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

    Sunday, October 20, 2013

    Four Months Home!

    Well, it’s been four months since we brought our three boys home from Bulgaria and I’m finally getting a moment here to update you all on how everyone is doing.  I don’t even know how to begin this post.  If you go back and read how those first few days with the boys were, and fast forward four months, it almost looks miraculous and really shows the redemptive power of the Lord and how much God is FOR adoption.  Steven, 13, and Benjamin, 10, have the Spirit of God all over them.  These boys have hearts so attuned to the Lord.  They pray throughout the day and are focused on the things of God even beyond what Norman and I have led them to.                                                                    
    Eating Dinner in our Sukkah for the Feast of Tabernacles

    Unfortunately, I don’t really have more before and after photos to post of the boys because there aren’t many physical changes from last time I posted pics.  Even though the boys eat a huge amount of food, they are STILL swimming (yes, it’s October!), and if they aren’t swimming, they are playing outside or riding bikes, or jumping on the trampoline, so they just keep burning those calories!  And it doesn’t help that we eat pretty healthy around here.  I just need to be more focused on adding higher caloric snacks to their diet.....(add that to my “to do” list!)  I’ve been adding extra butter and olive oil to their food, and winter is coming, so hopefully they will put on extra pounds then!                                                                
                      The Last Day in our Pool!

    I’ll start with little Jojo.  In September he had his cleft lip and palate repaired, had an ear tube put in his good ear, had a lung biopsy to see if he is a candidate for total heart repair surgery, had extensive dental work done, and had a large mango-sized inguinal hernia repaired from in between his legs.  Unfortunately, after the hernia was repaired, it started protruding instead from the opposite side, so now he has to go back in for another surgery, most likely in November.  To try and minimize the number of times he needs to go under anesthesia, we are looking into having ear canal surgery on the right ear at the same time as his hernia surgery (his right ear is deformed and has an ear drum but no canal, so this entails drilling a hole into his skill to form a canal so that he can hear better). His cleft lip and palate are repaired but he will need extensive orthodontic work to reshape his gums, so that his mouth is more symmetrical.  And he will need some further cosmetic touch-up surgeries when he gets older.  Right now we are mainly focusing on speech therapy—we work with him every day and we see progress, little by little.
    The Littles Eating in the Sukkah

    The results from the lung biopsy were good—Jojo has no lung damage, as his cardiologists suspected he would.  But when we met with the cardiac surgeon he told us that he does not believe Josiah’s heart would withstand a complete heart repair—and that is the only option for him, as far as medicine is concerned.  There are just so many abnormalities in the structure of his heart…there would be about seven major things that need to be done/added/moved around, and the surgeon does not believe the prognosis will be good.  He said he definitely would not do it for his own son.  So, Josiah is completely in the hands of God, which is the best place to be anyway.  When we adopted him we were told that he was not a candidate for heart surgery, so it isn’t like we brought him home thinking doctors would be able to fix him up.  The awesome thing is that the cardiologists call him a “mystery.”  They say that they do not understand how he functions so well (oxygen levels have gone from low 80’s to low 90’s since he’s been home with us) with all the “craziness” of his heart anatomy.  They do not understand how he has no lung damage and they don’t understand how his heart works.  So, obviously, the hand of the Lord is upon him and he is sustaining little Jojo with life and breath.
                                                                                  Nothing Holds This Little Guy Back

    Personality wise, this little guy has a strong character.  Last night as I was doing some speech therapy with him (and it hadn’t even lasted five minutes!) he didn’t want to do anymore—wanted to go play instead, but I told him he had to keep practicing with me, so he rolls his eyes and says, “Oh my goodness!! (or more like “ Oh, mah, ooneh!) Then he waves his hands up and down and complains, “more and more and more and more!” (moh eh moh eh moh eh moh!) with an exasperated expression!  Now, he’s so tiny and cute that it’s easy to let him get away with that kind of attitude, but we are having to crack down on him  so we don't end up with a little monster down the road! He’s quite a character with the other kids too.  Loves to boss them around and antagonize them and thinks he is just sooooooo funny!  But he definitely has his sweet side and loves to hug and snuggle and be carried and call himself a “baby.”
                Always Goofing Around

