Friday, December 25, 2015

Are "unanswered prayers", truly unanswered?

Sometimes people say God doesn't always answer prayers. I don't believe that. I believe that sometimes God answers prayers the way we want. Other times He has a completely different plan and He may not answer it the way we wanted, but we must have peace with His decision and trust that His plan is bigger than our own.

As I lay here, struggling to fall asleep with my daughter sound asleep next to me, I feel nothing more than thankfulness... She is in such a deep, peaceful, restful sleep. Since her surgery, it's caused her breathing to be loud and while most would find it annoying, I am thankful. It's 12:30am and I cannot fall asleep because it's so loud. Yet, I am thankful.

I am thankful because we are home. We really thought we'd be in the hospital for Christmas. We prayed for miraculous healing. We and hundreds of people prayed that when Ilana would go into surgery, her tumor would be gone. We all prayed that if the mass was not gone, that it would be a simple procedure and that the cancer was contained in just her thyroid. We prayed that it wouldn't affect her vocal chords (which would leave her voice completely silenced or softened) or trachea. That it wouldn't affect any surrounding lymph nodes. We prayed that they wouldn't have to remove any parathyroids. We prayed that it wouldn't affect her calcium levels and that we would be home by Christmas.

God answered our prayers. Some of it the way we asked, others, not so much.

We got to the hospital at 7:30am for check-in for surgery. We waited. And waited. And two hours later, our surgeon came down and explained that they didn't have the nerve monitoring system in stock for her size and that he didn't want to cut corners and proceed without it. So they put in a call to have it shipped from another place 2 hours away. We waited. For 9 hours, we waited and finally it was Ilana's turn for surgery.

We prayed for her. Prayed over her. Prayed for her doctors and prayed for God to use us. We gave her kisses and I held it together as best as I could, until they took her down to the OR.

We went and finally ate  for the first time in 24 hours at that point! If Ilana couldn't eat, we wouldn't either, so we endured hunger right along with her... We were pretty hungry! Even so, we sat and simply nibbled on our food mainly in silence, neither of us not knowing what to say.

After several hours, the surgeon finally came to meet with us and discuss her surgery. At that point, we were the only remaining ones in the waiting room. He pulled a chair over and we were anxious to hear good news. When he started off saying "Well, I have to say, when we opened her up, we weren't expecting what we saw." I immediately got hopeful thinking "God answered our prayer!", but my excitement was immediately pushed from my body as I took in his next words... "It looked nasty. It was a mess. It looked aggressive and so I immediately took some samples and sent them straight to pathology. They confirmed that it looked to have at least two cancers and they looked aggressive."

My heart sank as he continued with "It was all over her right vocal chord. As I scraped the cancer away from it, I realized it was growing all inside of it. I unfortunately had to cut the chord in order to remove all of the cancer."

My legs and hands began to shake and I fought the tears away and I began to whisper in my head "God, I need you..." The surgeon continued "Only time will tell if she will have a voice or how much she's lost. The cancer was all around her trachea. I tried my best to scrape off all I could find. We removed all the surrounding lymph nodes and took out the complete thyroid, as the left had another mass growing on it, as well. I also removed a parathyroid."  As he continued to speak, I wanted to do nothing more but to break down and cry and ask God why...  I also wanted to make sure that the surgeon knew how much we appreciated his hard work and while he apologized for having to cut her vocal chord, I kept reassuring him that we appreciated him and what he did and then we told him that he had thousands of people throughout the world praying specifically for him and his team all day. I'm not sure he's ever heard that before, as it left him pretty speechless.

He shook our hand and left and I sat in shock for several minutes. I began to question God. Why didn't he answer our prayers? Why didn't he keep the cancer solely in her thyroid? So many things we prayed for specifically weren't answered the way wanted. But in the back of my head, I just kept thinking "All of my life, in every season, You are still God, and I have a reason to worship." I had to remember that I still had hope in Jesus.

I went to the bathroom to have some privacy while Michael made some phone calls. And I broke down. After a little while I composed myself, updated my mom and sister and eventually it was time to go see Ilana who was in PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit). Sweet girl was crying, unaware of where she was and was in so much pain. It was a long night. Hourly checks from nurses, Ilana in and out of sleep and in an out of pain.

