Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Year and a Half Later

A year and a half.  My new record for length of time between blog posts.  It gets harder to blog about your kids when they are now on the Internet themselves….and likely don’t want the details of their lives blurted out in public.  One thing I’ll say is that in this last year and a half, the Lord has definitely given me more than I can handle!  You know those cute Facebook posts that say, “Don’t worry…God never gives us more than we can handle!”?  Not true!  He doesn’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we can resist….but making things easy enough for us to ‘handle’ on our own…….not a promise.
In the last year and a half we’ve had a new boy join our family, and five kids turn between 12 and 16 years old (I don’t count Benji because he’s so emotionally young!), and it seems to my introverted self that they are taking over the place!  Sometimes I feel like I’ve lost total control of this home and I ask God, “Remember that promise you made that ‘great will be the peace of our children?’ Is this your idea of peaceful, God, because it’s not really mine."  It’s not that anyone is making any REALLY bad choices, thank God.  It’s just strong wills and character and pride, and the fact that all come from different background experiences…..and they have trouble understanding where the others are coming from, and noticing their own shortcomings.  So there has been considerable bickering and strife amongst the five oldest, and it trickles down to the younger ones  And I find myself trying to keep kids separated as much as possible.  

We’ve had counseling sessions, and doctor appointments, and I’ve spent lots of time asking God to help me be the kind of Mom who will be a blessing to our family.  This type of mom job isn’t well suited for very sensitive people, and I am extra sensitive.  So, often I think I need to toughen up…...but then sometimes my ‘tough’ just sounds nasty to me.  And then I’m like, “God, help me to be nicer!”  But then, I’m sweet, and that must be the high-flying-flag that screams, “There she is….the little mouse….we can take her!!!”  I see both types of moms being great parents…..the tough, no-nonsense moms who couldn’t care less what their kids think or say to them.  And the sweet, nurturing moms who exude encouragement and positivity.  But, me, I’m not good at either of those, and so I feel like I’m walking on a balance beam, and different kids, at different times, are either holding my hand, helping me make it to the end, or trying to push me off to my death!

Lots of people over the last 5 years have said to me, “You obviously have a gift from God to be able to adopt so many kids,” and “I could NEVER do what you do."   To be honest, those words, given as complements, leave me feeling kind of alone.  The truth is, neither I nor Norman is naturally very good at this.  I mean, adopting a baby (DJ) or a 4 year old (JoJo) was easy.  But adopting 6 kids between ages 7-13 doesn’t actually ‘mesh’ well with either of our personalities.  And we sure don’t feel gifted!    If you’d say to me, “You have such a pretty voice….you are SO gifted!"  I’d thank you and think, “You’re right! Singing comes naturally…it’s my gift!”  But bringing older kids into your family….raising children who grew up with a completely different perspective than what you’re raising them with…..I don’t know if there is a gift from God that makes any of that easier, but if there is, then God skipped Norman and I when he was handing out that one.  Instead, he chose to allow us to get ourselves into something way over our heads.  To force us to rely on him day after day.  Something that humbles us and shows us our shortcomings.

Something to teach me that it matters 0% what I score on the Introvert/Extrovert test.  Ok, so congratulations….you’re an introvert!  Now, what are you going to do about it?  Well, I guess I’m going to PRAY, “God help me to bear listening to this full recap of the 500 page book he just read,” or “God, please help me keep my joy and my smile when it sounds like Ringling Bros Circus at the kitchen table.”  And especially, “God, help me to be peppy and cheery and fun instead of so reserved and serious.  Stretch me and form my personality so that it makes others happy and shows others….especially these kids, LOVE.  Let me not resent that I can’t have 30 minutes ALL alone.  Instead, let me always, always, always be thankful and receive the blessings that you have allowed into this home!”

So, a difficult year and a half has passed, but I’m getting over the hump and finding that the Lord is making me stronger and increasing my faith.  When I start feeling sorry for myself and asking questions, God reminds me of his awesome, breath-taking redemption that I get to be a part of.  When I start to envy the small, peaceful family of four, God, again, reminds me of this awesome priviledge to partner with him.   When I get irritated because someone excitedly equates their large (all birthed-kids) family with our large (crazy) family…as if we have so much in common, God again, reminds me of the privilege I have of being a part of his redemption story, and that I don’t need the affirmation or understanding of any man.  I am the Lord’s.  He’s taking care of me.  He's taking care of my children. He’s taking care of everything.  And this is not too much for HIM to handle!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Off To School For Some of the Garcia Kids

If you know me, then you know I’m sold out on home schooling.  To me, it feels like the natural thing to do, the way most mothers would feel about giving birth—the first option is to deliver normally….and a C-section is a go-to only when necessary.  That’s how I am about home schooling and public school.  Home schooling is my default—public school is my back-up plan….when my health or something else is at risk!!  I guess it helps that I’m a teacher, and that I’ve always loved teaching kids…..for me, I have a hard time believing that anyone can teach my kids as well as I can!

That being said.…..I have to admit that the last two years have taken a lot out of me, with seven kids on all different levels….three who didn’t speak English or even know the alphabet.  It hasn’t been easy home schooling so many children with various needs, who come from such different walks of life.  

Luke (13) already joined the public school scene last school year.  It was either that or he and I hating each other, and I opted for the “getting along with my kid” option.  And in April, Steven (15) started public school, being admitted into the visually impaired program.  

We are going to send Grace (12) to school this year as well.  She has no special needs, but could, in my opinion, use a year of someone else making her do school work instead of me.  She is lively and happy and extremely helpful to me at home, but no matter what I’ve tried….online curriculum, workbooks, interest-led learning, etc. I have trouble getting Gracie excited about learning.  She’s happy just to cook and clean and take care of children. And so it causes some stress at home, since we don’t live in the 1800’s and I am required, by law, to provide her with an academic education.  

My saddest, and most uncertain decision is my little Jojo (turning 9 in November, but tiny like a 6 year old).  In a moment of weakness this year, when I felt like his speech wasn’t improving at all, I had him re-tested at our elementary school.  To my surprise, his scores went up so much since his first testing, that the IEP team recommended he be placed in a regular 1st grade classroom and receive 17 hours per week of pull-out services in speech and language, etc.  It’s an offer that is hard to refuse, but he is such a joy to our everyday life that I can barely stand to part with him.  He makes me laugh all the time and is so darn cute!!  And with me, his academics (and yes, even his speech) really are coming along so much that I can’t think of why on earth I’d send him anywhere else.  Yet, sending him to school would give me one big advantage—and that is that I’d have more time to spend working with Benjamin, who really needs to learn in a one-on-one setting.  So, it’s looking like I’m going to reluctantly send Josiah to 1st grade this year…..though don’t be surprised if he only makes it to Christmas and then I snatch him back home!! (Update.....he only made it to Christmas and I snatched him back home!!  A wasted five months of not learning anything and not really seeing a difference in his speech!  He would bring all these papers with scribble scrabble home in his backpack, and I was like, "Does the teacher even know he's in there?!....27 kids, btw! )

Benji (12, but more like a 9 year old) will continue to be home schooled because he really needs one-on-one instruction.  The nice thing is, he’s my easiest child to home school—he is incredibly motivated to learn.  I have several paid subscriptions to online educational programs, and he can literally spend hours working on those, during the times I can’t be working directly with him.  It’s amazing how far he has come in these last two years. To think that he came here not knowing a single letter of the alphabet in Bulgarian, nor even knowing how to write his own name, and now he’s reading simple books and spelling simple words.  He still has a long way to go but he has the motivation to succeed.  

Sara (11) and David (6) will be my regular home schoolers this year.  They both like to learn, and I’m looking forward to taking their education to a higher level. I’m deciding on a once a week school program for them to attend, in which they will get instruction and peer interaction and will come home with an assignment sheet to complete for the rest of the week. I’m excited because the schools I’m considering use a lot of the same curriculum that we already use, and that same Charlotte Mason style of teaching/learning.  This will also give them some outside accountability so I don’t have to be the one requiring everything from them. (Update--we chose Veritas Classical Schools and I love it!)

