Monday, December 12, 2016

The year 2016 in review!

Wow It's swallowed me whole and left me blogless for like a whole year now! I do apologize to anyone who actually depends on this blog alone to keep up with our family, because as of right now, you still only know about 2 out of 3 of our children, and are still left with our latest blog update written in January. I WANT to blog-I ENJOY blogging...but I have THREE kids, a house, a husband, and I don't even shower every day-time is precious.
I just received our Christmas cards and in order to get out of writing a letter updating everyone on our family every year, I always include our blog on the back of the card. So now before I actually send out the cards, I must update. Where do I even begin??!?

January 2016:
-I turned 28. I discovered I have grey hair-like a lot if it. I'm just going to embrace them. The more grey, the more wisdom, they say. ;)
-Brett began his new job at Elements! He is working in Lynden, commuting daily while continuing to design some houses for his own company, ANC Design on the side. A packed schedule for him, but we are grateful for what God has provided work-wise!
February 2016:
-Marfan Awareness month! If you haven't looked up the it please. SO many dangerous undiagnosed cases.
-We lost another little life in the marfan world. Logan was Emri's age and had already overcome so many adversities in his little life. He walks, brace-free, in glory now.
March 2016:
-We received amazing news from Hopkins that Emri's heart looked stable, despite Seattle Children's seeing growth on her echo done in January. Tears of joy!
-Emri got her MAGEC rods lengthened and experienced severe pain afterwards. Valium is magical.
-We got the flu...but made it through without a trip to the hospital! Praise GOD!
-We got a new little fluff-ball dog named Harley that we continue to thoroughly enjoy. She is a stress-draining ball of love.
April 2016:
-April 5, 2016 at approximately 12:41pm: Abe and Emri napped AT THE SAME TIME. I was too excited about them napping at the same time, that I couldn't even nap with them.
-Emri weighed in at the doctor at 30 POUNDS! Big day for us.
May 2016:
-Emri received another STABLE echo report. The word "stable" will never, ever, ever get old for me. PRAISE THE LORD!
-While we received the amazing report mentioned above, another little marfan love went to be with Jesus. Constant reminders that we are NOT in control and that life must be cherished as long as we are gifted it.
June 2016:
-Our big girl turned SIX. WHAT??!? God has done great things for us-and we are FILLED with JOY! Our sovereign God has given us 6, going on 7 years with our sweetheart and we could not be more grateful.
-We had a blast at our church's VBS.
July 2016:
-We went on a family road trip to Venice Beach, CA. Brett had to work, measuring things at a Hotel there. We had a great time seeing the redwoods, visiting the beach, hanging at our hotel, visiting a wild animal park in which we received an elephant "car wash", and the kids did amazing in the car!
-Brett survived the RAGNAR race. I don't remember how many miles his team ran, but it was an indecent amount. They did well, apparently experienced moments of FUN (I will never understand) and Brett lived, which was great.
August 2016:
-We received our long-awaited court date for September 9 in Korea! SO exciting. This meant that we would be meeting Jaemin for the first time, and appear before court in South Korea to make sure the judge thought we were fit to be parents...because the 450,000 pounds of paper, 2 ten page autobiographies, multiple doctors visits, psychiatric approval, and home study weren't quite enough to prove it! ;) The frantic planning began!
-Brett and I celebrated our 8 year anniversary on August 8! What a full, action-packed 8 years it has been!
September 2016:
-Another STABLE heart report for our girl!
-We flew across the world to meet our SON and get approved by the Korean court! We stayed in one of Eastern Social Welfare Societies' guest rooms which was amazing because we received the unique opportunity of spending many hours with the babies located just one floor down in the babies nursery. This is where Jaemin spent the first 7 months of his life. It was humbling to see a very full nursery of babies and a very small staff involved in their care. Bottles propped up by towels, crying babies unable to be comforted because of the small number of caregivers available, nameless, ageless babies...overwhelming doesn't cut it.

-We met our words to describe the feeling. I will share some facebook posts below to update anyone who hasn't seen them on how our 1st trip to Korea, meetings, and court date went.

