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!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Emotionally Beat-Up

Happy Wednesday afternoon friends! I’ve struggled to post for a few days now, because…well…in all honesty, I’m just feeling emotionally beat-up. Those were the exact words I spoke to a friend who recently called to check on me and see how I was doing, and I struggled to come up with what to stay. Finally…it came to me…I just feel…emotionally beat-up! And then she got it. She knew exactly what I meant.

  • I’m in the process of grieving the death of a second husband in less than 6 years, who’s been gone just slightly over a month. That, in and of itself, is almost too much to bear at times.
  • I have four young, adopted children…two with clinically-defined special needs and one probably, yet to be diagnosed. Throw a little, well a lot, of ADHD into the mix, and you’ve got one keyed up, stretched thin, worn through and through mama.
  • Then, this blasted foot surgery. It’s supposed to help restore life in areas where I’ve needed restoration…the ability to walk well (pain-free) again, and the ability to retreat back to those outdoor activities that bring me such joy hiking, camping, river tubing, etc. It was supposed to be an easy surgery. Key words “supposed to be”. Joel’s surgery was supposed to be easy too, and we see how that turned out. I guess I’m blessed to be alive, but I’m struggling with lots of PAIN, and I mean a ton! And…before the surgery I was given instructions that I could be ambulatory immediately post surgery (while using a surgery shoe) as I felt up to it. I had full, weigh-bearing privileges. Now…I’m not allowed to put any weight on it at all. Did you see the part about having 4 young, rambunctious children at home? Nearly impossible doc.

I’m begging God for a breakthrough, for a release from ALL the pain (even if it’s just temporary)…I just need some relief. I’ve asked Him for a better attitude, because I know I’m struggling in that area too, and I truly don’t want to be…I just want my joy back…even if it’s just a smidgen. It’s that smidgen that will carry me through to the next dose.

Come, Lord Jesus! Rain down bucketfuls of joy upon me, and remove the pain!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Where Has the Time Gone?

Yes. I’m still here in Blogland. There’s so much I’ve been wanting to share with you, but life has been “huge” as of late, and I’ve honestly had to step back from writing projects for a bit. But, oh how I’ve missed this oasis.

2016 was a BIG…HUGE…GINORMOUS…year for us. If acclimating to life with our newest Bulgarian cuties wasn’t enough, we also completed the adoption of our two-year-old foster son and bought a new house and relocated three counties away! We’ve been in the new house almost three months but still have boxes to unpack!

As for the Bulgarian sibling group we adopted at the end of 2015, they are thriving!

From one year ago to now…such a difference!

They only speak English now, and honestly…they have been doing so since around the three month mark. It’s absolutely astonishing to me to see how quickly these kiddos picked up a new language. We have had our challenges (more to share on some of that in later posts), but we’ve also been blessed immensely. Adoption is the hardest thing we’ve tackled as a couple, but I can’t imagine our life without these precious brown-eyed, olive-skinned, beautiful children.

Then comes Austyn. We simply thought we were caring for him until he was reunified with his biological family, but God had other plans. This little guy is now our son. It brings tears to my eyes to type those words. Our SON! I am overwhelmed at the blessing this little boy has been to our family. He loves his siblings, and they adore him. Sure…they fight sometimes…as siblings do, but the love they have between each other wins out every single time. This little guys brightens up every room he walks into. He’s full of love, laughter, and such an intense personality. He’s a go-getter (even at the age of two), and I know God has great plans for him.

Our relocation a little more eastward has been challenging (as far as moves go), but we’re so excited to finally be in our home and don’t plan to leave for a long, long time. Hopefully not until we retire (if then). Ha! When Joel and I married, he committed to making the commute from my hometown to his job (75 miles one way) in order for my girlie to graduate from high school. He ended up commuting for over four years. We knew we would end up moving eventually, but we didn’t know if that would be in the same county but closer to his work or out of the county. We chose the latter, because we were able to get so much more house for the money. I have the commute now, but I love it!!! I have so much thinking time, and my INFJ personality type desperately needs that.

We can’t wait to see all that’s in store for our life in our new town. We’re open to whatever God brings our way, and we know that could be a wild ride, as it’s been nothing less than that up to this point.

