Wednesday, July 2, 2014

the letters

I agonized over what to say to our new daughter and her dear foster mother (or China mama, as we refer to her).  They had already been put through a disrupted adoption, so they had every reason to be skeptical about us and whether we would really be Megan Mei Li's forever family.

Our letters arrived a couple of weeks prior to the care package and photo book.

This is what I sent:

Dear Foster Mom,

We don’t know each other yet, but we are soon to have one precious person in common.  That person is Rui Chun.  We are hoping to travel sometime in July or August to adopt Rui Chun and I very much hope that you and I are able to meet in person.  We became aware of Rui Chun through Love Without Boundaries and the more we learned about her, the more we felt that she will be a great addition to our active family.  I will write a separate letter to Rui Chun to describe our family and I am mailing a package today with a photo album for her to see who we are.
            I wanted to write to you and express my great gratitude from one mother to another.  I know it is going to be very painful for Rui Chun to be adopted, for both you and Rui Chun.  Words cannot express our great gratitude for the loving care you have showered on Rui Chun for these years of her life.  I want you to know that we will never let her forget you.  You will be a constant thread of conversation in our home and we will encourage her to look at photos and remember her precious time with you.  Additionally, I will be sure to send you periodic updates to let you know how she is doing.  You will always be a mother to her and family to us.
                                                                                    With great thanks,
                                                                        Laurie (Huai Rui Chun’s Adoptive Mom)

And to our dear daughter:
Dear Rui Chun,
            Greetings from your family in America.  We understand that you are called Mei Li, and if you prefer, we will call you that.  We are very excited to meet you this summer.  We are sending you some gifts to share and enjoy with your friends.  We have included a photo album in the package that has some pictures of you when you were little, with your foster mom, and with your friends.  We also put lots of photos of our family so that you can become familiar with who we are.  In addition to Mama and Baba, you will have four older brothers (Brendan -13, Cameron -11, Andrew -9, Lucas -7) and a little sister (Joya -4).  We live in an area with lots of mountains and we like to do lots of outside activities that we are sure you will enjoy as well – even skiing.  There are some pictures of your brothers and sister skiing.  We included a picture of our blue house (we don’t have snow all the time, but there is a lot in the winter), and there is a picture of our table we eat at.  There is also a picture of all of the kids in our car and you can see there is a spot waiting for you.
            We also included some conversation cards on a key ring, because we are sure that you feel a little nervous about understanding each other.  We will do our best!  We are excited to come to you this summer and we send our regards to your wonderful foster family.
                                                                                    Warmly, The Sweeney Family

Thursday, April 24, 2014

she's waiting

Well, the truth is that I really miss my blog.  My time and energy after coming home from China in 2012 were poured into the exhausting task of Joya's adjustment, attachment, and healing (not to mention parenting five children).

Then, I found my life's passion.  I now fit in about 15 hours per week writing and advocating for China's orphans through Love Without Boundaries.

Want to help orphans?  Sponsor a baby at the Anhui Healing Home, where my hours are devoted.

You won't regret it.

Now I need to let a cat out of a bag, or spill some beans, or burst at the seams....

We've been not so public this time, but we are going back to China this summer.  We could not ignore that adoption has changed our entire family.  Our eyes have been opened to the need, the pain, the opportunity to be used by God to love so tangibly.  And we cannot ignore that we have room for one more.

The kids were the first ones to ask when we were going to adopt again.  Then my husband started asking me about it, which is very interesting seeing that I waited on him for years before we adopted the first time.  Now all the men are leading the charge.

They prayed.  He prayed.  I prayed.  We prayed.

I had this feeling in my heart that Joya needed to stay the baby of our family.  Aside from the fact that I'm turning the big 4-0 very soon, I just felt strongly that we should not adopt another baby.  My man and I both feel broken for the children that have waited for a family for too long and are overlooked because they are no longer cute little babies.

We looked at files and prayed about different older children before we even started one step of the actual adoption paper chase.  Not one worked out.  We clearly had the doors close on us and I thought once or twice that we would stay a family of seven.

Then last fall, a child we already knew about came across our paths again.  Her adoption was disrupted (meaning she was chosen but her adoption was never completed) and we were sure that she would be chosen again in no time.  Five months passed and we found out that she still didn't have a family.

We asked lots of questions and were given loads of information about her.  We communicated with people who have met her as well as people who have adopted children of similar age and situation.  We prayed that God would shut the door if she wasn't to be a Sweeney.  With each new piece of information, we could not find where the door even budged and inch.

