Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Affirmation and Another Yes

Sometimes saying "yes" to God doesn't lead to a huge, visible affirmation. Sometimes, the affirmation is just the peace in our heart that comes with obedience. Sometimes, the affirmation is a husband and wife finally coming together and working toward the same goal. Sometimes, the affirmation is only felt in the our hearts.

When we first said, "yes" to adoption in January of 2013, we did not get a huge, visible sign that we were doing the right thing. In fact, that adoption process for Laura took many years and involved many redirections and life changes until we finally saw her face in July of 2015 and then finalized the adoption in October of the same year. Although it was a long process and sometimes a very hard process, we did continue to receive affirmation. Affirmations of peace. Affirmation of unity. Affirmation of confidence that the Lord was in control and eventually He would see it through to an end that He had been planning all along. And, through those years He changed us and prepared us for what He had to come.

The Lord nudged us, whispered to us, pursued us to say "yes" to a Haitian adoption for several months. We resisted because the process of a Haitian adoption is significantly longer, harder, and less predictable than what we felt comfortable walking through. But, sometimes the right thing is not the easy thing. And, as we continued on our knees, pressing in and asking how He would have us move, He continued to say the same thing, over and over, to both of us: "Haiti."

We finally said an official "Yes!" on March 2nd, when we applied to our agency's Haiti program and started the paper chase. Immediately, all those intangible affirmations flooded our hearts. Although we expected a long wait until we knew who would be coming to our home, and an even longer wait until she was here, we had peace. Peace in the process. Peace in the wait. Peace that eventually we would see His plan unfold for our family.

Then, the unexpected happened: a visible affirmation. On March 7th, just five days after we had applied to our agency, we saw our daughter's sweet face. She is two years old and was being advocated for by our agency because of her special needs. Because of her needs, there were not any families coming forward to be her family. We received her file and medical information two days later and prayed over her. Could this really be her? Already? Selfishly, we looked ahead at the paper chase, the waiting for government agencies, and knew it would feel like an even longer wait with this sweet face in our minds and hearts. Robert said many times, "Amy, I'm afraid you are going to be so sad."But, as we prayed over the next few days, she became our daughter and there was nothing to say but "Yes!"

We worked as quickly as we could to put together our home study and dossier. Many evenings after the children were asleep were spent on the small mountain of paperwork required to adopt our girl. We are now finished with everything we can do and are awaiting our approval from the United States Immigration Department (which should be coming in a few weeks.) After that, our dossier will be sent to Haiti.

There is still a very long process of waiting for Haiti ahead of us. But, we move forward with the assurance that God has been in this since before we were involved and has continued to put His hands all over the process to move mountains and answer prayers. He has shown us our daughter and we know He is in control and is bigger than all the problems and road blocks that are sure to be ahead. We continue to pray for expediency because the sooner she is home, the better. But, we know even as we wait, He loves her more than we do. And He has all of this in His control. Praise be to the Lord that we have the peace that comes with that knowledge...He is mighty and gracious and we are so humbled to be used in His plans.

Thank you for your prayers!

Monday, April 9, 2018

1 Year Home, Part 2: Changing Together

I have said it before, and I will say it again. The hardest part of traveling to China alone, was coming home alone. While I was in China finalizing our adoption of Laura, the trip itself was fun at times, exhausting at others, full of adventure, and life changing. While I was there, I felt the prayers of my family and friends at home. The Lord sustained me in times of fatigue and gave me a brave heart that was able to enjoy the sweet time with my newest daughter and fall in love with her country.

We came home to our family and I was so happy to see them all and be together again. But...something inside me had changed and I couldn't...nor did I want to...go back to the "before." It wasn't a flashy change or something that any stranger would notice. But, my husband noticed and called me "post China Amy", sometimes in a more endearing way than others. I struggled internally to integrate back into American society. Truth be told, I had no desire to be back in American society. If Robert had been on board, I would have sold everything and moved overseas to serve the orphans in some way...any way. It was difficult to process all these feelings alone. It was difficult to have this life changing event without my husband there with me.

