Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas 2013 Takeaways

1.  Gingerbread houses are way more fun when constructed from "scratch" with graham crackers, homemade royal icing and leftover candies dating back to last Halloween.

The spread.

It's all about icing in Ziplocs...just not sandwich size, they don't support gobs of royal icing.

Serious business, this decorating stuff.

"Ooh, I found just the right spot."

Resembling a military barack a little more than a house, but who's judging.

2.  Cinnamon ornaments infused with essential oils are the way to go if you're interested in having your house smell amazing for like weeks to come.  But more than that, I'm reminded that my desire for perfection robs my children's souls of joy and that it's just not worth it.  So I choose to let the flour that I still find caked to my cabinets after this little adventure remind me of the joy of letting go of my expectations to focus on their desires.  And they desire to have fun...and lots of it.

Expert ornament makers.

If only I could keep these little hands from growing any bigger.

Assembly line work...all on their own.

Nothing makes a mess more beautiful than these proud grins.

3.  Reindeer...I mean black oats.  We didn't exactly see any reindeer jumping our walls to get to the oats, but by golly we know there's no chance of crows facing extinction any time soon!  As the girls spread oats by the handful on the grass in our backyard, Charlee asked, "Mommy, I don't really understand reindeer and Santa.  It's so confusing."  Neither do I, little girl, neither do I.

Bag of oats, round 1.

"Let's spread them while we twirl."  There's always a reason to dance.

Jumpin' for joy...even if she doesn't know why she's doing what she's doing.

4.  I will never again underestimate the power in not only praying for a far off country, but in truly attempting to understand the way history shapes a culture's present.  I prayed more for a certain distant country with passion as I felt the weight in some small way of what their future could hold.

5.  I was reminded that God has given me two beautiful, amazing and unique daughters with the sole purpose of discipling them that Lord willing one day they would know and love their Creator.  I am beyond blessed to be their mama.

Christmas sweeties.

Clearly we could use a lesson in modesty.

"What you say, Grampa?"

6.  When it's all said and done, the best way to spend Christmas is in two ways: 1) outside and 2) with family.


Taking this motherhood business very seriously.

"Watch Mommy.  I a monkey."

"Lemme just give you a little push, Crampa."


Great Grandpa talking Adam's ear off.

The girls.

7.  There's nothing better than quality cousin time.

Got wheels?

Tinkerbell for the girls...and Finley.


...and learning.

It's gonna pop!

Watch out world...we're bonding over some stroller time.

Remote control fire for all!

Center stage grand finale.

8.  Jesus is enough.  

Sunday, December 29, 2013

He Has Come For Us

Christmas this year could have been better.  For many reasons.

One.  This was our first Christmas without Gramma Sally.  This was my husband's first Christmas without his mom.  But not just without his mom.  Without his parents.  Last year at this time we had no idea that the Lord would be taking Sally to be with Him in just a matter of weeks.  No idea.  It shouldn't have happened, but I find peace in knowing that God defines should/shouldn't, not us.

It's been almost a year and I miss her so much.  And she wasn't my mom.  But she was the mother-in-law that I had always hoped for.  And I only had her for 7 years.  The anticipation of this first Christmas without her was painful.

I'm not gonna lie, I've never wanted Christmas to be over so quickly in my life.  And I feel guilty admitting that, but that's the reality of where my heart has been for over a month.  Wanting the celebration of Jesus' birthday to be over?  The Christmas cards received in the mail from friends near and far?  The Christmas carols sung for such a short time each year?  The twinkling lights on the tree?  Yes, all of it.  Wanted it all to be over...or rather, never to come at all.  I think my heart thought that if it didn't come, it wouldn't hurt.  But it did come.  And it did hurt.  A lot.  And it still hurts.  My heart doesn't believe she's gone.

Beautiful lady.
As I was curling Charlee's hair in preparation for our Christmas Eve service, I pulled out a can of hair spray that I brought home from my last trip to Ogallala spent cleaning Sally's home.

I did not expect these words from Charlee as I sprayed her hair for the first time.

"That smells like Gramma Sally.  It smells like her skin."

Curls courtesy of Gramma Sally's expensive hairspray.
She hasn't smelled the scent of this hair spray for well over a year and yet she remembers.  Memories triggered by our sense of smell are incredible.

I loved that she remembers.  But I hate that it's a memory.

I miss my mother-in-law and my father-in-law.  But what saddens me most is to see my husband hurt.  To see his pain.  To hear him ask, "Does this ever get easier?" and not have a response for the question.  I can't say that I understand because I don't.  I can't tell him it will get easier because I don't know if it will.  I can't change anything.  All I can do is trust his heart with the God who knows his pain better than I could ever hope to know it.

He has come for us
This Jesus
He's the hope for all
He has come for us
The Messiah
Born to give us life

I expected emotions as I anticipated facing the first Christmas without Sally.  It was the second set of emotions I experienced that were unexpected.

