“But God remains the strength…”

We received Alejandro’s referral last Thursday (Aug 7). We were SO excited that it FINALLY came! Among the first few pages was a picture of our beautiful boy. He is perfect. He is so handsome and amazing.

I read through the pages and PAGES of referral paperwork. Court papers, his birth certificate, doctor’s evaluations, etc. etc. And to be honest…I didn’t know what to think. The boy I was reading about was not the boy I had created in my head. Not that I had made him into much, we knew so little about him. But the boy in my head was not the boy I was reading about. The boy I was reading about was full of problems. Behavior problems, psychological problems, learning problems, attitude problems, motor skill problems and on and on. When I had finished reading, hope had left and despair had taken its place. Not overwhelming despair…but just enough. Not enough to question our decision, because it was not our decision to question. But I wondered if we would be enough. I wondered how it was all going to work out. The referral had raised more questions than it had answered. Caused more concern, more wondering, more questioning…

As I read the referral again, this time out loud to Adrian on our way to Sunnyside I realized what was causing me to feel a twinge of desperation. There was ABSOLUTELY nothing positive. NOT ONE THING. How can you have pages and pages and PAGES of information about a soon to be 9 year old little boy and not have ANYTHING positive to say? Even on our worst day as a family of 6, we can find something positive, may it be ever so small or simple. But, that was not the case with our son’s referral.

The pages I had read said nothing of hope. With out hope, we are desperate.

Instead…there were labels. LOTS of labels.

Neuropathy, Psychomotor Retardation, Down Syndrome, Bruxism, Small and Overweight (this one made me smile), Oppositional and Challenging Disorder, Activity and Attention Disorder, High Cholesterol, Hard to Manage, Permanent Motor Function and Emotional Instability, None Verbal, Aggressive and Impulsive when Responding to Rules, Low Tolerance to Frustration.

That’s not even all of it. I could go on and on.

I was talking to an old friend of mine whom I haven’t seen in years just a few hours before we received Alejandro’s referral. We were catching up on our lives and talking about my families adoption process. (I think a general idea in non-adopters minds is that we’re a little crazy. Good crazy, but crazy none the less.) And as I was talking with her, I put into words what my heart has known but hadn’t said out loud about this particular circumstance yet.

God will prepare us. God is preparing us. He is making us into the family that we need to be for Alejandro and He is preparing Alejandro for us.

God has gone before us TIME AND TIME AGAIN. He prepared us for our daughter to have cancer. He prepared us for our son to have Down Syndrome. He has prepared our hearts for adoption and He is preparing us for our son. That’s it. There is nothing else. God is faithful. He will do what He says He will do. He chose our family to be Alejandro’s forever family. And He will be faithful to make it happen logistically, physically, spiritually and emotionally. This is His plan, not ours.

I take GREAT comfort in that truth. I said those words only hours before we received our son’s not so positive referral. God prepared me to see past the labels.

As I have had a few minutes alone over the past week (emphasis on few…), God has begun to create a love like have not yet known for my son. A love that will only continue to grow. A love that is born out of desperation. I am desperate to know him. Not to read a report void of all emotion and all things good. But to KNOW HIM.

Who is he? What does he like? What does he not like? What makes him smile? How does he like to be held? When is he scared? When is he sad? What is he capable of?

Everything I’ve read so far says what he CAN’T do. But what can he do? Who is Alejandro? Because I guarantee you, he is MORE than a label. He is more than his limitations.

This is my son. And it makes me SO sad to think that people see the boy I read about. Are they kind to him? Are they loving? Do people even notice him? Is he just that kid with the issues?

I know what my God says about him and it is reflected into my heart. He is loved. He is worth it. He is fearfully and wonderfully made. He is a child of God and for whatever reason WE WERE CHOSEN to love him for as long as we have on this earth. It is overwhelming and amazing. It is humbling TO THE CORE. This precious child, created in the image of God…we get to love him. We get to know him. We get to make new memories with him and discover what he loves, what he hates, what makes him smile, what makes him laugh. We get to do that.

His birthday is on Friday. He will be 9. My son is spending his last birthday as an orphan this Friday. We are having a birthday party for the boys on this day. It will be a day of celebration. Celebrating the sons we know and celebrating the son we will soon know.