When travel approval came for Howie, we were thrilled that it worked out so that we could go together this time. We had several people in our life willing and able to care for our children and several people in our life who kept telling us it was important for Robert to be there this time (and we agreed.) I packed and prepared with excitement. I couldn't wait to hold our son. I couldn't wait to get back to China. I couldn't wait for noodles. I couldn't wait to hug several guides who I loved and I couldn't wait to share everything I loved with the man I love. Part of me did worry he wouldn't love it...and then what? "Please don't ruin China." is what I said as we headed to the airport that dark morning in April.

Then, we traveled for a long time. We climbed the Great Wall and met families with shared desires to grow their families through the blessing of adoption.  We met our son on a day that Robert would later describe as "one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen". We visited the orphanage and saw the hundreds of beds.  We walked the streets of Zhengzhou and Guangzhou together and fell in love with China together. And then came home together, and had each other to process through all the change and feelings and aches.

Although Robert still is not on board with selling everything and moving overseas, we do share an ache for the children we left behind and a love for adoption. We flinch at the "easy button" that so many desire to push, and laugh at the all the interesting conversations our little family creates. We love our children with our whole hearts and know we have room for more. Room in our hearts, room in our home. Because adoption and China changed us forever. And we thank God for that. Our lives are blessed beyond measure by the six precious hearts the Lord has placed in our family. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be their parents.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

One Year Home, Part 1: Howard Derek

It is hard to believe a whole year has passed since we met Howie for the first time. In many ways, it feels like yesterday that we stood waiting for him arrive, watching other families from our group be united with their children. But, since then, our family has packed up and moved to a new state and settled in to a new home and routine. The year has been busy and good for all of us.

In many ways, Howie's adoption and integration into our family has been a "best case scenario." When we adopted both he and Laura, we went into the adoptions hoping for all the best case scenarios but knowing full well, and trying to prepare for, less than best cases. Medically, Howie is a healthy boy. He was diagnosed in China with hydrocephalus and has a strange scar on the side of his head. (The neurologist here called it a "witch doctor scar.") We will never know what happened in his life before us, but we do know he does not have hydrocephalus. He has a larger than average head, but a healthy brain, and that is what really matters.

Howie adjusted quickly to our family and our home and is a delight to us. He is funny and brave. He is rough and tumble and "all boy". He loves to jump off of everything (which has resulted in more than one injury...all minor, thankfully!). He builds with blocks and legos. He loves trains and asks to dump out the tracks daily. He was afraid of water and swimming when he first got home, but he loves it now. He enjoys the beach and the pool. He loves to ride his tricycle and scooter outside and play in the dirt in the backyard. He is everything a four year old boy should be. He loves his siblings and plays well with all of them (most of the time!)

We talked as a family about what we will always remember about Howie's first year with us and here are our top five: (Most are comical because that is who Howie is!) :)

1. Howie used to yell at us in mandarin. He learned English very quickly (he was saying words and short phrases before we left China), but when he was angry, his words were still in mandarin. We tried to use Google Translate to figure out what he was saying, but I guess his language was a 3 year old's version of mandarin and that didn't compute, because we rarely could figure out what he was saying. Robert used to say "I think when we can understand him, he may be in trouble." He would also sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" in mandarin in the car. I do wish we could have preserved that language for him in some way.

2. Jumping, jumping, jumping. Howie jumps off of stairs and curbs...any time a jump is possible, he prefers that to stepping every time. The day before his medical appointment in China, he jumped off of a little bridge at the hotel park and hit his head. We went to the medical appointment with an egg shaped knot on his forehead. He has had similar injuries throughout the year, but he still loves to jump!

3. He has the best little giggle and smile! He is one of those kids that smiles with his whole face and it is darling. And his sweet cheeks...I could kiss them all day.

4. Funniest/grossest story of the year: Shortly after we moved into our house in North Carolina, I was unpacking downstairs and the 3 year olds were playing in the girls' room upstairs. It got quiet. I got nervous and went upstairs. I walked into the bathroom and Howie was wet all over. His head was wet. His shirt was wet. His arms were dripping. Strangely, his feet and legs were dry. I looked around...the bath was dry...why was he wet? I asked him and he just stared at me. I asked Rachel and she paused before saying: "Howie stuck his head in the potty." Ummm....what???? "WHY???" was my response. "To save our toys." Rachel replied. Yep. They had flushed toys. Some were still floating. Some were stuck in the pipes. Some were stuck in the bend of the toilet. A plumber, new toilet, and long shower later, it is funny. It is really funny, actually. Pretty gross at the moment though. So...Howie is the kid that will stick his arms (and head) in the toilet in effort to save his sisters' dolls.

