72 hour giveaway final push!

Go big, or go home!  Actually, that’s just what we need.  We need to go big, so we can get some babies home.

Since writing the post about our fundraising efforts for the Goochers, Love through the Loss Giveaway, a few things have happened.

The first, and most important thing, is that the Goocher family has made their first trip, and met the girls.  Gwendolyn is a delight, and has already made strides in her development with a just a few days of love and care by mom and dad.  They will return for court in a couple of weeks.

Gwendolyn meets her  Papa!

Gwendolyn meets her Papa!

Unfortunately, the family was not able to accept the referral for Tessa, as her needs are greater than what their family is able to meet right now.  Please hold their family and Tessa in prayer, as this is the nature of the blind referral system in their country.  You do not find out about a child’s medical history, or needs until you get to meet them.  It is very hard to travel so far, and not be able to bring that child home, because you either aren’t approved for their needs, or you know in your heart you will not be able to adequately meet that child’s needs, no matter how much you want to.  The one positive side of this heartbreak is that the Goochers will now be strong advocates for finding the right family for Tessa.  Watch for a new update on this little princess soon!

Tessa, lover of cars, and one step closer to her forever family.

Tessa, lover of cars, and one step closer to her forever family.

We also have heard from some friends travelling at the same time, the Quinns.  Their two beautiful boys (ages 1 and 3) are doing so well under mom and dad’s care and attention.  Since meeting the boys, though, they need to bring a helper to get them back to the states.  Isn’t it a blessing to find out that your new 3 year old son is really quite a handful?

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Edgar loves his daddy!

The Goocher family needs their FSP to read $3500 to be fully funded for the rest of their airfare. The Quinn family needs their FSP to read $14,000 to be fully funded.

I don’t have much, but such that I have, I will share with you:
If you want to help, click here: GOOCHER FAMILY SPONSORSHIP GRANT or here: QUINN FAMILY SPONSORSHIP GRANT and forward your receipt to me at biglittledays (at symbol) gmail (dot) com

For every $5, I’ll give you an entry into a giveaway. For $50 or more (divided up however between the two families), I’ll double your entries. Previous donors are already entered. Share this blog post or the Goocher’s FSP and I’ll give you a free entry (one entry per day).  And here’s the kicker: It is only open for 3 more days.  Monday at 3 PM EST, I will draw a winner, and put the gifts in the mail.  They could be in your inbox on Monday or mailbox by Wednesday.  So don’t wait!

The prizes:

Grand prize: $100 Gift Card to Cabela’s Outdoor Store

cabela's

Second Prize: $50 Amazon e-gift card, generously donated by Sarah M.

Amazon-Gift-Card

Adoption can be such a rollercoaster of emotions–highs, and lows, and always on a tight budget. Thank you in advance for your generous support of these two wonderful families who are following God’s call for their families, through loss, heartache, joy, and redemption. Their children will all need medical care when they get home. Let’s help ease the unexpected costs of additional stays, friends to help, and the difficult choices we all sometimes must face.

Let’s get these kids home.

Posted in Adoption, Giveaway | Leave a comment

Love Through the Loss Giveaway

Imagine your family, filled with joy and expecting your fourth child.  Only, things don’t go quite as planned, and your beautiful new princess will face a lifetime of unexpected challenges due to a traumatic birth injury.  Your family grieves for a while, but adjusts to the new normal.  After all, Cerebral palsy can take many forms.  But, for your little girl, it means that you will have to say goodbye to her just two short years later.

This is the story of the Goocher family.

Amy and Eden

Amy and Eden

Amy and Isaac have been married for 8 years, but have embraced the family God has brought to them joyfully.  When they said goodbye to their precious daughter last year, the loss was so great.  But, instead of surrendering long-term to their grief, the Goochers did something amazing.  They went to Reece’s Rainbow, and began to look for a child who would need all the skills and knowledge their beloved Eden had left behind in their hearts and minds.

Many of us will never know that pain of saying goodbye to a child  who many others might see as a burden first.  If there’s anything I have learned from watching the stories unfold for friends whose children have such limiting diagnoses as CP, there is no limit to a person’s potential…when they have someone to believe in them.

They weren’t looking to replace their daughter.  They were looking to honor her life by loving through their loss.

They saw 5-year-old Gwendolyn’s tiny picture, and saw a daughter of their hearts.

*****

When I met Gwendolyn this summer, I had no idea that she was listed on Reece’s Rainbow, much less that she already had a committed family.  I stood nervously during the second week of visits, holding Daisy, and deliberately, if casually, making my way over to the large playpen that held the next older groupa of beginning walkers.  Two little girls were not in the large corral.  They were reclined in strollers, with knobby knees and blue socks coming from the edge of one.

When I peered in, I saw a beautiful little girl.  Like many of the less able-bodied children, she gazed unseeing into the distance, somewhere between sleeping and waking.  I began to speak to her and stroke her arms, then cheeks.  And suddenly, there she was!  This amazing little person came back into herself for the goofy voiced American with bad hair.  She just began to shine.  Without a word, her hands came up and grabbed my fingers, and a smile I will never be able to forget pulled her whole demeanor out of waiting.  She came alive in those few minutes.  And she took my heart right with her.

As I walked away, going on to say hi to Gina, I looked at the nanny and gave her a universal sign for “maybe” with a bit of an Indian head shaking move and said “Mama, America, da,” and pointed to myself and camera phone.

And there she was...so full of life.

And then she woke up…so full of life.

It wasn’t until several weeks later that I found out that the Goochers were already committed to this little girl, and were fighting hard to bring her home.

A friend pointed us in the right direction, though, and Amy and I have been friends since.  I am now their Family Warrior.  This means Amy and I share messages on Facebook, and I keep them in prayer throughout their long journey to bring their new daughter home.

The first time I read the story on Amy’s family sponsorship page, I was in tears.  This little girl was so important to me because I had held her hand, and whispered how beautiful she was.  And the family God was making ready for her was so, so faithful. Without their “yes,” Gwendolyn would still be lost.

 The Goochers’ FSP sits at $510.22 right now.  And Amy is not the type to ask, with many people in her life critical of their family’s calling.

But I am loud, and I am not ashamed.  The Goochers need their FSP to read $3,500. That is it.  A small miracle in many ways, but not too much for the body of Christ, for all those who care about orphans.  They leave in 5 days.

If you want to help, click here: GOOCHER FAMILY SPONSORSHIP GRANT and forward your receipt to me at biglittledays (at symbol) gmail (dot) com

For every $5, I’ll give you an entry into a giveaway.  For $50 or more, I’ll double your entries.  Previous donors are already entered.  Share this blog post or the Goocher’s FSP and I’ll give you a free entry (one time per day).

The prizes: 

Grand prize: $100 Gift Card to Cabela’s Outdoor Store
cabela's

Second Prize: $50 Amazon e-gift card, generously donated by Sarah M.Amazon-Gift-Card

I don’t care what kind of fool it makes me to offer these gifts without a limit, because the Goochers are offering their hearts with no limit.  If all we earn for them is one extra prayer, one word of encouragement, it will be enough.  But, I believe this family, these children, are worthy of any offering you can make.  Giveaway ends on April 10, in time for the family to buy their tickets home.

