Summer Fun…

Kari and I went into the summer with a blank slate… no calendar, no agenda, no plans. We had a few things we wanted to do and a few things we needed to do, but mostly our aim was to just bond together as a family. Having no idea what state our family would be in… like, would our bio kids be insane, or would our adopted kids try to run away every time we opened the front door…? We decided to not get too crazy-organized with summer plans. Overall, we just wanted to have some fun and make some memories doing what “normal” families do. Thankfully, our family is doing, on the whole, fairly well. Summer was a good season for us.

We spent a good deal of time in West Michigan at the beach. Such great times playing with friends and family! We ate at our favorite Dutch restaurant, Russ’, a few too many times. It’s hard to go anywhere else when you can feed a family of 7, with drinks and a delicious pie to take home, for under $40. We love Russ’… We tend to get a lot of unique looks there, however, along with warm smiles as well! The best comment we overheard at a table of three 75+-year-old women talking amongst themselves was, “Wow, they’re just sooooo dark!”

Here at home, the kids participated in soccer camps and spent time at the community pool. We went to a Kane County Cougars game, and Brayden and I got to go to Great America to celebrate his book reading accomplishments during the school year.

One of the personal highlights for me each summer is taking Brayden and Wyatt on our annual father-son camping trip. I debated and prayed about including Caleb this year on our trip. I felt a real peace about just taking B & W, and I’m so glad I did. They desperately needed a break from the adoption and new siblings craziness. We spent 3 days on North Manitou Island in Lake Michigan. It was an awesome trip and great time to reconnect with just the older two boys. We’re planning on Caleb joining us in 2014!


Just when you thought the paperwork was done and all the adoption bills were totally paid… Whomp, whomp! There’s more!

But, in all seriousness, August 13 was actually a big day for us. All 7 of us traveled to downtown Chicago for adoption court. Not every state does re-adoption, and it’s not a requirement, but it is highly recommended by most people. Our agency has a great lawyer they work with, so we decided to go for it. Working with this attorney and through the Illinois court system, we went through the legal process to adopt Caleb and Izzy in Illinois. This allowed us to legally change their names, get Illinois birth certificates, and have all the other documentation they may ever need (passports, social security cards, etc.) all in their correct names, linked to an American birth certificate. This makes life a lot smoother and easier for them whenever legal paperwork is required. For example, to get a driver’s license, play in Little League, or enroll in college.

We decided to take the train down to Chicago all together. It was a lot of fun.

The whole family entered the court room, we raised our right hands, went under oath, and all stood before the judge for questioning. Surprisingly, the judge actually asked a lot of questions, spending most of her time talking with Brayden and Wyatt about Kari and I, our family, and their siblings. Our boys did awesome, and we were so incredibly proud of them. They seemed so grown up and so brave standing in front of a judge in the Daley Center in downtown Chicago, answering questions about their home, family, and adoption. This father’s heart was bursting with pride as my boys talked about how they love Caleb and Izzy, and where they go to school, and about their church. The judge was full of smiles and satisfaction. We were quickly approved, and we celebrated the occasion with some Garrett’s Chicago Mix Popcorn on our way back home on the train.

13 years of marriage…

This summer, on July 8 to be exact, Kari and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary. We were planning a 10-day trip to Tahiti (ha, ha!), but instead opted for a night out in Grand Haven, MI, while my mom and dad watched the kids for a few hours. We had a great time, enjoyed some delicious food at a new local restaurant, and even got to catch the Musical Fountain, but left early because it seemed like it was “Katy Perry Night” or something.

Each day I’m more amazed at how good God has been to us. How faithful He has been and what an adventure He has taken us on. From Wheaton College, to LeaderTreks, to Zambia, to HoneyRock, back to LeaderTreks, 5 kids, adoption… The list goes on and on. He has been so faithful and good. Just the other night as Kari and I were making dinner together for the family, I asked her, “Did you ever think 13 years ago that you’d have 5 kids and be loading an extra-large cookie sheet with 50 fish sticks for dinner?” We both laughed. We wouldn’t have it any other way!

60 years of marriage…!!

One of the highlights this summer was being able to celebrate Kari’s Grandma and Grandpa’s 60th wedding anniversary in northern Indiana. Over 100 people, friends and family, came to celebrate their faithfulness to each other and their amazing marriage. What an encouragement to everyone there, hearing how God was and continues to be the center of their marriage. Such a blessing and legacy for our family.

