Saturday, November 23, 2013

Esther's baptism.

One of the main reasons I started this blog two years ago was to record what my feelings and experiences were on the adoption journey with the hopes that another family in this process would find comfort. And still I am so pleased to continue to share hope and happiness from our journey.  Recently some good friends returned from China with two new adopted children and they are in the thick of the hard stuff right now.  It was actually good for us to talk with them and reflect back on when we too felt overwhelmed and exhausted and slightly terrified.  Back then we worried, "Will we ever love them as much as our other children?"  "Will it always be so difficult?"  and there were even moments of ultimate discomfort when we asked ourselves, "Why on earth did we do this to ourselves?"

If you find yourself there - trust me on this - it will get better.  It will slowly - sometimes it's painful how slow - but it will get better.  And then after some time your heart will be overflowing with love and gratitude that you stuck it out and your dear children are home with you.  Today was one of those days for both Michael and I.  Today Esther was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church by Michael and it was beautiful.

Esther and Mike in their whites just before the baptism

In our faith, children who are over the age of eight and would like to be baptized need to take lessons from the missionaries and be interviewed to show that they understand the commitment of baptism and that they have truly gained a testimony for themselves of God and Jesus Christ.  Esther has been spending the last few months meeting with the sister missionaries and learning the principles of the Gospel.  She has been reading the scriptures, praying, attending church, and asking the Lord to answer her prayers.  The very nature of this process has been difficult for Esther since it requires so much vulnerability and emotion.  She has not had very many people in her life safe enough to trust with her physical safety let alone emotional.  But line upon line, He has answered her prayers.  As we have shown her love, she has been able to feel His.  I can not say enough how loving parents enable a child to feel the love of a divine parent.  Without that safe and loving relationship, it makes it very difficult to understand a God full of love and grace and mercy.

These ladies have put their lives on hold for 18 months to teach others about Jesus Christ.  They were assigned to teach in Spokane and we are so grateful.  They have loved Esther and she has loved them right on back.

But today, after gaining a new and budding testimony, Esther was baptized.  We were overwhelmed with love and gratitude.  The spirit whispered to our hearts that we were attended by angels and we could feel it.  The Lord loves his children and these girls are very special to Him.  How marvelous it is to feel His love for them mingled with our own. 

The ragamuffin group.
My heart was bursting with love for my sweet daughter today.

Next month we are traveling to Boise to be with family and to take the girls to the temple there.  There we will be sealed together as a family for eternity - the same temple that Mike and I were married and sealed over 13 years ago.  We are so incredibly grateful for the atonement of Jesus Christ - that His love and sacrifice is helping to heal our daughter's hearts of the pain and anguish.  But even more grateful that He has given us temples so that we can receive the ultimate blessing to be a family forever.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

6 months home.

Well, it's been six months.  I had no idea what to expect at this point.  I didn't know if the girls would be able to speak much English, if they would still be in emotional turmoil, if our family would feel completely turned upside down, or if we would be in the thick of it.  And I have to say that six months has completely exceeded my expectations.

Six months ago we were in China with so many unknowns and two very scared little girls.  And honestly, two pretty scared parents too.  We felt overwhelmed.  We wondered if we were up to the task ahead of us.
Walking back to our hotel room in China.  Tears and anger followed right after this image was taken.

We even wondered why we had pushed SO hard to do something so emotionally difficult.    We were grateful for very clear answers to prayers in the months before that had made it very clear that these were our daughters.    The Lord didn't wonder - he knew and he was more than willing to still our trembling hearts and feeble knees.

Esther during one of our sightseeing tours.

Pearl at the local government office.
When we got home we were relieved though for months we were emotionally exhausted - we could never completely relax because we knew the girls couldn't.  We knew they still needed so much love, attention, and healing to come from our hands.  We were glad to give it but it meant we were often drained and had very little left for each other.  A friend asked me how things were going and when I told her that we were barely holding on she replied, "Really!?  I thought this was supposed to be a happy time."  A little embarrassed I tried to explain how tired we were and why.

But the time passed.  The girls felt more and more safe.  The opened up, they learned more english, and we learned how to better love them.    We made memories, the girls shared stories from their pasts as did we, and we gave lots and lots of hugs and kisses.  The girls saw doctors - loads of them.  ENT's, neurosurgeons, dentists, you name it.  Esther had surgery on her back because it turned out she had a tethered spinal cord.  We enjoyed summer and then started school again.
Brothers and sisters!

Esther's surgery - what a champ.

Backyard campout and the lazy days of summer.

First day of school for the five oldest.

About two weeks ago I realized I wasn't scared anymore.  I wasn't scared that Esther might get upset or that something we said might bring some pain up for them.  I wasn't scared that they were unhappy or that they wanted to go back.  I just wasn't afraid anymore.  Home was home again.    We are happy.  Things have become a new normal.  The girls English is amazing, they are happy, and they are willing to let us help them work through their past trauma and pain.  We are grateful for the support we received through the difficulty in the journey before we brought them home and after.  There were many that played such vital roles in bringing my girls to me.  Many of you reading this were one of them.

