Transformation

As I chatted with my mom while she watered her plants, I noticed something small and green moving on the parsley. “You’re soaking that caterpillar,” I said and my mom quickly shut the water off. “Oh! I didn’t even see him!”

She ran inside to get me a little box to put him in to show the kids and I held out my hand. My new friend crawled on.
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A few minutes later, Reed and N came out to play badmitton in the yard. I called them over. Reed looked at him for just a moment before casually saying “cool” and running off. But, N sat down beside me.

“Що це?” (What is it?)

I stumbled over my words. My Ukrainian is so limited. “Ummm… метелик.” Not knowing the word for caterpillar, I told her it was a butterfly.

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She laughed. “Метелик?”

“Yes,” not sure how to explain metamorphosis with a language barrier.

She just stared at it skeptically for awhile. I know she was wondering how this could possibly be true.
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We’re having a hard week with N. The kind where I really wonder if I’m cut out for this. I can see all of the brokenness and pain of N’s short life come out in her behavior and I truly wonder if this summer is making any difference. I’m standing in front of vase that’s been shattered into a thousand tiny pieces and I’m trying to put it back together with scotch tape and elmer’s glue. And, trying to keep my kids from cutting themselves on the broken pieces.

Holding this odd little creature and sitting with N, I heard the whisper… she’s a butterfly.

I’m like N, sitting there, looking at a caterpillar and being told she’s a butterfly. A child of God, full of beauty. How can something so funny looking like a caterpillar ever grow wings and become one of God’s most beautiful creatures? How can someone so (rightfully) angry and sad like N ever move on to become a healed and healthy person?

Baby steps. A few minutes of pouting where a tantrum may have been a week ago. An apology where she may have run off to hide before. I can see it happening if I slow down to notice and celebrate with her. It’s a slow transformation, but so is the butterfly’s.

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Currently on repeat:

We have tasted and seen of the never ending grace of the King
Where the broken and the least of the least come alive.

Adventure

Summer is our busiest season of the year. I can be a hermit from September to April, but May to August is when the adventure happens. A lot of adventure.

We went camping twice in May– both just state parks within a few hours of us. I still need to blog about the second trip, which was our very worst camping trip ever.
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June was out to Colorado to pick up N and enjoy Rocky Mountain National Park. 2015-06-30_0017

In July, we visited Aaron’s family in Missouri. I had a work trip in Wisconsin. Aaron and the kids drove out and met me in Illinois and then we headed East, stopping for a few hours in Chicago, very briefly at Cuyahoga National Park (Ohio), a quick morning swim at Lake Erie (Ohio), an overnight in the incredible darkest spot east of the Mississippi, Cherry Springs State Park (Pennsylvania), and lastly at The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania before we reached our destination in Eastern Pennsylvania. Whew. I needed a nap.

Chicago was a lot of fun. Through the adoption community, I have a made a wonderful friend, Amanda. She invited us over to her apartment for Chicago style pizza. Then we took the train to her office, which has an incredible view of the Chicago skyline.
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We had so much fun with her. We just want to come back another time when we have more than a few hours for a real tour. Amanda was an awesome host and tour guide!

The next day, we stopped at Lake Erie for a quick swim.
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Aaron and I had been looking forward to going to Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania for months. It’s the only gold-rated (highest rated) dark sky park East of the Mississippi. They had an sky tour, where they used a laser pointer to talk about different constellations and we got to look through telescopes to see Venus, Saturn and Jupiter. Unfortunately, it was a bit cloudier than we’d hope, but we still were able to enjoy it.
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(There are more photos from Cherry Springs on my photography Facebook page.)

The next day, we made a quick stop by the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. We found it to be a little bit underwhelming.
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Just a few more hours of driving + one tunnel (always exciting) and we reached our destination.
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We are now semi-unpacked here for a few weeks, enjoying family time!

Be Her Rock

Last year, Big L’s favorite song was Rend Collective’s My Lighthouse. It’s a song about God, but I think for us, it also reminded us of what it means to be a parent to a hurting child. “In my wrestling and in my doubts, In my failures You won’t walk out…

That image has stuck with me and that song always makes me think of Big L. Any lighthouse makes me think of Big L. My “word picture” for N is slightly different. Although it sometimes feels like N is the violent sea trying to batter me, I know she’s really swimming IN a violent sea. A violent sea of emotions, a violent sea of being pulled and pushed different ways by different people, a violent sea of uncertainty. All I can offer her is a place to rest. Whenever she’s misplacing her anger on me, I try to remind myself, be her rock.

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She’s scared and angry, and these feelings can come out in unpleasant ways. I want to react myself. I sometimes feel like another swimmer in this violent sea, and we might cling to or fight each other and pull each other under.

But, I can’t. She doesn’t need another swimmer who can only keep her up so long. She needs a rock to cling to.

