Top 10 FAQ’s (Part 2)

Here is the 2nd part of our FAQ posts! this will answer the other five questions we most frequently receive from curious people.

6. Do they speak any English? OR How have you handled the language barrier? 
I think this is a great question and an issue just about every international adoptive family will face. Most countries in Europe now have English as part of their regular public school curriculum. In Poland this started in First Grade. What this meant for us was that our oldest daughter had received a couple years of English before we got there (think High School Spanish!). She knew a few words here and there, but not much else. The other three knew literally nothing. They couldn’t even read Polish let alone English!!! We used Google translator A LOT those first several months. Sometimes this worked and other times I have no idea what we said to them! By Christmas of 2015, six months after returning to the US, they were essentially fluent in English. Often they would mix up word order or phraseology (which was quite humorous!), but they could communicate and understand most of what was spoken to them.
One thing we learned was even if they didn’t have any idea what we said to them, they would tell us they understood. I don’t know if this was out of fear of being wrong or they thought they’d get in trouble or what. That was frustrating. We would think we had communicated something, they would do the complete opposite, we would wonder why they disobeyed….and on and on and on. Once we figured out what was going on, we took more care in communicating, and still do, especially for the younger kids. My encouragement to other families would be to go slow. Say it a number of ways, not just one, and ask clarifying questions. Make sure they fully understand before you move on.
By the time we’d been home a year…..they didn’t even remember Polish!! None of them can speak Polish now, which is kind of disappointing for us. We did buy the Rosetta Stone Polish edition so they can re-learn it or maybe even we can learn it. It’s one of the hardest languages in the world to learn….but I have to believe it’s still hidden inside them somewhere.
Bottom line with language: It’s an issue if you make it one. Take it easy and it will go well.

7. Has the adjustment been difficult? 
This would be the understatement of the century. I’ve written a little about that on this blog. I wrongly believed we would pick up the kids, go back home, go back to our life just with four extra passengers, and slip right back into where we were when we left May 25th, 2015. How naive!!!

Everything has changed.

I don’t want to belabor the point here, and I’d encourage you to read more about it if Easter 2017you’re in the same boat. Essentially, we lost everything. We lost our identity. We lost our rhythms. We lost our understanding of who we each were in our families – all 10 of us lost that in different ways. We lost our emotions. Some say we lost our mind! We definitely lost hope and faith for a little while.

But GOD is faithful.
GOD is a redeemer.
GOD is a way-maker.
GOD is the restorer of brokenness and turns ashes into beauty.

Just look at that Easter picture. We’re even all smiling!! It’s amazing what God has done these nearly two years. I just can’t believe it. We have A LONG WAY to go, and we’re not home yet, but He will finish what He started (thank you SC2)!!!

If you’re struggling to adjust, let me encourage you. Rid yourself of expectations and guilt. Trust the process. Yield to the timing of the Lord, not your own timetable. Let it be. Love hard. Pray harder. Hold on to your spouse, and together the Lord, the hardest.  God will make a way.

8. Aren’t they just so thankful? 
Frankly…..no. And we don’t expect them to be. Our oldest kind of understands what has happened. But the full spiritual, emotional, genealogical, etc ramifications she doesn’t quite understand yet. The other three have no idea what has happened. Our youngest two daughters now say they remember they used to live in Poland, but that’s all they know. I suspect in the long run they won’t remember anything. Our son is definitely thankful. THAT HE HAS BROTHERS!!!! Honestly…..it was kind of hard for these kids to suddenly have parents who told them what to do, wouldn’t let them incessantly watch TV, only fed them at certain times, and made them go to bed. “Having parents is tough” is a mantra I’ve told our oldest many, many times. She’s not so thankful for that all the time 🙂
But they’ve also begun to understand, for the first time in their lives, they are fully safe. They don’t have to worry about being dumped with a relative or an abusive baby-sitter. They aren’t going to have to put up with great uncertainty in their lives. All is well. I think someday they’ll be thankful for all of this.

We’ve had some people accuse us of doing this out of a personal sense of awesome or something. That’s just ridiculous. And anyone whose ever adopted or fostered knows just how ugly the process can be. Most of the days, especially early on, we wouldn’t have wanted anyone to see us. Some other well-meaning people thought we were amazing people; heroes even.

TRUTH:  We are just servants called to obey the master.

We adopted because the Lord picked us for them and picked them for us. We were just willing. He knew the ugly we’d walk through. He knew the pain we would face. He knew the issues our kids would have – both adopted and biological. He knew how much we would need Him to walk beside us. We were the wrong people for the job. We were. But God often calls the wrong people to do extraordinary things for His purposes.
So no, we don’t feel like heroes. We don’t expect our children to be grateful. We still strike out as often as we get a hit. But God is with us and with them. We follow His lead….and He’s the MASTER ADOPTER!

9. What in the world did you do for 7 weeks in Poland?
Truthfully, a whole lot of nothing!!! Had our family been a little smaller we would have rented a van and explored the country a little more. Two things worked against us: Anything over 9 passengers requires a commercial driver’s license in Poland. Well that wasn’t going to happen!! And second, our agency strongly discouraged families from renting cars.
Had we it to do over again we would have rented at least a car. We were totally and

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Gdansk

completely at the mercy of others so the issue of exploring the great country of Poland wasn’t willingness, funds or desire….the issue was transportation!! We met a driver who had a large commercial van who we hired to do a few day trips. We visited Ustka, a resort town of sorts on the Baltic. We spent a day in Gdansk, which was very cool. And we spent a day at Malbork Castle which was PHENOMENAL. We loved that!!! We probably paid our driver $300-$400 for those trips altogether. It worked and we enjoyed our trips. Our hosts took us grocery shopping a couple of times per week, but to have the freedom to just run to Tesco or Lidl would have been nice – especially for my oldest daughter and I who need to get out now and then!!!

10612745_10153110201992054_5725200762423396368_nOnce we moved to Tumiany for two weeks, we went no where besides the grocery store. We bonded wonderfully there though and our hosts were so very kind and gracious. But we were pretty bored most of the time. This pic of me in Tumiany sums up how most of us felt a lot of the time.

Our final week we spent in Warsaw. We had much to do to get ready to come home, but we were able to take the train to Krakow for a day. Krakow is one of my favorite places on earth. Just a lovely city. Just as lovely as Vienna but MUCH, MUCH cheaper. We met some friends from Czech, and our gracious friends the Healys came from the States to help us travel home. We enjoyed exploring Warsaw with them and just had a wonderful week!! Of course we were all amped up because we were about to go home!!

The advantage of Poland is the cost of living is very low, especially for Americans. The Zloty is a 4-1 exchange to the US dollar. This took some getting used to. Something would cost 100zl and I’d get a little nervous…until I reminded myself that’s only $25. I spend more than that on Chic-Fil-A!!!

10. Will you adopt again?
Let me answer this in two ways:
WOULD we do it all over again? YES!!! I think there are many things we would change were we to take another crack at this, but we would most definitely do it again.
WILL we do it again? I don’t think I can totally answer this question. OUtwardly we would say “we are good!!!” But in my heart, I can’t help but think of all the other children out there without families to care for them. If God puts it on our hearts and puts us again in the position to adopt, we would say YES. Our life is not our own. We truly believe this. When God calls us…..we will answer.

Finally…..a few pics!

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Top 10 FAQs (Part 1)

Amy and I often are asked a ton of different questions about the adoption, our life before, and our life after. Since I’m so transparently open with…well….just about everything, often to my wife’s chagrin, I try to answer these questions. I get it. Adoption is not a usual path for most people, so our story is kind of a human interest, fascinating slice of life people are curious about. This is all good to me. Since many of my readers never interact with me, I thought I’d throw out some questions we are most often asked. I’ll do ten for now (in two posts), but I’ll encourage anyone out there with any other questions to comment or email me and I’ll see about doing another post answering just those questions, if any come in. So…here we go!

