7.28.2014

Goodbye Summer!

Well, I blinked my eyes, and summer break has come to an end. In many ways, I feel like our family is beginning a whole new chapter. This time last year, we were eleven days away from LOA, longing to bring our son home from China, Noah was beginning kindergarten, Liam was off to my friend Dalia's, and I was heading back to work as a school psychologist.

My how life changes in a year.

We traveled to China last October and met Tucker for the first time. After spending the next two weeks together in his birth country, we made the long flight home and reunited with Noah, Liam, and the rest of our friends and family. The following months were spent focusing on becoming a family of five and growing deep roots, secure attachment, and a forever bond with Tucker. Each month our love grew stronger and deeper, and by the six month period, we realized that we had finally reached our new normal. What a relief!

In the midst of those days gaining love for one another, we experienced loss, as well. In a sense, we lost our old family make-up. It was the same feeling I had after Noah was born looking back to when it was just Ryan and me, and then it happened again when Liam was born and looked back to when it had been just the three of us - Ryan, Noah, and me. I was happy to be moving forward with our new family dynamic, just bittersweet that the previous chapter was over.

Then, after being home from China for a few months, we left the church that had been our home for seven years. This was heartbreaking for Ryan and me, as we had invested in so many relationships and really grew as Christians in this very special place. This community of people had loved on us and wrapped around us both during and after the adoption process. This was my first church, making it even more special to me. It's where my small faith grew to a deeper, more mature faith. The foundation of our family was built in that church. It's where Ryan and I grew closer in our marriage, and our love for God grew stronger. I watched my husband dedicate countless Monday nights and weekend services over the years to the church band playing guitar. I could go on and on about what I loved and miss about our last church. I wish the circumstances could've been different, but we have trusted that God is using the situation for good and that He desires to use us and grow us somewhere new (Romans 8:28).

The last, unexpected loss was my decision to not return to work for the 2014-2015 school year. I really love my work as a school psychologist. I love working with children with various special needs. I love collaborating with my colleagues and making recommendations for placement, eligibility, and services. Not many people find a job that they are passionate about while working with such incredible people. I was one of the lucky ones to experience both, so leaving my work was a loss. For so many reasons, I know in my heart it was the best decision for our family, but there is a real part of me that is sad I can't see my coworkers and the kids tomorrow morning.

With losses behind us, we have moved forward with so much to celebrate. While Noah's love for Tuck was immediate and unconditional, Liam's acceptance and love took more time. Now, I don't think he can remember life without this special friendship with his brother!


We celebrated all three boys' birthdays with friends and family in May. A Ninja Turtle themed party was held with our family that afternoon.



After enjoying lunch, cupcakes, and presents with our families, we put the little boys down for naps and started setting up for the second part of the celebration. My brother, his wife, my mom's husband, and I ran balloons with glow sticks inside from our house to the back tree line. Ryan set up our tent and the movie screen that a friend so graciously let us borrow. Noah had a baseball game that afternoon, so we raced to the game and then raced back home to finish setting up. Our friends and their kids were coming over for an outdoor movie and campout, and Duck Tales: Treasure of the Lost Lamp was the featured film. SO FUN!



 




The movie went great, and everyone seemed to have a great time! Several families camped out but were woken by a pretty decent storm early the next morning. It rained the next day, too, so Ryan and the boys enjoyed a huge water gun fight in the back yard.


The memories didn't stop there. We really had the best summer!
Noah graduated from kindergarten
Ryan celebrated his 34th birthday
Noah played a lot of baseball!
We traveled to our adoption agency to hug our sweet social worker, Karla!

We met up with the sweet family with whom we spent two weeks in China!

We slept in hotels on the way to Florida

Tucker walked on the beach for the first time.

It made me cry.

I felt so much joy and gratitude to the Lord for calling us to bring Tuck home.

We wore matching t-shirts and spent an amazing week in Florida with Ryan's family.

Tucker radiated happiness swimming all week.