Back To School…

I think Kari was just as, if not more, excited than the kids to have school start. By the end of summer, we were all desperate for some change, some routine, and some structure. Kari especially had had just about enough of all 5 kids at home! Kari was one of the select few moms who shed not one tear as 4 of her little ones headed off to school. I actually think she gave me a high-five and had a mini-celebration for herself!

Kindergarten has been great for Caleb. The structure and routine are so good. He loves his teacher and his classmates. He and Annika are in the same 1/2-day class, so it works out really well. Annika is thriving too. The big boys are off and running also, loving their teachers and seeing old friends and making new ones.

The transition to school has been a little rough for Izzy. She’s only 4, so she can’t go with the other kids, and she feels left out… That’s been hard for her. She enjoys the time with mom, but she really wants to just be like the other kids.

How’s it going…?

We still have so many friends, especially those who have adopted older kids, encouraging us, praying for us and asking, “How’s it going?” Still, in so many ways things are going great, better than expected in many ways. We are still not “out of the woods” yet, by any stretch of the imagination. We feel, in many ways, the “honeymoon” period starting to end, and we’re moving into real life. There is still a lot of hurt and pain and struggle that’s going on in Caleb and Izzy… especially Izzy. The other night she could hardly keep it together emotionally. She was tired, but ultimately just sad about something. After talking with her, and hugging her and holding her, I learned that she was just “missing my old house (the orphanage),” I know, I know… It’s hard not to shake her and say, “WHAT?!? How can you say that?! Your old house was a dump, where you got no food, no love, slept on the floor, and were absolutely miserable.” Amazingly, God gives you the patience to not say that, but to lean in, hug tighter, listen, and try to understand. Her world has been ROCKED, and she’s got pain and stuff she’s dealing with. It is just HARD on some days. The next morning she’s running around in a tutu, playing Barbies, and loving life. This is the roller coaster we are on right now. We pray for healing. We pray for God to give us grace and understanding.

As we begin to move past the honeymoon phase, we’ve also noticed more from Caleb and Izzy that they realize they are black kids living in a white family in a predominately “white world.” We have not faced any direct intentional racism… yet. But we know it is coming. We also know the time is coming when someone asks Caleb, “Why is your mommy (or daddy) white?” We know the time is coming when we need to talk about slavery, Martin Luther King Jr., white privilege, racism, etc. But right now, we’re dealing more with situations when Izzy points out every black person she sees… at the pool, at the store, in a movie, or in the pages of the book. Her reaction is usually loudly saying, “Look, Daddy… black skin, like me!” It’s normal, it’s okay, and we talk about God making all people, God loving all skin colors, and “how cool it is that God lets me, a white dude, be the daddy of a cool girl with black skin like you.” We know more is coming, so we just keep praying for the ability to deal with the race stuff well.

We’re also still deep in the “food issues world.” Both Caleb and Izzy had inadequate care until they were adopted, and we know and can tell that they were inadequately fed. We can see that previous food was used by their caregivers to punish, control, and get good behavior. We know that they had to fight for food and were often not fed fairly. Caleb and Izzy may deal with the effects of this early unkind and severe treatment their whole lives. We pray they won’t, and we pray for healing. Honestly, it’s starting to get really old and exhausting dealing with food. They still don’t trust us that there will be enough, obsessed with who has what food, and why and what food they do get. At EVERY meal, one of them, or both, will ask, “After I eat this chicken, can I have more chicken?” when they haven’t taken one bite of the huge pile of chicken on their plate yet. It’s just a weird, hard, patience-testing experience. We’ve had to completely change many things about how we used to eat meals and deal with food before Caleb and Izzy were in our family. We know some of these changes have been hard and frustrating for our biological kids, but we roll with it.

On a positive note, we see such awesome progress with attachment. Both Caleb and Izzy are deeply and thoroughly attached to Kari and I. Their behavior with other adults is improving as well. They are learning appropriate boundaries, and cultural norms and normal behavior is getting better too. It’s also worth noting that they are doing incredibly well with English. Wow! Their new favorite phrase is, “Man, you’re totally freaking me out!”

Thanks for all your love, care, and support and for letting us be open as we journal our experience through this blog.

The 4 big kids on their first day of school!

