Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How God Works- Part 3

This post is part three of the "How God Works" series, so if you have not read the original post, click here first, then here for the second post.

After learning that this beautiful boy
Cameron when he first arrived at the Wuhan SWI in 2006.

was living in Wuhan, where our friend Kim's daughter Jenny was,

we realized that the Lord had presented us with a rare opportunity. The chance for two orphans from the same institution to be adopted into the same community over 8000 miles away was not likely, but then again...we have certainly learned that God's plans are not dependent on our definition of "doable".

Tom and I took this news as another nudge in the direction of this child. But wait. They told us no, right?  Praying over this huge decision and all the implications for our family, we could not deny that the Lord was leading us to him. So, we asked again.

On a Wednesday evening, I called the Social Worker in charge at this particular agency and explained, once again, that we felt that this child was meant to be our son.  Much to my surprise, she offered to take our request to their decision-making board and "see what happens".  She was quick to remind me though that this was highly unusual and she could not promise me a positive response.

That was enough for me. For now. I knew that we were making progress and that we were following God's call to this boy.

Then it happened. 
Not a week later as I had anticipated, but a mere 20 minutes after hanging up the phone.

We got the call. 

The social worker said that if we could get our own social worker to support this idea, that they would let us proceed with the adoption.  

We were so very excited and while we were still reeling somewhat from our last China trip, we were renewed by the Lord to buckle down and do it all again!

We began the next paperchase immediately and by October 18th, we had our Pre-approval and made the public announcement here.

Now at this point, we, and probably most of the world watching would have said that God had all this planned for us so that these two precious boys could have a family.  And, I am forever grateful that He brought them to us and that there are two less orphans in the world because of His goodness to us.

But God had more in mind. 
Much more it appears.  

As we were racing (and this time I mean R>A>C>I>N>G!) to get our second son, Cameron, home from China, God began to show me that all of this, our whole journey since April of last year, was bigger than these two boys.

He was doing a work in my heart and in my family that would prepare me for something different.

I began to see that my adoptions and my experiences were intended to help others.

As the uniqueness of our adoptions began to get more publicity on yahoo groups and blogs, (by uniqueness I mean needing an age waiver for my husband -age 68 at the time-, not knowing from where the funds would come, being allowed to adopt another aging out child so soon...etc.) I began to have the opportunity to hear from other families who had questions about their own adoption journeys.  

It didn't take long before there were emails or phone calls at least 1-2 times per week from families wanting to ask me to share the details of my adoption story in order to help give them direction or encouragement.  It was always such a joy to me that I could be used in this way.

After all, who was I?  I did not see myself as any sort of expert.  But, I had to admit that a passion for adoption and for the "least of these" around the world was growing stronger and stronger in my heart.

I began to ask questions of the Lord like, "What is this all about?"
"What am I to do with all this new passion and energy?"
"Are you leading me to full-time adoption work?"

A few weeks after we committed to bring Cameron home, we discovered a video of him and two others boys playing outside their orphanage in Wuhan.  I was delighted, as most waiting parents are, to have this video!  It just makes these children so much more REAL.  First on the video was Cameron.  There he was with his corrected clubbed feet, jumping rope better than I ever could. He was so cute and clearly no "special need" was going to define this kid!

After Cameron, was a boy I had learned already had a family coming for him very soon. The third young boy, a sweet 12 year old, was seen playing with a Chinese toy and shooting hoops with Cameron and his friend.  I sent this video clip to a friend of mine, so she could see our newest treasure and the Lord spoke straight to her heart.  She called me through tears and said that she was pretty sure that the Lord had just shown her her son.  That third boy.  Before we knew it, she and her husband were knee-deep in paperwork and on their way to adopt yet ANOTHER child from Wuhan.

Are you keeping up?  In case you've lost count, that's three children (so far) coming home to our town from the same orphanage.

But God did not stop there---oh no.
Of course, I was thrilled that my dear friend Kim S. (and her wonderful husband) was adopting this gorgeous child

but it gets better!

In December, after only 7 short weeks of paperwork, it was time to get our sweet Cameron and bring him home.