That’s the Garcia family home school story for 2015/16.  To be honest, I feel a little sad only home schooling half of the crew this year.  I see other moms of large families home school successfully and I wish I could make it work here as well!  But to preserve my sanity and health, I’m thankful that I have the option of relying on public schools to help me shoulder the load….at least for this year. One year at a time….may the Holy Spirit always lead us in his wisdom!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Going After Their Hearts....Going After God's

My baby boy turned six years old today.  It’s been five years since we’ve had him.  We were signed up for older child adoption but God plopped a 13 month old boy right into our laps.  He was and is such a blessing to us.  For at least two years it felt like Christmas morning every day…..I’d wake up and he’d be the first thing I thought about.  He is delightful in every way and him becoming my son is one way that I know that God really likes me!

Fast forward five years later, and we’ve added six more children to the mix….they are ages 14, 12, 11, 11, 10, and 7. (We also have 5 adult kids!) Each one is unique and beautiful and special, but none were as easy to adapt to as our baby was.  Of course not.  We knew they wouldn’t be when we got into older child adoption.  They already have their personalities formed and you're not going to change that—all you can do is learn to blend and bend and adapt to one another…..and to keep improving—both you and them—little by little.  By the grace of God.  Learning humility.  And when you are learning it and moving in it yourself, it’s a lot easier to teach it to your children.

My husband and I met a couple the other day and we got to talking about our kids, and they were amazed that we had adopted seven children.  I have so many adoptive Facebook friends that I forget that to most people we are unusual.  They asked us what made us decide to adopt so many children.  We told them that we are Christians—adopted by God…..and that this is his heart.  We told them we feel it is a mockery of God that there are 2 billion Christians in the world while 20 million orphans sit legally free to be adopted.  We told them that these children are the Church’s responsibility.  The couple is Muslim. 

Then they said something that we hear All. The. Time.  They said, “Wow, you must really have a lot of patience to be able to do this.  WE don't have that kind of patience.”  I told them the truth….No, it’s not that we HAVE patience naturally...we don't!  But we do want to have patience, and I guess nothing will develop that better than putting yourself in a position where you have to get along with other humans who come with all types of issues…..behavior, personality, or learning, etc.

This adoption road has been challenging.  For sure, more challenging than if we had had seven children biologically.  The love and bonding don't just come naturally, like with birth.  It takes cultivating and purposefully going after it.  It’s sort of like going after God.  Like when you WANT to love God more, and you WANT to be close to him, but your natural man just wants to watch the fun shows on TV and read the novels and do the online surfing, etc.  But then you take the time.  You put down the remote and you close the computer and you read his Word, which seems really dull and dry right now.  But you know that you must go after God.  You aren’t hungry for him but you WANT to be hungry for him, so you start feeding your spirit with the stuff that will nourish it, and then, lo and behold, this passion, this fire, starts burning within you and you are falling desperately, deeply in love with your Father.  This wonderful thing has happened to me.  I’m so madly in love with my God….zeal burns within me for his Name and for his Word. 
And this feels similar to the cultivating I’m trying to do with my relationships with my children.  Sometimes I just want to say about a particular one—“This one and I just won’t get along.  Our personalities are too different.”  And maybe in the end it won’t turn out all lovey dovey between us.  But, it’s not an option to give up.  I must go after this bonding just as I go after God.  And as I go after their hearts, I’m at the same time going after the heart of God.  Because he LOVES people.  People whom we find annoying or rude or draining….he loves them.  So as we purpose to love them, we are loving him.  “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” 1 John 4:7-11

The Spirit of God is all over adoption.  This is his heart.  Norman and I never adopted in order to get a pat on the back from God or any person.  We did it because we knew this is the right thing to do and that no matter how hard it would be, God would be in our midst and he would bless it.  And he has.  Bringing these children into our lives has made us fall more and more in love with Jesus!  Sometimes, when I have a moment’s peace, or when I’m lying in bed, I just tell him how crazy in love with him I am.  And what amazes me is that I see this same passion for God and his truth in several of our kids—our three recently adopted Bulgarian boys included.  They love to pray—they pray with boldness and fervor. They love to sing and worship and study his Word.  They are his beloved.

So I just want to thank my Lord for the gift of my little King David, and for all twelve of our children.  He was the beginning of this long, hard, beautiful journey that Norman and I are privileged enough to walk together...... hand in hand with the One who first loved and adopted us.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Homeschooling--Down to Six:)

I'm a huge fan of home schooling for so many reasons, particularly because it encourages bonding...especially when your children are adopted and you didn't have the benefit of bonding with them as babies.  Home schooling feels natural and peaceful, and I like the content of what my kids are learning as opposed to what they'd be learning in public school.  I'm glad I can have my kids around me as much as possible, as I am growing in my relationship with Christ and encouraging my children in the same.  

Last school year I home schooled all seven children, and to be honest, it was a huge challenge with having three boys who are YEARS behind academically and didn’t speak English.  But I chose to keep them home and work with them because the only alternative would have been for them to be placed in a special ed class for moderately mentally disabled students, and the IEP goals set for them by the school team were pathetically low (they are not moderately mentally disabled, but did score poorly on their IQ tests).  I knew they had much greater potential, and now, one year later, they have FAR exceeded those pitiful goals that were set out for them (draw shapes, listen to a story, cut on a line!!)  Benjamin, for whom they had the lowest expectations, is reading simple books and spelling simple words and adding and subtracting with manipulatives….things I’m sure he wouldn’t be doing if we had taken the advice of the IEP team at our local elementary school.

This year is going so much smoother now that everyone understands English and has learned the alphabet!  We decided to send Luke (13) to public school because home schooling wasn’t contributing to the love a mother and son should feel for each other. Lol   I believe in home schooling, but when you have to be on top of your child ALL. DAY. LONG. then it’s time to let someone else be the bad guy.  And this has improved our family dynamics a lot.  We are also in the process of having Steven tested so that he can go to public school—not because I have trouble with him completing his work, but because there are some services for visually impaired students that we are not giving Steven and we would like to see if these can benefit him. So, soon, it’ll be down to 5 over here! 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Simple Life is Over! LOL

I have to hurry up and write this before one of the other football moms from Luke’s team finds my blog.  No sooner did I write my sweet little post about “The Simple Life” than Norman and I felt tugged to sign up our son, Luke (12) for football this year.  He has wanted to play since he came to live with us in the summer of 2011, but the first year it was too late to sign up, and in 2012 we were raising funds for our Bulgarian adoptions, and in 2013 we were adjusting to three new boys in the family and having seven kids.  But this year, there wasn’t really a good excuse and we decided to bite the bullet and sign him up, because playing football has been Luke’s dream for a long time.  Here’s a short snippet from a text conversation between Norman and myself, the night we were having Norman’s older children over for dinner to celebrate his son, Sammy’s, birthday.  It should give you a little insight into how we feel about the football commitment:
            Me:  Who is taking Luke to practice tonight?
            Norman:  Practice again??
            Me:  Yep
            Norman:  Let him miss tonight
            Me:  He can’t
            Norman:  Why not??
            Me:  Because he’s new and he needs to learn everything
            Norman:  It seems like Luke has practice every single day!
            Norman:  We did not sign up for slavery!!

Oh yes we did! Parents should beware that if they choose football as the sport of choice for their child, it is tantamount to slavery.  It’s only been two weeks and I’ve already screwed up in several ways.  One night I picked him up 30 minutes late because I forgot about the time change.  He was at the park all alone, in the dark, with two dads from another team staying back with him.  Then, the night of Sammy’s party, we left Luke out in a lightning storm.  It was only 8:25 and practice doesn't end until 9PM, and even though it was lightning outside like crazy, it never dawned on us that practice would be called short.  DUH  So, before I know it, some random dad from another team is calling me asking me what I am going to do with my poor son who is the ONLY child there without a ride.  We finally agree that I am sending my son with a complete stranger (he did have his son with him as well) to meet my husband at a nearby gas station.  On game day, it turns out that I never pressed the button on the dryer, so his football pants were still wet, and I never turned on the washer with his football shirt in it, because I ran out of laundry detergent and then forgot!  He’s gone to practice without a mouth guard, and without a water bottle (his own fault, not mine!!!) and we’ve dropped him off for practice at the curb, instead of parking first, which is “against park rules.”

