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,