Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Review: For the Love by Jen Hatmaker

Five months ago, something extraordinary happened.  On a whim, I filled out a form to be part of the book launch team for Jen Hatmaker's new book For The Love.  Seriously.  Who does this sort of stuff and actually gets a reply?

Turns out-I do.



For the last several months it has been an HONOR to be part of Jen's launch team.  What started as an orthodox practice for launching a book became a community of women (and a few men!) on fire for Jesus, each other, and of course For The Love.  We became a tribe full of encouragement, hope, passion and truth. 

Part of my duty honor as a launch team member is to share my review of For The Love.  

Now, I know what you are thinking.  You're a Jesus girl. One of thoooooose people.

I am and am not.

If you aren't a Jesus girl or guy, please keep reading.  

It is true, I am a Jesus girl.  But I am not one of those people.  I am not a fan of religion to be honest.  I am Christian by way of my love for Jesus Christ.  

But you love Jesus and all that stuff.  Of COURSE you loved this book!

I have read books people.  Lots of different books.  Truth be told: I'm not a fan of preachy books.  At all.  But this book isn't that.  This book is Jen.

Jen writes For The Love from with a real, raw, and fresh approach. 

If you aren't familiar with Jen Hatmaker, you should be. Get on that. She writes to you as if you are sitting on her couch, wrapped in a blanket, enjoying a cup of coffee and shooting the breeze.  She writes about serious things, like slowing down, growing older, family, kids, church, crappy Christians, women, marriage, and people.  She also writes with a ridiculous sense of humor and wit about crotchless yoga pants, supper clubs, leggings, and finding your people.  I've never read a book with such a balance between the real and funny in life.  She is transparent and does not mince words. She is brave and inspires me to be brave.  In life and in my journey as an aspiring author. I cried tears and laughed so hard...well you'll see.  I highly encourage you to pick up this book, and pick one up for your friend too.  Share the love.  It is THAT good.  Never have I wanted to buy a copy for every single woman I know-until now. 

Here are my top five long quotes from For The Love and my thoughts on each:

"Wise women know what to hold onto and what to release,
and how to walk confidently in their choices--no regrets, no apologies, no guilt."  

and

"You can say no, and no one will die."

I know, that's two.  But they just go together.

Jen opens For The Love with a topic that speaks to every woman. The balance game we all play.  The first chapter, titled "Worst Beam Ever" struck me to my core.  Already, I was crying. Social media, a blessing and a curse, creates the illusion that we have it all together, all the time.  We show the best of ourselves for the world to see.  The phrase #offthebeam began floating around the launch team conversations and I've referenced it a few times with my people looking at me like I'm insane.  We must chose what to keep on the beam and what to take off.  Examine what is truly important. Dolphin sandwiches aren't. Ok?  It is ok to say no.  Really. Not everything has to stay on the beam.

photo cred-@jengarwood


"The timing is never right.  Forget that.  It rarely just falls into your lap.  You are probably not guaranteed success.  This might be a crapshoot. It will require sacrifice from you and maybe your people and you might step out on shaky, shaky legs. But off your go because we are not created to stand still, even though that is safe and familiar and you are guaranteed never to fall or stumble or grow weary. We were made to run."

Eons ago, when my husband and I were trying to have a baby, my mother-in-law told me that the timing would never be right.  Indeed, the timing in my life has never been right.  Things happen when they happen, despite my deep need and complex efforts to control them.  Many times I've felt those shaky legs.  But Jen is right.  We were not created to stand still.  I think it is a safe assumption to say that safe and familiar are similar among all of us, but where we run and what makes each of shaky is very different. I don't want to stand still.  Do you?

"We live in a strange unprecedented time when face-to-face relationships are becoming optional. It's tricky, this new online connectivity, because it can become meaningful and true; it has given way to actual friendships I treasure. But it can also steal from friends on porches, the ones who truly know you, who talk about real life over nachos. Online life is no substitute for practiced, physical presence, and it will never replace someone looking you in the eye, padding around your kitchen in bare-feet...walking in your front door without knocking."

This.  Oh I have such a love/hate relationship with social media and all this technology.  Do I love it?  Is it convenient?  Of course.  Do I love keeping in touch with those I don't see every day?  Of course.  But it has also cheapened things for our culture. I feel disconnected from those immediately around them.  Community is a basic need. I want purposeful, meaningful, funny, sad, and everything in between conversations and interactions in my life.  I'm writing this in my favorite coffee shop,  staring at the spot where a friend and I take the time to meet face-to-face when we can and have those conversations. My heart is always full for days after those conversations.  Facebook don't make my heart full. 

"Grace has no discernment."

Dear Christians, Please Stop  Being Crappy.  Yup. That's chapter in this book. And its one of my favorites.  Christians can be crappy.  News flash.  And we need to stop.  We are extremely hard on ourselves and others.  Especially other Christians.  We should not be treating each other poorly or extending judgement where it isn't needed.  We're all on the same playing field.  All of us.  All us humans in this big 'ol planet.  Love one another.  Why is that so hard?!  That sounds like another topic to discuss at a later date.  Humanity is difficult. We need to love one another.  Extend grace. Cloak each other in dignity. Be comforting and welcoming. Be family.