So Colin, our oldest 

flew back to China with me so that we could bring Cameron home.

It was an amazing journey and I felt the peace and protection of the Father the entire time.  

Traveling half-way around the world with no husband and a teenage boy who's English was still at the beginner level is not for SISSIES!  (Just sayin'!)

Anyway....I digress.

Knowing that we planned to visit his orphanage, Kim prepared a care package for her new son that I was honored to deliver.

When we told the head Nanny that one of our friends was adopting this child, she began to weep!  She kept repeating over and over that that boy was Cameron's BEST FRIEND!  She opened a photo album that Cameron was holding and it was FULL of photos of him and his best buddy.  

When she realized that he was going to be adopted into the same town as Cameron, she was overjoyed!  

I was able to share with this young boy that HE. HAD. A. FAMILY!!!

I don't think there is anything better than being able to share that news with a child desperate for a family of his own.

Despite the fact that he received toys, clothes and candy...

what was the one thing he grabbed out of that bag?

He couldn't wait to see HIS FAMILY.

Seeing that boy's eyes pour over his new mama and baba (Daddy), his new siblings and 4 (count 'em!) 4 dogs was PRICELESS.  

Not just priceless. It was life changing.

Once again, God whispered into my ear that this is what matters.  Caring for these children and offering them the chance to hear the gospel and to be loved as they each deserve.

But that wasn't all He had planned for this afternoon visit to the Wuhan SWI.

Just before I loaded a plane from home headed to China, I got a phone call from my friend Annie.  She is one of those rock star child advocates that I mentioned in an earlier post. (Heart of gold, works all hours of the day and night....the whole shabang!)

Annie was asking if I was willing to get updates on three children from Wuhan that were on the "Shared list" and available for adoption.  Of course, I said "Yes!"  

While I was there, I was able to meet sweet "Willow"

These children left such a strong mark on my heart.  I raced to our hotel room after our visit was done so that I could upload the videos that I took ASAP.  I could not wait to get these children the exposure they deserved so that their family could find them.

And, while I didn't do anything difficult, God used those videos to do just that.

After posting the videos of these two amazing children, emails began to flood in to Annie and me.  And their families DID find them!  

And the icing on the cake?
  That adorable 5 year old boy?
  His Mama and Daddy are here too!  
That's right.  One more precious Wuhan baby coming home to our hometown. 

(That's 4 in case you lost count)

Now, I am not THAT slow. Even I could tell that God was moving in the hearts of our community in a BIG WAY!

Tomorrow I will share with you some of the things that are brewing in our small town and how God has orchestrated the events of the last 10 months to fill a real need.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How God Works- Part 2

This post is the second phase of the "How God Works" series, so if you have  not read the original post, click here first.

So, we return from China as a family of four and the transitions begin.  

When you begin the adoption process, as part of your homestudy, you are required to complete many hours of what I called, 
"What if?"
 training.  It is very important that you are properly prepared for all the things that your new child might need and the challenges that they will likely face as they adjust to such a completely different environment.
As a result, we were ultra aware of all the possibilities and expecting the other shoe to drop any day. 

Well, 6 months later, still 

 Seriously, this boy has been amazingly well suited to this family.  He is so sweet and helpful. He loves to lend a hand in his family and is incredibly protective of his brothers.  Of course, we have seen growth in him, both physically and emotionally, but he has truly been the "easy" child and not at all what we were prepared to face.

(I think this was also part of God's plan since HE knew that we would be doing this again- S.O.O.N.)

As you can see, Tommy took to him immediately and has adored him ever since!

Over the course of our first few weeks home, I kept up to date on the other families that were traveling and specifically checking in on the older children that had not yet found their families- like the one I mentioned yesterday.
I asked around and learned that he still did not have a family.  At this point, I began to actively advocate for him with the help of my dear friends, Kim J. and Annie!  They, along with countless others around the country who were smitten with this pretty boy, began to beat the bushes in search of his Family!