And…if all that wasn’t enough…my first book was published in June. That project produced a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. LOTS of tears, as I had to relive my first year as a widow. There were many days my heart ached so deeply and yet to be reminded of God’s faithfulness time and time again during those dark days of my life was nothing short of gracious. My goal with Rescued and Restored is to bring hope to those in need of it. While it’s a story of grief and restoration from the tragic suicidal death of my husband, it’s so much more than that. It’s not just for widows…it’s for anyone in need of rescue…in need of healing…in need of hope. You can get it here (paperback and Kindle formats available). I’m also willing to come share my story at a women’s event or retreat, and you can learn more about that here.

As for Out of Deep Waters…I plan to be here a lot more often and more consistently. And…believe it or not…you might be seeing me in other places as well. Lots of stuff in the works I’ll reveal as time goes on.

Thank you for stopping by and being faithful even through the “desert periods”. Feel free to comment and say hi! I would love to hear from you!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Six Months Home

As of this past Saturday, May 21, our Bulgarian children have been on U.S. soil for six months! In some respects, it’s hard to believe it’s already been six months, but in other respects, it feels like they’ve been with us from the beginning. We’re still figuring each other out. We still have so much to learn about parenting children from hard places, and they still have so much to learn about being parented. Six months hardly touches on any of that, but take a look at just a few of the accomplishments so far:

  • Six months ago, they spoke no English. Today, they speak no Bulgarian. Yes…I’m serious! I hardly believe it myself, but it’s true. There are a couple Bulgarian words we simply like and still use (long story there), but other than those 2-3 words, it’s all English. Their vocabulary is still growing, but their use of slang is also growing…kind of funny to hear. We were told they would learn English quickly…but WOW! Josiah has not only learned to speak English, but is also reading English!
  • Six months ago, they had few boundaries. Today, they have many boundaries, and they aren’t always excited about that. Some days we feel like it’s all rules…rules…rules, but we know that by setting up the safeguards now, there will be room for even more fun and enjoyment later. Our oldest doesn’t always understand why he can’t just watch any cartoon on TV. We’ve tried to explain that cartoons don’t always mean kid-friendly (or even appropriate for me to watch, for that matter), but that’s hard to grasp when he was able to watch the same shows in Bulgaria.
  • Six months ago, Katerina was considered a child with occasional ADD-type behavior, never had any formal schooling, and struggled to manage her emotional swings. Today, she’s about to finish Kindergarten, has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), has been evaluated by a team of professionals who are working to help us obtain the right therapies for her special needs disability, and she is THRIVING!
  • Six months ago, they woke up several times during the night or before the crack of dawn. They’d be “full on” ready to play whenever they got up, with no understanding of the time of day/night it might be. Today, they sleep solidly through the night, and Benjamin still takes a nap every afternoon.
  • Six months ago, they weren’t able to sit still long enough to be read to. Today, they love books and will sit through as many books as we’re willing to read at one time.
  • Six months ago, Benjamin would throw puzzle pieces all over the house, because he truly didn’t know how to work puzzles. The kiddos destroyed many toys initially, because they simply didn’t understand how to play. Today, Benjamin loves to work puzzles…the right way. Katerina is the best little mommy to her baby dolls, and Josiah builds Legos and K’nex structures until his heart’s content.
  • Six months ago, they had a very limited selection of food they would eat. However, we’ve always asked them to try at least one bite of everything we fix, and we are so pleased to see their taste buds explode with desire for new culinary delights. While I still consider them a bit picky, they’ve come a long way from where they were when they first got home.
  • Six months ago, they had no manners or social graces. Today, they say please and thank you most of the time. They are learning to say yes/no ma’am and sir. They ask to be excused from the table following a meal. They’ve learned to apologize for wrongdoing and will even hug siblings to help make up for their naughty behavior. They want to help mommy and daddy all over the house (except for cleaning their room…ha!). And, they are so stinkin’ sweet with their little foster brother, who adores them right back!

Now, everything is not perfect in paradise. We stay exhausted, and some days we wonder why God chose us to travel this hard road. But, then we look at those little olive-skinned munchkins with deep brown eyes and know it’s all worth it! They’ve come so far…and so have we.

The day they left their orphanage...forever.

11/12/15 – The day they left their orphanage…forever.

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5/8/16 – Mother’s Day!

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Nightmarish Trip

BG2-2You’ve seen a glimpse of our three newest children. Yes…they are adorable. Yes…they are loads of fun. Yes…we are very blessed to be their parents. BUT…

You knew I would have to go there someday.

BUT…it’s not all peaches and cream.