    Now for little "Benjamino,".  If you read my blog from week one you will see that he had some very scary behaviors and had us exhausted.  Well, that boy no longer exists anywhere whatsoever on the radar.  He is sweet, gentle, obedient, friendly, etc. etc. etc.  Last night, the kids were in a rare mood, with lots of irritation and fighting, and Benjamin comes to me and says, “Mommy, I’m a good boy.  I’m not screaming, I’m not hitting, I’m not fighting, I’m obey you. Rrright??”  (with the R roll) And he was absolutely right—I just had to laugh
    Benjamin Hanging Close to Mom

    I’ve decided to try homeschooling Benjamin, along with the others, to see if we can make progress (he had gone through the second grade in Bulgaria, not knowing any letters of the alphabet or even how to write his own name!) He definitely has some type of processing issue—don’t know what to “label” him, but the signs look exactly like dyspraxia, so that is how I’m approaching things.  It takes him longer to learn everything, but the good news is that he does learn.  We work on a letter each day, along with the sound and how to write it, and if he retains everything, we move on to the next letter the next day, but if not, we keep reviewing.  It usually takes him two or three or even four days before he really knows the new letter. It is working well and he recognizes almost half of the alphabet and knows several of the sounds, and he understands that when you put the letters together they make words, so I think that following a strong phonics program is helping him. And his English is coming along extremely well!
                   Benji Loving to Tease

    Spiritually, Benjamin seems to be truly set apart by God.  I believe God brought him directly to our family because His Spirit is upon this boy.  If you could hear the power behind his prayer…the things he says….the things he thinks of.  He tells us that he talks to God every day and that God talks to him, and I have no doubt.  When he prays around other adults, many end up in tears, and people always want him to pray for them.  And when you ask him to pray for something, he remembers that request and makes mention of it to God, day after day.  And he takes his prayer time very seriously. At times he says something that strikes us funny….and we chuckle, and he stops and rebukes us and says, “That’s not funny! I’m serious!” and then he goes right back to praying.  Prayer time is sacred for this boy….he looks for Norman to come to his room every night so he can pray with him.  And when he prays for meals, the food is cold before he gets finished.  Little Jojo will frequently be heard saying, “In Jesus name, amen.” “In Jesus name, amen.” in order to encourage Benjamin to bring it to a close!
                             Our Prayer Warrior
    Steven is doing great in every way.  You could not ask for a sweeter 13-year-old boy.  When I said in a previous post that he was like a “poster child” for older child adoption, I was completely serious.  He is so thoughtful of others, considerate, helpful…..and SOOOOO appreciative to have a family.  The other day, he was Skyping with my parents and told them again the story of how when he was in the orphanage he would ask God every day to send him a family, and then how at Christmas God sent him a mom and a dad…..and also brothers and sisters and grandparents.  You cannot help but tear up when he tells you his story.  He is learning academic work pretty quickly.  We breezed right through the letters and sounds and are working on a phonics program and beginning reading.  He is so thrilled with himself when he reads in English.  He is only working on a second grade level for math, and has poor mathematical reasoning skills, but he is slowly “getting it” as far as the concepts are concerned. And his English is awesome!  The boys are even learning Spanish, if you can believe it!
                         Serious Big Brother

    Yesterday we got Steven’s test results back for his eyes.  It seems that his condition is due to being born prematurely (he was just under three pounds).  His “good” eye is very impaired, but he has enough vision to get around, play, do his school work, etc.  And doctors do not expect his condition to get worse, so that is great news.  The bad eye has a large cataract, and the doctors are not optimistic that if they remove it, it will improve his vision (he sees almost nothing with that eye).  They are guessing that it has been that way for so long, that the brain receptors for sight no longer function for that eye.  But they say they could be wrong and that removing the cataract COULD possibly have a good result, so, since there really isn’t much down side (there is the risk of the retina detaching during cataract surgery, but he really can’t see from that eye anyway) he will probably be getting surgery soon.  We have told him, though, that doctors don’t think they can help him much and that it is the Lord we need to rely on for his eyes, as well as for everything in our lives.  A couple of months ago Steven came to me and said, “Mommy, I was watching a movie about Jesus last night and Jesus healed too many people who had problem with the eyes.  Why he doesn’t do that for me?!” I tried to stall for an answer so I asked him, “Are you asking him to heal your eyes?” (We pray for his eyes almost every day) And he incredulously answered me, “Yes, of course.  I ask him every day!” So, we started addressing this topic with our kids recently and exploring the various reasons we don’t often see immediate miracles, like the people saw in the days of Jesus and the disciples.  We don’t have all the answers—we have many speculations….but the bottom line is that we will pray without ceasing….and we will consecrate our lives to the Lord and serve him with all our hearts…..and we will trust him….and wait….and pray…..and believe….and expect.                                                                       
                  Pray Without Ceasing

