Half A Year of Firsts

November 18th was 6 months from the day we first met our girls in that stifling hot orphanage in Bujumbura, Burundi. On that day, they wouldn’t look at us in the eye, wouldn’t smile, wouldn’t talk, and didn’t trust us as far as they could throw us. They had no appearance of a personality at all. They were simply little bodies with shaved heads, dry skin, and bloated bellies floating through life, being handled by random caregivers every day with nothing to do and nothing to call their own.

Oh my what a difference 6 months can make.

I could honestly type for days about the challenges, the progress, the victories, the attachment, the spiritual battles and growth. But I’ll do my best to give y’all an update on specific things we’ve struggled with in the past and try to give you a glimpse of where the girls are now! To try and consolidate this blog post so it won’t take 3 days for me to type and just as long for you to read…I’ll list some highlights and snapshots of life 6 months since Gotcha Day!

In September, we took our first family vacation! The four of us, plus my (Lindsay’s) parents and grandparents went to the beach for a weekend, and it was AMAZING. I will truly cherish those memories for a lifetime: their first time seeing the ocean, their sheer joy at burying one another in the sand, their constant squeals of laughter in the pool, and their first time starting to open up with their precious great-grandparents. Plus, I was nervous about how they’d do in a 4 hour car ride and sleeping in a strange place, but THEY WERE CHAMPS. It was such a beautiful time for all of us, and I learned that they were ready to start stepping more outside their comfort zone.

The first week of October, I went to Tennessee for a World Orphans staff retreat, and spent one night away from the girls for the first time. Again, I was so nervous about how they would respond to this new experience (but probably not as nervous as Blake who had to hold down the fort while I was gone!). And once again, they totally amazed me. It was SUCH a refreshing time for me to be away and relaxing with my WO family, and it was good for the girls to build their attachment to Blake and learn that I will always come back!

Speaking of me being gone at night, in preparation for that trip to Tennessee, our family counselor recommended that one night a week I try to be gone at bedtime so that the girls (particularly Mercy) would learn to rely on Blake to meet her needs and fall asleep without me. So, that’s what I did. Thankfully, as long as I wasn’t an option, Mercy did fine with Blake and actually fell asleep easily! Praise the Lord! For weeks we did this routine, and 6 nights a week, Mercy would wake up several times throughout the night and cry for me to hold her hand or comfort her in some way in order for her to fall back asleep…over and over every night. But 1 glorious night a week, the night Blake put her down, she would sleep ALL. THROUGH. THE. NIGHT. So, two weeks ago, we decided to try Blake doing the whole bedtime routine EVERY night, instead of just 1 night a week. And y’all…since that time…Mercy has not woken up A SINGLE TIME during the night! WHAT?! HOW AWESOME IS THAT!? Now that we’ve gotten two straight weeks of sleep, we are all feeling like new people! We are still sleeping on a mattress in their room, so our next big step will be finally getting back in our own room!

Mercy’s attachment to Blake has come SO FAR, and it is beautiful to see them together now. She still “prefers” Mommy, but it’s not an unhealthy thing like it was before. A while back, we started letting Blake take over the “nurturing” duties like bathtime, lotion, hair, and bedtime. It is incredible how much those changes helped her to learn to trust him, enjoy his affection, and even return it.

We also used to have difficulty getting Mercy to eat. Well, thankfully that is a thing of the past now! Both girls eat pretty much whatever we set in front of them! Mercy’s favorite foods are pineapples and chicken nuggets, and Noella’s favorite foods are pears and lettuce (yes…lettuce…she clearly cannot be trusted). I’m so thankful that mealtimes are no longer a battle and they are eating healthy food!

After I went back to work in late July, the girls’ 3 grandparents have been helping out with childcare during the day while I work. It was an adjustment at first, and it took time for them to slowly let me go and transition to playtime with the grandparents. Thankfully, now they run to Bibi, Poppi, or Sitty when they get here in the mornings, and I can quickly and smoothly go into my office without any meltdowns. Praise God for grandparents who are close by and able to love and serve our family in such a practical way!

