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.  ;)  

The Longest Week


We've been home now as a family of 7 for 2 weeks.  In many ways, it has felt like 2 months. Up until yesterday, I wasn't sure if I would even be able to blog about any of our first days home.  They were filled with so much grief and exhaustion.  There were so, so many tears.  But God is good, and He didn't call us to this for nothing.  This is a redemption story, and in this broken world, redemption doesn't come without some serious battles. 


Our fiercest enemy in this stage of the process has been expectation.  Our training was thorough.  We learned what to expect and how to face the worst case scenarios head-on.  And we have expected 95% of what we've faced.  In theory, our expectations about what we would face were completely realistic. The problem has been our own human emotions. The problem is that we never expected to feel the way that we do about living and walking through all of these issues 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  It's one thing to know in your head what you will experience...to make a plan...to prepare.  It's another thing to live through it...to see your efforts fail miserably...to realize that all your organization and color coding is for naught if you never have a hot second to complete a single task...to watch your children fall apart hour after hour...to regroup and try again...and again...and again.  And when all of your emotionally energy is completely zapped, to sit down and cry every night after the kids are in bed and wonder how anything in life will ever feel "normal" again. I didn't expect to feel this awful. 

The first week was so very long.  Transitions. New spaces. Adjustments. Cabin fever. New routines. Clogged toilets. Arguing. Tons of complaining. Way too much wrestling on the floor. No boundaries vs. new boundaries. Grief. Bedwetting. Jealousy. Tattle-taling all the livelong blessed day. Testing limits. Snow. Loss. Regression. Acceptance. Too many voices at once...all the time. I swear I can't remember half of it. It just felt like it would never end. There were never enough hours in the day.  Never enough hands to complete the never-ending list of tasks.  At any given second, each child needed 3 different things from 3 different parts of the house...all at once.  Everyone was fighting for attention every moment.  I didn't have a single second to myself.  And to top it off, Michael had to go back to work right away. So I was on my own that first week. 

We homeschool, and since Costa Rica's school year ended in November, I had planned a break for our Ticos until January. However, being the highly motivated students they are, they all 3 begged for "tarea" and "escuelita."  (Actually...they just want to do whatever Asher and Landyn get to do. I wish they were highly motivated students.) And when I realized that unstructured time with 5 siblings in this stage of the adoption process is about as much fun as lighting oneself on fire, I opted to start school right away. So we do school in both languages. Totally exhausting. I have just enough Spanish-speaking abilities to get by and translate stories on the fly. I never thought I'd say this, but I cannot wait for them to learn English!

The structure has helped. A lot. I was never one for intense structure before we adopted. I'd rather be a free spirit and fly by the seat of my pants.  I raised my first kids in that flexible environment. We were spontaneous. For the foreseeable future, those days are gone. I feel like I'm running a military school for small, sassy, attention-seeking people these days. It's not my favorite...at all...but it's working. It's keeping us from all losing our minds, so we'll stick with it for now.

And that shift in atmosphere is one of the things my first kids have struggled with the most. They don't need that structure. And during that first week, I could tell they felt smothered by all the new rules and boundaries. Their home became a place they didn't recognize, and that brought out a lot of grief and frustration. It was incredibly difficult to walk through that with them, but I do feel like we're on the other side of it. They now see that it's working for their new siblings, and they understand that someday we will be able to relax a little.

I expected my first kids to struggle with all of that. But I did not expect to feel the way that I did about it. I knew they would struggle with sharing, and they have.  I expected them to struggle with the decrease in the attention they get, and they have.  I figured they would grieve the loss of our comfy, spontaneous life, and they have.  What I didn't expect was the resentment and regret that I felt.  Watching them struggle through all of that was much harder to experience in real life.  But as gut-wrenchingly hard and frustrating as it was to walk through that with them, I can see that they are learning how to rejoice in the good that is happening to their new siblings...even though very little about it feels good to them.  They are learning how to look to the interests of others first.  

For their part, our Ticos have actually done amazingly well adjusting to a totally new life with near-strangers in a foreign land where no one speaks their language fluently.  I'm seriously impressed.  And it is only by the grace of God, because, well, if you could have seen these 3 when we first brought them to live with us in CR, you'd understand.  I don't ever want to dishonor them by divulging too much of their stories, but suffice it to say, if you knew exactly what they've lived through, you'd be surprised that they came out on this side in one piece.  We still have lots of healing to work through, but the progress that we've seen in these past 7 weeks leaves me breathless.  They are learning to trust.  Learning what it means to be in a family.  Learning how to develop healthy friendships and relationships.  Learning boundaries. Oh sweet Jesus, the boundaries were totally not there at all. They are not at all the same people we met on November 5. Everyday, they are a few steps closer to wholeness...and it no longer feels like we are doing the "one step forward, two steps back" thing anymore. 

In fact, the second week has gone so well that we tried a few outings...and by  "a few," I mean 4. The cocooning thing--where we are supposed to stay home for months alone...yeah, it almost killed me. I was a total wreck by Friday of the first week. Michael had to go into work late so I could have some time alone to regroup. So we decided to start adding in some regular activities to see how the kids handled it. We visited the grandparents on both sides (some pre-Christmas tours so they understand what a "normal" visit looks like as opposed to a Christmas visit when they go home with a bunch of stuff we don't have space for). And we took them to a kids' game night at church, where Wagner made friends with one of my favorite children's min kids ever. And I took them to the zoo...by myself after school on Thursday. This week, there has been so much less tension and arguing and attention seeking. Fewer squabbles and scoldings. More organization. I have charts for chores and meals so I don't lose my mind. And we are totally color coded up in here. The teacher part of me is in Heaven. The spontaneous mom part of me kinda hate it, but is getting over it...because it's totally working. 

Our color coded magnetic meal choice board. Now they don't have to all yell at me 17 times, "I want huevos!!!"

Our re-vamped bilingual, color-coded chore system. I'm not gonna lie--my house is cleaner now than it was with only 2 kids. Those blue "boletos" are like gold in this house. 


And our color-coded towels. In the words of my favorite adoption blogger, Jen Hatmaker, "bless it." (I've always wanted to say that...)

We are glad to have survived the first 2 weeks home. We got a lot of sweet, well-wishes during that week, which we appreciated, but couldn't resonate with during those initial days. It felt like a lot of people hoped or assumed that our lives would be complete now that everybody's home together...and that was not the case. Honestly, I could find very little to be happy or hopeful about. I wondered how we would ever figure out how to make a life with these little complicated strangers. But we are steadily climbing out of that dark place...together. And we know that the prayers of our family and friends and church family are moving mountains. We are so grateful for our "village," and even though most of you still haven't met the kids yet, you are impacting their lives in so many ways. We are ao thankful for the meals and clothes and encouraging letters...both to us and to our kids. Thanks for helping us survive the longest week. 