    The other night, upstairs in the big boys’ bedroom, we had a small Holy Spirit revival (not that anything from the Holy Spirit could be considered “small!”).  It was not started by myself or my husband.  My husband was upstairs praying with the boys before bed, while I was taking care of some things downstairs.  All of a sudden I hear crying coming from the room and I realize that the boys are pleading with God for someone (turns out Steven was praying for the other children in his orphanage to all find families the way he did….and he is crying, and praying loudly, and begging God to please, please, please get the other children families!).  Then Benjamin starts crying loudly while he is praying….praying for healing for everyone—Steven’s eyes, Jojo’s heart, his aunt to have a baby, etc.  I keep going about my work (unfortunately typical for me sometimes) until Norman calls me to come up because the boys are lamenting in their spirits over many injustices in the earth, and praying loudly through tears….they did not see us doing this…they were not copying anyone….this was completely put on them by the Spirit of God. I go up and start praying with them, and then David (4 at the time) and Jojo come in and little Jojo keeps asking over and over again why the boys are crying.  Then little David gets stirred up and HE starts praying loudly and crying.  In the beginning I think it was because he saw his two brothers doing it and it was moving him emotionally, but then he starts praying with this incredible boldness, saying things like, “I bless you Lord and thank you for my brothers.  I love Luke so much, I love Steven so much, etc.” He is hugging them and crying and then he starts saying, “We pray against fear in the name of Jesus, against all bad dreams, against all sins in the name of Jesus!  We bless you Lord, etc.” Then he starts going to each child’s bed and laying hands on the bed and praying for no sins and no bad dreams and no fear, etc. for each child.  I am giving you just a small snapshot as to what was happening that night. It went on for over an hour.  I tell you that I half expected the Lord to return at that moment.  I had this feeling of being SO close to God and that something was imminent…..big….powerful.  There was no hype here….no teaching the kids to do this.  The Holy Spirit of God was moving in their hearts and in our home in a big way. Thanks be to God! What more can be said after that?  Would I have ever imagined that our new boys would latch onto the things of God this quickly and strongly?  No, in fact I didn’t know how we would even express the concept of God to them….Benjamin told us last December that he didn’t know who God was or anything about him….not even about Jesus being born at Christmas.  But it seems that my concerns were unfounded because God revealed himself to them all on his own.
     The Kids Chilling With a Movie After Closing Down the Pool

    Now, lest you think our home is full of saints chanting scriptures day and night, I’ll tell you that we have six little “bosses” in the house.  Only Benjamin doesn’t go around telling everyone what to do.  Birth order is a mess in this home—nobody knows his “place” and I personally think the whole birth order debate is over-exaggerated anyway (I know some people staunchly disagree).  Working out birth order is not so difficult when you make it your goal to take on the humility of Christ.  Today Norman made our 11 year old son patch one eye and wear Steven’s glasses for the other eye so he could see what it felt like to walk around that visually impaired for a little while.  Some compassion needed to be learned here….we got a little tired of hearing him saying, “Just LOOK for it, Steven!!”  There are days when you can hear seven children playing happily together in the yard….collaborating, inventing, exploring……and then others when all you hear is bickering, bossing, and irritation in the air.  But overall, we couldn’t have asked for things to go better with sibling relations.
            Celebrating Little David's Birthday!

    I still don’t feel like I have everything together yet.….. My hair is in a pony tail pretty much 24/7.  I’ve given the kids a bowl of cereal for lunch more than once since we started schooling (Cereal is not much better than cookies and milk, in my opinion!—even the “healthier” kinds)  There are days that I forget to change into real clothes, and my toenails…..well…here’s a look at what they look like.  I just don’t have time for some things.  I guess I could be painting my nails right now instead of writing this post, but…..closed-toe shoe season is upon us now, right?! lol                                                                       
      No Caption Needed.....They Speak for Themselves!

