Thursday, December 19, 2013

Thirty Things I'm Thankful For

Seems as if the majority of people on facebook take each day of November to post something they are thankful for.  Well, our November was C.R.A.Z.Y. with Quinn's 4th birthday, Nora's homecoming, Thanksgiving, and our 11th Anniversary, so I was not in the majority posting my 30 things.  I do, however, believe in the power of a thankful heart and even though I truly am thankful every day, wanted to dedicate this post to 30 "things" I find myself thanking God for.

1. Jesus coming to this world as a baby boy (a.k.a. Christmas).  I am always amazed that Jesus' death seems to have so much holy weight to it and yet, if He never would have come to this earth first, He never would have been able to leave it and therefore save us from our sins' punishment.  As much as I am thankful for Easter and that gift of grace at the end of His life, I am even more thankful for His choice in coming to earth in the first place.

2. Socks.  I am not a fan of bare all really.  I will not be the person you see running around barefoot and fancy free.  I will not be loving the feeling of grass on my bare feet in the summertime.  I will not be the first in line for a pedicure (in fact, I've never had one).  I will, however, always be thankful for my warm cotton socks.  I love feet...covered up in socks.  No, I have no idea where this has come feet trauma that I am aware of at all.

3. Putting the kids to bed...but not because it finally gives me quietness, but because it has evolved into a beautiful family time.  After several years of Micah and I taking turns putting the kids to bed we realized we had found ourselves in a place where neither one of us really wanted it to be "our turn" to put them to bed.  We were even getting lazy in getting them to bed on time because we were silently hoping the other one would simply dib it their turn and therefore free the other one from having to get up off the comfy warm couch and help them.  By the end of that "era" it wasn't pretty.  One evening, Micah, in his wisdom, suggested that instead of this battle we really should both start putting them all down together every night we were all home.  His hopes, I think, were to see this time become a family time we both looked forward to instead of a time we were annoyed with.  I won't took me a little bit to warm up to the idea (what mom isn't tired by that time of the day), but now that we have been consistently doing this for several years, I find myself incredibly thankful we are together as a family for those precious minutes almost every day.

In that time frame we each get the chance to name things we are thankful for that day.  It has been wonderful to hear what all our children say as well as knowing we are instilling in them the desire to recall what good things are happening all around them.  After mentioning all of these "thankfulness things", we pray as a family thanking God for the things we have mentioned and lifting any other prayer requests we may have.  Who actually does the praying for our family is on a rotation that involves all of us and the kids have it memorized at this point.  I love hearing them pray.  I love knowing they are hearing us pray.  I love that God is getting talked to by each of us in the presence of the others.  After prayer, the person who prayed also gets to choose a song to sing as a family.  These songs range from made-up silly songs, to praise songs, to songs Micah and I know from our camp days, to Christmas songs, to songs the kids have learned at school.  We end our time together every night with a big group hug or pile-up (or dog pile as we call it-ha!)  Even Nora, with her limited English, will get excited about our family time together by saying "Group Hug!" and smiling ear to ear as we all press in together.  They are daily moments I cherish and I'm so thankful for them.

4. A warm, cozy house.  I really love our house.  I love the location, I love the "feel" of it, I love the neighbors, I love the yard, and I love that God has allowed us to live in it.  I am more aware than ever after traveling to Haiti three times now that there are far too many who do not have this luxury.  I am thankful for the house God has provided for us.

5. Short hair.  I can not express enough how thankful I am to have short hair.  Yes, my daughter may think I look like a boy still and desperately plead for me to grow it back out like a girl, but this Mama ain't doing it!  The perks FAR outweigh the sacrifices.  With short hair it takes me less than 1 minute to style it and be ready to go, it does not need any electrical appliances to make it look finished, it does not blow into my eyes/face/mouth when it's windy, it does not get caught up in zippers or make my vacuum cleaner clogged, and it does not give me headaches from the weight of it all.  Yes, there are some impressive bed-head mornings and, yes, it can be a bit sad to not have fun "up-do's" for fancy nights out (because those come soooo often these days), but like I said, those are never going to win out over the pro's.  Plus, the added bonus is I get more compliments from random strangers on this haircut than any other I have ever had.  WooHoo!

6. Friends of the past.  One of the songs we sing at bedtime as a family comes from my elementary school Brownie days.  The words are "Make new friends, but keep the old.  One is silver and the other's gold."  I am a FIRM believer in the truth of this song.  I am so thankful that God has had so many, many, many people cross my path throughout life.  Facebook has helped me reconnect with many of them and I absolutely love the memories that come when I see their faces.  I am who I am because of the experiences in my past and the people who experienced those events with me.

