Wednesday, July 29, 2015


I would be lying if I said our family hasn't dealt with a certain degree of growing pains since we added our fourth child to the family in February of this year.  We have all had our ups and downs and personal struggles that come as a result of big life changes.  It has been no different for Grace.

This little girl has had her share of struggles.  Growing up is so hard.  Becoming a big sister for the first time is very hard.  Sharing mom, sharing "girl" things, and being one of four can be a bit much for her at times.  Then there are other times when it is just us girls, walking to the playground and I ask her how she feels about being a big sister.  She proceeds to tell me all about how great it is, how she loves to read books to Hannah (and that she's got the latest one we brought home from the library memorized so she can read it to Hannah on demand, but would I please read the other one so she can read it to her later tonight?  She doesn't know that one yet....).  She tells me how she likes to hold her hand and play kitchen with her and baby dolls.  My heart warms when she offers to push Hannah on the swings or show her how to climb just so up to the slides.  These moments are the glue that hold us together.  The ones the bring the smiles to our faces.  Because there are tears, too.  Tears that mourn the loss of being the baby of the family, that grieve the duties of being a big girl, and tears that beg for just one more solid moment of mama's attention before it is ripped angrily from her by another child in need of the same level of attention.  There are growing pains, but the growth, while painful, is good and so worth it.

This summer I had the opportunity to enroll Grace in her first ballet class.  It is something she has always wanted to do.  There was a short 6 week summer session at a school very near our home.  It was just our thing on Saturday mornings while everyone else stayed behind.  She needed this.  Oh, how she needed this and oh, how I needed it as her Mama to see a little deeper into her needs.  You see, our little girl is so painfully shy.  It hurts kind of shy.  And she is a twin.  A twin who has never had the need (nor desire) to do anything separate from her twin brother.  They are peas in a pod.  A package deal.  Jack 'n Jill.  They do it all together.  That is, till we signed Grace up for ballet.

I loved watching her delight in this little class.  So reserved, yet relishing it all at once.  I watched her slowly start to bloom and burst out of her shell.  We began the class without her ability to separate from me.  I participated in all of the classes by her side.  By the fifth week she told me I could sit along the studio wall to watch, which I did...for about fifteen minutes of the class, and then she returned to me and needed me to come back out onto the dance floor with her.  The sixth and final week I thought perhaps I'd get to watch from the wall, but when we arrived, she clung to my hand and needed me right there.  About ten minutes into the class, I was following her around the dance floor for one exercise and trying to lag a bit behind her.  She stopped what she was doing and came to me.  I thought she was coming to drag me up closer to her, but no, instead she whispered sweetly in my ear, "you can go sit over there."  And I did.  I sat against that wall till they took their final goodbye curtsy.  And I loved every minute of it.  This little ballerina girl, feeling so brave, and taking on something so hard for her.  As we exit the class each week the girls are asked to shake the teacher's hand and say, "Thank you for teaching me."  Each week I was able to get her to shake hands, but the speaking part was another matter.  This sixth week no prompting was needed.  She reached that hand out and bravely said, "Thank you for teaching me!"  Her teacher was so proud and swept her up into a giant hug.  I got to spend six weeks watching little girl dreams come true in pink leotards and leather ballet slippers with tight hair buns and tip toe prancing.  I got to watch her grow.

It became incredibly clear to us that the only way Grace will overcome any of her shyness is to continue to work through it.  We realized we need to keep her enrolled in something at all times (anything that suits her fancy at this point), no matter how difficult or challenging it may be for us, as her parents.  We have a big year ahead of us, this little ballerina and I.  She will begin Pre-K.  She wants so hard to please and do things right, she is hesitant often to try.  School is going to stretch her as we learn together that pencils have erasers because we all make mistakes.  She is enrolled in the Pre-K class at our homeschool co-op we attend.  Not only will she conquer the exact same memory work her older brother is tackling, she will give a "presentation" to her class each week on various topics.  I have yet to introduce the idea of "show and tell" to her just yet, but I know it will be something that will grow the both of us.  My primary goal is by the end of our 24 week year at co-op that she will be able to stand in front of her class and say at least 3-4 sentences in a voice that can be heard with little to no prompting from me.  This may be a lofty goal, but it is my goal for her, just the same.  We have also decided to stick with the ballet school for the fall semester and have enrolled her for a weekly class through to the end of December.  She is excited, but also nervous about this class.  The time for the class will require me to bring all the kids with me, which means I won't be available to go into the class with her.  She is very nervous about this.  She will have a new teacher and receive her instruction in a new studio within the school.  This is a lot of change for a girl who took six weeks to finally allow me to sit and watch her.

