Sunday, January 24, 2016

Loving New York

It has been two weeks since I was privileged to travel to Jamaica Queens, NY to help with an evangelism seminar.

I know most of you who know me and read the word evangelism did a bit of a double-take, so let me explain.

A few months ago, I watched Father of Lights for the first time. It was the only one of the series I hadn’t seen and God’s timing must have been just right because I just cried and cried over the people healed and saved. I saw their eyes light up as they felt love, sometimes for the first time. It encouraged me and made me hungry so I started watching Youtube videos of people like Todd White on the street or teaching about evangelism.

Laurie and I at the end of a day of exploration.
My friend and mentor, Laurie Ditto was part of an intense evangelism trip called Love NY and while she was gone, I was praying for her. Through that trip, she was invited to come back to a wonderful little church there. When I found out, I had a crazy idea. I asked if I could pay my way and go along to observe, serve and pray. She said yes…and then said that I also had to preach so people could get to know me. She gave me some guidelines and I prepared a nice little testimony and then we flew out on a Thursday.

I need to say, I spent the majority of the weekend being pushed out of my comfort zone and loved every minute of it. As we drove the Lord spoke. In the meetings, the Father talked to me. During my quiet times, He challenged me. With time away by myself, I got a big ole download about my life, my present and a bit about my future.

Then we went out on the street my last day there. It was nerve-wracking and wonderful all at once. I got to share with a few people and pray with a few more. I got to watch people who are naturals love on those we met. I learned SO much.

And then the demon-possessed man pushed his way into our group. We were praying for and talking with a lovely woman standing well over six feet. She was very open to the Lord and ready to pray the prayer when this man jumped in our circle. He tried to intimidate us with his yelling and cussing and getting our faces, but the Holy Spirit was strong and he found no fear to feed on so he finally left.

Praying for people the night I preached and after my friend
shared her testimony of when the Lord took her to hell.
In the midst of the weekend, Father made it clear that He had a different message than the one I had carefully prepared, printed and practiced. It was more real and impactful than anything I could ever come up with on my own. No time to practice or prepare but it was His words so it flowed.

I was so blessed by the church we were there to love and serve. Their faithfulness in a dark place. Their beauty and fervency for the Lord. Their desire to see a city filled with people from all nations SAVED for Him!

The result of this trip is my desire to push into praying for and talking to people about the love of God. My strongest desire is to obey Him no matter what others think. How will they know if I don’t tell them? Time is short, I cannot possibly ignore those who are hurting and lost. God help this introvert!

To end, everyone should hear my friend Laurie's testimony. It is powerful and will make you think twice about allowing anyone you know to die without sharing about the love of Jesus. You can watch it here but be prepared to be challenged and changed! 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Peace in the Storm

You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Isaiah 26:3

Our family has had an unexpected and interesting week. Paul, Jessica, and Caleb arrived home late Monday from a trip to Alabama to visit friends. On Tuesday, we received a call from my doctor saying that my blood test came back showing my anemia was critical. She wanted me to go to the emergency room for a possible blood transfusion. We gathered the family and prayed and then I packed a few things to keep me busy while waiting in the emergency room. We expected to be there for 3-4 hours.

As some background, I have struggled with fatigue for a couple of years. This has only intensified in the last 6-8 months. Recently, I shared with a friend that I feel 60, not 39. I had lost my desire to hike, camp, work outside, or really even explore with my family because I was tired all the time. I just survived each day doing what I HAD to do.

Back at the emergency room a few hours and a few tests later I was told they wanted to admit me for the transfusion which would take about eight hours to complete. In the meantime, they wanted to try and determine the reason for the severe anemia.

By the next morning, I had been given two units of blood which raised my hemoglobin a couple of points but still well below normal. The gynecologist visited me after reviewing the ultrasound and other tests completed the night before. I had a fibroid, a cyst, and a condition called adenomyosis. The result: the bleeding that led to my anemia could only be stopped by a partial hysterectomy.

So, insurance was contacted and I was scheduled for surgery the next morning (Thursday).

