Monday, July 7, 2014

Grace's Surgery and EFBF

What a month has gone by since my last update!  Almost every morning I think, "Today I will update the blog!"  And then another day goes by....or I decide that maybe what I would write that day would be worthless because I was so tired physically and emotionally.

The good news is that Grace's surgery is done and was successful!  Praise the Lord.  She went in on Monday the 30th and came home on the 3rd.  Handsome had to stay with her because there is no way I could do it with Little Man.  It is hard for him to be away from work for even a few days, so I am very thankful he was able to do this. 

Grace will be in a half-body cast for at least 4 weeks, poor baby.  The doctor decided that the second hip did not need to be operated on, so we are also very thankful for that.  She did much, much better at the hospital with Daddy than she did with me in November for the g-tube.  Again, God knows best.  I was pretty frantic that I was not the one staying but with cell phones if the nurses needed to ask a question, it went very smoothly.

She had to have a special car seat and we have to be careful on how we position her at home.  Her pain meds are also critical at this point.  We were a little late this morning and she was hurting.  It broke my heart.  Please continue to pray for her.  That she heals quickly and well.  Pray for us as we maneuver through the next few weeks with the cast.  The day(s) right after the cast is taken off will also be incredibly many prayers would be appreciated.

In the meantime, I am suffering with EFBF - Extremely Fussy Baby Fatigue.  This is a condition in which your baby is so fussy that you are worn out body and soul.  It quickly develops a partnering condition of EFBA - Extremely Fussy Baby Anxiety.  This is when your baby is so fussy that you have to strategically plan everything - including things like how to go to the restroom - around your baby's screaming.  When you look at everything you have to do through the lens of, "How do I do this with one hand?" while bouncing your fussy baby with the other hand.  Both can be downright debilitating.

Yes.  Right after my last blog post, my content baby turned into our typical extremely fussy baby.  I had forgotten how hard this is.  I am just not hard-wired right to handle a screaming baby - it just completely undoes me.  Don't get me wrong, we do let him cry. We have to in order to keep life moving here, but it is just not something that I am able to get used to.  Our hardest time right now is at night when I need to feed and rock Mimi to sleep.  By the time I lay her down, I am wiping back the tears at hearing him cry in the other room - as well as feeling so badly for Handsome, The Warrior, or The Testy Chef - whoever has the turn of trying to walk/bounce him until I can come get him.  By the time I have him back, I am so wound up that I cannot sleep....leading to more Fussy Baby Anxiety! 

So right now, even the most mundane like showering, using the restroom, folding laundry, and cooking has become epic in proportion. However, because this is our ninth or tenth kiddo like this, I do know that it is just a season.  That eventually (with some a little over a year) this too shall pass.  I am so in love with this Little Man and so thankful for this precious gift my Savior gave to me that I cry over him daily.  Even during such a hard, hard time, I know that I have been blessed beyond measure - far beyond what I could ever have imagined.  I know this seems contradictory to some, but it is the truth.  It is a huge struggle to get through the days, yet I am so filled with joy over him.

My precious family did go camping in mid-June.  The Helper and The Testy Chef (my two oldest daughters) stayed home with me and the "Little 5" to help and to finish their schoolwork.  It was a really difficult week with Little Man and trying to keep the other four well taken care of so the girls could study.  BUT the amazing thing to me - though some of you will laugh - is how QUIET it was (other than Little Man!).  I could not believe it.  I just soaked it in every day.  In addition, a completely amazing thing happened - something I was told was true, but had seriously doubted over the years...when I had a few seconds to clean STAYED clean.  Really!  Did you catch that?  It STAYED clean.  I have to say, as silly as it sounds, this did give me some hope for the distant future.  I might, just might, have a clean house some day....ah, bliss!

The week after, my two oldest girls took a trip to Colorado with their Bible quiz team.  The Helper's team took second in the nation and she was personally the third highest quizzer in the nation!  I am so proud of them both!  While they were playing and getting a much deserved break, Handsome, The Warrior, and I had to hold down the fort at home.  These are really tiring days!  The day after they got home was Grace's surgery - so the team at home shifted again to the Big 3 kids and I while Handsome was in the hospital with Grace.

This morning, my Big 3 are headed off to youth camp.....Can I say that I am really dreading this week?  I don't think any of them read my blog regularly, but I won't post this until they are gone...two of the three have offered repeatedly to stay home and help me.  It makes my Mama's heart melt at their kindness, but there is no way I am going to let one of them stay home.  Their youth group is an amazing group of kids and leaders and they deserve the break!  But....I am still dreading this week.  After the Big 3, I have three 10 year old boys, an 8 year old girl, and a 7 year old boy.  I am realizing more and more that they just have not been expected to learn/do the same things as the Big 3 because they are so this is a good week to really work on some training.  I have realized, especially with the boys, that there really seems to be a 'you-got-it-or-you-don't' gene for taking care of smaller kids - and I get that.  I don't expect them all to be kid-helpers.  But I should be able to say, "Will you take care of ______?" and have it get done.  Hmmmm, another area to work on.   Regardless, I would so appreciate prayers for this week.

Once the Big 3 are back, life still stays busy for July.  Lots of doctors' appointments and Serenity has her surgery for tonsils, adenoids, and ear tubes the end of this month.  Another extended family camping trip in there as well.  I just keep praying that although I am exhausted (EFBF and EFBA), that my kids are loving their summer and will be filled to the brim by the time we need to focus on school again.  Praying for the strength for today....and tomorrow...and the next day....

Here are a few photos for fun:
Hope playing

Serenity with Grandpa!

Hope with Smiley and The Boss

Hope on her hands and knees!!!

