Friday, November 17, 2017

We Needed Him

This week, we celebrated one year as a family of five. On November 14, 2016, Brooks joined our family in China, and we will never be the same. All week I've wanted to think of something I could post to share with you how much he means to us, but I think the guest post I submitted to "No Hands But Ours" last week sums it up perfectly, so if you didn't catch it there, you can read it now. I hope it encourages you to trust the Lord in wherever He's leading you because His plans are ALWAYS better and for our good.

One year.

I still can’t believe it’s been an entire year since Brooks became ours. One year since a tiny, pale, very sick little boy reached for two strangers in a musty Chinese conference room. One year as a family of five. One year of learning and adapting and fighting for a little boy born over 7,000 miles away from the place he now calls home.

I’ll never forget my husband tapping me on the shoulder that day as I was completing yet another form where I promised to take proper care of Brooks. Very calmly and quietly, he simply stated, “There he is.” I looked up as three women breezed through the door carrying our 17-pound baby boy and headed straight for us. They knew exactly who they were looking for and within ten seconds of entering the room, one of his nannies was standing next to us. I barely had time to throw my husband’s phone at our guide so she could record the moment. He then reached his arms out for me to hold him, and a collective “Awww!” filled the room from the nannies and other adoptive parents waiting to meet their children. 

His nannies smiled and reassured him as he began to interact with us. He had been dressed to the nines in a beautiful four-piece panda suit, and it appeared that they had even dressed him in new shoes and sent along a favorite rattle. The nannies giggled as they shared with us that he had been saying “mama” and “baba” on the van ride to meet us, and they beamed with pride as our 13-month-old son showed off his skills as a new walker.

Fifteen months of paperwork, prayer, and tears were behind us, and our whole lives as his parents were beginning.

If I’m being honest, up until that hand-off, I’d been terrified of this moment. I’d spent the last four months staring at the two pictures we had, re-reading all six pages of his paperwork, and trying desperately to create meaning out of each and every word we knew about him. I spent many countless nights staring at my bedroom ceiling worrying about whether or not his medical issues, which, according to the file, seemed so incredibly minor and insignificant, were actually accurate. I had read so many stories of families who brought home very different children than they had expected, and I worried about all the things that his orphanage could’ve missed. 

Would he attach easily? 
How many therapies would he need? 
Will his brother and sister accept him as their brother? 
What will people say when they see a Chinese child with Caucasian parents? 
How will we communicate with him?

The list went on and on.

I knew we’d been called to adoption, and I had a peace in my heart that this child was my son. None of that had ever been in question, but the fear of the unknown consumed me. On that day, in that stale conference room that reeked of burnt coffee and cigarettes, something in me changed. As that bundled baby boy accepted puff after puff after puff out of my hands, I felt myself slowly exhale. In that moment, I realized that he, just like my other two, was just a normal baby. He was going to do all of the typical baby things his brother and sister did, even if it looked a little bit different or happened in a different timing. Developmental delays, premature birth, anemia…or not…he was just a little boy who needed a family. 

Why had I been so afraid of him?

Over the last year, we’ve learned a lot about the little boy who once kept me up at night. He sings a mean “Wheels on the Bus,” points out every airplane that passes, and throws half his food on the floor, just like his older brother did. He loves candy, hates milk, and fights us getting strapped into the car seat, just like his big sister did. He lives for goldfish and cars and says, “Mine!” if you try to take his toy, just like every other toddler I know.

The past year has been one of growth and change. We now manage Brooks’s asthma, which was a surprise to us, but after our initial few months home, we seemed to get in a groove with his medications. His head circumference, once a little bit of a concern to doctors, has leveled off and his anemia is completely gone. We are medically stable for the moment, and for that we are so grateful.

Today, Brooks is thriving in preschool and has begun naming colors, shapes, and engaging us in games and songs. He knows his mommy, daddy, brother, and sister, and we look forward to enrolling our strong little guy in gymnastics in the spring. He is the happiest and friendliest little guy you’ll ever meet and excels at greeting everyone he passes, stranger or not.

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned this year is simply this: we needed him. Not just another child…but him. When God called our family to adoption three years ago, I don’t believe it was for any other reason than for this boy. Brooks completes our family in a way we never knew we needed, and I thank God every day for not letting my fear be bigger than my faith. He is our peacemaker, our funny guy, and lets his big sister smother him like the living baby doll she always wanted.

