Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Adoption Is Not Pretty But Grace Is

For those who have never walked through an adoption may have an idealistic view of what adoption is like.  Some may assume that when you adopt a child the child is filled with love and gratitude for being "rescued" or that the child instantly bonds with their new family.  It would be awesome if that were truly the case but unfortunately, my friends, I am here to be real.  To share what our lives have been like for the past seven months.

It has been seven months since Elijah, YunYun, and I landed in Detroit, MI where the United States gained a brand new citizen.  Poor Yun was so exhausted, confused, scared, and angry.  She could hardly stand up as she was welcomed into her new country.  I felt shell shocked after enduring two weeks in China with a screaming tween.  Elijah, just 10 years old, could not get home fast enough to the normalcy of home; tired of listening to Yun's tantrums that would go on for hours at a time.  The weeks and months that followed our arrival back home were truly some of the most difficult - for everyone.  Each day brought about so much unknown and we were in pure survival mode.  Seemingly every day was met with screaming, crying, carrying on, being cussed out, smacked, etc…  and I began to wonder: Was our effort worth it?  Did YunYun truly want to be here?  She did consent to being adopted, though there is much more to the story that is only for Yun to tell should she ever decide to do so.  Suffice to say, however, it was clear that Yun was not properly prepared for her adoption.  She was completely thrown for a loop when she met Elijah and I as she assumed that we would be Chinese.  It was utterly heartbreaking.  

Day after day, week after week, weeks turning into months, we lived in a state of walking on egg shells.  We were all afraid of saying or doing something that would send our newest family member into a tailspin and it has been utterly exhausting.  Eventually Eric and I decided to put Yun in school so she could have a break from me and socialize with other children, one of the best decisions we ever made.  Yun was put into a typical classroom with two fantastic teachers and classmates who are some of the most loving and accepting young people I have ever met.  Yun's command of the English language at just seven months home is mind blowing and I am so proud of how well she is doing.  Not only can she speak English, but she is reading and writing English, too!  It is her command of the language that begun to bring about healing for all of us.  

Little by little Yun began to open up to me about her previous life.  I will never forget the night we were both in tears as she recounted her story of being left behind by her "China daddy".  Or some of what she experienced at the boarding school her orphanage sent her to.  Our family has also enjoyed hearing about the many happy times she experienced:  Her friends, her nannies, and some of the special times with her "China daddy".  Even more amusing has been her list of favorite foods from her native land and I now have a long list of new dishes that she would like for me to cook (chicken feet and chicken head soup are just two of the exotic dishes that will soon be added to my culinary skills).  But despite the acquisition of her new language, she had yet to acquire trust for us.  She held us at arm's length and would look for any opportunity to push us even farther away.  Even if that meant acting out towards her family and friends.

Eric and I prayed.  The boys prayed.  We confided in a select few and asked for prayer.  My social worker and I have been in close contact and she has been my biggest cheerleader these past several months.  I clung to hope that maybe, just maybe Yun would decide to let us into her heart.  Things had really begun to come to head these past several weeks and on more than one occasion I wondered if it would ever get better.

Then came Grace.

Grace is Yun's American name.  We had been told by the orphanage staff that Yun wanted an American name and we were to provide her with three choices.  In fact, the orphanage director encouraged us to give Yun the opportunity to choose an American name.  The name Grace was always at the top of our list because grace is something we live each and every day.  But by the grace of God…  So when we were told that Yun chose the name Grace we were over the moon excited.  We completed her adoption paperwork with her new American name.  Grace Anne.  Imagine my surprise, however, when I was told by Yun herself that nobody ever asked her what she wanted.  In fact she hated the name Grace (like she hated me and everything else about her new life - or so she said) and she never wanted to be called Grace ever in her life.  

"I hate Grace, mommy - I hate you!"  

Ouch.

But you know what?  She did hate grace, but not her name.  She hated that day after day no matter how much grace that needed to be extended to her we were still here.  We still loved her and accepted her for who she is. She was handed over to us broken and beautiful.  Grace did not know or even understand how to accept the unconditional love and grace and it was seemingly beyond her comprehension. 

Then about two weeks ago there was an incident at school.  Details are not important but suffice to say Yun (let's call her Grace now) had the opportunity to see that her mother, the mother she despised, loves her and would do anything to love and protect her.  This mother at whom she would scream was willing to take her word on something and defend her without question.  When it was all said and done it was determined that things were not portrayed to me accurately on Grace's part but I did not get angry.  I did not get upset.  I did not accuse her.  I simply used the opportunity to remind her that as her mother I am here for her no matter what.  This situation caused something to click in Grace's mind.  

She experienced true grace.

Suddenly I now truly have a 12 year old daughter.  A daughter who chooses to be loved and accepted by me.  Grace has wanted me to do her hair, paint her nails, spend time with me, hold my hand, give me lots of hugs, and even truly understanding that the name chosen for her has special meaning.  Grace is even learning that grace is not only to be accepted but extended as well.  So when I am out of yogurt in the morning she chooses to say, "It's O.K. mommy.  No problem" rather than screaming and carrying on for hours on end.  It has been a most beautiful transformation.

The adoption process has been ugly this time around.  Difficult.  Painful.  Unpleasant.

The grace, our Grace, however, has transformed something so broken and ugly into something so utterly beautiful.  Something that only God can do through His grace and love for us.  Without having accepted His grace and love our ability to extend grace and love would not be possible.  In fact I am pretty sure that I personally would have given up on Grace if it had not been for my faith.

But this does not make us anything special.  No way!  Far form it.  It is because we (Eric and I) are broken individuals in desperate need of a Savior and His grace each and every day.  

But by the grace of God…


Here sits my daughter, Grace, doing homework.

This is her real smile.  Genuinely happy and content.  Truly a blessing!

Finally, as I have said hundreds of times on this blog, adoption is not easy.  And I am sure that we still have some tough times ahead with Grace but I know we will make it.  I know that we will be O.K.  

Because we have grace and extend grace.  Acceptance of that grace is just the first step.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Happenings

As time goes on the worse I become at blogging.  In way that is a good sign as I am busy with my kiddos and living life!  The only reason I am writing an entry is because I am waiting for my floors to dry since they were just mopped.  Multitasking at it's best!

So what's new?  Gosh, where to even begin!

YunYun is doing very well, thriving, actually.  It is not always sunshine and roses as we continue to adjust and bond, but overall I am pleased.  We have been in one another's lives for four months now and looking back, our time in China seems like a distant memory.  Now that she is in school her language skills are exploding which makes communication so much easier.  She has been able to communicate her feelings, her memories, and her needs verbally which not only makes it easier for us, but boosts her confidence in herself as well.  The more that she shares with us about her past the better we understand her and can address her emotional needs.  We have learned so many details about her birth family and all I will say is this:  my heart breaks for her and her birth family.  Her circumstances were so sad and her birth father or her "China Daddy" as she affectionately calls him, must love her so very much.  I cannot even imagine the pain and anguish that man must feel every day.  I pray that he knows deep down she is safe and loved so very much.

As for school, YunYun is thriving and the life of the 5th grade class.  She has made friends, attended a birthday party, and enjoys learning.  Despite the language barrier she is doing well and surprising everyone.  Eric and I are so proud of her.

Dima is also doing well and entertaining us as always.  His latest obsession is Elsa from Frozen (and I thought we were going to escape that madness!) and he sings "Let It Go" non-stop.  I confess that I totally prefer his version.  He is learning so much at school and behaviorally doing so much better.  He is learning what is acceptable and unacceptable and can now verbalize his thoughts and feelings.  Dima loves the school that he attends and he is very popular with everyone he meets.  Then again, what's not to like?  He is a happy, silly, loving child who loves life.  Considering his past and the trauma that he experienced it is amazing that he is as well adjusted as he is.  Is it all smiles 100% of the time?  Far from it.  He is still a normal child that gets into trouble, a normal child with a traumatic past, and he has Don Syndrome.  So yeah, add that all together and there are going to be days where it is just plain hard.  But at the end of the day we love him and are so very proud of Dima, too.

Jeremiah, Elijah, and Sammy are also doing well and growing up way too fast.  Jeremiah, my big boy, is now a middle schooler and into youth group, laser tag, and "hanging out"with his friends.  I am homeschooling him this year and I am so pleased to share that he is a very self-motivated learner.  He does his work without complaint and presents his information at co-op like he owns it.  Once a week he volunteers in his former 5th grade class to help students with math.  His personality is really starting to show as he comes out of his shell and I am continually amazed at what a neat young man he I have for a son.  Jeremiah has always been quiet and reserved and now I get to see a new side of him.  Boy do I love him!

Elijah is in the 5th grade and his final year in elementary school.  Academically he is doing extremely well and has had straight A's the first quarter!  He has lots of friends, is well behaved, and very helpful.  Elijah loves the outdoors and has been spending lots of time in the woods with his friends from the neighborhood.  They have quite a fort out back and spend hours perfecting it and gathering material to make improvements.  I love to have the windows open and listen to the children hard at work!

Sammy is now home schooled after an attempt at him skipping form 2nd to 4th grade.  He was doing well in all areas but one so we decided to pull him and give him a year at home to regain his confidence.  Hopefully next year he (as well as his brothers and sister) can attend a local Christian school and thrive in that environment.  Sammy has been expressing a keen interest in animals and wants to be a vet when he gets older.  In the afternoons after the kids get home from school one of his buddies from down the street usually appears on our doorstep and those two ride bikes and scooters for hours.  It is fun to watch them and cheer them on as they try "stunts" on their scooters.

My children are happy which in turn makes me very happy.  I have been asked several times in the past week or so if we will adopt again and I honestly do not know.  It is certain, however, that at this exact point in time I think we are thankful for the children that we have.  YunYun has been a little more challenging in ways that Dima was not and I think it will take awhile to adjust.  Eric and I firmly believe that it is important for a newly adopted child to find their place in their new family and to get the attention and care that they so desperately need.  In YunYun's case we have lots of doctor appointments just to get up to speed with where we should be in terms of help her with her CP.  Not to mention the other four children who also need me.

Our family has made a decision, however, and Lord willing I will be starting back to school in January to get my Bachelor of Social Work.  It should take anywhere form 18-24 months and then I can get my Master of Social Work.  It is truly my desire to help families who wish to adopt.  More than anything I see such a need for families to be adequately prepared before they even officially begin the process.  And now that we have five children who are eating me out of house and home this mama probably needs to help bring in some income.  It is both exciting and nerve wracking at the thought of going back to school at my age, but because my kiddos and Eric are super supportive and excited for me, I know I can do it!

On that happy note, here are some pictures from the past few months.  As you can see our lives are anything but boring!

Halloween 2014.  YunYun, Elijah, Dima & Sammy

YunYun at her BFF's bowling birthday party.

Elijah on the lake preparing to kneeboard.

Elijah loves the water.

YunYun's first day of school!

Sammy and a cat named Gatsby.

Jeremiah at homeschool co-op and sporting his new glasses.

Art study at co-op.

Sammy loves co-op days.
Meet the teacher night at Dima's school.  Only this year daddy is a teacher at Dima's school!

Dima and his buddy at a special football day during school.  I love his "game face".



Monday, October 20, 2014

Great is Thy Faithfulness

Those of you that have been reading our blog since we adopted Dima may remember that Dima has an older brother who still remains in Ukraine.  I am not going to go into any personal details about Dima's older brother but let's call this young man "Justin".  The first time I heard anything about "Justin" was during our adoption hearing in Kremenchuk.  It was then that Eric and I officially petitioned to adopt Dima and it was then that I committed to pray for "Justin" every day.  I was also hopeful that someday I would find him for Dima's sake.  One of the many days that we did paper chasing in Ukraine we got stuck in a traffic accident right outside of the little town where "Justin" was living.  A few months after we returned home to the States from Ukraine I wrote a letter to "Justin" and despite even having the address of where he had been last residing, I chickened out.

As time passed I continued to pray for the brave young man who took such good care of his little brother, my son, and never lost hope that someday, someday we could make contact.  Then things began to look unsettled in Ukraine.  My heart was saddened to hear that a country that I loved was in turmoil.  More often than not my mind would also wonder if "Justin" was safe.  Back in March I created an account on European Facebook and began to search for Dima's older brother.  Then I found him.  I knew it was him.  Contact was then made by some lovely ladies who knew "Justin" and one of the families had even hosted him in the United States last Christmas!   Without hesitation I sent a friend request to the young man for whom I prayed for over 2 years and he accepted.  I also learned that he was in need of a family of his own.

Our family was deep in the depths of adopting YunYun so it was not really even a consideration that we could have adopted "Justin" at that time.  So I gave it all to the Lord.  I prayed.  I prayed with friends.  I asked for prayer for him from our church.  I also patiently waited for him to make contact with me personally so that he could know that his little brother was safe, loved, and very happy.  Before I knew it Elijah and I were in China and I had to focus on my new daughter.  Deep down, however, I felt somewhat guilty inside that we were not adopting "Justin" and I wanted more than anything to help him find a family.  I began to put the word out among my friends in the adoption community in hopes that someone would choose to open their hearts and home to an amazing young man who deserves the same love and happiness that his little brother now has.

But allow me to back up for a moment.  While Elijah and I were in China we had the opportunity to meet three other families who were adopting from the same orphanage as our daughter.  Their boys and our daughter were all very close with one another.  YunYun loves her little buddies so much and still, to this day, talks about them, looks as their pictures, and is thrilled when new pictures of her buddies are posted on Facebook.  But there was one family with whom I had a divine appointment.  A family, whose daughter sparked a desire in their hearts to adopt an older brother.

You see, while I was in China struggling with emotions of a new daughter who was traumatized and feelings of guilt over a boy who would never be part of our immediate family, I was actually meeting "Justin's" future family.  One of the families, the "K Family", was destined to be "Justin's" family!  God knew my heart, heard my prayers (and that of so many others!), and He remained faithful to us all!  He remained especially faithful to a young man who so rightfully deserves a family.  The parents of one of my daughter's very best little friends will be "Justin's" family!!  Our families will now be forever connected through the miracle of adoption and faith.  My son, Dima, can now rejoice that the big brother who loved and cared for him will now be in a great family; my daughter, YunYun, can rejoice that her best little buddy will be the younger brother of her younger brother!

All of that being said, I have offered to help this fantastic family with their fundraising efforts.  Ukrainian adoptions take about 7 months (give or take) and they have only been home for 3 months with their new son from China.  I look forward to sharing their story as they allow and help them graft my son's older brother into their family.  Will you join me in lifting both "Justin" and the "K Family" in prayer?

In the meantime I leave you all with one of my most favorite songs…


Monday, October 13, 2014

A Long Overdue Update

It has been far too long since I last updated this blog so I am now going to make an attempt to get back into the saddle.  I am pretty certain that many of you are wondering if Grace is even home and if so how things are going.  Grace, who prefers to be called YunYun, has been home for almost three months and overall doing quite well.  She turned 12 last month and is turning into quite the young lady spreading joy to most everyone she meets.  YunYun is adored by her family and she especially adores her daddy.  It blesses my heart to watch them interact and I am so thankful that she is finally home where she will have every opportunity in the world!

But allow me to back up.  I am not going to go into too much detail about our time in China as I doubt that YunYun wants every detail of her life displayed on the Internet, but I will share some of what we experienced.  Elijah and I loved China and enjoyed our time in that beautiful country.  We got to stand on the Great Wall of China on Elijah's 10th birthday, eat amazing food, be somewhat independent during some travel around China, and we learned to fully rely on God.

Our time in China once we met YunYun was challenging as our newest family member was completely thrown for a loop.  My heart was broken for my new daughter but I knew that God would make a way.  Poor YunYun was expecting a completely different situation and she had the most difficult decision to make of her entire life.  To trust me.  I was amazed by that young lady's resolve and bravery and I will never forget the pain in her eyes as we were leaving her native land.  But as of today, October 13, she is thriving in her new family.  She sees that we have nothing but her best interest at heart and want nothing more than to help her be the best that she can be.  YunYun is now in school in the fifth grade and making such great strides with her new language.  She is making friends, changing hearts, and showing others that people with special needs are not scary and have so much to offer the world.

