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.
    Grateful.

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.

Napkingami
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.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

she's three

A letter to my daughter's birth mother on her third birthday.

Dearest,

I'm looking at my daughter today on her third birthday and thinking of you.  I know that today is her actual day of birth because you took the loving care to leave a detailed note next to her 4.8 pound newness wrapped in a warm blanket.

You wrote it on red paper, which I know means you were wishing her good luck in her future.

For that, and so much more, I am grateful.

But this letter is to you, and although I cannot mail it, and you will never read it, I want to write it.  I want to tell you about our daughter.

She is a tiny little squirt.  She is three years old today, however, she fits perfectly in size 2T clothing and no bigger.  Weighing in at 27 pounds, she has gained over seven pounds in the nine months since joining our family, but she is still just a peanut.  Her body is very strong and muscular though.  She is already showing her athleticism through tumbling and skiing.

Her weight on her earliest records lead me to wonder if she was born prematurely, or if tiny is just in her genes.  Her size reminds me that she is a fighter though, and I can see that she was from the very start.  She has clawed and battled her way through this transition.  Her loud, strong, and persistent cry makes us sure that she made her presence known on that January day when you parted from her.

She has worked through the obvious emotions of "hating to love us" and now she is on the precipice of releasing her full heart to us.  I can see it on the horizon.

She is so smart and readily imitates her brothers.  Just this week, I was paying close attention to her brother as he was reading me a story he wrote.  With five children, I try to devote individual attention as much as possible.  Joya tried to interrupt me several times, but I asked her to wait.

Five minutes after it was over and I was on to my next task, she came up to me with a piece of scratch paper in hand and held it just like her brother did as she proceeded to "read" me her story.  As complete jibber-jabber flowed from her mouth, my heart overflowed at what a quick study she is.

Our girl potty trained faster than any Sweeney before her.  The best part is that she stays completely dry through the night and has recently hit the milestone of now being able to use the bathroom without my help.

She must sense that she is a big girl now because she even refuses to use the plastic utensils that I have always provided her for her meals and insists on the metal ones that the rest of the family uses.

Her language is developing and she has great manners.  Whenever I serve her a meal, she says, "Day-doo Mama!" without prompting.  I don't ever want to forget that she calls underwear "ow-wa-dare" and she still calls a drink a "di-di," but is now getting more specific with having "water" or "milk."

She LOVES to dance.  She loves loud, fun music.  I am in disbelief at what a transformation we have seen in her time here.  She used to wiggle a little while her brothers boogied, but now she appears to hold nothing back and is the first to join into our family dance sessions.

She is starting to be picky about what she wears and would love to pick out her clothes every day and night.  Luckily, she submits to me if I must restrict what she wants to wear, but I have visions of our coming battles when she is a teenager.

She has been looking forward to her birthday for months now, as her entire family has celebrated birthdays since she has been home, and hers is finally here.  She knows what it means to have a cake and blow out candles.  She has been practicing telling us she's, "TWO!  Nu-uh, FWEEE!"

Last year I wrote to you because we were both apart from her and loving her from a distance.  This year, I want you to know that we have her, we love her, and we love you for your loving sacrifice.

I spent some extra time just rocking her chest to chest with her head nuzzled beneath my chin yesterday.  I soaked up my two year-old and started to pray over her third year.  I prayed for you too, and for her foster family that filled the gap between us so fully.

Her birthday cake is a colorful flower.  I looked for a sunshine design because her favorite song is "You are My Sunshine," and I thought she would be tickled at a cake that illustrated that.  But before I became frustrated at not finding my first choice, I saw the beautiful flower and was flooded with the parallel of how her little soul has blossomed since we have known her.

I'm certain that she is not done yet, and I am looking forward to enjoying the beauty of her bloom.

Friday, January 4, 2013

why messy and wonderful?


Our littlest wonderful mess maker.
My blog name needed to change for quite some time now.  Adoption has changed our lives in more ways than one and I’m really not in my “world surrounded by men” anymore.  I have been deliberately hiding from my blog for many reasons, but the change and overhaul was one of them.

Joya's adjustment into our family has been a moving target of what we might be dealing with next.  With each new challenge, we wonder if it is caused by the trauma of adoption or if it is merely a part of her two year-old life.  Should we handle it by doing "A" or "B" and which one won't traumatize her even more???  It's been messy.

But, when she counts off each family member by name every morning and reaches her arms out with a smile several times a day with the words, " I HOOOLLLD MAMA!" - wonderful doesn't even begin to describe it.  When we watch our fifth child take up skiing just like the other four have, with squeals of joy and a desire to go faster, our hearts overflow with how wonderful and worthwhile all of the mess is.

Tonight's dinner was breakfast burritos, served one at a time because our house was a complex machine of people coming and going tonight.  My meal prep and service was messy tonight.

