Sunday, July 27, 2008

More pictures from this weekend. . . .

This weekend, after over three months in casts and splints, Evan was FINALLY able to get into the pool for the first time! As you can see, he LOVED it. . . .

Lukas, Maren, Grandma DD (Richard's mom), Evan and Jacob splashing in the pool

He kept saying, "This is so fun!"

A waterlogged Evan!



And finally, a picture of Maren smiling!

Walking to the park

Maren and Lukas


Mommy and Lukas on the Tilt-o-whirl

Evan, ready for church

Evan and Jacob- the best of friends

Lukas, Maren and Jacob before church

Okay, I know this is probably TMI, but I just had to share! We have been working on getting the boys potty trained and have done so successfully for the most part, but the boys just aren't interested in putting their poop in the potty. Yesterday, during our party, Lukas disappeared for about 10 minutes and then came running out onto the patio to inform us, excitedly, that he had put his poop in the potty upstairs and he wanted to show us. Richard went with him upstairs where Lukas proudly showed his daddy what he had done. . .leave it to Richard to document the occasion with a picture! Needless to say, we are proud of Lukas as well!!!

Sticking Together Forever. . . .

This weekend was a particularly special weekend for our family. As many of you know, we are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (to learn more about what we believe, please feel free to follow the link). As members of the church, we believe that marriage and family are central to the plan of our loving Heavenly Father and that families can be together, not just in this life, but for eternity. In our temples, a sacred ordinance, known as a "sealing" is performed by a person having authority given by God (known as the priesthood) to perform this ordinance. In marriage, this sealing ceremony binds a husband and wife together, not just until death parts them, but for all eternity, if they uphold the covenants (a two-way promise between a person and God) made during that ceremony. Any children born to that couple are considered "born in the covenant" and a sealing ceremony is not necessary to bind them to their parents. However, if a couple adopts a child, the sealing ceremony must be performed to bind that child (or children) to their parents. (I know this is a lot of information to throw at those who are not familiar with the LDS church and we Mormons tend to have a language and culture all of our own, but I hope this explanation is not completely confounding!)

This weekend (Saturday), we had the opportunity to take our family to the Columbus, Ohio LDS Temple and have Joshua and Evan sealed to our family for eternity. Where most adoptions are final once a judge issues a decree, for an LDS family, a temple sealing is the culminating event! We have been looking forward to this day since we committed to adopt our boys and it was truly a great day for our entire family. The ceremony was simple (and by simple, I mean, it really takes less than 10 minutes from start to finish), but beautiful. In the temple, those participating in the sealing ceremony dress in white (in our case that included myself, Richard, Joshua and Evan, although Maren wore a white dress as well) and at the conclusion of the sealing, the couple or family being sealed has the opportunity to look into a mirror together and the reflection is endless (this is achieved by placing mirrors on parallel walls so that they reflect each other, causing the reflection to go on an on) in representation of eternity. What an amazing experience it was to look into those mirrors with all of our children and know that we will be together as a family forever!

Later that evening we went over to my parent's house to celebrate our forever family with our extended family and our friends! The theme of our party was "Stick"ing Together Forever and was complete with a banner and cake with stick figures of our family (thanks for lending us your creative mind Charity)! A great time was had by all!

How grateful we are for a loving Heavenly Father who has provided us with the opportunity to be with our families forever! We could not imagine life without our two newest additions and feel so blessed to know that they will be ours forever!

The Rieben kids outside the Columbus, Ohio LDS Temple

The whole family!

Mommy, Daddy, Josh and Evan

Nana (my mom) and Evan


Our family banner

The cake my mom decorated for us!

"Mommy! Arthrogryposis!!"

Last weekend, Evan and I had the awesome opportunity to attend the Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita Support (AMCSI) Convention in Dublin, Ohio. It was an incredible experience for both of us. Because Evan has endured a barrage of therapies, doctors appointments, surgeries and home nurse visits (among other things) since he has been home, he has become very familiar with the term arthrogryposis and how it relates to him. When we walked into the convention last Friday and he saw all of the other kids and adults just like him, he looked at me and with sheer excitement exclaimed, "Look Mommy! Arthrogryposis!!"

