Preston Party of Six

Preston Party of Six

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Then and Now: One year HOME

One year ago tonight our family changed forever when a big plane from China touched down in Atlanta...we were finally the Preston Party of Six!


And exactly one year later...

Eating lunch at school with "Bubba"

Playing dolls with Andrew...such a good big bro!

Enjoying time with big sister Shelby

Skeeball anyone?

First taste of vitamin DC...a girl after my heart!

Jenna's FAVORITE bedtime book
only one word is sufficient: MIRACULOUS!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

One Year Later: Six Flower Blooms

I've never really been into flowers.  Sure, I think they're pretty and some of them smell really good (when I take the time to smell them), but I've just never been that into flowers. 

Until now.   

Watching Jenna bloom like a beautiful flower throughout this past year has changed me into a "flower girl."

As I think back to one year ago today, when He Tong was placed into my arms for the very first time in a hot government building in Guangzhou, China, it's as if I was holding a tiny, fragile bud that was afraid to show her beauty to the world.

And today, one year later, it's amazing to see the difference a year makes.

Putting into words all the emotions filling my heart on this special one year anniversary isn't easy.  I've spent some time reflecting on our time in China and memories from this year.  I also continue to think about Jenna's birthparents and hope they somehow know their daughter is thriving.   
In this blog over the past year, I've tried to capture some of the highlights of our family and the newest flower added to our garden.  Yet as I reviewed what I'd already written, all of those words don't fully express the significance of today.
So when I recently came across this quote, it seemed to state in a few words what my heart is feeling.
When a gardener places bulbs into the ground, she has hope that they will grow and bloom into beautiful flowers.  While this requires work on her part, watering the bulbs and tending to the soil, God is the one that makes the flowers bloom. He is the giver of HOPE. 
And I've witnessed this fact over the past year in our family garden.
Jenna has bloomed into such a sweet, fragrant, beautiful flower.  There are times I look at her and I'm simply overcome with emotion--gratitude, joy, and praise, just to name a few.  She has conquered so many fears, experienced so many new things, and embraced each day with spunk, laughter, and joy.  As I've said before, I truly feel like I've been part of a miracle.
But Jenna isn't the only flower that has bloomed this year.  We are the Preston Party of Six, and there are five other flower blooms in this garden.
Andrew became a big brother for the first time one year ago.  In some ways I've noticed that this has rocked his world...he's no longer the baby of the family and that's a big change.  But my little bubbalicious has bloomed into a caring playmate for his younger sister and it brings a smile to my heart to see him embracing his new role with joy. 
Shelby fell in love with her new sister from day one in China, but she has continued to bloom into such a caring, generous, loving big sister.  I am blessed to have a younger sister who is also my best friend, and I pray that Shelby and Jenna will be like that throughout their lives. 

Nathan has blown me out of the water with his love for Jenna.  The "thinker" of the family, Nathan knew that adding another flower to our garden would create a lot of change...and he was right!  But one of the greatest of these changes has been in Nathan himself...he absolutely loves his little sis and she adores him. 

Jason has grown into his role as a father of four with grace, patience, and perseverance.  The first few months with Jenna were tough, there's no doubt about it.  She didn't like him and his heart was broken.  But over time, God worked in Jenna's little heart to trust her daddy more...and God worked on Jason's heart to trust his Father more.  The result?  A bloom that is only going to get more beautiful over the years.

I'm not going to be the one to judge the beauty or growth of my bloom in our family garden.  However, I will say that I continue to learn every day my utter dependence on the Lord and I am constantly amazed by His grace.  I don't deserve to have such a wonderful husband and four amazing children, but for some reason, He has granted me these blessings and I am so very thankful.

So as one of six flower blooms in our family flower garden,  all I know to say one year later is that God alone is the giver of hope.  This year has definitely had its share of ups-and-downs, but through it all, God has been faithful to shower hope upon our flower garden and for that I rejoice!