Noah built sandcastles and played with his cousin.

Liam and I held hands while we walked on the beach.

We watched 4th of July Fireworks downtown.

We visited with great friends from out of state.

Noah and Liam took swim lessons.

We had swim play dates with friends.

We celebrated all things China with a treasured adoptive family from Atlanta.

The boys met their match with my friend Jess' sweet triplets.

We had a fun play date at a new park!
Which leads us to this final picture. This picture that I think I will treasure all the days of my life. The moment when the stars aligned and all three boys looked at the camera at the exact same time. The moment when our summer came to an end and all three boys were getting ready to go to school. Noah is starting his first grade year, and the littles are beginning their first school experience - half day preschool two days a week. Are they not the most handsome little boys you've ever seen?


I am so thankful for the memories we made this summer. I am so grateful for the family we've become together. I thank God for taking us across the world to bring my third son home. Despite the losses, we have gained SO much more, and I cannot wait to see what God has in store for our family during this next chapter of our lives.

7.13.2014

Puzzle Fundraiser: Pay It Forward Update

Compliments of Lemongrass Photography
In June 2013, one hundred twenty-one families made contributions to our puzzle fundraiser to help bring Tucker home. In just nine days, those 121 families donated $5,425! We are still so humbled by your generosity, and our spirits were lifted during that very long wait for our Letter of Acceptance (LOA). We purchased a frame and hung the finished puzzle in Tucker's room before he got home. Now, every morning when he wakes up, every afternoon when he takes a nap, and every evening when he goes to bed, we are reminded of the 121 people who helped bring our son home through that fundraiser.

When we announced our puzzle fundraiser, we made a special commitment to the donors. Ryan's employer provides a $5,000 reimbursement for adoption costs, and we stated that if people donated $5,000 to our family, we would pay forward that $5,000 from Ryan's company to another adoptive family. So, not only would donors be helping our family bring Tucker home, but you would also be helping another family bring home their sweet one.

Well, I am SO EXCITED to announce that after many conversations with friends, we learned that one family has decided to grow their family through adoption. Although I cannot announce who this family is just yet, I wanted to let you know that our family has followed through with our commitment to the donors of our fundraiser, and we paid forward your generosity to this family, giving them $5,000 toward their adoption thanks to YOU and YOUR GENEROSITY to our family last June and to God who loves us all so much, HE adopted us into his family. Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming post about this very special family!

We talk to Tucker every day about China. He has asked us why we came to China to bring him home. We tell him that God loves him so much that he asked us to be his family and fly all the way across the world to bring him home. We tell him that God wanted him to have a family, and God wanted us to have a son...all because He loves us.

And you know what Tuck says?

He says, "Mommy, I happy home."

Me, too, buddy. Me, too.

Compliments of Lemongrass Photography
 

7.06.2014

Andy's Second Journey to Leadville

Many of you have followed our family's adoption story for quite some time, and you might recall my posts last year about Andy and Lisa Bauermeister's #runningtuckerhome campaign. Andy ran 100 miles in the Leadville Trail race last August to push his body to its limits and to help raise funds to bring orphans home. He successfully completed this race in 28 hours and 44 minutes! Andy and Lisa's friends and family donated $11,120 to the fundraiser last year! You can read my follow up post HERE. After giving our family over $6,000, they gifted $1,000 to five additional families who were going through the adoption process. You can read this post and this post to see the chosen families. We are still so thankful for the money given to our family through this fundraiser! We were able to pay for all of our airfare (nearly $5,000), and the rest was applied to final travel expenses.

Because Andy is absolutely crazy incredibly inspiring, he is running another 100 miles on the Leadville Trail this August, and once again, he is raising money for orphans. Instead of choosing specific families, Andy has decided to partner with The Boaz Project, Inc. Not only does this organization provide adoption assistance to families, but they also work directly with people helping orphans in both India and Russia. Coincidentally, Noah's Bible Club at school raised money for The Boaz Project, Inc. this past year. He was happy to do extra chores around the house to raise money for this special organization.


