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Birthday Time Again!

Another month of birthdays has come and gone (see R turn 6 here!) and I still can’t believe how old these kids are getting!  M turned 9, shortly followed by J who turned 10.  10 years old, you guys!  And still waiting for a forever family.  How in the world did even happen?!

Continuing the trend of ditching the whole party thing and celebrating with a special outing instead, we took M swimming at our favorite pool.  We decided to bring a friend along, Wilson’s nephew SonSon.  Whenever SonSon visits, he and M have a ball together, chasing each other around or SonSon pushing him in circles in his wheelchair, so we thought they’d have fun together in the pool.  And they sure did!  One of the great things about this pool is the large areas where it’s only a few inches deep throughout the parts that are about 4 feet deep.  So I can stand in the deep water, right next to M who is sitting in super shallow water that’s perfect for splashing and scooting around.  Don’t be fooled by the one picture of M relaxing in the floaty thing.  That lasted about 5 seconds and then it was back to the fun and games.  I always love the times we can get M away from all the nannies and kids, because he’s always much better behaved when he doesn’t have 11 other people competing for attention.  Understandable!  But he’s really a fun kid to hang out with this enormous amount of potential that I feel like we’re barely scratching the surface of.

And then we have J, who will be the oldest kid at COTP once L goes home with his forever family.  We had gone to the pool with J last year so we decided to ride horses with him this time around.  Some kids get scared their first time around large animals, but J was all smiles right from the start when we helped him pet the horse.  Now, when we’ve taken other kids riding, Wilson and I switch off who is holding them, but J is getting so tall that I just couldn’t balance both him and myself on those horses.  Wilson can do anything, of course, so he kept Josh and still guided his horse way better than I did.  Josh periodically arches his whole body, pushing his hips against the seatbelt of his wheelchair and stiffening everything up.  However, he spent at least an hour on the horse with Wilson totally relaxed, not tensing up once.  We took some paths through the fields down the road from COTP that none of us had been on before and ended up pretty lost, so eventually we just turned around and went back the way we had come.  You can see that part of the time, there’s a faint path to follow, and then at one point we just found ourselves in the middle of a random field.  If the bruise on my rear wasn’t growing with every passing minute and my fair Dutch skin wasn’t threatening to burn, I wouldn’t have minded wandering through those fields for hours with Wilson and J.  But, we headed back to the house where J enjoyed a cupcake we had bought from a restaurant the night before.  We’ve eaten there several times but this was the first time they pounced on us immediately after finishing our dinner to ask us if we wanted to buy dessert.  After 5 “no’s”, she kept insisting we buy a “Haiti cake”, so we did, neither of us knowing what that actually was.  Turns out it was a red and blue cupcake that we are pretty sure was leftover from Haitian Flag Day that week, and apparently they really wanted to offload them.  But J enjoyed the frosting and I didn’t have to bake a cake, so it all worked out in the end.

Children of the Promise has given explicit permission for the posting of photos on this site.  Photos taken of children in the care of Children of the Promise are not be posted publicly without explicit permission given by Children of the Promise.
 

Me and My Battles

You have to keep your cool at work, generally speaking.  Can’t lose your temper in the face of complete incompetence, you have to be professional.  But then you go home and you let off that steam.  Sure, you try your best to be nice to your spouse and your kids, but it’s still your own home.  Your safe place.  You do things the way you want to.  You keep things the way you want them.  Like the lids securely on all the Tupperware in the fridge?  You got it.  Like the bigger pots to hang behind the smaller pots?  No problem.  Like to do yoga in your underwear?  Um, sure.  You can face another day at work, because you just had a night or a weekend away from all that nonsense.  Even if you love your job, you need some perspective, some refreshment, some solitude.  Or is it just me?

