Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Tribute to My "Sixteen" Kids

This past year, I’ve been so focused on writing about the three boys we are adopting from Bulgaria, that I haven’t really taken the time to share what a blessing the children I already have are to me. With Mother’s Day being tomorrow, I want to write this just so that they know how much they are loved and admired….and to brag on all of them a bit. When you count my three step-children, I have twelve children all together, (when you count the three who are almost home from Bulgaria)—though five of them are grown and out of the house. But I can’t stop at twelve, because my sister, my only sibling, has four amazing children, who I have always also loved as my own. Here’s a little tribute to them all.

My oldest, Shannyn, I became foster mom to in 1991, when I was 22 and she was 6. Three years later, I adopted her. Shannyn had a great personality—very street smart, a bit of a wise guy, a very sharp mind and sometimes a sharp tongue. But so caring and nurturing and motherly. She had cared for three younger siblings up until the time she came to live with me. Though she was already 6 years old, Shannyn knew few letters of the alphabet and was really behind in school. Her teacher wanted to move her down to Kindergarten from T-1 but I insisted, “This little girl is SO smart—I can tell just from talking to her. She just needs time to catch up. You’ll see.” And sure enough, they kept her in T-1 and by the end of the year, her teacher told me, “Shannyn is my biggest success story ever—she went from hardly knowing anything, to being at the very top of her class.” Shannyn later went on to graduate from UGA in criminal defense. Her goal is to one day work as a youth advocate. Shannyn and I are alike in that we both love to debate—we can debate pretty much everything—and we’ve even been known to stand on a table now and then to make our point! We both have a strong sense of duty and self-sacrifice. I love hanging out with Shannyn and hearing what she has to say. She lives in PA near the rest of my family so I really miss her—especially now that she just had the cutest baby ever. I can’t wait until she and her husband and little Kylin come for a visit in July!! I am so proud of what an amazing person she is—including a great wife and mom!!

My second child, Elizabeth, is Shannyn’s biological sister and came to live with me that same year, when she was 5. It’s amazing how I can love her and Shannyn both so much when they are complete opposites from each other. Elizabeth was our little comedian—also with a very sharp mind, and would make everyone laugh, seemingly without ever trying. (Like when she came home from school and told me that she knows how God heals people...."He just reaches his hand down from Heaven and touches you--but not on your private parts--and heals you!"  LOL)  She was happy-go-lucky and the “life of the party” throughout her younger years, until she started taking life much more seriously and decided she was more of an introvert than an extrovert. She loves books—I’d be surprised if there was one out there she hasn’t read. She’s the one who got me into Jane Austin—who we both love for her wit and satire:). Lizzie and I love watching the same type of movies and we are both homebodies who prefer cozying up with a cup of tea to going anywhere. She has been an extremely successful therapeutic massage therapist for several years now—even working on some big name celebrities from time to time. She has a true heart for God and for those in need. I just love her and am so blessed that she is my daughter.

Evelyn, age 23, is my oldest step-child. She and I share the same birthday, which started a bond right away. Evelyn was always very old for her age—never wanted to be a little girl, and grew up a little too fast maybe. She is the free spirit of the family and we all have a hard time keeping up with her, but every time she comes home, she greets us all with a huge smile and hug, and we are all so happy to see her. She has blessed us all with a beautiful grandson, Anthony, who is just as cute and sweet as can be! Her dad and I miss them both and hope they move back to Georgia soon!

Luby, my second step-daughter, is 22 and was married young and has two gorgeous little ones, ages 4 and almost 2. My girls at home just love it when they come over—they eat up their little niece, Imani, and she gets very spoiled over here! Luby is such a hard worker—I don’t know how she does it, working full time and taking care of two little ones. She’s a serious-minded girl, and has always been the steady and stable type. I’ve always thought it was so sweet how attached she and Evelyn were to their dad. And I’m glad that she and her children are a part of our lives.

Though he is not my child or step-child, I just cannot leave out the next in line in my heart—my 19 year old nephew, Nicolas. He and his siblings are definitely their mother’s children, but they know that I have always loved them as my own. I had the privilege of taking care of them for several years when my sister worked, which kept my heart and hands full…..and I loved every minute of it. Nicky has the most sweet and sensitive spirit of any boy his age. He’s always been such a good boy—typical first born—serious, concerned for others, considerate. And what a baby he was—the easiest baby a mom can ever have. If every baby was as easygoing as him, we’d have triple the population we do now. Currently he is a sophomore at Liberty University and though I don’t get to see him much, I love keeping up with him on Facebook—such a sweetie.