"Maybe your best thing won't draw a paycheck, but it is how you shine and glow and come to life to bless the world. May I legitimize your gifts? Just because you don't get a pay stub doesn't mean you shrink back or play small or give it all up. Do your thing.  Play your note. We are all watching and learning, moved.  You are making the world kinder, more beautiful, wiser, funnier, richer, better,..Run your race."

photo cred-@jengarwood

If you know me, you know that I am mama to two sweet littles from two different countries. You know that I've been a stay-at-home mom since our first child came home.  That was not the plan.  See #2. His presence brought forth a whole new world to learn, new experiences, and more amazing people than I can count.  He gave me new gifts to harness and share. Do I feel like I am blessing the world by being a mother or sharing my story as an aspiring author?  Mmmmm, no.  But I'm going to continue to do my thing.  Cause its my thing.  I'm running.

For the love go get this book!  

I'd love to hear what you have to say after reading it.  
Give me a CALL.  
Let's meet for coffee or tea or whatever you drink for fun.  

Curious to see what others are saying about For The Love?  Go here.

Let's be meaningful.  

Let's love well.


Jen offers raw humor, truth, and grace through every word she writes. She holds your hand through the tough and dances next to you in joy. This book should be in the hands of every woman, offering Jen’s realistic and gracious approach to our crazy lives.
~ Heidi Schmidt, Special Needs Mama, Author, Blogger, 
and Lover of Hot Chocolate with Whip. Milwaukee, WI




Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Seven

Last fall I found myself standing in the restroom of an office building.  Hyperventilating and sobbing.

I had been sitting in on AJ's RPM session.  His provider had just moved to a new location and I was stoked to have him on board with regular sessions throughout the school year.  Except that didn't happen. He refused to work, became violent, ripped off his cochlear implants, and after 3,000th time-I made a mad dash to the bathroom.

My mind kept chanting- What the hell is wrong with you?! Get it together!

Except I couldn't.  This was the beginning of a downhill spiral I now refer to seven.

I thought the early years with AJ were the most difficult.  If we could get through those, we could get through anything!  We're on the up and up!  I saw the light at the end of the tunnel a few years ago (finally).

The truth?

This seventh year has been the HARDEST in our entire existence as AJ's parents.

I could see his behavior was not going to improve simply by practice, framing, or storyboarding the activity.  None of that was going to work.  I resorted to understanding we were going to be done with RPM sessions for a while until we could figure out what was going on.

September brought new worries and challenges. AJ's school had gone to a new layout, making grades into suites (ie  a "suite" consisted of two regular size classes combined).  For AJ this meant he was no longer in any spaces he was familiar with other than the gym. He was presented eight new spaces and four new staff members when school began. A few weeks later, another major staff change. Sometimes the broad ideas that administrators have do not translate well to the children whose educations are at stake.

For over a year AJ had been illustrating extremely difficulty sleeping. Despite my internal battle, trying everything under the sun, and my clear disdain for the idea, we began a mild medication to help AJ sleep.

I began to hear mild whispers about his behavior at school.  This was a main concern for both us and the school team. After discussing with our pediatrician, we had AJ evaluated for the second time for autism. The entire appointment was beyond ridiculous. They had absolutely no idea how to test our child.  Let me say, that we are not fans of older practitioners. We left, with the information that our son has "autistic tendencies" but not the actual diagnosis.  We were also told that he would never improve, what we were seeing was about it. Don't get your hopes up.  Annnnnnd that's when we knew it was over. When we begged for help with behaviors, they referred us to other older practitioners  in the area of behavior who had waiting lists out the ying-yang. We were not disappointed in the lack of diagnosis, but rather with the lack of professionalism and knowledge as to how to test our son.

It was a waste of time.

At the end of October we passed family court in Bulgaria and legally became Mimi's parents.  We flew out at the end of November to pick her up.  AJ did marvelously well during our first trip to visit her back in July 2014, so we were psyched knowing he'd do well again.

For many reasons, those two weeks in Bulgaria were the longest weeks in my life.  AJ did not do well.  In fact, it was terrible.  He was completely non-functional.  He did not attend school, he did not wear his cochlear implants, he did not eat, he did not want to do anything but roll in his bed.  Nothing in my binder of preparedness for my mother-in-law was going to help this little boy.  When we would Skype, I would watch him sinking farther and farther into this weird abyss.  He was not my son.  I was concerned for his health and concerned for his heart. Being thousands and thousands of miles from him and trying to be a mom to a new child was beyond what I could handle.

Our first night back home AJ crawled into bed with me, got as close as he could and fell asleep.  He didn't move all night.

In the seven years we have had him home, he has NEVER done that.  Ever.

His behaviors continued to escalate and he began to expression extreme aggression toward his new sister.  Now, we were prepared for regression on his part, jealousy, and all that good stuff, but this-

was not normal.

