Protein Latte (No Powder Necessary!)

On Monday I had an appointment with my midwife… one of those appointments where you go in like a child who is misbehaving because she knows she hasn’t been doing her chores.  Ahem.  The last few weeks had not gone well for me.  I was probably eating about the same amount of calories a day as my seven year old.  Not. Ok.  But when you are exhausted with four little ones, and another baking in the oven, and you have no appetite… the very last thing in the world you want to do is go make yourself food that you have no desire to eat.

I knew I hadn’t been doing well, so two weeks before the appointment I had cut out a lot of sugar, no desserts or sweets.  I thought that if I cut those things out it would force me to eat something with substance.  But no, I just had zero appetite and nothing sounded good.  Welcome to the third trimester.  The vicious cycle of not eating.  The less you eat, the less your body wants to eat… and on down the rabbit hole we go.

I guiltily confessed all of this to my midwife, but secretly I was glad to be there.  I knew she’d be able to set me straight.  I needed someone to stand up to my despondency and who better to do that than the lady in charge of my health and the health of our baby?  She listened very empathetically, and then gave me a piece of paper with several instructions scribbled on it.  The first?  100 grams of protein a day.  Fun fact, apparently swelling in pregnancy is always due to not getting enough protein.  I knew how much protein I needed to be getting,  but I just couldn’t make myself eat that much.  I was getting maybe 40 grams on a good day.

So what’s a pregnant lady to do?  Food aversions and lack of appetite hit me on both ends of pregnancy – first and last trimester.  Not to mention, finding the time to cook extra food for myself with all these little ones to feed and clothe and love on is less than easy.  I knew I needed to get creative, and this morning was the perfect opportunity.  I woke up late and had a meeting with the special needs director at our local school first thing.  I ate a little breakfast, but it wasn’t near enough, and I knew I needed food as soon as I got home.  But I had been gone all morning,

I had things to catch up on, I was even hungry, but the only thing that sounded good was a cup of coffee.  So that’s what I had.  And it was amazing.

photo (55)Delicious, warm, comforting, beautifully frothy… and packed with 33 grams of solid protein.  Yes, I had a stroke of genius this morning.  It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes I get lucky.

This was so much easier to get down than a protein smoothie or protein bar!  Those things can be quick, easy substitutes too, but sometimes that’s even more than my fickle appetite is willing to do.  But this?  I would be up for this any day.  How has this never happened before?

Protein latte… you are my new best friend.

Ingredients

(Protein listed in grams next to each ingredient to make the math simpler as you consider substitutions.  With pregnancy brain, there’s nothing I appreciate more than making math easier on people!)

1 ½ Cups Milk (12g)
2 TBS Instant Coffee
2 TBS Cocoa Powder (2g)
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
¼ Cup Pumpkin Seeds (19g)
Sweetener of Choice

Instructions

Gently heat milk to not-quite-boiling.  Stir in instant coffee and cocoa powder.  Pour into a high-powered blender and add vanilla, pumpkin seeds and a sweetener if desired.  (I used just a couple teaspoons of sugar and it was plenty sweet enough.)  Blend on high until seeds are pulverized.  Pour into your favorite coffee mug and enjoy!

Notes

I suggest raw milk for the highest amount of quality protein.  But it can easily be substituted for whatever milk you like, dairy or non-dairy.  Just be sure to adjust the amount of protein.  If I had maple syrup on hand I would have used that instead of regular sugar and omitted the vanilla.  Another fun twist might be adding peppermint extract for holiday flair!

If you do not have, or don’t like the taste of pumpkin seeds you can substitute for ½ cup of almonds instead.  It will probably give it an even milder flavor, and you only lose 7 grams of protein – so you’re still getting about as much protein as you would in a protein bar, which is pretty great for a cup of coffee I’d say!

It is really so flexible and adaptable.  Simply use milk instead of water, and blend in some high protein seeds or nuts and you’ve got a great, energy boosting comfort drink for your morning!  You might also want to be sure to use decaf if you are pregnant or nursing like me. ;)  Go ahead and try a cup and let me know what you think!  I’d love to hear your recipe variations in the comments too.

Warm (and Delicious) Wishes!

An Open Letter to the Pews Behind Me

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Last night, I once again braved the Church pew with four lively young children.  Ordinary enough, I know that thousands upon thousands of mothers complete an identical ritual every week.  But our situation is a bit unique, and for those of you in the pews behind me, you know all of this.

You know that I am not just an ordinary parishioner; I’m your pastor’s wife.  I sit up front with my four children who are absolutely capable of being well behaved during a service… but are not always.  You know that we just adopted two of our children this summer, that neither can walk and both have special needs and come from neglected orphanage backgrounds.  You know that the pastor’s kids, my kids, have been struggling more the last few weeks.  Three of the last four services I have had to take someone out screaming.

You know that last night was the worst they have ever been, one raging, cursing, flailing child (yes he was cursing at me in Russian); one uncomfortable little girl who began screaming and crying while I was on the other side of the building; a little one too quick to follow in his older brother’s disobedient footsteps; and a little girl who should know better… but just couldn’t help herself; and a poor grandmother trying desperately to salvage the entire ordeal before the entire pew made a grand exit.

I know you have concerns.  Perhaps you are concerned that I’m too strict or too lenient with my children in Church.  You might be worried about our biological children after seeing our adopted son throw punches in the middle of the sermon last night.  I know that you are concerned about my wellbeing; most of you ask every time we see each other how I’m holding up.  Maybe you’re worried that our family is too much for anyone, or how can Pastor possibly have enough time or energy for his work after all that?  You might certainly be wondering how on Earth we are going to manage with Mambo #5 who is arriving very quickly after the New Year.

I know there might be a lot of wondering and a lot of speculation, and probably even a little bit of talking after last night’s episode.  And so, since I’m in the fishbowl already, I thought I might as well join the conversation.  Our family’s struggles are no secret, or at least they aren’t after last night.  I know you have concerns and I know you have questions, so here is my two cents about the matter.  No matter how much or how little you saw last night, here’s what I really want you to know.

I take my children to Church for a reason.  Yes, they disrupt the service.  I wish they wouldn’t but they do.  I could sit in the back, or I could give them food or toys or any number of distractions.  I could make it easier on them and on myself, and on your ears too.  But I don’t.  Why?  Not because distractions are bad parenting, I certainly make use of them.  But when we go to Church to meet our Lord and Savior, to honor and thank Him, to physically touch and consume His Life, to sing praises along with the entire host of Heaven, well… why on Earth would I distract my children from such a great experience?  Why wouldn’t I want to give them a front row seat to the miracles taking place before their eyes?

