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??!?
-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!
-Marfan Awareness month! If you haven't looked up the symptoms...do 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.
-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 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.
-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.
-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.
-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.
-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!
-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 son...no 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 7:30...it 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 him...it 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."
"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!!"
-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!!!"
'"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"!
-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.
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.