Right now it's late on December 18, 2012, but tomorrow when most people will be reading this, on December 19th, it will be exactly one year since the day we flew into Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and took custody of our Little Girl! December 19, 2011 was her last day to ever wake up in an orphanage!
This picture was taken right after she was brought to our guesthouse:
It was such a hard day! It will not be the day we celebrate every year, that day will be Dec. 24th the day we arrived back in America and were united as a family of 6. That was/is a happy day! Of course we were happy to finally, finally be able to take custody of our daughter that day in Ethiopia, but Dec. 19th will be more of a time of remembering where she came from and honoring the hard road that finally brought us together. Adoption never happens without loss, tremendous loss. That little girl in the picture above just lost everything familiar about her life for the 3rd time. The 1st was when she became an orphan, the 2nd was one month later when she was moved from a government orphanage to a care center run by our adoption agency in a different city in Ethiopia with a different language, and the 3rd was 13 months later when she came into our arms forever. We are so thankful God brought her into our family! Thankful for his tremendous healing in her life and thankful even for the hard and sad parts of December 19th, 2011, because the grief she was able to express that day jump-started the healing process and ultimately helped her have such a great adjustment to life in our family! Grateful for one year of Little Girl!
When I heard the news mid-day on Friday, I'm not going to lie, all I wanted to do was go pick up my 3 kids at elementary school, interrupt their school day, pull them out, and tuck them safely under my wings at home. I rebuked those feelings of fear and reminded myself over and over that God did not give us a spirit of fear. Still it was a long afternoon until 3:15 finally arrived. I got to the school early, which I never do, typically timing it to exactly arrive as they are let out. I glanced around at the other parents waiting and wondered if they felt it too, that our kids were soon going to walk out of that elementary school, but for too many parents in Connecticut, that wasn't the case. They didn't get the privilege of picking their children up from school on Friday, nor will they ever again. The children did come out and I got to hug my kindergartener and my 2nd grader and my 4th grader and it didn't matter if they stayed "on green" that day or how they did on their spelling test or if they ate their lunch or if they got their coat dirty or lost it completely. All that mattered was that they were alive! And I could hold their precious faces in my hands and tell them how happy I was to see them. We came home and had snack. They knew nothing about the tragedy that had occurred at an elementary school while they were at elementary school. But, we read our family advent verse for the day and it was from Job, "I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end He will stand upon the earth." Job 19:25. It's a verse I've always loved because it reminds me that no matter how bad things are, there will be happy ending one day. We are promised that Jesus is still alive and He is coming back to this earth! I reminded my children of all the really terrible things that happened to Job and yet he clung to the hope of that verse, the knowledge that His Redeemer lives and will in the end stand upon the earth! Then over the weekend we talked a lot about being the light in this world. Which I think is so important to remember in times where darkness seems so thick. Each day every one of us has the ability to make choices about things we can do to push back the darkness. The question is will we do them? Will our children? We never let our children watch the news, not out of a desire to shelter our children from the hard aspects of the world (we did take 2 of our children to Ethiopia and we send them to public school) but out of a desire to protect them from the media spin and hype surrounding tragedies. Finally, we told them without too many details about what had happened in Connecticut, wanting them to hear it from us rather than another kid at school. My 7 year old did ask if something like that could happen at their school and as a parent that is such a hard question because I don't want my kids to be afraid, but as much as I want to easily, confidently say, "Of course not!" I can't because that is not the truth. I could, however, assure them that these things are really rare, that their elementary school is literally right across from the police station, and that their principal and teachers work really hard to keep them safe at school. I am so thankful to be able to send them to a school where I know our principal would absolutely put himself in the line of fire to save my kids and the teachers also love the kids in that way. At night after the kids had gone to bed my husband and I watched some of the news coverage over the internet. When I saw the faces of some of the victims, it was like being punched in the stomach. Such innocent babies! Such horrifying circumstances! My heart and prayers are with their families, their town, our country. With my own family, with myself, I'm focusing on what we can do to shine the light of Jesus in this world.