Saturday wasn't much better and by that evening she became so unlike herself that I began to get worried. She held so much fear and the pain meds were causing so many side effects that she had no idea where she was, who I was, or what day it was and it began to make her nauseous. Her heart rate would go from 100 to 170 in seconds and she'd shake uncontrollably. After hours of this happening every 20-30 minutes, I began to feel like Satan was trying to distract us from focusing on God and that he was instilling such a fear in Ilana that she was struggling to trust us, the doctors, and ultimately God. She didn't want to listen to Christian music and she would cry and demand us to turn it off. I began to pray over her and I commanded the spirit of fear to flee in the name of Jesus Christ because Ilana was a child of God and that God has won this fight and that fear was NOT welcome any longer. The second I told Satan to go NOW, Ilana looked at me, her heartrate slowed down from 164 to 105 and she immediately laid down and was snoring in seconds. And from that moment, she slept all night except the two times the nurses woke her for vitals.

In the morning, she was feeling more like herself, she began to eat and drink and the doctor decided there was no reason to keep her there any longer and he prepared all her discharge papers. We got to go home just 2 days after surgery!
Crying tears of joy when finding out she could go home and wouldn't be in the hospital for Christmas!

God answered some prayers in the way we hoped and others were answered with his own different, but perfect plan. Right now we are unsure of what our future holds, but we know one thing for sure. That God is there. That God is good. That God's plan is better than our own. And for now, I'm thankful for this loud sleeping little girl next to me. I'm thankful that we get to spend Christmas at home. I'm thankful for the amazing support we have. We have an abundance of friends and family praying for us every step of the way. We have our amazing church family who met at our church on Friday before her surgery and stormed heaven's gates on Ilana's behalf. And the same church family who Facetimed with us as we prepared to go home during two church services. Amazing! We have so many people who have given monetary gifts, many who have sent Ilana cards and letters to her PO Box, and those who have sent me cards/texts/messages of encouragement.

 People who have done Random Acts of Christmas Kindness in honor of Ilana (you should check out the facebook page for this. It's awesome!). Honestly, we have been overwhelmed by it all and I often wonder how I'll ever tell each one individually how much we appreciate them... I'm thankful for God's promise and faithfulness.

Despite the unknown of our future, we hope and we pray that through everything, our eyes will remain on Jesus. That He will be glorified through every trial. Every mountain. Every valley. And that through this situation we will draw others closer to Him.

For now, I will continue singing "It is well. With my soul... It is well, it is well, with my soul..." and will continue thanking my Father for answered prayer.

From our family to yours, we would like to wish you a very Merry Christmas! We hope your year has been amazingly blessed!

***If you want to follow this new chapter in our lives, please join the Praying for Ilana Facebook group HERE

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Those Three Words...

Our story constantly changes as God sees fit, but this is a whole new chapter we didn't see coming. The last couple years have been a rough year for our family. Last year, our 5 year old (at the time) son became blind in his left eye, due to a detached retina. Something almost unheard of in children so young. After 3 intensive surgeries in 6 months, he has some restored vision, but still has many difficulties with this eye. During all this time, we were battling Reactive Attachment Disorder with our 3 year old adopted son. You can read through previous posts about this, but it ended up getting to where God revealed to us that He had another family in mind for Eyob. In February of this year, we made the hardest decision of letting go (you can read about that HERE) Raising a child with RAD is stressful. For the entire family. It can cause issues like PTSD in parents and/or siblings. Many don't realize this, but the stress resulted in my body going into renal failure earlier this year, which left my abdomen completely filled with scar tissue, along with endometriosis, which was all surgically removed in August. My kidney function came back normal by September. Many also don't realize that PTSD can easily make a "normal" child so stressed that they struggle daily. With things like attention, learning ability, grief, and even suicidal thoughts. And this PTSD can last months or years. It's something I feel like we'll deal with for a long time... On top of this came another surgery for Mikiyas who had hearing loss and a ruptured ear drum in October.

Medical issues are something our family is used to... Things like 3 cleft palate repairs and kidney problems for Ilana, 2 premature births (31 weeks and 34 weeks), eye surgeries as mentioned above, broken bones, heart problems (cardiomyopathy), thyroid issues for myself, and HIV for our boys - just to name a few. We've seen craniofacial teams, ophthalmologists, retinal specialists, nephrologists, endocrinologists, cardiologists, pediatric infectious disease specialists, neurologists, ENT's, and dozens of therapists. 

But nothing prepared us for this past month. On the morning of Monday, November 9, Ilana and I were snuggling in my bed and she briefly looked at the ceiling. That moment will never leave my brain when I first spotted the large lump on her neck. I immediately asked her to sit up so I could look closer. Immediately my heart sank and in my gut, I knew something was not okay. With my own thyroid issues, I knew that this lump was on her thyroid. I made a call to the pediatrician who saw her the next day and sent us out for an ultrasound ASAP. 

