Saturday, June 23, 2012

Moving Day for Mom

The master houses a hospital bed, and our game room holds a king. We have a full storage unit and an empty garage. Trucks have been loaded and are presently en route. Mom is moving in with us today.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Playgroup Summer Fun

The big kids are away at summer camp, so the little girls and I met playgroup friends at a nearby fountain for some wet summer fun. We arrived early and had the whole place to ourselves.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Beginning Our Bible Bee Study

Our Bible Bee materials arrived recently, and we jumped right in. I was curious to see how the whole "2 cards a week, 20 minutes a day" thing would really work to "equip and encourage a lifestyle of investing in and living out one's relationship with Christ." So far, so good. We're studying II Timothy, a book that's very dear to my heart. We've had our share of suffering over these last few years, so to walk with my children through scriptures urging them not to be ashamed of suffering -- well, that's a joy. Additionally, the book instructs on how to walk through this life as a believer in Christ, it advises on issues of godlessness, it admonishes the verity of the Word, and it urges believers to preach the Word without shame or embarrassment.

We received a Primary level Sword Study for Gracie, a Junior level Sword Study for Bub, and two Senior level Sword Study books for James and I to follow along. We also received a parent manual, two Bibles, a rule book, and two packs of scripture cards for the kids to drill and practice. We ordered two music memory CDs in the Bible version we use (ESV), but the style of music is too unusual for any of us to enjoy or use regularly. Each of the Sword Studies, however, are contemporary and full of excellent instruction. They're laid out well with a variety of alternating activities in each lesson. Gracie and Bub are both attracted to the timelines and other helpful activities. I really like the way the books are laid out for them, and I can tell even this early in the game that they'll enjoy them over the long run.

My only complaint about the curriculum is this: registration is set up in such a way that prevented us from having the kids work in the same book. The divisions are based on age, not on grade level or ability, and that could prove to be a challenge for some. Though they're 18 months apart in age, Gracie and Bub have been at the same level academically for some time now, and we teach them at the same grade level. It's been a while since we've used entirely separate books to teach them anything, so getting back into that mindset and routine has proved to be a slight challenge for me. There's not a significant amount of teaching in this material per se, but I think it would have been nicer to have been able to override the system to move Gracie up to Bub's level, or to move Bub down to hers if that were necessary. Arranging competitors by grade level (as opposed to age) might be more effective method by which to group children according to their actual abilities. My children will do fine where they're placed, but we're on that age/academic line in our home where the difference between study levels is obvious and bears mentioning (in case some sort of override is needed).

Kiddos in Cool New Shirts

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Come to Me

Being a mother to many little ones is occasionally wearisome. Being the daughter of a dying parent is always heartbreaking. Being sandwiched between the two is unbearable at times. "Come to Me," a song by our worship pastor Michael Bleecker, has been a salve to me, like water poured on parched ground.

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest."

Matthew 11:28

Available on iTunes on June 22.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Accidental Artificial Twinning: Our Experience with Pseudo-Twins

We recently invited some friends of ours to come share their adoption story at FAM, the Foster/Adoption Ministry James and I lead at our church. Jon and Christi told their story of adopting daughters by way of both a private domestic agency adoption and an adoption through the foster care system. They had a biological son, then a short time later, they decided to adopt one more child. They wanted to adopt a male infant from Ethiopia, but after God did a work on their hearts, they decided to adopt a sibling group of four older children.

As they told their story, they shared some of the inhibitions their social worker had before walking them through their international adoption. There was an issue with birth order being disrupted. There were also concerns about "artificial twinning," a term I'd not heard until they spoke of it.

"Artificial twinning, false twinning, virtual twinning, and pseudo-twinning are synonymous terms coined to describe... genetically unrelated children born very close in age (less than eight months apart) to different birthparents being raised as siblings by the same social/legal parent(s)" [Perspectives Press]. Alternately defined, artificial twinning is "an expression used to describe unrelated children in a family whose birthdates are less than nine months apart. These can be a combination of biological and adopted siblings, adopted only, step or foster siblings" [].

Accidental Artificial Twins

Richard Van Deelen, Executive Director of Adoption Associates, Inc., addresses "the problem" of pseudo-twinning. "First, the adjustment demands of both children happening simultaneously may overwhelm the capacities of the parents to cope and adjust themselves. Even in normal twin birth situations, the demands of providing for both babies can be exhausting and may require the help of friends and family." He contends that in an effort "to do the best planning possible for children" and "[to protect] children by facilitating healthy placements," artificial twinning should be avoided.

