Archive for the ‘Family Life’ Category

  • The Year of the Dog

    Date: 2018.02.18 | Category: Family Life

    Our children love to celebrate Lunar New Year, which is the Chinese New Year!  We make all their favorites – chicken feet, steamed buns, potstickers, rice, noodles, and many other spicy dishes.  They look forward to this holiday and it is fun decorating our house and learning more about their birth country.

    This year is the “Year of the Dog” and our family set out to do it right.  Ok, not really, none of this was really planned.   Here is how the story played out.

    This past fall we set out to get a puppy.  One of our older dogs had a stroke and we had to let him go.  Everyone was sad that Sammi was gone.  Snickers, our other eight year old dog, seemed very sad and alone.   Snickers is a cockapoo and one of the best dogs around.   Dan and I had never been big fans of indoor or small dogs, but Snickers won us over.  We initially got him for Hope when she was about 12.  We had hoped that as she entered her teenage years she would come to understand what it meant to care for something else and be responsible for the care of this animal.

    Snickers and Hope have a sweet bond.  Snickers is seriously the best dog.  He knows who needs hugs.  He knows who is getting sick.  You can always find him sleeping next to the person who needs him most.  So when we set out to get another puppy we looked for a cockapoo and hoped for find one with the same personality as Snickers.  We found this sweet puppy and fell in love.

    She is a blue merle cockapoo puppy that is bouncy and ready to please everyone.  Gracie is who she has bonded with and Max and Lainey help to care for this sweet, smart puppy.

    As we were deciding to purchase Doodle, Dan asked if J.J. could hold the little white teddy bear puppy.  The teddy bear puppy climbed on J.J.’s lap, licked J.J.’s face a couple of times and fell asleep in J.J.’s arms.  Suddenly it looked as though we were purchasing two puppies.  I mean how do you say no to this?

    Lily is her name and she is a sweet, little puppy.

    Evie Faith and J.J. take care of Lily and make sure she gets lots and lots of love.

    After being home for a few days, we noticed that Doodle was going to Gracie and Lily was definitely J.J.’s puppy which left Elyse, who also shared a room with the girls, without a puppy.   Dan and I watched Elyse and could tell she was feeling left out even though she never said anything.  Dan started searching for another puppy.  I mean at this point one more puppy wasn’t going to make a lot of difference.  Right? Hahaha

    Dan brought up the idea of another puppy.  Elyse was talking about how she loves golden doodles and she loves their curly, apricot hair.  Elyse is very active and loves to go fast in her wheelchair.  We knew Elyse needed a puppy that was playful and could keep up with her.   Dan found this pretty little girl and we made plans to go get her.

    Elyse named her puppy Noodle.  Maisey and Elyse love Noodle, who is very laid back and eager to please.

    While I was looking at the site, I noticed there was one more puppy available.  The little brother to Noodle.  I asked the owner about him and she said there were a couple of people trying to decide if he was the right puppy for them.  I loved his sweet face.  The owner told me about his sweet disposition.  She even mentioned that he would make a great therapy puppy.   I tried to talk Elyse into getting this little guy but she was set on her puppy.  I guess I looked like I needed a puppy too because Dan told me to tell the owner that we would take both puppies.

    So now I have a puppy too.  His name is Paladin and everyone loves him.  He is mellower than mellow.  He truly is such a sweet puppy.  He is just the right puppy for Jasmine to hold on her lap.  She isn’t able to hang on to much, but he is so chill he just calmly sits on her lap.

    Ben and Liam help in caring for Paladin.  The truth is everyone LOVES Pali.   He’s just a sweet puppy.

    While we were picking up Paladin and Noodle we noticed a little beagle puppy that the owner was holding.  She said this beagle pup was the runt of the litter and they had to keep him separated.  I told Dan to hold the puppy but he refused.  He was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to say “No” to this face if he actually held the puppy.  We already had four puppies and we certainly didn’t need anymore.

    But as you can see that didn’t last long…

    Dan has wanted a beagle puppy since he was little.  Hope started talking about having a puppy too and how she would take care of it.  We were worried about the puppy getting along with the other dogs and whether he would be a howler or not.  We talked to the owner and she said that this puppy was sweet and was known to whine for attention but wasn’t a big howler.  Hope convinced Dan that if the puppy didn’t get along with the others that she would take him to her apartment when she moved out in May.

    And Ripley came home with us the next week.   Hope and Eli LOVE their beagle pup.

    All the puppies get along great.  Someone asked how we get children and puppies to get along.  I wish I had some great advice, but I don’t.   It just seems to happen.

    Here is how they sleep.

    The puppies have brought a little more chaos into the home but a whole lot more love too.  Watching the kids and puppies play together is so dang cute.  They chase each other in circles around the house.   The puppies even snuggle up next to Lainey and give her some love.

    The puppies hang out with the kids during school time.

    And they even like to go for rides in the bus.

    Our puppies certainly give new meaning to the “Year of the Dog” but all in all it’s been a wonderful adventure and I wouldn’t change a thing.   Five puppies isn’t really as crazy as it seems when there is this much love to go around.

