Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Artist's Corner: Cava Draws 50 Sea Creatures

As a kid, I remember checking out drawing books from our school library to teach myself how to draw everything from famous cartoon characters to buildings to vehicles to animals. Many of the books that I had learned from were done by Lee J. Ames. Ames was known for his Draw 50 series. I remember spending hours as a boy, pouring over each step to recreate cartoon characters like Popeye, Scooby Doo and Fred Flinstone. I worked feverishly to draw the Empire State Building or a stegosaurus or an eagle.

When Cava first expressed an interest in learning how to draw, I, of course, got out all of the Lee J. Ames books I had kept from my own childhood. He didn't have much desire to draw the cartoon characters, as many are too old for him to know or care about. But he loved my other books, especially Draw 50 Birds.

Like myself, Cava followed each step by step progression until he created the finished drawing of each bird in that book. When he had drawn all 50 birds, he started back at the beginning and went through them again and again and again. He told me that he wanted to be just like John James Audubon one day. 

Now he's begun the series Draw 50 Sea Creatures

What he loves most about Ames' series is that they provide simple, easy step-by-step guide. As a child who loves such instructions, he tries to draw them as closely as the examples provided. 

Despite this book being sea creatures, Cava immediately started with the few birds that are in this collection (penguin, puffin and pelican). 

It's a great book for young kids who are just beginning to want to learn the techniques of drawing. They are simple, clear and easy to follow. 

When I asked Cava what he thought of Draw 50 Sea Creatures, he told me, "I like this book because the step-by-step guide is easy to follow for me. It gives me more specific detail than most kid's drawing books. I love the sea creatures that are in it."

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Learning & Processing Death

Outside the sun is dappled through the leaves of our oak trees creating shade for a morning that is relatively cool for a late July. It is a beautiful morning. But the beauty is lost somehow as I am digging a hole in which to bury our dog, Chloe, underneath of the large leaf magnolia tree that one of our neighbors had given Benjamin when he was little. This tree has thrived and has the most gorgeous large flowers when in spring bloom.  As I'm digging, Cava comes outside to me. He has been very quiet ever since he woke up and we told him that she had died during the night. Watching me dig, he just stands there, pensive. I stop digging. "You okay?" I ask. He shakes his head. No. I go over to hug him. As I do, I can feel his body sobbing. His tears soak my shirt.

It's going to be a very hard day with a lot of difficult lessons.

It was twelve years ago that we adopted Chloe, who was already two. All Benjamin had ever wanted was a sibling. We got him the next best thing - a dog. She became his constant companion, his partner in crime, and the one he said, "Come on, Chloe, let's go to my room," when he was mad at us and felt that all in the world was against him except his girl Chloe. And, though she loved all of us, there was only one that truly mattered: her "boy." If Benjamin was outside, then she was unhappy and watched and waited at his bedroom window. In her heart, he was her whole world. She was loving, even-tempered and gentle.  

And they did everything together. They were inseparable.

Chloe was more than just a pet to us. She was as much a part of our family as any of us. And there was nothing she waned more than to sit in someones lap and just be loved. 

When Cava first got here, he was drawn to Chloe. That first day, he picked her up and carried her around everywhere.

Of course, as much as he loved "Miss Chlo-yee" as he pronounced her name, he was jealous that she so clearly chose Benjamin over him. We explained why, but explanations do not settle the uncertainty and jealousy of a child who has grown up with nothing and is envious of anything someone else has, especially his older brother, that he doesn't. Over time, as he learned to be gentle with Chloe, we promised to get him his own dog. When we finally did, the dog matched his personality: playful, energetic, and sometimes crazy. Of course, when our family went to pick a dog out, we took Chloe with us to make sure the two got along. 

These two dogs were integral in teaching Cava gentleness, patience, and about love. In the beginning, there were times that it was easier for him to love Chloe than it was one of us. Why? Because she was so gentle and loved unconditionally. And he didn't have to worry about her not understanding his language. She helped soften Cava's heart to being in a family and being loved. 

