Sunday, January 21, 2018

Reckless love

I have a confession. Sometimes it's hard for me to actually comprehend how much God loves me. It's hard for me to really truly understand why He chooses to love such an imperfect human. I don't deserve it.

And don't quote the bible to me please - I know what it says. Comprehending that deep in my soul is different than reading it.

Not long ago my husband and I attended a prayer conference with some members of our church. The worship there was the most amazing experience of my life. In the midst of this worship we sang a song that I had never heard before, called "Reckless Love." Music speaks to me often, but this time was so powerful - it finally clicked.

As I sang, I saw this exact moment in my mind:

This moment sums up so much. It was the beginning of a little girl accepting her daddy's love.

I've heard repeatedly that adoption is gospel in action. I always brushed it off, but now I see it.

Adopting V was reckless. That daddy in the picture - he didn't need another kid, he CHOSE another kid. He committed a reckless amount of money that he didn't have, to adopt a little girl he had never met, who lived halfway across the world. He chose a kid who was written off because of the severity of her disabilities. He left his other children home to travel thousands of miles to chose her. He chose to sit with her in a tiny, hot, cramped room as many hours as they would give him, to earn her trust. He chose to pick her up, sing to her, and love her with no expectations in return, and in this moment she received it for a few minutes. He wasn't naive - He knew she may never fully love him in return, he knew her needs were huge, he knew the cost would be great for many years to come. He knew she was a mess. And he loved her recklessly.

Like God loves us.
Recklessly.
Unconditionally.
With no expectations.

I look at my daughter and I see it now. I see how God loves us. As I clean poop off her, chase answers for her, and pour into her, I see it. I know she is a broken, imperfect human. I know she may not yet understand what "forever" or "I love you" means. And I would do it again. If the cost was higher, the miles were longer, and the rewards were less, I would still do it.

I love her recklessly, because she is my child. I love all of my children recklessly, because they are my children.

God loves us recklessly, because we are His children. It really is that simple.

I hope you take a minute to listen if you haven't heard this song. It has blessed my socks off.

Take a deep breath today and just receive God's love.

These lyrics are so true:

There's no shadow You won't light upMountain You won't climb upComing after me
There's no wall You won't kick downNo lie You won't tear downComing after me
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of GodOh, it chases me down, fights 'til I'm found, leaves the ninety-nineI couldn't earn itI don't deserve itStill You give yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God




Saturday, January 20, 2018

An update on the current process

Finally, a long overdue update on where we are in this adoption...

We haven't updated a lot, because this part of the adoption is pretty boring, but very busy behind the scenes. The first step in any adoption is getting a home study done. This is where we hire a social worker to look into our background, finances, home, etc, and determine if we are prepared for another adoption. This process was daunting for our first two adoptions. The first time was, well, nerve wracking because it was the first. The second time was nerve wracking because it was the first international adoption, so very different. This time has been much easier, because it was very similar to the last time, so we knew what to expect. The home study takes awhile, but a lot of that time is waiting - for background checks, for the social worker to have time to come here, for her to write and edit it, etc. Our home study is currently complete and being reviewed by our agency, which is great! We expect to have it in our hands next week.

While finishing up the home study, it's time for the next step - dossier prep. This is where you gather the documents required by the country that you are going to. We have a big chunk of the dossier done. A couple of weeks ago we took 27 dossier documents to have them state certified, and sent them off to go with a traveling family to our children's country. A couple of the forms need to be filed now, but the rest will be translated and wait for the rest of the dossier to arrive so that our complete dossier can be filed and we can receive approval to meet our children. Filing is the last step, which can't be complete until our USCIS approval is in hand.

Next, we file for USCIS approval. We need pre-approval for our child to immigrate into the country. This approval is taking awhile right now, so it will cause some waiting. I'm guesstimating between 2 & 3 months, but I'll start obsessing over timelines and comparing with others, and get a better timeline pretty soon. ;-) This doesn't completely take care of immigration - we still have to file for final approval and a visa after the adoption is complete and before we can bring our children into the US. However, all of this work (& expense) ahead of time means that our children will become citizens as soon as we enter the US. We will file for this approval as soon as we have the home study in hand, so it will most likely be next week. Then we wait.

After our USCIS application is approved, we send it over the ocean, our dossier is filed, and we wait for travel approval. Right now it's taking about 3 months from submission to travel (a few weeks for approval and then travel a few weeks after that), but again, I'll have a more accurate guesstimate soon. The time lines for USCIS approval, dossier approval, and travel can also speed up or slow down depending on a lot of things, so we plan very loosely and pray a lot once the home study is done. And fundraise like crazy.