We decided to see a psychologist with primary practice in the adoption world.  After an hour phone conversation, she understood my son more than anyone else we have ever come in contact with.  She agreed to try and help with the behaviors (if you haven't guessed by now AJ is very complex).  I learned about AJ having sensory memories of his own past as an orphan and how to replace those with good memories. I learned how his relationship with food is so multi-faceted it makes my head spin.  When we saw her, I was in tears THANKFUL he displayed his behaviors in her office. Thankful she could see what I had relayed in previous conversations.

At this point, AJ had barely worn his cochlear implants in months. He could not deal. He was very aggressive, and moving non-stop.  He would walk through the house and swipe things from all surfaces.  He could not sit down and be still. Sometimes I felt like he had no idea what he was doing. Not a clue.  His sleeping had become far and few between again-even with the medication. He was still lashing out at Mimi and we were needing to monitor their interactions closely.  So much for positive bonding.  He was depressed. We tried oils, creams, no-screen time, we've always had a strict bedtime routine so we continued that, we did EVERYTHING we could think of to help him.  And it wasn't WORKING!

So many questions asked.  What if we put something in his hands, is he more apt to keep them busy and not go for his implants. Does he like hair, is he reaching for a sensory need?  What is he trying to tell us. Behavior is a form of communication.   Behavior charting and tracking was started in the school environment.  AJ was no longer accessing his education because he was not HEARING. You cannot access your education as a cochlear implant user if you are not wearing your implants.  He was isolated.  In addition to his environmental and staff changes at school, his programming had shifted into a bad, bad gear.  His education was taking a complete nose-dive.

We researched and requested he be sent to a specific school for special needs children.

I observed AJ in his school environment for one entire day.

While I can't go into detail, I will say:

It was 800 shades of WRONG.

Things were already in motion due to our request above, but this sealed the deal.  AJ hated going to school.  This is NOT my child.  The day he cried getting out of the car?  Broke me.  Continuous meetings, correspondence, and more things going around and around in circles started cycling.

AJ began a cycle of sickness, sick almost every two weeks on the dot. Broken sleep and sickness mean more seizures and dis-regulation. On top of everything else that was happening, it was beyond what we could bear.

Out of desperation, I called AJ's neurologist and requested another EEG. Perhaps these behaviors were being triggered by seizures? At the follow-up appointment, he told me that AJ's brain showed abnormalities from the beginning.  Meaning, from the moment they turned the EEG on his brain was going haywire.

So here's what I learned:

AJ has frontal lobe damage.

Thus, he has very little to no executive function and no impulse control.

Well, HELLOOOOOOOOOO. 

That makes TOTAL sense.

We knew he had frontal lobe damage, but breaking it down how it correlates with his actions really was a game-changer.  Little to no executive function means he doesn't understand the future consequences of his actions.  Impulse control is self-explanatory.  Combine these and you get the child who grabs and throws down lamps and has no idea why its wrong or that the consequence is broken glass and possible harm to his body, with the fact that he doesn't realize he's swiping the lamp in the first place because he can't control his impulses.

It was like a light bulb went off in my brain.

"For his safety, the safety of little sister here, and the sanity of you and your husband, I recommend a psychiatrist who can prescribe a medication to help with the impulse control."

Stomach that one.

The psychiatrist was an older practitioner, of course.  It is so not comforting when your child stumps a professional.  So.not.  We agreed on a medication to trial.  Turns out, this was a triple threat medication.  It would help his impulse control, decrease aggression, and help with sleep.  Hallelujah.

As we trialed this new medicine, we asked for a change in AJ's school staffing.  I know what your thinking.  It was beyond necessary.

This medicine?

Gave me my son back.

AJ stopped running around like a maniac, his aggression disappeared, and he began to sleep.  As in restful, non-broken, sleep. He started wearing his implants LIKE.a.BOSS. He started learning again.  His body calmed.  He enjoyed and absorbed the much-needed sensory regulation he was being offered.  He enjoyed himself at school.  He enjoyed himself at home.  He started playing with his sister.

I had a good bawling session last week as we closed out the school year.  For AJ, it was sincerely the beginning.

This year rocked me to my core.  Which, for all we've been through as a family, is kinda hard to do. I'm not gonna lie.  The challenge of splitting myself between AJ's needs and Mimi's needs has been beyond overwhelming and stretched me to my thinnest.  I have prayed many prayers and wondered what God's thinking about all this.  I don't know what I'm doing, dude.  Seriously.

AJ struggles this year caused us to pull back from friendships, cancel plans constantly and most of the time last minute, and in general...live minute by minute.  I've hated that. You can prepare for anything, but that anything is going to look however its going to look when it gets here and you don't have control over that.  We prepared as well as we could to parent two children, our two children, but nothing could have prepared me for the avalanche that has been AJ over the last year.

I missed my sweet boy.  His smile lights my world.  To not see that for months completely broke me.  To not be able to make him feel better, killed me. Clearly, as relayed above, we know AJ best. When you hold that invisible ability and responsibility and can't figure out what is going on?  Well, it breaks your heart and makes you feel helpless.

Am I holding my breath a little?  Yes.  We've been in this constant state of whiplash.  Am I afraid we'll have to increase meds?  Yes. Am I worried when he has a bad night of sleep that we're back to the old patterns?  Yep.  We're just going to have to take this one minute at a time.  I do believe this is the new normal for all things AJ.

