The Story of Goodbye

Tonight was hard.

 

There were a lot of tears shed, puddles of salty grief washing soft cheeks, all dotted with freckles. As I held them close, all four of them, I couldn’t help but feel like I caused all of this. I know it’s not true – that such a feeling is a lie from the pit of hell meant to bring about the unholy guilt that stops one from taking action against the injustices of this world. But it didn’t diminish the pain I felt as I watched them cry.

This saying goodbye thing is not a fun ride.

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It’s interesting, though, to watch my children embrace this act of sacrifice, even in the very worst moments. It’s a chance to share with them what we all must learn at some point in our lives – serving others requires sacrifice, and sacrifice is rarely easy.

We sacrificed time and energy this last month. We sacrificed funds, and sleep. I don’t say any of those things to publicly pat myself on the back. On the contrary, there were some days when I was so fully overwhelmed by the sacrifice that I wanted to scream…and cry. Then scream and cry some more. I didn’t enjoy every moment of the sacrifice, but if I had, would it really have been a sacrifice?

Sometimes I wish that God could have placed an easier call on my heart. Sometimes I wish that I didn’t feel a passion for something that’s so hard to fulfill. Sometimes I wish that I could just stop and be content with where we are – to enjoy the ride in the fast lane for a little while.

But only sometimes…

Sacrificial love requires that you shave off a piece of your heart and offer it freely. But can I share a little secret?

When you do this – when you give away pieces of yourself without any expectation attached – you’d be surprised at what you receive back.

 

When we signed up to host “K” for a month, we naively thought this would all hinge upon what we had to offer. We had no idea how much she would give back to us. She brought joy and laughter, and a wholeness that was entirely unexpected. This wasn’t about us, and it wasn’t about her.

This was about all that God could do with hearts willing to submit, and with broken people willing to take a chance.

 

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Tomorrow there will be more tears, and more heartache, and my children will be separated from someone they’ve come to love deeply. “K” will board a plane and will be separated from a family she’s come to love deeply. We’ll all go our separate ways broken, and also more whole.

Isn’t it spectacular how God can both break and heal all in the same breath?

I’m trying to guard how many of the stories I share publicly – how much of the heartache and pain that we all feel to open to the world. Some stories need to be told, and others need to be protected. But I wanted you to know, my friends, that we are all going to be okay. This month was part of a design set into motion long before any of us drew breath.

It doesn’t make sense, and it isn’t easy.

But sacrifice never does, and it never is.

Thank you for your prayers, and yes, please keep them coming. But know without doubt that we’re all going to be okay.

This is only the beginning of the story…

You’ll forgive me if…

You guys, I want to write but I simply can’t seem to get my words organized. I’m completely scattered, my brain is a jumbled mess. My washing machine broke, my house is a mess, my stomach hurts all the time and I’m more exhausted than I’ve ever been.

You’ll forgive me if the next week’s posts are a little scattered?

Since pictures are worth 1,000 words anyway, I might as well just share those.

I’ll tell stories later.

Like the one about the time we went to Disney World and it was less than magical, but there were magical moments, and we’re choosing to remember those.

Or the morning I blubbered in church like a wee little babe, while on stage…Singing…In Russian…

Awesome-sauce.

Or maybe I’ll tell you about the night that precious friends came over and celebrated “K’s” 18th birthday with us ten days early, since she won’t be with us on her real birthday.

It was her first ever birthday party.

I could tell you about the conflicting emotions in my head and heart – about how part of me is so terribly sad to see her go, and the other part of me longs for the return of a “normal” routine. I could tell you that I know that both of these feelings are natural, and there’s nothing wrong with either feeling, but that each time I find myself looking forward to having my house back, I feel a twinge of guilt for the thought.

There are stories to tell, and stories to keep to myself. But for now, there are plenty of pictures to share.

Happy Monday.

One of our favorite experiences at the Zoo when a friend took us behind the scenes and let us play with this fella.