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." John 1:5
As I volunteered in the library at our local elementary school this morning I was reminded of one of the many reasons why I do send my kids to school even if it means allowing them out from my safety net. As we wrapped up craft time a few kids were misbehaving, the librarian and I were trying to contain the behavior and also clean up. I didn't even notice my own kindergarten son diligently helping to clean up until his teacher walked in to get the kids and praised him for being quiet and helping. I was so proud and told him so later. "You were the light this morning, Buddy! You could have made a choice to misbehave with some of the other boys, but you didn't join in with them, and in fact you did the opposite and you were a helper cleaning up the craft things!"
I just heard on the news that someone from California called the general store in Newtown, Conn. and payed for a free cup of coffee for the entire town today. Everyone that came in got a free cup and there was a sign that said it was donated by a man in California. Oh how much I love that! Light in the darkness! Sure, it is a small thing considering the enormous pain they are experiencing but it's caring and acting out of love for other people! In that light it's huge and exactly what this world needs more of!
Ordering nearly all our gifts on-line means big boxes delivered to our door. And what's more fun that a cardboard box for a kid?
If 2 kids in a box is fun then 3 kids in a box must really be fun!
No. Not so much. If there were sound effects with that pictured you'd hear the "I'M SQUISHED!! She's SQUISHING Me!!! Ow! Owwwww!" in Dolby Digital Sound!
Moving on to the quieter activity of storytime inside a fort we built out of sheets.
I love the beautiful pictures in this kids' Bible, especially that page with baby Jesus they are looking at in the picture!
Every year the kids make wrapping paper by stamping their handprints and footprints in red and green ink on white butcher paper. Our warm weather last weekend really came in handy to have that messy activity outside on the driveway!
The kids were wearing shorts and sandals on Sunday and then literally needed heavy winter coats for Monday morning! But the cold weather brought the perfect excuse for some Christmas hot chocolate!
Homemade hot chocolate with wiped cream, red and green sprinkles and a candy cane to stir it with! Yum!
Today a certain furry creature in our household turned 2 years old. Most days I would deny being glad we have her because she is so much trouble, but really I am thankful for the joy she brings to daily life for all of us! This is a typical homework/snack time scene:
Happy Birthday Madeline! I know you didn't get the cake made entirely of bacon like you wanted, but at least we gave you a few chicken flavored treats and a new stuffed snowman toy. And I'd like to add that there are dogs who do not get their birthday celebrated at all!
We have bets on the snowman not surviving until Christmas!
The Christmas cards have started to come in and I just love it! (We even got ours out over the past couple days - amazing! But, the price is that my house is messy and I'm tired!) I have been using the same card display system for the past 4 years and it still works great; the whole family likes seeing the photos of friends and family hanging in our house! Here's what I do: Repost from November 3, 2009:
I love displaying the Christmas cards that we get, especially since so many of our friends have little kids and send cards with pictures. It is really fun to have all the cards up in the house, marvel at how much all the kids have grown and changed, and just enjoy all the cute little faces!
But until last year I didn't have a system I really liked for displaying the cards. But then I figured out this system to hang the cards onto 2 doors we have between our living room and breakfast room that we leave open all the time. I bought cheap over-the-door plastic hooks, tied thick ribbon I had on hand around the hook, made a bow and left a long tail hanging down. Then as I got cards in the mail I simply stapled them down the length of the ribbons. It was so easy to put up initially, easy to add to as more cards came in, not to mention cheap! And we enjoyed looking at it so much it was the last Christmas decoration to come down (possibly even waiting until early February)!
But, she was a pretty wonderful gift last Christmas (and every day since)!
This was taken right before we left for her choir concert. Seeing her on the stage singing (and jumping -- the other kids weren't jumping, just her, because if Little Girl has anything, it's enthusiasm) "Jingle Bells" and "This Little Light of Mine" and remembering that one year ago she lived in an orphanage in Ethiopia was surreal to say the least.
I'm so grateful for a God who is all about redemption and giving really good gifts!
We went to a gingerbread house decorating event at our church last Saturday. Most awesome part? Getting to leave behind the mess and just bring home our gingerbread house!
Yesterday we had an electrician come to fix an outside plug and also the ceiling fan the kids broke. He said we definitely needed a new fan and when I asked if he could do that, he said, "If you run to Home Depot and get one I can install it for you." I was like, "What? I don't go to Home Depot, my husband does and he's out of town and I have no idea what type of fan to get and besides it's 4:30pm so all 4 of my kids are home, so there's no just running to Home Depot, do you have any idea the logistical situation you have just proposed?"
