Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Lesson My Son Taught Me

We just finished supper at our neighborhood Taco Bell. Not something we do often (McDonald’s is closer), but it was a special occasion. What was the occasion? It was Monday evening, and Mommy forgot to plan supper! Seriously.

I finally wrangled all of the kiddos into the car, and we were getting ready to pull out of the parking lot when Josiah started saying something over and over about the poor lady. The other kids were drowning him out with their chatter, but he finally got my attention.

“Mommy, she’s poor. Look at her holding the sign. Can you give her some money?” He pointed to the woman on the corner of the shopping center exit.

I couldn’t believe he even understood what that was all about. Where had he learned this? This is my child who, along with his two siblings, was living in an orphanage in Bulgaria just 20 months ago. When I asked him how he knew about people holding up signs and things of that sort, he reminded me I had explained that to them before. Oh… How could I have forgotten that? Widow brain is alive and well it appears.

I knew I didn’t have any cash on me, something I rarely carry anymore. However, my son kept asking what I was going to do for her, so I checked my purse and wallet…just to make sure. This time, my memory was spot on. No cash.

I told Josiah I had nothing to give her, but I would be sure to get some cash to keep in the car for these types of occasions from now on. He then asked me how I paid for dinner. Smart kid apparently didn’t accept my answer. I reminded him I paid with a card that worked like cash. His next response was completely unexpected.

“Mommy, I have money in my bank at home. Can you drive me home to get it, and I’ll give her that?”

How do you respond to your 9-year-old former orphan wanting to take money out of his piggy bank to give to the sign-holding lady on the corner of the shopping center? I was honestly taken aback. At this point, I knew God expected me to respond.

I’ll admit I pass by many of those people without ever making an effort to do anything for them. Not because I’m not willing, but because I never have cash and don’t ever seem to bother to think of what else I might have. I know some sign-holders might not be doing it for the right reason, but that’s not up to me to determine. If God prompts me to do something, it’s up to me to obey. This time, the prompting came through my son.

I decided to dig deeper into my wallet. I thought I had some gift cards in there I had been using to shop with. Certainly there was something left on them. The first one I picked up was for Walmart. We happened to be just next door to a Walmart at this particular time. I called the number on the back of my card to check my balance…zero. Nothing left.

Ok, Lord! I sense I’m to do something for this lady. What do you want me to do? Go to the bank and get something out? A gift card? Please direct me here. I don’t want to disappoint Josiah.

I had one more gift card in my wallet. It was a VISA gift card. Again, I called the number on the back to check my balance. This time…$23.87 was the response. I knew He was asking me to give it to her.

“Okay son, I’ve got something with some money available on it,” I shared with Josiah.

“So, are you going to give it to her?” he asked me.

Still a bit unsure, I responded, “I think so. I need to make sure I can get close enough to her, but as long as I can safely do that, I’m going to give it to her.”

We pulled out of Taco Bell’s parking lot and headed to the exit. I was able to pull up right beside the lady. She looked at me with pleading eyes before I ever rolled down my passenger window. As I started to do so, she hurried over to the van, and I simply said, “I’m sorry I don’t have cash, but I have this card with $23.87, and you can have it.”

She immediately responded. “God bless you!” And, as we drove away, I heard her start to pray, “Heavenly Father, thank you for what you’ve just done…” Her voice drifted off, and I heard nothing else as we were out of earshot at that point.

I looked back in my rearview mirror at Josiah, and he was grinning from ear to ear.

“Was that okay Josiah? Did mommy do what you hoped I would do?”

He nodded, while still grinning.

I simply thanked him for pointing her out to me early enough to allow me time to try to find something to give her. We then had the discussion about how everything we have belongs to God. Everything. He simply loans it to us while we’re on earth. I told him how I knew God was pleased with him, and he would be blessed for being obedient.

Thank you Abba for this gift of my son and for continually teaching me through the eyes of these former orphans. I stand amazed!

#HeIsStillGood

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Struggling Single Parent

single parent

I’ve really been struggling to post lately. Let me rephrase that…

I’ve been struggling. Period.

This season of my grief journey has blindsided me a bit. I should have seen it coming. Unlike most widows or widowers, I’ve sadly been down this road before. I learned during my first grief episode all about the non-linear aspect of grief (much to my disappointment). I’m the type of person that likes to check a box…that feeling of accomplishment…and then move on to the next task. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way with grief. Just when I think I’ve made some headway, I feel like I’m back to square one. There’s nothing, in particular, which causes that, making it even tougher to predict. Sometimes it can be a series of things that catapults me backwards (or what feels like a backwards move to me). Even so…it’s where I’ve been since returning from my amazing trip to the Outer Banks.