Can you tell that this isn’t the life I was cut out for?  But once again, God calls us to stretch out of our comfort zone….even in things that seem to have no importance whatsoever.  But it was important to Luke.  We had hoped that the importance would dwindle once he lived with a non-football loving family for three years….but it didn’t.  If a kid hasn’t watched a football game in three years and is still passionate about it, then I guess it’s time you do something about it.  So, we are officially a football family now.  You can totally disregard my last post about “The Simple Life.”  And I really mean that, because, guess what….we decided that the chaos of football practices and games just wasn’t enough for us, and we went and signed up our two youngest for soccer!  Much less of a commitment than football, but time driving and away from home nonetheless.  The cuteness factor kind of makes up for it though!

Maybe I wrote that last post because I had a stirring inside of me that things were about to change, and I wanted to convince myself, in writing, that sports was NOT the way to go.  Either that, or God just wanted to shake things up a bit and let us see that the peace we have doesn't come from NOT doing extra stuff.  It comes from being connected to him and centering our lives completely around him.  And there's no way that a couple of hours of distraction per day is going to take that away from us!  We are our Beloved's and He is ours!!  Let the games begin!! (And November will be here soon enough :)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Simple Life!

I love our simple life.  I don't mean 'simple' in that it's easy to raise and home-school seven children (My husband wanted me to add that part so people won't start asking us to babysit!) But 'simple' in that we're not committed to and involved in all kinds of outside activities. Actually, the Lord has blessed us with a period of being financially strapped, living paycheck to paycheck and sometimes wondering where the money will come to pay the next bills that are due.  Because of this, we've been forced to stay close to home and not sign up for activities, and it has honestly been a blessing to our family.  Sometimes I look at other families and I think, “How on earth do they do it?” Or actually, "WHY do they do it?" Do people from my generation remember growing up driving all over the place to one activity after another?  I don't.  All I remember is day after day playing outside with my sister and the neighborhood kids....riding our bikes, learning gymnastic tricks, playing jump rope, roller-skating, playing "Charlie's Angels" (lol) and then coming inside to have dinner and watch a bit of television with my parents.

Some of the blessings of living 'close to home':  We eat our meals together, spend lots of time outside and at the pool, watch movies, ride bikes, read the Bible and pray together, drink tea and talk. With seven children, there’s always someone “new” to play with and sometimes the kids keep themselves occupied for hours playing outside or doing crafts or playing with toys, and I will pay bills, or cook the next meal, or sometimes just sit and rest!  My kids might be just "so-so" at basketball and gymnastics, but, thank God they know and love his Word!  If we had had the money to sign up for all kinds of activities, we may have missed this huge blessing! (I'm NOT saying, of course, that you can't be excellent in a sport and still know and love God's Word!)
Photo: Little guy's last day of swimming for a few days. Tomorrow is surgery to repair a hernia and get a bone anchored hearing aid. Pray for all to go smoothly and no complications with his heart/lungs.  Thank you!!
Since being forced to stay at home, and falling in love with it, the thought of having to pack kids up, take them to a class, wait around for an hour and then drive home makes me cringe.   

I've learned that having a lot of money isn't always a blessing from God.  Sometimes the Lord draws us closer to himself by keeping things tight and keeping us relying on him--and that is a blessing that beats money any day. That is the road we are on right now.  I don's say that it is the road God has for everyone at every point in their lives.  But for now, this is us. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The New Normal

This is an exciting week for us. We know five families who are bringing home their children from Bulgaria….one of them is a boy from Benjamin’s orphanage; and one is a girl from Steven’s orphanage! We are hoping to let the kids Skype soon. Our prayers are with these kiddos and their families....we remember how hard it was, ten months ago, when we first brought our three boys home! And we pray for the ones still waiting for someone to choose them. How hard it is for the kids left behind when one of their orphanage mates leaves to unite with his or her family.
                                         Nine of the twelve of our one grandbaby:)
I haven't blogged in a few months...partly because all these kids keep my time 95% occupied, but mostly because things feel kind of ordinary now and I guess I don't have that much of interest to write. We have officially become a boring family of nine....have found our new normal! And while, in the past, that feeling led to us starting the adoption process again, we are not quite THAT normal yet, lol. I always want to blog, but what I want to talk about is how Christians need to be fathering the fatherless, and I want to say, “What good is it to call ourselves Christ’s followers if we won’t lay our lives down for another person?”….. And “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:10) I want to plead with the body of Christ to wake up and not ignore the 20 million children around the world who are legally available for adoption. “So, Lisa, are you saying that ALL Christians need to adopt?? Don’t you think there are other causes as important as adoption?? Don’t you think that some people are more cut out for it than others??” Let me not answer those questions, but instead say that there are only 20 million legally free adoptable children…..but 2 BILLION self-proclaiming Christians. Even after weeding out the children, the elderly, and the disabled from this number, you still have a massive excess of families for the children available. Therefore, ALL Christians CAN’T adopt a child……BUT…..ALL of these children should be adopted by Christians. Can I get an amen?! These are the posts I want to write, but for some reason I stop myself, and I hope that with the little bit I do write about the story of our adopted children, God will touch someone’s heart and maybe one more orphan will find his or her parents.

Redemption Story
We had a beautiful Christmas holiday—it was our Bulgarian boys’ first Thanksgiving and Christmas belonging to a family and they were all smiles....they appreciate every little thing, especially when extended family spends time together. After Christmas we went to PA to visit family and we got a TON of snow, so I was happy they could play in the snow their first winter in America.

The most appreciative, happiest 13-yr-old we know.  xoxo
In January, both Steven and Benjamin had eye surgery. Benjamin’s was to correct his strabismus, and he looks so handsome now! One eye still strays a bit so he is wearing a patch. Steven’s surgery was more serious. He is legally blind in one eye and was completely blind in his right eye, due to a large cataract. Doctors didn’t think that removing the cataract would help because they believed that his brain had probably shut off all communication with the eye. But praise God, his eye did receive sight, and when the doctor took off his bandage, he exclaimed, “I can see! It’s so bright!!” The vision in that eye is worse than the left, so he is still legally blind, but we continue to pray for the Lord to bring complete restoration and vision to him and are waiting and expecting a miracle. He always talks about driving one day and prays to the Lord to completely heal his eyes.

Our sweet WGS died, causing us lots of tears
Little Josiah is getting ready to have another surgery. The enormous hernia that he had repaired in September ended up popping out of the other side, so he has to have that side closed as well. And he will also be getting a bone-anchored hearing aid right behind his right ear, which has no ear canal but does have an ear drum. After a cat scan the doctor concluded that he could not have a canal put in, but the hearing aid, implanted into his skull, will result in a significant increase in hearing in that ear. He won’t be getting the deformed outer ear fixed any time soon, as insurance doesn’t cover “cosmetic” procedures and we’d be looking at around $90,000!! We are trying hard to fatten him up before surgery. In September, he lost a significant amount of weight after his multiple surgeries and we have been struggling to help him gain it back. He is so active—the kids are always playing outside, jumping on the trampoline—his heart defect and low oxygen levels don’t hold him back at all!

Nothing holds this little guy back
All three boys converse very well in English….it’s amazing how quickly they learn. Even though our boys have "special needs" I really don't think of them in that way. To me, they are just typical kids...they have some differences in how quickly they learn things, but I guess I'm used to it and it doesn't feel like they are any different from my other kids most of the time. Steven (13) has become pretty independent in his home schooling. His reading and writing are coming along, though his impaired vision slows him down…he’s working at about a second grade level in both math and reading but making progress quickly.

This took a lot of bravery from these two!
Benjamin (10) wants to do school work All. The. Time. He is sounding out and spelling simple, three letter words and his writing is improving—everything he does takes longer for him to learn, but he does learn, and when I think about the fact that in four years of school in Bulgaria he learned not even a single letter of the alphabet, nor how to write his name, and that now he knows all the letters, sounds, and can write all of them, I think that is huge progress!

