Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Forgotten

Let's all be honest with ourselves...I'm not very good at this blog thing. I will never be one of those people who have sponsors that pay a person for their blog. So I will make no promises here today that I officially commit to my blog or that I will do a better job of keeping my "followers" (sounds like a cult when you say it that way) updated. Don't expect it.

There I said it. The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.

It's been nine months today since my mom passed away after her short but hard fought battle with leukemia. I woke up this morning feeling down. Feeling defeated, but God wanted to use this day for good. I can feel him all around me, moving my heart. I do my devotions at night, which I'm thinking I need to change, because the first two articles I read on Facebook were about the mission of foster care/adoption. Then my car ride dropping kids off at various schools was full of worship music talking about miracles, God's unmatchable capabilities and how HE is always there. It was just the pep talk I needed to realize that I'm the luckiest person I know to have the influence of my mom for 30 years.

My mom's purpose in life? To be the best mother/grandma in the world and to glorify God in her life. And what legacy has she left for me to follow? To be the best mother that I can be and to glorify God in my life.

So where does that put us? It's been awhile since we've left an update of our adoption journey and ALOT has changed. Ethiopia is at a stand still. For four months there was not ONE referral of any child to any family. A complete stalemate. We cried, we vented..and we waited.

Much to our surprise, we started feeling the stir towards foster care. We prayed about it and really felt directed to get our foster license. The wait time for our Ethiopian adoption was stretching towards another 2 year wait for our referral, and we really felt it was time to bring another child into our home. September 26th we started the 9 week training session towards getting our foster care license. We just finished our 6th week last night and will be officially licensed foster care parents on November 28th. We are so excited for what this potentially means for our family in the next few months!

So you may be wondering about what this means for Ethiopia. Well, within the last week 2 referrals of baby girls were given from our agency!!! These were such exciting emails to get. That means that we are currently #41 on the Ethiopian waiting list to receive a referral. It also means that if this trend continues, it will still be another year before we receive a referral, and then approximately another 4 months before we would bring her home. Our agency only asks that we wait a year between bringing new children into our home, which should not affect either any foster placements or our adoption.

Our hearts have just been rocked by the foster care system in the last 2 months. There are nearly 500,000 children in the United States waiting for a family to call their own. At no fault of their own, they are placed in foster care or group homes because their parents were unable to care for them due to drug/alcohol abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, mental illness, etc.

Most international adoption cases I've come upon are due to poverty, illness, or even death due to these situations. But in our wealthy, powerful nation we have children without parents due to situations that have caused them to see or experience trauma beyond what many of us can imagine. My heart breaks for these children whose innocence has been taken from them against their will. And my heart breaks for their parents who are so lost and alone that they will do anything to numb the pain. Most likely, the parents witnessed or experienced the same pain they are inflicting on their own children, but don't know how to break the cycle.

Nick and I are hoping to foster either a single child or a pair of siblings up to 3 years of age.

Do the math...

That technically means that within the next year, we could double the size of our little crew of kids. Does this scare me...yes, a little. But at the same time, I've never been more convinced that this is the mission that God has called and equipped Nick and I to do since the moment we asked Jesus to come into our lives. My prayer is that His heart for the "least of these" would become my heart. He is rocking our world and our view of what we want our legacy to be.

What do you want to be remembered for?

"...if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame." Isaiah 58:10, 11

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Batman and Roger...

I never thought this day would come. For 7 years now, my life has been solely dedicated to meeting the various needs of babies.

But things are changing...

The diapers are packed away and unneeded. The pacis have been tossed into the trash. There's no more midnight feedings or lifting a little one out of its crib to comfort. No more stroller rides, baby swings, high chairs, onesies, etc.

My baby is three today! Its such a momentous occasion and so bittersweet. I used to look at envy at the moms who could sit on the park bench as their children played, while I ran around corraling two toddlers with a baby on my hip. I dreamed for the day when backyard play meant I actually got to sit in the lawn chair with a good book that I had all set up waiting for me when I got a moments break.

Those times never came and I went to bed exhausted and praying for a second of peace for tomorrow.

But the time has finally come for me to sit...and sit...and sit and wait for my kids to ask me to join them. It's bittersweet because I do enjoy the quiet and the moments to catch up on good book, but I miss their need for me. I miss them asking me to push them, play with them, talk to them. They don't need me anymore, they have the neighbors and cousins and other playmates. Wrigley has moved on past diapers and pacis. He would rather jump on the trampoline with a friend than bounce with me.

But he still has his moments, usually when he's tired. Then he puts his arms up like a little baby to be held and holds my ears...

Wrigley's due date was September 11th but because all my other births were c-sections, he would be a repeat as well. My delivery date was set for September 4th and even though my mom personally begged the doctor to move it to September 3rd (her 50th birthday)he said he wouldn't operate on Thursdays...so the 4th it was.

Somewhere around the 26th I started getting really itchy. There was no rash but my hands and the palms of my feet were unbearably itchy. My doctor told me to take some Benadryl to relieve the itchiness in case it was an allergic reaction.

It didn't work and the next day the doctor decided to do some more research. That night Nick's best friend, Greg, offered to babysit the kids so we could go on one final date before the delivery of our third child. While at dinner, my ob called and informed me that my liver was leaking into my blood stream and that our best option was to deliver the baby sooner. We made plans for that Saturday, August 30th.

The morning I was to deliver was uneventful. Nick and I left around 6 am and went to a nearly deserted hospital because of the weekend. Everything went according to plan and by 8:30 I was in the operating room.

Based on my other deliveries, I knew that my baby would be out in 10 minutes and I would be in recovery within 30. However, I didn't know that my uterus had already ruptured and that my poor baby boys hair was visible when they opened me up. I should have known when my experienced doctor said, "What is that?" That something was not right.

It took 3 times longer than expected and at 9:32 a.m. my little Wrigley James Kellerstrass was born. After another hour and a half in the operating being sewn back up, I was in the recovery room waiting to be reunited with my new son.

During this time, Nick had rolled Wrigley out to meet his big brother and sister. They were anxiously waiting with their Grandmas and Grandpas to meet their new little man and learn his name. Someone asked Amra what she thought of her new baby brother and her response, "He's a mess!!!"

Fast forward three years and I think this still identifies my crazy baby. He is ALL boy and is as active as they come. He is all fun and loves to laugh. As the third, he's my most laid back kid with a great sense of humor. But I'll tell you one thing, he's the one that has me constantly scratching my head thinking where did that kid come from? He is another species all together...his father's species.

We love you so much Wrigley James and although you constantly keep me on my toes, you are a true blessing from God and I am the luckiest person ever to be able to call you my son. Happy 3rd Batman Birthday, my little Wriggsy Piggs!!!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

3 months in five minutes...

or ten. I tend to be long winded. Since the end of May, we have made huge strides in our adoption. Every time we checked another box off our timeline list of things to do, I felt guilty that I didn't put it on the blog. But like I said yesterday, I didn't feel much like opening my soul to the world, so I just kept to myself. But now is the time to catch everyone up to where we currently stand.

On May 23rd, we had our fingerprint appointment with Homeland Security. These fingerprints are run through the FBI to make sure we are not big time criminals. Luckily, we passed...besides a few tickets, Nick and I are pretty upstanding citizens. The fingerprint appointment made for a nice weekend in Chicago where we took the kids to a Children's Museum, Chicago-style pizza at Giordanos and the highlight of the trip: swimming in the hotels hot tub (someone threw up in the pool so we were restricted to the hot tub...the kids didn't mind).

Two weeks after our fingerprints were taken, we received our I-171H, which is a VERY important document for an adoption and the LAST document we needed to complete our dossier!!! My friend Danae and I took a Friday afternoon to drive to Springfield to get all of our documents authenticated and to have a nice lunch.

Danae and I found a Thai restaurant that earned rave reviews and we decided to try it out. After driving to the ends of Springfield, we finally found the abandoned looking shack of a restaurant. In front of the restaurant was a run down minivan with the license plate POO VAN. We looked at each other in half horror and half humor and decided to book it out of there. We did another quick internet search and discovered they had moved the restaurant downtown. We ended up having lunch there and it was delicious, but I will always have POO VAN seared in my mind.

I'd heard rumors that almost everyone has to make two trips due to a document not be completed correctly...and this rang true for us, too. So, Monday afternoon I packed up the kids and made the return trip to Springfield to get our last document authenticated and shipped off our dossier to Children's Hope International, our adoption agency. It was an AMAZING feeling to have everything I was able to do completed.

For two weeks we waited for the documents to be shipped to the embassy in Washington D.C. During that time we had our fundraiser, Operation 127. We were able to take our new friend Kathy's house and in one day we repainted her living room, dining room, and kitchen, installed new countertops, painted and installed new hardware for her cabinets, painted the entire exterior of her home, and installed a permanent air conditioner for her. We were so blessed to be working alongside 30 volunteers of our family and best friends. It was a wonderful day for all, and helped raise $4200 towards our adoption. Talk about blown away!

