Friday, December 9, 2016

Gifts and Waiting

Tomorrow is the big day-- D arrives. He left for the airport at 4 am his time (8 pm our time) today. His new flannel sheets are washed and on his bed. His clothes are washed and put away in his dresser. Three of his four gifts are waiting under the tree, and those gifts have been the most challenging part of preparing for his return. Our family simplified gift giving last year and decided to use the same system again this year: Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.

Read? English is his second language. We debated ordering Harry Potter in his language, but after texting with him, were thrilled to discover that he likes "Greg's Diary" in English. So Diary of a Wimpy Kid books are wrapped and waiting.

Want? Who knows what he really wants. He asked for a shirt that says "Captain Crazy" on it. (Thank you Doris at Winning Stitch-- it's perfect!). And he would like a package of Whoppers. He refuses to commit to any other gift idea or hope for a gift. Maybe he feels uncomfortable suggesting a gift. Maybe it's just awkward. I can't pretend to know. We spent five weeks with him this summer, but only now are really getting to know more about what he thinks and feels.

Wear? I almost teared up walking into a department store and being helped by a teenage boy with the same pants size and haircut. A few shirts are wrapped under the tree, but the majority of his clothes are waiting for him in his dresser.

Need? This gift has yet to be purchased. I don't know what he needs. At our initial hosting, I thought he needed many things, but I didn't really understand his situation. I probably still don't completely grasp the reality of his life. I believe he needs more people in his corner-- to believe in him, encourage him and just love him through his teen years. Because really, the teen years are hard enough on their own.

The only thing D has asked for is if we will bring coffee for him to the airport. He doesn't want to be sleepy on the way home, but wants to stay up and visit. This time tomorrow we'll be settling back in with him at home. Looking forward to the 4 weeks ahead!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

When It Isn't What I Hoped For

The past several months have been ones where I have hung on tightly to my faith, believing that we were called to a specific child for a specific purpose. I still believe we've been called to this child, but the path isn't the one I envisioned. Can I just level with you? I don't have a clue as to what God's doing here.

Was this to simply love on this child for a brief time?

Was it to make us more sensitive to those who are vulnerable and to families in the adoption process?

Was it so that he'll have two more people in the world who pray for him each and every morning at breakfast and each night when we tuck in our other three?

Was it to teach us generosity when we briefly peered over a ledge of financial uncertainty-- realizing we'd never accomplish this on our own? Because I swear I will never be apathetic towards anyone fundraising for an adoption ever again.

Was it to show us that God's best might not be in line with what we think is best?

Was it to guard the heart of the one who has taken care of him for so very long?

I really don't know.

Here's what I do know. This beautiful boy is loved by people on two continents.This entire situation doesn't surprise God. I kind of wish it did--- but it doesn't. We were showered with support from some of the most unexpected of friends and family and I don't take that for granted.

He isn't gone forever-- he just won't live here with us. And I can be good with that most days if he's happy. And hopefully as time passes, I can be good with that every day.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Getting Ready for Christmas

The "see you later" in July was one of the hardest experiences I had ever had, but the anticipation of D's arrival for Christmas is a great feeling. Greg has been doing extra IT work on the side, friends and family have given us financial gifts towards hosting, "Realty Executives Cooper Spransy" in Madison, Wisconsin has sponsored an amazing grant via Project 143, a local church is doing a chili lunch fundraiser for us in October and I'm subbing my tail off to fly one of our favorite people in the world from Eastern Europe to Chicago this December for four weeks. We can't wait to see him!

There has so much happening behind the scenes and a lot of it we aren't free to disclose--yet. But we look forward to doing so very soon. God is at work and the reassurance we have received is completely of Him. I am a worrywart by nature and a lack of planning and schedule drives me absolutely bonkers. We still feel led step by step in the direction we are going. I remember a sermon Scott Sims did several years back about faith and compared it to taking a walk in the dark with a flashlight: you can only see so far, yet you keep going. We definitely feel that we are walking a flashlight journey at the moment, but we know who we're following and that settles my heart unlike anything else can.

There is a sense of joy and gratitude that has lingered since July, even on the hard days. So many of you have told us that you are praying for our family and for D and for that we say, "Thank you!". We feel it. We really do! Looking forward to sharing more updates as we are able.

Thursday, August 11, 2016


On the 4th of July, our family went to the annual parade with our guest, D, who was staying with us for the summer. He had never celebrated the 4th in the US and all of our traditions became more meaningful to us as we shared them with him. At the parade, the kids caught candy, trinkets, pencils and popsicles. Leaving the parade, D had a bracelet on his wrist that he hadn't had earlier. The cloth band had the acrostic "P.U.S.H". He wore the bracelet almost the entire length of his stay with us.