Artificial twinning seems to be more common in international arrangements, in older child adoptions, and in the placement of sibling groups, but it's a phenomenon that's typically frowned upon by "responsible" adoption professionals, particularly those dealing with domestic infant adoption situations. Adoptive parents who end up with like-twins are often deemed irresponsible and selfish. Adoption professional Patricia Irwin Johnston puts it this way, "pseudo-twinning is usually not a carefully thought through goal and it comes from self-centered thinking rather than baby-centered thinking. Most of the time it reflects parents’ nearly desperate need to regain control over their family planning and to 'get' a child. Would-be parents who have 'failed' in so many ways during [infertility] treatment are often unable to believe in their potential for success in becoming parents to an extent that allows them to think in the baby-centered way that is the heart of effective parenting. They simply don’t know about or understand the need for emotional and practical preparation through a psychological pregnancy unless adoption professionals take extra, careful time to explain the concept and its benefits to them." She continues, "parents of exceptionally close-in-age babies who protest that they didn’t do this on purpose (and many take this position) are kidding themselves. Adoption doesn’t happen accidentally in the way that birth control fails."

My Little Elleigh-Bean

We have a set of pseudo-twins in Elleigh and Piper, and while we didn't purposefully seek to establish a set of artificial twins, I suppose some would say it didn't happen by accident. We felt pressed by the Lord to adopt another child, and nearly as soon as we submitted to that idea and submitted our application, we miraculously conceived another.

My Chunky Monkey, Piper

Because we didn't halt our adoption, and because I neither miscarried nor aborted the baby in my womb, we purposefully created the like-twins we're raising. In Jon and Christi's situation, they felt the Lord leading them to intentionally embrace adoptions that would both disrupt birth order and create multiple sets of artificial twins. Before their adoptions, they were well-educated by their social worker about the challenges they might face, but ultimately, they moved forward holding fast to God's peace in their hearts. James and I sincerely weighed out all the scenarios we could imagine, and still, we didn't feel compelled to halt our adoption, despite our blossoming pregnancy. Both of our families sought instruction from God's word which reads, "The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God," and for both of our families, God's promise came to pass: "Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:5b-6 ESV, Philippians 4:7 NLT).

But what about sensibility? Aren't the experts experts for a reason, what with all their expertise? Sure, they are. Shouldn't we listen to them, then? Sure, we should. It is fair to say that adoption experts and child advocates honestly care for their charges and really want what's best for the children they come in contact with. They have history and experience, they know their stuff. I'm not saying we shouldn't consider what others have to say about our situations, particularly those with some sort of authority on the matter at hand, but I am saying as Christ followers, we are not to base our decisions strictly on human authority or opinion.

Matthew 6:33 tells us to seek first God's kingdom, so do that -- go first to God's Word, ponder His character, think about what would bring glory to His kingdom, consider His heart for children and families. The Bible says, "pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you" (James 1:27 NLT). In the Psalms, it explains, "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain... Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate" (Psalm 127:1, 3-5 ESV). In these scriptures and throughout the Word, it is clear that God is all for children and families and adoption. God is in the business of building homes and families. Rest in that as you continue seeking His plan for your life specifically.

If you're considering an adoption scenario that experts might disagree with, follow the instructions in Philippians and start praying. Before entirely embracing expertise associated with human experience, pray and still your heart to discern how the Lord would lead you. The central theme to both of our stories is that we knew that God was calling us to move outside of our comfort zones, to pursue situations that defied logic and superseded cultural reasoning. Sure, some aspects of these decisions are complicated. Jon and Christi would tell you that their everyday is not easy, and neither is ours, but I swear to you, I would not change one thing. We did what we felt compelled by Christ to do, and even on the days when we feel pulled a thousand directions, we can recall that tranquility and take comfort.

If you're considering an adoption scenario that experts might frown upon, ask others to pray for you, specifically that you might be filled with the knowledge of God's will. Colossians 1:9-12 describes believers praying for other believers as it reads, "And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light." Having a support system of praying believers is a blessing anytime, but it's vital if you're planning to adopt, especially if your adoption might be complicated or non-conventional.

Because of the specific circumstances she was born into, had her birthmother not made an adoption plan, our baby very probably would have ended up in foster care. The whole situation is very complex, though none of us knew the extent of it at the time or relinquishment and placement. Because we were motivated by the peace in our hearts and not circumstances, we knew that this baby was meant for us. We loved her from the moment we laid eyes on her. We wanted to bring her home, to care for her, to protect her. It all felt very baby-centered, not egocentric as some experts might assume. But what if our primary motivation had been all of the extenuating circumstances, or what if the opinions of experts moved us instead of God's Word? Though I was eight weeks pregnant when we got the call for newborn Elleigh, would it have been preferential to ignore the peace in my heart, that supernatural knowing that this was my daughter, and allow her to slip into a state system of care just because she might one day feel the need to compete with a sister mere months younger than her? Or what about Jon and Christi's kids -- is the risk of competition so severe that it's better for them to languish in an Ethiopian orphanage than to live with a family that loves and cares for them? Personally, I don't think so. To me, that doesn't seem sensible.

I acknowledge that as children are going through developmental experiences simultaneously, there could be some issues, and these issues may be harder for some families to manage than others. In our home, diapers blowing out simultaneously is the worst thing that we've experienced thus far. Because we do have staggering nap times, we've adjusted our lifestyle a bit, but adjustments come with every new child whether they're spaced months apart or years apart. I personally think it's better for us that we're doing all the baby things at one time instead of letting one child move entirely away from naps and diapers, only to start completely over again. An even bigger change for our family is the fact that we went from being an average-sized family with one tiny child to a large family with three little ladies at once. It seems like more of the adjustments we're making relate to having five children than to having two so close in age, and our experience is common. Many people who aren't "experts," but who are living similar lives in similar families say the same thing -- artificial twinning isn't a big deal, despite the warnings to the contrary, and children often adjust and thrive, even with a same age sibling.

