Tag Archives: kinship adoption

There’s no Hitting the Brakes on Braden’s Future!

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For the past four years we have had senior after senior graduating from our family. In 2017 Grace graduated from 21st Century Cyber Charter School (21CCCS) before heading to CCAC to pursue a degree in American Sign Language Interpreting. We took 2018 off, but in 2019 Molly graduated from 21CCCS and headed to BYU-Idaho to pursue a degree in environmental science before taking a sabbatical from school to prepare to serve a full time mission. This year I find myself with two more graduating seniors, bringing our grand total to four graduations in four years.

When Braden moved in 18 months ago, Toby and I became parents to “artificial twins.” Rusty and Braden are only 33 days apart in age. This has created an interesting dynamic in our home. It has not been without challenges and we have had to be mindful as parents in addressing the emotional and social effects of adopting a child out of birth order and so close in age to another child in the home, but it has also come with great blessings.

As a result of Braden’s adoption one year ago we find ourselves parents to two graduating seniors!

Their senior year, which started so typically, has ended up being one for the history books. “Normal” senior milestones like Prom and senior trips have been placed on hold in light of a worldwide pandemic. Both boys attend 21st Century Cyber Charter School, and despite the fact that their schooling already occurs online and within the home, they are both currently off school for the time being as part of the statewide shut down of public schools. At this point we are uncertain if they will finish out their senior year, experience the remaining senior milestones they were looking forward to, or even have a graduation ceremony. But despite all of that uncertainty, they have remained optimistic. They both have their eyes firmly set on the future and the exciting times that follow high school.

Rusty continues to be duel enrolled in our local community college where he is pursuing a degree in drone aviation. His classes have all been moved online for the time being. Upon graduation from high school he will finish out his degree with the goal of obtaining full time work as a drone pilot.

The discussion about Braden’s hopes and dreams for post-secondary life has been a priority this year, as we have worked to help him adjust to his new life as a member of the family, while also encouraging future planning…a skill that is hard to develop when you have lived a life of day to day survival. For a good portion of his life Braden hasn’t had the luxury of dreaming about what he could be or what he could do with his life in adulthood. He was too busy trying to survive his childhood. Now that he has been able to transition out of “survival mode,” he finds himself facing a future he never planned for. We found him to be overwhelmed with the thought of growing up, moving out, getting a job, making plans, and choosing a future for himself…especially in light of the fact that he only got to start being a kid at age 17. Knowing all this, my goal for his senior year was to slowly start exploring possibilities…helping him to discover his God-given gifts, talents and interests, while exploring possible degrees and occupations that are compatible to those gifts, talents and interests.

Over the course of his senior year Braden was able to conclude that he wanted to continue living at home for the time being, while pursuing a degree from a trade school. He is a kid who would much rather learn a skill hands on than to read a book about an obscure concept or theory. With that realization in mind we began looking into local trade schools near us.

Braden has now made a decision about his post-secondary plans…

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He will be attending New Castle School of Trades to pursue a degree in automotive technology:

“Automotive technology is a course that focuses on automotive repair. In automotive technology you will learn everything “bumper to bumper” including but not limited to – engines, transmissions, brakes, suspensions, exhaust systems, and electrical systems.

An emphasis is placed on computer diagnosis and electronics due to the sophisticated nature of today’s technologies. We have recently integrated service desk training to prepare our graduates for the customer oriented side of the industry. Technical hands on training coupled with classroom theory makes for a great entry level journey into the automotive workplace.

Graduates of the Automotive Technology Program will be qualified for entry-level employment opportunities as automotive technicians in any of the nine ASE automotive repair categories.” -NCST website

Two weeks ago we set up an appointment for Braden to take the admission exam and to register him for the fall semester.

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He is officially accepted as a student for the fall 2020 semester in the automotive technology program…and he is so excited!

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As we exited the appointment, Braden shook his head, stunned by it all. “I just can’t believe this is my life,” he kept saying. “I just never thought my life could be like this. I mean, look at me…I’m part of a family. I can drive. I have a job. And now I am going to college!”

As we walked back to the car his smile was contagious.

How grateful I am for this young man and for the great blessing of being able to call him my son.

Watch out, world! This boy is going places!

‘Twas the Night Before, the Night Before, Christmas

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On December 23rd I received the best Christmas gift of all…

Having all my kiddos home together!