On June 24th we got the news. I was so excited to open the e-mail...we were officially a waiting family!!! It is such a wonderful feeling! We were #44 on a list that includes those adopting boys, girls, and sibling groups. In reality, it meant we were further on the list, but how far we are not sure. They told us that the wait time was typically 12-15 months. We were hopeful for a much shorter time and that within a year we would be bringing our little girl home.

Many uneventful weeks went by and we were happy to wait without any responsibility on my shoulder of things I needed to do. Unfortunately, we noticed there were not any referrals being given in the meantime. We waited and waited but nothing. At the end of July, we received an upsetting email from our agency. Do to some issues in Ethiopia, the government was closing down 18-20 orphanages in Southern Ethiopia so that they could begin to focus more on humanitarian aid. The children were all moved into other orphanages, but referrals were being stopped for the moment. I felt defeated again.

Adoption is an emotional journey. There are so many moments of excitement, moments of waiting, and more moments of disappointment. I'd heard it all, but thought for sure our journey would be a smooth one...I guess I am not the exception :)

Currently we are still waiting and in two months we've moved one spot. #43. To me it seems so unreal and like it will never happen. I'm so used to getting pregnant, feeling instantly bonded to the life inside of me and knowing that in 38 precious weeks, I will hold my baby forever and ever. Adoption is so different. Nick says its like a period in a pregnancy where guys kind of disconnect from it all because they don't have the same bonding feeling. They kind of forget about the pregnancy it is not all consuming for them. I guess I'm just getting to experience how all my pregnancies felt to Nick. It's hard, especially for a control freak, however I'm learning all about God's perfect timing.

I'm learning that right now not having to stress about timelines and paperwork and just waiting without an end in sight is a great way for me to continue to focus on myself and heal. So at this point, my prayer is that we will bring our little girl home in the next year or so, but we will patiently wait and see.

Please be in prayer for the orphans in Ethiopia who really would love to be with a forever family and whose cases are being stalled due to the government shutdown. Also be in prayer for the people of Africa who are facing one of the worst drought and famine they have had in decades. These are our brothers and sisters around the world and they need our prayers and support!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

If I say I'm sorry, will you take me back...

It's been almost a year since I first started this blog. A chance to take the down the walls surrounding our little family and share the journey to bringing our daughter home from Ethiopia. A way to share the ups and downs of our daily walk and to be honest about the emotional struggles of highs and lows that we were to experience. But also a way for friends and family to follow this process and to know how to pray for us each step of the way.

I never intended to drive our blog into the ground...

But I also never intended the Titanic size year that we would have and how many emotions (good, bad, UGLY) that we would go through. I never knew that we would experience the life altering year that battered us to rag dolls. I never expected that I would be so raw that the only thing that I really wanted to do was dig a hole and escape.

Avoidance became my coping mechanism. In general, I'm a selfish person. I like my "free time" in the afternoon while the kids take some quiet time for themselves. I like to have my nights at home staring at the tv with Nick at my side. It's not really romantic, but just being together is enough.

But even as a selfish person, I try my best to help others out. I enjoy being a hostess in my home to friends and family. I enjoy taking care of kids while their parents are able to run errands, enjoy a morning off, or just take a breather for a bit. I like being there for someone who just needs someone to talk to. But this summer was different.

This summer I dropped off the face of the earth. Not in a depressed, hopeless way, but as a way to allow myself time to grieve. I gave my kids all of my attention and did not seek to satisfy any one else's needs. It all seems so selfish, but it was so needed.

This summer was not pretty, not by any means. I struggle with emotions, especially sadness. I HATE to cry. It makes me feel sick, ugly, and then even worse than I did before because I feel sick and ugly. My sadness comes out in anger and avoidance towards people who I feel most vulnerable too.

Unfortunately, the people I care the most about receive the biggest brunt of my anger. My husband, my children, my family, and my closest friends. In July after yelling at Nick for probably the 100th time that day, he confronted me about it. To me, it's just venting and letting that deep hurt out, but to him its a constant stab and cut to him and all that he does for me.

That night laying in bed, I started thinking about all that I was feeling and realized that I was affecting my relationships and I could do something about it. I may have been in an abyss of pain and sadness, but I didn't have to drive the people I care most about away. In fact, I needed them close to me. In that moment, I decided that in order save what I hold most dear, I needed to let my mom go and move forward.

It's the thing that is the hardest to do. To say you are moving on, is to say that you accept this life without her and that it's ok. It's saying that you are forgetting the very memory of the person whose biggest request is that they not be forgotten. It almost feels like you are turning your back on the person you just wish could be with you all the time.

But it's not. It's a tribute. It's saying I'm going to keep living because she would want me to. She wouldn't want me feeling angry at the world on her behalf, she'd want me to take my kids in my arms and kiss them thousands of times and hug them so hard that there is no mistake that I love them. She'd want me to honor and respect my husband and to be the God-fearing wife and mother that she was to us. She'd want me to embrace my friends and not run from them. She'd want me to be an example of the woman that she raised me to be.

That was six months after her death and it was like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I couldn't carry that longing pain anymore.

I'm not sorry for the selfish way I spent my summer. If anything, it healed a broken family from the unstable ground we had been walking for two years. Healing is beginning in myself, my husband, my children, our family. We will walk out of this stronger, better, and closer to Jesus.

I am sorry that I let so much time pass and so many major steps go by in our adoption without sharing them with all of you. I look forward to reopening our blog and sharing with all of you what we've been up to and where we are in the process. We are so grateful to each one of you for your prayers, support, and patience as we dealt with circumstances far out of our control. We relish the day that we get to bring home our little girl whose name will represent the woman I most wanted to be...my mom.

PS Here is a song I wanted to share with you all that has been in my heart this summer.

Friday, July 8, 2011

My Grief Observed...

It's been 5 months.

Five months of sadness that still takes my breath away. Every day there is a new memory made without her.

And it's like a slap in the face.

Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Birthdays, Fourth of July: all of the firsts...are like a reminder that it is just the beginning of the last. Sometimes these celebrations seem so bleak and I just want to scream, "I don't want to live the rest of my life like this! I don't want this to be the first of what will always be missing. I don't want a life without her!!!"

It's hard to celebrate momentous occasions or celebrate the milestones we've made in our adoption because the first person I want to tell is not there. My mom was the only person who gets as passionately worked up and emotionally involved in the things that I get passionately worked up and emotionally involved in.

But she's not here to call.

When I think about that last night, it knocks the wind out of me. It's so hard to get past certain thoughts and moments that it's easy to forget to start breathing and I feel hyperventilation creeping in. It's in those moments I have to completely shut off my mind and stop the flow of memory. It's a suffocating feeling.

People don't ask about her anymore. They don't mention her. They apologize if they accidentally say "your mom and dad." There's always an awkward silence whenever I mention my mom in the present, like "my mom does this or that,", "my mom's house", "that's my mom's favorite...". No one means anything by it, they just don't want to hurt my feelings. But she is my mom, my best friend, and I don't want people to forget.

I don't want to move on. And this is the struggle in my journey.

It's hard to accept that there is a reason and God's timing is best. The earthly pain of it all is hardly bearable. If I let it consume me, I just have to close my eyes and sleep because I can't stand the sadness.

There is some comfort though.

I was looking right at her as she took her last breath. And the palpable feeling that her soul immediately left her body, filled the room. I'd heard the stories, but to witness this spiritual transformation was a moment of peace.

There is peace because I know where that soul went. My mom is not dead, she is more than alive. She has a new body with no hurt, no pain, no sickness...no sadness. And though I weep down here, she intercedes on my behalf that I would rejoice knowing she is with our Father. And someday, I will see her again.

PS. I didn't fall off the face of the earth. I'm just taking a life sabbatical: spending time with my kids and husband and seeking God in the process.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Happy Birthday Monkey Girl...

At 5:30 a.m., we crossed the bridge. Silently we sat...

fingers interlocked. Stomachs fluttering.

We'd waited for this day for 9 months. 38 weeks to be exact. The day our first little girl would be born. It was a scheduled c-section. Estimated time of birth? 7:00 a.m.

No labor. No pain.

A very structured, Type A birth for a very structured, Type A personality. My dream birth story.

They wheeled me upstairs (which always makes me feel awkward because I'm perfectly capable of walking to the elevator myself) and take me to the waiting room.

For those of you who don't know, the pre-labor waiting room is ridiculously small. This is not like your standard labor, delivery, and post birthing room where there is room for an entire army. There is room for one hospital sized bed, the heartbeat monitor and a couple stools. It's cramped and lucky for us, we were only going to be stuck in there about a 1/2 hour.

They hooked me up to the monitor, took my health history, read me the risks of a cesarean, and I signed my life away. Literally. Ten minutes until take off...