A fellow Bulgaria Momma recently posted this in an adoption group we are part of. I asked her if I could share:


We often assume because we are doing what God has called us to do, He will make the road easy. I have learned my greatest lessons in times of difficulty and waiting. 
It is hard, but God has a purpose in it. 


"Hope deferred makes the heart sick; but when dreams come true at last, there is life and joy." Proverbs 13:12

Amen.


Saturday, June 6, 2015

Sometimes

I'm not the best at organizing, deleting, or keeping current on photos I've taken.  I'm terrible at it, actually. The beauty of having such outstanding technology is being able to take 41 shots of the same thing and pray at least one or two turns out.  Except I never delete.  I load them on the computer and they sit in a folder or they sit in an album on my phone.

Until my external hard drive crashes and I loose them.  Or my laptop crashes and I loose them.  Or I get completely overwhelmed and ignore them.   Or my phone yells at me "cannot take photo" because I'm out of space. The latter is the most common.

For the longest time it was very difficult for me to reminisce and look back on pictures from AJ's younger years. I would look at a picture and feel intense emotions flood to the surface.

 I would remember how he could not sit up when he first arrived home...how he couldn't control his body at all.

I would remember the what seemed like hundreds of cups we used in efforts to help him learn to drink from a free-flowing cup.

I would remember his first Christmas, where we both just wanted to hide and cry in bed all day.  I can see the pain in our eyes.

I would remember the scoop spoon he used to first feed himself-that got caught in the garbage disposal and was grated to hell and caused me to have a breakdown in the kitchen...because where we were ever going to find a spoon like this again?! He needed it!

I would remember the day of his baptism when Jeremy and I were confident AJ had hearing loss and mourning that before anyone else knew, all while people shouted "AJ!" while taking photos after service.

I would stare at the picture of him at the ENT's office in the waiting room, remembering how nervous we were and praying they would say "yes" to him receiving cochlear implants. I remember that fierce, and desperate desire to have them give my baby this chance to make his world-his life-better.

I would remember returning home from a mini-vacation and pulling over on the side of the road the next morning, calling 911 because AJ had his first seizure on the way to school.

I was unable to see the moment that was actually being reflected in the picture.

A few weeks ago I plugged in the external hard drive I've had sitting out for forever quite a while.

Some major, major healing took place.

It was the first time I was able to see those moments.

And see just how far HE and WE have come.





Friday, January 2, 2015

Welcome Home Mimi!

DECEMBER 2014

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Why do you care for orphans?

I am so very excited to be partnering with Show Hope as a blogger for the Show Hope Blogging Network. I'll be writing each month to raise awareness and encourage discussion about the global orphan crisis. 

Why do you care for orphans?  

The you in the question is directed toward me.

Why do I care for orphans?

When the topic for the month appears in my inbox I always think I have it in the bag.   Truly. On the surface these questions are not hard to answer.  Total common sense, I think to myself. Then I open the email and find myself so very wrong. 

Unlike many people I know or have been blessed to meet in the world of adoption, my heart for orphans does not stem from an early seed. Growing up, my defintion of an orphan was nothing.  I honestly do not have a memory of understanding what that meant. 

I find that sad.

My first true understanding of orphan came when we initially began exploring adoption. From the domestic program information meeting to the international information meeting we attended, I fostered an unattached understanding of the orphan.  

The orphan.

Depraved Indifference was my creed.

Oh, that is SO sad.  I just can't.

I made it about me.

As we drove up to my son's orphanage, that indifference shriveled and buried itself along the road.  The building stood as a safe fortress, boasting tall concrete walls, and green barbed wire.  The gate opened as our car pulled forward and I felt trapped.  Trapped in this world I didn't want to be in.  I wanted my baby, but let's go.  In and out.

I didn't want to see the rest of it.

The building inside was clean and pristine, full of noise and children.  I was impressed as I walked the stairs to meet my son.  The horror stories I had heard about "international orphanages" were certainly not what I was seeing.  I stepped on the landing and lost my breath.  Babies. Everywhere.  Laying and playing in a fenced off play area.  To my right, two babies in swings.  To my left, three nannies holding babies.

What on earth?

Something completely visceral rose up inside of me.

This is NOT right.

On the first day in-country during our pickup trip we chose to visit Antigua.  Have you been in a place where the saying "go two blocks and you aren't safe"?  We drove two minutes from our hotel and were no longer safe.  It was raw and shocking.  As we kept driving I saw shacks in hills and mountains. Children's eyes peering out at me from behind small peep-holes cut out.  Poverty beyond anything I had ever imagined.  Young women passed me on the cobblestone streets of Antigua with babies on their backs.

Driving into our daughter's city all of those same descriptions flooded my vision.

This is not right.

My care came from being in the thick of it.  I didn't get it until I saw it.  Experienced it. Felt it.

I'm not proud of that fact.  I wish I had learned more about orphan care, the orphan crisis, and how we can help.

Because we can.

We have a society who is very "I will" and "I can" and in the same breathe "that is their problem" and "oh, that is a shame but I'm staying put in my pretty little world".  When it comes to the we, WE lose ground.