Okay, I didn't really say all that, I just thought it and then ran quick to hustle the kids into the car. My 7 year old daughter had just caught a ladybug and had it in a large yogurt container. She didn't want to leave it, so I was all, "Just bring it!" And that's how I ended up taking 4 kids and a ladybug to Home Depot. The ladybug is in the white container my older daughter is holding.
Somehow we found a fan similar to the one we had, thankfully I had my 9 year old son to help because I was all, "Oh, you're right, the old fan didn't have lights on it!"
The shopping trip was made especially exciting on the way home by the drama from the backseat when my daughter thought the ladybug had died (she didn't have time to poke holes in the lid before we left) and then realized it was in fact still alive and then began shouting things like, "Hang on ladybug, just a little longer, we're almost home, don't die! We'll get you air!"
The ladybug did survive the trip and get some air holes. And was released back into the wild before bedtime. And the new ceiling fan is installed -- I'm counting the new fan as the kids' Christmas present!
That one short statement there in the title conveys so much God. Her story, our story, is all really God's story. What He did bringing our little girl into our family, from orphan to beloved daughter, from unknown to known is just too much for words! Since I have no words to describe it, let me show you a glimpse into how I'm feeling now as we rapidly approach the 1 year mark of having our youngest daughter home? Read this post from exactly one year and one week ago. . . And then imagine all we've gotten to learn about her this past year. The regular, normal, every day, blessed life we get to do together versus what was. May we never, ever forget what He has done for us!
Originally published November 28, 2011
I was reading an adoption-related article recently, and there was a feature on a particular couple. I don't remember the main content, but what struck me is that near the beginning as the article introduced the couple, it said, "They have one son who lives in Ethiopia." I thought to myself, "Wow, that's cool. I wonder what kind of work he does in Ethiopia, maybe mission work?" Then I saw a picture of the couple and thought, "Hey, that's really strange, they look so young to have a grown-up son living in Ethiopia!" Then I read a bit further and realized their son is actually an infant, living in Ethiopia, while they live in the U.S. Even though we are intimately familiar with this scenario and international adoption, the ludicrousness was still striking. I mean in what world do infants and young children live entire continents apart from their families? But, I know of many families besides us living out this exact scenario right now as they await the approval of the U.S. government to be able to bring their children home.
My 3 year old daughter lives in Ethiopia.
The American embassy sends us emails with her name that includes our own last name tacked right on to the end of her first name, she's officially on our health insurance, her monogrammed hooded towel hangs on a hook in our kid bathroom next to her brothers' and sister's towels. But she does not live here with us.
That yet is huge because we are very thankful to have reached a point in our adoption where her homecoming may just be a few weeks away. But it is a very odd, tough place to be living apart from your young child.
I've bought her Christmas presents, guessing what I think she might like, but fully realizing I really don't know my daughter. I've spent a grand total of 3 hours with her, spread across 3 different days, nearly 4 months ago. Isn't a mother supposed to know her child better than that? I have no idea what her favorite color is, favorite animal to have on her jammies, favorite princess for her little toddler panties. What makes her laugh? What is she like when she first wakes up in the morning?
I've been to a few kid parties lately to celebrate the birthday's of my kids' friends, and oh how I pity the mom I'm meeting for the first time at the party who innocently asks me how many children I have and how old they are. There is just no short answer to that question, and what she thought was small talk turns to the topics of orphans and third world countries and adoption roadblocks. It has actually become an interesting social experiment to me (hee! hee!), because in my experience people react in one of two ways at this point, either they are very excited and enthusiastic, interested to hear more and full of questions OR there is a completely awkward silence when the poor other mom has no idea how to respond and looks so completely relieved when we are interrupted by a child who needs something!
I know that most likely this living-apart-from-my-daughter is short-lived, that we will be able to take custody of her soon and begin to get to know about her all the things parents typically know about their children (well not everything, of course, there will always be parts of the first 3 years of her life that we'll never know). I've heard that once she's been home a while, it will be hard to even imagine life before she was here, that this waiting for her to come home will be a memory, rather that our reality.
