Thursday, April 18, 2013

My Birthday Girl and Other Goings On

Eden's Ninth Birthday.  I cannot imagine a child who enjoys their birthday more than Eden.  None of our kids would dispute this.  Eden has a child-like, innocent, beautiful joy about her birthday.  Her excitement beforehand, and throughout every moment of the day.  In the morning, she wanted to dress up pretty, and have Maggie put make up on her.  And in the midst of it all, her poor, little face, still recuperating from her surgery last month, the surgery I promised would go well and heal quickly... and now she faces another surgery in a few weeks, her face is still swollen, and the bruising around her eye just won't subside.  Her mouth is still full of wires and unhealed tissues.  But she is gorgeous, and her sunshine and joy just overrides everything.  She never complains.  She is my Lemonade.  From the day I met her, every day she has made me smile.  I am sure people get tired of hearing it, but her story is such a miracle, and she could not have come at a better time in my life.  There is just something so God-given about this little girl.  My heart, my heart....

A big treat of the day was lunch from McDonald's!   Our lifestyle has changed a lot over the past five years.  (Stay tuned for a post about that soon.)  We do not eat out.  The only time my kids have been at a sit down restaurant is when we visit with my parents, which is not very often as they live far away.  A special treat for them is when we buy a bag of burgers from the dollar menu at McDonald's. There have been times I have felt like they have been missing out, but I have come to learn that they don't see it that way.  Sitting on the curb out front of our house, eating burgers and fries, and the best part:  all together with family that you love and that loves you back unconditionally.  What could sweeter be than that?  

When is Hannah coming home from work?  I am ready for cake!

And here is the cake!  A LaLa Loopsy cake for my LaLa girl.  She loves LaLa Loopsy.  And why not?  When else in your life are you allowed to love things like this?  This is the time, so do it!  Some kids spend so much time wanting to be older, that they never really spend any time being little, and when they finally are older, they've already done everything.  You can't go back.  Be a kid while you can!

How old are you?  NINE fingers!!!

Look at that face.

This was a hard moment for me.  For the months before her surgery, I had told her that she would finally be able to blow out her birthday candles.  She has never been able to do it.  I took some video of it.  But she still had a very hard time blowing them out, and I was sorry about that.  

The cake was raspberry with raspberry filling.  

Eden and her Buddy.

My daughters, minus one.

Look at her face.  She has the best reactions for gifts.  Every single gift she completely loved, from her LaLa Loopsy underwear to this box of clothes that Hannah bought for her.

Her favorite gift was this big LaLa Loopsy we got her.  She was so happy and loved it and took it everywhere with her.  It wasn't until we were at the surgeon's several days later that I was looking at it and realized something.  "Did I buy you the wrong LaLa Loopsy?" I asked.  "Yes, but that's okay.  I still LOVE her!" she said.  What a sweet girl.

Reading the card from Granny.

And that's the birthday day for Eden.  Now we prepare for the next one in two weeks:  Silas turns TEN!  This is a busy birthday time for us.  But it doesn't even compare to some of the new friends I have made lately who have twenty and thirty children!  I don't know if I could remember that many birthdays!  


It seems like we just took down the pool and it's already time to put it back up again!  Well, it was kind of a wimpy winter.  But my kids are ready to swim!  Here Canaan and Daddy are getting the ground leveled out, and Kiki and Laz are picking WORMS out of the ground!  It was adorable!  Kiki would pick them up and say, "Hi worm, you okay?  You okay?"  And Laz would pick them up and put them in the bucket.  Once again I will say, the best thing I ever gave my kids is each other.  

Eden in one of her birthday outfits from Hannah, inventing new ways to swing on the swing.

And now... check out my BOY!!!   To explain:   for some reason, Silas has always had a very difficult time gaining any weight.  Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he DOESN'T EAT, but that's just a hunch.  He came home to us when he was two years old.  Since that day, we have been trying to "beef him up".  We have had so many doctors and surgeons tell us that we just had to get some weight on him.  He has rods in his spine, and there is only a thin layer of skin between the metal and the big wide world outside.  The surgeons had held off putting the rods in his spine for a while because he simply didn't have enough fat on him. They were afraid the metal would break through.