A Letter to My First Kids

Dear Landyn and Asher,

I can't even type your names without tears.  You are precious to me beyond words.  Being your mom for the past 8 (and 5) years has been my favorite job ever...And I will always remember the days when it was just the 4 of us.  I know that the last 6 weeks have been the hardest days of our lives, and there's a part of me that wants to say that I am so very sorry for that.  I'm sorry that everything that defined your home and your family and your life has been turned completely upside down.  It breaks my heart to watch you struggle through every day trying to figure out what life is supposed to look like now.

Through this whole process, you both have been so brave.  When we told you what God had in store for our family, you never questioned it or complained.  You embraced the idea with open arms and prayed sweet prayers for your someday siblings.  And now that "someday" is today, I've watched you try and try again to connect with these little strangers with little success.  I've watched with an aching heart as you've been rejected time and time and time again.  And I've watched you get back up and do it all over.  And I've also watched as you've given in to the grief in your own hearts...grief for the loss of life as you knew it...grief over the loss of your peace and your place and your space.  And I grieve with you...every time.  

I know that the job we are asking you to take on is huge.  We are asking you to share your parents and your rooms and your hearts and your space and your things and your time and your lives with 3 people who are completely unable to understand or appreciate the sacrifices that you have made for them...the sacrifices you are continuing to make each day.  We are asking you to be a brother and a sister to 3 people who don't yet know how to even begin to be true siblings to you.  We are asking you to show tremendous love to 3 people who don't know how to give the same love back in return.  We are asking you to rejoice in the good that is happening to the 3 people who have stolen our time and attention from you.  It's so much to ask of you...but they desperately need you to be the sweet, caring, compassionate, Jesus-loving kids that you were before we brought them home.  They need you to teach them what it looks like to be in our family.  You are more vital to this process than you can comprehend right now.  

During the past week, I have had very hard moments where I've asked myself, "What have we done to your lives?"  You were so happy and carefree and well-adjusted.  Right now, you are anxious and frustrated and uncertain.  It doesn't seem fair or right.  But we are on this journey because God led us here.  He opened doors that we were told would never be open for us.  He, without a doubt, led us to these 3 kids.  Please don't ever forget the story He has written for us already.  And even though right now, in this stage of transition, you might not be able to see or feel what He is doing, know that He is doing something amazing.  Because the God we serve is faithful.  He wouldn't bring us this far to leave us on our own.  He makes beautiful things out of garbage.  He will bring peace to our chaos.  He will replace our sorrow with joy again.  He makes broken things whole.  He's not going to leave us hanging.  He's faithful to finish what He starts.  So there's a part of me that can't feel sorry for this because I know that God is going to use it to make you into the people that He created you to be.  Romans 8:18 "For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us."  You get to be part of an amazing redemption story.  Someday, you will be able to look back on this and see evidence of God's power and His glory everywhere.  Just hang on a little longer.  It won't always be like this.

As you sleep tonight, I am praying peace and grace over you.  Please don't stop fighting for what you know to be right and good and true.  Please don't forget who you are.  Now that we're seven, so much is different, but there is one thing that will never change: You will always be our first kids.  Nothing can change that. You're my LandynO and my AsherBoy.  Never forget it.  And when you feel like there's nothing left of our old comfortable life to hang onto, it's ok to let it go.  And it's ok to be sad.  We will walk beside you every step of the way.  We won't leave you to navigate this uncertain path alone.

We love you so much...

Provision

It's rather quiet here at Port today. Over the last few days, all of the students have gone home because their semester is over. The last student left this morning. And we were sad to see them go. 

Over the past month, they became our family here. Our community. They laughed with us. Cried with us. Loved on our kids. Gave us much-needed coffee breaks. Helped us navigate the public transpiration system. Played fùtbol with Wagner when we were too sore and exhausted. Walked with us into town...far...to buy a cake. Prayed for us. Gave us surprise gifts. Wrote us letters of encouragement. We are so thankful that God had this place and these people set aside for this time. This process would have been much more difficult without them. They brought light to the dark places we had to walk through with our kids. They are now a part of our story, and they will forever be special to us. :)

As I type this, Michael is trying to secure new flights home. Many people all over the world are praying for us right now. We are praying that God will work out the details and the finances. We are very ready to come home!

We have been amazed by how quickly our documents have arrived in our hands. Our lawyer, Yolanda, or Tía Yoli, as the kids call her, is responsible for all of it!  We are so thankful for her and her love and hard work for our family!  She is the best!

So we don't want her hard work on our family's behalf to go to waste!  We want to come home and start real life. But at this point, it's looking like it will be more costly to come home than to stay.  Again, we are in a place where only God can do anything to change our situation. That has become a daily theme..sometimes hourly...even minutely (is that even a thing??)

We need Thee every hour. Whether we stay or go home...  God has provided so many things for us along this journey ...not just finances. He provided this place and these students. He's provided us with brand new friends all over this city. He has blessed us with drivers who love Jesus and genuinely care about our kids. He directed us to Lifeline, our agency, and blessed us with Iris and Yolanda, who have walked with us through every step of this process. And against all odds, we have these kids. He is good, and He is big enough to do this, too. 

Keep praying for us!




Of Comings and Goings

We have been all over the place this week!!

This was our view earlier this week...

And for the most part, it was pretty relaxing--even with 5 kids in tow!

We headed over on Sunday morning after breakfast and "church."  Our driver was so sweet!  His name is Marvin, and he brought his daughter's pet lizard, Lola, along for the trip. And he also brought a CD of '70's and '80's hits and movie theme songs too. Then he asked me to explain the significance of MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" to him...in Spanish...because he doesn't speak English. It was probably the funniest Spanish conversation I've ever had!

I think the trip took about 2 hours, but we stopped for lunch at a river full of crocodiles. Creepiest thing I've seen in awhile. I don't like standing on bridges anyway...and this one had 2 narrow lanes of busy traffic, a very narrow sidewalk, and a not-so-high rail to look over...way down into a river teeming with huge, ugly crocs. But the food was delicious!!


This week, we've learned that our kids are little fishes. They all got around in the water pretty well, which was a huge relief because there are 5 of them. At the resort, there were 2 beaches...both surrounded by jungly/mountainy areas. It is so beautiful that it almost doesn't seem real. And there were a few pools here, too. The kids definitely preferred the pool, but they loved the ocean, too. 