“But God remains the strength of my heart, He is mine forever.” Psalm 73:26b

This is my life’s verse. So much so that I recently had it tattooed on my body. “My flesh may fail and my spirit grow weak, But God remains the strength…”

My life's verse...

My life’s verse…

Alejandro has issues…”But God remains the strength”. 5 kids, 2 with Down Syndrome will be hard…”But God remains the strength”. I’m going to be exhausted some days…”But God remains the strength” (And I’ll have coffee!)

Things are going to be a little (OK a lot) crazy, and we’ve accepted that. We don’t have to have all the answers, or any of them really. We have to trust that God has gone before us and will come behind us. And we do. He is our strength and our hope, and realistically, ALL that we have. He is EVERYTHING. He is trustworthy and loves us more than we love ourselves. He loves Alejandro more than we ever can. He has asked us to love him for as long as we can. And we will. We will love him desperately. We will love him with a desperation that is FULL of hope.

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Teachable moments…

I’m not a big fan of people talking about “teachable moments”…I don’t know why. It just bugs me when people say, “we had a teachable moment today.” It’s just one of the figures of speech that bothers me…like a “nugget of truth” they got from the Bible, or “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle”, “everything happens for a reason”, or “love the sinner hate the sin”.

That being said, we had a “teachable moment” the other day…

Wednesday my oldest daughter, Ysa learned a little bit about mercy. We were coming home from Awana, and all I could hear coming from the back seat was attitude and arguing between the girls. It had been a long day, and I was pretty done listening to rude voices and selfish attitudes. So, I took away the one thing they had left…ice-cream sandwiches from Trader Joe’s. Abi and Blake didn’t seem to mind so much, but Ysa…MELTED DOWN! “I’m a horrible sister, I can’t make good choices, it’s MY fault that no one gets ice-cream now!” There were a lot of tears and regret.

As I was listening to her and thinking of how to respond…I was reminded of ALL the GOOD choices she had made during the day. How she had obeyed without question all afternoon and said “OK Mama” to any and all requests. She had tried REALLY hard that afternoon to make good choices and to have a good attitude. Her choices were deliberate. Her one bad choice didn’t negate ALL her good choices. Her bad choice didn’t make her a bad person.

So, we got home and I had Blake and Abi get out first. (Abi wanted Ysa to get out before her because she wanted to prefer her sister…so cute.) Once it was only Ysa left we had a little talk. I told her that I noticed all her great choices that day and let her know that her one bad choice wasn’t going to make today a bad day. That her one bad choice didn’t make her a bad person, and that she was not a bad sister or a bad daughter. She made a bad choice, and we all do. But that doesn’t change who we are. I told her that I was going to give her another chance and that I was not going to take away the ice-cream sandwich. She cried EVEN harder, but this time with thankfulness. She cried like someone who was spared from a life sentence! (She may have been a little tired and dramatic…) But the point is, I showed her mercy, and she felt it. She was overwhelmed with gratitude. Overwhelmed with love and appreciation!

Isn’t that just like God.

I remember a “teachable” moment that happened to me a long time ago. A moment of mercy between me and my God. It was a moment that changed me forever. I was 26 and at my lowest. At my loneliness. At my end. And it was there that Jesus found me. It was there that Jesus got down on His knees with me and told me that I was not a bad person, that I was not alone and that I was not forgotten. That nothing I had done would take away my ice-cream sandwich. It was there that I was forever changed.

I had known Jesus most of my life, but until that moment of complete brokenness, sadness and loss, I hadn’t really believed that He loved me with abandon. I had never felt that I would ever be WORTH His love. I had given up. Given up all hope. And when there was nothing left in me, He came to me with MORE love and mercy than I thought possible. I believed finally that I was worth it. He gave me no other option.

Jesus didn’t have to do that. He didn’t have to extend mercy. He could have left me in my sin. But He didn’t. “For God so loved the world…” For God so loved me. And I was forever changed. I will never go back. It’s not that I haven’t made bad choices since that night. It’s that I will never again believe that I am unloveable…that I am not worth it.

In a small way, I showed mercy to my daughter on Wednesday. And it was amazing…for both of us. I wonder what it is like for God.

