**This is a guest post by my daughter, Landyn.  She wrote this sometime last week, but I felt it was a fitting post for Orphan Sunday.  I'm so proud of her heart.

My name is Landyn. I have been through a lot of stuff. And that "stuff" just happens to be adoption. Exactly 3 years ago, my mom and dad visited my siblings in the albergue (orphanage). That's when I didn't totally know what was happening. It was all at once!

So, first of all, my mom told me long before we went to Costa Rica that we were going to adopt a baby from Colombia. I was hoping it would be a baby girl, since I'd always wanted a sister. Turns out, it ended up being Costa Rica. We had looked kids up for adoption online and my siblings turned out to be some of them. There was a picture of the three of them on a website. Then, we looked at their picture closer. We decided to figure out more about them since God seemed to be speaking to us about them. That's when we figured out they were from Costa Rica and not Colombia. It was all a sign from God. And that's where it all began.

About 1 year later, when everything was ready, we headed to my great grandma's house. She lived in Toledo, the closest place to Detroit, Michigan. We slept there, then woke up at 5:00 in the morning. Ugh! I mean I'm a morning person, but 5:00-that's almost a little too early.

We drove to Detroit and got on our plane. Lucky for us; we got to see the sunrise! It was beautiful and it just reminded me again of God's creativeness.

After about 3 hours, we landed in Florida. Then we hopped on another plane. It took a little while longer, but finally we got there! Costa Rica! It was beautiful! Well, the airport was kinda busy though, if you know what I mean.

Once we were out of the airport, we met up with some friends of ours. They took us to meet Don Abel. Don Abel took us to Portantorchas. It was so fun!

Anywho, later in our stay, Gina broke a finger, and then the same person got a rusty soccer goal nail up her leg. Fun!

Even later, we went to the best place ever. (drumroll, please) Punta Leona! It was a super nice beach with pools and not only one, but two beaches. The waves were so calm! It was so relaxing! Sadly, we only got to stay for a week.

About a week or so after that, we flew back to Florida, then Detroit, Michigan. Then we drove back to Ohio. Around that time, it was snowing. Of course, none of them had experienced snow before. It was so new to them. They definitely were not used to wearing coats, hats, or gloves either.

It was a crazy experience, but it was also fun. Even through all of the pain, it was worth it. I encourage whoever's reading this, to adopt! It's sometimes a little scary, but it makes a big, happy family once the process is over!

That was back then, though. This is now.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the week before last week, Tuesday and Wednesday, we had three boys who stayed at our house for a children's choir they did around the USA. The boys were 11, 9, and 9. The 11-year old was from Nepal. One of the 9-year olds was from the Philippines, and the other was from Honduras.

The point is, they left our house on Thursday. Before the boys came, I expected it to be just, you know, a strange, awkward time. Turns out, I bonded really, really well with them. When they left, I felt like a part of me was missing. I knew we would probably never see them again. That's when I knew God was working on my heart. He was transforming it in a good way. I felt like He was telling me something. I felt like He was saying we needed to adopt again. I mean, yeah, we adopted three, but what's a few more?

Anyway, I just felt like we needed to adopt kids. We needed to help them. That way, they won't have to go through bad stuff like what had happened to a lot of kids in this world. I wanted very badly to adopt the three boys we had taken care of. But the thing is, with those kids, they always have to go places, stay with people, then leave them once they form relationships. It's really sad. That's exactly why I wanted to adopt them-so then they won't have to go through all of that.

Romans 8:15

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons and daughters by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!"

I just felt like God spoke to my heart and told me we needed to adopt again.

Bridges and Villages

It's been a long time.  More than 2 years since I've felt led to write about our journey.  More than 2 years since I've had enough positive emotional energy left over at the end of the day to even write anything that people would want to read.  But today, this popped up in my Facebook memories:

Guys, today is the anniversary of the day that we met our Ticos.  It has been 3 years since our driver, Don Abelardo (such a precious man), dropped us off at the bottom of a steep paved, walkway that led to the front door of the orphanage where our kids had spent the last 3+ years of their lives.  It's been 3 years since Gina saw us coming and ran around the corner and hid because she was terrified of these strange Americans who were to become her parents.  Three years since José David sat on my lap and let me feed him queque (cake) and read him "Brown Bear, Brown Bear" in Spanish.  It's been three years since we met Wagner and he pretty much refused to speak to us.  We still aren't sure if it was out of shyness or fear or if he was still just locked inside his own world to protect himself.  It's been 3 years since we took our kids to our temporary home in Costa Rica, Portantorchas.  And it's been 3 years since this photograph was taken.  Three years since we crossed this bridge.

From the first time I saw this photo, I was taken in by it.  It's a beautiful, once-in-a-lifetime moment of so much significance captured in a place that was insanely beautiful.  It was so prophetic.  We were crossing over.  Crossing over that bridge to explore the 5 acres that would be our temporary home for 6 weeks.  But we were also crossing over into a new life.  Into completely unknown territory.  We were all stepping out in faith into something that we knew would totally wreck our lives and rebuild them into something new and beautiful. Or at least that was our hope.  In all honesty, there have been many, many times over the past 3 years of this rebuilding where I've thought, We are not going to make it.  We have walked through some dark, dark places.  All 7 of us have experienced loss and grief on some level.  We have had to let go and let Jesus take things from our hands and our hearts so that He could heal and rebuild our family.  And He's been so faithful to do it.

So, I'm going to attempt to give you a glimpse into what God has done in these 3 years...

