Saturday, August 11, 2012


After nearly five months home from China, I finally put the time into creating Joya's "Gotcha" video.  For those of you outside of the adoption world, "gotcha day" is the term used for the day families are united with their child (got-ya).

Our adoption was and is an amazing and life changing journey.  It went beyond anything I could have imagined in the realm of both JOY and PAIN.

Although we are convinced that God had His hand on Joya's adoption and that she is perfectly matched for our family, we are equally convinced that this is NOT the way life is ideally supposed to be for her.

At one of our hotels during our stay in China, we noticed another family at breakfast wearing T-shirts that had the slogan, "Adopted By Design" on the back.  It implied to us that God designed adoption as a first choice for these children.

It actually angered my husband and it gave me great pause in my thoughts.

Adoption is a second choice for orphans.  It is a second choice to staying with each orphan's birth family forever.  It is clearly the result of a broken world.

No matter who an orphan's birth family is, there is LOSS and GRIEF in adoption.

But, over the last five months, I had one adoptive mom repeatedly remind me of the BEAUTY in the process.  And after making this video, I am far enough removed to see it.


Because, as you can see, it has not been all sunshine and roses.  The transition has been HARD.  Our love was instant when we met our daughter, however, it took TIME to build our relationship and get to know each other.

And we are not done yet.

I was fearful to let her look back on the grief she has endured this year.  Up to this point, any reminder of China has only upset her. 

But maybe we both knew in our hearts that it was time to put together the memories.  I let her watch it and she stared intently at it and then looked at me and said, "SAD Lien Lien."  (She still mostly refers to herself by her endeared Chinese nickname.)

Then she smiled.

Relief washed over us when we realized that this did not re-traumatize her.  We have been working so hard to shower her with love and consistency - trying to establish coveted trust, that we feared the memories might hit the reset button on all of that work.

Personally, I think it had the opposite effect.  I think watching the road we have traveled together has encouraged her to hold more tightly to her forever family.  She has smiled more and been more affectionate in the last few days.

For me, it has completely renewed my COMPASSION for her and allowed me to feel pain for her that I had pushed to my back-burner as I have committed myself to the very tedious, daily work of mothering five kids.

I have a renewed perspective of adoption and the MIRACLE that occurs in the process.

And I am looking forward to watching the BEAUTY grow with time.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Summer has eaten me alive.  We are all doing really well but this mama is TIRED and each day is very full.

I'll be back when those school days start again soon.



Thursday, May 24, 2012

june 19th

IMG_0703We are home from our post sleep study check up with Joya's ENT, who has looked at her sleep study results and cleared her for surgery on June 19th.

Apparently, she has some sleep apnea, but it is mild and triggered from her brain and not due to her physical birth defect.  I am amazed that a sheet full of confusing line graphs and number tables can tell us that, but then again, I didn't go to medical school either.

Her first surgery will be on the side of her face and her ear.  I could explain each step, but I don't have the time.  The plan is for her to have two surgeries, first her face, then her mouth - both in 2012.  We all hope that she won't have to see the inside of an operating room until elementary school, when she will have the first of several jaw surgeries over the course of her growing years.

IMG_0727We are celebrating today.  Although the surgery is not without risks, I am very ready to get the ball rolling so that we can live life and not be waiting to schedule our life around medical procedures.

I have stopped giving perfect strangers detailed explanations about her birth defect when they ask about (and sometimes reach out and touch) her face.  I'm sorry to say that the number of ridiculous responses and follow up questions has reached the limit of what I can politely respond to. 

I went into this all prepared and motivated to help people learn about and not fear correctable birth defects, but now she is my daughter, I love her, and I'm tired of defending her to people who clearly have no social skills when they follow up with questions about her HIV status or statements about the evils of the Chinese government that have absolutely nothing to do with my little girl.

Stepping down from my soap box now.

IMG_0696Overall, she is making some big steps of progress, which makes me giggle.  I no longer fear when she hugs a perfect stranger, because she immediately comes running back to me.  She can pick her brothers out of a school crowd and treats them like her brothers - with love, affection, thrill, and admiration.  She also asks for her daddy when he is at work, but seems to completely understand that he will come back.

Her sleep is not perfect, but tolerable and we can manage on the status quo.  She eats a lot of food, but is not stuffing herself until she is sick as was her tendency when we first returned home from China.  She only tolerates her car seat for short rides around town - longer than 20 minutes and she turns into Princess Whiny-pants.

Luckily, this isn't my first visit to the royal castle. IMG_0629 IMG_0735

Friday, May 18, 2012

he said, she said

Fifteen years ago today I became his wife and he became my husband.  We recited the traditional wedding vows and fed each other cake and left the building as Mr. and Mrs. Sweeney.


Fifteen years and five kids later, here we are.

If you've missed it, I told our dating and engagement story on our eleventh anniversary, titled "LOVE is a verb".

For our twelfth anniversary, I wrote the glass blower which talked about how the seasons of marriage change with time.