I love these girls with all my heart.
Six months home.
By far, the greatest joy comes from teaching the girls their worth.  In China they were on the lowest rung of the social ladder - they are girls, they were orphans, and they have physical deformities so each of them knew that their life would be miserable - especially Esther.  She told me last week that she knew she would never be happy - that she had accepted that.    And now, Michael and I have the privilege of teaching them that they divine daughters of God.  That they are queens - and the Lord told us that they are a gift to our family.  They are of infinite worth and value not only to us but even more to a Father in Heaven who was also watching over them.  He was mourning over the terrible things that happened to them and orchestrating their journey to their eternal family.  It is like watching someone awaken from a bad dream.  Both girl's spirit's recognize these eternal truths and their eyes light up at the knowledge that life is meant for joy and that they will be partakers of that.  The sweetness of those truths and the spirit whispering to your heart that God loves you is such a sweet and filling experience.  I am reminded of a story in the Book of Mormon where a prophet named Lehi has a dream in which he sees a tree with a fruit symbolizing the love of our Savior:
And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.
And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.
And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit.

The sweetness and joy that comes from loving our girls(and our boys) and teaching about who they are is immeasurable. I can absolutely say that if there were such a thing as time travel I am positive I would jump in that time machine and race back to the day I saw the girls photos and say, "Do it! These are your daughters! You will find such immense joy in loving them!" There is no doubt in my mind that there were angels saying those very things.

Our Father in heaven loves these girls.  He loves you too.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Three Months Home

We have made it to our three month mark and it feels like we've been home just a short time but that the girls have been with us forever.  We are still working on communication but they are doing so well and we are excited that this summer they are attending a literacy camp at Whitworth University.  I first want to give a shout out to our local elementary school because they have been amazing for us during this time.  They have shown nothing but love and support every step of the way - completely exceeding our expectations.

I am going to let the pictures tell most of the story here.  For Esther's birthday we drove west and went camping.  It was wet and cold but good memories were made.

The Columbia River Gorge.  It is such a treat to show all of our children our beautiful country but sharing it with the girls is definitely special.  Both girls were from large congested cities so seeing things like this is all new and exciting.

It was rainy and wet but still beautiful and fun for the kids.

Yahtzee by lamplight.

We stayed with friends(the Mondruts) in a longhouse at Ensign Ranch.  They were like glorified playhouses for the kids and definitely more fun than tents.
Ensign Ranch has loads to do from canoeing to horseback riding to hiking and swimming.  It was a great time.

Esther's cake ended up looking a little creepy but it was her first and she didn't seem to mind.

Her first gifts EVER.

Pinata in a tent - good times.

"family movie night"

At the bottom of our street is a great little creek so yesterday we packed a picnic and headed down.  Elijah was on a camp-out but we've got lots of summer ahead and many more picnics.

We're rich!  (It's just mica, darnit.)

Mike jumped in at the bottom of the waterfall where it was deep.  This is melted snow water and it is SUPER cold - like bone-aching cold.

Andrew was pretty proud of himself for dunking under too.

My new favorite picture.

Things are wonderful.  We love to think back on those first few days with the girls and how much has changed in such a short time.  It is not easy and it still requires us to be more actively engaged as we continue to help the girls to attach to us and vice versa but it is such a blessing for the whole family.  The family dynamic has shifted and become so much fuller and better because of the girls and what they bring to us with their sweet spirits.  I can't wait for the next six months and to see how much their language abilities enables them to grow even closer to their brothers and to us.

Once again, thank you.  Thank you for your support, thank you for your donations, thank you for your love and prayers.  What a miracle was accomplished.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Two Months Home

Last week we hit our two month home mark and I often find myself marveling at the miracle that took place over the last year and  a half.  Last night while watching a movie together, the kids in their pj's all laying on the floor around us, it hit me once again how monumental this whole thing has been.  We traveled to the other side of the planet, plucked two girls out of impoverished circumstances - and gave them a family.  I say "gave them" when the reality is actually that they always had a family - we were always their family.  For whatever reason the Lord has a mission for them to do and it has to be accomplished by the both of them starting off in China.  I know they are my daughters.  There is no longer any question in my mind or my heart.  They are mine and I am theirs.  It was always so.  It was only a matter of time before we remembered one another and found our way together again.  I am once again reminded of the Chinese proverb:
An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstances. The thread may stretch or tangle but will never break.

And so we continue to get to know one another again.  Esther continues to speed along with her English while Pearl is taking a little longer.  They are both going to school and love it immensely.   We feel like a family although not speaking the same language takes it's toll on me sometimes.  A couple of weeks ago we met with a woman at the school who is originally from China and speaks Mandarin.  It slightly broke my heart to see how much Pearl lit up and started jabbering away.  She is still not as talkative with me though more and more we see little glimpses of her light.

