Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Blessings In Disguise



After the day I had, car breakdown on freeway, towing, 10 hours of waiting for repairs, it would be really easy to just complain. A lot of misfortune happened, at the worst of times. It would be easy to have a "why me" pity party, but I am instead aware of the many blessings that I encountered today:

1. The car broke down going downhill, by an exit so it was easy to pull off the Interstate & pull over to a safe location.

2. My in-laws ( Connie & Rodger Peterson​) so graciously pay for Amy and I to have AAA coverage every year, so I could get a tow truck dispatched quickly.

3. I trust the mechanic who works on our vehicles, and was referred to him by the same great co-worker who left me a Starbucks "get well" card at said mechanic's shop on his way to work.

4. My wife was already going to CDA/Post Falls w/ the Gs for shopping and dental appt, so I got to spend extra time with them.

5. I have a job that allows me to work remotely and get just as much done as if I were physically there.

6. I have great co-workers who don't miss a beat if I'm gone. In fact, they more than make up for it, and never complain.

7. I got to share our adoption stories with our mechanic and his wife while waiting for the repairs.

8. Even though adoption expenses have depleted most of our savings, because I have such a frugal wife, and because I got some extra opportunities to make money this Summer, we are able to pay for our repairs.

9. Bonus: No cavities for any of the 3 Gs!

I could go on and on, but I'll stop for now. I'll also admit that these items didn't come to me "naturally," today, I had my bouts of selfishness and impatience, believe me. But in the end, after driving home and reflecting on the day, I was made aware of how much I have to be thankful for! Blessings are all around us. Sometimes we just have to look harder for them.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What's In a Name?

I have always been fascinated by names. I can remember as a child, poring over my mom's baby name book from the '50s. I loved learning the meanings of names. (For example, I knew at that young age, that if a name has a negative meaning, no matter how pretty the name itself was, I would not use it for my child.) I also loved to learn the country of origin of all these names! It was FASCINATING to me. My sisters and I had imaginary broods of children with exotic names from all over the world.


**Side note: I never set out to be the mom who names her kids with names that all began with the same letter. In fact, in my opinionated naive youth, I thought it was ridiculous for parents to do that. Haha! Joke's on me! We named "Gracie" because I loved the name. I already had "Gemma" on board, not even thinking about the "G" connection. Then we started calling them the "Gs." So, when G3 (and now G4) came along, we had no choice BUT to find G names. 

But I digress.

Back to names, meanings, and origins. (I should have majored in this in college!) Here are the meanings of the 3 "G" names we have used so far. I think you'll understand why I love them so.

GRACIE: English, diminutive of Grace; meaning God's gift of love (interestingly, people still call her Grace...11 years after joining our family!)
GEMMA: Italian; meaning gem, jewel, or precious stone
GIA: Italian; meaning God is gracious

Our children ARE precious jewels in our (and our heavenly Father's) eyes, and He has been SO gracious and loving to allow us to be their parents. 

So. While we were waiting to travel for Gia, I posted in an adoptive parent group on FB that I needed to come up with more "G" names. I already had "Gia" in mind at the time, but it didn't hurt to garner more suggestions. That's where I discovered G4's name...before we even traveled for G3. Only God could do that.

Without further ado, here is G4's name:




GLADYS MAE

Okay, okay. Before you freak out over "Gladys," let me explain.

I told you that I posted in a FB group for "G" name suggestions. Gladys was given, but there was a story behind it. A member of that FB group led me to this story of another Gladys. Not only was she British (yay! I'm an Anglophile), but she was a missionary to China. CHINA! Amazing.

Okay, so I was intrigued by the name "Gladys." But, what does it mean? (Remember what I said about meanings...no matter how pretty/meaningful the name, if its meaning is negative, then no go.)