And what a beautiful homecoming it will be.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”–Isaiah 40:18-31

Posted in Adoption, Community, Faith, Fundraiser, Giveaway | 1 Comment

It’s World Down Syndrome Day!

Today is World Down Syndrome Day.  As the new mom of a child with Down syndrome, I was surprised to find this morning that I really wanted to dig out mismatched socks for all the kids and post Daisy’s picture on Facebook to celebrate.  I wanted to shout: our daughter has an extra 21st chromosome, and we love her!

Rockin' our socks for World Down Syndrome Day.

Rockin’ our socks for World Down Syndrome Day.

On WDSD, what I really want you to know is that our Daisy girl is a baby first.  That’s it.  I don’t need to take her to a special doctor when she gets an earache.  I don’t need special diapers to fit her super bendy legs, or a special car seat.  She wears plain old Carter’s clothes, and I wash her hair with baby shampoo.  She sees the same pediatric dentist that my other kids see.  She rides in my Beco or Papa back-carries her in the Ergo.  She eats plain old food.  She requires no medication.

Yay for yogurt!

Yay for yogurt!

But, when you see her, you might notice she doesn’t hold her mouth closed yet, due to weaker muscle tone in her jaw.  Then again, I did the same thing when I was a kid.

You might notice she’s the size of a kid less than half her age.  It’s because she was raised in an orphanage for her first 18 months.

You might notice she has the hair of a garage sale Barbie doll.  It’s because her pathetic mommy still hasn’t figured out what to do with beautiful ringlet curls at night.WDSD 1_3-001

And I’ll be honest–Daisy does have some hallmark characteristics of  a person with Down syndrome.  And it drives me batty when someone points them out with a comment about how they recognized it in her, with no follow-up comment.   “She chews her fingers a lot, but Downs kids have oral fixations.”  I do want to squash that little attempt to show that you are thinking about my kid as a “Downs kid” even though you said it to show you don’t have a problem with it.  I know it’s not very generous of me.  In fairness, though, I don’t comment judgmentally on your kid sucking her thumb at age 6.

Is finger chewing Daisy’s most endearing quality?  Not so much.  But, I attribute it to the fact that her propped fast-flow bottle was only available to her for a few minutes every day of her life, as she waited 23 hours a day in a crib for the next day to come.  You might suck your fingers, too.  Do you know the reason nursing a newborn takes 45 minutes for every session, 8 times a day at least?  Because babies need to suck to feel loved.  And every time I hear that horrid slurpy-suck, best approximated in an episode of The Bachelor, I remember, that my daughter never had that love before this summer.  Even when I would rather poke my own eyeballs with a fork than listen to her finger chewing, I know where it came from. And it tells me a story of a pain that is healing…not activated proteins sending mixed signals.

I don't always chew my fingers, but when I do, I look adorable.

I don’t always chew my fingers, but when I do, I look adorable.

My daughter’s eyes are generically, positively described as almond-shaped, but I know they are shaped like her eyes.

My daughter’s ears are generally described as low-set, but I know they are perfectly proportionate.  We call the right one her lucky fin.

My daughter’s nose is remarkable for the minimal nose bridge to some, but it just means we have to tweak her teeny baby glasses to not run into her “Maybe she’s born with it” mile-long lashes.

My little fashionista sitting amongst the chaos of our lives...proving God didn't give her special parents.  Just messy, crazy old us.

My little fashionista sitting amongst the chaos of our lives…proving God didn’t give her special parents. Just messy, crazy old us.

My daughter’s pinky is called crooked, but who could even tell because she likes to keep her hands busy.

My daughter’s feet have a sandal-gap between the first and second toe, but I’m more concerned with getting her to laugh when we play This Little Piggy.

My daughter is not the happiest child I have ever met, but I love her just the same.

Sorry, no child is happy all the time.  A stereotype I am actually sad to see die...

Sorry, no child is happy all the time. A stereotype I am actually sad to see die…

And we do sometimes visit special doctors because the local specialists don’t feel qualified.  And we do make her own formula because the iron supplemented in American formulas makes Daisy gag and run for the hills (me too).  Just like some of our friends are gluten and dairy free.  Some of those families even have kids with Down syndrome.  Some kids need a lifetime of care, and some just visit the doctor when they get strep throat.  Some kids come home from institutions; some are born to shell-shocked families who wrestle with a diagnosis.  Some people with Down syndrome are the light of their families’ lives, and some are never given a chance to shine.

Seven months into this gig, and I can tell you that the most distinguishing characteristic of a person who has Down syndrome is that they are more like everyone else than different.  We are all shaped more by the love and care that surrounds us than by the physical or mental limitations our biology suggests.

Each day someone looks at you and sees beauty, or even better, whispers it gently against your cheek…those are the moments that shape our hearts, more than valves, chambers, and scary open windows.

Oh, how he loves us.

Oh, how he loves us.

Each moment someone holds you to feed you, places a meal on the table in front of you, or even works for months just to teach you to chew, your soul is being fed with the knowledge that you matter.

Two volunteers play with the able bodied children.  The stroller handle in the bottom frame belongs to Clayton.  http://reecesrainbow.org/67758/claytoncaleb

Two volunteers play with the able bodied children.  The little girl on the far right has a cleft palate. I walked around the girls and wiped her runny nose and stayed until she smiled.  She is not available for adoption.  The stroller in the bottom of the frame holds Clayton.  Alone with his thoughts.  http://reecesrainbow.org/67758/claytoncaleb

When someone takes on the pain you have been living through all alone, and carries it as their own…your brain unleashes itself from worry to move into the realms of healing, growth, and learning.

I expect no less for our daughter.  I expect no less from our daughter.

An extra chromosome sets you up for a lot of challenges in the world, but it shouldn’t mean you are left behind.  Abandoned.  Unwanted.  Ignored.  A “ward”…instead of a “child.”  A burden instead of a blessing.  In an institution or in your own home.

On World Down Syndrome Day, I am celebrating our daughter’s entire life.  

 Faster, Daddy, faster!!

Faster, Daddy, faster!!

I am celebrating that so many people now believe that children God created with Down syndrome unequivocally deserve the chance to be born.

I am celebrating that so many people know that children abandoned because of Down syndrome or other special needs have the right to a family.

It’s our first World Down Syndrome day, and I have typed most of this blog post one-handed, holding the most precious little sleepy girl whose place in our hearts is organic and permanent.  And it’s a day to celebrate one of the things that makes her her.  And it’s a day to wear silly socks to share the wisdom that sometimes takes “living it” to accept.

It’s World Down Syndrome Day, and I am celebrating all the ways our precious Daisy has taught us more about what it means to be human.  And the challenging, rewarding, beautiful extra chromosome that is in no way incompatible with life.  It only adds to it.

*****

We are still partnering with the Goochers to fundraise an additional $3,000 for their trip to bring home not just one, but as of a week ago, two little girls with special needs  (the $3k covers part of the added expense of the paperwork to bringing Tessa into their family, too)

This beautiful video is worth watching with your family and sharing with your friends.

As always, our precious Mac, separated from a forever family by the Russian Adoption Ban and one extra chromosome, is in our prayers today.