We are all a little sunburnt...well, we gringos. Our Ticos are super dark from the sun!

We really weren't sure how this would go because the kids seem to need consistency and routine, but they've done amazingly well!  It's a huge blessing because Michael and I needed some
rest. We had the boys in one room, which was hard on Michael. Poor guy. :( David gets really wound up at bedtime...and at wake-up time...and kind of all day, except when he falls asleep at the dinner table. He's still kind of a baby in a lot of ways. But the girls did really well in the room with me!  They liked watching this weird Costarican tv show called Combate at night before bed...it kind of reminds me of a scaled-down version of Wipe Out with attractive Latin Americans. 

On Monday night, we had a birthday fiesta for all 3 kids. Ever since our Walmart trip, Gina has been telling me about how David didn't get anything for his birthday a few weeks ago. Then she told me that none of them have really ever had a party or gifts. They sometimes had queque, but nothing more. So we decided to have a party to celebrate all the parties they've missed...and that we've missed, too. We got them each a gift. For Gina, a baby doll, which she named "Esteffani," with a little bath tub and accessories. (She's currently sleeping with it.) For Wagner, we got him his own yellow soccer ball. I thought he was going to hyperventilate. And for David, a "Rayo" McQueen car that races across the floor. Because we didn't have any real candles, we improvised and used the fake battery-operated one on our dinner table. We calculated that between all 3 kids, there were 21 birthdays that were never properly celebrated. :( We had the kids "blow out" the fake candle once for each year. They thought it was hilarious. And I think Wagner got dizzy...or he was just being really dramatic for years 8-10. 

Asher had a really hard time with the gifts. We kept trying to explain that he had 5 years' worth of parties and gifts and Christmases. The stuff he has received could fill our hotel room. But these 3 just had these simple gifts and the small items we sent them in their care package in September. That's all. 

We ate breakfast in a restaurant in the jungle with capuchin monkeys and coatis walking and jumping around!  It was extremely entertaining!  The monkeys routinely stole sugar packets by the handful...and the coatis ambled around and spilled fresh fruit drinks just to lap them up. The monkeys would go up on the higher balcony areas and knock chairs down just to show off!  The kids loved it!  We also saw red macaws, toucans, and lizards living in the wild around us. It was a very cool experience!

We had planned to check out at noon on Wednesday and swim until 2...but it decided to pour...torrentially. So we rode home a little wet and tired, but it was a good trip!

Today, we had an appointment at Migración for the kids' Costarican passports this morning at 7. That means we had to get up at 5. Boooooo. 

BUT, because our lawyer is amazing, the passports, which were originally scheduled to be ready on December 6, will be ready for pick up tomorrow afternoon!!!!  That means that we go to the US Consulate for visas Monday. And as soon as the visas are ready (which could very likely be Wednesday), we can come home!!!!  Two whole weeks early!!

So we have a huge prayer request: we have to try to change 7 plane ticket return dates. Pray that Spirit Airlines won't charge us $100+ per ticket so we can come home!!!  Not that we don't love CR...because we do. But this isn't real life. We are ready to start doing life in our home. 

Speaking of doing life, we've had the opportunity to do life with some cool people down here. Today, we got to celebrate Thanksgiving with some new friends at The Abraham Project. The AP is an amazing ministry. Seriously amazing. Check it out: 

Overall, things with the kids are going well. There are really frustrating moments and really good moments. We expect it to be like this for awhile...and we expect things to be hard when we first come home. In a lot of ways, we will have to start over. We explained to the kids this morning that we may leave efore December 17. Pray that they understand and are prepared. And pray for an understanding and gracious representative to answer the phone when we call Spirit Airlines!!!  

We are thankful this year for God's leading in this journey. As we've walked through the in-country part, we have seen His hand in so many details. We are thankful for the many new friends that we've made here. And we are thankful for our support system at home!!  It was weird to not be home for thanksgiving, but it was good, and we get to come home soon!!!










Progress

So our first full day as a legal family of 7 has been fairly peaceful and almost normal!  Staying "home" helps a lot. We all thrive on the consistent surroundings and routines. And we have a lot of little routines and schedules. We have an iPad schedule, a movie schedule, a daily schedule with snacks and bedtime and showers. Everyone seems happier when they know what, when, who and where. And I'm happy when all the kids are happy...and not arguing in 2 languages. 

Here are some highlights from today:

-The gardener here at Port told me that it's now summer here in CR. And it's awesome!

-Landyn and Gina played together a lot today. That's a first, and something we've prayed for. They basically made a baby duck day care...complete with blankets (leaves) and a bath tub (the sink in the boathouse) and a rocking chair (a hammock). 

-Gina is finally letting go of her role as David's caregiver. It's been hard for her. We know it's been her identity for 4 years. It was good to get to see her play with everyone and not worry about whether or not David was ok today. It's too big of a burden for her to carry, and it's so healthy for her to let herself be an 8-year-old girl. Just an 8-year-old girl. 

-David is struggling a little emotionally because he's not used to Gina not being all over him all the time. He wanted me to carry him everywhere all day. No, literally. All. Day. Good thing he's little. :) 

-Wagner is really independent. He has a lot of trouble remembering to ask us before he goes off somewhere to play. Poor guy. He's not being intentionally disobedient. He just can't remember. 

-We have been so blessed to get to know the students and staff here at Port. Living with others is sometimes problematic for bonding, but it is equally a blessing. A huge blessing. We love it here!

-We have seen HUGE progress in all 3 kids in all areas since the hearing yesterday!  We know it's because so many people are praying and The Lord is answering!  And honestly, I think the kids needed it to be legal. Needed to be Tiptons. Forever. 

These last 2 days have been the first 2 where we feel like we've taken steps forward...without the 2 steps back part. And we like it that way!

Día de la Adopción

It's done!  I wasn't sure if I would feel differently or not...since our kids have already lived with us for a week. But I definitely do feel differently!  In a good way!

The spiritual warfare down here has been super intense for us. And to be very honest, during the last 2 days, I had moments when I thought, "Lord. It's a good thing you gave me that dream...otherwise I would seriously question what we are doing here and if this is the right path for us."  Two nights in a row, after the kids were asleep, I went outside and ugly-cried for a good, solid 20 minutes. It literally felt like we were walking through hell with these kids...and in a lot of ways, we have been. The enemy had a hold on every aspect of their lives, and he's not giving that up without a serious fight. But the victory is already won...already paid for in Jesus. So, suck it, Satan. We are taking back what you've stolen. 

