Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Attachment Plan Round #2


But first, our Natalie Attachment Plan!

Bahahah I tricked you into opening this post! But don't worry, airport details will follow at the bottom. ;)

This post is very similar to the one I wrote for Levi and Z's homecoming, but of course, it is now tailored to Natalie. 

Now you may be thinking: an attachment plan? What???? What does that even mean? Why would they need one? Aren't they getting an older child? 

An attachment plan is just what it sounds like. We have to figure out how to make Natalie trust us, bond with us, depend on us, and realize that we will NEVER leave her and that we will ALWAYS care for her. 

Natalie has a personal history that we will not be sharing or discussing. Adopted children often experience multiple traumas, including possibly been abandoned, abused, or moving multiple times with no warning or explanation. They often have had numerous adults in their life (none of them permanent) and communication barriers (or no communication) with their care-givers for years. Considering these and many other possible scenarios that may or may not have been part of Natalie's experiences, it can only be expected that she will have attachment issues. We want her to learn that WE are her parents forever and we want her to know that it is safe to attach to us. We do not want her trying to attach to others.

Therefore: attachment-plan-a-la-Ruper. :)

So here is what we have decided. On our "airport day", the day when we finally come home with the Natalie (July 5th, *wink wink*) anyone and everyone is welcome to come to the airport. We WANT as many people there as want to come, to celebrate one of the happiest moments and greatest victories of our lives. :)

On the "airport day", you can bring balloons and signs and cameras. Basically, it's a party, except that we ask you do not GIVE Natalie anything, and also that you do not TOUCH her. No hugs or kisses. Remember, you have seen pictures of her, but she does not know who most of you are. Imagine being taken from everything and everyone you know, leaving with two people you can only superficially communicate with, and not in your wildest imagination be able to envision where you are going. Imagine leaving a courtyard with small wooden buildings where you sleep and then coming to America. Imagine being surrounded on the trip home by thousands of people you don't know, who do not speak your language and being exhausted and given unfamiliar food and being forced through airport security and customs. Imagine FINALLY landing after 30+ hours of traveling and being greeted by a large group of unknown white people (when you are used to seeing brown skin) and all of them want to touch and hug and kiss you. They are all staring at you. Some are crying, some are grinning. And you can't ask what's going on, who they are, or what's happening. Completely overwhelming. So we've decided that we cannot allow anyone to touch Natalie. NO ONE. Period. Thank you for your understanding and please feel free to hug me and Abe! ;)

Also, no presents, no snacks, etc. Thank you so much for your generosity but she needs to learn that everything she need comes from us. This will do wonders in helping her attach to us and learn to trust and love us. (PS, if you want to SEND presents, or give them to me and Abe to give to her at our discretion, that is fine with us. :))

After the "airport day", we will be staying home as a family to work on our new "normal" and to start bonding as a family. We will not be allowing visitors at all for about 5-8 weeks. During this time we will work on teaching her to trust us. Eight weeks may seem like a long time, but it really isn't. If we happen to make a trip as a family and you see us, feel free to say hello and chat but please do not touch Natalie or give her anything. You CAN talk to her though; I'm sure she would love it. :)

After eight weeks, we will allow family and close friends to visit us if they want. During these visits, you are welcome to play with and communicate with Natalie! :) We would love that. And we are sure she will too. You are extremely important in her life. The only clause is: (say it with me!) that you may not touch her (no hugs or kisses) and you may not give her anything. No presents. No giving her a drink if she is thirsty. No feeding her. No helping her complete a task. Abe and I will be taking care of that to ensure she knows WE are her caretakers, even in the presence of other adults. 

After ten-twelve weeks, we will evaluate how we feel Natalie is doing and figure out how we will proceed from there.

Now lots of people have been asking, "But last time, you didn't have any other kids. You can't put Levi's and Z's lives on hold for 8-12 weeks! They can't stay home that long. And what about their activities? What about church? What about ___________ (fill in the blank)????

Actually, we've decided to make Levi and Z become shut-ins and heathens. We don't want them to have fun, and we'd like to end their social lives. 

Or not. :)

Don't worry!!!! :) Levi and Z COMPLETELY understand (and agree with, having experienced it themselves) our attachment plan. And they are DYING to spend extended time with Natalie. And it's summer. Levi will still of course be participating in soccer, Crossfit, swim, track, and basketball. I will still be driving him. And if I can't drive him for whatever reason, I have people who can. Z will still be doing swim, and gymnastics 3 days a week. They will go to church with me and Abe alternately. We will be doing activities as a family. Basically, they are going to be FINE! :) No worries. We are living our lives as normal, we are just focusing on bonding as a family at the same time. :)

Thank you for your understanding! We love you all, are so glad to have you in our lives, and can't wait to introduce you to our precious Natalie! :)

Now for the coveted flight details!!! We are flying into our home city, of course. We will be coming in from Dulles, on a United flight, on Saturday, July 5th. Scheduled to land at 1:45pm. Basically, go to the airport and go up the escalator. Go all the way left. That's it! If anything changes, I will post it to my Facebook. 

Hope to see you there! LOVE YOU!!!!

Micah Jackson

Yesterday we didn't have any set plans. We have things on our to-do list this week; well, two things. See Micah/fight for Micah. And visit someone dear to us. Neither of those had been confirmed for Tuesday, so I told the kids we would just be chilling. We went downstairs armed with coloring books, the pot-holder loom, and hidden picture searches. 

We hadn't been down there five minutes when our guide showed up and told me we were going to go see Micah. Best. Surprise. Ever. We ran upstairs and grabbed his gifts and then piled into the van. 

When we got to the orphanage, we were all freaking out. On our court trip, I had been describing Micah to Natalie and she had said she knew him from school. On the drive to the orphanage, Nat told me that she had been hanging with Micah ever since I'd told her about him and that they were pals now. She said, "I always play with my brother." 

I freaking love my kids. 

We walked through the gate, and there he was, tiny as ever, in the jacket that Levi had given him, his face unsmiling, but his eyes registering recognition.....and maybe even surprised happiness? When he saw Nat, his face lit up and he SMILED. They locked hands and did a shoulder bump (I almost died, it was so precious: my toughest baby and my most gentle baby) and then he walked slowly to me. He held up his hand to grab mine in greeting and I started to give him the should bump but I had to hug him. He didn't seem to mind. Z and Levi hugged him and he didn't shy away. He did avert his eyes and basically ignore us, but he didn't walk away. I couldn't stop staring at him. He is SO. BEAUTIFUL. Like, I can't even handle it. 

We went upstairs to the office and the kids sat around him in a semi circle. We gave him his presents; a camo hat (courtesy of Levi), hidden picture books, word searches, lego car building sets, a giant sticker-matching book and a soccer puzzle. 

While I spoke with some people and pushed Micah's case, the kids played together. Seeing them huddled on the floor, heads close, signing and gesturing and helping each other......I thought my heart would explode. They were SO good together and Levi, Z, and Nat were so careful and encouraging to Micah. He was smiling. Even grinning. The whole time. He was surrounded by a family who loved him and who understood where he was coming from. He was with people who could communicate (on some level) with him. And he was HAPPY. The head person even commented (I wasn't supposed to overhear, but Z interpreted for me) that they hadn't seen him so happy, and that I would be a good mother because I kept coming back and fighting for him, and because I wouldn't stop crying. (Yes, I broke down multiple times when I was trying to convince them to help me push his paperwork). They said they couldn't believe how much Levi and Z have grown and changed and have become such awesome, happy, well-educated kids. I was super happy when Z interpreted this into ASL from Amharic for me; at least I know they are on my side. 

We talked/negotiated/politely argued for about an hour. Then the person called someone else who is familiar with Micah's regions. The said they would drive over, to talk so I was able to play with Micah while we waited for them. We worked on the sticker book and when he came across a lime sticker, I showed him the video of Natalie eating a lime and gagging on it and then spitting it out. He started silently laughing---just the smallest shake of his tiny body, while his eyes danced. He picked up a wolf sticker and I asked him what he sign was. He showed me his sign. I asked him the sign for the goat sticker. He showed me. 

He is SO smart. He would line the stickers up so carefully, making sure they covered the outline exactly. He got them all right. When we started doing the hidden picture search, I didn't have to explain it him; he knew immediately what to do and he ripped through about fifteen pages, getting EVERY single hidden item in seconds. He never hesitated; he just spotted them instantly and finished half the book in under ten minutes. 

The person arrived and he was really nice. We discussed everything again for another hour and half and they would tell me something and I would counter it. They were really trying to help me, but the options were not satisfactory and I don't think anything would have gotten done without me there to push it. They basically wanted me to just wait and I said no, because Micah and I have been waiting for four years and nothing has happened. I told them what I wanted to do. I think they were impressed, but they thought my plan might make things worse. A white (caramel, thank you very much ;)) foreign woman showing up at the official office could be disrespectful. I told them I understood that, but it could also show commitment, perseverance, and that I truly cared. And no one else will go for him, so who is left? They agreed it could work and that if the officials saw my other kids and how great they are, that might sway them. But they were still worried because they told me they need a letter from ANOTHER region, where it would be disastrous for me to go. We finally came to an agreement on how to proceed. Obviously I am keeping everything vague but they told me a letter is required from another region before making a trip to the original region. I can't go to this other region because of multiple factors while could damage the process instead of help it; however, once the letter is in hand, it will go to the first region. If the letter does not help me, then I will fly back and go to the first region. And visit every official. And do a stakeout. Or whatever it takes. This is our plan. I wanted the letter from this second region this week but it won't happen so the case will start on Monday. I'm hoping we get the letter and it works; if not, I'm already looking at tickets to come back. 

