Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Erdner Family

 



The Christmas season crept up on us this year as we were traveling for Thanksgiving. Before I knew it, we were putting up lights and scrambling to find a day when all the older kids could make the annual Erdner family Christmas tree hunt. Now, here we are, just a few days before Christmas.  The house is decorated, lights are up, and we are in full swing with our Advent traditions.  As a family, we love to celebrate whenever there is even a small reason for celebrating, so at Christmastime, we really love doing all of the special things together as we focus on the miracle of Jesus Christ coming to earth as a baby who would grow up, suffer and die for our sins.

Now that we are a family of 15, it is going to be rather difficult to keep this annual update short, but I will certainly try!

Abby turned 20 in June, and is in her 3rd year of college as a nursing student.  She will graduate this May, one year early, and we just found out that she has a job as an ICU nurse after graduation!!  She applied for a special program in which a nursing student gets extra hours in their desired unit during their final semester, thus gaining valuable extra experience.  Not only that, but a student in this program gets paid for the extra hours AND they are offered a job upon graduation.  Abby has maintained an excellent grade point average throughout her time in college and in the nursing program.  This fall, she tutored first year nursing students, and she has been working part-time in the PACU at St. David’s in Southwest Austin.  We couldn’t be more proud of our firstborn, and the amazing, godly, compassionate, personable, fun-loving young woman she has become.  We look forward to seeing all that the future holds for our sweet Abby.

Datiya turned 19 in October.  What an amazing senior year she had, full of accomplishments, including placing 4th in debate with her Team Policy partner at the NCFCA National Championship in June.  She graduated from high school, ready to take on the world!  Datiya was accepted into a competitive vet tech program in which she is one of 12 students.  When she graduates, she will be trained to help care for every animal imaginable.  I compare her to a nurse, except for animals.  It’s funny how similar all of the knowledge she has to master is to what Abby is learning as a nursing student, except that it applies to animals instead of humans.  Datiya has proven to be able to balance school, work, and life, earning straight A’s her first semester.  Datiya made the wise decision to save money and live at home in an apartment we finished out above our garage.  We bought a cute little Toyota Corolla for her to commute in, and she has a pretty sweet setup.  We are very proud of how well Datiya is doing.  She is witty, beautiful, intelligent, hard-working, and a very loyal, faithful friend.  We are pleased with the young woman God is growing her to be.

David is 17 as of May and in his senior year of high school.  The one thing about having lots of kids so close in age is that when they start to grow up, it is quite a whirlwind.  I can’t believe we will have another high school graduate this May.  It’s a bittersweet time of life watching all of my babies grow up.  David is such a great young man.  He is easy-going, very smart (especially when it comes to math), confident, athletic, and mature.  David did very well last speech and debate season, making it to Nationals in Duo, Apologetics and Team Policy Debate.  He and his partner (same partner for both Duo and Debate) placed 17th in the nation in debate and they made it to quarterfinals in Duo.  David is taking most of his classes at ACC this year, getting dual credit so he can hopefully finish college early.  His college applications are in, and we are waiting to hear back and see where he gets accepted.  David is working at Burgerfi, playing on the Lonestar Elite Classic National League soccer team, and also is on the Mock Trial Team at One Day Academy.  He is an attorney on both sides for Mock Trial, and we are looking forward to seeing how the team performs at the upcoming competitions.  In addition, David will be debating with Nina this year as well as competing in speech.  His senior year is flying by, and soon he will be onto the next stage of life.  We are so proud of David, and what an all-around great young man he is.  It will be exciting to see where God takes him in the next few years.

Nina just turned 16 in December and got her driver’s license on her birthday.   This girl is seriously growing up way too fast! Nina started taking dual credit classes at ACC in the fall, and is signed up for more for next semester.  She is also taking Chemistry at One Day Academy and is an intern for the Biology class (meaning, she helps grade and do other things to help the teacher).  She has really enjoyed the review of Biology this year.  Nina is very interested in becoming a doctor, and she is planning her courses accordingly.  She started ACC a year earlier than the older three, and she is very ambitious, conscientious, earning A’s in both college level classes as well as all her other classes.  Last debate season, Nina did very well,  making it to Regionals in Lincoln Douglas debate, as well as 5 speech events, making her an ironman (making it to Regionals in debate as well as at least 5 speech events).  Nina won 1st place in Illustrated Oratory at Regionals, and made it to nationals in that event as well as Persuasive speaking.  She is looking forward to this year debating with David.  Nina has been working out with me for about a year–we go to Body Pump weight training classes together at the YMCA.  Lately, we have been training for a half marathon.  We finished a 10 mile run this past weekend, and will run in the 3M Half Marathon in Austin near the end of January.  I love spending so much time with Nina, and we have become very close lately.  One more exciting accomplishment for Nina is that she made it onto the Hays County Queen’s Court in 4-H!  She is very excited for the opportunity to serve in this way this year. So far, she has been in two parades with the Queen’s Court, and is getting very good at smiling and waving.  This beautiful, spunky young lady has a lot going for her, and we are so thankful she is in our family.

Enoch turned 14 in July, and he is a very strong kid who knows how to go for what he wants in life.  He is outgoing and fun, with many friends.  Enoch loves to meet new people, and he is very good at making people feel comfortable and at home. He easily makes friends everywhere he goes.  Enoch is in 8th grade, and is taking a few classes at One Day Academy for the first time.  He has a lot of work to keep up with, and he is doing a very good job so far.  Enoch is doing all of this while still playing soccer, doing martial arts, and getting ready for the coming speech and debate season.  Last season, Enoch and Nina made it to Regionals with their very funny Duo interpretation.  Enoch will be competing in Lincoln Douglas this year for debate, and he is preparing a duo with a friend in Houston!  That makes things a bit challenging for practices, but so far it has been fun, and we are hoping they will do well.  Enoch hit a major growth spurt recently, and he is rapidly outgrowing all of his clothes.  His voice is getting deeper, and he is looking less like a little boy and more like a young man.  Enoch makes life fun and interesting, and we are blessed to have him in our family.

Haddie is 13 as we adjusted her age to give her a boost as she is severely delayed and can use a little extra time to “catch up.”  Haddie remains happy and smiley, basking in the love of her large family, full of brothers and sisters.  We thought about enrolling Haddie in school this year, but have decided to keep her home as she is eager to learn from me, and we feel the environment she has at home is the best for her specific issues.  Haddie is struggling to learn English, and still has a very limited vocabulary.  It seems like she can’t very easily retain information, and she even has trouble identifying numbers and counting in Chinese.  She is somewhat of a mystery, as she can remember some things well, but overall, the process of learning English and seemingly everything else has been painfully slow for her.  We have her in speech therapy, and the therapist wants us to focus on receptive vocabulary for now.  She can’t recall very many things to spontaneously say them verbally, and we are hoping her ability to speak on her own will come in time.  We are trying to set realistic goals for her, and I’m working on getting some more evaluations for her, so we can better understand what her limitations are and what we can do to help her reach her full potential.  The good news is that she is very eager to do her school and will work hard every day.  Most importantly, Haddie has a family that loves and accepts her just the way God made her, and we are so thankful to see the joy she gets from being a part of our big, crazy family.

Lillah will be 13 in April, and she is growing a lot.  She is almost as tall as I am, and she will outgrow me soon.  Lillah loves animals, especially horses, and she is now taking riding lessons once per week, to her delight.  Lillah loves living on the farm, and she is the main caretaker of the livestock these days.  She is still dancing at a wonderful little dance studio, and she can be seen dancing around the house when she is not reading a book.  Lillah is very well-known by the librarians at our library, and she is pretty convinced that she has read every book they have (not quite, I think).  This will be Lillah’s first year competing as a senior in speech.  She is relieved that she is off the hook for debate this year.  Lillah is growing into a sweet young lady, helpful and thoughtful.  The vote is still unanimous among her family members that the word that best defines her is “sweet,” and we are delighted with the young lady she is becoming.

Eden is 14, but we are changing her age to 12 to give her a little boost due to her developmental delay.  She is a sweet, happy girl, and she is thriving in our family.  Eden loves to please, so she is quick to say, “Yes ma’am” and do whatever is asked of her.  She will help with dishes, watching Tovi, and cleaning her room.  Eden very eagerly does her school, and she is getting a more solid grasp on her ABC’s and pre-reading learning.  She is working steadily through her Kindergarten Math book, and she is getting more proficient with writing, cutting, and other fine-motor skills which were not well-developed when she came home from China.  We were able to get Eden into speech therapy, occupational therapy, and she will begin physical therapy to help make her stronger as she deals with severe scoliosis and hip dysplasia.  It is so wonderful to see Eden understanding that she belongs in our family and that we are hers forever.  She has a quick laugh, and is always happy for everyone who does something well or gets something good.  Eden is social, and really enjoys it when we have friends over to our house.  She is slowly learning to play, but she will still check in with me every few minutes.  The biggest area of growth for Eden has definitely been her security in knowing and trusting that we are not going to abandon her.  She used to cry and freak out if I had to leave her, and now, while she will definitely want to know when I will be back, she will just say, “Bye, Mom!” when I leave instead of breaking down in tears.  It is such a blessing to be this precious little girl’s mama.