I went home and stayed up several hours that night studying thyroid ultrasounds so I could prepare for what we would be looking at. The ultrasound was done on Wednesday and I immediately saw microcalcifications and vascularity in the mass. My heart sank, because from what I read, those were suspicious signs. The following day we got a call from the pediatrician confirming my own diagnosis of nodules with microcalcification and we were immediately referred to an endocrinologist who wanted to see us that day. He agreed that it was suspicious and wanted us to get a biopsy. Due to the holidays and the scheduling time, they couldn't get us in for a biopsy for weeks. I was not comfortable waiting and new deep down that this was going to not be a normal "fluke". 

After further research (what else am I supposed to do from 1am-5am when I cannot sleep??), I found a specialist for pediatric thyroid cancer 4 hours away. I emailed him on Thursday, November 19th at 5am with all of Ilana's information and he responded within 60 minutes and asked when he could call us and if we could come the following day to see him. Friday we spent the entire day up at Shand's Hospital in Gainesville for a thyroid and lymph node ultrasound, a biopsy, and a consultation with the specialist. We then waited 4 long days for the results... 

Tuesday, November 24, my phone rang and I recognized it as the thyroid specialist's cell number. I answered it and the only words I really remember were "Unfortunately, the biopsy came back positive for papillary thyroid carcinoma." Those three words... Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma... While I expected this diagnosis all along, nothing quite prepares you for hearing those words come from a doctor. I immediately felt like I was going to throw up. He said a few more things and I remember saying "I trust you. Thank you." and then hung up and cried...

So many thoughts went through my mind. I began to question God. Saying "Really God? This, too? Why now? Why us? How can we do this financially? How can we handle this with it being so far away and having the other 3 kids to take care of? Why, God? WHY?"  I called Michael, told him the news and all I remember him saying is "God's got this. It will be okay. I'm going to go ahead and come home now."

As I prayed and spent some time with God last night, my view began to change. 

Why not now? Who am I to say that God's timing is wrong? God's timing has been so very perfect in our past trials. What makes this any different? Why not us? Just because we believe in Jesus doesn't mean that we won't be subject to hard times. After all, it says in James 1:

"Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  
So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete,
needing nothing."

C.S. Lewis said it perfectly: 
"Life with God is not immunity from difficulties, but peace in difficulties."

Just because we are believers, doesn't meant that our life is going to be "happily ever after". We will always be faced with trials and tribulations. While sometimes it feels like we've gotten more than our fair share of trials, I instead need to focus on how God can use me in these situations. How can God use this chaos of the storm? How can God use me in Ilana's life? How can we glorify God through this entire situation? I desperately need to surrender every fear and worry to Him. I have to surrender it all to Him! 

Michael was right. God's got this. We found the best doctor in the state of Florida for this situation. It wasn't any mistake. And despite the distance, God's always faithful with provision. Provision in financial needs, provision in helping with our kids, provision in every single step of the way. God's got this and His plan is SO perfect. I cannot wait to see how God will turn this whole situation into something good. I can't wait to see the strength and courage come from Ilana as she battles this. I can't wait to see how God uses her. I'm so thankful for the hundreds of friends and family who will hold us up and carry us when there may be days where we can't quite climb over these hurdles. I'm thankful that since announcing this diagnosis, we have had hundreds of people praying for our family. And boy, do we feel those prayers. We have a supernatural peace in our hearts and we are now praying, "Lord, have Your way in us. We are prepared. We are ready to give you the glory!"

For those asking how to help...

Please pray!

Pray that the cancer has stayed only in the thyroid and that it hasn't spread. With pediatric thyroid cancer, there's a much higher chance of it metastasizing to the lymph system, pulmonary system or bones.

Pray for the doctors and surgeons. For wisdom and for the entire treatment process, which so far will include a total thyroidectomy (removal of the thyroid) and possibly more, depending on what they find when they open her up. In 6-8 weeks she will undergo a form of radiation called Radioactive Iodine Treatment, in which she will have to undergo complete isolation (away from everyone, including us). The time frame all depends on the dosage of radiation that she's given. 

Pray for our family and for our other kids as they will be left with family and friends a lot over the next couple months. 

Here is a group that a sweet friend created where you can stay up to date on the process and to be our family's prayer warriors! FACEBOOK PRAYER GROUP HERE 

And here is a link that another friend created to help us with medical expenses including travel and lodging, as each trip too the specialist is about 8 hours round trip. Do not feel obligated to give! It's just an option for those who want to help in this way. I feel bad asking for any monetary help, so this is a humbling experience for our family...  YOUCARING PAGE HERE 

We are so thankful for each of you. While we could spend this Thanksgiving sad, we are choosing JOY. We have SO much to be thankful for and to be joyful over. 

