Friday, December 30, 2016

Lessons Learned

As I sit here reflecting back on 2016, I'm a bit overwhelmed at the gravity of the changes in our lives this year so instead of a year in review post or a top ten moments, I've decided to wrap up this year with the lessons learned throughout this journey that began over four years ago to become a family a four or maybe it is better title "The things I know now that I didn't know then"...

1.) It will not go as you planned... At all. 
You will begin your adoption journey. You will have an "ideal" plan, an "ideal" timeline of how things will play out, of when things will happen, of when it will be completed... but God will change all those plans. He will most likely turn all those plans on their head because his plan is better. His plan is best. Don't get me wrong... accepting those changes to your plan is not easy. Ever. But God knows what is best. He writes the best stories. He creates families. He chooses YOU to be the parent for the exact child(ren) he had planned to bring to you. Read Proverbs 19:21. Memorize it the day you send in your application for adoption. Trust me... he is going to teach you what that verse means through any adoption journey.

2.) Adoption is messy and ugly before it is beautiful.
EVERY adoption begins with loss, sadness and trauma. Just as our adoption through the Gospel is started because of brokenness, sin and separation from our Heavenly father, every adoption story begins because of a great loss that is outside of God's perfect plan for a family. It is so easy to be captured and captivated by the beautiful AFTER pictures of adoption and that is ok, but when God chooses you to adopt, he chooses you to enter into the mess, to understand the loss and to see that only he can redeem the brokenness in every story. Please do not be offended if a family chooses not to share everything about their child's past. It is personal. It is difficult.

3.) No two adoption journeys will ever be the same.
You can send in your paperwork the exact same day, you can be matched with children in the same month from the exact same country, but it will not play out the same. Only God knows how all the details will play out. We began our process very near the time another couple did who also lives in Wichita. We have been home 10 months and they are sadly still waiting to travel. 

4.) Adoption changes your life more than the child(ren) you adopt.
We've heard so many times "you guys are changing their lives" or many similar iterations. While we understand the good intentions in which this is stated, we cringe a bit each time we hear it. Adoption wrecks your life in good sense. It flips your world up side down. Your normal isn't normal anymore. Your worldview is shifted. Your heart and lives will always include a family on the other side of the world that you may never meet. Each day I am amazed at the strides our boys have taken in only 10 months, but even more so I am humbled by the daily lessons we learn from them.

5.) No matter what, there will be people who just don't get it.
They won't think about the questions they ask. They won't think about the hurt their comments can make. They will say something insensitive, rude or even racist and have no idea. It is just easier to accept that it will happen so you can be prepared with how you will or won't respond in those situations. Sometimes you just have to turn around and walk away, but every once in a while, the Holy Spirit gives you just the right and timely words to speak. Pray for those words!

6.) The paperwork (and questions to answer) will seemingly never end.
Just when you think you've filled out the last form, something will change and more paperwork will be required. You will sign more paperwork than buying four houses. You will be fingerprinted more than most criminals (I really am not joking on this one). You will pay for more background checks and immigration clearances that it takes to work in the secret service (ok this one is probably a stretch, but for real though). Oh and the personal questions you answer and then those answers are sent to some government agency half way around the world... yep, prepare yourself to lay your entire lives... personal, financial, emotional, spiritual... out for all to see and assess if you are fit to parent a child. Then the best part is when you are asked if you've considered the implications of bringing two children into your home who come from a difficult past. You bite your tongue and hold back the sarcastic response of "No, I haven't considered what that might be like; I just enjoy filling out hundreds of forms and paying tens of thousands of dollars to do something I haven't thought through at all."

7.) Your prayer life will change... hopefully for the better.
There are so many unexpected curve balls in any adoption journey that your only option is to turn to the Lord in prayer because there is nothing... absolutely nothing you or anyone can do to move your case along. There is also this amazing thing that happens... you get to know other adoptive families along the way.. you will be amazed at how the Lord knits your hearts together with other families who you may never meet in person and breaks your hearts for their kiddos also waiting half a world away to come home. Prayer will bind your hearts together. At times, prayer is often our last resort, but adoption will show you over and over again that it is your only resort and it is the most powerful thing you can do. 