Our little boy deserves it.

Our little boy deserves a family.

Posted in Adoption, Bigger Than Me, Down Syndrome | 1 Comment

How Our Large Family Did a Cheap(er) Disney Vacation

A Giveaway! I have one $50 Disney giftcard (or Amazon–winner’s choice) to anyone who shares this post (once per day) or donates $5 to the Goocher Family, travelling soon.  Donate $25 or more and I’ll double your entries, $50 will earn 10 additional entries.  Giveaway will be on February 28 at 10PM EST by random number, so long as the Goocher family reaches $500 in their account ($10 gift card if they don’t).  You must leave a comment on this blog entry or The Big Little Days Facebook Page for the free entry.  Forward any donation receipts to biglittledays (at symbol) g mail (dot) com–no spaces.  

Disney blog picMy family and I just got back from a great week at Disney.  We have 5 children, 8 and under right now, and a budget just rebounding from our daughter’s adoption and a house sale last year.  I think it would be kind of tacky to tell you exactly how much we paid for everything, but I wanted to share how we made this trip happen more affordably than anticipated, though, being Disney, it certainly was not in the “under $1000″ category.  I also wanted to share what we learned and where we wouldn’t spend our money again.

But first, I want you to say it with me: Big Families cost a little more than your old small family.  It is OK.  Feeding 6 people (not the baby) a complete, balanced fast food meal cannot be done for under $15.  $25 is more reasonable if you’re getting 2 big people meals.  It’s ok.  You are not failing if you pay a little more.  Your cost per person is lower, but the sum total will be more expensive.  Embrace that, and you CAN have fun, and do things cheaper than most, but it is still going to cost some cash.  Ok, now exhale.

This post is long, so skip ahead to what is relevant for your crew.  Let’s break it down into categories:

Travel to Disney

There is no inexpensive way to fly 7 people to Orlando.  This is especially true since nowhere on-site will accommodate more than 6 people in one room, so you must stay off site and get a rental car.  That adds up quickly.  For the cost of 3 airline tickets, we paid for all of our food, gas, lodging, and activities along the way on a 20 hour trip from Michigan to Orlando, and home again.

In order to travel that many hours with that number of little kids, you need to pony up some time and some cash to prepare.  We don’t have a TV in the car, though we did have our smart phones.  We gave each kid a busy bag, with about $10-20 of new activity books, books on tape, etc.  And you absolutely must have at least one 2-hour long break.  One thing I would recommend is buying an annual membership at your local ASTC museum, for the reciprocal membership benefits.  (We used to do the zoos, too, but most now only honor reciprocal membership at 50% off, which still can add up fast at a zoo that charges $18/person to get in normally.)  We stopped at these museums along our route and got in for free.  Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC was especially awesome.

Through the rope bridge at the real rainforest section of Discovery Place.

Through the rope bridge at the real rainforest section of Discovery Place.

To make the trip doable, we also pack a three-tier Rubbermaid shelf system in the back of the Suburban.  The top drawer is for diapers and first-aid.  The middle drawer is for snacks (applesauce squeezes, peanut butter cracker packs, goldfish, basic kid junk-food that has some slight redeemable qualities).  The bottom drawer is for baby formula gear (our daughter requires a home-made blend.  An immersion blender is my new best friend), dinner supplies, and juice boxes.  A medium sized cooler was perfect.

We ate a lot of fast food, but varied it, picking healthier options at Taco Bell (our kids love their pintos and cheese without the red sauce), Wendy’s (baked potatoes are their chocolate), and McDonald’s (hey, there’s apples in those kid’s meals, let’s call it a wash). Our hotel had free breakfast, and we only heard one murmured nasty comment, and got lots of smiles from everyone else.

We left at 5 AM that first day.  The first day is never horrible.  Do half of your drive, plus 2 hours that first day.  Pre-reserve your hotel.  You need to get a suite if you have that many kids (and let’s not go into the difficulty we had obeying the ethical requirements of the fire code–we did our best to comply, but there is no way to find an adjoining room and having kids in 2 different rooms would have been absurd).  The second day was made to bite you in the rear.  It’s miserable.  Hit up the Krispy Kreme for a morale booster, and pack m&m’s.  You’ll need them.

We stopped at the Ocmulgee National Monument in Georgia on I-75.  It was close to the highway, free, had lots of land to run, and a great little visitor’s center with a cheap gift shop (95 cents for a 24 pack of crayolas and $3.99 for an activity book).

Their first chance to take their coats off and run free.  Spontaneous hand holding occurred as the literally leaped with joy in the Georgia sunshine at Ocmulgee National Monument.

Their first chance to take their coats off and run free. Spontaneous hand holding occurred as they literally leaped with joy in the Georgia sunshine at the ceremonial Indian Mounds of Ocmulgee National Monument.

The stretch from the Florida line to Disney World is LONG.

Hotel Accommodations in Disney

This is not going to come as a shock to any ethical folks out there, but you simply cannot reserve a room if you have 5 children and 2 adults in Disney.  They won’t allow it.  And I am not going to spend my vacation looking over my shoulder.  As a result, I booked our hotel off-site.  Sure, we missed out on the extra magic hours, and had to load a stroller on the tram in the parking lot, but avoiding waiting for those horrible buses, where the drivers now play a recording instead of telling you their years of accumulated Disney lore…is a vast improvement. Parking on-site is $15 for the whole day, and worth every penny in this regard.

We found a fellow fundraising adoptive family who had a timeshare to rent, so we had some pretty exceptional circumstances that let us stay the whole week in a 2 bedroom, 3 bath suite with full kitchen, and washer/dryer for less than $80/day.  To find a deal on par with that, go to Vacation Rentals by Owner, and start looking.  They all have 5 star ratings, which makes me think they delete the listing when they get a bad rating, so make sure you pick one that has a lot of 5 star ratings.  You can easily find a condo with 3+ bedrooms, 3 baths, private pool, community pool, and full kitchen and washer/dryer approved for 8 or more guests for around $150 a night off season with taxes factored in. Compare that to the cheapest off-season Disney rooms that accommodate only six, and you are looking at a substantial savings.

I cannot overstate the importance of having access to a washer and dryer INSIDE our hotel room when traveling with littles.  It saved us so much time, space, and money to be able to pack all of our clothes in 4 carry-on sized suitcases…and 7 winter coats that took up the same amount of room in the wayback of the ‘burban.  We were at capacity.

The horrid, cursed stroller

Speaking of running out of trunk room, I got a sweet tip from my sister.  Instead of renting one of those cursed Disney molded plastic strollers with no storage at $31 a day for the double, hop on over to the slightly spammy-looking website for Apple Strollers and get a city mini double for $7 a day.  Not kidding.  Picking it up took less than 2 minutes, and we returned it in seconds.  The nice thing was we could take it all over, including uncollapsed on the monorail, it stored three times as much under the basket, and laid the kids flat for naps.  I am thinking of buying one now.

Ah, success.

Ah, success.

