Thank you for the many notes of encouragement we received after my last email update a couple of months ago and just for identifying with me in my "messiness".
Thank you too so very much for your prayers for us – knowing that you are praying has been a constant comfort for us. I write to you tonight with a heart full of gratitude for the gifts God has given us as you have prayed for our family. I am sharing 4 of those gifts with you tonight. As I look back on the past six months with Daniel, it is quite amazing to me how so many significant things have changed in a positive way. "The short version" is underlined if you don't have time to read the whole story.
1) One of the most difficult struggles that Daniel had was his fear of our dog. We have a very small dog, but Daniel's only experience with dogs was with street dogs who are potentially dangerous because it is possible that they have rabies and/or are aggressive. And so, he was taught to fear dogs. For over two months, Daniel could not walk around in our home without someone either holding his hand or carrying him around because of his fear of the dog.
And so, for two months we prayed and tried to facilitate positive experiences with the dog like having Daniel feed him/walk him/pet his back side. But, it seemed that this fear would never be resolved. The week after we asked you all to pray, I believe God gave me an idea. I started asking Daniel, "Is Buddie dangerous?"; "Has he ever bitten you?"; "Does he try to hurt you?" At first Daniel would answer "yes", but then eventually he started to answer "no". Then, one day, Rebekah, Will, Buddie (the dog) and I were sitting in the living room with Daniel and all of a sudden Daniel walked from the living room to his room which is on the other side of the house. Rebekah and I looked at each other in shock as this had never happened before - walking somewhere in the house by himself. And since that day, he has not been afraid of the dog and is able to walk freely around in our home! We now even catch him petting the dog on his own.
2) Another one of Daniel's struggles had been getting his diaper changed. We decided to work on potty training a couple of weeks after we asked you to pray. Rebekah made a sticker chart for him and he loved putting his stickers on the chart when he went potty. We were not sure what to expect, but Daniel caught on quickly and within two weeks, he was completely potty trained!
3) Last year, I spent time talking with God about whether to home school Rebekah and Will full -time again this year. As Dan and I talked and prayed about this, we were most at peace about having them home full-time for one more year. The primary reason that came to mind for us was to have them home for the purpose of having all of us available to blend as a new family. Besides this, both of our kids really enjoy their home schooling schedule.
I had also thought that I could schedule time into the day when I would work with Daniel on areas of his development that need strengthening. However, after two days of home schooling with Daniel at home, we encountered two problems. One, it became apparent that Daniel needed a much more structured schedule than I could give him at home in our home schooling environment. I could see that he felt stressed because things did not always go the same way every day. Second, Daniel seems to feel safe in the midst of a group of kids. And so, he would wake up in the AM asking to play with the neighbors (at 6 AM).
After a very difficult day trying to juggle both the older kids and Daniel's needs, Dan asked me if I would consider having Daniel go to a pre-school for a few hours in the AM in order to meet his need for social interaction. I had planned on Daniel attending pre-school after at least 6 months of being in our home, but did not think about sending him so soon. However, as we thought through Daniel's needs and our family's needs, we decided to have him begin pre-school now. The first few days for Daniel were difficult in terms of him just not being sure that he felt safe there. But, after that he has walked into his pre-school excited to start his day there.
Another decision that God led us to make was to enroll Will at Nicaragua Christian Academy for 2 classes every morning. After Will's best friend left for England (who used to spend a good part of every day with Will), we could see that he needed more time around young men. Will also has two male teachers at NCA who are great role models and interested in speaking into his life. This transition has gone well for him – except the part about getting up at 6:45 AM.
4) Daniel's adoption is complete! Last Friday we went to the judge and we received the official word that Daniel is now a "Van Zoest". This feels like a miracle to us as we have been told for months that the adoption would not be complete by November. And so we are very thankful! Daniel's full Nicaraguan name is "Daniel Moises Van Zoest Riebkes". Nicaraguan names include the Mom's maiden name at the end. "Daniel" was the name the orphanage gave him as a result of him arriving there prior to his paperwork arriving. Little did he know that one day he would have a Daddy named Daniel! "Moises" (Spanish version of Moses) was the name given to him by "The Ministry of Family" at the time they took custody of him when he was 4 months old. We decided to keep this name as we reflect on who Moses was - how he too was adopted into a family whose culture/skin color was different from his own. And how he too struggled with being able to speak, just as Daniel does right now. We wonder whether God has plans for Daniel to be a part of communicating God's love and truth to the people of his own culture one day, just as Moses did.
A few areas you can pray for us include: 1) Our evening meal times. Please pray that we will learn how to respond to Daniel's needs at mealtimes. Balancing our teen's need to connect and share at mealtimes with our toddler's needs at mealtimes has been a challenge.
2) For Dan and I to remember and apply what we are learning. I have a friend who adopted 8 and 3 year old boys around 5 years ago. She is mentoring me through how to respond to Daniel's fear and is giving me wonderful resources to learn how to parent a child who comes from a hard place. She recommended an on-line class that Dan and I are taking as well. I need God to help me remember and understand how to apply what I am learning to how I interact with Daniel. It all feels foreign and against my natural instincts and so I need sharpness of mind and tenderness of heart to apply the principles well.
3) Please continue to pray for our relationships with our kids, for our marriage, and for our kids' relationships with each other. We are all making progress when it comes to figuring out our "new normal" and I can see how we are all growing through this, but we still have some really hard days.
4) Finally, would you pray God's protection on our health? Both Rebekah and Will had viruses and spiked very high temperatures recently. Daniel is sick off and on like most kids his age. I have been fighting some kind of parasite for the past two months and have been pretty exhausted as a result. I saw a doctor last Monday and I've been taking a second round of medication that seems to be working better than the first. Dan is often the healthiest of all of us – I can often see how the heat drains his energy though.
Thank you again so very much for your prayers, your love, and your concern for Nicaragua and for our family. We are so thankful for you.
Peace and love to you, Lisa (Dan, Rebekah, Will, and Daniel) Van Zoest
Daniel and Buddie have learned to be friends. Will's dinner time prayer was a persistent request for God to facilitate this relationship. It was a great experience for all of us to realize how God cares about even things like a little boy's relationship with the family dog.
Rebekah got to take advantage of an amazing opportunity. She got to run in a Tough Mudder race! The race involved running 5 K off and on through a river of mud and then maneuvering through multiple obstacles before the finish.
Rebekah ran the race with her friend Abi.
Here is the whole group of friends/neighbors that ran together posing after the race.