The adoption hearing this morning was surprisingly anticlimactic. Haha. The kids were interviewed by the judge individually. Then we were called into "court" with our lawyer and PANI's lawyer and a translator. And of course, the judge. The court was a small office. It took about 10 minutes. We signed a paper. The kids are ours. Haha. Pretty simple!

Then we want back to PANI for queque and coca with all of the wonderful ladies who have had a hand in preparing our kids for this day...this new life. 

After our mini fiesta, we had a meeting with the kids' psychologist and social worker to get a little more background information and to ask any last questions. It was a surprisingly refreshing and encouraging meeting!  The psychologist validated all of the issues we've had as well as how we've handled them. Yay!  We're not doing it all wrong!!!  We learned more specifics about their first mama. Poor thing. She's basically a helpless child herself. Pray for her. She desperately needs a Savior in this world...both physically and spiritually. I know our older 2 resent her. I hope that someday I can explain that it truly wasn't her fault. I hope, for the sake of their own healing, that one day they can forgive her...that one day they can think of her without pain and resentment. 

Right after the meeting, Gina had a little meltdown over hurt feelings. We talked it out. Everyone who needed to apologized. And since then, she has been a different kid entirely!  I'm almost afraid to type it!!!  Like I might jinx it! She seems freer and more childlike...less anxious and angry. I think she needed to see that we weren't going to change our minds. They had so much trouble believing that anyone would ever want them. She had to be sure before she could start to let her guard down. Pray that she continues on this healthy path. 

Wagner is pretty excited about getting a new name: Wagner Miguel. I like it a lot. He chose well. :)

David still doesn't seem to have any idea what's going on!  In many ways, he's more 2 than 4 in age. And he's darn cute. And be forewarned. His name is pronounced "Daveeeed" and not "Dāvid."  If you call him "Dāvid" like it's American, I will correct you. 

We are thrilled to not have any more appointments for awhile!! We have 4 solid days of just hanging out here at Port. And them we go to the beach on Sunday for 4 days!!! :) I'm so excited for that!!  

Keep praying!  Please!!!  And thanks for loving our family from afar!  We miss everyone at home terribly right now. We're sending lots of love from CR!

La Familia Tipton
Michael, Audra, Landyn, Asher, Wagner, Gina and David 

Ask me again in 5 minutes

When people ask me how things are going, my tag line has become, "Good right now. Ask me again in 5 minutes."  It really does change that fast. We are continuing to work through hard stuff. Some of it's the same stuff we've been walking through since the first day. And some of it's new. All of it's hard. But we are seeing progress. 

I have been way too tired to blog the last couple nights. So here's a recap of our weekend:

Saturday: We ventured out on the public transportation system all the way down into downtown San José with 2 of the students from here at Port. The kids did really well on the bus. And they also did well at the open market we visited. We saw some cool downtown sights and are some pizza (well, they did...I didn't) and got some ice cream. And then headed back to Port. Thank God for the students. We would literally still be in San José now otherwise. The city is so busy, and the public bus stops aren't always marked well...or at all. Haha

When we got back, the kids were LOCOS!  We think they were so quiet in town because they were super overstimulated by everything. And when we got back, they flipped out. It was a tough evening. And to top it off, the same two students who took us into town offered to watch a movie with the kids so Michael and I could go drink coffee alone or go for a walk. When we told the kids about it, they were fine. Excited, even. And 5 minutes later, I got a whole bucketful of disrespect from one of our female children who shall remain initial-less. I think she wanted us to stay and didn't know how to verbalize it, so she thought if she acted up, we would have to stay. Or my other theory is that she was upset because she felt like us taking a break meant we didn't want to be with her and that was her way of lashing out. Either way, it was ugly and bedtime wasn't pleasant. Lesson of the day: Outings are not the best idea right now. Our kids need major consistency.  But the coffee break was nice and much-needed. :)

Sunday: We woke up tired and frustrated and decided that we needed to do "church" together. We talked to the kids again about how hard this process of becoming a new family is. We told them about the dream I had about them and that even though it's hard, we know that God made us a family and that we trust Him to help us do this together. We read Philippians 2:1-12 in Spanish and English. And we sang 3 worship songs in both languages. "Abre Mis Ojos/Open the Eyes of My Heart" (which they love!!!  They were singing it in the shower.), "Cantaré de Tu Amor Por Siempre/I Could Sing of Your Love Forever", and "Hosanna."  They LOVED singing in Spanish and knew some of the songs already. 

After lunch, our friends came over and brought some wicked awesome Costa Rican fruit!!!  We had pipas (un ripened coconuts), from which we drank coconut water and ate the meat. Deliciosas! 
Una pipa getting nice and cold in our fridge. :)

 And we had granadillas, which our friends called "monkey snot."  It was weird looking, but very good! 
For real...I know it looks like frog eggs, but it's good. I promise. 


 And we also had "hairy eyeballs," which are really called "mamon chinas."  They taste like grapes!  If you can get past the texture thing, they're awesome!  

We will for sure miss the fruit here. Especially fresh-squeezed cas juice. Mmmmmm...

The kids chased ducks most of the day yesterday. There was (yes, past tense) - a duck family with 24 patitos. And another mama with 4 chicks. (There is apparently a gato loco here on campus that eats all the patitos eventually.) W and G and I had an interesting conversation about the mama duck with 4 babies. Two of her babies were very weak and not doing well. She was completely ignoring them and even stepping on them while they were suffering!  G got really upset and kept yelling, "¡mamá fea!" and "¡mamá mala!"  We talked about how the mama duck was not doing her job to care for and to protect her babies. G and W decided that the 2 sick patitos needed a new mama. W announced, "Los patitos necesitan una adopciòn."  And they went in search for a new mama for the babies. They finally found one with a small nest and gave the babies to her.  They told her to take care of the babies because the other mamá didn't. It was their life story being played out with wildlife. And it was therapeutic for all of us. 

We are on our way out of the rainy season now, so the last 2 days have been perfect!  We have played outside a lot...and yet they still have so much energy at bedtime. 

Speaking of bedtime, it's still rough. Landyn and Asher somehow go right to sleep and then stay asleep through all the chaos. It's getting better though, I think...or maybe we're just getting used to it. 

