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! :)