    Home schooling is in full swing and I think I’ve come up with a schedule/plan that is working well for all of us—still working out kinks but things are going fairly smoothly.  I have to stay off of e-mail and Facebook, etc. to really make it work, so I’m not on there much anymore, and I feel bad because I like to keep up with all of the other adoption stories going on right now.  Two boys are being adopted from Benjamin’s orphanage, and one girl from Steven’s (that I know of) so I’m so excited about that and can’t wait until my boys can skype or have contact with their former friends.  I’ve had some people message me on Facebook to ask me questions about adoption or to talk about their concerns, etc. I love to encourage other families to step out in faith and bring these precious ones into their homes, so don’t be shy if you ever want to contact me and talk!

    Thanks for following our boys’ story and for praying for them.  If you are interested in special needs adoption or older child adoption, please contact me and I can get you in touch with someone who can give you more information. (Lisa's Facebook) Right now I am specifically advocating for a precious four-year-old boy from Armenia, who is receiving physical therapy to strengthen his muscles so that he can hopefully walk one day. I have pictures and videos of him that will melt your heart.  He tells his caregivers that he is going to walk one day!  He is always smiling, is very verbal and communicative….shy and reserved with new people…and sweet and cute as can be.  He will make an amazing son and brother.  He was abandoned by his birth parents when he was about 2 ½ years old and desperately needs to come to this country where they have the best therapies available anywhere.  Did you know that the US is one of the only countries that even allows its citizens to adopt children with special needs?  Because of socialized medicine......countries don’t want these children being a financial burden on them.  I pray that American families will hurry up and snatch as many of these precious ones up as possible….before, God forbid, our country ends up the same way as the others! Pray for this boy, please, to find a family.  He is so much in my heart and I will definitely help his family with fundraising. He already has a small grant waiting to help any family that steps up to adopt him.
     Lord, Please Send This Little Boy a Family Soon!!
    Be blessed, my friends!!

    Thursday, September 12, 2013

    Josiah's Huge Day

    Woohoo!!! The day our whole family has been waiting for finally arrived. Little Josiah got all fixed up yesterday. It was a seven hour surgery and included seven different procedures and four surgeons. First, the general surgeon did a lung biopsy to see if he will be a candidate for a heart repair (we’ll have results in a few days). Then the same surgeon repaired Josiah’s inguinal hernia (every doctor who had seen him said it was the biggest hernia they had ever seen!). Then the craniofacial surgeon came in and repaired the cleft palate and then the cleft lip, and he was even able to close up the cleft gum (he hadn’t thought there would be enough tissue to do this part, but there was!!) Then the dental team came in and did massive dental work on Josiah’s poor little rotted teeth (I don’t think they were ever brushed at the orphanage). And finally the ENT surgeon came in and put a tube in his good ear (his other ear is missing an ear canal to the ear drum, and that will be addressed at a later time, after we know what is happening with his heart.

    I have Dr. Campbell, Josiah’s heart surgeon, to thank for getting all of these surgeries coordinated at once! Apparently he has a lot of clout around here and he made some calls, telling the various practices that he’d like to have Josiah get as few separate surgeries as possible due to being a high risk anesthesia patient. As I understand it, going under anesthesia is like going on a airplane….the take-off and landing are the most risky, but while you’re up in the air, it’s pretty smooth sailing. Going under, and coming out of anesthesia are the most risky—especially with Josiah’s heart defects. So all of the doctors really scrambled together to make it happen, and we are SOOO grateful to them all—they are incredibly wonderful men and we could not have been in better hands.

    So here are two pictures of little J in the ICU recovering after surgery. It looks like he got in a fight and lost, but we know that he really WON! Praise God!! He’s all swollen right now so we don’t see the finished product, but I know he is going to be SO happy when he feels/sees that his mouth is repaired. He was asking us every day if he was going to the hospital to get his mouth fixed (said it was broken) and we kept assuring him, “Soon….we’re going to the hospital soon to get you all fixed up!”

    Now he will need extensive orthodontic work to reshape the gums and reposition the jaw, etc. And now he starts intensive speech therapy. I can’t wait to see if he is able to make some of those consonant sounds he previously couldn’t. And with the tube in his ear, he should hear a little better, so that will help as well.

