Advocacy Challenge + Giveaway

Dear readers, I am breaking my blogging hiatus a little early, albeit for a very good cause.  I have been given a unique advocating opportunity and I would love for you all to join me… so I’ve added a little incentive.  :)

As many of you know, I have a very special place in my heart for orphan care, especially for the kind of care that turns orphans into beloved sons and daughters.  I have been on this advocacy bandwagon for several years now, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s this:

Advocating online is a great start, but these children need much more.  Since we came home eight months ago with Jacob and Hope, I’ve had many unique opportunities to naturally talk about adoption and the plight of orphans with special needs.  And so often when I get that question “Why did you choose to adopt these children?” I wish I had an easy little card or pre-written note I could hand them telling them my whole story.

I am convinced that if most people knew what I know, that they couldn’t stand to be idle any more than I can.  The trouble is… how do we get this information to people?  And how do we do it in a way that they will understand and connect with?  How do we share these children in a way that prompts people to action rather than idleness?  Well, I have an idea, and I’ve been putting it off for quite some time… but an opportunity finally came my way and I’m jumping on it!  Ready?

***Advocacy Cards***

Love Postcard

Isn’t it beautiful?  It’s just a tiny bit of our story, but a powerful testimony nonetheless.  The best part?  I still need a child to advocate for – and I’m giving that choice away to one of my dear readers!  This is a postcard (or as I like to call it, my advocacy card) and on the back will be the picture and link to a waiting child of the winner’s choice…

Love Postcard 2

My postcards are going in my diaper bag (which goes everywhere) and I’m going to hand them out, put them in random places in town, and make sure that this child is seen.  Not just by my online circle, but by people in my sphere of influence in the “real” world.  I’m really excited about this project!  I truly believe these little cards can have a profound impact on those who happen upon them.  And I can’t wait to find out which little one is going to be featured on the back!

So advocates, here’s the challenge, and how you can win this for that waiting child who needs to be seen so that they can be found.  My challenge to you is to spread the word and to create your very own advocacy cards.  We must start advocating ourstide of social media, we must get these kiddos visibility on our towns and neighborhoods.  There are so many potential advocates and adoptive parents in the world – if they only knew.  So let’s tell them!

Follow the steps below to earn entries.  Make sure to comment on this post or on my Facebook page for EVERY ENTRY so I can can log it in.  On Easter Sunday I will draw for a winner and have the postcards made!  There is an example entry comment at the end of the post if you get confused! :)

HOW TO ENTER

1. Share the givewaway.  The classic social media giveaway entry – just share it!  Share on Facebook, Twitter or whatever social media site you like.  Add the links to your shares in your entries comment.  The more you share the more you earn. – 1 Entry

2. Like or Comment.  I have linked to this post on the Crunchy Lutheran Mommy Facebook Page.  Get entries for liking or commenting on that thread.  This will increase the number of people who can see that post and help our challenge to spread. – 2 Entries

3. Give me some feedback!  I definitely want this to be successful.  I am putting my own time and money into this project after all!  If you have suggestions to make my advocacy card better, message me or put it in your comment on this post.  Would you pick this up if you found it?  What would encourage you to look into advocating more?  What might you write on the lines when you’re handing these out?  Hit me with all your constructive criticism! – 3 Entries

4. Join the challenge.  Finally, join me!  I would love to have other advocates jump on the band wagon.  Simply create your own post cards or business cards with a link to your waiting child and send me the print screen for your advocacy card with a pledge to get them printed and handed out in the next year.  Can’t do it right now?  That’s ok!  If you use Minted.com (like I did) you can create your card, save it, and print whenever you’re ready. – 20 Entries

5. Alternative Advocacy Pledge.  Maybe advocacy cards are just not a realistic way for you to share right now.  That’s ok!  If you have another way of reaching out to your local community, and you would like to pledge to advocate that way, you are more than welcome to do that!  Let us know how you are going to advocate offline, and join us in our challenge for getting the word out to local communities about these children and their need. – 15 Entries

6. Reblog our challenge.  If you love this advocacy idea and you want to encourage your friends to join as well, reblog our challenge to your own website and give us the link. – 10 Entries

*Example Entry Comment*

I shared the giveaway on Facebook [insert link] (1)
I shared the giveaway on Twitter [insert link] (1)
I liked and commented on your Facebook post. (4)
I sent you a message with feedback on your post card! (3)
I am going to do the alternative advocacy pledge [Describe your idea and how you are going to implement it.] (15)
I reblogged this challenge here: [insert link] (10)
TOTAL ENTRIES:  34

Thank you everyone!! Really looking forward to those entries coming in and finding out who I’ll be advocating for this Spring!!  Don’t have a child you are praying over or shouting for?  Go here to find a little one that captures your heart.  Or message me!  I have plenty of children who keep me up at night.  Once you see them, you simply can’t forget.

