Archive for November, 2015

  • The First 30 Years

    Date: 2015.11.26 | Category: Uncategorized

    I had just turned 20 and you were 19 on the day we wed.  You were going to be an art teacher and I hoped to be the mother of two or three.


    We were young and naive.  We figured we could handle anything that life threw our way.

    Little did we know how heartbreaking and tough life could really be.


    We survived 14 months in a hospital room with more complications than we even knew were possible.

    photo 4

    We were warned about the statistics of how many marriages failed after the death of a child.  We were warned about the stress on marriages after a prolonged hospitalization, but our faith and our love grew with every new curve life threw our way.

    We were so surprised when we found out we were expecting again.

    Dan & Lisa

    What a blessed surprise little Zachary has been.

    We had our three little boys and I was adamant we were done. But you kept saying wouldn’t having a little girl be so fun?  You reminded me of my dreams of having a daughter of my own.

    Family 2

    Once again you were right.  She’s added so much to our life.  A beautiful little girl both inside and out.  Our family was complete at least that is what we thought.

    You continued through medical school and residency and decided neonatalogy was the perfect fit.

    Our family was settled and the end of training was in sight.  15 years is a long time to to work to achieve your goals but you were almost done.  We used to joke about the light at the end of a tunnel finally being in sight and for once it wasn’t a train.

    But as fate would have it, one fateful night, our life was turned upside down as your heart broke for a little girl fighting for her life in the NICU.  She grabbed your heart and wouldn’t let go.   Most people told us it was crazy, it would tear apart our family, that we shouldn’t do this to our children, but we decided to take a chance.  We named her Hope because it meant trust and faith and on 6/29/99 she became our daughter for life.

    Adoption day

    She would need three surgeries but the surgeon convinced us it was worth a shot.  God had sent her to us so how could we not give her a chance at the life she deserved?  At the very least, she deserved a family and a name.  Everyone was on board to give her love for as many days as God would bless us with.

    She not only survived but she thrived and you finished your training and degree.  You took a job to be closer to family.

    We bought our first house with a couple of acres.  We started to feel settled in our new home.  Your job was going well and you had new opportunities to achieve your dream of making life better for babies.  You started applying your ideas to improve outcomes with clinical and quality improvement in the national company you were part of.

    DSM Register Pic

    About six years later, we decided to try again.  It seemed God was saying to have another child and we eagerly awaited the arrival of another little girl.  Life was good.  Then the unthinkable happened and she was delivered by emergency c-section.  By the grace of God she arrived as healthy as could be.  That is how she got her name Grace and what a blessing she would be.

    One of my favorite family pictures!

    One of my favorite family pictures!

    A few years later you would read a book that rocked you to the core.  Max Lucado’s book Outlive your Life.  He asked the question about what you would tell your children about what you did to help the millions of children starving and waiting for a family.  At the age of 44, you decided we should adopt.  We could help at least one child.  We could give them love and care for them.

    I, however, felt we were too old.  I worried about what the world would say.  I worried about too many things that truly didn’t matter.  Mary Beth Chapman would change my life with her book, Choosing to See, in which her daughter asks “Is it better for an orphan to have an older mother or no mother at all?”

    So even though we thought that our family was complete we decided to adopt.

    Family 4

    God lead us to China.  By fate and a friend we would find our agency, CCAI.  We filled out the forms and applied to adopt.  We checked off the boxes on our Medical Conditions Checklist about what we thought we could handle and were matched with a little girl almost immediately.  She was deaf.

    Cassie had begged to take an ASL class in college and now that made sense.  Cassie had almost completed her year which talked about deaf culture and she felt we could handle this so we said “yes!”.   God is most definitely in the details.

    Very first picture we saw of Maisey.

    A new policy had just gone into effect where you could adopt two if the second child had a more complex medical need.   We decided to proceed.  Hope asked to adopt a little boy with a heart condition like hers and we set off to find our little Tigger.

    Ben 11

    We took a chance on losing our hearts again.  We knew he was our son so we stepped out in obedience and faith and took a chance knowing he might not even live long enough for us to get to him.

    In the midst of the paper chase, Gracie got sick.  We couldn’t figure out what was going on.  She had been sick for weeks and just couldn’t get rid of this bug.  We went in to check for mono and left with the diagnosis “possible leukemia”.  We were sent to an oncologist for a bone marrow test.


