Monday, March 27, 2017

We Knew She Was Different

The first time we laid eyes on her, we knew she was special. Katerina had a way of lighting up a room with her huge smile and her pure joy. And…when she met her daddy for the first time…oh the joy, such incredible joy. We didn’t know how Katerina would react to Joel, because many children living in orphanages haven’t had a lot of contact with males (most caregivers are women), but Katerina knew this man was HER daddy, and she loved him immensely, and the feeling was mutual.

Katerina has always been such a special little girl, in many respects. She’s the only girl out of the four we’ve adopted. That, in and of itself, makes her very special. She holds her own with the boys, but she loves to be the girl God has created her to be. She plays with dolls, likes to have her fingernails painted, and loves to wear pretty dresses.

Soon after our adoption of Katerina (and her brothers) was complete, we had them all evaluated at an international adoption clinic and by their local pediatrician. It was clear there was something else going on with Katerina. We learned early on there was a developmental delay (not uncommon coming from orphanage life). But, we were referred to the Fullerton Genetic Center to have her evaluated for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Children coming from the part of the world where these children came from are often exposed to alcohol in the womb, and FAS or any of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) are very strong possibilities for these children.

Upon her genetic testing (which ruled out some other possibilities) and a battery of testing, Katerina was confirmed with FAS. Our hearts broke for our sweet daughter. It wasn’t her fault, but she’ll have to deal with the effects of a choice by another for the rest of her life (as will her new family).

This past December, Katerina was evaluated yet again, and we learned she also has Autism. That somewhat came as a surprise, because many symptoms of FAS are in direct contradiction to Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). However, she scored high enough in the other categories that her diagnosis was clear.

Joel and I knew we were in for a lifetime of parenting this little girl who would grow to be a young lady. What would her future look like? Would she be able to learn enough to live independently? Would she ever be able to work a job? So many questions…

This past Friday, I faced the next challenge alone for the first time. Katerina just went through re-evaluation for her IEP (Individualized Education Plan). She was given a large battery of in-depth tests. The results of the all the testing…our baby girl is mentally challenged. Her IQ is very low, and she is now considered “moderately intellectually delayed”. I think we knew it deep down, but I heard it for the first time, and my heart broke again. I had to grieve for my daughter all over again. But this time, I didn’t have her daddy to grieve and share this news with. I truly felt and thought to myself, “How much more Lord? How much more weight can my shoulders take?” I know I won’t feel this way forever, but for now…I feel the darkness is getting heavier and the pit is getting deeper. I’m still praying and waiting for breakthrough and a glimpse of the light breaking through the tunnel.

But, God has great plans for Miss K! I know He does. She is full of compassion and love and seems to know how to comfort people in pain in ways others don’t. I had a bit of a meltdown a week ago that unfortunately happened in front of the kids. The boys kept asking if I was okay and wanted to help with words. But my sweet girl…she walked up to me and started rubbing my back…she didn’t say a word. She just rubbed my back! God used her mightily in that moment to comfort her hurting mama.

He has great plans for my girl! No doubt in my mind. I just want to make sure I listen to His still, small voice to know what role I play in His plans for her. Without Joel to help me make decisions, I’m trusting God to fill the role of “husband to the widow” He’s promised and guide me through some of the hard decisions I might have to make decades from now or even in the next few weeks.

He won’t let me down. His plan is always perfect and always better.

I’ve been working with Katerina on learning some things about herself that I want to make sure she never forgets. She finally knows them, and will repeat them to me when I ask her to tell me her “I am’s”…and, she’ll say…

I am beautiful.

I am special.

I am smart.

I am loved.

Yes you are my precious! You are so, so loved!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Shattered. Fractured. Broken.

Shattered. Fractured. Broken. Three words that accurately describe my family right now.

Just under two months ago, we were doing this thing called life together as a family. We made our mistakes, and we had our fusses, but we were what we dubbed ourselves…a “normal” (albeit blended, non-organic) family.

Daddy and mommy both worked outside the home. We were as healthy as we had been in quite some time. Our Bulgarian children were finally starting to adjust to the beginning of their second year in the US in our family, and our move to Hickory was proving to be a great decision, and the school transitions were taking place extremely well. Granted…we still had stuff in boxes to unpack…but, what was the hurry? This was going to be our forever home, so didn’t that mean we had “forever” to unpack?

