Monday, August 28, 2017

My third PITA-versary

I often find myself in a place of reflection on anniversaries. Today is no exception. August 28, 2017 marks three years since brain surgery. I am so glad I did not have a crystal ball four and a half years ago when I made the first appointment to find out why I was not feeling well. Hope is such a wonderful thing. Throughout this journey, I have consistently thought relief was just around the corner, 6-9months out. I can do that--I mean, women have been surviving crazy symptoms for centuries in 9 month segments, right?! Honestly, if pregnancy lasted 4.5 years, humans would be extinct by now. I love my kids as much as the next person, but I certainly would not have signed up for that more than once, if even at all.

As this anniversary approached, I spent a lot of time thinking about where I am now, what I have lost, what I have gained? Am I healthy now? What does healthy even mean to me? Finally, whether or not I can unpack my bags from this journey. Am I home?

I noticed that I was spending a lot of time focusing on what I had lost. On the surface, I had lost a lot. One of the most noticeable was that I can no longer sustain many forms of physical exercise. Most of the activities I used to engage in I cannot do: spin classes and long, hilly bike rides, TRX, weight lifting, and running. Prior to my illness, my nickname was the Energizer Bunny. Not only would I do these activities, but I would usually do 2-3 of these every day. I had so much cortisol in my body (unbeknownst to me), that I naturally did this to dump the excess. Since I can't sustain these workouts, I no longer enjoy teaching these kinds of fitness classes. I tried to teach them, but I realized it was a constant reminder of my limitations, which was not doing me any favors. Teaching classes was both a social outlet and a way to give back to the community, so I felt this loss on more than one level. I saw many of the people in my fitness classes several times a week for many years. I knew the little things going on in my students' lives and felt very fond of many of them. When I gave up teaching, most of these relationships understandably were lost. My students still needed to spend the time we spent together pursuing their fitness goals and I had little energy for social activities anyway.

Another activity that I enjoyed very much prior to my illness was making jewelry. Mental focus and energy levels were both affected by my illness, so sitting down to be creative was difficult to manage. I still had the skill required to make simple jewelry, however, those of you who know me well know that I was never good at assembly line jewelry making. It was the creative process that filled my bucket.

Relationally, the illness stole abilities from me as well. Prior to my surgery, I had so much cortisol that I was essentially experiencing 'roid rage. My girls and I referred to myself as the momster, which sadly, was pretty accurate. I actually hit my husband one day, which, thankfully, shocked both of us. Along with the anger, my memory was affected. I could no longer remember the little details in my loved ones' lives. I forgot entire conversations. I couldn't focus enough to problem solve. I had little energy to even listen--let alone get dolled up and go on a girls' night out or date night with Mike. Slowly, each of these issues has improved. Yes, they impacted many of my relationships--some even permanently. So, relationally, there have been losses, but is that the end of the story? Wouldn't I have had some losses relationally over the last 4.5 years anyway?

That led me to consider the changes in relationships. My kids--I realized that I was judging my current level of interaction with the level of interaction prior to my illness. My kids were 6 and 7 then. They were still in the stage where they needed near constant supervision and interaction from me. Now, we are at 11 and 12, in the stage where they are more independent, enjoying playing without my help (I can't say I miss pretend play with My Little Ponies). They want to know I am available, but don't want me constantly interacting. I think I can give myself a pass on that change as it would have happened, tumor or not! We are able to joke about the momster days, have begun to navigate pubertal changes with way less drama than I imagined and I am truly enjoying this phase of watching my girls grow up. This example really highlighted to me why we should pause and unpack the negative thoughts in our heads. Often when said out loud, things aren't as bad as you believe they are when they are bouncing around unchecked!

My friendships--Am I as good of a friend as I used to be? There is a reason that people say that you find out who your true friends are in times like these! I will admit that being a little hurt that some of my relationships didn't make it. A lot of that I put on myself, I just didn't have as much for other people, so I wasn't the kind of friend I used to be. Honestly, though, we all have needs that need to be met. I wasn't meeting them for others and the need to get them met just didn't go away for others. They still needed to get those needs met through other relationships. We all have only so much time and energy. Many people reached out in big ways in the beginning and cheered me on periodically on Facebook (which I really appreciated). However, I was sick and needy for A LONG TIME. I didn't always look sick and needy, but it was a long time of me sucking up others' resources without giving back. On the flip side, many of my friendships were strengthened during this time. I have some AMAZING girlfriends--ranging from 40+ years of friendship to about 4.5 years, or less. These women have carried me through this journey and I am so thankful to truly know that there are not limits to our friendships. I have noticed another positive aspect to fewer friendships, and that is that I spend more quality time with them because I am not spread so thin. Again, once I really unpacked the facts, it is allowing me to let go of the negativity surrounding these changes.

