It's Still HIS Story

Forgive the briefness of this post, but since I just sat here for the last 5 minutes and tried to make my brain work in order to come up with a title, it's probably best to keep it short and sweet. The last three weeks have been mentally and emotionally exhausting, but we can see His hand throughout the process - working on us, working on the children, working in the lives of all involved.

After our meeting with those in authority on Wednesday, we felt like we were finally being heard (thanks to the use of an official translator). We spent yesterday with the kids again - and despite some boundary pushing, it went well - and then picked them up this morning and headed to child services for another meeting.

While Peter stayed out in the hall (attempting to corral the younger four), I met with the social worker, our oldest gal (Tica #1), and the translator for an hour and a half. We were able to have a conversation that was productive, accurate, and clarifying, the end result being that I felt that our position was acknowledged and accepted, Tica #1 understood our position, and we found middle ground.

Bottom Line: They're coming home to the condo to live with us on Monday, and we'll start U.S. Embassy meetings next week. We have a new court date for November 3rd, and we could be flying home by the end of November.

Just In Case You're Wondering: We have had a number of larger expenses that we were unable to foresee, so if you feel inclined to donate, everything will go to help cover those items, as well as our extended time in Costa Rica. Thank you!

The next chapter is just beginning...

It is well.


Walking in Love

After everything came apart at the seams on Wednesday, I tossed and turned that night until I pulled myself out of bed at 3:30 in the morning and headed out to the couch to talk to Jesus. I talked, I cried, I read the book of Philippians. I prayed for wisdom and discernment for us, as new parents. I prayed for each one of the kids and their various situations as we now know them. I prayed for God's guidance, and for the "wisdom" of man to be overcome by true wisdom from God. That in everything, He would receive glory and recognition for the story that He continues to write. 

After an hour and a half, Peter joined the conversation. We talked about what we needed to do. I sought his wisdom and experience as a brother in Christ, and together, we were able to sharpen one another and come to a mutual choice that yesterday we would "reboot" the situation. 

Unlike most adoptive parents, we haven't spent years dwelling on the desire to have children, and in the 12 days since we have met our kids, no magic parental switch has been turned on. Regarding our desires and personalities, we are still the same people that we were 13 days ago... and we have made a lot of mistakes because of that. But yesterday morning, we made the CHOICE to do the one thing that we know Christ has commanded and empowered us to do... love them because He loves them. Show them humanly imperfect love because He has shown us His perfect love. 

We have one opportunity with these kids - and possibly less than that if the adoption of these five falls through (we are still waiting on a final decision from those in authority over it) - but for whatever time we have with them, we have CHOSEN to "take captive" every negative thought about this process, behaviors, feelings, and actions. We CHOOSE - daily, hourly, millisecond by millisecond - to love these children (and those involved in the process) because He first loved us. We CHOOSE to find victory in Christ and to walk in the way of Love.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and WALK IN THE WAY OF LOVE, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
{Ephesians 5:1-2}


In Oceans Deep

We've officially stepped off of Facebook from our personal account for a variety of reasons, but I wanted to jump on here to share some neat things that have been happening in the midst of the hurricane that is our lives at the moment.

We went back to the International Baptist Church this morning, despite not feeling good and not really wanting to go. WE NEEDED TO BE THERE. Oh, what encouragements through the songs we sang with our fellow brothers and sisters, followed by spot on preaching. We are so thankful we were obedient in not giving up the fellowship of fellow Believers today, because God used it to bring refreshment, renewed vision, and conviction.

Here's where we are at this moment - all thanks and praise to GOD! Whatever the outcome, we want to be in the will of God. We believe He has brought us here, we know He is writing this story, and we want to be faithful through whatever storm is coming. This morning I was reading Matthew 8:23-26 and was struck by so many things...
"Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, 'Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!' He replied, 'You of little faith, why are you so afraid?' Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm."
  • SUDDENLY the storm came. I cannot tell you how many times we have said this week, something to the effect of, "We never saw this coming!" That's how storms are - in life and on lakes. You cannot plan for them, you don't see them... but you have to deal with them when they arrive.
  • LORD, SAVE US! WE'RE GOING TO DROWN! And again, how many times I have cried out to God this week with similar wording. I don't want to do this, I am afraid, it is hard, SAVE ME, I'm DROWNING! Crying out isn't wrong, but it's the follow up and obedience that matters.
  • YOU OF LITTLE FAITH, WHY ARE YOU SO AFRAID? He either called us to this, or He didn't. We believe He did. We are either going to be faithful in the storm, finding strength in Him, or we are not. We want to choose faithfulness during the midst of the storm.
This week will be a turning point in many, many lives. One of the verses that kept coming to my mind during our hours of meetings last week was Exodus 14:14...

Over and over and over, that verse came flying to mind when we were in the middle of all of this on Thursday and Friday. I told Peter about it, but mentioned it to no one else. Yesterday, an old friend from Peru (hi, Annemarie!) posted on my request for prayer on our 7 Koens Facebook page... one thing: the verse from Exodus 14:14. Peter and I both sat there in shock, since I hadn't mentioned that nudge at all - BUT GOD KNEW. Isn't it amazing to see how He brings encouragement from the Body, nudging people, showing how we are all connected through His Spirit? We choose to believe this... that He will fight for us, we need only to be still. 

We do not yet know what will happen with the adoption of these specific kids, but we continue to trust that God has us here for a reason, and we want to be obedient in following Him. All you can really do for us is PRAY (and we love receiving Scriptural encouragement too!). Pray for all of us. It will be a storm of a week, and there will be many more storms to come, but we are so thankful that Jesus is at work in our lives, and in the midst of the storm.

P.S. (And Please Do Read It!) There is so much going on - far more than I share online - so before assumptions are made or advice is offered, please keep in mind that we have not shared even 1% of the details. I have been, and continue to be, selective in what I share, possibly to my detriment if it misleads you, and for that I apologize. Please know that we aren't just flying off the handle on things, but that much more goes into all of this than what we can or should share on Facebook or the blog. :)


Sugarless Lemonade

If you've been following our updates on Facebook then you know that this week hasn't been a walk through the rose garden... unless the rose bushes lost their flowers and all that remained was the thorns. But God is faithful.

