Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

  • Family Mission Statement

    Date: 2017.04.01 | Category: Faith, Family Life

    mis-sion state-ment (noun)     A formal summary of the aims and values of a company, organization, or individual.

    A written declaration of a company’s or individual’s core purpose and focus that normally remains unchanged over time.  Properly crafted mission statements:

    1.  Serve to separate what is important and what is not,
    2. Clearly state what you believe, and
    3. Communicate a sense of intended direction.

    We have been working on our family’s mission statement for a while now.  We wanted something that shows our children what we believe in, what we are striving for, and what our family considers important.  It’s pretty easy, or at least it should be, for children who grow up in your house from birth to know what your family considers important.

    Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Deuteronomy 11:19

    It’s a little harder when the children come to you much later in their lives.  The language issues can make it difficult for quite a while.  It takes years for them to have deep conversations about what matters.  It takes a long time for them to understand what is important to your family.

    We wanted our children to be able to say that they were an “Ellsbury” and this is what their family stands for.  Because so many children have special needs and medical issues, we wanted them to be able to say they were strong and brave in times of trouble.   We wanted them to understand that we strive to help other children and families.  We want them to be generous of their time, their gifts, and the money God gives them.  We want them to be trustworthy and kind.  We want them to have a great foundation of faith to build their lives on.  We want them to trust God and His plan.  We want them to know that even though we can not help every child, we can help children one at a time.

    I have a thing for quotes and Bible verses. Anyone who knows me well can attest to this fact.   I especially like them out where I can see them.  Being an imperfect human being, I like daily reminders of how I am supposed to live my life.

    Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.  Deuteronomy 6:9

    I wanted our statement to be something that we would see every day.

    I thought about having it done in vinyl…

     

    Or printed out on a peel and stick sheet…

    Or done in metal…

    Or put on a canvas like these that I purchased from Glory Haus…

    I thought about having it framed.

    But I just couldn’t make up my mind.

    Then one day on Facebook another mama posted her family’s statement on this really cool board.  I asked her where she purchased it and she said Mary and Martha.  You can order this board that comes with four song verses on chalkboard tiles that you interchange ($120) BUT you can also personalize your own chalkboard tiles for $18 for the set of 7 boards.

    I absolutely LOVE the way it turned out.

    Now it is front and center in our living room.

    If you haven’t already put what your personal or family’s mission statement is on paper, I highly recommend it.  Otherwise we waste years of our lives striving for things that aren’t really important to us or aren’t what we want our lives to stand for.

    Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” –
    Francis Chan

     

     

     

     

     

  • The Kindness of Strangers

    Date: 2016.12.21 | Category: Faith, Family Life

    Today we had to head to the doctor’s office for some routine things.  The kids asked if they got ready early if I would take them to Burger King.  Since today was the first day of our winter break, I decided that would be fun.  They worked together and we left early enough to get food.

    I ordered the food and the cashier asked me questions about our food and our bus.  We talked about a little of everything while we waited for the 7 large fries and many nuggets.  We talked about everything from adoption to sauce packets.  We joked about how I don’t ask for sauce packets for the nuggets because the kids share the nuggets and there are never enough packets to go around.  Today there were extra sauce packets and a few more nuggets at the bottom of our sack.

    Little kindnesses from a stranger that brightened our day.

    The middles needed some vaccines so I checked them all in at the office.  JJ’s titers came back low and she needed a booster to be able to be put on the active transplant list. Everyone has to be up-to-date before we start the transplant.  The middles all told me they could handle it so I stayed in the bus with the littles.   The staff at our physicians office is so kind.  One of the office staff even offered to sit on the bus with the littles so I could be with the middles.  I told her it was fine, and thanked her for the offer.   They told me to let them know any time I needed help.  They even told me I could call them when I pull in the drive and they will get the door for the girls in the wheelchairs.

    More kindnesses that make life just a little bit easier for a mom of many.

    We decided it was so beautiful out that we should grab a few things at Target.  As I started to unload the bus, a car came up beside us.  We were parked quite a ways out in the parking lot so I thought it was a little strange for someone to park next to us.  Then I noticed that the woman got out of the car and was coming over to talk to me.  I hate to admit that my first thought was “Now what?”  I’ve had people yell at me for taking up four spots with our bus.  It’s one of the reasons we park way out in the lot.  We need room to put down the lift and we don’t fit in a handicap spot so there aren’t any options besides taking up four parking spots.

    Anyway, this women started her conversation with “You don’t know me, but I work with your husband.”  Now that is one I have heard before so I started to relax.  This women went on to say that she had recently had a kidney transplant and she thought JJ might want to meet her.  I thanked her for stopping and told her it would take a while to get out of the bus, but that I was sure that JJ would love it.  JJ is pretty quiet but JJ was touched by this women who took the time to stop and talk to her.  JJ went on and on about how good this women looked after her transplant, which was only 5 weeks ago.

    This women didn’t need to take the time to stop, but she did and by doing so her kindness helped ease a little girl’s worried heart.

    When we were shopping at Target, a lady went by and said something we hear quite often, “Boy do you have your hands full.”    Often times comments are made at the kids and it makes them feel bad.  They don’t always understand why people say what they do.   I guess this is a comment we have heard a few too many times because as the woman was walking away, Elyse yelled, “Our hearts are pretty full too.”  The lady stopped in her tracks and came back to apologize.  She said that she wasn’t criticizing me.  She said she was just commenting on our large family.  She was very friendly so we talked a bit, I smiled and thanked her, and off she went.

