Friday, January 20, 2017

One Year Home

November 23rd marked the one year anniversary of Zach’s “Gotcha” Day. And December 2nd was the anniversary of his homecoming. The past year has flown by in so many ways, but in other ways it has taken FOREVER to get through. Isn’t that the way it usually works? The first few months home went REALLY slowly. But once July hit, the rest of the year was gone in a blink.

As I reflect on the first few months of Zach being a part of our family, I realize how FAR we’ve come. “What a difference a year makes” holds so true in this story. Not just for Zach, but for our whole family; especially me.

I intended on writing a blog post to commemorate the one year anniversary of his coming home, but I’m a little late! Better late than never, right?

In all honesty, it took me a while to narrow down what I would even write about. Do I write about ALL the things he’s done this year, all of the things he’s accomplished? All of the obstacles we’ve overcome? There’s plenty there to write about for sure. But, I just wasn’t feeling that.

Then, one day, as I was reading a devotional, the words seemed oddly familiar. I was certain I had read those words before and they were speaking to me so personally. Shortly after that, when looking back through my journal, I realized that I had indeed read that devotional before, back in May, in fact, and I had actually worked through the exercise at the end of the devotional in my journal. I thought, “THIS!” This is what I will write about in my blog post.” I will write about all that God has taught me over the past year through this adoption. So I did. And then I realized that it was WAY too long and nobody would ever read that whole thing. So I decided to split it up into two posts. Here is part one...

The truth is, this year has been HARD. Pride, fear, and grasping for control has reared its ugly head time and time again in our house. And I don’t mean Zach. I am the guilty one here. I have had a very difficult time learning to love him as my son, forming that mother-child attachment. Which I know takes time, especially when adopting and older child. And so many factors have played into my struggles (read part 2 for more on that), but the bottom line is that I have found myself falling into the trap of focusing on the negatives, on the worse-case scenarios, on the “what-ifs”.

So, when that devotional crossed my path a second time, I knew the Holy Spirit was speaking directly to my heart. The gist of the devotional was that when you find yourselves in circumstances that are unexpected, instead of asking God “Why?” ask “Now that this is my reality, what am I supposed to do with it?”

The answer is found in Philippians 4:8.

“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

So instead of focusing on the “what-ifs”, I worked through each of the “whatevers” from that verse. Here’s what I wrote in my journal back in May and eight months later, these things are still true. And they reflect all that is GOOD about Zach.

Whatever is “true”:
God called us to this. God loves Zach and has called us to love him, too. Fully and completely. God has a plan for our lives—individually and as a family. And he has a plan for Zach’s life. And he promises that those plans are GOOD!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a good future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Whatever is noble:
Despite all of his challenges—his past, trauma, abandonment—he is kind, loving, helpful. He doesn’t get frustrated in his circumstances. He has been content and trusting from the beginning and full of joy. He wants to be good and to please us.

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:12)

Whatever is right:
Zach deserves Love. God created him and loves him. To love him is the right thing to do.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35)

Whatever is pure:
While he is big in size, he still has the innocence of a small child. While he may have been exposed to horrible things in his past, he remains trusting. He is very impressionable—we can press God’s truth into his heart. It’s amazing to see how much he’s already absorbed and how much he LOVES Jesus!

“Trust in the Lord will all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)

Whatever is lovely:
The relationship between Natalie and Zach is lovely. The way they adore each other. The way he helps and defends her. She is blind to the fact that he is different and thinks he hung the moon. The way they get so excited to see each other after school. Natalie runs out to the school bus to greet him and he runs to her with that smile of his arms open wide. They excitedly shout each other’s names and embrace in a hug. Then they walk to the house hand in hand. It is truly lovely.

“And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:21)

Whatever is admirable:
Zach’s strength and resiliency. He grieves the loss of his former life, but has bounced back so quickly. His willingness to please us and do what is right. When he does wrong, he is truly sorry and aims to please once he learns the right thing to do. He tries so hard.

“Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalms 34:14)

Whatever is excellent:
Zach is very smart. He has learned English quickly, despite his learning challenges. He is learning to read and write and count. He wants to learn and doesn’t give up, no matter how hard something is. He loves school. He also loves church and “church school”. He sings his heart out at mass and really loves the Lord.

“But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.” (2 Corinthians 8:7)

Whatever is praiseworthy:
God has chosen US to be this child’s family. To be the change in his life. To lead him to the cross. He shines Jesus’s light and brings joy to so many people who meet him. And God is glorified! And we get to be his parents. How blessed are we?

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Yes, this year has been tough. And when life gets tough, it’s easy to fall into the trap of “what if”. But I’ve learned a lot of pretty priceless lessons—about myself, about God, and about loving others more fully. And this devotional was a refreshing reminder about how when we focus on the “whatevers” rather than the “what-ifs”, we will find ourselves full of wonder and joy!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Grace, Joy, and His Power

God is at work. In our lives. In our family. In my own spirit. He has been stretching me personally for the past seven months, as I learn to love like he loves. It’s a work in progress, for sure. Learning to love Zach has been hard. My perspective has been clouded by my own issues—fear, pride, and selfishness. I’ve been praying for God to help me see Zach through his lenses. Lenses of Love. And last night, I was able to see Zach, for the first time, through God’s perspective.

Last night, Zach had his therapeutic horse riding lesson. Although I didn’t witness it firsthand because Todd went with him, I heard all about it and his awesome instructor took pictures and sent them to me. And pictures truly do speak a thousand words.

So here’s what happened. A boy that is the same age as Zach was there and they did their lesson together. This boy has been coming to horse therapy for a month and has been too anxious to get on the horse. But last night, Zach not only modeled courage, but he encouraged this child. He helped him. And he cheered for him. And that boy got on. The. Horse. For the first time. And rode proudly. How amazing is that?! How amazing is God?!

A couple of weeks ago at horse riding (which I did witness), a 13 year old girl was there, ending her lesson. She had a lot of anxiety about getting on the horse, too. She hung around for Zach’s lesson and after seeing Zach mount that horse with such confidence and ease, she decided to give it a try. His courage was an inspiration to her.

Through these two simple acts. God has helped me see that despite all of the “special needs” Zach has. Despite all the challenges we face on a daily basis. Despite all the fear that lies in my heart. This child he has sent us is a gift. A blessing! In just a few weeks, he has blessed two children through one simple activity. And if I can only shift my perspective, I can allow him to be a blessing to our family, too.

2 Corinthians 12:9 says “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness. So now I am glad to boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”

The power of Christ truly is working through Zach in these moments. Isn’t he?

This serves as a good reminder to me to look past the trials we are facing and see the blessings in those trials. To look past my own weaknesses and limitations and remember that God’s power and grace can shine through those weaknesses!

An added bonus--I’ve been praying that Zach would meet a friend. A true friend. After the lesson last night Zach and this other child ran around and played together. The instructor has arranged for the other boy to start coming to horse therapy at the same time as Zach. I believe this just might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship! An answered prayer, perhaps.

Lord, “I praise you because [Zach] is fearfully wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well (Psalm 139:14)

Just look at this Grace. Joy. And The Power of Christ that is at work.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Truth Is...

“You are awesome.” “You are amazing.” “You’re a saint.” These are words that Todd and I hear often. People look at our family and say these things about us. To us. I’m here to ask you, “please don’t?” Please don’t say this. Please don’t even think this. Because I promise you, we are not. This is not the truth.

We are not any of these things. The truth is, we are imperfect human beings just trying to live a life God has called us to. God called us to this journey and we simply said “yes.” If anything, we are obedient. But awesome? No. Amazing? No. And certainly NOT saints!