As the years have passed, she got older and slower. Over this past year, Chloe became frailer and it was clear that she was wearing down. Then, at her last visit to the vet, we were told that a heart valve was leaking and that she probably wouldn't live past two weeks. Upon hearing this, all of us felt crushed. This summer has been very, very hard. 

Both of the boys have struggled in dealing with her decline. Benjamin has never experienced loss and Cava's life has been filled with it. There have been many, many discussions about death and dying and what happens after we die.

Cava, especially, has been trying to process all of this and comprehend something that is difficult for all us to truly understand. Normally, he's not one for long conversations, but over the last week, we have had many that have lasted 30 minutes or more. He is full of questions. Behind them isn't curiosity but a real sense of attempting to grasp the concepts of a soul, heaven, and God. All of these are big theological and spiritual questions. Danelle and I have stopped whatever we were doing, to sit with him, hold him, comfort him and answer as best we can with the limited knowledge we do have. 

Since he struggles with understanding what love is, I have used this as an opportunity to teach him that the pain and sorrow he feels is because he loves Chloe. When we see someone we love, like Chloe, suffering and hurting, we want to relieve that pain because we love them. The hurt is as much a part of love as the joy of when we first got her or Dash. 

It's also given us opportunities to talk about loss and grieving, something both Danelle and I know as she has lost both of her parents and I lost my mother. I got to tell Cava how, when my mom was dying, she had grown fearful. Some of that was from the morphine they were giving her to relieve the pain from cancer, but some of it was a fear of dying and what was to come. God, in His infinite compassion, briefly lifted the veil for her so that she saw the bright blues and greens of heaven. From that moment on, her fear was gone. 

Last night, at around 2 am, Benjamin came into our room. I had woken up just shortly before he did. "What's the matter?" I asked. In tears, he said, "Chloe died." He explained how he heard her, got up and comforted her in her last minutes here on earth. She was with her boy to the end. It was exactly as it should have been. Her, in Benjamin's room, on her bed, with her boy loving her and not in some sterile vet's office on a metal table. God was gracious. This had been our prayer.

But it still hurt all of us deeply.

It's hard. Really hard to say goodbye to those we love so dearly. Our hearts are broken. Tears stream down our cheeks. There will be many more questions to answer and hugs to give, tears to wipe away, but it's important that Danelle and I be present to them and hold their pain. This is an important part of life. Life and death are connected. We have hope, however, that death is not an end but a doorway to another, better life. Chloe is not in pain. Chloe is not suffering.

It is important that the boys see our own tears. Cava told me earlier in the week that he would be "brave" and not cry. I explained to him that true bravery is showing one's emotion and not bottling it up. I let him see me cry and I cried with him as we stood there near where we would bury our beloved dog. Brokenness is, after all, the only way to healing.

So please keep us in your prayers as we go through this difficult time of learning and processing death. It won't be easy, but as we have learned, nothing of value ever is.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Begin In Wonder

Recently I've begun a new blog that asks the question, "How can we lead a more meaningful life?" It is an exploration of curiosity, asking questions and finding new perspectives through literature, poetry, the arts, nature, science and philosophy. It's a place to undertake wondering and wandering in this glorious world around us. It's meant as an encouragement and a place of nourishment. It's about finding new ways to learn how to pay attention and be present. It's about making the connections between creativity and creation, thought and awareness, science and spirit. If this is something that interests you, here is the link for you to check my new blog out:

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Four Years Ago

Our time here is short and but a vapor. It passes more quickly than we often realize and, more often, would like to slow down. We blink and our children are grown before our very eyes. As it's been said so many times before: The days pass so slowly, but the years so fast.

Four years ago today, our younger son arrived in the United States from Ukraine.

There are many who might be surprised by this, but when I think of Cava, I don't think of him as my "adopted" son. No, I only think of him as my son. It's hard to imagine our family without him in it. 

Too often we hear how much we must have changed Cava's life, but what people fail to grasp is how much he has changed ours. Cava has brought an infectious enthusiasm and joy for life that has infiltrated our very dynamic. He is brave and kind. With the latter, this year there's been a girl who has bullied him and other kids at Cava's school. Whenever something like this occurs, it takes Cava out of where he is and puts him back in the frame-of-reference of the orphanages back in Ukraine. He has a hard time with cruelty and meanness in others. This girl tormented him. Recently, she was sent to another school. To my surprise, Cava was worried about her. He, in fact, was the one who suggested we pray for her that night before bed. There is a compassion in him that reaches out to the very ones most of us would choose to hold an anger towards. 