SO - my best guess is we'll be traveling in 6 months or so. We'll fundraise like crazy for the next few months, and try not to plan the big stuff at the end of the time period, just in case. We'll plan for our kids and home very loosely, and finalize things when we get our travel dates.

The biggest challenge is coming up with $30k in 6 months. We have taken care of most of the up front costs from savings, but now we HAVE TO fundraise the rest. We tapped everything there was to tap for the last 2 adoptions (especially the last international adoption) & to get this one started, and now we can't do it on our own ability. We have to fundraise. On the flip side of that - this time we know what we're doing, and our community is already beginning to step up to help us. We have a daunting number in front of us, but we also have the faith to know that God will provide. 

If you want to be part of helping us fundraise, please contact me. It can be as simple as an idea for a fundraiser, or as complicated as putting one together for us. It can be donating an item we can sell, giving time to a fundraiser, making a financial donation, or pooling money with friends to create a matching grant that can help us garner additional donations. It's all equal. Every dime, every hour of help, every prayer is appreciated. We don't consider any of it to be small - it's all love for our family and our newest little boys, and that is huge. It's all huge to us, and God sees it all. Thank you to those who have already come along beside us - we have already been moved by you. And thank you to those who still will. You are all our heroes.

P.S. Take a look at the pages across the top - the Cost page is updated and a Fundraisers page is in the process. They'll both be updated regularly as we go, so check back if you're curious what we're up to

P.P.S. Tax deductible donations can be made at https://reecesrainbow.org/123291/sponsoroden-2 







Thursday, January 18, 2018

Two years free...


Today marks two years since I picked this little spitfire up from the institution. I almost can't imagine her as the little girl in this picture...

V's listing picture

The girl that we met that first day was deeply locked in her own world. She had constant tics. She had no language. Zero. She is profoundly deaf and had never heard or seen language. She had the self help skills of an infant. We were warned she may never learn. She was a scary choice, but she was God's choice for us, so we bravely made that choice.

Well, she learned. She's growing, changing, and learning. Her tics are gone. She's calm and smart and interactive.

A couple of weeks home

About a month home

She's beautiful, vibrant, and sassy.


She's smart. Yes, she has a significant intellectual disability, but she can out smart all of us. She figures things out. Language is hard, but it's coming. We stopped counting at 100 signs. She's learning to have simple conversations. She understands tons of signs. She amazes us.


Home is her favorite place. Daddy is her favorite person, but Mommy is moving her way up on the list. ;-) She is adored by many.


She loves chickens, cheese, swinging, and fish. She is learning independence and her confidence is growing.

Ecstatic about the chickens at the fair

She has had two years of family, medical care, education, love, & nutrition. Two years of ordinary family life, and she has blossomed.


She entered our lives and made them extraordinary. Our family may have changed her, but she has changed us just as much.

Halloween. She was a farmer. She loved it.
My sweet V, freedom looks good on you. I can't wait to see what the next 60 years hold. 


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Perfection, daddies, and meeting our sassy girl

My favorite memory from adopting our sassy girl - as written a few months after it happened, but being shared now - almost 2 years later. Enjoy. :-)


When you start the adoption process, you spend a lot of time thinking about the moment you're going to meet your child. It all boils down to that moment. Maybe it's picture perfect for some people - I guess it has to be, since there seems to be plenty of videos circulating the internet, but I'll venture a guess that it's not that way for most people.  Anyway, I digress. So here's our story.

I was nervous, in a time zone 8 hours different from home, jetlagged, and I didn't sleep much at all the night before. Our day started at 6am when our facilitator picked us up for the drive. If my memory is correct, the drive from our apartment to our daughter's region was about 2 hours. And guess what? I get carsick! I honestly didn't even think it would be an issue because I rarely get carsick at home - the roads are straight and smooth and I sit in the front seat. However, in the back seat of a car on bumpy roads is a recipe for me feeling like I'm going to puke all day. So, here I am exhausted, nervous, and nauseous. First stop - the regional social worker's office, where we met the woman whose approval we had to have for our adoption, who then rode with us for the hour drive to the orphanage.

At the orphanage we were ushered into a room and we were surrounded by staff, the social worker, and our facilitators. Then they brought in this little girl - she was ALL OVER THE PLACE. She was in constant motion. No attention, no focus, impossible to reign in. It was as if they had let her out of a cage and she felt she had to move constantly to expend the pent up energy. Forget eye contact or connection or "here are your parents" or picture perfect moments. She was tiny and wild and completely locked in her own world. And while we were trying to take this all in, the staff was bombarding us with information about her and none of it was good. The list of medical concerns was long and scary. Our facilitators told us we didn't have to make a decision today, to take our time. Our translator asked us if we could really help her - not in a rude way, but I think in honest curiosity, because her needs were a lot. A lot. I was nervous & I'll admit that for a little bit I was scared. It was a Thursday and they had told us to visit each day & let us know on Monday. I thought that was a prudent plan. But my husband, he saw it differently. He thought waiting until Monday to file the commitment paperwork was crazy. He was ready before our visit even ended. It was a done deal.