He has taken our family from a group of awkward, uncertain strangers and turned us into a group of people who love authentically, fight stubbornly, forgive (eventually...sometimes it takes time when certain wounds are opened up), defend each other (sometimes to a fault), celebrate one another's victories, and help pick up the pieces for one another when things fall apart.  We are real.  We are sometimes (ok, usually) blunt.  We talk through all of the ugly stuff.  All.  Of.  It.  We are often misunderstood by people who haven't intimately done life with us.  We have mostly stopped noticing curious stares in public.  (Or maybe we just stopped caring.  haha)  We still speak Spanglish almost every day.  We spend half of our lives in the van driving to and from school and to friends' houses and to sports games and practices, children's ministry, and youth group.  Our lives are crazy, and we wouldn't have it any other way.  We are a family.  And the first 2 years that this anniversary came around, I'm not sure that any of us were ready to celebrate without reservations.  Things were still too hard.  Too raw.  Too ugly.  And that's not to say that things have been all sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns lately, because they haven't.  In the last 2 months, we've walked through anger, resentment, confusion, and intense grief with one of our Ticos.  But it's different now. We're able to work through these things from a place of more love and attachment and better understanding instead of out of a place of grief, uncertainty, and fear. So much healing has occurred.  And we have literally screwed this up so many times along the way.  Yet, God in His goodness, is turning our mess into something beautiful.  He truly is a good, good Father.

We have had so much transition over the past 3 years, and in a lot of ways, I think it has made things harder for our family.  Last fall, I went back to work teaching full-time after being at home with my babies for 10 years.  I'll save that story for another post because it was complicated and stressful and wonderful all at the same time, and it's not the point of today's story.  But suffice it to say, that first year was extremely hard on all of us.  The kids went from homeschooling to an amazing private Christian school.  It happens to be the same school where I am teaching, and that too, is a story for another day.  And in the middle of all of that, we bought a big, crazy foreclosure on 5+ acres, and we moved a year ago.  Our house is a mess of projects.  It has open wounds and a story of its own, and it's not "healing" and becoming a home as quickly as I would like. Things have not been as consistent or settled or as orderly as I feel they need to be (and I'm all about organized chaos), but with 5 kids, we have to have our crap together or we will not make it!  And while all of these new things are (or will be) good things for our family, the level of transition and adjustment they have brought with them has caused extra struggles.  But God has used all of it for good (and some of that I am saying in faith...because I haven't quite seen the good from all of it yet, but I am trying to believe it anyway).  Just like our entire adoption process, none of this was part of our plan, but we have followed the Lord's leading, and we have seen AMAZING things happen because of it.  

And in the midst of all of this change and adjustment and chaos, God has met us again and again.  Often in ways we didn't anticipate.  And while it's difficult to put 3 years of life into words, I want to try.  In the process, He has been making melodies over us and giving us hope in hard places.  I want to share that hope for anyone who is in the trenches right now.  Or for anyone who has willingly entered into our chaos and loved us well anyway.   Adoptive mamas.  Adoptive dads.  Foster parents.  Teachers.  Bio moms.  Bio dads. Grandparents.  Aunties and uncles. Friends who are really family.  My tribe (you know who you are).  Anyone who is loving kiddos from hard places.  Anyone who is loving OUR kiddos.  You are changing lives forever.  And our kids are evidence of that.  You are our village.  In the beginning, I didn't think we needed a village.  I was determined to do this.  Me and Michael and God.  I was afraid to let anyone else help because I was afraid our mess would spill over onto them. We said yes to this.  It was our responsibility.  But oh, village, how we have needed you!  And you haven't run.  You've climbed into the trenches with us. You've battled darkness with us.  You've held us up when we couldn't hold the line any longer.  You've cried with me.  You've let me vent like a crazy person.  You've prayed for us.  And this is just a little glimpse into what you've been a part of over these past 3 years:

*When our littlest Tico came home, he was both terrifying and terrified.  He threw 3 hour rage fits. He broke things. Dented the walls.  Bruised me.  Tried to hurt himself.  He couldn't communicate.  There was a time when he raged so hard in the car that I couldn't drive.  I couldn't even take my children home from the store. And our other children were cowering in fear in the back, trying to stay out of the range of his angry, flailing limbs.  I remember calling my mom from the Target parking lot and sobbing and telling her I didn't think I could do this.  I didn't know how to be his mom.  His counselor received a few too many hysterical voice mails from me because we were literally at our wits' end.  We didn't have a clue how to help him.  And without telling too much of his story, he was assessed and medicated for various psychological and emotional issues.  We thought we were in for a lifetime of this.  He was growling at his teacher at school and throwing things in the classroom.  There were issues with his interactions with other students and with family members.  But our village stayed with us through it.  Our families gave us respite when we needed it.  His teacher loved him so well despite the extra behavioral issues that he brought to her classroom.  She fought hard with me to get his special needs addressed.  Our pastors prayed for him and spoke life over us when we thought his darkness would consume all of us.  And at some point last year, he was set free from that darkness.  Those rage fits are a thing of the past.  He stopped living in fight or flight mode.  Fear doesn't control him anymore.  He's honestly one of the most loving kids I know.  He's warm and affectionate and spontaneously says, "I love you," several times a day.  He tells me, "You're my best mommy."  These are things I never, ever dreamed would come out of his mouth.  He's no longer medicated, and honestly, none of the diagnoses even fit now.  If you had seen the real JD 2 years ago, you would swear the JD now can't possibly be the same person.  We didn't do anything magical to get him to this point.  We didn't even do things by "the book" as far as adoptive training goes.  But God did a might work in his little heart.  You father the orphan, and Your kindness makes us whole.  You shoulder our weakness, and Your strength becomes our own.  That's what God did.