Today we had a brief meeting with our kids' social worker for the court hearing tomorrow. The kids did great answering all the questions, and I did great undertaking EVERYTHING the social worker said to me!  Haha. We go to court bright and early to finalize the adoption!  And the judge is letting us change W's name!  His legal documents all have a slightly different name...a name he doesn't really go by...They are allowing us to change it legally AND give him a middle name since he never had one. We told him he could choose between Gabriel or Miguel. He chose Miguel. :)

Poor G is struggling a lot. And we have had to lay down some firm limits. So today, I took only her into Walmart with me (while Michael stayed with the other 4 in the buseta...oh my.)  She really needed that one-on-one time. She loved shopping and helping pick laundry soap scents and snacks. I learned today that her favorite Disney princess is Ariel and that she loves tuna. She chose tuna over cookies for snack today!  She has been much happier since our Walmart trip...even though taking her made it take twice as long. I think she is finally seeing that yes, we will call her out when she is being disrespectful, but also that we don't love her less for it. At least that's my prayer for her right now. 

So here's what we need prayer for:
-For lots of rest tonight and a smooth bedtime so that the hearing feels like a celebration and not a chore. We are so tired!
-For bonding--we are seeing signs of RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder)... Especially with the older 2. They are bonding indiscriminately with random people they don't know. I am planning a "stranger danger" chat for Wednesday once all the court stuff is done. 
-For chains to be broken. Always pray for this. 
-For night time in general. Four out of five kids have wet their beds this week. :( We bought "Good Nights" and water resistant shower liners (because mattress protectors are nonexistent down here!)
-For new mercies each morning for everybody. 




Today, we went to the kids' school near the albergue at the request of their maestras (teachers) for some proper goodbyes.  And again, Michael and I were surprised and overwhelmed by how much theteachers loved and would genuinely miss our kids!  W's teachers were both crying.... a lot...as they gave him gifts and snapped photos with him.  He was very serious the whole time he was interacting with them, but he was a totally different kid with his compañeros.  The kids came away with many cartas (letters) and regalitos (small gifts).  

W's special ed teacher spoke English well, so she was able to communicate many details to us.  She kept thanking us for what we are doing.  She said that she and the other teachers had started to worry that they would never have a family.  She told us that she has grown to love W so much over the past couple years and that their tears are tears of happiness.  She kept telling us that she will pray for us--that God will bless us.  And she begged us not to return them...ever.  We told her that we know it won't be easy, but that this is forever.  Returning them is not an option for us.  No matter how hard it gets.  She gave us her name and email and asked us at least 6 times to send her updates.  It was a sweet surprise after a couple of hard days.  It have us hope that things won't always be this hard!!  Haha

Things overall have been better today than yesterday.  We are working through a lot of deep heart issues right now.  My good friend, who also has 3 adopted Ticos, told me that it's actually a good thing that we are seeing these behaviors because it means the kids feel safe enough with us to act out.  As frustrating as it can be, it's true.  And our goal is for them to feel safe enough to turn off the survival mode switch...for the fight or flight response not to be the default anymore.  At the moment, everything feels like one step forward, two or three steps back.  But we are getting there little by little.

We expected everyone of the behaviors we've seen so far....and there have been quite a few.  So it's not that we have been caught off guard or that our expectations were unrealistic.  It's just that when it's 3 at once....and our 2 bio kids are needing our attention, too, it's extremely exhausting.  The one thing I've really struggled with is that we were taught in our training to say yes more than no the first year.  That has been the hardest thing this week.  The kids' paperwork declared over and over that the kids (especially one in particular) need very firm limits.  We can't say yes more than no when every single limit is being tested every 5 minutes.  And I felt really guilty and discouraged about that yesterday.  Over the last 2 days, we've had to say "no" more than we'd like to.  But if we are every going to function as a healthy family, we desperately need limits and boundaries.  So we have "laid down the law," so to speak...as gently, but firmly as possible.  And we are seeing the fruits of that today already. I'm sure we'll backtrack a little (or a lot), but for now, we're happy with the progress everyone is making.

Bedtime last night was better....because we reminded them of our Family Covenant and that respect means listening the first time....which means you stay in bed....your own bed....and you don't yell....or throw things....or hide under someone else's bed and then refuse to come out and then scream for 15 minutes when we gently extract you from under said bed.  (Yep....that's a thing that happened.)  Hopefully, it will be even better tonight.  We are really trying to spend a little time with each child at bedtime, and that takes awhile. Keep praying for this time!  It's the hardest!


Bedtime tonight wasn't terrible either!  Everyone was showered and in bed by 9:10. Read to and lights out by 9:30. It's a little later than we hoped for since the sun comes up and the birds start squawking...I mean singing...at 5:30, but we'll take it!  Plus we had a really crazy, fun, and confusing game of Uno right before showers. The later bedtime was totally worth all the laughs. (W is the worst cheater...and he doesn't seem to actually understand the point of the game.  It made things interesting.)

Poor Landyn fell off the scooter today and hurt her wrist...fell in the same exact place that G did. She's ok, but it hurts a little. And D fell on the sidewalk and scraped his knee. We need to bubble wrap these crazy kids!  Also, D was acting a little sick this evening. We think someone gave him regular milk on his ceral at breakfast, and he's lactose intolerant. :( Normally, we all sit together for meals at one table. (There are 13 students and various staff who love here at Port, and we all eat together.). But we were late for breakfast and had to split up. As I was running from table to table trying to make sure each kid had what he or she needed, someone gave D granola and milk...and he'd already eaten half of it. This afternoon, he was very lethargic and fell asleep on my lap at dinner and slept for an hour. He's fine now, thankfully. 

Today was good. Thanks for your prayers!  Keep them coming!!


I love how a song can take on a whole different meaning in a different stage of life.  I have forever loved the song, "Beautiful Things."  But this week, it has taken on a new meaning for me.  Right now, we are relying solely on God's power to make beautiful things out of dust.  It's the one thing that keeps us going in the hard moments.  

Today, for me, God made a beautiful moment out of dirty laundry.  As I walked (by myself for once) to the lavadora (washing machine), I had this huge peace sweep over me.  It was so sweet and powerful, I almost cried right there.  And in that instant, I knew that someone was praying for me.  I literally felt it from head to toe.  (Thank you to my cousin, Dawn, who was praying at the moment...and to anyone else and everyone else who is lifting us up.)

I just keep thinking about the lyrics to that song...

"All this pain, I wonder if I'll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all.
All this earth, could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all?"