Just a month younger than Nicky is my 19 year-old step-son, Sammy. We were so thankful for Sammy when blending our families, consisting of four teenage girls! Sammy, like Nicky, was easy going, go-with-the-flow, and just a sweet boy. The two of them, in fact, used to be great friends, until my nephews and niece moved up north. Sammy is currently in Argentina for a few months but his dad and I look forward to him coming back soon. A man of few words, he loves music, like his dad, and is getting into songwriting and composing. We just love his heart for the Lord and seeing how bold he is becoming in the things of God!

My sweet niece, Gabriela, age 17, is next in line. She and I were kindred spirits when she was just a tiny thing. Once, when she was three, she came over to me and said, “LiLi, I love you SO much!” I told her, “I love you too Gabri!” Then she leaned in close, like she didn’t want anyone to hear and whispered, “I love you more than GOD!” (with a strong emphasis on God!) I told her, “Awww, that’s so sweet….I love you so much too….but we should try to love God even more than each other.” And she scrunched up her face and tilted her head to the side and said, “I know……but I don’t!” lol. Gabriela practically came out of the womb talking—the girl could hold long conversations with you and pretty much discuss anything at two-years-old. In fact, the family laughs about an incident in which her then one-year-old brother got frustrated at her constant talking and said, “Gabby…..SHUT UP!!!!!” right in the middle of a big family dinner. Gabri is smart and confident and liked by everyone. Right now she is making her decisions for where she will be going to college in the Fall. My prayer for her and all of our children is that they will seek after the Lord with all their hearts and use their talents and God given gifts for the sake of God’s kingdom. Though I don’t talk to her nearly as much as I wish I did, she knows that she still holds a very special place in my heart.

Anyone who loves a boy with a sweet spirit, like I do, will understand why I’m just crazy about my next nephew, Danny, age 15. He and I had a bond from the time he was just a tiny thing. Danny was so particular with who he liked at ages 1-3. There were just a “chosen few” he would associate with. A couple of people even asked me if I thought he might have autistic tendencies, but his mom and I were like, “Nope—no way….no autistic tendencies here at all….he is totally connected with us….he just doesn’t like many people, and therefore won’t talk to them or even look at them.” Lol Danny is the boy who, for instance, when you come home with your hamburger order, and they shortchanged you a burger, will be the first one to hand over his burger to you and say, “Here, eat mine…I’m fine with fries.” He helps his mom with whatever she needs and is just a kind and sweet boy. Oh and did I mention that he is practically a professional soccer player? Yep, at only 15, he plays for the US National Team for his age group and has been offered free scholarships with teams in Europe. He has some big decisions to make very soon which will affect the rest of his life. We’re praying for these choices he needs to make but most importantly that his heart’s biggest desire is to walk with the Lord.

While I just love sweet spirited boys like Danny, Nicky, and Sammy, I also have a soft spot for gorgeous smart-alec boys like my nephew Mikael, age 14. This guy was a little koala bear as a baby—would just latch onto you and let you hold him and snuggle with him for hours, until you put him down. Mikael is a typical baby of the family—has the most fun, gets out of the most work and gets away with the most…just because he’s so darn cute and charming! Even though he acts like a cool kid, anyone who really knows him knows that he is just a sweet, loving teddy bear. I truly miss this little guy—he used to come to my house for weeks every summer and would go on vacation with us every year until last. I hate that things have to change and that the kids have to grow up and move on with their lives….I just want to keep him with me forever. In fact, every time I visit I try to talk him into coming back home with me and moving in with us!

                             OUR FOUR LITTLES
Newest to our family, and the oldest boy of the house (for the next three weeks at least) is Luke, who is 11. We adopted Luke in 2011 and he is all boy. Anything related to outdoors or sports, Luke is all for! He will try anything and has no fear. I have found him probably 60 feet up in a tree (I’m not good at measurements—just know that it was HIGH!!) and making me a nervous wreck but to him, it’s like walking up a flight of steps. He informed us when he came to live with us that he intended on keeping his strong Southern accent, and we told him that it was fine with us…though now he is seeing the ramifications it has with his spelling, lol. The most impressive thing about Luke is his deep understanding and commitment to the things of God. Just from less than two years of living with us, he knows the Bible inside and out—he remembers everything, and says that it all started when a lady prayed for him at church. He prays regularly for the salvation of his birth family, as well as our family members who are far from God. This is a very special boy and we are excited to see the plans the Lord has for his life!

Luke’s biological sister, and our oldest girl currently in the home, is Gracie, age 10. Like my Shannyn, she can be a little bit overzealous about the behavior of others (some call it bossy :) but she is an amazing helper and I’ve honestly never met a 10 year old girl with her home keeping skills. She LOVES how organized I am and always tells me how much she loves organizing things. She loves learning how to cook, and LOVES caring for little children. Every time a little one visits our home, she takes over and becomes “mom” for the day. What does she want to be when she grows up? A babysitter, of course…though we are encouraging her to possibly consider being a mom or full time nanny instead:). Gracie is very personable, gets along with absolutely everyone, and never holds a grudge. We truly believe that God brought her into our family because she has such a heart for orphans. She cannot wait until her new brothers get here and I know she is going to be a tremendous help with them.

