Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Out of her comfort zone

Bobbi's life has been full of challenges over the last six months, and one of those is generally that she's getting pushed out of her comfort zone in all sorts of ways!

Six of our nine children are part of our local 4-H club. We have come to enjoy 4-H because it is fairly easy to commit to (one meeting per month), provides fun opportunities, and is a club that is designed to incorporate a wide range of ages (kindergarten through first year of college) and interests and abilities. It's perfect for our larger family with a range of unique situations.

The culmination of the 4-H year is the County Fair, and the showing of one's "project." It's taken me a few years to really figure this out, but a "project" is really anything in the world that you as a club member can come up with. You can make something, bake something, train something, research something, perform something - pretty much anything you can think of can be made into a 4-H project. At the judging day, each club member meets individually with a judge in their particular project area (engineering design, clothing, quilting, photography, performing arts, fine arts, crafts, shop, indoor gardening, you name it!) and together they discuss the project, the goals, what was learned, what could be done better, and then each project is given a ribbon according to the Danish system of judging where the projects are not judged against each other, but are judged against a standard, and then given a red (average), white (below average) or blue (above average) ribbon as appropriate.

Because, in my experience, most 4-Hers tend to be more motivated, either internally or by their parents, the majority of the projects end up being above average, but there is still an element of the unknown in the process.

Especially for a certain sixteen year old who's never in her life been in a situation like this!!!

We were very grateful to our friend Avrora, one of the Bulgarian women we've met through the Bulgarian school, for agreeing to come along and be Bogomila's translator for the afternoon! I really think Bobbi could have done just fine on her own with the way her English skills are developing, but having a Bulgarian speaker along greatly helped to make her less nervous.

So, here she is! Stretching herself in a way that she had repeatedly over the week leading up to it, told me she could not do. But she did!!

Bogomila enjoys baking, and baked a beautiful loaf of Carrot Banana Walnut Bread. She is getting quite adept, even with the limitations of her cerebral palsy, and can now measure almost all of the ingredients by herself, and does all of the mixing herself, too. (Mom still reads the recipe!)

Her second project was a collage she had made from photos of her friends from Bulgaria. She again was very hesitant to share, but was delighted with the blue ribbon she was awarded.

Here she is during the fair a few days later, checking out her project where it was hanging on display.

She did it!! One more "can't" turned into a "can." Little steps, but real steps, and now I'm looking forward to seeing what she decides to do for next year now that she has some idea what is possible!

This whole experience was very uncomfortable for her, but we as her parents know that some discomfort now holds great promise for possibilities in her future, so because we love her, we push her into situations that are anything but comfortable! And she did it!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Art Salami

This is an important [albeit slightly tongue-in-cheek!] post about the significant topic of bonding.

We don't really have anything to compare to, but have found that our process of building a strong bond with Bogomila has been progressing at a pace we are comfortable with. It's funny how there are so many levels to what it takes to make that sort of deep connection of trust and devotion to another person, but one of those is being met in the development of a new tradition between Bogomila and her Daddy.

We call it, Art Salami.

There's even a song to go with it some days, to the tune of one of the Indian songs Bogomila likes. (Vayts - you might know which one we're talking about!)

So, without further ado, enjoy the show!

Exhibit A: a flower

Exhibit B: a heart!

Exhibit C:  "V" for victory.

Exhibit D: "B" for Bogomila!

Exhibit E: Intended as an umbrella (it was a rainy morning), but "palm tree" is also an appropriate interpretation.

Exhibit F: so, inspired by the tree guess from the day before, here is a Christmas tree, in honor of the Christmas music and Christmas movies Bobbi's been listening to.

Exhibit G: Owen took a turn. It's "Bo" (one of her nicknames) in salami and ketchup.

Exhibit H: A three-dimensional flower. Bobbi doesn't like flowers (thus the face), but the salami/ketchup medium is so conducive to flowers...

Exhibit I: This one's better from the side, but that photo apparently doesn't exist. But this one is a pyramid of sorts.