Someone said to us recently, “Things could have been so much easier for you, but you CHOSE to do this.” The truth is, WE did not choose this. This path was nowhere to be seen in OUR plans. GOD chose this for us. For our family. We simply said “yes”. But this path has been hard. The past five months have been SO HARD. So much pain and difficulty is wrapped up in this story. We know that blessings will abound in the end. But sometimes, it’s hard to see that. Right now, we are in the trenches. Just trying to figure it out. Just trying to survive. I grow weary. Often. I forget God’s truth. And I fail. Miserably. Every day. Multiple times a day. You don’t always see it. But I fail. I am selfish. I am prideful. I am fearful. I am flawed. Just like you. I am NOT awesome. I am NOT amazing. And I am definitely NOT a saint.

I write these words not to condemn but to expose the truth. For you to think that I am a saint, makes me feel like a fraud. Because you don’t see the moments of truth. The times when I’m so tired, I can’t think straight. I lose my patience and yell at my kids. You don’t see the CONSTANT correcting and redirecting it takes to help a kid who comes from hard places so that he unlearns all the bad stuff and learns healthy and appropriate behaviors. And the times that I just. Can’t. Do it anymore! So I am not so gentle with my children. You don’t see the struggle in my heart to LOVE this little boy the way Jesus does because of my selfishness and fear. You don’t see the fear. There’s SO MUCH fear. All the “what ifs” that the Holy Spirit helped us overcome in the beginning so that we could take the leap of faith and say “yes” to this journey in the first place. That fear haunts me. Daily. Fear of the past. Fear of the unknown. Fear of what lies ahead. I’m paralyzed by this fear sometimes. The pride that I struggle with. The struggle to relinquish control to God. Because this journey is bigger than me. More than I, alone, can handle. But I just want some control in this. The selfishness that creeps into the long hours of the days because sometimes, I just want it MY way. And sometimes I just want to do what I want to do. I don’t want to sacrifice day and night. I just want some ME TIME. And when I don’t get it. I’m grumpy. And I take it out on my kids. And my husband. Constantly fighting the battle between my worldly desires and God’s eternal perspective.
This. This that you don’t see. This is the truth. It is not awesome. Not amazing. And not saintly. So, please, don’t put me on a pedestal. See me as I really am. I am Imperfect. I am flawed. I am a sinner. I am human.

And despite all of this, I am loved. No matter how much I screw up, God will always love me. And his grace can overcome all of this. And he will give me the strength to keep doing this. Every day. And in my imperfection, HE can be glorified! So, I hang on to HIS word and HIS truth every second of every day. And sometimes I forget and it’s in those moments that my humanness prevails and I fail. But the Holy Spirit ALWAYS gently reminds me of the truth and picks me back up and I start over again. And His truth sustains me so others can see the beauty in this story He is writing. Despite the hard parts. And God can be glorified!

This is the truth…

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24)

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

“Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:2)

“For all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

We're back...and finally coming up for air!

So, my sincerest apologies for those of you who were following our blog who are not on FaceBook because we just kind of left you hanging since we arrived in China. Internet connection issues and other technology issues left me unable to edit my blog after that first time while in China and once we got back, well...needless to say, we've been busy adjusting to our new normal. I was able to post on FB, though, so that's where I did all my updates and have updated a few times via FB, short and sweet posts, since being home. Well, we have been home for two months today and we are finally coming up for least for a second. I figured I might do a blog post with an update or two.

So life has been a little hectic. Overall we are all adjusting well. There have certainly been some challenges, but we are making it and things are better each day. We've seen many medial professionals in the past two months- from the dentist and pediatrician to a cardiologist and ophthalmologist. We discovered early on that Zach had a cataract on his left eye and was severely near-sighted in his right eye (I'm talking -10.5 prescription, which is crazy blind; I mean, I'm a -5.5 and can hardly see without my glasses), so the poor boy was basically not able to see. We have since had cataract surgery to remove the cataract (at which time a cataract was discovered on his right eye, too, but since it's not visually significant the eye doc recommends just monitoring it). We had a follow up visit two weeks ago and things were looking promising, but they won't be able to know for sure what his vision is until his next visit which is in two weeks. At that time we will get a prescription for glasses for him. We are pretty certain, based on our own, very non-medical eye tests (that is, cover your right eye and tell me how many fingers we are holding up) that he can see. Because we have no way of knowing how long the cataract has been there, there was a good chance that Zach would still not be able to see out of that eye even after the surgery because apparently the nerve that carries the signal from the eye to the brain dies when it's not used for a long time. This does not seem to be the case, as we feel very hopeful that is, in fact, able to see from his left eye! This is a huge praise to God!!

