Saturday, December 6, 2014

Where We Were and Where We Are

I can hardly believe we are in the month of December already.  Ever since the two foster toddlers have been added to our family, in February, life has been literally non-stop in appointments, daily work and intense child care.  Trying to help children, of any age, over come a hard past, is not an easy task.  To be honest, it is a lot harder than what I remember.  Maybe it's because we took several years off from foster care.  Maybe it's because these two toddlers are just more intense than children we have had in the past.  Maybe it is my age but it definitely has been harder to work thru this time around.  When I have a hard day or get discouraged, I look back and remember what the toddlers were like when they came and realize they have really come so far.  They are not the same children that came to us 10 months ago.  God has done a great work in them and still is.  The boys were neglected and exposed to so much that was not good in their short lives.  So many things were not done, that should have laid a good foundation for their growth and development.  We are having to go back and help them learn some things and unlearn others.  These things can not be done in a short period of time but will take a while to overcome and get past.  All in all, the boys are doing well.  I will give you a short but honest and for real, update on each of them.  Things I have not felt to share but will now, to encourage myself and help encourage others that have just gotten a hard foster child and can't see the light at the end of the tunnel yet.

"B" just turned 3 years old in November.  He is in feeding therapy as he can not chew food well and does not self feed.  Nothing is wrong with him physically.  His mom just had him on a bottle for the first 2 and a half years of his life.  The only solid foods he was fed, were snack cakes and bags of chips.  We found out he has six cavities that need filling, in his front teeth, from bottle rot.  When he came to live with us, meals took forever.  Not only to get him to chew and eat but to eat healthy food.  Now, he eats anything we eat but the average meal, for him, takes about an hour and a half, with me feeding him almost every bite.  He eats very slowly.   He only feeds himself about five or six bites of a whole meal.  I have a teething/chewing toy I clip to his shirt during the day for him to mouth and chew on to help develop those chewing muscles.  He still sits in a high chair as he smears food all in his hair and over his body at every meal and he can not stay seated unless strapped in. 

When he came, he was not potty trained.  He potty trained very quickly but used his excrement and urine to....hmmm... lets just say....make a statement when he was mad.   He is no longer pulling out his little boy part and urinating on everything when he gets sat in time out or scolded.  Praise God!  But will still do the other sometimes.  He is a very smart child and learns very quickly.  When he came here, he knew 20 words and two were very bad.  He now knows his letters and letter sounds, numbers, shapes, colors, body parts, animals and so much more.   He talks all day long non-stop and is constantly asking very good questions.  He is VERY active and has trouble sitting still.  He loves for me to read books to him and cry's when I have to stop.   He loves doing anything educational.  He is a lot of fun to teach.  We are still having issues with him being violent toward his brother and the other children in the home.  It has gotten better but it is not gone.  He used to scream and kick my van or bus window the whole time we went anywhere when he came and would try to get out of his car seat.  (We were told by DFCS the boys were tied in car seats their whole life before we got them)  So I can understand the trauma of being restrained in a car seat for them but this still made it no easier to ignore while driving everywhere.  Now, he no longer does that.  He happily climbs up in his car seat and even tries to buckle it himself.   He understands we are putting him in, going somewhere, will then come home and he can get out.   When he came, he used all toys as weapons or tried to break them.  Now, after months of my children "playing" with him and modeling appropriate play, he will play for a short while before trying to break something.  He rarely uses toys as weapons anymore.  Thank God.  These are just some of the areas and things that have went on that we have had to try to manage. He gets Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Feeding Therapy.  He needs them all because he was not let down to play, like in a functional home or from not being fed properly.  We love him dearly and he is doing so much better all the time.  He has two or three good days following a hard day.  That is much better than it used to be...a constant battle every day, all day long, to behave and control himself.    All the Glory to God. 