  1. Are These All Your Children?
    Most of the time we are asked this by unsuspecting strangers when we venture out and about. Families of ten with eight kids are a little unusual and Duggar-ish. What they’re really asking is, “did you give birth to all of these kids??” We smile and say YES they’re all ours! But, I usually set people at ease by telling them Amy didn’t have to birth them all since four are adopted. I’ve learned there are basically two philosophies about this. Some adoptive parents NEVER want to talk about their kids being adopted. They work very hard to hind this fact and pretend everyone is biological. I understand that….unless of course they’re a different color or nationality with opposite features than their parents. Like, your kids know they don’t look like you!! The other philosophy, and the one to which we subscribe, is to be honest about who our kids are and where they came from. Now our kids remember, so it’s not a shock to them. So when asked this question, we answer  YES they all belong to us. They are siblings (don’t we know it!) and we are parents to all of them. We don’t treat any of them different than any other – other than trying to work within each personality, etc. I get why other parents choose the other philosophy and I’m not saying one is better than the other. This is just what we’ve chosen and it works for us.
  2. How Long Did The Adoption Take?
    People generally lead with this question because it’s not super personal. The answer is we found the kids in June of 2014 and came home with them in July of 2015. There were a couple of delays we experienced with Poland’s process or we would have been home sooner. Originally, we thought we would be home around April of 2015. But the timing was actually perfect for us to be later in the year. Poland required a 6 week stay in country. For us it ended up being closer to seven weeks, plus the one week we spent for our first trip to meet the children in April of 2015. So all in all, we spent over 50 days in Poland.
    Now the process differs greatly country to country – even in Eastern Europe. Poland has one of the more stringent processes and they are very careful with their orphans. We appreciated this and understand the thoughts behind it. There is A LOT of waiting in the adoption process. News comes slowly and there is much space between reports/contact or fresh information. We stayed busy writing grant applications, preparing (like you would for a newborn) to have eight kids instead of four, and trying to learn as much as we could about Poland.
    Truthfully, I wish I had slowed down and enjoyed the journey a little more than I did. I was anxious and wanted to get going. But even when things moved, I wish I had relaxed and taken in the full experience. I now encourage adoptive parents to relax, let it be what it is, and enjoy every second of the journey. You only get to do it once!!
  3. Was It Expensive? OR How Much Did They Cost?
    This is the question many people want to ask but feel awkward asking! If you ask this question of an adoptive family in the wrong way, you may get backlash! We did not purchase our children. They are not a commodity. We are not traffickers. We paid fees to our agency, the US Government, and the Polish Government to cover adoption costs, administrative costs, and more in the care of orphans. We also paid for airfare, food, lodging, passports, visas, doctor visits, and a million other things we’ve already forgotten about – like the delicious ice cream in Gdansk, or the carriage ride in Krakow. The actual adoption fees were around $25,000 paid to our agency and the Polish Government (paid through the agency). Probably another $1500-$2500 in immigration fees to bring our children back to the US as citizens. The rest was travel. Two trips, one of those for six people going and ten returning can be very expensive! Plus lodging, food, and transportation for seven weeks adds up, even though Poland is quite a reasonably priced country in which to live. The exchange rate was/is 4 zloty to 1 dollar so your money stretches pretty far. Our cost of living in Poland was around $3500 per month for everything. Altogether we spent between $45K and $50K.
    The VERY BEST money spent was through our agency to provide the liaison who worked with us in Poland. Grace was an absolute gem!! She worked tirelessly before we arrived and throughout our whole time in country. We simply could not have done it without her. We are honored to maintain a relationship with her. My daughter and I were able to connect with her again in Krakow last summer as we flew through for a mission’s trip. We are glad to count Grace as a friend!!
  4. What Do You Drive? A Bus?
    Well, kinda.  We drive a church van.
    For real.
    For the first year we drove a 2008 GMC Yukon. We found a company in California which makes a seat for the cargo space of SUVs and Minivans. We purchased one of theses seats for our Yukon. It worked fine for us, but it took all of our cargo space. We used a hitch rack for luggage and we did all the grocery shopping separately. This did not work for us. Driving home from vacation last fall, with stuff piled literally everywhere on everyone we decided we needed to look into a new solution. There are only a few options when looking for something which seats 10 people but still has space for luggage and cargo. We ended up with a 2016 Ford Transit. Ford makes several different models of this van from 8 passenger to 15 passenger. We really liked the 10 passenger. Lots of interior space for my long-legged children and cargo space in the back for groceries and luggage. It’s a little utilitarian and doesn’t have the bells and whistles of my Yukon, but it works for what we need. Honestly, though, Amy and I are looking forward to going back to a Yukon or the like in about 10 years!
    There are a couple other options we looked at….the Nissan NVP and the Mercedes Sprinter. Both of these are more expensive and ultimately that was the determining factor. If money had not been a factor (and the Transits are still pretty expensive), we probably would have bought a Nissan NVP. More SUV like, more creature comforts, but a little less interior space. There’s always a trade off.
  5. Why Poland?
    This is probably the second most asked question after “are these all yours?” The short answer is, this is where the kids were located. When we found the kids on Rainbow Kids website, they just happened to be in Poland. Had they been in Bulgaria, or Ukraine, or Hungary, we would have adopted from there. I think this is kind of how the Lord does it. He matches adoptive families with the children. Where they’re located isn’t as important – at least it wasn’t to us.
    The long(er) answer is this. Amy and I had traveled to Eastern Europe to work with the Roma people the two previous summers. We fell in love with these people and continue to work with missionaries to bring the Gospel to them in Eastern Europe today. When we began to really look into adopting, we decided Eastern Europe was the place. No specific country, just Eastern Europe. We honestly thought we’d adopt a couple of Roma children. They are by far the most available race in Europe. In October of 2013 we seriously considered a brother and sister from Bulgaria, but it just wasn’t right. It made sense but we knew this wasn’t the plan of the Lord. His ways are different than ours. When we found the children and began inquiring about them, they just happened to be from Poland. Now, we love Poland and follow the happenings there.

There you have part one! I’ll post part two in a couple of days. If you have questions you’ve always wanted to ask, please don’t hesitate to send them along. I’ll answer them either in a blog post or privately depending on the nature of the question. Just know, if you’re in process, we’re glad to share with you and provide any info we can!!!

18 Month Update

We returned to the United States on July 11th, 2015. So we’ve been home now about 18 months. People are always asking us how we are doing. I never quite know how to answer that question. We are doing well, but everything has changed. The transformation in all of us has been rather profound. I don’t think we expected that. I’ve written previously about this and some of the soul searching and deep work we had to do through this process. Had we not allowed God to work in us, I’m not sure we would have survived. Just to give you a snapshot, here are some changes and current states of our family and kids.

  1. The Polish Language is a thing of the past. Pretty much by Christmas of 2015, our oldest adopted daughter was speaking fluent English. But over the past year, it’s
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    Christmas 2016

    been amazing as all four of the kids have essentially forgotten how to speak Polish. They are all reading English and expanding their English vocabulary, but Polish as a language is a thing of their past. Our son still has quite an accent, but you’d never know the girls weren’t born here if it wasn’t for sentence structure. English and Polish are so different in that regard. We did purchase Rosetta Stone Polish so hopefully they can retain at least some of their native tongue, and our oldest has worked on some of it. As the children get older we hope to help them regain Polish and maybe even speak it ourselves!

  2. We continue to try and keep the culture of Poland alive here and there. Last summer in 4-H our daughter made Polish cookies for her baking product with some delicious jam I brought back from Krakow. She got a 1st place! Man were those Kolacky’s good! We made Uszka or Christmas Dumpling Soup for Christmas. Only our oldest adopted liked it, but we gave it the old college try. We’ve also tried to bring in other foods, making homemade pierogi and eating copious amounts of kielbasa! I can’t say we fully observe all the Polish holidays but we try to talk about or mention the big ones. We keep up on what’s happening in Poland and let our children know about national news where it’s understandable and relevant. The little girls really don’t even know they’re not Polish, so it’s kind of a moot point with them!
  3. Our adopted son and bio son of nearly the same age continue to best of buddies. They are inseparable, even when getting into trouble! Neither of them remember much life before the other one, and they are happy as clams about this. Often they’ll spend all day in their room building lego creations together and bossing each other around. They never ask for anything just for themselves but always include the other or even, as our son puts it, “us boys.” All four boys are still in the same room, which is proving difficult and challenging. We are in the process of remodeling the basement to include a family room (so they can wrestle without shaking the entire house) and a bedroom for our older two bio boys, plus a full bath. When this is finished by the spring, we should have some over-crowding relieve….and hopefully the room will be less smelly!!!
  4. There continues to be some sister development between our two oldest girls. Our
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    The Girlies

    oldest bio now has a sister three years younger but kind of in that annoying, tween, follow-you-around, do-what-you-do, phase of life. The younger truly believes the older hung the moon and wants to be like her in ever way. The elder is annoyed by this and is kind of an introverted extrovert who needs “alone” time to think, write, and read. The younger never wants to be alone. Ever. There has been some tension from this; some guilt; some pain. All in all, though, most often, there is a wonderful sister-bond developing which will grow stronger over time. I’m not sure the two of them always see it, but mom and dad sure do.

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    Fall Field Trip

    Three of the four littles are in first grade and doing splendidly, particularly our youngest biological son and our middle adopted daughter (sheesh, we have so many, describing them without using names is quite difficult!!!). Our adopted son is slow and hasn’t developed much of his thinking ability, BUT we have seen vast improvement since the first week of school. He just requires a little more patience and attention. But he’s making it!!! They all are!!! And that’s the best part!!

  6. We have had, by far, the most difficulty with our youngest adopted daughter. She is five biologically, but three cognitively, and probably two emotionally. To say it’s been challenging walking with her would be a VAST understatement. She has brought out both the best and the worst in us – exposing compassion we didn’t know we had and sometimes negative feelings as well. It’s been a process to try and figure out what to do with all of that. The progress she’s made in the last six months has been remarkable. She is bonding, growing, telling the truth (PRAISE THE LORD!), and finding her place. She sings again, and laughs, and isn’t afraid of everything. She’s feeling secure, and loves her mommy! She is unbelievably stubborn, bull headed, and strong willed, and she doesn’t understand expressing love through touch, but she’s learning….and we’re learning how to help her navigate her strong will into good decisions and actions. We still have a ways to go, but man, we sure are thankful for where we are!!
  7. We have finally retired the GMC Yukon we have traveled around in for the past 18 months. We put an extra seat in the cargo area which made it able to haul all 10 of us….but we lost our cargo area!! So back in December we were able to purchase a Ford Transit. It seats 10 but in a much more comfortable way, and we have cargo space!! We can actually do grocery shopping together again. It’s expensive. It’s a big financial sacrifice, but it’s what we need. I think God has used this to birth something in us…..if we ever start an adoptive family foundation, like we’ve talked about, I want it to be something that comes along side families after all the emotion and excitement has worn off. When they’ve been home for six months and need to get a new vehicle, or bunk beds, or something else the family didn’t know they would need. I’d love to be able to give away a few mini-vans or Transits each year to families who really need them. We put all our dollars and energy into just getting the kids home, we don’t often think long term about logistical things. A foundation which would take this burden off of some families would be really awesome!
  8. The Cubbies won the World Series!!!!!

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    Fly The W!!!

  9. How are we?? Mom and Dad?? We’ll, I’ve (dad) changed jobs and now work for our Church Fellowship’s district office. This changes a lot of our rhythms and norms, yet again. So far we have all handled that much better than 18 months ago. The change has been good in lots of ways for us. The pressure which comes with pastoring weighed heavy on Amy and me. Combined this with the issues we needed to address at home and something had to give. Thankfully God knew and He graciously allowed us to move into a job I’ve dreamed about for a long time. I love my wife more today than I ever have. Divorce rates are pretty high among adoptive families. I understand why this would be the case. It’s tough and strains every part of your relationship. But I believe we are weathering the storms and holding on to each other. Could we do better? Sure. Do we have much more to learn? YES! But God is faithful and we are loving watching His plan unfold before our very eyes!!

Finally, I want to ask you to pray for Poland. I don’t pretend to understand all the ins and outs of what is going on in that nation, but for some reason, the ministry overseeing adoptions and families have put a stop to all international adoptions at this point. This probably has some to do with the agency in Ohio cited by the State Department for fraud and other things. The Ministry is also pointing to a 2014 adoption case which went badly. But overarching, I think, is a spirit of nationalism….meaning they just don’t like Polish children being adopted into foreign families. The problem is the facts do not support their reasoning. ALL children adopted internationally in Poland spend a significant amount of time available for adoption in country before they’re released for international families. So the children finding foreign families were not able to find Polish families who were able or wanted to adopt them. Many are special needs or large sibling groups – which most Polish families cannot undertake. So now, unless something changes, many of these children will never have families. What’s worse is any family or child currently in process has to essentially start over. The children previously qualified for international adoption must be re-qualified, and the likelihood is, most won’t be. Poland may also be looking to make the process for whatever international adoptions they may still allow, an already difficult, long, and arduous journey, much more difficult, long, and arduous. This will essentially eliminate Poland from family’s consideration when looking to adopt.

They need our prayers. Those precious orphans who need a mom and dad need our prayers. The families who’ve just lost a child need our prayers. Pray for the ministry to come to their senses and not do this knee-jerk, ill-conceived thing. Develop a better system. Change some of the processes. But don’t cut it off. This would be tragic.

Thanks for praying for us, if you have. Now we’d appreciate your prayers for a country we love so very much.

Going Deep

I need to start with a disclaimer: I am not an expert at this and, and in fact, have no real training in psychology or what exactly is going on in the brain of an orphan. Let’s face it…I sometimes don’t know what’s going on in my own brain! So if you’re looking for expert, clinical, PhD level advice, I would encourage you to stop reading and run to Dr. Karyn Purvis or someone else who is way smarter than me.

All I have is experience. And it’s form this lens I write today.

There’s this book which has really screwed up my life – mostly in a good way. After we had been home from Poland for about four months, we began to see some real challenges in both our oldest and youngest adopted daughters. The issues were different, and still are, but we found it interesting it took that long for them to appear. As these challenges manifested a surprising thing happened. God really began to mess with Amy and me about our own lives. In fact He began to really use the issues we were having with our daughters, particularly our youngest daughter, to expose the issues deep inside our own hearts!
I both hate it and love it when God destroys your hero complex!

It wasn’t until around March of this year we began to understand more fully what God was trying to accomplish. Yes, He has some plans to help our daughter and bring healing to her heart and mind. I truly believe that. But He began to show us unless we let God HEAL US of some of our own stuff, how would we be able to help our daughter find healing? This is the best thing about God: He wants to use us to bring healing to others, but in the process, He wants to heal us of our own brokenness! Don’t miss that.

The intensity of those months, as I’ve previously written, made us really look to find some resources. One of the resources we found is a book called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. I mention this book in my post on June 6th and link to a point of purchase. But that’s not really what this post is about. God began, using that book, a TON of self-introspection, prayer, and lots of self-discovering conversation, to bring healing to Amy and me.  When I say He began to heal us, I don’t mean He helped us feel better about our lives, our families, or our situation. I mean God reached way down deep into the recesses of our souls, found the oozing wounds from our past, from our families of origins, from our own insecurities, unfulfilled dreams, and self-inflicted damage and began to do a life-altering work to bring healing to the deepest places of our souls.
Now a couple of thoughts on this before we move on to the encouraging parts.

First, I believe the vast majority of us never get to this place. We never become vulnerable enough with God and others to achieve the deep, soul saving transformation I believe God desires for all of us. You see we keep ourselves all locked up. We keep our walls built high and thick to protect ourselves. And I get it. Tearing that wall down is no easy task and frankly is one of the most intimidating things God asks us to do. Some of us have wounds deeper than others. Who would willingly pick that scab and feel again whatever caused it in the first place? But there’s an even deeper reason we discovered many never go there.
Betrayal.
To open up about our pasts – even just to God – feels like a betrayal of ourselves. It feels like forsaking self preservation – being the Benedict Arnold to our own lives! Or worse, giving God access to what is actually true about our family of origin feels like betrayal of our parents, who likely did the best they could but often still cause deep gashes in our emotional life. I know we experienced this. Ultimately we were faced with a choice. We could keep the walls high and remain in blissful ignorance of how our past is hindering our ability to minister healing to our daughter OR we could take the risk of peeling back the layers of our soul, giving God full access and trusting He is working some greater purpose. We chose the latter.

Second, to go to this place of transformation we must have a larger view of this life than just us. We have to realize God wants to heal us so that He can use us to heal others. He wants to heal us so we can love others (particularly those close to us) with a greater and deeper love from God than we ever could have imagined. In our case, God began to help us understand our daughter couldn’t be healed until we allowed God to heal us. We couldn’t love her the way she needed to be loved until we allowed the Lord to do some surgery in our own souls. This may sound crazy, but stay with me a minute. The wounds of our daughter are deep, personal, and mostly emotional. On top of whatever is going on in her head and heart, she can’t tell us what it is! I mean if you’re going to adopt or be involved with orphans at all, you already see past yourself to others – at least one would hope. But this deep work of transformation God wants to do in all of us is so we can love even deeper, care even more, serve with more effect, and do this over a longer period of time. Certainly God is and has been chasing after our children, but we were surprised to find, in this whole adoption thing….He was also chasing after us….so through us He could catch them. It’s kind of profound if you think about it.
God so gently extended to us the very grace He needed us, by extension, to extend to our little girl.

  1. LOVING PATIENCE – God is so patient with us, don’t you think? As often as we can mess up a situation, or do the wrong thing, or try to weasel our way out of a mistake, He remains lovingly patient. Now we aren’t God. We can only take so much from someone before we just can’t take any more! But our children need from us the very same kind of loving patience God extends to us, ESPECIALLY former orphans who often have missing pieces of cause-and-effect thinking, bonding, relational understanding, etc. These things exhibit themselves is mis-behavior, lying to protect themselves, reverting to a previous state of life, and more….and when this happens it can be quite maddening! But in those moments, patience is required. As God so patiently leads us to healing from our disconnected or dysfunctional pieces, we learn how to extend the same kind of patience to the ones we love.
  2. GODLY COMPASSION – I don’t think it’s enough to have patience, we have to also have compassion. This isn’t feeling bad for your children or what they’ve been through. That’s pity. Compassion doesn’t give them room to misbehave and just do whatever the little orphan inside tells them because discipline might make them feel badly. Compassion carefully and gently corrects, but with a great deal of empathy and sweetness. Kindness, loving touch, a sweet rather than always a stern voice, etc goes a long way. Now you need to know something about me….I’m not a pushover and I’m not one of those parents who allows their children act crazy. I am stern, we are clear with our expectations and boundaries, and there are consequences when these are willfully violated. In college I read a book by Edwin Cole entitled, “Maximized Manhood” in which this great man of God advocates for men to be both tough and tender. Sometimes frustration in an area repeated over and over again kills the tenderness and compassion we feel. When working with former orphans we have to remember the issues they have are not their fault. Generally, they aren’t willfully being difficult. There are many contributing factors to this, but usually this is the case even in older children who should “know better.” Compassion says, “it’s going to be OK.” Compassion says, “What you did isn’t OK but I love you so much!” Compassion says, “We’re going to get through this together. I’m not going anywhere and neither are you.” Compassion never gives up, never threatens, never withholds love. Compassion is likely something few of our former orphan children have ever truly experienced. Oh they understand pity. Pity is how they get what they want. But compassion is totally different. They love pity. But they need compassion.
  3. SAFETY – Obviously, I don’t mean providing a safe home and environment physically. Though this could be important if a history of abuse is an issue. I mean things need to be safe emotionally. As for us and God’s healing in our life, there has to be a trust between us and God, us and our spouse (If we’re going to walk through it together), us and our pastor, or things like this. Our formerly orphaned children need a safe place to mess up, too. They need to know if they make mistakes their position in the family isn’t in jeopardy. In our case, when asking about a situation, our daughter will often try and figure out what she thinks we want to hear instead of just telling the truth of what happened or simply speaking from her heart. She can’t make the connection between this survival technique and trusting her parents to have her best at heart. This can be frustrating to us and until God began to heal us, we really didn’t understand this or the need for a safe place. Now, while it’s still sometimes frustrating, we try to keep reminding ourselves she just doesn’t trust us enough yet to be that vulnerable, that we need to keep working for this to be a safe place for her to just be her. It’s difficult sometimes, but we press forward always believing and hoping we will get there. And so will she.