Saturday, September 13, 2014

Staying Connected

What do our bodies, a cell phone, and a minivan all have in common? 

They all need to stay connected to the right power source in order to work properly.

Our bodies require healthy food to grow, develop, and function properly.

Cell phones require a strong battery and a connection port that works properly in order to function correctly.

Minivans need a strong battery, alternator, gasoline and a slew of other things to work effectively.
Well, last week, it’s as if God slapped me across the face when all three of these things came to a screeching halt in my life.

One particular morning after a run, I felt really dizzy and realized I hadn’t eaten enough prior to my run.  My body was telling me that it needed good nutrition in order to work properly.
Then my cell phone quit working multiple times week because the connection port wasn’t functioning properly. Result?  No power source…the battery was completely dead.  It needed a totally new power source.

Finally, after working out at the gym one morning, I discovered that my minivan wouldn’t start.  Thankfully someone was able to use jumper cables to get the battery cranked so that I could get to an auto parts store where they assessed the battery.  Result?  Good battery…one of the kids must have left a light on or something.  But then a few hours later, while in carpool line at the kids’ school, the battery died again.  This time I started to panic because it got VERY hot, VERY quickly in the van and Jenna was starting to get VERY overheated.  I was able to pull over to the side of the road where someone with jumper cables tried to charge the battery again.  Result?  It worked…but only for a few seconds.   Thankfully we got a ride home and left my van to sit on the side of the road for about 18 hours until a tow-truck came to the rescue.  It was obvious that my minivan wasn’t connected to a strong power source, either. 
Then God spoke.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” ~John 15:5

A lightbulb the size of Texas went off in my brain. 

Apart from healthy food, my body cannot work properly.

Apart from a functioning connection port, my cell phone battery cannot work properly.

Apart from a functioning battery and alternator, my minivan cannot work properly.
Apart from Jesus, I. CAN. DO. NOTHING.

This is one of those verses I’ve read a million times and although I believe it, for some reason last week it penetrated my heart even more.  It’s easy for me to “go through the motions” of life, not take time to “stop and smell the roses," or multi-task instead of looking my child in the eye.  I don’t like these things about myself and they are things I constantly battle. 

Yet last week I realized fresh and anew that I MUST stay connected to the One True Power Source in order to do anything…
Apart from Jesus, there is no purpose in life.

Apart from Jesus, there is no joy in life.

Apart from Jesus, there is no peace in life.

Does staying connected to Jesus make life easy?  ABSOLUTELY NOT!  In fact, Jesus promised His followers that they would experience problems (John 16:33b)…and dare I say that a dead cell phone and a dead car battery are very minor problems!  But then Jesus makes an even greater promise.  He says “But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33c). 

Staying connected to the One True Power Source may be simple but it’s not easy.  There is no formula to follow with three easy steps.  But being more intentional about what truly matters is certainly part of this process.  And disconnecting from some of the distractions of this world is also part of the solution.  Thankfully, God provides us with an example to follow and that is Jesus Christ.   In John 17:4, Jesus says to His Father, "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do."

Unless I stay connected to Christ, there is no way I'll be able to say those same words at the end of my life. 

So yes, I’m  very thankful that God used a dizzy spell, a dead cell phone, and a dead minivan battery last week to get my attention and remind me once again how important it is to follow Him with all my heart, to stay connected to Him and fellow believers, and to produce “fruit” that matters for eternity.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Beauty of Pain

