Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My "Genial" Uncle Johnny

*Thanks, Cathy, for this picture of Uncle Johnny at the beach this past July dishing up his famous gumbo.*

Love.  Food.  Family.

What do these three words have in common?

Us.  Our family.  His family.

Uncle Johnny.  A man who, as my father calls the "patriarch" of our extended family, showed love on countless occasions over 40-something years of family get-togethers (only 37 years of which I was a part of) and day-to-day living with his wife and children. 

Many of us have adults in our lives that show love through cooking.  Oh, yeah.  This is the South, baby.  Bring on the frying, baking, sampling, stewing, and sharing.  We celebrate every occasion with a covered dish dinner and sweet tea. 

When I think of my Uncle Johnny, I think of many things:  putting his arm around me and calling me, "darlin'", singing on every occasion, the countless times he served me a dish of food, drinking wine on the beach, tending his plants on the wrap-around porch of his beautiful river-front home, and laughing behind a white beard as he played Santa Clause for me and all my cousins. 

I, and the rest of my cousins (disclaimer:  my mom is one of 7 girls - yes, you read that correctly- 7, so there are A LOT of us), spent many years attending the family Christmas party on M------ Drive in Florida.  We devoured finger foods, ham, and desserts until we thought our bellies would burst. In awe we sat in the kids dining area of Johnny's house surrounded by teddy bears.  We ate on a really unique table with cup holders!  (In hindsight, I believe that table was a poker table, though I had no idea what that was at the time.) In that room we banged out Christmas tunes on the piano in front of audiences that clapped no matter the sound blaring from black and white keys because they were proud of our perseverance in learning a melody.

When Alan and I were planning our wedding, we came to the conclusion that a catering company just would not do our family justice.  We were used to home cooking.  Our Uncle's home cooking, to be specific.  Instead of a cold catering company, we chose the love that flowed from Uncle Johnny's spoons.  These came in the form of pork loin with all the fixin's.  That night we were served, as high school sweethearts, by two other high school sweet hearts.  We were hoping and praying we had the loving relationship decades later that Penny and Johnny displayed. 

Memories at the forefront of my mind are dominated by serving on the part of Uncle Johnny. I picture him best standing behind a table dishing up a heaping helping of seafood gumbo to the sunburnt people he loved as their feet were covered in sand but their hearts were open to each other.

I can think of 4 things Uncle Johnny said with his culinary skills and palate- pleasing morsels:

1.  You're welcome and accepted here.  Do you know of anyone he ever turned away?  I don't.  If I showed up at dinner unexpectedly one night, I have no doubt he would have welcomed me in and told me to eat my fill.  It wouldn't have mattered what attire I had on, how much money I made, or what my occupation happened to be.  He would have said, "Welcome.  Eat."

2.  Talk.  Listen.  Linger.  Do you find yourself rushing through your meal?  I do.  Do you find yourself too busy at dinner time to listen to those at your dinner table?  I have been guilty of that countless times.  Just linger.  Listen.  If God calls you home tomorrow, will you be happy about the conversation at your last dinner table?  Or will you have regrets?  Don't let another day pass by without savoring the loved ones occupying each chair at your table. 

3.  Savor family and friendships.  The definition of "savor" is "to enjoy something unhurriedly; to enjoy something with unhurried appreciation."  Our lives  in this day and age seem to reflect the words, "Go!" and "Hurry!"  But families and relationships were designed by God.  We were meant to be in community.  To live our lives together, not as small units, but as extended supportive families.  Uncle Johnny taught us to take time to savor your community, whether it's your family or friends. 

4.  Show hospitality.  1 Peter 4:9 says to, "Show hospitality without grumbling".  Hospitality is a spiritual gift.  Uncle Johnny had that gift.  He welcomed us all with a meal, a glass of wine, a hug, and a smile. 

Johnny, we will miss you.  Your smile, your chuckle, your food, and your positive words.  You loved well and were loved well. We love you.  Thank you for physically showing us the meaning of hospitality and family. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

It's Been A Year??

