Visiting Lalibela

Visiting Lalibela

Friday, September 7, 2012

To Run

Isaiah 40:31- "But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength.  They will soar high on wings like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary.  They will walk and not grow faint."

For as long as I can remember, I have loved to run.  In high school, running became my "thing."  Other people knew me as a runner and I found success (worldly success) in my racing.  Running also became an avenue for better health, both mentally and physically.  I'll never forget seeing my Mom hand Mike my running shoes on our wedding day.  She told him, "Don't be afraid to tell her she needs to take a run." Ha- she was sharing a now well known fact, on the days Stacy or Mom runs, the days go a little smoother, there is a little more patience and more grace extended.  There have been times when he has asked me, "Did you run today?" and I instantly knew that I wasn't being the wife I should be.  Boy, do I love my husband.

Then, my Mom's health deteriorated and I realized that running could also mean a better quality of life for me.  She had pulmonary fibrosis and I was just sure that if I kept running, my lungs would stay just that much stronger.  When Mike would travel, my run times also became my time alone with God, talking to him about everything.  The more I got into this habit, the longer the runs became, until last year. Two things happened around that time: 1.  Williston became an unsafe place to run.  2.  My own struggles with an autoimmune disorder didn't allow my body to run like I desired.  Now, as I run, I praise God that I still can.  I'm not running from Sjogren's, I am running towards a goal, trusting in the LORD to find new strength each day.

 About the same time, my running completely slowed down (I'm sure there are days when people drive by me and comment on the lady who thinks she's running but could really be accomplishing the same thing by walking-) my kids started developing a love of running too- and are beginning to find that same worldly success in it.  They each have their own stories on why it is such an amazing accomplishment to run.

Just over two years ago, we brought Micah, Gabe, Leah and Hallie home from Ethiopia. During the three years prior to them becoming Sweeneys, they lived in an orphanage.  The amount of daily activity was horrible.  I believe the only running they did, was to escape a nanny's reach with a stick.  Running for them was always running from something, never running towards a goal.  As Micah won the JV cross country race last week, he yelled to me, "Mom, I feel so good!"  You see, he was now running towards a goal- running FOR something instead of FROM something.

For my child with reactive attachment disorder, running first thing in the morning allows this child to focus more and keep her emotions in much better check.  It brings a smile to her and those around her.  (To my new neighbors- You may see one of our children running and screaming at the same time. It is OK.  For one of our kids, a bit of running from the past is still occurring and sometimes it is painful.  We look forward to the day when she reaches the finish line of healing and runs into our arms).

Gavin just happens to be the most beautiful runner I've ever seen.  He takes great JOY in running and it shows.  Three years ago, we would have never imagined, this scared, completely malnourished young boy would be transformed into an 8 year old who begs to run every day, just because he can.

When LB was a baby, she was incredibly delayed in all of her motor skills.  As she began to walk, then run, she carried one side as if she had had a stroke.  Within the last year, all evidence of those early delays have disappeared and she runs with a HUGE smile on her face..God has done what no doctor ever imagined..and she RUNS.

Elli uses her position on the cross country team to encourage some kids around her who have really needed that encouragement.  With every step she runs, her singing voice becomes stronger and her songs fill the house each morning and night. I'm so proud of her for tackling something that really isn't her first love but using the time to lift up those around her.

From Janika and Kael, I have seen this verse lived out in their running.

Hebrews 12:1  "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up.  And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us."

Last week, Janika finished the JV race in 2nd place, but ended up being the first Sheridan  runner by time to finish.  During her second and third miles, she looked focused, and quite intense but there was something missing.  As she finished and ripped of her shoes, I saw her feet- they were completely ripped open along the bottoms and heels.  How she finished that race, when she ran the last two miles with those sores, I don't honestly know, except that her favorite verse is: "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength."

This week, I witnessed one of the hardest things ever, as a Mom.  Kael's cardiologist told him, "I'm sorry, Kael, you can't race."  If a lifetime was a race, Kael is definitely an endurance athlete.  Kael was born with a coarctation of his aorta, which means his aorta is too narrow and thus doesn't provide his legs with enough blood flow when his heart gets really pumping.  He has had 6 procedures on it over his lifetime to correct the coarc, but with his rapid growth this year, it became evident that it needs repair again. BUT KAEL LOVES TO RACE.  In fact, if you watched him run, you would never know that he had ever had any health issues.  He works hard all of the time, pushes himself and has been running some pretty darn fast times. I'll bet there's never been a time when a coach had to ask him to push himself more. Now, he has yet another race before him and one that instead of cheering from the sidelines he needs the prayers of his supporters to see him through. ( We covet your prayers as we wait to head back to Boston for another procedure).