7. Friends of the present.  Some friends actually could be filed in both #6 and this one--some friends of my past are still my friends of the present, yet I see God continuing to bring forth even more beautiful people in my life now who bless me with friendship.  I am thankful God surrounds us with fellowship in the here and now.

8. Ice Cream.  It is my dessert downfall.  Even in winter I could eat a bowl every night if I allowed myself to.  I love it.  I am thankful it exists in this world and I am really hopeful it is on the table of the banquet in Heaven.

9. Water Aerobics and Water Zumba.  I have a chest disease called Costochrondritus and it flares up a lot when I am exercising anywhere but in the water.  I am thankful these classes exist for people who still want a great workout without the stress on their joints and cartilage.  Plus I can not think of many more fun things than to be dancing around with other ladies when no one can really see how badly those dance moves look because they are all under the water!

10. Elderly people.  The older I get the more I want to glean from their years of wisdom before it's too late.  One particular woman in our church has my undivided attention right now.  When Arlene's mouth opens, I am listening.  She is a powerful woman of God and one whom I'm incredibly grateful to have prayed with.

11. Sexiness.  Oh, this is a good one!  This past year I decided to make it my goal to be more sexy.  Yep.  You just read that right.  Sexy.  Now hear me out on this one...I haven't changed my entire wardrobe to have more than half my skin showing because that is what the world calls "sexy".  No, I have had a goal to show my girls (and my boys) by example what is truly "sexy" instead of what the world says is sexy.  To me, sexy is being a woman who is confident in her body and in her abilities.  A woman who knows her body is important and something of value.  A woman who knows her strength is not just about weightlifting but also about her integrity, her character, her desire.  A woman who values her husband and looks to him for direction and blessing.  A woman who loves herself enough to work hard to protect herself from harm--physically, mentally, and spiritually.  A woman like that, in my eyes at least, is definitely sexy.  So, I decided to go after those things harder than I have before this past year.  Let me be loud and clear, this journey towards a "sexier me" has never been about weight loss, but it has definitely included getting healthy.  I've tried healthier foods I never even knew existed, I worked out on average 4 days a week for about a 1/2 hour each day, and I read more Scripture daily than I ever have before.  The process, as well as the results, are things I am thankful for.  I am 9ish pounds lighter, much more aware of what I am putting into my body (yes, it still includes ice cream), much more in tune with the Spirit who lives inside me, confident in who God made me to be and driven to be that person daily not only for the benefit of my husband, my children, my friends, and the others around me, but for myself too.  I am thankful I can now say I think I'm sexy and I know it!  Ha!  I am thankful I can now help properly define what "sexy" is to my next generation of women living in my home.

12. Sunrises and sunsets.  Often I would take my walks in the early morning or late evenings around my neighborhood.  God would speak many things to my heart during those walks and I always enjoyed the beauty of the sunrises and sunsets during those conversations.  The clouds, colors of the sky, and warmth I felt were kisses from the Lord.

13. Micah.  I am more in love with that man today than I ever have been before.  I used to loathe that we are very different from one another in our personalities.  Now, even though there are still challenges because of this, I love that he has taught me many things I would have missed if left only to myself.  I love the man he has become in his own journey over the past 11 years of our marriage.  I have seen him humbled and broken as well as risen and confident in his strength.  I know God is using him to impact people I will never be able to reach and I am thankful I get to be his helpmate and encourager.

14. MIPI (Moms In Prayer International).  I am thankful for this group of faithful women I join up with every week to pray for our specific children who attend school, their teachers, the school's faculty and staff, the school administration, and their fellow classmates.  I love feeling connected to my children and their schooling in a prayer-full way.  Not to mention, I am equally thankful for the fellow moms who pray alongside me.  Their hearts inspire me.

15. Photos.  Maybe it's because my dad's camera was basically another family member growing up, but I truly love photos and am thankful they exist.  There is nothing so special as moments of time being recorded and documented in such a way as to capture the essence of that very moment in the form of a photo for others to enjoy.

16. Modern technology and conveniences such as refrigerators, stoves, microwaves, televisions, computers, dvd players, and phones.  They may bring some disadvantages to our lives, but overall, they are very helpful to my day.