Yup.  It's been over a year now since we brought home Yohannes and Paulos. 

I realize I have not updated this blog the way I stated I would over the last few months.  Our family has been working on adjusting to life with Y at his therapy program and trying to establish a schedule for school this year.  Now we are undergoing a home remodel to be able to give the boys their own space once Y returns home. 

This update will not be as long as many would like it to be, but I will leave you with prayer requests:

1.  We leave this week for a visit with Y that will include all our children.  Please pray for our travels and our family time together.  Please pray for the return trip home as well, which will be difficult.

2.  Pray for our other children.  One of our children in particular is struggling with anger toward our adoption and what it has done to our family structure. 

3.  Pray for our continued bonding with P.  He is progressing very well and even began kindergarten at a private school in August. 

4.  Don't forget to keep praying for Y and the program he is in. 

We couldn't have walked through the past year without our family and friends.  We are thankful for each one of you.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Healing and Hope Seminar

If you live in the Plant City/Tampa/Lakeland/Orlando area, there is a great seminar coming this Saturday to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Plant City.  It's called, "Healing and Hope for Adoptive Families" and it is not only for families interested in adoption, those walking the adoption road, but also for people who want to support adoptive families in their community. 

The day is FREE, they just need to know you are coming. They'll have lunch available for $5.

Here's the link to sign up: http://www.epcpc.org/healing-and-hope-for-adoptive-families/

Sunday, May 5, 2013


As I type this, I am sitting in an airport waiting to fly home from a place I love.

Four days ago Alan and I took Yohannes to the ranch where he will be spending the next few months.  We had a meeting with the director of the program and Y's house parents, toured the facility, then had to leave. 

Driving away from our son while leaving him with virtual strangers was extremely hard.  As we sat in our hotel room that night, Alan and I kept looking at each other, saying, "Did we really just do that?  Did we really just leave him?  Did we do the right thing?" 

We spent the past few days doing nothing but being together with no distractions.  We reconnected, talked, and had fun together.  It was a sorely needed time. 

This morning we spoke to Y's house mother to get an idea of how his first few days went.  She said that just like our family did not get a typical "honeymoon period" when we received custody of the boys, Y did not give his house parents, teachers, or the other children living in his cottage a honeymoon period either.  This is actually a good thing, because if they can see behaviors, they can start working on them.  She called it, "getting right down to business".

After speaking with her, I am able to get on the plane knowing that we did the right thing.  What a gift!  

Thank you for bathing the last few days in prayer.  Alan and I felt them all.  God went before us to prepare the way, and He is still with Yohannes.  

Now we go home to begin working with the rest of our children.  Keep praying for our family at home and Y as he is away.  

A sweet friend sent me this verse:  "I have set the Lord continually before me.  Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken." -Psalm 16:8


Monday, April 29, 2013

A Time For Healing

In the fall, I wrote a post that was labeled as the hardest one I had penned.  This one trumps it.

This blog is being kept up to print for our children one day as a testimony to what our family journey was like, but the blog won't be public forever. 
At the moment I am going to use it to keep family and friends informed of what we are going through.  This is difficult to discuss partly because most people do not see what goes on in our home. 

This week begins the next chapter in our family life.  Our prayer is that it is a time of healing and hope.  Reading this post will not give you the details you need to fully understand our situation, but my hope is that you will gain enough understanding to be able to commit to pray for our family in the upcoming days, weeks, and months.

As you know, we chose older child adoption because we knew God was calling us to that, and we also knew older children are much harder to place.  We did our homework and knew in advance it could be a very difficult road.  If you'd like to read a well written post about considerations before adopting an older child, this is a good one:http://www.thefarmerswifetellsall.com/2013/04/25/rethinking-adoption-on-counting-the-cost/

But no one knows the extent of "difficult" until they are in a situation.  That's just life.  Until you walk a road, you can imagine what it will be like, but you won't fully grasp the enormity of the it.  You can try to foresee the bumps and branches along the way, but you won't see them all.  You're going to trip and fall and have to get back up and keep going. 