I now understand why God uses so many references to running in HIS WORD.  Sometimes running hurts, sometimes it's just plain hard, just like living a life of Faith, but the rewards are great.  If we train hard (grow in our walk each day), God promises us great things.  Today, I choose to run the good race.

1 Corinthians 9:24- "Don't you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize?  So run to win!"

Monday, July 16, 2012

My thoughts on the Ranch for Kids

Recently, there have been several news organizations covering a Russian delegation's attempt to enter the Ranch for Kids in Eureka, Montana. Joyce Sterkel, the Director of the Ranch, has denied them access. (GO JOYCE!)  Their request for access stems from a treaty the U.S. (under Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State) signed with Russia to help monitor children adopted from Russia who enter the U.S. If you have read some of the articles, you will see that the Russian delegation is calling the Ranch, " a trash can for unwanted children." They complain that the kids are isolated from others and don't receive adequate schooling. (The isolation is breath of fresh air for kids who are completely overstimulated but the American way of life. I've been to the school and it is well run. Our child went there not reading and now reads at a third grade level- pretty impressive)

 As a parent who has adopted from Ethiopia, I have to fill out paperwork every year on the anniversary of their entrance into the U.S. so the Ethiopian Government can follow the outcomes of the children here. I'm ok with that. I'm ok with governments showing concern for their former citizens, in an effort to fix a problems in their system that may affect other children. What I'm not ok with is a foreign government insinuating that people like the Sterkel Family are doing anything wrong.

 We have a child who was at the Ranch for Kids for 8 months. It was the toughest decision we ever had to make but one we thank God for daily. With their help, we were able to go from a place of desperation to a place of hope. Without their help, I'm not sure we would still have 9 children in our home. You see, parenting a child with severe reactive attachment disorder is TOUGH. It's the toughest thing we have ever faced as parents. The more you love the child and the safer the child feels, the more they PUSH you away. We had read every article we could to prepare for parenting a child with RAD. We'd been foster parents and adopted several times before. NOTHING, I repeat, NOTHING could have prepared us for the what we experienced. I won't go into the details of that child's spiral but suffice it to say, we fully understood why some families choose to disrupt their adoptions, especially when one child makes it unsafe for other children to be in the home.

 I can guarantee no one goes in to adoption thinking it won't be forever. I don't think there's an adoptive parent anywhere who would go through the hoops, trainings, paperwork, and expense to just "dump" a child when they become a little difficult. When a parent reaches out to Joyce and her family, they are desperate. This is why the Ranch is so vitally important. It's all they do- and they do it so well.

 Before I write more of my feelings, please hear the words of our child. The only thing I have changed is the word child so as to give our child a bit of privacy.

 "Hi. I am a child that used to be at the Ranch for Kids. I learned so many stuff. They talk about Jesus. They tell kids that their families love them and then they let kids go to their families because they have learned to be nice to their families again. And I was not nice. And I am with my family and it is a good place. I was safe there. They teach so many stuff. Kids learn about Jesus and they go to be with their families. The people that work there are nice. They don't hurt kids. When I was there the first time they made me feel safe there. When I was not at the Ranch (before going) I used to hurt my sister and hurt my mom and now I don't do it."

 The problem isn't with the Ranch nor with allowing international adoptions. The problems start the minute a child is orphaned. It compounds as that child grows without attaching to a consistent care-giver, especially if that child is under the age of 5 when orphaned. It compounds when children are left in cribs day and night in an orphanage (this happens all over the world, especially in Eastern European countries), or when they are left to fend for themselves on the streets. It compounds when little girls are raped in orphanages over run by little boys or by men in their villages who know there isn't a parent around to defend them. It compounds when nannies are too busy to make sure each child is getting the correct nutrition they need to grow and develop. It compounds when alcohol is involved in the pregnancy, as is the case with MANY Russian adoptions.