My marriage--honestly, we are the cliché. Stronger after the storm is an apt description of our marriage. I am going to be really real, it was rough at times, y'all! He was stressed and stretched by my inability to handle any of the load. He also lost his person. I was not the same. My heart was the same, but I was so deconstructed. All the "stuff" that we think makes us who we are was removed. I could not longer do anything for anyone else, I looked different, I acted different, my intelligence was affected, my self-confidence faltered. The upside of all of that is that I had to really look at who I was. Turns out, even without all of that "stuff", I still liked me. My heart is true. I no longer apologize for disappointing the masses. If I am not your cup of tea, that is fine--I can't be everyone's nor do I want to be! Now that I spend less of my energy on so many other people, I have more for my family. This has been a huge boon to our marriage! Another thing that truly helped our relationship was getting to the other side. I learned that when he said, "...through sickness and in health", he meant it. I am forever grateful. We went to therapy to keep our relationship strong. We talked about the tough stuff. We kept at it and we didn't lose hope that it would get better. Now, we truly appreciate how good life can be with less stress and we can trust the strength of our bond so much more after going through the storm.

My relationship with God--I have always considered God to be a big part of my life. My young life was on the mission field in Indonesia and after my dad died, my mom remarried a pastor. All three of my parents absolutely live(d) their lives relying on God. As many of you know, my life hasn't ever really been easy. I have a history that includes many trials and I have always been able to count on God to guide and heal my heart. He is always faithful. That being said, this journey and the failed adoption journey in the middle of it really challenged this relationship. Just as I had to lean on other relationships, I leaned on God hard. Our relationship got real. I yelled at Him, I begged for strength, and I asked others to join me in praying for healing. I was so vulnerable, and He was faithful. Now, we are on the cusp of adopting two wonderful kids from Colombia. Our three that we could not adopt are so close to being adopted by a family who better fits their needs. We have been able to maintain a close and loving relationship throughout the process. God has shown me yet again that He is good and He loves each of us so deeply. The intricacies of His plan through our adoption journey and the timing with my illness and my healing are so beautiful. Each of those details tell me how much He cares for me, my biological kids, the Ukrainian kids, and my future kids. I also know that I am no more special than you are. You have those same level of details in your life, as does every single person. That, is so cool.

Am I healthy now? Every time I go and see my endocrinologist, I hear more of the things I am at risk for. Early cataracts, greater chance of falling due to permanent muscle damage, greater chance of breaking bones if I do fall due to permanent bone density damage, higher cholesterol, risk of heart disease and diabetes due to my tumor, etc. Since I only have a portion of my pituitary, my thyroid doesn't get the signals it needs, so I am hypothyroid as well. I take a medication for my thyroid, which we are still tweaking to get the right dose. As someone who has always taken great care of my body, this can be depressing. However, now more than ever, I am taking care of myself. If I do not do self-care, I do not feel good. It is a non-negotiable at this point in my life. In order to thrive, I take a thyroid medication, go to acupuncture once a month (Amy Guinther is amazing), take supplements, get massages regularly, sleep 9-10 hours a night, avoid gluten, sugar and alcohol, and recently have added in daily yoga. For a long time, I fought having to do these things. I was annoyed I had to, they take so much time and I have so little energy. I wanted to put the energy into others, especially my family after so long of not being able to. Three years post-surgery and I have finally realized that I am thankful that I can do all these things. Thankful there are things I can do that help me feel healthy. When I do them, I actually have more energy to give to others. When I do them, I feel so much more like me. What a gift!

Speaking of yoga, I have finally found a form of exercise that I can sustain daily! Some days, it is just 10-15 minutes of gentle yoga and breathing, other days an hour of that, and then other days I can do a challenging flow class. I finally found a local studio that offers all of these types, Blue Soul Yoga in Waunakee. On the days that a class doesn't fit my schedule, I use my Yoga with Adrienne app. At the beginning of June, I set the goal of getting in 365 straight days of yoga. In the spirit of yoga, I do whatever my body needs that day. Twice in that time, I have missed a day. This matters not to me. Sometime in my lifetime, I will reach that goal. In the meantime, I am getting in more yoga than I was and I feel great. My flexibility is returning, my endurance is growing, my strength is improving (I even have baby arm muscles again!), my sleep is deeper, my pain level is decreasing, and my pant size is shrinking. I am also kinder to myself. If I would have realized the impact that a daily practice would have had on my healing (sorry I didn't listen, Katie. Genevieve, your encouragement to continue what I found in Mexico stayed with me.), I would have done this three years ago!!!

Other positives in my life following the removal of PITA (the nickname I gave my tumor)? It takes a lot to upset me these days. I let most of the little things go. I take things less personally. The drama factor in my life has greatly decreased (as long as you don't count my youngest in that equation). Focusing less on the unimportant distractions has allowed me to focus more on the big things. Deconstructing my concept of self and getting a second chance on life really led me to look at my purpose. Why am I still here? Am I wasting my time on earth? I have come to realize that for me it is relationships. It is giving love and often receiving it back. It is spending less time talking about making a difference and more time doing it. It is leaving this world better than it would have been without me. It is teaching my children to do the same. Once I am gone, there will be little physically lasting even a generation down the line. However, if I can teach my children to live their lives the same way, and they teach their children, etc. the ripple will be huge and unending. This desire led Mike and I to consider adoption. We will be leaving in about a month to make our family of 5 a family of 7. Luisa and Andres will be joining our family and I can't wait to see how much stronger each of us becomes after we adjust to the changes. It may be messy at times, but if I have learned anything, it is that life is a beautiful mess.

If you got to the end of this, congratulations on your excellent focus! As is usually the case, I write when the bouncing ideas in my brain get too loud. Putting the thoughts out here helps me gain perspective. Hopefully it gives you something to think about, too! As for am I finished with this chapter? Am I home? I am ready to stop seeing myself as ill? After really unpacking everything, I can say that I would not change this part of my life. Did I enjoy having my life upended? No. Not at all. However, I like who I am and where we are--I like where this journey has led us. I have learned to make the most of my new normal and embrace this stage. I am looking forward to using this new energy to expand and strengthen the bonds of our family. I am absolutely comfortable with me and my purpose as I walk this life. Yes, I am and home is a beautiful place to be.

My journey in photos.

Friday, November 11, 2016

My Heart Cry

Yesterday I had the first flashback I have had in over 20 years. Over 20 years ago, I took power back after my sexual assault. I went through extensive therapy, to fix and strengthen the broken parts of me. I relived my experience while giving my deposition to an unsympathetic and doubting man to help change the law in my state. I told my story to individuals in order to raise awareness for this injustice. Through the grace of God, support of others and inner strength I did not know I had, I even got to the point of forgiveness and a continued relationship with my abuser (this is not something I would advocate for in most circumstances). My healing journey brought me to the place where I could honestly say that while I would never want to relive my experience, I would not change it--for it shaped who I am, and I really like her. My point is that I have come to a place of healing that many in this situation will not reach.

Being that this is where I have been in my sexual assault journey for over 20 years, I was blind-sided by the flashback. It was just as real as if it had just occurred and left me shaken. I learned long ago that I cannot control these experiences, they come when they are triggered. They are a visceral reaction to my previous experiences and my current state. It does no good to try to suppress the flashback. Instead, I have learned that if I let it play out, give grace to that innocent girl, and give myself time to process it, I can find my balance again. It also helps to understand the trigger--what in my current life has set off this flashback?

This time, I realize, it is fear. Fear of not being heard and validated. Fear that the world is not safe. Fear that society does not stand with me, does not hear me, does not validate me. For me, my reaction to the election results is more than sadness at not winning. It is a lump in my gut that will not dissipate. It is fear. The victim of sexual assault in our country has the obligation to prove way beyond a shadow of doubt first that the assault even occurred, second that she did not agree, and third that she was completely innocent. Not just innocent of explicit consent, but every conceivable implicit consent (Was she wearing too short of a skirt? Was she possibly intoxicated? Did she walk into a dark alley after looking his way, thus implying she wanted it?). As we learned from the Stanford rape this year, she finally has to prove she is worth more than he is as a person for him to receive a punishment that affects him a fraction of how it will affect her. Here I am, 20 years and a lot of therapy and support out, more whole than many with similar experiences, brought to my knees with a vivid flashback. In public. In broad daylight. It doesn't really go away. Ever. When our country elected Trump, the message to this sexual assault victim was a solid stand with my perpetrator. That might not be what your vote meant to you, but it is what his victory told my soul. By voting in a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women, my country told me that behavior is okay. It tells him, it is okay. Voting him in to office has reinforced his behavior. This is the part I am struggling with. This is what has caused enough primal fear in me to trigger a flashback.

I can't pretend to know another's experience, but I wonder if this isn't the same fear sitting in the guts of minorities in our country? I have heard of multiple racist and sexist accounts against my friends' children. These have occurred in the days following the election. Voting for Trump, despite his hateful comments about minorities, women, and other so-called "lesser-thans" is viewed (by me, by Trump, and by many others out there) as approval for him and his behaviors. Conservative Christians and other really good hearted people out there, I get you. I grew up with you and I grew up as one of you. My life circumstances may not allow me to be you anymore, but I get and I love you--and I hear you. You wanted change that aligned with your values. You wanted change that heard your struggles. You don't agree with his hateful comments, and you may not even like him as a person--but you needed the change he promised to bring. The problem is, on the ballot there is only one box to mark. You don't get to mark yes for him, but no for the hatred he spews.

When I told my mom (who loves me very much and does not ever want to see me hurting) that I had had a flashback yesterday, she urged me to get therapy. She wanted me to find a way to fix myself so I could live successfully in this society. While I appreciate that this comes from a place of love and isn't a bad idea, what I hear is that I am broken. The reality is, my world is broken. When Trump's views on sexual assault became clear, I was still okay. Why? Because there was outrage. Society stood with me and all the other me's out there and said, "We will not stand for this! This is wrong!" His ratings dropped. I felt surrounded by support from the majority. However, when he won the election, the message to me was it is ok. It is ok that the man who will have the most powerful position in the world feels free to misuse his power against women. I wonder if people of color across our nation had the same reaction when he said hateful things about their race, when he incited others at rallies to show their hatred?