I feel that's exactly where we are with our kids right now.  There's so much pain and need for change.  So much as been lost.  Their first family.  Their innocence.  Their confidence in the people who were supposed to love and care for them.  Years of milestones and special days with no family to celebrate with.  But our God is the Redeemer.  And He actually has the power to restore what has been lost.....what has been taken.  And by His power, we are taking back what the enemy has stolen from their sweet little lives.  Bit by bit, we are gaining ground.  Because He does make beautiful things out of ugly messes all the time.  I am praying that I will be able to see the beauty in every moment...even the ones that are messy and covered in ugliness.

"You make me new...You are making me new."

I feel like I am becoming someone new through this new stage of the process.  The mother I have been to Landyn and Asher has to change.  These 3 need me to be someone with more patience and grace.  Someone who sees them, not for their behaviors, but for who they were created to be in Jesus.  It, like most of the big steps in the journey, is a painful process.  I have to be so much more intentional about everything!  Our life was comfortable before this....easy.  That's not the case anymore, and that's ok.  We would rather be right here in the center of God's plan for His Kingdom and for our family than anywhere else...no matter how comfortable.

Here are some highlights from today:

Our Ticos are as picky about food as L and A!  But they do seem to love rice, broccoli, most fruits, potatoes, grapes and bananas.  They are funny about meat....like Landyn.  They don't like mushrooms, but they like salsa de tomate (which is like sweet ketchup) on almost everything!  They might be disappointed by American ketchup because it is NOT the same thing!

W has been playing soccer with some of the students here, who are college aged.  They are way better at soccer than Michael and I, and plus we are exhausted because W makes us run ALL over the field.  Haha  He yellowcarded me last night when I apparently scored a goal when I wasn't supposed to....but he's a bit of a little cheater, so he may have made up a rule.  Haha

Little D loves his lactose free milk!  He just drank the last little box of it.  He apparently can eat cheese and yogurt??  We will have to have a doctor check this out when we get home!  The whole thing is a little confusing.

G left her hair down today (no pony tail or braid) today for the first time, and it's GORGEOUS!  I tried to take a picture, but she didn't want one.  I will have to sneak one later...

The food here is soooo good!  It's a mix of cultural dishes here!  There are students here from Finland, Germany, Canada, and the States.  And there are Costaricans who live and work here...so we eat a little bit of everything.  The guy from Germany made lunch today, and it was sooo good!  Most of the meals are already gluten free, but when they're not, the cook makes me and the girl from Finland something GF.  I have not been sick here AT ALL!!  It must be the way food is processed here!  (Or unprocessed, maybe.)  I haven't felt this good....maybe ever! 

Michael is picking up a lot of Spanish, and we're learning to understand each kids' little speech quirks.  The language thing is getting a little easier.  W wants to learn English NOW!  Instead of having me read to him last night, he tried to read The Hunger Games in English to me.  He kept asking if I could understand him...the vowel sounds are so different.  Spanish is so phonetic, and English is not.  But I think he will learn quickly.  He's very motivated.

D repeats random things that Asher says...like, "Oh my gosh!"  haha  Oh great.  He's a little monkey.  Monkey see, monkey do.  Monkey hear, monkey repeat.  

The kids are LOVING drawing with Michael.  They are going to miss him when we go home and he's at work all the time.  

Poor W is a lot smaller than the size they gave us for his clothes.  And we even erred on the side of "smaller" because we read in his medical file that he was little.  And his clothes are still too big!  Poor guy!  He at least found a few pairs of shorts to wear that don't come down to his calves. 

The kids love music.  And they like to play the piano in the main building.  G sang "Abre Mis Ojos" (Open the Eyes of My Heart) with me the other day.  She already knew it from church, I guess!  How cool is that?!

And bedtime is by far the worst part of the day!  They all take so long to settle down. We are trying to figure out a better routine. Pray for that!!  And keep praying in general. Today was much better than yesterday, and I know it's because The Lord is answering prayers left and right!!!



Battles

The events of today reminded me that we are indeed in a war. A war over the souls and lives of these 3 kids. A war against hopelessness and fear. And today, the battle got real. 

Up until this point, things were new and tentative...and the kids knew they still had to go back to the albergue each night. Now that they know they are ours "por siempre," there are some serious boundaries being tested. We knew this would come. We aren't at all surprised by the types or intensities of the behaviors. We were trained for this. We prepared for this. We prayed about this. And yet...there were times today when I felt at a complete loss. This language barrier makes things so hard. We can communicate about a lot of basic stuff...but when it comes to matters of the heart, we are just not there. 

We have tried to stick to mostly positive reinforcement with gentle redirections. And today, that just wasn't cutting it. Some dangerous behaviors were taking place...some emotions out of control...and I raised my voice a bit to explain the seriousness of the situation...to make sure that our expectations were understood. And I made G cry. She's mostly over it now, but she was quite upset with me for about an hour. I tried to explain to her that in our family, everyone gets to be safe...needs to act safe. I think she understands...she just wants to see how far she can push things. And she's learned a lot of negative behaviors in her short life because she needed to survive. It's seriously so hard. 

Sometime last year when we were waiting for these 3...when it was still uncertain as to whether or not they'd ever be ours, The Lord spoke to my heart. I was crying and praying that God would move the process...that they could be ours...and in that moment, The Lord said, "Remember the agony you feel now when they are yours. You will need to remember how badly you wanted to bring them home when it gets hard." Friends, I am in that place. I know that there is wholeness and healing for these 3 in Jesus. I believe Jesus already paid for the full redemption of all of the pain they carry. But there are moments when the battle around us is so intense that it's hard to feel the hope we carry within. 

Tomorrow, we are going to attempt a bilingual family meeting after lunch to work on a family covenant. We are hoping to be able to dialogue about respect and expectations and allow all 5 kids to weigh in on what they believe our family should be about. We are going to make posters for our "promesas" and put them up in our casita. And take them home and hang them in our schoolroom. Pray for my Spanish to be sufficient. Pray for receptive hearts. Pray for peace in our family. 

On a happy note, we get to stay here ALL day tomorrow and Thursday!  Por fin!  We are so tired of appointments!  

Somos siete (We are seven)

Today has been another long day of appointments and emotional moments. We had to pick up the kids at 9:30 for their medical appointments for US Immigration. No vaccines needed!  ¡Qué bueno!  Then we had to go find a place to get passport photos taken. That was a bit of an adventure...walking around in San José with 5 chiquitos. Asher started crying. I think he was overwhelmed by the city.  We had to cross lots of streets...Landyn and our Ticos seemed to enjoy it. 