"Rejoice in our confident hope. 
Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying." 
Romans 12:12

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Choosing Joy

3 years ago, August 31, 2012, was one of the happiest moments of our lives as we officially got home with Eyob and Mikiyas. Much like the birth of each of our biological kids, this day was filled with joy, excitement and a bit of bewilderment. Our hearts were so full of joy and excitement to finally be able to bring Mikiyas and Eyob home, yet we also had a bit of doubt or bewilderment wondering “what did we just do?! Can we really go from 2 to 4 overnight?” We had been preparing for this moment for two and a half years, yet it’s scary once that dream becomes a reality!

We had taken all sorts of parenting classes and read adoption blogs and books and watched multiple adoption parenting videos. We were ready for our future and were so excited as we began our lives as a family of 6! We dreamt of our 4 kids growing up together and pursuing their dreams as they became adults. I felt on top of the world and felt closer to the Lord than ever before.

Nothing prepared me for the decision we would have to make 2 ½ years later. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that as we celebrate 3 years home, one of our children would not be here to celebrate with us. I never imagined that throughout those two years, my faith and relationship with God would diminish and that I would find myself lost in a deep dark valley with my emotions, thoughts, and feelings spinning out of control. I never imagined that 6 months after being home, this beautiful boy would one day start to change and that his brain would begin to tell him to hate the very person who loved him most.

This month has been a huge struggle for me as I grieved. I grieved the loss of a son, but even more so, the loss of our dream for him. 3 years ago, I rejoiced as I dreamt of how we’d celebrate every August 31 as our Family Day!  I dreamt of celebrating this Family Day with two Ethiopian boys whose last name would forever be the same as mine. I didn’t know that God’s plan wasn’t for him to be a Nuñez forever.  That was hard. Harder than anything Michael and I had endured in our entire life.
While going through those dark times, I felt like God had left me. I felt so alone. I can say now looking back, God never once left me. In fact, He was holding me during the nights where I cried myself to sleep wanting nothing more to do than to just die. He was holding my arms and covering me in patience as I would hold (usually for hours) a tantruming toddler who wanted nothing more than to hurt himself or me.  He was helping me to continually tell that toddler “I love you. I care for you. You’re okay. You’re safe. Mommy is here.”  When often times I would be so frustrated and exhausted that I wanted to say nothing.  He was there every single moment of every single day.  That day, 6 months ago, when - for the very last time - I wrapped my arms around the 3 year old little boy that I had fallen in love with years ago… God was there. He was there in the days and weeks after, whispering truth in my ear when Satan was whispering the opposite. He was there through texts, calls, messages, and emails of encouragement that we got from hundreds of friends and family. God has been there each step of the way.

I recall, just over 3 years ago, sitting on a small couch on a chilly August morning in Ethiopia. My body shaking. Not from the cold, but from the excitement and heartache. I held a sweet 14 month old little boy in my arms. A little boy who would learn to call me mommy. I stared at a window anxiously awaiting. We heard a horn honk and watched as a guard opened the gate to the transition home allowing the blue van to enter. We stood nervously as we watched a young woman step out of the bus and walk to the house. A beautiful Ethiopian woman who looked no older than ourselves. We watched her as she removed her shoes before entering. As she entered I couldn’t help but reach out and hug her. She returned the hug and after a moment, we released the embrace and she smiled as she looked at Eyob. She reached out her arms and for the first time in a year, she was able to embrace the very son she gave birth to. For the next hour, we talked and asked various questions and answered her questions, as they were translated back and forth.

As I thought back on that moment, I began to sob. Feeling as if everything we told her was a lie. We promised we would take good care of him. We promised that we would always love him. We promised that we would teach him to know Jesus. We never knew that in a couple years, we’d be faced with the dreadful decision of not being able to be his parents any longer. I began to pour out my heart to God. Asking him why. Why did this happen? Why couldn’t Eyob have stayed in our family? Why couldn’t all that we had done helped him? Why was it His plan for Eyob to be in another family? Why wasn’t loving him enough? I had poured just about all that I was into him and loved him with all that I was. Why was that not enough?? God, just WHY?

And then Job 1:21 immediately entered my head:

“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

While preparing to celebrate our first Family Day without Eyob has sort of turned me into an emotional wreck, God revealed to me that I need to choose joy. I need to choose joy in every circumstance that God presents us with. Throughout Michael’s and my entire marriage, we have been faced with various hardships. Joy is a choice. I can choose to focus on the hardships, or I can choose to seek joy despite the adversity. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;  for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Today, I choose joy.

