Sunday, November 27, 2016

Thanksgiving this year

We are late fall-early winter vacationers.

We have a little spot we love to visit and late November/early December means that our spot is empty and cheap.  Shaun's work is really busy in the summer and slower once the school year gets started things slow down enough for him to feel good about stepping out of the office for a week.

Before Ellie was in junior high, we just pulled our kiddos out of school for a week and enjoyed some family time.  But now, with sports and exams and a full social life, it's a lot harder to make that pause in her life work, especially at that time of the school year.

Because none of us want to head south at Christmas, we have tried out Thanksgiving week for the past year or so and although we missed our families dearly, it was the perfect fit for the seven of us.

BUT our kiddos missed their Tennessee cousins like crazy and so this year, we decided to head northeast and knock the Big Apple off of our Bucket List and be back to eat turkey with our loved ones.

We cleaned our house like crazy on Saturday and got up early on Sunday morning to load up.  The kids fell in love with Dr. Quinn and Sully while Shaun and I talked and tired to find a music station in the middle of the mountains.

We made it to NYC in 10 hours with minimal stops and Shaun took us on a quick driving tour of Manhattan and then we all snuck in to our two person hotel room like pros.

We ordered the biggest deep dish pizza I have ever seen and ate it while we watched Christmas movies.  We snuggled (and I mean snuggled!) in our king-sized bed.  We woke up well-rested and headed to the Empire State Building where Shaun and I made the big kids read every single historical sign and marker and pamphlet we could find since it cost one million dollars to take 7 people to the top of the building.  Ellie took the perfect Instagram selfie 500 times and Max scattered a bag of goldfish on the floor and sneezed all over a window.

When we went outside, it was literally the coldest wind I have ever felt in my entire life, but of course, the view was incredible.  We posed and looked and bought a Christmas ornament at the gift shop and headed to Times Square.

Shaun carried Max like a boss through the entire city and Max was snug-as-a-bug inside Shaun's Carhart but the rest of us were so thankful for gloves and hats and warm winter coats.  It was so cold!

Times Square was a blast and as we walked back to our hotel, we told the kids they could choose anything they wanted for dinner.  We passed a million yummy restaurants but over and above anything they could choose in the city, they wanted Subway??  Shaun and I ate a delicious gluten free burger and we went to bed early.

The second day we woke up early to head Grand Central Station to catch the subway to the Statute of Liberty.  Like subway rookies, we had no idea we needed two cards for 7 people, so there was a point where Ellie and Sophie were stuck on one side of the busy turnstiles and we were on the other.  There were throngs of people, of course, and the look of pure panic on Sophie's face was awful.  Ellie, as usual, was in control and she grabbed her sisters hand and threaded her way to the machines to buy another card, out of our sight and with her terrified sister.  Thankfully, a dadish-looking guy saw our faces and put two and two together.  He swiped his card two extra times and let our girls reunite with our little family.   While this might not be a big deal to many little girls, Sophie's biggest fear in life is being left behind or lost.  While she's never truly been left behind or lost, it is her fear and we were so sad it happened to her and yet, so glad she had steady and responsible Ellie there to hold her hand.

To make matters worse, as we were standing in the intensely crowded Subway cars, sweet Sophie didn't know to 'mind the gap' and we lost her in the step between the subway car and the platform and in an enormous crowd of people.  I loved that as soon as it happened, our big kids pushed through the throng of the subway and surrounded her completely.  They moved as one mass of children, with her in the middle, all of them grabbing her hands and her coat and got her up to fresh air and her tears turned to laughter when they told her all the ways they would save her.

We ran to the Statue line and waited for what felt like 48 hours to get on our ferry to the islands.  I'm not even lying, the wind whipping around the Island statue was pretty unreal.  It was so neat to see in person and so good for Max to get out of his carrier and play tag with the kids while Ellie and I bought a Christmas ornament and warmed up in the gift shop.

We loaded back up to head to Ellis Island, which was BY FAR my favorite part of the trip.  We sat down in a back stairwell and ate protein bars and apples and then found a warm and comfortable movie theater and all 7 of us slept through the first showing and really enjoyed the second!  Max was still asleep so a nice security guard let Shaun stay while the big kids and I took the tour.  I absolutely want to go back when I have more time to explore.  It is such a neat place!

On ferry ride back, we watched the sun set over the water and walked to the 9/11 Memorial a few blocks away.