After the appointment, we came back to Portantorchas for lunch. Then we got a call from our lawyer saying we had to come to PANI to sign the document for legal custody. We went and the people at PANI were so excited for us. Our lawyer kept commenting on how changed W was since last Wednesday. He is a totally different kid. He calls us "Ma" and "Pa". Hahaha. It makes me feel like we're in Little House on the Prarie. But we are blessed that he calls us anything at this early stage!  And tonight, he asked me one more time if they really didn't have to go back to the albergue and I said, "sí." In his typical manner, he got excited and writhed around a little and covered his face. And then...he crawled in my lap and laid his head down!!!  What?!?  Totally wasn't expecting that...but I did play soccer with him in my bare feet, which hurt. A lot. So I guess that was my reward. 

After PANI, we stopped at the albergue one last time to say goodbye and give gifts to the tías. W helped me write cards to them, and G helped me choose lotions for each tía. At the albergue, we were met by the chiquita, B, with the piercing black eyes. She immediately asked me to pick her up. And then she asked Michael to give her a "caballo" ride (piggyback). She squealed and giggled and it was a sweet, but brief distraction from the inevitable. Our kids had to say goodbye to the ladies who have loved them and held them and bathed them and fed them and cared for then when they were sick. For 3 years, these ladies have sacrificed their time and energy to care for our kids. We finally showed them the letter from the lawyer explaining that the kids would not be back. They shared hugs and kisses...exchanged little gifts...and said "adios" one last time. Our kids were too excited to be sad. They ran down the path to the buseta. And as Michael and I turned to say goodbye to 2 of the tías, we realized that they both had tears streaming down their faces. Especially Nuria, the woman who has been with our children since they first became orphans. She had held it in until the kids were gone. Michael and I and the other tía wrapped our arms around her and we all cried. I told her we knew that this is very hard for her and that we are thankful for her. She told me that she will miss them so much, but she knows they will be ok. It was seriously sooo hard. I have a lump in my throat just writing about it. I am so thankful my kids had someone like her in their lives when we could not be there. 

We also learned today that Ticos drink cafe at young ages. It's a cultural thing. And also a really bad idea. D is currently running in circles and wrestling with Asher for a ball. We are praying he calms down soon so we can put them to bed!  Those birds come out and start squawking at 5:30..


Highlights: 

W and G know more English than we thought.  They keep surprising us. 

Now that we are 7 por siempre, limits are being texted already. Ay yi yi. G and D are stubborn, and it's hard to communicate some of these things in Spanish. Pray for patience and understanding. 

They all love for their water bottles to be in the freezer and turn to hielo (ice). Tonight, D said, "Mi hielo. Que Rico. Hielo Rico."  Silly boy. 

For better or for worse, somos siete. Pray hard for us as we enter this new stage. And pray for bedtime tonight. Haha. That coffee still hasn't worn off. 


Albergue

I am sooo tired, and we have to get up super early tomorrow for another day of running around...and hopefully get permanent custody of our kids. So today's update won't be too long...

Today, we had some down time this morning. We had intended to go to an international church with some of the students and the director here at Port...but we must have gotten used to the loud birds because this was the first day we slept past 5:45 or 6!  We woke up at 7, which was too late to get ready. Also, we probably slept in because we were awakened several times last night by some creature apparently trying to kill some other creature...off and on...for hours!  Something was running arounf and screeching on the metal roof!  I told L and A it was la chupacabra...and now Asher is a little afraid of going outside at night. Haha. 

This afternoon, we went to the kids' albergue to spend some time with them on their "home" turf one last time before every thing changes. We wanted to help them take pictures and videos of things they want to remember later. And we wanted to have a chance to talk to their tías with a translator just in case there was anything we needed to know that was getting lost in translation. And since I'm only understanding about 80% of what our kids are saying, I wanted to be sure that they didn't have any more questions before this big step. 

I spent a lot of the afternoon swallowing around a lump in my throat. For many reasons. First, I know our kids will miss their friends a lot. I don't think they realize it yet in the midst of this exciting new adventure...but the loss and grief will come at some point. And there is one tía who has been with our kids from the time they entered the system. Her name is Nuria, and I can see in her eyes that her heart is so happy and so sad at the same time. She gave me a folder of baby pictures of D and older photos of W and G. As I watched her hold D on her lap, I felt sad for her and the loss she will feel...the loss the kids will feel when the sense of adventure wears off. I think she's been the closest thing to a mama they've had.  None of this is easy. 

And then there are the other kids in the albergue. I spent some time holding a sweet baby boy for awhile. He ended up falling asleep on my chest, and it broke my heart to put him in his crib in the corner of the common room. The tías are wonderful, but that sweet baby needs a family and a home. As I whispered a prayer over him before I placed him in his crib, my heart just broke. And then there are the twins. Two 8 year-old boys who asked us to find them a family in the US. What do you even say to that?  The one twin kept touching Michael...almost like he believed if he could just touch him, somehow it would do something magical. The other twin crawled in my lap for awhile. An 8 year old boy. He just wanted me to hold him. It was all I could do not to cry.   And then there's a tiny 4 year old girl with eyes that pierce your soul. Seriously. I would take them all if I could. 

W and G had their trash bags packed with the few belongings they can call their own. School books, the clothes we gave them on Saturday, and the Tico version of Pokemon cards. Landyn and Asher had a really hard time at the orphanage. Asher cried and said he wanted his stuffed animals at home. Landyn just said she didn't like it there. We got a chance to talk to them a little about what life is like for these kids...what life has been like for our kids. It was hard for all of us. 

G was upset that she had to stay one more night. W said he's ready for tomorrow AND he read English words to me today!! Colors and animal names!  Who knew!?  D was still wearing his Cars shirt. He still doesn't really know what's going on, but he lets me give him muchos besos all the time...so it's all good. 

Tomorrow, we have to take them to the doctor for their immigration physical exams. I think there may be vaccinations involved. :( Pray for that. We are supposed to be bonding with them...and we have to take them to get shots. 

And...we rode the bus tonight...the public one!  Into Guadalupe!  Some of the girls who are students here invited us to go to church with them. It was a bilingual church where they are basically living out the book of Acts...and they did Jesus Culture and Bethel...in English and Spanish. Talk about Heaven touching earth!!!  Such good worship!  The bus was a little scary, and we would've been lost if we had been by ourselves...but it was kind of fun!

Pray for everything to go through smoothly with custody tomorrow. The kids are so ready. Honestly, they would have been fine if we'd kept them since Friday. And keep praying for rest and for no more chupacabras on our roof. And pray for those babies who will be left behind in the albergue. Pray for people to respond to God's heart for adoption. Pray that they won't be left as orphans. 