"So we've been up since 2:30am Korea time! We waited until Starbucks opened at was rough. Finally got our triple shots and delicious breakfast. My stomach is in knots, my hands are sweating... We meet our boy in 45 minutes. 45 minutes. After waiting 2+ years for this moment, excited doesn't even begin to describe how we feel. I know we are in for another roller coaster of an adventure with the decision to adopt a child that does not even know our language, but God has opened so many doors for this to happen and it is obviously HIS will that we are here, experiencing all of this. I praise our Heavenly Father for all of this and give HIM the glory. 
Now, to meet our son."

"We finally met our boy. The social worker deemed our first meeting a "success"! Jaemins foster mom has been showing him our picture and calling us "daddy" and "mommy" and when he saw us, he knew who we were and was definitely on guard! He refused toys from us at first, but warmed up very gradually! He colored with us, played play dough, gave some high fives and even let Brett zoom him around the room like an airplane at the end. He heard a baby crying in the hall and immediately showed his concern thinking it was his little foster brother or his foster moms grandson-it was very sweet. At the end when we asked him if he wanted to come back he answered yes!
The meeting went well and of course was such an amazing and completely surreal experience for Brett and I. Any time Jaemin brushed hands with me, let me put my hand on his back, or allowed me interact with was just an immensely emotional experience! But my heart does hurt...because I see so clearly the love and safety he feels from his foster mom. I know that someday soon Brett and I have to be the "bad guys" and take him away from everything he has ever known and bring him into a strange, completely foreign land across the ocean. And although I know that this is all inside of God's perfectly orchestrated plan, it does not mean it will not be an intensely heartbreaking experience for all involved. We get to spend another hour with Jaemin on Thursday, have our court date on Friday---and then we leave him for 4-6 weeks until we gain permanent custody. So many emotions. Pray for us. Pray for our darling Jaemin. Pray for that sweet peace that passes all understanding. Praise God, from whom ALL blessings flow!!"

And then our second meeting...

"No words. Just these pictures."

And then our court date...
"The only verse on my mind all day..."The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with JOY!!!" Psalm 126:3. Our adoption must be processed by the court for the next 4-6 weeks and then we will receive final approval. We are having a hard time expressing in words how absolutely amazing this experience has been. Our next trip here will be short and will revolve around gaining custody, signing papers at the embassy, and traveling home with our precious new son. We are so overwhelmed and in awe of how our GREAT, MIGHTY, and SOVEREIGN God has provided for us and showered us with blessings beyond what we could have ever imagined. Thank you to everyone who has showered us with support and especially to those who are praying for and with us!! Please continue to pray and know we are immensely thankful!!"

October 2016:
-After a little over 2 YEARS of waiting, Jaemin Paul (family name and Paul in the Bible) DaOn (his Korean name) Van Andel officially became our son on October 14, 2016. WHAT an experience. October 14 has always been meaningful for Brett and I-it is the day we decided to begin our relationship as silly little youngsters at Dordt College. Now it has quite a bit more significance as it marks the day Jaemin officially became a Van Andel. Brett and I flew to South Korea on October 12, and gained custody of our boy on October 14. Here are some facebook posts of that monumental day, and the few days following, as we spent time getting to know our sweet boy.

"2.5 hours left and counting. I got 10 hours of sleep(!!!), and we are now drinking our triple shots. We are going to eat some breakfast, spend some time with our amazing God who made this all possible and then head to Eastern to "collect" our precious boy. Jaemin, daddy and mommy are ready for you buddy!!!"

"Brett and I feel immensely honored and overwhelmingly grateful to FINALLY introduce our SON, Jaemin Paul DaOn Van Andel to you all! What a crazy, intense, beautiful, heartbreaking, emotional 24 hours it has been. Jaemin has been amazingly brave and mature as he mourns the loss of his foster family and especially his beloved "Eomma" (mom). He has clung to Brett and I for comfort through his big, brave tears and we are very grateful that he has so willingly been allowing us to comfort him. He slept mostly through the night, only waking up to cry for his Eomma once. We are grateful for every prayer being said on our and Jaemins' behalf and ask for them to continue!! Please add Jaemin's foster family to your prayers as well-they were heartbroken to let him go and we saw very plainly the immense love and adoration they have for this little boy. We are off to breakfast and coffee and another full day of getting to know our new son!"

