Addicted to Kids?

Sometimes, I feel like a celebrity or something.  I can’t ever take all the kids out in public anymore without someone making at least one “big family” comment.  But, not too long ago, a visitor asked me in the comfort of my own home, “What are you?  Addicted to kids or something?”    Although I answered quickly, I was also slightly taken aback, and this question’s been playing in my head ever since.

Yeah, for real.  What are we?  Addicted to kids or something?

There are many motives to adopt a child(ren).  For many people, adoption is a [fabulous] way to grow their family.

Adoption was only ever a way to “grow our family” the first time we adopted.  We intended to adopt once, and we intended to only adopt one child – a girl – then call our family complete.  Then, we only intended to adopt two little girls at once time and be done.  Then we lost Rose.  We intended to bring home one more child to honor her legacy and seek joy in the Lord in the wake of our grief.  We ended up bringing home four children in one year.   Now we are in process – again!

I have learned since then to throw our intentions out the window and to be still and let the Lord speak to our hearts about what He has in store for our family.  With the exception of the first time we adopted, it has never been our goal to “grow our family.”  That’s just been an obvious side effect of the Lord breaking our hearts for children in need.

Bigger-table-not-higher-wallsAfter our first daughter passed away, I could feel the gentle (okay-maybe not so gentle) challenging of the Holy Spirit in my heart to give God control of our family.  To let Him in, to let Him MOVE.  I’ve come see our family as a ministry and not just something that is purely “ours” for us to to wrap up in a box and hold it close to our hearts but away from the Lord.    And, over the course of the past few years, I’ve seen God change me, change my husband, change our children.   I’ve seen strong, beautiful bonds form that would’ve never happened otherwise.  I’ve seen the hearts of our children open up to include more brothers and sisters.  After only a few weeks with our family, our newest son was engineering a bigger table “to fit more kids.”

I can see how, after more than doubling our family size in only a few years’ time, it can look like we are “addicted to adoption” or “addicted to kids,” but that’s not it.  It’s simply that as we come to understand the gospel more, we see that treasure is not here on this earth.  We see firsthand that Faith, Family, and Friends are often interwoven, not held in separate priority order 1, 2, and 3.  We see firsthand the beauty of redemption and the rewards of sacrifice.  We see the beauty of His power perfected in our weakness.  He’s renewing us day by day, and as He’s doing that, we better understand the magnitude of what He’s done for us.  He’s given us LIFE, and HOPE, and FAMILY, and a FUTURE.  It’s out of gratitude for the magnitude of what He’s done that we open our hearts and our homes to more sons and daughters of the One True King.  It just so happens that the way we live out our gratitude looks like “a hand full,” “a full house,” ” a full van,” and “are you CRAZY?”  It LOOKS like an addiction to kids.

But it’s not.  It’s an Addiction to Jesus.

We LOVE because he first loved us.

1 John 4:19; Matthew 6:19-21

 

 

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Fourteen Years and Nine Children Later

Me and my hubby looking older and much more “experienced” than 14 years ago. We’re also so much deeper in our faiths and so much deeper in love.

Here I am on my fourteenth anniversary, and I can hardly believe it!  I stand in awe (and sometimes still in shock) of all that we’ve been through as a couple. I praise God for how far He’s brought us in our marriage.  I found myself reflecting today on the lessons I’ve learned – or rather He’s taught us – during the last fourteen years, and I thought maybe I’d write a few down. By the way, I take no credit for these. :) They are just what God has impressed upon my heart over the years.

So, even though I numbered these, they really are in no particular order.

1. My husband is not the provider he thinks He is.  Sure, my hubby works really hard, and He is amazing at what he does.  He was awarded Teacher of the Year last year, the year after we lost Rose.  But, He’s not our sole provider.  God always, always, always gives us the opportunities for my hubby to provide for us or He provides for us in out-of-the ordinary ways that we would never have expected.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. …(Matthew 6:25 and following)

2. My husband and I are not each other’s primary source of satisfaction or fulfillment.  When we depend too much on each other to meet our needs – whether they be emotional, spiritual, and even physical, our relationship suffers.  When each of us individually really seeks God first, we are pulled closer together, and our marriage is stronger.  We are able to love more freely and unconditionally, because God is filling us up first. I am much less disappointed with my hubby, and he with me.  He is not my everything, and I am not his everything.

