Shanti’s Family

We are in the thick of post-placement adjustment right now, so serious blogging will have to wait. I promise I’ll be back with an update soon, but that update won’t come today. However, Shanti’s homework assignment this afternoon was too good not to share right away.

To everyone who donated to our adoption efforts and to everyone who supported and prayed for us along the way, this is what you have made possible. Thank you.

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Shanti's family poem

Homework
Shanti
2/13/15

Shanti’s Family

I waited for my family.
I asked God for help.
On November 1st my family came.
I was confused.
I had never had a family.

Now I have a family.
I thank God for my family.
On November 1st we have a special day.
I’m so happy.
Now I’m a daughter.

By: Author Daughter Shanti Araya

Thank you! :-)

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Introducing …

Introducing our son, Andre David Araya.

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Born August 5, 2004

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Forever in Our Family January 12, 2015

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We’re officially a family of four!

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As I write this, we are still in-country finishing up the embassy paperwork required for Andre to immigrate to America. We’re not sure how much longer we’ll be here, as we’re experiencing some delays in the process, but we’re praying and trusting in God to get us through. This too shall pass.

We’re currently enjoying the “honeymoon” stage of the post-adoption adjustment process and having a blast together as we do so. Although waiting in line for paperwork (which is what we’ve been doing the most of these days) is certainly not a favorite activity of Andre’s, I can hardly blame him for it! Other than getting the wiggles in boring office waiting rooms, he’s a happy-go-lucky little dude who is super fun and who fits in perfectly with our family.

We can’t thank you enough for your prayers, support, and encouragement throughout the process of bringing home Andre, and also the process of bringing home Shanti last year. God has blessed us with two amazing children, and we couldn’t have answered God’s calling had you not also stepped up and given us the encouragement and support we needed. We are humbled and grateful for the community God has provided to love and support us. We couldn’t do this without you. Thank you. We are a family today because of the support you’ve given us.

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2014: A Year of Change, Part II

My last post discussed the many events in the life of our family that occurred in January through March of 2014. To read that post, click here. Now on to April through June!

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April

Bucking its rainy reputation, April brought with it plenty of sunshine for our family. My parents visited for Easter (SUCH a wonderful weekend!), Shanti and I visited the National Air Force Museum as part of her homeschooling, we celebrated my birthday in fine style, we went to King’s Island together.

In our Easter finery

In our Easter finery

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Making paska, Ukrainian Easter bread

Making paska, Ukrainian Easter bread

Decorating Easter eggs

Decorating Easter eggs

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In the middle of an Easter egg hunt

In the middle of an Easter egg hunt

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Throughout April, we continued house hunting, finding our dream home and putting in an offer at the very end of the month. We were going to be moving soon! We were all excited and very nervous about the move. While it was definitely the right thing for our family (our previous living situation needed to be changed), it was also scary for Arturo and I to move out of the house we’d chosen together as newlyweds and for Shanti to move away from the home she’d only just settled into. It meant even more change for our family, but we were committed to making it work together.

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Taken during our first viewing of the house that would become our home. This is now the music room, and that red paint is long gone.

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Our new house has this lilac stained glass transom window in the living room. It is perhaps my favorite feature of the house.

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The side yard at our new house, complete with an included play set

While rough moments of grief and adjustment were definitely still there, they were finally starting to diminish in frequency, not just in duration. We were making progress, and we were continuing to strive toward the goal of a bonded, attached family.

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The weather in Cincinnati this past April was really quite beautiful, rainy days notwithstanding. We went to the park together every chance we got. Arturo’s strings of Chinese kites, purchased when we went to Tienanmen Square together years ago, were a big hit.

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In mid-April, we made the incredibly difficult decision that I would no longer homeschool Shanti. At first, our homeschooling helped grow the bond between Shanti and I simply because we were forced to spend so much time together that we couldn’t help but bond with one another. By early April, that was no longer the case. The transition between mom and teacher every day was hard for both of us, and we have such different personalities (I’m an introvert and she’s an extrovert, for starters) that the all-day-every-day-together nature of homeschooling was starting to cause problems in our relationship. Shanti had also started to crave peer relationships. When she first came home, all she wanted was Mama and Papa, and rightly so. She’d had to survive so long without parental relationships that she was hungry for parents and nothing but parents. After almost four months in, she felt secure enough in our relationship that she wanted friends as well. So, we started looking for other schooling options.

We found a school that was and still is an excellent fit. Shanti still attends there, and Andre will as well once we get him home. But when Shanti first started school in late April 2014? Oh it was hard. We experienced transition pain and grief and adjustment woes all over again. It took many parent-teacher conferences and several months of our new schooling schedule before Arturo and I were able to say with certainty that we had made the right decision regarding Shanti’s schooling.

As we had in earlier months, we visited the Newport Aquarium numerous times during April. This “how tall are you?” picture was taken on my birthday at the beginning of April. Shanti grew so much her first four months home! (See my previous post for January photos of Shanti next to the same statue.)

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May

In May, a new job opportunity fell into my lap. With my days newly free thanks to Shanti’s new school, I was looking for a project, and God handed one to me on a silver platter. A horn player in one of the orchestras we play with decided to strike up a conversation with me at rehearsal. His wife is a cellist in the same orchestra and she and I are often stand partners, so I know her well, but I don’t think I’d ever actually talked to him. Out of the blue, he came over and started talking to me during a break in rehearsal. As an aside during our conversation, he told me about an audition for a cello position with the small chamber group he’s in. I was intrigued, did my research about the group, and jumped at the opportunity to audition. I won the job at the May audition. The job didn’t start until September, but it has been an incredible blessing to our family. I LOVE performing every single day, and the additional income from this job is what made our adoption of Andre financially possible. And it all started in a “God moment” conversation in mid May with a horn player I’d never talked to before. I love how God works!

I can't remember where we were when I took this photo, but I love what Shanti drew!

I can’t remember where we were when I took this photo, but I love what Shanti drew!

May also brought house showings of our old house so we could move into our new house. Those house showings were stressful, but they were nothing compared to the stress of actually moving that was in store for us in June. In May, we started the long process of packing up our belongings after living in our old house for over six years, although in hindsight, we didn’t do nearly as much prepacking as we should have done.

Shanti with Brandon, our realtor, at our new house. This was taken the last week of May during our final walk-through before closing on the new house.

Shanti with Brandon, our realtor, outside our new house. This was taken the last week of May during our final walk-through before closing on the new house.

May also included Shanti’s first dance recital in America. She had taken dance at the orphanage and was eager to start dance classes when she got home. She worked really hard and did a great job in the recital. We were (and still are) so proud of her!

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At the end of the month, we traveled to visit my parents over our anniversary weekend, and they gave us an incredible anniversary gift: they watched Shanti the evening of our anniversary so we could go on our first date together in over six months. We went to dinner, enjoyed dessert and a jazz concert afterward, wandered around downtown hand in hand, and savored every single moment. It felt so good to get some quality bonding time with the love of my life. I will forever treasure the memory of our sixth anniversary.

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The last few days of May were spent with friends, exactly as they should be. Nastya’s family came for an extended visit in Cincinnati on the way home from their Memorial Day travels, and we had a blast! We explored the many fabulous parks Cincinnati has to offer, spent lots of time playing games at home, and generally had a wonderful time. They even helped me pack up our dining room china. ;-)

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June

On June 2, we closed on our new house, and the month of June can be summed up in one terrible word: MOVING.

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Until June 2014, I had never actually had to move before. My parents still live in the same house they bought when they got married, so I had zero experience moving as a child. The moves in and out of college dorm rooms and apartments don’t really count, as those rooms and apartments were all furnished. While those moves always felt at the time like I had to move so much stuff, they were basically as simple as packing up my clothes and textbooks, putting them in my parents’ van, and we were off.

When Arturo and I got married and moved into our first house, my parents had all of my belongings from home packed and in the Budget truck before we even arrived, so I did none of the work. (Only now do I fully appreciate the incredible amount of work they did to make that possible!) After living in China for three years before our marriage, Arturo had pared down his belongings enough that moving his things into our first house could be done almost as an afterthought. Our move into a house together after we got married was easy and carefree, a perfect start to married life.

All that to say that nothing prepared me for the enormity of what it means to move out of a four-bedroom house into another four-bedroom house. It. Was. Awful. I pray I never have to live through another month as stressful as June 2014. I can, without any hesitation, say that it was more stressful, more tiring, more difficult than ANYTHING related to either adoption. And that’s saying a LOT.

I had no previous moving experience to help me understand what to do or how to do it, and we had done pitifully little packing of our old house beforehand thanks to a packed May schedule. We also wanted to paint as much as we could in the new house before we moved in, as the paint colors were not our style and the paint job throughout the house was ATROCIOUS. Before we moved in, we succeeded in painting the music room (the worst of the paint jobs and the worst of the colors — it was vibrant blood red!), Shanti’s bedroom (which was the first room to be set up and ready to go in the moving process, which helped her transition immensely since she could always go there for refuge), and Arturo’s and my bedroom (which had been a dark dark dark navy blue that made it feel like a cave and is now a lovely pale sage green). We also primed the front entryway and hallway, which we finished painting in early August. It was an ordeal, that’s for sure.

In the midst of the moving stress, which I will freely admit I didn’t handle well, our friends showed up in a way that still amazes me. We had people come over to help us paint, come over to help us pack, come over to help us move, come over just to say “moving stinks, and we love you anyway.” Our support network stepped up and showed us just how deep is their love for us. As I was with the support we received during Shanti’s adoption, I was once again completely overwhelmed by the love shown to us when we were moving. God has blessed us in a BIG way by our church family and by our friends and loved ones who surround us in Cincinnati. I pray that I can, somehow someday, repay the kindness that was shown to us in June 2014. It still amazes me.

The house is now ours!

The house is now ours!

Having fun in an empty house :)

Having fun in an empty house :-)

Painting in-progress, complete with Shanti's signatures

Painting in-progress, complete with Shanti’s signatures

One of our painting parties

One of our painting parties

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Also in the midst of the moving stress, I felt the first stirrings of God calling us to adopt again. Perhaps now, after reading about what we were going through at the time, you’ll understand a bit better why I said what I said in this blog post about our decision to adopt again:

We started feeling God’s call to adopt again about 2 months ago, in late June, but we were resistant at first. To be honest, my first reaction when it came up was, “You have got to be kidding me!” We are so happy as a family of three. The adoption process to bring Shanti home was a stressful nightmare. (The paperwork …. oh the paperwork!! …) But now that she’s home and we’re settling into a rhythm together and learning and growing as a family, life right now is good, really REALLY good. Why on earth would we want to change it? The first time it came up, we brushed the notion aside and moved on.

At the time, in the middle of moving, the incongruity of God calling us to adopt again was astounding. Our family was finally settling into a rhythm together, a rhythm that was barely surviving the stress of the move. Why on earth would we choose June to start the process to adopt again? I decided almost immediately that God was crazy, I was crazy, and I couldn’t handle this right now.

Only time would tell just how “crazy” God really was and just how many mountains God would move to make our adoption #2 a reality. It was over two more months before we would commit to adopting Andre, but looking back on it, had God not started working on our hearts in June when He did, we wouldn’t have been emotionally capable of handling the accelerated timeframe required for us to adopt Andre. I shudder to think what would have happened if we’d decided not to pursue Andre when we realized that we would need to complete his adoption in four months, a task that we weren’t sure was even possible due to paperwork processing times. Had we not taken that leap, we wouldn’t have our precious son, and I truly think we wouldn’t have taken that leap had God not placed the idea of a second adoption on our hearts and minds at a time when it was completely unfathomable. If we could consider adopting again while in the midst of the worst move and most stressful month ever, why not try to complete an international adoption in four months start-to-finish? Thank God that He started working on us well before we were ready ourselves!

The month of June closed on a high note, if it can be called that. At 11:30 pm on June 30th (when we had to be finished by midnight), we pulled away from our old house with the last carload of items. The actual moving was done. What remained was the unpacking …..

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To be continued …
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2014: A Year of Change, Part I

When I sat down and began writing our year in review post, I was astounded as I mentally ticked off one by one everything that happened in the life of our family the past year. So much change, so much adjustment, so many difficult days, but also so much love, so much grace, so much joy, so much happiness. 2014 was quite a momentous year for us. As a result of the sheer amount of events my 2014 “year in review” post must cover, I’m going to break the year into four parts and discuss three months at a time. This should also be a bit easier to digest as a reader. ;-)

(Perhaps I have an ulterior motive: if I publish this post in four parts, I likely won’t get to the fourth part until after we’ve taken custody of Andre. I can’t publish any photos of him until we take custody, and it doesn’t seem right to discuss what happened in our family during the month of December without including photos of our new son. Hopefully the four-part method will work out better all around!)

So, without further delay, here is “2014: Our Year in Review, Part I.” Enjoy!

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January

When we told people we were adopting an older child, back in 2013 while we were in process to bring Shanti home, we received lots of knowing smiles and comments about how “easy” we were getting it by not adopting or birthing an infant. No diapers to change, no sleepless nights, no screaming crying child to deal with etc. etc. etc. I will admit that some of those things are true, although definitely not all. But what many failed to realize is that bringing home an adoptive child, even an older adoptive child, is every bit as difficult as bringing home an infant from the hospital.

Let me say that again: Bringing home an adoptive child, even an older adoptive child, is every bit as difficult as bringing home an infant from the hospital.

The difficulties are different, but they are no less real. I will freely admit that we had a very difficult transition to life at home as a family. Just as first-time parents often struggle the first few weeks or months with their new infants, we struggled as first-time parents with our new daughter.

And those struggles? They are NORMAL. I can’t stress this enough. Too many adoptive parents bring home older children and expect to have few or no problems. The kids are old enough to understand what’s happening, and usually they had to stand in court saying they wanted to be adopted by these particular parents. Why should there be problems? My passionate answer to that line of reasoning is that there will be problems because these children don’t know what it means to be in a family, and these parents have never before had to parent these particular children, with their already-developed personalities, likes and dislikes, senses of style and views of right and wrong. ALL families face an adjustment period when a new child comes home, whether that child is 2 days old, 2 years old, or 12 years old. ALL families, given enough time and hard work and perseverance from both the parents and the child will grow into a cohesive, unified whole. But no family arrives at that place of happiness during the first month home.

I explain all this to help you understand just why January 2014 in our family was a month of change and adjustment and painful stretching and growing. We came home with Shanti barely a week before 2014 began, and the transition period was hard on all of us. At no point did our commitment to her waver, but it was a daily slog through adjustment pains and grief. Shanti had to learn how to be a daughter, and Arturo and I had to learn how to be parents. It was the dirty trenchwork of adoptive parenting. It was the reason we (still) attend adoption support groups and exactly why we did hours and hours and hours of training before bringing Shanti home.

But those struggles don’t really matter. What matters is that we survived, together. We persevered, and by the end of the month, we had started to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

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My parents and grandmother came to visit at the beginning of the month, and it was a magical time. Shanti was hungry not just for parents but for an extended family as well, and she took to all of them right away. My brother and sister-in-law came to visit a week later, and my sister-in-law’s little baby bump enchanted Shanti. Arturo’s mother came in mid-January as well, and she and Shanti hit it off. We could tell in every way that Shanti was thrilled to be part of a big, loving, growing extended family.

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Arturo spent one week of January in Disney World for a required work conference, and it was hard on all of us. Many months in advance, we had to make the decision of whether or not Shanti and I would travel with Arturo to his conference, and at that point, we had no way of knowing whether or not she would be ok to travel again that quickly after coming home. We decided to play it safe and have Arturo travel alone. In hindsight, Shanti would have been fine with the trip, but we couldn’t know that beforehand and made the only decision we could at the time. So, Arturo went without us. We Skyped with him every night, and Shanti and I bonded back home, but it was hard being a parental team of one, particularly so early in my parental journey. I don’t know how single parents do it, I truly don’t. On the plus side, during that week, Shanti told me she loved me for the first time, and oh what a blessing that was.

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My favorite memory of January 2014 is a somewhat unusual one. After the snow and icky weather we experienced in January, we went to a drive-through car wash at some point during the last week of January. Arturo and I thought nothing of it, but Shanti was FASCINATED. It was the most amazing, incredible thing she had ever seen! She wanted to drive through again and again and again just to see it another time! The joy and wonder on her face that afternoon …. oh my. :-) It was pure magic.

We got Newport Aquarium memberships in early January and probably visited 5 times just that month. Each time we went, we took a photos of Shanti with this “how tall are you?” hammerhead shark. Just wait until the “year in review part II” post, when you can see her next to this shark a few months later. She grew so much during her first few months home.

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Shanti would consider me incredibly remiss if I didn’t note that she got a hamster, the lovely and loved little Gus Gus, the first week of January. :)

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Here’s my blog post from mid-January, written after 4 weeks home with Shanti.

February

February brought lots of snow to Cincinnati, and oh my was it wonderful! Shanti loved being out in the snow. If there was snow in the air or on the ground, she wanted to be out in it. The physical activity was great for all of us, and her desire to be outside playing pulled her out of her shell of grief. February, in many ways, was a wonderful turning point for our family. We still had plenty of rough moments (even rough hours), but each day held at least a small glimmer of light, rather than being completely darkened by grief and adjustment. We were starting to find our rhythm. Still lots of mistakes, but together we were getting there.

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In early February, I had my first concert after our extended stay in Ukraine. It felt great to be back on the stage again. At the end of the month, Arturo and I both had a concert with the Springfield Symphony, and again, it felt great to have the cello strings under my fingers on a regular basis after so long away from them. (As I write this post while still on adoption trip #2, not having played my cello since we left America on Dec. 8, my fingers are itching for strings under them! I can’t wait until I’m home and once again at the point of “my first concert after an adoption trip.”)

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February also included Valentine’s Day, which we lovingly celebrated together. We went to Shanti’s favorite restaurant, our local Indian restaurant, which is also Arturo’s and my favorite restaurant and the restaurant where we went on most of our dates before we got married. Even though it’s not a fancy place, we got all dressed up for the occasion. After all, it was Valentine’s Day!

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February was the month when homeschooling took off in earnest. Shanti and I made cupcakes and muffins to learn fractions and measurements, and she worked on Rosetta Stone English every morning, as well as daily word drills we did together. Shanti’s English acquisition was very slow, but her math improved by leaps and bounds right away. Because we spent all day every day together, our bonding progressed very well. It was precious, valuable time learning about my daughter and who she is.

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Here’s my blog post from the end of February, when I talked about our Springfield Symphony concert and the work that went into making it possible for Arturo and I to play that concert. Reading back on that post almost a year later, I can hear in my words how relieved I was that things were finally starting to get better and that our family was starting to “gel.”

March

March started off with a bang: a trip to visit Arturo’s parents in North Carolina and to also welcome home one of Shanti’s best friends from her orphanage, Nastya. We were there as a surprise to Nastya, who had no idea we were coming. On Nastya’s first full day in America, her father took her to the park, and when she got home from the park, we were there in her living room. It was such fun! Arturo and I also got to meet Nastya’s parents in-person for the first time. Because we knew beforehand that our daughters are close friends, Rebecca and Luke had already become dear, precious friends to Arturo and I during the long adoption process. It was great to finally see and talk to them in person instead of over Skype or the phone.

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As it worked out, we actually got to visit Arturo’s parents and Nastya’s family twice in the same month. Our trip the first weekend of March was completely spur of the moment. We found ourselves with a free weekend that happened to coincide with Nastya’s first weekend home, and so we packed the car and went. But for months we had already been planning a visit the last weekend in March. We went both times and got double the grandparent love and double the best friend love.

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I blogged about both trips to visit Arturo’s family and Nastya’s family here.

In between the two trips, we had lots going on. I played in the pit for a musical at Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center (so much fun!), Arturo and I played another concert with the Springfield Symphony, Shanti had her first (of many) dental appointments, we all had eye appointments (no glasses for Shanti, no change for Arturo and I), and we had our first appointment with a realtor to start house-hunting. March was a busy month!

But even with that busyness, on March 23, we found ourselves with a completely free Sunday afternoon. We decided that I would do Shanti’s hair and makeup, she would do mine, and together we would have a family photo shoot. Oh it was so much fun! The birds even got in on the action. We posed together and separately, Shanti posed with her giant stuffed lion, we were alternatively silly and serious, and we had a blast. These are the moments that build memories and build relationships.

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To be continued …
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We have a son.

One week ago today, we had court. I am now the mother of two incredible children, and I couldn’t be happier about that. Court didn’t look like it would happen last Friday, even up until 15 minutes before it was scheduled to start, but God literally moved mountains, and it happened. We were able to have court before the holiday break, shortening our stay in-country by no less than 3 weeks. Praise God!

When I think about that day, I feel a bit like Mary who, after watching the miraculous events surrounding her Son’s birth, could do nothing but treasure those memories in her heart. So many things went “our way” last Friday, things that by all accounts should not have done so, that there is nothing I can conclude but that God was in charge and in control last Friday morning, and it was His will that our son wouldn’t have to wait any longer to join our family.

As a result of the Lord’s goodness and provision, we now have a son, Andre David Araya. He’s a spunky, energetic, caring little boy who can’t WAIT for us to take custody of him in about a week and a half. I can’t share photos just yet. We need to have custody of Andre first, and that can’t happen until we pick up our court decree on Jan. 12, when the courts reopen after the Christmas and New Year holidays. But as soon as I can, I’ll post our family photos far and wide.

We are a family of four, and it feels good.

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Christmas of Four

Today may be Christmas Eve, but for our family, it was our first Christmas as a family of four. Because of how the scheduling worked out, we celebrated Christmas today, and oh what a wonderful day it was! We celebrated with several very dear friends we met last year (we spent Thanksgiving with them then) who graciously invited us to join in their Christmas festivities. We ate *way* too much food, opened gifts, and read the Christmas story and discussed the “reason for the season.” We Skyped with many family members back home in America and chatted around the Christmas tree. Best of all, Shiloh was able to join us for the entire afternoon and evening. We have officially spent our first Christmas together as a family of four. It was absolutely lovely. Still not the same as Christmas at home, but it had a charm all its own, full of memories I will forever treasure..

This morning, I had a moment of absolute Christmas bliss, if I can call it that. Arturo was gathering the ingredients for our contributions to the Christmas Eve dinner. Shanti was awake, oohing and aahing over the Christmas gifts Arturo and I wrapped late last night. I had my favorite Christmas music queued up on iTunes and was hard at work cooking for our festivities. We hadn’t yet picked Shiloh up from the orphanage, but he was on my mind. Our tiny little Christmas tree was blinking merrily in the corner of the room. And for the first time all season, it felt like Christmas to me. It felt like the wonderful celebration of love and generosity that should characterize this time of year. My heart was overflowing with gratitude for my family, for my friends, for the many blessings God has given me, and most of all for the incredible gift of His Son, my Savior, Messiah, and friend.

Christmas away from home isn’t an easy thing. Even with the full recognition of how blessed I am in our current circumstances, I would still rather be home for the holidays than here in Eastern Europe miles away from our family and closest friends. But this season is an important one for our family, a time of transition and growth that isn’t easy for any of us but that will shape us into the tight-knit family unit we hope to become. God is doing an incredible work in our lives. I am so happy to have celebrated a “Christmas of Four.”

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