One thing that has been shown over and over in occasions of violence is that silence is the same as acceptance. The same. It sends the message of acceptance to the victim. It sends the same message to the perpetrator. This silence has to stop. The message has to change. The thing is, sexual assault happens to 1 in 4 women in college. Right now. Today, 1 in 4. Twenty-five percent of males are not causing all of this pain. In fact, the number of people causing the pain represents a very small percentage of those in our society. The same is true for those people doing overt racist acts. The problem is that a small percentage of people doing similar acts to multiple people makes this a very big problem. If our President does not see this as a problem, and in fact incites this very behavior, the problem will grow. We have learned from this election that racism is more rampant than we once knew. Those of us who come from a place of privilege don't experience it daily, so we were able to believe that it wasn't as bad as it is. Now we know. Our power doesn't stop with the ballot. We need to be very clear of our expectations for those we have placed in power.

Trump is here for the next four years. I accept that. We have had Presidents before and will have Presidents again that I don't align with. I accept that. However, we don't have to and should not accept his hateful comments. He needs to acknowledge the power his comments have as the President of the most powerful country in the world. He needs to acknowledge they were wrong and that those sentiments will not be tolerated in our country.

I don't feel safe--I don't feel that my daughters are being raised in a community that has their backs. I don't believe people of color feel safe. I don't believe the LGBTQ community feels safe. I don't feel people with disabilities feel safe. Everyone deserves to feel safe. If you believe that God calls you to take care of the "least of these" in society, or if you believe in taking care of them because you are just a good person, than please, stand with us. Hear us. Please don't discount us as just being emotional or "sore losers". Hear us and tell us you will keep us safe. An easy way to tell me you hear me and stand with me is to write letters to every person you have voted into a position of power. Tell them that you expect them to stand strong for the safety of all people in this country. If you voted Trump into office despite disagreeing with his stance on humanity, make that very clear to him. If you need a template for your letter to get you started, let me know. As parents, we don't make our children guess our expectations. Instead, we clearly state them ahead of time so they have a chance to meet those expectations. We, the people, are now Trump's boss and we need to make sure he understands our expectations prior to his inauguration. Another way is to share this perspective with your friends and ask them to join you in setting expectations. Remember, Trump ran on the platform of being different than the establishment. Therefore, we can not expect him to follow the implied rules of the previous establishment. We cannot sit back and hope and pray that he will be for all people. Also, if you see people peacefully protesting, listen to them and stand with them. Obviously, your experience is quite different from theirs or you would be standing there with them. Find out what it means for them. Chances are, they aren't wasting their time, standing, marching, holding up a sign and chanting until they are hoarse because they didn't have anything better to do. It is because they have been hurt or they see hurt and need change and healing.

This blog post is for every woman who has experienced sexual assault. If this election has had this affect on me, what is it like for those women who are just beginning their journey to healing? I have put in a lot of work towards building a strong self, taking back the power that was ripped from me so long ago. Writing this blog required me to be very vulnerable. To take down the walls of strength I so purposefully constructed. If you are feeling inclined to take action steps to stand with me, please leave a comment and let me know how you have made an effort to make this country a safe place for all people. I still believe that love is more powerful than hate, and that together we can make influence the outcome. Thank you for taking the time to hear my heart cry.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The million dollar question

Photo taken by A Mother's Art Photography

How are we doing? That is a really good question. 

In the weeks that followed our decision not to adopt K, S and A from Ukraine, we really struggled. My health tanked following the kids departure. My cortisol levels dropped to a subclinical level. The last time my cortisol was that low, I was taking supplemental cortisol to keep me functional. Chronic fatigue and pain became a part of my days again. I chose not to start the supplements again because I did not want to have to re-wean off of them. We figured it was a temporary setback due to stress, so Mike stepped back into his caretaker roll as I have been pretty useless. I am not sure how we would function without that man! On top of my health, the girls began to struggle at school and at home. This was their biggest experience with loss to date. We had to put some extra supports in at school and muster up extra patience and grace at home. Thankfully, they have some very understanding teachers with really big hearts! It really felt like all of the work we have put in the last several years to help the twins do well at school despite their issues was coming unraveled. We started to question why we had chosen to rock our seemingly stable boat to pursue this adoption! We wondered whether all this effort had been for nothing. 

It took us about two weeks to get in touch with the kids in Ukraine. It was torture waiting to tell them. We felt honesty was the best tactic since we truly wanted to continue being a positive relationship in their lives. If we were not honest, how could they trust us going forward? We also wanted to be very careful not to make any more promises we could not follow through on. We cannot let them down again! They took the news so much better than we thought they would. Our worst fear was that they would be angry with us and not want anything to do with us. All of us cried on the phone as we shared our hearts. There may come a day that they are angry as they also grieve this loss of a dream. If that happens, we will work through that as well. Since our first phone call, we have been able to talk weekly. It has been so good for our souls to hear their voices and know that they are doing well. 
photo taken by A Mother's Art Photography