One of our favorite experiences at the Zoo when a friend took us behind the scenes and let us play with this fella.

We also fed the giraffes, which is always fun.

We also fed the giraffes, which is always fun.

Perhaps my new favorite photo of all time. Tia and a rather surly Llama had a moment. It was a bit of a stand off - two attitudes colliding. The Llama won by lunging and sending her scampering away with a yelp. :)

Perhaps my new favorite photo of all time. Tia and a rather surly Llama had a moment. It was a bit of a stand off – two attitudes colliding. The Llama won by lunging and sending her scampering away with a yelp. 🙂 Also – I’m jealous of my daughter’s arms…

 

The Llama was in serious need of a good orthodontist.

The Llama was in serious need of a good orthodontist.

K feeding the birds.

K feeding the birds.

 

A beautiful day calls for jet skis.

A beautiful day calls for jet skis.

And then she drove, and she felt like she was flying.

And then she drove, and she felt like she was flying.

 

Magic Kingdom!

Magic Kingdom!

Even if you've never seen the Cinderella movie, you can still be in awe of a real, live princess.

Even if you’ve never seen the Cinderella movie, you can still be in awe of a real, live princess.

 

Enjoying birthday cookies at her very own birthday party with her very own babushka.

Enjoying birthday cookies at her very own birthday party with her very own babushka.

She loves that she has grandparents here. So precious...

She loves that she has grandparents here. So precious…

 

Tenting with Shamoo

If anyone ever tells you that sleeping in a tent is comfortable, go ahead and assume that person a liar. If they tell you that having the proper equipment is all that stands between you and a good night’s sleep in a tent, kick them in the shins and flee.

We camped last weekend.

Our friends Kevin and Jenni let us borrow some of their camping gear for this trip, and I foolishly thought that having nice gear would make the entire experience okay. On the second night of no sleep, however, I may or may not have cursed nature and all it’s components.

Here’s how it went down…

We arrived at the campsite and began pitching our tent. Just as we tossed the rain shield over the top of the tent, the rain began to fall. Then the sky sobbed for 45 minutes. I think it was nature’s way of trying to warn us of the consequences of camping in January, but we misinterpreted the storm as “memory making” and “character building.”

My mountain man. Photo courtesy of my friend Karen.

My mountain man. Photo courtesy of my friend Karen.

Who wants to play in the cold rain? These crazy kids, that's who...

Who wants to play in the cold rain? These crazy kids, that’s who…

The rain stopped, we finished setting up (including mopping up a small lake that had developed inside our tent). Super duper…

Then the temperature began to drop plummet. The #1 redeeming quality of camping absolutely must be the fire pit. A crackling fire on a cold night gives you the false sense that this camping thing was a pretty darn good idea.

It also helps if you’re surrounded by good company. Kids running through the trees, breathless and pink cheeked, free from the confines of electronics, while adults laugh and joke adds a luster to the whole “living in the great outdoors” thing. This is the part of camping that I would boldly place under the column labeled FUN.

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Then we went to bed.

Jenni had given me her sleeping bag, which just so happened to be named Big Agnes, along with a thermal pad to go under it. The thermal pad actually tucked into Big Agnes and kept me warm from underneath. When I climbed into Big Agnes that first night, I had high expectations. “I will heretofore sleep like a baby,” I thought as I nestled in deep, and indeed, I quickly fell asleep that first night.

I woke up at 2:00 when a raccoon (one of satan’s sidekicks, undoubtably) tossed a metal pan off the picnic table behind us. I heard his evil laugh as he ran back into the trees. It was at this point that the whole sleeping thing eluded me for the rest of the trip.

Lee slept next to me in a different bag – a bag not named Big Agnes, which I think may have been part of the problem. He also slept on a thermal pad that seemed to be made of tin foil, so every time he moved (which was all. night. long.) it sounded as though he were thrashing on a pile of crumply aluminum. After the demon raccoon woke us all up, Lee left the tent to go to the bathroom. It was at this point that I realize the temperature had fallen significantly. My body was toasty warm (thank you Big Agnes) but my eyelashes were icicles.

