Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

We are on our way to Orlando, Florida, because the girls have a cheer competition this week. We're going to take a couple days to visit Mickey Mouse while we're there and the kids are so excited. I don't have much time to upload the thousands of photos taken over the past week, but this is one of my favorites of them ready to come downstairs Christmas morning.

We had such a special Christmas just being together. Even though I'm still feeling pretty crummy, I just enjoyed watching the beauty of the season through my children's eyes. We even had a white Christmas in Georgia. It hasn't snowed on Christmas day in Georgia in about 100 years, so this was quite a treat for us.

Below is our "official 2010 Christmas letter" going out late this year. Most of this you guys already know, but it's my way of documenting God's goodness this past year.

Thanks so much for the blessing you all have been to me this past year! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and may you have a blessed new year!

Much Love,

Dear Family and Friends,

The bar is set so low these days that I no longer strive to have the Christmas card postmarked by December 23--my goal is that it isn’t delivered by a postman wearing shorts and flip-flops in July. This was one of those years that getting ours out before Christmas just wasn’t going to happen. And I promise we have a really good excuse. Not as good as last years’ excuse, but pretty close.

Last year, the card never made it out at all. I was living in a hotel in Guatemala from Thanksgiving till mid-December trying to get our adopted son home. We had one delay after another, including our family court judge having a stroke and having to wait two weeks for a provisional one to be assigned. I finally came home and Brad took my place with Daniel with the hope of being able to bring him home by Christmas.

As late as December 22 it looked like Brad and Daniel would both be spending Christmas in a hotel room in Guatemala. We were sad at the thought of our family being separated during the holidays and even sadder that a boy who had waited 8 years to spend Christmas with a family would have to wait some more. But, with a lot of pleading with government officials and even more prayer, Daniel got the last VISA before Christmas and he walked off a plane into the arms of his new family last Christmas Eve. It was certainly one of the best Christmas gifts we’ve ever been granted.

I’ll never forget Daniel walking into our home for the first time. Our front door was decorated with a sign and balloons from our neighbors welcoming him home. He saw our Christmas tree and dropped to his knees with tears in his eyes exclaiming, “There are presents here with my name on them!”

We’ve had many of these moments throughout the year, like on Daniel’s first birthday home. When he blew out the candles on his cake, his siblings asked what he wished for and his response was, “I have everything I’ve ever wanted. There’s nothing left to wish for.” Then there was the day at Target that I bought him some Crocs and new tennis shoes. He questioned me repeatedly, “Are you sure you can buy me TWO pairs of shoes?” I assured him that I could and he just stood there with his mouth open in disbelief. As we walked out of the store, he grabbed my hand and exclaimed, “I love my life.”

It has truly been a year full of wonderful, yet it has also been a hard one. Daniel has a lot of healing to do and he’s still learning what it means to be part of a family. The transformation we’ve seen in him in just one year is evidence of God’s mercy. The transformation we’ve seen in our family is evidence of God’s goodness.

Many days I feel like Brad and I are the conductors of a small band of oddly different instruments. Here’s a glimpse of the tune that we hear on a daily basis. (Note: I don’t actually play any of the instruments mentioned, so bear with me with my ignorant attempt at this analogy.)

Olivia turned 13 last April. Oh my, officially a teenager! She’s in the 8th grade at Perimeter Christian School. She continues to love school and enjoys being part of the theater program--this fall she was a Lady in Waiting in “Once Upon a Mattress.” She has also had some wonderful opportunities to sing with her chorus and even sang a duet in the school’s Veteran’s Day program. We are so proud to see our shy girl step out of her comfort zone. She’s also enjoyed another year of doing competition cheerleading with Ava and we are on our way to Orlando for their national competition. She is the violin in our crazy band--a difficult instrument when you don’t know the correct way to hold the bow or position your fingers, but we often hear beautiful music coming from her section of the orchestra pit. She has been a very patient big sis to a crazy assortment of younger siblings and we are so blessed to have her in our family.

Ava turned 10 this past March. She’s in the 5th grade at Perimeter and also loves school. She is still involved with ballet, has such fun with the cheerleading program, and has a part in the spring play. She is the piccolo in our band--definitely a winded instrument with her non-stop talking, singing, and laughing. She truly makes every day seem like a party, is the official creator of all our nicknames, and is our hugger extraordinaire. We don’t underestimate the importance that her tune adds to our family, for when she’s not here, things just aren’t the same. As she ages we can see her turning into a flute, same sweet melody but showing more of her wisdom and sensitivity. We are so blessed to have her in our family.

Daniel turned 8 this April. I home schooled him last January to last spring, but he was doing so well we had him tested at Perimeter to see if he’d be ready to attend this fall. We were delighted that he was accepted and he is doing very well in the 2nd grade. What a blessing his teacher and classmates have been as he’s is loving his first experience in an American school. He also played soccer this fall. What a joy to cheer for him from the sidelines and celebrate as he scored his first goal. He’s also a gifted artist and loves to spend his afternoons outside sketching. Like Ava, he is also a winded instrument. Perhaps the saxophone would best describe the way he expresses his love and fear and joy and pain. He bellows his feelings in such a way that you feel his triumphs and his moments of the blues. He has a distinct sound that is all his own and we love having this amazing boy with such potential in our family.

Brady turned 5 last January 1st and is about to celebrate another birthday. He is attending school for the first time and loves being in Kindergarten at Perimeter. It has been such a blessing to watch all four kiddos walk into school together arm-in-arm. He played baseball this fall and loved it so much that he still wears his uniform around the house. He is such a sweet and thoughtful little boy who loves with his whole heart. I saw him wrapping a present to put under the tree and asked what it was. He said, “I want to give Daniel something special so I’m giving him my baseball trophy.” It is his most treasured possession, yet he was willing to give it to his big brother. We’ve seen such sweet moments between all our kids. I used to think Brady was our little drummer boy, but as he’s grown I see him as much more than just percussion. He’s the guy in the background strumming a guitar--just a simple arrangement of cords, but such a sweet sound coming our youngest instrument. Just when we forget he’s in the back of the car or sitting at the dinner table, he says something so funny that gets us all laughing.

Our big news is that we will be adding at least one more instrument to our band next year. It all started with something Ava said last Christmas.

We had had a perfect first Christmas with Daniel home. There’s truly something amazing about watching an 8 year old boy celebrate his first Christmas with a family. We had tucked everyone in bed and mentally recorded the day as one of our best Christmases ever. But Ava came downstairs in tears. My first thought was, “Oh no. Here comes the jealousy with all the attention that Daniel has gotten. Or perhaps she’s upset that we had a smaller Christmas due to all we had spent trying to get Daniel home.”

But as she spoke, she unwrapped the best gift I got last year. She said, “Mom, I had my radio on and they played Steven Curtis Chapman’s song ‘All I Really Want for Christmas’ about the orphan who wants a family.”

She continued with, “Daniel is just like that boy. All he wanted was a family.”

I couldn’t understand why she was sobbing. I said, “Ava, I know. But we’re happy now that he’ll never spend another Christmas without a family. Why are you so sad?”

She responded, “Because there are so many children out there who still need a family. Mom, we can do more! We need to adopt more!”

I had been so worried that we would “mess up” our lives by adopting an older child, I never realized what a blessing it would be to see them fully comprehend the brokenness and need of others.