I wanted to pause and tell you what Micah Jackson's name means. Micah was chosen just because we love it, and Jackson is to honor my grandparents, who are the most supportive and loving people and who always love me no matter what. 

Micah means "Who is like God" and Jackson means "God is gracious." Two meanings that fit so perfectly here. 

I keep making God all these ridiculous promises and then apologizing because I know I can't keep them. Like, "God, I'll never ask for anything again. Please just help me get Micah home!!!" "God, I won't ever beg you for another child; I'll stop going after kids who are labelled un-adoptable, just PLEASE!!" "God, please, I'll never drink Starbucks again or waste another dollar; I'll give it all to the babies, just please help me!!!"

I have to keep reminding myself that God loves Micah more than I do. That God doesn't want him alone and desolate either. That I didn't find him four years ago by accident. That God loves children beyond measure. That Micah is special and cherished by God, and no later how much I hurt for him, God hurts more. That God would not give me this love for this child if something were not to come of it. Levi (Tamirat, which means "miracle") is home and that was the most incredible proof of God's power so I have no doubt that He can and WILL do it again. I just hate waiting. Hate seeing Micah suffer. Hate not understanding. Hate that the world has sin and my child is dying inside because of it. 

October 2010: we learned Micah existed and where he was. 
October 2012: we met Micah. 
August 2013: we told our agency we wanted to pursue him again. 
February 2014: I tried to see him, but was not allowed. 
June 2014: we saw him again.
July 2014: All of us except Abe were together. 

Micah Jackson, you are loved beyond measure by your family. And we will not leave you. I promise. 

Natalie update: we went to the traditional restaurant last night where we had a great time, but Natalie had another nosebleed while we were there. Luckily it was not as bad. This morning we went to the doctors (she was NOT pleased, but she was very good about it) and they basically put a tube up her nose and suctioned it with a vacuum. They removed a LOT of blood and clots. I think it must have been about 3/4 cup of blood? Obviously Nat felt crappy after so we went back to the guesthouse to rest and play in our room. When we got back her nose started bleeding again. I'm frustrated for her (and tired of washing all the bloody clothes in the sink) because I can't help her and she's constantly in pain. She also had nightmares all night and yelled and flailed and was in pain and it was another tough night. 

Thank you so much for all your prayers! You guys are amazing and I am so blessed to have you. We are doing good; just ready to come home and also to take her to an ENT at home. I'll post homecoming details later but it will be Saturday at 1:45pm at our airport. 

I love you all. So much. You guys mean so much to me. <3

Monday, June 30, 2014

Satan Hates Families. Hi Satan, Our Family's Gonna Fight You.

When I was two, my mom wrote me a letter. In it, she bemoaned my headstrong attitude, willfulness, and rebellion. She worried because I was a fighter. She wrote warning me that she feared my strong personality would get me into trouble someday. (Mom, I know I WAS a difficult child and I AM sorry for that. <3)

I don't mind who I am though. I think if I wasn't the way I am, I wouldn't have survived today. Today SUCKED. 

Yesterday was great. I was too exhausted to post, plus now I have THREE kids, but it was so good. We went to the Transition Home around 11am and *FINALLY* got to hug Natalie and know that we wouldn't have to leave her. She was grinning and wearing a t-shirt we had given her with our picture on it and we were all so happy. We went to lunch and then back to the guesthouse where we played games, colored, weaved little pot-holders, and of course, started the de-licing process. All in a days' work, right?

P.S. On the de-licing note: Natalie is a CHAMP. I had to use the lice shampoo on her, which means I had to ask her to allow me to take out her hair. Someone had carefully braided and beaded it with love, in anticipation of our arrival, and I had to ask her if I could remove it. And she was so sweet about it. And then I had to shampoo her, which means I had to help her shower. This child barely knows me, she's an 11-year old girl, and she's from a culture where modesty is a priority. She was NOT about to let me help her. And I couldn't explain that the chemicals could blind her and that it was time sensitive. 

I asked her again, and indicated that I just needed to do her hair. And this little girl looked at me with her big brown eyes and she measured me up. And she let me help her. She gave me ALL her trust in that moment. I don't know if I have ever felt so honored by someone. I wish I could tell her how much her trust means to me. 

I had a bad headache all day and all night because I accidentally left my glasses at home. And two of my kids require me to have sight to communicate. So I had a splitting headache. Levi passed out around three o'clock and I put the girls to bed at seven. They were ADORABLE. They were in pink and purple sleep caps and they were dancing like crazy people (spinning, and doing dips). They were also jumping on the bed. When I announced it was bed time, Z proclaimed, "But my sister and I DON'T WANT to go to bed!!!" And so it begins. ;)

We woke up early this morning for embassy. Z and Nat dressed in matching clothes (A-DORABLE) and off we went. Embassy went fine. Easy as pie. (Who made up that saying, anyway? Any pies I try to make always turn out rotten. Or they taste okay, but look ugly. Therefore, pie is not easy.)

After embassy we went back to the Transition Home. I dropped off our donations. Someone I had asked to look into Micah's case arrived and found me. They told me that his case will NEVER be processed. That he will never be adopted. That his paperwork has issues and can't ever go through. I don't know what to think anymore, and I just said, "Okay. I don't accept this though, and I won't stop." They weren't happy with me. 

We played with the kids at the Transition Home while we waited to go to lunch. Z and I were in a huge jump-roping contest when someone yelled to me. I turned to see Natalie coming at me, blood gushing from her nose. I grabbed some tissues and tilted her head forward so she wouldn't choke. I'll spare the details but it was NOT a normal nosebleed. Someone yelled for a nurse and we got Nat to the doctor's office. For FIFTEEN MINUTES, my child bled through her nose. And not only blood was coming out. I don't want to gross you out and the details are nasty. Something was majorly wrong. Nat was crying. I was kneeling on the floor with a garbage can and tissues and trying to hold her hands. Someone poured something on some cheesecloth and pushed it up her nose. Somehow it helped the bleeding slow down. We finally got to the doctor and she examined Natalie and said we needed to go to an ENT. She asked me to leave Natalie overnight at the Transition Home. I said no. So she said she would call for an appointment with the ENT immediately. 

The van came and we got in. Nat was feeling horrible. We drove to a part of Addis I've never seen (our agency does not typically take people there) and got out when we were told to. A nurse from the Transition Home was with us. We had literally JUST gotten out of the van when beggars swarmed us, touching us, asking us to buy their gum and CDs. We started to push through them when three boys (two teens and a ten year old?) ran up and one big teen grabbed my arm and tried to wrench me backwards. I didn't look at him, just pushed the kids towards the door but he wouldn't let go and started shaking me as hard as he could while raking his nails down my arm. As I turned to look at (PUNCH) him, another kid, slammed into my other side. I heard Levi yell in anger and ripped my arm away from the guy attacking me and I turned to help the other kid up. As I turned, I saw the kid on the ground (that I had turned to help) trying to scramble away. WITH MY CELL PHONE. Levi screamed at him and I put my foot on him at the same time and held out my hand, while giving him the Latina stink eye. I wanted to punch him, but when I looked into his eyes, all I saw was fear and hunger and poverty. I saw a kid who has never been taught better and who is trying to survive. A kid whose life isn't fair. He wouldn't give it to me so I reached down and took it back. Then I reached out my hand to help him up but he shrank away. A crowd was watching by now, even though all this happened in seconds. I stepped over him and guided my other kids to the doorway. 

Once inside, we climbed six or seven flights of stairs (try it sometime when you are 8,000 feet about sea level) and checked in at the ENT's. We waited an hour or so before being admitted. When they finally saw us, they had Levi and Z stay in the waiting room. I went into the office with Natalie and the Transition Home nurse. 

The doctor was nice but didn't explain anything prior to treating Nat. He had broken English anyway, and no one else spoke English so I can't really fault him but it was awful. He took a HUGE piece of gauze (6"???) and stuffed it up Natalie's nose while she screamed and three people held her down. Apparently he did a full surgery nose-packing on her. I didn't think it was possible for that much gauze to fit up there, and I couldn't decide if I should interfere, or just allow him to do it. I mean, she couldn't keep bleeding like that but her screams were heart-rending and I felt like the WORST mother ever. It is such a horrible feeling to hear your kid screaming and crying to you for protection and having to turn your heart away. I can't even imagine how God felt with Jesus on the cross. Nat cried and cried and wouldn't look at me. So much for making it back in under 30 days. I had just lost her trust. 

We went straight back to the guesthouse and I made the kids beef ramen. An awesome couple here has a portable DVD player, and they let us borrow it. Because I had taken Nat's braids out to give her the lice treatment, I asked her if she wanted her hair braided. She said yes and we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening doing that. I didn't have a comb, or elastics, or hair product. So I used a brush. And a bobby pin. Yup. My hair skills have hit a new level. It look me several hours. She still wouldn't smile or really talk to me and she just kept looking at me in a way that said, "You betrayed me; you let them HURT me!" It hurt so bad. Then she would cry and say the packing hurt and she had a headache and ask me to take it out. And I can't. Because it has to stay till Wednesday. And then she'd cry some more and look away. 

Fricking SUCKED. 

FINALLY, hours later, she waved to get my attention and then signed, "Natalie loves you." At which point I took her in my arms and cried over her. 