    Even though it was all about Josiah yesterday, we can’t forget what a HUGE day it was for Steven also. He went to the eye specialist for his ERG, to see if his retinas are healthy and responsive. He has a mild cataract in his “good” eye and a severe one in the eye that’s nearly blind. So, if the test comes out well and shows the retina hasn’t atrophied then they will plan to do cataract surgery on him, in addition to straightening the cross in his eyes. Please pray for a positive outcome…..he is SO hopeful. Steven got his new glasses recently—a very thick lens for the “good” eye and no prescription on the bad one. He was counting down the days for those things to arrive…telling us every day, “My glasses are coming soon! I’m so excited!” The glasses help him with his far vision and make things clearer but they do nothing for him up close and he actually takes them off when trying to do his school work. So this will be addressed at his next appointment.

    If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not to home school all seven kids. Well, I decided that there is no rush in making my decision and that I can enroll them at any time in public school, so I’m just keeping them all home right now and seeing how well they respond to what I can do with them here at home. The three boys have been home now for three months and have bonded wonderfully but of course, bonding is a long process and I think it’s better facilitated when they’re here than at school all day. I have some great friends I've met through Facebook who have been giving me a ton  of ideas and curriculum I can use that will help a lot! We were able to scrounge together seven computers….mostly from family members giving us an old one they weren’t using any more. And I’ve been able to find some really great educational web sites. I’m not a fan of learning so much in front of the computer, but all seven of the kids feel differently and they can really sit focused and learning that way so I may have to cave in and let them do a lot of their work that way and then just not let them use computers for anything else—get outside instead and play, or read books, play with legos, etc.

    We started the most wonderful thing with two of my sisters-in-law and their homeschooled children. It’s an adaptation of the Classical Conversations program. We learn  the CC Timeline, history facts, bible verses and math concepts, etc. through song memorization. I spent hours making up most of the songs myself and now have the whole year’s worth recorded onto CDs. Then we do an art lesson each week (learning to draw) and a group piano lesson each week ( and a short health lesson, and we focus on a holiday (right now focusing on the Fall Jewish feasts in the Old Testament) and we do a science experiment with the kids and have a focused prayer time. We just started last week and all of the kids really like it. Right now we call it “Friday School” as none of us have taken the time to come up with something more creative!

    Baking and doing a Feast of Trumpets craft

    And lastly, Benjamin--he's  doing really great—learning a lot of English……and, the main thing that needs to be mentioned is that….he is such a PRAYER WARRIOR. I am not kidding nor exaggerating. If someone has a need, Benjamin is the first to jump at the chance to pray. And he prays with power and authority. Sometimes I listen to him and think, “Wow! How did he learn to pray like that?!” I do not doubt that one of the reasons Josiah did so well yesterday was because of the intense, daily prayers of his big brother!! God was not going to let those prayers be in vain!! Seriously, when other adults hear him pray they want to cry and they just watch him in amazement and then are like, “Will you pray for me too?” lol God definitely has a plan and purpose for each of these sweet boys.

    I'll be at the hospital for the next two or three days as Josiah is recovering.  Last night was my turn to stay with him overnight (my husband and I will take turns) and I felt guilty because I slept in a tiny sleeping room instead of staying by his bedside, but I desperately needed the rest, as the night before, I had only slept for two hours--partly because I was so excited about the surgery, and partly because I had been dealing with a huge flood in my house all day from my washing machine breaking--and the adrenaline that kept me going all day, carrying out furniture and drying stuff, etc. just did not want to stop pumping enough for me to fall asleep!!  So now I'm sitting in his ICU room typing this post and checking on him, after having a pretty decent night's sleep, thank God.  They should be taking out his breathing tube and weaning him off of the morphine soon.  I’ll post more pictures of Josiah when they do, and will keep everyone updated on news of his heart and Steven’s eyes. Thanks for praying for us and the boys. Blessings!! Lisa   For regular updates, friend me on Facebook!

    Wednesday, August 7, 2013

    The Most Extreme.....Reasons This Mom Loves Home Schooling!

