before I forget…

Alfarado has been home for three weeks today.

HOME. ❤ How much do I love that word? He’s no longer in Haiti, far away. No longer without a family. He is home.

It’s been a rollercoaster of an adjustment, but God has been with us every step of the way. Some days are full of challenges and tantrums, others are bright and shiny with hope and happiness. But before I forget some of the sweet and cute things that have happened in these three weeks, I gotta write them down.

  • Who knew that escalators are the coolest thing ever? They. Blew. His. Mind. the day we traveled home.
  • also, going places in the van is very, very fun. After a lifetime of mostly going no further than two doors down the street for school, to be able to travel in a car on a regular basis is really neat. 🙂 He even asks if we can go places sometimes. “Ah-lay, machine, Mom?”
  • Often, when we get home after driving somewhere, he often tells me, “Good job, Mom!” as if it is a very good thing that I can drive safely there and back.
  • Curiosity is big right now with all this new stuff to see and experience: “What iz dis?” “Weh me see!” “Foh me?”
  • Having his own clothes and a place to put them is a happy thing.
  • He is obsessed with wearing socks. He didn’t wear them/have any at the creche – can you imagine the laundry for thirty kids if socks were part of the equation? Ain’t nobody got time for that. Also, don’t really need them in Haiti. Sandals work better. But here, “chosets” are awesome and we will wear them all the time, TYVM.
  • Ice cream = love.
  • He will eat rice, “wot dogs” (hot dogs), and/or spah-get-eeeee as often as we let him. Not so much into American sandwich bread, pancakes, or most carb-y breakfast foods.
  • He loves to match whatever the other boys are wearing, but prefers pants over shorts when its anything less than about 75 degrees.

and I’m sure there’s more I’m forgetting already, but I’ll be back with more.

Alfa, we’re so glad you’re here in our family. We love you so so so much. Mwen renmen anpil anpil. Forever.

the winter of long shadows

here near the 45th parallel of the earth, way north of the Equator, it’s COLD. Today the windchill in parts of Minnesota will reach 40-50 degrees below zero. This happens every year – we trade gloomy, grey days with “warmer” temps for bright, sunshiny days with no-bottom-to-the-thermometer temps.

Today is the latter. And in the winter, way up here in the northland, the sun casts loooong, long shadows. From morning til evening, the sun stays low in the sky and the grey shadows of the trees and houses and humans stretch long and lanky across the snowy landscape. They’re beautiful. The sunlight is golden and softer – not the fierce brightness of midsummer.

January and I don’t get along very well, historically. Like the scene outside, it usually casts a long shadow across my soul, and this year is no exception. Lots of hard, sad, heavy things are being carried by lots of people I know and love. I’ve been dealing with challenging things personally too, and every circle of my life seems to have some kind of drama or difficulty in it. I’m fighting for joy and trying to get my face pointing toward the sun, but the shadows are long and keep moving back over my heart.

But THIS is where I am. This is the season. As much as I dislike winter, I cannot fast-forward to spring. And while the shadows it casts are long, there is beauty here.  To keep in the light, and out of the way of the tree trunks of drama and obstacles of my own sin that are casting the shadows, I must move and adjust and reorient myself. I mustn’t get complacent or sit in a pity party, simply wishing for the shadow to pass, though it will eventually. My Savior is the Light of the World and I want my vision filled up with Him.

I’m glad that I’ve lived enough years to know that while the days are short, the nights are long, and the weather does it’s best to make me cold body and soul: winter doesn’t last forever…Aslan is on the move.

Family News, Christmas 2018

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What a ride. 2018 brought a lot of change to our family! A new home, a new daughter (officially official!), a new son (still to come all the way home to our family), a new school for the older two kids, and a new boss for Kyle. All good changes, just a LOT of them! We are thankful that in the midst of change, our God never changes and remains faithful and steadfast in His love and grace. Here’s a little look into our family’s past year:

A New Home

At the end of July, we moved to our new house, just one block down and around the corner from our old house. For soooo many reasons it probably shouldn’t have worked out for us to get our amazing house, but it did and I’m BEYOND grateful. More room for our more kids, NOT a split level, a delightful corner of a culdesac wooded lot, still in our neighborhood so our kids don’t have to make new friends, a bigger kitchen, fireplaces, and more. This house has been a huge gift in the midst of so many other things in life being a challenge and tough. You can read more about the story here. And come visit! We have an amazing guest room and lots of room for guests. We’d love to roll out the red carpet and have you stay with us!