8.) You will understand the greatness of the Gospel to a larger degree.
You know your adopted child is your child. There are not "real" children and adopted children. They are all your children. They all carry your family name. They will all share in the inheritance you pass on to them. They are not second class citizens in your family. The brokenness that began the journey for a child to be adopted is redeemed by the love of our Heavenly Father to place the lonely in families. The lost years of their history will be restored. Our brokenness is redeemed at the cross. Our sins are forgiven and washed cleaned. We are joined as coheirs with Christ. We are children of the King. We aren't servants out in the cold, served the scraps and leftovers. We will be seated at the table of the wedding feast. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Burden, Reminder and Plea to all the Moms of Boys

People have said for years that becoming a parent changes your perspective. It changes the lense with which you view the world. It changes the way good and in this case bad news affects you. 

Yesterday I read the letter written by the survivor of the horrible rape to her rapist. He doesn't get anymore description in this post but that. I don't care where he went to college. I don't care what his athletic accomplishments are. 

This news has hit me differently than similar news has in the past. The reason is because of these two blossoming swimmers who are the main focus of my day and time. 

As I sit and digest this incomprehensible situation, I feel a great burden as a mom to these two possible future swimmers (who knows what avenues and sports they may pursue).

As their mom, I have the burden to help them gain a healthy respect and view of women. I have the burden to teach them how to put the needs of others before their own needs. I have the burden to teach them how to be a gentlemen. 

I cannot wait until a week before they head off to college to teach them how to be a gentlemen. I cannot put off expecting them to value others. It starts now. It starts in how we talk about friends at school. It starts in teaching them respectful ways to describe and talk about others. It starts in teaching them to watch out for each other and protect the vulnerable. It starts in learning healthy and safe ways to treat others, speak to others and even play with others. 

As the years go by, I cannot dodge the hard conversations that will come up when a boy is making fun of a girl in their class because of her weight, skin color, hair, clothes or anything for that matter. I must, we must, sieze the opportunities with our kids to teach them that degrading others, in action or speech, is simply unacceptable. 

When the dreaded teen years come, I will be the mom that insists they dance with the girls who don't have a date at the school dance (and yes I will find out if they don't). I will be the mom that will not tolerate crude or sexual remarks made to anyone. I will also be the mom that discourages them from hanging out with others who think this behavior is acceptable or funny. 

I hope to raise our boys to be like the young men on the bike who stepped up to protect this woman in scary situation. I hope to raise them to offer to walk their female friends (and not just a girlfriend) back to their dorm or car after hanging out past dark. I hope to raise boys who give their cell phone number to all their female friends in college so those girls know they can call them should they find themselves in a scary situation. 

I am SO grateful to the moms of the guys I was good friends with in college. I can think of 10+ guys who always offered to walk me to my car in the big dorm parking lot so I would never go by myself at night. I remember a good friend who took the same class as I did always making sure we left together to walk to our exams that were at night. Thank you for raising your boys to look out for others, to protect others and to be gentlemen. 

We live in a broken and fallen world and the stories in the news this week are just another reminder of this fact. Sometimes it is overwhelming to think that we cannot do anything about it. In part, that is true. One single person cannot change the culture, except Jesus himself. But, I firmly believe that the way true change happens is in each and every home. It happens in the conversations around the dinner table. It happens in the conversations in the car. It happens at the baseball field and at the swimming pool. It happens only when we make a conscious effort to teach them because our culture will teach them quite the opposite of what we want. It happens by beginning now and not waiting until it is too little, too late. 

I'm new at being a "Mom of Boys" but to all my fellow moms of boys, let's stand together to raise our boys different. Let's rally together and not against each other to show them how to be gentlemen and servant leaders. We have to do it together because your boys will be in my house and mine will be in yours!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

April 17

One year ago today as I was walking out of the movie theater, we got "the call" that we had waited right at two years to receive. 

One year ago today, our lives changed.

One year ago today, we saw the faces of the two boys who now fill our house with laughter, chatter, singing and high energy play.

Harder than Expected

To say this past year was an easy road to walk would be a lie. To say we walked the road alone would also be a lie. To say we knew what the year would hold one year ago today would also be a lie.

In the past year, I have cried more tears than any of my other previous 30 years. I've learned to plead and cry out in prayer like never before. I've learned that we truly have no control and our only hope is to lean on and cling to our sovereign creator and trust HIS plan and HIS way for our lives.

Prior to April 17, 2015, I was confident that the wait before "the call" was going to be the hardest part of the journey, but I was wrong... very wrong. Seeing the faces of your children, knowing their names and a small part of their story but yet not knowing when they will be HOME is nothing less than excruciating. 