I did a Google search of "Gladys," and here's what first popped up: 

  1. "Gladys or Gladice is a feminine name from the Welsh name Gwladus or Gwladys, which bears the meaning of royalty (princess) or the gladiolus flower." (Wikipedia)
  2. Ok. I can work with the "royalty (princess)" meaning, no problem. She's a princess in God's kingdom! But what about the "gladiolus" part? Back to Google I went.
"Old English (originally denoting the gladdon, a purple-flowered iris), from Latin, diminutive of gladius ‘sword’ (used as a plant name by Pliny)." (Wikipedia) 

Hmmm. Sword. Hmmm. Well, I can work with that. 

Again, thinking of this precious girl and all that she's endured.
  • she was born with a special need
  • she was with her first family until she was 2 (TWO!!!) before being relinquished into care
  • she has undergone AT LEAST 1 major surgery
  • she has to deal with her special need daily for all her life
Okay. She's a WARRIOR. So the "sword" meaning definitely applies here.

So. In summary, our darling 4th daughter is named after a BRAVE British woman who took the Gospel to China in the 1930s; and she is a WARRIOR PRINCESS in the kingdom of God.

Not too shabby, I'd say. :)

P.S. We realize the name "Gladys" is quite old fashioned. We plan to call her "Gladdie" most of the time. And how perfect is that? She looks like a pretty GLAD little girl. And how GLAD we are to call her our daughter!

P.P.S. The middle name "Mae" is Simon's mother's middle name. So, we'll have 2 girls with Peterson middle names, and 2 girls with Miller middle names. :) 








Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Struggle IS Real

Many of us use the phrase #thestruggleisreal for humorous anecdotes or in an ironic manner for inconsequential events in our lives. I've said it many times myself.

But for many kids who've been adopted, the struggle IS real.

What struggle? you might ask.

The struggle to find their "new" identity.
The struggle to learn and use a new language.
The struggle to find and understand their place and role in the family.
The struggle to forge bonds/relationships with siblings.
The struggle to learn to tell mom and dad what they need, think, fear, and worry about.
The struggle to express love.

It is a real and hard thing.

Gia has been with us for over a year now. Many of you who know us and/or see us on a regular basis might think that Gia has attached with us; she's speaking English tremendously well; she seems to be happy.



And those are all true.

Overall, she has adjusted beautifully. She had--and still has, once in a while--bouts of grief that were overwhelming and quite debilitating at first. This was to be expected, and even welcomed, in an older child adoption. The depth of her grief means that she formed deep attachments with others in her native country. And that in turn means she knows how and what it feels like to be "attached" to someone else, which will hopefully translate to attachment with us.

But, she still struggles.

An example:
Lately, she and Gemma have decided to take turns for who takes a bath first. Both of the times that it's been Gemma's turn to bathe first, Gia has had a meltdown.

It happened tonight. Sobs and sobs.

At first, I wanted to say "It's just a bath. It's not worth getting so upset over. We agreed that you and Gemma would take turns."

Then, she explained. It wasn't really about the bath at all.

She told me that what she worried about was that her 2 sisters, already done with their bathing, would start a movie or game while she was still in the bath and she would feel left out.

A year with us and she still fears being left out. Breaks my heart.

The next time you assume that a child of adoption is doing well, keep in mind that for them, 

#thestruggleISreal



Thursday, July 2, 2015

Un-measurable Data


I proudly work in public education. I love what I do, and I work with some of the most passionate, caring, selfless, hard working people on the planet. I'm proud of my school district, and I am honored to work alongside the people that all contribute to educating our young people, despite increasingly stressful and difficult working conditions. Our daughters have all had wonderful, talented, and passionate teachers. Mrs. Roach, Mrs. Wick, Mrs. Kilbourne, Mrs. Walker, Mrs. Still, just to name a few. We are so grateful to have these dedicated educators in our district. But there is one teacher I'd like to shine a spotlight on, if I could.

Gia just completed her first year in an American school while figuring out her first year in the United States after spending 8 years of her life in an orphanage in Shijiazhuang, China. Gia was so brave as she joined our family a year ago, but we knew there would be many challenges when we got back to the USA. Gone were the familiar smells, sights, sounds, and language. Gone were familiar faces of teachers, nannies, and friends. Gia was so brave that it inspired us, but Amy and I were still quite anxious and prayerful.