I adore my Grace.  I hurt when she hurts.  Watching her stretch and grow and mature into this new role of big sister has been wonderful, but hard as well.  We've shed tears together as we've both fought against the changes that were happening and wanted desperately to go back to a simpler way of things.  But we are getting through all of it together.  We are growing together and learning.  Would you please join me in praying over Grace's upcoming year?  For her teacher at ballet to completely understand all that she is going through this year and be able to embrace and engage her in a way that makes the separation from me seamless for her.  For her teacher at our co-op to know just the right ways to encourage her during presentations and memory work.  For me, as her teacher at home, to know how to get her excited about school and unafraid to use her pencil eraser because she's making mistakes, but it won't matter because she is trying something new.  For me, as her mama, to know how to help her feel secure, loved, and treasured in her new role as child number three and big sister.  I imagine this to be a big year for all of us.  Some of it hard.  Lots of it good.  All of it worth it.  Because I'll be watching her blossom before my very eyes.

Friday, July 17, 2015

For My Fellow Shoppers

Please forgive me.  This is a public service announcement.  I should be used to this happening.  I have had four years to get used to the attention and get all my responses programmed and practiced.  But today....I just need to rant a bit.

I have twins.  I am very used to drawing attention when I am out shopping (or doing anything, really) with all of my children with me.  I have heard it alllllllll.  I have been asked rude questions about why my children are so close in age (um, they're twins?) or nosy questions about my fertility or how I conceived twins.  I've had gracious remarks and kind of impolite comments about where all these children come from.  I'm used to this.  Truly, I am.  I have so many sweet (and sometimes sassy) responses to each and every one of them.  I knew adding Hannah to the mix would just add to the fun (and confusion) as people try to calculate if it is humanly possible for me to have all these children (I mean, I do look about 16, right?).  Now they have one that looks different from all the rest of us and that just mixes them up even more.  People stumble over their words as they try to politely ask me if all these children are mine or if I am running some sort of a daycare service.  I am used to it.  Very used to it.

Today, however, was a new sort of experience for us.  Let me begin by apologizing to all my fellow Walmart shoppers today around 11:00 this morning.  Yes, that was me--the one with the child having an epic meltdown.  In Walmart.  It started in the parking lot and I left a bloody trail of tears and screams through the pharmacy section, on into the back to school items, through the office department, and wrapping it up in the grocery department.  Yep.  That was me.  Funny thing?  If this had been any of my three oldest children at any point in time, I would have been simply mortified to walk through the store with this child and likely would have abandoned ship at some point and called it quits.  Best part?  I'm so used to it now, I didn't really realize that I was just shopping on through it, acting as if all was right with the world until somewhere around the school supplies.  Truth be told, I had no clue what had set it off or what would turn it off, so I figured I might as well just get my shopping done--she was going to be loud no matter what we did.  I could stand there and try to end it for 5 minutes and still have her screaming after that, or, I could shop onward, with one big kid boldly plugging his ears, the other curled up in a ball on the floor of the big cart, and the other shopping with school supplies right along with me, oblivious to the screaming making its way from our shopping cart. 

May I be so bold as to put this out there, fellow shoppers?  Don't judge.  Please do not judge that mama with the weeping and wailing little one in the cart.  Maybe the child really is a spoiled brat who wants nothing more than ice cream on a stick, but really, do you really know that?  Do you have any idea what is going on in their little world?  No, you really don't.  I turned a lot of heads today.  A lot of heads.  Yes, I had a load full and yes I had one attracting quite a bit of attention as she did her yodel wail through all of Walmart.  Yes, my Chinese daughter yodels.  Someday you might get to hear it.  I even had one mama pass me up and down two aisle, staring and head turning, only to approach me at the end of the next aisle to get right up in my baby's face and ask her what is wrong and why on earth she is crying like that.  Sweet fellow shopper lady, I know you mean well, but please....back off.  Your well meaning face in my child's face is only adding to the attention we are drawing and increasing the volume at which the yodeling is occurring.  You're terrifying my child with your big, white face right in hers.  Then, as you look at me and boldly ask, "What is wrong with her?" please don't be miffed at me as I simply shrug, smile, and say, "I guess I overstimulated the baby today!"  Do you honestly think I wouldn't stop it if I could?  Do you really want all the real reasons why my child is acting like that?  No, my child isn't a spoiled little brat.  She's five months into the most intensive cultural bath she's ever going to face in her life.  She's sorting out right from wrong, up from down and while Walmart has established its blessed presence in China, I can assure you, it was not #1 on her most frequented list of destinations while living there.  Most days she's a great little shopper.  Today, my timing was poor, we're wrapping up the craziness that is VBS week at church, we're all a bit tired and haggard from being out of routine, and late sleepers today meant we were in the store right at snack and just prior to lunchtime, for which I was ill prepared.  My daughter has intense fear about food, about there being enough food, and wants something in her mouth practically twenty four hours a day.  Walmart is a war zone for her to practice her self control and trust that I will buy her food and provide that food for her once we exit the store.  It takes a great deal of restraint not to demand all of it now and to not freak out when that isn't the scenario that plays out.  But you really didn't want to know all of that, did you, fellow shopper?  You just want my kid to be quiet and let you shop.  I get it.  I was you once.  Now, I hear a crying child and I think, "thank goodness it isn't me today" and "I wonder what they are going through at home?"

I challenge you, the next time you are out shopping, and you hear or see a child having an epic meltdown in the store, push your thoughts to move past the "spoiled little brat" mentality.  There may be a whole lot more going on there than meets the eye.  And please, don't try to exercise your impressive parenting skills by stepping in to attempt to shush said child since the mother is clearly an incapable idiot.  No...maybe just give her a compassionate, knowing glance that says, "I know you must be having a really trying time.  You will get through."  And just let her shop on.

So now I will end this public service announcement.  Shop on, fellow shoppers, shop on.  And please excuse my yodeling/wailing child in the background.  Our list is short, I have the store memorized, I won't stand in your check out lane, and I promise I'll be efficient.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Four Weeks and Four S's

We are presently exactly four weeks away from Hannah's upcoming palate repair.  Truth be told, we are still, to some extent, recovering from her lip repair that was completed in the end of April.  Y'all have been such wonderful prayer warriors for us in this marathon of adoption, we couldn't face this surgery without you involved!  So, here are four things you can specifically pray for as we approach Hannah's palate surgery.

1.) Sleep--Our sweet girl has yet to find the sweet rhythm of true, undisturbed sleep since her lip repair.  Prior to the surgery she slept like a champ, in her room, in her big girl bed, with little or no issues.  Since her surgery, we have tried several times to make the move from the pack 'n play from our room back to her bed with zero success.  We have discussed her sleep patterns with our post adoption team and they have been encouraging.  We know she will return to her big girl bed....some day...but not likely prior to her palate repair or even immediately after the repair.  Would you please pray that she will find restful, safe, secure sleep in the weeks leading up to her surgery and following her surgery?  Would you also pray over her thumb and finger sucking?  Not only will this be totally a no-no after her surgery, even after healing occurs, it will never be the same and will likely not provide the same level of soothing it currently does (Hannah places her thumb under what palate she has, but then slides her index finger up into the depths of her cleft....these are her final weeks to be able to soothe herself in this way).

2.) Security-Hannah has been home for five months.  Five months is a long time, but also, not.  What I see happening right now is that all of us are rather secure with our life change.  Hannah is here.  She is permanent.  She is not going anywhere.  We, her parents and her siblings, get that.  We've accepted new normal and have moved on.  She hasn't.  She's still stuck somewhere in the middle and the battle is evident.  She struggles to feel completely secure and to trust that she is here....forever.  Each time a guest comes to our home or she faces a new interaction with someone I can see the fear and doubt creep in.  Pray that we can continue to help her feel secure here, but that also this process of her surgery will work to increase her sense of security with us and not diminish it.

3.) Surgeon-Continue to cover our surgeon, Dr. L, and his team in prayer.  We have requested the same anesthesiologist from her lip repair, but will be in a different part of the hospital for her recovery.  We will miss our sweet nurse Katie from last time (so much!!), but we are trusting God to pave the way for us again with a staff that is willing to learn about adoption and attentive to the needs of our daughter.  Pray for a smooth day and easy stay at the hospital when the time comes.  Pray Hannah won't have to wear the no-no's on her arms (Dr. L says it is a wait and see situation with those).

4.) Sanity-Pray for our sanity as we prepare and especially in the days following!  There are freezer meals to make, lesson plans for school to be written, school supplies to be purchased, VBS to attend, and summer fun yet to fit in!  We are fully prepared for Hannah to be physically and emotionally distraught for quite some time following her surgery.  Fellow cleft mamas have prepared us to expect a good 3-4 weeks of drool, pain, eating issues, sleep disturbance and an overall sense of misery.  Our surgeon says it should be in the realm of 2-3 weeks.  We'll just prepare for the worst and hope to be pleasantly surprised if she turns the corner sooner than expected.  As much as we will want to hole up and focus all our time and energy on helping her get over the hump, we also realize that we have three older children and life has to keep moving forward.  We'll be starting back to school shortly after her surgery, rejoining our co-op and the activities associated with that, returning to AWANA at will be a time of lots of stretching and growing for all of us.  Pray that we can get through all of it with grace.

Each day I look at Hannah and I am so thankful she is here.  I am so grateful to be her be the one who gets to walk this road of medical care with her.  I am so thankful she can cry out "Mama!" when she wakes and I will be there.  Everyday, orphans in China undergo medical procedures with no one to cry out for, just an ayi (auntie/nanny).  I am so glad Hannah will not be alone.  I am so thankful for you, our village, who patiently and lovingly surround us as we walk this journey together.  What a gift you are.

So there you have it.  Four weeks to go.  Four S's to pray for.  We covet your daily prayers for us!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Oasis Retreat

I have the best husband on the planet.  No, really, I do.  About three months after we got home with Hannah, just shortly after her lip repair, it became apparent that mothering four children 'round the clock was really wearing me down.  My ever so attentive husband texted me one day and told me that I ought to consider a weekend getaway prior to Hannah's next surgery, when my time, energy, and focus will be in high demand.  At first I sort of shrugged it off and said I didn't really know where I would go, etc.  About a month later I asked him if he really meant it and he said yes, so I began making plans to go visit my sister and her wonderful family in Michigan.  It had been two years since I last saw them and three years since I'd last been to their home (which, by the way, is located in the most perfect of locations).  She quickly agreed to host both Jacob and I on a long weekend retreat.  A time to get away, not have to be so needed for a few days, to rest, recharge, and rejuvenate.  It was a chance to get away to an oasis of being fairly responsibility free.

It turns out that our eldest needed the retreat away almost as much as I did.  It is hard work being the oldest child in a family, especially when that family is going through major life change.  He has been so even keel much of the time, it has been easy to overlook his need to get a break, but upon our arrival to Michigan, it was incredibly clear that he needed it--perhaps even more so than I.

My sister did not fail to deliver on her promise to take good care of us.  Jacob swam in a super cool water playground and had a private swim lesson in a pool.  He shot off bottle rocket after bottle rocket and watched fireworks in the cul-de-sac with much delight.  He drank way too much Sprite.  He ate ice cream after ice cream.  He learned how to kayak and conquered his fear of dogs (well, at least their dog).  He made friends with the family cat and spent some time reading in the book nook.  He stayed up hours past bedtime and slept in a tent in the basement.  He explored the woods and saw Lake Michigan.  He jumped on the trampoline and went on a dune buggy thrill ride.  He rode the swings for the first time at an amusement park and tried a Dutch cookie for the first time.  Seriously, it was a big boy's retreat.  He needed it.  I needed to see him enjoy it.  He so needed the break from big brotherhood--a chance to hang with the big kids and not be held back by two four year olds and a two year old.  I loved being his mom this weekend.