So here we are, six months later.  We have completed all the paperwork and received a "pre-approval" from the Chinese government.  As soon as tomorrow morning, we could wake up to the official LOA (Letter of Acceptance), which means we are officially matched to her.

And then you may see her face.  But until then......

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

my loves

There is some sweetness to this season of life that I don't ever want to forget.  Daily I am exhausted by the effort it takes to do my job well.  I realize that my kids have no idea how much effort it takes each day to pour into them all that I do (and I feel I am always lacking), but I don't want the days to flee so quickly that I forget the treasures that pass through my moments each day.

Last day of 6th, 4th, 2nd, and Kindergarten 2013
  1. My eldest son, at twelve years old and going into seventh grade, will often stop in front of me mid-morning (arms stretched wide) and say, "I don't think I got a hug today!"  No matter what pre-teen hormonal episode we might have been through already, how could I NOT hug that kid?  Priceless, and I will surely return the sentiment when he stops initiating on his own.
    A huggable kid for sure.
    My big kids have been helpful this summer.
  2. My #2 son, who particularly has a gift with younger children, will jump right in when I'm overwhelmed with baby sister's moments of panic, fear, or emotional outburst.  He is quick to engage her and divert her attention from whatever she is consumed with at that crisis moment. Today I was with them at the library and I really didn't think I would make it out WITH books but WITHOUT a meltdown from her sudden, unexplainable panic.  He jumped in by grabbing a book that she chose and said, "Come over here and Sauce-Sauce will read you this book."  She willingly followed and my heart was warmed by his awareness and generosity to share our burden for her.  I'm sure he will be using this gift his entire life for great purposes.

    Sauce saving the day.

    Always sharing and caring for her.
  3. My rockstar #3 son, at eight and one half years old is our resident peacemaker.  He is me in male-form.  His radar immediately picks up on pain or discord.  He is a prayer warrior for any loved one in need.  He also has his dad's knack for neatness.  He regularly leads the charge and picks up slack in the cleaning and organizing department in this messy family of seven.  Feel like snuggling?  Need a hug and a kiss and a pep talk? This is your guy.
    Creative, sweet and organized.

    The snuggler.
  4. Oh, this six year old.  How can he be six????  I'm aching just from the memory of my LAST wonderful childbirth.  He entered into our world wonderfully and has marked each day since with pure delight.  His smiles just light up the room and his humor and "go with the flow" attitude is very much under-appreciated.  How impressively he has taken on being a big brother to an "instant" two year old - never getting to experience the days of overlooking a baby sitting in a bouncy seat.  "I love you more mom!" is one of his regular expressions and he won't believe me that it is really I who love him the very most.
    Birthday boy on his sixth birthday.
    A smile that lights up a room.
  5. This girl..... at three and a half years old, has felt and wrestled with more than most of us do in our first decades.  I am constantly impressed with her fire inside - although it causes her "fight, flight, or freeze" response to so many situations that we consider ordinary, she continues to learn and adapt, little by little.  We adapt as well.  How much more I now see into her soul when she makes "the face," indicating that she is not sure how this moment will play out in her life story.  I have learned to draw her close, to teach and not reprimand, and to always lean on grace, because I did not witness her first 26 months of life, therefore, I must rebuild carefully.  She cracks us up with her expressions, "owadare" (underwear), "I tumin' mom! (I am coming mom!), "I wike-a da fwim fwim" (I like to swim), and of course "Lellow tar!  I on Mom's team!" (Yellow car! ...).  She is a tough cookie with a big heart that is grafting into our family more each day - and we all adore her through thick and thin.  She has changed our family for the better in a way that was impossible without her.
    She loves to be close to mama.
    She excels at any sport she tries.
  6. My man... this man of mine.  I could say so much but will only say that we have come through a season that was painful, difficult, and messy.  He has purposefully risen above the mess, sorted out the details, and led us out to the other side with wisdom and gentleness.  He always strives to be a better spouse, parent, and Christ follower and inspires me to do the same.  I could not imagine this adventure without him.  He is my rock and I'm grateful for him.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

sunshine is good for a mama's soul

If you don't know this by now, we live in a mountain ski town, which is awesome.  We trade the luxury of many outdoor activities for a very long winter.  In fact, our school district has the latest spring break that I know of.
Road trip!!! The big guys are hiding in the back seat.
Knowing how brutal the season of Spring is on our mental state, we have been looking forward to a trip south over spring break where the heat can permeate our pores and give us enough hope to last us until mid June, which is when we can safely count on the end of snow until Autumn arrives in September.

One of the perks of my husband's dizzying travel schedule for work is that he is platinum or diamond status when it comes to airline and hotel points.  Let's just say we fully dipped into that pool of points and are enjoying a beautiful villa for the week.
Lake Meade prior to crossing the Hoover Dam at sunset
We have cherished our week together.  I have particularly enjoyed the breakfast buffet every morning.  Our kiddos are getting used to filling their bellies with delicious food, and I immediately enjoyed the break from making it, serving it, and cleaning it up. ;-)

Free breakfast is one of the biggest values we get from a hotel stay.
Each of our children is so unique from the others.  Our eldest has always had his own streak of creativity.  When he was little, we lovingly called him "Dumpster Diver" because he was often found recycling trash into new inventions.  This morning he transformed his folded breakfast napkin into a boat.  A friend referred to this as "Napkingami" - sounds about as unique as my boy is.

If I've noticed anything on this trip it is the fact that WE are noticeable.  We have not gone anywhere together without someone approaching us or making a passing comment about our family.  Just a few examples:
  • An 80 year old grandfather from New Jersey practically sat down with us at breakfast one morning to tell us how wonderful our family is and inquire more about us.  He told us all about his children and grandchildren and the part we loved was how he called them all "my (name)" when referring to them.  "My Logan, he is a great lacrosse player.  We go to all his games."  It was precious and we decided to mirror that when we are blessed to be grandparents.
  • A man seated at the table next to us finished his breakfast and got up to leave, but not before coming over to tell me how he could tell how much we have invested in our children's training.  He noticed their good behavior immediately (phew!) and briefly told me his qualifications of being an educator for 37 years.  I took his compliments and put them in my "encouragement for the bad days" mental box.
  • The hotel manager, a finely dressed African-American man who is just as charming as the day is long, sought us out as we were walking through the lobby.  He struck up a conversation and generously interacted with our children throughout the conversation.  He then showered all five of them with full sized Kit Kat candybars.  Now he is surely never to be forgotten!
  • The head valet noticed by the boys' clothing choices that we are a traveling Chicago Bears fan club. He likes the Monsters of the Midway too and was over the top impressed that Lucas loves Robbie Gould the best.  He also noticed their Kit Kats and has a daily game of stopping them and begging them to gift him with their candy.
  • A middle aged mom from D.C., away on her own for a "mental health" weekend, noticed our brood and struck up a conversation about adoption.  She was so charmed by Joya that she asked about everything from the paperwork process, to the emotional adjustment of our daughter.  She finished by saying that she is going home to talk to her husband about it.  Who knows, maybe another orphan will have a forever family just from that poolside conversation.

"I wike da fwim fwim!"
Beyond building us up as parents, these conversations have really made me pay closer attention to who we are representing as a family.  If our very presence makes people wonder what makes us so "generous and selfless" that we would adopt a orphan with medical needs, or purposefully train our children to be a blessing to others then I want to carry that conversation to point to God who is so generous and loving towards us.  I want our children to know the reason we put others first is because Jesus did that for us.  I want our constant picture to be one of gratitude.

"Mom!  Watch me!"
My Vacation Loves:
    Poolside snuggle time.
  • I love the freedom to throw bedtimes out the window.
  • I love piling up in one bed to read a chapter book aloud to my big kiddos.
  • I love that the big boys can be so helpful to carry the pool bag and push the stroller.
  • I love that my husband pushed me out the door to get a pedicure.
  • I love that our eight year old son loves to make us all laugh with things like, "Hey Dad, nice muscles.  Where did you buy them?"
  • I love that we can start drinking margaritas any time of the day that we want to.
  • I love that my husband likes to do most of the driving.
  • I love the free breakfast buffet.
  • I love croissants with jam (so do my thighs).
  • I love that my husband brings me coffee before my feet hit the floor in the morning.
  • I love that my twelve year old son likes to spend two hours at the thrift store with me looking for treasures.
  • I love stocking up on cheap wine from Costco (no liquor in Utah Costco)
  • I love that the wonderful housekeeping staff insist on washing our dirty dishes in addition to cleaning our room.
  • I love that one particular waitress at the restaurant requested to serve our table because she loved our kiddos so much.
  • I love that our kids enjoy playing with each other.

Monday, March 18, 2013

and wrapped with a pretty bow

Some friends of ours had their first baby a couple of weeks ago.  I had the pleasure if dropping off a meal for them tonight, and of course accepted the invitation to scoop up and snuggle the little bambino for a few minutes.

After talking about the unbearable pain of childbirth that you can only understand once you've been through it, our conversation turned to how the baby was doing in the areas of eating, sleeping, and being cute.  He sure has the third one down, so there was no need to expand on it.

I listened to the innocent uncertainties of a new mother and responded to direct questions with some experienced answers.  Most of all, it gave me time to revisit the newness of parenting and the guessing game that kids throw us into.

I ended the visit with the encouragement to cherish these days.  I told her that as much as we want our children to fit into a neat little box, they just don't.  We have to mix and match parenting techniques, play guessing games, and definitely learn on the job with each individual child.

Today is Joya's Gotcha Day.  One year ago we met her in a conference room in a hotel in China.  We anticipated the day for a year prior, but to her, it felt like we swooped in and kidnapped her from everything that was secure and familiar to her.

We have spent a year in the messy world of grief and the hard truth of unfamiliarity.  Every day has been a guessing game.  Every day has had highs and lows.  Many days had tears.  Every day had smiles.  I would even say every day had laughter.

A year later, we see a girl who trusts, who laughs, who loves and knows she is loved.

In hindsight, I see some things I should have done differently and better.  But isn't that the case for every child - home grown or adopted?

Knowing the growth and healing she has experienced despite imperfect parenting motivates me to do it better as we awake to each new day.  She inspires me to be a better mom.

Enjoy the video I have created to try to capture how far she has come in her first year at home.

Happy Gotcha Day Joya.  Our family is richer with you in it!!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

memory lane

The effort to tag along on my man's business trip for a few days has proved worth every frustration.  We flew from Salt Lake City to Ft. Myers, Florida yesterday and although we had to leave at an ungodly hour of the morning, we were both giddy upon arriving at our last city we called home.

Nearly three years after we were married, we jumped at the opportunity to relocate from Buffalo, New York to the gulf coast of Florida.  Our years in Ft. Myers marked our biggest life change, as this is the place where our first child was born.  Two became three and we discovered how much we loved being parents.

So much so, that we added another, and another, and another, and another.....

Before heading to our hotel, we drove past the apartment complex where we lived for the first year here with our two dogs, which were our only babies for that season.  We pointed out the neighborhoods we used to walk our dogs through and how we would dream of buying a house comparable to the ones we passed.

And then we laughed at how life has changed in nearly 14 years.

We made a special trip over to our house that was home for the rest of our time here.  It sits at a great location, very near the water on a little cul-de-sac off a historic road.  We expected it to have undergone major renovations since we sold it when we moved to Utah in 2002.

We two became three in this house.
Not so.  With the exception of the very large motorhome being stored in the driveway, it looks very much the same.  A new roof, a little paint, and a tree taken out were the only changes we could pick out.  We laughed at our happy memories in this house and pointed out where we sat for one of our Christmas card pictures.  We awed at how blessed we were to live in a great spot in Florida and then move to a very different, but equally great spot in Utah.

Brendan doesn’t remember living in that house, but I will never forget decorating his nursery, bringing him home from the hospital, giving him his first bath in the kitchen sink, and our early morning nursings in the quiet living room.

The best part about living here is that we made some wonderful, life-long friendships.  We moved here practically as newlyweds, and it didn’t take longer than an hour in a local church’s Sunday school class to become befriended by some of the finest people we know to this day, and that we still call friends over a decade later.

We are excited to reconnect face to face with these fine folks in the next couple of days.  I have no doubt that the easy laughter and genuine interest in each other’s lives will surface immediately when we are together.  I consider that a gift and I will not take it for granted.

So, we miss our kiddos and surely we will be excited to see them again on Sunday.  But until then, I’m going to soak up the sun, sleep, and silence.  I will enjoy the alone time with my beloved and our uninterrupted conversations, walks on the beach, soaks in the hot tub, and naps without consideration for any parental responsibilities.

I’m going to indulge my introvert nature and recharge my mommy-battery so that I return excited for the messy and wonderful life we live.

About Me

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Messy and wonderful perfectly describes my life as a wife and mom of five. I'm passionate about advocating for orphans by telling their stories and encouraging adoption and orphan care. My schedule is messy and wonderful as I am charged with four sons and one daughter. We love living in our little mountain ski town. We do a little camping, a little skiing, a little hunting, and a lot of laughing and loving. Life is dirty and loud around here but we wouldn't want it any other way. Okay, maybe a little less dirty!

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