A New Daughter

In March of 2017, a little 15 month old girl came to our house for what we thought would be a short stay as a foster placement. She never left! And this year, on November 29, we welcome Madison Trinity-Mae into our family forever. She’s now been with us for 21 months, and turned 3 the day after her adoption day! :) She is a really fun, crazy, challenging kid, and we’ve had quite the journey to arrive at this lovely destination of finalized adoption. We are so thankful that she is now for real and forever our daughter.

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A New Son

The day after Maddie’s adoption was finalized, we got word that our adoption decree for our son in Haiti had been issued by the judge in Haitian court! Along the process, we’ve hit some really frustrating delays, but things are on track for us to be able to pick him up and bring him home in mid-February, most likely. It’s been a huge blessing has been that my parents have been able to visit him almost every month this past year and we’ve been able to FaceTime with them and I got to visit again in May with him and see my parents’ home/work.

Alfarado (Al-Fah-rah-dough) Carter (or Alfa, same as Alpha) just turned 6 in November, and is spunky, sweet, goofy, and charming. I think he will fit really well into the middle of our family – he’s one of the gang at his orphanage and I hope he’ll enjoy being in a big family. We have a long road ahead of us toward attachment and becoming a family, but God has kindly given us a little preview of what that hard work looks like with Maddie. I’m praying that he picks up on English quickly and we can be the family he needs as he grows up. I’m terrified and excited. And more scared. But I know that He who led us safe this far will lead us safely home.

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The Original Three

Jack is nine, going on twelve, and is in fourth grade at a new, small charter school in our town. He’s a great kid – athletic and smart and mostly helpful and kind. ;-) He’s tall – almost five feet, and already wears size 12 pants for length. I can’t believe it. Some of his highlights from 2018: his baseball team taking second in a hard-fought tournament on a very hot weekend in July, being the best Vikings fan a Minnesotan kid can be, and getting to be a narrator in the church Christmas play this year.

Taylor is seven, our drama queen and still a lover of all things pretty-fancy-artistic-glitter-pink. She’s in first grade at the charter school and mostly likes it. :P She’s smart and is reading well and their school has a music and art focus that she LOVES: art three days a week and music or theatre every day! Taylor started ballet this fall and is enjoying it very much, and memorized a big passage of Scripture for the Christmas play.

Grant just turned five and is Mom’s little buddy. He alternately loves and drives Maddie crazy. And she him! He is huge: only two lbs. lighter than Taylor! He’s a tough cookie on the outside, but is a big ol’ marshmallow on the inside. Grant loves LEGOS and playing imaginative stuff by himself, and we really need to help him work on his fine motor skills before kindergarten next fall. (ahem.) He is in gymnastics and loves it, and wants to be a missionary and a soccer player when he grows up.

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The Old Married Couple

Kyle is still a sergeant with his dept., and has been on day shift for the past two years, which has been terrific for his health and our family. He has worked hard and been spread thin this past year, but God has sustained him and we’re being more intentional about blocking off time for soul-restoring and life-giving things. As we add kids and more activities and life gets inevitably busier, carving out “NOTHING ON THE CALENDAR” days has become important!

Kyle is developing a drone unit for his agency, continues to be an elder at our church, ran Grandma’s Half-Marathon in June, held down the fort for me to make quick trips to Haiti and Arizona, and makes time to disciple and connect with our kids a high priority. Our family is uber blessed by his love and leadership. ❤

We celebrated twelve years of marriage in September, this year with a simple and lovely dinner at a local restaurant. There are years for epic trips and years for quiet dinners. Earlier in the summer we had a fun two night getaway to New Ulm in southern MN and enjoyed touring the Schells Brewery and exploring the little town on the river.

