Thursday, May 22, 2014

One Less

Up until about two and a half years ago,  I had always been a surface person...never really digging deep into who I was or what I wanted to be.  Just trying to live my life like the next person.  Fit in.  Try not to stand out like a sore thumb.  Going through the motions.  Not only of life, but of church also.  But after Deacon was born, I picked up a shovel and began to scrape past the surface of me, and it wasn't long before I started full-blown digging.  I started to think outside the box.  The desires of my heart started changing.  God opened my eyes to needs that I had never seen before.  Taught me to appreciate differences.  And began burdening my heart for others.  I've blogged about this before, but this is all preface for what I'm about to tell you.  At that time, I felt like my heart was going to explode with emotions.  I had so many new hopes, dreams, and desires that I didn't even know where to start.  I bought a book that caught my eye at Barnes and Noble..."More Than a Bucket List" by Toni Birdsong.  I've mentioned it before.  At the time it was hard to explain all that I was feeling without sounding like a crazy person, but I felt like this book kinda put some of it into words for me.  It's a little gift book that just talks about how to live life fully but also faithfully.  So I bought it and began to skim through it some things catching my attention more than others...

"Become a more positive person. 
-Allow God to reshape your heart, thoughts, and words."

"Live with compassion.  
-Look around you.  There's always someone more needy than you.  Give your time or your resources."

"Live with strength.  
-Do what you can to change you.  Leave other people to God. 
-Know what you stand for and why. 
-Become a recovering perfectionist."

"Live faithfully.
-Celebrate more-the small things as well as the big things.
-Give those around you more grace.
-Trust God til it hurts."

"Live your dreams.
-Simplify.  Give away all that stuff."

"Live an adventure.
-Visit the Fontana di Trevi, the most beautiful fountain in Rome.  Make a wish."

"Do something radical.
-Adopt a child."

While reading her book and adding some of her suggestions to my mental bucket list,  I also began to start a list of my own.  I would randomly shout them out to Dustin not thinking about how much the kids were paying attention...."Go on a mission trip. Work at a homeless shelter. Go whale watching in Alaska."

Until one night.  I won't forget it.  We were at Arby's with my mom and dad having dinner.  Throughout the conversation we began to talk about how much Deacon had changed my heart.  All of our hearts really, but I started sharing some of my 'list' with my parents when Noah blurted out, "Yeah, and she even wants to adopt a little girl from China!"  I vaguely remembered saying that, but I guess I had blurted it out at some point, and he didn't forget it.  We all laughed, and it was just a joke.

But deep down, I didn't feel like it was a joke.

I felt like God kept nudging me saying, "Yeah, you thought I was playing.  I'm not.  I'm serious."

I didn't know how serious until I started noticing EVERY SINGLE little Asian girl that crossed my path.  Something inside my heart would go crazy, and I would be brought to tears each and every time.

What in the world is happening to me? I would think.

I started having a huge burden for orphans that I had never had before.  I didn't really say anything for a while, because I thought Dustin would think I was crazy.  But he didn't.  He wasn't totally on board, but he wasn't totally opposed to the idea either.

But then one night he went with our choir group to a performance by the Annie Moses Band, and I'm not sure what he saw...a video, a family that had adopted, or what, but something had a little girl from China on it and whatever was happening to me started happening to him too.  He came home, and I remember him saying, "Yeeeahh, so I'm feeling it too!"  Isn't it funny how God works like that?!

So there it was.  We both felt the call.  The call to adopt.  Crazy as it seemed even to us, we felt it.  I cannot tell you exactly where the specifics of where a little girl from China came from other than that night at Arby's, but all I know is when God lays something on your heart sometimes there's no explaining it.  He just does.

From that point on, I wasn't alone in noticing every single little girl and getting emotional.  He was in on it too.  We would be out somewhere, see a little Asian girl, and he would elbow me or give me the look just like we do when we see someone with Down Syndrome.  It felt good to know that I wasn't alone in how I felt.  We were in on it together.  It was only a dream, and we had no clue when it would become a reality, but we were dreaming together.