As many of you have heard, life with Yohannes has been unpredictable.  Go back to the website I gave you in the fall, www.attachment.org, if you'd like to read about some behaviors typical of what he displays.  We see things ranging from beating on the glass doors with a golf club, to throwing things, to general verbal and emotional abuse from morning until night (that's all the details I will publicly give on his erratic behavior).  Mostly done in the home setting.  Y does not know how to live in a family.  His brain did not make the needed connections as a baby to be able to trust, bond, and give up control.  He does not have any cause and effect thinking. 

After attending counseling for months and giving him therapeutic parenting (if you'd like to know what that is, go to www.empoweredtoconnect.org), we found out there is another option to give him the help he sorely needs. 

Through a long series of God-ordained events, we were accepted to a special ranch that specifically works toward the healing of children with RAD and PTST, etc.  He will be staying there and attending the program.  We are not sure how long it will take, because each child is different.  Alan and I and the children will visit and eventually he will be reacclimated into our family.

Here are some things we'd like you to know:

1)  Yes, this was a long, well-thought-out, well-prayed-over, difficult decision.  Have we considered he will feel like he is being abandoned?  Of course.  We have shed many tears at the thought of his feelings. But that is something that the counselors at the ranch will work with him on.  It will be a necessary part of the adjustment that he will work through.

2) This is the best option for him at this time. He needs to be healed and learn to live in a family unit.  Our other children need time to recover from the damage that has been done to them as well.  We are praying that the next few months will be a time of healing for everyone. 

3)  We will be visiting him as often as we can.  Alan and I will visit, then eventually bring the other children to go through counseling there as well.  When the directors of the ranch feel Y is ready, he will come back for a home visit, then for good.  That's the plan.

4)  Paulos is going to need your prayers, too, as he works to move forward while Y is away.  Paulos needs help in many areas.  This year we have been forced to focus mainly on Y above anyone else.  Hopefully Paulos can make great strides when we are able to finally give him some needed attention in the form of therapeutic parenting.

5)  We believe God put Y in our family for this purpose.  If he was still in Ethiopia he would not be getting help.  Depending on the family he was adopted into, he may not have been able to receive this help.  Programs like the ranch have a large cost in many forms:  money, time, and willingness lay down what we'd like to do and instead do what we need to do. 

Our prayer is that Y is healed and grows into a whole person in Jesus.  That his proper brain function is able to be restored and make connections.  We pray someday he can live a full life including holding a job and having a relationship. 

Please join us in praying.  If you can pass this on, do it.  If you have a prayer list at your church or Bible study, please add him to it.  The next few months are going to be difficult as he adjusts, learns, and grows.

Pray for our other children as well.  Paulos needs to learn to trust as well and he will miss his brother.  Jayde, Alana, and Easton need to have the emotional damage undone that has happened over the past 9 months.  They all need to know we love them and will care for them no matter what.
Our family would appreciate it if you would address all questions about what we have experienced, the facility Y is going to, the program, etc., to either me or Alan. Please do not ask our children any questions. We want to respect their feelings. They will not be privy to every detail.

Psalm 147:3 says, "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds".  We know all our children belong to Jesus.  We have prayed for Jayde, Alana, and Easton since they were in my womb, and we prayed for Yohannes and Paulos before ever catching a glimpse of their faces.  Holding our children with open hands is the hardest thing to do as a parent.  They were bought with a price and made for a purpose.  Their lives will bring glory to God. 