So last August we started another adoption. This time looking for a special needs child in China. And we found a precious 4 year old girl with spina bifida who had been waiting a long time for a home. We had her file on hold and were talking with doctors about what kind of medical care she would need when we learned some surprising news.

In November we found out that I’m pregnant. It was certainly not what we had planned or expected (I celebrated my 40th birthday last June), but we certainly love God’s sense of humor and are thrilled to be granted yet another new life. We have temporarily put our adoption plans on hold as we pray about what is best for the little girl in China and what is best for our family.

Our new baby is due in June and thus far everything is going well. (Except I’ve been so exhausted that I’m barely functioning, which is the main reason this letter is so late.)

If you ever stop by our house, you’ll hear the music of four children, a couple of parents, and an assortment of pets. Most days it sounds like an orchestra pit tuning their instruments and warming up. But once in a while, we all come together to make a beautiful melody. Those are the days that we remember that the Almighty Composer has written a masterpiece and all we need to do is follow the notes. We can’t wait to see where His sheet music takes us in the days ahead.

We are so grateful to be together this year as a family, so grateful for the blessing of friends and family who pray for us and encourage us through life’s journeys, and are so grateful for the abundance of God’s goodness and mercy in our lives.

We hope you had a wonderful Christmas and have a blessed new year.

With Much Love,
Brad, Kathie, Olivia, Ava, Daniel, Brady, and Baby Williams

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Snow Globes and Special News

Okay. It's time for me to spill the beans. I've had much to share for a while but haven't had the words or the energy to do so.

I'll preface this news by letting you know that a few years ago I started collecting snow globes. I've loved them since I was a little girl. I remember having one of those plastic ones that could fit in the palm of my hand. I'd shake it and then watch the snow fall around the tiny scene held inside. For this little Georgia girl who rarely saw snow, I loved being able to make it a miniature winter wonderland whenever I wanted.

As much as I love watching the snow fall in these little globes, I prefer to have my own little world sit safely on a shelf. A few months ago I delighted in the fact that our life was finally stable, that we were securely sedentary after years of being shaken.

But several weeks ago, I started not feeling well. (Little shake of my snow globe.) I ignored some things for a couple weeks then finally called my general doctor and spoke with a nurse. As I explained my symptoms, I realized this was the same nurse that took a gallon of blood for my adoption physical. After drilling me with questions she asked, "Could you be pregnant?"

I laughed and explained that it wasn't possible. Years ago we had decided we were done adding biological children to our family, that I am well into my fortieth year, and we have almost finished our paperwork for our second adoption. I explained that I was probably starting to go through "the change" (or perhaps my body was still holding a grudge from the gallon of blood she recently took). I reminded her once more that I am well into my fortieth year just in case she didn't catch that the first time. She said that she'd make an appointment but I could take a home pregnancy test if I wanted to rule that out before coming in.

Since my bathroom cabinets are stocked with anti-wrinkle cream--not early pregnancy tests--I headed to the drug store. I grabbed a generic one. I wasn't going to spend more than I had to just because some crazy nurse needed proof that I wasn't pregnant. The teen check-out clerk gave me a look that said, "Umm. Not an item I see many middle-aged women buy."

The next hour was spent alone in my bathroom. I have been there before many times--sitting with a pregnancy test in hand, too nervous about the results to actually do it. All the other times, what my heart wanted more than anything was for it to be positive. Many times I sat on the bathroom floor and cried because it wasn't.

The last time I took one of those tests was almost 7 years ago. Three months earlier, we had lost a baby boy at 35 weeks that died due to an umbilical cord knot (Luke's story is here). As much as I dreaded being pregnant again, we needed a new life to give us hope. I needed to deliver a baby that would cry, that I could hold in my arms, that I could parent till I'm old. My girls needed to come to the hospital--not to say good-bye to their new sibling, but to proudly bring him home. My husband needed to see his family heal and our family needed to see God's goodness and mercy in our lives. And God was so gracious to give us Brady, due exactly one year after we had lost his brother.

But once he was born, we knew that we were done adding to our family biologically. It was just too physically and emotionally difficult. We had always known God had called us to adopt and felt peace that this is how God wanted us to complete our family.

And so on the morning of November 1, I sat on the cold tile floor working up the courage to take the test. I knew that if the outcome was positive, I would once again have to go down a path that at times ended in overwhelming joy and other times ended in overwhelming pain. (I've had three first trimester miscarriages in addition to our full-term loss.) As much as I would love a house full of little people, I wanted the door marked "Pregnancy" to remain closed.

I finally took the test.

Within seconds that second line appeared telling me that I was pregnant.

Shake, shake, shake of my world.

I was truly so stunned that I couldn't process it. Sometimes my computer freezes up when it gets overloaded with stuff I'm trying to do. I just turn it off and re-boot it later. That's just what I wanted to do. Shut down and re-boot at a time that I'm able to handle it.

But since I don't have a Control-Alt-Delete feature, I just sat on the floor and wept. I wept out of fear of what might be ahead. But, most of all, I wept out of gratitude that God would entrust us with yet another little life. Humbled that, in spite of what I assumed was His plan for our life, His plan was always so much better.

My husband didn't believe me when I called him at work to share the news. Neither has anyone else. The typical response is: "Yea right. Are you kidding? You're not kidding? Wow!" Sometimes instead of the "wow" there's hysterical laughing.

Our four children were excited from the minute we told them. They were shocked, yet overjoyed. But their first question was, "Can we still adopt?" We had already chosen a little girl in China and for months had talked about her like she was already part of the family. We are still trying to decide what to do and I'll share more about her in the coming days.

And so here we are. I've reached 14 weeks so I'm finally able to feel excitement that this baby will be okay. This pregnancy is the reason I've been such a pitiful blogger and bloggy friend. The past three months have completely wiped me out physically and all I'm able to do is the day-to-day caring for my family, but I should start to get my energy back soon.

We are still diligently seeking God's will regarding the little girl we were about to adopt. Please pray for us to have wisdom and clarity with this situation.

We are learning that it doesn't matter how much you are shaken if your footing is firmly anchored in the One who sustains us. And we are grateful for the breathtaking snowfall of goodness and mercy that God has brought into our lives.

Much Love,

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Beauty of Imperfection

We were doing some cleaning out of old toys and I found something that made me laugh.

Yes, it's the game Perfection with only one remaining piece. That pretty much sums up my life.

I had one of these games myself when I was little and remember how badly I wanted to get every piece in place before the timer ended and the whole platform of pieces popped up in my face. I must admit that as an adult, I have created my own games of Perfection--setting off my own internal stop watch to get things done perfectly and on time. The time of year that I seem to be the guiltiest of this crazy--often unwinable game--is Christmastime.

Last year I missed our church's annual Christmas women's tea and I was supposed to be the speaker. I was living in Guatemala (trying to finish Daniel's adoption) at the time and couldn't attend so I wrote down my thoughts and a sweet friend read it for me.

I've included it below because, right now as the clock is ticking and I'm trying so hard to make Daniel's first Christmas at home special, I need my own little reminder of the beauty of imperfection.

Missing Most of My Pieces,

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 monogrammed 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. 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 mess. 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 for 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.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sunday Dinner: Always the Same

Retailers during the holiday season crack me up. First, they announce the "Biggest Sale of the Season" is before Thanksgiving. Then, they retract that statement with the can't miss After Thanksgiving Sales and Doorbusters. As the season progresses, they again try to convince us that, hold on, stop everything, forget all those other dinky sales because they have yet again slashed prices and NOW is the time to shop.