Tickets are free on Tuesday nights and we had just enough time to really appreciate the Memorial.  Even though I'm a woman of too many words, I can't find the words to explain the somberness of that site.  It was so well done and so honoring to the victims of that day.  I'm so glad we were able to go.

After taking the Subway back to our hotel without incident, we ordered the same burgers, the same sandwiches at Subway and Ellie got some Chinese food for dinner.  We watched more Christmas movies and tried to finish up the rest of our packed snacks.

We woke up the next morning and checked out of our hotel and walked to Fifth Avenue where we saw Rockefeller Center and the scaffolding for decorating the incredible tree.  There were little girls with American Girl Doll bags everywhere and the Lego store that we went into was so filled with people we nearly couldn't get through.

We tried to get into Trump Tower, but didn't know the magic password to get past security, so we just took a big bunch of pictures in front of it instead and headed to Central Park where gabby fed the horses and the rest of the kids shared a hot dog.

Ellie and I walked back to the hotel with Starbucks in our hands and dreamed about what God might be doing with her future.  NYC is the city of dreams-coming-true after all and there's no better place than to dream big, so we did.

Shaun took the other four back on the Subway, really for Max.  Out of all the things we did, without question, his favorite was the 'train' and we had extra money on our Subway card(s).

Ellie and I met the rest of the family at the car and we headed, exhausted and crazy-happy back to the Buckeye state.

We rolled in around 3am and fell into bed.

Thanksgiving Day was spent unpacking and napping and making cookies.

Friday my mom and her husband served us a delicious late lunch and Shaun's mom served us a delicious early dinner.

We came home full of turkey and extended family and memories of a full week, well spent with all the people we love the most.

Our little family has so MUCH to be thankful for this year.

To God be the Glory for All He has Done.




Friday, November 11, 2016

Sophie turns EIGHT

Our baby Sophie-Bear turns eight years old today.

I can hardly believe how fast eight years can go.

I feel like I remember every detail of her first days, how crazy happy we were, what a good baby she was...I still feel like I could walk in the next room and see my little diapered baby.

Of course, when I walk in the next room, I see her EIGHT year old self and if it's even possible, I love her more now than I did back then.

She's still the same completely delightful little girl.

Our Baby loves to laugh.  She adores her sisters and brothers and she thinks riding the bus is pretty much the best thing ever.  Everyday when she comes home from school, she is wearing a BIG smile with a little bounce in her step telling stories about boys and

She still brings PILES of books to read with me, although now, she wants to be the one to read TO me, which is bittersweet for sure.

Sophie makes friends super easily and somehow knows how to stay out of any drama at school.  She is looking forward playing basketball this year and she is really interested in Legos and arts and crafts.

No one can stay fussy with Sophie for very long...and if we do get fussy, it's usually because she tried to quietly get out of doing her job or just ignoring something someone asked her to do.  But it doesn't happen very often, because out of all of our kiddos, she is easily the hardest worker when she puts her mind to something.

She is still the same sassy girl that used to climb on the kitchen table and steal her sister's ice cream, but she is NEVER sassy in a disrespectful way, only in a hilarious way and I often think about how much FUN her someday-husband is going to have being married to her.

For her birthday, she wanted an airplane Lego set, a HUGE party with twenty million girls who I have never met and to read books to the whole family WHILE WE ALL LISTENED.  I made her favorite dinner, hamburgers (which totally caught on fire), mashed potatoes and salad and she had a ice cream cake for dessert.

We always go around the table and share our favorite things about the birthday

After she opened her Lego set, we all snuggled in on the couch while she read us two of the longest books she could find, librarian style.  During the story when our eyes met, the rest of the family just grinned, knowing that this simple little thing was blessing her heart the most and it was just the cutest, sweetest moment of her eight year old birthday.

Her party with 20 million girls will be in the summer.  By some modern-day-miracle, we are having a pool put in this month and so we are talking all the kids into a summer time swim party for their birthdays.

She was quietly and sweetly happy all day long today.

And that's our Bear.  No matter if it's her birthday or not, she is just an incredibly happy little girl.

We are so thankful to be her parents and her family.

I love you more than cupcakes, Baby Bear!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

burning

On the eve of the dumbest election of my lifetime, our house burned down.

Not the house we live in now, but the house we owned just before we moved here.

