6 Years ago I came to know God in an even deeper way. And it was through this child. While I thought God was just building our family, He had major faith, trust, and work in our hearts He wanted to do as well. He did both and I am forever grateful.

On the kids birthdays, I reflect back, look through photos, and always give gratitude. We are just stewards of these lives. They are not "mine", but the Lords and their journey to us is our testimony. To Him be the Glory for their lives and ours.

These sweet miracle was born 6 years ago today...

Mackenzie Leigh Willis. 12.18.08 7lbs 11 oz 

A few of my all time favorites...

Her cheeks...

Her little petite self...

Her ponytail...

...And just like that she became a kindergartener this year.

 Wow, that was fast huh? I started this blog when David was 2 so I have been so thankful to go back and see and read about how we blinked through the years.  Maybe someday our kids will read it, maybe they won't, maybe I will delete the entire thing one day. Just kidding, but it has served as a great mile marker for us and I love that.

6. SIX. Six Years Old.
There is something so big about it. 5 sounds so young, but SIX sounds so old.

Each of our children have come to us in such a special way. Mackenzie brings me deep joy. I don't know if I have ever shared about my time with her, but it explains a lot about my joy for her.

I meet people now in this season of life and our life seems very glittery. No one knows Zach is adopted. And people will say, "Wow!! Lucky you! A kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grader! You guys just sailed through that!"

No, no we did not. Funny how I could just paint it like that, right?

We were pregnant with Mackenzie after a terrible miscarriage that followed David. It was one at 12 weeks and molar tissue was found from my miscarriage. I went from being almost in my 2nd trimester to being told I needed come in the next morning for a D & C and then to come in weekly for 6 months to make sure my levels were normal because molar tissue can be cancerous. And we were not to get pregnant until cleared. At the end of the 6 months we were clear and nothing ever came from that tissue. My arms were covered in needle marks from all the blood drawn those very long 6 months. It was hard to go mentally from pregnancy to awaiting cancer results. And I wondered if David would be an only child. When we were given the "all clear", we immediately found out I was expecting. They wanted to monitor me closely following that miscarriage so I went in early.

God bless sonographers. They were at times my worst enemy. The questions they ask I quickly learned were not good.
"Do you have a history of twins?" She asked.
"My grandmother is an identical twin." I said.
"Well, you have 2 babies here. Fraternal."

Tim and I couldn't believe it. I don't remember a lot about that time other than shock. They wanted me to come back around 8 weeks to check them out. On my next visit, the sac each baby was in had grown. I saw a little heartbeat in one and the other seemed to have a baby, but no fluttering.

At this point, time would only tell. If the other baby was just behind and would catch up and grow. Or if that baby was not going to make it. There was concern about Mackenzie (the little heart beating twin), that her heartbeat was too low.

They decided on this visit to have me wait until 12 weeks. So 4 very long weeks later, we went in to see that Mackenzie seemed to be doing fine, but the other baby did not make it. I did not know what this would mean, but basically from 12 weeks until 20 weeks, I miscarried that twin while remaining pregnant with Mackenzie.

It was a time of blind faith because I had no idea daily if I was still really pregnant with Mackenzie or if she was okay. I did not want to get too many ultrasounds, so I just waited it out. I felt pregnant and kept getting bigger, but still miscarrying as well. It was a weird time. I remember telling some lady that asked me if I was expecting one day, "I just don't know....okay?!!!" Other people did a good job of reading the, "Leave Me Alone" vibe that was plastered across my face during that season.

There was a song I heard at church one service. I felt it was written for me. I sang it my whole pregnancy and probably the first 6 months of Mackenzies life. Written by Mercy Me, these words were my heart. And this baby was my tiny offering.

Who are we--- that You would be mindful of us?
What do You see--- that's worth looking our way?
We are free--- in ways that we never should be.
Sweet release--- from the grip of these chains.

Like hinges straining from the weight,
My heart no longer can keep from singing.

All that is within me cries
For You alone be glorified:
Emmanuel, God with us.

My heart sings a brand new song.
The debt is paid, these chains are gone.
Emmanuel, God with us.

Lord, You know--- our hearts don't deserve Your glory;
Still You show--- a love we cannot afford.

Like hinges straining from the weight,
My heart no longer can keep from singing.

All that is within me cries
For You alone be glorified:
Emmanuel, God with us.

My heart sings a brand new song.
The debt is paid, these chains are gone.
Emmanuel, God with us.

Such a tiny offering
Compared to Calvary;
We lay it at Your feet.

Such a tiny offering
Compared to Calvary;
We lay this at Your feet.