There have been things that we didn't foresee dealing with so soon (the addiction to TV and technology), there have been things that we knew we would face (attitudes, anger, push back), and there have been times when we have both felt the urge to flee, but are then reminded that God is still faithful. He still called us to this. He is still writing this story.

There are things we are thankful for, like the way child services in Costa Rica cares for the kids. Ours were in a home that housed just 38 children, which we thought was really great for being so small, until we were told that they are trying to get that down to an average of 12 children per hogar (or children's home, run by the state). They genuinely care about the well-being of the children in their care, making sure they are healthy (our kids are up to date on all of their vaccinations), well fed (they eat 5 times a day!), educated, with some religious exposure through the Catholic church. They offer counseling and psychological help for the kids throughout the adoption process. Bottom Line: we have been very impressed with the care of orphaned and abandoned children, and would definitely recommend Costa Rica as a country to consider adopting from if you are looking.

But with that care and attention comes some of our issues. We were in the mindset of them being in a stricter environment, but instead we find that they are used to watching 3-4 hours of TV every day. This isn't happening at our house... which has caused issues. We are the mean parents. We are the freaks. The good news is that we are also INTJs, and their death stares don't affect us at this point. Plus, we're used to being the TV-less freaks in the U.S. as well, so that's not new for us. We're finding ways to compromise by slowly breaking them out of the habit of using a screen to entertain themselves - offering one TV show a day if they display a good attitude all day. We're blindly feeling our way through this, and praying for wisdom.

Tica #1 and Tica #2 have their own tablets (sans internet access) that they will be bringing with them. This was also not something that we expected to deal with right away, and has caused issues when we have informed them that they will not have internet access with us either. More anger, more pouting, more questions like, "If I can't access the internet [at which point I wanted to say: you are 12 years old... there's nothing you need to do online.] and I can't watch TV, then what do I do in my free time?" My response of "play outside, read books, put a puzzle together or do crafts" didn't go over well, and a bathroom door was slammed and tears were shed.

We expected hard, and we're getting it... the hard stuff is just different than what we were anticipating. And because of the care of the social staff, and the difficulties of the transition, we find ourselves in limbo this morning, waiting to see if Tica #1 and Tica #2 are ready and willing to come live with us 24/7 starting tonight. The youngest 3 are more willing, and Tica #3 has actually been asking us multiple times a day when they are going to come stay with us overnight, and is counting down the days.

And while she might be counting the days to when she gets to come, we have been counting the days until we lose all freedom. People... gut obedience doesn't mean uber-spiritual. We have cried, we have clung to Jesus, we have begged God to end this request... we are fighting our self-serving tendencies, and trying to remember that He who called us is faithful. There have been tears in the middle of the night, and lip biting during the day. I've never appreciated having dishes to wash like I do now, because it gives me a moment to turn my back to them and collect myself.

We know we are being bathed in prayer... we hear it on Facebook, we get it in emails, and even our driver this week informed us that he has been lifting us up before the Father. God is encouraging us, He is holding us, and He is big enough to deal with our little fits of panic and anger over this calling He gave us. We're not giving up, we're hanging on, and we're following where Jesus leads us. We have been sent to raise these children for Him, to share with them the Best News in the world - that Jesus died for them, that He rose for them, that He loves them, far more than we ever will. Pray that we would be faithful in keeping that as our primary focus on the days when we'd really rather catch the 8:30 AM flight back to our pre-children lives.

The adventure is just beginning.



Home Sweet Condo

The last month has been hectic - some of it outside of our control, some of it totally our fault - but the last week has been crazier still. Last minute errands and projects, packing, repacking, weighing bags, rearranging, trying to make sure that we didn't forget anything, and all while Peter continued to work his normal schedule so that he would have as much vacation time to use as possible for the next two months.

The plan was to have everything ready to go on Wednesday by the time he came home from work (he was hoping to leave work around noon), so that we could hit the road no later than 3 pm, putting us in Atlanta around 7:30, with room to spare for dinner and downtime. The reality was that he was home by 10:30, but we spent the next 7.5 hours running around like headless chickens, getting the house ready to leave for the next 6-8 weeks... AND have it presentable for the kids when we return! Beds had to be made (Peter discovered it was easier to take the mattresses off of the bunks to make the beds and then shove them back in!), bathrooms cleaned and winterized, fridge cleaned out, and on and on.

As we were finally pulling out of the driveway around 6 PM, poor Peter looked over from the drivers seat as a sob escaped and the tears start to flow from yours truly. As we drove away from our house, the one thing going through my head was, "I don't want to do this." Even as I thought it, I knew that was just Satan's final dig, his last attempt to use the weakest link (me), to play to all of my fears and appeal to my selfishness. And so yes, I cried, but I also - once again (and not for the last time, I'm quite sure) - said "Yes" to God's plan. Yes to obedience. Yes to discomfort. Yes to hard work and sleepless nights. Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.

On our way to Atlanta that night, we avoided an idiot in a van who almost clipped our front and the rear of a semi as he squeezed through between us. Peter - who is not prone to exaggeration - even said, "Huh, I'm not sure I've even seen one quite that close. That was within inches." Meanwhile, I was having a heart attack in the right seat, and thanking God for His protection. A little while later, we passed a semi that was STOPPED in the right hand lane (not off on the shoulder, but out in the road), and I thanked God again for His care.

By the time we made it to our airport motel, it was 10:30, and dinner consisted of a bagel for Peter and a couple of cups of hot tea in the room before we set our alarm. Not exactly the relaxing and restful evening we were hoping for, but we were grateful to be there and one step closer to our kids. After tossing and turning all night, we scarfed down the Greek yogurt we'd brought with us from home (see: fridge clean out), and then hit the road again to park our car and catch a ride to the airport. By the time we were at the gate (Pumpkin Spice Mocha in hand for me, Costa Rican coffee for Peter), we were just ready to be in Costa Rica, settling into the condo and finding our way around.

After boarding the plane, we were all settled and ready to push back from the gate when the voice of the captain announced that due to the eruption of more ash from the Turrialba volcano (about 30 miles from the San Jose airport), the airport had been closed and the Delta flight from California that was headed that way had been rerouted, so we were staying on the ground in Atlanta for at least 1 hour while we waited to see if it would reopen. Let the prayers commence. Those who wanted to disembark could do so, those who wished to remain (like us) could stay. After waiting out the hour, around 11:00 the decision was made to take off as the airport had been cleared of the ash, and the winds had switched direction... and with that, we were on our way.

