Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Fall Festival

Tonight we went to our church's fall festival. Last winter we bought Israel's costume when it was on clearance, and just hoped it would fit (it does).

We decided to do a "theme" of Jurassic Park, going off of Israel's dinosaur costume. Will and I had this for inspiration:

And this is what we came up with:


Here are some pictures from the festival:

   
 

It was a fun night and we're thankful for our church family! Will said it and I agree, Halloween is the cutest holiday :).

Monday, October 29, 2012

Shout Out: Meet Casey & Drew!


Drew and I have been married for almost 9 years in the New England area.  We are a blended family with 3 kids and looking to…Make it 4. Over the last year, we’ve been asking God how He can use us to do His work and challenge us to step away from the ordinary.  We want him to open our hearts and hands to his calling for our growing family. Through this process our eyes were opened and our hearts broken for the millions of orphans worldwide. As we researched and prayed, we began to feel God lead us towards international adoption to rescue an orphan and make them our own.
We are currently in the process of adopting a baby from Ethiopia through a wonderful agency called All God’s Children International. The adoption process will take around 2 years and is a journey of faith each step of the way. We will hopefully be on the waitlist by the end of the year!
About a month ago I came across a company called Noonday. I was initially drawn to the jewelry and accessories but after reading the story behind Noonday I was hooked. I became an Ambassador for Noonday this month to raise funding for the adoption of our son from Ethiopia. Noonday has a big heart for adoption--the founder, Jessica, started Noonday as a way to fundraise for the adoption of her own son from Rwanda. What started as something small, just Jessica, has grown to include 90 Ambassadors just like me, advocating for our artisans, telling their stories, and styling women with accessories that are changing lives. 

 
The collection features jewelry, scarves, bags, and even home goods and gifts from Ethiopia, Uganda, India, Peru, Guatemala, Madagascar, Ecuador, South Africa, and even refugee groups here in the US. I hope you'll head over and browse the online catalog.....so many beautiful pieces not only for you, but for all of the ladies on your Christmas list this year.
Not only are you supporting job creation in high risk communities, but 20% of every purchase through caseynyssen.noondaycollection.com will go to support our adoption fund! Also, check out our blog here.
Thanks for taking a look,
~Casey and Drew
 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Israel's First Birthday Party

Israel's first birthday party was on October 6th. My friend Jenifer designed his invitations and I LOVED them! She was amazing to work with and I would recommend her if you need any design work! (Check out her etsy shop here.)


Also, I want to do another shout out that the picture used on Israel's invitation was from Sarah Marie Photos out of Birmingham- we are still obsessed with these pictures!

I decided to do a low-key, family only birthday party for Israel because 1. our family is big; 2. Israel can be overstimulated by a lot of people; 3. its JUST a first birthday and Israel doesn't really "know" people that well; 4. with my husband on staff with a church, it is hard to know where to draw the line on friends/people that need to be invited to a party!

My sister and her family came in Friday night and we had a fun evening of catching up. Saturday morning my sister took a few family pictures for us before everyone showed up at 11.


Around 11 the rest of the family that could attend started coming in. As devout Auburn fans, we naturally had the football game on in the background while the "party" started and everyone ate their tacos.



My mother-in-law made the amazing cakes! She made the large cake to be a suitcase and Israel's little smash cake with the little polka dots.



At half time of the football game, we took Israel outside, stripped him down and let him have his first taste of sweet dessert!





Afterwards, Will gave Israel a bath and we put him down for a much-needed nap! The rest of the family continued to hang out!

Me, my sister-in-law Lindsey, and my sister Sarah


Guys playing bocce

Enjoying the swingset Israel got for his birthday!
After his nap, we got a few more pictures of Israel.



That night, Will's family went out to dinner (it was Will's brother's actual birthday) and my family stayed in and ate pizza. It was a perfect day and exactly what I wanted from his birthday party! We didn't do gifts (as you can see from the invitation) because Israel has everything that he needs! But we did get him a swingset and his grandparents contributed to purchasing it. He loves it!

Instead of gifts, I asked everyone to fill out these cards that Will designed; continuing the "travel" theme, they listed recommendations for where Israel needs to travel one day, and why.



