Friday, October 26, 2012

Getting My Thankful Back

Lately I've found myself thinking negatively a lot.  Tense muscles constantly.  Restless sleep frequently.  A gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I realized something. 

I have ceased to express gratitude. 

When was the last time I wrote down what I was thankful for? 

It's been a while. 

Without thankfulness life is harder.  It's more difficult to forgive.  Bearing others' burdens becomes wearisome.  Keeping my focus on Jesus starts to be challenging. 

Lord, lead me back to having a grateful heart!

Remember how I claimed Psalm 34 when we were in Africa?  Revisiting that Psalm tonight took my breath away. 

The answer is there.  Right there in black and white. 

"I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth."-v. 1
I have failed to praise Him lately.  Instead I have questioned Him.

"My soul makes it's boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad."- v.2
Am I boasting in God lately?  Or have I wallowed in self-pity and anger?

"Oh magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt His name together." -v.3
Won't you praise Him with me?

"I sought the Lord and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears." -v.4
Every time I have said in my heart, "I just can NOT do this one more day", God has sent some one to encourage me.  He does hear me.  But I have to acknowledge Him.

This week is going to be filled with singing this praise song to help me remember.  Do you know it? (song starts at 1:08)

The words are:

"Give thanks with a grateful heart
Give thanks to the Holy One
Give thanks because He's given Jesus Christ, His Son.

And now let the weak say I am strong
Let the poor say I am rich
Because of what the Lord has done for us
Give thanks."

Today I am thankful for:  Friends Rob and Sheri, who have gone over and above what friendship normally looks like; hugs from 5 children; a donated basketball hoop from David and Natalie; and watching our chickens peck the dirt (observing farm animals is therapeutic- try it sometime).

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Are You Strengthening or Scrutinizing?

Over the past 3 months, I have  frequently pondered what others may or may not be thinking about our family.  Should I care?  In a way, no.  In other ways, yes. Our family should be living witnesses to the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Some days we may visibly be bearing the fruit of the Spirit (A reminder of that is tattooed on my ankle and even then I still fail.  Ok, tattoos?  I'm not even going to go down that road.  I have two.  But that's beside the point. Another post for another day.)  At the same time, dwelling on what others think of us is not constructive when it's done because you want to be impressing people. 

I used to be the kind of person who would watch other people with their children and think in my head things like, "If I was their mom, I'd _____", or "They just need a good spanking", or other similar comments.  All in my head, of course, not verbalized, because that's my personality.  But I was thinking them.  Other people have personalities like Alan, where they automatically speak out loud the first thing that comes into their brain.  Neither is excused, because I would think rude comments, just not say them.  Yes, there is a benefit to that, and it's Biblical to think before you speak, but I was still judging people for no reason.  Let me give you a very long example........

Two of my biological children have special needs.  Not in the sense of the word as it is commonly used.  These two children have learning disabilities.  Yes, full blown diagnosed-with-documentation-from-a-psychologist kind of learning disabilities.  The fact that we educate at home lets me tailor the curriculum to their learning style and they attend "therapy" as well during the week.  People don't know that, because I don't go around with a sign posted on them, "Please know that I have a learning disability and don't make fun of me."  They have received harsh, hurtful comments because of their learning disabilities.  Things like people making fun of them because they were called on to read out loud in a classroom setting, and they have trouble with that because of their processing disorders.  But then they come home bawling because they have been made fun of when they have no control over their disability.  If it was up to them, they wouldn't have it! 

Here's the sad point:  I did that.  That's right.  Many years ago, after I had just graduated college with a degree in Education (You read that correctly.  It just adds to the sadness.)  I was teaching Wednesday night classes at my church to Elementary school students.  There was one boy in particular that I thought negative comments about over and over.  He did not read at the level of the other students when I called on him and had trouble writing down answers.  He was home schooled.  I assumed his mother was to blame and wasn't teaching him well enough.  And each week I judged him in my head and heart, along with his mother.  I never stopped to think that maybe this child had a learning disability.  I should never have asked him to read aloud (Note to people like Sunday School teachers:  if you have a child that struggles to read aloud, chances are that student suffers from some kind of processing disorder, and should not be asked to read aloud.  Just skip them if they are okay with it.  Please don't embarrass them.)  Still, to this day, many years later, I remember that sweet child, and I am so remorseful.  I was not educated, in spite of my "degree".  I was ignorant and immature. 