Simeon turned 10 in June, and continues to be a super-sweet, thoughtful boy.  He is also a brilliant little student, who loves to learn new things.  He will check out fun books at the library as well as books about subjects about which he wants to learn.  I’ve called him my little scholar for a long time, and that description still fits him well.  Simeon is also super athletic, and enjoys playing soccer and doing martial arts.  He just earned his Dahn Bo Nym belt, which means he is now a candidate for black belt (it will be another two years or so of training before he earns his black belt).  Simeon is a self-taught gymnast, and he is actually quite talented at gymnastics.  During our sabbatical this past summer, he did a back flip in front of all the landmarks we visited.  He had an audience for his acrobatics everywhere we went, and even got a couple of tips in New York City! He is thinking about taking gymnastics classes and maybe joining a competitive team someday. Last year, Simeon traveled to every speech and debate tournament with me and the older kids, and he timed every round possible at every tournament.  At Nationals, he timed something like 20 rounds total!  I got many compliments from people who judged with him as their timer, about how mature and articulate he is, and what a nice young man.  He is a remarkable little boy, and a blessing to us all.

Jed turned 8 in September, and is a spunky little guy, full of tons of energy and fun.  He keeps us laughing.  One day, I think he will be a famous comedian on TV.  Ever since he was a little boy, Jed has had a perpetual look of mischief on his face.  His eyes sparkle, and he has a funny little smirk on his face at all times.  I am always wondering what is going on inside his head behind the sparkle in his eyes.  Jed has been practicing reading, and is getting better and better every day.  He is a whiz at math, and is working through all his schoolwork very steadily this year.  Jed is a great little athlete, and is playing up a year in soccer.  He hustles all over the place and is fast and fearless on the field.  It is fun to see him running around out there.  Speaking of running, Jed demonstrated for us the other day that he can definitely keep up with the runners in our family.  We went on a family run, and Jed was leading the pack the whole time.  He went up and down the big hills in our neighborhood without any trouble at all.  I see a future in cross-country for this boy.  Jed is outgoing and funny and keeps us on our toes.  He is now a red belt in Kuk Sool Won martial arts, and he has come a long way with learning to channel his energy and focus on learning things that are challenging for him.  We love having our energetic, witty Jed in our family to keep us entertained.

Daniel is 10, and doing well.  We have changed his age to 7 to reflect his severe delays and give him longer in the school system to be able to get services.  We decided in late August, right before school started, that we should enroll him in school.  I spent a lot of time last year chasing Daniel around and making sure he wasn’t getting into trouble.  He is very hyperactive and has moments of being extremely oppositional, especially with me.  For his own good and for my sanity as well as to help me be able to turn my attention back to all the kids I’m homeschooling, we worked with the school to get Daniel into the place he needs to be.  There is a brand-new elementary school not too far from us where Daniel is enrolled as a Kindergartener.  He is developmentally around 5 years old or younger, so it is a perfect place for him.  After a couple of months of being mainstreamed in the Kindergarten class, they finally completed all of the evaluations, and it was determined that Daniel should spend the first hour of school with the Kindergarten class and then the rest of the day in the Special Education classroom.  This seems to be working really well for Daniel, and he has improved a lot since adjusting to this new routine.  Daniel has been really happy during the holidays so far.  He does seem to miss school, but he has been enjoying the time at home with the family, and he has laughed and smiled so much recently.  Daniel isn’t always genuinely smiling and laughing, so it’s really a blessing seeing him really seem to enjoy the other children and all of the traditions this season brings.  We are thankful for Daniel and all the progress he has made, and we are looking forward to seeing how much more he will improve and what the Lord will direct us to do to help him live a full life.

Hezi turned 6 in November, and it’s incredible to see our littlest ones growing up so much.  Hezi can be a serious little boy, and he often wakes up and starts on his school right after breakfast so that he can finish quickly and have more time to play.  Hezi is learning how to read, and he is quickly mastering it.  Hezi also excels at math, and loves his phonics workbooks.  He is also playing soccer this year, and he loves being part of a team.  As the 9th soccer player in the family, Hezi dominates in his age group, often scoring several goals during a game.  The sport he keeps talking about trying, however, is baseball.  We are considering letting him try that out, even though it wouldn’t be the most convenient thing to do.  It would be adorable, and sometimes with kids, that’s the ultimate goal.  🙂  We are so blessed to have this precious little boy in our family.

Our little Tovi is not so little anymore.  We all still call him the baby, but it’s sad to think that he will be turning 4 in April!  Tovi is adorable, and pretty much everyone in the family spoils him, though we all know we need to stop.  There are advantages to being the youngest of 13, as all the siblings want him to love them the most.  Datiya invites him up to her room and gives him treats.  Abby adores him and calls him her baby.  Even big, cool, David loves that little boy to death.  It’s actually very sweet to see a 17-yr-old boy playing with his toddler brother.  Tovi is a tough little guy, though.  He climbs and jumps, runs, hops, and rides scooters with great coordination.  He can kick the soccer ball accurately into a goal, throw a baseball and football, and do just about anything athletic you can think of.  He is seriously the most coordinated little boy I’ve ever seen.  It will be interesting to see what he will be able to do as he gets older.  I think someday Tovi will grow up and be a CEO because he loves to try and boss everyone around.  He is sweet, happy, smiling and laughing all day long, adored by all, and just a delight to have in our family.  I am so glad God, in His goodness,  blessed us with our little Toviel (whose name means “goodness of God”).  On hard days, he truly is my little sunshine, and I’m so grateful to have him.

Todd is doing well, working for Intel.  We missed sharing an update last Christmas, so many of you may not know that Todd’s position at Intel was eliminated  right before we left for China summer of 2016.  He had one month to find another job within the company, or he would have had to move on.  In less than two weeks, he had a couple of new opportunities within Intel, and the day before we left for China he accepted his current position.  He has been enjoying this group, which is a bit of a change for him.  Since Todd was blessed with another job at Intel, he was able to take his sabbatical this year. We left in mid-May and traveled up the east coast from Austin, to Destin, FL, to North Carolina, Assateague Island (wild horses!), Washington, DC, New York, Pittsburgh, PA, Chicago, and ending up at  Nationals in St. Paul, MN.  It was an amazing trip with so many memories and adventures!  We bought a new Ford Transit van before we left for our trip, and it was packed to the gills, with every seat taken and a luggage rack on top.  What a blessing to all get to be together for this time as we know that with the older kids growing up and moving out, these times will be fewer and father between.  I will post pictures of some of the highlights of the trip at the end of this update.

I’m still managing the home front, homeschooling, cooking lots of food, and trying to civilize all these little boys.  I’m not too organized and don’t have everything together most of the time, but we have been getting our school done (or at least the important things), doing some fun projects, going to park day almost every week, and trying to keep the house decent/not completely disgusting (not an easy task with 7 boys and two dogs in the house).  I’ve started a home business with Rodan + Fields which is fun, rewarding, and bringing in a little extra income, which is nice.  I have also been doing martial arts with Enoch, and I am now a Dahn Bo Nym along with him and Simeon, which means I am on the road to black belt.  I love the challenge of this new goal.  I do keep busy, and I don’t do everything perfectly.  I am not super organized or perfectly patient, but I love this life.  I know I’m very, very blessed, and I am so thankful for everything the Lord has graciously given our family — a strong marriage, our beautiful, amazing children, a great place to live, a wonderful church family, and all of the joyful craziness this life brings.  We always love having visitors, so if you find yourself in Austin (or if you live here and we haven’t seen you in a while), please get in touch and stop by the ranch to visit with us.

We pray that you are enjoying the holiday season, counting your blessings and able to spend time with those you love.  We know this is a hard time of year for many, and so we also pray that if you are going through a difficult time or if this season brings painful memories for you, you are able to find comfort.  Most of all, we pray that you will remember the reason that we celebrate, and that you will know Him–Jesus, the One who came from heaven to bring salvation to mankind!  Without Him, there would be no Christmas!  Joy to the World!

