Monthly Archives: November 2015

Thanking God With Open Hands

Our two adoptions were completely different.  One took almost four years, the other only six months.  During one there were times I convinced myself I was in the driver’s seat and if I didn’t make it happen it wouldn’t happen.  The other was an exercise in blind trust and following God’s lead every step of the way.  At the beginning of one I had such a tight grip on my ideas of how it should go.  Throughout the other I knew from the beginning that I needed not white knuckle my way through, but simply be open to where He led.

As you anticipate Thanksgiving, you may have had thoughts, hopes, and plans about what this Thanksgiving would look like.

Surely we will travel by Thanksgiving. 

Our home study should be finished by Thanksgiving. 

Thanksgiving will mark six months home and we should be well on our way to feeling settled with our new addition to the family. 

We should be matched by Thanksgiving. 

It will be so good to gather with family at Thanksgiving. 

But, for many of you, this Thanksgiving is shaping up to be very different from that picture in your head.

Your Travel Approval is proceeding at a snail’s pace. 

The social worker still needs to squeeze in one more visit before she even begins writing your home study. 

While you’ve been home six, or eight, of even ten months, your newly grown family is feeling anything but settled. 

You have not matched with a child yet, and it has you wondering if you ever will be. 

This year’s family get-together is not shaping up as you had hoped.  Perhaps your newly adopted child still isn’t ready to be introduced to lots of new people, or maybe you lost a family member to whom you had hoped to introduce your child. 

As with our first adoption, our plans, our timelines, those assumed pictures we often hold onto with clenched fists often do not match up to what is.

This past Sunday we were encouraged by our pastor to enter into Thanksgiving with open hands. Each finger of the open hand names something that will help us to regain perspective.  When our hands are open, we not only release what has us so white knuckled, but we become open to what God has for us in this day, this adoption, this Thanksgiving.

First, we are reminded to come with grace.  Grace received and grace given.  Grace that covers all we are not and cannot.

Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.
Romans 4:16

With that perspective, we are moved into a posture of humility.  With humble hearts we are reminded who we are and who God is.  He has always been and will always be in control.  His plans are good and His heart is turned toward us.

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.
Ps. 146:5-6

When we are humbled we can be reminded the He alone brings healing.  He can bring healing to our discouraged attitudes, our broken hearts, our crumbled dreams, our frustrated spirits, and our fractured families.

He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
    the Lord gives sight to the blind,
Ps. 146:7

 

The pastor then reminded us that we can be moved into a posture of praise. We can praise Him for who He is, for where He has brought us, for His plans for us, for His control of the situation, and for the story He is writing.

Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
I will praise the Lord all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Ps. 146:1-2

All of this will leave us with a sense of hopeHope in the midst of what is and what is not.  Hope that His plans are good.  Hope because He is right where we are.  He has not left us or our family or our story.

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.
Ps. 146:5

It took a major blow for me to release my grip on our first adoption.  My closed fist wasn’t ready to receive all God had in mind for us.  It took the bottom dropping out for me to let go of my ideas and have open hands – and an open heart – to God’s plan.  Once I did, I could receive the goodness He had planned.  And during the hurt, brokenness, and confusion I was open to seeing Him and hearing Him in ways I couldn’t when my grip on my plan was so strong.

As you enter this Thanksgiving week, consider your hands.  Are you holding on with all your might to your plans, your ideas, your dreams, or your picture of how this Thanksgiving should be?  From paperwork to timing to travel to attachment to family adjustments and family get-togethers — is what is not at all what you thought it would be? Are you still gripping that plan, those ideas, that desire with white knuckles?  Perhaps, like me, your picture of how it should be is keeping you from experiencing who He is right where He has you.

Try loosening that grip this Thanksgiving, and open your hands to grace, humility, healing, praise, and hope. 

The Lord reigns forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.Praise the Lord.
Ps. 146:10

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Stephanie Smit18 years in the classroom as a teacher was easy compared to parenting three little ones at home full-time. Through their three daughters, God has revealed Himself most clearly to Stephanie and her husband Matthew. He not only worked a miracle in giving them their biological daughter, He continued to show Himself in mighty ways throughout adoption journeys in China and Bhutan that were anything but normal. Nowadays she enjoys encouraging and connecting with other adoptive families through speaking and her work on the leadership team of “We Are Grafted In” and on the Board of The Sparrow Fund.  