And man did we try.  We went to an eating specialist when he was little, a whole group of "experts" and "specialists".  This began my disenchantment with "the experts" which has continued to this day.  All these people could not figure out - nor even suggest - the idea that he may be lactose intolerant.  They just told me to give him cream in everything.  Then when Isaac came home, we discovered Isaac was extremely lactose intolerant, and that's when we discovered Silas was too.  

At that point Si began to gain a little bit of weight.  But it remains that he has a small appetite, does not like to eat very much, or very quickly.  It is always a struggle.  My efforts amounted to very little, most likely because I could not be consistent enough, with everything else going on in our house.  

Enter Hannah.   ta dah!!!

After Silas's last surgery in September (he has them every six months) she took it upon herself to beef him up.  Every surgery he had was so difficult for him, and he rarely seemed "healthy".  He would go into the surgeries feeling weak and puny, and then lose a few pounds after surgery.  The past couple of surgeries he has gone in at about 44 pounds, and it has taken him another six months to get back to 44 or 45 pounds before the next surgery.

Hannah is a gift.  She loves her brothers and sisters like nobody's business.  She will make a better mom than me someday, once we find the dad (and that's a post for another day too.)  I couldn't be more proud of her.
 She was utterly devoted to this cause, and ramped it up over the past few months.  She gave Silas a plate of food each morning that he had to eat in addition to his regular meals.  She would add up his calories at the end of each day.  She would buy snacks and foods that he liked out of her own money, and would buy him prizes for meeting milestones, like his first day over 3,000 calories, and reaching three days in a row over 3,000 calories.  She was relentless with him.  No matter how late she got home from work, she would add up his calories and make sure he had filled out his sheet.  If he hadn't, she would go and wake him up and make him fill it out, or make him do jumping jacks.

One day I overheard him talking to Maggie and the other kids.  They were talking about how hard it was for him to eat all of this stuff.  I heard him say, "Well, Hannah loves me.  She's aggressive about this because she wants me to be ready for my surgery, so I'm glad."  Just when you think they don't get it.

So look at the pudge, people!!  WOoooHooooo!   
He went from a BMI of 11 to a BMI of 13.8!!!  An increase of SIX POUNDS!!!  
W O W !!!!
He is still underweight for his height, BUT, the extra weight made all the difference in his surgery this week.  He had his surgery on Monday, and you would not know he had had surgery at all by the way he is acting now, a few days later.  I had promised him for years that if he would just get healthy before his surgery, it would make a big difference in how he got through it.  Then I was nervous.  Would it be true?  And it was!!  He is doing GREAT!  And he looks so healthy.  What a joy!

This is a picture of him around this time last year.  You decide!!

So what's next for the Baker family?  Well, I had on my calendar that this would be it for the medical stuff, and I would be getting ready for a rest.  But no.  I am to Charlotte at least once a week now for Eden.  I don't enjoy medical stuff or driving, but here we are.  And now Eden is facing another surgery in the next two to three weeks.  Not sure of the timing yet.  

If you had told me years ago that I would be doing all of this, I would have said certainly not.  There is no way my heart could be so strong.  
My heart is not.  So many tears I weep for my children.  And so many tears more to come, and yet, even more children will be coming home.  And we will do all we can, with God's strength and provision, to make them all that God wants them to be.  And to God be the glory, great things He has done, 
and great things still to come!

I have some recent good news, that I will post soon, once I get it into words.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

April Thoughts...

It is April, and I was thinking today of an April eleven years ago. 

In my years of adopting, I have met so many people, heard so many experiences.  I can say that by far, most people who adopt had thought about doing it for a very long time, many even when they were still children.  For them, these decisions were a long time coming.  As is usual for me, I am the oddball.  Eleven years ago, I had never even thought of adopting, or heard of international adoption.  (I’m sure there are others like me out there – well, maybe there are.  I like to think you are out there and that I am not the only one, but if I am the only one, it won’t be for the first time.)  So when a casual friend at church told me that she was adopting a little girl from China, I was utterly intrigued.  Not to think that I would ever do such a daring thing, but I just had never even heard of such a thing.  And someone I actually knew doing such an outlandish thing?  Imagine that! 

