New Year’s Eve

Tomorrow is my birthday.

Birthdays are not a very big deal in our house, but at the very least, this birthday marks the passing of time for me. Another year lived. Tuesday marks the last day of my Project 365 as well, so it seems like a second reminder that a year is over and a new one is beginning.

This year has been full and interesting. Picking up my camera each day is a act that forces me to look at the blessings and the beauty in small, ordinary moments. I just finished a book called Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist which put my untamed brain into beautiful words:

“Today is your big moment. Moments, really. The life you’ve been waiting for is happening all around you. The scene unfolding right outside your window is worth more than the most beautiful painting, and the crackers and peanut butter that you’re having for lunch on the coffee table are as profound, in their own way, as the Last Supper. This is it. This is life in all its glory, swirling and unfolding around us, disguised as pedantic, pedestrian non-events. But pull off the mask and you will find your life, waiting to be made, chosen, woven, crafted.
Your life, right now, today, is exploding with energy and power and detail and dimension, better than the best movie you have ever seen. You and your family and your friends and your house and your dinner table and your garage have all the makings of a life of epic proportions, a story for the ages. Because they all are. Every life is.
You have stories worth telling, memories worth remembering, dreams worth working toward, a body worth feeding, a soul worth tending, and beyond that, the God of the universe dwells within you, the true culmination of super and natural.
You are more than dust and bones.
You are spirit and power and image of God.
And you have been given Today.”

-Shauna Niequist’

I spent the eve of my birthday watching the sun set. The clock will always keep ticking, but I want to take every opportunity I have to cherish to something that I love. And I love sunsets.
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In an uncertain world, a world where I don’t have all of the answers, I can count on a few things: time passing, the sun rising and setting, and a God who is present in every moment, whether or not I notice.

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Happy New Year to me. May I remember what is important and let go of what is not.

Gus-isms

Gus is at an age right now where he can be pretty hilarious. His ability to communicate has exploded and what he has to say rarely disappoints.

Walking into school one morning:
Me: “Are you excited about school?”
Gus: “Can you make it funner?”

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Reed: “Gus, what did you do at school today?”
Gus: (casually) “I screamed.”

…he really does like school, but if one bad thing happens, that day he had bitten his lip, that’s all he tells us about!

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One morning when we had gotten up before the sun was fully up:
Gus: “Mama, it’s too dark. I was sleeping and then it was time to wake up. it’s too dark.”

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One evening, we asked the kids to tell us one thing that they learned in school that day. Reed explained fresh vs. salt water and where you’d find them. Lena explained how germs spread and how to keep your germs from spreading. Gus: “Taste of red paint.”

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(Walking into store in a mild but steady rain)
Gus: “Mama, is it raining?”
Me: “Yes.”
Gus: “No, mama. It’s sprinkling.”

His correction was cute on its own, but I couldn’t stop laughing when I watched this video tonight. I just wish he could have been a part of this conversation!

Trees, Mountains and Milky Ways

I just wanted to share a few of my favorite photos from last weekend that I didn’t manage to fit into my other posts.
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Royal Gorge. Which has quite a bit of construction happening right now.
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On our early morning hike, taken via tripod + self timer.
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The trees have eyes.
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(High in the mountains, the trees have slowly started to change from green to yellow.
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Shimmering aspens with Mt. Evans in the background.

Colorado is just a breathtaking state. Bright blue skies, mountains breaking the horizon, and my dear friends the stars. I just love it.

Lessons from the Hike

I’ve never been a huge fan of hiking. Don’t get me wrong. I love a beautiful view and I’m willing to do the work to get it. But, the actual moving of my legs up switchbacks is not my idea of a good time. Just drop me off at the lake with a good book, okay?
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(my “I don’t really love this” pout, circa 2009. Actually, I think this might be the “they told us there was moose, but it was gone by the time we got there” pout. either way, blog appropriate).

However, we don’t go to Colorado and not go on a hike. Aaron suggested a 6 mile, 2,500ft elevation gain hike, which I quickly nixed. He’s learned that I have the best attitude when something is my idea, instead he agreed when I suggested a moderate not-even-3-mile hike with 900ft elevation gain to a wildfire lookout tower. I also had the idea that I wanted to do this early. Sunrise, for the best photos. All of you who really know me are probably laughing at this point. There are two things I particularly don’t excel with: 1. Physical exertion 2. Mornings. Of course, both of these are two of my dear husband’s favorite things, so he just asked “how early do you want to go?”
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Just after the crack of dawn, I whined my way up that trail. Aaron was so totally in his element that I’m not sure he even heard me whining most of the time and when he did, he just laughed.
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Aaron: Ahhhhh… if you breathe in just right, you can smell the cedar trees. Not too fast, not too slow. Just right. Ahhhhhh.

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(If I was in charge of these signs, it would say “you’re a rockstar. great things ahead! keep moving those legs!”)

