End of the school year post & a new addition

It was about this time last year that I began to order our homeschool curriculum for the 2018-2019 school year. We were looking forward to being a part of a co-op with two other expat families that was being led by two amazing teachers. We thought the plan for the year was set. Ha! This school year we have schooled in three different countries on two continents, lived in five different apartments/houses, and said good-bye to our co-op friends and teachers. Basically, we stopped and started homeschooling three times. It has been nuts. We survived and I am so very proud of our kids for hanging in there.

We have finally come to the end of this long crazy homeschool year so I am marking it with my traditional “end of the school year update on the kiddos” post – where I ask them about their favorites and what they feel has been their biggest accomplishment for the school year. Long post warning. We have a lot of kids and somehow these posts seem to get longer every year….including this year. We have had a new addition to our homeschool family!

Ace: Our newest addition – 14 week old super puppy.

Favorite food: Puppy Chow
Favorite book: Lassie Comes Home (just kidding!)
Favorite subject: digging
Biggest accomplishment: being house trained in the last month of our homeschool year.

Just becuase we are not crazy enough, we thought we would add a puppy to the mix. All joking aside, it has been a great decision. He is a super sweet sheltie who has quickly become the kids’ best friend. Nothing will help a big transition better than a puppy friend.

Moe: Pre-school player

Favorite food: pepperoni
Favorite book: Anything Dr. Seuss
Favorite pass time: Playing games, especially Candy Land and Dinosaur Escape
Biggest accomplishment: Cutting up a dead frog.

This little guy is sure that he is ready to “do school” too. He is often pulling out paper and markers drawing and “writing” his name and wanting to jump in to what the other kids are doing. Recently he pulled on gloves to help Roo dissect a frog for her Apology Biology class. Maybe there is something to be said about being the youngest of six. He might just learn all of this stuff by osmosis and I won’t need to homeschool him at all! Mom would be content to let him just hang out in the space of being the youngest and not needing to do school work. It is pretty delightful to snuggle up on the couch and read The Cat in the Hat and play Zingo with this kiddo. I hope these days last longer.

Little Dude: 3rd grade graduate who always has a knock-knock joke ready for the telling.

Favorite food: noodles
Favorite book: Jackie Chan Kung Fu Aventures
Favorite subject: Math (Thank you Teaching Textbooks!)
Favorite pastime  watching Curiostiy Stream. (This child will watch documentaries on dinosaurs and ocean life — on loop!)
Biggest accomplishment: Reading 10 hours in one week and learning to ride a two wheel bike.

This year while in Thailand he mastered riding a two wheel bike. This skill is even more significant if you know his story. When he was three, his physcial therapist said he would never be able to ride a bike due to the nature and shape of his residual limb. She had no idea of the spirit that is in this kid! I am so proud of him for pushing hard against what seem to be physical limitations. He throws his legs out to the side of the bike when he looses balance using his core to center himself. It is amazing to watch. He is facing some new medical/physical challenges. When we talked to him about his upcoming surgery and figuring out some new issues with his residual limb, he simply answered, “We’ve got this.” He is so strong and optimistic.

Little Monkey: 6th Grade graduate

Favorite food: Fruit with Chinese rice and dishes as a close second.
Favorite book this school year: Mara the Daughter of the Nile by Eloise McGraw
Favorite subject: Literature. This girl loves to read.
Biggest Accomplishment: Writing two research papers and making new friends at each step of our journey this year.

Little Monkey is one of the most responsible, steady and careful children I have ever met. What a gift to have her in our lives and to see her grow through all of our transitions. She is proud to be old enough to volunteer at Vacation Bible School and to to be a helper in the church nursery.

Roo: 9th Grade graduate

Favorite food: “real” Chinese food
Favorite book: Anne of Green Gables series
Favorite subject: Art
Biggest Accomplishment: She feels that it is harsh to call anything her biggest accomplishment.

