Baldwin Building Adventures

There is so much happening in the world right now and so much of it is so, so heavy. I have never felt less Christmas-y- ever. People are really hurting right now. If you are friends with Amanda on Facebook, then you already know that Demetrius is going through hell in the form of a concussion followed by an extended stay at Children’s Hospital. I’ve just lost two friends to cancer, one who mentored me and changed my life and one that while I haven’t spoken to her in many years, had an impact on some of my hardest years. We have a new president in our country and no matter how people feel about him- they fall on one side of a fence that has divided us as a nation AND as Christians. People are hurting right now and it’s no fun.

But….in the midst of all that, we’ve been on a grand adventure. It started less than 6 weeks ago, when being the protective neighbor that I am, I spotted someone with no business in our neighborhood driving around aimlessly and looking at my neighbors houses. I asked if she was lost and she said, “no, I’m a realtor looking for a house.” Done being neighborly and now just being nosy I started to ask more questions.

Turns out, the house was for her and her husband and they were looking to purchase a house in our neighborhood and scrape it to turn it into a modern home.


They had purchased two lots just a few blocks from us (closer to downtown and on a cul-de-sac and next to a stream and walking trail) and wanted to build their dream home there, but being in a historic preservation district, they could only build a Craftsman style home (or similar). Do you guys know anyone who writes on this blog who likes Craftsman style?

In a “hey, just for fun” moment, I invited the realtor to our house just to check it out, but told her the only way we would consider selling is if we could buy those lots from her, knowing the real estate market and knowing if they put them back on the market they would be gone to a cash buyer in a minute. When he got home that night, I told Andy the story of me being a nosy concerned neighbor and really played it all as just being for kicks, because we were not planning to sell our house, but when I said “craftsman home” he stopped what he was doing and said, “OK. Now I’m listening.” In inviting the realtor over to see our house, we were very much like, “whatever happens”. When I say we had no expectations, I couldn’t mean that more. So many things would have to happen for this to work, so we didn’t expect anything.

Stacy (the realtor) came over on a Saturday and within 14 days we were under contract with her. We had agreed on fair pricing- she and her husband buying our house and us buying the lots.

This has been one of those crazy rides that can only be God. As Amanda said to me, “God is giving you something you could have never been bold enough to even pray for or know you wanted.” And she’s right. This is all so far beyond my imagination and expectations…it’s mind-blowing.

After so many things falling into place for us the remaining piece was a place to live while we build our home. Last night we noticed our neighbor (5 houses down from us!!) is renting out his house. He had put up his sign no more than 2 hours before we drove by. It will be available exactly when we need it in mid-February.  He is a friend of ours – someone we have gotten to know through being neighborly, who is renting his house for way cheaper than any house I have looked at. It’s another link in the chain that we can only see as God saying: “I got this. I’m doing this!”

This morning, we closed on both properties and all four of us left the closing table happy. Stacy and Eric are getting to create their modern dream home and Andy and I are getting to create what we didn’t know we wanted.


Buyers, sellers, buyers, sellers

Here’s the start of the plans we will be using. We’re building a duplex first and will live in half of that while we build our home on the larger lot. We are beyond excited and also beyond terrified, but just like getting married (ten years ago yesterday!!) we know it will be exciting and scary and there will be great moments and not-so-great moments. We just know it’s from Him and so we’re moving along…..and all I can say right now is “WHAT THE HECK IS HAPPENING!!????!!!!”


You need a therapist. A good one.

One of our favorite things to do with this blog is to write a post together. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we get to sit down and write at the same time, we just work together on a post- both bringing our best ideas to the table. It’s been a while since we did this, but we’re excited to introduce: What Makes a Great Therapist.

From Celina:

Throughout my 38 years, I have had a good handful of therapists, counselors and other helpers. Honestly, most of them did me only a little bit of good.  I sought out a therapists because whatever I was dealing with I knew I needed help and being a self-aware, relatively intelligent person, I found that they could not offer me much more than I already knew. I want to point out that I went into these therapy sessions as a willing party-wanting help. I wasn’t dragged or forced into anything (well when I was 15, but that’s another post coming soon). I went ASKING for help, and usually leaving empty-handed.