*Our strong-willed, brave Tica.  Oh, where to start with her.  She has had the hardest road to walk, I think.  And she's so sensitive about her story, so I will stick to vague generalizations out of respect for her. She is an overcomer.  She has been both blessed and cursed with a vivid, photographic memory.  While the boys have forgotten or maybe repressed some of their trauma, Gina remembers every detail with stark clarity, even from the days when she wasn't old enough to talk.  It's made her path to healing bumpier.  Yet, she has overcome intense fear and anger and grief, which still comes in big waves and crashes over her, and it takes her off course for a few weeks here and there, but she rallies and she makes restitution.  She is a somewhat paradoxical mix of fragility and resiliency.  She is one of the strongest people I know.  And while she and I have gone toe-to-toe more often than either of us would like, we have a bond that I didn't think was possible.  She lived so much life before we met her.  And she was so oppressed by spiritual darkness.  But she, too, has been set free and transformed, and she's a glorious work-in-progress (aren't we all?).  And that story she's so sensitive about telling...she and I are in the process of writing it as a story book for children.  She is often misunderstood by others.  She fiercely defends her people.  She still wears a tough girl shell sometimes, but her heart is softening.  And people who don't know her true self are intimidated by her and at times, misunderstand her intentions.  But more and more, she's allowing us into her world, and even when we don't understand her, Jesus does.  He knows the hard places that she's still holding onto and hiding inside.  When I'm misunderstood, Your love understands me.  You see it all, You see it all through the eyes of love.

*Our teenager.  Man, that feels weird even saying that.  I'm not old enough to have a teenager.  I still feel like I was just a teenager last week!  When we met Wagner 3 years ago, he was withdrawn.  I think he lived inside a world he had created to cope with the hand life had dealt him.  He doesn't like to talk about his past very often, but when he does, it's sometimes deeper stuff than we thought he was capable of processing.  Two years ago, we enrolled our kids in a school where about 25% of the student population is made up of adopted children.  Just last week, Wagner shared some of his story with a high school girl who was adopted from Eastern Europe.  He's realizing his story is part of who he is, and even though it's hard and he doesn't like it, it's made him who he is.  I think he's learning to be proud of that.  Or at least to be ok with it.  Wagner's our kid who has had the most challenges with learning.  We fought hard to get him "figured out."  His psychologist in Costa Rica didn't have high hopes for him as far as schooling goes.  But this kid has worked from 1st grade math-6th grade math in 3 years.  He's learned to read in a 2nd language better than he ever learned to read in his first language.  He's already done things that we were told wouldn't be possible.  And while he needs lots of prodding sometimes, he has a heart that really does want to please.  And his faith in Jesus is HUGE.  I think he has a special connection to the Father's heart, and he really, really wants to hear His voice.  While he will always struggle with not knowing who his earthly biological father was, he is finding his identity in his Heavenly Father, and that's a far better thing.

*Then there are our bios.  This process completely wrecked their comfortable lives and home.  And there were times that I carried massive amounts of grief and guilt over what we had done.  Especially in those first few weeks and months. You can read a letter that I wrote to Landyn and Asher 6 weeks after coming home.  This hasn't been an easy road for them to have to travel...or an easy road for me to have to watch them travel.  And they didn't have any say in the choice to adopt.  But they did have a choice about how to handle all of it.  When you're outnumbered by hurting people, and you now have to share your parents, life, and space with them as their trauma spills over into all of your daily interactions, you have to make a choice.  You can choose selflessness and grace and love and understanding.  You can choose to be happy for the good happening to those hurting people even when it doesn't feel good for you.  Or you can embrace fear and grief and resentment.  We've had lots of ups and downs as our bio kids have processed these transitions and learned how to live this new-ish life.  And this week, we got a clear picture of what God has actually done in their hearts through adoption.

This week, our school hosted the Children of the World (COTW) International Choir from World Help. They shared their stories and their ministry at our school, and our students were moved and changed by it.  It was a beautiful experience that I'm so glad we said yes to. You can check out what World Help is doing all over the world here: www.worldhelp.net
Our family had the privilege of hosting 3 precious boys from Honduras, Nepal, and the Philippines.  

These kiddos lived with us for 2 days, and somehow changed us forever in that time.  I could go on and on about the lessons we learned from our time with them and the rest of the kids from the children's choir.  It isn't that we weren't aware of the fact that there are hurting children living in poverty all over the world.  We've done child sponsorship for years.  We adopted internationally, so we know the stats.  We have seen the need firsthand.  Up-close and personal. So I was genuinely surprised by my children's reactions to our time with these boys.  My children fell in love with them, and my bio kids especially had a really difficult time saying goodbye.  As we drove home after school on the day that we had returned them to their caregivers, Asher wept most of the way home.  He told me he didn't want them to leave and that he wished that we could adopt them.  He also told me that he thinks God is telling him that someday he needs to go and be an "uncle" and travel with the COTW choir.  *commence ugly crying here*  Landyn has mentioned several times since Thursday (the day we said goodbye) that she didn't expect to love them so much and that she wanted to adopt again because of this experience.  My kids aren't naive to the difficulties of adoption.  They know this process and the heartache that comes with it all too well.  And yet, despite the way it wrecked their lives, they would willingly do it again.  And that's where I'm at, too, 3 years into this.  And although I've said this at every stage of the adoption process, this year, as our Gotcha Day approaches (on November 19), I can say it with a stronger sense of peace and contentment, and without reservations: I would willingly cross that bridge all over again. 


This post is long-overdue.  Life with 5 children doesn't slow down often, and so unless I've got some serious divine inspiration going on, blog posts are just going to be few and far between. But I'm feeling inspired to share something today, so here it goes...

In July, we visited the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  It was our Ticos' first official family vacation. It's a place that our family has visited for every summer for the past 4-5 years, and it was beautiful and relaxing...mostly...

