"For in you the orphan finds mercy." - Hosea 14:3

Monday, August 4, 2014

Our Beach Trip 2014


Summer is almost over and we finally took some time and headed to the beach. The boys were excited and Cava constantly asked how much longer it would be before we were at the beach (he started before we even hit the highway and continued at repeated intervals along the four hour drive). Cava was thrilled because this was not only going to be his second time going to the beach here, but it was also going to be his first time ever camping. The only concern for our beach trip was that it was supposed to rain the entire time we were there.

Once we'd gotten to Granddad Bob and Evette's house, it did not take the boys long to have their swimsuits on and we were out the door to go swimming in the neighborhood pool.  Both boys love to be in the water. Having completed four weeks of swim lessons, Cava was especially proud to show off what he'd learned, both swimming and diving.



The boys were having such a great time swimming that they were even obliging to me when I asked them to stop momentarily so I could take a photo of them.


But, of course, the pool could only hold them for so long and we were up early the next morning and out on the beach before the rain was. The ocean was rough and choppy. The wind was strong and the clouds were overcast, but none of that deterred the Blackwell boys with their boogie boards.



When the waves got too rough, they moved on to building sand castles.


From there, we checked in at Huntington Beach State Park. The boys loved relaxing in the big chairs.


The chairs looked even bigger with our little Ukrainian sitting in it.


Once at our campsite, however, the relaxing stopped and the work started as we set up the tents.



Once they were up, the boys couldn't wait to get inside theirs.


But they can be still for only so long and were out playing Frisbee.


Once they were showered and dressed, we got the campfire started and began to cook the hot dogs.


Followed by some S'Mores.


To work off the hot dogs and S'mores, we played some family-style football.



After a walk around the campgrounds, we settled in and enjoyed each others company.



It was nice enjoying each other's company without the disruption of television or other intrusions. I also loved how well the boys got along with each other, even when it was just the two of them in their tent. 

The next day, we had a change of pace. For lunch we went to Aladdin's, which is a restaurant owned and run by a woman from Uzbekistan, so the food is Middle Eastern and Slavic. Cava was in his element. Borscht at the beach = one happy little Ukrainian.


He also ate bread with hummus, pilaf, and pelmeni (along with trying Danelle's stuffed cabbage, Granddad Bob's quail, and my lamb kebabs). After lunch, we enjoyed some time walking along the boardwalk at Murrell's Inlet.




On our last day at the beach, we didn't get in any swimming because of the rain, so we did what any tourist would do, we went shopping. Cava found the perfect store for him at Broadway at the Beach called Kryptonite Character Store.


Like Tom Hanks in Big, Benjamin made a wish with Zoltar. I think he was disappointed when he woke up the next morning and was not a wealthy tech mogul.


And Granddad Bob treated the boys to a ride on a simulator. 



After lunch, we packed our car, said our sad good-byes (Cava was especially heart-broken to leave), we made our way home. We did, however, make our usual stop at McLeod Farms in McBee to buys some of their peaches and their homemade peach ice cream. And to make the boys suffer through one more photo opp.


Despite the rush and the rain, we all had a great time and can't wait to return for a longer visit next year!










Friday, July 18, 2014

Learning From Legos


One of the major areas I have been working with Cava on is in the area of self-defeat. This is a struggle that comes from having spent eight years of his life never being told he was smart or talented or of value. He has spent eight years either hearing nothing positive about himself or being told he cannot do something. This self-defeating attitude pops up every time he tries something knew and finds the task difficult. Much of this difficulty comes from the fact that he wants whatever he's working on to look exactly like the example he sees whether it be in a book, online, on the packaging or in school. For me, I am trying to help him understand that his doesn't have to look like someone else's, that it doesn't have to be "perfect" because nothing we create ever will be, and that what is inside of him is special and unique.