I got a phone call from a friend telling me the house we loved so much was burning and I started crying and praying.

There is a beautiful family living in that home and thankfully, we realized right away that everyone was ok...pets and people got out right away...all thanks be to God.  

Shaun and I and our kiddos were shaken the rest of the night.

We, of course, reminded the kids about fire safety and our emergency plan and if you are reading this right now you should do the same thing, right away. 

After the kids went to bed, we stayed up late and talked about our years in that beloved place.

It was a fixer upper when we bought it and we gutted it from top to bottom.

We spent so much sweat equity in that place and when we moved there, we thought (and we hoped) it would be the place we would die.  We truly loved that house.  We took care of it, spent money on it and most of all, spent our spare hours and minutes and lots of mental energy being a good steward of that precious place.

We brought babies home there and buried our most favorite pets in the backyard.  We had arguments and all out fights and forgave each other a million times over again.

There are a million little memories.  A moment here or there and that's what makes up the fullness of a family's life...

There was a little tiny speck of sparkly nail polish on the bottom of the hardwood step that I purposely left years ago after a preschool spa day with my girls.  Each time I polished those steps I thought of that special afternoon and how happy I was in that moment with my glittery toddler girls.

The fourth step down always creaked.  Always.  It's how I knew Shaun was coming to bed after a long day or how I knew my babies were up from nap time.

The front door had a small crack right down the middle and I always loved that.  It was an old wooden door and it always had the fullness of the afternoon sun and it always reminded me of a happy sun drenched wrinkle.

The wide gaps in the hardwood floor made me crazy during a birthday party when I handed our NERDS to a big bunch of 7 year old girls for a party favor or on the rare rainy day that I allowed Play-Doh inside the house.  But I loved the character of the floors and I loved the smoothness of them on my feet in the morning before the rest of the house was awake.  The floors were the very reason we bought that house.

We spent hours and hours of our lives with littles in the basement.  Playgroups and bookclubs and sleepovers and Christmas mornings and little shows our kids would put on for us.  All of it was was done in our little basement.

The gray nursery held my babies and the just-right-shade-of-lavendar-girls room was always full of little girl messes...scraps of paper and barbies and pink legos and BOOKS.  Sam moved into his Big Boy room there and those were the years I had three babies in three cribs.  Those were the days I would do all over again in a second.  I fell crazy in love with my husband in our master suite a million times over and the dining room held countless dinners with family and friends.

The kitchen was so tiny, but it was where Shaun and I taught the kids to dance and where he always tried to get a little too close in already close quarters while we cooked together.  The little kitchen bar was full of memories of Christmas cookies and Easter eggs and Thanksgiving pies and more happy times than I could ever write with all the space on the internet.

I could look right out my kitchen window and watch my beautiful children climb our crazy-big tree or explore the 'forest' or pick apples or peaches from the fruit trees.

When Shaun got home from work, for years, he would 'underdog' the kids for an hour on the giant swing set while I cooked dinner.  Those were the days when we stayed home after 5pm and had long slow nights with our babies and after early bedtimes, often in the winter, we would sit on the couch with a fire in the fireplace and dream about the days we are actually living now.

And it all burned last night as it all will.

We were both in tears as we drove past it last night and the ash was falling from the sky a mile away from the fire.  It was dusty and acrid smelling and horrible in all the ways a house fire can be.  Years of our tears and hard work and money reigned down in ash on us and the homeowners on our little town.

Of course, my heart and our prayers are with the family who lost their home.  Although we loved it then, that home is not ours and their loss doesn't compare to the sadness we feel.  Obviously.

But the truth is that all we touch, even the bodies we live in...it's all dust.  

All ash.  

This election?  Ash.

This house we love so much now?  Ash.

Our bodies, no matter how carefully stewarded?  Ash.

I was reminded in my Tuesday morning Bible Study last week that only souls and the Word of God are eternal and it weighed heavy on my heart last night.

Those two things are all that ever survive the flames.

This fire was a terrible remainder to keep my eyes on the Lord.  To lift my eyes to the One on the Throne.  To devote my time and my life to people, not things.   To always remember, in the back of my mind, just like for my own family, that chilly March morning nearly 15 years ago...lives can change in an instant.

It was a reminder that things are to be enjoyed and stewarded and people are to be treasured and loved.

