Friday, December 28, 2012

Getting the Christmas I Wanted

This year we got a little closer to the type of Christmas I want for my kids, and we did it by celebrating Advent as a family.

You know, I don't get upset by a lot of things that seem to really bother some Christians. I don't care one iota if the cashier at Target says "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" to me. I really don't. But I do want Christ to reign in my heart and the hearts of my kids. All year long. And I can't help but notice how hard it is for Jesus to compete with Santa and presents and all the glitz and glamour of Christmas each year.

Some of my friends deal with this by just banning Santa, and I respect their decision. But I'm not sure that just removing Santa causes our children to truly treasure Jesus in their hearts. Honoring Christ at Christmas has to involve more than just the removal of the secular.

Starting the fourth Sunday before Christmas this year, each evening we gathered as a family around the table and lit the Advent candles. (Because Advent wasn't part of my religious tradition growing up, I had to do some research on the order of the candles and such.) Lighting the candles added mystery and significance to our time. Then, in the flickering candlelight, I read a chapter from Jotham's Journey, historical fiction about a Jewish shepherd boy living in Israel at the time of the Messiah's birth. Each night, the story ended with a cliffhanger.

My children know the biblical Christmas story well, so they had fun following the fictional Jotham on his journey. We met characters, both biblical and fictional, who shared the longing the Jewish people had for the Messiah's appearance. We saw the story through fresh eyes. A little bit each night. By candlelight.

And the comments were priceless.

"Mom, if Jesus hadn't come, we wouldn't have any way to get to heaven -- Right?"

And from Nathan, the oldest, "Mom, did you notice that the angels said they had good news of great joy for all people? I think the angel was saying the gospel was for all people all around the world, don't you?"

"Wenxin, have you invited Jesus into your heart? Because I really want to be with you in heaven."

We still watched Rudolph, and we pretended that Santa stuffed stockings and brought new bikes and a remote control helicopter and a camera.

But Jesus held the special place of honor. . . each night. . . by candlelight.

And on Christmas morning someone said, "Hey Mom, don't you think we should burn the Christ candle all day long?"

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Shared at "Hear it on Sunday. Use it on Monday."

Monday, December 24, 2012

Cutting it Close (and a linky party)

Does this make me a bad parent?

Here's how it all started this year. Because I had a torn tendon in my ankle, the kids climbed the ladder and decorated the tree. The torn tendon actually gave me an excuse to slow down, and I anticipated a more relaxed, layed back Christmas this year.

Then, a week into December, our only working car died. . . died permanently -- as in, died for the last time. Died, as in, "Oh great, now we get to buy a new car that we didn't exactly budget for."

So. . .much of this December has been spent praying for God's wisdom and provision, crunching numbers, and shopping for a car. Add in a scary medical procedure for Mike, a thirteenth birthday for Nathan, and a weekend soccer tournament for Julia, and I 've found myself wondering what happened to my dreams of slowing down and savoring Christmas this year.

Finally, two days ago, I got a beautiful, new (new to me, that is) van -- just in time for Christmas. It is so pretty. . . it runs so quietly. . it seats 8. Merry Christmas to me!

I confess, I'm still shopping today. I've never cut it this close before. But it's a lot more fun to cut it close when you're driving around town in your new car.

I'm linking up today with We Are Grafted In's Adoption and Christmas Linky Party. Take a moment to link to a post you wrote over the last month: anything relating to adoption and Christmas. Browse the other posts. You might even find a new blog to follow.

I've got one more Christmas related post up my sleeve. I want to share how my family celebrated Advent this year. Gathering around the table each night for a story by candlelight was a favorite part of this season for each one of us. This little tradition has truly prepared our hearts to celebrate Christ's birth, grounding us a little, even with the busy-ness of the season. Maybe I'll write about it tonight, after everyone is in bed, and all the presents are under the tree.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Why the Christmas Picture is Totally Worth It. . .

Every year the kids get a little bigger. . . Mike gets a little grayer. . . and I get a little blonder. Here's a look at our family through the years.

Christmas 2006

Christmas 2007

Christmas 2009

Christmas 2010

Christmas 2011

Christmas  2012

Thankful for the blessing of family this Christmas.

Little by Little

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bloggers with a Personal Connection to Newtown

A mom of a son with a violent mental illness. . . an adoptive  mom who also happens to be a psychologist. . . a homeschool mom who fell in love with Newtown and moved her whole family there . . . and a first mom who used to wonder where the child she relinquished was every time tragedy struck. These blog posts, by bloggers with personal insights to the Newtown tragedy, have helped me process things this week.

I am Adam Lanza's Mother - What would you do if your son had a violent mental illness and no one would help?

The Inconvenient Truth About Mental Health and Gun Control - Is it better mental health care. . . or gun control?

Newtown as I Know It - What would it be like to live in Newtown?