Now imagine you live at your work.  That little break room at the end of the hall?  That’s the extent of your “privacy”.  And the other employees?  Some of whom drive you nuts all day?  They never leave.  Evenings, weekends, holidays, they are perpetually there.  There are always at least 3 of them sleeping down the hall, sitting in your living room when you’re “done for the day” and just want to relax in peace, rearranging your silverware for no apparent reason, listening to loud and obnoxious videos on their phones, and always ready to pounce if you lose your cool for one second.  My type-A, verging on OCD-like tendencies, are under constant attack, as is my introverted heart.  A hundred times a day, I see something that makes my skin crawl that I’ve just learned to let go, because it doesn’t make any difference to call it out.  I like my house kept a certain way, a logical way (in my mind!), but I’ve realized it just ain’t gonna happen!  But letting it go just means I don’t do anything about it at the moment.  It still feels like a little assault inside of me every time.  Then there’s another tier of things that I try to gently address because it more directly affects the well-being of our kids.  Those things are usually met with a myriad of excuses and complaints.  So that’s fun.  Then, after letting a hundred things go, and addressing a dozen things that are basically rejected, I have reached my capacity.  I do have a capacity.  I am human.  Something, big or small, is going to tip me over the edge.  I’m going to overreact.  And because I try desperately never to let this happen with our kids, it is going to be with one of the adults in our house.  I don’t like when it happens with Wilson, but overacting to your spouse is sort of “acceptable”, in a way, I think.  More acceptable than overreacting to your employees at work, at least.  But that’s where I am all the time, at work with employees who, frankly, make me crazy.  So lately I feel like I’m constantly on the verge of a breakdown.

Adjust your expectations.  That’s the advice I’ve received on a number of occasions.  And that sounds nice; lower your expectations and you won’t be bothered or disappointed.  But it’s not that simple.  For one, I will not lower my standard of care for our kids.  I just won’t.  They need to be clean.  They need to be safe.  They need to be loved and engaged.  No compromising there.  Second, I am a steward of money that is not my own.  If I were not strict about how supplies are used in our house, there would be a gross misuse of pretty much everything, driving the Promise House budget through the roof.  I know this because that’s how it was before we moved in and that’s how it is every time I “give an inch” or when we leave for a vacation.  And third, I’m not sure you can just switch personality types because you say you want to.  And, I’m not sure I should anyway.  I think my perfectionism, organization, logic, planning, and determination are at least partially responsible for the progress we’ve made so far in the Promise House with these kids.  I think to run a home caring for 8 kids with special needs and staying within a donated budget and being mom/advocate/nurse/teacher/therapist/manager/etc. takes at least some of these qualities to do well.  And we are doing well.  The kids are healthier and happier, they are progressing, the house is cleaner and more efficient.  But the cost is a battle inside me and I’m pretty sure I’m the one losing.  Guys, I can’t even have a good cry in my room because the nannies can hear me from the kitchen and the short-term volunteers can hear me from upstairs.  I can be the picture of perfection for weeks and lose my temper once after the umpteenth time they do something totally ridiculous and they will lose their minds and go tell the nannies in the other houses what a horrible person I am.

For a few months, we had a nanny-free day every week and even though it was hard work taking care of the kids by ourselves, it was pure bliss, in its own way!  A day to detox.  We really appreciated their help more after coming back from a day without them.  But now we’re back up to 8 kids in the house with another little one on the way (yes, I’m 12 weeks pregnant, if you haven’t heard!), which means I’m more tired than usual and soon won’t be able to physically care for the bigger boys for a while, so it’s just not practical to continue our nanny-free days.  So truthfully, we need the nannies. But truthfully, I’m barely holding it together having to live with them 24/7.

And then one day, God touched me with his magic spirit wand and now I have the patience of a saint.  No wait, that didn’t happen.  And then one day, I stopped caring about anything that didn’t have true, eternal value, so the dumb things our nannies did just stopped bothering me.  No wait, that didn’t happen either.  There’s not really a resolution to this little story, I’m sorry to say.  It’s just me, hanging in there because God has given me a fierce love for these 8 precious kids that I can’t turn my back on.  Just me and my battles, praying that maybe I could win a few so I can find hope for myself like I already see for my kids.

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2017 in Life in Haiti, Prayer, Sheila

 

R is 6!

R is 6!

In February we celebrated our first year as house parents in the Promise House and now we have cycled back through to birthday season.  There are three Promise House birthdays in May!  Technically, our sweet Nikensly would’ve been our first repeat birthday back in March.  I thought about and half-planned what we would do to remember his birthday but when it came down to it, I just couldn’t bring myself to do anything.  I did finally watch a few minutes of his funeral video but somehow even that didn’t seem real to me.  So I looked at some pictures (here’s a peek) and thought about our time together and thanked God that death is not the despairing end of life, but the glorious beginning to a life we can only imagine with Him.

