Wednesday, July 29, 2015

it's official!

It's official!  Christine is ours!  God is good all. the. time.  We are so very thankful and humbled at how He's carried us over the last year and a half -- so, so many of you helped to bring Christine into our family.  Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

And, thank you for your prayers.  Christine's doing well and Payton and Avery seem to have turned the corner with their jet lag.  Now, if JD and I could just sleep tonight.  I was awake at 3 AM today and JD about an hour later.  And I am a girl who likes my sleep.  Ugh.  

It's been a long, but wonderful day.  We're sitting in our room back in Manilla after driving in hours and hours of traffic.  It's unrelenting.  Now, we're chilling and watching TV in our pajamas after ordering room service.   Just what families do when traveling.  :)

With faster internet, I was finally able to upload photos.  I realized I didn't include the video in my last post.  Hoping to soon.  Videos are harder to upload.  Very time consuming and I don't seem to have a lot of that these days.    

Here are some shots from our trip so far...

We met a darling family (with twin boys!) at the Guangzhou (China) airport.  The children were enthralled with Payton and Avery.  

Our first photo with Christine!  This is our first day here in the Philippines.  We were getting ready to leave Manila for Baguio.

Two weeks straight of rain led to dangerous landslides that covered roads up the mountain to Baguio. A treacherous climb, for sure.  But we made it!  Thank you for your prayers.

When we first arrived at the Helping Hands Healing Hearts Children's Home, the little children came running to greet us.  Hugging our legs and immediately wrapping their little arms around our necks!  (I'm have permission to post some group shots!).

Payton and Avery were amazing with them.  

Our darling 'adoption suite' for adoptive parents to stay in at the children's home.  

Fresh fruit, coffee, water, Pringles!, snacks, hot chocolate in our room.  What is this the Ritz!?  :)

We changed clothes and headed straight to Christine's church and loved it!  I have the best video to post.  Such an amazing experience.  They even called us up front and prayed a blessing over our family.  A moment we'll never forget. 

Chilling in our room our first morning...

The sun shining in the window, listening to the roosters crow with the windows open, sipping on a hot cup of coffee and starting my first post.  What a treat.

Avery joins in.  :)

The home is full of scripture.  

The boys loved JD, big and little.

Such a week for Christine...

In Mama Claire's office.  That little love in Payton's lap was such cuddler.  Just delicious.

Sisters chatting overlooking the backyard.

Calamansis are a cross between a lemon and lime and served as a juice all over the Philippines.  So good -- like fresh lemonade with a zing.    

Christine's last day with some of the dear women who loved her so well.  This is Jing and Sally.  

Gary is a missionary at H4 from Ireland.  Great guy!  And great chauffeur/tour guide.  :)

This is from a park that overlooks the Baguio valley.  Stunning views!

Gary, Avery, Christine, and Payton.  JD was golfing.  

A panoramic.

The crisp, clean air at the top of the mountain was fabulous!

Beautiful girls.

A rainbow lizard for our Brookster.  :)

Another view.

In Baguio, they color the white horses and sell rides.  This pink one was especially beautiful in front of the blue sky!

This entire aisle at the grocery was dedicated to whitening creams, ointments and lotions to lighten the women's skin.  I told Christine how ironic that is because we sell tanning lotion in the States!

The 'Western' aisle.  Many familiar items from home.  It's funny because we have 'international foods' aisle in the U.S. 

As we entered Christine's 'despedida' (farewell) party...a true labor of love.  

Waiting for the 'program' to start.

Dave & Marlene.  Big supporters of H4...and big fans of Christine.

H4 director's sweet son who adores Christine.  He just cried in her arms.  Precious boy.

Mama Claire's family.  I can't say enough about Claire and Mark.  Honored to know them.

After the party was over, a huge rainbow.  God keeps his promises!

Christine and her friends from school.

Marissa and Christine.  Marisa runs the Children's Recovery Unit.  Amazing work being done their to help the children heal physically and spiritually.

A beautiful cake Jing made for Christine.  