Then came that day in April, eleven years ago, when my friend emailed me to say that they had recently traveled to bring home their little girl.  Would I like to meet her?  And so, little 15 month old Elizabeth stomped into our house with her little squeaky shoes.  I was sitting on the floor, and she squeaked over to me, without reservation, and plopped her little self into my lap.  

And I was enchanted. 

How was I to know that from that magical moment, my whole life as I knew it had changed?  We visited for a short while, while one new thought emblazoned in my mind: 

"I could do this...” 

As a timid, non adventurous, security loving woman, my brain was very resistant to this thought.  And as Providence would have it, as my friend was leaving, my husband was just coming in the door for lunch. 

My husband.  And this is what I wonder about so much too.  In all my years of adopting children and interacting in the adoption community, I have discovered that my husband is rare; very rare indeed.  I had always known he was different, and these things had attracted me to him. But I hadn’t realized just how very rare he was.  I knew he was a man who loved God and lived it.    He was also a man who unashamedly, yet matter of factly, just loved children.  Not in a showy, “I LOVE KIDS!” way, like some clownish children’s minister.  Just in a quiet, seeping into every part of his life, appreciation and respect for kids as people, and for life as sacred.  In the 28-plus years that I have known this man, I have only seen him cry a handful of times.  Just about every time had to do with children.  At the time I met him, he was teaching a Sunday School class for five year olds.  Not for community service, or because anyone obligated him to; not to impress anyone.  This was just his fiber.  He has always been one to want to help those who are in need:  widows, orphans, single moms, the oppressed, the persecuted, the needy, the neglected, the hurting.  He was one who would pick up a hitch hiker or stop and help someone by the side of the road.   When our oldest three children were young, and we lived in a 1200 square foot townhouse, more than once we had those who had no place to go living with us.  Was that so unusual?  Apparently, it’s not all that common after all, and I think I took it for granted.  Now I know better. 

You see, my husband’s love is the real deal.  It was never an arm’s length, give money to the guy on the corner deal.  It was never a love-on-the-kids-at-church, and then go home and relax behind your closed and locked front door.  His love was never about trying to get credit, or what it looked like to others.  It was quiet.  And it involved opening his front door.  Letting in children and people who were broken.  Letting them sit at his own table -- with his own children -- in his own house -- along with the smells, the dirt, and the attitudes.   And they didn’t always appreciate it, and it didn’t always turn out well.  But he didn’t just send his money away, or give his time in a safe place on someone else’s turf.  He gave of his whole self and all he had, not shrinking back at danger – with abandon, and with risk. 

Because he knew this is the life that God has called us to.  God did not call us to be safe.  In her book Kisses From Katie, Katie Davis wrote, “Jesus called his followers to be a lot of things, but I have yet to find where He warned us to be safe.  We are not called to be safe; we are simply promised that when we are in danger, God is right there with us.  And there is no better place to be than in His hands.”  There are those out there who want to tell you that following Christ will make your life safe.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Show me one follower of Christ in Scripture, whose dedication to Christ resulted in him being safe.  Following Christ is dangerous.  It is risky.  It is bold.  All things that I am not.  So if anyone thinks I am any of these things, I can assure you, it is not me that you are seeing, but Christ in me. 

John Piper recently wrote a small book entitled Risk is Right.  He wrote, “If our single, all-embracing passion is to make much of Christ in life and death, and if the life that magnifies him most is the life of costly love, then life is risk, and risk is right.  To run from it is to waste your life.”  Well.  That’s a pretty bold statement.  To run from risk is to waste your life?  Unfortunately, in this short book that is very worth your read, he fully supports this statement in a manner that I challenge anyone to dispute.  In the book Piper explains, “All of our plans for tomorrow’s activities can be shattered by a thousand unknowns whether we stay at home under the covers or ride the freeways.  One of my aims is to explode the myth of safety and to somehow deliver you from the enchantment of security.  Because it’s a mirage.” 