“Pain demands to be felt.” ~The Fault in Our Stars

Has anyone else seen this movie?  It has its faults (no pun intended), but I absolutely loved it…even though I cried my eyes out almost the entire time.  It’s a real, raw, honest look at living with cancer, particularly teenagers dealing with this awful disease.  My first job as a nurse was working with people who were fighting cancer and I witnessed several die from the disease, including very young people.  And then I had the opportunity to be with my mom as she lived with, fought against, and ultimately died from cancer. 
But what keeps coming back to me from this movie is this particular line about pain.  Our society doesn’t like pain.  We do anything we can to escape it, alleviate it, or numb it.  But when the rubber meets the road, the truth is that pain really does demand to be felt.  Or put another way, in some way, shape or form, pain will be exposed.
We use all sorts of methods to try to escape, alleviate, or numb the pain that is inevitable in this life.  Drugs, alcohol, sex, food, exercise, materialism, or busyness are just a few things that come to my mind when I think about ways we try to keep pain from being felt.  We use these things so we don’t have to feel the pain, but through the use of these “coping mechanisms,” our pain is often exposed.  Drug addition, alcoholism, pornography, eating disorders, mounting debt, and running around like chickens with our heads cut off are all ways we “expose” the pain that we try so hard to not feel.
But where does this get us?
Deeper in pain.
So what’s the answer?
Allow pain to be felt…really felt.
In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis wrote, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
God used His megaphone in my life as I watched the woman who gave me life take her last breath.  While it was the most painful experience of my life, it was also one of the most sacred and special moments of my life.  There is no denying that I felt pain…deep pain in my heart.  But it was through this pain that God taught me this painful truth: pain brings beauty. 
My mom had a wonderful life but she also experienced a lot of pain in her 63 years.  However, by the end of her life, she was more beautiful than ever.  Physically she was emaciated from cancer eating away at her body, but her beauty resonated from something deeper…a profound peace and faith in God.  She, too, had learned that pain brings beauty.
“Pain demands to be felt” also made me think a lot about adoption.  Is it beautiful? YES!  Jenna has been home for 8 months now and it has been miraculous…truly beautiful.  But with every adoption is pain.  My precious daughter was at one point left on a busy street.  My precious daughter will never know the mother who gave her life and this courageous woman somewhere in China will never know how amazing her daughter is.  My precious daughter will one day ask difficult, painful questions about the first 2 ½ years of her life in China.  My precious daughter will be faced with difficult, painful questions about her genetic skin condition. 
I pray that God will give me the wisdom and courage to help Jenna feel her pain and then expose the beauty she has to offer this world.
Every child that was once an orphan and now has a loving, forever family is a picture of God’s grace and testimony to the fact that pain brings beauty.  Hopefully, God will “rouse a deaf world” by using Jenna and other children that were once orphans to show that He can create beauty from ashes and pain needs to be felt, not feared.
God doesn’t allow anything to be wasted, including our pain.  It is always for a greater purpose.  We may not fully understand that purpose this side of heaven, but there is a purpose.  Our job is to feel the pain and then expose the beauty that comes from it.
Just think how much more beautiful the world would be if we each exposed the beauty that comes from our pain?

Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Unique Gift

It's been almost a year since I wrote a blog entitled "Defining Beauty."  At the time, my heart was full of emotion--wanting Jenna home instead of thousands of miles away in China and feeling concerned about her skin condition.

And now, nearly a year later, my heart is still full of emotion though the feelings are a little different since Jenna is home. 

I can now carry her in my arms, sing "Jesus Loves Me" with her at bedtime, and hear her giggle.

But I can't fix her skin.

And I can't fix society's definition of beauty.

Yet I can help Jenna learn about true beauty and a unique gift she can embrace.

Last weekend, we spent a fun-filled Memorial Day weekend with great friends at a lakehouse in Tennessee.  After a good night's sleep on Friday night, all seven kids were pumped and ready to get out on the lake.

Jenna obviously enjoyed her first boat ride...

but after five hours, she was one tired, little girl.

And after five hours of being in the heat, Jenna's skin had had enough.

My previous post was about the fact that Jenna doesn't sweat.  Thankfully the breeze from going 20+ miles an hour on the boat helped keep Jenna cool.  However, no sweating aside, the heat alone did a number on Jenna's skin.  And honestly, I haven't seen Jenna's skin look so poorly in the 6 months since she's been home.  Out of respect for Jenna, I'm not posting pictures here.  However, I did take a lot of up close shots of her skin to show her doctor when we see her in July.