There were so many moments throughout our adoption process where I wanted to throw in the towel. There were moments when the agency was invoicing us for an amount larger than what we had available to give them, or when the doctors told us his head circumference could indicate a neurological problem, or when we were asked yet again why we weren’t just trying for “our own” baby. It would’ve been easy to say no and walk away when things got tough, but I think back now at all we would’ve missed and am so glad we stayed the course. Many people like to applaud us and tell us how lucky Brooks is to have us, but the truth is that we needed him much more than he ever needed us. H

e’s a gift to us who is going to do BIG things in his life…we’re just the lucky ones who get the front row seats. 
Sunday, October 15, 2017

On Opening the Door

This past week at my MOPS meeting, I sat at a table with six amazing women discussing clutter. We all have it – physical clutter, meaning the piles, the boxes, the shoes (my personal nemesis), the disorganized parts of our home. We all have that one closet we’d be horrified if someone opened, am I right? 

I’ve never really thought much beyond what it physically is…stuff. Things. Junk. But as the seven of us shared and dug a little deeper into our clutter, some truths began to surface that went much deeper than piles of our children’s school work and that box of clothes we can’t let go of because “someday” we might fit back into it.

Our conversation shifted from Container Store bins and organizational tips to much bigger things like guilt and shame and vulnerability. There were common threads – the excessive amount of toys our children have that they don’t play with (that’s another blog post entirely…sheesh), the preschool drawings we can’t seem to let go of, the hoarding tendencies of family members, the hand-me-down pile-up, and the shame or anxiety we have over entertaining. 

But what struck me the most was how this physical clutter and the shame we feel about all of our “stuff” has ultimately separated us from community with those around us and, more importantly, community with Jesus.

I grew up in a home where we had people over all the time. Weekends were a revolving door of friends, babysitters, and neighbors. I could walk two houses down to play with one friend and two blocks to play with another. I had several “bonus moms” whose license plate numbers I can still recite because that’s how much time I spent in their cars.

I realize now what a gift that was, but at the time, it was just normal. If I wanted to invite a friend to our house on a Saturday afternoon with 15 minutes notice, there were no great logistics involved. No one was concerned with how pristine and perfect the house was…we simply called their house, and if they were free, they showed up. Easy.

When did we make it so complicated?

If I think back to my time I spent as a child at my friends’ houses for sleepovers and whatnot, I literally have ZERO memories of mess. I have exactly zero memories of the d├ęcor and organization (or lack of) in my friends’ homes. (Okay, there was this one really creepy chicken statue that sat in one friend’s kitchen, and I only remember that because I felt like it was watching me all the time.)

As for clutter? I’m sure it was there, but do you know how much it mattered to me? Exactly ZERO percent. And I can assure you that my 1989 bonus moms did NOT waste their time cleaning counters and vacuuming floors right before five second graders descended for a sleepover. They simply knew better. They threw some sleeping bags, pizza, and Blockbuster videos out on the living room floor, and moved on with their lives. Ain’t nobody got time for the Dyson.

Here’s the thing, friends…if we say we value and long for authentic community, yet are not willing to open our lives and our homes to those around us because we have a few piles of clutter and our homes are not “perfect,” how can our neighbors truly feel comfortable enough to really connect with us? Nobody wants to be friends with the Cleavers. If we insist on waiting until we have the perfect home and perfect clutter-free life before we can invite people in, we’ll be waiting forever.

You know my absolute very favorite thing about Jesus? He loved a hot mess. Like me and you. He didn’t seek out the ones who had it all together, he sought out the imperfect. He used people who were alcoholics (Noah) and thieves (Zacchaeus) and prostitutes (Rahab) to spread the Gospel. Had he sought out the most holy, most sinless, most perfect people, honestly, who would’ve listened? I don’t know about you, but I’m much more moved and inspired by the stories of those who have overcome their sin and been redeemed through the Holy Spirit than by those who have never faced a struggle. 

To be fair, vulnerability is hard, scary even, but it’s also a bridge. It’s at the heart of connection. To let people into our mess, into our struggle, and into our homes says to them, “It’s okay to be you. You don’t have to be perfect here.”