So, I’ve had lots of not-so-great helpers until about two months ago. Two months ago, I was at the lowest point of struggling with addiction that I knew I was not overcoming even with the weekly help I was already getting. Through a series of referrals, I found Chris (who I’ve mentioned before). Chris is the best therapist I have ever seen. Ever. And seeing him has helped me to realize what makes a helper great.

Here are the top 5 things that I think make a great therapist.

  1. A great therapist does not interrupt you when you are speaking. Even if they know that what they have to say is important and you need to hear it, or they are so excited about your breakthrough, they wait until you are totally done talking so that you can listen well because you’ve said all you need to say.
  2. A great therapist rarely talks about his or her own life. If they do, it’s a totally relate-able experience. I once had a counselor who when I would tell her what I was struggling with would say, “Well you think that’s bad, blah, blah, blah, here’s my story that’s worse than that…..”. That is not helpful or professional. I know maybe 5 things about Chris and 4 of them are because I asked.
  3. A great therapist doesn’t give you all the answers to your problems, they make you work for it. They make you sort things out until you can come up with some answers on your own. Then they help you with answers and solutions.
  4. A great therapist waits. They let you sit in the silence after you’ve spoken and they wait. Because maybe you are not done and until you’ve exhausted all you have to say, you won’t be ready to listen. They wait because silence is sometimes the thing we need most to heal. They wait because maybe they are measuring their own words before they speak them.
  5. A great therapist is qualified for your specific need. Chris is a specialist. He has studied and worked in the area that I am struggling with. If you are struggling with trauma, a general family counselor probably does not posses the tools you need to heal. General counselors for sure have their place- I am not wanting to downplay their role, but in order to get the best help, seek out a qualified specialist.

If you think you need some therapy (and I kind of think we all do), please don’t hesitate to seek it out. You might have to wade through some shitty counsel before you find what you need, but don’t give up! I’ve been going through the process of healing from addiction for almost two years now and it was only two months ago that I found Chris. Healing doesn’t happen overnight and you have to work damn hard to get it.

From Amanda:

Like Celina, I think everyone needs a therapist. Especially if you are in a relationship. With anyone. So that means everyone.

I go to therapy most often with my husband. We have a great marriage. And we need help. All the time. Without getting into our business, which I am sure you are not interested in, I will just say that most people marry their opposites, and so they struggle with understanding each other and each others motives.

That’s not David and I.

We test the exact same in most personality tests there are (except the Enneagram). It’s scary. And apparently fairly rare.

We go to therapy to be safe. Sometimes we go alone, but most often we go together. And our therapist is amazing. One time on the way to therapy I asked David, “We are doing so good, what are we even going to talk about?!” We found some stuff and I actually think that was one of our most powerful sessions.

So here are my top three things to look for in therapy.

  1. You leave with a lot less money than you came in with. I know this sounds silly, but I really believe it- good therapy is expensive and probably should be. Therapy is an art. It is something that takes a special gifting, and a lot of training. You can find cheap therapists, or even free ones but I suggest you invest in therapy. I really mean it. Investing in your mental health, spiritual health, and in your most precious relationships is wise. We may be broke, but we are rich in relationships, thanks to our crazy expensive therapist.
  2. You leave feeling redeemable. There have been times when David and I have stepped into our therapists office, and I wasn’t sure if we’d come out together or alive. I thought going in for sure one of us would be left bloodied on the floor. Never once have we stepped out of the therapists’ office feeling further apart. We have dealt with BIG stuff and every single time, on the elevator ride down to the parking lot, we hug and cry and kiss, and fall more in love. Our therapist has a way of reminding us what is the most important.
  3. You leave having learned something. Our therapist has taught us a few extremely valuable lessons. He does this quickly and usually in some sort of weird analogy. But the lessons he has taught us seem to come up daily in my relationships. Lessons about shame, lessons about arguing, lessons about listening, and lessons about story telling- all of which have been remarkably powerful. When I leave, I feel like I learned a lot, yet I have never felt like he was teaching me. It is a remarkable thing.

So you know we are a mess. And we know you probably are too. If you don’t have a good therapist yet, find one.