And then the unthinkable. Some other pregnant lady decided to have an emergency of her own and take up the entire surgical room! How could someone bust in on my perfect schedule and push everything back another 2 hours!!! Not only that but the fluids they kept pumping in my IV made me need to visit the bathroom every 15 minutes (which is not easy to do in a hospital gown while pulling an IV pole.)

I was aggravated.

But when they came in and said another woman had an emergency, and then a THIRD, I just had to laugh in humor. I lay in bed trapped by my gown that made it far to embarrassing to leave the tiny cave of a room. Nick couldn't handle the claustrophobia any longer and had to leave. My mom and Nick's mom took turns keeping me company...and we just waited.

All afternoon...

Finally at 3:00 p.m., nine and a half hours after our journey to the hospital began they walked me to the operating room. Yes, I walked. I needed to move.

It took fourteen minutes and at 3:14 p.m. our beautiful little Amra Grace was welcomed to this world. She came with a thick head of beautiful black hair and full lips that made the prettiest pout. And that day she became our "little monkey girl."

Amra brings so much joy and happiness into our home...not to mention drama (she IS a girl). But she is the sweetest, cuddliest little girl and I will never forget the first time I held her in my arms and knew that I would spoil that little girl rotten.

Happy 5th Birthday Amra Grace, we love you so much and are so blessed to call you our daughter!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Best Decision of My Life...

On May 20, 2000, I walked out my parents' front door and took a step into a new life. I hopped into the old beaten up green Bronco, Nick's first car, and took in a deep breath. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw the dress bag. The enormous white dress and its beautiful train completely covered the back window.

It was hard to believe the day I'd been waiting for my entire "short" life had come. I started the engine, put it in drive and pushed on the gas. As I headed full speed into adulthood...an epiphany.

Des'ree voice came over the speakers and the whole way to the church I sang this song:

I walked down that aisle with full confidence that I was making the best decision of my life.

There wasn't a dry eye in the house...except for mine.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The City of Addis...

In awe that I get to bring my daughter home from this beautiful country, culture, and people. Inspires me more to never let her forget where she is from. We are getting so close and it still feels so surreal. The excited little butterflies are beginning to flutter in my stomach, she's one day closer to being home!

The City of Addis - A short documentary from Session 7 Media on Vimeo.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Follow the Yellow Brick Road...

Many are asking..."So...where are you on this adoption journey?"

Good question. And I have answers.

After a fast paced start and a looooong winter of waiting, we've finally made some progress. Things that may seem little to others are actually BIG steps forward for those going through an adoption. We finished our home study back in February but it took a couple weeks for the state to approve the document. Then you have to send in an application to Immigration and Home Land Security for fingerprints. That application took another couple weeks, and then they send you an appointment to get the actual fingerprints taken.

Not like the instant response from e-mail, text, and facebook. No, we are talking snail mail here, people.

Anyway, our fingerprint date is May 23rd. While we are waiting for the fingerprints, I am collecting the final documents and paperwork needed for our dossier (the paperwork sent to Ethiopia for government approval). This is the last big step! Our hope is to get our fingerprints back by the middle of June and send these along with our dossier to our agency...

And then we wait...and wait...and wait some more.

The current waiting time for a referral for an infant girl has been ranging around 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 months. That means we could be receiving a match and picture of our little girl around December! It still seems so surreal and far away for us, but we know that every waiting minute leads us closer.

In the meantime we are doing little things like: getting our passports - check, preparing the house and nursery - check, and planning Service Projects/Fundraisers.

In case you haven't heard, Nick and I, along with 28 other volunteers of friends and family are doing a Service Project based on James 1:27, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from becoming polluted by the world."

On June 11, we are doing an "Extreme Home Makeover" type work project for a local widow. We are planning to repaint the entire interior and exterior of her home, replace the flooring, cabinets, and countertops, and other various home projects that her house needs. We are looking for people to sponsor our work day. 100% of the gifts donated will go to help support both the work day and our adoption fund.

If you are interested in supporting "Operation 127", please send tax deductible donations to I CARE, Inc. PO Box 1603 Bel Air, MD 21014. Please designate Nick and Erin Kellerstrass in the memo of your check, or you may donate online at www.intlcare.org.

Thank you so much for your ongoing prayers and financial support. We have been incredibly blessed by the outpouring of love from those closest to us and those we don't even know!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Meeting of God...

Only He could have coordinated a meeting like this.

This is something I'm so sure of that I revel in the excitement of what this could mean.

For her. For us. For our child.

We wanted to help but everywhere we looked we couldn't find someone in need. We tried churches, we asked friends and family, we even called The Salvation Army. Those doors all closed. But we prayed that we could help someone who truly needed and wanted help.

And we waited.

She was at home. Praying. Seeking peace. She woke up determined to let her heart move on past the grief. It's been two years and he still leaves shadows throughout her house.

It took her a week to paint one bedroom wall...and another to recover. She was unable to brighten the home that held so many memories. Memories that kept her from embracing life alone. The only thing that she could change were the pictures hanging that served as a constant reminder.

It was time to take initiative. She reached out to a close friend and told her that the only way she knew she could move forward was to update and brighten her home. And that close friend knew just the people who wanted to help.

A month ago we didn't know Kathy. We didn't know her story and we didn't know her need.

But God did.

She is now a dear friend of ours and someone that I can relate to. A loss so overpowering that sometimes just putting the pictures away means something more significant. To realize that life after death is not just a betrayal but a necessary step.

We aren't just helping Kathy get new flooring, new cabinets and countertops, and an entirely new paint job. We are helping her find her life again, and she is helping me to find mine.

It's a meeting only He could have coordinated.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Vitamin D for the Soul...

I've been taking a break. A time to reflect. A time to laugh with my children, connect with my husband, and engage in friendships that I've been missing.

I haven't been writing because I'm finding the joy in life.

The sun, the green grass, the warm breezes - they all remind me that there is a life worth living here. A life full of love and happiness. There will always be sadness, but there is healing in the pain.

We are another step closer to bringing home another child to call our own. The homestudy is complete! The Immigration application is sent, and we are just waiting to be invited to be fingerprinted. Our documents sit neatly in order in a manila folder waiting to be notarized, certified, and apostilled and sent to Ethiopia.

Our family waits in eager prayer for the little picture and name of our daughter waiting for us in another country. My heart leaps knowing its closer. My kids talk about her as if she is already here and a part of our family.

We have big plans for an exciting fundraiser that we are putting together. That will come later, but for now we stand in awe at the feet of One who has brought every penny we've needed.

Our journey is a total God story, and I'm grateful to know that "if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us?"

Monday, April 4, 2011

New Perspective...

"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging...Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." Psalm 46:1-3, 10

I see the world through a new set of eyes.

I am "relearning" how to live. There has been a paradigm shift in the way my life runs. I no longer wake up and call my mom to tell her who got up in the night, discuss American Idol, or complain about the rushed morning I had. I no longer end my day at the hospital visiting for hours and spending precious moments with my parents.

It's a new routine and a new set of rules.

I'm finding the void is impossible to fill, but God's grace is sufficient. He has sent comfort in the form of new friends and renewed relationships. That void will never be filled but it helps dull the pain.

I've seen the vapor that this life is...how it can be snuffed out in an instant. And I feel the urgency of sharing the gospel of my Christ with those around me. There is a harvest of unbelievers hungering for the Word of God, and they don't even know it yet.

There is a stirring in my soul and a desire for people to know the love, peace, and hope that I have.

I can feel joy bubbling in my heart again, and I know that HE is good. HIS promises are true, and HE has never given more than I could bear.

I know my strength. I know what I can handle. And I know that HE is with me.

HE has big plans for me, Nick, and my kids. We are moving forward, and my heart begins to overflow with excitement.

We are waiting. Waiting to put a face to a name. Waiting to enter another world, meet another life, and bring her into our home to fill a missing puzzle piece of the children intended to be in our family.

"Oh my God, He will not delay. My refuge and strength, always. I will not fear, His promise is true, My God will come through always. Always."

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Thorn in My Flesh...

I need to write a book.

It would be called "To Do List: A Grieving Handbook for Mom's with Young Children, Full Time Jobs and No Time to Think." The cover would have a piece of paper with words written in grocery list form that goes something like this:

7:00 Wake up Kids
7:15 Make Breakfast, Brush Kids Teeth, Pack Lunches
8:00 Drop off at School
8:15 Start Laundry
8:30 Grocery Shopping
11:00 Lunch
11:30 Tears and Memories
11:32 Break up Fight

No one told me that going through this process of grief is impossible with three small kids, working full-time, being a wife, homework, adoption paperwork, etc., etc. No one prepared me for the onslaught of emotions that would roller coaster through my day, not by me, but by my three babies.

No one told me that one would yell at me, treat me like dirt, and then the next second cling to me for comfort. No one told me that my optimistic child would be talking about how lucky grandma is to be flying with the angels and the next almost break into tears when she hears her grandma's voice on the voicemail. No one told me that my 2 year old would suddenly want to sleep all the time as a coping mechanism to a traumatic event.