Exhibit J: Another three-dimensional flower

Exhibit K: A patriotic gesture on the 4th of July. How better to be introduced to American culture than through ketchup and salami??

Exhibit L: Daddy's architectural bent shows through in this rendition of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Exhibit M: In my opinion, the pinnacle of Matt's artistic efforts. It's hard to surpass...the Eiffel Tower.

Dad's creative juices needed a recharge after that one, so Owen again picked up the slack. (I made one attempt early on, and was rejected forever from the elite group of salami artists.)

Exhibit N: Um. I'm not quite sure what this was supposed to be. But it put a smile on Bobbi's face!

A few days off while we were in Wisconsin, and then Owen and Bobbi stayed a few days longer with my parents meant that Matt was back in full force.

Exhibit O: Believe it or not, this is BATMAN! In salami. Batman is Bobbi's special name for Grandpa.

Exhibit P: Owen's turn again with a winner's podium. It's hard to see from this angle, but with a little help from google, Bobbi got it.

Exhibit Q: Nothing other than Bobbi's iPod!!

Exhibit R: Branching out again with the addition of toothpicks. But this floral arrangement turned out to be very difficult to eat without making a mess, so the toothpicks have not made another appearance.

Exhibit S: Some days the inspiration is hard to come by. It's a chevron.

But even when the inspiration is less than thrilling, the experience itself is definitely memorable!!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Tiny glimpse

I've been lax in posting lately, but wanted to take a moment to share these two cuties and brag on the older one:
Fuzzy photo, but love the smile. ;)
 Bobbi has taken to walking on Grandma's treadmill when it's hot outside. First of all, it's in the cool basement, and secondly, it's a better workout for her than walking with me behind her outside!

It wasn't that long ago that she couldn't do the treadmill at all. She couldn't keep her legs in close enough alignment, and the right/weaker one would get stuck on the non-moving edge of the treadmill, causing obvious difficulties. As she got past that, she got to the point where she could walk for 45 seconds to a minute at the slowest speed before she would need to pause and rest. She would rack up a few minutes of walking that way.

And then came the day that she did a few short runs, and then powered out 6 minutes and 38 seconds!!! Absolutely blew me away.

Since then, that determined girl has pushed herself further and further until setting another record today, walking for just over 8 minutes, 30 seconds, resting for a bit, and then getting up and going for another full 10 minutes! I still don't know how she did it. But she did. And then collapsed onto the treadmill, laying on a back pillow from the couch, as is our habit.

Gloria, upon waking from her nap, thought it looked like a cozy place to hang out, and spent a half hour crawling around over her Bobbi until it was time to come up for supper.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

As American as...blueberry...pie

Or, "The [reverse] A B Cs of our week."

C is for Cherry Pie, (and Blueberry Pie).

We have Bogomila signed up with the 4-H club that some of the other kids have been part of for the last few years, and on Monday I took two of our girls and two friends to the county extension office to make pies that will be frozen, and then baked to sell at the county fair to raise money for 4-H. Kind of last minute I asked Bobbi if she wanted to come along, too, figuring she wouldn't want to because it involves going out and being with people who speak English (still very much something she doesn't enjoy), but thankfully the draw of spending the morning with Mom baking was enough to encourage her to say yes!
Everyone was paired up for the baking; Bobbi and I, Rinnah and friend Nolynn (in the pink and blue at our table), and Leah and Hope (at the table behind us just to the left of Nolynn's blue shoulder). All together, the six of us assembled eleven pies from scratch! (Minus the filling, which came in big 3 gallon buckets!)

B is for Botox.