I seemed to have skipped year thirteen, but last year I wrote a letter to my 22 year-old self as I was reflecting on fourteen years of marriage.

This year I decided on a "He Said, She Said" question and answer format.  It is always fun to hear from his side of the marriage relationship.  His honest answers make me giggle and cherish him that much more.

1.  What do you remember about your decision to propose?

SCAN0030He Said:  We had a fight over whether your dog would live indoors or outdoors.  We didn’t speak for three days and I quickly decided that life was empty without you and I needed to seal this deal quickly.

She Said:  I didn't propose, but I knew we were heading that direction.  I knew that he was the man I wanted to marry.  We had the same values, enjoyed doing the same things, and made each other laugh.  And we still do.  I'm so glad he asked!

2.  How has marriage been different or the same as your expectations as a single adult?

He Said:  I entered marriage with the delusion that it would be the same as being a single adult (I was 22 after all) except I would be living with my best friend.  This naïve belief was quickly shattered within the first month and led to a tumultuous 18 months of marriage.SCAN0018  However, during that time I never questioned my decision since I had sampled three days without Laurie and knew that was untenable (as a first born I don’t mind a little conflict in my life….keeps it interesting).

She Said:  Marriage has been very different than I expected as a very young single adult.  Luckily, now I haven't known any other life.  I have several friends who got married at a much more mature age than we did, so I'm sure they had time to savor or lament the single life.  Not me.  Being married at 22 years old means that we had to do a lot of our adult maturing together - and that's messy. 

We had to figure out how to live on our own, build a relationship, succeed at our work, balance our extended families, and just put the puzzle of our life (and individual lives) together.  Not to mention adding our first child at 26 years old.  Managing finances was much more complicated than I expected (must we really have a plan for the future? ;-)) 

Conflict within marriage was so much harder than I anticipated and we had to work through many years - and still even now - of learning to resolve conflict in a healthy way (I'm a middle child, so I RUN from conflict).

3.  What has marriage taught you?

He Said: 
-  Choosing your spouse is the ABSOLUTELY most critical decision you will EVER make in your life and you better choose wisely (seek wise read OLD counsel).
-  The world doesn’t actually revolve around me.
-  Physical aspects of marriage are incredible, but make up an infinitesimal fraction of married life.
-  Love/speak to your spouse the way they want to receive words/love, not how you want to give it.
-  I am lucky/blessed to be married to Laurie Kate Sweeney.

She Said:
-  Ditto to all the above although insert Kenyon in his last point.
-  I will add that marriage has taught me (the hard way) that I find joy and contentment when I stop focusing on myself and look for opportunities to serve others.  For the last decade and a half, that has meant serving my husband and children.  I have not always been good at it and often have to learn the same lesson over and over.  Marriage works better when each parties are more concerned with the other's needs.  It is not easy, but it is true.
-  Things usually change for the better as soon as I find a way to be content with how they are now.  Contentment is a decision.

4.  If you haven't addressed it in the previous answers, what is/was the toughest part of marriage?  Or do you have a biggest regret?

He Said:
-  Worrying about finances and allowing this to be a flash point in our relationship.
-  Not choosing my words more carefully in conflicts in our first 2 years of marriage (or occasionally in the present).


She Said:  The toughest part for me has for sure been times of conflict.  Well, equal to it is deciding to die to myself and put my husband before me.

My biggest regret is hanging onto unforgiveness.  I wasted so much time with grudges and if I could go back and do it better, I would.

5.  What is your favorite memory (excluding births) in your marriage?

He Said: 
-  Laughing with each other (i.e. Naples liquor store run, Pop up camper malfunction at Utah Lake, Boys “rafting” down CJ’s stream, listening to Car Talk on way to Moab, etc…)

She Said:  My favorite memories are the relaxing times that we have been able to appreciate "just us" by getting away from all the noise of everyday life.  Whether we get away for one overnight at Stein's, or a weekend in Palm Desert, or ten days in Ireland, we always laugh and connect and come home refreshed in our relationship.  Above all, we are reminded that we really like each other.

6.  What are your marriage goals looking forward?

He Said:
-  To LIKE each other more in 30 years than we do today.  (side note:  we really do like each other now).

She Said:  I really want to work to out-serve each other.  We are always happier when we are working to make the other's needs above our own.  I am mindful of the fact that we won't have a houseful of kids forever and when they're gone, we need to like being together.

I also want to make time alone together a priority.  We recently realized that our date nights alone have become a thing of the past, but really enjoyed our time together one day when we had to repair something together at our rental property.  We decided that our evenings are busy with five kids, so we're going to get a sitter for breakfast or lunch dates instead and enjoy the daytime together.

7.  What is your favorite quality of your spouse?

He Said:
-  Sense of humor
-  Drive to care for those in need
-  Desire to love me selflessly
-  Independent & strong

She Said: 
-  Sense of humor
-  Willingness to father a huge family (and work to father each one well) 
-  Drive to provide for this huge family 
-  Willingness to apologize with a humble and sincere heart (even going so far to use the word "jacka$$" in reference to his behavior, which never fails to make me laugh)
-  Passionate about people and things that matter to him.
-  Loyal always

Monday, May 14, 2012


I pulled up and parked just in time for the last class of first graders to come out of the school in a line and start loading on the bus in an orderly fashion.