While this week has been so very unexpected, I have been learning to walk in peace. I spent most of Wednesday, bored in the hospital just waiting for surgery. I had time to think about what was coming or worry, but I didn't.

A friend encouraged me to read Psalm 91 and she prayed that over me even as I prayed it over myself. When I was tempted to worry about all I had left undone at home or about the surgery, I put my eyes back on my Abba and told Him I trusted Him. 

Everyone who knows me knows that I LIKE to be prepared. If it has been up to me, I would have cooked and frozen meals for the family, I would have cleaned the house and done laundry and organized child care and rides.

I didn't get to do ANY of those things. Instead, I prayed and trusted, I asked for help from friends and felt their love as they surrounded us with prayer and help. I tried to be a light to the people caring for me in the hospital. And they noticed. At one point, a nurse said, "You are always so happy and so nice to take care of." I answered, "That's because of Jesus." And I realized it was true. Keeping my eyes on Him, he filled me with a joy and love for the people around me and kept me in a peace that was beyond human understanding.

I am home now and having to remember the lesson I learned in the hospital. My family is amazing as they pitch in to serve me. I am down for two weeks with little activity and zero driving. After that I have to take it VERY easy for another four weeks.

I have never been very good at being down. What mom is? I am however, seeing my children step up so it doesn't all fall on dad. I am also seeing that they will learn skills during this time that are good for their future. Today, I hurt so resting is easy. I just have to remember this in a week when most of the pain is gone.

Prayers are appreciated as are meals or gift certificates for meals.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A New Name for Christian

The above is from a plaque that will grace our son's wall. Most of you know that when he joined our family at 18 months, his name was Christian Micah. We chose to honor his birth family and his first months (he knew his name very well) by keeping that name but also adding another middle name, Caleb.

Recently, he has decided to fully follow Jesus and has also requested to go by his middle name. Partially because it is so much shorter and easier to write. :-) After prayerfully considering his request and with a great deal of input from him, he will now go by Caleb.

The words on the plaque that will hang in his room are all taken from scriptures about Caleb in the Bible. (You can read about him in Numbers 13-14 and Joshua 15.) We believe they are a prophetic declaration of who our Son is becoming as he puts his faith in his Savior, Jesus.

Please join us in celebrating his decision to move fully forward into the future God has for him.

We know first-hand just how hard it is to change what you call someone. (They make it sound so easy in the Bible when they say his name was changed from Saul to Paul or Abram to Abraham.) There is much grace extended to all in this transition to his middle name. He actually answers well to both names and they are both a part of who he is. We will be happy to gently remind you as we often have to remind ourselves.

We are having an official name change ceremony as we celebrate his Gotcha Day this year at the beginning of May. If you would like to email us a prayer or a word, we would love to read those over him and save them for his future.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Telling My Kids My Own Adoption Story

As an adult adoptee with children, one of them adopted, talking about my own adoption experience can be challenging, especially on the tougher parts of the story. First, let me give you some background.

I was placed with my adoptive family at 1 year but not officially adopted until I was 8. In between I had regular, weekend visitations with my birth parents who were divorced. One weekend, I was with my dad and the next with my mom. It was confusing, to say the least. At 8, the judge decreed that time was up and I was no longer allow contact with my birth mom until I hit adulthood. My birth dad stayed in my life for the next 7 years because my adoptive parents were his parents. As a teen, his issues were big enough that he disappeared one night and I didn't hear from him again until I was married with kids.

When I had my first daughter, I fully invited my birth mom and her family including my step-father, a half brother and a huge extended family back into my life. I loved having more grandparents to dote on my children and I enjoyed getting to know her as an adult.

When my daughters got older, things got a little more confusing trying to keep the grandparents straight. I would tell stories about growing up with my adoptive mom but they also knew my birth mom and wondered why she wasn't in those stories. Then there were the family trees they had to make for school. How, exactly, do you fit two families on one side of a family tree?