He held on the whole way!

Concerning Josiah, I have backed off pushing him with academics. He is seven but is developmentally more like four or five and really doesn’t show much readiness or interest in academic work. Sometimes he’s interested and we do book work, but mostly I let him play and explore and enjoy his new-found freedom, which he never had at the orphanage. I see how quickly Benjamin learns, having the desire and readiness, and I know with Josiah, in a year or two he will be the same way and academic learning will come easily, as opposed to me pushing and forcing him right now to learn all of his letters and sounds, etc. Anyway, half the time I would ask him, “What sound does this letter make?” he would say something and I had no idea if he was right or wrong, because of his speech impediment… the main focus with him right now is helping him pronounce his consonant sounds, and helping him develop in his social skills, fine motor skills, logical thinking, etc. This little guy is a pip. He pretty much does whatever he wants regardless of the consequences...touches whatever, goes name it. And he's no respecter of persons, meaning he'll talk to me and Norman as if we were just one of the guys. It's still funny because he's small and cute, but we are teaching him boundaries and how to be respectful, etc. and slowly but surely he's learning. Hey, he had a good day in Sunday School this sneaking out of the classroom and no stealing the other children's snacks! lol None of this is to say that he isn't absolutely charming and sweet and affectionate, because he is. He is a little love bug! Just with a very independent spirit!

Jojo has charmed his little 4-yr-old cousin!
If you read my blogs last summer you might remember me saying that I don’t know how anyone can adopt without having a swimming pool. The transition with the three boys was so smooth and I think it was because we spent so much time at the pool. But over the winter was a little harder. We had already pretty much adjusted to having seven children, but with them being indoors most of the time, it felt a lot more stressful. So much so, that I started to seriously consider sending Benjamin and Josiah to public school (along with a couple of others!). I had already started the school evaluation process back in August, not because I was considering sending them, but so that I could gain information about their needs that would better help me teach them. But around January I was thinking, “You know, when this evaluation is all finished I just might go ahead and send them to whatever class they are recommended for.” When all was said and done, the IEP team recommended both boys attend special ed. classes for children with moderate mental disabilities. This was primarily because of the low scores on their IQ tests. I’m pretty sure they did so poorly because of the language differences and because of not having any experience answering these types of questions. Anyway, I signed the IEP and decided to observe their respective classes before making a decision. Once I did, the decision was clear. There is no way that these classes would have been best for either boy. It’s sad that the school district doesn’t have more experience with children from orphanages. The boys are very developmentally behind and possibly have learning disabilities, but because of their low IQ scores they couldn't qualify for a class of this sort. I was so surprised that the team had recommended this placement for them and I asked one of the evaluators, “Have you ever observed a moderately mentally handicapped classroom?” And she admitted to me that she hadn’t! Anyway, we went through all those evaluations and meetings and I didn’t learn a Single. New. Thing about either boy….nothing that would help me teach them better. But the one good thing that came out of it was that after the observations, I felt confident that I could probably teach them nothing at all….just let them learn from being around their older brothers and sisters…..and they’d learn more than if I enrolled them in school. So it took a lot of the pressure off. (Of course I AM teaching them....but I’m not stressing myself out doing it!) To overcome their developmental delays, they are better off spending their days with their older siblings than in a class with children who struggle more than they do.

I get Worst Mom of the Year award for sending these five up alone!! Thanks to the random mom and dad behind and in front!
I wrote in December that we were looking for a new church….a second church, really, because we are still a part of the home-group church we’ve attended for many years, but we wanted a place where our kids could be a part of Sunday School, Wednesday night programs, plays, etc. We decided on a small “start up” Church of God congregation not far from our home. We love the fellowship there… dinner every Wednesday night and once a month on Sunday. The kids love this, as we rarely go out to eat….and they always rush to finish their food so they can go play with the other children. They were in their first musical on Palm Sunday. Gracie had a speaking part, and Sara and Steven both had solos. People were in tears listening to Steven sing. He has a beautiful, strong voice, and his sweet spirit is so touching. The three youngest enjoyed being angels in the choir. Josiah was so funny….every time it was time for the choir to stand and sing, he was like, “OK, come on everbody! Get up!” and the congregation would be laughing while he ate up the attention. The kid knows he's funny!

We have a bunch of angels living in this house

In February, we lost our beautiful White German Shepherd to old age and a ruptured spleen. This was a heartbreaking day for everybody and the kids and I cried a lot of tears. They still talk about him all the time and imagine what he’s doing in Heaven. David even had a dream that he went to Heaven and saw the angel Gabriel playing with Lucas. He said that Lucas was running super fast and jumping really high with his (Lucas’) mother and that Gabriel told him, “Always remember this dream.” Recently, Josiah said that he wanted to die and go to Heaven to be with Lucas. Norman, not understanding Jojo’s speech told him, “You have to wait until after you finish your breakfast.” So Jojo’s eyes got really big and he looked at Norman and said, “What…..DIE??” Haha. The next day, when Benjamin told me that he wanted to die and be with Jesus, Josiah, quickly let me know, “I no want to die.” The kids were so depressed by Lucas’ passing that we decided to get a new dog right away. I’ve always been a big dog person—but with all the young children and hyper-activity in this house, we went with a small poodle/terrier mix. She doesn’t shed and she’s very playful and smart and she’s white just like Lucas. This little dog brings lots of joy to everyone. We still have one large dog—a 12 year old Vizsla, and he will probably pass away in a year or two as well…poor guy is really slowing down and turning grey:(

Our new dog, Luna

This week we’ve been celebrating Holy Week with the kids. We made our first-ever Lap Books, and it is the one thing I will allow myself to brag about because they are soooo darn cute! I love these lap books and now I’m thinking of what we can work on next. Norman and I are really into celebrating the Jewish feasts….we love the prophetic significance of them…they are fascinating! So on Tuesday night we had our traditional Passover dinner, explaining all of the prophetic signs that pointed to Jesus. When it was time for the kids to open the door to look for Elijah (in hopes that the Messiah would be returning soon) the kids fervor showed and they were yelling, “Elijah!! Elijah!! Come on, we are looking for you!!” If any of our neighbors heard them they probably thought we were nuts! Tonight we were watching The Gospel of Matthew movie, and at the point where Jesus was telling off the Pharisees, Steven clapped his hands and was like, “YES! That is AWESOME! I LOVE him!! Calling them hypocrites!” When Jesus was asking the Father to take the cup of suffering from him Steven asked why God didn’t answer his prayer. We told him that God had to have Jesus suffer so that we could go to heaven one day….that Jesus did it for us. And though he already “knew” this, Steven was really touched tonight in a deeper way by Jesus’ sacrifice.

Celebrating Passover
In my desire not to embarrass any of my children, nor to be negative, I might make this whole ‘adopting seven kids in four years’ thing seem easy, or maybe give the impression that I’m just so good at it and so it’s worked out for me. I really have an aversion to speaking negative things over my family or my life…..I feel that once I start telling the world, “This child is like this, or this child and I really clash,” etc. it will solidify the problem and make things less likely to change. And so, usually I wait until after things have turned for the better before sharing….so that I can share the real struggles of adoption but not make it seem hopeless. That being said, I’ll share that over the winter months I was having a difficult time with two of my children (not the Bulgarian boys) who were just so hyper-active, couldn’t or wouldn’t stay on task, and who goofed off All. Day. Long. I was beginning to be angry all the time... “Are you seriously still sitting here doing that math lesson?” or “You’ve been up here for three hours and your bedroom is still a mess!?” or “WHY ARE YOU ON THE FLOOR WRESTLING WHEN YOU SHOULD BE DOING YOUR SCHOOL WORK??!!” With one of them, it was getting to the point that we didn’t even like each other for a while....personality clashing at it's finest.... and sometimes I'd just feel annoyed and think, "Well, it's not my fault....this child is just going to have to learn what we expect and straighten out," And then conviction would set in and I'd take it to the Lord saying, “God, I cannot have this attitude toward this child. I cannot have this child grow up without a mother…..and right now I feel no motherly love toward this child! God help me, please!” Then I changed around the way we manage our home school day and that helped tremendously. But the Lord also did something for me and the one child who I couldn’t tolerate. This child decided to read the entire book of Revelation one day, and after reading the whole book, the said child came down to me and said they felt a change in their life. From that time, I haven’t gotten the normal bad attitude when asked to do something, and this child is now much nicer to the other more bullying or condescending. I know it’s something I will continually need to keep before the Lord, and that the child….and I….will probably need to read that Book of Revelation many more times! lol…..but these last two weeks I have felt so much more kindness and appreciation for this child of mine, and I’m thankful because this child needs a mom who loves them with all her heart! And so that is my request to God….to open up my heart towards all of my children so that they will feel loved the same as if they were all my biological children.