A few days ago I was introduced to a video:

Eric Ludy's Depraved Indifference 




"I suffer from depraved indifference....oh we care. Its not that that doesn't move us at some level to hear about this little child, over in Liberia. We care.  But we can go home tonight and sleep just fine. How is that?  Its because there is an indifference to that life. And its naturally born within us that that life isn't affecting us.  Its not in our backyard. Were not related to it.  Its someone else's issue..."
-Eric Ludy

I refuse to say to myself, "that's not my life so I shouldn't or can't do anything about it."

I have been moved.

Moved to refuse the notion that the orphan crisis is impossible.

Moved to understand that these children are living, breathing, human beings, not something to brush aside because its too hard for me.  It is not about me.

I refuse to believe that it impossible for "those orphans" to affect me.

Because they are in my backyard.

It was my AJ.  It was my Mimi.  My children were orphans.

That is why I care for orphans.

You?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Why do orphans need families?

I am so very excited to be partnering with Show Hope as a blogger for the Show Hope Blogging Network.  I'll be writing each month to raise awareness and encourage discussion about the global orphan crisis. 

Why do orphans need families?

The answer to this question is simple.

You know the answer.  Well all do.

Everyone needs a family.

But if we explore this question beyond the surface, the reasons orphans need families is so much deeper than a one sentence statement.

Seven years ago I found my "face".

What is "a face" you ask?

It is that which makes the orphan and the orphan crisis REAL for an individual.

Her name was Gabriela.

My mother and I had arrived in Guatemala to visit our son AJ.  This was my second trip as Jeremy and I had met him a few months before.  My baby boy's first birthday was approaching and if he wasn't going to be home, I desperately wanted to be in Guatemala.

We had arrived the day before with duffel bags of teddy bears and supplies for the orphanage.  Our translator picked us up and drove the 0.5 mile to the orphanage.  When the green, steel gate closed behind our SUV, I heard the children.  We walked into the back door and were greeted by a sea of smiling faces and a chorus of ¡hola! My broken Spanish allowed me to quickly conversate with the children and move quickly behind our interpreter.

Our agency had asked us to take photos of a few children while we were there.  This had become a an expected request and a desperate connection for waiting families.  We had been on the receiving end of these photos many times and were happy to return the favor.   I had my mental list of children and got my camera ready.

Gabriela.  She was seven years old.

She was the waiting child of a family whom we had grown very close to here in the US.  I knew her story and was so very anxious to meet this precious girl.

The large Spanish style wooden door creaked open to the courtyard where the older children were playing.  Our translator murmured words and Gabriela crept up between the sea of faces.

Her face was smooth and shy.  Her demeanor was sweet yet a bit timid.  She looked at us with such hope, worry, and despair.

When I asked if I could take a picture of her, everything about her changed.

I saw the world in her eyes.

Her deep, brown pools of reality were staring at me and I could not run and hide.

I could not shut off the tv, rip up the donation solicitation mailing, or just shake my head in general discomfort and change the subject.

She was right.in.front.of.me.

Her eyes reflect everything that was right in this world...and everything wrong in this world.

She slowly revealed a smile that is forever etched in my brain.

She never uttered a word, yet she told me EVERYTHING.

Are you going to be my family?  

No?  Ok.  But this is going to my family so...

Please love me.


I'm happy.  Well kind of happy, but know I could be happier with those who love me.

I'm here but not because I want to be.

Pick me.  Pick me.

I will smile for my Mommy and Daddy.

I won't cry, I promise I won't cry.  I will be good.

I'm just a child.  

I deserve love.

I deserve a family.

Yes you do sweet girl.  Yes.you.do.

Every single child in this world needs a family.  But for some reason, which I have yet to pinpoint one rational reason, the orphan crisis and need for families is out of reach.  Foreign.

Its not personal.

My own initial experience with our son did not change me like my experience with Gabriela did. I had been so wrapped up in him, just our son, I had merely scratched the surface into the world of orphans.  I had yet to plunge into the water, I had simply dipped my foot in the shallow end to test the temperature. His story was personal to me, but the others?  They were not. Gabriela opened my eyes and gave me a much wider lens of orphans and the orphan crisis. I saw more than just my son in that orphanage after that visit.  A few months ago we visited our daughter in Bulgaria in her orphanage.  I saw more than just her when the door opened and those children flooded the room.

I didn't GET IT until I saw it and couldn't look away.

As a culture we tend to avoid that which is hard.  We live in such a time of convenience, immediacy, and insatiability. Facing the question of why orphans need families is hard. They need families because all children should have families. This is where we end the story and find something else to talk about.  When we categorize these children as they, it becomes impersonal and far from reach. Intangible.

But indeed, these children are tangible.

We weren't made for lazy-boys, my dear friends.  We were made for purpose.

Orphans need LOVE.

Orphans need HOPE.

Orphans need SUPPORT.

Orphans need HOMES.

Orphans need FAMILIES.