"Is this first grade?" I asked one of the parent volunteers.

"Yes, Mrs. K's class," she responded.

I quickly scanned the windows full of faces from the three other classes of first graders.  My eyes quickly found the little blondie I was looking for and I breathed a sigh of relief.

I tapped on his window.  He thought I was just coming to give a send off for his special class field trip, but I had a much more urgent mission.  I motioned for him to get off the bus and mouthed that I wanted to talk to him for a quick minute.

He immediately hopped up and worked his way against the incoming traffic to get off the bus and onto the sidewalk with me.

With his baby sister straddling my hip, I dropped to one knee and put my free hand around his waist.

The tears were brimming.  I could not hold them back.

"Buddy, I feel horrible for how I treated you this morning.  I am so sorry for fighting with you and for the awful things I said.  I was only thinking of myself.  Will you forgive me?" I pleaded.

He looked me directly in the eye and lo and behold, his eyes swam in tears as well.  "Yes mom, I forgive you.  I'm sorry too.  I love you.  Did you come here just to tell me this?" he responded.

"Yes!  Our relationship is important to me and I messed up big time this morning.  I'm so glad I got here before you left for your field trip.  I hope you have a great time.  I love you Rufus." I said.

I watched him get back on the bus and take his seat.  Not two moments later, the bus started to pull away.  I am so grateful that I was given the gift of getting there in time to ask for forgiveness before the school day was through.

I was such a horrible mom to him that morning.  My need for forgiveness was eating away my heart from the moment he left for school.

God has been weaving a lesson of forgiveness throughout my life for months now.  I see it all around me (after I drafted this, this very weekend our church sermon was about forgiveness.  I hear you God!) and I'm learning how to give and receive forgiveness - true forgiveness, not just apologies - in my marriage, friendships, and parenting.

It is not an easy topic for me to learn because it takes a lot of humility both when I am wrong and when I've been wronged.  It takes work on both ends to ask to be forgiven and to truly forgive - and then to choose to leave it in the past.  I'm not very good at it, in fact, I'm really good at digging up old dirt about my kids and my man.

I have been dwelling a lot lately about all the dirt that God has on me.  Enough to build me a mountain from here to Mars, yet I have confidence in the forgiveness I have received in that relationship. 

Who am I to hold on to the dirt of my loved ones?

It is not easy though. 

And I'm on the look out for re-do's.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

a perfect fit.

torah joyaOver the weekend we accepted an invitation to socialize with a local family that we "knew of" but had never met until we went to China.  They also adopted a little girl that is just five months younger than Joya.

We had a wonderful time catching up and filling each other in on the ups and downs of our transitions at home, as well as the medical updates of our daughters.

While driving home, my man mentioned how sweet and mild mannered our friends' daughter is compared to Joya.  What was noteworthy to him was the fact that their daughter also fit the profile of the medical conditions we would have considered.

"She could have been ours instead of Joya," he said.

IMG_0598We both sat in silence as we pondered what a divine match our little girl is to our family.  She is naturally animated and LOUD.  I heard Sauce describing her to one of his soccer buddies today - "She's tough!" he boasted.

She is so perfectly matched to our large, active, and mostly male family.  It was yet another moment in this process when we recognized and were humbled by the fact that God knew who our daughter would be from the very beginning.  He was purposeful in placing her with us and gave us the gift of seeing it.

She was so clearly supposed to be ours that it brings tears to our eyes thinking about it unfolding any other way.


We are in the thick of navigating through the slow maze of medical diagnosis and treatment for her.  Her preliminary tests show that she definitely struggles to breathe properly at night, so her doctor postponed the surgery we had on the books in June for her face, and set us on the path of overnight hospital sleep studies (FUN!) and treating this problem first before any other.

I'm thoroughly frustrated with the fact that no medical office responds with any sense of urgency at all.  But I'm a mom on a mission to get my daughter the best treatment in the most favorable timeframe for her needs.

Definition - "squeaky wheel"

Our consistent daily routine has definitely helped her personality to blossom and our mother-daughter relationship to grow leaps and bounds.  Yesterday and today I had the opportunity to communicate with her foster family in China to let them know how great she is doing.  It felt so good to tell them how grateful we are for the advantage they gave her by being her first family.  Now that I know her more fully, I can appreciate the void that she left in their lives and I hurt for them.

They sent back a message to me of gratitude and relief that she is thriving and I made a personal commitment to send word at least twice a year for the next couple of years to try to ease their pain.

Secretly, I hope that they foster another child because they are clearly gifted at it.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

have a gift? use it!