We do a ton of babywearing, and you can’t bring strollers into ANY attractions at Disney.  Your first line of defense if a good ergonomic baby carrier.  At 4 or 5 months pregnant now (whatever–I don’t count anymore), I broke down and bought a new Beco carrier off Babysteals with a hugely adjustable waist, so I could wear it low on my hips.  I wore Daisy 8-12 hours every day we were in the parks, with no problems.  Andy brought our old performance Ergo and carried 2.75 year old Hoss in the long lines.  Lumpy (4.75) even took an occasional ride when the day got too long.  Definitely loved having both.

Lots of babywearing.  Stopping for a (free) break at the beach on the ride home.

Lots of babywearing. Stopping for a (free) break at the beach on the ride home.

Disney Tickets 

Let’s face it: there is no such thing as a cheap Disney ticket.  Scour the internet all day, and the best you are going to get is about 5% off.  We joined Mousesavers.com (free), and then got a whopping extra dollar off of our authorized tickets purchased on Undercover Tourist’s 5ish% off.  I’m not linking to their sites, because honestly, it’s just not that much of a savings.  Now that Disney fingerprints and everything, I wouldn’t risk someone sending me a bogus ticket from a site offering better rates than this.

The one thing that helped us out is that our two youngest are both two years old, so we didn’t have to buy tickets for them.  Buying a 3 day park hopper threw on an extra day for “free,” so we went with that.  We paid about $1600 for two adults and 3 junior tickets for 4 days in the park.  That’s big money for us.  Just wanted to give you a feel for the costs, and why we waited until we were in a much better position financially to do Disney on the cheaper side.  There is no cheap way into the parks, except a timeshare visit of death designed to destroy your vacation.  You are worth more than selling your time for two “free” one day tickets on a 90 minute tour that morphs into 3 hours.

Also, if you aren’t staying on Disney property, don’t waste your time trying to do FastPass online (getting to go to the head of the line on 3 rides a day). Even if your ticket is activated for it, it is not going to let you if you are not staying in a Disney hotel.  When you get into the park, use the kiosks farthest away from the front gate and let the helpful gal at MuppetVision 3-D (HWS) or under the portico at Innoventions (EC) help you in 2 minutes flat.

The only day we went to more than one park was on the last day.  I would not spend the money on the park hopper tickets again with little kids.  They were so enamored with the wonders of one park, they were excited to go on their favorite rides twice in one day.   We let them wait in one 60 minute long line, and they determined on their own that they never wanted to waitin a long line again.  Simply telling them the wait times let them pick “It’s a small world” for a second time over the interminable lines of Peter Pan’s Underwhelming Flight.  We stayed from Saturday night until Saturday morning, and 4 days in the park was definitely the max we could do.  If it was significantly cheaper, I would just pick the 3 days ticket.

Here’s my experience: the real value is when you give your kids enough fun that they feel spoiled, and enough rest that they don’t melt down.  We did two days from park opening to just around dinner, and two days with a 4 hour nap/break in the middle of the day.  Both have their merits, but if you want to see a fireworks show, etc, go home and let even your big kids chill.  They have probably never experienced such sensory overload and the amount of walking and waiting that you do in just one day of Disney.  They will be miserable by 6 PM, no matter whether they napped in the stroller or went on the Carousel of Progress and Peoplemover twice to make their own “quiet time.”

Lumpy gets her money's worth on the greatest ride known to Disney: the Tommorowland Peoplemover.

Lumpy gets her money’s worth on the greatest ride known to Disney: the Tommorowland Peoplemover.

Dining in the Parks

Unlike the otherwise reasonably priced and fun Dollywood, Disney surprisingly lets you bring your own food in.  Sure, you can buy the Disney dining plan, but honestly, folks are reporting that the DDP is just a way to get you to eat food of decreasing quality.  If you are doing the plan, you prepay for all of your meals, but you are also less likely to notice that instead of every counter service place being extensively a la carte, it is all packaged in 9 adult meal choices.  Kids’ meals run about $6 each, and consist of an Uncrustable or hot dog, yogurt, drink, and apple slices.  I can pack in the same meal for about $3 per kid, cheaper if I make my own PB&J, etc.  Variations do exist, but some of the best food is going to be found away from the big commissary places.

The hands-down best meal we had was in EPCOT, and the best value, too.  We did a progressive dinner, and had all the kids sample everything.  Andy and I got enough to eat, too.   We got fish and chips in England, egg rolls in China, frozen lemonade and coke in generic Africa, a to-die-for shwarma platter and hummus in Morocco, and 4 pastries in France for $50-ish.  Considering the sit down restaurants are $20/adult starting, it was a pretty fantastic meal.  So, that was our big splurge meal on-site.  Everything else, we packed in, or went home during the break to eat.  Stopping at McDonald’s or getting a pizza.

Why yes, my children do look rather possessive of their authentic French pastries.  It just means it was money well spent.

Why yes, my children do look rather possessive of their authentic French pastries. You would have been, too.  They were delightful.

We did go to the T-Rex cafe in Downtown Disney, and the kids got totally overwhelmed by the constant dinosaur roaring which only improved slightly when we asked to move tables.  My meal stunk so bad, I sent it back for all of the third time in my life, but cest’ la vie.  We used gift cards from family Christmas gifts for that meal.

Outside the Parks Entertainment

One day is was sunny and bright, so we hit up Pirate’s Cove mini golf.  Here’s a little hint for ya–just buy the kids’ rounds, because you will certainly not be playing at all.  We skipped the last 3 holes, and called it a win.  When you’re in Disney: Enough is as good as a feast.  At the end of the course the owner gave each of the kids their own pirate loot bag.  We went to Downtown Disney and the T-rex cafe, then the Lego store after, and the kids built and raced cars for free for about 45 minutes.  We spent the afternoon napping the baby and Papa took the big 4 swimming at the hotel pool, courtesy of some swim lessons and 2 pairs of inflatable water wings.  I made grilled cheese and tomato soup for dinner, and the kids were in heaven.

The course is 25 years old, but lovingly maintained.  i went here with my sisters when i was a kid, and my kids loved this hole as much as I did!

The course is 25 years old, but lovingly maintained. I went here with my sisters when I was a kid, and my kids loved this hole as much as we did back then!

Eating at the hotel

Go for the full kitchen.  Grocery shop.   Cereal for breakfast.  Use paper plates if you want.  It’s just like home, but with a finite amount of laundry and dishes.  Feels like you’re on vacation.

Souvenirs 

Our kids are not into the the “gimmee gimmees” too badly, but Disney is designed to whip your normally reserved child into a frenzy of materialism.  This problem was solved for us by an awesome Auntie Beav who gave each kiddo a $15 gift card for Christmas.  They thought they had died and gone to heaven.  Cal got a music box, JR got a Lego guy then regretted his decision after seeing the swords at Pirates of the Caribbean (sorry dude), Lumpy got a Beauty and the Beast polly-pocket like set with gummy dresses and all, Hoss got a set of original Disney character bath toys, and Daisy got a toy story action figure set, perfect for chewing.  That was it, the whole vacation.  It was great, because they were so grateful and really played with their toys.  I did also buy them Disney t-shirts at the Super Target where I went grocery shopping, because they were just so darn sweet while we were there.  Guess the kids weren’t the only ones who felt the need to make a purchase to get the full Disney experience.