'"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."

God knew from before you were born, Jaemin, that He was going to gift us with you. We are so thankful. You are exactly who God wanted you to be and exactly where He wants you. Praise HIM from whom all blessings flow."'

"This kid is making astounding progress with us. Although he did not want anything to do with non-pajama pants today, (who can blame him??) he allowed us to put on a shirt that we brought along, which he hasn't wanted the past two days. He's ok with diaper changes now, which is a big difference from day 1. He didn't want ANYTHING to do with the pool the day we brought him here, but today he jumped right in! Praising God for all of these seemingly small steps in the right direction, which I know are NOT small steps for Jaemin. Keep the prayers coming!! Emri and Abee, daddy and mommy miss you SO much!! Can't wait to be home and all together!"

And then, just like that, we were home...

It has been a journey to bring our little buddy home, but a journey well worth traveling. God has provided every step of the way and we are so grateful for His mercy and provision throughout this last year! Jaemin is doing SO well adjusting to a whole new life, with a whole new family, in a whole new environment. So many blessings, challenges and lessons have already come out of the last two months of this new adventure with Jaemin. Praise God!

Continuation of October, 2016:
-Abe turned 4!! Our buddy is growing, growing, growing! Not only is Abe growing in size (he's a big kid!) but he is also showing that he is growing in maturity and knowledge of God! We love our not-so "baby Abee"!

November 2016:
-Brett turned 32, and Jaemin turned 3!! They share a birthday of November 19. Jaemin LOVED his firetruck birthday party:)
-We took another family road trip to Colorado to celebrate "thanks-Christmas" with Brett's family! Our trip there went great and the kids were SO good in the car. When we arrived, we had a few days of fun before Emri ended up in the hospital for 6 days with pneumonia and a partially collapsed lung. It was another week full of unknowns, scary fevers, a very sick, miserable Emri, and confused doctors...but it was also a week of blessings surrounded by family love and support. It was strange feeling being back at the same hospital Emri was born in. The last time we were at U of CO hospital, our baby Emri was 4 lbs 11 oz. and we didn't know anything...anything about what was really going on inside of her little body, anything about marfans, anything about being parents...It is just astounding to look back and see where we have been and how far we have come with our sweet girl.
We got out of the hospital just in time to celebrate Christmas with Brett's family and left the next evening for home. We bought three oxygen tanks to take on our road trip, since Emri's lungs were still compromised and we were going to be hitting some thin air over passes. Emri's oxygen level (with a little help from the tanks) stayed above 90 for most of the trip and we were grateful that we were blessed with a fairly uneventful ride home.

December 2016:

Well, here we are December 2016. Reflecting on 2016 while writing this blog has included so many emotions on my part. I have quickly listed the events of our 2016, but I haven't even touched on the heart changes, life lessons, and immense spiritual growth that God has led us to and through this year. God has been refining us in so many ways this year...healing and growth in our marriage, major realizations and repentance of sin still present in our hearts, shifts in parenting perspectives (still learning every day...obviously), and now learning how to navigate life with 3 kids-which is no joke, by the way. Brett and I have ended this year with the realization that we have too many commitments and too little time together as a family. We are slowly filtering through all of our commitments and attempting to eliminate what isn't necessary in an attempt to savor more time together as a family, and pour in the time and energy into prayerfully teaching our children and leading them by example. We pray earnestly that the Lord calls each of them to be His own, and that He uses us as vessels to point our kids to Christ and His saving work on the cross, which we realize means that we need to be available to be used-and not too busy and distracted to be the parents we feel God is calling us to be.