It is getting so warm here and since our sweet little house doesn't have air conditioning we are spending a lot of evenings our in the yard eating dinner.  Last night was lovely as we picnicked under the cherry tree and were surrounded by the sweetness of the lilacs and other fragrant flowers.  I love it here in spring and for the first time in the girl's life they get to experience the beauty of the seasons.  Something that was so hard to do in the big cities they came from.

I am so grateful to be a mother to my six children- even though the car is like a traveling circus and my days are jam packed.  The joy I find in my sweet ones is immeasurable.  I am so grateful that the Lord helped me to remember that I had more than the four I bore.  Our lives would have been so incomplete without Pearl and Esther.
Picnic time.

Homemade go-cart by Elijah - it doesn't look like much...and it isn't.  But the kids love it.

Here is one of those glimpses into Pearl's adorableness.

I am sure that Esther had no idea how beautiful she is before she came here.  She is still so surprised to hear us tell her about it but boy is she ever.

The Cherry tree.

Our view.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

One Month Home.

Just a few days ago we hit our one month home mark.  I know I haven't been blogging much and it's not because things are hard or bad - it's because I have such a small amount of down time.  Our business is going really well and so both Mike and I are spending a lot of time on that.  And I am so grateful that it is.    Having the ability for both of us to work from home affords us the blessing of being with the kids all day and being able to tag team our duties.

So how are things going?  Really, really well.  Both girls are getting so comfortable here.  Honestly, their transition has been so easy.  They are truly attaching with us all - our love is growing, our understanding is growing, our communication is improving.  I couldn't have asked for an easier transition.  That being said, I'm emotionally exhausted.  I have been way out of my comfort zone for something like 7 weeks now(or 18 months!) and it takes a lot out of you.  I get tears in my eyes easily, I have to be more intentional with my stress management, and Mike and I have had such little emotional space for each other.    But it is getting better.  Just being aware of what is going on helps a lot.  As do good friends and other adoptive parents who can assure us that we are normal.

Esther's English is improving so much and it is amazing to watch.  She is decoding things and piecing things together into sentences.  Pearl is relying a lot on her big sister so she isn't trying as hard.  They both start school next week - Esther in 4th grade and Pearl in kindergarten- and that should help them both.  They love to get out and play with other kids.  They love church.  We're all excited because they are getting pretty bored around here but it has been a good time for us to get to know one another better.

I wish that my writing abilities were better so that I could describe this process in greater detail but I'm not even sure if I have words for it yet.  I wonder if in a couple months I will be able to do that.  Right now living it is about all that I can do.   It is slightly familiar territory though.  We feel a lot like we do when we have a brand new baby.  Exhausted, overwhelmed, emotional, happy, delirious, grateful.

One of the most enjoyable parts is introducing the girls to so many new things.  Their first campfire, their first smores, Pearl's first lost tooth, treats, roller-skating, easter egg hunting, spring.  Both girls are from big(polluted) cities so just getting to experience the seasons is new and wonderful to them.  Swinging on a rope swing hanging from a tree branch, family dance contests, Michael Jackson youtube videos, mud puddles, American schools, church, blue skies, all of it brings such joy - for them as well as us as we experience it all over again through new eyes.    Yesterday Esther asked me through google translate if I had happy birthdays in my childhood.  I told her I did and she replied in broken English, "Esther no happy birthdays."  I told her that next month on her birthday we will have cake and friends and a party with gifts.  She was so excited.

I have found that as I take care of myself spiritually I have greater love for the girls.  If I am spending time with my scriptures or in prayer - my attachment with the girls grows.  I am grateful that the Lord magnifies my abilities and adds to me - I can feel it.  I am also grateful for friends who have talents and skills in other healing modalities that have truly blessed us so much.

Nearly two years ago when Mike and I sat down and opened our hearts to hear what the Lord wanted us to do with our lives we felt impressed that someday we would adopt, among other things.  We felt that there were two girls and a boy out there.  We didn't know how soon we would find those two girls!  But what about that boy?  We don't know yet.  When we came home we were so spent we couldn't even think about adopting again - we didn't want to even open our minds to the possibility.  Slowly, ever so slowly, our hearts are mending and we are beginning to feel safe enough to say that yes, we will return to adoption again.  It becomes easier as our love and gratitude for our sweet daughters grows.  Already I wonder what we would have done without them.   This past weekend while watching a church conference I realized that there was a little daydream of sorts floating through the background of my brain and that it was of Mike and I in Guangzhou with a little boy on Mike's shoulders.  I was surprised by that thought and I know it wasn't mine.  I am grateful for those little whisperings.

Thank you all for your support.  You are part of this amazing miracle.  These girls belonged in our family.  They feel it - we feel it.  They fit right in too - both are crazy and talkative and full of energy.  How will I ever repay you all for that?  I will be in your debt for eternity.  I kind of like that - to think of us all in the next life with eternal debts to one another.