While we didn’t become parents overnight, and between the two of us, we’ve been parenting children for over a decade, I can honestly say there was no amount of education and preparation we could have received to prepare us for the ten days we spent in Bulgaria for our “pick up trip”.

I have experienced many difficult things in life. I lost a spouse to a heartbreaking divorce and another one to suicide. My parents divorced when I was fourteen, and I lived through a very dysfunctional childhood. Even so…our “pick up trip” ranks in the top 3 of the hardest things I’ve ever had to endure. Seriously.

When we traveled to Bulgaria last July to actually meet our children for the first time, we had some “down time”, which was definitely needed at the end of each day…for us and them. It was a lot to take in and absorb, especially for their precious hearts. Their world was about to turn upside-down, and while they couldn’t fully grasp it at that time, they knew it was coming, and they’d witnessed their friends leaving the orphanage to go to their new homes. They fully welcomed being adopted and were thrilled to finally have a family of their very own. During trip one, we would spend the days together, but they would go back to their friends by dinnertime and would sleep in their own beds at night. We had the hotel room to go back to, but we could process the events of the day with each other and do a little sight-seeing on the side too.

Our November trip looked nothing like the one in July. We arrived after two days of travel and “took custody” of our children the very next day. They were excited and anxious, as we were. The four hour trip back to the capital of Sofia produced tired children ready to get out of the car and explore everything new around them…which was literally…everything! They had no social graces. Manners were non-existent. They knew nothing of personal space, and they laughed in the face of danger. They were very obedient whenever the translator/driver was around, but as soon as he offered his goodbyes, the “Mr. Hyde” children surfaced. Now, don’t get me wrong, we love our children to pieces and don’t regret becoming their mommy and daddy for one minute, however I want to be real about some of our experiences. It was all perfectly “normal”, but normal or not…it was grueling.

We found out rather quickly we had to stay close by the apartment we were housed in, because it was simply too hard to take them most places. We also learned right off the bat we were outnumbered. Yes…we’re adults and bigger than they are, but even so…we were outnumbered 3-2. If we had to do it over again, we would have had a third person with us to help balance things out.

Most of our meals were takeout style, in which Joel or I would venture out for food to bring back to the apartment to eat. If we did go out to eat with them, it was either to McDonald’s, a pizza place, or food from a street vendor. There were two occasions where we took them to a nice sit-down meal, because we were craving it, and we really wanted to make some fun memories with them too. It happened towards the end of the trip and resulted from a little behavior bribery (yes…true that).

Just a snippet of the things we experienced during the pickup trip:

  • One child picked up a piece of chewed up gum from underneath a table at McDonald’s and proceeded to chew it further. Blech!
  • A different child thought cigarette butts picked up on the street were mighty tasty. Even bigger BLECH!
  • A third child thought it would be okay to steal some items from the pizza place we ate at a couple times. This child quickly learned that wouldn’t be tolerated when we took them back to apologize to the owner and return the stolen goods.
  • After being told by zoo staff to not tap on the glass of the reptiles, one child decided to test that theory and continued banging the glass container as loud as possible until we ended up leaving the zoo out of fear of being kicked out.
  • One child thought it would be fun to run away from a certain parent in the park (all in an effort to make said parent begin a chase).
  • On our souvenir shopping day near the time we were to return home, we took a cab to a part of town we hadn’t yet ventured to before. We took turns shopping and watching the children, because we were still uneasy about the little thief in our presence. During my time with the kids outside, we were all supposed to be sitting on a bench quietly waiting on daddy. One child decided that didn’t seem like much fun and pushed a sibling off the bench onto the concrete below only to create a little more excitement. And it did…blood, sweat, and many tears!

Now after reading this,  you probably think we adopted a bunch of little hellions. At the time, we did too. Ha! However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. They really are sweet children who were testing us to the nth degree while we were still on their turf. They didn’t know us well enough to trust us yet. Their whole world had been completely turned upside-down, and while we knew what was coming was better, they had no way of knowing that just yet.

They’ve been home 3 months, and I can truthfully say they are drastically different children. Honestly, the change started the moment they stepped foot on US soil. They still have a lot to learn, as do we all, but they are doing it and working really hard at everything we’re teaching them. And, we praise God for allowing us to be their parents!

As an aside, you might be wondering how we even survived our pick-up trip. PRAYER. Lots of prayer! We sent out multiple requests from friends and other families who have walked similar paths. We know it was the prayer of those standing in the gap for us that allowed us to make it through those very difficult days!

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