The girls had their first dentist appointment, and they did SO GREAT! No tears at all! I could not believe it. Neither of them had cavities, and the dentist was able to get some really deep stains and marks off their teeth. Their teeth look SO much healthier now, and they definitely noticed! They smile at themselves in the mirror and talk about how pretty their teeth are now!

They also had their first visit to the pediatrician (outside of the International Adoption Clinic checkups), and started getting caught up on their immunizations. It was not a fun morning for sure, but they enjoyed the post-shot ice cream at Chick-fil-a!

For their first Halloween, they dressed up as butterflies! We trick-or-treated around our neighborhood. They didn’t really get it at first, but they caught on quick and are now big fans of getting lots of candy!

The girls have been going to the church nursery for about 6 weeks now, all on their own! It has been SUCH a blessing for us to be able to return to our life group, listen to the sermons, serve in choir and tech, and just be a part of our community again. And if it’s possible, I think the girls love church even more than we do! They seriously ask about going to church every single day of the week, and they tell me how they’re going to “sing, dance, and learn about God”. Oh, I love that they love church!

Speaking of singing…these girls are most definitely singers. They sing all. the. time. And they’re surprisingly good at matching pitch. I don’t know if other 3 year olds can do that, but I’m pretty certain their musical prodigies. Their favorite song is “The B-I-B-L-E”, and they probably sing it maybe 30 times a day, and that’s not an exaggeration. If they aren’t singing it, they’re usually saying “I want B-I-B-L-E, Mommy!” I hope as they get older they have the same hunger for God’s Word as they do for that song right now! And I also hope they never lose their love for singing!

We recently had our first family photos done, and I can’t wait to put them up around our home! The girls actually had fun posing and smiling for the camera. Noella might be a model when she grows up with how much she loves the camera!

The girls have now experienced football season in our house. They frequently shout “War Eagle”, have learned to say “booooo” when they see an Alabama elephant, and are obsessed with Aubie the Tiger. They know that Saturdays means football on TV. In fact, Noella actually asks to watch football several times throughout the week! In 6 days, they will experience (via TV, not in person) their first Iron Bowl too…and after that..maybe a SEC championship game and playoffs? Who knows.

I’ve also got to mention how proud I am of their ability to learn and retain information from our daily Bible time. We’ve been doing it for 20 weeks now, so that’s 20 Bible stories so far. At first I thought they weren’t getting anything out of it because they understood so little English back then. But to my surprise, they can look back at those pictures in the Jesus Storybook Bible and repeat phrases I used then. Like “God made everything!” and “Don’t eat the fruit from that tree!” and “Let my people go!”. I am astonished at how they absorb these stories, and I pray we are building a foundation upon which they will continue to learn and seek after the Lord for the rest of their lives.

We are SO excited about the upcoming holiday season. We celebrate Thanksgiving in a few days, and then we’ll be all about Christmas! I cannot WAIT to decorate with the girls! I’ve got them their own little tree and ornaments for the 25 days of advent. We are gonna bake Christmas cookies, sing carols, drink cocoa…and then to finish it all up..we’ll snuggle ;-). We are cherishing this special season of firsts!

We honestly cannot give God enough praise and glory for the progress Mercy and Noella have made. It is only by His grace that we and the girls have survived the difficult season of transition. We have learned more about His love for us, His forgiveness, His goodness, and His patience in the last 6 months than the previous 30 years combined. Parenthood has caused us to see our own sin in new, more real ways–the sick, instinctive, and aggressive sin nature of our fallen selves without Christ is deeply humbling. How many times have I responded in a way I shouldn’t have, and how many more times have I asked the Lord to cleanse me of this sin so that I might lead my daughters to the throne of Christ? It’s tough, y’all…but you parents already know that.

If you’d like to pray for us, we do have a couple of requests:
Please pray for both Mercy and Noella to get over a bad cold they have! They’re both coughing and leaking snot like crazy. It hasn’t slowed them down at all, but the congestion makes it hard for them to sleep.

Pray that our time with family at the upcoming holidays is a sweet time of relationship building for the girls, as they will meet new extended family and see some less familiar faces. That they will enjoy the time and not feel afraid of people they don’t know.

Our hope is to transition to sleeping in our room (instead of on the floor in theirs) by the end of the year. Please pray this transition goes well, especially since this is our LAST big hurdle to overcome with sleep!