Please be in prayer for the sweet family who lost their home last night.  Shaun and the owner texted a few times last night and there was even a little news segment about the hero who alerted the two boys to the fire.

The homeowner said last night, "It's just stuff.  Fire just burns stuff."

Fire just burns stuff.  

That's a powerful truth to say out loud as you watch your home burn.

In the tension of realizing that stuff is just stuff...our local community is already rolling up their sleeves to help this sweet family and I'm proud of that.

But in the meantime, I pray that they might be able to salvage the most precious things to them, that the rebuilding would be a testimony to God's faithfulness to their family and that Matt's words in the midst of personal tragedy would remind us even in the smallest of ways, that "stuff is just stuff."

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

11

Our sweet girl turned eleven years old today, which is weird considering that yesterday she was walking through the YMCA, holding onto the double stroller with a giant pink bow on her giant hairless head.

Gabby has grown up to be the most tender, most kind kid alive.

And she didn't start out that way.

She was our adorable terrible toddler.  The child who would be in time-out for the 10th time at 9am everyday of her third year.  She's the one that would get physical at the drop of a hat and could give a dirty look by the ripe old age of 4 months.  She was a pistol and I loved her spark with a fierceness that even surprised me.

She has always loved her people.  More than anyone I know, she adores her family.  She thinks Ellie can do no wrong and she is truly Sam's best friend.  She keeps Sophie honest and I can so clearly see a beautiful friendship forming between our most different daughters and it thrills me to no end.  She is so in tune with all of Max's needs and she is just delighted by all of his 'bad ideas'.

She has always been faithful and loyal and hilarious but now, at eleven, she's just at the age where the very last of her little girl days are nearly behind her (and us).  I will miss my little girl in the coming years, no doubt, but watching her mature has been one of the greatest privileges of my life.

Gabby loves the Lord in a way that convicts my own heart.  She remains close to Him throughout the day. School causes her anxiety (and I hate that) but I really think that her relationship with the Lord has been strengthened in a beautiful way because she so often has to rely on Him when her family isn't around.

At the beginning of fifth grade I realized I couldn't make it to 3 schools at the exact same time for pick ups and drop offs, so Sam and Gabby catch the same bus at my grandma's house in the morning and they get off the bus there in the afternoon.  We gave her an old flip phone, so they could communicate with us if they needed to on the bus.  She texts me every morning and every afternoon and it is a blast to see her use her phone to pump herself up for her school day.  She will text me things like...

"I'm happy and I'm going to have a GREAT DAY!  God is ALWAYS WITH ME.  I can't wait to see you tonight!  Have a GREAT DAY!  I LOVE YOU!!!!" 

Those little messages bring tears to my eyes each morning, because I am so aware of how hard it is to say those things much less to feel those things, but she's taking the reigns of her emotions and telling them who is in charge.  Many adults (myself included sometimes!) don't do that as consistently as she does.

She is our family baker.  I pretty much always sign up to bring in baked goods somewhere knowing it would be her JOY to bake it for me.  She makes incredible chocolate chip cookies and she's always taking a goodie over to our 95 year old neighbor and his caretakers.  She reminds Shaun of himself at that age.  He said he was always baking cookies and brownies during his preteen years, which only makes her even more endearing to me!

She leaves herself little notes and reminders all over the house.  Notes to remind herself to take her dog out in the morning and notes to remind herself to bring something to school or double check that she has her homework.  She leaves me little thank you notes for little things and always writes a note if she's sorry for something specific.

Gabby is the best lover of people I have literally ever seen.  She KNOWS how to make people feel chosen and treasured and she's an incredible encourager.

For her birthday we had pancakes in the shape of 11 and Max and I took her lunch from Subway.  She had the opportunity to ask a friend to sit with us at the Visitor's Table, but all she wanted to do was sit with Max and I and talk about her day.

Sophie and Gabby bagged up treat bags of Starburst and Skittles the night before and she passed out the candy bags at the end of the school day.  She picked a little girl in her class to help her who has never been picked for anything before.

We picked her up after school and my grandma had made little treats for the kids to enjoy.

When Shaun got home, we peeled 10 pounds of potatoes and talked about our days while the kids played outside. Later that night our family sat down to a dinner of grilled hamburgers, mashed potatoes and salad.  After dinner, we sang Gabby 'Happy Birthday' and she opened up a Lego set and a Transformer.