The greatest piece of advice I could give you is this: Healing doesn’t happen overnight, whether in you or in your children it’s going to take time. It’s also going to be painful at times. Working through your own healing or the healing of your child is not simple and not easy. But stay the course. Be consistent. The promise of the Lord for those who engage a journey like this one is this: He will bring to a flourishing finish all the things He has begun in you! That’s great encouragement for those of us in need of transformation. When we hold on to that promise, when we give God access to us, and reach into our children with the same love with which God has reached into us, there is really no issue God cannot heal. He’s done it in me. He’s doing it in my beautiful girl. I know He’ll do it in you.

 

Becoming ONE: Obstacles & Solutions to Blending Sibling Groups

When we told most people about our plans to add four new children to our already large-by-American-standards family of six, their eyes became wide as saucers. Adoption is challenging no matter what kind of adoption it is – special needs, baby, toddler, older child, sibling group, etc. But to take on a sibling group of four is insanity, at least that’s what lots of people told us. They were probably right. But in our naivety we truly believed we could manage the challenge with great levels of success.

kids

First Contact

But our challenge, little did we know, was a bit more unique. You see, we already had a sibling group of four in our home. These four kids were relationally close to one another and to us. Now, though, we were getting ready to bring a completely separate set of siblings, just as relationally close to one another, into our family. Our job was and is not only to navigate the waters of adoption itself, but also, with God’s divine help, to integrate an established sibling group of four into another established sibling group of four. A nearly impossible task. Because of this challenge, agencies and international adoption communities informed a rule (at least in Poland) which required the oldest child in a sibling group to be the youngest child in the adoptive family. This would mean our 10 year old would have to be the youngest child in our quiver. This rule is so strict our agency did not believe we could get approval to adopt the sibling group we felt called to adopt. Our two older biological children would remain the oldest in our family, but the oldest in the new group would now become third oldest in our conglomerate. The rest of the children would slip into various slots along the timeline of birth order. Surprising all of us, Poland obviously agreed, and our birth order (or pecking order) became dislodged.

P4

The Four Amigos

We are certainly not the first to do this, nor will we be the last. We have most assuredly faced many challenges because of the birth order paradigm. People are always asking us how this phase of our family life is going. I thought I’d take a post here and share some of the challenges we have/are facing as we work to meld two completely separate sibling groups into one bonded group of kiddos and what we are attempting to do about it.

  1. Insecurity
    Insecurity isn’t something we were used to dealing with. Bringing a new sibling group into our home changed that dramatically!! The new children wondered if they would be as loved, cared for, and important as the biological children. The biological children wondered if the new children would replace them. Would they continue to receive the same love, concern, attention now, or would they suffer since there are more hearts in the house to take care of. Thes questions are fertile ground for cultivating insecurity – particularly in the two oldest in each of the sibling groups. Our biological eldest never had sisters before. Now she has three. She loves them, but has struggled to believe she’s still just as important as she’s always been. This has sometimes produced fear, frustration, and even anger in her as she learns to “share” her mom and dad. On the other hand, our second daughter, the oldest of the adoptive group wanted – nay – NEEDED to feel what our oldest daughter feels. Her solution was to try and be the person she believed she needed to be in order to receive our approval. Thankfully, both are rational thinkers so helping them separate feelings from what is true and real has been possible with much assurance to them of their place in the family. Our oldest is still the oldest. But our second daughter lost her position and is now just one in the middle of the mix. We constantly speak words of encouragement, make alone time for them, and navigate gingerly the emotions of a couple of pre-teen girls! It’s challenging!!! If you have kids and adopt within your birth order, just be aware, insecurity will be an issue you will want to have a strategy to counter-act its affects.
  2. Appreciating Vastly Different Personalities
    When a baby comes into your home the family grows up with the new personality. One of my favorite things was to watch the personalities of my children form as they grew and developed into children. But when children come to your home at an older age – even as old as just four – they have already developed distinct personalities, likes, dislikes, interests, and even hopes & dreams. I think people who grow up from birth together have a natural appreciation for one another. For example, my sister and I are VERY different people. She lives her life and values things often very different than me. But I appreciate who she is and what she values. I hope she feels the same about my life. This issue is also why I think newly married folks sometimes struggle to meld their lives. You don’t really know someone until you live with them and experience them day in and day out. When those worlds collide, everyone has to change.
    In melding two sibling groups, particularly the size of ours, this is amplified. Reality is everybody’s personality isn’t going to be perfectly compatible with everyone else’s. There are going to be small and sometimes massive differences. Think about it….people who may never otherwise be friends because of personality, are now forced to try to be brothers and sisters and they’re coming from vastly differing backgrounds, one of which includes some kind of trauma. That’s a big deal!!
    Several other authors we read and friends who’ve also adopted sibling groups encouraged us to buddy up one bio kid with one adopted kid to do chores, work together on something, play together, or in public. This really has made a difference in helping us appreciate one another. We’ve had many talks with our older children as they’ve worked to integrate their new siblings into their lives. They have often felt guilt for sometimes not “feeling” very good about their siblings or being annoyed because of personality differences. I really think the greatest tools are TIME & PATIENCE. Just now, a year later, we are beginning to see the appreciation take hold. Our greatest advice is be patient with it and don’t try to force the issue. Let your kids talk out how they feel and steer them to begin appreciating the differences rather than being annoyed by them. Eventually, they won’t remember what life was like without each other.
  3. Sharing Space….At Least New Space….Maybe SHARING in General
    For some kids this isn’t something new, and this won’t affect everyone who adopts a sibling group. For many, though, learning to share space can be quite difficult. Our eldest daughter has never had to share space before. Now, she has a sister invading her room, messing with her stuff, following her around, etc. I’ve seen the room taped in half, tents built on the bed to create a cave, and even had to search for 20 minutes to find where she was hiding. To say it’s been an issue for her would be minimizing it. I also believe the older a child is, the more this matters. Our eldest son has also had some space issues and he’s had a brother in his room since he was two. I do believe age has something to do with it…they are 12 and 11, respectively!
    Sharing the room is not an option. It is what it is. But we have done a few things to try and help those of our children who need some help. One was create “keepsake boxes” for each of them. This is a special box (plastic storage or bank box) where they can keep anything they want which means something to them. This way, the things which are important are kept out of harms way and away from curious little siblings. They can always add things or take things out. It’s their box, not the box in which we keep their 1st grade coloring pages. We’ve also made it clear when they need alone time they just need to make us aware. Then we will create the space for them and keep their siblings away for a few hours or whatever they need. With eight kids in the house, we’ve had to be a little creative, but our kids know when they need space, we will protect them and help them find the space they need. Our bench swing, hanging from a thick tree branch in our yard, has become a favorite place to get away and think, read, write, or just be alone…..and mom & dad may occasionally use it, too!
  4. Changing Paradigms
    A paradigm is simply a way of doing something or a way of life. Most of us carry some paradigms into our adult lives from childhood. But inevitably, there are paradigms we establish which are much different from our family of origin. As children come along, we establish family norms and paradigms with which our kids will grow up. We have had some well established paradigms in our family. The way we do vacation; the way we do dinner; the way we do school; the way we do conflict; the way we do days off; the way we do kid’s friendships; the way we do holidays; the way we do extra curricular activities; the way simply do life. Our kids knew these paradigms and loved them (well, most of them).
    When we came home from Poland we quickly realized our adopted kids brought paradigms with them as well. Most of these paradigms weren’t positive – many were just about survival. But some of these paradigms were cultural….the way they’ve experienced Christmas; the way they’ve interacted with one another, etc. Not nearly as many rock-solid paradigms, but a few nonetheless.
    What we did not fully expect, and which has been challenging, is realizing some of our family’s former paradigms would not make the cut into our new family. We have to do things differently….MANY things. We vacation differently; we no longer just pick-up-and-go when we want to; heck, we even grocery shop differently now. This change can cause resentment and even offer the opportunity to place blame for these changing paradigms (the same thing happens in churches when change happens, by the way!) by our biological children.
    So what have we done about it? Here’s a few tips for processing through paradigm shifts we have tried to employ (BTW – you’ll face paradigm shifts of varying degrees your whole life: Church, work, relationships, culture, etc. Just get used to it!):
    -We’ve tried to keep the most important paradigms in tact. The one’s we’ve had to change we’ve explained them carefully, and helped everyone know WHY.
    Beach-Create opportunity for memories to be made. We don’t get out as much as we used to, but when we do, we try and create opportunities for life-long memories between all the siblings. It’s important for our bio kids to have good and recent memories with each other AND the adopted kids. We do this intentionally….and take lots of pictures!
    -Make the mundane memorable. Playing games at home; doing chores, or school; even cleaning up messes. Channel your inner Mary Poppins and make it memorable.
    -Give your kids a voice. Let them tell you some of the paradigms which are/were special to them and then try to provide these experiences when feasible.
    -Add new paradigms which are even more special than the one’s you’ve had to let go. We now do a birthday breakfast for each child on their birthday. It’s 90 minutes of just that child with mom & dad. We started this in 2016 and it’s getting rave reviews!
    -Grow deeper yourself. Discover what makes your soul find life. Then include your kids, spouse, family in these things. You won’t believe the connection they will feel to you and one another doing things you love with you as you do them.

    Integrating two sibling groups into one group is challenging. With time, patience, intentionality, and a spoon-full of sugar, I believe just about any group of kids can become a bonded sibling group who love & care for one another, and grow to have the kind of adult sibling relationships we all want our children to have.

 

How Adoption Saved My Life

This post has been two years in coming……Two years ago I had my life together. I had acquired a great wife, had four children blowing my mind every day, and was advancing in my profession (“ministry” is a better word, but “profession” is probably more understood). Here I sit two years later, a little more ragged, often out of breath, in need of some new rhythms, sometimes exhausted, and more convinced than ever God has ordered every step we’ve taken.

I don’t want to indicate my life was better or worse before June 18th, 2015. It wasn’t either….just different. Honestly, everything was easier before we adopted. Literally everything. The emotional toll has been massive on all of us. We are so far out of any kind of rhythm it has affected every other part of my life and work. I honestly (and naively) believed, when we returned home from Poland, our lives would go back to normal just with four extra passengers. Amy and I tried very hard to fit our new life into our old. It caused great chaos, stress, and tension. Our kids felt it. Our church felt it. We felt it. This perfectly imperfect thing called adoption was shaking us to the core.

I suspect most adoptive families go through something like this – just at various levels of severity. I’ve been known to say it is these moments or seasons of difficulty God is using to forge in us the material and mettle required for the life He’s planned for us. While I believe this to be absolutely true, often we miss the larger picture of what God is doing through the circumstances of our lives because of the challenge of walking through it. The darkest part of the night is when you’re in the middle of it!

It took us a while, but by early this spring we began to realize what was really going on and began to work through the internal and external challenges. I don’t want to suggest I have figured it out or arrived, but in many ways this process saved my life. The list is certainly not exhaustive but as I’ve reflected over the past year, these are nine ways turning my life upside down through adoption actually saved my life.

  1. Adoption Forced Me to Stop Ignoring the Marginalize
    Most of us know the statistics….143 some odd million orphans in the world. That’s a staggering number. But did you know the foster care system in your county is likely overrun with kids (orphans) who need YOU? Maybe you could adopt one of those 143M orphans or one of the 100K kids in the US in need of a home. Maybe you could provide respite care for foster families. Surely there’s something you could do, besides read blogs, to participate in the the mission to take care of orphans. Until your hands are dirty….you’re still ignoring the marginalized. But it’s more than that. Adoption has opened my eyes to the broken all around me. It’s made me more sensitive, more compassionate, more aware of what others are walking through. Humans have always been the point of life. Especially a godly life. Adopting my own broken kids, bringing them into my home, forces me to pay more attention to others who may be just as broken, just not as obviously so.
  2. Adoption Grew My Faith
    If you want to learn how to really depend on God, foster or adopt. Where do you get $50K to adopt? How do you take 7 weeks off of work to go to Poland? How do you help your biological kids navigate all the emotions and issues which will arise in them through adoption? What about the baggage your adopted kids have, some of which they can’t articulate?
    God.
    He knows where to get resources. He knows how to heal the heart of the orphan. He knows how to strengthen the heart of the child. He knows what you need to do and even how you need to do it. If you’ll allow Him to guide you, if you trust Him, if you let Him teach you, your faith will grow in ways you never imagined.
  3. Adoption Strengthened My Marriage
    Amy and I have always had a good marriage. But this journey has forced us to iron out whatever wrinkles we had allowed to creep in. In adoption, you CANNOT afford mis-communication. You CANNOT fill your emotional tanks (which drain much more quickly) through empty wells. You CANNOT be on different pages when you parent – especially orphans because they will turn you against each other!! You MUST find consistency in parenting methods. What you give your children must be the same as your spouse – especially in areas of discipline. All of this means your marriage cannot afford to be a distant one. You can’t be in a dead-end marriage and be successful. If you allow it and approach your marriage sincerely, you will be closer as a couple than you’ve been since you dated!
  4. Adoption Provided Us a More Broad World-View
    I say “us” because this includes all my children. Adoption exposed my biological children to the brokenness often masked in America. They have realized the world is a much larger place than Central Indiana and Central Florida. There are really good people who don’t speak English. Need is everywhere. We are incredibly fortunate and blessed to live in the USA. Most countries don’t have Chic-Fil-A, which is tragic. My adopted kids never traveled more than about 20 miles radius from the place of their birth. Now they’ve traveled 5,000 miles around the world. They are discovering what it means to trust, to love, to just BE. It’s an amazing process.
    When our worldview expands, it’s always a good thing.
  5. Adoption Exposed My Selfishness
    I’m an incredibly selfish person. Most of us are. Some of this dies when you become a parent in general. But to adopt (unless your reasoning is selfishly motivated) requires a complete abdication of one’s self and one’s desires. To love someone deeply and unconditionally NOT born of your flesh is one of the greatest challenges a person can know. Honestly, this idea is what keeps some people from adopting at all. We ask ourselves, “Can I love this child as much as I do my biological child?” The answer is an unequivocal NO. At least not without the help of God. I believe even people who do not follow Christ, unbeknownst to them, when they adopt, receive a deposit of grace and love from God. Why? Because He loves the orphan more than you do. He has hopes and dreams and plans for them which surpass your own. Dissolving selfishness is a supernatural process. God is always trying to lead His people to this end, but adoption will expose it and force the issue.
  6. Adoption Forced Me to Slow Down
    I should say LANGUAGE forced me to slow down!! But the result of that slow down required me to slow down in general. Orphans typically process the world at a much slower rate. Too much stimulation too fast can throw them off. We experienced this very thing in January, and it took two months to re-calibrate. Slowing down is not only something adoption will force you to do, but if you embrace it, you’ll discover you should have done it a long time ago.
  7. Adoption Helped Me to Ask “WHY?”
    Not in exasperation. I ask “why?” in self-examination. This idea is a little too psychological for some, but asking why is HUGE for deep personal transformation. Why do I feel this way? Why am I anxious about ________? Why am I afraid? Why am I angry at _________? Why does it annoy me so much when _________? And many other “why” questions force us to look deep inside for the REASON rather than just trying to address the SYMPTOM we are feeling or observing. Once I realized I needed to do this, I began to help my children ask this question of themselves. Sometimes my daughter is really angry and she doesn’t know WHY. So we ask that question in an attempt to get to the heart of the issue. It’s amazing what you will discover about what’s really going on inside of you or your kids when you ask “why”.
  8. Adoption Exposed My Unsustainable Rhythms
    My rhythms had been unhealthy for a while I just didn’t know it yet. Through the process of the last year, I began to understand this. Asking the “why” question has helped me identify the dysfunction in my rhythms and begin the process of change. I’m not gonna lie….when you’ve established a set of rhythms for a long time, changing them isn’t easy. Your subconscious fights you every step of the way.  But I concluded, ultimately, if I didn’t transform and establish some new rhythms in my life, ministry, and in our family, I would not survive. God has been gracious to us and allowed us this discovery before it became life and death. Now Amy and I are in the process of working these things out and finding new rhythms all the way around. Adoption exposed them. Seeking new rhythms is saving our lives.
  9. Adoption Demanded I Grow Up
    We can’t be emotional children ourselves and effectively parent emotionally broken children. I often mention to Amy how the emotional brokenness in our adopted kids has exposed long forgotten emotional baggage from our own pasts. To help them, we had to grow up ourselves. This is really a rather new understanding, just in the last couple of months. It’s probably why I’ve not written since early April. We’ve been in the process of working through this ourselves. Still are. We found a book which has been exceedingly helpful. It’s called “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Peter Scazzero. You can order it HERE!!! EVERY SINGLE PERSON but especially EVERY CHRISTIAN needs to read this book. It’s incredibly life changing if you choose to do the hard work of growing up. We are. We’ll be better for it and so will ALL our children.

So there you go. How Adoption has saved my life. It’s been a painful journey. But it’s also been exhilarating as I’ve learned more about myself in the last year than probably any year previously. While we’ve worked to rescue our kids from brokenness, they have served to rescue us from our own.

If you’ve adopted, are adopting or fostering, how has it saved your life? How have you transformed into a better person because of it?

Grief

It’s funny (like in an uncomfortable, weird uncle at Christmas kind of way) how long it really takes you to unpack everything the adoption process touches in your life. Really, I’m not sure this process is ever complete, though I’m sure there are much more seasoned adoption vets who could speak to this better than I can. I think for me, going into this adoption, I had this naive idea we would go to Poland, pick the kids up, do our assigned time in country and come back home to life normal, just with more kids. Even writing this statement I shake my head and roll my eyes at myself. What an I-D-I-O-T I was for even coming close to thinking this! Literally NOTHING is the same for ANYONE in your family after adoption. Your biological kid’s lives will never go back the way it was. Your marriage is changed forever. Your adoptive kids may or may not understand how much has changed for them. Honestly we have really struggled with some parts of this. We’ve felt A LOT of guilt for thinking about our life before adoption in any sort of positive way. Like we’re evil if we still love some of the parts of our life the way it used to be. If you let it, the guilt of this can be overwhelming. So I’ve come to a conclusion……It’s OK to grieve.

First, it’s OK to grieve your family pre-adoption. I loved our family of six. This picture is

Photo May 24, 9 20 43 PM

Leaving ORD a Family of SIX

the last picture we ever took together as a family of six. I have some incredible memories with these people prior to May 26th, 2015. Sometimes I catch myself daydreaming about our life before that day – not wishing we could go back, just enjoying the feelings of joy, simplicity, and seeming ease of what our life used to be. I used to feel guilty for this, but I had to realize it was OK to remember and even grieve what this life was for us. It’s really no different to thinking about your life before any children. Amy and I had a lot of fun. We had a lot more time and money and energy. I have some great memories of our vacation in Hawaii before we had any children. What a great trip!! Later that year, Chloe came along. But I’ve never felt guilty or a need to grieve my pre-children marriage. I think this is because it’s a natural progression of life. Adoption isn’t. Adoption is abnormal. It’s not supposed to be this way so I tended to look at pre-adoption with guilt. Instead I’ve realized it’s OK to grieve our previous life, to remember with fondness our family of six. It doesn’t change anything about our love for our family of ten and it doesn’t mean I secretly want to go back. I think it’s actually super important to give yourself freedom to grieve over the loss of  your prior life, particularly if you’re having any kind of bonding issues – which we are. Grieving the loss of this family helped us to accept the paradigm of our new family.

Once Amy and I figured this out, we were able to help our biological kids grieve this same kind of loss for themselves. Children are less mature than adults. They process the world

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and their feelings differently. Our bio kids, particularly the older ones, have had a more difficult time adjusting to our new family dynamics. Just by the shear size and number of children in our family, we’ve had to do many things differently than before. We’ve changed the paradigm our children had grown up with. Suddenly we’re parenting differently, we have stricter rules, our schedule is more consistent and so on. For a kid who grew up one way for ten or eleven years and now has to make major shifts (like sharing a room, having sisters, assigned seats at the table, or set chores & expectations) it can be a big leap. There have  been many times one of our bio kids has expressed, with much guilt, how much they sometimes want to go back to May 25th, 2015. How much their life has changed and how hard the changes have been. For an older bio child, there needs to be room made for them to grieve their loss as well.

Finally, we understand, much from our pre-adoptive reading, the need our adoptive children have to sometimes grieve their losses as well….and they’ve had many. This is the one part of grief I think most adoptive families expect. For our kids who remember their family of origin, they grieve in spurts. We’ve helped them understand when they remember something, how important it is for them to share it with us. I understand why it’s difficult, but I believe they can’t experience deep healing unless they get that stuff out of their hearts!! Often this process includes grief. For our younger adoptive kids who don’t remember life in their family of origin, they grieve their foster families. This became very clear walking into Meijer one day. We were explaining to the two little ones they weren’t going back to the home of their foster mom….like ever. They live here now. The weeping and tears were real and bitter. It was grief. It’s very natural for adoptive children to grieve the loss they’ve experienced from their family of origin, foster family, culture, etc.

So how do we grieve? What would this look like in our life?

  1. Give yourself permission to grieve. It’s OK…even necessary to free yourself from guilt and to accept your new family paradigms.
  2. Journal. Sometimes there are things which need to be expressed from your soul which you almost can’t say. A journal is a great way to get that stuff out. It’s proven wonderfully therapeutic and helpful for my 12 year old.
  3. Let your kids tell you ANYTHING and EVERYTHING they feel without fear of repercussions. Often our children don’t know what they feel and why. They need your help to process whatever’s happening inside of them. Don’t shut them down and make them feel like they can’t come to you. Give them permission to share.
  4. Be patient with your spouse. They will have to grieve differently than you. Some may be deeper. Some may not grieve at all. If you’re not patient with one another through the process, you will have strife. You MUST communicate with one another.
  5. Get help if/when you need it. If you’re really hung up, talk with your pastor, a counselor, or close friend who understands what you’re facing.
  6. Realize it’s OK to celebrate your family at all stages. Talk about when your bio kids were babies. Tell vacation stories. Look through family pictures together. Think how illogical it would be to do anything different. Include your adoptive kids in talking about the history of their family, as if they’re a new baby coming in. They’ll be glad to be included, even though they’re not in the pictures.
  7. This may be too spiritual for some of you, but give the Holy Spirit room to help you. He is the Helper, the Comforter, the Counselor, and the Spirit of Truth. Engage Him; let Him in and He will help you every step of the way. Whether it’s your grief or the grief of your children, He has the answers you need.

Grief is hard. Mourning is difficult. But the outcome and the promise is powerful! Amy and I have held Isaiah 61 lately. Isaiah writes:

Isaiah 61:1-3

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

Don’t Stop Believin’

It’s been a couple of months since my last past about Fear. We’ve endured the holiday season since then and taken a family vacation. Both are firsts for our full family.

12-20We’ve been having some challenges with our youngest. Behavioral, cause and effect, and bonding issues with mom, mostly. The bonding issue became so intense in early December we started to do some research. Of course, we’d watched the videos, attended the Empowered to Connect conference, and done research on bonding before. To be honest, we were looking at all those resources with the anticipation our nine year old would be the one who would struggle. We just never thought the four year old would be the one having a hard time. But as we began to read about these kinds of issues lots and lots of adoptive families have had, it really began to make sense why we were struggling with her.

First, and as I’ve written previously, her biological age may be four years, but her emotional and sometimes behavior age is much younger. We think somewhere in the 24 – 30 month range. So she is at least 18 months behind where she would developmentally be. It’s a lot harder than it sounds for parents to expect two year old behavior from their four year old rather than age appropriate behavior. It’s difficult to remind yourself of her emotional age when something goes wrong and her reaction isn’t normal for her age. This has been extremely difficult and has given birth to great frustration and even some parenting mistakes (believe it or not, we are not perfect parents!). As we read and studied about this issue further, we began to see some of the evidence of this and how some of our methods weren’t productive. For instance, a two year old has very little cause and effect understanding. My dad loves to tell a story from my toddler years. He had a very nice stereo system and I loved to play with the knobs. One day he stood beside me and kept saying “no” while smacking my hand. Yet I continued to touch the knobs and turn them. I had not concept of cause and effect. I couldn’t make the connection between touching the knobs and getting my hand smacked. One of the issues we’ve had with our youngest is waking up her siblings very early in the morning. She’s been disciplined, sat in time out, had things taken away, had to sleep in a pack and play in our room, none of which changed behavior. Because she’s four, she can repeat to us the expected behavior, but she just can’t follow the instructions. This is maddening!!! Until we remind ourselves of her emotional/cognitive age.

Connected to that Amy and I had passed this stage with our bio kids. Our youngest bio child is five, but he acts much older because of his older siblings. He just processes the world at a level beyond his chronological age (ironic, isn’t it?). I know many people raise their children into late childhood/early adolescence and then have a little bundle of “SURPRISE” come along. You’re not ready for it. You don’t expect it. All your paradigms have just shifted. The life you thought you knew is no more and won’t be back for a dozen years. That’s how it’s felt for us. It sounds very trivial, but it’s been an enormous leap backwards. We were past the stage of little ones in the house. Now we have had to break out the sippy cups, bibs, pack and plays, and are feeding, wiping butts, etc once again – all because these precious little ones didn’t receive the proper care they needed at critical developmental stages. All I’m saying is we weren’t prepared for that. If you’re adopting in this way, you better get ready for this leap back to the future!

By far, though, the greatest challenge and pain has been around bonding. As we have read about trauma in young children, we are learning the issues our youngest no doubt is facing. We figure she had zero months or years of normal, optimal care given to her, zero normal bonding moments before being placed in foster care. Trauma existed from the moment and likely before she was born. So her “normal” is nothing like yours or your biological children’s “normal.” Per a study I just read last week you can find HERE, her brain likely has gaps and literal missing connections because of the trauma she has endured. I mean, as well cared for as she was in her foster homes, it still wasn’t a family. She still didn’t have a mommy and daddy. She still couldn’t understand what it means to fully belong and be complete. Add on top of that we are her FOURTH home…..yes, she is four and we are her fourth home, and no wonder she is struggling. I have no doubt these and many other questions have rolled in her head, even if she couldn’t articulate them this way:

Is this home like the others and I’ll eventually be leaving?
I wonder when another woman will come along and try to take care of me?
Am I safe? Can I trust these people with my whole heart/life?
What is a “mommy” and “daddy”?
Why do I have to do all the things they say?
Do I want to be here?
Why should I love these people? They’ll eventually leave me too.
I won’t open my heart. It hurts too much when I have to leave.

Permanence. The understanding she belongs forever with us and won’t have another family is a concept likely missing and never developed in her little brain. Honestly, I’m not sure it’s fully developed in the other kids either. I’m convinced this issue of permanence is what gives rise in children to trust issues, fear, and the like. Plus, even for kids who do understand and desire to be in a family, once they find out what it REALLY means to have parents, siblings, etc, they may want to change their mind! I always think about this when I see an older child up for adoption. I can’t imagine how different their expectations for being in a family will be from reality. The good news for us, with a four year old, is science has demonstrated she can likely develop and regain all or most of whatever is missing or was lost. We are learning, though, we must do the right things for this hope to become a reality.