My favorite verse in the Bible is from Psalm 73 verse 26. It reads, “My health may fail, and my spirit may grown weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever.” I believe that with ALL that is within me. This is MY verse…He is mine forever. No matter what comes, no matter…well, anything. He is mine and I am His. He is my strength, in good times and in bad. For better or worse. Not because of who I am, but because of who He is. Because He extended mercy when I was nothing. Because that’s who He is. That’s WHAT He does. He is the giver of life and love. He is the giver of mercy.

Jack (part 2)

A few days before Jack was born.

A few days before Jack was born.

Jack was born.

In the birth center.

At the birth center.

When Jack came out, both of his hands had fingers that were still stuck together. It is a condition called Syndactyly. As I looked him over just moments after his birth, I knew that God had not invested in my preparation for his birth to have it be something as simple as a finger separation surgery. Had this been my first child and had we not already made a trek across the cancer journey with her, this may have been a bigger deal to me. But as it was at that moment, fingers being stuck was just not a big deal!

Soto-43

Jack’s left hand has (up until 5 weeks ago) his pinky, ring and middle finger all still connected.

I did however, have an unrest about the way my son looked. He didn’t look like my other kids…he looked like he had Down Syndrome. Not knowing anything about DS, I was hesitant to say speak the words out loud. I was waiting for my midwife to say something. Anything about his features, however mild they appeared.

I waited what seemed like forever! Finally (like 5-7 minutes after his birth) I asked her if his fingers not be separated (we didn’t know the term “syndactyly” yet) was a symptom of some other condition. She said it could mean there were other things not formed correctly internally, but we would need testing to be sure. Not the answer I was looking for.

Then I asked her if he looked different to her. She asked me “In what way?” Didn’t she know what I was asking! Geez!

So in a small, quiet voice I asked…”like he has down syndrome?” And then she said what I had known and was only waiting to hear. She believed based off of his features (there’s a whole list you can look up if you’re curious) that she believed he had down syndrome. But again, there were tests to be done to find out for sure. “OK” was all I said.

As she left my husband and I alone in bed with our newborn son, after asking about 3-4 times if we were OK…, we sat in silence. ALL sorts of thoughts ran through our brains! The ways we had pictured our future was forever altered. In some ways our thoughts were ignorant. Neither Adrian or I knew anyone who has DS personally. We had never had a conversation with a mother or father of a child with DS. Our thoughts were outdated and in many ways, totally wrong.

But in the moments that followed, and I mean merely moments, our thoughts went from fear of the unknown and loss of what we “thought” was to be, to an overwhelming sense of humility and honor. We were chosen by our God to raise this beautiful special boy. And we knew, that come what may, we were ready. And we were not alone. Our God was not surprised by this “new” development in our lives…It. Was. His. Plan. He had told me over and over and over again, that my pregnancy was His plan and that the baby boy to be born to us was His child. He was entrusting him to us.

And not only to us. Jack was going to impact people’s lives. Those words, “Jack will impact people’s lives” were words straight from my God to my heart. Adrian and I looked at each other and knew that Jack was not given to us, just for us. He was given to us for others. And that was exciting, humbling, and overwhelming. Who would we meet because of Jack that we would never had an opportunity of meeting? Who was going to hear God’s story through us? Who needed what we had to offer because of what God had done in us? Who…?

I have my babies naturally at the Bellingham Birth Center, so we are home about 3 hours after giving birth. Adrian made sure that I would just be laying around in bed for at least 3 days, resting and bonding with the boy.

Along with resting, I did the thing you do after birthing a child with DS. I bought books! Like I mentioned before, we had no idea what DS was, just vague remembrances of people we knew when we were in school and the random grocery bagger at the store. 2 days after they were ordered, my new books arrived. And I ate them up! (Along with the great food people were blessing us with. And orange juice! I could not drink enough orange juice!). I wanted to know everything I could. Some of it could have definitely been scary, (40-60% of babies with DS are born with incredible heart problems…) but it’s not my personality to see the worst and run with it. It was all seen as information to better equip me to take care of my new person.

Great resource!

Great resource!

I also started reading a couple books that were less informational and more the journey of fellow moms. I didn’t like them. In every book that I read, the parents start out by being devastated at the diagnosis, either prenatally or upon birth. Everyone of them went through weeks of mourning the births of their children. They cried a lot. It rubbed me the wrong way, and I didn’t understand or relate to them at all.