    We ran into her again in the back of the store.  She commented on how polite the kids were every time they answered me with “Yes mama!”  I told her that they were wonderful kids most of the time.  I told her I was blessed to be their mama.  She asked, Are they all on the good list?” and I said, “Of course!”  We wished her a Merry Christmas and off she went again.

    A little while later she found me back in the other corner of the store.  She handed me a gift card, told me what a great job I was doing, and wished me a Merry Christmas.  I was too stunned to say much of anything besides “thank you”.  She took me completely by surprise.

    She didn’t need to buy a card or come find me again, but she did, and in doing so she showed our children that not everyone is negative towards big families.  They were so touched by her generosity.  This will stay with them a very long time.  I wish I had been quick enough to get her name so the kids could have sent her a thank you.  Some where there is a stranger that brightened my day.  I cried all the way home.  It touched my heart that much.  I hope someone who reads this blog, hears this story and knows who this woman is and will send her our heartfelt thanks.

    Part of me feels guilty because I am sure there are families that need it so much more, but the other part of me is thankful that she took the time to talk to the kids and to make them feel special.  She went out of her way to show them she cared.  We get lots of people who stare and count.  There’s always a whole lot of counting going on when we pass by with our line of kids and carts, but we don’t often get a “hello” or a simple kind word.  I’m sure most people don’t know what to say.  I get that.  I do that too.

    Today was filled with the spirit of Christmas and I can’t thank those people enough.  It was a really wonderful day for the kids.  Our day was filled with little kindnesses and words of encouragement.  We will do our part to pay it forward.  This is my reminder to all of you that your kind words and acts of kindness really do make a difference.

    I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.  – Charles Dickens

     

     

  • A Gift for My Heart

    Date: 2016.12.04 | Category: Faith, Family Life

    A week or so ago I stood in line at Target waiting with a cart full of items.  The girl behind me had one item.  I tried numerous times to get her to go ahead of me.  She refused, said she wasn’t in a hurry, and stayed in line behind me.  Other lanes opened up and still she stood there.

    She listened as the cashier and I talked about why I had so much stuff in my cart.  The elderly cashier was a little chatty, very kind, and not in a huge hurry.  She kept asking questions as she worked.  I told her that we had 16 kids, 13 still at home.  She told me she was one of 12.  She said she loved big families.  She asked if I had given birth to all our kids.  I told her we had adopted 11.  We continued to talk about adoption and how blessed I felt.

    As I was getting ready to leave the girl behind me spoke.  She told me that she too came from a family of 12.  She told me that her mom adopted her out of the foster system.  She asked me if I ever resented having to buy so much stuff for the kids.  I told her that I have never resented having to buy cartloads of stuff and was very blessed to be able to do so.  She continued to say that her mom always seemed so happy and she always wondered if her mom was happy when the kids weren’t around to watch.  She was thrilled to see another adoptive mama be happy to buy for her children.

    Today I told Cassie that I needed some items at Target.  Cassie said, “Let’s take everyone with us.”  I thought, It’s a Saturday.  It’s only a couple weeks before Christmas.  “Sure! Why not? That sounds like a great idea!?!?!”  hahaha  We shopped with our row of kids – 1 double cart holding 4 kiddos, 3 wheelchairs, and Reece and Cassie walking with the others.  We ran into a couple of people we knew.  We joked with others about being a parade.  We picked up what we needed to finish decorating the front of our house and headed to the front of the store to check out.

    Reece noticed an open lane and we headed for it.  We just happened to get the same elderly lady that checked me out a week or so before.  She told me how sweet the kids were and how glad she was that she got to meet them.   Once again there was a lady behind us who commented on what we had in our cart.  She looked at all our kids and said, “Oh my goodness, are they all yours?”  I laughed and said, “Yes!”   I know most people aren’t being rude.  They are just surprised.   The cashier however said, “And I think it’s a good thing!”   I’ve never been defended by a cashier before.  It was kind of cute.   We checked out and all the kids wished her a Merry Christmas.

    We’ve been trying hard to get the house decorated for JJ and Liam.  It’s always fun to light up the house big for the kiddos who have never had a Christmas before.  The lighted garland I bought didn’t fit right so I headed back to Target by myself.  I just happened to end up in the same cashier’s lane.  I laughed and commented on her being on lane 12 before and now she was on lane 4.  She told me they move them around after breaks and she laughed about how I truly am always at Target.

    This little elderly lady reminds me of my mama.  She was kind and talkative and sweet.  She told me again how happy she was to see the kids.  She asked about the talkative one and I told her the short version of Evie’s story.  I told her how blessed we were to have these children in our lives and how sad it is that mothers have to give their children away to try to get them help.  She told me she could tell that we felt blessed to have these kids in our lives and then she said she was proud of me.

    It should have been a completely uncomfortable comment but it wasn’t.  It actually brought tears to my eyes.  I can’t explain it but it was like hearing it from my mom.  All of a sudden I could see my mama telling me that she was proud of me.   It was a very strange.

    You see a little over 3 years ago my mom was so excited to see us heading to China again.  She was at our house caring for our children, while we were in China, when she perforated an ulcer and had a major heart attack.  She spent months in the hospital.  She would recover a little bit and visit our house once to see those kids.