17. Teachers.  Education runs strong in our family tree.  My dad's side as teachers, principals, superintendents, and my mom's side as art teachers.  Even I started college out as an elementary art education student, but it was quickly discovered that teaching really wasn't my forte.  When I see several of my homeschooling mom friends around me doing what they do and loving it, I think, "Yep, that just isn't my calling."  I value education strongly, however, and therefore am extremely grateful for teachers who do what I do not find enjoyable at all.  Thank you for teaching my kids!

18.   The journey of adoption.  Yes, it was a long 2 year, 4 month process, but it had much beauty along the way.  Even in the midst of sorrow and hard moments, it was a place where God spoke to my heart in ways I'd never heard or recognized before.  You think going into adoption that you are helping out another fellow human being, but God has so much more in store for you than that.  The journey, and all that comes with it, is one to be thankful for.

19. Lily.  My firstborn.  My stubborn girl who was two weeks late with two inductions.  My second "Mama" around this house.  My rule-follower.  My mini-me in more than just looks.  My giver of all she has for others.  She is a gem.  She is a delight.  She is a joy to watch grow up.  I am thankful for her life.

20. Tobias.  My first boy.  My sensitive soul.  My fighter for life.  My more quiet and tender spirit.  My creative and imaginative one.  We were so close to losing him and I find myself always thankful for the days we have been given with him.  I can't imagine life without his sweet smile.

21.  Quinn.  My last boy.  My uniquely confident one.  My jokester.  My Mr. Independent.  My silly and mischievously sneaky son.  He keeps me on my toes and creates a day with never a dull moment.  I am blessed and thankful for the dynamic he throws into this family.

22. Nora.  My lastborn.  My girl born in my heart and not in my belly.  My cheerful and happy one.  My determined and discovering two year old.  My delight to have a part of this crazy crew.  I am thankful that when we said yes to God's call for adoption, she was who He had in mind for us.

23. My church.  I am blessed to be a part of what God is doing at Maple City Chapel.  I am thankful for who He is impacting because of the work being done there.  I love going to church knowing that no matter what, God's Spirit is moving, active, and alive among the people there.  Prayers are being prayed, Praise is being given, Thankfulness is active, and the Kingdom is being added to.

24. My garden.  I have loved two seasons now of planting, caring for, and harvesting my own food.  It has helped on our grocery budget, gotten me outside more, provided more healthy foods for our bodies, and enabled my children and I to watch something grow from a seed to a food on our plate.  Those are priceless lessons lost when you buy everything from a store.

25. Good Morning Girls.  If you are unfamiliar with this online Bible study, you can find more information here.  God has used this study to open up His Word to me daily and hold me accountable to applying His Word to my present life.  There is nothing more special than knowing exactly how God's Word is alive and active in your own personal life.

26. Music.  There is not much that can stir my spirit more than music in all it's various forms.  Whether I'm jammin' to my hip hop, latin, and zumba groves, being led through a storyline in a broadway musical, glorifying the Lord with some praise and worship music, relaxing to some folk, indie or soul, or simply thinking and praying along to instrumental sounds, God uses music to touch my very soul and I'm so grateful.

27. Vacations.  Vacations were very important to my family as I grew up.  We took them religiously every summer for extended periods of time.  Not once did we ever fly...always drove.  My parents did an amazing job of allowing me to see the history of our country with my own eyes so that when I studied about places in school I could visualize it so much better.  By the time I graduated high school I had been to Canada, Mexico, and 47 of the 50 states.  Since then I have added 3 additional countries to the list as well.  Now that we have our own brood, I look forward to spending time on vacations with them.  We may not be able to afford to do all the trips I took as a child, but spending time as a family away from the normalcy and stresses of daily life is what vacation is all about anyway--it really doesn't matter so much where you go, but how you enjoy the trip.

28. Art.  It is in my blood to be creative and artistic.  I am thankful God has given me that gifting and has shown me so many various ways to use it to bless others.  Some of my most "proud" moments as an artist have been various paintings and drawings I have done over the years to serve as some bit of encouragement to a friend in need, paintings and murals on the walls of my churches, my Etch-A-Sketch calendar project to help raise funds to bring Nora into our family, and even the refinishing of our current dining room table and chairs my dearest loved ones, as well as guests to our home, can enjoy over a meal.  Embracing my gift has been a wonderful way for me to feel like I can give a blessing to others I'm grateful to have been given myself.