And yet this is the daily grind in my house working out our feelings with the absence of Grandma here.

I've got numbness down. If that was the one and only stage of grief, I'd be a pro. Honestly, I walk around in a daze most of the time doing my tasks. Playing a game, making lunch, making snack, doing laundry, picking up toys. Those things are easy, they don't require any feeling.

I've been struggling with severe insomnia. I will lie in my bed awake...all night. I will watch the hours tick by without one wink of sleep. I don't think about things, my mind isn't racing. But I've been told it is. In fact, my mind is working so hard to block out things that I just can't rest. I've resorted to taking sleeping pills for the last week after 3 nights of no sleep.

Sometimes I think I'm losing my mind. I forget the most common things. I forget to make arrangements for Owen to get to picked up from school. Or I forget that I did make arrangements and pick him up anyway. I forget to fill out homework or permission slips. I forget groceries that are written out clearly on my list. It's bizarre.

The other day I was at my wits end and I cried out to God. And He responded through two people (my wise husband and the great James MacDonald) with the same verse. "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given to me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:7

The thorn that Paul is referring to is an enduring source of personal pain. A thorn can be a physical ailment, a death, a bad decision that brings a lifetime of consequences, or some other problem that will not leave you. 2 Corinthians never specifically says what Paul's "thorn" in his life is, but it was something causing him great pain. I have two "thorns" in my life, they will remain nameless (they are not actually people), but have caused many trials, pain, and suffering. And the one thing I have noticed about these thorns is that they won't seem to go away.

I've been reading Job because I feel like he is a great example of how to keep the faith even when you feel like your whole world has been shaken and taken away from you. I find it interesting that Satan is given permission to hurt Job by God, but he cannot take Job's life. This testing is Job's thorn.

Thorns are sent by Satan to harrass and torment us, but must first be allowed by God. But why would God allow us to go through the torture and harrassment of Satan? It seems so cruel! God's goal in allowing the thorn is to use it for good. Otherwise, he would not allow it. God knew that Job was faithful and would not turn away from him even if he lost everything near and dear to him, including his wife and children. God has promised not to test us beyond what we can bear. "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear." 1 Corinthians 10:12, 13

So what shall I do with this? It's hard to accept hardships. I definitely don't welcome it with open arms. I usually pray, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me." Like Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39). But I NEVER follow up with "Yet not my will, but yours be done." How many times have I asked God to take away the pain and yet never tried to figure out why He was allowing it.

I need to really follow Christ's example when it comes to honoring God in my response. He says, "Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" (John 18:11) Have I not been preaching how great God is? Have I not made my faith known in a good God who loves me unconditionally? I am risking all I have claimed to believe to come crashing down around me. Am I going to accept the cup given to me or am I going to run and hide from the seemingly never-ending testing in my life.

But Jesus' still small voice says, "My grace is sufficient for you." God's undeserved favor for me will get me through the deepest of trials. And that is the necessity of my thorns. Until I see my need for His grace, then I will never lean on Him and let him take control of my struggles.

I want to close with a quote from James MacDonald in his "When Trials Never End" series. It's what gets me through those days when the thorn feels more like a crown pressing down on my head causing deep scars and throbbing pain than just a prick in my finger. "Be content with your thorn. Submit and embrace it. Live your life with the thorn, because you love Christ so much."

What are your thorns? How can you honor God and boast your need for him.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sunday, March 13, 2011

You Are Mine...

Sometimes the truth hurts. Sometimes what is real is so hard to take that we hide behind a facade. There are no facades here because the feelings are too raw.

March marks the one year "anniversary" of the darkest time in my life.

I'm not usually a sad person. I typically am happy and try to find the good in every situation. Sure, I can be a cynic at times, but I tend to be more optimistic. That being said, depression is not a struggle of mine. I hardly find myself "down in the dumps". A year ago, this was not true. But that was not a mental depression.

This was spiritual.

One thing that you will learn about me is that I am stubborn. Not slightly...but absurdly stubborn.

After a year of ups and downs with my mom's health, Nick's career, the uncertainty of what our futures held in ministry, I had decided that enough was enough. I was not going to take the risk of allowing any more testing or trials in my life.

I was exhausted of never knowing what lay around the next corner. Not knowing what tomorrow would bring. Exhausted of feeling out of control and unsettled for months on end.

I drew my line in the sand.

I picture a young child who has just been told to do something she does not want to do. First, she simply says, "No." After seeing that this mild disobedience is not being received by the parent, the child raises her voice and says, "NO!" After continuing to seeing that her answer is being denied and she must still complete the task she's been given, what does she do?

She turns her back, covers her ears, and closes her eyes. This was me.

I shut God out. It was too much of a risk to allow Him near me. If I did my devotions and read my Bible, I was going to feel convicted to continue each struggle in faith. In my prayer time, I felt that I wasn't trusting God with control over my life and all its circumstances. I turned my back completely so that God would have no access to me.

Of course, we all know that turning our backs does not take away God's power and control over this life, but sometimes He does back off so that we can learn some hard lessons in our rebellion.

I was miserable. God was nowhere in my life. I could feel it and those closest to me could see it.

During this time, I was cleaning houses with my sister-in-law, Jill. We had so many conversations about the struggles I was having and the anger that burned in me. How I just didn't know how to trust God, and that I didn't want to. It was during one of these conversations that she quoted a line from C.S. Lewis' book "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe." When describing Aslan (who is a metaphor for Jesus), it is said:

"Aslan is not safe, but He is Good."

This statement grabbed on to me. I'm not the most theologically wise person, not even close, so at first I stumbled over what these words meant. The more I thought about them, the more I realized what the author was saying.

Christianity was never meant to be the easy way. We were never promised wealth, fame, health, and good fortune. In fact, Christ said that we must daily suffer and take up our cross (Luke 9:23) and that we would face hardships of many kinds (Acts 14:22). He says that we will be tested and tried in our faith (James 1:12), and that the road is narrow.

Our goal in this life is to be refined into His likeness. God is pure holiness, and He uses tests and trials of all kinds to build our faith and reliance on Him to get through those times. So when we have persevered through those challenging times we will be more like Him than before.

After months of mulling over this idea and finally accepting that God has called me to a season of testing, I realized that He did this because He demands perfection in order to be in His presence. I am not perfect by a LONG, LONG, LONG shot, and He knows that. This is why He sent Jesus to die on the cross for my sin, to take my imperfection and replace it with His perfection. And why did he do this?

Because He loves me.

I was looking at God as a tyrant. As some big bully in the sky who decided to deal out some misfortune in my life as if He were up there rolling the dice in a game of chance. I sometimes wondered if He was chuckling at each little obstacle He put in my way.

But He wasn't.

His heart was hurting as much as mine was. He hates to see His children in pain, but He does it as discipline and training because He loves us. I think of my own kids and how I must discipline them to teach them to make better choices next time. I don't do it with an evil laugh or because I can lord it over them. In fact, I HATE sending my kids to time out or grounding them from a special event. Why? Because I love them, and I hate to see the tears that fall when they've lost something special. It's the same with God.

And I never realized it.

Last summer, I had my own personal revival. I fell in love with Jesus again, like I hadn't in a long time. I saw Him in a new light and knew that He loved me. And because I loved Him, I could abandon all control and know that I can trust Him in every trial.

I'm writing this tonight because I'm angry.

I see myself shaking my fist at God and asking "Why? God, Why?" Were these trials for nothing? Did I not gain anything but only lose tremendously. I feel the child in me stomping my feet on the floor, crossing my arms and sticking my tongue out. He's not playing fair.

"Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness...But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve." Joshua 24:15

This verse echoed in my mind throughout the day today. I've been lacks in my devotionals and prayer time. Call it busyness or just mere stubborness. (I think its mostly the latter.) I'm angry, and I've been choosing to serve the child wallowing in self-pity. It doesn't feel good.

"But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

Today I will choose the Lord.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Blessed Be Your Name...

Saturday I posted a blog directing you to a link announcing the issues in Ethiopia regarding adoptions. I'm not going to candy coat how this affected me.

I was defeated. I've been pushing forward because I was ready for something good to happen finally. But then we got the news.

Now being the pessimist that I am, I immediately turned this into the "end of the world." I threw my hands in the air and said, "I guess its time to give up, they are just going to end up closing down the country."

I was angry and confused and ready to throw in the towel. Then I began questioning, "God I thought this was what YOU wanted us to do." "Why does everything have to be so hard?" (hear the whine?) "Why do I keep getting the rug pulled out from under me?"


There may have been a few underlying issues that contributed to my momentary insanity, but God decided that maybe I had had a bit much lately. In His mercy, He decided to kindly, calmly remind me that HE is still standing right here beside Nick and I as we journey to bring home our little girl.