Love,
The Erdner Family
Todd, Michelle
Abby (20), Datiya (19), David (17), Nina (16), Enoch (14), Haddie (13), Tehillah (12), Eden (12), Simeon (10), Jedidiah (8), Daniel (7), Hezekiah (6), and Toviel (3.5)

The adventure begins…When we left Austin, about 20 minutes into our drive, our cargo shelf broke, scattering luggage all over the road…we quickly purchased a new one, which subsequently broke along the way, and we ended the trip with a third cargo shelf that made it home.  The children posing in the jet engine of a rocket at the Infinity Space Center in Mississippi, one of our stops along the way to Florida.All of the kids together on a fallen log on a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains, North CarolinaJed and Tovi in the Great Smoky Mountains Todd and I took Lillah and Simeon on a 7-mile hike while we were camping in the Great Smoky Mountains…here is the view from the top Simeon doing his back flip at Clingmans Dome, NC in the Great Smoky Mountains Simeon’s back flip in front of the Statue of Liberty, NYC Simeon got a tip from a bystander after performing this backflip in front of the Freedom Tower in New York City.The gang in Times Square, NYC Simeon’s back flip in Philadelphia, PA Tovi enjoying the comfy grass at the National Mall, Washington, DC Lillah was in heaven on Assateague Island, where we woke up to wild horses on the beach!

The hot dog vendors in DC and New York loved us.  Here is the gang in DC all enjoying their hot dog feast.

Time for an Update–A LONG Update! :)

Well, it’s been several months since my last post, so we are long overdue for an update. I don’t have any *real* excuses for my lack of diligence in creating new blog posts except, well, maybe the fact that we have 13 children. Yeah, that might count as a good excuse.

We recently celebrated one year with our precious Eden and Daniel. We celebrated “Gotcha Day” on July 18th. It’s really hard to believe they have been in our family for a year now.

So, everyone is doing really well. The reality is, however, that adoption is really hard. It isn’t the fairy tale you might want to think it is. We love our adopted children, and we are so blessed to have them in our family. But ADOPTION IS HARD!

Eden is sweet and compliant. She has amazing resilience. This little girls has been through so much, and she is strong and brave. I have a lot to learn from her. One thing I believe I have written about in a past post about her is her ability to be genuinely happy for someone else. She is also very kind to everyone and so cheerful most of the time.
Sometimes particular children aren’t very nice to her, and she is always so kind back. I wish I were as quick to forgive and so eager to rejoice with others as is our Eden. Lessons Eden is teaching me. We discovered shortly before our sabbatical trip in May that Eden is deaf in her right ear and has moderate hearing loss in her left ear. Despite the limitations to her hearing, she has learned a TON of English. She chatters away all day long. Eden has shown that she is very eager to learn. We have covered basics to lay the foundations for reading and basic math, and while she has some challenges to learning, she is doing really well with both. I’m aiming to have her reading by the end of this school year. Eden had surgery recently to reshape her ears which were congenitally malformed, so that she can be fitted for her hearing aids. I can’t wait to see how her language improves even more once she can hear better! We are also watching Eden’s back growth for progression of scoliosis. She currently has a 25% curvature in the upper back, and the doctor said if it progresses, we will need to consider putting her in a full-time brace to prevent it from worsening. Eden has been brave through every medical procedure. There are challenges with Eden, as there are with the other children, and I have been humbled by my own lack of patience with her at times. She is constantly asking the same questions over and over and repeating the same things all day long. At times, I lose my patience with her in these things, and school with her can be frustrating at times. I pray daily that she would see the love of Jesus in me, despite all of my own shortcomings.

Daniel is still very cute and charming, and still extremely challenging. He has picked up a lot of vocabulary in the last year as well, in terms of understanding and trying to talk. Daniel’s speech continues to be very limited. His pronunciation is very poor, and he only says a word or two at a time. He has added some short phrases, and I can understand most of what he says. The speech therapist we have been working with for about a year now, doesn’t think he will ever speak fluently. This is not uncommon for children with Cornelia deLange Syndrome, and we are actually really happy that he can speak the way he does. However, we may be adding more sign language to help him be able to communicate more fully. We did finally get a confirmed diagnosis of a submucosal cleft palate that affects his speech, and we are working with a craniofacial specialist to determine if corrective surgery should be performed. Behaviorally, Daniel continues to be very, very challenging. He seems to want to bother everyone all day long. He can’t stop moving, has obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and is very sneaky all day long as well. It was extremely challenging for me to keep track of him while also trying to homeschool everyone last school year. He was very resistant to learning anything at all from me, and would tear up papers, workbooks, anything I was trying to work on with him. If I got busy helping another child with something, Daniel would sneak away to another part of the house and get into everything he could find. This includes, books, CDs, DVDs, papers (sometimes important papers). I am constantly finding a book or DVD Daniel has relocated from where it belongs to a random place like between couch cushions or under other books or in a cabinet where it doesn’t belong. However, Daniel has improved in so many ways behaviorally, including being able to play for a little while with the other children. We bought a large inflatable water slide at the beginning of the summer, and he can often be found playing there with Tovi, Eden, Haddie, and the other younger boys. It is amazing to see him doing this and playing in a positive way with the other children, sometimes for an hour or more. AND he will slide down the slide, which isn’t something he has been too happy to do in the past. Daniel learned to ride a bike this year, and he loves to ride along when we go on walks. He is improving in knowing what is expected of him behaviorally and trying to do it. I know he just can’t control himself a lot of the time. He just reaches out and touches things, or gets up and runs around or says little words over and over. The challenges of Cornelia deLange Syndrome along with the effects of the trauma he has been through are a whopper of a combination. I have seen my own sinfulness in my lack of patience with him over and over, and I daily pray for supernatural intervention to make it through the days with Daniel. All of the challenges have led us to prayerfully make the decision to put Daniel in public school this year. So far, it has been a Godsend! The school has so many resources and services for children with special needs. When I first took him to enroll him, they told me they were going to place him in a mainstream 5th grade class (because he is “10”) and then observe and evaluate him for 45 days. He could then receive special services through the school and an individualized plan would be created for him. I explained to them all of the challenges he has, and when they met him and saw how he behaves, they started working very quickly to fast track this process. They also took my advice to place him in a Kindergarten class instead of the 5th grade while they are evaluating him. He is very small, and fits right in with the Kindergarten class. I have been very impressed with everyone at the school and with everything they are doing to help Daniel and support us as well. They even got him approved to ride the special ed. bus, which wasn’t supposed to happen until we had the meeting to create his plan (which probably won’t happen for a while). He rode the bus for the first time yesterday, and he was so excited about it and not at all afraid! He had actually been pointing to the buses and then to himself and saying “Daniel” for over a week, so we knew he was very interested in riding the bus. They have an aide on the bus who helps the kids and he is met at the bus by a special ed. teacher to go to his class. He is picked up and dropped off right at the end of our driveway! What a blessing! So far, he has done pretty well there, with some of the expected challenges. He has a hard time in the afternoons. Right before school started, we finally got an appointment with the neurologist, who said he also believes Daniel is on the Autism spectrum. He prescribed a medication to help him with his ADHD, and we are working to figure out what dose will work. I am not a huge fan of medicating children, but if I have ever met a child who could benefit from it, it would be Daniel. I think it has been helping him to calm down and control himself a little bit, but I haven’t seen a dramatic change. Hopefully, moving forward we will find something that works really well, with the help of the neurologist.

One thing adopting the children has taught me is how frustrating it is to deal with many different doctors when trying to help your child who has special needs. This is for all three of the children.
I have never had to deal with these issues before, and now I see how maddening it can all be. It took us months to get in to see the Genetic Specialist, and we still don’t have conclusive answers on many things. The shunt that was placed in Daniel’s brain while he was in China is apparently useless and wasn’t ever necessary in the first place. His blood work came back negative for CDLS, but that can happen with this syndrome, and he definitely has it. The Genetic doctor told us that she believes Eden also has a genetic disorder, but so far the blood tests haven’t helped us to pinpoint what it is. The medical assistant from the office who called me with the results couldn’t answer any of my questions, and we now have to wait until November to see her again. Maybe it doesn’t really matter what the genetic conditions are in particular, but it would be nice to know and also to get an official diagnosis because insurance companies need them in order to pay for whatever treatments and services are needed. Daniel’s diagnosis is now more official, although we still need an actual written document from the geneticist to show other doctors and places from which we are receiving services for him. I have spent countless hours on the phone trying to get appointments, trying to find specialists, and often I end up no further towards getting the help we need. There are huge waiting lists for specialists (such as the developmental pediatrician for Daniel). It takes months to be seen and even then we often don’t get the answers or help for which we have been waiting. I spent several months last year trying to find a therapist certified in a certain type of therapy that we have been told will help Daniel with his behavioral and attachment issues. I kind of gave up after several therapists were either not taking new clients or talked to me and said they couldn’t help us for various reasons. I am renewing my search this fall, however, and hope to find someone based on new referrals from the neurologist.