It was so great for me to see my nephews and see how much they have grown.  How I loved to watch how mature they were to take their younger cousin under their wing--keeping him close in the pool, paddling the kayak for him, taking him out to the platform in the lake, and building rockets with him.  The hand holding and arms around the shoulders were almost too much to bear.  Seriously.  How did I get so blessed with such a fantastic family?  My sister made sure I got the rest I needed--not letting me help with meals much or cleaning up, telling me to stay at the lake as long as I needed, taking me to tour the spots I specifically wanted to see.

It was a whirlwind of a weekend and then it was time to come home and I assure you, there were many tears shed (not just by little people, either).  I knew I needed the break, but perhaps didn't realize how badly until I got there and it was over.  I am so thankful for my sister and for her family to host us and show us such a wonderful time.  It was truly a wonderful weekend for us.  It was also the first time I have left Hannah overnight (and I went big and stayed away for three nights)!  She handled it fairly well and Daddy was amazing at keeping the three little kids well entertained and cared for in my absence.  Since returning home Hannah has had a bit of regression, but when security is uncertain in her mind, regression occurs.  I know in due time, she will realize Mama always comes back and that she can rest feeling secure.

Now?  Now we are home and it is time to really gear up for what is yet to come.  Hannah's next surgery is just 4 weeks away and we start back to school in just 6 weeks.  It is time to make freezer meals, catch up on sleep, finish lesson plans, and get all the back to school supplies stored away.  We are fully prepared for this surgery to really take a toll on Hannah--both physically and emotionally.  Would you please join us in praying for her now?

I'll close by echoing what my nephew told my sister after we'd pulled out of the driveway this week, "Please don't let it be two years before we see them again."  I couldn't agree more.  Yes, please, don't let it be two years again.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

As the Dust Begins to Settle {Five Months Home}

We've been home now for five months.  The longer we are home, the more complex some things seem to become, while others are easier or gone entirely.  It is so hard to explain.  We've been home five months.  People hear that and think, "that is almost half a year, surely everything is back to normal in their house."  And while a lot of things are back to normal or settling in at a "new" normal, the truth of the matter is, there is still so much new.  So much to learn.  So much catching up to do.

The other night I was out with a friend to get ice cream with the kids and Hannah was with us.  We got a cherry on top of the sundae she and I were going to share and one of the kids asked me, "Does Hannah like cherries Miss Katrina?"  Truth?  I don't know.  As I answered her I realized that while I feel like I know her (and I certainly know her a lot more than I did five months ago!), I truly don't know her yet.  I don't know all the foods she likes or doesn't like.  I don't know if she's even ever eaten a cherry.  With each day that passes we know her more and more fully, yet the holes remain.  When we first met we knew nothing about her and so the holes were so many, they felt more like tiny gaps we could easily fill in.  As we know her more, we realize some of those holes will just always remain and they will be giant cavernous holes.  Each time we face a new medical appointment or surgical procedure I am boldly reminded that I will never know if cancer runs in her family or if there is a history of heart conditions.  I will never know when she sat up, when she first crawled, or when she took her first steps.  I won't know what her first word was.  I can study and study and study her and learn all that I possibly can, but I can't ever get the answers to those questions.  I missed knowing those things when we met five months ago.  I long to know those things now.

Our summer has been busy and filled to the brim with activity.  Having Hannah home for five months now it is very easy for me to forget that there is still so much newness in all of this for her.  Her first summer with us, her first rounds of company in and out of our home, her first trip to the pool, her first trip to the fountains, her first leap through the sprinkler.  New is wonderful and I am so thankful to store my memory bank up with so many new and wonderful things with her, but I forget, new is also overwhelming and unsettling.  We had guests come spend two days with us, then we had a four day break, and then we had guests with us for a full week.  Hannah loved having company, but it was also incredibly overwhelming to her sense of security.  The stimulation put her systems into overdrive and left her hyper alert and on edge.  She was easily set off to tantrums and intense anger in the days following those visits.  It was just a reminder to me, "Hey!  I'm still new to all of this and I don't understand what to expect.  I'm still scared you might leave me or someone might take me from you.  Help me feel secure!"  We just needed to slow things down a touch after those visits and keep it close to home and as much back to our routine as possible.