We really are blessed with an amazing support network.  From beginning (and not ending), we have had families and individuals want to be involved in Joya's adoption.  Contributions of financial gifts, babysitting our boys, mountains of new clothes and hand-me-downs, and a seemingly unending meal train, have all overwhelmed us with unexpected love and support.

strollerI will report to you that the last two nights have been much better as far as sleep is concerned, and whether it lasts or not, we're grateful.  She is a huge fan of her Mommy lately and even showed some stranger danger over the weekend - which warmed my heart.

The support has been consistent and amazing.  After reading my last post, a friend I know from Squirt's preschool pulled me aside and insisted on coming over to clean my house.  She is naturally organized, loves to declutter, (and claims) she enjoys cleaning.

"I can't help you with Joya's adjustment - I know that has to stay within your family - but I CAN clean, and I want to clean.  I'm coming on Monday," she insisted as I squirmed at the thought of her seeing, much less touching, our messes.

pretties Yesterday was Monday and she came straight here after we dropped our boys off for preschool.  She brought her own cleaning supplies and three rolls of paper towels.  She requested some garbage bags to tote along with her and after I gave her a tour of my overwhelming messes, she proceeded to put my home into a clean Half Nelson.

She cleaned every bathroom in the house and decluttered and cleaned every bedroom.  I tried to help but Little Miss was not really helpful to have along.  So, as she ate her snacks in her chair, I cleaned my stovetop, wiped down my appliances, and came when called to sort through piles of treasures and trash.

To top it all off, she emptied out my fridge and washed the inside so it sparkled and smelled good again.

Reluctantly, she had to go pick up her kids at 2:30 and whined and complained like a kid about how disappointed she was that she didn't get to clean the entire house to her standard.

soccer fieldAfter she left, I was overwhelmed with gratitude and inspired to look for opportunities to use my gifts for others (um, my gifts are NOT cleaning, if you were wondering).

When you see an opportunity to help others - just do it.  Get past the discomfort and awkwardness and do it.  When I realized that Cara was not going to let up and I just gave up on hiding my messes, I was again blessed by receiving something I could never have done myself.

So, watch out world.  My house is clean.  I'm inspired.  And I'm grateful.  Thank you Cara!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

focus on the good, not the sucky

It is 9:09 p.m.  I have five kids upstairs in bed and asleep.  The kitchen is minimally cleaned up, but I still have to make three of the four lunches for school tomorrow because Sauce decided to make his own tonight (he also put away his clean laundry without being asked - who is that kid???).

It feels like 11:45 p.m.

I ran into a friend at the park today (on account of the rare warm spell) who joked with me that she is stalking my blog for an update.

There is such a mixed bag of what goes on each day, and it is against my nature not to share both.  So, I'll start with the sucky, and because we are all focusing on the good, I will end with that.

Thanks for sticking with me.


  • I had to get out of bed ten times last night.  Maybe more.  She wakes up scared to death - anywhere between two and ten times each night.
  • Sleep apnea might be contributing to her night troubles and we're investigating that medically.
  • I had to work hard to muster a smile for anyone this morning and there was more than one tear.
  • Squirt's adjustment has manifested in fear of bad guys and often being sad when I drop him off at school.
  • I am ready to fire the housekeeper.  Wait, I don't have one.  I cannot keep my house clean for the life of me - even to my sadly low standards.
  • My new state of family-cocoon works to prevent me from seeing friends socially.  I saw a couple of preschool parents by chance at the park this morning as I was trying to exhaust my daughter enough to submit to a long(er) nap (failed by the way).  I realized that this has to be the new normal for now.
  • I don't answer a lot of phone calls or initiate them either.
  • For now, I can't handle more than finding my balance in my new normal.


  • Our boys ADORE their sister.  They have been the loft to my balloon when I'm discouraged.  Even when she is rotten to them, they are nothing but devoted to her.
  • She goes to bed without protest and has adapted to a bedtime routine beautifully.
  • We are still getting meals from loving friends (we've been home since 3/29).  I have already announced to all dependent parties that I have forgotten how to cook.
  • Every day I take tags off of new items of clothing for Joya.  And I haven't purchased a thing on my own dime.
  • She lets me put "pretties" in her hair and we admire my work together.
  • Through our pre-bedtime rocking chair time, she has learned where her nose, ears, eyes, hair, mouth, and fingers are.  We work on more each night.
  • She understands everything we say in English.  I'm sure she's going to start spouting out sentences when we least expect it.
  • Normally not ticklish or physically playful, today I got some full blown belly laughs when I gobbled on her armpits during a diaper change.  And she wanted more.  Smile.
  • Despite my Beloved's busy travel schedule, I have been able to keep up with the Taxi-Mom demands of the boys' schedules.
  • I take great joy in my boys' enjoying their interests.  We have spring soccer going on and The Hunter and my man both read The H^nger Game$ series together (I read them last year).  I know there is controversy surrounding exposing kids to this series, but for this boy it was a great opportunity to connect and talk about big life topics and I'm glad we encouraged him.
  • I have great adoptive moms in my life who only need a one-sentence text from me before they call to encourage me through the tough stuff.  No offense, but now I know you have to go through it to understand.
  • Last weekend I was able to go to Denver to the "Empowered to Connect" conference based on the book "The Connected Child" and the work of Dr. Karyn Purvis, PhD. and Director of the TCU Institute of Child Development.  I learned more about investing in my home-grown kids than I ever imagined and came home encouraged and ready to start fresh.  Plus I slept without interruption for TWO nights while I was away.
  • My neighbor brought me a beautiful potted orchid yesterday and wasn't offended in the least when I had to cut our visit short to put my tired girl down for her too-short nap.
  • One of my very best friends here knows I'm sleep deprived and struggling to ride the waves of this new journey.  Each morning she texts me an encouragement from scripture and asks how she can pray for me and if she can help me by doing a grocery run or other tangible task.  Did I mention that she has six kids of her own???  I am one lucky lady.
  • I could go on with the good, but I will end with the fact that this "trial" which is really such joy mixed with adjustment, has enriched my marriage to a wonderful new level.  My Beloved has been transformed by the emotion/struggle/joy/fullness of our experience.  He is more tender and passionate about all of us.  He is quick to find humor as well as flexible to our unpredictable needs despite the demands on him to provide financially for this family of seven.  Next month we will celebrate 15 years of marriage.  He is the rock that keeps us all centered and I simply adore him.