There aren't enough people to step in the minute a child is orphaned, to fill that role and allow a child to develop attachment. There just aren't enough people ADOPTING or countries allowing ADOPTION. There aren't enough people to come alongside adoptive families and offer them respite. The PROBLEM is that there aren't enough Ranches for Kids!

 The idea that a delegation from a foreign country can come to America and tell us how our organizations should be run is ridiculous but moreover, frightening. How did we get to a place where we allow our sovereignty to be dictated by the very country that won't even adopt their own children or fix the institutions that cause the very behaviors to develop in kids that Joyce is trying to help?

 You may think these are the rantings of a crazy adoption Mom, but this is just the tip of the ice berg. What is next? Is someone from France going to come count my guns? Is someone from Germany (where homeschooling is illegal) going to come into my home and tell me that I am going to go to jail for homeschooling my children? (for those of you not in the homeschooling community, this really does happen.  Parents in other countries go to jail if they won't send their children to public school)  Perhaps a gentlemen from China is going to tell me I can only have one child.

 If any of this resonates with you, please go to and educate yourself. What is happening to Joyce Sterkel and her family and the work they do, can happen to any of us. Please also, pray for the Sterkel Family and all that they do, as well as the kids who are at the Ranch for Kids. We will be forever grateful for their help in our time of desperate need.  Please step up  to be a voice for those who have no voice, the millions of children all over the world who are waiting desperately to have a family.

If you know my kids and think they're as cool as we do, get involved!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Together again!

Here's the first family photo taken with everyone in it again. Praise God! Things are going well. We are so thankful for the Ranch for Kids.

Happy Easter!!!

It is so nice to have our family all together again! Hope you all had a happy Easter!!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Easter, forgiveness and reuniting

Today I leave on a train to pick up our child at the Ranch for Kids. We chose this weekend because it is Easter. At no other time, do we spend so much concentrated time thinking about Christ dying for OUR sins, about forgiveness and about reconciliation. As a family, we have been preparing for our reunion, by focusing on forgiveness and our own imperfections. We have great peace about bringing our child home and finally being the family that God intended when He placed our children on our hearts. This child has worked so hard to get to a place of being able to come home. We are proud!!

This has been a long, hard journey, but God has been gracious. We look forward to the future with great hope.

Happy Easter! May you all feel the blessing of God's forgiveness, through Jesus Christ.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The love of a friend

Today was a special day for Micah. Today he had the opportunity to Skype with his best friend from Ethiopia, Ashenafi. I had the pleasure of meeting Ashenafi on both of my trips to Ethiopia two years ago. Little did I know, when we brought our kids home that he had been Micah's best friend for quite some time. Oh, how my kids worried about him..Would he ever find a family?

As soon as our kids could speak English and join in our nightly prayers, we would hear, "Please Lord give Ashenafi a family." What an incredible blessing it was to see him smiling and laughing as they talked (and talked and talked and talked).

As we go on with our day to day lives, it is often easy to forget what our kids have endured, or what those left behind are enduring, around the world, every day. Leaving a friend, in an orphanage, where you know there is little hope, is a great burden on a child, of any age. Praise God our kids got to see an answer to their prayers!! Ashenafi, we are so glad to welcome you HOME!!!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Urgent Need

I received this email today from Shepherd's Crook and really felt the need to pass this on. You can also see her on Reece's Rainbow. She is beautiful. Please consider being a parent to this young girl and others like her.

Urgent Need: Laurel

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Yesterday we were alerted to the urgent need of a fifteen-year-old girl from Eastern Europe. Her name is Laurel, and she faces life in an adult mental institution if she is not adopted within the next few months. This is despite the fact that she has no mental disabilities; she has arthrogryposis, a condition which affects the joints and results in low muscle strength, but which has no effect on the person's cognitive faculties. When she turns sixteen this summer, she will not be eligible for adoption at all, something which we do not want to see happen. She is said to be a smart and friendly, and she wants very badly to be part of a family. There is a significant grant available for her adoption, and we trust that the Lord will provide—as He always does—the other funds that Laurel's forever family will need in order to adopt her. Immediate action is required, and it is possible to complete an adoption from her home country in a short time, so there is still hope for this young lady.