Hannah has come so far.  There is still a long way to go.  God has been working in and through me during this last month.  Hannah has stretched me to many a breaking point.  She has pushed and pushed and I've wanted so hard to push back.  God is using her to show me my weaknesses, my personal struggles with sin, and He's using her to mold me, break me, and help me be more like Him.  So many times she has thrown a tantrum that lasted five minutes too long or screamed thirty seconds longer than I can physically tolerate.  So many times I've wanted to break, to cry, to scream right along with her (and sometimes, truth be told, I do).  Yet this month He has firmly planted two things into my heart and when things get difficult His spirit breathes them into me like life being breathed into the dead.  Image Bearer.  As God's created child and adopted daughter through His son Jesus Christ, I am His image bearer.  I can choose to do that justice and use that to draw others unto Him or I can choose to let my ugly sin cloud the glory of His image as I interact with my children, especially Hannah.  There are days I have to take a step back and breathe deeply and just chant to myself, "image bearer, image bearer, image bearer."  Be who you want your children to see when they seek to know Him more fully.  Be His hands and feet.  Be fully submitted to Him, allowing all your thoughts and actions to be captive to Jesus Christ.  This is so hard and this past month has been especially trying.  Hannah and I are a lot more comfortable together and I feel more relaxed in my approach to things with her--it is easy to allow sinful anger to creep in and attempt to break attachments.  So I close my eyes and breathe deep when all my attempts to calm her out of a tantrum have failed, I pace back and forth and repeat, "image bearer, image bearer, image bearer."  The second thing He has hidden in my heart this month is a passage from Ephesians chapter 5 verse 20.  It says, "giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."  Always and for everything.  Giving thanks always and for everything.  It doesn't say give thanks only when the going is good and life is great.  It doesn't say give thanks when your children obey and you aren't annoyed by the slamming door or the toys that should have been picked up 10 minutes ago.  No.  It says always.  At all times, forever, no matter what--that kind of always.  It also says for everything.  Hannah's tantrums are hard.  Teaching her about life in a family of four children is not easy.  Figuring out how to navigate over stimulating experiences is complex and worrisome.  But God's word says that I give thanks for everything.  I am thankful for Hannah's tantrums.  I am thankful I have to navigate difficult situations.  I am so thankful we get to deal with all of that because it means she is here, with us, in our home, and ours forever.  I will not lie.  Getting through many of these trials is hard, but the hard cannot cloud our ability to be thankful for everything, the hard stuff included.  So there may be days you hear me chanting to myself, "Image bearer, image bearer, image bearer." and "always and for everything, always and for everything, always and for everything."  No, I haven't lost my mind.  I'm just reminding myself of the lessons He is teaching me and trying to keep my heart, mind, and being in check and aligned to His purposes for me.  Many of these lessons would have been missed if Hannah weren't a part of our family.  I am so grateful He gave her to us, along with these opportunities to learn more about Him.

So, home five months and the dust is beginning to settle.  We have days and moments that feel very much like we are in China and we have days and moments that we feel very much like we have conquered so many battles.  In all of it, God is so good.  Hannah is an amazing girl and seeing her come into her own two year old understanding of her life in our family has been the greatest blessing I have experienced.  She is so brave, so forgiving, so loving, and so expressive.  I simply cannot imagine our lives now without this gift.  Complex and hard, difficult and stretching, but with it comes joy immeasurable and blessings upon blessings.  She is delight and joy.  She, too, is an image bearer and daily she teaches me more and more about always and for everything.

Hannah, we adore you, we can't wait to see you grow more and more to be like Him and we will give thanks for your addition to our family always and for everything.