Saturday, October 13, 2018


Where we love is home-
Home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts. --Oliver Wendell Holmes

Shortly after welcoming Judah home, we found a house, or shall I say The House, that we knew was what we were looking for in our forever home. We like to say this is the home we will die in, or the home we will live in until our children force us out. It's not huge, it's not updated, and moving certainly wasn't on our summer to-do list, but it's exactly right for us--both now and in the future.

Except we have two 3 year olds, one who doesn't like change and another who faced an incredible amount of change in a very short period of time.

Explaining that we were moving to a new house, driving past the new house, even going on the inspection of the new house still didn't prepare them for what moving from one house to another would be like. Even now, if I'm out with them running errands, one of them will still ask "Are we going to the new house?" as if the old house is still an option.

Then we went on a couple vacations, had a couple hospital stays/trips, and had some family stuff come up, and Derek and I would make the mistake of saying "We're going to head home", meaning "We're going to head back to wherever we're sleeping."

Again, our two 3 year olds don't understand that, and assume we are headed home to the house we live in.

So we did some quick thinking, and now when we are out of town or not sleeping in our house, and say we are headed home, we ask just these three questions if they are confused:

Are you a part of a family?
Are we a family?
Are we your family?

Once their answers are yes, always yes, our next sentence is "Home is wherever our family is."

 #weetaniithreeIt's simple, it's basic, it's age appropriate...but it is also true.

Whether we are in our house, on vacation, in a hotel room or in a hospital room, we are a family. We are together, and that means we're home. Family is home, and home is family.

But sometimes, because of circumstances we can't control, families aren't together. Sometimes a family member is sick and in the hospital, whether for a quick or extended stay. Sometimes, a beloved family member, no matter the age, has passed on, going Home to where they are healed and whole. And sometimes, someone's family is working hard, waiting, praying for them to come home and to be a part of a family, to be a part of their family.

I think we can all relate to at least one of those instances. That's what inspired the design of these shirts. For us, a member of our family isn't home yet. For a little person on the other side of the world, he or she is still waiting for a home and a family.

If you would like to purchase a shirt that says Home is where Family is, you can click here, the photo of the t-shirt above, or the t-shirt photo on the blog's homepage. By doing so, you'll help us bring home our newest and youngest--and yet unknown--family member.

We have set a high goal of selling 100 shirts, and we hope and pray we can meet that goal. We have a variety of colors and options available, for children and adults. If you've made a purchase, you should have your new shirts by the middle of November. Thank you, very much, to each of you who has bought a shirt so far, and to those of you who have donated on top of purchasing a shirt. Thanks for being a part of our family.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Wee Tanii Three

This past April, we told ourselves "Let's take some time. Let's have a normal summer, maybe even a normal, no surprises, ordinary year. Let's not do anything rash." I think we even wrote about it, if you go back far enough.

Because, to stay as honest as we've always promised you, that's what we wanted. Normalcy. No penny pinching, no sleepless nights, no doubts. A one way ticket to easy street. We earned it, right?

Yet tonight here we are, one month after our application approval to adopt our third child from China, because, truth be told, deep down that easy street ticket wasn't sitting well. Uncomfortable. A nudge that wouldn't go away. Wrong even.

As soon as we hit submit, we felt the familiar feelings of excitement and anticipation. Planning out bedrooms and sleeping arrangements (bunk beds!), who will travel (can we all???), and even what vacations will look like, ways we can cut costs and budget and look for support for this adoption.

Within a few hours though, a funny thing happened that I can't say I remember feeling before. All of the doubts and fears and selfishness that had made us say "Let's wait awhile" months earlier came rushing back with a vengeance, and so we decided not to say anything to anyone.

Do we still replace the 33 year old HVAC in our new home?
What about the flooring I wanted?
Can we still paint the walls? 
What about our boys and their current medical needs?
What about our previous and various commitments?
How will we pay for this?

What will people say?

What will they think?
Will they even care?