 

Life Books – Memories Forever

Life Book 2

I have always been a memory keeper whether it be writing in a journal, saving boxes of letters and photos, or making scrapbooks. Keeping stories has been super important.

When the big girls were young, I became a Creative Memories consultant in an effort to do three things. 1. Create their books. 2. Create them at cost. 3. Help others catch my passion to be a memory keeper as well. I was successful at all and I have shelves of beautiful scrapbooks to prove it.

Then life happened and six little ones came home to their forever family so creating everything from scratch fell by the wayside. I could NOT print all those photos, collect all those supplies, and keep the mess out all the time. It was at this time I began writing my blog and scrapbook as I knew it came to an end.

I began printing my blog each year and those books became my scrapbooks of memories.

As the littles came home I knew I wanted to create a Life Book just for them. It would make a way for them to ‘go back’ and remember ‘their China’.  The books have done just that. None of my children really remember their time before us but their books sure help them think they do. They are their all time favorite books too. Not a day goes by that one of them doesn’t pull it off the shelf and want me to tell them THEIR story. It is fun for them to compare stories and see how the miracle of adoption has made us a family.

Giving them back a part of their China story was very important to me and now one of their most precious possessions.

5 Steps to Make a Life Book:

  1. Make up your mind to do it: This might seem like a no brainer but certainly makes a difference in the time set aside to do so.
  2. Gather all photos into one place: It is more doable when you spend some time getting organized like gathering all photos needed for the project into one folder on your computer.
  3. Create an account in Shutterfly: Creating an account is a good place to start and will be used through all future projects.
  4. Work on the book in batches: I find adding all the photos first is best. Then editing each one before adding the story. I include most all the photos of life in China before adoption, the time we were in country adopting, and some of the first weeks newly home.
  5. Tell the story as if speaking to your child: This story is for them and telling it as if speaking to them sure makes reading it special. Reading together when they are young will strengthen attachment and when older it will build confidence of their story.

As I was finishing up HollyMei’s life book last night I found myself taking screenshots galore for a tutorial to show you how to make one. This morning it dawned on me to make a video tutorial so I messaged my sweet friend Lisa Furey because she is the guru of everything. I have taken several classes from her so she shared with me how to make my own tutorial. Thanks Lisa!!!

Video Tutorial to Make a Life Book at Shutterfly:

PS. I thought you might need to see how large the photos show up in the book once published so here is a few pages from EC’s Life Book~

Life Book 1

I sure hope this helps you decide to take the plunge and get publishing! I promise your kids will feel so very loved because of it!!!

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2015-11-12-16.43.29-2Shay Ankerich is mom to nine going on ten kids (seven from China), wife to Scott, and a homeschooling mom.  She loves Jesus, adoption, blogging, reading, photography, and crocheting. She might even be writing a book but it seems to be taking a lifetime to finish. You can find her writing at A Beautiful Symphony about Family, Home, Adoption, and School.

Adoption Truths: Grief

Grief.

We will all experience it at some point in our lives. It is the part of our experience here on earth, but seeing one so small experience grief breaks my heart.
Our sweet Eva has been a part of our family for six months now (see my gotcha day blog post {{{HERE}}}). Over the last few months there has been transition, pain, joy and the mere busyness of life. From homeschooling to Pilates to bonding with Eva, I will be honest and say the last few of months have been exhausting and overwhelming at times. But each day is better than the last with Eva.
Today I am sharing with you what it has been like to walk with my sweet girl on this journey of grief in hope of providing encouragement where it is needed and hope to those about to walk a similar journey.
Many days are a roller coaster of emotion for Eva as she traverses the stages of grief as well learning how to be a part of our family. She gets frustrated when we don’t understand her and angry when we discipline her. There are days when she is happy all day and days when she is sad and angry, asking when she will see her China family. I have had to explain numerous times that we are her forever family, but that is hard for her to understand. And of course, a nap can work wonders on the difficult days.
There are so many things for her to learn and and comprehend at the young age of four:
  • what does obedience look like in our family
  • how to fit in and play with her new siblings
  • the realization that she is not going back to her foster family in China
  • the fact that we love her and that she will never be taken away from us
  • meeting new people all the time
  • who are all these people interested in her
  • English

This list could go on and on.

