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One Last Update

I would like to post one last update on this blog. I simply just do not have time or am not willing to make the time to maintain it. I have deeply enjoyed having a place to post about our adoption journey and other things on my mind. What it comes down to for me is that I am simply too busy enjoying life to take time out to blog here, and this place seems to have served its purpose in my life. For anyone who would like to continue to follow our family, you can find me on Facebook–Kim Sanders Stewart. I’m slightly better about posting photos there. 🙂 Just add a note that you found me through my blog, in case I don’t recognize your name.

I am writing this post to say that it is worth it…all of the wait, the worry, the anticipation, the shock, the adjustment of bringing your child home. Those of you who have followed from the beginning know how hard it was for us in China. We were honestly in shock–culture shock and shock of the changes this handful of a girl was going to bring to our family. Following other families, Tommy and I now try really hard not to judge any family’s reactions while they are in China because it is such a very stressful time. Fortunately, it doesn’t last long.

Don’t get me wrong–I love China. It is my daughter’s first home. Rachel and I regularly talk about going back to visit China which I intend to do when she is older. However, I think I will be able to enjoy and appreciate China much, much more as a tourist than as an adoptive parent. Advice that is repeated over and over on the Adopting Older Kids–China group that I am part of is “You just do whatever you have to do to survive and bring your child home safely while you are in China.” That is the truth.

I have tried to share on here before about how different it is adopting an older child. You look longingly at every photo you receive of your child during the wait, studying every aspect of them, trying to imagine what they are really like. Then comes the day you first meet your child, the day you’ve been longing and praying for. Sometimes you are met with a quiet, withdrawn, frightened (terrified) child; sometimes you are met with a screaming, kicking, hitting child; and sometimes you are met with a very hyper, talkative, into-everything, toddler-like child. There is no normal reaction for a child who is undergoing this type of change in their lives. Sometimes they are well-prepared for adoption. Sometimes they are not. Sometimes they are told good things about their adoptive families. Sometimes they are told horrible things like “If you are not good, they will send you back.” Either way, there is simply no way for a child to be prepared for having strange-looking people come, meet you, and immediately take you away from all that is familiar to you.

There are those families who have the love at first sight moments. Although some would not admit it, I think those are probably the exception. So that is why I want to share my experience.

Your time in China and the first weeks and months home, you just survive. You do your best to learn your child. You do your best to develop a relationship with them. You do your best to help make their adjustment to their new life easier. Meanwhile, you are struggling to survive, often sleep-deprived, grieving the loss of the way things were before–yes, this happens no matter how good the changes in life are.

Gradually, the relationship between you and your child unfolds. It happens slowly over time so that you can only really see it when you look back. You hold and comfort your child when they are grieving. You hug and kiss them when they are hurt. You tell them how much you love them even if you don’t feel that love inside you. It’s that kind of unconditional love that Jesus talks about–you act loving even though you may not always feel it. And slowly that love begins to grow. It starts out so small–those first feelings of pleasure over your child. They gradually grow stronger. Until one day you suddenly realize that when you see your child or hug your child or snuggle in bed with your child, you heart feels warm and tingly and like it is going to explode at the delight you feel toward her.

Whether you believe in God or not, what happens in adoption is a miracle. You feel “something” nudging you to step out in faith–adoption is always an act of faith–believing that there is something good in this for everyone. Then you are changed by this experience. The “something” that was missing in your life, the thing that you may not have even realized was missing, is now “found”. And even though your life may be crazier than you ever imagined, you realize that this “something” is changing your life for the better–making you into a better person because of their courage and resilience and hope and joy, their zest for life and love, and you wishing you could be more like them.

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Rachel Update

Rachel has just blossomed. She has always been very affectionate, but now it seems to come more often from a place of love inside her instead of a place of extreme neediness. She spent the summer swimming with her brothers and friends. Caleb taught her to swim, and she’s quite good. She has enjoyed tagging along with the boys at our many sleepovers this summer, including playing sardines and playing hide-and-seek with flashlights outside at night. Rachel turned 7 June 1st, and Titus turned 7 July 2nd. We enjoyed having her cousins, Mary Carsen and Eliza spend a week with us in July.

Rachel is 7!

Titus is 7!

Rachel lost her first tooth on her 7th birthday.

I love this photo of Eliza and Rachel!

I continue to homeschool. She is in first grade this year. She is eager to learn to read. She asked, “Can we do school?” periodically throughout the summer, and she still does sometimes on weekends. But she has also learned that school is not something you are supposed to like. So whenever I say that it’s time for school, she says, “Awwwww maaaaaan,” (imagine with very dramatic voice with southern drawl).

She and Titus are two peas in a pod. For the most part, they are inseparable though they occasionally have days where they need some time apart. We call them “the twins.” This past spring when Titus and Rachel traveled with Granny to visit Aunt Christy in Nashville, they stopped at a gas station for snacks. The cashier asked Rachel and Titus if they were brother and sister. Rachel responded, “Yes, we’re twins.”

In May Rachel had a check-up with her cardiologist. She is doing great, and we do not have to return for a year. She has also caught up with Titus physically. She is about 1/2 inch shorter than he is, and they are about the same weight. I just checked our wall growth chart. She has grown 4 1/2 inches since coming home. I need to check on her weight, but she has gained at least 10 lbs in the past year and a half. She eats enough to! She still loves meat but enjoys almost anything else. She is not a huge fan of very sweet things and is not a big fan of breakfast foods; both of these qualities are very Chinese of her. She frequently eats Ramen noodles for breakfast and Asian dumplings if we have them.

Dumplings for breakfast on her birthday

She has anxiously awaited months and months for the day that she could start dance lessons. She began in the middle of August taking ballet and tap. Her brothers make fun of her in her leotard with her hair pulled back in a ballet bun. I tell her to ignore them–that is their job. She is in the 5-6-year-old class, but her teacher said that she is the best one in the class. So she may be moving up to the 7-8-year-old class in December.

My pretty ballerina

Rachel in an outfit we bought in China

We have started going to a new church. I wish I had a video of Rachel during worship. She is a very expressive worshiper–hands waving, dancing. “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Let me just say that this girl really knows how to celebrate God’s love. I love it!

Rachel today after church

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I AM GOING TO ETHIOPIA!!!

Yes! I am excited!!! Follow my journey here.

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ONE YEAR!!!

One year ago today a little dark-haired girl walked into a room in China, saw us, and ran to us yelling “Mama! Baba!” changing our lives forever!

Here is a video my sweet husband made of Rachel’s first year with us:

I can hardly believe that it has been one year! Rachel and I have been talking a lot about China lately. I ask her questions about her foster family and life there because I want to know as much as I can, and she has not seemed to remember much so far or else she invents wild stories. Example: She told me recently that her foster dad has long pink hair. 🙂 She has been asking me how she came to live here. So I tell her the story over and over. I don’t know which one of us enjoys it more.

Last week after asking me about coming to live here again, she thoughtfully said, “Sometimes I like my home in China, but I like this home better.” A few weeks after getting home from Christmas travel, she said when we walked in the door, “I like this home!” These things just warm my heart!

This past year has been quite a ride, but it’s one that I would not have missed for the world!

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Favorite Photos of the Holidays

Christmas Eve

Granny and Rachel on Christmas Eve.

Christmas morning, Caleb put on his Patriots helmet first thing and didn’t take it off.

Rachel put on her Little Mermaid sunglasses from Santa and didn’t take them off all morning.

Our in-house movie star waiting for her nails to dry after her manicure

Titus had a Lego Christmas. At one point he said when opening a present, “I hope it’s not another thing I have to build.” But he loved it all. Reminds me so much of Eli at 6.

Caleb and Tommy putting together Caleb’s vibrating football game. Yes, just like the ones they had when we were kids.

My Eli. Love this guy.

Mom and Rachel lounging Christmas afternoon

Our family

We spent a few lovely days at home around Christmas Day. Then we were off to celebrate some more. These photos are from Christmas at Grandma’s house.

Caleb with his Tom Brady jersey and Patriots helmet

This is about as excited as Eli gets. I promise he’s jumping up and down on the inside.

Tommy’s mother has these gargantuan magnolia trees in her front yard. They are perfect for hiding and playing in. Once you enter the leaves, you are in your own little world. The kids play a game they call “monkey” with Aunt Susan. They are monkeys, and Aunt Susan’s the zookeeper looking for the escaped monkeys.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

We spent New Year’s Eve with our dear friends, the Thompsons. Then my sister and family came down from Nashville New Year’s Day.

New Year’s Day. Granny with all of the grandkids.

Eli with Aunt Christy

Rachel and her cousin Eliza. Two peas in a pod. These two have so much fun together, and they wreak havoc on Granny’s house together.

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When The Poor Meet the Rich

I truly believe that when the poor meet the rich, riches will have no meaning. And when the rich meet the poor, we will see poverty come to an end.~Shane Claiborne

I went to see the movie The Blind Side last night. And feel in love with this story! This is something that is near and dear to my heart. I have been to church all of my life and heard how we are supposed to help those less fortunate. Unfortunately, the message I heard frequently was that being good stewards trumps helping the less fortunate. We have a responsibility to make sure that the money we give is used in the right way. We cannot let ourselves be taken advantage of after all. What if they should use the money for something we do not approve of.

Well, obviously there are ways around this. Giving gift cards for gas or groceries. Going to the electric department to pay the bill. But, I think, sometimes it is okay just to give money. I am not responsible for the choices this person makes. I AM responsible for the choices that I make. And if I am a follower of Christ then I am responsible for sharing the abundance he has blessed me with.

I heard this story told about a minister whose church was running a ministry to give assistance to the needy. One of the church members came to the minister extremely upset because he saw a man arrive in a Mercedes, park down the road, and walk to the church to receive assistance. “He’s just taking advantage of us,” the church member complained. The wise minister replied, “It’s okay. My Father has six billion people who take advantage of him everyday.”

We Christians like to take things even further tying strings to the money. If you come to our church, we will help you. If you stop sinning, at least the obvious ones, then we will help you. Greed, over-indulging in food and tv, shopping too much. Those are acceptable sins. If you believe the same doctrine we believe, we will help you. After all, how can they ever get their life straightened out without our help.

Guess what? That power is in God’s hands. Not ours. Micromanaging people’s lives does not change them. The love of God changes people. When it comes to our interactions with our fellow humans, that is our first responsibility. Loving them. Letting the love of God flow through us. Don’t get me wrong. There is a time for tough love. But it is essential to have a deep, loving, long-term relationship with someone for tough love to be effective. We like to skip over the love part straight to the tough.

We moved to our current house 11 years ago this month. We live two blocks from some housing projects that I frequently drive past running my errands. Years ago I began thinking, “There has got to be some way that I can help some of the people living there. Sometimes I would pray. But it was mostly just a longing. “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart,” has been a favorite scripture of mine for a while.

Once or twice during the holidays I convinced my husband to go to this neighborhood with me to give out candy, small toys, and small devotional books onto which I attached our names and phone number hoping that someone would call. We loaded up the kids and walked through the neighborhood with Tommy muttering, “We’re gonna get killed over here.”

Then a few years ago a lady and a man showed up at my front door. She asked if she and her boyfriend could rake our yard to earn some money to buy her children Christmas presents. I talked to Tommy, and he agreed that she could. Irise came in once to use my bathroom that day. We talked for a few minutes. She offered to clean my house for me if I wanted. I’ve always been pretty adamant about taking care of that myself, but it just so happened that at this time I was going through a rough spot and was looking for someone to clean for me. Thus began my friendship with Irise.

We have known each other for several years now. I have given her rides, helped her with her job resume, tutored her GED studies, given her money, put gas in her car, helped her shop for a car, and given her a baby shower. She has cleaned my house, kept my kids, become one of my best friends, and encouraged me more than any other person ever has. She has been working full-time at a personal care home for over a year now. Working with the elderly is her passion, and she is great at it. She works hard to give her children a good life and is trying to get in a position to move out of the housing projects. She is a single mother of three who works full-time with no benefits and lives in a place where she has to worry about her children’s safety. She has an enthusiasm for life that is contagious. I don’t know how she does it. But she rarely ever gets down or discouraged.

Things I have learned over the years I’ve been friends with Irise:

There are people who have made huge mistakes in their lives that have gotten them in a bad place.They still deserve a second chance. And even third or fourth or fifth chance. People can change.

Once you get down it is nearly impossible to pull yourself up alone.

As soon as you get a job, the government starts pulling out their support.

If you make over $100/month, you are not eligible for Medicaid. Please tell me how someone who makes $800/month is supposed to pay for health care!

Sometimes the people you help end up helping you more than you ever help them.

Most people are good people just trying to make it in the world the best they can.

Sometimes even good people will take advantage of you because that is just the way they have learned to cope in the world because of what life has dealt them. It’s a survival mechanism.

You will be opposed by the people you love most when you decide to help someone who is different.

Lots of people worry about your safety if you do this sort of thing.

Safety is an illusion.

Use the common sense God gave you. Follow your gut instincts. If something feels dangerous, get away.

A little encouragement goes a long way.

Even though there are many assistance programs, most help out once or twice or temporarily and do not affect long-term change in a person’s life. They put a band-aid on the immediate problem instead of providing a real solution.

Even though there are many assistance programs, many people still fall through the cracks by not meeting certain requirements.

 

Last month I had the privilege of leading a small group of ladies into a better understanding of what is going on in the world and our place in it. We met at a condo in Orange Beach. Irise rode with me. When we arrived at the condo, I was amazed at how beautiful it was, even better than the photos. Irise, however, was in tears. She had never been to the beach and could not believe that she got to stay in a place that beautiful. It was a lovely weekend. 🙂

Last week a man came to my house with a story about his daughter needing asthma medicine. I gave him the $16 he asked for. I knew that his story may or may not be true. Over the course of the week, I gave him more money for this and that, he offered to rake my yard for money to pay the electric bill,and I typed up a resume for him (full of false information, it turns out) and talked to him about studying for his GED. To make a really long story shorter, by the end of the week, I began to feel uncomfortable about some things. So I called the police just to get them to keep an eye on our street because I was going to be out-of-town that day.

Friday night a police officer came to our house. Our neighbor had seen this man wandering around the neighborhood and called them. The police officer told us that they received calls about Develle (he had even given me a false name) several times a week. He’s on crack. He’s homeless. He goes around begging and offering to work for money. At that time they didn’t have anything to arrest him on. The police officer said that he is not dangerous and has never been violent. Since then he has been arrested for robbery and attempted kidnapping because he pretended to have a gun, got $20 from a couple, and forced them to drive him to an apt. complex.

So maybe I’m an idiot. Or maybe I just believe in living out the life God has called me to live. Maybe he hasn’t called you to minister in dangerous neighborhoods. But whatever he’s called you to do, it is pretty likely that it is not safe. It is pretty likely that it will not be comfortable. It is pretty likely that some of your friends and neighbors will not approve. It is pretty likely that it will require some sort of sacrifice. But I know if you follow Him, you will have a life beyond your wildest dreams. And He likes to come through in seemingly impossible circumstances.

So if you get a chance pray for Develle. He desperately needs help, and he deserves another chance at life.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Mt. 9:36

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HAD TO POST THIS!

If you’ve been reading any time at all, you know of my passion for Love Without Boundaries. This video is WELL-WORTH WATCHING.

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