There were two other events that I felt like God orchestrated in order to bring us to where we are today.  The first one took place a little over a year ago.  It's no surprise that we are Casting Crowns fans because I've mentioned them and their songs several times before, but it was close to Dustin's birthday and I wanted to see if they were coming anywhere close by so I could surprise him with tickets.  In googling them, I came across a video of the lead singer, Mark Hall, and his wife Melanie.  I had no clue that they had adopted a little girl from China, but they were talking about their "Gotcha Day" and bringing home their baby girl on their video.  I cried like a baby watching it.  (I cry like a baby every time I watch a "Gotcha Day" video.)  That made me want to go to a concert even more.

I found out that they were coming to Longview, Tx which is only an hour away, so I felt led to send Mark an email asking if there was any chance that my husband could meet him when they come into town.  I thought it would be the best birthday present ever because Dustin has always admired him as a man of God and the way he presents the truth through his music.  Sending that email was out of my comfort zone.  I never did stuff like that, because I was afraid of rejection or worried about looking like a crazy person, but I felt so burdened to send that email.  So I did.

I didn't get anything back for a while, so I had forgotten about it.  I was just planning to surprise him with tickets.  But a few days before the concert, I received an email back saying that he received my message and that there would be tickets and meet and greet passes waiting for us at the concert.  I was so excited that I couldn't keep it a secret from him.

Before the concert, we were walking around and Dustin stopped to talk to a Dad who was working an adoption booth. He had his little girl that he adopted on his shoulders...she was deaf and she was from China.  Dustin explained to him that we were praying about adoption and whether or not it was God's will for our lives.  The man responded by saying, "Well, honestly, you don't have to pray about it.  He already told you to do it in James 1:27." ("Religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.")  It cut him to the quick, and he hasn't forgotten that statement.

I boo-hooed through pretty much the entire concert.  God was really working on me in all kinds of ways, and I felt like he was really speaking to me through each song.  After the concert, we were a little disappointed to find out that all we got to do was shake hands quickly with the band and couldn't really have a conversation.  We even cheated and skipped to the back of the line thinking we would get a little more time.  But as they were coming through shaking hands I got really distracted because I saw Mark's wife, Melanie, standing across the hall.  I only recognized her because of that video, but I felt like God was nudging me to go talk to her.  I had that heavy weight on my chest.  I almost ignored it, because I had no clue what to say.  But it was so strong that I couldn't ignore it, so I walked over and introduced myself.  I started asking questions about her adoption, and the next thing I know everyone else was gone, and we had been talking for nearly an hour.  I was completely engrossed in everything that she was saying.  She was telling me stories of how they knew they were called to adopt and why they chose China.  And sharing the details of how God was in it every step of the way.   I lingered on every word.  It was the first time that I had talked to someone that had been through what I was feeling.  I think I was in tears the entire time.  It was late, and I know that she probably had a million things that she needed to be doing, but she didn't.  She took the time to share her heart and her story and didn't have a clue of the impact that it had on this random couple that she would probably never see again.  It was like God gave us confirmation on that day...yes, this is what you are supposed to do.

Another time that stands out is when Steven Curtis Chapman came into town for a concert.  (Do you notice a pattern?  Yes, we are huge fans of christian music. So much so that we are celebrating our ten year anniversary at the K-Love fan awards in Nashville next week.  I cannot tell you how excited I am about a that! We are big believers in worshiping and sharing the love of Jesus through song, so what better way to celebrate! But anyway, back to the story.)  Knowing that he and his wife had adopted from China, I really wanted to attend his concert.  They have an organization called Show Hope that helps provide grants to families that are adopting.  I knew they would probably be there, so I contacted them to see if there was any way we could help.  We ended up working a booth the night of the concert helping them draw sponsors.  We met several couples that adopted that night and were able to talk to them about the details of their adoption.  One of our biggest concerns was how in the world we would pay for an adoption.  That night one couple shared with us that there was one point in their process that they had no clue where the money for the next step was going to come from and they needed it soon, but the husband walked into his office one day and found a check laying on his desk for the exact amount needed. Man, God is good!  

