21 years / 21 lessons

Twenty-six years ago, on February 18th 1989, I walked into a banquet hall at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC to pick up my registration packet for Presidential Classroom. As I entered that room I noticed a pack of boys standing off to the side of the room wearing military school uniforms. I took note of the one who appeared to be the leader of the pack. I’ve always had a thing for the leader of the pack. The pack-leader’s black flat-top haircut and ridiculous number of cords and medals made him look like some hybrid of Play from Kid N Play and a Mexican general.

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I was a seventeen-year-old senior in high school and evidently that hybrid was my dream guy. Five years later, on February 18, 1994, we were married.

20533_1375537307502_4524964_n  On our 18th anniversary I shared “18 things we’d learned in 18 years” of marriage. Unfortunately, life lessons for us tend to be learned the hard way. Our hope is that by sharing what we’ve learned through blood, sweat, and tears, some other couple will just take our word for it and avoid the process of painful learning.

This year, as we celebrated our 21st anniversary, we sat and discussed what we’ve learned since the “18” list was made. In the last three years we’ve actually learned more about life, God, what we’re made of, and how to love, than we learned in the previous eighteen years. After a lengthy discussion, we narrowed those lessons down to three new bits of wisdom that we hope inspire you…

18 + 3 things we’ve learned about marriage

1. Treat your spouse better than anyone else treats them. We all want to be around people who build us up. If the person who does that for your spouse is someone other than you, guess who your spouse is going to want to spend time with.

2. When you fight, don’t vent to your friends and family. They’re not in love with your spouse and long after you’ve kissed and made up they are going to remember the dirt you’ve shared with them.

3. Have friends who love their spouse. Nothing good will come from keeping company with a person who constantly complains about the person they chose to marry.

4. Trade the worst for the best (Dear hubby shared this one last night for the very first time. He’s a keeper. :)). When your spouse shows you the worst of their character, think about all of their best qualities. When you remember the things you like about a person it’s easy to forget the things you don’t.

5. Be the first to apologize.

6. Don’t go to bed angry. It is easier said than done, but it is a very worthy goal.

7. Spend time with couples who will speak truth. It may hurt your pride to be on a double-date and have someone ask you, “Are you treating him the way you want to be treated?”, but it will never hurt your marriage.

8. Avoid alone-time and personal conversations with anyone of the opposite sex (or the same sex if you find yourself craving more time and/or sharing more with that person than with your spouse).

9. Keep a common interest (other than your kids). There was something that the two of you couldn’t stop talking about when you first met. Keep talking about it and when you lose interest in it, find something new to talk about.

10. Pay attention. I try to make mental notes of everything my husband says he is interested in. “I love this band.” (Get concert tickets) “I’d like to eat there some day.” (Make reservations for date night) “I’d trade a kid for one of those guns.” (Buy him a weapon for father’s day.) When you pay attention to what your spouse talks about, you will never run out of ways to show them you love them.

11. Have sex. Lots of sex. In premarital counseling, I had a little old lady look at me and say, “Kaci, sex is as necessary to a man as food. Just always think of it as a meal. Sometimes he’ll give you several courses of fine dining and sometimes it’ll be like going through the drive-thru at McDonald’s.” She was a very wise woman.

12. Give grace. The Bible tells us repeatedly to forgive others so that God can forgive us. We’ve learned that giving the same kind of grace that we hope to receive is our only hope for a peaceful home.

13. Confess. Confess. Confess. When you hide things it’s an absolute certainty that the enemy will start asking you, “What is she/he hiding from you?” Secrets and half-truths lead to guilt, distrust, accusations, and insecurity. If you feel the need to keep something from your spouse, share it with your spouse immediately. Wine and cheese get better with age. Not sin.

14. Don’t let the kids come between you. Believe me. They will try. And try. And try. When your kids can turn you against each other it makes them insecure and it damages your marriage. Remind yourself often that when two people have a child, they have a common enemy.

15. Remember that your spouse IS NOT your enemy. It is very easy to assume that every pain they cause you is intentional. It usually is not. Go back to number 12.

16. Date. We just started dating regularly about six months ago. We don’t know what took us so long, but date-night is now our favorite night of the week.