These women cooked their tails off!   

What a team! 

JD spent hours with the older boys the night before we left (they were in awe of his muscles!).  We will never forget those dear boys.  Our hearts are changed forever.

Up at 3 AM and gone by 4:00 get back to Manilla for Christine's appointments.

A quick last shot with Claire and her daughter.

We made it!  It's ICAB!

Cute little sign on the door.  Made us smile.

Waiting for the social worker.

30 minutes later and we were outa there!  So much to be grateful for!  

Tomorrow morning, our first order of business is to Skype with those boys of ours!  I cannot wait!  Then, we'll check out of our hotel in Manilla and catch our plane to Palawan (Puerto Princessa) to meet our Compassion child, Lyka, on Friday.  I really can't believe this is happening.  I'll tell more about this part of our trip in my next post, but for now suffice it to say that I am so looking forward to it!

Love to all!  We covet your prayers!  You're the best! 

Monday, July 27, 2015

last day in baguio

Yesterday, we laid low quite a bit.  The women who run this home have lavished us with some of the most delicious Filipino food.  In the Filipino culture, you show someone you care for them by cooking for them.  We have felt so cared for.  Especially me — what a treat it has been to come downstairs and find a table set with a hot meal prepared.  And this is after they’ve fed 25 children!  Twenty-five.  I have a hard time feeding five sometimes.  :)

The children here are absolutely stealing our hearts.  They are beyond precious.  Their eyes are as round as saucers and the deepest brown.  Their hair is smooth as silk and so very fine.  I so, so wish I could post photos of them, but I’m prohibited from doing so.  One little one named Christian whose about two-years-old, comes straight for me when I come downstairs and puts his hands up for me to pick him up.  I just sway and sway while he lays his head on my shoulder.  I prayed over him that the Lord would bring him a family.  I found out yesterday that he’s soon to be matched with a family.  Oh, the grace.  During our second cuddle session yesterday, he promptly fell asleep.  I found myself a comfortable chair and just let him sleep on me for a time.  These are precious moments with these children that we’ll never forget. 

Avery has a little fan too.  His name’s EJ.  He beelines for her when she enters the room.  The first several times she scooped up a little one or two, she immediately said, ‘Oh!  They’re way lighter than James and I carry James all the time.’  They’re the sweetest little loves.  The good news is that several are on their way to being adopted.  Avery’s heart was already warm and sweet, but coming here has caused her to make the declaration that she will definitely adopt one day.  She says she would love to adopt from this children’s home.  This seed that’s been planted in her heart is a beautiful thing to JD and me because we clearly cannot adopt all the children who steal our hearts.  But a heart for adoption can be passed on for many generations.  Mm-mm-mm. 

Christine had a good day yesterday.  She seemed more at ease — probably because we are in her home and she’s surrounded by everyone she loves.  She is processing, but doing well.  Thank you for your prayers.  She (and we, as her parents) will need them over the next many months as she adjusts to life in the States with us.  It breaks our hearts that she will have to leave all the familiarity of home, the very thing we are looking forward to returning to, but we know (and so does she) that this is best for her.  Now and for her future.  Perhaps one day, as an adult, she will choose to return to the Philippines, permanently or on missions.  Whatever she chooses, we will support her.  

We also strolled up the street yesterday to the Children’s Recovery Unit, a home for children who have been in the hospital.  Several are fighting leukemia.  Others have had major surgeries/illnesses.  Some of parents, some do not.  Again, the women who run it are dear, dear women.  In fact, there’s a husband-wife team who live there as the ‘house parents.’  They are raising their two children while doing this amazing work.  These are the times when I see Jesus in the lives of ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things through God’s strength in them.  The CRU is also run by H4 (Helping Hands Healing Hearts).  This ministry is beyond amazing.  I cannot say enough about it.  The hands and feet of Jesus, for sure.  

