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 Kiddos...plus 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…..so 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 wherever....you 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 week....no 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…..family 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 kids....no 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 myself...as 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!

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