Monday, October 15, 2012

Dreaming...

I'm dreaming of a day when my own blue eyes will look on two sets of gorgeous dark brown ones for the first time.

I'm dreaming of a day when two more little hands will be mine to hold.

I'm dreaming of a day when R & K will first call me "Mommy". 

I'm dreaming of a day when five little Reickard children will gather around the dinner table with folded hands to give thanks to God.

I'm dreaming of a day when my family, built of many nations, will be united under one roof.

I'm dreaming of a day when my fingers will (hopefully) weave and craft pretty braids in a beautiful little girl's hair.

I'm dreaming of a day when my two little boys will share a room and probably break a thing or two around the house together.

I'm dreaming of a day when three girls, who couldn't look more different, are tightly knitted sisters.

I'm dreaming of a day when I no longer have to wonder if my children are warm or fed or loved, but can do those things for them under our own roof.

I'm dreaming of a day when each of my children, I pray, will enter an everlasting family with God as their Father.

I'm dreaming... and I'm so eager for the day it's no longer a dream.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Accepting a New Identity, a New Life

As someone that has been born again into the family of God and made new, I realize that I don't always think and act like I have been.  In fact, sometimes, if I'm honest, I miss some of those old sins, old bondage.  Sometimes I don't know what to do with freedom that I have in Christ that I want to go back to the security of the "predictable" state of living under the bondage of sin.  I guess it's sort of like someone that has been held in captivity for so long doesn't really know what to do with freedom - yeah, I can relate a bit.  I have lived in a prison of fear, of Pharisaical law, of trying to control for so long.  Christ has opened the door to that prison and set me free.  Sometimes, as the door is still open to that prison, I walk right back in.

So I guess I get it.  I get why when a child that has lived in a "prison" of being institutionalized, that freedom is scary.  All that was built up around that child, no matter how messed up, is all that child knows.  They find comfort in it, a false sense of security.  When given freedom and a new life, the door to revert back to old ways - ways of coping and survival in the institution - is still open.

What triggers going back to the old ways?  I wish I knew.  I wish I knew why I went back to my old sinful ways too.  Sometimes I can figure that out in myself, but sometimes I can't figure out why I'd embrace my "old" ways when I have freedom and new life sitting right in front of me.  So it is for those children that have been in captivity for so long.  They have freedom - a family, a new life, true security, true love - all around them.  But sometimes that old life calls back, the old ways are so tempting to fall back into.  The coping skills - really all they could do to get through their old life - are just looking for that opportunity to pop out again.  And so begins embracing old ways and rejecting new life.

I'm amazed at how God talks about adoption in the Bible.  I'm amazed at the freedom and new life - a FAMILY - He offered me.  I wasn't just institutionalized.  I was DEAD.  And He gave me life.  Children that are institutionalized or that have come from terrible situations can feel dead too.  Their coping skills can be to check out, in a sense trying to deaden their emotions so they can't be hurt anymore.  When given new life (in the earthly sense), when given a family, all that pain doesn't just go away. Healing has to take place.  Old ways need to be unlearned.  Trust and security needs to trump over all they've ever known before.  This really isn't different that our adoption into God's family.  All our pain doesn't just go away instantly.  Healing does begin.  Old ways are unlearned.  Our trust and security in our Father grows over time as we know Him more.

Our identities are new, but we forget.  We hear the strong voices in our head - maybe even those around us - that lie and tell us our new lives aren't real, our identities cannot change.

But in Christ all things are possible.  And we can cling to the old, but that doesn't make the new any less real.  We are new.  Those that are adopted have a new identity, a new family, a new life.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.  Ephesians 1:3-6

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

R and K

How could we have known when we woke up today that we would see the faces of our Haitian children?  How could we have known how we would feel as we looked onto their beautiful brown eyes, knowing the heartbreak they have endured?

Today is no ordinary day.  Today we were introduced to 5 year old "R" and 1 year old "K".  Looking at the picture of these biological siblings, we can only imagine so much of their story.  But what we do see is an older sister protectively holding her baby brother's hand.  We see children that have experienced more loss than many their age.  We see children, so beautiful, so wanted, so loved... but without a family to care for them.  We see children that we long to hold, long to comfort. We see our daughter and our son.

We ask you to join us in praying over big girl "R" and little boy "K".  Pray that God would protect them, comfort them. Pray that they have enough food to eat and that they feel loved.  Pray that God would move mountains to bring them to this forever family. Pray that God would heal their grieving hearts. 

We know they are in an orphanage where they are taught about the love of Jesus.  We pray they know Christ's love while they are in Haiti, and that God will pour out His amazing love onto them through our family.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Birthday to Remember

Every year we get one of these cards in the mail for our little son Kael, right around the time of his birthday.

It may seem a bit silly that I haven't turned "off" the mail for him, but honestly this is the only piece he gets.  And it's just once a year.

It used to be so hard to get this card, a sign that for me, the hardest grieving day of the year was coming (his birthday).  It was so painful to get a birthday card for my child that had died when he wasn't here to open it.

Now it's just one of those things I look forward to seeing.  It's one tangible way to acknowledge his very existence, his mark on this world.  And with the silly giraffe on the side, the pile of presents, the words "special gift" below... it brings me joy.  That's what Kael was and is, a special gift.  The funny thing was he had a little stuffed giraffe that we put into his crib during the time he was alive, a Beanie Baby named Jumpshot.  And the presents?  His life is worth celebrating!

This little piece of mail speaks so much to my heart, even if it is "just" a Toys R Us card.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Love

Love, in its purest sense, is something I've struggled to really understand.  So much of human love is wrapped around performance and meeting standards that we have for one another.  Sort of an "If you do good, then I will be pleased and show you love.  If you do bad, then I will be unhappy and my love for you will be strained or even gone."  We all fall back into this, at best only sometimes, at worst then all the time.  We are a people that have mastered conditional love.

But Christ... now he is the one that has mastered unconditional love.  Even when he took on flesh, had his reputation ruined, was rejected by his hometown, had people plotting (and ultimately succeeding in) his death, he still loved unconditionally.  Completely.  Instead of always going towards the outwardly shiny, pretty people, he took a beeline for the outcast... the prostitute, the adulterer, the cheat, the liar, the outwardly broken.  And he loved them unconditionally.  They didn't have to clean up or act a certain way before he came to them.  He came to them regardless.  As fully God as well as fully man, let's face it... Jesus was and IS better than those outcasts.  He's better than all of us.  And yet he humbled himself to love the unloveable, to reach the unreachable.  That includes you and me.  The fact is that the Creator of the Universe, the Word that became flesh, truly IS better than we are.  He is holy, righteous, perfect, and a bunch of other things we can never be.  But we are no better than anyone else.  The outcasts of Jesus' day and the outcasts of today are just as much in need of Jesus as you and I.  The outcasts of Jesus' day and the outcasts of today have the same black heart in need of Christ's blood to cleanse it as we do. The truth is, WE are outcasts as well... some of us just hide it better from one another.  But we can't hide it from God.  We are all outcasts deserving of hell.  None of us are worthy, not one.

The great news is that Jesus blood was poured out for all of us, even while we were outcasts, while we were dead.  And we can ALL be made new in Him.  Not just the outwardly shiny ones, but ALL of us can be made new.

It's one thing to know and believe this, and another thing to live like this.  Pride is an ugly thing, and it lives to destroy true love.  Pride and judgement work to set up the conditions in which others deserve our love.  "Jump through my hoops, and I'll show you love."  "Clean up for me, and I'll show you love."  "Don't show me that mess that is your heart and paste on a smile, and I'll show you love."  We begin to believe these lies and apply them to others, drawing a line in the sand on who we can show favor to and who we should not.  And we believe these lies and apply them to ourselves.  We decide if we just look just so, or keep our real feelings bottled up, or do enough tricks, then FINALLY someone will show us love.  And wouldn't we deserve that love - after all, look at all the work we did in being so shiny to get it!

I'm looking in the mirror, and it's not a pretty thing.  Turns out my shiny was really a bunch of rust and decay... an illusion.  And the shiny I expected others to have... turns out I look an awful lot like the Pharisees who decided who did and did not deserve favor.  Oh, I may not outwardly act that way (it's part of the illusion), but the deep dark parts of  my heart know better.

The mirror is necessary, because in seeing who I really am - a messy rebellious outcast - I see my great need for a Savior.  And in seeing that need, my pride goes down and my heart goes soft, ready to receive the God that died for me.  And in my need for the God that loves my soul unconditionally, I can see that the outcasts of today really aren't different than I am.  We may have different struggles, different sins we battle, different appearances, different circumstances... but our hearts?  Depraved.  Messy.  Broken.  Evil.  Needing a Savior to make us new...