Our older children seemed to be thriving between finishing up the last years of high school, working towards college degrees, working hard at jobs God has them in for this season of life, creating families of their own, and maturing into fine young adults.

We preferred to spend our weekday evenings wrestling around on the floor with daddy, watching a cute family movie together, doing homework, getting everything together for the next day, bath/shower time, and reading books before bedtime. We had recently started asking Josiah to read a book before bedtime to his siblings so he good get in some additional reading practice. Life wasn’t perfect, but it was nice, and we were immensely blessed.

Our weekends were full of piling into the minivan, putting a movie in the DVD player (such a wonderful feature!!) and heading out for a day full of errands. Usually we would splurge and eat out for one of our Saturday meals, and the kids loved that.

Sundays mornings were spent visiting the churches in the area, as we narrowed down the selection to where we felt God might be calling us to serve. And…one of my favorite parts of the weekend…Sunday afternoons. We rested. Joel usually fell asleep on the couch with Austyn. Josiah would fall asleep on the other end of the couch while watching a movie. Benjamin and Katerina would typically nap up in their bedrooms, and me? Well…I may or may not take a nap, but I’d rest nonetheless.

Now…life feels like a chaotic, shattered mess. The kids’ emotions are completely out of whack (so are mine, for that matter). Their ability to focus seems gone. Limits are being tested. Erratic behavior is more commonplace. I cry so much that the act of crying is starting to hurt. My heart seems to be bleeding more internally than my aching foot is externally.

Speaking of the foot…it’s healing (I think) but VERY SLOWLY. The bleeding hasn’t completely stopped, so I get to sit in my recliner for the bulk of the day with my foot elevated on pillows. It’s very painful but doesn’t even compare to the pain I feel in my heart from missing my husband.

Discouragement is the story of my days right now. I’m waiting for a breakthrough, because I feel everywhere I turn is defeat and disappointment. When is the breakthrough coming Lord? I’ve seen many miracles already as a result of Joel’s sudden death and Homegoing to Heaven. God is not surprised, and He’s been working deeply in the hearts of many of His children as a result of my precious husband being called Home at such a young age. I continue to pray Joel’s death will not be in vain and will produce tons of fruit and miracle upon miracle (maybe even some we won’t see this side of Heaven). But for now…we hurt…deeply.

I’m ready for some sense of “normal” to return to our lives. I feel I’m living in a state of limbo, because nothing is settled…my foot is still healing, I can’t return to work (due to the stupid foot), money decisions are in limbo (and fear wants to settle there quite often), plans for the future…yep…limbo. All my vacation and time off for the year is gone due to Joel’s death and my foot woes. I’m really trying not to dwell in this pit, because God is also being so generous and gracious to us.

We have been blessed beyond belief by friends, family, and strangers. We’ve received gifts of food, babysitting, money, gift cards, surprise presents in the mail, flowers, more food, projects completed around the home, visits by new friends, and lots of cards in the mail. There have been numerous other blessings too plentiful to name. I’m praying God allows the brightness of the blessings to cast out the shadow and darkness of the discouragement.

As I keep saying over and over and believe with every fiber of my being…God’s plan is ALWAYS better. Always. Knowing that and believing that doesn’t mean the pain of our reality doesn’t hurt. It does give me hope to cling to though, and that hope helps me to take the next step, and then the next…and the next…and the next…

God. Is. Still. Good.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

38 Days

38 Days. What’s the significance of 38 days anyway? It’s a little over a month. It’s less than the number of days and nights rain fell on the Earth during the days of Noah. It’s still quite a few days less than it takes to reach our next Christmas. So, what’s the big deal about 38 days?

It just happens to be the number of days you’ve lived in Heaven, my love.

