Highlights On The Surface
GO CUBS GO. Perhaps the biggest news is that the Cubs won the World Series and our house was lit with joy and relief!!! We sang "Go Cubs Go" like broken record because, HELLO, 108 years!! :)
The day after his 37th birthday, Brian made one of the most courageous decisions I've ever seen and he quit the job that moved us to Granger but was killing his soul and our family. I whole-heartedly blessed that decision and we've been trying to find our way ever since. He swooped back into the stay-at-home parent role and found peace. Truthfully, he's the much better SAHP and I'm grateful for the partnership this brings to our parenting.
Traveling became a lifeline for him as he surprised a dear friend for his 40th birthday in Oregon, made his 8th (?) annual pilgrimage to Comicon in San Diego with old friends, and took several short trips to see friends in Chicago and family nearby.
Brian also discovered a gift in a green thumb this year. Having more time and the need to do creative, meaningful, and restorative work, Brian spent hundreds of hours landscaping our yard. At the end of the season he'd pulled at least 7 bushes, planted 25 trees, mulched over two dozen new beds with 15+ yards of mulch, and planted over 100 plants and flowers on our half acre lot. My man worked so very hard (with ample help from our fam) and has brought such beauty to our property.
The travel highlight of 2016 was our trip to Shanghai, China... without the kiddos! We ate, laughed, explored, and served together with new kindred spirits. We haven't traveled internationally sans kids since first meeting Judah and Addise on our first trip to Ethiopia. Thus, this trip was water to our parched souls after such a long travel drought and Brian having just quite his job. The deep, diverse culture, the food (dumplings forever and ever, amen!), connecting with instant friends from over 20 different countries, exploring a world-class city together, and 8 days of uninterrupted conversations was truly remarkable. I think we'll look back on this trip as a pivotal time in our lives and marriage, reminding us of values, commitments, and how we want to live our lives.
Our home has become a sanctuary this year in the midst of feeling like a stranger in this land. We made lots of cosmetic updates and improvements inside to make our house feel more like us. I'm grateful for our space in this season. Work has continued to be incredibly meaningful and satisfying. This year I spoke to thousands of folks in a dozen states and China, trained over 200 leaders nationally, 1-on-1 coached about 50 leaders, and was honored to preach at our local church's weekend services and student ministries. I traveled enough to get another bump in airline status and hotel rewards, which makes up for some travel woes and fatigue. I published a chapter in another book that I'm incredibly proud to be among the list of contributors. After 2+ years of being an independent contractor, I finally feel like I'm finding my groove and voice. It feels invigorating and centering altogether.
One of the most unexpected gifts has been a couple local friends who've been a complete grace in my life. The unexpected simpatico between the three of us has been an oasis in the desert.
Motherhood continues to be the most difficult (yet rewarding) thing I do. Parenting pushes on all my "8 with a 7 wing" issues (my Enneagram...you gotta get into this tool). This move has proved wearing on me and our kids in ways I'm still discovering, which achingly affects my parenting.
JUDAH ABEBAYEHU (turned 8 in July).
Our firstborn has made so many strides this year academically and I couldn't be prouder! He moved from 1st grade with loads of additional support into 2nd grade without those needs!! He's a fervent reader, avid knock-knock joke teller, compassionate big brother, peacemaker, introvert, and overall tender spirit. He's only lost 4 teeth but he's saving his money like a champ. Sports don't seem to be his thing, but we're holding out hope that those Ethiopian running skills have made their way into his DNA. :)
His heart is pulled toward those on the outside, because he often finds himself in that same spot. Our most tender conversations are often about his adoption and birth country and feeling like an outsider here. We've struggled with Judah being occassionally bullied on the bus and playground at school because of his race in a white dominant culture. Navigating this painful terrain with Judah has been deeply emotional and challenging for us as parents as we prayerfully consider what kind of life do we want to create for our kids and how do all things grow our character and compassion toward "misfits".
Judah has three girlfriends - one in CA, one on the bus, and one in his class. He's keeping them in separate spaces. I can't even.
ADDISE ASTER TARIKE (turned 6 in February).