The 4 big kids on their first day of school!

All 5 kiddos together

All 5 kiddos together


Okay…. so it’s been a busy summer!  Can’t believe it has been over a month since we posted anything to this blog.  We’ve tried to do our best at putting pictures up on FaceBook and Instagram, but in the fun of summer, this blog has been neglected.  We’ve had two great trips up to Michigan, some fun at the community pool, and several great adventures that have left us feeling really blessed that Caleb and Izzy were able to be home with us this summer.

So where do we start?  Caleb and Izzy have been home for nearly 3 months now, and things are starting to feel very normal.  We are settling into a routine a little bit more now, and we understand their unique wiring and personalities so much better.  We’ve always been a family, but now we are definitely feeling like a family.  We have to tell you that these kids are absolutely hilarious.  Their wonderful senses of humor just gel so nicely with our family.  Yeah, we like to laugh.  We have spent more time laughing together over the past 3 months than anything else.  That is a very good thing.

If you remember when we first arrived home, we were definitely concerned the most about Izzy.  You could tell that she was carrying around a lot of pain and hurt.  Trust was hard for her.  Letting go of control was very difficult for her.  We had several very tough days with little Izzy in those first few weeks.  Now, wow…!  How things have changed.  Her heart and attitude has really changed.  She even physically looks like a different person.  We still have hard days…  She still is a four-year-old, but they are nothing in comparison to what we were dealing with initially.  Her face is filled with joy.  She has been loved and cared for unconditionally for 3 months; trust has been built, and walls have come down.  We can’t imagine life with out this little girl in it.  She is one special child with one unreal life story.

Caleb accomplished something huge this week!  He’s riding on two wheels… no more training wheels on his bike.  This is a huge deal!  I wish you all could have seen his face when he first realized what he’d done.  It was priceless.  I (John) have taught 3 kids to ride bikes, and every time they finally get it, I nearly cry.  Watching them achieve something after working so hard to do it and seeing their faces light up with pride and joy just melts me.  Without a doubt watching my son Caleb reach this milestone was my favorite one yet.  I think what made it so special was not the actual riding of the bike, but seeing the celebration and support from a family around him.  Something he has never had in his life before.  The moment that truly melted my heart was watching him seek out and show my dad (Grandpa Vandervelde) what he could now do, then having a Grandpa whoop, holler and cheer him on.  I’m asking myself the whole time, “Can you believe that 3 months ago this boy was stuck in an underfunded, hell-hole of an orphanage in Ghana, and now he is riding a bike full of pride, accomplishment, and joy surrounded by a family who loves him and will never ever abandon him?”  God is good.

Caleb is a sensitive boy who wants to do right but we’ve struggled more with him these last 6 weeks than any of our other children.  Six-year-old boys are tough anyway, and when you add in adoption issues, food issues, language issues, youngest boy issues, still wetting the bed (and other places) issues…  Well, they get even tougher.  But, we are moving forward, and we thank God for Caleb.

I’ve reached the point now where I can’t imagine life with out Caleb and Izzy in our family.  Now that I have experienced life together as a family, I sorta cringe thinking about how empty and hollow things would if it were just the 5 of us.  I can’t imagine all the things that each of us would be missing out on — not just the fun moments, but the deep learning moments as well.  I remember all the time we spent thinking and processing and weighing the options and debating time tables and wondering if this would destroy us… I almost laugh at all that now.  I mean, I can’t tell you how great this whole experience has been.  Really.  Yes, it’s been hard.  Yes, Kari and I have broken down and cried.  But that pales in comparison to the amazing things we’ve been able to be a part of.  The incredible blessings God has poured on our lives because of these two former street kids from Ghana, who now love us as Mom and Dad, is amazing.

Maybe you are reading this blog because you’re considering adoption. If you are than I unashamedly encourage you to do it.  Step forward and become a family to a child in need.  Your life will never be the same.  Adventure, blessings, and deep moments with God await… jump in!!

Izzy enjoying a massive donut on the 4th of July.

Izzy enjoying a massive donut on the 4th of July.

Cousin time at the Jones' lake house in Michigan

Cousin time at the Jones’ lake house in Michigan.  It’s basically like a United Nations meeting for kids.

Celebrating 13 years of marriage at the Musical Fountain in Grand Haven

Celebrating 13 years of marriage at the Musical Fountain in Grand Haven.