I have to admit this was the first time since bringing our sweet girl home from China that I really felt concerned about the long term effects of ichthyosis.

The second time I felt this way occurred earlier this week while enjoying our first day at the pool.

Jenna's skin tolerated being in the water for a couple hours at the pool much better than sitting on a boat for several hours.  In fact, immersing Jenna's skin in water is GOOD for her, so I am very thankful she enjoys swimming.  However, I did notice a few adults at the pool look at her with suspicious eyes, probably wondering what was wrong with her skin.

Concern from a momma's heart.

Concern for how Jenna will feel about herself in a few years when she realizes her skin looks "different" from other people.

Concern for how Jenna will handle other people's looks or words that may be hurtful.

Concern for how I will handle all of this as her mother.

But I'm choosing to believe this...

Not only does ichthyosis cause Jenna to have thick skin in the physical sense, but my prayer is that she'll have thick skin in the emotional sense.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines "thick skinned" as "not easily offended;" or "largely unaffected by the needs and feelings of other people; insensitive."

I do NOT want Jenna to be insensitive.  In fact, I hope she'll be extra sensitive to others' needs and feelings because of what God has done in her life and the story He continues to write.

I DO want Jenna to have thick skin so she's "not be easily offended" but...

Knows that she is loved by Almighty God who created her and wants to know her in a personal way.

Knows that she is loved by her family that pursued her and wants her.

Knows that what other people think of her does not matter.

Knows that true beauty emanates from a person's heart.

Knows that true joy is found in relationships--first with God, then with people.

Knows that the skin condition she has is minor compared to the diseases some children deal with each and every day of their lives.

Knows that she is a gift to be treasured.

Now that's some thick AND wise AND beautiful skin...a unique gift indeed!

Thank you, God, for all that you are teaching me through the journey of motherhood.  I pray that all four of my children have "thick skin" so they are not easily offended by others but rather find their value in You.  Help me to model for them what truly matters in this life and teach them embrace the gifts You've given each of them.  AMEN.


Friday, May 23, 2014

No Sweat

As a nurse I obviously have an interest in the human body that God created.  I’m amazed at how my heart constantly pumps blood through thousands of miles of blood vessels.  I’m amazed at how my bones and muscles work together to enable me to run mile after mile each day.  I’m amazed at how my brain can think about when each child needs taken to their various activities while writing a grocery list at the same time (though there are times multi-tasking can be a curse, ha!)

One function of the body that I’ve never really considered “amazing” is the ability to sweat.  I love to exercise and it feels good to be covered in sweat after a run, but I usually take it for granted.   Sweating isn’t just proof of hard physical effort through exercise or other activity.  Sweating is an essential function that helps our bodies release heat in order to stay cool.
But what if a person doesn’t sweat?
And why am I even writing about this?
If a person doesn’t sweat, he or she can get overheated very easily and develop heat exhaustion or even heat stroke, which can be deadly.
And I am writing about this because Jenna doesn’t sweat.
The skin condition that Jenna was born with is called ichthyosis and there are many types of this genetic skin condition that is characterized by very dry, scaly skin.  I am thankful that Jenna’s dermatologist has told us several times that her ichthyosis is mild and manageable.  However, when the doctor told us that Jenna probably doesn’t sweat due to ichthyosis and to be cautious in the heat, I admit that I got concerned.
Because we live in Georgia…the Deep South.  It gets HOT.  It gets REALLY HOT.
It’s not even June yet and we’ve already hit 92 degrees.