This sweet girl hung in there with us crazy Americans.

This sweet girl hung in there with us crazy Americans.

Lee came back to the tent and began the process of settling into his sleeping bag. My husband is 6’2″. When you zip him up into a thin body bag, there’s bound to be a few issues with comfort. He pulled the zipper all the way up to his neck to get out of the cold, then I heard him thrashing. I looked over at him, and his gaze was fixed intently on the ceiling as he flopped around like a whale on a beach.

After a couple of minutes, I leaned over and hissed, “What the heck are you doing?! Can you please be quiet??” He looked at me as he continued to flop, his arms pinned to his sides, and the thermal tin foil under him shattering the silence of the campsite. A moment later he squirmed and tugged until his arm broke free of the bag and he thrust it in the air, his pants clutched firmly in his hand.

He looked at me as though he’d just won a prize. “It’s hot in this bag!” he stage whispered.

Then we both started laughing so uncontrollably we couldn’t breathe, and neither one of us slept the rest of the night. Nor did we sleep the second night, which was less comical than the first, but who’s keeping score?

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So blessed to call these women friends.

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This kid enjoyed the camping experience more than anyone else I think. He slept well and he got to play ball all weekend long. So this was basically his heaven.

zipline

A zipline = Good fun

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She had such a great attitude all weekend.

In all, it was an awesome weekend, despite the loss of two night’s sleep. The kids had a blast, even “K,” though she wanted to make sure we were definitely planning on returning home to our warm beds on that second day when the temps hovered around the high 30’s and low 40’s.

Will we tent camp again? Definitely. Camping is a bit like childbirth, I’ve decided. Give yourself enough space and time from the experience and you forget just enough of the pain and turmoil to want to do it again. As long as I’ve got Big Agnes, a cup of strong coffee, and my husband to laugh at, I’ll be just fine…

Gone Camping

We are leaving shortly for a weekend long camping trip with friends. Our car is packed to the max, which kind of makes me feel like we’re doing camping wrong, but whatever. We’re not hiking to camp, so BRING ON THE CREATURE COMFORTS!

In lieu of an actual post, I thought I’d leave you with a little Jim Gaffigan for your weekend viewing. You can watch this, then laugh at us. Our sweet “K” has no idea what she’s in for…which makes this oddly even more exciting.

Happy Weekending!

 

One Year

One year ago, I sat on the edge of the bathtub and I sobbed.One year ago, my heart broke into a thousand tiny pieces, and it has taken a full twelve months to reassemble those pieces in some order.

Twelve months is a long time. Healing takes a long time.

With the space of 365 days between then and now, I’ve had time to gain a little perspective. There are some who have said that it wasn’t meant to be for our family. God clearly didn’t have it in His plan for us to bring home a child from a Russian orphanage. While there may be some theological truth to that statement, I can say with no uncertainty that that is not a comforting attitude to hold, and the thought has brought little peace to my heart.

The fact is, God led us down the path of adoption, and He led us right into the fire of a disrupted adoption. This was so that we could be refined, so that we could know Him a little more.

It was so that we would step forward out of the fire with courage and not abandon the fight for children living without families.

One year later, our situation is different. We’re in for more heartache in two weeks when we put K on a plane back home. Our kids will be broken hearted again to say goodbye – our precious children who still hope for another sibling. God is refining them as well – teaching them to give sacrificially, even when it hurts.

While this year has provided a blanket of healing for our family, there are still many families living with the deep pain of separation. There are parents who actually held their children in their arms, who promised they would return to get them, and who cannot go back. There are children in institutions who could have had homes.

These are the people who need your continued prayer. These are the people who still sit in the unknown. Pray for the children who are left behind. Pray for the families in America who want to adopt them but cannot. Pray for the families in Russia who would like to adopt, but don’t have the resources or the help necessary to take in institutionalized children.

