Ethan’s Training Chopsticks

On our first trip to Korea (when we went to pick up Ethan), we bought Ethan a set of children’s chopsticks and soup spoon (two common utensils in Korea). While we were there, we learned that children in Korea commonly begin learning to use chopsticks around age 3.

On our second trip to pick up Sarah last month, we saw a set of children’s training chopsticks and we brought home a pair for Ethan, featuring Percy from Thomas & Friends (based on what we saw in stores, Thomas & Friends is big in Korea).

The Edison Chopsticks are made by INP Korea. Some of their products are sold by Amazon (FYI, they make training chopsticks for adults, too!).

Recently, Ethan got to try out his pair, and he did pretty well …

The Night Before We Went to Korea

We’ve written some about Ethan’s transition in the past month with the addition of Sarah to our family. We even started writing about his transition before we went to Korea. We also discussed our mixed emotions about going to Korea while leaving Ethan behind at home.

One thing we never wrote about, though, was the night before we went to Korea. On that Sunday evening, Joleen and I took Ethan up for our regular evening bedtime routine, on the eve of traveling 7,000 miles to Korea, knowing that it would be the last time for the three of us.

We went through our regular routine — reading Scripture from Ethan’s children’s Bible, praying, drinking milk, brushing teeth, saying goodnight. Somewhere in the midst of all that, Joleen told Ethan that we’d be away for a while but that we’d be back.

I will never forget the look on Ethan’s face.

It’s hard to describe. Maybe the word “numb” is the best way to describe it. But I was proud of Ethan for two reasons: (1) he understood, to some degree, anyway, and (2) he knew we’d be back, although couldn’t have understood the timeline. I was also relieved that he knew we would be back.

Ethan did well while we were away, of course, but that night was the real beginning of the major changes to come. That’s the night when we really started transitioning from the familiar to the unfamiliar.

While our kids are hopefully discovering more familiarity here, we still find ourselves in some unfamiliar territory (for each of them and for us, too) nearly 6 weeks after that night before we went to Korea.

Routine & Familiarity

We think the current transition of our family is difficult for Ethan not only because there’s a new baby in the house but also because the previous routines Ethan has known have been thrown into a state of chaos (of course, the new baby in the house is a major reason for those lost/changed routines).

When it was just three of us, we worked hard to develop and maintain some routines (in spite of un-routine lives/schedules). While we’re still trying to maintain some of those routines, it must all feel very unfamiliar and chaotic to Ethan. Mealtimes are different. Evening bedtime/devotional times have changed. It’s chaotic and unfamiliar to us, too, but the difference is, we’re able to process it and adapt much quicker than Ethan, who is only two and a half, after all.

One of those key routines was our evening routine. As many nights as possible, the three of us (or two of us, on nights when one of us had a meeting), read Scriptures from a children’s Bible, prayed while Ethan drank his bedtime milk, brushed Ethan’s teeth, and said goodnight.

Tonight, after we read Scripture and pressed the button on Ethan’s prayer angel (which prays the traditional bedtime prayer), Ethan grabbed his milk cup, then when he noticed we were not sticking to our normal routine, reminded me to turn off the light (as one of us prays while he drinks his milk).

Then it struck me that he’s been that doing a lot lately, keeping us on routine, especially at night. In fact, that may be what’s behind the question, “Did you preach?” Ethan knows that “preaching” (and everything that goes along with our lives as preachers) is part of our routine and the rhythm of our lives.

So, in many ways, Ethan and Sarah are in similar places, even though it’s a different experience for each of them. They’re both looking for some familiarity as we become a family of four and as we develop new routines.

As continue to work on maintaining some of Ethan’s old routines, we’re also working on developing new routines as Sarah enters the mix!

Fluid Situation 3.0

Sunday marked one month since we received Sarah in Korea. It’s also been about a month since we arrived home.

For Sarah’s part, the transition into our family is going well. For Ethan, it’s still a struggle (more on this soon). But in case you missed them, you can read/review our earlier reports here and here.

As we’ve said before, the biggest challenge for Sarah has been with her sleeping. She sleeps extremely well once she gets to sleep (which we’re grateful for!), but until recently, getting her to sleep has been difficult. Within the last few days, though, she is making great strides.

Early on, when we laid Sarah in the crib, she would wake up, cry, and become more and more agitated, sometimes nearly hyperventilating. She seems to be getting more comfortable with the crib, so much so that recently, we’ve been putting her in the crib and she’s starting to fall asleep on her own. She may still cry a little, occasionally, but the difference is that she is learning to soothe herself and to fall asleep on her own. Based on early experiences with Sarah, I thought it would take longer to get to this point. But it’s still early. Hopefully, we keep moving in the right direction!