We neared the top of the trail and then we saw these. 143 stairs.
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My number one fear is… heights. I knew they were coming, but as soon as I touched that railing, the fear set in.  I said to Aaron, “I don’t know if I’m shaking from cold, fear or my tired legs… probably all 3.”

But, I carefully climbed those steps, determined not to give up when we were so close to our goal.

Almost hilariously more daunting, at the top, there is a fence which seems to barely be hanging on to the rock. Don’t look down.
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Yet, we made it. Across the rocks and onto the security of the lookout tower. The first people of the morning, up there to view for hundreds of miles around. I made myself walk all the way around the tower, intentionally looking down. Because I didn’t want to. But, fear is for conquering.
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When I was finished terrifying myself, I sat down on the rocks, smack in the center so if the entire man-made structure instantly crumbled, I’d still be sitting there.
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And, I realized, I made it to the top. Yes, I know, 3 miles and 900ft is not so hard, but there were times when giving up felt like a much better option than forging on. I was tired. At times, scared. Yet, my feet still carried me to that point.2014-09-18_0007

And, the view from the top was worth it.
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One phrase had stuck in my head last week: “show up”. I knew it wasn’t just in the literal sense that I needed to show up somewhere. It was in the sense that I needed to be there for people. I needed to keep “showing up” in Big L’s world and reminding her that we loved her.
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It’s a series of single steps that bring you to the top. Not ladders, but switchbacks, slowly, steadily inching forward. Showing up is the first step.

The thing about the up is you have to come down, too.
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But, by that point, I had my new rules: Show up. One foot in front of the other, keep going. Persevere.

Unpacking

Last week, we decided to make the journey out west, across our state and into the next, to hug our friends as they celebrated their daughter’s life. We were able to leave the kids with Aaron’s parents, a visit which we had planned weeks before, but had no clue about the circumstances under which we’d need them.

We drove. Aaron did most of the driving, as all my exhaust seems to hit me as soon as I sit down in the car. And, I had no clue how badly I needed this little trip until I woke up in the early morning fog at the foothills of the Rockies. The fog was so thick that we couldn’t see the mountains that we knew were just ahead. But, it seemed appropriate for a day when you will be celebrating the life of a little one, for whom the veil of heaven has just lifted. It made me think of the Corinthians verse that Bekah’s mom recently referenced in her own blog.
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We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

1 Corinthians 13:12

Bekah’s funeral was beautiful in all of the ways that a funeral for a young child can be. Devastating, yet a reminder that this is not the end. Bekah’s dad, Jeff, spoke with such courage and love. He even mixed in a bit of Bekah’s joy and humor. Most of the funerals I’ve been to have been for people who’ve lived long lives, loved God and were ready. Bekah had a short life and I don’t think that anyone was ready to see her leave this world. But, somehow, in spite of the pain of her loss, her funeral was full of joy. And, completely full of hope. The sort of hope that you have only in the Holy Spirit, knowing that Bekah’s now flashing that beautiful smile in heaven.

I got to hug two ladies who mean so much to me. Erin(Bekah’s mom) and Lisa. The three of our families’ stories are woven together because of our Russian adoption. And, I am so blessed to know both of them. They are encouraging and loving and always two of the first people to say “I’ll pray for you.” I could go on for a very long time, but I’ll stop. In short, I look up to both of them and always find them pointing towards God.2014-09-17_0002

Our weekend was packed full, which is how we always seem to do things. The longest amount of time we’ve spent alone together since we were in Russia and it was good. It was a bit like life pre-kids. Road trips and hiking. Our life is currently molded by parenting young children and it’s really nice to remember that we actually like each other, when all of the chaos is removed from the equation.

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Life seems to make a lot more sense from 9,000ft than it does when you’re standing in the middle of your messy kitchen. Coming home meant the literal unpacking of the car and also the figurative unpacking of a weekend away from normal life. I’m still “unpacking” all that has happened in the past weeks, especially with Big L. There’s so much to digest. Many of you have asked me what this all of this news means and if I have any updates. We really don’t know. When we know, I’ll share as I am able, but I appreciate you praying in the meantime.

Uncertainty

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I think that many of you figured that the “hope” that we had, the one with the big obstacle that I mentioned in a recent blog post, was adopting Big L. Bingo. Some of you even caught that I mentioned it in a different recent blog post, although I deleted it pretty quickly. I schedule my blog posts and had been planning to announce it in an earlier blog post, which never happened.

We hit the ground running with this adoption. We were not able, per hosting program rules, to discuss the adoption with Big L.  So, literally the morning she left our house, we put our agency application in the mailbox.