"T"  just turned 2 years old.  He is so much younger than "B", that he has overcome much quicker (comparatively) and easier the issues he came with, than his brother.   Because of the neglect, "T" was very immature and acted much like a baby when he came, so he has less anger and less inappropriate behaviors to over come.  Both boys screamed off and on day and night when they first came.  They did this for at least eight weeks straight.  It was a high pitched scream, from them detoxing the meth that was smoked regularly around them.  They would not be comforted.  They only thing that helped some, was giving them a bottle.  At about eight weeks it slowly started to subside.  "T" also is a climber.  He would  not be contained and needed constant supervision.  We zip-tied toddler gates all around the top of the crib making it taller.  So tall, that I broke my ribs putting him to bed one night when Tim was out of town.  (Tim is much taller than I am)  Finally, I sewed "T"'s pajama legs together, with a narrow towel, so he could not hike his leg over the side.  Praise God that worked.  (got the idea off the internet)  Neither boy could fall asleep on their own or slept thru the night for a long time.  If I tried to put them down, with out me helping them fall asleep, they each exhibited bad self injurious behavior.  "B" banged his head and broke off pieces of his hair while screaming,  and "T" poked his eyes and bit hard on his nail beds.  His nail beds were actually inverted (cup shaped) when he came and I didn't know why, till I saw what he did when he was upset.   I started out rocking and singing them to sleep, with the only bottle I allowed them for the day and putting them down.  After a month of that, I was exhausted.  As it took over an hour for each boy.  So then Tim and I put them in bed with us (with "baby praise" music playing) till they fell asleep and then moved them to their beds.  After another month or so of doing that, we started just putting them in their own bed with the same "baby praise" music playing.  They would wake and scream every three hours or so.  They did this for many months.  Now we can put them into bed and they are happy to go.  I can walk in and out of their room and if they are awake they do not cry for me.  They also both sleep straight thru the night!  Glory to God neither one of them do any self injurious behaviors anymore!  (They both used to hit themselves and kick their feet hard when I put them in time out and they don't do this anymore either)  I was very concerned about these behaviors and the fact they are gone is a true miracle to me. Praise God! 

"T" had a lot of tummy issues and didn't seem to be developing, so we took him in for testing for food allergies.  We found out he is casin and gluten intolerant.  Once we took those things out of his diet, he was less clumsy, came out of a fog in development and has learned so much very quickly.  When he came he also had been bottle fed milk day and night and ate snack cakes and chips but because of his young age, he excepted good food much quicker and eats anything we eat very well.  But he also does not self feed.  He eats about 10 bites himself throughout his meal and I have to feed him the rest.  Needless to say, meal times are still not a fun time of day for me, as I have to feed both boys almost their whole meal.  They will only eat for Tim and myself, so the other children in our home can not help me with this.  So meals take a while.  On the upside "T" graduated out of his highchair a long time ago.  He is a very neat eater and sits very well at the big kid table.  All in all, I would say that "T" is now a normal acting 2 year old little boy.  He is such a joy to be around and when in trouble it is normal typical two  year old trouble, like climbing or sneaking somewhere to get into something he knows he should not touch.  Glory to God.

This post is getting long so I will do a separate update post on our foster daughter baby "K" at a later date.

I give glory to God for answering our prayers of  "What to do with our future years to serve Him".  We prayed this prayer for many years and God has led us back into foster care.  I praise Him for bringing the children into our home He wished to be here and for giving us the strength and help needed to get through every day.  That when I have felt like quitting He has made it clear we are where He wants us to be.  When I have felt like I could not move forward, that He has given us peace in some form for even a hour before heading back into it all again.  The nights are so much better and the days are getting better all the time.  The children are bonding and becoming a part of us...the Nichols.  They are starting to talk like us and act like us.  We love them all dearly.

Lord, please shine your light down on the path you wish for us all to take in our lives.  Give us the Fruit of Your Spirit, to do all things in Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self Control.   Living our lives for You because you gave your Son for us.

Philippians 3:14  I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.



Sunday, November 30, 2014

Happy Birthday Zeke!!!

Today is Zeke's birthday.  He officially becomes a teen today.  I don’t know how these things happen.  I mean I know he is 13.  I have seen him grow up but I still have very vivid memories of him as an infant, toddler, young child and growing up to where he is, as a young man.   He is now taller than me!   I have watched him grow and enjoyed him every moment.  So today I remember his life and am full of gratitude he is our son.

He has not always had it easy.  He was born to an HIV positive mother and waited for a family to come and pick him up, for eight days in the hospital.  I had a vivid dream from the Lord telling us to take him the day before he was offered to us.    So on a bright sunny December morning, my mother and I drove to the town he was born in, to pick him up.  
He was so sweet and chubby from the time he was born.  I cut the I.D. band off his little leg.  He had some health issues besides the HIV antibodies in his blood.  He had terrible reflux and breathing issues (from aspiration on formula and tracheal mylasia).   He has a syndrome that they have never been able to identify.  He also has Hypotonic Cerebral Palsy (low, floppy, muscle tone).  Even with all these things going on, he was the most cuddly, sweet, happy, baby.  
There was always a huge smile on his face.  His eyes just twinkled.    