YunYun is also teaching our family how to have grace and yes, even more patience.  I though maybe Dima had prepared us with the whole lesson in patience.  Nope!  YunYun has found a way to teach us about patience.  Upon our arrival back home in the States we had a rough time.  Quite honestly (and understandably) she viewed me as the "enemy".  Everything was a battle from what time we go to bed to what we will wear.  But I stood firm and she learned that being a child in a family means following the rules and being respectful.  I never once expected or demanded that she love me (or even like me!) but I did let her know that I require respect.  It took awhile, but I think we have learned that lesson.

Eric and I are so grateful to everyone who prayed for us, supported us financially, and to those who helped while Elijah and I were in China.  YunYun's new life would not have been possible without each and every one of you.  The Lord continues to bless us in ways we would never have expected and we are just so grateful for His faithfulness to both our family and YunYun.

In the coming weeks and months I hope to share more but things are different with YunYun.  Unlike Dima, YunYun is more private and shy.  I wish to respect that.

Thank you all once again.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

First Leg Complete

Well, Elijah and I have made it as far as Detroit, MI where we have a 24 hour layover.  We are in a lovely LaQuinta and had a yummy supper at Bob Evans.  It may only be 5:30 in the afternoon but we are very tired and already getting in our pajamas; sleep will soon follow.

Tomorrow we take off from Detroit and fly straight into Beijing where we will be met by our first guide.  Saturday will be a tour of The Great Wall of China and celebrating Elijah's 10th Birthday!  Woo hoo!  Sunday will be a quick morning of sightseeing and then heading to Nanjing where we will prepare to meet our Gracie Girl!!!  It almost doesn't even seem real to us quite yet.  Maybe when we board our flight to Beijing?

In the meantime please continue to keep Elijah and I in prayer as we travel.  Prayers for safety, no mishaps, and continued health.  Please also pray for Eric, the boys, and his parents as they care for Jeremiah, Dima, and Sammy.  So far no tears from Sir Dima today and that is a blessing in and of itself.  And of course, please pray for Grace.  She knows that she will meet us on Monday and then be in our custody.  I cannot even begin to fathom the feelings and thoughts racing through her head.  What I DO know, however, is that somehow it will all work out and I think once she meets Elijah that will help ease any tension.  Three of her very best friends will also have the same Gotcha Day and be at the SWI office with us and their new families so that will also help ease her transition.

Well, my eyes are getting heavy and the shower is calling my name!  I will check in tomorrow as we wait to board our flight and maybe, just maybe from the plane.  Good night!

Monday, June 30, 2014

FULLY FUNDED!!!!

I am in the throws of last minute packing and such but I wanted to take a moment and share that we are fully funded!  Our family is beyond grateful to each and every person who has donated over the past year to help us get to Grace.  This adoption (in terms of fundraising) was much more grueling than Dima's adoption and I am so thankful that it is over.  Please continue to lift our family up as Elijah and I travel leaving Eric and the others behind.  Poor Dima is really starting to struggle with the thought of me not being home for two weeks.  Please also pray for Grace as she prepares to leave the only life she has ever known.  I know that while she is excited to become part of our family she will mourn the loss of her friends and all that is familiar which is only natural.

In the meantime...back to packing!!!!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

T-Minus Four Days?

Well, we are supposed to leave on Wednesday.  Our tickets and hotels in China are booked.  But we are still short $5061.  Suffice to say our being able to go somewhat hangs in the balance.

That being said I have relaunched our Bonfire Funds t-shirt fundraiser from March.  This time, however, we only have one week to sell 50 shirts.  Last time was raised over $600 and it was a huge success.  Even though I will be landing in China before this would end, we need to do this.

This is the t-shirt design:



To place your order (you will not be charged until AFTER we met our goal of 50 - if we do not meet our goal you will not be charged at all) please go HERE.

From what I hear these shirts are super soft, fit well, and people have received lots of compliments.  The message, of course, is the most important part, though.