The flight was a little bumpy, but basically uneventful. I shocked our seatmate (an elderly man who moved to Costa Rica with his wife a year ago, and was going back down to close things up and move back to the U.S.) when he asked why we were going to Costa Rica. Apparently adopting five children at once just isn't normal. Welcome to our out-of-the-box life history. Upon landing in Costa Rica, we made it through immigration (90-day visas obtained), and customs, were claimed by our car rental agency and then whisked out of the airport to pick up our vehicle for the next 47 days.

By the time we reached the car rental HQ's, I was sure of two things: Peter was going to win everyone over with his ability to speak Spanish (with a good accent) as he kept being complemented on it by the Ticos, and he would also be the sole driver of the vehicle in this crazy traffic. Our condo is technically around a 10 minute drive from the airport... but it took us over an hour to get here. On second thought, perhaps the van-driving idiot on our way to Atlanta was just a test run for me to get used to the insanity that is San Jose traffic. Peter and I came to a quick agreement... he watches the road and our fellow drivers (it's a good thing this kind of driving is right up his alley!), and I watch the GPS and tell him when and where to turn. He says if I do well at navigating, I can be his navigator when we do Baja off-road racing after the kids are grown. {wink, wink}

By the time we made it to the condo complex (where there is conveniently a small shopping center with a grocery, a couple of restaurants, a pharmacy, a phone repair store, and an ATM), we were both feeling the effects of our go-go-go from the last week, and were ready to crash. After checking in and picking up groceries and a pizza (excellent, by the way), we brought everything into the condo and literally crashed on a large sofa/bed in the bonus room (later to be used as a third bedroom). Home Sweet Condo.

P.S. Today and tomorrow we'll venture out again, finish unpacking, and see what our little area has to offer. I'm grateful for all of our years overseas, as (so far) nothing has been a shock to the system (other than the fact that they claim you can drink the water from the tap - that's a new one for us!). On Sunday we will meet with our lawyer and her assistant, and on Monday we are scheduled to meet the kids for the first time. It hasn't really sunk in yet, but I'm sure it will soon.



I know it's Monday, and I don't usually post on Monday, but I have such an amazing God story to share with you, I couldn't wait. You may recall that in Friday's post, I shared some of the background about how God has continually reminded us that He's in control, and He is writing this story - we can let go of the details. Easier said than done! In fact, even though I was sharing about all the times God had shown us how He could (and would) provide, I knew we were - even as late as last Thursday night - making "back up" contingency plans as our financial safety net. We're INTJs... it's what we do. Silly people.

Each week after I write the blog post for And Then There Were 7, I usually take part of the post and put it on our YouCaring site for anyone who might still be looking for updates there, and then I add a few little extras to the YouCaring update (like how many gifts are left on the Amazon registry, and how much money we're lacking to reach our goal). My YouCaring updates automatically post to our personal Facebook account as well, and it gives our connections a quick update on what's going on (for those who do not to follow the blog page on Facebook).

Less than 30 minutes after the YouCaring post went live on Friday, I received a notification of a donation from YouCaring in my inbox. I looked, and then I looked again. And then I almost cried. And then I forwarded the notification to Peter. One amazing family had jumped on and donated the remaining amount to reach our $20k goal. If you're wondering what an INTJ looks like when they are shocked, I believe I kind of looked like this...

And so yes, I'm sorry God. I get it. YOU are writing this story. YOU are arranging the details. YOU know what we need, when we need it. And even though I am sure that there will be a time in the future - possibly even in the not so distant future - when I will forget and will try to take care of those pesky details for You, I am beyond grateful for the reminder on Friday of Who is in charge

And here's one final thing to note, and we want to make sure this is perfectly clear: this family gave a large gift, and we are grateful. But I can honestly say that we are equally grateful for the $20 donations, because we know that this isn't about us - this is about God and His story, and people wanting to be a part of it. We are grateful for each person who has pressed a $20 bill into our hands, passed on gently used quality toys, purchased a pack of kids underwear, or handed over book credit to use at our local used book store. 

Years ago, when we raised support as missionaries, it truly felt like it was about us, and each donation was some sort of validation of "our" ministry. I cannot tell you how different it feels this time around - maybe because people are giving despite there being no tax deduction, maybe because this time the entire story was never our plan. Either way - we are thanking God for each person who has joined with us, for the Glory of God


God's Gifts to Cynical People

This isn't going to sound uber spiritual, but facts are facts. When we first heard about our kids, one of the hold ups for both of us was the added cost (blame our ancestry - I'm Scotch and Peter's Dutch). In the short term it meant paying to reopen the home study, paying to redo our fingerprints, background checks, and dossier. In the long term it meant food, clothing, and education for a 5th child. Although we knew God was telling us that this was the group of kids He was writing into our story, our inner control freaks were crunching numbers and panicking. Two things happened to remind us that we needed to let go: the realization that I (Carrie) was also a surprise 5th kid (so how in the world could we say no?!), and the generosity of a stranger.

The day after we told the adoption agency that we would like to send a letter of intent for these siblings, our phone rang. Peter had just walked in the door from work, and I found myself on the line with a women from the agency who was saying, "I'm so excited... I have to tell you!" As it turns out, an unmarried friend of hers who has a heart for adoption had recently asked if there was anyone in particular who needed some help. The woman told her about us, and our (very recent) decision to take these five siblings, and her friend was moved to help... to the tune of $1,260. If we had any remaining doubts that God was writing this story, and would provide for our needs, they were pretty much squished in that moment.

Since then, He has continued to use people as a source of encouragement for us - co-workers, former clients, online-only connections, Facebook "friends" who we barely knew in real life, and yes, even total strangers. 

Last week my cousin's wife shared our 11B blog post through her Facebook account, and one of her friends read it, shared it, and then purchased 6 items from our Amazon registry. I've never met her (though we're now connected on Facebook), and we've exchanged all of two Facebook comments since her gift arrived. 

A few months ago, we received two separate donations from an individual whose name I did not recognize. Last week, an Amazon box arrived on our doorstep - from the same individual in Alabama - with a $22 bottle of Rosemary Repel lice prevention conditioner from our registry. I have no idea who the person is, or how they found us, but I know that God has used them to encourage us. And if you are that person and you are reading this, I'd love to know how we're connected and thank you a little more personally.