29. God's goodness and love.  When it really boils down to the nitty gritty in my life, I have struggled throughout my past to fully trust God.  Hard situations that I did not deal well with or heal properly from right away had unfortunately left me questioning whether or not God was fully on my side.  Fully good.  Fully loving.  Fully who I so desperately wanted Him to be yet for some reason couldn't actually trust Him to be.  The freedoms I have received in more recent years from the lies I was believing have shed such a beautiful light on the Truth that God is nothing but goodness and love in their purest forms.  No matter what life throws at me, I feel as if I now have a spiritual backbone based in the Truth of God that will allow me to trust Him 100% to be good and loving at all times because that is exactly what He is.  He can be no other.

30. Heaven.  I know I'm not fully there yet so I don't even know what I'm fully thankful for about it, but the reality that it exists and I'm a part of it leaves me speechless.  I am thankful God created it.  I am thankful I was intended for it.  I am thankful I have chosen to receive it.  I am thankful I already have sneak peaks of it in my life already.  I am thankful I have dear friends and loved ones waiting for me there.  I am thankful I have the awesome privilege of helping others be there with me.  I am thankful I will be in the Presence of the Holy while I'm in it.  I am simply thankful for the gift of Heaven.

Obviously, there is so much more I am thankful for in my life.  This list could continue on into eternity actually.  I'll stop with 30, but just know that the more I recall and the more I acknowledge what God has given me to be thankful for, the more I look at life through positive, hopeful, loving, and expectant glasses instead of the more pessimistic ones I used to own.  It is truly a blessing to be a thankful person in this world.  Not only a blessing to others, but a blessing to oneself.  Being thankful, among some other Godly things, has changed me.  Changed me more and more into the person God has always intended me to be and...well...I'm thankful for that.

Friday, December 13, 2013

4 Weeks and Counting...What is it Like in Canaan? (Part 2)

*This is Part 2 of a previous post.  If you haven't read Part 1 first, you can read it here!

So, as for Nora at 4 weeks into our Canaan...what all is she doing?  How is she doing?  Short answer...she is wonderful!  Beautiful actually.  Beautifully two years old and all that comes with that.  Does she give us hugs throughout an entire day at random times?  You betcha!  Does she whine when she doesn't get her way?  Incredibly well!  Does she melt down when she's hungry or needs a nap?  Yep, same as our other children did when they were 2!  Does she love to be wrestled with and flipped around in the air by Daddy?  Every day.  Actually, multiple times a day.  Does she need rocked and cuddled?  Thankfully, yes.  Does she get mad at her siblings when they are not doing what she wants them to be doing.  Yep, got that covered too.  Basically, is anything "different" with how Nora is acting than any other full-blooded 2 year old?  Not really.  The only primary difference we see right now is that she doesn't speak English except a hand-full of words and that thrown into the mix of being 2 years old presents a few more challenges to the day.  However, even with that challenge, we can communicate well enough and she is learning more and more words by the day, which has been helpful.  She understands more than she can speak and she knows how to try to get away with things by pretending she doesn't understand.  Yep...she's definitely 2 years old and KNOWS it!  It is awesome watching her learn and discover throughout the day!

Nora saying we don't need the "paper Nora" anymore!

See, it's not always smiles...sometimes a 2 year old is just doesn't want her picture taken.

She fills her day playing with toys and flipping through books, being excited to head out for errands and dancing to music.  All of that happens while she is also trying to understand what is expected of her now and what it's like to have siblings who have needs too.  She gets her hair done or spruced up in the morning and lotion applied to her skin every morning and night because it's so dry.  She is constantly exploring (a good thing) which often leads to hearing "no touch" said throughout the house.  It is a huge time of transition and adjustment for her, but none of this seems to come as a stress to her so far--she takes it in stride and learns as she goes.  Simple things can set her off into melt-down mode--like needing to have shoes or slippers on her feet at all times or wanting every door in our house to be closed, or not wanting anyone to take her coat off once she has it on, or having her sippy cup taken from her too early at the table.  We know these things because we are living closely in our Canaan with her right now, but just as soon as we finally realize a trigger (like those above) she seems to move past it and learns that the whole world doesn't fall apart when her coat comes off so the next day is better in that area and different in another.  Basically, we are learning all about what makes Nora "Nora".  As a general rule however...Nora is active, happy, energetically loud, and positively strong-willed.  She cracks us up with her silliness, we could do without her whininess (what parent of a 2 year old wouldn't say that!?!), and her hearty laugh is contagious.

Do you remember the photo we took on our first trip to Haiti showing how squishable her cheeks were?  They are still squishable!  She cracks up every time she sees this picture!