In the time that has passed, K and S got to take a 19 hour train ride to meet the President of Ukraine. How exciting is that?! They got to take some tours of Kiev, eat a very nice lunch and talk with the President before returning to their orphanage. They have shared how well school is going (K says the boys are working hard in school for the first time. She says they are starting to learn to read!), new soccer skills they are achieving and much more. They also shared that the boys have asked K to read them the bedtime story we read nightly, as well as singing their song to them (we had a personalized song we sang for each child at tuck-in). It has been so encouraging for us to see that our time together did make a difference for these kids! All of the love that we (and many of you) shared with these kids seeped into their hearts and minds. The English lessons that we are still able to provide for these kids continue to show them that they have worth, that their learning matters to someone in this world. It gives the boys time to spend together three times a week (without this, the boys rarely see each other in their large orphanage), which reinforces the bonds they have built during previous hosting experiences. English lessons give them time with an adult who cares. Their tutor spends time with just the boys two days a week and all three of the kids a third day (K gets English class in school, unlike the boys). This time with a safe and caring adult is a rare luxury in an orphanage environment. K tells us they really enjoy their tutor. I know their life over there is still hard. We still pray nightly that they will be adopted by a family better suited for their needs. However, hearing the smiles over the phone and their excitement about certain aspects of their lives makes a world of difference for our hearts. 

So, how are we doing? We are doing much better. We are settling back into being a family of five. We are getting used to the quiet again. We are slowly making our house 'ours' again and not 'ours and theirs.' We are recognizing that our family is not yet ready to make such huge changes. We need more time for my body to heal. My body cannot yet handle the increased load adoption would bring to our family. This is a hard pill for me to swallow. If you know me at all, you know that 'you can't make this work' was never part of my vocabulary prior to my illness. Being still (Psalm 46:10) is not something that is easy for me. I want to help God move the mountains. I need to learn to wait for Him to move
photo taken by Rose Davidson
the mountains, make the path, and illuminate the way. Our hearts are still with these kids and the millions like them. We still hope and pray to be used by God to help children who are hurting. While we wait for our opportunity, we will continue to make

health--both mine and our family's emotional health--stronger to prepare for future opportunities.

Thank you to all who have loved us through this loss in our lives. We have really appreciated all of the support during this time.

P.S. I have been reading the book, Kisses from Katie, to the girls in the evenings. What an amazing impact this book has had on all of us. The conversations we are having about the world outside of our safe comfortable bubble are fantastic! Either the girls are being kinder to each other, or I am noticing it more when they are (or both). If you are feeling like you can't possibly make a dent in the world's problems, you really should read this book. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

When there are no good answers

I know I really need to blog when I don't know where or how to start. As many of you know, we just spent a month hosting three kids from Ukraine. That is a month that I will not ever forget. Our hearts were stretched way more than we thought possible. We had so much support from our little community (and even from our further away heart community). You guys allowed us to do the day in and day out loving and nurturing for these three precious kids. I wish this blog could be about all of the little ways we, our girls, and these three felt the love of all of you. How they felt worth. It was amazing. I also wish this blog could be about the million funny, beautiful and heart-wrenching moments we experienced in the last month. It was, hands down, the most alive month of my life. I am sure we will be processing and savoring many of the experiences far, far down the road. 

Since this blog can't be about those other topics, I should probably get on with it. I just really don't know how to. Here goes--if you have ever read my blog posts before, you know I don't know any other way than to be raw and real. Grab the tissues or close the screen now. 

When we started experiencing delays in the adoption, we decided to host the kids while we waited. It was another big expenditure (which many of you helped fund), but we wanted to all be together for Christmas--shoot, we wanted to all be together, period. We also, through the desire for more education on adoption, had become more acutely aware of some of the unsuccessful adoptions out there. Pair those stories of caution with my degrees in psychology and we thought hosting would help us put our worries aside as we moved forward. Our thought was that if we provided a very structured, consistent and calm home for a month--one that gave a very realistic representation of our life--we might either see that it clearly wouldn't work, or we would see signs that it would. We were very realistic going in, as we did not expect to resolve any of the deep wounds these kids carry in a month of hosting. We were hopeful for small signs of progress, but more than that, we were hoping for no signs of brokenness that we couldn't help them overcome. You have to know that we expected wounds, we expected one to two years of unrelenting hard work followed by many more of being selfless for these kids. We prepared our three here for many ugly possibilities, including how to handle abuse. We expected deficits--in learning, in life experiences, in accepting love. We were not afraid of what was required of us on this journey. Let me be very clear here, we fully intended to adopt these kids. We were "all in". They were, in our hearts, already our kids. They had been hosted three times as a unit and a few times individually. All families had fallen in love with these kids and felt they were adoptable for a family. We did not expect to find anything that would keep us from adopting, but needed, for the sake of our family, to not be afraid to pull out if we could not ensure safety. 