All of this would have been plenty for a young girl to take on, but then add the fact that the school she was shown, and pointed out daily, all Summer, was not going to be her school for a while. She would be taken to another school, Kellogg Middle School, while her "real" school was being repaired. The first day, all 230+ students at Sunnyside Elementary were in the gymnasium of Kellogg Middle School, and even I was overwhelmed. That's right, the 43 year old who has lived here my entire life, recognized many familiar faces, and understood the language being spoken, was completely overwhelmed. Brave little Gia had 2 or 3 tears that streamed down her perfect cheeks, but her bravery was still evident.


Enter Gia's teacher for this school year, Mrs. Stern, who had met with us weeks before hand, and had willingly, and bravely taken on the challenge of having a non English speaking girl, with special needs, in her classroom. From the moment Gia was able to see and start to talk with Mrs. Stern, you could see her confidence and assurance skyrocket. We went into Mrs. Stern's temporary classroom at KMS, which still had the feel of a safe place to learn, thanks to Mrs. Stern's experience and calm demeanor. This dad had tears in his eyes when he got one last hug from Gia the Brave and watched her take Mrs. Stern's hand to step into the journey of a lifetime.

Even from the first week, we could see progress in Gia's confidence and happiness in her new surroundings. The language was still foreign, the students still strangers, but Mrs. Stern was exactly what Gia needed. After a 1st week of ups and downs, I will never forget the look on Gia's face when I came down the hall of her temporary classroom, to pick her up. (her classroom was in the same building as my office.) She had a smile a mile wide and a spring in her step like she had just conquered the world. Once again, this dad fought back tears of gratefulness and happiness. 


I won't give you a play by play of the entire school year because there would be too much to share. But I wanted to highlight something that has impacted me, and still impacts me today. There is much debate about ways to "improve" or "reform" public education. Technology, accountability, differentiation, highly qualified, adequate yearly progress, the list and the accompanying debates go on and on. However, I happen to feel quite strongly that there is one ingredient in education, that simply cannot be debated or substituted: authentic relationship. You see, you can know your subject matter inside and out. You can have a PhD in education. But none of that matters if you can't connect, and have rapport with your students. Conversely, even if you may not be the most knowledgeable in a particular subject, or have standardized test (yuck) scores that "prove" how great of a teacher you are, if your students know you truly care about them, the other stuff is of little consequence. 

Mrs. Stern genuinely cared for her students, and Gia, and it showed. Yes Gia made academic progress that made us marvel. Mrs. Stern "differentiated" (Education buzzword alert!) for Gia all year long. She went the extra mile to give Gia the individualization she needed. That was all pretty outstanding. But there was a more important area in which Mrs. Stern excelled. Yes Gia was learning lots, but the progress she made as a person, was nothing short of amazing. Thank you Mrs. Stern for being exactly what Gia needed, someone who genuinely and sweetly cared for every part of her development and experiences. I don't know what your classroom "data" shows, Mrs. Stern, but the data I see, the un-measurable data, is off the charts. You have impacted this brave little girl so much, she talks about you every day. She mentions you as often, if not more often than her best friend she had to leave in China, a year ago. 

Gia loves school, and she loves helping others. I fully believe that much of this is because she had a teacher who modeled this for her throughout the school year. Thank you Mrs. Stern, for bravely accepting this challenge, and for making a lifelong impact on our daughter. As you move on from our district, know that this family will miss you dearly, and will be forever grateful for all you have done. 

Someday maybe public education will go back to supporting, appreciating, and rewarding teachers for everything that they do for kids, not simply how their students score on a test. But until then, just know that we acknowledge teachers like Mrs. Stern, who have relationships with students and make a lifelong impact. Thank you for the lifelong reminder, Mrs. Stern. 



Thursday, June 25, 2015

Because He first loved us

Well, well, well. I didn't think I'd be writing this post so soon after adopting Gia P. Simon--for sure!--didn't think I'd be writing this post at all. LOL.

But God!