If you have a therapist, and you’re not sure if they’re good, they’re not good. Break up. Tomorrow. Because when you have a good therapist, its kind of like getting engaged, you can’t stop talking about it, you tell everyone, and your life changes forever!



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Showing Up and Being Seen

We’re doing something brave and it involves early mornings, coffee and a good book.

A while back my friend mentioned to me that she gets up super early once a week to meet with a friend. The idea inspired me- not because I like early mornings, but because something has been missing in my life and I wanted it back. See, as much as I’ve been working to heal, I’m still missing connection-because that’s what I was made for. When my friend mentioned her early morning meeting, the idea that came to me was, “why don’t I get up early and meet with someone?”

Mornings are that special undisturbed time when anything seems possible (except getting out of bed). Mornings are the time when there really isn’t an excuse to NOT do something.


So, I mentioned my idea to Amanda and my courageous friend and I decided to started an early morning book club. We decided that mornings are best because other than being sick, there isn’t an excuse NOT to meet. There aren’t school commitments, dinners to prepare or babysitters to hire. All it takes is a willingness to get up early and get out of the house. So, with a big cup of coffee, yoga pants, and sheet lines still on our faces, we’re meeting every other week at 5:30 AM at our local Starbucks and we’re reading Brene Brown’s book, Rising Strong (which is exactly what I’m doing every other Tuesday).


And it’s been amazing!

But, let me tell you, it’s scary to do something brave. It’s scary to send an email to 15 friends and say, “who wants to do this?” because what if no one says yes and then your big brave idea is just a dumb failure?  BUT- what if it isn’t? What if 3 other people say yes and you read an amazing book, cry every time you meet and change your entire life? What if those 3 other people needed this as much as you did? And what if your bravery and courage inspires them to do something else brave and 3 more lives are changed? What if….? As Brene says, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

So, here’s your inspiration for today- whatever your big brave idea is- DO IT. Whether it’s reaching out to some friends to start a book club, quitting that habit that isn’t good for you, training for a marathon, or inviting someone to dinner. DO IT. Be brave. Be courageous. And for the love – PLEASE read this book if you haven’t already. I shouldn’t have to blog about it 15 times to get your attention!



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Marriage: A Message from the Trenches

I don’t have anything figured out just yet and while I do act like an expert, I am certainly not one. So this blog is my letter from the trenches of marriage, where I’m always learning- never an expert.


But I can’t talk about the trenches of marriage, without talking about the trenches of rediscovering myself and growing up. Because marriage is made up of two people in their own trenches who are either digging toward each other or digging away from each other.

Right now, we’re both dirty and weary from the shovels and all the digging, but we’re digging toward each other.

First, an update from my own trench. Recently, I’ve …… come to rest. Relaxed. Let go. Eased up. Worried less. These attitude changes have made a HUGE difference in my life (consider my Type A perfectionist disposition). There are 3 things that have been the catalyst to my newfound peace (plus God- everything is plus God, and I’m not saying this lightly. I’m stating the facts. God.)

1. Anti-depressants. Anti-depressants have caused me to relax in a way that I could not have without them.

2. Kon Mari. I’ve already blogged extensively about the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but again this weekend I saw how wonderful it has made my life. We’ll call this abbreviated Kon Mari: House Renovations Edition. My husband “destroyed” two bedrooms in our house in the process of putting in new windows. For the first time ever– I was able to see the new windows part of that sentence before I saw the destroyed part. Because I knew the destroying- house part was temporary and was only going to take me a few minutes to clean up and I knew at the end I’d have new windows. There was no fighting or stress to be had between my husband and I. If you have known me more than say, 5-6 minutes then you know this is a true MIRACLE! This is because of Kon Mari. My house is in such a state of perfect order, that two destroyed bedrooms still only takes me a few minutes to normalize. And in the end, I have all new windows.

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3. Brene Brown. Besides reading Brene’s genius works, I’ve been attending a small group where we talk openly about our personal struggles. This safe place has become a place of healing for me as I walk through my past and present struggles.