Here’s a video of the work being done through H4.  If you feel so inclined to support their efforts, you can give monthly — even as simply as purchasing two bags of rice each month to feed the children.  We will definitely be jumping on board in support as soon as we get home.  Sometimes it’s hard to know what ministries/non-profits are reputable and really doing a good work.  Perhaps it helps to hear it from us who are seeing and experiencing it with our own eyes.
Tonight is Christine’s farewell party.  Her friends from school, her volleyball teammates, her teachers, community members who support H4, and church family will be coming to wish her well.  I have been warned many times that it will be a tearful night.  I am excited to celebrate the sweetheart that she is and to have her friends send her off with a proper farewell, but I dread it for her.  I know it will be very bittersweet.

Shortly, we will head for breakfast at the home of a family here in Baguio that has loved Christine well.  The wife is Filipino (she works for H4) and the husband is American.  Christine has stayed with them for short stints to get out of the home a little during breaks from school.  She is close to them, so we look forward to a little time in their home.  Later this afternoon, we’ll head to the store to purchase the last of the school supplies that the children need for the upcoming school year (crayons, water colors, pencils, scissors, etc).  What a joy it is to be able to provide for this need.  After that, JD may do a round of golf with Claire’s (H4’s director’s) husband, Mark.  They are from Ireland and are such neat people.  

We will be up at 3 AM tomorrow to leave for Manila by 4:00.  We have two appointments with ICAB (Intercountry Adoption Board), one at 10 and one at 12.  We will need to give ourselves a 6-hour window to make the trek back to Manila.  It’s not that the distance is so far as it is the traffic.  I am amazed at the volume of cars on any one road at any given time — very much like China and other parts of the world.  

Prayer request: Payton and Avery hit a wall last night.  The jet lag had set in hard.  They barely made it through dinner.  It’s hard to sleep here because the home is full of energetic children and very happy roosters and dogs wake us starting at around 4 AM.  Prayer that the jet lag is coming to an end would be awesome!  Love to all!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

we're here!

It’s Monday, July 27th and we’re here in the Baguio Children’s Home where Christine has lived for the last five years.  I wish I could chronicle every thought, sight and feeling so far.  I can tell that my time on-line is going to be very limited.  Not just by the spotty internet signal, but the opportunities to sit and write are going to be few.  And posting photos is hard.  No time to download the photos.  When we were in China, we spent many days just hanging out in our hotel room — we didn’t yearn to get out and about, we were trying to be sensitive to the fact that James had hardly ever ridden in a car and we were strangers to him.  Plus, he napped.  :)

This time, we’re adopting a teenager who is very much aware of the fact that she’s about to lose every stinkin’ thing that’s familiar to her.  It's altogether different.  

Our flights/travels here were great.  Smooth and issue-free (after God overcame our seat assignment debacle).  Even our drive to Baguio from Manilla was peaceful — I felt your prayers!  Thank you!  We were on the windiest road, in rain, where cars do not stay in their lanes.  God was carrying us along the roadways to accomplish the goal He set before us.  Every bit of this trip, each day that passes, is a step closer to bringing Christine home.  A joy for us!  But at great loss for her.  

The reality is that Christine is saying her last goodbyes to the people she loves.  She will leave every familiar sight, sound, smell she experiences everyday.  We were awoken to roosters crowing this morning.  We slept with our windows open all night.  She wanted to ride along while a caregiver took the older children to school, so she went downstairs before us and we could hear the immediate squeals of delight when the children came running to greet her (she’s like a mama to them).  Our hearts ache at what’s in store for her.  

The adults in her life are amazing.  It seems she’s as prepared as she can be.  I humbly ask for your prayers for her and our family as we set out to care for her broken and grieving heart the best we can.    

We will hang here for the next two days.  A farewell party is planned for her tomorrow night.  There will be many tears.  

We had the absolute joy of going to church last night and it was incredible!  I have the best video to post.  I will do a post soon with photos and videos -- perhaps when we return to Manilla and have a faster signal and more down time.

We love you all!  Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for carrying us with your prayers.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

i see summer...

I am so excited!

I see summer lurking just around the corner and I am thrilled.