Families who will hold them in the middle of the night when the trauma(s) of their past comes raging like a bull and they don't know how to process it.  Families who will be patient and encouraging along the attachment and bonding process. Families that will love, feed, clothe, bathe, shelter, teach, and provide stability.  Families who will laugh at the silly and cry in the sorrow. A family is a basic human right.

I think about Gabriela a lot. Her story does not have a happy ending.  Perhaps this is why she sticks with me.  Her reality is the reality I needed to ignite the fire in my heart for orphans. The rest of her story is protected for safety and privacy, but I desperately needed to share my "face" with all of you.

Why do you think orphans need families?  Do you have a "face" to share?


Psalm 68:6
God sets the lonely in families

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

In The Quiet

This is when I stop moving long enough to hear my own heart beat.

To hear his heart beat.

This is when the world crashes and my shoulders fold.

This is when I let go, let it out, and release.

When the silent tears fall on the pillow and my breaths are quick slow, quick slow.

This is when I see his pure desire for love.

Without the daily smokescreen we call life.

This is when I see his raw, stripped need for his Mother.

This is when the tears flow harder, and become larger.

When he struggles to calm his body and accept human touch.

When the battle is over and he is relaxed.

This is when I stop moving to soak it in.

This is when the hardships of the day, the week, the months all melt away.

This is when my heart fills with so much love I can't breathe.

This is when I grow in faith and motherhood.

This is to be treasured.

Bottled up. Sealed. Stored for rainy days.

Rainy days that should be every single day.

This is when he folds his hand in mine.

This is when he sighs in comfort and safety.

This is when I see my privilege.

This is when I exhale.

In the quiet.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

"Don't waste the wait"

Earlier this week I gave in and emailed our agency asking them to contact Bulgaria for an update on our case.  I don't do this very often.  Why?  Why do I choose not to drive our agency insane? Because I know it only makes this more maddening when you ask and receive confirmation that there is no news.

Indeed, there is no news in regards to our case.  We continue to wait for our official referral and travel approval to visit our baby girl.

When I read those words, no news, I instantly felt peace.  

I was not expecting to feel peace. I was expecting to feel angry, frustrated, and irritated.  The emotions of adoption are like a merry-go-round.  They change as you go around and around.  

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus  -Philippians 4:7

Peace. Calm. Relief.  I felt all of these as I read the email from our agency.  

And I felt guilty.

Guilty that no news was a relief.  How is that possible?  How was this static information bringing me peace?

I think it is because I need a few moments off the ledge.  WE need to be off the ledge for a bit.  I need to experience a few days where I am not jumping sky high every time the phone rings.  We need to be fully (or at least mostly, lets be honest) engaged in conversations, events, and well- life. I need to put my phone down and stop refreshing my email 5,394 times a day hoping for an update.  Especially when our agency will call not email.  

This wait.  Is hard.  We are at the mercy of someone else.  Surrendered. Paralyzed?  Yes. And sometimes, I don't like it.

As we've endured this wait, I have been privileged to take part in an adoption group for Bulgaria. There has been a lot of movement with cases.  A lot.  While this is promising, it can be heartbreaking when it is not your case.  You feel a split emotion of "YAY and BOO" at the same exact time.  Yesterday, someone took the time to recognize those of us that have not experienced movement.  In short:

For those of you waiting, please don't be discouraged. Hang in there...and don't waste the wait.

Don't waste the wait.  

Oh.  OHHHHHHH.  

There is purpose in our waiting.  We knew this before, but this statement- THIS statement was like the Gibb's head-smacking thing on NCIS. 

Duh.

The wait has allowed us to reflect and cherish our adoption process with AJ.  It has reminded us that much more of what a miracle he is.

The wait has allowed me to tear up when I look at pictures of our process thus far.  It has allowed me to tear up when I hear the phrase "sin on a plate" and see chocolate cupcakes.  It reminds me of the friends who baked up a storm for our bake sale.



The wait makes me tear up remembering the enormous amount of donations we received for our first (yes, I said first-that's some foreshadowing for you) rummage and our auction fundraiser . The generosity and split-second "we want to help" makes me choke up.  Every.single.time.






The wait reminds us to trust God and remember that we are not going at this alone.  His plan is far bigger than ours and we don't need to understand all of it.  Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And yes, I realize this is a cliche.  And sometimes NO, I don't want to hear it. But we know in our hearts, this is exactly where we are supposed to be.





The wait is giving us time to navigate the additional paperwork, fees, and other costs that have entered our adoption process.



The wait allowed Jeremy to have a much needed shoulder surgery.



The wait is making me squeeze AJ harder and give him Mama smooches more often.


The wait is allowing us to prepare for AJ's upcoming surgery and attack some relatively new needs and issues in relation to his disabilities.

The wait has allowed us to witness family and friends celebrating our baby girl's birthday without ever laying eyes on her.  That's love people.





The wait has made me appreciate the friends who have written, printed, and signed 3,239 reference letters for us as we plug away applying for grants.  Your time and efforts are precious and yes, it makes me cry.  Every.single.time.

The wait has brought texts and Facebook messages from friends who remember "Wednesdays" were days to hold our breath hoping for news on our case.


The wait has brought emails and phone calls saying, "I was just thinking about Mimi".

The wait has enabled this little girl to have a massive wardrobe thanks to the generosity of people wanting to help.

The wait has allowed us to build stronger friendships.

The wait has given us time to learn so much about AJ and given him time to communicate to us that he knows what is going on.  He knows he has a sister.  He knows.

The wait allowed me to finish my Bachelor's degree.

The wait allowed Jeremy to take a much needed break from his NP program and secure clinicals for the next semester.  A.blessing.

The wait has allowed us to help a friend in need.

What am I saying?  The wait hasn't been all that bad friends.  I don't want to waste the wait.  I don't want to sit on a ball on the couch bawling my eyes out every day because my baby girl isn't home.  Some days I'd like to.  But I don't want the wait to paralyze us either.  We are trusting that she is happy, loved, and being well cared for.

This wait is making the moment we get to hold her in our arms even sweeter.  
None of this is any comparison to our forever with her.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Q&A ~ April 2014

In an effort to answer everyone's questions we thought we'd do a little Q&A:

Q: Are you still adopting Mimi?
A: YES!

Q: Tell me again...where is she?
A: Bulgaria.

Q: How long have you been in the process now?
A: We decided to adopt in March 2013, so we are in over a year.  If we are talking about Mimi specifically, we are 10 months into her process (received her information in June 2013)

Q: Do you get pictures of her?  Or updates on how she is doing?
A: No we do not.

Q: Why don't you get pictures or updates on her?! That's awful!
A: Bulgaria is a Hague country.  This means they signed onto the United States Hague Convention which has strict rules set in place to protect the children, birth parents, and adoptive parents. The Hague requires intercountry adoptions to be completed under internationally agreed upon rules and procedures to make sure children are provided with permanent, loving homes and that adoptions take place in the best interest of the child.  The Hague also exists to prevent child abduction, sales, and trafficking.  You can read more on the Hague HERE.

The Hague does not allow us to have contact with anyone associated with her care.  This includes her orphanage and our in-country organization handling our case in Bulgaria. We know nothing with exception to her original referral information and aren't allowed to know more until a certain point in our process.

Q: Isn't that hard?
A: Incredibly.

Q: But she's your child, right?
A: Technically, no.  She's not ours yet.  We are committed to her in writing and she is "on hold" for us.  See more in the Q&A's below.

Q: Did you pictures of AJ?
A: Yes we did.  We received pictures and basic medical updates pretty much monthly.  The pictures were a Catch 22.  Hard to see him grow up without us, but also pieces of hope that helped us through the process.  They would always show up in my inbox at the exact moment we needed them to. Guatemala was not a Hague country.  Adoption in Guatemala ended in 2007, just months after we brought AJ home.

Q: Does AJ know who Mimi is?
A: Yes he does!  He recognizes her "voice" in videos and can accurately choose her from a group of people.  He gives her kisses on his iPad and is in her room a lot.  We are working on an experience book for him about our first trip so that he can learn where we are going and why.

Q: What's the latest with Mimi?
A: This is a loaded question.  Short answer: We are still waiting on the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice (MOJ) to issue her official referral which gives travel approval for our visit.  I know, I sound like a broken record.  But honestly, we should be hearing any day now and surprise-it can be any day-not just Wednesdays! This official referral lists her name and our names on the same piece of paper.  And its official.  Its pretty exciting.  We've already received the verbal referral where they've approved us, now they just need to type it!

Q: What is taking so long?
A: Meh.  Another loaded question.  This is the way it works, folks. We are at a point where we are under the mercy of others.  It is quite literally out of our hands.

Q: So when do you visit her?
A: We are hoping for June.

Q: How long will you be gone visiting?
A: We are required (yes I said required) to spend five working days with her.

Q: Will she know you are coming to see her?  Does she know she has a family?
A: We know that they do tell the children when we are coming to visit and the travel has been finalized.  They often teach the kids to say Mama, Tata (Daddy), and I Love You.
Sigh.

Q: What happens during the visit?
A: We will spend a few hours with her at the orphanage each day.  How long we don't know.  That is determined by the orphanage director's kindness and willingness as well as her schedule/routine. We will have a translator with us the entire time and be able to ask as many questions as we like about her.  We will have access to several professionals that know her well and we'll all be talking a lot about Mimi.

Q: What happens at the end of the visit?
A: We travel back to the capital city of Bulgaria and sign some official documents that yes, we still do want her.

Q: What happens after you come back from your visit trip?  
A: LOTS.  Here is what will happen:

1) We come home and fill out an I-800 form for USCIS (US Immigration).  This form identifies HER specifically.  If I-800 sounds familiar, that's because we filled out the I-800A earlier in the process, applying to adopt "an orphan" from Bulgaria.

2) I-800 is approved

3) USCIS sends notification of our approval to the US Embassy in Bulgaria.

4) US Embassy in Bulgaria notifies the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) in Bulgaria that the US has approved us. This is called the Article 5 Letter.

5) MOJ signs off on the Article 5 Letter. *This has been taking a while---sad face*

6) Our case is issued a date in Family Court.

7) Court says YES! She's ours!

8) We post 3,548 pictures of her on Facebook and the blog.