When there weren't enough snack cakes at a party, Cava offered up his to someone else because he didn't want them to go without. That staggers my imagination that a child who grew up where children were all about self-protection and getting for themselves because no one else looked after them, that he is caring and concerned about other kids. 

Watching him interact with others and seeing how they love him is amazing. People are in his corner and root for his success. He draws the embrace and tenderness of those who meet him. We go to a lot of doctors' offices and, not too long ago, as we were sitting in the lobby of one, one of the young assistants came rushing out to see Cava. She knows how much he loves birds and, using her own money, she bought him a beautifully illustrated book on the subject. "When I saw this," she smiled, "I thought of you." Cava returned that smile with his own big grin and then with one of his big "Cava" hugs. As his play therapist says, "He has everybody here wrapped around his finger."

Cava is truly a special and unique child. Not a day has passed that I have not, with a heart filled with gratitude, thanked God that He allowed us to have this blessing of a boy in our family. 

No, it's not always easy. Adoptive children offer their own set of unique circumstances and issues, but those challenges only makes the successes that much sweeter. 

There is a light and a life in Cava that inspires and makes me want to be a better, more kind and compassionate person. 

Yes, he has grown and changed a lot in these past four years and he has helped us to do the same. He has broken open our hearts to the hurting and least of these in the world. 

For anyone considering adopting, I will say that it can be hard, challenging, difficult and you will have times that you feel like you're overwhelmed and drowning, but I would give up my comfort and my daily routine joyfully for this child. Nothing of any great value is ever easy or simple. Adoption is a lot of hard work and even more patience. To those who make the excuse, "Oh, I could never do that." You can. When it's your child, you find a way. You find the strength. And you find God in a way that you never did before. 

God commands, not asks, us to take care of orphans and kids in foster care. Scriptures are filled with verses calling us to do so. God does not give us the option out, so we must take a good look at ourselves and admit:
1. We believe what God commands.
2. We don't.
3. We just don't care.

We have to decide. There are far too many kids in orphanages and foster homes that need forever families to love and care for them, to love them into the kingdom of God. How can they see the love of a God they can't see, if they can't see the love of people around them who they can see? We are to be the hands and feet of Christ to these children. We can offer God our obedience or our excuses.

I pray that the journey our family is one will, through Christ, inspire others to overcome all fears and trepidations, so that they, too, can step out in faith to adopt or foster kids who desperately need someone in their corner to remind them they are loved, they are special, they are of value and they are of worth. That is what God does when we are adopted as His sons and daughters, so, too, must we do that for children who are meant to become our own sons and our own daughters. 

Please prayerfully consider adoption or becoming a foster family. If you aren't called to adopt, find a way to come alongside those who are. Find a way to mentor or sponsor or help the fatherless of this world.  

Trust me, when you do, nothing makes it all worth it than to see a child go from forgotten to favored, from loneliness to love, from despair to dreaming, from emptied to embraced, from abandoned to adored. 

Nothing changes you like seeing a child begin to grasp their meaning, their purpose, their worth and to hear them call you "Mommy" or "Papa." To hear them say and mean it, "I love you." 

If you do, your life will never be the same again - thank God!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

What's New?

For those who have been following this blog for the last four years have probably noticed - there hasn't been a new post since November. Many have asked or messaged me about whether or not I will be returning to write anything new for this blog?  My only answer is, "Possibly."

I have, however, started a new blog entitled Begin With Wonder and it picks up, in many ways, where I left off with this one. If you have enjoyed or been challenged by my posts like "Vulnerable Messiah" or "Go Into The Stillness" or "In The Valley With Job: Dealing With Depression And Loss," then this new blog fits right into that niche. While it's not a blog with stories about our family, there are posts that deal with my faith in terms of my daily life, a great part of which involves being a husband and father.