    #10: It's just not NATURAL to start school the first week of August!! (Like they do down here in Georgia!)  With home schooling, my kids do a small amount of work each day throughout the summer so that we can extend our summer vacation......and get all the use out of that beautiful pool out back!

    #9:  We like to wake up AFTER the sun has risen!  My kids get a good ten hours of sleep each night and they are rarely, if ever sick!
    #8:  My weekday mornings with seven children DO NOT sound like this: “Hurry up and eat your egg…..drink your juice…..come on, it’s time to brush your teeth, the bus will be here any minute!  Have you even brushed your hair?  You cannot wear winter boots in September…it’s going to be 80 degrees outside.  I don’t know where your sandals are…..find something else.  HURRY UP!!!  The bus will be here any minute!  No, I don’t have money for ice cream, and tell your teacher I’ll have to pay for the field trip tomorrow instead.  Come on…..are you seriously still eating that egg???!!!  Just forget it….you’ll have to go without breakfast today….we have to LEAVE!!!!”  Did you even brush your teeth?  Let me smell.  No, your breath stinks…..I have to brush your teeth…let’s go….HURRY UP!!!!  Oh my gosh, is that the bus???  OK, come on….get your book bags!  No, I don’t know where your library book is!!!  That’s your responsibility.  Oh well, too bad that you won’t get to take out a new book today……come on….GO….. RUN…..THERE’S THE BUS….HURRY!!!!” Oh yeah, by the way, “I LOVE YOU!!”
    #7:  No “Homework!”  When my kids were in school, they almost always brought home homework.  As if it wasn’t enough that they were gone from 7:15 until 3:15, they still had to come home and do more work!!  What is THAT??  Sounds a bit inefficient, no?  And on top of that, one of them always needed my help and we could be at it for two hours!  And the other two were just doing “busy work” for, I don’t know what reason.  With home schooling, we get more done in the day, and by the time the school-kids are home, mine have the whole afternoon free to play and be creative with their time.
    #6:  They get what they need.  In most classroom settings, the teacher gives the same work to everyone.  With home schooling, I have my kids do only work that will challenge them and make them think…but not to the point of frustration….and no busy work to just pass the time.  They get extra practice on whatever they need, and they skip pages that work on skills they’ve already mastered.
    #5:  There’s more to life than learning your ABC’s.  If I could only pick one, I’d rather teach my children how to sing and play the piano than teach them earth science or physics.  Things like learning God’s Word, learning music, learning Spanish, helping with chores, having undirected play time, getting lots of outdoor exercise, relaxing with the family, and learning to serve others, etc. are more important for a balanced life than many of the things stressed in a traditional school day.  Of course, the subjects taught in school are valuable, but when I think about taking up roughly 8 hours of a child’s day (from AM bus to PM bus) just to get in the basics, and then having homework to boot, it makes me want to cry for all of the valuable things my kids would be missing out on.  At home, we can cover the core subjects well in less than 3 hours and then we have time left for the other important things.
    #4:  I like my kids more and can bond with them easier.  This may apply more to me than most moms…..possibly because all of my children (except for one) have been adopted as “older children” (6-13 years).  But you know that feeling of relief you have when the last child boards school bus?  The one that feels like, “Ahhhhhh, they’re gone!  Peace and quiet!!”  Well, for me, that feeling lasted pretty much ALL DAY when my newly adopted children were in school…….to the point that I dreaded 3:15 coming around each day!!   Because at 3:15. this. is. what. I’d. hear:  “Woo hoo!!!  Hi Mommy!  Hi Mommy! Hi Mommy!  Mommy, look what I made!!  Mommy, you have to sign this paper!!  Mommy, I did my homework on the bus!!  Mommy, I have a lot of home work!  Mommy, I didn’t get in trouble today!  Mommy, what did you do today?!  Mommy, I’m hungry!  Mommy……..Mommmy……..Mommmy……”  My head would be spinning as I looked around at kids and papers everywhere….strewn all over the living room floor.  Yes, I tried to arrange a routine, and orderly places for them to put their things, but it was to no avail.  And their hyperactivity was overwhelming.  It was like I couldn’t breathe.  I felt guilty dreading my kids coming home from school, but the experience was so unpleasant day after day.  These were newly adopted children, and I preferred them being gone!  The only pleasant times I had with them were on weekends and holidays.  Bonding was taking longer than planned.  When I decided to keep them home, I knew we would HAVE to like one another and mold to one another’s personalities… that was the focus behind everything we did.