The Brothers Vandervelde jumping off the dock.  Its amazing how brave Caleb is

The Brothers Vandervelde jumping off the dock.  It’s amazing how brave Caleb is.

Happy Boy climbing up the ladder to jump again

Happy Boy climbing up the ladder to jump again.

Wyatt finding a dead fish in the water.  Izzy asking if we can eat it for dinner.

Wyatt finding a dead fish in the water, and Izzy asking if we can eat it for dinner.

Ice Cream with Nana and Grandpa V. at Captain Sundae

Ice cream with Nana and Grandpa V. at Captain Sundae.

The results of Caleb's climbing adventures in his closet.

The results of Caleb’s climbing adventures in his closet.  Whoops.

The boys building a bike ramp.

The boys building a bike ramp.

Izzy loves to play and sing.  Caught this cute moment a few weeks back.

Izzy loves to play make-believe and sing. Caught this cute moment a few weeks back.

Beauty.  Captured this while waiting in line at Wendy's.

Beauty.  Captured this while waiting in line at Wendy’s.

Family photo while picking blueberries in Michigan.

Family photo while picking blueberries in Michigan.

Annika loves blueberries!

Annika loves blueberries!

Raining day fun.  Games with Nana and Grandpa V.

Rainy day fun in Michigan… Games with Nana and Grandpa V.

Izzy pretending to be a skunk at DeGraaf Nature Center in Holland, MI.

Izzy pretending to be a skunk at DeGraaf Nature Center in Holland.  She’s such a funny kid.

The kids all loved the snakes at DeGraaf Nature Center.

The kids all loved the snakes at DeGraaf.

Hiking in MI.

Hiking in Michigan

The obligatory... "we don't have any pictures of us" shot.

The obligatory “We don’t have any pictures of us” shot.  Don’t we look so energized and refreshed from our “vacation”?  Ha!

Caleb on two-wheels!

Caleb on two wheels!

Baking a blueberry pie with Nana.

Annika baking a blueberry pie with Nana.

At the park in Holland, MI.

At the park in Holland, Michigan.

All 5 kids on the "tire" swing.

All 5 kids on the “tire” swing.

First time for Caleb roasting marshmallows.

First time for Caleb roasting marshmallows.

Fun making smores with the Slenk girls.

Fun making s’mores with the Slenk girls.  (Please excuse Annika.)

Lauryn Slenk and Izzy.

Lauryn and Izzy

We survived Ikea!

We survived Ikea!

Lots of laughs when these two are involved.

Lots of laughs when these two are involved.

These two sisters are such good friends.

These two sisters are such good friends.

Feels like forever since we posted anything on here, looking back our last post was May 27… So much has happened since then!

So what’s been going on with us…

>> We found out Izzy has Giardia. She’s on medication now, and we can already see that it is working. Poor little girl, who knows how long she may have been struggling with this. As a person who has had Giardia, more than once, I can assure you it is not a fun experience. Besides the Giardia in Izzy, after lots of tests and stool samples (bless you, Kari), both kids have been given clean bills of health. Izzy is on her last day of Flagyl (Giardia-killing med), and we can already see major changes in her.

Izzy's feeling some much better!

Izzy’s feeling sooo much better!

Happy Caleb, Izzy and Annika

Happy Caleb, Izzy and Annika

>> On Wednesday, Caleb had surgery to fix his umbilical hernia. His belly button was about the size of a baseball. These types of hernias are totally normal, and kids in the U.S. usually have them repaired as infants. He really wanted it fixed, and, of course, we did too. The procedure went well, and he’s recovering at home. No swimming in the pool for at least a week. He’s a little bummed about that.

You can see Caleb's herniated belly button in this picture.  All fixed now.

You can see Caleb’s herniated belly button in this picture. All fixed now.

Caleb at the hospital, waiting for his surgery.

Caleb at the hospital, waiting for his surgery.

>> Caleb and Izzy are doing so well with English. They are asking tons of questions about what things are called and how you say certain words. It’s a lot of fun. We haven’t heard them speak any Twi in over a week now. We enjoy hearing them saying stuff like, “thanks,” “nope,” “hey guys,” “k,” “hockey (with full Chicago accent),” “sorta,” “not really,” and “yep.” The video below is of them singing a song they learned in the orphanage.