    Happy New Year everyone!

    May peace and love fill your heart, beauty fill your world, and contentment and joy fill your days!

     

  • It’s Cute How I Think I’m in Control

    Date: 2018.01.15 | Category: Faith, Family Life

    I have always had an issue with control.  Bad things happened to me as a kid and I thought I could control it by keeping everything around me “just so”.  Rooms had to be cleaned in a specific order before I went to bed.  Lights could only be turned off in certain order.  It wasn’t really OCD, I could not do it, but I just needed to feel as if I had some semblance of control.

    I let go of most of that when Codey and Kyle were born.  There’s nothing better to make you put things in perspective and to let you know you have no control then having your children born 12 weeks early.  Kyle’s death and Codey’s subsequent 14 months in the hospital were a constant reminder that I was not in control.  I learned very quickly what was important and it was no longer the order in which I cleaned a room or whether or not everything was put back where it belonged.

    On this journey, I have learned how to trust God and turn it all over to Him time and time again.  But that hasn’t really stopped me from thinking that if I work hard enough I can control my little corner of the world.

    December 30 and 31st of 2017 found me making plans and lots and lots of lists.  I cleaned out the kitchen.  I got rid of anything that I hadn’t used in a year.  I put together two storage cubbies with wheels so I could put my rice cooker, pressure cooker and other gadgets on so they weren’t on my counters.  My counters were going to look like a magazine – a minimalist magazine.   My counters were no longer going to look as if 13 small children still lived in my home.  My cupboards were going to be organized.  There was going to be a place for everything and everything in it’s place.  I was once and for all going to get it together.

    I typed up my exercise plan.  I worked out my Keto diet which I had lost weight on and had mostly stopped over the holidays. I made my grocery list.  I looked up a few more recipes.  2018 and was going to be fabulous.  I was going to rock this.  I had already proven I could lose weight on this plan so instead of beating myself up over not losing all 60 in one year, I was going to dust myself off, congratulate myself on the first half gone, and move on to the last half.  That weight didn’t stand a chance.

    I made my list of the rooms to clean and what needed to be done in each room.   I picked a room to do during each and every day of the first week of January.  I was NOT going to wait for spring to spring clean.  I was going to do it now so when we started school again, everything was going to run like clockwork.  I was already so proud of myself.  Look at these lists.  I had thought of everything.

    I wrote my resolution list on the kitchen window.   I have found that I spend a lot of time at that window.  During the past two months I had used a wet erase marker and wrote the things I needed to see during the day for encouragement.   It already said 90 days without pop and listed my 27 pound weight loss.   Now it was going to say:   Less cussing, stick to a budget, lose 30 more pounds, and give more.

    I wanted to be a better person.  I want to live more frugally so that we can give more away.  Our work with Love Without Boundaries has shown me over and over again what it is like to live in a third world country and what so many people go through.  My heart breaks and I know for a fact that our family can do more and this was the year to do it.

    Dude I was rocking this.   It wasn’t even the first and I had the first room done.  My counters sparkled.  Everything had a place.  I had gone through all my cupboards.  I was the donation, recycling, garbage master.

    But then January 1st came.  I slept in so I was well rested.  Heck, I might even do two rooms today, that’s how good I was feeling.  I was ready to go.  The kids knew the plan.  We were going to do a room a day and be completely organized.  They were ready.  I was ready.

    And then we got the call.

    Would you accept this kidney for Jessica?

    And again I learned who cares if the house is spotless?  Who cares if I’m completely organized?  Who cares if I don’t have it all together?  Who cares about lists?  Who cares?

    J.J. has a chance at new health.  J.J. has a chance to not only grow but to maybe grow old.

    What a gift.

    It makes me wonder if God was watching me frantically typing out my lists over the weekend, so proud of myself.  Look what I am going to do.  Look what I am going to accomplish.  Saying to himself, “Oh sweet child, you have no idea.  Do you think He turns to the angel next to him and says,  “It’s so cute how she thinks she’s in control isn’t it?”

    So technically none of my list got done.  You could even say I failed cause I cussed when they called, I spent money not in our budget while we were in the hospital and I gained two pounds.  Technically I messed up 3 of the 4 resolutions all ready.  I had better find my checkbook quick.

    But oh how good God is.  I’m pretty sure it was me who said, “I think I’ve already learned this lesson.”, but maybe just maybe I still have a ways to go.   Good thing God is patient and extends lots and lots of grace.

    2018 is going to be an incredible year and it has absolutely nothing to do with what I will accomplish and everything to do with what He has already done!

    I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.  Psalm 104:33

     

     

  • A Most Extraordinary Life

    Date: 2018.01.08 | Category: Adoption, Faith, Family Life

    I read this verse this morning in my devotional and it made me think about Dan and my life together.

    Ephesians 3:20 says, “Glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of — infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes” (TLB).