    #3:  To stop the nonsense!  It’s funny to me when people say things like, “Don’t you think kids need the socialization that they get at school?”  I mean, they’ll even say that about a four-year-old who isn’t going to Pre-K!  As if my four-year-old son would be better off spending 180 six-hour-days with a classroom full of other four-year-olds than spending his days at home with me and his older siblings.  It’s comical to think about!  WHAT VALUABLE THING can my four-year-old possibly learn from the other 15 four-year-old classmates???  For that matter, what can my eight-year-old learn from the other 22 eight-year-old classmates????  What can my eleven-year-old learn from the other 25 eleven-year-old classmates????  I’ll tell you what they learn…..FOOLISHNESS!!!   And then more foolishness the next day, and more the next.  And that’s if we’re LUCKY!!  Because when I used to teach first grade, almost every year there were incidents of one little six-year-old teaching another little six-year-old about sex….with hand-drawn naked pictures and all!
    Proverbs 14:7 says, “Stay away from fools, for you won’t find knowledge on their lips.”  And Proverbs 22:15 says, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.”  And Proverbs 13:20 says, “Walk with the wise and become wise.”  If I want my kids to grow in wisdom and maturity, and get rid of the nonsense as soon as possible (I’m not talking about normal child immaturity) then the best place for them to spend their hours is with someone who is going to be an example of wisdom and understanding…..and someone who fears and honors the Lord.  It's not that my kids don't have friends....they do.......and cousins too!   But at their YOUNG ages, they will make better decisions with their friends and will BE better friends TO their friends when they have an adult guiding them.
     #2: To shelter my children.  Yes, I said it…..the thing SO many people have a problem with…..”you shouldn’t shelter your child.”  Oh really……even your elementary and middle school aged children?  You shouldn’t shelter them?  Is this a serious, thought-out belief or do people say it mindlessly?  I love the answer I heard Michelle Duggar give to a reporter once when he asked her, “Don’t you think you’re sheltering your children too much by keeping them at home?”  She answered, “When you plant a seed in the ground and the plant starts growing, you have to shelter it from the elements, or it won’t grow.  You wouldn’t put it out in the hot sun, or leave it in the cold, or in strong winds, etc.  Young plants need to be sheltered.  Then, when they grow big and strong they will be able to withstand whatever comes their way.  Children are like this as well.” (paraphrased)
    You know, I’m sorry to say this, but if some parents would stop being lazy and would actually train and discipline their children, there would be less “sheltering” that other parents would be forced to do.  I mean, it starts at three-years-old at the Chick-fil-A Play Area.  I used to bring my son there to play when it was only him and me.  And.almost.every.single.time I was the ONLY parent in the play area.  The other moms were chatting with their friends, enjoying their chicken nuggets, while some of their kids were “socializing” AKA learning how to be BIG BULLIES with the other three-year-olds.  My two-year-old son would walk in to play and some bratty little girls would be telling him to get off the slide and that they don’t like him and that he can’t play with them, etc. etc……completely unprovoked! And then they’d do it to the next child who entered, and the next.  (And this was in a “well-to-do” neighborhood, in case any of you are thinking, “oh, yeah, those city parents just let their kids run wild.”)  Do you know how many times I had to rebuke a bullying child in the Chick-fil-A and threaten to send them out to their parents???  Almost every time!! I am NOT kidding. These were preschoolers!  Parents…..WATCH your kids and know what they’re doing!!  Thank God I was there to intervene and teach my two-year-old son that that type of behavior was mean spirited and unacceptable…..and also that I was there to protect his little heart from being hurt.  Of course, the little ‘monsters’ were not to blame….they had NO ONE there training them how to treat others.  So, do I want to send my children, some who have special needs which could make them prime targets for teasing, away all day to possibly be ostracized and made fun of or bullied?  No, that’s not appealing to me at all.  And what could be even worse would be for one of MY children to gradually end up being one of the bullies!  God forbid!