>> After 32 days straight of Honey Bunches of Oats, Izzy has now switched to oatmeal. Caleb, not so much… He’s going on over 50 days straight of the same breakfast. Every. Single. Morning. Caleb and Izzy have not asked for any food they used to eat in Ghana. We’ve offered several things, even to cook Banku (a traditional dish), and they have absolutely zero interest in it. They pretty much eat any and everything we serve, and there are very few things they turn their nose up at. If they don’t like something very much, they usually say, “Yeah, I like it… but not really.” We smile every time.

>> The bio kids are doing awesome. Annika has come a long way, with a long way yet to go, but we’re so proud of her. Brayden and Wyatt don’t seem to have skipped a beat. We can see that adoption has strengthened them and matured them. It’s great catching glimpses of them helping Caleb and Izzy become part of our family.

So glad I caught this one of Wyatt reading to Caleb in Caleb's bed.

So glad I caught this one of Wyatt reading to Caleb in Caleb’s bed.

The boys playing "funny hair" with Izzy.  It made her day!

The boys playing “funny hair” with Izzy. It made her day!

Annika and Dad taking a break to play some Uno and get a little 1-on-1 time.

Annika and Dad taking a break to play some Uno and get a little 1-on-1 time.

>> We took all the kids to a movie a few weeks ago. What a trip! We all had a blast. Of course it was Caleb and Izzy’s first time in a theater, and it was great.

Waiting for the theater doors to open.

Waiting for the theater doors to open. (Izzy, not pictured, was angry that the doors were closed.)



Caleb absolutely loves Superman...we just wish Man of Steel wasn't pg-13!

Caleb absolutely loves Superman… We just wish Man of Steel wasn’t PG-13!

Gotta love the size of that drink! (Shared with her siblings of course).

Gotta love the size of that drink! (shared with her siblings, of course)

>> In the last few weeks, we’ve been incredibly grateful for FAMILY. Not just our kids and that fact that Caleb and Izzy now have a home and a family to grow up in, but also for our large extended FAMILY. Kari’s sister, Leslie, had a baby while we were in Ghana bringing Caleb and Izzy home, and it’s awesome to see this newborn in our family. We also are so grateful for my older sister, Laura, and her family who live in Wheaton and have come over to pick up Annika for a “fun day” or have brought over food or toys. Laura and Chris (her husband) have 8 children: 4 bio, 3 from China, and 1 from Ethiopia. This past week their youngest daughter, Lainee (adopted from China, home for just over 2 years), experienced a major health scare and was hospitalized in the PICU for almost a week. What a miraculous story — you can read more on Laura’s blog here. My younger sister, Sarah, and her husband, Ed, just returned from Ethiopia where they passed court for their baby, Zeke. We are also SOOOOO incredibly grateful for Kari’s mom and dad who live in our town and have watched the kids on different occasions so Kari and I can have a night out! Amazing! FAMILY is such an incredible blessing.

Zeke, our new nephew from Ethiopia.

Zeke, our new nephew from Ethiopia

Addison, our newest niece.

Addison, our newest niece

Having some ice cream with the cousins.

Having some ice cream with the cousins

Izzy and Lainee the night before Lainee was rushed to the hospital.

Izzy and Lainee the night before Lainee was rushed to the hospital

>> God has really been encouraging us through other families who have adopted older children. Adoption in general is challenging, but with older children there are obviously more unique struggles to work through. We thank God for those who have gone before us and are praying for us and looking out for us.

>> We’ve been reflecting lately on how many similarities there are between Caleb and Izzy’s physical adoption into our family and our spiritual adoption into God’s family. I’ve been reading the book “Follow Me” by David Platt. Platt is an adoptive dad himself and shares in his book some deep insight about adoption:

“If we don’t understand the concept of adoption at its core, how can we realize the ramification of what it means to become a child in the family of God? The picture of joy in earthly adoption provides just a small glimpse of a far greater joy found in heavenly adoption… As we follow Jesus as sons and daughters of God we experience a desire for Him and a pleasure in Him that totally transforms everything about us.” – David Platt, Follow Me, p.99-100

Getting It

We’ve been home just over three weeks now.  Some days feel like we just got home, and other days feel like we have been home for months now.  This past week as been an encouraging week for us.  We are seeing such great progress in Caleb and Izzy, as well as Brayden, Wyatt, and Annika.  And Annika has definitely picked up a little African accent with some words… it’s cute.  It has been a fun and good week.  Of course, we’ve had hard moments, but when we reflect back to week one, it’s nothing compared to those challenging early days.  Kari and I have both commented that this week it feels like a switch has been flipped, and Caleb and Izzy are “getting it.”  We are starting to feel more like a family.