For me, the single parenting aspect of this grief journey has been the toughest, by far. Not only do I still have our four youngest children at home, but we had adopted all four of them within just a little over a year prior to Joel’s death (and the adoption of one wasn’t complete until four months prior to his death, although we had parented him the longest). With adoption, there are significant challenges in and of themselves that often make two-parent families curl up in a ball in a corner at times. It’s tough friends. We were highly educated for this. We knew what we could face, and we had been not only surviving it but truly thriving (even on the difficult days). And, with God’s help…we were doing it…TOGETHER! Now…I’m both mommy and “daddy” to them. And, let me tell you, I do NOT make a good “daddy”.  I know I’m not the only single parent in the world. I know I’m not the only single parent of special needs children. I know I’m not the only single parent of special needs children who just lost their daddy too (truly, I’m not). But, knowing that, although comforting in a twisted sort of way, doesn’t take away my real day-to-day needs.

Most of those are needs that can only be met by God Himself: parenting wisdom, loneliness, anger, sadness, confusion, emotional and physical drain, and much more. I am often asked, “What do you need?” Truly…I can’t answer that question most of the time. Due to my physical and emotional exhaustion…I can’t think past the next moment many times. I continue to say the greatest gift you can do is seek the Lord with that question and simply do whatever He instructs you to do. He knows our every need. For example, just two nights ago, I received a phone call from an Asheville friend who felt urged to simply give me a call. That phone call was such a blessing to me. It was simply full of encouragement, understanding, and listening (even through my tears). She didn’t pretend to understand what I am walking through, but she understood pain. She understood grief. She understood parenting challenges. And…she understood in spite of my worst day, God is still central to everything I believe.

Even on these very difficult days I’ve been experiencing lately, I still say with everything in me…He. Is. Still. Good. I’m still waiting for a breakthrough, of sorts. I’m still waiting for come consecutive good days. I’m still waiting for God’s favor in many areas in which I’ve been consistently praying. Even if I don’t see these things for awhile, and even if I don’t see the answers in the way in which I expect them to be received…I believe with everything in me…

He. Is. Still. Good.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Road-tripping Solo with Four Kids – Did I Survive?

Road-tripping solo with four kids is in the books! While we’ve had several mini day trips and a couple overnighters, this was our first two-nighter, out-of-state, major road-tripping event without daddy, and we I survived…barely.

My survival was, no doubt, directly tied to the numerous prayers lifted up on behalf of many Facebook friends. I sent out a quick plea for help, and you all were too quick to step up to the plate on our behalf. And, for that, I thank you immensely. I can’t imagine what our trip would have been like without your prayers, because with your prayers, it was still a bit challenging.

Our challenges always include the pink bucket. You know the kind…the type the hospital gives out whenever you’re incarcerated admitted for an overnight stay. It’s the one the nurses often use to give you a bed bath with or to store all your toiletries.

For our family, it’s become the infamous “puke bucket” for our extremely motion sick little Bulgarian princess. Poor Katerina can’t catch a break. It probably didn’t help that we had to travel “the gorge” between North Carolina and Tennessee, making all the twists and turns that are much more stomach-unsettling. She did her best, but…she had to use the bucket three times. THREE times. The last was right as we were pulling up to the wedding parking lot.

Road-tripping with my four kids, wedding style

Yes…I took my children to a wedding. Granted, this was actually their second US wedding to attend, as their older brother got married a few weeks after they arrived in the US in 2015. However, these are pretty different kiddos from the ones we had back then.

Anyway…the wedding was set for 6:00 pm…an outdoor setting. What time did we arrive? You guessed it. 6:00 pm. I was so appalled. My son-in-law’s little sister was getting married, and we were honored to be able to attend. I drilled my children with proper wedding etiquette and the consequences of not following the mom-addressed guidelines. However, I never realized I would have to reprimand myself for arriving after the entire bridal party was at the altar and just before the bride walked down the aisle. Thankfully, we were able to see the cutest little flower girl and ring bearer (who just so happen to be my grandchildren). Otherwise, the reprimand to myself would have been even worse.

No need to punish the children for misbehaving during the actual ceremony, as they did phenomenal! I was so proud of them. Then, it was time to just cut loose. Benjamin shared with the world, “This is the best party EVAH!” All of my children (with the exception of Josiah) LOVE to dance, and they never stopped! Josiah, was quite content, to play corn hole with some “big kids” he met. So, all-in-all, your prayers were evident.