Mom would say her goal of reading and painting her way through the Old Testament was a lofty goal that she achieved. (My Father’s World – Old Testament Challenge. She added the painting part.) Her paintings are amazing. Moving back to the States may have been the hardest on this girl. She loves Asia and hopes to make it her permanent home in the future. Her passion and desire to live life following hard after Jesus is an inspiration to this momma.

 

B:  Working hard to catch up to Roo

Favorite food: Anything Chinese
Favorite book: The Harry Potter Series – He read them all in Chinese this school year.
Favorite subject: Math

Biggest accomplishment: traveling to Thailand and having a first “real” Christmas. (Those were his words which I think translate to mean his biggest accomplishment was adjusting to our crazy family and American ways of doing things!)

This guy has been working so hard over the course of the year. For someone who had no formal education until he joined our family, I think it is simply AMAZING that he reads Chinese at a high school level, is reading in English on a second grade level (thanks to the ABeka phonics program), is in 7th grade Math (using ALL English), and is hanging with the rest of our crew with History and Science. I often shake my head in wonder over how he is pressing into academics and succeeding so brilliantly.

As you can gather, B, does not struggle academically – but he is facing several physical struggles due to Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Pending insurance approval, he will be starting medication to help him gain strength – but the medication can only be given via spinal tap. Once he has gained some strength, he will be having a major surgery on his back (hopefully this fall.) So this guy is doing Math and keeping at his English/Grammar lessons through the summer. He doesn’t want to let his medical appointments and hopsital stays get him further behind. Dedication.

Soccer Dude: finished 11th grade and entering the final stretch

Favorite food: grilled brats
Favorite book: Trials of Apollo: The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan
Favorite subject: Psychology
Newest favorite pastime: attending Great Lakes Loons games. Noting better than single A baseball to help you acclimate back into life in the States.
Biggest accomplishment: Surviving the transition from Asia to the States after living there for almost 11 years.

This Dude has been nailing his dual enrollment courses through Spring Arbor University. That is where he is hoping to attend University next fall and major in….you guessed it…Psychology. This mama is having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that we are only a year away from graduating our first kiddo. If you do the math – you quickly realize that we will be starting Moe in Kindergarten at the same time Soccer Dude will be starting university! Our first kiddo almost done, but we still have 13 years to go!

If you have read this whole update – you get a gold star from this teacher. I am impressed, thankful, and blessed to have so many of you who care for our family and enjoy hearing about our comings and goings. Thank you for praying, encouraging, and supporting us along the way. Seriously, we would not have made it through this year without so many people praying for us. Hubby and I jokingly said that we should make t-shirts as a celebration that we survived schooling this year! Here is hoping that the next year is a bit calmer, and trusting it will be equally fruitful.

 

Worth it?

The Great Wall. If you have never been there, I am not sure you can imagine the steep terrain and the amount of steps. So many steps. Oddly spaced crumbling rock steps. Each step is worth the effort when you take in the view of the wall winding through the hills as far as you can see.

Visiting the Great Wall was the way our family decided to say goodbye to this season in Asia. After saying good-bye to the city that we had called home for more than 10 years, it seemed fitting that we would say goodbye to China at the Great Wall, one of our favorite spots.

B had never been there before. He was so very excited by our plans. It was a bit intimidating to envision the steep wall and yet to make a plan for our son, B, who is in a wheelchair. We called a travel agent for help, booked tickets to the most accessible part of the wall, and had two sweet friends helping. But still. Wowzers. It took a lot of effort to get our 100 pound teenager who isn’t able to walk on top of that wall.

Oh, the spectacle we created – huffing and puffing as we pushed a wheelchair up the cobblestone street that winds up and around towards the wall. We took turns carrying B on our back. We threw the wheelchair into a cable car while panicking at the thought of throwing our son into a cable car. He bumped up steps. We hung on for dear life as we rolled his chair down one steep incline to face an upward slant moments later. It was exhausting and hard.