5. Howie fell in love with Paw Patrol as soon as we got home. He loves it. Christmas and his birthday were all about Paw Patrol and he currently has a fleet of Paw Patrol trucks in his room. It goes nicely with Jacob's garbage truck and firetruck fleets. They are a good pair.

It has been a lovely year with our Hao Hao! We are thankful we got the opportunity to be his family and thankful that we said yes to one more! It sounded crazy at the time...but it has been fun so far and we look forward to many more years of fun together. This crew keeps us smiling!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Monday, January 22, 2018

A Season of Rest

“Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” –Matthew 11:28

Sometimes our days are so busy, it is not until we finally lay our heads down at night that we finally feel our fatigue.  We all have those days…when the flurry of activity does not subside until heads are on pillows.  We all have days when the only time we sit is to drive our children to an event, weeks of full calendars and constant movement, months of endless activity. And then, when it is over, sleep overcomes us, and we long for a few days, weeks or months of rest and peace.  

We recently came out of a season of business: several years that felt like constant change and movement and very little rest.  A few years of the Lord’s seemingly constant calls to “Go”, “Move”, “Go”, “Do”, “Yes!” His blessings were numerous as He called us to constant change. Other than the tangible blessings of added children, one of the most precious blessings for us was one of endurance and faithfulness, as from 2014 to 2017 we gave birth to our daughter, moved across the country, went to China and adopted our daughter, went to China again and adopted our son, and then moved across the country again.  All the while, we also tried our very best to nurture and care for our children as we walked through and rejoiced in these busy years.  

Peace came after we finally landed here in North Carolina.  As we settled in and started our home school routine, it was now just the children and me.  No adoption paperwork.  No moving boxes.  No looming commitments.  Just us. Day in and day out: teaching, learning, building with blocks, playing kitchen, riding bikes, reading books, making meals, exploring new museums, snuggling in front of movies, playing at the park, enjoying each other.  As the weeks passed, I noticed in this peace, we were becoming even more closely knit than before.  

In this period of peace and slower days, the Lord is teaching me that He is here in the everyday too.  As we worked through two adoptions and two moves, it was easy to feel my need for the Lord’s strength and easy to see Him moving in big ways.  Although adopting and moving were both hard, it was also—dare I say it?—fun to step far outside our normal to do work He was calling us to.  In those years of turmoil and busy activity, I leaned heavily on the Lord for guidance, endurance, hope, and courage.  Now, I knew He was calling us to a quieter season and I felt some anxiety about my relationship with Him.  Would He still whisper truths to me as I moved through weeks that ran together in seemingly identical days?  Would my Spirit still ache for time with him without the pressing need of huge life events? 

I have been humbled and delighted at just how often He still speaks to me in this time of stillness and quiet.  It’s not the big events that cause me to hear His voice, but the condition of my heart.  I am reminded of Psalm 51: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it, you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart.”  Although He may call us to do, go, and be, it is not the act He desires most: but the willing, obedient heart and spirit.  

I do hear His whispers still.  And I see Him move.  He teaches me now of contentment in sameness.  My joy overflows as I get to be at home, experiencing school and life with my children.  He whispers truths about caring for their hearts, teaching them, protecting them, advocating for them, and praying over them.

There is joy in the peace and stillness.  There is joy because He is still here.  He has given us this sweet season of rest, and we are soaking up every moment.  Even as we enjoy this season, we hear Him say “There is more work ahead…” and we know He has more for us to “do”, “go”, and “move”. The vision is becoming clear but it is not for now…for now, we enjoy His presence and His directive to just “Be still.”  

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Replacing Lies with Truth

"You know what your problem is...you have too many children." 

It was November 2015, and Laura and I had been home from China for just a few weeks. We were attempting church for the second time since becoming a family of seven. Although we were tired and emotionally drained from the addition of another small human in our life, overall we were well and life was good. We were happy to be back together and overjoyed to have our daughter home. Robert was parking our van while I checked the kids into their Sunday morning classes. As I juggled Laura on my hip and check-in slips in my other hand, I casually mentioned to my eldest, "Oh, man, I left my sweater in the car. I hope Daddy sees it." (Florida in November means it is still way too hot to wear a sweater in the car or outside but the inside of buildings are still arctic from the air conditioning.) 