So- that is one of the big things that has changed in my marriage: me. I’m not bragging, I’m stating facts. The fact is: I might just be growing up a little bit. Andy, though imperfect, has always been steady, loving and ready to serve. I have not always been so gracious in my dealings. Recently, after relating some story to my friend, she looked me in the eye and said this, “Celina! You are letting go!”. I hugged her and immediately turned to Andy for confirmation (he confirmed).

Here is a special chart I created to sum up the changes in my general disposition. As you can see, I have a long way to go, but I’ve also come a long way:



Andy is digging his own trench. If he had a blog you could read about it. work-boots-gloves-shovel-dirty-rubble-red-clay

As a couple, we’re making positive changes. From the trenches of our marriage- here’s one: I mentioned earlier that when we went on vacation, Andy and I didn’t really do a good job connecting, but we did work it out in the end. We decided from the missed connections on vacation that we needed to be super intentional about connecting- even for just five minutes a day. (Look at us! Learning from failure and moving on with positive changes instead of wallowing!) In the busyness of day-to-day life: working, schedules, parenting- marriage is often the thing we are too tired to work on and it’s something we take for granted. We worry about the soccer schedule and not the emotional state of our mate and frankly a few days/weeks/months of living like that makes marriage feel like rooming with someone you used to love.


In response to that,  Andy and I have been doing daily aBc Scans. aBc Scans are short, but they can be as long as we have time for, but basically after we get all the kids to bed, we sit down for at least 5 minutes and chat. From “how was your day?” to “how are you feeling?” we put it on the table. If we’ve hurt one another, we discuss that. aBc Scans begin and end with a hug. A hug communicates love and that we are on the same team. Sometimes, we discuss Baldwin Current Affairs (BCA) and sometimes we just sit together and talk about our day. Usually I relate a funny or mind-blowingly frustrating story from my trench of motherhood, and Andy shares from his trench of corporate America. What we are doing is something all of you emotionally healthy people probably already do, but we’re working hard on “healthy” and connecting emotionally is difficult. So together, we are wading the uncomfortable waters of true connection. We are listening, hugging and loving each other unconditionally. As painful as it can be, it’s not nearly as painful as us digging our trenches away from each other.


Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we still dig in opposite directions- or who am I kidding, I dig in the opposite direction, but we’ve come so far it doesn’t make sense to go another way when what we have is the very best of all.



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Road to Congo:Our Adoption Story Part 4

Welcome back! This is the final part of our adoption story- if you’ve been following along, then you know I’ve covered most of the big questions about our adoption. The “best for last” part is where we actually get to our destination and hold our children in our arms. This part of the story actually intertwines with everything else I’ve shared, but I’ve saved it for it’s own section.

We filed all of our adoption paperwork in February of 2011. I mailed all the application paperwork to both of our agencies and by tIMG_1954he end of that month, we were in the system and starting the process.

There are two  things that happened simultaneously once we filed applications. One, the Home Study which is where our domestic agency worked to make sure we were qualified to adopt with in person meetings, phone screens and background checks. Secondly, the international agency put us on the wait list for a referral.

Because I have a double triple dose of GSD (Get Shit Done), our Home Study went pretty quickly. I set up all the necessary meetings, got all the finger prints and background checks completed and prepared to move on. Only we didn’t. The nine months our international agency said it would take to complete the adoption turned into a year and a half of waiting for just a referral.

Finally in April of 2012 that we got our referral. Two boys. Their names were Ephraim and Elysee and I loved them completely. Ephraim was 9 months old and Elysee was 3.IMG_1825We were completely over the moon. Our agency said that it would probably be 6-12 months before we could pick up our boys. By now, however, we realized that maybe, just maybe, our agency wasn’t super intelligent when it came to timelines, so we figured it would be longer.

However, in July we got a call from our caseworker telling us that the boys we planned to adopt had been picked up from the orphanage by their birth mom. The story she told us didn’t sit right with us and by now, between the extended wait time and the other BS, I had had enough. So much was happening here- I was in contact with several families who were being completely jerked around by this agency, we found out that there was a 3rd brother in the orphanage who we knew nothing about and lots of conflicting information was moving around. It was scary and it left us not trusting an agency who had thousands of our hard earned dollars. (Remember the international adoption horror stories we didn’t hear ignored? By now we’d heard plenty!)