9) Pick Up Trip

Q: So, what's the timeline on all that whoo-ha?
A: Um, your guess is as good as ours.  Let's just say it won't be simply a month between trips.
Sad.sad.sad.face.  Bulgaria shuts down for the first two weeks of May and the entire month of August so we will hit both of those delays.

Q: Wha??? When is she coming home?
A: At this point, we are hoping for Fall 2014 but it could be between Fall and Christmas. 

Q: Why so long?  Isn't this longer than you expected?
A: I wish we had a straight answer for this question.  We are at the mercy of how fast each of the above steps are completed.  Longer than we expected?  Way longer.

Q: What can we do for you?
A: Pray.  Pray for Mimi.  Pray for us.  Please do not forget about our baby girl.






Thursday, March 13, 2014

I Will Not Take These Things For Granted...

Drip.  Drop.

Drip. Drop.

Swish.

The rain was falling gently as the windshield wipers washed the slate clean.

I cried.

He was gone, so I could.

We had just sat in a sterile exam room.  We left with several starter kits and books on the potential drugs my husband *might* be injecting into his body because he *probably* had Multiple Sclerosis.

Drip. Drop.

"The oral medications were just approved by the FDA.  I do not recommend them.   There are so many side effects.  Take it and you slow/block MS flair-ups buuuuutttt you get cancer instead".  

Injections it is.  

That.  That was almost FOUR years ago.

Injections we did.  Who am I kidding?  Injections he did.  Three different medications.  The first made him so incredibly sleepy he was put on Ritalin.  The second burned his skin.  The third, which was most effective, his body built up an antibody to.  Very rare they say. We laughed.

You see, I am married to a fighter.  And a fighter married to a fighter? Well, you would think that would cause fights between us.  The opposite is true.  We fight against the enemy.  Together.  I have watched my husband stand up when he could have sat down.  So I do not sit down.  I'm not good at it anyhow.

When we began the adoption process, we knew Jeremy's diagnosis might be an issue.  Might?  We knew it would be a red flag at some point.  Indeed it was, from the moment we said yes.  We spent months, in quiet, exploring options, countries, routes, the whole kit and caboodle.  We worked with a placement agency who was gentle and kind, holding our hands as they asked for specific detailed information about Jeremy's conditions.  We get it.  Multiple Sclerosis and Diabetes look scary on paper.  Paper doesn't represent a person.  Have you heard me preach on insurance companies and their denials of claims?  My child is not a case number or a file on your desk!  We knew we'd have to prove his health, stability, and ability to be a parent.

Our choices became very narrow.  Simply based on his diagnoses.  That, my friends, is a very big black dark hole just waiting for someone to come wallow.  We didn't.  

China?
NO.

Philippines?
NO.

Vietnam?
NO.

Every other country but TWO.
Said NO.

But TWO said YES.
Yes.

Bulgaria and Ethiopia.  

Praise the heavens we chose Bulgaria.

We were cleared to begin the actually application process (yes all this occurred before the formal application) and then Mimi happened.  And we switched placement agencies.  And the questions came at us again.  

We held our breath.
They said YES.

Fast forward to three weeks ago.  Our agency called and I already knew it was not good news.  Our case had been bumped from the Ministry of Justice in Bulgaria. They wanted additional information regarding Jeremy's treatment and health.

This came as no surprise as our dossier did not reflect detailed information of his diagnoses.  I was more rattled by the other items they requested.

And then I thought about the caseworker who opened our file. 

What did she think?  What did that paper say to her?  Did she imagine my husband as an invalid?  

What did she think as she flipped to the back and saw our pictures?  

Oh to be a fly.

Adoption does this crazy thing where it challenges you constantly.  Are you sure you want to do this?  Are you sure you can parent?  Are you sure you are good enough to parent?  Fill out another form.  PROVE IT.  So how do you prove something that on paper looks like doomsday?

You prove it.  With details.  With providing the information they want. We were as specific as possible in reporting Jeremy's treatment.  He is healthy and THRIVING.  He is now on those crazy oral medications, as four years has brought improvements and none of those craaaazy side effects.  It is amazing to me to watch him simply take a pill that does the work of all those shots he went through.  It is a blessing.  He is followed regularly by his specialist, who attributes Jeremy's positive attitude to his continuous health.  He has MRIs that we pray will not show any changes when the scans come back.  If they do, and they have before, we move forward.  Life is unpredictable.

While the issue isn't present with a fanfare and a spotlight, it lies in the corner.  Its a thorn.  That could potentially prick you if you grab the rose stem at just the right spot.  

We do not take the opportunity we have in adopting Mimi for granted.  The song from Toad the Wet Sprocket has been on repeat in my mind for weeks.

Every single delay, form, correspondence, setback, frustration, mood-swing, celebration, and milestone reminds me we are IN THIS PROCESS.  Every moment is a moment we are IN IT.

It is not a dream.  It is not a wish.  It is real.  We do not take that for granted.

Is it hard?  Absolutely!  Is it cumbersome and maddening?  Sometimes! 

 Is it worth it? 
YES.

We fight.  For her.  Because we are blessed to be able to do so.  



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