God gave us Eyob. Even though it was only for two and a half years. Even so – blessed is the name of the Lord. Through all those times, I was blessed. Yes - I was blessed! For 2 ½ years, Eyob called ME Mommy. For 906 days, Eyob was mine to love and to cherish. I know there were days where I didn’t cherish that blessing as much as I should have. But even in the midst of the hardest of days, I loved that boy. God gave him to me. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

God revealed to me that we didn’t lie to Eyob’s mom.

We DID take good care of him. I cared for him like any great mom would do. I spent countless hours at doctors appointments, therapy appointments, hospitals, and evaluations. I spent hours in the evenings after he was in bed, night after night, perusing the internet and books, researching ways to help him with the reactive attachment disorder.  I cared so much for him that I was willing to try anything in order to help him. I cared for him so much because I loved him with all my heart! I loved him so very much that I was willing to give up my parental rights in order for him to have the best life possible. God had revealed to us that Eyob was not to be in our family forever. God revealed to me that he had another family in mind. Accepting that was the hardest decision of my entire life. I loved Eyob so much and wanted so much for him to be able to love a mother and have a wonderful mother and son relationship that he SO much deserved.  I had to accept that in order for that to happen, that mother was not to be me. My promise was not broken to his birth mom. I promised to her that I would always love him. Even though his last name is no longer Nunez, that does not end my love for him. I will always love him. We never lied to his mom. He did grow to know Jesus. And that is continuing in his new family. The family that is lead by a strong spiritual leader, a pastor, and a father who loves his children so much!  God is SO good. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Today, I choose joy.

I have an incredible 9 year old Ethiopian son. This boy seems to inspire just about anyone he meets. This boy, despite great loss in his young life, loves like no one I’ve ever met. His heart just explodes with Jesus’ love. He will do anything for anyone and I am so very blessed to be his mother. I get to celebrate 3 years HOME with him. And it’s amazing to see just how far we’ve come in the last 3 years. I choose JOY!!

I have 3 other absolutely remarkable children who bless me every day. They are thrilled to be able to celebrate having their brother here for 3 years! I choose joy!

I have a husband who is the spiritual rock of our family. I know it’s cliché, but I honestly don’t know what I’d do without him. Every day with him is one of the greatest gifts the Lord has ever given me. I choose joy!

While we are celebrating this family day without Eyob in our home, I am choosing joy that we can celebrate the memory of bringing him home and spending each of those 906 days with him. I am choosing joy that he is in another family who loves him so abundantly. I am choosing joy that Eyob is now able to show love and affection and that God has restored him and that he is finally having that relationship that every child should be able to have with their mother.  Eyob hugs his new mother. Eyob kisses his new mother. Willingly. He adores his new mother. This is most definitely something to choose joy over.

So yes, while my heart aches and feels a bit empty, I still continue to choose joy. Happy Family Day, Mikiyas and Eyob. We will always love both of you and we are so unbelievably joyful the gift your lives have  given our family.

Here is our Coming Home video from 3 years ago for those who have never seen it before...

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

"All the days of my life..."

“To love and to cherish, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. All the days of my life.”

10 years ago, those words were spoken to me by a boy of merely 19 years old. Never have I had truer words spoken to me. We were both 19 years old with a whole (completely unknown) future ahead of us. We were so in love and ready for whatever life threw at us.

For 10 years, I watched that boy grow up with me as we endured life’s ups and downs; mountains and valleys. We have been incredibly blessed to get to witness and endure so many mountains and good times, yet I had absolutely NO idea that in ten years, we’d crawl through so many valleys. But those valleys showed me just how blessed I was to have Michael. Moments when I felt I could not “crawl” any longer, where he’d pick me up and carry me through it.
Michael has truly loved and cherished me more than I’d ever thought possible. There are days where I just look at him and my heart skips a beat as I wonder how I could ever get so lucky to be his wife. How did I get so lucky to be loved and cherished by this man? Who continually loves me even on days where I definitely don’t deserve it! There are days where I fall head over heels in love with him again: as I watch him down on the floor playing doll house with his 1 year old daughter; as I watch him spend hours playing Legos with his son; see him spend hours outside at night rewiring wires on our circuit breaker box when our well goes out or replacing the radiator on a vehicle; or watching him as he sits with our kids all snuggling next to him as he reads the Bible and devotional each night and then spends time in prayer with them – truly being the spiritual leader of our home.

