Christmas Reflections

The majority of this post was written several days ago, but because I am not too adept with the computer, I had to wait for Alyssa to remind me again how to get pictures from my camera to this blog.  She walked me through it for the last post during which time I took copious notes so as to be able to do it on my own.  Alas, I can’t find the notes!  Someone (possibly me), in an effort to clean up the table, must have thought the scribbled words were only worthy to be in the trash and that’s why they can not be found.  If Josiah knew how important that paper was to me, I might think that he took it and hid it for a joke.  He’s getting pretty good at hiding things these days.  Why just this week we were scouring the house in order to find my purse that I was pretty sure I brought downstairs, but couldn’t find anywhere.  We were ready to leave for Awana, and I needed my purse.  I was beginning to think my memory was getting bad.  (It is, but not that bad!)  Josiah finally told me he could find it.  Where was it?  Hanging on the shoe rack on the inside of the basement door.  Doesn’t he know that shoes hang on shoe racks, not purses?  Of course he does, but he is a little imp!  Anyway, I can’t blame him for the loss of my precious computer notes.  Poor Alyssa, now she’ll have to walk me through the whole process again.

This was our first week back at school after Christmas and New Year’s.  We usually only take one week off, but this year I was feeling generous (or maybe a little lazy) and we took two weeks.  I don’t think anyone was really excited about getting back to the books, including the teacher.  We just had too much fun relaxing, eating all sorts of sweet treats, and giving gifts to one another.  We managed to keep to our morning schedule of eating breakfast together at 8:00 a.m. for, let’s see, one day?!  Ah, well, there’s always tomorrow!

I thought now would be an appropriate time to think back about what made this Christmas unique.  One special blessing was that we were able to attend the Christmas Eve service at our church this year because Jim was able to be home from work early.  It was a beautiful service and we were glad to concentrate on Jesus, the reason we celebrate Christmas.

The day after Christmas we hosted the Herr family’s Christmas dinner which was a first for us.  We had about 35 people here including Jim’s parents, all but one of his siblings, his nieces and nephews, and our own family.  We had a relaxing evening eating together and getting caught up with everyone’s activities.

Christmas Day was also unique this year because it was our first without our beloved Andrew.  His role of leader for the 5:00 a.m. children’s parade down the stairs to open stockings was transferred to Heidi this year.  I had wondered if his absence would put an end to this event, but no!  TRADITION!!  TRADITION!!  For many years the children have gathered in one of the bedrooms and then “quietly” lined up oldest to youngest before marching down the stairs to find their stockings.  Their goal has been to begin the Christmas festivities while letting their beloved parents sleep in.  Of course, since the stairs are right outside their parents’ bedroom door, and since the whisperings are not really all that quiet, their parents are almost always awake, listening to and enjoying the excitement of the children.  I am so thankful that we still have little ones in the house.  That has been the main reason this tradition has been preserved.  Even the older ones, who would prefer a little extra sleep, are willing to rise early in order for the little ones to experience this momentous occasion.  Next Christmas promises to be even more exciting with 4 new sisters in the line-up.

One of the most heart-warming things about Christmas this year was seeing the gifts that were made by the children and given to their siblings.  There is no obligation for each child to make or purchase something for the others.  Instead, if someone gets an idea for one sibling, he/she is free to give that sibling a gift.  I have never heard any comments of a sibling feeling left out or deprived because he/she did not receive a gift that year.  Instead, there is joy just seeing the response of the person receiving the gift.  That warms my heart.

This year Simeon spent many hours in the woodshop or holed up in his room designing and creating gifts for some of his siblings.  He is very creative and loves detail.  His gifts this year for Elisha, Samuel, and Josiah were pre-made boxes redesigned into little houses for miniature bears.  He fashioned furniture for the rooms, papered the walls, and carpeted the floors.  Each box was painted a different color on the outside and labeled with the owner’s name.

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Simeon also made a bookmark for Hannah and Christmas ornaments for Alyssa, Nathanael, and Isaiah.  For Naomi he made a hobbit key-chain, Lord of the Rings stationery, and a miniature Lord of the Rings board game.  He even made the boxes for the stationery and the board game.