God made me new.  In that restoration He brought into my life, I want to share that same love with others.  And I don't get to pick and choose who gets it on the merits of appearance or performance.  Because if God did that, I would still be dead.  Shouldn't all people, whether fully alive or still dead, be able to see and feel God's amazing unconditional love?  Who are we to pick and choose?

The answer is obvious.  If the Most High didn't pick and choose who is worthy to be loved, we don't get to either.

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”  Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’   The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Matthew 12:28-31

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Adoption and Public Opinion

There has been recent news of a family that adopted internationally from Ghana as being detained and jailed, suspected of human trafficking.  Thankfully all charges have been dropped.  However, the controversy that has surrounded this case has not been lost on me.  I read the comments about this family on various sites - blogs, news sources, etc.  These comments were made by people that didn't even know this family, but already made a judgement call on their motives.  I have to say, those comments grieved me.  Mostly because I have read and heard similar comments made by others regarding international adoptions. 

I have also read various ideas concerning international adoption - Should kids be pulled out of their home countries?  Are people buying children?  Are trans-racial families a fad started by celebrities?  Has the evangelical church just jumped on their latest bandwagon by pushing adoptions?  Why adopt internationally when so many kids are available for adoption in the US?  And so on and so on.

I've read stories of racial profiling, where the adoptive parents or grandparents greatest crime is to have a child that has a different skin shade.  I read one blog spot where a woman commented that at her daughter's dance class, a woman refused to be this woman's friend because her child had darker skin and she assumed that child was adopted.  The daughter actually had darker skin because the mother was white and the father was black.  This other woman assumed that the child was adopted and told her she didn't agree with her "buying babies".  What hurt the mother was not just the racism and anti-adoption sentiment involved, but also that the mother herself was adopted. 

I could go on and on, but let me tell you, I'm grieved.  I'm grieved that people are so quick to judge what they don't understand.  I'm grieved that so many wish to assume the worst.  I'm grieved that race is still an issue in our world.  I'm grieved that there is a lack of understanding that ALL children need parents, no matter where they live, and that love doesn't know boundaries.

And I'm grieved that others' strong opinions make me feel like I'm supposed to be apologizing for my family.

But don't get me wrong... I don't apologize for my family, ever.  I love my family, and I believe with all my heart that God has brought each of our children to us, whether biological or adopted.  Chad and I, if you've followed our story, have had our share of ashes in our lives.  We have lost deeply.  When God placed adoption into our hearts, we knew that our kids lost deeply too.  God took our ashes and took their ashes, and made something beautiful out of them.  If we hadn't adopted, look what we would've missed out on... our incredible son from South Korea, who brings life and fun where ever he goes.  Our little daughter from China, who has come so far but yet has so much more healing to do.  Two children from Haiti, found in life-threatening circumstances and saved by being currently cared for in a sound and solid orphanage.  And the future of these kids if they weren't adopted?  That's something I've thought of quite a bit, and knowing their histories and where they are from, the possible answers that have come to me are not pretty, to say the least.

Why do I share this?  Because international adoption, like domestic adoption and foster care, is a very complicated topic.  There are bad things going on in the international adoption world.  Abuse cases do occur.  Sadly human trafficking is actually real within the adoptive world.  Some children are stolen out of their families or even sold by their families.  Some kids get adopted, thinking they are home, and the adoptive parents disrupt the adoption, causing the kids to bounce around - again.  There are bad things out there.  They happen too in domestic adoptions and the foster care system.  But that doesn't mean that adoption should stop.  That doesn't mean that those that are adopting should automatically be under suspicion.  That doesn't mean that all kids don't deserve a forever family.  That doesn't mean that good, even great things, aren't happening too.

I realize that the audience of those reading this blog are people that likely support adoption as well as support our family.  Adoption may be one of the reasons why you chose to read this blog in the first place.  Perhaps some of the issues I mentioned here surrounding adoption have not even crossed your mind before.

Although I do believe that adoption is not by any means the only solution in the international crises of orphaned children (orphaned by means that are complex and varied), or even the only solution for the children that are orphaned domestically, I do believe it is one of the solutions.  And it's a strong solution.  Because quite honestly, if adoption didn't occur, the orphan crisis would be beyond what we can fathom.  Infant and child death rates would go up.  Crime rates would go up.  Human trafficking would increase in horrific ways.  Way too many children would grow up without knowing love, without knowing what it is to be cared for, without knowing where they will wake up, without knowing where their next meal would come from.  If I think of any one of my children in a situation like that - alone, hungry, scared, perhaps abused, sick... the list goes on - I wouldn't let any barrier get in the way of bringing them home.  We need to fight for these kids.  We need to understand that the crisis is complicated and huge and we don't have all the answers in how to solve it. But that doesn't mean we should stop trying, stop loving, stop adopting.

Ever hear of the story of the hummingbird?  I love the way this is put, and it's a great way to end a topic like this.  During a forest fire, most of the animals run away from the immense and overwhelming problem before them.  But not the hummingbird.  The hummingbird, as tiny as he is, works to put out the fire, one drop at a time.  Others stop and stare and criticize his work... after all, what does he think he's doing?  He isn't doing it right!  He is too small to make a difference.  But the hummingbird goes on and continues his work.

"There is something in our lives we can do.  So be a hummingbird..."

Friday, June 15, 2012

I'm Not Jesus

That title doesn't surprise any of you, I'm sure.  But hearing those words last night certainly got my attention.

I'm not Jesus.

But I've been trying to be.

This whole thing with our earthly relationships being a picture of God's relationship to us is a beautiful gracious gift, helping us see our God so personally as Father, Husband, Adoptive Parent, Friend, Lover, and Savior.

It's that last one that's tripped me up a bit... savior.  We know that type of relationship on earth, don't we?  We see it discussed in literary circles ("he's a type of savior"), we see it in so many movies (Superman, arguably, in entertainment is one of the best known saviors of mankind).  We hear stories on the news of a firefighter saving a family from a burning building, or an individual donating an organ to save another life, or a child being saved from an extreme impoverished and life threatening circumstance.  We see the "savior" relationship in a variety of ways, the best always being the "saviors" that help those that are their enemies (resonates a little bit deep for all of us, I think).

But none of these saviors are Jesus.  And neither am I.

The gospel truth is this... we as people have been given the ability to save/rescue someone in the temporal, physical sense while we are on this earth, but only Jesus Christ can SAVE people in every sense, now and eternally.  Try as I might, I cannot save any of my children spiritually.  I can guide them, curb them, hold up a mirror to them in hopes they will look up and see who they really are (sinners deserving of hell and eternal death, just like I am).  I can show them grace and love, gentleness and patience.  But I'm not Jesus.  I can't transform them.  I cannot renew them.  I cannot restore them.  Only Jesus can save.  I have my role to play.  Chad has his role to play.  Our kids have their role to play.  We can choose to accept or reject those roles.  God's given us that choice.

Do we want to be saved?  Not just from circumstances, but from death that is eternal?  From the prison of sin we daily live in?  From an enemy so crafty who seeks to destroy our lives and souls?

We long for this saving.  We write stories of happily ever afters where the good guy beats the bad guy.  We sing songs of rescue and love eternal.  Every part of our soul cries out to be saved.  But nothing of this earth can truly save us because there is only one Christ.  And he is the only one that can truly save in every sense of the word.

I'm not Jesus.  It's about time I stop trying to save my kids from eternal death and instead play my role as lover of who they are and all that encompasses.  I need to surrender them once and for all, trusting the God, the lover of my soul, to be the lover of their souls too.

Jesus saves.  Not me.

Monday, June 11, 2012

We're Not Meant to Do This Alone

Today I ran into a friend that has recently adopted from China, and the relief on both of our ends was palpable.  Both of us have had unique challenges and struggles as our adopted children adapt to their new families and as we have adapted to having them in our lives.  I have several people in my life I know that I can share the trials that we've had through this early bonding process, and I am so blessed by their care and love they show to me.  Today, though, talking to someone that really "gets" it... oh, Lord, thank you for that!

So often we feel alone in the journey we are on.  We feel like although some may kind of understand, perhaps we actually are a bit crazy in the way we think.  We second guess ourselves, we wonder if there's something wrong with us to struggle with the issues that we do.  And then God, in His infinite compassion, sends someone that is going through something similar, someone that can completely relate to the struggles we're going through.  Then we know we're not alone, we're not completely crazy to see things as we do, how even as we make mistakes and sin in the process that no temptation has come upon us that is not common to man.  Our hearts can breathe again as we feel the relief wash over us.  It's not all in our heads.  We're not going crazy.  This stuff is hard, and others are going through it too.  When God knits souls together so they don't have to go it alone... wow.  What a gracious God we have.