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On Monday night we picked up Ozzie in Pittsburgh, where the transport van from his residential facility dropped him off. He was as excited at the prospect of Christmas as the rest of my crew.

We arrived home and there we were joined by Grace and Zach, as well as Toby who arrived home with pizza in hand. It was our annual “The night before, the night before Christmas” party…One of my favorite nights of the Christmas season.

A few years ago we began the tradition of setting aside December 23rd for the kids to exchange gifts with one another. This tradition began when we saw that the gifts, so lovingly made or purchased by brothers and sisters, often got lost in the larger gifts from Santa and other relatives on Christmas morning. In an effort to forge connection, encourage thoughtful giving, and increase gratitude among siblings we decided to set aside a night specific to gift giving in our immediate family.

Since December 23rd was already the night we traditionally gifted the kids with their yearly Christmas ornament, we decided to make it a celebration of our immediate family before joining our extended family members on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the days that followed.

This was one of the best ideas we had as a family and this tradition has become the highlight of my Christmas season. As a mom it brings me such joy to see the love shown among siblings as they thoughtfully bring the magic of Christmas to their siblings.

This year we switched things up a bit and rather than everyone making or buying gifts for everyone else, the siblings instead drew names and shopped for just one person, allowing everyone to really personalize their efforts and focus on showing love to one certain sibling. With Zach in the mix we now had seven kids each picking a name and shopping for one another.

The night began with the traditional reading of my favorite Christmas book of all time, one that delights me in its relatability!

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After a yummy pizza dinner it was time to begin the gift giving. We began with our ornament exchange. Every year Toby and I purchase for each child (and each other) an ornament that is reflective of interests, hobbies, or events from the past year. This was a tradition we began on Gracie’s first birthday and it is always a delight to unpack years’ worth of memories when we decorate the tree.

This year Gracie married Zach and took her 21 years worth of Christmas ornaments to her new home to decorate their first tree as a newlywed couple. This is a gift of love each child will be able to look forward to as they launch and have homes and Christmas trees of their own.

This year we focused our ornament choices on major life events for those kids who have experienced a life transition, and ornaments reflective of interests/hobbies for those who haven’t. We began handing out ornaments oldest to youngest.

Toby received a family ornament that highlights his new brood of kiddos…a brood that has grown by 2 this year through adi

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Toby continues with a two decade tradition of buying me another angel ornament for the tree. This year’s ornament he secretly purchased while we were at Disney World. (And I, of course, forgot to capture a photo of it. You’ll have to trust me when I say it is beautiful!)

This year we transitioned to a couple ornament for Grace and Zach. It had to reflect their new and exciting journey as husband and wife. This is what we chose:

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Molly’s ornament celebrated her graduation from 21st Century Cyber Charter School and her exciting launch into adulthood.

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Rusty’s ornament celebrated his beginning college classes through CCBC’s duel enrollment program. He is going to school to be a drone pilot.

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Braden experienced one of the family’s biggest life changes this year when he was adopted into our forever family. His ornament couldn’t be anything but a celebration of that wonderful day!

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Ozzie’s ornament was so perfectly Ozzie, that I had to buy it when I found it online. What ornament could be more perfect for my weather loving 15-year-old than a Galileo thermometer ornament for the tree!

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And Tyler’s “to-cool-for-school,” low-riding Santa, with accompanying soundtrack, fit our youngest perfectly!!

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Then it was time for the sibling gift exchange!!

Braden’s gift to Grace was a new lunch bag and thermos for her to take to work.

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Tyler bought Zach a few new board games.

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Rusty found a perfect gift for Ozzie. Ozzie loves puzzles and Rusty found a set of six mini puzzles online that are packages to look like mini boxes of cereal. He paired the puzzles with an actual variety pack of sample cereals.

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Gracie’s gift to Molly was equally personal and extra special. In honor of Molly’s upcoming temple experience Grace bought Molly a necklace bearing a stone setting made from the same marble as the Palmyra, NY Temple, where Molly will soon be making covenants with the Lord.

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Molly’s gift for Braden was two parts. The first was a new Sunday tie she purchased for him from Etsy that bears the symbol of his favorite superhero- The Flash. She also made him an affirmation jar filled with 100 strips of paper listing the things she loves and admires about him.