Hope with Grandma

Mimi with Grandpa

The Testy Chef with Little Man

Grace and Little Man

The Boss

The Warrior with Little Man

Serenity (She is so easy to get fun pictures of!)

Little Man

The Helper and Serenity (both addicted to selfies).

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Don't Let Me Choose....

I have my Little Man snuggled in on my shoulder.  I hear Mimi playing with her toys around the corner.  Handsome and Smiley went into the shop early this morning to get some work done before the day really begins.  Everyone else is asleep....

I treasure my early mornings as I sip my coffee and spend time with my Savior.  It is the only way to start a morning.  I can focus my heart on the right things, plan for the day, and spend time in thanksgiving for all things.  As it gets lighter earlier each day, I wake up a little earlier and enjoy more time.  If it gets too early, I may need a little more coffee!  ;-)

Ever since Little Man arrived almost 3 weeks ago, the same thought has been running through my mind.  It has been one of my main prayers for the last year or more ~ "Lord, don't let me choose.  Don't let me choose because I will choose the wrong thing every time."  The more I walk with Him, the older I get, the more I see this to be true.  So many decisions are made on the emotion of the moment, not based on a far-reaching or a Christ-glorifying perspective.  It is based on my emotions of the moment - which are usually temporary, easily swayed, and so often selfish.

In October, I would have chosen not to be pregnant - and obviously not to have had a stroke.  I am NOT saying I would have chosen to abort.  I am saying I would have chosen to not get pregnant in the first place.  I would have chosen the easy way.  Even at the time, based on my life to that point, a niggling voice whispered that once I had seen my little baby's face, I would think it was all worth it - but I didn't want to go through the discomfort and the difficulties.  I didn't want to have to battle fear over the stroke and dangers for months and months.  I didn't want to figure out how we would get through the last weeks when Grace was too heavy for me to lift and I couldn't get down on the floor to change diapers and clothes.  I didn't want to fight off those feelings that I get every pregnancy of feeling like life was "on hold" for almost a year.  (Again, this is a feeling, not based in truth.)  Life was hard enough each day without adding more to it.  I also, honestly, didn't want to give the critics any more targets to aim at as they are always firing off anyway.

I see so many areas that if I had chosen, I would have taken the wrong path.  I would have chosen something easier, some that seemed clear compared to the other path, something I could understand, something that took less faith and less risk.  Something that seemed like it would partially ease the desires pounding in my heart, but in reality would have been like eating an Oreo when what I really needed was a full day's worth of good, nutritious food.  It would have eased the hunger pains for about 5 minutes and then I would have been in need again.  But how many times would I have chosen the Oreo instead of waiting for my precious Savior to provide what I really needed?  Every. Single. Time.  Yes, a very humiliating and humbling answer.  I would chose the wildly changing emotions over the truths in Scripture and the unbroken pattern of Christ's faithful provision for me.

I have learned how very dangerous emotions can be if they lead me away from the truth found in God's Word.  This is not to say all emotion is wrong.  The Bible is full of emotion - the joy of the Lord, rejoicing in all circumstances, abhorring what is evil - the examples go on and on.  The danger comes from the emotions that say, "I know You are asking this of me - because all things are in Your perfect Hands - but I don't want to."  I may not want to for many reasons - I am too tired, it is too hard, I can't understand why or how, it was not part of my plan,  it just seems utterly impossible, I don't feel like doing it, etc., etc. 

By the way, I have heard throughout my life people saying that if God truly wanted them to do something, He would make it so that they wanted to do it.  Because they don't "want' to do it, it must not be God's they brush it from their hands and walk away.  Well, following that logic, Abraham must have wanted to sacrifice Isaac, Daniel must have wanted to be held captive by the Babylonians, Paul must have wanted to be beaten and eventually beheaded, and Christ must have wanted to be crucified and suffer His Father's wrath....right?  Remember, even Christ prayed that the cup would be removed from Him if it was possible!  What all of them wanted above all else - even their own emotions - was to obey whatever God asked of them - not the specific circumstances!!!!  There is a huge difference there.  A life-changing difference if believers would apply it to their lives.

So, as I snuggle this little man, I am so indescribably grateful that I didn't get to choose...that God knew best, and gave me another perfect gift.  All my children are perfect gifts given by a loving Father.  He heard the cries and saw the tears of a young woman so many years ago, sitting in an empty baby's room.  I thought my arms would always be empty - yet here I am, my cup overflowing by His grace.  How do I ever fail to trust His faithfulness and His perfect plan?

Soooo, does this mean that life is easy?  Nooooo.  Little Man is a very content baby - only our second content baby out of a dozen that came to us before they turned 13 months old!  That makes everything much more enjoyable - but still a challenge.  I think it helps as well that we have done this so many times - so we know that we must strive to find our new "normal."   Our biggest challenge right now is that he usually decides he must eat immediately, when I am in the middle of feeding one of the other three girls.  There are a total of 13 feedings that I need to do separately each day between Grace, Mimi, and Hope.  Some of them Handsome can help with - in a pinch, the oldest three can help, but it is not ideal.  We also are trying to find a new normal with the bedtime routine. I want to rock each of the girls before I put them in bed (some in combination with a feeding), but am having trouble as Little Man also needs me at the same time....hmmm.  How to do it all?

It is the end of the school year as well.  We did the required testing (by our state) last week.  In the past, this has always marked the end of our school year.  However, this year due to the trip to rescue Serenity and Hope, my oldest three are not done yet.  I have to laugh how important summer break is to me - I obviously went to public school!  I want to have a few weeks that we do not have to focus on assignments and due dates....but it may be a precious few weeks this year!  If you would, please pray for my oldest three - to have the motivation to get their work done.  I know it is discouraging to them even though they say it was more than worth it.

We have some camping trips on the calendar this summer, the first of which is next week.  However, this year I will be staying home.  The Testy Chef has volunteered to stay with me - but, oh, how I wish I was going!  But I know this is the best plan for this year.  Little Man is so tiny and I just don't think that Hope is ready for such a huge thing yet.   Grace will also be happier in her comfy chair rather than having to deal with changes.  It would be a good experience for Serenity, but it would also make it very, very hard for Handsome to juggle the needs of the other kids and corral Serenity for her safety.   There is another trip planned for mid-July, but Grace will be in her cast from her hip surgery, so I will stay home with youngest again. We have a church camping trip at the end of August that is only 90 minutes away from home.  The plan is that we will all try to go for this trip, but that decision will be made as it gets closer. 

This is one of the realities of adding kiddos with special challenges.  Handsome and I have to balance out the needs of each precious one with the needs of all the others.  In this case, the camping trips are a very important part of family life.  We go with my parents and my siblings.  It is a very precious time of relationships and freedom from the responsibilities at home.  Last year, the first trip was hard on Grace, enough so that I came home two days early, but it was so good for everyone else!  With such a large group going, my bigger kids get a break from their daily responsibilities and the younger ones can help with chores as adults guide them.  Keeping this in mind, Handsome and I knew that we wanted to have those who were able have the ability to go even if others couldn't.  I am so thankful for a husband that is able to do so much - even bring 8 kids camping without me!

Hope is doing very well right now.  She is consistently sleeping through the night.  This is probably due to the fact that she is now mobile!  Praise God!  She is scooching on her bottom around the house.  So now we have to corral she and Serenity and Mimi.  We laugh at our "modular" gating system - trying to block off the areas that they are not safe in, yet giving them enough freedom to explore.   She is now drinking from a sippy cup on her own as well.  Our next food challenge will be for her to expand the "flavors" she is willing to eat and to start taking food with more texture.  Honestly, it makes me exhausted to just think of that battle ahead.  I have realized that all of my adopted kiddos have wills of iron - except for Grace.  I think they have to have this determination and "fight" to survive their circumstances as a orphan - but boy, can it make the learning process at home very hard!

At therapy yesterday, they put Hope in a gait trainer like Mimi's and she was moving until she got cranky about it.  We will pull out Mimi's and work on it at home as well.  I do not think it will be long until she is walking though.  She is now pulling herself up to her knees at the couch to get to things - the drawback of being so much bigger than a 9-12 month old is that there is nothing really tall enough for her to pull up to a stand yet.  She listens very intently to all that is going on around her, but she is not trying to babble or talk yet.  She makes a lot of "noises" but they are not in patterns or recognizable sounds yet.  We are debating when to begin some speech therapy with her.  From experience we know, especially with the speech therapy, that there needs to be at least some willingness to cooperate and we are just not sure that is there yet with her.  Overall, I am praising God as she grows calmer and more secure.  I am working on focusing on the progress already instead of the distance that still needs to be conquered.

Serenity is still full of life!  I pray that never changes - but it can be so exhausting.  The damage to Hope's emotions and cognitive abilities are very, very obvious.  The damage to Serenity is not immediately obvious, but is there nonetheless.  There is simply no behavioral control for her.  If she is happy, she is EXTREMELY happy.  If she is mad, she is EXTREMELY mad.  If she wants something, she wants it NOW.  If she wants on your lap, she wants on it NOW.  If she doesn't get what she wants, she immediately flies into a massive temper tantrum.  (We call them grand-mal temper tantrums as they are all-consuming.)  I have come to realize that although she was in a good orphanage and was loved by the people there very much, she was on a crash course to be one of the older children that are tied to their beds because no one can control them.  I am NOT saying this is okay in any stretch of the imagination - but I have come to see how it happens.  Many of the older children that have such huge behavioral challenges, have come to be that way, not necessarily because of their special needs but because of a complete lack of training in self-control.  When they are tiny and cute (like Serenity), the behavior can be controlled by distraction and physically moving/restraining them - but as they get bigger and stronger, it is no longer easily done.  And honestly, it is no longer "cute" anymore.  It gets to the point that no one wants to deal with it and they are then confined to control them.  Very, very sad.  Handsome and I have discussed several times that although Serenity and Hope's orphanages were extreme opposites, in the end, the consequences end up the same as they grow older.  Children need families.  There is no substitute for this.  None.

My time is gone today....I am so thankful for each one of you that read and pray for us.  I pray you can learn from my mistakes and failings without having to go through it yourselves.  I pray that you can see God's grace shining over two people who are so imperfect and limited - but are able to do what God has asked of them by His power and grace.  I pray that you can see even though we are sinful and flawed, that we desire to serve and glorify our Savior above all else.

Oh, and one last HUGE praise!  Samson has a family!  Praise the LORD!

We are at the six month mark for Serenity and Hope  - so we have a post-placement visit with the caseworker this week.  As I gather the pictures for that, I will post them here......

Until He comes....may He be glorified in all things.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

An Indescribable Blessing!

Perfection....born May 13th....weighing only 8lbs 12oz (it was thought he would be 11 lbs)....

God is so good and His plans are perfect

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Racing by...

Where have the days gone?  Good grief...I am sorry for the neglected little blog!

First of all, Grace did not have her surgery.  She began throwing up in the middle of the night before the surgery and that was that.  She is rescheduled for the end of June.  While it was a bit of a relief at the time, it will be much more complicated when Little Man arrives and a hot summer with a half body cast.  Another thing I am just trusting our loving Father has a plan!

Little Grace has been so happy these last few weeks.  We are not sure why, but we are enjoying it so much.  She "sings" to us and laughs and smiles.  It is just pure delight to us.  She is doing well in therapy as well.  Although it may not seem like much, she is trying to move her little body...what a wonderful thing to behold!  A child who was written off as nothing - seeing her grow in her own ways.  Praise the Lord, oh my soul!  We love this child more than could ever be imagined.  She is the apple of her Daddy's eye and a favorite of all her brothers and sisters.  God took something that was such a huge step of faith and has poured blessings over us in abundance!  Praise His holy name!

Little Hope is slowly, oh so slowly, opening up to life around her.  I am more convinced than ever that there is so much more going on in her little heart and mind than we ever guessed.  But there is such scarring and damage from her first 5 years, at times I am sure it is a very painful growth.  I am sure there are days she wants to retreat to a world of "nothingness" just to avoid the growth pains.

She has started demanding more food on her own.  This is is a huge step that she is pushing for something, anything she needs.  We knew she needed more calories, but just could not get her to eat more.  She is now eating double what she was a week ago AND she is drinking from a sippy cup with handles by herself!  Again, we praise the Lord!  Every little thing she learns she can do is one more step towards healing and growth. I know that it may seem so small...too small for our level of excitement...but it is not.  Not when we know where she has been and what she has had to endure - or go without.

She is also doing very well in physical therapy.  Mimi's therapist has taken over with her and has truly fallen in love with this little pixy girl.  She is so close to crawling.  I cannot even begin to measure how this will change her little world.  As well, she is actively playing with her sisters and brothers.  She seeks attention from Smiley in particular and he is more than happy to oblige.  What a gift God has given us in each child - each strength and ability.  The Helper has begun to come every week to therapy as well so that she can see what things she can work with Hope on.  How my heart overflows with love for each gift we have.

Mimi is turning 6 years old tomorrow!  This is so difficult to fathom.  This little tiny girl - hardly the size of a two year old...the little one that we didn't even know if she would make it to her first birthday...and here we are getting ready to celebrate her sixth!  I can't tell you what this does to my heart - again, the blessing upon blessing!  This has been an interesting few months with her as well.  After years of struggling to get her to eat even the tiniest little bits by mouth - she has decided that if Hope can do it, so can she!  She and Hope battle each other to be the first to be fed!  Another praise.  She still must be fed the majority of her food via g-tube because she just cannot get enough fluids/calories by mouth - but there is always hope for more.  In addition, it just adds to the input in her life - good foods, sweet flavors, joining with others as we eat.  She always comes quickly if she sees me with food and wants a taste - even if it is just a little.  Thank you, my Savior!

We have also seen another side of little Mimi as she purposely crawls over to Hope and angles her feet to kick at her!  We were so shocked the first time - not our little baby!  She wouldn't do that....would she?  Sure enough!  Poor Hope!  Mimi is also getting more demanding of sitting on my lap or snuggling - not the best development with Little Man just a few weeks away!  Big changes in store, little girl....just wait and see.

And then there is the hurricane....Serenity!  Yep, still have not found a way to summarize this ball of energy beyond..."wow".    We will meet with the ENT (ear-nose-and-throat doctor) on Monday.  He is the one that will need to sign the prescription for hearing aids.  I am beginning to feel a little frantic about getting them.  I need to know how much of the behavioral issues are simply her dynamic personality and how much is due to her being closed off in her own little world due to hearing loss.

This last Monday was a big day for her at the Children's Hospital.  Her CT scans were done and we met with a slew of experts.  I think I went into the appointment feeling pretty relaxed.  After all, they assumed the "worst case" scenarios with Hope and instead all was very, very good and she is a "textbook" case  for her surgery in about a year.  With Serenity, they have always been pretty just another textbook case.  Right?  (You know already the answer coming, right?)  Nope, not at all.  No textbook scenario this time.

Although she always charms with socks off of the doctors and staff - and although she is so capable in so many ways - there is significant pressure on her little brain from the skull malformations.  Much, much more than they assumed, even with a child with Apert Syndrome.  In fact, they showed me pictures of the inside of her skull - where there is massive "scalloping" of the bone where the throbbing of the brain is carving away sections of the skull.  Wow.  That is hard to even think about.  Her (wild) hair also does such a great job hiding her skull, it was pretty sobering to see how different it is from an "average" skull.

The discussions that went on in the room full of colleagues was a little sobering.  This is not a "textbook" situation after all.  We knew she would need surgery on her skull (obviously) and we knew that her mid-face would need fact, there are a lot of surgeries we knew she would need to have - but it moved to a whole new level of urgency after the scans.

After much debate and discussion, it sounds like the approach will be to have her tonsils and adenoids removed soon to allow her to breathe better, especially at night.  (She snores like a boat full of drunken sailors.)  Then they will tackle the skull.  The goal is to shorten the height, while adding to the width.  She also has a significant hole at the top of her head (which is probably her saving grace right now) but will need to be closed.  The hope is to be able to add to the forehead enough to start to protect her eyes, which are significantly unprotected right now.  How hard it is to even fathom this.  Thankfully, God has brought another family into our lives - who have become the very dearest of friends - whose daughter has had numerous cranio surgeries.  So they can help us to know what to expect.  One of the hardest parts emotionally, will be to have her head shaved.  We try so hard to show how beautiful each of our children are - it is going to take some creativity to work with that shaved head, especially in the summertime!  It is silly when compared to the magnitude of her issues - but emotions are never rational, are they?

All of this to pray on, even as the days are getting so short before we welcome Little Man into the world.  Not quite 3 weeks left - how hard that is to believe!  They measured him almost 2 weeks ago and he was already at 7 1/2 PLUS pounds.  Wow!  No wonder I am so uncomfortable!  He may be nearing 11 pounds by the time he is delivered.  The Boss, our last bio baby, was 10lbs 1oz - so we will see if we have a new record holder.  Maybe a c-section is not so bad after all! ;-)

On a slightly different topic, I have been "chatting" via email with another mom of many.  A woman that I admire so very much and wish I could just have one cup of coffee with her in person!  We had to laugh as we both thought the other person was "superwoman" because of all she seemed to silly to see how wrong our assumptions were.  So, I just want to share a few ways in which God has provided for what we have needed.

After my stroke in October, we knew that Handsome needed to go on the rescue mission to get Serenity and Hope.  That left me at home - in that very sick and tired pregnancy stage - taking care of the rest of the treasures as Handsome and my two oldest were gone for 2 weeks.  All I could do was pray for strength.  But God had a huge gift already in process for us.  The mother-in-law of a very dear friend told me that she wanted to come stay with me the entire two weeks Handsome was gone.  I cannot tell you how blown over I was by her offer!  I had always enjoyed her company although we did not see each other regularly - but I could have never imagined her making such an offer, especially living 90 minutes away over the mountain passes.  I couldn't help but think though that our chaotic crowd would scare her away before the 2 weeks were up!

Well, she came a bit like the magical elves in the shoemaker's shop and began helping with the cleaning and cooking.  We tackled serious housecleaning and organizing.  Every single closet, bedroom, and shelf.  In addition, she cleaned every carpet and scrubbed every surface.  We were both exhausted every night.  After the first week, she needed to go home for the weekend.  I was secretly afraid that she would not be coming back - that we were just too much to handle.  When she came back - to my delight!- on Sunday afternoon, she was glowing.  Hmmm.  What did that mean?  Well, she shared with me her plan....Would we mind if she parked a camping trailer under our carport so she could come over two days every week to help us?  What?  I just couldn't believe it.  I still can't.

I had prayed for at least a year that if we needed "outside" help, that God would provide it.  Although we have amazing family and church family, I just couldn't see anyone that could make that kind of commitment.  Well, He graciously and amazingly provided through this loving woman.  My kids now have "Grammy" in addition to their Grandma and Nana - and they love her.  She has them over for cups of cocoa in her trailer and she is always willing to stop and love on one of the little girls as they need it.  I cannot tell you how she has blessed us.  She doesn't even hesitate to tackle the overflowing laundry baskets - even when she left them empty just the week before.  I smile every time I see another indication of "Grammy" in my house.  I had given up on weekly dusting and sparkling clean floors long ago - and yet I have them now - at least for 2 days a week! - because of her generous love.  We still do laundry 6 days a week, all day....we still have to work to keep things picked up and in some sense of order...but she comes and helps pull it altogether again every week.  What an amazing gift from our loving Father.  She will come for 2 weeks at Little Man's grand entrance as well.  Ahhh...bliss!

Also, my mom, "Nana" has been homeschooling the youngest 5 homeschoolers this year.  Wow!  Another amazing gift.  She laughs that she went to college and got an elementary teacher's degree forty something years ago....only to use it now!  She is a born teacher.  After a rough start - as every homeschool mom knows! - they are in a really good groove.  This has freed me up immensely to work with the girls who have so many needs and to just meet the needs of such a large family - in addition to business paperwork for Handsome's business.

I am not superwoman - I cannot do it all.  Without this extra help, some things would have to be given up for a time...maybe even a long time.  We make every adoptive decision based off of whether we could do it ourselves if necessary - but have been so amazed by the gifts given to us through our loving God - using those willing to serve wherever He asks.  The days are still impossibly full.  I still cry in exhaustion so many nights - but when I see His faithfulness to provide all that we need, my heart can rest in peace that He is always with us.  I don't know what the future holds - but I have seen the One that holds the future...and He is faithful.  ALWAYS.

So in the coming weeks, please pray for Serenity's "game plan" with surgeries.  Pray for safety and blessing with Little Man's delivery.  Pray for His continued provision in all things.  Pray for wisdom and amazing patience for Handsome and I as we raise these amazing young people.

Please also pray for little Samson.  He is in a horrific orphanage - one that we are very familiar with.  I have been there - I know.  He has CP - untreated CP - that is pulling his body backwards into a position that is making feeding and even breathing very, very difficult.  Pray for a family to race forward to rescue him.   You can read more here .  Here are several pictures....please print them out and pray for him.  Please.

I know it would be so much easier to look away.  To just pretend we didn't know.  To not hurt and be horrified.  But we can do something....please pray for him every time he comes to mind.  He also has a donation button here that you can make a tax-deductible donation to a fund that will be given to a family that chooses to rescue him.

God is faithful.  Always.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Each day a little closer....

Each day a little closer to our Savior returning....a little closer to summer sunshine...a little closer to meeting our new Little Man...a little more progress made in each life....

It is Sunday morning and I am listening to some fabulous hymns and the sun is shinning through the windows.  Today turned out much differently than planned.  It was supposed to be The Testy Chef's 16th birthday celebration.  Instead, we have sick kiddos.  This, besides being such as disappointment to all of us looking forward to time with precious family and friends, also adds a complication to this week. 

Grace is scheduled for surgery at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning.  The dreaded hip dysplasia surgery. :(  We have been warned this is a very painful surgery.  It is so hard as a parent to know you are choosing to put your child in pain.  I know that the pain now will save her a lifetime of misery, but it doesn't help my aching heart.  However, she had a high temperature yesterday and had a tough night last night with tummy and body aches.  This morning, she seems fine.  What to do?  The doctor wants to wait and see how she is tomorrow morning.  One part of me would be very relieved to NOT have to go through with surgery tomorrow.  But, I know that just means that we will have to do it this summer with Little Man in tow and Serenity due for some major surgeries as well.  But I also don't want to add possible huge complications to her body healing if it is already fighting germs.  I know that God will direct us, we just are not seeing which way this morning.  Will play the "wait and see" game until 6 a.m. tomorrow when we are due to check in at the hospital.

The weeks have been so busy.  I thought my life was crazy busy the last 10 years, but I really had no idea!  Every day I check the calendar to see what we need to accomplish for the day.  On the rare days with no doctor appointments, there is plenty to catch up on at home.  It is a bit dizzying!

Hope had her CT scans.  We are praising God that her brain appears to be in very good condition.  There is not pressure from the unusual cranio shape.  The doctor was very vocal in how happy he was with the scans.  He will want to do an MRI about a year from now and then make the final plans for surgery next spring.  For those who are interested, I did tell him that I was amazed that they could "close" the skull without putting pressure on the brain.  He replied that that is one of the things that they "plan and discuss" - they look at the room they have to close the skull and also have to take into account how much optical nerve they have to work with.  The distance between most people's eyes is abut 22mm.  Hope's is at least 66 mm.  That is a huge difference!  She has all the bones in the "right" places to move her face into a typical alignment, but they still need to be sure they don't stretch the optical nerves too far.  I cannot even imagine!  I guess that is why I am a mom and not a neurosurgeon!

The hard part of all the good news is that it becomes clearer all the time how much of her struggles are due to her neglect and abuse in her orphanage.  It is so hard to come to peace with the fact that her struggles were not necessary!  If she was treated as every child deserves to be, she would be so different.

We have had an interesting few weeks with her.  She is definitely making progress - slowly but surely.  We were amazed to see her rolling to get to where she wanted a few days ago!  This was on top of realizing that she is finally laying herself down or getting back into a sitting position by herself!  But it is always done when she thinks that no one is watching her.  Why would that be?  I can come up with a hundred speculations - but still would not have a definite answer.  Yesterday, when she thought no one was looking - she scooted on her bottom to get closer to her favorite toy.  95% of me is filled with joy that she is moving!  She is doing it!  It was as we had hoped - if given the opportunity, she would begin to figure these things out.  (In addition to the physical therapy she has once a week.)  But there is 5% that is honestly a little frustrated that she will only do it if she thinks we are not watching.  What would cause her to do that?

In addition to the progress though, we have had some pretty big battles over things we thought were done.  She is again crying most of the nights.  Not nearly as long or as loud as at the beginning, but still most nights.  Both she and I are exhausted when morning comes around.  She is also fighting me about eating her food again.  I feel like I have to have some seriously good wrestling holds to get the first few spoonfuls in her mouth.  She is also refusing to do things like "walking" to me at night while The Testy Chef or Handsome holds her up under her arms.  This used to make her so excited and happy!  Now she won't move her feet.  We still go through the motions, but it has made something that was so fun to see into a struggle.  All we can assume is that those things she can control, she will try to be in control of.  I am sure life is so different and that causes her stress - even though it is a "good" different, this is her way of dealing with it.  I pray for patience and grace and tender compassion for her - my frustration is really only my own selfishness.  I still wrestle daily with how much damage has been done to my daughter - it didn't have t be this way....

Serenity - wow, how many ways can we say "dynamo"?  Sometimes it has us all laughing long and hard - other times, I am ready to pull my hair out!  I am so thankful that we were given this gift - what a life full of sunshine!  But we need to figure out how to contain that energy when necessary!

She had a fever/cold the day of her CT scan, so they rescheduled it.  I was really disappointed - but as always, have to trust there was a reason.  It is now rescheduled for late April.  I am anxious to see what her scans will reveal and how quickly she will need to begin surgeries.  It is late enough in April that a surgery before Little Man's debut in mid-May will not be possible....but I am wondering how quickly after his birth we will be back in the hospital.  She sees the same cranio-facial team as Hope and they all were anxious during Hope's appointments to see Serenity.

We did have her hearing and speech evaluations done.  She has moderate to severe hearing loss.  The outer ear hears almost nothing.  She has significant fluid built up in the middle ear, but nearly perfect hearing in her inner ear.  The hearing tech said that almost all of her patients with Aperts have hearing aids, but we have to get a signature from an ear-nose-throat doctor to order the hearing aid.  She said that children with Aperts can have chronic fluid in their ears, plus there is also a significant chance that her tiny ear bones may be misshapen due to the Aperts.  But, it just depends on the ENT doctor whether they want to explore draining the ears or the misshapen bones first or just proceed with the hearing aids.  That appointment is at the very end of April.  The plan with speech therapy really hinges in many ways on what is decided with the hearing aid.  Our family has played for years with sign language, but it is time to take it up a notch.  Even though Serenity will be limited by the shape of her hands/fingers on what she can sign, it will give us the ability to better communicate with her.

NONE of this was unexpected or a surprise - but driving home from the appointment, it just seemed too much to process at the time.  I am sure it is due to the exhaustion and the pregnancy emotions - but I had to once again lay it all at my Savior's feet and trust Him for the strength and ability to do all that is in front of us.  I have said it before and say it repeatedly - all that we do is only possible by His strength and grace.  Every. single. thing. 

Little Grace is doing so well...depending on what happens with the surgery tomorrow.  She is so full of laughter and smiles right now.  I feel the need to clarify that many people would miss the delight she is because of how limited she is.  She cannot see.  She does not speak.  She barely moves.  But she knows her family.  She LOVES her daddy more than anyone else in the world.  She gets so excited when she hears his voice and makes cooing noises and laughs until he picks her up.  Her smiles are the biggest when she is snuggled in his strong arms.  It is a joy that makes my heart hurt to see them together.  This child who was just a "throw away" - that no one thought would ever be chosen - is now an infinite treasure to her family.  We cannot even begin to describe the love we all have for her.  Every child is precious.  Every child deserves to be treasured and adored - regardless of their abilities.  This is how Christ loves us.

Little Man seems to be gaining pounds per day.  I am moving very slowly - much more slowly than really I can for all that is still before us in these last 7 weeks before he debuts.  All is looking good so far - but we are trusting Him for all the details.  It never leaves Handsome's mind for long that this is considered an extremely high risk pregnancy.  I honestly forget.  In so many ways, except for the stroke and the twice daily injections, this has been an "easy" pregnancy.  I am guessing just because I don't have time to spend too much thought and emotional energy on it....I just need to keep moving and doing and laughing and loving until it is time for him to come.  As always, 7 weeks seems so far away on one hand and way too soon on the other!

We continue moving through each day with our eyes on the Author and Perfecter of our faith.  Trusting Him to provide all that is needed for each moment.  Some days in laughter, some days through tears - but always trusting.  There are hard things going on in the world...there are hard things going on in our friends' lives....goodness, there are hard things going on at home...but He is always faithful.  Even when we are not.

Please pray for Grace's surgery...for Hope and Serenity...for Little Man....for the busy days ahead.  As you are doing that, please pray for this little one.  His name is Samson on Reese's Rainbow. This picture shows how significantly he has deteriorated in his 2 1/2 years of life.  He has CP, an ASD, and hydrocephaly - but that is not why he is like this.  He is in a horrific orphanage.  I know, I have been there.  Once again, another life that does not have to be this way.  Another life neglected and abused by those who are to care for him.  Please pray for a family to race forward to rescue him - that God would preserve his little life if it is His sovereign plan.  That the family has the courage, faith, and provision to move ahead on a difficult path quickly.

Come, Lord Jesus, come in Your mercy....

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A day in the life...

I always have to laugh when someone asks how many children we have....I always laugh right before I reply.  It is funny to see the responses we get...anywhere from "You are a saint" (so NOT the case), to "Better you than me...", to "I am crazy with just two kids!", to "How do you do it?" 

The kids were laughing in the car yesterday that when we arrive somewhere, like the campgrounds in the summer, the looks from the older people around us are immediate horror - not due to what we look like, just how many of us there are.  But within a day, we are suddenly the "most amazing family" they have ever seen.  (I always wonder what other families they have seen that would prompt that response within hours!??! Yikes!)  It almost always starts a spontaneous giving of treats - cinnamon bread, gum, chips - all very funny, but so appreciated.

I remember two trips to Sam's Club in particular.  During one, there was a woman that saw us and began asking very abrupt questions - not mean, just abrupt.  If I cannot gauge where an interaction is going, I try to politely end it before something weird or that may hurt my kids feelings is said.  This was a situation that I wasn't sure of, so I kept the family moving.  We saw her on a few more aisles, but then she was gone.  I quickly forgot about it as it was time to finish up for the youngest kids' sake.  As we were leaving, she marched up again and I thought, "Uh, oh!"  She pushed something into my hand and gruffly said, "Good job!  You are amazing.  I have done foster care for years."  I didn't even have time to respond and she was gone again.  In my hand was a $100 gift certificate!  What?   Such a huge gift from a stranger!

Another time, we decided to get pizza at the deli because we had taken too long and kids were just not going to make it home.  Two of the boys needed constant reminders to behave.  One because he was cranky, one because he was squirrely.  I noticed that a woman was watching us intently.  It is easy to assume the worst, but I try to give the benefit of the doubt.  We are a "novelty", especially in the area of the country we live.  But at the same time, I am silently praying the kids don't have a full meltdown under such scrutiny.  As she was leaving, she walked up to the table and handed me $20 and said she wanted to pay for our lunch because we were "Amazing."  Wow.  Again, I always think that we are not amazing - we have bad days - and this was not one of our best - so what prompts this response?  What are people seeing elsewhere?  Good grief!  At the same time, each time someone complements what we are doing and my kids in particular, it is a much needed burst of sunshine to our days.  Now as we go into a public setting, we remind the kids that we want to turn the looks of horror to smiles of delight - the kids get it and love seeing how long it will take.  Please note, I have enough strong willed, independent kiddos that I know their first reaction is, "I don't want to!"....but it is so much fun to see that they all end up agreeing anyway.

When people ask, "How do you do it?"  There is not a simple answer.  I have started telling people that they can't take what life looks like with 2 or 3 or even 4 kids and try to picture doing that with 13 kids - no wonder they look so stressed out trying to picture it!  Our life does not look the same as it did with 4 kids.  I cannot tell you how thankful I am for that.  In so many ways, we wasted time on the "not so important."  I would have been VERY angry as a mom of 4 if someone had told me that - everything seemed extremely important - critical! - at the time.  I felt very busy and tired - but I still loved being a mom.  But I was also very busy tiring to squeeze in so many things - to our schedule, our budget, our daily life - that just really didn't need to be there.  I was still trying to squeeze so many things in for me that just didn't need to be there.  And I was never content with what I did squeeze in!  I always hoped to find more "me" time....I had so much at the time, but just couldn't begin to recognize it.

Our days now are just full of "daily living".  Meals, laundry, school, diaper changes, baths, clean up, wiping up tears and kissing "owies", bills, snuggle times, home therapies for the girls, g-tube feedings, etc.  Just what we need to do daily.  But in a way, it is so much more fulfilling and less demanding than all the expectations I had with 4.  "Me" time is in the early mornings with a cup of coffee and my Bible and prayer journal - even for 10 minutes.  I have put away my cross stitch bucket and my books I read for fun.  This year, I am not even attempting to sew Christmas or Easter dresses (very hard to let go of for me).  I am even having The Testy Chef crochet the new blanket for Little Man's arrival - something she was tickled to do - there are so many fun yarns, colors, and textures out there!  I know what my response would have been as a mom of 4, "What?  I couldn't do that!  I need to take care of my dreams, too!" or on my more self-righteous days, I would think, "Well, I am doing that already."  Oh, silly girl!

But please listen to me - I am more content and full of joy than I ever was as a mom of fewer.  Not because I have given up "me" time - but because of the work my Savior has done over the years in my heart.  He didn't just gently take these things from my hands, He had to wrestle it from me as I kicked and screamed and threw temper tantrums!  I just could not see how this could be better.  I thought I knew my heart and priorities - what a laugh!  Despite my confidence that I was a "good" parent and a "good" Christian - willing to sacrifice myself for others - I came to clearly see (and still do!) how selfish I was and am.  I had just been able to paint it nicely - or I had fully believed those that said I must take care of myself first, so that I could properly care for my family.  That sounded like good advice! 

I always had niggling doubts though - where did I see that in Scripture?  Where did Paul do that?  Where did any of the heroes of the faith do that - without being shown that it was sin?  Most importantly, where did my Savior do that?  He who laid down the privileges of heaven to be born in a lowly stable, be raised as the son of a carpenter in a group of people that were looked down upon?  Where did He do that as He healed and taught the multitudes...only to quietly move away in order to pray?  Even when He did fall into an exhausted sleep on a boat,  He was awakened by the disciples who were in terror for their lives.  He woke up and silenced the wind and waves for their sake.  Scripture doesn't say, but my guess is that He didn't get to go back to sleep after that amazing display of His power and authority.

I sincerely think we need to HONESTLY look at this bit of advice....but as a way of illustration, I would like to share something I heard in a Q & A session online with one of my favorite teachers .  He was being asked by a bunch of high school/college age kids a question about obeying their parents.  You may remember those questions if you were in youth group at that age.  "Do I need to obey my parents even if they are wrong?"  The teacher's obviously insightful response was, "Who's definition of wrong?  Yours or Scripture's?"  Ummm...that wasn't quite what the group expected....they hadn't thought of it from that perspective.  But being young, they can always find a (clever but wisdom less) one said, "What if my parents tell me I have to do something against the commands of the Bible?  Like lie or kill someone?"   I thought, "Ugh, I have been asked that question too many times and in too many ways!" when I was a youth leader.  But I had to laugh at the teacher's response!  First he laughed - he is a big, black man, so it was quite a belly shaking guffaw when he did laugh - and then said, "Really, son?  How many times have your parents asked you to do this?  How many of you have ever been asked to do this by your parents?"  He you can guess, a very impressive dead silence.  He then went on to say that we spend so much time on the obscure, almost completely unheard of "exception" to the rule as a way to avoid the truth that we are not obeying when we should be!  We focus on the exception, rather than on the reality of our daily lives.

So with moms - I have to you really, personally know a mom that is driving herself into the ground by serving others?  Are you yourself doing this?  Really?  I know moms that are driving themselves into the ground because of their own desires/expectations!   Desires and expectations that are not laid our in His Word.   I know of moms that are driving themselves into the ground over fighting against what Scripture asks them to do - to lay down their lives for those God has given into their care.  The very rare moms I know that are giving their all to what Christ has asked them to do can get very weary...but they always have their eyes focused in trust on Christ - believing when He says that He will give them rest in due time and the strength to continue.  They rejoice in the few extra hours (or minutes) of sleep that they do get in due time and the 5 minutes to read His Word for encouragement without having to referee a fight.  They rejoice in the hope of a beautiful sunrise and a day in which they must work hard, but sense His presence in each detail - even the hard ones.  These few moms are tired, but full of joy - true joy. 

The other moms are being driven into the ground by trying to take care of their needs first and the needs of others - in my experience, there is no way to do both if we are the ones working to supply our wants/needs - not trusting Christ to do so.  Pick up your Bibles - start finding all of the verses that God promises to meet our needs - and then find all the verses that instruct us to seek Him first, to serve to bring Him glory, to put others above ourselves.  We cannot let human "wisdom" become more important or true that God's wisdom.  Do you want to lose your life?  Then cling to it.  Do you want to save your life?  Then let it all go.  This is a paradox that can only be truly understood through living it.

Please know this does not mean your life will be rosy and easy.  NOWHERE is that promised in Scripture.  But it means there will be joy and blessing in the journey - what your heart is truly longing for.  Please also know that this is not an area I have even begun to master.  I look outside and long to be gardening.  I look at my yucky gray walls and long to paint color on them.  I eye my cross stitch bucket and just want to pick up a project.  I wish some days for just an hour of quiet.  But I have learned that these things do not bring the joy I am longing for.  Don't get me wrong, if my Savior provides time for it, I will rejoice and jump in with a thankful heart.  But I know now, through experience, that my life is not my own, it was redeemed at unspeakable is not my life to live anymore.  It is His.  What freedom there is in that...

To Him be all honor, glory, and praise forever....