The best thing we did on the whole flippin’ vacation

When I was a kid, my sister got my dad on the now-defunct Superstar television, and he got a pie thrown in his face by one of The Three Stooges.  It was a memory I will never forget.  He just wished they had let him eat the pie.  Once I got picked to receive one of the Japanese master-taffyman’s handmade whales.  My 5 year old sister had her mumbled reply of “oh yeah, Cleveland!” chanted by a hundred guests in a game of “where are you from.” Disney used to be the place where you had a different experience every time, with the audience pulled into the story and street performances.  It built the sense that Disney wouldn’t be the same place without you.

Most of those experiences have disappeared now, 15 years since our last great childhood vacation there.  So, it was a real treat to find that the kids could sign up for Jedi training at the now watered-down Hollywood Studios.  Without a doubt, the free Padawan Training (ages 4-12) was the best thing they got to do all week.  In a moment of old-school Disney generosity, the kids were decked out in Jedi robes and light-sabers, and invited to learn a series of Jedi defense techniques.  All 15 of them got to fight Darth Vader one by one.  JR was as serious at a heart attack, loving every minute, and volunteered to go first.  Cal and Lumpy mastered their routines.  We did the late night session, because it was the only one left by the time we ambled to the sign ups 45 minutes after the park opened, and it was perfect for photos and visibility due to the lack of crowds.

Younglings become Jedis in a ceremony of bravery and general merriment from enamored parents.

Younglings become Jedis in a ceremony of bravery and general merriment from enamored parents.

Compare that to signing your kids up for the Pirate League in the Magic Kingdom, and paying lots of money for your kid to get dressed up like a pirate (Cal called it the Pirate Spa).  At the final show, only a couple kids are chosen to spar with Captain Jack Sparrow.  The Padawan training was truly a vestige of old Disney, with kids really having their dreams come true, just for volunteering–not littered with extra fees and waivers.  If it was the only thing we got to do in Disney, it would have been worth the trip. They marched offstage as certified Jedis, and in my kids’ minds, they really are.

The very best CHEAP theme-park vacation

…is not at Disney.  If, even with these money-saving tips, Disney is still going to be outside of your budget, I would offer you to go to the next best thing I have experienced.  Dollywood, in Tennessee with Silver Dollar City in Missouri as a back up.  Housing is ample for a large family and reasonably priced, crowds are low if you go anytime except late June through the first week of August, and the selection of fun things to do is vast and varied.  Of course, you can go to Disney on credit cards, but a vacation that you don’t have to pay off is much more relaxing and fun…not to mention better for the bottom line.

Disney may have lost some of its shine from its glory days, but we had a great time on our first real, just us, family vacation.  There were moments when the old Disney Magic came back to life, and I think our kids felt it, too.  Seeing even our tiniest Mouseketeer light up all day long, only 6 months home, and getting to reward the older four for the time they gave up with us to get her home…made it worth the price tag.   I hope you’ll find the same.

What did your family do to save money at Disney?  I’d love to hear your tips and tricks-comment below.  Don’t forget about our giveaway at the top!  Ends Feb 28!

 

Posted in Babywearing, Travel | 3 Comments

Welcome Home, Daisy!

It’s nighttime in a big, empty apartment in downtown Odessa.  It has been my home base for the past month, including a wonderful breakfast of crepes, delightful yogurt, and coffee with steamed milk I would travel back across an ocean for.  Every morning at 9:45, I call for a cab, and every morning “Yes, Shhaime?  There is whi-ite Rrrenault.  Ok, thanks, bye!”  A 45 minute taxi ride across cobblestones, with me trying to read the words in Cyrillic before they pass me by.  When we drive past the Black Sea on our left, we are close.

But, that is not what tomorrow holds in store.  It is after midnight on August 13, 2013.  And today is our gotcha day.  I can’t sleep.  I have Hunter Hayes and the Tangled soundtrack on loop, as they have been for the past 6 weeks, and I don’t hate them at all yet…nor even to this day.  I have watched the movie Leap Year more than 10 times.  I don’t know why.  I don’t go out.  Each night, I am not surviving, waiting until our next visit, or until our last day.  I just have seen everything in Ukraine I have ever wanted, inside the walls of the beautifully manicured gardens of a babyhouse just two blocks from where people vacation at the beach…

And that night, I realize, this is the end of this strange, retreat time.  My facilitator will be here in the morning instead of a white Renault.  This is my daughter’s last night in an orphanage.  For the first time, I just can’t sleep.  And so I think of all the children we will never see again after tomorrow, and how I know their families are out there somewhere, asking, “Can we do this?  Is this crazy?”  And I get to work. Here is our story in photo/video montage.  It can be your story, too.

The children we leave behind:

http://reecesrainbow.org/67758/clayto…
http://reecesrainbow.org/24244/tessa
http://reecesrainbow.org/24193/gina
http://reecesrainbow.org/876/tatiana2304

Or support a family in process:
http://reecesrainbow.org/56496/sponso…

http://reecesrainbow.org/68932/sponso…

http://reecesrainbow.org/61125/sponsorklarr

Posted in Adoption, Down Syndrome, Faith | 6 Comments

He sees the little things

I have been very, very tired for the past few weeks.  Fatigued, really, would be the right word.  That deep bone weariness that makes it a challenge to just do anything except to sit on the couch.  It’s not the kids, but in part from the travel of the holidays that spilled over into the next week as my oldest friend needed some support as his father was laid to rest.  As we were ready to leave, we got hit with sickness and a nice snowstorm to boot.

It’s been a banner start to Advent, really.

This morning, though, I couldn’t take it anymore.  The house I had spent months getting in order had turned to chaos in three days.  The only sign of Christmas was the Elf on our Shelf.  I have no idea where our Advent wreath is.  The advent calendars aren’t out yet.  Homeschooling has been a few stories and math each day.  Last week I held the kids as I told them their grandfather who has been ill for so long probably will be going to be healed and live with Jesus forever soon.

We didn’t get new pictures from the database of Mac.  There should have been new pictures by now.  It’s been a year since we thought we were just days away from travelling to meet him.  And there was this video yesterday…oh guys, I can’t even begin to express my fear over what might be waiting for him in two more years.

As I was making lunch for the kids today, I looked at the girls standing in the kitchen with me, and I just started sobbing.  I was the laughing kind of sobbing, where you know you would have held it together if you weren’t a mess of hormones because you are three months pregnant.  And I didn’t tell you yet, because of baby Faith last summer, and honest to goodness, for no reason but that, I think it’s about 50/50 that this baby will be born this summer now, but I am at peace with that.

Standing in the kitchen, I just couldn’t hide it anymore.  I looked around, and the place was a mess.  And I wanted to make cookies for the kids, but I couldn’t.  I just didn’t have it in me.  So I cried.

They hugged me, and I told them I would laugh cry with them too one day when the baby in their belly made them cry at everything.  They told me it was ok, and in a few minutes, we got lunch going again when the doorbell rang.

Have I mentioned before that I am not a movie star crier?  When I cry, you’ll know about it for an hour afterward.  Red eyes, blotchy cheeks, and a drippy nose.  That’s why when the doorbell rang, pulling myself together was a moot point.