She's on multiple medications (I hate that I don't know what they are, but she also has an upper respiratory infection so she needs it) and it's hard for her to swallow, because she is all plugged up and also has her nose packed. Plus, she's a little kid. It took forever for her to fall asleep (an hour and a half?) because she can't breathe and she wants to take her nose packing out. I have her and Z sleeping with me tonight and Natalie is in the middle. It's 12:50am and I'm writing this post, because I have to stay awake all night. Because Natalie keeps trying to rip out her nose packing in her sleep and if she does, the blood clot could rip out too. So I have to stay up to make sure she doesn't rip it out. The doctor is supposed to remove the packing Wednesday. I don't know how we will make it through tomorrow though. Every paragraph or so here, I am dropping my phone to pin her down in her sleep as she thrashes and cries and tries to rip it out. My poor, sweet baby. She keeps snuggling me in her sleep and putting her arms around me and crying after she calms down. I keep thinking of all the nights she never had a mom to hold her when she needed it, and then I cry too. I hate to hear her labored, strangled breathing, but then every time it stops, I panic. This. Fricking. Sucks. 

So yeah, that's the hell that was today. I wish we could erase it, or skip it, but we can't. I AM grateful though. The bleeding appears to have stopped. I got my phone back. The kids were safe. We passed embassy. Natalie's no longer angry at me. Levi and Z were a HUGE help and never once complained or gave me a hard time, even though today was exhausting and stressful and I had no time for them. My driver and guide care about us (they--especially my driver-- were SO upset about the attack). My kids are asleep and okay. Natalie is snuggled next to me. We are one day closer to home. 

I'm glad that I'm a fighter. And I'm glad my kids are too. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

A Week of Fears and Faith

This week has been a crazy roller coaster ride of ups and downs. It's been a week of fear. Of faith. A week of miracles and promises of things to come. 
Okay, first I need to back up to April. We applied for a grant in April (we haven't done that in years, because we never end up getting help). My friend had called me and insisted that I apply and so I did. The application was very reasonable and I had it submitted pretty quickly. I got an email confirmation from the grant board (they were so kind!) and was told I would be notified in a few weeks after the board had met to discuss our situation. 
Now please understand, we don't have any money left. We have paid for Nat's adoption up to this point and we have just enough money to cover our last in-country fees, but we don't have anything for embassy flights. And no prospects of getting anything. There was another grant that we applied for, but that fell through. And even though we weren't worried, we were definitely wondering how God was going to make this embassy trip happen. 
Long story short, the grant called me at the end of May. They said they were extremely touched by our story, and that they wanted to sponsor us. They said they would cover mine and Abe's tickets BOTH trips.....AND Natalie's ticket. AND they said they would help us when it is Micah's turn to come home. 
I started crying. 
Fast forward to two weeks ago. I contacted the grant and asked if they would consider paying for Levi instead of Abe for the trip. I explained that Abe only had  a few vacation days left because he had stayed home with the kids in February so that I could visit Natalie and prove to her that we loved her. I told them that Abe and I wanted to spend his vacation at home, in America, together as a family. If Abe traveled, then all his vacation would be used up on an airplane. I explained why I wanted Levi to go with me; he's 15 and old enough to help. He is deaf and he has been through this and can relate to her like no one else. The grant told me they would discuss it and get back to me. 

And now we can start the story of this week. 


I started emailing our travel agent about possible flights. Our agency has said that we were on track to be submitted to embassy for Wednesday, and I wanted to make sure there would be flights around my embassy appointment. 

I sent our travel agent a couple of dates and she emailed me back and said that just about all the flights were full because of the July 4th weekend. She had a Saturday-Saturday flight open. Tickets were $2,500 each for me and Levi, with Zahria's being $2,000 and Natalie's $1,000. We checked other flights and dates and even other airlines but nothing was open, and definitely NOTHING for four people. 

I was hesitant. That was a LOT of money and we hadn't heard back from the grant or even been submitted. I asked when the next available flight was that would fit our needs. She told me July 5th, landing in Addis on the 6th. 

PROBLEM. When we were in ET for court, Natalie demanded to know how many days until we came back for her. Since she doesn't have language and can't understand a range, I had to give her an arbitrary number. Lots of families were clearing in 3-4 weeks. I didn't want to give her a huge number and I was afraid to give her a smaller one. So I ended up telling her 30 days. To which, she immediately signed, "TOMORROW, 29." Shoot. Sometimes she's too smart. 

Several people have given me a difficult time about making her a promise. They told me, "Well, you shouldn't have made her a promise. That wasn't very smart." Okay. You try telling a sobbing 11-year old that you don't know when you're coming back, after she's been waiting a year and you already left her six MONTHS ago. You look into her heartbroken eyes, her lonely heart, and give her some vague answer. YOU tell her. 

I called Abe and we talked about the flights. Actually, I called him like six times. We prayed. We waited. We discussed pros and cons. If we bought the tickets for the 28th, we might not even be submitted. But our promise to Natalie would be kept. If we bought tickets for July 5th, we would have a safer bet with embassy. But we would arrive at day 31 for Natalie. While I don't know this for sure, I think that would destroy some trust. Natalie is a Type A. She has been waiting a YEAR. I made her a deal. And I think showing up even a day late would prove to her that I am just one more adult that she can't trust. And that would have lasting effects on our relationship. 

We didn't buy the tickets. 

Levi, Z and I went to our friend's house to work. The kids do his lawnscaping, and he pays them well. While we were there, I got an email from the grant:

After much prayer, we have decided to say yes!  We will pay for Levi to travel with you instead of Abe. 
Candidly, we have never allowed for this before, but God put it on our hearts to make this happen.
What is the timing?
To God be the glory!"

I started crying a little. Here I was, worrying my little heart out, and God was giving me a sign. He was saying, "CALM THE FRICK DOWN, Marissa. I've GOT this. I SPOKE the world into existence. I can handle this embassy trip."

I turned to Z and told her what had happened. She said, "Mommy, we need to be on that plane." BOOM. I called Abe. And he said something crazy. "Marissa, go buy the tickets. I'm really feeling that's what we need to do. It's not even a question anymore. Just buy them." This, from my over-analytical, extremely cautious, non-risk taking, slow and careful decision making husband. 

I called our agent. She said tickets had gone up. $2,600 each for me and Levi. $2,200 for Z. $1,200 for Natalie. The tickets were non-refundable. Penalties for changing them were $500 each plus the difference in the next ticket. I was still having a heart attack inside, and feeling stressed out. I am always the one who knows what to do and who makes the judgement call. I'm the one with the gut feeling. And for this situation, I was so lost. Yes or no, yes or no?????? I prayed again. No answer. I called Abe again. He told me to buy them. He was so confident. And then I realized something. Maybe God was trying to teach me to follow ABE. Maybe I had no answers because God wanted me to go with Abe's direction. 

I told the travel agent to buy the tickets. 

She freaked. This is the same kind lady who helped us last time; the sweet angel who reserved our tickets for Levi and Z without even contacting us, who saved us last time. This poor woman was like, "Marissa, don't you want to wait till tomorrow morning when you find out if you have even been SUBMITTED? You could lose ALL this money and not even get an embassy date. I don't think this is a wise idea."

I called poor Abe one more time. He stood firm. And I called the agent back. 

We booked. 

Even though I was pretty sure I knew what God was teaching me, I will admit, I was a nervous stress ball ALL. NIGHT. My heart was racing and I was dying for 9am. $8,500. $8,500. Had we been irresponsible and rash? Couldn't we have waited till the morning??? If God wanted us to have those tickets, they would still be available in the morning, right? But maybe more expensive. And what about our promise to Natalie? And with the fact that we didn't know our embassy date, and the limited flights, we had to book a week long trip. We had originally planned to be in country only three days. Why a week long trip? What were we supposed to do for a week? 


I sat on my couch from the moment I arrived home from work at 7:30am and stared at my phone email. Around 8:50am, I started clicking refresh every five seconds. Z was with me and she waved her hand at me and said, "Pssssssssh! We already submitted, Mommy. It's okay. We gonna pass!!!!" 

9:00. 9:01. 9:02. 9:03. 

9:04. We got the email. We had been submitted!!!!! And THAT was when my heart had full peace. God was NOT going to let us down. This was what He wanted, and we just had to trust. I called Abe and said, "I PASSED!!!!" "We passed embassy?!?!?!" "No, I passed God's test! God wanted me to follow your leading and I did and I passed!!!! Oh, AND WE ARE SUBMITTED!!!!!"
Wednesday night, I got a message. From our contact who is looking into Micah's case. Now I have been calling/emailing/messaging literally daily since we left. We've heard no news. 

This is what the message said: "The problem is with his region. He is un-adoptable (we knew that from two years ago when we couldn't get him out). Basically, the region won't release him. The only thing you can do is get his paperwork and an orphanage rep, go to his region, find the officials, and beg for his case."

Easier said than done. Getting his paperwork probably means searching through thousands of un-filed papers in an office. That's hours. Or days. AND, I can't read Amharic. Then I have to find transportation and an interpreter. And drive several hours out to a different region. Understand, in America, driving several hours is no big deal. Here, there is only one road (and a travel warning from the US Embassy) and it's a bumpy trip. I will have there kids in tow. THEN I need to find the officials. Get to them. And BEG. And a white (I'm caramel, actually), foreign, female. Sounds impossible. And scary. 

So does everything that has happened to us since 2009, so what's new? ;)

P.S.  Of course we are going to do it. And I'm considering a stakeout. Where I refuse to leave, if they don't let me have his adoption clearance. 

And NOW I know why we have a week long trip. 