He has a way of reminding me of what His Word says. He often does that through songs.

This year, two songs that have been playing in my heart and mind a lot are "Do Life Big" by Jamie Grace and "Thrive" by Casting Crowns. Here is a sampling of their lyrics, emphasis mine:

"I came to give you life,
So spread your wings and fly,
Now go and show no fear,

...

Oh, I wanna love, wanna give every day I live,
I wanna do life big,
I wanna love, serve, and give every chance I get,
I wanna do life big...



"Just to know You and to make You known
We lift Your name on high
Shine like the sun, make darkness run and hide
We know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives
It’s time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive"

http://myktis.com/songs/thrive/

These songs remind me of the verse John 10:10: "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."

God doesn't want us just to survive. He wants us to LIVE. Live in Him. Live for Him. 

I knew that God wrecked my heart for the orphan after we adopted our Little G 10+ years ago. But He solidified that knowledge when I lived through this day. There was no going back. God had called me--us--to care for the orphan. So far, that had been manifested by us adopting 3 children. I didn't know what the future would hold.

I admit, I thought God might be calling us to adopt Gia's best friend in China. I wanted it to be so. I mean, what better fairy tale ending to the story of 2 orphans in China who grew up as "sisters" to each other than to actually become sisters in the same family through adoption?? Seriously. Writers and movie producers couldn't write scripts better than this.

But.

Weeks and then months passed with no "feeling," "nudge," or even a "whisper" from God that we should pursue Gia's BFF. So I promised myself that I would do all I could now to be able to tell Gia later in life that I did everything in my power to see that her best friend found a family. I started advocating for her.

I joined 2 (or more) advocacy groups on Facebook where I pleaded for Gia's BFF's life. Please, won't somebody step forward for this precious girl?!? She was well on her way to the magic (or not so magic) age of 14. When, in China, orphans become ineligible for adoption. (BTW--She has less than 10 months left before she ages out.)

I pleaded. I prayed. I advocated.

I also saw. Other posts. Of orphans needing families.

And that's where I saw G4.

She was on an agency's "list" under a specific name. Something about her smile and her ridiculous hair cut caught my attention. She was super cute. She had the same special need as Gia. She was younger than Gem, so would fit perfectly in our family age dynamics. Hmmm....

Then I asked the agency for her file and all of a sudden that agency didn't have her any more. Oh, man. I guess she wasn't meant to be ours. I was bummed and tried to "find" her on other agency lists to no avail.

Then one day, she appeared back in the advocacy group...this time with a different agency. That meant that she had not yet been chosen by a family.

So, out of curiosity, and without talking to Simon first (oops! did I do that?), I asked for her file. The agency gave me all the information they had on this little girl, including pictures and videos. I watched and read, read and watched. I didn't know what to do.

I knew that Simon's heart was--ahem--no where near not exactly where mine was in regards to adopting again. Well. I did the only thing I knew to do. I fasted and prayed about it. For a few days. Asking God to give me a "sign" about whether or not to share my heart for this girl with Simon.

And then.

I found out her Chinese name.

It is the EXACT same as Gia's Chinese name except in reverse order. No kidding.

Okay, God. I heard you. That was the kicker for me. I shared with Simon that night.

I was SO NERVOUS to tell him about this girl! And it took him a good 3-4 weeks to ponder, pray, wonder, crunch numbers, and figure stuff out before told me that he was on board. :) Oh, and BTW, even though he "crunched numbers," we still don't have it all figured out.

(P.S. To be honest, that was THE LONGEST 3-4 weeks of my entire life! But, I pledged to the Lord to be quiet before Him and wait for Him to nudge my husband's heart. Boy am I glad that I did that! I would not have wanted Simon to agree to adopt again because he felt guilty or because I had somehow "forced" it on him.)

Okay. So he agreed. What next?

Next, we asked the agency to "lock" her file for us while we got it looked over by a medical professional. The agency said no problem, you have 2 weeks until we "unlock" her file and make it available to other families again.