You see, for about an hour, everyone left us alone and the nannies bundled up V and sent us outside because they said she likes it outside. When we got outside she calmed. Now don't get me wrong, she was still wild, but she was different. We were able to coax out some interaction and brief moments of eye contact. We were able to connect, even if very briefly. We were able to see that she CAN interact, she CAN connect. I remember that first moment of eye contact and it blew me away. Yet I was still scared - I still wondered if waiting to commit was a good choice. But not my husband - he was brave. He was bold. He was her daddy.

I don't want it to sound like I was on the fence. I was all in; but on that day, the fear and exhaustion took over. The reality of her needs was overwhelming. I learned something about my husband that day - there is no limit to what he will do for his family. He will march fearlessly forward despite the crazy odds. He told the facilitator to file the paperwork before the car had left the orphanage. He told me that she couldn't be more perfect if she ran up to him, jumped in his arms, and said "Daddy!" You guys, they told us they thought she couldn't hear well, couldn't see well, maybe had a heart condition, had seizures, was completely nonverbal, was cognitively an infant and wasn't learning, couldn't chew, couldn't feed herself or perform any self care, wasn't potty trained, had constant tics, and the list seemingly went on forever. She was bald, tiny, hyper, and hard to connect with.

My husband's description of her: She's perfect.

I have never loved that man more than I did that day.


As I sit here and write this I realize, that's how our Heavenly Father is to us. I could write a book about the things that are wrong with me, yet God says: you're perfect. You could probably make a long list of the things that are wrong with you - God says: you're perfect. I pray that you can see that, and I pray that I can see that, because sometimes I can't.

I also pray for the orphans left behind. I pray that there may be a day where they all have an earthly father who thinks they are perfect, but also that until that day, that they will all come to know their Heavenly Father, who loves them and sees perfection.

In case you are curious, many of the things about V were true. However, since coming home, she has defied all of our expectations. We have learned that there was a bright, spunky little girl locked inside with no way to communicate, and we love watching her blossom. She still has lots of challenges, but all of us, including her siblings agree - she's perfect. 




Friday, August 4, 2017

The Summer Slump - ask me if I care

Ahhh... summer is ending.

I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year.

On one hand, I will miss my kiddos when they go back to school.

On the other hand... WILL THEY EVER GO BACK SO I CAN FINALLY GET THIS HOUSE CLEAN AND SIT DOWN FOR 30 SECONDS!?!?!?!

I have 2 kids with disabilities. They have nice, thick IEPs (because of course we want them to have lots of goals so they make lots of progress, right?) The staff has probably spent too much of their own summer preparing for my complicated children. During the school year I will spend entirely too much of my time working with the school on these things. In short - a whole team of us dedicates a whole lot of time and energy into making sure these kids are learning, are happy, and are integrated into the school as best we know how. I'm eternally grateful for this opportunity.

Sometimes in this laser focus, we get one thing wrong. And it's THE ONE THING that is most important. I have kids with disabilities, not disabilities with kids. They are kids first. Really, they are just kids. Who happen to have some differences and support needs.

They are still just kids.

So, the other day I ran into one of the girls' paraprofessional from school (AMAZING woman, for the record - answer to my prayer!), and she asked how my sassy one was doing. Has she learned any more signs over the summer? (Because language is at the root of all of our goals. You know, those goals that was my obsession ALL. YEAR. LONG.)

As I answered, I became a little panicked. NO. SHE HASN'T! OH MY GOODNESS, SHE HASN'T GAINED MORE THAN A COUPLE OF WORDS. I HAVE WASTED AN ENTIRE SUMMER!

I felt defeated. I suddenly began to look back on the goals that I had set for both of the girls for the summer - we weren't very far on any of them. I AM OBVIOUSLY THE WORST MOM IN HISTORY!

Then I took a deep breath, focused, and remembered this one fact. My daughters are kids first.

Do I spend all summer working on carefully scripted goals for my neurotypical kids? NO.

Is everyone else and their "normal" kids working on goals all summer? NO

What are their non-disabled peers doing all summer? Swimming, playing outside, vegging out in front of the TV, visiting grandparents, going on vacation.