One of the big changes we’ve noticed lately is how good Caleb and Izzy’s English has become.  So great to hear things like, “Yeah, Dad,” (instead of “Yes, Daddy”) and “Let’s go, guys,” and  “K!” and “Sort of.”  All sorts of American-style English phrases and slang.

There are many things that are still very new to Caleb and Izzy.  We have so much fun as a whole family helping them learn, and they, in turn, teach us a lot about ourselves, the things we have taken for granted, and how ridiculous English can be sometimes.

Some fun highlights this past week:

> Ever since Caleb has come home, he’s been desperately trying to keep up with Brayden and Wyatt in just about everything, especially sports.  In all honesty, he is much faster than both of them in a quick footrace and can throw a ball farther as well, but he can’t really figure out the rules and lacks the game knowledge and experience.  As a dad I’ve been really hoping he’d have something, just one thing, that he was better at, physically, than the two older boys.  Well, this week, we found it.  Caleb can hula-hoop better than just about any six-year-old we’ve ever seen. He can keep that hoop up forever, only letting it fall because he’s too tired from swinging his hips.  It’s great.

> American TV is obviously still very new to Caleb and Izzy.  We don’t watch much TV in our house… usually only sporting events.  Now, when we do, it’s non-stop questions and comments. They see a commercial for something they really like and get frustrated when the commercial ends.  It’s quite funny.  I’ve tried my best to explain how it works, but to no avail.

> However, we have watched quite a few movies.  Until lately, the English has been too fast during the movie, so the plot line has gone completely over Caleb and Izzy’s heads.  This week I came downstairs to all the kids watching “Finding Nemo,” and Caleb loudly talking to the TV, “No, Nemo, NO!  Don’t do it, Nemo!  Stay home!”

> We caught a chipmunk in a small “rodent” trap in our flowers.  Izzy saw it sitting in the trap and asked, “What is this, Mommy?  A cockroach?”

> The streak continues… Caleb and Izzy have eaten Honey Bunches of Oats for breakfast for 26 days straight.

> We did our first all family meal out this week.  We had dinner at Noodles & Company, and then we headed to Oberweis for dessert.  It was great, so fun to see the kids’ faces as they eat ice cream. It was Annika’s first time with Oberweis too, and she commented, “Wow!  That’s, like, really delicious ice cream!”

We feel so blessed and encouraged from this past week.  God has been so good to us, giving us just what we’ve needed.  I feel like He has opened our eyes to notice the things He is doing and the progress that is being made.  We have seen God’s faithfulness in new and powerful ways through this whole process.  I am constantly amazed at who He is and how He loves us.

Dilly Bars on the deck, love those laughs!

Dilly Bars on the deck… Love those laughs!


Wearing Mommy’s “specs”




Caleb sporting some HoneyRock gear… a gift from friends in the Northwoods


Heading to church.

Heading to church

Helping Dad in the yard.  Notice the lack of shoes.

Helping Dad in the yard.  Notice the lack of shoes.

Checking out the pond in the local park.

Checking out the pond at the local park

Running through the sprinkler.

Running through the sprinkler

Coloring nicely.

Coloring nicely

Kids lining up for "orders" before we watch a movie together.

All the kids lined  up for “orders” before we watch a movie together.

Hula hoop girl.

Hula hoop girl

Everybody at Noodles & Company.

Everybody at Noodles & Company


Spaghetti and meatballs!

Excited to be eating out.

Excited to be eating out

Annika watching the big boys soccer game.

Annika watching the big boys soccer game

International adoption is a tricky, sensitive, awkward, hopeful, and a stretching sort of thing. Not just for the adopting family, but for all the friends and family helping and watching from the sidelines. People have thoughts, questions, concerns, and ideas, and sometimes it’s hard to ask. We’ve had many conversations so face-to-face, and some via email with people about adoption and about our specific adoption. So, from time to time we’ll try to share some thoughts on more “general” adoption topics and issues… Today is one of those times.