God's the bomb. 


When you are waiting for an embassy clearance email, you can hear from them anytime from about 1am-10am. Typically it comes at the end of the business day, about 9:30am. 

Z and I were breathless on the couch at 7:30. 8:30. 9:30. 

Two other families in our agency cleared. 

9:50am. My heart was sinking. 10am. 10:10am. 

No submission. 

Z started crying. I tried not to, but a rebel tear may have slipped out and escaped down my cheek. "Don't worry," I told her. "We are STILL flying. We are STILL going to go get your sister."

It was a sad day. 


I woke up at 3am for work and there was an email from the embassy, sent at 1:06am. WE HAD PASSED!!!! I already had an answer copied in my phone so I clicked paste and sent it right back, requesting Monday, June 30th for embassy. At 4:30am on the dot, they emailed me. Our embassy appointment was for 9:00am on Monday. 


We spent all day cleaning and packing. Oh, ANNNNDDDD Z's MP3 player arrived. And so did my Jamberry flag nails! ON FRIDAY!!! Last minute!!!!! I set up her music and did my nails. They look epic, by the way. :) We are going to be flying out of Addis on July 4th. #perfect


Oh wait, that's today! In fact, I have typed this whole post on a plane. It's 7:25pm your time. 2:25am in Addis. We have about four hours of flying left. This flight started at 11:15am. 

Kids are doing GREAT (thank you for your prayers!!!!)!!! I have been giving Z Dramamine every six hours and she's been doing just fine. I also have a sea-band on her, and she's alternating between ginger gum and sugared ginger slices. And Pringles. Can't forget her Pringles. 

Levi is watching movies and charming everyone with his smile. One attendant is trying to sign with him. She draws Amharic letters in the air and he guesses. It's great. 

I'm am good. Feeling fine. This flight has been VERY smooth compared to last time. The flight to DC too. Very easy. Barely any turbulence. Z is very relieved. Me too. Funny side note; the minute we sat down on the ET plane, Levi asked, "Should I ask people for their barf bags for Z?" Bahahahahah! He is ON IT!

Okay, now I'm going to rest. And work on our homecoming blog post. And maybe eat Pringles with Z. (Yes, I'm allergic to them.)

OMG. Levi just asked me how long and I said, "4 hours." He said, "I'm so EXCITED!!!" and started doing a happy dance right in the middle of the plane. #adorethisboy #thatsgoingoninstagram #imadehimredoitandirecordedit


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Living With Myself

Coming back to America, I wonder if it was the right thing.

Is it right to leave my daughter for a second time? Is it right to allow her to be alone, even though it almost isn't a choice? I literally cannot afford it and can't take that much time off from my job, which I need in order to provide for her when she comes home, but I feel so torn. To see her big eyes fill with tears that spilled out like an unending feel her on my shoulder, warm, silent tears soaking my know that I am once again leaving her in a far away land where I can't communicate with her or protect here..........these are the things that tear at my mommy heart. These are the memories that haunt me.

But there are other things too.

What about the others? All the children without anyone?

What about the little five year old girl living on the road outside the guesthouse? What about her??? A FIVE-YEAR OLD, alone and living off the leftover scraps of the rich people who use the hotel. A five-year old, who doesn't beg, but is willing to humbly accept food that you would throw away. A five-year old in rags and with no hope of a future....sleeping wherever she can and living with the dangers that accompany street life. Wild animals. The weather. Disease. HUMANS. 

We wanted to give her money, but we were afraid someone would rob her. And what would she do with more than a few dollars? She's FIVE. She needs someone to take care of her. 

I think the worst part was watching everyone walk right by her. No one DID anything. The thing is, it's not abnormal there. In fact, in Ethiopia, it's a norm. No one gives a street child a second glance. There are thousands of them. Generally speaking, there is nothing "special" about this little girl. She is one in a sea of faces. 

What truly bothered me was that no non-natives helped her. Not even the people who were shocked by her situation. This isn't about blaming anyone; I just struggle with the fact that there were many people at the guesthouse and several were giving her food, yet (as far as I know, and I hope I am wrong), no one attended to her long-term needs. Feeding her is great; yes, she desperately hungry. But I don't understand being able to feed her once, look into her dark brown eyes, and then leave and never look back. So it is okay to leave a defenseless five-year old on the street with nothing? It's okay to go help one child, but turn your back on another? (That's a question I am asking myself.) If we saw a five-year old running around alone in America (and ESPECIALLY if we knew they were an orphan), we would call someone and DO SOMETHING about it. We wouldn't rest till she was safe. But in Ethiopia, it's okay to just leave her? To walk off and forget her? To not feel GUILTY??? It's not okay. And this is not a post to try and say that I am right and others were wrong. It's not a post to say, "Look at me and what I am doing!" But for people who might wonder what we are doing about the situation, Abe and I are trying to get her into an orphanage. Or child care. SOMETHING. Because I can't live with myself. I cried and cried at the guesthouse. I am crying now. How can I SIT here??? Why am I not back in Ethiopia with a house where I can take in kids like this; kids that no one wants, but that maybe can't be adopted due to paperwork and red tape. Kids who will be stuck in the system, but who need you and I just as much as the kids who make it out. I could get a home and open it up to kids in Ethiopia so easily. No one cares. I don't need a license to care for these kids. What am I DOING???? And then the age old questions start. What about school loans? Mortgage? My kids that are home? Trying to help this little girl is a start but it is not enough. Nothing is. Because there are always more kids. Needing a home. Needing love. How can I help the most???

What about Micah? Alone and lost, locked in silence. Trapped in a world where feelings are buried so deep, that if they were to be dug out, only dust might remain? I should be there for him. Who knows when that boy is coming home? He can't wait another year or two. That's TOO LONG. He needs me now. Desperately. And I need him. I should be there, visiting him. Playing with him. Giving him language. Teaching him about love. Trust. Permanency. FAMILY. He is my child, and my heart cries out to him. But he's across the ocean. And I am sitting here, crying, wondering where I am supposed to be. I have other children to think about. Other children who I brought here to give them opportunities. To give them life. But I am split in half, and it is making me sick. My soul is crying out for him. I can't stop thinking about him. Praying for him. Hurting for him. I keep harrassing the people on his case, but nothing has happened yet. 

I feel like I am dying inside. This child needs me even more than the others. Levi and Zahria are survivors. They are the strongest people I have ever known. This world gave them the hardest life it could, and they OVERCAME. And they thrived when all odds said they wouldn't. They took what life dealt them, and they won. I am SO proud to call them my kids, and to see them not be eaten with bitterness or filled with hate. Instead, they are the most loving, kind, and generous kids I have ever known, and every day I aspire to be like them. Natalie is a fighter. She will not be pushed around. She will not be walked over. She knows what shes wants and she goes after it. But she is LOVING. She is a defender, a protector. She cares for defenseless and hurting people. And she is strong and tough and she does NOT GIVE UP. Like Levi, she had NO language, and didn't even start signing (even home signs--"made up" signs) until last year, and yet her communication level is outstanding. People (professionals!!!) said that Levi and Natalie would fail; that they were past the critical learning point. That they would therefore never acquire language or be able to learn, and yet I have two of the smartest kids on the planet, who are literally absorbing everything I can possibly teach them. And they sign so beautifully that I can only hope to use ASL in the way they do.

And then there is Micah. My precious Micah. I barely know him, but I think he is like Abe. Quiet, so smart. A lover, not a fighter. At least, not an outward fighter. But Micah IS a fighter. If he weren't, I wouldn't have seen life in his eyes last week. He is gentle. He will lead by example someday. A light through his actions. But he IS a fighter. He is STRONG. He is not defeated.
I cried for Levi's safety. For the anguish of his life. I cried for Zahria's heart and soul. For her history. I cried for Natalie's plea for help, her desire to be set free. I cry for Micah's life, past and present. And I cry for that little girl, and all the others like her.

These kids are not defeated.

And neither am I.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Day 3: Natalie Ruper

Ethiopia Day 3

Natalie is officially a RUPER!!!!!!

This morning we went to court at 8:30am. There is a new judge in Ethiopia (the previous judge was promoted) and the whole process was different than it was two years ago when we went for Levi and Z. It was at a new building, and this time, our soon-to-be-official kids didn't come (they had already had a court date previously). Each family went in by themselves while the judge reviewed the case and asked a few questions. 

We were so excited, and when our turn came, we went and sat down. The judge spoke mostly to Abe, and Abe did a great job answering, which was tough, because the judge had a thick accent. Then the all important question came: "Do you agree to have her as your daughter?" (or something like that) and poor Abe couldn't understand him. There was a small pause and I practically yelled, "YES!" At which point, the other official person in the room looked at me and grinned at me. Good times. :)

Levi was exhausted and Abe had a work meeting (that's right, the most important meeting of his work career landed on our court date. Thank you, Skype!) so the two of them went back to the guesthouse and Z and I went to the TH. 

Natalie was napping when we got there. I wasn't sure if we should let her nap, or wake her up to spend as much time as possible with her. We decided to wake her up, figuring that's what she'd prefer. 

We learned that Natalie is an angry bear when awoken from her slumber. She was too sleepy to register who I was and she glared at me like she was going to eat me and then flipped over and fell asleep again in two seconds. Z and I were laughing so hard. She woke up about ten minutes later though, and was happy as a clam. We had a blast playing hide-and-seek, doing gymnastics, playing cat's cradle, Uno, and just being silly. 