Okay. So, I head right to my Facebook adoptive mom groups and ask for recommendations for a doctor to review this child's file. I got one immediately. I sent the file to the doctor, and a day later I received a response.

I sent the doctor's info to Simon. And he didn't say anything for the next 2 weeks. Eeek! I decided to be quiet before the Lord again and wait. Until the agency sent me this email...

"We’ve had ----- on hold for your family for 2 weeks now, and we are hoping that the additional information we received from the orphanage was helpful.  Have you decided if you want to begin the adoption process to make ---- a part of your family?"

GULP. Decision time.

We prayed. We talked. We cried. We listed "pros" and "cons." It sounds so harsh and heartless, but unless you've been in our shoes, you probably don't really understand all that goes into a decision to adopt a child...from another country...with special needs. 

Obviously, in the end we said YES. We sent in our application to the agency. We sent in our letter of intent to China. And a week later, China gave us pre-approval.

So, here we are paper chasing again. And in case you're wondering, yes, we have to go through ALL.THE.PAPERWORK again, even though we've done it THREE.TIMES.BEFORE.

New application.
New agency.
New fees.
New fingerprints.
New certificates of authenticity.
New home study.
New criminal history background checks.
New financial background checks.
New medical checks.
New everything.

But, if all goes well and China approves us, we will get to look at this face every day for the rest of our lives!


"We love because he first loved us." 1 John 4:19


So here we are entering the unknown again. Not because we're very brave; not because we've got this parenting thing figured out; not because we know all the ins and outs of this special need; not because we have more than enough money; not because our house and car are plenty big; not because we're amazing people. We are entering the unknown because of love. The love our Savior has for us. The love that requires a response. Well, our response is we will love again, Lord, because you first loved us. We don't have to have it all figured out. The One who loves us does. And that is enough.

P.S. We realize that there might be some of you scratching your heads and saying to yourselves, I just don't get why they don't adopt Gia's best friend. Well, again, unless you've been in our shoes, you really don't understand all that goes into making a decision of this kind. It's more than a decision to us. It's a calling. And we do not feel called to adopt Gia's friend. 

That said, she is still available to be pursued by a family. Could she be YOUR daughter? Let me know, if so, and I can point you in the direction to start your adoption process. :)


More Better


Sometimes family vacation means just doing nothing, sitting on a balcony, smelling the sea air, and thinking. While Amy works on her blog post following our big announcement, I'll do one of my own. I'm going to start off with some brutal honesty. I oftentimes (too often)find myself wishing I had "better" stuff. I wish I had a nicer house, like many people I know. I wish I had a bigger, brighter, better TV and surround sound system in a custom Seahawk themed man cave. I wish I could travel to exotic locations, just because I felt like it. I wish my yard was more beautiful and manicured; I wish my house had more/better bathrooms. I wish I had a fancier computer. The list goes on and on, and I sometimes hold on to the notion that eventually I will have these things, because I work hard and I deserve them right?

That's when God gives me reminders. Sometimes they are subtle, like seeing a car broken down on the side of the road or seeing a homeless person.  Sometimes it smacks me in the face, like when I'm whining, complaining, or coveting more/better "stuff," and I learn that a friend, family member, or loved one has experienced life changing news or illness. You see, my selfishness (I'm not judging anyone else here) comes naturally to me. I don't have to think about it... I'm just good at it. I can't visit a friends house without thinking, "I wish I had a nice place like this," or "I wish my TV was that big, bright, and thin." Dang you Costco for putting all those beautiful TVs in the very front of the store! See, I'm selfish... it's really easy, and I come by it naturally.

As you probably already know, my wife Amy and I have adopted 3 amazing girls, from China. If you are wondering "Why China," here is another post for you to read. Each time we adopted, there were signifiant fears and challenges that I faced. Gracie was just 10 months old when we were joined with her forever. This was our first child. I probably spent the first 3 months in a mild panic wondering when I would ever have free time for me ever again. This child took so much time and energy! It seemed impossible, but little by little, God used it to change me. But of course, He wasn't done yet.