Now I am also the parent of two boys with special needs, sensory disorders, and traumatic pasts that manifest themselves in different ways.  While we have a few limited friends who we have somewhat shared the extent of their needs, most people are oblivious.  Our boys look like everyone else, just like their siblings blend in with the other children around them.  Their unique circumstances are not visible to the naked eye.  Certainly people can see we are a blended family, but that would be all that most adults could determine from looking at our family across the aisle at the grocery store. 

What I have found is that there are more people in the world that are ignorant about other's needs than not.  More people that are judgemental than not.  More people that are just plain mean than not.  We live in a sinful world and we all fall short every single day.  It's especially hurtful when those of us who make up the body of Christ are doing the judging. 

I'd like to take a minute and share some things you may not know about special needs children and their families.

1)  We love our children and want the best for them.  Are we able to parent the same way as others?  No.  That's okay.  If you would like to read the why's and how's of that different parenting, I have books I can recommend to you.  Just ask. 

2)  We can not always go out without our children.  Sometimes the people you see in the store/doctor's office/church/bank could not hire a babysitter.  They could not get their husband to watch the kids.  Please don't condemn them for bringing children to an establishment when those children end up annoying you.

3)  When our children act out in public, it doesn't necessarily mean we are not disciplining at home. 

4)  Lots of days have us on the verge of tears as we witness the harsh glances or listen to rude remarks from others, whether it's an acquaintance or a stranger.

5)  Our families and our children definitely did not choose to have a special need.  We're working with what we have been dealt. 

Maybe this next part should be a second post, but I'm going to include it here, because I think they connect.

Encouragement is defined as..  "To inspire with hope, courage, or confidence; hearten." or "To give support to; foster."  
"Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing." 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Please try to encourage someone today and tomorrow and the next day.  The cashier that helped you today and was rough and snapped at you may be taking care of an elderly parent and had a bad day.  Maybe her husband left her.  Maybe her kids screamed at her before she came to work.  We ALL need to realize that we can not see behind the mask of each other's faces.  Every person you come in contact with today was made in the image of Christ. 

I am so guilty of judging when I have had no right to do so.  I'm not talking about Biblical discernment, I'm talking about judgement rooted in jealousy or pride. 

"So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, ...Philippians 2:1-15"

Today I'd like to encourage you to give people grace.  Show mercy. 

Grace looks like:

1) Smiling at the cashier who is being snippy and telling her to have a nice day.  Maybe someone was rude to her earlier and she is feeling hurt and tired.

2) Leaving your flustered waiter a little extra tip and saying, "thank you".  Maybe his manager has taken out his anger on him in the back kitchen.

3) Talking to or playing with those kids in the doctor's office who are annoying you when you are wondering why mom's not doing anything about it.  She may be at her wit's end and you are a welcome relief. 

4) Opening the door for the man pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair who butted in front of you earlier in line.  Maybe he is in a hurry, thinking of the person he's taking care of, and never meant to make you upset.  He's just in his "own little world".

5) Using a nice tone of voice with the woman on the phone who is just an employee doing her job.  She may be a single mom who dreads coming to work each day but has to keep this job to put food on the table.

6) Bringing someone a meal who you know has been particularly short with you even if they haven't asked for help.  If they are short with you, I bet there's a reason and it's probably not that they don't like you.  Maybe an act of kindness would open the door to a much needed friendship. 
7)  Discreetly asking the waiter to move you to a different table if the family next to you is bothering you, instead of making rude comments loudly in the hopes it will curb whatever behavior is making you upset.  Maybe they haven't been out to eat in months because of their circumstances and they just want to spend this 30 minutes in a restaurant being served instead of serving others. (Dude, this comment is made from experience.) 