If you're just tuning in, you'll quickly learn this is our third time starting the adoption process in three years. Everything was so new and exciting throughout the entire process of the adoption of our oldest son that it felt surreal, like a real adventure, from the beginning of our home study to landing at the airport.

The process of adopting our younger son was a bit harder. There were many roadblocks, delays, and changes to the program; yet, because of God's timing we ended up being grandfathered in, so that other than waiting for all the  appropriate approvals, we were able to continue on and eight months after receiving our approval we welcomed home our next son.

Over the last two and a half years, because of adoption, because of our boys and their needs, because of our own heart change, we have felt aspects of our lives change and priorities rearrange and friendships evolve. It would be wrong to admit that we don't mourn what used to be, but if we hadn't said yes, if we had missed this, we would have not found a community of adoptive families that can relate, families that have been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt (and I mean that both literally and figuratively). Families that, by the time Judah came home just shy of two years after bringing home Jordan, had become the kind of friends we could text at 2am and they'd be up for a conversation.

Our tribe. Our village. Our people.

And so it was to these friends, both near and far, that we first tentatively spoke to about adopting again, to gauge their reactions, still with the intention of keeping this quiet to our extended friends and family because of our fears.

And it was those beautiful souls who affirmed us with a resounding YES. Who volunteered to be travel companions (we now have a wait list). Who offered encouragement and prayers right then. Who volunteered to help however and whenever they could. Who understood what we meant when we said our family didn't feel complete, that we are missing someone.

Who told us, when we asked what they thought others would think, "If people don't think you're a little crazy, you're probably doing it wrong."

They're so right. All of them.

Priorities: checked and balanced. We don't need new floors; we have a roof over our head and warm beds to sleep in. We don't need new furniture. We have empty spaces, but I'd rather those spaces be filled with little people and their things than with more furniture.

We have two boys with medical special needs, which means there will never be a "right time" to do this again. I'm a full time stay at home mom, and one of my main jobs is to keep our schedules up to date with all of our various appointments, procedures, therapies, and extracurriculars. Since I do plan to keep that position for quite awhile, it's a good thing that over time, I've even grown to love my new career. Although sometimes the everyday can be overwhelming, we take things as they come: day by day...and sometimes hour by hour.

We've learned and grown a lot over the last three years, but our biggest, greatest lesson that we keep being reminded of is that God is faithful. Let me be clear: I am not saying bad things don't happen, that loss and pain and fear are absent, but even then, at the core, we know He is still good. It's just as scary for us now as it was three years ago, to say "Okay Lord, You're in control here" and leave everything to Him: whether it be how we will be able to support the addition of this child financially or trusting Him with his or her medical need, or even knowing that He knows our son or daughter who we don't even know yet.

So we've decided we won't keep this quiet. We can't.

We do not want to lead with fear.

We will trust with hope.

Because even after all of our doubts and fears and anxieties, the God of 100 billion galaxies has walked with us every step of the way thus far.

For every time we said we can't, He said I can.

For every time we've said we don't know, He said I have a plan.

For every time we've said we're terrified, He said I am with you.

Make no mistake, we are not special people. We are quite ordinary, following the leading of our extraordinary God. And so, we will trust with the same hope and faith that's carried us thus far. We face many unknowns and uncertainties. We don't have a timeline. We don't know when we will be matched with our child or when we will see his or her face. We don't know his or her special need. We don't know when we will travel. The program has changed drastically from one adoption to the next, but we still believe a part of our family is still in China.

What we do know is that we have a village, a tribe of people surrounding us. We're asking that you join our tribe. We're launching a shirt fundraiser to help pay for our second agency program fee, with an explanation of how we came to arrive at this design later this week. Derek is hard at work making things in his woodshop to supplement our income, if you feel so inclined to buy. We hope to have a joint garage sale in the spring with two other local adoptive families, because we know we need community.

Most of all, as we have always asked you, please pray for our littlest person on the actual other side of the world and for that invisible red thread to bring us together soon.

