Tuesday, December 29, 2009

We're Going to Disney World!

Well the happiest people on earth are heading to the Happiest Place on Earth.

I'll try to post pics of our trip.

With Mickey Ears On,

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Unto Us a Son is Given

For any of you wondering if all that crying, begging, hoping, and praying Daniel home in time for Christmas was worth it . . . absolutely!!! We have had the sweetest Christmas with our new son. I'm still in such awe of God's precious gift that arrived home on Christmas Eve. My heart overflows with joy.

Forgive me for not posting for the past few days. I've wanted so badly to share every fabulous minute but was so busy getting everything ready for Christmas and for Daniel to come home. Living in Guatemala for half of December, then trying to catch up on life without Brad here made life challenging. But never have I been so grateful to be so exhausted.

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday just giddy with excitement that Daniel would soon be home. I was wrapping his gifts and as I wrote on the tags "To Daniel, From Mom and Dad" . . . the beauty of those simple words moved me to tears. For the first time in his life, he would spend Christmas with a mom and dad, sisters and brother. He would have packages under a tree with his name on it. He would celebrate the birth of our Lord as part of a family.

Thursday was a flurry of running around. I knew in my mind that Daniel and Brad would soon be home, yet I don't think I really believed it would happen till I saw them at the airport with my own eyes.

Brad said Daniel was great on the trip home.

Daniel is afraid of heights and had never been on a plane so I was worried that this would be overwhelming for him, but other than some nerves at take-off he handled it all so well. The pilot even let Daniel visit the cockpit. (This pic was taken AFTER they had landed.)

We waited anxiously for his arrival. His new siblings had waited for this day for two and a half years!

We had a bunch of sweet family and friends who gave up their Christmas Eve plans to welcome him home.

When Daniel and Brad rounded the corner to where we were waiting, Daniel's face was beaming. Perhaps the closest thing we will ever witness to a heavenly homecoming, when we are greeted by those who have gone before us, is when we witness the homecoming of an adopted child. It is a victorious sight to behold.

I was able to keep my emotions together. I don't think Daniel understands the difference between happy and sad tears (although he's seen his mama and papa do both), so I managed to just greet him with open arms and a smile that matched his. Here he is with his sisters . . .

and some of our extended family.

I could write for days about our Christmas together. I don't even know where to begin. We left the airport and went to a family gathering on Christmas Eve with Brad's extended family. Daniel entered a home full of folks who had been praying him home. Some precious cousins were waiting outside in the rain as our car pulled up in the driveway. You could hear the squeals from the street as he entered the door.

Then we finally made it to our home and were greeted by balloons and a huge card from our neighbors. Inside the card had photos of each family living on our cul-de-sac with their names. This boy certainly knows he is loved by many.

When he stepped into our home, his face was so precious taking it all in. He ran to our Christmas tree and saw the wrapped presents. He exclaimed, "Look, look, there are presents here for me!!!"

He ran room to room exploring the house. When he got to his room, it was like an episode of "Extreme Home Makeover" (without Ty Pennington and the elaborate decor). He squealed and jumped up and down. He loved having his own chest of drawers to put his clothes in and a little Christmas tree that I set up for the boys. He's so excited to share a bunk bed with Brady. (And Brady is over the moon to have the big brother he has waited so long for.) There's a lot of giggling coming from that room at night.

Christmas morning was truly special. This pic is the kids sitting at the top of the stairs waiting to come down.

Here are two very cute (and very short) clone troopers. I think they look like bobble heads.

I had envisioned this moment for so many months but it was better than I had ever imagined. Here's a child who has had nine years of so little who suddenly has a family who loves him, who is laughing at the breakfast table savoring each bite of a cinnamon roll and each minute of belonging, who finally understands that he will never go hungry or lack for anything he needs or ache for a family.

And, oh, the love I have for my other three children who have never once complained about the adoption. How beautiful the sight of them loving on their new brother, helping him with a toy, and saying such sweet things to make sure he feels like he's part of the family. These are the greatest gifts that we got this Christmas.

We've unfortunately broken every recommendation given in adoption books on easing your newly adopted child into your family. There has been no routine, we've gone from family gathering to family gathering (a total of 5 in 3 days!)and had many people come over. Yet in spite of the craziness, he has done remarkably well. I keep waiting for him or one of the other kids to come unglued, but we've not had one moment of tears or pouting from anyone (including me!). We told Daniel to let us know if he ever got overwhelmed at the gatherings and we could leave early and he did so well that I often forgot he had only been home one day.

I feel so badly that you all have prayed him home, then once my package safely arrived, I haven't had time to post a pic of us enjoying the gift. But my husband and family needed a few days with the computer off, to watch my new son ride his bike on the driveway, to build Lego creations together, to go to the movies (we saw "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" tonight), to drive around looking at Christmas lights, and to spend every moment rejoicing in finally being together. But I promise in the coming year that any person who takes the time to visit here will see regular reports from the Goodness and Mercy mama.

I'll share one more story before heading to bed(I hope I'm still making sense because I haven't gotten much sleep the past few days). Last night after tucking all four into bed, I sat down at the computer with the plan to update my blog. A few minutes later Ava came downstairs crying. I thought "Oh, no. This day was too good to be true." My mind raced wondering the cause of her distress. Perhaps she felt Daniel was the center of attention and felt left out, perhaps Daniel had said or done something that hurt her feelings, perhaps she was disappointed that there was something she didn't get for Christmas.

The words began to spill out between sobs. "Mom, I had my radio on and just heard the song 'All I Really Want for Christmas.'" (It's the sweet song by Steven Curtis Chapman about an orphan wanting a family.) She continued, "Mom, it reminds me so much of Daniel. All he wanted was a family for Christmas and it has been so special being that family."

I told her that I thought of Daniel every time I heard that song, too, but then asked why she was crying. She replied, "Because it's not enough. There are so many just like Daniel who need homes. There are kids like Viviana and Eluvia [the little girls we sponsor from Daniel's orphanage but aren't able to be adopted] who spent another Christmas without a family. It isn't fair. We need to buy more bunkbeds and adopt more kids. We can do more, Mom."

Her words meant so much to me. What a blessing to have our children passionately share this calling with us. Here I had been so concerned about "messing up" the perfect world that my other three had been living in, only to realize that it's okay for them to have their hearts broken over the things that break God's heart. I have a funny feeling that some day we'll be buying more bunkbeds.

I'm posting that song here for anyone who hasn't heard it.(Be sure to pause the music playing below so you can hear it.)

I hope any of you who are thinking about adoption but are hesitant to take that leap of faith will see our happy ending and joyful beginning and consider adopting, too. This time next year, you could have the same gift of life sitting under your tree. And although I'm sure there will be challenging days ahead, the moments we have right now are like no other.

Thanks again for your love and prayers getting Daniel home. There's nothing greater than the gift of a new son as we celebrate the gift of His Son. We hope you had a Merry Christmas. May you have a blessed New Year.

Still Celebrating,

Monday, December 21, 2009

Behold, I Bring You Good Tidings of Great Joy

Step outside for a minute and listen closely. What you'll hear is a father and son duet of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" all the way from Guatemala.

Brad called this morning to let me know that they got Daniel's passport. They were able to submit our final documents to the US Embassy, but it didn't look good to get a Visa appointment before Christmas. He met a family who submitted their final documents Friday and were given Monday, December 28 as their appointment date. With some begging and pleading, they were able to move it up to this week enabling them to have a Christmas homecoming, but it was looking like they got the last ticket out before the holiday.

The sweet lady at the USE told Brad she would submit our file as soon as she could (she had already reviewed half of our documents that we gave her last Wednesday but was waiting on the new birth certificate and passport to complete the review). She said Brad would get an e-mail either today or tomorrow telling us when our appointment date would be.

When Brad shared the news I was disappointed that coming home for Christmas looked out of reach, but thrilled that we'd probably have our appointment next Monday and have them home before the new year. At this point, I was just so grateful that we'd have some time left before school started and Brad had to go back to work to be together as a family. So when I got a call on my cell when I was running errands, I wasn't really prepared for what I'd hear on the other end.

"Hello?" spoken in Daniel's little voice. "Mama, I'm coming home for Christmas."

I'm not sure exactly what I said but there was a lot of squealing on both ends of the conversation. Brad got on the phone to clarify. He had gotten an appointment for tomorrow morning and he'll be able to pick up the Visa 3:00 p.m. Wednesday. It will be too late to catch a flight that day, but they have two seats booked to come home Christmas Eve. It will certainly be a Christmas we will never forget.

For those of you who have just recently been tuning in, several weeks ago I shared about "Long-Awaited Firsts" explaining why we haven't given up on this little boy. I can't wait to put the final pictures in this album of bringing Daniel home.

