Cheering section

Jubilee didn’t just get a mom and dad when she was adopted. She got three brothers, three grandparents, three uncles, one aunt, and three cousins.

But even though adoption brings children into extended families, church bodies, and communities, the most important thing adoption does is place children into immediate families. Not immediately families, mind you, for Chinese special-needs adoptions rarely see a child come home before toddlerhood. But slow as the process might be, when a child moves from a concrete building teeming with orphans to a family of her very own, that pesky wait becomes worth it!!

And the siblings who’ve been waiting for their new brother or sister to come home receive just as big of a blessing! In the same way that there are no substitutes for a mom or a dad, there are no substitutes for siblings. Who else can we lay our heads on and drool when the road-trip drags on and on? With whom else can we bare our souls without fear of judgement or punishment? Who else has seen us in our underwear, heard us sing in the shower, and lived with us through our teen years, and loves us anyway? Nobody but our siblings. They are there for us through the years, watching us grow, watching us fail, and watching us overcome.

My immediate family is my cheering section, my biggest fans, my confidants, and my favorite people in the world.

The old saying, “Blood is thicker than water,” is true, though we adoption folks know that “blood” is not always a literal term:) The immediate family, no matter how it comes together, is the backbone of life. And darn it, everybody needs one!

So here’s my plug: the more people who learn about, pray about, and go forward with adoption, the less people worldwide living without their cheering section.
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My Reflection

God works in mysterious ways… Sometimes I don’t always understand why HE does the things HE does BUT I do know how much HE loves me and just knowing that makes me want to trust HIM even more.

In the summer of 2010 God gave us a gift. It was an unexpected gift but nevertheless it was a gift. That is when we adopted Emma. A frightened, confused and cognitively disabled 10 yr old girl.

This was a new experience for Hubby and I. Emma came to us completely out of control. Her life was turned upside down and she could not process all the changes that were happening to her. She had no idea how to behave during this time of upheaval. After all, who were these people that claimed to want to be her parents? During our time in China Emma was mean, as mean as I have ever seen a child. She hit us, scratched us, grabbed our privates, shoved young children, laughed at inappropriate times and ran away from us. She broke the toys we brought her, yelled in our faces, cried, moaned and ranted on and on in Chinese.

It was only due to the grace of God that Emma came home with us.

The months went by and Emma adjusted to her new surroundings, to her new family, to the new language and to her new home.

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As time went by I began to notice something special about Emma. She was somehow connected to me. Whenever we were in the same room she would stare at me. No matter who else was in the room and no matter what I was doing. Sometimes it was tolerable and other times I had to ask her to stop staring. She studied my face and often took on my emotions. If I was happy she was happy, if I was not so happy she was not so happy. At first I couldn’t tell if she was mocking me or not? And it irritated me. As time went on and I got to know Emma better I could see that Emma is kind to the core. If she has an unkind moment it is because she thinks she is protecting herself or because she has been mistreated in some way. She not capable of and would not try to mock or make fun of anyone. Even when she laughs at inappropriate times- it is just a rudimentary response.

Sometimes it was hard for me to deal with especially when I was trying to adjust to something new and just needed to work though a situation or feelings I was having. I would pray and say “really God why is she doing this now? Why can’t she be just fine and let me deal with what I am dealing with… “ It felt like she was adding on more stress, just when I didn’t need it…

And the truth is… she was… because Emma mirrors me. Remember awhile back how I said she stares at me when I don’t want her to stare at me. She looks confused, sad and blank at times (maybe even a little angry). Emma can’t read words BUT Emma can read her mother. She knows when I am stressed, confused, bewildered, sad, scared and the list goes on. She may not be able to describe what is going on in words but she knows exactly how I am feeling. AND THEN she takes that feeling on and it becomes hers…

When I look at her face I see myself. I see how I am acting and what mood I am portraying. It is sometimes enlightening and it is sometimes a bit eerie .

But most importantly it is a huge responsibility.

We all have our emotions and sometimes I want to keep them private. But I can’t because she reads me and she exposes them whether I want them exposed or not. It is a gift and sometimes a curse. There are times I want to hide, feel what I need to feel and move on. But I am reminded that whatever I am feeling is affecting her and others.