The first few days that we spent at the beach, the waves were crazy.  The undertow was scary-strong.  The waves were gathering force far out in the ocean and swooping in and crashing, one after another, right on top of each other.  There were no breaks in between. These were not happy little waves that lap at your feet.  These were the kind of waves that knock you down if you aren't prepared...and sometimes even if you are.  These were the kind of waves that smash every sea shell into tiny bits.  These were the kind of waves that make a mama of 5 kids do head counts after each crash.  And these were the kind of waves that even downed an experienced swimmer whose family was playing on the beach just feet from ours.  This man, who was vacationing with his wife and 3 children, was actually temporarily paralyzed by being slammed into the ground by one of these waves.  He was taken to the hospital on a back board after he washed up on shore limp and completely helpless.  Thankfully, he recovered and was back at the beach resting in the sun with his family at the end of the week.  But these waves were not for the faint of heart.

And I couldn't help but think that those waves reminded me an awful lot of some of the past 10 months.  We have had periods of seemingly constant issues, crashing over us, one after another...with no breaks in between.  No chance to catch our breath before the next one hits.  And just like that man, even when we think we're prepared for the next wave--we think we know how to stay afloat in these waters, it can still take us down and paralyze us with its intensity.  Waves of frustration.  Waves of intense sadness.  Waves of pent-up anger. Waves of regret.  Waves of depression.  Waves of destruction.  Waves of grief.  So many waves of grief, for all of us.  And it's starts to feel like maybe we might drown in this.  Because the waves are coming too quickly.  Too close together. And we're gasping for air.  And sometimes, we want to just give up because it's too hard to fight against that undertow that's always, always tugging.  But we have no choice but to hang on.  To keep struggling to stay upright.  And sometimes, the only way to do that is to go into survival mode.

Survival mode isn't pretty.  In our house, it looks like a tired, frustrated mom implementing a whole lot of structure and schedules just so everyone makes it through the day in one piece.  Think boot camp.  During survival mode, there are 3 hour rage fits from the littlest man.  Hour-long howling sessions from the oldest female child, who can never actually tell us why she's upset.  And lots of wet beds in the mornings.  It looks like a dad who has to brace himself before he walks in the door after work for the extreme neediness of the 3 who now call him Daddy.  And he has to wade through that clinginess to get to his first kids.  And then he has to listen to his wife vent about all of the waves of destruction that have come their way that day.  Survival mode is ugly, and I despise it.  It's exhausting and paralyzing.  Thankfully, we don't always live in that place.

The last 3 days that we spent at the beach, the ocean calmed down quite a bit.  And it was a very welcome change.  We could actually take the kids out a little and ride the gentle waves that were lapping the shore.  The undertow was gone.  The tugging stopped.  There was time to breathe.  Time to relax.  Time to enjoy the beauty around us.  Time to NOT count heads all afternoon.

And I think that's where we are now.  Finally.  After 2 solid months of survival mode, we have entered a period of calm.  And as with everything else in this process, there's no telling how long this will last.  So I am trying to enjoy it.  Because I promise you, every time I tell people that things are feeling normal, we end up back in survival mode.  It's like I jinx it by saying it outloud.  But that's ridiculous.  I should be able to rejoice in what God is doing without fear that it will ruin it by speaking it.   So I'm declaring right now that we are not going back there any time soon.  Hopefully ever.  Because I don't believe that God intends for us to live in that place of pain and grief.  He intends for us to live in His grace. 

And I think that part of survival mode is sometimes my fault.  I think I can trigger those waves when I try to live outside of God's grace.  When I try to control.  When I go into "teacher mode" and don't see my kids for who they are, but for who I want to mold them to be RIGHT NOW.  When I get impatient with the process and want to skip ahead in the journey, it can stir up the seas.  I mess up the flow.  When I try to be a mom to these kids in my own strength, I fail every time. 

There's a spot in the waves where you can get just past the place where they're cresting.  It's a little deeper there.  It's a little riskier there.  It's uncomfortable there.  There's less control there. But if you can get past the place where the waves are crashing in, there's a spot where it's calmer.  You can ride the waves right before they crest, but it's risky.  Sometimes a wave builds faster than the rest, and you have to dive under it so it doesn't tumble you.  And that terrifies me.  I'd rather head for the shore and risk getting slammed by it then go under it.  And I think it's that way with God sometimes.  He wants to draw us out beyond the shore into His grace.  He wants us to trust Him.  He wants us to dive in, but we would rather run for the shore than take the risk.  We want to be in control.  For me, when I want to run back and grab control, that's when I end up in survival mode.

But I want to be brave.  When I trust Him, I'm so much better at all of this.  When I stop trying to be in control, and I let myself be drawn into the rhythm that God is creating for us, we do more than survive.  We thrive. 

So I will let You draw me out beyond the shore into Your grace.
As Your love in wave after wave, crashes over me, crashes over me
For You are for us, You are not against us
Champion of Heaven, You made a way for all to enter in

'Cause You make me brave, You make me brave
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves
You make me brave, You make me brave
No fear can hinder now the love that made a way...

This have been my song for the past few months.  I want to live in the place where the only waves that I feel are the waves of His love and His grace crashing over me.  Because He is for us, and not against us.  Because He makes us brave.  And it was never His intention for us to live like we can't catch our breath.  

Moments and Milestones

So this is my third attempt at an update in as many months.  If you are one of the people wondering if we have survived this part of the transition, the answer is yes.  Mostly.  We hit the 5 month mark last week, which means we're almost halfway through the infamous first year!