Being Plan B

When people say to us, “God chose these kids for you. They’ve always been yours, and now finally they made it to the family God wanted for them,” we cringe. We are Plan B. We are okay with being Plan B. Plan A was for Caleb and Izzy to be born, raised, nurtured, and loved by their birth parents. God didn’t accidentally mix up and have a woman in Ghana carry and birth the child Kari was supposed to carry and deliver. See, there is a big part of adoption that is wrapped up in tragedy. We know nothing of our kids’ birth parents or family; they were totally abandoned, and that is tragic.

“Your kids are so lucky,” or “Your kids are so blessed.”

In an effort to be encouraging and helpful, people often say to us, “Wow, your kids are so lucky.” Or, “I hope your kids know how blessed they are.” Or, “They must be so thankful for how you’ve rescued them.” Okay, we’re not weirdos… We get what’s being said, and we understand what people mean, but our response is never “Oh, thank you!” or “Yes, they are so blessed and thankful.” Our response is this: “No, we’re the ones that are blessed,” or “Actually, we’re the ones that are thankful.” Anytime children come into your family, it’s a blessing, whether by birth or by adoption. Psalm 127: 3-5 says, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”

We didn’t adopt Caleb and Izzy so they’d thank us later. We never felt that we were so good at parenting that we had more to offer a few more kids. We adopted Caleb and Izzy to be faithful. God, through his Word, as well as through prayer and through experiences, clearly called us to adopt. We felt that if we didn’t adopt, we were being unfaithful. We also feel like Caleb and Izzy have actually rescued us. They’ve rescued us from pursuing the “American Dream” of a perfect beautiful little family that has an easy life. They’ve rescued us from being comfortable and complacent. They’ve rescued us from being self-sufficient to being more dependent on the Lord. They’ve rescued our bio kids from self-centeredness. They’ve rescued our whole family from being pretty clueless about being a person of color in America. See, we are the ones who’ve been blessed, and we are the one being rescued!

“So, really, how do your kids feel about being black in a white family?”

Not many people actually ask this question, but we know many are thinking it. Honestly, we don’t know how Caleb and Izzy feel on this issue… yet. Race and skin color hasn’t come up much. When it has come up, it’s been innocent and fun. Finishing up his shower and getting ready to dry off, Caleb says to me with all his muscles flexed and naked as the day he was born, “Daddy! Look at my Black Skin!” I smiled and said, “I love your black skin! You are my awesome black-skinned boy!” He was so happy. Both kids have compared the bottoms of their feet and the palms of their hands to ours and said, “See, same color!” and then laughed and laughed. We know that race issues will come up, and we know they will be hard. We know we will have these discussions, but for right now, it doesn’t seem to be an issue at all.

My personal feeling is that many people think race would be, should be, or is the issue that would cause the most struggle when a white family adopts black African kids. But it’s not. There is so much other stuff going on right now than race. So much! I can honestly say to you that after having Caleb and Izzy as our children for three weeks, I don’t even notice they are black. It’s not the first thing I think, and it’s not the first thing I see. I see my child. I see a person I love. Yes, they’re black, and yes, I’m white, but it’s awesome, not hard. We have a ton to learn yet, but it’s been so cool learning how different and amazing God’s creative power is. How beautiful diversity really is.

We are continuing to transition well. We have some incredible high moments and tons of laughter in the midst of the hard stuff. We are honored that God has called us to this work. It is so humbling, so stretching, so faith-building. It’s the most intense faith-building experience of our lives… by far.

Thank you to everyone who has helped us… Prayers, meals, gift cards, encouragement, and support. It truly does take a village to raise a child!


Taking a break from all the fun with the sprinkler!

Have you ever considered international adoption?

If so, this may be the opportunity for you to jump in and go for it.

Bethany Christian Services is the agency we worked with for Caleb and Izzy’s adoption. They are amazing!

We highly recommend working with them.

Please watch the video and click this link and read more:


Bethany China from Bethany Christian Services on Vimeo.

We’re going on nearly 2 weeks since we’ve taken full custody of Caleb and Izzy.  On Wednesday, it will be 2 weeks that they have been home.  We’re starting to hit a period where the “honeymoon” is over, and normal life is taking over.  But what is normal life?  We’re not really sure yet…  We’re in transition.