Monday, April 16, 2012

small victories

I have a post written in my drafts folder describing some of the realities of how hard these last three weeks have been.

I don't want to forget how hard it has been.  I don't think I will, simply because I haven't been glossing it over to other people either.  Many people have asked me how it is going and I have been truthful in responses.

It is like nothing else I have experienced.

It is harder than having a newborn, for sure.

The days are pretty good, but we covet sleep.

It is just hard, but I'm looking forward to finding a new normal in my life, free of the newness, free of visitors (doesn't mean I don't love them), and in a solid routine.

I have tried to take the time to explain to several people WHY it is so hard, but the words just don't do it justice.  Part of the reason is that it is a uniquely lonely time.  There is no one that can come in and fix what is wrong, we just have to trudge on through.

I have been clinging to the knowledge that God works through the tough stuff in life.  I know He does, but I just felt like a constant failure.  We love this girl so much and there is so much hurt for her to overcome.  We can't do it for her.  We can only be here to help her through it.

At one particularly teary moment for me, I sobbed to a friend, "I know that God is here, but I don't feel Him.  I don't see His power in all of this and I want to so badly!!!"

Three things happened over the last 24 hours that gave me some peace and hope.

1.  At our couples' Bible study last night, while hashing through the topic of prayer, my eyes came across a note I wrote in my Bible long ago in 1 John regarding verse 5:4 ("for everyone born of God overcomes the world.")  At some point in time I wrote down a quote by author Max Lucado - "In your frustration you wonder where the power of God is.  Be patient.  God is using today's difficulties to strengthen you for tomorrow.  He is equipping you.  The God who makes things grow will help you bear fruit.  Dwell on the fact that God lives within you.  Think about the power that gives you life."

I'm being equipped.  He's with me.  And I'm grateful.

2.  We had a great day today!  Particularly, nap time  (which has been a time of panic, grief, and lots of screaming) went more smoothly than ever and it gave me hope that we WILL get there.  We played outside, read stories, laughed, and snuggled.  She jibber-jabbered more than ever to us (mandarin maybe?  two year old talk, for sure).  Tonight, she saw that my phone was sitting on Kenyon's lap and she leaned over and picked it up and said, "Mama, (then some jibberish equal to "here's your phone")!"  We all laughed at what a smarty pants she is.

3.  I read THIS by my sister in-law and felt comforted by the fact that she has been to a place much darker than I am right now and now she is on the other side with hind sight perspective and COMFORT.

She gave me the gift of comfort in darkness as well.

So, to sum it up - it has been hard, but it is getting better.  Small victories keep me pressing on with hope.

Easter was fun - but our family photo was pathetic.  Rufus was actually in a good mood but wanted to spoil the picture on purpose.  Sweet, huh?

best of easter 2012

She was sure cute though.

easter dress 

We rock rock rock to sleep each afternoon and night.


Our friends that we met in China sent us this.  We want this for her room:

joya drive

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

the bond that heals

If you didn't hear me in my last post, let me just say again how appreciative we are for all of the support we are receiving.  So many people are pursuing us through phone calls and emails and face to face visits.

P1010421 Of course, not one person can resist our daughter's cuteness.

She is magical for sure.

As she is exposed to more and more of our wonderful friends and social circles, I have found myself needing to put this post out there.

Joya has been put through a significant trauma.  She wasn't physically abused, but her emotional life was turned upside down less than three weeks ago when we took her from her foster family and her birth country and culture.

Although she greets most everyone with a "Ha-low" (hello) and has smiles and funny faces and songs that draw us all in, she is still learning who her forever family is.  If you have been reading our China posts, you know that initially she was clinging to Kenyon.  She didn't want anything to do with me for the first week.

Slowly, she tolerated me and allowed me to be the food maker, poop checker, and snot wiper.  But she still almost exclusively wanted her dad.