She snuggled into bed and talked about how excited she is to be eleven and how she will miss ten.  She whispered how much she loves her family and how she's not really sure she wants to have a 'friends' party after all, because nothing could top her 'family birthday.'

This child is my heart and soul.  She literally walks around with my heart buried deep inside her.  being her mama has been one of the greatest joys of my life.  She teaches me so much about life and love and faith and I love celebrating her more than life itself.

Happy Birthday my little Pumpkin.  I love you.  

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Stinky November

I write this little blog for my children.  Nearly everything I write is written to them, twenty years from now.  I was rocked  to the core by the death of my dad at the age of 49 and wish a million times over that I could ask him questions about everything and anything.  I wish I knew more about what he was thinking and feeling when we were growing up.  This blog is a response, in part, to that pain in my life.  And this post is for my children, when history shows us what this election really meant and my anguish at our choices.  


I love the United States in a really weird way.

I feel grateful beyond measure to be an American woman living in this day and age and really, never ever take my freedom for granted.  I know America has a brutal and beautiful history and it's her imperfections that remind me that our Nation is a living and breathing thing.

My love for this great country is why I want to vomit thinking about the election this year.

Our kids will remember their parents voted.

We take them with us nearly every time we vote and we talk about it.  During the early toddler years, every single one of the kids would be super disappointed when I said we were going voting because we ended up at our local polling place. They ALL at some point during their toddlerhoods thought we were going BOATING.

What a bitter disappointment.

But this presidential election, this November, is pretty much the worst.

I can't imagine two worse candidates on either side of the aisle.

It's embarrassing that we had such a qualified pool of people and we ended up with these two buffoons.

But here we are.

And in less than 45 days I'll be standing with a pen in my hand, choosing to vote, essentially, for the lesser of two evils.

I'm not torn.

I know who I'll vote for and it's doubtful my mind will be changed.

But kids, I don't like it now and I won't like it then.

Occasionally, as adults, we DO have to choose between two bad choices.

Here's how your dad and I made our decision...

We knew we would vote.  That is not and will not ever be a question.  We will always exercise our right and responsibility to vote.  There are literally men and women throughout all of history and all over the world right now who would/are dying for the right to vote for the leader of their homeland.

We will vote.

We researched a little bit the third party candidate and the history behind third party candidates.  We decided not to vote for a third party.  Mainly because we felt as if our vote wouldn't matter.  If we are given a voice in the voting booth, we wanted it to count, not fritter it away on someone who really doesn't have a snowballs chance of winning.  Because we are Buckeye's, our state swings and so unlike a state that is ALWAYS red or blue, we feel a deeper sense of duty to our nation.  This might be the only time in my entire life that I wish we didn't live in Ohio!  This decision is only where we landed on this election cycle.  Certainly, we totally respect and admire our friends and family who choose a different decision.

Thirdly we looked at the decisions the next president would be making.  Our leader will appoint one supreme court justice for sure and maybe a few others and a bazillion federal judges. He or she will try and keep peace in a volatile world. He or she will lead our armed forces during the time you might enlist or be drafted.  Our economy is still a little shaky.  The culture is rapidly changing and morality is tanking in lots of different areas.  While we don't believe in legislating morality, we do believe in valuing honesty, integrity, mercy, grace, humbleness, gentleness and self-control among others  (which is why this election cycle is so dumb!)

Fourth, and most importantly for us, we've looked at the people they've surrounded themselves with.  Who is in their ears?  Who is the keeper of their secrets and who is advising them on all different kids of matters?  Who is linking arms with them?  Where is the fruit of their lives?

And let me be clear.  I will not defend the candidate we are voting for.

There is simply no defense for either of them.  Neither one is fit to lead our great nation, but to be honest, I'm not angry with either one.  They have honestly and consistently both shown us who they are throughout this entire election season.  There have been no surprises to your dad and me. Each time a new scandal is revealed, in the privacy of our home, we just roll our eyes and say, "Well of course he said that rude remark.  Duh that she did that illegal/unethical thing."

We are angry and frustrated, but not with our candidates.

We are incredibly frustrated with our fellow American citizens.  We should have used our primary vote to send these two clowns back home where they belong.  But we didn't.  As Americans we got mired down with details that don't and will never ever matter about real candidates.  A vote for President of this great nation is NOT something that should be laughed at or used for your entertainment EVER.  It's serious business guys and the American people should have taken it seriously.  We didn't and the other candidates didn't and here we are.

On the Republican side, we didn't have a single humble patriot in the bunch.  The candidates and the money behind each of them could have and should have banded together to stop a reality tv star from getting the nomination when it became obvious that the American people were not going to stop him in the voting booth.

On the Democratic side, our committees and Congress and most of our, our big money, should have sent and corrupt woman home.  YES, I would love to support a woman president, I've got no issue with that.  I can think of several women who I would LOVE to see sitting in that seat, but I will not ever support a woman in spite of everything she's told us, just because she's a woman.  Many people say that if she was a man, she wouldn't be held to a 'higher standard.'  I find that laughable.  I think if she was a MAN, she would have been run out of this campaign for President before Iowa.  In my opinion, she's incapable and incredibly crooked

It's going to be a stinky November.

I'll stay engaged, of course.  Daddy and I are adults and we know that sometimes, often even, we have to do things we don't like to do.  So we will keep reading and watching and taking mental notes all the way up to November.  But then, the day after this heartbreaking election, we will tighten down our family hatches.  We will cling to the Lord and each other and turn off the news and social media and the constant voices telling us that did or didn't do the things we ought to have done.

In November our nation will elect the President we deserve as a Nation.  

And guys, while our voting public deserves what they get, you kids and your generation deserve so much better.  

So much better.

Kiddos, we love this land and we love you.  No matter who the leader of the free world is, we know Who holds the world in His hands.  That isn't a pat answer and aren't poo-pooing away our choice, but we are comforted by the fact that these two bozos aren't a surprise to the Lord and that He already knows the future.

He is trustworthy and faithful and our world and our worldly leaders are broken and fallen.

No matter who the leader of our country is, we bow to the One True God alone.

Today, November 8th and forever.

May God have mercy on The United States of America.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Ordinary Magic

Shaun grilled burgers for dinner tonight.

He put some kind of new seasoning on them and they were terrific.  Our family table was full of junk that I was sorting through today, so everyone found a perch in the living room as we talked about our day today.  Shaun talked about a tough meeting,  Sam shared that a Ukrainian friend has 'fancy' handwriting, Sophie said her teacher was sick again today, but she had a nice sub and Gabby told a funny story from the bus.  Ellie updated us on her junior high Spanish grade and Max just ran around naked taking food from everyone's plates and laughing.

Shaun left for his meeting while I snuggled up on the couch debriefing with a few troubled kiddos while some went upstairs for showers and others started packing lunches and we rotated through until everyone was showered, emotionally connected and ready for tomorrow.

I sit here on the couch tonight, in the dark, just before bed and I'm reminded how precious the most ordinary moments are.  Max has climbed up next to me with a baby we found today telling me the baby wants to 'snuggle' and is 'thirsty.'  He's had a busy day taking care of this little pink baby today and it makes me wish we would have dug her out of the girls closet long before now.

The girls are trying out a new speaker from the dollar bin at the store.  Since we have always just used a coffee cup as a speaker, they are pretty much in dance party heaven and I'm cracking up watching them dance.

Ellie forgot about a history paper due tomorrow, so she's curled up in front of her computer but still in the midst of all of us.

Sam wants to have a Comedy Club like Joey from Full House tonight, so that should interesting.

Life is full and busy but full of the most simple things, the most ordinary moments.

And it's in these ordinary moments that I fell the pure magic of my life right now.

Even as a little girl, I have always loved children.  To have a houseful of my favorite kids in the world, swirling around me busy with their own little things, but completely connected to us and each other, there is no better feeling as a 38 year old mother.

This is the prime of my life.  These are my best days.  I'm so sure of that and I'm super determined to squeeze out all the magic that I can, even if it's just dinner on the couch and an almost late history paper.

Dreams really do come true.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Story I didn't think we would tell

We thought we had a son in China.  Another one.

I know.

Anyone reading this couldn't possibly be more surprised than we were.  Stunned actually is how we felt.  Numb in some ways.

We saw his precious face on a Friday night last fall.

He was 2 weeks old in the photo.  Two Weeks Old.

Let that sink in for a minute.  He was Two Weeks Old and living in an orphanage.

The world is broken.  

Jesus come.

We saw his face and felt a strange connection to him.  We sat in our bed and laughed and emailed the agency, half hoping he would be matched and we could high five each other and turn on Blue Bloods.