“For richer or poorer…” We haven’t ever quite gotten the “richer” part in America’s eyes, but in the world’s eyes, we definitely have… But we’ve definitely endured the poorer as we’ve battled unemployment twice in the past 10 years. 6 months after the Marine Corps and then once for 9 weeks right in the middle of our adoption of Mikiyas and Eyob. Scary moments, but we clung to each other and relied and trusted that God would provide. And as always, He did!

“In sickness and in health…” This one. Wow. I feel like we’ve had more sickness than health and that’s when I’ve realized just how much he loves me and his family. 1 baby born with a cleft palate and kidney problems. 3 surgeries and an insane amount of doctors and specialist appointments and hospital visits. Another baby born. This time, 9 weeks early. 5 weeks of a hospital stay and more doctor appointments and another surgery. Constant crazy health problems for me. A few later, adoption of two HIV+ boys. Come to find out, the HIV was the easy stuff as we also endured ENT’s, a surgery, GI doctors, cardiologists, neurologists, pulmonologists, endocrinologists and a crazy amount of speech, occupational, and mental therapists. Then throw in another completely unexpected pregnancy with multiple problems and going into labor early again – this time 6 weeks early! She had her fair share of medical problems in which we had unexpected ER visits, hospital admissions, and various specialists. Then you add in a son who suddenly goes blind in one eye and we endure 3 more unexpected surgeries over a span of 6 months.  It was crazy. All while enduring a child who had extreme adoption attachment issues: extreme and constant rages, tempers, self abuse and more. It was enough to probably tear a family apart. But goodness! Not us. Michael held us together each step of the way. Days where I felt I could not go any further, he picked me up and encouraged that together and with Christ, we could. Nothing would have ever prepared us for what happened 6 months ago. Despite our difficult trials through marriage, we faced the hardest moment of our entire life as we struggled with the decision of having to give Eyob to another family. What probably should’ve torn our family apart at that moment, only brought Michael and I together more as we prayed and sought wisdom and clung to each other with every fiber of our beings. We had no idea that something so tragic would build our marriage stronger than ever before. Just another way that God made beauty from those ashes. And here we are today as we struggle with yet another “sickness”, as we get to spend the afternoon of our anniversary at the doctor’s office for preparation for another surgery next week. This time for me, as the doctors try to figure out what’s going on and why I’ve been going through severe pain and having other issues over the past 3 months. While we’re unsure of what’s going on, I know that Michael has been there by my side through every moment and will continue to be and will continue to love and cherish me and care for me during these moments of “sickness”.

God has been so very good to us and has continually given us strength to overcome all that we have. We have come to know and trust Romans 5:3-5. "We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love."

I don’t know what our future holds, but there is one thing I’m absolutely sure of is that “All the days of my life” will always be true for the both of us. I had no idea that 13 years ago in July, after that first date that I would eventually fall in love with that 16 year old boy. I had no idea that 3 years later we would get married. I had no idea that we would endure so much in just ten years of marriage. I had no idea I could love someone so very much. But I know without a doubt that I will truly love and cherish Michael, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health ALL the days of my life. I can’t believe we are celebrating 10 years already! Happy 10th anniversary, Michael! I love you! I cannot WAIT until we get to celebrate 80 years! I can only imagine the list of things we’ve done and overcome then! :)

Monday, February 23, 2015

When love isn't enough and love means letting go...

Sometimes life doesn't go as WE planned. Sometimes you push so hard to get your life to go the way YOU want it to go and you finally wake up and realize "wait a minute. What am I doing? I'm living for God. Not for myself! Why am I not following His plan?" Well. Here I am. I've woken up and realized I'm done writing our story. I'm letting go of the pen and handing our story back to God. (P.S. If you're not new to our story, you may notice that our blog address has also changed)

So. Here I am. And I'm struggling. Our story has taken a huge twist. Something we never fathomed would happen. Something we never planned for. Something we fought against. But, alas. Here we are...

Many think that love is enough when you adopt. That if you love them enough that things will be perfect. It's not true. I know without a doubt that love is NOT always enough. And it breaks my heart to say this...

For two and a half years, I have been a mom to Eyob. For two and a half years I have tried so hard to be the best mother he could have. For two and a half years I have put literal blood, sweat and tears into trying to love him enough that his poor little traumatized heart would heal. Praying that I could fix all the hurts and struggles that come from a life that began with trauma. I endured hundreds of hours of screaming, tantrums, abuse, and sometimes hateful words. And I tried so. very. hard... To be enough... While I struggle with feelings of failure, I  know that I tried and I tried hard and fought as hard as I could for him.