Two.  Our kids, the ones who we are still waiting to bring home, were supposed to be here to spend their first Christmas with family.  But they were not here.

Because of some changes that occurred in their orphanage, they were not allowed to come for Christmas hosting.  We were informed of this news on October 1st, my birthday.  We were saddened that day and for many days following, but what I didn't expect was the barrage of emotions that would strike as Christmas neared.

First of all, can someone please explain to me how it's possible to miss a child you know only through a total of two hours worth of video Skype?  I have no explanation for this phenomenon.  I understand how it's possible to miss Kate, who spent a month with us in our home.  But Max did not.  We really do not know him aside from our Skype calls, but my heart misses him just as much.  I wonder sometimes if it's the idea of him that I miss, but I can confidently say it is not.  It is him.  I miss him.

Christmas was lonely.  It felt empty.  There were people missing.  People who are now with the Lord and people who Lord-willing will be part of our family soon.

He has come for us
This Jesus
He's the hope for all
He has come for us
The Messiah
Born to give us life

The above verse is from one of my newest favorite Christmas songs.  It's Meredith Andrews' rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.  My heart skipped a beat when we stood to sing this song at church on Christmas Eve.  I think God personally chose it for me.

This chorus conjures up many thoughts and emotions, but for whatever reason it is when we are in church singing that I think most of Max and Kate.  This song reminds me to be thankful that I know the hope of Jesus.  I know that this isn't all there is.  I very much look forward to the day that the Lord will make all things new.  The day when He will wipe away every tear...and there shall be no more death, no pain, no sadness.

Revelation 21:4-6

When we Skype with Max and Kate I think often of how we are their hope.  We, Adam and I, are what they are in many ways living for.  Not because we truly are their hope, but because they perceive us to be their hope.  We are the ones in whom they are anticipating to "rescue" them.  In the same way that Jesus has come for me, for Adam, they wait in that orphanage for us to come for them.  They hope in us when they tell us they miss us, when they sing songs for us that cause us to wonder if they feel they have to "perform" for us else we may not come for them.  They hope in us when when they draw pictures for us in the hopes of pleasing us.  What they don't know is that they could do none of this and we will still come.  Kinda reminds me of a certain thing called grace...unmerited favor.  They don't realize that there's nothing they can do to earn our love, our acceptance.  There's nothing that will cause us to love them any more or any less.  They could never sing another song or recite another poem or say another English word and we'll still be on that plane over there just as soon as we possibly can.  You see, that's the amazing thing that I can't wait to share with them one day...that Jesus has come for them.  He's the rescuer, the redeemer.  Not us.  We will come for them, but we are not their hope.  Jesus alone is enough.  He is their hope.  And by the grace of God, I pray that all my children will know that hope one day.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Holiday Concert...Worth the price of admission

Last night we attended Andee's preschool holiday concert.

5 words.  Worth. The. Price. Of. Admission.

Every last penny we pay in tuition for her two day a week preschool education hardly seemed enough to get to witness her on stage.

Quite honestly, I wasn't sure what to expect.  I mean, here is this 3 year old little girl with quite the stubborn, hard-headed, strong-willed streak (I can say this because she gets it from me and I'm her mama!) so let's just say my expectations weren't real high.

I took her back to the "dressing room" where all the kids gathered with their teachers while they awaited their cue to enter stage left.  This is where the tears began.  I expected them, they commenced, I gave Ms. Bridgett the you're-gonna-have-to-take-over-for-me-nod and exited the room to get back to my seat.

We all waited patiently: Daddy, Charlee, Grandma and Grandpa, even Grandpa Arnold all the way from Illinois and me.

She was to be in the first group on stage, the three year olds.

I was in shock to even see her little body standing on stage.  But to top it off, she wasn't crying and she didn't run off stage either.

The first song began and I didn't have the video feature of the camera ready because I really didn't expect to need it.  But then it happened...

She started grooving!  Like not just singing, but performing all the hand motions, stomping her feet at the appropriate time and singing...AND looking like she was enjoying herself!  Quick, start the video because we're gonna need proof that this really happened!

Our little performer is 4th from the left in the front row

It was just priceless watching her.  Sadly most of our video is not exactly "smooth" as I was laughing too hard to keep the camera still, but having proof still counts for something.

So the concert continued and at one point each child was given a jingle bell.  For some reason there was a delay to the beginning of the song in which said jingle bell was to be used.

That's when a little on-stage mischief began instigated by our very own 3 year old, of course.  Apparently boredom sets in when waiting longer than 2 seconds for a song to begin.  So, with cute little seemingly harmless jingle bell in hand, she reaches up and begins hitting the boy in front of her on the back of the head.  Perhaps she thought the "jingle" would be louder on a small child's head?  Actually, I'm fairly certain it was just because it was a boy.  Had it been a girl, she wouldn't have turned to violence in her boredom.  But boys, well, in her words they are usually "boddering me."