On Wednesday Bobbi had her first Botox injections. Botox works to reduce high tone by temporarily (2-4 months) killing some of the nerve endings that are over-firing because of her cerebral palsy. The effect of the injections takes about a week to be felt, and reaches its full potential a few weeks after that. Her injections were in her hamstrings, in the hopes that she will be able to both get some better stretch out of those muscles, thus allowing her to stand straighter and taller (and also helping her feet to hit the floor at a better angle to make balance better), and also to give the counter muscles a chance to develop some of their own strength, helping to improve things for her in the long run as well. One nice thing about Botox is its temporary nature. If we like the results, we can repeat it in 3-4 months; if we don't, we can try something different next time.
Climbing out of the car (which she does 95% independently these days!) upon arrival. She brought her music as a very practical coping mechanism.

SIXTEEN pokes later (which she doesn't remember thanks to the amnesiac effect of nitrous oxide) she's all set!
Feeling *very* relaxed afterwards, and kind of excited, too, I think, about the potential benefits!
And, last, but certainly not least...

A is for American citizen!

That's right! We finally got the letter directing us to appear downtown Minneapolis at 12:06pm (so we could wait for an hour and a half in the waiting room) for Bogomila's appointment to sign some papers and swear her oath of alliegiance to the United States so she can take home her Certificate of Citizenship! Her citizenship is effective the date of her arrival in the US per the Hague Adoption Convention's statutes, but it hasn't been real until today. Now she's legal!!!

We were grateful to the Bulgarian translator who's been helping us with all of her medical appointments for coming along with us. Apparently USCIS won't provide a translator for you, but this dear lady agreed to come on her own time (she had the afternoon open, so kept it open for us), and it was nice to have her be able to translate the oath for Bogomila and to help her read through some of the other documents she had to sign.
Our translator also helped Bogomila hold up her right hand for the oath, since that arm is not as cooperative as the left!
And here she is!!! Our 100% official American daughter!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sunday afternoon selfie

 Bogomila volunteered that she thinks our smiles look alike. I like it that she thinks that way!

But the next photo is even better, in my opinion, because look at those two girls who sure look like sisters! It's really beautiful to see how you pick up the mannerisms of the people you spend a lot of time with, so even if those two don't look alike because of their genetics, they are developing a family resemblance just by hanging around with each other!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Everything we need

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. - Philippians 4:19-20

My dad has some great one-liners - not the funny kind, but the kind that break truth down into a super simple, easy to work with format. Here's one for you: It's only money. Though it sounds flippant, and like something that would only be tossed around by someone for whom money is no obstacle, it is not actually intended to be said in a flippant way.

Although, I suppose, it is only one to be used by someone for whom money is no obstacle.

One of many things that God has been diligent to show us over the course of many years is that for him, money is no obstacle. Matt and I have come to view money as a very fluid variable when you step back and look at the big picture. For us, being self-employed was (and still is!) a great way to get an accelerated course in this concept. There's nothing like living without a regular paycheck to help you see up close that 1) we work and 2) God provides for us. They are themes that are related, but they run on two separate (though perhaps parallel) tracks. It is not our efforts at our work that provide what our family needs. It is not our place to sit back like lazy bums and expect God to make the money magically appear while we get to do our own thing.

Our job is to do the work before us; His is to provide us with everything we need to do the work.

When we've got this straight in our heads, it provides the freedom to live as a "low-income" (by government standards) family for whom money is no obstacle.

I've been meaning to write some version of this post for months, and have been collecting in draft form a list of many of the ways that we've seen God providing what we need.

In January, leading up to leaving for our trip to bring the girls home, we received a gift of $1000 from a couple we'd met only once. Wow. They sent along a very nice letter and a few photos of their family.

The week after, we got another check for the same amount from the same family, and a short note saying, "If I do not give the full amount God told me to give, I am being disobedient."

That was closely followed by a cash gift in the same amount from local friends of ours.

Three identical, very generous gifts within a very short time span. What a signal to stop and pay attention. (God is so good to us like that! He knows that Matt and I are kind of slow in the head sometimes so he takes pains to be extremely obvious when there's something he wants us to know!) The girls' adoption has been like that all along - copious provision, a truly bountiful experience so unlike most of the adoptions that I follow (including Krassimir's adoption) where God provides, yes absolutely, but not usually much ahead of time!

