Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A year in Review

I guess it's that time of year.

To reflect, to remember, to remind
To be thankful for this year--for the goods and the bads. And since we are bidding farewell to 2013, I thought I would make a countdown of 13 things about this year. This was a big year--bigger than any other, so a list of 13 things should be a good synopsis. This list may not be in the best order, but don't worry about that.

13. My crockpots are life savers. (Did I think an appliance would make the list, no, but realistically, this one appliance saved my sanity at least twice a week. Seriously--crockpot rice? wonderful!).

Photo by Laura Cebulski
12. Wine therapy.

11. Real attachment therapy. I am thankful to the depth of my being for a good attachment therapist who got us into his office soon after we got home. I am not ashamed to admit our lack of ability or our need. We would not have as much hope as we do if not for his guidance, understanding, and compassion.

10. My writing career. Yes, I will call it that. I started this year with a book offer which was turned down. I start this next one with agent submissions in the works and a much better book. And a sweet blazer. And soon a professional photo. I'm on my way, folks.

9. The grief of death is tempered by the hope of heaven. But the ache of missing crops up and reminds me that I miss my grandma.

8. Matthew 6:34. Never before in my life has a passage been so true. We made it by walking one day at a time.

7. Um, although I don't remember much about it, our family spent a month in Africa. And then the rest of the year locked in our house.

6. Phenomenal friends and family who have worked hard to understand and respect our new life and boundaries, who have provided food, friendship, and grace. (And a few who have spoken into my own blindness and prompted me to change my attitude.) There aren't enough words to say thank you.

photo by Laura Cebulski
5. I didn't get to read or relax as much as I would have liked--consequently, I'm a bit more stressed and tired. And I'm sporting this awesome stripe of soft gray hair in the front of my head.

4. Being blessed to be in the company of children who you really like, watching them open their minds to learn, being loved in the dark moments, loving them in theirs--this is the privilege of being a parent.

3. Realizing that as difficult a year as our family has had, there is no one else I would rather have by my  side than my sweet Husband.

2. Falling in love with my child--learning to hear giggles and sweet songs as joy, grieving her previous life and loss, understanding how she will be marked for life, knowing our Savior is enough for her wounds, realizing it is an incredible privilege to be her Mother.

1. My God has been faithful. Sometimes silent, always near, ever compassionate, always providing, never failing. He is a good God to serve.

After the journey of 2013, I'm nervous to peer too far into the future. Who knows what the future holds? Certainly not I, but you know what, I'm not too worried. Just like all the rest, God's got it.


Friday, November 29, 2013

Writing is Perilous

And I'm talking more than just paperclips.

In fact, in all the years that I have loved writing, I have never received a paper cut from my work. So there is something else dangerous about it.

It's this: it seeps into every part of your fiber. And you can't get rid of it.

Case in point: I'm now having dreams about submitting my work to professionals. It goes like this: I get the head guy of an agency really excited about my work so he asks for a sample. Which is fantastic and I run to my computer, which happens to be in my parent's driveway. But no matter how hard I try, I can't get my document to open, then I can't get it to print. And the crabby secretary from the agency is staring at me out the window of her office with evil eyes. And that makes me nervous. So I get sweaty palms and I can't make my computer work and that makes me nervous and I get all flustered. Finally, it's been like 5 hours and I'm at my wits end, when the head guy comes back up to me and says you have 10 minutes. We close soon. I'm racing. Yes! The computer is on and open and will print--when I run to the printer, and there is no paper.

Ahh, it's everywhere….

To further my point, I have two other specific areas where being a writer is ruining me.

1) Everywhere I look, I find great examples. For instance, I watched Tangled with the kids a couple weeks ago and noticed that Max, the horse, is a brilliant character. And I started to think about how I would write him into a story. And I spent the rest of the movie paying attention to the shift of his eyebrows or the way that he jutted his lower jaw and wondering how I could write that picture out on paper. When I read, I note words or sentence structure or grammatical structure that strikes me as brilliant, moving, creative, disrupting. I may occasionally even jot down a couple notes. I can't just read without noticing anymore.

2) And this point is much more damaging. As a writer, I have an impossibly hard time teaching writing to my kids. Maybe there are other writers who don't have this issue--but I am teaching the basics: how to construct paragraphs and essays and use creative words and such. Currently, I am advised to have them add -ly words and use all kinds of devices to improve the quality of their work. Which is fantastic. Except that my rules, for writing fiction, aren't theirs. For instance, no -ly words. No 'quickly', 'quietly', 'tenderly'. They have even helped edit these words from their work. And now, they're insisting that they don't need them either. Ahhhh!! (Yet, they write some pretty great stories and are no longer afraid of my editing pen!)

The peril is real, my friends. And with a wink in my eye and a smile on my face, I extend my hand to you. Come join me in this perilous life--where there is beauty on the blade of grass, joy in the rising sun, sorrow captured in the souls of the broken.

(And if you don't want to write, I will gladly bear that burden for you!)



From Ms. Dorothy Parker  "If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do is present them with a copy of Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they're happy."
(source: http://aerogrammestudio.com/2013/07/19/23-tips-from-famous-writers-for-new-and-emerging-authors/)

Monday, November 18, 2013

I need your help

Okay friends, I need you.

And not in the "I-need-you-to-bring-me-a-meal" or "Rescue-me" kind of help (although meals and rescuing are always welcome!)

Actually, this is more along the professional lines of my life, and I think it's a bit shameless, but I'm asking anyway.