Nine-year-old Sara is also the biological sister of Luke and Gracie. She is a tiny thing—not even 50 pounds, and looks three years younger than her sister rather than only one. Like Gracie, she loves caring for little ones, though she’s not quite as diligent in the task. She’s more like my Elizabeth was at that age—knows she’s cute, and likes having a lot of fun—the less stress, the better! Sara is extremely loving, but is also headstrong and not afraid to argue from time to time. She’s the logical one of the bunch and loves to shoot down her older siblings’ arguments with a “well, that just doesn’t even make sense because….” type of statement. I love how Sara and Gracie love watching movies like Anne of Green Gables, and Pride and Prejudice, etc. We find a way to “get rid of” the boys (allowing them to play a video game, or getting Daddy to play with them outside) and then we have our tea and watch our girlie movies together, just like I used to do when Shannyn and Elizabeth were younger. Sara also cannot wait until her new brothers come, and even though she’s younger than Steven and Benjamin, she talks about how cute and sweet they are and prays every day for them.

Lastly is the baby of the family….little David. David is the only one of my own children who I raised from the time he was a baby. We were in the older child adoption program through Georgia foster care, and were expecting a child of around 7-9 years old, but God blessed us with a baby boy instead. He is now 4 years old and has made us laugh every day of our lives. Even though he is the baby, his personality is much, much more like a first born child—and not one of his siblings can get away with bossing this kid around. The only child I’ve probably ever met with better verbal skills than David at such a young age was Gabriela—and that’s not a fair comparison because she’s a girl! This kid is a whip and has even been known to “outlogic” his elder siblings a time or two (much to their delight!) Like his older brother, he loves sports and “dangerous” things, but really, he only “thinks” he’s doing dangerous things….he is, in fact, extremely cautious. I mean, even when he was a year old and throwing temper tantrums, his idea of smashing his head on the floor was VERY SLOWLY reaching his head down to the floor, giving it a little tap, and then looking up at you like, “Humph! See what I just did! I told you!!” David is really looking forward to having his three new brothers. Even though Josiah is six, he is smaller and far behind David developmentally, so in a sense, David will finally get to be a big brother, as he has always wanted!

                       MY BEAUTIFUL MOM
As you can see, my husband and I have been so blessed with all of our children. It has been sometimes a sacrifice, going through this International Adoption process this past year, as we have been busy and preoccupied with all things “adoption”…..paperwork, fundraising, paperwork, preparing rooms, paperwork, fundraising, paperwork, researching our boys’ conditions, paperwork, fundraising……you get the idea. In fact, the worst thing I’d have to say about this whole process is that it has definitely taken away our time and energy from the blessings that God has already given us. BUT, we know that these three boys are worth it. There has been no one in their lives giving them time and attention, so if our children have to do without us a bit so that we can give these boys a permanent family, then so be it, and let it be done to the glory of God! I am so thankful for all of our children and our nieces and nephews, even the ones not mentioned by name on this post…..they are all so sweet and special to us. The Lord has been good to us and our desire is to please him in every aspect and to raise our children to fear and love and honor the Lord with all their being.

Last, but surely not least…..since tomorrow is Mother’s Day, I cannot end this post without giving a shout out to my own mom. She is the epitome of loyalty and “having your back” I remember once, on the middle school bus, the bus driver did something I thought was very unfair and I snapped at him, “Wait until my mother hears about this!!” LOL, I mean, my mom even stuck up for us when my sister and I were clearly in the wrong….I don’t know if that was good or bad….but we certainly appreciated her for it! I can go to my mom for anything—help, ideas, advice, and she is never too busy to help in whatever way she can. She and my Dad watched three of our children when we went to Bulgaria for two weeks in December to visit our boys. When she visited her chiropractor during that time, he said to her, “What happened to you? You look like crap!” And now, she and my Dad are in for round two and will be watching all four of our kids when we leave in two weeks to bring our boys home!! They are a great match—my Dad will play and play and spoil the kids, and my Mom will keep them from being spoiled brats when we get home:). This is why my sister and I turned out so fine… parent to spoil and the other to remind us that the entire universe doesn’t revolve around us…and that, by the way, there are other people around you to consider as you go through life!! Thanks Mom for training me to see life that way!! I love you so much and are so blessed that God chose you to be my MOM. XOXOXO

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone!!

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