Once again, God put us exactly where He wanted us to give us even more confirmation.  So the next week we decided to stick a toe in the water.  We filled out a pre-application just to see if we might be approved.  It was free and didn't take much effort.  The agency we sent it to said that because of a few things that we didn't have together that we needed to wait.  I tried to pursue it a little further, but they weren't really helpful, and I just got discouraged.

So we just kinda gave up for a while and sat idle.  Thinking we will do it one day later when we get it together.  The desire still burning in my heart on a daily basis.

The longer we went on, the more I realized, we may never have it together.  I mean seriously, who really does? So about a two months ago I went to the site of a different agency from before.  I printed out their application.  It seemed overwhelming.  I was going to wait til Dustin was home and we could do it together.  But everything happened with my nephew, and it was put on the back burner.

I found out a few weeks ago that one of the moms at Noah's school brought home her baby girl from China just last month.  I saw her little picture on Facebook.  I got nosey looking for more pictures of her and ended up seeing a post on her page from the group that went with her.  Each person in the group had posted pictures of their new additions to their families...all from China.  Tears ran down my face as I looked at each picture and imagined what our little girl would look like.

That's was it...I couldn't take it anymore.  It was time.  I went to the website of the agency that she used, clicked on the application, and for the first time ever had a peace about filling it out.  No more pre-application business.  This was the real deal, pay a fee, official application.  The first step.  We talked about it.  Prayed about it.  Filled it out.  Completed the medical checklist of which special needs we would be willing to accept.  Then hit SEND.  And then we waited.

I don't know why, but I had this HUGE fear that it would come back not approved.  That for some reason they would tell us we needed to wait.  I checked my email pretty much every five minutes for nearly a week.

Monday night, Dustin was working out of town, and I was home alone with the kids.  It was one of those days where they were fighting like crazy and had to be grounded to their rooms.  And I was sitting there in the kitchen listening to my son yell from his room about how horrible his life was at the moment and how he hated Eve because if she had never eaten that apple, then he would never have disobeyed. (Seriously?! I thought I'd heard it all.  Nothing is ever that kid's fault. Ever.)  I remembered that I hadn't checked my email in a while.  So I did.  And there it was...the subject heading "Application Approved!"  You cannot even imagine the relief and the joy that filled my heart!! Noah was peeking out of his room looking for sympathy, but all he saw was me doing a happy dance!

So friends, I wrote all of this to tell you that we are OFFICIALLY IN THE ADOPTION PROCESS!

We feel overjoyed, but we also feel overwhelmed.  This is a big process.  Lots of paperwork.  Lots of money.  Just to proceed with the next step with the agency and the home study, we have to come up with $5800.  We don't have it.  We have 90 days to pay it.  I have no clue where it is going to come from, but I one hundred percent believe that God wouldn't bring us to it without bringing us through it.

I know that we are going to face opposition during this process.  People won't understand.  We even have family members that aren't too keen on the idea.  Here are some of the questions I've already gotten...Three kids isn't enough?  How are you going to pay for that?  Why China...there's lots of kids in the U.S. that need families?  Why don't you just have another one? 

Other than answering because God said so, this video and song,  by Matthew West called "One Less" is the best way I know how to explain it.  I highly encourage you to watch it and listen to each word. You can also click here to watch it full screen on YouTube.

I can promise you that the Andrea from over two and a half years ago would have laughed if you told her that one day she would be in the process of adopting a little girl from China.  I also never would have dreamed that I would have a son with Down Syndrome, but what a blessing that has been!!  I'm so thankful that God's plans are bigger and better than ours.