    Now, lest I be misunderstood as a sleeping late, lazy mom who babies her kids, I'll clarify that I do NOT shelter my kids from hard work or personal responsibility!  I expect them to have a strong work ethic and be disciplined in their behavior, their manners, and the academic work they do at home.  No child understands consequences as well as mine do!  But in order for me to see the character I'm hoping to build in them, they NEED discipleship....and not the kind you get  from your childhood friends!

    And finally............
     #1THIS WORLD IS NOT OUR HOME……Our TRUE and eternal home is waiting for us in HEAVEN…..And we, as children of God, don't belong to this world's system or culture!  For my husband and I, the culture of this world is “strange.”  It’s “foreign.”  It has no attraction to us.  And it’s our first and greatest responsibility to raise our children with a Kingdom mindset….in the culture of follow God’s mandate in Deuteronomy 6, which tells us:
    4" Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates."
    For me, honestly, it’s just hard to do this when I’m sending my kids off to school 180 eight-hour days each year.  I’m not saying it’s impossible, or that other families don’t do a great job of it.  But for us, when our kids went to public school, it wasn’t happening in our home.  The stress levels and busyness were too much for us.  And the worldly influence. is. so. subtle.  It creeps in silently, barely noticeable at first.  My 8-year-old daughter only wants to shop at Justice now........She  brings home a folded paper each day, telling who she’s going to marry, what kind of house she’s going to have, what kind of car she’s going to drive, etc........My kids are all of a sudden so into Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber--even though they don't listen to their music.......They're talking all the time about some Disney show that they don't even watch......Minor  things, I know.....but these kids are only in elementary school......and the  pride of life is slowly creeping in.   Is it any different in Christian school?…..well, I went to Christian school, and for me it wasn’t.  Unfortunately, as far as being deeply spiritually minded and wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord was concerned, that was never something that was instilled in me when I attended a Christian School. I John 2: 15-17:   Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.  For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.
    So, for me….this is the key…..even if I fail at everything else, if I’ve been a godly example and raised my children to love and honor the Lord with all their hearts, then I’ve done my job.  This trumps every single other “advantage” that they may (or may not) have by going to school.  I see the fruit of the training our children are receiving at home—how much they love and feel loyal to God; how much they know and understand God’s Word; and how they (and we the parents) are slowly learning to walk in humility and the meekness of Christ.  This is a huge blessing to our family and I’m so thankful to God that we have this opportunity.

    ………And even now, having said all of that, we are faced with a difficult decision regarding one of our boys whom we just brought home from Bulgaria two months ago.  Benjamin, 10-years-old, appears to have a significant learning disability…he never even learned his letters or how to write his name when he was in school in Bulgaria.  He’s learned a couple of our alphabet letters so far, but it definitely takes him a loooooong time to retain new information—especially that which is learned visually.  We’re having his vision issues addressed and we’re having him professionally evaluated, but we’re pretty sure he has dyspraxia, or something close to it.  And, while I’m sure I could learn strategies to do with him to help him learn, I really don’t know how I can do them while also home schooling six other children!  For now, he’ll be getting speech therapy at our local public school, and the special ed teachers will be discussing ways they could help him if he were to attend school.  I mean, I know I said that there is more to life than learning your ABC’s, but learning them IS important, and I want him to reach his potential academically.  So, for the next month or so we will continue working with him at home, and then we’ll have the difficult decision to make as to whether or not to send him to school.  He was teased an awful lot at his orphanage and at his public school in Bulgaria, and I could not allow that to happen to him here. So, we will just pray and have the confidence that the Lord will go before Benjamin….either keeping a hedge of protection around him at school, or giving us the ability and understanding of how to help him at home........

    UPDATE:  January 2014:  We kept Benjamin home and he is doing wonderfully!  In four years of school in Bulgaria, he didn't learn any letters of the alphabet or even how to write his name.  But in only four months of home schooling, he knows almost every letter of the alphabet, along with their SOUNDS, and he is starting to sound out simple words!  He writes his name and is learning to write all of the letters (motor skills are the most challenging thing for him).  I observed the special ed. class he would be in if enrolled in school and it is completely inappropriate for him....he will learn so much faster just doing what we are doing here at home. Plus, when he overheard me telling someone that I didn't know how it would affect him not being able to pray aloud in school, etc. he adamantly told me, "Mommy, I don't want to go to bye-bye school.  They don't pray in bye-bye school.  I want to do school at home!"

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