The actual items for sale can be equally frustrating, especially for the consumer who must have the latest and best. Several years ago, the popular handheld toy was the Gameboy. It was soon replaced by a better Gameboy, which was replaced by the DS, then soon outdone by the DSi, and now the big deal is the DSi XL. I'm so glad we don't have one of these on our Christmas shopping list because I know by next spring there will be another electronic carrot dangling that's even better.

This is the time of year that I just want everything to be the same. The same traditions, the same Christmas carols, the same family and friends to share the holiday with. But we live in a world that's always changing. Loved ones pass away and move away. Kids grow a bit more each year. Sometimes I just ache to have one more Christmas with my mom and grandparents and Brad's grandparents. I want to freeze this time with my children so they will never grow up. All I can do is savor every single minute of right now.

This Christmas I'm especially grateful for the one gift that is always perfect and always the same. A gift that never needs to be exchanged, will never be outgrown, can not become outdated, and will never be outdone. The gift of Jesus Christ.

This week's Sunday Dinner verse is simply:

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."

Hebrews 13:8
There's such comfort, such peace, such freedom knowing He is never-changing and never-failing.
Much Love,

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Cup of Thankful Topped with Marshmallows

I hope you all had a blessed Thanksgiving holiday. Perhaps few enjoyed it more than we did.

It was simply wonderful just being together. This time last year, I left my husband and three kiddos the day after Thanksgiving to try to bring Daniel home. With tears streaming down their faces, I boarded a plane to Guatemala, didn't return till mid-December, and came home without him. Brad took my place till he was able to bring Daniel home Christmas Eve. Having our new son home after two and a half years of waiting was the only gift we wanted for Christmas.

We watched the Peanuts Thanksgiving special the other night. It was the one that had the Peanuts characters telling the story of the pilgrims coming over on the Mayflower in search for a better life and religious freedom. It told of their hardships--that their boat was so badly damaged from the storms they almost had to turn back to England, that sickness took many lives, how the Indians came to their aid and showed them how to live on the land.

Daniel had never heard this story that my other three had grown up knowing about. He kept looking at me with amazement asking, "Mama, is this true? Did this really happen?" Each time I'd answer yes, his pride in being an American seemed to grow.

We've had a pilgrimage of our own this past year. Times of hardship that made us just want to turn around and go back. Struggles that made us want to give up. Kindness and support from others that encouraged us to keep going.

Daniel had the hardest journey of all. A new family, a new country, a new language, a new life. He had to leave all he had ever known and start over. He lived in survival mode for the first few months home because it's the only way he knew to live. Now he lives carefree like any other kid his age. Here he is playing in the leaves for the first time in his life.

So as we sat around our table this Thanksgiving, sharing what we are most grateful for, laughing like he had always been part of our family--the hardships of the past year seemed to evaporate.

In just the past few months of fall, we've had so many moments for which I've been grateful. Like the day I took the boys with me to vote. They were precious as they watched in awe as I cast my ballot in the election. Daniel also attended his first Veteran's Day program at his new school. He left with a new appreciation of the freedom we have and for those who serve our country. He was also very proud of his big sister who sang in the program. Here Olivia is with my dad who is an Army Veteran and was there to hear her sing.

I'm also so grateful to have witnessed Daniel's confidence grow this fall in being part of a soccer team. So grateful that he finally has a daddy (plus mom and siblings) to cheer him on from the sidelines.

This sweet pic is with his best friend who was adopted from the same orphanage by friends of ours at church.

Daniel and Alex played on the same soccer team and a precious young man also from the orphanage, now living here on a student VISA, came to their games to cheer them on.

And Daniel has become such a great big brother cheering his little brother on during Brady's first season of baseball.

Brady has spent a lot of time watching his older siblings at their events and it was fun for him to have his own turn to feel special.

Daniel got to carve his first pumpkin with our family

and dress up for some Trick or Treating on our street.

Thanksgiving Day we spent most of the day at my sister's house. I'm so grateful for another year with those we love so much. That evening we had some of Brad's family over to further celebrate being together this year. As I listened to each person share what they are grateful for, I couldn't help but be overcome with gratitude for God's blessings on us this year.

Yesterday Brad and the boys watched some football, I did some shopping with the girls, and last night we watched a movie by the fire in our PJs. We made the first hot chocolate of the season. Brady says, "Everything is better when it's topped with marshmallows." I piled them high this year, because everything is better this year because we're together.

We started decorating for Christmas today, but I'm not quite done celebrating this season of thanks. My cup runneth over and I think this holiday of gratitude is going to go well into next year.

Grateful for You,

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Dinner: Gratitude

Forgive me. I've been on an unplanned, unannounced bloggy sabbatical. I could blame it on being busy, but honestly I've just been without words.

I'll share more in the coming weeks, but in a nutshell, the snow globe that I live in has had a bit of shaking up. The snowfall is beautiful, but I'm still trying to regain my footing.

The one thing I've learned in my 40 plus years is to be grateful. Grateful for the lean years and the years of blessing. Grateful for brokenness and for healing. Grateful for pain and restoration.

Grateful that this year Daniel will finally spend his first Thanksgiving with our family. Grateful that we've been granted another year with those we love. Grateful that He is the One who directs our steps and lights our paths. Grateful for unexpected gifts and goodness and mercy beyond measure.

The verse for this week is simply:

"Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever."

Psalm 118:1

The dessert of song for this week is the very first song I posted on my blog over a year ago--"Gratitude" by Nicole Nordeman. The lyrics have never been so true as they are to me today.

During this week of giving thanks, may you remember God's enduring love in all situations.

Much Love,

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Sense of Urgency

It amazes me how much I can learn about my relationship with my Heavenly Father through my relationship with my children. Most of these lessons are convicting and humbling. All make me grateful that I serve a God of goodness and mercy.

For example, my children are off-the-charts delightful human beings yet they have certain behaviors that make my hair stand on end, cause that vein on my forehead to bulge, and make me grit my teeth like someone is trying to remove a bullet from my buttocks with a pocket knife. So, if you catch me looking like the Bride of Frankenstein, most likely one of the following has happened:

A) I have found a lunchbox under my child's bed that has been missing for several weeks . . . and the lunch is still in it.

B) I have found clothing, that I have just washed and folded with love, mixed in with stinky dirty clothes.

C) I have a child who is exhibiting no sense of urgency when we are in a hurry or is not obeying the first time asked.

Although A has happened once (that I know of), and B does on occasion, it is C that seems to be the most frequent thorn in my postpartum flesh.

Often these acts are not willful. An instruction to brush teeth and hop in the bed can be embellished by hugging the cat, smelling a new candle, fogging up a window with their breath then writing their name in it, and doing a few cartwheels on the way. Although I'm a major advocate for "stopping to smell the roses/candles" at the appropriate times, this kind of dawdling conveys a message that they view what they want to do as more important than what we have asked them to do.

Sometimes they move in slow motion simply because they don't want to obey. They can be quite creative in their attempts to delay. Often my second and third request is followed by the dreaded, "In a minute!" or "Okay, okay." Sometimes they admit they were tuning us out with, "I didn't hear you." But every incident shows a lack of respect for our authority. A disregard for others' time. The by-product of that disobedience is that others have to wait on them or they end up missing out something because of the wasted time.