And then there's the faithful sharing of our blog posts, adoption updates, and virtual shower gift photos by one of Peter's aunts. I see her social shares, and in my doubt I think, "That's so sweet of her, but no one is going to care about what we are doing." See? Not uber spiritual at all, but pure cynic. A cynic who was proven wrong, once again, when a card arrived in our mailbox yesterday, containing a sizable gift card from her small church body (Solid Rock Baptist) in Michigan, and a note which explained how they had been following this story through those social shares and had seen God through our journey. To God be the Glory for using a cynic like me.  

One week from today - Lord willing - we'll be waking up in San Jose, Costa Rica, discovering our new home-away-from-home, and taking some time to savor and reflect on our final days as a party of 2. On Monday, October 3rd, we are scheduled to meet the kids, and depending on how well the meetings go, they could be living with us by the end of the week. The magnitude of that isn't lost on us, and as we're rushing through to do lists and last minute errands, from time to time we find ourselves pausing. Slightly overwhelmed by the idea of everything being a "last time before," and even mourning the change to some extent.  

You see, our life together has been really amazing. Sure, we have our moments when we argue, and I'm notorious for a lifetime of side-seat driving, but overall, God has given us an incredibly unique and blessed relationship. We've had 16 years of marriage to discover what we can do better together than we can apart, 16 years to eat popcorn for dinner if we feel like it, or jump in the car for an impromptu road trip. We know what morning traffic in Boston is like and how stinky it is to sit on a park bench and smell the tide going out, yet not wanting to leave. We've snorkeled with jellyfish in Indonesia, discovered how delicious snails can be in Paris, learned how badly a Land Rover Defender can leak while driving in a Mozambique deluge, and attempted almost every home improvement project known to man. I will miss those moments of companionable silence in the car. I will miss our time alone together. I will miss my time alone - period. 

But as Peter pointed out last night, dying to self naturally brings some pain with it... but it also brings tremendous opportunity for growth, and a deeper joy than we have previously known. Yes, our life has been good - it's been great, in fact - but we know that there will come a day when we gaze around our table, and then look at one another and say, "This is awesome." #RightSideUp


11 B

That's my seat number on a flight that will ferry us into the next chapter of our lives. In less than two weeks, I will board a plane, find a spot in the overhead bin for my carry-on, put the armrest up between 11 B and 11 C, and listen as Peter prays for our trip. We've done it many times before, for treks all over the world, but this time it's different. SO. VERY. DIFFERENT.

We've found that we go through phases of panic about this adventure - usually at different times. Last night, while digging through paperwork and receipts for a tax document I was putting together for our CPA, I found myself in a side conversation with Peter about how we were both feeling re: the upcoming changes. Was I prepared to become a parent to five kids? Was he ready? I thought about the comment he made to me a few weeks back, about it not turning our world upside down, but right side up. I'll be honest: some days it's easier to believe that than others. 

As I plugged expenses into to the spreadsheet, I came across our very first payment to the adoption agency in September 2013, and I had to laugh. We were both hoping beyond hope that if we sent it in, it would turn into a donation rather than an application fee. That somehow, by "sacrificing" $250 and filling out a few pages of information, we would prove to God that we were faithful and He would look down and boom, "Oh wow, my children, you are amazingly obedient. Good job! What an example you are! Well done. You are now free to go back to your regularly scheduled lives and I will no longer ask you to do this crazy thing." But, of course, He didn't. This wasn't a test of the "change your life" broadcasting system, this was the real deal, and the real question was, "Will you continue to be faithful?" One step doesn't make you faithful, one action doesn't mean you've grasped what it means to obey His calling - it takes a lifetime of "one step at a time" moments.  

Someone recently asked me if I was excited, and I responded, "I have days when I'm excited, and days when I'm terrified." The woman (a mom of grown kids), wisely replied, "Welcome to the rest of your life." And it makes sense. There will always be a situation that we are not prepared for, a moment when we wonder "why us?!", a fleeting desire to turn and run, but the God who has faithfully led us to this point, will still be there in those moments as well. He will still be writing the story, still giving us wisdom when we seek it, and still be the rock, refuge, and fortress that He is today.

How can we be so sure? Because almost four years ago - literally in an instant - God made it crystal clear that this was His purpose for our lives. Even though we fought it, ignored it, avoided it, and danced around it, the one thing that we never did was doubt it. From that first moment, we both knew this was our calling. All of the other - the doubt and avoidance - was just us trying to wiggle out of it. Our human nature, our selfishness - if you will, went into fight or flight mode, trying to defend us from this crazy, CRAZY, world-rocking idea. And even though it took us 11 months to make that first call to the adoption agency, in the end, we chose obedience over comfort.

So... are we ready? Will we get down there and then freak out? Run away? Turn back to the airport and ask for two, one-way tickets to Paris? Truthfully, yes, we might very well freak out when we are alone together, questioning our sanity and wishing we could move to the land of introverts and escargot, but NO, we will not run away. Why? Because the decision to do this was made years ago, and the Author of this story knows what He is doing - even when He chooses to use the most reluctant of His kids to reflect the light of His glory.

#iamthankful #rightsideup

P.S. Remember how I was putting adoption expenses in that spreadsheet? After I finished, I tried not to panic. Let's just say that I'm a little "safety first" when it comes to finances... though God is definitely using this whole experience to stretch me! If you're inclined to donate, we still have a lot of expenses coming up (some already paid for, some not) during our time in Costa Rica. DONATE HERE

P.P.S. You guys have been unbelievably generous to us and our kids in your purchases from our Amazon registry! We are BLOWN AWAY!!! There are just 25 items remaining (5 of those being gift card options) on our list that it would be nice to have (like the LICE SHAMPOO - go ahead and pray that we don't have to deal with that!!), just in case you're interested. :) SEE THE LIST


Full to Overflowing

I'm not a people person. Most of the time I find myself quite irritated by people, in fact, and fully identify with Christ in those moments when he got away by Himself to connect with His Father (as documented in the Gospels). However, unlike Christ, I'm not always wise enough to walk away so I can talk to my Father about it, unless it's to pray, "Lord, help me not to blast them. And can You please make them use the brains You gave them?" Let's just say that to "love your neighbor as yourself" does not come naturally for me.

