate the accomplishments.


And at four, we finally decided to try out the big boy bed.  He loved his crib....almost surprisingly.  Yet I believe it offered some sense of security....he felt safe in that small space that he knew so well.  He had never once even tried to climb out....and we all know that if he wanted to, he would have.

I'm so thankful God led us to this sweet little boy....he has taught me a great deal, and I'm sure he will continue to!  It's such a blessing to watch him enjoy life.....to see him appreciating things I may never have noticed....to watch how he is his own unique person with his own special loves and interests....to learn from his perseverance and resilience.  

Happy gotcha/family day Levi Ivan, we love you so much!
  

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Can We Tell People?

        There's been a lot of processing the past going on around here....so heartbreaking.  I really can't fathom how so many precious children live without families....and really that's just a fraction of the pain they deal with.  I could go on for days, but this is what keeps ringing in my ears.....Keira came up to me the other day and so genuinely asked the following...

     "It's not good for any kid to not have a family.....so can we tell people?...tell people at church so more kids can have families?"

       It reminded me of something we once watched or heard about people living in extreme poverty in another country.....I can't remember the exact words, but these people believed that if we as Americans...people who "built houses for their cars" knew about the conditions they were living in, we would surely do something to help.

       I didn't know what to say to her....I really had nothing.  If only it were that easy I wanted to say.  Well....people do know....but....nothing seemed good enough.  But God tells you to, right?  Everything is so black and white to her.  And really, isn't this?  We did talk about there being different ways to care for orphans, and that not everyone is called to adopt...but I haven't been able to stop thinking about her words.

     And though I feel overwhelmed with wanting to help every one of the millions of orphans...we will take it one day at a time.  And right now, we have the privilege of helping a sweet family bring home their daughter.  Things are moving along for the Hoptons as they adopt Karina, Keira's best friend, and we couldn't be more excited.  We welcome any ideas for fundraising you may have, as well as your prayers for this family, for the process, and for Karina as her whole world will soon change.  And if you feel led to give, there is a donation site here.  Thank you to all who have been so supportive already!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Celebrating Christmas 2015


I think I love the advent season more and more each year.  For the past couple of years we have been so much more purposeful about celebrating Jesus, giving gifts for Him, and being grateful for his coming.  And as always, we are so incredibly blessed....because as we empty, he fills....as we give of ourselves, we realize our true purpose and potential and we are so full.  

Our devotional this year was fun....I love that many of these come with activities...it makes it so much more real, and memorable for the kids.  They had to listen each day to see if they heard any new names for Jesus, and then they would write each one on a strip of paper.  (Modified from the idea in the book which was much fancier :)  They listened intently, hoping to find a new name.  We had to double...or triple up some nights if we hand't managed to read together the nights previous, and sometimes we totally failed to prepare for the activity until we sat down...but it was fun anyway, and allowed for good conversations! 


The kids are blessed with amazing grandparents who let them each do a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child to send to a child in Ukraine.  They LOVE it.  They are so excited to be able to pick things out to give to a child, and can never wait to show us what they selected and how they decorated their box.  This year Keira shared that she had received similar boxes when she was in Ukraine, and was always so excited.  It's so neat to see her on the other side..now being able to give to a child in a position she herself was once in.

Meme always does "What God Wants for Christmas" with the kids when we get together on Christmas Eve....and though they know exactly what to expect in each box, they get just as excited each time as they are reminded of the true meaning of what we celebrate.  

And then, we sing...Happy Birthday to Jesus.....



As we thought about gifts for Jesus this year, we immediately thought of the residents of a nearby nursing.  We've visited one particular woman a few times, but hadn't been back since Kyleigh was born.  Last year, Keira commented on all the others...that we should bring something for everyone.  We all agreed, and they didn't forget!  So we set to work making clay ornaments, which also turned into a really great ongoing art project for school!  I knew most of them wouldn't have trees, but the idea of something they could hang in their rooms that was handmade by a child just seemed better than anything we could buy.  The kids were all in!    





                I think we were all a little nervous...well except for Levi.  This is right up his ally.  He walked right up with a big "hi!' and started handing out gifts and kisses like a crazy man.  It was perfect!  We talked about things to say on the way there, but weren't sure how they'd do.  They were amazing.  I was so proud of them.


            There were so many smiles.  So many hugs and thank you's, and residents trying to find something to offer the kids....snacks, candy....or gushing over their ornament and hanging it up so the kids could see how much they loved it.  But, you know, it struck me how genuine it was.  They weren't just trying to make the kids feel good.....they meant it.  


So many asked to hold Kyleigh.  As long as a nurse didn't jump in and suggest otherwise, we passed her over.  She did great, and brought a whole lot of joy to so many.  Who doesn't love to hold a sweet baby?  


Keira was so sweet....so much more reserved than her usual self, but also brave as I saw her push past the uncomfortable feelings.  She'd ask how one was feeling, or try to make conversation.  I could see it wasn't easy for her, but I could also see the genuine care she felt for the people.  


          It was a whirlwind.....we walked through the entire building.....and I learned that next time we should dress in summer attire because nursing homes are HOT, but it was truly a gift....one that was supposed to be for Jesus, but I think was also such a gift for each of us.  No requests to leave or complaints of being hungry, thirsty....tired....bored....just joy.

 
          And on Christmas morning they were eager to choose their gifts for others....it was so sweet to see them so excited as we explained each gift and what it meant...how it'd help someone.  And then they each chose what they wanted to give.  Keira was torn....she is such a giver, and wanted to do more.  She asked if she could add her "giving money" (a portion of her allowance put aside each week) and pick another gift.  Um yes!!

        This year we had the kids pick a Compassion child too.  At that point some were requesting that we open gifts, but once we started looking at children, the focus was drawn back..... "wait, click on that one....what about him....can we see her.....how many kids...maybe one that's waited a long time?"  They finally agreed on one and are so excited!  If you don't know about Compassion or sponsoring a child, I encourage you to read this post....it's such an incredible story of what an impact sponsorship can have.



         

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           We started a new tradition this year of buying each kid an ornament that means something to them.  We gave it to them the night we decorated our tree.  They were excited to think about eventually having their own box of ornaments that represent memories in their life.


           We also had our second annual Christmas crafts day so they could make more decorations for their rooms.  It was fun....and glittery....and I learned (again) that I should probably test out pinterest crafts for assuming we can all do them.



Kyleigh put her first ever ornament on the Christmas tree...she was thrilled....


And, we went on our annual tour of Christmas lights....




We truly didn't know what to get the kids this year.  They only get three gifts - a need, a want and an experience so we really only needed one idea for their "gold"/want gift.  Yet still we had trouble.  Because they have everything....too much...and need nothing.  Finally we remembered a dream they had and realized we could actually make it happen.  So we wrapped up the empty boxes (since it had to be prepared ahead of time) and watched their confused and possibly disappointed faces as they tried to figure out what their gift was.  


And then lots of excitement......

And it was the perfect year since it was crazy warm on Christmas here this year.  


I'm so thankful for this season....for the reminder to stop and recognize all that God did for us in sending us His Son.  For reminders to be conscious about giving gifts to Jesus...not just at Christmas time, but all year....and this propels us to continue..... Because this is what we were created for, and in this we can truly live....truly feel like we are fulfilling a purpose.  Empty to fill....lose your life to find it......give and you will receive!