    Mom with kids

    She ended up passing away three years ago on Christmas Eve.  Mom never got to really meet her last 8 grandchildren.  She never again told me she was proud of me.  I liked to hear those words from my mom.  So tonight standing in a line at Target, I got a small gift from a little elderly lady who probably has no idea why she touched me so.

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    P.S.  My mom gave me many gifts over the years, but the biggest gift she gave me was a listening ear.  She was always there to talk and encourage.  She loved her grandkids and she was one of my biggest adoption supporters.  I miss her, but the very last gift my mama gave me was understanding about dialysis and kidney issues.  Because of this gift, we were brave enough to proceed with this little gift.

    jj-now

    Life doesn’t always turn out the way we hoped but there are blessings and joy to be found amongst the tears.

     

     

  • How We Ruined Our Older Children’s Lives

    Date: 2016.11.22 | Category: Adoption, Faith, Family Life

    Dan and I started out like most other people.  We met.  We fell in love.  We got married.   We dreamed of our first little house with a garden and a white picket fence.  Someday we would drive cars that didn’t break down weekly.  We would have a couple of kids, visit our family on holidays, go to church on Sunday, and lead a happy, comfortable life.

    After a couple years of marriage, we had the twins.  Codey and Kyle threw us for a loop but pretty soon we were back to our old comfortable dreams.  The death of a son and 14 months in the hospital surely meant that from here on out our lives would be easy.  Zach and Cassie were born.  They grew up.  They were bright, sweet, caring kids.  They excelled at school.  We dreamed of the day we would buy a bigger house and take nice vacations.  They would go to college.  Dan and I would retire and travel.  We were living the American dream.

    Then one day a little girl was born in the NICU where Dan was doing his fellowship. The pre-adoptive parents chose not to adopt her because of her heart defect and the bio parents chose to not to pursue treatment options, which meant she would die in the NICU without a family.  We had a choice.  We could step up and do something or pretend there was nothing that could be done and just stand by and watch her die.

    When we decided to do something, most people believed we had lost our minds.

    We were questioned about it over and over again.

    Why would you do this?

    Why would you bring a child who may die into your family?

    You are going to ruin your life.

    How will your other children survive the pain?

    They will resent you.

    Your are going to ruin your children’s lives.

    Over and over again we heard those words.  You WILL ruin their lives!

    Well, it’s taken me years to get to this point, but today I’ll admit it.  It’s true.  We ruined their lives.

    I’ll own it.  Heck, I’ll even go so far as to say it was the best darn thing that ever happened to them.

    Although I once feared ruining our children’s lives, I no longer do.  In fact, I love that their lives have been ruined.  In fact, I praise God that it happened so early in their lives.  My eyes were closed to the pain and suffering of the world for way too long. I lived in a very small comfortable bubble.   They, however, understand how beautiful life is and how fleeting life can be.

    They know more medical terms than any child should know. We ruined their normal, comfortable lives and filled their days with G-tube feedings, seizures, heart caths and surgeries, kidney failure, lower limb paralysis, SMA, PKU, brain damage, incontinence, and chemotherapy.  They know what it means to spend many, many days, weeks, and even months in the hospital.

    We brought hurting children into our home not once but 11 times. We ruined their picture perfect life.  We made our kids share their home, their rooms, their parents.  We’ve made them sit through doctor’s appointments and surgeries.  They’ve cried tears over shots, blood draws, and i.v. starts.  They’ve held trembling hands, wiped away tears, and been filled with fear as their sibling was taken away for surgery wondering if their sibling would ever come home again.

    These things that we feared would ruin their lives for the worse have in fact made them better humans.  These things have opened their heart to others.  They don’t see the world the same way that others do.  How could they?  Adopting has opened their eyes to those who live without a mother and a father.  It opened their eyes to what orphanage life is. It made them appreciate what they have.

    They have been ruined for the ordinary because they have seen miracles in our home.  Children who shouldn’t be healed are in fact, healed.  They know how fleeting life is because there are children, who are NOT guaranteed tomorrow, running and laughing through our halls.  They understand that it is better to love with your whole heart and maybe hurt later, than to never have known the love of these sweet souls.

    They know that intelligence doesn’t make you a better person.  They know that taking care of the least of these may not always be easy but it is worthwhile.  They know that little souls who never utter a word can speak volumes.

    They know there is no greater blessing than allowing God to work in your life.  They know that being obedient, even when it scares you, brings blessings beyond measure.

    Our children are not perfect.  They still make mistakes.  We all do.  But what I know for sure is that God has ruined them for what the world stands for and instead has showed them what He values above all else.  I praise God daily that they are no longer unaware.

    I once feared those words that others uttered…

    “You will ruin your other children’s lives!

    But now I embrace those words and I celebrate them.

    We have been ruined for the ordinary and instead have embraced the extraordinary!

    It doesn’t get any better than that!

    our-family-now

     

     

     

  • Her Kidneys Can’t Heal But Her Heart Can

    Date: 2016.03.16 | Category: Faith, Jessica, William

    Cassie had a long conversation with Jasmine the other day about Jessica’s hospitalization.  Jasmine told Cassie that she believes God knew that Jessica needed more time with just Dan and I.  Jessica needed to know she could trust us and that we would be by her side through it all.  Jessica needed to be held and to be comforted.  She needed to know that she would never be alone in the hospital again.

    image

    We can all see God’s hand in this.

