Monday, December 14, 2015

2015 Family Highlights

I love this time of year! It is time to reflect on the past year and share the highlights for our family and friends. The words that come to mind when I think about this last year are security and stability. I hadn’t really counted the cost of the uncertainty and instability on our family during our foster care/adoption journey that began in December of 2011. I think 2015 was the year of the most stability that we’ve had in many years. We have our family of 8, and although it is busy and active, it is stable and secure.

I’m going to hit the highlights of our year, but before I start, I want to preface that these are the highlights! It is not all sunshine and roses here; we have definitely had many challenges as we live this life and integrate this family. But God has been with us all the way. He has clearly shown us the path, and we’ve tried to follow it. In the dark places, He sends friends to encourage, songs to lift our spirits or a verse or sermon that seems like it is His words to us. In the good times, we have been able to give our praise back and to serve others.

As a family, we have had a fun year! In early spring, we were finally able to make the interior renovations on our home that we had been needing to accommodate everyone well. We also decided to have a pool installed in the backyard, so we can be the “fun house” for our kids and their friends. What we thought would be a quick process turned into a very long one because of some unusual rain in our area in the spring and the summer. Our pool was finally completed in September, just in time for summer to end. It’ll be great fun next year! We consoled ourselves while our yard was trashed with season passes to Schlitterbahn. Oh, the memories of my childhood it brought back being there! It was lots of fun being able to pack up and go at any time and stay just as long as we felt like it. Bonus, our kids are old enough now that we can send them off to enjoy themselves while we relaxed some.

Dad, Mark
Mark works at Austin Regional Clinic, doing computer programming. He is a supervisor and has 3 programmers working for his team. This year was challenging with many transitions, but he still loves his job. We are thankful for how hard he works and how dedicated he is to his job. He leads the boys group, Royal Ambassadors at church and is a handbook leader for our AWANA club. He is an involved dad, doing projects around the house with Pierce, playing in the church’s Symphonic Band with Riley and Xavier and doing fun one on one time with Kendall, Elizabeth and Tyler.

Mark and I are learning about connected parenting and Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) as a way to parent our kids with trauma backgrounds. We got to go to a conference in April, which was a lot of great training and some time for self care in San Antonio (hello, Riverwalk and Mi Tierra!). And we are so excited to keep learning and do better at this approach as we go on a training cruise in February 2016.

Mom, Shelley
In February, I started working part time as a Ministry Assistant to the Children’s and Youth pastors at our church. It has been nice to be able to go back to work but still have time on the weekdays for all of the appointments and errands that go along with having 6 kids. I also got to spend time with Kendall, since she started kindergarten last fall. In the summer, I directed my final year of Heroes Camp and also began a 2nd position at the church—Preschool Childcare Coordinator. The highlight of my year, though, was going to Ethiopia with Xavier in October. We had to work hard to save money, earn money and fundraise for our trip, then plan and prepare what we would do there. It was hands down one of the best life experiences I’ve had, and I hope to go again many more times.


Xavier is 14 and in the 8th grade. Xavier is an amazing kid, and we often remind ourselves that we cannot take credit for who he is. We got him this way. What started as a wish to see hippos in the wild in 2014 took him on an amazing journey this year. Not only did he take his first ever international trip halfway around the world, but he worked his tail off to get there and while he was there. He is a natural motivator and fundraiser and drummed up lots of support for us. And, in Ethiopia, he always jumped right in to do what needed to be done and did it with a great attitude. The best thing was that he made friends with many of the boys who live there. He hopes to go back every year to visit them.


Riley is 13 and in the 8th grade this year. He is a busy boy, participating in band at school and at church. He is also in youth group at church and makes it a priority to attend as much as he can. He enjoys helping with kids and was a coach with spring break basketball camp and was a teen helper at Heroes Camp. He and Xavier and Pierce also participate in Breakaway at our church, which is an acting group that performs to music with a black light show. It’s really awesome. It’s hard to believe that he and Xavier will be in high school next year!