No they don’t appreciate it, and they never will either – unless I teach them, show them, tell them what an honor it is to be in the presence of God at Church.  And by giving them distractions from God, I would be making it difficult to later assert that He is the One Thing Needful.  Everyone’s kids are different, and parenting during Church will look different for everyone.  I know my children, and I know what they are capable of.  Each one of them is more than capable of participating in the service without distractions.  Why would I expect less from them than what I know they can do?

Yes, I’m a bad mom.  But not last night, last night I actually did really well.  Ever since coming home with our new little ones I have struggled with my temper, really struggled.  Some Sunday mornings my little ones make it through the service, but I don’t.  I end up snapping or being too firm with their fidgety little hands.  It makes for less noise and distraction, but it puts a whole lot of sin on my plate.

Last night though?  I kept my cool under the pressure cooker of the worst rage our son has had in months.  I was hit, spit at, cursed at, bit, scratched and a myriad of other infractions.  But not once did I raise my voice at him.  Not once did I lose my temper.  I was present and calm and I weathered the storm, even when the rest of my children crumbled under the chaos – I continued to calmly go about damage control the best I could.  I refused to enter the crazy cycle with my hurting, traumatized son.  Instead I just waited him out, I put him to bed and I told him I loved him.

My son is not a bad child.  What you saw was not a temper tantrum; it is what they call a “rage”.  Raging is a behavior stemming from neglect, abuse or trauma.  It is a fear response, and it happened at least daily when we first came home.  About two months ago his rages stopped.  We had been doing very well keeping him close to us and not letting other adults give him affection that would be confusing to a child for whom every adult had been interchangeable his whole life.  One day a flip switched, and he just stopped raging.  Overnight he transformed into our best behaved child.

But the holidays are usually a very difficult time for children like my son.  More affection from other adults, more visitors, more sugar, more presents… it’s all too much and it can send them toppling back into the confusion and chaos in their mind.  In the last week we’ve seen the rages slowly come back, and last night was the grand finale topping it all off… right in the front pew for all to see.

Often these children don’t rage in public, they wait until they feel safe – at home.  But you have done such a wonderful job of making our son feel welcome and safe, and apparently he doesn’t mind showing off at church now either.  So for his sake, and the sake of all children who come with struggles and special needs – don’t assume a child is bad, especially if you see them acting unusually loud, aggressive, manipulative or crazy in public.  Over-the-top behaviors don’t indicate a bad child or even bad parenting, they indicate hurt and fear.  Show generous amounts of compassion to this child’s parents, and pray healing over their child.

Our other children are safe, but not untouched.  Yes, he came out swinging last night, and yes some of those punches landed.  But I can count on one hand the number of times, out of many many rages, that he has ever laid a finger on another child.  And I can assure you, no one has ever been really hurt.  My husband and I are the ones that trigger his insecurities and fears of being left or hurt.  He is afraid of loving us, because he’s never been able to love an adult or caregiver before without being hurt by that affection.

He’s not afraid of loving his siblings.  That means, either myself or my husband is always physically there when the raging begins, and it is very simple for us to keep other children safe at that point.  Close quarters in the pew complicates things a bit, as you might have guessed.  But my point is – don’t worry about our children.  They are safe.  This doesn’t mean that they are not untouched by the trauma that their siblings have endured; it has affected them greatly too.  Some of that you even got to see yesterday as they followed suit in acting like hooligans in the middle of the Divine Service.  They were just as tired and stressed as I was over the whole thing.

Adoption is hard for them too.  They have seen the trauma and aggression and neglect and fear and pain that their brother and sister have endured.  They are acutely aware of the suffering of people so close to them.  Both of them have been changed and, as their parents, we are working so hard to make those changes positive for them.  But it is a lot to process for little minds, and this will also take time.  Give them grace too.

One more sibling is not too much.  Yes, having five children developmentally five and under is going to be CRAZY!  I know.  And I’m so excited.  I won’t write a whole post on that here, but someone else did, and it’s a really great read if you are interested: “Why Have More Kids?”

We are bruised but not crushed.  Our family is weary of all that this adoption has taken out of us.  Adoption is not an easy road, and many of you might be looking at our ragged, weary bunch thinking that you are so glad you aren’t in our shoes, or that you could never do it or maybe even that we bit off more than we can chew or that we shouldn’t do this either.  That’s just not the case.  With God’s help we are making it.  We are surviving the transition.  Not only that, we really are thriving with His provision and mercy.  All of us are healing, growing, learning and becoming stronger.  And we’re doing it together, which is the best part.

These are our children, and we knew they were ours.  We love them dearly and want them exactly where they are now, right here with us.  Our life isn’t perfect or easy or comfortable, but we have a life together.  None of our children are starving or being drugged or beat up.  None of our children have to be cold at night or go for days without being touched.  No one is lacking medical care and no one is alone.  Those are not things that our family takes for granted anymore, because it wasn’t always this way.  We are so blessed to be where we are… and perhaps from the outside it looks like a life that is unpreferrable, one that you would not choose.

But from our point of view, we are clinging desperately to our Savior, because He’s our only hope left.  And we would not change that for the world.  Hardship, discomfort, pain, loss… it’s all a part of adoption.  And it’s a great privilege and blessing to endure it for the sake of these little ones, for the sake of our Lord.  Don’t feel sorry for us.  The joy and love we are creating is worth so much more than what we’ve lost, and we wouldn’t change it for the world.

Just Hold On!

I know you all have been waiting for something, anything for a while now.  And I promise I’m getting there.  There have been some BIG changes in our household over the last week or so and once I have my life reorganized I think I’ll actually have time for this little blog again.  I’m really excited to share all the wonderful ways God is providing for our family.  So just hold tight!  I have a post coming soon!!  In the mean time, have a very blessed start to your Advent season as we prepare for the celebration of our Lord’s birth!

The Face of God

After we got home from Ukraine, I was really great about waking up for my pious obedience of morning prayer.  4:30am was the time because, with this early rising group, what other quiet time is there to pray?  And then the days went on… and I was so exhausted.  My body stopped waking me up.  I started turning off my alarms in my sleep every morning without even realizing it.  When I was actually awake at 4:30 I couldn’t bring myself to leave the bed.  On the rare chance that I did crawl out of bed, I would be summoned back again by our two year old who got clingy and decided he needed me from 4:45 to 6:00am every morning or he couldn’t sleep.  I gave up.