I opened the door with a smile, holding Daisy and our rambunctious dog. A woman with a red beret stood there empty handed.  I was sure she was a Jehovah’s witness (bless her heart–it was 8 degrees out today!) when she asked if I knew our neighbors.  Considering we live in a 50′s sitcom neighborhood, I smiled and said, yes, they are wonderful people. How could I help her?

She asked if she could leave a delivery with me.  I, of course, said I would be happy to.

We waited for about a minute as the storm door steamed up, the girls straining to see what was coming.  I couldn’t tell what she was holding when she came back.  I opened the door and reached out for what I could now see was a holly-paper wrapped Christmas arrangement.  As it safely cleared the doorjamb, she tucked a small cellophane-wrapped poinsettia into the hand holding Daisy.

She said “This is to thank you for your help,” and was back to her car in a matter of seconds.

I looked at the girls and started crying and laughing again, thinking we were holding the most beautiful flowers ever.  I just looked at them.  The tiny ones.  I just said “This is how God works, girls.  This is how God works.”

I set the big plant out of reach of the kids, watered our little poinsettia, put it in the middle of our mess, and told the girls we were going to make Christmas cookies next.

I don't know if the florist gives these to everyone, but this little poinsettia was a ray of hope from a loving God today.  Have a blessed Advent.

I don’t know if the florist gives these to everyone, but this little poinsettia was a ray of hope from a loving God today.

I just picked some easy shortbread, and put my laptop out for the kids to watch the Disney classic, The Small One.  The cookies weren’t a big hit, but the house smelled good, and we were doing something together to celebrate waiting for Jesus’ arrival on Christmas.

At the end, when Joseph came and offered the little boy a single piece of silver for his old, kind donkey, I was in tears again.  It’s happening a lot these days–please be patient with me.  The little donkey who had been sarcastically chided as being “fit for a king’s stable” was truly just that, carrying Mary all the way to Bethlehem.

Our complete absence of anything looking like preparation for the birth of the King of Kings looked the same today as that kind little donkey.  We aren’t ready.  We are tired. We left so much behind this year and surrendered it all with open hands.  We gained so much, too, but at great emotional expense.  When I look around at our chaos…there are so many more Pinterest-worthy places for Him to be.

But today, He was here.

He cares for the little things.  The smallest heartbreaks.  Just think how much he must care about the biggest ones, too.

 

Posted in Bigger Than Me, Community, Faith, Letting Go | 4 Comments

Am I a Saint?

When someone calls me a saint for adopting a child with (mild) special needs from across the world, I always deflect.  I say that we have a child who has attached to us so well, has minimal medical needs, and just needed a family.  The parents who have to fight for redemption for their adoptive children…now those are the saints.  The ones whose children were so malnourished, they were the size of infants in their teen years.  The kids with completely limited mobility, the ones who come home with RAD, who are emotionally wounded from years of neglect…those are the families who deserve your admiration.

They are my heroes.  They are the saints.

And I remember why I don’t want you to think I am a saint.  My deepest fear is that you might use the same definition I had: A beacon of faith, clean living, a person going against all odds to keep God out front, never laughing at a well-placed swear word, disciplined in prayer and fasting, saving fun for the afterlife, forsaking human comforts, and most frighteningly, ready to die a death that will be counted as senseless by non-believers.  A saint is a person set apart.  

I want to be like a saint, but I don’t want to be a saint.

But tonight I read the words of a man who walks closely with Jesus every day, as his career, and his calling:

“Saints are people who belong fully to God. They are not afraid of being mocked, misunderstood or marginalized.”

ー Pope Francis

And I was in tears.  In an instant.  Because, scarier than someone calling you a saint, is the realization that maybe you’ve had it all wrong.  What if saints aren’t rare at all?  What if they are just the normal people who strive to be brave enough to follow what God asks of them?

What Pope Francis points out here is something Jesus tried to prepare us for, the element of truth in my stereotyping.  Being a saint requires persecution.   It means I must be different, puts me at risk of being condemned, and makes me face my greatest fear of being misunderstood.  And in those terms, I know a lot of saints.  I know many more since joining the international special needs adoption community.

But, the real reason people want to call me a saint is simple.  If I am a saint, then God is not calling you to this.  To my specific mission.  The pursuit of the passion inside your heart.  The “if there were no such thing as __(insert worldly limitations here)_____, I would give it all up to __(do reckless thing for God)______,” ideas.  (And no, I do not mean windsurfing in Bora Bora, or breaking a covenant with your spouse to fulfill this.)  I am talking about the capital “S” Saints you admire.  The Mother Theresas, the Christian martyrs, that doctor on the Dateline special, the woman on the Pass it On billboard. I said to myself for so long: I am not a saint, with mystic qualities of perfect faith supernaturally existing inside my heart. You are ok to keep being “you,” and admiring those who do more, from the comfy seat in church and an occasional second collection $20 bill.

Because, what would you have to give up in order to become that person you admire?  The one living for Christ?  What would He want from you? Would He ask for your good name?  Your family?  Your friends, your church, your job, your money, your safety?  Your life?

What are we living for, except to surrender all of those things to the one who brought this amazing little person into my life when I did?

2 weeks after we met our Daisy for the first time.  Neither of us felt that we were owed something from all those who called us crazy.  We did feel like we owed God everything for putting us on that road.

2 weeks after we met our Daisy for the first time. Neither of us felt that we were owed something from all those who called us crazy. We did feel like we owed God everything for putting us on that road.

My husband and I did surrender all of those things when we said yes.  And God took only what He needed.

Our love.

But He didn’t take it away.  He made it grow.

This part did not require anything tasking of us.  This part was all the gift.

This part did not require anything of us. This part was all the gift.

We have had friends who are not called to the same ending.  It isn’t Russian Roulette.  It’s offering everything you are.  And He uses different things from everybody.  You aren’t “lucky” if it ends up happy 4 weeks after you get home.  Nobody ends up “done” after offering themselves in that one crazy thing you just cannot do.  It’s simply: what challenging way can God use you next?

So the next time someone calls me a saint, I am not going to deflect.  I am going to respond with “Yes, we did have the chance to be mocked, misunderstood, and marginalized for a little while there.  Those things didn’t happen because of who we are, but because of who He is.  It didn’t seem like it at the time, but it was a real gift. We got to choose to become saints.  It gives us a connection to those who experience those things simply because they were born.”

Gina

Mocked.

 

Edgar

 

Misunderstood.

 

Mildred

 Marginalized.

Tatiana

Please take away the parts of me, Lord, that say choosing to live as a saint is unattainable, and superhuman. It’s as easy as living each day in Your promise and love…and doing it even when we aren’t saints.  And then, well, I guess we are.


This song used to scare me, but now, I think I understand. What good is salt if it isn’t salty? And we all know I can be salty…

Posted in Adoption, Bigger Than Me, Faith, Letting Go | 3 Comments

Houses just like this

This post was originally published March 10, 2010.  Play this song if you want it to be like the olden days (opens in new tab):  Doug Stone’s Little Houses

***

So, it’s here. This is the last day of who we were; tomorrow we head into who we’ll be. I just want to pay one last tribute to a 1,200 square foot, renovated split level in the suburbs that will forever be surrounded by a sweet rosy glow in my mind.