He wasn't matched.

His 'special need' was a familiar one to us because we knew several other families who had adopted a child with that need.

The agency responded almost immediately and told us what they knew about him.  At that time he was 3 months old, is missing most of his left ear and he's precious beyond words.

We requested photos and a video and they delivered both.

He was laughing and smiling and developmentally on target.

I begged my girlfriends to pray.

As we learned what we knew about him, I looked back at my journaling Bible.  I sat, unbelieving, when I realized there was a day this fall that I emailed and texted and called my warrior friends and asked for prayer.  Out of the blue, I had a deep heartbreaking burden for China, Inner Mongolia specifically.  My girls and my husband couldn't make sense of it and neither could I.  I wrote down my feelings and my prayed my guts out that day and in the days following.  My bones were groaning.  It was a speechless prayer and the prayer of a mother's heart.  I wondered if Max's birth family needed prayer.  I couldn't make sense of this deep sense of connection with China and it bothered me.  I lost sleep.  I couldn't eat and I wondered what in the world was wrong with me.

It took a while to shake it and I never have completely.

Come to find out, it was the day this precious little boy was found.

Fifty days later I saw his face on a photo listing.

We didn't  know how it could possibly happen.

But we started the process to adopt him right away.

We applied for and were accepted into this agencies Chinese adoption program.

We started another home study with our trusty social worker.

We sold and saved and sacrificed to pay the fees for this adoption.

We took pictures at the post office when we mailed off our i800a and celebrated when we were approved.

Our dossier packet was ready to be sent.

We grieved that our son was spending Christmas in a cold orphanage in Inner Mongolia and we scoured the Internet for glimpses of where he lived.

His Chinese nickname was YingYing.  We named him Beau.  It means beautiful because that's exactly who he is.

He was the screen saver on our phones and that unidentified picture on my desk.  His name was written in my Bible as a beloved son and brother.

We talked about him and prayed for him and we waited for him.

The wait for our Beau wasn't unusual for us.  We also waited for Max.  For months.  The wait for Beau was a little different.  With Max, we weren't pre-matched, but we were in a pool of 'interested families.'  Even if though we were waiting for Max's file to come to our agency, there was no guarantee that we would be chosen as his family.

With Beau, we were solidly pre-matched.  There were no other interested families and the partial file we had reviewed wouldn't be shown to any other interested families.  We were only waiting on our agency to get the file and then things would move very quickly.

Everything was moving very fast and very smooth until mid-January.

Then we started feeling uncertain.

Our agency had gone through some major staff changes and we were working with someone completely different.  Although our new contact at our agency gave us all the same information, it wasn't as clear-cut as it had been.  Things were murkier.  Stranger.  We started to feel a little bit uncomfortable.

The file was due at the agency in late January.  Of course, it didn't come and was pushed back to late February.  That's NOT unusual in Chinese adoption and didn't cause us concern, except for the precious boy that was waiting for his mama!

The more we asked, the later the file was pushed back and the more conflicting statements we got.

We prayed our guts out.

God was silent.

It was a difficult time.

We were torn as to whether or not we should send in our Dossier and pay thousands of dollars to partner with an agency were starting to be uncomfortable with or just pay whatever we needed to whoever we needed to get our son home.

Because his file wasn't 'officially' at the agency and on the advice of many trusted adoption advocates, we decided to wait to submit our dossier until the agency actually received his file.  With the newer rules in place with a 'Logged In Dossier (LID)' file, we knew we would be PRESSED for time, but we thought we could make it during that 3 week time frame.  To their credit, our agency was very supportive and understood our concerns completely.

With that as our plan, we kept waiting.  And praying.  And selling and saving and planning.

I felt so connected to this beautiful baby and we would get semi-regular updates and photos of his perfect little face.  Our little family regularly talked about "when Beau got home." Max knew how to say "Baby Beau" and he loved to look at Beau's pictures and videos.

In June, we asked more questions.  The file was now 6 months past the time we were told it would be in the hands of our agency.  Again, NOT unusual based our previous experience.  The agencies actually have little to no control over when the files come to them.  The files and the children are China's and the CCCWA runs on it's own timeline.  While we absolutely respect that, it was time to ask some serious questions and we did.