17. Study your spouse. I sometimes ask my hubby, “Tell me something I don’t know about you.” Even if it’s a small detail about his workday that I would likewise have never known, I feel closer to him because he’s shared something new with me. This one is actually a pretty big deal. It is easy to get bored and to watch years slip away filled with the mundane. Married life and a faith life are exactly the same. When I study and seek the heart of God, I fall in love with Him over and over and I get a glimpse of just how much He loves me. When I study and seek the heart of my husband, I fall in love with him over and over and I get reminded that the love he has for me is the closest I have ever come to the love God has for me.

18. Pray for each other. Out loud. We went on a marriage retreat in the summer of 2003 where we were told to find a spot in a room full of people where we could pray for each other. We were both scared. Quite certain that we were the only couple in the room who had never prayed together, we held hands, closed our eyes, pressed our heads together and listened for a few minutes to the people around us to see if they knew how this was supposed to work. Realizing that nobody around us sounded any more comfortable than we felt, we started praying. In that half an hour we took turns thanking God for all the things we love about each other and claiming His blessings over each other. When we were done we looked at each other and discussed the fact that neither of us had ever felt so loved or so secure in our relationship.

19. (This should really be #1) Figure out what it means to be in relationship with Christ and work on that relationship BEFORE you deal with issues with your spouse. If you don’t have God in the proper place in your life you WILL expect your spouse to be your savior or to fulfill needs that they will never be capable of fulfilling.

20. The Do-Over… This is probably the most valuable communication tool we’ve discovered. A couple of months ago I said something to my hubby in an unintentional nasty tone. He looked at me and said, “Would you like to do that over?” Since that moment, every time one of us feels hurt or offended by something the other one has said or done, we offer a do-over. See numbers 15 and 12.

21. Laugh. A lot. Maybe even more than you have sex. Here’s the biggest thing you should know about married life: It’s hard. REALLY hard. If you let it, the hard stuff will destroy your marriage. No matter what you’re going through, look for something to laugh about. I’ve known several couples who stopped having sex and stayed married, but few who stayed together when they stopped laughing together.

In honor of surviving the last twenty-one years we ventured out in single digit temperatures to see Tab Benoit in concert. Sitting in a concert hall listening to the Blues with the love of your life may not be a necessity, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. :D

she ran away again…

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 11.15.18 PMIt’s 10 degrees outside. Sofija has a pretty yucky cold. And tonight she slipped out the back door without a jacket and in her brother’s shoes and ran towards 7eleven. Evidently she got cold and tried to go into a neighbor’s house. Our dear friend Drew was here to help search for her.  My cousin Elisa got here tonight for a three-month job as a pediatric nurse and she helped care for Sofija and helped us warm her up after the police brought her home.

She’s home.

She’s safe.

Once again, God provided and protected .

Once again He reminded me that I’m not in control and that she was His before she was mine.

That being said, we’re tired. Please pray that we get to John’s Hopkins quickly and that the therapies they are able to provide will bring peace and calm and impulse control to Sofija. She’s ridiculously intelligent and our best efforts to keep her contained just aren’t working. It’s time for God to show off.

 

It’s all about the “yes”.

James 5:12 And since you know that he cares, let your language show it. Don’t add words like “I swear to God” to your own words. Don’t show your impatience by concocting oaths to hurry up God. Just say YES or NO. Just say what is true. That way, your language can’t be used against you. Ahem, Brian Williams

December 26th, 1993, Dear Hubby asked me to marry him (for the 5th or 6th time). This time I said, “Yes.”

February 18th, 1994, standing at an altar, a pastor asked us both if we were willing to fight with and for each other for as long as we both shall live. We both said, “Yes.”

Three kids, more than a dozen moves, war, deployments, cancer, family deaths… we just kept saying, “Yes.”

September 17th, 2009, we learned about a five-year-old orphan girl in Serbia that had autism. We asked God if she was ours. He said, “Yes.”

April 15th, 2010, sitting in the Serbian Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, we learned the truth about Sofija’s history. We were scared. When asked if we wanted to proceed with the adoption, we said, “Yes.”

October 2010, my BFF’s hubby asked me to fly to Dallas the following January for her 40th birthday. I said, “Yes.”