The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. (Psalm 28:7)

3. Experiencing trials and tragedy together has significantly strengthened our relationship.  Two deaths, five births, and four adoptions have put just a tiny bit of strain on our marriage (do you sense the sarcasm at all?).  I’m sure it’s no surprise that divorce rates are higher among couples who lose a child.  We have learned through the many changes in our family over the course of our marriage to lean on each other but also to allow the other person to grieve individually.  We’ve learned how to encourage the other to handle the stress of births, deaths, change, and uncertainly in the healthiest ways possible.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2-3)

4.  We’ve learned to pray for and with each other.  Nagging doesn’t work.  Prayer does.  And there’s something very powerful about someone who loves you intimately praying out loud over you, speaking truth into your heart.  My hubby and I have experienced new levels of vulnerability and trust by praying with each other.  I have grown in my compassion and understanding of his challenges by praying for him constantly throughout the day.  Prayer changes people; it changes the one who is praying and the one who is being prayed for, because God hears our prayers.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. (Luke 18:1)

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (Colossians 4:2)

Pray continually. (1 Thess. 5:17)

5. Children do not hold our marriage together.  First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes…(you know how it goes.)  Our marriage comes first.  God designed it that way. He wants us to cleave the closest to our spouse, not to our children.  I know that if I did not cleave closer to God and to my husband than I did to my baby girl, I would have fallen completely apart when she died.

By husband is my best friend, even when there are no warm fuzzies.  I love spending time with my children, too, of course, but if I constantly choose my children over my husband, our marriage suffers.

6.  Children are not our source of happiness.  They are a major source of happiness, but they are not THE source of happiness.  Children are an AMAZING gift.  AH-MA-ZING.  But God asks us to make Him our ALL in ALL.  Not them.

Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Psalm 127:3

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Psalm 34:8

7.  Family “planning” isn’t necessary God’s plan.  In American culture, there is still an unspoken expectation for couples to have children, a certain number of children, both genders of children, and all biological children.  It’s hard to feel content when everyone else constantly seeks to tell you what they think your family should look like.

Together, my hubby and I have learned not to depend upon having children, upon having a certain number or gender of children, or even upon having a certain number of biological children to determine whether or not we feel our family is perfect, or whole, or complete.

We recognize God as the author of life, the Giver of all good gifts, and the one who gives us our children for a short time to lead and guide them.

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.  James 1:17

For you created my inmost being;  you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  Psalm 139:13

8.  Relying too heavily on short or long-term goals is a sure way to set ourselves up for disappointment.  God wants us to plan.  He wants us to be responsible and organized and productive and all that.  But, He also wants us to be open to listening to His Spirit as He seeks to speak to us.  There have been many times in our marriage when we had planned to accomplish a certain goal by a certain date or to use a certain amount of money for something, when we were clearly called to go another direction.  He has a way of doing that…of shaking things up a bit and changing our plans in order to remind us to be completely dependent upon Him.

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.  (Proverbs 16:9)

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

9.  Live for today, and relinquish control of tomorrow to God.  We’ve learned this in the hardest possible way.  One moment, our first beloved daughter was alive and well in my womb, and within moments of her birth, her health began to decline until she passed away five days later.  One moment, my beautiful two-and-a-half-year-old daughter was eating her first moon pie, and moments later, her stomach twisted, and she was in cardiac arrest in just a matter of hours and dead in a matter of a few days.

We do not know what will happen from one day to the next.  If I have time to spend doing anything, I know I should spend it letting Jesus pour His love out of me and into them.  If one of my children were to no longer be with me tomorrow, the most important thing is that they know Jesus.  That’s it.  Not all the education or sports or special opportunities in the world will get them anywhere if they leave this world without Jesus.  My hubby and I have changed and continue to change our priorities to focus on the spiritual wellbeing of our family.

Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” James 4:14-15

10.  God always has our ultimate good in mind.  My hubby and I have learned to take God at His word in this.  He promises to work everything for our good – in our families, in our marriages, in our jobs, in our relationships but most of all, in our hearts.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

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I am so thankful for the journey of my fourteen-year marriage with my husband and the journey we have walked together.  I look forward to however much more time God will grant us together and the many more lessons He will speak to our hearts.

