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!