Another frustration has been dealing with everything the doctors (and insurance) require for one reason or another. When we first came home with Daniel and Eden, they needed dental work, but they couldn’t tolerate all the x-rays, exams and procedures. The dentist said the only way they would be able to be treated was under full sedation. The anesthesiologist wouldn’t put them under before assuring that they didn’t have other issues that could be a problem for the anesthesia. Of course, we understood this. With Daniel’s CDLS, there can be heart issues among other problems, the shunt could be an issue, along with other things. In order to check all these things out, however, Daniel needed to be sedated as he was literally terrified of any procedure and we couldn’t get him to cooperate with even simple things like an abdominal sonogram. Poor child has been traumatized, so it wasn’t his fault at all, but it was reality. So in order to get all the clearances that the anesthesiologist required, he had to be put under several times! Isn’t that just MADNESS?? I could write a whole book about the frustrations related to medical care that I have experienced in the past year. This post is becoming a novel already, so I’ll spare you. We are now in a better place with regard to Daniel tolerating medical things. He isn’t terrified anymore for simple things, and he has had hearing tests, abdominal sonograms, and other minor things done without any sedation at all. He’s even very compliant with blood work now. So, he’s come a long way, and that has made things way easier. Daniel had one surgery for undescended testicles around Christmas and is scheduled for another in about a week. The medical things for him and Eden seem never-ending, but we are getting used to it.

Haddie is a sweet, happy girl. When she came to us in late December, right before New Year’s, we knew she was a bit slow mentally. She was about to turn 14 and is a young woman physically. She had already started menstruating, and her body is developing. However, cognitively, Haddie is severely delayed. When Todd and Nina first got her in China, it became quickly apparent that she had some issues with personal care related to feminine hygiene. She urinated in her pants several times while they were still in China. We attributed it to the fact that she was probably very overwhelmed with all the newness and excitement, but it was something we weren’t prepared for. Since she has been home, Haddie has urinated in her clothes at least a handful of times. I’m not sure what that is all about, but now I know to expect it sometimes. Once, she soiled herself in bed, and she got up and tried to clean up the mess herself, and it was quite a disaster, with a huge mess in the bathroom I won’t even begin to describe. Most of the time, this doesn’t happen. I haven’t figured out anything I can pinpoint as to why she might have accidents, but it just happens sometimes. Haddie has been extremely slow to pick up English, and she really seems to have a problem with retaining information of any kind. We are still working on her remembering some basic words. She seems to understand more than she can actually recall to speak herself. I can give her instructions, and she will follow them. But she has only recently begun to be able to ask for a few things (banana, cereal, more) without us prompting her the words. She is more inclined to point at what she wants and smile than to try and come up with words. We are patiently working to help her slowly be able to say things in English for herself. Counting, math, recalling the letters of the alphabet, which we have gone over countless times, are all very challenging for Haddie. Even in her native language, the abstract concept of associating a number with an object seems to be difficult for her. We are trying to get her the help she needs. We took her to the neurologist, and he believes there is a neurological issue, but he said we will probably never know what it is. He said we can take her to speech therapy, occupational therapy, etc. to try and draw her out and help her learn. I am looking into some options for her. Despite these issues, Haddie is the sweetest, happy girl, and very compliant (not quite as compliant as Eden). She loves to help wash dishes and clean around the house, and she is the resident expert sweeper extraordinaire! She adores all of her siblings, and loves playing with little Tovi. She is eager to learn, just very slow at it. I am again being stretched in patience as I try to lovingly repeat things I have taught her countless times. Haddie, of all three of our adopted children, can give real hugs. Daniel and Eden are still learning how to really hug and accept hugs and love. Haddie just basks in the love and affection of her family.

All the other children are doing well. Abby is in her senior year of college and will graduate in May as an RN! Datiya graduated in May, and is beginning a Vet Tech program. David is a senior is high school and is doing so well at everything. Nina wants to grow up way too fast. Enoch is starting 8th grade, and taking a few outside classes for the first time ever! The younger children are all growing and learning so much all the time. Tovi has stopped imitating Daniel’s negative behaviors, which is really quite a relief. We are blessed with our busy houseful.

I haven’t written about all of these things in complaint at all. This post is just a window into the world we have taken on as parents not only of many children, but also three adopted older children with special needs. I don’t regret our decision to follow the calling to which God called us in adopting these three precious ones, and I am not even seeking for anyone to write me back with advice of any kind. I have gotten plenty of that. I’m just sharing our life. Sometimes people will ask me if I had known the challenges would I have still chosen to adopt these children, or this one or that one, and I have to say, yes. This life isn’t easy, but I would choose it again. I feel that God is refining me every day. I am humbled every, single day. I see my shortcomings every, single day. I see my need for my Savior every day as well. That makes the journey worthwhile. I never forget my need for Him and my complete dependence on Him. To me, that is grace. I have learned so much from these three brave and beautiful children God has blessed us with through adoption. And that is something I wouldn’t trade for an easier life. I trust God with their futures, just as I do for all of my children, and I know the journey is going to be a long one. I am okay with that. I am running the marathon. I am leaning on the Lord to help me keep up with what He has for me. I am accepting that I can’t do it all and that it will absolutely not be perfect. I am okay with that, too. Life is messy, busy, full of craziness and ugliness, but God is my strength. Bring it on.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” Hebrews 12:1-2a

Sometimes it’s the Little Things

 

I’m a debate mom.  During tournament season, our family spends at least one long weekend per month traveling around Texas or Oklahoma to participate speech and debate tournaments.  This activity is a centerpiece of the home education for our children.  I love and value this activity greatly. I’m always trying to recruit my friends to join us.  Granted, competitive speech and debate requires a lot of commitment to keep up with all that goes into participating.  One of the things with which we must keep up is all of the debate attire. Our home isn’t always the cleanest, most organized place, to put it lightly. (Why not?  I only have 13 children..haha) I have a few systems in place to help things run smoothly, but let’s just say I can’t sail that ship without the crew on board.  And my crew often isn’t on board with my neat and organized plans.  When it comes to debate attire, we have a hanging area by our washer and dryer where the kids used to keep their tournament clothes.  However, there was so much stuff hanging there, and not all of it fit someone at any given moment, so I told all the children of competition age to move their debate clothes to their own closet and keep track of it there.  A few days before each tournament, we gather all of the items that need to be dry cleaned.  Each student is responsible for his or her own debate clothing.  Should be easy enough, right? Continue reading Sometimes it’s the Little Things

An Early Christmas Miracle

I knew it the moment I saw her at the orphanage in China.  We were there to visit the orphanage in which our daughter, Eden, had been living for the previous 4 years.  We had just completed the adoption of Daniel and Eden two days before, and we knew we were in for a challenge with both of them due to all the medical and emotional needs our children have.  But when I saw this beautiful girl at the orphanage, and she was following us around while the teachers were telling us that she really wanted a family, too, and would age out (turning 14) in January 2017 (a short 5 months from when we were there in July 2016), I knew she was meant to be our daughter.  The children who had been in a dance class together with Eden all put on their dance for us.  As I watched them dancing, I realized that each of them (there were 5 or 6 there dancing), were being adopted or would be adopted within the next couple of months; all except for this sweet girl who so wanted a family.  I remembered seeing her in the photos we periodically received of Eden in the orphanage before we traveled.  She is straight and tall, and looked older than Eden, so I had assumed that she was older and had already aged out or was a worker in the orphanage.  What I realized then was that these two young ladies were friends in the orphanage, and had spent the last four years together there.  While the children were dancing, a warm, gentle breeze blew through the open window and brushed across my cheek.  I felt like Elijah, knowing that God was in the gentle blowing in 1 Kings 19.  My friend who was adopting two children from that orphanage as well, turned to me and said, “I think she’s your daughter.”  I got goosebumps.

When we got back in the van to leave for lunch with the children and the orphanage director and teachers, I said to Todd, “We need to come back for her.”  Todd’s response was something like, “Are you crazy?”  I’ve heard that from him before.  🙂  The truth was, since this little girl had such a short time, only a family who was already in the process of adopting, or one that had just completed an adoption could most likely adopt her.  We thought about advocating for her, but we knew that her chances were very, very slim of someone moving to get everything done in time to adopt her before she aged out.  Given Todd’s less than agreeable response to the idea of adopting another child at that time, I decided I would pray about it and just see what happened after we got back home and settled with our new children.

Of course, life was rather crazy upon our return, as it usually is, and even more so as we were adjusting to life with two new children who didn’t speak our language, and who had different needs emotionally and physically.  It was easy to let a month go by and not really do anything about the little girl on the other side of the world.  I can’t say I stopped thinking about her, however.  There was probably not one day that passed without a thought or a prayer about this child.  In early September, one month home from China, I sent an email to a different agency to see if they could locate the file of Eden’s friend.  She had actually been on the list with the agency we used to adopt Daniel and Eden, but her file had been released back into the shared list right around the time we were in China.  I was glad about that because we weren’t very happy with that agency, and in the very unlikely case that we would be moving forward, we wouldn’t want to use that agency again.  The only problem with not using the same agency was that in order to do a dossier copy, which is what would have been the easiest and fastest way to proceed, we would have had to go with the same agency. It is not very common for the Chinese government to agree to take a dossier copy for a family if they go with a different agency.