Eventually, the boy moved forward slightly after touching the back of his head, probably just to make sure his hairs were still neatly placed.  The little stinker.  And here I am watching and laughing as I realize I can't exactly jump on stage to make her stop.  It was a good laugh though.

It does also make me think that there's a real good chance that the boy in her class who she claims hits her daily, is probably doing so in self-defense.  But that's another story for a different day!

Once the concert was all said and done, Charlee and I went backstage to retrieve the little tyrant.  She was clearly proud of herself although was not about to admit that she had fun.

Daddy made the night extra special as he always does with a few goodies.

Her I'm-embarrassed-but-proud-but-don't-want-you-to-know-it face as Daddy hands her flowers complete with a pine cone, her favorite.

And a sweet treat because when you're young flowers just don't cut it.

And lip gloss because all that singing really dries out one's lips.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Setbacks and check marks

Friday I went to the mailbox in anticipation of Christmas cards and junk mail and discovered an envelope with the return address of the USCIS (Immigration).  Initially my heart skipped a beat thinking this was good news, until the fact that I could see red through the envelope "window" sank in and I thought to myself, "This can't be good."

Sure enough, it wasn't good.  The letter was a request for further "evidence" that was not provided in the home study we submitted.

Is the red really necessary?
Tears.  It was all I could do in that moment.  In this process the hardest part is the constant reminder that we are not in control...of anything...ever.

The moment you start to think you've got some say in this (aside from working your tail off to do your part in paperwork, appointments, etc.), it seems a little tap on the shoulder will inevitably come saying:
"Hey, I've got this.  It's not yours.  This is mine and it will ALL be in my time. 
These kids, I know you'd like to think they're yours, but they're not.  They're mine and I've got them too."
But it's this reminding that is so necessary and makes this so worth it.  The setbacks, the slow downs, the mistakes, they all serve to refine us right where we this very moment...while these kids wait and wait some more.  I believe this time while we wait to bring our kids home is not a waste.  This paperwork, the seemingly endless fingerprinting, the notary upon notary and the trips downtown for apostilles...they are not wasted.  They feel repetitive.  They feel unnecessary.  After all, these kids have been sitting for 10 years and no one has wanted them yet so why can't we just get over there and bring them home.

But nothing is wasted.  Adoption is costly...financially, emotionally, mentally, even socially.  But good things, things that are worth it are expensive.  They cost much.  They deplete you.  But when I am depleted is when I most recognize my need for a's in that place that I realize I bring nothing to this except a willing heart, and sometimes I can't even offer that.

People often tell us, "What you're doing is amazing."  "You're such good people", they say.  Let me be the first to say that neither of these statements are true.  Not even a little.

Amazing is the God we serve.  He is what is good in all this.  His goodness puts to shame anything in us that anyone would want to call good.

So I did cry Friday afternoon as I let my emotions get the best of me.  But even that wasn't wasted.  The tears served to remind me of the love I have for these orphans...a love that was put in my heart by the God that created them.  And the tears weren't wasted when I had my two daughters get off their bikes and kneel beside me when they saw my hurt.

Charlee asked, "Is it about Max and Kate?" as she pointed to the bright red letter I had laid down on the ground beside me.  She had no idea what the letter was about or who it was for, but her perceptive little 6 year old brain associates paperwork and letters and doctor's appointments and fingerprints with her brother and sister who are waiting for their Mommy and Daddy.

I answered her question with a nod and some more tears.

And then she said, "It's a lot of work to bring them home."

What I love about this journey is that it's part of who we are as a family.  The girls are just as much a part of this adventure as Adam and I are.  On some level they experience the joy and the disappointments with us.  It has served to unite us as a family because we are on a mission together.

So, while on the surface this seems a bit of a setback, we will take it in stride and keep moving.


On another note, do you see all those big X's???  I love them!  And do you see that there's only one missing as of late?  Yes, that's it...all we need to submit our dossier is immigration approval.  Woohoo!  Progress is being spite of setbacks.  Because our God is that good!

Monday, December 16, 2013

And the winner is...

...Natalie Burton!  Congratulations, Natalie!

And thank you to ALL of you for donating to the Holiday Gift Card raffle in support of the Widner family.

Each one of you made a difference in the life of a little girl waiting to call them her family!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Oh Christmas tree... lovely are your branches.

Hand-holding is their new "thing" (at least for this week).

Thank you, Daddy, for straightening our star.

Supervisor Charlee

Mission accomplished!

And this year our branches are even lovelier because they are home to two new ornaments.
One for our basketball-loving boy...

...and the other for our special kiska-loving girl.

Originally, Max and Kate would have been here for Christmas this year, but God had other plans and though we are sad we won't get to celebrate Jesus' birthday with them this year, we anticipate with much hope that we will get to celebrate with them next year.  For now, we will include them in our celebrating as much as possible.  I cannot wait to show them their ornaments, personalized just for them, the next time we Skype with them...on Christmas day!
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