After much prayer, I knew that honesty, even about the hard parts of my adoption story was the only way to go. Of course, I had to keep it age-appropriate. When they were younger, I simply told them I was blessed to have two mommies and daddies who cared for and loved me. I followed that up with pointing out that they had more grandparents than most other kids because of it.

With my birth family
As my daughters got older, they noticed things like how my adoptive mom has no contact with my birth mom. They also noticed that I had very few stories about my birth mom and began to wonder why. That is when I began telling them more details. I shared with them how young my birth family was when I entered the world. As pre-teens they tried to imagine having a baby at 15 and couldn't. I shared with them, that just like we make mistakes, my birth parents made mistakes when they were young that led to my adoption. I didn't go into any details about those mistakes. My kids only know a loving grandma, they don't need the past dredged up any more than I do. I also shared with them how I have forgiven my birth parents for those mistakes and for not being able to parent me. Just like how God forgives us when we mess up. I shared how much I enjoy my relationship with my birth mom now.

I also talked about how, even though I love my birth parents, I don't regret being raised by my adoptive parents. They loved me and cared for me and weren't perfect (just like I'm not a perfect parent.) I told my children that I wouldn't be who I am today if I hadn't been raised by my adoptive parents. I might not have met their dad or had them if I hadn't been raised by my adoptive parents. Every time I shared some part of my story I let my children know that both of their sets of grandparents are an important part of our lives.

With my adoptive family
Now, I do handle things a bit differently with my adopted son who is much younger than his siblings. Because of the parallels in our stories, I have found myself sharing a lot more with him as we talk about his story and the hard parts of it. I remind him that I was adopted just like him. I remind him that I was with my birth parents for about a year, just like him. We talk about the fact that we both have two sets of parents and that BOTH are important to who we are and where we come from. I tell him I understand when he feels frustrated or wishes he could be with his birth family.

Honestly, this is the best part of being an adoptee who has adopted. When he feels frustrated or has behaviors that are uniquely from an adoptee, I can tell him I understand...because I really do. I remember feeling the way he felt and more. I remember trying to control everything and everyone around me because my life was out of control. I remember pushing people who loved me away. Rejecting them before they could reject me.

My birth children are teens now and they accept things as they are. Their family tree is a bit wider on one side than the other to accommodate both the adoptive and birth family we claim as our extended family. My adopted son seems to take comfort in both of us having walked this road. For that matter, his family tree is even crazier than my teens. He has my birth and adopted family PLUS his own birth family to add in there some day.

Overall, the biggest thing that is important for all of my children to understand about adoption is that both my adoptive family and my birth family are important to who I am. One gave me life, a history,  and a heritage. The other cared for my life, walked through the good, the bad and the ugly with me, and gave me an additional history and heritage. I treasure and cherish both and desire them to do the same.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Adopting a Toddler Part 3 - The First Year

If you missed the first two parts, go here.

Within ten days we headed home from Florida to truly begin our lives as a family of five. The moment we arrived we scrambled to toddler-proof the main part of the house adding gates, outlet plugs and the like.

We quickly discovered a few things:
1. He loved to play outside.
2. He slept through the night about as well as a colicky newborn.
3. When he awoke to our attempts to comfort his cries turned to rage.
4. We could go nowhere with him for fear his tantrums would get him hurt or us arrested.
5. His needs were exhausting.
6. He loved to cuddle and hug, read books on our laps and rock before bedtimes.

Still unsure - just a couple months after he came home.
We devoured books on older child and toddler adoption and prayed for patience and wisdom in our every dealing with him. I learned to carry a toddler weighing about 1/3 of my weight on my hip...constantly. My arms were like jelly by the end of the night but just the fact that he wanted up in my arms was worth it.

We did all we could to bond. We kept visitors to a minimum and fed him even though he was capable of feeding himself. We rocked and sang and played fun games smiling and looking at each other. We established a routine and stuck to it. The routine was a type of lifeline for him in an otherwise mixed up world.

We responded immediately every time he cried at night, patting, soothing and comforting. My husband's work day started at 3 am so he took the first shift and I took the second.