Our first home

Our first home

 

This is the place I’ll always think of when I see my first children as babies, crawling on faded mauve carpeting and running through an erratic sprinkler in their underwear. It’s where we tried out our home improvement skills and spent far more than we could ever hope to get back out of it. We planted doomed gardens, had summer night bonfires, and embarassed our neighbors with our unmowed lawn. Andy carried me and three babies across the threshold. This is the house with the squeaky fourth stair and the creaky nursery floor.

This was the place where we started our lives together: Andy, Jaime, Cal, JR, Lumpy, Banana and Skywalker…always Meg in our hearts. When the moving truck pulls out tomorrow afternoon, and we pull out of our drive one last time, I know we have learned enough in this little house to make the new one our home.  It’s as much as I could hope for anyone to get from such an extraordinary little house, and more than I could have dreamed for us.

Posted in Big Little Changes, Community, Husband, Letting Go | Leave a comment

Halloween: The Christian’s Dilemma

Jan Brady-001I have never before had so many posts in my Facebook news feed from Christian friends who don’t celebrate Halloween.  Many of them are making statements about how this is right for their family, but going on to argue that all Christians should be finding Biblical Evidence to support boycotting Halloween.  Other Christians are arguing that if you want to be hardcore about it, you should ditch your Pagan-originating Christmas tree, too.

The following stories are not unrelated, but sound like it.

When I was a freshman in college, I had no idea what I wanted to major in.  Like a little lost sheep, I figured anywhere was better than nowhere, and declared early for Anthropology.  I liked my first year seminar advisor, and she even got me signed on to help TA the second semester of the Intro to Anthropology class I had breezed through. (Note to former Jaime: that’s because it was easy.)

The second year of college, there was trouble in paradise, as I realized my exciting advisor was telling the same stories off the same mimeographed notes she had done when she got her PhD.  She was teaching the most exciting class offered on campus that Fall: Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion.  It just sounds scandalous, doesn’t it?  I had a bad registration number, but my advisor saved a sticker for my card.

I went in to the class as a believer in Christ, and knew that there would be some rough patches, as there inevitably were when she insisted on calling Catholicism “polytheistic” for asking recognized Saints to pray with you to God.  That was a fun day.   My friends in the Christian Fellowship prayed specifically against the influence of the course on those who were taking it, and I kind of smiled and thought “You guys have far too much respect for this teacher’s power.”  (Can I say purple print mimeographed notes again?  In the year 2000.)

But Halloween?  Now that was a trip.  The assignment for the day (counted towards class credit) was to come dressed in our Halloween costumes.  There was every variation of axe murderers, “cereal” killers, kittens, sexy everything, and a fallen angel.  This story would be awesome if I could remember what I went as, but I don’t.  So, let’s just pretend I went as a crazy cat lady, with a hundred beanie baby kittens coming out of every pocket, or something.  Looking around that lecture hall, I just saw a bunch of kids who knew one thing.  We were all in this class to coast.  The lecture for the day was to list each costume into a few categories: funny, morbid, sexual, sweet, etc.

And the lesson for the day was that Halloween’s ultimate goal was to allow us to break society’s constraints on appropriate dress codes and behaviors so we could go about our regular business for the rest of the year, conquering our fear of that persona inside of us, or making fun or a persona around us.

Seen in that light alone, I think the Christians who are feeling convicted to bypass Halloween entirely are completely justified, and should do just that.  Also, I came to the conclusion that if you need to unleash your bloody, dripping faced homicidal maniac or tawdry sexy nurse one day of the year to survive, you are in a bad way.

On a completely related note, I officially switched my major to Chemistry that Halloween, because, well…it was hard.  And if the underwhelming Anthro courses were any indication (or should I say the now irritated advisor?), a good major should be hard. Right?  And you can’t get much harder than Chemistry.  College was clearly wasted on my 19 year-old self at this point.

Roll ahead another year, and I was a junior who was doing great in my Analytical Chemistry class.   I loved this class, guys.  The professor was engaging, and explained things in the exact way my brain learned.  I was finally in my niche.  As I rolled out of bed roughly 15 minutes before class on Halloween, I was so excited.  We were a small liberal arts school, and I had seen people in the cafeteria dressed up to go to class for the two previous years.  I couldn’t wait to see what clever things my fellow scientists in training would come up with–cerebral and clever, I was sure: the Bohr Atom, Mr. Wizard, maybe the Solar system.  I slipped into my knee socks, donned my polyester minidress bought at Goodwill just for this costume, a truly hideous knit shawl, parted my hair straight down the middle, and buckled my Mary Janes.

I looked in the mirror and there she was: Jan Brady.

I even walked like her to class.  I was so Method.  (Did I mention that I had a theatre scholarship?…truly, a lost academic soul here, folks.)  Maybe I put a little too much swing in it as I galumped through the crunch of autumn leaves, because, as the bell rang, I had my hand on the 12 foot, solid oak door’s iron handle…and the dread crept into my whole body.  It was 10 short steps to the class, and even before I opened the door, I knew.  Class had started right on time, and I may as well have been standing there naked.  No one was wearing a costume.  Not one.  It was a long walk with no eye contact to my goody-two-shoes seat in the second row (eye contact level with the prof).

I non-challantly slunk out of my knitted cape poncho, and quickly realized polyester does not hide sweat well–anywhere.  It was too late to put the poncho back on.  Maybe my polyester sheath dress would just look hipster.  Except my fashion sense was still clinging tight to solid colored t-shirts, cardigans, and jeans.  I blush- a lot, folks -and I am blushing right now thinking about it.  As soon as class was over, I went straight home and changed.

And I tell you that story to tell you this: Halloween only has the meaning you assign to it. If you choose to honor death, scariness, and gore on Halloween, then I would say boycotting Halloween may very well help you walk more closely with God.  If they dress up and you don’t, though, it’s gonna get real weird, real quick.

But, if Halloween is a time to look your neighbors in the eye, give candy gifts to children, put on goofy clothes, and value one part of our American heritage that still brings us together in a world of electronic contact…well, I say it would be sinful to avoid it.  You don’t have to give out tracts about salvation with your candy to spread God’s love (though the one on Dungeons and Dragons is a classic).  Adorn your home with non-scary decorations, hand out pencils if you prefer, and put on your (non-sexy, please) cat ears.  Then hand out your treats with a smile.  Learn some names.  Ask if they live in the neighborhood.  Ask them to look for an invitation in December to go caroling.

If God is calling your family to ignore Halloween, then please do so.  Know that I support you, and love your heart, and see that this is one way God calls some Christians to draw close to Him.  But, for those of us who do celebrate, a little extra care to be sensitive of how our decorations and costumes come across to other people is a good idea.  Murder and chainsaw depictions in your front yard are on a little shaky ground theologically.  As are some churches’ “Judgement houses,” depicting abortions, rape, and drug usage and bringing a little slice of hell to earth.   But, if you have a chance to show your neighbors, or even the kids who got dropped off in the “good candy” neighborhood, just a little love, well, you should do it up big.

When the answers aren’t clear for everyone, you need to figure out what God is asking of you.

But mostly, don’t show up in character when you’re running late.  It may haunt your dreams for years to come.