The “enchantment of security”.  I know lots of people who are enchanted by security.  One of them is me!  I find the thought of security entirely enchanting!  For instance, I hate traveling out of the country.  While I hate the discomfort, and all the inconveniences, the hardest part is the lack of security.  So much could go so very wrong, and for many people, it does!  I’ve read the stories.  It happens!  But God never promised any of us security here, or that things would not go wrong.  In fact, the one thing he did promise is that if we truly were following Him, obeying Him and doing the things He called us to do, then things WOULD go awry, and would be hard, and that we would be persecuted and have all sorts of trials.  And yet, so many of us chase relentlessly after security when, as Piper said, it’s all a mirage.  It doesn’t exist.  From Piper, “There is sometimes a subtle selfishness behind our avoidance of risk taking.  There is a hypocrisy that lets us take risks every day for ourselves but paralyzes us from taking risks for others on the Calvary road of love.  We are deluded and think that such risk may jeopardize a security that in fact does not even exist.” 

And so, while many would say the way my husband lives
and the things he does are “risky”
I see that what he has always wanted most
was to see things the way God sees them,
and value the things that God values, and care about the things God cares most about,
 and that risk was an inherent part of that and a non-negotiable reality. 
It’s taken me several years to learn the same thing. 

I cannot even remember what I said to my husband that day in April, when Elizabeth walked out my door with her mother, just as he was walking in.  I think that I may not have said a thing.  Or if anything, I may have voiced to him what was echoing in my mind that whole time:

“I could do this.”  

But I do remember that without hesitation, his response was simply:

“Check it out.”

And that gives me chills on this April day eleven years later.  Why? 
At the time, it was a completely normal thing for him to say, in fact, I could have predicted that reaction.  But in all my years since then, I have seen that most husbands would not have had that response.  Most husbands do not have that response.  Most husbands are hesitant, resistant, fearful.  Most husbands, whether they’d like to admit it or not, are very enchanted with security, and with their quiet, safe life.  They like to come home and find refuge, and close the door and leave the world outside.  They've worked hard for it, and they deserve it.  They want to be comfortable, and safe.  And is there anything wrong with that? 

On the surface it seems reasonable, except for the fact that, God has not called us to be safe, or comfortable.  He has called us to a live a life that is risky.  To do otherwise could be cowardly, or it could be selfish.  It is clutching on to parts of your life that you are telling God He is not allowed to touch.  It is telling God that you have given what you are willing to give of yourself, and that the rest of it is your own.  But God has not asked for part of us;  He has asked for all of us.  And giving all of yourself cannot be without risk. 

What if?  What if my husband had looked back at me and said he wasn’t so sure about that, or that it cost too much, or that our kids were already so old and why start again?  What if he had even shown an inkling of reservation or doubt? 

I know what if.  I would have dropped it.  Because it was a daring and scary thought, and I was a timid and submissive woman, constantly questioning and second guessing and fretting.  I needed no encouragement to get off this track.  All he would have had to say was that he was not so sure, and I would have agreed.  And that would likely have been the end of that.

And six children would not be here. 
And at least five of them, I know, would almost certainly not ever have had
a family at all,
if they had even survived. 

Think about that for a moment.  And for those of you who know our kids,
know their faces,
know their voices,
think even harder….

It was my husband who, when I approached him apprehensively with a picture of a twisted and broken little boy that I had been looking at for a couple of months, dispelled my fears, almost in a scolding way.  While I had never heard of international adoption before our first adoption, I also had never heard of special needs adoption or waiting children.  My first view of this twisted little boy, I was taken aback.  As I looked over the list of darling children with minimal special needs, this one did not make anyone smile.  In fact, while I pitied him, I also recoiled and thought to myself, “Who would take the risk of adopting that?” 

And yet, his picture gripped me.   I had no peace.  And when I went to my husband with my list of reasons why this was not a good idea, he barely looked at the misshapen little boy in the photo, but simply said, “What?  Are we buying a car here?  You don’t pick and choose your options.  You bring ‘em home, and I’ll love ‘em up.  Same as it’s always been.”   And when I expressed to him that nobody knew what was wrong with this child, and that it could be a tumor, and he could just come home to die, my husband looked at me, puzzled, and said, “Well, wouldn’t it be better for him to die in the arms of a family that loves him than to die alone in an orphanage in China?” 

I knew the answer to that.