    • The way Dan and Ben knew that Liam was to be our son.
    • How things worked out so files could be transferred and we could add Liam without slowing down our adoption process.
    • How our travel plans worked out so that we had to meet Liam first.  Liam was so good for her.  Jessica was completely shut down and refuses to talk to adults, but she loves Liam.  The laughter they shared together was so beautiful. They would play and play.  It brought such joy to our hearts to watch her just be a little girl.
    • When she didn’t get sick while we were in China.
    • When she had a couple of days at home, before her hospitalization, with Gracie and Elyse to feel safe.
    • When they allowed us to add her on to Grace’s appointment with nephrology so she could be seen right away.
    • When the timing allowed her to be hospitalized over Spring Break so Cassie and Reece were home for Liam to feel safe.
    • When we were admitted with nurses who had already taken care of Jasmine and understood how to care for a child of trauma and were so kind with Jessica.

    There are so many little things that we can see God’s hand in.  If we pay attention and if we give credit where it is due, then we can see miracles in delays and hospitalizations.  We can see how the bad can ultimately lead to good.  Many of us have taken the verse “All things work together for good” to mean that all things are good, but that isn’t the truth.  This verse means God can take the worst situation and use it for good.  It does not mean that if we believe, everything in our lives will be good.

    We saw it with Jasmine’s wound infection and  her subsequent 30 day hospital stay.  We saw something horrible lead to great healing for her.  It was hard at the time to understand why a child who had been through so much had to endure so much more pain, but a year later we see the healing it brought to Jasmine. (Blog) We understand that although this hospitalization isn’t ideal, it can lead to healing and trust for Jessica too.

    We now know that her kidney disease can not be reversed.  We know that she will at some point need a transplant and dialysis.  The good news is her kidney function has improved from 15% -which means dialysis now, to 22%, which means we can wait and watch her closely for now. It could be months or even years before she needs dialysis. This is a gift.  I can’t imagine starting dialysis right away.  We would have done it, but it’s nice to have a buffer of time to bond and for her to feel more secure.

    Her MRI and CAT scan showed many different spinal defects.  It’s complicated and no one can really give us any concrete answers.  Dan believes it falls in the spectrum of caudal regression syndrome.  Genetics is involved and I’m sure we will learn more as time goes on.  Her spinal cord ends at T8, she has severe “s” type scoliosis, there are numerous butterfly and hemi-vertebrae, she is missing ribs, and some ribs are fused, she has grade 4 vesicoureteral reflux of her right kidney.  It’s complicated and we aren’t sure what, if anything, can be done to help her spine.

    The good news?  Her heart is healthy and she is smart as a whip.  She has full use of her arms and hands.  She has a family that adores her and she will never go through anything alone again.

    The unbelievable news?  That the adoption process moved quickly enough that we got to her before she had this last infection.  When her charts were looked over by our urologist, he said, “She’s one bad kidney infection (urosepsis) away from passing away.”  That’s pretty scary.  But she got sick in the US where we could treat her aggressively and get her all of the specialized care she needed.

    The praise God news?  Had she stayed in China and had this infection she may not have survived. If she had survived, the infection could have accelerated her kidney failure to the point that she would have died without dialysis (she would not have been offered dialysis in the orphanage). If we had not been granted an “expedite” on her adoption – we may never had made to her in time. God provided.

    The great news?  We can help her heart heal.  Her sweet personality shines through.  We have seen her slowly start to trust.  She reaches out for us.  She shyly smiles and doesn’t shake her head no when we say “I love you”.  She still doesn’t really talk to any adults, but she’s figured out how to ask for what she needs with signs and pointing.  She’s asked to be held.  She lets us tuck her in.  She allows us to hold her hand and stroke her hair.  She reaches out for me when she is sleeping.  She will ask me for help.

    This is huge from where we were in China where she hung her head and wouldn’t look anyone in the eye.  Knowing what I know from Jasmine and Elyse, I know she was told she was worthless.  I can see it on her face.  I see it with the way she hangs her head.  How she refuses to look in a mirror.  How she shakes her head no over and over again if you say she is pretty.

    JJ & Liam

    She has come along way since her admission last week.  The look on her face just melts my heart.  Sometimes she forgets that she doesn’t trust.  Sometimes just for a few minutes you see her truly feel the joy of being loved.  She soaks it in.  She wants it so much.  Someday she won’t instantly throw those guards back up.  Someday she will know she is safe and loved.  Someday she will know we can be trusted with the great gift of her love.

    As Dan jokes – “Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated. We are the Ellsburys”… yes a bit of Star Trek humor. We are a bit tired.

    Someday our sweet girl will know her worth.  Someday she will know she is cherished.  She will understand the peace that comes when bathed in unconditional love. Someday she will play and laugh and dance in her wheelchair and just be a little girl.

    Someday…

  • Elyse asks, “Do You Know the Love of Jesus Christ?”

    Date: 2016.01.03 | Category: Adoption, Faith

    Up again with Lainey at 4 a.m.  My clock has been reset from daylight savings time, but Lainey’s has definitely not.  I have been looking through my drafts on my blog – 15 half written posts, including our homecoming post from our last adoption, which just happens to have been one year ago.  15! So why am I taking the time to start another one?  Because I believe Elyse’s question deserves a blog all it’s own.

    Yesterday my brother brought my grandma down to visit.  Elyse has seen my grandma one other time in the year she has been home.  While Elyse was talking to my grandma and Tracy, she asked them, “Do you know the love of Jesus Christ?”.  They stared at her and I clarified that she did indeed ask them what they thought she said.   They answered in the affirmative and Elyse was so very happy.