We got the original e-mail Friday night right before bed...bad timing. I literally lay awake all night thinking about what this meant not only for us, but for our little girl waiting for us, and for the millions of other orphans in Ethiopia waiting for a family to call their own. Saturday morning brought alot of tears and emotions and sleepless pity parties. It was a wonderful day in the neighborhood on our street!

By noon, I was wiped clean of all energy. I went to the mailbox and found an envelope from DCFS. It was our Foster Care License...we'd been approved!!! In case you don't know how this arduous process works, you have to have a Home Study and 10 Hours of training with a state social worker before you can be approved for adoption. Along with this you will receive a foster care license...so no, at this point we are not pursuing foster care but are licensed :)

I felt like God was saying..."remember timing is everything." It felt like reassurance that even though each step is tiny, we are moving forward and should continue to do so. The peace that overflowed through my body was welcomed and I took a peaceful two hour nap!

Sunday...more reassurance from above. An unexpected gift of $500 from some of the most generous people I know. I have seen these people scrape from the bottom of their piggy banks to help someone who may otherwise be overlooked. They are the most genuine, loving, compassionate people I have ever met and to be a recipient of their generosity is humbling beyond words. They received a gift from someone in the past and it was no longer of any use to them, so they sold it. Instead of keeping the money to buy something new and exciting (like I would do), they "regifted" the money to someone else who they felt was "working the fields", as well.

Ok God, we will move forward in faith.

Monday...the reassurance is pouring over the top! An e-mail from ICARE, Intl., the orphan care/grant organization that handles our donations so they become tax deductible, is in my inbox. Another extremely generous gift of $500 has shown up in our account. What?!?!? $1,000 in two days?!?!? And to top it off, the givers of this particular gift let us know that there is actually more coming, that was just a first gift!

Seriously, God is good!

To top the whole week off, we met for the final time for our home study! We have completed that step, been approved, and now waiting for our fingerprint "invitation." I'm so giddy I can hardly contain myself!

Our friends, Dawn and Greg, just left on Tuesday for Ethiopia to meet their precious, new son. I am anxiously awaiting updates, pictures, stories...everything! I am ecstatic for them, and I can't wait until one day we are sitting around sharing our adoption stories. And that day isn't far! Please pray for Dawn and Greg as they embark on this new chapter in their lives, their children as they transition to becoming a family of 6, and for safe travels here and abroad.

There is one song that has been a motto for me throughout every trial Nick and I have faced. It's lyrics echo loud what I yearn to say everyday. Through every tear stained, pitiful temper tantrum, I long to whisper these words over and over...

"YOU give and take away. YOU give and take away. My heart will choose to say. Lord, blessed be your name."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

You Can Help Orphans in Ethiopia!

Joint Council on International Children’s Services Statement

What You Can Do:

1. Sign the petition (http://www.gopetition.com/petition/43714.html) to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi – and pass it on!

2. Have you adopted from Ethiopia? Please send us up to 3 photos and 50 words or less with what you would like the Ministry to know about your child – we’ll compile the information and send a book to the Ministry of Woman’s Affairs. Send your photos and stories to advocate@jointcouncil.org by Sunday, March 12, 2011 to be included. Please note that sending photos and stories gives Joint Council unrestricted right to use the information you provide.

3 Share…Please send this Call to Action to family members, other adoptive parents, and everyone you know! Post, forward and share your adoption stories via Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. Make sure you include us in your posts so we can all hear your stories! Here’s links to our pages: Facebook, Twitterand our blog.

4. Stay informed: Get up-to-date information regarding the situation in Ethiopia by signing up to receive information from us: click here to do so, make sure you choose “country and issues specific information” and “Ethiopia.” And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitterand our blog!

5. Help ensure our advocacy can continue: Joint Council is a non-profit and receives no government funding. Please join us in ensuring more children live in safe, permanent and loving families. Donate today!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Another Bump in the Road...

Please read the following articles and be praying for the families, including ours, that this affects. (You will have to copy and paste)


Friday, March 4, 2011

We've Got a Winner!

Thanks to everyone who reads our blog! We are at 26 Followers...woo hoo! Our drawing is for an Ordinary Hero T-shirt.

Ordinary Hero Foundation is a nonprofit,child advocacy organization. Their goal is to encourage and provide a way for every person to make a difference in the life of a child in need, through adoption, missions, or local outreach. They also strive to bring worldwide, public awareness to the orphan crisis. They believe every child needs a HERO, wants a HERO, and is looking for a HERO. They believe that HERO is YOU. Their Mission is to inspire and empower ORDINARY people to make an extraordinary difference in the life of a child in need. (www.ordinaryhero.org)

Ordinary Hero has a financial fundraising program to help those adopting raise money to offset some of the costs of adoption. In November, we used their fundraising program to sell t-shirts to support our adoption. The winner of our drawing will be receiving an Ordinary Hero T-shirt and help support another family bring home their child to their forever home.

And the winner is...

If you are screen name Stephanie, contact me at ekellerstrass@hotmail.com and we will get the t-shirt out to you!

Our next drawing will be at 50 Followers!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Process of Grieving...

Nick has this saying,

"Don't beat a dead horse."

I think it is the most ridiculous saying. I usually roll my eyes when he says it, but sometimes...sometimes...I take it for what it really means and it suits perfect with the situation.

My blog is about my life and right now my life is consumed with a death that daily hurts in a new, more painful way. I don't want to "beat a dead horse", but I do want to be honest and open about my struggles.

Have you ever been so exhausted that you can't sleep? So exhausted that your entire body hurts and you're not sure you can keep your eyes open but your mind just won't give in?

Welcome to the "Grieving Process".

At first I was so interested in what I could expect to face over the next year. What I could expect to feel and a certain timeframe for how these feelings would come and go and how long they would stay around for. (I'm a bit of a control freak).

Being the internet geek that I am, I googled it.

"Grieving Process". Enter.

A million expert sites lit up the screen and I could feel exhaustion creeping in.

Guilt. Remorse. Anger. Shock. Relief.

I suddenly didn't want to read any more. My mind was shutting down. Exhaustion got heavier. I didn't want to have to think about my emotions. I didn't want to categorize how I should feel each day.

I just wanted to be.

I needed some advice yesterday. Some advice that specifically could be given only by my mom.

In this day and age, we expect immediate answers and gratification. If I have a question, I text 4-5 people and within seconds I get 4-5 responses. If I need a recipe, a phone number, directions, I google it. I have access to any and all information I could ever need at the push of a button.

In my mental conversation, I was mulling over the ways that I could get the advice I needed. I knew that I couldn't call my mom. She wasn't available. Yet there was this lingering notion that told me, well maybe if I e-mail her then she will have a couple days to get back to me.

It may seem silly, but the actual fact that I cannot, in anyway, get a hold of my mom for any reason is hard to grasp. When I finally wrap my head around it, I think of all the unanswered questions I have. I suddenly have a million pieces of advice that need addressed right this minute.

And each day it gets harder. I don't ever see it getting easier. Her gain is an immense loss for me.

I realized that there isn't a neat, little timeframe that I could give myself. My emotions change every day. One thing remains the same though. I am so emotionally exhausted, its hard to know how I will make it through each day.

But I do. I do because my mom would want me to. I do because my husband and children need me to. I do because it wasn't my time to leave this earth, which means I still have a job to do. I still have people to serve. There are those who need prayer and comfort. And there are those who need Jesus.

"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me...Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith..." 1 Phil 1:21-25

Thursday, February 24, 2011

It Is Well With My Soul...

I've thought about heaven.

A lot.

Not just recently but even as a child, I thought about heaven frequently. I was a fearful child. I was scared of everything: monsters in the closet, the thunder outside, the car with the tinted windows driving by...and dying.

I grew up in a Christian home with strong believers as my parents. My dad was slightly over protective. He meant no harm in his warnings, he just wanted us to be aware that there is a sick world out there and although we felt safe we shouldn't be naive. So I feared everything.

I asked the Lord into my heart when I was just four or five. I remember being really emotional about it and asking my dad, through tears, if he would help me pray and ask Jesus into my heart. I remember repeating the words he said, but I don't remember feeling at peace. In fact, I remember asking Jesus into my heart every night for the next 8 years, just in case he hadn't really heard me and I died in my sleep.

I don't know why I was such a morbid child.

Selfishly, I didn't want to die. I loved my parents, I loved my friends and neighbors. This world held all that I knew and could conceive. As a child, anything beyond my front yard was just an unknown.

I knew there was the promise of heaven, but what if God didn't hear my prayer that night. What if He was answering and listening to the requests of so many other people that my prayer got forgotten? Obviously, my theology was not one of great wisdom.

At the age of 13, I attended a Christian summer camp with some friends from church. One night while sitting in front of a wooden cross on a lake with the sun setting in the background. I finally saw God for who He was. I understood what His sacrifice on that cross meant and I believed His promise that "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) That evening, I closed my eyes and thanked Jesus for His redemptive sacrifice and asked for His forgiveness for my sins and that He would come into my life forever.

And I never had to ask again.