The person in our home who is the guiltiest of not having a sense of urgency . . . is me. Many times my Heavenly Father has asked me to do something and I took my sweet time obeying. I've developed a "spiritual attention deficit" in regards to my relationships, with my finances, with my marriage and parenting, and with my witnessing opportunities. But the primary area that I've shown an utter lack of urgency and shameful disobedience was in regards to adoption.

I've known since I was a little girl that I was called to adopt. Brad and I knew before we were married that this was His plan for our life. Yet it took 15 years of marriage before we actually started the process to adopt. Fifteen years of saying, "Okay, okay" and "In a minute." Fifteen years of being busy with things that had no eternal value. Fifteen years using excuses that our home was too small, or we couldn't afford it, or we had too much going on. Perhaps it wasn't God's time in our early years of marriage for us to adopt, but there was still so much more we could have been doing to care for orphans by helping others pay for their adoptions, through child sponsorship, and through missions giving and trips.

In August of 2007 we found out that a little boy in Guatemala needed a family. We had our mental list of reasons to justify delaying our obedience to answer God's call. But the months prior, we had felt such conviction that we had been viewing James 1:27 as a suggestion, when it clearly is a command. That we were guilty of not obeying the first time and dishonoring God with our lack of urgency. God's instructions are so clear, but we didn't want to hear, didn't want to know, didn't want to be accountable. Had we not felt that conviction three years ago, we would probably still be waiting for "the perfect time" to adopt.

But I don't think we fully understood the depth of our sin in this area until we saw firsthand the crisis of 147 million orphans. Just like my kids like to compare their casual disobedience with other's blatant rebellion ("Mom, at least I'm not doing. . . ."), I had my own self-righteous denial at play--caring for others who were easy to care for, committed to service that required little sacrifice.

The by-product of that disobedience is exactly the same as it is with my children. That others have to wait on me and I miss out on the blessing that God has planned because of the time I wasted.

Once I saw who had been waiting, I was overcome with regret and repentence. I saw infants crying in their cribs with no one to hold them, toddlers and preschoolers calling me mama because I was the only "mom" there to love on them that day, elementary age children who just wanted someone to tell them they were special, and teens that showed me that you're never too old to need a mom and dad. I look at Daniel and think how close we were to missing out on the blessing that he is because adopting an older boy into our family just wasn't "practical."

The other day I read a post called "While We're Waiting" (click on the title to read) that I want to share. It's written by an adoptive mother of 9 named Amy Block and beautifully illustrates who must wait for us when we show no sense of urgency to answer God's call to care for orphans.

I haven't had a chance to post a Sunday Dinner in a while, but my verse for this week is certainly:

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

James 1:27, NIV

This short to-do list from God may involve different things for different people. We may not all be called to adopt, but every single Christian is instructed to care for orphans and widows. And, folks, we need to obey with urgency.

And here's the funny thing. Once we started to obey God the first time, we saw a significant improvement in how our children obey us.

One of the questions we get a lot as we have started this new adoption is "Why would you want to adopt another child so soon after bringing the last one home?" (Many thought we were nuts with the first adoption, so we must really look crazy now.)

There are many answers. But perhaps the only one that matters is, "God has commanded us to care for orphans and we've finally learned to obey the first time He asks."

With Urgency,

P.S. Thanks to all you precious bloggy friends for the comments of support and encouragement with my last post. I love the suggestions to deal with my fear of flying! There's lots going on that I can't share about just yet. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Update on Our Paper Pregnancy

The adoption process is often called a "paper pregnancy." So I'm guessing that my social worker is my OB/GYN, my local notaries are my lab techs, and our adoption agency is our healthcare provider. I sure hope someone will give me an epidural for the flight home.

You'd think that at this point I'd be able to pee in cup without getting it on my hand, but at my adoption physical . . . no such luck.

Our homestudy is now complete so I'm guessing we just finished our first trimester. Yes, I've been a bit tired, but no morning sickness thus far.

This is our early ultrasound photo.

China Sonogram Pictures, Images and Photos

We don't know yet if it's a boy or a girl, but we do know there's a little person waiting for us in China!

This adoption pregnancy has already been so different from Daniel's. His adoption was an emergency situation. We were shown one photo and given 24 hours to make a decision to adopt a child we had never met. The circumstances surrounding our commitment to adopt him made all the pieces fall into place. We never needed to pick a country or an age range or make a list of special needs. We never searched through photolistings or researched medical conditions. God had already filled in the blanks that our child was Daniel, waiting in Guatemala, ordained to be our son since the beginning of time.

So when Brad gave his blessing last June for us to adopt again (it was my 40th birthday present), the joy of starting another adoption soon turned into an overwhelming list of questions. What country? What age? What gender? What special need? I'd look at photolistings and just weep. There are just too many precious children who need families.

We were so torn regarding what country to adopt from that we ended up finding a local agency to do our homestudy who doesn't have an international program. That enabled us to get started allowing us flexibility to choose an international program later and select an agency that specialized in whatever country we decided on.

If you had asked us in July where we were adopting from, I probably would have answered, "An HIV positive child from the Ukraine." Although we feel a great burden for this special need and many particular children we saw through the amazing ministry called Reece's Rainbow, it became clear that this is not where God is leading us at this particular time. (But if you are feeling led to adopt a special needs child, please take the time to visit their site and see the precious children desperately needing a family!)

So in sharing about our first trimester, I'll just list our most frequently asked questions and give the answers. (Feel free to ask other questions in the comments and I'll answer in a future post.)

Why China?

If Guatemala was not currently closed for new adoptions, we would have gone back there. We love the people of Guatemala and grew very close to many children from Daniel's orphanage--two little girls in particular that we will always love as daughters. (I shared about them here.)

So we looked closely at the adoption programs and needs in the US, China, India, three African countries, the Ukraine and Russia. We kept coming back to China. We actually tried to adopt from China in 1995 before we had any children. We started the paperwork only to be told that we weren't old enough. (At the time, to adopt from China you could not have any other children and must be at least 30 years old.) We are well-qualified in the age criteria now (I don't think there's a minimum age anymore) and very grateful that they now allow those with children to adopt.

But perhaps the seed was planted in my heart for China when I was a little girl. I remember reading books about Hudson Taylor and Gladys Aylward. What a profound impact these missionaries to China had on my life. If you haven't already, I encourage you to read their biographies to your children.

Other factors that kept pointing us to China are that we knew we wanted to adopt child with special needs and there are currently close to 2000 special needs children waiting in China today. It's a list that unfortunately grows each month.

But perhaps the deciding factor was Daniel. Right now it doesn't bother him that he tans better than the rest of his family, but some day it might. We want him to have a sibling that looks a bit like him, with his silky black hair and beautiful dark eyes. When we asked our kids where they wanted us to adopt from, Daniel always leaned toward China. (Actually, they all did.) We could tell he was excited when we announced that's where we were going.

Thus far, the only drawback in adopting from China is its location on the world map. I hate air travel (I would honestly rather travel by unicycle than get on a plane) and China just isn't easy to get to by car. Mapquest wouldn't even give me directions so I knew I was in trouble. God was merciful to have our first adoption in a country that required only a three hour flight. I know He will help me overcome turbulence and the airplane bathroom (I can hold it 3 hours but not 15), but I must admit that God has a great sense of humor in calling this aviation-challenged gal to international adoption.

Have you been matched with a child?

Not yet. With the non-special needs program in China, the Chinese government matches you with a child (and the wait for a healthy infant is now 4 to 5 years). But since we are wanting a child with special needs, there's no wait. We can review files at any time and choose a child who has been waiting more than 3 months. Once our dossier is complete, we are eligible for any child on their shared listing--even those who were recently added.