And then people surprise me. Stun me, actually. And those experiences remind me that I am not, in fact, a happy little island (à la Bob Ross), but a part of a wider community of people who ignore me when I'm snippy, irritated, and generally unpleasant to be around, and genuinely care about impacting 5 little strangers from Costa Rica. I find myself "full to overflowing" with gratitude for people who choose to bless us through their generosity towards our kids.

You see, if left to my natural INTJ tendencies, I'd pack up my books (and Peter), move to a Paris apartment, and leave no forwarding address. I'd hide in the middle of a city full of people whose language I cannot speak (makes not talking to people so much easier), walking to the local boulangerie each morning for my daily croissant or baguette, and revel in the introversion of it all. But God didn't put me on this earth to hide, no matter how much I might like to at times. 

There are days - even currently - when I am "full to overflowing" with people who need things from me, and I get worn out. My stress level goes up and my emotions hover right under the surface, just waiting for a reason to be let loose. But a very wise friend reminded me yesterday, "It's all good preparation for when you have 5 little people who need you ALL.THE.TIME." I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about that, and I thanked God for the opportunity to practice now, and for a friend who is willing to say what I need to hear, not just what I want to hear.

Whether I feel up to it or not, as Christians, our purpose on this earth is to be a reflection of the light of Christ, not to hide in our house and hope people go away. Three weeks from today we will be in Costa Rica, settling into our home for the next 6-8 weeks, knowing that in a few days it will never again be just the two of us. For some unfathomable (to us) reason, God has chosen us to be the parents of 5 unique opportunities, entrusting us with their lives to raise with love and for His glory. I don't understand why He picked us - the least likely candidates for the job - but #iamthankful I serve a God who is so much bigger than my self-sufficient, Paris-loving, INTJ, hide-away self. 

I'd be lying if I said it wasn't still overwhelming at times, but we also cannot wait to see how He will continue to write, not only the story of our lives, but of theirs. To GOD be the Glory. 


PRAISE: We booked a car for our stay in Costa Rica - Thanks for Praying!

FINANCES: My YouCaring math was a little off last week (hello - English major!), and we still need around $3400 (extra helps cover the credit card fees from YouCaring) to meet our goal. The account will remain active while we are in country, so gifts during that time would help as well since our income will be decreased. CLICK TO DONATE.

$$$ TRANSPARENCY: We have been paying (and continue to pay) for items for the kids (school, clothing, etc.) and our trip (luggage, toiletries, etc.) out of our personal income, and so far have only pulled from this fund to cover the costs of our 2 airline tickets and the condo payment.  $20k was our estimate of what we would need, and it's probably going to be pretty close when all is said and done (perhaps a little under our final costs). Your monetary gifts have helped SO MUCH - THANK YOU!

CO$T$ COMING UP: We still have to pay for the car (just under $2700), the final agency funds (just over $5300), and 5 one-way tickets home (last estimate was just over $2000, but that could change) + food, gas, immigration, and physicals for the kids in Costa Rica, and travel expenses in the U.S. (car storage, motel). Additionally, everything is currently booked for 6 weeks, but if we find we need to stay longer, there will be additional cost to both the condo and the car.

GRATITUDE: There are only 26 items remaining on our Amazon Registry (CHECK THEM OUT)... WOW!! YOU GUYS ARE AMAZING!!


Just One Slice, Thanks...

Oh, this week. A 3-day weekend (our last holiday where we can do whatever we jolly well want to without tiny people wanting to eat morning, noon, and night) could not have come at a better time. From stomach bugs to turning into a mama bear twice in a 7 day period, the week was capped off by the largest Humble Pie I have had to face in a very long time. God continues to remind me that I am far (FAR, people, FAR) from perfection, and that grace is not something to be doled out when it is earned, but when it is needed.

We've been in this whole adoption process for a long time (officially since December 2013 when we sent our first payment into the adoption agency, unofficially since God first called us in November 2012). For the last 2 years I've loudly and, at times, publicly shared my frustration that a previously involved party had lost our original marriage license and my birth certificate. Incompetence, idiocy, and the real clincher, disorganized. How could they?

With less than 30 days to go before we board an airplane bound for Costa Rica, we have created lists of things that we need to take care of before we go. One of the items on my personal "to do" list included taking old, no longer referenced folders from our upstairs filing cabinet and moving them to the storage filing cabinet in the basement. While I was working through the upstairs files this week, I came across a folder marked "Bank Safe Deposit Box." I flipped it open, recalling that we had closed our box almost 2 years ago when our bank closed, and wondered if it could be regulated to the basement.

Do I even need to say it? Inside the folder - which didn't contain paperwork indicating that we had a box, but the actual paperwork from the box itself - I found our "missing" documents. Our marriage certificate and my (somewhat original) birth certificate. There they were, in the filing cabinet that I had torn apart looking for these items over a year ago. All the time that I was blaming the individual for losing our paperwork, I was sitting less than 2 feet away from the items, tucked neatly into a poorly labeled folder. I'm the idiot. "Yes, I believe I will have some cream with my pie."

Here's my question for you: how often do you (and I) foist the blame for a mistake, a situation, an argument, a misunderstanding on someone else before we look at our ownership? How many tiffs with your spouse could be stopped mid-argument if you were to consider your role in it rather than pointing out the faults of your husband or wife? How many times in your frustration with your children have you failed to see the situation from their point of view? Are you a loving parent - teaching, instructing, guiding, correcting and yes, even giving grace on occasion - or are you the task master, benevolent dictator, and tyrant?

I know when it comes to marriage I have been culpable of seeing Peter's guilt before acknowledging my own role in the fight. I have stood in judgement of his decisions, I have been self-righteous, declaring my perfection over his missteps. Thankfully, after 16 years of marriage, almost 20 years of friendship, and 32 and 37 years of following Jesus, God has helped us see our own faults, and recognize when we are wrong. Our marriage has gotten sweeter as we have learned the importance of dying to self, willing to admit when we are wrong, mistaken, or just plain unsure.

