Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Essence of Sophi

A few months ago we were contacted by a production company in London about doing a little YouTube video on Sophi. (This is not the reason we were in London-- that was for something else.) We had a videographer come spend the day with her-- they just released the video tonight. I think they did a great job capturing the essence of Sophi. 💜<iframe width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Here is the full link with photos:

Sophi on Barcroft TV


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Fun With Dad!

For Father's Day, the family got me the game Pieface.  It takes pretty much zero strategy.  All you need is the guts to take your turn.  We had lots of fun playing:)

You never know which twist of the handle will make you end up with...

Pie in your face!!!

The next day I had to go on an overnight work trip down to Cedar City.  I stop and make sales calls along the way and then stay in a hotel.  The kids love to come on these trips, in spite of the time spent in the car.  They patiently wait while I'm in each office, anticipating the payoff of a night in a hotel, dinner at a restaurant, swimming in the pool, and usually a movie.  This time I had 5 companions: Taylor, Cali, Xander, Conner and Sophi.  We had a great trip.  Ate at Chili's.  Went swimming. Watched Finding Dory.  It makes me happy that my older kids still enjoy hanging out with me:)

Before we left, Christi's parents happened to be at our home and gave each of our kids a little spending money for the trip.  Sophi put her money in a small purse she has and was very careful with it.  Despite her caution, at one point she couldn't find the purse.  She started looking frantically around and asking everyone if they knew where it was.  From the driver's seat I asked her what she was looking for.  "My money!!!" she replied.  She kept up her desperate search.  All of the sudden Taylor starts singing the pop song: "It's not about the money, money, money."  Sophi cut him off with a scathing:  "DUDE!  It IS about the money!!!"  Fortunately we found her purse soon.  At least we know where her priorities are:)

Dinner at Chili's

Taylor was pretty stoked about his triple appetizer dinner!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Daddy Date with Sophi and Lexi

This weekend was Fort Herriman days.  The younger kids went with Christi and me to watch the parade in the morning.  Small town parades are great.  Mostly politicians and businesses advertising, with three or four floats and one or two bands.  Fortunately, the politicians and businesses have lots of candy to throw out to the kids.  Any day when you come home with a bag full of taffy and tootsie rolls is a great day for a kid, right?

Later in the day, I walked down with Sophi and Lexi.  We enjoyed some fantastic smoked chicken, walked through lots of vendors' booths and rode on the carousel:

Probably the highlight was the reptile booth.  They got to pet some snakes and lizards and got to see a real live alligator!  Pretty cool:)


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Hello Summer!

This past Friday was the last day of school.  The kids are excited to be done and are looking forward to lots of fun adventures in the good weather.  Christi and I thought that with the lack of homework, concerts, sports teams, parent-teacher conferences, periodic grade reviews with the kids, early morning scriptures, getting 10 kids out the door with lunches in hand, and calls from frantic children who forgot this or that, our lives would be a little less hectic.  We could set the alarm clock a little later.  No pressure to get people places at any given time.  Yeah, right!

Here are some of the things we've been involved in during the first two days of summer break:
-Lexi is attending a braille day camp for two weeks (30 minutes there and back each morning and afternoon.)
-Xander has soccer camp at the high school two hours each day.
-Taylor and Parker have basketball camp at the high school two and a half hours each day.
-Graci had a routine but significant surgery that required a full day a Primary Children's Hospital.
-Taylor and Parker have started a lawn aeration and fertilizer business which required help from me in purchasing a used aerator and a few other miscellaneous items.
-I had a dentist appointment.
-Family Home Evening
-Christi had two doctors appointments (everything is fine:).
-Lexi and I attended a fun daddy-daughter date at church.

This, of course, is on top of breakfast, lunch and dinner for 12 people (two of whom are currently doing the Whole30 diet, making meal prep that much more challenging), working full time, managing the nearly constant barrage of requests and needs from our wonderful kids and of course making sure that Elli is getting the attention and supervision she requires.

In other words, WE'RE EXHAUSTED!

Fortunately, we really are enjoying the chaos.  We're getting to see more of our kids than we do during the school year, and that is truly a pleasure.  It's fun to watch them grow up and to see them become more independent.  It's also so fun to see their personalities develop.  They really are a fun group to hang out with.  And things will slow down somewhat.  We just started vacation with a bang;).

Happy Summer!!!


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

He knows us

Two years ago today, Jeremy, Taylor, Parker, Graci, Cali and Conner arrived home from China.  (I had traveled home a few days earlier to be with the kids at home.)  Our meeting at the airport was so joyous and sweet.  Sophi and Lexi were particularly excited to meet their new brother.  There is a little footage of this meeting included in the end of the documentary Find Me that can now be viewed HERE.  It was a beautiful day.

This morning I was thinking back to those first few months with Conner in our family, and I was reminded of what we have come to call "the noodle story."

We wanted Conner to learn about our Heavenly Father and His love for him.  Conner had not been taught about God while in China.  It was quite a foreign concept to him.  He had heard of Christianity but didn't know anything about it.  We tried to teach him on our own, but of course with limited language, we needed some help.  We decided to bring Conner to Temple Square where he could speak to missionaries in Mandarin.  (Temple Square has missionaries from all over the world.)  When we arrived, we asked if we could speak to some Mandarin speaking missionaries.  There are several of them there, but we know now that God lined us up with the perfect missionary for Conner.  When Sister Li walked out with her companion and began to talk to Conner, it was very soon evident that Conner was thrilled to be talking to her.  Within a minute or so, they were both jumping up and down as they realized they were both from Wuhan City.  It's quite unusual to have missionaries from mainland China, as there are very few Christians in China and prostelying is not allowed.  Most Mandarin speaking missionaries come from Taiwan or other areas.   You cannot imagine Conner's excitement to meet someone from his hometown.  At the time, he was feeling very homesick and lonely, so being able to converse with Sister Li in their provincial dialect was truly a Godsend.  One thing that they talked about in this specific conversation was "Wuhan noodles," which are spicy peanut noodles specific to Wuhan.  Conner and Sister Li commiserated about how much they missed them.

As we made subsequent trips to visit Sister Li and learn about the gospel, Conner was very hung up on one point of doctrine.  He couldn't understand how God could know him personally with all of the other people in the world.  It was a concept that he really struggled to believe even though he said he wanted to.

One Sunday, we were supposed to meet with Sister Li at 4:00.  Sister Li later told us that she had prayed mightily that morning that she could know how to teach Conner that God knew Him personally.  The thought had come to her that maybe if she could find a way to get Conner some of his favorite Wuhan noodles that he would feel that God cared for him personally.  She didn't know how to do this, as she hadn't been able to find them for herself.  So she continued her day, but with a constant prayer in her heart that she could somehow find these noodles for Conner.   At about 3:00, Sister Li had an impression to walk over to an area of Temple Square.  As she and her companion stood there, they were approached by a family traveling from China.  They started to speak to them and soon found that they were also from Wuhan.  As they spoke, Sister Li told the family that she had been teaching a young man also from Wuhan and that she would be meeting him in about an hour.  She told them a little bit about Conner and how he was really missing Chinese food, particularly his Wuhan noodles.  The family got very excited and animated as they proceeded to tell her that they had brought those noodles with them on the airplane, and in fact had them in their car!  They went and retrieved a a bag with two four-packs of Wuhan noodles and told them that they must be meant for Conner.  Sister Li started to cry and asked if they might record a message for Conner, since he couldn't see a picture of them.  They recorded a message that said something like, "Hi Wu Jia Xia.  We are your new friends from Wuhan. Whenever you are homesick or want some special food from Wuhan, you can contact us and we will send it to you."  

That afternoon as we sat down in a room with Sister Li to talk about the gospel, she said, "Conner, I have a very special surprise for you.  And I want you to listen carefully to this story so that you will know that not only does God know you, but He knows everything about you.  He knows what you like and what you don't like.  He knows your struggles and your fears.  And he even knows your favorite food.  He loves you, Conner, and he is watching over you."  She proceeded to tell him the story of the noodles and Conner listened with more intent than I had ever seen.  We all had tears as the Spirit filled the room and testified to Conner that God does indeed know him.  

It was a most special, wonderful moment.

Since that time, the Asian market has begun to carry these noodles and we are able to get them more often.  We've also found them on Amazon, though we wouldn't have known what to look for had not we been given that first package of noodles. I'm grateful that at the time, there wasn't a store in Utah where they could be purchased, because it lent itself to this wonderful lesson for Conner.  

When Sister Li's mission was over, she moved out to New York, where she is studying to be a lawyer.  A couple of months ago, she flew out to Utah for a visit and we were able to have her spend her birthday with us!  She insisted on cooking us some Chinese food, which of course the kids absolutely loved.  She played and played with the kids and they all fell even more in love with her.  She is truly one of the most Christlike, special people that I know.

We told Sister Li that Conner had recently accompanied the young men and women in our ward as they sang a song in Sacrament meeting.  It's a song about missionary work and loving God and Him loving us.  She asked if he would play it for her, and we convinced our kids to sing along.  Our girls were a little shy and made me sing with them, but I tried to be extra soft so she could hear their soft voices.  I'm posting the video not to showcase our singing (you can't even hear us very well) but to show Conner's amazing piano playing.  (:  It's a long song, so I'm just posting the second half.

I am so grateful for all of the special people that have come into our lives as a result of our sweet kids.  And I am most grateful that Conner does indeed believe that God knows and loves him.

Happy two years home, Conner!!!!!!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Blessings Both Ways

As a sales rep, I call on physicians' offices throughout the southern half of Utah.  Having been in the same territory for the last seven years or so, most of the staff in most of the offices know at least a little about our family.  When I walk in, I will often be greeted with, "How are the kids?" or "How is the family?"  Once in awhile someone will ask specifically about Sophi.  Something about seeing her picture or video really resonates with people.  If there's a new staff member in the office, I get a variety of introductions:  "This guy has like 87 kids!"  or "You have to hear about his family!" or perhaps my favorite, "This is Jeremy.  He adopts."  And I guess that's a fair characterization of me.  Or rather us.  We adopt.  And to express how it really feels:  "We adopt!"  

As people learn about our family, one of the most common statements they will make is: "those children you've adopted are so blessed!"  My response to that is, "The blessings go both ways."  And how true that is.  Certainly it has been a blessing for our adopted children to come to a loving home.  They have been given spiritual, educational and recreational opportunities that would never have come their way had they stayed in the orphanage.  They have been blessed with the opportunity to live in the United States of America, the most accommodating place for people with disabilities in the history of the world.  Yet the blessings they have brought to us as parents and to each other as siblings are even more profound and powerful.

I was talking with a friend today who has a brother with muscular dystrophy.  As he is aging, the disease is progressing, and his capabilities continue to diminish.  He walks with difficulty and with a cane.  He tires quickly.  Stairs and other obstacles can be very difficult and may require assistance.  And yet the love and closeness this woman has with her brother was very evident in her words and demeanor as she spoke about him.  She said that her siblings were extraordinarily close, and that she believes a large reason for that is because of how much they love and sacrifice for their brother with disabilities.

I see that so strongly with our kids.  It is so sweet to see Parker focus on Sophi.  He loves her hugs and she loves to give them.  He pays attention to her and helps when she needs it.  Conner and Graci are particularly attentive to Elli.  They will often go out of their way to talk to her, hug her, try to make her feel a part of the family.  Xander is amazing with Sophi and Lexi.  Every school morning I drop the three of them off and watch as he puts Sophi's backpack on her back, hands Lexi her cane and leads her into school.  Cali helps Conner access things on the computer and will sometimes help Lexi and Sophi clean up their room.  Taylor lets Sophi wrestle him and surrenders to her clearly superior skills.  He lifts Cali's wheelchair into and out of our van on a regular basis and even lifts Cali herself when necessary.  Jesi is often like a little mother to Lexi and Sophi, helping them do their hair, pick out their outfits and get ready for adventures. And Sophi and Lexi brighten all of our lives on pretty much a constant basis.  Their sweetness and love of life lifts all of us.

These are just a few examples among so many.  Watching our kids patiently pitch in when one of their special-needs siblings needs help is an incredibly rewarding thing for us as parents.  There are the typical teenage moans and groans and sibling spats, but overall, working together as a family has provided our kids tremendous opportunities to grow and learn compassion, service and other important life skills.  And without a doubt, these wonderful kids have helped remove (or at least smooth out) some of my rough edges.  Christi was pretty much perfect from the get go, but I entered marriage with some serious deficiencies.  I still have a long way to go, but I am truly grateful for the lessons I continue to learn from my kids.  Some of those are subtle and observational.  Others, many others, come in the form of pretty direct suggestions.  Jessica:  "Dad, you're being a little bit stiff."  Taylor:  "Dad, you're being too hard on so and so."  And many other coaching tips that continue to help me progress as a father.

So the blessings definitely go both ways.  Or really, all ways.  It's a non-stop, crazy, roller-coaster of a life we have, but we sure do love it!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Had we not said "Yes"

Six years ago today, I wrote an email to CCAI (Chinese Children Adoption Intl.) asking if I could get some more information about this girl:  

We had seen her photo on the waiting child list and it had captured our hearts.  However, we were already in the process of adopting this adorable girl:

Could we possibly adopt two at once?  And two with such great needs? It seemed completely crazy and overwhelming when we considered the logistics of it all-- the timing, the finances, the attention they would both need, in addition to our six other children...   The next few weeks were full of fasting and prayer and lots of lots of questions.  As always, our number one question was how another adoption would affect the children already in our home.  After we were able to get peace about that question, we worried about whether adopting two children at the same time would make it difficult for them to adjust and bond to us, being as they would have to share the focus and attention that would typically be all their own.  

Looking back, it's both funny and terrifying that we almost let that get in the way of adopting both.  Lexi and Sophi were always meant to be sisters.  They have a bond that I can't quite find the words to describe except to say that it's beautiful.    They adore each other, they protect each other, they help each other, they fiercely love each other.  Yesterday as we were getting into the van, I asked Lexi if she could get Sophi's seatbelt on.  Sophi replied with, "We are doing it together, cause we are a team."  I said I was glad that they made such a good team, and Sophi replied, "Do you wanna know why we are a good team?  Cause we're best friends!  Cause we love each other so much."  

One of my favorite things in the world is just to observe these two playing together and talking together.  With one set of arms and one set of eyes, they can accomplish anything they want.  Their creativity is unmatched.  Their courage and optimism give me strength.  And their endless giggles fill our house with so much JOY.

It took us three weeks after receiving Sophi's file to find the courage to say "yes," much longer than any of our other adopted children.  I cannot fathom how different life would be for our family and for both Sophi and Lexi had we let our fears and worries guide our decision.  How grateful I am for a Father in Heaven who spoke peace to our hearts about bringing her into our family.  Only He knew what a tremendous blessing it would be and how Sophi would fill our hearts in a way that nobody else could.  And how grateful I am for a husband who falls in love so easily with these precious children of God who are without families!  He is the most amazing man I could ask for.  

Thinking of life without Sophi is suffocating.   But it's a good reminder to us to base our decisions off of prayer, not off of our own thoughts and fears.

Sophi and Lexi, you were a match made in heaven.  I am quite confident that I can LITERALLY say that.  Our family is 1,000 times better because of you!  

We love you with everything in us!

Always laughing
Lexi's bday breakfast in bed at grandma's 
Rockstar day at school.

An example of their cute interactions.  This is Lexi receiving a package from her sweet friend, Amy.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Taylor's Prom

Taylor had a great time at his high school prom on Saturday.  He and his date went with a group of 6 couples.  Taylor was nominated to drive all of them in our 12-passenger van.  He got everyone home safe:)

It's great that he has such good friends!