May God richly bless your Holy Week!

My Fabulous Five

IMG_1655This week has absolutely blown me away.  I’ve been keeping quite busy tending to five, fabulous little people and… well that’s about all I’ve been doing.  No housework to speak of… none.  In any case, we have a new routine set with our sweet Kyrie added to the mix, and it is working out better than I ever could have hoped for.  After a very long and difficult winter, things are certainly looking up!  In fact, things are smoother around here now than they have been since we got home from Ukraine.  Never did I expect adding a child to the family would make my life easier, but it seems to have done just that.

A huge part of that has to do with my own attitude and perspective.  I will be the first to admit that many of the struggles we’ve had as a family in the last several months were really just issues with how I was managing (or not managing) the household.  Emotionally I was running on empty, which meant a lot of withdrawing was going on and not a lot of intentional presence with my children.  Our routine always seemed crazy and hectic, and I was constantly overwhelmed with what needed to be done like… yesterday.

We still have a million and one things to do.  But I’ve just had to take a step back and realize that God has this under control.  We can only get done what we can get done, and my first vocation is to love my family.  I can’t love my family well when I am so caught up in the “needs” of the world.  Has He not provided all that we need?  Will He not continue to do so?  Including providing us with days to run errands and make appointments?!  Of course!  So I’m going to stop stressing over those, and wait on the Lord to provide those opportunities in His good time.

And while I wait, I am working on making my world much smaller and focusing on just being present with the beautiful family He has entrusted to my care.  With Kyrie here I knew I had to lower my expectations with what I could accomplish.  Going into this week I was determined to bring my “A Game”, because I knew I’d need it, and I knew better than to expect anything but the minimum from both myself and the kids.

I have also been convicted lately of not putting as much work into this job of motherhood as I would have if it was a “real” job where I was getting paid monetarily and had to answer to a supervisor who I wasn’t also married to.  Ahem.  Yeah, quite humbling to realize how I stack up against my own self!  Especially since that self was a college kid from seven years ago.  Yikes.

Yes, there are totally differences between the 24/7 job of motherhood and an 8 hour shift in someone else’s home where you only spend about 20 hours a week.  However, I can do better.  And I know it.  So that’s what I’ve been working on this week.  While the children are awake, they are my job, and I am trying really hard to treat it that way.  No more Facebooking at “work”, no more saying “Just a minute,” when I really mean “I sure hope he forgets what he asked for so that I don’t actually have to add that to my to-do list.”  Etc…

This perspective has really been working well, though it’s the equivalent of having a 14 hour shift every single day that ends with being on call until the next shift starts… which is totally exhausting, but also incredibly rewarding and worth it.  It’s also doable, and I know this season of life won’t last forever.  It’s also the reason why I’m not blogging too terribly much.  When I do have a break in the middle of the day now I have been finding I must take that afternoon nap.  It has been a lifesaver, and that is typically my computer time when I’m awake.

I know ya’ll understand that I’m busy, but I also love blogging too or I wouldn’t be doing it.  It’s a great outlet for me, so I’m definitely going to keep trying to make time for it where I can.  Self care is so important when you have other people depending on you for their needs, and with five very needy (and lovely) people depending on me day and night – I have come to realize that I need to take care of myself if I’m going to be a healing presence for them.

But anyway, enough about me!  I did title this my fabulous five for a reason.  I wanted to let you all know how the children are adjusting to our new normal, because that’s the question everyone has been asking.  The answer is… they are doing amazingly, astonishingly well – all five of them!  Let’s start with the itty bitty one first shall we?  Kyrie is a dream.  She fits like a glove in our family.  She is the easiest baby I’ve ever had.  She sleeps when we sleep, at nap time and at night time.  I’m getting more sleep now than I did when I was pregnant!  She is very content in her bouncy chair, which makes my days actually doable.  She almost never cries; she is doing really well with her pottying, which means we won’t have to have two kiddos in diapers.  Woohoo!  (Yes, I will blog more about that later.)

And, best of all, she sleeps through everything.  Anyone who has spent time in our house or on the phone with me will know that this is not a quiet place, and she doesn’t care one bit.  Thank you Lord for little mercies!  When she is awake, Kyrie is always very still and quiet, much more so than I remember Evie or Stephen being.  She seems to have a very contemplative nature, which will be quite an interesting dynamic to add to our very active crew.

Speaking of active :)  Stephen is next.  He is doing great with his new big brother status, it hasn’t fazed him one bit.  He loves to dote on his little sister and holds her every day.  He’s always saying how he loves the baby, and if she isn’t in bed when he is (his bed is still in our room as well) then it is quite concerning.  He is the classic protective older brother, and we haven’t seen even a hint of jealousy.  I expected regression in several areas, but the only change has been that he’s much more clingy in the wee hours of the morning.  That usually ends in an uncomfortable Mommy sandwich with Kyrie on one side and Stephen on the other.  Suffice it to say, I hope this phase ends quickly.

Dear Evangeline has also been doing better, much due to our new routine that has everyone less stressed.  She is incredibly empathetic and perceptive and is a sponge to the emotions of everyone around her.  Because Jake and I have been doing a lot better the last few days, she is also doing a lot better, which I am so grateful for.  Her nurturing side is just basking in having a baby around to care for.  She would hold her all day if Kyrie would allow it.

Kyrie is also just a healing balm to weary souls. (What baby isn’t?!)  But she especially ministers to her older sister.  If Evie is having a hard time falling asleep I’ll even make a point of taking Kyrie in with me, and her presence seems to calm her in a way that even I can’t.  It’s beautiful watching God’s compassionate hand working through even the smallest and neediest of people.

I would say of all of them, Jacob’s life and demeanor seem to have changed the least in the last week and a half that his new sister has been here.  He loves her just as much as the others do, but his interaction with her is noticeably less than theirs.  He does hold her and give her kisses, but he just doesn’t seem quite as interested as Evangeline and Stephen are.  Is it a personality difference, an institutional thing, something else entirely?

It’s really hard to know, but either way he does love her and we aren’t seeing any regression with attachment or in other areas, so I’m perfectly happy with where he’s at right now.  We’re still in the process of finishing up his evaluations to get therapy services from the school district, and that should be done mid-March.  I’m looking forward to seeing him add occupational and speech therapy to his repertoire!

And saving the best update for last… sweet Hope.  Things are changing around here for our darling girl, but mostly indirectly due to Kyrie’s arrival.  She doesn’t have much contact with the baby other than a few attempts at teaching “gentle touches” here and there throughout the day.  She is certainly interested in the squirmy bundle on my lap, but she still can’t do much in the way of interacting with her.  Many of the children she shared a room with in the orphanage where babies, so I think she rather likes having Kyrie around, she just doesn’t know how to show it yet.

So, how has our new bundle of joy added to Hope’s life?  There are a few ways.  First, having a new baby forced us to change our routine with Hope.  What we were doing was not working.  I’ll try to blog more extensively about this too, but really, parenting a child who spent nine years in a laying room is a puzzle.  There are very few people experienced in this sort of care, meaning our doctors and therapists and experts can help by laying out tools and resources, but we are the ones who have to figure out which ones to use and how to use them.  As my dear husband says, she is a riddle wrapped in a question mark.

Much of our parenting Hope has been trial and error. I can’t even remember how many different sleeping arrangements we’ve tried in the last six months.  My midwife, on a visit a few days after Kyrie was born, suggested we try a Tryptophan supplement for Hope to help her sleep.  Sure enough, she has slept through the night three times this week!  A first as far as we can remember.  Typically she either doesn’t go to sleep for hours or wakes up around 2 or 3 am.  Having her sleep better is a blessing for all of us and I really pray that it continues.

We are also giving her more intentional sensory/play times, as well as intentional resting times during the day.  Our routine really revolves around her schedule now, as the other kids’ activities are much more flexible.  It’s too early to say how much it’s helped her improve, but it certainly has made our family’s dynamic more peaceful and that is absolutely worth it.

And finally… drum roll please…

Hope has words!! She started talking!  Seriously!!!

Mima spent several days with us that first week postpartum and started a new game with her.  To everyone’s surprise, she loved the game (she is usually motivated by nothing but stimming) and she was so eager to play that Mima got her to attempt the word “ball” whenever she handed the little ball over to her.  The more they played the more her word sounded like ball, and now she will do it consistently when asked!  Crazy!  Then yesterday at lunch I was able to get her to say “oooo” for food.  She tried adding the f sound to the beginning, but we’re not quite there yet.

She actually has sounds that she uses that have meanings attached!  I can’t emphasize how huge this is for her.  Our ten year old girl is learning how to talk!!

38 Notes for 38 Weeks

1. I know it’s been a while but… You’d be surprised how hard it is to find time to blog on bed rest!  And yes, I’ve been off of bed rest for two weeks now, and it’s been even harder to find time to do anything on the computer.  Maybe it will be easier when the baby comes?  A girl can dream…

2. I never thought I’d see a #2 on that side of the scale (if ya know what I mean) but I am rocking the extra poundage, or so my husband says.  He’s not biased… right?

3. Baby bump picture?  Umm… dream on because of the previous note.  Maybe if I can get this swelling to go down you’ll get one before baby comes… ahem.

4. So… Boy or Girl? We don’t get routine ultrasounds so we still don’t know if Mambo is a boy or a girl. But I do tend to get a “feeling” one way or the other, and I’ve been right the last two times. I will probably jinx myself by making a prediction, but I’ll do it anyway. I think the little one is a girl! Of course, we’ll be excited either way, and we have baby clothes for both! :)

5. Jake had a dream… night before last that we are having a girl.  So double confirmation, right?!  He said she was beautiful and favored Stephen more than Evie in her features.  Which is also what I’ve sort of been thinking.  The suspense is killing me!

6. My husband is amazing. It’s a strange feeling to be constantly asked about and worried over. I feel fine. Lots of contractions that are annoying, and Baby is doing great… But Jake, this man is a rock star.  I seriously don’t know how he does everything.  I’m not on bed rest, but I’m still not at 100%.  I still sit around most of the day, because too much walking causes muscle fatigue and pain.  My body is just tired from being in and out of labor for a month… so he’s still doing so much.

7. So when did you go off of bed rest?  Two weeks ago exactly.  I was 36 weeks and we all thought the baby would be here ANY DAY.  No such luck.  I had intense contractions the first two days, and then they died down.  For about a week after that I would wake up with nothing, they would start as I did more throughout the day and be 2-5 minutes apart, and regular, by bedtime.  I would go to sleep and they’d stop… and we’d do it all over again.  It has become a frustrating version of Groundhog’s Day.

8. Where are you at now?  Same place.  No real change.  My contractions are less frequent some days and more on others.  The only constant is that they keep getting stronger, so I know we’re getting closer.  I just have no idea how close!

9. I had my midwife appointment the other day.  I learned several interesting things…

10. The best news is that Baby is doing great!  The heartbeat sounded good, position is good, I’m measuring right on target.  All awesome things.

11. The worst news is… my midwife is going out of town next week.  She never told me because she didn’t dream in a million years I would still be pregnant… And guess who her only pregnant lady left is for several weeks?  Yup.  That would be me.  It’s not the end of the world, but certainly not the greatest thing either.

12. We were thinking of trying to kick start labor last weekend.  However, when she came to check me we were shocked – absolutely shocked – to find that I was only 2cm dilated and not effaced one bit.  On bed rest I was 90% effaced… now?  Nothing.  I am actually nowhere near labor.  The baby is sitting on my pelvic bone, meaning that all those contractions?  They’re just trying to move the baby, and they are doing pretty much nada. So.  Frustrating.

13. I missed wishing my sweet oldest daughter a Happy Birthday on here!  It was so simple and lovely.  We did it my first day off of bed rest.  So since I missed it, I’ll spend a few notes gushing about her lovely self and all our birthday fun…

14. A Golden Birthday.  I was so excited to have her home for her Golden Birthday.  My midwife came over a couple days earlier and I was in tears because she didn’t want me going off of bed rest yet and we weren’t going to be able to do anything for it.