    Elyse 2015

    It wasn’t that long ago that Elyse asked another adoptive mom if she knew the love of Jesus Christ and if she loved children. On our way home, Elyse informed me that I could indeed be friends with this mama since she loved children and Jesus.

    I’m never quite sure what to say to Elyse when she does this.  She does this fairly often with strangers. I always get uncomfortable and flustered.  I was raised in a quiet church.  No one prayed out loud.  No one asked others about their beliefs.  We sent missionaries out into the world but nothing was said close to home.   We didn’t ask our family about it.  You were quiet and private about your life with God and your prayers.  It’s just the way it was.

    Many may have already heard this story but I will do a shortened version again for those of you who may not have heard.  One day I was sitting on a bench at the Iowa State Fair and a stranger started talking to me.  I can’t remember what we were waiting on but I had been there a while and we discussed many things.  She asked me about my family.  I said I have 5 children and mentioned their names, including Hope’s.  She proceeded to tell me that she loved the name Hope and told me about a little girl that her church had been praying for and the miraculous story about her life.  This random stranger told me all about MY Hope.

    It was then that I realized God’s story was being told whether I was saying anything or not.  I never talked about Hope’s life because I didn’t want people to think that I was tooting my own horn.  We were blessed by having her in our life.  We weren’t saviors.  We were just two people who had decided to be obedient to God’s call and were blessed to be a part of her story.

    I did realize in that moment though that even though I was refusing to tell of God’s miracle, His story about Hope was still being told.   It just wasn’t me doing the telling and I was the one who had seen it first hand.   How could I not share this miracle that we were allowed to be a part of?   So many things had to line up for her to be in the NICU at the same time that Dan was, I still stand in awe of what occurred and it’s been 16 years.

    The above story was what lead Dan and I to decide to share our adoption story.  We prayed about it for quite a while. We knew it would be hard for us to talk publicly about it, but that adoption stories needed to be told.  People need to see that yes it is hard but it is such a blessing too.  Dan is a pretty private guy so this decision truly was a hard one.  I’m a talker but I talk about fluff.  I am not able to stand in a group and gush about God’s glorious provisions. We knew what being public meant, that it was opening ourselves up to criticism and scrutiny, but we felt it was worth it if we could make adoption not seem so scary and help another child get adopted.

    Dan and I knew we were being blessed by being obedient.  We had no clue all of the wonderful miracles that would happen along the way.   The past 4 years have blown me away.  God has shown up time and time again.  I am so totally undeserving and yet have been blessed just by uttering a “yes”.

    So this begs the question, “Why wouldn’t I want to ask everyone I know if they too know the love of Jesus Christ?”   When God has done so much in my life, why would I not want to share?  God is such an important part of my everyday life why do I still get so flustered?  I don’t know.  I guess I will blame it on all those years of being trained to be quiet as a child.

    I love that Elyse is not afraid to ask.  I love that she wants you to feel the same joy she has.  Elyse is so sure of God’s love.  She is a very smart little girl and has embraced God having a plan for her life.  She understands that God didn’t intend for her to lose her first family or for the bad things that happened.  She understands man has free will and can choose what he does.  She does see the good in Dan and I being obedient and saying “yes” when we saw her picture.    She prays for all the other children who wait.  Elyse firmly believes those children wait just because someone else hasn’t uttered their “yes”.    I am so very happy that we said “Yes” when we saw this picture.

    Elyse 1

    So if you one day meet Elyse don’t be surprised if you hear these words, “Do you know the love of Jesus Christ?”  I will be standing there with a smile on my face wishing I could have the same child-like love for a God that deserves me standing on the corner shouting for all the world to hear….

    “Do you know the love of Jesus Christ?”

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16

     

     

  • Assume Action

    Date: 2015.08.09 | Category: Adoption, Faith

    Yesterday was Dan’s birthday but it was me who got the present.

    I had been in the basement cleaning.  As I was in the basement, Jasmine and Elyse apparently had a very indepth conversation of the first time they met me.  I know that Jasmine has been thinking a lot about this because she has told me her next blog is about me and her China mom.  I am anxiously awaiting this blog because she does not talk about her China mom very much.  Jasmine talks about her grandma who cared for her, but she has only mentioned her mom in passing, and the words were said with much pain.

    I have told Jasmine over and over again that she can talk freely about her time in China and the people who cared for her, good or bad.  I am not jealous that others loved her.  In fact, it is just the opposite, I am thankful.  Thankful that she knew love from others for a while.  Thankful that people loving her showed her that taking a chance on family was a good thing.  I am not happy she went through what she went through but I am thankful the road led her to us.

    I once was nervous about being the adoptive mom.  When we brought Hope home as a baby, I felt like it was a competition.  Would her biological mom one day come back into her life and I would be forgotten?  All those fears and questions that you have when you first start out.  It didn’t take very long for me to understand those feelings weren’t true.  Hope could love me and her bio mom.  She could care about me and the woman who brought her into this world.  It wasn’t a competition.  It isn’t an either or thing.

    I have explained that to Jasmine and to Elyse.  It is okay to talk.  It’s okay to care.  You don’t have to forget.  I want you to pray for the people you remember, good and bad.  I want you to heal and know your place here is secure.  I want you to know that you are forever a loved daughter and nothing could change this.