Were Any of the Children Killed at Newtown Adopted? - What goes through the mind of a mom who relinquished her baby for adoption when she hears the news from Newtown?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Which Words Would You Pick?

I made this graphic last night on Wordle, and I really like how it turned out.

If you were to describe your family or your adoption journey with a bunch of random words, which words would be sure to make the list?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Newtown - Searching for Truth

Heavy sighs.

Tearful eyes.

Searching for words.

Longing for Truth.

My heart has hurt ever since I turned on the TV Friday and learned the extent of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

As a mom, I know the deep hurt of losing a child, albeit from very different circumstances. I'm certain all those families are walking around today in a heavy fog of grief. My heart hurts for them.

As a Christian, God's Word is the rock I run to when faced with evil and suffering and seemingly unanswerable questions. This morning, longing for some truth to cling to, I found an article written by John Piper -- first as a response to Columbine and later updated in response to September 11. The mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary is a tragedy of those proportions.

This is not a light reflection on the events. It's a collection of scripture references for Christians seeking to minister to others and seeking to think biblically when facing great evil . . . great tragedy. . . great loss. If your heart is longing for stability, truth and comfort in light of Friday's events, I urge you to take a look at John Piper's article, How Shall We Minister to People?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Holiday Traditions Celebrating Our Adopted Kids

What to do about the Christmas ornaments? Believe it or not, that question weighed on my mind back in 2010 as we prepared to travel to China.

When my first child was born in 1999, my mom started a Christmas tradition. Each year, she gives each grandchild a personalized engraved pewter ornament.  Eventually, I even bought a small tree especially for the children's ornaments. They have a lot of fun each year when we pull out their individual collections and let them decorate their tree. The older the child, the more ornaments they have.

Anticipating 7 1/2 year old Wenxin's first Christmas in our family, I wanted him to have an ornament collection as well. 

Deep inside, I wished my mom would think about catching him up and volunteer to buy him an ornament for each Christmas of his life. I wanted her to get it. But intellectually, I knew I was being unrealistic. For one thing, it would be very expensive.  And I knew she wouldn't see the point. For all the other kids, she started buying ornaments when they entered our family. Why should she buy Wenxin ornaments for all the years he wasn't here? I decided this was a need for me,as his mom, to meet.

But was it really even a need? I wasn't sure, however some gut instinct told me that this family tradition had the potential to make Wenxin feel like an outsider.

Family traditions are just like family stories. They're one of the things that separates the insiders from the outsiders. I had this nagging feeling that Wenxin needed a collection of ornaments that celebrated his life to feel a part of our family tradition.

Christmas 2010, Grammy gave Wenxin his first personalized ornament from her. It was just like the one that Nathan, Julia, and Katherine received that year, and it was very special. I also bought two beautiful picture frame ornaments and inserted a couple of my favorite photos of Wenxin, bringing his collection to three. Then, on the day we decorated the children's tree, I brought out  a set of beautiful cloisonne ornaments from our trip to China and gave them to Wenxin. Just like my other kids have ornaments from Grammy that celebrate each year of their lives, Wenxin has a beautiful set of ornaments that celebrate his life in the country of his birth. He couldn't be prouder.

Linking up at WMFW.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

When You Fall in Love with a Photo

Back in 2009, I fell in love with a photo . . . and that photo changed my life.

Today I'm honored to be a guest blogger at Love Without Boundaries. I'm talking about older child adoption and things to keep in mind when you fall in love with the photo of a waiting child. Come on over for the rest of the story.

Saturday, December 8, 2012


Do you use Pinterest?

I love Pinterest, but I try to use it purposefully. I don't think it's a good use of my time to sit at my computer, mindlessly "pinning" for hours. But used intentionally, it's a great tool.

I just updated two Pinterest boards I thought you might like: Art Projects for Kids and Older Child Adoption Resources. Take a look!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Behaving Badly at Christmas: Is it about Adoption?


Thank you so much for your encouraging response to my last post, It's Jesus' Birthday, and He Doesn't Mind. One thing I'm getting from your comments is that large gatherings with extended family are a big challenge at this time of year.

I think there are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, the big Christmas celebration with extended family is usually festive chaos to the extreme -- lots of people, lots of food, lots of noise, lots of gifts -- and for some of our kids, it can push them over the edge.

The second reason it's hard is that if our kids should melt down at a big family gathering, it's easy for people who aren't familiar with parenting kids with a background of trauma to offer lots of "unhelpful" advice. We, the parents, find ourselves trying to explain their behavior and our responses to people who think a good swat on the bottom would solve everything.

When our kids are "behaving badly" it's easy for folks to wonder, "Is that really adoption related. . . or not?" Sometimes we wonder the same thing.

Here's a short video from Empowered to Connect that addresses the question.

Encouraging you to remember where your child has come from this Christmas. Keep parenting with wisdom and compassion!

Check out Our Adoption Toolbox for more older child adoption tools.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

It's Jesus' Birthday, and He Doesn't Mind

Dear Adoptive Moms - especially those of you who adopted older kids who came with a truckload of trauma -- I have something I need to say.

Jesus doesn't want His birthday celebration this year to cause you stress. He doesn't want you to lose ground in attachment with your adopted child because you have to go all out to celebrate His big day. It's OK with Him if you scale way back. . .or just stay home. . . or even skip the whole thing -- although that's probably not necessary. It's Jesus' birthday, and He doesn't mind.

Aunt Susie, on the other hand. . . Aunt Susie wants you at the family Christmas dinner. Aunt Susie is going to die if you mess with the way your family has always celebrated Christmas. But Jesus understands your situation in a way that Aunt Susie probably never will. And Jesus is on your side.

My family is keeping Christmas simple this year -- just like we have for the last two years since Wenxin came home. The first year was just our immediate family. Then last year, we stayed home, but Grandma came to our house to celebrate with us. This year we'll stay home again and travel to visit cousins the week after Christmas. Our families have been understanding, but I know that's not always the case.

So why do the holidays seem to be so hard for internationally adopted older kids? Why do meltdowns increase as the decorations go up? And is there any way to help our extended families understand?

I suppose there are lots of reasons why Christmas is hard on our kids. The first thing that comes to my mind is CHANGE. Most of our kids do better with structure and predictability. But Christmas is a season of festive chaos. Decorations = Change. Parties = Change. Guests = Change. Gifts = Change. For most of our kids, even happy change is stressful.

Children home less than a year are still learning language so they have the added stress of trying to figure out what the heck is going on without the language skills to communicate on a deep level. Just what we need -- added stress.

Then there's the fact that adoption issues are magnified during the holidays. Just the other day, we decorated a small tree with personalized ornaments that belong to all my kids. 3 of my kids have ornaments that say Baby's First Christmas with the date. They all know that Grammy bought the ornaments for them when they were babies. As they pulled them out, I heard it three different times.

"Oh look! Here's my Baby's First Christmas ornament!"

Wenxin doesn't have one. Of course he had a first Christmas. But it was far away and filled with loss. Thoughts of Baby's First Christmas have the potential to raise lots of questions for him. What about his first mom? Why couldn't she keep him? There's more to it than everyone else having an ornament that he doesn't have.

While language difficulties become less of an issue the longer our kids are home, I think that dealing with adoption related questions will be a lifelong process. And there's something about the holidays that seems to make all of us miss people we've lost.

Which brings me to the main reason I think the holidays are hard for our kids who were adopted as older children. Underlying everything, they all have a history of trauma.

No older child is available for adoption because he's had a good life.

As we parent them, we gain an appreciation for how much they've suffered and how far they come. Sometimes, to protect their privacy, we don't tell the harder parts of their stories. So while we celebrate each step forward and are impressed with how far they've come, it's easy for our extended family members (who may not know the whole story) to lose patience. It can seem like this adopted child, a newcomer to the family scene, is suddenly ruining Christmas for everyone.

This child has a loving family now. Can't we all just move on?

Let me answer that question with a hypothetical situation -- a situation so scary it's hard for me to write.

Suppose that a year ago, Julia, my ten year old daughter, had been abducted by a stranger. Imagine the trauma for her. Imagine the trauma for us.

Then suppose that nine months later, Julia was rescued and returned to us physically unharmed.

Now here's my question. Would anyone expect Julia to just jump back into normal life? Would anyone believe that being reunited with her family would wipe away the trauma of the last nine months? Would family members understand if we had to stay close to home because crowds made her nervous? Would people give us grace?

I'm certain they would.

So why is it different for our adopted kids? Why do people not "get it" when it comes to their trauma?

I think there's a simple answer. People don't get it because the trauma in our adopted kids' lives happened before they knew them. For most people, their starting point with our kids is when we adopted them. They don't remember that every adoption begins with loss.

It's easy to forget.

So give Aunt Susie some grace. If she really understood, she'd probably want you to do whatever it takes to help your adopted child heal. And it's OK to do it all or keep it small as you remember the birth of Christ this year. Feel free to celebrate Jesus' birthday in whatever unconventional way fits your family at this stage. After all, Jesus was never conventional. He'll probably love it!

I'd love for you to comment on how you navigate the holidays. How do you meet your child's needs while being sensitive to the desires and expectations of other family members? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts! Comments make my day.

Check out Our Adoption Toolbox for more older child adoption tools.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

This is NOT our Christmas Card Photo!

But it was a finalist!

(Maybe one day I'll blog about the futility of trying to take an outdoor Christmas card photo of a family of six on a very windy day.)

Next week, I'll be blogging about navigating the holidays with newly adopted kids. Is there anything you think I should address? Leave a comment.