We slowly transitioned his food to our diet and he discovered dozens and dozens of beloved foods. He also drank more water per day than an adult. We kept the water where he could always reach it because he would panic without it available.

The sisters brought smiles no matter the craziness.
Gradually, over the course of about four months, the nighttime cries came less frequently and the dangerous tantrums more rare. Then his birthday arrived. We can only assume his birthday party brought memories of his life before us. He digressed in his behavior toward us nearly to what it was in the beginning. So we got on our knees and prayed for strength and continued to love.

A couple months later, the new year was beginning and we woke up one morning to realize he had slept through the night. That night's sleep was the sweetest. Those sleep-filled nights became more and more frequent as we neared the coveted finalization day. (His final adoption was delayed due to the birth father not cooperating with the adoption.)

We lived for that bright smile!
Looking back we wish we had done some things differently. Namely, asking for help. We were exhausted and overwhelmed and lonely because he wasn't ready for visitors. We should have reached out to our friends and asked for them to do something special with our older children, regularly because they were being lost in his needs.We should have asked for shopping help since we couldn't really take him out safely those early months. We should have asked for laundry or meal help for the days when just caring for his hurt and needs left us drained emotionally and physically. If I walk that path again, I will definitely not try to go it alone!

And then, just a couple of weeks after the finalization, came our 2nd Mother's Day together. The previous Mother's Day had been the stuff of nightmares. This one began with my husband and son bringing me breakfast in bed. As they left to let me wake up slowly, my son yelled through the closing door, "I love you, Mom!"

Yep, I melted. The difference a year made was so beyond imagining that all I could do was cry and thank Jesus for caring for and working healing in my son. No, it wasn't all perfect but that was the clearest ray of hope we had yet received. I remembered that sweet smile and that declaration many times when his fears and hurt would cause different words to come out of his mouth.

2nd Mother's Day Fun
Read my Adopting a Toddler Tutorial here.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Adopting a Toddler Part 2 - A Hard Lesson

If you missed the first part of this series, catch it here.

After what seemed a very long time, we finally loaded him into our borrowed car seat so we could grab dinner on the way to the hotel for our first night as a family of five. There was no turning back because he was here and we had paid and signed the papers.  

Our first moments in the car...just pulling away.

Despite the fact that I asked the foster family every question I could think of at the time, I had a dozen more before we hit the drive-thru. I didn't know what to order for him, I didn't know what he would eat, and they hadn't told me that he thought his ear-splitting screech was tremendously funny. Add to that, every time I looked into the backseat, there was a third person there. Not a baby who only has a few basic needs but a screeching, hurting, adorable, 35 pound, well-muscled toddler who could almost outrun all of us. (Read your What to Expect the 2nd Year says toddlers LEARN to run around 18 months. Our little guys was already quite adept at running.)

Honestly, that first night was not glorious. It was hard as we remembered how to diaper a wiggly child, discovered he didn't want to eat any of the food we bought, and cried himself to sleep not wanting any comfort at all from us.

The next day we headed to a borrowed condo about an hour away. It was the absolute worst place for a busy toddler being filled with breakables and floor to ceiling mirrors but it was free and right on the beach. There was no way to try and establish a routine that first day so we concentrated on fun and love. We moved in, pulled out toys, visited the beach, and did some shopping after he cried himself to sleep again.

The next day we were scheduled to visit his birth mother at a restaurant of her choosing. She wanted to see him with us, wanted to meet us. We didn't think it was a good idea. Not good for our son. But the agency insisted that it had to be that way. So we relented.

Exhausted after the meeting with his birth mother.
The meeting was more awful than I could have imagined. The second he saw his birth mom, he went from fairly calm and happy to excited to see her to agitated, hurt, and angry when she wouldn't talk to him or hold him. We tried to hold a conversation while he tried with all his might to get to her or get on her lap. Finally, we had to tag team. One of us stayed with the agency worker and birth mom while the other took Christian around the corner of the noisy, overwhelming Chuck-e-cheese to play where he couldn't see her. We did our best to share our love for her and her daughter and the son we were being entrusted with. We tried to share some of who we were and ask questions. It was beyond awkward and we finally made nap time excuses, took some pictures and walked to our car. Almost instantly our son changed from agitated to smiling and we breathed sighs of relief. Then we looked at the clock and realized that what had felt like three hours was less than one. I was so sad to have only that time with the precious woman who was his mother.