Payton and Avery are done with school at Westminster.  I'm just trying to keep the gears moving with Brooks and Jackson.  James' last day of preschool is Thursday.  Sniff.

I can't believe that little dude is headed to elementary school and will say bye to his dear preschool teachers.  I can't even begin to describe to you the servant's hearts of those amazing women.  Truly remarkable.

We've had lots more meetings for James.  We did a child study and evaluation for an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and then finalized the IEP last week.  I love all involved in his case.  There is unanimous agreement that we want the least restrictive environment possible for him; meaning we want him to be able to try, troubleshoot and persist through all the obstacles presented to him while at the same time helping him when necessary to keep him safe.  From the beginning, I was adamant that he needs to ride a regular school bus with his neighborhood ladies buddies.  He needs to be as included as possible.  He needs to march through is day as he always does without people coddling all over him because, let me tell you, he can charm the pants off some folks!

I am elated at how things have panned out.  There's no doubt in my mind that he should go to school and will love it!


We decided not to take him to Florida to see the doctor there because we knew that wasn't sustainable for us -- we just can't realistically fly to/from Florida to use a doctor when it seems that highly reputable doctors are much closer.  So, the doctor from Florida came from Baltimore, so we're headed to that facility on Monday, June 8th for a second opinion.  If we like the doctor, feel good about his recommendations, we're hoping to schedule his first limb-lengthening surgery before he starts school mid-August!  But first we need to get to/from the Philippines, ha!

The update there is that Christine has two very important meetings this week -- her visa medical screening to ensure that she's healthy to travel and her final interview for ICAB to check-in and make sure she hasn't changed her mind.  She and I communicate regularly and she seems very excited for us to come get her!  We are counting the days.  It's looking like the end of June or early July.

I will keep you posted!

Finally, some big news around here is that we've decided that Jackson and Brooks will go to the elementary school next year.  And I am thrilled!  As are they!  Good stuff.  More on that later....

Prayer requests:

1.  Pray that all goes well with Christine's appointments this week -- she had an appendectomy a couple of months ago and was quite unwell -- so we really want her better!  And pray for God to prepare her heart as she leaves the Philippines.

2.  Pray that we will be filled with wisdom and discernment when it comes to making medical decisions for James.

3.  Pray that our boys will finish their school year with a bang!

4.  Pray for safe travels for us as we travel to get Christine.

I'll do another, more fun (with photos), post soon!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

the most overdue update ever...

I thought I'd forgotten how to login here!

Well, hellooooo!  :)

I don't even know where to begin.

Well, yes I do.

I must start with an update on Christine.

Clearly, Christmas came and went.  And she is not home.  :(

We are so very close.  We should have our I-800 (immigration approval) this week.  Then there's one final filing to do that takes about 2-3 weeks to process and then we start planning to travel.

Here's a sneak peak at her bedroom.  :)

This desk was Christine's Christmas gift from Mimi and Pappy.

Avery tests it out.  :)

Life has been especially full lately.  Not only are we completing Christine's adoption and very much looking forward to our trip to the Philippines to get her, but we've also entered into a new season with James.  For two reasons...  

I've had lots of conversations and a few meetings with our county school system about him beginning kindergarten in the fall.  The child is so excited.  And we're so excited for him!  He just absolutely adores preschool and loved Randolph Elementary School when we visited yesterday.  I'm so impressed with the heart of each of the women I've met with so far.  They are open-minded, loving and accepting of James.  We've had conversations around his ability to navigate independently through his day: climb off and on the bus, pull out and sit in his chair, feed himself lunch, use the bathroom, write and do his schoolwork, etc.  We know he'll do just great!  And the wonderful thing is that the school's occupational therapist, physical therapist, nurse and even a kindergarten teacher were so excited to watch him succeed.  Not that I ever really doubted that sending him to school was the right decision, but our experience so far is really affirming that for us.  