We will most likely choose a child who has been waiting a while, but thus far haven't asked to look at any files and probably won't for a few more weeks. Primarily because we just don't wait very patiently. As soon as we know who our child is, I'm going to want to hop on my unicycle the very same day and go get him/her. After waiting two and a half years for Daniel to come home, we've taken the "horse before cart/paperwork before referral" approach and it has made this whole process stress and drama free. I haven't stalked a postman, badgered a notary, or cried on my social worker's shoulder . . . yet.

We don't care what gender and have been approved to adopt a child with special needs that range from mild to severe (we filled out a long list of needs we would consider). The only thing we do know about this next child is that he or she will be younger than our 5 year old son. All four of our children have requested a younger sibling and we are thrilled about having a little person in our home again. (Ava has made a special request for a child with chubby cheeks.)

When do you think you will have your child home?

(Insert laughing here.) This is not really a question I can answer with any accuracy considering Daniel's adoption (that was supposed to take nine months to one year to complete) ended up taking two and a half years. With that disclaimer noted, it looks like our second trimester will be pretty quick. We are about to submit our 1-800A. Then we will get our international fingerprinting appointment and wait for our approval. I have already finished our other dossier documents so once we get that "golden ticket" we just have to get all the documents authenticated at the county, state, and Chinese consulate levels and we're done with the paperwork. (I'm thinking this will all take about 6 to 8 weeks.)

Once we are matched with a child and the Chinese government approves us as adoptive parents, the estimated wait to travel is 3 to 6 months. (I guess this would be our third trimester.) So, it's possible that we will get our child this spring, but (with our track record) we'll be thrilled to bring Williams Baby #5 home by next summer.

Thanks for joining us on this journey again. I can't tell you what a blessing it was to be covered with prayer and given encouragement this time last year when we were trying to bring Daniel home. We are so grateful for your love and support as we welcome another gift from God.

Grateful to Be "Expecting" Again,

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Under a Starry Sky

Oh how I've missed you guys! I haven't just missed writing posts, but reading so many of yours. I have so much catching up to do.

Where have I been? Well, I've been to the doctor, dentist, orthodontist, and veterinarian. I've had things notarized, over-nighted, dry cleaned, and pressure washed. I've been grocery shopping, apple picking, and field tripping, and homework checking. I've been attending soccer and baseball games; tubing on the lake and camping under the stars. I've been kissing boo-boos and correcting no-nos. I've attended school meetings and Bible studies . . . and done lots of laundry. My exhaustion is only matched by my gratitude in having the best job in the world.

I've had so much to share, but it's hard to write on my blog at red lights in my minivan. But life should start to slow a bit now that our adoption paperwork is almost done. (I'll give an adoption update soon.)

So here I sit at my computer knowing I have just enough mental fuel to say a short hello before my eyes flop shut and my head hits the keyboard. I've had three little words that seem to have been the theme of my last few weeks that I think I have the capability of sharing before calling it a day.

A couple weeks ago I was picking the boys up from their Christian school. (All four kids go to the same school, but the boys get out at noon and the girls at 3:00.) I'm often one of the first moms in carpool--primarily because I've often been doing adoption errands that morning and just go straight to the school after, but also because I just love seeing Daniel's face beaming with confidence as he exits the building with his buddies and beloved teacher. That particular day his teacher stuck her head into my car window to tell me something before the carpool parade started.

She said, "Daniel said something beautiful today and I want to tell you before I forget." She continued, "Our lesson was about Cain and Able. When I finished telling the story about how Cain killed Able, then God provided Seth, . . . I asked the children what we can learn from this story. Then Daniel spoke up and said, 'GOD LOVES MERCY.' "

His teacher's eyes were moist with tears as she shared. So were mine. That an eight year old boy had grasped this truth--a truth that took me 35 years to understand--what a blessing.

Since that day, my thoughts have been punctuated with those three words--GOD LOVES MERCY. Like the responsive readings that we would have at my childhood Baptist church--my imaginary congregation's answer to whatever happened in my day seemed to be--GOD LOVES MERCY.

We recently attended a neighborhood camp-out. It's an annual thing where many families pitch their tents on a grassy common area for a night of fun. I remember attending last year wishing Daniel was here. As we sat together this year under a starry sky--watching a movie with Daniel snuggled up next to me, laughing out loud at the funny parts with his mouth covered in the remnants of a s'more--I couldn't help but caption this memory with "GOD LOVES MERCY."

Last week I drove on a field trip for Daniel's class. We went to a local planetarium to study the stars. I loved watching him. It was a treat to see him looking at the telescope with amazement and listening intently to the lady doing our tour.

Then we walked into the planetarium, took our seats, and they began to dim the lights. He grabbed my hand and whispered "I'm scared." And I whispered back, "It's okay. It has to be completely dark for you to be able to really see the stars."

As the darkness revealed the spectacular display in the dome overhead, Daniel's gasp of "WOW!!!" was the loudest one of all. Although he was no longer afraid, he kept holding tightly to my hand. And I was grateful that I was able to experience this with him, drinking in another precious moment with my sweet son, in awe of God's goodness in bringing him into our lives. And all I could think of was, "GOD LOVES MERCY."

Tonight I stepped outside for a minute. I just needed to fill my being with the cool night air of fall and take a look at the stars. And as I marveled at the display of magnificence with the melody of crickets in the background, I couldn't help but quietly sing "How Great Thou Art."

"Oh Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the works Thy hands have made. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed."

And I rejoiced in my great God and His love for me. I remembered all those times I said to Him "I'm scared" and His answer was: "It's okay. It has to be completely dark for you to see the stars." And I remembered that His goodness and His power is most evident during times of profound darkness.

In my last minutes under the canopy of diamonds, I thanked Him for being a God who loves mercy.

How great Thou art. How great Thou art.

Humbly His,

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Before and After

My bloggy friend Lisa left such a profound comment on my last post that I just had to share it here: "I truly believe that adoption is 50% for the orphaned child and 50% for the family that is opening its arms wide. The Lord is asking both to trust and lean on Him with all their might."

That statement is so true. (Thank you, Lisa.)

The purpose of my last post was not to yank your rose-colored glasses off your face and stomp on them. (And forgive me if you're still standing among broken glass.) I was just feeling conviction about some things.

You see, I'm guilty of not sharing "out-takes." I have a lot of photos that don't make it on the blog, or in the scrapbooks, or on the Christmas card. It's not because I'm in denial that at certain angles I have a double chin or don't think my kiddos are adorable when their eyes are closed. I just prefer to share the photos where we are looking our best.

I've kind of done the same thing with my blog. I share mostly the good stuff--not in an effort to hide the hard times, but just wanting to make sure I record every bit of God's goodness in our lives. I also want to respect the privacy of my kids, especially Daniel. You wouldn't believe how many posts have been deleted before publishing. Writing them was cathartic for me and might have encouraged others, but if there's any chance that my child might feel betrayed by sharing something too personal, well, it just isn't worth the hurt it could cause.

The only problem with sharing only the good stuff is that you only get to see the "after" without the benefit of the "before." And when I share about the priceless things Daniel says and does, all you see is that we have adopted a very special little boy. (Which is so very true.) The part that's missing in this story is what God has done and is doing in Daniel's life and in our family.