Part of the bonding process with an adopted child is learning to communicate with a baby who has spent most of her life training a foster mother/family to interpret her communication signals. A few days after arriving home with Ethan, we wrote about Ethan’s Big Challenge (i.e., going from an experienced foster mother to two clueless parents). While Sarah gets parents who have a little more experience, she still has to start over with a new family (that’s gotta be frustrating! :-D)

Well, today is a good day to reflect on where we are, not only because we’re at the one month mark, but also because we had our first (of three) post placement visits with our caseworker (which is part of the legal process of adopting from Korea; I wrote a little bit about that here).

Today’s visit with the caseworker went very well. It was an opportunity for the caseworker to meet Sarah and to get an update on how her transition into our family is going.

I’m also hoping to write an update (soon) on Ethan’s handling of this transition, which continues to be the most “fluid” part. At the end of one day last week I said to Joleen, “I hope we hit the bottom today, because if we didn’t, I’m not sure we’ll survive!” Nearly a week later, things have been better, but we still have a long way to go.

We would appreciate your continued prayers for us during this time, that we will bond with one another and grow together as a family. Pray for Sarah that she will bond with her adoptive family. Pray for Ethan that he will reach acceptance. And Joleen and I need wisdom and patience to navigate this fluid situation in a way helps our family grow as strong as possible!

“Did you preach?”

Both Joleen and I are halfway through our 10-week parental leaves (which has included 2 weeks of vacation time to cover the trip to Korea and post-trip time zone adjustment).

Ethan has apparently noticed that things are a bit different around here these days. A few times, Ethan has asked one of us, “Did you preach?”

He usually has asks Mommy, but yesterday, he asked me. Having only heard me preach a couple times, he probably has less of a sense of what I do on Sunday mornings.

But the question raises the issue of routine. Even though we have this time off, we are trying to maintain as much routine with Ethan as possible (meals, naps, bedtime), while at the same time, trying to establish a new rhythm/routine with the addition of Sarah.

It’s also reminds us to be grateful to God for his call upon our lives, as parents and as preachers.

Life Lessons from Fantasy Football

Last year, I wrote about my first year of playing fantasy football in a new league at Centre Grove UMC. We’re playing again this year, and I’m learning that some of the tips for playing fantasy football are also good life lessons.

Do your homework.
Doing your homework begins in the preseason. A numbers of fantasy football sites/sources publish/print “draft kits,” which include preseason rankings and projections of quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, kickers, and team defenses.

In fantasy football, doing your homework is important so that you are able to draft the best team possible. Preparation is crucial in life, as well. For Christ-followers, it means constantly being intentional about developing your spiritual growth. It means developing your God-given gifts/talents. Preparation is about doing today what will make you more productive/fruitful tomorrow.

Sort through all the information.
In fantasy football, you have to guard against information overload. A Google search on “fantasy football” returns nearly 68 millions results! You could easily spend every spare moment browsing fantasy football sites, even good ones. So, you have to learn to sort through it all to find the information that’s most helpful to you. Last year, I listed some sites I relied on at the time. Some are the same this year, but, really, one of the best sites is Fantasy Football Librarian, which provides (daily) links to good fantasy football sources.

Life can get pretty complicated, too. And there’s all kinds of knowledge and advice out there, much of it conflicting. You have to learn to sort through it all to find what’s most helpful!

Go with your gut.
After doing all of your homework and sorting through all the information to find the best advice, you still have to make your own decisions in setting your lineup each week and about which players to drop and/or add. Sometimes, you can make informed decisions (decisions based on research), but other times, it’s simply a gut call!

Similarly, in life, you pray and seek God, gather all the good information/advice you can, but in the end, you have to make the decision!

No regrets.
This one’s tough. In fantasy football, it doesn’t matter how good you are, how good the information, or how lucky you are, you are going to make decisions that blow up in your face. Maybe they were bad decisions. Many times, they may be good/right decisions, but it just didn’t play out the way you thought it would.

Last week, I agonized over whether or not I should pick up a running back who was expected to fill in for an injured starter. I still think I made the right decision by not picking him up or playing him based on the available information at the time, but it didn’t play out according to the information and the player had a great day (he’s on my roster this week).

It’s that way in life, too. We can’t spend too much time wallowing in despair because a decision we made didn’t turn out well or even made things worse. We have to move on and be ready for the next challenge.

Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Fantasy football is a game after all. But for those of us who are competitive, it’s easy to take it too seriously! Someday (hopefully soon), I want to John Ortberg’s, When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box.

In life, as in fantasy football, there’s only so much you can control. You make the best decisions possible, based on what you’ve read, or what think or feel, but in the end, there’s only so much you can control, so don’t take yourself too seriously!