Unlike the children that we typically plead for, Laurel is not listed on our website. You can find her information by copying this web address into your browser which will take you to the website for Reece's Rainbow. They can accept tax-deductible donations for the children on their site, so there is no need for us to do the same. Please join with us in praying for her, that she would be spared life in an institution by being adopted before her sixteenth birthday. There really is no time to waste for her. And, as always, feel free to share this message with others.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Sorry for posting a super old picture- but I love how happy my Mom looks in this picture.

Yesterday would have been my Mom's birthday. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of her and miss her. Knowing that I will see her again someday gives me great comfort. Mom was young when she died, 62 (2004). She had lived with rheumatoid arthritis since 1986. While debilitating, because it affected her lungs, those outside our family didn't even know she was sick. Very few people knew she took weekly injections to be able to function, took a nap every afternoon from pure exhaustion or struggled to get a full breath for a long time. She was a champion and a true gift from God. She poured everything she had into my kids. I think she would have loved our big expanded family.

As I begin my own road of living with an autoimmune disease, I can see now, why she had such a good outlook on life. She was a Mom. Thank you, God, for my Mom and for allowing me to be a Mom 9 times over.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

things you shouldn't say

From a dentist last week: "Oh, you're life is going to be so tough with Sjogren's. You will have horrible dental disease, sores in your mouth. It really will suck. And you're so young."

From an ophthalmology aide today: "You are so young to have such a devastating diagnosis."

These comments remind me of when Kael was in ICU a few years ago, recovering from a major aortic repair. From his nurse, "WOW, they really filleted you open!"

Come on people..If you are in a health care field, let's try and be a LITTLE positive.

So thankful for my family, encouraging friends, medicine that helps me feel much better and the blessings God showers on me each day.

I'm hoping to come up with a witty come back. Any suggestions?

Monday, March 26, 2012


In the latest WORLD magazine, an article quoted the Journal for Medical Ethics, which recommended "after-birth abortion" or infanticide of babies born, who were a burden to their families or when "government pays for their care." WHAT???
The Journal editor Julian Savulescu stated, "If abortion is permissible, infanticide should be permissible."

Under their criteria, I'm sure two of my children, Kael and Layne, would had been recommended for after birth abortion. Kael was born with a significant heart defect that has required multiple corrective procedures. At no point, however, has he been a burden to us. On the contrary, he brings us great joy and is a blessing to every member of our family.

Layne was born prematurely, unable to feed, failure to thrive and exposed to multiple drugs and alcohol in utero. I'm sure she would fall into the category listed above and YET, she is such a complete gift! There isn't a day that goes by in our house, that someone isn't loving on her or getting love from her. We were told to expect a child who would never learn, never know the difference between right and wrong and never smile. OH YEA? I don't know many other six year olds who can multiply, do long division, spell and read at the fourth grade level, smile continuously and be loved so well by so many. She has this effect on know, the kind of effect when teenage boys forget that it isn't cool to hang out with little kids and decide instead to hang out at our house because of LB and our other little guys. She has this effect on people that melts them to the core AND has them consider things they've never thought of before..ADOPTION...

The Journal of Medical Ethics has it completely wrong. Life is a gift, both in utero and after the child is born. I am so thankful that God has chosen to place each child in our home that call us Mom and Dad. LIFE is good.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The cake

I haven't made a birthday cake in two years--that's right two years. Instead, my kids spend weeks planning just the right cake for each birthday in our house. I've posted some of the creations before, but Gavin's cake two weeks ago TAKES THE CAKE!! lol

First, I need to provide a little background.

Mike loves Star Wars, and always has. This love has been passed on to every one of our kids. Now that the Clone Wars is easily downloadable, we could have Star Wars playing in our home nightly. It's an amazing thing, everything (in our kids' eyes) in our lives could relate to Star Wars in some way. I bet George Lucas never knew his clone factory would be used in a dinnertime conversation to explain the Industrial Revolution and the start of factories in our country.

I appreciate Mike's ability to relate to the kids in a relevant way (I don't seem to have this gift, especially when it comes to Star Wars).