The second reason things have been full (both in our minds and on our schedules) is that we took James to Shriner's in Philadelphia last week.  It's been over two years since we visited last (click here if you want to read about that visit).  It was time to go back and follow up on things.

You may or may not remember that we took James there just a few months after bringing him home from China.  He wasn't standing or walking -- in fact, he stood for the first time on that trip in the middle of our hotel room.  The doctors pretty much told us to just let James adjust and adapt to his new surroundings/life and bring him back in a couple of years.  Well, for a variety of reasons, we felt it was time to return.  We'd been feeling nudged to seriously consider doing something with his leg to help him have more mobility and stability.  One of the nudges was James' preschool teacher telling us about an 8-year-old boy on the 'Ellen' show that reminded her of James.  Take a gander...

Isn't he somethin'?

For some time, James has been talking about the sports he's going to play and really trying to keep up with his brothers and friends in the neighborhood.  He's out there running around in our yard, he's down by the creek and in the woods playing 'Hunger Games' (lovely) with his siblings, and he's playing in the snow.  

But he stumbles a lot.  And he falls sometimes.  He's worn out/broken a couple of his AFOs (artificial foot orthotic).  The idea of him having a strong reliable prosthetic that he can fully run in was becoming more appealing to us and we were becoming less afraid of at least having the conversation.  We realized we needed to stop avoiding the conversation out of our own fear of what we might discover.

Toes transplanted to fingers?  A more functioning hand?  Running, jumping, playing sports?  Yes, yes and yes.  It all sounded great to us and to our prosthetist and orthopedic surgeon in Richmond.    

It was time for more information, so off to Shriner's we went...

The doctors there are great.  They took notes, x-rays and...  

Yep, he had himself a little photo shoot.  As if he didn't already feel like a superstar being on a trip alone with Mommy and Daddy, staying the night with Aunt Karen and Uncle JP in DC...

...and staying in a hotel.  :)

Oh, and let's not forget that we splurged and let him play the gaming device at Chili's during dinner.

Mommy and Daddy had a lot to talk about as we ate and, frankly, Mommy splurged too with two glasses of wine at dinner and chocolate back at the hotel room (can you say, 'stress eater'?  Oye).  Five hours at Shriner's left me feeling like my head -- and heart! -- was going to explode!  Let me explain...

We had marched ourselves up there thinking we knew exactly what we were going to ask (and we asked it!) and thought we pretty much knew what we were going to hear (and we heard it!...until...).  

The upper extremity doctors (and there was a team that stood around us nodding) completely endorsed the idea of transplanting two of his toes to his hand, performing the amputation and fitting him with a couple of great prosthetics.  Oddly, we were kind of coming to peace with this whole crazy thing.  

Then we moved to meet with the lower extremity folks and they launched straight into bone lengthening (also known as limb lengthening).  

It was like a record scratch.


I actually stopped the doctor and explained that we were actually there to discuss amputation.  He was very kind and gracious and said, 'Oh, okay.  What were you thinking?'  I explained and he heard us out, but quickly explained the bone lengthening process and used phrases like, 'He has a good leg,' and 'His foot's in a great position,' and 'His knee's strong.'  What?  These are not things we'd ever heard before about James' little leg that's 2" shorter than his left leg.  Look at the photo shoot above, for goodness sake.  

We were intrigued, but the gruesomeness and arduous process involved seemed beyond manageable.  But James would get to keep his leg -- which means he would get to keep his foot!  A foot that, he uses far less than he used to, he still uses.  And he wouldn't have to use prosthetics for the rest of his life (getting them off and on, caring for them and his 'nub', etc).

So, here we are.  

In May (assuming we're not in the Philippines!), we'll likely take James to see another doctor in Florida for a second opinion.  He came highly recommended by several people and, unlike the Shriner's doctor, he isn't booked for a year!  I kid you not, James could not get in to have the surgery done at Shriner's for at least a year.  

It feels like we're on the right path.  The path to being able to give James his best shot at independence and being able to stand before him one day and assure him that we did our very best for him as his parents.  Hopefully he'll believe it.  :) 


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