A year ago our agency quoted a timeline of four to six months when we would travel. More than likely, it would be six month given the two month court closure from August to October. Our case moved forward at what would be considered a "fast" pace for adoption cases through the US embassy investigation through the summer. Many other families just ahead of us in the process traveled right before the courts closed in August so we felt pretty confident we were "next" to travel and it also looked like it was highly possible to travel in October or early November for court and then have the boys home by December or January at the latest.

Boy were we wrong! As you know, things in country have moved painfully slow since courts reopened in October. It ended up that we traveled for court nine months after "the call" and brought the boys home 10.5 months after "the call". Sadly, we are a "fast" case as many other families just behind us in the process are still waiting to travel.

As someone who is very Type-A and detailed/timeline oriented, the wait being exceptionally longer than expected was very hard for me. Thankfully the Lord sustained us and surrounded us with many loving, faithful prayer warriors.

Just What We Needed

The incredible thing over the past year was seeing God provide just what we needed even when we didn't know we needed it. Below are just a few examples, but there are many more.

To start, I resigned my job about three weeks before we got "the call" as we knew that we were close to being matched. Our goal was that I would stay home whenever the Lord blessed us with children. With teaching however, you cannot just give a two weeks notice and have to determine before the end of one school year if you plan to return the following school year. We then got "the call" so we knew our decision for me to resign was the right one. Then about a month after we were matched with the boys, Philip was offered an assistant principal job. This was a huge answer to prayer with going to one full time income and be adding two "mouths to feed" to the family.

In the fall, I signed up for the morning Tuesday Connections women's Bible study at our church. We studied the book of James. (Go check out the verse at the top of this blog that we started when we started the adoption process.) The book of James talks so much about living out our faith and understanding how the Lord uses trials to refine our faith and bring us closer to himself. (The refinement throughout this process is a whole other blog post for later.) This study came along just at the right time and on top of that, I was in an incredible small group of women who cheered us on, faithfully prayed for us, have provided meals and so much more. Most of these women I did not even know until September, but each one has been a huge encouragement and blessing to me during this past year. 

I could go on and on about how the Lord has provided financially for us at each step in the adoption process, but I will just quickly say that he does provide and at many times, in the most unexpected ways. **Side note: if the cost of adoption, especially international adoption, is the reason you are not considering it or are ignoring the tug you might be feeling to adopt, let's talk! Please do not let the cost be the reason you do not adopt. 

Lastly, the adoption community is incredible. Through social media and other avenues, the Lord has given me an incredible group of adoptive mom's to share stories with, ask questions to, complain and vent to and pray for our kids together. Many of these moms have  become such dear, close friends; some I've never met in person. Adoption can be a lonely and frustrating road to walk because no two stories are alike and it is easy to feel like no one "gets it" but thankfully, that was not the case for me. Again, I didn't go looking for this and didn't know how much I would need these women, but the good Lord did.

There is no roadmap or checklist for this

We've been home with the boys just over six weeks. They've been some of the hardest, yet best weeks of our lives.

The process of adopting has a ton of paperwork, checklists, training, reading and planning. Thankfully, there are highly respectable agencies, social workers and caseworkers that have outlined all of this and provide you with a guide to get through each step of the process. 

Unfortunately, there isn't a roadmap or checklist for parenting six-year old twin boys who've spent the majority of their lives in an orphanage and speak a language very different than English. There isn't a list of standards and objectives that tell us when they are ready to start school. There isn't an indicator light that comes on to tell us something is wrong. Our agency does an incredible job preparing you (as much as you can be prepared) for what life will be like, but no two adopted kids are the same just like no two biological kids are the same. 

It is hard to adequately describe the past six weeks of our lives. Hard, yes. Overwhelming, yes (at times). Exhausting, yes. Fulfilling, yes. Fun, yes. Chaotic, yes. Survival, yes. Rewarding, yes. 

To be honest, there are times we look at each other unsure of what is the best way to handle certain behaviors, but we go with our gut. We have done a lot of trial and error. We have screwed up and made some great parenting mistakes. But, the incredible thing about kids is that they wake up each day ready for a great day. They have forgiven and forgotten our mistakes from the day before. Oh that we would forgive as quickly and approach life with such joy as children do daily!