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December 27, 2013 (5)Alyssa’s ornament.

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Nathanael and Isaiah’s ornaments (# 1 and 2).  The other three were made last year for the three youngest boys.

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Heidi finished writing her story, Sir Sam Bam and the Dragon.  She then hand-copied the story onto small sheets of paper, added illustrations, bound the pages into a little book, and presented it to Samuel for Christmas.

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All the gifts created this year were reminders of God’s creativity and purpose in designing each one of us.  We are each uniquely handcrafted by God to bring glory to Him and joy to those around us.  As we look forward to the coming year, let’s make it our desire to be all that God has created us to be.

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Abundant Provision

Wow!  Where has this month gone?  Already we are less than a week from Christmas, and as usual I am behind schedule.  But then, most of us around here are wondering when we will ever be on schedule again!  Our first few weeks of school did go according to plan, but since then?….  It’s a wonder school is even getting done.  If it weren’t for my diligent and independent students, I’m afraid we’d be way behind.

Preparing for the adoption has taken a lot of effort.  The paperwork alone was all-consuming at times.  Now that the majority of that is behind us for awhile, we are concentrating on getting the bedrooms in order.  We began by cleaning out the storage closet in order to make room for a dresser and chest of drawers.  The girls then rag-painted the bedroom walls, and Jim built drawers to go under the present bunk bed.  He also built two new bookshelves and is in the process of building a new bunk bed.  When this bed is finished, he will build a trundle bed to go under another bunk.  It’s a blessing to have a husband who is creative and works well with his hands.  Thank you, Jim.

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Wednesday we received some very encouraging news.  We have been given a generous grant from christianorphanfund.org to help with the expenses of our adoption.  We are so thankful to the leaders of this organization who have a heart for orphans and adoptive parents.  We were impressed with the mission statement of this group which says, “We believe Christian parents whom God has given the desire to adopt an orphan, particularly one with special needs, should not be hindered by a lack of funds. We aim to reduce the initial financial burden of adoption for those Christian parents willing to love adopted children and raise them in a Christian environment.”  It is the goal of Christian Orphan Fund (COF) to “solicit, collect, and distribute cash contributions to support orphan adoptions and orphan care, consistent with Christian values.”  We are so blessed to be recipients of these love gifts.

I have been overwhelmed of late with the faithfulness of God and His provision for our family.  Over and over God has reminded me that He owns everything.  I do not have to fear not having enough.  I can give freely knowing that I can never out give God.  The first week of December was an example of God’s abundant provision.  There is a lady who comes into the market where Jim works and brings him day old bread.  That week she brought in the equivalent of 4-6 garbage bags full of bread and bagels!!  We had so much that we were able to share it with 3 other large families.  Jim also brought home a fully-cooked Thanksgiving turkey, donuts, pies, several bunches of bananas and grapes, sticky buns, melons, lettuce, several quarts of strawberries, raspberries, and black raspberries, as well as 7 gallons of milk.  All of these items did not sell and would have been discarded if we did not take them. The same week, more than once, Heidi brought home leftover hotdogs and soft pretzels from her job which our children willingly devoured for lunch.  On Sunday of that week, a family from church offered us not one, not two, but three turkeys which they had in their freezer.  Is God able to provide?  Without a doubt!

We’re Submitted!!

What sweet relief!  Word came around noon today that our dossier has indeed been submitted in country.  It was only then that I realized how nervous and anxious I have been while waiting for the news.  I kept telling myself that God’s timing is best, even if it turns out to be different than what we think is best.  This was the last day for submissions until mid-January.  Appointments in country have been running 8-12 weeks after submission.  Because we made the deadline, it looks as though we could be traveling sometime during the first three months of 2014.  We are happy about that because it is the slower time at the farmer’s market where Jim works and he can more easily be away.  We don’t want to cause any more inconvenience to Jim’s boss than is necessary.

Thank you to all who have prayed for us thus far.  Please continue to remember us.  Right now my mind is feeling a little sluggish and the words are not flowing very well.  Perhaps in the next post I will share a little about the preparations we have made thus far to make room for four more girls.