Nat asked me how many days till she could fly. Since embassy is running about four weeks, I told her 30 days. She understood full well what I had said but grinned at me and signed, "THREEEE???" and I rolled my eyes at her and told her 30. She laughed and then ran around to every adult and told them "I'm flying in 30 days!!!!" She was THRILLED. I'm praying it IS 30 days or under, or I'm in trouble!

Tonight is the traditional dinner at a delicious restaurant, but I am not going because I am allergic to the incense. Really, I'm allergic to everything but the incense would kill me. So Abe and the kids took off and I'm eating my dinner on a couch in the lobby. The staff here is amazing; I love hanging out with them. :)

Happy happy day!!! Natalie Jasmine Ruper is legally our daughter!!!! 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Bet You Never Saw This Coming ;)

It's our second day in-country, and I bet you thought this post was going to be all about Natalie and the Transition Home. 

Well, we have a big announcement to make. Like, I bet I hear your jaw hit the floor while you stare open-mouthed at this page. 

We are trying to adopt again. 

Meet Micah. <3

Back in 2011, I found two deaf boys. One had a sister. Long story short, in the process of pursuing them, we were forced to stop the paperwork for one of them. 

I'm guessing you can figure out who we had to leave. 

When we went for Levi and Z's embassy trip in October of 2012, we went visiting orphanages and bringing donations. We didn't know where Micah was at that point. But at the third orphanage, the director came out and saw that we were signing with Levi. The director told me, "We have a deaf boy," and brought him out to me. 

He came out, disheveled and clearly terrified and not understanding why he had to come outside. He was tall, thin as a tail, with dirty teeth and he was crying. He wouldn't look at anyone; he just stood in a corner on the wall and cried.  

I fell completely in love with him. 

We never completed our tour; we spent the next hour trying to play with him. Trying to coax out a smile, trying to get his pain-filled eyes to light up for even a second. He finally started making eye contact with us and by the end we were throwing a small ball. He cracked a few grimaces that looked like something only a person who has forgotten how to smile can possibly make. Then finally, we caught a few smiles, so infinitesimal that if you blinked, you would only see his empty face, tears still slipping down his dirty cheeks. 

I asked about his No education, no language. Story of my childrens' lives. He was ten. The director asked me to take him, but it was impossible at the time. He had no paperwork. We had no paperwork for him. We were just finishing the process with our first kids and had yet to prove ourselves as parents. So we left him, and with him, our hearts. Abe and I made a pact that day, standing in a court yard, with this little boy; that we WOULD come back for him. Period. We would not leave him. 

I sobbed the whole day. 

Fast forward to last August (2013). God called us to Natalie at 4am on Sunday, Aug 18th. And as we were making the decision to accept her referral, Abe said to me, "I want Micah." I looked right back at him and said, "Okay." We fought through Natalie's paperwork. 

In February, 2014, when I went to visit Natalie, I also tried to go and see Micah. It's complicated and I can't go into detail but I was unable to see him. 

Fast forward to March. Abe and I were on our way home from a band show and I started asking, "Why don't we just try and start his paperwork now? We will be at court for Natalie soon, and we know the paperwork takes forever. Let's just start it." Abe replied, "I told you I wanted him," and I called our agency that same day and left a message. On March 18th, 2014, we officially started the process of trying to get him paper ready for adoption. 

June 2014. I had emailed the American staff and let them know that on this trip, we had three priorities, and one of them was seeing Micah. They had told me that we could go to the orphanage and visit him. When we landed in Addis and received our itinerary, we were displeased (I'd rather use a much stronger word) to see that visiting that orphanage was not even on the schedule. After some rearranging, we were told this morning that we could go around 4:30pm. 

We were SO excited. We have prayed for him every day for two years and our kids call him their brother, even though they don't remember his face. We didn't have a picture or anything at all, just the memory of him and his name. To be able to see him again, to be able to give him a care package.....there are no words for that.  

We were in the middle of our tour when they told us he was there. I was kneeling on a floor, between two children in a dark room. Both were special needs and both were breaking my heart. They told me to turn around, and there he was. 

My son. 

He was tiny (he doesn't look like he has grown) and he still had that wild animal-fear in his eyes. But he wasn't crying. They gave him a push towards me, and I reached out one hand.....not wanting to frighten him, and not being able to keep my hand at my side either. He came partway to me and I gave him a half side-hug.  We went outside and he climbed straight into the van. I climbed in next to him and sat on the far side of the seat, trying to make him feel safe. Abe and the kids sat around us. Micah turned away and stared out the window at the wall. 

Please God, WHY? Why does this happen?????? This tiny, beautiful boy, so precious in Your sight.....why is he here, hopeless and alone, with NOTHING? God, where ARE You???

I reached for the backpack I had brought that was stuffed to the seams with gifts for him. Jeans and a sweatshirt. Paper, a pen, stickers. A jump rope and bubbles. Playdough. Bracelets (para-cord and silicone). Soap, a toothbrush, gum, tissues. A soccer ball. A photo album filled with our pictures. 

Gently, I touched his shoulder. No response. I touched him again. Nothing. Dear God, the walls this child has. Pain and fear so thick that it threatened to choke out everything around him. 

I tapped his shoulder twice, and slowly, slowly, like he was fighting every inch, he turned and looked at me. I showed him the bag, handed it to him, motioned for him to open it. He took it dutifully, a child trained to follow gestures, and placed it beside him. Then he turned back to the wall. 

I tapped him again, my heart pleading for him to turn around. Opening the bag, I took out some gum. Gum is like gold in the Ethiopian orphanages. Handing him the pack of Juicy Fruit, I kept digging in the bag. 

The director was standing close by and I started asking questions. Most of the answers were as I had remembered. The director did say that Micah is going to a deaf school, but that he didn't participate and didn't try to sign. He preferred to be alone. He likes to work with his hands. He likes to fix things. 

Kinesthetic learner? I grabbed the pipe cleaners from his bag and tapped him. Bending the cleaner into a flower, I handed it to him. He raised his eyes to meet mine. And I saw a flash of interest. Curiosity. LIFE. I grabbed the pack and handed him one. He took it and started twisting. I grabbed an orange one and made it into a heart. He looked at it and handed me his, while indexing his head, once. He had made a crown. I took it and put it on my head. And I saw his first real smile, small, timid, and oh so brief, flash across his beautiful face. I grabbed the orange heart and stuck it over my heart. Then I took it and placed it on his heart. I handed him a yellow cleaner and he copied the heart shape. 

I could take a million pages and recount every detail but I won't. But he put his stickers on the paper and then drew smoke coming from the engines. He wrote "Wrigley's" (from his gum wrapper) and he drew stars. Zahria made him smile several times by being silly with her pipe cleaners and Playdough. Levi gave him his own special bracelet and kept encouraging him, and Micah showed his very first sign. "Thank you." Levi's grin was epic. And we started getting big smiles from Micah, ones that started tiny and slowly spread across his face till his whole persona changed. Abe was so gentle with him, and so kind, and all I could think was, "These kids could not have a more perfect father." I took Micah's paper and wrote "I love you," on it. Then I signed it in ASL. He copied it back to me. And my heart burst.

When they told us we had to leave, I started crying. Because my heart was being torn from my chest and I couldn't breathe. I motioned to the pipe cleaner heart and crown that he had made. He nodded and I held them onto them like they were a lifeline. I felt like I was dying. We climbed out of the van and he handed me back his things. I shoved them into the backpack and quickly held it out to him. He let me out it on him. He started to walk away and I tapped him. He turned and I signed "I love you," in Amharic. He signed it back, gave me a small smile. A smile of hope. A smile that said, "I know you care about me." And I LOST IT. Driving away from that orphanage almost killed me and I literally cried myself out of tears for the next hour. 

Micah Jackson, I love you with all my heart. With everything that is in it. I will not leave you. 

Oh, you were wondering about the Transition Home and Natalie? :)

The TH was great; we played tons of card games and took pictures and Nat and Z are best buds. In fact, I could barely separate them when it was time for us to leave for lunch. They both had a mini fit. Levi and Nat signed like crazy people and just seeing them TOGETHER, was so cool. Natalie had the BIGGEST smiles all day, so huge I thought her face would split. 

I visited my little boy that I wrote about last time. Abe came with me. And we held this boy for as long as we could, swinging him and tickling him, hugging him and telling him he is loved. This child is SO beautiful. And he was SO happy to have us playing with him. I almost cried when Abe picked him up and kissed his cheek and swung him around. The nannies asked me to take him......if only.....

Tomorrow is court, and Natalie should officially become a Ruper. But more importantly, I will be able to post pictures of her FACE!!!! Please pray that we pass. :)

We love you. Thank you for being our friends. :) Hugs to you ALL!!!! <3

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ethiopia Day 1 (Natalie's Court Date)

It's been a long, exhausting journey. The kids and Abe are asleep (it's 8:54pm....1:45pm in the States), and I am sitting out on the balcony. That's right, we have a little balcony. It's overlooking Addis and I am watching the shadowy figures milling around; the flickering lights dimming to darkness. I'm listening to the dogs bark and club music blare, and most of all, I'm enjoying the cool breeze. We are on the fourth floor and I feel like a did or squirrel, quietly observing the world below. My lips are burning because I just ate Z's leftover dinner, which was 50% jalapeƱo peppers. My Crystal Light iced tea is in my hand and I am STILL. 

Granted, I just had the CRAP scared out of me when I stepped onto the balcony (which has a railing that is barely waist-high). Everyone was asleep and I was quietly slipping outside for some peace and coolness when BAM!!!! Something the size of a loaf of bread exploded straight at my head in a burst of dust and screams. 