I haven’t said my morning prayers for almost two months now.  And that isn’t the only thing that has slipped… my patience, my energy, my willingness to serve my family… it’s all been fleeting lately, like grasping at straws.  The guilt, the overwhelming amount of work to do that can’t possibly be done, the endless toil of meal after meal and corralling four small children, the physically draining reality of two new children and one already on the way, the ongoing march of doctor’s appointments and therapy and paperwork, the children who are in emotional upheaval and who are all coping differently… it’s enough to make me want to run away in the worst moments.

Yesterday was a bad day.  Today is better, but yesterday I hid in my room for the majority of the evening.  I just couldn’t anymore.  While in hiding I decided to look up post-adoption depression, my symptoms are classic… and not at all mild.  Post-partum depression is a very widely accepted and discussed emotional issue for new mothers.  But post-adoption depression?  It’s taboo, we’re not supposed to talk about it.  We just spent the last year convincing governments and social workers and immigration services and courtrooms and orphanage directors and grant organizations and to everyone else that we will be really great parents for these children.

Then we get home, and reality sets in… we aren’t the picture-perfect parents we set ourselves up to be.  We promised to always provide this and to never resort to that, that we had access to this and that they would get that.  And perhaps we live up to that some of the time or even most of the time… but I doubt any of us truly emerge as the immaculate vision of love and joy and peace and kindness that we tried to explain to everyone and their third cousin that we could be.  And yes… I could be all that… technically.  But I’m not.  I have bad moments and I have bad days and I have had so many unexpected problems come up that my children still don’t have all their therapists and equipment  and resources in place.  Guilt.

Guilt.

Guilt.

Guilt.

Post adoption depression is real folks, and some days (like yesterday) our family is just caught in the thick of it.  This morning I woke up to a much more emotionally stable Dalas.  A Dalas who wanted to love on her kids and clean the house and get ready for our new arrival and start thinking about Christmas.  I like that Dalas.  She’s much easier to get along with.  And, as is typical, while on the upswing from my three days of deepening sadness, I determined to make it stop.  How can I prevent that from happening again?  Where do I start?  And then I remembered those prayers… the ones I’m not doing.

Praying is always infinitely more difficult in the midst of a depression, and it has been particularly hard for me to muster up the energy for it as of late.  “Of course.”  I thought to myself “I’m not praying so no wonder I’m struggling to love my children or want to care for them.  Of course I have no desire to serve them… if I would only pray more God would give me the strength and the patience and the love and joy I’m missing.”  So another thing to feel guilty about, just add it to the “I don’t do _______ well enough,” running tally in my head.

But then I sat down to read a book written by a lady for whom adoption was a catalyst of faith.  I would highly recommend it to any adoptive mamas out there.  Anyway, she was in the Holy Land and started helping at a particular monestary that was also a “school” (more like a shelter) for Palestinian girls whose families were abusive or unsafe.  One nun was in charge of the care for all eleven girls… in every sense but by law, she was their mother.

The author questioned her about this and the following conversation ensued:

“Yes, but is this really good for you?  Don’t you think raising children takes you away from the monastic path?”
“It took me a while to figure this one out.  But I got it eventually.  Nuns keep their eyes on God all the time, essentially living with God on earth, right?”
“Yes…”
“But I have to keep my eyes on the children all the time, right?”
“Yes…”
“And for a long time I thought I was just looking at children.  But then I got it: By keeping my eyes on the children, I am keeping my eyes on God.  I am living with the truest icons of the Lord Himself.”

And then I got it.  By keeping my eyes on the children, I am keeping my eyes on God.  All this time I was looking for God in the quiet, lonely hours of the morning.  I was praying without my little icons!  It was not my inability to find prayer time that was making my job as a mother difficult… it was, in fact, my lack of desire for God, my pulling away from Him that was pulling me away from my children.  The last place anyone wants to be while drowning in a pool of guilt and depression is before the Face of God.  I could have been saying lots of prayers… sleepy or not, clingy toddler or not, in quiet morning hours or not.  The truth was I just didn’t want to.

And when the time came for the children to be awake and for me to start the next marathon of watching four rambunctious children for the next 12-14 hours I didn’t want to do that either… not because it was particularly difficult or frustrating or trying and not even because it was exhausting.  I didn’t want to do it because in seeing their little faces hour after hour, minute after minute, I was looking into the Face of God.  And His was the last one I really wanted to see.  Serving them would have meant serving Him, and in my prideful, unrepentant state I loathed the very idea of it.

I thought that my lack of prayers was causing a lapse in my ability to love my children, but that was actually not the case at all.  My inability to love my children was rooted in nothing more than my resolution to avoid God.  It wasn’t the cooking or cleaning or correcting that I loathed… but interacting with His Image over and over all day long that was infuriating me.  What a humbling and freeing realization.

These children were not the chains holding me back from a simple, prayerful life… they were my ticket to it.  They were not the burden creating such darkness and despondency in my soul… they were the mirror warning me of my error and they are the balm that God will use to heal it, if only I am willing.  A pious and holy life is right before me, complete with all the bells and whistles of nighttime vigils, caring for the sick, fasting, feeding the hungry and living daily in the presence of sometimes no one other than God and His icons.  He is here for me every hour of every day literally, to love and to hold and to enjoy… what a blessed life.

Dear Lord, Who has given me every good and precious gift for the benefit of my salvation, when I begin to struggle with the weight of my duties, with the all-consuming cares of raising my young children – remind me that this is the work you have given me to do.  That in this work I will find You, which means I will also find peace and rest.  When the weakness of this earthly frame begins to balk at the exhaustion, whisper gently that such discomfort is the respite of my soul.  Help me to see your Glorious Image in the faces of my children, to treat them with humility and love.  Let me approach this task with great fear and trembling, a tangible reminder that ignoring my children is ignoring you, being harsh with them is dealing just as real a blow to my Savior as if I were a soldier at your Passion.  May I nevermore be so bold in my sin.  Grant me the grace to love You.  Amen.

