Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas letter 2015

I can hardly believe that the end of another year is almost upon us! In my ideal world you would all personally receive a beautiful Christmas card and letter from our family, thanking you for your support and love throughout the year, but sadly time and money don't allow that so this blog will have to suffice.

What a year it has been...

As we were making the long drive to MN yesterday I kept thinking back to this time last Christmas. We were in the very beginnings of our adoption process and I spent the majority of our drive making burlap wreaths.

My heart is filled with such awe this Christmas as the two children that we were dreaming of one day holding this time last year, are now safe, loved like crazy, and getting to experience the magic of Christmas in a family for the very first time. I am also thankful there's no blisters on my hands this year from working tirelessly on fundraising projects. Last year the mountain looked so big, so impossible, but it was nothing compared to the relentless love of our God for His children.

Here is a little update on all us Maxwell's before we close the chapter of another year and excitedly enter a new one.

Ivan Abraham (8) Probably the biggest change for Ivan, besides welcoming his new brother and sister this year has been starting school. It was very difficult for me to put him on that big bus, but school is proving to be a huge blessing to him and to our whole family. You will never meet a child who loves school more!! While the other children try to sleep on his early morning bus ride, he gets on yelling “Good morning!! I go to school today!!” He is in a regular kindergarten class most of his day and then goes to a different room for therapies and to work on specific things. His teachers and therapists all love him and can’t believe what a hard worker he is. His favorite classes are art, computer, and music. He’s learning to write his letters and his name. We could not be more proud of our boy and look forward to new milestones this coming year.

Our cat, Lexi decided to get in our Christmas photos without us noticing.

  Gresham Allister (4) It is very hard to believe this boy has only been with us for such a short time (came home in July). Him and Landon are best friends and Landon refuses to play without him, which can cause some controversy now that Gresham is learning he has his own voice and he doesn’t always want to do what Landon wants. He is a little peanut and only weighed 20 Ibs when we brought him home. He is still tiny, but is starting to put on a little weight and has already grown a couple pants sizes. He really wants to learn whatever he can and constantly asks what things are or what we’re doing. He is soaking up all the information and his English is rapidly expanding. We were overjoyed to find out that his heart is in a very good condition and wont need any interventions any time soon. He will be having surgery on his droopy eyelid this coming Summer, but after that we don’t anticipate anymore surgeries. He is such a sweet and fun little boy. He has added so much to our family and truly now we can't imagine life before our rambunctious "twins".

Landon Anthony (3) And then there’s our Landon. Oh this boy!! It is so fun watching him grow up. His personality just seems to get more exuberant each year. He is our early riser and wakes up each morning with an energy and excitement for the day that is almost too much to stand, (especially before having my morning coffee). He never stops talking and has no concept of what it means to whisper despite how hard we try to teach him. He constructs the most elaborate tracks for his cars and trains, loves doing puzzles, and quizzing/teaching Gresham the names of animals and construction equipment. He is our comedian child and always has Ryan and I laughing. He just loves life and we love life with this crazy little boy!!

EmarieJoy (2) That first pic of our princess didn't make the actual Christmas card this year, but I can't resist including it here because it is one of her favorite faces to make, she was just so happy to get a pretzel haha!! This girl was named appropriately as joy truly does just radiate from her. She mostly goes by Emma now as that is what all her big brothers call her. She has been doing amazing since her heart surgery in November and clearly looks and feels SO much better. She is starting to pull up to standing all by herself and those little legs are getting stronger by the day. She is a total mama's girl, but she loves being silly with her daddy and playing peek-a-boo or getting tickles from her adoring brothers. She knows many signs, but is starting to use words as well. I can't believe how much she has changed in 5 months! She is already starting to lose her babiness and is quickly growing into the little toddler she should be... right in time to take on that big sister title :)

Ryan, me, and baby #5 Ryan is still really enjoying his job at CW structural and has turned into quite the handy man at home. His latest project has been expanding the boys' room and making them bunk beds. I still work at Dunn Bros a couple nights a week, which I love. I'll be taking a break once baby is born, but just until we find our new normal and Ryan feels comfortable putting FIVE kiddos to bed (He is the bedtime master in our home!) We're busy getting everything ready for our new addition to make her entrance in February. If you were to ask me three weeks ago how I was feeling about this pregnancy I would of said it's going too fast, but now at 31 weeks we are all feeling ready for baby girl to come and join our crazy clan.

This past year has not been without it's grueling challenges and shocking surprises, but through it all we have experienced God's presence with us.

Immanuel, "God with us."

That is the reason we celebrate this time of year.

Without that knowledge and belief I truly doubt our family would have survived 2015.

And that is the reason we can look forward to 2016 with hopeful hearts.

I don't know how your year has been. I suspect, like ours, it was a mixture of joyous times and many really hard and long days, but my prayer for each of you who reads this blog would be that you would discover the true depth of Immanuel.

God with us.

Not just as a baby born in a dirty manger, but with us in our everyday messy lives.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from our family to yours!!

Love, the Maxwell's

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

My thoughts on fear

There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out fear, 1 John 4:18

It's been a while since I've written a blog post that wasn't just an update about our family.