So, if you have missed reading my blog posts, then check out the new site:

Monday, November 7, 2016

Take Up The Cause

"Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow."
- Isaiah 1:17

To find out more:

Friday, November 4, 2016

Happy 12th Birthday, Cava!

Twelve years ago today one of my personal heroes was born. While I was not present for his birth or for his first eight birthdays, he is no less my son than the boy who was born to us. When we adopted Cava, I had no idea of how profound an impact he would have on my life and that of our family. Sure, from the moment we first met him there was no doubt in our minds and hearts that there was something special about this boy with the big smile and even bigger hugs, but we did not grasp how much so. As I have watched this amazing child develop in the, almost, four years since he arrived in America, what has struck me is that he is how truly brave a kid he is.

I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like to, at only eight years old, choose to start a new life with a new family in a foreign country where everything from the language to the rules to the sights and sounds and smells are unfamiliar. I cannot begin to comprehend all of the things he has overcome in the eight years before we ever met him. I cannot grasp all of the hurts and wounds he has suffered through no fault of his own and yet, to do so while still retaining a compassionate and loving heart. He has a real sense of fairness and will stand up for other kids if they are left out or made fun of. 

Cava's bravery and his deep drive to better himself has caused him to strive and achieve goals that I never imagined possible in so short a time: going from being unable to make it a week of school without getting suspended to making the honor roll for all of last school year.  Or to be elected to student council. Or decide to play soccer. One of the things that I loved most was when, before one of the soccer games, he went off to play with some of his teammates (not an easy thing for him to do since he is still wary of playing with other boys). When I see him trying and putting himself out there for possible success or failure (and being able to now handle the latter with grace and kindness), I want to be more like him. 

In so many ways, Cava and I are very similar. As a child, I was short, skinny and shy (all of which made me a target for being bullied). At times, I was and still am very solitary. Too often I have allowed fear to control what I did or didn't do in life, but as I watch Cava navigate the world with our love and affirmation, he makes me want to put myself out there more, to take more risks, to be more like him. It's because of his bravery that I have opened myself up, let down my guard more, and allowed myself to be vulnerable enough to share parts of my life to others (such as writing about my struggles with depression). Because of my own pains and loneliness, I not only have empathy but understanding of Cava and he has helped to make me a better parent. I have had to rethink parenting and how my own actions and reactions can affect his (or Benjamin's). He is teaching me patience and gentleness always have the greater impact. 

Cava has made me see the world with new and fresh eyes, with an appreciation for what is simple and meaningful. I cannot see a bird without thinking of him (and the same is true for a good many other people). 

People who know Cava love Cava. You cannot help but love his enthusiasm and his joy. He greets those he knows with that big smile and even bigger voice (The boy can be loud).  I have never seen people react to a child the way they have to him. There is something so special in Cava that he draws you in. I cannot go anywhere without someone wanting to talk to me about him. 

Those who have seen the progress he has made in such a short time are astounded by it. We were just at the library this week and the children's section librarians all remarked on what a remarkable kid Cava is and how they love to talk to him and listen to him talk, especially about his love of reading (something else we have in common). 

He has made my life and my family's life so much richer. It is as if he has always been one of us. We cannot imagine our family without him in it. Not a day passes that I don't thank God that He was so loving to us to allow us to be a part of this boy's life. 

Cava has come through so much and I know there is so much more that he has to go through, particularly in regards to coming to terms with his past, but I would go through the depths of hell for my son. 

Ever since he saw the movie Aladdin, he likes to ask me what would I wish for if I could only have one wish. Without missing a beat, I reply, "That you had always been with us." He grins and says, "Oh yeah, me, too." Of course, he also adds, "And for Legos." He loves to hear me say that answer because it reminds him that he's deeply loved and wanted now. Just like he also wants to hear me tell the story of the treasure chest (Treasure Chest) because it's the story of how he is of great value and worth to our family. I like, as he gets out of my car to go to school each morning, how he turns and smiles at me whenever I call out, "Have a great day, treasure." But he is. I cannot imagine a greater treasure than the gift that he has been to my family and I.

Whenever I see him, without even thinking, my heart inwardly says the simple prayer of, "Thank you."

Happy twelfth birthday to my hero, Cava.