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Grief

Before this week, I had thought Eli's grief would lessen. In my mind, it was as though the sand slipping through time's hourglass would somehow reduce the weight of his grief... I was so wrong. Adoption has its mountain tops and its valleys, and Eli was stuck in the latter, helpless and alone. All of his grief came pouring out at once: "I miss my first family... I love my first mom one hundred times more than you... I dream about her... I never wanted to leave Korea... I'm going to move back there someday, and you can't come with me." It was like being stabbed over and over with a dull blade. But I knew his pain was even deeper. I wanted to take it away so he wouldn't have to feel it anymore. Why write it down? Why torture myself with his words? Because I want to be able to remember exactly what he is worried about, how to find the words that will reassure him again. He was just grieving, realizing that being chosen means that you were first rejected (no matter the reason, that's how it feels). I tried telling him, "She was just too young to take care of any baby," as I usually do. But this time he understood more. He said, "She was eighteen. You were driving at seventeen." In his mind, the ability to operate such a big vehicle was synonymous to making life-altering choices. I told you this kid was smart.

Eli, your first mom loved you. Most moms in Korea don't buy their babies new outfits and shoes when they know they can't give them a home. Most moms don't take the time to select a meaningful name for their baby, because they don't want to be so attached. Yes, she made some mistakes. You'll find out about a few of those as you get older. But she also was so brave and wanted the best for you. I think she understood just how special you are. It was a tough choice. I can't tell you how many times I've tried to contact her, just to let her know how well you're doing and how she doesn't need to worry about you. But I may never know if any of my letters will ever be successful in reaching her. Just know that we love you more than life itself. We would do anything for you. You are our firstborn. You have my heart. Once I looked into your eyes, I knew I would never be the same. Words will never be enough to help you understand how much you mean to us.

Together in the Trenches

I've always struggled with friendships.

I make friends easily, I know how to make people feel welcome, and usually I'm surrounded by a lot of people. But they almost always leave. It's because of circumstances or their choice, but both hurt. My best friend in college died in a car accident when she was just 19 and I was 20. Other friends moved away, some to other states and many to other countries. Sometimes it just feels lonely to have lost so many people over the years. It hurt even more when someone told my husband he/she thought it was my fault that I don't have many close friends. So I can't begin to describe how refreshing it was for me to go to a retreat for adoptive and foster moms. It was the one place I felt like I could just be me. I didn't have to pretend that we have our life together, or that our kids are perfect. It was so freeing to listen to other women's stories of the struggles they have been going through and hearing their advice.

Adoption is the biggest blessing I've ever received, but also the most frustrating challenge that often leaves me feeling rejected and helpless. It's hard to explain how suffocating it feels to watch your child grieve, how their grief becomes your own. But these women get it. There is an instant connection between women who sometimes feel like they are just the babysitter, or the "other" mom, or the temporary one. These women have fought battles for their children and come back scarred but somehow stronger. They know what it's like to travel across the world for their child, only to have him cry for someone else. In my own experience, adoptive moms can find more joy than even biological ones at times. There are moments I've shared with the son we adopted that I wouldn't trade for anything; he is so precious to me.

It's comforting to know that even though I may always have a hard time finding lasting friendships, there is a community of adoptive moms that can come together and share life together, even if it's just for a weekend. But I have a feeling these can be some of the strongest friendships ever, because of our common experience and love for the fatherless.

Your Story

Eli, you are five years old now. You have grown so quickly that I don't know how it happened. All of a sudden, you are asking questions about your birth parents and foster parents. You want to know your story, and to hear everything all over again. I love sharing the happy parts of it with you. But it has been hard to share the heavy parts. Watching you grieve is so hard- I want to protect you from everything. But God has shown me that He is taking care of you, and that He is comforting you, even as you grieve the biggest losses of your life.

I couldn't be more proud of you. You are so strong and brave. You have the sweetest, most sensitive heart of anyone I've ever met. I don't know what I would do without you. You make our family so much more interesting and exciting.

Woods, you are often overlooked, but so vital to our family. We need you so much. Your quirkiness and cheerful smile fill our days with joy. You have many reasons to be bitter and feel like things aren't fair- but you still love your brothers anyway, and you are boldly independent. We wouldn't be the same without you.

Ezra- always our baby. You are so smart and quick, never wanting to be left out for even a second. You are our clown and our "easygoing" baby (none of our kids could remotely qualify for being easygoing, but you may be the closest). We melt at the sight of your dimpled cheeks, and are in awe at how much you've learned so quickly. You are such a wonderful surprise.

I don't want to forget any of this. I know that the day is coming when Eli won't want me to walk him into his classroom, when Woods won't want me to read him a bedtime story, or when Ezra won't want me to rock him to sleep. That day is coming quickly. If I could figure out a way to slow time down, I would.

Nov. 21st, 2014

I don't need to justify myself to anyone. So many times I forget that. God's opinion is the only one that matters. These past few months have been difficult, with someone slandering my name and making up lies about me... someone who really doesn't know me at all, since they have never taken time to get to know me. It hurts. Can't lie about that. But my heart is growing callused to those bitter words and accusations. Deep down, I know the person must be jealous or just a mean-spirited person who is trying to harm my marriage. I'm thankful for Shelby, who won't let those words penetrate his mind. My first thought was to confront the individual, but I don't think that would really solve the problem. It wouldn't stop the person from actively trying to destroy our marriage, or heal his/her bitter heart. I can't make someone change if they aren't willing. So I've been praying for this person. It's easy to forget just how powerful prayer can be. I've been sensing God's presence more and more lately, as I have been drawing close, warming myself by this fire. It's impossible to get close without feeling its power.

Since I last wrote, I also got a new job. It's only two days a week, but that's a lot when you have three young boys to take care of. And now I know that being a stay-at-home-mom is a million times harder than having a 9-5 job. Going to work is like going on break. Being a mom is never-ending, freakishly tiring, and completely rewarding. I am so blessed, but also worn thin.

Too Good to be True

We've been living in Goshen for three months now. I've finally understood what it means to have every dream come true, but to still feel an emptiness if you try to satisfy that longing with anything other than God. I can't imagine living without Him. An amazing marriage, three sweet boys, a beautiful house, family, friends... all of it is meaningless without a reason for it all. There are so many days I sit on our front porch swing, soaking in the warm sunlight, watching the horses grazing in the fields and the little boys dancing in the yard, and I feel this fear that something will go wrong... because it can't always be this perfect all the time. We know this lifetime won't last. I'm thankful for the hope that the next life will be even better than this one, which to be honest, is really hard to imagine right now.

Yes, there are incredibly hard days- days when boys make gigantic messes with spilled oil, brownie mix, clogged toilets, pushing and shoving and hurting each other. Even if you have everything you've ever wanted, things still go wrong. If you struggle with envy, wishing for a larger home, flashier car, or more stylish wardrobe. Even with all these things, you can't hide from the images of the poor and starving families around the globe. We aren't called to a life of wealth, health, or comfort. We're called to bring the gospel to everyone, and to give until we have nothing else left. There is tension between that knowledge and our current situation, certainly. At this time in our lives, we have to focus on raising these boys to know God and love His creation. We've spent the week catching toads, playing in muddy ponds, feeding horses, swinging into sky and clouds, scrubbing stained floors and ice-cream faces, hitting and forgiving and grabbing and giving...

I can't stop thinking of a book I read two years ago, One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp (thank you, Kayla!). After reading it, the world never appears the same when viewed through thankful eyes.

SPD

It dawned on me today that Woods is almost 3, and Ezra is almost 17 months... when Eli was 3 and Woods was 17 months, Ezra was born. So hard to believe how much they have grown. I still remember the boys visiting me in the hospital after Ezra's birth, and seeing how much they had changed in such a short amount of time. It makes me realize that I don't always appreciate how much they've changed. When Eli was diagnosed this past fall with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), it was such a relief. I finally found out why I was dreading waking up every morning. I didn't have the energy required to deal with his disorder. He was rampaging through the house, unable to control his movements and volume level, constantly crashing into his brothers and stomping everywhere he went. Now that we know that he is sensory-seeking, we know how to give him activities that can regulate his system. Occupational therapy has been a lifesaver. I wouldn't have recognized the boy that lives with us today, even a few months ago. He has learned how to calm himself down and to ask for gum or to ask to do some heavy lifting whenever he needs proprioceptive or vestibular sensations. It's exciting to watch him understand what he needs and have the ability to ask for it. We were so frustrated before- I thought I was a terrible mom (but doesn't every mom?), and couldn't distinguish between disciplinary and uncontrollable behaviors. Now I look forward to spending time with Eli, despite his high-energy. Knowing the problem is definitely more than half the battle.