To explain this, I'm going to have to give you another analogy. (Sorry, but this is how my crazy mind processes things.) I remember walking through a house once that friends had remodeled. It looked like something out of a magazine. I could only imagine it in its current state of perfection. They described what a dump it had been, but I was thinking "Yeah right." But then they showed me pictures of it before. The house was run down, the yard overgrown, windows broken, wiring exposed. I couldn't believe it was the same home. I had to see the "before" photos before I could appreciate all the time, money, and effort they had invested.

I wish I could share all of Daniel's "before pictures" so you could understand how God is transforming him. When we started his adoption we knew we were getting him "As Is." We knew there would be repairs and perhaps some cosmetic updating (he needed glasses and had never had his teeth cleaned), but he was just so precious that we refused to label him a "fixer-upper." All he needed was a fresh coat of love and he would be good as new. Right? We watch HGTV. How hard could it be?

But we got him home and found termites eating the foundation and mold slowly growing in the walls. His heart had been vandalized and our Daniel had words spray painted on him that wouldn't come off.

And we felt overwhelmed with the task ahead. And angry that the original "homeowners" had treated him so terribly. And we realized the box of tools we used for minor repairs on our other three children didn't contain the Power tools needed to restore Daniel.

So we contacted a Master Craftsman to do our renovation. And the estimate for the job was a lot. The invoice said "EVERYTHING." And we let Him know we couldn't afford it. And then He told us He already paid for it. We graciously accepted the help . . . and wept at the generosity of His gift.

And now I love to show the "after" photos and share the "after" stories of my sweet Daniel. But it only tells half of the story. So it makes me want to show the world the "before" that Daniel was so others can see the magnificence of God's handiwork. But then I realize these are Daniel's stories to share some day . . . not mine.

While I feel that at this time I need to respect the privacy of my family, I'm torn because I feel I'm not being fair to my readers. It's not fair to those considering adopting to not share about the challenges because they may not be prepared for the reality of parenting a child with a broken spirit.

It's also not fair for me to only share one side of things, because there are many wonderful adoptive parents who are struggling. I don't want them to read my blog and wonder what they are doing wrong or why it seems our child effortlessly transitioned into our family while theirs is having such a hard time. Had I been reading my own blog last January/February, I think I would have thought to myself, "If I have to hear another story about the precious things Daniel said on his birthday/Christmas/yesterday morning, I'm going to lose my lunch."

And I don't want people who haven't adopted to unfairly compare other's adoption stories to ours. We were fortunate that we got Daniel before the termites had eaten through the entire frame of the house, before the mold had reached toxic levels. We have not had to deal with attachment issues. He has never been violent or harmful toward any person or animal. (In spite of the abuse he has endured, he's one of the gentlest little boys I've ever met.) He has a strong conscience and an understanding of right and wrong. But sometimes children have been so hurt that God has to do a complete demolition of their will before He can rebuild. And these adoptive parents may have years of praying and waiting and loving unconditionally before they can see the beauty from ashes.

Yes, we have invested much time and prayer and love in our son, but the credit for his healing goes only to God. I don't know why some renovations take longer than others. But I do know there's a blueprint for each one of us.

We are far from finished. There's still a lot of sawing, hammering, and sanding going on with each member of our family. (Especially me.)

So as you read my blog from now on, I want you to know that for every "after" I share, there was also a "before." And if you are facing some "before" situations that look hopeless, I've got the name of a Master Craftsman that I highly recommend. He can restore even what has been condemned and His work is already paid in full.

Gratefully His,

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tossing the Rose-Colored Glasses

After hitting "publish" on my last post, I felt quite ashamed. You see, those of you who read my blog are the ones who humble and inspire me . . . not the other way around. Who am I to talk about special needs adoption when thus far all I've done is fill out a checklist? Many of you are living the day-to-day joys and challenges of parenting these precious children.

I guess that last post was explaining why I feel peace about the path that God is leading us on. Forgive me if it seemed like a solicitation for pats on the back.

Although I'm giddy with excitement about our next child, I'm also scared. The reason? I no longer wear rose-colored glasses.

When we started Daniel's adoption, you should have seen the shades I walked around wearing. Not only did they veil the view with a rosy glow, they had butterflies and rainbows painted on the lenses. I merely had to put them on and I would hear harps playing in the background and see a release of doves overhead.

Well, about a year into the adoption process, I put these figurative glasses on my road of despair and drove a figurative 18 wheeler over them. I continued to wear them with the broken glass that was left dangling in the frames. But I finished them off with a figurative hammer once Daniel came home.

The whole truth is this. Adoption is beautiful. And adoption is hard.

This Dorothy realized she wasn't in Kansas anymore during our adoption process. Apparently the enemy thought Daniel was safely his and wasn't too happy about this little boy having a family who would love him and tell him about Christ. From the moment we made the commitment to bring him into our family till Daniel walked off the plane, there was a spiritual tug-of-war for his life. You wouldn't believe what happened in the two and a half years it took to get him home. (Another day, another post.)

When he finally made it home, we quickly learned that the adoption process was the easy part. Parenting a child who has had 8 years of abuse and neglect is the hard part. It was like having a difficult pregnancy and delivery just to be handed a newborn with colic.

Even though I had done my required adoption training and read every book I could find on attachment, I wasn't really prepared. It wasn't at all as I had envisioned because I had been wearing those silly glasses way too long and probably watched too many Hallmark movies. Our happily ever after wasn't what I had mentally scripted.

You see, I thought I knew the remedy for brokenness. Like I shared Monday, all I needed for my own healing was to be carried on the Mighty Shepherd's shoulders. So, the plan was to put our precious son on our Savior's back and watch the healing begin.

We would have days that were perfect--like the script of "The Blindside" except instead of raising a super-sized football star we were raising a pint-sized soccer amateur. And then we would have moments that Daniel would show us that he wasn't just living with scars from his past, he was hemorrhaging on the inside.

So we hoisted him up as high as we could with the hopes of putting him on the Shepherd's shoulders, only for him to fight us and kick us in the teeth. He'd been living in the thorns so long, our little lamb thought this was the only place of safety. Many who had shepherded him before had betrayed him. The only person he could trust was himself.

It wasn't until we placed Daniel at the foot of the cross that he began to heal. He needed to recognize the need for a Savior before he could trust the Shepherd. The transformation we've seen in Daniel in just nine months is amazing. Only by God's grace. Only by His mercy.

As difficult as those newborn days with Daniel were, things have been so much easier for us than so many others who have adopted. There's nothing like hearing about families who have to lock up the steak knives for fear that their child might harm them in their sleep to put the adoption of an emotionally broken child into perspective. There's nothing like reading about an adoptive parent dealing with a seizure in the grocery store, or having to hold their screaming child down for a medical procedure, or praying all night in the hospital that their child lives to the next morning to make you see the adoption of a special needs child with 20/20 vision.

But for every story of adoption hardship, there are a million of adoption beauty. And I don't need my magic lenses with a prescription of optimism and ignorance to appreciate what God is doing in our life and in the lives of other adoptive families.

So as we embark on this adoption, I'm not shopping around for a new set of rose-colored glasses. I've finally learned that God's handiwork never needs embellishment.

Gratefully His,

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sweetly Broken

We live in a world where things that are broken are worthless. In our disposable society, broken items are quickly tossed instead of being repaired. And even the very definition of "broken" is stretched to include things that don't perform as we would like or are outdated.