The caution here is this…..doing the right thing for your child and your family won’t always sit right with others. We live very public lives as lead pastors of a church and our family is very much on display. Thankfully, our church has never made this an issue, though I know it’s not that way everywhere. However, some of the things we are discovering we need to do with our youngest two will seem odd, different, or even mean to some outsiders looking in. Pulling them out of classes, keeping them attached to my wife at the hip, having to decline gifts and candy and treats from well-meaning people, declining offers to babysit, not allowing physical contact or emotional connections with anyone but mom right now, and many other little things we are just now learning are critical to healing whatever is broken. These kinds of boundaries are hard for people, family particularly, to understand. We don’t expect it to be this way forever, but for a season, this is how we must live.

If you’re in that family/friend category to adoptive children, and not just mine, let me encourage you. If you’re confused by something the parents of an adoptive child in your life are doing, ask them about it. Kindly, un-accusatory (especially you grandmas and surrogate grandmas!!) and with care, ask the parents what would be OK or appropriate. Give the parents the opportunity to decide what’s best for their little one(s) rather than rushing in with the candy or gift or whatever you want to give the child. Recognize these children have not lived normal lives.
They aren’t like everybody PhotoPass_Visiting_Epcot_7589568186 (1)else…at least not yet….and possibly never for some. Be conscientious and respectful of what adoptive families must do to help their children bond and develop pieces of their life stunted by trauma. Address your thoughts, desires, and concerns with mom and dad and then trust their decisions. God has called them to that child, not you. You can likely walk with them but make sure what you intend for good isn’t actually setting them back.

For those adoptive parents out there facing some of these same things or even things much more challenging that us….stay the course. Hold on to each other and to Jesus. Refuse to give up on the call of God for your life. Fight in the spiritual as much as you are in the natural. Some things only come that way. Don’t fight alone. Let someone walk with you – even besides your spouse. You need the companionship, support, and conversation of a good friend. They won’t understand everything you’re facing, but they don’t have to. The temptation is to isolate and walk alone since no one really understands. Don’t. You’ll lose yourself and your sanity!! Give yourself PERMISSION to go to coffee, take a break, not do the dishes or that last spelling assignment today. Spend time with God. Press into Him – not away from Him. His presence will sustain you, strengthen you, encourage you. God is with you so let Him show you how much!!…..and like Journey said….Don’t Stop Believin’!!

 

FEAR

She was shaking. The fear in her eyes was palpable. She had, once again, lied to me and, once again, gotten caught. It’s really not difficult to catch a four year old in a lie. She sat on my bed while I tried to figure out what the appropriate lecture followed by discipline should be to attempt to forge within her brain and emotion the destruction lying causes to relationships…all on the level of four year old who sees the world through the eyes of a 2 1/2 year old. This is not an easy task.

Now let me say I do not believe my sweet little girl is devious. She’s not trying to pull the wool over our eyes so she can sneak out at night to paint the town red. We don’t believe she is trying to hurt us or really even understands what it means to break relationship and trust. She disobeyed a direct order. She lied to cover it up. She later, accidentally mind you, confessed to said lie to her mother. She wailed when she knew she had blown her cover. Now she was literally shaking, overcome by so much fear of what may or may not happen she could not control the situation, her body, her tears, her voice, or anything else for that matter.

As I tried to decide what to do, I felt the Holy Spirit whisper in my spiritNo longer slaves this was not about lying. This wasn’t about disobedience, though disobeying is ultimately what got us here in the first place. This was about a little girl ravaged by fear.
Fear is debilitating. 
Fear is paralyzing.
Fear is a bad counselor. 

She should have obeyed her mother, that’s for sure. She should have told the truth when asked about it. We have had many conversations about the relationship between levels of trouble and lying/telling the truth. If you tell the truth, you may still be in trouble, but if you lie, you will be in HUGE trouble. We just don’t do lying at the Carlson home. But she had lied. Because she was afraid of what might happen. And now she had lost control of everything. Control is safety for her….and, if we’re honest, for all of us. If we’re in control, we’re safe. When we lose control (as if we ever really have it) we become afraid.

Fear. When I asked her if she was lying she asked for more time to think about her answer. I love the way little minds work sometimes! Finally I pressed her, because she already knew the answer and didn’t need to think about it, and she chose to give in to the fear welling up in her spirit; she lied. This is common for her. She lives with fear. She’s controlled by it. She’s been mastered by it.

But the thing is, fear is smoke in mirrors. It’s not real. Our society thrives on the emotion of fear. We watch scary movies to feel it; our media uses fear to control what we think and understand about the world. Some people use fear as a way to control relationships or people they supposedly love. But is fear real? Is it a legitimate thing of which we should be wary or is it nothing more than an emotion we feel but must learn to master rather than being mastered by? Oh, don’t misunderstand….the feeling of fear is very real. But is the feeling of fear actually reflected in reality?
Maybe in horror movies, but in real life? I don’t think fear is real.
One of our children’s workers at our church says fear is False Evidence Appearing Real…I think the acronym about sums it up!

Yet fear probably is the greatest issue of control in your life and mine right now. We may not shake uncontrollably or cry incessantly because of it, but fear, nonetheless, is the greatest controlling force on the planet. Consider:

Millions of people have been murdered because of fear.
Millions of babies aborted because of fear.
Billions of people living sub-par lives because of fear.
ISIS’ reign of terror is predicated on fear.
People fear death more than anything in life.
Many avoid risk of any kind because of fear.
People do not fully follow Jesus because of fear.
People close their hearts to potentially powerful relationships because of fear.
Marriages wane and die because of fear.
Lies have been told, nations destroyed, trusts eroded, paranoia rampant – all because of fear.
147 million orphans remain in this world primarily because of fear.

Like it or not….admit it or not….fear plays a part in your life and mine to some varying degree. Just consider adoption, for instance. Did you know 70% of people in the US have expressed interest in adoption? Do you know how many of those 70% actually follow through and adopt one or more children?

Less than 5%
Why?
Fear.

How will we pay for all the expenses (I agree they are ridiculously high)?
Can I love another child as my own?
Is my house big enough? Can we afford another mouth to feed?
What if our biological kids can’t handle it?
What if the child we adopt ends up having some weird disease?
How will I know what to do?
What will other’s think about our “mixed” family?
How will we communicate? Do I have to learn their language?
What if they’re the kid which smears poop on the wall?
Worse, what if they’re an ax murderer?
What if they don’t love me back?

Fear debilitates our faith and belief in a providential God. Fear paralyzes us from doing the good we know to do. Fear counsels us to just hold on to what we have, keep our hands and hearts closed, and don’t let anyone in. It’s just too dangerous. There’s too many things which could go wrong. It’s safer to just be content where we are.

But fear is fake. It’s not real. It’s possibly the greatest trick the enemy has in his arsenal to keep you and me from stepping into our God-ordained purposes in this life. Let me give you a new definition of fear:

Fear is nothing more than the absence of trust.

For my four year old, it’s an absence of trust in her mommy and daddy. She’s afraid of punishment. She’s afraid of being broken again (lying is a way she protects her heart from being broken). She’s afraid we will stop loving her. She’s afraid she won’t belong anymore; she won’t be loved any longer. She’s afraid she’s in danger. She’s afraid she can’t measure up to our expectations. She’s a slave to fear.

But for you and me, the trust issue goes a little bit higher. Flat out, we don’t truly trust God. We’re not sure He’ll provide. We’re not sure He truly has our best interest at heart. We’re afraid we may find He’s not the faithful God we thought He was. We’re afraid, if we make a mistake, He can’t (or won’t) redeem it. Does He really work things for our good? Is He able to guard the heart(s) of our bio kids; heal the hearts of our adopted kid(s); and bind all of our hearts together as a family? Will He catch us if we leap?

Trust is a funny thing. No doubt, at some point in your life, you’ve felt like God let you down. Maybe you’re still there with Him now and it’s keeping you from taking leaps of faith He’s asking you to take. Let me encourage you to take a listen to a message I preached a few weeks back on the issue of disappointment. I think it’ll help.

Ultimately, there’s only one remedy for fear.
Perfect Love.

perfect loveHonestly, no one can love perfectly. We all love imperfect people imperfectly from our imperfect hearts and imperfect souls. There is only One who loves perfectly. He loves us in spite of ourselves; in spite of our imperfection; in spite of our fear. God’s love for us is perfection, even if we don’t always understand it this way. In fact, our misunderstanding, at times, of God’s love and discipline in our lives is what can erode our trust and open the door for fear to take root. But the truth is, God’s love is perfect in our lives. He only allows things for our good – even the hard stuff (consider Job of Old Testament fame). Discipline is a result of our poor choices outside of His Word and will for our lives. Yet I can’t help but think, if we would fully TRUST Him and receive His perfect love, fear could be eliminated or at least minimized in our lives. I want to encourage you; nay, challenge you to receive His perfect love for you. You’ll be able to trust Him for the things which make you scared. You’ll be able to step in faith and know He will never leave you alone. You’ll do great things in His sight because YOU are a child of God. Trust His perfect love.

The same is true with my children (and yours for that matter). Often fear is the result of misunderstanding our love for them. Why do we discipline them? Because we want them to grow up to be productive, honest humans full of integrity and justice. But sometimes they can’t see past the moment. So fear is produced because they don’t recognize discipline as love, which makes trust elusive, which gives a place for fear to breed.
More discipline doesn’t solve the problem.
Harsher punishment won’t get us there.
Lectures and demanding honestly will not truly breed trust.

