The Story of Zach.

Happy 9th Birthday, Zach!

I have been working on writing Zach's adoption story for a long time. I have had a writing block. I haven't had the words. I can't really describe why, but I know now that I can begin to process and share what exactly our family has been through. His own story will be one he writes someday so I still will not disclose traumatic things that happened to him early in life.

Many have walked this daily with me and for that I am eternally grateful. You have been the hands and feet of Christ to me. Others have made our path more difficult. And to that, I say, I harbor no anger. In fact, all it did was motivate me more to help my son and find answers and blaze a path for him. So, I actually thank you, in a way, for helping me channel my passion to something greater. 

What people may not know about me is that I was a Criminal Justice major and have extreme passion for children. Maybe that has to do with my struggle in having my own family, but either way, I fight for kids. And I fight because it's how I was born.

My first experience in justice is kind of funny, but will let you know the intensity I have. My identity was stolen 7 years ago. Most people might cancel cards and move on. But, I was mad. And wanted to stop the person who was doing it. I called, researched, and investigated my own identity theft case. Because of a phone number that was on an application I found where someone tried to open an account, I traced them down. I found their address. I made contact. I worked with police and they were able to actually make 2 arrests in one of the largest criminal identity theft cases. It was a couple where the wife stole patients social security numbers at the hospital while they were having a baby. And the husband was stealing the social security numbers of deceased people at his place of employment. I was happy to be apart of finding them, ending this, and restoring peoples documents. So, don't steal with my purse, and after reading this, maybe don't mess with my kid :)

Here is the Story of Zach. Happy 9th Birthday, buddy. You sure are special.
 We love you and you have taught us to love as a verb.

We prayerful­­ly went down the road of adoption because we wanted to grow our family. We we­­r­­­e a family that experienced a lot of loss having children. We have 2 biological that are currently 9 and 6.  Today, had our other pregnancies worked out, we would have also had two 8 year old twins, the fraternal twin of my 6 year old, a 5 year old, and a 4 year old.  Many ­­families experience these types of losses, and for us, it is part of our story that we like to share. It is the journey which led us to adoption.
After taking some time to really decide this was what we were going to do, we decided we would probably go through the state to find local older children that were in need of a family. We began about a one year process of training, meetings, paperwork, home studies, interviews, and preparation to be matched with a child. Upon completion, we were receiving calls about children in need. It was during this time we saw Zach on the Wednesday’s Child website. We were immediately drawn to him because he looked very much like our own biological son and was only 6 weeks apart in age.  We submitted our home study for him because we were not able to stop thinking about him.
Two months later, we got the phone call that we matched with him and we would be able to meet him! We were so excited and also very nervous. This was also the time that we started to learn about Zach’s child life history. I don’t think any amount of training can prepare you for reading some of these files about where a child has been that’s in the system. He had an unthinkable past full of neglect and abuse. He had been placed in a group home and we really weren’t sure what that even meant. He had a box full of things that we were told were wrong with him and too many diagnoses to count.  We decided to step out in faith and meet this child in person. The one statement that I clung to was that it didn’t seem fair to diagnosis or predict where a child was when they had never had a family or been in a stable environment. We had to meet him.
We were shocked to discover where he was living. It was a medically fragile group home, yet to our discovery, Zach had no medical needs. It was full of about 7 children with a rotation of staff and Zach had been there for 4 years. We immediately knew after seeing where he had been, that we were right. There was no shot at Zach ever having a normal life ahead of him if he stayed there, we had to get him out.  Many would think our process would have been easier getting him quickly placed into our home since he was technically a legal orphan. But, that was not the case. We found that Zach had 5 case workers and locating files and contacting someone felt like a goose chase. The lady running this group home in North Georgia lived nowhere near it. She resided in her older age in Atlanta, over an hour away from the group home she was running.  We had little cooperation communicating and setting up a timeline on moving Zach out and found this disturbing. We made reports to our local DFCS and later found out the home was closed and the remaining children were placed into foster homes.
The day finally came, December 4, when we brought him home. It was clear that we needed to hunker down and get ready for the ride. We quickly saw Zach was almost like an international adoption, in the sense he had no idea about social norms and what was going on. Other things we noticed were that he had not been taken out into public much, did not attend a general education classroom style classroom, didn’t know his birthday, had no basic self care skills or training, would have fell into the classification of “non verbal”, did not have a concept of family life or schedule. His diet was very limited so every food was new to him.  He had no idea we were a family unit so going places I was a nervous wreck because he would constantly walk off. Overwhelmed was the best word to describe this phase.
We quickly were amazed at the rapid change in him. From just moving him into a house and a family we saw a little bit of life come into him. Then, as we established nutrition, sleep, exercise, and a schedule, we were able to start teaching him independent self care skills. He quickly did all of these.  His language started immerging and as it did, the behaviors started going away since he could express what he needed. Month to month, the changes were unbelievable. Every day that passed, we witnessed more glimpses of the child inside him that just needed love, stability, and a home.
Our biggest challenge was sending our special needs child to our home school. After enrolling him, we started this new journey of experiencing what IEP meetings were like. We were quickly not welcomed in and experienced a lot of resistance from our administration at the time and even parents at the school. Fear is the only word I can think of to describe it. No one seemed to want to learn or provide the resources our new son needed to go to his home school. We were told that there weren’t kids like him at our school and the kept recommending we place him somewhere else. It was during this time we decided we would fight for Zach. He had never had anyone do that for him before. We were going to put an end to him being a product of the system. It had failed him. We recognized our son had needs and was different, but we also saw his speed of recovery and improvement and believed in him. We knew he could do it and be in general education with the right people and supports.  Soon after us deciding to stay, we experienced very poor treatment from our home school.  Zach was treated unfairly and harmed at school. We were never shocked by any actions from Zach, but constantly shocked at the behavior of the adults involved. We again, dug our heels in and threw our anchor out. We weren’t going anywhere. We hired an advocate and educational attorney to intervene and help our son with his rights.

Because of our outside help, our dedication to Zach, and mostly Zach’s strength and spirit that is overcoming every label he has ever had, we are in a triumphant position. We now have inclusion classrooms in our home school with full time special education teachers co-teaching and para professional help. We have people and administration now on board with inclusion and how to help students be educated in their home school instead of sending them somewhere else. We have friends. We have found loving parents and a loving community of people who value their children being around those a little different from them.  We no longer feel worried to send him to school, but confident in the people that are there because they are educated and equipped to service our child. Zach’s life here has not just helped him, but helped others. Zach’s story of what he went through also made it all the way up to the Georgia Department of Education. They, of course, sided with him and ordered policies locally to  prevent this from happening to other students that require behavior plans inside their individual education plan. Our story began with us just wanting to have more kids. Our story then became so much more. God had a plan for Zach. What constantly brings me to my knees is the meaning of his name, Zachariah “The Lord has Remembered.” Our hope is that one day, after everything Zach had to live through for 7 years, is that he will see people who loved him and fought for him. That said ‘enough is enough’ and fought aggressively for his healing and education.  We are just lucky in that process that making it right for Zach, has now made it right for so many more that may come through.  We owe it all to God who had this plan for us.


Fully Present

My prayers started something like this today,

I can't. I can't figure out how to keep our house clean, I can't figure out how to balance the needs of each child in our family. And I can't always be on top of it with each kiddo and you know Lord, I can't come close to filling the endless pit of needs that our adopted son has because his wounds go deeper than my understanding.....

Im pretty sure He was like, Well good morning to you too ;)

Sometimes I feel disappointed in my relationship with God. I pray and I don't get an answer. Or, I pray and I find myself disappointed in the way He has answered my prayers, which then also adds another layer of guilt. Or I'm just flat out disappointed in myself that I just can't quite pull it together.