Stop for a moment and think about what is would feel like to experience all this and then think about what it would feel like to one so young. How would you react in the same situation?
But interspersed throughout her pain, sadness and sometimes defiance is joy. Those are the moments where we see the real Eva letting go and letting love in. And it is in those moments that I can hear God whisper to me, “patience, my child. I am ever patience with you, be patient with her, hold her, comfort her, discipline her and above all LOVE HER!”
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.
Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish,
but everyone to come to repentance.”
As Eva’s grasp of the English language grows, so does my ability to ease her fears and answer her questions. It is a beautiful thing to watch her open up her heart a little more each day to us. She wants to be a part of our family and has so much love to give but it is hard for her little heart to let go of the family that loved and cared for her for the first 4 years of her life.
“But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”

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Suzanne Meledeo

After struggling with infertility for 5 years, God led Suzanne and her husband Adam to His Plan A for their lives—adoption! Their daughter, Grace Lihua, came into their lives in 2011 from the Fujian Province, China. Their son, Anthony Jianyou, joined their family in January of 2013 from Shanghai, and Eva Hanting just joined their family in May from the Hunan Province. After a career in politics, Suzanne is thankful for God’s provision in their lives that now allows her to work part time as a Pilates instructor while home schooling their children and working as a part of the WAGI leadership team. You can follow their adoption journey and life on their blog, Surpassing Greatness.

 

Parenting and Adoption: Year 10

IMG_0977My hands were wrist-deep in suds, the two youngest were already in bed, Ruby sat at the table coloring a picture of two friends, one with brown skin and one with “tan” skin, holding hands, with twin bows in their hair.

Across the island, Cory and Calvin were mired in the angst of an almost-tweenager, and for the hundredth time this month, I was lost. What really helps in moments like these? Our words were even, but the temptation to cast guilt was ever-present, and I found myself wondering (again) about the invisible “they’s”. What would they think if they knew how he talks to us sometimes? They would never allow this. They would command more from their kids. They would know what to do. They, they, they…

(Who are they?)

I scrubbed oatmeal from our breakfast dishes while the discussion turned in circles and I thought hard about how I might have acted when I was ten. I do it all the time. I try to trip into the past and take stock on myself, my experiences, my parents, and all the air between us.

At ten, I found my first best friend and I must have been teetering on the edge of boy-crazy because when Glen – the epitome of fourth-grade cool – got hurt in a recess game of kickball, I tried to make myself cry. It seemed like the right thing to do.

I was one of two teacher’s pets that year. Everyone thought Mrs. Artz was so mean with her permed old-lady hair and the way she frowned without even trying. But I had cracked the code, and all it took was staying sweet and trying my best. Sometimes I offered to fill the mailboxes during free time. She liked me, so I liked her back.

Once, I screwed up a quiz so royally that I had to skip recess and re-do it in the hall. Stretched out stomach-down on the gray floors that smelled like old news and fresh starts, I scrubbed my eraser across my mistakes then flicked them away with the back of my hand. And I seethed. After everything was put back together, I stood up, walked to the drinking fountain, and said the F-word. Out loud. To myself. I tried it on, wiggled my skinny shoulders under its weight. It was as exhilerating as I expected, but my cheeks must have flamed like apples, because that was almost thirty years ago, and I still remember it like yesterday.

My identity was taking shape, and I had no idea.
I see myself in that little girl.

Maybe that’s why I wig out when I catch my kids at their worst.
They’re kids, yes. They’re figuring out who they are, and who they want to be.
But I know there are slivers of this reality that will be part of them forever.
It can be painful to watch.

I believe every kid has a few gold threads stitched into his fiber. They’re unique, outside the norm. They make him who he is, but they also make him stand out. (There might be nothing more terrifying to a ten-year-old than being different.)

We are dealing with so much “different” right now.
You can take the typical woes, like being cool enough, tall enough, fast enough, smart enough (i.e., not too smart, just smart “enough”,) funny enough. On top of that, we’re feeling an epic technology deficit, which appears to be monumental to a fourth-grader.

I wonder all the time if this stuff would matter so much if my child didn’t still believe he should be living half a world away.

It comes close and ebbs away, but it never, ever leaves.

A few weeks ago I found him sitting in my bed with his nose in a book, which doesn’t happen nearly as often as you might think. He read me these lines, “She felt a sudden, deep longing for her dead mother, and then wondered if it was harder to miss a mother you had loved, or, like Dallas and Florida, to miss a mother you had never known.”

There were no tears and we didn’t parse the words into a deeper meaning.

We didn’t have to.

I kissed his head and told him it was beautiful. I promised I would read the book when he was done, and I did.

I don’t know what to do from here. I have no idea where these turns will take us.