Sadly, the same holds true for people. Society dictates that we must be perfect. Not just healthy, but beautiful. Not just smart, but brilliant. And anyone who is "broken" must be fixed. And those who cannot be fixed should be thrown away. Thus the tragic statistic that 90 percent of babies who have Down Syndrome or other chromosomal "abnormalities" are aborted. Thus the heartbreaking reality that orphanages are full of special needs and older children who wait for families.

As we started this new adoption, we weren't sure about much. We weren't sure what country we would adopt from, what age child, what gender. Our only certainty was that this child would be, by the world's definition, broken.

We completed a check-list of needs we would consider. We talked at length with our other children about the possibility of having a child in our home who may never walk, or see our faces, or hear our voices, or live to adulthood. Needs that several years ago would have overwhelmed us are now needs that we are prayerfully considering.

We are different today because we understand the blessing of brokenness. It happened in the year 2004 with the loss of our first son then the loss of my mom. I had known brokenness before, but not to that extent. My level of hurt prior to that year rendered me "walking wounded." But the pain of 2004 completely crippled me to where I wasn't sure if I'd ever be whole again.

But that was the year that the Almighty Shepherd scooped me up and carried me upon the safety of His shoulders. Just like the beautiful illustrations I had seen as a child, I felt like that lamb draped around my Savior's neck. It was then that I was able to see that being broken hadn't brought me to a place of hopelessness, but a place of privilege.

When I think of the dearest people I know, there is usually a chapter in their life that they were carried by their Heavenly Father during a time of profound brokenness. Some of the most inspiring people who have walked the earth have endured times of trial yet glorified God through their brokenness caused by life-altering illness, the horrors of a concentration camp, religious persecution, and family tragedy. Every hero of the faith--that I've known personally or read about in history--seems to have spent much of their life in full surrender to the One who can heal every wound.

So perhaps that's why we've been so excited as we do the paperwork for this adoption and see our homestudy written to approve us to adopt a child with special needs. I can't wait to see what God has planned for the life of this child and feel honored to be able to witness His healing hand at work and His sovereign plan unfold.

The verse I'm meditating on this week (sorry I didn't get it posted in time for Sunday Dinner) is:

"The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry;

The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."

Psalm 34:15-18, NIV

This week's dessert of song is Jeremy Riddle's "Sweetly Broken."

May we remember the One who was sweetly broken for us. (One of my first posts about brokenness and Christ's love for us is here.)

Beautifully Broken,

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Worth Quoting

Many thanks to you bloggy friends who still stop by in spite of my recent hibernation in the black hole I have fallen into. I have much to share in the coming weeks about our new adoption and sweet things happening in our family.

But for now, I thought I'd share a quick post on some comments made by my kiddos that made me laugh.

Harsh Realizations

The other night Olivia's (my 8th grader) homework assignment was to interview her parents about their first memory of the computer. I shared that the first time I ever saw one was when I was about her age. It was the first computer in our school's future "computer lab" that was then full of electric typewriters. I went on to explain how my research papers were typed on such typewriters and any mistakes were remedied with White Out, but major errors required the page to be typed over again. I shared that there was no Internet, so all research had to be done at our local library--resources were encyclopedias that weighed more than a preschool child and periodicals could be viewed on something called microfilm.

Her eyes were huge, her mouth hung open in disbelief. Apparently the "I walked 10 miles to school in the snow, barefoot, uphill both ways" tales of my parents' generation were no longer necessary. The thought of a world without Google and e-mail and Facebook was apparently enough. (If I had mentioned that cell phones still weren't around, I think she would have lost consciousness.)

She finally spoke. It was the most sympathetic tone I have ever heard out of her mouth. "Mom, I'm so sorry. I had no idea that your childhood was such a NIGHTMARE!"

Keen Observations

We were at Chick-fil-A the other day and as we were leaving got a hug from the 7 foot cow character that is their "Eat More Chicken" mascot. Brady (age 5) is apparently not a big fan of livestock in eating establishments, but handled it okay.

As we exited the building, he leaned over and whispered to me: "Mom, this is just a guess, but I don't think that kind of cow produces milk."

Undiluted Truth

I overheard a conversation with Ava (age 10) and a new acquaintance. I was just catching bits and pieces, but clearly heard the other little girl describing what her mother looked like.

She offered, "My mom has light brown hair with blond highlights."

Ava responded, "Oh, she sounds so pretty. My mom has dark brown hair with silver highlights."

Ummm. I'm thinking I'm overdue for a trip to the hair salon.

Overflowing Gratitude

Daniel (age 8) has said many things that have made us laugh out loud, but his quote that I just have to share is the one that makes my heart rejoice.

The first time he said it, it was in the spring just a few months after coming home. We were at Target and I bought him a pair of Spiderman tennis shoes and some blue Crocs. He asked over and over if we had enough money to buy TWO pairs of shoes. He just couldn't believe it. As we were walking hand in hand to take our new treasures home, he exclaimed, "I love my life!"

One time this summer we were all snuggled up as a family watching "Mary Poppins." We took an intermission to make ice cream sundaes and he came over and hugged me and said again, "I love my life!"

Then during Daniel's first week of school, he hopped in the minivan with the world's best smile. He couldn't wait to tell me about his morning, but started with a slight variation of the same sentiment, "I have a great life!"

Oh, sweet boy, I have a great life, too!

So Grateful,

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sunday Dinner: Safe

If I had to rank Daniel's list of needs, the need to feel safe would be second only to his need to feel loved.

I'll never forget last November, flying down to Guatemala by myself with the plan to live there till I could bring Daniel home. We had been trying to get him home for two and a half years and, like a pregnancy that has gone past 40 weeks, we could see that the situation he was forced to stay in was becoming toxic. Since we had completed most of the process of adopting him, we were able to foster him in Guatemala till the adoption was complete.

Although I had visited numerous times before, this time felt different because he was now forever mine. I had spent so many months trying to make him my son that I had never really focused on becoming his mother. All of a sudden I realized exactly how little I knew about this little boy.

My first night there we stayed at a hotel in Antigua. We chose the location because it was close to friends who were living there, also fostering their son. This hotel was different from the one we had stayed in with Daniel on previous visits. This hotel was one story and the door to our room faced an outside courtyard. (The other hotel was a high-rise and our door faced the interior of the hotel.) It was soon apparent that Daniel didn't feel safe in our room.

Every night we were there, he had the same ritual. He'd check and double check the locks on the door, then he'd push all available furniture up against the door. He also had trouble sleeping--he'd have his eyes open staring at the door and window from the bed like a little night watchman. Finally sleep would overtake him and his eyes would close for a few hours until his semi-conscious body would remind him that he wasn't safe. He'd sit upright in the bed in a state of panic, often jumping out of bed to check the locks and the barricade of furniture.

Just watching him broke my heart. His level of fear was so far beyond anything I had seen before in a child. This was way beyond imaginary monsters in the closet or being frightened in a thunderstorm. This was a little boy in survival mode.

He has come a long way since November of last year. There was even one night recently that Brady was afraid and Daniel comforted him with: "Don't be scared because God is always with you." I can't tell you what joy it brings to walk into his bedroom at night and watch him sleep in perfect peace. To know that when awake and while asleep, this child now knows he is safe. It is a gift I will never again take for granted.

And yet, there have been times in my life that I haven't felt safe. I have locked myself in figurative rooms and pushed the furnishings up against the doors to keep the rest of the world out. There have been nights that I wake in a cold sweat--worried about my kids, or finances, or the future. Sitting upright in a panic, like Daniel wanting to check the locks on the door. The fear remains when I try to find safety in my self-made barricades. It isn't until I remember that "God is always with me" that I find that perfect peace.

