Sunday, November 29, 2015

Franksgiving 2015

This year the Frank clan gathered in Amish country -- Holmes County, Ohio.  As we were driving in, I was pretty sure that "Amish country" was just a nice way of saying, "the last hour of driving will be spent on hilly, curvy roads on which you can go no faster than 30 mph."  But, as it turned out, there were actually a lot of Amish people.  We saw many horses and buggies traveling on the roads, and in a span of 20 minutes counted 27 barns.

We rented a camp property for the 3 days, and it was a beautiful spot.  There were plenty of hills to roam, and our Franksgiving Turkey Trot 5K could be done right on the property.

(...and some football playing...)

 There was also a big slide under a hill that was a big hit:

And, perhaps even more important, the inside space was HUGE.  We all hung out in a big lodge that was big enough for us to all eat in, cook in, AND play corn hole in, play football in, and even scooter in.  All at the same time!

The kitchen was a big blessing.  We could all make pies (NINE total!), side dishes, turkey, etc., all at the same time.

And the guys manned the dishwashing station.

This was the first time that all 25 of us were together in 4 years so it was fun to see everyone!  Of course we had to gather for a big family photo.




We did our annual yankee swap (this year all the gifts started with the letter F), and played a bunch of games.

It was another Fun Franksgiving!

Colsen's soccer season

This year Colsen joined a new team, World Outback Ministries, located right outside our neighborhood, and it was a great experience for him!  This was definitely a step up in intensity (practices/games 3x a week) and skill level, and he was challenged to play at a higher level.  The team bonded in ways I haven't seen happen in the other sports leagues we've been a part of, so we really enjoyed watching that.  They hope to play again together in the spring.

And, as it turned out, they are now the Union County Soccer League U-10 Champions!

It was an exciting playoff tournament weekend!  WOM ended the season undefeated.  Looking forward to next season!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Strider's football season

I'm a little late in wrapping this up, but the 10-month football season is now over!  (They start workouts again in January... yay for the 2-month break.  :)  )

Strider played for the Carolina Pride this year, a varsity team that competed against various private school and homeschool teams around NC and SC.  The season was interrupted by a few cancellations -- both because of strong storms and other teams forfeiting, but they finished well, coming in 2nd in their league.  Strider played safety.

For his last event, they had an inter-squad scrimmage and we had a good time cheering on #16.

Going out as a captain for this game

Got a little photobombed here

Too fast for the camera!
And here's the fan club!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Adoption Update, Part 4 of 4

I thought for sure Pete would think walking away from our current adoption agency after we had paid them all that money was ludicrous,  BUT, to my great happiness, when I presented the choice to Pete, his response was, “It’s only money.”  

He agreed we should pursue her now, even if it meant walking away from that sizeable “investment.”  (Have I mentioned what a wonderful man I am married to???)  This was yet another sign to me that God was in all of this!

Meanwhile, I was also trying to get her file reviewed by an international adoption specialist doctor.  Our agency recommended three doctors, one of whom was in Charlotte, so I called her (although I had never heard of her).  I left a message with the receptionist, and then waited and waited and waited for her to call me back.

Finally after 24 hours I called back – and discovered the receptionist had never given the doctor the message.

This time the doctor called me back within 10 minutes!  She was wonderful.  So helpful and willing to do what we needed. In that first phone call she even gave me her cell phone number and her home email address, telling me to contact her anytime!  And, as a bonus, she knows a lot about orthopedics, which is exactly what we needed.

After she had had a chance to review the little girl’s file, she called me and we talked for awhile.  She was VERY positive and enthusiastic about his girl would be a good fit for our family!  This was so encouraging to hear.  I hung up after our long conversation and felt the Lord was confirming to us again that we were on the right path – another sign.

I happened to be at Classical Conversations with the kids that morning when the doctor called, and I had just, an hour earlier, met a mom of one of the kids in Rayna’s class.  She had adopted two kids from Russia so we were talking all about that.  After I hung up with the doctor I told this woman that was who I had been talking to, and said, “It’s Dr. Walker.” Have you ever heard of her?