I won't lie. My life was pretty good. I mean, seriously, I wasn't complaining, and I wouldn't have minded staying on this earth for eternity. Sure, there were bumps in the road and things weren't always perfect, but if this was as much as my struggle would be, then I could just hang out here forever. So although I didn't fear my prayers would float around aimlessly in space never reaching God's ears, I wasn't sure I really was ready to trust the greatness of heaven.

One of my best friends died in a tragic car accident when I was 17. I remember being devastated for him and myself because of all he was missing out on. Every milestone in a teenagers life, never getting to graduate, never going to prom, never getting married or having kids. He must just be completely disappointed in all that he had to give up. I struggled with this for so many months, until exhausted, I just pushed it out of my mind. How could God take such an amazing, faithful kid away from his great life here on earth?

At the age of 21, Nick and I got a phone call that changed our worlds forever. One of Nick's closest friends from childhood, a groomsman in our wedding, and a guy that brought Nick and I together was killed in a plane crash. We instantly fell to our knees in tears when we got the news. Another life taken so prematurely, a beautiful smile we'd never see again.

But this death affected me so much differently. I learned through his family and faith that Peter was the lucky one. He was immediately taken into the throne room of God himself and was caught in His glorious presence. There would be no regret in Peter's mind of what he was leaving behind. All he could see was...God. To be in the very presence of our Savior, there could be nothing more than he would want than to praise and stand in awe of the creator of every breath we'll ever take.

I was taken away by the magnitude of what this meant. I've never viewed death the same, and I never fear for the moment that I leave this earth.

I've been thinking about heaven a lot lately. On February 8th, I watched my mom breathe in for the last time. And as she exhaled, she instantly was in the presence of our Lord.

I feel a deep sense of loss. My heart hurts all the time. There is a hole in my life that can never be filled by another person. My mom was my best friend, one person I could lean on for everything, and although I immensely grieve my loss, I celebrate mom's gain.

A good friend of my mine gave me a book by Randy Alcorn called "Heaven". I have been devouring this book just trying to feel a connection to my mom and what she must be seeing, tasting, and experiencing right now. She is not sad and she is not lamenting what she is missing here. She is with Jesus and He is all she needs.

If you don't have a personal relationship with the Lord, I want to quote a statement in this book that hit me particularly hard. It is a joy to me to know what these sentences mean for me, but brings me to tears when I think about what it means for others. "Earth leads directly into Heaven or directly into Hell, affording a choice between the two. For Christians, this present life is the closest they will come to Hell. For unbelievers, it is the closest they will come to Heaven." Don't let this life be the best that you ever get...the best is yet to come. Nick and I would love to talk to you about a relationship with Christ and what His sacrifice means for you.

"You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, Yahweh, is the Rock eternal."
Isaiah 26:3,4


PS On the adoption front, we are excited to tell you that we've been approved on our home study! We are so excited to have moved on passed another step of this long process. That's another check on the to do list!

PPS We are up to 23 followers!!! Unbelievable! Remember, if we get to 25 followers, then we will do a drawing for an Ordinary Heroes T-shirt to thank you for your support :)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

How Do I Begin?

I lay in my bed watching the minutes tick by. I call her phone to get her voicemail just to hear her voice again. 11:50 passes...she's been a gone a week already.

I've been stalling to start a post. I don't know how to begin. I don't know what to say since my mom passed away. I don't know if I should do a short, to-the-point memorial or a long tribute to the woman I counted on for everything.

There are so many memories I could share that would help to shed light on who my mom was, but they are so special to me. In my mind, these are so precious. I'm afraid that if I used my limited, human vocabulary that the memory would be cheapened.

So how do I start again and share my deep loss with you?

I've been receiving mass amounts of cards sharing sympathies for our loss. I've never seen such an outpouring of love from those closest to me and from some I don't even know. It's overwhelming, but very comforting.

One card I was given, says "Your mother lives on through you." Those are some big shoes to fill. I am but a pale reflection of the woman that I daily strive to be. My mom was patient...I'm not. My was kind and gentle...I'm a bit of cynic. My mom was not self-seeking...I'm always judging how the situation affects me. She never kept a record of wrong...I am known to hold a grudge or two. She was never easily angered...have you ever seen my temper? Enough said.

Through all the trials she faced her entire life, she always protected the ones she loved, always trusted God, always had hope, and always persevered. Even to the end.

"Love Never Fails," 1 Corinthians 13:8. I could count on my mom for everything.

I wanted to share one more note that Nick and I received from some very dear friends of ours. I cried the moment I read it. My mom lived to be a wife, mother, and grandmother and nothing could be more honoring to her than this:

"We would like to make a donation to your adoption fund in loving memory of Erin's mom. We know she will be rejoicing in Heaven when "Baby K" is brought home. We could think of nothing better to honor her than to help you both raise another one of her grandbabies up to know of her courage, love, and faith in God!"

I miss her every minute.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Faith Like a Child...

I have two full-time jobs: a mom and a daycare provider. Both jobs bring a lot of joy and laughter to my home. It means I can wear sweatshirts, jeans and socks around "my office" all day. It means I can play all day. But it also means that most of my inspiration for my blog is from my clients...the kids.

Kids offer a lot of material to write on. They always have a lesson to teach me: about my personality, my patience quotient and how to see and live through the eyes of a child.

Lately, life has be fairly uneventful at the Kellerstrass house.

Can I hear a resounding "AMEN!"

The lack of adventure in our daily life doesn't mean everything is suddenly perfect, it just means God likes me to reflect during these times and see what He is and has been doing. Its a moment where I can breathe and say "God what are you trying to reveal to me that I can be working and praying on?"

For six years now (since June 3, 2004 to be exact), we have had a child accompany us in our bed nightly. There are no extra bodies in our bed at the beginning of the night, but by 1:30 in the morning there is usually an extra bunk mate or two.

For some reason beyond me, Nick and I decided that when we bought our mattress (pre-children) that we would not need a bed bigger than a queen and that we would just snuggle with our kids. WRONG!!! Never, ever make a decision about what you will or will not do once you have children before you have children. Kids change everything!!!

Lately, the whole sharing a bed situation has gotten worse. It is a regular occurence that within an hour of Nick and I going to bed Amra and Wrigley will join us. Four in a queen size bed just doesn't work. Nick is now a resident of the bottom bunk in the boys' room. He and Owen are bunkmates, and I share with the other two.

Yesterday I decided that enough was enough. It was time for me to reclaim what is rightfully mine! Amra and Wrigley will stay in their beds...no ands, ifs, or buts about it.

I'm not the best of people to mess with in the middle of the night. I'm cranky and tired and DO NOT enjoy having my sleep interrupted. At the punctual time of 11:33 (an hour after I slipped into my coma), Amra came into the room crying about how scared she was. I had already drawn my line in the sand, and I was not going to allow her to cross it.

I picked up my little girl and carried her back to her bed. Instead of being angry, I took a second to sit on the edge of her bed and offered to pray with her. She closed her eyes and I asked Jesus to give her peace and to take away her fear. I prayed that she would feel His sense of protection and get a full night's rest. I opened my eyes and looked at her and realized her eyes were closed. I gave her a kiss and said goodnight, and she told me she loved me.

I walked back to my room, prayed another prayer that she really would feel a sense of peace and waited. And waited. And waited. And she never came back. She slept the entire night in her room without another sound. I couldn't believe it!

I've been watching alot of movies lately. I signed up for Netflix and have been consumed in the number of movies and t.v. shows I can watch at the press of a button. Its like heaven for a movie buff! Last night, I watched the recent BBC remake of The Diary of Anne Frank.

Sure this girl was a thirteen year old girl, who behaved like a thirteen year old girl would, but if I take this movie and remember that this is a true story of a young Jewish girl, I realize that this child had more faith than I can ever imagine! To be hidden in a room while people wanting to end your life are right outside those very walls, is hard to comprehend. To still be able to go on living, when there are bombs exploding around you and no where to run and hide is unimaginable. This young girl and her family were hanging on to every strand of faith they could muster just to live through two years of hiding.

Do I truly have the faith of a child? Not the kind of faith that brings us to our knees, weeping and crying out to God when the trial seems bigger than we can bear. But the kind of faith that gets us through the little fears and uncertainties that we face each day. To truly believe that God will provide every need, that He will protect us on each trip to the grocery store. To know that He holds our very lives in His hands and that He knows what is best for us each and every day, better than we know ourselves?

It's this faith that I need to be working on. To lean on Him for everything, not just the big things that I know I can't control anyway. My life is His, and I need to hand every bit of it to Him.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

And the Winner Is...

Wow! That was really fast! In less than 24 hours our blog went from 4 followers up to 15! That's fantastic...thanks to everyone who is following our adoption journey!