As time went by he out grew his reflux and severe breathing issues.  Really the only issues he had was the HIV, asthma and CP.  He was meeting his milestone but just later than what was expected.  He was a quiet, happy, bubbly, toddler and against all odds, the HIV cleared from his blood at 18 months old.  No HIV, Glory to God!    
We all enjoyed Zeke so much.
At three years old, after receiving shots, he went into bone marrow failure and was hospitalized for weeks needing many transfusions.  He almost died…when he came home it was like he was gone… it was all erased…he was erased and everything changed with autism.

It was terrible.  He made no eye contact, his facial expressions flaccid.  He didn’t interact with anyone voluntarily anymore.  He no longer talked at all anymore, not a word.  He drooled a lot and had to wear a bib to catch it all.  He could not sleep anymore and wandered around at night.  We had to find creative, safe, ways, to contain him so he would not get hurt.  The whole house had to be baby proofed again, as he had no sense of danger.   He had to be supervised at all times.  He was sick constantly with tummy issues, allergies, colds and terrible exema.  I grieved terribly for our loss.  His loss.  He could not learn.  He now also acted like he could not hear and after testing was diagnosed with audio processing disorder as well.  It was overwhelming.

After a year of grieving, and not much headway at all in all his therapy sessions, I began to pray hard.  We always loved him for who he was no matter what but I saw his personality and knowledge disappear in a few days when he was sick, surly there was something that could be done to help him heal or improve.  As a parent we always want the best and most for each child.  For each child to reach their fullest potential.  I got on line and spent hours researching autism and alternative help.  Back then, what God led me to, was called the DAN protocol.  The Defeat Autism Now Protocol.  I started off with giving him cod liver oil and taking all milk and wheat out of his diet.  He improved dramatically.  The first thing we all noticed was he started to make a lot of eye contact.  He also started to talk again a little.  After a few weeks of me continuing to tweak his diet, his occupational therapist saw the dramatic difference as well and asked me to explain what I had learned and what I was doing.  She was so excited about it all she started filming all of his sessions to show the progression.  Over the period of a year, I kept a careful journal of foods I took out and added back in to see if I saw a difference.  Also adding supplements that had helped other children with autism and noting any change.  It is still an ongoing job but long story short, he potty trained in a few weeks, learned his letters, numbers and colors in a very short period of time and continued to learn at a steady slow pace.  We have never got back the child that was lost but Zeke is much improved and we are so grateful to God for bringing him back to where he is.  He is wonderful and we love him so much.

He is a very quiet young man but he seems happy and content in life.  His face is still very flaccid most of the time 
but he will smile if asked to for a picture and does smiles and laugh at things that he sees as funny on occasion.   

He speaks in sentences and is still progressing.   He functions at about a first grade level in his education  but still struggles with reading terribly.  He understands danger and safety around our home and farm.  He still has trouble sleeping but stays in bed, for the most part, till he falls asleep.  If he does get up he does not do anything destructive or get into things.  He knows all of the house rules.

He has grown into such a wonderful young man.  He loves the Lord and knows right from wrong, according to Gods law.  He recently asked Tim to baptize him.  It was after swim season and the pool was very cold but it was his hearts desire.   

He works hard and tries to please us.  He has trouble remembering all he has to do every day, even to get dressed.  So we developed a daily chart of all that is required of him and it has worked very well to keep him on task.  He is very schedule and daily routine oriented, so the chart works well for him and is very helpful.   He does great!  He is helpful around the house and a very obedient, sweet, young man.

Zeke has been a joy to raise.  Even though he has had to go thru so much, even though he has had and still has hours of therapy, he always does his very best and tries very hard to learn.  He loves to make us short movies, (with his legos and wooden railway) that he narrates himself.  He also spends a lot of time doing stop animation like William does in his spare time. 

Today is a joyous and happy day for us all.  A celebration of our sons life and the miracles God has preformed on his behalf.  We remember and are thankful that God entrusted Tim and I to raise him. 

He is loved by all of us.  Thank you Aunt "S" for the beautiful cake you made to order for him and brought over.

Zeke you are an inspiration and an amazing young man to me.  God brought you to our home to bless us and you have blessed us so much.  May God be with you every day of your life, helping you to live for Him.  May God help you achieve your goals and dreams in life!  We love you forever!!!

Zephaniah 3:17  The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.

