Friday, November 18, 2016

Joelle's Baptism and a Family Update

Well this was an expected and very unexpected week all in one.  Lets start with the good because God is so good.  This past Sunday Joelle followed Christ in baptism.  In July, at our Vacation Bible School, Joelle really began to understand sin and God's good love.  She has been asking about 'becoming a Christian' for over a year now, and until this Summer we had pushed her away gently praying that God would really show us when she truly understood the sacrifice Jesus made for her and what it would cost her to accept that.
There's a fine line in childlike faith and parents who push their kids to know Jesus.  We wanted to be as certain as we could so Joelle could always remember the day the Lord redeemed her, and this July it really seemed to come to the front of her heart.  Even a child as well behaved, beautiful, and talented as Joelle is (we may be biased) she needs Jesus...we ALL do and I'm reminded of my need for Him every day.

What we love so much about Joelle's redemption story is it had nothing to do with God's anger or was His kindness and adoption of all of us that drew her in (Romans 2:4).  So this past Sunday, Papa and Joelle jumped in the church baptistery so Joelle could publicly illustrate what Jesus did in her heart this summer...washed her clean and forgave without keeping a record.

It was such a special day.  And might I add, the absolute most important decision she will ever make in life.  That was her first step to a life filled with Christ. We are so grateful for family and friends that have encouraged her along the way.  Our Children's ministry played such a big role and helping Joelle understand the Bible.  And her own story is a huge reminder to us all that God's family knows no boundaries.  After all, He adopted us in our deepest need.

Adoption can be hard...always worth it, but hard.  You get looks and comments here and there, but for the most part people smile and go on with their lives.  People that walk with you faithfully have lives to live too, and most people around will never understand how anxious you are about racism, equality, and justice for all people.  You look at the world differently than most everyone around you, and that's ok....especially on a day like Sunday when you watch your daughter so pridefully follow a Savior she may or may not have ever known.  Joelle's redemption story is still being written....but Sunday was a great reminder that before the earth began rotating around the sun, God had a plan for our little girl...and we believe one day we'll see it happen for our little boy too!  Adoption is beautiful...but a very small glimpse into the beautiful story God has created for us in His adoption of us!

That brings me to the second thought we want to share today...we believe that our other son, Armoni, has fallen through the cracks of the 'system' as of today.  It does not look like he will ever come to the US and physically join our family, though we'll never forget him.  The past few months have brought a slew of emotions for all of us.  Our kids pray for him nearly every day. There's an empty room with a bed and his decorations on the wall of our home. There's a lady in the DR Congo that has wrecked our family and stood in the way of Armoni joining us for 3 years now.  And to say there were moments I wanted the Heavens to open and reign down fire on her family would be an understatement.

But....when's the last time you prayed for your enemies?  Maybe you don't have any, but our family has felt like we have a very obvious one over the past few years.  There are days Satan himself has taken a back seat to this lady in our minds.  She's slandered, fought, lied, stolen, cheated, and cost us a lot, and I don't mean money.  I hope you'll join us in praying for her today.  I'm not sure what to we trust the Lord knows....and He loves her and our son as much as anyone else.  We're trusting that God is far more able to care for him than we could ever be...and there's peace in that.

Many of you have walked with us, asked for updates, and prayed with us over the last 3 years.  It's been a roller coaster, and it's near impossible to think the ride has ended without the trip to the airport; but it certainly seems that's what has happened.  It's easy to question 'why' a family with a heart open for adoption, an open room, and a desire for a very specific chubby little face would go through this; but I'm reminded of what the Lord said to Job.

Job 38 - Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?  Tell me if you understand.  Who marked off its dimensions?  Surely you know....have you ever given orders to the morning or marked off its place?...have the gates of death been shown to you?  (In short....Job, who in the world do you think you are compared to me and my plans?!)

Job answered in chapter 40 - behold I am of small account...I lay my hand on my mouth.

Sometimes it seems the best thing to do is shut up and listen.  And that's what we've tried to do over the last year.  And what we've seen is that if Armoni never comes here, God cares for him.  Over the past 2 years of our fight we were introduced to Israel and in that time Israel came home.  Had we not been 'in process' with Armoni, we don't know if we would have ever known Israel.  Could that have been God's plan all along?  We'll never know. But more importantly I've had to ask myself: "why do we so often try to make sense out of God's plans?"

We wanted friends and family to know because so many have asked.  But we also wanted to share with you that we 100% believe God is good and He is in control.  He doesn't cause orphans and failed adoptions, but He is Sovereign over them.  He doesn't break families up...adoption is redemption from brokenness...God joins families together....and because of that we believe His plan is much bigger than our family here.  He doesn't do things the way we always want, but almost always that's a good thing.

Part of our heart is still in the Congo today, and maybe he always will be....and maybe the Lord saw fit to make sure part of our hearts stayed with a people group that is more desperate and in need of hope than any other group in the world right now.

I hope our journey will encourage and not discourage you today.  We are more filled with hope today than ever before because in our weakness He's made strong...and in our failed attempts at life, He always shows a powerful hand.  When we can't, He reminds us He already has.

We are so encouraged by families in our church choosing a hard path to live out grace through adoption and foster care.  We are inspired and we admire the stories we hear from all over the world through this blog that families have chosen adoption.  Part of our son's failed adoption may have inspired you to get involved....and maybe that was the plan.  See!  Around every corner you can see God's goodness if you'll just look.

Don't be discouraged today...what He leads you to, He'll always lead you through...just keep your eyes on Him. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

We've got a 4-year old!

Well, our littlest little turned four last week.  He had been anticipating his birthday for quite some time.  He decided on a Spiderman party a couple of months ago and asked where his Spiderman cake was approximately 6,000 times.  He checked the mail several times as if it was going to come through the postal service, ha!

His birthday was on Thursday, so we started out with a donut cake.  We knew he wouldn't understand that his party was on a different day, so we just pretended that we were having a party :)
 Little man was jumping up and down with joy when he saw his tractor!  We celebrated at night with a Chickfila meal and cookie... it was a fun day of junk food in the Lemons' household!
On Saturday we had our parents and siblings over for dinner and cake.  Big groups of people can still be overwhelming for Israel, so we wanted to keep it small and intimate for him.  It helps him to open up and really show his personality!  Since he was very familiar with everyone there, we all got to see his excitement and energetic personality!
For the first time EVER, he finished his dinner before anyone else.  He is normally sitting at the table for a good 15-20 minutes after we are all done.  He knew that presents and cake were up next!  "Mama, I'm done.  Everyone needs to eat their food!"  "Mama, you done?" 
 Miss Autumn made him a Spiderman cake that was just as yummy as it was cute! 
 After dinner we opened presents.  He's pretty much a pro at this!
 Time to play some football!
 Oh how this boy loves PJ Mask!
 And Spiderman!
 Of course I had to document all of the special people that came to celebrate Israel!

KK and Poppy
 Aunt Li-ia!
 Anna and Mario
 Gigi and Poppy!
 Finally time to eat his Spiderman cake!
Missing the early birthdays isn't easy.  I often get emotional about the first few years of both of my children's lives.  It saddens me to think about all the things we missed out on, all the things we will never know, all those firsts that came and went without being celebrated.  But, somehow, in all that sadness, God makes our moments, holidays, and "firsts" so so so special.  He reminds me of how good He is.  How precious it is that He brought our family together.  I feel His blessings in our everyday lives.  I see how good He is when I see how much my children have overcome.  So, this first birthday of Israel's was so very special.  He's healthy, smart, loved, and thriving.  He feels the love of a family.  He hears about Jesus every single day.  I just couldn't be more thankful!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Let's Talk Surgeries

Little did we know that Mr. Israel would be having three surgeries within only nine months of being home.  That also means that we've had tons of doctor's appointments, pre-op appointments, and post-op appointments.  Needless to say, we've spent a lot of time in waiting rooms.

His first surgery was...cough cough... snipping at his manhood.  I can't say any of the words out loud, nor can I type them.  I grew up in a house of girls started my life as a mom with a girl.  But, since this wasn't taken care of in the Congo, we did it just about a month or so after he came home.  He spoke NO English.  We couldn't explain a thing to him.  That was a fun experience #saidnooneever

It was during this surgery that the doctor and anesthesiologist noticed his loud breathing/snoring.  They recommended that we get his adenoids checked out because it was abnormally loud for a three year old.  That was the beginning of surgery #2.
Joelle was such a sweet sister after all of his surgeries.  She provided lots of comfort and snuggles for Israel!
Turns out that his adenoids were REALLY large.  He snored ALL the time.  His room is upstairs and I could hear him snoring when I was downstairs.  Sharing hotel rooms was painful... he was the only one to get any sleep, ha!  In March, right after our Disney trip, he went under for the second time to get his adenoids removed.  The recovery room that time was AWFUL.  He was so out of it and so confused.  He was screaming and crying.  It took about an hour for him to come out if it.  Thankfully later that evening he was all smiles!  Because he didn't need his tonsils out, it was a pretty simple recovery!
Yesterday he had his third surgery.  This one was the most difficult for us to pull the plug on, but after constant ear infections, it just had to happen.  He came home with a ruptured eardrum and ear infection in December.  We waited it out for a while to see if it would repair itself, but after nine months we saw no progress.  Every single time we went into the ENT for a check-up or to the pediatrician for shots he would have an ear infection.  Thankfully he has never complained about his ear hurting.  

We tried really hard to keep water out of it.  He wears earplugs and a band while swimming, I wash his hair in the sink, he wears a cap or earplug while showering... I mean we try really hard.  It seems like no matter what we did, he still got those stinkin' infections!  Since we have a pool and find ourselves at the beach often, we just needed a solution.  Also, we couldn't teach him how to swim because your head goes under the water while learning.  
So, after talking to our pediatrician and ENT, we decided to try and fix his perforation.
The recovery for this one is a little more intense than the others.  He has to wear this HUGE bandage for about four days.  There's no rough-housing, playing outside, getting overheated, wrestling, running, or lots of activity.  I don't know how many three year olds you know, but it's really hard keeping them calm.  He is a pretty chill boy... likes to sit and play with cars, but he also gets a little crazy here and there.  There's already a chance that the surgery won't "stick" so we are doing all that we can to minimize the risks!
This mama is ready for a life with no more surgeries!  The Lord has been so good to us during each one.  The doctors have been wonderful, Israel has been pretty tough, and he has always made a full recovery!  Praying this one goes the same :))))

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

More of our Visit to the Congo

I'm just going to be real honest.  It's been almost 18 months since we took these pictures and visited the Congo to visit Israel so I really, truly don't remember which day we took any of these pictures.  I would love to say... this was day two!  But, as I look at them, I just really have no clue.  I do find comfort in that though.  I often tell other adoptive parents that I know the wait seems like it will never end, but once your child is home it is hard to remember that part of the process.  It all seems like such a blur.  When you are in the trenches, begging the Lord to bring your child home, it seems like each day passes at a snail's pace.  Every holiday comes around marking one less holiday with your child.  You begin putting your time marker on things.  Surely they will be home by Halloween.  I mean, they've got to be home by Christmas.  And sometimes you repeat all of those holidays again.  It feels never-ending.  I didn't always see God's hand during that waiting time.  I knew He was there and moving, but I wanted things to happen on my time.  I wanted my children home way before they actually came home.  Through both of our adoptions, I didn't see the beautiful picture and plan that God was creating until way after they came home.  I trusted Him during those times, but it all made more sense once I was out of the waiting phase.  Looking back I can clearly see how God was working and moving through the little things and the big things.  I can see how His timing really was perfect.  Sometimes it just takes being removed from the situation to see it all.  I think that's why I can blog about it now.  During those painful moments of waiting, I just wasn't ready to sit down and spill my ugly feelings out.  It's almost like if I typed it out then the reality that my child wasn't home really set in.  So here I am, 18 months later, trying to recall those precious moments.

Israel was 2 1/2 at the time of our visit.  We had taken a mix of 2t and 3t clothes with us.  In the pictures he seemed like such a chunk, but once we were there we realized how much smaller he was than we had thought.  The majority of the shorts we brought fell right off of him.  We did make sure to bring a Longhorn shirt for his first outfit just like we did with Joelle.  I remember watching him kick that soccer ball and thinking it was just the cutest thing ever. 
 See his little puckered lips?  He still does this.  I think it's a coping mechanism for comfort... like a pacifier or thumb sucking.  He's actually sucking on his tongue in his mouth.  I didn't know it at the time, but that's definitely what he is doing there!  I can't tell you how many times I've said, "Israel quit sucking on your tongue!"  Then I think to myself how weird that sounds to say out loud, ha.
 He really just wanted to play with cars the entire time of our visit, but Jared put a ball in front of him every chance he got.  That smile.  Those cheeks.  I melt.
 Seeing Joelle play the role of a big sister was just priceless.  People would often say to Joelle, "You are going to be a great big sister."  I would always whisper in her ear, "You already ARE a great big sister."  I think what many people don't understand is that you become a family long before you meet.  Israel was our son and Joelle's brother for a year before he came home.  He was apart of us long before our Gotcha Day.  Joelle prayed for him when we just couldn't.  She was and still is the best big sister!
 She is such a caregiver and little Mama.  She scooped him up every single chance she got.  Having a real-life baby to hold was just about the best thing ever for her!
 She did share him with us a little, ha!
 It's like they bonded immediately.  They fell into their sibling roles without any effort.  I believe that God prepared their hearts.  He molded them to be a big sister and little brother.  I'm so thankful that the Lord was looking over my children when I couldn't be there.  I'm thankful for the protection He provided.  I'm thankful for the love they felt.  I'm thankful that they were fed and cared for.  You really see the enormity of God in a situation like adoption.  It was physically impossible for me to be there for my children while we were waiting, but nothing is or was impossible for God.  He provided, He protected, He made a way.  Goodness He sure is a BIG God!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Our first day in the Congo

Let's take it way back today.  Back to April of 2015 when we went to visit Israel.  We had three days with our little man while we were there to file documents.  We prayed long and hard before going because we knew it would be heart wrenching to leave him there.  As a family we decided that as hard as it would be, we needed to do it to speed up the paperwork process.  The Lord provided the perfect timing and seamless arrangements, so we just stepped out in faith.

It's a long journey to get to the Congo.  After 3 flights and a restless night's sleep, we woke up with anticipation.  Joelle put on her Big Sister outfit that we had been holding onto for quite some time, and we argued about who would get to hold him first (I won, of course!).  He was scared and upset for about an hour.  He rubbed his eyes, which we thought meant he was tired, but he still does that when he is on the verge of crying.  I can only imagine the overwhelming fear he must have felt as he was left alone with complete strangers that look nothing like him.  Thankfully after about an hour, he warmed up pretty well.  It didn't take long to realize that he loved playing with cars.
 After he calmed down and we made a little progress we walked over to a superstore that has an Italian restaurant... well, it was Italian when we went to go Joelle, but they changed their menu quite a bit since then!  
 We knew how to win a Congo kid over... just give them a little Fanta, ha!  To this day both of my kids love Orange Soda and will drink it down when we let them have it :)
 Of course we were all smiles to meet and be with the little guy.  It took him a while to feel the same way :)
 We just laughed and laughed at nap time.  We put him down on his back, he immediately closed his eyes... didn't move a muscle... and fell right to sleep with a car in his hands :)
 He didn't cry after that first hour we had him.  Maybe it is because we gave him powdered donuts and #allthesugar ;)
 And we did get a smile on that first day!  We spent a lot of time in our room playing with cars, kicking the ball, and watching movies.  Since we only had a few days together we decided to not doing anything touristy because we wanted to take in every single moment... not knowing when we would meet again.
 I just know that the Lord had His hand in every interaction and moment.  The fact that Israel would accept love from us, play with us, and look to us for his needs was just remarkable.  I still think about those days and smile because they were just precious moments that the Lord gave us in our children's home country.  I'm thankful Joelle got to go back and experience it with us again.  I'm thankful that Israel was able to meet us before coming home to us so that he would remember the love of our family.  I'm thankful that we got a glimpse of what life would be like with the four of us.
 Over a year later and this is what you will see him doing any chance he gets.  Put a car in his hand and he is just as happy as a clam!  Needless to say we bought #allthecars when we got back to the states, ha!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Christmas :)

At this point I am 9 months late to posting, ha!  But, let's back track and talk about what Christmas was like with Israel home!

First of all, I'm sure he had not a clue what was going on.  He hadn't been home long and our house had red and green EVERYWHERE.  Sparkly lights.  Presents Galore.  Big Fat Man with a Red Suit.  Oh my!  We couldn't even attempt to explain it because he spoke ZERO English when he got here.  Thankfully he did know how to smile, ha!
 Dressing up two children in Christmas jammies was probably my favorite thing EVER!
 Joelle had asked Santa for remote control cars for both her and Israel.  She was always so sweet to think of him even when he wasn't home.
 He does love cars, so this worked out perfect for him!
 Joelle was also stoked to finally get a trampoline.  We had told her that would NEVER happen, but who can say no to that sweet smile??  The trampoline actually came in very useful.  Israel's legs had almost no muscle tone and he hadn't ever exerted much energy.  The jumping helped him with strength and balance :)
Even though he had only been home a short time, we still wanted to keep our family traditions for Joelle.  We knew it would be overwhelming and a lot to take in, but we didn't want her to suffer.  It turned out being okay.  We just held him close to us and monitored the interaction he was having with family.  We had already asked them not to hug or kiss him.  At that point he was still learning to trust us and look at us as his parents.  It was an adjustment period for sure!
 Now looking back on it I just miss those chubby cheeks so much!  I'm so thankful for how far he has come, but that babyface is so kissable!
I'm definitely looking forward to this year because he will understand every single part of the holiday!  It will be like his first Christmas all over again :)