I do this thing with our family when I am trying to convince myself that something is going well or is fun – I clench my jaw and smile and say stupid things in a sing song voice like – “peace, joy, and happiness.” The kids love it! (Which really means they think I am crazy as I talk to myself!) If I am being brutally honest, this game I play is really about the cost benefit in my mind.

Our trip to the Great Wall – totally worth all of the effort. You should have seen B’s face as he sat on that wall taking in the history of his heritage. Priceless. It is the kind of moment you look at and think – I would have paid anything for this. I would have put in even more effort to see the look on his face again. When my back was killing me for three days after the trip, I smiled. Worth it. When we handed over the fee to the tour guide, we shrugged and probably would have paid three times the amount. When the benefit is big, hard things seem so much….well, easier.

But there are moments in life when my cost benefit analysis falls short. I am sure you have had those seasons of life too. So much hard for little benefit. And we might add, from a human perspective some hard seasons seem to have no benefit. What do you do when you are climbing up all of those stairs hoping to see the Great Wall, but you never get to the top? You know what I am talking about? You invest in the relationship never to see it renewed. You pray for the wayward child – for years – and they haven’t come home. You fight the disease never to hear the word remission. A loved one dies. A job is lost. It all feels too hard. You are struggling to keep moving forward and your heart is sick with hope.

We personally are in a season that feels really hard. We hit the pause button on our lives in Asia to return to the states so that we could seek better medical treatment for B. We miss our work and home in Asia, we are fighting insurance and not getting clear answers from doctors….I feel like I am pushing a wheelchair up a steep mountain. There are days that I am tempted to give up and say that this isn’t worth it….and if I do my cost analysis half way through the journey, I probably would be right. All of this hard isn’t worth going half way.

When I saw B at the top of the Great Wall – that is when I was willing to have paid more, pushed harder. That short day trip helps me gain perspective. There will be a day when everything is made right. When everything is made whole and all of my tears will be dry. That will be the top of the mountain with a view of God’s throne that I can’t even imagine. I am positive when I reach glory I will think that it was all worth it and I will have a grin on my face that will say it all.

Until that day? Friend, we all have our own seasons of hard. Let’s encouarge each other to persevere keeping our eyes towards heaven.

Unexpected diagnosis

It just “happens” that we were asked to adopt the now 14 year old who has been on our hearts for years. We said yes. As a family, this is who God has called us to be. We didn’t go looking to adopt again. We thought we were done. God had a different idea. When you commit to following Jesus and loving the people He puts in your life, the journey can be very different than what you expect.

We are experiencing this truth in full force with our new son, B. It was a miracle that God brought him to us and provided for his adoption in four short months. We continue to see that miracle unfold as we watch him grow and blossom in our family. We tried to prepare ourselves for what adding a teenager to our family would be like. I had prepped myself for teenage attitude, bonding difficulties, anger and meltdowns. That has not been our reality. He has blown every one of our expectations out of the water. He is sweet and kind with his new siblings. He willingly is learning our family ways and takes joy in being with us. He is learning English at an alarming rate (he learned the English for isosceles acute triangle in Math. How does he know a word that I just had to look up how to spell inorder put it in this blog post?!) He also is becoming stronger with physical therapy, and he loves s’mores, 4-wheeler rides and a good game of “Quick Cups” or “Exploding Kittens.” In general he is a happy and kind kiddo – a wheelchair rolling miracle, and I am so blessed to be a part of his amazing life.

Our expectations for our new son also did not include a diagnosis of Spinal Muscular Atrophy. The test results are in, and we are so very thankful to know the root cause of his muscle weakness. At this time, we aren’t sure what this diagnosis means for him or for our family. We are consulting with multiple doctors, looking into treatment plans and trusting that God is in control.

We would appreciate your prayers in the coming weeks as we continue to seek how to best care for B. We specifically need prayers for wisdom and guidance. This journey God is taking us on….it isn’t what we expected, but we are thankful for the unexpected joy of a teen who so easily has loved us and is a blessing to love in return and we are also thankful that we serve a God who is never surprised by the unexpected. Trusting Him.

A birthday to remember

I am one of those moms. You know the type. The sappy (let a few tears drip into the frosting as I make cupcakes for my babies who seem to grow a year older behind my back) momma. But this birthday celebration – a few tears did not do it justice. Every time I looked at our new son on his birthday, tears sprang to my eyes.

We have missed 13 birthdays with this boy. 13. Adding emotion to that fact, we have been counting down the days to this 14th birthday. It was the deadline. If we did not have all of his adoption paperwork completed by his birthday, it was a no go. By Chinese law children are unadoptable at their 14th birthday.

We adopted him 10 days before his birthday.

Can I just type that sentence one more time so that you can feel the force of its drama? 10 days before his birthday he got a family. His miracle (and ours) happened 10 days before it was too late. That is worthy of many grateful tears from this momma. Amen?! Call me sappy if you want.

We enjoyed celebrating our new son on his 14th birthday which happened to fall on Chinese New Year’s Eve due to the lunar calendar. We made cupcakes and had gifts, but added making dumplings (traditional Chinese New Year food), staying up till midnight and setting off fireworks. It is a birthday, for many reasons, that we won’t forget.

A few more photos of our dumplings and Chinese New Year celebration….

and a few more words about how our transition is going.

We were preparing for a rough road with a teenager who hasn’t lived with a family. Instead, we are experiencing grace filled days with a delightful young man who is embracing his new life….and our family. We feel incredibly blessed. Maybe it is the honeymoon phase – but we are taking every moment and storing up these sweet memories that will be treasured and will help if harder days come. We would appreciate your continued prayers as we get to know each other and find a new normal for our family. We are starting the Chinese New Year with thankful hearts for all that God has done to make our family and with great hope of all that will come to pass in this year of the dog!

Family Day

This is the story of a 13 year old boy who joined our crazy crew.

If I am completely honest, the story of this child being added to our family is one that I can only fully tell sitting at my kitchen table over a cup of coffee with extra sugar and cream. Even then, I am sure I would struggle with the words to describe…..the surprise factor. Miraculous provision. Hurdles that God overcame. Agencies willing to work over time on our behalf. Generous friends and family. Anxiety over the unknown – sweet confirmation in the face of the fear and grief. Obstacles. Tears. Victory.

Oh, the stories I have to share.

Friend, until we meet for coffee, these photos and few words will have to do. They will give you a peek at the miraculous adoption that took place.

I have never been so relieved to be in a government office signing papers and pressing our fingers into red ink. We promised to care for and not abandon the teen, who sat next to us taking it in silently with wide eyes. As the translator explained to “B” what we were signing, my hands shook as so many thoughts came to my mind. “Can he understand that we truly mean the promises we are making? How long will it take for him to trust that we are the forever deal?”

I thought that signing the papers felt big to me, but as I watched this brave, strong boy sign his own name as he agreed to enter a new strange life, I cried. I cried because of the hurdles had been crossed to make this possible. God had brought us together. I sniffled because a child should never have to sign this type of paper. My heart screamed at the idea of all that had happened before this day.

A child being without family is an injustice – everything that leads up to it should not be. But there is redemption. When I look at the smile on B’s face in this next photo….when we were holding the book that gives him our last name…it reminds me that there are second chances at love that only come about through grace.

A new beginning with three brothers and two sisters and some crazy white parents – that might just take any strong person down. But this guy entered our family and home with a quiet smile and a determination that puts me to shame.

We spent our first afternoon playing games and getting to know each other on these new terms we have agreed to. I am not sure what I expected, but for sure I didn’t think he would be laughing over Uno and Quick Cups. I never dreamed he would be calling us mom and dad. I never would have pictured him leaning in to tell his new sister a joke with a gleam in his eye.

We celebrated this new chapter in our lives at our favorite Chinese restaurant- Hot Pot. As a party of 8, we now fill a whole table by ourselves. I took it all in wanting to treasure the moment in my heart – all of us together.

As joyful as a new beginning can be, it also means an end. Our brave new son needed to say goodbye to the home he has known for the past nine years. The next day we walked the halls of the orphanage handing out small gifts trying to help B find a bit of closure.

The story I wish you all could hear and understand – it would be a story of the generosity and love that I witnessed as the children and nannies said goodbye. I wish I had a photo of the teen (who will never be adopted because he was not chosen before his 14 birthday) who pressed a few small bills of Chinese currency into the palm of B’s hand stating “Good luck in your new life.” I wish you could see the hat that another teen gave – a teen who B calls “big brother.” I can’t describe the tender moments of his teacher who cried as she hugged his neck. And for sure, I can’t even describe how wrecked my heart was by his nanny. She pulled me aside sobbing – “I will miss him. He has been like a friend. But I can’t tell you how happy I am that he is saved from a lifetime in the institution. Do you know how bad the place is where the 17 year old kids go?” She cried as she shook my hand saying, “Thank you for taking him.”

Over the past month, I have had a heightened awareness of joy and grief and how they go hand in hand. My heart has struggled to comprehend my deep grief as I said goodbye to my mom, but the sweet relief and joy I felt at knowing her struggle was over. I am over 40 and I can hardly handle the depths of those two emotions that stand side by side in my life.

As I look at my new son, I see the joy and the grief that co-exist. I understand it in a way I never did before. How hard it must be at 13 years old to say goodbye to all you have known, even when you understand something as good as a forever family is waiting for you.

Our first days together have been great. He is accepting us, trying all the crazy American food that I serve him, and learning all the rules to the games the kids pull out to teach him – but please do pray for him. Pray that he feels comfort and peace that go beyond his understanding. Pray he is able to experience new joy every morning. Also please pray for us – that God will guide us in knowing how to love and care for him well.

On Monday

On Monday I will become a mom again. Since this is my 6th time, you would think it would be old hat. But, there is something about it. By birth or by adoption when the time comes for a precious soul to be placed in your care, there is fear and trembling as well as joy and anticipation.

I will never forget walking the halls of the hospital in labor for Soccer Dude, our oldest. I knew my life was hours from changing. Then as I dressed him to take him out of that very same hospital two days later, I realized that I didn’t have a onesie to put on him under his perfect going home outfit. I wasn’t sure how to buckle the crazy car seat carrier thing. I looked at all the bags and stuff we had to carry to the car and panic started to set in. “I don’t know what I am doing?!” And I really doubted the sanity of the medical profession, “Do they really let me just walk out of the hospital with this kid?! Don’t they see how unqualified I am for this job as mom?!”

A hospital or a government office…the feeling is the same. We prepare for months for this (okay, a lot faster for this adoption! 14 weeks from start to finish. Our adoption agency is freak’n awesome and God has moved mountains!) We have done mounds of paperwork, I have clothes ready and a new set of bunk beds added to the boy’s room – but there is still part of my heart that is trembling.

The situation with this adoption is very unique. We know the teen that is joining our family since he lives at the orphanage in our city and attends the special education school where I am the art teacher. The orphanage gave us permission to be there when he was told that our family would be his new family. I was so super bummed to miss the meeting as I was in the States with my parents, but happily woke up in the middle of the night to FaceTime for a few moments. Isn’t technology awesome?

Hubby explained that we would like to be his new family. He gave him a photo of our crazy crew and introduced him to what his new life might be like. The news was shocking for sure – B sat and took it all in. He then smiled and said. “I agree.”

Our hearts were so full to hear those two simple words. He agrees to join us and become the newest Williams.