Recently, Cava has shown an interest in Legos. He doesn't have very many so his options for building are limited, still he limits himself because he only wants to build what is shown in the instructions, very much like Emmet in one of Cava's favorite films The Lego Movie. Cava is very much an Emmet in that he had never heard that he is "the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe" and that he is "capable of amazing things" because he, like Emmet, is "the Special." That can take its toll on anyone and make them very angry. It also means they have low self-esteem, poor self-image, and struggle with anyone telling them that they are special or loved.

When I asked Cava to build something with his Legos using only his imagination, he became frustrated and angry. "I can't do it!" he declared and stormed out of his room.

After calming him down, I looked him directly in the eyes. "Are those Lego bricks smarter than you?"

He just stared at me blankly.

"Are they? Did those Lego bricks read six Magic Tree House books already this summer? Did those bricks get a certificate for reading from the library and was one of the first to do it? Did those bricks create all the crafts that you have this summer? Or have any of those bricks put together even one of the puzzles you've put together since you got here?"

Sheepishly, he replied, "No."

"No, they didn't and they can't. And do you know why?"

He shrugged.

"Because they are not as smart as you. So, if they aren't as smart as you, how can they defeat you?  They can't. Cava, there is no right or wrong way to build something with Legos. You just put bricks together however you want. If you like it, great. If you don't, take them apart and start again. But only you can build what you build. Just as with crafts and with drawing, only you see the world the way you see it. You are smart, you are talented, you are special, and you are unique. No one in the whole history of the world is just like you and there will never be another Cava like you. God created you as a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. He made you special. He made you unique."

He nodded but I could tell he was hearing but not listening to me, so I stopped and asked, "Did someone back in Ukraine tell you that you weren't special? That you couldn't do it?"

Sadly, he nodded, "Yes."

"Well, then, are they here now?"

"No."

"No, they're not. You know why. We left them back in Ukraine just like you should. Who did we bring home with us?"

"Me."

"Yes, you. And why did we bring you home with us?"

"Because I'm smart."

"Well, you are smart, but that's not why. We brought you home because we love you. And we love you for being you. Not for being someone else. And despite what anyone else has ever told you, you can do great things if you are willing to try and work hard at it. These things may not be easy at first, but, like the puzzles you love to do, it just means you have to keep working at it until you find where all the pieces fit. Do those pieces just go wherever or do you have to work at finding where they go?"

"Work at it."

"Same with Lego pieces. It's all trial and error. If a piece fits together with another piece and you like it, great. If not, try another. You will be amazed with what you can do. But first you have to get past anything inside you that tells you that you can't, because that is a lie because look at all that you've done already. Look at how much English you have learned in such a short period of time. Look at how well you are reading now. Look at how well you are doing in math. There are so many things you have done, but there are even more things that you are going to do. You will amaze us all."

Sitting him in my lap, I whispered in his ear, "So, what are you?"

Despite the traces of tears still in his eyes, he smiled.

"Well? What are you?"

"Smart."

"And?"

"Special."

"And?"

"Talented."

"Exactly. Is there anyone else like my Cava?"

"No."

"Can anyone else build what my Cava can?"

"No."

"No, they can't. Not me. Not Mommy. Not Benjamin. Not Chloe . . ."

He laughed at the mention of our dog.

". . . because none of us are you."

I took him back to his room, snatched up the instructions, and told him, "Now let's see what you can build."

Then I left him alone. Sometimes he would come out and ask me to help him put a couple of pieces together that he had a hard time with, but I showed him and let him do even those.

It's a long hard process to get him past the, "I can't do it," stage. He has had years of reinforcement that he is not valuable. We are having to replace that message with one of grace, peace, love, and acceptance. We are having to mirror God to him. As his family, we have to love him and nurture him so that he will see that he is wanted and that he has infinite worth. Just this morning, we went to the store to buy groceries. As we were getting out of the car, Cava started to do a joyous little dance. When I asked him why he was dancing, he replied, "Because God is awesome and He loves me enough to save me." That made me do a joyous dance because I am seeing him, slowly begin to understand the truth after being fed so many lies.