I have yet to find anything about adoption that isn't messy--both literally and figuratively.  The amount of emotional energy required to parent all 5 of our kids through this part of the journey is astronomical.  Not to mention that fact that I don't just parent these 5.  I homeschool them, too.  Most days, I'm an emotional zombie by 8pm.  But as draining as it's been, overall, the past few months have been good.  That doesn't mean that all good things have happened.  In fact, I'd say we still have more hard days than easy days at this stage.  We have more issues to work through each day than moments to just sit back and enjoy.  But we knew this would be hard, and honestly, we expected a lot of this to be harder than it's been.

While I will probably never share most my kids' stories on the Internet, I will say that their first life was unimaginably awful in so many ways.  The things they've survived come from the worst parts of life in this broken world.  Some of the things we've struggled though with them have been very much expected.  Other things we've expected just haven't happened at all.  And it's all a crazy mix of mostly good and hard things filled with emotions that don't actually have names...but it's our life, and we'd totally do this again, even knowing what we know now.

So, for those of you wondering how we are faring, here are few milestones and random moments from the past few months:

*In March, I took my first long roadtrip with the kids.  Just me and 5 crazy kids driving 10 hours to NC to visit my sister and her family!  The car ride down was a nightmare, but once I stopped the car 47 times to explain to them how we behave in close quarters and to tweak the seating arrangements, we did ok!  We survived!  And they had so much fun at Tia Ashley's house!

*Our 2 oldest Ticos are reading and writing in English!  Gina definitely understands the most English, but they're all doing really well with us speaking English to them.  They rarely ask for a translation these days.  They have just started trying to put together some sentences in English.  Because they know they are understood here at home, they haven't been super motivated to use their English.  We are hoping this changes here in the spring/summer as we register them for sports and other activities.

*Speaking of sports, we are so ready for the futbol season to begin!  Next month, we are planning to sign Wagner and Gina up for soccer!  Asher and José David are going to try out martial arts because they have too much energy and want to be ninjas, and Landyn will continue her horseback riding lessons.

*We've had 2 ER visits in the past month: Asher for a concussion and JD for stitches in his face.  Ugh.  These.  Boys.  Are.  Killing.  Me.  Thankfully, everyone survived that, too.  I've become quite good at taking all 5 kids to hospitals, doctor's appointments, preschool screenings, etc.  Just the thought of taking all 5 anywhere used to terrify me.  Now, it's just how we roll.  

*Bedtime seems to get easier and easier each month...with a few random exceptions.  For awhile, our littlest guy was throwing raging fits at bedtime.  That has stopped altogether.  And we also have a professional staller, who I think is finally learning that Mommy and Daddy aren't dumb.  

*My most-used phrase lately:  "We are on the same team."  Our Ticos came to us really not understanding anything about how a family is supposed to work.  But they do understand futbol and the idea of how a team functions together.  It's been amazing to see them grasp that and cling to it, and it has completely transformed the way my children play with each other.

*We are thankful for the sunshine and warmer temps.  My poor Costaricans were starting to wilt and lose their marbles in February.  This was the longest winter ever.  We have been riding bikes and hiking and going to the park (which we are about to do again in an hour or so).  I think for awhile, they thought we had made up the whole "spring comes after winter...and then summer after spring" thing.  

*The sibling integration (which I plan to write a whole blog post on one of these days when I have enough energy left) has been by far the hardest part, which we expected.  But honestly, they are all doing really, really well with this.  They are all struggling with different aspects of it.  Some with rivalry/competition, jealousy, the desire to be in control, finding their place, figuring out who the heck they are now...  And they drive each other crazy on good days, but they play and fight and forgive and love and hurt and heal and live to do it all over again another day.  Yesterday, actually, was the first day (I think, ever) when they all played without fighting, arguing, complaining, tattle-taling or shouting for 3 solid hours!!!!  Hallelujah!

*As a mom, I have learned that I cannot do this on my own.  With my first 2, I never questioned my ability to parent them.  With all 5, I question it hourly, and as I told Wagner on one of our harder days, I think at this stage, we will get it wrong more often then we'll get it right.  Oh how I need the grace of Jesus every single second.  Without it, I'm an ugly, frustrated, graceless mama...and none of these kids needs me to be that person.  I have to remind my perfectionist self often that this is a process, and we are still in the very early stages of it.

*Wagner and Gina told us their story about 6 weeks ago.  Probably all of it that they remember.  It was everything from their extensive files and then some.  It was gutwrenching to hear from their own mouths.  There were some angry words about their first mama...and then tears of grief when they realized that we aren't mad at her and that she suffered, too.  It was a huge step towards healing and wholeness, and one that we didn't expect to take with them this early in our journey.  We are thankful for this.  This is where their healing begins and ends...letting those dark places be penetrated by the Light.

*We had our 6-month post-adoption visit last week!  Crazy, huh?  In less than a month, it will have been 6 months since we first went to the albergue to meet these beautiful little strangers!  I am totally in awe of what God has done in that time.  A lot of it hasn't been pretty, but I guess taking back what the Enemy has stolen never is.  He doesn't like redemption stories.  Thankfully, redemption stories are what the Kingdom of heaven is all about.  

This Girl

So this girl turned 9 today!
It was a lovely, low-key celebration with just the grandparents. She got Barbies and Princess Legos and girly clothes and art supplies. She is one happy girl right now.  At the moment, she's up in the girls' room working on her Ariel Lego set. 

This was the first time Gina's ever had a "real" birthday party. She counted down all month. Every. Single. Day. She wanted to be involved in every aspect of watching the cake being made (and sneaking tastes of frosting). She loved choosing her own theme (pink dolphins--yeah...of course, she couldn't pick something that already existed in stores) and blowing up balloons and putting up paper streamers. She got her chocolate cake and her homemade coconut ice cream and her Coca.  And she was surprisingly patient and calm--despite the copious amounts of processed sugar and the plethora of gifts!  At certain points, it seemed like she was really just enjoying the moment. She wasn't in a rush to move onto the next thing. She was content. She got to be the focal point for a whole lot of love, and she was content to just soak it all in.  And as her mama, my heart is happy for her. 