Pierce is 12 and in the 6th grade. He is an avid reader, fixer of things and a puzzlemaster. He joined band this year and followed in dad and Riley’s footsteps playing the trombone. He loved going to Schlitterbahn this summer and always was willing to do the daring rides. Hoefully, this summer, he can conquer the Boogie Bahn. Pierce has been waiting for us to get a trampoline in the backyard, and it finally happened in the fall. He and the others spend a lot of time outside jumping. We got to celebrate his first birthday with our family by having an indoor swimming party at the YMCA in January.

Elizabeth is 10 and in 4th grade. She likes to do crafts and had lots of fun doing card making classes at the local scrapbook store this summer. She loves to die cut and emboss things. She loves to draw or write in her journal. She also enjoys being outside swimming or jumping or exploring. This year, she joined Safety Patrol at school and does 2 shifts a week in the mornings being a crossing guard. She also advanced in her class spelling bee. She is becoming quite a good reader and we often find her laughing out loud at her Hank the Cowdog books. We also got to celebrate her first birthday with us in January. She got her ears pierced to commemorate her first “double digit” birthday.

Tyler is 10 and in the 5th grade. He’s a happy boy with a sweet attitude. I appreciate his help with his little sister and also his counseling sessions with me when I deal with teenage angst. He has gotten into the Warriors book series like his brothers before him and is very bonded with our black kitty, Milo (who, by the way, got stuck in a neighbor’s attic for nearly a week before he was found—we thought he was a goner). He is loving 5th grade with his best buddies at school, Jack and Connor and his buddies at church, Ryan and Jeremiah. He led his siblings in pooling their money to buy the LEGO Dimensions game, and they are all enjoying playing it when they can.

Kendall is 5 and started kindergarten this year. She loves school, as we knew she would, and is learning quickly. She is starting to read on her own and has learned a lot already. Of course she is friends with everyone in her class and knows all the details about each one of them. I love walking with her to and from school each day; she always has something funny to say. She is doing AWANA at church and is already working on her second book. She also loved Schlitterbahn this summer, her favorite ride was The Falls. She wore her wristbands as long as she could before we cut them off. She can also swim the length of the pool on her own.

It’s been a fun year, full of God’s blessing and goodness to us. We are surrounded by great family and friends, who are so supportive. We are thankful for our church family; there are so many that relate with us in this life we live, which is so helpful. We look forward to all that 2016 has in store. We’ve learned that the Christian life is never boring and never predictable. So we hold on and enjoy the ride! And hopefully, when people see us living our lives, they see Jesus in us. That’s the best we can hope for.

 Philippians 3:13-14
No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Ethiopia Highlights Part 3

Thursday, October 8th
We spent the evening Wednesday night deciding on the other children we should sponsor. It was a hard choice, but Xavier and I were able to narrow it down and agree on 3 more boys. So we took our extra family photos that we brought and wrote notes to each of the boys so we could tell them before we left. 

Thursday morning, we left for the CarePoint. We were giving a lunch feast to the kids that day (which the mothers in the church were preparing), and we decided to do one more activity with the kids before lunch. It involved going into the classrooms and passing out crayons and paper. This was the time where we saw the separation of kids in the HopeChest program versus the kids who were not. (There are nearly 400 kids that attend the school but only 155 are profiled to be sponsored in the program. Once all 155 are sponsored, more of those 400 can be profiled and added. Many are siblings, since they try to prioritize 1 sibling in each family.) As we went into the classrooms, the teachers and leaders separated the children with one side being children in the program who got to do the activity and the others had to continue their schoolwork. It was hard to see and provoked some emotion in us. We come from a place where all are included, all are winners, but here there were no apologies, just separation. If anything, it made us want to push harder to get our 155 sponsored so there will be room for the others. My prayer and hope is that when we return, all will be included.

We enjoyed being in the classrooms and interacting that way. Xavier and I also were able to find our boys and tell them we were sponsoring them and giving them our family picture. How special it is to meet and know the people sponsoring you (and vice versa!). This time is what is fueling our desire to continue to travel every year.