Other than this, he is a very healthy boy. We do still have a hearing test coming up to check his hearing and a sleep study that we have chosen to postpone till the summer.

Zach started school after the holidays and LOVES it. He is in fifth grade and is being well taken care of by the special education teacher at the school. We are still in the evaluation and IEP development process with the school so that we can determine the most appropriate plan for his education. I start back to work, officially seeing kids this week, too. We shall see how that goes!

We have gained so many insights into how God's hand is at work in Zach's life and how He is working through all of this. I've also gained insight as to how Satan is still trying to sabotage God's beautiful plan. I have so many blog post topics that I've started in my journal about the things we are learning that need to come to life, but I've just not had time. I do plan on sharing these insights in the near future. Please stay tuned! And please continue to keep us in your prayers because we are still in the trenches and working things out. But we have come so far from where we were two months ago and know that things are going to continue improving. Thanks for your support and prayers!!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

We are here!

We are here! Landed at 2:30 Thursday afternoon. After we arrived we hung out at the airport while we waited on several other families to arrive. 2 families were delayed and won't be here til today (I think one of their flights was actually canceled). Say some prayers for them. I know that must be stressful! We finally boarded the bus at 6:00 and arrived at the hotel at 8:00. It was only supposed to be a 30 minute drive. They were "having traffic jam." Ah, the traffic in China! After about an hour to check everyone in, we finally got to our room at just before 9 pm. 28 hours of travel with only a few 30 minute or so naps on the plane. God's strength was certainly holding us up. Praise the Lord!

It's 5:45 Friday morning here. We've been up since 4:30. Got about 5 1/2 hours of sleep last night. I'll take it! We go to the Great Wall and Summer Palace today. The weather is not so ideal-- in the mid 30s and a "wintery mix". Regardless, we are hoping for a fun day! Prayers for our bodies to adjust to this jet lag!

Here we are on the plane, ready to take off.

Half-way there!

About to land--look at the snow on the ground! (It doesn't actually look like that in Beijing right now, but may by the end of the weekend!)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Time To Go!!

I can’t believe we leave for China TOMORROW!! Our lives are about to be forever changed. Zach’s life is about to be forever changed. So much praise to give to God! It’s been a long ten months, but the journey is not over yet. We need prayers, please! Lots and lots of prayers! I’ve put together a “calendar” of specific prayers for each day. Would you please take the time to pray for us each day? Share with your friends and your churches. Share with anyone who is willing to pray. We believe in the power of prayer and the more people praying for us the better!

Natalie will stay at home while we are gone. My mom and aunt will be taking care of her the first week and Todd's parents will keep her the second week.

For the duration of the trip: Prayers for safety, God's protection, and health for Natalie and our parents who will be caring for her while we are gone. Prayers for safety, peace, and good health for us. That our bodies adjust to the jet-lag easily (there will be a 14 hour time difference). That we bond with the other families who are traveling with us (there are 12 other families!!). Prayers for all the other families, as well. For Natalie to be at peace and not miss her mommy and daddy too much. And for us that we don't miss her too much.

Tuesday, November 17th (today): Pray for us to have peace about leaving. That we rest well tonight. For Natalie to have peace about us leaving. For wisdom and knowledge as we pack a ridiculous amount of stuff into two suitcases, keeping it under 44 lbs each (in-China flight regs).

Wednesday, November 18th: We fly out of Nashville at 6:30 a.m. and land in Detroit at 9:13. Our flight to Beijing leaves at noon and we will arrive in China at 3:10 Thursday afternoon (which is like 1:10 a.m. here.) Weather is supposed to be yucky in Nashville the morning. Heavy rain and wind. Prayers for safe travel. For smooth, uneventful, & on-time flights.