No child should grow up without a family. I have evidence of that sleeping in a room down the hall.

Watch this video, and keep praying everyone. A New Year awaits.

A lot can happen in a year…

 

Processing it all

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She opens the gift and a light turns on inside her eyes. It’s art supplies and new cross stitch patterns. We know what she likes because we’ve watched and observed. We’ve taken the time to get to know her – not just her needs, but also her wants.

For a child who’s spent most of her formative years in a children’s home, this is more than unique. Someone took time to know her, not just about her, but really know her. Isn’t that what we all want at the very core of our being?

Don’t we all want to be known?

Our internet has been down all week, which has actually been a good thing. There are so many emotions to process right now, and I’m not sure processing them out loud, online, is the best choice.  This experience hasn’t been anything like what we thought it would be. We haven’t run into any of the issues that we were told we might face.

Grace abounds in the form of a 17 year old girl with a smile to light up a room. She’s well adjusted, kind, thoughtful and sweet. She asks for little and is so grateful for everything. She tells her story matter of factly, but not in a way that’s robotic. In a word – she is content.

We’re learning so much from this sweet girl. Yes, there are some behaviors that give evidence of the hardships of the past, but those behaviors are slowly fading as she experiences the gift of unconditional love each and every day. Slowly she becomes more comfortable, the walls lower, and we see a natural inner beauty emerging, and I cannot help but be affected.

There are stories to tell and emotions to process, but for now I’ll just share a few photos. It’s the best I can do today. Thank you all for praying for us, and for blessing us with encouraging words, and with gifts for “K.” People have told us we’re amazing for doing this, and while I appreciate the sentiment, the truth is – I don’t feel amazing. 

I feel scared.

I feel blessed.

I feel honored to have been led down this path.

I feel overwhelmed.

I feel like I don’t really understand God the way I thought I understood God. Because I’ve never been an orphan in the physical sense of the word, it’s so hard for me to fully grasp my adoption as a daughter of God. These kids who grow up without the comfort of parental love possess a strength far beyond that which I can understand. I’m praying that we are able to send her home with so much more than simple material blessings.

Undoubtably, she’ll leave us with much more than any of us anticipated.

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Thankful for the shattered start

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Thanksgiving week started out like this in our house. A shattered back window thanks to a wayward baseball sent us crashing (pun intended) into the holiday season with a tiny bit of shock, and a good amount of laughter.

If you ever need a chance to work on not sweating the small stuff, have your five year old throw a baseball through the car. Works like a charm.

My first thought upon walking outside and seeing the damage was horror. I couldn’t help wonder how much this was going to cost, and as we head into Christmas, unexpected broken windows were not high on my list of “things to throw money at.” As I stood in the driveway, mouth agape, Landon walked up to me, his eyes wide and horrified.

I looked down at him and he broke. “I DID IT!” he wailed. “IT’S ALL MY FAULT!!”

And just like that I realized the window didn’t matter – his fragile five year old heart did. I scooped him up and set him on the back of Lee’s car and hugged hard and tight letting him know that car windows are meaningless and easily repaired. I communicated as much love and forgiveness as I could in that one tight hug, because he needed to feel it. He needed to know that a silly accident would never affect my love for him.

As Lee swept up the broken glass, I comforted my distraught child who felt a world of guilt on his tiny little shoulders, and I was reminded, once again, that my reaction as a mom to these types of accidents has the potential to make or break my children. This is the place where they need to know that they can mess up – they can break windows, kick holes in the wall, knock plates off the table, and stain the carpet, and never be far removed from a hug and the assurance of love.

As we swept up the glass, we showered him with grace. It was an accident. It’s no big deal. We have insurance. All is well. And slowly, we pieced him back together and made him a little more whole.

By the end of the day, the insurance company had come out and replaced the glass at no charge, and the only thing lost was my favorite STL Cardinals sticker. And this one incident sent us into Thanksgiving with grateful, thankful hearts. Thankful for grace, and love and forgiveness. Thankful for a God who lavishes grace on us when we make mistakes, when we accidentally make a mess. Thankful for family and life and children who are healthy enough to throw a ball through a window.