I think of Emma as my barometer. She lets me know when I am off and she lets me know when I am on. The look on her face, the smile or the stress says it all.

I have noticed this about Emma for a very long time. I have wanted to post about it but in order to want to post about it I want to like what I am seeing because I am in essence seeing me.

It also feels like such a huge responsibility. It makes me aware of how I am affecting others around me, my children (big and little), my blessed treasures. It makes me realize how much I need GOD and how I am completely dependent on HIM. I am a servant and in my own right I am useless but if HE works through me, together we can love and care for the children. It truly puts me on my knees.

Emma is a gift. And even though it took me awhile to understand the gift that was given to me it is my responsibility to embrace it. To be thankful for the insight that she provides.

Emma asks very little of me. She asks that I unconditionally love her, care for her and she sure would like it if my only emotion was constant happiness- because if I am constantly happy than she is too! I guess that is not realistic but at least now I know when I am going astray… because my dear daughter lets me know.

I can see it in her face… as she can see it in my face.

I didn’t ask God for this “gift” but God gives us what we need not what we want.



One Giant Leap Forward

It’s been three years and one month since I stood in the Civil Affairs building in Zhengzhou and took the sweetest boy into my arms. It was the end of 13 long months of waiting, and the love I felt for my son during all those agonizing months was nothing compared to the explosion that took place in my heart the moment I finally held him.

Like all adoptive parents, my husband and I completed the required parent training to adopt from China. We learned many valuable lessons during those hours and they prepared us for some of the challenges that we might face once our son was home. But learning about those challenges is nothing like seeing them firsthand. From the first time I fed my son, he acted like he had never seen food before. And as a baby with a cleft lip and palate that was responsible for holding his own bottle and feeding himself while the orphanage nannies took care of the younger, less independent babies I know that he had probably never experienced having enough food.

Through the years, we’ve had to overcome many “orphanage behaviors” but the hardest one for my son to let go of was his struggle with food issues. It’s something that was a gradual process. First letting him have all the food he wanted, whenever he wanted. Making sure that all the food was in place at the table before he sat down to a meal to avoid a meltdown. Telling restaurant staff that his order must be the first one brought out. Warning preschool teachers and church volunteers that if someone else is eating and he doesn’t have food, it could cause a problem. Then less, and less, of those moments. Small little battles that became very large victories through the years as he became more and more secure in the knowledge that his tummy would never know the pangs of hunger again. But always, he is the last family member at the table…eating all of his food and sometimes even a second helping. There has never been anything about him that indicated even the slightest bit that he is a “picky” eater.

But this past week, that changed. Cold weather and a flu epidemic sweeping through our home prompted me to make a batch of homemade chicken and noodle soup. Like always, the bowls were in place when the kids were called to the table. And after we blessed the food, my sweet Caden pushed away his entire bowl of soup and said, “I don’t like this.” He had eaten it before without complaint, but this time something was different. This time he knew he could reject it and still not go hungry. It took three years for him to reject a meal. Three years to develop that deep level of trust that his tummy is safe with us. Long after the angry outbursts were conquered and anxious attachment became healthy attachment, it was the one thing that continued to break this mama’s heart over and over again. My baby worried that I wasn’t going to feed him.

I have a confession to make. Normally, when my kids reject food or insult my cooking I don’t take it too well. I even have a playful sign in my kitchen that says “Today’s Menu: Eat It or Starve” to head off complaints from my more particular kids who make a habit of turning up their noses at dinner. But when my sweet boy pushed that bowl of soup away, I wanted to cheer. Because it was one more giant leap forward in this journey we call “adoption”. A journey that lasts a lifetime and brings new challenges with it along the way. A journey that will never be mastered or perfected. But a journey that definitely makes an impact…even if the results are slow coming.

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The Makeup Bag and Making Up for What Was Lost

So, in the hustle and bustle of the holidays and the outpouring of many gifts for the newest member of our family, of all the things for our Grace to latch onto, she would not part with her makeup bag.

My parents made the trip from North Carolina to the great state of Texas and somewhere in my mother’s VIP shopping, she had obtained two distinct cosmetic bags and brought them to my daughters. Claire (my oldest) was grateful to have a travel space for her lip gloss and hair bows but Grace (my youngest and most recent addition) was beyond elated. Nothing else really spoke to her nor held her interest like that bag. It is blue and bright and dotted and flowered and she began to fill it to her liking. My chapstick, her grandmother’s chewing gum, and a pack of tissues. She carried it on every Christmas outing in the van, like a Gucci pocketbook, despite having several little girl purses of her own. It was hers.