Treading Lightly

Two days ago I woke up to wonderful news.  Whitaker found his family.  One little boy who has been waiting for far too long, who was on the brink of a death sentence… his crime?  Being born with a disability.  But his sentence has been postponed.  A family has stepped up to pay his ransom and to free him from his life behind the bars of a crib.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!  He moved the hearts of His Church for one sweet child… and Whitaker is now found, destined to be loved and cherished forevermore.  No longer to be called an orphan… but a beloved son.  How beautiful, how marvelous, how I couldn’t be happier for this boy.

And yet, there is a tension in my heart.  I want to be so careful not to alienate the hundreds of beautiful people who were involved in this miracle.  I had more views on my last post for Whitaker than I have ever had on any post, and that’s actually really saying something!  Over a hundred people shared him on Facebook, and who knows how many others shared.  I know phone calls were made and hearts were moved.  Over 20,000 people saw his sweet face and I alone had a dozen families request more information about him.  (I know I wasn’t the only one receiving inquiries either!)

It was such a swift and beautiful movement, with all of God’s people moving in harmony and in tune to His will.  And from the bottom of my heart, I thank all of you who saw that post for praying and sharing and loving Whitaker, of being a part of his miracle.  I could not be more grateful for all that was done, and yet, there is still apprehension, because I know.  I know that what I wrote three days ago for Whitaker is true now.  One is not enough, two is not enough… millions.  That’s how many orphans are desperate for homes.  Millions.

I had one precious lady email me back after Whitaker found a family and she told me that even though he was going to be going home with someone else, his story still touched them enough and now they are looking to adopt another child from his same country.  That made my day, because they really got it.  They saw Whitaker and they knew he wasn’t alone; they knew that there were hundreds and thousands of children just like him.  And they knew that we can’t just stop at one.

So to the other eleven dear and precious families who contacted me about the possibility of adopting Whitaker… rejoice with me that he is going home.  But please, I am begging you, let’s not stop here.  Can we move forward?  Can we keep looking?  Perhaps God led you to Whitaker, so that Whitaker could lead you to your own child.  Perhaps not… but isn’t it possible?  Now you know about Whitaker’s plight, the one he shares with countless other children.  Winter is coming, death sentences and life imprisonments are soon to be dealt out to hundreds of children across his country.  These children should never have to see the inside of an adult mental institution, let alone live in one.

Please take that spark of love and compassion etched into your heart over the weekend and use it to just take one more tiny step… See just one more child, pray over one more fragile soul.  Almost all of you who contacted me did so with a caveat, or a hesitation.  You weren’t sure if you could adopt Whitaker because of a specific family circumstance.  And you might be right, but guess what?  There are so many children you would be able to bring home.  Let me show you a few…

Available to Single Moms

I heard from a few of you sweet ladies, who said you would have taken Whitaker in a heartbeat if you could qualify.  Friends!  Good news!  There are so many sweet children you do qualify to adopt, who need just as much love and are in just as difficult situations.  (And equally cute I might add!)

BeauregardBeauregard: Look at those intensely adorable cheeks!!  You can see such personality in that little face, and what a joy his caregivers say that he is.  A precious gem just waiting to be found.  His needs sound fairly mild, and with all that he is able to do, he will absolutely thrive in a family.  Beauregard also has an agency grant available!

Koda: Wow, this kiddo just steal my heart.  It kills me that he hasn’t been adopted yet!  He has Cerebral Palsy, just like Jacob Koda(and they are the same age!) but his CP is so incredibly mild!  He can run and play??  Hello!  That’s amazing!  His needs are easy and he looks so full of life and ready for someone to love, just like our son did in his referral picture.  This kiddo will be a huge, huge blessing to his Momma one day!

DarrenDarren: This cuddle bug is also in Eastern Europe like Whitaker, and just like Whitaker, he will spend his life staring through the bars of a crib with little affection or stimulation, no therapy and no chance for anything else..  In addition to that, Darren is in serious need of medical attention.  He has hydrocephalus, which will likely continue to worsen, leading to an excruciating and slow death.  UNLESS he is adopted!  This condition is so medically treatable, if only he had a family coming for him!

IsabelleIsabelle: Gorgeous, just gorgeous.  She has a grant of over $4,000 (and growing!)  What a beautiful child and what an amazing addition she would make for any family.  This girlie is also in Eastern Europe, but she is getting therapy and learning new skills!  This is remarkable and will make her transition to family life so much easier.  Oh I hope she finds a Mommy, she is just too precious to stay hidden away in an institution forever!

Already Paid for Adoptions

I had one or two families specifically say that they had never considered international adoption before just because of the sheer cost.  I will say that we had pretty much none of what we needed to pay our children’s ransom when we started our adoption process last year.  But God provided every last penny.  That’s a huge leap of faith, and I understand feeling uncomfortable taking it.  But you don’t always have to…

AndruisAndruis: With a grant fund of over $21,000 his adoption is all but fully funded.  This precious boy has waited so long.  What an amazing gift to find him a family for his birthday this New Years!  Like so many of these children, his delays seem to be largely due to a lack of love and care.  He will truly blossom in a family.

Vaughn: What a handsome young man!  Vaughn is also the same age as our Jacob, and what a magical age to adopt this is!  He Vaughnis reported to be a very healthy child, and his file is with a wonderful agency in a great program to adopt from.  He has nearly $17,000 in his grant all ready to go toward the cost of his adoption.  Likely this is not fully funded, but close enough that money will be no issue, especially with the fan club he has behind him!

ClariceClarice: Oh this lovely girl breaks my heart!  She is such a dear, lovely girl.  We know people who have met her and have so much information on her development and personality.  She has over $15,000 in her grant, very close to being fully funded, and she has been listed for such a long time!  Just like our daughter, she’s got a great following and it’s likely that the rest of her adoption will be swiftly covered if a family steps up.  Clarice is running out of time, her family must file paperwork before next summer or she will be in a mental institution for the rest of her life.

Mild Medical Needs

I had two lovely families ask about adopting Whitaker, but they weren’t sure if they could due to his medical needs.  Both families felt led toward international missions where they would have low access to quality medical care.  What a wonderful calling!  So many of the kiddos we advocate for do need that access, but certainly not all of them.  Adoption and missions do not have to be mutually exclusive callings!

JamisonJamison: Take this boy for example.  His only needs?  Mild mental delay and a speech delay.  Really!  That’s it!  So he’ll need some occupational and speech therapy, but there is absolutely no reason a family could not adopt him and also move overseas for mission work later down the road.  Not to mention he just has the most charming smile.  What a handsome young man and what a gift he would be to the family who steps up!