Philippians 4:6 “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

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Vacation: the Good, the Hard, and the Funny

The Good:

The four bigger kids outside the Coral Reef Restaurant

  • I got out of my house for a week!!!!  Hey, I’ll take just about any opportunity to get out of my house, but a week out of the house to go to Disney World?!  Jackpot!  Leaving my house for a little while was a welcomed relief in more ways than one.  Even though the week stirred up many bittersweet memories of Rose, it was nice not to have to be in my home, which a constant reminder of my beloved girl.
  • It was fabulous to spend time with “just” the seven of us and also with my Mom, Dad, sister, brother-in-law, and nephews.  We all miss my family like crazy, and any opportunity to hang out with them is always so wonderful.  It was so fun and meaningful to eat, walk the parks, and ride the rides together.  The few minutes I spent with just my sister walking from my parents’ room to her room was enough to have a short, sincere conversation.  I love these moments I get to spend with her.  I was able to have a great debriefing conversation with my Dad, just him and me, toward the end of the week.  It’s always so special when he shares his heart out loud with me.  (We both usually do most of our vulnerable sharing through typed words.)
  • I had the opportunity to hang out with my nephews!!!  My sister and her hubby handed over their little guys to us for a few hours so they could have some alone time.  I really enjoyed my time with them. I have never before gotten to spend time with A and N apart from Mommy and Daddy and truly get to know them.  Those few precious hours made me wish for the millionth time that all my family members lived close to each other.
  • I had the joy of hearing my kiddos laugh and squeal as they experienced many things for the first time.  For Pearl and Finn, everything was new and exciting, but even for Milo, most things were like new because he didn’t remember them.  He was only three years old the last time we were at Disney.  It was so sweet to see the kids take pleasure in the fun of Disney without being hung up on the characters.
  • A few of Finn’s favs: Kilimanjaro (The Safari Ride), Boneyard, and Dinosaur Ride in AK;  People Mover and Buzz Lightyear at MK; Honey I Shrunk the Kids playset and Toy Story at HS; Fireworks at Epcot; Lego and “Once Upon a Toy” potato head store at DD; being outside all day
    A few of Milo’s favs: Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, seeing the Castle at MK, Dinosaur Dig (Boneyard) and Mount Everest at AK; Toy Story, Tower of Terror, and Star Wars characters at HS, Innoventions,  Illuminations/Fireworks at Epcot; LEGO store at DD; swimming at Bonnet Creek
    A few of Ely’s favs: Food (everywhere); Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain RR at MK; Toy Story, Little Mermaid, Star Wars/Tours, Rockin’ Roller Coaster at HS;  Primordial Whirl, Kilimanjaro at AK; Agent P Adventure; China; Fireworks at Epcot; swimming at Bonnet Creek
    A few of Pearl’s favs: Small World, Carousel, People Mover, Buzz Lightyear, seeing the Castle at MK; Disney Jr. Show and Honey I Shrunk the Kids Playset at HS; Kilimanjaro, Boneyard, and Dinosaur Ride at AK; Chinese Acrobat Show and Fireworks at Epcot; T-Rex café (she says) and “Once Upon a Toy” potato head store at DD
  • We took the kids to do two “special” (not like all of Disney isn’t special, but two above-and-beyond-what-we’d-normally-spend) meals.  They loved both experiences.
  • We had a-ma-zing weather.  That might seem like a silly, miniscule thing, but the nice weather was SOOO appreciated after having such manic weather here in Georgia for so long.
  • With the exception of one day, Celine was so good.  She really was.  Even when she didn’t sleep, she was chill and happy.
  • I got to “live” next to a lake for a week.  I had a chance to ride boats and go swimming multiple times.  I LOVE water.  I like being near it, being on it, being in it.  I dream of living next to a lake or next to the ocean. I enjoyed looking out of my window at Bonnet Creek every morning and every night and see water.
  • Nobody got [really] sick.  I was still fighting off whatever virus I had picked up several weeks before, and I had a few other minor health issues (which I usually do when I go away and stay up way too late several nights before to pack, finish work, etc).  And, of course, we everyone was majorly exhausted by the end of the week, but nobody got seriously ill.  Nobody had a fever, ear infection, strep throat, diarrhea, stomach bug, or anything like that, even after some of our family members started throwing up.  God spared us.  I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I am for this detail of our trip!
  • Milo was big enough to go on most of the roller coasters.  This made him enormously happy, and in turn, made us enormously happy.  Well, except for the Mommy who didn’t remember if she liked Space Mountain or not and decided to oblige his request to go on the ride.  She now remembers why she DOES NOT like Space Mountain. 😉
  • Mike and I got a chance to hang out one night with Mom, Dad, and Kari and play Settlers, which I won (thank you very much). :)  Nah, it was luck, and previous rolls of 7 didn’t hurt, either.  I didn’t even realize I could win until it was my turn. I thought for sure my Resource-Card-Addicted hubby was harboring some soldiers I couldn’t see, but shock of all shocks – he wasn’t!