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What our social worker cited as likely a combination of age two and orphanage time (although in her words likely more age two) is an interesting pattern of behavior that Grace has begun to exhibit. She wants to do everything herself and when she wants something, she will get it and get it in secret if she has to. Snacks are obtained and we have understandably made healthy ones easy for her to grasp when she needs them. But other things are quietly confiscated in stealth-like manner out of her siblings’ (and her mother’s) belongings. Her brother’s Tic Tacs, her sister’s hand sanitizer and her mother’s favorite lip gloss. All done when no one is watching and taken in abundance. If you have never seen a very cute Chinese girl with Tic Tacs pouring out of her cheeks, you are missing a sight! She’s not just taking one, and lip gloss is matted on her entire face like she’s applying sunscreen in a Texas July.

There is a need to have, to have it now, to have it in abundance and to have it in secret. What tickles us is that she acts more like she carries our genes than one who was adopted. What is done in secret is often followed with hands behind her back and a guilty look. Most toddlers who stand in a room staring at you with objects behind their back are understandably giving something away. She is confessional. Just like my oldest daughter who despite being Protestant could pass herself off for Catholic. That’s a shout out to my Catholic friends – one of my favorite things is confession and keeping things “in the light” or “on the table” or in this case “behind my back but I’m standing here until you see!” So here comes Grace waltzing into my room with a face full of Tic Tacs and lip gloss and gobs of hand sanitizer behind her back. Wearing her brother’s watch. Stealth but confessional. In control but not really.

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So, that’s where the makeup bag is genius. Wouldn’t you know it, every time we went anywhere she had that bag but asked permission for every piece of gum and every use of lip gloss. Every time. I think it just somehow made her feel better that she had it all in her grasp and in her control and that it was hers. She could touch it and carry it around and call it her own and even though she has a million things she could do that with, these things are somehow important. Because somewhere along the way that kind of control was lost and it’s being found and we are making up for it. Because you can’t fight control with more control. It’s like fighting soap scum on the shower door with more soap scum. It just adds up and gets dirty and worse. A little control given over to make up for lost control so control doesn’t need to exhibit itself so much. Tissues for snot that isn’t there and enough lip gloss to moisturize for a year. A makeup bag to make up for it.



The Looking Glass

So another year has come and gone. It never fails that I experience both highs and lows as we wave goodbye {and sometimes “Good Riddance!”} to one and a hearty “Hello, come on in!” to the other. Are you the same?

A lot has taken place in our family over the last two years. At the end of 2011, having recently lost our Seth to complications from heart surgery in China, we had found Gabe, our Little Prince, to be waiting on our agency’s referred list. He, too, had a heart issue and “sensitive needs” that at first, I was too chicken to even inquire about. Eventually, not able to let that hankering go… I asked for his file.

It’s so unbelievable, in my flesh, to reconcile how the Lord does these things. How He orchestrates the details of our lives to foreshadow and prepare us for future happenings. How something that seems so “coincidental” can be the very means of comfort and confidence later on.

Because of a need our son, Joel, had that was not even disclosed to us prior to travel…we were now considering a little boy with extensive urological needs. We had a relationship with a pediatric urologist/surgeon and our understanding, though limited, was more than the average parent’s might be for these type of needs.

Still, I read the file, over and over again.

I studied the photographs, over and over again.

I Googled and I wept and I prayed, over and over again.

And I stood before the looking glass and asked myself, “Lord, are we even up for this?”

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The Holy Spirit gently whispered the answer to my question, “No. You are not up for this. But I am. My grace is sufficient.”

And so the Little Prince came home to his family who utterly adored him. For four months, in preparation for his heart surgery, I kissed him and hugged him and took care of him. I so wanted to give myself over to just being completely in love with him. But I was scared to. Looking back, I think somehow, I left part of my heart hidden where Gabe was concerned. Terrified that we may lose him though his heart condition was much less severe than Seth’s. I brought him outside to take pictures the evening before his surgery and later that night, could not physically lay him in his crib for fear that it would be his last night with us.