When we lost our referral, I just went into something like “You’re done f*&*# with me” mode and I started to push for reform. I think our agency had lost a few clients because of all of the crap they doled out (they have since closed due to fraud…imagine that) and they didn’t want to lose anymore so when I came around they decided they better just give me what I wanted (the more likely scenario is that Holy Spirit did everything and I got to see the miracles happen).

I called them up and said, “if you don’t give us a new referral in the next 24 hours, we’re dropping you”.  (Which actually would have been a huge financial loss to us and I’m not sure I was serious, but it got the ball rolling). We did give serious consideration to whether we were just in some kind never-ending trap with a fraudulent agency and several times, we almost gave up. You know when something in your life is super hard and you can’t decide if God is opposing you or if you are on the right track and that’s why it’s so hard? We kept asking, “Is this the time where you press in to God or is this the time where you jump ship because you are not even supposed to be on this roller coaster?”  That’s the adoption process. WHY IS THIS SO DAMN HARD? SHOULD WE QUIT? OR ARE ALL GOOD THINGS SUPPOSED TO BE THIS HARD? That was us for months. And months. And months.

Anyway, the next day, we got a new referral. These are the first photos we ever saw of our children. August 2012 was the first time we laid eyes on these two kids.

Honestly, this time, I was terrified. I was terrified to fall in love and lose again and I was terrified of Eloise (seriously. look at her). Let’s not even discuss the fact that these children are clearly not “2” and “5”. But when you are in the fire you make compromises to get out of it, so it was with some trepidation that we said “yes”.

Again, it was supposed to be “6-12” months before we could finally pick up our kids. And honestly, I didn’t have “6-12” more months in me. I had 2. maybe 3. So, again, I contacted our organization.

Through research I figured out that there were two ways to complete a Congolese adoption. One way was the way our agency was doing it, which was for them to file all the paperwork in the DRC. The second way was for the adoptive family to file all necessary documents in country and stay in the Congo until the documents are processed. Way #2 was known to be faster because the government in Congo was processing these documents quicker. To compare: way #1 was taking 3-6 months and way #2 was taking 3-5 weeks. So, being the professional that I am, I wrote a business proposal to our agency asking them for special consideration for us to be able to file our paperwork in country. It was an absolute miracle that they said “yes”.

What this meant was that we needed to be there for 3-5 weeks in order to file papers. This wouldn’t work for us, so we compromised and had Andy go to Congo alone to meet the kids and file the paperwork. It meant he would come home without the kids and then I would go and pick up the kids once that paperwork made it’s way through the system. This worked for us because Andy couldn’t get that much time off work and I didn’t think I could manage weeks alone in the Congo with two kids (after spending 10 days there when I went to pick up the kids, I am confident I couldn’t have managed).

In early December, our agency called to let us know that the rest of the steps were complete and Andy could travel. When Andy called me from Congo, he said, “I feel like two years of crap (the adoption process) has transformed into two beautiful kids.” (He was right, by the way, I’d do that two year sentence any day for these kids).


He came home after meeting the kids and filing our paperwork and again, we waited. This was maybe the hardest waiting [just kidding, it was all hard] because now we knew the kids. Now we had invested everything and Andy had held the hands of our children. Just like everything else in this journey the unpredictability was very scary for me. We didn’t know when or if we’d be able to go back. Everything was so tenuous.

On Christmas day we still hadn’t heard that the paperwork was complete and so we still didn’t know if and when we could travel back. I sat on our couch on Christmas day and cried and cried. I was so afraid that our dreams were just out of reach and we would never have the kids we wanted so desperately.


Our last Christmas together. A hike in the woods and me crying on the couch.

As it happened, just days after Christmas we were cleared to travel. We were so excited! I booked our tickets on Friday, December 30 and started to prepare for travel in early January. [On Saturday, December 31 I took that first pregnancy test that confirmed, that we were now expecting 3 kids in 2012- another miracle!].