I also believe that there will come a day when we are not living one day at a time, not knowing exactly when we'll wake up to an email that will give us permission to bring our daughter home, the day when we'll frantically book tickets to Ethiopia on just a few days notice to go get our daughter. There will be a day I don't have to respond to all requests with, "I'll be there next week, if I'm not in Ethiopia." There will be a time when we don't have to explain to family members who want to make Christmas plans with us that we have no idea where we are going to be around Christmas time (even though it's less than a month away) or what life will look like for our family this Christmas.
But, for now, for today, for this phase that we are in, I'd just like to acknowledge the craziness of it, the sheer ludicrousness! And then with that done, I'll go to Target again to stock up on toilet paper, because apparently I have no idea how to prepare to bring home a 3 year old child from a third world country, my experience just lends itself to hurricane preparedness. See? Craziness!
I wanted to do a family advent calendar this year with Bible verses and also family activities we could do each day in December leading up to Christmas. Because I am a last minute person, the advent calendar was created last Friday, November 30th, but so far we are loving it! I got little red envelopes from Michaels and added some little glitter sticker numbers to count from 1 to 24. Then I printed out slips of paper to fill the envelopes.
The kids beg me each morning to do it and we get the envelope down and read off the scripture and then the activity. I like that it's making this season of Jesus's birth more meaningful and helping ensure we actually do the activities we'd like to get in. The activities are a mix of things for others and things that are just fun for us. And I listed them basically in order by how I thought they'd best fit in our calendar (some take much more time than others, some are only offered on specific days), but the beauty of the envelopes is that I can switch around the slips of paper that are inside if I change my mind! Each envelope has one slip of paper with the activity and one slip with the Bible verse that tells something about Jesus. Our Activities: 1. Decorate a gingerbread house 2. Christmas Lunch with adoption support group 3. Volunteer for Jingle Bell Express (charity event that gives out toys and food) 4. Talk about ways we can let our lights shine for Jesus 5. Sing in/Watch Choir Christmas Concert 6. Make a birthday card for Jesus and put it under the tree 7. Fill a Shoebox for a needy child (http://www.samaritanspurse.org/giving/buildabox/) 8. Make wrapping paper 9. Write letters to our Compassion children 10. Build a fort from blankets and read a Christmas book inside 11. Give $5 to each person we drive past begging on the streets 12. Perform a random act of kindness 13. Make a Christmas craft 14. Watch a Christmas Movie 15. Make peppermint bark 16. Drive around to look at lights 17. Go see “Really, Really Big Christmas Show” 18. Have hot chocolate with all the fixings 19. Act out the Christmas Story 20. Make peppermint playdough 21. Buy gifts for others (WorldVision.org) 22. Make cards and deliver to nursing home 23. Decorate Christmas Cookies 24. Make a birthday cake for Jesus and read the Christmas story from Bible And the verses:
1. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10 2. The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; Isaiah 61:1 3. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:17 4. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. John 6:38 5. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 6. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 1 John 4:9 7. I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have everlasting life. John 8:12 8. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form Col 2:9 9. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 6:23 10. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 11. Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 12. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, Eph 1:5 13. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). Matt 1:23 14. And behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
15. Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matt 28:20b 16. How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 1 John 3:1 17. I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. Job 19:25 18. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. Matt 16:25 19. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5 20. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Eph 5:1-2 21. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 1 John 3:16-17 22. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Col 1:15-17 23. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, Phil 3:20
24. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33
We had our 12 month post-placement caseworker visit this past weekend (a little early, the 24th will mark 1 year since we brought Little Girl home from Ethiopia). Thankfully it was uneventful! But the 12 month mark got me thinking about some things. Like the question I get a lot. And a question many people who already have biological children and are thinking about adopting a child ask me. "What does it do to the children you already have?" or "Do they get along?" This was a fear we had, that adopting a child would mess up the pretty good thing we had going with the 3 kids we already had. But we did it anyway because we were so certain God was leading us to adoption and we feared more what it would mean for our family if we didn't listen to God than what might happen if we adopted a child. Now, nearly 12 months post-adoption, I can look back at that fear and honestly say rather than being hurt by the adoption, my older 3 children are better people because we adopted their little sister. And all 4 of my kids are siblings through and through. The love, the play, the fighting and tattling -- it's all there! And these sisters? Well, they've really hit it off and my bet is they'll be best friends for life. A priceless, precious gift to each other for the rest of their days.