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Zach had Rusty’s name and bought him a Wall-E Disney-bounding outfit.

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Rusty also received a bonus gift from Toby…The world’s largest water bottle!! Rusty is our water drinker and is never without a water bottle in hand. We tease him about his excessive water consumption, so when Toby stumbled across this gigantic water bottle he couldn’t help but pick it up for Rusty.

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After the siblings had all exchanged gifts it was time for Toby and I to open our gifts from the kids. This was another tradition added to December 23rd for the same reason as the sibling gift exchange. We wanted to be able to really appreciate and focus on the gifts of love from our children without them getting lost in the chaos of Christmas morning. It is always a joy and a delight to see the amount of time, thought, creativity and effort our children put into showing us their love through their Christmas gifts.

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This note from Tyler is a keeper!!!

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Rusty knows what brings his dad joy.

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Ozzie carved and painted this Christmas plaque for me in workshop. Another treasure!

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Toby also received a jar of 100 affirmations from Miss Molly. A gift that will be treasured even more in her absence!

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And Rusty painted me a charming picture. I love Rusty originals!!

It was at the end of opening our gifts from the kids that Ozzie received his big surprise that we revealed in the last blog.

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It was a blessed night of loving and giving.

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My cup overfloweth!

 

It went by in a FLASH!

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It is hard to believe it has been a little over a year since Braden moved in, and a mere seven months since he became our son. In so many ways it feels like he has been a part of our family forever and I can’t imagine life without him. It makes me sick to think of what could have been had we let fear, rather than faith, guide us in the decision to say “yes.”

Fear of what could go wrong hijacked our thoughts when we first received the call asking us if we would consider opening our home and hearts to a 17-year-old boy…Tyler’s biological brother. There were so many reasons to be nervous, so many unknowns, so many shared horror stories that we found ourselves paralyzed by the anxiety of the unknown. We didn’t realize it at the time but what should have scared us was the consideration of all that we would miss by saying “no.”

Luckily we were blessed with a social worker that didn’t accept our knee jerk reaction, driven by ignorance and fear, and instead supported us as we navigated our way through our questions and concerns.

She didn’t give up on us and neither did God, who had plans that were bigger than our own agenda and blueprint for our life. He heard our concerns and answered them with His truth, spoken with compassion and love…

Giving us the opportunity to be part of something so much bigger and better than ourselves.

That isn’t to say that the journey from a year ago to today was easy, smooth or without trials and triggers. It isn’t easy growing a family, and with the addition of another child comes growing pains. Adoption is hard but there is something humbling and divine  about getting to participate in something so heavenly orchestrated.

Our adoption journey with Braden has taught me to trust God’s plan and timing, even when it runs counter to our own plans for life.

When we said yes to adopting a 17-year-old boy I was overwhelmed by the task ahead of me and felt the pressure of time against me, wondering what difference we could make in Braden’s life with only a year of childhood left before he was legally an adult. I had experienced the long, arduous journey of attachment with both Tyler and Ozzie and knew how long and hard the road to attachment was. Could we make a difference in a year?  Would we even be able to scratch the surface of attachment after all the loss he has lived through and all the walls of protection he has had to build for self preservation?

Luckily, my Lord is bigger than my logic and He has proved time and time again that He is a God of miracles. He can move mountains, He can heal hearts. And he can grow families, regardless of the worldly obstacles that seem unmovable in reaching that goal.

It has only been a year but this sweet boy has my heart. How grateful I am that God didn’t let fear drive our decision. I can’t imagine our life or our family without him…

This week we celebrated his 18th birthday!

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Braden’s birthday celebration was split between two days. This was due to a special request he had for his birthday. He wanted to visit a haunted house!

Knowing that most haunted houses would be shut down by the first weekend in November, we made plans to celebrate his birthday a week early so as to grant his birthday request. On the Saturday before his birthday we made plans to visit a haunted house as a family, but first we met up with Grace and Zach for dinner!

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Braden wanted wings for his birthday dinner so we met at a local wing joint that boasts 100 different wing flavors.

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Everyone ordered a dozen wings of their chosen flavor and then we enjoyed a buffet of tastes as we passed the different wing flavors around the table so everyone could try one of each flavor.