We were fully committed for the entire month. One of my biggest regrets is that we didn't see it earlier so that we could explain, in person, to the kids why we can't adopt. I did not see the most disturbing behavior until we were staying in the hotel in Texas the night before they flew back to Ukraine. At that point, I was so exhausted that I couldn't even process what I saw. I was so concerned with meeting their emotional needs as they left for Ukraine that mine were on hold. When I returned to Wisconsin and began to talk through my unease with Mike, the behavioral patterns became more clear. I also reached out to two different psychologists, not to rely fully on my own training since I was so emotionally attached. I then reached out to our adoption director for her input. We spent several days in prayer and have leaned on the wisest people in our lives. There has not been one person who has not understood and encouraged us to heed the warning. The psychologists and our adoption director all strongly advised us to stop the adoption proceedings based on the behavior we described.  Despite this, I have spent the last few days trying to talk myself out of the decision. Trying to figure out a way to make it work without jeopardizing the safety of our family.  
As I type this, I feel like I am trying my best to explain my heart so there isn't judgment, rather than convey what really matters. What does matter is that there are three kids out there that we promised the world to and we can't deliver. Three kids who are so broken and hurt, through no fault of their own and we can't fix it or even hold them close while they hurt. We can't prevent a world full of future hurt. They are in a situation that sets them up for failure and we can't remove them from it. Two of the three are so ready and open for a family and Ukraine won't split siblings for adoption (not that they would agree if we could). Two of the three have so much potential for amazing things and we can't help them reach that potential. The third has so many things going against him. They are all unfair and out of his control. They are all possibly workable except that he has so much pain that he wants to make others hurt like he does. This is the part that breaks my heart the most. It comes from a place of so much pain, I don't want to give up on him. Realistically, though, we can't be what he needs while at the same protecting the other 5--let alone having anything left to provide for the others' needs. His best chance would be a loving home with no other children. 

We have really struggled with the whys. Why did God bring them into our life? Why did we feel led to tell them we were adopting them? Why did our lives seem so destined to be led out together? Why didn't God give us a "no" before when it would be less painful? I still don't have the answers, and I won't pretend to. I may never have the answers. My friend, Christa shared this song with me the other day. You know how I lean on songs for prayer and focus., well this one is perfect for me right now. Maybe it will be helpful for you, too. The song is "Trust in You" by Lauren Daigle. I don't know why I am always amazed by the intricacies in God's plans, yet am thrown for a loop every time when they don't go the way I envision. Even though I know His plans are always good, I struggle with letting go of my ideas. As she asks in her song, how do we go on when He doesn't move those mountains we want moved? 

Here is what I do know and trust. I have never met a person with faith like K's. She is 14 and is amazing. The stories she shared with me are incredible. God has been constant in her life--very present, guiding and protecting her (and in doing so,  also protecting her brothers) in palpable ways. He has a plan for this child, that is way bigger than mine. We were clearly led to be a part of her plan, just not in the way we thought we were. He has not led her this far to hurt her and walk away. Please continue to pray for these kids. Their story thus far is full of heartbreak. It has also been so touched by love. Everyone I know who has touched their lives has fallen in love. The love they felt from our community was not in vain. It is one more positive experience to shore up against the negative. They know there is good in this world--they felt it with every meal, every gift, every experience they had while they were here. We will continue to support and love them in whatever ways they accept. Even if they are too hurt to accept our presence in their life, we will understand that and continue to pray for them. We cannot stop loving them; we don't know how to. Despite the hurt, we wouldn't want to, even if we could. 
   I also know and trust that God has a plan for our family that is equally big. He has    
   opened our eyes and our hearts in a way that cannot be shut. We are not going to rush 
   into anything. We need to take some time to grieve this loss and wait to be led. Trying 
   to control or influence God's plan has never worked out well for anyone.  
This is the hardest post I have ever written. Our family is devastated. Our house now feels like their house. It is full of memories from last month. We are raw. We are trying to attend to the grief of our girls, but struggling because we have so little left to give. Last month, while amazing, took a lot out of us. It was exhausting. Instead of taking a breath and looking forward to their return, we are grieving the loss of our family of 8. Watching the pain of our three here is so difficult. I wish I could take it away, and yet I know in the long term it will be one of the things that teaches them to cope with future loss. It doesn't make it easier. Then my heart travels across the ocean to my other three hearts. I cannot hold them as they cry. I cannot answer when they ask, "Why?" All I can do is pray that God scoops them up in His huge and capable hands and wraps them with His love. I can't help but also pray that He gets on with the amazing part of His plan for them sooner rather than later. 
   One more thing, we know that many of you have invested financially in us adopting 
   these kids. The adoption site that we used will only reimburse us for actual expenses we 
   have (we send receipts). The majority of the money covered the cost of hosting the kids
   last month as well as upfront costs of adoption (home study, etc). If we adopt in the 
   future, we will have a head start with our home study complete already. All money left
   in the adoption fund will be dispersed to other families that did not raise enough to
   cover their adoption expenses. Therefore, all money donated has or will go toward the 
   care of orphans. That being said, if any of you would like to be reimbursed, please let
   us know. We don't want there to be any animosity about money. You can also rest 
   assured that what you donated helped bring the kids here and gave them a month with 
   a family that truly cares about them and will look out for them in the future. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

I am blown away

We were able to arrange English tutoring for the boys.
As most of you know, adoption is very expensive. It doesn't make sense to most of us, there are kids who need families and families who want them. They cost governments money to keep them longer. But, I digress. The bottom line is that everything about this is expensive, and I am not in charge. The other issue is that adoption wasn't on our radar. We did have some money saved up that we have now earmarked for the adoption and we are prepared to do whatever it takes to bring them home, but the cost is staggering! Even though I trust that this is not our plan, and God has this all figured out, I still wish I knew all the details.