I wish I could say I reached out and punched it, but I didn't. I jumped out of my skin while giving a small scream and ducked into a ball as it barreled past me and shot off the balcony into the darkness.

A bird. A giant, freaking pheasant-like creature who screamed indignantly as it flew off to better sleeping grounds. While I was left hyperventilating and then laughing. The kids and Abe are gonna LOVE this story tomorrow. 

Anyway, the trip. 

The trip was long and hard. We started it off on the wrong foot by giving into the kids begging us to let them stay up all night till 4am when we were scheduled to leave for the airport. Their reasoning? (They had already tossed and turned the whole night before from excitement.) If they stayed up, they would be completely exhausted and sleep on the plane. 

It sounded like solid logic at the time. Looking back, oh how I wish I had bought that melatonin. And possibly whatever that stuff was they they froze Hans Solo with in Star Wars so that I could have spared them the misery of that flight and unfreezed them when we arrived in Addis. 

Problem A: my kids had glamorized flying in their minds. They remembered leaving Ethiopia, sitting in a seat with a pillow and blanket, "delicious" airplane food, and the EXCITEMENT. They remembered unlimited movies, chosen at their own discretion. 

Reality hit them pretty hard. The airplane was crowded, hot and we were seated in the tail, one of the last rows. The food was standard airline fare. And last time I did allow them to watch movies, but only what I approved of, of course. Which was like two movies at the time, and one was Ice Age. Which they watched three times during the flight. This time there were only two new movies that I approved of and four old ones. Insert complaining. 

The flight to Ethiopia is thirteen hours there (it will be 18 hours coming home, including a stop in Rome). Zahria, who get motion sick very easily, started to get nauseous within the first thirty minutes. We had a lot of turbulence and she was getting really sick. I had Dramamine for her, but it didn't seem to be helping. She was MISERABLE. About an hour or so in, she started puking. While I was prepared for it, let me just say, a sick child on an airplane is not easy. I won't go into details, but I will say that she threw up about ten times on the flight. The turbulence was pretty much the whole flight, and I spent the whole time holding her and luckily the last couple hours she passed out and slept. Poor baby. 

When we landed, there was a mile long line at the visa desk, and so we waited in the stifling area for a solid hour before getting visas. The airline hadn't given us entry cards (even when we asked for them) and the visa woman was not pleased, but she didn't speak English (and we don't speak Amharic, I'm sure you guessed) and there were a hundred people behind us, so she just signed off on us. 

We finally got to our driver (the BEST EVERRRRR!!!) and made it to the guesthouse. Because Z was so sick, I told the staff we would be staying in and resting instead of going to church. Later, I found out that because of Al Queda (sp?) threats as well as issues with Somalia, that we weren't allowed to go out in public except where necessary and definitely not where large gatherings were. Kidnappings have become more prevalent and the US embassy sent out an email warning travelers. 

We had to go with the other families to lunch before going to the Transition Home (TH) to meet Nat. The other families are great and we were happy to eat, but it was torture waiting to see Nat again. Finally, we drove to the TH and I bounced out of the car like a crazy woman. I saw lots of kids from February and I side hugged them as I went to the spot we were supposed to stand to wait for Natalie. A friend had my phone to record, and we stood there, so excited. Abe and Levi and Z were freaking out to meet her and I was dying to see her beautiful little face again. 

She came out, gave a little cry, and ran straight at us. Straight into my arms. My little stoic baby, who doesn't cry, who is as tough as nails, clung to my neck and cried into my shoulder. I started crying too. Abe and Levi and Z wrapped themselves around her in a circle and we just stayed there, hugging and crying.  "We came, baby! I promised you I would come back!!!" I signed, and she nodded and wrapped her arms around my neck again. 


We spent the afternoon playing and taking pictures. So. Many. Pictures. Natalie LOVES Levi and Z and they adore her too. It was so amazing to see them together. Natalie was signing like a CRAZY person to Levi. He was totally in shock at her communication level. And SO thrilled to have a deaf sibling. The look on his face made me want to cry again. Natalie and Z were painting their nails, and playing games and holding hands and it melted my heart. When we had to leave, we got in the car, and Z looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, "Mommy, I LOVE her!!!" Those were the best words ever. My kids have to suddenly share us, and love a new child as their own and accept her into our family, and they were in love with her on the spot. A-MAZING. God truly can take broken pieces (like families) and create something new and beautiful from them. It doesn't mean that it's the way it was originally designed, or that there isn't pain, but it CAN be beautiful and incredible. 

When we left, Natalie was very insistent that we promise to come tomorrow. Easy promise. :)

Oh, I meant to add that visited all the nannies and that we specifically sought out Levi's long-time nanny. She cried her eyes out. I mean, she sobbed for an hour, and kept hugging and kissing him and complimenting his height and muscles in Amharic. She would hug me and then hug him and then sob. It was so amazing to bring them together again, and see how much he is loved. 

I'm too tired to write any more haha. I haven't slept in two days. :) Be back tomorrow. Thanks for your prayers and thoughts. We love you all. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Catching You Up

I'm too tired to write. Literally falling asleep typing this sentence. So I am just going to post some pictures. Then you will be able to see our life. :)

                                                                Easter 2014

                                We pulled over at a gas station just to shoot a photo with this sunset. :)

                                I sewed Z a freaking WIG. Myself. With no directions or help.
                                Just a skull cap and hair.

                               We pulled over at an apartment complex for this shot. #photographyfamily

                                    This boy. #iadorehim

                                      Z's birthday. Levi bought her the fashion glasses that she was dying for. :)

                                           This is my lawn-mower man. 

                                 Apartment complex again. What can I say? We got a killer photo.
                                 And a lot of weird looks haha!

                               My favorite hairstyle ever. And it's versatile. Wedding updo or casual ponytail.

                                      Visiting Grandpa and Grandma and Grandpappy. 

                                 Gymnastics practice. #dreams

                                         We are so cool. :)

                                      Grandpappy's hat. 

                                        This is my life. That face. AND that hair. 

                                       She begged me to wear red lips. 

                               She's a born big sister. 

                                     I spent an hour painting leopard nails and she smeared them 1 min later. 

The Moments That Kill Me

 Sometimes in life, we have moments that touch us so deeply we can barely breathe. These pictures represent three such moments for me. Zahria randomly wrote this letter (and a song on the back), glued my picture to it and gave it to me. I collaged pictures from when we met the kids to today. And someone sent me a picture of Natalie's hand....and the #100 on it, representing how long it has been since I had to leave her. And all three pictures crushed me, made my heart burst with love, and filled me with wonder. These kids choose me as their mom. They choose to love me. And they are my best friends.

This is Zahria and Levi 21 months ago, and today. Whattttttt............????????????

And Natalie hasn't been counting the days since I left or anything.........

Mother's Day 2014

This Mother's Day was the BEST. Better than last year, even. My kids gave me permission to share their cards and notes. There aren't even words to describe them. These kids are the most incredible people. Abe had warned me that I was going to be crying. He was right.

                                                    Zahria (it's transcribed below)

Dear Mom,

   I love you so much. Wow you work hard to take care of me and I thank you so much. You are my blessing mom from God. God give me you and I thank God. Sometime I'm wrong that I say I want a real mom. I can see from you that you are my real mom. I'm lucky that you are my mom. You are the best mom. I love you so much. I love you all the time.




                                            Abe (notice all the baby birds, which = our children)....
                                            LOVE haha!

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to honor Levi, Z, and Nat's birth mothers this Mother's Day. What could I do to show the kids that I love and honor their first moms?

I ended up buying a dozen red roses and some beautiful poster-board. In the middle, I wrote the Amharic word for "Mother" (Enat). I wrote their moms' names in large, beautiful scripts and then wrote every memory or fact about them that I could remember. I'd take a picture, but for the privacy of the kids, and the fact that Natalie's adoption is not complete, I couldn't post it anyway. Oh well. :) It turned out beautiful. The kids were THRILLED. And they had me add my name in there too (I was so honored), and then they wrote all around my name. They wrote things like, "Wonderful Mom." "Hard worker." "Strongest." "Protective." "Beautiful." "Loves children." "Good braider." "Loves coffee." "Brave."

I cried.

I don't deserve them. They are so incredible.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Older Child Adoption: Challenges and Ideas for Parents

I've been writing this post for 16 months, but hadn't published it yet. When Give1Save1 (who sponsored our family in November, for a fundraiser for Natalie) asked me to write a guest post for March, I knew exactly which topic I wanted. So here are my motherhood gleanings in an incredibly long blog post. :)

I have no idea how to raise my kids.

I read all the books, listened to the seminars, formed friendships with other adoptive parents, and did all the other things a good adoptive mommy is supposed to do.

And every day I am faced with challenges and behavioral issues that I have no idea how to overcome.

I have older kids. A son, 15 , and a daughter, 9 (and an 11 year old on the way! :)). They've been home 16 months, and they are AMAZING. If you'd told me four years ago when we started the adoption process that we would have big kids, I would have laughed. I mean, our age range started out 0-5. My husband and I are super young ourselves. And now I can't imagine adopting UNDER the age of 8. Funny how things change.

