Friday, July 13, 2018

I’m Still Here!

our familyWith my lack of posting lately, many might be wondering if I’ve fallen off a cliff, but I’m still here! Life has just been very full as of late. Very full. I have so much to share in my little blog world and honestly don’t even know where to begin, so I’ll start by answering the questions I get asked the most…

How are you doing in year two of your second widow journey?

How are the kids?

Neither question can I answer succinctly, but I’ll do so over the course of several posts in the future, so you don’t have to a read a novel in one sitting. Fair enough?

Let’s start with the kiddos…

JosiahJosiah – Now a 10-year-old, Josiah is my hero. He has experienced so much in his first ten years of life…the abandonment from his bio parents to a Bulgarian orphanage, adoption, moving to a new country, learning a new language, school in America, and the sudden and shocking death of his adopted dad. He just finished third grade and is going to summer reading camp for three weeks to help him be better prepared for fourth grade. He made tremendous growth in school last year but still has some catching up to do.

At home, he is my rock! He has stepped into the role of “big brother” in an entirely new way. He tries to help me with all kinds of things (even without my asking): cooking, cleaning, dressing his siblings, taking the puppy out, playing with his littlest brother quite often (they are best friends), and much, much more.

I have high hopes for this young man. He is bright. He is focused (on meds, lol!). He lives in the moment but dreams of his future. He loves Jesus and is uber-sensitive to making sure mealtime prayers are not skimped on by his siblings. He is also a bit of a germophobe and makes sure manners are practiced.

KaterinaKaterina – The only girl (besides me) still living at home, surrounded by boys (even the canine boy). She will be turning 9-years-old in early September but is developmentally more like a 4-5-year-old. She is in an exceptional children’s class (special ed) at school and just completed 2nd grade, where she made substantial growth.

As many of you know, my little Kat has been riddled with diagnoses that have labeled her, to a degree, but she sees herself just like everyone else. She has Autism, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, ADHD, and has most recently been declared legally blind in one eye and low vision in the other. She receives weekly occupational, speech, and physical therapies and will begin hippotherapy soon too. She’s most excited about the latter, as she LOVES horses!

Not only horses, Kat seems to be a lover of many animals and tries frequently to be Hunter’s primary caregiver (our 6-month-old yellow lab). Unfortunately, Hunter has now surpassed Kat’s weight, so Josiah has the task of taking him out on the leash most frequently.

Kat is also a rule-follower. She frequently tattles on her siblings and tries to be Austyn’s “second mom”. We’re working on this, but I’m not sure much will change in the near future. I’m at least thankful she’s a rule-follower.

BenBenjamin – He is 7-years-old and goes most often by “Ben”. He is the life of the party in our house and loves to dance and listen to music. Anytime music is playing, you will find Ben bopping his head along, in rhythm, and singing his lungs out (even if he doesn’t know the words of the song). His smile is infectious, and he has most recently found a love for the harmonica!

Ben will be repeating first grade next year, but he was the only one of my Bulgarian kiddos to start school “on time” by American standards. This is certainly not a bad thing, and I welcome the opportunity for him to grow more in literacy. He, like Josiah, is attending three weeks of reading camp this summer.

Ben will begin occupational therapy again next week, here in Hickory (he had it before when we lived in Asheville). He has ADHD, ODD, and RAD (reactive attachment therapy) diagnoses, and I long for the day Ben can attach in a “normal” way, but this is not uncommon with adopted children.

AustynAustyn – Oh…my sweet “Aussie”, as we now dub him. He is our cute little four-year-old towhead. His cuteness, however, can cover up the little firecracker he actually is. He, too, has multiple mental health issues, stemming from his bio family, but we know God is bigger than all the “issues”.

He is excelling in school, and is smarter than we can wrap our heads around. He loves his big brother, Josiah, and follows him everywhere. He still sleeps with Mama and is “scared” to even walk through a room by himself. I continue to pray for God to release him of his fears and for him to walk in peace. He will be starting grief therapy soon. He grieves the hardest over the loss of his daddy and constantly pines for him. It breaks my heart!