I also know that I will - guaranteed - screw up with our kids. I will be quick to throw blame, make assumptions, and fail to give a measure of grace when I should. And while I am all about boundaries (yes, in this house it will be a dictatorship not a democracy - Dad and Mom do get the final say), I also know what it feels like to have judgement handed down without feeling like my side has been heard, and I want to remember that as we learn how to parent these 5, unique individuals.

Perhaps it's because God knows that my patience will be tested in days to come, or because He knows my heart and my own high view of myself, that He allowed me to find a whole humble pie in my filing cabinet, not just a slice. Whatever the case... another lesson in the books this week, and another moment to sigh and say, "Thank you, Lord. Please don't let me forget."

P.S. In other news - we received $2,675 in donations this week!! That leaves us with $3,325 to hit our goal. God has more than one way in which to humble us. #iamthankful 

P.P.S. We could still use some items off of our Amazon registry, if you are so inclined, particularly the turtleneck shirts for the kids. GO TO THE LIST.

P.P.P.S. If anyone knows someone with a 7 passenger vehicle (SUV or van) in the San Jose area that they'd be willing to let us use for, oh, say, 6-8 weeks this fall, please let us know!


Right Side Up

DETAILS. There are still a number of details that have to be figured out, taken care of, and nailed down in the next 33 days, but the good news is that we're both detail people, so this isn't as stressful to us as it might be to some. However, at times we have a tendency to be a little overly sure that we have it all figured out, so our prayer request would be that God would remind us to look to Him for our plans, rather than relying on our own wisdom. Yes, we have to physically book the car rental, but God can lead us to the right one (just as he did on the airline tickets and the condo). Pray that we are smart enough to listen, and obedient enough to lay aside our own plans for His better ones.

Earlier this week, we heard from the in-country adoption team (consisting of our lawyer, her assistant, and the kid's social worker) that the kids were "ready for our meeting" in 38 days. Glad to hear they aren't dreading it! We are so grateful for the work that the team has been doing with the kids to get them ready, especially the social worker who has been so faithful to meet with them and send us ideas for the letters we have been writing to the kids. Please continue to pray for the children and the workers, that they would have God-given wisdom, and that the kids would continue to grow in their enthusiasm for this life changing plan.

Speaking of life changing plans, how's your perspective? Have you ever realized that you might need a perspective adjustment? One morning this week, Peter and I had just finished praying before he left for work, and I made a comment about getting something done "before our lives are turned upside down." It's a statement I've made countless times, because if you bring 5 children into your life after 16 years of easy living and last-minute meals, it does rather seem like your life is spinning a bit. But this time when it rolled off my tongue, my wise husband looked at me and said, "Have you ever thought that maybe they aren't turning our lives upside down, but are actually turning our lives right side up? Maybe we've been upside down all this time and didn't even know it." Bless him for saying it, because NO, I haven't.

I've always looked at this whole process as something God led us to, something He wanted us to do, something He was using to break us out of our comfort zone and use to help us grow, something we were (initially) reluctantly obeying, but even when my excitement about the process grew, I still never looked at bringing so much change into our home as making something right that was previously broken. I don't know what made him say it, but I'm grateful that he did.

Begging your indulgence this week, but building on the above story, I have a little soapbox to stand on, so if you don't like those kinds of things, I suggest you look away now.

You've probably all seen the summer Facebook posts with statements like, "School can't start soon enough! Where's the wine?" and "Just 12 more days before we can send the kids off to school!" Every time I see something along those lines in my feed, I cringe. I fully realize that there are those of you who will say that since I am not yet a parent, I cannot identify with how they are feeling as a parent. And yes, that is true to a certain extent, however, I do know what it was like to be the child they are talking about.

This desire to see the kids go back to school isn't new, and I remember hearing the parents of my friends say similar things when they didn't think the kids were listening (trust me, we were always listening!). I also remember my mother piping up to say, "Not me! I LOVE having them home for the summer and am always sorry when school starts, and so glad when they come home in the afternoon." People usually stopped talking then and moved on to another topic, but her public response always made me feel loved, rather than in the way.

You know that I'm an introvert - this isn't something I try to hide. And you know that as married INTJs, we value our privacy, our alone time, and our tidy, logic-driven life. However, as a parent, I don't ever want our children to feel like they made our life worse. That they turned our world upside down - in a negative way. That our life before them was so much better, or that we're sorry we told God "yes" to this adventure. I want them to know, as my parents demonstrated to their children, that God used them to turn our lives right side up. And #iamthankful. 

P.S. If you're reading this and you are one of those parents counting the days and popping open the wine bottle, why not begin praying about it instead? Ask God to show you how you can bless your children and encourage them in those days before they start a new school year. As someone who grew up with two parents who always made time for their kids, I can tell you that feeling wanted and loved is one of the best investments you can ever make in your child's life.


Hello Facebook Friends!

Thanks to everyone who has made it here by finding us on Facebook. Just a note that the blog is very much a work in progress (much like we are, as individuals!), so make sure you pop back in from time to time to see what's new as we iron out the kinks and clean up the past posts.

ALSO: All posts were originally shared at YouCaring, so if the way something is worded doesn't make sense, or it all seems familiar to you, that's probably why. :)

BUT since you're here... 

Here's a short adoption update: we had to make videos to send to the kids this weekend. And I do mean "had to" because I thought we were either going to end in tears, or end up with something that would cause the kids to cry. It's safe to say that both Peter and I should stay away from the front of a camera, because we either turn into hams, or we freeze, or we just end up mad because we're tripping all over ourselves as we try to figure out what to say. It wasn't pretty... but in the end, we managed to make two short videos all around my love of books. Gotta start somewhere, right?


The LONG Update

"Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.Philippians 1:3 (NLT)

HumbledBlessedRemindedGrateful. Whether it's friends ordering books through an online party (which, in turn, gives us free credit for school books), or people buying gifts for our kids (from our Usborne Wish List or Amazon registry), or a check showing up in our mailbox on the very week we book our housing for an exact amount (more on that below), with each event, I find myself feel more and more at a loss for words. If you know me, you know that's not usually a problem (I'm an introvert, but I'm also a Graham, and we're known for our ability to TALK. [or WRITE] A LOT.). But good golly... since February 1st (when we finally told our story to the wider world), Peter and I have been rendered speechless by the generosity of our friends, family, and even online-only acquaintances. 