I emailed the agency that was holding his file and they were, understandably, very particular about the families with whom they would share his file.  When I asked to see his file so that I could better advocate for him, I was denied.  Several weeks went by and he was entering my thoughts almost daily.  I told my friends countless times that this boy HAD to find his family.

Here I was, a brand new adoptive mother, feeling such a pull to advocate for another needy child. Now back then I did not consider myself a child advocate. Not at all. I knew many of them and they were/are amazing human beings with a heart of gold and a deep sensitivity to "the least of these".  That wasn't me. 

So when others began to refer to me as an advocate, I was uncomfortable with that term.  
After all, child advocates are selfless people. (I'm not)
Advocates work around the clock for these orphans and families all around the world (That wasn't me).
And yet, here I was losing sleep over this child (and others) who were about to run out of time. Children JUST LIKE MY COLIN who might never get to know what it's like to have a family who will always love them.

Do you see what God is doing here?

So, as the story continues, being the patient, (NOT!) long-suffering (HA!) and gentle (I mean PUSHY!) soul that God made me....LOL, I persisted in reaching out to his agency for help.

As the calendar flew by, it became very clear that the only family who could now adopt this child was one who was already through the homestudy process and already had their dossier logged in.  There was no longer time for a brand new adoptive family to come forward.

This realization made things even more difficult for those men and women who were searching for his family.  The pool of prospective parents just grew significantly smaller.  
It never occurred to me at the time that God was closing doors so that the right family would be able to see the door opened for them more clearly. 

Now, as we fast forward a bit and acknowledge that WE WERE THAT FAMILY, I would say that it was not reluctance that kept us from jumping ahead for him.  You see, most agencies, if not all, have a rule that families need to wait a year or more before bringing home a second adoptive child. 
 They have these policies for a reason.  In MOST cases, adopted children need this time to secure their place in the family and to work through any adjustment issues that they might be facing.  This does not happen in a matter of weeks. No, it takes time. In some cases, it can take years.  

So, when I finally reached out to the agency and requested that they consider us for his family, they of course said "No".  

Ok. I get it. We just got home. 
But, his time was. running. out.

I knew that I was in love with him. There was no doubt. 
But, was he our son?

We prayed that the Lord would bring his family forward and that He would provide clear direction about our role here.

Another week went by and still no family for him.  We emailed the agency again.  Since there was no family waiting for him, they agreed to send me his file so that I could more aggressively advocate for his family.  As I reviewed his detailed medical records and other reports, I saw nothing that would scare me away from this boy.  I sent his file to a friend with experience in reviewing these documents. A much trusted advocate who had reviewed many, many files in the past.  Within minutes of sending her his information (which had his specific location in it), she called me barely able to speak.

You see, what she noticed, that I had not, was his Location. This child, this boy who God has laid on my heart several months before, knowing nothing at all about him-- this boy was in Wuhan!  

So what?  What was so special about Wuhan?  Well, in God's divine providence, this child was in the same city as my advocate friend's daughter.  With Billions of children in China, the odds of this boy being in the same exact place as her child were unthinkable.

I knew then that God was orchestrating something amazing here!

We had prayed for confirmation about our role and we were starting to see clearly that God brought that photo across my screen those months before for a specific reason.

Stay tuned to tomorrow's post for the continuation of "How God works".  

How God works- Part 1

I have been anxiously awaiting the chance to share more publicly how God has been working in my life and the lives of our growing family over this past year.  

So, rather than making some sudden big announcement, 

I thought I would like to start at the beginning and share with you a glimpse into this journey we've been on.  

If you've been sharing this with us from the beginning, you will remember that it wasn't even a year ago that the Lord burdened our hearts toward adoption.  Mere days after that, we saw this face for the first time:

As I scrolled through the big online file of "aging out kids", I found myself pulled to these eyes.  I remember going back to this face over and over.  I remember feeling like I wanted to take my hands right through the computer screen and hold those cheeks in my hands.  There was something so beautiful and innocent about this boy!

I printed out his photo and a brief paragraph about this child and walked downstairs where my husband was watching TV.  Seeing the serious expression on my face, he muted the television and gave me his attention.

I handed him this picture and after reading through it, he replied, "Really? A teenager?"