So here's a sobering thought - money is not the only thing we need to do the work God has given us. Our mental and physical resources have been much more thin this time around. Since the girls came home we have been pushed and stretched to a degree that we both know is not sustainable long-term. In the months of ample provision leading up to the girls' home coming, I kept thinking in the back of my head, is God making a point with this abundance? We have learned to trust him in financial provision - is he so strongly reaffirming his abilities in that arena so we have a firm base to walk forward on in new areas of trust? As I find my body reacting to the stress of constant demands on my time and energy, I will hit points (like this morning!) where I am visibly trembling. The fight for faith now is not that God will provide the monetary resources, but that,
He knows our frame [ie, how we are formed],
he remembers that we are dust. - Psalm 103:14
and that that means he will bring the relief that we need when we need it.


The beauty of being amply supplied financially means that we are also freed to give freely ourselves. All in one week, we were able to send a gift for a mission trip, and received a check in the mail from someone else I've never met in person. We were able to give financial support toward a multi-week summer mission trip to the young lady who helped our family during the first week that I was in the hospital with Mira in January. We were able to give Adam's family a boost toward their new daughter. [Who, by the way, is home now!!! But, imagine this - he hasn't had time to blog about it yet...Think maybe they're a little busy?? As I said, I've been working on this post in some form for months, and the only reason I'm working on it again today is that I'm taking a mini spa vacation (also known as sitting in a quiet pre-op room with a heated blanket wrapped around me while I wait for Mira's post-op nurses to come and bring me to her recovery room!)]

And the cycle continues - a friend from our parents' church emailed me asking if we'd like some nice grass-fed beef? She was passing through the Cities, and had some to share. A business client asked if we could use any clothes for our girls. An answer of, "Yes," resulted in a steady stream for a few weeks of a few bins at a time of incredibly beautiful, many brand new, high quality girls clothes. Oh, what fun for Leah, Rinnah, and Evania to look through, and we were able to select our favorites to fill up the sizes of everything we'll need for years for the girls - a few years ahead of Leah's age, and some very nice things to round out all of the other sizes (because with as many little girls as we have around here, the hand me downs don't always make it through everyone!)
Pretty dress coats!
Pretty hair binders!
There were quite a few summer shirts that fit Bogomila (both in size and clothing style preference), and even a few that fit *me* of the type (basic short sleeve summer wear) that I'd been needing to get through a summer of being neither pregnant nor nursing. And if that wasn't enough, another friend from church who works at a children's clothing store caught me one Sunday and asked for a shopping list because there was an incredible clearance sale going on. Boys stuff covered that way. (Mostly pants. Pants don't get much handing down around here, and since I have two boys the same size coming after Owen, we need more than we did for just Owen!)


We've been steadily saving for the bathroom project, putting money away as we can, waiting and waiting and waiting, first of all, for Matt to have the time to even think about finishing up the drawings that we have at a solidly schematic stage, but nowhere near what we need for permits or bids. Last month someone we are close to mentioned needing a short term loan of a sizable amount of money to be able to make it to a refinance closing date. "Coincidentally" the amount needed was just about exactly what we had saved up in our savings account, plus the current flex we had in our day to day checking account. God's provision for us has freed us to ease the load for this family. We don't have a set date for repayment, but know that God knows how all of that will shake out.

He knows what we need.

The end of last week brought more - a large check from someone who had given generously during the past year bringing the girls home, and an insurance reimbursement check. It's the days that those both come in the mail on the same day that we take notice. (As I mentioned above, He is sensitive to the fact that we might be a little bit dense, so makes sure it's obvious!) God is again saying, "I've got this. You don't need to worry, because I've got the whole course worked out so that you will have what you need when you need it." So the next week when we got hit with the cost of not one, but two adoption post-placement reports, we knew we'd already been given what we needed to pay for it.