P1010464 Now that we are home, she is not panicked when Kenyon is out of sight.  In fact, he is out of town on business for two days and she and I have made some strides.  She comes to me for her needs and accepts affection and comfort from me - she has even initiated affection toward me, which is HUGE to me.

When entering a room, 'normal' toddlers will usually hang back a bit and look to their parents for a 'read' on the situation.  They are cautious and will take cues from their parents on how they are to act in that environment, with those people.

Because she has only been with us 2.5 weeks, Joya still looks to everyone as potential caregivers.

P1010442 Our main issue at this point in time is trying to help Joya to realize that we are her parents.  While we are so excited for everyone to meet her, I hope you will understand when we redirect her back to ourselves if she asks you to pick her up.  Please feel free to smile at and engage her, blow kisses and talk to her, but please resist the urge to scoop her up and squeeze her.

I know, it is tough to resist.

If she wants food, feel free to bring it to our attention, but it is really important that we be the ones to feed her or "deliver" her food to her.  It's not that we don't want to share her or that we don't want you to touch her.  It's that she needs to learn who her parents are and attach to us in a healthy way.

IMG_0479This takes time and we want to do it right.  We are hoping that you can all understand that we don't desire to be overprotective, but we want to prevent any long term emotional problems by doing this well.  When we see this secure attachment forming, we'll be encouraging her to have relationships with other adults as we do with our sons.

So, please come see us and enjoy our entertaining children!  We know you'll do nothing but support us and thank you in advance for honoring our request.

Monday, April 2, 2012


Hello friends.

I can tell you that the number of responses we received while we were in China, combined with the requests for updates within the five days we have been home have been heartwarming and overwhelming.  Thank you for your love and support during this life changing experience.  We woke up every morning in China and would immediately boot up our iPad to see what you all had to say to us while we were sleeping via blog, faceb**k, or email.

P1010100You gave us a support network and a connection to "home," and we thank you sincerely.  We think your support is priceless.

Our experience is going to take several (many?) posts to do justice, so while I have your ear (eyes?), I will tell you that I intend to do so.  Be patient with me because between my body's (as well as my daughter's) lagging time zone acknowledgement, as well as managing FIVE kids, will require an act of God to get regular blog posts out to you.

Start praying people.  Um, I meant now... yeah, take a break and pray. ;-)

So, in characteristic form, this sleep-deprived post will end in pertinent bullet points devoted to the "need-to-know" (or maybe the slightly entertaining):   (YES, I LIKE USING PARENTHESES TONIGHT!!!!!)

  • We returned to find out that our generous friends from various circles have signed up to bring us dinners every other night until the end of April (and one supply of rockin' frozen banana P1010004pancakes to microwave on my many my crazy mornings).  My dear friend Deb, who also hosted my awesome toddler shower in January, coordinated it all and we are just in awe.  Side note:  I am the girl who will NEVER turn down an offer for a dinner I don't have to make myself!!!  All we can say is THANK YOU!!!!  Such a simple thing helps so tremendously (especially for this non-cook)!!!
  • My dear friend Amy, who first introduced me to orphans with my trip to a Russian orphanage in 2006, has offered (okay, agreed to) creating Joya's "Gotcha Video" because she is UBER talented on the video-making-to-drive-you-to-tears-and-cherish-forever stuff.  Now, I just have to mail her the jump drive with the 5 GB of photos and video.  Put aside your box of tissues now.  No, I'm serious.  Do it!
  • My mom and favorite aunt were here P1010268for eight days before we came home (taking over for my only and cherished sister/BFF/soulmate to take care of our boys) and stayed until today.  We could not have made it through jet lag and Joya's crying nights without their help during the days.   How do you ever say an adequate thank you for such great sacrifices?  We are without words.  Mom - my husband is thinking of moving you in with us just for more of your sandwiches.
  • Joya is doing well considering we have only had her with us for 15 days, counting the 4.5 days here at home.  My Beloved made an accurate observation that her "renewed" grief since we've been home is likely because she is so stinkin' smart (save for college or not?) and has pieced together the fact that she is now with the people she has seen in her photo book for months now, and realizes that she is never returning to live with her foster family.  She cries out in the night for her foster mom and expresses genuine anxiety and panic when she realizes that it is close to bed time (which we did NOT see at any of our stops in China).  Her grief is inconsolable and I am jealous for the newborn experience when I could comfort and nurse a child back to sleep.  Not so now.  I ride the wave and die to my own desires - purely by asking and receiving from God's grace (my BFF's will tell you that I am NOT a woman who functions well on sleep deprivation).  She has been through a pure trauma and I will not traumatize her even more.
  • She is having GREAT days though.  Awake time is happy time filled with puzzles, playing, eating, and learning.  Very fun and we are really enjoying it - every one of us.
  • The boys are LOVING it.  Kenyon has mentioned that if we didn't have the support of our little men for our new pink addition, he just might have thoughts of regretting the decision.  But he doesn't because he is just smitten with her in every way, shape, and form, and so are our men.
  • Her attachment to her Daddy has lessened from panic to affection.  We both realize that it was really an attachment of safety and security, not of emotional connection.  That is okay with us for sure, but we are both looking forward to connecting with her in a GENUINE and growing love for each other.  It is growing and changing every day.
  • I am so grateful for my in-laws and their willingness to honor my request to come from Pennsylvania for my boys' spring break.  These grandparents definitely wanted to meet our new addition, but they are going to be such a help to us while the boys are on break and Joya still needs quite a bit of attention in order to bond with her mommy and daddy.  My husband's mom has a special gift for cooking projects, treasure hunts, and group outings.  I asked, and they honored.  Again, thank you just doesn't cut it.
  • I still have so much to say about our trip.  I want to tell you about the reality of adoption, the amazing organization "Love Without Boundaries", and the complete dissolving of our "American" impression of the nation and people of China.  So, at the very least, count on that from me.
  • And pictures..... lots of pictures.  (C'mon, you know I love the shock value!!!)P1010082

