Thursday, January 14, 2016

One Of Many Miracles

For the past 3 days, I've been composing a blog about how Ken and I got in, out, back in, then back out of debt again during our marriage.  Due to some issues with the new formatting I tried on this blog, I managed to lose one entire entry!  One of these days, I'll work on it again, but for now, I'll share with you a miracle story (one of the many) from our adoption.  It's a story we didn't share at the time because it wasn't the appropriate time and we wanted (and still want) to protect identities.

Just weeks before we got travel approval, Ken came to me in the evening and said, "We can't take our bio kids with us to China. We just don't have the money."  My heart sank into my stomach.  We had been counting down for one year, planning and talking with our kids about traveling to China to meet their brothers.  They had given up an amazing cruise vacation for us to adopt.  My middle child didn't even like being away from us for one night, so spending one month on the other side of the globe just seemed impossible.

Before we went to bed that night, I told Ken, "I don't know how, but our kids will go with us.  God will do something, so I'm not going to worry."  Easy to say, difficult to do.  I think I cried myself to sleep and I vividly remember feeling sick to my stomach, but still had a deep, unreasonable feeling that God would work it out.

The next day, a friend messaged Ken out of the blue and asked him to meet for coffee.  When they sat down, the friend said, "God keeps telling my wife and me to do something to help you guys. What else do you need?"

I must add that this couple had already done much in regards to our adoption of the boys, so for him to be asking what he could do seemed like too much.  Ken mentioned our airfare concerns we had discussed the night before.  Turns out, this friend was in a unique position to help us with airfare so that we only had to pay a tiny fraction of the cost for flights.

A toast to our 13-hour date
But that's not all.  Not only did God provide a way for all 5 of us to get there and 7 of us to get back, but He provided an extra "just because" blessing.  We flew first-class all the way to China!  Ken and the older Brownies also flew first-class on the way back home.  Crazy! I had never even sat in first class domestically, so to be on an international flight, first-class for 13 hours was a luxury beyond anything we deserved or worked for ourselves.  It wasn't a necessity, but an extravagant blessing.

Being able to sleep on the way there, having an endless supply of food, being pampered in ways we were not accustomed, were all so much fun and a great way to celebrate our transition from a family of 5 to a family of 7!

On the way home, a couple of the older kids were sick, so their being able to lie down and sleep was a great comfort.  (All seven of us getting back to the US together was a miracle story on its own, so read it if you haven't yet. It's a 3-part story, so click "newer" after reading the first and second entries. We had three flight attendants separately tell us that they had no idea how we managed to do what we did. According to their rosters it just didn't make sense. I love those unexplainables.)

It all came from God's hand and people listening to what God was asking them.  We are forever grateful to God and to our precious friends (a number of friends, acquaintances, and even strangers) who cared about us and listened to that calling, even when it was difficult for them. This story continues to be a constant reminder that I need to listen and then do what God is asking of me.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or imagine, according to the power at work within us, to HIM be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.
Kenzie, visiting Hannah's sea

Huge "pods" where we could stretch out,
eat, watch TV, and sleep.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Lifebooks and Adoption Discussions

Posing with their books 2 years ago. They've been viewed
hundreds of times since then!

We have a lot of conversations about adoption in this family.  One of the best tools that has sparked conversation are the boys' Lifebooks.
I made these on the recommendation of older adoptees and adoptive families.  We learned that, in the past, many adoptive families would only tell their adopted child's story from the time they were "found" or "matched," neglecting the fact that they had a life before adoption.  It can be difficult to put together, because there are always unknowns and the events leading up to adoption are tragic.  Making a book can be challenging, but for us, it was worth it!  I took the advice I received from the Internet and from our social worker and included "possibility scenarios" in the book.  I included photos I grabbed from the 'net: photos of their hometowns, of houses and apartment complexes, of people and scenes, writing that, while we don't know the details, we know you were born in this area and could have lived in a house that looks like this or an apartment that looks like this. (You get the idea.)
What's nice about Shutterfly is that the book is saved and I can edit it as they get older and print new ones.  For a while, Tian carried his book around everywhere with him, so it has water damage and frayed pages.  I don't stress about him "ruining" his book, because I can simply order another copy if needed.  I like that they can feel free to love on the books as much as they want.
The boys and I were looking through their books, then photos and videos we have in our Google Photos album when Tian asked the question he asks every single time we look at photos of us meeting him for the first time, "Why are you all crying?"  
Our Big Moment
I explained that it was a big moment.  It IS a big moment in our history.  Not only had we been waiting for a year to meet Tian, but our hearts were also breaking for him. He was finally in a family forever, but he had no clue. All he knew is that he had been taken away from his Nai Nai and put back in the orphanage.  He was now being thrust into the arms of strange people he didn't know.  When I met him, I was filled with so much love, joy, relief, and heart-brokenness, tears were a natural result.  