I was able to view this sweet young lady’s file and see her photos.  According to her file, this girl had no physical disabilities, and her special need was listed as “developmental delay.”  She had been found at one month old, and had lived in the orphanage ever since.  The file said that she had developed strong attachments to her teachers, which is a really good thing.

I took all of this information and…..did nothing for another month.  I really didn’t want to bring it up with Todd again.  He had seemed pretty certain that we were not going to be adopting another child so soon after completing our adoption of Daniel and Eden.  I wanted to keep the peace.  So, I prayed.  Every so often, Eden would look through the little photo album that was sent with her from the orphanage.  Her little friend was in almost every picture with her.  Several photos showed them laughing together.  I looked at these pictures and felt a little twinge in my heart.  I was supposed to do something about this.  But, I was afraid to push it with my husband.  So, I let another month go by.  With the passing of another month went the ticking of the clock that was counting down this young lady’s chances of ever having a family.  And I began to have dreams about her every night.

In early October, Eden saw me looking at a picture of her friend on the computer as I was praying for her.  She got really excited, gasped and said, “(the girl’s Chinese name) coming here?  Daddy go get her!”  Hmmm, I hadn’t even said anything of the sort.  I responded to her, saying, “Let’s pray and see.”  After that, she began to ask me every day if Daddy would be going to get her friend and bring her here.  She showed me where we would put her bed.  I would tell her, “Maybe she will come.”  We prayed.  I didn’t ask Todd.  I just couldn’t bring myself to go there and stir up any confrontation.  Then, Eden started to ask Todd about her friend, too.  He would kind of grunt and say, “no.”  Eden would come and tell me, “Daddy say ‘no’ not coming,” and sadly walk away.  I continued to have dreams about this young lady.  The contact I had at the new agency that had sent me the file would check in with me every couple of weeks, and she kept reminding me that if we thought we wanted to move forward with this girl, we would have to move quickly.  They had seen adoptions completed within 4 months before, but every day we delayed, the likelihood of everything coming together in time was dwindling.

By the second week in October, I felt that God was pushing me to talk to Todd about this young lady.  If I didn’t step out in faith and at least mention it to him again, I felt that I wouldn’t be able to live with myself knowing that I hadn’t at least advocated for this child’s life.  The morning I resolved to talk to my husband about her again, I received an email from the adoption agency telling me that basically we would have to begin the process in the next couple of days if she was even going to have a chance at being adopted.  I knew I had to do something that day.

So, I sent Todd an email (I wasn’t really brave enough to talk to him about it quite yet in person) with the subject line “Christmas gift for Eden.”  I sent him the file, and told him how I had not been able to stop thinking about the girl we had met at the orphanage.  I wrote to him about my dreams, and about Eden’s persistence in asking me every day.  I told him that time was running out and that we only had a few days.  Nothing like waiting until the last minute, huh?  I waited for a response, and that afternoon, Todd wrote me back with an answer that wasn’t “no,” but was more along the lines of, “It’s going to take an act of God to convince me that this is what we need to do, but what are the steps we would need to take and how much is this going to cost?”  I breathed a somewhat relieved sigh, thinking to myself that at least this wasn’t a “no!”

The next day, I sent in our application with the new agency.  We were quickly approved, and they sent me a timeline of what would need to happen when in order to even have a chance of completing the adoption before the girl’s 14th birthday in early January.  We had less than 3 months to finish everything and get to China.  It looked pretty dismal on paper, but I knew in my heart that this child was going to be a part of our family before she aged out.  It was October 6th.  They wanted us to have a completed (new) dossier FedExed to their office in Colorado by October 19th, or at the very latest the 20th as it would have to be sent to China by the 21st.  It had taken us about 9 months to complete the dossier for Daniel and Eden’s adoption.  It seemed impossible to me, but I knew God could do it.  The first step was that we didn’t have the money for the first agency fee right away.  It would take us some time to be able to get money together for all the steps, but all the agency fees would need to be paid before the dossier could be sent.  This was about $10,000.  Again, this seemed quite daunting.  By that Saturday evening, donations came in that totaled around $3100, which was enough to cover the 1st agency fee and part of the homestudy update (this fee ended up being almost triple what it would have been because we had to go with a different social worker since the one who  had done our home study said she couldn’t do it in time).  On Monday, October 10th, we found out that all of our documents would have to be ready and completed by the 13th to overnight to a courier who could help us get it certified and authenticated and sent to CO by the 19th.  This meant we had 3 days to have a home visit and have the new report written and signed off  on by the agency.  I couldn’t see how it would happen.  Thankfully, we didn’t need to wait for birth certificates or our marriage license because we would be allowed to use copies of those.  We would have to start the process of the homestudy update, which was the longest step.  Todd wasn’t ready to commit to another $2500 just for the homestudy update.  He thought that was ridiculous.  However, we found a social worker who could do the home visit and have the report updated by the 13th. Incredible!  Todd was going through the motions, but wasn’t really feeling comfortable with everything.  We had physicals on Tuesday, I spent all night Tuesday and Wednesday uploading documents and information into the website for the homestudy update.  Wednesday was the only day we could get our fingerprints done for the police reports. They only did them on Wednesdays.  Todd kept telling me he didn’t want to do it, and he was uncomfortable.  But he kept going through the motions.  He did the physical.  Wednesday, I thought he wasn’t going to get his fingerprints made, because he was pretty mad at me and uncomfortable with everything.  When I went down to get mine done that afternoon, the man looked at my name and said, “Oh, Erdner!  Your husband was here earlier!”  I was a little shocked, but a little glimmer of hope remained in my heart.  The next day, Todd expressed that he would do whatever it took to complete the steps for the adoption, even if we couldn’t know for sure if we would be pouring more money into a lost cause.  There was a strong chance we wouldn’t get everything in time (immigration, etc. can take months that we didn’t have).  At that point, however, I knew for sure that this was going to happen!  We weren’t sharing with many people, because things were so iffy, but deep inside I never doubted.

Friday morning, the homestudy update was finished, and we had everything we needed.  I was ready to FedEx everything to the courier, who would get it all authenticated and sent on to our agency.   I called our agency to check on something, and was told that by a miracle, the CCCWA (China Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption) was going to allow us to use a dossier copy!  SO, even though we had miraculously gotten all of our documents together, we would only need to send the updated homestudy and two more documents in order to do the dossier copy!  China rarely allows the use of a dossier copy for families going with a different agency!  God was confirming to me that this was HIS doing! I was so ecstatic.  This saved us a lot of money, and made things way easier and faster on the China end as well.

Since that day, all of the steps have fallen into place smoothly.  We got our immigration approval within a couple of weeks when it can take a couple of months.  Same with the immigrant visa and citizenship for our new daughter.  It has been a whirlwind, and I have felt so humbled at times to be used by God in such an amazing story.  I can’t even believe it sometimes. I remember when I became a Christian my Junior year of college.  There was a new song out by an artist named Steven Curtis Chapman called “The Great Adventure” (I’m dating myself here). I remember thinking that I was now part of this big family of believers who had this great adventure to live.  I had no idea what that truly meant.  The last 20+ years have definitely been that adventure!  And this amazing story we have been called to walk in has been one of the most wonderful adventures so far.  Saying “yes” to God is not always easy, but it is always rewarding.  I have to say if I had said “no” to many of the things God has called me to, I would have missed out on some amazing things.  My salvation wouldn’t be affected, I believe, but, boy, would I have missed out.  I am so thankful that I didn’t ignore God’s voice in my life the many times I have heard and obeyed,  and I’m so blessed because I heeded His promptings and that still, small voice in that gentle breeze that day in China.

Last Thursday, December 15th, Todd and our daugther, Nina, flew to Beijing.  They toured the Great Wall Saturday, and Monday morning in Changsha, China (Sunday night Austin time), they went and welcomed our new daughter, Hadassah, into our family!   When that sweet girl saw Todd, she ran to him and gave him a big hug!  That’s so wonderful, since we know it’s not uncommon for some kids to shy away from hugging and physical touch.  Eden is still learning how to show affection by hugging.  It definitely doesn’t come easy to her.  I really wish I could be there with them right now, but it was important for me to be here for Eden and Daniel, and of course little Tovi, who is his Mama’s boy these days.