Although we had not discussed adoption outright, we thought we had a pretty solid idea of how she felt about it, because of things she had said about wanting to come back forever and all of the love and affection she’d shown while she was here. Even before we sent off that agency paperwork, things had started to come together for the adoption. A large discount from the agency because of all of our prior training, a friend contacting me looking for an adoptive family to help fundraise for (with no clue that we had just started the process), a well timed post placement visit that we could double as part of our home study update… it all seemed to be coming together.

After she had been back for a few days, I got a message from a friend: rumor had it, another family was in her country “blind” (meaning they did not come with a child in mind) and had coincidentally gotten her referral. This was concerning, but I know her. I was pretty confident that she’d say no, both because she’s not the type of person to open up right away to strangers and also because of how she felt about us.

Our agency contacted the orphanage to follow up with this blind referral, to find out what happened:

[She] told them loud and clear that she has a family who she loves and who she is waiting for and there is no way she would be adopted by another family.   [She] is VERY MUCH in love with her host family and misses them very much!!

That sounds like really sweet, wonderful news. Except, the same day, Big L contacted me and told me that she didn’t want to be adopted. I did not expect the entire process to go smoothly, and for her to hang on to the relationship that we built up over the summer for the entire length of the adoption process. But, I didn’t imagine she would change her mind so quickly, either. Over the past week, I’ve ridden the whole roller coaster of being missed by her to being very clearly pushed away and everything in between.

Legally, she has the right to decline adoption. She will have to express her feelings on the adoption in court. Emotionally, we do not want to manipulate or persuade her into doing something that she doesn’t want. There are enough emotions surrounding adoption, especially older child adoption, without any coercion on our part. We keep telling that it’s completely her decision. We believe adoption is in her best interest, but it also seems like an impossible decision for a child her age. Between what she has told us and our connection on social media, we believe she’s being influenced, partly by someone who does not want her to be adopted and partly by the strong influence that her friends have. As hard as this is for our family, we know it is much harder decision for her.

I’ve debated sharing this here, so publicly, but I also wanted to share about this reality of hosting and older child adoption. I also wanted to share this major prayer request of ours. I am not of the mindset that all orphans are better off being adopted by Americans, but knowing Big L, we feel very strongly that she needs some strong role models in her life. We believe that with a little guidance, she will thrive and continue to be a great light to everyone around her. But, from what we know of her current direction, we are under the impression that she’s heading down a bad path.

I truly believe that this is a spiritual battle for her soul. As a wise woman recently told me, some dark forces have had a hold on her life for a long time, and they will not let go of her so easily.

As we initially announced her adoption, we had a few different close friends and family members say something along the lines of, “Oh good. I knew she fit in your family perfectly, but I didn’t want to say anything!” And, like my mom said a ton on Big L’s last day with us, “she is NOT the girl we picked up at the airport.” No, no, she was not. She was lighter, happier, looking and acting younger. She had the security and the freedom to be herself and to just be a child.

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We all fell in love with her this summer. She is kind and compassionate. She loves people deeply and she is so deserving of a family who can love her so deeply in return. A family who can nurture her, support her, and eventually help her navigate the world.

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My sister shared how she is praying for Big L, which is so meaningful to me right now, as I can barely produce a coherent sentence:

  1. Pray for the Father to draw her to Jesus. John 6:44
  2. Bind the spirit that blinds her mind. II Cor. 4:4
  3. Release on her the Spirit of adoption, in God’s family and [our] family.
  4. Pray for believers to speak into her life and witness to her. Matt. 9:38
  5. Asking the Father to give her the Spirit of revelation and an understanding of the Truth. Eph.1:17

So, please pray for Big L? We have no doubt that her story is not over yet, but right now it’s all so uncertain.

Gus’s First Day of Preschool

Gus had his first day of preschool last week. In my otherwise hard week, watching him enjoy preschool has been pretty awesome.

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On the first day, he had to bring a baby picture. I printed a couple and let him choose one. Here he is, the baby picture he chose and on his first day of preschool, holding that baby picture.

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I think he is still getting used to the routine and certainly how much more energy preschool requires than hanging out at home, but he’s loving it. Each day, he is thrilled to see me at pickup and thrilled to tell me about what they did. Which is usually something like “We played trucks! We played cars! We had a snack. Crackers!”

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Each day they learn a song. It’s sort of a joke in our family that I know WAY too many songs. I have a song for everything. Aaron always thinks I made them up and he’s surprised when I can pull them on Youtube.

One such song is the Peanut Butter and Jelly song. You know it, right? Here it is, for those of you who don’t.

I read on the schedule that they would learn this song on Thursday. Out of curiosity to see what he had really learned, I said “peanut, peanut butter” as I was getting him into his car seat. He looked a bit confused for a second and then said “and jelly!”

Yes, finally, a child who will join me in singing strange songs!

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This is the baby picture he did not pick, which also happens to be my favorite. I had seen a couple of other pictures of him before this one, but this one was “love at first sight”. I could see he was filled with joy.

I love this little guy. I’m so thankful to be his mama.