Over Memorial Day weekend, Andy ran across the entire state of Indiana to accomplish a great feat while also training for Leadville and raising money for The Boaz Project, Inc. Andy finished the entire 150 mile trek across Indiana in 39 hours and 57 minutes! You can read all about his adventure HERE. Check it out! Ryan even made a debut by providing an aid station for Andy early in his weekend adventure. :)

To date, Andy has raised nearly $1,000 for The Boaz Project, Inc. I know so much of Andy's success with this race will attributed to both his physical condition and his mental stamina. Last year, he said that his ability to continue pushing his body to extremes was knowing that he was helping families bring home their children. Will you consider helping Andy's efforts in supporting The Boaz Project, Inc. this year? All donations are TAX DEDUCTIBLE and can be completed online through the following website: https://fundly.com/runin-for-orphans. We received our receipt from The Boaz Project, Inc. just a couple weeks after making our donation.

God asks that all people care for the fatherless in some way, and Andy has decided that through his passion for running, he can help orphans. I hope you will consider donating to his fundraiser to support The Boaz Project, Inc.!

Lisa and Andy just after he crossed the Leadville finish line in 2013

6.17.2014

Noah's 6th Birthday Letter

How did this little guy...


 

 
 ...grow up and turn into this big guy?

Last Day of School
Last Day of School
Kindergarten Graduation
Kindergarten Graduation
I remember when I opened all of my baby shower gifts, all the moms would write something like, "Don't blink your eyes. They grow up so fast!" or "Treasure every single moment." They weren't kidding. The past six years have gone by so quickly, and although I loved his baby years, Noah is more and more fun with each passing year. I hope I always feel like that! I treasure the relationship we have, and I really adore this kid. So, without further ado, here is my letter to my first born son.

Dear Noah,
Six years old. Six. How did this happen? I don't know where the time has gone or how you grew up so fast, but I'll tell you this. The past six years have been the best years of my life. Before you were born, I was living a life focused on myself and what I wanted, needed, and desired. Your dad and I had a lot of fun together after we got married, but it was you who brought us even closer to one another. We became a family when you were born. We stopped choosing ourselves and started choosing you. For three years, it was just the three of us, and we had SO much fun.

Since that time, you have become a big brother not only to Liam but to Tucker, as well. We tell you all of the time, but I want to write it in this letter, too. God chose you specifically to be the oldest brother in our family. He knew how well you would rise as a leader. He knew how you would model kindness, compassion, honesty, obedience, and discipline. God knew that you would show your brothers how much you love Him. You model true unconditional love for all of us, and we all benefit from knowing you. Your daddy and I are so thankful that God chose you to be our first son. You've helped us learn how to be better parents. You've taught us how important it is to apologize when we make mistakes. You've given us courage to talk about our faith. You've helped our hearts become more like our Father's.

The past year has been one I'll never forget! A year ago, you, Liam, and I were taking trips to the Children's Museum, having play dates, and swimming with friends while your dad was at work. We were waiting for Tucker's LOA, and you saw me crying in desperation to your dad one afternoon when I thought it would never come. True to form, you colored me a beautiful picture and wrapped your arms around me, assuring me that everything would be ok. Then you started kindergarten and just amazed me! Noah, before I knew it, you were reading and writing sentences and really growing in your knowledge and skills. In October, you were so strong and courageous as we said our goodbyes before we left for China. I remember having lunch with you at school the a couple days before we left, and I was just holding back the tears. I didn't know how I would be away from you for so long. I know I cried the entire way home that day. I think this pictures really captures how relieved I was to have my arms around you again when we got home!

October 25, 2014
When Tucker first came home, it was a hard transition for all of us, but it was you, Noah, who showed us that we were a family before I felt like we were. You had patience, compassion, tenderness, and real love for Tucker from day one. We made fun memories throughout the year, and one of my favorites was staying overnight in different hotels over spring break.