Andy’s sister, Betsy (who had been working in the Congo previously) agreed to go with me so I wouldn’t have to travel alone. She speaks some French (the main language in Congo) and has traveled extensively internationally. So in early January, we left for DRC.

Our in country experience was…hot, scary, nerve-wracking, and tough. Congo is a war-torn country, so it can be very dangerous. We stayed in a hostel-type place (where the cook hated us, but everyone else was mostly nice) that was gated off and as we were advised, we hardly left and we never left without a Congolese friend. On the second or third day (it was to be a 10-day trip), the orphanage workers brought the kids to us.

Meeting Vaughn and Eloise is indescribable. It was every dream I ever had fulfilled. But it was really hard! I just longed for Andy to be there with me the whole time! Once we met them, the kids were ours and I got to have them stay with me until we were granted exit. Eloise had malaria and though Vaughn talked a lot I had no idea about anything he was saying. If it was hard for me, I can’t even imagine what it was like for them…but someday they will tell you their stories.P1000260

We got to visit the orphanage while we were there and I am so glad we did. It was eye-opening. What shocked me the most was how these two kids followed me everywhere at that orphanage. As if to say, “Lady, I may not know you at all, but you aren’t leaving me here!”. P1000543

Anyway, now that we were together, we had just one more document to obtain and that was the famous exit letter. If you have kept up with adoption news at all you know this is the big thing*!


So much of our story could not have happened without the man on the right. While I don’t truly know, in my heart I think he was one of the good ones. He served us well and I trusted him. Mr. Claude, wherever you are- thank you!

We were granted our exit letter and as fast as we could, we packed our bags and got the hell out of there. Travel home was a nightmare. Eloise had never been strapped into anything in her life and I lied to the stewardesses on the plane about her age just so I could hold her and she would stop screaming. It wasn’t the first time someone lied about her


age…Vaughn was obsessed with the TVs and after dozing off I woke up one time to find him watching Blood Diamond (a movie about diamond trafficking in the Congo). He cried when I made him turn it off. He almost vomited on a stranger and I couldn’t wake him up (or carry him!) at one point when we had to move because he was so jet lagged. It was rough, but we were headed home!

Our entire family met us in Washington, DC to meet the kids. It was a beautiful moment that I will never forget. The most fun was on Day 2 when we announced that we were pregnant. It was fun to see the shock on everyone’s faces.


So there it is. The complete story of our adoption- miracle after miracle. Now here we are 3 years home and it is still a beautiful mess. But at least I am not waiting for anything…


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*DRC Exit letter- Just a few weeks since our departure from Congo in January of 2012, the Congolese government suspended the issuance of exit letters. Almost no children have left the country legally since then. Many families are living in Congo with their children and have no idea when they will be able to come home. Children have died waiting for exit letters to be issued. What this means for us is that if our agency had not granted us the ability to file in country, we would not have our children today. There were people who got referrals at the same time I did, and they are still NOT HOME. Please pray for these families and children and that the government in Congo will release them!






Three things I’ve learned in three years as an adoptive mom

This weekend, our family celebrates our 3rd “Home-Avirsary”. What that means is that three years ago this weekend, we became a family. I traveled to Africa with my sister-in-law to pick up our kids and when we landed in Dulles, we were officially all together and finally “Home”. 32185_10200408424883191_915257598_n To me, home is where your Love is. On Andy’s first wedding ring (he’s only on his second- which is actually amazing), I inscribed the message, “Welcome Home”, because to us- being married was “home”, being together was “home”. And now the same is true for our made up celebration. Being together is like we are all finally, “Home”.

But if you’ve ever celebrated anything as wonderful as adoption, a new job,  marriage or childbirth, you know that Day 1 is nothing like what the rest of the days will be like. Day 1 is a celebration full of excitement and anticipation- the rest of the days are filled with a measure of love, anger, pain, joy, madness, excitement, frustration, celebration, elation, and any other emotion you can think of. The same is true for us.

Today, as we celebrate three years together with our adopted children, I’m sharing three lessons on being an adoptive mom that I’ve learned in those three years. Don’t get me wrong, these are not the same lessons for everyone, but they ring true to me as I look back on this time. Also, I’d like to say, I’ve learned 333333 lessons about life  and 33333333 lessons about myself in these three years, but since lots of you are come for the adoption stories, I thought I’d focus on that aspect.