It's hard to tell in this pic, but Jenna's face was VERY red after sitting in hot car for a few minutes.
Fanning herself in the van after playing on the playground
I first noticed that Jenna didn’t seem to sweat on “Gotcha Day” in China.  I was sweating buckets in the room where all the families waited to get their sons and daughters.  Jenna was crying and upset for several minutes after we first got her, and on top of that, she was bundled up in two layers of clothes.  Never once did I feel her sweat, unlike everyone else in the room.
Then it became pretty clear to me that this may be an issue while we were at some friends’ house for a Super Bowl Party in early February.  Jenna was having fun playing inside and it didn’t take long for me to notice her face getting really red.  I felt her skin and it was on fire…but absolutely no sweat.
Since that memorable Super Bowl Party, there have already been many times that I’ve been out-and-about with Jenna when it’s warm outside and her face has gotten really red.  People ask me if she’s okay or they comment that she’s getting a tan (HA!)  Without going into details, I tell them she’s hot because she doesn’t sweat.
For now I feel like I am able to “control” Jenna’s environment pretty well since she is only three and with me all the time.  But there is bound to come a time as Jenna gets older when she’ll want to do activities with her friends that may be dangerous because of the heat.  And obviously, as she gets older and goes to school, camps, and participates in other activities, I'll need to educate her teachers and friends about the importance of keeping her cool when the temperatures heat up.  She may not always like this, just like a person with diabetes doesn't like to have to deal with checking blood sugar levels, but it will be necessary.
So what’s the key?
There is no one key, no magic bullet.  But aside from prayer and lots of lotion, one thing I’ve quickly learned to provide for my sweet girl that doesn’t sweat is this: WATER, WATER, WATER!
For someone that doesn’t sweat, water is a MUST.  The FIRST Foundation is a wonderful resource for people with ichthyosis, and I recently read an article about a young boy that runs cross-country.  In order to prevent him from getting overheated, his mother stands at certain places along the race course and throws gallons of water on him when he runs by her.  This is just one example of a mother with a child that has ichthyosis doing what she needs to do so that he can do what he loves to do.
And I want to do the same for Jenna now and as she grows.  Jenna loves to drink water and thankfully I already know that she loves being in water.  She jumped right in the water at a recent birthday party at a pool.  She loves her nightly bath time.  And she had a great time running through fountains at the park on Mother’sDay.  I have a feeling we’ll be spending most of our time this summer running through sprinklers or at the pool near our house.
We can't wait for the pool to open in a few days!
This was last summer when I was still dreaming of having Jenna in my arms.
Water is obviously necessary for all of us, and for Jenna, it can be a lifesaver.  But as a mom to four precious children, my greatest desire is for them to soak in the Living Water, Jesus Christ...the true life-giver and lifesaver.  In this life, they will have trouble, but with Jesus, they will never be thirsty and their souls will never run dry.  In fact, I recently heard Chris Tomlin's new song called "Waterfall."  It speaks volumes about how God is an ocean to our dry souls and His love soaks us like a waterfall.  And for someone that doesn't sweat, I think it may become Jenna's theme song.

No sweat?  With problem!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Banner Weekend, Part 1--RACE for the Orphans

The 2nd Annual RACE for the Orphans was on Saturday.  Watching over 375 runners and walkers, adults and children, from our community and beyond participate in the RACE was absolutely amazing. 


The two families that this year’s RACE supported said they have never felt more blessed.

And watching Jenna run the Tot Trot and cross the finish line with a huge smile on her face was miraculous. 

A lot of work is put into this “event” that is over within a few hours.  But I see it as more than an “event.” 

Psalm 147:10 says God's "pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man, the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love."

That is my hope for RACE for the Orphans.  It's more than a one day running's an opportunity for lives to be transformed and for the Lord to be glorified.

Only God knows whose hearts may be changed for eternity by participating in the RACE.  Only God knows what families may feel called to adopt by participating in the RACE.  Only God knows who may develop a love for running and living a healthy lifestyle by participating in the RACE.   Only God knows how many children that were once orphans will run in the RACE with their forever families. 
My heart bursts with joy at the possibilities and all I can say is…