Though we have tough and frustrating moments, overall the boys are adjusting and transitioning incredibly well. In the tough moments when the boys want to do anything but listen, I am reminded of how often in our sin and disobedience we are not listening to the Lord and seeking his wisdom and plan for our lives which is ultimately for our best. I'm reminded that as the boys learn to trust us and bond well with us, that the same is true of our relationship with our heavenly Father. He loves us and pursues us unconditionally, no matter how far we stray and no matter how often we turn away. It hasn't always been easy to love the boys unconditionally when it seems like all they want to do is argue or fight against us or each other on some days, but again, the Lord has reminded me of how often I have refused his love and protection thinking my way was best or that I could control the situation on my own. 

April 17

This will always be a day we remember and celebrate. Much has changed in our lives since last April 17, but the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord has not. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Nine Months

Nine months ago, April17, we got the call that has forever changed our lives.

Today we finally got to meet the sweet boys whose pictures we have looked at for the last nine months, whose names and faces we have remembered daily and prayed for, who are the children God saw it fit to give us the privilege to be their parents.

Many well-intentioned people have said to us over these last nine months, "oh those boys are so lucky to get you guys as parents." While we understand the intention of this statement is to encourage us that we will be good parents, we would also want you to pause and consider that very little in their life has been what most would consider lucky. Though we aren't publicly sharing their story before they joined our family, I can promise you that their lives have seen little "luck".

I had many fears and worries about how today would go. As many of you know my type-A personality causes me to play "worse-case-scenario" far too often. Throw on top of that the many hours of training we have done throughout this process to help prepare us for any case possible, it wasn't hard to plan for the "worst" so to speak but oh how I prayed and hoped for the best.

God knew my fears and worries and he thankfully made the path straight and smooth once again. The orphanage they are at in Addis is not large so once they opened the gate, we immediately saw most of the older kids outside playing in the small yard and quickly identified the twins! In most cases, you and your spouse go to an office/waiting area type and they bring your child in. I honestly was kind of dreading this scenario because of the anxiousness of it. We didn't officially "meet" the boys outside, but we at least saw them and for me, it washed away so many of my fears and worries.

We spent time in a small lobby area with the twins. They were very cautious and quiet initially. Praise the Lord for small cars, bouncy balls, a blow up mini beach ball and BUBBLES! Even though the boys understood little of what we said, we got to sit and play with them for two hours. The bubbles were a hit, not only with the twins, but all the children running around outside. They quickly warmed up to us as we bounced balls back and forth, crashed cars into each other, blew bubbles all over the place and showed them pictures of family and our home!

Funny side story, I had put a picture of each of the boys on the outside of each photo album so the orphanage could easily identify that it was theirs if other kids were looking at it. At one point, one of the boys was handing his photo book to his brother as he didn't recognize himself! (yes they are identical, well from what we can tell anyway) but they also don't see pictures of themselves very often.

We will go back to spend time with the boys again tomorrow and then on Tuesday go to court to consent to the adoption! Thanks for your prayers and encouragement! These boys are so well by loved by so many!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

An Open Letter to Our Friends and Family... What is to Come (Maybe)

Let me start by asking you to read this post with a tone of humility and meekness. We are seeking to express and explain some of what the next few months of our lives might look like and to ask for your help as we begin this unpredictable phase of life. We are so grateful to have such an adoption savvy group of family and friends so most of this information may not come of any surprise to many of you. There may be some things in this post that offend or frustrate some of you however but please know that is not our intent. We desire to be upfront and communicate the little we know about what lies ahead for us. Please feel free to ask us any questions you may have after reading this post! (I apologize upfront for the length of the post but so appreciate you reading!)

One of the main things we heard in the many hours of training we did in preparation for adoption is that parenting adopted children almost always looks different than parenting biological children. Since we have no biological children of our own, we do not have habits and "go-to-strategies" that we will fall back on or resort to, which may make some of this slightly easier, but many times we will be going with what we have learned to be best for our children but may cause outsiders to question what we are doing in raising our boys. 

Let me start with a brief explanation as to why parenting adopted children has to be different than parenting biological children. Adopted children have all experienced trauma, loss and grief to some extent even children adopted shortly after birth. Children who have spent any time in an orphanage have not consistently had their needs met and do not understand what a family unit is or what a mom and dad figure should do for them. Due to the inconsistency of care, children learn unhealthy ways to get their needs met and/or unhealthy and sometimes destructive ways to cope with those unmet needs. Even in an orphanage with the best conditions and the most loving nannies, children will still deal with issues with bonding, attachment, trust, food, etc. There is a significant amount of research and information out there to help prepare us for these issues and offer advice when we are facing them which we are SO grateful for, but we have had years to digest this information, read it, pray about it and ask questions about it and we want to give you a picture of what this might look like for us.