“Oh yes!” she said, “She’s our pediatrician!”  She went on to explain that even though they lived in Waxhaw, they continued to go to Dr. Walker in uptown Charlotte because they loved and respected her that much!  WHAT WERE THE CHANCES OF THAT???  Another sign from God!

So, if you’re keeping track, here are the “signs” we felt God had given us so far:

1. Showing us a girl named Rayna

2. Having her file reappear, after weeks of being missing, on the very list of our home study agency’s partner agency

3. The fact that neither Pete nor I were hesitant to walk away from the large amount of money we had already paid another agency

4. Very positive report from the doctor
                A. Finding that the woman sitting next to me actually knew and loved Dr. Walker
                                1. Running into that woman again the next day in the Wesley Chapel Target (I guess this isn’t really an adoption “sign” but I loved the coincidence anyway!

I was becoming more and more confident that this was the girl we were to pursue.

We still weren't sure, though, if we could be matched with her.  More waiting to hear from the agency...

Finally, on Friday, we got confirmation that this girl was officially being “held” for us while we began yet more paperwork to switch agencies and apply all over again.  This was the best news I had had all month – all year??

The first thing I did after I hung up from that phone call was go dig out this notebook.

Back in early 2006 Pete and I had started the proceedings to adopt a girl from China and I had bought this notebook to record our journey, and prayers for her along the way.  (I have a similar notebook for each of my other kids.)  But, I had only gotten 2 pages in before we discovered I was pregnant and the adoption would have to be put on hold.

Now, almost a full decade later I could dig it out with the hope that there now a little girl in China that would soon be coming home!

On the 2nd page I found this Scripture passage written:  Psalm 107:1-3

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
    those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
 those he gathered from the lands,
    from east and west, from north and south.

I love the stories the Lord writes!  Only He could tie this all together so perfectly.  Way back in November of 2005 I was sad because a baby I had miscarried months before would have been due that month.  Now exactly 10 years later He is giving us hope that our family may be expanding again!  He keeps His promises…. Even when we have to wait sometimes.

So that brings us up to today.  We are rapidly filling out paperwork to apply to be matched to this little girl.  We’ll see what the next part of the journey brings!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Adoption Update, Part 3 (of 4)

Then, Sunday evening, November 8th, we got an email from the woman at our local home study agency which read, “Hi Amy, You’re not going to believe this, but our partner agency has Rayna's file.”  That was as far as I got in the email before I started tearing up.  Through the tears I read that they even had a little update on her as well as a couple videos.

The really amazing part about this is that there so many agencies that could have had her file – so many.  I had been checking the individual lists of several of the larger agencies for the last couple of weeks, to no avail. And the one that happened to request her was the one our home study agency partners with!

I could barely speak, but told Pete to come read the email and watch the videos with me.  I didn’t let him see how emotional I was feeling because I didn’t want him to be swayed by me.  We had argued a lot about various issues that day and I knew he was wanting to “fix” things – his default mode – and I didn’t want him to say she was cute and wonderful just because that’s how I felt.

About an hour later, with no prompting from me, he told me we should pursue her.  I thought he would at least want to sleep on it, but he didn’t!

(Here’s the really cool part – IT WAS ORPHAN SUNDAY!  We had had the kids watch a sweet video about adoption that afternoon and all of them had come away from it with a greater desire to adopt. I had no idea such good news would be coming that evening.)

Even though it was late Sunday now, I leaped out of bed and went over to the computer to email the agency back.  It was very hard to sleep that night… I was up from 2-4 am, I think.

… And then, more waiting.  All the next day we waited for the agencies involved to communicate with each other and get back to us about our next steps.  As I waited and waited with my phone continually at my side, I realized that the motives of my heart were not so good. 

I was terrified that once again she would be snatched from us and I found myself thinking, “Worst case scenario would be that she gets matched with someone else while we’re delayed!”  Almost immediately every time I thought this, I would follow it up with, “Wait a minute, Self, that’s NOT a worst case scenario!  That would mean an orphan has been placed in a family… Isn’t that the goal here??” 

But somehow this girl was different.  All along, for lo these many months and years, as I had scrolled through all the waiting children on the various web sites, my heart would be sad and I would pray that they would please find families.  But this girl didn’t feel like just an orphan to me.  She felt like MINE.