What freedom there is in that!

We don’t have to be perfect to spend time with the Lord, and we certainly don’t have to have it all together to invite others in. Don’t miss out on the joy of connection because you’re afraid of people seeing the real you. To be truly seen and known and accepted anyway, well, I’m not sure I can think of a greater gift. 
Friday, September 22, 2017

Brooks Turns TWO!

Brooksie Brooks, you are TWO!

I can't even believe it. Last year on September 16th, you were living in an orphanage on the other side of the world. You had a family, but you didn't know it yet, and you certainly didn't understand what a birthday was. We did our best to celebrate you in your absence, but our hearts were just broken to know you were so far away on such a special day. 

This year, we spent the day doing all your favorite things!

We started the morning with donuts...because 'Merica. ;) 

After opening and playing with your presents from Mommy, Daddy, Carter, and Kate, we headed up to play at the mall and go pick out some clothes for our Build-A-Bears. You picked out an Elmo outfit, complete with slippers, and then we played and rode the cars at the play area before heading to the food court for lunch. This was strategy - I knew you'd want your beloved lo mein noodles, but I wasn't about to clean those up at home, so the food court was the perfect place to let you glory in your love for the noodle. Bonus - we even ran into your sweet teacher eating lunch with her husband! 

After that, we headed home for naps and to get ready for your big fiesta! Cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles arrived late that afternoon, and we had a "Choo Choo, He's TWO!" party. :) Not only are trains one of your favorite things, but your Chinese name was also Zhi Qiu (pronounced Ji Choo), and your ayis in China called you Qiu Qiu (pronounced Choo Choo), so obviously that fit. ;) 

You LOVED all the attention, ate great food, got more presents from your family, and even tried your hand at a pinata! 

Your absolute favorite part of the day was watching all your family sing "Happy Birthday" to you. After you blew out the candles and we all cheered, you got the BEST little grin on your face. You know routinely ask for "Happy" anytime we sit down to eat. Apparently, you think this is going to be a regular thing around here...

Brooks, we don't know what we did right to get the absolute JOY of being your parents, but all of us truly count our lucky stars EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. that the Lord blessed us with the gift of YOU. You are incredibly smart, kind, observant, loving, compassionate, funny (SO funny), and dangerously handsome. Your joy is contagious, and I've yet to meet someone who doesn't immediately fall head over heels for you. Adoption is not an easy road for anyone involved, and there is a lot of fear and brokenness at times...but YOU, dear boy, are worth every sleepless night, every grey hair, and every blank on every piece of paper we had to fill out to bring you home. I would go through it all a thousand times over just for one of your million dollar smiles and to hear your sweet little voice call "Mommy."

We love you, sweet one...happy 2nd birthday!  
Sunday, September 10, 2017

Thoughts Floating Around My Head During My Son's Birthday Week...

I wish I had a prettier title for this post, but that's truly what this post random thoughts. I have so many thoughts swirling in my head right now. Here, in Texas, I'm planning the food and decorations for a family birthday party called "Choo Choo, He's Two!" (What can I say? I love a good theme.) But, if I'm being honest, my heart feels a million miles away. I can't get this amazing boy's first mama out of my mind, and I can't stop wondering how this week looked on the other side of the world two years ago. 

 I imagine that today, roughly six days before he was born, that his first mama was, like we all are, quite uncomfortable. Although it was guessed by China that Brooks was born prematurely, we don't know exactly how premature and we don't know why he was born early. I wonder if she was having complications. I wonder if she was, understandably, O-V-E-R her pregnancy, encouraging his exit with those old wives' tales like eating spicy food and going on long walks. Or was it a surprise? Was it one of those 3 a.m. births where you wake up your partner and simply declare, "It's time?"

These are things I'll never know the answer to, of course, but my mind still goes there.

I wonder how she went into labor. Was it natural? Induced? Was he a C-Section? Who held his first mama's hand? Was his biological father in the picture? Was he born at home or in a hospital? I know his weight and length on the day he was found, but what was his birth weight? Length? What time was he born? 

My mind continues to wander further.

When was the decision officially made not to parent him? Before he was born? At his birth? In the days between his birth and finding? Did first mama nurse him and love on him until she placed him? Or was that too difficult, knowing what was to come next?