Cocooning ---- what is this anyway? 

A word that flies around in adoption circles is cocooning. This is the name given to the time right after an adoptive family is home with their child(ren). Just as a caterpillar cocoons to prepare to break out to become a butterfly and fly around the world, the advice given to all adoptive families is to keep your child's world as small as possible (home as much as possible, only venturing out for necessities like doctor's appointments) when you first bring them home. Children from orphanages are used to have numerous caregivers so one of the goals of "cocooning" is for your child to learn to see you and your spouse as mom and dad and to understand that you will be their primary caregivers to provide love, food, shelter, comfort, protection, etc. Also, keeping your child's world small allows them to process the huge transition and change they  have just encountered by leaving the orphanage they have known most, if not all, of their life and flown far away to a new place. Even the smallest of children will grieve this loss.

Many of you are probably sitting here thinking "loss?" "How is this a loss to be taken way from something we see as horrible and brought into a loving home with a family?"

Even though an orphanage is not a desirable place to live and grow up, it is what they know as home, it is where they are comfortable and it is where the faces of those who have somewhat met their needs are. They will grieve the loss of all of this. Imagine being plucked from your home, friends, family and city and flown to a place you can't understand what people are saying and know, as much as your young heart can comprehend, that you will never return to the "home" you've known. You would grieve too. Children grieve these losses in a number of ways, but with time, this grief and pain will lessen.

Even though our boys are school age, they will most likely be at least 2-3 years behind developmentally. Children are resilient and we are confident God is going to do so much in and through them as well as us, but we want to allow them time to learn their new surroundings, learn they can trust us and learn that we are going to be with them for the long haul and that we are not leaving. During the initial weeks and months home with the twins, it is imperative that they see Philip and I as their primary and only caregivers. We want to meet their needs for food, comfort, safety, etc.

What will this look like for all of you... 
For those who come to the airport to welcome us home, we ask that you not pick up the boys or hug them. I know, it sounds extreme, but we will be firm on this. We highly encourage high fives, fist bumps and hand shakes, if the boys are comfortable with it. Please do not be offended if they are not ready for this. It will come, but please give it time.

For at least the first few weeks and mostly likely months, we won't be venturing out of the house to do much and when we do, we will keep it very low-key. We probably won't have visitors over, especially in the first few weeks. Just like parents of a newborn baby stay at home to avoid exposing them to illness or situations too extreme or stimulating, we will be playing it by ear and letting the boys show us when they are ready. If you do come by, please allow us to meet the boys needs for food, water, etc. I know it may seem like you are helping all of us out by getting them a snack, but we want them to ask us for this and we want them to see us provide it for them. If they do ask you for something, we ask that you redirect them to one of us. As another adoptive mom put it, "they are not just learning that we are their Mom and Dad, they are learning what it means to have a Mom and Dad."

To our amazing church family at First Free, we CANNOT wait until our boys are plugged into children's ministry activities at church and singing in the kids choir and so many other incredible opportunities for kids at our church. However, when we feel ready to bring the boys to church, we may just come to first service and go home. We aren't avoiding you and we aren't trying to keep you from meeting the boys, but we are trying to limit situations especially in the early days that will be over stimulating and confusing for the boys. Again, we will stick with the high fives, fist bumps and hand shakes for quite some time. We so look forward to our boys being loved on by so many of you in time but want to ensure this happens after they have bonded and attached well with us. 

To our incredible extended family and amazing group of friends, we are SO excited to see many of you at my sister's wedding and Lord willing, the boys will be home by that time. However, if they are home by then, it will not have been for long so we will be in the throws of bonding and attachment and learning what life looks like for us as a family of four. We have no idea what this day will look like, but even though we may have the boys with us, we will seek to keep things as simple as possible on that day. Please follow our lead on this day especially. Please do not take it as rude if we do not make the rounds at the reception to introduce them to all of you. Please do not take it as rude if the boys do not speak to you or smile at you. It will happen, with time. I know little things like taking them up to get another cupcake seems harmless and insignificant, but given the issues many adoptive children have with food, we ask that you not ask to get them more food or to "take them" anywhere on this day. Philip will most likely be hanging out with the boys and gets the duty of being "in charge" since I get the amazing privilege of being the maid of honor for my dear sister. So please, take cues from Philip. Stop by the table he is at with the boys and say hi. If Philip makes the decision to not bring the boys to the reception, please respect this decision.