Here's the photo from our trip (December 2011)  Hee, hee!

For our other children...they are miraculously taking this addition to the family as if she has always been here (and her to them).  Lily is basking in the joy of having a little sister.  It's like a real-life doll to play with!  She is almost always carrying Nora through the house for "rides", helping her with something, or laughing with her.  I've been impressed with her desire to help us with Nora at all costs.  She has been a blessing in this transition.  Toby has been a little more hands-off, but this is much more of Toby's personality anyway.  Nora clearly loves him as she hugs him and sits on him as he is trying to play the wii or watch a movie.  He's never had to deal with an affectionate younger sibling (Quinn isn't typically all lovey-dovey on his brother for some reason-ha!) so it will take some time for Toby to understand what all this little girl needs and how to express his affection towards her.  Quinn is playing the role of the next older brother quite well.  When he isn't trying to help her, he is trying to pick on her and drive her nuts.  Oye!  I think it is clearly a wonderful thing that most of my days are now home with just the two of them--they have some learning to do on how to best play together.  For the most part though, Quinn is doing amazingly well with the transition from the youngest in the family to having to share his toys (and his Mommy) with another little cutie now.  He is even beginning to do some things only a "big brother" would do like help her with her shoes when they have come off once again.

For Micah and myself, well, every day is a day filled with learning, setting boundaries, loving, encouraging, smiling, saying "no touch" and...well...parenting!  That is our focus right now.  How to be the best parents we can be for Nora.  Much of that involves constant observation and interaction.  We have played life more low-key these past 4 weeks so we could get a better understanding on just how Nora needs us to do this parenting thing for her.  We are learning who Nora is, what she needs, what she doesn't need, what she likes, what she doesn't like, what she already knows how to do and what she still needs to learn.  There have been plenty of moments when good parenting means we have had to help Nora learn she can't have whatever she wants by whining and crying for it until she gets it, but that instead, using her words is the better way.  There are other times when parenting means enjoying the signs of built trust--like when she wants us to simply rub and tickle her tummy affectionately instead of pushing us away when we would try to tickle her at all.  Parenting in our Canaan means all aspects of the word.  It is a privilege and gift God has given us.  The gift of intimately learning who this child is in a way all other people will not have the ability to see and know.  It is not one we are taking lightly.

As far as the general's been a good challenge as a parent to prioritize what I know I need to do FOR Nora over what I want to do WITH Nora.  If you are familiar at all with adoption there is a lot of talk about "bonding", "attachment", and what's called "cocooning".  This is where adoptive parents will, in essence, shut the outside world out for a bit of time to focus more solely on their new child's needs.  There are so many "levels" of cocooning just like anything else in life...extremely strict to very loose.  I would say we fall more on the end of loose than strict, but we certainly see the importance of this time of bonding.  What I have noticed is that 4 weeks of time it is not enough time to be able to accurately know what all Nora needs and doesn't need.  I've also noticed these things are more easily seen when she is at home in her comfortable setting.  It is also simply easier for ME to see them when we are at home because it's my own comfortable setting.  I can observe her so much easier when she is the only thing (besides Quinn and the messy house) that needs my direct attention.  When we are out in public, my focus easily gets shifted from what Nora needs to making sure that other people are or are not doing anything that might not suit her needs.  Although these thoughts are still centered around Nora, they aren't actually ON Nora.

For example, when we were on a grocery run the lady behind our cart decided it would be fine to just reach over and touch Nora's wrist and hand while sweetly telling her she has the prettiest eyes she has ever seen.  All of this was happening while I was loading the grocery bags into the opposite end of our cart so I couldn't even  stop it from happening.  What was a very innocent and attempted compliment to Nora became a moment of freaked-out eyes in my baby girl.  Nora shot me a look like "Why is this strange lady touching me and what on earth is she saying because I don't speak English yet?"  Ugh.  Why oh why do people think they have the right to invade the personal space of a toddler when clearly you would not go up to an adult stranger and gently rub their hand while you told them they had the prettiest eyes you have ever seen?  (Seriously, don't get me started)  So, I immediately shifted myself between the stranger and Nora and thanked her for the compliment and assured Nora I was right there and she was okay.  See how my shift had to go from parenting Nora's needs only to protecting Nora from others who were unknowingly not helping to meet her needs, but instead causing fear within her?    Moments like these can happen so quickly when we are not in the "safe place" of our home.