At the Lake.  Jojo said, 'I want to swim in THAT pool!'
For me, personally, it isn’t just “natural” to love an older adopted child as if they were “my own” right off the bat. Of course that is the goal and that is what you fight for and pray for God’s grace for, but sometimes I read other adoption blogs and it seems as if the new mom is head over heels in love after only a couple of weeks, and it makes me feel terrible about if I have some type of love deficiency....and maybe I do! I wish I was naturally made like those moms! Maybe I’m the exception, and I hope that’s the case…but I want to encourage other believers who are apprehensive about adoption….because I’ve heard this so much…”I just don’t know if I could love the child as much as my other children.” And to them I say, “It’s ok. You won’t love them as much in the beginning….maybe not for a long time. But we, the children of God, adopted into his family, made joint heirs with Christ, are the ones who owe it to the Lord to LEARN how to love those who are not “our own flesh.” Not every Godly pursuit comes “naturally.” If we cater to our flesh we won’t move into any of the higher things God has for us. So we humble ourselves and trust in God’s grace….trust him to help us be the vessels of love and hope and redemption to the fatherless. And God changes us….changes us into his image! How glorious to be being transformed into the image of Christ. This is one of the blessings adoption has brought to me and Norman. It has pushed us, bent us, challenged us more than we could ever imagine….to become more like Christ. And the Lord has shown us his grace over and over again. Oh how I pray for the children who still wait…..and wait……and wait…..because Christians are scared of what adoption will do to them and their family. And scared that they won't learn to love! If they only knew the life-breathing change it could bring to their homes......... Lord, awaken your Church to the cries of the Fatherless! Jesus, come quickly and rescue the innocent from this dark place!

I'm longing for this sweet angel to find a family!

    Thursday, December 5, 2013

    Six Months Home!


    I can’t believe it’s been six months since we brought home our three boys from Bulgaria.  Their transition into our family has been amazing…..we can’t even describe it to people.  All I can say is that when you commit your ways, your lifestyle, your entertainment, your focus, your passions, fully on the Lord, and you set out to care for the fatherless, the Lord goes before, behind, beside you in every way.  All of our children are such a blessing to us and to others and we are honored to be their parents!

    Today we were recognized by Mundo Hispanico, the main Spanish newspaper in Georgia, at their annual awards banquet.  Our family’s adoption story won for the 2013 Special Interest story of the year.  Through the article they wrote, we’ve been able to share about older child and special needs adoption with the Hispanic community…..basically our favorite thing to talk about!

    For those who are following our boys’ story, here’s the latest.  Little Josiah just had a birthday and turned seven—though he looks more like four. I’m not sure if I wrote this before, but he ended up not being a candidate for heart surgery.  When we adopted him we didn’t think he was a candidate, but when we got him home his cardiologist gave us some hope that perhaps he could have total heart repair surgery, which would entail repairing seven major problems.  However, after a more detailed evaluation of the anatomy of his heart, all three of the biggest surgeons with CHOAtlanta said they would not perform the surgery—that it was too risky and wouldn’t likely increase his life span.  They sent his file to Philadelphia and to one other city and surgeons there concurred.  So he is left in God’s hand and we believe the Lord will sustain him with health and life just as he has for his first seven years.  Doctors call him a “mystery.”  They do not understand how his heart has found balance and works so well with all that is structurally wrong with it and they also don't understand why he doesn't have lung damage (praise God!).  We also found out that he is not a candidate for ear canal surgery—the hearing bones are missing (or something like that) so doctors cannot do it.  They can implant a bone anchored hearing aid into his skull though, to help him hear with his right ear…so we are deciding whether or not to have that surgery done. And as for his deformed outer don't even want to know.  We figured it would be considered cosmetic and wouldn't be covered by insurance......7K to 10K maybe, out of pocket.  Well, it ends up being more like a 70K to 90K surgery! Ummmm, not quite ready to schedule that one!   I work with Jojo every day on his speech (he has a recently repaired cleft lip and palate) and he is starting his formal speech therapy classes next week.  He has learned how to make so many new consonant sounds—only he doesn’t apply them to his regular talking.  People think we are geniuses though, when he babbles something and we know exactly what he is saying.  The best at it is five-year-old David.  If you don’t know what Jojo is saying, just ask David…..he’ll either tell you what was said or make something good up!                                                                 

    Josiah’s English has advanced enough that he now tells us that when he was in the orphanage he cried because he wanted us to come.  And he tells us that he slept with the stuffed bear we bought him—the one with the picture of all three of us on the bear’s shirt.  He’s very cuddly and affectionate and loves to be babied—which is why he particularly loves his sisters and wants to be wherever they are.  He’s a little bit of a stinker and tries to get away with whatever he can, but he really is a good boy and loves to help and share with his siblings. When he does something wrong, like taking his brother's flashlight out of his drawer because his own no longer works, and you ask him why he did that, his answer is always, "Just because."  Then you say, "Because why?"  And he always answers, "Because I want to."  He's quick to repent though, so that's good:)

    Ten-year-old Benjamin, if you can believe it, is starting to READ!  Honestly, I was just about to send him to school.  I would go over letters with him and two minutes later he couldn’t tell me what the letters were….it seemed he could not retain a thing. So I told my husband that I thought we’d have to enroll him so he could get help that I couldn’t give him.  And then, soon after that, everything started coming together.  He started remembering all of his letters and their sounds.  Then we skipped ahead and started him in the first Hooked on Phonics book, taught him how to sound out the words, and he could do it!  He wasn’t just memorizing them.  He actually sounds out the letters and knows what the words are (very easy words like cat and rat, but still...).  Imagine if I would have enrolled him in school and he would have exploded the way he did…..I would have attributed it all to being in school and maybe gone and enrolled all seven of them!  LOL  His writing skills are also improving and he can write his name (couldn’t do that in Bulgaria) and knows how to form some other letters.

    The Lord surely had this boy set apart from the time he was in Bulgaria.  His anointing is upon this child and he knows how to touch the heart of God.  Benjamin is a prayer warrior.  Sure, we pray with the children every day and teach them God’s Word.  But it’s like Benji takes everything he hears in prayer and multiplies it in his own prayers.  He prays fervently for anyone he knows has a need.  And he does not give up….he prays for them day after day after day….on his own….people I’ve totally forgotten about.  And we keep seeing our children’s prayers answered.  They are all so excited now to pray for someone because they expect a miracle, and when I tell them, “So and so is all better now,” the kids cheer and are like, “Yes! Another person we prayed for is healed! Everyone we pray for gets better!”  This was truly tested a few weeks ago when their grandfather was in the hospital and had TEN heart attacks throughout the day.  It didn’t look like he was going to make it but he made it through and is home now doing great.  Another victory for the Garcia children, lead by Benjamin!

    We’ve had Benjamin’s right eye patched so the left one could get stronger and it worked perfectly.  At his last eye doctor appointment, both eyes had equal vision!  So in January he will have strabismus surgery to align the eyes so he won’t be cross-eyed any more.  If you think he’s handsome now, just wait till you see him a month and a half from now!