Our lives are not meant to be lived alone, but in community with God and community with other people.  Tearing down the masks of "things are going fine" and being real... you just never know how you may bless someone else or how someone else may be used to breathe life into you.

Friday, June 8, 2012

What I Love About Aria

In no particular order, but each of these are things I love about this little girl...

* Her sass - the kind with two snaps and a bag of chips
* Her tiny laugh and beautiful smile
* Her gentleness - in her touch and at times in her deep dark eyes
* Her hugs - she is one of the best huggers I've met!
* Her expressive faces when she talks - one word... HAM!
* Her artistic eye - not much gets past her
* Her tiny off-key singing voice - especially when she sings about Jesus
* Her drive - this girl is a go-getter in a lot of things
* Her hope - in all of her brokeness, I can still see the hope inside her heart through her tiny face
* Her Chenglish - Chinese English is pretty adorable on a 4 year old!
Aria, we love you!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Big Girls Should Cry

There are qualities in our children that I think we take for granted, things that we just expect to be part of the makeup of each child.  I thought this, unknowingly, until we met Aria.  There has been a certain aspect to Aria that has been "off", a part of her that I haven't been able to make sense of.  She is a mystery, this child, and unlike with my other children (or even others who I have been entrusted to care for), I cannot figure out why Aria acts the way she does when she does.  There seems to be no rhythm to her days, to her moods.  The word "mood" itself implies emotion, and that is exactly the piece that Aria seems to be missing.  Emotion.  Not all, but certainly some.

Emotion is something we take for granted.  When a child is tired, we can guess that emotions will run high that day.  When a child is angry, we can foresee a tantrum coming.  When a child is having fun, we expect to see giggles and smiles.  Some of this Aria falls into, some of it she does not.

I think that is the biggest mystery of who Aria is... this child that when she first entered our family, would often show little emotion at all.  Just a blank, lifeless stare.  This took place especially when I would have to put Aria on a time out.  She seemed like she could stare at the wall with a cold, blank stare all day.  It made me wonder if she had.

Aria has slowly come out of herself.  Out of all the emotions we see from her, it's been happiness we see the most.  The giggles, the smiles, how quickly she entertains herself and finds entertainment in the things around her.  The emotion I see the least?  Sadness.  At least not sadness as children (or many people in general) seem to show it.  When Aria is sad, there comes the emotionless face.  She looks cold, perhaps even angry with a mouth that naturally curves downward.  But if you ask her, she is not.  If you ask her if she is sad, she says yes.

Aria has had a lot of difficult behavior this last week.  I have no idea what has triggered it.  When I think I've gotten through to her, I see how I have not.  And her emotionless, cold face as I speak to her is one of the most frustrating things I have encountered with her.  When her face, when her entire body language looks as if she doesn't care or has given up or just is trying to tune out and go deeper inside of herself, it is an obstacle that seems overwhelming.  I know she is not "dead inside", but that is the appearance she gives.  And talking to her, trying to get her to share what's on her heart, is like trying to talk to an 18 month old and trying to find out what's on his heart... you don't get far.  It's so hard, and I can't just ignore the behaviors that facilitate these conversations.  I can't just ignore the thrown toys in anger, the mean words to siblings, the blatant disobedience.  I can't.  And yet when the day goes with too many of these episodes, Aria goes to that cold dark place.  And I feel like there is no way to get through to her.  Sometimes I see watery eyes in her empty stare, but nothing further.

After a long day like that yesterday, today was beginning much the same way.  I finally got to the point where I felt nothing I was doing was working.  And so, talking to my very young four year old, I told her... "I don't know what to do anymore.  Where do we go from here?"  And as I told her the realities of her behavior and the consequences they bore (like being mean to siblings means you don't get to play with them), I saw the eyes become watery again.  And as she and I reconciled to the broken trust in our relationship, I could tell that crying was just under the surface.  I asked her if she wanted to cry (I've done this before), and expected her to just let the tears roll down, perhaps make a muffled sound as she suppresses it all.  But today?  Aria actually cried.

And as Aria cried I encouraged her to cry more, to let it all out.  And she did.  She cried and cried as I've not heard her cry before.  This wasn't terrified, angry screams as she cried that first day we met her.  This wasn't a cry of pain, as she does only when she gets really hurt.  This was a cry of emotion, of letting suppressed emotions out.  As she cried, my heart that has felt so much frustration in the last couple of days became very soft over this child.  She is so clearly broken, and I wish I knew what in her past makes her so easily go to that cold, hard place.  Perhaps it was all of it...

I held her as she cried, and realized how much of a baby she still is in her development.  Chad and I have asked her before if she wasn't allowed to cry in China.  She doesn't seem to remember.  But if I had to guess, many of her cries went unanswered in those first developmental years.  Why cry when it's pointless?

I hope this was a step towards healing today.  Every piece we unlock, every tiny glimpse of growth, is like an incredible treasure.

Friday, April 13, 2012

God Can Make All Things New

Aria has been a very changed girl the last couple of weeks. We have seen a slow change in her over the months that truly has been quite amazing. But I feel as if the last couple of weeks have shown the largest change in her, I think a great deal to her acceptance of her circumstances. For so long, she fought being here. As little as a few weeks ago, she indicated she thought she was still going back to China. After a long hard talk with Aria - again - about this home being her life now, it seemed that a light bulb finally went off. She asked me two questions after that talk. 1) "We're all done China?" This was something we have told her multiple times, but this is the first time she's ever acknowledged it. Her question was almost more of a statement. And 2) "I didn't have necklaces in China." Since that talk, she has found things almost daily to comment on about what she has here in America that she didn't have in China. Friends, I believe she has come to the stage of acceptance.


This is huge, because with acceptance comes hope. Aria has grieved, and grieved hard, these last several months of all that she has lost in China. And in her little mind, she lost a great deal more than what even existed for her there. We saw a great deal of her shock and denial while we were in China, particularly that first week she joined our family. We also saw her pain of leaving what she knew all her life into a world with a strange family with strange words and strange looks, food, and habits. We also saw her loneliness that first month as she would go off on her own, seemingly preferring to play alone and talk to herself in the mirror rather than be with us.

Looking back on the first three months of Aria's time home, I think we got the brunt of her anger. She was mad she was here, she wanted to go home, and she let us (particularly me) know about it. As her language improved, she was able to communicate the incredible loss she felt and how strongly she missed China, mama, and her friend Mei Mei. I think this surprised a lot of people that walked alongside our family because in wisdom, they realized Aria was taken away from a hopeless situation where she had very, very little. But to Aria, this was her home for 4 years. This was her people group, her friends, her land, her language, her food, her life. To not mourn such a profound loss would be even more surprising.

There were days we would see more of the girl that God made Aria to be. Days turned into weeks, and our hard days (at least as they once were) seemed to be disappearing. And then... acceptance. Aria has seemed to accept that we are her family, that this is her home, that she does have more of an opportunity for life and love here with us than she did in China.

Our family has had experience with grief. We know it comes in waves, and the fresh pain of it all can come out of nowhere like a blow to the stomach. We know that acceptance does not mean the end of the grieving process.

But acceptance is the first step to hope. And hope to joy. And the joy of the Lord is her strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)

She is definitely a "huggy" girl (her love language is certainly physical touch). But more than ever she is showing love to us... to Chad, to JJ, to Elliana, and to me. I've noticed her countenance, which has been for so long a default of scowls and frowns, now turn to smiles and joy. I've noticed her delight in kindness rather than lashing out. This girl is changing. She is becoming new.

God can make ALL things new.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

On the Lighter Side

Lest anyone thinks we're all much too serious here at the Reickard home, here is a glimpse of mealtime with our three "comedians".

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Love

Last night I had a dream that Aria was going to be taken away from us to live with a temporary foster family. Never mind that she is legally adopted or any of the other logic of reality... this dream, I think, had a purpose that I needed to hear.

In this dream, I remember being so incredibly sad... sad that she would have to get adjusted to a new family again, that she would have to mourn all over again. I was also deeply sad to be losing her. I was going to miss her something terrible, this little girl that impacted my life more than I had realized.

And when I awoke, what came to my mind was gratitude. I was grateful it was only a dream. I was grateful that because of the deep sorrow I felt in my dream (and the residue that remained when I woke up), I was shown how much I have bonded with Aria. I hadn't realized... I didn't know... But now I do.