And this is what I’m learning, day by day. Briefly acknowledge her feelings, then dig my heels in deep and let that sea crash against me.  Be unmovable despite all of the misplaced hurt thrown about. Be firm and resolute with rules and boundaries. Be solid, no matter how much I might feel like cracking.
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I am constantly being reminded that love looks different for different people. For Reed, love looks like having someone who believes in him– age-appropriate freedom and encouraging and acknowledging his successes. For Lena, love looks like cuddling and loving words to lift her up. For Gus, love looks like an engaged playmate and someone to rub his feet when he’s tired. For N, love looks like all of that, plus firm boundaries and someone who can sit beside her in all of her anger and not reflect anger back at her. I am learning, slowly learning, to see her hurt, but not mirror it. 

Life is hard. Parenting is hard. Parenting hurt kids is super hard. I think hosting is an incredible opportunity, but I cannot tell you it’s always easy. It’s not. Not easy, but absolutely worth it. 

Red Oak II

Over Fourth of July weekend, we went down to my in-law’s house in Southwest Missouri. There was a family who wanted a Sweet Nectar Network session in that area and I planned to do their session that weekend, too. They suggested a very interesting location– Red Oak II.

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Apparently, this man went off to World War II and when he returned home, his town, Red Oak, had become a ghost town. He ended up purchasing and moving what was left to his personal property, and also purchasing other interesting buildings.

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I like to scope out session sites ahead of time, so Aaron and I took the kids over to Red Oak II the day before and checked it out.

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It’s a really interesting location with lots to see.  My kids enjoyed the child care center.  2015-07-13_0005

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An old-fashioned gas station.

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Playing in the stables. Reed and Lena were cows.
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Ping-pong in the rec center.

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Petting this big, friendly cat.
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Geocaching.
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And, it was the Fourth of July, so this photo was mandatory.

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Red Oak II is definitely an awesome little slice of Americana (right along Route 66!). 

The Dentist

IMG_5581Last year, when we took Big L to the dentist, the ones that saw all of my kids at the time, we got a very reluctant donated exam and an large estimated cost for how much it would be to get her four fillings.

This year, I took Gus to a different pediatric dentist to check them out and worked up the nerve to ask them to donate an appointment to N. Without any hesitation, they agreed. And last week, we had that appointment. Her teeth are a huge mess. She will need a few pulled, and crowns on several others. The dentist explained the plan and the receptionist was ready to book us for the first appointment to get the work done. I asked “how much will this all cost?” The receptionist and the dentist exchanged a knowing look and the dentist firmly said, “This is pro bono. We just want to give her the best future possible.”

That’s part of a Facebook post from my personal page I wrote last week after our first appointment. The dentist and her team squeezed us into their packed schedule, giving up their lunch hour to make sure that N returns with her teeth cleaned up.

Today was the first “surgery” appointment, where she had a tooth pulled and a root canal. My sweet friend watched R, L & G, so I was able to sit in with N and hold her hand for the whole procedure. It went well. N was great and I was in awe of the compassion that they showed N. She has a team of talented people going above and beyond for her… because they care about HER and HER future.

As we were leaving, the dentist said to me, “thank you for helping her.” Me?!? YOU’RE THANKING ME?!

A lesser person would have handed me that estimate for all of her dental work last week and sent us on our way. Or, perhaps, they may have agreed begrundingly to help N, seeing the state of her teeth. Instead, this wonderful dentist promised to do her very best work by N… and thanked me for bringing her in.

That’s what love looks like. As Glennon Melton says, “we belong to each other”. And when we live like we mean it? When we use our talents selflessly to help those in need? N’s smile will be healed, but there’s some healing of her heart too. She is seeing that yes, there are people on her side. Yes, people care about it.

Now, she’s just a young kid… and you might be wondering if that message really sinks in with her. I might not have taken the time to share this, except for a conversation I had with N later in the day.

N was in obvious pain from her teeth and the dentist had instructed me to give her soft foods to eat. Well, food is a bit of a challenge, as I’m still learning what N likes. Together, N and I sat down in front of Pinterest and looked up soft foods. I took copious notes. Yes to mashed potatoes. No to mac and cheese. Yes to pudding. No to borscht. Fun fact: one of her requests was spaghetti with ketchup and… mayo!

N asked for my phone and I expected another food request that I wouldn’t quite understand. But, when she handed the phone back, her message had been translated simply…

“You will take care of me?”

I’m sure shock registered across my face. Of course, I thought. That’s what moms do. Except that her mom may have never been able to offer that to her.

“Yes! Да! Так!” I said.

And she threw her arms around me and kissed my face countless times.

That IS what we moms do. Stay by their side, hold their hand through the hard moments, remember the Tylenol every 4 hours and make an extra trip to the store for those comfort foods. But, to N, each meal prepared with her in mind, each squeeze of her hand in the dentist’s chair, each goodnight kiss, that’s a bandaid on her heart. It means I see her. I care about her needs. She has worth.

That’s the seed I want to plant for her this summer… you have worth.


 

P.S. Please pray for N, as we go back more dental work tomorrow. And, twice in August.

P.P.S. I’d love more soft food suggestions, especially from my Eastern European readers. :)

Pre-Hosting Colorado Trip

We were picking up N in Denver on a Monday, so Aaron and I would need to take Monday and Tuesday off of work. Plus, we’d have to make it out to Denver to pick her up… so naturally, we decided to come to Colorado a couple of days early. It took a bit of extra planning, but it was an awesome pre-hosting family trip.

