"…for he who is mighty has done great things for me…"--Luke 1:49 As much as I love traditional Christmas music, I am finding myself enjoying some of the original contemporary worship songs that have come out from my favorite artists. One of my favorite Christmas albums is Chris Tomlin's 2009 release, Glory in the Highest. Track number 5, "My Soul Magnifies the Lord," has been resonating in my heart and mind the past week and has inspired me to blog again. A lot has happened in the past year and like Mary in Luke 1:46-55, I believe it is my time to speak up and praise Him for what He has been doing.
What He's Doing for Anah
Ever since we brought Anah home a little over two years ago (!!), things have been in an uproar. As I glance back at my posts since her arrival, I have realized how hard it is to write positively. I want to be honest about our journey of adoption, and the honest truth of it is it has been really hard. In some ways, it has been easy--Anah has been blessed with very good health and her physical issues have been minimal. No surgeries, treatments, or special therapies required.
But on the other hand, it has also been very hard. At first, we could not figure out the root of many of her problems. We still aren't 100% sure, but two years later, we have a much better idea. Our conclusion is that she is a very bright little girl, but her time in an institutionalized setting has created in her some bad habits and an inability to think for herself that has made everyday life with her very difficult. To make a long story short, this took a lot of time and sapped our energy levels considerably.
In the beginning of this year, we finally were able to agree on what course of action to pursue in regards to school. Functionally, she is at about a two-year-old level in her cognitive abilities, so we weren't 100% convinced that another institutional setting would be the best situation for her. Sure, she was eligible and it would have been convenient for us, but in our hearts we were not comfortable with the idea. But we also knew that we were getting very burned out trying to take care of her and our three other children--who were all hitting some milestones of their own--as well. After some research, we believed that a neurodevelopmental approach to her education would be the best option for her as it sought to integrate different therapies into one program. This program consists of short exercises that help her to develop speech, gross motor, memory, as well as sensory input. It takes about 2-3 hours a day to run through her school day, with time in between to play, which is just about right for her.
But even with this big decision made, we realized that it was still taking a lot out of us. So through the generosity of our church, we have been able to hire regular outside help to assist us in not only Anah's daily care but also her school program. Through the loving care of these wonderful young ladies, Anah is making big strides and showing great interest in letters, animals, and counting. She is able to ride a tricycle and climb up and down stairs without fear (still slow though). She loves to color, play "basketball" and sing songs with hand motions. Though her speech is still garbled and she cannot brush her teeth or give herself a bath, and even though she still is not 100% toilet trained, she has come a long way.
He has done great things for Anah.
What He's Doing in Our Other Kids
As I mentioned earlier, each of our other children have also hit some major milestones as well. Our oldest daughter, Janna, graduated from our homeschool this past year and is now at Biola University. That last year was a crazy year for us, trying to figure things out for Anah while at the same time helping Janna figure out her next steps. Having never home schooled high school before, I had to add the job of college admissions counselor to my list of roles. Fortunately, she had finished most of her actual high school requirements by the end of her junior year, with only English left for her senior year. So, we spent the year in studying for all her standardized exams, which really paid off for her. With a strong SAT score and her GPA, she was able to net not just one scholarship but two. They weren't full-ride scholarships, but they were four-year scholarships, provided she maintain her GPA. There would be no way we could provide the tuition on a single-income pastor's salary, but she stepped out in faith, trusting that the Lord would cover her expenses. The day she did, she found out about her second scholarship. It was as if the Lord was affirming her decision and reminding her that He would take care of her.
In addition to applying to colleges, Janna was able to prepare for six CLEP and AP exams, which allowed her to complete a total of seven GE courses during her senior year. When she started school, this allowed her a little advantage over other incoming freshmen during registration. When we moved her in at the end of August, we were blown away by the experience God has in store for her this coming year. Biola has been the perfect transition for her from being under our roof to living on her own. She has found a wonderful community of friends and has had very little relational angst to deal with (which we were a little worried about). She has been doing well in her courses and is in a major she loves. Even though she still doesn't have her license, she has been getting around on her bike for exercise and shopping. She's figured out a study schedule, how to talk to her professors, and when to do her laundry. And just recently, she was offered a job that she could keep over the next four years, one that takes advantage of her experiences and skills.