    When we adopted Elyse, she had a very hard time with me.  I was old and I was fat.  These were not very appealing characteristics in her eyes.  I cried and talked to Dan about this because, in the beginning, it hurt.  The facts were true, I am overweight and I am old, but they still hurt.   He would remind me over and over again that our children love me.  When Elyse comes home she will see that love and she will want to be a part of that love, but I worried that maybe this would be the adoption that changed everything.  This would be the adoption where the child never learned to love me.  My heart would be hurt.  How would I deal with this?  I was afraid.

    But last night Elyse gave me the sweetest gift.  She asked for my forgiveness.  She cried tears and told me that she was so sorry she hurt me.  I reminded her that it hurt for the first couple of days but I got over it quickly.  I hadn’t even thought about it in a long time.  She said she didn’t know any better and she would have never said those things if she knew me.   She cried and she cried.

    I told her that is the way it often is in life.  We judge people based on what we see.  We are all guilty of it.  I asked her if she learned anything from her mistakes and she said “oh yes!”   These are the things I had always been afraid of.

    I’m sharing this story because of this video that I watched this morning.  Assume Action

    “We’ve been so scared of so many things along the way.  We’ll wrestle.  Do we do it?  Do we do it? And we are always terrified.  We’ve done some scary things but each time as we start recounting the early days and it was so fun we just walked year by year to different things we did, and we just thought, “What if we didn’t do that?” We would have missed out.   Like I’m so glad we just tried.  We pursued.” – Francis Chan

    These could have been words spoken by Dan and I.  It’s always been scary.  It’s always seemed like more than we could do.  Always!  Even in the beginning.

    We can’t live through the death of a child.  Yes, you can!

    We can’t live for over a year in the hospital.  Yes, you can!

    We can’t adopt a child that may die.  Yes, you can.  Again and again and again!

    We can’t handle a child with severe disabilities.  Yes, you can!

    We can’t heal hurting hearts.  Yes, you can!

    We can’t handle a large family.  Yes, you can!

    The list goes on and on and on.

    We would have missed out.  Don’t miss out.  Take action!  Assume God means for you to take action.  No matter where your passion lies.   God’s book lays it all out there.  Care for the orphan.  Care for the widow.  Feed and cloth the poor.  Take care of your brother.  Love your neighbor.  The need is great.  Take action today!  Don’t wait.

  • Pain and Joy

    Date: 2015.08.04 | Category: Adoption, Faith, Family Life

    I’ve seen a lot of heartache recently.  I have watched friends stand by their children hopelessly unable to make it all better.  Agonizing over long hospital stays and difficult decision. I have heard many question “Why would they adopt knowing this could happen?” or incredulously say “I could never do that.” or “Why would God let this happen?”

    I don’t know why this happens.  I don’t know why one story is one of miraculous recovery and another is of heartbreak.  I can’t make head or tail of it.  I try to fathom God’s plan and how it will all work together to bring Him glory and many times it is more than I can wrap my head around.  We never want the bad to happen.  We never want to take the difficult journey.  We choose ease and comfort whenever we can.  Even when we sign up for the bad, we do it with a heart full of hope for a miraculous outcome.

    And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28   How could anything bad ever be considered good?

    As I was talking to a friend yesterday, we were discussing the what if’s.  This was after a weekend which just about did my heart in.   You can NOT discuss orphans without discussing the magnitude of them.  You can not truly delve into the situation without your heart breaking.  You can’t consider all those who wait, all around the world, and not feel helpless and unable to make a difference.

    All you can do is proceed one child at a time because every child counts.  Every child deserves a chance.

    • Even though people are turning away from adoption.
    • Even though there is not enough time or money to fix it all.
    • Even though there is pain and heartache and turmoil.
    • Even though your heart may be broken.
    • Even though you can’t fix it all.
    • Even though it is overwhelming.

    You continue to proceed one child at a time, much like the starfish story.

    Starfish story

    My friends understand this.  They have a clear picture of how fleeting life is.  They are in the absolute worse situations possible and they give God the glory.  They know that a life saved and loved is worth it.  They rejoice over what they have been allowed to do, no matter the outcome.   I do not wish for any of them to be on this journey but I know, from experience, that they will never be the same.  God is growing them and shaping them.  Their lives are not worse because of the pain.  Their lives are immeasurably blessed by the joy that these children brought.  Yes, their hearts will hurt.  Yes, they will never be the same.  But there is joy in the morning.  There is joy in the good news.  There is joy in the meeting again for all of eternity.  Life on earth is but a small portion of forever.

    I have talked with a few mamas on how pain and joy can coexist.  How you can be going through the worst possible situation and still be thankful and joyful in the moment?  One friend sent me this quote from Ann Voskamp – “Joy and pain, they are but two arteries of the one heart that pumps through all those who don’t numb themselves to really living…. Yet I know it in the vein and the visceral: life is loss.”

    The goal in life is not to be as comfortable and pain free as you can.  The goal in life is to open your heart and love and make a difference.

    The purpose

     

     

  • A Weekend to Remember

    Date: 2015.07.18 | Category: Cassie, Faith, Family Life

    So many things went wrong that weekend and yet Cassie​ & Reece​’s wedding and reception were beautiful.

    Elyse ended up in the ER on Saturday night.  We got home at 4:30 a.m.  I slept from 5 to 8 and started getting ready.  I would have slept longer but Lainey rarely ever sleeps past 5:30 and the fact that she went back to sleep from 5 to 8 had to be a gift from God.