After he was sleeping soundly, completely unaware of what the next day held, I stood before that same looking glass and asked that familiar question, “Lord, are we even up for this?” And as is His way, His Holy Spirit calmed me with His Word.

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Here we are 51 weeks later.

6 {SIX} surgeries later.

The 7th to be in January with an 8th and hopefully last, scheduled for summer 2014.

I haven’t stood in front of the looking glass to ask that question in quite a while. Oh, I’ve wept for our son and prayed that God would end his suffering from a broken body and too many surgeries. And I’ve wondered, again in my flesh, how we can do this. But always, His encouragement to me has been that His grace is sufficient.

So, we soldier on.

We love BIG and we wait expectantly for the day when Gabe’s body will be as it should be.

I often wonder, if we had known on New Year’s 2012 what we know now, that the extent of his urological needs would require multiple surgeries, would we have moved forward? It’s an unfair question because it takes the sovereignty of God completely out of the equation. But still, I wonder. In my humanness, I tend to gravitate toward “easy and light”… rather than hard and heavy.

His grace is sufficient though.

For Gabe. For parents who find themselves saying “YES!” to difficult and unfamiliar roads. And for the millions of children waiting for someone to stand in front of the mirror and realize that while we may not be up for it…God’s heart beats for the orphan always. And most times, when we let go of our expectations or our own limitations, beautiful things can happen.

Happy New Year, y’all!

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But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. “ II Corinthians 12:9



As They Should Be

Last year, I was in China with Cora when Alea was born.

Of course, I didn’t know it at the time, but we were there. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the fact that I was standing on the same hard ground as her for those few days she spent with her mother.

Born November 10 and abandoned November 20… A whole lifetime experienced in about 10 days. I think about the conversations her family must have had, the gut-wrenching decisions they made. I may never know the full story, but I do know I was standing on the same soil, and for some reason, that makes me feel more connected to those tragic early days of her life.

We visited the Great Wall while we were there – maybe while she was still in her mother’s arms – and I snapped this picture of Cora with my phone. It’s become one of my favorite photos ever; I loved it so much, I put it on our Christmas card last year.

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All year long I thought about having a friend turn it into a painting. But in light of our other (adoption) priorities, I just couldn’t justify spending money on a painting. So, I just printed a small version and hung it in a collage on my wall.

But in early November this year, between the day Alea was born and the day she was abandoned, I wrestled with some incredible anger… at the injustice of a baby spending only 10 days with her family of origin… at her spending her first birthday in an orphanage, likely uncelebrated by anyone… at the incredible wrongness of the worst anniversary I can imagine – the anniversary of being an orphan. I was mad at everyone and no one… and I had nothing productive to funnel the angry energy into.

And then it hit me. The picture. It was time to turn it into a painting. It was more than a desire… it became something of a need.

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I wrote an artist friend I know, and she agreed to take on the project. Katie Patton is friends with my mother-in-law and some of our other close family friends, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know her the last few months. She is very different from me, but immediately she struck me as someone who could see and paint things not only as they were, but as they should be. So for the last few months, I’ve eagerly been anticipating this…

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The picture is complete. It captures my heart so completely… my girls, walking hand-in-hand, breaking down barriers and walls between people and nations. Their heads are up… they aren’t looking at their feet; they are looking at the King above all Kings. They look up because they are loved and so they can see hope and possibility and a future. They are walking into their destinies.



He is there

Christmas 2009. Four Christmases ago. I was a wreck. We were so close to finding our new daughter. I just knew it would be a few weeks after Christmas; I hoped it would be a few weeks after Christmas. I was filled with expectation that Christmas.

And, that meant that though I didn’t know who she was or where exactly she was, what she looked like or how old she was, I knew she was. I knew she was somewhere across the world, alone on Christmas, what turned out to be her first Christmas.

I was anxious and wondering and thinking all the time about her. Yet, there was something that gave me great peace.

God was there.

In Luke 2:6-20, Luke mentioned the manger three times. Why?

The manger was messy. It wasn’t what we picture and what our children play with as part of our little nativity sets they can hold in their hands. It wasn’t a symmetrical wooden contraption with a sweet bed of hay. It was more like a box looking thing or basin made out of clay mixed with hay or stones and held together with mud. All kinds of food for animals was put into it, not just nice yellow hay. It was dirty, likely moldy, smelly, not anything we’d want our child anywhere near.