And this month we have three beautiful kids celebrating another year of life.  R turned 6 this week (can you believe it?!) and since we took her swimming last year, we decided to call in Wilson’s cousin for some horseback riding this time.  While R has discovered laughter this past year, it’s still not super frequent, and her smiley moods are also sort of random, so it’s hard to tell if she really enjoyed riding or not.  But she didn’t give any indications that she didn’t like it, so I’m calling it a win!

Wilson was the hero who saved the day and I’ll tell you why.  It has rained most afternoons and/or nights for the past few weeks.  At least.  I can’t really remember, but it’s been in this rainy season pattern for a while.  After we took the horses through the COTP property, we thought we’d be a little adventurous and take a walk out behind the property.  We praised our horses for wading through little creeks and braving the mud in certain areas, but then we got to this little, I don’t know, 10-yard stretch of mud that was lined by barbed wire and apparently quite deep.   Neighbors’ fields were on either side which, of course, we din’t want to trample.  So Wilson has R at this point and is leading the way.  I am on my horse behind him, which is just a little more stubborn, or maybe–and this is entirely more likely–i Just have no idea what I’m doing.  So as their horse is shlupping through the mud, I see those hooves sinking deeper and those legs getting wobblier until I see the whole horse list to the right, lean further to the right, and fall flat on it’s right side.  In my mind, this is all happening in slow motion as I envision one or both of them pinned underneath a grown horse in the mud, entangled in barbed wire.  According to Wilson, it was not just my mind’s eye perceiving the fall in slow motion.  The fall actually happened quite slowly thanks to the viscosity and depth of the mud, so Wilson did not experience any life-flashing-before-his-eyes panic that I would have.  Rather, he just sort of stepped off the side of the horse with R in his arms as the horse laid down, with no more damage than a really muddy boot.  I was so relieved!  And in love: our very own muddy-horse-crisis hero!  The horse could not get itself unstuck so Wilson’s cousin had to pull each of its legs out of the mud and help it upright again.

Just in time for the rain.  Not a heavy rain, but a consistent light rain for the rest of our ride back home.  I’m sure we looked ridiculous taking a small child out on a horse in the rain when, mind you, Haitians really don’t ride horses for pleasure in the first place.  But we didn’t mind the rain and R didn’t seem to either and being out in the rain made home just a little cozier when we got back to sing “Happy Birthday” to R and eat some cookie dough brownie bars.  If you’re wondering why Wilson is lighting the candles like that, here it is.  We don’t use matches because Haitian matches are super flimsy and lame and since we have to light our stove and oven manually, we’d go through like a box a day.  We tried lighters but the nannies just couldn’t figure out that child-proofing mechanism and broke an entire Costco pack of lighters.  I am not exaggerating.  So to light the stove/oven, we have the top half of a blow torch, not attached to it’s own fuel source.  so to light the candles, Wilson had to light the stove, then that oil-dipped wad of paper, and then the candles.  It was really classy.  Because here is the Promise House, we’re always really classy.

 

Easter and Our Newest Addition

It’s been an exciting few weeks at the Promise House!  So exciting that we neglected to send out our e-mail newsletter last week. Sorry about that! Here’s a post to catch you up on the latest happenings before Wilson and I leave for a week in the Dominican Republic (thanks to our Aunt Arlene! J)

For Easter, my parents were able to fly down for a visit.  We’ve seen them a fair amount recently, since we spent November in California and Wilson and I both had week-long trips back since then, but it’s been a while since they’ve been down here to see us and the kids in the Promise House.  We were anxious for them to see the changes we’ve made and how well the kids are doing.  Perhaps my mom will write a little guest blog for you.  Mom?  And in case you all were wondering, frozen honey-baked ham, King’s Hawaiian rolls, the ingredients of cheesy potato casserole, and a frozen cheesecake all travel beautifully.  We enjoyed a full Easter dinner with the kids, ham bun leftovers all week, and I currently have ham-bone soup in the crockpot that is making the house smell scrumptious!