Ok, last bit of "don'ts"... sorry that it seems like there are so many. As we begin to venture out and introduce the boys to more faces and places, we would ask that you keep your questions about the boys' background or adjustment to times you can ask one of us when they aren't around. I have said this entire journey that I am an open book. There really aren't any questions that I deem "too personal" for you to ask about me or our process. There are parts of their story before joining our family that we will keep private and allow the boys to decide when they are ready if they want to share that with others. But please don't be scared to ask us questions, "How's it going with bonding, attachment, sleeping, etc?" but be ready to hear the truth. :) Just ask when the boys aren't standing right there.

We look forward to the boys getting to know and love all of you! We are so excited to see what the journey holds for us as a family of four. We cannot wait to do all the things "normal" families and kids do, but we know that it will take time before life looks and feels "normal" so please be patient with us and the boys. 

"So, Holly, what can we do to help and support you?"

Thanks for asking and thanks to those of you who are still reading and aren't upset by anything I've said thus far.

We are going to be brand new at this parenting thing so we are really shooting at a moving target and each day will be an experiment and a huge learning curve. Below is a list of simple ways to be involved in our initial days and weeks home with the boys...

1) Bring by a simple meal (I'm sure there will be a meal sign up and I will post it on my Facebook for those interested.) Other adoptive moms have also suggested gift cards to restaurants/fast food places as well for quick easy dinners with no clean up. 
2) Text us, email us, Facebook us, check in with us through whatever means you have.. though our lives will be very "isolated" initially from many of you, we do not want to be disconnected. If I don't answer when you call, leave a message. I will call or text back when there is a better time. To be honest, I may not answer the phone much as I do not want to spend precious minutes on the phone while the boys are at home. We also want to continue to hear about what is going on in your lives and would love to have conversations NOT always centered around adoption. :)
3) QuikTrip unsweetended iced tea (with crushed ice) for me or a black coffee from Starbucks for Philip... these are our caffeinated drinks of choice... We won't refuse one if you drop it by the house.
4) For those of you with kiddos around the age of our boys, eventually we will be looking for some play dates in small settings so I would love to know if I can call you about meeting at the park or play place sometime.
5) Pray for us! This should really be first on the list, but I will end here. We cannot thank you enough for those of you who have been praying for and with us since the start of this journey 3.5 years ago. 

Thanks for being in this with us!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

It is Well

As I sit here on this last night of 2015, there are many thoughts, words and emotions running through my mind to describe this year. If I'm honest, this year hasn't gone anything like I planned or hoped. To be completely honest, it is far from what I hoped.

Recently, our missions pastor preached a short series on the book of Habakkuk. This was such a timely sermon series for me personally as it came during an extra hard month of waiting in the adoption process. If you've ever talked to anyone who has adopted, I know you have probably tired of hearing how the "waiting is so hard." But it is. Hard. Just really really hard. 

Going through the short book of Habakkuk was refreshing to hear Habakkuk's real and honest dialog with the Lord as well as his questioning to the Lord. If I would have gotten nothing more from the sermon series, I was reminded of the ending of the book which we had read at our wedding nearly 10 years ago.

Habakkuk 3:17-19 "Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places."

Yet... Yet... such a powerful conjunction! Sometimes as Christians, we let ourselves get consumed in all those phrases before the Yet. We wallow in the trials. We whine about our circumstances. We throw ourselves a pity party.

Yet we forget all God has done. Yet we forget how he has ALWAYS been faithful to us in the past. Yet we not worship him for his work of salvation through Christ on the cross!

I have not always rejoiced in 2015. I have not always been thankful. But the Lord is good and does not leave us or forsake us. He even sovereignly put me in a Bible study this fall on the book of James. Yes, that's right, James. The book of the Bible on Faith. The book that starts off with "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." That verse inspired the title of this blog. God was in every detail, big and small, of 2015.

Ok... back to Habakkuk, in the last sermon of the series, the pastor shared a story of a man from our church who went through a battle with cancer and at the start of it in 2009 was given one year to live. He told our pastor "I'd go through it again because God taught me so much through it." Our pastor described it as a bold and quiet trust in God in the midst of calamity. Philip turned to me and said, "Would you do the three plus year adoption journey again for God to teach and grow you so much?" My response that Sunday was to ask me after the twins were home. :)

I've recently thought a lot about how God called Abraham to go "to a land I will show you." Abraham packed up his family and left all that he knew, all that was comfortable, to follow the Lord into the unknown. I've pondered the thought of if I had known in September of 2012 that we would be entering 2016 and still not be done with this process, would we still have gone forward? In April, when we accepted the referral on the twins, what would I have said if I had known we wouldn't have even traveled for our first trip by the end of 2015??