I can feel shackled by the weight of the perceived load I feel I have to carry every day. The roles of being a wife and motherhood constantly humble me and it gets overwhelming to wake up and do it all again and again. As we move into a new life stage with our kids being a little older, my energy is not spent on chasing them around as littles and balancing naps and feeding. It is now more complex with really molding world views, attitudes, self discipline, and how we treat people. And I have 6 little eyeballs watching if I practice what I preach. The best way I can teach them is to live it in front of them. We can't hold our children to a higher standard than we ourselves don't live by.

I was once on staff with a college ministry and was involved with it for 6 years. I would hear people say this during some of our staff meetings, "I'm gonna do big things for God. Big things. I'm want to go move to a foreign country and just die there for my faith."
At all of 20 years old, I remember listening carefully, yet not understanding the words that would come from my boss in response to these statements. Similar statements came a few times a year from someone passionately wanting to do something they perceived as "big" for God.  He was so gracious and never crushing anyone's dream, but gently would say, "You know, sometimes God calls you to live the life He has given you and be faithful to it. Sometimes the hardest thing is to just keep walking down the path in front of you." Now in my life, that reasonates. Tim and I call it our season right now of, Dwelling in the land and cultivating faithfulness.

To stay married. To love my kids and engage every day. To reach out and be a neighbor to my neighbors. To work hard at a job and not quit. To clean your house. To be a family member to your family. To struggle with those relationships and let them refine you. To be apart of a body of believers. And to serve your church. To wrestle with the balance of doing all of those things. To do these things well and faithfully and leave room for white space where God can speak and work in those areas. And when you wrap your head around doing all of those things, some days it feels like a lot easier to want God to call me to pack it up and go move to a foreign country and die there :) Sign me up!!!

If I can just sit. Just sit with Him. For a few minutes a day, I'm reminded that He didn't just rescue my soul from eternity, but is here to rescue me from myself every day. This passage resonates with me,

Colossians 1:13-20

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Praying that no matter how deep our sin goes, that we are reminded of how much greater His grace is. The greatest life you can live is to live fully present and walk in the life God has given you, and by His grace, do it well.


1 Year Ago Zach became a Willis

Wow. 1 Year since making our adoption final in court. It was quite a day and you can read about it here, but what I've learned is our joy is being manifested in full in eternity. There are literal clouds of witnesses rejoicing over the love, labor, and fight for this kid. Zach, your God is strong, mighty, and very very big.

He has moved more than mountains for you. You will see that someday. He has taken a broken couple and used them in ways we could have never dreamed. Your God is amazing. And you have let me see that. He fights, advocates, never gives up, and His love definitely never runs out. This year has been a marathon, not a sprint, and we are still running. I want to celebrate your life. All the life you have gotten to live in your short time with us. I can't believe its only been 1 year, yet 19 months you were placed in our home as a foster child. We love you Zach and we are so proud of you. We can't wait to keep pushing you to the max and throwing as much life at you as possible. Every day, you surprise us and make us smile. You are in a family now, Zach. These pictures below are your normal life now. You get to do everything a boy your age should be doing. I love that we are in a new normal. All 3 of our kids play, fight, chase, joke, and love each other.... as if it always were. There is a calmness in the midst of a major life transition. I am so grateful for what God lets us do. I hope you always know you have the masses behind you. Our family has been so surrounded and loved since you came to us, to them, you owe your thanks for us keeping our heads above water.

Our kids love nothing more right now than to look at all of our pictures. So, in attempt to keep up with where all we have been traveling to..... here are some of our favorite memories of 2015 so far! We have just entered the life phase where it is so much fun to travel with the kids. They are a blast to take places and we have a big bucket list of places to go!!!