This song makes me think of Yohannes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9ArVuqm324

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Vacation Ideas With a Difficult (RAD or PTSD) Child

Vacations are supposed to be beautiful, fun, and relaxing.  For a child with RAD, PTSD, or something similar, however, vacations can be a nightmare.  
Thankfully, our first vacation as a family of 7 went pretty well.  Not bump-free, by any means, but overall better than we anticipated.  Personally, I think it's due to 2 reasons:  Prayer and Planning.
Friends were praying for us and family members were praying for us.  They knew our time away from home would probably be a struggle for Yohannes, which equates to a struggle for all of us.  So they prayed, and we were thankful.
A lot of planning took place.  Here are some things we did to try to ease the transition of taking Yohannes out of his new comfort zone:
1)  3 weeks before we left for our vacation, we got out the calendar and a map and marked down where we were going and exactly how many "sleeps" would happen at each location.  Each day we would point to the calendar and say things like, "When do we leave for vacation?" and, "How many nights will be in North Carolina?"
2)  2 weeks before we left, we began showing pictures of the cabin, inside and out.  We went through and explained the layout of the house and showed Yohannes and Paulos where they would sleep each night.  Pictures of the outside confirmed that there was a creek and a big porch for having lots of fun together. 
3)  We put DVD players in the car and let them each pick movies they wanted to watch.  We explained the rotation system of what order they would go in to be able to watch their chosen movie.
4)  The day before we left, we let each child pack one backpack with their favorite things to bring.  Yohannes and Paulos wanted to bring every single thing they owned.  With a little coaching, they narrowed down their choices to fit in their bags.  They also picked out their favorite blanket and stuffed animal from their beds to have with them at all times, in the car during the drive up and while they slept at each location.
5)  The day before we left, I showed them where their clothes were in the luggage that I packed.  They were presented with new mittens and hats for the cold weather.  Remember, they went from Ethiopia to Florida (not a huge weather change), so they had not experienced the kind of cold that we experienced in North Carolina. 
6)  When we left on our trip, I had a bag of "tricks", full of snacks, drinks, coloring books and pencils, books, and boxes of candy (each child received their favorite kind).  I also brought a huge bag of lollipops.  Did you know that sucking on something is soothing for a child with emotional difficulties?  It's true.  When arguing began, we quickly offered the "offending" child a lollipop to quiet the mouth that needed to be shut.  Seem like bribery to you?  I guess in a way, but the action of sucking on a lollipop really does work.  Chewing gum can work, too.
 7)  We made sure we arrived at the cabin in the daylight.  That meant the children could explore not only the cabin but the outside grounds as well.  We went through boundaries of where they could and could not go (things like not near the road, not too close to the icy creek water, etc.).  I unpacked, arranged beds, and visited the grocery store while Alan watched them explore the new space. 
8)  We stayed in a house, not a hotel.  Is that possible in every location?  No.  But where it is possibility, it's a good idea.   We were able to stay in the home of someone we knew.  Even if we have no contacts there, though, we can usually find a house rental at places we normally stay (like the beach and the mountains) for the same amount per night as a hotel.  That way when a meltdown occurs that can be heard for a 5 mile radius, we are at least a home away from the neighbors and not in the hotel room next door. 
9)  Since we stayed in a house, we were able to cook the majority of our meals.  I made breakfast each morning and we did our normal morning routine.  Then for lunch we either packed a picnic or ate out.  Dinners were able to be cooked on the stove or left simmering in a crock pot so they were ready to eat when we got home.  This limited our eating out excursions.  Eating in is a good idea in our family since both our newest boys both have food issues of some kind (not to mention the obvious fact that it's cheaper).  Meal times do not always go smoothly.  There can be a lot of whining, complaining, crying, coaxing, and help with feeding going on. 
10)  Once we arrived at our friends' house, the Turner family, we stayed put.  Meaning, we spent our time with them in their home and on their property.  Even then, because we were with other people for a couple nights in a new place, Yohannes had some meltdowns.  We had warned Jeff and Melissa this would probably happen and told them what to expect before we arrived.  Then when those moments did occur, they understood why we had to leave the room, go to bed early, or not say, "goodnight".   
Were there some aspects I would do differently next time?  Sure.  But, overall, it was a good first family trip.  Praise God!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Very Late Month 5 Update...