But as I mentioned above, money isn't the only part of the "everything" that he promises to supply. "Everything" means the financial, spiritual, mental, emotional, just plain old hours in the day kind of resources necessary to get the work done.

And that's the point at which some deeper theology comes into play.

This is important. I am NOT an indispensable part of what God is doing in the world. I am what my family growing up would have labeled an "expendable" back in the days when we would watch episodes of the original Star Trek while eating pizza every Friday night. God's mission, God's work, His plan and purpose continues whether or not Andrea has anything to do with it. However, much different from the poor expendables who invariably got left on the alien planet, or dragged off in the alien spaceship, or died from some bizarre alien disease that Bones just couldn't figure out, I am both expendable AND a dearly beloved, precious daughter of the King of kings. I am expendable to the work, but not to the heart of the King.

This means that I am truly set free to live out Philippians 4:6 - Do not worry about anything. I am free to work heartily...[at] whatever I do...as for the Lord... (from Colossians 3:23) without worrying about not doing good enough - I just have to work at it with all my heart...and all my soul and all my mind and all my strength, but the burden of the results is not up to me.

What I think I need might be different from what I really need. I believe understanding this is critical to believing the truth that is laid out in God's word. In Philippians 4:19, Paul states confidently that God will supply all of our needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus. So if we don't have something that we think we need, we're faced with a few options: one, we can believe that God didn't really mean what he said, or two, we can believe that God had good intentions, but his riches really just aren't quite adequate for what we're facing at the moment, or three (and I'll give you a hint: this is the one we know to be true), we can choose to understand that we don't really need whatever it was we thought we needed. Matt and I try to be very careful in our family as we go through our daily life to make clear distinctions between the two - is that thing you need really something you need, or is it just something you want?

This plays itself out in a variety of ways, including some rather extreme potential scenarios. The question really comes down to not just, "What do we need?" but, "What do we need for what?" Does God promise to give us everything we need for a life that is easy and comfortable? I think that's pretty easy to rule out on many counts. First of all, generally, I don't see any evidence in the Bible that God's goal for us is a life of comfortable ease. Comfort? Yes - in the sense that Paul writes about in the first chapter of 2 Corinthians, but even in Philippians a few sentences before he shares about God meeting all of our needs, he writes about the secret of contentment in times of plenty and abundance, and times of hunger and ...need! So I think it's obvious that a life of comfortable living is not what God promises. So let's take it further. What DO we really need? Food? Air? Clothing? Sleep???
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. (Matthew 6:31-32)
He knows that we need them...to stay healthy, to stay alive. But I often step back and have to ask, is staying alive really the be all and end all of why we exist? I would have to argue that no, it is not. Is life valuable? Yes, yes, emphatically yes. Is it to be valued over everything else and at all expenses? NO.
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)

I think it's valuable to look back at where this post started if we're going to correctly answer the question of "What do we need for what?"
 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. - Philippians 4:19-20 
See that second half? That is the answer to the "for what?" question. He has promised to give us everything we need to bring him glory, and if we're going to do that through life, we'll have everything we need to keep this body alive. If we're going to do that through death, we'll have everything we need to ensure that happens, too. 

He will give us everything we need!

So on to...

Being confident in him supplying everything I need means I need to be absolutely confident that God is completely in control of everything. My dad's not the only one to coin the phrases we hear from him. Here's one that came from a man from his church: If it happens, its okay. I love this one because on the surface, it, too, sounds incredibly flippant, but in reality, it's anything but that. It originates from an absolute conviction that God is who he says he is (...him who works all things according to the counsel of his will...Eph 1:11) - the one who is absolutely in control of everything that happens, and knowing that, coupled with what he promises in Romans, (about working all things out for the good of those who love him), is intensely powerful and intensely freeing, and is a belief that can take both the smallest and the biggest challenges and victories of life (and everything in between) and equips us to turn them back to praise to him. And it has a useful inverse as well: if it doesn't happen, that's okay, too. Because God's got it all working out the way he wants it to, and I know that way is for my good and for his glory, no matter how hard it is.