And me (Johanna). I’m hanging in there. Kind of just along for the ride, I often feel like. I wear a lot of hats, and some of them are more glamorous than others. There’s a lot of things I don’t do well, but I love being Kyle’s wife and my kids’ mom and a friend and a sister and a daughter. God is with me, and I appreciate the love and lessons He kindly gives as I walk down the beautiful and often bumpy road He has chosen for me.

Some of the things I enjoyed most this year:

  • Homeschooling Jack and Taylor last school year (2017-18) and doing USA Geography/History with them. We had a lot of fun.
  • Visiting my parents and Alfa in Haiti in late May. I love that island. ❤
  • How quickly our house sold in June!
  • A quick family trip to Duluth, which included a fun time watching a performance of “Much Ado About Nothing” on the shores of Lake Superior with Jack, my 36th birthday, and cheering Kyle on as he ran the half marathon.
  • Making our new house a home, and having my parents here for a long visit this summer. They helped us so much!
  • Throwing kettlebells and staying fit-ish.
  • Finalizing one adoption and seeing the finish line for the last one!
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Grace that is Greater

A banner that has been over this long, rather arduous, blessing and challenge filled year is God’s great grace. We are thankful for the mighty grace of God at work in our lives. We don’t deserve it, can’t earn it, and are grateful for it. Jesus made it possible for grace to be the theme of our song: born a child and yet a King, born to reign in us forever. We look forward to all He has for us in 2019!

the miraculous and the mundane

It’s so weird how the miraculously holy and completely mundane co-exist and intertwine. Like how Jesus, the Savior of the world, was born in a barn and the whole sky shouted the news? Yeah that.

Today I’m in sweats and I’m doing laundry. Tomorrow we will stand before a judge in pretty clothes and promise to love and care for our daughter forever. And then that brief spectacular moment that changes our lives and hers forever will pass and life will go on in the everyday moments. Just like that.

And in both the holy and the mundane, Emmanuel is here. God has been and will be with us as we continue to figure out how to be good parents to the kids He has given us. What a beautiful wreck my life is.

Big magic in the mundane: big love happens in the small moments. (music credit: JJ Heller)

taylor is seven

43348586_10155507603977471_1398994805358329856_nToday you are seven, Taylor girl! Last week, you had your two front teeth taken out at the dentist because your new ones were coming in on top of them, so now you have the classic seven year old smile that we love so much. 🙂

You started first grade in September at Phoenix Academy and you’re enjoying your first “real school” experience so far. You really love art and music, so this school is a good fit for you!

It was hard for you that we moved this summer – you really loved our old house and it was the only one you’ve known! But gradually, you are coming to appreciate our new home and we’re so glad you can still play with your neighborhood friends just across the road.

Tay, you have been a spark of light and joy in our family from the minute you arrived. Your heart is big, your smile bright, your desire to create is insatiable, and your curiosity keen. You love her family, your Savior, and your friends with a passion.

Some of your favorite things this year:

  • Crafts of all kinds.
  • Making up and singing great songs about God and other things.
  • Painting your nails with Mom.
  • Playing with your friends: Morgan, Noelle, Libby, Anna, and Ella.
  • You learned to read! By the end of K, you were figuring it out. 🙂 More learning to come!
  • Making art to share with people you love.
  • Having Grandma Meri and Papa Keith here so often.
  • Special sleepovers with Grandma Char and Grandpa Rick.
  • Wearing matching outfits with Maddie – its fun to have a little sister!
  • Ballet! You started this fall and seem to enjoy it a lot.
  • Dressing up, and carefully choosing outfits.

We love you, Taylor! And we are excited to see how God will work in your heart this new year of your beautiful life. We pray you will follow Him always!

 

jackson is nine

37286641_10155349938322471_438463405838303232_nHow did our first baby grow up so quickly? Jack, you turned nine in the middle of a busy summer of packing up our home and moving to our new one just a week after your birthday.

The weekend of your party you and your North Branch Blue team fought hard at your summer baseball tournament, coming in second after losing to your arch-rivals, North Branch Navy. We’re so proud of how you left it all out there and even though your team lost the last game, you tried your best and had lots of fun.

We’re so grateful for you, Jack! God has given you a smart brain, an athletic body, a kind heart, and we are excited to see you grow and change over the next year of life He has given you.