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It was a delicious pre-birthday dinner!

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When dinner was complete Grace and Zach opted to bow out rather than join us at Freddy’s Haunts.

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Braden was very excited to visit this haunted house.

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He had never been to a haunted house before and was excited to experience the thrill of fright as we navigated our way through the haunted halls of this local fear factory. We also happened to be visiting on their “black-out weekend” when an already spooky experience gets amped up by the absence of lights.

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Each group is given a single glow stick to guide them through the darkness.

Forming a human chain and holding tightly to the family member ahead of us, Braden led us through a maze of dark hallways as spooks jumped out and stalked us for the hour and a half it took us to find our way out.

It was a creepy as you might imagine…

And Braden loved it!

The following Wednesday…on Braden’s actual birthday…we celebrated his 18th birthday.

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His birthday theme was built around his favorite superhero: The Flash!

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Many of his gifts reflected this theme, including gifts from Mimi Joy,

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And his gift from Rusty:

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He loved the love put into his special day and the gifts that were so thoughtfully chosen by friends and family.

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His gift from Mom and Dad was the BMX bike he’s been wishing for.

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Happy birthday, son. We can hardly believe you are 18…

This year has gone by in a FLASH!

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How blessed we feel to call you our son!

 

Reunited Once Again

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To not acknowledge the loss associated with adoption is naïve and thoughtless. It is a reality I didn’t fully understand until we were in the thick of it. Although joyous for the waiting family, for the child who is being placed, there is a myriad of mixed emotions tied to this huge life change. Add to that the external expectations being placed upon that child to be grateful for this “second chance,” thus stealing from them the right to grieve the loss they are enduring, and you can see how complicated the journey is for the adopted child.

The reality of the situation is that placement comes as a result of great and tragic loss. Whether a child ends up in the system due to loss connected to the death of a parent or loss connected to a childhood stolen from them by neglectful or abusive parents…a loss is a loss.

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In addition to the “big” losses these children are grieving, there are a myriad of secondary losses, that although may seem unimportant in the big scheme of things, are hugely important to the child who has had everything important to them stolen from them. Things like: favorite toys that were left behind, best friends that must be bid farewell, and losing beloved family pets that became their greatest source of love and comfort in a biological home filled with chaos and cruelty, all create in our kids a deep sense of loss.

Perhaps the saddest loss these kids endure is the separation from their siblings. The reality of the system as it is means many sibling groups are separated by the courts and placed in separate foster and adoptive homes. This is especially true of larger sibling groups. Sometimes it is simply a matter of logistics, with few families being willing or capable of taking in an additional five children. Sometimes it is a matter of the courts deciding that due to the nature of the family relationships, the best way to increase the odds of meeting everyone’s unique therapeutic needs, and increase every one’s chance of thriving, is to place the children in separate homes.

As to whether this is truly best for the children could be argued a hundred different ways. These life affecting decisions are made by professionals that have the ugly job of making these hard decisions. All of my adopted children were separated by their biological siblings by the courts. And those decisions were not made lightly, but even though it may have been determined that it was in everyone’s best interest, one can not dismiss the great loss connected to that decision.

We strongly believe that siblings should be connected, and if it is not in the children’s best interest to be placed together, we believe the highest level of contact and connection that is healthy for all parties involved should be made a priority. It is for this reason we were thrilled when we had the opportunity to adopt Tyler’s 17-year-old brother last spring after a six year separation. It is also why we strive to remain connected to the adoptive families of all three of my adopted sons.

We are so blessed to not only know where all their biological siblings are, but also to have wonderful relationships with those families. Like us, they place great value in keeping biological siblings connected to the degree that that sibling can emotionally manage. That level of connection ebbs and flows as each of our children navigate through the loss and trauma of their shared past, but connection is always the goal.

These kids have suffered so much loss, including a level of self-identity loss with the severed connection to biological family. For all my kids that severing was necessary for their safety and well being. The biological parents were toxic, neglectful, and abusive. Maintaining contact was a lost possibility when they refused to comply with the court’s orders. Because this connection had to be severed, it becomes all the more important that our kids maintain a biological connection with their siblings. They crave an understanding of who they are and why they look, speak, think, act, etc. the way they do.