The day after that meeting was mother's day. The absolute hardest day of my life. Ever. We had been cooped up in the car all the day before so I told my family I would happily put our son down for his nap and my husband could take the girls to the beach for a few hours. I would have a chance to relax while he slept, I thought. But about the time the door clicked shut our previously calm boy began to rage. 

I dropped to the floor, holding on as best I could so he wouldn't smash his head on the tile if his attempt to launch out of my arms succeeded. What followed was three and a half exhausting hours. I sang, I prayed, I held, I let go and stayed close. I cried and talked softly and lovingly. I prayed some more. I sat silent. All the while, he screamed and pushed and kicked and worked to get far away from me. After over an hour, I finally put him in the pack-n-play to give my body a rest and keep him from hurting himself as he writhed around. But I stayed and tried to touch and talk and sing and comfort. When Paul finally returned, I calmly handed our son to him saying he hadn't slept and wouldn't eat but was probably hungry. Then I returned to the bedroom to cry again. I was hurt, overwhelmed, and a little terrified.

Then God spoke to me and reminded me of all the families I had walked through adoption journeys with. They shared stories of their adopted toddlers pushing away one of the parents for a time. But eventually love won out. And in that remembering I was comforted and strengthened for the task ahead.

There are things in the first part of our adoption journey, I would have done differently. Go here for a mini-tutorial on adopting a toddler. 

Read part 3 here.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Adopting a Toddler Part 1 - The Call and the Meeting

When we began our adoption journey, we already had 8 and 10 year old girls and didn't feel the driving need to adopt a newborn. We talked with our consultant and were told that infants are most commonly available via domestic adoption. We considered foster care but didn't believe that was the right direction. So, we started down the path of domestic adoption. We prepared our hearts for an infant but inside we both were hoping for an older child.

So we made sure our home study approved us for a child up to two years old. Just in case.

The picture texted to us by the agency when we said yes.
Less than two months after completing our home study, we were matched with a lovely young mama living in our area. We connected with her and her family very quickly and prepared for the infant to be born in less than two months. This sweet mama chose to parent once she met her little one and we put away the items we bought, while waiting for the little one God had for us.

A few months later, we received an unexpected call. Without much introduction they asked if we were interesting in adopting an 18 month old boy. After praying, the answer was yes!

What came next was a flurry of activity as we packed, completed some additional paperwork from the agency, informed our friends and family, and gathered funds before beginning a long 22 hour drive to Florida. From the time we got the call to the moment we met our son was less than 36 hours, including the drive.

Our girls watching for him.
After signing papers and writing checks, we headed outside to watch for our son's arrival. As we sat in the agency parking lot waiting for the foster family, the reality hit me.

I was not adopting an infant but a little boy who had already lived 18 months and had over a year and a half's worth of experiences that I had no control over.

When he arrived, I quickly realized I was out of my depth. My children were so much older, I didn't remember how to interact with an active 18 month old...who could run...very fast...away from everyone while grinning from ear to ear.

Trying to get run again.
I was bombarded by doubts about my ability to parent him, to meet his needs in the face of such great loss, to even figure out how to corral him with the foster family and two agency staff watching. Trying to hide my discomfort, I talked to him, we chased, we played and we offered snacks. All the while, I was thinking, "I can't do this, I don't know how!"

While I definitely thought my new son was the cutest little boy I had ever seen, I did not feel instantly bonded, attached, or drawn to him. As I struggled to find my equilibrium, I prayed for him, prayed for his transition to our family and prayed for myself.

Little did I know that the next months would cause me to pray more intensely and experience more love and joy over that little boy than I could ever have imagined. Part 2 here.

The only time he wasn't running away was if he was eating...

or on top of Dad's shoulders.