The few precious moments I had with Hubby and B on FaceTime were so good for my heart. I was able to tell him that I was sorry we couldn’t tell him earlier that we wanted him to be part of our family. He simply smiled and nodded.

As my knees quake in these last days before he comes home, I think back to that conversation. He smiled. He agrees. What a unique, special, ordained way to become mom.

You would think that a mom 6 times over would be filled with confidence, wisdom and strength….actually, the more I do this the more I see how inadequate I am for the task of shepherding these souls. The little things like forgetting to pack a onesie for the ride home from the hospital – HA! I know how much bigger the mistakes can get. But I also know who is in control and that His grace is the only thing that can guide me through the task of loving another person well.

Grace. That is what I am asking for in the coming weeks. Pray that God gives it to me in large doses. Pray that God gives it to our whole family in large doses. May this bend in the road of our family teach us to love more deeply and lean into his grace more fully.

Front row seat to a miracle

Who are we to be a part of this miraculous story?

We are beyond humbled and in absolute awe as we see how God is providing for Benjamin to join our family. What seemed impossible is possible. $20,000 came in to pay for this adoption in two short weeks. It is miraculous and we have a front row seat in watching this miracle unfold! Gifts from family who are being so supportive, friends who aren’t calling us crazy (but blessed!) and even gifts from strangers – God has planted the desire on so many hearts to help this teenager find family.

Thank you. I wish I had more eloquent words, because these two small words in no way can convey the deep gratitude of my heart. Your gifts….they have encouraged us. They are making the way possible. They are placing a boy in a family. One less orphan. They are blessing our family with the treasure of another soul, and they mean the difference between us being able to do this or not. Huge. Thank you.

The paperwork is going at lightning speed and the invoices are rolling in – every need has been met and every deadline crushed. All of our paperwork to adopt Benjamin is being authenticated this week and we hope to have it sent to China next week. (In adoption lingo: our dossier will be sent to the CCCWA and we hope to have a letter of approval soon after.) Everything is on track for our family to grow by one at the beginning of the year. 5 short long weeks.

In between mounds of paperwork and grant writing, we are preparing as much as possible. We swapped bedrooms. The girls are now in the smaller room and the boys are in a room that will hold two sets of bunk beds. (That is a reality I never dreamt for my family!) Little Man feels all grown up in the top bunk with Mo sleeping up under him. I look at the empty space under the other bunk and long for the day to have it filled by the newest Williams. I thought this journey – because it is going so fast – would be easier. The waiting has always been the hardest part for me. This adoption is being expedited – the wait is nothing in comparison, but there is just something about knowing your child is sleeping in an orphanage. I can’t wait for those days to be done.

We would appreciate your continued prayers over this next month. Pray that each step of this adoption is expedited and that we will have Benjamin home by mid-January. Pray for us as we continue to prepare…not just our home but our hearts. A big transition is ahead of us, and we know we will need all the grace and mercy God can provide . Benjamin also is facing unspeakable grief as he leaves one world behind and enters this new one. Pray for his heart – for comfort, healing, and peace.

I hesitate to even write this next part, because you have all been soooo generous, but a few people are still asking how to give and how to help us on this journey. We have been given a matching grant through Brittany’s Hope. They will match dollar to dollar every gift given towards our adoption up to $5,000 which means we will end up with $10,000. 100% of the gifts will go to our adoption as they have generous donors who cover all of their overhead expenses. So if you are still feeling led to financially help us bring Benjamin home, then a gift towards this matching grant would be greatly appreciated. You can give your tax deductible gift here。 You can also share about this opportunity by giving folks this link http://www.brittanyshope.org/seedling/williams With this grant we will be very close to being fully funded. Amazing!

Thanks again for following us on this journey. I hope our next update will be telling you that we have all of our paperwork approved and that we were able to tell Benjamin that he will be joining our family.