So why the sudden interest in "followers"? Is it because of some unresolved popularity issue...possibly. But the real reason is to get awareness out to our friends and family of our deep desire for prayer from those who care about us. We've been learning that the adoption process is a daily struggle with emotions. We have seen first hand what the power of prayer can do, and believe me when I say I NEED daily prayer :)

So because you've all been so gracious to me and joined my little blog, we wanted to say thank you with our first drawing of Gobena Coffee! Gobena.org is a orphan ministry located right here in Morton, IL. Our friends, Steve and Danae, have adopted from both Colombia and Ethiopia and feel their calling is to help orphans and Ethiopian churches. Through the sales of Gobena Coffee they are providing education, food, and shelter for orphans. Check out their website at www.gobena.org! By "following" our blog, the purchase of this one bag of coffee will feed an orphan for ONE MONTH!!!

The picture above is of my kids picking the winner! We thought it would be fun to include the whole family (and then you would all know it was a fair and unbiased pick!)

And the Winner Is...


Congrats, I will be e-mailing you later with more details.

We figured this went so fast that we'd offer another challenge. When we get to 25 followers we will have another drawing for an Ordinary Hero T-shirt (check out the styles at www.ordinaryheroblog.blogspot.com)! Tell your friends!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Time for a Drawing to say Thanks!!!

Today I got the message that said I now have SIX followers on our blog. That may not seem like many to most of you, but I'm surprised anyone but my husband is a "follower"! To say thank you to all of you who support our adoption and read our blog, I'm going to have a drawing for a bag of Gobena coffee! (www.gobena.org) In order for the drawing to occur, we need to reach 15 followers. Once we have 15 followers, we will have the drawing! Thanks to those who have stuck through it with us!!!

Why Do They Have To Be My Parents????

I remember asking myself that very question nearly every day of my childhood. My parents just weren't cool enough, fun enough...good enough.

This isn't a rant against my parents, in fact, those days are gone. On my wedding day, my relationship with my mom literally changed. We used to be enemies. There wasn't one day in my teenage years (I got married at 19, so there weren't many years besides that) that we didn't have one major blow-up at each other. I so loved getting under my mom's skin, and she so loved falling into that trap. Day after day we'd scream, we'd fight, I'd slam the door in her face and not feel one ounce of guilt. It was horrible! But the day I got married I remember getting ready to leave on my honeymoon, and my mom came and gave me a hug. It wasn't just a regular hug. I could feel the sense of loss and knew she already missed me. The tears welled in my eyes and from that moment on, we've been the best of friends.

So why the trip down memory lane? Because my turn has come to be the be the "worst parent in the world". In the last week alone I have heard the following statements from my cherubic little children:

"You are SO mean!"

"You never let me do anything I want to do!"

"We always have to clean!"

"You NEVER want to be my friend!"

"You can't be my friend! You're just my mom!"


To be perfectly honest, my kids have never said these things to me until this week. Let me say that it is a blow to your ego to be told these things. I thought I would be different. I wanted to be the cool mom, the one that all the kids wished was their own. I guess I'm not. I guess I'm just like all the other evil mothers who only want the worst for her children and never wants them to have any fun.


I think the desire for another life and another set of parents carries over in to other aspects of life, as well. How many times have I asked God, "Why didn't you bless my with THAT house?", "Why does she get to drive THAT car?", "Why do I have to do THAT?" It's pathetic how many times I whine about not getting to have or do what someone else does. If only we could move up just one spot, then life would be all the better, right?


In our research and classes for Adoption Education, I've been learning incredibly interesting facts about other races and cultures. It's daunting to think about bringing another life from a completely different culture, country, and race into our family, but exciting as well to incorporate new foods, holidays, and lifestyles into our home.

Last night, we were learning about the cultural reasons for adoption in Africa, and it really hit me hard. Besides the most common reasons of poverty, poor health, and HIV/AIDS, one reason particularly stood out to me. In Africa, many women who are about to be married for a second time, usually due to the death of their first husband, have to choose between their second husband or their children from the first marriage. Because of poverty and starvation, many women are taking into consideration their own survival in this world. They may see that this man can potentially save their own life by providing a living. So in essence, they have to give up their children (which are seen as unwanted by the new husband) in order to save their own life.

It was like a punch to the stomach to hear that. We, as a culture, cannot even understand the decisions that these women around the world have to make. I cannot understand how children can be seen as wasteless property, when I treat my children as kings and queens of this world. It's heartbreaking. The pain, the hunger, the poverty, the hopelessness these people face on a daily basis.

And I am concerned about the new Expedition that woman is driving? How selfish! How sickening!

My heart breaks for my sisters in Africa. I yearn to care for the moms in Ethiopia who are currently making a decision of whether they are able to risk their own life to keep the life of her child. It's not fair on so many levels and yet this is the reality for women around the world.

I am so grateful for the richly blessed life I live here. I'm thankful for being born into the United States, for having hard-working parents who expected the same from me, for having a diligent, determined husband who works to give us a wonderful life, and for three beautiful children who right now are wishing that someone else's mother was their own. We all learn through the lives of others and someday they will appreciate me...I hope.

"Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills...When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." Psalm 73:1-5, 21-26

Friday, January 14, 2011

And we're off...

2011 is starting off with a bang for us, and I'm so grateful for the blessing of this change! We first heard our call to adopt in September and immediately began filling out applications and paperwork. We met our case workers and agents and felt like things were moving quickly. We thought we might actually get our little girl within 10 months. Unfortunately, due to circumstances out of our control, our little adoption journey came to a dead halt. Surprisingly enough for my personality, I trusted that God was in control and that His timing is perfect. I trusted Him and decided to follow where He lead and for the time, He wanted me to spend time and help care for my mother who was fighting leukemia.

Praise the Lord! She has been told that she is currently in remission and has been home since the day before Christmas Eve. It's been a wonderful, peaceful few weeks, and I'm thankful for every moment we get to spend with her! It is so nice to see her smile again, to see her gain back strength, and to allow God to continually use her illness to glorify Him (and let me tell you this is not an easy task).

I've learned alot from my mother's illness and the various other trials my family has gone through, and I know now that my strength and understanding is not enough. I need to lean on Christ.

Not to say that I've perfected this faith. Not in the least. In fact, its still a daily battle to remember to put down my goals and desires and say "Your will be done."

Wednesday is the perfect example. We had our first meeting for our home study. Everything went really well. We had already finished half of the paperwork, but were given another large stack of papers to complete. For those of you unfamiliar with adoption, I can not accurately describe the number of trees that give their lives to fulfill the requirements of our adoption. Our respects to them all...

The meeting went really well, and we enjoyed our caseworker so much. It was exciting to finally feel like we were on our way to adopting our little girl (whoever she may be) waiting for us in Africa.

That night I lay in bed unable to sleep. Thoughts of the mounds of paperwork still to be completed and compiled and notarized and apostilled were swirling through my mind. I actually enjoy paperwork. I LOVE filling out forms. Its a sick obsession of mine, but if there is a form to fill out, pass it my way. However, these papers worried me. You have to worry about the date that you sign them, the date that they are notarized. You have to make sure you word everything correctly so as not to offend the Ethiopian government. In a word, its very...tricky.

I also felt the burden of the financial load we were taking on. And not only ourselves but our reliance on others. We took this step of faith knowing God would provide every penny we needed. In my mind, I thought this meant Nick's business would start booming or he would do some side work to earn extra money. I knew we would rely on our friends, family, and acquaintances for some of the finances, but not EVERYTHING.

Adoption is a costly, costly mission. And the burden of knowing that I need other people to support our mission in something I love and cherish doing makes my heart feel heavy.

I tossed and turned and tossed some more. And I began to question if we were making the right decision.

Nick is usually showered, dressed, and out the door before my alarm even goes off. But because of a scheduling conflict, Nick hadn't left for work when I got up the next morning. I told him my concerns. I told him the weight I felt on my shoulders. I told him I was questioning what we thought God had called us to.

And then he asked, "Are you doubting?"


Questioning is one thing, but to doubt God is another thing altogether for me. I wasn't "technically" doubting God...I didn't think. But maybe I really was. Was I actually worried about the effort it was going to take by me to fill out paperwork and go to the courthouse and raise $30,000 to adopt my child. Suddenly, I just wanted to be able to have another baby because it was EASIER! Life is not about the ease of which we go through it. Christ calls us to daily pick up our cross and follow Him. Our cross is a BIG burden and He expects it of us.

After Nick left, he sent me this text "Doubt is the direct result of taking our eyes off the Lord. - James McDonald". Followed by "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight. - Proverbs 3:5,6. And my wonderful husband reminded me that this is not about us, it's about leaving a testimony to those around us. That we are to reflect the glory of the Lord in every situation.

Psalm 119:36 "Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!"

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Putting Things in to Motion...

I'm a slightly rebellious person.

Ask my parents...

ask Nick.

I'm not your normal rebel where I go against the basic rules like speeding, texting while driving, drinking or doing drugs, I typically rebel against the commands in the Bible that tell us to obey our parents, submit to your husband, and respect authority. With me it's an attitude thing. If someone tells me I have to do something or in my mind I have to do something, I feel the sudden urge to completely ignore the direction and do the opposite. NO ONE tells me what to do.