I hope and pray that this Christmas season brings everyone back to the only things that matter...back to the humble realization that we are here for the sole purpose of bringing glory to our Father above, who sent His ONE and ONLY son to this earth, in the most humble form to live among men and to fulfill His purpose of taking our sin upon him as he bled and died on the cross, and then rising again on the third day! Christ fulfilled God's wrath upon men, so that we can now call upon God to save us and accept the gift of eternal life in heaven with Him. THAT is our ONLY hope! Without this hope we are lost and destined for eternity without God. I hope and pray that all of you reading this have, or will find this HOPE! The joy that follows is inexpressible. Merry, merry Christmas to all of you and congratulations on making it through this 3 mile long blog! I hope to write more often so that these don't have to happen any more! Until next time, Erin.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Updates in twenty 16

Some days are just more happy than others. Today was a two-appointment day at Seattle Children’s. We started with a lung function test…Emri’s first LFT. We are taking the results with a grain of salt, because of the fact that this was her first time, and she didn’t necessarily blow as hard as she could-but from what we gathered Emri has low lung volume. Expected??? Yes. A bummer?? Of course. There is always a little sparkle of hope in me that maybe, just maybe, one test could come back and be surprising in a pleasant sort of way---but alas, her lung volume is indeed quite a bit less than the “average” 5 year old. The lady completing Emri’s tests chalked it up to her pectus interfering with lung growth, but we will have to see what our Baltimore pulmonologist thinks of it all.

Next was the echo. This echo came 5 months after the last one, which, because of my poor scheduling abilities, is the longest stretch of time that we have had in between echos. I was watching the screen intently waiting for the aortic measurement to take place, and I saw it…3.2. According to the latest in mathematics, 3.2 is larger than 3.0. 3.0 is the last measurement I remembered Emri getting. I immediately felt the good ol’ kicked-in-the-stomach type nausea overtake me and attempted to restrain my emotions until we could hear the results from the doc. Throughout the echo, Emri continued to ask me questions about how her heart looked. She looked at the echo screen and at my face a lot. It killed me. She knows stuff now. She has been asking a lot more questions lately. What happens if her heart doesn’t look good?? Does she need “shurgery”?? What will they have to do to her if she has a “bad” heart? These kind of questions, and the concern in her face during the echo are emotionally more than I feel equipped to handle. She’s FIVE and she gets it. When she was much younger, I often imagined her much, much older asking questions and figuring “it all” out. As much I know that this is all a great opportunity to share the good news of God’s sovereignty and how we don’t need to worry about tomorrow, it is still so, so hard. I am teaching my daughter concepts that I didn’t even remotely grasp until I was 22. Because of the life Emri has been given, she will be faced with the tough stuff from an age that most kids receive the privilege of dwelling solely on what flavor and shape of birthday cake they want each year (which she also dwells on often enough).
When the doctor came in he asked all the “normal” questions. Where is Emri’s energy level at?? I always answer, “above average”. She IS the energizer bunny. Any new meds? Nope. After a few more questions, I just asked about the aorta.

“I saw a 3.2.”

“Yeah. Her aorta is big. It’s the biggest I’ve seen in a kid that age…well, I’ve seen one other kid with one that big. It’s really big.”

 Aaaaaaaaand, that folks, is why we are seen at Hopkins.
I am very, very much aware of the fact that her aorta is, in fact, big. Not only is it big, but it’s growing. We are, of course, sending the echo to Dietz to get it read by him, but we won’t get it there for another 2 weeks because we have to send it by CD. I am hoping that he doesn’t see as much change and we saw today….but it could happen. We will prayerfully await an answer.
SO that was today. I got in the car and let the tears flow. Sometimes this is SO overwhelming. But as the drive went on Brett encouraged me, as he always does, to think on the good. Emri’s new rods…AH-MAZING. Emri’s alive, energetic, and full of songs. We have put off heart “shurgery” for 5 years so far…which is great! And the best part…GOD IS SOVEREIGN…and he works for the GOOD for us that love and serve him.