    Thirteen-year-old Steven is the sweetest, gentlest boy you’ll ever meet.  He is so eager to please and loves to help out around the house. He’s always telling me to sit down and rest and that I work too hard and that he will do my work for me.  He, like Benjamin, really knows how to touch God’s heart in prayer.  He is very serious about the things of God and stays on top of the younger kids if they are looking around or goofing off while someone is praying.  He prays for the children back in his orphanage to find families.  So far I know of one precious 12-year-old girl who has a family coming for her….but there are at least 20 more from his orphanage still waiting for families.  And they all long for someone to adopt them.  I remember when we first visited Steven last December….the orphanage director had us take him out of the orphanage because she said it was too painful for the other children to see a family there for another child and not for them.  And I will never forget how some of the kids looked at us with such a longing in their expressions.  Please, if you are even slightly moved in your heart to consider adopting an orphaned child…..take the next step.  You can write to me HERE if you want someone to talk to about it  

    Steven’s reading skills are coming along well and he loves to learn.  He just got a special electronic magnifying device that he places over his written work and it magnifies the words WAY bigger than a regular glass he is so excited because he no longer has to put his face up against the page to see the letters.  Math facts are coming along very slowly, but hey, that's what fingers are for, right?? jk  He’s such a serious guy—he tells us that all he wants to do is go to church and do home schooling, LOL.  When it’s time to take a break and go play outside he will often stay inside to keep doing his work, and I sometimes just have to make him go play.  But that’s not to say that he isn’t social because he is very much so and gets along and plays well with everyone. He is most excited right now about learning how to play Christmas songs on the piano and also taking voice lessons from me.  I've been a vocal instructor for many years, but now I only teach one afternoon per week, and on that day, I do lessons individually with all seven of our kids (the little ones get maybe 10 minutes).  One of his favorite things to do is sing and he practices his excercises and songs every day! At the beginning of the Christmas season I broke out one of my favorite CDs....Carols sung by the Westminster Abbey choir.  Steven was enraptured.  "Ohhh, Mommy....I LOVE this music....Mommy can we go to a church with this music?  This is like the music in Bulgaria church.  Ohhhh, can you make me this CD to keep in my room?"  And now you hear the Westminster Abbey choir from any of the children's rooms on any given day.

    We are all praying for a miracle for Steven’s eyes.  He will have cataract surgery in January but doctors are not optimistic that the surgery will improve his vision.  They say that because he’s had the cataract for so long, it’s likely that his brain has stopped all functioning for the blind eye (the right eye is pretty much completely blind and the left has very impaired vision.) But Steven is optimistic that the surgery WILL work and he prays to the Lord every day to fix his eyes so he can see better and do his school work.  And he really wants to be able to drive one day.  We will not relent in our prayers for him for restored vision. He is always so interested in the stories in the Bible that talk about Jesus healing a blind man and he keeps saying, "I need Jesus to do that for me!"

    I write so much about our new boys that I don’t often mention the blessing of our other children.  Luke (11), Gracie (10), and Sara (9), are a sibling group whom we adopted from foster care in 2011.  They have three younger siblings that DFACS placed in another home, and that was a heartbreaking separation.  Last month we were able to have a visit with the three little ones and our children were so excited to see them! We plan to get together for birthdays and we have our next meeting coming up soon!  These three of ours were extremely hyper-active in the beginning, and Luke was on ADHD medication when he came, but all three of them are different kids today….they are settled and at peace, and even though they miss their birth mother, they often thank the Lord for giving them a “good family” and a “Christian home.”  I’m 100% convinced that the transition with our three Bulgarian boys went so smoothly because of Luke, Gracie, and Sara.  They have the most kind, generous hearts, and have helped their new brothers in every way.  They didn’t realize it would be so difficult at first, and they were a bit disillusioned at the whole adoption-of-special-needs-children thing, but they were troopers through it all and really helped me and Norman to get the boys settled in.  Now it’s like they’ve all been together forever!  I’m so thankful for these three.  People ask us, “Do all of your kids come to you this sweet or is it something you do??” And honestly, if it’s something we are doing, I can’t tell you what it is.  I think that some of it is our parenting philosophy and that helps to minimize problems, but really, all of our children, and probably children in general, are just filled with the goodness of God (in addition to having a sin nature, of course) and if parents can keep that goodness flowing and not allow their children to get spoiled and rotten with the things of the world, they will continually see what a blessing their children are to them and the world.

    Our youngest is five-year-old David.  He is the only one of our children whom we adopted as a baby—from foster care.  He is becoming quite the prayer warrior himself…..after seeing how Benjamin and Steven travail with the Lord in prayer, he has taken on that role for himself.  Granted, some of his very lengthy prayers are for the purpose of putting off going to bed, but nevertheless, he is becoming a mighty force to be reckoned with.  Let’s see…last night’s prayer consisted of many things, including “defeating the fatness”…..that no “spiders, scorpions, or raccoons would come in our house,”….that he would be “fearless like the Macabees and able to defeat elephants,” that Satan would be “crushed into little tiny pieces,” and that all the people who are not Christian would be Christian.  This little guy loves to play, play, play, but he is also starting to read easy books (he calls it “defeating the book” when he reads the whole thing with no help) and he acts like a big brother to Benjamin and Josiah.  Really, he was our first (together) and he continues to have that first-born personality…regardless of the fact that he’s had six older siblings move in on him! (so much for the 'maintain birth order' critics!)

    Norman and I also have five grown children—two girls I adopted from foster care back in 1994, and three biological children of Norman’s—a boy and two girls.  My oldest daughter, Shannyn, is married and had a baby in March.  And at 9 months old she is already walking around the house like crazy!  They live in Pennsylvania near the rest of my family, so I don’t get to see them that often but we are all excited to be visiting them over Christmas break..  My other daughter, Elizabeth, lives with one of my best friends, just 15 minutes away, so we get to see a lot of her, which is a blessing for us.  All the kids love “Sissy!” And she spoils them with movies and junk food every time she comes over (the stuff Mom won’t give them!)  Norman’s son and one of his daughters both live nearby, and his daughter is married and has two adorable children. Gracie and Sara love when we get to babysit!  Norman’s oldest daughter also has son (extremely sweet an handsome!) but she lives up in New Jersey, so we’ve really missed her.

    The big news for our family right now is that we are looking for a second church.  For years we’ve been part of a small home-group style church, and we love the fellowship we have with them, and they've been so supportive of us throughout our adoptions.  They are a wonderful group of believers, but it's a very small group, with our children and one other being the only elementary students there.  Home schooling can be a little isolating, and we feel our children need more Christian community and something more organized, like mid-week clubs or something like that to be a part of.  I have to admit, though, that I don't like the idea of “church shopping.”  Visiting different churches each week to see which one we like just feels wrong. I want us to be led by the Spirit of God and for him to make it evident to us where we should plant our family.  Do you know what I noticed on almost every church website that I read?  They almost all say something like, “we preach a ‘relevant’ message.”  I can’t honestly say that I know where churches are going with that. Is there something not “relevant” in the Bible that these churches are staying away from?  Anyway, aside from that, I think we’ve narrowed our search down to a couple of places, and we are praying that the Holy Spirit will lead us to the place where we can make the most impact and be the greatest blessing to the people there and to the community.  At first we were looking for a place that would best meet OUR needs….some home schooling families would be nice…..maybe an adoption ministry…….separate youth groups for high school and middle school…..Sunday School classes so it's easier to connect with opportunity to help with children's or adult choir, etc.  But, we probably won't find everything we'd like at one place.  But maybe we can start an adoption ministry or a home school support group, or a children's choir,  etc.  Hopefully by the New Year  we will have decided on our new church family and we will make some new life-long connections.

    We are in full Christmas mode around here.  The boys experienced their first Thanksgiving, and we celebrated Hanukkah for the first time.  Did you know that it was during this Festival of Lights, that Jesus told the crowd, “I am the light of the world!”?  So cool!  We had a great time decorating the tree and the house for Christmas.  Yep, there were bunches of same colored balls all over the place, but that was easily fixed by Sissy and myself after the crew went to bed.  Now we get to relax and enjoy the tastes, sights, and sounds of Christmas for the entire month.  Have a blessed holiday season, friends, and my prayer is that everyone reading this would allow God to soften their hearts to the cries of the fatherless.  These little ones are crying out for parents.  We, the body of Christ, are the answer for them…..and the LORD will make the way for us when we may not be able to do it in our own strength!