Thursday, November 19th: We arrive in Beijing, unpack and settle in.
Friday & Saturday: Sightseeing in Beijing to help our bodies adjust to the time difference. Weather is looking a bit chilly. Mid 30s and SNOW. Prayers for safety as we navigate the city. We will have a guide. That we stay healthy and adjust to the jetlag.

Sunday, Nov 22nd: Fly from Beijing to Guangzhou. We leave at 8:30 a.m. and will just unpack and settle in once we get there. Prayers again for safe travels. They are predicting 3-5 inches of snow in Beijing Sunday. When we arrive in Guangzhou, it will be 87 degrees. Crazy!!

Monday, Nov 23rd: Gotcha Day! This is the day we will meet Zach and welcome him to our family. He, along with 4 other children from his orphanage and several nannies, will be traveling 8 hours from Shantou to Guangzhou. They will bring the children to our hotel. There are 3 other families adopting kids from Shantou (one family is adopting twins!). What a blessing for them to have familiar faces during this transition in their lives. Prayers for peace in Zach’s heart. For him to not have any fear and to trust easily. Prayers for us the Holy Spirit to lead us in helping him transition and easing any fear he might have.

Tuesday Nov 24th: We have our appointment with Civil Affairs. This is the day our adoption is finalized!

Wednesday, Nov 25th: We will have various adoption appointments this day and do a little sightseeing. Prayers for everything to go smoothly at these appointments and for safety as we navigate the city.

Thursday, Nov 26th: Happy Thanksgiving! We have so much to be thankful for this year! Zach will have his medical exam this day. Prayers that he is healthy!

Friday, Saturday, Sunday (the 27th-29th): We mostly have free time to sight-see and just chill with just one appointment- a “paperwork party” at the US Consulate on Saturday.

Monday, November 30th: We have our consulate appointment where we apply for Zach’s US Visa! Prayers for a smooth process.

Tuesday, December 1st: We pick up Zach’s visa and pack our bags and prepare to come back home!

Wednesday, December 2nd: We come home!! We will fly from Guangzhou to Beijing. From Beijing to Detroit (13 hour flight). Then from Detroit to Nashville. We are scheduled to arrive in Nashville at 10:37 p.m. Wednesday night. We will have been traveling for more than 24 hours at that point. We will need some BIG prayers this day! For ourselves who will be exhausted, but mostly for Zach, who will be getting on airplane for the first time ever. That he’s calm. That he’s able to get some sleep on the plane. That he transitions smoothly to his new home. That he’s able to get some sleep in his new bed. That we’re able to get some sleep. That all of us adjust to the jetlag and remain healthy.

Thursday, December 3rd: Natalie will stay with her Gigi and Pops Wednesday night, so that we can focus on helping Zach acclimate to his new home and hopefully get some rest. She will come back home Thursday to meet her new brother! Prayers that her heart is prepared to receive her new brother as a member of our family and that she shows him love and kindness. That she feels safe and loved by us. That she adjusts to the changes.

Thanks for all of your support and prayers!

“The earnest prayers of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” (James 5:16b)

“You can ask for anything in my name and I will do it, so that the son can bring glory to the Father. Yes. Ask me for anything in my name and I will do it.” (John 14: 13-14)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Pure Joy!

We woke yesterday morning to pictures of Zach in our inbox. Pictures of his "your getting a family" party. We sent the cake, along with a care package about two months ago. We didn't think we'd actually get to see pictures before we got there, so we were pleasantly surprised when I opened my email to find these! Before, people would ask, "does he know he's getting a family?" "We hope so," is all we could say. Now we know that he knows. And just look at that smile!! It is PURE JOY!

These pictures came at such the perfect time in our journey. The "to-do" list is almost all checked off and we are just waiting for next Wednesday to come. Trying to prepare our hearts and our home to receive him into our family. I pray that his heart is begin prepared, too. That he will feel safe and at peace with the transition. Will you pray for that, too? A week from today, y'all! We will be on a plane to China to bring this sweet boy home!!!