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

the good, the bad, and the just plain sad

How do we even put our Gotcha Day into words? This poor girl was loved so well that she is grieving very hard tonight. She was standing in the middle of the semi-busy room that we met her in. When we greeted her with a Mandarin "hello" she answered with an English "hello" and laughed with us when we laughed. She clapped and cheered for herself and the entire time she clutched the red photo book that we mailed to her several months ago.

Her loving foster family had already taught her that we were Mama and Baba (daddy in Mandarin) and she definitely recognized us.

The goodbye after we had signed our temporary guardianship paperwork was simply painful. The foster mother was barely holding back her tears as I was, but neither of us wanted to make it worse for Joya.

We got back to the room and our guide helped us try to calm her down with food and drink. She has cried a lot though with the exception of when we Face Timed with Kenyon's parents. She was giggly and animated and took right to "swiping" the iPad.

Then we returned right back to just plain sad. She much prefers daddy over me and I'm just happy she prefers someone. They are both finally asleep and I am typing this on my iPad which has no formatting ability at all. I'm going to upload a few pictures of our baby doll and then let my tears flow for her loss as I try to sleep.

Thank you for all the comments and support. We are reading each one.

Also, I was notified that my dear friend Ashley's mom passed away this morning from a long battle with cancer. Please pray for their family's tears as well.

cleared for travel

Time has slowed down since we arrived in Guangzhou. There are things to be done each day here (if we’re not at an appointment, we’re waiting for paperwork to be processed).

Saturday, we reported to the Travel Medical Clinic to have Joya undergo the standard medical check to make sure she does not have any communicable diseases. There are four places to get in line and process through – general physical examination, height and weight check, ENT exam, and any children over two years old must get a TB test.

There were hundreds of people waiting in this not-so-large clinic. At least 40 percent of them were adoptive families in the same boat as we are. Luckily for us, we have friends who have adopted from China three times with our agency. Before we left for China, we went out to dinner with them and they gave us marching orders for how to get through the clinic checks efficiently. It was a good thing they did, because Joya HATED it there and cried and screamed the entire time.

Luckily, my husband is brilliant and in addition to having us wait in separate lines to secure our spots and shorten our waits, he forbade me from Joya’s sight in these exam areas. He insisted that I wait in the hallway while he played “bad guy” and held her down for the exams, but lo and behold, who do you think she wanted to comfort her when it was all said and done???

Her mommy. Yup, that would be me.

I’ve included pictures at the bottom of the post that show how crowded it was. We were the first in our group to be finished and we quickly made it to the lobby of the building where she snuggled in my sling and fell asleep for the bus ride back to the hotel.

Any child over two years of age immigrating into the States needs to undergo a TB skin test before being cleared for an entry visa by the consulate. You would have thought that someone chopped off her left arm by the way she screamed through the needle prick test. Then she repeatedly pulled up her sleeve and pointed to the dot of blood with big tears falling and rambling in Mandarin. We kissed her and hugged her and told her she was all done.

But I’m sure she thought we lied to her because we had to take her back on Monday morning to have the skin test checked. All of the other children in our group had arms that showed the teeny-tiniest little dot on otherwise smooth and normal arms.

Not our Joya. Only 24 hours after the test, she had us worried when a red and raised bump remained on her arm. Our new and dear friend Carrie who is another mom in our group, and also a physician’s assistant, worked very hard not to worry me too much, but she was also a good enough friend not to lie to me either. She told me that it definitely was suspicious, but to wait another 24 hours until Monday’s clinic check.

If the skin test is positive, the child must have a chest X-ray taken to check for active TB in the lungs. If the X-ray is not clear, it equals a big delay in bringing her home. A positive skin test is a raised bump measuring ten millimeters or more.

As the rest of the kids were checked by the nurses, they zipped in and out with just a glance and a quick finger swipe on the arm. Not us, the nurse took our her pen, marked the edges of her bump (again, she acted like her arm was being chewed by a pack of wolves), and measured with a tiny little ruler.