    Anthem For Christmas, by Gloria Gaither and Michael W. Smith

    In the space of the beginning was the living Word of Light
    When this Word was clearly spoken all that came to be was right

    All creation had a language, words to say what must be said
    All day long the heavens whispered, signing words in scarlet red

    Some have failed to understand it, so God spoke His final Word
    On a silent night in Judah's hills a baby's cry was heard

    Glory!; sang the angel chorus. Glory!; echoed back the night
    Love has come to walk among us. Christ the Lord is born this night

    All creation sing His praises. Earth and heaven praise His name
    All who live come join the chorus. Find the words His love proclaim
    Find the words His love proclaim!!!!!!

      Friday, November 22, 2013

      Our Boys' First Christmas

      The day after Thanksgiving is usually our big day to decorate the house for Christmas, but with there being only three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, and seeing that our three new boys from Bulgaria have been asking about Christmas. ever. since. they. arrived in June, we’re breaking tradition and getting it all up this weekend….yep at the same time as having Thanksgiving AND Hanukkah decorations up…a very flavorful house! We’ll have a mixture of Fall linens and wreaths, a beautiful menorah and Star of David lights, topped off by a Christmas tree and all the goodies that go along with it.  Some may call it tacky…but we call it “lots of different types of beauty all mixed together!”
       Just noticed the tin whistles in the vase!

      It’s been so much fun sharing holiday activities with Steven, Benjamin, and Josiah.  Everything is new for them….baking and decorating cookies, making cinnamon ornaments, learning the words to Christmas carols, watching as little by little the house gets transformed for different holidays, etc.

      We just discovered that Steven LOVES, I mean is PASSIONATE about, to the point of TEARS, sacred choir/boys choir, cathedral-type music.  I played one of my favorite Christmas Carols CDs the other night…..a 1984 recording by the Westminster Abbey choir…..and Steven was enraptured. (LISTEN HERE)
       (One more thing he and I have in common!)  The girls love it too and it’s become our “go to” music while doing stuff around the house….the kids even fall asleep to it.
      I’ve been seeing a lot of Facebook posts and blogs lately, encouraging Christians to put Christ back in Christmas. I enjoy reading the blogs because I always get some good ideas from moms who want the holiday to be sacred for their children…not just about getting stuff.  The funny thing is that ever since I was a child I recall my parents having the same conversation: “All this spending money on presents doesn’t seem right.  It doesn’t seem to be the way that Jesus would want us to celebrate his birth.” And as a parent, I’ve struggled with the same thing over the years.  Only, my “excuse” has always been that my kids are adopted and never experienced getting presents, etc. etc.  It seems we all feel uncomfortable about it but can’t seem to get out of the rut. Steven recently commented that he thinks he will get a LOT of things for Christmas this year. Now, in terms of what he is used to, I guess he will get a lot of gifts this year.….but we don’t want him looking at Christmas as the holiday for him to get lots of “stuff.” But how to get the kids’ eyes off of presents and onto really appreciating the enormous gift Christ gave us by leaving his throne and coming to earth?

      When we research the origins of Christmas we find that Christ wasn’t fully IN Christmas to start with.  The holiday was started by the Catholic Church in a way that would “assimilate” the Roman pagans into Christianity.  (Same thing goes for how praying to, or “talking to,” saints and Mary started.) The Roman pagans loved to celebrate, and their big holiday, Saturnalia, was celebrated from December 17-23 in honor of the “god” Saturn. (some celebrated until the 25th)  It was such an explicitly ungodly holiday and included drunk people singing naked in the streets, visiting door to door, poor people being forced to give gifts to the emperor, child sacrifices, rape, murder, eating human shaped biscuits, etc. When the Catholic Church decreed December 25th to be Jesus’ birth, they were likely trying to find a way to usurp this wicked celebratory week for something more God honoring.  They wanted to turn the people’s attention away from Saturnalia’s traditions and toward the entry of Christ into the world.  And I think that over time they were mostly successful in doing this…..BUT the holiday season has never taken on a fully spiritual significance in many societies around the world.

      In regards to “keeping Christ in Christmas” here's how some  non-believers look at our holiday.
      Non-Christian Perspective on Christmas’ Origins
      Jewish Perspective on Christmas’ Origins:

      So, does the fact that there are pagan traditions tied to Christmas mean that Christians shouldn’t celebrate it?  I know several families who take this stance…. some of our closest friends and family members do not.  But for me, I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater.  The Catholic Church may have made errors by allowing pagan customs to creep into Christianity in order to appeal to the masses and “convert” them to Christianity.  BUT starting a worldwide tradition that honors the birth of Christ is pretty awesome.  Think of it…..GOD, the Son, left his throne in heaven, clothed himself with humanity, took on the form of a man (a microscopic human being to start with) all for one purpose… die for the sins of mankind.  Talk about the ultimate humiliation, which God entered into with all his heart of love for us!  I can’t think of a greater reason to celebrate, and I’m so glad that the holiday was started, regardless of the fact that it had some awful traditions associated with it.

      We enjoy celebrating the traditional aspects Christmas, but we know  that Saturnalia is still around, and that there are probably associated spiritual forces working against society….luring it toward excessiveness, self-centeredness, child worship, materialism, etc. If we really want to usurp this holiday from its pagan roots and make it fully God-honoring, then we best do it intentionally….not just “hoping” we can have the discipline to buy a few less presents this year and making sure we read the Christmas story to our kids.

      One way we share with our children the majesty of Christ coming to earth is by filling our home with music that has rich lyrics and a sacred feel.  There is something touching to the soul about some of the carols and choir music out there.  In September, I gave our children each a booklet of Christmas carols for us to learn together.  Every few days we open our booklets and the younger kids color the pictures while the older ones go over vocabulary and discuss the meaning of the songs.  We always start the music in September so they have time to learn the words. The girls and Steven particularly love the Christmas music. Yesterday, David was trying to talk to Steven  during one of the songs, and Steven, in between phrases, quickly answered, "I'm singing!"  It was llike, "Hark, the herald angels sing. I'm singing! Glory to the new born king." lol

      We explain to our kids how the story of Santa Claus came to be, and we also explain how the holiday started and about some of the pagan roots, etc.  We stress that celebrating the birth of our Lord is such a blessing, and that even though December 25th isn’t the real day Jesus was born, since the rest of the world is remembering his birth on this day, we are joining along (We already talked about his birth in September….as many scholars believe he was actually born in the Fall during one of the Jewish feasts—particularly the Feast of Tabernacles). And we frequently comment, “Guys, isn’t it just amazing that GOD, the Son, himself left his Heavenly throne and humbled himself to take on the form of a tiny grow up as a man….all for the purpose of sharing the good news of God’s love and salvation with all mankind, and to die to pay the penalty for the sins of the world!!?”  Our kids can tell that we are very excited about this! We have a beautiful nativity set that we set up over the fireplace for the visual reminder of the beauty (perhaps not physical, but definitely spiritual) of that blessed night.  And the kids really like watching movies of the Christmas story….The Nativity is one of their favorites!  We don’t have a problem with the cute Rudolf or Elf movies…but they definitely are on the periphery.

      All the extra traditional stuff we do, like making gingerbread cookies, decorating the house with trees and ornaments, watching Christmas movies, etc. are ways to reinforce, using the senses, the specialness of this Holy Day.  Little children (and ones who don’t understand English that well) may not fully appreciate the significance of the Savior coming to the earth, but they enjoy the sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and feel of all the special family activities reserved for this time of year….and they know that it is “something big” we are celebrating.  As they grow older they will better appreciate what the Lord has done for them and hopefully have many fond family memories as well. I know our boys (and all of our children)  are having so much fun with the little things we are doing together.