Stay alert.
Things are constantly changing in the NFL. Players get injured and backups become starters. Players don’t live up to expectations. Players get suspended. To make sure you roster the best team possible each week, you have to stay on top of things. In life, too, things can change in an instant. We have to stay alert. Incidentally, that was a lesson Jesus drove home to his followers on more than one occasion!

Be patient … but not too patient.
This area is tricky because it’s a matter of timing. It deals with the question when do you give up on a player who’s not performing. It’s about putting together the best possible team for (1) the immediate future, AND (2) down the road.

Sometimes I’m not patient enough with my players. Last year, I led our league in “moves,” which means I dropped and added more players than the other 11 teams in our league. I’m leading again this year as I’m always looking for those players who are breaking out or who are given new opportunities to play. Sometimes those decisions turn out well, sometimes they don’t (or at least not right away). Sometimes, they produce later in the season but usually by then, they’re on someone else’s roster! 😉

It’s a bit of a balancing act and there’s a fine line between being patient and being too patient.

Well, I’m sure there are other life lessons (and fantasy football tips). Feel free to add your lessons/tips in the comments below.

Involving Kids in Mission

In the days and weeks leading up to our first trip to Korea — and to becoming parents — we wrote about the kind of culture we wanted to create in our home and family life. Part of that included Shaping a Servant Culture.

To help our children become servants and givers, we want to let them share in opportunities of blessing others. And one of the ways we like to do that is Operation Christmas Child, an annual outreach of Samaritan’s Purse. Last year was <a href=”””> Ethan’s first year to participate in Operation Christmas Child. This year, Sarah got to watch. Next year, she’ll be ready to jump in, as well.

A nice new development this year is the ability to track where your shoe boxes go. By making an online donation (to cover the $7/box shipping cost) through EZ Give, you get a label with a bar code, which is used to track the destination of your shoe boxes. The traditional method is to include your donation with your shoe box.

Well, we would be interested in hearing how you have involved — or are involving — your children in mission and/or giving in the comments below.

Fluid Situation 2.0

We we arrived home from Korea three weeks ago, and it’s been almost that long since we wrote about Sarah and Ethan’s adjustment. It was, and still is, a fluid situation.

Overall, Sarah is doing well, but we have our moments — mainly related to sleeping and the car seat (occasionally). These two areas were challenging for Ethan as well, but for both of them, sleeping is/was the biggest challenge.

Sarah’s (morning and afternoon) naps are normally easier than putting her to bed at night. My theory is that it’s more difficult at night because she was laid down for naps in Korea but slept beside her foster mother at night (in Ethan’s case, he not only slept beside the foster mother, but also took 2-3 naps/day on his foster mother’s back). As we did with Ethan, we place Sarah in a crib for naps and nighttime sleeping (she doesn’t like that very much).

Sarah will usually fall asleep fairly easily while we hold her, but wakes up and cries immediately as we put her in the crib (in Korea, she was described as a light sleeper, which we’ve discovered is usually, but not always, true). It sometimes takes up to 30-60 minutes of consoling and reassuring her until she falls back to sleep in her crib. Since the long term goal is for Sarah to become a self-soother (as Ethan has) we know that things might be a bit more difficult in the short term. Fortunately, once Sarah is asleep, she usually sleeps throughout the night.

The added challenge this time is that Sarah’s sleep (and car seat) difficulties effects Ethan. Ethan seems to handle it well most of the time, except for the end of an hour-plus drive home tonight from Grammy and Pappy’s house; the last twenty minutes of the trip finally got to Ethan as we got close to home. Sarah, who didn’t sleep much at all today due to the trip to Williamsburg AND not being able to sleep in an unfamiliar place (actually, she fell asleep two different times in my arms this afternoon, but she didn’t want anything to do with the pack-n-play I tried to put her in!). She slept a little on the way home, but got awake for the last twenty minutes and cried and screamed till we arrived at home.

Ethan is a major part of this bonding/adjustment process (we wrote about that in the post from three weeks ago). We believe we’re moving in a positive direction but it’s a slow process — sometimes it’s three steps forward, two steps back, or some variation of that. Learning how to live with another child and how to play with an 8 month old is process for Ethan.

But we can tell that Ethan is processing stuff. Recently he asked Mommy, “Do you have two babies?” And yesterday morning, he told me a while after he got up (he’s been getting up early and coming into our room before Sarah wakes up), matter-of-factly, “I’m getting bigger … I’m growing up.” I asked him if he was okay with that and he said yeah. I assured him that it’s good he’s growing up, but added that he doesn’t have to do grow up too fast! 🙂

Well, I’ve long thought that the difficulty in posting photos on the blog is that they’re just a few pieces of the puzzle (and then, only the pieces we choose to reveal). While they don’t give the whole picture, we hope these photos from the last several days give at least a little glimpse into how things are going.

