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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was back then, though. This is now.

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

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

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

Romans 8:15

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

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

Bridges and Villages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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