So often we long to see into the future, but God knows we aren't prepared to handle that knowledge. Thankfully we have the gift of hindsight and looking back. He shows me daily as I look back at this much longer than expected journey how every detail has been by his plan and in his time. He reminds me that none of it has surprised him or been outside of his control or will. I pray for eyes of faith to continue to see his hand guide us to the end of the adoption process and throughout the rest of our lives. He gets the glory of this adoption process. He is to be glorified through our lives. He guides us day by day, step by step, moment by moment. He calls us. He gives us grace upon grace. He bears our sorrows and feels our pain. He sees us crumpled to tears by yet another dose of bad news. He knows our fears of inadequacies to parent these two boys who he has given into our care. He knows!

As we look forward to 2016, some of our toughest days may still be ahead. We know this journey God has called us to in which these twin boys will join our family will be difficult and rewarding, trying and awe-inspiring, full of tears and triumphs, but one thing is certain, the Lord will bring us through and refine us to be more like Him. 

We have much to be thankful for from the year 2015. As for our adoption process, there really is finally light at the end of the tunnel as the Lord saw it fit to move our case forward in December by issuing the unpredictable approval letter and a week later have our court date for January announced. We are finally on the last leg (well last two legs since we travel twice).

This past week a sweet refrain has been coming to mind as I've thought through the ending of a this year and the start of a new year. 

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, 
when sorrows like sea billows roll; 
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, 
It is well, it is well with my soul. 
It is well with my soul, 
it is well, it is well with my soul

There have been days in recent months where the sorrow of this long journey has billowed over me; the sorrow of my heart to not have these boys home in my arms has overwhelmed me. There have been days where peace has washed over me that is unexplainable and surpasses all my earthly understanding. The quiet peace the Lord has given me within my soul has astounded me as I wouldn't describe myself as a peaceful and quiet person typically. I pray he continues to give us peace as we walk the road ahead.

To my fellow adoptive moms and families still waiting for a referral or have lost a referral, still waiting for an approval letter, for a court date, for the light at the end of your tunnel, you have my daily prayers for God's comfort and peace to wash over you each day. As a dear adoptive mom put it, it will be a glorious unfolding as we see all that the Lord will do in our lives and in our children's lives. 

For those still reading, thanks for journeying with us. Thanks for celebrating the good news and encouraging us through the tough days. Thanks for asking about the details. Thanks for not giving up and forgetting about us. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Making Room for Two (Part 2)

I've often sat down to compose this blog post over the past few months, but the words just did not come. The timing didn't feel right. I mean if you write a part one blog post; there has to be a part two, right?

Making room for two.... little did we know when we started this journey that it would be two years, almost to the day that we would be on the wait list waiting to be matched with one child or two. We did not know we were "making room for two" years in our lives. We are making room in our home, in our lives and in our hearts for two little boys, but that isn't what this blog post is going to be about exactly.

There is a back story to these two years that we have sought to be careful in how we share because it is not entirely our story to share. I have struggled to know if we should share this openly on this blog. We do not share this to pat ourselves on the back or to try to draw attention to ourselves. We share this because of the lessons we have learned and seeing a small glimpse of God's purpose in our lives in a season of waiting.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly where this piece of our journey started, but I think that is how God works. He starts a new chapter in the story of our lives when we don't even realize it is happening. As a teacher in a large urban district, there are countless students who've sat in the desks of my classroom that impacted me more than my teaching impacted them. This is one of those cases.

A young man walked into my classroom for the first time in January of 2011. His class schedule had switched around due to seniors being able to take a reduced class load in their second semester so he was placed in my Algebra 2 class to accommodate other course changes. I knew of this young man previously because he was on the basketball team. I had kept the scorebook for the basketball team and my husband announced during the games. I did not know much of his story prior to this semester; only that he was a fairly quiet kid who loved to play basketball. Being a tom boy growing up, I enjoyed talking sports with the student athletes in my class so though I did not get much conversation out of him, the little we did talk was about the basketball team or how a particular game had gone, etc. 

A few other situations came up through his last semester of high school in which I learned a bit more of his story and was able to help him out in a few very small ways. He was a kid who did not ask for help very often because he had pretty much relied on only himself for much of his life. Thanks to his HS assistant basketball coach, he was offered a scholarship to play basketball at a community college in western Kansas. 