That's when I heard her. As I put name stickers on my children, she was watching and listening. She was the "helper" that day, assigned to help get families where they needed to be. "You know what your problem is?" she said to me. I looked up, surprised. She answered without my response: "You have too many children." I would like to say I had a quick, tart response. Or even a quick, kind response. But I didn't. I stood there for a second with my mouth hanging open. I was in church. And this was someone with whom I was vaguely acquainted. I am more than used to rude, inappropriate, or strange comments from people in the grocery store...but the location where I heard this comment and from whom it came caught me off guard. 

It is scary how quickly these voices of attack or doubt or plain meanness can dig a place in my heart. Her words hit deeply. For me, the message I hear when I am feeling defeated or tired or lost is: "You are not enough. You will never be enough." It is the lie the enemy uses to paralyze me. It is the fear that causes me to make poor, cowardly decisions. They are the words that play through my mind after those days that all mommas have: when everything seems to be falling apart. 

Flash forward seven months from that moment and we are heading to sailing camp. The boys are ready to go and I am feeling like super mom that I got them there on time, with sunscreen on, and snacks in their bags. Then I realize I forgot life jackets. Life jackets. Pretty crucial for sailing lessons. I tell their instructor I left them at home and in my head, the words play again: "You know what your problem is...you have too many children." ... "You are not enough." The lie is at work. 

Flash forward to the insane month-of-moving when I have six children and a parakeet in one hotel room. The words play again, many, many times, as I work like crazy to hold everything together, I hear "...you have too many children." ... "You will never be enough." 

Flash forward to this week. I am potty training three three year olds. Do I need to write any more words about this? That is a lot of potty training...and all the messes and gross that goes with it. "You know what your problem is...?" 

My problem is obvious. It's not the number of children I have. The problem is, instead of letting that little comment roll off, instead of squashing the lie of not being enough, instead of listening to truth, I allowed myself to believe a lie. 

Don't get me wrong, I don't think about the lie everyday. I don't think it even every week. I haven't been stewing on that comment for two years. BUT, when I am at my weakest, this same lie continues to resurface. I have allowed it a little place in my heart and it comes out when life gets a little painful. 

I like to start Saturday mornings with a run. This morning while I was running I kept coming back to this struggle. Why does this continue to haunt me? As I ran down my favorite neighborhood street, it was a gentle whisper that reminded me: you have never replaced this lie with truth. You nurse this lie every time you entertain it. Replace it with the truth of His Word.

It's time to replace the lie with truth. And here is the truth. The truth is every one of my children is absolutely precious to me. They are bright, curious, polite, funny, and loving. I am proud to be their mother. I can't imagine life without them. The truth is that even on the really hard days, there is always something that happens that I am so glad to be the one to witness. The truth is, if the Lord leads us, we will adopt another one some day. We don't have too many. 

And here are some even bigger truths: I know that all children are a gift of the Lord (Psalm 127) and these sweet ones were set in this family by Him. I know that even at my weariest, the Lord gives me strength, patience, and peace that can only come from Him (Isaiah 40, Romans 5, Galations 5, Philippians 4). The truth is, I am not enough, but the Lord makes me enough by working through me. I know that He has great things in store for me and for my children and I eagerly await His instruction that I may see how He will work all things for His glory (Jeremiah 29, Romans 8, Ephesians 2). 

I can't say that this internal fight won't rear its head again. But, I can say I believe I have armored myself against it by putting the Lord's truth in my mind and heart. I do believe this particular battle will get easier to fight as I continue to replace lies with truth and fear with faith. 

It is so easy to listen to the voices of our culture and society. It is easy to get sucked into fear or anxiety. It is easy to stew on lies and meanness. But, those are not the voices we should be listening to for validation or instruction or guidance. We should be listening to the voice of Truth, reading the infallible Word, and when we need counsel, seeking it from someone else who is also committed to following the Lord. May I continue to fill myself with His truth that the lies of our enemy may have no power in my life. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Lasts...