Our little #weetaniithree.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

These Hands

In less than two weeks, this very special handprint will forever change. These hands that at first had us wondering what help would be needed, what adaptations would need to be made, what limitations would be set, have since proven to be so very capable. You may have heard that ten fingers are overrated, and I have to agree.

A few moms of kids with limb differences have asked me in the past week or so how I'm feeling about this upcoming surgery. And my answer is the same to all of them: I feel weird. 

All of the specialists and therapists and professionals we have seen are so excited about the potential they see. There are growth plates in every bone, so once all surgeries are completed, if all goes well the separated fingers should grow proportionately to the hands. The right hand will have at least three full digits, including the thumb, and the left will have all five, albeit short, fingers. The tips will no longer turn blue because of lack of circulation. The scar tissue that's building up on one hand will be eliminated. When everything's said and done, the end result will give optimum use of each digit and both hands.

That's the clinical version. 

But why do I feel so weird? Maybe it's because I know how capable Judah is already. He requires no assistance with getting dressed, putting on shoes, using the bathroom, eating, holding a pen or crayon, setting or clearing a table, making a bed, or any number of things that those of us with ten fingers also do without thinking. He has never, ever let this stop him or hold him back. If you ask him for a high five, prepare to get knocked back a few steps because of the sheer power he puts into it. 

To hear things like "he shows so much potential" honestly makes me cringe, because to me, it almost sounds like his accomplishments are being downplayed, that his difference is a qualifier. I never want to minimize what he's already capable of. I never want my kids to be defined by their differences. 

This will be Judah's first surgery of an unknown number. His actual diagnosis is bilateral amniotic banding, or amniotic banding of both hands. His right hand will be operated on first, with outpatient occupational therapy for the next few months. His left hand will require multiple reconstructive surgeries, which we will schedule at a later date. Ironically, because when you're a medical mom, you think of strange things like Judah will have more surgeries before the age of five than Jordan will (Lord willing). 

The biggest reason I feel weird is I love his little hands. I love holding them, and how he holds mine back. And it hurts to know that he's going to be in pain, confused, and scared. It's common for kids who have surgeries such as these to be afraid of what their new normal looks like, and I don't want that for him. He's come so far from the boy who had to be carried into the house just six months ago, who wouldn't take off his shoes and stood in the corner, who just stared at me for weeks when we'd have one on one time. I don't want to think of the possibility of even an ounce of that regression. 

Because now? Judah is the heart of our family. He keeps us laughing, because have you ever met a three year old who can moonwalk? Exactly. He knows when to hug (and he gives good ones), he gives huge smacking kisses on your cheek and insists on a return, and smiling is his full time job. 

Yet, when we submitted our paperwork, Judah's Letter of Intent, we signed our names under these special promises: 

[Judah Lev's] medical care will remain our highest order for [Judah] to reach his highest potential. We, Derek and Mary, will love [Judah] as our own son. We will never mistreat, abuse, or abandon him. We promise to love him, care for him, and always provide for his needs. We are excited and eager to welcome [Judah] into our family and to provide a happy and loving home for him. 

And we will keep that promise. It is our joy and honor to help him reach his highest potential, and that potential is not defined by his physical differences but by how we raise him. Medically, physically, this is something we need to do because yes, it will benefit him in the long run. But emotionally? Spiritually? That's what counts the most. 

So yes, weird is how I'm feeling. Will you pray with us that Judah's surgery will go well, that his recovery will be easy, quick, and smooth, and that he will keep be-bopping his way through life?

Judah's surgery will be at Shriner's Hospitals for Children, St. Louis on October 2. I will be staying home with Jordan, who is starting school next week and for his own reasons needs to maintain a routine, while Derek travels with Judah. If you would like to follow along for Judah's surgery and recovery, you can do so here. As always, thank you for the prayers, love, care, and support you have shown our family in countless ways over the past two years. We appreciate it more than you'll know. 

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:14-16