 

Exciting News!

We have a lot of exciting news to share!  First, is that Jim and I are going to be grandparents!  That’s right!  God has blessed Andrew and Crista with a honeymoon baby!  We’ve known for a couple of weeks, but now have permission to publicize the news.  I think we sort of dragged it out of them while visiting via Skype, but they were acting so suspicious!  They dropped too many comments about Crista feeling tired.  Then they kept mouthing words to each other that we interpreted as, “Should we tell?”  When I asked if they had something to tell us, their sheepish looks just confirmed what I had already suspected.  Everyone here erupted with shouts of joy!  Babies are so welcome in this house.  Josiah was okay with the idea of a baby, but he was adamant that he was NOT going to be an uncle!  Too bad, Josiah, you don’t have much choice!  “Uncle Josiah” sounds nice, don’t you think?

Since Andrew and Crista were going to her parents’ home for Thanksgiving, we decided to drive to Virginia and see them on Sunday.  We met them at their church and spent the whole day with them.  They meet for worship in their pastor’s home which made attending an unfamiliar church more comfortable.  We arrived somewhat in disarray as we had a slight accident a few minutes before we arrived.  Since the church usually eats lunch together and we were bringing quite a crew, we brought along some chips and homemade applesauce to add to the meal.  The bowl of applesauce sat obediently through the whole trip until the very last turn, at which point it lost its balance and dumped its contents right at the side door of the van.  As Alyssa reached to grab the bowl, her Bible fell off her lap right into the pile of applesauce.  Her beautiful, full, black skirt also made its way into the mess.  We stopped the van and attempted to rescue what was left of the applesauce and clean off the steps so that everyone would be able to exit the van in a graceful manner.  We found out that a snow scraper and brush comes in handy for things other than snow.  We arrived at the Walkers’ with sticky hands and messy clothes.  I didn’t realize until the service started and I was ready to sit down that the side of my skirt was also covered in applesauce.  Ah, well, so much for good impressions!  If anyone noticed the mess, they never said anything, for which I will be eternally grateful!  The service and fellowship that followed were very encouraging.  A visiting pastor spoke with us for quite awhile and also prayed publically for us regarding our adoption journey.  We left there feeling quite blessed.

The rest of the afternoon was spent at Andrew and Crista’s apartment.  It was fun to see it looking so homey after having been there to paint when it was empty.  I think our family overwhelmed it a little as it is only big enough for 2, not 15.  This was the first time we had seen Andrew and Crista since the wedding, so it was nice to have time to sit and talk.  We keep in contact with them through email and Skype, but it is just not the same as being together.  We didn’t leave until almost 8:00 p.m.  We were reminded again at how blessed we are.  We couldn’t have asked for a sweeter wife for Andrew.  We love Crista.  And, Crista, I’m not saying this just because I know you will be reading it.  I mean it.

Is this post getting too long?  I hope you are not too tired reading this because there is more news.  No, we don’t have a travel date yet.  We have not even received news that we are submitted.  But, after much prayer and a leap of faith, we have decided to add two more girls to our family.  I know.  You’re going to say, “What?  Are you crazy?”  Well, maybe we are, but these girls need a family.  Before we committed to Anastasia and Soleil, we were also considering Delta and Brandi.  It made the most sense to commit to Brandi because she has a large grant, but we didn’t want to be dictated by money.  Jim thought Brandi had more chance of getting a family because she is younger and it wouldn’t cost a family so much to commit to her.  My feeling was that if God wanted her for us no one else would step up.  And guess what?  No one has.  God is filling my heart with love for these girls.  I can’t wait to see them.  I am not expecting an easy road ahead.  On the contrary, I know it will be hard, but I am convinced that God will give us everything we need to do the job He has called us to do.  If I was being realistic rather than living by faith, I wouldn’t have started the whole process in the first place.  Receiving USCIS approval looked impossible at the outset, but we have it.  And so, we are again stepping out and trusting God to provide in EVERY way.  Will you pray for us?