And, God was there. Very literally, God was there.

As spunky and full of life as Lydia is now, there was a time that she was in a pretty messy place. I believe her orphanage was one of the better ones—her needs were met, and we’ve learned that there were quite caring women who took to her there. There was a wall of windows with natural light in the room where she lived 24-7. In that room were 40 cribs and a few toys for all to share to pass their days until they graduated to another room and then another. There were older children in that orphanage too, children we weren’t allowed to see. I wonder what their days were like.

I’ve heard a lot of stories, stories about adopted children who flinch when someone moves their direction in fear that they will be hit; children with flat heads who were never held; children who have come to accept that no one wants to bring home a child their age, only babies; children who suffer significant consequences from not having the medical treatment they needed earlier.

And, yet, I believe God is there.

God is not only not afraid to get his feet dirty; He is about getting His feet dirty. That’s what advent is all about, isn’t it? God coming down, the perfect to the broken, the holy to the unholy.

Psalm 34:18 tells us He’s close to the brokenhearted, and there are so many, so very many. I can only imagine that He is very close indeed to brokenhearted children—here and there—whether they are aware of their brokenness or not. He’s there.

I prayed for our daughter four Christmases ago, that He would be close to her, that He would remain close to her. That He would be tangibly felt in that room where she slept. That He would wrap His arms around her when she was cold. That He’d rock her when she needed comfort. That He’d be in the manger with her.

I know He was there.

And, somehow, in the dark places of orphanages around the world, I can’t explain how or what He always looks like there, but I believe that He’s there. In the warmth of the sun pouring in the windows, He comforted my child. In the smile of a nanny. In the gaze of another orphan. In the provision sent by charities around the world. In her broken heart—emotionally and literally.

Somehow, He was there.

Now, as my children listen to us read about His story every night, sing familiar and unfamiliar words together to prepare, sneak Hershey kisses in their mouths as we make reindeer eyes, and use entirely too much scotch tape on crafts and wrapping paper alike, He is here…and, He is there, somehow making an unholy place, holy.

That’s what advent is about. That’s what He’s about.

photos courtesy of KC Photography



There comes a time

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

Adoption has seasons of its own.

The first season can last for years. It starts as a seed, usually, planted in our hearts, by friends, or media, or God. During this time, we pray for wisdom, seek the counsel of those who have gone before us, and ask the question, “Should we do this?”

If the conclusion is “Yes,” we move on to the next stage. Now we are busy, busy, busy, raking paperwork into piles. The winds of change are blowing. All that we once knew is fading, and the light of a new dawn is about to break.

The next season is shock and awe. Our child is home, and our hearts hardly ever stop racing – whether from panic, joy, demands, or all of the above. This is a time when we should be very easy on ourselves; letting things go that aren’t entirely important, enjoying the little things (like black coffee and phone calls from Mom), celebrating small victories, and taking deep breaths.

Next comes the funk. It’s the day the meals stop being delivered by helpful ladies from church. The newness is gone, and left in its wake is our “new normal,” which doesn’t feel very normal, but is here to stay nonetheless. This is the season in which we have small, private pity-parties for ourselves (laced with guilt, of course, because who are we to complain, when our child has just been through so much more?) It is okay, I dare say, to have a bit of self-pity at this stage. It can be helpful now to meet with other adoptive parents, in whose presence we can feel understood.

But staying in this self-pity stage is the danger. Getting stuck here will deaden your heart and your home.

There comes a time when we must get over ourselves, pick ourselves up, and be the best darn parents we can be. They deserve nothing less.

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Who Do They Love More?

I have been a mom for 30 years. Yes, our oldest son just turned 30! It is hard to believe how fast the time has gone. It was just yesterday our dear baby boy was born. We spent our time… just staring at him, in awe, completely amazed at this tiny miracle that God created!

Fast forward 30 years to December 2013. And here we are with 5 older biological children and 13 children born in our hearts. Each one a perfect blessing from GOD!

As parents we love our children passionately regardless of how they came to us. We fiercely protect them each and every day, as best we can.