The last meal we shared in our home in Tampa was beef stew with potatoes and carrots. We had a delightful day of nothing that day. We swam in our pool. We played. We lounged on the couch and watched cartoons. And then we shared one of our favorite meals, finished with ice cream and sprinkles. We were supposed to have 4 more days at the house...but then our packers showed up the next day and everything went sideways. But this post isn't about the total chaos that ensued after that evening. It is about holding on to the sweetness of that day. Holding on to our last day and saying goodbye. I wish I had known that night as I slept next to Jacob that it would be the last night in the house. I wish I had savored waking up next to the water and the feel of being there in our house a little more.

Tampa was a good home in so many ways. It was a lonely place for me, but overall there are so many sweet memories of being there. We added two children to our family while in that home. We spent a year pretending Disney was our personal playground. We were near sweet family who we loved seeing regularly...and who my children love and miss dearly. It is where we fell in love with the beach and grew to really hate mosquitoes. We thought we'd be there for a lot longer...I never thought it would be just 2 years and then we'd be in boxes again. 

Now, a month after that last night in the Tampa house, I am sitting in my new house. All the boxes are unpacked. Our things have found their new place and my babies are sleeping in their new rooms. I scrolled through my photos of the last few weeks in Tampa and started crying. I knew the end was coming, of course, but there were so many moments that I didn't know the last was the last. 

Our last time to our "secret caves" and the kids "climbing club" was hot and humid. We loved that place. They climbed and got their feet wet in the mucky bay. They found crabs (dead and alive) and explored. How many times did we make that walk? More than I can count. On the last trip, we ran into a dear friend who shared a heartbeat with us and who was going through similar trials of change as we did. I hugged her and thought I'd see her again. But that was goodbye. I wish I had known. I wish I had known as I watched the children climb that it was goodbye. I wish I had said goodbye. 

I feel the same way about so many lasts. I wish I had known it was my last run on that nice, long, flat sidewalk. I don't miss the feeling of the humidity engulfing me as I ran. But, I do miss the run. I miss running next to the water and clearing my mind. There were many hard, lonely moments, days, and weeks. I wish I had said goodbye to that run that was therapy for my soul. 

Looking back, I didn't do a good job in those weeks of all the tumultuous change of really taking in the moments that I would soon miss. In effort to make everything as smooth as possible for my children, I forgot my goodbyes. And it wasn't until I had everyone sleeping in one hotel room...at the peak of what was one of the hardest weeks of my mothering life...that I realized I hadn't said goodbye to anyone or anything as I should have. All I had done was tread water. And I think many times my head was actually under the water's surface. But that really is not a good enough excuse. 

And, then, after the house had been packed and we were officially homeless, I remembered a last goodbye from a decade ago. I remembered a goodbye that was the goodbye of my life. I remembered what she said. I remembered regret. And then I called my Pa-Pa. And for the first time in a long time, I did what I should have been doing all along. I threw the schedule out the window and said a meaningful, real, memorable goodbye. 

Instead of waking up and getting to where we needed to be the next day, we woke up and spent the morning at Chic Fil A with my Pa-Pa. He talked and played with my children. He held Laura. He asked Rachel if she wanted to come and stay with him. (She looked at him as if he had lost his mind.) And we said a sad, but good, goodbye. Then the kids and I made a long drive away from Tampa and toward our new life in North Carolina.

My Type A personality is so slow to learn. I have gotten better...the first adoption process and life thereafter has changed me deeply. But, I still love order. I still love accomplishing tasks and doing them well. I still do sometimes neglect the softer, more meaningful things in pursuit of checking off my list. And, in times of trial and hardship, I do revert back to a more rigid self. It's not a pretty part of me. 

And, so, I learn the lesson again. Take time to breathe. Take time to say goodbye. Take time to enjoy the moment in front of me, for I never know if it will be my last. The last time to the cherished climbing caves. The last jog along the lovely bay. The last phone call with my Gran-Gran. The last ice cream with my Pa-Pa. It just might be. Enjoy it. Savor it. Remember it. Toss the list. Live the life. 

Yesterday our art project was taking too long. I looked at my list of homeschool tasks for the day and thought "Man, we are never going to be done today." And then I looked at all six children enjoying an art project together. Cutting, taping, drawing. Creating. And I tossed the list. We did the art for an hour and you know what? Today we did a little more math and it is just fine. For now, the lesson is learned. Here's hoping I am not so slow to learn next time.