Each time we brought a child home, I felt it was my last.  Adoption is hard.  I don’t have time to write about all the ways that it is hard.  Each time, I felt I was done.  And I marvel at how God placed each child in my path, and how my husband’s words of encouragement were what I needed in order to take the risk.  To dive in one more time, like Steven Curtis Chapman wrote, “So sink or swim, I’m diving in.” 

I am thankful for a husband who takes risk without blinking, and who loves deeply but never ostentatiously.  A man who adores his kids with abandon.  He wants to be with them every chance he can get. He works harder than any man I’ve known, and is a perfectionist because of his own worth ethic:  loving his family and all those God has placed in his path to care about, and through this, ultimately to glorify God.  I have never once heard him complain about work.  He gives without reserve and without condition.  He gives no weight to the accolades of man.  He lives a life of risk.  He gets it. 

It's been a wild ride, but thank God, my husband has taught me to "get it" too.  Not without resistance on my part, but... he's a patient man too. 

April birthdays and photo shoot

We have three birthdays in April.  The first is Daddy's!!  Whenever I ask Art what he wants to do for his birthday or any occasion, he ALWAYS wants to do something with the whole family.  He adores his kids, and always wants to be with them every chance he gets.  He truly enjoys them.  Every father should feel this way.  Unfortunately, so many do not.  His choice of something to do for his birthday?  Go to the movies with the whole family.  This was Laz's first movie and he did okay!  We saw The Croods in 3D.  I enjoy hearing the kids' reactions and watching them more than I do the movie!  It's priceless.  It does my heart good to hear Eden laugh these days.

Since we'll be having cake next week for Eden's birthday, I opted for one of Art's favorite:  banana pudding!

Laz was impressed.

Silas got him a gift certificate for Sweet Frog.  If you've never been, it's great!  (Try the salted caramel. mmmm....)

A big tub of bubble gum from Isaac.

Maggie and Eden got him a seat cover for his car.  Black and red;  go Bull Dawgs!!

The best Daddy in the world.  What beautiful kids I have.

And speaking of beautiful kids, here the kids were out front playing with some sidewalk chalk Mr. Chip brought to Eden after her surgery.  Silas and Isaac put some on their faces, just for fun, and since Laz had never seen sidewalk chalk before, and didn't know what to do with it, the first thing he did was copy them!!  It was hilarious.  

I think Silas has one of the most photogenic faces.  He just can't take a bad picture.

Eden is feeling somewhat better.  Here she and Maggie are in outfits that Widsar bought them before she left.  I love them!!  So cute.  And they are making Easter pictures with chalk.

And a Lala Loopsy for good measure.  (Eden's favorite.)

Eden's face has drained quite a lot, and praise God, the doctor says she no longer has an infection and can stop taking the antibiotics.  She shows periods of Sunshine, where she is her old self, pretending, and singing, but overall, I still get so worried.  Mostly I see it when I look at photos of her.  She gets tired every day still, which is so NOT like her.  Her eyes are droopy and not sparkly.  Everything still seems like such an effort.  Much of the inflamed tissue in her mouth has gone down, and she can put all her teeth together now.  She also has not lost her permanent front tooth that we were worried about.  The surgeon wants to wait for her to heal up some more and for her swelling to subside some more before planning a surgery to trim the tissue that is hanging over inside her cheek.  Right now, her right side of her mouth is still swollen, it does not go up when she smiles, and her right eye is still somewhat bruised and the skin seems to be stretched out from the swelling.  She is such a trooper though.  Never complains.  She told me she "just wants to look normal."  So many reasons why I cry.

And on a happier note, here are some pictures Hannah took of the kids playing outside recently in the beautiful spring weather:

This is a shot right before Maggie got her hair trimmed for summer.  It was getting very long.  Very pretty, but getting tangled so often.  We trimmed off about four inches, and it is so thick and lovely now, perfect for summer. 

The cherry tree in our neighbor's yard is in full bloom and is just ridiculously beautiful.  Add a gorgeous girl to the mix and it is just mind blowing!  

Such an exquisite girl.  I can say that because she certainly didn't get it from me!

Lovely Kiki.

And my handsome boy.

Incidentally, Silas is wearing one of the several Tiger Kim's Taekwondo shirts that Hannah has designed recently.  They have never had so many sales of their shirts, and all of her designs are so awesome.

Well I have TWO handsome boys!!  Lucky me!!

Funny boy.  I love this squishy face!!

Brothers.  So sweet.

And a few shots of my Sunshine.

Oh please pray for my girl.  I worry so much about her.

Next on the Baker docket, after Eden's NINTH birthday next weekend, Silas will be going in for his next back surgery, to adjust the rods in his back.  Hannah has been working diligently to get him to gain weight for this surgery.  She is the real deal when it comes to a loving sister.  She gets all kinds of resistance from him, but she is no nonsense and completely firm.  And he has gained several pounds!!  This will be the first time EVER that he has gone into surgery without being significantly underweight.  

We expect that soon after that Eden will have to have more surgery, but we will let you know as we do.  She still has to have several wires taken out of her mouth, and some adjustments made.  I am learning the route to Charlotte very well now!

PLEASE pray for our girl, and for our boy as well.  These things are so taxing on my heart.  I need for Eden to recover, and to hit some significant strides in improvement.  I had no idea this surgery would be so difficult to recover from, and I have so many thoughts and fears about it all. Trying hard to trust God, who loves her even more than I do, if that's possible (and I guess it is).

"Emmitt's" paperwork is coming along very well.  I thought we had hit a stall, but several things all came in this week.  In fact ALL the documents we needed came in this week, so our social worker can now complete the home study, and we will soon be able to send our dossier off.  We are still trying to think of a name for this young man.  Please pray for wisdom for us as we prepare for his homecoming, and for the logistics of travel and timing and all of that.  Please pray for him as he waits, and for strength, finances, and for cooperation and speed in our paperwork.

I just have to say, I am so utterly impressed and humbled and delighted with our experience so far with Reece's Rainbow.  I have had the privilege of being part of their Facebook page for the past few months and also part of their handling Emmitt's process.  I may not have adopted as many children as some of my friends have, but this is our seventh adoption process, and we have worked with several different agencies and have witnessed the adoption processes of close friends, first hand, as well.  Reece's Rainbow is not an agency, first and foremost.  They are a non-profit organization.  And they are absolutely amazing from what I have experienced so far.  I have never had ONE individual in ANY agency we have worked with, not a representative, not a dossier consultant, not ONE person who has been so consistently available and committed to the placement of special needs children as they have been.  There has not been one time that I have contacted them -- day, night, weekends, holidays -- that I have not received a  response within a few hours, if not immediately.  That alone just floors me.  But it is also completely indicative of the fact that this is not an organization doing this for the money; it is not a "business".  This is an organization completely fueled by a desire to place needy children in homes and families.  I just can't get over the purity of it.  It is as it should be.  Secondly, this is a Facebook page with hundreds of people on it, and I have not seen one harsh or judgmental or argumentative word posted.  And this is a very busy page!  I am still confused.  I have been a part of several different adoption pages, yahoo groups, etc., and it has always saddened me the way that so many people, who have this great bond with each other, will rip each other apart online.  Sooo saddened by it.  But this group has been so refreshing.  I have never seen a group of people who are so utterly supportive of each other.  And they all support each other's fundraisers, those who pray pray for each other... this is not a Christian group, per se, and still, those of all different faiths, and those of no faith, are all there, respectful and supportive of each other.  It still hasn't quite sunk in.  And the fact that complete strangers have donated to support our adoption is absolutely mind boggling to me.  What I could write about this.  It would take too long.  But I will say, I am completely impressed and humbled.  And if you have a donation to place anywhere, placing it with any child or family with Reece's Rainbow I can assure you is a good thing.  And all donations are tax deductible.  

Ongoing right now, is a tremendous opportunity to support families and special needs children, while getting a chance to "win" one of over a 100 prizes totaling more than $5,000.  Please click on the Mulligan Stew link above.  I believe it is going on for a couple more weeks.  

And yes, I have come to the conclusion that despite the ache in my heart for so many of these children, no, I cannot adopt them all.  Sad, but true.  However, there are those who are reading this who could help one of these children.  PLEASE go to Reece's Rainbow site and look at the beautiful children there.  The children who are trapped and suffering.  The children who, through no fault of their own, have been robbed of all hope, and robbed of a future.  YOU can make the difference in someone's life eternally.