    Whenever we are in the hospital, people say all the time that we are amazing.  It makes us both uncomfortable.  It’s not a pretending to be humble thing.   As Dan said the other day, it’s like being thanked for breathing.   Let me assure you that we are not amazing.  We are human.  We make mistakes.  We haven’t done anything amazing.  We just decided to be obedient when God called, stepped out in faith, and trusted God with everything.

    We didn’t set out to have twins early or to deal with all the complications that they had, or to bury a child. In fact, presented with those options, I’m pretty sure our 23 year old selves would have said “NO!”

    We didn’t set out to adopt a little girl with a major heart defect, but when face to face with a little girl who was alone and just needed a family to love her, what else could we do?

    When we did set out to adopt again, we were just going to do one more adoption. It made sense to add the second child when China made the option available. Hope really wanted to adopt a little boy with a heart defect and we would be able to do that. God lead again and we followed.

    When we went to adopt, our hearts were broken by what we saw in the orphanage and by how Ben and Maisey reacted to us.  They just wanted love and they soaked our love in.  I will never forget watching Ben cling to Dan from the moment he met Dan.  Ben loved Dan from the beginning.  Ben clinged to Dan.  When we visited the orphanage Ben had lived in for almost 4 years, Ben absolutely refused to go to any of his previous caregivers.  Instead Ben buried his head in Dan’s neck and held on for dear life.  My heart would never be the same again.  Our hearts were forever broken for the children who wait.  We said, “God use us.  We will follow!”   We knew we could do more so we said “Use us!”

    It’s easy to pray to God to use you when those are just words that you are uttering.  The hard part begins when He starts to show you what He wishes for you to do.  You doubt yourself.  Satan uses the world to whisper in your ear that you are not enough.  You will never be enough.   Dan and I are only human.  So because of those doubts and fears, we put limitations on our obedience.  We said we wouldn’t adopt an older child. We wouldn’t adopt a child who had severe mental delays.  We felt that this would put an undue burden on our older children.  If something happened to us, they would already be caring for Codey. How Could we ask them to do more?

    The very next year God lead us to 4 children, an almost 14 year old girl and a severely delayed little girl, plus two little heart kiddos.  I won’t go in to details here, because I’ve written about it a lot in past blogs, but that year was an amazing year of God showing up and making miracle after miracle happen.  We didn’t set out to adopt 4, but we heard Him loud and clear saying “put 4 on the homestudy” when we started.  We had no idea what it meant.  Then we set out to follow where He lead.

    We ended up adopting two more the following year.  We knew we were probably done.  14 children, 11 of them with significant needs seemed like a good place to stop.  Then my friend sent me JJ’s picture and said “Doesn’t she look like an Ellsbury?” and my heart was stolen by this sweet face so we agreed to advocate for her.

    When Elyse and Grace started talking about JJ being their sister, it was hard.  Obviously we would love to help every child but know we can’t so we drug our feet.  Elyse and Grace were insistent  that she was their sister.  They had every child in our house praying for JJ at every meal.  They would talk about her as if she already lived with us. And when Elyse, who was lying in her bed after getting ready to go to sleep said, “If she dies in China, I will never be able to forgive myself.”, Dan and I knew we had to seriously look at whether it was right for our family to adopt her.

    Truth-be-told Dan and I knew instantly that she was our daughter but we did everything in our power to justify that we had done enough.  But God didn’t let up on our hearts.  Our hearts grew heavier and heavier for JJ.  We see lots of children being advocated for.  We pray for many children who have touched our hearts.  Our hearts are touched for those children but it is more than that when you know that this is a child you should adopt.   It’s almost impossible to explain.  Your heart is heavy.  You look at their picture constantly.  You pray for them.  You wake up in the middle of the night to pray and look at their picture again.  I never heard God’s voice directly but I knew without a doubt that we were to proceed.

    Which leads me back to the verse above.

    “Glory be to God”, (not Dan or I or our family)

    “who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of”   We could have never in a million years dreamed up this beautiful life we get to live.  I would have never dared ask for so many miracles or to be given such blessings.  I believed I was too old.  I believed it couldn’t be done.  I limited myself by what the world told me could be done.

    BUT NOT GOD…

    — infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes”   We’ve been through countless surgeries, seen miracles in our healed children, and been given so much more than we will ever give them.  I sometimes feel like we’ve used up too much of the good that God gives, as if God has a limit on the good that He bestows to His children.

    We are not amazing or stronger or braver than most, but we did choose to be obedient.  We have seen God show up time and time again.  We trust that He is perfect.  We trust that His plan is good.  We trust that He can make good come out of the bad.   So when God called us to move out of the comfortable, we chose to move forward in faith and get more than a little uncomfortable and because we did this, we get the privilege of living a most extraordinary life.