People with special circumstances and special needs are all around you. Be conscious about what you say.  Be conscious about your behavior toward others.  If they don't show the same courtesy, please, please do not automatically let anger and agitation get the best of you.  If you really have a question, ask.  But do it in a nice way and not in front of their children.  They may need help or prayer and are afraid to admit it.  Unless you share a home with someone, you probably do not know the details about what they are dealing with.  Don't assume that you do.

Our Associate Pastor, Scott, defined grace in the following way two weeks ago:  "Grace is receiving what you don't deserve." 

Show grace.  Pass out mercy.  Be slow to speak.  Be quick to deliver help. 

One of my prayers for my children is that they will remember that one day they were a "special needs child".  They will treat others accordingly.  They will walk as Christ walked.  Above all they will LOVE. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Family 3 Month Anniversary

Today marks 3 months of having custody of Yohannes and Paulos.  The first two weeks were spent by them with me, Alana, and Easton.  We have officially been in the United States for 7 weeks today. 

We went from a "white" family to a blended family, and we absolutely love the way our family looks.  It's a picture of Heaven.  Revelation 7:9 says, "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands."

My head and heart overflow with things to share.  The problem is, my poor body and emotions are so exhausted at the end of the day (and the beginning as well), that I imagine many things to say all day long and when it comes time to write them, well, I choose relaxing with my husband and two daughters on the couch for a few minutes watching "The Voice" with a glass of wine, or I simply fall into bed (the latter is the usual suspect). 

I have been working on a "special needs" post for two weeks, and it's still not ready.  I'll share one quote with you from Karyn Purvis' book, The Connected Child:

"Too often, parents and experts look at behavioral disorders as if they existed separate from sensory impairments; separate from attention difficulties, separate from early childhood deprivation, neurological damage, attachment disorders, post traumatic stress; and so on......
Deprivations and harm suffered early in life impact all the ways that a child develops- coordination, ability to learn, social skills, size, and even the neurochemical pathways in the brain.  These consequences can linger years after a child has left a life of hardship.  That's why formerly neglected and abused children are predisposed to such problem as attachment difficulties, conduct disorder, depression, anxiety, attention deficit, learning disabilities and more."

If we spelled out in detail most of the experiences of the past 3 months regarding our adoption, frankly, you just wouldn't believe us.  Then there's the small number of people that would think, "Well, you brought this on yourselves."  Yes.  Yes, we did.  But the bigger picture is much, much more than that. 

3 months.  3 months of seeing more pain, aggression, and fear than we ever imagined we would encounter.  Yes, we did our homework.  Yes, we had read that these things could occur.  But deep in our hearts we surely hoped, "not us".  "Not our family." 

But God did not spare us. 

There's a reason for that.  We are clinging all day long to that HOPE.  His name is Jesus. 

Jesus is our hope.  Jesus is our peace.  We pray every day that Jesus fills Yohannes and Paulos with His presence and will restore peace to them and our family. 

Last weekend we were able to visit my sister and brother-in-law (Ryan and Ginger) in Jacksonville.  They gave me a photo shoot for our family with a Jacksonville photographer for my birthday.  She took pictures until one child in particular had just plain had enough.  We received a sneak peak this week of the pictures. 

If you would like to see them, the website is
and here is one of the pics:
The photographer's name is Lindsay Almeida and she was wonderful to work with.  I have gazed at those pictures every day this week, and right now I'm viewing them as a representation of what God is going to make our family into.  A cohesive unit.  A LOVING FAMILY


"And we[b] boast in the hope(G) of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings,(H) because we know that suffering produces perseverance;(I) 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope(J) does not put us to shame, because God’s love(K) has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit,(L) who has been given to us.
6 You see, at just the right time,(M) when we were still powerless,(N) Christ died for the ungodly.(O) 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.(P)" - Romans 5:2b-8


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Family "Firsts"

Quite a while ago, I stated how much I love words.  They are posted all around my house.  Right now, however, it's difficult to pin down all the things I want to say and box up the words in neat little categories for others to read. 