I really, really try to remain focused on these things. But sometimes sadness just takes over….and I don’t think it’s necessarily a BAD sadness. It’s sadness over Emri finally beginning to understand that this life isn’t so easy. It’s a sadness over suffering. I shed tears knowing that Emri’s body is frail and doesn’t work the way it should. When the sadness becomes wrong is when I begin feeling sad for things that haven’t even occurred yet…which is actually fear. This is when I am reminded, quite often, of Philippians 4:8,

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

I cannot be worrying about things that aren’t truth. Right now Emri doesn’t need heart surgery, so I don’t need to dwell on how horrifying heart surgery would be. It has been my largest challenge, by far, on this journey to not dwell on the unknown of the future. But dwelling on things that are not truth is not honorable to God. So tonight I will dwell on his promise, once again, of that day when there will be no more suffering. That’ll be the day.

As for other life happenings…oh my goodness…the drama never ends. Brett has a new job. ANC design, the business we opened last year did GREAT for the first year it was opened. THEN came the dry spell. NO WORK for weeks. In a very round-about, unmistakably God-orchestrated way, Brett got hired in Lynden at “Elements” as “Director of Architecture and Interior Design”. A GREAT job and a steady paycheck. God just continually provides and we have no reason to ever doubt that he WILL provide in our times of need. Brett is commuting to Lynden and back daily. Does this mean we are moving AGAIN??!?!?!? I DON’T KNOW. And frankly, I don’t really want to talk about it.

Homeschooling is hard. I only have one student. Her name is Emri and she is stubborn and doesn’t love sitting in one place for longer than 4 seconds. We are making progress…ever so slowly we are making progress. Emri is not missing any crayons in the box (if the "box" were to signify the "brain", and "crayons" were to play the role of "smarts"), and she gets bored rather easily. So it has been my job to balance making sure she isn’t just being lazy, not wanting to do work, and making things more fun and less monotonous. She is a great student, when motivated, and we shall see how the remainder of the year goes.

Abe is just a cool, cool kid. He also does not lack energy and Brett is anxious to get him in a soccer program come spring. Once in a while I just make him do laps around the house in an attempt to get out some of the excess energy and spare the rest of us from getting jumped on and trampled by his bursts of fun. He is FULL of amazing quotes and regardless of what it may look like at times, he LOVES his sister dearly. Emri and Abe are playing well together for longer periods of time, which is wonderful for me getting a few things done around the house…like playing with my niece (what dishes??)…which brings me to my next point of discussion.

Daniel and Steph have inhabited our living room because of a horrible mold problem they had in their quaint little cottage behind our house. Daniel is planning on addressing the mold soon, but for now I thoroughly enjoy the company of my sister and Felicity in our home. Felicity gets cuter, stronger, and more stubborn every day. She is so much fun, and the terrific part is that when she gets cranky I get to hand her off to my sister;) Ahhh, the perks of being an auntie. But really though, having them in our home has been a delight and I will miss the constant companionship and baby giggles when they move back across the driveway.

We heard from our adoption agency that South Korea has FINALLY requested our paperwork, but don’t get TOO excited-there is still anywhere from 6-11 months to wait for our court date. Our littlest man turned 2 on November 19th, has seen pictures of us and is doing well. I can’t help but think that him and Abe look like brothers. I know, I know, it’s weird…but I haven’t been the only one to notice. In addition to information on his daily bowel habits (all good by the way), his last report discussed a little about his “stubborn nature” to which I replied, “yep, he’ll fit right in!” He is just meant to be our little boy and I cannot wait to bring him home and shower you all with an irritating number of pictures. He is so darn cute.

Well, my brain is begging to cease thinking for the evening and the kids are now finished watching “Bolt” so I must now give kisses, hugs, snuggles and sippy cups to my littles. Thank you all for taking time to work through this novel and for the ongoing support you give our family. Oh! And if you didn’t get a Christmas card this year it’s because we DIDN’T DO ONE. But we still hope you had a Merry Christmas, even without our card. I refuse to not do a family picture and card this year, so you might just be getting a “Happy Valentines day” card or a “Welcome to spring” card…perhaps a “Happy summer” card….or maybe just two Christmas cards next year. But mark my words, we will get a family photo taken before 2017.

Love to you all.