    “But God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.” – Francis Chan

  • RE-Adoption Day

    Date: 2017.07.01 | Category: Adoption, Family Life

    Five years ago we started our adoptions in China.  Gotcha Day or Family Day, as people refer to them, happen the day you meet your child.  Most of the time you travel to the Registration Office or some other official building.  Once we met a child in our hotel room.  Sometimes we were alone and sometimes we waited with many other families.  It’s a nerve wracking time as you wait for them to show up with your children.  You anxiously wait for your child to walk in the door.  You see the face you’ve been staring at in pictures for months and you wait for them to bring your child to you.   I can not watch a video of those moments without tearing up.  It instantly makes my heart race and I feel just like I was there.  It’s an amazing feeling for the parents who meet their children.  This is the end of their adoption journey to their child.

    But for the child it is exactly the opposite.  Sometimes the child has only just heard about you because the orphanage director wanted to protect their hearts because sometimes parents stop the adoption process right before the travel.   Sometimes they were too young to understand.  Sometimes they have been prepared as well as can be expected.  Sometimes the children were thrown at you like they didn’t even matter.  Sometimes they were handed over carefully.

    Those moments are a blur for us and the most scary time of their lives for the children.  They walk into a building with people that have cared for them for years and they leave with perfect strangers.   Sometimes there was crying, sometimes there was total shutdown, sometimes with the older kids there was nervous laughter or no words at all.  After you sign all your paperwork, you head to the hotel room and get to know your new child. You have 24 hours to decide if you want to complete the adoption.  Can you imagine what this is like for them?

    24 hours later you go back to the same room to sign your official papers.  If the child hasn’t been prepared or isn’t old enough to understand, they may think you are taking them back.

    Landing at home after the couple weeks in China was another eye-opening moment.  I have to admit that I have taken for granted what it means to be an American.  What it means to be free.  Those moments when you get off the plane and your children are granted citizenship are a beautiful thing.  It made citizenship more dear for me.  The way our older girls acted when receiving their Certificate of Citizenship is something I will never forget.   I will never take being a citizen for granted again.

    In honor of their citizenship and how proud they are of it, we put in a flag pole and let them raise it on Adoption Day.

    As the years went by we realized that looking back on the pictures of their scared little faces on those first days was a good/bad memory.  We wanted them to have a happy day to celebrate. Now they know what family means.  Now they can yell their “yeses” to the world that they do want a mama and daddy.   So we set out to readopt as a family.  We talked about it and prayed about it.  We picked Hope’s Adoption Day so they would all share the same day.

    The morning of Adoption Day I sat them all in front of me and read them their story.  With our older kids, I would write them a poem each year on their birthday.  They also had a journal, a calendar of their first year, and more pictures than you can even imagine.  I realized how sad it is for our kids to not have these things.  They don’t have the happy stories of their birth or any of the information of our bio kids.

    For our older kiddos, they don’t have the stories of when they first walked, or when they lost their first tooth.  There is so much information missing.  So I decided to make them a book about how we fell in love with them and what it was like before we traveled and included any pictures that we had of them before.  They love their stories and ask to hear them over and over again.  Now they will have them in print to read whenever they want.

    We had pictures taken at the courthouse by our friend Rachel.  She can always get them to smile.

    We entered the courtroom with a few extended family members and waited for the judge.

    All the kiddos were on the front row looking dapper in their red/white/blue American colors that they chose to wear.

    Our lawyer and friend, Marcy, brought them the sweetest gifts.  Hats for the boys and flowers for the girl’s hair.  There were red/white/blue mustaches and light up toys and bracelets.

    My brother Tim and his family were all decked out too.  Tim had the best outfit.

    It was really very simple.  The judge walked in.  We all stood.  Marcy told them about all the paperwork that had been filed.  He said no testimony was necessary and pronounced them all adopted.  We took a picture with the judge and that was that. I’m sure Rachel will have a better picture but this was the only one I had.  🙂

    As they left the courtroom the court room assistant let them each pick out a beanie baby.  They were tickled with their new gifts.

    We went home to prepare for our party.  We invited a few friends and family over to help celebrate with the kids.  It was a beautiful evening.

    This day was everything we had hoped it would be.  The day was full of happy memories.  They had so much fun with their friends and family.

    Thank you to everyone who was there in thought and those who were able to show up.  Thank you to all our friends who prayed for and with us during these trips.  Thank you so much.  We truly appreciate it.

  • 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

     

     

     

     

     

  • Grace’s Story

    Date: 2017.03.23 | Category: Family Life, Grace

    GRACE /ɡrās/noun

    (in Christian belief) the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.

    12 years ago the sweetest little girl was born.  Grace’s birth was emergent and everyone who congratulated us, after they heard the story of her birth, said, “By the grace of God”.  Dan had already been calling her Grace so her name seemed very appropriate.  Grace, after the grace of God, and Elizabeth Lynne as a middle name because both Cassie and Hope wanted Grace to share their middle names.

    I had been thinking that I would love to be pregnant again.  My heart was filled with thoughts about another child. Maybe this time I would have an easy pregnancy.  Maybe this time everything would go okay.   I heard God saying “trust me” over and over again.  I kept thinking I might just be crazy but I prayed and prayed that if God wanted me to proceed with this then He would talk to Dan’s heart.  I refused to say anything about it.  One day, out of the blue, Dan came to me and said, “If we ever want to have another baby, we best be doing it.  We aren’t getting any younger.”