As for me, stay tuned…so much happening (good and difficult), but I am prepared for it all! I will be leaving for a mission trip to Ecuador on July 27 and am most anxious about it but so excited to pour into the women of this precious nation. I welcome your prayers!

I will continue to update, as able. I have missed this community immensely and am thankful God has renewed my writing passion!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Parenting from Heaven

ParentingParenting. Ahhhh…the joys, the pains, the mistakes, and everything in between.

It’s hard to believe my Bulgarian children have been home just a few months shy of two years. I vividly remember those first few days with them in our apartment in Sofia (Bulgaria’s capital). I was in tears virtually every single night. I thought, “What have we done?” Those early days (especially those in-country) were hard.

I remember communicating with friends back home who had walked similar paths, and they assured me it would get better. At the time, I thought we would never climb out of the pit we were in. But, they were right…it did get easier. Not easy…but easier.

Initially, Joel and I discovered many bad habits that had to be “un-done”. Now try to imagine doing that when speaking two different languages. Even so, we had to be consistent from the start. It’s hard for me to conceive now, but I had a very difficult time with Josiah (my now 9-year-old) initially. He would do anything Joel asked him to do, but basically laughed in my face whenever I said anything to him. For those of you who have had the privilege of meeting my son, you know that’s nothing like the young man you’ve met. But, I’m telling you…he was a different little boy back then.

Joel could tell Josiah to listen to me or to do something I was trying to get him to do, and he would obey Joel. But me…I got nothing out of him but more arrows flying to my already broken heart. I couldn’t understand why he hated me so much.

It wasn’t long before our translator, a native Bulgarian, explained that in the Roma culture, women aren’t respected, and the Roma boys are taught they don’t have to respect them. Even so…that was unacceptable, and that paradigm had to shift.

Joel immediately started teaching Josiah to respect me. It got better when we were back in the United States, but we still had a long road ahead of us. When Josiah’s understanding of the English language improved, his behavior towards me (and his younger sister) improved greatly. I remember one day Josiah and Katerina got into argument about something silly. The argument quickly grew a little more heated, and Joel and I witnessed him hit his sister. That did it. We’re not raising a bully!

I immediately went to a sobbing Katerina to try and comfort her, and Joel took Josiah outside for a “man-to-boy” chat. By the time they were finished talking, Josiah walked into the house and went over to Katerina to apologize and ask her forgiveness. Then, Joel asked Josiah to share with me the things we learned.

“I never hit girls.”

“Mommy is just as important as Daddy.”

“I treat girls with love.”

“I love my sister and need to protect her.”

There were other items mentioned, but those were the big ones. And, honestly, after that conversation…to my knowledge, Josiah has never hit another girl. He’s certainly not perfect and has a lot of learning left to do when it comes to relationships with people, but I know that lesson was drilled into him.

Fast forward to last week. I was in the hospital, and my long-time friend, Kandi, was at the house taking care of the children for me. She called me after the kids had gone to bed and said she just had to share something with me. She relayed a conversation between Josiah and Austyn that occurred at the dinner table earlier that evening…

A: “I got in trouble today.”

J: “What did you do Austyn?”

A: “I had to go to timeout, because I hit ________.”  (I don’t remember her name, but it was a little girl in his preschool class.)

J: “Austyn! You know we never, ever hit girls. Never! Okay?”

Austyn nodded.

J: “Now, I want you to back to school tomorrow and tell her you’re sorry and won’t do it again.”

Austyn agreed, and the scolding by his big brother ended. After Kandi finished relaying the story to me, I smiled through tears up in my hospital room, and I shared, “That was from Joel. He made sure Josiah and Benjamin understood that boys don’t hit girls, and men don’t hit women.” Now…Josiah was reminded of that teaching and passed it along to his littlest brother.

Even from Heaven, Joel’s legacy lives on strong, and his parenting continues to shine boldly through our home.

#WeAreNotForgotten

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

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.