Sunday, December 1, 2013

Trades of Hope Holiday Sale

I just wanted to let everyone know that Trades of hope is having a great holiday sale, today and tomorrow!!! : ) I just love Trades of Hope because I know I am helping women around the world with every purchase-and the products are just BEAUTIFUL!! :)  I am having an on-line holiday open house! Please share with others. With every purchase through this link, you will be entered to win a $20 gift certificate.  Thanks for your support and help, changing the lives of women in poverty!
 Don't forget to contact me if you have any questions or would like to join my team and become a Compassion Entrepreneur for Trades of Hope. It is a GREAT way to raise money for your adoption or help others raise money for their adoptions!
Be sure to like us on Facebook, too: Jenna Lewis-Trades of Hope
Thanks for you support and for helping to change lives!! :) Please feel free to SHARE!!

Joy Meets More Family!

Well, we survived the 12 1/2 hour trek to visit family in Iowa and Nebraska.  Joy got to meet a lot of the extended family for the first time, including cousins, aunts & uncles and Great Grandma and Grandpa! My grandma is 90 years old and my grandpa will turn 94 in January! It was such a blessing to see them and spend some time with them. We have such a great heritage of faith in our family! It is so good to be home, though. There really is no place like home!


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Exciting News X 2!

We have super exciting news....Yesterday morning we went to court to finalize Joy's adoption and she is now OFFICIALLY our beautiful daughter, Joy Noelle Lewis! I can hardly believe it!  It was 13 months to the day when Joy left the comforts of her life in the Philippines to become a part of our family. We love our spunky little girl! She is absolutely a "Joy" to us and adds a lot of spice to our lives. I am so glad it is finally official and I can post all the pictures I want! :) Look for  a new design coming soon on my blog, full of lots of pictures of my family.

We have exciting news X 2! The second part is that I am starting a business venture.  I have decided to join the team at Trades of Hope in selling items handmade by women around the world in poverty. If you have never heard of Trades of Hope, you can check them out here:  I am not a sales person and, being an introvert, I typically HATE home parties; however, this opportunity is so different from any of the other types of home businesses out there. I feel good about being a part of something bigger than myself and the products are AMAZING! The website and catalogs do not do the products justice! With Christmas right around the corner, I want to encourage you to purchase gifts with a purpose this year.  Through Trades of Hope, you can help empower women in poverty, while getting beautiful gifts for family members and friends.  Also, if you would like me to host an on-line (or home/church party for those in the Louisville area) so you can earn free product and be a part of helping these women, I would love to set one up for you.  It is minimal work for you to do an on-line party-Basically just getting the word out there through e-mail and social media, with a link for your party. 


If you are interested in becoming a Compassion Entrepreneur, please contact me at  There is very little investment to get started.  I am super excited about the beautiful handmade products, and I cannot wait to be a part of this wonderful missions-minded company. I am also excited about having a way to help raise money for friends who are adopting and for other missions projects.  Trades of Hope also provides adoption grants, so if you are interested in that information, please let me know!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Happy Gotcha Day!- Or not so happy....

I am not sure why we celebrate Gotcha Day. Looking back, I have to say it was one of the worst days of my little girls' life-and maybe one of my worst days as well. I guess we are celebrating this year because we can testify of all the great things God has done in our family over the past year. He truly has brought us through the difficult transition and woven us together as a family! I am so thankful to Him for seeing us through!

October 5, 2012

Today was the day we would pick up Joy and she would be with us forever. It was supposed to be a happy day. It started off rough. We were supposed to meet at the orphanage at 10:00 AM. Our driver was late-due to traffic (imagine that!) She didn't arrive until just a few minutes before 10:00- and remember, it takes over an hour to get to the orphanage from the hotel.  I wanted to call and let them know we would be late, but I was informed that in the Philippines you do not need to do that. It is almost expected that you will be late-how can you not be late, with that kind of intense traffic!

By the time we arrived at the orphanage, I was a nervous wreck. I HATE being late and I felt terrible about it! I felt even more terrible when we were met by the orphanage director who said the babies had been waiting for the "going away" party, so we would do the party part first before going over all the paperwork. I think Joy was anxious too. I think she thought we were not coming for her. I felt so bad!

They had a nice little celebration for us, with chips of various kinds. Chips were Joy's request for the party food! They decorated and sat all the babies in a circle outside on their back patio.  We sang songs and then Joy went around and hugged everyone and said goodbye. It was heartbreaking. She was saying "goodbye" to the only home she had ever known. And it was a good home. A loving home. She had her needs met-and she loved her caregivers.

We went over the paperwork with the orphanage directors and the social workers-and then it was time to leave.

Joy wanted to ride in our van. She came very willingly and didn't cry one bit. All the caregivers had tears in their eyes. They were sad and happy at the same time. Joy sat between me and Natalie. In the van, she sat rigid and didn't want me to touch her, and then she clung to Natalie. She wouldn't look at me or let me touch her at all. And that's how it began. She was terrified. She was confused. And she wanted Mama Tine, the only Momma she had ever known-but she didn't know how to tell us what she was feeling. Instead, she clung to Natalie and rejected me.

At the hotel, things got worse. She stuck her tongue out at me if I tried to smile at her. She pinched me if I tried to touch her. She spit in my face if I tried to help her in any way. I felt like she hated me. I think she was trying to get us to take her back to the orphanage, the only home she had ever known. I will be absolutely honest.  I had several moments when I wanted to take her back. She was doing her best to act her worst.  I knew she was scared and hurting, but I didn't understand how she could act that way. It doesn't matter how much you study this kind of thing in adoption books-there is no way to prepare yourself for this type of rejection.

We had no honeymoon period. Not even one day. Not even one hour. And she took out all her fear and her anger on me. In turn, I had trouble even liking the little girl we had gone half way across the world to adopt. Judge me if you want, but unless you have been there, you cannot understand. I wanted to love her. I wanted to take care of her. I wanted to be her Mommy. She wouldn't let me. She pushed me and pinched me and spit at me. She didn't want me. She wanted what was comfortable. She wanted her bed. She wanted the only momma she ever knew. Isn't this the way we treat God sometimes? He's trying to give us something better than what we had, but we kick and we scream and we push it away, wanting only what is comfortable to us. We have to remember He sees the big picture and we can always trust Him even if it seems painful at times.

It is not true that God does not give you more than you can handle. He gave me way more than I could handle those first several weeks with Joy-but He was right there with me. Without God, I would have given up the first day, but His strength upheld me during those very difficult days.

And so, gotcha day was NOT a happy day. Joy didn't want to be there with us, and the way she was acting, I didn't want her there with us either. This was not the way I had imagined how our first day together would go.

I am so glad that today, one year later, we can celebrate what God has done. I can look back and I am so grateful for the missionaries and caregivers who took such good care of our little Joy. Her complete rejection of me was partially because she was so well loved and she didn't want to leave. I can look back and I can see how far God has brought us. Today, Joy loves her Mommy and Mommy loves her to pieces. Joy is happy now, even though she still misses her first "family" at times. So, Happy Gotcha Day, Joy! Remember on this day that God always loves you and He will always take care of you, even if you are scared or angry or confused. God's hand is upon your life and He can see the big picture, even when you only see the pain.

Philippines Day 1-Meeting Joy

The next morning, we made the arrangements to meet the I.C.A.B. social worker and our driver at the hotel so we could go to the orphanage to meet Joy. This was our first "real" glimpse of the city of Manila.

When we booked our hotel, we purposely booked it in the closest "safe" area of town to the orphanage. We thought we were only about 10 minutes away from the orphanage-but we had no idea how to account for Manila traffic! What would have taken 10 minutes in our city, took well over an hour in Manila. Traffic was insane. Cars honking, people walking in middle of the traffic selling goods, street children begging, Jeepenys, and buses. I felt terribly claustrophobic.

Joy's orphanage was in a "gated" community with a guard outside of it. That sounds nice-but it really wasn't. The streets leading up to the orphanage had little homes made out of cardboard and maybe tin roofs where people lived. The poverty was overwhelming.

When we pulled up to the orphanage, I was surprised at how nice it was. It was surrounded by a cement wall and a large guard dog named Trigger greeted us at the gate. We were warmly welcomed by Ate J who was the social worker at the orphanage and ushered into a large front room that was the office. After a few minutes of "chit chat" Ate J asked us if we wanted to meet Joy. A few minutes later I heard what sounded like a scream/cry and I was told that was Joy. I asked if she was crying or scared and I was told she was excited.

It was quite a surreal experience to meet Joy for the first time. I could tell that Joy was nervous when she entered the room. I could also tell that she was well loved and taken care of. Her hair was fixed in a pretty French braid with barrettes and she was holding the Ate's hand. She looked at Natalie right away and basically clung to her the rest of the time. She did give me a small hug and sat on my lap for a minute at the urging of one of the Ate's-but that didn't last long.

At one point while we were there, Joy touched Darren's nose and said something in Tagalog. All those in the room that understood what she said, laughed! She had told Darren he had a big nose!

We got a tour of the orphanage. It was very nice and the Ate's were so kind. I could tell that the babies were well loved. There were so many adorable babies. I wanted to hold them, but I knew it was more important for me to focus on Joy. I did not want her to think we were there for the babies. She had seen all of her friends be adopted, and now it was her turn. She was chosen. Even though she was loved in the orphanage, there was a hole in her heart. She wanted a family, and we were there to be that family.

The missionaries who run the orphanage arrived while we were getting the tour. They had cut their vacation short to come see Joy off to her new family. They were kind and I could tell they loved Joy so very much.

We only stayed about an hour or so before heading back to the hotel. We would come back the following day to pick Joy up and take her with us.

Our journey had only just begun!

The Flight

Over the next several posts, I am going to share in detail about our adoption journey to the Philippines to bring our daughter home. There are several reasons I did not do this a year ago. For one, the journey was intense and I was absolutely exhausted. A second reason, I struggled for a long while, both while there in the Philippines and for several months after coming home and I honestly didn't want to share publically, especially since Joy's adoption wasn't finalized.

Why am I sharing now? I want other adoptive families to know it is ok to struggle. Maybe even normal. I want to share my experiences so I can hopefully help someone else on their journey. Joy's adoption should be final in the next couple weeks, so I feel it is a good time to share the details.

The Flight

October 2nd, 2012

Not many children can say their parents flew through a typhoon to bring them home-but Joy can! I think our flight was our first indication of how difficult this journey would be.  The day started out great! I got more sleep than I imagined I would and woke up refreshed and ready for our 24 hours of travel to the Philippines. I felt a little anxious, but more excited than anything.

We arrived at the Louisville airport, feeling relaxed and ready to go. We made it through security with no issues and had time to get Starbucks. Our first flight was a piece of cake. Just a hop, skip and a jump and we were in Detroit. In Detroit, we had a significant layover before our 14 hour flight to Tokyo. 

The flight to Tokyo is where it got rough. I was too excited or anxious to read or sleep, so I put a movie on. The kids were settled in. The first 10 or 12 hours were smooth, and I even snoozed a bit. By about 12 hours into our flight, we started going through some intense turbulence. The plane dropped like an elevator falling-or maybe the Tower of Terror ride at Disney World and people screamed. For almost 2 hours the plane dropped and bumped and shook. Babies cried and kids got sick. One of them was my kid. Micah, who was sitting next to me got sick all over himself. The little did no good. I tried to page the stewardess, but she was not any help. There were people getting sick all over the plane. I tried to clean him up with one of the airline "blankets", but he had to sit that way for over 1/2 hour.

Finally, after a very bumpy decent, we landed almost an hour behind schedule at the Tokyo airport. We were late for our connecting flight to Manila. Running through the airport, Natalie got sick. Thankfully, the airport employees were very kind and helped us find the restrooms and jump to the head of the line so we would not miss our flights.

The take off again was very bumpy. Flying through a typhoon was absolutely TERRIBLE!!!  We arrived in Manila, absolutely exhausted. The airport was crowded and it was tiring trying to maneuver through all the people. Thankfully, our friend, who was our tour guide and driver while we were there, met us at the airport and took us safely through the traffic to our hotel.

Our hotel was beautiful and very westernized. I did not get much sleep that night, even though I was exhausted! I knew the next day I would meet our little girl!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

It would be so much easier....

We are nearing the 1 year mark of the day we met Joy for the first time.  I can hardly believe it! We are awaiting, somewhat impatiently, a court date for when we can finalize Joy’s adoption.  We should hear back (hopefully) from the lawyer sometime in the next week or so.

While we have not finalized Joy’s adoption in court, she has become our daughter in our hearts.  We cannot imagine our lives without her.  Her spunky nature has brought so much fullness into our lives and it has been such an honor to be a part of the amazing transformation in Joy over this past year.
When we began Joy’s adoption, I never dreamed that God would radically change my life the way He did.  Our family took a very huge step of faith, both financially and emotionally when we began the process to adopt Joy.  And God provided every step of the way. We had the money when we needed it. We had the strength when we needed it. He provided for every little detail, and in the process He stretched our faith.  God is quite funny that way. I thought my faith had been stretched enough, but it seems God has other ideas. God has been stirring our hearts toward adopting again.  At first we thought about adopting through the US foster care system. It would be much easier financially. We would have to travel. The process would be much, much simpler in many ways.  However, just last week, I found a little boy who needs a home on a special focus list from China, and I cannot quit thinking about him. It would cost around $30,000.00 to adopt him and I was told the process would only take about 10-12 months. There is no possible way for us in and of ourselves to come up with that kind of cash! It seems impossible. It is quite daunting and it seems absolutely CRAZY! While I can’t say for sure that God has called us to adopt this little boy, God does specialize in things that are impossible without Him. Pray for us! We desperately need guidance and direction!  Whether or not God is calling us to adopt this little boy, I know in our hearts He is calling us to adopt again someday!
It would be so much easier to say no. It would be so much easier to say we have done our part. It would be so much easier to continue on with our lives the way we are and look the other way. But God does not tell us to live comfortable lives.
It would be so much easier to NOT have to fill out the mounds of paperwork again. Or complete home study visits and background checks and FBI fingerprinting.  Or travel to a foreign country. It would be so much simpler to NOT have to cry and pray and try to come up with $30,000. Or fill out 100 applications for grants. Or sacrifice our vacation, lattes at Starbucks, and anything else we can come up with to save money. Or do a ton of fundraisers.
 It would be so much easier to NOT have to try to integrate another child into our family. And deal with the child’s grief of leaving behind the life he never knew. And deal with a slew of emotional unknowns. And deal with the growing pains associated with adding another family member.

Although a big part of me does NOT want to go through the international adoption process again, there is a part of me that is excited to see what God can do. I feel Him telling me, “Trust me. The money is just a drop in the bucket to me. Trust me. The sacrifices you make will be worth it all.”
While it would be so much easier to just continue life as a family of 5, I don’t want to live an easy life. I want live my life to the fullest, following Him every step of the way.  I want to know God and trust Him in ways I have never trusted Him before. I want to see Him do the miraculous. Please pray with us as we continue on this journey of faith. If we decide God is calling us to adopt this little boy from China, it will be the biggest step of faith we have ever taken and we need clear confirmation whether or not this is what God wants us to do.  Thank you for your prayers as we continue to seek God's will for our family!  

Monday, September 9, 2013

11 months....1 more month to "gotcha day"!

Joy has been home with us for 11 months now and it has been an incredible journey so far. I have to say these past several weeks have been the most rewarding. Joy has just blossomed and she is so happy these days. She seems to have found her place in our family and be very settled. One of the ladies at church told me on Sunday that she was amazed at the changes in Joy. She told me it made her smile how Joy just "glows" with happiness now. She is not the same scared little girl we brought home almost a year ago and she is living up to her name! Joy is still struggling with school and learning how to read and do math, but I am confident we will be able to help her in these areas with time.

One of the things I love about Joy is her sense of humor. She constantly has us laughing and the whole family likes to quote her funny sayings! The more she learns to say things, the more her sense of humor comes out.  At night when I tuck Joy in, I often encourage her to do her best at school the next day.  Last night after our prayers, she took my chin in her hand and turned my face to her and said, "Look at me, Mom! Now you do your very best at work tomorrow!"  She also had a very funny prayer last night. She prayed that she would get shampoo and make up for her birthday!

I can hardly believe she has been home almost a whole year! In just a couple weeks we will celebrate Joy's first birthday with us as a family.  She will turn 8. Last year at this time, we were anxiously awaiting to receive word of our travel approval and we were so disappointed to have missed her birthday. I think God knew that she needed one more birthday with her "family" at the orphanage who loved and cared for her so much. They had a birthday party for her on her birthday every year. I am so thankful Joy was in a wonderful orphanage where she was so loved. It truly has helped her become the amazing little girl she is today and we are so blessed God put her in our family!

Those of you wondering if you can adopt an older child, I want to encourage you. It is not always easy. There can be many challenges; however, there are so many blessings! If God is speaking to you about adopting an older child or a child who is waiting and longing for a home, please listen to His voice. You will be so glad you did! I don't want to sugarcoat things. There will be difficulties. There will be days you will wonder what you are doing.  There may be days you want to quit. Following Christ isn't always easy, but there are always great rewards when you obey the voice of the Father. I am so glad we took the step of faith to adopt our little girl. I cannot imagine our family without her!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

We survived-Week 1 of school!

We at the Lewis household survived week one of the back-to school routine! This year the transition has been more difficult than past years because my oldest daughter started middle school and Joy is having a very difficult time with the transition and leaving Momma all day. Thankfully, my son loves school and his transition has been very easy. He is excited about school and even said, "I forgot how much I like school!"

  Joy has been through so much change in this past year. I totally understand her apprehension, but it is difficult for me to see her struggle to go to school each day. She did very well this first week behavior-wise, but every night she told me she wants to go to Momma Tine.  She hasn't talked about missing Momma Tine in months, so I know it is the fear of the unknown making her feel insecure and long for the "comforts" of her first 7 years. Yesterday she also told me, "School is REALLY hard, Momma.  I just want to go home and go to bed." I have never had a child until now that struggled with school-and it breaks my heart. I tried to work with Joy some over the summer on her sight words and learning to read. She did make some progress, but not near what I was hoping. I feel guilty because I know I didn't spend as much time working with her as I should have. So, my new routine will include spending time reading and working on sight words every night with Joy. Please continue to pray for Joy that she will be able to learn to read and do math, and it won't be so difficult for her.

When I told Joy Friday was the last day of school for the week, she exclaimed, "Hallelujah!" I guess that pretty much sums up how Joy feels about school!

This morning, Joy was excited to sleep in and spend time with me. She gave me "lots of big hugs" and said, "I miss you, Momma." I said, "But I am here, how can you miss me?" She replied, "At school, I miss you and Momma Tine." Hey, it's progress, right? At least she misses me and Momma Tine now!

So, we survived week one. There are so many more weeks to go, but I am thankful the first week went better than I expected! Even though Joy is not really excited about school, she is making friends and she likes her teacher and she is behaving well! Micah loves his teacher and is excited and Natalie enjoyed her first week of middle school (everything except for getting up so early!) I think it will be a good year and I am praying for all of my kiddos that they will learn and do their best.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

It's been awhile....Update on Joy!

Oh, my! I cannot BELIEVE I have not made a post on here since APRIL!! Life has a way of doing that, I guess-especially with my busy summer schedule. I am home from church tonight with a sick little one-no fun, but I decided now was a perfect time to do a little update on my blog.

Here's what is going on: We FINALLY received the "official" consent to adopt Joy from the I.C.A.B! (Hallelujah. Bless the Lord-as Joy likes to say!)  We just today sent in our retainer to our lawyer to get the paperwork finished. I have no idea how long it will take before we are able to finalize the paperwork and officially change Joy's name to Joy Noelle Lewis. I would have loved to complete it before school starts, but that isn't going to happen. Oh well-she is a part of our family and truly our daughter-I don't need the paperwork to tell me that!

Emotionally: Joy is doing AMAZINGLY well. The changes in her even in the last couple months are incredible. She still misses Mama Tine and Papa Aschi (the directors at the orphanage) and prays for them nearly every night-but she rarely cries for them anymore. She will probably always miss them and her Ate's (caregivers) at the orphanage; they were an important part of her life and always will be. She was so blessed to be in a home with so many people who loved her and cared for her! Joy has come to a place where she enjoys being a part of our family and she feels much more secure in her place as our daughter. Seeing the changes and growth in her have been some of the most rewarding parts of this adoption journey.

Language: Joy is doing well with the English language. She is doing speech therapy every week and will go back to speech therapy several times a week once school starts. She is very behind in her language skills, but we have seen huge improvements! She makes us laugh often with the funny things she says. It amazes me how much she is learning on a daily basis. 

Academically: Please pray for Joy as we get ready to start back to school in the next few weeks! She is very nervous about going back to school and meeting her new teacher and new classmates. The transition will be tough on her as she has been with Mommy and Daddy all summer. Natalie will also not be at the same school with Joy, since Natalie starts Middle School this year. (Pray for me-the mother of a middle school girl!!!)  Please pray with me that the transition will go well and Joy will love her teacher and her classmates. Also pray that she will make leaps and bounds in reading, writing and math this year. It is difficult for this Momma to see her so far behind because I don't want her to ever feel like she is not good enough or not smart enough. I want her to do her best and not get discouraged!

Thank you to everyone for their continued prayers and support! Hopefully, it will not be so long until my next blog update!! :) And hopefully, soon, I can post the pictures of Joy Noelle Lewis at the finalization of her adoption!!! I cannot wait!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

One Day at a time

Do you ever just feel completely and utterly helpless as a parent? Today was one of those days. Joy was scheduled to be tested today by a  psychologist who specializes in dealing with children with epilepsy and learning delays.  I was really looking forward to this testing because I desperately want to help Joy learn and grow academically.  I felt like this was the next step and we would gain some ground on figuring out the puzzle and helping her learn to read, do math, and socialize better.  BUT....after about an hour of questions with very few answers from Joy that made any sense, the psychologist decided that it would be better to wait at least another 4-6 months before doing the actual testing because Joy's English is so delayed. He wasn't sure the testing would be very accurate since she has difficulty expressing herself and we don't know exactly how much she understands of what we are telling her. So, we are back to square one. And I feel completely and utterly helpless. Where do we go from here? I feel like we have come so far in 6 1/2 months, and yet we have so far to go. I feel helpless on how to assist Joy in getting where she needs to be academically. The psychologist recommended speech therapy, which she is already in at school. He recommended occupational therapy, which she also already does weekly. Are we already doing what we need to do? It seems like we should be doing more. Sometimes it feels like we are just going 'round and 'round in circles and getting nowhere in helping her!

I struggle often with sorting out the pieces to the puzzle of adoption and learning delays. What part of Joy's delays are due to the physical malformation in her brain? What part of her delays are due to being in an orphanage with much younger children? How has the life-changing event of adoption affected her? How in the WORLD do we sort this out? And so, we just take it one day at a time. On days like today, when I feel helpless, I pray and I think about how far we have come.  I pray for guidance to find the right therapists and the right child care for summertime. I pray for her teachers and for the transition next year at school. I pray that I will have the knowledge and wisdom on how to help her as her mom.  And I pray for Joy, that God will give her peace and strength and she will learn and grow to become the person God created her to be. I am so glad that although I may not have any of the answers, I serve a God who has ALL the answers. So for now, I am doing all I can do-just taking it one day at a time.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sibling Love...or not!

Sibling bonding isn't a topic written about very frequently on adoption blogs or in books, but for me, it has been one of the biggest difficulties with our adoption.  When we first started talking about adoption, Natalie, who is now 11 years old, immediately wanted a sister and Micah, who is 8 years old,  wanted a brother. When we found out we were going to adopt Joy, Natalie was ecstatic! Micah, on the other hand, continued to pray we would adopt a BOY AND A GIRL! (Not sure that is going to happen...but we will see!) Natalie was so excited to have a little sister; however, when we met Joy and brought her home, Natalie was NOT expecting her to act the way she did. It didn't even take a few days and she was frustrated and annoyed with her new little sister. Joy was not the kind of sister she anticipated or imagined!  We tried to prepare Natalie in advance, reminding her that Joy was in an orphanage where she was the oldest child and all the others were babies.  We reminded her that Joy had learning delays and would probably act younger than her age, but I don't think Natalie was REALLY prepared.  She wasn't prepared for a sister who clung to her one minute, and would try to hit her or pinch her the next. She wasn't prepared for a sister who, although is 7 years old, sometimes acts like she is 3 or 4. Micah, who is super sensitive, was deeply hurt by the way Joy treated me. At first he tried to reassure me with wise-beyond- his -years words, "Mom, her mom abandoned her and she is scared you will leave her too."   But as time went on he would sometimes get tears in his eyes, as he gave me a hug. "Mom, I am sorry she treats you that way."  I will never forget the morning, several weeks after we came home from the Philippines, Micah went to our children's pastor at church and asked for prayer. "My new sister is stressing me out" he said, almost in tears.  And has been a learning journey as far as sibling bonding goes.

We discovered a few things rather quickly that have helped us grow together as a family and nurture sibling bonding. I would suggest any family adopting an older child or a child with special needs, if you have other children in the household, to consider and adapt these principles for your own family.

1) Set aside some time to spend with your biological children alone- without making the newly adopted child feel left out-especially during the cocooning stage.  This sounds counter-productive, but it is very helpful because a newly adopted child, especially in those first few months, requires a LOT of Mommy and Daddy attention. It is important to have time for your biological children alone if possible because it is easy for them to start feeling bitter or sad or angry at the newly adopted child for taking up all your time and attention.  It is also a good time to talk about how they can help their new sibling adjust and adapt and for them to share their feelings with you. It is important your kids know they can talk to you about how they are feeling. They share the stress and feel the stress involved in adoption. It impacts the ENTIRE family. If you have a chance to talk about it and pray together, the feelings will not fester and grow and become something ugly!

 In our house, Joy goes to bed promptly at 8:00. I sit with her until she falls asleep each night, which she usually does fairly quickly. We allow Natalie and Micah to stay up until 9:00 or even sometimes until 9:30. This is time for them with Mom and Dad, without making Joy feel left out. We sometimes play games or watch a movie or even just read books together. This has worked out very well for us!  

2) Rely upon friends and family to take your biological children out in order to give them some special attention and a break from all the "trauma". We have a friend at church, who has a daughter Natalie's age.  This friend, starting from just a week or so after we got home from the Philippines has invited Natalie over often to spend the night or out for the day, without ever expecting us to return the favor.  (We didn't allow Natalie to spend the night right away, because we didn't want Joy to be traumatized thinking Natalie was not going to come back, but we did let her go out for a few hours. Eventually, we let her start spending the night.) This is great because it gives Natalie a much needed break from her new sister, who is sharing her room.  Sometimes, space is the key! Giving each child one on one attention is important and making sure each child knows they are loved and appreciated.  Sometimes, the "new" kid demands all the attention and it is necessary to make sure you do not "neglect" your other children in the process!

3) Schedule "Dates". This one is similar to the previous one, but instead of relying on others, take turns having Mommy or Daddy dates with each child individually. This doesn't have to be expensive or extensive. It can mean just going out for ice cream, going to a store, or going to a park to play. One on one time is good for each child and it can also be a refreshing time for the parents! If you have multiple children, you can also do "dates" with the adopted child and one of the biological children to foster bonding of the siblings.  I took the "girls" shopping one day and we had a blast! Since Micah does NOT like to shop (unless it includes Legos), it was fun to go shopping with the girls and it helped to nurture their relationship.

4) Work together!  Ok...maybe this one is a little obvious, but for us this is how it looks. Joy struggled in her attachement to me, so my husband and I had to tag-team it a lot, starting from day one! At first it was because I couldn't even be in a room alone with Joy, but now Joy demands MUCH of my attention from the time I get home from work until she goes to bed. My husband will usually focus on spending time helping the older two with homework, housework, and playtime while I focus mostly on Joy. Not to say that I ignore the other children, it's just that she requires more attention than the typical child her age.  We have found if we tag-team it and work together in this way, all of our children are happy.

5) Be consistent in correction and in affection.  Be consistent in how you correct each child. Be consistent in how you show affection to each child. This can be difficult. It can be exhausting. I am not saying you correct or discipline them each the same way or even show affection to each of them the same way, but you MUST be consistent! Each child must know the boundries and be corrected if those boundries are crossed. Your biological children must not feel like you show "favoritism" to the newly adopted one and VICE VERSA! Remember your adopted one is new and can often feel left out and not part of the family.  Jealousy can flow both ways, and it will DESTROY sibling bonding. This can also flow over to outside the family relationships. Make sure family members do not show undue attention to the "new" one, while ignoring the other children. If this happens, gently find a way to include ALL the children.

6) Remember, in the same way bonding takes time for a parent/child relationship, bonding takes time in a sibling relationship. There were many moments at the beginning when I wondered if the three of our children would ever get along or even LIKE each other; however, as time goes on, I see some beautiful glimpses of bonding and it makes this momma's heart happy! Their relationship is not perfect and there is still a very long way to go, but I feel like they are starting to develop a growing sibling bond of love!

Here are just a few glimpses:

There are times when Joy is crying, Natalie will hold her and ask if she misses "Momma Tine" and comfort her as only a sister can. 

There are times when Micah tries to teach her new words The other day, Micah said, "I am going to teach Joy a new word. Her word of the day is 'delish'." Micah to Joy, "Joy-Joy, say 'Delish'. These green beans are delish."  She laughed and replied in her cute little accent, "Delish!"

Oh...and let's not forget "the annoying song" Micah had to teach Joy! It's literally called "The song that gets on everybody's nerves." Try listening to that in the car on a road trip!

"Na-ta-lie!" Na-ta-lie!" Joy calls. "What Joy?" Natalie answers. "I love you!" says Joy.

And that, my friends, is what I have to remember when the arguing and the fighting starts. It's not always easy, but it is a growing and developing relationship which we have to work hard to nurture! God will continue to knit our family together and give us love for each other as we acknowledge Him in all we do!

Do you have ways you have nurtured sibling bonding and helped nurture a true family relationship? If so, comment below.  I would love to hear your ideas!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

I'd do it all over again

Adoption is full of emotional ups and downs, and they don't stop once your new child is home with you. If you asked me the week we got home from the Philippines with our new daughter if I would ever adopt again, my response would have been, "No way! Once is MORE than I can handle!" Now, almost six months later, I have to say, "Yes, absolutely!"  Some of you who have seen the trials we have gone through may ask "Why? Why would you put yourself and your family through all that again?"

Because it's simply not about me. It's about God's heart for the fatherless. It's about a child who needs a family. It's about following God wherever He calls me to go. It's about loving sacrificially, and no matter what the sacrifice God asks of you, it is ALWAYS worth it in the end. The mountains of paperwork. The excruciating long wait. The thousands of dollars and financial strain. The most terrible flight through a typhoon, including two hours of extreme turbulance. The disappointment and pain of rejection. The panic moments when I really thought "There is NO WAY I can do this! What in the world is God thinking, asking this of me?"(yes,it happened at the hotel in Manila,only a couple hours after picking our daughter up! I had a breakdown!-Just ask my husband!)  The weeks of jetlag and interrupted sleep. The continuing struggle with siblings. The melding of differences in personalities. The need for constant attention. The numerous medical and therapy appointments. The worries of learning delays. Yes. It is worth every single moment.

The big hugs around my neck. The unsolicited, "Mommy, I love you." The big smile when she puts on her new dress and exclaims "I princess!"  The contented sigh when she sits in my lap. The excitement when she sees her many new friends and family at church.  The joy of seeing her blossom and grow as she gains confidence in who God created her to be. Her little voice telling me, just a couple weeks ago. "I wait a long time for you to come. My family." And then a few days ago her declaration, "Mommy, I no miss Momma Tine anymore. I love Mommy and Daddy." It is OH, SO WORTH IT! 

It is worth every heartache, every tear I cried. It is worth every struggle and battle of the wills. It is worth every bruise on my arms from being pinched  and scratched. It is worth every time she rejected me by spitting in my face. It is worth every tantrum. (Even the ones on the airplane and at the airport on the way home!)  It is worth every sibling fight. It is worth every inner-struggle and insecurity I face. It is worth it ALL to see such a beautiful miracle unfold.

Yes, no question about it, I would do it all over again. If God opens the door for us to adopt another child, I will do it in a heartbeat because, even though the cost is great and the road is rough,  it is absolutely worth it! 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

I'm no Super-Mom!

I have been struggling lately. REALLY struggling.  Any of you who know me personally, know that my life's dreams always included being a stay at home mom and wife. From the time I was a little girl, people would ask me the classic question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" My reply was always, "A Mom."  I know in today's world that may not seem like a very lofty goal, but honestly, I believe God placed that desire in my heart. I am struggling because for the past 5 years I have had to divide my "mom" time with a full-time outside-the-home job.  God has sustained me and our family. He has blessed me with the most AMAZING husband. I am not kidding when I say he does all this and more. He gets the kids ready for school every morning and gets them there on time,  picks them up after school, makes dinner EVERY night, grocery shops on his day off, helps clean the house, and takes the kids to dentist, doctor and therapy appointments. He is not a stay-at-home dad.  He is a full-time pastor, a part-time professor at a local university, and a soon to become a published author. I don't know how he does it all, and does it all so well. I am so thankful God gave him to me to walk beside me on this crazy parenthood journey! I love him with all my heart and I am blessed beyond measure and honored to call him my husband!

God has blessed me with a somewhat flexible job and a wonderful boss who acknowledges we are "parents first" before our job...BUT I still find myself struggling. I struggle because I feel I should be there more for my kids, especially our newly adopted one as she is still transitioning. I struggle because, despite all my husband does to help, the house does not stay clean and there is a continuously growing pile of dirty laundry.  I struggle because half of my day on Saturday, my "day off" to spend with the kids, is spent scrubbing bathrooms and washing, folding and putting away those massive piles of laundry.  I struggle because when I get home from work, I am tired and often don't feel like helping my new one learn to read or helping the kids with homework. I struggle because summer time is my busy time at my job and I feel I should be taking my kids to the pool, the zoo, and spending time with them....instead I am working extra hours. (Thankfully, the kids can come to the campgrounds where I work every day. They love it, but I am not sure that is the best option for Joy. That is a big concern for me.) I struggle because, even though I am soon-to-be the lead pastor's wife, I sometimes drag myself to church -especially on Wednesday nights and Sunday nights-because I am so worn out. I struggle because as a pastor's wife, I often find it hard to engage and minister to others, due to the fact I have too much else on my plate.  I struggle because I want to entertain guests in my home, but I am always so tired and my house is in constant need of attention. .I struggle because I feel like I am stretched too thin to do any one thing well, and instead of being super-mom, I am stressed-out mom!

I KNOW there are many working moms out there who handle it with ease, who work longer hours than I do, and have less help from their husband (or even no help!)  and yet are the most amazing mom, working with the kids on homework, making dinner when they get home, cleaning house, doing laundry...but I am definitely NOT that girl!  I don't know how they do it. God did not give me that kind of drive and energy!