It also happens to be the number of days

  • I’ve been a widow
  • I’ve slept in our bed without you
  • I’ve cried consecutively
  • I’ve worried over some element of my future (even though I’m trying really hard not to)
  • I’ve had to go without seeing a text message or phone call pop up from you on my cell
  • I haven’t been able to snuggle with you on the couch in the evening after putting the kids to bed
  • I’ve had to cancel another dream we shared together in our hearts or minds but never had the opportunity to fulfill
  • I’ve had to miss your warm embrace through your large teddy-bear-like hugs
  • I’ve had to go to bed without a goodnight kiss from you
  • I’ve had to wake up without hearing you say “Good morning sweetheart! How did you sleep?”
  • I’ve had to realize my life will never be the same again without you in it
  • I’ve had to parent our four youngest children alone
  • I’ve failed repeatedly at parenting our four youngest children alone
  • I’ve begged God to let me see a glimpse of you in my dreams
  • I’ve had something wonderful to share with you, but you’ve not been there to share it with
  • I’ve had to walk into our closet, and see your clothes hanging there…in the same places they’ve been for the previous 37 days
  • I’ve talked to you repeatedly, but you haven’t responded back
  • I’ve slept with your pillow in my arms
  • I’ve thought about how empty the rest of my life will feel without you in it
  • I’ve had to go without hearing you tell me you love me

Thirty-eight days…typically a rather insignificant amount of time. Until today. Today…38 days took on grand significance. Sadly, most of it brings on the tears. But…even so… #Godisstillgood

Monday, March 20, 2017

Yes…It Was THAT Serious…

Rather than showing you pictures of a rather nasty looking foot…I thought you might prefer to see a picture of my new friend and temporary ride.

Now that the second foot surgery is behind me, and things are moving in a positive healing direction, I thought I’d share a little more.

The original foot surgery on March 10 was supposed to be a simple Tarsal Tunnel Release. I had one about nine years ago and did quite well with it, and it’s typically a very simple surgery. I knew I’d have to baby my foot a little bit afterwards, but I had only planned to be out of work 5 days (including the weekend), and planned to end my leave following Joel’s death with the end of my surgery recovery. It had been on the calendar awhile anyway, and I couldn’t wait to have the ability to walk pain-free again. So, I went ahead with the already scheduled procedure.

Then…things went down a path nobody (especially me) expected. While some pain was expected, I had an extraordinary amount of pain following the procedure. Additionally, I had large pools of bleeding.

**By the way, if even the talk of blood makes your stomach queazy, you might want to stop reading here. 

After I was safely in the house following being dropped off by my ride for surgery #1, I turned around to hobble my way to the bathroom, and I noticed a trail of blood along the floor that looked like I had entered the room of a crime scene. It. Scared. Me. To. Death. I went to flag the ladies down (who were outside on the driveway at this point) and made an immediate call to my surgeon’s office. The doctor’s office talked me through what to do over the weekend and to continue watching it and what would necessitate a trip to the ER. Thankfully, I never had to go to the ER over the weekend, but I did have to make a trip to see my surgeon in Asheville again on Monday morning. He was not pleased at what he saw and already hinted at a possible second surgery being necessary to fix the current problem. We’d continue to watch it for another day or two.

Well, the next day (Tuesday) – now four days post-op – landed me a trip to the local ER, as my pain had gotten out-of-control. It was no longer controllable with the medications I had, and the bleeding continued. The ER staff re-dressed the wound as well as controlled the pain in a more direct, short-acting way. I went back home nearly five hours later.

Wednesday – more of the same.

Thursday – back to Asheville for the surgeon to do another wound check. The conversation went like this:

Dr H: I see two choices here. In very rare cases (like I can count on one hand the number I’ve personally encountered), we have to go back into surgery and search for the source of bleeding and put a stop to it. We can go ahead and do that tomorrow, or we can wait until possibly next Wednesday. I asked him his opinion, and he was hesitant to offer it just yet. Then, I spoke with as much clarity and assurance as I’d had up to that point…

Me: Dr. H….I don’t know about you, but I know God has given me a spiritual gift of discernment, and it’s one I feel I’ve been blessed with quite mightily. If I stick to my “gut” (that voice of discernment) telling me what to do, then I feel this needs to be taken care of TOMORROW.

In that moment, the surgeon (who I happened to know is a believer as well) looked at me and said, “You made the right decision!” Ahhh…sweet peace just ushered in the room…

The surgery took place on Friday. It was a complete success. The surgeon removed a baseball-sized clot from my ankle. It was causing the excessive bleeding, the horrendous pain, and who knows what else. And…had it gotten loose and traveled to other parts of my body…brain, lungs, heart…I could have very quickly joined Joel in Heaven. Yes…it was THAT serious!