Yes, it is a challenge to get him to see past his past so that he can understand who he really is and to see all the potential that is stored up inside of him, but when he does, even it's momentarily, it is so incredible and makes all of the work worth it. Cava is an incredible, resilient, and amazing kid. He is a gift to us from God because, as we are teaching him, we are teaching ourselves the same lesson.










Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Withhold Good Things?


Lately, I have been struggling with a verse of the Bible. Like Jacob wrestling the angel, I have prayed and studied and read and reread this verse, but to no avail. The verse is Psalm 84:11, "For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly." 

Yet, to my eyes, He does. 

When I look at the emotional, financial, and spiritual costs that adoption takes for those who undertake what they believe God has called them to do (after all, we are reminded time and time again to take care of the fatherless) and yet find themselves without that child or children, I want to point my finger at God and say, "But that's not fair! They followed Your call, why?" Why are there children who are adopted but are stuck in another country? Why does a child who's been adopted but is stuck in a foreign country die? Why do children who have legally been adopted get caught in a political struggle, such as in areas of Ukraine, and their new families cannot return to come and get them to bring them home? Why do some families go to adopt and come home empty handed? How is that not withholding a good thing? 

Being a word nerd, I looked up the word "withhold" and it's definitions are, as follows:
refuse to give (something that is due or is desired by another)
suppress or hold back

How does that definition of withhold fit into a couple or a family desiring to adopt a fatherless child or children? Is that not a "good thing"? Is that not following His word? Then why would God refuse to let so many adoptions from happening? 

As you can see, I am good at questioning. It's one of the reasons I love and identify with the book of Psalms so much because the psalmists lay it all out there, though their questioning always ends in the realization that they just have to trust God.

I struggle with trust. 

Luke 17:6 says, "If you have the faith as small as a mustard seed . . ."

Mustard seeds are typically 1 or 2 millimeters in diameter. To give you an idea of how small that is, here is a visual:


Sometimes I feel that my own faith doesn't even muster up to that. Certainly when I struggle with a verse like Psalm 84:11 because, in my limited perspective, I cannot see or understand why such adoptions don't happen. 

Romans 8:28 tells us, "And we know all things God works together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." How does it work together for their good when their hearts are breaking for the child they cannot bring home? 

The great theologian Charles Spurgeon wrote this about Psalm 84:11:
Pilgrims need both as the weather may be, for the cold would smite them were it not for the sun, and foes are apt to waylay the sacred caravan, and would haply destroy it if it were without a shield. Heavenly pilgrims are not left uncomforted or unprotected. The pilgrim nation found both sun and shield in that fiery cloudy pillar which was the symbol of Jehovah's presence, and the Christian still finds both light and shelter in the Lord his God. A sun for happy days and a shield for dangerous ones. A sun above, a shield around. A light to show the way and a shield to ward off its perils. Blessed are they who journey with such a convoy; the sunny and shady side of life are alike happy to them. The Lord will give grace and glory. Both in due time, both as needed, both to the full, both with absolute certainty. The Lord has both grace and glory in infinite abundance; Jesus is the fullness of both, and, as his chosen people, we shall receive both as a free gift from the God of our salvation. What more can the Lord give, or we receive, or desire. No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. Grace makes us walk uprightly and this secures every covenant blessing to us. What a wide promise! Some apparent good may be withheld, but no real good, no, not one. "All things are yours, and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's." God has all good, there is no good apart from him, and there is no good which he either needs to keep back or will on any account refuse us, if we are but ready to receive it. We must be upright and neither lean to this or that form of evil: and this uprightness must be practical,—we must walk in truth and holiness, then shall we be heirs of all things, and as we come of age all things shall be in our actual possession; and meanwhile, according to our capacity for receiving shall be the measure of the divine bestowal. This is true, not of a favoured few, but of all the saints for evermore.