Pizza in South Bend
Soon after you started swimming lessons, and the progress you made was incredible! You went from not being able to doggy paddle to jumping off the diving board and swimming to the side of the pool on your first day. I was blown away! You made the decision that you were ready to learn, and you worked hard those two weeks. Your became more confident and had so much fun with Coach Chase. You have two more weeks of lessons in July, and I can't wait to see how much more you progress.

As soon as you finished swim lessons in April, you began playing coach pitch baseball. When you spent a lot of the first game daydreaming and playing in the field, I wasn't sure if you were ready to really focus and play baseball. However, you quickly showed me how wrong I was. You got super focused, started making plays in the field, and grew strong and stronger at bat. Your dad and I had so much fun watching you play this year! I already can't wait until next summer.



Noah, I am so proud of you. I am proud of your heart. I am proud of your mind. I am proud of the way you use God's gifts for good. I love how much you love Jesus. I love how serious and sensitive you are. I love how focused and driven you can be. I love that we can sit down and have a real heart-to-heart conversation together, and then ten minutes later, we can go play classic Nintendo games together and conquer Zelda. I love that you invite me into your world and your interests, and you share your feelings with me. I hope that never changes...that it never stops. I hope that I always create a space where you can be yourself and share your heart with me. I hope that in 12 years, you will be a man who still displays all of these wonderful attributes that you have today. I am so thankful that I get to be your mom. It's a privilege knowing you, playing with you, and living life with you. I love you, Noah! Happy 6th Birthday.

Love,
Mommy

5.06.2014

A Letter to Liam: 3rd Birthday

Today my baby turned 3 years old. I still can't believe it and experienced so many emotions throughout the day. We set up the streamers, got the donuts ready, and as soon as Liam woke up, Ryan got Noah and Liam out of bed so that we could sing Happy Birthday to our precious Bert Bert (I can't believe that nickname has stuck so long). Liam LOVES attention, and he was the happiest little guy watching us walk into his room singing to him. He slid off his bed, took one look at his streamers, and ran to me saying, "You're the best!" He planted a huge smooch on my lips and started running through his doorway.


May 6, 2013
May 6, 2014
He nearly ran down the stairs once we mentioned that his birthday treat and presents were downstairs. We again sang Happy Birthday and put a big chocolate donut with sprinkles in front of him with a candle flickering. He blew and blew and blew but could not get that candle out. Finally, with some concentration, Liam finally got it! Five seconds later he started asking if he could open his presents. I mean, do you blame him?

May 6, 2013

May 6, 2014
Liam opened his Ninja Turtle swords, as he calls them, and immediately began showing us his "moves" with them. He has played with Noah's set for hours, which has resulted in lots of electrical tape to keep them together. We though Liam would enjoy a new set, and he surely did. He then opened his second gift. Ryan and I have been especially excited about this present. Liam learned to ride a bike with training wheels right after he turned 2 years old. Liam had been using Noah's old bike, and because Liam is so tall, he was really starting to outgrow it. We bought him a new Planes bike, and after he finally got all the paper on the box, he was surprised to see that his bike was not inside the box. We watched the Grinch Stole Christmas a million times around Christmas, and every time something goes missing, we always say that the "Mean Ol' Grinchy" must have taken it. So, we told Liam that the Mean Ol' Grinchy must have his bike, too! We suggested that he try to look in the basement for it. Liam went running down the stairs with Ryan and the other boys trailing along. I loved capturing his sweet smile as he found his treasured bike! This one fits him so much better, and Liam LOVED riding his bike all over our basement. #unfinishedbasementperks
 


 









 
We got Noah off to school and began our Do-Whatever-Liam-Wants-To-Do Day. He chose Duplos, so we built a dog house for a little while. Then, after I got the little boys dressed, we ran to Target to pick up some birthday party items. We are having a combined birthday party for all 3 boys this Saturday. First over lunch, we will celebrate with the boys' grandparents, my brother, his wife, and their daughter. Then, Noah has a baseball game early evening. Last, at 7:30 p.m., we are having around 40 people (friends, their kids, Ryan's sister, and her kids) over for an outdoor movie party! We're having so much fun planning these parties, and we cannot wait to celebrate, as Noah's birthday is just over a week, too. 