I told him that I thought this was the child that we were to bring into our family.  He looked at the photo again and he knew.  He knew that this was our son.

 This was Good Friday, 2011.

The rest of the "Race to Colin" has been documented in great detail on this blog, so you can read here, here, and here if you want more on that early phase of paperchasing.  

Colin's adoption took a record breaking 4 months. EXACTLY 4 months from Good Friday when we first laid eyes on him to his "Gotcha Day" in August when we met him for the very first time.

There was no doubt in our minds, not even once, that we were meant to bring this boy home and be his parents.  Now I confess I did often wonder why.  Why us?  Why now? And I even wondered how?  Many times. But, I never wondered IF.  And, given the number of unique elements to this adoption, the IF was a big question for everyone else. Everyone except us.

God was so gracious in giving me total peace about the IF. Thank you God.

So, as the story unfolds, we were about 2 months into our adoption journey when I saw another powerful face.  In fact, it might be the most beautiful referral picture I've ever seen.  So pretty, in fact, that once again, I found myself stopped in time staring at it.

Now seriously, is this not a stunningly pretty child?  This boy, according to his records, was 13 and about to age out just like our Colin.  So, being completely uneducated and naive about how this "adoption thing" worked, I emailed our agency to see what might be involved in getting both of these boys at once. (Yeah, I know. CRAZY with a Capital C!)

We were told that given the timelines for each boy, that we would be jeopardizing Colin's age-out date (his 14th birthday) if we attempted to get this second child approved also.  
Well, there was no way we were going to purposefully do anything to put Colin's adoption in jeopardy, so we considered that a clearly closed door from the Lord.

I prayed that the Lord would bring this boy's family to him SOON.  None of these children should grow up living without the hope and love a family can provide, but there was just something so very special about this particular boy and I knew that this fate was simply not acceptable for him.  

Believing that we were not that family (or so we thought at the time), we moved forward and focused our energies on completing Colin's adoption in time.  Of course, God's timing is always perfect, and we did get him in time. Seven days before his 14th birthday, we arrived in China and met our son.

If you had asked us then if God was at work, we would have said, "Yes. He is clearly at work here."  
But, with 6 months of hindsight to our credit now, I can honestly say that I did NOT know just how the Lord was preparing our family, and 
my heart 
in particular, for the amazing journey to come.

I look forward to sharing more about this transformation in my next few posts, but for now just know that God, the master planner, has been working in some incredible ways and has led us to a very surprising place.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tommy and the Congressman!

Tommy was enrolled in a wonderful class first semester through one of our local homeschool co-ops.  It was a class on Manners taught by the fabulous Sandy Scott.

This was my first experience with this co-op and with this teacher, but I have been so pleased.

Sandy is one of those teachers that keeps the bar high and maintains high, yet realistic expectations of her students.  She also spoils them terribly (in a good way) when it comes to rewarding positive outcomes.

In Manners, she instructs the students to write a list each week of the ways they have incorporated appropriate manners in their lives that week.  When the students arrive at class and have this list, signed by their parent, they are allowed to reach into the "Prize Bag".  This bag was not filled with the normal chintzy gumball machine type stuff. No!  It was filled with quality toys and giant sized boxes of candy, stickers, school supplies... Serious, high dollar goodies that really spoke to the importance of the required task.  And what I think I appreciated the most was, if the child forgot his list, or did not have it signed, or in any way did not meet his obligations, guess what?

They DID NOT get anything from the bag.

  You might have guessed that I am a bit disgusted at the way our society has made it OK to be:
 or just generally irresponsible.

 So often, we get chance after chance or even worse, just get rewarded because people are afraid to tell us no.  Afraid to draw a line or raise the bar of expectation.  What a disservice that does for our children- my child- your child.

OK, sermon over.

Now, that brings us to today.

Mrs. Scott "Mrs. Manners" to her students, made arrangements to invite 
United States Congressman 
Tim Scott 
to speak to all her writing and manners students about the importance of Etiquette, Writing and Faith in their lives.

So, today we had the pleasure of hearing from Congressman Tim Scott.