At our Three Year Home-Avirsary

Lesson 1: Parenting adopted children can not be done without support. I might even go as far as to say that “parenting any children can not be done without support”, but I said this would be about being an adoptive mom, so I’ll leave that out. Or not, I already said it, so just take my word.

One day, for whatever reason, I went to the local nail salon in my new-ish town. Next to me was seated a chatty, young and pretty girl. Having no friends in town myself, I bravely started to chat with that girl next to me. All I can say is this- thank GOD for my bravery and her


kindness. If it wasn’t for that- this journey for us would have looked much different. God brought Amanda to me at just exactly the right time. Our friendship has led to more friendships and more support than I could have ever asked for.

I have a tendency to isolate especially when life is challenging or hard. It’s just easier for me to duke it out by myself than it is to let people in (though, that is changing with my emotional growth- thank you Brene Brown, I love you!). So when we brought our kids home and our world crumbled (see Andy and I crying hysterically on day 2 questioning whether we made a major mistake and if it wasn’t too late to return the goods), I would have been at it alone. And alone is no place to be when your world is crumbling. As much as our kids were a dream come true for us, becoming parents to children born to another rocked our world. We were in no way prepared for what that kind of life change was going to look like. But my friend Amanda knew. She not only knew the science of what our brains were going through, she knew how much our lives would change and she walked beside us every step of the way. My parents moved here just months after our kids arrived and as challenging as that was in many aspects, we couldn’t have done it without them here. 101313_0008From babysitting on date nights to doing our dishes, my parents saved our sanity. We didn’t know we’d need grandparents, friends and support groups for this journey, but God did and he sent them all just when we needed them. Whether you are going through a divorce, adopting a child or starting a diet- let me say this: you need supportive and loving friends. And your mom, you probably need your mom.

Lesson 2: Love is not the same as attachment and love is not enough. I am no expert on attachment and bonding, but my friend Amanda is. From reading books to picking her brain, I’ve learned a thing or two. The main thing I’ve learned is this: I can have enough love to save the whole world, but if my children don’t attach to me in a healthy way, love won’t help. I can say that I absolutely love my children- all of them- but I am working on bonding with one of them in particular and it is hard work. Once I am bonded, I am safe and that child can attach to me. Not like love isn’t hard, but comparatively, love is actually easy-breezy. Love= I would die for you. Attachment= you trust me to die for you. Being able to die for someone is easy. If there is a fire, I will save you even if means I die. Helping someone to trust you is not so easy. If the fire alarm goes off, all the traumatized wires in their brain go off, too, and they have no idea whether I will save them or not. Love alone does not save children from hard places. Children from hard places need love, but whatever measure of love I have to give is never going to be enough. It’s filling a bucket with a hole in it if attachment doesn’t get addressed. Love is wonderful and I thank God for His love for me which gives me a blueprint for loving others, but the brain has it’s own response to trauma and attachment and bonding are the answer that traumatized children need.

Lesson 3: It takes a year to have your first day. David Purvis said  this to me a while back and I just sat there and processed the truth of it all. Whether you are starting a job or starting a life with someone, it will be a good year before you really get the hang of what’s going on (and even then…). When we’d been home with our children a mere 8 months, I had a baby. So our ‘year’ basically started all over. Andy and I had just about made it a year with our new family when we pushed the reset on the “Your Life Completely Changed” button by having a baby and we went back without passing go or collecting our $200. Honestly (and I’ve said this before) as joyful and amazing as everything about this is- it was hell. Having a newborn, having 2 kids I barely knew and couldn’t understand half the time, and suddenly having 7 people in my house- it rocked me.

IMG_4824 2When Avett was about 1, my “first day” had been had and that’s when the proverbial shit hit the fan. For that 19 months of being a new mom, I hadn’t lived at all; I had merely survived. And survival is hard and traumatic work (just ask your adopted kids..). I realize now that I was traumatized by these changes and upheaval and I realize even more so now that my response to trauma is try really damn hard to survive and if that doesn’t work- smoke. After indulging my addictions for a while, I woke up one day and realized that this response wasn’t helping either, so I stopped. I stopped everything and I just processed it all. I joined a group of people who were processing their own hard places and I duked it out in the company of sinners and saints. I processed the year, the first day, the year I spent smoking and the whole thing. I rediscovered reality and I started to live in the life I had been given. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been so, so good.