Enjoying our picnic. Liam was determined to have his cheese stick in the picture
After our trip to Target, I packed lunches, and Liam, Tucker, and I went to the park for a picnic. The weather was beautiful, and we had the best time sitting on a blanket together eating our lunch. Afterward, Liam decided he wanted to "go on an adventure," so rather than playing on the equipment, we walked around the perimeter of the park exploring and making discoveries. I told Liam and Tucker about dandelions and how you can make wishes and blow out the seeds like a birthday candle. We discovered lady bugs galore (a sign of all the Travel Approvals my China momma's received today!), watched butterflies flying around, pretended that trees were our homes, stood on stumps and big rocks, ran as fast as we could on the trails, climbed a tree, and went on a bear hunt. Liam's favorite part, I think, was when he got to be the boss and told Tuck and me when we could start walking and when we had to stop. He is bossy by nature (definitely my kid), and he thoroughly loved telling us what to do. :) 
 
 

 
 

 

I think this part of the day was my favorite. Being fully engaged with the boys just fills my heart! After we finished up at the park, I put the boys down for their naps. They fell right to sleep and stayed that way for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. When Liam woke up, he saw the streamers in his doorway, and asked, "Is it still my birthday?" When I said that it was, Liam shouted, "Yesss!" After Noah came home from school, all three boys played with their swords and fought bad guys along the tree line at our house. :) Ryan got home from work, and we left to have dinner at Mrs. Curl's, Liam's choice. They ate all of their dinners and enjoyed ice cream cones and time at another park afterward. 

We came back home, the kids took quick showers, and then I laid in bed with Liam for the longest time. He asked me to rub his back and to sleep in his room with him. He is quite the cuddle bug, but I told him that his daddy and I needed to spend some time together. Liam let me go after being reassured that as soon as he woke up, I would be home with him to play again all day. I gave him a kiss goodnight, wished him Happy Birthday again, and closed the door. My baby is 3...still so young but getting so big. These are precious years, and I am so thankful to have been home for the past six months with the little boys.

Speaking of being at home, last week I made the very difficult decision not to return to work next year. I have struggled for the past four months, and ultimately, I know this was the best decision for my family. I miss my coworkers and the children, and I really do love my job. However, right now, I know that being home with Tucker while he continues to bond and adjust to life in our family is so important. I have also seen how much Liam LOVES having me home. He is really vocal about it and doesn't like when I'm away for long. I know I will blink my eyes, and they will all be in school full time. I am trusting that an opportunity for work will open when we decide it is time for me to go back, and I am so thankful that my superiors have all been so supportive of my decision. I am counting my blessings. Now for my letter to my precious baby boy.

My Sweet Liam,

Today I experienced such a roller coaster of emotion. You turned 3 years old at 2:42 a.m. while we were both sound aleep. I remember your birth with such great detail, and not only did you come into the world with power and force, but you have been making waves ever since. Like I've written before, you changed my life with your precious smile. Because of you, you opened your daddy's and my heart to help 19 other children receive new smiles just like you. Operation Smile and Love Without Boundaries are our two favorite organizations to help kids with cleft lips and/or cleft palates. We are even sponsoring a little girl named Sadie in China through New Day South because she had CL/CP, too. We know God has blessed our family, and giving money to support kids just like you brings such joy to our hearts! Only 81 more surgeries to go to reach our goal of 100 children whose smiles will be made new thanks to your life!