But - God had different plans. It got to the point that no matter what we tried, Eyob would not attach. In the adoption world, attachment is SO important, and SO vital for the child to grow and thrive and survive their early traumatized start to life. His sweet heart craved a mother's attachment, but his brain, so full of fear and pain and stress of the past would not allow it. His brain fought and fought hard. And when his brain fought, it caused his body to fight. And fight he did. It was rare for me to not have the marks of his tantrums all over my body. I was okay with it. I knew his heart didn't mean it. He didn't know why he acted that way. It wasn't truly his fault. But as his brain fought my love, my touch, my affection, it wasn't enough. His brain fought more. And for some reason, it told him that hurting Mommy just wasn't enough. So he had to fight even more. He had to fight the only others he could really get to. His siblings. The older ones began to know what to expect and usually were able to get away from slaps or bites. He found one that couldn't. His baby sister. At just one year old and a new walker, she was the perfect size for his anger. So his brain told him to target her. A slap here. A push there. It began to get even more dangerous and unpredictable and we quickly realized we were in a scary situation and in order to ensure her safety, we had to either isolate her from the rest of the house or isolate Eyob from the rest of the house. We couldn't leave either of them alone for even 30 seconds.

Eyob was struggling. Baby Sister was struggling. The older 3 were struggling (one in particular was REALLY struggling emotionally and mentally).  This was affecting everyone more than we ever realized. And we were warned about CPS having to step in if it continued. A therapist recommended trying even harder to get Eyob to attach. To go full force into therapy. 3 days a week for play therapy. 2 days a week for occupational therapy. 2 days a week for speech therapy.  And she recommended that each of the older 3 get counseling for the trauma that was being endured in our home. A total of TEN one hour therapy sessions a week. Add that to our already busy week usually full of doctor appointments and you've got a family who is falling apart. A marriage that is desperately trying to sustain through so much stress. And a mom that has already struggled with depression and was hanging on by a thread...

It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair for our family. Most of all, it wasn't fair for Eyob... We were trying so hard to force an attachment that just wasn't going to happen. He deserved more. He deserved a better life than that. He deserved to grow and thrive and be able to attach and have a good relationship with a mom. And as hard as it is to admit, that relationship just wouldn't ever be with me. No matter how much I pushed and fought and tried and loved.

I began to question God and why He would allow us to fight so hard for Eyob. We fought so hard to raise the funds to get Eyob's referral fee nearly 3 years ago. God provided every single penny. We fought to get him home. God miraculously provided for those doors to open quicker than we imagined. Why would God allow us to do all of that and bring him home, only to say that we weren't going to be able to get him the help he truly needed as he grew? It just didn't make sense that God could allow something like this. I didn't know how to pray, what to ask, or how to accept this. While seeking biblical wisdom, Romans 8:26-28 spoke to me:

"And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.  And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them."

I had to trust that whatever happened, God was going to make everything work together for good. That was the only thing that was helping me survive. As we began to seek help and wisdom and advice, a friend told us something that finally opened our eyes. Remember the story of Moses? How Moses went to Egypt and helped the Israelites escape? His plan was to take them to the Promised Land. He was able to free them from Egypt and he started the long journey to the Promised Land with them. Unfortunately, Moses wasn't able to make it INTO the Promised Land with his people. Our friend explained that we are Eyob's Moses. We helped him get from Ethiopia to the United States and we loved, cared for, and provided for him the past 2 1/2 years, but we were just a stepping stone to get him to where he was supposed to be.  We realized that now it was time for us to hand over the reigns and allow God to take over and fully trust in His plan, no matter how heartbreaking it would be.  No matter how much judgement and persecution we would face.

We sought advice and prayed fervently for days and weeks for God to reveal what we were to do. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. I could hardly function... We eventually realized after much confirmation in many God ways, that Eyob deserved a fresh start to his life. That we were to give Eyob a new life in another family. We were recommended by some specialists that he was to be in a family with no children under the age of 8-10. He needed a new start with another family who would continue to love him, and could also give him the help he needed that we could not give him. God revealed to me in a dream (two dreams, actually) that in this new family, Eyob would grow and thrive and finally become the child (and eventually man) that God had planned for him. This would help him more than ever and this would also help the rest of our family and ensure safety for our other children. From others we had talked to, many times children in a disrupted adoption end up finally getting through their attachment issues (or at least improving significantly) in the second family and can finally live normally. We opened up to the older kids and began praying nightly as a family. One night, Ilana came up to us and told us that God had spoken to her and God told her "I already have the perfect family picked for him. They are a strong Christian family."

I opened up with another adoptive friend. She had been waiting for this exact moment, this exact conversation, for a few months. God had already laid it on her heart months ago what would be happening and she was prepared. She contacted a friend who immediately had a family in mind who God had already been preparing for this exact situation.  God had even given them a dream over a year ago of a little boy they were to adopt. A little boy who looked like Eyob. They had other children, but none under the age of 9. They were a strong Christian family. He was a pastor. The timing of everything lined up perfectly and we knew that God had been preparing for this for long before we'd even considered or thought about any of it. Isn't that just how God works, though? He knows everything. He's constantly working out all the details behind the scenes... Details like:

Before we had even considered finding another family, Eyob continually repeated "momma papa momma papa momma papa. I go see momma papa. momma papa." We thought he was just being goofy because no one in our family goes by momma or papa. Not even grandparents. 6 weeks later, Eyob got a package in the mail from his new adoptive family with pictures. He immediately saw a picture of the parents, and wouldn't you know... They labeled it as "Momma and Papa".

Or when I showed him their pictures on my phone, before we'd even told him or the kids anything. I wanted him to familiarize himself with them. He takes one look at the picture and says "That's my new daddy?" I was astonished and questioned how in the world he even knew that. Later that day he was just grinning from ear to ear. I asked him why he was so happy and he replied with "Jesus gave me new family." Michael said "Well who told you that?" And a simple reply from him was all that was needed before we were covered in goosebumps "God."

God had orchestrated everything and began working in Eyob's heart before we even realized it...

The process went by over 8 weeks and then it was time. The week before it really began to sink in and our family began to really experience grief. This was the hardest thing we've ever had to do. To accept that it had gotten to this point nearly broke us apart. To accept it in my heart that I had to do this tore me apart inside. Feelings of failure. Of feeling like I wasn't enough. That somehow I didn't try enough, fight hard enough, or endure enough... Deep down I knew that no matter how much I loved him, love was not enough. My love for him would not fix him. I could not fix him!! This was for GOD to do. And I had to accept that this was God's plan for me. For my family. For Eyob. And I had to remember that ultimately, Eyob was NOT my child. He was God's. And I had to trust God's plan for His own son...

Even though we knew it was the best thing for him, it didn't make it easy. The goodbye was bittersweet. It was great to see Eyob so happy and to have a sparkle in his eyes that he hasn't had in a long time. We spent several hours with them and then this evening, our family and his new family spent the evening surrounded by our small group in prayer. I know most disrupted adoptions end ugly. This, however, was just beautiful and just covered by the Holy Spirit. Saying goodbye and handing him to his new family nearly ripped our hearts in half. We held it together until I turned around and walked into the arms of my sister as I lost it. I'm SO thankful for my sister and her husband and two of our best friends, Duane and Danyelle who stood by our side as Eyob and his new family drove away. I can't imagine going through something like this without God and without the comfort and support of our closest friends.

We are SO thankful for God's provision in allowing the process to go so smoothly and for allowing us to find the perfect family who not only cares and loves Eyob, but cares and loves our entire family and who will stay in contact and keep us updated on how he is growing and changing. God has answered every prayer during this process and we are eternally grateful.

For now, our family is grieving. We're grieving the loss of a son. Of a brother. Of a little boy that we truly cherished and loved. Everywhere we look in our house, we're faced with reminders of him. Of reminders of what we had to do. And we are struggling. We miss him. We always will. We will always love him. Saying goodbye was THE hardest thing each of us have had to do and I now have a small glimpse into what God had to do by giving the world His one and only son. We are trying very hard to remember Proverbs 3:5-6:

 "Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. "

God revealed to us SO clearly on which path to take. And we cannot depend on our own understanding on why, because we still don't quite get it. But we are trusting that God will make beauty from these ashes and that He will heal our hearts and help Eyob to become whole and help our family to become whole again.

For those who disagree with our decision, it's okay. We understand. We know there's going to be many who think we made a huge mistake. Who think we're awful parents or who think we took the easy way out (which is crazy - this was by far the hardest thing we've ever had to do) or who think we made the wrong choice... It's okay. I know we will face judgement. I know we will get nasty messages, comments and be ridiculed. It won't be easy to accept, but I am expecting it. We're prepared and know that sometimes following God's will is asking for judgement... Nothing I say or explain will make you understand, and that's okay. We love you anyway.

For those who want to continue to support us during this heartbreaking time, thank you. We love you and we appreciate you. Please pray for us. Pray for our kids. Pray for Eyob. Pray that he will just flourish and grow to overcome RAD/PTSD. Pray for his new family that we have grown to love over the past several weeks.  If you see us over the next few weeks, please be cautious in asking questions, especially to our children. They are struggling, as are we. Please allow us to grieve... Please pray for us to continue to remember to praise God during these times...  For now, this is a song that explains our hearts right now....