My desire is to be at home taking care of my kids, my house, and my husband. My desire is to spend time advocating for adoption, foster care, and children. I believe God gave me a mother's heart because He wants me to care for children and help advocate for those without families. I don't know for sure if He has more children to be a part of our family, but I know He wants me to share this great need with others. I desire to lead a short term orphan care missions trip once a year as a part of advocating for children. My desire is to be a pastor's wife, excited to be a part of our church and minister to those in our church family, excited to entertain guests in my home.  Being in ministry isn't easy. We don't do it for the money.  I feel I have sacrificed by working full-time in order for us to be in ministry. Our family, honestly, cannot live on the salary my husband makes as an associate pastor at our church. As he transitions to the lead pastor in June, his salary will still not be enough for me to be a stay at home mom in the economy we live in, but we might be able to make a way for me to work part-time. I am feeling an overwhelming need to ease my husband's load with the kids and household because he will have many new pressures in ministry. I am feeling an overwhelming need to be at home more for our kids, especially our new little one. Please pray with me about this. Pray we will find the perfect balance. Pray for me as I enter this busy season with my job. Pray we will find the best tutoring/child care option for Joy this summer. Pray for me that I will not feel guilty for doing what I have to do.  Pray God will open the right doors for me to at least go part-time and give me more time with my family and the energy to minister to those in our church. Pray God will help me to not be stretched beyond my limits and He will give me the strength I need. Pray He will help me be the super-mom I need to be, because without Him there is no way I can do it! 

P.S. Please let me know if you are in the same position I am in by e-mailing me privately or posting below!  I would love to pray with you and talk with you! Sometimes just talking about it can help ease the burden! I share my struggles because I know I can't be the only one out there who is feeling this way!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Woven Together

I have a confession to make. I am just now, finally,  almost five months after bringing Joy home from the Philippines, feeling the love for my new little one that I imagined I would feel from the very beginning. My adoption journey has been very different than some of my friends. When I first saw Joy's picture, I did not have that epiphany moment, saying "She's the one! That's my girl!" I never fell completely in love with her picture. I guess it was because I knew there was a possibility that the Philippine government would say "no" to our request to adopt her.  My prayer was always..."Lord, if this is your will, please let them say yes. But if not, please bring the right child into our family and the right family for her." After  the intense and LONG wait when we received word that Joy was ours, I was so excited. I tried to imagine what she would be like and how she would fit into our family. I prayed for her every day and wondered often what she was doing. But NEVER in my imagining did I think that she would react to me the way she did.  And honestly, it hurt me deeply. I wondered what we had gotten ourselves into and how I could love a child that disliked me so much.  I worried that we had "ruined" our family and what would happen if she never changed. Our transition was rough. I cried many tears. Joy cried many tears. My 8 year old son asked his children's pastor for prayer because he was "stressed out" because of the way his new sister was acting. My 11 year old daughter became frustrated very quickly. I had to remind myself often that God is in this adoption journey and He has a plan. I had to trust Him that it was going to be alright and He knows what is best for our family.

Joy came from an orphange where she was loved since she was born. I didn't realize her ties would be so strong and she would grieve so deeply. I am so grateful to her caretakers and the orphange directors because it is a testiment of their great care for the children. In the beginning, Joy cried for them often. Now that she is more comfortable here and has learned to love and trust us, Joy speaks frequently of her many "Ate's" who cared for her and the orphanage directors who obviously love her dearly.   Now just a few months later, I stand amazed at what God has done so far. He took this little, scared and hurting girl and He weaved her into our family. He took my fears and insecurities, and helped me understand and love Joy in a very special way.

Now, I cannot imagine our family without our spunky, loveable, adorable little girl. She makes me laugh with her funny phrases. She makes my day brighter with her many hugs and kisses. She lights up the room with her smile.  She praises Jesus with all her heart. She melts my heart with her prayers for others. Joy enjoys playing with Natalie and Micah now and they get along like they have always been siblings! She has truely woven her way into our family and into my heart.  I am so thankful to have the "feelings" of love to finally go along with the actions. 

 I am so thankful to God for giving us our little Filipina girl and I can't wait until her adoption is finalized so I can show off her beautiful little face!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

4 Ways YOU can Make a difference

In our fast and busy lives, we tend to ignore, put out of our minds, or just totally forget the fatherless. When God called Darren and I to adopt, our hearts were totally wrenched as we read statistic after statistic of the many neglected and forgotten little ones around the world.  I believe that we as Christians have a great responsibility and we as American Christians often have not only the responsibility, but the resources God has blessed us with to take care of His little ones.

There's an anonymous quote, which I may have quoted before, but it gets me every time:

“Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when He could do something about it.”
“Well, why don’t you ask Him?”
“Because I’m afraid He would ask me the same question.”

What can you do to help the 140 MILLION orphans around the world? Here are 4 ways you can make a difference today!

1) Pray that God will give you HIS heart for the fatherless. This can be a dangerous prayer! If you search the Scriptures, you will find that God loves His children and He commands His people to love and care for those without family. His heart breaks for those little children. When you ask God to give you His heart, I believe that God will challenge you in ways you never thought possible.

2) Consider sponsoring a child. There are many avenues through which you can sponsor a child monthly. Our family sponsors a little girl in Nicaragua through Latin American Child Care. There are other programs such as Compassion or World Vision which are great programs. This is a way to provide for a child in great poverty, so that they can stay with their families. So often children are abandoned because parents don't have the money to care for them. This is a solution that shows the love of God and these programs share the love of Jesus to those in great need. Many familes come to know Jesus through these programs and it prevents many children from becoming "orphans".

3) Support adoption & open up your heart to see if God would have you to adopt. You might think you would not be a good candidate for adopting a child, but I believe there are many families that God is calling to adopt. Children NEED the love of familes! Even if God does NOT call you to adopt, I believe every Chrisitian should support adoption. You can do this in numerous ways. Here are just a few.
-Donate financially to those who are taking the step of faith to adopt.

-Bring meals to those who have just brought their new little one home. The transition time can be rough, and even a meal or two can be an amazing blessing!