I'm so thankful for a weekend with family, and our precious boy who is now ONE! 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Shout Out: Patrick and Ashley are getting close!

Some people may remember Patrick and Ashley from an earlier shout out. They are adopting domestically from San Diego and at the time had just begun the process. Within just one month of their birth mother letter being in there were considered and matched with a birth mother. It's incrediably fast and exciting for both of them. Their baby, gender not known, is due December 5th. Less than 50 days from now. They get frequent updates from the birth parents and have been meeting with adoption team to get things prepared. Not only do they have a lot of cost coming up very quickly they also have to prep for their little one. In less than two months they have to finish their home study, meet with lawyers and prep for baby. They also hope to finish their puzzle fundraiser mentioned before. They've sold 845 puzzle pieces and the puzzle is coming along great! They truly hope to finish the remaining pieces and hang in the nursery before they bring their baby home.

Their fundraiser: "Each puzzle piece is $5. The idea is you purchase a puzzle piece and then we write your name on the back of it. We frame the finished product and hang in our future nursery. smile That way we always have a reminder of the amazing people who helped piece our adoption together. We thought this was such a cute idea and something we can keep forever! If you would like to purchase a puzzle piece you can donate to our Gofundme page: http://www.gofundme.com/ktfgw."
    •  
    • Almost finished!
      So please, go check out their adoption blog here and consider donating to their puzzle fundraiser!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Rooted in Love Party Sunday!




Sunday, October 21 I'll be hosting a Rooted in Love party at my house in Jacksonville. If you'd like to join us please come! It is a drop in from 3-5 but Laura will be presenting about the ministry around 3:30.

If you're wondering what Rooted in Love is, check out Laura's post here.

If you're wanting to see some of the products, check out her blog here and scroll around on the rooted in love posts!









Also, check out the facebook page "Rooted in Love."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cocooning: What we did and How it Worked

Today I'm a guest post on my friend Courtney's blog. She is preparing to bring her sweet Reeve home from Hannah's Hope (same place that Israel lived!) and I am SO excited for her family! She is on top of it, getting her friends and family prepared to help them transition with Reeve, and she asked me to contribute to her cocooning information. Please check out her blog for more information about her and their cocooning plan.

This is what I wrote on the guest post:


Hi, my name is Rebekah, and I’m the mommy to Israel Biruk, who came home from Hannah’s Hope in May (about 5 months ago). I’d love to share a little bit about our cocooning story and what worked for us! First I’ll share what cocooning looked like for us, then I’ll share how I know what worked.

For us, we had to teach Israel that we were his primary caregivers and would meet his needs. The first few weeks were all about immediate response to him; getting him bottles and sleep when he needed it, not necessarily trying to put him on a perfect schedule. We had a pretty tight cocoon for about 4-6 weeks (and continued a modified cocoon for several months). We didn’t take Israel to stores and didn’t introduce him to new people (including family). If I needed to go to the grocery store, I went at night after my husband Will was home. It was difficult, but when we did go out we could tell Israel was overstimulated (like when we went to the park and it was crowded- he’d freak out a bit there or would have a delayed response and not sleep/ cry all night). After Israel had a solid bond, we were able to go out and it was ok without those reactions (most of the time he was in the Ergo still).

We did a LOT of babywearing (moby, Ergo) and I wore him for almost every nap for the first 4 weeks. Baby wearing allowed for Israel to feel my heart beat and to smell me and connect with me, and for me to connect with him. Although we had planned to do lots of babywearing, the only-nap-on-me thing wasn’t really my choice, but Israel wouldn’t nap in his crib (his main expression of grieving was/is through sleep issues). The freedom of staying in during the coccon was that we were able to directly address grieving issues and keep them separate from general overstimulation. That way, when we DID start to venture out, we were able to see signs of overstimulation and know what those triggers were because we had spent several weeks with minimal stimulation in the home.

After a few months we saw several signs of attachment: Israel looking at me for approval before interacting with strangers, being upset if we left the room, giving affection and receiving it, not having large grieving fits, sleeping and eating normally, not manipulating us. These signs let us know that we were on the right path with our attachment, and we could start to branch out of our cocoon. We followed HIS cues, not the expectations of our friends and family.