    God answered my prayers.

    God’s grace!

    It didn’t make any sense for me to have a tubal reversal.   We had already adopted.  We loved adoption but we heard God saying “trust me” so we did.  It had been 11 years since I had been pregnant.  11 years since my tubes had been tied.  I was 40 years old.

    We were told that the odds were slim to none and yet I got pregnant the very first month.

    God’s grace!

    Because of my age we were required to go to weekly ultrasounds after a certain point in my pregnancy.   While our wood floors were finished being stained, Dan and I had just spent the weekend in a hotel.  Grandma had the other kids.  We were relaxed and enjoying life.

    I walked into that routine appointment as happy as can be.  I was feeling no pain, no twinges, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.  I left that appointment being rushed to the hospital for an emergency c-section.    Had we not had that appointment, I would have never known that there was something going on, and Grace wouldn’t have survived.

    God’s AMAZING grace!

    Tons of blood was found.  It seemed a vessel had ruptured.  As they prepared me for the c-section, I tried my hardest to trust His plan, but it made no sense.  We had heard God loud and clear.  Why would He take her now?

    After the c-section, our doctor, who knew we wanted to try to have more children, asked me if I wanted to try again.  I said, “No. I’ve had enough.  We’ve had complications with too many pregnancies.”    He replied, “Good thing.  I have no idea how you got pregnant in the first place.  One side is completely scarred and the other doesn’t even look like it’s hooked up.”

    God’s grace!

    Dan took Grace to the nursery.  Grace needed oxygen,  but she was stable.   The high risk o.b. came to check on Grace.  He informed Dan that “That was the most blood I have ever seen in a delivery and have the baby survive.”

    God’s grace!

    Grace did remarkably well and avoided the NICU.   Grace’s very own neonatologist (daddy) stood by her side and watched her very, very closely.

    Grace came home and was doing very well.   Grace hit every milestone on time.  Grace was sweet and adorable and such a joy.  We felt so very blessed.  Grace’s older siblings adored her.

    Then when Grace was six, she was sick on and off for months.  There was nothing that seemed too serious – a cold, a sore throat, a temperature.   Grace would get better and then it would be back.  Grace was tired and couldn’t seem to kick it.  We were thinking strep throat or mono that day when we took Grace to our pediatricians.

    I knew by the look on the doctor’s face that it wasn’t good.  They said, “We think Grace has leukemia.  Appointments have been scheduled this afternoon with oncology.“     I sat there unemotional.  We’ve been through bad medical problems before.  I refused to fall apart in front of Grace before we knew for sure.   We would take this one step at a time.  I drove home to pick up Dan.  We were prepared to confront one of our worst nightmares.

    We showed up at the oncologists and they scheduled a bone marrow biopsy for Grace right away.  There were trying to get everything done before Thanksgiving so we didn’t have to wait too long for the results.

    They ruled out leukemia, but no one knew for sure what Grace had.  There was more blood drawn.  We were sent home with our little girl, relieved that it wasn’t leukemia, but worried because we still had no answers.

    Then the rash appeared.

    Dan had just left for a trip.  His plane landed and I called him and sent him the picture text.  He said, “It’s lupus.”  I’ll be right home.

    Dan came home.  He pressed for more testing.  He argued about waiting until after the first of the year for an appointment at our children’s hospital.  He asked for them to do a urine test.  He fought all weekend to get this testing done.  They finally allowed it and we received the call.  “Be at the Children’s Hospital bright and early tomorrow morning.  There are issues with Grace’s kidneys.”

    We arrived at the hospital and a kidney biopsy was scheduled right away.  Grade 4/5 glomerulonephritis was found.  Had we waited until after January for Grace’s appointment – Grace would have lost her kidneys.  Thank God for daddy’s who have the knowledge to keep pushing.

    God’s grace.

    Grace handled it all with such graceGrace was strong.  Grace trusted God’s plan.   When hair loss was mentioned, Grace donated her hair.  When she was feeling sad, Grace raised money for Love Without Boundaries.  Grace raised awareness for NEGUGrace prayed.  Grace told me to trust God.

    Here’s a quote from Grace (7) in a previous blog post.

    Last night as I was tucking Grace in she told me that she didn’t like having to wait until the sun went down to swim, that she was really kind of tired of medicine and she wasn’t happy that she would need another pulse of steroids on Wednesday with her chemo.  Grace told me that she didn’t think lupus was very nice.  Grace said she understood that God is perfect and His plan is perfect so He must have some reason for all this so she would try her best to be happy.   Grace then said, “Sometimes happy takes work but it’s worth it.”

    Grace is an old, old soul in a six year old’s body.

    We had to decide what to do.  We were set to travel with our adoptions sometime in the spring, most likely March.  Grace needed chemotherapy.  Grace needed blood tests and was taking a ton of meds.  Could we proceed?  Should we proceed?   Would Grace be okay if we left?

    “Of course we should!”  Grace said.  “Why would we question God’s plan now mama?   We can’t leave my brother and sister in China.”