From my depths, love is growing in big ways over this little one. As difficult as the journey has been, as questions have gnawed in my mind and put doubts in my soul if God was sure that He got this one right, as each day goes into the next and growth is hard to measure, an amazing love from the Architect of all of this has pierced the walls that guard my heart. Really, I had no chance to keep that love out, no matter the protection I place around my heart. That's kind of the way the Maker of heaven and earth works when He lives inside of you.

Thank you Lord for revealing this to my heart and soul in such a kind and gentle way.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13

Sunday, April 1, 2012

"I Like Boys"

It's been almost 5 months that Aria joined our family. Quite honestly, it feels like she's been with us a lot longer. It's hard to fully remember what it was like with just the 4 of us in the Reickard home.

The past month, we've seen definite growth in Aria. Although at times you can literally see the inward fight on her face and with her body language on whether or not to obey, she typically is compliant. Let's just say that her heart is getting softer, but we have a ways to go. Really, is that so different from the rest of us? It's just a bit more obvious to us right now with Aria.

Aria is very in love with her Daddy. This is something to rejoice in, as she is bonding strongly to someone in this household! And I would say that JJ is right up there with Daddy, if not tied with him in Aria's heart. The most interesting part of this is that when we met her, the two people she wanted the least to do with were Daddy and JJ. She took to Elliana and me much more quickly. The roles are definitely reversed, and Aria LOVES her Daddy. The other day she told me "I like Daddy so much. And I like China so much." In other words, Daddy is right up there with China in her little mind and heart. Not a bad place for him to be! Chad and JJ are the ones Aria wants to be with all the time. She loves playing with JJ, and honestly is consumed with all that is JJ. As for Daddy, well, her face is never brighter than when he walks into a room. She adores him.

Although that is a wonderful thing, here is a bit of the struggle I have with that. Elliana and I get to be on the receiving end of some of the more unkind behavior from Aria. Frowns, unkind words, and downright rejection get old after a while. Although I've gone through both Elliana and JJ going in cycles of having a "favorite" parent, this one with Aria can definitely hurt. I think it's because when Elliana and JJ played favorites between Chad and I, they would just ask for the other parent or want to go by that parent, but the relationship with the other parent was still a positive one. With Aria, I am bogged down because I am the primary person (as I'm home with her all week) to deal with the many heart issues that we are in the thick of, get the brunt of the side of her that is not very pleasant (as does Elliana), and then get greeted each morning with a "Where's Daddy?" The relationship with Aria and the girls here is not that easy even on a good day. I admit it... I'm struggling with some jealousy. Chad gets the role of fun, loving Daddy. He does correct her behavior when he's home, but the truth is that he doesn't get to see the rough sides of Aria nearly as much as I do. Perhaps she doesn't show those sides as often when he's home. Perhaps it's just because of the number of hours I get with her that it makes it more probable to see that side come out. Perhaps it's because she's saving that side for me as she's struggling with me more. Who knows - sometimes I analyze things to death. But the point is, Chad often gets the fun Aria, and I often get the not-so fun Aria. And I struggle with that. Not all the time. But I do struggle with that. I would love her to bond to me as she has to her Daddy. When really I should just be grateful she is bonding at all. Pretty self-centered of me, I know. I'm being real here, though.

Last week when Aria told me she liked Daddy "so much" in the same breath as liking China so much, I continued to probe. (I wasn't having a "take things too personally" night, so I was prepared to probe a bit.) She then told me she liked JJ "so much". I asked her if she liked Elliana "so much". She said, "I like boys." So then I asked her if she liked Mommy "so much". She replied, "You're a girl." So I continued, "Do you like Mommy so much, or do you not like Mommy so much?" She was hesitating to answer. I'm not exactly sure why, but I think it's because she likes both Elliana and I (she has said that to us before many times), but just doesn't like us "so much". (Only a few things are reserved for the special title of "so much".) I asked her a couple more times, and then she finally said yes, I think because she just finally gave up trying to tell me exactly how much she liked me.

After this, the thought struck me, as she said she liked boys, that boys may be a new thing to her. I asked her if she had boys in China. She said, "No, only in America." Her memory is getting fuzzy about China, but she said she didn't have any boys at the orphanage. (I suspect this could be true as in all the pictures of her at the orphanage, there were not any boys in any of the pictures.) She had a "mama" at the orphanage, but no Daddy. This boy thing is pretty special to her right now, whereas when we first met her she was scared of Chad and wanted nothing to do with JJ. It makes a bit of sense that when she met us, if she was not used to boys it was a little overwhelming for her - especially with a tall, hairy man like Chad and a pretty wild little boy like JJ! And now, well, she not only likes them, but likes them "SO much".

Big steps in some directions, baby steps in others. We're getting there. That's my new slogan in regards to where we are at with Aria... "we're getting there". And we're not quite 5 months from when we met her. I can only imagine how many changes we'll have when it's been a year!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Glimpses

A big smile...



An adoring glance...



Goofy, goofy, goofy girl...



Laughter full of joy...



Arms hugging so tight...



Kisses given freely...


So grateful for these many glimpses of the girl that God made her to be.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Just Enough Light for the Step We're On

Last week was a tough week. Let's just say that by Sunday I was in the fetal position crying myself to sleep. Yes, I'm a bit dramatic! But as Chad pointed out, I'm overwhelmed and stressed too. Sometimes a good cry (and nap) is what we need to physically and emotionally deal with great change.

In the thick of it last week, I knew to run this race well, I had to find something to be thankful for with Aria. I don't know if any of you have ever been there, but I was so caught up in the emotion of it all, even thanksgiving was hard to come by concerning her. This just added to my mommy guilt, and with hands up I told Chad, "The only thing I can think of to be thankful for right now is that Aria is getting healthier!" Chad, in his role as calm, cool husband reminded me... "What about her learning about Jesus? Isn't that a positive?" (Ugh, sometimes his wisdom drives me both batty as well as deeply grateful! How can one wise statement hit so hard?) Yes, that of course is a positive.

He goes on, "What about last week? Didn't you have many positive days with her last week?" He's right. That particular week I remember thinking how far we've progressed with our little girl, and how wonderful things were going.

"So hold onto that, Kristin. That's your light right now. We have to have some light when things seem so dark." And there it is again, my husband's wisdom. God is giving us, each day, just enough light for the step we're on. Darkness cannot overtake this light, because this light is from Christ and IS Christ himself!

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. John 8:12 (emphasis added)

This week we've had a fantastic week with Aria. I'm so grateful for how far we've come with our little girl. I admit, gratitude within the light is easier to have when things are going well and light is all around us. But I'm reminded now, even if I just have a candle glowing in the dark, I still have light. Just enough light for the step we're on.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

And So We Rocked...

Today, after yet another power struggle with Aria and her efforts to be in charge of this home and all within, I came to this point...

I wish I could understand her more. I wish I could peer into her past so I could understand why she reacts as she does sometimes. I wish I could see why she goes to that place where she only stares with eyes in such a hauntingly empty and cold way. I wish I knew how to respond effectively each time we get to this or other points. I wish we were out of this phase and into one much further down the road. I wish...

As I held Aria, my heart cried out to God, not knowing what to do or how to get out of this place of hurt and frustration with her. God, give me eyes to see her like you do. Help me to have a soft heart for this child that fights me so defiantly. Help me, help me...

I walked to my room as I held her, trying to catch a glimpse of her face in my mirror. And then I saw my rocking chair, the chair I rocked Elliana, Kael, and Jaevan in so many nights. The chair that I have found so many precious and quiet moments with the Lord. And holding Aria, I sat in the chair...

And so we rocked. Back and forth, back and forth. I held my 4 year old daughter as I did each of my little babies, cradling her head to my chest and holding her little legs in my arms. Back and forth, back and forth. I brushed her hair from her eyes, stroked her cheek. I kissed the top of her head and told her I loved her, that we would figure this out yet. Back and forth, back and forth.

After a while, I asked her if she liked this rocking. I knew she was sensitive to being thought of like a baby, and she was well aware that the way I was holding her is how babies get held. Aria answered without moving, "Yes, I like this..."

And so the rocking continued. Back and forth. We looked into each others' eyes. We talked. We smiled. We bonded, in this special way just as I had with all of my babies.

I figured she had never been rocked before, and I asked her if she had done this in China. She let me know that, no, she didn't do any rocking in China.

It's so sad to have never been rocked. But now I know the secret to coming out of those frustrating moments. And the secret to maybe even preventing them. We can rock, back and forth, making up for the time she never got to be cradled like a baby by her mommy. We can rock, calming our hearts, our minds, our souls. We can rock, bringing a quiet stillness to a world that is sometimes filled with too much to process. We can rock.

And so we did...

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Missing Mama

As Aria gets more proficient in speaking English, we get the privilege of getting to know this little girl more and more. We find out some of the things she is thinking, some of the things she feels, and we get to hear a little bit about her past.