    As the day went on we continued to season the meat and get the other items all ready for the nacho bar at the reception.  Zach picked up the cake at 11:30 and got lunch for the kids.  We had to have all the tables and our supplies to the reception area at 1, which was the earliest we could get in to set up.  I laced up Cassie at 1:30.  I then ran home to start getting the kids ready because we had to be back to the church for pictures at 3:45.  I realized as we were packing up all the food in the coolers that there was no way I was going to be able to drop off the food and still get to the church on time for pictures.  Dan and Zach headed to the reception area to drop off the food and crock pots, etc.

    At this point they still had Cassie’s backdrop for the wedding in their van.  She wanted really simple decorations.  I can’t tell you how thankful I am for that.  She choose book pages for “the next Chapter” in her and Reece’s life.  Her back drop was two 4×8 pieces of plywood with book pages randomly mod podged all over.  Reece and Cassie wanted a Bible verse across the top.  Dan had the great idea to get someone to do a custom vinyl cut out.  Vinyl Motivations did a great job, reasonably, and quick!

    Backdrop

    Cassie made all her flowers out of book pages.  My mom made wedding flowers for many weddings when Cassie was younger.  Cassie and my mom had talked about what flowers they would use for her wedding ever since Cassie was a little girl.  Cassie was heartbroken over the fact that Nana couldn’t make them and she just couldn’t do what nana and her had dreamed of.

    Cassie even chose a Bible with writing margins to be her guest book.  She wanted her quests to share their favorite verse and for her to be reminded every time they opened their Bible how many people came to celebrate with them.

    At 3:45 we were still at home loading the bus.  I let Cassie know how late we were going to be.  As I was driving to the church at 4, I realized there was no way I could get the food set up and be back for the ceremony.  I had to call in reinforcements.  At Cassie’s pre-wedding dinner,  Teressa​ (mother of the maid of honor) had offered to help me.  I called her and she said she would be there.  I also called Amy, our pastor’s wife and my friend, and told her my dilemma.  These two families not only showed up to take care of things but they stayed throughout the night and helped clean up.  Without them we would have been eating out of coolers.  They were a HUGE blessing of the day.

    I had hoped to be able to be there at 5 and show them what food needed to go where and I didn’t even make that, as pictures were still going on at 5:15.  These two families were such a God send.  I can’t even tell you what that did for my heart to have two families step up at the very last minute and save the day.

    Lainey had a reaction to the sequins on her dress and was raging and refused to be in any pictures.  We forgot her formula and the snacks for the kids.  All of Cassie’s bridesmaids were in the restroom dressing my children for pictures.  I put a run in not one but two pairs of panty hose.  Lainey refused to put her dress back on, but Cassie wanted her to be on the video, so Lainey went down the aisle in a t-shirt, shorts, and no shoes.

    family pic

    Dan’s mom couldn’t attend because Dan’s brother, Rod, was dying.  Dan had to walk Cassie down the aisle knowing at the same time his brother could pass away at any time.   It was so hard on his heart.

    We had bought Cassie’s dress so long ago.  At the age of 18, with no serious boyfriend, Cassie purchased her wedding dress.  We had seen the dress when she was buying her Miss Iowa pageant dress.  We knew the owner of the store and Cassie told her someday she would buy a dress just like that one.  A few months later, when the owner decided to close the store, she called us to tell us she still had that dress and it was greatly reduced in price.  We laughed about trying on a wedding dress without a wedding in the future but we did it anyway.  Dan’s mom, my mom and Aunt Kay, the three ladies that always took Cassie shopping, went with her to watch her try on the dress.  It was just $300 dollars and we decided it was worth the price to just let it hang in the closet for a few years.  Thank God that we made that purchase because not one of those three lovely ladies, who meant so much to Cassie, were able to be at the wedding.  My mom and Kay had passed away and Dan’s mom was with Rod.  Cassie was filled with wonderful memories of the day she purchased the dress even though she was sad they couldn’t be with her.

    When I walked into the reception, I was blown away.  Cassie had chosen simple decorations for the tables because there were going to be many children at the reception.  She chose black vinyl tablecloths with butcher block paper so kids could draw.  There were little books to read and crayons to color with.   She had crowns for them to color and wear.  Although, I saw many adults wearing the crowns too.  She even made her flower stems colored pencils.

    Cassie and Reece’s friends guided by Reece’s sister, Bailey, had a couple of hours to decorate the reception area.   They did such a wonderful job.  It all looked so pretty when we walked in.

    reception

    The guests showed up, there was food to eat, the dance floor and DJ were in place, and the party went off without a hitch.

    Dan said it wasn’t fair that he was the only one to get to dance with Cassie so he came up with the plan that after they started the father/daughter dance, he would motion to us, and we would circle Cassie with the whole family.

    family dance

    Even though it was Sunday night, Reece’s friends stayed to help tear down.  They packed up the 41 tables to return them.  The Edwards and the Jakes stayed until the very end to help us clean up.

    I asked Reece about all the guys who came to help him set up.  He said that’s what they do at their church.  It’s a young church.  Everyone helps everyone else so when it’s your special day there is nothing to do.  I like that.  That is what a church should look like everyone coming together to help you celebrate and to help you when things aren’t going well.   People that graciously drop whatever they are doing to step in and take up the slack and then go above and beyond and they do it all with a smile on their face.

    It was a day filled with bumps and hurdles and issues that could have ruined the whole day but in the end it turned out beautifully.  Reece kept saying, “We have her dress and I have my suit, today we are getting married.  Everything else will be just fine.”

    Isn’t that the truth though?  We let little things ruin our whole day.  We need to keep our eyes on the big picture.  Even though there were little hurdles throughout the day, there were always friends to help us out.  The day turned out beautifully!

    Happy marriage Reece and Cassie!   May your life be filled with many blessings and may the trials only bring you closer to God.  May your journey be filled with friends, family, laughter and love!

     

     

  • Happy Father’s Day

    Date: 2015.06.21 | Category: Faith, Family Life

    Someday I am going to get my husband to write a blog post about what it feels like to be the father of 14 children, but for now I will just write a post about my husband from my point of view.  I write about the children and our adoption journey a lot.  I don’t often write about Dan, mainly because he is a pretty private guy.  He prayed long and hard about our blog when we decided to write about our adoption journey.  He felt that the benefit of others seeing adoption first hand trumped his need to be private.

    Dan and I started dating when he was 15 and I was 16.  We had the usual high school romance with on again, off again issues.  We got back together shortly after high school and were married when he was 19 and I just turned 20.

    photo (1)

    He decided to become a physician after the twins were born.  He wanted to make a difference in the lives of babies.  He wanted to change their outcomes.  He didn’t want other families to go through the pain that we had gone through with the death of Kyle and the extended hospitalization of Codey.

    He fulfilled that dream after 15 long years of training and has now had the perfect job for over 14 years.   He is still able to do his clinical work and he also has the honor of being Clinical/Quality improvement director for a large company.  This job allows him to teach others about how important it is to not only take care of the patient but to truly care about the patient.

    During his fellowship, he fell in love with a little girl in his care.  She had a major heart defect and her pre-adoptive parents had backed out.  Her biological mom had decided not to treat and Dan was left with the task of stopping her treatment.  He couldn’t do it.  That is the kind of man he is.  I love that about him.  I will forever remember his call and how my heart felt when he said he had bought this baby some booties and stuffed animals because her little bed looked so bare.  Little did we know where this journey would lead.

    scan095

    Sixteen years later and she is a thriving healthy teenager.

    Hope's red hair

    A few years later, we added Gracie.  Our family was complete or so we thought.

    One of my favorite family pictures!

    One of my favorite family pictures!

    People often talk about reluctant husbands in the adoption world.  In our family, I was the reluctant one.  I was the one dragging my feet because I was unsure about adopting at the age of 45.  Dan felt like we needed to do something about the orphan crisis.  He never pressured.  He just prayed.  He knew if it was truly what God wanted I would agree to it.

    When we set off on this journey, we thought we would adopt two.  We never intended to adopt eight in three years.  We were just following God’s lead.  We’ve learned in our marriage that God’s plan is always best.   Even when you are fearful.  Even when that first step is so scary.   Even when you can’t possibly see how it could work.  It is always best to follow God’s lead.

    Our children have instantly known that they were safe.  It’s my favorite thing about the day when we first met them.  Every one of our children has gone to him.   Ben grabbed on and never let go.  Ben’s first word was daddy.

    Ben and daddy

    Ben and daddy

    Dan gets down to their level and they know it’s going to be ok.

    Evie Gotcha Day

    Our children have a safe shoulder to lie on…

    scan105

    photo(3)

    Someone who will be there with them no matter what…

    Evie 3

    Someone to be silly with…

    IMG_4436

    Strong arms to keep them safe…

    ben 3

    A lap that will hold one or two…

    20130821-190003.jpg

    or more…

    Dan and kids

    Someone to celebrate the big moments…

    kids9

    and little moments with…

    Cassie, Dad and fish

    A hand to hold…

    Evie hand

    Someone to help you when you can’t quite reach…

    Evie 9

    We’ve been through a lot together.  Dan is not just my husband.  He is my best friend.  Many would consider the life we have lived as hard or unlucky but we both know we are blessed.  Blessed to have met so young.  Blessed to have so many little blessings that we get to wake up to each day.  Blessed to have a child who waits for us on the other side.  Blessed to have the hope of forever.  Blessed to have had 30 years.

    It is Dan who has taught me the life lessons that have helped me most.

    When I was young and hurting and afraid to trust.  It was Dan who reminded me that I have the choice to wake up every morning expecting bad things to happen or to trust in his love.  Those words allowed me to trust God and God’s love for me.  It was Dan who showed me what a true relationship with Christ is.  It was Dan who taught me that life is all about perspective.  I can decide to be grateful or I can be bitter and angry and never appreciate anything.

    We chose to date when we were young.  We chose to stay together when things were tough.  The death of a child is hard on many marriages.

    We sealed the deal in China when we put our names on our lock on the great wall.  (The idea is that you have to break the lock to end your relationship and China is a long ways away.)

    china 2012 041

    Every day I get to see Dan in action.  He loves his children.   He would do anything for his children.  He keeps them safe and provides for them.  He isn’t perfect, none of us are, but his heart is always in the right place.

    I am blessed to have walked this journey with this man.  Our family has changed a lot in the last three years.  Not many men would sign up for this, but I am blessed that Dan knows what is truly important.  He knows that life isn’t about the things you can acquire.  It’s about figuring out the plan God has for you and using your gifts to the best of your abilities.   Time and time again Dan has followed God’s lead where others would never go.   He has said “why not?” even when he had hundreds of reasons to say no and my life has been forever blessed by those words.

    The crew

    Happy Father’s Day Dan!  We all love you so much!

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