But there are times when we fail. When we are not in the right place at the right time and our children are subjected to experiences that are less than desirable… experiences that are downright hurtful…

That is what happened to our daughter…

She was lured into a situation where she was taken advantage of… mocked by those she thought were her friends (an adult and a young teen).
She was interrogated and video taped as they asked her questions that she did not understand. She expounded in untruthful ways trying to please her audience and when it was over she was left feeling empty and confused.

Our daughter was previously an orphan, she was abandoned by her birth mother as an infant. For the first year home she would say to us “my birth Momma didn’t want me, she threw me away”. In the beginning it was said in a nonchalant manner but later the tears flowed. It has taken us many years to reassure her that her birth Momma loved her but was unable to care for her and unable to keep her, so she did what she thought was best for her baby. Our daughter and other international adoptees have suffered more than any of us will ever know or understand.

My heart and my head… for the life of me, cannot understand why any adult would EVER do this to a child. Why would they ask a question that is so full of hurt. Why would they deliberately try to open an old wound in an adopted child.

Why would a grown woman EVER attempt to isolate a child (who was previously an orphan) from her family and then interrogate her…

Why would she barrage her with questions and in an attempt to get information that is none of her business. Our children’s special needs are for our family only! Whatever I share in our family blog is for education, adoption advocating and prayer purposes only. It is not to be used to discriminate against, harass or intimidate our children and family.

As the interrogation ended she asked our daughter “the question.” “The question” that no adoptee should ever be asked by a neighbor or anyone else.

Here is the question that continuously breaks my heart to even think of …

“Do they love you as much as their older birth children?”

My jaw drops every time I think of this…

I am so sad that I was not there to protect her, to intervene and stop the litany of unusual and unkind questions.

Why would an adult EVER say this to an adopted child? Why would she try to hurt this child that she previously seemed to be fond of? Why would she try to victimize the victim…

Our daughter was flustered and surprised by such a question… she hesitated and then answered back “I don’t know, I think so…”

Well, let me make this PERFECTLY CLEAR!
YES, WE LOVE OUR ADOPTED CHILDREN JUST AS MUCH AS OUR BIRTH CHILDREN!
AND our birth children would expect nothing less from us!

AND we will fiercely and lovingly protect all of our children because they are ALL OUR CHILDREN no matter how they came to our family!



Bootiful

Tess: I remember my first mama. My mama in beitnam.
Me: Oh you do?
Tess: She looked like an angel, but she didn’t have any wings. She wore a white dress, and she was bootiful.
Me: I imagine that your Vietnam mama was very beautiful, just like you.
Tess: And I love her.
And at that moment I was pretty much incapable of saying anything, trying to hold back my tears and maintain my composure. I love her too.

There is no way Tess could remember her. She was far too young. But she has a vision of her in her head, one that looks like an angel, and I think that’s not just wonderful, but a blessing and a gift.

But the funny thing in our house is that 5 of the 9 of us have “first mamas” and then of course our forever mamas. So we talk about first mamas like they are just a part of regular ol’ life. Like it’s normal. Because for us it is our normal. I think this makes us a very blessed family indeed!

This is a blessing. There’s someone just like me that has a first mama too. I am not alone. This is our normal. This is okay. She/he did it and so can I. Two mamas means more love. I can do this.

But I’m not sure if the little ones realize that it’s not the norm to have more than 1 mama in their lives. For now I can only image that a time might come that one of them suddenly realizes that this is the not the norm, this having more than one mama, and the first one was not forever a part of their lives. And I worry that this realization will hit them hard and suddenly like I know it can if you are 7 years old or 10 or 30. As the forever mama, in a strange way I want them to grieve about this and come to their peace. Maybe that sounds harsh for a mama to want her children to feel the pain. But if they must feel the loss I want it to be gradually and a little at a time so it doesn’t come so hard. And then again I know that they don’t necessarily have to feel the pain of loss at all. I also pray that just maybe it won’t be hard. Perhaps this having 2 mamas will always just be of the way it is and a part of who they are. Maybe they won’t have to grieve their loss so much. This is how it is for some folks, they just accept it for what it is.

For what it is… that there are 2 women who love them just like mamas do, but only one gets to hold them every day and the other has a vision of an angel in her head, one that is also very bootiful.

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