He has done great things for Janna.
As for Matthew, he is now officially a teenager and has passed me up in size. He grew 5 inches in a year and his feet are about as big as his dad's! In school, he has been in 8th grade and has been busy with a full load of classes. In addition to perfecting his yo-yo skills, he has been "scouted" for volleyball in our local city league. He has been playing for fun over the past 4-5 years and while we thought he was a good player (so we are biased, like all parents), it was neat to see other coaches recognize his skill. We are not able to afford club volleyball--either financially or time-wise--at this point, but in God's goodness, he has allowed him to play on a team with a dad that actually is an experienced volleyball coach/player. He has been taking Matthew under his wing and privately coaching him, along with his son. This has been an amazing opportunity, especially since as homeschoolers, it is hard for him to play sports with a school team. But as always, God is watching out for us and our needs, and this has been a perfect solution at this time--something that allows him to continue to learn and develop his skills without taking over our lives.
But the one thing that really has been the most amazing for Matthew this year has been seeing his hard work with Team Malaria come to fruition. His team was able to earn over $10,000 in total through their efforts. It was amazing to see children from various churches join together to make his vision of providing mosquito nets for children in Africa a reality. This fall, we received word from our friends at Bright Vision Orphanage in Malawi with the news that 400 nets were purchased with the funds, and 150 were already distributed. Our friends will be able to purchase 950 nets in total, but will have to do it in batches. Other dates for distributions have been planned for the future, but they are getting out there to the kids in Chamadenga. But the most important thing was that when the nets were given out, children and families were able to hear the Gospel. For his work, he was nominated for the Kohl's Cares scholarship and made it up to the Regional Level, which earned him a $1000 scholarship (gotta start saving for college now!).
He has done great things for Matthew.
Last but not least, is our little Jonathan. Now in 1st grade, our little Jon has been growing in leaps and bounds in so many ways. He is an excellent all-around student, doing well in all his subjects. He has an amazing memory, which we are utilizing to memorize Scripture, geography terms, mathematical properties, and history facts (just ask him about William the Conqueror or the Magna Carta). He is a natural up on stage and felt quite at home sharing "Now We Are Six" by A. A. Milne in front of a crowd when our homeschool group went to serve at a local seniors' center. Jonathan loves people and is excited to have friends over, whether they are his own friends, babies, or Janna's college pals. We have had so much fun watching him grow and develop into his own person. We are sadly realizing that we are finally moving out of the early childhood years and no longer have a little one in the house.
I think the most amazing thing that I am seeing God do in Jonathan's life is shaping his heart for Jesus. After one particularly trying afternoon where Jonathan and I had not just one but two head-on collisions, I was spent. I went into my room for some quiet time to recover. I wondered if we would ever get past this rebellious stage and if he ever heard anything I was saying to him. It made me a little fearful of what was ahead for us when we hit the teen years! But as I was praying and pouring out my frustrations to God, a little note slipped under my door. You can read it for yourself. It was as if God was telling me not to give up on him, and to keep talking with him for He has plans for him. I wish I could say things were completely different from that point on, but of course, that wouldn't be true. But since then, I have been so blessed to see him growing a sensitive heart towards his sin and seeking ways to control his responses through the help of the Holy Spirit. He reminds me that with Christ, there is hope for change.
He has done great things for Jonathan.
What He's Doing in Our Marriage
I wish I could say that things with my husband have remained strong and steady over the past couple of years, but that would be a lie. In fact, I think the past two years have been the hardest yet. The strain and weariness of caring for Anah left Dan and me with little time for each other. Compounded with that was the feeling that we were not really even on the same team. We often felt like we were working against each other instead of together. Let's just say we were not in a good place.
This June, we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary, and we knew that things needed to change. So through a combination of honorariums, savings, and Visa points, we were able to get away to Maui in September for a belated anniversary celebration. A team of wonderful friends worked together to generously give of their time, love and energy to care for our kids for the five days that we were away. Another group pooled their resources to treat us to dinner at Roy's.