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Mom and dad’s trip happened to coincide with our other big news: week one of the newest Promise House kiddo!  We’ve got 8 again!  E is 7 and has been at COTP since the summer of 2011.  Wilson vividly remembers his first day here and has had a special place in his heart for E since then.  I cared for E as his nurse during our first go-around, and now we get the honor and privilege of caring for him as house parents.  Even in this short time, we see an incredible amount of potential in E and are excited to love on him and see what we can accomplish together!  The nannies remember him well from the baby house days and were also excited to hear he’d be moving in with us.  Suzette in particular was very happy to have “her boyfriend” back!  Since E was not with us for his birthday back in January, we started out with a birthday trip to the beach.  It was fun to have mom and dad along (maybe we should have called them grandma and grandpa?!) to experience the day with us.  E is such a vibrant boy and even though the weather was less than ideal and we got plenty of drizzles throughout the day, we all had a really wonderful time!  His giggles were all the sunshine we needed 🙂

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Please pray with us as E continues to transition to life in the Promise House.  Pray that God gives us the wisdom to care for him exactly as he needs to be cared for and also for the other kids as everyone gets used to each other again.

Children of the Promise has given explicit permission for the posting of photos on this site.  Photos taken of children in the care of Children of the Promise are not be posted publicly without explicit permission given by Children of the Promise.
 
 

Beach Birthday

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Usually the birthdays I blog about are for our kids, but a few weeks ago we celebrated another special birthday: Frandy!  If you haven’t heard, Frandy is out newest sub and the first male nanny at COTP.  Even though it was technically a work day, he was so honored that we took him to the beach for some fun with three of the kids.  We typically only take one child out at a time, given the challenges of travelling with our kids in particular, but we got brave and took L, M, and J.  I had a bet with Wilson which of the kids would fall asleep on the way home and I’m pretty sure he won because I fell asleep!  These are our three highest functioning kids but still require one to one supervision and assistance and almost constant hands-on care.  Picture, if you will, a 5-year-old and 8-year-old in diapers with nothing even sort of resembling a changing table.  We were done swimming for the day and needed to rinse off and put clothes on so we could eat in the restaurant.  The 5-year-old can stand, so as long as I can keep him semi-still for more than a second, it’s not too tough to get a clean diaper at least covering the most important bits.  The 9-year-old cannot stand alone, and we were at the outdoor shower pad since the little bathroom stalls are slippery and icky, but modesty is important so I tried to maintain a shred of it while doing a crazy balancing act and not getting either of us too wet or dirty since he’s so squirmy and jumpy, and even if I thought I could just lay him on the cement for a second to change him, the people already staring at the spectacle would be horrified at my obvious disregard for the health of my child.

There really isn’t a place to change kids anywhere we might go.  We took H to the eye doctor a few weeks ago and she had a BM while we were there.  Most bathrooms are super cramped with just a toilet and a pedestal sink.  H is 3 and has very little muscle control, but big involuntary muscle jolts.  Wilson held up her head with one hand with all her things in his other hand while she was draped over the lid of the toilet seat, feet flopping around off the other side while I tried to clean her up without getting poo on her flailing feet, myself, or the room.  I’m just saying, the next time you use or see a little koala care changing station, say a prayer of thanks don’t take it for granted.

But back to the beach.  M has a great time no matter what we’re doing, and the beach was no different.  Getting splashed was all part of the fun!  If you remember how cold and shivery J was from the trip to the pool for his birthday, imagine more of the same.  He clung to me like the most adorable chattering monkey you ever did see.  He loved toddling around on the sand, though!  L just likes to do whatever we are doing so he played in the water with us, played soccer with Wilson and Frandy, and thoroughly enjoyed his lunch with a bit of Wilson’s Coke to wash it down.  It was a really wonderful day together!

Children of the Promise has given explicit permission for the posting of photos on this site.  Photos taken of children in the care of Children of the Promise are not be posted publicly without explicit permission given by Children of the Promise.
 
 

One Year in the Promise House – Part Four

We have been blessed with two little girls in the Promise House, R and H.  R is 5 and came to Children of the Promise (COTP) during my time as a nurse here.  H is 3 and came after I was no longer the nurse.  One of the greatest changes in our house this past year has been the development of R’s laugh.  She smiled before, from time to time, but now her melodic giggle beats just about any other sound in the house.  The triggers that make R laugh are unclear and unpredictable, but what a joy when she surprises us with it!  What might we find if we could get inside her little head when she starts laughing randomly?  Wilson and I got to take R swimming for her birthday in May, a day we were all relaxed and happy.