Still struggling and trying to comprehend this verse, I turned to Sir Richard Baker's commentary on this verse:

But how is this true, when God oftentimes withholds riches and honours, and health of body from men, though they walk ever so uprightly; we may therefore know that honours and riches and bodily strength, are none of God's good things; they are of the number of things indifferent which God bestows promiscuously upon the just and unjust, as the rain to fall and the sun to shine. The good things of God are chiefly peace of conscience and the joy in the Holy Spirit in this life; fruition of God's presence, and vision of his blessed face in the next, and these good things God never bestows upon the wicked, never withholds from the godly . . . 

Sigh. 

What I'm coming to slowly (picture a snail and a sloth in a race - that's me in this spiritual race) understand is that I may not understand, but God does. He has His purpose and His reasons. It's not easy when we are in the midst of tearful prayers and heart-rending pleading to accept that such things are part of a holy and loving God's plan. The Bible clearly tells us in Romans 8:31 that God is for us. It also tells us that we will experience sorrow and pain and tribulation, but that, in the middle of that, He is still with us. 

So, I will struggle and I will struggle to trust, but I don't stop coming to God. And I will come alongside those who are hurting and struggling and I will be there for them: to listen, the comfort, and to pray with them. And we, together, will learn to trust that a God who loved us so much that He did not spare His own son, truly loves us more than we love Him, and He will always understand us more than we can understand Him, but that we just have to trust that, in the end, all things will work to His glory.

And I'll continue to turn to His word, especially the Psalms. As Psalm 39:7 reminds me, "And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in You."

A song that I have been listening to repeatedly as I have been studying this Psalm was Sara Groves' "Open Hands" 




Saturday, July 12, 2014

Our Day Trip To The Greensboro Science Center


If there's one thing we love it's science centers. One we have been wanting to visit was the Greensboro Science Center with it's aquarium, zoo, museum, and OminSphere theater. Along with our friends the Helms, we made the trek today and, boy, were we glad we did. That place was awesome!

Our first stop was to the Sciquarium as they call it where we went and saw the feeding of the penguins. It was interesting to find out that all of the penguins had on different colored bands but the ones whose bands matched were mated together. Penguins mate for life.



Cava made friends with one.


As did Benjamin and J.D.


Everyone enjoyed touching the stingrays and, even more, watching the sharks, fish, and stingrays in the large tank.



Every time this stingray swam past, I kept expecting him to start singing, "Let's name the zones," like the one in Finding Nemo did.


From there we went to the zoo, though Benjamin had to stop and take a photo with this dilophosaurus to go along with his t-shirt.


But Cava and I were most excited to see the meerkats. Cava kept saying, "Hello, Timon," in reference to the one in The Lion King.


We also enjoyed the lemures . . .


And I even got an alpaca to smile for the camera . . . 


Cava stared down what he called a "tricky goat."


Once we'd been to the petting zoo and we'd seen all the animals (not to mention got tired of the heat), we went back inside to explore the rest of the museum. Benjamin got to be a mad scientist with electricity.


Then it was a trip back in time to the Jurassic period, including seeing a T-Rex . . .


We're too cool to run!

And a Stegosaurus . . . 


There was a room full of rocks, minerals, and geodes. A room for herpatology. And, finally, one called Health Quest where we not only learned all about the human body, but also saw some formerly living ones.


From having gone to many different science museums, we have learned one thing: all roads lead to the gift shop, and this one was no different. The boys picked up lots of things they "needed" and Benjamin even posed for a photo as a T-Rex with his friend the otter.


I got the boys t-shirts that were on sale. Cava's is appropriate: it's a T-Rex running towards you with the words Here Comes Trouble!

We all had a blast and will most definitely have to come back again. As Cava said, "Good times!"


For anyone interested in visiting the Greensboro Science Center, here's a link to their site: