Where did the last 4 months go? (Our 2011 Christmas Letter)

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Seems to me that the last 4 months are an absolute blur. I struggle to remember what life was like before August 20, 2011 when Todd and I boarded that plane to Hong Kong. Life was comfortable, easy, routine. Predictable and “normal.” We had it good, but we were complacent. We were settled, even with the adventure of our 2nd adoption on the near horizon, life was good.

Todd continues to coach the Liberty University Paintball Team and took a new job as the Director of the Rivermont Avenue Baptist Church Early Learning Center in June. I took a new position also in March with the Virginia Department of Health as the District Health Educator Sr. and Public Information Officer. For both of us, it was a return to our career passions and did well for our mental, physical, and spiritual health. I continue to move forward in my PhD in public health studies and will finish my courses in August 2012, with dissertation to begin thereafter.

I can honestly say that life is STILL good. It always is and always will be. God has given us much strength and courage over the last 120+ days and we have grown even more dependent in our faith in Jesus. In many ways, I feel like 2011 didn’t begin until August, and here’s why.

While Todd and I were in Hong Kong meeting Joel, Quentin, Jasmine, and Elise were beginning a new school year. Quentin (8 years old) started at a new school, R. S. Payne Elementary School, for 3rd grade at the Gifted Opportunity (GO) Center. It was a hard decision for him to make because it meant leaving behind his good buddies at Bedford Hills. He saw the decision as an opportunity, as something of value that would add to his life and education. He’s acclimated well there and quickly figured out it’s a great program with awesome teachers. He ran for SCA Secretary after being elected by his class as their SCA representative. He didn’t win Secretary but it was inspiring to watch him in “campaign-mode,” making posters, printing stickers, and spending a few hours writing the perfect speech. He is eagerly looking forward to starting up lacrosse again in February for the spring season. Something else about Quentin, he is the perfect big brother to Joel. Joel seeks Quentin out – for help with using the bathroom or just to lay down and read together. Joel is the brother that Quentin prayed for and it brings tears to my eyes often as I watch their sweet, kind interactions. They are bonded and will be forever.

Jasmine is now 7 years old, and started out 1st grade ready and roaring to go. She really struggled to keep up with her peers during the first 6 weeks so we had an ADHD evaluation completed. Sure enough with a right diagnosis and effective treatment, Jasmine began having more success at school. She hated school, said it was too hard, and didn’t believe in herself at all. Now, she LOVES school and is so proud everyday to tell us what she learned or read or practiced, and that she didn’t have to move her name for making a bad choice. I love her love to help others, even it when it gets ultra-annoying and bossy (yep, I said it). She is destined to care for others; I can see in how she moves about her day, especially with Joel. She is his mini-mommy and monitoring that gets tiring at times because he was “mommyed” enough in Hong Kong and now it’s time for him to develop some self-direction and independence. I know she feels close to him because of their common ethnic and cultural background. It is super cute when she feels the need to remind Joel that they are Chinese, and from Hong Kong…and “we grew in Mommy’s heart.”

5-year-old Elise began Kindergarten this year, and is loving it. We have been fortunate that all 4 of our kiddos have had Mrs. McKinney for Kindergarten. Elise is a confident child with the fashion-sense of a teenager. She rocks her Hello Kitty rain boots to school almost daily and has a deep fascination with needing to have something pink on every day. It makes for getting dressed in the morning all the more dramatic. She wants to be a big-kid so bad, and definitely goes toe-to-toe with Quentin with the mindset that “whatever you can do, I can do better.” I love sibling rivalry like that because it pushes both of them to think higher and dig deeper. Elise and Jasmine have been begging to take ballet again, and so in late January, they will begin classes again through Lynchburg Parks and Recreation.

And finally, sweet Joel. I wish I could share that everything with his transition has been peachy-keen and a dream. Don’t get me wrong, we have had definite successes and beautiful surprises with his adjustment to American culture and life in our family. I think more than anything he knows he has the love of a family again, and this security has allowed him to open up at home, at church, and in the community with friends. We have some trials with determining the right structure for him at school through the IEP process, but are hopefully moving in a positive direction once school starts back up in January. Joel turned 6 years old less than a week after coming home from Hong Kong, and began Kindergarten at Bedford Hills Elementary School. He and Elise are in the same class together. He is most often found, while at home, drawing on his magnadoodle or with markers and paper at the table, playing tea party with Jasmine, on the computer with Elise, or reading with Quentin. I love every night around 7:45pm when he says, “Mommy, I’m tired. Bed please.” He’s a cuddlebug for sure and I try my hardest to not let these sweet moments become routine and mundane. He has successfully potty-trained (still working through random accidents here and there) since coming home, and has mastered many other self-care skills. He loves to turn on his charm and become suddenly “helpless” to doing things for himself, but fortunately he’s got a brother and 2 sisters who encourage him to do it himself.

Speaking of doing things for yourself…I want to encourage you to make time for physical health improvements. Our bodies are prone to disease and failure, and we must stay cognizant of what is healthy and important to keep our bodies functioning well. Since September 1st (nothing like pictures from Hong Kong to motivate weight loss!!), I’ve lost 43 lbs. Todd has lost 32 lbs. since October 9th. We did a complete retreat from modern American food eating habits and chose whole food eating. We shop the “U” or the perimeter of the grocery store now and aim for food that is going to fuel us well and keep us healthy. The benefits are numerous and I recommend the following books to kick-start your own journey, if you so desire: Reshaping It All by Candace Cameron Bure, Food and Love by Dr. Gary Smalley, and The Dukan Diet by Dr. Pierre Dukan. If you feel even more inclined to read, I also suggest: American Wasteland-How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food by Jonathan Bloom, and Fair Food: Growing A Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All by Oran Hesterman. Our 2012 goals are going to be to grow our own garden, raise some chickens, and plant a fruit tree – starting small but doing something to put our lives in a more sustainable and healthier place.

We are looking forward with great excitement to Christmas morning – to celebrate Christ’s birth as a family and to see the wonder in the kids’ faces as they open their presents. We’ll travel to La Plata (MD) to visit with Todd’s family and then over New Year’s weekend to spend time with my family in Yorktown (VA). Please continue to keep Joel in your prayers as we move forward in his transition. We anticipate being able to finalize his adoption in March and look forward to sharing that day with you all. Saying “thank you” is clearly not enough to express what I feel for each of you in how you’ve helped sustain us through the adoption process, Joel’s homecoming, and his continued adjustment. We pray God’s richest blessings of love, peace, and joy fill your hearts now and forevermore!

With love,

Leslie

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One response »

  1. A beautiful letter of love and commitment. All of the things we are supposed to learn from the Bible and the way we should each live our lives. You and Todd have grown to amazing adults full of excitement for the world we live in.

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