We decided to spend our time at Rocky Mountain National Park. Aaron and I really enjoy the national parks and we’d only been to RMNP once before, a day trip with friends. It was the perfect spot for our little trip– a great mix of amenities and the great outdoors.

We gave the kids a gift– a shockproof, waterproof camera. They’ve been begging for a real camera for awhile now. I need to share some of their photos with you, as there are gems!
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We went to one of the ranger programs on Bighorn Sheep. A herd of elk walked by.
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We saw some Bighorn Sheep at a distance.
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The weather was perfect for hiking, warm enough to not need layers, but cool enough that we didn’t get hot. But, it rained on our first day. So in the afternoon, we set up our camp site. The campground office had two hummingbird feeders and they were covered with these little guys. I’ve never seen so many before!
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We did more hiking once the rain let up. We heard Bear Lake was a must, but difficult to get parking at. However, after the rain, we had no trouble. We realized when we pulled into the Bear Lake trailhead parking lot that we’d done a hike starting at Bear Lake with our friends 7.5 years ago. Hiking with 3 young kids is pretty different than hiking with two twenty-something friends.
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One of the rangers tipped us off that we could save ourselves a bit of hiking and elevation gain by hiking to a different trailhead than the one we’d started at and taking the bus. That was a hit.
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More hiking! We did about 5-6 miles each day.
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We saw this guy right along the side of the road, having his dinner.
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And we went back to our campsite and had our own dinner, over a fire, of course.
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That night was cloudy and there were thunderstorms in the distance. But, I took this shot anyways and it’s a favorite of mine. Estes Park, nestled below the mountains, and layers of clouds and stars.
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Day 2, we drove on Trail Ridge Road, over to the West side of the park. Reed tried out hiking poles for the first time. And we played in some snow.
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An adult woman next to the snow for scale.
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I had enjoyed the east side of the park, but I quickly fell in love with the west side, when a photographer pointed out a mama and her baby MOOSE to us, hiding behind some trees. I ended up seeing 7 moose total on this side of the park.
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We did the short hike out to Holzwarth Ranch. Totally worth it for a fun look into the past.
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Not wanting to rush back to our campsite, we decided to grab dinner in the nearest town. We’d found Estes Park to be packed with people the previous day. Nearly impossible to even find a parking space. Grand Lake was the opposite– fun and touristy with live music, but had a much more relaxing vibe. Oh, and there was a rainbow.
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The drive back across the park was gorgeous as the sun set behind us.
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And we stopped for some quick star-gazing. I was hoping the kids might be up for it, but they had all crashed by this point.
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Back to the campsite and to bed.
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Day 3 was the much awaited day of N’s arrival!!! We had to drive down to Denver. We had booked a yurt for that night, which turned out to be a bit further out of drive from Denver than expected. But, otherwise, it was a pretty awesome spot. The yurt had heating/air-conditioning, beds, a table inside and a table outside, a small playhouse close-by, and the bathrooms were a short distance with no roads to cross. The closest thing to glamping we’ve ever done and I would not hesitate to do it again. It has the camping feel, but a lot less work!
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N’s flight ended up getting several hours delayed, so we just hung out. I gave the kids these toys I had made them.
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Our trip was awesome. I adore Colorado and after a couple of days in the cool, dry mountain air, surrounded by gorgeous views, I was pretty bummed to come home. Until next time!

If you’d like to see more nature photos, take a look at my photography Facebook page.

Hosting: Real Talk

We’re almost 2 weeks into hosting… and how are things going?

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Before I answer that, did I tell you that when we first met N, just after she’d arrived, I asked her how she was, and she said “нормальна”. “Normal!” You just stepped off an airplane in a foreign country, you’re hugging a complete stranger who you’ll be staying with for the next 10 weeks… and you’re normal? Of course.

Things are very high energy around here, but they are fairly normal.
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Summer means a lot more energy in our house with Reed and Lena home. N adds even more energy and things can be a bit crazy around here. Kids bouncing off walls.

Probably the biggest challenge is that I’m in high demand. N is very clingy with me, and this has pushed my other kids to be as well. During their waking hours, I almost always have someone near me or touching me.
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I am an introvert, so this wears on me fairly quickly. I can only take so much time with children wrapped around my limbs before I need a quiet moment to myself. I’ve found myself pretty worn out most days!  Physically and emotionally. It reminds me of the days when each of my kids were newly home. N joked that I love the toilet… ummm, because that door locks!

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N is a character, and everything is new and exciting to her. She is even amused that the toilet flushes! To which I joked that she’s the one who loves the toilet!
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One of our biggest challenges with Big L last summer was keeping her busy. That’s a challenge again this summer. For quiet activities, rainbow loom bracelets are a hit and games on computer or phone are as well. I have a ton of language games for her for this reason. But, apart from these activities, N has a short attention span and spends a lot of time running from one thing to another. N also loves anything active– swimming, bike riding, etc.

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That’s the scoop on how things are going here. Questions about hosting? I always love to answer them!