Dad, mom, Stephen, Antonio, William, Carolyn, Elizabeth, "B", "T" and little baby "K"! 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Giving Thanks To God

I love this time of year.  The summers here in the deep south are often hot, long and muggy.  Even though summer is fun and busy, fall is a welcome sight.  Every year, as fall comes around, the mornings greet me with crisp cold air and the smell of wet leaves, I am often overcome with memories of my childhood.  I grew up in Upstate New York, with all the mature, huge, hardwood trees of the north, fall is just stunning. My family would all rake leaves from all of the huge oaks and maple trees and play for hours in them.  I was small but it seemed like mountains of leaves.  The smell of wood burning stoves hung in the air as we played and worked outside, preparing our home and land for winter.  Dad put the heat cables on the roof and we put the storm window on for winter.  We all worked together stacking wood or putting up the last of the harvest from our garden.  The food my parents grew in the garden was canned and frozen to feed us through the rest of the year.  My mom made almost everything from scratch.  We bought our meat from a deli and our milk was delivered to our home and dropped off, twice a week, in a little metal cooler beside the front door.  My parents were happy together and worked hard as a team to do all that needed to be done.  They loved God and taught us about Him in all they did.  They spent a lot of quality time with us, their children.  It was a wonderful life.  Simple and wholesome but so full of rich goodness.  I could never have asked for anything more.  I knew when I grew up I wanted that kind of life for raising my own children someday.

I wish I had continued to fill the days and memories of my life in the same way my parents had started me off.  I went through many hard years living away from the Lord.  I am forever grateful for His patience with me, leading me back to Him.  Grateful for the life I have had since recommitting my life to Him some 20 years ago.  As I look back over my life, as I often do at this time of year, I see a lot of good and bad.  Most of the bad I brought on myself through bad life choices.  But I can always see how God lead me thru those times and used them for good to teach me and help me grow.  Most of the lessons I learned the hard way, were lessons I needed later on in life, in order to make better choices down the road. 

I have been married, painfully divorced and found love in marriage again.  I have birthed and adopted children and lost one.  I have loved with a mothers heart, many children thru foster care and many, God moved on to other places.  I have had material things in abundance and lost them all in one fell swoop.  I have faced serious health issues in not only my own health but in my husbands and children as well.  I have had seasons of joy that could not be measured and times where I cried till I thought I would never feel happiness again. 

In all the days of my life, looking back through it all, there is true Thanksgiving.  From the bottom of my all thanks to our Creator...for all things He has done for me.  No matter how we are feeling.  No matter what we are going thru.  Whatever the season we are in...  To know that our joy is in the Lord and He deserves all glory and praise.  To tell Him thank you...for every breath...every moment...every day.  As these are all gifts we do not deserve but are given because of His great love for us.  This is not always easy to do but to truly be content in all things is where we are supposed to strive to be. 

Philippians 4:11-13  Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.  I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.  I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Thankful in all seasons of our life because we are strong in the Lord.

Even in the hardest times... when the world was being totally destroyed Noah was thankful for the ark.  Abraham thankful for a promised son in his old age.  David thankful for his slingshot and a stone, when up against a giant.  Joseph thankful for being sold into bondage, to later save his family in time of famine.  The list goes on and on.  We are thankful for all things because God is with us and the knowledge we are His, makes life's hard times bearable and good times so very sweet.

Lord God in heaven, I give thanks to you today because of who you are.  You alone deserve all glory honor and praise, in all seasons of our lives.  Thank you God for creating us and providing a way for salvation, thru your Son Jesus Christ.   Please help us to be strong, bold and faithful to share your Word to the lost.  Help us to daily fill needs in lives around us, being your hands and feet here on earth, till you come again.  Thank you for our family and friends.  For the provisions in our lives.  For being faithful to carry us thru the hard times and giving us joyous times of blessings as well.  You are Holy, True, Worthy and more precious than anything this world has to offer.  With all my heart, thank you God.

Psalm 100:1-5 Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.  Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.  Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.  Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.  For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

November Is National Adoption Awareness Month

November is National Adoption Awareness Month and over on Adeye blog, No Greater Joy Mom, she has invited any adoptive family to link up with her and declare that our lives are richer, lovelier and blessed by the Lord thru adoption.  Praise God!  I would have to agree with her 100%.