At the pool a few weeks later, I mentioned this to my friend. "What does P.U.S.H mean?" I asked. I wasn't even sure who had thrown it during the parade route. Republicans? Democrats? Karate group? Who knew. After googling results, my friend read results aloud: Pressure Ulcer Scale for Healing-- no. Partnership for Urban South Hampshire (UK), unlikely. "Pray until something happens":yes.

In almost every picture of him, he's wearing that bracelet. I'm not sure as he knows what it stands for-- whether it just reminds him of attending the parade together that day, or he likes the look or feel of it. I don't know.

Tonight a friend handed me a bracelet of my own, with the simple word "hope" on it. It ties into the meaning of D's bracelet. I have hope that good things are ahead for him, that God has put something on our hearts for a reason, that so many people who care about him are going to accomplish great things.

As I wear my bracelet tonight, I wonder if he is still wearing his too.

"Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,"

Emily Dickinson

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A hard "see you later"

Our guest left on Sunday and it was so very hard. The morning was teary before we left, the ride to O'Hare was subdued, but okay. It was after he got in line to check his bag that something I had never experienced before rose up in me. I know we promised his country that we would send him back, but in that moment, I didn't know if I could physically let him go.

The "see you later" at the airport was so hard-- difficult enough that people actually stared. On the ride home Sam and Em were pretty emotional, while Brenna remained stoic and asked when we could stop for a treat. Oh, the levity she lends to every situation ;) It felt like someone had died when we went into the boys' room and saw the empty bed, when I found a stray sock of his in the laundry, when I saw his containers of applesauce in the refrigerator, his bananas on the counter that totally gross out Sam. I actually found myself listening to his national anthem on Youtube during my morning walk, which felt pitiful to do, but made me feel better somehow.

And yet, God is at work in this. Oh, is He ever. We are being stretched and grown in faith and trust in a way we have never experienced before as we follow into unfamiliar territory. There is a new sense of gratitude for time together, for the little things we enjoy, for getting to have an amazing summer with him. We are hopeful that our guest can return to spend December with us and until then, we pray over him with a new fervor. Will you pray for him too? 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

July 4th

We celebrated July 4th with D this week. For the record, July 4th is my absolute favorite holiday. I love that there are no social expectations--- just spending time with friends and continuing traditions. One of our traditions is attending the parade. I love knowing that every year the Republicans throw tootsie rolls and the Democrats have the awesome jazz band. There will be many princesses, old tractors and the horses will be last. (Okay, maybe there are some expectations after all ;).

D was quiet throughout the parade and somewhat stoic. Then he saw the vehicle with the puppets. There are little things like that he gets so excited about and it cracks me up.

We enjoyed dinner with some neighbors and then ended our evening at the airport for fireworks. He has been in the US before for July  4th, but had never seen a larger firework display. We arrived an hour early to grab a spot and settle in. He was quiet throughout, but said that he really liked it, that it was "big". He remained stoic when as soon as it ended Sam instructed him, "Run, D! Now we have to try to get out of the parking lot!" He looked at me and I told him that the challenge is not to lose your religion while navigating your minivan out of the airport after the fireworks. He quickly snagged 2 chairs and jogged behind Greg to the van. Five minutes later we were headed home-- record time!

He has started to call me "Mom" and Greg "Dad". I don't know what he thinks or feels when he uses those names for us, if they affect him like they do us. I love hearing him say it and I love having him here. It feels very simple when it's just the six of us but quickly becomes complicated when we add others to the mix. There's still a preference to stick closer to home and not venture out too far or for too long, which is completely fine. We're enjoying our time together.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Two views side by side

We are almost at the end of our first week of hosting and have seen so many changes. D is smiling more and has begun to laugh out loud at times and tease back Sam and Emily. The challenge I have begun to encounter has nothing to do with a difficult behavior or personality conflict-- he fits into our home like he's always been here. Instead, it's viewing situations through a new lense.

The conversation was innocent enough with the ladies, but it was almost more than I could handle. It all centered around having the right opportunity for my child with a sport -- how this potential opportunity would open doors, allow my child to progress and play the sport in high school, would be more competitive, give my child an edge. All I could think about was D. He plays this sport with his friends at school. There isn't any official team. No slick uniforms, parents cheering on from a sideline or a trophy at the end of a season. All of a sudden it seemed ridiculous and unfair to me to be having a conversation about bettering my child with this opportunity when I have a beautiful, gifted young man in front of me without half of that opportunity available.

I went to my van and cried.

If this conversation had transpired one month ago, I would have been fine. I would have been following the same line of thought, considering the same advantages. Now I had a heat spreading through me and wave of tense knowledge as I realized there is no easy or quick fix. It isn't fair. It just isn't. And this is just how it is.

I can't unsee how I see things. We've only had one week together, but I feel fairly certain that I will never look through my old lense the same way again.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Opening Up

We've had D with us since Sunday and I am beginning to see a new comfort level for him with being at home. I have to remind myself that the stoicism isn't always boredom, but perhaps a combination of processing an environment, working really hard to translate everything, coming from a quieter and more reserved culture and then living with us ;)

On Tuesday night, he told Sam that he would like to do Cross Country with him the next morning. Greg is a shoe nut and didn't feel like the converse type sneakers were going to be a good situation for 3 miles of running. Thankfully, size 10 1/2 running shoes were only a quick text away and a good friend graciously shared a pair with us. This friend lamented the condition she felt they were in, but he hasn't taken them off except to sleep. They're a hit!

I had butterflies on Wednesday morning. Would he like running? Would he be able to keep up since he doesn't run at home? Sam informed me that he couldn't keep up with D until they reached the hills. D was happy when we came home and when I asked if he wanted to go back, it was a confident "Ya" without the usual shrug accompaniment. I often find that if he feels he will require extra effort or fuss, he doesn't give a confident yes, but tries to pass it off like it isn't a big deal. Today it was exciting when I asked his opinion on a clothing item and he actually said, "no".  I'm glad he's starting to feel more comfortable and give his true opinion.

He and Sam are doing well together. They both love playing video games together, throwing water balloons, swimming and riding bikes. Right now he's expressing a desire to just stick close to home and around Charleston and not do big city activities that we had planned, which is fine. I'm interested to see if that will change as the weeks go by or if he will still want to just have a low key stay.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

He's Here

He's here! He's really here! After a long wait at O'Hare, we were able to bring D home with us on Sunday. At that point, he had been awake for 20 hours plus. He was an absolute trooper and incredibly polite, even when exhausted. I know some of this is him trying very hard to put his best foot forward and that we are in a "honeymoon" period with this visit--- but he's a great kid.

Due to privacy, we aren't able to list his country or full name, but I do want to blog about our visit. On the way home from the airport, we stopped at McDonald's (his request) and could see storm cloud that had passed by along the interstate. There was the most eerie pink and purple glow and in the midst of that was a rainbow. The sun was setting, so it didn't make any sense to me that there was enough light left for a rainbow, but there it was all the same. And as hokey as it sounds--- that rainbow meant a lot to me.

As this silent teenager stares with exhausted eyes out his window, I had butterflies. "What if he thinks our family is nuts? What if he hates it here? What if he gets bored?" And there in front of me is that rainbow. It was a moment of God whispering "I'm here and see it. I've got this."

All we need to do is love on D for the next 5 weeks. I had felt pressure to parent a certain way, have my home cleaned a certain way, treat spots on the carpet, make sure the hole in the bathroom wall had been repaired and painted but in the end, he came and slept all night, despite the roughed up patchwork in the bathroom that wasn't repainted yet (and still isn't).

This visit so far is challenging insecurities I have long had about my home, family, dynamic and who I am as a mom, who Greg and I are as a couple. It's good to shake things up and get a shift of perspective.

My biggest fear that D won't enjoy his time was pushed aside when I heard him laugh for the first time today. He's settling in and getting more comfortable and we are too. I won't expect a rainbow every day of his visit, but God's sending a lot of good stuff our way as we spend time together.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Less Than 2 Weeks Away

A few months ago, I happened upon a website for the organization Project 143. The organization specializes in hosting children in the U.S from Eastern Europe. When scrolling through their site the thought was briefly entertained, "Wouldn't it be cool..." and then just as quickly put aside. I spoke to Greg about it briefly and thought that was the end of it. Until he called me one day on his way to work and asked me to make a phone call and begin paperwork. We prayed about it, wrestled with it, weighed out the advantages and scary parts and prayed some more. God was pulling us both in the same direction towards this.

Fast-forward two months later and we find ourselves waiting for a visitor to come and stay with us. Google Translate has been added to our phones, the bed is made, clothes are washed and waiting. This whole experience is something that I wouldn't have predicted even six months ago, but we're excited (and nervous) and ready (or as ready as we can be).

This summer will be different from any other summer we have experienced. Our visitor will be with us just five weeks, arriving in late June and then will return to Eastern Europe in late July. We will learn some of his language, hopefully he gains even more English during his stay and I will be even more thankful than ever for Google and their apps.

For now, June rolls along like status quo-- three kiddos choosing activities and going a variety of directions during the week, but the prediction is that July is going to find us doing daytrips together and some fun repeat activities that will probably feel new again when sharing them with someone: seeing the world's fastest pop machine, ringing the world's largest windchimes, visiting the zoo, staying home, getting bored, swimming, learning how to live with someone new in our house and gaining a new perspective.