PS: This post would be great with a picture of me as The New Jan Brady, but there was no time to snap a photo through my shame.

Rick Santorum and Ann Romney make an appearance at Halloween--a crowd pleaser for sure, but really no fun, because you can't make fun of the sweetest lady on Earth (tied with Laura Bush).  Let's just say, it wasn't her first time being proud  of her country...

Rick Santorum and Ann Romney show up on time last year at our annual Halloween trick-or-treating get together (we swap who goes around the neighborhood (the men or the women) and who stays to hand out candy every year with our excellent Jesus-loving friends.  A dance party to Thriller may or may not be the annual compensation when we invariably run out of candy.  I can neither confirm nor deny that I know most of the moves and perform them without shame.  I’m much more secure in my awesomeness now.  This outfit represents “famous people” and woman as container.

 

Posted in Community, Faith, Funny, When I was a Kid | 3 Comments

Hiding Her Heart

Where have we been for the past two months?  Well, the short answer is “Ukraine” and “locked away in our house.”  We have been through all kinds of emotional ups and downs, but the easiest part has been our wonderful Daisy girl.  God has been protecting her heart for all that time she spent in a laying room, unable to be picked up.  And again, through a major medical procedure which gave her health for the first time 6 months before we met her.  And then through the anonymous, benign neglect that accompanies a child who doesn’t know how to catch a nanny’s eye, coo, flirt and beg to be seen.

The afternoon visit on the day we met her.  I barely recognize her now.

The afternoon visit on the day we met her. I barely recognize her now.

Our daughter’s life was protected, valued, and sustained in the competent care of her excellent orphanage.  But her heart was locked in hibernation.  I think she honestly did not know she was different from the cribs, ceiling tiles, and communal clothes that defined her days.  But she must have felt it in her heart.  That she was not an inanimate object.  That ember of hope, deep down, stayed banked until her body could feel what it had longed for so many times.  To be kissed, to be touched, to be loved by a mom and a dad who don’t mind looking silly when they were the only ones not using strollers, and wouldn’t stop to put her down.

Daisy had nothing of her own to bring with her, except a small booklet showing her baptism into the Greek orthodox church.  The number "2" on her dress was her groupa number.

Daisy had nothing of her own to bring with her, except a small booklet showing her baptism into the Greek orthodox church. The number “2″ on her dress was her groupa number.

God was working to keep her heart alive.  Her Godmother, Aunt L, came to one of our visits.  A young girl, only 20, who had poured her heart into this baby she was not even allowed to pick up.  When she came as a volunteer with her church, an exchange student with a kind soul, our girl’s desperate need pulled her near.  She visited, and spoke to her, and held colorful toys for her, and stroked her cheek.  But she was never allowed to hold Daisy in her arms until the day we met in the orphanage 10 months later.  She came on a bus, an hour both ways, to spend just a short time pouring love into a child who she couldn’t even hold.  That’s how God uses His faithful servants.  In those brief visits, I know, she kept our daughter’s hope alive.

Her Godmother finally gets to hold Daisy close.

Her Godmother finally gets to hold Daisy close.

There is a lot of training you do to prepare to bring an institutionalized child home.  Even though people make comments that “she’ll be too young to remember,” you are preparing for that not to be the case at all.  You expect rejection, illness, sleepless nights, stimming behavior.   So when people ask how we are doing, we can easily say that the last thing we were prepared for was this child to come home and want to be with us.  That’s how good our God is.  This long, difficult, heartbreaking road of international adoption has led to a child who wants, heck needs, to be with us constantly.

She sleeps next to us.  She soothes when we hold her near.  She smiles when we tickle her.  She even latches to nurse.

This is our child, even if she wasn’t born to my body.  I love her in a way that doesn’t even bear mentioning, because it is natural, deep, and infinite.  If you told me an alien experiment had launched one of my biological children across the world and caused her to be born of another woman, I would say “Yes.  I knew it all along.”  That is the connection between us.  It is simple, and unearned by me or Andy.  God simply found the family that she would be a daughter in, without delay, effort, or question.  I cannot give you any tips, because we did not do this.  We just scooped our baby out of that nanny’s arms like our bio children lifted from the water at the moment of birth.

Seeing your child's face for the first time...there are  not even words to describe it.

Seeing your child’s face for the first time…there are not even words to describe it.

And I’ve been quiet so long, and it’s vague.  It’s all so vague.  Have I robbed you all of the inspiration to go forward yourselves in adoption by remaining quiet, offering too few details?  I hope not.  Because it has all been magic to me.

Hours in taxis, past the vegetable stands and the overgrown weeds that lined the streets, heading to see our girl.

35 minutes each way in a cab, 4 times a day.  Not a seat belt in sight.

35 minutes each way in a cab, 4 times a day. Not a seat belt in sight.

A WWII monument to honor the fallen airmen in Daisy's hometown.

A WWII monument to honor the fallen airmen in Daisy’s hometown.

Walking to the Black Sea with two new friends, delighting in the chance to speak English for hours while getting the worst sunburn of my adult life.

The Black Sea was incredible.

The Black Sea was incredible.

Trying to speak to everyone, then eventually realizing that this was the greatest silent retreat a person could ever go on.  “Da,” “nyet,” “pajaleusta,” “centrahl” were the only words I spoke some days.

The meat market downtown in region.

The meat market downtown in region.

The quiet nights in Kyiv watching Pride and Prejudice, making a human shield against a rolling Daisy who I first heard cry that night.

Some rare eye contact on a lazy morning in Kyiv.

Some rare eye contact on a lazy morning in Kyiv.

I’ll write about them all as they come back to me.  But to write about them as they happened…this one time, it just didn’t feel right.  We have changed so much since the day we realized Mac was not coming home, since our little Faith was born into our hands and lost at the same moment, since we first looked at our tiny 18 month old daughter offered to us with uncertainty–would we say yes?

And we did say yes to it all.  We have lost two children this year, but gained a daughter. And it has all been filled with overwhelming grace and love far beyond our understanding.

That it was made possible by such sacrificial love of a dear family member, devoted real life friends, readers of this blog, strangers who were moved to action, and Reece’s Rainbow…it is not lost on me how greatly our lives have all been enhanced by this tiny princessa, and how grateful we are that you supported us financially and emotionally through it all.  God has used each word spoken in love to strengthen us for the journey.  And YOU said yes to that.  Our deepest thanks would be ridiculous compared to the weight of our gratitude.

And in this time of transition and doctor’s appointments, illness, and adjusting to life as a family of seven, please forgive me for hiding.  I have been hiding a heart as overwhelmed by loss as by grace.  We have been learning–with school books, EKGs, new routines, and stay-home date nights–each as enlightening as the other.  This was a time to be still and hide our hearts.  To share in a few moments, instead of a few hours.

Our daughter, Daisy, is home, and well, and ours.  Our hearts are growing bigger, and we won’t be hiding any more.

Daisy is finding out what it means to live.  We are so lucky to be the ones to show her.

Daisy is finding out what it means to live. We are so lucky to be the ones to show her.

Posted in Adoption, Big Little Changes, Bigger Than Me, Down Syndrome, Faith, Letting Go, Simply Sunday | 15 Comments