When it came time to plan for Gavin's cake, Janika made several preliminary sketches. I really didn't know what to expect with the finished product, but she certainly didn't disappoint. She spent over 6 hours designing, baking and beginning the decorating process. I think the Cake Boss would have been proud. Her trusty helpers (EVERY OTHER SWEENEY, except for Gavin, who wasn't allowed near the kitchen) took over when she collapsed on the couch--talk about pouring yourself into a project! Mike and I came home from St. Louis to this masterpiece:

As I've said many times before, our Gavin loves well. He brings such joy to our lives. This Mama was thrilled to see all of the other kids putting so much work into his birthday cake. I am blessed.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Time to return to blogging

I remember last October, talking with Elli, Janika and Kael and telling them I thought God was preparing us for something big. I wasn't exactly sure what that was (something with Summit? a health problem with one of our kids?) but knew we needed to start spending more time in the WORD. Little did I know that that "thing" was going to hit me. Until then, blogging was a way to document our life's journey, to encourage others to step out and follow God's leading, no matter what the World might say. However, since November, I have been the one needing the encouragement and haven't felt able to encourage others. About two weeks ago, one of my close friends here in Williston said she wished she had known so she could be praying for me and our family. I think that was God nudging me to allow this trial to also go a bit public.

Before Mike and the "Big Kids" left for their mission trip to Ethiopia, I began experiencing some weird symptoms: an inability to sleep, multiple infections, depression, dry mouth, dry eyes and unbelievable fatigue. While they were gone, the symtpoms increased dramatically as my weight began to drop. At this time, I felt as if I was under a major spiritual attack. Through MUCH prayer and encouragement from my family, including my sister, Brenda, I began to have a few good days mixed with the tough ones. The fatigue was a constant "friend" and I developed severe abdominal pain that lasted for weeks at a time.

My dear friends, Valerie and Terry, would give a call and say, "I just knew you needed prayer." A true blessing during a storm.

My husband would work all day, come home, take parenting duties over completely, encourage me, pray with me and start each new day all over again.. He had many long nights with me, (not acting like the spouse he has known for the past 18 years) A HUGE blessing during a storm.

My kids encouraged me, through song, smiles, cards (I think Gabe has written me a dozen cards telling me how much he loves me and hopes I feel better). These kids really are amazing. Janika took over most of the meal prep when I was too tired, with her constant army of helpers ready and willing at all times. Kael would often take over reading of the History lessons of the day. Leah would rub my back and with Micah's help, would offer to do anything for me. Layne would crawl into my lap for a snuggle. Gavin, well, Gavin just loves better than anyone I've ever met. Elli and Jani would sing for me. HUGE BLESSINGS DURING A STORM...

We visited our child at the Ranch for Kids, who is doing REALLY well. This child will get to come home for good Easter weekend!! A huge blessing during a storm.

We've CELEBRATED several birthdays, standing in awe of what God has done in each of our children. We are blessed.

We saw Kael's cardiologist in February and he gets to go one more year without further intervention..HUGE blessing in the storm. I have to brag on my boy a bit- he is one tough cookie. As he performed his stress test and his blood pressures continued to rise, he kept right on pushing, to the point that the treadmill looked like it was going to go straight up. He has taught me so much about living life to the fullest.

I have so many things to be thankful for, which helped us to continue to push for answers beyond, "You are depressed."

Thankfully, Mike has been by my side this entire time. Do you know how much I love you?? Last week, we flew to St. Louis to see Dr. Schwartz- the nicest rheumatologist in the world...He has diagnosed me with Sjogrens Syndrome, which fits every symptom I have been having. Today, I start a new medicine to try and help alleviate the symptoms I have been having and give me that extra little boost to return to life fully with my family.

During this storm, God has revealed again and again, HIS grace and love for me, through family and friends. I am forever thankful. He has used friends to talk with me about nutrition (supplementing with liquid B vitamins has completely eliminated the depressive thought and brain fog- if anyone out there suffers from these, leave a comment and I will tell you what has worked). He has used my kids to speak life into me-- who would have thought? He has used my husband to show complete unconditional love and care...He has used memorized Scripture to come up when I most needed it. He has used my sister's connections to get me into the best Dr. I could have possibly seen. He has been ever present...

So as I return to blogging, it is to be that encouragement to others that those around me have been to me. Here's my adoption plug--Had we not adopted all of our kids, I would have missed out on some of the sweetest moments of the last few months: the hugs, the smiles, the cards, the back rubs, the LOVE. My life is full.