I am writing a proposal for my novel, The Unexpected Life of Genevieve Ryder. There are a couple agents I'm sending it to. Part of a proposal includes my marketing/publicity plan. I'm pretty sure that this blog is a decent platform for such things, but I need to build it up, so to speak. (And I'm pretty sure I don't have those amazing famous people connections that will allow my book to be read and endorsed--unless you are somewhat famous and would endorse it. ;) )

So, I am asking you for a little bit of help and a little bit of information.

First, the info: How do you follow this blog? Are you a Facebook friend? Are you someone who checks occasionally to see if I've written? What do you like? (What could I improve?--Okay, that's just something I'm curious about) Did you find me somewhere else along the way?
You can leave a comment or email me at sbeuker (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Second, the request: would you be willing to follow my blog? Over to the right side, you can be a follower of me or connect with google connect. Of course, if you are uncomfortable doing this, that's okay, but it would be helpful for me to say "I have 1,000 followers" (which would be awesome, but isn't happening tonight!)

Finally, thanks. As I think back over the years I've had this blog and watched it grow and the interest in it grow, I'm humbled that you have decided to come along for the ride. This next part promises to be pretty exciting. I hope you decide to stay around for that too!
My writing space. If only it always looked that neat! 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Back at It

Class photo from August 2013.
This year I have a 4th, 3rd, 1st grader & a preschooler. Phew. 
So, we're back at it after two beautiful weeks off.

Yep, I took two weeks off of schooling my kids in the middle of October. Why not? I'm a homeschooler, we started early, it's well within my right.

And I know you're jealous (of the two weeks off!)

But this morning we are back at it. I just printed off the kid's checklists and am about to wake them up.

Sometimes I think this homeschool choice will be the death of me--it's too much responsibility, too much work, too little personal freedom. There are days when I fight tooth and nail to get some child to finish their work.

BUT

There are other days.
Days where we laugh and sing and dance together.
Days where we all learn or accomplish something new.
Days where someone makes a breakthrough--whether in reading, spelling, math, focus, or obedience.
Days where everything comes together in a beautiful, harmonious way, maybe I even accomplish a household task.

I live for those days.

One of my favorite things is when one of the kids "gets it.' Like when Olivia can sound out and understand a new word or gets excited about doing math through playing store (on tap for today). Like when Katie spends extra time reading 'cause she loves the book or when she draws another picture because she loves art so much. Like when Josh struggles through a tough math concept all week--and then Gets It. These are the beautiful moments.

And I love who my kids are becoming. Of course, they are still kids and mess up often. But I love to hear about how they interact with peers and adults. I love how they ask questions (most of the time). I love the programs and classes that they are involved in this year and how they are growing because of them.

Because of the circumstances of our lives this year, school hasn't always been easy. But it is good. And that's what really matters.

We're studying the world and missions. Which of course includes a large map puzzle.
Which I quickly put away because it drives me nuts. 


Thursday, October 24, 2013

15 years

Eric and Me at the top of the Gates of Paradise,
near Malealea in Lesotho, Africa
Since this day in 1998, there have been

a few tears,
two houses,
three cats (and one gerbil),
a lot of laughs,
some disagreements,
three kids in three years
a couple jobs,
a daughter from across the world.

Regardless of where we have been and where we are going, you have
held my heart. Wherever you are, I want to be. When you are gone, I miss you.

I love the sound of your exaggerated laughter when you are watching bad British comedy.
I love the compassion that is part of the way God made you.
I love the way that you know and hear my heart.

I'm so thankful God saw fit to put us together--that he saw that boy who liked a lot of different girls and a girl who was desperate to feel special. That he brought us together in Mexico. That we have been able to make our home in Him. That in Him we have been able to stay together and be stronger with each passing year.

I am a blessed woman.

Happy Anniversary, Eric.
I love you!

P.S. Here's my little gift to you. (It's all I could afford ;) )

Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave (wave) is stringing us along
Just know you're not alone
Cause I'm gonna make this place your home



Sunday, October 20, 2013

Not everything is depressing

So, not everything is depressing in this life.

And I wanted to show you a precious gift I got this week.

My 92 year old grandfather met his newest granddaughter--in Utah.

This week, we've been in Utah visiting my parents while Eric attended a conference for work. (Don't worry--he hasn't skipped any sessions to hang out with us!) But for an extra treat, my last surviving grandparent came from Florida to be with us for a couple days.




We spent some time in the mountains. Obviously it was cold and bright and wonderful. 


Mali got her first taste of snow--and then insisted on eating it whenever she could. 


This is my mom, Kris, with my grandpa, Paul (my dad's dad) and Mali on his lap at the Aviary. 


The entire Keener family. 
Look, we tried to get an entire family picture but we couldn't get the timer to work, so Eric took this picture and then my brother took one so Eric is in one. But this is my family, from left to right, back row first: Leslie, my sis-in-law (with Olivia on her lap), my dad, Jim, my grandpa, Paul, my mom, Kris and my brother, Jay. In the front row is Katie, Me and Mali and Josh. There you have it.

 I was able to catch up with a life-long friend and watch out kids play together. Still remaining in this trip is a date night for me & Eric and meeting some new/old friends. 

These are the good moments, I just thought I would share some with you! 



Saturday, October 19, 2013

Worn

I've written this post about 20 times in my head. When I finally have a few minutes to sit at the computer and write them down, my brain is empty, can't put together a single, simple thought, but for this:

I'm worn.

Life has this incredibly insistent way of marching on, despite family trials or adjustments or work schedules or individual needs. It just keeps going. Every day I have to keep getting up, functioning, doing the things a mom, wife, writer, person does. Life feels relentless.

As I write this post, I am standing in my parent's kitchen in Utah. The front windows show me a view of my most favorite place in the world, The Wasatch Mountains. When I am away from them, I crave their silence, purity, brightness, and away-ness. The mountains fill me with a peace similar to the peace I hear about from friends who love the beach. I visit the mountains and breath the crisp mountain air and I am re-balanced. I can again open my eyes to see beauty and majesty.

My dad has a small cabin, a wonderful oasis of simplicity up one of the canyons near our house. Usually on the drive up the canyon, I love that moment when the dirty valley air is replaced by clean mountain air. It's the announcement of my arrival, that for a few hours I can put away the mutiny of demands of life and just be. To listen to the wind, to appreciate the log fire, to watch the birds, to stop at every interesting rock or animal print on the trail. There is a corner you turn when you rise up out of the valley and suddenly, brilliantly the world is bright. The colors are sharp and pronounced. In this fall season, the reds, oranges, and yellows blend with evergreen for the most magnificent quilt.

But on yesterday's drive up, I couldn't see the bright. Everything looked dull and gray. I kept looking out the window, trying to figure out why that could be, what's wrong with the day. As it turns out, the morning light was just filtering in a different way.

They gray-ness stuck with me. It seemed to reflect the way I feel about so many things. My life feels gray and drudging.

There are so many different moments in this life. Beautiful. Heart-wrenching. Encouraging. Exhausting.

Here are just a few:

  • Josh, Katie & Olivia are brilliant and fantastic learners and one of God's greatest gifts this year is that they are learning well. 
  • Attachment is hard, grueling, every-day work. There is something essential that breaks in a child who is traumatized. There is a lot of healing taking place, but this is a deep wound. 
  • I am editing my novel for submission to an agent or two. It's wonderful, hard, and very different work. 
  • Every day I am already exhausted by 9 a.m. Some days I don't even want to get out of bed.
  • Sometimes its a real struggle to keep going, to not quit or walk away.
  • I am blessed to have enough friends who love me through all these kinds of days, often without me even having to tell them what my day was. 


But at the end, I am still worn.

I'm going to end this with a song that I've heard a few times. Every time I try to sing the words, I choke on them. This song becomes a prayer for me, for Eric, for Mali, for the kids. For us as a family. I am frail and torn, broken and weak. Redemption will win, but still, until then, I'm worn.


Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn

Cause I’m worn
--from "Worn" by Tenth Avenue North





Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Reclaiming myself

It's been five months since Mali joined our family and I'm beginning to think we are out of the worst of the weeds of adjustment for our family.

How do I know that?

Simple, I have an undeniable urge to be creative, more specifically, to write. To put words to my thoughts, to put a pen on to paper, to create.

Lately, I've been doing something crazy: revisiting that part of my creative self.

After the day is done
the toys are picked up
the tantrums are over
most little people are quiet in their beds,
I've done something brave:

I've tried to be a writer.

Most nights I fail miserably, in that I'm so tired that I can't create a coherent thought. Last night I did a five minute warm-up and that was the extent of the thinking my brain could handle.

But I tried. And that counts.

However, it's time to reclaim some balance in my life, where I am more than just the mother of a traumatised toddler, a homeschool mom, a stay-at-home mom. Because I am also a wife.

And I am a writer!!

To help start along the reclaiming journey, I get the wonderful privilege of attending the Maranatha Christian Writer's Conference in Muskegon, Michigan. (thanks Daddy!) Tonight I leave for 48 hours of writerly thinking, learning, crafting, and writing. I will hopefully make new friends, be bombarded by more ideas than possible to write on, and be encouraged to keep on.

It's a scary step--it feels safer to stay in my crazy world than it is to venture out into the world of thinking adults.

But I'm doing it.

My synopsis and samples are fresh off the printer. A clean copy of my completed manuscript is printing as we speak.

I ordered and received my new personal/business cards in the mail earlier this week.

I think I'm ready. Let's go!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Struggling with Sovereignty

[Warning: for those of you who like easy answers or safe, comfortable thoughts, this post is not for you. You've been warned.]

The first week we were home from Africa, the three girls and I were in the dining room. Mali was poking her way through a bowl of cheerios and I was talking to Olivia and Katie. A quiet lull hangs over the room when OG says, "You know Mom, God knew you were going to adopt Mali. He knew even when you and dad were first married."

Me, the pinnacle of wisdom, "Yeah, he did."

She continues, "He even knew when you were born."

"Yes, he did." A wide smile erupts across my face. My daughter gets that God has a plan for me and for our family that includes adoption. Yes!! She understands, in her 6-year-old self, that God is sovereign over my life. Quietly, I pat myself on the back and file that conversation away.

And I start to think about the truth of her statement. Yes, God knew and pre-ordained that Mali would become a part of this family. And while right now it feels hard to see, it is part of his story of redemption.

However, if I acknowledge that this was part of his plan for redemption for this child, I also have to acknowledge her life before we welcomed her. In general, her story, like so many adopted orphans, goes something like this. She was born. She was mis-treated. She was abandoned. She waited for us.

Did my God stand by as this innocent child was subjected to the whims of humans? As they harmed her? If God ordained for her to come to our family, did he also ordain for her abandonment?

These are difficult questions. There are no easy answers.

There are things that I know to be true, things that I claim with my entire being to be true, things I claim for the other three children, for Eric, for our family. It's stated most clearly in my denomination's statement of faith, the Heidelberg Catechism.


Q. What is your only comfort
in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own,
but belong—
body and soul,
in life and in death—
to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

Did you read every word of that? Did any of it strike you? I do, whenever I think of Mali and her story, these words get me: "He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in Heaven."

Not a hair? The will of my Father in Heaven?

I can accept that for myself, as an adult, that he is using difficult things to advance his kingdom and his presence in my life. But I am an adult. She was not, she is not, she is an innocent child to whom things happened.

I am having a difficult time reconciling God's sovereignty to Mali's story.

But I have to. Because God is sovereign, he rules over all the crap that happens in this world, even that which happens to innocent children, to babies.

I can hear you now, saying something like this, "But look at God's plan for her, he brought her into your family."

Yes, God did. He is working in her life even now. This is part of his sovereignty. I can accept this easily, but what about the millions of other children--those who are without parents right now, those who are being abused, those who are hungry, those who scavenge trash to find something to eat, those who have to protect their even younger siblings, those who are alone, those who are scared, those who are without hope? How is God still sovereign? How can God still reign when innocence is lost, when the innocent are wounded, when babies cry out in hunger or fear or pain?

I don't know the answers, but I know it to be true. God is still sovereign. God still reigns. He still holds the whole world and every single, precious, broken child in the palm of his hand.

But I can't end there. I can't just accept that God is sovereign and feel comforted and walk away. Because God in his sovereignty called me to be his hands and feet, he calls me to respond to this deep and desperate need, he calls me to love, to grieve, to pray, to act. If I believe that God is sovereign, I also believe that his rule over my life is complete and when he calls me to protect the fatherless and love the widow, he means it. It's part of his plan.

He means it for you, too.

That's what I've come to. I'm sure it's not a total answer and there are theologians who can do this much  better than me, but God has planned that his love, his message, his care and concern is extended to those who need it through my hands, your hands, our hands.

Because if I believe that I belong to Jesus Christ, if I believe that he watches me, defends me, loves me, I also need to respond:

The catechism finishes, "Because I belong to him, Christ...makes me wholeheartedly ready and willing and ready from now on to live for him."

I'm ready to act. I'm ready to live for Him. Are you?

[How will you live for him? How will answer the call to be part of God's sovereign plan? Adoption isn't the answer for everyone--but everyone is called to defend, to love, to care. You could sponsor a child through Compassion International or you could sponsor an orphan program through Lifesong for Orphans or you could sponsor an orphanage that seeks to be the hands and feet of Christ to those precious ones that have been abandoned. Beautiful Gate in Lesotho is where Mali lived and was loved. It will always have a special place in our heart.]

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Hungry for truth-telling

Before, when we were in the waiting process, I read this blog by Jen Hatmaker called "After the Airport," talking about the year after she brought her two adopted kids home from Ethiopia and the stages of an international adoption story. It gave me a real sense of hope, but also, I read ahead and thought, "Oh yeah, we can do this."

However, now we are in the thick of it. I want to quit. It feels so impossibly hard. The needs are bigger than I am, the demands are greater, the wisdom is lacking.  It feels like we have done something terribly wrong.

Today, in a fit of (divine?) inspiration, I re-read that blog and this is what I read.

"Your sweet one is grieving. This is sorrow and loss and fear and trauma; it is visceral. It is devastating.You and your spouse are haunted, unshowered, unhinged, unmoored. You stare into each other’s eyes, begging the other one to fix this: What have we done? What are we doing? What are we going to do?

The house is a disaster. Your bios are huddled up in the corner, begging grandparents to come rescue them. You can’t talk to anyone. Everyone is still beaming at you, asking: “Isn’t this the best thing?? Is this just the happiest time of your life?” You are starving for truth-tellers in adoption. You scour blogs and Yahoo groups, desperate for one morsel of truth, one brave person to say how hard this in and give you a shred of hope. You only find adorable pictures and cute stories, and you despair. You feel so alone. You’ve ruined your life. You’ve ruined your kids’ lives. Your marriage is doomed. Your adopted child hates you. You want to go back to that person pining away in the Pre-Stage and punch her in the liver."

I felt so much relief I almost cried. Eric, too. This is us. This is how we feel. These are the conversations we have with each other. I am in the desperate need of truth-hearing. Quiet conversations with other adoptive mom friends and their admissions and confessions have brought peace and relief. 

I, too, have scoured the internet, trying to find explanations and help. I, too, find cute pictures and inspiring videos. But nothing gives me what I crave: How do I handle this? I don't know what to do now. 

So, I will be a truth-teller. If it makes you a bit squirmy or you think I'm being melodramatic or I'm exaggerating a bit then don't read these next words. But regardless of how they make you feel, I'm not apologizing for them.  

These past three weeks have been the absolute hardest of my life. I've tried to describe the how and the why and find that words are utterly empty and not nearly definitive enough. 

I am emotionally-empty, worn out, tired. 

We are working hard to repair and heal a broken and tramautised toddler--and it is excruciating work. Every day, we discover another hurt or wound. Every day she fights her growing dependence on us. Every day, amid the needs of this one, we battle the needs of three others who feel neglected, forgotten, un-loved. 

And then, even after all that, there is still the physical aspect of life:
Laundry (oh, was that much beloved shirt that is now ruined due to mold? sorry!) 
Food (you want to eat again? didn't you just eat a few hours go?) 
Clean (oh, you don't really want to sit on the couch?)
And a hundred other little details that go into running a house and staying healthy and sane. 

To add to that are the other "mom" requests:
Hold me, play with me, read to me, fight for me, pursue me, love me as only a mom can. 

And each one of these sometimes seems to be more than I can handle. I am not the super-mom. 

Why do I put this out there? So you know. This "stage" is one that will be in our lives for a few months. I cannot escape it's reality. It is what life is for the foreseeable future. Yes, we see steps forward every day, but those are coupled, just as often, with frustrating steps backward. I have seen and learned things about myself that frighten me. 

So after you read this blog tonight, take a moment and send up a prayer for every single adoptive parent you know, regardless of the stage they are in. Whether their child has been home from the moment of birth or just in the past days, the healing from loss and trauma is life-long. The questions are hard, the answers seem lacking. This work brings us to our knees in prayers for daily, moment-by-moment wisdom, grace, and peace. Sometimes, we even pray for love. 

And I finish again, with more of Jen's wise words, for she is further down the path than I am and has much to offer me. 

"Anything worth fighting for is worth fighting through, and adoption is one of them. I can hardly think of something closer to God’s character, who is the “Father to the fatherless, defender of widows — this is God, whose dwelling is holy.” Certainly, we are his difficult children who spaz out and pull away and manipulate and struggle. We distrust His good love and sabotage our blessings, imagining our shame disqualifies us or that God couldn’t possibly be faithful to such orphans.

But He is. We are loved with an everlasting love, and it is enough to overwhelm our own fear and shame and humanity. In adoption, God is enough for us all. He can overcome our children’s grief. He can overshadow our own inadequacies. He can sweep up our families in a beautiful story of redemption and hope and healing. If you are afraid of adoption, trying to stiff-arm the call, God is the courage you don’t have. If you are waiting, suffering with longing for your child, God is the determination you need. If you are in the early days of chaos, God is the peace you and your child hunger for. If your family feels lost, He is the stability everyone is looking for. If you are working hard on healing, digging deep with your child, God is every ounce of the hope and restoration and safety and grace.

In Him, you can do this."



Sunday, June 23, 2013

The new normal

My hand covers her entire back. Tonight as she struggled into sleep, I covered her with my hand. I could see the whiteness of my skin contrasting with the blackness of hers. Her hair wound up tightly in its natural ready-made knots.

A soft warmth bloomed in my heart.

It was a sweet quiet moment that had been preceeding with much fussing and fighting in the process of bedtime.

I'm choosing to revel in that.

And I'm holding onto all the positive things that we're already seeing:
The trust that she is already showing.
The bonds that are building between her and her siblings.
The new skills and words that she learns with every new day.

It may seem as though these are really great things--and they are. But the sweet moments are surrounded by many, many other kinds of moments.
     The moments where you want to tear your hair out.
     The moments where you just want peace and quiet for five minutes.
     The moments where you would like to not hear a child calling for help because there isn't enough of you.
     The moments that realizes that you are woefully ill-equipped for such a monumental task as motherhood.
     The moments that drive the tears to your eyes and your knees to the floor in desperation.

These past two weeks have been a crash course into the new normal that is our life. We're all in the process of figuring it out--for every single person in this house, there are new skills to learn, abilities to adapt, grace to give, patience to practice. Some moments are good, some are not.

I'm not going to sugarcoat anything to make you think that this new life is the greatest thing ever. I certainly don't feel that way--yet.

But as with every hard thing I've done, I know there comes that sweet moment, where something is realized--whether it be the realization of a goal or a blooming hope that reminds you that this stage is not forever, that things will get better.

I'm holding on to reach that moment.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Home!!


We made it!! 


Four weeks, almost 20,000 miles, hours and hours in airplanes and cars, seven people, every piece of  luggage.

We arrived home yesterday (morning, noon, or afternoon? I'm still not quite sure--there's a six hour time difference). The immaculate house we walked into is no longer quite so squeaky clean, instead there's the clutter of unpacking and the reality of a toddler in the house.

We're all still processing many parts of our trip. Eric and I are starting to grapple with the things that we saw and experienced in two very different countries that neighbor each other. Right now, our brains are spinning with thoughts, but also with jet lag, exhaustion and the stretch of adding a new family member.

For all those reasons, I decided that tonight I would copy a few paragraphs from my family email.


As we rest and talk with you and others, it's amazing how the stories are already leaking out. But what I've realized is this very simple, yet profound truth: God went before us, around us, and after us. It is phenomenal to look backward and see all that did happen and didn't happen--how major things were handled quickly and minor problems didn't become big. My biggest prayer was this: that the kids stay emotionally safe. And God answered: as far as I can tell, they haven't been harmed or felt their safety threatened--there seemed to be nothing that will dampen their memories of this trip. Our continued prayer is that in time, God uses this trip to break our hearts for His and allows us to align our priorities with His. 

It is impossible to come home from a trip like this unchanged. Even if we hadn't been in those places to get our daughter, just processing what we've seen is difficult: true, real, third-world poverty, the deep and dividing effects of sin, fear, racism, and hate, the sad truth that mothers hand over much loved children for lack of maternal support, beautiful, wonderful children just waiting--for governments, for families. As time goes on and we gain more perspective on what we have seen and experienced, pray that God allows us to dwell deeply in the brokenness of this world and that each of us is reminded, that even though this is a beautiful creation, this world is not our home. Our hearts are longing for heaven, for peace, for His presence. Yet, while we are here, we want to walk and act closely aligned with His heart for the broken parts of this world.


You may or may not hear from us in the next couple days. We'll do our best to be responsive, but there's a lot going on. Keep us in your prayers. They have sustained us more than anything


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Exploring South Africa

Okay, so it's a bit of an exaggeration to say that we are exploring all of South Africa. Indeed, most of our exploring has been centered around the Cradle of Humankind; specifically the Rhino & Lion Park and the Lesedi Cultural Village.

We visited the Rhino & Lion Park on Wednesday. There are a bunch of stories from that day--but most notably we had to drive away from an approaching Cape Buffalo, a wild dog tried to chew on the bumper of the van, and we got to pet baby lions (10 week old baby lions). We spent an entire day at the park, taking in everything there was to see: from all the wild cats to the excellent kid's play place that they had.




Yesterday, we went to another site within the Cradle of Humankind: the Lesedi Cultural Village. This center was a place to showcase the culture of four of the tribes that lived in Southern Africa: the Zulu, the Pedi, the Xhosa, the Ndebele and the Sotho. I love this stuff. Although I know that it is simplified and adjusted to be made palatable to tourist sensibilities, it was a fun way to gain some exposure to five major tribal groups. Of course, Josh's favorite tribe was the Zulu--'cause he loved their warrior ways. It was fun to explore the Sotho village because it's Mali's tribe (and 'cause we knew a bit about it!)

Today is our last day in South Africa. We are going to explore a museum and an underwater lake. If I get my way, we're also going to a botanical garden with a waterfall.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Reflections on a Third World Country through my First World Eyes

Before we came on this trip, I spent a lot of time thinking about the advantages that I have that are inherent just because of where I live. I've considered the ease, the excess, the attitudes, the assumptions.  And I thought, "Well, I'm pretty aware, changing cultures won't be that big a deal." I knew that I couldn't drink the water, that the foods would be different, that language would be a barrier.

Sometimes I still surprise myself with my level of naiveté.

The first few days in Lesotho were not good--they were full of adjustments, cultural and time and family-size. One person commented that they were actually pretty worried about me, I wore a constant "deer in the headlights look." I had to keep reassuring them that, really, I was okay.

Our house
But I wasn't. It was a complete shock to my system. We stayed in a rented house in the neighborhood of HaThatsane--which is a good, middle class neighborhood. But the house was entirely walled and small and not what we were used to. We had constant 24-hour security (one of whom was the neighborhood chief who assured us that if we raised the alarm, the intruder would beaten severely). The food, although it looked similar and had english names, didn't taste like what we were used to. The water had to be purchased or boiled--drinking unfiltered tap water was a sure way to get yucky bacteria that our systems weren't ready for.

However, those things are surface--they have to do with my comfort level.

The things that are continuing to bother me have little to do with me, but with the conditions of those who live there every day. We encountered school girls who were jealous of Mali because she was going to America and they wanted so desperately to go too.

The daily, average wage is 55 Maloti--at today's exchange rate, about 50centsUS. At that wage, every adult has to work, but there is a staggering 45% unemployment rate. I was asked by our social worker in the country, Christinah, how I could be a stay-at-home mom. I tried to explain that we have made very specific choices for that. But she couldn't understand why I would have a college degree and no job. Finally, she asked, what is the unemployment rate where we live--only 11%--and I don't work now because I can go and find a job later. She says they never quit to stay home with their kids because they may never be able to find a job again.

Inside HaThatsane are a number of Chinese factories. The factories start their shifts 7 a.m. and end at 6 p.m. with a break for lunch. Right now, in the winter, they arrive as dawn is fully breaking and leave in the black night. There is no time to run errands after work--mostly because with their wage there is no money for a car. So weekends are spent going to the ATM to draw out funds, going to the store, doing wash (mostly by hand) and cleaning. There is not rest or Sabbath. The leisure time that we have that we take for granted is astounding.

And we, I, are such wasteful people. There is no recycling program in Lesotho, so we had to throw everything away. It is entirely shameful that we threw away as much as we did. Some of it couldn't be helped, and we tried to give away anything that someone would find useful--but in everything, from extra food to pull-ups--to empty cans or bottles, we were extremely wasteful. In Lesotho, people repurpose everything. Because it can be useful. Milk cartons were made into seed starters. Water jugs were used for lugging water from the local water spout. Jars and bottles were used to hold beads. Because if it got thrown away, it was a sure guarantee that someone would scrounge through that same trash bag.

However, in spite of all this, all that I am thinking about, all that has affected me profoundly, I know that truly, my talk and thinking did little to prepare me for the reality of what life in Lesotho is really like. Even still, I know that I have not even come close to the starving belly poverty of people living in the mountains or the scared desperation that forces a mother to leave her newborn at the town dump. 

You really need to experience it for yourself. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Safari in Africa!

So if you asked my kids and they were totally honest with you, one of the top two reasons we were coming to Africa was to go on safari.

I have no idea how to explain this past weekend to you--even I couldn't have understood it without actually seeing it. I'm not sure I can explain the sheer joy of being stuck behind three rhinoceroses who don't care that you are behind them while they eat their way down the road.

Watching a young giraffe scent the air and decide it is safe, bending down to take a drink of water.

Being stopped by a herd of leaping impala as all 30(ish) of them dart across the red dirt road to safety--followed by the male of the group who isn't going to leave his ladies.

Chasing a bothersome vervet monkey away from the open air porch you are on--because he wants a bit of what's on your plate.

Staring at stars--the complete milky way, but from the southern hemisphere and not knowing any of them and realizing again just how small you really are.

Watching the sun set across the African plain with colors so beautiful you want to weep for the sheer joy, magnitude, creativity, and splendor of the hand that made it.



So I could try and tell you, but I won't because in my writer's heart, I know that my words would utterly fail.

Much love,

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cross-cultural Experiences

In the past week and half, we have explored many parts of the culture and history of Lesotho.

Something that is very important to me is that we experience, as fully as possible, the culture of Lesotho and it's people, the Basotho.

We've seen the Basotho blanket nearly everywhere we have gone. So, naturally, we had to get a few.

Also, there is a traditional hat, called the Basotho hat.

I've made the traditional staple of papa (finely ground corn maize) with beef stew.

And today, we stopped at a shop to get some fabric for skirts for all the girls. (Brand new fabric--I'm in heaven!!! So many beautiful, traditional fabrics, so hard to choose.)

But then again, we are also transmitting some culture over to our little girl. Mali is quickly folding into the American lifestyle. (Already, we're ruining her.)


Our time here is flying by.

Good news!! Our visa processing is going along very well and our papers have already been sent on to Jo-burg. Our meetings with the government have gone very well here and tomorrow we have been asked to meet with the Minister of the Ministry of Social Development (this person answers directly to the Prime Minister of Lesotho). This is an honor very few adoptive families have been asked to do. We hope Eric is on his best behavior. :)

Keep praying--it is obvious that God's hand has been with us during this entire trip and for all of our African adventures.

"Sala hantale"
(stay well)

P.S. Only a few days left to buy a tshirt. Go here to find out all the info you need. Please buy one--you'll be one of the cool kids!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Life in Africa

Dumela! (that means "hello" in Sesotho). 

This is just a quick post to say that after a full week, we're here in Africa. 

All 6 Beukers! 

This journey, so far, has been stretching, eye-opening, hard, beautiful, both expected and unexpected. 

We've travelled throughout the city of Maseru (where we've visited the grocery store that is inside the mall), seen a place called KoMe Caves (where people have lived in caves as their primary homes for five generations), and hiked a mountain called Thabu Bosiu (an important place in the history of Lesotho.) There are stories to tell and images to process. We have seen so much in the past few days that it would take pages and pages to describe it to you. 

I know that the thing you want to know is this: how's it going as a family as 6? Well, a lot like our time in Africa. 

We are all learning how to be a family together--the road, at times, has been exactly as we imagined, yet nothing like we imagined. We're all getting to know each other. That process takes time and patience and lots of determination and no small amount of love. Thankfully, God has supplied everything we've needed. Yet, Eric and I still fall into bed at the end of the day, exhausted to the core. 

We have another week and a half here in Lesotho, where our internet is dependent on spending time with friends. After that, we travel back to South Africa for another week and a half for more appointments. I'll post as I can, but can't promise anything. 

Keep us in your prayers. 
S




Wednesday, May 15, 2013

This is just a quick check in to let you know that we are in Lesotho and have recently met our daughter. We are now a family of six!!!! Welcome to this crazy family, Sunshine!



Saturday, May 11, 2013

Tomorrow We Leave

It is hard to describe this moment.

The bags are mostly packed. The house is mostly clean. Details mostly taken care of.

We're mostly there.

A few small things today: a final soccer game, ballet performance, haircut/donation to Locks of Love, put food in the house for the house sitter, host a Mother's Day lunch, final errands, and put the house in order.

That's it.

In less than 24 hours, we load our bags (way too many of them) full of gifts, donations and personal items and head to airport.

Ready or not, we're ready.

To hold this little one in our arms.
To start to live our new life instead of wondering about it.
To end the waiting pattern where she's there and we're here.

It's time to be a family.

As friends and family you have done more to encourage us with your thoughts and prayers, offers of help, hugs, and unexpected gifts than we could have imagined.

But your job isn't done yet--you have to pray us there and pray us home!

Below you will find our general itinerary and a few specific prayer requests.

Sunday--Leave home!
Tuesday--Arrive in Maseru, Lesotho!
Wednesday--Meet with government officials and go get Sunshine! Begin life as a family of 6!
Friday--First Embassy meeting for official permission to bring her home.
Thursday, May 30--Travel to Joburg, South Africa.
Friday, May 31--First of four appointments in SA for final permission to bring her home.
Sunday, June 9--Get back on a plane to fly home!
Monday, June 10--Arrive in our home city at the airport at about 11:30 a.m.


Here are some things to pray for:
1) Pray for safety: personal and emotional. We're traveling around the world with our three most precious gifts to receive a fourth. And the world is a scary, unknown place.
2) Pray for Sunshine--these next days will be filled with many things that she can't understand. Pray that she knows God's peace, his overwhelming presence, and ultimately the love that we want to share with her.
3) Pray for Josh, Katie and OG--this is a big adjustment for them. Pray they can be the excellent big siblings that they are. Pray they are changed by what they see and experience and that they can see God works and is present in this whole world he created.
4) Pray for Ana, our friend and babysitter extraordinaire. She will be travelling a week from now to join us in Lesotho. Pray for safety on her travels and that her experiences with our family, the orphanage, and others be a blessing to her.
5) Pray for me and Eric. We have a lot of emotion running through us. We're ready and we're scared, we have complete peace and faith, we have moments of fear. We're tired. We are embarking into a new realm of parenthood. We are inadequate for the task.

But this we know: God's got this. He has led us on this journey, full of ups and downs and highs and lows. He has called and we have followed. He has not brought us this far to drop us now. Every moment of the next four weeks, just like the past 2+ years, are known to him. There will be very tough moments--but you know what? it will be Good.

Because God is good, all the time.
All the time, God is good.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Buy an Adoption T-Shirt





Okay, folks, only 3 sleeps left! Three days until we get on a plane and fly around the world to lay hands on the little one we've been waiting for!!

So many thoughts, so many things to do.

I have some thoughts that will be part of another post later, but for now, I want to ask you to: BUY A TSHIRT!!!

I know you've always wanted: a tshirt that shows your support for another's cause.
           a shirt that benefits others.
           a shirt with the outline of Africa.
           a tshirt to wear proudly when you do yardwork or go to your kid's soccer game or grab coffee on Saturday morning
           a tshirt that says that the cares of the world are yours as well.

We are partnering with three other families who are also adopting from African countries to sell t-shirts to benefit our individual adoptions. There are so many options: kids & adult sizes; three colors; regular cotton or wicking. Surely, you can find something you would love.

So, what do you do now? You look over the order form at the bottom of this post. Decide what you want--then, you email, call or physically mail your order to Jaclyn Cooper (who is handling every single detail of this for us!) All orders need to be placed by May 30. And they'll be delivered just after Father's Day (June 16th)

Questions? Well, you can ask me and I'll answer if I have time to or know the answer, but you can always contact Jaclyn. She knows the answers.

Thank you so much for all your love and support!
We're almost there.....

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Let's Take a Trip...

In preparation for our trip around the world, I thought that I would prepare for all of us a brief lesson on the places that we will travel. I love geography and history and social science and world needs, so I wanted to allow each of us the opportunity to learn a little something. 




The Kingdom of Lesotho

Basic Facts:
Placement: Lesotho is located in southern Africa, inside the country of South Africa. 
Square Mileage: 11,718 sq. miles (about the size of the state of Maryland)
Capital: Maseru
Population (2013 estimate)1,936,181. 
Official Languages: English and Sesotho
Currency: Maloti ($1US = 8.91 Mal--which is also the exchange rate for the South African Rand) 

http://www.pbase.com/tessajoughin/image/35631039/medium
Geography:
http://www.pbase.com/tessajoughin/image/35631345/medium
Lesotho is also called "The Mountain Kingdom" because of the rugged mountains within it's borders. The Drakensburg Mountains border the eastern side of the country. Because of it's placement in the Southern hemisphere, it experiences seasons opposite those in the Northern hemisphere. Right now, they are heading into winter. During winter, the temperature can bottom in the low 30's. Snow can be found, apparently enough for a ski resort in southern Lesotho. 

Only one tenth of all land in Lesotho is arable, growing corn, wheat, sorghum, pulses (legumes), and barley. The rest of their food is imported from South Africa. 

Government:
Lesotho is a monarchy with a parliamentary system like that of Great Britain. In 2012, there was a general election for a new Prime Minister. The monarch is King Letsi III, but he has no real executive or legislative power. 

History: 
The history of a country and a people is always complex and there is not enough space to justly describe their fight for independence. Nevertheless, Lesotho gained initial independence, recognized as Basotholand, an protectorate of Britain in the late 1800's. It became the Kingdom of Lesotho in 1966. King Moshoeshoe I (pronounced Me-shew-shew) is an important historical figure. 

People:
The country is made up almost entirely of the Sotho people. About 80% are Christians while the rest practice indigenous religions. The non-Sotho people in the country are usually involved in missionary, aid, or business work. 

Social Issues:

Expected Life Span: 51 years. 
Infant Mortality Rate 55/1000
Unemployment: 45%
HIV/AIDS infection rate: 23%

Things to see and do:
     Visit Semongkong or Malealea: traditional Basotho trading villages that were outposts in the mountains. Semongkong is near  Maletsunyane Falls, one of the highest, single waterfall drops in the world.  
     Ride the Basotho pony.
     Hike/Visit Thabu-Boisu: the mountain where King Moshoeshoe staked his claim and protected his people. 
     Go meet your new daughter. (I'm partial to this one!) 
    


Sources: About.com
             infoplease.com
             lonelyplanet.com
             usaid.gov/lesotho

Friday, May 3, 2013

End of School!!!

Roughing it on the Oregon Trail
(especially when you have to mash your own
cornmeal from popcorn kernals using a meat tenderizer)
Even though this has probably been the craziest year known to our family yet, we did manage to accompish a good deal of school. Starting at the French Revolution and Sir/King/Emporer Napoleon and ending just after the Civil War and the reunification of the US, we covered a lot of fun history. The Oregon Trail & Wagon Trains. The Trail of Tears. The beginnings of inventions that ushered in the Industrial Age.
Look, we made compound!

We learned more about writing and math and thinking and problem solving.

We ran laps and played games and learned more about sports (even if they weren't loved by all).

We were part of a Bible Study that led us to study, more deeply, the book of John and the life of Jesus Christ.

Art Prize with our Field Trip Group
We toured around West Michigan on field trips with friends.

Baking Class!
Most importantly, we all grew up a little bit (or a lot bit), realizing that we are each part of a unique family that has to work hard together. Mostly, though, the kids just think we make them work too hard. They've learned how to change their sheets and sort the laundry, how to read a recipe and measure out ingredients, how to work together to clean up after dinner (so Mommy doesn't have to do it all).

Although it wasn't the year I expected or planned, it was a good year. There were plenty of stops and starts. Three separate weeks of walking pneumonia--one week for each kid. A sudden book deadline that no one expected. Finally, a referral which is leading to a family trip in only a week.






Olivia--Leaving Kindergarten
But we've laughed a lot, we've read some good books, we've had fun.




Josh--Leaving 3rd

It was a good year!

 
Katie--Leaving 2nd 





Class Picture May 1, 2013
Jersey Junction
(because every school year needs to end with ice cream!)