The Hard

All of us in our “Love Planted a Rose” shirts.

  • It was difficult, to say the least, to be on a family vacation without all of our family there with us.  So many things reminded us of Rose, especially Minnie Mouse.  We brought Rose’s stuffed Minnie Mouse with us.  She rode in the diaper bag everywhere we went and was included in some of our photos, so we had something to remind us that Rose was still there with us in memory.Magic Kingdom was the hardest day without her.  That day, we all wore our red Rose shirts in memory of our Rose and in honor of her Chinese sisters who we are in the process of adopting.All the little girls in princess dresses made it harder.  Rose was our princess.  She was our girly girl who loved to wear dresses, jewelry, and a tiara on her head.  I could have seen her riding around in the stroller decked out in her princess gear with the diva attitude to go along with it.The last day at Disney, we went to Epcot, and we hunted down Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy.  You would not believe how difficult it is to find the original Disney characters!  (Hint: Go to Epcot at the front of the park.  There is an INSIDE, air-conditioned Character-greeting station where you can find all three at the same time!)  Mike and I CRIED when we saw Minnie.  We really wanted some great photos with Minnie Mouse, and we told the photographer and assistant that she was our deceased daughter’s favorite character.  They didn’t seem to listen, and they only took one photo with my camera with all of us and Minnie (but tons with their “Photo Pass” camera, of course).  That photo was the worst one out of the bunch.  We were disappointed, and their lack of concern made us even sadder.  Thankfully, I did get some decent photos of Minnie and the four bigger kids.Missing Rose doesn’t mean we didn’t have fun or enjoy our vacation.  It does meant that there were many moments that were very sad and bitter for us, and other moments that were really joyful and sweet in the light of all we’ve lost.
  • I know I’ve mentioned Pearl’s “potty issues” several times before.  But the thing is, it’s not about the potty.  Her bladder and whether or not she can control is her emotional thermometer of sorts.  It tells us how she is feeling and how she’s handling life.  The more stress she feels, the worse the problem becomes.  By the end of the week, we were all tired of emergency bathroom trips and peed pants.If you think about how overstimulating Disney World is for a normal child, multiply that by at least a hundred.  That’s how overstimulating places like Disney are for an adopted child.  Poor Pearl was pushed to her limits.  She had lots of fun, but she also ran the gamut of emotions and expressed her fear with everything from withdrawal and lying to hyperactivity and attention-seeking behavior.
  • It was really hard to go home.  It always is.  It’s hard to leave my family, not knowing when I’ll see them again, and wishing I could see them at least once a month.  The last day with them is always so bittersweet for me.  After losing Stella, and again after losing Rose, I long more than ever to be around my family as much as possible.

 

The Funny

Milo in mid-sneeze with Ely with Phineas and Ferb.

With five kids, it’d be pretty impossible not to have funny stories to tell.  But, when you add in four more adults and two more children, the funny stories just keep on coming.