I'm enjoying June so very much, but I'm especially excited for what is ahead.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Merry Christmas or Happy Easter

Spring break usually involves at least a few hours dedicated to cleaning and de-cluttering. While working on my kitchen counter, I found the remaining stack of Christmas cards addressed with names only, waiting to be fully addressed and stamped. These people sent us a card. They did not receive one in return. Hopefully they truly believe it's better to give than receive.

I held these cards in my hand back in early January and weighed out what to do. It was completely within logic to mail them at this point. But I needed stamps. And I didn't have any. And the post office is far away. And I never remember the customer service counter when I'm shopping at County Market. And then January was over.

One morning after my second cup of coffee, I picked them up again in February. Perhaps I would compose a witty little snippet to tuck into the envelope with our Christmas card... It wasn't the end of the world to mail them out at this point. After all, it's only 5 weeks post-Christmas. I wasn't receiving any stragglers in the mail at this point, but still, this could work.

Now it's March and we're getting ready for Easter.

Each of these cards represent a lovely person, whom I value. An ugly voice in my head finishes that sentence with "... but someone who is just not valued enough to warrant a trip to the local post office".  I feel judged by my clutter. It tells me what I didn't do, as opposed to what I did do.

I don't like facing jobs left undone because of this.

So tonight I am giving myself some grace. I'm throwing those cards in the trash and refusing to feel guilt over who didn't receive a card. If I missed you this Christmas--know that you were thought of. Not only in December, but yet again in January, February and then in March when I threw your card away.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Fear, Fearlessness, And All That's In Between

Lately I found that I couldn't "snap out of it". The constant news stream of impasse for the budget at the state level struck fear in me. Brenna turns 15 in March. What is going to be available for her as far as a day program/work opportunity  when she ages out of the school system? What if the funding isn't there? An informational meeting for parents about PUNS selection and funding made me feel ill.

Over coffee, a good friend asked "What is your quiet time looking like these days?" I began to make excuses: Sam gets up really early, I've been working a lot lately, I haven't plugged back into a Bible study group and need to do that and finally it wound back around to the truth. I don't want to. I don't want to ready my Bible. I don't want to read promises that feel like they don't apply to me right now. I don't want to pray and hope for the best when deep down, I am scared beyond belief about what her future could look like if the state government drives these fragile opportunities of future hope into the ground. Should I go back for my Master's and attempt to find a higher paying job in the future? What am I supposed to DO? I just need to know how to fix it and to know what to do. Tears fell openly at Starbucks as I told her that honestly, God felt far away right now. The coffee date ended with a small nugget of advice. Perhaps, I only needed to take a small step forward. Instead of trying to figure out so many different things, maybe I just needed to read my Bible and pray for 15 minutes in the morning and go on from there.

I dug around in the bathroom closet and found a study from several years ago, "Living Fearlessly: A Study in the Book of Joshua". It was crammed in between Angela's Ashes and a photo scrapbook and was the only Bible study book in sight. I opened the pages and was instantly transported back to that study group of ladies gathered around a large table. There in the margin was 2 Corinthians 2:14 "Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place." I needed this. I needed to be reminded of triumph. I needed to stop emitting the odor of fear like a dreaded deodorant fail and instead diffuse the fragrance of His knowledge and rest secure in that.  My time in Joshua and the study book hit a reset button for me that had desperately needed punched.

That afternoon, Brenna accompanied me to the grocery store. She loves to go when it's just her-- and today was her day. Near the dairy cooler, a young lady made eye contact with Brenna, smiled and began to make small talk with her. This isn't our norm. Assuming it was a past classmate, I asked if she attended school in Charleston. "No, I go to school in Arcola, but live her now. What group home does she live in?" My heart stopped. "She doesn't live in a group home; she's still at home with us right now. Do you live in one?" Before even weighing out if it was appropriate, I blurted out, "Are you happy?"

We stood and visited several minutes as the teenager told about her group home, that she had moved there last summer, loved it and didn't want to move back home. I had so desperately needed reassurance that no matter what, Brenna was going to be okay. I needed to throw off the weight and fear that her happiness hinges on my ability to care for her decades from now and Let. It. Go. This young lady who locked eyes on Brenna and persisted in having a conversation with her was nothing short of "His knowledge in every place"... even at the grocery store.  Had my quiet time brought about a magical encounter? No. Had it maybe made me more perceptive and aware going through my day, looking for God's goodness instead of focusing on a corrupt and stubborn state government? Yes.

I don't pretend to think this is a fear that I will never deal with again. I know better. But I also know He has the power to reassure and remind me of promises through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. And that is a beautiful thing.

"For I know whom I have believed
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I've committed
Unto Him against that day."

Daniel Whittle