One other example would be going to get my hair cut.  Granted, I get my hair cut in the home basement salon of a friend so I wasn't taking Nora and Quinn with me to a busy hair salon, but still, it was to an unfamiliar place to Nora with a person she had never met.  We walked in and as I got my coat off, I witnessed Nora walking straight over to my hairdresser/friend and reaching her arms out to her for a hug and desire to be held.  Oh my.  The hug happened before I could even say a thing but I at least got the instructions to my friend to not pick her up before that happened too.  Now, to a "normal" mom, this might seem crazy to stop a friend from picking up your child or not really wanting your friend to give your child a hug, but for our parenting right now, we are trying to establish that there are differences between people she has never met before and us as her parents.  You see, in the orphanage, Nora would have been visited frequently by groups of people (primarily white people) on mission trips to Haiti.  Thankfully, these people would simply scoop up the kids, give them gifts, hug them and love on them.  They were signs of affection from strangers that were critical in Nora's future acceptance of our own affection...something we are eternally grateful she received while in the orphanage.  However, our family life now is not orphanage life and the differences need to be established.

There is a line that needs to be established that children who have grown up in a family from birth don't necessarily need to recognize because it has typically always been understood...the things you do to those you love are not the same as the things you do to someone you've never met before.  All of these relationships are fluidly going to change over the coarse of time as Nora understands more and more, but in this transition she has to rely on us as her parents to teach her what is appropriate and what is not.  Hugging a complete stranger just like she used to hug the mission team members or like she hugs her own parents is not okay here even though it was okay for the past two years of her life.  Having her needs (like being held) by a complete stranger instead of her mom or dad is also not okay anymore.  If I think about my friends' children at their toddler ages, I find it hard to remember ever really holding them and hugging them much either.  I held them when they were babies, but as a toddler, that holding place was more readily and rightfully reserved for "Mommy".  It is a hard transition to make because, of course, we would love for our friends and family to be able to hold Nora, hug her, and love on her with us, but for now, we have to help her see us as something different--dare I say it--more important--in her life than any other person she meets along the way.  Being at home with her instead of out and about all the time is helping her bond to us instead of all strangers who, 4 weeks ago, were no different than us.  Teachable moments like the hug at the hairdresser's house, however, are also going to inevitably come along, but keeping them to a minimal at the beginning is what has seemed best for us and, more importantly, for Nora.

The challenging part in parenting her right now, however, is being able to recognize what is Nora's natural personality coming out (and therefore celebrated and encouraged) and what is potential habits that need broken (and therefore discouraged to continue).  For example, in the above scenario with her hugging my friend/hairdresser...we just haven't had enough time with Nora yet to know if she is genuinely just a "hugger" who expresses herself this way or if that is simply a learned habit from orphanage life that she feels obligated to do because she has always done it.  Or, if she is genuinely a rambunctious and outgoing personality that loves attention (which we see around the house all.the.time.) or if that is her way of trying to gain our approval and attention.  Or if her shaking her head "no" to the green pepper on her plate is because she is trying to not eat what we are wanting her to eat in order to test us or defy us or if she genuinely doesn't like the taste of green peppers.  These are all examples of the moment by moment observations and learning we get to do as her parents.  It's kind of like everything a parent of a bio-toddler has learned throughout the course of 2 years of observation is trying to be learned in a few weeks of time.  Reality is that it is next to impossible to do this that quickly and this is also why it is so important for us to be taking the time now to stay much more focused on Nora at our home than trying to do all of that while also having to be aware of everything and everyone else around us.  We are anxious and excited to learn more and more of who Nora is and who she will become so we don't have to hover over her quite so much and give her more and more freedom to discover her place in this family and ultimately this world.  It is part of the joy of parenting!

So, with all that said, we want to thank you all for being so gracious with us as a family as we have lived a bit more isolated in our Canaan these past 4 weeks.  The meals that have been brought in have been a God-send as they have allowed us even more time to parent as Nora needs us.  The respect we have received of our desires to have us be the only people that meet Nora's basic needs like being held, fed, changed, and taken care of have been exactly what we needed.  As we go into this Christmas season with larger family functions and a longer trip to South Dakota for Micah's side of the family's Christmas, we know that the space and respect we have been given will have benefited Nora more than you know and made her much more prepared for embracing her extended family.  We ask that you please continue to give us grace and space as we move on through our "Canaan life".  We especially ask that you give that grace and space to Nora as she makes her way through the learning curves she is being thrown.  Although she has been growing leaps and bounds in these 4 weeks and doing so, so well with it all, like I said above, there is so much more we need to learn and she needs to learn.  There is a future that is unknown to us at this point so we move forward continuing to parent her the best we know how and trusting that God has much joy at each step of the journey.  We will also need to take things as they come and potentially ask others to continue to do things that seem "unnatural" in a normal family situation simply because it is what we know will be best for Nora in the long run.  We look forward to the MANY, MANY times in the future you will all be able to show Nora your love in more tangible ways that she will be able to recognize and understand correctly.

In summary, we are thoroughly enjoying the gifts of the Lord in this land...even in the midst of the typical two year old being stubborn, the four year old trying to be funny, the five year old learning to read, and the seven year old learning her place as the oldest.  Is it the story we were told by many others we would surely experience (discussed in Part 1)?  Thankfully, not really at all.  It is not someone else's story.  It is uniquely ours.  Have these first 4 weeks been the "honeymoon" and now we sense the end of the honeymoon?  Nope, I don't think it's that either...I think it has been a beautiful reality that will simply continue on.  Staying in the place God has called me to--a place where I expect joy and abundance because it is what He has always desired for me--has brought so much richness to these past 4 weeks and I look forward to what is ahead!  Is it the end of the adoption process "wilderness" and the beginning of the Promised Land...the Canaan we have been promised by the Lord?  Yes, I believe it is and we are so eternally grateful to have our feet firmly planted on this side of the journey.

Our "star" this year helping to put the star on our tree

Thursday, December 12, 2013

4 Weeks and Counting...What is it Like in Canaan? (Part 1)

*This post got super long so I'm posting it in a Part 1 and a Part 2.  Stay tuned in and tomorrow I will give you Part 2.


4 weeks today, friends!  WOW!!!  This sweet face has been home 4 weeks today.  I can't believe how fast the time seems to be going.  Another cool "date thing" is that it was 2 years ago this week we were meeting Nora for the very first time.  Here is a photo of Nora on that first trip down...

Still has the same infectious big smile and eyes that can light up a room or melt a heart, that is for sure.

Before bringing Nora home, I heard my fair share of "advice" being given by people who had brought their children home and even completes strangers telling me they knew what was up ahead of me with dread in their voices.  I recall being told I needed to get tons of sleep now before she gets here because once she was here I would be begging for it with all the sleepless nights I would go through, to go out and do whatever I want to do now because once she was home I'd be deprived of life as I knew it, to prepare our other children that Daddy and I would be focused on Nora so much when she got home that they might feel neglected but that we wanted them to know we still loved them, and even to get my backbone ready for harsh words, unkind actions and tantrums galore from Nora to me as the primary care-giver to her throughout the day.  I also was told till I was blue in the face that there would be a "honeymoon" phase for the first month or so and then basically it would spiral downhill from there and THAT was when I'd start to see the "real" Nora and experience what life with an adoptive child was really going to be like...NOT so much joyful, full of laughter, or happiness, but a hard life of uphill and never-ending battles that would make you question why on earth you decided to say yes to adoption.

Typing it all out in that one paragraph comes across kinda harsh, but it was truly my reality in the months leading up to her homecoming.  I would get an occasional more optimistic and encouraging or supporting word from a friend (which I LOVED and was so thankful for), but for the most part those who had been there and walked our shoes (or knew of someone's aunt's neighbor who had experienced adoption) were not giving us a whole lot of wonderful feelings about our homecoming approaching.  Granted, all of these "down and out" messages were ended with a "BUT it is all worth it!" and a smile that I guess was supposed to induce some sort of reassurance to me that I was still making the right choice to adopt, but the messages themselves were not very reassuring.  All of that negativity was starting to get to me.  It felt like I was pregnant with our first child all over again with everyone sharing their horrible labor stories right in the 9th month.  Why do people do that???  I understand and appreciate the simple beauty of story telling--whether it is a positive life story or a negative life story, but there it is something quite different to share your story and then project to the person you are telling it to that they will surely go through the same thing.  No one knows the future.  No one can possibly project what happened to them will indeed happen to another.  There are too many factors that come into play there.  For adoption homecomings there are personality differences of the parents, the children, the aspect of bio children or no bio children, the age of the child, the area the family lives in,  the child's experience in the orphanage or birth family life, etc., etc. etc.  Way too many factors that make each person's experience--each person's story--completely and beautifully unique to themselves.  So hear me well, it's not that I didn't appreciate these people sharing their stories with me, but what was unhealthy towards me was the fact they were literally telling me I would experience the same thing just because I was also adopting.  Anyway, all of this led me to a point where I needed God to shine TRUTH into our homecoming situation.  I was tired of being excited to finally be at the end of the process and yet feeling as if all I was hearing was that I should enjoy this "bliss" now because it was easy compared to what was really coming our way.  Our future was thankfully not written by those around me, however, our future was penned by God Himself and only He would know what it looked like.