That's what we are continually reminding ourselves. The time that I take to write some of these posts is as much a matter of me needing to put it all together in front of me in one place as it is for anything else. There are so many things we think we need. The bathroom and ramp, for one! A little bit more sleep! Or maybe a week to just get this house organized. We *think* we need these things now. But we don't need it now. When, and if, we need it, we will have it. And if we get it, it might not even then be because we need it, but it might simply be the overflow of being the beloved child of the King who is not bound to give us luxuries in this life, but is entirely able to choose to do so when he so pleases, and to give us a chance to learn the secret of being content in all circumstances.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Como Town!

We are members of an organization, Hope Kids, that provides a regular stream of free activities for kids with life-threatening medical conditions and their families. We have loved being a part of Hope Kids because having these opportunities available to us free of charge (and already with a date set on the calendar) means we have that much more incentive to just go for it. We've gone to live theater, a private movie showing, trampoline park evenings, and a number of other things, but usually it's just *some* of us who go because our family is, well, complicated to get out. (Besides the fact that it now takes two vehicles to get all of us anywhere!)

But, when there were free unlimited ride wristbands for Como Town (a small amusement park adjacent to the free Como Zoo) the day before Reuben's birthday, we decided we'd go for it.

So we did.

 (On the left, a photo from my phone looking back at Daddy, Mira, Rinnah, and Grandma, and on the right, a photo from Matt's phone looking forward at Owen, Bobbi, Mom, Krassi, Reuben, Leah, Gloria, and Evania.)

And, a good time was (mostly) had by all.
We went on the swings (starting from just right of center are Leah and Rinnah, Bobbi and Owen, and Mom and Reuben)

Owen got Leah, Bobbi, and Dad to join him on the roller coaster. Bobbi's response? "Never again!" But she DID want her photo taken in front of it as a reminder that she really did go on it!
Then onto the cars. This was the one and only ride Evania tried. She was petrified. The cars did, after all, go slowly and around the track. But she survived.

Reuben, however, LOVED it, and the lines were short enough that he got to go around again without having to get out. He's not going to make a good driver, though, since he couldn't keep his eyes on the road - he was flipping through the pages of his trusty Bible the whole time.

Trotting pony carts for Leah, Rinnah, and Reuben.

At "mini driving school" Rinnah and Owen got to scoot around the tracks on their own.

Owen in the bumper cars!
 And there was a splash park!! Which, also, by the way, requires points to get into, but with unlimited wrist bands, we were good to go. Krassi and Reuben are our biggest fans of splash parks, but the other kids (even Gloria, and Evania to a lesser degree!) also had a good time. We're still undecided if Bogomila was really enjoying having Owen get her SOAKED or not...hard to read the seriousness of the protest through the huge grins...Anyway, it was hot enough that it felt good for all of us to get a little wet!

We left Como Town for a brief trip through the zoo. The giraffes were really neat. 
Daddy took this photo intentionally to give Bobbi "giraffe ears."

 And then it was time for our picnic supper. It was nice to sit down for a while, and everyone was doing well enough that when I asked Owen if he wanted to join me on the two-seater zip line and he decided he wasn't quite up to it, Matt and I made the spur of the moment decision to go together! "Owen - you're on Reuben. Leah - you've got everyone else. We'll be back soon!" (LOVED the short lines!)

 Well, once the two of us had gone without any malfunctions, everyone else wanted to go, too...with Mom. So I went with Owen, then Leah, then Reuben, then Bobbi, and finally Rinnah. (We debated on Krassi - he's getting SO much better at holding his core and sitting upright...but by then the line was longer and it was getting close to closing time. Maybe next year...)
Up and into the seat!
Squeezing mom's hand tight!!!
 And we ended the evening in the tea cups. Not the most exciting end to a day of rides, but kind of a nice classic way to end a day at an amusement park. These days are a lot of work, but hopefully give all of us something fun to remember doing together.