Overwhelmed. Both of us.
I told Tian, "You hadn't had a mom or dad for 2 years and this moment is when that all changed."  He said, "I had a mom! My birthmom!"  (We've had this discussion multiple times, but he's only 6 and the concept is difficult, so we retell the story often.)  
I explained, as I have before, that his birthmom couldn't keep him; we talked about China and how families aren't free to decide their family size, and that he was relinquished at 8 days.  Since then, he hadn't had a mom or dad, but we were happy he had a foster family for the last year. He asked me, as he has multiple times before, if I would ever "leave him alone" in the orphanage.  It's my great joy to hug him tight and remind him that he will never be relinquished ever again.  He is our son forever. A Brownie for life.  He'll be my little boy when I'm 90 years old.  He loves this part of our conversation!  He knows, but still likes to be reminded.
Tian thought through these facts again and said, "I have two birthmoms. You are my birthmom and so is my birthmom."
He knows I did not give birth to him.  He looks at these photos and knows this is when we met for the first time.  He knows his "China mom" gave birth to him.  But he still decided that I'm also his birthmom.  I accept. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

New Year, New Look

Happy 2016!  While I still don't see flying cars racing in the sky above my house, I DO use a video phone on a daily basis, do most of my shopping via the internet, see where my husband is on my very own little "Marauder's Map," and can ask my computer just about any question (using voice commands) and get an instant answer.  Pretty cool, 2016!  We're not yet the Jetsons, but we're getting there.

2015 was a lean blogging year. I only posted 5 times!  I will tell you, I have at least that many more in my drafts, but it just never got finished.

For the first time in a few years, I'm truly excited about the upcoming year.  The past two-and-a-half years have been rough.  We've had much to be grateful for, but I'm not going to lie, much of time, we were barely treading water.  The past 6 months have been a breath of fresh air and a chance for renewed hope.  It's a season we can look back on, anchoring our hope in God and His plan for us, even when the waves are crashing, pushing us under again.  Because the waves will come again.

The Brownies have some exciting stuff we will be chronicling this year.  We have a few fun announcements to share here and there. (No, we are not expecting more children nor are we moving out of Austin.) These announcements will come in time, I promise!

In 2016, our oldest will start driving, my middle kid will start high school, and my oldest boy will become an official teenager! We will be embarking on some long-awaited, highly-anticipated travels (I'm even developing a new blog site for that), we adults have some career adventures coming up, and, of course, what many of you are here for, the little boys will be growing and learning faster than we can keep up!  I've had so many people request more language updates and videos of the boys, so I'm going to give it my best. (You could follow me on Snapchat if you want to see the boys a lot.  I post mostly for my immediate family, but Snapchat is where I'm most active.  You'll see a lot of the boys.  And my other kids.  And my dog. [Ken makes rare cameos.] And weird, random stuff around Austin. My username is brown7sr.  If Snapchat isn't your thing, I also post several times weekly on Instagram. sarahrbrown)

This month, be looking for posts about my recent conversation with Tian about birth moms. (He's decided he has two.)  I'll also be sharing Travis' language developments, how our teens are doing, and how we have managed to stay debt-free, even over the last three tight years we've had.

For now, I'll leave you with this photo and my list of thanks for 2015.

Us on Christmas Eve @ The Austin Stone South. How I love my people!

We started 2015 with a trip to the hospital because my oldest didn't want to live. We ended the year with her writing a song about being loved and holding on. She's my sister in Christ. What more would I need to be thankful for this year?  Thank you, God, for pursuing her, like you do me, even when we're running the other way.
My sister took us out for cupcake decorating. It was TOO fun!
The boys have good chums at school. 
Our amazing missional community (MC). Their worth is immeasurable! They helped us move!
My superhero husband.
The Samaritan Center
Plumeria Counselor, Kim
This awesome city of Austin. The hiking trails, the swimming holes, the funky uniqueness
Finding a different house
The opportunity to go with Ken and girls to Empowered to Connect Conference
My job. I can't believe I get to do what I adore!
My new-to-me SUV, even with all it's weird issues
Austin Stone Church, south campus
Kathryn, Jon, and the others who serve by teaching my little boys at church
Nana and Pappy, for countless meals, visits, and meeting halfway to take my kids for a few days
Scan Mailboxes being nominated for several Armadillo awards
Family trip to Jellystone
Our Chickfila calendar cards
Hill Country Academy, for giving the kids a GREAT year and a desire for more schooling
The many good deals we found on Craigslist and Goodwill this year that allowed us to furnish our dining room, offices, and do some other fun things.
Fun memories with my sister and Mal
Beachcamp blessed my kids and brought them closer to God
Fun evening on Lake Travis with the youth group
Super-special day trip to Stephenville to see one of my BFFs, Nan and her boys!
We finally sold the loft beds!
My dog survived being locked in the car for nearly 4 hours in July.
Our older teens making for-life and in-Christ friends! I love those kids! They are an answer to years of prayer!
Finally got to visit the Perot Museum! Even better with my parents!
Laura discovered Snow Monster!
My kids. I can't even begin to describe the blessing.
The girls got to play a gig at a local restaurant.
Skybridge Academy
Austin Deaf Club and community
Celebrating with friends (bdays, crawfish boils, work parties and reunion dinners.)
The teens' fall retreat and all the amazing teachers who spoke wisdom into their lives.
Dan and Danielle
Tito and Taylor
A fun evening boat cruise on Ladybird Lake with my favorite guy
Seeing Nyle and him winning ANTM!!
An afternoon seeing dear friends (Jacobsons) after over 8 years!
Six Flags! All the family fun that will continue to last into 2016