I won’t lie, cocooning was tough work. I love being around other people and having the freedom to come and go; so those few months of sitting at home and being intentional about bonding with Israel was tough at times. It is a lot of self-sacrifice and pouring out when your baby doesn’t know how to receive what you are doing. There is rejection, there is grief, there is fear (both sides sometimes!). But going through that as a simple family unit was the best decision that we made. Of course, our friends and family were interceding for us in prayer, but Will, Israel and I were able to figure out our bond and work through the changes together.

So now that you’ve seen what our cocooning life was, let me say that I am SO thankful that we did it. During the midst of it, there were some long days but now I look back and think those months just flew by. I am so thankful that we valued our son enough to invest in him intentionally and to make his adjustment a priority. Because we cocooned, we were able to teach Israel that we were his primary caregivers without having the distractions of other people around, or dealing with overstimulation from being out and about, or having competition for his attention. We were spending months building trust and laying a foundation for him to understand what a family is. And now, I’m confident that Israel has a unique relationship with Will and me that he wouldn’t have had otherwise. He knows that we are different, and he feels comfortable when we are close by.

I think it is easy to put expectations on these kiddos without remembering that they come from hard backgrounds. Our son had been in four homes with countless caregivers by the time he was seven months old. This is a fact that I must continually remind myself when I get frustrated with progress or when I must put his needs above mine. Cocooning and creating an intentional bonding season is just a part of the healing process for our son and other kiddos from hard backgrounds. There is no band aid to the past that these kids have had but it is such a joy to walk beside our son and to teach him about the love of the family that reflects the love of God.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

There's More to Life than a Blog Post

After a weekend with lots of conversations about adoption, Israel and our life in general, I feel like I should make a public disclaimer that our life has many more facets than what is presented here on this little blog.

There are many things going on with Israel and his health that I just don't feel are appropriate to share on the internet, out of respect for him and his privacy. The story of his life in Ethiopia is still very private, in fact, Will and I are still the only people (aside from any case workers during the adoption) who know it. There are conversations that Will and I have about ministry, orphan care, future adoptions, where we see ourselves in the future, etc, that are just not ready to be made public... because we don't know what God has in store for us and we don't want to share things that aren't "officially" anything yet.

With that said, I must also confess that we do not have it "all together" and we are certainly constantly figuring out life: being parents, following Jesus, doing ministry, seeking holiness, etc. We fail, we need grace, we don't meet our own expectations sometimes. It is a humbling experience and, while I strive to keep an honest transparency here on the blog about most things, sometimes things don't make it here and that is ok by me.

My point in this is to remind myself and you, readers, that I am not a "mommy blog" worth following; my day to day is nothing special and I am still learning so much that I feel like I have so little to "teach". I am simply a girl following after Christ, desperately in need of grace. So I humbly thank you for being invested in our story; it is my desire that when you read this blog you don't see a little family that has it together or that you know every detail of our lives; I hope this is a safe space to document God's faithfulness to us and a place to recognize His goodness above all.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Shout Out: Meet Natalie and Dan!

Natalie and Dan have an incredible story, keep reading to see it and learn how you can be a part of it!


My husband and I talked about adoption after only a couple months of dating. I told Dan my heart: I have been interested in adoption for long time. I want to be a mom, and I want to be a mom to adopted kids. I even think I want to adopt before any other method of adding kids to my family. I was pleasantly surprised that he didn't think I was crazy! I quickly fell hard for his kindness, humility, discipline, and hilarity. Dan's a medical student, and I was getting my Master's in Social Work. We got married during our Christmas breaks in December 2011.
Before too long, we felt a tug to start considering adopting before the two- to three-year plan we had discussed while engaged. In May, I graduated and got a job, and we started the adoption process just about as quickly as we could. We're young, we're newlyweds, and my husband is still a student. We love God, each other, and adoption pretty fiercely.