I can’t wait to be reunited with Todd, Nina and my new daughter, Haddie.  I can’t wait to see Eden and Haddie together.  I’m so excited to see what their future holds, and my prayer is that they will come to know the God who orchestrated this Christmas miracle.

If you would like to donate towards our adoption, to help us cover some of the costs of travel, agency fees, etc., we have a YouCaring site set up:  https://www.youcaring.com/todd-michelle-erdner-and-family-for-adoption-472347

This is one song by Steven Curtis Chapman that has always stirred my heart, and now it really does have a special meaning for me.  I definitely heard Him asking me, “What NOW?”

Mama’s Little Shadow

img_20161031_175816682img_20161117_102551997I am typing this as I sit in the hospital room at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas, waiting for Eden to come out of surgery.  We are here to have a plate removed from her femur that the orthopedic surgeon felt needed to come out (it was placed there when Eden had surgery for her dislocated hip about 4 years ago after she was brought to the orphanage).  Since she is still growing, having a metal plate there could cause problems, and bone had already begun to grow over the plate.  This won’t help her limp in any way; it’s purely to get the plate out so it won’t hurt her as her bone continues to grow.

Eden has done really well so far, and seems to understand what is going on.  When we were here yesterday to go through the pre-op admission process, she was very brave, and even tolerated the blood draw without too much of a fuss.  It is obvious, however, from her reactions to different things, that she has been through some trauma involving hospitals and doctors.  In China, she had surgery after going to live in the orphanage when she was 9 years old.  There was no mama to comfort and love her during that scary time.  I’m so glad she has that now.   I thought this would be a good time for me to reflect on who Eden is and how she is growing since coming home.

Eden is a Mama’s girl, BIG TIME!  From the moment we met our children on “gotcha day,” she has been my little shadow.  She wanted to stand close to me and hold my hand from the very beginning, and seemed very taken with the reality that she now has a Mama.  She loves her daddy and all of her siblings as well, but she is extremely attached to me.

From the moment she wakes up in the morning until she goes to bed at night, Eden wants to be right next to me.  If it were up to her, she would probably stand with some part of her body touching me every waking moment of the day.  She does take bathroom breaks, but for the most part, she is rarely in a different room of the house or outside without me.  This is very sweet, but it really can be very draining as well.  For her good as well as my own sanity, I encourage her to play with the other kids and go play with toys or go look at books at times throughout the day away from me (even if it’s just a few feet away).  Eden sits contentedly and watches me take my martial arts classes with Enoch, and she has even gone to the gym with me to watch me do my Body Pump class.  I take her everywhere, and she is happy to just tag along wherever Mama goes.

We were told that Eden was 13 years old, but there are signs that she is a bit younger.  Developmentally, Eden is quite a bit younger, but she is also very capable of doing some things that older children can do well, like doing the dishes or folding and putting away her own laundry (she even takes them and puts them in the washer and transfers them to the dryer, but she needs help getting the detergent into the right place without making a huge mess). 🙂

Eden is learning English so quickly, and she loves doing her school to learn the English alphabet and count in English.  I think she has a learning disability, but I’m confident that she will be able to learn to read and write in the future.  She will need new workbooks soon as she is already almost finished with the ones I bought for her a couple of months ago.  I have been working with her and Daniel on things like puzzles and lace-up shapes.  Eden enjoys these kinds of activities, and she cooperates with pretty much anything I want her to do.  Sometimes I have to convince her a little bit, but she is very compliant for the most part, and very eager to please.  Speaking of learning English, Eden can sing a few songs in English now!  She knows the ABC song and also, from listening to Christian radio in the car, she knows at least one pop Christian song.  Her favorite song she just belts out along with the radio is “Thy Will Be Done” by Hillary Scott.  I love hearing her little voice sing such awesome, truth-filled words!

Tovi (our 2-year-old) loves Eden, and she has made him her little companion when I ask her to do something that requires her to be away from me (like brushing her teeth after breakfast).  She will call him, saying, “Tovi, let’s go!,” and take him by his little hand.  He gladly goes along with her to keep her company.  One of the best ways to get Eden to go outside and play is to give her the job of taking Tovi to the swings or to jump on the trampoline.  It’s heartwarming to see her being so loving and gentle with her little brother.  She is pretty much thrilled with all of her brothers and sisters, and is just so happy to be in a family.

Eden likes to laugh and is a happy little girl, for the most part.  She finds a lot of things very funny, and she has an adorable little giggle.  Her big sisters think she is the cutest thing ever.  And she really is very cute.  It’s fun to see her perk up and laugh with her siblings.

I wrote a whole blog post about my two little foodies, but I’ll say it again now:  Eden LOVES to eat!  She is easy to please when it comes to food and will try anything once.  Usually, she comes back for a second, third, and even fourth helping.  Eden has definitely grown and gained weight in the time that she has been with us.  She’s even getting a little belly fat!  I think just being able to eat a lot and get snacks when she wants is a new thing for her, and her world definitely revolves around meal times.  Eden has mastered the words, “What’s for . . . (insert meal depending on time of day)?”  Another new thing for Eden has been ICE!  She can’t get enough of it.  I think she most likely never had ice before coming home to us.  The first day she discovered ice, Eden was in the bathroom every 20 minutes because she was drinking so much water with ice, and munching on the ice.

Both Eden and Daniel, like many children who have been in institutions for an extended period of time, are having to learn how to play.  When we first got both of them, neither one of them really played they way kids normally do.  We did a little throwing around of a ball together while still in China, and they liked it, but they wouldn’t just play without some direction.  Since we have been home, they both have needed to be encouraged to play with the other kids.  All of the younger kids in our family are little boys, so they love to run around outside.  One day, soon after we arrived home from China, one of the little boys was able to convince Eden and Daniel to go outside with him and run up and down our long, gravel driveway.  They did it, and Eden especially seemed to enjoy it.  The same thing happened with the trampoline.  Neither child necessarily wanted to have much to do with this contraption with which our other children are so enraptured.  One day, a couple of months ago, some friends brought dinner over, and all of our children were playing together and jumping on the trampoline.  It began to rain, and all of the children were laughing and having the time of their lives bouncing in the rain.  Eden grabbed Daniel’s hand and they ran out together to join the fun with the other children.  That was the first time I saw them do that without a lot of prodding from us.  It made me want to cry tears of joy!

We had what I would call a breakthrough with Eden last week during speech and debate club meeting.  Usually, I just keep Daniel and Eden with me wherever I am at club.  Daniel doesn’t always do so great for someone who isn’t used to watching him, and Eden simply does NOT want to be away from me.  However, last week, Eden stayed and played with Tovi and Hezi during both speech and debate time, which was HUGE for her.  I checked in with her a few times, and she would say, “Hi, Mommy!,” and then try to come over to me.  I encouraged her to stay and play each time, and each time she agreed to stay with the other kids and have fun rather than sit through a meeting that at this point means nothing to her.  This is just one of many little signs that she is beginning to trust us as her parents, and me as her mother, that we aren’t going to abandon or forsake her.  It kills me to think that she even worries about me leaving her, as she has had so much loss in her young life.  But I see her taking baby steps toward trusting me more and trusting that I will always be here for her.

The kids got to dress up for Halloween for the first time, and they had such fun!  Eden walked around with me and Tovi, and she pretty much got the routine down after the first couple of houses.  She would remind Tovi to say “Trick or Treat” and “Thank you!”  It was a very full and exciting night for both children.  I love getting to see them experience things for the first time, and see the joy in their faces.  It is such a blessing.

Eden came out of surgery, and has done well.  She is experiencing minimal pain at the site of the incision, which is wonderful.  The challenge right now is that she is starving (the last time she had anything to eat was a banana right before bed last night, so she hasn’t eaten for almost 24 hours!).  We tried some crackers and water, but that came back up right before she was supposed to start on her dinner, so we had to take away the dinner and try jello and water.  The jello and water came back up as well, so now we are waiting again.  It’s not nausea, but the digestive system that has gone to “sleep” from the anesthesia.  We just have to wait it out.  Thankfully, Eden has relaxed enough to sleep a bit.

We are so blessed to be on this journey, and so excited for what is to come.  There is HOPE for these children, and we are so humbled that God would use us to be part of their stories.  HE sets the lonely in families… hallelujah!

People Person

img_20160905_155646670_hdrDaniel makes an impression on pretty much everyone he meets. This little boy is really cute, with his adorable unibrow, long eye lashes, and round little cheeks that dimple when he smiles.  He is very charming, saying a cheerful, “Hi-yo!” to everyone he sees.  Daniel really does seem to genuinely enjoy people.  While he can be very challenging at times, he has lots of good moments, too, and we are trying to focus on the positive and on the gifts that God has given him.  Daniel charms everyone we meet.  There is a special quality about him that draws people to his sweet, friendly ways.  Right now, we are trying to help him to create positive, healthy attachments with me and Todd, as well as his siblings.  So if you see us in person and he tries to give you a hug, and we encourage him to give you a “high five” instead, it is because we are trying to help him to discern between people he should be hugging and people he shouldn’t necessarily.