January 8th, 2011, while in Dallas for the BFF’s birthday I attended a town-hall meeting on human trafficking. At the town-hall meeting, in a room filled with hundreds of people, God locked my eyes on a lady named Nancy and said, “Go meet her.” I obeyed. Obedience led to her asking me to lead a team of people to Serbia three months later. I said, “Yes.”

May 1st, 2011, after a church service in a hotel in Belgrade, Serbia, I was asked if I’d like to meet a guy named Samuil. I said, “Yes.”

Several times between May of 2011 and February of 2015, Samuil visited Washington, DC. On each visit he asked if our family would like to see him. Each time we answered, “Yes.”

February 4th, 2015, Samuil invited me to join him at the events leading up to the National Prayer Breakfast. I said, “Yes.”

After the European delegacy dinner on the evening of February 4th, Samuil was busy introducing our friend Marija to every single guy in attendance (nobody stays single around Samuil). As he introduced her to one of the single guys he said, “Marija, meet Branko. He’s Serbian, single, AND he’s a doctor at John’s Hopkins.” I was busy checking email on my phone when the words “doctor at John’s Hopkins” caught my attention.

Last month (January 2015), we admitted our daughter to the psychiatric unit at Children’s National Medical Center. She stayed there for a very long week. The entire time she was there a team of people tried everything in our power to get her transferred to John’s Hopkins. I tried. My dear hubby tried. Three social workers/case managers tried. Every person we know that has connections at John’s Hopkins tried to call in a favor. All of our efforts were in vain. No person had the power to make a bed available or to even get her an outpatient appointment with one of the specialist that we’d like her to see. It was discouraging and disheartening, but it was also a part of a big lesson that God continues to teach me. I am not in control. He is. Anything I accomplish is through Him. It’s okay for me to be helpless and unqualified and at the end of myself. That’s where God gets to show off.

We brought our girl home from the hospital with deflated egos and comforted spirits. She was His before she was ours. It’s our job to love her and fight for her. But when our efforts our fruitless, it is ultimately our job to let go and let God do His thing. She’s His to heal.

Proverbs 16:9 We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.

Proverbs 19:21 You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.

When the words “doctor at John’s Hopkins” caught my attention I looked up from my phone and laid eyes on tall, dark, and handsome hope. As Branko (pronounced Bronco) reached out to shake my hand I said, “You wouldn’t happen to be a pediatric psychiatrist?” To which he replied, “No. I’m a plastic surgeon. But… my good friend is a pediatric psychiatrist by trade. He now only works with children with autism. And he’s also Serbian.” I may have choked back a few tears as tall, dark and handsome hope took my phone and entered his friend’s contact information. Heck, to be honest, I’m choking back tears as I type this. All the efforts of a team of people could not produce a name or contact of someone who could help my daughter be seen at John’s Hopkins. But… one “yes” to a dinner invitation connected me with THE doctor we need to see. And… he just happens to be from Serbia. Before contacting the doctor I read up on him. People!! Guess when he started working with children with autism at John’s Hopkins? He started there in 2004… the year that Sofija was conceived.

Jeremiah 1:5 Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you…

Psalm 139:16 You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. 

God knew her first. She was His before she was mine.Moje mezimce

God knew. He had a plan. His plan was being put in place while my daughter was being formed in the womb of a woman named Zorka in Belgrade, Serbia.

I contacted the heaven-sent doctor and he quickly replied with a, “Thanks for reaching out. I’d love to help…” A couple of emails later we have a plan and he’s now part of Sofija’s team.

I don’t know where this journey will lead or what God has planned for Sofija through this new connection. But I do know that the journey would’ve never happened, had it not been for a whole lot of “yeses”.

Here’s the thing. God’s plan is sovereign. But… the characters in that plan are not absolute. He gives us free will to step in or out of the plan as we choose. When we don’t say, “Yes.”, He moves on to plan B. Who knows? Maybe God had someone else in mind to adopt Sofija and bring her to the DC area and take her to see the doctor at John’s Hopkins and pray for her and love her and see her become all that she was created for. Maybe that person/family said, “No” or just ignored Him.  Maybe I’m the plan B.  Moses was the plan A for getting the Israelites into the Promised Land. I love Moses. He’s one of my top five favorite orphans and his story was mankind’s first introduction to adoption/foster care. But Moses missed out. He tried to do things in his own timing and on more than one occasion he ignored God instead of saying, “Yes.” As a result, God went with plan B. Joshua is the one who got to lead the Israelites across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land. Moses died without ever seeing all that God had promised.