    So we scheduled our travel around her treatments.  We traveled and we returned to a very happy girl.  Our adoption worked out perfectly and we arrived home the night before Grace’s 7th birthday.

    God’s perfect timing!

    God’s grace!

    Throughout these adoptions Grace has been one of our biggest cheerleaders.  Grace readily gave up her place as baby of the home.  Not one, not two, but nine children are younger than her.

    Grace shares her room.   Grace is my extra set of hands.  Grace is so much like me.  Grace LOVES adoption!!!  Grace has a heart that is SO big!  Grace is the legs for her three sisters in wheelchairs.

    When we worried about adopting JJ, it was Grace who reminded us over and over again that kidney issues are scary but doable.  When we were adopting Elyse, it was Grace who couldn’t wait to share her room and her clothes.

    God knew what He was doing when He placed Grace on my heart all those years ago.  God was so very wise.  It made NO sense and now I can’t imagine doing this without her.

    And yet, when I wrote my recent article for No Hands But Ours, I forgot to mention my sweet girl by name.  We mentioned how many children we had, but I didn’t mention Grace by name.  I try so hard not to do that. I’ve made that mistake before with Zach and Cassie.  It hurts their feelings, even though they understand so I try hard not to.  Our bio kids are amazing.  They have made this adoption journey possible.  They aren’t a footnote in our adoption journey.  They are the title page and I hate when because I’m writing about adoption or special needs that they don’t get the credit they deserve.

    Grace is an important part of all of our adoptions.  Grace has had such faith throughout it all.  Grace has trusted God with an amazing faith that most adults don’t have.

    I asked Grace what I could do to make it up to her and Grace laughed and said, “You can say my name 77 times in my birthday post.”

    And so I have.   I LOVE Grace!   Grace is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!!

    My life has been forever changed by a little girl named Grace.  Every day I look into her face and I think about every miracle that brought her to my life.    Grace Elizabeth Lynne you are an amazing girl and mama is so proud to call you my little girl.  Praying God’s blessings continue to surround your life and lead you on the rest of your amazing journey.

    Happy birthday Grace!

  • “I Get To” Changes Everything

    Date: 2017.03.11 | Category: Adoption, Family Life

    I get asked all the time about how I do it.  It’s pretty simple.  I get up every day and I just keep moving forward.  My days are VERY busy.  Unbelievably busy.  Things don’t get done around the house sometimes.  My house will never be in perfect order.  I wish, but it isn’t going to happen.  This is hard for me to admit because I like organized and having everything in its place.  But we also have a Lainey whose favorite activity is to throw anything she finds on the floor and I do mean everything.  She likes to grab cups and run through the house spilling everything every where.  We have 8 littles between 5 and 8 who like to leave things around and since we home school there are lots of hours of the day to move things to and fro.

    I have done a lot in the past year to simplify.  I have removed so much stuff in our house.  I have gotten rid of almost all my knickknacks.  I don’t have time to dust.  I don’t want to worry about who is going to break what next.  What have I learned from this simplification?  We have too much stuff.  Way too much stuff!  I have removed bags and bags and bags from this house and there is still more to take out.

    It makes me sad to think of the money I have spent on things that just don’t matter.  We don’t bring toys into the house unless it’s someone’s birthday.  We regularly go through items to see what they are and aren’t playing with.  If it’s not being worn it’s gone.  We still have way too much stuff.  It’s hard not to when you have this many people in the house but we are working harder at only bringing things into the house that will make our lives better.

    There are things that are non-negotiable during my days.  Morning hugs and kisses.  Codey and Lainey’s feedings.  We have five kiddos that are in diapers and four will be for life.  Catherizations.  Medications are a must and are given twice a day to 11 of the 13 kids that are at home.  Meals and prayers around the table. Quiet time with Dan. More hugs and kisses before bed.

    House cleaning, school work, and appointments make up the rest of my day.  Every day looks a little different.  Kids who come from trauma have days where they need you to drop everything and we do that.  This past year has been extremely difficult for Jasmine.  It would be hard to put into words how hard it is when someone is on meltdown mode all day.  It’s emotionally draining for everyone in the family and you have to take the time to repair the damage that is done.

    When I say I am going to bed, this is what needs to be done before placing my head on my pillow.   Take the littles downstairs to get ready for bed (Grace often helps with this.), change Codey, take Jasmine to the bathroom (this takes two people) and put her to bed, feed Lainey and give her her last meds, cath JJ and give her her meds, story time and give everyone hugs and kisses.

    Sometimes it is overwhelming.  Sometimes I just want to go to bed without all the other stuff.  Sometimes I just want to take care of me and not do everything else.  Sometimes I am just plain tired.  But when I have those pity-party moments where I start to think “I have to do this, this, and this”, I stop myself and change it to “I get to”.  Perspective changes everything.

    I GET TO…

    …wake up in the morning to the sweetest, sleepy smiles.

    …hear mom, mommy, mama hundreds of time throughout the day from little kids who went years without this privilege that we all take for granted.