In the past three years, I’ve learned so, so much from my children, my ever-patient and loving husband, my friends, my supporters and the people who’ve stayed beside me. I wouldn’t trade this time, these lessons or this family for anything in the world. Being a mom- adoptive or otherwise is tough work.  I’ve got a lot more to learn, but I’m getting there. I’m studying attachment together with my husband and we’re continuing to build our support network. The ‘first day’ is finally done and we’re moving on…


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Stories: Krista’s Story

By Krista Karle.

To read more about our Stories from the Neighborhood- click here.

10670160_10152819364472674_7540360765319346249_nFive years ago, I was diagnosed with Stage IV (I was down graded eventually to Stage III) (T3N2M0) Adenocarcinoma of the Colon. They discovered that I had spots on my liver and uterus and it had spread into my neighboring lymph nodes. I had people ask me if I was knocking on death’s door and the scary reality is that I was. On a scale of 1-10, I was an 8. And people diagnosed with this type of cancer have only an 11% chance at surviving. It was absolutely frightening.

I was in a questionable time in my life to begin with. I questioned my marriage, my life, where I was at, where was I going, what was I doing? Mid-life crisis – sure one could call it that. In July my husband and I had taken a cruise for our 10 year anniversary. He is always planning the most amazing things for us to do and I remember him asking to renew our vows – all of our friends were doing it – so why not? But, I could not take that leap. I remember him asking me to write something up to profess my love and as hard as I tried to come up with something, I could not lie to him, but I could not share with him where I was at either. I tried my hardest to figure things out on my own. Now with a colon cancer diagnosis that just muddied things even more. How would I work? How would I pay for this? My kids? What about my kids? My husband? My life? What had I accomplished? Where was I at? What was I doing? I felt alone. I can honestly be a terrible person sometimes. Lashing out. Being outspoken. Angry. Telling myself I was just being “honest” with people, when honestly I was mad as hell at the world.

I decided that if I was going to die, that I would make my best efforts at living. I put my blinders on, went to chemo like a good girl. I would be sick for days to the point I could not even get out of my bed. I could feel my body weaken and my spirit break. This was not how I wanted to go. I got to the point where I drank like a fish. Partied like an animal. I needed to numb my reality. Numb everything. Reality was painful and I hated to look at it in the mirror. The scars covering my body. My gaunt and frail stature. Who was this person looking back at me?

It took one night to change everything. About a year after my diagnosis, I was arrested for “kicking” a bouncer defending my cousin in a bar fight. You want to talk about one of the most embarrassing and humbling experiences. It made me take the blinders off and really examine everything. I was given a second chance and it was time that I behaved accordingly. 10845748_10153135250994105_6232734839396357608_o

My husband stood by me through everything and never once made me feel horrible for my behavior. I did that enough myself. I had two incredible and amazing children that needed their mother. I had amazing friends that lifted me up and made me realize my worth. I have incredible family that stood by me through everything. An amazing work family that I could never thank God enough for. I was and still am incredibly blessed.

I don’t know what my mission in life is or why I was given a second chance, but I know that I don’t want to waste one minute of it. I was medically released in April, but today is the day I celebrate. 5 years from the day I was diagnosed. 5 long and amazing years that have taught me more about myself than any other time in my life. I am by no means a perfect person, but I know I want to be a better mother, wife, sister, daughter, cousin, aunt, and friend than what I was before. I know that regardless of what the future holds, I am a better person for having gone through this experience. I would never change any of it, because without it I would never have grown.

There are so many people I need to thank, but too many to list. You know who you are – thank you for standing by me, holding my hand, lifting me up. Thank you for helping me realize my self worth. Thank you for helping get me through one of the most intense times that anyone could ever experience. I am a colon cancer survivor and it almost had me. ‘Almost’ is the key word……..


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