It's been a quite a while since I've reached down into my heart and pulled out words that strip me of my safety and make me vulnerable and open to disagreement and criticism.

Actually I really try to stay away from posts like this because I don't like blurting out which side of the fence I fall on when it comes to controversial topics. I feel like usually it doesn't matter and just creates disunity.

BUT I'm stuck in a hospital room with my sweetie who is still sleeping off surgery, pain, and meds, which leaves me with a lot of time to just do nothing. As a busy mama of 4 I dream of being bored most days, but now all I want is the comfort of the craziness of my home and family.

Yet here I am, finding myself in the unfamiliar territory of boredom which is leading me to check my facebook way more than usual.

What I am seeing/reading is just absolutely making me sick.

We are living in scary times there is no denying that, but I am seeing people on my friends list eating people alive with their words.

I hear the panic and the fear.

and I get it, believe me I get it. Every time I watch the news I vow that my children will never again leave the four walls of our house...

 but then I remember that I don't have to live in fear because I know the God who created the entire universe and holds it in His hand.

I remember that I say, I believe God is in control of my life and all of my days are in His hands.

My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me. Psalm 31:15

I remind myself what God has to say about fear...

There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered forever. They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear

It goes on to say... listen closely and let these truths crowd out the fear that's fighting to take root in your heart.

In the end they will look in triumph on their foes. They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor, their righteousness endures forever; their horn will be lifted high in honor. The wicked will see and be vexed, they will gnash their teeth and waste away; the longings of the wicked will come to NOTHING. Psalm 110:6-10

and I remember what the Bible has to say about evil...

Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans:12:21

And when I'm overcome with the weight of the brokenness and neediness of this world, I recall that Jesus broke down all of my responsibilities into two things...

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.  One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. Matthew 22:34-37

Both of those commands have something in common, did you catch it?


If you call yourself a follower of Jesus Christ then you are called to LOVE.

Radical LOVE

LOVE that reaches beyond our borders.

LOVE that is HARD.

What kind of lunatic would say we should love our... ENEMY??

But I tell you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matthew 5:44

That would be my Jesus...

My heart wants to scream. No Lord, that doesn't make any sense!!

 I need to fight my enemy.

 I need to do everything in my power to keep my enemy away.

And almost as soon as I think those things I'm reminded that I was once an enemy of the cross.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

When I was but an outcast with no way to reach the safety of God's holiness, Jesus risked it all and came to my rescue. By dying on the cross Jesus broke down every barrier of evil and on that day LOVE won forever.

This Jesus...

He just keeps wrecking the safe little world I keep trying to make for myself... my family.

When He calls us to radical love, He doesn't accept the excuse that we have enough on our plates already.

Because we have to believe that HE is ENOUGH.


Yes, we are American's and I do feel a responsibility to protect this great nation that I love, but first and foremost I am a follower of Christ and that should mean that I choose to LOVE every opportunity I get.

The purpose of terrorism is to instill terror in people.

And from what I'm seeing in my newsfeed, it's working right now.

My dear brothers and sisters...  If you call yourself a Christian, don't forget that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7 We don't have to panic and we don't have to fear bad news. We don't have to fear for our children's futures. If you're scared, cast your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

The world needs the hope we carry more now than every before and they are looking to us to see how we are responding. It saddens my heart so much that what they are seeing is fear, anger, and retaliation. Instead of love they are seeing panic and the outcry for walls of protection.

I get that we want to protect our country... our home... but even that goes against what we're called to as believers. 

 Our citizenship is in Heaven.

I am sorry, but I haven't seen anywhere in scripture where Jesus calls us to strive for safe lives. 

He calls us to lay down our lives in love for others...

Even when it's scary, even when it hurts, even when it may seem like it puts our family at risk...

but He promises that HE will be our REFUGE.

Not our country... HIMSELF. 

I know it's scary to look outside and see so much darkness, but take heart...

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

This is not the time to fight those who think differently than you. It's not the time to argue. 

This is not the time to live IN FEAR.

Now is the time to live OUT LOVE.

Now is the time to cling to hope and be ready to give an answer to everyone who see's that we have hope in the face of this great time of fear.
but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15

Gentleness and respect... also something I'm not seeing a lot of on social media right now.

I'm going to end this long post with one more thing that I just can't get around.

I keep hearing the argument from Christians that we shouldn't let refugees into our country because we can't even take care of the people/homeless we have right now.

I get this... it makes sense. 

There are great needs in our country right now... but my issue with this is... it conflicts with my personal experience with God's calling on my life.

When we first announced that we were going to travel across the ocean, adopt Ivan, and bring him home to America, we got some feedback that really surprised me.

Why do you need to go all the way over there to adopt, don't you know we have kids here in the states that need families.

Why do you need to fund raise for your adoption. If you don't have the money to adopt then you shouldn't be doing it. 

Aren't you scared for Landon? Ivan could have all sorts of issues. I know this one family that adopted a child who ended up being really violent.

 The words themselves were not surprising. I was mainly surprised by who said them...

People who claimed to be followers of Christ.

I thought about everything they said and to be honest, we were terrified to begin the adoption journey God called us to, but God was bigger than all those fears. We didn't have all the answers, but we knew if we met every unknown question with unconditional, radical love... the rest was in God's hands.

I feel like the answer to all the questions and concerns about welcoming refugees can be answered with unconditional, radical love.

Yes, our country has great needs already, but God is bigger than every need. We as Christians, need to open our hearts to hearing His voice about how we can meet the needs outside the walls of our homes, whatever they may be. 

Is there a chance that we could welcome a terrorist in with the refugees? 

Of course. 

There's always been a chance that a terrorist could be hiding next door, but we can't live in fear and we can't let fear drive our decisions and hold us back from being a refuge for those who are being persecuted. 

Just like how we couldn't let the fear that Ivan could grow up to be a serial killer keep us from making him a part of our family and saving his life.

Just like how I can't let the fear of someone bringing a gun to my child's elementary school keep me from putting him on the bus each morning.

Just like how I can't let my fear of passing semis on the interstate keep me from ever traveling anywhere.

Just like how we couldn't let our fear of losing our daughter drive us to refuse her heart the healing it needed.

This life is scary... God knows that and that is why He promises to walk with us through every fear, every trial, every tragedy, every moment of bad news that takes your breath away... He is our God and He is the God of the Fatherless, the widow, the brokenhearted, the poor, the homeless, the outcasts, the slave, and He is the God of the refugee.
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:17-18

The need will always be great.

Darkness will always be present.

God's LOVE will always be ENOUGH.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


It has been 4 whole days post surgery and what a whirlwind those 4 days have been.

The first day after surgery was just horrible. Baby girl was restless, angry, and scared out of her mind. It was so hard to watch her go through the pain and confusion.

The next day was SO much better. She was so exhausted from the day before that she just had no more energy left to fight. She was able to rest and just seemed much more calm. She kept us on our toes though. When I got back to her ICU room after getting lunch, we realized she was beginning to pull out her central line in her neck. This is a big deal since she was getting the majority of her meds through that line and it could cause some major complications if the line was pulled out completely. Within seconds 7 doctors were in her tiny little room rapidly putting their masks, gowns, and hats on, and spewing out medical jargon that quickly made me very nervous. They had to give Emma sedatives that knocked her out almost immediately.

Thankfully, she hadn't pulled her line out completely so they were able to just rewire it. The whole thing took about 45 min. and by the end of it I felt like I was ready to pass out. I don't think pregnant women are supposed to wear those masks because I felt like I couldn't breathe, but I couldn't bring myself to leave the room.

Once everything was fixed and it was clear that EmarieJoy was fine again, I walked back to the Ronald McDonald house, collapsed into my bed and tears just started flowing.

The incident with the central line reminded me how quickly everything can change. It is so hard to just stand at a distance and trust strangers to keep your baby safe and stable.

It was also a tough day because EmarieJoy just wasn't responding to things the way the doctors thought she should be. In the words of her surgeon, "she just isn't following the rules." She was fighting a fever since coming out of the OR so they were trying to figure out why and it seemed whenever they gave her meds to help her in one area her body would react in a way that it shouldn't. They just couldn't get her fever and her blood pressure under control.

She was kind of leaving the doctors scratching their heads so they started to think outside the box and looking into the possibility that Emma could have something else going on that we weren't aware of, making her body react in the way it was. So they called in an endocrinologist and an infectious disease specialist.

So the first two days after surgery were pretty tough for my little munchkin and maybe even harder on this mama.

Praise the Lord all the tests came back normal the next day, along with a good echo which confirmed that her heart wasn't having any complications from surgery.

Slowly all the things we were most concerned about started getting better. On Friday night her fever broke and all of a sudden her blood pressure started to stay where it should be on its own so they began weaning her off of the many blood pressure meds she was on.

Yesterday and today were full of PROGRESS!!

Before I left the hospital tonight they had just turned off the LAST med Emma was on. Today they were also able to remove the IV in her arm, her catheter, AND her oxygen!!!

All of the prayers for our sweet girl are definitely being answered! Her body did not react well to all the changes after surgery, but slowly it is adjusting and her little body is healing.

Her spunky joyful personality is also returning and it's the best thing ever to hear her laugh and see her smile again.

On Friday I tried holding her, but she was still kind of restless and upset.
She really perked up when she saw her great auntie and big cousins.
Today she FINALLY started to get her appetite back. She ate a little for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!!

She got to go on a couple wagon rides today. She was so happy to get out of her room for a while.
Playing with toys today

 We can't thank each of you enough for remembering our girl in your prayers. God's strength is carrying us through this emotional time and it's been so incredible to watch the healing take place these last couple days. We are really hoping to get EmarieJoy's chest tube out tomorrow and then it's just making sure her body can function on it's own. There's talk of us moving to the step down unit in the next couple days, but it sounds like they may just decide to keep Emma in the ICU so they can monitor her more and just discharge her from here.

My hope and prayer is that we can go home by the weekend. A couple days ago that didn't look possible, but our spunky girl has made so much progress these past couple days :)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Update on Emma

Yesterday was the first day after surgery and it was a tough one. Baby girl was very scared and restless. She didn't allow herself to sleep all day long.

I was so happy to come this morning and see a sleeping beauty.

She is much calmer today and dozing off and on just like she should be.

She has had a fever since coming out of surgery. They weren't too concerned yesterday, but since she still has one today they seem to be a little more concerned. During rounds this morning they discussed it and the possibility of infection or some kind of complication of the heart.

An echo was ordered to rule out any issue with her heart.

Thankfully, the echo looked "really good" so we were able to rule out any post surgery complication. Her temp is likely due to the little cold she had before surgery. It's nothing of major concern right now it will likely just keep us in the ICU a little longer as it's taking longer to wean her off all the meds and oxygen.

Thank you for all your prayers, support, and encouragement.

It is such a relief to see her resting today.

The plan for today is to try to lower her oxygen a little and maybe try to wean her off some meds, but it seems like they are wanting to just take things really slow so we'll see.

My sleeping beauty this morning

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Surgery Day

Well it's finally here... I've been dreading this day ever since we were told months ago that EmarieJoy would need open heart surgery to correct and repair her heart.

Even though we've been through this 3 times with Landon and we are familiar with how the routine goes, it never gets any easier.

I still feel numb and restless at the same time.

My baby isn't here with us right now and the next time I see her she will seem like an empty shell of the joyful spunky little girl we know and love... there's no getting around it... this is just hard, heartbreaking even.

There have been so many circumstances over the past year that have just seemed like too much to bear and this is definitely one of them.

We have no choice but to be brave and push through though.

We have three little boys that need us to be strong for them and a little girl who needs us to be brave for her now more than ever.

I am learning that so much of life is bitter sweet.

It's celebrations in the midst of suffering.

It's finding joy even in the middle of sorrowful, hard times.

It's finding out your daughter needs open heart surgery the same week you find out your holding another beautiful baby girl in your womb.

It's battling through hard financial times while at the same time experiencing eternal blessings on a daily basis.

I'm learning not to run from the trials we experience, but rather embrace them, knowing that they go hand in hand with the blessings and gifts God bestows on us. Maybe they even "are" the blessings and gifts at times.

Knowing this is true doesn't make the hard times any easier to bear though.

Trusting God with the outcome, doesn't shield my heart from the pain of the moment.

Thankfully God never tells us that faith is the absence of fear or that trust comes only when we aren't aware of the pain.

He knows this life is hard and unfair. He knows we are going to bleed from the pain of this world, it's going to hurt, and we're going to be left with scars.

He doesn't promise us a sedative to get through our time here, He promises us His presence.

His presence in the midst of the pain and heartbreak.

And that's the truth we cling to on days like today when the weight of this world's brokenness threatens to absolutely destroy our hearts and our joy.

These next 24 hours are going to be hard.

These next weeks are going to be hard.

We covet your prayers so much. Yes, prayers for healing. Yes, prayers for strength and bravery, but more than anything pray that we would be continually aware of God's presence in the midst of all this hard. We know He is the One holding our baby girl right now and we know she couldn't be in more capable hands.

Right before she was taken back to the OR

I know most of you are wondering what exactly Emma is having done today so I will try my best to explain it.

Today's surgery will hopefully accomplish 5 things.

They are patching a hole between her right and left ventricle and her right and left atrium

They are removing the pulmonary band she had placed when she had surgery in Ukraine and repairing the damage she has on her pulmonary artery

And they are sewing together a hole in her mitral valve.

If all goes as planned and there's no complications during or after surgery we were told that she shouldn't need anymore surgeries in the future.

This is a complex surgery and because of some of the repairs they are doing, they wont want to extubate her today like they normally would. They told us it will likely be two days before she's extubated which makes our recovery time longer as well. We were originally told she would be in the hospital 5 to 7 days for recovery and now it's 7 to 10 days.

Surgery began at 8:38a

I will try to keep updating the blog, but it's much easier to just update through facebook so I appologize for those of you who purely follow the blog.

We cannot thank you all enough for your support and love these last couple weeks. God's hand has been so evident this entire trip and even though we're scared and this is all hard to go through, we truly have a peace in knowing that God is in control.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Coming Soon to the Maxwell House...

 Two days ago was my 20 week appointment and ultra sound. Unfortunately Ryan couldn't get off work so we decided the next best thing to him being there and finding out if our 5th child is a boy or girl would be all of us finding out as a family.

So I told the ultra sound tech that I didn't want to know, but she could put the exciting results in an envelope.

It was so hard holding the envelope and not peaking. Luckily, soon I got called back to talk with my doctor. It was a very encouraging visit. She remembered me from when I was pregnant with Landon and wanted to hear all about how he is doing and how our family has grown since his birth.

She said she feels so blessed to play a small role in our families story and I told her she actually played quite a big role. She was the one who delivered the news that it looked like there was something wrong with Landon's heart and referred us to our cardiologist. I told her she changed our whole world that day, but it ended up being one of the biggest blessings because it led us down the road of special needs parenting and adoption. 

It was a beautiful moment to get to share with her how so much beauty came out of such a devastating time.

After we had caught up and she had gawked over pics of the kids, she went on to tell me that the littlest Maxwell seems to have "perfect anatomy". I don't really like the term since all of our children are perfect in our eyes, but I breathed a sigh of relief that hopefully this baby's time in my womb and first days in this world will be much less traumatic than Landon's were.

Everything looks great and baby is measuring over a week bigger than expected, but for now we're keeping the due date Feb. 23rd.

After my appointment I went straight to the cupcake shop to drop of our special envelope so they could make cupcakes for our family gender reveal party the next day.

Ryan picked up the cupcakes over his lunch break yesterday and after Ivan's therapy we went home to have our little party. Ryan wouldn't even let us eat dinner first since the suspense was killing him!

So we ate our dessert first and...

Coming soon to the Maxwell house.....

More PINK!!!!

Yep, come February us Maxwell girls wont be quite so outnumbered!!

I think Emma approves!!

 and so do all the adoring brothers

They're all screaming "yay another sissy!!"

 Daddy and mama couldn't be more thrilled either!!

Baby GIRL Maxwell (20 weeks)

Photo bomb blur courtesy of Landon Anthony (excited big brother)

Monday, September 28, 2015

2 Months Forever Home

Where do I even start?!?

I've thought about sitting down and writing a blog update so many times in the past month, but every time I just didn't feel ready.

Our family has gone through such a transformation and my heart and mind still seem to be trying to process it all.

How do I even begin to describe some of the blissfully beautiful moments we've shared since bringing home our newest two and I'm at a loss for words that could adequately paint the picture of some of the long, dark days we've found ourselves treading through.

People ask us all the time how we are doing and I'm usually quick to respond that we are doing really well... and we ARE doing really well, but that doesn't mean life isn't back breaking hard some days, those hard moments are just overshadowed by the redemption that we see taking place.

We're finding beauty mixed into our brokenness and strength in the midst of our great weakness.

For those of you who follow my blog you know that we did not feel ready when God made it clear we were supposed to adopt again and not just one, but TWO more children.

I was very honest about the season of weakness that God had us walking in throughout our adoption process, but He came through every step of the way and continually confirmed that this was His will for our family. Then we met our two lovies and it seemed they would fit perfectly... we started to breathe again, plan again (an adoption is all consuming), and then before we even had our two little ones home God revealed a different plan (yet again!) for our family.


I'm not going to lie, I struggled with accepting this blessing.

I was jet lagged, overwhelmed by the thought of two more children let alone THREE. I was sick as a dog and still had to pull myself together to fly across the ocean, live in a foreign country, remove my children from everything they've ever known and then come home to a completely new life all the while trying to nurture and grow the life inside of me.

It just felt like WAY. TO. MUCH.

We were already past the point of crazy to the world let's just add another baby to the mix.

I was angry and confused and felt terrible guilt because of my feelings about this pregnancy.

For the first couple months I didn't want to be pregnant and yet I lived in fear of losing this baby.

For those of you who don't know. Last year we had another surprise pregnancy that ended in a miscarriage at 6 weeks.

The craziest thing is this baby and the precious baby we lost, their due dates are only 3 days apart. We were so hurt and confused by the miscarriage, but it was what God used to open our eyes to adoption again and only one year after losing our little one, God has blessed us with THREE more children.

That is just insane!!

ONLY God could write a story this crazy and beautiful.

But I must say, it doesn't always "feel" beautiful.

A lot of the time it just feels hard and we just have to focus on getting through the day that's set before us.

 The first month being home was really hard. Over all the kids have adjusted remarkably well, but it has not been easy. Gresham has really struggled to let go of the harmful and destructive behaviors that were the norm in the orphanage he grew up in. We knew that the environment he grew up in was far from healthy, but we didn't realize the extent of the abuse he suffered until getting him home. There were days when it seemed his ambition in life was just to destroy our home and physically harm those around him. This is a 4 year old boy who knows how to charm the socks off of everyone, but can flip like a switch into more of a rebellious teenager who doesn't seem to need anyone and has walls around his heart that seemed impenetrable.

He would go back and forth from pushing us away to needing to be under our feet constantly, both of which were hard to handle, especially as a pregnant, sick, exhausted mama with 3 other kiddos who needed care and correction.

Thankfully I can tell you that Gresham's behaviors have improved dramatically and seem to keep improving by the day. He is such a smart boy and understands almost everything we say now. He is using a lot of english words and he is learning that he has a voice that he can use rather then just using aggression and anger to get his needs met.

It's a beautiful thing!!

Something miraculous also happened as I hit around 13 weeks of this pregnancy... I started to breathe again.

My constant nausea went away and my raging hormones settled down. Soon after I started feeling better our family dynamic changed yet again as Ivan is now in kindergarten most of the day.

It was SO hard to let him go and we still miss him during the day, but I can't deny that him going to school has been the best thing for him right now and the best thing for our family. It has allowed me to have more time to focus on Gresham and our attachment. It is a full time job correcting such ingrained behaviors. We are learning how to help Gresh rewire his brain and replace all the unhealthy impulsive behaviors with healthy ones, but these things don't change overnight and even though his memories will eventually fade, there will likely always be demons from his past he will need to fight to overcome. This is just the reality that comes with such immense trauma and neglect.

Prolonged trauma begins to cover up the real child and it will take a lot of time, effort, and unconditional love to slowly chip away all the crap that has built up over our sweet boy throughout the 4 years of his life.

God has used Gresham to grow me and Ryan in more ways than I can describe with mere words. This little boy has challenged our faiths and our sanity more than any of our children, but with the greatest challenges often come the greatest blessings.

We are learning unconditional love on another level than we've had to before. With our other adopted children attachment was instant. That hasn't been the case with Gresham.

Those words are hard to admit, but I know it's so important to share the truth of adoption. It isn't all fuzzy feelings and love at first sight. It's extremely hard to feel love and compassion for a child who seems to purposely hurt you and knows how to manipulate those around him and push every one of your buttons.

One of my friends and fellow adoptive parent described it in such a beautiful way. She said, "adoption is not like the birth of a child it's more like a marriage." When a mother births a child the attachment is instant. There are no hurt feelings between mama and baby, only love and dependence. In an adoption, especially one of an older child, it's two individuals coming together and bringing all the pain of their past and dysfunction. In a marriage, love has to be a daily choice. Surrender and self sacrifice doesn't always come easily, especially if one of the individuals feels hurt by the other. A good marriage takes time to build.

Me and Gresham have had some really hard days together, but I can honestly say I am truly falling in love with this boy. Not just the instant love I felt for him when I saw his picture and God whispered into my heart that he was ours or even the love I felt overcome me when I held his tiny little self for the first time.

It's a love that has come through overcoming feelings of doubt and guilt.

A love that has been building through purposeful play and choosing closeness and compassion when everything in me is screaming to keep my distance and put up walls between us.

A love being built through prayer and desperation for something way bigger than me.

The love between us has been fought for it's not something that found us on it's own.

This kind of love digs deep roots and it's growing into something so very beautiful.

I wouldn't trade the hard times for anything now because they have brought us to this point and the love I'm falling into with this boy is so wild. This love is teaching me more about my Jesus and the wild love He has for His children.

We are seeing Jesus winning.

We're seeing light break through where there once was darkness in his eyes.

We're hearing victories cries in spontaneous "I love you's" and "I'm sorry's."

We're seeing manipulation and fear giving way to trust.

He's learning he doesn't have to control his surroundings, but that he can just let go and be a four year old boy. He's becoming free to do the things that he never got to experience because he always had to be on high alert.

The other day I sat by our window and watched Gresham and Landon playing outside as I fed EmarieJoy her breakfast. I was so overcome by the sight that I started to cry.

Just a month ago I couldn't leave Gresham alone for more than a couple minutes outside because he would throw rocks at our house, our dog, or even Landon, but yesterday I watched in amazement as this once high alert child played calmly with his brother.

He was so content.

He wasn't on the lookout for what he could do/destroy to get my attention.

Still clothed in the pajama's we put him in the night before after a long bath time of splashing and playing with Landon (which now seemed pointless as they were both covered in dirt), followed by bedtime snuggles, Bible stories, joined hands and thanksgiving for another day. Now those pj's were kneeled down in the dirt, using a toy tractor as his tool, digging a big hole in our yard with his brother by his side.

This is where healing happens.

It's in the midst of the mundane.

It's in the moments we so often take for granted, but are foreign territory for our children who only know the dysfunctional structure of a sterile institution.

There is just no replacement for a home and no substitute for a family.

It is absolutely amazing to me that we have only had these children in our family for two months and the dramatic change we are already seeing in Gresham. Most of the time, life just happens, but then there's those moments where the Holy weight of it all about knocks you over. Just last weekend we laid all the kids down for rest time after lunch and I was cleaning up a few toys when I walked by Gresham's bedroom door and heard it... singing! I peaked into the room and there was the little boy who just a month prior would scream and thrash around in his bed when we laid him down. There was so much fear asociated with night time/nap time's because he had always been drugged to sleep and had absolutely no idea how to calm himself and fall asleep on his own. Sometimes he would get out of bed and throw everything he could get his little hands on, sometimes he would even go over to EmarieJoy (they are sharing a room for the time being so they are both right across from our bedroom) and pinch her until she cried so I would come into the room. It was horrible!!  For close to a month Emma had to sleep in our room in the pack and play so there was no chance of him hurting her.

Now just a month later to see that little boy laying peacefully on his bed singing some song made up of english, ukrainian, and gibberish just made my heart melt. He is learning that he is safe now and he doesn't need to be afraid.

He is learning how to relax and rest which is such a HUGE thing that we totally take for granted.

He has lived the majority of his life in constant fight or flight mode and it's such a scary thing for him to let his guard down, but he's doing it. We are so proud of our brave little boy and we give God all the the glory because this kind of healing is WAY beyond us.

He loves the teddy bear he got from Grandpa and Grandma Max

Eating ice cream cake and celebrating Ivan's birthday

Watching the rain. Since they weren't dressed yet for the day they went out in their undies to splash in the puddles and mud after it stopped.

Appointment day with mom!

Another appointment day. He's holding a picture of the eye doctor we were waiting to see.

Everyday at the same time, they pull up their chairs to the window and watch for Ivan's bus to bring him home.

They had such a blast with this box. Landon would pull Gresham around and then want Gresham to pull him, but he is a little too heavy for tiny Gresh haha

It's moments like these where healing takes place and I just can't believe I am so blessed to have these children in my life.

playing at the park

Making cookies together!!

And then there's our little EmarieJoy...


We say sometimes that she is our kiss from Heaven because there is just nothing on earth that really compares to the joy she radiates and the joy she spreads.

She is everything we ever dreamed of in a daughter and so much more.

I often think how different our family would be if we wouldn't have added her to our adoption.

If we wouldn't of inquired about her because TWO more children just seemed crazy at the time.

I can't even imagine our life without her now. Even on the hardest days where we were at our whits end with Gresham's behaviors, Landon's strong will, and Ivan's constant needs, she somehow always brings joy and beauty into the crazy of our life.

It just takes one of her smiles to remind my heart of the goodness of God.

This spunky little princess has blessed our life beyond measure.

Her adjustment into our family has been nothing short of miraculous.

It's as if she waved good-bye to orphanage life on gotcha day and hasn't looked back once.

It is so obvious that she loves being in a family and just loves her new life.

At the orphanage she spent all day, EVERY day sitting either in a stroller propped up against a wall or if she was lucky she got to crawl around a big crib like structure, with just a board of plywood for the bottom, with about 6 other babies in it.

To this day, whenever she is sitting, she will still rock profusely back and forth because it's the only stimulation she had for 2 1/2 years.

Now she spends her days crawling around the house (yes, even getting into the dog food!!), going to the park and running errands with mama, playing with her siblings and her very own toys, eating three meals a day and a bunch of snacks, and getting smothered with snuggles and kisses.

After only a couple days home, she began pulling up to standing all by herself.

Solid food was completely unknown to her before coming home. All of her meals were this greyish brown mush mixture, similar to like a baby oatmeal consistency, given to her through a bottle.

She is now in love with food and will eat basically anything. At first we had to be very careful with what we gave her because the concept of chewing was completely unknown. Now at two months home, it seems she has mastered it and today she was even taking bites, purposefully chewing, and swallowing apple slices. We just can't believe how quickly she is mastering these challenging skills!!  She is also mastering drinking with a straw which is a HUGE accomplishment!! She is having to use muscles in her mouth she's never used before, but she is such a determined thing and she just LOVES when we praise her for her accomplishments.

First time drinking with a straw all by herself. Can you tell she was a little proud of herself?
She is babbling more and more and now says mama very intentionally. She has also said dada and baba (bottle). She now signs "more" perfectly and we're beginning to work on other signs.

We have been blown away at how quickly she is learning and picking up on things. She watches everything we do and is learning so much just in our daily family life.

For the first month home she didn't want anything to do with her brothers because her only past experience with children was negative. Even the babies in the orphanage were aggressive towards each other, it was just heartbreaking. So she kept her distance from the other kids for a while and if they did come near her she would usually push them away or pinch them.

Now she will crawl over to them, watch what their doing, and even try to join in their play. Landon absolutly adores her and they have really bonded.

Every morning he begs to be the one to wake sissy up. He will go into her room and say "good morning princess!!" in his high little voice of admiration. It's the cutest thing ever and EmarieJoy always greets him with one of her giant smiles.

My two blondies watching leap frog together, such a special bond between them.
play time!!
Ivan wanted to hold sissy one day and surprisingly she was fine with it. She got a little annoyed with all the kisses eventually though.
We thank God every day for our perfect little princess.

If any of you reading this feel God leading you to add a second child to your adoption, please, please, please, prayerfully consider it. Our little "add on" has brought more joy into our family then we could of ever imagined. Of course it's an extra mouth, an extra car seat, and more appointments, but none of that matters when we imagine the hole our family would have without her and where she would be today if she was not in our family.

First time pulling up to standing

First taste of chocolate (this was before she was put on a low sodium diet)

Taking a snooze in the Tula at the zoo

Her expressions crack me up!!

Snuggle time with mama while brothers nap

She just loves being loved
She LOVES swinging!!

Okay now for an update on where the kids are at in regards to their health and appointments we have coming up.

When we brought home Gresh and Emma we were expecting Gresham to have a heart surgery in his future since he had many heart defects listed in his records. We were told EmarieJoy's heart had been corrected so we weren't too concerned, but still knew that both children needed heart echo cardiograms.

After only a couple weeks home I took both kiddos to see our pediatrician and she was concerned with EmarieJoy's breathing so she ordered a chest x-ray. When she looked at the results she got a very concered look on her face and I began to brace myself for bad news. "It appears her heart is failing." were her exact words.

In that moment my heart went into shock, but as any mama knows, you have to just keep going, so we rushed to the hospital right away for an emergency echo.

We found out that her heart is indeed very enlarged and if she wouldn't have had the surgery she had in Ukraine, she would not be alive today, but unlike what we were told, the surgery was only a temporary fix and she will need another open heart surgery to correct it completely. This will be a high risk surgery and needs to be done before the end of the year. We were also told that because this surgery is so risky, there's a chance that the surgeon's will decide that it cannot be corrected, in which case her only option would be to get put on the waiting list for a heart transplant.

So right now we're just waiting to hear back on when and where we need to take our little angel. She was also put on a low sodium diet which has helped relieve some of the pressure in her heart and therefore her breathing has improved. She still breaths heavily sometimes and likely will until after this coming surgery.

After that day our world was pretty shaken. I watched Emma like I hawk, didn't allow her to eat any sodium (which she HATED as she went from eating everything we did, including cake pops on occasion, to basically oatmeal and fruit.), and I constantly lived in fear that her heart could fail at any second. It was a very scary time, but one that made us refocus and choose to cherish every beautiful moment with our loved ones.

You just never know when the news that will shatter your whole world could hit you. As a heart mom, I always imagined how I would feel if I ever had to hear the words "heart transplant". There really isn't anything that can prepare you for it. Thankfully, we still have hope that there's a surgeon out there somewhere who will agree to fixing her heart.

I remember a couple days after receiving that terrifying news, just holding Emma tightly in my arms and standing in the middle of our kitchen, just bawling my eyes out. On one hand, I was so overwhelmed with gratitude that God led us to adopt this precious child exactly when we did. Who knows how much longer she could of lived in the orphanage environment she was in without any medical intervention for her heart. Then on the other hand I was just absolutely terrified of the thought of losing this child we had just been given.

You wouldn't possibly give us this precious gift only to take her away, would You? was just one of the hard questions I threw at God during that scary time.

The hardest part was I already knew the answer before I even thought it.

The truth is we have no guarantees.

God doesn't have to bring health, wealth, and happiness our way just because we said yes to Him. We say yes to God knowing that at any second He can give and at any second He can take away.

This is a hard truth...

and in that moment I just clung to my precious daughter and sobbed at the mere thought of ever losing her this side of heaven.

A lot of days have separated that moment in the middle of my kitchen and this present one. I no longer think constantly about Emma's breathing or how purplish her skin may look at any given moment. These are always things I'm aware of, but one of the most beautiful things that parenting children with special needs has taught me, is that you can still live a joyful and radiant life in the midst of the fear and pain. We make it our goal to cherish every moment with each of our children, knowing that they truly belong to God and every moment is a blessing and gift from Him.

Besides her heart EmarieJoy seems to be pretty healthy. She still has not gained any weight, but we've been told that is due to the fact that her heart is working so hard right now.

One of her hips is a little out of the socket so we have an appointment scheduled next month with an ortho, but other than that she is the happiest most content little girl and you would never know her heart is so fragile right now.

Then there is our sweet tiny Gresham...

He was diagnosed with failure to thrive at his first visit with our pediatrician. Both of the kids were so far below 0 on the BMI chart for children their age, they would of been around -50% if there was such a thing.

We were told that the answers to why Gresham is so small will likely be discovered with time, so our pediatrician sent us home and said if in 3 weeks he hasn't gained anything then we would run a bunch of tests and start talking with other specialists.

Thankfully 3 weeks later at our follow up Gresh had put on 2 whole pounds!! Our pediatrician was almost as happy as I was!! So for now, the plan is to just treat him like any other little boy and get as many healthy nutrients into him each day as possible.

At this point, malnurishment seems to be the biggest hurdle our little guy has in front of him.

We were told at his heart echo that his heart is practically PERFECT!! He has a small ASD but nothing that our cardiologist anticipates will cause him any harm. PRAISE GOD!! I can't tell you how relieved I was to hear that, especially after the unexpected news regarding EmarieJoy's heart.

His appointment with our opthamologist also went better then we could of imagined. We were told that surprisingly Gresham's eye sight is wonderful and all he should need is surgery to correct the ptosis (droopy eyelids) which we're hoping we can get done next month.

So besides Emma's heart, our children seem to be amazingly healthy, considering their past neglect and have such bright futures in front of them.

I'm not going to lie though, the appointments get to be very exhausting. I counted a while back and we squeezed 13 appointments into a two week span last month. That's on top of therapy, work, and any other stuff we have on a regular basis.

We are hoping that with getting as many appointments out of the way right away, our calendar will hopefully empty out a little before the holidays are upon us.

Well I think that about covers it. I've been working on this blog post for close to a month now so I'm pretty proud to be posting it before another month goes by and I'd have to go back and change 2 to 3 months home :)

Again, there is really no way that I could thank each of you enough for your support and love for our family. We are fully aware that our family would not be where we are today if it wasn't for the selfless generosity of others, some whom I will never meet this side of Heaven.


I will never understand why God chose us to be the bearers of such great blessings and crazy adventures, but it's been the support of our real life families, this blog family, our church family, and the small close tribe of people that God has placed in our lives that give us the courage to keep giving, keep fighting for the least of these, and to keep sharing our story.

To God be the glory for the redemption that has already taken place and the miraculous transformations yet to come.

Gresham Allister, 2 months forever HOME.

EmarieJoy Juliet, 2 months forever HOME

Lastly, I think it goes without saying, but please keep our EmarieJoy's heart in your prayers. Pray for miraculous healing. Pray for God to lead us to the right surgeon and for wisdom and guidance for whoever that may be.