But still we had to wait.  I thought it was interesting that our Bible reading that morning with the kids was about Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis.  In the chapter we read, Isaac prayed to God because Rebekah was barren, and God gave them twin sons.  But when we added up the math on the ages, we realized that between the time they got married and the time the sons were born 20 years had gone by!  That is a long time to be praying and waiting for a baby.  It was definitely a family pattern… Isaac's father Abraham and Sarah waited much longer than that even for their promised son.  Strange how God made so many wait so long for children…   I guess I could wait one more day.

But that one day turned into another and another as various questions had to be answered.  It felt like I spent just about every hour of every day that week waiting – either for an email or a phone call – from a doctor or an agency.

Meanwhile, we received some news that I thought might be the end of the whole journey for us.  Since her file had just become listed with the new agency, they weren’t willing to just let our current agency have her file (so we could adopt her) until they gave their families the full 90 day window of opportunity.

So we had two choices.  We could wait 90 days, and then if she still wasn’t adopted by another family, our current agency could have her file so we could pursue her.  Or, we could switch agencies now and apply for her.  This would mean walking away from our current agency – to whom we had already paid a LOT of money.

What should we do??

I'll post Part 4 tomorrow...  Part 4 here

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Adoption Update, Part 2

Three days after we received her file, the agency contacted me late at night to tell me some news.  Her file had been given to their agency for a window of 90 days, and apparently they had just reached the end of that 90 days because they no longer had access to her. 

Usually when those periods end, the child’s file gets returned to a large “shared” list that all agencies can access.  BUT, this woman had tried to find her on now on the shared list, and couldn’t.

 Her file had just completely disappeared.

The woman explained to me that this was likely explained by 2 options:  either she had already been matched with another family, or another agency had requested her for their individual list.  The woman had sent out a message on the listserve with all the adoption agencies, but no one had responded that she was on their agency's list.

I was crushed.

 I cried as I read her email.  And all that night – and week – I found myself mad.  Mad at God, mostly.  Why would he wait until the 87th day that her file was listed with that agency before I found it?  Why did He even show me her, and let me get all excited about her, only to yank her away again?
What was the point of all that??

Friends reminded me that sometimes we need to wait until Heaven before we get the “why’s” of this life answered.

But, I felt like God had started writing the beginning of a great story – I mean, come on, her name was Rayna!  I wanted to see that story unfold – to be able to re-tell it! A friend sent me a very appropriate article about how we sometimes try to write a story ahead of God, but they don’t always end up all nicely tied up in a bow like we’d like.  The stories don’t end the way we want to write them.

For the next few weeks, I pursued every avenue I could to try and track down the girl’s file. It couldn’t have just disappeared, could it?  I tried all kinds of different agencies, asked the people we had worked with in the past (and our agency representative) to submit inquiries.  But they all came back with no answers.  She really had disappeared.  It looked likely that she had already been adopted.  This should have made me happy – but it didn’t.

Meanwhile, I kept trying to ask God why He had put her face and file in our path.  Was it to soften our hearts to more children like her?  Were we supposed to pursue another child in China?  Another child with club feet? An older child?  What was He telling us???

I got no specific answers to those questions. But He did say something to me very loudly.  One morning as my kids and I were getting ready to pray together, I thought, “We should include some Scripture in our prayer this morning… which one?”

Immediately, God brought Psalm 23 to mind (we hadn’t talked about this passage in a long time).  Just as I was about to say that, Colsen, who had a Bible in his lap, piped up, “Hey, look what I just found, Mom – Psalm 23!!” I told the kids how I was just thinking of that passage, and so Miles said, “Let me see if I can just open the Bible and find it on the first page I turn to, too!”  He tried, but he opened to the book of Jeremiah.  However, on his third try, he did open right up to it! 

We realized God was trying to show us how important this chapter was, so we recited it and prayed it together.  And that passage has stayed close on my heart ever since.  The Lord IS our shepherd.  He is a good shepherd.  He leads us beside quiet waters, He restores our souls, He takes care of us.  He even leads us in victory so our cups overflow!  He has love and mercy follow us all the days of our lives.  Many, many times I have returned to those truths, in the midst of disappointment and sadness and confusion.