We kept up with how he was doing and how his basketball team was doing through his freshman year of college. We were able to go see several games that year and even watched his team play in the national junior college tournament. He was having great success on the team and was getting honors for his success even just as a freshman. We continued to follow him through his sophomore year as well. Due to a job relocation, his uncle who he had lived with growing up, moved out of state during his sophomore year of college. 

As I mentioned previously, he is a very quiet kid. We kept in touch with him but usually didn't get a lot of response back. We had offered that if he ever needed help with anything that he just needed to let us know. He always said thanks, but we really never expected him to take us up on the offer until he called me in December of his sophomore year. His ride home for Christmas break had fallen through so he was asking if we could come pick him up which we did and later took him back after Christmas as college basketball players get very little time off around the holidays.  After his teams' season ended earlier than they hoped, he and a teammate stayed with us for their spring break. Both had hopes and plans to play at a Division I school after they graduated from the junior college later that spring.

On April 19, 2013, he and the same teammate signed to play basketball at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX. 

Side note about the timing God planned in all of this: our dossier got to Ethiopia on April 22, 2013 which was the start of our official wait on "the list" to receive an adoption referral.

The two years that followed while we waited on the adoption wait list involved us making many trips to TX. We were able to see him play in quite a few games in his two years on the team. He stayed with us for the summers in between and at Christmas time as well. We made the trip down for his last game on their home court for his senior night and got to walk with him and some of his family when he was honored. 

Our favorite memories were going to their conference tournament both years in Katy, TX in which they played in the championship game both years; falling short of making it to the NCAA tournament both years unfortunately. Through his two years on the team, we got to know the coaching staff very well and are so grateful for their investment in him and including us in their program as well even though we are not technically his family. (Seriously, they truly went above and beyond the call of duty. I could go on and on about this, but that isn't the point of this post.) He received honors for his success on the team as well and finished his time there with hopes of playing professionally.

He came back to stay with us for the summer while he finished up one online class this summer. We made the trip back to Huntsville for one last time for his graduation on August 8. His journey was unsure for a bit as to if an opportunity to play basketball would actually work out, but just a little over a week ago, I took him to the airport and he is now in the country of Georgia where he signed to play basketball in a professional league there.

I often have said had the adoption process moved quicker, we would have not been able to be as involved in his life as we were able to. Is this why our adoption process went slowly? We will never know for sure, but we do know that for this season of waiting, God had a purpose we would have never planned for or seen on our own. 

The lessons we learned in these few years of walking beside him in his collegiate basketball journey and pursuing professional basketball are hard to fully verbalize. One thing I know for certain is that when we get out of the way and allow God to use us as he would choose, the journey he will take us on is far greater than what we could imagine. He is now half a world away pursuing his dreams of playing basketball professionally and we are slowly, but surely, getting closer to bringing the twins home. Though he will never officially or legally be related to us, we consider him as close as family and know in some way, shape or form, we will stay connected with him. 

My sister's mantra is "it is a privilege to be involved in the lives of people." It truly has been a privilege for us to be involved in this young man's life. I think it is in our human nature to hold back and to not get involved because people's lives our messy and it might require too much of our hearts and lives to get involved. In this case, it wasn't always easy nor was it convenient, but the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience. We did not always know where the path was going to lead and looking back there are possibly some things we would have done differently. The selfish instincts in us said to hold back and to not be involved, but thankfully, God nudged us just enough to walk this path. It would have been easy to say we couldn't get involved because our season of life would be changing.

Yes, the seasons do change, but one of the biggest lessons I have learned in this entire adoption process is that we miss out on the beauty and the opportunity of the season we are in now if we are always looking forward to the next season. The Bible is filled with stories of waiting, but it is filled with stories of the way God worked mightily in these people's lives who were waiting for the next season. He uses waiting, even though our impatient hearts long for the waiting to end. There is purpose in the waiting. In our case, God gave us a glimpse of one small purpose of our waiting in this adoption process. Sometimes we don't get that glimpse until well after the fact. 

Right now, we find ourselves in yet another season of waiting that is lasting much longer than we anticipated. Do we trust God in this time of waiting? Do we trust that his timing and his plan are perfect? We have seen time and time again in this entire journey that his plan is good and perfect, but it is so easily to forget and to want things NOW. Would you continue to pray for us that we would seek God's wisdom in this time?

We are so grateful for such a large support system. We would not have been able to walk this journey without your love, support, encouragement and prayers!

Grateful for you all!