First of all, my children will read this blog-diary of our lives some day and I don't want to put information that's particularly embarrassing or hurtful to them in the future.  Yet, at the same time, I want other families who are going through adoption, thinking about it, dealing with "junk" in their lives, or just plain curious about the whole "Jesus" thing, to read real life stuff and details.  That's a fine line to walk.  I am not going to walk it perfectly. 

With that said, it's hard to believe we've been home from Ethiopia for over 5 weeks.  Yohannes and Paulos have been members of our family for over 2 1/2 months.  In some respects that time has flown by, in others it has dragged on and on and on and on.......  you get my drift.

Words like "difficult" and "hard" don't begin to describe this transition.  I don't know if my thesaurus holds the correct word for what our family has been going through.  BUT today I want to focus on the GOOD. 

Though I do not know when my newest sons took their first steps or said their first words, I did get to witness a lot of "firsts" over the past few weeks.  I'm throwing in updates for Jayde, Alana, and Easton, too.  I don't want to leave them out.

Yohannes learned to ride a bicycle.  He tried over and over for 2 days and finally took off.  Now he loves to ride.  You can find him at any given time barefoot on his bike pedaling like mad down our gravel driveway.  (When I watch him, I always hear the theme song from "The Wizard of Oz" in my head- remember that?  The one that plays when the lady rides her bike?) 
Easton has learned the art of giving himself a "fauxhawk". 

Paulos rides his bike, too, but he rides with training wheels.

The boys met their cousin, Bode.  Isn't he cute in his traditional Ethiopian outfit?

Both Yohannes and Paulos tried out Grandma and Grandpa's swimming pool.  Paulos is getting to the point where he won't scream when he goes in the water, and Yohannes can now swim all the way across the deep end.  He has tenacity.  When he wants to excel in something, he keeps trying.  What a positive quality!

Yohannes started playing flag-football with Easton on Saturday mornings.  He's learning the rules of "American" football.

Paulos began attending pre-school 3 days a week and loves his teacher!  We are very thankful for the Learning Center.  He makes friends everywhere he goes.

Some school is happening in our house, finally, thank goodness.  No, it's not as much as I would like, but at least it's a start.  Things are getting organized a little bit at a time.

Alana spent her 11th birthday celebrating with family and friends. One night, 4 of her friends came over for a "horse and art" party: 

Another night was spent celebrating with family:
Jayde has been playing volleyball for the Calgary Cougars:

Each day spent together has been a progression.  Okay, sometimes there's regression, too.  A lot of it.  But as I look back over the past 2 1/2 months, I do see a change from the first week I took custody of the boys.  It's incremental, and when you're the one doing the day-in-and-day-out exhausting work, it's hard to see it.  Sort of like how you can't see that a child you look at every day is growing, but if you don't see them for two weeks, you come back and say, "My, how you've grown!" 

Sometimes, frankly, it's been hard to even pray about everything going on.  My mouth and mind fail me.  There are many, many days that I have just asked the Holy Spirit to intercede for me, because I am at a loss to even know where to start. 

This week, I am praying these verses:
"Answer me quickly, O Lord!  My spirit fails!  Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit.  Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust.  Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul."- Psalm 143:7-8

Before our family left for Africa, I read, The Connected Child, by Karyn Purvis.  I began re-reading it this week and trying to implement some of the strategies that have been proven from her research.  I want to talk more about that in a future post.  It's working, though exhausting, emotionally and mentally at the same time.  Here's a quote that I'll leave you with from the book:

"Adopted and foster children deserve deep compassion and respect for what they may have endured before they were welcomed into your home.  Some of these little ones have survived ordeals that defy the imagination.  On a night while you ate steak and fresh vegetables, safe in your comfortable house and enjoying warm conversation with your family, this child might have gone to bed hungry, dirty, and lonely........A child raised in a harsh or dysfunctional environment becomes a survivalist.  He of she can't be expected to know the rules of family life or to have every intellectual advantage."  We know that our boys spent many, many days hungry.  They were severely malnourished.  They are not on a growth chart yet at all. 

Hope.  That's what I need.  That's what I have in Jesus.  That's what my children have in Jesus.  Restoration.  That's what I'm praying for.  Will you pray with me?