    It ended up being lupus with kidney nephritis.   Gracie endured chemo and more meds than any little girl should take.  We wondered how we could still adopt but Ben and Maisey were our children.  We could not leave them half a world away.

    It took a year of paperwork and waiting.  But the wait, though painful, was so worth it.

    China trip 2012 086

    We were blown away by these two little people who trusted us so quickly.  Their love for each other was so sweet.  They bonded with us immediately.  It couldn’t have gone better.

    We toured China.  We saw the Forbidden City. We walked the Great Wall.  We put a lock on the railing on the wall signifying our love could never be broken.

    china 2012 041

    Then we walked into an orphanage and our hearts were forever changed looking at all the little faces that were waiting for a forever family.  I knew we’d never be the same.

    China trip 2012 101

    David Platt was right.  “Orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names.  They are easier to ignore before you see their faces.  It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms.  But once you do, everything changes.”

    Our lives were about to change in amazing ways.

    family 6

    I knew God was telling us that we needed to do more and you agreed.  We felt that God was saying to say four on our new home study.  We had no clue what that meant but our social worker agreed and we waited to be matched.

    The road to the next four was amazing.   Strangers couldn’t understand.  Even our family was unsure at first, but they had seen God in too many details to question it now.  We watched as God opened door after door to allow us to adopt four at once.  It was easy to see God was the one in control.  It was such an amazing journey that year.

    We had agreed to adopt two.

    Here is Lainey Rae named after her paternal grandfather and great grandfather. She will be 2 in December.

    july 25th 2012 019

    We were waiting for paperwork on Eli and our agency sent us another file.  To this day, I have no idea why.  I refused to look at it because I didn’t want to say “No” but you read the file and even though there were a 1,000 reasons to say no, you chose to say, “Why not?” and I will be forever grateful for this fact.

    Evie - we were told she is doing well and is very shy.

    We had preapproval for Lainey and Evangeline.  We were waiting for paperwork to be completed for Eli and I had no idea how any of this would work.  We assumed we would travel again to go get Eli.

    And then we saw her face….

    jasmine 3

    We asked for permission to add a third child and China said “Yes!”.  We were beyond ecstatic.

    As luck would have it or better yet as God had planned, six weeks before we traveled, Elijah’s paperwork was ready. We asked once again for special permission because of his heart defect and China agreed.  How this year had happened was a miracle with too many to list in just this one post.  We stood in awe of all that happened to allow us to travel to get our four children at once.   I will forever feel beyond blessed that God allowed us to take a part in this journey.


    Twelve children.  It had been a dream of mine when I was a little girl.  I had given up on that dream long ago but here I was the mother of 12.  What others thought was crazy I thought was a beautiful gift.

    Once again we said we were done, but Jasmine had other plans.  She begged and pleaded and Gracie chimed in.  We finally had to admit that she was right.  We could do more.  We could love more.

    That had been the most amazing thing on this unbelievable journey.  You wonder how could you love so many children.  Mainly you wondered because you believed as you love, you gave away a pieces of your heart but that isn’t the truth.  As you love, it multiplies.  There is always room to love more.  There is no set number.  There is no cap to the amount of love you can give.  Your heart contains an infinite amount of love and the more you share, the more you are able to give.

    Your heart was taken by the sweetest little face.


    And we added Max to the mix.

    Max 2

    We traveled across the country for heart surgeries.  We watched blue fingers turn to pink.

    fingers 2

    We watched hearts heal both physical and emotionally.

    We watched our family bond and become friends.

    In just a few short years, we lost your dad, my mom, gramp gramps, aunt Kay, my grandpa (pop), Will and then your brother Rod.  Our hearts mourned for those we lost but we thanked God for the hope we will one day meet again.

    We truly believed our family was complete at 14.  14 means completion and perfection and it all happened in 2014.  I loved that fact.  It seemed a good place to stop our family, but the kids joked about us having 15 in 2015 and 16 in 2016.  They joked about even more and we laughed.  We told them at some point we had to be done adopting.

    Jasmine had a dream.  Her dream was a family for every child and we set out to advocate and support those who were adopting and those children who were waiting.


    We decided to advocate.  We decided to try to help families stay together by supporting them with the surgery their child needs.  You and I joined a wonderful group of people who are trying to make the world a better place – one child at a time.

    group photo

    Our children have learned what it means to give from their hearts.  They have raised money and awareness.  They are truly changed.  They know what is truly important.  They have watched God provide over and over again.  They know the truth and their foundation is secure.

    We have had two weddings.

    family pic Zach & Steph's wedding

    We have changed a lot over the years but one thing has always remained true.  You are my best friend.  I am happy doing anything with you.  I am content to just be by your side.  Our life has been so much more than I could ever have imagined or dreamed.

    It’s about to change again because our children have big dreams.  They prayed and prayed and we finally agreed they were right.  In 2016 we will add two more.

    Jessica William

    I can’t believe this journey we’ve been so graciously allowed to go on but I thank God every day it is you I have been on it with.  Thank you for being obedient to God’s call even when it doesn’t make sense by earthly standards.

    We don’t take fancy trips or drive a fancy car.  In fact, we drive a 16 passenger bus with a wheelchair lift.  We will never have an empty home and it will be forever busy, but that’s ok.

    I pray that we have another 30 years together.  I pray that we are always obedient to His call.   I pray that we never take these blessings for granted and we forever remember that we are seriously blessed.


    I love you sweetheart with all my heart.

    Family 7

  • I Was Content… (Here’s our secret!)

    Date: 2015.11.18 | Category: Adoption

    I was content with our decision to adopt only one child this trip. Cassie and I even joked about how we would have had pretty much every possible combination on our trips to China and would be able to compare them all.  We didn’t want to do anything to slow down the process with Jessica because she needs to get home and have her kidneys evaluated as quickly as possible.   We were at peace.  We were content.  I prayed that if God had different plans that He would make them abundantly clear to my husband because I was not going to look and I certainly wasn’t going to bring it up. But just in case, because I know His plan isn’t always the one I am making, I had our home study state two.  Our agency and our social worker were both on board with this plan and we were proceeding with a reuse of our dossier.

    Reusing your dossier doesn’t save you a ton of time but it does allow you to only update three of your documents for your dossier.  Your 1-800a, your home study, and your Adoption Petition.  Home studies take weeks no matter what you do because you have to get a new physical with your physician for all family members (and in our family that is a couple of people), update your local criminal background checks, do your fingerprints for the FBI to do your background check, and get your child abuse clearance.   There are ways to speed the process up by using agencies such as FBI Alert to do your background check.  You can walk into your local DCI office and get your local background check quickly but child abuse clearances always take time.

    But then the most amazing thing happened.

    Here is the back story that I have shared with a few of our friends.

    About 4 months ago, Ben said he had a dream about his brother in China who is 5. He asked when I was going to go get him. I laughed.  I showed him a bunch of pictures on the advocacy site and he said no about 20 times to a whole bunch of little boy’s pictures between the ages of 4 and 7. Ben’s mentioned it in passing a couple of times during the past couple of months, but I sort of brushed him off and figured he would forget it.  Every once in a while I would show him a picture of a boy about that age who was being advocated for but he has always said “Nope, that’s not my brother.” I let it drop because WE WERE NEVER ADOPTING AGAIN so I never even told Dan about the dream or about showing Ben little boy’s pictures!

    Ever since the decision to adopt Jessica, Ben hasn’t said anything about it. I figured he was just happy we were adopting or it was just a weird thing and didn’t give it much more thought.  Then Dan saw William’s post by Brooke on a China waiting child advocacy site. Dan rarely looks at kids. We have often talked about me removing myself from these groups because he knows how much it breaks my heart.

    Dan has said over and over again that if we could find a way to do it he would adopt a child a year until they told us we couldn’t any more, but we both know there is a point where we have to say no.  We both felt that 11 children at home was a good number.   Our life was beginning to come together and feel normal again.  We sincerely thought we were done adopting.

    As I was driving Maisey and Max to the doctor for their pre-op appointment, Dan called and asked me to look at this little boy’s pictures.  He says he just saw his face and he can’t explain how he feels.  He asks if I will take a minute and look at his videos.   I jokingly ask if this little boy is 5 and Dan says yes.  He later told me that he thought this was the strangest question.  We get out of the car at the rest stop and just for the heck of it I show Ben the picture and he screams, “Yes! that is my brother. How did you find him?”