Our girl is all sugar and spice!!! Addise is a teenager trapped in a 6 year old's body. She has the emotional bandwidth, speed, and intensity of about 5 people in 1 body. I'm exhausted at the end of the day. :) My favorite girl in the whole wide world loves her curls au natural, playing outside with neighborhood kids, snuggling/ antagonizing her puppy (more about that below) and is often found in cahoots with her youngest brother (for better AND worse). She learned to ride a bike this year and she can often be found riding back and forth down our cul-de-sac. Our first grader is a fashionista and has quite the eye for artistic things. Addise's giggle is pure and contagious. She's showing herself to be incredibly smart in school. She still adores the white satin/fluffy blanket and purple bear we gave her in Ethiopia...there's something entirely endearing about her affection for her first earthly possessions.
I've said before that she's my mini-me and she's totally daddy's girl. This remains to be true in 2016. :) I learn more from her than most anyone in the world. She teaches me about grace, forgiveness, second (thousandth) chances, perseverance, and unconditional love.
What those who've adopted often don't talk about is how parenting kids from hard places doesn't necessarily get easier after a few years. This has proven true for our girl. Deep historical wounds have emerged within this move and have pressed on us at all sides. Racial challenges have tapped into her triggers and we have conversations about race and racism multiple times every week.
Addise also has a boyfriend name Panayoti, whom Brian refuses to acknowledge.
ASHER ZACARIAS (turned 4 in April).
Asher continues to live into meaning of his name - HAPPY + BLESSED. One of my favorite things about Asher is how he's drawn to "the other". His best friends in school are friends with special abilities and racial minorities. His heart naturally bends toward those not like himself. He's makes friends wherever he goes and smiles and laughs with his whole. His strong will was given in double portion from his parents. And 4 year old temper tantrums are consistent at 12:30pm (imminent nap time). Ai ai ai.
Preschool is a gift from the Most High God. The social environment mixed with simple academic stimulus has been the perfect combo for Asher. I'm equally lamenting and celebrating my baby going to Kindergarten this coming fall.
This Spring Asher asked Jesus in his heart while driving with Daddy. Brian was especially excited to pray this meaningful prayer with Asher because his older siblings prayed with someone else. Brian got the honors with our baby. <3
MILA (8 months old).
Oh ya! Our family expanded this year as we adopted another black girl with curls. :) Mila is a sweet golden-doodle who instantly captured our hearts (and bank account!). We brought her home rather spontaneously and she's fit right into our crazy family. She's exploded from 10 to 40+ pounds in the past 6 months. She's brought a level of calm and connection one of our kiddos' in particular has needed. Mila was born on April Fool's Day, so I guess joke's on us.
She's currently obsessed with snow (clearly she's not a Diaz yet) and chasing her tail.
I'm insistent that she's not our 4th child. Parenting 3 kids is hard enough for us, which probably explains her subpar training despite a 6-week puppy class.
Mila is our pet. Period. And we love her.
Just Below The Surface
This year was laced with disappointment and loss. Yes, there were little lights and joys every day found in a million unexpected places. But it felt like a dark cloud hovered over our heads and hearts all year long.
It felt like every month there was another punch to the gut, a hope that was deferred, a dream that was dashed, a promise that was unfulfilled. Between Brian quitting a job, me interviewing for a couple jobs I was not offered, family challenges and heartache, an insane election cycle, and overall moving hangover, stress was high and tears were many. We're in the thick if dealing with inconsistencies between what is already and not yet, struggling to discern how to move forward and not be victims stuck in circumstances.
And yet, God is with us. Emmanuel. Advent here and now.
We have experienced his presence in our pain, his comfort in our chaos, and his hope in the midst of heartache. In our 15 years of marriage, we are no strangers to hard things (i.e. infertility, international adoption, leaving a church we adored for a decade). We know that God doesn't waste pain, he's constantly working all things together for good, and that his best for us is beyond what we can see in the moment. Brian and I have had many conversations this year about how we will lean into the necessary hard things but run like hell away from the unnecessary hard things. We've declared again that we will be obedient to whatever God asks of us. We've re-committed ourselves to create the life we want to live instead of being enslaved to past decisions. We're discovering the difference between aspired values and expressed values that we want to define our lives.