All that is within me cries
For You alone be glorified:
Emmanuel, God with us.

My heart sings a brand new song.
My debt is paid, these chains are gone.
Emmanuel, God with us.

I made it to the 20 week mark and I felt a peace that day. I went in to be told I had a perfectly healthy baby girl due on Christmas Day. I think I cried for the next 10 weeks.

We decided the pregnancy had been hard enough and induced her at 39 weeks exactly one week before her due date. There were concerns about her placenta placement because it was attached lower because of the other twin. I was just ready to meet my baby and didn't want any more surprises.

The joy I had when I met Mackenzie was indescribable. I felt I had lost her so many times. I lost part of her and she lost her little sibling, but I couldn't believe her life was saved. She was such a gift. Her pregnancy changed me. You do get over stuff like this, but you learn a new normal. The wounds are healed, but there are scars. My scars remind me of places that God kept me going. He just kept us moving forward. One day we will tell Mackenzie she had a twin, a long time from now.

Mackenzie was definitely born for a reason. We say jokingly she has the power of 2. I can't even describe her. She is a go-getter, fun-loving, leader, out-going, empathetic, loving, imaginative, creative, silly, passionate, and petite little girl. She is everything I ever dreamed having a little girl would be like.

Mackenzie's teacher wrote this about her and it is so true,
"She is a great role model for how to be responsible and independent student (especially during phonics and sight words) Also, she can find anything we think we may have lost."

Mackenzie has my photographic memory so between both of us, we can find anything :)

We are blessed to have Mackenzie. We are reminded what a gift she is. Her life was on purpose. Our time praying for her started before she ever was born. She is such a fantastic sister and I love her relationship with both of her brothers. She craves their attention and she loves what they love. She wants Davids approval and she loves teaching Zach.

I love you, Mackenzie. I love your smile, laugh, your little scenes and toys you set up all over the house, your confidence, your desire to tell everyone you meet everything, and your heart. Your sweet and tender heart that loves other people and sees a need and wants to help. I believe Mackenzie has a relationship with Jesus and she is a prayer. She will stop and pray and I hear her in her room at night.  I know we will be close like I am with my own mother. She is a blessing we thank God for all the time.

Mackenzie is getting her 1st American Girl doll and we are doing the restaurant and the whole 9 yards.  She has always loved dolls and babies. I think she is finally ready for one.... 2 years ago she was still cutting their hair and putting makeup on them :) I can't wait for this next year with her as she keeps coming into her own little person.

Happy Birthday Mackenzie!!!


Adoption :: 1 Year Later

Our GOTCHA day isn't quite as romantic as most peoples..... in fact, we will probably just celebrate Zach's finalization day, Aug. 13, because that was so monumental going to court, getting his new name (middle and last name) and then celebrating.
Our GOTCHA day was messy. We had been visiting Zach quite a while in his orphanage. We had to abide by DFACS visitation and did day visits first, an overnight visit, weekend visitation, and so on. Something of course was holding up the final move out, but we managed to have him for 10 straight days over last years Thanksgiving. Then, unfortunately, we had to return him. I hated that weekend.
It made no sense, no common sense, to be forced to take him back. But, we had to. There was a hold up in his paperwork for permanent placement and it was one of the worst drop offs we had, for me and for him. It felt mean. I feel like we were adding more trauma to the little guys life. I had it out with DFACS and everyone I could call and finally a few days later, on December 4, 2013, we picked Zach up for the last time. And this time he didn't go back.
It took him a long time to understand that. For several months any time we would get in the car, he would get anxious, ask where we were going, and go into his self coping talks and tell himself, "It's okay, Zach. You are with your family forever. You are staying here."
Ugh. It broke my heart.

So, you might be able to see why we probably won't celebrate our GOTCHA day. The place that we got him from is not a life we want him to continually remember and think about every year. There are so many new things for Zach to understand, including all of the holidays and especially his birthday, that we will just recognize his adoption finalization day.

There are things for us that are very difficult to remember about Zach. Which is crazy how far he has come. It seems surreal. I tell people this often, but God had "blinders" on us when we met Zach. He had to of. There is no way in our right minds that we could see straight during that. We had complete blind hope and faith that the child we met was not going to be the child he stayed. We did accept it though.... we accepted him at his worst and that was tough.

I wish we had a pretty story.... that 1 year later our life is just complete, perfect, and we are the happiest we have ever been. And that adoption is beautiful and our hearts burst with joy every morning. I could tell you that, and you might believe me, but its not quite accurate.

I will tell you these truths though. Zach is a changed kid. Zach is a child that is healing continually. The sky is truly the limit for him. Zach still perplexes every medical professional that sets eyes on him because he is a domestic institutionalized orphan and those aren't supposed to exist anymore. Zach continually does things people said that he couldn't. Zach is attached, bonded, and loves being in our family. He talks about each family member and he is obsessed with David and Mackenzie. Zach, from the outside looking in, is a normal little boy who is super adorable and easily warms up. Zach is strong willed. He has started having opinions, arguing, whining, crying, complaining, expressing thoughts, ideas, asking questions, laughing a lot, getting jokes, playing games..... none of those things a year ago. It looks much like a 2 year old at times watching him learn to have self control. He is smart. He is reading and writing and able to do most all of the 1st grade curriculum. He went from not interacting with peers at all to now he is very much attune to his peers and seeking relationships with them.

We are a better family. Tim and I parent all three kids so different now, so much better. When you have a child from trauma, you do things different. I think the past year we have been in lockdown at our home and not had time for anything else. We went "all in" and as our small group leader said, "our rally cry" was to integrate Zach into our family and school.

School was the hardest part of this year. We love our neighborhood public school and moved here because of it, but immediately faced challenges when we adopted Zach. We dealt with many difficult outside people, high up people within our district, and even other parents. We adored the teachers and staff, but could not get our district to get on board with helping him. We simply wanted Zach to be in a general ed classroom with services and accommodations. We were forced to stand up for him in a very public way and pave a path for him and because of this battle..... it was well worth it.

I am happy to report, Zach is now in a general ed 1st grade classroom with the services he requires to be successful... and doing very well.  He is learning and growing and acquiring new skills very quickly. He is being treated consistently, carefully, and moving quickly in the right direction. I never saw school being so hard, but I feel as though just as we had to JUMP all in and change Zachs trajectory for the way his life path was headed.... we had to do the same for where his education was headed.

We are proud to be Zachs parents. I knew right away I was made to be this boys mother and had what it took to get his life back (all because of who Jesus called me to be and the tools in which he gave me) I was told some nasty things this year about my new son. Things like:
"We don't have kids like your kid here at our school"
"He is one of those kids from the foster care system, right?"
"If you don't like the way our school is, then get out."
"Do you know that moms requested their children to not be in his class?"
"What's wrong with him?"
"He is probably just autistic."
"That was so nice of yall to adopt him"

To all of those people..... Let me see if I can cover it quick. First, it is not the 1960s.... it is 2014 and if you want to discriminate on who you educate, go right ahead. You will find yourself in court. Public schools educate every race, gender, and disability.  To the other parents campaigning against a 1st grader, Shame on you. And nice people don't adopt. Nice people take cookies to their neighbors.... please don't tell us we are nice. I just can't hear that anymore, I actually don't feel even a little bit nice. Insane might be a better word for us that we felt God called us to adopt a special needs 8 year old. And to everyone else trying to diagnose him, the reason you don't know what's wrong with him is because the child was abandoned by his mother and left in an orphanage until we found him. That's whats wrong with him.

So, how about 2015? This year we have been in the intensive care unit. We have fought. We have gotten messy. We have had to persevere like never before with all systems. We have had to make it work, figure it out, and bust our tails to put one damn foot in front of the other.

And let me tell you. God surrounded us by a community of warriors. Real people. Authentic people. You know who you are. People who gave up every bit of their time and resources to make sure we didn't give up or give in. People who stood right next to me through this, people who reached out to me and just loved us, and again.... all the help that came from every angle. I would need something or some resource and BOOM, we would have it. Texts, emails, and friends fighting on my behalf. I told some of my friends I saw their scary side this year :) We feel loved. We are going to not just make it, but we are going to probably raise some pretty amazing little people because of all of this.  God's people are mighty. And David and Mackenzie have become little champions. I have hardly even posted about either of them and need to dedicate several more posts to them, but they are incredible. They love Zach and are also fiercely protective of him. They sure do know how to love people.

And God was with us in miraculous ways. This isn't the story I thought we would have, but I feel honored that God called me to it. He equips his people, no doubt. He brings in the angel armies when you need them, he gives you strength when you don't have it, and he never ever lets HOPE fade away.

1 Year in the books, Zach. I think we did pretty well. Lets see what the next 12 months will bring us.... we are ready! We pray daily for you, that above all else, your heart would be open to Jesus and he will heal, guide, and protect you in all the ways we can't. You complete our family, Zach, and we love you so much.

I pray all who read this today would love deeply. Is loving those easy to love what love really means? Loving those who are difficult to love and then in return they start to love and reciprocate it.... that is a beautiful love story to me. And that kind of love changes lives.

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