Next came our decision to adopt Gemma Lu. Not only were we going the China route again, but we chose to venture into the "Special Needs" arena, because we felt led to do so. A brand new set of fears and doubts crept in. This little girl was 4. She had experienced an interrupted adoption, and we knew she would be very frightened. You can read more about this on another post as well. But once again, God faithfully used all of this to work on me, and I'm grateful every day.

Have I established the fact that I'm selfish? Nice family of 4, good enough for me. Both Amy and I had jobs, we were adjusting to a 2 kid household and routine, and were saving enough money for more/better "stuff!" That's what I'm talking about! But then my wife prayerfully, and lovingly dropped another bomb on my materialistic ways. She wanted to adopt AGAIN. Now, I'm all too familiar with the way couples discuss how many children to have, if any, as well as life's other milestone decisions. But come on man! Things were just starting to get "normal" again. I even posted about "Waiting for normal," and even though I know "normal" doesn't exist as we envision it, I thought we were getting darn close. This one was hard for me. But one thing kept echoing over and over in my mind, my soul, my heart. Step out in faith. I've always had no problem saying it to people and talking about how wonderful of a concept it is to trust the Almighty Creator to do all things, but wait... I'm supposed to live it? Hmmmm. That is a whole separate ballgame.

The transformation that overtook me, during that 3rd trip to China, to meet Gia Pearl, is still to this day indescribable. The way her sweet bravery (how's that for a juxtaposition?) inspired me, and the way she smiled, despite all she had been through and seen, cut straight to my heart. I witnessed a collision of joy and sadness that I will never ever forget, and still hear the sobs of a goodbye during a train ride, like they were yesterday. Guess what, God was changing me. My heart was becoming soft and vulnerable. But still... I waited for normal.





Even though I knew it would probably happen, I still chose not to be burdened daily about adding to our family of 5. Remember the selfish thing? I'm good at it, remember? I'm the Jedi Master of selfishness. So when my wife approached me again, maybe this time, even if I reacted as such, I was not as shocked or opposed, but it was still a diversion from my quest for MBS (more/better stuff). But even as open as my heart was, my logical brain was putting up a good fight. I came up with all the reasons we shouldn't and couldn't adopt again... we can't afford it, our house isn't big enough, our car isn't big enough, we can't accommodate more special needs, I'm selfish, I have a hard enough time being a dad of 3 girls... the list is endless. But God bless my wife for reminding me of all the reasons we CAN do this, rooted firmly in the grace of a loving God. I believe He is able, and he will make a way for this to happen, but it is still a very challenging and difficult decision. But as we walked the streets of a tiny Oregon Coast town this afternoon, and I watched my girls giddily eat ice cream cones, I thought, doesn't every child deserve this?



So here we are again, standing at the beginning of another life changing journey. I still don't know exactly what to think about it, except that even though I'm terrified, I'm confident. Even though I'm selfish, I know I can be more selfless. Even though it seems impossible, we can do it because we have experience, and an awesome God. I've read some amazing testimonies and stories, like this blog post, and they have inspired me already. My selfishness is going to have to wait... and that is not such a bad thing.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Happy Gotcha Day, Gia!

Can you believe it's been ONE WHOLE year since this?!?!?


And this?!?!?


This precious little girl has taught us SO MUCH about bravery and courage. She left ALL that she knew, including her very best friend, took a GIANT leap of faith, and trusted us enough to join our family. She has endured various medical exams, none of which she has liked. She has grieved for her lost life. She has learned English amazingly quickly. She has become true sisters with Gracie and Gemma. She has learned to entertain herself, rather than have to be entertained all of the time. She has grown inches! 

She is AMAZING!

And the best thing of all, she tells us that she loves Jesus. Not only does she have a family who loves her, but she now knows her heavenly Father whose love for her is unmatched.

Adoption is a miracle, and it is the closest thing we have on earth (though not a perfect match) to illustrate what God has done for us by adopting us into His family.

HAPPY GOTCHA DAY, GIA!! WE LOVE YOU SO!!