I still have so many fears about the process...paying for it, making it through to the end, and growing our family, but all I can do is TRUST and pray that God will work it all out.  If you would, please pray for us as we begin this journey.  We appreciate it more than you know!  Also, keep an eye out for our first fundraiser.  We are designing t-shirts, learning to stamp jewelry, building birdhouses....whatever it takes to bring our baby girl home.  I will post more information on all of that soon.  Thank you, and God bless you!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Love at Third Sight

One day, over a decade ago, I had a friend named Jesse who left town to join the Marines.  He was back in town for a brief time and wanted to visit, so I invited him over and "cooked" him hot dogs.  I'll never forget his words..."I have this friend I want you to meet.  I think you'll like him.  He's all churchy and stuff."  Jesse's mom was hosting a bingo night for him while he was in town and inviting family and a few friends over to play.  He thought it would be a good time for me to meet his friend.  Except for this friend showed up late for the party, (some things never change) and since I was going out of town the next day, I had to leave early so all we did was say "Hi!" and "Bye!".  That night I called Jesse and said, "Yeah, I guess you can give him my number." And he did.

The next day I was at Six Flags, and when I went to leave I noticed that I had a voicemail from Churchy Dude.  So I called him back.  That night he ended up coming over to my house when we got back into town.  We talked a couple of times after that, but I was so caught up in myself and may or may not have had some commitment issues, so eventually we just stopped talking.

Several months down the road, I went with a friend to her speech class.  She had to do a demonstration speech on how to highlight hair and asked me to be her model (please know I use that term loosely).  As I'm sitting in a chair at the front of the class pretending to have my hair done, in comes this guy... super late, rushing to his seat with duck calls around his neck, a decoy in hand, and decked out in camouflage from head to toe. Bet you can't guess what his speech was on.  Yep, Duck hunting.  Back before those Duck Guys were cool.  During the speech he even blew his duck calls for added effect.  It was very entertaining.  And as me and the rest of the class were cracking up at him, it hit me....that's the  Bingo Dude!  But I didn't talk to him.  I actually think I kinda hid from him afterwards hoping he wouldn't realize that it was me.  The girl who never called him back.

Fast forward a few more months, and I attended a college-aged community bible study that was held at a local hotel one night a week.  And lo and behold, guess who was sitting directly behind me...none other than Churchy guy.  This time I said hello, and we talked a little bit.  Afterwards we just went our separate ways.

A few days later, I remember sitting in Biology class, and I just could not get this guy off my mind.  I started thinking to myself and trying to remember why I quit calling him back.  I couldn't really remember why.  He appeared to be a nice guy.  And as I began to go through my qualifications list in my head, he seemed to meet a lot of them.  Yes, I had a qualifications list.  I know I'm not the only one.  It was hand-written, and my mom still has the original copy.

So since I couldn't stop thinking about him, I am not ashamed to say that I went home, looked his number up in the phone book, and called him.  The rest is history.

A man that can sing was not on the qualifications list, but was definitely an added bonus. ;)

It didn't take me long to realize that he was the one for me.  He was the only one I'd ever stuck with for longer than a few months. He, on the other hand, took a little longer to know for sure.  Three years to be exact.  Finally! He took me to Natchitoches during the Christmas festival of lights.  After a nice dinner, we took a walk along the river.  It took him until the very last bench on the riverfront to work up the nerve, but he finally sat me down, got on one knee, and said this...

"I love you cause you're good to me.
You think my jokes are funny.  
I love you cause you'd marry me
even though I have no money.
I'll love you when we're old and grey
And when we have bad knees.
But first I have to ask you...
Will you marry me?"

(Special thanks to the random person who captured the moment.)

And on May 15, 2004, we said "I do!"

And now here we are...ten years and three beautiful kids later.  I couldn't be happier.  There is no one else I'd rather do life with.  He completes me. (I'm sorry, I know that was so Jerry Maguire, but he really does.) I love him with my whole heart.  I don't know what I would do without him.  And, I don't think you understand how much I mean that.  I really don't.  I'm pretty spoiled. (I don't admit that much, but it's true.)  I thank God every day for him.  Well, maybe not every day.  But I should.  He is an incredible husband and an even better father to our kids.  Lord willing, I cannot wait to see what the next ten years have in store for us.

Also, I'd say I did pretty good as far as my qualifications list goes... (Insert a thumbs up)

(Disclaimer-To my Jehovah's Witness friends, please do not take offense to number one.  I have absolutely nothing against Jehovah's Witnesses.  My heart had just been broken by one when I wrote this.  Plus, when I was little, and they would come to our house on bikes, my neighbor would call my mom with a warning.  My mom would then make us turn out all of the lights, turn off the TV,  get down, and be quiet.  She did the same thing for door to door salesmen.  So I was kinda afraid of people that came to our door.  That also could have had a little bit to do with qualification number one. )

He still has not let me live down the fact that I initiated the next go-round by calling him.  But I know he's glad that I did. ;)


And Thank you, Jesse!! You were right.  I love that churchy guy! 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Broken Hallelujah

Life.  It's so unpredictable.  Some days are beautiful and some are horrible, but knowing that each one was orchestrated by God is what gets us through even the worst of them.  It's in those dark times that true faith is exercised.  Well, let's just say we've been doing a lot of exercising lately.  (And clearly not the physical kind.)

Just a little over a month ago, my four year old nephew, Hayden, hit his head twice in one weekend and in almost the same spot.  After the second injury, he began vomiting and complaining about headaches.  This went on for a few days, so my Brother & Sister in Law took him to the ER.  They told them his ct scan looked normal, that it was a concussion or virus, to treat the symptoms, and follow up with his pediatrician.  So the next day they followed up with the pediatrician who said the same thing and sent them home.  The symptoms continued.  He couldn't even hold down a piece of ice.  So they took him to a different ER for another opinion.  Those doctors almost sent him home as well, but one of them decided it would be best to admit him and do an MRI.  Praise God for that Doctor!

On Friday, April 4th, we sat for hours cramped in a tiny, dark hospital room whispering conversations to each other while Hayden slept with a pillow over his face, and we were anxiously awaiting the MRI results when the Doctor came in and asked to speak with my Brother and Sister in Law privately.  They stepped out and the rest of us remained in the room in total silence.  The only sound was the ticking of the clock.  And my heart began to sink deeper into my chest with each tick.  Over thirty minutes had gone by, (which seemed like an eternity) and we knew that something was not right.  That this was more than a concussion.  More than a virus.

We met them in the hallway as they returned.  Tears streaming down my Sister in Law's face as she was barely able to mutter the words, "He has a small brain tumor."  A brain tumor.  He has a brain tumor.  This can't be real.  This is not happening.  This is a bad dream.   But it wasn't a bad dream.  It was real.  And it was scary.  And it was hard to comprehend.  Still is.

(Ironically, I had sent this picture to my nephew the night before to tell him that I thought he was a warrior and was going to be ok.  Having no clue how much of a warrior he would really be.)

My parents had not been gone from the hospital long and were frantically texting for information, so I knew I had to make the phone call.  I was shaking and couldn't believe the words that were coming out of my own mouth as I told my Dad, "You need to come back.  He has a brain tumor."  Each time those words came out of my mouth, tears came down my face.  It seemed so surreal just saying it.  And as upsetting as it was for me and the rest of the family, I could not even begin to imagine what Dusty and April were going through.  My heart ached so badly for them. And for Hayden as well.

They moved him to ICU that night.  It was a long, scary weekend as his symptoms continued to worsen even after strong pain medicine.  But Praise the Lord, he made it to Monday morning before having to have surgery to drain fluid build-up, relieve the pressure, and remove as much of the tumor as possible for biopsy.  God carried him through the surgery as well.  After an eventful week of recovery, consultation, and lots of confusion, the prayerful decision was made to go to St. Jude for further consultation of treatment options.  So on Monday, April 14th, Hayden and his mom were airlifted there, and my brother and I arrived hours later by car.

As we arrived, we were both sick to our stomachs.  It was a bittersweet feeling.  We were so thankful that a place such as St. Jude exists, but we hated the fact that we had to be there.  Walking through the halls felt like I was having an out of body experience.  It was a place I'd heard about all of my life.  I've supported them by buying St. Jude home tickets.  One of Deacon's buddies is even currently undergoing treatment there.  But I just couldn't quite comprehend the fact that we were there for us.  For my family.  My blood.  For someone that I love from the depths of my heart.  It was a tough pill to swallow.

At first, I didn't know how to handle being there.  I didn't want to stare at people, but I didn't want to look away and pretend that I didn't see them either.  I'm just awkward like that anyway in normal situations when passing people, but this was far from normal.  At least for me.  It was not like anything I had ever experienced.  I remember when Deacon was first born I was like a total stalker of anyone that had Down Syndrome.  Having no experience of being around anyone with DS, it was like hitting the jackpot when we would see someone out in public.  I even approached a few strangers like a crazy person.  I could have just stared at them for hours...seeing what their life was like, how they interacted with others, and what things they did.  What I realized was that their lives weren't over like I thought mine was at first.  They were still just normal families with a little bit different situations.  They weren't sad or miserable or any of those other things that my misperceptions made me think they would be.  And it was the same thing with these people...although Lord knows they have their moments, they didn't seem sad or grieving.  They were just doing what they had to do. Fighting the fight and taking it one day at a time.  And I knew that was what we would do too.

After all, that's all we can do.  None of us know what tomorrow holds, so we can all only take it one day at a time.  And just TRUST.  Trust in God's plan.  That he will take care of us.  We have to believe that long before we were even born, He knew every part of us and each storm that we would face.  We have to praise Him in the midst of those storms and know that He will see us through it.  I don't know how people survive situations without holding on to His promises.  We have seen God work and felt His presence in all of the details of this past month...big and small. 

Hayden began his chemotherapy on Friday, April 25th, and God is definitely taking care of him.  He's handled this first round very well so far.  He will have five more rounds, another surgery, and possibly 7 weeks of radiation as his tumor has a high recurrence rate without it.  Before any of this began, he had become enamored with Superman, and that obsession has been relevant to the situation.  We've labeled him our Little Superhero and are calling him "SuperHayden"!  And let me just tell you that Team Hayden ROCKS!!! The support given to my brother and his family has just been incredible!! The love. The prayers. Oh man, the prayers! The donations. The pictures that people post wearing their shirts. (Those give me chill bumps.) We are so appreciative.  My Brother and April especially.  God is so good!! 

(Side note: If you would like to support them by buying a t-shirt, click here for youth, ladies, and adults. And click here for infant/toddler.  Shirts are available through May25.)

Just this week I read of a mother that lost her newborn son to a heart defect, a daughter who lost her parents in a tragic situation, a family who changed a life and brought their daughter home from China, a husband who lost his wife to cancer after just delivering twins not too long ago, and a young man with Down Syndrome who was accepted into college.  Everyone has a story.  Some are more detailed than others.  Some happier than others.  But each one is equally important.  God loves us all and cares for us all the same.  If we seek Him and allow him to, He can and will provide peace and joy even in the most difficult of times.   "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." (Philipians 4:7)  The road ahead of Hayden is not going to be easy, but thank God for this promise.  

I put together this video from a trip we all took a little over a month before we found out about Hayden, and a month after which was this past weekend.  We went to the outskirts of Memphis to visit them.  Another hard part of this journey is them being separated as a family.  My parents took Hudson up so we could have a family birthday party since he will turn two this week.  

(Forgive me, I dont know how to make this bigger...just make it full screen)

We are a very close knit family.  We will walk through this together.  We will sing praises to His name through it all.  We will offer our broken hallelujah.  We WILL choose JOY! I pray you too will seek him and find joy in the valleys as well as the mountaintops.  God bless!

P.S. I'm adding a few more joyful moments since I haven't blogged in a while.  Also, I'm asking for an unspoken prayer request for Dustin and I.  Hopefully I will be able to share more details soon. Thank you!

Grandparent's Day (after Sister's performance)

Her work was featured at Artbreak. I remember having mine there when I was a kid.  I thought it was so cool.  Still do. ;)

Making "Selfies"

This was Deacon's :)

Field Day

  And Easter Sunday

Oh, and P.S.S. WE HAVE A FULL-BLOWN WALKER!! (Insert big huge smile)  Been waiting for this day for a while.  I'm so darn proud of him!