Thanks so much for your prayers, love, and encouragement. Goodness and mercy has followed two and a half years of praying one special little boy home. Our cup runneth over.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunrises and Sunsets

I bought milk the other day that expires on Dec. 25th. I think that's when it hit me how close Christmas is. Well, I've got 4 days to get everything ready for Christmas and Brad has 4 days to get Daniel home. I think we'll compare ulcers via Skype. (Perhaps this can be a new tradition.) I'm sad that we've lost so much of the Christmas season without Brad and Daniel, yet know we will forever be celebrating finally having our family under one roof as soon as they get home.

Please keep praying. What happens tomorrow determines if they will be home by Christmas. We have to get Daniel's passport and get our final documents to the US Embassy tomorrow because it is the USE's last day of work before the holiday. Fortunately the Visa is issued by the US State Department and they are open through Wednesday with a half day of work on Christmas Eve. Forget Santa and the elves. We're rejoicing that the State Department's workshop is still open. I just pray they have time to process one more Visa or you'll have to send me to the Island of Misfit Toys. (I'll be the misfit version of the Jack in the Box--you know, where you turn the crank till the crazy lady pops out.)

I'm trying to get everything ready for when Daniel does come home. Kind of that nesting thing expectant moms do. I'm giddy with excitement imagining him here. This is certainly a "sunrise" moment in our lives--a time of darkness is ending and rays of light are on the horizon. It's a beautiful thing to behold.

The Christmas letter I'm sharing today is from 2003. It's about celebrating sunsets. Little did I know when I wrote this that we would experience a darkness (just weeks following) like we had never known before. But we've also learned not to be afraid of night, for through our darkest times we are never alone and it is always followed by a blessed new day.

Thanks for walking with us and praying for us on this journey.

God Bless,

Dear Family and Friends,

Before you read our 2003 Christmas letter, I must attach a disclaimer. I am, at present, hormonally challenged with a head cold. In my condition I should not operate heavy machinery or write holiday greetings. But unless you’re our pediatrician or a check-out clerk at Kroger, we’ve not seen you in a while. So this feeble attempt at staying in touch eases our guilt.

As I begin our latest edition of “It’s a Wonderfully Boring Life,” I want to remind you of a Christmas story that has particular significance to me this year--“The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry. It’s the one about a husband and wife who are distraught because in their poverty they weren’t able to buy a Christmas gift for their beloved. So the wife--who had long beautiful hair--cut and sold it to purchase a watch chain for her husband. And he sold his treasured watch--passed down from his father and grandfather--to buy beautiful tortoise shell hair combs that his wife had long admired. When they discovered what each had sacrificed for the other, they spent the evening in tears and laughter--because, although she had combs but no hair and he had a chain but no watch, they had a love without end.

O. Henry concludes by saying that the magi were wise men who brought gifts to the Baby Jesus. But wiser still were the husband and wife who sacrificed their greatest treasures for each other. They are worthy to be called magi.

Although we’re more likely to resemble the Three Stooges than the Three Wise Men, we’ve been blessed with many magi moments throughout the year. Here’s a bit of the love through sacrifice that we’ve been given.

*Gifts of New Life and Sustained Life*
Christmas came early for our family and we’ve enjoyed two precious gifts throughout this year. The first was the gift of new life. Last June, we found out on our eleventh wedding anniversary that we are expecting Baby #3. Although we would have been thrilled with any make or model, we were excited to find out that we’re having a boy! He is due Valentine’s Day--the day that celebrates love--but I’m hoping he’ll come a bit early on a day that celebrates an easier delivery.

The second gift was that of sustained life. September of 2002 my mom was told that she would not make it another year, but apparently her doctors didn’t factor in the power of prayer, her will to live, and the medicine that comes from hugging her grandchildren. She has endured 14 month of chemo and radiation to have more time with so many who love her. Every hair she’s lost has been replaced by a veil of courage . . . every day she’s granted is a testimony of her love and God’s grace.

Since her treatment has not been successful in slowing the growth of the bone cancer, she has decided to trust solely in the Great Physician for her treatment from here on. Although we hate the disease, we love the closeness it’s brought to our family. Thanks so much for your prayers for the magi who is my mother.

*Lessons from the Youngest*
Now I know the little girls in white dresses look completely harmless and until recently their mischief has been along the line of crayon on the wall and deodorant on the cat. Which is why on an afternoon last September I went to check on the girls playing quietly upstairs fully expecting to find them reading books and reciting Bible verses. But instead I was horrified to discover that Olivia had been playing beauty parlor with her child-sized scissors and her little sister had been the customer who now had grounds for a lawsuit. I felt as if I had walked in on a crime scene with the floor covered with golden curls that just minutes before had framed Ava’s little face. (It’s no exaggeration when I say that even the military doesn’t cut recruits hair this short--in many places I could see her scalp.)

Over the past few months we have learned that lessons can come from loss and bravery can be found wearing Strawberry Shortcake panties. Our three-year-old has shown pint-sized character as she faced a classroom of friends that she thought might laugh at her and a world of strangers who often stare and mistake her for a boy. She showed forgiveness when someone asked if she would like to cut her sister’s hair and she replied, “Oh, no, I love my sister and would never cut her beautiful hair.” She was a good sport at Halloween when she chose to dress up as Rapunzel and chuckled at the irony of the long blond wig. And she learned that there are people in her life who want to bear her burdens when I took her on a date to the salon and had them cut my hair short to match hers. (If you’re familiar with my hate/hate relationship with my Bride of Frankenstein hair, you’ll know this was less about sacrifice and more about solidarity.)

But her year hasn’t been all about hair, for she has shown us the delight in dancing through a sprinkler on a hot day, the joy of embarking on her first preschool adventure, the pride that comes from being able to write her own name. She amuses us with her non-stop commentary--we wonder how someone so small can have so many opinions. And she amazes us with her love for a baby brother she has yet to see--the mid-section of my clothes are covered in her sticky kisses and she spends much of her time talking to my tummy in her muppet-like voice: “Hey, little fella! I love you!”

Olivia, six this year, has learned about the redemption of true forgiveness. Our Edwarda Scissorhands carried out her punishment (and it was severe) without complaint. And after a month of doing chores to pay for a special doll she gave her sister as a peace offering, she asked if she could also pay for the hats and headbands Brad and I had given Ava.

She has shown empathy during the five months I had of morning, noon and night sickness. Many summer days on the way to the pool she would say, “Mom, we don’t have to go if you’re not up to it.” She has shown responsibility as a new first-grader, creativity in her crafting, and sensitivity to those needing a friend or a hug. She melts my heart with her compassion and lifts my spirits with her encouragement.

And Brad amazes me with the way he’s able to make a little girl without hair, another without teeth (Olivia is missing four), and a really big girl without a waistline feel beautiful. He should win a Noble Prize for all the tears he’s dried and broken hearts he’s mended. I know it’s been a challenge being the Lord of the Ding-a-lings in this all-female household. And for that, I would sell my hair to buy him a new battery for his watch (frizzy doesn’t fetch much).

*Lessons from the Oldest*
But one very wise magi this year was my 82 year old grandmother. Although she had many trials in her life, her faith never wavered. She’s been described as a kid with wrinkles--she lived her life with childlike wonder yet she possessed wisdom that few could match.

She was a spunky lady. Last January my extended family took her to Disney World and she even rode a rollercoaster for the first time. But what I loved the most about her is how she made every person she encountered feel special . . . how she would give the first of her time and the last dollar in her purse to anyone who needed it.

Last May, she went to be with Jesus. We were shocked by the news because she hadn’t been sick. She still had a full schedule of potluck suppers and Bible studies and even had her bags packed to visit us the coming weekend. But the way they found her was no surprise. The director of her assisted living community went to check on her when she missed a gathering. They found her kneeling by her bed in prayer with her Bible open. Apparently she was in the presence of the Almighty and was ready to be with Him for eternity.

She had logged a lot of miles on those knees praying for her husband, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and many more who called her friend. In every place she lived, you’d find indentations in the carpet from where her knees had been. In one house, the marks were left by a window that she’d open when she prayed because she thought that perhaps God could hear her better.

After the funeral, family gathered at her apartment to share memories and take any items that had sentimental value. No one seemed to want her old bed, except for me. For it wasn’t just her bed . . . it had been her altar.

*Kneeling at the Altar*
We brought it home, painted it white, and put it in Olivia’s room. She wanted so badly to have something that would make her feel close to her dear great-grandmother. I explained to her the significance of the bed. I told her the story of a spiritual giant disguised as a little old lady. I told her about the legacy of a prayer warrior and the marks she left on the carpet.

The first night the girls slept in that bed (Ava often sleeps in it, too) and we were going about our hurried routine of bathtime, putting on Pjs, and brushing teeth. Olivia’s little voice reminded us to stop and kneel by the bed with, “Mom, I want to make marks in the carpet, too.”

So at night we kneel, all four and a half of us, and say our prayers. Sometimes the girls’ prayers are funny, sometimes poignant, . . . always heartfelt. And on those nights that I can’t sleep, I tip-toe into that pink room and look at what has been laid on the altar (and this may be the only altar with a protective covering in case of bed-wetting). There lay security blankets, an assortment of dolls and stuffed animals, and two of my greatest blessings . . . those little girls.