Tim was born and raised about 3 blocks from where we were meeting today in North Charleston.  He was wonderful with the students and easily put them all at ease with his humor and charm.

Well, today was certainly no different.  He was silly and charming and pleasantly genuine.  That's right I said it. 
A genuine politician.

He shared many things today, but what resonated loud and clear was his faith in an Almighty God.  He freely shared with these students and their families that he was nothing before he found the Lord and was headed nowhere!  

He describes his childhood as a very hard one.  He grew up with a mom who tried to teach him the right things, but who often met the resistance of a head strong boy with no direction in life.

He readily admitted to failing classes in the 9th grade and barely getting his act together in time to actually graduate.

He shared with these children that every decision he makes in Congress is passed through the lens of scripture.  

He said, "The World depends on the people of God!"  He stressed that it is not the Republican leadership, nor the Democrats in office that will save us from our current situation, but that it will be God and His people that will need to rise up and affect change.  

He went on to say, 
"If you forget everything else that I've shared with you today, remember this: The 'Good Book' is the most important book, living, breathing document that has ever existed. If you will immerse yourself in it, you will find all the answers you will ever need."

Do I hear an Amen?  A.M.E.N!

Once his talk was over, he opened the floor for questions.

Pre-arranged, was the opportunity for several students to ask questions of Congressman Scott.  Mrs. Manners chose several students from her classes to represent the others in asking questions.

One of those students was our Tommy!

His assignment was to think of a question related to Manners and then be prepared to ask this in front of the crowd.  Now, Tommy is by no means what I would classify as a "shy" child.  Not even close. However, he is a bit timid in new situations and in front of large crowds.  

He once said to me that he had "the stage fright".  It sounded a bit like a respiratory infection! LOL

Even though he was hesitant to do this, we pushed him to participate and do his best.

As it turned out, it was Tommy's question, or to be more precise, the answer to Tommy's question, that had the whole crowd in stitches laughing!  

In fact, the Congressman got so tickled with his own answer to the question that he needed a tissue to wipe the tears from his eyes.  He was laughing so hard he totally lost his composure for a while.

Now, as I said, it wasn't really that question itself that broke up the crowd.

Tommy simply asked,
"Representative Scott, How do you handle situations in your work when others do not demonstrate good manners toward you?"

Now, I certainly was not thinking that this question was going to catch him off guard, but it actually did for a moment.

It was as if he was scrambling in his head for a polite, yet truthful, way to answer the question.  He has such an infectious and child-like grin and you could see the wheels spinning.  (Oh how I wish I could have videotaped this whole exchange!!!)

He basically said (and I am paraphrasing here) that there were times when others were so aggressive in their opposing positions in Congress that he felt he needed to be equally as aggressive.  

Now remember, that he is in front of an audience of home school families. 
Christian home school families. 

So, as he searched for the truthful and appropriate words, he began to chuckle at himself.  And one laugh followed another and within seconds, the whole audience is caught up in this laughter and he is looking for a tissue to wipe his eyes!

He even said at one point, "Tommy, I just can't lie to you...I don't always handle that well.  I think that this question is going to be on my mind for the rest of the week!"

Once he regained his composure, he finished answering the questions presented to him and we were dismissed into the fellowship hall for some wonderful cake and punch.  We were allowed to take pictures in there, so here we go!

Is it bad that I start with pictures of the food?

I need to get the name of the Cake Baker, because the food was wonderful and looked great too!

Ok, now on to the family...

The Congressman's office provided some neat gift bags for the students and their siblings that included a certificate of commendation
as well as a book on all the USA Flags and some other neat educational materials.

It was a delightful morning and I was glad that my sons were able to hear from a man with such a heart for the Lord.

A big thanks to Sandy Scott for arranging such a memorable experience for our children.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Great school day & Dinnertime Fun!

Today started out well. My sweet hubby allowed me to sleep in till just after 7, which on a school day is very rare! 

Then, the chauffeur duties began for Tom.
He said that he was thinking of painting the expedition "School Bus Yellow" LOL

Here is a typical Tuesday for us:

First, we get Colin off to school.
Then, back home to get Tommy.