The Fourth. This year was our annual tradition to head over to Tims family in Alpharetta, eat fried chicken that Chef (his dad) makes. He soaks in it buttermilk and its ridiculous! After we eat, we walk across the street to the Atlanta Athletic Club, where his grandparents are members and I believe everyone in Tim's family had their first job there! It was special this year. You know those moments that just freeze in time? During the show, tears welled up in my eyes when I got a glimpse of this shot below... Just Tim wearing his company shirt our kids laying all around and it was just one of those moments.
 Some of our friends gave us their Braves tickets for July 5th! It was Mackenzie's 1st Braves game! She did not want to go at first because she was sure she was going to get hit with a baseball. Once we arrived, they all had a blast. The boys got on the Jumbotron dancing and the Bat Boy signed Mackenzie's baseball Chef gave her to take to the game. It was a fun day.

 David spent last week at Wake Boarding camp at Terminus. It was incredible. The staff was amazing and so great with kids. David learned within the first hour of camp and then they move them onto other parts of the course. It is perfect for every level. He had a great week and we loved hanging out and watching him!

 My kids very best friends moved off our street at the beginning of the year. We have kept in touch and not missed a beat. For Father's Day weekend, we all went to the mountains. This was near the Cartecay River. All 6 kids literally lived in the river all weekend. They fished, swam, kayaked, and played for hours and hours. We had the best time and amazing weather. They will definitely remember this trip!!

 All 3 kids went to Vacation Bible School the first week of summer. The theme was Everest and this was the third year in a row for David and Mackenzie and Zach's second time. They learned so much and I am so grateful for these weeks of just focusing on their relationship with Christ.
 Mackenzie has been taking gymnastics once a week this summer. It has been really fun to all go together and watch her. She is definitely a natural at it!
Me and the boys watching Mackenzie!
David has been really into the chore charts this summer and saving up. He cuts the grass every other week and he is actually really good. Of course, he is already asking if he can have his own business next summer and cut yards!
 Zach is a champ and he is busting out his summer school and going to an amazing camp! He is plowing forward, but still has some catching up to do. He loves summer school and it is amazing watch him just be excited to learn and not even whine about it. He is also going to Clay White camp. It is a phenomenal camp that is labeled PEOTSI (physical education, occupational therapy, sensory integration) and Zach has gown leaps and bounds from it. The only way I know how to describe it is that it is like Ninja Warrior Social Skills camp. Its intense socially and physically.  Summer is his absolute favorite time of the year and it is neat to watch him just thrive.
 David and Mackenzie got to do a one week camp sponsored by Camp Glisson here in Marietta. It was the closest I could find to a camp similar to Zachs so they could do something outdoorsy. They went with tons of friends from here and it was really fun.
We kicked off summer with Memorial Day weekend in St. Simons Island!!! My sister and her boys met up with us since they live in Savannah so the cousins had a blast. We rented a Catamaran one day and took the kids out. It was unbelievably fast and crazy. The kids had a blast together.

 St. Simons Lighthouse, kid's 1st lighthouse we climbed!

 Mother's Day Weekend we went away with my mom, dad, and sisters family. My grandmother recently passed away so we wanted to do something different. It was a special weekend away together and we loved seeing all the cousins play!

 Stone Mountain ropes course
 My favorite picture of the boys from Easter
 Our 11 year anniversary on March 6, 2015. We celebrated at St. Cecilas.

 I know you only see 5 girls in this picture, but there are actually 6!!!! Jessica, to the left of Mackenzie, is expecting Little Allie in August. We are beyond thrilled and excited for more Willis women! And this will be Mackenzie's first girl cousin, she cannot contain herself! So excited!
 In February, Winter Break, we packed up and went to Boone, NC where Tim's family has a place. We decided to put the kids in ski school and see what happened!!! Well, the weekend we went, it literally snowed 11 inches. Fresh powder everywhere! Freezing, but so fun. Probably one of our favorite trips by far. All 3 kids got up and learned to ski. It was a crazy trip, but we stayed warm and cozy in the cabin.

 Cheers to 2015 so far! Let's put another awesome year in the books, Zach!!!

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