I realized I needed to just keep putting one step in front of the other…to keep working on the incessant adoption paperwork, even if it meant no child would be referred to us for years…

On November 7th, my friend, the children’s ministry director at our church, asked me if she could put an update about our adoption in the newsletter so people could pray.   I responded that I was so discouraged and didn’t know if it would ever even happen, so just to put a short note for people to pray for us in the process.

Little did I know I wouldn’t be feeling that discouraged for long…

(I'll post Part 3 tomorrow):  Part 3 here

Monday, November 16, 2015

Adoption Update, Part 1

This October we were tasked with updating all of adoption paperwork because one of the immigration forms will expire in 6 months.  This means taking everyone back to the doctors for checkups, getting all new forms notarized, re-applying for all kinds of background checks, etc.  It’s a real pain.  

The latest guess, though, on how long our wait still is in Bulgaria is at least another two years.  So we will likely have to do this process at least once or twice more before we ever get referred a child.

As Pete and I thought about this, and about our creaky, old bodies that are not getting any younger, and our rapidly growing children, calculating the age differences between Miles and a new child we may someday get, we were getting discouraged.

We decided maybe we should expand our parameters a bit and look around outside of our small adoption agency to see if there are any other options.  I started praying, “God, it would be REALLY cool if you could just find us a child or two NOW so that we can just do all the updating once!”

For weeks I’ve been looking through a web site that has thousands of “waiting children” on it.  (Waiting children are either older or have more severe special needs, making them harder to get adopted.)  Various children appealed to me somewhat, although they all felt like strangers, and I requested a few detailed files from various agencies.  Each time, though, it all felt so arbitrary. 

How would we know when we found the one God had picked for our family?  Most of the files are incomplete and not very detailed, so there are so many unknowns.

We are open to adopting a child with many different kinds of special needs, but it was still hard to find children that fit in our parameters.  At one point I was describing to someone about how certain special needs scared me, but that what I would really want is to find another child like our Rayna.  It would be cool to raise them together, I thought. 

Yes, that’s what I was looking for – another Rayna. Another “song of the Lord.”

I kept looking and looking…. And then, on October 23, after we had started some of the updated paperwork, I was again on the adoption web site, and came across a sweet, 7-year-old little girl in China. 

Her special needs and age were within our parameters and she had such a cute face… but the thing that really caught my eye was that her security name was RAYNA!  (Agencies do not post the child’s real name, but instead assign an American security name.) The description under her name began, “Rayna is a little ray of sunshine to everyone she meets…”

Here was another Rayna!  Could God have answered my desire so literally??

I excitedly showed Pete her pictures and we agreed we should request her file from the agency to learn more about her.  The agency sent it right over and we started trying to gain as much information as we could.  She has double club feet and it was unclear whether or not she could walk, or would ever be able to walk.  We quickly started asking medical friends for input.

The very first night we had her file I could not sleep.  All night I found myself thinking about her and all the possibilities of bringing her into our home.  I tried not to carried away – but I did.  This was the first time I had ever felt like this about a child I had only seen/read about on a web site.

We still couldn’t find out if she had the possibility of walking, but Pete and I were both ready to move forward anyway.  The fact that Pete was so positive about her also seemed to be a sign from God (to me).  He hadn’t really considered or been excited about any of the other children’s files I had showed him before.

The kids and I, coincidentally, were doing lessons about China in school… It all seemed to be pointing in one direction:  We would be signing up to adopt “Chinese Rayna” that week!

But…. it turned out that we couldn't.  And I got pretty sad, and mad....

Saturday, November 14, 2015

One might think he is stubborn...

Me:  It's such a beautiful day!  Let's go for a bike ride.
Rayna:  Yes!
Miles:  Ok, but I'm going to ride that baby tricycle thing.
Me:  No, Miles, it will take too long and you won't want to ride that loud thing all the way around the loop.
Miles:  Yes I will!  I PROMISE, Mom.  I'm going to ride the tricycle thing.
Me:  I don't think it's a good idea.
Miles:  I'm going to do it.
Me:  Ok...

15 minutes later I look back to see this:
 He said he got tired of riding it.

Sure enough, he carried that thing ALL the way home.

The best part was that I got to hear my favorite words:  "Mom was right."

But THEN we got home and he asked if we could go around the loop again.  I said we could but he would have to bring his regular bike.  His response?  "I know.  I'm planning to use my bike.  But I'm going to carry it all the way around."

Monday, November 9, 2015

Happy homeschooling days

 I have always enjoyed homeschooling, for the most part, but there have been several years during which the herding of toddlers and the tending to infants and the juggling of multiple levels of learning has made for some stressful days.  Holding a baby, while using my legs to keep a toddler out of kitchen drawers, while teaching both middle school curriculum and elementary curriculum was tricky.

But NOW, now, it has gotten so, so fun!  This is what I always envisioned it could be.  I realize it is October, also known as the Month In Which Everyone Still Loves School, and the real test will come in February, also known as the Month In Which Everyone Can't Stand Their School, but for now I'm enjoying the Happy Days.

The original reasons I had for homeschooling still apply -- the laid-back pace of life, the flexible schedules, the customizing of education for various needs, the fun and easy parent-teacher conferences.  But now I have extra reasons for loving this mode of education.

 Here are some of the things I've been particularly enjoying lately:

1.) Group Bible time:  This year for the first time, all of the kids are reading from their own Bibles each morning.  We are going through the book of Genesis and we all take turns reading a paragraph or two.  I love hearing them read (until we get to a part with a bunch of crazy names of descendants or places.... although we enjoyed the names of Isaac's cousins, Uz and Buz, yesterday).  They fight over who gets to read next and we are all learning.  In church on Sunday the passage they read up front was from Genesis and Miles' face lit up as he said, "I read that before!"

2.) Group learning:  Strider is off doing his own thing at high school now but the younger three are all working at similar enough levels that we can spend most of our day doing things together.  Whether it's memorizing all of the Classical Conversations material, singing the various songs, or doing multiplication flashcards, or doing mapwork, or playing violins, most of the time is spent in a group with a lot of my most favoritest people in the world.
Competing for flashcards... it's always a close contest!
So excited about new library books!
3.) The occasional project:  Even though I have a love/hate relationship with projects, there are a few that are big hits around here.  I remembered when Strider learned about ancient Rome we had done a cool experiment building arches, so I resurrected it to do with these young 'uns, too.  Once again we were all amazed and learned a lot!  (That keystone really is the key!)

4.)  Multiple environments:  We do a lot in the living room, and then we do a lot in the dining room, and sometimes we even read outside.  And sometimes we go to a coffee shop or a park.
Reading "The Bronze Bow" to these monkeys
5.) Multi-tasking:  Sometimes I can give spelling tests or other instructions while I'm doing the dishes.

6.) Their creativity and enthusiasm:  I know all kids have fantastic thoughts and unusual approaches to things -- they're all so unique and amazing as they grow and learn.  But I'm so glad I have the literal front-row seat to my kids' development and creativity!  I love that I got to teach them to read; I love that I get to see them get excited about fractions or identifying prepositions.  And I love that I get to see them come up with solutions, even when they're off-topic.

Recent example:  Miles was supposed to be copying his spelling words, but instead I found him writing his favorite long word, "antidisestablishmentarianism" in "code."

7. Mondays:  If my kid went to school each day, I think I would dread Sunday nights.  All of the running around and gathering things, making sure there are clothes to wear and lunches packed, and then having to go to bed early... I wouldn't like it.  But Mondays here are pretty fun!  There is no rushing around on Sunday nights, and our schedule of extracurriculars is planned this semester so that we don't have many places to go on Mondays.  We can ease into the week in comfortable clothes and snuggle under blankets on the couch as we read if we want.  Since schooltime is generally pretty fun these days, I actually look forward to Mondays.

Now back I go to the hooligans downstairs...  Our mornings run pretty smoothly and in an organized way generally.  During the afternoons, though, I assign them some "independent work," and that is usually met with mixed results.  Today is one of the "less productive" afternoons it appears.... but that's ok because it just means the evening hours will be "more productive."  Homeschooling All Day, Baby!