Benjamin, Katerina, and Amy on the dance floor, road-tripping style

As for me, attending my first wedding as a new widow was going to be tough. I knew that. I did remarkably well during the ceremony but lost it a couple times during the reception when different songs came on that reminded me of Joel or simply of his absence. That hole in my heart is still very large.

The rest of the road-tripping weekend was large as well…large fun! We intended to go to the Gatlinburg Aquarium, but the traffic (inside the building and outside) was simply too much. The kids were content to go back to the hotel and swim for the rest of the afternoon. We were joined by Amy and Wes and their two kiddos, and we had a blast spending the afternoon in the pool (me with my new fancy foot covering device and all). We followed that with a dinner out in Pigeon Forge and quick goodbyes until we see them again in a few weeks. We’d be road-tripping back home beginning the next morning.

Road-tripping hotel swim time

All-in-all, I survived another “first”. Actually, I more than survived. I thrived. That was confirmed on two occasions: 1) When Josiah told me, “Thank you for taking us places, Mom!” and 2) Upon Benjamin’s exclamation of the wedding/reception being the best party “evah”. They loved it! Therefore, I did too.

#HeIsStillGood

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

His Heart is Most Broken

He’s my new bed buddy. I know parenting “experts” would frown on me allowing such a thing, but the “rules” went out the window the day his daddy went to Heaven. Austyn started begging to sleep in my bed a few weeks ago. I tried to get him to sleep in his own bed, and he would start there sometimes but always found his way back to me in the middle of the night. Once my first foot surgery happened, I stopped even trying, because his room is upstairs from mine.

At first, I thought he just wanted to be closer to me, but as I’ve observed in his behaviors (especially) over the last couple of weeks, I’m beginning to think differently. Austyn is my little one grieving the most for his daddy right now. He’s doing everything he can to keep his memory alive and to keep him close. And…he’s only THREE! I never would have guessed in a million years how hard a three-year-old can grieve. But, while I may have “widow experience” on my resume, parenting littles at the same time is completely different this time around. So, maybe this is completely normal. It’s just breaking me to watch.

Each morning, before his eyes are hardly open, he asks to watch a “movie” on my phone. That’s Austyn-speak for a video of daddy. He’s literally obsessed with it, and if truth be told, I’m struggling with it. The first video we watched together was very sweet and quite special, but now it hurts me terribly. My heart is simply not ready to relive all those treasured memories every single day. It makes me miss Joel so much more. But, it’s not just the morning routine, Austyn wants to do the same thing before he closes his eyes at night. I’ve tried simply saying “no”, and the reaction I get is just as pitiful. It truly puts him into a tailspin. So, I’m allowing it and praying this obsession ends soon or else my heart gets stronger to be able to take it.

And…that’s just the beginning…

Joel’s favorite t-shirt to wear, undoubtedly, was a UNC Tarheels tee (great choice, by the way). In many of the pics I post of Joel, you’ll see him in that shirt. That was also Austyn’s favorite shirt for his daddy to wear, because Austyn loved to “scratch” the letters. It’s a sensory habit of his he’s had since the first day we had him in our home. It brings him comfort, and daddy’s Tarheels shirt was the best one for this! The very day Joel died, Austyn sought out that shirt, and it’s been in his possession ever since. It’s kind of like his version of a “blankie”. He calls it Daddy’s Shirt and wants to sleep with it, carry it, wear it, play with it, “scratch” it, you name it…

Just last night, he began looking at the pictures of Joel around the house and would pull them down and talk to daddy in the picture. In the photo below, he kept saying over and over, “Look at me daddy. Look at me daddy. I wear your shirt. Look at me daddy.” Friends…I literally wept watching my sweet boy do this.

“Look at me daddy! I wear your shirt.”

Back to the bed behavior, I really think Austyn feels closer to Joel when he sleeps in his spot in our bed. I truly believe it’s one more way he brings daddy back to him in the only ways he knows how. He might be using that time to feel safe beside mommy, but as I thought about it in conjunction with some of his other behaviors, I began to think it went deeper than that.

It’s bad enough my heart is already torn in two over the loss of my precious husband so suddenly, but watching our son grieve this hard at his young age is almost too much to bear. I’m currently looking for the right type of counselor for him, as I know he needs it and probably will for a long time. In the meantime, pray for my Austyn please. Please pray God heals his broken heart and gives his broken-hearted mommy a special dose of wisdom to know how to properly parent through this tragedy. We will be okay, but we are so lost right now…and hurting deeply.

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!