And then the reality truly sets in: I will most likely NEVER get answers to my questions, not this side of heaven anyway.

It stings.

 If I'm being honest, a year ago, before I really knew and loved my son, I thought I could carry on as if none of this mattered. I had convinced myself that we were his forever family, so all that mattered was that we loved him and he was safe with us. What did it matter how his life started when it began all over again on his Adoption Day?

How naive I was.

Here's the thing - a year ago, I didn't KNOW my son. He simply existed as a few sheets of translated Mandarin and two pictures. That's it. I knew that his nannies called him an "active and sometimes impatient" boy. He wore a lot of pink (as real men do), the ayis kept his pants up with a bungee cord (bless it), and I knew he needed his formula thickened due to reflux (of course he did...told you he was meant to be ours). I had been told he liked cars and music (true) and liked it when his orphanage mama took him outside (also true). A year ago, that's all I "knew" of Brooks.

But now?

I know that he has incredible agility and speed and athleticism. (That's the respectful way of saying he's part spider monkey. Kid has SKILL.) I know that he is wickedly smart and observant. If you see him standing in a corner quietly with his back turned to you, RUN, don't walk...because he's ALWAYS up something. I know that he has a million dollar smile and a belly laugh that sets your heart on fire.

And where it comes full circle for me is when I realize that this boy that I love was gifted these traits by people I'll never get to know or thank. The gifts those first parents gave him through biology - intelligence, sense of humor, an infectious smile - are gifts that I now enjoy every day. Some days, I'm not even sure that's fair.

So, I sit in this tension. I order the balloons and buy the paper plates and wrap presents with my heart torn in half because the truth is that even though he's fully MINE, I also know that he was once fully HERS.

Regardless if I get my questions answered in this life or not, God is still good and Brooks is still my son. Regardless if I am ever able to give Brooks details on his biology or not, God is still in control. I cannot control the outcome of these questions and these unknowns, but I can pray that the Lord grants me comfort and wisdom as I navigate through this journey of parenting Brooks.

That's all we really can do with kids, right? We can cross every t, dot every i, and the truth is that we will STILL fail our kids because we're human. 

My prayer this week is that his first family is thinking of this incredibly bright, beautiful, special boy. I pray that they somehow know how happy, healthy, and loved he is. We entered into a brokenness that we will not ever truly repair when we chose to adopt Brooks, AND YET, the Lord has been faithful and called us here, so we rest in the fact that we will one day see the whole picture.

And now that I've let this all out there...let's get down to business and throw that little guy a good old-fashioned American birthday party! Do you think Chinese kids like pinatas?? ;)    
Friday, August 18, 2017

Post Adoption: 9 Months Home

I will not start every post with an apology.
I will not start every post with an apology.
I will not start every post with an apology.

ARGH, I can't help it...I'm so sorry, y'all! This whole three kids thing is HARD, and I missed both eight AND nine months home posts! Dang it!

Well, better late never, I, for all ten of my readers, let's see what Mr. Brooks has been up to lately! ;) 

PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT: Brooks hit a SERIOUS growth spurt these last few months! He seems taller, fuller, and just like he's losing his "baby." His face is getting leaner, longer, and he's looking more and more like a little boy and less and less like a baby. :( I think he's close to 22 pounds now. No clue on height, but we'll get all of his stats at his well-check in September, so I'll update those soon! I know his head circumference has grown because his "Infant" Texas A&M hat he wore a lot when he got home doesn't fit anymore. He continues to be a gross motor genius - jumping with two feet off the ground, climbing EVERYTHING, and generally giving his mama a heart attack on the daily. He wears me out, but in the best way.

ATTACHMENT: This continues to go well - no issues! Also a big victory...his night crying has finally subsided! Up until this point, he's cried out in his sleep multiple times per night. Not long enough or loud enough for us to address it because he's not truly awake, but I think that was where his grief and trauma came out. I haven't heard those cries in several amazing!

LANGUAGE: The biggest development leap we've noticed this month is his beginning to string words together. We got an ADORABLE video of him saying, "Hey, Kate," the other day. He'll also say "Hi, mama," "Bye bye, Dada," "Night night, Carter," or the like. We're getting two words together and considering he's only heard nine months of English, we're pretty impressed! 