Tommy completes his Bible lesson while waiting for Dad to get home from Colin's school.

Cameron works on his Rosetta Stone English lessons first thing while Tommy is on Bible.

Next, Tommy goes to his Home school partnership classes.

Once he is gone, we begin the only day of the week where I have Cameron all to myself.

Cameron's school day was filled with a Math test- Division; 
Way to go Buddy!

ESL with Rosetta Stone; Reading lesson with Hooked on Phonics;  and a Handwriting lesson with Mrs. Cox (BJU Distance learning teacher).

Hopefully by year's end, we can begin adding on Science and Social Studies on a regular basis once we have stronger language skills.

After we were finished with our lessons for today, we took off to run errands and meet good friends for coffee.

In the blink of an eye, it was time to go get Tommy from class and Colin too.

I'm sure most families, especially those with boys, will agree that this is the time of day where things get interesting.
Today was one of those silly days.  

Our afternoon consisted of stick fights and homemade bow & arrows, running in the woods, cleaning out the freezer...ok, well maybe that last one was more Dad's idea than the boys', but...

Tom's shadow was helping grill the dinner while the other crazies took over the house.

How exactly do you explain to a Chinese boy that a Snuggi is worn in the front? 
He looked like little Blue Riding Hood!

On a broom!!!!

Dinner has become somewhat of an assembly line now that our numbers have grown.
Of course, even the traditional American Hamburger has to have Hot Sauce instead of Ketchup.  (The hotter the better for my older two boys).
You would never know that Cameron was the artist in the family the way Colin masterfully creates his "little friend" in Chili Sauce on the bun.
 You will likely notice that I get a LOT of pictures of the backs and tops of my boys' heads since they are always running from my camera!
In the end, we all settled down and enjoyed a nice meal together.

 Yes, that is Colin's "Mama!" face once he realizes that I am at it again.

Now they are all settled in watching

 "Planet 51"
Thus, the ability to post this update. There is a Hollywood induced calm in the air...

We are very grateful for all three of our crazy boys and the antics that come along with them.  Each day brings them a little closer together as brothers.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

LOVE my boys!!

One of the most delightful things about newly adopted children is sharing all the "firsts"-- 
especially the American holidays! 

Well, while Valentine's Day has never been one of the more important holidays for our family, this year is different.

Different because there are two more children in the house, different because of their ages, and different most of all...
because they do not come from a culture of demonstrative affection.

Our youngest, Tommy, is a lover!  He has been mama's boy since his first breath and he LOVES to hug and cuddle.

Our older boys are...well...older.
They are also from a culture where love is demonstrated more by service than open affection.  So, a holiday all about love and friendship and affection has got to be a strange concept for them.

But, today--today, my sweet husband rallied the troops to love on Mom!

Last night, while I was at an adoption gathering, my boys snuck off to the store to go Valentine's Day shopping.
(With their OWN money!)

This was the scene downstairs when I arrived to the "Party" this morning:


Posting these pictures for all the world to see is a demonstration of how much I love my boys!

Here they are just before Mom comes walking downstairs...

Even in the morning these boys are handsome!

I warned you....

Here is my sweet card from the boys!

They know how to get to mama's heart...

Tommy made sure that I knew which gift came from which child...

So, the cutest stuffed frog and coffee mug were from my sweet Cameron!
He smiled so big
 when I loved it!

The Heart shaped candy was from my youngest... (and bossiest) Tommy

And the Reese's Peanut Butter hearts...

 (really? Is there a better candy anywhere?)

 were from my adorable, responsible and fiercely protective oldest son, Colin!


Not that it could get much better, but I was also treated to a wonderful hot breakfast of Cheesy eggs, Bacon, Biscuits, and Juice
 (my favorites)
and all my guys together!

Do I have a wonderful family or what?

God is so good!  I am overwhelmed at the way He has woven this family together over the last year and how He continues to bless us each day.

Last, but most definitely not least...
I got a big old hug from my tall, handsome, oldest son before he went off to school this morning! Thank you God!