The possibilities that await with seeing the doctor at John’s Hopkins have me thinking as much about the past as the future. How much good have I missed out on in life by ignoring God when He was waiting for my, “Yes”?  Saying, “Yes” is not always easy. In fact, most of my “yeses” have led me down difficult roads. I’ve been betrayed, robbed, lied to, hurt (emotionally and physically), lonely, afraid, and almost always certain that I am completely unqualified for the task at hand. But I’ll take the hard roads. I want to see all that God has promised. I want to be the Mama who gets to see Sofija being the very best Sofija she can be. The vision I have of who she is becoming cast shadows over every difficult moment we’ve endured on this journey. I have a front-row seat to a miracle in the making. All because of yes.

God’s love <3

I don’t necessarily agree with the idea that God made one boy “different” in order to save hundreds of others. I do however believe that God can use ANYTHING for good. In Genesis 50:20 Joseph says to his brothers who left him for dead, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so that I could save the lives of many people.” This is what God’s love looks like. And yes, we’re all orphans.

merci beaucoup

So many of you have been praying for our family and specifically for Sofija. Thank you! Gracias! Dankie! Hvala! Muito obrigado! Molte grazie!

In a thrilling, hold-my-breath, edge-of-my-seat game, the New England Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks in the Superbowl tonight. I have to confess, I’m not a fan of either team. I do however feel like my team won the Superbowl.

You see… My team was able to ride together in a car to and from church today. No hair pulling. No slapping. No hands in our faces. No objects being thrown. We all stayed in our seatbelts and kept our hands to ourselves.

And then… my baby girl stayed in kids’ church BY HERSELF for the ENTIRE service. Do you know what that means? It means my dear hubby and I were able to sit next to each other for an entire church service. Guys!! Girls!! That’s almost a date!

As if all the church and car goodness weren’t enough… I  made a pretty-long grocery list and as I was walking out the door to go shopping, Sofija asked to go with me. Without a second thought I said, “Okay.” Dear Hubby looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. Guys & Girls, me and my baby girl went to Wal-Mart, on a Sunday afternoon, along with half the residents of Alexandria, VA, and got all but one thing on that pretty-long grocery list. Baby Girl was A-MA-ZING! She made jokes and stayed by my side and helped me find the things I was looking for and a few things I wasn’t. And then, as if church and the car and surviving Wal-Mart weren’t enough, she clapped and squealed, “I’m SO EXCITED!” when I told her that we needed to stop at Safeway to find rye crackers. As we walked through the doors she exclaimed, “I love Safeway, Mama! They have Starbucks. Can we get Starbucks?” People, please read that again. We had a NORMAL conversation. And… she loves Safeway for the exact same reason that I love Safeway! She’s my girl. :D

This day. This amazingly wonderful, peaceful, fun, stress-free day. You own a part of it. We are reaping a harvest of the prayers that you’ve sown. You’re a part of a team that lost most of the games this season but showed up in the playoffs and won the flippin’ Superbowl.

Thank you. Bringing up Sofija is a team effort and we’re incredibly grateful to have you on our team.

1 Corinthians 1:4 “I give thanks to my God always for you…”

Also… I made this kick-butt reuben dip for the Superbowl… Recipe herereubendip

We’re all orphans.

Sofija is home and I’m still sifting through the dozen or so blog posts that are running around in my head. While I’m sorting my thoughts and seeking wisdom in what I share, I want to address something that has repeatedly come up since I first began sharing our struggles. Between the messages and emails I’ve received from people sharing their opinions and the ones from people sharing their own struggles, I’ve received another kind of message. Many people read my blog who have no connection to adoption or autism or mental illness. Several of those people have written to me with sincere questions. Things like, “Why is she so aggressive?”, “Why does she hurt you?”, and “What exactly is wrong with her?” Please don’t stop asking questions. Questions beg answers and answers give me an opportunity to educate. I like to educate.