Some of your favorite things this year:

  • The Magic Treehouse book series
  • Ninjago, StoryBots, and Swiss Family Robinson
  • Trying new foods
  • Baseball
  • Friends: Josiah, Logan, Zack, Simon
  • Ripsticking
  • Playing outside with your friends
  • Reading upside down and hanging off furniture
  • Math
  • Popsicles and ice cream bars
  • Going to the lake to swim

oh, and lets always remember how bright blue frosted make trips to the bathroom a little shocking later in the day. haha! We love you, Jack. Happy Ninth Birthday!

a quick family update: june 2018

Little Man
I was able to go visit Little Man in Haiti last month and it was wonderful to see him again! We’ve been blessed to have my mom and dad in Haiti throughout this waiting time – they’ve faithfully gone to visit him once a month, a 3-4 hour round trip from their home in Cabaret to his creche on the hill in Kenscoff. It’s been such a gift to be able to Skype with them and Little Man at those visits, but nothing compares to getting to hold him in my lap, listen to his voice, and hear his heartbeat while he sleeps. I was so glad to see how much he’s grown since December, and to hear about what he’s learning in school, and to spend time together, short though it was.

We’re praying for continued forward movement with his case in Haitian court and an adoption decree that legally makes him a Puelston before summer ends. It would be amazing to be able to bring him home before his birthday in November, but more realistically, it will probably be the end of the year.

Babiest Girl
Our foster daughter is doing so well. She’s 2.5 and full of vim and vigor. We are coming up on events this year that we did with her last year when she had first come to us and was still a big, bubbling mess of dysregulation and trauma-effects. It has been truly amazing to see how far she’s come! She stays closer, listens and obeys more quickly, has less of a hard time calming down when upset, and so many more good things. Witnessing her heart, mind and body change over the past 15 months has been an amazing thing (and challenging/frustrating thing too, TBH).

This fall, Lord willing and the paper trail is laid quickly, she’ll become our girl forever and we’ll get to introduce you to her. We will also be able to quit hiding her face behind dumb red emoji hearts. She’s stinkin’ cute, y’all. She’s one of those “so dang cute, how could you possibly ever get mad at her?” kids. But look out, because the minute after she’s charmed your socks, she’ll steal and eat your chapstick, then paint your front door with nail polish. ❤

House
We’ve been praying about moving, or adding on, or being content with the space we have in our decade-old home for about four years now. Pretty much the whole time we’ve been in the adoption process/been foster parents, we’ve felt like our walls were shrinking. A bigger number of kids in a medium-ish space will do that to ya. Also #firstworldproblems, I know.

Over the past few years we did several things to make our house work better for us, but with the reality of five kids and wanting to have space for family and friends to visit/host events for church and our neighbors, we just felt like maybe something else would be better. But nothing was coming up! We love our neighborhood, the kids are going to a school here in town in the fall, and I was not going to the trouble of a move just for something “slightly better” than what we already had going on.

But….God.

About a month ago, a house not far from us came on the market and I looked it up online. Then another house came up under the “other homes like this in your search area” heading, and I was intrigued. The asking price was kind of out of price range, but I looked at the listing anyway. It was around the corner and down the block from our house – we can actually see the trees in the backyard of that house from our front yard. They had an open house that weekend, so Kyle and I went.

We liked it. More bedrooms. More space. Bigger kitchen. A MUD ROOM. A beautiful deck. Woods. Storage space. Space for kids to play downstairs in the winter. Did I mention SPACE?

We hemmed and hawed and thought and prayed and talked to a lender and talked to my parents (who would really like a place to stay when they’re here from Haiti), then decided to just put in an offer and see what happened. A “less than asking price” offer. Which in this market is pretty much not a thing people accept. Because why would they?

The sellers took our offer, contingent on us selling our home. I cried. Happy, shocked, surprised, amazed tears.

We hustled and got our house ready to list in four days. Thankfully, there wasn’t a ton to do, but I worked my little tushie off painting and cleaning and boxing up the extra junk and putting it in the garage for those four days. Friends helped, Kyle did what he could when he wasn’t working night and day, and it came together!