We've been warned it will get worse, that the baby phase is the honeymoon. "Just wait until they all hit puberty/start dating/get married," say the naysayers. We've considered those things, but we're not worried. The Bible says, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matthew 6:25-34 ESV).

Will our like-twins resent us one day for their close spacing? I don't know. Today and everyday, I plan to point my children to Jesus as I care for and give each of them what I believe they need. Today and everyday, I will be thankful for the blessing they each are to our family as a whole. Today and everyday, I choose not to trouble myself with what may or may not happen tomorrow, resting in the confidence that God is in control both now and then.

Our like-twins are little babies right now, and though there are days that feel utterly exhausting, I genuinely love the way our story was written. Despite his aversion to like-twins, Van Deelen states, "On the positive side, a wise simultaneous placement will provide sibling companionship. There are also legitimate considerations like cost savings, reduced travel time losses, maximized time off from work for the primary caregiver, etc." There have been many advantages to having similarly-aged little sweethearts in our home, and I would not choose to do any portion of this life differently.

Linking To: Raising Arrows, Growing Home, A Wise Woman Builds Her Home, Far Above Rubies, Teaching What is Good, The Better Mom, Monday Musings, Works for Me Wednesday, Women Living Well, Big Family Friday, Heart 4 Home, Time Warp Wife, Encourage One Another, Gratituesday, Raising Homemakers

Friday, June 1, 2012

On Suffering

Today, my friend Amy linked to a podcast of our pastor's wife, Lauren Chandler, sharing her thoughts on God in the midst of suffering. Our pastor, Matt Chandler, was diagnosed with a brain tumor three years ago, and Lauren relays how prior experiences (miscarriages, in particular) prepared her heart for hardship and helped her personally and intimately know how she could rely on God during the storm.

I've often thought the same thing -- how our season of deep suffering prepared us for our current struggles. Dealing with terminal illness and being in "the valley of the shadow of death" is difficult still, to be sure, but I'm not afraid because I know -- I really, really know -- that God is with me, comforting me (Psalm 23). Actively, presently, right here by my side comforting me. How? Through His Word -- particularly His promises, chronicles of His character, stories of other saints that He's carried through dark and difficult times -- through personal prayer and worship, and by the loving actions and prayers of those walking this road with us.

The cancer in my mom's body is seemingly unyielding, but in Matt and Lauren's situation, the cancer is gone. Author Jeannie Allen interviewing Lauren asked, "How do you not live in fear [that is will come back]? What does it look like for you to take every thought captive and not go to the worst place?" Lauren replied, "[By] just being grateful for today, being focused on today, and realizing that the Lord has given me grace for today. Not getting ahead of myself, and not getting years down the road or coming up with a Plan B, but just trusting Him for each day because who knows what tomorrow is going to hold for any of us. We make plans like we did before and we just hold them very loosely."

Again, I relate to much of this. Though Mom's cancer is still present, though it seems to be moving to the point of chemo-resistance, and though hospice care is on the horizon, I have what I need, the grace I need, to get through right now and all of each day. When my sweet little Gracie collapsed on me recently, crying, asking why our lives couldn't be "normal," this was my response to her. This is our normal, and God is present here, giving us manna for this day and this day alone. When we get to tomorrow or to a month from now or to that dark night of the soul, there He'll be with what we need for that time, too.

I'm not saying that this journey isn't hard because God is with me. I'm sure Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego felt the heat of the flames they were in, though the Lord was present with them (Daniel 3). I've felt the pressure of being sandwiched between many children and a dying mother. I've been sad and weary, I've felt frustrated, I've lost my cool, I've shed plenty of tears, and I've applied thirty pounds of chocolate straight to my waistline over these last fifteen months. I'm absolutely, 100% not some kind of spiritual giant who has it all together, but though I'm human and I've faltered and struggled, "I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate [me] from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

Lauren continued by discussing God's sovereignty even in suffering. Though we may not understand why we're suffering, she reiterates the fact that there is such a peace in understanding that God is in control of all things, even the suffering we're experiencing (Job 1). She personally recognizes the limits of her understanding, of all of our understanding, and focuses on the character of God, reiterating that He is good (Psalm 136:1) and does what's best.

This is where our rest is -- knowing God the Father, really knowing Him. Looking to His word to know who He is and what He's all about rather than relying on what the world would say about Him. Looking to Jesus specifically to know the Father (John 10:22-30), understanding His character and mannerisms to understand the Father. No matter what we're facing, God is a kind and loving Father, present with us always. No matter what we're facing, "let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1b-2).

Forever Reign by Hillsong

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to listen to Lauren's thoughts on suffering.

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