Also, since my last few posts, we have sold our house and bought another one. All of the stress of deciding where Eli was going to school was settled in one day. We sold our house in about 12 hours of it being on the market. Now we know that private school is not an option (at least right now), and we're sticking with Oldham County public school. I'm glad we went through so much turmoil to get to this point. I now have a lot more sympathy for parents who have to make such a monumental decision for their kids (and there is zero judgment for those who are choosing private or home school... it's tough, and each one has its own pros and cons!) It's impossible to experience the kind of stress that comes with making decisions for your kids until you go through it. I've been reacting in ways I'm not proud of, out of sheer exhaustion from the stress. Sleep deprivation has been another trigger.

I started this journal as one long letter to my firstborn son. It is morphing into a letter all three can share. Eli, I'm bursting with pride as I watch you grow. You are so smart and creative and tender-hearted. Woods, you make all of us laugh, and you are so charming. Ezra, you amaze me at how athletic you are at such a young age, and I don't know where that came from. You are so loving and sweet. I love all three of you, and I don't know what I ever did to deserve you.

Clarification

Some people misunderstood my last post. I would never pressure Shelby into adopting again if he didn't feel led to. But that's the great thing about God... He wouldn't call one of us if He didn't call the other one, too. Shelby has told me that he is open to adopting again in the future, and he's not against it at all. He just doesn't feel specifically led to right now, because we have three little ones, four and under. If God calls us to adopt again, great. If He doesn't, that's okay, too. We are content with where God has put us right now.

Things Change Quickly Around Here

Only God can change people. My mind was so made up, and I was so stubbornly clinging to comfort when I angrily told Shelby, "I don't see how we'll ever compromise. I'm never going to change my mind- I want my kids to go to private school, because I don't want them being exposed to stuff at public schools!" Honestly, I was scared. I want to protect them as much as possible. The next day, my heart felt softer. I had this feeling that I couldn't shake- that I was wrong to be so adamant in my decision, before praying about it. The more I prayed, the more convicted I became. I kept running into people who confirmed this message from God- that no matter what, it's up to Him to save my kids. I can't do it. I can't control who their friends will be, who will teach them, what choices they will make, and that's a good thing. I'm so thankful for free will- it's the biggest blessing God has given us. No one would want to be pre-programmed. Each day since I made my harsh declaration to Shelby, I've felt changed. I've realized that God is in charge, not me.

Since I last wrote, we have put our house up for sale and made an offer on another one, just for the kids' schooling. I always swore I would never leave this house. It was my dream house. But I'd give up anything for these kids. My heart keeps pleading for another child, to adopt again. I feel called to it. Shelby doesn't yet, but I don't doubt he will eventually. By giving up private school, we are saying yes to the possibility of adding another member to our family and paying for that adoption.

The reason this has been so hard is because I have always struggled with my love for comfort. Instead of praying, "God, please challenge me, help me grow, give me someone to witness to," I have subconsciously prayed, "God, leave me where I am. Don't give me anything too tough. Keep me in my Christian bubble." And that's so wrong.

I can't wait to see where God is leading us and what He's going to do next.

Decisions

So many people around us are having to make major life decisions... whether or not to move, which job to take, or whether or not to get married. Right now, we have to decide where Eli attends school this fall. It doesn't sound like a major decision, but it has been for me. I think about how my life might have turned out if I had gone to a public school, or had been home-schooled, and I don't think I would have been the same person I am today. I want so desperately to give Eli the best school possible, with a strong Christian foundation, where he feels safe and is challenged. We've narrowed it down to Highlands Latin School (it has always been my favorite, but is very tough to get in), Our Savior Lutheran, and Covenant Classical. Each one has its own pros and cons, of course, and I'm sure he would thrive in any of these environments. But this decision affects everything: who his friends will be, who will teach and shape his mind, what will be on his college applications, etc. I've always felt paralyzed by fear when making decisions, and this one is no different. Why should I worry, when God holds this earth in the palm of His hand? He cares for us. That's all that should matter.

One Year Later...

It has been more than a year since I last wrote. Ezra Carpenter has been growing and changing every day. We're crazy about our boys.

But the boy that I'm most crazy about is Shelby. Ever since we saw each other for the first time, I feel like we've had this epic love story that is so incredible and unbelievable. I don't know how anyone could be this happy. I wasn't expecting to feel the same butterflies I felt when we first started dating, but I still have them. I still wait eagerly for him to come home. We race to serve each other. That's what makes our love so unique, I think. Shelby has never stopped serving me. He always looks for ways to make life easier or happier for me. What did I ever do to deserve him? It was all God. It's impossible not to see His hand directing all of this.