We're baaaccckkk.......

....after a long blogging hiatus.

The past couple months have brought big changes in our home (for the better!) and now I feel ready to share thoughts as we continue this journey.  Our family has had a lot of questions about how we "do" certain things in life with a larger family and a child having huge emotional adjustments and breakdowns.  I plan to answer many of those questions soon. 

First, let's catch up on our monthly updates.  December 16 marked 5 months as a family of 7.  Here are some highlights from month 5:

We took our first long family vacation.  Tomorrow's post will point out some steps we took with our oldest boy to make the vacation less traumatic.

Our trip took us to North Carolina and Tennessee.  In North Carolina, we were blessed to be able to stay at my parents' cabin.  We explored waterfalls.....

...relaxed at the cabin (we love the back porch along the creek)....

...found more waterfalls....

...took the kids mining for treasures....
....and parked at a ski resort where they were making snow.  Even though the snow was not "real", Yohannes and Paulos had never seen anything like it.  The employees let us throw snowballs and make angels in a small area at the base of the mountain.

We had fun watching movies and playing together (I love these pajamas).

After a few days we traveled to our friends' home, the Turner family, in Tennessee.  All the kids rode their horses...

...and even had their first motorcycle ride, courtesy of a neighbor.  This especially thrilled Paulos, who is a little motorcycle obsessed.

After our vacation, we were blessed AGAIN by sweet friends who gave all 7 of us tickets to Universal Studios in Orlando!  Our new family members rode their first roller coasters and saw their first parade.  What a fun day!
One of the most exciting things about month 5 for Yohannes and Easton was testing for new belts in karate.  Yohannes received his yellow belt with a white stripe...

...and Easton earned his purple belt.  They were proud boys!

The time came to decorate for Christmas, my favorite time of the year!  Wow!  Watching the boys' faces as we put up all the decorations was fun.  They exclaimed over each and every light, tree, and activity.  We had to scale back our activities in a major way this year, but having extra children added more joy.  There were 7 stockings hanging on the fireplace and it the sight warmed my heart.
Paulos participated in his first school program.  Isn't he handsome in this picture?  He was proud of his new outfit and kept repeating he looked "nice".  
Yohannes, Easton, and Alana were also in a school program for their "Friday school", the Academy at a church we attend one day a week for elective classes like art, P.E., choir, and drama.  All three looked sharp (and beautiful- for Alana).

Month 5 began a very slow climb up for our family.  It's still "3 steps forward, 2 steps back", but we began learning how to work together a little bit better.
"Children are a heritage from the Lord,
offspring a reward(A) from him.
4 Like arrows(B) in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.(C")

    - Psalm 127:3-5a

Friday, December 14, 2012

Running For Life....

.....running for water.....running for children.....running for moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas......

Remember the scenes I posted from the Ethiopian countryside?  Beautiful.  Captivating.  But water sources?  Scarce. 

I can't tell you how many people we saw washing clothes, bathing, and drinking muddy water.  Water that was filled with bacteria that would make them sick.  But they had no choice. 

A few times, however, we drove past a community well.  Oh, what a welcome sight!  Lined up by the well were little children, naked or wearing next to nothing.  Moms with babies tied to their backs.  Old, wrinkled women.  They all had whatever container they could find to fill with clean water at the well.  Those women and children would walk miles to come to the well. 

Isn't that like us?  We thirst for clean water.  I love the song, "Come to the Well", by Casting Crowns.  Google it.  It talks about Jesus being our "well". 

Today, however, I want to ask for your support as I run to raise money to build a well in Africa.  A literal clean water well.  A well that will change lives for hundreds of people. 

Won't you consider giving $5?  $20?  $50?  $100?  So someone else can have what you take for granted each and every hour of your life? 

We flush away what many would die for.  DO die for lack of. 

Sad, right?  But you can make a difference.

Here's the link to my World Vision page: