Monday, October 29, 2012

The Transition

Our Ghana adoptions have had some very unique aspects and I wanted to share about those today…

As we’ve been out and about the past few days (two of JJ’s basketball games, Kingdom Cares Fundraiser/Kingdom Hoops Kick-off, church) a lot of people have remarked that our girls seem so well-adjusted and content to be with us. They are nothing less than shocked of how quickly the girls have just ‘fit right in’. I am amazed myself. This morning we got to church early and on time. I saw one of my friends in the hallway and she said, “I didn’t expect to see you here so early!” I responded with, “I didn’t either!”

Another friend said, “Wow! I can’t believe how you just look like a normal family walking down the hallway like you’ve done this a hundred times. Everyone is just happy, calm, and collected!”

On our plane rides it was interesting because I started to realize that onlookers had NO CLUE that we were bringing our girls home on this trip. People thought that we had already been a family. I realized this when I struck up a conversation with two different flight attendants and a couple of passengers on our first two flights. One of the flight attendants asked, “Where is your family headed today?” When I explained where we had been, that our adoption had completed and we were bringing our girls home for the first time she was astonished! “No way! They are so good with you. They already act like they are your daughters!” After she said that it hit me why none of the flight attendants had offered us ‘wings’ for the girls yet (the little pins that you get when it is your first time flying). They didn’t realize that this was our homecoming trip!

We received a lot of similar remarks at our Kingdom Cares event on Friday evening. Although we were around crowds of people, Jasara was absolutely zoned in on me. We played tons of games of peek-a-boo, I chased her on the courts and would catch her and tickle her, as I talked to people she played around my legs holding onto them tightly. When I was holding her and others would try to talk to her she would look up at me to see how to respond. If she was running on the courts and someone tried to talk to her she would come right back over to me. A few people held out their arms to hold her, and each time she would clearly deny their invitation by leaning back into me and turning her head away from them. This was also the first time that we were around a lot of Africans since we’d been in Ghana, and her response was consistent. She would look at them if they talked to her, but she wouldn’t go to them. She only wanted Mommy.

Jennifer ran around with a pack of girls at the event, returning to me a few times to ‘check in’ with one of the girls that I asked to help her. Her behavior was great. She responded in obedience to everything we asked her to do. Socially, she did fine with the group of girls her age.  It’s crazy that I am finding she doesn’t have near the social behavior problems that Justice had when he first came. The expression on her face at the event was what Jake explained as being “thrilled to death”. She was so happy to get to run and play with other girls her age!

Please don’t confuse this as bragging or think that I am telling you this to act like we’ve got it all together, or that this is easy. We don’t and it’s not. I am telling you this because I want you to know that how our girls are adjusting feels completely supernatural.  To me, it is showcasing the power of God. This doesn’t at all feel like the ‘honeymoon period’ that we’ve experienced a few times in our home as we’ve brought in other children. This feels different than that. I know that so many people are praying for us - specifically that our transition would be smooth - and God is answering that prayer 100 times over. Please don’t let up on praying for us!

In addition, I wanted to explain something that has been a little different in our adoptions compared to perhaps the journeys of others. All three of our adopted children were fatherless. Yet, they did each have experience with a loving, non-abusive birthmother. I’m not saying that this magically solves all their issues. But I am saying that because of this, when our adopted children have come to us, we have observed that each of them already know how to receive love, and they do not reject it. We do not need to teach our kids how to attach. They’ve already experienced the how within the relationship with their birthmother. Rather we are changing the attachment figure. So, we do need to teach them to attach to us.

This is not to minimize the grief our girls are experiencing as a result of losing loved ones, their familiar environment, and every routine and expectation that they’ve known their entire life. But there is a big difference between “normal” grief as compared to personality and attachment problems caused by neurological damage and extreme, early neglect and abuse.

When we went into Ghana adoption the first time around I had no idea about any of this. I couldn’t really put my finger on why Justice had no signs of attachment issues and I was amazed at how easily he transitioned into our family...don’t get me wrong it was a lot of work, and there were times when I thought I was going to go crazy. But on his part, he really adapted extremely well to his new life. For awhile I felt like I couldn’t even advocate for adoption because we didn’t face many of the ‘hard issues’ that prospective adoptive parents were asking me about. I didn’t have strategies for what to do about continual lying or attachment or psychological problems. We just didn’t need them - we were able to use similar parenting strategies with Justice that we did with our other two kids. I am not saying that as a whole every single Ghana adoption is like this. It’s definitely not. I am also not saying that we would never adopt from another country if we were to adopt again. We definitely would if God led us elsewhere. What I know is that God has hand-picked our adopted children for our family, in details and on purpose. Because of this, it really does feel to us like they ‘fit right in’. God’s foreknowledge and Sovereignty is something I can praise Him and thank Him for in each of our adoption journeys.

Speaking for our bio kids, one thing that has helped our transition in essentially becoming a blended family is that from the beginning Jake has been very insistent on us trying to keep everything the same. We stick to the same routine, go the same places, do the same things. We don’t stop life when our adopted kids come. They rather come along for the ride. This might not work for other adoptive families, especially those who are dealing with attachment issues. But it works for us, and we see healthy responses from both our bio and adoptive kids in ordering life in this way. Again, this is not to minimize the hardships. Jayla in particular had a hard day yesterday in watching me give attention and affection to her sisters. There was one point in the car where I was playing peek-a-boo with Jasara and Jayla started her spontaneous, quiet tears and said that she wanted to come sit with me. I ended up crawling in the back to sit with her, and after 20 minutes of snuggling we were home and she had perked up and was ready to roll again. When she reacts like this, it is so easy for Satan to come sneaking in whispering lies to make me feel guilty or feel bad about how this adoption is affecting my relationship with Jayla. But I have to remember TRUTH! Yes, this feels hard on our relationship at times. Yes, this feels sacrificial at times. But God is there!!! God is here!!! This is where we learn that taking up our cross to follow Jesus daily (Luke 9:23) means dying to ourselves, so that others can be helped. I trust that through this adoption the Lord will expand Jayla’s capacity to love others selflessly, unconditionally, and in total compassion. As I entrust her to the Lord, I know that I am freeing her to receive the unique spiritual understandings and blessings that the Lord can and will provide through this journey. She and I will learn to rely on Him more and ourselves less. This will be a lay-down-our-lives kind of love (and faith) in action. And we will walk through it together.

Things feel to be going on the right path in the attachment department thanks be to God and God alone. In addition there are also other parts of this adoption in which we must rely on God to intervene and come through. I will try hard in this adoption journey to do a better job of posting about those, while at the same time being mindful to not ‘air my kids’ dirty laundry’ all over the internet. On Saturday for example we had to begin discipline with Jennifer. Because she is psychologically intact and because we know her history, we will discipline her in the same way that we have our other children unless God shows us something different – which He hasn’t yet. We follow the biblical model of discipline outlined in the book ‘Sheparding A Child’s Heart’. In this particular situation, after discipline was over Jennifer displayed a heart that was hardened against correction. Pouting. Going ‘limp noodle’ when Jake tried to physically move her out of the middle of the hallway where she had planted herself. Refusing to rejoin the group in play, etc. In the ‘Sheparding’ book, the author talks about how the discipline session is not over until the relationship between the parent and child is restored and you are back in re-connection. It was clear that Jennifer knew what behavior she had done that was wrong, but I could tell from her response that she still needed to hear something that had been lost in translation. I knew God was going to have to do something supernaturally because of the language barrier. Jennifer cannot understand much of what we are saying yet, so of course that makes it extremely hard to explain or reason with her.

At this point, we let Jennifer pout in the hallway.  I went into my room and sent out a text message prayer request to some friends. It said….

We had to start discipline with Jennifer today. Could you please cover her in prayer, specifically that God would somehow show her that discipline is love. Pray that she would not harden her heart against correction and that God would help in the translation so that she understands the explanation of why she was disciplined and that we still love her.

From there I heard Jake ask Jennifer to join the group in heading outside to play. I went out into the living room and saw her go and hide behind the couch. Jake said, “She’s all yours.” It was then that I felt the Lord tell me to go over to her and scoop her up. And what happened next was purely the work of God. I started talking to her but they were not words that I had been planning to say. In my head I had been rehearsing and repeating to myself the truths found in Hebrews 12:7-11. I kept telling my heart: discipline is love, discipline is love! I was planning on giving her some sort of rendition of that. But instead God said through my mouth, “Mommy and Daddy FORGIVE you. We are not mad at you for what you’ve done. You do not need to be ashamed. Discipline is love. Because we love you, we must discipline you when you don’t obey. If we didn’t discipline you then that means that we don’t love you. But now we have FORGIVEN you and we would like you to come PLAY.” I wasn’t planning on talking to her about forgiveness. But I realized that God must know that she knows what that word means in English because after she heard it she absolutely MELTED in my arms, layed her head on my shoulder, and let me embrace her in a long snuggle as tears of a softened heart rolled down her cheeks. I had broken through.

Then it hit me. God had also given me the word “ashamed”. I hadn’t been thinking about that either.

In Ghana, when children are disciplined they are also ‘shamed’. It is proper (and almost expected) for them to show these outward behaviors of feeling sorry for what they’ve done – such as isolating themselves from the group, wearing a sad-downcast face, no eye contact with the adult that disciplined them, etc. It is their shame on display so that the adult who disciplined them can be confident that they got the message and that discipline won’t be needed again. It’s so hard to explain this in words but if you’ve been to Ghana then you know what I mean. Anyways, by this time Jake was outside playing with the kids in the yard. I motioned to them and said to her, “Are you ready to go play?” She shook her head no. I sat with her a little longer, then went back to my work as she laid in the living room. About 5 minutes went by, she walked up to my bedroom door which was open and said, “Play.”

I smiled and said, “Are you ready to go outside and play?”

“Yes,” she said.

VICTORY!!!!!!!!!!!! WHOOP WHOOP! I helped her get her shoes and coat on and out she went with Jake and the rest of the kids with a light heart and happy demeanor!

Just a tiny example of why I could not even think about attempting to live this life, taking part in adoption, or raising 5 kids without relying on God to come through. It’s those little moments like discipline with Jennifer that are actually really big moments when it comes to adoption. We are adapting/adjusting/transitioning/learning because He is all that we need, just when we need it.

John 15:5 ~ I am the vine: you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Fatherless No More

♫ The fatherless, they find their rest, at the sound of Your great name ♫

Saturday, October 27, 2012

First Night Home and Days 1 and 2

First night home continued….

One more funny thing from the airport. When Justice greeted Jennifer and put his hand out she started chasing after him to try and punch him! :) This is often how girls deal with boys in Ghana! And remember that Jennifer met Justice and JJ in March so she remembered who they were. Justice still has the Ghanaian way in him of being chased so he ran from her and they were sprinting through the crowd. Once we got into the car I told Justice that the biggest thing we needed to work on with Jennifer and Jasara right now is to show them that it is not okay to hit anymore. I instructed Justice that if Jennifer tried to hit him to gently catch her hand in the midst of it and say strongly, “Jennifer, no hitting.” I told him to absolutely not run and be chased because then she thinks it is a game.

About halfway through our car ride home I realized that I had made a big mistake. The car we have is a Chevy Traverse. It seats 3 in the way back row (it’s a tight squeeze) and then has two bucket seats in the middle. I had thought that Jayla would get a kick out of riding next to Jasara in the bucket seats because she is absolutely intrigued by toddlers and loves to play with them. So here was the seating arrangement…

But within 5 minutes Jasara fell asleep and Jennifer was talking up a storm to Justice in the twi language. [By the way, he translates to us what she is saying, but he responds to her in English]. She was playing with Justice’s phone, and laughing and giggling in the back with the boys. Jayla felt really left out, and it was a horrible way to start everything off since in my mind it was most important for Jayla and Jennifer to connect. By the time we pulled in the drive Jayla went to unclasp her seat belt and it ended up hitting her hard in the head. She started to cry. Ghanaians don’t cry in public (other than babies/toddlers) and when children see one of their peers cry they usually make fun of them and laugh at them. So Jennifer started laughing at Jayla, which made things even worse. Ugh. The seating arrangement was a horrible mommy mistake! I comforted Jayla knowing that the only way to change Jennifer’s mindset was to show her that it is serious when someone is in pain and that we should show compassion – not laugh. In Ghana this is simply not demonstrated. It has always bothered me when we are out in the villages when little children trip and fall down and they lay there crying with no one to help them up.

Once we got inside I let Jake take Jasara and I instantly grabbed Jennifer’s hand. I remembered back from when Justice first walked in our front door. He was SO overwhelmed and got SO hyper from all of the things that he was seeing. His mind had no way to absorb all the stimulation and went crazy for awhile. I led Jennifer around the house s l o w l y and gave her a tour of the bathrooms, and each of our bedrooms while Jayla followed us closely behind. Her favorite part of course was seeing her bed and her dresser full of clothes. Her smiles were just priceless! Then I took her down in the basement. In my preparations for the girls to come I had made a little play room in the basement. It is unfinished so no dry wall, and it has concrete floors. But we put a few carpet remnants down and then left an area of concrete where I put all of our outdoor toys – little tikes cars, big wheels, scooter, etc. I also had found a really great play kitchen at a garage sale so I stuck that down there as well. I knew that Jennifer just needed some time to make her way through all the toys and freak out a bit. Once she would do that she would be more calm when we actually were going to play down there on a later day. (Of course this is not the method that most adoption specialists recommend, but I just prefer to throw them out there and get all the crazies over in the first day). The hard part came when I realized that I had never explained this part to Jayla. Her expectation was that Jennifer would be able to jump into ‘play mode’ just like her friends do when we have them over for play dates. So as we stood there and watched Jennifer hop around from toy to toy, picking things up and then dropping them, and running to the next thing it was pretty confusing for Jayla. At this point I explained to her that Jennifer had never had toys before and so it was going to take her some time to get used to how to play. I let Jennifer go crazy in our play room for about 15 minutes and then she was ready to go eat. We joined the rest of our family upstairs for some sloppy joes prepared by Grandma Sullivan.

Jasara was also having a hard time taking all the newness in. She was pretty weepy, but that didn’t stop her from eating! She ate an entire sloppy joe sandwich while sitting on Jake’s lap! It was about this time that Jayla had her first of what would be a few episodes of spontaneous tears triggered by things that she normally wouldn’t get upset about. This was not like her personality at all. I knew that she was overwhelmed and I could also see that she was very upset that her expectations for her new sisters were not at all being met. In addition to all this, Justice and JJ were recapping the entirety of what happened while we were gone, showing us schoolwork, asking us all kinds of questions, and telling us about events that we needed to get on the calendar. Talk about overwhelmed. These were the moments when it hit me that we now had 5 kids who all were going to somehow need to get their needs met. My heart started to get fearful and my mind started asking, “Lord, what have we done?”

Again, I am so thankful that God has been cutting my fearful thoughts off with truth. One of the verses that has really spoken to me over the past few months is Romans 8:15 ~ For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.

The word ‘again’ reminds me that the cycle of a fear popping in, and then the worry that follows is Satan trying to literally enslave me as he had before in my former life, before God put His spirit in me. I don’t have to be enslaved to that cycle anymore – God has set me FREE from that. FEAR IS NOT FROM THE LORD! HE IS NEVER THE SOURCE OF IT!!!! The devil had been trying to discourage me all day, and here he was sneaking in again. As my mind contemplated the fear that we had just gotten in way over our heads, God reminded me of something that I read in my book on the airplane…

God is not part loving, part graceful, part peaceful, part forgiving. Instead He is all loving on top of all graceful on top of all peaceful. He is not divided up, so we each get a piece. We all get all of Him we need, all the time.

My mind wanders to my home, where Todd and I are currently parenting nine children. How can I be more like God, instead of trying to break myself up in equal size pieces for everyone, which never feels good or works out right anyway? What if, instead, I could be all myself, wholly offered to Him, so that He can spill out enough onto my family? (‘Reckless Faith’, page 153)

That was my answer.

We finished dinner, our extended family said their goodbyes, and by this time it was 7:30pm and dark outside. Our flight schedule had set us up for the perfect transition into the time change for the girls (Ghana is 5 hours ahead of Iowa time). Next up would be bathtime and then bedtime.

As we gathered up our pajamas and started the bath water Jayla really perked up. She loves her baths! This was one thing I had prepared her for – that all 3 of the girls would take a bath together (we have a pretty good-sized whirpool tub in our master bath), so she was excited for this. Jennifer also gets out-of-this-world excited when you say the word ‘shower’ because she knows that when she is with us she gets to feel warm water! She started jumping up and down when she realized what we were doing. The girls all made their way into the tub and as I put Jasara in, just the pure sight of the bubbles in the water made her start giggling. As she started laughing this opened Jayla up and she started laughing too. Before I knew it, all 3 of the girls were splashing, laughing, practicing blowing bubbles underwater, and fully interacting together. Jayla started talking a mile a minute which is how you know when she is excited. She became a running commentary of Jasara’s every move. Finally, they were all connecting. I thought to go grab my camera to take a video, but I decided to just enjoy the moments and take it all in. The girls took a bath for almost 45 minutes and I would say these were the first moments that I felt a sense of relief that Jayla and Jennifer would indeed be friends!

After we got lotioned up, jammies on, and teeth brushed, I sent the girls out to the living room to go wrestle with Jake while I cleaned up the tub since Jasara had decided to poop in it (and unfortunately this is becoming her trademark because she’s done it two nights in a row!). Once I was finished, I went out into the living room but Jayla and Jennifer were no where to be found. But I didn’t have to look long. I just had to follow the giggling down into the basement where I found the girls playing together in the play house we have down there. When they heard me come down they hid under some blankets and then jumped out and said, “SURPRISE!!!!” My heart jumped for joy! I was so excited to see them playing together! I went back upstairs and as JJ heard their giggling downstairs he remarked, “Wow, Jayla and Jennifer are already friends!” Definitely making progress anyways!

By 8:30pm it was time to put the troops to bed. For this first night Jake handled the boys and I handled the girls. I piled us all into Jayla’s bed to read a story. Jennifer and Jasara do not know what to do when you read them a book yet. This is my mission, because our family loves to read picture books together, especially before bed. As I read, I had to stop a few times to tell Jennifer and Jasara to “shhhhh” and to lay still. Jennifer understood. Jasara started to cry her painful cry, but since she was tired I could tell it wasn’t going to turn into a tantrum. As I continued to read, I watched as Jasara reached out her index finger to Jennifer who then started massaging her finger. I had noticed Jasara rubbing her own finger in Ghana when she would cry before naptime as I laid next to her. It clicked in my mind that this must be something that soothes/comforts her when she is distressed. I took note of it, and also watched as Jennifer told her in the Twi language to lay down and close her eyes. I could tell what she was saying because Jasara complied with Jennifer’s commands. I knew that I would need to teach Jennifer over the next few days that she didn’t have to be Jasara’s ‘mommy’ anymore. She could be free to just have sister duties. :)

After we read, I asked Jennifer where she wanted to sleep and much to my surprise she pointed to the top bunk! The orphanage director that we work with always told us that they don’t like having bunk beds at the orphanage because the kids are afraid they will fall off so they won’t sleep on them. I was going to give Jennifer the option of sleeping with Jasara on the full bed below the top bunk, but Jennifer was so excited to crawl up the ladder into her bed. Jake and I had a discussion about what to do for Jasara’s first night during our plane time. Jasara has always been used to sleeping next to someone so I just wasn’t sure how she would do being in a big bed all by herself. Jake advised that we have her go ‘cold turkey’ and start sleeping in her room in her bed the first night. I have a baby monitor set up in the girls’ room, so I reasoned that even if she woke up a few times in the night and cried I could still get up and go lay with her until she was comforted enough to fall back asleep.

Jayla also likes me to lay next to her and sing a few songs as she drifts off. So once Jennifer was up in bed, I got Jayla tucked in and told her I would sing to her after I helped Jasara fall asleep. As I moved Jasara to her bed she started crying. Meanwhile Jayla was mentioning to me to make sure to leave the door open with the hall light on when I left. When I explained to her that we couldn’t do that anymore (we have a night light in their room but sometimes Jayla likes me to leave her bedroom door open too) because Jasara needs it to be dark to sleep (learned that in Ghana) she burst into tears. So Jayla was in her bed crying, Jasara was in her bed crying, and I decided to join the crying party (Jennifer was already asleep by this point). As I laid next to Jasara I tried to cut off my crying with singing but it just wouldn’t come. It was just so surreal that only a few months ago I had laid there thinking about what it would be like once the girls were here in these bunk beds. And now they were. All of our tears were really the culmination of a long and overwhelming day that was oh-so-hard to process when we were all tired.

Eventually Jasara fell asleep, and Jayla was comforted once we went through our usual routine of singing, praying, and then saying good night. This is where again, God showed up and I saw another answer to prayer. The girls slept the ENTIRE night, without making even a peep! WHAT?!?!?!   Must have been the cozy, comfy beds!  At 6:30am I heard the girl’s bedroom door open and as I opened our bedroom door I saw Jayla and Jennifer come out of their room together. I checked on Jasara and she was still asleep! So, our morning began! I got the boys off to school while the girls watched cartoons and giggled, giggled, giggled! Another heart warmer for Mommy!

Then I got the girls breakfast, and Jasara slept until 8am!!!! She was ready for some breakfast right when she woke up, and look who’s eating on her own in a booster seat now?!?!

I cannot even express how much this has helped her food issues. She gets to determine when she takes a bite, when she takes a drink, and when her tummy is full. This in combination with receiving consistent meals has a made a huge difference compared to the hand-fed-meal-time-Jasara we were experiencing in Ghana! I also did realize what a process it is going to be to get 3 girls dressed and ready in the mornings! It took us over 30 minutes by the time it was all said and done, and Jennifer doesn’t even have hair yet! Here were the sisters, ready to start their first full day together…

The first thing we decided to do was go play downstairs in the play room. This time Jennifer was much more controlled, I was able to lead her in play, and she spent a lot of time focusing on one toy at a time.

Jasara LOVED the Little Tikes cars - every single one of my kids has spent countless hours climbing in and out of these and driving them around.

And Jayla was back to her normal self, breaking out into random gymnastics moves! :)

Before I knew it, TWO HOURS had gone by of us playing in the play room and it was already getting close to lunch time! This first day we fell into a pretty smooth routine. After we played downstairs, we came up and the girls played on Starfall while I made lunch with little Jasara whining for food and eyeing my every move. She is so not used to seeing an oven but quickly learned that is where the finished food comes from!

A lot of people have asked me about what we feed the girls. In hosting many Ghanaians in our home, as well as having been to Ghana and knowing what they eat, I have a good idea of what to cook for them that tastes pretty similar to a meal they would receive in Ghana. I like to offer our adopted kids a transition into American food. So for the first few days I will make sure to give them a lot of chicken or fish, and I offer them rice at either lunch or dinner. Sam’s Club actually has some great frozen foods that are super easy to make and resemble Ghana food. Here are a few of them…

This picture got cut off on the sides but this is tilapia......

If I am making something like lasagna for dinner, which is something they would have never had before and may not like, then I will just give them a bit of lasagna on their plate for them to try in addition to some chicken, rice, etc. I know how much I dislike being in a foreign country and not liking the food, so I am not going to force the transition. This worked great with Justice. He still eats rice on occasion, but he prefers American dishes now – especially spaghetti, lasagna, and cavatini – well, I guess those are actually Italian dishes! :)

After lunch I showered (with 3 girls at my feet watching me get ready!), then we did naptime for Jasara (she woke up off and on so I had to go into her room a few times), the girls watched a movie while I worked around the house, the boys got home from school at 3:30pm, and then it was time to get ready for our first adventure outside of the house – JJ’s basketball game! As we got ready to leave, Jayla walked up to me and asked if I would move her carseat into the back so she could sit by Jennifer. :)

It took me much longer to get 5 kids out of the house (plus a diaper bag packed) than I thought it would. But all and all we made it on time for warm-ups! My mom met us at the game and got some sweet pictures of the kids…

This last picture makes me smile so big. What a difference a day makes! I had asked my friends to pray that God would plant a supernatural bond between Jayla and Jennifer.  Watching them play together so naturally at the game solidified it. There is no way anyone would have ever guessed that they just met one day ago. Pretty cool - thank you Lord!

Another big thing happened after the game. We had to do McDonald’s since we weren’t home for dinnertime. I put Jasara in a high chair and she ate her meal. When she was finished she handed me her boxes of chicken nuggets and fries and tried to lift off the tray to get out of her chair!!!! This was major progress – she had not done this sort of excusing herself from the table yet! She has continued to do this every meal since then and that’s how I know she is done – she hands me her plate! Yay!

Some other tidbits from our first day:

-Jennifer broke out into giving Jake and I random, HUGE hugs throughout the day. :)
-I saw Jennifer running her hands through Jayla’s hair multiple times throughout the day. :)
-My favorite quote was from Jayla, “Jennifer doesn’t speak English, she speaks Ghana.” :)
-I am going to have to work on getting the girls to eat fruit and vegetables. In Ghana they don’t really do side dishes. It’s just the main meal of protein and rice so they are not used to seeing fruit on their plate!

As I get ready to post this, it is now already Day 3, so I wanted to include some tidbits from our Day 2 which was yesterday:

-Jasara is now full time calling me “ma”. When I leave the room real quick she comes looking and hollering for me. Some other signs I am seeing that show she is starting to attach:
-If someone unfamiliar comes up and talks to her and I am holding her she will look at me to see how she is supposed to respond to them.
-If someone unfamiliar holds out their arms to see if she will go to them she will give them ‘the look’ and lean back into me clearly denying their invitation!
-At JJ’s game as we sat on the bleachers Jasara eventually got comfortable and climbed down off my lap and played with Jennifer and Jayla. However, she stayed right next to me and had her hands on my legs and played at my feet most of the time. If she wandered a few steps away she then would come right back to me, her ‘safe place’, at her own will.
-She is easily consoled and stops crying as soon as I pick her up. Last night she woke up in the middle of the night crying. By the time I heard her over the monitor and got to her room Jennifer had already climbed down from the top bunk to console her. I motioned Jennifer to go back up and go to sleep and as soon as I layed down by Jasara she stopped crying. Then she threw a party in her bed, babbling and giggling on and on!
-Jennifer is SO happy! She loves to play! The first English phrase she has learned is “be careful” and she says it at the right times! Every day when she gets dressed she puts her clothes up to her nose to smell the cleanness. She closes her eyes and smiles as she takes it all in.

-Jayla and I are glad that we know how to speak the language of “girl”! We spend our days playing lots of silly games that make us all giggle – like peek-a-boo, and tickling and jumping, dancing, flips off the couch, singing, doing art, and of course Jasara is some major entertainment! We have fun trying to get her to repeat what we say and her facial expressions keep us laughing.

-I noticed today that Jayla needs some time to just be alone and get re-energized. She is a very social girl, but constantly having sisters around with no breaks is draining for her. I realized this today when she kept saying, “Jennifer keeps touching me” and “She’s sitting too close - I don’t have enough room”. I started seeing that look in her eyes that I see when a playdate has lasted a little too long, and it is time to go. Except this time we can’t go home, or say goodbye to our guests. This is forever! I was thankful that the Lord helped me to see this today so that I can help to meet her need.

In my devotional on Day 2 God said “Come to Me when you are joyful, and I will share your joy, multiplying it many times over.” That’s how I feel. There is so much joy in my heart right now it is more than my words could ever say. To watch an orphan be transformed into YOUR CHILD by the Living God is such an amazing experience. Even as I observe Justice now, I see so much more how far he has come in 2 years. I feel SO ALIVE!


Friday, October 26, 2012

Our Travel Journey Home

The kitchen is dirty and our bags are still unpacked, and yet I find myself cranking out a blog post!!!! I have SO MANY details of our travel and first day that I want to write down and never forget! First, let’s talk travel….one entire 24 hour day of travel that is!

As we got to the Ghana airport and got checked in, our next stop was to head upstairs to go through customs and immigrations. My mind was going a million miles an hour so as we approached the escalator I was in a whole other world. Jake was carrying Jasara, and Jennifer and I were following. I stepped on the escalator dragging my carry on. I am so used to having Jayla behind me that I wasn’t even thinking. After a couple of seconds Jake had looked back and he shouted down, “Janel, it’s her first time!!!!!!” As I pondered what he was talking about I turned around and saw Jennifer trying to work up the courage to take a step onto the escalator! Oh my goodness what had I been thinking?!?!? I totally forgot to help her up! Luckily I was only a few stairs away so I was able to scurry back down, but by the time I got to her she had taken a step and was on and we had a good laugh. :)

After we got through customs/immigrations and security we had some time to catch our breath. Then we had to go through another check point to get to our gate. After we got settled at our gate we got out our ‘surprises’ for the girls that we had hidden and saved until our travel day - baby dolls just their size. When we brought the dolls out Jennifer clapped her hands together, squealed her little squeal of delight, and started playing with her doll right away. Jasara saw hers and started giggling and jumping up and down. I had brought a little square blanket for Jasara thinking she would want to play with it to cover her doll. But that was my American way of thinking sneaking in again! When I handed the blanket to her she leaned over in motion for me to strap her baby onto her back using the blanket (Ghanaian mommas do this with African fabric). Then Jennifer came over looking for her blanket too. The little square blanket was not big enough to wrap around, but luckily I had stuck in another small blanket to use as covers on the plane, and I had another big blanket as well. So, we made it work!

I simply just had to watch Jennifer to know the culture of how Ghanaian mommas care for their babies. At one point, after this last picture, she gathered up all the blankets and made herself a bed on the chairs and laid down on her side with one arm up under her ear. She snuggled her baby close to her and comforted her baby just as she probably saw her birthmother do with Jasara, and many of the foster mothers in her different homes. It was so special to watch.

The Ghanaian airport was having issues with their plane fueling systems so we ended up boarding about an hour past schedule. Here we are on the plane, all settled in!

Our first flight was 6 hours and 45 minutes from Ghana to Amsterdam. This was normally bedtime hours in Ghana (we boarded the flight at 11pm Ghana time) so the girls were pretty tired once we got on the plane. Jasara ended up waking up after she fell asleep the first time in her seat, and then I got her to fall asleep in my arms for the rest of the first flight. She stayed asleep with me carrying her for about 2 hours straight into the Amsterdam airport (my biceps were pretty much finished after that!). Jennifer fell asleep with her head on Jake’s lap for about 4 hours of the first flight. We figured out pretty quick that we were going to miss our connecting flight in Amsterdam due to our late boarding in Ghana. Once we realized it I cut off my worrying by praying ~ God, I trust that your grace has already gone before us and opened up a new flight schedule for us. Please push us through. The great thing about the Amsterdam airport is that they have these little kiosk stations that do all the transfer flight work for you. By the time we arrived and swiped our passport at the kiosk, they had already re-routed us through Minneapolis (instead of our original path which was to be through Detroit). And as God would have it, our flight from Minneapolis to Des Moines was scheduled to get in only 20 minutes different than our original one. Answer to prayer! WHOOP WHOOP!

Our next flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis was a whopping 8 hours! The girls did AMAZING!!!! The great thing about a 2 year old growing up in Ghana is that 1) She’s learned how to ‘sit still’ and 2) She will play with ANYTHING! Wrappers, bracelets, plastic spoons, the string on Jake’s hood, the barf bag, the remote to the plane tv, etc. Jasara can really entertain herself with something small in her hands for a good hour. And because of all YOUR prayers, the taking off and landings did not bother her ears at all. This puzzled me! I was totally prepared for her to cry from the ear pressure but she didn’t! When she did cry it was because she got a little restless of all the sitting and also when she was tired. But she EASILY let Jake and I console her. When she cried it did not last long. Another answer to prayer! I knew she would cry a few times, but my biggest worry was that she wouldn’t allow us to comfort her. Jennifer was a piece of cake on all the flights. She watched movies and slept and played with Jasara. She did great! One funny thing on this flight was that the flight attendants put ice cubes in our drinks. The ice cubes fascinated the girls! They had never seen them before! They were sticking their hands in the drinks, gigging as they bobbled the cubes up and down. Jasara had a fork and was fishing them out. It was so funny to watch them discover ice cubes!

Our last flight was a little hour flight from Minneapolis to Des Moines. By this time we were all exhausted and hadn’t really had a great meal. We didn’t have enough time in between flights at the airports to even grab fast food, so we had been limited to airplane food (bleh!) and cheez-its. :)  Jake went to go grab the girls some food real quick before we boarded our last flight and all he came back with was bags of Doritos! Before we even boarded the plane Jasara had gotten real cranky…she’d be happy one minute and then in a tantrum the next. Here’s a glimpse. :)

Then once we actually boarded the plane she completely lost it. She was screaming/wailing constantly - just plain overtired. I was trying to get her to fall asleep but she would have none of it. She had some pretty impressive lung-clearing crying bouts on this teeny, tiny, cramped, plane. This was also the point where I identified Satan trying his best to discourage me right before we got home.  I had been holding Jasara while she threw fit after fit on the plane, and among other things I could feel the weight of the other passengers opinions. I was about to start crying myself. Then the flight attendant comes up to me and asks me if Jasara takes a bottle.  Um no. Then she proceeds to hold her hands out to have Jasara to come to her, “Will she take a walk with me?” Jake and I both at the same time yelled, “NO!” The flight attendant was just trying to help, but her efforts just all the more highlighted that I couldn’t calm Jasara down…which was definitely one of my biggest fears heading into the travel. Eventually I handed Jasara off to Jake and she immediately stopped crying (of course!). I took Jenny to the bathroom and as I was waiting for her the flight attendant walked up to Jake and said, “Looks like she’s a little calmer when she’s with Daddy, huh?” Oh boy. If that wasn’t a knife through my heart I don’t know what was. All my mind heard her saying was that Jasara couldn’t be consoled by her mommy. Almost immediately following that thought God whispered the truth that once we were home we would have plenty of good time to attach and bond. This was just the culmination of a long travel day, and I need not believe the lies that Satan was using to discourage me.  It has been amazing how over our trip when a fear enters my heart, God has immediately been slamming each one with His truth.  Please keep praying that He continues to do this because when I am tired and overwhelmed it is extremely hard to discern irrational fears from reality!

In the end I was thankful that Jasara saved her fits until this flight since it was so short (sorry if you are reading this and you were a passenger on that flight!).

Once we got into Des Moines we headed down the infamous escalator towards baggage claim where our friends and family awaited to welcome us home!!!!!!!!

Sisters meet!!!  I'll have many more details on these two in my next post!!!!  God is do AMAZING things in their hearts - and quickly! - creating a beautiful friendship between them.

Jennifer meets Grandma Sullivan.

Daddy and Justice

Jake introduces Jasara to Jayla.

Here we of 7!!!

And this is us with our extended family.  From the top left it's Uncle Eli, Justice, Jake, Jasara, my mom, me.  Bottom row is Grandma Sullivan, my Grandma, JJ, my Grandpa, Jayla, and Jennifer.

I have another long post about our first night and day home but I didn’t get enough time to write it out yet! :) Will try again during nap time today! So, to be continued……

Thursday, October 25, 2012

WE'RE HOME!!!!!!!!!!!

This adoption is the evidence that God looks down at each one of us and knows our individual needs. He is mighty to save. No matter what you’ve done, no matter what’s been done to you, no matter what dark place you find yourself in, right now – TODAY – God can re-write your story. He just did for two orphans.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Updated arrival

Now arriving in Des Moines around 4:20 pm!!! 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ghana: Day 2 of Homecoming Trip

I was getting ready in the bathroom this morning when I started to hear Jasara babbling and music coming from the other room… “Your love never fails, it never gives up, never runs out on me…”. I opened the door and saw Jasara at her finest…so happy and giggly, talking up a storm, and rolling around the big comfy bed. Jennifer had my ipod going and was dancing around the room. It was the perfect song to wake up to. God’s love never fails – Jennifer and Jasara will have lives that prove that over and over. When the girls saw me dressed Jennifer immediately motioned that she wanted to get dressed and then Jasara started stripping down too. Today we put ‘American’ clothes on the girls – yesterday we let them stay in the clothes they came in. Jennifer put her new dress on with a squeal, twirled around in circles and then when I got out her new sandals she put them up to her nose and smelled them with a smile. I could see her mind say, “Brand new!” I also have never seen a 2 year old excited about clothes, but Jasara literally knew that this was something special. She was so excited to go show Jake her outfit once she was dressed, and Jennifer was busy dancing around the room trying out her shoes. :)

We also are facing A LOT of obedience and behavioral issues…nothing that came unexpectedly. In fact, watching the girls has reminded me so much of how Justice was when he first came. These girls have learned to fight to survive. It is very clear. This isn’t the “terrible twos” or a personality issue. A lot of the behaviors we are seeing are straight products of the environment they’ve grown up in. They’ve had to be strong-willed, otherwise they would not get food, get to keep their food long enough to eat it, get their needs met, or be heard. Plain and simple. There is a lot of hitting/smacking, hoarding, unwillingness to share, and direct disobedience and defiance like running away when we say it is time to be done with an activity. The sand box rules elevated to a higher level so to say. For the first day Jake and I would smile when we would see an issue and say out loud, “We’ll have to work on that when we get home.” But today it is clear that we also need to teach them to respect our authority from the beginning. It is a strange balance because at the same time, we are also building trust with the girls. So we’ve picked just a couple of the main misbehaviors to work on while we are here. With Jasara it is hitting. If Jennifer tries to even touch something Jasara is looking at, playing with (or was playing with) - like a book - then Jasara will smack Jennifer’s hand and give a blood-curdling scream and tighten her grip on whatever it is she is holding, or if it was something she had set down then she makes a mad dash to go get it.  After she hits/smacks we will then take Jasara’s hand and say a stern, “No.” In a split second that brings on a major fit of crying, screaming, and kicking. This little lady has learned how to always get her way (because she is so darn cute!), and she does not like us telling her no! One of the things I’ve learned in adoption education is to do “time in” instead of “time out”. So when the above scenario just played out in the hotel room I took Jasara out of the chair and away from the book and sat next to her on the bed while she threw a fit. I just kept saying to her, “I’m sorry but we cannot hit our family,” and she let me rub her back while she cried. In about 5 minutes she was done crying and on to something else. She did test us again a few minutes later to see if we had a consistent reaction, and back into “time in” she went where another fit ensued. Of course we can do this in the luxury of our hotel room (and yet I still wonder what the workers think about all the crying they are hearing!). But it’s a little hard to do out in public, so we are hoping that she catches on fast!

Jennifer actually does a pretty good job of sharing. The main thing that we are working on with Jennifer is just plain obedience to our commands. Earlier this morning when we were swimming we said it was time to go. We got out and went to dry off with the towels. At first Jennifer got out with us, but then she realized that we were leaving. She grabbed her Barbie and headed back to the pool. I looked at her in the eyes and said a stern, “No Jennifer. It is time to dry off with the towels.” I also use a lot of hand motions when I talk to her so she knew what I was saying. She looked at me and giggled and as I walked toward her she SPRINTED back into the pool (dangerous in itself because the tile was all wet). The other hard thing is that Ghanaian children love to be chased. They think it is a game. Justice was the same way. Jake went up to Jennifer in the pool and said again, “It is time to go.” Then he told me to just get our stuff together and act like we were leaving and she would follow. And she did, almost as if on cue.  This direct disobedience is kind of hard to correct right now because we cannot reason with Jennifer in the same language. If she spoke English we would have spoken to her once we got into the hotel room and told her how she would be disciplined should she choose that route again, etc. I am thankful we already went through all of this with Justice so we aren’t surprised at these behaviors and we also are well-rehearsed in our responses.

Lastly I just wanted to touch on the topic of food. Eating meals with these girls makes me so sad because their past becomes so evident. Last night I laid in bed and asked the Lord to forgive me for living in such comfort and luxury while His children on the other side of the world are starving. It just breaks me. When Jennifer’s plate of food is set in front of her she scarfs it down, just like you see orphans do in the movies. Each meal Jake will gently put his hand on her arm and say, “Jennifer, there will always be plenty now. You can slow down when you eat.” In both the girls you can sense that there is a fear that more food won’t come later. They better eat now or they might not get another chance. We know they will understand in time that they don’t have to live that way anymore once they see for themselves that meals will come consistently. Jennifer also doesn’t know what to do when her tummy is full. Yesterday she got breakfast and lunch and dinner. Usually Ghanaians only eat two meals per day if they’re lucky. And for children, they share plates of food. So a normal plate of food that I would give JJ or Justice is shared by two children here. We had to keep that consistent for the foster mother’s children, Rosemund and Justice, who ate with us yesterday. Otherwise, what we’ve learned is that their stomachs will grow in adjustment if they receive extra food while we are here, and then when we leave they will be even hungrier than they are to begin with. When Jennifer received lunch yesterday her tummy was so full and round. She was walking around saying she was going to be sick. I'm sure it's a strange feeling to feel full when you’ve never felt it before! Eventually she ended up falling asleep up in the hotel room and she slept if off.

Jasara has some real issues with food….I almost don’t even know where to begin to explain it all! Again, this is nothing that we didn’t expect. In adoption education you are made aware of these sorts of issues that could come. Jasara’s comfort is definitely food. She went so long being malnourished and just plain hungry. I know when we met her in March that this was why she was so inconsolable. Although she was getting small amounts of food by then, her body hadn’t caught up to receiving the nourishment it needed yet. If Jasara sees someone eating, or when we head into the hotel restaurant she almost immediately starts whining for food. If she doesn’t get any fairly soon she will start crying as if she is in pain. I’ve already been able to recognize her different cries. :)  She cries a painful cry for food if she sees it, or is in a place where they are serving it, or if someone else is eating in front of her and she doesn't have any. She doesn’t even have to be hungry. If she knows there is food, she wants it. I also have noticed that Jasara doesn’t feed herself. If you physically put something in her hand she will eat it, but for the most part she sits on our laps and we spoon feed her what is on her plate. This is great for bonding right now, but I also have no doubt that this is one of the reasons why she is so assertive when she sees food. She literally relies on others to eat and drink, and she will make sure that you know when she wants it. In America we always picture 2 year olds roaming around with their sippy cups in hand with the convenience of grabbing a sip whenever they like. I did bring a sippy cup for Jasara but we have to hold the cup for her and tip it back. I’ve tried a couple of times to have her try and do it herself, but old habits are proving hard to break! In addition, there are big issues once meal time is over. Jasara does NOT like seeing her plate being taken away, even if she is finished eating...learned that the hard way! I did make the connection of how the foster mother worked her away around these end-of-meal-fits. When the meal is through her foster mother made sure to hand Jasara a biscuit or cracker or piece of bread that she can take with her in her hand. That way as she leaves the table she still feels that she has some food with her, and in a few minutes she moves on and forgets about the meal being over. I can tell that Jasara feels comfort when she has some sort of food in her hand. This will come in handy for the plane ride, but will take time to work through once we get home.

Oh, I also wanted to mention that the girls are doing a great job of trying out some English! Jake and I actually have to remind ourselves to teach them it! We are so used to communicating through hand motions – and even when Jasara jabbles something you know exactly what she wants. Just today we started saying phrases to them before we give them something, “Drink please” “more crackers please” and “thank you” etc.

Thanks everyone for praying for us! We got GREAT SLEEP last night as the girls slept through the whole night. Jasara had to feel around for my face a couple of times when she woke up to know that I was still there, but she would fall right back to sleep. No crying the whole night, which is pretty amazing when you think about them being in an unfamiliar place with a mom and a dad that they barely know! God is showing up in the transition and planting peace in their hearts. :)  Please keep praying for us.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ghana: Day 1 of Homecoming trip!

It’s about 5pm in the afternoon here and we have had an AMAZING day!  For those of you who have been praying that the girls would have a supernatural bond to us in their hearts – we are already seeing an answer to that prayer!  The girls took to us IMMEDIATELY and have loved to interact with us. Jasara wants us to feed her and give her drinks and she is such a happy little thing when her tummy is full.  She babbles on and on in a constant dialogue with herself or anyone who will listen. Jennifer knocks me over about every 5 minutes with huge hugs while always flashing her beautiful smile!  She has this sweet little squeal that she does when she is excited – it is so cute. Both the girls are napping right now can you believe it?!?!?!  To Justice, JJ and Jayla – the girls keep looking at the photos we brought of you over and over and over!  Can’t wait until we are all together!!!! 

Here are some pictures of our fun so far....

Looking at pictures of Justice, JJ and Jayla!

This is isn't the best picture of Jasara but I wanted you to see the JOY in Jennifer's smile!!!

We brought Barbies for Jennifer and her foster mother's daughter, Rosemund.  When I gave these to them they danced a figure 8 around the table, laughing and yelling.  They were so excited!  I made sure to get some Barbies with extra long hair so they could practice their braiding!

I threw this little baby doll in for Jasara as an afterthought, and I'm sure glad I did!  She was fascinated with it all day long!  She wanted it strapped to her back Ghanaian style, talked to it, and fed it food. :)

Daddy, kiss my baby!

Busy girls!

These eyes.  Love them.

This smile.  Love it!

Jasara brushed and brushed and brushed the Barbie's hair.  This will make a great activity for the plane ride!

This is my favorite picture from the day. :)  This was the first time Daddy took Jasara around the swimming pool....she just LOVED IT!

Jennifer and Rosemund are happy when they are getting along, but I did have to break up a wrestling match/fist fight after lunch!  Social behaviors are typically one of the first things you have to work through in Ghana adoption.

Mommy and Jennifer. :)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Made it to Ghana!

We made it to Ghana (and our luggage did too)! It is late here – almost 11pm so we will take custody of our girls in the morning!!! I am SOOOO EXCITED to see (and squeeze) them and I am also WIDE AWAKE, shuffling through God’s promises on their behalf. I feel SO ALIVE in knowing that I will get to watch my Redeemer go to work in their lives and take claim on this promise of His:

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed. I’ll turn things around for you…bring you home to the place from which I sent you off into exile. You can count on it.” ~Jeremiah 29:11-14~

For the orphan, and for all of us, God promises that our disappointments will not last forever. He turns things around, he brings us back, he takes us home (from the book ‘Reckless Faith’).

Friday, October 19, 2012

Why Do We Adopt?

We leave tonight for Ghana. :)  I wanted to take a minute to share with you why we are adopting. We are NOT adopting as a way to add more children to our family. We are NOT adopting because this is a nice thing to do or because we are good people. Our choice to take in orphans is motivated by something much deeper...

Deep down in our hearts and souls it has resonated in us that by His Son’s death, God has in fact freely adopted us - disobedient rebels who once didn’t even care to give Him the time of day, let alone regard His majesty and power. (Romans 5:6-11). He told us that we are loved, and proved it when He gave us the right to be called His children. How then could we possibly look the other way when he asks us to offer a teeny tiny glimmer of that same redemption to an orphan? Once you fully realize what Jesus has done for you, how kind God has been to you, how amazing His love is for you, you can’t help but respond. It changes the way you think and the way you live. We have put our faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and we are urged by our King to not neglect the deep needs of the people around us – whether that is across the oceans or a few doors down in our neighborhood. We are willing to roll up our sleeves and walk into people’s messy situations and people’s messy lives. Because that’s what Jesus did for us. He intervened in our broken lives and changed our course. He extended love to us when we weren’t looking for it and didn’t deserve it. Adoption is simply our family’s response in offering just a tiny glimpse of the same grace and mercy that was extended to us. Jesus, because you DIED for me, now I will LIVE my life for you. I’m all in.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Adoption Update - IT'S TIME!!!

Yesterday we received the majorly exciting adoption news I had eluded to in my post last week!!! Our visa exit interview was at 7:30am Ghana time yesterday morning, of which our power of attorney attended on our behalf. The interview was completed and successful and we were given a visa printing date of THIS FRIDAY!!!!!!!! WHOOOP WHOOOP! This was the last and final step of our adoption process that we had been waiting for! The Lord has given me such a peace over all the details – so much so that I decided not to update my blog or any social media leading up to the appointment which we’ve known about since the end of September. It was an awesome feeling to just be still and quiet and wait and hope in the Lord! Made up for all that quietness with a whirlwind of a day yesterday as we announced the news to family and friends, booked plane tickets, recruited Grandmas to help out with our kiddos, made list after list after list of things I need to get done in the next few days, and started getting packed! At one point in the morning I just stood in the kitchen smiling - so excited that I didn’t even know what move to make next!

We ended up booking a flight that leaves Des Moines this Friday evening as ticket prices were hundreds lower if we left on Friday as opposed to Saturday. This will also allow us a full day to ensure that the visas are printed without a hitch (since Ghana time is 5 hours ahead of us we will have the luxury of heading to the airport knowing that the visas are in our power of attorney’s hands). We will get into Ghana late Saturday evening. We will stay in Accra, the capital of Ghana, for this quick trip. There is a great hotel there that we’ve stayed at in the past, with a pretty good restaurant attached to it, wireless internet (!) as well as a clean and sparkly swimming pool. We will have 3 solid days with our girls in Ghana – Sunday, Monday, Tuesday – before boarding the plane for the U.S. late Tuesday evening! We only have one other task planned for this trip which I will likely be able to share details about afterward. Other than that we will be focusing our time on our girls, bonding and readying ourselves for the looooong trip HOME!!!! If we make all our connections and have smooth travels we will arrive back home into the Des Moines airport at 4:53pm on next Wednesday October 24th. WOW! That’s one week from today! Coming down that escalator in the airport into the greeting area is a feeling of triumph that I’ve grown to love! Can’t wait for those moments!

Jayla came into my room yesterday as I was putting the finishing pieces into the girls’ suitcase. She looked up at me with her big brown eyes and whispered with a squeal “I can’t wait for my sisters to come so we can play!” She is sooooo excited!

Many of you have wondered about whether or not we are changing our girls’ names as we did with Justice once his adoption was completed (you can read about his name change here and here). With Justice’s adoption we hadn’t even planned on changing his name until the Lord brought it up, put his new name in my mind, and gave me absolute solidarity that we were to change it. This time we are changing a name, but for a different reason. At this point we now have a theme going of us being all J’s in our family….


So for that reason I think now that the trend is going, we have to keep it rolling! I don’t want anyone to feel left out someday that they aren’t a ‘J’! In keeping with the theme, we have decided to keep Jennifer’s name the same.

We had waited to see if God would show us that Jennifer should have a different name, and we never got one so Jennifer she stays. :)  Jennifer means “fair”; “smooth”; “pure”. All of her caretakers in Ghana called her Jenny which really suits her spunky self. We haven’t decided on her middle name yet – and we won’t really need to until we re-adopt here in Iowa which will come months later.  Many of my friends have the name Jennifer, so this is a name that is already near to my heart.

Then we have Florence who we all easily have started calling “Flo”. Although we are changing her name, I am sure her nickname around the house will still be Flo…it’s just so catchy! We are changing Florence’s name to Jasara ~ pronounced juh - sah (the ah sounds like when you say ahhhh at the doctor) –ruh. We will keep Florence as her middle name.

The name Jasara means “boldness”. I originally found this name when I googled “African J names”. The name Jazarah came up but I didn’t like the ‘z’ for Flo. I substituted the ‘s’ because I thought it sounded lighter and more feminine.  When I first googled the meaning of Jasara and saw that it meant boldness I wasn’t sure if it was the right fit. When we met her in March she seemed so passive and weak…anything but bold. But then! Then came the August trip! I wasn’t there but every single story that came from our tripsters about her just made me giggle….she sounded completely like she had a mind of her own and was going to let you know about it! I know the difference maker was that her body was getting good food and absorbing it. When we met her in March she was still on the heels of severe malnutrition….we just didn’t get to see her true self then.

Here is a sweet picture of our girls that we received last week...

Their faces and bodies look so healthy and strong. I notice a big difference in the texture of Flo’s hair – it’s really coming in and looking thicker now. And the loss of pigment she had along her hairline is completely gone! That’s what a little good nutrition will do for you! Yay!

Not sure if I will get to squeeze in another post before we take off on Friday, but hoping I will be able to post some pictures once we get to Accra since we’ll have internet access.

I’ll leave you with some sweetness from our kids. I asked them, “What do you think Jennifer and Jasara will like the most about coming here?”

JJ said: “Having brothers and a sister.”

Jayla squealed: “Having toys to play with!!!!!!”

Justice said with a knowing smile: “Having a bed to sleep in.”