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!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Guitar Concert

Taylor and Parker are both taking guitar at their high school.  It's a great instrument to learn and one that they will hopefully enjoy playing throughout their lives.  They have had a few concerts this school year, and the younger kids always want to attend these with mom and dad:).  Here are our handsome musicians and their fans:

I love Sophi's poses!

A little sample for your listening enjoyment:)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Monday, April 18, 2016


I love our teenagers!  It seems that you often hear about how difficult teenagers can be:  how they become rebellious and deal with hormones and want to pick a fight with their parents over just about everything.  So as my children started to move from single digits to double, I started to get a bit nervous.  My fears were unfounded.  I have so much fun with my teenage kids!  And not just them--their friends are great, too.  On Saturday, Taylor worked on his Eagle project and we had several teenage boys around our kitchen table.  They are brailling games for kids who are blind.  They identify the important words that are printed on game cards, numbers for dice, rubix cube sides, etc. then braille those onto sticky paper and attach the sticky paper to the correct place in the games.  It is a great project that will be very beneficial to visually impaired children and their families.  It was great to see these young men working together to serve others.  (It was particularly fun to see how amazed the other boys were when they watched Conner use the brailler.  He's so fast!!!)

All five of our teenagers (and if you think five is a lot, wait for March of 2018, when we will have NINE!) have wonderful friends.  It's fun to have them over at our house.  It's fun to see our kids growing up and enjoying so many teenage activities:  dances, movies with friends, basketball on the sport court until late, just hanging out, giggling girls up in the loft.  This is a good time of life for Christi and me.  

Now, they're not perfect, and it's not perfectly easy being a parent to teens.  They are definitely wanting (and needing) more and more freedom to make their own choices.  They sometimes push back when they disagree with our policies or choices for them.  But it is fun to see them growing in their ability to analyze the pros and cons of different situations and then make informed decisions.  Sometimes they make great decisions.  Sometimes they provide themselves their own learning opportunities.  But it is fun to watch them grow and prepare to become adults.

It's also kind of terrifying.  Graci graduates from high school next year. initiating a mass exodus from our home.  Eight kids will graduate in eight years.  Wow!  So we're trying to take things a day at a time.  We try to savor as many of the small moments as possible.  All too soon they will be gone and our home will only be full for family reunions.  But for now, it's very full, and very fun!

Apples to Apples has a LOT of cards!!!

Sophi figured she could share the snacks:)