Zero to 22 and 32 to 20

In the last few weeks, we have intentionally tried not to make (or at least not to write about) too many comparisons between the early transitioning experiences of Ethan and Sarah (in terms of their personalities because (1) that may not be fair to them and (2) we’re still getting to know Sarah’s personality).

But one area where the experience was much different the second time around was that when we got Ethan, we went from holding no child (zero pounds) to holding a 22-pound child. That was a big adjustment for us, in itself!

In the year and a half we’ve had Ethan, we’ve grown accustomed to holding/carrying a small/growing child. And when we received Sarah in Korea less than three weeks ago, the size and weight was once again very noticeable, but in a different way this time. Instead of going from zero to 22 pounds, we went from (about) 32 to (just under) 20 pounds. Whereas Ethan felt very heavy in February 2008, Sarah felt very light in October 2009.

And the difference was again even more noticeable when we returned home from Korea. After a week away from Ethan, it seemed he had grown a few inches and gained a few pounds!

Cultivating Creativity

I have long been interested in the subject of creativity, and as a pastor/leader and a parent, how to cultivate creativity in others.

In the past, I’ve written about creativity through a review of the movie, “The Astronaut Farmer” (see “The Astronaut Farmer” and Creativity). I also wrote about creativity when we were thinking about the kind of environment we wanted to create for our child/children in Shaping a Learning Culture.

I believe that because we are created in the image of God — God the Creator — we are inherently creative. But (as I wrote about previously in the movie review), most of us tend to lose or stifle our creativity as we grow up (no doubt with the help of others). As a leader, I want to help people regain (or rediscover) their God-given creativity. As a parent, I want to encourage the development of creativity in my kids (which may simply boil down to not messing them up too much as they grow and develop!).

It’s fun to watch young children play with toys, watching their creativity at work. It’s fun to hear the development of a child’s language as their vocabulary expands and as they learn to put words together.

One of the things we’ve focused on is to allow Ethan (and eventually Sarah) to use his imagination in how he plays with or uses toys and stuff. An important part of this is that there’s not necessarily one (right or wrong) way to do things (i.e., to play with a toy or use a tool). Of course, this means that toys aren’t simply things to keep the kids quiet/occupied, they’re learning opportunities.

For example: Ethan the Drummer. What amazes us isn’t so much that he can turn just about anything into drums, but that he knew enough to create his own drum sets!

One other example: Ethan has a small Disney Cars’ theme suitcase with wheels. He uses it not only to transport toys to the babysitters, but also as a “mower” or a vacuum cleaner.

Adults see a suitcase as a suitcase but kids see all kinds of possibilities!

One of my favorite statements (which is connected to creativity) is, “There’s always a better way!” Kids (of all ages) should be free to use their imaginations and not be tied (or forced) into thinking there’s only one (supposedly right) way to do something.

The problem with settling on one way of doing something is that we never experiment, we never use our God-given imaginations, we never look for better ways of doing things. This is important because rarely is the first idea/solution the best idea/solution! But as we keep trying new things, experimenting, and using our imaginations, that’s when creativity kicks in.

From a leadership/parenting perspective, I think the point is that it’s more important to teach others how to think and problem-solve than it is to teach them what to think (i.e., method is more important content; when you have the method, you’ll be able to get the content).

I’ve long said that the purpose of education (at any level) is not just to teach you what you need to know (educational programs can’t really teach you everything you need to know, anyway), but the real purpose is to teach people how to learn. When you know how to learn you’ll always be able to learn what you need to know when you find yourself in unchartered territory.

When Ethan finds himself in unchartered territory (i.e., something goes wrong or happens unexpectedly), if we can, we try not to fix it for him or tell him the solution (though we may guide him to finding/discovering solutions). In the process, we try to do two things:

  1. Have a good attitude, to say, “Oh well” (the idea is, things will go wrong and it’s what you do after things go wrong that matters). So, don’t panic or over-react. Often, Ethan will say, “Oh well,” when something goes wrong, whether it’s something he’s doing or something Mommy or Daddy is doing.
  2. Focus on solutions: Rather than telling Ethan (and eventually Sarah) what the solution might be, we’re more interested in teaching them how to find the solution(s) on their own.

We don’t do these things as well as we’d like. They take a lot of patience and a focus on the long view, not simply surviving the immediate “crisis” (and, to be honest, our first days and weeks after bringing Sarah into our family have clearly put us in survival mode for the time being!).

Having a good attitude and focusing on solutions are vital components of creativity. They’re values/skills we want to improve in our own lives and at the same time, instill them in our kids’ lives.