Lana-Photo-5-May-2013-224x300Lana: This lovely lady has Down syndrome.  Otherwise she seems to be quite bright and healthy.  A family would be looking at therapy to help her reach her full potential, but other than that her needs are so mild and manageable!  She loves pink, loves games, loves helping and being a part of activities… she is just a sweet girl longing to be loved and to be a part of a family.  Oh how she would thrive if she was adopted!

Alexandra-218x300Alexandra: The only real medical need she has is her HIV+ status.  This is not contactable in a family setting and is incredibly easy to manage!  Children with this diagnosis have potential to live totally normal lives with the medication that is now available.  There are so many deserving children with nothing but this diagnosis who would be such a delight to any family.  Most contract the disease at birth from their mothers; they are otherwise totally typical kids!  HIV is truly a special need that almost any adoptive family can easily manage.  If you don’t know much about it, here’s a great place to start.

Available to Large Families

A few of you inquired whether or not Whitaker was available to large families, and I was very happy to report that yes he was!  So many large families and families with lots of little ones, have adopted internationally.  Here are some other sweeties for whom family size is also not a an issue.

 

ilianaIlliana: Oh my goodness, isn’t she a doll!?  Absolutely beautiful!  Can you believe that this dear girl has spent most of her life in an adult mental institution?  And she is doing, so so well considering!  She is independent in almost all self care tasks, she demonstrates attachment and emotionally healthy responses, she is so bright!  This girl would just thrive in a family, and she would probably love some siblings to dote on!  She needs to be adopted soon, before she ages out!

ClydeClyde: A bit of a blurry picture, but you can tell he is precious.  Clyde is so young, still just a baby!  He will benefit greatly from early intervention that many of these children are not blessed to have.  I remember just a year ago when tiny babies like Clyde were scooped up in a heartbeat.  But adoptions have slowed greatly, and now they wait and wait.  I hope he doesn’t have to wait.  I hope his Mommy and Daddy see him while he’s still tiny!

DagmarDagmar: Not nearly as tiny, but still just as in need of a family.  Dagmar is in our children’s country.  That means that in just a few short months he will become unavaialable for international adoption.  He’ll age out of the system and be stuck in a mental institution for the rest of his life.  Friends his need is urgent!  He doesn’t have long.  A family must file paperwork for him before January!  He has over an $8,000 grant!  Please, someone see how worthy his life is of saving!

 

Friends… I could go on and on and on with countless categories and thousands of children who you would probably qualify to adopt.  If you don’t meet the international income requirements, have you ever considered domestic adoption?  You can adopt from foster care without being a foster parent.

There are many, many little ones waiting for a family literally right in your own backyard.  Their adoptions are virtually free and there is no set income requirement.  I have researched almost every possible type of adoption, and when I hear someone say “I’d love to adopt but…” their reasons are usually not quite valid!  If you don’t think you’d qualify to adopt, but you really want to find out contact me.  Seriously, I can at least point you in the right direction and I’d love to help.

And also remember, finding families for waiting children is important, but praying and assisting families who are adopting is just as important!  If you love Whitaker please hop on over to his family’s blog and send some prayers and encouragement their way.  Thank you!!  Love to you all in Christ…

The Short List

I’ve written about a lot of the hard stuff in adoption… but there is one hardship that outweighs all others: not being able to adopt more.  I will never really “get over” those children we left behind, the ones I saw and held and played with.  The children I ached for who perhaps have no one else in the world who aches over them… some faces are etched into my memory so distinctly they may never leave.  Others are a faint whisper… I can’t see their faces anymore, but I remember their precious little lives.  Dozens upon dozens of little lives that we encountered just hidden away, treasures never to be discovered.  Knowing that only the most blessed few will ever see the outside of those walls or feel a mother’s embrace… the weight of it haunts me.

This post is long overdue.  I was an advocate first before an adoptive mama and I never intended to stop advocating, but I have.  Three months have gone by and I have done little or nothing to shout for the children we left behind.  Honestly, my emotional tank has been running on less than empty, and advocating is emotionally exhausting work.  Work that I just haven’t had the energy for.  But while I sit here feeling tired and empty… there are children all over the world who are in desperate, life and death situations.  There are children who literally live a life of nothingness and children who endure unending loneliness and emptiness that I could never fathom.  And they deserve more from me.

I haven’t done “enough” simply because I’ve adopted or because I’ve raised incredible amounts of money or because I’ve been a part of giving visibility to children so they can come home.  I don’t think I’ll ever look at the numbers and say, “Well, my part’s all done now. Time for something new.”  It’s not just a duty, this caring for orphans, it’s a love of mine.  It’s a passion, a passion born out of a knowledge that I can’t unknow out of pictures in my mind that I can’t unsee.  And with that being said, I am starting my advocacy efforts anew, and I’m going to do it by introducing you to my short list.

We brought home two children from Ukraine this year, for that I am eternally grateful.  But two is not enough.  I would have brought home a dozen if they had let me.  Before we started the process we spent countless hours looking at the waiting children around the world who needed families.  We narrowed down that list several times… but how can you possibly choose?  You really can’t… not any more than you can choose the children who are born to you.

And yet, here I am stuck with this list of children in my head who I loved and wanted desperately to save.  Children I pleaded with God to make mine and He told me “No”, for reasons I may never understand other than that He had these two in mind instead.  He knows what is best and we don’t.  There is no point at all in pondering the whys, but still… my short list didn’t just disappear with our successful adoptions.  It’s still there, haunting me.  And now that we’ve traveled and met more precious little ones… the list is a bit longer, and likely it will keep growing.

I need to share this list with you, they are the children of my heart, the children I so desperately want to love and hold and never will.  But maybe, just maybe, someone will.  There is a family out there for each of these precious children.  If only we can help them find their little ones, the little ones they may not even know exist.  And that’s what advocacy is about, finding families.  So that each of these can know the love and joy of a family.  I want to give these children the same chance as my Hope and Jacob have.  You already know my dear ones well, so now I am going to introduce you to my short list… the little ones I hold close to my heart but that you may not know…

I’m going to start with Whitaker.  This is the first picture I ever saw of him.