That’s when God reminded me of the months of preparation He led me in. He reminded me of the prayers I said and the songs I sang.

“Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, that my faith would be made stronger…”

He told me that I was not starting out taking steps back, but running forward. I didn’t need to take time mourning the loss of what could have been and by doing so missing out on these precious moments with my new little son. It was all His work in me that was allowing me to be the mom I needed to be, not only to Jack, but to the 3 other little people who called me mama. It was His work in me that allowed me to be the wife my husband needed. It was God’s grace and mercy to me and to my family!

The day after we had Jack we found a pediatrician (we are a natural path family, but thought he might need something different), who did the genetic testing to make a for sure diagnosis of DS and scheduled an EKG to check his heart. We are SO very grateful that our son is in perfect health! He has the small complications that go along with DS. His immune system was not as strong as other babies. In his first 15 months of life he had the chicken pox, RSV, pneumonia, strep and several colds that lasted for weeks. He has small nasal passages. He snores…and it’s the cutest thing ever. Not to mention at 15 months he had his first surgery to separate 2 of his fingers. He’s been in and out of the hospital more than my other kids combined, but nothing major or life threatening is wrong with him. He is perfect.

His life has changed ours Our family will never be the same.  My children will grow up differently. They will know what perseverance and never giving up looks like. Jack has to try harder than they do to do the simplest things. Our family is stronger. And his life will soon change the life of another little boy with DS. An 8 year old boy from Colombia will soon be his big brother.

to be continued…

Jack (part 1)

When our first son was about a year old, my husband and I started talking about getting pregnant again. But there was a hesitation in me. And I told him that I thought we should pray about it. And when I said I thought we should pray about it, I already knew what that meant. God was telling me no. But, I really wanted to have another child, so I decided “praying” about it was what we should do…just to be sure! I know, I know.

Well, God said no. And I wasn’t on board with His decision. So I talked myself into thinking I had misheard. We tried to get pregnant and didn’t right away. I knew that I hadn’t “misheard” God. And you know that feeling you get when you are walking in disobedience? That uncomfortable, knot in your stomach, perhaps messing up your whole future feeling? Well that was the feeling I had and it felt awful! So, I prayed again. And this time I told God that all I wanted was to be in His will. If that meant to not ever be pregnant again, then so be it. He is more important than what I want. I wanted my desires to be His desires.

Literally the next day, I was done. I was looking forward to being “out of diapers” soon. I was thinking about how we would move on now to our kids growing up instead of starting again with a baby. I was actually excited about it! He had heard my prayer and my desire now was His desire. It was exciting to think about our future and what that would look like. Maybe we were supposed to be done with “our” own kids because He wanted us to take care of kids in need…

Well, that didn’t last long. Less than a month later, I took a pregnancy test. I just wanted to be sure that I was not pregnant so I wouldn’t be wondering every day because my period hadn’t started.

So when it came back positive…I was shocked! I had fully expected it to be negative. It was just supposed to put me at ease, it was definitely not supposed to be positive. We were trying not to get pregnant. For real, we were doing everything to not get pregnant. Well, not everything I guess 🙂

It took me a couple of months to wrap my head around the idea of another baby. My heart had been totally changed. I thought I was done and I was glad to be so. It was such a strange feeling to not want to be pregnant, but to be pregnant at the same time.

During the first trimester of this pregnancy, I felt like something was wrong. I’m not the type of person to have “feelings” like this, but I just couldn’t shake it. I asked my husband if he thought the same thing and he would always say no. I asked my midwife and she said it was “normal” to feel this way. But I had already had 3 babies and never felt this way. Something was wrong with my baby. I’m not the type to think of all the scenarios that could be wrong, so I wasn’t freaking out. I just knew.

While I was straightening my hair one day in our kids bathroom, I was listening to “Oceans” by Hillsong. And I felt God tell me to sing it like a prayer. That I needed to take the time that I had during my pregnancy to pray. So, I started singing and I started praying. I prayed that God would make me who I needed to be for my baby, for whatever the future looked like. I prayed that our family would be prepared and that I would be prepared. I didn’t pray for healing or that God would change anything, I simply prayed to be ready. I knew that God had told me for a reason and that He was bigger and greater than any circumstance. And again, just like our daughter’s cancer, this wasn’t a surprise to Him. Oh yeah, if you didn’t know, our oldest daughter had cancer when she was 2…that will have to be a whole different post!