      As for gifts, I’m thankful, in a sense, that slow business is forcing us to scale back and not make presents the highlight of the day. We came up with a couple of ideas that are inexpensive  and that our children will benefit from and be excited about.  For the boys we purchased two used junior drum sets from Craigslist, along with a Learn to Drum DVD.  All five of them LOVE playing the drums and I know will get great use out of these.  They will be stationed in the garage/game room, and I hope they won't be incredibly annoying to those of us in the house!  For the girls, I am even more excited.  Norman is making a portable hardwood floor space for our girls to tap dance on in their room.  They already have tap shoes and love to copy Shirley Temple in her movies.  So with this floor and a Learn to Tap DVD they will be good to go.

      I love the idea I’ve read in other people’s blogs—that their children only get three gifts each—since that’s all Jesus got.  So, between some Legos, art supplies, bows and arrows, games, etc. each of our children will have three packages to open.  And stocking stuffers will be given on the eight days of Hanukkah…to give them some fun things to do throughout December. It might still sound like a lot, but for us, this is a trend in the right direction and it forces us to be creative and make the true purpose of the holiday come alive for our family.

      Here are some pictures of the kids’ excited faces making cookies.  (Norman laughed and told me, "You tell the people how the pagans used to make human shaped biscuits and now you're showing them our gingerbread boys! lol) They are so eager to put up the Christmas tree, I don’t know how I'll manage with all those hands wanting to get in the way.  Yes, I'll admit, I’m one of those who likes the “perfect” looking tree rather than the obviously child decorated tree.  But here’s my plan….let them put up all the ornaments…..give them lots of praise……let them enjoy looking at it with cocoa and a Christmas movie……and then send them to bed and rearrange the whole thing. (This is what the adult daughter is for….bringing the Starbucks and helping fix the tree!!!) Will update with pictures soon:)


      Tuesday, November 12, 2013

      Discontentment Creeping In

      Contentment is a big theme in our house.  We are always stressing with our children how it blesses God for us to have a heart that is content.  I love what Paul says in Philippians 4:12:  “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”  Because we talk about this regularly, we don’t have picky eaters, there isn't much moping or complaining, and we have overall very happy children.  But without my even realizing it, a spirit of discontentment came over ME within the last several weeks.  I thought of it as “sadness” or “disappointment for my children” but finally I saw it for what it really was.

      I guess it was two things that led to this attitude.  First, closing our pool down in October.  And second…..the Duggars.  Yep, that sweet-hearted, absolutely perfect family of 19 or 20, or however many kids they have now.  Our family’s main income source comes from real estate—my husband has been in the business for over 11 years now, and though it’s had it’s ups and downs, it’s always covered the bills.  But in the last few months business has been extremely slow and we’ve had to tighten our belt in every area.  So this meant  not visiting fun places with the kids all summer…..but what did I need with fun places when I had three brand new boys and the blessing of an in-ground swimming pool?  I can probably count on one hand the number of days over the summer and early Fall that we did NOT enjoy our pool.  And I felt that taking the kids places would be over-stimulating for them anyway….better to nestle down at home, spend quality time together, find a comfortable routine, etc.

      Well… the pool is closed.  And we got rid of our satellite television.  Got a Roku box and Netflix and we are good to go.  The kids discovered the show “19 Kids and Counting” after hearing about it from my sister-in-law.  And they LOVE it!  It’s basically the only thing my girls and I watch now—episode by episode.  It’s hard to find a family more conservative than we are, but here we have it….and it’s a nice reinforcement to our children why we have some of the values we do, such as dressing modestly, home schooling, helping around the house, etc.

      That is all well and good, and all 20 of them are really growing on me (they still only have 18 kids in the episodes we are watching).  But have you ever noticed how many places the Duggars GO?!  I mean, they rent hockey rinks and play “broom ball,” they go to creation museums, and ostrich farms, rock climbing, laser tag, camping, bowling, mining for gold, Washington DC, New York City, horseback riding….and on and on it goes.  My kids are always like, “Mommy, they go EVERYWHERE!” And little by little, I start thinking, “Hmmmm, it would be really nice if we could take our new boys to Stone Mountain…..or the zoo…..or horseback riding……or Lego Land…..or mining for gold…..or to the kangaroo preservation……or if we could rejoin Lifetime Fitness.”  And that little idea blossoms into a little “sadness” that we can’t afford to “go places” right now.  And that little “sadness” blossoms into “I just feel so disappointed that my kids have to stay home and “miss out” on the great activities that other children get to experience.”

      Last night I couldn’t sleep after being woken up by my son in the middle of the night, so I finally got out of bed and started searching the Internet for some “cheap” family activities.  Haha—there isn’t anything cheap for nine people!  Let’s see—with discount tickets, we can all go to Stone Mountain for ONE day for $180 + tax.  Lego Land is a bit better at around $112 +tax.  Lifetime Fitness would now be $216 per month, or we could join the Gwinnett County Indoor pools for $480. For $250 we could all go and watch a two hour Medieval Times show with dinner.  I found out that the Kangaroo Conservation center is now closed to the public, so I don’t have to cry over that one...... It seems with the $25 per ticket prices, they just couldn’t get enough people to make it worth their while.  Atlanta has SO MANY fun activities unattainable for an average-income family of nine.  I didn’t even bother looking up the Coca Cola Factory or Aquarium.  The more prices I looked up, the more depressed I got.

      But thankfully, the Holy Spirit got a hold of me.  I rebuked myself  and realized this is nothing more than a spirit of discontentment.  What do I have to complain about?  We have plenty of space in our home, a pool, an air hockey table, a pool table, a trampoline!!”  And if I want to go places, why not go to places that are FREE… a public playground or a state park….but here I am whining because I can’t take them to the expensive places. Why not drive to Amicalola Falls and walk up the FREE 604 steps to the top! (yes, I’m totally saying “yuck” to that one too) We have some awesome playgrounds close to our home….why not take the kids there instead of telling them to go play in the backyard.  We have like 50 bicycles taking up one-third of our front porch…..why not go out riding as a family instead of always making excuses as to why I can’t go and ride with them right now? Or just stay home, for goodness sake, and pull out some board games and play around the dining room table (something we have yet to do!) or make some gingerbread cookies….I mean, Fall started September 22nd and I keep reading the same gingerbread man story to my son and I keep asking him what he thinks is going to happen when we bake our own gingerbread man…..only, I still haven’t gotten around to baking one!!!

      Well, you get the point….I had to smack that discontentment right out of my heart and repent and tell the Lord how thankful I am for ALL that he has RICHLY blessed us with.  Today, as soon as we finished our school work, we packed the kids into the van (that our church BLESSED us with, by the way!) and headed for a nearby park.  When we got there, it was closed for renovations, so we decided, instead, to go to a really HUGE playground just a little further away.  The kids LOVED this place!  They played for over three hours and when we left they asked if we could always come back to this playground because there are so many maze-like structures and so much to do. And while I was there I met two other home-school moms and struck up a conversation with them (something I NEVER do because I am too reserved to approach total strangers).  And do you know, one of the moms, after hearing about our adoptions, told me that just last night she and her husband were talking about adopting a child from foster care, but that they had major concerns about how it would affect their family.  All three of us were like, “Wow, God must have brought us together to have this conversation!”

      So, thank you GOD!  I am back to having a Philippians 4:12 mindset and looking forward to the memories I can start making with my the park....with family and costs necessary.  I am bound and determined to make gingerbread boy cookies the day after writing this post, so I hope someone will keep me accountable!! We are very excited to have my parents coming down here from PA for Thanksgiving......the kids adore their grandparents!  And we are also looking forward to going up there after Christmas to see the whole gang--especially my daughter and 8-month-old grand-daughter who is the most adorable baby girl in the world!  And my wonderful sister, whom my kids call Lor Lor....and her four precious niece and nephews.....can't wait to see them all!  There's just one tiny little extra thing that I'm hoping for....that there will be snow up in PA when we visit! Because I hate to admit this, but  if I have one more snow-less winter, I'm going to be struggling with that Philippians passage all over again!!!  But then again, there's always Snow Mountain......for "only" $28 per person.... for one day! LOL

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