What did my children (who happen to have disabilities somewhere down on the list of their personal attributes) spend their summer doing? Swimming, playing outside, vegging out in front of the TV, visiting grandparents, going on vacation.

NAILED IT. We rocked this summer!

Was it a waste? No. What did we learn? That family is more important than school. (This is super important for Ms. Sassy, who is still learning what family means) That we can go on vacation, change our routine, and then come back and resume routine and nobody will die. (Those of you with routine-driven kids will get it. lol) How language is used in a family, how to count out silverware for the family, how to help with household tasks, how to sing every song from Moana. The girls learned what it feels like to bury their legs in the sand, how to walk up and down the pool ladder, how to ask Daddy to throw them in the air one. more. time. They created memories with their brothers, they met new friends. Ms. Sassy started coming up to me & her daddy and just sit on our laps. She learned to just be, and to snuggle, and to seek out our love. No words needed.

These things are important.

These things are the stuff life is made of.

This is such a natural concept with our kids who don't have disabilities - why is it so hard to let go of the goals for my kids with disabilities?

This summer I let go. I let my kids with disabilities just be kids. I forgot about the disability completely. I laid my goals down.

This school year I will walk in and the professionals will ask how it went. They will be ready for the new list of words the girls have learned and the new list of skills they have gained so the awesome progress can be integrated into the school day. This year I will resist the urge to stress out about minimal progress over the summer. I will ignore the pit in my stomach as I brace myself for the judgement of professionals as I say we had no measurable progress. This year I will be proud of our lack of progress. (Side note: I'm not calling anyone out here, the professionals probably don't worry about it half as much as I do - but this judgement is often perceived by us parents)

This summer I did something bold and brazen - I gave my kids permission to JUST BE KIDS.

I didn't measure or quantify anything. I hung out with my kids. I can't measure their progress this summer. Yes, they made progress. They learned skills. EVERY child learns skills just by being part of family life - chores, vacations, conversations. They are learning all day, every day. That is just what kids do. We don't make lists for our "typical" kids, so we don't have to constantly make lists for our kids with disabilities. ("typical put in quotes because I'm not even sure what "typical" is)

So today, friends, let's band together and do this one radical thing: Let's let our kids with disabilities actually, truly be kids first. Let's let ourselves just be parents first. At least for a little while.

And that is exactly why I don't care about the summer slump.

To the staff at the school: sorry/not sorry.

To my kids: This summer rocked! Let's do it again next year.



Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Strong Mom

In this whole "parenting a child with a disability" world, I am a strong mom.

I am the mom who boldly declares that my child is "fearfully and wonderfully made", even after cleaning poop off the walls for the 5th time that week. I'm the mom that gives staring strangers a smile or eye roll and moves on without them phasing me. I'm the mom that professionals forget to sugar coat things with. I'm the mom that doesn't need much support, I'm fine.

So yesterday I was out with my Bug, who by all accounts is mostly an average 18 month old - except she's in a 7 year old's body and has some other fun complications.

So, we're in the big, fancy city 4 1/2 hours from our piece of paradise 15 miles from nowhere. She's tired, out of her comfort zone, just finished a doctor visit (which she hates), and I'm currently dragging her through as many errands as possible. Gotta get everything done while we're in the city! She's not happy with this plan. And she's not very verbal, so we're not sitting down for tea and telling me she's unhappy - she's screeching randomly and refusing to walk, except for occasionally taking off to go stare awkwardly at old men, who are largely missing the fact that they are supposed to smile and blow kisses like Papa does. ;-)

After an hour or so of this, I'm exhausted and my back hurts. I'm also emotionally exhausted. Sometimes I forget the emotional load of this life. I'd been working to get into this appointment for almost a year, I had a huge list of questions, and I wasn't sure if I would even be taken seriously. And then I was taken seriously and scheduled for follow up, and then I found myself wishing that there was no reason for follow up. Because, you know, follow up is because of medical concerns. And nobody actually WANTS medical concerns.

 And then there's the whole emotional exhaustion of trying desperately to figure out what she wants. She's screeching, I know she's not happy, I can see she wants or needs something - but she can't tell me what. So I'm trying to coax words out and prevent a total meltdown, but I know the words won't come while she's frustrated. Some days raising a non-verbal child is just exhausting. It is.

We get to Target; and after a fun meltdown she's in the basket and we're looking at clothes for her in relative calm. A woman comes up to me and stops me. She looked me in the eyes and tells me "I just want to tell you that you're doing a good job. You are doing a good job."