-Offer to help watch siblings while new adoptive parents go to doctor's visits, therapists and dentist visits with their new little one. These visits can be numerous, especially when first coming home, and having someone help watch the other children is a God-send!

-Get involved in an adoption ministry in your church...if your church doesn't have one-start one!

-Advocate for children who need families.

-Host an orphan for a month or two. There are many programs out there where you can host an older child or teenager. Some of them are not even available for adoption, but the difference you can make by connecting with their lives is unbelievable.

4) Support foster care and pray about becoming foster parents. There are children right in our neighborhoods who have been transferred from family to family. They are hurting and confused. We need loving, Christian homes to provide stability to broken children. If you don't feel called to become a foster parent, find some way to support those Christian parents who you know are taking care of those precious children! They need your prayers, love and support. It is not an easy job and God didn't call any one of us to do it alone. A few ways you can support these parents: Make a meal (food is always welcome!), invite them over to your house, give them a gift card or money to help purchase needed items, and let them know you are praying for them!! Advocate, learn and teach others about fostering and adopting. 

Everyone can and should care for God's children, and in turn many of them will come to know Him! Please consider these things and figure out your place in caring for His little ones! You can change a life (or two, three, four or more!) 

Friday, February 15, 2013

An update and some thoughts on special needs and the church

I cannot believe it has been over two months since I have written on my blog! A quick update: Joy is doing amazingly well! She has settled into a great routine, and really keeps us on our toes.  We have been blessed with wonderful teachers and therapists to help Joy, and everyone is truely amazed by the difference in her over the past 4 months! She loves her family, her teachers and her church family. Right now, the biggest struggle we have is figuring out how to help her in her learning abilities. She had an MRI about a week ago to help us determine what is going on in her brain. Honestly, I don't understand much of what the MRI told us. Her condition is very rare and every person who has this brain defect is affected differently, so now we go see more doctors. We will be taking her to do further testing to help figure out the best way to teach her. She struggles with speech and language, so reading is a HUGE challenge. She also struggles with numbers in any way, shape or form, so even simple math makes no sense to her right now. It really breaks my heart to see her struggle in these areas because I LOVE to read and I cannot imagine my life without this ability. I know God will give us the strength to help Joy in every way we can! Pray for her and for us as we continue on this journey of helping her to become everything God wants her to be. I love having her as my daughter, and I will love her no matter what. Even if she never is able to read. Even if she can never do math. Even if she has challenges her whole way through school.  BUT I want what is best for her and I want to help her in every way possible.

Having Joy in our family has opened up to me a whole new insight into special needs children and the church. While Joy looks like a child who has no special needs on the outside, she DOES have special needs. She has trouble sitting still to listen, because she sometimes doesn't process what she hears. She has trouble following a storyline, following simple instructions, and also sometimes remembering what has been told to her in the past. Her special needs are not on the outside, but they affect how she acts, which in some ways makes it more difficult as a parent. I feel like people are judging my parenting skills by the way my child acts, but I am getting over it! It really doesn't matter what other people think anyway!

 I have been in church my whole life. I went to church growing up (and still do now!): Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night. I went to Bible college. I found the love of my life at Bible college, and we got married. We've been in ministry for almost 14 years together now. We are transitioning from youth ministry to the lead pastors at our church here in Louisville, KY. Honestly, I look at the church (I am commenting on the whole of westernized church, not simply our local church!) and I wonder: Are we as the church really doing all we can to help special needs children and their families? What kind of support system do we have in place and how can we do better at reaching these families that desperately need understanding and support?  What about adopted children and families who have adopted. Many, many adopted children have special needs.  It seems we have created an environment in "church" that really is not friendly to special needs. We expect children to be quiet, slow down, be reverent. We expect them to sit still and listen, BUT some of these kids will never be able to understand a Bible lesson taught by a teacher. They cannot physically sit still. They cannot mentally process what a teacher is saying for 10 minutes. Have we shut the door on these kids? Have we made parents of these kids feel unwanted, unloved, unwelcome? Have we made them feel uncomfortable, maybe because WE are uncomfortable? Have we passed judgement when we maybe don't know what kinds of special needs the parents are dealing with? Have we made them feel embarrased by the way their children act? For example, Joy loves to sing. And when I say sing, I don't mean quietly sing. She likes to BELT IT OUT at the top of her lungs!!! Since she has difficulty with speech and language, she does not sing the words right at all! So here I am in middle of church and  you can hear Joy above EVERYONE else, singing words that make no sense. I have tried to quiet her to some degree, but I want her to know it is alright to praise the Lord with all her heart!  Thankfully, the people in the seats around me have never made me feel embarrassed or looked disgusted by how loud my child is. In fact, I have had several tell me how "precious" it is. I feel blessed by how everyone in our church family has embraced Joy and made her feel a part of our church family. I can't help wondering, though, does the "church" as a whole EMBRACE those with special needs and their families, or do we look at them with disdain or pity?

While many of these children may not be able to comprehend a Bible story or sit still through a lesson, what these kids and families CAN understand is LOVE. Welcoming arms. A listening ear. An understanding teacher. Others that will invite them out to lunch, even if their children are not "perfect little angels".  People willing to watch their children while the parents have a much needed night out.  I think many parents of special needs children have lost the strength to even enter the doors of church because overall the "church" has made them feel like a burden or a failure. The "church" has passed judgement on their parenting skills. The "church" has not even tried to understand where they are coming from and all they are going through: the therapies, the tests, the doctors.   I want to change this. I want to make a difference in the church. I want to make families feel welcome, no matter what kind of special needs they might be dealing with. I want to open our doors and love like Jesus loved. I want to create an environment inside and outside the church where we love and support children with special needs and their families.  I am not sure how to accomplish this, but it is something I am pondering. How do you think the church can do better at supporting special needs children and their families? How do you think we can make our churches more inviting or accommodating to families with special needs children? How do you think we as a church can LOVE like Jesus told us to? If you have suggestions, I would love to hear them. Please comment below or send me a private e-mail message.