    …get hugs, hugs, hugs, hugs, and more hugs.  (The best part of every day.)

    …hear “I love you” over and over again.

    …help little hearts heal.

    …wipe away tears.

    …have a ring side seat to God’s big and little miracles.

    …sit by hospital bedsides while children heal.

    …serve with a willing heart.

    …watch little souls blossom before my eyes.

    …watch little minds learn and grow.

    …hit my knees repeatedly.

    …give up control.

    …turn it all over to the one who knows best.

    …prepare meals that little ones love.

    …wash, fold, and put away clean clothes to wear.

    …have access to the best medical care around.

    I GET to do it all of these things every single day with my very best friend.

    I am blessed!  Beyond blessed!  SERIOUSLY blessed!

  • No Hands But Ours Article

    Date: 2017.03.06 | Category: Adoption, Family Life

    I was honored to get to guest write about our family for No Hands But Ours.  The NHBO articles are wonderful and uplifting.  If you are starting the adoption process, are curious about special needs, or wonder what other families have gone through, this is a great place to start.

    Seriously Blessed

  • Chinese New Year 2017

    Date: 2017.03.04 | Category: Adoption, China 2016, Family Life

    Our children look forward to celebrating Chinese New Year (CNY) each year.  The first year home is always the hardest because it brings up memories, some good and some bad, that we have to wade through.  As our family as grown there have been more and more children who love to celebrate so the most recently adopted get into the swing of things pretty quickly.

    We leave up the 14 foot Christmas tree and decorate it for CNY.  Everything is red and gold.  We have special ornaments that the kids have made and some extra special ones that we bought through an adoption fundraiser.

    We wait for a day when everyone can celebrate together so it isn’t often that our family celebration is on the actual day of CNY.   During the week of CNY we take them to Panda Express so they can each get a kid’s meal.  It’s not cost effective to do this very often so it’s a special treat.

    We go at an off time because there is only one table in the whole restaurant that can seat us all.

    On the day of our celebration the children wake up and put on their silks right away.  I think it’s their favorite part of the day.  We have a box full of colorful silks.

    I think Eli is going to need a new one soon.  🙂

    Maisey is always ready to do her “China” pose, as she calls it and Evie always needs a fountain to finish off her outfit.

    They all look so cute in their silks.  We even found one that fit Hope’s sense of style.  I wish I would have bought more sizes the last time we traveled.  I guess I always assumed their would be one more time.

    Even Nicholas got into the action.  We got out his dad’s outfit from when he was a baby.  Why I purchased a Chinese outfit for my son 28 years ago I will never know.  I just can’t remember.  God knew long before I did I guess.

    They love having family together.  They are always excited when Zach and Steph come to visit.

    They love to eat the special foods we prepare twice a year on CNY and Children’s Day.  We make home made steamed buns, spicy chicken feet, wontons, and crab rangoons.   I don’t often prepare these foods from scratch because they are time consuming.  The house smells so good though when it is all cooking.   Then their are the usuals that we eat often – egg drop soup, hot and sour soup, fried rice, spicy steak, teriyaki chicken, and potstickers.  I don’t make potstickers from scratch because Sam’s Club carries some that the kids love.  They are so easy to prepare.  The come frozen in a tray with water around them.  You just put them in a pan and wait as the water boils off, the bottoms get browned, and they are perfect.

    This year we had our pastor and his lovely family over.  They were a wonderful addition.  The extra hands in the kitchen were a welcome treat.   Amy rolled out all the dough for the steamed buns so the kids even got fresh ones for breakfast too.  Jasmine was sick, she woke up with a 102 temp., and missed out on the day of fun.  We brought her out for a picture and let her eat her spicy food in her room.  Not quite the same but better than nothing.

    It was still a wonderful day full of laughter, friends, and family.

    We ended our day watching the Troll movie.  The littles were so excited to show Nicholas this movie.  They figured he would love the music and bright colors.  I didn’t have the heart to break it to him that he is still a bit too little to understand a movie.  Nick laughed and cooed and smiled and made them all believe that he loved it.

    Our new couch is the perfect place for the whole family to cuddle up and watch a movie.

    All in all a pretty good day!  Happy year of the rooster everyone!  Wishing you all the best in the upcoming year!

     

     

     

  • Christmas Letter (Part 2 – Middles & Bigs)

    Date: 2017.01.14 | Category: Adoption, Family Life

    Jessica Jean (8) – I don’t even know where to start with this girl.  She came to us angry, shut down, afraid to love, and scared.   She has done so well.  In February she will have been home a year.  She is happy, sweet, loving, caring, brave, and ready to take on the world.  She is still very quiet.  She practices her English until she can say it perfectly because she doesn’t like to be wrong.  She talks with very little accent.  She is doing so well with her school work.

    I admit that while we were in China, I was so worried.  Worried that we were too late.  Worried that she would never bond or care to have parents.  Worried that her little heart would never heal.  Worried that she would never trust another adult again.  But I was SO wrong.  She has done unbelievably well.  I love this little girl so much!  I can’t believe we almost missed the blessing that is her.

    Elyse (11) – Elyse continues to do well.  She is so smart – very, very smart.  As of 1/1/17, she has been in America two years.  She takes being an American very seriously.  She loves her freedom and the right to worship God.  Elyse loves BIG.  She is friendly and funny.  She enthusiastically lives life to the fullest.  She dreams big and I believe she will accomplish whatever she sets her mind too.  She wants to design dresses when she grows up and send clothes to orphanages so little girls can wear pretty clothes.   If Elyse had her way, she would have 20 brothers and 20 sisters.   Her heart breaks for all those kids who still wait.  Her biggest wish if for every child to have a family that loves them and keeps them safe.

    Gracie (11) – Gracie’s lupus continues to stay in remission.  We are so thankful that she has had a couple good years with very little issues.  She is a huge help around the house.  She is growing up so fast and I can hardly believe that she will soon be 12.  Where does the time go?  Gracie loves having a big family.  She readily helps her sisters who are in wheelchairs and is my right hand.  School doesn’t always come easy to Grace but she works so hard.  She wants to grow up and adopt as many kids as she can.  That’s a pretty good plan.  We will see where God leads.

    Jasmine (17) – Jasmine continues to learn English and progress well with school.  It’s hard on a child who really didn’t get any formal education until she was 14.  It makes her feel constantly behind even though she has come so far in just 3 1/2 years.  The last two years have been harder then the first two for Jasmine.  She had a huge set back when she realized that she would never walk.  China had told her that America would fix her and no matter what we said, she believed them.  She lost hope when she realized that her life would be forever in a chair.  We continue to tell her that her life has purpose and she is finally believing that.  She has made such a huge difference in other kid’s lives.  She continues to write her own blog www.Flowerthatblooms.com where she shares her feelings about living in an orphanage and what it means to have a family of your own.  I am very proud of how far she has come.

    Jasmine’s Dream Update:   To date these four girls – the fab four – as I call them, have helped 300 children.   They work hard to save their money to donate to other adoptions and fundraisers.  They have a dream to open up an Etsy shop where they sell their artwork, hats, t-shirts, etc. that they have designed to help even more children.

    Hope (17) – Hope is as artistic as ever.  She loves special effects makeup.  She is constantly in her room coming up with some new design.   She shows her work on instagram on DragonKnightMakeup.  I’m not sure where this passion and talent will take her but it is fun watching her imagination at work.

    We laughed because when Cassie took the pictures, Peter ended up being in all of them.  Peter and Hope have been best friends forever.  They started dating last year and as you can see from the picture, he is still here.  hahaha  He is a good kid and our family loves him.  They are still obviously very young but we all love Peter and his family.

    Cassie and Reece – in May they will have been married 2 years.  Cassie is still teaching 2nd grade and has decided to pursue a masters degree to be a speech pathologist.  Reece is attending Iowa State and has decided to become an audiologist.  They continue to live in an apartment on our property so that they can be close to the kiddos and help out when needed.  They both sign and are helping us all learn how to sign for Max.

    Zachary, Stephanie and introducing….Nicholas

    OH MY GOODNESS and the biggest news of the year!!!  We have a grandson!  A sweet-tempered, adorable little guy who we all adore.   Zach and Steph continue to live in Wisconsin and Zach works for Raven Software on the game, Call of Duty.  Stephanie is the best mama and there is nothing better than watching little Nicholas listen to his mama sing.  It is the sweetest thing around.

    Nicholas has the biggest fan club in the world.  No matter what he does he has a cheering section of uncles and aunts that stand in awe of all that he does.  This little guy is definitely loved!

    Our new favorite thing is being able to Skype with them on our big t.v.   We all miss them and love to be able to see them even if it is just on the t.v.  Technology is amazing and makes living apart so much easier.

    Codey (29) – And last but not least our oldest boy.   Codey continues to live at home and is doing very well.  He loves football and basketball games on his t.v.  He is very close to Lainey and she loves to follow him around the house.  Dan recently ran into a doctor who took care of Codey when he was an infant.  It’s amazing to hear how they all believed he wouldn’t live to be a year old and here we are.

    Life continues to be busy and loud and full of love and learning.  Our floors continue to be sticky and never, ever perfectly clean.  Things aren’t always easy and adopting comes with its share of pain.  I won’t pretend everything is pretty and perfect, but it is perfectly ours.  Life can be messy.  Tears will be shed.  Life lessons are learned.  The most amazing thing happens when a child learns to trust you though.  Hearts open and start to heal.  Little souls start to bloom.  It is an amazing thing to be a part of.

    I could never adequately put into words what it means to be a mother to this crew.  How can I put into words what it feels like to see their sleepy little faces in the morning, to have all those arms hug me, and tell me good morning.  I look in the faces of children who have come so far.  I am constantly amazed at the miracles that happened to bring them home and to help them get the treatment they needed.  We are seriously blessed each and every day!

    Wishing you all the best in 2017.  Merry Christmas everyone!

     

     

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