The Bible is packed full of orphan references and I have to be honest. Until adoption was a part of my life, I always skimmed over those verses with the prideful thought that they applied to someone else. Going through the adoption process I scoured scripture for verses that may prepare me to love my daughter. Within days of meeting her, I realized that I was just as orphaned as she was.

Let’s compare me as an adopted daughter of God to the little girl who joined our family through adoption:

– My daughter doesn’t trust my love. She doubts every promise I make. She keeps waiting for me to stop loving her; for me to fail.  / Yep. I can relate.

– My daughter puts her hands over her ears and hums when I’m trying to tell her how much I love her and how precious she is. / It is a daily struggle to believe anything God’s word says about my worth. I stay busy and keep my environment noisy to block out His voice.

– She also puts her hands over her ears, hums, and closes her eyes immediately after asking for something she really wants. She’s preparing herself for disappointment and she often misses my “Yes” because she’s not looking or listening. / Story of my life.

– My daughter hurts herself and puts herself in dangerous situations and then apologizes to me for not loving herself. / All. The. Time.

– My daughter runs away from the place and people who love and protect her. / More times than I can count.

– My daughter resists all rules that we try to put in place to teach her and keep her safe. / I hate rules.

– My daughter will repeat a bad choice over and over and over again without learning from her mistake. / Grrrrr

– My daughter hurts other people because she is afraid of being hurt. She always wants to be in control so she hurts others before they have a chance to hurt her. / This one is not a huge struggle for me. However, I will openly confess that I’ve been there, done that.

– My daughter will be destructive in order to escape a situation where she isn’t in control. / Been there, done this one too…

– My daughter will lash out at me in order to get my attention. / I really wish I didn’t relate to this, but I do. It’s sad how often I forget that I have God’s undivided attention.

– My daughter will try to hide from me when she knows she’s done something wrong. / Dangit. This is another “more times than I can count” offense.

– She screams and fights and does everything she can think of to get out of a vehicle when she doesn’t know where we’re going. She’s so afraid that we’re going to take her some place scary and unfamiliar and because she doesn’t trust us to provide or protect, she fights. / I look forward to the day when she is as tired as I am of trying to escape the journey.

I could probably list out a dozen more ways that I relate to my daughter’s orphan heart. For those wondering why she does what she does or what exactly is wrong with her, it all boils down to that one thing… the heart of an orphan. Autism has removed her filters. She doesn’t know that the socially acceptable thing to do is try to hide her orphan heart. So all her struggles are out in the open. If you haven’t caught on, I prefer “out in the open”. I crave transparency and I thank God for giving me a girl who leaves all her brokenness out where I can see it.

If you can’t relate to me and my girl, I apologize for wasting a few minutes of your time. If you can relate, just know that you’re in good company. Two of my favorite people in scripture are Esther and Moses. Both orphans. Both changed the course of history. U.S. Presidents Andrew Jackson, Herbert Hoover, and Alexander Hamilton were orphans; as were first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Nelson Mandela. Tolkien and Tolstoy… orphans. Babe Ruth… lived his entire childhood in an orphanage.  Steve Jobs… orphaned and adopted as a baby.

Being an orphan (or even having an orphan heart) should not define anyone. My daughter has many struggles and I will continue to do everything in my power to help her overcome those struggles for as long as I have breath. Those struggles do not define her. Just as my own struggles do not define me. And just as your struggles should not define you. Sofija was created in the image of God. She is wonderfully made. He has a plan for her future. Plans to give her hope and to prosper her. She was created to overcome. All those things also apply to me… and to YOU.  You want to know something amazing? Even if you don’t believe it all, it’s still true. And just like I refuse to give up on my daughter, God refuses to give up on any of us.

Isaiah 43:5 "Do not be afraid for I am with you.  I will bring your children from the East and gather you from the West."

This little girl was an orphan. Now she’s my daughter.

Now go watch a Batman, Spiderman, Superman, or James Bond movie. They’re all orphans and they all make it really hard for people to love them. But… their stories all end well.