We had decided to host the kids for a month over Christmas, since the adoption was taking longer than originally thought. Orphanages in Ukraine close for the holidays to give the workers vacation. This means that the orphans are sent off to camps. We did not want our kids sent off to camp, we wanted them here, with us. Safe, warm and well-fed for the holidays. So, when the opportunity to host became available, we decided we would move forward in faith with our "yes". I was doing really well with this faith move as I filled out all the paperwork and did the additional training. My faith lasted, until it was time to send the check and buy the plane tickets. It costs $2900 per child to host for Christmas. This gets them as far as Dallas, Texas. One of us needs to go to Texas to get the children, bring them home and then return them again in January. Texas is far and weather is dicey in December and January, so driving was ruled out. That means 5 round-trip tickets to Texas, and $8700 to host. This is on top of the cost of adoption. 

I wish I could say I didn't, but I spent most of two days worrying a whole lot more than praying. During this time, I found and reserved surprisingly affordable non-stop flights from Madison to Dallas. Yet, I still worried. Reasonable flights still add up when you need 5 of them. My worrying wasn't entirely over financial needs. Even though my health is greatly improved, I was concerned I wouldn't be up for this challenge. Mike was scheduled to work a 12 hour shift on the 18th of December, so it would be me traveling all day to get the kids on the 17th. I would need to arrive at the airport around 6am and would not get back to Madison airport until 11:30pm. Then, I would be alone the following day with 6 kids, three of whom would be jet-lagged, while Mike worked. This would have seemed daunting before my illness, let alone now. Post-tumor Natasha requires about 10 hours of sleep a night to be my best self. How would this all work out? 

After two days of trying to figure this all out with human limitations, I threw my hands up and got real with God again. 
N: Ok, God, I am writing the check today. I still don't know how we are going to do all of this. If you want us to do this, you are going to have to provide the means. I don't have enough money, energy or help to pull this one off. If the answer should be "no" because of these things, you have to be clear because I am not getting it. I am writing the checks now, mailing them and then I will buy the plane tickets. None of this is refundable, God. Thanks.
G: silence
Then, I wrote the checks and mailed them. This was super, duper hard for me. 

Natalie, my sister, suggested that I post my worry and let people know the costs, both material and physical that we were facing. She also let me know that my family had been talking behind my back. They had all (my parents, siblings and nieces and nephews) decided to forego exchanging gifts this Christmas. Instead, they would donate the money they had planned to spend to our adoption and hosting expenses. I was floored. As their donations started coming in, so did many of yours. For the next three days, I was getting steady emails notifying me of donations. At one point, all emails on my screen were donations! By the end of 36 hours, enough people had joined us in this journey financially that the hosting and plane ticket costs were covered. Whoa!

Also during this time, my mom called and told me she wanted to buy a ticket and meet me at the Dallas airport. She would hang out with the kids and I and then fly home after we were Madison-bound. What a relief, one more hurdle covered. My uncle called me about an hour later and said he wanted to drive to Texas from Kansas and do the same. Super cool. Then, a little while later, Mike told me that one of his partners wanted to change shifts with him, allowing him to be home the first day the kids are home. I only had one more concern and that was the return trip to Texas. I had been informed that we needed to be there the night before their flight home. This meant I would have to fly the kids to Texas on the 14th, get a hotel, entertain them all day at the hotel and then the airport until their flight to Ukraine at 4:15pm on the 15th, then fly home myself. I knew I would be drained both emotionally and physically by this trip, and then fly home alone--knowing I had just put my kids on a  plane back to a less than ideal situation. You will never guess what happened next, a friend offered to buy her own flight and join me on the return trip. Just like that, every single seemingly unsurmountable wall crumbled! 

The boys' room, with donated beds & bedding.
This month, our family has been doing at least one Lutes Love Moment per day. A random act of kindness to brighten the world. We feel so blessed and loved and want to give others a reason to be thankful this month. Every day, no matter what act we carry out, big or small, we are out-blessed. Every single day, we are blown away by how much so many people are helping our family help these kids. We have had work days at our house to get it ready for three more people, we have had beds, clothes, toys donated. We have had people praying for us. We have had people completing paperwork requirements for us. We have had people printing out the mountains of paperwork required since our printer broke and it has been a ridiculous journey to remedy this. We have had people think of ways to be helpful that we hadn't even thought of. So, so much to be thankful for this year. 

I would like to say that I will do better on my next faith challenge. It is so much easier when it is far in the future or I have a backup plan. Why is it so hard to let go and trust?! Yet, when I finally do, I love the details He has planned for us. The plan is so much bigger and grander than I would have imagined. Just, wow!

If you are reading this and would like to help us cover the costs of adopting these amazing kids, here is the link to our fundraising page. All donations are tax-deductible, and grants cannot exceed actual costs for adopting. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

I Know What Joy Sounds Like

Happy Birthday, S (clearly first thing in the morning)!
Two days ago, S, our oldest son, celebrated his 12th birthday. He celebrated in Ukraine, a world away from his awaiting family. Today, K, our oldest daughter celebrates her 14th birthday. It is really tough to be so far away, but that ache seems amplified on the big days. 