After taking pictures of you this morning, I compared them to pictures I took last year. I still cannot believe how much you've changed this past year. I actually got really sad and even upset with myself when I saw the pictures. I became so convicted of how consumed I was with the adoption process. I remembered days of taking you to the park but not being able to fully enjoy myself because Tucker wasn't home yet. While I know that is a really normal feeling, I wish I would've just allowed myself to be fully engaged with you in the present rather than wishing for something that God would bring in His perfect timing. You went from this round little 2 year old to a taller, stronger 3 year old. I look at pictures from last September, just before we left for China, and you were just a little guy. In only 6 months, you have changed dramatically. It makes me sad because you are my baby boy! 

Because you are home full time with Tucker and me, I know this transition to us being a family of 5 has been more difficult for you than for Noah. You went from completely ignoring your brother, Tucker, to having so many times of incredible fun with him. You like to boss him around (again, you are definitely my child), and you can be pretty dominant (ahem), but your heart is in such a better place than it was six month ago. You love your sweet "brotha Tucka" so much, and you guys have a blast! You like to teach him new things like how to build or which color is which. I remember one morning when you climbed up into a chair to feed Tucker his breakfast even though he was totally capable. You guys can scream and laugh and fight and play, but when you make a mistake, you give such great apologies to him and seal them with a hug and a smooch. 

Your relationship with Noah continues to grow strong. You look up to Noah so much, and when you play, you keep up with him so well. You love Ninja Turtles and Ninjago, both cartoons I never would have let Noah watch at your age. You love riding bikes, playing catch, swinging swords, and swinging together. Tucker slept until 11:30 a.m. last Saturday, and you and Noah played for FOUR HOURS together and had the best time. I love watching you play with your brothers!

If you were to ask anyone how they would describe you, I would bet they would say you are HILARIOUS. You really are! I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say, "I was just sitting there when all of the sudden, this thing Liam did popped into my head and made me just crack up!" We feel the same way. As I read my letter to you when you turned 2, I wrote the same thing that you were just so stinking funny! You always seem to catch me off guard with your humor, too, and it leaves us both cracking up.

Liam, you are the happiest kid when you first wake up in the morning. I love the way you squeeze me so tight with your hugs. Your kisses are precious...a little long and wet, generally, but they are SO you. You experience emotional extremes. Your happiness is PURE JOY, the contagious kind that makes everyone around you smile. Your anger is sharp and loud, making you a bit impulsive. We're working on it. :) Your sadness is heartbreaking as those big crocodile tears spill down your cheeks. You can been wailing after a hard fall, and then all of the sudden, you will just make the decision that you are ok and immediately stop crying in an instant. You are protective of your brothers yet will do anything to get a reaction out of them. I always tell Noah that you just want his attention, even if it is negative attention. You just want people to watch you and will do the same thing 100 times and want us to watch every single one of them. I love your "moves" but joke that I will homeschool you because you are so charming. When a pretty girl comes over to our house, you will invite her to the basement or to your room. Please stop. You are 3, and it makes me want to lock you up. I love how much you look like your daddy but are super ornery like I was as a little girl. 

I feel like I somehow missed part of this past year by not being fully present with you, and I am so thankful for another year at home to grow closer to you. I've really started reading your children's Bible to you, and you love it. You are making connections between the stories from the Bible and your life. I am so excited to watch you experience the world through the eyes of a 3 year old boy. I look at pictures from the past year and realize how quickly time goes by. I don't want to miss out on these precious years of your life. Thank you for bringing me so much joy. You make me laugh and smile and shake my head all the time. I pray that God can help me be the best mom for you and your brothers. I am thankful that you were born, that you had a precious smile, and that you led our family to help other children just like you. If it weren't for you, Tucker might still be in China. Instead, he is home with us, and you get to play together every day. It is such a gift to have you home together! I can't wait to see how God continues to use your life to teach me how to be a better mom and how to live my life filled with purpose and meaning and unconditional love.. I love you so much!

Love,
Mommy

p.s. This is my favorite video of you ever! Your daddy sent it to me when I was away at the C4C Retreat in March. It perfectly captured one of my favorite parts of your personality.

video