We waited on pins and needles only to see an “8” written down and we were told she was “okay” and we could go.

I hugged that baby girl so hard and shed a few tears of my own.

She is going to LOVE all of the doctors’ appointments we have scheduled and waiting for her at home!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

baba's words

I convinced my man to put some thoughts down about his experience. I didn't direct him to any specific part of this journey on purpose. I knew he would not disappoint.

Enjoy Kenyon's debut as a guest blogger and feel free to leave comments or questions :-).

Well I am not the writer in the Sweeney clan, but my dear wife has asked me to put pen to paper….er…fingers to keyboard and share a man’s perspective on our recent experiences in China.

A few disclaimers on the front end:

First, I am a man fully in love with my new daughter so emotion may be a factor in my comments.

Second, I seek evidence for every position I hold in life and “signs” do not routinely figure into my decision making process. If you all are on board with that then here we go…

When Laur and I first started down this path, one of our motives was to give a little one a home that would have few other options. I envisioned the life of a deformed little girl in China, with no vested family members, protectors, educators, or resources contrasted with the propects of this little girl living in Park City with four tough as nails brothers paving the way for her.

Casts a pretty nice picture, huh?

Well fast forward to September 28, 2011 while I am in Colorado Springs on business and Laur calls to share that we have a file of a little girl to review. Immediately my pulse quickens and my mouth goes dry. We talk about the details and Laur tells me she has “beautiful eyes” and an “assymetrical mouth.” In a matter of hours we had four medical professionals reviewing the file and have an initial diagnosis (hemifacial microsomia).

I do what any educated, well read, and data driven individual does…I “Google” it. The pictures and description are daunting and fear takes hold of my heart and the picture of the little girl with a bright new future is dimmed by my own need for a certain kind of daughter, family, image.

Well, we hem and haw, worry and obsess and then finally I begin to pray and talk with some wise friends. My dear friend Gwen challenges me on two fronts. In a way that only she can, she cuts me to the quick on the image concern and says, “That is your issue you need to deal with.” On the real decision (is this little girl our little girl?) she says, "You need to ask God for a sign.” Well I reluctantly begin to pray for clarity and even an improbable sign.

You can read these blog posts to get caught up on the details of the signs that God has put in front of us (two words: “yellow car”).

What strikes me today that I missed in September is how lovely Joya actually is. The words on the referral letter “assymetrical mouth," the pictures on worst case scenario outcomes of HFM on the National Institute of Health website, my own bias and need to have the perfect picture of an American Family, as well as my fear of dealing with the pain of a girl who doesn’t look normal all STACKED up against me and disabled me from making a decision.

I remember verbalizing this to my dear friend David and his emailed response was, “I am sure you will make the right decision, which is to grab that little girl up as fast as you can!” I realize that the depth of the relationship, intricacies in relating, and real value cannot be communicated in a referral letter, from pictures on a well-respected medical web site, or in the dark recesses of your own mind.

Truly knowing and falling in love happens in looking into her eyes as she sits on your lap, comforting her as she mourns the loss of the family she knew, laughing with her as she learns her second English word, and realizing that we may have only known her for five days, but she already is worth protecting no matter what the cost.

Please keep in mind the aforementioned disclaimers and don’t hold me to following this logic or faith in the rest of my life…but I am sure glad that God gave me the sign I needed to see to grasp hold of this little blessing.

Just my two cents- ks

Friday, March 23, 2012

goodbye fujian

It was a bittersweet day as we took our last walk in the beautiful park adjacent to our hotel. It feels sad to leave the place where Joya is from and has been all her life. A policeman came to the hotel to double check our adoption certificate and our passports so that he could hand over our daughter's Chinese passport and we could fly to Guangzhou to start our journey home.

Joya had a really good morning, but our travel through airports and a short plane ride were not fun at all. We also had a little scare when we had fast food in the airport for dinner. Her paperwork said that she was allergic to seafood, so we have, of course, completely avoided it. Well, the chicken we were eating must have been exposed to seafood offerings at the restaurant because as soon as she had a piece in her mouth (but never swallowed) her face immediately broke out in a rash.

Our guide had already checked us in and said goodbye. My Benadryl was in our checked luggage. In my head, I was urgently making a plan for a medical emergency without a translator. (Angie, if you're reading this, our experience in Mexico 15 years ago prepared me for this!). Luckily, soon after it was out of her mouth, the rash started getting better.

Crisis avoided.

She hated the travel, the airplane, and the overall change. She was so overtired when we finally got to our room that her Baba could not snuggle her out of her crying. I figured out that if I put the edge of her blanket by her mouth, she will suck it and pass out.

I feel like a dope for not doing it sooner because her foster sister mentioned something to me about her sucking on a towel at bedtime.

Slightly longer learning curve baby girl. So sorry!

I'm so tired, so even though there are many topics I want to write about, I simply can't do it tonight. So, I'm honoring the request for pictures (i need to get many more off the camera tomorrow) and hopefully I can transform bullet points in my brain into interesting reading for you over the next couple of days.

We love hearing from you all.
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