  • We kept the trip a surprise from our kids.  We did all the packing when they were asleep, snuck the dog out of the house, and woke up early the morning we left to finish prepping for the trip.  It was so much fun to see Ely and Milo see all the luggage in the car, connect the dots, and realize we were not just going out for the day.  Ely was convinced for hours that we were headed north to the beach.  Milo is way too smart for his own good and actually asked right before we stopped for lunch, “Are we going to Disney World?”  I said, “Not for lunch.”  He replied, “So we are going to Disney world?!” We didn’t want to reveal the location yet, so I said, “That’s not what I said.”  LOL.
  • My Mom, bless her heart, keeps us laughing with her “Mom-isms” as we call them.  She sometimes uses the wrong word for something (unintentionally, of course), and once she does, we usually never forget.  Poor Mom.  She’s such a good sport about it, though.  She laughs at herself. Her latest “Mom-ism” was calling “Innoventions” at Epcot, “Interventions.”  And, while the kids were playing on the Fort Wilderness playground, she recounted another silly thing she said while recently talking to Dad.  She had called Miracle Grow “Miracle Whip.” LOL.  I love you, Mom!
  • When you have five children with you, you always have one to spare, right? 😉  Okay, well, maybe not, but we did lose one ten minutes in to our first park.  Right after securing fast passes at Animal Kingdom, we walked for at least five minutes until we realize that Finn wasn’t with us.  Mike yelled a few pseudo-obscenities, and then went tearing back to the Fast Pass kiosks to look for Finn.  Thankfully, he found him right away.  He had been doing some mad acrobatics in his few parent-free minutes, and had fallen off a picnic table.  He was fine; just a little scraped up. It was so scary at the time, but it’s a bit funny now.
  • Every picture we took, Milo sneezed.  EVERY.  PICTURE.  We thought at first it was because we kept selecting “green” backdrops for our photos.   In front of Disney characters topiaries, flowers, ponds, that sort of thing.  We thought his allergies were acting up.  But, then we took one inside with NO plants of any kind, and he STILL sneezed.  I have so many pictures in which everyone else is smiling nicely for the camera, and he is in mid-sneeze.  Like, for example, in the photo Mike took of him with Pearl and Ely at the T-Rex café.  He looks angry, but he’s actually in the middle of a sneeze.  All the plants in there are fake! :)
  • Finn yelled, “Oh…Big Shark!” at the Coral Reef Restaurant loud enough for the entire restaurant to hear whenever time the shark swam toward us (which was about once every two or three minutes).  We took the kids to two special meals during our trip, and the Coral Reef was one of them.  Mike and I had wanted to go for years, and so, we finally did!  Finn was HILARIOUS during that meal.  In addition to his Big Shark comments, for dessert, he made himself a lovely mustache and goatee out of blue cupcake icing.
  • When we were about three-quarters of the way through “It’s a Small World,” Pearl turned to me and asked, “Just pretend, right?  All pretend?”  Pearl had a really hard time with most of the rides and shows because, like many four-year-olds, she couldn’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality.  I tried so hard not to laugh, but I couldn’t help but let a few chuckles escape.  It just cracked me up so much that, in the one ride that is very obviously pretend with it’s very flat backdrops and large animated dolls, she turns to me and asks, “Is it pretend?”
  • Every one in awhile, a passerby will say something that strikes me as hilarious, and I never forget what that person’s said in passing.  One of these moments happened to me while we were at Hollywood Studios.  Mike had taken the boys on the newly refurbished Star Tours, while I took the younger three to the Honey I Shrunk the Kids Playset.  Celine had basically not slept the whole morning.  It was too hot, and there was too much going on for her to relax.  Once I got to the play area, I realized that strollers were not allowed.  I parked the stroller outside, clipped on the ergo, and attempted to put Celine into it while trying not to lose Finn (again).   Celine was not having it.  She began to scream bloody murder.  I grabbed Finn’s hand, practically dragging him into the play ground while half-walking, half-bouncing so Celine would calm down.  No success.  The play area was PACKED.  Like Sardines.  Kids in parents in every square inch of the place.  I begged Pearl to stay with Finn and released them to play.  They went down the same slide 20 times while I tried everything to put Celine to sleep in the ergo.  She screamed.  Everyone looked at me.  She screamed some more.  I huddled behind a giant blade of grass in a tiny piece of shade, swaying a bouncing and praying she’d calm down.  Finally, she got quiet.  I looked down, and she was out.  I breathed a silent “thank you, God,” sighed, and leaned back against the fake grass.  Just then, a senior gentleman walked back, noticed Celine in the ergo, and said to me, “Gone like the wind.”  I managed a tired smile and mouthed, “Finally.”  He repeated, “Finally?” and laughed softly.  I don’t know why it struck me as so funny, but it did.  The whole interaction.  And the man’s clever comment. 😉
  • My CRAZY son’s sheer look of terror on Mount Everest as he rode backwards in the dark (much to his Mommy’s surprise) followed by his declaration that, “I loved it!  It was awesome!” Then, he proceeded to go on it, again, with Uncle Jeff.
  • Oh, yeah, and I really think trouble follows me.  On our last day at Magic Kingdom, I enjoyed a second lobster roll for lunch at Harbour House.  I was so excited about eating this delicious sandwhich again, when about three bites in, I bit down and “Crunch!”…I bit into a lobster claw.   I heard a crack.  It felt like I bit into a rock.  I thought I may have broken my tooth.  My husband, who used to be more tolerant about these sort of things, decided to make a stink, although thankfully only a “quiet stink” as he put it.  The manager who came told us that this was her first time writing up a claims report.  LOL.  Seriously.  Only us.
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