15. Side Note… a lot of people told me that week beforehand that she would “just be happy” cuddling with Mommy for her birthday or that she wouldn’t know it was her birthday that day and we could just do it another day, etc.  But, like many adoptive mamas I know, I had dreamed of giving her a beautiful birthday for the first time in her life.  No one had ever done that for her before.  The day was more than just a day, it was a milestone in her life and in ours.  The thought of missing it was heart wrenching in a way that is possibly very difficult to understand unless you’ve been there.

16. ANYWAY… My midwife told me I could go off of bed rest.  Hooray!  And my contractions stopped (go figure).  Two days later, I was up and getting a party ready!

17. Her first present was a new hairdo!  She got her first ever ponytails, which she hated putting in, but actually liked in the end.  I think she enjoys the consistent tugging of the hair.  It gives her sensory input.  She always loves it when I play with her hair :)  And she looked adorable!

18. I also got her this beautiful birthday dress…

Hope's Birthday

19. A dear friend of ours offered to make cupcakes for her.  She made the cake and gorgeous flowers and butterflies to put on top.  I made a special frosting that would be a consistency and a sweetness that Hope would like.  (She doesn’t appreciate really sweet things. And hasn’t approved of frosting before.)  So this was more of a sweet, whipped yogurt – but still delicious!

20. Presents!  Hope got some sweet presents.  Her godmother gave her a cute little bear with fun zippers and buttons and things to play with, and she got oodles of new clothes!  She wasn’t really interested in the clothes, but she did enjoy throwing all that tissue paper on the floor.

21. Happy Birthday to You!  We lit her candles and sang to her.  All the other littles were lined up beside her and she just seemed to be loving it.  Even the small party we had would have been way too much just a couple of months ago.  But now it was almost as if she knew that we were singing to her and she was soaking it all in.  It was such a beautiful moment!

22. Progress Updates.  Well I don’t have many of those.  I actually don’t have any of those.  Since I went on bed rest no therapy or stretching has been done for either Hope or Jacob.  And they had been doing so well!  I am frustrated that those things have taken a back seat and I’m dreading how much progress we’ll have lost by the time I can get them back to their routine.  But trying to not worry about it because I can not control it, and there simply isn’t a point in fretting.

23. Dealing with Regression.  Which brings me to my next note about regression.  All four kiddos have regressed since bed rest.  Their behaviors, their attachment, their felt security… everything is back sliding.  It’s so hard to watch.  It was hard to listen to Stephen cry for half an hour while his poor Daddy tried to put him to sleep, and all he wanted was me.  Evie and Jacob and Hope weren’t getting attention from me at night, and that had always been our most consistent and essential bonding time each day.

24. Is it better now?  Being off of bed rest has helped some, but we’re still far from reclaiming what we had.  There is a lot of leftover anxiety and insecurity manifesting, and we are still in survival mode, which makes it difficult to concentrate on refilling the little one’s cups with felt safety and all the attention and love they need.

25. As for bedtime… I pray that we’ll be able to go back to some sort of normalcy in routine after baby is here, but I remember how horribly difficult those first few weeks were after Stephen was born.  Whatever happens, we’ll muddle through it and eventually get to a place where things go back to a sense of normal and routine.  I. Can. Not. Wait.

26. Things are getting easier.  We really aren’t drowning in chaos anymore.  There are just several things that can’t get back to normal until after the baby arrives, and our little Jacob thrives so much on routine that he has been very out of sorts.  We are all weary at the end of this journey, and just can’t wait to have our newest little member join us on the outside so we can move forward with the rest of our year!

27. Speaking of which… Happy New Years!  I know I sort of missed the big event, but I still thought it might be nice to take a moment and look back on 2014 while looking forward to 2015.

13. 2014 was the hardest year of my life.  I know, I’m still pretty young, so this isn’t like headline news or anything… but for us it was such a stretching, trying, challenging time.  It has not just been adoption and special needs parenting, although those things are certainly near the top on my list of hardest things I’ve ever done.  But it seems that we just haven’t been able to catch a break, emotionally, spiritually, practically or otherwise.  It was rough.

14. 2015 will be better.  I’m sure of it.  We may not have seen much of any good fruit from our labor last year, but so many seeds were planted.  This year my prayer is that those good seeds will take root and bear fruit, that our family will see the joys and blessings of our sacrifice.  I pray that our children especially will benefit, all five of them, and that Jake and I will grow closer to the Lord and to one another as we wade through the deep waters of these fleeting days.