I was mostly speechless, but she told me she saw I was having a hard time, she's a fellow special needs mom, and she understands. And then she handed me a Starbucks gift card and told me she wanted me to take a break. And she left.

And that's the story of how I cried like a baby in the little girl's clothing section of Target. Because, you know, sometimes I'm not the strong mom. Sometimes I'm the exhausted, frazzled, mom who is completely overwhelmed by this hard life I've been given. I'm so thankful that the strong mom took time to lift me up.

That 5 minute exchange and gift card was one of the most powerful things to happen to me in a long time.

Go lift someone up today. Life is hard, and we're in this together.

For the record, when we were leaving town I gave Bug her favorite drink so she'd be happy for awhile, ran through the Starbucks drive through, cranked up my favorite radio station, and drank the best darn Starbucks I've ever had. And I found rest, even in the middle of the long drive home.

Thank you strong mom for lifting me up yesterday. You are a world changer.




Wednesday, January 18, 2017

One year free.

Wow. Today marks one year since V left the gates of the orphanage forever. On one hand, it's hard to believe it's been one year. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine that she's only been in our home for a year - she is so firmly interwoven into the fabric of our lives, we can't believe we ever lived without her.

This has been hands down one of the hardest years of my life. It has also been one of the most beautiful. If you're thinking - "She can't complain about it being hard, she CHOSE this life", you can just stop that train of thought right there. You're right. I chose this. It doesn't make it less hard. I'm not a saint, I don't have endless energy, and I don't have all of the answers. I'm just an ordinary, flawed mom who dared say yes to God, no matter what it cost. That doesn't make me any less exhausted, but it does make me enjoy the beauty along the way.

One year ago today I left the orphanage with a scared toddler-like little girl. We didn't really know what we were getting into. We thought she might have some hearing loss and some vision loss, and we knew there was a chance that cognitively she may never advance past this toddler-ish stage, but we boldly claimed hat we could change her life, and we brought her home on faith. Along the way we learned that she's deaf, and since they didn't sign she had no access to language communication while in the orphanage; and that she's legally blind without her glasses, so she also wasn't seeing a whole lot either. There were a few more surprises, but those are enough to complicate her life significantly!

Today I put a beautiful, vibrant little girl on the school bus. She ate breakfast independently, helped dress herself, went potty (she's potty trained now! Woot!), insisted that I send her chocolate milk instead of plain milk, and climbed into the bus. One year home the little girl that orphanage staff said wasn't learning is using ASL, is potty trained, feeds herself, helps set the table and clean up her toys, and a million other little things that are amazing. In the last year we have had what seems like a million doctor appointments - many of them 300 miles away. We have had orphanage behaviors, meltdowns, tantrums, surgeries, lost tons of sleep, and a million other stressful things. We have exhausted ourselves continuously - emotionally, financially, and physically. It has been HARD. But for every hard moment, we have seen a miracle - financial miracles, miracles in her life, beautiful transformation in the hearts of others around us. We took in a child who was very difficult - everyone who met her prior to adoption pretty much thought we were crazy. And she has melded into our family seamlessly, and BLOSSOMED.

At the end of this tough year I will say this: We knew what we were signing up for. We knew this would be hard. We knew we would see big changes in her, but we've been blown away by this little girl and all that she has accomplished. We've been blown away the people who have risen up to help us, and by our family's unconditional acceptance of the craziness we chose to bring into their lives. We learned that spiritual warfare is real. (I used to think it was some hokey crap all of the "crazy church people" believed in, but now I know I probably just wasn't doing anything bold enough for Satan to be too terribly worried about me. Now I know what it's like when he tries a full-court press, and that's how I know this girl is destined for greatness - Satan's desire to keep her locked away!) We've also been blown away by how hard it is to exhaust yourself over and over, how many miles we've driven in search of answers, how incredibly complicated it is to educate a deaf and visually impaired child, how many people told us it will be impossible to educate her in our rural area, how many rabbit trails we've had to chase to find answers, and how expensive it is to chase these leads and drive across the state a million times.

At the end of this year, my reflection is this:

Freedom has never been free. I am happy to have paid the cost for her freedom.

Redemption has never been easy. I am happy to have carried the weight of the struggle for her redemption. Christ died for our redemption - I have done nothing for her in comparison to what Christ has done for me.

She is worth it. She is worthy. Loved. Cherished. Every child on this planet deserves to be cherished, no matter what the cost is.

To those who donated or helped with fundraisers to help us bring her home; helped with meals, clothes, or the million other things it takes to make a family work; have invested in our lives in the last year; and have loved and prayed for us - thank you. You made this happen. We couldn't have done this alone. Every single part matters. You are part of a redemption story that is just beginning.