Last year, on this same day, I remember driving through the snow to swimming lessons with tears streaming down my face as I sang this song:

"This is a word to all the ones who feel forgotten but you are not...Oh you are not."

At that stage in our journey, she wasn't yet ours. The last thing we had heard was that CR was trying to split the kids up. We had written a letter to PANI pleading with them to keep them together and allow us to adopt them, but we hadn't heard a word back. I didn't know if they would ever be ours, but I knew that they already felt like mine. So the very thought of Gina spending her birthday in an orphanage was gut-wrenching. I wanted so badly to be able to somehow tell her that she wasn't forgotten. That she was loved. That her life mattered and that God had more for her than pain and disappointment. 

And this year, we got to tell her all of that and more. She's the girl I cried for. The girl who suddenly wasn't legally adoptable just a few short months ago. The girl we fought for. The girl we refused to leave behind.  She's the girl I dreamed about, but she's not that sad little girl with the long black ponytail kicking the dirt. Not anymore. Just like in the song..."we're alive, alive, alive in You."  She's alive. And every day, things in this transition are hard, but every day, I'm amazed at the transformation we've seen in Gina. She was the reason our first agency told us that we could never adopt these very children that God handpicked for us. They said it would be too hard. They said she and Landyn were too close in age. They more-than-implied that it would ruin our lives. 

Yet this is happening more and more regularly. A wonderful friend from church asked me awhile back for a specific prayer request. I said, "Pray for my girls' relationship."  That very week, the girls began choosing to play together for hours.  They started giggling at bedtime and making up silly songs. They started becoming friends. Now they call each other "hermana" when they're playing. I told my friend, "I don't know what you prayed, but it's working!"  She told me she was praying that The Lord would knit their hearts together like David and Jonathan. That's some powerful stuff!  Much more powerful than the condemning words of an agency committee. I'm thankful that Jesus' redemptive power trumps "conventional wisdom" and expert advice anyday!  And I'm thankful for this beautiful 9-year-old girl with pitch-black wavy hair who loves dolphins and the color pink and boots with heels and who asks to listen to the same song every time we get in the car because it's the first song she heard me play on the piano and sing when we were in Costa Rica. Happy 9th birthday, Gina María!  ¡Te amamos mucho!


The past 6 weeks have been such a whirlwind of newness and exhaustion and emotions and blessings that it's hard for me to find time to go to the bathroom for 60 seconds without someone yelling my name--let alone find a solid 30 minutes to blog anything.  I know in a year that a lot of these experiences--both the sweet ones and the ones that give me gray hairs--will seem pretty vague and distant.  Like another life entirely.  And in some ways, we long for that day!  But at the same time, I don't want to forget these firsts. These are the only firsts we get. 

With our busy homeschool schedule, I'm running ragged from the time I get up until bedtime almost every day.  (Man, we had it easy with our first kids!)   And it's really easy for me to always be thinking and planning and prepping for the next thing--the next lesson, the next meal, my next cold cup of coffee...  With a neverending laundry pile, dirty dishes everywhere that I swear I literally just washed, and every blessed pillow from every blessed room of the house on the floor, it's hard to take even a split second to stop and actually see what's going on in our home underneath the physical mess (and the intellectual mess that is our too-cozy school room).  So I've been trying to breathe a little each day and realize how amazing all 5 of our kids are.  In fewer than 3 months, they have gone from strangers to siblings.  And I don't mean just in name.  Legit siblings.  Siblings who giggle and share and play weird pretend games that you'd never play in public and fight and apologize and get into trouble together.  Real siblings.  And people, sibling integration is not for the faint of heart!  But they've somehow done what we expected them to take years to do in a few short months!

So here are a few little snapshots of things we get to see and experience each day ( the beautiful, the weird, the downright ugly and everything in-between):

When I get up in the morning, almost always before I get to drink my coffee, there are 2 little boys in cozy jammies who are nearly always the first ones awake.  One is a snuggler and always has been since the day he was born, and I hope he nevers outgrows it.  The other is usually as cranky as a bear, but he's wicked cute...so I guess it evens out.

Then, down comes my first girl, who has grown up so much (both physically and emotionally) over the past few months.  Literally.  How did she get to be so tall?  She is my little chef, and she has taken to helping me cook and prep meals, which saves little shreds of my sanity every day!  She has become a sweet sister to her littlest brother, and he has come to adore her.  He calls her "Landeeeeee."  :)  She also speaks Spanish so fluently now that she translated an entire Sunday school class for her sister...on the fly and without being asked.  We've actually had to ask her to speak English...because with her around, our Ticos have no reason to learn English!

Next, my oldest girl stomps...or slides...or tiptoes...or creeps...or tumbles down the steps to join us.  I never know exactly how she's going to enter the room, but thankfully her emotions are now more predictable than her entrances.  She just has a flair for the dramatic!  Sometimes her over-the-top antics make me crazy...But when I look at her and think about all she has worked through in the past 3 months, I'm awestruck.  She is the reason our first agency wouldn't let us adopt these kids.  She was a wild card.  And she terrified us those first weeks, but she is not at all who she was.  Redemption is doing its work in this one, and it's pretty glorious to behold.

Then, our oldest trudges down the steps with some serious bedhead.  He insists on eating peanut butter and jelly as many times a day as I'll let him.  He is obsessed with Temple Run Oz...and all things Oz, really.  Don't worry.  It'll be something different next week!  That's just how he rolls.  He has struggled the most lately, and he was the one everyone said was calm and cooperative and obedient.  One psychologist in CR even told us he would "fade into the background" if we weren't careful!  Hahahahaha  Not happening.  But this kid is so hungry for the things of God.  I'm excited to see what God does with his little life.