I still don’t understand why I’ve been asked to walk through these various trials right now…hard and painful trials, but what I do know…I can still hear that still, small voice of God speaking to me. That, in and of itself, was huge for me, as I had been begging God to hear from Him…something…anything. I felt He had been quiet with me lately, and I desperately needed something to cling to knowing He was still with me. My faith knew it, but I was so weak and deep in grief…I needed more in that moment.

He IS still for me.

He IS still watching OVER our family.

He IS not finished with me yet.

He IS healing me!

It’s just looking a little different than I had pictured, but then again…so is my whole life, for that matter.

Thank you for your many prayers, well-wishes, tangible gifts of support, love, and concern. He is using YOU for big things. Thank you for being obedient. To keep up with current needs in our family, you can do so at a glance by clicking HERE. OR…if He leads you to do something else, follow His lead. It will never be wrong. He knows our needs better than we do.

May God bless you BIG!

#Heisstillgood

Friday, March 17, 2017

Waiting for Rescue

The waters are very deep right now. At times, I feel I only have my face sticking out…just enough to breathe in the fresh air through my almost-buried nose. Reminds me of when I was a small child just learning to swim, and I could tread water just enough to keep my face from going under. It was then my dad (who usually worked with us the most in the pool) would step in and lift me up higher and tell me how proud of me he was for working so hard in the water. I eventually became a rather good swimmer, and I eventually trained to be the rescuer (i.e. lifeguard).

In my real-life “deep water” situation right now, I’m in desperate need of a rescue. I feel like life is swirling at super-speed around me just waiting to engulf me. I’ve stopped asking “why?” and simply started begging “help me!”.

It really doesn’t matter why God is allowing me to go through so many trials at one time. I’ve witnessed His faithfulness time and time again through my life to know that His plan is always better, even if it doesn’t make sense right now. I will admit, however, I have asked Him the “why” question a few times over the last four weeks. I know He can take it, because He wants the “real me”. And…the real me has simply wanted an answer a time or two, but I haven’t gotten it yet. And yet, I’ve moved on from the questioning phase…now, I’m simply begging…

God, please help me. I am hurting so deeply right now…physically, mentally, financially, emotionally…my heart aches like nothing I’ve ever felt before. Please show me you’re right beside me! While I know you’re here, I really would love a tangible glimpse of your presence. Will you do that for me? I don’t deserve anything from You. You’ve already given me the best gift ever…eternal life. But, I know you want me to have life abundantly…you say so in Your Word. So, Abba…will you please allow me to feel that abundant life right now. Will you saturate me with Your presence and with love overflowing? Will you please fill the lonely places? Will you please give me peace, especially today, as I head into another surgery? Will you please bring complete healing to me in ALL the areas of my body and life needing a touch from You? Abba – will You rescue me today, and begin the restoration work You have planned for my life on this earth? Will you allow those watching and waiting to see your mighty power in my life? Abba Father – I give You glory, in advance, for what I know You can do! Please let none of this pain be in vain! Please be glorified through it. And…until I’m Home with you…please continue to show me how to live my life according to Your plan for me. I want nothing more than to please and glorify You!

Yes…I’m having a second surgery today. One week ago today, I had a minor procedure on my foot that should have been a breeze (I’ve had it before). However, it broke all the records, and now I’m facing another sudden surgery that will take place today at 1:30 pm ET. For my praying friends, would you please consider praying for me at that time? Pray for the surgeon to find the source of the issue quickly, to be able to fix it fully, and to prepare me for a full and speedy recovery.

I’m leaning completely on Him right now, but I also know He tells us in His Word to ask, to seek, and to knock. I’m asking, I’m seeking, and I’m knocking.

Thank you to the multitudes of you who have stepped into my little world to love on me since Joel went home to Heaven. I can’t begin to express how thankful and grateful I am for the way you’ve loved on my family during these difficult weeks. This is so much bigger than I can handle, and God has simple asked me to rest in Him while He takes care of things. He’s been taking care of things THROUGH YOU, and I love that! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I love you deeply!