Older kids are such an amazing joy to have. They are incredible people with amazing potential. My kids have filled my life with so much sunshine and love. It's like having two best friends. I can't say enough about how much I love being a family with them. There are so many precious older children waiting to be adopted, but sadly, there are a lot of fears and stigmas that come attached to the thought of adopting older kids. And to be truthful, there ARE lot of unique challenges. I want to address some of the ones that we have personally faced, and that I believe to be common among older adopted children. I want to share some of our experience and provide a realistic view of what adopting an older child can look like. These kids are phenomenal, and this is the most amazing and rewarding experience, but that does not mean that it's an easy one. Some challenges we have faced are:

-Skin color and minority/majority status: My kids are from Ethiopia, and they are not used to being the minority, or looking different. It's uncomfortable for them. And it makes our status as a family more questionable to those around us; no one ever thinks that my kids are actually my biological kids. People always assume we are babysitting or in some Big Brother/Big Sister program. (Part of this is also because my husband and I are so young.) We are never left alone....the topic of adoption ALWAYS comes up, and it frustrates my kids. They want to be seen as a "normal" family. They don't want to be approached, questioned and petted every five minutes, or given dirty looks when we go out. Neither do I. It almost feels like having paparazzi....we CANNOT escape. My kids are also frustrated that we are a different color than they are. We live in a very diverse town and know many interracial and adoptive families, but they realize that in America, a large percent of the population is Caucasian. And for the first time in their lives, they feel inferior because of their skin color. They want our family to match. They want to pretend that they are my biological kids. They want to be white. And nothing I can say about how beautiful and special, how perfect and amazing they are, can change this.

-Intense grieving: Adopted kids, no matter how they come to us, have been traumatized. Uprooted from everything and everyone they knew. Brought to a different place, with a different culture, language, and expectations, and placed permanently with a family that they just met. And that's not including whatever their personal history has been up to that point, and the possible pain from that.

-Cultural Differences: Clothing, hairstyles, earrings/piercings, how much and what area of skin is exposed, makeup, views on beauty, inappropriate comments or behavior when something is disliked, time values, appropriate greetings, daily schedules, food, holidays, sterotypes and stigmas (my kids believed some WEIRD things about specific other cultures/races) are some of the cultural differences we have faced.

-Previous life history: Adoption comes from brokenness. One family is built from the destruction of another. Abandonment. Death. Abuse. Starvation. Illness. War. These are some of the circumstances that bring these precious children into our families. And there is always pain.

-Fears: Older children often struggle with fears such as abandonment, not being loved because they aren't babies, fear of the dark, of being alone, fear of being "sent back", fear of never succeeding, etc. Their previous life history and the fears that may accompany that can also haunt them.

-Independence: Many older children are almost completely independent in their birth country, carrying huge responsibilities, and acting as an adult. When they are adopted, and take on the title as someone's child, this new role can be an issue. I think of it similarly to an elderly person having their license taken away. Losing that kind of independence can be devastating and beyond frustrating. Having to accept a stranger as the role of your parent (when that is a role YOU may have had) is equally as hard.

-Personal Beliefs: Again, their personalities and how they view the world are already established. They don't just come to America and accept everything we may think or believe here.

-Self Worth: Many things can impact this.....shame, abandonment, past history, skin color, education level or lack thereof, language, etc.

So after 16 months, do I finally feel like I have an idea of how to parent my kids??? Nope. I still just basically go off my "adoption gut" instinct. Typical American parenting techniques DO. NOT. APPLY. "Let them cry it out." "Send them to their room." "Use tough love." Ignore them." "Take away their possessions as punishment." No, no, NO.

Figuring out how to train your precious adopted kiddos is TOUGH. I want to show grace and love, and yet there also have to be boundaries. I have to figure out if a behavior problem is an adoption issue, or a heart issue. I have to teach them how to handle struggles and situations appropriately. And every day, I am winging it. So here are the things that are working for our family:

-No isolation. Period. No being left alone in a room..... no PERCEIVED isolation or abandonment. EVER. We don't send our kids to their room to think over their behavior if they need a time-out. Instead, we use "time-ins" when needed, which for us means we go to the livingroom and sit together on the couch. We stay with them for the entire duration of the "time-in".

-No walking off when you're upset, because this can trigger the list of FEARS. For us, this means we have to deal with things in the moment. Staying calm, not getting upset, and addressing an issue immediately, is key for us when dealing with any misbehavior. We stay together and solve it as a family. Even if it means hours of sitting in a room together. And by hours, I mean, I have sat for 36 hours STRAIGHT in a room with a child who needed to realize that this family will NEVER leave them.

-If they have a fear, don't try and break it by forcing them to face it. This only seems to intensify the fear and make it more of an issue. The more I ignore something (as far as not constantly bringing attention to it), the less of an issue it becomes (for the most part). Example: Child X is afraid of the dark. So I go first EVERWHERE. Every time. It doesn't matter if I am in the middle of something and it's inconvenient (and it often is). I go, turn the light on, then walk them to the area, show them it's safe, and stay with them till they are done with whatever it is that they needed to do. I don't leave them alone, EVER. Is this time-consuming? YES. Inconvenient? YES (especially because this happens like 15x a day at our house). Who cares. I want my child to feel SAFE. And for older adopted kids, that may be a feeling/concept that they have never experienced.

-Constant reassuring. I tell my kids a thousand times a day how much I love them, how I will never leave them or let them go, how they light up my life. If I go out and my husband is home, I text them and tell them how much I love them and how I can't wait to see them. We FaceTime a million times when I travel. They need to KNOW that they are cherished, and that I am coming back. Permanency is a new concept for them.

-Words of Affirmation. My kids need to hear daily, a thousand times, that they are loved, beautiful, smart, kind, precious. That I am proud of them. That they are treasures. My gift from God. My blessings.

-Make a big deal when a family member walks in the door after being out. No matter who it is, when one of us walks through the door, everyone stops what they are doing and runs to greet the returning family member with big hugs. We tell them how much we missed them and how much we love them.

-Hugs/Safe Touch. I hug my kids about 50,000x a day. I hold their hands. I high-five them. They sit next to me/on my lap. My daughter hangs on me like a monkey. Actually, we nicknamed her "The 60lb Appendage". :)

-Write love notes. I write them notes and leave them everywhere for my kids to find. Somehow having it down on paper as proof seems to help with reassurance. I write them little notes and leave them on their pillows when they are sleeping. I put notes in their sock drawers. In their school books. In the iPad. My son actually showed me that he has kept almost every note I've written him. We had to get a big bag for them. :)

-Wear the same clothes/accessories. Lots of adoption books recommend rubbing a baby with your lotion or shampoo, etc. We apply the same concept to our big kids. My son loves to look like my husband. They use the same deodorant scent. And he and I try to match with baseball hats or sweatshirts, or paracord bracelets. My daughter and I will wear the same color clothes, nailpolish, and matching earrings. I spray her with my body-splash. This is a huge deal to our kids.

-Give them something that's of value to you. I gave my kids each one of my rings and they wear them on a necklace. It really helped them feel secure. It helped them know that I trusted them. It helped them feel like I wouldn't ever just walk away from them when they had something "expensive" of mine. The ring that my daughter wears has their names engraved on it, which also goes a long way in making her feel secure. Extra tip....yes, give them something valuable, but also prepare for the item to be something you may never see again, due to multiple possibilities (accidental loss, or possible decimation in a meltdown where they may not be thinking clearly......). 

-Be honest and open. My kids' personal experiences have caused them to have a desperate need for openness. I mean, we talk about EVERYTHING as a family. This was tough for me and my husband at first, because we didn't expect to have to share everything as if we were in a four-person marriage, but it's what helped us gain our kids' trust. Their background dictates how they perceive their surroundings and situations, and in order to assure them that we were not doing damage to them behind their backs, we became a family who talks everything out. All the time. Even the smallest, most innocent things. There are no secrets. Sound ridiculous? Maybe it is. It doesn't matter. My kids needed absolute transparency. And now that we have the hang of it, it's kind of nice. And also, now that we have earned their trust, we don't have to be as extreme as we were in the beginning.

-Offer re-dos, and show them/act out the various options for handling situations and then have them act it out too. We do re-do's about 1,000x a day. The goal of a re-do (for us) is to teach our kids how to appropriately and respectfully handle a request or situation. The two examples below are pretty much how re-dos in our house go now, but originally, they didn't start out this smoothly! :)

                            Me: "Child X, can you please come help me set the table?"
                            Child X, "No! I don't want to. I'm tired."
                            Me: "I understand that you're tired. But that is not how you answer Mommy. If Mommy asks you to  
                                    do something, you need to do it or ask respectfully to be excused. Then Mommy will say yes or no.
                                    Whatever my answer is, you need to accept it without complaining. You may always ask to be excused,
                                    but you must be respectful. I'm going to ask you again:
                            Me: "Child X, can you please help me set the table?'
                            Child X, "Mommy, may I please stay here? I am tired."                
                            Me: "I'm sorry you're tired sweetie. Yes, you may stay. Thank you for such nice asking."


                            Child X: "Mom, I'm hungry."
                            Me: "You may eat a banana."
                            Child X: "Yuck. I want an orange!"
                            Me: "That's not a respectful response.Can you please try again?"
                            Child X: "Mom, I don't want a banana. Can I please have an orange?"
                            Me: "That was great asking! Yes, of course you can have an orange."

-Lots of  "yes's". Similar to the "re-do's" example above, we try to say "yes" to our kids as much as possible. Even if what they are asking isn't my preferred option for them, I want to teach them how to ask in a kind and respectful manner. For example, my kids love the iPad. And although I hate to admit it, they play on it more than I want. But if they are asking for it in a polite, respectful manner, and it is within reason, I will give them permission to use it (with a time limit). Teaching them how to ask was a huge thing for us, and has made everyone's life more enjoyable.