How easy it is to unload my burdens onto this altar. Like on those days when my little one mourned the loss of her hair begging, “Mommy, can you put the curls back?” Or when we have gotten news that the cancer can’t be treated. Or when we’ve been told that our loved one has died. But how difficult it is to lay my security blankets, my most treasured possessions, and the ones I love on that altar. The sacrifice is too great . . . the gift too costly . . . that is until I remember a greater love of a Baby in a manger and a Savior on a cross.

As I looked through photos from the past year, I came across this one of the girls on the beach.

We were vacationing with my parents and sister and her family. Although my grandmother’s absence was difficult, we seemed to feel her presence. And as we saw a glorious sunset each night, we felt Grandmother Little must have had some input on this spectacular display.

The evening this photo was taken was our last at the beach--the moment clouded knowing that we might lose another member of our family by the next trip. But as my miniature magi danced in the waves, they seemed to know what I’m still trying to learn . . . that, in spite of the impending night, we should revel in the sunsets. Because just like the couple in “The Gift of the Magi,” it’s not about mourning what was lost, but celebrating the love that was found.

Our wish for you this year is that you would enjoy every sunset, make marks in your carpet, and experience the rare gift of sacrificial love. May you be worthy to be called magi, for you have certainly earned the title of friend.

With Much Love,
The Williams Family

Friday, December 18, 2009

Update and the Ghost of Christmas Letters Past

Well, I guess you guys have figured out that I do most of my catching up between midnight and 2:00 a.m. So when I say I'll try to update tonight, I should really say, I'll try to update after the kids are in bed and before the major networks switch to infomercials. So sorry. These days there's just not enough hours in the day to get it all done.

The short version (although brevity is not my strength): we got over another major hurdle. Praise God, today we finally got Daniel's new birth certificate and Brad and I will forever be listed as his mom and dad! This is a big day not just legally, but emotionally.

But poor Brad had another very stressful day. When he went this morning to pick up the approval from Renap, our paralegal was shaking his head indicating to Brad something was terribly wrong. Apparently there was confusion about my name. They had my maiden name listed as my last and Williams as the middle. (In Guatemala both are listed as surnames.) You wouldn't think that would be a big deal but apparently it is. There was a scramble to fax a name affidavit trying to prove that I am the same person. This was going to take a week to fix, but they finally allowed our documentation to clear up the confusion and sent us to the branch Renap. They had the same concerns, but let it go as well. Brad finally has the beautiful birth certificate in hand but there wasn't enough time today to also get the passport.

He will go to immigration first thing on Monday with the hope that they won't have a problem with the name issue. We also hope we can submit our final docs to the US Embassy Monday because it is the last day they will be open before taking their holiday break. Then we will hope and pray that the US Department of State has enough time in their schedule to fit us in for our final Visa appointments. (Like control top pantyhose on Thanksgiving Day, there's no breathing room here.)

On another note, for those of you who normally get a Christmas card from us, we've decided to wait till Daniel is home and send our annual howdy as an adoption announcement. Our neighbor David said he doesn't really want to read another Christmas letter until Daniel is home. (Hee hee. Last year's was pretty pitiful.) But I so greatly appreciate all my bloggy friends and want to wish you all a Merry Christmas. I'll be posting some of my past Christmas letters for those of you who know that I'm nuts but continue to read anyway.

I've splattered a lot of paint on this canvas of my blog, but as our story unfolds through the years, you'll see the beautiful masterpiece God has been painting in our lives.(You'll also understand the whole "Goodness and Mercy" significance after the 2004 letter.)

I'm going to start with my letter from 2002--it's pasted below the photo we had on our card that year. I read it now and it's hard to remember when life was that simple, when my girls were that young, and what life was like without my two boys. Sometimes I wish I could rewind and have bits of that time back, yet I'm so grateful for where God has brought us.

A quick warning to those of you who haven't read one of these from me. This is not your typical Christmas letter. We don't travel to exotic places, we don't have big acheivements to announce, and you may need Kleenex to get through some of them. (But this one is pretty light.)

As always, thanks for your love, prayers, and encouragement.

God Bless,

Dear Family and Friends,

Before I begin the 2002 edition of “Lifestyles of the Sticky and Sleep-Deprived,” I thought I’d share a little about our Williams family Christmas. I start each holiday season with big plans for a baked from scratch, wrapped in satin ribbons, cover of “Southern Living” kind of Christmas. And I plan to accomplish this triathlon of decorating, shopping, and parties/productions without ever feeling overwhelmed or overextended.

But as soon as I’m thrown up on by a fellow shopper at an after Thanksgiving sale, I realize that, as always, my holiday will probably be less Norman Rockwell and more National Lampoon’s. My gifts will be wrapped by Mommy’s elves in masses of paper and wads of tape; the nicest ornament on our tree will be made of popsicle sticks. My baking will be assisted by Betty Crocker and we’ll lock ourselves out of the house as we deck the halls with boughs of artificial greenery.

Yes, we have spent holidays in the emergency room, had our child urinate on Santa’s lap, and one year after leaving our Christmas tree outside while we purchased a larger tree stand, we returned to find O Tannenbaum covered in slugs. Our holidays have never been perfect, but they have certainly been a lot of fun. The same holds true for the rest of our year and here’s a bit of how we spent it.

Olivia turned five in April and started Kindergarten. At the class Thanksgiving party she was given the Native American name “Blooming Flower” and we attribute much of that blooming to her exceptional teachers. She’s learning to read and I love watching her little face beam as she masters one word at a time. She also lost her first two teeth! She still enjoys ballet and tap and with her love of arts and crafts, gardening and cooking, she’s turning into a little Martha Stewart, minus the insider trading.

Ava turned two last March and struggles between wanting to be a baby and a big girl. Her mission statement: “I do it myself.” She’s a walking question mark followed by an exclamation point and often shares her stream of consciousness with strangers: “Hi, my cat’s name is Yogi, Cinderella lives in a castle, Tic Tacs are spicy!” She’s finishing her tenure at Gymboree and just started real gymnastics. But her biggest thrill is that her sister has promoted her to playmate--she loves being part of the world of “let’s pretend” and they crack each other up with their preschool humor.

Brad has survived another year in what is shaping up to be a very feminine home. A trip to Disney World last spring launched the “Year of the Princesses.” He’s logged in a lot of hours teaching Little Mermaids how to swim and reading bedtime stories to Sleeping Beauties. And for that he will always be our Prince Charming. And I’m having a lot of fun as the Queen Mother--keeping busy with the above.

This past year we’ve had some highs--Brad and I celebrated our 10-year anniversary and we spent some of the summer vacationing with family. And there have been lows--in June, Brad’s grandfather passed away, but we’re comforted in knowing that after almost 93 years he finally got to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

The lowest point came when we learned that my mother’s cancer had returned and spread to her bones. But our despair has been replaced by hope. We’ve been encouraged by news that through radiation, chemo, and a new cancer fighting drug her doctor’s see her gaining on it. Thanks so much for the prayers, phone calls, and letters. Your support means more than you’ll ever know.

I realize that I’ve already overstayed my Christmas letter welcome, but I want to tell you about the one part of Christmas that even I can’t mess up--it’s the Christmas music. I love the majesty of “Handel’s Messiah,” the simplicity of “Silent Night,” and even the humor of “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” (although the lyrics seem to change with my holiday waistline to “I am a Hippopotamus at Christmas”). But my favorite may be the same as yours--“O Holy Night.” Whether sung by Celine Dion or a children’s choir, nothing touches me more than the poetry of those lyrics. I just have to believe in a Savior that could inspire such a song.

But my love of this classic is overshadowed by the fact that I have the vocal range of about three notes and one of those notes is the perfect pitch of a computer modem connecting to the Internet. So since Christmas caroling would result in a restraining order, I only sing in the shower (with the added benefit that my voice removes the mildew). That is . . . until Christmas Eve.

After everyone has gone to bed, I walk my rounds to make sure everything looks perfect for the next morning. And before I go upstairs, I’m usually convicted that in my attempt to create a celebration fit for a king (or at least two princesses), I have often forgotten the King of Kings.

So I kneel by our tree--before my Lord--and imagine the lights are the stars of Bethlehem. And I sing, quietly enough so I don’t cause the neighborhood dogs to bark or wake my sugar plum fairies, but loud enough so my humble offering can be heard in heaven: “O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth. Long lay the world, in sin and error pining. Till he appeared and the soul felt it’s worth. . . .”

And as I sing, I’ll reflect on the past year. And this year I’m grateful for my husband and daughters. Grateful for God’s provision. Grateful for brave men and women serving our country like our friend Captain Michael Roache who’ll miss Christmas with his wife and three young children as he serves in Kuwait. Grateful for those we call parent, grandparent, sister, friend. Grateful for one more year with my mom.

And most of all, I’ll be grateful for a Perfect Gift born under imperfect circumstances, in an imperfect world, for an imperfect wife and mom in Georgia. As I’m overwhelmed by the extravagance of such a gift the tears will pour down my cheeks but I’ll continue to sing, “Fall on your knees, o hear the angel voices, o night divine, o night when Christ was born.” And on this one night each year, I’ll hit every note with a voice worthy of the angels singing back-up. It doesn’t matter what happens the next morning for I feel like I have witnessed the birth of Christ . . . I have already celebrated Christmas in my heart.

So I guess our wish for you this holiday is that even if your Christmas isn’t perfect, may it be a lot of fun. May your tree be slug-free, may you hit all the high notes, but most of all may you witness the miracle of Christ’s birth.

Have a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year!

With Much Love,
The Williams Family

Saving Private Cryin'

Sorry I didn't get a chance to update yesterday. I have come to the conclusion that my life is one long episode of The Amazing Race (and I'm in last place). And after a day of carpooling, shopping, buying, wrapping, baking, phone calling, cleaning, blood-pressure checking (just kidding, I don't even want to know my numbers right now), I was up most of the night with my sick son.

Brady has a respiratory thing made worse with his asthma. Unfortunately the treatment is giving him meds that make him deliriously sleepy followed with steroids that help open his airways and enable him to climb walls like Spiderman. The combo makes a normally delightful child seem like he has rabies. Our bedtime story was about Old Yeller. Not a typical cautionary tale, yet I wanted to send the message that I have a Nerf gun and I'm not afraid to use it.

Yesterday was quite a day on our adoption adventure, but never have I been so proud to have a husband who loves with his whole heart and isn't afraid to fight for his children. Brad makes his living in sales and yesterday he had what may have been the biggest pitch of his life.

I think where I left off was telling you that after the Branch Renap folks (kind of like our county level) said we had to go through the Central Renap (kind of like our state level) to get our birth certificate, we were so disappointed. Central Renap only takes files on Tuesdays and it was Wednesday. We also only have a couple days left to get this birth certificate and passport and do our final documents to have any chance for Brad and Daniel to be home by Christmas.

But we had a huge answer to prayer Wednesday when Brad, Daniel, and our paralegal pleaded our case and a very nice lady at the Central Renap said she would accept our file anyway and try to get the approval for our birth certificate by 3:00 p.m. Thursday. Well, our paralegal stopped by yesterday to see if it was ready only to get more bad news. The person who reviews files and gives these approvals would not be able to even touch our file till next Tuesday. Our attorney called and pleaded, our paralegal stood there and pleaded, but to no avail. But Brad had to ask himself. Any chance of Christmas at home was going quickly.

So he and Daniel walked down there and asked to have a minute to speak with the kind lady who had helped him the day before. There he again explained the situation. That we have a little boy almost 10 years old who has been waiting to finally have Christmas with a family. That our family has been trying for 2 1/2 years to get him home. That Brad and I have been switching off living in a hotel for a month trying to complete the adoption and we've hit one wall after another but are so close to being finished. That if we can just get the birth certificate by Friday, we can get our final documents to the US Embassy by Monday, and we will still have a chance of making it home for Christmas.

The sweet lady just said, "I'm so sorry. Please don't tell me this. It breaks my heart but there's nothing I can do."

Then Brad and Daniel broke down in tears, standing in a hallway with hundreds of people watching the crazy American with his little boy begging for her to just ask her boss one more time if there was any way he could review our file before Tuesday. He said if he and Daniel spend the Christmas season alone in a hotel room in Guatemala, he will feel like he has failed Daniel and his family at home. He pleaded, "If you will just ask one more time, then I will know that I've done all I can."

She went into her office. Brad and Daniel waited nervously for an hour. She returned smiling to say that, even though they were scheduled to be working away from the office on Friday, he would come first to the office and look at our file. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!!! Brad gave her my blog address (perhaps so she could see how many people are praying us home), so "Ms. G" (I don't want to give your name without permission) if you are reading, THANK YOU SO MUCH!

So pray, pray, pray (as Daniel says) that we get that approval this morning, that they are able to get the birth certificate at the branch Renap next and that there's still time to get our passport today. We need to submit our final documents first thing on Monday at the US Embassy for any chance at getting our Visa appointments before Christmas.

Thanks for your continued prayers. I'll try to update tonight.

Much Love,

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On Life Support

Most of the world has already gone to bed, but I wanted to share some good news (especially after throwing myself a full pity party on my last post). Brad called tonight and said, "Our adoption is on life support!"

I asked him what that meant and he told me that he and Daniel met our paralegal at the Central Renap this afternoon. Brad had a chance to plead our case and Renap graciously agreed to accept our file (even though their policy is to only take them on Tuesdays) AND would try to sign off on our case tomorrow. This is huge, wonderful, miraculous kind of news, yet I'm not doing my happy dance just yet. If they sign off on it tomorrow, it still has to go back to the Branch Renap to get the birth certificate, then we need to get the passport, then submit our final docs to the USE, then hope to get a Visa appointment in time. It will be uncomfortably close, but we still have a chance. And that small chance is enough to fall to my knees and cry out, "Thank you, God!"

Thanks to you all for your sweet comments and suggestions and encouragement. I love the part where I post early this morning about riding the seesaw with God, then a couple hours later advertise my full adult tantrum online. I'm like the children of Israel complaining about the conditions in the wilderness when I've still got manna stuck in my hair from the last time it rained from heaven.

Yes, as many suggested, we will wait and have Christmas when Daddy and Daniel finally do come home--even though December 25th will be hard. My three here already miss Brad so much that the phone calls end with tears. It will be hard to wake up on Christmas morning with a father and brother missing, watching the holiday come and go without seeing them.

My heart breaks the most for Daniel who has waited almost 10 years to have a family--a lifetime of waiting for happy only to have to wait some more. I don't want him to watch the world take down Christmas decorations, and stop playing holiday music, and move onto Valentine's Day, before he finally gets to have his Christmas with his family by a very crispy tree.

When we started our adoption, I explained to my girls what a hard life he has had. Ava responded with, "I want his life to be so full of happy here that he won't even be able to remember what it was like to be sad." Perhaps that's the thinking that has me aching to get him home in time. He's had a lifetime of leftovers--this time I want him to sit at the table when the feast is served.

But then a sweet friend reminded me of something tonight (thanks, Heidi). Even Mary and Joseph were away from home for the real birth of Christ. Our pastor had a great sermon last year about how terribly imperfect the circumstances were for our perfect Savior. Oh, I'm so glad that God didn't choose me to be the mother of the Messiah, for I would have certainly voiced my complaints about riding a donkey nine months pregnant, not having my trusted doctor for the delivery, my safety concerns about the feeding trough/bassinet, and Joseph would have gotten an earful about not calling ahead to make a hotel reservation.

But if this was God's plan for His only Son, then who am I to question His plan for my adopted son? As much as I wish I could script out my life, God's way is always so much better than anything I could have come up with.

My eyes are heavy so I'm going to call it a night, but will try to post any news tomorrow. As always, thanks for your love and prayers.

Resting in Him,

In Tears

We just got bad news about our case. The paralegal went this morning to get the birth certificate. It wasn't ready. As the woman who handles this was reviewing it, she decided that she would require that we go through Central Renap after all. Central Renap only accepts files on Tuesdays. Last I checked, it is Wednesday. We missed it by a day.

We will have to wait till next Tuesday to even submit our file to get the birth certificate and it will probably take a week or two from next Tuesday to get it because everything will be closed for the holidays. Not only will we miss Christmas, it looks like Daniel won't be home till mid-January and Brad and I will continue to switch off.

We have no plan B. We can't afford 4 airline tickets for me and our three to fly to Guatemala for Christmas and I don't even know if there's a flight left with 4 seats on it (a ticket right now is running about $1200 each for a direct flight). We can't afford to keep living in a hotel room for another month. Not only will Daniel (and Brad) miss Christmas, months ago we booked a trip to Disney World from Dec. 28 to Jan. 4 and Daniel (and most likely me) will miss that, too. (The girls are in a Christian cheer competition program and the finals are in Orlando. They've worked so hard to get there and this is not a trip that can be postponed.) Daniel is just so excited about Christmas and going to Disney World, I just don't know how we'll tell him. I just don't know what to do.

Brad is going with our attorney to get our stuff from the Chimaltenango Renap with the hope of getting to Central before it closes at 4:00 their time. They will beg to just have it accepted today but it will take at least a week to get it done, then we still have to get the passport, submit our final docs and wait for a Visa appointment.

I've said it before that in the grand scheme of things, this is so small. We are so tremendously blessed. We have weathered much worse. There are many who have lost loved ones and are grieving this Christmas and others who have critically ill children who may not even make it to next Christmas. Please Lord, help me to remember that this is nothing . . . just right now it seems like everything.

I'm crying too hard to even type at this point so I'll stop.

Thanks for your continued prayers and love.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Seesaw Sovereignty: Lessons from the Playground

When life returns to normal (whatever that is), I plan to do an ongoing post where I share a lesson found in a bit of my everyday life. It will be a "Lessons from the . . ." (fill in the blank) series. I wrote the first one a few weeks back called "Loved to Pieces: Lessons from the Toy Box."

Today I'm too tired to put anything meaningful together. I was away from home for two weeks and I wasn't able to Tivo my life and I'm trying desperately to catch up. But there are things heavy on my heart and thoughts in my head that I thought I'd share before they go into my mental compost pile.

I don't know about you but I grew up during a time where playgrounds were constructed of those massive metal creations of swings, monkey bars, the Wheel of Fortune looking spinning thing, and the metal slide so hot it could fry an egg in the summer. And these items were no doubt covered in lead paint done in primary colors. I remember picking the paint off making a game of how big a piece I could peel.

Like most kids, I loved the playground. My favorite was the swings. I remember the joy when I learned to pump my legs so I could swing without needing a push and mastered jumping off mid-swing and flying through the air. Oh to be 8 years old again.

But my most unfavorite playground attraction was the seesaw. Yes, it was fun while it lasted, but it required a trusted friend to be on the other end (and one who was similar in weight). But I always seemed to be riding with an attention-deficit buddy who would hop off the ride as soon as the school bell rang, or her mother called, or another friend made a better offer. And I would not be able to defy the laws of gravity and would plummet to the earth. I'll never forget the inevitable contact with the ground--starting from my tailbone crushing and ending with my jaw snapping shut. Good times.

I learned early in life to avoid the seesaw on the playground, but unfortunately I haven't learned how to avoid the seesaws of life. It started early . . . things like having a BFF and one of us being invited to a birthday party and the other left out. One of us getting a part in the play, or making cheerleading tryouts, or being asked to the prom, and the other not.

And as I've gotten older, the seesaw has gotten bigger. And with the seesaw being bigger, the one who falls feels greater hurt from the impact. From two single gals riding the seesaw together, then one gets married and the other keeps waiting for Mr. Right. Two married gals hoping to have a baby, one gets pregnant and the other battles infertility. Two pregnant friends sharing the joys of impending motherhood, one has a healthy baby and the other one miscarries. One having financial blessing and the other financial drought. One has good health and the other medical challenges. One marriage celebrates golden anniversaries, the other ends in death or divorce. One has a sick child who is healed, the other has a sick child who doesn't make it.

Sometimes the friend just hops off the seesaw leaving the other to nurse their wounds alone--so excited about their blessing that they become oblivious to the other's pain. But usually the friend will first make every effort to stay on the seesaw as long as possible, then gradually try to bring her friend to a place where she is firmly positioned on her feet before getting off. Still it is hard to be sitting alone on the seesaw, when minutes before you had someone to ride the highs and lows with you.

Okay, you may be scratching your heads wondering why at Christmastime I'd go on and on about outdated play equipment. But it is this very time of year that being alone on the seesaw hurts the most. And nothing has felt more like a ride on a silly seesaw than our adoption.

You see, we started out on this playground with 27 other families adopting from the same orphanage. Nine of these families are dear friends of ours from Georgia and many others from this group have become dear friends over the past 2 1/2 years. We did our homestudies and dossiers together. We traveled to Guatemala together and took pictures of each other meeting our children for the first time. We prayed together, leaned on each other, and cried together when we discovered our papers had not been handled correctly and we would have to start from scratch under a new law and process. And I guess I had always imagined that we would all bring our kids home together.

But, unfortunately, the seesaw of international adoption breaks every playground rule of fairness. While one country program might take 3 months, another might take 3years. One might cost a few thousand dollars and another might cost 30 thousand. And although one would think the process would be the same within a country, we've seen a group of families who, although had their documents redone for Guatemala about the same time, are having very different timelines.

Some families got their empathy studies (trip to bond with the child to officially start the adoption process)in March, others in June and July and October, others are still waiting. Some got in and out of family court in 3 days, others 3 months. Some got a court who went on Christmas break November 9 to December 9 making a Christmas homecoming almost impossible, others got a court with a December 11 to January 14 holiday break leaving that door open. One family was able to bring their child home last August, some families may never be able to bring their child home at all. I HATE THIS SEESAW!

The worst part is that we have children riding with us. Some of these children, who have been waiting their whole lives to be with a family, will finally celebrate Christmas in their new home. And some will continue to wait. Don't get me wrong. I have rejoiced over every child who has come home. Oh, how it gives hope for the rest of us!!!! Never have I been so thrilled to see someone hop off the seesaw after years of heartbreak and frustration. Those of us left on the teeter-totter from Hades are screaming, "Run as fast as you can!!!" Still . . . we ache to be next.

And today, we are waiting to find out if we will get Daniel's new birth certificate and passport. What happens today will determine if Brad and Daniel have a chance to make it home in time for Christmas. And if we get good news, it will be bittersweet because it means we will leave dear friends behind to ride the seesaw without us.

But they will not be alone. For the Master of the Playground says, "Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5, NIV) And that is the key to seesaw safety.

Only ride with the One who can carry your weight when your burden is heavy. The One who will keep you safe through the highs and the lows. The One who will never, ever leave you. And you will enjoy the ride on the seesaw so much more if you can trust that He is always there even when it looks like there's no one in the other seat.

Thanks for you continued prayers. Please cover not only our adoption with prayer, but also the many others still in process.

Today is a big day of wondering if it's our turn to jump off the seesaw. We rest in God's way and His timing and know He is faithful no matter the outcome. I will update tonight to let you know how things turned out.

Ready for the Swings,

Monday, December 14, 2009

Latest Adoption Scoop

Sorry it has taken me so long to update on today's happenings. We've had a packed day of crazy. (Is there any other kind?)

Brad and Daniel arrived at Renap to find that our paralegal had just met with the register of the court. The good news: they would issue the birth certificate at the local Renap instead of us having to next go to the central Renap. This is huge because it saves us at least a week in the process.

The bad news: she said the birth certificate wouldn't be ready till next Monday (meaning no chance to be home by Christmas). The paralegal talked with her further and somehow convinced her to get it done by Friday. This wasn't much help because there still wouldn't be time to get Daniel's passport, submit final docs to the USE and get a Visa appointment before the holiday.

So Brad asked if he and Daniel could talk with her. He was warned that if he pushed too hard, she might go back to having it done Monday. Our precious driver, Victor, helped translate. They explained the situation, how badly Daniel wanted to be home by Christmas and how badly his new family aches to have him home, . . . I'm sure my boys gave their very best sad faces. Well, praise God, something must have softened her heart (or perhaps she was ready to have them out of her office) and she agreed to have it done by Wednesday morning. Whooo hooooo!!!! Although this is great news, I'm afraid to believe it until that birth certificate is in Brad's hands.

The next problem was that we needed to get Daniel's passport before submitting our final docs to the USE. We needed to submit these by this Thursday because they don't accept them on Fridays and we've been told that the USE will be taking all next week off. (We still can't find anyone who will confirm their holiday schedule.) But another answer to prayer was that our attorney was able to get an exception with Immigration to allow us to get the passport at noon (they usually only do it first thing in the morning).

So . . . IF we can get the new birth certificate Wednesday morning, the passport Wednesday afternoon, everything translated and to the USE by Thursday morning, THEN we have a very good chance that Brad and Daniel can do their Visa appointments with the State Department Monday and Wednesday (we've been told they will be open next week and pray that it's true), AND there are still two seats left on already very booked flights, they can be home by Christmas Eve.

Praise God, WE'RE STILL IN THE GAME!!! Please keep the prayers coming. If this adoption has shown us anything, things can change minute to minute. Please also pray for other adopting families in the process. We have several dear friends also adopting from Guatemala, two who are also trying to come home by Christmas. One is Daniel's best friend Alex. And there are others who aren't as far in the process who will have to spend Christmas away from family and friends because they are fostering their boys in Guatemala. There is one family who is at great risk of losing the little boy they are adopting . . . a long heartbreaking story. They have also been doing this 2 1/2 years and love their son dearly. Please keep the Montes family in your prayers.

Thanks so much for your continued prayer support. We believe that prayer can move mountains and we certainly witnessed some biggies move today!

So Very Grateful,

I'm NOT Going to Say Bah Humbug

Since I like living in a lovely place of denial--especially regarding our never-ending adoption nightmare, today's post will be a bit different. I'm going to take part in something I enjoy reading called "Not Me" Monday started by MckMama. Every Monday a bunch of bloggy moms fess up about the things they "certainly didn't do." (You can click on the button below to read other "Not Me" Mondays.)

I did NOT get through Guatemala's airport security last Thursday with a 2 liter of hand sanitizer in a jumbo Ziploc baggie, perfumed with Lysol spray, only to be seated between Mr. Black Lung and Ms. Nasal Drip.

I did NOT wake up Friday morning feeling like someone had poured concrete in my head and green Jell-o into my lungs. Nope. I just rubbed my nose raw for the fun of it.

I did NOT get an e-mail on Friday from our adoption attorney that after waiting 5 weeks for our certifications to be completed, they showed up at Renap (the governing body that issues new birth certificates) to discover Renap had decided to just close for the day for a Christmas party! Nope. That would be ridiculous, that only our branch Renap would be closed, especially since we only have a few days left to complete our adoption before Christmas.

I did NOT force my children and husband into a constant state of Christmas merriment since we only had two days with Dad home before he had to leave. I did not coerce them into a "Norman Rockwell on speed" rush to make memories--positioning them into Olan Mills kinds of poses in front of our tree that we had to pick out and decorate yet another year without our adoptive son. (*Sigh* I will have to Photoshop Daniel and smiles in later.)

I did NOT spend Saturday night wrapping and packing Christmas gifts for Daniel in case he doesn't make it home in time to spend Christmas with our family. I also did NOT realize that evening that we needed one more document notarized. I did NOT send Brad to drive across town to have a friend notarize it on his last night at home. (Thanks, Laury, for saving our necks!)

I did NOT have to drive my husband to the airport on Sunday morning to leave for Guatemala not knowing if he'll be back in time for Christmas. And I did NOT have to pull over on the side of the road on the drive home because I was crying so hard.

I did NOT let my 12 year old daughter attend a youth group Christmas party even though her science project was not yet finished. No, that would have been irresponsible of me.

I was NOT up at 11:00 p.m. helping her finish the model of a plant cell--heavily medicated operating heavy machinery known as a hot glue gun.

She did NOT call me a "secretory vesicle"--that would have been an improper use of the science term and would have been unsympathetic to the head cold that I do NOT have.

I did NOT remind her that I she is not the "nucleus" of this family, that I give every bit of my "mitochondria" to keep us going, and if she didn't get her "golgi body" moving there would be problems within our "cell wall." (I'm just kidding. She actually did a great job without needing my help.)

I did NOT venture outside in 30 degree raining yuck in the middle of the night to make an international call since my cell phone does not get reception in the house. The cat did NOT escape into the night and I did NOT roam the streets in my Christmas PJs trying to find him.

The icicle lights that my husband lovingly hung on the house did NOT all short out (except for about three lonely strands). And our Christmas tree did NOT tip over in the stand and is now leaning like the Tower of Pisa against the window.

And this morning, I did NOT get the business end of three kids missing their dad as well as many personal belongings. (After being gone two weeks it seems everything has wandered from its place.) My nine year old daughter did NOT freak out that she couldn't find her PE shorts and I certainly did not blame it on the Christmas elves that seem to do mischief in the night.

I did NOT get a call from our credit card company notifying us of ridiculous amounts charged from a hotel in Guatemala City. I was NOT tempted to pretend our card had been stolen and ask them to write the charges off.

And, no matter what, I'm NOT going to say "Bah humbug." (Okay, this one is really true.) For no matter what happens, we are still so very blessed that I have no reason to ever complain.

Okay, I'm done. Thanks for letting me get that out of my system.

For those of you just tuning in . . . we could really use the prayers today. Here's a quick summary of our crazy life. We have been trying to adopt a little boy from Guatemala for 2 1/2 years. We are in the final steps of the process but are cutting it very close in trying to get him home by Christmas. He is now 9 years old and his heart's desire is to finally spend his first Christmas with a family.

My husband and I have been trading off living in a hotel room with him in Guatemala with the hope that we'll complete the adoption by Christmas. Most government offices will be shutting down at the end of this week for the holiday. We are running out of time.

Brad, Daniel and a paralegal for our case are at the Renap in Chimaltenango in Guatemala right now hoping that we can get Daniel's new birth certificate today. If they grant it, then there's a chance they can make it home in time. If not, Brad and Daniel will most likely be stuck there through the holidays. Please keep the prayers coming. I'll try to update tonight.

More than lots,

Friday, December 11, 2009

There's No Place Like Home

Call me Dorothy. I'm wearing ruby slippers today chanting "there's no place like home". You just can't appreciate how truly blessed you are until you've spent time away.

I've gotten to snuggle by a fire with my crew at home, sleep in my own bed, wash my own clothes, drive myself where I needed to go, prepare my own food, . . . simple things that I have been aching to do the past two weeks. I'm not even going to think about my to-do list that is longer than Santa's. Brad leaves for Guatemala Sunday morning so this weekend we're just going to enjoy our time as a family.

I was so proud of Brad and the kids for how well they handled things while I was gone. Everyone was alive (including the tree frogs), the house was in order, and Brad had even hung some Christmas lights outside to greet me when I came home. The only thing that was neglected was the lint tray in the dryer, but that means that someone was doing laundry. Whooo hooo!

The only cloud on my yellow brick road is that Daniel still isn't here to make memories with us. But we did get great news that we finally got our signatures on our certifications. A paralegal is in Chimaltenango right now with the hopes of quickly getting Daniel's new birth certificate.

One pot of gold at the end of this rainbow is the sweet time Daniel and I had. I was able to talk to him on the phone last night and I can tell that there's a special bond that wasn't there just two weeks ago. As much as I hate to see Brad go, I know he'll also get this rare one-on-one time to get to know his new son. It's pure gold.

Thanks for your continued love and prayers.

So Grateful,

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Coming Home Empty Handed

No word from our attorney. It seems they still haven't gotten the signatures on our certifications. There's no need to drive to Chimaltenango now. There would be no way to get there and back in time to catch my flight home. I'm nervous because if we don't get these signatures by tomorrow, we will have to wait till Jan. 14 to get them because our court is going on vacation.

Our only hope now is for Brad to go to Renap on Monday (if the certifications have been signed), then IF we get the new birth certificate he'll go to get the passport. Then he'll submit our final documents on Tuesday with the hope that they will do our Visa interview on Weds. If those things don't happen, well, I rest in knowing Daniel will come home according to His timing in His way and by His grace. I'm living proof of God's faithfulness and surrender to His sovereignty.

Still it is hard leaving Guatemala without Daniel. I had fully expected my homecoming to have his sweet hand in mine . . . to have him sitting on the airplane next to me marveling at the view from the clouds . . . to be greeted by our dear family and friends welcoming him home. Instead I'll be passing the baton and a bunch of documents to Brad to finish the race.

But it is time to go home. I've been away from my other three for 2 weeks. I can't bear another day. Brad and I agreed that it was okay for our children to make sacrifices to get their brother home, but I could tell that we were getting dangerously close to crossing the line of what they could handle. We don't want Daniel's siblings to resent him before he comes home.

When I was talking with my nine year old Ava the other night, she started sobbing and said, "Don't they understand by now how much we love him?! Why can't they see that he is part of our family and just let him come home?!"

I guess I'm feeling the same way. I feel like I'm going home from the hospital after delivering a baby and he has to stay. But it's not because he isn't healthy enough to go home . . . it's because the papers don't yet declare that he is ours. And I guess that's the hardest part of adoption. Knowing that the child is ours before the world agrees.

We're all packed and I'm waiting for my driver to take me to the airport. I'm so grateful that Daniel was so understanding that I needed to go and Papa will be coming. I know there will be tears as I leave and that is so hard. Oh Lord, please make this be the last time I have to say good-bye.

Thanks for your continued love and prayers.

With a Heavy Heart,

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Post-Game Report

Okay, we have had a time out and it looks like we're going into overtime. (Brad is certainly shaking his head reading this thinking I'm not the best person to be using sports analogies.)

We waited all day for the call. It never came. As the hours ticked by, so did any hope of getting our certifications today. Our attorney e-mailed that they might be ready in the afternoon. We were hoping that we could meet with Renap before they closed. No such luck.

At last report, the certifications are done but not signed. My attorney will be going in the morning to see if he can get them signed.

Here's what complicates things. When I called home Monday night, my three at home were in tears begging me to come home. I'm so torn because if I'm gone even one day here, it could be the day that I'm needed to meet with Renap. But I booked a ticket to return home tomorrow thinking I would be able to meet with Renap today. Brad will be flying down on Sunday to carry on where I have left off. My friend Angela will be watching Daniel in the interim.

So now I'm wondering if I should delay my return home till Friday. But my attorney says there is no guarantee that I'll even get the signatures tomorrow or even Friday. I could extend my stay and it be for nothing. Right now Brad and I will have only two days this Christmas season together at home. We need this time. Our kids at home need this time. So for now I'm planning to return tomorrow night.

The strategy for tomorrow is for my attorney to go to our family court and see if he can get the certifications signed. If he can get them by 9:00 a.m., Daniel and I will meet the paralegal at Renap where we will have about an hour to plead with them for the birth certificate until I will have to make a 1 1/2 hour drive back to Guatemala City to catch my flight. Never a dull moment.

Please keep the prayers coming. The game isn't over yet. We've had a time out and now we are replacing key players (me and Brad) on the field/court (hey, you can fill in the appropriate sports terms).