I am so thankful for grace, when it is shown to me, and when I have the wherewithal to slow down and show it. Oddly enough, that broken window set us up for a weekend full of gratitude. Had Landon not shattered that glass, I’m not sure my eyes would have been quite as open to the beauty of a Thanksgiving weekend filled with laughter, with visitors, and with enough grace to cover a lifetime.

I will forever be grateful for that broken window, and for the boy who continually teaches me to love graciously, wholly and fiercely.  

More scenes from Thanksgiving:

 

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Girl cousins

Girl cousins

My aunt and uncle have done missionary work in Jamaica for years. Red is their Jamaican "son," and he fit right in with our crazy crowd.

My aunt and uncle have done missionary work in Jamaica for years. Red is their Jamaican “son,” and he fit right in with our crazy crowd.

 

Our 2nd Annual Family Kickball Game

Our 2nd Annual Family Kickball Game

 

The men of the group

The men of the group

The whole crew. 31 family members, plus 5 of our dear friends from St. Louis who recently moved to Boca Raton. How can I not be thankful for this?!

The whole crew. 32 family members, plus 5 of our dear friends from St. Louis who recently moved to Boca Raton. How can I not be thankful for this?!

 

Day after Thanksgiving. Beach. Perfection.

Day after Thanksgiving. Beach. Perfection.

Pure magic, this boy.

Pure magic, this boy.

 

Yes, there are.

Yes, there are.

So tell me, friends – How was your Thanksgiving?!

 

Christmastime is (basically) here

As a general rule of thumb, I try to save Christmas until December. I don’t want to be tired of it by the time Christmas morning rolls around, so I hold off on Christmas music and decorating until after Thanksgiving.

This isn’t always easy, though the warm November weather here in Florida definitely helps. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to buying a Christmas tree in flip flops.

There are a few Christmas activities, however, that simply cannot wait until after Thanksgiving. Buying gifts, I’ve found, is always less stressful if I start before December. And ordering Christmas cards to send to family and friends is also best done in November, because if I wait until December, then I will have no chance or hope of sending them out before the new year.

So I’m already beginning the process of searching for the perfect Christmas card. Last year, I used Minted to print my Christmas cards, and I LOVE how they turned out.

2012card

It twists my heart tight to view that card and remember how hopeful we were this time last year. We were at the tail end of paperwork, and we had visions of this year’s card including a fourth child. But the beauty of this card is that it well documents our 2012, and it provides a beautiful backdrop for the tapestry that would become 2013.

This has, by far, been the hardest, most grief-filled year of our lives, but how thankful I am for hope. I look back at last year’s Christmas card, and I remember what it felt like to hope. We have hope again as we head into this Christmas, and I plan on our holiday card showcasing that. This is why I love using Minted. I worked closely with their designers last year to create a card that perfectly encapsulated where we were in the year 2012.

I will work closely with them again this year to capture 2013, with all the grief and shadows, refinement and joys that came with it. Sometimes I get overwhelmed at the idea of sending out Christmas cards, and I wonder why I still put myself through it. Looking at this card, however, I’m grateful that I have kept up the tradition. Christmas cards showcase more than just a pretty picture – they capture all of life in a nutshell.

If you haven’t ordered Christmas cards yet, and you’re looking for a place that will help capture the place you’re in as a family, I would love for you to check out Minted’s site. Their cards are beautiful, easy to personalize, and their designers will help you create a card that befits your family and your year. They have a huge selection of holiday cards to choose from, and great features, like address printing for your envelopes. 

Because we all know that addressing the envelopes is the worst part of sending Christmas cards.

So if you’re looking for an easy way to kick off the Christmas season without completely steamrolling Thanksgiving, look into Minted and start creating the perfect Christmas card….and then send one of your cards to me, because the only think I love more than sending cards is receiving them!