We were concerned at this point, based on a few other rumors happening in the China world, that our agency might close before we got Beau's file or before we could complete our adoption.  With that in mind, we asked our agency contact if she would be willing to transfer his file to a bigger agency to alleviate our concerns.  She said she would be happy to transfer the file.  Then she said the orphanage wouldn't let her make the transfer.

We spent the summer searching our hearts and praying that he was our son.

In late July, on the same day, we both felt a release.  We grieved for a few days but somehow, deep in our souls, we knew little YingYing would actually never be our beautiful Beau.  It wasn't official, but in our hearts, we both knew it was true.

This August, nearly 10 months after we saw his precious face, we contacted our agency again and asked about the whereabouts of his file.

And she told us he had been adopted by a local childless couple in his home province.

He was already home.

We both cried.

We couldn't believe it.

We didn't cry because we were sad.  We cried because our YingYing was loved.

You see, international adoption (in our minds at least) is third best for children without families.  Of course, first best would be that heaven comes to earth and there is no sin, no poverty, no abuse or addiction and children get to stay with the families they are born into.  Always.  First families first when at all possible.  

Secondly, if children can remain in their extended families, communities, even nations of origin, that's better.  Of course, we are so unbearably grateful that Max is home with us, in America forever. We just wish that the Chinese people could someday see the real worth and value and absolute TREASURE these children are.  Not just the people on the streets, but the most powerful people in the nation.  Recently, although adoption in China was almost unheard in the past, just even in these last few years it has started to gain traction.  Hallelujah.  As parents of a Chinese son, we couldn't be happier to hear that.

Third best, in theory, is a foreign family adopting a child.  That's us.  Our family was third best for Max and although we believe God allowed it and can use it for His Glory and Max's best, and we feel like the happiest people in the world to call him our son, the need for Max (and YingYing) to be adopted at all is the direct result of a fallen world.

So for us to hear that a local family had fallen in love with this precious boy and brought him home, in spite of the cultural challenges surrounding adoption in general and his special need specifically, we just think his parents must be incredible people.

We feel incredibly lucky that God, in His goodness to us and to YingYing, allowed us the opportunity to love on him from an ocean away.  We feel (selfishly) that our lives are richer and our relationships with the Lord and each other grew deeper during these last 10 months.  It was our great privilege to love on him, to advocate for him, to have just a small window into his life.  We understand more about kids with his special need.  Of course, now we love even more people in the beautiful territory of Inner Mongolia and someday, somehow, hope to meet YingYing and his amazing family, if not here on earth, then in Heaven.

We sat the kids down and told them and we all rejoiced for YingYing and his family together.   Shaun and I reminded them that sometimes the Lord asks us to obey Him in a way that doesn't make sense to us and/or the outcome doesn't directly bless us.  Sometimes, we reminded them, our obedience isn't actually for us at all.   

Sam cried and wondered if we had sone something 'wrong' that we weren't able to adopt him.  We assured him that we didn't and that this was where YingYing would end up, all along.  The kids wanted to have a special dinner to celebrate YingYing's adoption and so we ordered a pizza and ate some ice cream.

A few dear friends have asked us if we will adopt again.

The reality is that we weren't looking to adopt YingYing or anyone else for that matter.  He 'found' us.  Since we have started another Chinese adoption, we are about 1/3 of the way there and could easily transfer that to another child, should we feel that is the right direction for our family.  We are in no way scared off of Chinese adoption, just because this one failed.  It was a beautiful failure.  The best possible outcome.  

We feel firmly that the Lord is telling us to be still with regard to expanding our family.  Whether he will lift that veil at some future time is yet to be seen.  If He ever does, we will shout it from the rooftops.  And if He doesn't, then we will rejoice in all the souls he has allowed us to raise.

The reality of our lives is that Shaun and I hold our family and our future with an open hand.  Our lives, our family, our future and all of the world's most precious children belong to The Most High God.

Our trust and our hope for them and for us, is in Him alone.

Please join us in praising God that YingYing is home and safe and loved and please pray that someday, YingYing and his family might come to know and love and serve Jesus.

My not-so-secret hope is that we might catch another glimpse into the life of this little boy that we loved.

But if not, the ten months that we loved him was enough.

To God be the Glory for All He has Done.

**I will not be sharing the name of the agency or debate pre-matching.  I have my own personal feelings on both.  This agency and pre-matching have been used to bring children home.   We will rejoice in that and leave the choosing of an agency and the willingness to be pre-matched as a private and deeply personal decision.**