Thanks for your love and prayers.

Needing Medication,

Game Day

I'm sitting in my hotel room with my stomach in knots. It's almost 11:00 a.m. our time and I'm hoping and praying our attorney calls and says our certifications are finally ready after waiting over a month for them.

Our game plan is to get the certifications and take them directly to the governing body in the city the Daniel was born. We have a driver on stand-by waiting to take me, Daniel, and a paralegal to Chimaltenango. There we will beg for them to issue a birth certificate today. Daniel and I will give them our most pitiful faces (we're really good at this) and pray for a miracle.

Here are the rules to our game. If the certifications aren't ready today, there may not be time to do the final steps in time for a Christmas homecoming. We've been told that the US Department of State will only do Visa interviews on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and that they will not be open the week of Christmas. We need to get our birth certificate today, his passport tomorrow or Friday, and have our final documents translated and ready to be submitted on Monday. If all this happens, we could have our son home by the end of next week.

But our attorney e-mailed me last night that the person who has to sign off on our certifications is swamped and isn't sure if he'll even get them done today. (Ulcer number one.) And if the Renap in Chimaltenango refuses to issue the birth certificate and makes us go through the Central Renap governing body, it will take a couple weeks to get our new birth certificate and there will be no way to get home in time for Christmas. (Ulcer number two.)

And if there are ANY errors in our certifications and these documents have to go back to our family court that is going on vacation for a month this Friday, then we will have to wait till our family court reopens on Jan. 14 to continue with the process and either Brad or I will have to live here till early February. (Ulcers three, four, and five.)

To add to the stress, Daniel is very aware of how many days till Christmas and how close we are to not making it home. This morning he said, "Only 16 days to get home for Christmas. Pray, pray, pray." It's the most depressing advent calendar countdown ever.

Thanks for letting me whine. I hate even wasting your time with these silly details. We are so blessed. There are people who have lost loved ones this past year and are facing unimaginable grief. There are people who have children who are critically ill and aren't sure if their child will even live to see next Christmas. This is so small in the grand scheme of things, yet to one little boy and his family . . . it seems like everything.

This is our "Hail Mary" shot with seconds left on the clock. The ball is in the air and we're waiting to see if it will make it into the hoop. Thanks for cheering in the stands and praying on our behalf.

Five . . . four . . . three . . . two. . . .

More Than Lots,

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Little King and I

First, thanks so much for your prayers, encouraging e-mails, and comments below. It humbles me to think there are many, some who I don't even know personally, praying for us to come home.

Yesterday we went to the US Embassy again (Daniel calls it the US Emily). They needed one more document that fortunately we had in a file at home. Brad faxed it this morning and we were able to submit our file for pre-approval. Today and tomorrow are absolutely critical in determining if we can make it home before Christmas. We have got to get our notifications today, our certifications tomorrow and our new birth certificate this week to have any chance to be home by Christmas. PLEASE keep the prayers coming!

With each mommy moment here, my thoughts often go to remembering my own mom who died about 5 years ago. My mom loved musicals and with the invention of the VCR (yes, I remember when we first got one), Rogers and Hammerstein were frequent guests in our home. Now my own kiddos love them. A few weeks ago we watched "Fiddler on the Roof." The next day my 4 year old son was cracking me up walking around the house belting out "if I were a rich man. . . ." (Hmmm. With these adoption/hotel expenses and our evaporating bank account, perhaps this is what Brad's singing, too.)

The tune that seems to be playing here in the soundtrack of my mind is from "The King and I." I feel like Deborah Kerr in a big hoopskirt singing "getting to know you, getting to know all about you. . . ." Although we've visited Daniel a total of 16 times over the past 2 and 1/2 years, there's nothing like one-on-one time in a hotel room to really get to know someone.

I've learned if I'm sharing a bathroom with two 9 year old boys, NEVER EVER sit down on the toilet without first wiping the seat. I've also learned from Daniel that Tranformers are great fun, body functions/noises are universally funny, and the love of cars and anything electronic starts at a young age. I've seen a precious innocence that I was afraid was gone due to all he might have seen or experienced. The other night there was a kissing scene in an animated movie and he and Alex did their "eeewwwws" and covered their eyes till it was over. The boys also covered their eyes when we passed the woman's undergarment department at Hiper Piaz. So cute.

And he has learned that mom takes her eyes (contacts) out at night. (It freaked him out the first time he watched me.) He's learned that mom does something strange called sit ups. (How do you say "muffin top" in Spanish?) He knows that I'm a big kid with some gray hairs and wrinkles. And he knows that sometimes moms cry happy tears (especially his mama).

But as fun as it is "getting to know" him, it has been equally heartbreaking realizing how much I just don't know. With my other three I have photos from before they were even born and still the size of a peanut. I know of every tooth grown and lost, every favorite and every fear, every triumph and every disappointment. With Daniel I see actions and behaviors and don't know the history behind it or the future cure for it.

One example was from our first night in the hotel in Antigua. Our room door faced a common courtyard (previous hotels we had stayed in faced a hotel hallway). I could tell he didn't feel safe. He checked and double checked the locks many times and finally pushed a chair and table up against the door. He's done that many times here (he seems to be doing much better in our current room that is in the interior of the hotel). I can already see some food hoarding and food issues. The other night at dinner his meal was the last to come by several minutes. I could see the panic building that he wouldn't be fed. (I gave him my meal which he fortunately liked.) It breaks my heart to watch these things. I pray constantly for wisdom in parenting him.

Friday night I got a package with all my documents to be submitted to the USE. I knew inside was a copy of his abandonment decree that had been translated into English. I wasn't sure if I wanted to read it. I wanted so badly to know what had happened to him, yet didn't. I watched him sleep and looked at the scars on his scalp where the hair no longer grows, and the scar on his forehead, and a mark on the back of his neck that looks like a cigarette burn.

I finally opened the envelope. I first saw his original birth certificate with another woman's name listed under mother. I didn't realize how much it would bother me to see someone else's name where mine should be.

Then I started to read the abandonment decree with only the light from our silly Christmas lights. I had to hold the papers far from my face so my rain of tears wouldn't smear the ink on these documents. I won't share the details on my blog--it is Daniel's story to tell. But it helped me understand my son a bit better. It also helped me understand that Daniel has been given a second chance at having a mother--a role that previously was in his eyes synonymous with monster.

The days and months and years ahead may be challenging as he may test boundaries . . . and struggle to build trust . . . and try to understand unconditional love. But never have I been so grateful to be entrusted with such a job. Please keep praying us home!

More than lots,

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Nacho Night

Well, for those of you who have been reading my blog a while and know that I usually do something called "Sunday Dinner" (scripture served with a dessert of music), I won't be able to do it till I'm home. My playlist is only accessible in certain countries and apparently Guatemala isn't one of them. So for now it's going to be nacho night--this and that sprinkled on fragments of my life (I hope I don't give you indigestion).

We had a nice day today. It helps when we're able to do something fun. The coming week will be all business so we went to the zoo with Angela (another adopting mom), her adoptive son Alex and bio. son Joshua, and Tim (an adopting dad) and adoptive son Max. There are animals at this zoo that I'll probably never get to see anywhere else so it was a real treat.

Daniel delighted in every furry and feathered creature we saw--his favorites were a baby ocelote, the lions, and the monkeys. My favorites were the giraffes, the baby ocelote, and a cute little monkey named Daniel.

As we were leaving, Daniel asked for a stuffed animal to snuggle with at night (stuffed friends weren't allowed at his orphanage because of problems with lice). He picked a monkey that has a baby monkey attached to its back. I just tucked them in bed. So precious. I'm so glad he hasn't outgrown the need to cuddle.

Well, while I'm sharing "this and that" . . . I was bummed that I couldn't attend my church women's tea yesterday. I was supposed to speak and, well, haven't been able to figure out time travel, so I wrote something for the gathering and my sweet friend Amy read it for me. The theme of the tea was "What Can I Give?" I'm posting it below for anyone who couldn't be there and anyone else who finds gift-giving stressful.

As always, thanks for your love, prayers, and encouragement.

Buenos Noches,

The Ultimate Gift Exchange

My blood pressure begins to rise as soon as the Christmas decorations appear at the mall. I know I should feel joy and peace in celebrating the season, but instead I feel a knot in my stomach. (Or perhaps it’s that Cinnabon I just inhaled.)

Anyway, the stress I’m feeling is simply the worry over not finding the perfect gift for every person on my list. I’ve actually been known to buy a gift, get it home and have gift-buyer’s remorse, and return it for something else. There’s a customer service gal at Target who knows me by name. She recommends gift cards for my affliction.

Can you imagine if the three wise men had been three wise women? They would have agonized over the gifts for the Baby Jesus. I can hear them now.

“We don’t really know his size,” comments Wise Woman One. “What if we get him an outfit and he’s already outgrown it.”

Then Wise Woman Two pipes up: “Remember that he’s been wearing nothing but swaddling clothes. I’m sure anything would be appreciated. If you enclose a gift receipt, they can always exchange it.”