H, who also went swimming with us for her birthday, had a huge, contagious smile that mysteriously disappeared a few months before we moved in.  I am a list person, and at the top of many lists in the last year I have written “Make H smile.”  You can hold your suggestions for accomplishing this unless they are way outside the box.  We’ve tried it all, from medication changes to essential oils to every tickly, cuddly, and silly thing a person could do to make a child smile.  I’m still determined to see H’s beautiful smile but I’d be lying if I said my optimism wasn’t starting to fade just a little.

As you may know, I always try to write with honesty and transparency.  If I’m being truly honest, I would have to tell you that of all our kids, I have the hardest time connecting with the girls.  I’m not totally sure of the reason, but I think it’s because they just don’t respond as much to interaction and stimulation.  There is no immediate (or foreseeable??) reward for our efforts.  With all the therapy and social interaction we can muster, there is not much more than hints of change.  And isn’t that how Albert Einstein defined insanity?  “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Day after day, week after week, month after month, we just keep at it, working with them, engaging them, trying to make a difference.  Maybe not expecting different results, but certainly hoping for them.  Sure, the details change, but the results don’t seem to change.  And after a while I start to feel discouraged and, well, insane.

Wilson and I read a small section of the Bible together most nights before bed.  We recently read about the Israelites’ time in the desert after being led out of slavery and Egypt before entering the Promised Land.  Oh, they were whiny and insufferable!  God performs a great work for his people and the manna or quail or water pouring from a rock reminds them of his sovereign goodness.  A minute passes and they forget what God has done and complain that they would have been better off enslaved in Egypt.  Again, God provides in a miraculous way and all is well.  Another minute passes and they are worshiping a golden calf.  Now we’ve started into the accounts of the judges and the cycles of turning from God, being oppressed, begging for mercy, being rescued, and experiencing a time of peace.  Rinse and repeat.  I think one could argue that God exhibits some symptoms of insanity.  Despite the inevitable, despite his people turning away to place their trust in themselves or in other lesser gods, God continues to pursue them, to fight for them, to love them.  To love us.  Because are we really any less obnoxious than the Israelites?  I shudder at the thought of someone recording all the little, shameful bits of my life for all the world to see.  But that’s what love does.  Love chooses to pursue again and again, choosing to forgive over and over, hoping it makes a difference but knowing it might not.  That’s what love is.  Love is insanity.

So I choose to love R and H, knowing it may be frustrating, knowing that at times it feels fruitless, knowing it makes me a little insane. Because I choose to love, I cuddle and rock R and H before bed, though they may never cuddle back.  Because I choose to love, I put splints on R’s hands every day, I stretch each arm and leg, I practice tummy time, assisted sitting and standing, though they may never have more purposeful movement.  Because I choose to love, I talk to them, read to them, sing to them, though they may never utter a word.

Looking back over our first year in the Promise House, I see progress in our house and I see improvement in our kids, but there is also personal growth and learning.  God uses kids like R and H to reveal more of him and how we relate to him.  I usually don’t like analogies that equate us with God, yet we are created in his image and are always striving to be better reflections of him to the world.  I want to always have hope and to love like he does, regardless of the outcome.  I will persist and endure what sometimes feels like insanity because I choose to love.  Because he first loved me.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2017 in Life in Haiti, Sheila, The Kiddos, Wilson

 

One Year in the Promise House – Part Three

I have told many people about the very first day I met L, when he was brought to Children of the Promise (COTP).  They guessed he was about six years old at the time.  While paperwork was being filled out, I took him to the volunteer house to play Legos and get acquainted.  One second we were playing side by side, building a tower or something, and the next second he had me in a headlock and I was truly afraid.  He was unpredictable, lashing out at those around him, hitting or pushing any kids that got near him.  He had, and still has, a hard time managing his oral secretions and I remember him frequently spitting into his fingers and then wiping them on whoever was closest to him at the time.  I can’t even begin to imagine what he must have been feeling, having been plucked up and dropped into our little world with nothing and no one he knew.

From that time until the time we became his house parents in the Promise House, L made significant progress.  He had an individual nanny to help with behavior control and he got to know the few women who worked with him and began listening to them.  He was no longer such a threat to the other kids, he was spitting into a towel instead of on other people, he could help with simple chores around the house, and he was attending school in the village.  The nannies had much better control of L’s behavior, but there was still something missing.  In school he wasn’t socializing and he didn’t seem to really be learning much either.  At home, between meals and little tasks, he sat in a chair waiting.  His more aggressive behaviors had been reined in, making him more manageable, but as a 9-year-old boy, it was clear there needed to be much more to his life than that.

I could probably fill a book with the things we’ve done with L in the last year, like going to the beach for his birthday and visiting a dentist for the first time, and the ways we’ve seen him begin to really live, to thrive.

Once school let out for summer break, we decided it would be better for me to homeschool L, rather than returning to the village school.  When we started, L was struggling to complete simple wooden peg puzzles, he did not know how to properly hold a pencil, and I could only keep him focused for a few minutes at a time before he would see a leaf or something that he needed to go sweep off the patio.  Other than reciting the Creole vowel sounds, he didn’t know his letters or numbers.  I won’t bore you with the tedious details between then and now, but he never ceases to amaze me.  Anything new is pretty hard for L, but within a short time, he starts to get the hang of it, especially now that he doesn’t get frustrated as easily and has learned some patience and perseverance to begin mastering new skills.  Now, L can write all the capital letters including his name and he can copy some words up to three letters.  He can count in groups up to 10, cut with a scissors, name circles, squares, and triangles, sort by shape and color, and complete interlocking puzzles up to 48 pieces.  L is becoming more creative with his magnetic building tiles, and likes to play with playdough and legos.

Wilson and I attend church in the village a couple times a month.  Most often L comes with us and has done exceptionally well.  He likes to sing and clap to some of the songs, put money in the offering basket, and eat Smarties.  Even when we’re there up to two hours, he usually doesn’t have trouble sitting through the whole service.  He couldn’t go a few minutes without spitting before, but L doesn’t need to bring his handkerchief to church at all anymore.  Eliminating the spit towel is one of the things Wilson wanted to be sure I shared.  L used to saturate several hand towels a day.  To be honest, it was really gross!  My insides cringes if those towels ever touched me.  Okay, maybe my outsides too, sometimes!  I remember pushing him on the swings one day and the spit towel fell on the ground.  His immediate instinct was to try to catch it even at the cost of falling face-first off the swing.  I did catch him, but he was so strongly tethered to those towels for some reason.  The fact that he only spits in the bathroom or in the grass, at considerably reduced frequency, is such real and tangible evidence of how far L has come.

Seeing L socialize more and form healthy attachments has been wonderful.  He and Wilson have a special relationship and wherever Wilson goes, L wants to be there too.  They cook together, watch soccer games, go on moto rides, check on things at the shop, lounge on the couch, whatever it is, they love to be together.  Wilson always says when L leaves, he wants another kid just like him J L has come alive in other relationships as well.  Wilson’s nephew, SonSon, comes over from time to time so they can eat and play together.  We recently hired the first male nanny, Frandy, who taught L to ride a bike and will play ball with him for hours at a time.  L is always looking out for the other kids in our house, too.  This used to manifest itself more roughly and aggressively, but he has gotten quite gentle, especially with little J.  M hates naptime, but if L and M are in the bedroom together, they can make each other laugh for hours.  I have grown quite attached to L myself.  Because of school, more of my time is spent with him than with any of the other kids, and we recently started exercising together, running with the Couch-to-5k program.  The nannies sometimes tease me about the affection I give him, like how I carry him to bed each night after our family Bible reading.  But I don’t know how much or how little affection he got during the first 6 years of his life.  I imagine there is some catching up to do, and I am grateful I get to be part of the process of doing that, that I get to love him and be a witness to a piece of God’s beautiful story written in his life.

One day, when L leaves to join his forever family, I know Wilson and I will shed many tears.  The Promise House will simply not be the same without L and, having experienced similar pain saying goodbye to some very special kids before (read about them here and here), I can only imagine the pain we will feel.  However, I also know that pain will pale in comparison to the great joy of L being united with his Forever Family, the perfect family God chose especially for him, chosen before I met L, before he or I were even born.  We continue to pray that God would use us to prepare L as much as possible for his family.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2017 in Life in Haiti, Sheila, The Kiddos, Wilson