Happy Birthday, K (M had to leave early for work)!
Lucky for us, God hears our cries. Do you remember the lady I told you about who is adopting her son from the same orphanage? Her name is Carla. Well, not only did she deliver the necklaces and letter for us, but she did a few other lovely things for our kids (and us). First of all, she offered to shop for a phone for our kids while she was in Ukraine. Apparently, phones are quite a bit cheaper outside of the US. Carla was able to get a great deal on the phone, so she had a bit of money left over. When she found out it was S's birthday, she went shopping again and bought some legos for our boy. Shortly after delivering S's gift, she discovered K's birthday was today. Carla went out again and shopped for K for us. When she finished, K even had cake! I can't even begin to express my gratitude. A woman who was a stranger to me a few weeks ago, has such love for orphans-- especially my three orphans--that she is happily making trips to and from stores in multiple towns to help me deliver my love across the world. Wow!

So, back to that really big gift (as if the others were small potatoes). This morning, when my caller id showed a few extra numbers, I got chills. Yep, I got a call from Ukraine. I could actually hear the joy in these kids' voices. Artem was sick today (in the infirmary), but I was able to speak with S and K. I loved hearing their sweet voices mixing with mine. We were able to talk for a few minutes before the phone needed to be charged, and made plans to talk again. So, so good!

My high school counselor was amazing. Every time he called (even into my adulthood), he would comment at least once in the conversation that he could hear my smile coming through the phone lines. Today, I understand that even more. He was absolutely right, you CAN hear smiles! What a gift.

As I go through my day reflecting on this, I am so inspired to look harder for little ways that I can spread joy in this world. Ways that I can love others selflessly, just as I have received. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

It takes a village

So many of you have been asking, "How can we help?" We have been overwhelmed by the willingness to support us on this journey. Adoption is not for everyone. Maybe you, like my previous self, feel the call of the orphans tugging on your hearts but know it isn't right for your current situation. Maybe you, like my previous self, cry over every picture and video depicting kids who need a home. Maybe you, like my previous self, want to be a part of changing the lives of others through supporting those who adopt. If that is you, we have come up with many ways we could use your help. 

First of all, the biggest way and the way so many of you are already helping, is by praying for us and for all 6 of our kids. We are going to need all of your prayers to get them here and then for the unseeable future as we assimilate them into our home and ourselves into their lives. We will fall short; we won't be enough; we will need His help and guidance and strength. Please keep lifting us up! 

Secondly, we would love your gently used clothing, sports equipment or toys that you are done with. We have nothing for boys. We will need everyday clothing as well as winter clothing. Our current family has very little use for balls, bats, cleats, rackets - you get the idea. The A team kids (Mike came up with this term as a non-derogatory way of differentiating between our kids: A team--kids given to us through adoption and B team--kids given to us biologically) are ALL about sports. We have already been given bunk beds and bedding, perfect for the boys! If you have things you are ready to part with, we will happily take them now so you don't have to store them. As of this last summer, K (age 14, female) wears size 10-12 and some size 14, size 7 women's shoes. S (age 12, male) wore size 10, size 7 men's shoes. A (age 9, male) wore size 5-6, size 11 or 12 shoes. Anything that doesn't work for us, we will pass on to others who are in need.

Another way: meals. It is going to be challenging when they arrive here. I will just go ahead and predict it as total chaos. On top of that, I would guess we will be going through the groceries like crazy. When they stayed with their host family this summer, they were smaller than they had been the summer before. There just isn't enough food to support their bodies in the orphanage, so they were eating everything in sight. The amount of fruit, bread and milk the host family was flying through was mind boggling. Healthy meals and/or staples will be awesome when we get them here. 

Fourth, your time and attention. The A team has not experienced a lifetime of love and attention. They are coming to us with a huge deficit. They will need more than normal amounts of our time, attention and affection. The B team is used to our time, attention and affection. They are going to experience a reduction in what we have to give. At first, the A team will need to bond to us well before they bond to others. During that time, we would love to have people committed to giving the B team some extra time and attention. Take them for a walk, have them over to play with your kids, take them for ice-cream, listen to their stories. Also, once bonded with us, B team will need more than Mike and I alone can give. I know from experience that having adults outside of your primary family pour into you can make a huge difference. Also, they will have communication difficulties due to learning English and feel out of sorts in America until they assimilate. Again, take one or more for a walk, to a movie, go to their athletic events, chat with them, encourage your children to look out for and include them. This is one of those areas where it will take a village. I am so thankful for ours!

Finally, we have set up a fundraising site, which offers a tax deductible way for you to donate. The site dictates that we cannot raise more than the cost of the adoption and must submit receipts for our adoption expenses in order to receive our grant.  Every donation will go directly and only to our adoption. Let me be really clear here: we are prepared to do whatever it takes to pay for this on our own. If you are finding it difficult to meet your own needs, this is not where we want you to partner with us! If you, like my former self, want to help financially, here is the link: expansion. There will be so many additional expenses once we get them here (larger vehicle, food, clothing, therapy, tutoring, college, etc), that we appreciate financial help as well, so that we can focus our resources on creating a happy, nurturing home for them once they arrive.

Oh, and one more thing--feel free to use social media for good by sharing our link and this blog. Thanks so much, everyone!