This week's Sunday dinner of scripture is:

The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.

Proverbs 18:10, NIV

I love the image of our God as our "strong tower." This certainly isn't a first floor hotel room in Guatemala with furniture reinforcing the door. Our God is our fortress, lifting us high above our enemies, that we might rest in His perfect peace. And if we will run to Him, not only will we feel safe . . . we will be safe.

This week's dessert of song is Phil Wickham's beautiful tune called "Safe." May you feel the safety of His Almighty arms.

More Than Lots,

Friday, August 27, 2010

Blessed Beginnings

Have you ever gone so long without talking to a close friend, that when you finally get together, you don't even know where to start? I guess that's how I'm feeling.

This is the longest I've ever gone without posting. (So sorry!) Part of it is due to my trying to get this adoption scavenger hunt of documents completed as soon as possible. The other part is due to some major changes in how we are schooling our boys.

To explain this I must give a bit of background. Our girls (in the 8th and 5th grade this year), attend a wonderful classical Christian school. We had seriously considered homeschooling them when they were younger, but at the time my mother was battling cancer and we were trying to heal from the loss of our first son. (That story is here.) I was barely putting one foot in front of the other and knew I wouldn't be able to give them the education they needed. And so we found this fabulous school and they have now been there 5 years.

But my plan all along was to homeschool Daniel and Brady in the early grades. I have missed so much of Daniel's childhood that I didn't want to give up another minute. Keeping the boys at home last year was exactly what Daniel (and Brady) needed. I loved every minute snuggled up with my boys reading books, going exploring outside, getting to know my new son, and watching a precious bond form between two new brothers. And when Daniel first came home, even basic things like riding in a car were hard for him. There's no way he could have handled going to school last year.

But as winter turned into spring, Daniel began to thaw and bloom himself. In January we'd open his school books and he would cry that he couldn't do the work, but by March he couldn't wait to see how many pages he could do in a day.

And then we would pick up his sisters every afternoon from a building where the kids were laughing, teachers were hugging them good-bye and friends were waving farewells. The boys attended their poetry recitals, watched their sisters make science projects, attended music programs, and laughed at us dressed in our costumes for Arts Festival Day. (Parent helpers dress up, too.) All the while, Daniel was a spectator . . . many times I could tell he longed to be part it.

A few times Daniel asked, "Will I go to school here some day?" I'd answer, "If you want to." I wondered how long it would take him to catch up to where he could attend. I was a little sad though, because the most fun years at this school are in kindergarten and first and second grades. It's a unique school in many ways. In the younger grades the children only attend till noon and in first and second grades, Fridays are completely taught by the parents. (The parents divvy up a variety of topics and create and teach their own lesson plans each Friday.) I assumed that by the time Daniel was able to attend the school, he would have missed the opportunity to have half days and have Mom and Dad teach in his classroom.

But Daniel was doing so well with our homeschool curriculum that I thought he might be ready for second grade at this school. We had him tested and I couldn't believe the results. When the admissions director called to say they would love for him to attend the next year, I wept. I was just amazed that this little boy, who less than a year ago lived in an orphanage, was going to be able to attend such a wonderful school.

He was giddy with excitement this summer when we bought him his uniforms, backpack, and school supplies. But as the date approached for the first day of school, I could see that he was getting nervous.

But on Monday, August 16, I got to witness a first that I will never forget.

You see, as the adoptive parents of an 8 year old boy, we've grieved a lot of "firsts" that we've missed. First smile, first steps, first birthday . . . eight years of baby pictures and memories. But in exchange, we've been given the privilege of firsts that few parents will ever have the blessing to experience.

Like spending Christmas with a child who has never had a family--who is so overcome with emotion at the sight of the Christmas tree and begins to weep saying, "There are gifts with my name on them!" Like having a child, who has known profound hunger, sit at your dinner table-- laughing with his siblings and eating till he is full. Like watching a child, who spent years in an orphanage, now throwing a ball with his dad or dancing in the waves of the ocean. Like celebrating his first birthday with our family and when he blows out the candle on his cake and his sister asks what he wished for, his response is: "I have everything I've ever wanted. There's nothing left to wish for."

Last week we witnessed a first that even fewer parents will ever experience.

We watched our little boy proudly march into an amazing school in a uniform that announced that he was no longer an orphan without hope, but a boy with a future.

(This is Daniel leading the pack down the hallway--no longer a guest . . . but a student!)

(One last hug and "I'm proud of you, buddy" from Dad.)

We took his photo with his precious teacher and saw his fellow classmates greet him. When we left the classroom, he had a smile on his face that said, "I belong here."

(I don't like to post pics of others without permission, so I just cropped in on the most grateful little guy at that school.)

When I picked him up at noon, he was still smiling--yet about to pop wanting to share about his day. He and his little brother compared stories about the fun they had (Brady is in kindergarten in the same building) and when his two older sisters got home, Daniel couldn't wait to tell them about his day, too. The girls didn't even want to share about their day till they had gotten full reports from their little brothers. It is so sweet that now all four of our children will have memories of being in school together.

Daniel has loved his first two weeks at school, each day he announces that it was better than the day before. But I'll never forget that very first day. I somehow held in the tears of watching my two little guys go to school for the first time. But on the drive home the floodgates finally opened. It was prompted by Daniel's voice from the backseat reciting the school's motto. I have heard it many times over the years, but for some reason hearing it recited by my treasure with a Spanish accent gave it new meaning.
He said, "Mama. Hear this! I am a child of God. I ought to do His will. I can do what He tells me. By His grace alone I will."

Praising God for His abundant grace for my special boy.

More Than Lots,

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunday Dinner: A Hope and a Future

Some of my best writing is done on napkins. These little notes tucked into my daughters' lunchboxes are my way to give them a mid-day hug in the school lunchroom. School starts tomorrow and I've just finished inscribing pep-talks on paper products.

I'll never forget the first day of school last year. Olivia was starting 7th grade and I wasn't sure if she had outgrown the whole note from mommy on a napkin thing. She was about to grab her lunchbox off the kitchen counter as we were heading out the door. I hadn't yet zipped it up and out of the corner of my eye I saw her open her lunchbox, flip part of the napkin over, and take a quick peek to see if I had written on it. I saw the corners of her mouth turn up into a smile showing me that she still appreciated the paper poetry. My heart rejoiced as I realized she'd never outgrow needing words of encouragement.

Do you ever feel like sometimes God writes on your napkin and when you least expect it, you find it in your lunchbox? There have been many times that I've felt that a scripture was written just for me.

This week's Sunday dinner scripture is a verse that is very special to me (I'll share that story later). I wrote this verse on my girls' napkins tonight along with some other words to start the school year.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Jeremiah 29:11

This scripture brings such peace--just hearing that He has plans to give us a hope and a future. I look at my children and claim this verse for their lives. As a parent, I want so badly to make the plans and know the plans for my children's lives. But, praise God, that He makes the plans and, oh, His plans are so much better than anything I could have dreamed up.

This week's dessert of song is a sweet one called "The Words I Would Say" by Sidewalk Prophets. It's the perfect back-to-school song. I just might need to jot some of these lyrics on a napkin.

This week, may you get a glimpse of God's plan for you to have a hope and a future!

More Than Lots,