And that's where missing Mama comes in. I'm talking about her orphanage mama, that is. Every now and then Aria mentions something about Mama and China. I'm not quite sure how much she remembers as reality or if it's just how she wants to picture things in China. As she shared more of her history with me today, she said she got to eat lots of food in China, not just a little bit. It could be lost in translation, it could be how she remembers it, but no, sweetie, you didn't get to eat lots in China. Some stories she tells us are certainly made up with tell tale signs of imagination (like people that don't live in China having adventures with her there). Whether she thinks those stories are real or not, I'm not certain.

As we continued to talk about China today, I asked some probing questions. "Did you get carried a lot, or did you walk a lot?" (Aria said she was carried a lot and only walked a little bit there - I'm pretty sure that tale is true.) After she shared more and more what was on her heart about her life in China, she said to me, "I no like this home. I like home with Mama." It never ceases to cut my heart a bit when I hear that, even though I know it's not a matter of rejecting me or us, but a matter of her grieving process. I asked her what she didn't like about our home... is it the toys she doesn't like? "I like those," she says. Is it her room she doesn't like? "I like Aria's room." Is it Mommy, or Daddy, or Elliana, or JJ she doesn't like? She says she likes each of us. So she does like this home. But what she cannot express to me is that she likes her old home because that's where Mama is.

She reminisced today about her last contact with Mama. She told me again about the time when we met, and how she talked to Mama on the phone and she cried. I wish she had a more positive last memory about Mama, and it didn't have to do with us "keeping her" from Aria. But it is what it is. The orphanage director made that decision for Aria and for us when they were all in our hotel room, trying to transition Aria from their care to ours. She decided, while Aria was already crying because she didn't want to stay with us, to call the "mama" on her cell phone and put the phone to Aria's ear. Aria proceeded to go into hysterics. This wasn't good for us that first day, and it was hardest on Aria to put her through such a tortured goodbye. Does Aria need to talk about that day in her own 4 year old, broken English way? Yes, I think she does. I know each time we talk about Mama, talk about her past, we acknowledge that it is hard for Aria, and that it is ok to love Mama.

Sometimes when we talk about China, it gives us an opportunity to give Aria a little reality about her situation there. Although we cannot fully know Aria's true reality at the orphanage, the pictures we have speak 1000 words. Almost every one shows Aria frowning. Almost every one shows Aria being carried. Almost every one shows the conditions of her orphanage - not awful by any means, but not good either. We also have the evidence that was Aria's very little, malnourished, weak tiny body as well as the behaviors she came to us with. Little bit by little bit, we share with Aria how she was not healthy in China. ("Aria's legs no work good in China.") Slowly and bit by bit we will need to share with her how the "mama" was not her Mom (but did care for and love on Aria), and that she did not have a forever family when living at the orphanage. Slowly but surely we will need to share with her how she was not healthy, not thriving, and would have little future if she stayed in the orphanage. But again, little bit by little bit, revealing only what her little heart and mind are ready for.

This is Aria's story, and right now Aria still has some fresh grief about the part of her life that is over, living at the orphanage with Mama. I think in some ways if Mama was here living with us, her life could be exactly what she wants - food, toys, her own family, and Mama.

Aria misses Mama.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Love

Yesterday was rough. (If you read my post from yesterday, you got a glimpse of it.) It wasn't a little bit rough, but one of those out of control spiraling downward days where I cannot hold back the tears of frustration. Truth be told, we've had quite a few days like that as we adjust to Aria being in our family. The dynamic in our home has certainly changed. Relationships are building, but boundaries are tested - often. Perhaps it is no coincidence I found my first white hair today!

In my time before the Lord this morning, He brought the word LOVE to my heart. Love that's patient and kind. Love that's not irritable or rude. Love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1Cor 13:7) Love that never ends...

Today, though the house may be in shambles, though my kids may test me, though the spiritual battle rages on, though I may feel inadequate for the task at hand, there is LOVE in this home. Love, spilling forth from the Father over our lives so that we may pour into others. This kind of love from God keeps no record of wrong. It gives without expectations in return. It is pure, it is holy, it is only possible through God.

At times trust may allude me, but LOVE is present, is eternal... it's a gift from God.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Trust

Trust is key in relationships. With our primary relationship with God, trusting Him is a form of surrender, love, and worship. Trusting a spouse is imperative. Without trust, suspicion, jealousy, resentment, and a host of other feelings can grow within a marriage. And trust with our children is also very important. If we cannot trust our children to do what we ask, to keep the boundaries we put into place, those children then lose independence and blessings. For older kids that may mean being grounded. For younger kids that may mean not leaving Mom or Dad's sight.

Building trust with a child that you adopt is an interesting thing. As with many relationships, it does not come automatically. Trust grows when a person proves they are worthy of it. For Aria, she trusts us more as she sees us care for her - feed her, clothe her, nurture her, be there for her, tuck her in, play with her, and so on. For us on the parental end, trust grows when we see that Aria desires to follow our rules and tries to obey the boundaries we put into place.

When boundaries are not known to her, we cannot fault her. For example, I was very surprised to find a magazine of mine in her room covered with a bunch of her baby dolls. I asked her if she took my magazine, and she admitted she did. Although I was confronting her, trust was being built in one way because she answered me honestly. I then asked her why she did it, and she said she didn't know. I was surprised that she took the magazine for a couple of reasons. First, my magazine was not just sitting around in a way that would've been easy to grab. It would've taken her some effort to get it. Second, the kids aren't allowed to go in our room and just take random things out and put them in their rooms. However, with the latter point, Chad and I had not specifically told Aria this rule. How could she obey a rule that she was not aware of? Interesting, though... even though I know that and this was an opportunity for me to talk to her about yet another boundary in our home, I still came away from the conversation feeling like I trusted Aria a little less. Yes, she didn't lie to me this time, which I appreciated. But she also got into my room, took something of mine, and treated it roughly. I know now I'm going to have to watch out for Aria doing that again or in some other form, because even with the boundary set in place, it doesn't mean she won't cross it.

Just this afternoon, Aria and JJ were playing together very unkindly and inappropriately. Although both were quick to tell on each other, both were also quick to deny that they did any wrong to the other. After pressing, I found out that both were lying to me. There are two things in parenting that break trust faster than anything else... lying and disobedience. Part of JJ's and Aria's correction for their misbehavior and lying was to each play in their own rooms apart from one another. I made it quite clear they were not to come out of their rooms, they were not to talk to one another from the doorways, but rather stay in their rooms and play alone. I went downstairs for about 5 minutes, and Elliana told me that Aria came out of her room and went to see JJ. I went upstairs to ask Aria about this. Once again she told me the truth and admitted she left her room. I then asked her where she was supposed to be. She told me she was supposed to stay in Aria's room. Whether by simply forgetting what I said or just trying to get away with something, once again trust was broken. I could not trust her to stay in her room without watching that she would do so.

I wish I could say these types of behaviors were few and far between, but too often the trust is broken in my relationship with Aria. Yes, I know some of this is just plain foolishness that is bound in a child's heart. Some of this could be Aria adjusting to following rules. Some of this, sadly though, is purposeful and intentional. When I give an instruction and see Aria trying to break it when she thinks I'm not looking, it frustrates me, it angers me, it saddens me. Although I would feel that way with any of my kids if they did that, it is so much more with Aria. And I think the reason for that is because I simply cannot trust Aria much of the time. And because I cannot trust her, it is difficult at times for me to bond with her. And when it's difficult for me to bond with her, it's difficult for me to feel all the warm fuzzy feelings I long to feel for her.

I know it's early in our relationship. I know we have many bad behaviors still to overcome in her. I know there is still a bit of a language barrier (although I have found that in issues of trust, that has not been a factor - I can tell at this point when she understands me and when she doesn't). I know that she is in the "frustrating fours", as my mom calls them. I know all of these things. But my mind knowing them doesn't take away the frustration in living with these behaviors way more often than I'd like. The trust here is fledgling at best. And that can make for long days, really for both Aria and me.

I look forward to the day when I know I can leave Aria alone for more than 5 minutes without worrying what she's doing or getting into. I look forward to the day that I'm confident that when I say "Don't", she will obey more often than not (rather than the other way around). I look forward to the day when I don't have to sift through so many lies from her to find the truth. I look forward to the day when our trust will be more stable and secure, rather than the roller coaster ride we seem to be on in the last month. I look forward to all these things... but to get there, we need to deal with the NOW.

And right now... we're working on having trust.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Supergirl and a tough construction worker... what's wrong with this picture?