-Allow food to be available 24/7. A lot of adopted kids have food issues. Many have never had enough to eat, and will gorge or hide food out of self-preservation. Our kids have a need to know food is always available to them and they are allowed to eat fruit, toast, or pretzels any time of day.

-If you give options, keep it simple. Especially when you first come home. Kids who have not had a lot of possesions or options are easily over-stimulated. We kept it super simple. As in, two choices. Red or blue? Even that can be overwhelming for them. We noticed that when our kids had unlimited choices, they became greedier, crankier, and were unable to decide on one thing, much less, one of the actual options. Example: Don't ask, "What fruit do you want?" (My kids would take a hundred years to pick something and then wouldn't eat it and would want something else entirely.) Instead, ask, "Do you want an apple, or a banana?"

-Write out a daily schedule. For some reason, this helps my kids feel more secure (when they know in advance everything that will be happening), and it gives us a chance to talk about the day, and what will be expected. It also gives us a chance to review proper behavior for certain settings (bank/meeting new people/etc.)

-If your kids don't want to talk about something that is bothering them, trying writing about it back and forth. I am referring to eliminating speech, literally. Even if they don't have a lot of language, sometimes it is easier to express themselves through writing, plus it removes the need for eye contact, which can be scary for them. So try writing and pictograms. This worked great for one of our kids until they had enough trust and language to express themselves.

-Allow your kids to talk. My kids tend to start talking (specifically about their past life) at the most inconvenient times (school, bedtimes, etc.) and will talk for HOURS. Not kidding. But it is so necessary. For their healing. For you to fill in some gaps about their past. For them to share their burdens. To build trust. It will help you understand why they react to situations and triggers the way that they do. It's exhausting and can eat up half your day, but it is something my kids desperately crave. Definitely set a time limit if necessary (we do that for minor topics), but let them talk. I often feel like, "We don't have time!!!" but then I remember that if I cut them off, they might never open up to me again. Now, or ever. NOW is the time to establish that trust and vulnerability.

-Set some crucial rules and stick with them. We have six rules in our house. We wrote them out and posted them in our kitchen. 1. No ignoring. 2. No complaining. 3. No bossing each other around. 4. If you have a problem, tell Mom or Dad (no sulking/fighting/bad attitudes). 5. LOVE. FORGIVE. 6. No lying. 

-Be consistent. Be consistent with your rules. EVERY time. Exhausting? Inconvenient? Yup. Worth it? YUP.

-Understand that your kids are often little kids in big kid bodies. There's a general rule in the adoptive community that says something like, "For every six months in an institution, estimate your child's emotional development back one year." So, someone who is age 5, and spent two years in an institution would most likely have the emotional development of a one year old.

-Don't overreact to bad behavior and use positive reinforcement for good behavior. Lots of times, adopted kids may do something to try and get a rise out of us. Example: Don't like that we said no dessert until dinner is eaten? Let's vomit up our dinner. A possible response could be, "I'm sorry you threw up. Let's go ahead and clean it up. If you are so sick that you are throwing up, then dessert would just make you sicker, so no dessert tonight.". Example two: Don't like that we said physical reactions mean we can't go out with friends today? Let's break something. (Sigh. Stay calm and carry on. Oh, and removing electronic privileges is a good motivator!) When they do something good, or kind, or thoughtful, or respectfully, praise the heck out of them!

-Logic doesn't apply. Our kids have different backgrounds, culture, and experiences than us. When afraid, or in a meltdown, they are in survival mode. Logic is not part of this equation.  

-Don't sweat the small stuff. It is a little overwhelming to think of all the possible behavioral issues that may need to be addressed, so don't sweat the small stuff. Worry about the big stuff, and the matters of the heart. Worry about if your child is blatantly disobeying you, versus when they grab your cup from in front of you without asking and take a swig. Worry about how they are addressing people and not about the fact that when they shower, the bathroom floods. Definitely explain table and shower etiquette to them, and help them clean the bathroom, but don't worry about it. That will come. Address the big things first. I also feel like this helps the relationship grow; otherwise I would be nagging them all the time! Maybe one child's chore is the dishes, and they didn't get done, BUT the child has been exceptional to their sibling all day. Praise them for that. And forget the dishes (or wash them yourself). They're just dishes.

-Offer them the opportunity to earn money. It teaches them to be responsible. It teaches them the value of things. It teaches them hard work and motivates them. And it gives them life skills. My kids have ALL my cash. They shovel, do laundry, can clean the fridge or microwave, mow the grass, and clean the basement. They LOVE earning money. They have a few regular daily chores, but these are optional extras, with the chance to earn some $$$. And they feel good about themselves. Plus, it keeps them off the iPad. ;)

-Hurtful words hurt. But your child is probably hurting worse. Sometimes you will get hit with words. Words that cut, lacerate, and destroy. Words that truly crush your heart. It sucks. But hopefully, it's a season. And often, they aren't truly what the child is feeling. They are a reaction (probably to fear of some sort, or extreme pain from their loss). When these daggers are thrown at you, try your best to respond with something that gently counters them. Example: "I DON'T LOVE YOU!!!!" "Baby, I am SO sorry that you are hurting. I wish I could take your pain. I love you, baby." "YOU'RE NOT MY MOM!!!!" (After thousands of hours fighting for them, nurturing them, giving them everything, this one HURTSSSSS.) "Baby, you will always have two moms. Your first Mommy loved you so much! And I do too. I am so sorry that life can be cruel. I can't imagine what you are going through. I'm so sorry, hunny! But I love you very, VERY much. Forever. Hunny, it's okay to be mad. It's okay to cry. Baby, when you hurt, I hurt. Because I LOVE you. My heart is your heart." 

-These kids may have had to be adults in their previous life. So acting like a child may not be natural. My kids had life experiences that caused them to be independent. And that carries over to our current family life. Also, because of cultural differences, my kids had a hard time with some of the boundaries here. No, you can't stay at a location alone. No, you may not go grocery shopping alone. No, you may not bike through heavy traffic miles away by yourself. No, you can't go swimming by yourself. Yes, you need to go to bed when I tell you. Yes, you need to eat what I tell you. Etc, etc. 

-Set the example you want to be. In everything. And apologize first. Try to respond to your kids in the way you want them to respond, even if it doesn't make sense. And apologize first. Even when you're not technically wrong. Example (this scenario just happened to us a couple days ago): Child X does something with a silly face and crazy eyes that remind me of a character from the movie, "A Shark's Tale", (this child's favorite). I teasingly say, "Okay, my little Fish, enough of your silliness, come get your coat on so we can go out." Child X beings to cry and then becomes hysterical. In-between sobs, they manage to say (after coaxing) that I didn't respect them and called them a bad name and they are angry and hurt. I am completely confused (and slightly annoyed). But I pulled Child X into my arms and said, "Heyyyyyyyyyy. I am so sorry that you feel hurt. Baby, "Fish" isn't a bad name. I didn't call you that to be mean. I said it because you reminded me of 'A Shark's Tale' with your silly face. I didn't know that you would be hurt by it. I really am sorry, hunny." Child X, after resisting for a minute, buried their face in my shoulder and began to sob and tell me something that had happened multiple times in their previous life regarding being called names, and it broke my heart and also gave me more insight to their behavior. And it reminded me that apologizing first breaks down barriers, promotes humility, and teaches your child the correct way to handle a situation.

-Tell them they are loved, even when you want to scream. When my kids have a meltdown, the worse they get, the more I try to love on them. I may have to be firm and not back down, but instead of disicpline or punishment, I often just sit with my kids and tell them how much I love them. This isn't easy. In the heat of the moment, when something outrageous has happened, the last thing I want to do when they are pitching a fit is tell them how much they mean to me. But this method has actually brought my kids to tears and stopped a meltdown. When they are out of control, I tell them what incredible people they are. What I love about them (smiles, laughs, personality traits, hair, eyes, etc.). How much I loved them before I knew them. Before I met them. Before I saw pictures. I tell them how wonderful and special they are, how much God loves them, and what wonderful people they are going to be. I tell them how proud I am of them. At first it was hard. REALLY hard. When I wanted to react in frustration or anger, telling them a million reasons why I loved them seemed weird. But the result was stunning. I literally watched the walls that surrounded my kids' hearts crumble to dust after hearing they were loved, even during their worst moments. 

-When you are going through a hard time, make some "love lists" for them. Page 1. "Words and Phrases for ____________." My page included words like "always", "forever", "mine", "always a family," etc. Page 2. "Words I Associate with _________." (Insert positive words that make you think of this child.) Page 3. "Reasons Why I Love ______ (insert child's name)." (A list of reasons why you love them.) For us, making these lists during a hard time showed our kids that we don't only love them when they are "good", but that we love them when times get tough.

Does all this sound scary and/or overwhelming? Sure it does! You are taking a half grown person into your family and trying to balance everything they know and are, with everything you know and are. And you know what? It is the coolest thing ever. That doesn't mean it's easy, or perfect. But it's incredible. These kids just need one thing. Unconditional love. You aren't responsible for how they have been raised, what happened to them in the past, and how that impacts them now. Your job is to love them; to let them know that no matter what happens, no matter what they do, they are your precious child, and you will always LOVE them. My kids have developed and matured SO much since coming home. I could cry every time I think about how far they have come, and what incredible people they are growing to be. I am so, so proud of them. They are truly proof that circumstances don't have to define you. That the hardest days don't last forever. That love conquers all.

They are proof of redemption.