> For the most part things right now feel like there are two African children living with our family.  We don’t feel like a complete family unit… yet.  We’re not discouraged; it’s normal, and we are making progress!  Our bio kids get our attention and our parenting one way, while Caleb and Izzy get it a different way.  What is normal family time?

> Every single stinking part of our lives is centered on Caleb and Izzy and the adoption right now.  All that Kari and I talk about is THEM.  Even the bio kids’ lives seems filtered through Caleb and Izzy.  We’re longing for the day when we aren’t constantly assessing and asking, “How are they doing?”  Lord, make it come quickly.

> Izzy is either piping hot or freezing cold.  Piping hot moments are the moments when she shares nicely, figures out a puzzle piece, gets excited over ice cream, says, “Mommy, I love you,” or “Daddy, can I kiss you?”  The freezing cold moments are the 40-minute long temper tantrums over not getting a toy someone else has.  The 20-minute absolute screaming cry-fests over the movie ending.  Izzy is working through a lot; we love her and are committed to her for LIFE!  We are making progress, we are learning the triggers, and we’re starting to manage the over-reactions.

> Sometimes the funniest moments can be some of the most frustrating moments.  Saturday here in Wheaton was a nice windy day, so we headed out to the field next to our house to fly kites.  It was really a lot of fun, once we got everyone trained in the basics of kite flying.  Izzy turned angry after about 30 minutes.  Not because she wasn’t getting a turn, not because her kite wasn’t flying well, not because it was cold, no… none of those normal things.  Izzy was steaming mad because she couldn’t ride the kite.  Izzy wanted to wear the kite on her back and fly 60 feet in the air and was so stinkin’ mad that it didn’t work.  No teaching, no rationalizing, no logical explanations could help.  She was just mad and wanted to fly.  It’s so hard not to just laugh…  You have to laugh, but at the same time you’re frustrated because of this ridiculous anger.

> The same scenario with the kite happened at the local park when Izzy was so sure that the small nasty pond in the park was a swimming pool.  “Um, yeah…  No, Izzy, that’s a nasty pond, not a pool, and you can’t swim in there.  Besides its 53 degrees out!”  As soon as that conversation is over, and Izzy finally realizes that it isn’t a swimming pool, the conversation switches to big-time concern about her swimming suit, where it’s located, if she still has one, and how Annika can’t take it.  Yep, we’re working through some stuff with our awesome little Izzy!

> Caleb continues to do really well.  He definitely has moments of hardened defiance, but lately he has showed a side of sadness.  As strange as it sounds, sometimes I think he just misses the orphanage and his buddies there.  We’ve also had some major breakthroughs, though, with Caleb.  He does have a soft heart, and he really wants to please us.

> We went to church on Sunday, and, for the most part, it was a wonderful experience.  Izzy and Caleb sat with us in the main service and did fairly well.  Before church, while Kari was getting ready, I spent some time going over Bible stories with both kids and was really surprised and happy to find out they knew a TON of stories and knew them really well.  Caleb even told me, “I love Jesus, in my heart, very very much!”

> More and more is coming out about the kids past and life in the orphanage.  The more we hear, the more sad we get, and lately, the sadness has also turned to anger.  We have to keep asking the Lord to work on our own hearts, to help us forgive.  The people that did physical harm to our children were people we met, we hugged, we shared gifts with, and took photos with.  It’s hard not to be really angry with them for what they did.  Somehow the excuses of, “they didn’t know better, they weren’t trained, they were under-staffed, they were overworked,” just don’t cut it when those children are now your children.  Lord, help us forgive!

We have to say it again…  We are so incredibly blessed by friends and family who are caring for us, providing meals, and giving us constant encouragement.  The impact you are having is more than you know!

I thought we’d share some videos of what life is like around here!

This first video was taken about 1 hour after we picked the kids up from the orphanage.  They are dancing in the hotel lobby area during lunch.

Izzy and Caleb Dancing from John Vandervelde on Vimeo.

Here we are at the hotel pool in Ghana.

Caleb and Izzy Swimming from John Vandervelde on Vimeo.

This is a great one of Izzy dancing at home.  She’s constantly moving and dancing.

Izzy Dancing from John Vandervelde on Vimeo.

This next one is Izzy calling everyone up to wash hands and come and eat.  Caleb is teasing her.

IMG 3504 from John Vandervelde on Vimeo.