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I was drawn to him immediately, and no wonder.  With those gorgeous blue eyes and that perfectly adorable face.  He’s about the same age as our Evangeline, so every time I’d see him I would just see her lying there alone.  He also has Cerebral Palsy, a special need we had always felt drawn to.  Everything about him cried out to me.  It was always hard to keep scrolling through the pictures once I got to Whitaker because… all I wanted was to linger on those sweet little cheeks.

He has been listed for years now.  And he is no longer a tiny baby.  In fact, he just turned four years old.

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Dear friends… four is not a happy birthday for these little ones.  This is the age where orphanages transfer children like Whitaker to adult mental institutions to live out the rest of their lives, or more likely, to die.  Between neglect, abuse and starvation, well over 90% of these precious ones die within a year of transfer.  From what I know of where he is going (a particularly bad institution), he will not make it – and if he does, he will be living a life of agony.  Can you imagine the sentence that has been placed on this fragile, innocent child?  Can our comfortable, blessed lives take such a truth?  Or will the shock of it cause us to feel  nothing, to let this reality bounce off of our backs?

Will we mimic our Lord and Savior, and accept the burden of this child’s fate as our own?  Will we fight it, or will we return it to him so that he must carry it himself?  My friends, we are adults.  We are wealthy, privileged, blessed and loved.  Our cups are overflowing; together we can shoulder his burden and it will do nothing more than benefit our own souls, while perhaps causing mild discomfort to our temporal lives.  This is nothing!  But if we look away, if we give this burden back to this dear child… it will break him.  It is too much for him.  But for us?  For our Lord who goes before us?  This is nothing.  It’s time to bring him home.

His orphanage director will not transfer Whitaker if there is a family in process to adopt him.  Transfers happen in the winter, so we are looking at one, two months at the most, to find his family.  Once a family commits, he will be given more time to stay at his baby house while the adoption is completed.  This is his only hope.  He needs a family now.  His adoption is going to be almost fully paid for.  Money will not be an obstacle for the family who steps up.  If you are interested in prayerfully considering this boy as your son, what you need to know is listed below.  Otherwise, please take a tiny piece of this child’s burden and share him with those you know.  Email, Facebook, print this out and share it with your Church tomorrow, call your friends and family.  Be the voice he doesn’t have.

For more information on advocating for or adopting sweet Whitaker, please contact me by email or on Facebook.  I’d be more than happy to point you in the right direction.

***UPDATE!! WHITAKER HAS A COMMITTED FAMILY!  THANK YOU!!***

For Prospective Families:

  • More information about Whitaker can be found HERE
  • His country requires parents to be married
  • You must be able to meet the minimum income requirements for international adoption (assets can be included)
  • Total expenses average about $25,000 for his adoption
  • He has a large grant, that is growing thanks to a generous donor/advocate.  He will be nearly fully funded by the time a family travels for him. Money will be no concern for the family who moves forward.
  • Adoption will take about seven months to complete
  • Time in-country averages about six weeks.  Families can opt for multiple (shorter) trips
  • There is an option for only one parent to travel if it is impossible for both to leave due to work constraints

Happy Seven Years

To the strongest, most handsome, gentlest, most amazing little boy I have ever met…

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Dear son, you have been through more in your seven years than many of us endure in a lifetime.  May the next seven be blissfully restful, healing and kind to you.  May you find all the love that you had lost and make as many fun and happy memories as most of us do in a lifetime.

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We missed so many years, so many candles and so many wishes… but now we have the time together to make up for them all.

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Your Daddy and I love you to the moon and back, to infinity and beyond.  It was an honor and a great joy to celebrate you today, my oldest son.

Love Always,
Mommy

A Glimpse at Three Months Home

I posted our “Glimpse at One Month Home” a while back, fully intending to update you with what our days look like now that we are three months in. Unfortunately, I can’t actually think of two days that have been close to the same… if anything life is more hectic now. Every week seems to throw us a curve ball between doctor’s appointments, holidays, Jake’s work schedule… nothing seems to remain consistent for long and certainly not longer than a few days in a row. Then we compensate and do something new. It’s pretty crazy around here.

But, the good news is that there is lots of good news in the crazy day-to-day. We are actually making so much progress as a family, even though it often feels like I am doing nothing at all to facilitate that. We are so focused on the bare essentials right now that I’m not working as much on their therapy as I would like, I’m not doing as much intentional bonding as I would like, etc… and yet they are still growing by leaps and bounds. These kids, this family… amazes me. I live with five pretty spectacular people!

Anyway, I still wanted to give you all a three month glimpse, so we’ll just do it a little differently. Progress. Let’s talk about how far they’ve come! Here is a list of the many milestones they have reached in such a short time, and a reminder of how worthwhile this craziness really is. The “Befores” are all descriptive of Jacob and Hope while they were in their orphanages, when we first met them. The “Afters” are who they have come to be after three months of settling in with their forever family.

P31Jacob

Before: Curved spine, couldn’t sit up straight. After: Almost totally straight spine, sits straight most of the time!

Before: Heavily contractured legs and feet, could not bring legs apart above his knees or bend his feet at the ankle. After: Has good enough hip rotation to walk; can spread his legs apart to be held with no difficulty or discomfort and has gained significant flexibility in his feet. He can now bring them to an almost neutral position. <– This is HUGE!

Before: Could not balance himself to sit without back support or to stand with support. After: Has great balance and has no issues sitting or standing with support.

Before: Did not know how to play with toys, could not play even at the level of our almost two year old son.  After: Plays intricately with toys for long periods of time and has learned imaginative play. He plans elaborate scenarios with toys and executes them with good concentration.

Before: Could not accept praise, love or words of endearment. Such things caused embarrassment and shame.  After: Seeks out praise and affection, loves to be told that he is loved and is learning to give love and affection to others.

Before: Believed he couldn’t walk. Spent all day sitting in a wheelchair or crawling on the floor.  After: Now has his very own walker and… walks! He still gets around with his unique crawl, but he can walk and he knows it. That is amazing.  And never is he sitting in a wheelchair on the sidelines.

P12Hope

Before: Weighed 25 pounds at nine years old.  After: Has gained ten pounds, as well as some inches!

Before: Was wearing size 3 diapers and 4T clothes.  After: Is snuggly fitting into size 6 diapers and wears a size 6 or 7 in children’s clothes.

Before: Could not tolerate laying on her stomach for more than 30 seconds. After: Will happily do tummy time for several minutes and has even started experimenting with pushing herself up on her arms this way.

Before: Had virtually no protective movements (such as putting your hands in front of you when you fall). After: Has developed some protective movements and is learning how to catch herself with her hands.

Before: Was terrified of open space around her and could only sit with a great deal of support, never with a straight back. After: Sits very well for long periods with great posture, as long as she has a little back support. Is able to sit totally unassisted for a few seconds at a time! She is also becoming much more comfortable with open spaces, which is necessary for unassisted sitting (and so many other things!)

Before: Was totally uninterested in playing with toys, other than using them for stimming. After: Is starting to play with toys purposely and is learning to manipulate her environment to be more comfortable. (Again this is a HUGE step!)

Before: Spent most of her time zoning out and withdrawing from the world around her. Did not focus on people or events around her for very long. After: Is increasingly interactive with her environment, seeks out the activities and people around her with interest, and withdraws less and less.

Before: Was unable to eat sitting up, she needed to be greatly reclined from eating in bed her whole life. She also had no idea how to get food from the front of her mouth to the back, only how to swallow. After: She sits completely upright for meals and all we need to do is get the spoon from the bowl to her mouth. She has even experimented once or twice with picking up the spoon, but drops it when it gets to her lips instead of taking food from it!

Before: She was afraid of food being taken away so she would scream constantly during meals. The slower feedings (she didn’t have time to breathe between bites at the orphanage) made her think we weren’t going to give her anymore food. After: She is no longer afraid of not being fed enough. I can give her a few bites and then stop for five or ten minutes to help the other children and she waits completely patiently to finish her meal.

Before: Could not tolerate holding for long periods; it was incredibly overstimulating. After: She loves being held and almost always welcomes it. It doesn’t overstimulate her anymore and she feels secure in the arms of her Mommy and Daddy.

Before: Incredibly hypervigilent. Could not fall asleep if someone was nearby. After: She still tends to be very hypervigilent, but it is not as pronounced as it was. She is now secure enough that she is able to fall asleep in my arms.

I’m sure there are more things I’ll think of as soon as I hit “publish”, but this gives you a little bit of an idea about just how far they both have come!  I post this not to show you how great of a job we are doing, because as I said before, I feel like we are still in survival mode – just getting the bare minimum accomplished.  Instead, this is to show you how great of a job our children are doing, and what amazing things God is working in their lives.  When a child has grown up with literally nothing, it often doesn’t take but just a little love and care to see a great deal of progress.

And, of course, my plug… we’re not doing anything spectacular with these little ones – we just took them into our home and gave them what they needed: clothing, food, a little love and attention… and they are thriving.  There are a million other things I’d love to do but haven’t gotten around to, and yet their little bodies and souls are blossoming in spite of how little I feel we are able to give.  If you’ve ever thought “I could never do that”, trust me… you probably could!  I’m not doing anything super human here, just being a mom and watching as God does some amazing things right before my eyes.

Most of the time I feel totally unequipped and inadequate, but our Lord doesn’t need much, just a couple of unsteady hands and clumsy feet will do – and with those He can fashion some pretty beautiful pieces of living art.  I encourage you to offer up your own hands and feet and ask if He’ll make something beautiful with yours too.  Because the great thing is, when it is your own hands doing the work, it is also your own eyes that get to watch the miracle unfold.  And there really isn’t anything like it.

A Sunny Day

It sure is beautiful out here today. I wish we had played outside this morning, but I decided not to chastise a particular child last night when he came upstairs to find toys… one thing led to another… and now the three of them have decided that playing in their bedrooms is the most fun thing they have ever done. They will play up here for hours without fighting or destroying things. It’s a miracle. And I know the Autumn weather will probably last longer than their honeymoon with the newfound play space so… I’m milking it for all it’s worth.

At the moment, however, those three are down for quiet time and I am having a standoff with the eldest over eye poking. She is beginning to do it more now than she used to, which is unfortunate. I tried digging my finger into my eye socket the way she does and it is just so painful, but at the moment there is nothing else in the world she wants to do.

I considered getting on the floor to play with her or sing to her or just hold her to maybe get her mind off of it, but she is pretty dysregulated and at this point I still usually don’t help that. The more distanced I am the calmer she is. So instead I am sitting a few feet away at my computer typing – with my eyes on sweet girl instead of my screen and reminding her gently that I can see her every time her hands go near her face. I wish I could do more.

So much of my parenting with Hope right now is… I wish I could do more. Our therapist told me last week that we were doing such a great job with her, and that she has made such improvement… and I just didn’t know exactly what good I was doing. She gets very little stretching, because she is horribly intolerant of it most of the time. We do sensory brushing and tummy time, but that only lasts for a few minutes and then we’re done. It doesn’t seem like much.

I can’t help her calm down when she’s upset. She did let me calm her down last week once or twice, but that’s out of seven days of being upset or overstimulated several times a day. There is progress… but I just wish I could do more. I want to bond with her, but there is so little I can do that doesn’t cause her to go into a downward spiral. Our connecting activities have to be infrequent and very short lived, or it’s just too much.

P8It makes me wonder what her days were like after our visits at the orphanage. That was two hours of constant contact and interaction. But I didn’t know any better. I never saw her afterward. It makes me wonder how dysregulated she was on those days and if it made her hurt herself even more. I hate to think that.

But even with all that being said… what I really came here to say was that this is actually a very good day. We are doing so well. Things seem to be on the upswing for once in quite a while. Today, for the first time since we brought the children home, I actually feel like the mom that I was before we left for Ukraine. I’m not struggling with a temper, I’m tuning in to my little ones’ feelings instead of constantly correcting. I’m really and truly enjoying my vocation today in a way that I haven’t been able to in what feels like forever… but probably hasn’t been that long.

Please, if you think of it, pray for more days like this for our family. Pray that the sunny days continue to come even through what’s sure to be a long, cooped-up winter. Your prayers have been helping get us through this transition, and we continue to treasure them. Quite a few have told me over the last month or so that they realize we have had a hard go of this, or that they know it has been a difficult transition.

While we very much appreciate the thoughts, I want to be really clear… we are not having a particularly difficult transition! In fact, the feelings and struggles we are experiencing as a family this early in the game are totally par for the course, especially for those of us who have adopted children from hard places. This pain and struggle is absolutely to be expected. I am so glad for this blog where I have been able to share that reality with those who might not have understood it before. Even for me this has been a learning experience. Yes, we knew it was going to be hard going in but… I never knew it would be like this. And from what I know now – we are in no way the minority.

Which got me to thinking… if what we are going through is the norm, how much more important for us to support those families who are actually having a hard go of it! The holidays are coming up and I am thinking of ways to bless other families walking this same journey with us. I don’t have any details yet, but I would love to spread some joy to other adoptive families this year, as we have had just so much joy lavished upon us.

If you are an adoptive family who could use a little love, know one who is, or if you might like to help with a little bit of a Christmas gift project for those who do, please let me know! Getting these children home is half the battle, but caring for orphans also means caring for the families of former orphans who are still very much in the trenches of it all.   We are very blessed to be surrounded by a community who understands that 110%, but not every family is surrounded by such a caring support network, and I want them to know what we have been able to know all along, that the Body of Christ is behind them, praying for them and loving them through it all.

And with that, I am off to do some more scheming and to maybe hold our Pokey Princess for a few minutes if she’ll let me. I’ll try to write again soon, in the meantime, may you also have a very sunny Autumn day!

The Replacement Mom

“You’re not the Mom he never had… you’re just the Replacement Mom, the Mom he’ll have to make do with because he doesn’t have anyone else.”

I remember when it was just me and Evangeline during the day.  I remember how sometimes just watching her play would start my mind thinking.  I would hear things like “She’s so beautiful, how did I ever deserve such a precious gift?  What an amazing miracle God has given me, a beautiful treasure… I wonder who she will be when she grows up…” You know all those lovely, motherly thoughts that you think about the little loves of your life.

With four now… it’s harder to get such a moment, a moment where my mind can just stop and rest on one precious little life and what it means.  However, I did manage to catch one such moment yesterday with my dear Jacob, but what my mind began telling me were not the sweet, motherly whispers I so desperately wanted to hear.  Instead, my inner monologue went more like this:

“You get to be who he’s always waited for, the Mom he never had and always wanted…   Well, not really.  The Mom he wanted was the one he was given in the first place, the mother who grew him and carried him for nine months, the mother he was intimately connected with, who he loved and needed, the mother who was his whole world.  But she left, and where did she go anyway?  How could she just up and take away the one person who ever meant anything to him?  You’re not the Mom he never had; you’re just the Replacement Mom, the Mom he’ll have to make do with because he doesn’t have anyone else.  You’ll always be the substitute; you’ll never be as good for him as she could have been.”

Writing it down is almost worse than when I heard myself ranting it in my head the first time.  The reality just downright hurts.  Now, I know I’ll have some readers, especially those in the adoption community, who will be quick to point out all the fallacies of my little rabbit trail.  I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard “Adoption isn’t second best, it’s just as good as any other situation a child can be given.” Or… “Choosing not to parent isn’t a bad thing, sometimes it’s just the best way to care for your child.” Or… “God made this child for our family; he was always meant to be ours, God just had him grow in someone else’s tummy.”

Every time I hear any version of these it makes me cringe.  Every adopted child has trauma, whether they were adopted as newborns or come from hard places.  Babies are meant to stay with the Mommies who gave birth to them.  And when that doesn’t happen fear, loss, grief, confusion and loneliness enter the child’s life… no matter how young they are or how well taken care of by others.  Babies aren’t meant to be taken care of by strangers; they are made to bond with and be cared for by the mother they grew to know for nine months before being born.  When that doesn’t happen it is never good for the baby, and any other situation is always going to be second best.

(Disclaimer: Sometimes adoption is the most loving thing a mother can do for her child!  But these tragic situations come up only because we live in a fallen world where we cannot always give our child the best of everything.  We cannot always shield our children from loss, and when this happens, we should absolutely support birth mothers who give their children for adoption as a way of seeking the best for them in a tragic situation.)

As a mother caring for two children who were not born to me and who spent a great chunk of their childhoods without me… I am acutely aware of this truth.  It would be so much easier to simply think “This is how it was meant to be.  God wanted them to be a part of our family all along.”  But this is self centered thinking.  It says that the traumatic loss of my children’s birth mothers was all for my benefit.  That the pain and grief my children and their birth families have was all orchestrated just so our family could grow in a unique way.

I’m sorry, but I can’t buy that.  I know that God has been preparing me to be the Mom for these two for well over a decade, perhaps before I was even born… I know that He knew what would come to pass, and I believe that He paved a way for my children to have a mother and a home.  I believe God had good plans for my children, but I am not foolish enough to forget that the best plan He had was to keep them with their birth mothers in the first place.  He gave these two lives to them, entrusted these children to their care, not to mine.

Jacob was never meant to be mine.  He was meant for the woman God originally gave him to.  He was hers, and in a sense he still is hers.  I am just the Replacement Mom, God’s second string, the merciful backup plan He had in place, knowing that this precious life would be rejected and tossed aside.  It’s not hard to be second string, not anymore.  After all, I’m in the game now aren’t I?  And I’m not going to be benched again anytime soon.  The hard part, though, is knowing that I literally cannot be everything to Jacob that I am to Evangeline or Stephen.

I cannot go back and give him the security of knowing me intimately right from the womb.  I cannot turn back the clock and hold him as he suffered through that debilitating respiratory attack just hours after his birth.  I cannot take away the crib he laid in at the baby house for four years.  I cannot take back all the lies that were thrown at him about how he could never learn and would never walk.  There are seven years of suffering that I cannot just simply erase from his life.

His birth mother could have prevented all that, but I’m not her.  I’m the Replacement Mom.  All I can do is pick up where her legacy left off and try to write something new into his story.  That is the pain of adoption, the pain of not being able to protect your child, the pain of knowing that no matter how far you turn back the clock you never could have done anything to stop it anyway.

Courtesy of Jill Heupel Photography

Courtesy of Jill Heupel Photography

But, even knowing all this, what I was saying to myself before (though perhaps accurate) was not fully complete, it missed the most important part of the story… the ending.  What I must remember when I begin my next monologue about being the Replacement Mom is this: The novels that begin the most tragically are the ones that hold the greatest potential for the most beautiful endings.  Yes, I am coming in late to finish a story that was started long ago… but I have been given the duty and privilege of writing love into this book, of writing joy and hope and family into the life of a child who never knew any of those things before.

Neither Jacob nor I could control how his story started.  But I am here now, and I have the honor of helping him write the rest of his story to the very end… which is, after all, the most important part.

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