SLEEP: Still no issues...praise the Lord! It only improves every day. Cross your fingers as he starts preschool that we won't have any regression with his naps or nights!

FOOD: We've discovered a new favorite this month - cheese ravioli, hold the tomato sauce. ;) I think he ate about 10 on Tuesday night. Noodles/pastas/starches continue to be this kid's jam...just don't add any red sauce!

HEALTH: Praise the Risen Lord, we are COMPLETELY OFF STEROIDS! We weaned Brooks off of those in June, brought them back to help him get over a brief cold in July, and haven't touched them at all in August! That'll probably change once cold and flu season hits again, but for the moment, we are enjoying our time OFF the nebulizer!

RANDOM FACTS: Full disclosure - I was absolutely terrified of how our move would cause little man to regress, but he handled it like an old pro! Our older kids actually struggled much more than he did...he's loving his new digs!

Another fun fact - he became very interested in putting on other people's clothing this month.

Exhibit A...

He makes us laugh EVERY DAY. :)

It's crazy to think that two years ago this month we applied to adopt. We had no idea that our sweet son's first mama was entering her third trimester of pregnancy with him. I have no idea what she was feeling at that point...fear? Joy? Anxiety? I'm not privy to those details but what I do know is that she loved her son. I do know that she chose to give him life when doing so would cause her immense pain. I do know that she must've faced just an absolutely impossible decision to make when she placed him to be found. I pray that God opens some cosmic door one day where I can meet this boy's first mama...but if He doesn't, she will always have my utmost respect and love.

We are so thankful to be this little guy's family - happy weekend, friends!
Sunday, July 23, 2017

Why JUST Is A Four-Letter Word

We were at lunch with some sweet friends last week when it happened. It was a very common lunchtime conversation moms have about this time of year, and it went something like this. 

Mom A: "We are so bored, you guys. If I have to fight with them about the iPad again today, I might just lose it." 
Mom B: "Amen. When does school go back in session again?"
Mom A: "Not soon enough. Thank God for camps, though, right?" 
Mom C: "Yeah, I'm ready, too...but I just have one kid, so I have no right to complain." 

And then, two hours later, it happened again on the phone.

Mom Friend: "I just don't know how to get her to stop throwing such awful fits."
Me: "I wish I knew. Three kids in, and I still don't know how to diffuse some of their rants."
Mom Friend: "It's exhausting. I don't know how you do it everyday, all day. I just have them nights and weekends, and I can't even do it right." 

Six years ago, almost to the day, I dropped 12-week-old Carter off at his first day of daycare. I cried the whole way to work and everyday I dropped him off for the next nine months. It was the hardest year of my life, and I ended up in therapy for the first time since high school that spring. 

I just had one kid.

I just had him nights and weekends.

Here's the thing - life and parenting is HARD. Period. No matter the age. No matter the stage. No matter if we have one kid or twelve. No matter if we work outside the home or inside the home. No matter if we're single or divorced or have been married 42 years. 

And when we put a qualifier on our struggles like just, we discredit our struggle because someone else, it seems, has it harder. We feel as if we have to justify ourselves for thinking it's hard because we "JUST" something...we just have one kid, we just see them after day care, we just have kids without special needs, we just have biological kids, we just have boys, we just have girls, we just stay at home...the list could go on and on.

I've been thinking a lot lately about why we do this just thing with regards to sharing our struggles, and here's why it bothers me so much - it stems from comparison. How many times have we, as women or moms, had a conversation with a friend where we compared our children? I'm not sure I can remember a play date or a conversation I've had with other moms where comparison DIDN'T happen. It comes as naturally as breathing. We do it in an attempt to find common ground, but the truth is that comparing our children usually doesn't find common usually just leaves us feeling bad about ourselves or unnecessarily worried about our children.

Oh, your kid was speaking full sentences at 18 months? Mine only said mama and dada.
Oh, your kid was fully potty-trained by two? Mine still needs a diaper at almost three.
Oh, your kid was reading by four? Mine is getting tutoring in second grade.
Oh, your kid licks the wall? Okay, yeah, mine doesn't do that. 

But, you get the point!