Wise Woman Three expresses her opinion: “I think we should go with something personalized. Maybe something engraved with his name and birth date.”

Wise Woman Two reminds: “But we aren’t really certain of the actual date. Reading the stars can be so unpredictable and apparently Mary hasn’t gotten around to sending out a birth announcement.”

Well, you see how this could have been a disaster. Can you imagine the nativity set with one wise woman holding a gift receipt, another a Target bag, and another with a monogramed onesie. But if Biblical times are anything like modern day, the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were probably bought and wrapped by the wise men’s wives anyway.

These days it’s all about having the perfect holiday, perfect decorations, perfect menu, and perfect gift, . . . it’s easy to fall into the trap that anything less is unworthy. I admit that I’m prone to HGTVism. But several years ago, one of my kiddos helped me see gift giving in a different way.

It was when Olivia was about 4 years old and was invited to one of her first birthday parties at a neighbor’s house. We were new to the neighborhood and Abby was her first little buddy. I remember displaying the invitation on the fridge and Olivia counting down the days on the calendar. We went to the store for the sole purpose of finding Abby the perfect gift. I don’t remember exactly what it was but remember it was an odd shape of plastic and cardboard packaging that would be a challenge to wrap.

I tried to talk Olivia into going with a gift bag (in my opinion it’s an invention right up there with electricity). But, no, she had picked out some princess wrapping paper and was determined to wrap it herself.

We got the item home and, as all good obsessive-compulsive disorder mommies would do, I tried to assist her efforts. She looked up with those big brown eyes and said, “Mommy, this is MY gift to Abby. I want to wrap this all by myself.”

She cut with her safety scissors and folded the paper carefully around the corners of the package. She secured that sucker with a thousand pieces of tape to make sure there was no chance of Abby seeing the surprise before it was time. But that was not enough. She searched through our box of stickers and adorned the package with an adhesive assortment of American flags, cartoon kittens, and red and pink hearts. And the final touches were sequins and feathers glued on top. And it looked . . . like it was in pain. Although the attached card read “To Abby, From Olivia” all I could see was “Help Me!”

It sat overnight on our dining room table. (However it’s hard to remember a time in my life that a birthday gift wasn’t bought on the way to a party and wrapped at red lights.) Brad saw the explosion of paper, tape, and feathers and commented: “It’s taking every bit of your will power not to rewrap it--isn‘t it?”

I blurted out: “Oh, how badly I want to! This is the first gathering with our new neighbors and we show up with THIS. I have beautiful paper and an assortment of curling and wired ribbons and cute little trimmings for the top. I could have done this present in plaid and polka dotted perfection!!!! What if they laugh at Olivia when she brings in her gift? But she is so proud of it, I just can’t rewrap it without breaking her heart.”

Well, we left for the party the next morning. Olivia insisted on carrying the gift. I was relieved because I didn’t want any credit for the gift-wrapped nightmare. We walked in to see a table of gifts that looked like they were taken from a Hallmark ad. I began to pray, “Oh, please God, don’t let anyone laugh at Olivia.”

Olivia ran to the birthday girl and handed Abby the gift. Liv was beaming ear to ear and said, “This is for you. I picked it out and wrapped it all by myself.” It was the longest pause at a birthday party I can remember (with the exception of a shindig where a tray of red-iced Elmo cupcakes spilled onto new white carpet). But Abby’s response was worth all the goodie bags in the world: “It’s soooooo beautiful!!! I love it!” All the other moms saw what was going on and piped up with “oh, I love the feathers, and, wow, that’s a great use of tape.”

It then occurred to me that the most precious gifts aren’t necessarily the ones that are perfectly packaged. They are the ones that are given with the greatest love. The most beautiful gift of song isn’t necessarily Celine Dion backed with a full orchestra . . . it’s a choir of children praising the Lord off-key. The most precious jewelry isn’t found in a blue box from Tiffany’s . . . it’s a necklace made from macaroni noodles delivered with a sticky kiss. And the most special gift isn’t one of extravagance . . . it’s one of complete sacrifice.

As I long to give myself as an offering to the only One who is perfect, I often feel like Olivia’s odd-shaped package . . . I want so badly to be a perfect reflection of my Creator yet most days I’m a mess of tape and feathers and poorly chosen stickers. I’m broken and flawed . . . how could a King so perfect love a servant so imperfect? What could I possibly give that shows the extent of my love for Him?

And then I remember Romans 5:8. The words move me to tears. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (NIV)

Wow. He loved me as a sinner. Undeserving of grace. An offering of brokenness. Yet His gift to me was the sacrifice of Perfection, beautifully nailed to the cross.

So as you think about what you can give your King . . . give out of love, out of sacrifice, without concern of imperfections, without thought of what others will think of your humble offering. Don’t be a wise woman seeking a perfect gift for a perfect King. Be a living macaroni necklace delivered with a sticky kiss for your Heavenly Father.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Suite (and Sweet) Life of Mother and Son

I'd give $10 for a Q-tip, $100 to have attended my church Christmas tea today, $1000 to be in my own bed tonight watching a Christmas movie with my crew at home, and all my worldly possessions to have my entire family under one roof forever. Yes, I'm still homesick.

But in this post, I'm not going to continue to depress you. It really isn't all bad here.(And I apologize again for the crazy things happening to my text on some posts. It often transposes words and caps words in the middle of sentences.)

Anyway, we're living a Third World version of The Suite Life of Zach and Cody and now that I know I can post pics from here without my laptop blowing up, I thought I'd give you a glimpse into this poorly written sitcom I'm stuck in.

This is our "Tipton Hotel." It's older than many of the nice hotels we could have chosen in Guatemala City but it has a lot of charm and has a very special ammenity--it's a two minute walk to the US Embassy. And since a Visa for Daniel is all our family wants for Christmas, it's like sleeping next to Toys R Us.

Daniel and Alex are our Zach and Cody, so I guess that would make me the mom who sings in the restaurant lounge. And if this adoption drags on much longer, that may be how I continue to pay to live here. But I'm thinking my Feliz Navidad, off-key, with a southern accent, would have me on kitchen duty pretty fast.

We have a small pool that's not heated but the weather has been so warm on most days it hasn't been a problem.(I can't believe it might snow in Georgia and we're wearing shorts here.)

This is in the little hotel restaurant.

They have great food and since we're usually the only ones in there it's been a good place to work on table manners. (Note: I would NOT use the salt and pepper shakers on tables 1 and 4. I'm just saying.)

The beds are for sleeping,


and jumping.

(Hey, there's nothing else to do so monkeys are allowed to jump on the bed if they are careful.)

We moved into a bigger room tonight because Alex's adoptive mom and brother joined us today. This is rub a dub dub, three cuties in the tub (the guest appearance in this pic is Joshua). The pool was cold today so we moved the swimming into the bathroom. (I don't think Daniel and Alex had ever been in a bathtub.)Daniel said, "Look, mama, I have a beard like Santa!"

Yes, you do see Christmas lights in the background of many of the pictures. When we went to Hiper Piaz (it's like Wal-Mart) last week we picked up some lights and other decorations for our room. I think Daniel and Alex are the cutest part of the display.

Daniel's face was precious when we turned the lights on and he squealed and clapped with joy. The hotel staff likes to peek in our window when the curtain is open and giggle at the craziness in our room.

I've watched enough Zach and Cody episodes to know that life at the Tipton is all about hijinks. And boy do we have hijinks. Like this morning when I discovered one of the boys had accidentally used my toothbrush. My choices were to risk getting whatever intestinal souvenir they might have or disinfect my toothbrush with tap water that isn't safe to drink. (Cue the laugh track.)

Or how about when my adoption attorney calls (I guess he's my Mr. Moesby) and says we have another error on our certifications and our judge has had a stroke and it will cost us a couple weeks. This is the episode where I pose as a flower delivery girl and show up at the hospital hoping he'll sign my documents. (No I didn't really do that but I did give it some serious thought.)

But the best part of this hotel life is the sweet time with my new son. The other night Daniel asked what were my favorite things about Christmas. First, I talked about the music, then got bummed that I haven't listened to one Christmas carol since I left the day after Thanksgiving. (My playlist isn't accessible from Guatemala and it's killing me that I can't even add my favorite Christmas tunes to my blog.)

Then I talked about the silly traditions we have as a family, favorite Christmas treats, and how we have "pajama rides" in the car to look at lights. Then I told him how much I love lights--white, colored, flashing, icicle. I think he could tell I was getting homesick just talking about it all.

As I was getting the boys ready for bed we heard some commotion outside our door. Daniel peeked out the window to see what was going on and exclaimed, "Mama, come look!!!!" This is what we saw when they were done.

Here I am, far from home, wishing I could be looking at lights with my whole family, instead of stuck here watching the Christmas season come and go. Yet God makes sure I have a bit of Christmas cheer hung right outside my door. God is so good to me.

Feliz Navidad,