Saturday, August 12, 2017

DONALD DRIVER VISITS MIRACLE LEAGUE

If you are from Wisconsin or are a Green Bay Packer fan, then the name Donald Driver will most likely mean something to you.  Driver had an incredible football career as a Packer, but probably most inspiring are the things he has done with his time and money off the field.  Through his foundation, he has contributed to many charities and been an inspiration and voice of encouragement to youth all over.  

One of those contributions happened when the Miracle League of the Lakeshore was trying to raise money to build the field 5 years ago.  Donald Driver stepped forward and helped.  

So last night was an amazing experience when he came to visit at the League's All-Star game.  He was able to see the field being used by an amazing group of kids and the volunteers who participate in the Miracle League.  He also drew a large crowd of people to the event which means more awareness for the Miracle League.  

Our boys were able to get pretty close to Donald Driver in the group photo, however, they didn't even realize how cool that was...they are a little young to appreciate his stardom I guess.  

It was a fun night and very refreshing to see a professional athlete use his fame for something so good!  Thank you Donald Driver!

Donald Driver as a Green Bay Packer

Donald arrives on the field

Donald takes a photo with all the players

Here is how close our boys were to Donald in that group photo:  
they are 3 people to the left of Donald.   Both are covering their ears due to the loud noise.



This photo really captures Donald's heart for these kiddos!

Our goofballs





 For more information about Donald Driver, here is the link to his foundation:

Donald Driver Foundation

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A WHOLE LOT OF CUTENESS!

Ben learned how to drive this past week.  

Could this be a foreshadowing to when these boys are 16- will Ben be driving Jonah around town?


What's up with Ben's glasses?


One very distracting passenger


Shouldn't the driver's eyes be on the road?

Yeah, that foreshadowing makes me nervous:)


Saturday, August 5, 2017

RANDOM SUMMER FUN

Nothing exciting but still cute!
The boys attended Vacation Bible School for a week this summer.  They had so much fun!  I was so proud of their behavior and how they stayed on task for 3 hours each morning.  
They were very good little boys and got to learn about how much God loves them at the same time.  Win-win!


Visit to Bookworm Gardens in Sheboygan.  One of my favorite summer activities.  This is the Little House in the Big Woods.  The boys (and Lydia) had so much fun playing in the cabin and the wagon!


There are days when I get annoyed because I am always stepping over these blocks or picking them up to try and make our living room look neat again.  But the amount of playtime the boys have with these blocks makes it worth it.  Everyday they create something new game using these blocks.  
Fun to see their imagination at work and to see them working at something together.

In fact, that is one of the success stories of this summer.  Ben is getting better and better at imaginary play and play in general.  He is using toys more often instead of just throwing them or sitting and stimming.  He still reverts to those behaviors at times but not as much.  

The other huge success with Ben this summer is he is speaking in sentences more often.  Not just words.  This amazes me because he has only been exposed to English for one year, and yet he can now speak in complete sentences.  

Jonah's success stories this summer are I do think he is attempting to "talk" more although it is often only the beginning or ending sound of the word, never a complete word.  But still, progress.

Also, we have made some steps forward in toilet training with Jonah.  I don't think my goal of having him completely trained by the end of the summer is going to be met, but I have to realize that we have made some progress and be happy with that.  It's something I want so badly for him (and us!).  I just don't understand why it isn't completely clicking with him.  Is it an attitude/stubborness issue or does he simply not get the connection completely?  Or a little bit of both?  But again, I need to focus on the positive.  We are way more successful than we were last summer.  Baby steps, right?

And of course, Jonah is the king of imaginary play so what better teacher could Ben have to observe and learn how to be creative?  Go Jonah!

  

THE TALE OF TWO CAPES CONTINUES

Remember the flash cape that Ben brought with him from Lithuania?  Remember Jonah also has a Flash cape?  If you don't know this incredible story, here is the link to it.  It's a good read!


Well, the capes are still busy being used by both boys.  Miracle League had a Super Hero theme last week so the boys wore their capes.  

Who would have thought a cape from 5000 miles away would be part of so much fun on a beautiful summer night in Wisconsin?  

I still can't believe sometimes how the Lord brought Ben into our family. 

Jonah up to bat with his cape on.