We enjoyed the lunch feast time, where the kids enjoyed injera, stew and Pepsi. There was so much food, and I am sure their bellies were full! After lunch, we met with the Care Point staff, our team and our translators to debrief and close out our time. It was an amazing experience being there, and we left filled with hope and dreams for the future of Alade Genet.

We said our goodbyes and with full hearts, drove away. We enjoyed lunch together, then loaded up to make the 5 hour drive back to Addis from Awassa. We arrived in Addis after dark, ate dinner and called it a night. I remember being happy to return to the guesthouse where we started from and sleep in the same bed. I slept contentedly that night.

Friday, October 9th
Friday we went to visit an established Care Point to get a vision for what a successful Care Point looked like. It was called Trees of Glory and was aptly named. It was in the mountains in a rural area (we did not know when we left that morning how far away it was!). This Care Point was completely self sustaining and had livestock, bio-gas collection, a bee colony that harvested honey, an apple orchard and a large garden of produce. It was amazing. It had a boys’ and girls’ dorm that housed homeless children, a school and a library with computers. Although the American partners had done much to support the CarePoint, it was the vision and implementation of the Ethiopian leader, Semeret, that determined its success. She is the first to give God all the glory, and we were very inspired by her.

Friday night we went into Addis for a traditional cultural dinner, which was very fun. The singing and dancing was amazing. It was hard to believe that the next day would be our last day there.

Saturday, October 10th
We got up Saturday morning and worked on homework! Xavier had a book report due and so we took the opportunity to do his video log summary there. (Bonus points, right?) Then we loaded up to go shopping! We visited Ellilta Products, where local women make scarves and jewelry. If you know of FashionABLE, this is where those are made. We got some fun stuff there. Then we went into the market area and shopped. It was stressful and fun to shop and haggle with our birr. We also bought Ethiopian coffee, which is SO delicious! I am almost down to my last bag.

We ate lunch at a restaurant that almost got our Tex-Mex food right—I ate nachos that were so yummy! (We were really starting to miss the foods of home by that point.)
After that, we went to the guesthouse and got packed up. We had one final dinner with a couple of leaders from Children’s HopeChest, then left for the airport. We said good-bye to Semeret and Dougie and went in. Amazingly, everything went smoothly getting checked in and going through security. We had very little time to wait before we boarded our flight and were on our way home. I slept better on that flight headed home, and the time seemed to pass quicker. Before we knew it, we were in Washington DC, and it was Sunday morning!

Amazingly, we breezed through customs, security and transferring our luggage, then ate breakfast together. From there, we parted ways with Cheri, who was heading home to Washington state. Traveling with Cheri was such a blessing! I am so thankful God put her on our team. I wished I could bring her home with us! Thank goodness for technology and Facebook to stay in touch. We boarded the flight for our leg home, and before we knew it, we were in Austin. Home!

I was so thankful to hug my sweet family again. Our house looked so bright and welcoming, and I was so glad to be there. The rest of that day was laundry and SLEEP. Sleep turned into a theme that following week; it took about that long before I felt normal again.
It was an amazing experience, one I’ll never forget. It will be a highlight of Xavier’s and my relationship with each other and will forever change how we view the world and live our lives. I pray that it will not be the only experience of this kind for us. I pray our other family members will join us in this experience and that our friends and extended family will be affected as well. The Christian life is full of adventure if you will surrender your will to His. And you will never regret the sacrifice and surrender.

This is Yididiya. He is also smart and a strong quiet leader. Don't you love his shirt?
These were Xavier's crew! Fikre in the back was always with Xavier.
I fell in love with Eyuel and his big sweet smile.

Yosefe is our original. He's awesome!
I just love their faces so much!!!

These cute boys asking for "one photo" while we were in classrooms.

This is Nathenael, one of our boys. He is super smart and translates English for his friends.

Thank you to all of you who prayed for us, who supported us and who support the children at Alade Genet. You are making an eternal investment in this community and it will see fruit! You will be blessed and­ they will be forever changed. It’s all about relationship. Our relationships with people, but most importantly, our relationship with God.