We are HUMBLED... that you would choose to walk with us in a tangible way.
We are BLESSED... that God has provided needs & wants in ways we could not have imagined.
We are REMINDED... to hold loosely to what He gives us, ready to pass it on when He nudges.
We are GRATEFUL... for the opportunity to see God's hand writing this story, and using those around us.

WE'VE BOOKED A PLACE TO STAY IN COSTA RICA! After some searching, more outreach, and a whole lot of prayer, we've got a place to live while we're in Costa Rica. I'll get to the good stuff, but you need some background first. 

God has been reminding us (again!) that this is HIS story, not ours. Peter and I are both planners by nature. We had a PLAN for our life (and it was a good one)... but God walked in and totally disrupted OUR plan, substituting one that we never would have considered, but which has broken and taught us more than OUR plan ever would have. We had a PLAN for how we were going to pay for the adoption (that was working)... but God came in again and reminded us that the cattle on a thousand hills belongs to HIM, and HE is the one providing for this story (through our jobs - from Him, but also through the generosity of friends, family, and strangers). We had a PLAN for how many children (and what sex) we were going to take... I'm pretty sure God had to either chuckle or shake His head at our stubbornness to let go, and now we have "Little Brother" in the fold. And this week, God took OUR plan for housing and turned it upside down, providing something far better than what we could have imagined. To GOD be the glory, great things HE hath done!

When we found out about our kids in late January, Peter started looking for housing in San Jose. He found a house on the outskirts of town, big yard, nice kitchen, 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms - and best of all, within the budget. He contacted the owner and explained the situation to him (coming to adopt, no certain dates yet, etc.), and we marked that one as "done" on our list. No prayer needed - we had it handled! ;) Fast forward to about 3 weeks ago... the lawyer in country decided she wanted to go look at the house in person, and her report on the property told us a few things that we didn't know (like the owner would be in the guest cottage next door - located approximately 4-5 feet from the house where we'd be living). Meh. It would work, but it probably wasn't ideal.

As we prepared to search again, we realized that we needed to seek GOD'S plan for housing, rather than ours. {Yes, we ARE slow to learn!} This time we prayed and asked God to make HIS will clear, to direct us to the right house for our kids and our needs, and to clearly open and close doors as we made decisions. Within 24 hours, Peter found a second house on the northern side of San Jose that claimed to sleep 7, and I found a 3 bedroom condo on the south western side of the city. [Insert theme from "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" HERE

Peter started emailing with the owner of the house he found, while I was connecting with the firm that managed the 7th floor condo. The condo was more than double the price of the original house, but it was situated on a compound that offered a nice playground, 4 swimming pools, a walking/running track/path, and a park with a duck pond, plus 24-hour security and parking. I decided it wouldn't hurt to write and explain the situation and see if they could do any discounts. 

Meanwhile, Peter's emails had netted him a house that was managed by an American who had lived in Costa Rica for over 20 years - a fountain of genuinely helpful information - at $1000 less than the original house we were looking at, and $4700 less than the 7th floor condo. Our initial reaction was that the decision was a no-brainer. My condo was a budget buster, his house was easy on the budget. However, we kept praying and decided we'd wait to hear back from the condo owners to see what they might be able to offer.

The initial response from the condo folks was encouraging. They loved what we were doing and would really like to try to make it work. And so we waited. The next day we received a long email from them again, and this time the contact said she'd found my Twitter account (something I hadn't linked to in our correspondence), and she loved that I was so open about my faith in my Twitter bio. Despite having found a job because of Twitter, and the various connections I've made online in the last few years, I'm still amazed at how God can use something as "silly" as social media, for His glory. 

After a number of emails our hold ups on the condo were what we could afford to pay that was also fair for them (this is how they make a living after all), and the fact that it was on the 7th floor with a balcony. I decided to tackle the 7th floor issue first, and (no surprise - it's God's story), they immediately wrote back to inform us that the also owned a second condo (a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom) on the ground floor with a private outdoor patio and grill. The bad news was that it was booked for some of the time we would need it, but the good news was that the other renters were willing to be moved up to the 7th floor so we could have the ground-level apartment. Well, that was one item off the list!

We continued to pray about both locations, and despite our initial reaction to the house over the condo, the more we learned about the second house (like the fact that it really only slept 6, and one kid would have to sleep in a recliner for 6-8 weeks), the more we felt like God was directing us towards the condo (which, despite being just 2 bedrooms, really did have room to sleep 7 on something that resembled a bed). But budget wise, it just didn't fit. No matter how many pools or playgrounds it offered, we couldn't justify the cost. 

After talking it over, I told Peter what I thought we could afford, and he responded with a number that was $500 higher than mine, and $2700 less than the advertised price. After a nudge from God, we also decided that I should offer my services as a writer/editor to them as a way to barter some of the difference. We sent our offer to the condo folks and then waited. In less than 24 hours, we had an enthusiastic "APPROVED" response, and they took me up on my offer to help with updating their website copy. Win-Win! :) They're excited to be a part of this story God is writing, and we're excited to have a space with so many free options for the kids to run and play and expend energy. 

As an aside: less that 2 hours after receiving confirmation that our condo offer was approved, the owner of the second house wrote to say that he had an American family of 4 who wanted to reserve the house for almost the same amount of time during the same period of time - so even though we had to turn him down, he wasn't out anything. I love that. :) 

And so on Tuesday morning of this week, that was that... or so we thought. All week I've been little bit bothered about that $500 amount that Peter felt like we should add to my original offer amount, but since God had made it so clear that this was the right place for us, and the owners confirmed it with their response that they believed God led us to them, I had to let go and trust that God would take care of the little details... like paying for it. ;) When the mail came yesterday I heard it drop in our box, but forgot to go check it. Last night about 10:30, Peter opened the mailbox and pulled out a personal card from some old family friends. When I opened it, a check fell out. Yep, you guessed it. For $500


Tickets to Fly!

In all of our travels, we've always flown Delta whenever it was a possibility, and after doing some research through adoption airfare companies and online, we decided to reach out to them again. Last Friday night I spent over an hour on the phone with three wonderful Delta representatives -shout out to Delta, who need it this week after their technical issues! Working together, they were able to get us a great deal on flexible, round-trip tickets to Costa Rica, waving the change fees if we need to move the return date. Online, these changeable tickets were running a little over $2000/each. After explaining the adoption situation to Delta, we ended up getting both tickets for $1300! We are officially leaving on Thursday, September 29th. 48 days and counting...