While we were there, we were able to not only get the rest we needed, but an opportunity to renew our vision for our future. Before Anah came, we were in the beginning stages of exploring a retreat ministry for couples. We had been dreaming of doing this for a long time and were able to plan and execute two retreats before she came. We just assumed back then that after she arrived, we would pick up where we left off. Instead, we found that she was far more delayed than we had expected, which made us wonder if we would ever be able to see this dream become a reality. I know this added to my depression and grief, which added yet another wedge in our marriage.
It was during this time when we had to take a hard look at our reality of caring for a special needs child and consider where God was taking us. We believed that He still had something in store for us as a couple--and it wasn't about taking care of Anah. Since then, we believe God has been resuscitating our dreams and helping us to define where we are going. In the year to come, we are looking forward to putting together another couples retreat and are looking forward to exploring advanced degrees and a sabbatical sometime for Dan.
He has done great things for us.
What He's Doing in Me
As I was reviewing the posts I've been writing over the past few years, I think they were honestly where I was at. I wish I could have written something a little more upbeat and optimistic. But I just could not put a positive spin on it, no matter how hard I tried. I really wasn't there yet. And if I'm truthful still, I don't know if I am a whole lot closer. I think that was part of the main reason why I stopped writing, stopped interacting on Facebook and Instagram for a season. In all these areas, it is so easy to put on a fake persona and I just couldn't do it. Adoption is stinkin' hard and painful for some people. I don't want to give the false impression that our family has it all together and I didn't want to write anything that was not true. I also didn't want to use it to rant and complain. I don't want pity. I don't want to poison others with my own junk. Instead, God took care of me by giving me friends that I could be completely honest with, friends who I could trust on this journey. And through them, He is helping me begin to rewrite a new chapter in the story that I thought He was writing. He has been good to me in providing people to walk alongside. Things still haven't changed, but I think if anything, I am resigned to the fact that Anah is now in our lives. I guess that's the first step. Instead of fighting it, I have now just accepted this is our reality. Maybe one day, I will get to the point where I can say that I'm glad we adopted her.
But even in the midst of my brokenness and struggle, God has been giving me hope. I didn't realize how much I needed a hope to cling on to. I was looking for that hope in my children, my marriage, or my dreams. But they were not meant to be the strong, sturdy hope I can bank my life on. Only God Himself can be my hope. And so this year, He has been reminding me that He has been enough.
One of the ways He teaches me His truth is actually through teaching others. As I wrestle with His Word and turn my attention to others, He helps me to look beyond myself to the bigger picture. Earlier this year, I was able to facilitate a class for Janna's friends. I had never done a group for teen girls, but it was a wonderful experience. With them, I was reminded that God is writing a story in my life, just as He was writing one in theirs. If He allows hardship, struggle, and suffering, it was not because He is out to punish me, but because He desires to do something amazing. That pain is what He uses to prepare me to be able to do that work.
Just last week, I finished facilitating another study, this time with young parents. That experience was another life-giving one for me, as the Lord allowed me to interact with some of my favorite people of all but also to solidify my own beliefs about the discipleship ministry I have as a mother to my children. I still need that reminder regularly! Through that study, not only did the Lord remind me anew of how important this parenting gig is, but He also began to deepen my personal vision of what He may be doing in and through me and what my contribution to His Kingdom might be. My passion to live out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission to make disciples is beginning to take a definite shape. I am beginning to see how my personal bent might combine with my husband's to complement each other. As He is drawing these out, I am beginning to get a sense of what my voice might be. The difficulties I have experienced over the past couple of years have actually given me a new courage to face hard things and to not be afraid to go out of my comfort zone. (I guess after adopting a special needs child and struggling with her, other things seem easier in comparison!) I am looking forward to more speaking and writing in the future, though I am not sure in what capacities.
Yes, the Lord has been good to me. He is walking with me out of the valley and is leading me into a place of light. He is showing me that with him, there is hope. He is reminding me that pain and suffering in His hands will yield good fruit if I am willing to persevere. His presence doesn't make my problems go away, but it does give me a new perspective and the ability to keep moving forward. Along the way, He has brought people into my life--some new friends, some old friends--who have served as Jesus in my life as I have cried, mourned, and wrestled.
These are but some of the things I am just starting to see. I know there is more yet to come.
He has done great things for me.