Thursday, January 26, 2012

Photos from the Past

Here are some photos that Aria's friend's mom sent me of her time in the orphanage. The little girl in the pictures with her, called "Shu Shu" at the orphanage, was Aria's closest friend until Shu Shu was adopted in 2010 by a family in America.

Aria is on the left. Notice her mismatched shoes. Shu Shu is actually a year younger than Aria, but she's about the same size as Aria, perhaps a bit bigger.



This time Aria is on the bottom. This is the longest I've ever seen her hair. Once again, notice her shoes. I'm thankful, though, that she even had shoes at all.



Now Aria is on the left again. She is about 2 years old in these pictures.


Little glimpses of our daughter's past, one that is filled with so many holes for us and for her. History is a precious, precious thing. We are so grateful to Shu Shu's family for capturing and sharing these moments in time.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Processing

We're doing a lot of processing here in the Reickard household. And I mean a lot. China in and of itself was an experience to process. It has gripped us in ways we don't have words to express. Elliana has talked about China frequently since we have left. She desires to go back. She told me just the other day it's not a matter of if she goes, because she IS going back. She says she wants to be a missionary there, like our friend Laurie. Whatever Elliana decides to do, I love her heart and how God used China to soften it in so many ways over the people, over the orphans.

Of course, I must mention the reason why we went to China. We are excited for the opportunity to build our family through international adoption. But even more, we went there to save Aria. "Save" is not too strong a word. She was perishing there. Yes, she was fed. But not much, as her recovering malnourished body can attest to. Yes, she had caretakers. And they definitely seemed to love her. We are grateful for that. But that love, we think by the evidence we see now and what we witnessed in China, came in forms that were not healthy for Aria. Aria had her heart surgery in China, praise God. But her body is still very weak, in a condition that has nothing (according to our cardiologist) to do with her heart. And according to her tests, no medical reason can be found for her weakness. Aria's physical muscles are so weak I fight anger towards what must have been done to her in the orphanage to cause this. She falls down multiple times a day just because she does not have the strength to hold her body up all the time. Sometimes those falls aren't much of anything and she gets back up. Sometimes, like yesterday, she falls in such a way she gets hurt with a bad bruise or bleeding. I confess at times I fear for Aria in the state she is in now. She is so fragile, falling down seemingly with any resistance to her muscles. Aria was perishing in China. We see affirmation of that more and more every day. And that's just her physical state. With most everyone we met in China claiming to be "non-religious", we know her spiritual state was most definitely perishing.

Behaviorally, oh where do I begin? In some ways it's easier to not begin. Yet I blog. I blog because it's one way for me to process what is happening in our home, in our family, how God is working and teaching us. I also blog because of our passion for adoption. Once you adopt (similar to once you are a parent of a child that has died), you "involuntarily" sign up to be an educator to others. I came to peace with that during my heavy time of grieving after our son Kael died, and now we see being able to speak as one that has gone through it as such an opportunity of ministry. The role of educator is one we take seriously because we know with all our hearts our lives are not our own anyway. Keeping our lives completely to ourselves is a form of disobedience. We can share our lives in a variety of different ways. One of those ways we have chosen is to blog.

But back to behaviors... friends, it is not easy for me to share what we are dealing with in Aria's behaviors. Part of that is because we are still processing it. We see behaviors in her that I never in my wildest dreams could've imagined we would be facing. Some days the battle with her behaviors has me so spent that I can only process them in tears before God and my husband. Other days I think, wow, this isn't so tough. Those, of course, are days when the battles are few, progress is being made, and the bond grows exponentially. There are times I choose to share what we are facing with others, whether by asking for prayer over our situation or by answering the question "How are things going?" I try to answer that question honestly but also wisely. You see, not everyone "gets" the whole post-adoption thing. It's a unique time, it's a challenging time, it's a time that I could not even draw a parallel to if I tried. At times I have said too much to an individual, and what I know were meant to be words of love and encouragement were in fact salt on open wounds. There is no one size fits all for any of our kids, and the broken place adoptive children come from adds unique challenges to our parenting. We don't claim we know what we are doing. I can't even claim that with my biological daughter! We're making mistakes - many - along the way. But know this is a time of joy but also hurting in our home. My skin can be thick, but my heart is in pain. I hurt for Aria's broken past, I hurt for her present as we deal with the ramifications of her past, and quite honestly I am hopeful for her future but also unsure as to what it will look like. In my weaker moments I wonder if things will get much better. In my stronger moments I see God so clearly all over this child's life. This is a unique time in our home. And we are processing it.

So sometimes it's easier for me not to post. Because quite honestly I sometimes cannot even put into words what we're experiencing right now. Other times it's easier because I confess I am afraid to put myself out there too much, to invite salt to open wounds. Mainly, though, I haven't posted as much because my life just got busier plus one. And that one is our newest love, our newest joy, and our newest heartache. Processing as we go, our lives certainly have changed. Our eyes have yet again been opened to new truths God is revealing to us. Our hearts are broken all over again over what these orphans come from, their need to be saved, their need to be loved. Images from China haunt me, and what God is showing us about the people and orphans of Haiti shakes me to my core. Amidst all that life seems to go on as always, the world spinning, work happening, errands to be accomplished, chores to be done, school to be taught, meals to be made, buildings to be built, cars to be purchased, calls to be made. The world... keeps... spinning... And I'm still processing.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Aria's Friend Finds Us!

Last night we received an email from the orphanage that Aria stayed at. The email said there was an American family that had adopted a little girl from the same orphanage back in 2010, and she and Aria were good friends. They gave us the family's email address.

We immediately tried to contact the family via Facebook, and there we actually saw 2 pictures on their FB page of our daughter and their daughter at the orphanage together! It was a bit surreal to see those, but also gave us a wonderful sense of peace!

This family was very touched by Aria, remembered her, and in fact have been praying since they met her back in 2010 that she would find her forever family. Isn't it amazing how God works? We got one more little piece of her past revealed to us (and every little piece of the past for adopted children is a huge treasure to the family and to the kids!). We also found out that strangers on the other side of the United States have been praying for her to come home to us, her forever family.

Isn't that just the goodness and greatness of God?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My Heart Will Sing No Other Name



The thing I love about this video is that only a couple of months ago, she never even HEARD of the name of Jesus.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Myths and Facts on Haiti's Adoption Program

I thought today I would try and write a little bit more about the Haiti adoption program. I decided to do this for two reasons. 1) It seems like A LOT of people we talk to are interested in this program, particularly since the devastating earthquake in 2010. We have been asked many questions about the Haiti program by a variety of people. And 2) There seems to be a great deal of confusion and misinformation out there about the Haiti program, including that they are still closed. Keep in mind, we are only just beginning the program and only know a tiny bit. But today I'd like to share the information that I do know.

Myth - Haiti is no longer allowing adoptions to occur since the earthquake in 2010.
Fact - Haiti did close the adoption program following the earthquake since many people were missing. They did not want to separate a child from parents that were searching for him/her. However, the Haiti adoption program has re-opened. This is a blessing because many more children became orphans due to the devastating earthquake 2 years ago. Right now there are approximately one million orphans in Haiti.

Myth - A family cannot adopt from Haiti if they have 2 or 3 children at home already.
Fact - Although it's possible some agencies may differ on how many children can already be in the home already to qualify to adopt from Haiti (I do not know), our current agency has a policy that you can have no more than 4 children in the home to qualify to adopt from Haiti.

Myth - You MUST be 35 years old to be able to adopt from Haiti.
Fact - The official Haiti law dictates that the prospective adoptive parent must be 35 or older. For married couples, one prospective adoptive parent may be under age 35, provided the couple has been married for ten years and has no biological children. That age requirement will enable an automatic requirement into the Haiti program. However, it is possible that these restrictions can be waived with permission from the President of Haiti. A word of caution here... according to the US Department of State, getting a waiver from the President of Haiti can be a long and lengthy process. This is something to take into consideration before moving forward with an adoption from Haiti.

Myth - All prospective parents must be married for 10 years to be eligible to adopt from Haiti.
Fact - If both husband and wife are over 35, they must be married for 8 years to get automatic eligibility. However, once again if that requirement is not met, a Presidential Waiver can be applied for.

Myth - Haiti's program is very restrictive in who they allow to adopt.
Fact - Every country, including the US, has basic requirements to fulfill in order to be eligible to adopt from them. The requirements can be different from country to country (and sometimes seem a bit odd, like South Korea's requirement of what prospective adoptive parents BMI can be!). But there are basic requirements to meet in any adoption program. This is where good research is important. A great place to start doing research about the various adoption programs is on Adoption.com or Loving Shepherd Ministries.

Chad and I have met all of the basic requirements to adopt from Haiti (with Kristin 2 years over 35 and Chad only 1 year over it - getting close to the big 4-0!), so we are automatically approved into the Haiti program. However, even if we didn't, there is a bit of wiggle room to still try to get into the program.

I hope this clears up any misinformation that exists about the Haiti adoption program. If you are interested further, we would be more than happy to talk to you! (If you haven't guessed, we love talking adoption!) We certainly don't know a ton of answers, but we have a great contact at our agency and some resources we can share that may be of help.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Update on Aria

Since Aria's many medical appointments, we have had great reason to rejoice in the many ways that her health has exceeded what we had expected. We have been getting back the results of her many blood tests as well as her stool tests. More reasons to rejoice - thus far everything but one has come back normal! The only issue that has been verified is one we were made known of in her referral; Aria is anemic. This makes sense with her leaky heart. And the good news is that she is not severely anemic. An iron supplement can help her levels get back to normal.

As far as other aspects of Aria's development and health, we have realized that Aria has a weak body, to say the least. She is very unstable on her feet and often falls down. She struggles going up the stairs. There are many tasks that should be quite simple for a child even younger than she is that she cannot accomplish, most involving areas of strength. The cardiologist suggested that we may need to see a neurologist and orthopedist if she continues to struggle. We've also had her see a physical therapist this past week. This was an informal visit with a family friend who is also by profession a physical therapist, Christie Klemish. After she had read some of our blog when we were in China, Christie saw a lot of red flags in the physical behaviors we described that indicated to her that Aria would highly benefit from physical therapy. We saw Christie, as I said on an informal basis. After having Aria do some basic skills with her muscle groups, it was confirmed that Aria is quite a bit behind where she should be with her movement and muscle development.

One that really surprised me and I hadn't noticed in day to day activities is that Aria cannot hold her head up when getting up from a lying down position without it flopping back. In other words, her neck muscles are very weak. Christie shared with me that this is a skill we learn at about age 1 or even younger. Another area that she found to be very weak is Aria's thighs. This is not a surprise to us as we see it in her every day movement. However, what did surprise me was Christie's observation that Aria is completely favoring one leg over the other. And when I had Aria go up even one stair with her other leg, she simply cannot do it with just the strength of her leg alone. She has to use her hands or some other part of her body to help her up. With some exercises to help her work on various weak muscle groups at home, we are already trying to help her build on her areas of weakness.

After seeing Christie, we also know that seeing a physical therapist is pretty important not only for Aria to grow in her development, but also for Aria's safety. Aria is so wobbly at times that we truly do have concerns for her being around other children. For example, we have debated allowing Aria to join AWANA with her siblings (as she attends church on the weekends and enjoys it). However, if she is placed with her peers on such a high energy night, we are concerned for her safety. Chad and I have talked about perhaps requesting she is put with much younger children that may not be so much bigger than she is. And that may be a good answer at least during this time of Aria's life. Or the other option is to just wait until she grows stronger and more steady on her feet. That is the one we are opting for right now.

This poses the next question... why is Aria so physically weak? This question actually puzzled the cardiologist, who said her particular heart condition should not be the cause of this type of weakness. So what is it? Was it her poor nutrition and apparent malnourishment? Was it that at her orphanage, she was carried often and coddled? Many of the pictures they gave us show Aria carried. Given her size and her slow pace, this is an easy thing to do. Also, given the information we learned and observed firsthand about the orphanage staff and also what we see in Aria's behavior, we have no doubts she was catered to and given her way. We also have some pictures given to us of Aria as a baby, and she was put into a sort of wooden box to make her contained, similar to say an exersaucer but without the toys and perhaps without the need to use important muscle groups in her legs. (It's hard to tell from the picture.) We also wonder if she was given important tummy time as a baby to develop her neck muscles or other exercises like that. We do know she was left at the orphanage at 4 months old and was in poor health. Perhaps because of her poor health at that age, she missed many important milestones in her development and wound up skipping steps to the detriment of her body? Or it could be a combination of all of those things, or perhaps none of those things and reasons we may never know or are yet to find out?

We are left with many questions regarding Aria in a variety of areas. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall of that orphanage! We just may never know the answers, only to just deal with the consequences of her almost 4 years of being institutionalized.

We would appreciate your continued prayers over our little daughter. Some specific prayer requests we have are in the following areas:

*Health and development
- We pray that the hole in Aria's heart completely heals and that her hemoglobin levels increase. We also pray that her muscles grow in strength and ability. At this stage of the game, we just want her body to become more stable for her own safety and able to perform basic tasks with more ease.

*Behavior - Aria still exhibits hording tendencies. We find items in her "stashes" that belong to her but also to others. We pray that she will feel completely safe and secure so she doesn't feel the need to protect and hide possessions. Aria also has an overpowering personality, and her controlling tendencies can overwhelm particularly her brother, but also the rest of us to some degree. We pray for wisdom to know how to firmly handle these patterns of poor behavior that she has learned. Given we don't know how she was disciplined in the orphanage, we are still learning what disciplinary measures reach Aria. (We get the definite feeling she was disciplined for performance of tasks but not much if at all for behaviors that are due to heart issues.) There are quite a few behavior/heart issues we are dealing with on a daily basis, and so we just need prayers in this area for wisdom, discernment, and lots and lots of patience.

Thank you for following her journey. We are so grateful for your continued intercession on her and our behalf.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Battle

We battle every single day in one way or another. We battle against temptation, we battle against the world, we battle against our sinful flesh. We battle. Sometimes we battle with those we love the most, such as our spouses. Common marital battles include finances, communication, intimacy, and plans. Other times we battle with our kids. These battles often are done toward behaviors and heart issues. Other times we wage battle with the kids themselves because we are exasperated and don't have patience to parent as we should. Then we battle inwardly on what kind of parents we really are. We battle.

As a mother that has been a bit battle weary lately, I have seen once again such a picture of God in my relationships, particularly with Aria. You see, Aria battles with us daily. She battles with me, she battles with Chad, she battles with the kids, she even battles the dog. She battles. She battles for her way, not ours. She battles to be in control over the home and all that are in it. Typically she battles loudly. Sometimes she battles only with silence and glares that say more than words ever could. But yes, she battles.

In my weariness, in my moments of pondering, in my prayers as I cry out to God as to how to handle the battles, God has spoken ever so gently to my heart...

Do as I do. For you, Kristin, battle with me daily. You battle for your way and not Mine. You battle to be in control of your home and all that are in it. You often battle loudly, but sometimes you battle in silence that says more than any words could. Yes, you battle. I have waited so long for you to fully trust Me so you don't feel like you need to battle Me anymore. Yes, your battles anger Me with a righteous anger. I cannot let you go on in this behavior without doing something about it. And the wars you wage are hurtful. Yet know I LOVE YOU... and I am here. I correct you not out of anger, but out of love. I wait on you to change and grow, and help and encourage it daily. You are not the same person you used to be, and Aria won't always be the same either. She battles, you battle. Do as I do...


"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." Ephesians 6:10-13

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Aria's Many Medical Appointments

Today was a big day for Aria. We had 4 medical appointments for Aria today, the biggest and most important one of all of them being her cardiologist.

We started our day with Aria getting an x-ray of her heart. From there we went to see the cardiologist. After that Aria had to get some blood work done. (And I got to collect her stool sample at home - sounds fun, doesn't it?) And then later in the afternoon the poor sweetie had 2 immunizations to get. Did I mention she had her first dentist appointment yesterday too?

There are many amazing things about all of these appointments. First, I'll start with Aria's attitude. Aria was completely cooperative at every single appointment. She did exactly what the doctors and medical specialists needed her to do. I know she definitely had a little anxiety going on about each appointment, but with honesty and doing the best I could to explain to her what would happen in terms she'd understand, she seemed more confident. For example, for the radiologist, I told Aria they were just going to take pictures of her heart and she would have no owies. The "no owies" part certainly helped her willingness. Before she had her blood drawn at the lab, I told her that there would be "a little owie" and that it would be over soon. She sat there, watched the whole process, didn't cry a bit, but definitely was glad when it was over with. (She literally skipped out of that appointment when it was over!) We had no tears, we had cooperation, and once again it was a very bonding day for the two of us.

Another amazing note... Aria has absolutely no cavities in her teeth! This is a girl from an orphanage who had a poor diet. No cavities? That's amazing!

Now for the biggie... Aria's heart looks VERY good. Yes, the right side is still a bit enlarged. And yes, there still is some leaking. But it's still early after her heart surgery (only about 4 months), and so healing is still occurring. The doctor said she thought the surgeons did an excellent job. She marveled at the way they accomplished the surgery (small incision and precise stitches on the heart itself), and she told me she couldn't wait to email the surgeons in Iowa City to tell them about the way Aria's procedure was done. She said this because they (in China) did the surgery through her right side (she said it should've been done on the left, closest to the heart), and her incision should not have been vertical but horizontal. She had never seen a procedure done like Aria's was, and it brought to her mind many questions about how on earth the surgeons in China accomplished it. She even joked, "I should start sending my patients to have surgery in China!"

You know what I take out of all of that? Aria's surgery was not only overall successful, but done just as well if not better than if she had the surgery in the States. This is a big deal to us because we were given the choice if Aria should have her surgery in China or wait until she came home. We chose China, but not without a lot of concern and questions. ISN'T IT COOL that God, once again, goes beyond what we can even hope for????

Aria does not need to return to the cardiologist for a year. And if all looks well then, we won't have to go back for another 5 years (unless something unusual pops up). Aria has absolutely no restrictions on her activities. Sports? Check. Roller Coasters? Check. A marathon when she gets older? Check. NO RESTRICTIONS. Amazing!

I just am blown away. We have some test results to get back still. And whatever comes back, we will deal with that when it happens. This is our little girl, whatever will come. But to think back that before her referral, I didn't think I could go forward with a child with an "organ" condition after all we had been through with Kael. And then God asked us to take Aria, a child with heart disease. He asked me to lay down those fears and let God be God. He brought forward the opportunity for her heart surgery just 2 months before we came to bring her home. He worked in amazing ways in that operating room. And today, at the cardiologist's office as the doctor wondered aloud about possible issues with Aria's heart because of the way the surgery was done, God brought me a peace that even if another surgery was needed, God was in control. I was utterly at peace in that office. That was a hugely supernatural thing right there! And if that wasn't enough, God showed the doctor indeed how wonderfully the surgery was done and through that revealed to me that Aria's heart is on a strong path to healing. No restrictions. If we had said no because we were afraid of all the "what ifs" with her heart, we never would've had a chance to experience all these things... never would've had the chance to experience our sweet little girl.

We've had so much to be thankful for, and today God has revealed to us even more that we are just in awe of. We are so grateful to Him for the work He is doing in this little girl's life.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Why?

We anticipate some questions with our latest announcement. We've certainly wrestled with some questions ourselves as we've come to our decision to adopt from Haiti.

So let's start with the most obvious one...

Why are we adopting so soon after Aria just came home?
As we mentioned in our previous post, we made the decision that we were going to adopt again even before bringing Aria home. We knew that to make a decision like this, we needed to do it when we were fully in our "right minds". Let me put it this way, when you come home from the hospital with a newborn baby, in your state of exhaustion, sleepless nights, and little to no time to yourself, you don't start to think "Gee, I'd love to have another baby!" Well, at least I didn't do that. I think most of us, in that state, can't even fathom doing that all over again when we are in the thick of the rough part of it. It's the same with adoption. We knew we probably wouldn't be able to even think about starting the process to adopt again once we brought Aria home, so we made our decision before we went to China.

As far as starting now, international adoption takes a while. The child (or children) we bring home won't be here for probably 2 years. That gives us plenty of time to bond with Aria and grow as a family of five before we add any new members to it.

And the last point with this, Aria is adjusting really well. That doesn't mean things are rainbows and sunshine here all the time. They definitely are not. But things are going, overall, very well with Aria. But even if they were not... we feel a call on our hearts to adopt again. It is a pressing call, one that has been deeply stirred in us over this last year. Whether our home life is "easy" or not, when God calls (and with this it has been a strong call!), we have two choices - either obey or disobey. We've seen how disobedience worked out in the Bible. We've seen how disobedience works out in our own lives. Given the choice, we'd rather obey. We don't have the obedience thing down pat. But this one, quite honestly, was a pretty easy choice.

How can we afford to adopt internationally a third time?
With Aria's adoption, we had no idea how we were going to cover the costs of her adoption when we started. But God provided every last cent we needed to pay for her adoption. I'm not trying to say that our experience with Aria is prescriptive in how God will work in every adoption. I'm just saying we are taking a step of faith to where God is working, and we trust He will provide what we need so we can do what He has commanded!

We already have two children from East Asia. Why not there again?
This is a question I (Kristin) really wrestled with. As we mentioned in our last post, we truly thought we would be adopting from China again this time around. The door is definitely closed to China for us at this current time. Our hearts are very much linked to that area of the world, so we researched every country's program in that region... Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, South Korea again, etc. One reason or another, each of these programs were not a fit for our family. For some, we were just ineligible to be a part of their program. (Reasons like having too many kids already to be able to adopt from their country, etc. Or in the case of Vietnam, their program is not even open at this time!)

It's funny, because from there we researched Eastern Europe, Africa, Central and South America, even the Middle East. Not one of those programs grabbed us or seemed to fit our family. And, almost as an afterthought, Haiti came to mind... that little island not too far from the United States, a country we weren't too familiar with outside of the devastating earthquake that took place not too long ago. So we read and we researched. The program is open - that was a start! We met the country's requirements. The program's description was a perfect fit for our family. And last, I found an incredible agency. I had spoken with Hand in Hand already before Aria came home about their China Special Needs program. I really liked the person I talked with and found their agency to be incredibly helpful, quick to answer all my questions, and just truly personable. Chad and I both wanted to work with them if we adopted from China again. After deciding Haiti may be a fit, I researched online what agencies in the country have a Haiti program. And what do you know, Hand in Hand has a Haiti program! I talked with the director, and found that she too was very helpful, personable, and quick to answer my (MANY) questions.

The more we researched about Haiti, the more our hearts broke over the children there. All I can say is... we had NO idea. Once again, we can't unlearn what we've learned. Fears and trepidation aside, the need is enormous there. It didn't take much before we both decided this was where God wanted us to go next.

We've adopted a 14 month old boy, then a 3 year old girl... what's next?
We are open to having a boy and/or a girl. Haiti has some sibling groups that need a family. We are open to that this time around too. As far as age, on our application we listed "any up to age 11". That's what we put, anyway. But we are open to the child(ren) God leads us to. The exciting thing about this process is that we will get a referral very soon after our dossier is received. We were told that some have even received a referral the day after! However, we will have a longer wait this time around after our referral. The estimated time to travel is from 12 to 18 months after referral. That will certainly be different for us. We waited 8 months for JJ to come home after his referral, and we waited about 5 months before we traveled to China after Aria's referral. BUT we know it's about God's timing, not ours. Estimates are just that, so we are hoping for shorter. But if not, God is never too early and never too late. (I may need to be reminded of that during the wait, though!)

What if Haiti's program closes again? What if this adoption doesn't work out as we think it will?
We've crossed that bridge a bit with our first adoption. We initially started in the China program (not special needs), and as the program's length increased from an estimated 18 months to 4 or 5 years in the year we were in it, we had to make the very tough and emotional decision to change programs in the middle of our adoption. After praying and talking a lot, we switched to South Korea. We received JJ's referral just weeks after we switched! If we hadn't switched programs when we felt one door closing and another opening, we would've missed out on the incredible blessing that is JJ!

With international adoptions there are always risks. Quite honestly, having kids at all poses risk. We can live in the "what ifs" and be too afraid to move forward, or we can go when we hear the call. If God closes a door and opens a new one, it will be tough as we are already emotionally invested in the children of Haiti. We've already begun to dream about our future children. But we trust that God gives us His best for what we think is better. So forward we go...

Last but not least... Are we crazy?
Seriously, are we? Yes, said in jest. But what are we thinking?

Are we just that self assured in our parenting abilities? Um, yeah, that's definitely a big no. Are we addicted to adoption? Chad joked about that this morning. Adoption is amazing, but I think there are much easier things to do in life (like Facebook - ha!) that addiction would be more likely to creep in. Nope, not addicted to adoption.

What's more, we have definite concerns and fears. I have insecurities over some of my choices as a parent. I have no clue how I'm going to homeschool more than the three I already have. We wonder if our future children will face racism and wonder how we can tame the mother and father bear that want to claw out to protect our own. (We have dealt with only one ugly comment and a few meant-to-be-innocent-but-still-hard-to-hear ones that come to mind
in this regard since we've adopted JJ . And yes, it's hard to tame the bear within!) We wonder about our finances within all of this. We think, we wonder, we walk forward in some fear and trepidation. It is serious spiritual work to put those things to the backburner and choose faith instead. Drawing near to God is the only way... otherwise those doubts and fears creep right in again. (We appreciate your prayers as those darts and temptations are very real!)

I've said it before and I'll say it again (I need to so I can remember and believe it!!!)... God always equips us for what He commands us to do. So, in a nutshell, that's why.