As a young adult, I had never thought on adoption much.  I know this sounds strange but I had only thought about adoption in terms of families that could not conceive children on their own, adopting babies from young mothers that had chosen to give up their children to adoption.   Back then, adoption was not talked about a lot.  I only knew a few people that had ever adopted or were adopted.  When I speak with people now days about adoption, most still don’t know much about the children in foster care waiting to be adopted, embryo adoption, or adoption of children from other countries.   It is talked about much more in the last few years than ever before.  Some in part because of celebrity’s adopting but I believe more people are knowledgeable about the plight of the orphan, especially in the churches across the nation, because of the many wonderful adoptive families that keep sharing and blogging about their lives and families, Orphan Sunday and National Adoption Awareness Month.  This is so encouraging and exciting.  To see the body of Christ rise up and support a child or see the wave of God calling families to adopt in churches or sign up for foster care just blesses my heart.  Anyone now days, can” google” the large amount of families on the internet fundraising to bring children home from other countries or to fund the cost to carry adopted embryos.  Glory to God.  I pray nightly that God would rise up a Christian army to adopt the orphans of the world.

Tim and I first talked about adoption while doing our training for foster care.  We knew it was a possibility that a child, that we had in our care,  would become available for adoption at some point.  We talked about what we would do.  Little did we know that within our second year of fostering that would happen.   Very soon after beginning foster care, we saw the overwhelming amount of children needing permanency.   So many children needing a Dad and Mom to love them,  a family to share God with them, love, support, direct, encourage and always be there for them.  There were just so many.  We knew we could not just help one or two.  There were just so many.  So we stayed in prayer about it always, to do the will of God and that He would bring to us, the children that were meant to be with us, as a part of our family.  To be honest, we never intended in the beginning, to have as many children as we do.  It is just the way God brought them into our lives.  Now we have learned, we just want to serve God however He wants in this area.  To never say we are done.  To never say we will never take a child with this or that.  We have learned that He calls us to the children He wants in our home.  Children that often stretch us and grow us, that we learn so much from and never knew we needed in our lives so much.  We have learned that God is faithful and He will always provide what we need, when we need it, for the family He has created here.

By our second year of doing foster care, we felt God had called us to children with special needs or that were medically fragile.  He called us to children that were harder to place because of their medical care or scary diagnosis.  Over the 9 ½ years of doing foster care, our first go around, we adopted five times and retired.  Our lives were full, blessed, busy, hard at times, and never boring.   I am humbled to the core that the Lord has entrusted Tim and I to raise these children.  We have seen daily miracles.  We have seen God provide in miraculous ways for us and always meet every need.  He has poured strength into us when we felt like we had no more to give.  Our lives have been nothing short of amazing because of adoption. 

Those who visit here regularly know that Tim and I made the choice last year to reopen for foster care and see if God wanted us to raise more children.  Even though we are both pushing 50, I had a very deep desire to raise more children I could not shake.  Even though many of our children will be spending all their lives with us, our retirement years were looking a little boring.  :)  I would get on my favorite internet adoption sites or read my favorite blogs (mostly large adoptive families) and would see the need was still so big.   Tim and I sought Gods face on this very important decision for over a year before reopening.  Glory to God it has blessed us mightily once again.   I will not lie…taking in children that have been through so much is not always easy.  But neither was Jesus choice to carry the cross and be crucified for us.  Sacrifice is not easy.  Adoption is not always easy.  BUT…it is totally worth it.  If Jesus gave His whole life for us and we are to give our whole life to Him.  He can do with it what HE wishes and some of what we are called to do might not be all easy… but the rewards are huge.  To witness a child blossom into a relaxed and happy child.  To see them put weight on and have a warm bed to sleep in.  To watch them overcome bad habits and behaviors and replace them with good.  To see them learn to give and receive love.  To see them give their lives to the Lord!  There is no greater joy.  No greater blessing in all the world to me, than to see these children heal, progress, be a part of our family and live for the Lord. 

Yes, I will always advocate for the orphan.  I will always talk peoples ear off about adoption and how great our God is!  We are blessed beyond measure and our cup over flows, just as the Lord has promised!

I ask you to please take this month and pray fervently to the Lord what your roll should be in providing for the orphans of this world.  You may very well be surprised at what He calls you to do!  It might be to adopt!  It might be to help fund someone else’s adoption!  It might be to donate a meal, clothing or help to an adoptive family!  It might be to choose an orphan from the many adoption websites and pray for them daily, till there forever family finds them and brings them home!  You will never regret the time and money spent in service to our God.

Just a few sites to get you started.  ;)
Adopt US Kids

Psalms 10:17  Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble;
You will prepare their heart;
You will cause Your ear to hear,
18  To do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
That the man of the earth may oppress no more.