Here's a random snapshot for y'all:  Toothpaste.  Everywhere.  All over the sink.  On the door.  On the walls in the hallway.  On the handtowel.  On David's face.  And his shirt.  I officially hate toothpaste now.

And another: Asher and David have the tendency to get every single toy in the boys' room out and spread them out on the floor....of every room in our little house.  God help me.  I'm focusing each day on not yelling.  It's hard when I've stepped on the same Lego 3 times...and I've asked someone to pick it up 7 times. (And I'm praying for a bigger house with a playroom for all this junk!)

It's all hard.  But it's not as hard as it was a month ago.  We have a decent routine down.  School is flowing well.  I'm having to use less and less Spanish.  Gina and Wagner are starting to read and speak in English.  David is at least only breaking a few things a week. (He has a destructive streak...I'm glad the Lord made him cute.)  Our Ticos are learning the concept of "quiet play."  And Landyn and Asher have taught them how to pretend!  The 5 of them play some pretty weird games where they all pretend to be random animals who are teenagers.  But hey, they're playing TOGETHER!  They squabble over dumb stuff, but it's normal sibling stuff!  Bedtime isn't horrible anymore...most of the time.  We have a lot fewer tears overall.  (Although I made someone cry twice today.)  And we have a lot more random singing, which I consider a good sign (even when it's super annoying).

Overall, we are still working through the hardest months.  Some conversations about their first mom have come up, and overall, they've handled it fairly well.  I know those memories have to be painful for them.  Sometimes, they seem so well-adjusted that it's easy to forget what they've endured.  And other times, it's impossible to forget.

We're still really exhausted.  All.  The.  Time.  But I think that's par for the course at this stage.  Keep praying for us!  

The Harm in the Hug

Long before God gave me a heart for the fatherless, He gave me a heart for all little people under the age of 12. (My love for those 12 and up came much more recently.) As a 10-year-old, I became known as a "baby hog." And as a teenager, I babysat several days a week, participated as a leader in every VBS possible, taught Sunday school, and went on every missions trip that involved any activities that included working with kids. So naturally, I went to college to pursue a vocation that centered around children: teaching. Then, I had my own kids. And after staying home with them for 4 years, God called me to take a part-time position in our church as, you guessed it, the Children's Ministry Director.  I have spent the last 20-something years hugging on kids everywhere...in my neighborhood, in my church, at pretty much every job I've ever had (except for the retail job I had at Gap Kids during college...that would have been super weird for me to hug random kids in the store), and in countries like Alberta, Canada, the DR, Guatemala, and now Costa Rica.  

So the first time that I read this post by an adoptive mom friend whom I "met" (on Facebook) through a mutual friend, I didn't know how to feel about it.  One of Maralee's kiddos was adopted from Liberia, and this blog post is actually a guest post from the woman who runs the orphanage where Maralee's son spent the first few months of his life. It's about the harm in holding babies in orphanages on short-term missions trips.  Here's one of her quotes:

"When visiting children, specifically children living in orphanages overseas, we cannot treat them as if we own them, or treat them differently than you would treat my child in my back yard or your friend’s foster child. The practical reasons for this are the same, which involve not making a child afraid, respecting boundaries set by those in charge of the child, etc, but there is a more serious factor that can be very detrimental to a child’s development. The biggest potential harm for these children is the high likelihood of forming attachment disorders. Many adoptive parents have experienced serious attachment issues with their children that resulted largely in part to short-term visitors holding their child during their orphanage stays. These issues can can have long-term consequences on a child which effect how they interact with their peers, how they relate to their adoptive parents, and if they aren’t adopted, how they relate to individuals once they leave the orphanage, either after reunification or as young adults."

The first time I read this post was shortly after our trip to Guatemala, where this happened...

I spent the better part of our 10 days there with this sweet little nugget (who isn't an orphan, but craved a whole lot of love and attention) on my lap.  We both cried the day our team had to say goodbye.  God used her to break my heart for older children. Until very recently, I never fully considered what our time together may have done to/for her. 

I cannot count the number of kids whose names I didn't know whom I have snuggled, carried and hugged.  And I always felt that I was just loving on them in Jesus' name...which was true.  And even in the midst of the "waiting" part of our adoption process, I didn't see a problem with loving and hugging on kids without families...or any kids for that matter.  Until a month ago...

On this side of adoption, we have seen firsthand the effects of such actions, some helpful and some very harmful.  Our kids were blessed to have a wonderful missionary family, who live a few blocks from the albergue, minister to them on a very regular basis.  True, healthy relationships were formed, and through this, our kids learned to how to love and how to be loved.  They learned how to accept healthy physical touch.  They learned about the Good News of Jesus from people who live like He did.  And we are reaping that harvest now.

But there have been others in our children's lives who have come and gone, who have hugged and held without boundaries, who have loved on them in a way that only someone with whom they've developed a healthy relationship should, and it has hurt our kids in the long run. (And I am personally so guilty of this.)  Students who have visited for a few Saturdays.  People who love Jesus and kids, but who are unable to give more than an afternoon to a house full of orphans.  They gave what they could in the moment, and I can't fault them for it.  They were just lovin'.  

We saw the effects of "unrestrained orphan hugging," as I'll call it, during our in-country stay in Costa Rica. We stayed on a beautiful Bible school campus for a month.  There were 13 students living there.  We saw them at meals and hung out with them on campus and in town.  They were seriously awesome people.  There were also several wonderful staff members who lived on the campus.  Very soon after we brought our kids to live with us there, we realized that they would pretty much hug or sit on the lap of almost anyone...especially young people...because the only contact they'd had with young muchachos was when they came and gave them candy and let them play with their smart phones and sit on their laps on random Saturdays.  We also noticed that our oldest would bond with any Tico man who said more than 5 words to him or mentioned the word, "futbol," at any point.  