Off we went for some much needed family R&R up to Duluth (already scheduled before we decided to jump on this train!) for four days. Our house went on the market, no showings for the first 3 days. Then the weekend came and we had two showings on Saturday. The first person that saw it put in a “more than asking price” offer hours later and was dead earnest about wanting our house. We accepted.

Y’all. WHAT JUST HAPPENED?

Impossible comes true, its taking over you.
Oh, this is the greatest show
We light it up, we won’t come down
And the sun can’t stop us now
Watching it come true, it’s taking over you
Oh, this is the greatest show

Just about half an hour after our realtor called us with the offer, as we were driving home from Duluth, we were listening to “The Greatest Showman” soundtrack and the title track came on. I heard the words with a new perspective, because I feel like God is putting on a big, beautiful show of His great glory and kindness right now. This whole thing isn’t something we planned or even could have imagined.

This is the greatest show on earth to me: being God’s child and watching the wonder of his plan unfold. I’ve gone through some pretty dark days and some intense anxiety, even physical manifestations of anxiety, over the past couple years. It’s not all roses and sunshine as we walk this broken earth, not by a long shot. But walking through the fire and the flood with Jesus by my side has been far more comforting than walking alone.

And now He’s held my hand as we’ve stepped out into the light of a new thing, a new day. God’s not just opening doors. He’s blowing the proverbial hinges off of them and pushing us, gently, through them. We’ll close on our house and the new one at the end of July. Thanks be to God for His kind gift. We are very, very grateful.

sunday, or the spring of open doors

Wow. So much has happened in two short months since I last wrote. It truly was the darkest before the dawn. I was hanging on for Sunday.

This is the storm, this is the storm
The storm before the calm
This is the pain, the pain before the balm
This is the cold, the cold
It’s the cold before the warm
These are the tears, the tears before the song
This is the dark
Sometimes all I see is this darkness
Well, can’t you feel the darkness
This is the dark before the dawn

And just as it has for eons, the sun arose. Answers finally came. Doors that had seemed stuck shut, finally opened. Not just opened, but basically were blasted off their hinges.

So I’m waiting for the King
To come galloping out of the clouds while the angel armies sing
He’s gonna gather His people in the shadow of His wings
And I’m gonna raise my voice with the song of the redeemed
‘Cause all this darkness is a small and passing thing

Our adoption paperwork finally was kicked loose from USCIS and is moving along in the Haitian court system! Our foster daughter’s case was finally decided – we get to move forward with adopting her! And in a surprising twist, we are moving to a new home later this summer. Bing, bang, boom. Hello, Sunday.

Spring was short in Minnesota this year. It was winter, then it was spring for about three weeks, and then summer temperatures hit and warmed everything up quickly, melted the snow, the flowers bloomed, and the trees BURST into green. Our family’s story has mirrored this new season, just as it had mirrored the long winter – new beginnings, fresh sunshine of grace, doors flung open to welcome the beauty and warmth of YES.

I imagined the sorrow of the disciples and Jesus’ closest friends as he laid in the tomb, but I can also picture their absolute rapture and joy when they learned that He HAD risen JUST AS HE SAID. When the tomb door was pushed aside, and the grave clothes they had wrapped his broken body in just days before lay empty…when it dawned on them that what He had said was true – I can imagine the awestruck wonder.

The past ten days have been a wild ride of God opening doors to a new home for our growing family, but I’ve been in awestruck wonder and slightly giddy joy over what He is doing: a new thing. I feel like I couldn’t stop this train even if I wanted to – God is clearly at the throttle and we are excited to be along for the ride. Deepest valleys, highest mountaintops – this journey has been intense, but beautiful.

I’m so grateful for Sunday. Thankful for resurrection. Undeniably aware of the dawn.

I had a dream that I was waking
At the burning edge of dawn
And I could see the fields of glory
I could hear the sower’s song

I had a dream that I was waking
At the burning edge of dawn
And all that rain had washed me clean
All the sorrow was gone

I had a dream that I was waking
At the burning edge of dawn
And I could finally believe
The king had loved me all along

I had a dream that I was waking
At the burning edge of dawn
I saw the sower in the silver mist
And He was calling me home