Now Ben's turn


Ben "flying" into home!

One of my favorite photos of Ben: isn't he adorable?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A YEAR AGO YESTERDAY!

Ben came home one year ago yesterday!  

We left for Lithuania on 7-8 and came home to Wisconsin on 7-21.  Our entire trip was only 13 days which is amazingly short compared to other adoption stories we have heard.  The Lord really blessed us by having things go very smoothly and efficiently so we could come home quickly.

Ben was an amazing traveler coming home.  You would never had guessed this little boy had never flown on an airplane.  He handled the hustle and bustle and lack of sleep in an incredible way!

It was such a relief when we finally walked into our house.  We are so thankful how the Lord kept us safe in our travels and our 4 kids safe while we were gone.  Lots to be grateful for!

Ben became an American citizen when his feet hit the ground in Chicago

He hardly slept during the plane ride but fell asleep very quickly once we got on the road home from Chicago.

We were met with 2 rainbows as we pulled into our cul de sac.  Quite symbolic, right?

Ben hardly woke up for his "big reveal" to his new sisters.  It still was a powerful moment bringing him into his new home to meet his new family!  


The next morning Ben and Jonah met for the first time!


And finally later that day, Stephen met his new brother.

What a joy to have our whole family together again!

It's been an amazing year!


Sunday, July 16, 2017

REECE'S RAINBOW REUNION

How fitting we got to celebrate Ben's 1 year anniversary of his Gotcha Day at the Reece's Rainbow Reunion in Mammoth Cave, KY!

What a an amazing time!

We didn't know what to expect going into this.  This was our first reunion.

We were humbled.  Us having 2 boys with Down syndrome is no big deal compared to some of the families we met.  We were blown away by how some people live so sacrificially, giving everything to the Lord and allowing Him to use them in BIG ways. 

We were encouraged.  Our family might be very different from other families in our town, but we are not alone.  There is this huge support network that is totally available and so approachable, and we don't have to wait until the yearly reunion.  Thanks to social media, we are only a click away.  

We had fun!  The boys loved Jellystone at Mammoth Cave.  They used the pool, playground, jumping pillow, and miniature golf.  It was so cool to see them interact and have fun with the other kids.  We had fun talking and learning about other families' stories.    

We hope to go again next year!  

Our two cuties meeting Yogi!

Fri nite supper

Even little boys get tired sometimes :)

Saturday morning cave tour at 
Mammoth Cave National Park

Just a short walk to the pool and splash park


And the jumping pillow was in our front yard


So nice how older kids played and helped our boys


 Sat nite supper- Andrew and I are looking a little worn out.  It's hard work having fun all day!


We got to meet Andrea, the founder of Reece's Rainbow, and her son Reece!  What a privilege and honor.  Her love for all these kiddos is so evident.  
I love this photo!


Sun morning church service


Boys in their Reece's Rainbow tshirts
  



Last time on the jumping pillow, but I think the boys were worn out.  Not much jumping...I guess all good things must come to an end.  

What we didn't get photos of were the boys swimming on Saturday.  Ben can now swim with his life vest!  Before he was scared to go in water past his waist.  He had so much fun!  And Jonah is just a fish.  He never stops doing his weird version of the breast stroke!  

So thankful the Lord blessed us with this amazing weekend!



Thursday, July 13, 2017

"GOTCHA" DAY- ONE YEAR AGO on 7-15

One year ago on 7-15-16, 
Ben officially became our son!  
We were so fortunate that on this same day of court, we were also able to take Ben 
out of the orphanage forever!  
Here are my memories from the incredible day.



We went out for coffee and bakery in the morning. 

We did not visit Ben on the morning of the hearing because Silva and Reda wanted to give us time to prepare for the hearing in the afternoon.  Part of the hearing would include each of us presenting to the judge reasons why we felt we were qualified to be Ben's parents.  Silva and Reda wanted us to be very prepared with our presentations!

During our breakfast, we had a time of prayer and Bible reading.  It was very inspirational and encouraging.  

We read the Parable of the Good Samaritan and really dug into the sacrifices made by the Samaritan to help the injured Jewish man.  

This Samaritan man gave of his TIME and RESOURCES and MONEY and took on PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY for a man he had never met before. 

When Jesus directs us at the end of this parable to go and do likewise, I believe He is telling us that to love our neighbor means we will have to personally sacrifice our TIME, OUR RESOURCES, and OUR MONEY.  We will also have to take on the RESPONSIBILITY of caring for another person.  

As Andrew and I worked through all of these truths from scripture, we realized this was exactly what God was asking us to do for Ben:

1. We were taking time away from our other 4 children to come to Ben's country for this adoption.
2. Once Ben was home, caring for 5 kids would obviously take more time than caring for 4 kids. 
3. This adoption cost money plus caring and providing for Ben would require more resources and money from us.  
4. Finally, we were taking on the responsibility of Ben for the rest of our lives.  We were committing to be his family forever.  

Did all of this seem overwhelming?  Yes, but it's suppose to!  That is what loving your neighbor means.  Showing love to someone when it's a lot of work is showing a more real and genuine love than loving on someone when it's easy and not a challenge.  

These realizations made my fears and concerns about the adoption of Ben just evaporate that morning. I felt so at peace.  The hard work and sacrifice in this adoption didn't mean we were making a mistake, it meant we were doing God's will and opening our hearts to a precious and vulnerable child who needed a family.  

The incredible thing about God's challenge for us was that He also chose to BLESS US us by bringing such a wonderful little boy into our family!

Luke 10:30-37:
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
This is in our apartment right before Silva came to pick us to go to the courthouse.  Our last photo as parents of 4 children!

Reda, our attorney, preparing us outside the courthouse.

Getting ready for the judge to enter the courtroom.  The woman between Andrew and I is the interpreter.  She was a very nice woman but couldn't really understand why we would want a child like Ben...all because he had Down syndrome, he was deemed unworthy and unwanted.  



When the hearing was done, the judge announced she would give her decision in 1 HOUR.  This was SOOOO unexpected and unheard of.  Reda and Silva expected we would have to wait over the weekend and get the judge's decision on late Monday (our hearing was on a Friday).  But no, we only had to wait 1 hour!

This photo above was taken right after the judge returned to the court after 1 hour and announced Ben was officially our son.  

I have told this amazing fact before, but it is so worth repeating.  Ben arrived at the orphanage on 7-15-10 when he was 3 weeks old.  The date of our hearing was 7-15-16.  Because the judge decided to give her decision on the same day as the hearing, Ben became our son and would leave the orphanage FOREVER on 7-15-16, exactly 6 years TO THE DATE of him arriving at the orphanage.  What a miracle! What a direct message from the Lord that this little boy was meant to be our son.  


The emotion in the above photo is so overwhelming even after I look at it one year later.  

When we arrived at the orphanage after the amazing events at the hearing, Ben was napping.  Silva went and woke him up (no more orphanage rules anymore- he was ours!).  She brought him to us as she whispered in his ear that mama and dada were here to take him home. 

She placed him in my lap, and I remember having the same feeling I had when the doctor placed each of our other babies in my arms right after they were born: a surge of love and joy that is indescribable!

I think up until this point, I had kept my heart guarded about Ben as my son because court is never a sure thing.  The judge could have very easily decided we would not be able to be Ben's family.  

Remember, much of Eastern Europe is still suspect why Americans want these "unworthy" children.   Sometimes these adoptions are denied simply because the courts in these countries don't understand why anyone would adopt a child with Down syndrome.  

So until this actual moment when Silva placed Ben in my arms, I don't think I had really believed him to be my son yet.  But now, it was official, and he was ours forever!  

I remember hugging him and pulling him so close to me and telling him again and again that it was over. In my mind, I was thinking he was safe.  There was no danger of him being transferred to a bad place.  His waiting was over.  I think the overwhelming feeling I had was one of relief because I finally knew Ben was SAFE.  He was an orphan no more!


The above photo and the next one were also very emotional to me.  It was time to pack up Ben's things.  Everything in the world that this little boy could call his own fit in the cardboard box.  
How humbling is that?  

Think of all the things our kids in this country can call their own, and Ben only had a handful of "gifts" that had been given to him over the years, most of them were from our care package from the spring.  

Yet the things didn't matter.  Ben could have left that orphanage with nothing, and it would not have mattered because he was leaving with the most valuable thing in the world: LOVE.  

Over the past 6 years, Ben didn't need more toys or clothes, etc.  Every moment of every day the past 6 years, he needed a family's LOVE.  That was what mattered. And now he had that.  So yes, it was humbling and so eye opening to see what really matters in life is LOVE!




When I look at this above photo, I think Ben looks very confused about what is happening.  I think part of him was very excited because he was packing a bag and leaving, but I don't think he completely understood what that leaving meant for him.  I worry we didn't give him enough time to process and say goodbye to the place he had called home for his entire life.   But then I remember him being very excited to head out the door with us so I guess we were just following his lead.  I just can't imagine the questions that were going through his mind that day.  What an incredible amount of trust he had in us and Silva to let us take him away from the orphanage after being there for 6 years...

The photo above and the one below are Ben saying goodbye to the caregivers that were working in his group that day.  One would think that a little boy leaving who had been there for 6 years would bring caregivers from all the different groups he had been in to say goodbye and celebrate for him.  

But the truth is even though Ben received adequate care at this orphanage, these caregivers were just doing their job, and there wasn't necessarily a deep emotional connection to Ben.  He was another child who they cared for, here today and maybe gone tomorrow.  So that is why only these two caregivers noticed Ben was leaving.  Another humbling experience.  

One thing to note, Ben's special mama was on vacation this week.  I know she had a very strong connection with Ben over the years.  Please see the previous post for more info on her.  


I think it was because of the strong connection she had with Ben that she scheduled a vacation for the week he would be leaving.  It would be too hard for her to say goodbye.  We even asked if we could meet during her vacation, and she said no, it would be too hard for her and she thought too hard for Ben.  

We are very grateful that Ben did have this one constant caregiver in his life because that is unusual.  It probably helped Ben's bonding to us because he understood the concept of someone caring for him continually and consistently.  






In the car, ready to drive through the orphanage gates and never return again!  Trust me, Andrew was happier than this photo portrays- haha!



Snack time right when we got to the apartment.  Looking back at this photo now, I can see how nervous Ben looks.  I know I was nervous!  I wasn't sure how these first few days with Ben in our apartment were going to go.  


Each day we visited Ben at the orphanage during our 1st week, Ben always had clean clothes.  The outfits didn't always match, and the clothes were sometimes old and worn, but they were always clean.  

Ben's hair, however, was a different story.  I think the entire week he had the same smudge of food in his hair.  And he didn't always have the sweetest smell.  

I don't really understand how they did baths at the orphanage.  I think it only happened once a week even though Silva mentioned something about a hose down every day.  

But the way Ben reacted at first to sitting and playing in our tub and being soaped up, makes me think those things didn't happen to him very often.  He was very uncomfortable with his baths his first few months home.  

Anyways, the first night home with us, I just had to give him a bath.  I didn't want to traumatize him or anything, but I also needed him to be clean and smell good!  He actually handled hist 1st bath in the apartment pretty good.  


After his 1st bath, Ben decided to check out the T.V.  Over the next week, he ended up most enjoying "Rescue Heroes" off You Tube on our laptop or phones.  




We bought this book after seeing how much Ben enjoyed it at the orphanage.  It is the story of "Chicken Little-The Sky is Falling", and it's in Lithuanian.  We thought hearing his language would be comforting to him during his 1st week with us since we were not very fluent in his language.  

He did enjoy this book, however, books in general were a very strange concept to Ben.  He did not seem very comfortable with sitting by us and having a book read to him.  

I am happy to say, after about 6 months home, he started to happily grab a book when I would offer to read to him!



The first night both Andrew and I laid down with Ben as he fell asleep.  Once he fell asleep, Andrew moved to the sofa bed in the living room, and I stayed with Ben.  

I didn't sleep much that first night because I kept checking on Ben.  I also was overwhelmed with joy and gratefulness to the Lord that Ben was finally safe.  His ordeal as an orphan was over.  He would never have to go to a bad place.  He was going to come home with us and be loved and cherished forever.  

I cried many tears of joy that first night watching him sleep as well as some sad tears worrying about how he would handle how the adjustments and changes he was facing.  He seemed so vulnerable laying there sleeping.  It was a very emotional night.  

What an amazing day- so many emotions, so many moments I will never forget as long as I live.  

All I can say is, "Thank you Lord."