I prayed the song…

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters, wherever You would lead me. Take me deeper than my feet would ever wander, that my faith would be made stronger in the presence of my Savior. And I will call upon Your name. And keep my eyes above the wave. When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace. For I am Yours, and You are mine.”

That. Became. My. Anthem. Because you see, this life is nothing if not lived for Christ. It is nothing if not lived in total abandon to Him. It is nothing if not lived in a way that demands dependence upon Jesus. I wanted my faith to be stronger. I wanted to walk on water. I wanted to be led by my God wherever He would take me. I wanted to be a part of His great story. Whatever that meant, I wanted to be a part of it and I wanted to be ready.

So, I went about my days and weeks and months. Nothing was different, but there was a deliberateness about my thoughts and prayers.

We found out we were having another boy and we were SO excited! Now there would be 2 girls and 2 boys..and it would be so fun! Pretty much everyone we talked to said how perfect it was.

The last month or so of my pregnancy I felt God telling me that this was His plan. He made this happen. We had tried not to get pregnant out of obedience to His voice. But it seemed to me that He wanted us to try not to so that when we did, it would be very clear to us that this was His doing. This child growing inside me was a purposeful part of His plan. And not only that, I felt like He was saying that whatever was “wrong” with Him, was totally His plan. It was not a surprise to Him. It was on purpose. This child and whatever he brought to our family, was God’s doing.

to be continued…

Things are just a little crazy…

So, my first blog…

To be honest, I’m really not sure what to write here. And don’t know where I will find the time to keep it up. You see, we are in the process of international adoption and are CRAZY busy!

So, let’s start with the basics.

Hi…my name is Ali. I am a wife of an amazing husband. His name is Adrian and he is my hero. I am a mother of 4 beautiful children. Ysabell is 7, Abi will be 5 on Tuesday, Blake is 3 and little Jack is 1. I am a homemaker. I use that term loosely because in my mind that means perfection, and I am FOR SURE not that. My floor is dirty and I just folded 4 loads of laundry that have been waiting in hampers, (or piles) for the last 3 days. I get up at 5am just to be up before my kids, and I am tired most of the time.

That being said, I ABSOLUTELY love my life! I get to homeschool my kids. And I mean get to. It is such a privilege to be the one to see the light bulbs go on when they figure something out. And it is such a challenge trying to explain something to my oldest daughter in a way that makes sense to her brain. She learns like her dad…and nothing like me. It is an amazing gift. My kids are amazing gifts.

We are a family that loves God with all that we are. We try to love people the way that the Bible tells us to. The name of my blog is ‘love mercy live justly’. This is from a verse in the bible found in the book of Micah chapter 6 verse 8. God is telling his people Israel what is required of them.               The people were asking him…vs 6 “What can we bring to the Lord? Should we bring Him burnt offerings? Should we bow before God Most High with offerings of yearling calves? 7 Should we offer Him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins? 8 No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do justice, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Does it seem too simple?

It is that simple. God doesn’t require all the things we think He requires. Sure, He requires ALL of us…every part of our lives. But it’s not complicated. Yes, it’s hard…but not living in a third world country hard. Sure it requires sacrifice, but not ten thousand rivers of olive oil hard                                            or sacrificing your first born hard.

God is asking for our “yes”. He’s asking for our obedience when no one is looking. He doesn’t need us…He wants us to need Him. To be in such a place where all we can do to survive is to depend on Him and trust Him completely.

He wants us to live justly…to take up the cause of the orphan and the widow. He wants us to “feed His sheep”, literally. He wants us to love mercy…to be kind. To smile at the stranger we pass on the street. To buy the homeless guy on the corner a hot cup of coffee because it is freezing. He wants us to walk humbly with Him…to know that this life is all about Him and the people created in His image. To see less of us everyday, and more of Him everywhere.

It’s 7am, and my busy day needs to begin. I’m looking forward to this whole blog thing… 🙂