Unfortunately this also crosses into the diet issue. I decided that after the holidays it's time to buckle down and go on a diet and start running again. Only I know how much I consumed over the last two weeks and how much extra fluff I added to my waistline over the holidays...and it's not pretty. So I decide to start a diet plan. I get online and make my meal plans, print up the grocery list...and decide I just can't stick to that.

The excuses begin rolling off my tongue as if I'm trying to recite the alphabet in ten seconds or less. Ok, that won't work. I'll just try eating in moderation, that has always worked before and I'm training for a Half Marathon in May so the running will take care of the rest. Suddenly EVERY junk food item in my house needs to be eaten so they are no longer accessible. But who will take care of eating these things? Me.

Ok, so my diet will start tomorrow after I've eaten all the junk food in the house so that it is no longer a temptation. So after a long night on the couch gorging myself with the rest of the Christmas M&M's, chips (which I don't even like), soda, etc, etc, etc, I go into sloth mode and suddenly running, walking, even sitting up seems like a lot of unnecessary work.

Welcome to the mid-winter blahs. I think this is what happens every year after the joy and excitement of the holidays wears off, my stomach has expanded and all I can think about is that I'm stuck in the house for 3 more months. Blah.

It doesn't just affect my health, it affects my mind. The creative juices just aren't flowing these days. Nothing seems interesting enough to write about. Nothing sparks my interest enough to actually sit down and share it with everyone, so that is my excuse for the slow updates that will or will not be occurring over the next 3 months.

I just had to let everyone know, however, that this has been a very successful week on the adoption front. Things have been moving forward and it is just so exciting to us to finally feel like we are moving forward in this process. This week we had all of our physicals, TB Tests (it took two nurses and myself to hold Owen down for his, the kids is TERRIFIED of needles), and HIV Tests to complete the health portion. Adoption Education has been ordered and delivered! Birth Certificates and Marriage Certificate are being delivered, and we finished our CPR Training today! I love all the check marks I've made this last week on my long list of things to do!

Wednesday is the beginning of our actual home study. We have the all the paperwork and prerequisites done, now its just the actual homestudy that we will be undergoing. I'm a little nervous. I keep picturing it in my mind: my kids will be all excited about the new visitor in the house and they will decide it's time to show off aka be CRAZY!

It never fails. Whenever a guest comes to the house it's as if instantly they ate five pixie sticks and drank a can of Jolt (I personally know this feeling from my jr. high slumber party days, it's pretty scary). I can just see her walking into my house, see my out of control children (who actually are very well behaved), see the stress in my eyes as I'm concerned about the small toy I just noticed in the corner that never got put away, see Nick as he just watches in amusement the manic children running around, and the words written on my file:


Not only unfit to adopt a child but to take care of her own children.

Ok, I'm actually not that concerned, but the thought has crossed my mind. What if they don't think I'm good enough to take care of my own children? What if I don't have enough smoke detectors? What if the cleaning supplies and medicine aren't up high enough? What if the batteries on the Carbon Monoxide Detector decide to stop working right when she arrives? WHAT IF? WHAT IF? WHAT IF?

This is where I need a moment to breathe and remember that we were called here to fulfill a mission. God didn't bring us to this place to abandon us right in the middle of the chaos. He is here to guide us every step of the way. He is the one who brought peace during the months of inaction. He is the one who gave me the break to be able to care for my mom and family when they needed me. And He is the one who is now giving my mom a break so that I can concentrate on the stage in this journey where I need to be proactive.

My goal is to be on the waiting list by the end of February. It may or may not happen, but will I get discouraged? No, because His timing is perfect and mine is not.

"Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust...Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare." Psalms 40:4,5

Monday, January 3, 2011

First New Year's Resolution...FAILED!

Well, it is January 3rd already and my resolution to be more organized has already failed, and I'm just now writing my review of 2010. Hopefully this is not a sign of things to come. It's hard to believe that it is 2011 already!

2011 started off peaceful, uneventful...exactly how I like it. Nick and I spent the evening at the movie theater watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1.

Yes. I am a geek.

We came home and watched the ball drop in New York City. In New York City time. And called it good. Considering it is still only 2004 on the Ethiopian calendar, I figured one hour wouldn't make such a difference.

So here is my rundown of 2010. An interesting year. A life changing year. A year I will never forget and pray we never relive, but a year of blessing, joy, and peace! Enjoy!

Favorite Verse of 2010: "Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and He will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun." Psalms 37:5,6

Favorite Book: Crazy Love by Francis Chan - Get ready to have your world rocked

Sermon Series that Changed Our Lives: The Compassion Series by David Platt, another Rock Our World Never Be The Same message that we encountered

Favorite Movie: Eclipse (sorry its lame, but when it begins with a four hour Twlilight marathon with food and friends, it's hard to top)

Biggest Accomplishment: Running the Indianapolis Marathon. 26.2 Miles of hills, hills, and alas, more hills.

Best Nick Memory: Celebrating our 10th Anniversary. We took a trip down memory lane and spent a couple of days in Chicago doing nothing! It was wonderful and helped us reflect on our relationship and make goals for the future.

Best Owen Memory: The first day I dropped Owen off to school, I asked him if he was too old to give me a kiss. He looked at me and said, "I'll never be too old to give you a kiss." My heart melted. A week later, he no longer wanted to kiss me goodbye.

Best Amra Memory: In May, Amra got her tonsils out. After the surgery, I just got to hold her and sing to her and snuggle her. Before the surgery, she always sounded like she had a cold when she spoke. The first time she spoke after the surgery, she sounded like a little mouse. It was the sweetest sound ever!

Best Wrigley Memory: The boy was only 11 months old and he flips over the side of the couch. Not on accident. On purpose. And he hasn't stopped. He jumps, flips, and tumbles off furniture. He keeps me on my toes and makes me laugh all the time!

Top 10 (or 15) Memories of 2010
1. PBS Mini-series of Emma Tea Party with The Girls (Jill, Sandy, Heidi, Andi, Alex, Marla, Katy, Abbey, and Lori). I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE theme parties, and this was one of my favorites! Tea, Tea Sandwiches, and mini desserts mixed with a Jane Austen classic and you have a proper evening.

2. Indianapolis Half Marathon - the whole family jumps in to the car, heads out east to Indy and runs a half marathon, followed by good food and SHOPPING!

3. Brookfield Zoo with my mom, Nicki, Teo, and the kids - a little bit hectic but great memories were made!

4. Ten Year Anniversary Date down Memory Lane - we had a scavenger hunt to all the important places in our relationship with a soundtrack to match. A few tears were had by all.

5. Cubs Game for Owen's Birthday - Owen's first trip to Wrigley Field. The weather was beautiful, the seats were great, and as long as we kept feeding Owen, he was content.

6. ECLIPSE PARTY!!! - Food, Friends, and Edward Cullen...need I say more?

7. Abbey's Wedding - a beautiful day with a beautiful bride

8. Long Runs with Amy - If you ever want to know a person completely inside and out, then I suggest running 10 or so miles with them. I never knew I would look forward to a twenty mile run, but with Amy it was the highlight of my week! Our friendship was deepened immensely during this year, and I have truly made a friend forever!

9. Jet Skiing and Captain Ron's - My BFF Amy and Brandon took us jet skiing on the Illinois River and to Captain Ron's on the riverfront. Sounds pretty much like a redneck vacation but it was SOOOOO fun! And I only fell off the jet ski two times and almost went up river once...a pretty successful evening!

10. Chicago Half Marathon - We spent so much time walking around enjoying the sights and sounds of the city, that we were too tired to run a good race the next day. It was a really fun time!

11. Cubs Game with the Family - we were lucky enough to go to TWO Cubs games this year. The second was with our great friends and cousins, the Flemings. We got to take the kids and they did amazing! Wrigley kept saying, "My field."

12. Coffee with Danae, Erin, Lyndsey, and Toni - God blessed me with the best friends this year. Friends that will forever be a part of my life, and I'm SO grateful for the one on one time I spent with each of them!

13. Pumpkin Carving Party - Picture this: 6 kids, 6 pumpkins, 4 laid back parents and sharp knives. Need I say more?

14. The Sugar Cookie Party - we cram as many people as we can in our small house and eat to our hearts content. I think there were 23 children running amongst the 25 adults...it was heavenly madness!

15. Christmas with my Mom - after a year of ups and downs, it ended well with my mom home celebrating Christmas with her family!

Probably the most exciting time of this year was our BIG ANNOUNCEMENT! The whole reason I have this blog. To announce that we are expecting! Expecting another child through adoption! We are so excited because after receiving three large financial gifts we finally have the ball rolling towards our adoption! Our hope is to have both our homestudy and dossier completed by the end of February, so look for more announcements to come! 2011 is starting off well!!!