    That is how this whole thing started.  We read about this little boy who is with another agency and we feel compelled to ask about him.  We reach out to Brooke and she tells us who to get in touch with at the agency.  We write an e-mail to Sara and tell her how we feel about this little boy.  Sara tells us that there are families looking at his file and his file is on hold.  She goes on to say that their agency will have his file until mid December, she will notate we are interested in him, and we should feel free to contact them after that date.

    We proceeded with our 1-800a and were waiting for fingerprints.  As luck would have it we got our notification for our fingerprint date, the day Dan had left for days on for a conference in Vegas.  We would not be able to walk in for our fingerprints because Dan would have to wait anyway.

    When he got home he said, “I am confident that this is our son. I want to write another letter to the agency. I have never felt such peace about any child.”   Their families that had put William’s file on hold turned his file down and he was now available.  The agency was advocating for a family for him and we asked that they would consider transferring the file.  Praise be to God, the agreed to transfer.  They asked our social worker and our agency to confirm that we would indeed proceed with his adoption and that we were approved to proceed and they worked together to get the CCCWA to approve the transfer.

    Judy at our agency told me that had we been locked in with our reuse that we would not have been able to lock in William’s file until we traveled to bring our other child home.  Delays that were driving me crazy meant that we could just do our dossier over and not add any time to the process.  All of this was possible because while we were waiting for our 1-800a approval and waiting to hear from the other agency, I was busy collecting all the papers for a new dossier….just in case we got William’s file on the 15th.

    The day we received our 1-800a notification, I also received my very last paper for our dossier.  I took them all to have them sealed right away at the Secretary of State and immediately sent it out to the courier.  I can hardly stand it.  God is so good.  He knows the smallest details and works them out.  I stand in amazement every time we adopt.

    We now have PA (preapproval from China) for a second child.  I’m assuming you would like to see his sweet little face too.


    Doesn’t his smile just melt your heart?  He is described as “sweet and helpful”.  His files says he likes to help the younger kids and plays well with others.

    Oh and did I happen to mention that awhile ago Dan had mentioned that he always regretted not naming a child after his grandpa, Bill, who had a huge influence on Dan as he was growing up.  You guessed it.  The little boy who was advocated for as “William” on the advocacy site will now be named William Alexander.

    We are blessed!





  • Elyse’s First Birthday

    Date: 2015.11.16 | Category: Elyse

    Today Elyse asked me if she could write about her birthday.  I told her she could tell me all about it and I would type it up for her.  I wanted to give a little background to the day and why it affected her so.

    Elyse will turn 10 years old on Tuesday.  She is very excited about having her “first” birthday.  She has been counting down the days for quite a while now. To say she is excited, would be a massive understatement.  She will be 10 but this will be the first time someone has celebrated the day of her birth.  The first time she has had a cake.  The first time she has had a family celebrate her life.

    This morning we went to church and the church sang Happy Birthday to her and another little girl named Grace.   As we left to head home, many of the congregation stopped and hugged her and wished her a very happy birthday!

    In the bus she was unusually quiet.  I asked her why and she said she couldn’t understand why people sang to her and wished her a happy day.  I explained that is how things are done in America.  Your birthday is a special day.  People celebrate your life and will wish you the best on that day.  She sat quietly on the way home and took it all in.

    When we got home from church, the house had been decorated by Reece and Cassie.  She was surprised and so excited.  She picked out her favorite lunch – nachos and noodles with orange chicken.  We then got out her cake and lit the candles.  We called Zach and Stephanie and with the magic of Facetime we all sang happy birthday as she blew out her birthday candles.

    She had a pinata and a huge blow-up My Little Pony balloon.  We don’t usually buy all the other big things that are available for a birthday, but your first birthday is an important one so we splurged.

    She asked to watch a movie with everyone.  They all sat around the t.v., snuggling, and hanging out.  I went out to clean up the kitchen.  I heard her wheelchair come up behind me but Elyse didn’t say a word.  Elyse is a talker and she is constantly telling me stories so for her to not be talking meant something was wrong.  I turned around to find tears rolling down her cheeks.

    I asked her if she was hurt and she said no.  I asked her what was wrong and she said that she didn’t know what to do with the feeling in her heart.  She said her heart was so full of feelings about her day and it made her sad.  I tried to figure out why celebrating her birthday would make her sad.

    Then the sobbing started as she poured out the words “thank you for loving me”.  She was thanking us for caring and for loving her and for giving her a party, something we all take for granted.  She continued to sob for quite some time as she said how much everything meant to her and how much she loved her family.  She talked about how it was just overwhelming that so many people cared about her.  She then asked to go thank her daddy and the tears started all over again with her words of thanks and love to her daddy.


    Elyse’s First Birthday (It’s the title she asked for.)

    I was so happy I had a birthday party.  It’s my first birthday party.  Before I never had a birthday.

    10th birthday - 10

    I’m glad right here people love me.  I’m happy my mom and daddy always take care of me and love me.  I’m happy I have sisters for my birthday.  They really glad.  I love my sisters.

    Before I never have birthday and no one loves me.  They don’t care about me and my birthday.  I never be shopping before.  I never had a mommy and daddy always love me, always take care of me.

    I’m so happy I still alive in China but I sometimes feel sad because they say you can’t do anything because you are in a wheelchair.  I sat around and thought about I can’t do everything.  They made fun of me and told me not to tell anyone, but now people say I can do everything.

    10th birthday - 11

    Today I sad and mommy ask me why.  I cried because I never see people love me like this.  I feel a little bit sad because no one loved me like my mommy and daddy do.  I tell mommy thank you for the party.  I cried because my heart feel really full with the sad and the happy.

    I do not know why they treat me like that all the time.  I am happy I now have a family who loves me.  I’m happy God showed my family me so they want to adopt me and love me and take care of me.  I so happy I have a family.

    10th birthday - 6

    Today mommy make me noodles and egg drop soup and spicy chicken soup and we have Oreo ice cream cake.  I really like it.  I’m happy mommy bought me a cake. The cake was very yummy and had candles.

    10th birthday - 14

    Mama really funny to me and daddy put frosting on my face.

    10th birthday - 7

    Daddy was really funny and he was playing. My daddy is a good daddy.  I got to pick a movie.  I pick one with Jackie Chan.  I really like it.  Jackie Chan is really good movie.

    I got a big pink My Little Pony balloon.  I really like it.  It’s my favorite.  I tell mommy it’s too expensive but mommy says it’s my first birthday so I can have it.  It is really big and really fun.

    10th birthday - 11

    It’s my first balloon.  It is bigger than me.  I’m happy my mom and daddy buy me stuff when we go shopping.  I get to go with them for my birthday, all by myself, and pick out one thing.

    I open a present from Reece and Cassie.  It is a chocolate writer.  My daddy love it too.  It had lots of pictures in it of stuff you can do.  You can make lots of things.

    10th birthday - 15

    You can write with chocolate and eat it.  I really like it.

    My feelings is really happy.  My feelings is I have a happy heart on my happy day.   Mama bought me a shirt that says I have a happy heart.  Mama says it is true.  I am very happy to have a birthday and family to share it with.

    I love my mommy and daddy forever and my sisters and brothers.  I love my big family and they love me so much.





  • Why?

    Date: 2015.11.15 | Category: Adoption

    Those were the words I heard from the clerk at Casey’s yesterday.  It was ironic considering I had been pondering all day what I should say in church tomorrow.  I had asked Pastor John if I could have a moment to talk about “why” we adopted.  The irony wasn’t lost on me as I left the store and walked back to the bus.  The conversation went something like this:

    Clerk – “Is that your bus?  Are you going on vacation?”

    Me – “Nope!  That is our family car.”

    Clerk – “Why?”

    Me – “Because we have 14 children.  Three who are in wheelchairs.”

    Clerk – “Why would you have 14 children?  Are they all yours?”

    Me – “Because I love children.  Because these children need a home.  Because I have always wanted a big family.  Yes, they are ALL mine, but we’ve adopted 9 of them.”

    Gracie (said with such happiness) – “And we are adopting again!!!!!”

    Clerk – “Why would you do that?”

    Me – “Because we have been so blessed by our previous adoptions.”

    Clerk – “I still don’t get it.”

    Pastor had mentioned before that everyone loves the kids and they are happy we adopted them but they don’t understand why we adopted so many.  I started to think about all the “whys” I have heard over the years.

    Why adopt special needs children?

    Why China?

    Why adopt so many?

    I have to admit those questions are confusing to me.  Our children were living in an institution.  They have medical needs that weren’t being met.  For six of my children, they would have died as children had no one stepped up.  No one should die alone.  Every child needs a family.  No one should grow up without someone who loves them and guides them and makes them feel safe.

    The clerk got me to thinking about how many people still don’t get it.  How many people read our blog and see our Facebook pages and still don’t get it.  I will admit it is hard for me because I wonder how can they know these things and still ask why?  How can they look at our children’s sweet faces and wonder why?   Then I began to think maybe our church and others don’t know what it is like to be an orphan.  Maybe they don’t understand our children’s backgrounds.  Maybe they don’t understand just how few children get adopted.

    So in honor of National Adoption month, I will speak in church today and I will answer any questions they ask and I will answer any questions you ask too (just comment below).  I pray that God gives me the words to open hearts so they can understand.  I pray that they would support others who adopt.  That they would encourage others to adopt.  That they would do what they can to help families stay together.  I pray that they truly take to heart James 1:27.

    In this world we like to pretend others will step up.  We say the problem is over there or it’s not our problem.  We can not close our eyes and ears to the injustice of the world.  We can not pretend that these children will be ok.  We are responsible to be the hands and feet of Christ.  We must step up.  We must do what we can.

    Did Dan and I start out with that in mind?  Nope.  Dan read a book that talked about all the children in the world starving and those in need of a family.  This book talks about it in terms of our generations holocaust or slavery issue.  The book asks “What will you be able to tell your children about what you did for this crisis?”  Dan decided we should adopt.  I, however, was unsure.

    I was unsure because I was looking at it through earthly glasses.  All I could see was what everyone else would say about me being too old.  But then God brought these words to me through another book, Choosing to See.  The words that rocked me to the core were this “Is it better for an orphan to have an older mother or no mother at all?”.

    We set out to adopt one child, Maisey.  We were lead to Benjamin and taken on a journey of faith.  Would we choose a son who might not live until we got there?  Could we open up our hearts to this pain and uncertainty again?

    We went to China with no intention of ever going back.  We toured.  We saw what we could see because this was it and then we stepped foot in an orphanage.  Where we were surrounded by little children grabbing at our hands and saying “mama” and “baba”.  We saw all these sweet faces who would probably never know the love of family.  We saw all the special needs children just waiting for someone to love them and our hearts were broken into a million pieces.  How could we not do something more?

    I knew when we landed in Des Moines that we would go back.  I had no clue about the journey God was about to take us on.  Is it normal to add 8 children to your family in 3 years?  Probably not.  Is it wise when you are older to take in these children?  I like to think it is if you have a plan in place.

    Dan and I have talked many times about how we will always follow where God leads.  We will always listen to him. We have chosen obedience over anything else.  I will admit to dragging my feet on this last one.  I argued many days and nights with God, but the girls were right.  Jessica is our daughter.  She is their sister.  It would be no different then me packing up Gracie and leaving her half way across the world to fend for herself.   Our daughter is there.  We must go get her.

    Maybe people will never understand that,  but I will continue to try.  I will continue to try and open eyes to what adoption means.  I will continue to share our lives in hopes that others will be encouraged.

    Hebrews 10:24   “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” 

    I will continue to share our lives because I want people to see our love of God.  I want them to see what faith in action means.  We don’t have it all together.  We rely fully on God’s strength.  We step out in faith because we know that is what He calls us to do.

    If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  James 2:16-17

    I would like them to understand because then their hearts will be open to children in need, but the truth is I don’t absolutely need them to understand.  In the end it’s between God and our family.

    Our family has chosen obedience.  We have chosen to take God’s responsibilities to heart.

    “Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning and purpose of life but as those who do.” (Ephesians 5:15 Phillips)

    And we have been forever blessed for that obedience.  Dan often looks at me and says with such reverence, “How did we get so blessed?  Just look at the joy and love on those sweet faces.  Why do we get to parent such beautiful souls?”

    Now that is a why that I just can’t answer.  I will never understand why we have been so blessed but I will never take that fact for granted.