Children who have been abandoned often suffer from attachment issues, having lost that bond that should have been with his or her mother from the start.  This loss can occur early in life or even later, and causes children to react in different ways.  Eden is very shy when she first meets people, trying to melt her little body into mine, and leaning her head down towards my neck.  She follows me around and becomes very distraught if she notices that I am getting ready to go somewhere and thinks that I may leave her behind (I pretty much take them everywhere with me). She is most likely afraid of another abandonment.  Daniel isn’t shy at all, and is ready to hug any and everyone whom he meets.  This is kind of the opposite problem.  Daniel looks for attention and affection anywhere he can get it.  Sometimes he still calls random women “mama” (he did that a little more at the very beginning). Now that he has a forever home and family, he needs to learn who “his people” are and begin to make strong bonds with us first.  I feel certain that we are making good strides in that direction, and that we will be able, with the Lord’s help, to guide Daniel to a place of healing where he will be able to reach his full potential.

I’m very thankful that he really does seem to want those positive interactions with us.  He will often initiate hugs and kisses with both me and Todd.  He is learning to relate in a healthier way to the other children.  Daniel absolutely adores riding on the tractor with Daddy, and he waits eagerly for “Baba” to get home so he can ride on the tractor.  He lets me rock him like a baby and sing to him several times a day, and he enjoys sitting on our laps when we read stories.  We dance to music together.  We play peek-a-boo, and he laughs hysterically.  These baby steps are encouraging as we look forward with hope to the progress we believe Daniel will be able to make while thriving in a healthy family.  I love seeing glimpses of who Daniel is behind the hurt, traumatized, and frightened little boy we see so much of right now.  Inside, there is a very sweet little boy who loves people and wants those deep connections.  His search for that is over, and now he can settle into what it means to have someone love him unconditionally, to have a family that will always be there for him, and ultimately, to know his Heavenly Father who has been his true Father all along.  We are blessed to be part of his journey, and we so appreciate all the love and support we have received from all our family and friends.

“A Father of the fatherless….God makes a home for the lonely.”
-Psalm 68:5-6

Foodies

IMG_20160823_194153370_HDRWe have been home for over three weeks now, and things are going pretty well.  I’m not gonna lie, though: adoption is HARD! There are so many challenges with both children, which we are facing and working through.  But it is hard.  A sweet friend of mine set up a meal calendar for our family, and I almost felt guilty about it at first, thinking that I could totally cook meals and don’t need help.  After all, these are older kids, not newborns.  It’s not like I just had a baby or anything.  However, when I try to describe to people how exhausted I am at the end of each day, the only thing I can compare it to is when I had newborns!  It’s just exhausting in a different way.  With a newborn, there is the physical exhaustion due to long nights and a constant demand on a mother’s body to feed, hold, comfort a new baby.  There is emotional exhaustion from not knowing what is wrong when a baby cries for an extended period of time for no apparent reason, or from not feeling like things will ever be “normal” or so many other things.  With these two new “babies,” there is physical and emotional exhaustion as well.  Both children need me a lot.  Daniel needs constant attention and supervision, and he often demands this attention by acting out.  Eden needs me all the time, too.  She follows me around all day with a constant refrain of “Mama! Mama!”  It is very sweet, but can be very draining as well.  I am not complaining about this at all.  It is very sweet.  But it feels a little like the newborn stage because of the constant need for mama.  Then there is the emotional exhaustion from wanting to help them when they are sad or angry, and not knowing how or second guessing myself about what I think they need.  It’s exhausting not being able to communicate well with them because of the language barrier even when I am just trying to explain something simple like big sister, Abby, is now living in an apartment in Round Rock so we won’t see her every day anymore.  The blessings are tremendous, but the drain is very real as well.  Just being honest here.  So, the meals have proven to be SUCH a blessing!

Speaking of meals, one thing that has stood out since we first got our children on “gotcha day” July 18th, is that FOOD is really important to these two.  They live to eat.  Daniel can be picky and many times refuses to eat certain things, but he still gets really excited about having that food on his plate.  There are lots of reasons for this, having to do with living in an institutional setting, even for Eden, who was in a pretty good situation.  We have variety and plenty, and that is something these children haven’t had before.  When we were in China, they quickly learned the English words “eat” and “ice cream.”  We did a lot of eating there, to pass the time.  After lunch and sometimes dinner, too, we would stop at one of the little stores and get ice cream.  The breakfast buffet was huge at the hotel where we stayed in Guangzhou.  We were a little worried they would miss this when we got home.  There is not a huge breakfast buffet here every morning, of course. When they wake up, they come to the kitchen ready to feast.  The good news is that breakfast is pretty easy.  They love fruit and eggs, so I keep boiled eggs and lots of fruit on hand, and they are  thrilled with this.  I thought the kids would enjoy something familiar for lunch, so I have been making noodles almost every day, and they practically jump up and down with excitement for their noodles!  It’s pretty funny.  Dinners have been interesting.  With Daniel it’s hit or miss whether he will actually like something, but he always wants a lot on his plate.  He is learning to eat better and be less picky, and he will drink a nutrition shake with dinner, which is good because he doesn’t always eat what is served for dinner.  They get lots of fruit and snacks throughout the day.  I want them to know that they never have to worry about not getting enough to eat, and that they can have a snack when they need one.  I pretty much never deny them a snack,and even let them keep snacks in their backpacks all the time.

Both children have taken to eating with a fork really well.  In fact, they will now turn down using chopsticks in favor of using a fork!  Someday we will work on manners!  🙂  Eden shovels the food off of her plate or bowl into her mouth and then will come running for more while saying, “More, please” with a very overstuffed mouth and food all over her face.  🙂  Food is very comforting as we all know.  In time, these children will understand that they don’t have to worry about being hungry.  I am praying that they will also come to know the Bread of Life, so that they will never hunger spiritually.  We are trying to show them love by meeting their physical needs.  I am praying that they also will know spiritual satisfaction that only comes from the One who made them.

And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that beieveth on me shall never thirst.”

Settling In

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We have  now been home for over a week and a half, and we are settling in pretty nicely.  Given the adjustment as well as some attachment issues with Daniel in particular, we have been sticking close together and close to home.  Things are going really well.  It’s not necessarily easy, due to the language barrier in large part, but I am so happy that the Daniel and Eden are navigating life in this new environment very well, for the most part.  I’m very thankful for Google Translate, which I use whenever I feel like I really need to explain something to Daniel and Eden.  I am trying to just use English for the most part, because it’s better for them to be immersed in the language and learn through context, tone of voice, or gestures combined with the words.

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Daniel is a little charmer.  He has a really sweet spirit, and I think he genuinely likes people.  He certainly likes attention!  I have taken him out with me a couple of times, and he will say “hi” to everyone he sees.  Today I took him to the grocery store and he was charming lots of people around him with his smiles and greetings.  One of the reasons we feel it is so important to stay closer to home and keep mostly family around is so that Daniel can begin to make healthy attachments to us as his family; Todd and I as his mama and daddy.  Sometimes when we have been out, Daniel has started calling another person “mama” or “baba” (daddy).  A lot of times, he will walk up to someone he doesn’t know and motion for them to hug him or pick him up.  He’s so cute that people often respond by letting him hug them and sometimes even picking him up.  We are “cocooning” to try and help him establish the connections he so deeply wants and needs with us, his mama and baba, and his siblings.  Daniel continues to be very active, but he is really improving daily on responding to correction well and obeying us.   He is even learning how to say, “Yes, ma’am” when I ask him to do or not do something.  Daniel loves to collect little things from all over the house and put them in his backpack.  Sometimes he also will hide things he finds in the house.  It can be a little bit of a problem, depending on what it is.  Most things aren’t that big of a deal, but there are some things that would be a problem to have “hidden” somewhere.   I’m sure that at the orphanage, part of surviving was to hoard things  He has improved a lot about just picking fights with siblings.  Our older kids especially love Daniel, and he enjoys being with them.  Abby just thinks he’s the most adorable thing (he really is super cute and adorable), and she’s sad that she has to move out soon to return to nursing school.  I’m so glad we have so many older kids to model appropriate behavior and to help keep an eye on this active little boy.  Daniel is super smart and very lovable, and we are so happy to be able to be his family.