We set out to adopt one baby of either gender from a big country in Africa. I'll be honest: We talked in depth off and on about whether or not we should really take the plunge and adopt two kids. In the end, we decided that's a really big plunge. But, we decided to ask our home study worker to approve us for two children, while still only requesting a referral for one... Just in case, you know! Referral time came, and I found myself reading a totally wonderful and surprising email in the middle of night. We did. not. sleep. after that email. Over the course of a couple days, we talked, cried, laughed, and prayed A LOT. And then, we made our decision:  We are adopting twin baby boys!

We accepted this referral with full trust in God... that He will provide the financial means for us to bring them home and the wisdom + energy for us to parent them well. And we are so dang excited to be parents to those little guys! We're praying that they'll be home in about seven months.
Fundraiser:
We're selling t-shirts that we designed and had printed by a local print shop. They're American Apparel shirts, which are super comfy, and we have v-necks and crew necks. They have a triangle pattern world map design with the words "Get You Here." The text was inspired by Aaron Ivey's song "Amos Story" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4eZybIXpm8). 


 Here's the link to our shop: http://getyouhere.storenvy.com/





Please consider supporting Natalie and Dan's adoption and purchase one of their awesome shirts! If you are a fundraising family looking for a "shout out" on my blog, check out this post for details. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

One Year Old!

Dear Israel,

Happy birthday sweet boy! This month you had so many milestones! We love celebrating your precious life and we are so thankful that we get to watch you grow up.

This month you gained two front bottom teeth! You have tried a lot of adult food and you like anything we put in front of you. You are a great eater! You also consistently hold your own bottle when you get your 3 bottles a day.

My favorite milestone of the month is SLEEP!!!! We used the "sleep sense" program and by the second night you were sleeping through the night and had figured out how to self soothe at night. Your nap habits are still a bit rough but I think that's because you can see around your room and you love to play and kick and giggle until you finally crash to sleep. Sometimes it will take you 45 minutes to fall asleep and then you will only nap for 30 minutes! But you are getting better each week!

You are becoming a lot more vocal (we didn't know that was possible!) and you consistently say "mama" and "dada" now! You melt us. You're also more talkative around people you recognize now.

Your favorite things to do right now are swinging in your swingset, clapping, listening to your dad or puppy sing, watching your parents be silly (we figured out things that get you a guaranteed laugh), banging on your piano and looking at yourself in the mirror.

You are wearing 12 month clothes but you probably need to start wearing 18 month pants because you are so tall! You still have incredibly small feet and are still wearing size 2-3 shoes!

You are still doing physical therapy 2-3 times a week and after a few hard weeks with little progress, we finally received some encouragement after seeing some muscle development. Also, you finally put pressure on your feet and will even stand for a little while with help! We are so proud.

You saw a lot of family this month! First we took a quick weekend trip to Opelika to see Nana and Papa. Then last weekend we had your birthday party and lots of family came in town to celebrate! You did really well with everyone but the day they left you were suuuper cranky so I think you were a bit overstimulated after all.

We also did your baby dedication at church the weekend of your birthday party. It was very special for us and we are honored to have the responsibility to teach you about Gods love and gift of salvation!

Son, we can't help but think about Ethiopia and all of the heritage you left behind as we approach such a big milestone like your birthday. All month your birth family and where you were last year has been heavy on my mind and heart. We are reminded of Gods grace and are driven to pray for your Ethiopia family and for the other kiddos that still need moms and dads like you did.

It is such a privilege to be your parents. You have captured us completely and we love you so much!

Love, Mama

Thursday, October 11, 2012

On the Eve of your Birthday

Israel,

Tomorrow is your birthday and you are currently tucked safely into bed upstairs asleep. Lately I have been overwhelmed with thoughts about Ethiopia and where you were last year. I think about it all the time and wish that I could have met you from day one, but clearly God is sovereign and His timing is perfect.

Son, even though you were never in my belly, you have been in my heart for many years. This time last year, while you were nestled in your birth mom's womb, I was aching for you. When you took your first breaths and made a perfect cry somewhere in Gambella, I was crying for news that my baby was safe at Hannah's Hope. God was working in both of us, baby, preparing us for each other.