15. Did I mention that Jake is awesome?  Because he is.  I just thought I’d mention it again.  Seriously.  There’s no one else I’d rather be raising five rambunctious, out-of-control, adorable little monsters with.

16. Speaking of monsters… I’ll do a little note for each one of the kiddos.  And I say monsters as a term of the utmost endearment.  We have great children, they’re just… ya know… in need of some direction for their copious amounts of energy 😉

17. Hope.  Starting with the oldest, Hope is the same sweet little girl she’s always been.  Very, very slowly she is opening up more to eye contact and interaction and becoming less averse to learning new things.  She can go to church and do a few short trips in public without screaming from the overstimulation and anxiety.  She is needing less isolation and more loving, and it’s a fun (albiet slow) transformation to watch.

18. Jacob.  His language skills are getting better.  He actually tries to speak full sentences with me now that have more than one point.  His personality is coming out more than ever, and I can’t wait till he reaches that threshold.  He was such a jokester whenever he would talk to translators in Russian.  I’m excited for that personality to come out again.

19. Evangeline. Her reading skills are starting to stick, and she’s still interested.  I think once she gets the basics of phonics that she’ll just teach herself the rest.  She is so smart and so motivated as far as books are concerned.  We got her a xylophone for Christmas, though, and reading music is going to take a little more work I think – lol!  In other news she is continuing to grow into her big sister role, she’s always been such a nurturing little girl.  It’s absolutely true that God gives us exactly the children our family needs at exactly His perfect time.

20. Stephen.  If I had one word to describe this two year old tornado it would be “RAWR!!” It is his favorite word and also embodies everything he loves… dinosaurs and monsters.  Oh and baseball.  He’s all boy and he’s really good at it.  Channeling his constant energy is a daily challenge in energy and patience.  But he has a lot of gifts and a lot of love to give.  He brings an amazing amount of joy and laughter, and Heaven knows we need those!

21. Mambo.  And this little one is just ornery!  Moving constantly… all over the place.  Baby was head down and pretty comfy until the contractions started.  Now?  Just constant kicking and pushing and spinning all over the place.  You’d better spin back to your proper position before I go into labor kiddo!  No breech babies allowed.  Good grief.

22. Confession… so about my last note… I actually wrote that three and a half weeks ago.  Lol!  Yes… I started drafting this at 35 weeks and am just now finishing up.  That is what my life has been like lately.

23. So what is Mambo really doing?  Little one has slowed down a lot, very little movement compared to what I was having on bed rest.  Heart beat and measurements look great, I just think there’s much less room in there than at the beginning of the month!  My midwife says this is a good sized baby, not huge, but certainly healthy, which makes me happier than could be after all that drama!

24. Which brings us to our next point…. about the drama.

25. I.

26. Do.

27. Not.

28. Want.

29. To.

30. Be.

31. Pregnant.

32. Anymore.

33. Seriously.  I mean… does more than that really need to be said?  At this point we are nowhere near labor and my due date is approaching quickly.  It’s exciting and frustrating all at once!

34. Hopefully on Friday… my midwife will be back in town and we will start attempting to get the baby engaged properly.  I’m hoping that once that happens labor will be able to begin promptly.  I can get contractions going, no problem, it’s just that at this point they are all trying to position the baby (ornery again) and not doing anything constructive.  Once we get the baby in its proper place we should be able to get the ball rolling.

35. Happy birthday Uncle Brandon?  My brother’s birthday is January 31st so we are shooting for that!  Wish us luck! 😛

36. The kids are all sleeping.  Jake and Grandma are at Bible study… the house is quiet and peaceful.  Score one for me.

37.  I’m going to take advantage of the peace and quiet because… *drum roll* I have nothing left to write about for today!

38. And that is how you make it to the end of a 38 point post when you don’t actually have that many points to make 😉

 

P.S. – This is the first comment I got after publishing my post: “It might have been a bit easier to get to #38 if you hadn’t jumped back to 13 from 27…”
Yes.  Yes indeed.  Thank you pregnancy brain.  Maybe that makes up for the month of posting that I missed?   Sigh…

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.

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.

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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!

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