It is grounding to look in the face of someone that shares your features and idiosyncrasies and think, “Wow, they are just like me. I am not alone.” There is also comfort in knowing that your history, as tragic as it may have been, was shared by another. For this reason sibling connections are powerfully important…

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It is why we work to keep our boys connected with their siblings.

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That is not to say it is always easy. There are multiple challenges associated with this worthy goal, including multiple families with varying schedules, complicated relationships among the siblings themselves, and the individual therapeutic journeys and individual needs of each child. There are A LOT of moving parts that must align to make a biological sibling reunion come to fruition.  I have no doubt that a divine hand is part of the recipe for success!

This past Saturday all those moving parts came together, the stars aligned, God’s grace shone down upon us and we were able to get all five biological siblings together for the first time in six years. It was a blessed reunion that only happened because of many willing hearts and working hands.

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We decided to make Kennywood Amusement Park the location of the big event.

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We had eight raincheck tickets from the previous summer which allowed us and Michael (the oldest sibling who is now living independently) to enter the park for free. Braden’s amazing social worker and our dear family friend, Lisa, volunteered to pick up Michael and bring him to the park with her family.

They were the first to arrive and were waiting for us when we walked in. What a sweet reunion it was to see these two big boys reconnecting after years apart.

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We were soon joined by June and Cheyanne, the boys’ only sister and the youngest of the sibling group.

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The genetics are crazy strong with her and Tyler. They look alike, act alike and even sound alike. They could easily pass as twins.

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After an hour or two, we were joined by Gayle and Sean.

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The siblings enjoyed a beautiful day of connection, as they rode rides together and created  happy memories.

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These reunions are not without heartache and angst. There is no way to navigate these waters, strewn with triggers and hard emotions, without some resulting fallout. There is an emotional price paid for the effort to facilitate connection. It is impossible to wade through such dark waters and not make waves,

But riding the waves of emotional backlash is a price we have decided we are willing to pay to redeem, for our sons, a small piece of all that has been stolen from them.

Nothing about the adoption road is effortless or easy. Neither is the journey our kids have had to walk.

So, we will do what is best,

Even when it is uncomfortable.

Even when it is inconvenient.

Even when it is challenging.

Even when it hurts our hearts…

Because our kids deserve this:

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Kalahari Adventures

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Following the Pennsylvania SWAN awards banquet on Wednesday night, we were invited to stay at Kalahari Resort for the next two days and make a family vacation out of the event.

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As if the award recognition wasn’t enough, we felt absolutely spoiled rotten by this special gift.

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Thursday and Friday were spent connecting as a family, playing as a family, laughing as a family, and enjoying a respite from life.

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The kids loved the abundance of water slides available at “America’s Largest Indoor Water Park.”

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Some of the slides were familiar, having ridden the sister slides at the Sandusky, Ohio Kalahari Resort,

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While other were unique to this particular park.

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When we weren’t off sliding, our family could be found enjoying the lazy river or the wave pool.

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Braden and Tyler were particularly fond of the basketball pool with its abundance of basketball hoops and balls.

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Many hours were spent in that pool bonding as biological brothers. The genetic connection is clearly evident in these two natural athletes who are more comfortable competing with a ball in hand than doing anything else.

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We also enjoyed the outdoor hot tub. The combination of warm water, cool breezes, summer sun, and gorgeous views brought home that vacation feel. It was lovely to sit and soak while visiting as a family, knowing I had nothing else to do for the next 12 hours.

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Our two lazy days also allowed for me to have time to sit and read a novel and allowed Toby a much deserved nap…two luxuries that have become a rare treat in our lives recently.

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It was a lovely luxury to let go of a month’s worth of worries and heartache and simply be present in the gift of today.

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It was a blessing to be still and simply breathe, soaking in the blessing of our mini vacation, and praising God for restarts and reconnection.

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That is what this time away was for our family. Tucked away in the gorgeous greenery of the Pocono mountains, we found the peace that had been so hard to grab hold of for the last two months. Somehow stepping away from outside influences we were able to remember what this journey was all about.

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It was a breakthrough experience for our child who had been pushing hard against the connection that he has fearfully been fleeing from since Mother’s Day. I’m not sure what clicked internally but amid the splashing and sunshine and celebration of adoption with hundreds of other families much like ours, he found some peace…

At least for the moment.

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And that was the greatest gift of all.