But when they sat down to eat it, everyone loved dinner, and that is wonderful.

Our boys spent their coveted Christmas break passing the flu from one brother to the next, not coordinating well enough to all get through it at the same time.  We looked like a sick mess, but they all loved to snuggle close and watch lots of DVDs, day after day, and that was wonderful.

Down and out over Christmas break
The sickness was only compounded by the fact that our 40 year old furnace finally leaned too closely to, “Hey I might just leak enough carbon monoxide in the night to kill you all,” so we made the executive decision to shut it off and live without heat until we could get a new one installed.   We must install it in a new location in the house in order to actually conform to building codes.  This all happened while our outside temps in this mountain ski town dipped down to negative numbers.  Warm blankets and cold noses!!!

So now, we have walls ripped apart and floor plans being drawn for an unexpected and expensive project.  We are wearing fleeces and running space heaters.  There is a layer of messy construction dust almost everywhere I turn.

But soon it will be done.  We’ll be warm.  We have saved money for the unexpected, and it will be wonderful.

Our house is constantly noisy and it is never completely picked up.  By the time we finally update the outdated avocado green carpeting and 1970’s bathrooms in our house, the “new” kitchen we remodeled nearly six years ago will be outdated.

The papers on my desk scream, “PAY ME!  FILE ME!  READ ME!”

Parenting our brood is a nearly humorous trial and error experiment cycle as we weigh and measure each child’s needs, temperament, good and bad deeds, love language, and hormone level. Then we try to match all that adequately against our best prayerful guess of what is needed AND muster the energy to execute the plan.

My head hits the pillow at night yearning for a couple of extra hours to supernaturally sneak in to my REM cycle, yet the 6:30 a.m. alarm always feels too soon and too painful.  But during those hours, I’m wonderfully intertwined with My Beloved, who I love and respect more each day that I know him. 

We snooze when we can.
All that leads up to the fact that when I showed My Beloved my short list of truly inspiring and (I thought) fitting titles, it lead to a discussion about naming my blog something that reflects ME.  Not my kids, husband, passions, job, or interests.

So I asked him, who knows me best of all: “Who do you say I am then?”

He paused, looked down at the floor, then shrugged and sighed and said, “Messy and wonderful,” to which we both broke out into whole-hearted laughter.

To revisit in another post is the fact that ten years ago, that comment would have hurt my feelings and had me personally offended for being called messy.

But I am.  And our life is.

But it is so WONDERFUL.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

trust

After nearly five months home from China, I finally put the time into creating Joya's "Gotcha" video.  For those of you outside of the adoption world, "gotcha day" is the term used for the day families are united with their child (got-ya).

Our adoption was and is an amazing and life changing journey.  It went beyond anything I could have imagined in the realm of both JOY and PAIN.

Although we are convinced that God had His hand on Joya's adoption and that she is perfectly matched for our family, we are equally convinced that this is NOT the way life is ideally supposed to be for her.

At one of our hotels during our stay in China, we noticed another family at breakfast wearing T-shirts that had the slogan, "Adopted By Design" on the back.  It implied to us that God designed adoption as a first choice for these children.

It actually angered my husband and it gave me great pause in my thoughts.

Adoption is a second choice for orphans.  It is a second choice to staying with each orphan's birth family forever.  It is clearly the result of a broken world.

No matter who an orphan's birth family is, there is LOSS and GRIEF in adoption.

But, over the last five months, I had one adoptive mom repeatedly remind me of the BEAUTY in the process.  And after making this video, I am far enough removed to see it.

Finally.

Because, as you can see, it has not been all sunshine and roses.  The transition has been HARD.  Our love was instant when we met our daughter, however, it took TIME to build our relationship and get to know each other.

And we are not done yet.

I was fearful to let her look back on the grief she has endured this year.  Up to this point, any reminder of China has only upset her. 

But maybe we both knew in our hearts that it was time to put together the memories.  I let her watch it and she stared intently at it and then looked at me and said, "SAD Lien Lien."  (She still mostly refers to herself by her endeared Chinese nickname.)

Then she smiled.

Relief washed over us when we realized that this did not re-traumatize her.  We have been working so hard to shower her with love and consistency - trying to establish coveted trust, that we feared the memories might hit the reset button on all of that work.

Personally, I think it had the opposite effect.  I think watching the road we have traveled together has encouraged her to hold more tightly to her forever family.  She has smiled more and been more affectionate in the last few days.

For me, it has completely renewed my COMPASSION for her and allowed me to feel pain for her that I had pushed to my back-burner as I have committed myself to the very tedious, daily work of mothering five kids.

I have a renewed perspective of adoption and the MIRACLE that occurs in the process.

And I am looking forward to watching the BEAUTY grow with time.

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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