We cannot correct behavior and expect trust and love to prevail…
we must address the issues of their hearts with robust love!

Only UNCONDITIONAL and imPERFECT love will destroy fear in our children’s lives. How will they know the perfect love of God if we fail to love them, albeit imperfectly, even when needing to discipline? We must find ways to steel our own emotions, our own fears, yes our anger too, and love our children, adopted or not, as perfectly as we can, through Christ. Honestly, it’s a tall and maybe impossible order….but start somewhere.

I started on the floor of my bedroom, holding a little girl shaking from fear and singing a currently popular song about being a child of God. I tried, in my human effort, to show her what perfect love looks like. Did she lie? Yes. Did she deserve discipline? Yes. Did she need to be afraid of a big daddy who loves her more than she’ll ever know? NO….but she doesn’t yet understand that. She will learn as I SHOW her. It’s now our mission to show ALL of our children this kind of love. Even if we only give them a glimpse of imPERFECT parental love, they’ll have enough understanding to spot God’s PERFECT love for them a mile away.

You too….give God a chance to SHOW you His love. Open your heart to Him today and let the best Father pour in His perfect love until it overflows. I believe He’ll meet you exactly where you are.

I’m no longer a slave to fear…..I am a child of God.
I am safe.
I am loved.
God is FOR ME, not against me.
He loves me perfectly, without defect.
May I learn to love Him the same.

Josh 1:9 – Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged,
for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Things We Lost in Translation

It’s funny listening to my Polish children talk. Our now four year old swears she can’t remember any Polish at all – even though she sometimes switches seamlessly, in the same sentence mind you, between English and Polish. Sure, her English vocabulary is probably that of a 2 year old, but she does really well only speaking the language for five months. My favorite is when one of them starts a sentence or conversation in English and switches to Polish and then back to English. Or they’ll splice in one word here and there in Polish because they haven’t yet learned the English equivalency. Oh and sentence structure can really mess them up! Our nine year old is learning some grammar in our home-school, but she sometimes confuses verb, noun, and adjective positions. It can be quite entertaining.

As entertaining as language issues can be, when it comes to really important conversations and/or concepts, it can be very challenging. In fact, often, without great time, patience, and care much can be lost in translation.

We’ve been home now for nearly three months. We have been the parents, in one form or another, of our Polish kids since May 26th. We first met them in April. It’s hard to figure we’ve only known them for six months. Sometimes I still reflect on where we were a year ago, feeling like we’d never get them home, to now, trying to figure out what this new “home” is like. There’s so much we build up in our mind about how this journey will play out. I can remember idealized conversations Amy and I would have before our first trip to Poland, painting our hopes and dreams for our formerly little family. I wrote all kinds of letters and grant applications touting the beauty of adoption (to which I still wholeheartedly subscribe). Even when we faced hurdles and challenges, we still knew God was in this – He had proven it over and over again after all – and held on to our assurance of His plan. It all became kind of like a language we spoke. One of faith and hope and love. Even so, I think we kind of knew going in there’s no chance everything will turn out the way we planned it out in our hearts & heads. But we kept speaking the language, we kept our dreams for ALL of our children vibrant and healthy.

Now, I’m not saying some of that didn’t come to pass, because it did. But just like most things in life, there was much lost in translation. Things we thought would be easy or natural turned out to be some of the most difficult things we would attempt. I thought I’d spend a few minutes writing about some of the things in our language now, which weren’t when we began.

  1. I don’t know why people tout the adopting of only young children. As if older kids are somehow more broken and need more repair. Granted, our nine year old has lived through much more trauma in her young life than our three year old. But, frankly, the three year old has been much more difficult to bring home. Abby can reason, understand complexities, and talk things through. Our youngest cannot. We have fought much tougher battles with her and because of her survival methods than any of the others. Adopting a toddler is the hardest thing we’ve ever done.
  2. True bonding….like familial bonding is slow. And even slower through adoption. I’m a quick buy-in kind of guy. I can catch just about any vision and be excited about the possibilities. So falling in love with my new children was quick and all the way for me. For others in my family, it’s not been as easy a ride. Which leads me to…
  3. Adjusting. Is. Constant. I may have written about this before, or maybe it’s just such a huge issue it is always on the forefront of my mind. I love when we have good days and feel like we make major progress. When one of my bio kids tells me how much they love their sibling or how thankful they are we took this plunge. But then we have other conversations where I’m trying to talk them into staying in the family! (OK, not really, but you get my point!) Adjusting is just that. Everyone finding their new place in a new family. I expected our Polish kids to have a bit of a learning curve, but in our idealized language, we honestly thought we’d come home and go back to our life, just with four more kids in tow. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve been surprised by how much our family has been thrown into chaos. We’ve had to learn new rhythms, new schedules, new meal planning, and more. My bio daughter is learning how to share her space and have sisters. My boys are learning what it’s like to have little girls around. EVERYONE is adjusting. I even think Charlie the dog isn’t quite sure where he fits.
  4. Remembering their age. Not their biological age, but their emotional age. I’ve already written a snippet about this, but it’s so very hard to remember. Our bio 10 year old son has always been large for his age. When he was five or six most people thought he was seven or eight – and they’d expect him to act that way. Even for us it was sometimes hard to remember he was just a little boy. Now we have the reverse. We have maybe a 2 year old in the body of a four year old. Or maybe a 3 1/2 year old in the body of a five year old. And developmentally, this is pretty accurate as far as their life-processing ability. Talk about compounding a language problem! It’s very difficult not to expect more from them than they can deliver.
  5. It breaks our hearts when we think of everything they’ve lost. Not some of the big stuff (as difficult as that is) but just some basic stuff. The kids have zero sense of permanence and assurance. They are certain if they mess up they might lose their place in our family. No child should feel this way. I know we’ll conquer this at some point, but changing that way of thinking in a child is incredibly difficult. Because of their past, we’ve noticed they have very little ability to imagine. The other day, Amy sent the two little girls to their rooms to play. She left them standing in the middle of the room talking about what to play. When she came to check on them fifteen minutes later, they were in the exact same spot and told Amy they didn’t know what to play. Surrounded by toys, they couldn’t muster the imagination to get started. Further, we’ve noticed, other than food, they typically don’t know what they like or what their genuine interests are….because they don’t know! The kids have never had anyone guide them into trying new things to see what kinds of activities they enjoy. I think they’ve always just parroted one another, liking whatever someone else liked in order to fit in.
  6. Over time it has become more and more obvious the older children lack identity and confidence. I say the older children because I think you can identify that issue in older kids but it’s much more difficult in younger children. But, I would say it is likely an accurate statement for the younger as well. The way it manifests, however, is very different. In the older kids, as you might expect, the lack of confidence and self-identity manifests with very sensitive feelings. Anytime the slightest of harsh words are spoken to them, they immediately conclude they are  not liked or cared for any more. We have spent a lot of time talking with them about TRUTH and guarding one’s heart. In the younger kids, and this is the source of our 3 year old’s issues, this manifests as control. She wants to be in control. It’s the only place she truly feels safe. If she relinquishes control to Amy or me, it feels like her whole world is slipping away. We have had this conversation over and over and over again, but her little mind just can’t comprehend what in the world we’re talking about! Control manifests with lying, deceit, independence, a refusal to ask for help (and then creating a much bigger problem), etc. Oh wow….I cannot minimize the struggle this has been and continues to be. All because these little hearts never had the chance to discover their self-identity and enjoy the safety of experimentation in a mom and dad’s love.
  7. When the children struggle to respond to us, it’s very hard not to take their indifference as rejection. Again, this has been most prevalent in our younger girls. A couple of weeks ago, we discovered they honestly believed they would eventually return to Poland and the home of their foster mom, whom they loved a lot. We’re glad they received such good care from her, but we also feel this belief has hindered them from bonding with us. When we tried to explain to them they would never be returning but they were now in our family forever, they wept. I guess that’s how we knew they understood. They wept. Bitterly.
    Not gonna lie…..it hurt, both for them and us as well. I wanted them to want us as much as we wanted them, and to this point, that had not been the case. Who said younger kids were easier??? I know, in our idealized language, we never really considered we would have to navigate feelings of rejection. I get it, I guess, but it hurt a little just the same.

I’m under no delusion. These are just the first few things we will be working through in this journey of a lifetime as we learn to speak the same language. In the meantime, we’re going to keep talking about the wonderful hopes and dreams we have for our family and each of our kids. We’re going to keep praying bold prayers and giving God a chance to mend little hearts. We’re going to get up everyday and keep pressing forward. We KNOW God has joined us together. He brought us together and made us a family. Together, little by little, we will learn to speak this new language. And less and less will be lost in translation.

Oh, by the way, I have another blog I’d like to invite you to check out. This one is about living for God in this crazy world. You can check out my other musings by clicking HERE!!!!. Read the “About” page to see what the title means!

Also, Amy and I have decided to vacate Facebook (look for a post on this coming soon on the other blog). Many of our readers came from Facebook links, which we no longer will utilize. So if you like what we share on this page and have a Facebook profile, would you mind sharing a link on Facebook for us and/or recommending this blog to others who may be interested? Thanks so much!!!!