Can I let you in on a secret? When God created you, He created you and wired you in such a specific way that you have the exact right tools to parent the children He's given you. No one else. Those little cherubs were made specifically for YOU. Period. There's no need to compare when He equipped YOU for the job.  

So, a favor, ladies...the next time you find yourself tempted to downplay or discredit a struggle you're facing just because someone else seemingly has it harder, give yourself some grace. Quit the comparison trap. You are the only one in the world in  your exact circumstances. Parenting your exact children. 

And you know what? You are just what they need.
Monday, June 26, 2017

Post Adoption: 7 Months Home

This sweet boy has been home seven months! (Okay, seven months and some change. Summer is hard.) 

It's crazy to think that a year ago, we hadn't even seen his face yet, and now we can't imagine our life without him. What an amazing God we serve.

So, let's's what has been going on this month with our Brooks!

PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT: Not a whole lot of change here...Brooks continues to be 90 mph most of the time. Blake and I have both noticed that he's gotten heavier lately, so I'm very curious what his weight is now. I'm guessing 21-22 pounds, but since we haven't been to the doctor in a while, I'm truthfully not sure. His clothes seem to be getting tighter, too, so I'm eager to see how he's grown! 

ATTACHMENT: All good things here! This month, he got pretty particular about only wanting Mommy to do certain things...that was kind of hard, but it's also totally normal toddler behavior. As I'm writing this, he's currently at his first preschool camp...his first separation for longer than an hour in a structured, school-like environment. Prayers! I'll let you know how he did later this week.

LANGUAGE: I'd definitely say this has been his biggest improvement again this month. He's trying to string words together which is super cute. He'll try to say "Bye bye Carter," "Night night Daddy," and things like that. It's not totally clear yet, but he's trying which is just about all I can hope for right now.
He's also gotten really into animal and vehicle sounds this month. He knows the sounds that cows, monkeys, snakes, dogs, cats, horses, ducks, and birds make, and he'll also say "beep beep" or "vroom" for cars and "chugga chugga choo choo" for trains. It's pretty adorable if I do say so myself. Also...I've never had a kid before that lined up cars. I've always seen other kids do it, but mine never have. Brooks LOVES to do this...and it's apparently exhausting. ;)

SLEEP: So, we finally weaned him off Melatonin this month which means the days of rocking him to sleep are gone. He has a very hard time winding down and shutting off at night, so we started a new ritual at night where we tuck in his stuffed animals ("woof woof" and "ah ah," his monkey and dog) with one of his blankets and then tuck him in with his blanket. We give everyone kisses and say "night night" and then I leave the room. 99.9% of the time he doesn't fuss and simply yells "night night" back to me once the door shuts and then he goes to sleep.
Part of me is so happy about this because it shows tremendous attachment growth and also shows that he feels safe, but I won't lie, I kind of miss the snuggles! Part of growing up, I know...but knowing he's probably our last baby, it's hard to let go!

FOOD: This continues to basically be his love language. No real change here other than he fell in love with whole milk yogurt pouches this month. Mom didn't fall in love with the price (over $1 per pouch...ouch!), but since we can't get more than a few sips of milk into him here and there, I know he needs the calcium and vitamin D, so we bite the bullet and pay it. 

HEALTH: No sickness this month, and we've cut our breathing treatments down to just once a day! WOO-freaking-HOO! He also got two thumbs up at his post-op check with the urologist, so that was great to hear! Healthy boy! 

Brooks is no longer "unaware" when the big kids get treats...and must have one of his own. SIGH. So, this month, he's had his first Blizzard, Slurpee, and ice cream sandwich.
Maybe that's why he's heavier? ;) 

This kid will NOT be left out of pictures. He will weasel his little tushy in the middle of the mix and "DEE!" (cheese) until the cows come home. He wants to be IN the mix...such a stinker! Also, he has NO IDEA how many "big brothers" he actually has. This kid is so doted on by all of our friends and their kids that I'm quite certain NO ONE will mess with him. He has been so incredibly accepted and loved by so truly takes a village, y'all. 

He has some mad love for the splash pad... 

and went to the zoo for the first time this month!

And got another haircut...why does he looks SO BIG?!! 

We love this little man something fierce...looking forward to all the next month will bring with his first trip to the lake, moving into our new house, and another week of camp! Happy Monday, friends! 

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