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(Delta on the left, Brandi on the right–Not their real names.)

A Moment of Fear

I’ve been sitting here for the past  half hour trying to write a post for this blog since it’s been awhile since I’ve written.  The right words just don’t seem to be coming.  There isn’t a whole lot to report about the adoption at this time except for the fact that the last of our documents has been placed in the hands of the facilitation team in Eastern Europe.  That is a praise!  Now we wait to hear that our dossier has been submitted to the proper authorities, so we can wait to hear about a travel date.  I do hope we get a little more notice than one of our fellow Reece’s Rainbow families.  Their dossier was submitted October 24 and they expected to travel sometime in January.  Instead they heard on November 25 that they were to leave November 26 for a November 28 appointment in country!  Whew!  They made it over there, but like I said, I hope I have a little more notice.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the changes that are bound to come by adding new children to our family.  It’s really hard to know what to expect.  It seems the key is to remain flexible and expect the unexpected.  I do know that God is in control of everything.  He knows what the girls need.  He knows what we need.  He will bring about what is right for all of us.

Early this morning I had an interesting and moving encounter with God.   I awoke at 3:30 a.m. and was startled to realize that Jim, Isaac, and Simeon had already left for market.  I guess I had forgotten that they were leaving an hour early this morning.  I was confused when I saw the bathroom unoccupied and the lights off downstairs, since they usually get up at 3:30 a.m.  I even checked the boys’ beds to make sure they were really gone.  While I was up, all of a sudden I was gripped with a moment of fear concerning the adoption.  I thought to myself, “What are we doing?  This adoption could change our whole family.”  Immediately these words came to my mind:  “There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear.”  In my mind I replied, “But I don’t have perfect love!”  “My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”   I know it was God speaking to me.  There was no doubt in my mind.  The fear left, but I started quivering inside and knew that I had to write down what had happened before returning to bed.

Thank you, Father, that you know and understand my thoughts from afar, that you are intimately acquainted with all my ways.  “How precious also are Thy thoughts to me, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!  If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.  When I awake, I am still with thee.”  (Ps. 139: 17, 18.)

Rejoicing!

Our USCIS approval arrived on our doorstep yesterday morning!  What a relief!  After having the paper notarized, we jumped in the car and headed to Harrisburg where we obtained apostilles for the last two documents that need to be sent to Eastern Europe.  We then had the documents mailed to a family leaving on Friday night for Eastern Europe.  They will place the documents in the hands of the Reece’s Rainbow facilitation team so that our dossier can be completed and submitted to the government agency in charge of adoptions.  Once we are submitted, we will wait to receive our appointment to travel.  We are expecting it to be 8-12 weeks after we are submitted.  We have much to do in the meantime.  We should do some fundraising.  We should make preparations for traveling.  We should learn some Russian.

Still Waiting and Hoping

If laughter relieves stress, I could use some right about now.  But perhaps what I need the most is prayer.  All of our financial documents arrived on the USCIS officer’s desk last Wednesday, but USCIS would not count some of the documents as assets unless we jumped a few more hoops.  Because our retirement annuity has a death benefit value for spousal protection, USCIS needs proof that the annuity can be cashed out now, not just when one of us dies, and they need to know its cash value.  The company holding the annuity was to have faxed a letter to USCIS yesterday, but as of a few minutes ago, USCIS had not received the fax.  I immediately called about the promised letter, but the person I need to speak with is in a meeting, but should be returning my call in the next couple of hours.  We need this letter in order to meet the income requirement for adoption and receive our USCIS approval.

I am trying to remain patient with all of these “delays” because I know that God is in control of every aspect of my life.  None of this is a surprise to Him.  I know in my head that God has a purpose in all of this.  I only wish that my emotions would recognize it and keep pace with my head.  Right now I am remembering some verses from Psalms 42 and 43.  Three times in these two chapters the psalmist says, “Why are you in despair, O my soul?  And why have you become disturbed within me?”   Three times he answers, “Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.”  “Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance, and my God.”  “Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance, and my God.”

Thank you, Lord, for this reminder.  I needed it.