NEXT UP: HOUSING. This week we've been focused on figuring out where we want to stay for our 6-8 weeks in San Jose. Back in the spring, Peter found a house that looked really promising in a certain section of the city. It had a nice yard for the kids to play, and would give us some breathing room. This week our in-country representatives went to look at the house and sent us their report, which made us decide to look some more. ;) It wasn't a bad house, but we thought there might be something better out there.

I reached out everywhere - Facebook (so many shared that post or asked their friends - thank you!), church websites, and owners on the HomeAway website. As it turns out, if you go to the owners and explain that you're not coming for vacation but to stay for up to 2 months because you're adopting 5 kids, that changes things. ;) As of this morning we have 2 really good possibilities in different parts of the city, both with pros and cons. 
BOTTOM LINEPray for God given wisdom for us as we make our final decision. Pray that we would have clear direction as to which house to take, that the finances would fit the budget, and that the house would be perfect for the needs of our kids and our time in country. We'll make a final choice in the next few days.

This morning, after we'd prayed for the day and about our current conundrum, Peter left for work and I suddenly recognized the hymn that was playing on the Abiding Radio online channel: What a Friend We Have in Jesus. Immediately the words of the hymn started running through my head:

What a privilege to carry
EVERYTHING to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
EVERYTHING to God in prayer!

God knows what house/condo we need. He knows what we need financially. He knows how He will provide, and the connections He will make. He knows what the kids need. He knows what we need - even when we don't yet know. What a privilege we have to carry all of our unknowns - and knowns - to our Father in prayer. Take heart... He is in control#iamthankful



One morning last week, I realized that for the first time, I felt total peace about the future. From trusting that whatever finances we had would cover our needs, to knowing that whatever came off the registry would be perfect for the kids, I finally acknowledged that not only is God writing our story, but He's covering EVERY aspect of this story - and I could let go. Shortly after I came to this conclusion (hey, I'm slow, but I get there eventually!), God - in His mercy - provided two tangible reminders that He knows our needs, and when I trust Him, He will provide. And even though He didn't have to provide additional confirmation of this, when He did, I chuckled and thanked Him for knowing His control-freak kid. $685 came in within a 24-hour period this week to go toward the adoption (thanks to those who donated, you know who you are!), and three new gifts (books - hooray!) arrived from the registry. #iamthankful

When we were in the early stages of our relationship, Peter and I wrote a lot of letters to each other. In many ways it feels like we're dating all over again - but this time as a couple - as we try to describe our life, our plans, our family, and our home to the kids in written letters that the in-country social worker delivers on her weekly meetings. The kids have asked questions that have made us chuckle ("Will we still be able to eat fruits and vegetables?" ANSWER: YES!), and questions that have made us plan ("What chores will we do?"), and questions that leave us stumped on how to explain ("Where will we go to school and what does the school bus look like?"). Bottom LineThese kids are already challenging us to think outside the box

TRAVEL UPDATE: We're in the process of getting airline ticket quotes and working out the details of housing and transportation in country. Looks like the car is going to cost us double what we originally thought, but we've got a couple more options to review and see if we can get that price down a bit before we book anything. 

On a personal note: We are so excited about the prospect of traveling outside of the U.S. again. Its been 2.5 years since we last used our passports (that's 2.5 years too long!), and 8 years since we last lived outside of the U.S. for any length of time, and we have missed it. Of every detail of this process, living in Costa Rica for up to 2 months has been on the bottom of our list of concerns, and actually the bright spot in the planning. Once we get all the details into place (like housing/car, and when we get the kids), we'll focus on what we can learn about Costa Rica during our time there. 

FINALLY, there have been some questions from friends and family about the Zika virus in Costa Rica. Our answer might sound cavalier, but Zika is what it is, and it's not going to deter us from going to get the kids. We'll take what precautions we can to avoid getting it, but having previously lived in malaria-ridden countries (where Peter did contract the disease at one point), we're no strangers to living life where these kinds of illnesses are just a part of the package. If you're so inclined to pray for our protection (and protection for our kids) from getting it (or illnesses of any kind while we're there - dengue, malaria, Zika, amoebas, etc.), we wouldn't say no. 


Immeasurably More

THEY KNOW. We found out late last Friday afternoon that the in-country social worker had met with the kids to tell them about us. According to our lawyer, the kids were excited and the older girls wanted to know where they would attend school and if it would be in Spanish or English.

They will be meeting with the social worker on a weekly basis through the end of September, with a tentative date for us to meet the kids in country on October 3rd. That would put us back in Tennessee in mid-late November, or early December, depending on how long everything takes once we arrive in Costa Rica. While it's a bit later than we were expecting, it does give us more time to plan, save, and set up travel arrangements, so God's timing is always perfect. 

One thing that we recently learned was that ours is the largest set of siblings being adopted together that our lawyer and social worker have worked with, and possibly the largest sibling set ever adopted from Costa Rica (that we know of - there are other agencies, lawyers, social workers, and orphanages in country). Our in-country representatives are quite excited about that. 

We can't share photos until the children are legally ours (after we're in country), but we can tell you that they are ADORABLE. From what we've seen so far, the personalities that come across seem to be a good fit for us - which isn't surprising. God's the best at writing our stories, right?

As we get closer and closer to the end of this phase of the adoption journey, I find myself overwhelmed... but probably not in the way you are thinking. I am overwhelmed that God would choose us to raise these children. I am honored and humbled that out of all the people in this world who seem better suited for the work - God called us. Most of the time I feel like Paul, the least likely candidate for the job to which God has called me. But as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:10...

"But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me."

I love the fact that God took two, extremely-vocal-about-not-being-kid-people, people, who never wanted to be parents, and decided that they needed 5 children to raise for Him. God has a sense of humor. Guess what? We're STILL not kid peopleBUT, you know what? We are both excited about these 5 kids that He is entrusting to us. I love that God made us all so very different, and that He uses those differences for His glory when we are willing to bend our will to His. I love that this story - from start to finish - isn't our idea, doesn't fit our plan, and couldn't be more out of the box. Glory to God in the highest!

"Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." {Ephesians 3:20-21}