Waves

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!







Snapshots

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!