Our days are mostly just like yours. We laugh and grow and do all the things families do. We belong to each other, and it’s as real as the ground beneath us. But some nights are quiet enough to tell the other side of the truth, so we do. Morning always comes, but we can’t forget. I have never known this kind of pain, and it isn’t even mine.

I believe in adoption with my whole heart. I believe in family and forever-love, restoration and redemption. I believe there is no such thing as, “This is all he knows” or, “He doesn’t even remember that.” It’s an unfair loss, one some kids feel more deeply than others.

I probably sassed my parents when I was ten years old. But I know I was a good girl. A rule follower. I earned love and a good reputation. I was a girl who pretended to be boy crazy when all I really wanted to do was play with my Barbies. I was a child who didn’t know how to say no and only had the guts to say how I really felt when I was stone-cold alone.

Those aren’t the goals I have for my kids.

I’m still not sure what to do or say or how to fix small problems (hey, eye-rolling) or bigger ones.
But he trusts us. He still reaches out for my hand and he’s not afraid of wounding me with the truth.
Our love for each other is gladiator-fierce. (There’s so much room in one heart.) We love each other every day, and some days find us at our worst.

On this day, I want to champion all the ten-year olds. Let’s remember how weird it was for us and be open to the possibility that it’s even harder now.

Find a child who might not quite blend in (oh, how I wish my kids could see the beauty of not blending in!) and show her how the world couldn’t function without the particular glint of her gold thread.

Let’s honor everyone’s story. Let’s refuse to default to the sort of parenting that leaves no room for every voice. Let’s lead with honor and guide with love.

Because I protect my kids’ stories with gladiator fierceness, I asked Calvin for permission to share some of what he’s going through right now. Though he sometimes says no, this time he said yes. I asked him, “What would you tell people about adoption?” He answered, “I would tell people that even though adoption breaks your heart, it’s in a good way.”

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BioShannan Martin believes the turns in life that look like failure are often holy gifts, a lesson she chooses to embrace after the bones of her comfy farmgirl life were shattered and rebuilt from the toes up.  Together, Shannan and her family sold their dream farmhouse, moved to a disadvantaged area in the city, and adopted a 19-year old felon.  Nothing could have prepared her for the joy she would discover as her family began to live the simple, messy, complicated life they were created to live. In walking beside the forgotten and broken and seeing first-hand the ways she so cleanly identified with both, Shannan’s faith was plucked from the mud.  She and her jail-chaplain husband now live on the wrong side of the tracks with their four children. She blogs often at Flower Patch Farmgirl.

What Orphan Sunday is Not

Child-with-Down-Syndrome-October-2015-1-265x398Orphan Sunday.

It’s not about a movement. Movements eventually fade with time.

It’s not about a cause. Causes are embraced by only a few and can distract us.

It’s not about providing content for pastors who preach every Sunday. There are nearly 775,000 words fully able to provide content for a lifetime of 52 weeks.

It’s not about checking a box. One designated Sunday service of 52 Sunday services even if every word and moment of those 2 hours bled a particular topic does not allow anyone to say a box can be checked and their job is done.

It’s not about telling people they need to do more. It’s not about urging the Church to adopt. It’s not even about adoption.

If it’s not about a movement, a cause, content, checking a box, rallying people to do more, or adoption, what is it about?

It’s about the heart of God. It’s about who we are as His children.

A devoted and faithful child cares about the things that his or her father cares about. As those who follow Christ, we are called to mirror His heart. And, His heart is for the one without, every single one without.

On Orphan Sunday, the Church reminds those within its 4 walls of the ones without its 4 walls who are dear to our Father’s heart—the approximately 153,000,000 children around the world who are orphans—and need to be dear to our hearts not just during a nice service, singing songs that stir our hearts, watching videos that leave us in tears, or hearing His Word preached and responding with Amens. Those things are not without purpose; they are tools He uses to grow our hearts to look more like His own. It just can’t end today because tomorrow is Orphan Monday and the next day is Orphan Tuesday then comes Orphan Wednesday, Orphan Thursday, and Orphan Friday…

His call. Our call. It isn’t about today; it’s about everyday.

Learn to do good. It doesn’t come naturally and is not easy. But, we have the best teacher to help us.
Seek justice. It can be hard to find in a broken world.
Help the oppressed. If you have been comforted, you can be comfort.
Defend the orphan, every orphan. They are His and, therefore, our little brothers and sisters.

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Kelly-NHBO1-150x150

Kelly has a Master’s degree in counseling from Biblical Theological Seminary and founded The Sparrow Fund along with her husband Mark in 2011. She works alongside Mark in his full-time purposeful work in China and works part time as a therapist at the Attachment & Bonding Center of PA, Kelly has a particular interest in (a) encouraging parents who are struggling to attach with their children, (b) helping parents walk with their children in understanding their own stories, (c) helping couples continue to pursue each other and grow together while they parent their children as a team, and (d) training and supporting orphanage staff in China to build relationships with children and each other. Kelly and Mark have been married since 1998 and have 3 biological children and 1 daughter who was adopted as a toddler from China in 2010. You can learn more about their journey on Kelly’s blog.

What I Wish I’d Known Last Summer

We drove to Florida in July for our first big adventure as a family of five. Last summer was the height of our meltdowns. I say “our” because I’m pretty sure we all cried on the floor a few times, some more than others. Vacation was just not an option. But this summer? Oh, what a difference a year (and a lot of prayers and hard work) can make.

 

I had my heart set on taking Riah to the beach for her first time, and I might have been more excited than she was. We got her hair cornrowed professionally the day before, which only added to her excitement (and mine- it was so cute!). We got on the road, and our kids did really well for quite a while. Then our road trip was extended by a traffic situation, and it’s possible Matt said the words “Never again.”

 

We pulled in around dusk, threw our stuff in the condo, and rushed out to the beach. Watching our three kids run out into the water was unforgettable. The boys hadn’t been in several years. And Riah? Well she loved the ocean from the moment she saw it. A girl after my own heart.

 

We stood, looking out at the water, her brown toes wiggling in the sand and beads clicking as she swung her hair around. Then for a moment she was still.

She looked up at me and said, “Thank you for bringing me here.

 

I suppose a girl who loves language and writing should be able to describe moments like that in a way that others can understand, but I really can’t. I’m still processing it myself. So much so, in fact, that I’m a little teary while I type this.

 

That week we caught crabs and jellyfish, played in the water, went to a museum, and fell in love with baby powder’s magical sand-removing powers. Overall, the week was restorative and as relaxing as a trip can be with three kids. Our memories helped bond us even more as a family, and I’m so grateful for the time we had there. We’re already thinking of plans for next summer.

 

On the way home, we avoided the traffic and were all in better moods after a week in the sun. We had some dance parties, ate snacks, and threatened their lives if they asked to stop to pee again. Good times.

 

About halfway home, Matt requested some worship music, so I put on All Sons & Daughters and we had a little church in my Tahoe. No matter what’s going on around me, when I hear the first chord of “Great Are You Lord,” everything stops.

I watched God’s creation speed past us out the window, thought back to the breathtaking views I’d had all week, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. My people were in the car with me, and it felt like everything was right with the world.

 

If someone could have told me in November of 2013 that everything would be as good as it is now, I would have had so much more hope. My darkest days of those next nine months wouldn’t have seemed so hopeless. The questions of “What am I doing wrong?” and “Will things ever seem ‘normal’ again?” would have been a little quieter. My fears for our daughter wouldn’t have seemed as life-altering, and my concerns for our sons would have dissipated a bit more quickly.

But no one could have given me that. There were no guarantees that things would get easier. No promises that it would get better. That she would adjust like she has. That she would begin to trust us rather than push us. No one could have known.

 

I’m not sure the changes in our family from one summer to the next had really hit me until that drive home. I thought back to the previous summer- the hardest of my life- and wondered how we survived it. Riah’s fears and hurts spilled out all over me every day in various ways, and the rest of the family was left to endure the process and deal with what was left of me at the end of the day. I didn’t have much left to give.

 

And now? Well, we have our moments, and I still fight my own fears at times. But more than anything, I see the heart of a kind-hearted, compassionate, smart, loving girl. And I get to be her mom.

 

I turned around in the car to see our baby girl in the seat singing her heart out. And just as I turned around, she sang the second part of the verse.

 

You give hope.

You restore

Every heart that is broken.

And great are You, Lord.

 

I reached back and held her hand, praising God for healing her precious heart and restoring mine. Then I prayed.

 

“Thank You for bringing me here.”

 

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Matt and Becca write about marriage, parenting, and life through the lens of a married couple, parenting team, and pastor and professional counselor. They share hope and restoration by giving a glimpse into their lives- the failures, the successes, and the brokenness and beauty of everyday. You can read more of their writing at WhitsonLife.