It got particularly bad when the students at our Bible campus invited students from another Bible campus to come have a bonfire.  It just so happened that 2 of the students from that other school had visited the albergue on random Saturdays...and hugged our kids indiscriminately, which they innocently did right in front of us without ever speaking to us.  (Super awkward.)  When we asked our kids to tell us the names of the people whom they had just hugged very warmly, they had no idea.  Every child needs love...but is teaching them that it's ok to hug nameless foreign strangers "love" if it hurts them in the long run?  I don't know.   One of them even asked Gina right in front of me, "Why are you here?  Is this your family?"  And never spoke to us.  Never even made eye contact with me as I was standing 2 feet from Gina when he asked in broken Spanish.  Not a great way to help us teach them boundaries, bro.  But he honestly didn't know better.  Which is why I'm writing about this.   People who have not walked through this part of adoption don't see the impact that free hugs from strangers and pity gifts can have.  If those same 2 students could've seen the melt downs our kids had just 20 minutes after we took them back to our casita, they would have had just a glimpse of what our kids have to work through as a result of what was innocently done out of love.  

And we've seen it here at home.  Because we worked with youth at church for the past few years, we have random high school and college kids at our house frequently.  Honestly, they're my people.  And they will be my kids' people, too...once they get to know them.  We have to set up some serious boundaries for our friends and even our immediate family members.  It's so very hard because everyone has loved them and prayed for them for more than a year...and they're HOME!  But they have to learn to trust us as their primary caregivers first.  They have to bond with us first.  There was an awesome quote in our training that went something like this: "Trauma that has occurred in the context of relationship can only be healed in the context of relationship." Our kids' trauma centers around their parents.  They need to develop healthy, stable relationships with us before they can start hugging on everyone person they meet.

I still feel torn about the whole issue of baby holding and orphan hugging.  There's a big part of my heart that still wants to go hug all 153 million of them.  And even in our kids' albergue, we hugged the other kids there.  How could we not??  I held a baby there.  I made Michael hold him, too.  We were loving on them.  But now, we're gone and I pray that we didn't leave any damage in our wake.  So I'm not sure that I can take a firm stand on either side on this issue right now.  I just know that watching our kids struggle has made me keenly aware that there is an issue.

Anyway, my point is that for our kids right now, hugs are harmful if they're not from us.
With the Christmas season at-hand, we are planning to be out and about a bit.  And shortly after Christmas, we are planning to try to start bringing the whole herd to church. It's a big deal!  So, church family, friends, and random strangers, here is how you can help us: 

*No hugs.  At least not for awhile.  And definitely no lap-sitting!  At this stage, 99% of physical touch needs to come from us right now.  We'll give the green light for hugs and tickles and snuggles when we feel that everyone is ready.  They desperately need to learn that hugs come after you've known someone for awhile and developed a fairly close relationship with him or her.  High-fives and handshakes are awesome!  Wagner, in particularly, likes to shake hands with adults. 

If one of our kiddos tries to hug you, please don't freeze or scream or push them away awkwardly.  (Not that anyone I know would do that!) Give them a quick squeeze, and then gently take them by the shoulders and move them a step back with a smile.  They've experienced more than their fair share of rejection.  If they plop down on your lap, smile and pat the spot next to you.   If they ask you to carry them, point them to us.  :)

*Defer all basic needs to us.  Food, especially, is a huge deal.  Our kiddos have known true hunger.  Meeting that very basic need for them has to be SOLELY our job for the first year.  It is a seriously powerful bonding tool.  So please don't offer them candy or treats or even gum.  Or water...unless of course there's an emergency.  Then by all means, save them. But otherwise, everything has to come from us.

Boo-boos, zipping coats, comforting tears, tying shoes, fixing hair, discipline...all of it has to be done by us for the first year or so.  We plan to hover awkwardly at all times, so you should be able to find us when you need us.

*No gifts.  This is a tricky one...especially at Christmas.  We decided immediate family can give gifts to the kids this year, and that's probably even overdoing it a bit.  Like food, gifts create a bond.  Please don't give them anything...even stickers... without asking us first.

*Please don't rave about their appearances in front of them.  We know they're wicked cute, and it's hard.  But they're already keenly aware of how different they look compared to the rest of us blondies with blue eyes.  They don't need to be reminded.  They don't want to be treated like animals at the zoo (even though they sometimes act like them).  They want to experience family and community.  (And the Wednesday night Kids' Celebration and youth kids did an awesome job of welcoming them this week!  Thanks for your love and your restraint!)  Also, in their old life, they used their cuteness to manipulate.  We want to leave that business in the past.  

*Please try to talk to them and not about them. I honestly haven't done a very good job of this (especially during what we affectionately named, "The Longest Week.")  But they are understanding more and more English everyday even though they don't speak it.  Feel free to try to talk to them in English or broken Spanish (they're totally used to that by now).  We will help translate anything you want to say.  They may act super shy, but deep down, they love the attention.  They'd much rather be talked to than talked about.

*Let us guide introductions.  Please let us bring them to you.  We can gauge whether or not they are overstimulated or anxious.  Sometimes, they look content and perfectly friendly, but inside they're freaking out.  Or sometimes, they just roll on the floor.  Either way, let us take the lead in bringing them to you and guiding the introductions.

I know that for some people, following these guidelines will feel very unnatural.  I promise, it won't be forever!  Most of our life feels a little awkward and unnatural right now, so you can join our club...when we have time to start one.  ;)