Merry Christmas Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Disclaimer: I was asked by Minted to write a review of their site and promote their holiday collection of cards. I received credit in exchange for my work. I was not paid to write this post. All opinions expressed are my own.

Family Game Night at its Best

gamenight

If your family is like ours, then you are constantly looking for ways to connect with one another and enjoy one another with as few arguments as possible, and without the crutch of the television constantly entertaining you. Family Game Night is always enjoyable, but only if you have the right game.

We totally found that game!

 

First a little background:

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a dear friend from the past. Thanks to the world of Facebook we can all feel somewhat connected, but there’s something lovely about getting a personal message from someone who once played a significant role in your life.

My friend, Kirk, contacted me about a game that his wife Jane developed. He sent me the game to try out with my family, and if we enjoyed it, asked if I would tell my readers about it, and oh my goodness, we so enjoyed this game.

Instructures is a fast paced game for groups, and it forces you to work together as a team, to problem solve and strategize, and to control your desire-to-win impulses and not throw blocks at your teammates when they let you down.

Jane developed the idea for the game years ago while teaching VBS. She had the children in her group stand behind a curtain with styrofoam cups and follow her voice commands to build a structure out of the cups. If they listened well, they’d build the structure correctly – if they didn’t listen well, it would fall.

The application was to show the children how Noah had to listen closely to God to build the Ark. There weren’t drawn up blue prints. God told him what to build and how to build, and Noah had to listen closely and follow those directions.

Jane noticed how much fun the kids had playing this game, and the idea for Instructures was born.

Taking her simple idea, Jane and Kirk worked together to develop an entire game. They had a friend design the blocks, and Kirk took the designs to an Amish wood working shop in Bowling Green, Missouri and asked if they would be willing to cut the pieces for them – 38,000 of them. They had the cards and game pieces printed, gathered their Amish wood pieces, and in their basement with their children, they packaged the first 1,000 games themselves.

Then they began to tell people about it.

In 2011, Jane entered the game in a contest put on by the Mensa Society – the Mensa Mind Games. Out of 59 entries, Instructures won, and it is now being offered online, and in select stores.

When we sat down to play with the kids, I wasn’t sure if we would like it, but within minutes I realized that this game is Fun with a capital ‘F’! By the end of the game, one person in our family (who shall remain unnamed) wet their pants from laughing so hard.

gamenight2We all also realized that should we ever play this game again, we want to be on Tia’s team, because this game combines two of her greatest strengths – Competition and Bossing People Around.

There are 72 pairs of “blue prints” inside the game, and they are broken up based on difficulty. You split up in two teams, and one person on the team acts as “foreman.” The foreman from each team take one set of matching blue prints, and they look at the picture on the card and tell their teammates how to build the structure. The first team to finish shouts DONE! and the other team inspects. If the structure was built correctly, you roll the die to move forward on the board. If it was built incorrectly, you roll the die to move backward.

There are challenges on the board that up the ante, such as the foremen giving instructions without speaking, or turning around and giving instructions without looking to see if the team is doing it correctly. These added a level of suspense to the game that made it even more fun.

The game was a little too hard for Landon. He couldn’t quite keep up, so we designated him the roller of the die and mover of the pieces. He also shot this video of us playing. Notice how focused Tia is in her instructions. Lee began to worry she was going to harm him if he didn’t quickly and efficiently heed her instructions. (And yes, they won. I want to be on Tia’s team next time…)

 

I cannot recommend this game more highly. It is great for adults and children. It requires you to think quickly, to listen hard, and to use your wits to beat your opponent. If you’re looking for a great new addition to Family Game Night, this is it.

(Click here to order.)

Disclaimer: I was given Instructures for the purposes of review. I am not being compensated for this post. All opinions expressed are my own.

Spring Break Photo(s) of the Day: Epcot


The flower festival started this week and it is really spectacular here!

Because we apparently cannot take a photo without bunny ears.