Almost normal

Today felt really "normal" and comfortable!  No more broken bones today, praise Jesus!  And G hasn't complained of too much pain.  The kids slept in a bit this morning and had fun picking out their clothes.  This evening, we will take them back to the albergue for 2 more nights.  G wasn't thrilled with this plan.  She told me she would rather stay with us, but I told her she can say goodbye to her friends and tias and get her "regalos" (gifts) that we sent back in September.  Then on Monday, they will be ours "por siempre."  G keeps asking me, just to be sure.  I keep telling her, "En el lunes, ustedes van a venir aqui (a Portantorchas) y van a vivir con nosotros por siempre."  And she asks, "Por siempre?"  And I say, "si."  Then she either gives me her electric smile and squeezes my hand or gives me a hug, or she covers her face.  Both she and W tend to cover their faces when they get really excited or happy....like they feel like it's something they have to hide.  Pobrecitos.  The scars from their life before us are evident throughout our little everyday interactions.  We have a long road ahead...

Here are some highlights from today along with other fun facts about our Ticos and our time here:

This morning, we walked into town with the family that runs Portantorchas.  The town we are in is called San Antonio de Coronado...or something close to that.  Haha  It's quaint and relatively safe to walk through during the day.  We went shopping at a grocery story there for some more bananas (muchasssss bananas) and other snacks since the kids are already eating us out of house and home!  And we were able to see some of the sights.  There was a fruit market with gorgeous displays of tropical fruit everywhere!  And ginormous grapes from Chile!  We will definitely have to go back there!  And there were several bakeries (which I can't eat at anyway), but they smelled awesome!

G is calling both of us by our parental names.  D has been all along.  I think W may have called me "Mama" yesterday....but he speaks quickly and stutters when he's nervous, so I'm not positive.  He did refer to Michael as Papa at least once...not to him, but about him.  It's good progress!

W LOVES Michael!  And he is a huge cheater at the game of Uno!  He seems to really enjoy card games in general.

Our Ticos like bedtime stories just like Landyn and Asher!  But we for sure need more Spanish children's books.  I'm already tired of "La Oruga Muy Hambrienta," and we only had them overnight once so far.  

I am starting to be able to understand D's little 4-year-old Spanish.  He says "mamo" for "vamonos" (let's go).  And the ONLY verb he ever conjugates is querer.  As in "Yo quiero eso.  Yo quierolo.  Yo quiero mas.  No yo quiero eso."  All of his other verbs are "a ver" for "Look!" or "I want to see!"  and " a comer" for "eat".  

D LOVES Lightning McQueen!  We brought him a Cars t-shirt and hat, and when we found out he doesn't wear diapers (we were told he did), we bought him McQueen undies.  He is wearing everything Cars that he has today, and he keeps telling me that they're all the same.

W picked out his own clothes today, and he matched them perfectly!  And then he and Papi played futbol in the rain...and he fell...BUT after he fell, I was walking by and he called out, "Mama, mis pantalones estan sucios."  Did you catch that?  "Mama"  That, my friends, is a first.  He more than likely ruined the shirt he was wearing, but he said "Mama!"  

W and G love Temple Run.  We are having trouble getting our phones back from them!  They call it "El Bosque" (the forest).  We are slowly trying to figure out some boundaries and limits on their screen time....while trying to say "Yes" more often than "No."  Very, very difficult.

Landyn and W love to play fuzbol ("futbolin" en Spanish).  W seems to be bonding with L pretty well!

The older 2 are really excited about riding bikes in Ohio...except we don't have one for W yet.  If anyone has a used 20 in. boys' bike they want to sell us (for a decent price...because we are going to be so broke after this trip), let us know!  We need to have something there for him when we get home.

G and D are afraid of dogs.....Uh oh.  Haha

W is starting to test some limits.  It's a little frustrating because of the language barrier, but it's also a sign that he is feeling comfortable and safe enough with us to try that...

W loves anything with peanuts.

D apparently isn't totally lactose intolerant.  He can eat cheese and yogurt....his tias said he just needs to drink lactose free milk.  So, we bought some at the little grocery store up the street.  

All 3 of them do this thing where when they get overly excited or overstimulated OR if they are just too happy to deal with life, they cover their faces.  I'm not sure what it means...




We were all a little sad to take the kids back to the albergue tonight.  G kept asking me to clarify the plans for the weekend and Monday. And she asked to wear her new clothes back.....and to take her raincoat....and her monkey nightgown.....and some peanuts.  We just couldn't say no.  She told her bed, "ciao" several times before we left, and W even crawled into his bed and got under the covers and was muttering something unintelligible very quickly in Spanish.  And little D wanted to wear his Lightning McQueen shirt and take his tortuga raincoat.  He didn't seem to understand where we were going and why, but he seemed ok when we dropped him off.  W gave HUGE hugs to both Michael and I.  G was a little distant with us....probably because her little heart is confused about where she should want to be.  And D let me give him lots and lots of besos before we left.

Then, on the way home, our driver, Don Abel, asked us if it was ok if we stopped at a house nearby for a Thanksgiving celebration with missionaries and church friends he knew.  We said, "Why not?"  (We found out that Don Abel is a follower of Jesus last night after G's hospital visits.  You'd think we'd stop being surprised by how God has orchestrated every detail....)  So we ended up in this missionary family's house talking about our adoption and their ministry and life!  There are so many amazing people here in Costa Rica!  It's ridiculously awesome!  I could totally just move here.....and I'm sure that no one who knows me would be the least bit surprised by that!

Yesterday, I was worrying about finances.  It costs A LOT to have a driver takes us everywhere, but it's the safest form of transport with 5 kids in tow.  I was praying last night that God would somehow help us with this.  Tonight, after Don Abel dropped us back at Portantorchas from the Thanksgiving party, he refused to let us pay!  What a blessing!!!!!  It's just more evidence that God is in every single, tiny, little detail.

So, overall, today was almost normal!  Whatever that is!  It's still very hard!  I had some moments of intense sadness today.  With our older two, we can sometimes actually see the battles between fear and longing, pain and healing, and doubt and hope playing out on their little faces as they try to navigate each step of this process of becoming a family.  And for us, and especially for me, I think I loved them so fiercely before...and now that love has to change and grow to meet them exactly where they are...and sometimes they're in dark places.  It hurts to walk through those places with them.

In the past 36 hours, I've learned that D loves "luces."  "Mami!  Hay luces!  Mami!  No hay luces!"  He wants to see light.  He loves the light.  Jesus, please, keep drawing them toward Your light.  Because in Your light there is life and love, and perfect love casts out all fear.