Until I knew who you were, I was busy preparing a room for you and was staring at my phone for news! I was scared to be away from your dad for fear that we wouldn't be together when we got the big news that you were ready for us.

So, although we were not together last year, God was knitting us together then. And I'm so thankful that He has continued to knit us together. You are a part of us, baby, in a way makes me feel like you were a part of me forever and as if I did carry you!

I'm also thinking about your birth family. If I could have things "my way"- we would have an open adoption and your birth family would see you grow up. Unfortunately, that is not possible. But we will continue to pray for your birth family and I am praying God gives extra grace to them this week.

You are very loved baby, and you always have been.

Love, Mama

Monday, October 8, 2012

In the Groove

Recently I've talked to a few mamas who are finally home with their kiddos and are in the trenches of "survival mode" and cocooning. Talking to them has made me realize a few things. One of which is that, praise Jesus, we finally have our groove around the McGee house.

I feel like we are finally "settled" and in a routine. We have figured out Israel's various cries and have the parental instincts that the Lord is gracious to give. We are seeing the fruit of our cocooning and are confident in where we stand with Israel's attachment (yet we still have some boundaries that we will probably hold on to until we have to let them go- nursery, etc). Don't get me wrong, we still have the "what are we doing?" moments and we are NOT perfect parents, but I feel like we are confident in caring for Israel and know how to meet his specific needs intentionally.

At this point, we have been home 5 months and Israel is almost 1 year old (ugh it stinks to type that he is almost a 1 year old!). In another month and a half he will have been with us LONGER than he was in Ethiopia. The early days of Israel's homecoming and cocooning seem so far away! I'm so thankful for all of the progress that he has made and how the Lord has knit our hearts together.

Anybody else finally in the groove? Or are you in the trenches? I'd love to pray for you!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Little things that are a Big Deal

I want to remember being excited about the little milestones... because sometimes they seem VERY BIG.

I have talked before how I have to be careful not to compare Israel to other babies. His delayed development has been a really tough thing for me sometimes, and I have sometimes found myself reading friends' blogs or looking at instagram pictures of kids that are Israel's age (or younger) wondering... will he ever do that {hold his bottle, stand, crawl, walk, run, feed himself, etc}.

It is easy to just wish for him to do those things and to be a little bitter sometimes that progress hasn't happened the way I want it to. Especially when we are in physical therapy so much and we are doing "everything" to make him progress!

So I want to shout out a big PRAISE JESUS for two "little" things that are very big to me.

-Israel has been HOLDING his own bottle. Sometimes he holds it the entire time that he drinks it! It makes me so proud. He still has to be leaned back a good bit, but he's making progress and that makes me so proud. This little boy wouldn't even hold a toy when he came home, and now his precious hands can bear the weight of his bottle.

-Today, for the first time, Israel put pressure on his feet long enough to be qualified as "standing"! He even stood by himself (holding on to a little piano) long enough for my husband to take a picture of him. Israel used to not even put ANY pressure on his feet and would curl his feet up in the jump up, exersaucer, whatever. When we met him in March he wouldn't put any pressure on his feet when we held him in our lap and I remember being concerned- I never knew it would take this long for him to do it but I am SO THANKFUL! Today I was standing in front of a mirror holding Israel's hands while he stood and I just had a flash of hope- he will walk, he will run.

So as hard as it is to have a perfectly made baby who has some "delays"- I will say that it has been all the more sweeter to rejoice over the milestones and claim them as miracles. God is faithful. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

His Best Friend

There is someone who completely trumps me if he's around. And that would be my husband.

Israel's favorite place to sit:


 The man who can make Israel laugh so easily:








I'm so glad that the Lord saw fit for Israel to have a daddy, and that we get to be his parents.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Israel's First Braids

OK- this post is about a month late! A few weeks ago my friend Darksline came over to teach me how to braid Israel's hair. At this point his hair was getting super long (we've since cut it again) and it looked so ridiculous sometimes because he rubs his hair and it gets frizzy during the day.

Darksline "taught" me how to do the braids (ok so really she did all the work).







They didn't last long, in fact they fell out the same night because his hair was too soft. But they were cute while they lasted! Thanks Darksline for your help!!
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