On one of the last weeks before flying down to get Nora, I went to our church prayer meeting and the message shared that night was clearly God speaking to me.  The gist of the passage of Scripture being discussed was that even though God had His Israelite children wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, that was NEVER where God intended them to settle.  God meant for His children to be blessed by the Promised Land...Canaan.  His intentions were always for them to have joy, abundance, and prosperity in a land that would meet their every need and bring them delight.  They were meant for Canaan.  I sat there applying those very words written so many, many years ago to my own situation and found the peace I had been needing.  I was God's child and the promise was also given to me.  I was never meant to settle in a dry and weary desert.  I was meant for Canaan too.

I was meant for the Promised Land where my needs are met, joy is found, and abundance and prosperity are never in short supply.  No matter what anyone's homecoming experience was or what anyone thought would be my experience, God was telling me my desert wandering was done and it was time for Him to usher me into my Promised Canaan...where JOY was going to matter what life would be like once Nora was home.  What a change in perspective!  What a NEEDED TRUTH!  No more did I listen to the "advice" others were giving me that brought feelings of dread with fears that this too would happen to us in just a few short weeks.  No more did I wonder would all of this effort and time in the process of adoption be worth what was coming next.  No more did I fear being elated that Nora was home, only to walk on eggshells hoping that the "honeymoon stage" wouldn't end tomorrow.  No more listening to the world and all of it's caution and was all drowned out by the Truth of God's Word...God meant for me and my family to enjoy living in Canaan.  And Canaan was coming.  Coming to us as a little girl came home to us.

So, now that we are 4 weeks into our Canaan, do you find yourself wondering what it's like for us?  Are we really filled with unspeakable joy?  Was there a honeymoon stage after all?  Was God right or were the people right?  Well, let's just say this...I'll take God's Truth over people's opinions any day!  Listening to both of them can literally change your perspective and your experience potentially for the worse or perhaps for the better and one always for the's our choice what we want to go with.  This is something I have battled all my life--being a people-pleaser.  In other areas of my life I have battled this full-blown in recent years and this would just be another place where the battle continued.  No matter how hard I wanted to listen to other people stories and heed all their advice, I had to push their opinions aside because of the negativity they were telling me was going to come and focus solely on what I believed God was saying to me.  I had to chose to believe and trust that His message--the message that this experience of bringing Nora home would be one of joy and Canaan-type living--was True despite all the other messages.

4 weeks in and I believe we are truly living in our Canaan.  We, as in Micah and I, are not only living in Canaan, but we are living in Canaan with a herd of 4 children ages seven and under who still look to us to meet their needs in tangible ways every day.  Ha!  Maybe it's not always "bliss" as if we were on a warm tropical beach, sipping a fruity drink, relaxing without a care in the world (which is what I think most people hope Canaan is like), but it is also NOT been any bit remotely like the stories these people were telling me I would certainly experience.  So far, I've not lost any sleep really, I've still managed to get out of the house for "me" time, the other children are completely a part of our attention, and even though Nora has certainly had her fair share of fits, she has never made me feel like I'm not still in control of the situation.  Now, just like the others could not predict my future, I can't predict my own--perhaps tomorrow will be different than today, but today is good!  Instead of what the others told me I would experience, it has been a beautiful time of living as a family in a place where we have been longing to live for 2 years now...all together, under one roof, in Goshen, Indiana.  God didn't send the Israelite people to Canaan to sit and bask in it all with their freshly squeezed wine...they still had to work the ground and put in effort to make it each day just like we are having to do in our Canaan with Nora.  I believe, the point for them--and for me--was that doing those daily tasks at a place God has always intended for us to be IS paradise this side of Heaven.  That daily life within the place God wants me to be--like watching Nora dance and clap to praise music as well as waiting out her crying fit because I won't let her gorge herself on food anymore----IS Canaan.  Loving and living as a family of 6 and all that comes with that IS our paradise this side of Heaven and, YES, we are loving it!

So, for more information on the specifics of how Nora is doing and what all Nora is doing, as well as how the rest of us are doing and what we are doing at 4 weeks into our Canaan, stay tuned for Part 2 of this post...coming your way tomorrow!