 

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Eden is a sweet girl.  She is my little shadow, which is really cute.  Eden follows me everywhere and helps out with whatever I am doing.  It’s actually kind of nice.  Every morning and evening, she comes out to do the animal chores with me.  She helps take the feed buckets down for the horses, fill them and hang them back up.  She helps me carry the supplies for milking and watches with delight as the milk comes shooting out from the goat’s udder.  Eden is an excellent kitchen helper as well.  She has helped me make several dinners, and loves to throw away whatever trash we are producing as we go.  All the kids have learned that Eden also enjoys washing dishes.  She will happily wash while the other child loads the dishwasher.  She has even taken pots and pans out of my hands as I was washing them to take over washing for me.  Eden is also learning English words very quickly.  She now can say, “More, please,” “Mama help,” “eat,” “hot”, plus a number of other words.  Eden knows all of her siblings’ names.  She is very careful to watch over the younger kids and let me know if something isn’t right.  She loves Tovi, and is always careful to let me know where he is.  Eden is really good with Daniel.  One night while we were watching a family movie, Daniel fell asleep on Eden’s shoulder, and she kept her arm around him until the movie was over.  It was very sweet.  Sometimes Eden will just randomly repeat everything I’m saying, mostly when I’m on the phone.  I’ll say, “Oh hi!  How are you?” and she will repeat it word for word.  We are so blessed to have Eden in our family as well.

Both children were seen by our pediatrician last week.  It was mostly an appointment for getting all the referrals we will need for them to see specialists.  Eden was referred for an x-ray, and it was confirmed that she has scoliosis.  We will be taking her to Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas to help with her limp as well as the scoliosis.  Both children were referred for eye exams, which I think will have to be read on them by a machine, due to communication and/or behavioral barriers.  Daniel has a variety of things we need to look into, and we are getting started with all of it.  I’m trying to be patient as I wait for all of these appointments.  We know Daniel has Cornelia DeLange Syndrome, which is a genetic syndrome similar to Down Syndrome in that it has specific physical and behavioral markers.  We have been referred to a geneticist, although we believe they are only going to confirm what we already know.  They can’t even see us until March, which is a little frustrating.  However, there are other resources through which we can learn about CDLS so we can better help Daniel. We also took Daniel in to our wonderful dentist for a look at his teeth because he seemed to be really uncomfortable, and kept pointing to his teeth.  He has tons of cavities–I’m sure he has never had anyone consistently help him take care of his teeth, and it’s sad to see how much work is going to be needed to help his teeth and gums become healthy.  The dentist wasn’t able to do much except take a look.  Daniel has so much fear inside of him, and of course, we don’t want to traumatize him further with something like dentists or doctors making him do uncomfortable or painful things.  Yet, he really needs the medical and dental attention.  For the dentist, we will be bringing him back to be put to sleep and have extensive work done, including the x-rays we couldn’t get him to cooperate with (we tried lots of tricks and bribes, but no luck).  We have had some trouble getting Daniel to eat well, which I have learned has a lot to do with digestive issues related to his CDLS.  I also think the discomfort in his mouth plays a part in his eating issues.  He will eat fruit, and I can pretty much always get him to eat Ramen noodles, to which I add eggs (both kids LOVE this).  He will drink Pediasure, which is HUGE.  I’m thankful for that, and hoping we can find some things that will help with the discomfort he has with eating so that this little guy can grow strong and healthy.  He’s already looking better, but it has been a little bit of a struggle.

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I’m trusting God, that He will equip us and give us everything we need to raise these two special children He has added to our family.  They both have had a lot of trauma in their past.  Both have so much fear, and it’s easy to see that they aren’t sure they can trust anyone, which is very natural.  We have so much hope, however, as we can see that both of these sweet children have the potential to bond well and thrive now that they are in a family.  I feel so privileged to be able to give them love and hope for the future.  When I read Daniel’s medical file at the beginning of our adoption process, I saw that his name means “bright and hopeful future.”  I am trusting that God holds His future, and that it will indeed be bright and hopeful. Thanks for your prayers!  We feel them and appreciate them so much.

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Jer. 29:11

Going Home!!

I am so excited that we are heading home to Texas!  I will write some longer posts once we get home as I will finally be back to my own laptop.  We have spent tons of time exploring Guangzhou, going to the zoo, and finding local food to eat. We had an extra day in Hong Kong because airfare to fly home yesterday (Saturday) was almost twice as expensive as waiting till today (Sunday). We made the most of it, as Hong Kong is a beautiful city. We ride the tram to the Peak, took the ferry across to Kowloon during the day and again at night, rode a double decker electric trolley around town a couple of times, and ate some yummy food.  

The kids are doing ok.  Daniel is testing us every chance he gets. I think it will be much better with him once we get home.  Eden has mastered a few English phrases, including “Daniel, no!”  For the most part, things have been going fine with them.  

I am so ready to get home and have our family all together again soon!!  I can’t wait to get my hands on my little boys! I’ve missed everyone so much!!

IMG_20160729_223600734Here are the kids at the top of Victoria’s Peak

Pictures and Just Killing Time

Here are a few pictures I wanted to post with the last post. The one below is with Eden’s friends and foster brother in her foster home.
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This is with Eden’s foster family. They were very sweet and seemed to really care about her. On the left is her wonderful teacher, Liu, a very special woman who cares deeply for the orphans and does so much for them.

We are now officially killing time here in China.  There are parts of this process that seem a little inefficient.  They could make it so much shorter if they changed the way they do a couple of things.  We had to wait 4 days in Changsha for passports.  Once we got them, we flew here to Guangzhou where the children had medical exams, had blood drawn for TB tests (for US approval to travel home), and now we wait for our US consulate appointments to get the kids’ visas to travel home.  I am getting super homesick.  I miss all the other children so much.  We have seen them on FaceTime a few times, and my older children are texting us on WhatsApp, so I don’t feel so out of touch with them, but it is really hard being gone so long.  I’m really feeling it.  If I come back to China, I will skip the touring part to make the trip shorter.  We will have been here over two weeks by the time we arrive home.  We have to stay a couple of extra days because our consulate appointment is a day later and flights were really expensive unless we waited another day to leave.  We will get to spend an extra day exploring Hong Kong, which should be fun, but I would much rather be home with everyone together.  The sad news is that we won’t all be together until about mid-August because to of our teens are traveling.

The kids were really excited to fly on the airplane.  Eden couldn’t wait.  She kept grabbing her backpack and saying “Go!” and I kept having to show her my watch and explain that when the clock said “4:00” we would get ready to leave the hotel.  She had fun on the flight, and enjoyed everything about it.  Daniel was excited too, but on the way down, he cried a lot and it seemed like his ears hurt.  He was OK after we got off the plane.

The medial appointments went ok.  Both of our children were really upset about having to have their blood drawn.  They wouldn’t let us go into the room with the children, which is probably best so they won’t associate us with that experience, but it was hard watching them be so afraid and not being able to do anything while they were in there.  Eden had to have a vaccination done, and she was terrified.  It took 4 people to hold her down for the shot.  Once she got it, she relaxed and saw it wasn’t so bad, but she cried for several minutes afterwards.  She was equally as terrified about getting her blood drawn.  Bethany was trying to show her that it wasn’t so bad, and she showed her that Jayson had had his drawn and he was OK, too, but she was still so scared.  She cried all the way to the room.  She made it through OK, and was fine again once it was all over.  I think her arm is a little sore where they gave her the shot for the vaccine.  She was a little moody last night, and fell asleep quickly, before story time and prayer.  She has been really into listening to the mother-daughter Bible devotional I have been reading to the girls at night, and both kids really love to pray.  Daniel asks for it before every meal and before bed.  I’m so happy about that.

Today we went to a museum that was kind of touristy and full of expensive souvenirs we weren’t going to buy.  The kids were super bored, and wanted to leave the whole time.  They kept asking the guide in Mandarin if we were leaving yet.  We went to a market place afterwards where we bought chop sticks and other gifts at great prices.  They had Legos there that were so inexpensive.  We bought several sets for the children and to bring home to the other kids.  We spent the afternoon making our creations.  Daniel helped a little with his, but he is very easily distracted, so he was happy when the final product emerged.  I didn’t get a good picture of him with it because he promptly took it apart.  I’ll get one tomorrow to post.  I fixed it so he can pose with it later.  Eden didn’t want to open her set at first, but after seeing Daniel’s built and Lillah working on hers, she agreed to open it, and we worked on it together.  She helped me find pieces and was counting very well in English.  She kept saying, “OK!” when we would finish a step.  She was thrilled with the end result.  The last part was making a bunch of little flowers to put in the “yard,” and she did those all by herself.  She was really proud of our work.  It was a good bonding time for us.

Tomorrow we will be going to see a safari.  Everyone is really excited!  I’ll post about that later along with pictures.  I’m sure it will be a fun day!

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This is at the entrance of Martyrs Park

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Eden with one of her new dolls

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They were so excited to ride the rides!

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After getting splashed on the flume ride! ?

Continue reading Pictures and Just Killing Time