We had the opportunity to hear from several doctors/therapists who specialize in Evan's condition which was like a breath of fresh air, because, while most doctor's have heard of arthrogryposis, it is hard to find doctors who have much experience with treating individuals who have this condition. We were even able to consult briefly with one of the doctors who gave us some good insight on things to consider for the next steps in Evan's treatment. As a result, we have applied to Shriner's Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and hope to have our first appointments there in the near future.

Evan had the chance to play baseball at the Miracle League Field in Columbus and even got to do some painting! We also enjoyed an excellent concert by Mark the Marvelous Toy (this was one of the highlights for Evan who LOVES music)! We made lots of new friends, including several people who live in our neck of the woods and we look forward to cultivating some lifelong friendships.

I am amazed at the new motivation Evan apparently gained from attending this convention. While he has always been a hard worker in terms of pushing himself to achieve mobility and independence, he is now pushing himself ten times harder. He has come further in the last two weeks, than he has in the last two months! His new confidence really is inspiring!

I am also very grateful for the opportunity that Evan and I had to spend some one-on-one time with each other outside of a doctors office, hospital or therapy setting! It was wonderful to be able to focus all of my time and attention on him and to be able to learn about how we can help him meet his full potential. It was truly inspiring to watch all of the other children and adults with AMC as well and I walked away from the convention with an even stronger conviction that there will be no limits to the things that Evan will do!

Next year, the AMCSI convention will be held in Philadelphia and we are looking forward to making it a family affair!

Happy to be at convention!


Have I mentioned that Evan LOVES to paint and color!?!

Enjoying the Marvelous Toy concert!

LOVING every minute of that concert!

Evan and his new friend Isaiah

Mommy and Evan

You might be wondering what the rest of the Rieben family was up to that weekend! They were all enjoying a fun time at home with daddy and you can read all about their zany adventures on Richard's new blog, Eastern Impact!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Celebrating Evan

Today is Evan's 4th birthday. For most, their 4th birthday holds little significance. It is just another year in their lives. A day of celebration, with cake, ice cream, presents and friends. But for Evan, this may quite possibly be one of the most significant birthdays he will ever celebrate. You see, had Evan remained in Ukraine, today is the day that a car would have pulled up in front of Orphanage 13 in Artemivsk, Donetsk, Ukraine to transport him to an institution known as Torez. The word alone strikes fear and sadness into the hearts of those who know of it, for Torez is a place where children with special needs such as Evan's are sent to die. The caretakers in Evan's orphanage do not celebrate the birthday's of the children there because they know that birthday's simply bring these children, children who they love and care for, another year closer to this unspeakable fate.

My heart rejoices today, knowing that a car will NOT pull up in front of that orphanage to take my beautiful little boy to Torez. My heart rejoices knowing that he will not be robbed of the opportunity to live a long and full life, surrounded by people who love and cherish him. My heart rejoices today knowing that my sweet, smart and funny little boy will have the opportunity to reach his full potential. My heart rejoices knowing that, for the first time, his life will be celebrated on this day and every day for many, many, many years to come.

My heart is full of gratitude for a loving Heavenly Father who is mindful of each and every one of His children and whose love is evident through the many miracles that He has worked in our lives!

The following is a video tribute that Richard and I put together in celebration of Evan's life. It is a bit long, but we hope that you will take the time to watch it and celebrate with us today! We are so blessed to have Evan in our lives and so grateful for this opportunity to celebrate the incredible person that he is!

Unfortunately, there are hundreds and thousands of children throughout the world who will not find their families in time. For friends and family who would like to help us celebrate Evan's birthday, in lieu of gifts (because heaven knows he will be getting enough of those), we are asking you to consider donating to the following organizations that exist to help make the lives of these children a little brighter. Each of these organizations have a special meaning to us and/or to Evan and we have witnessed first hand the amazing things that they can do!

Life to Orphans - This organization works directly with orphanages in Ukraine to help improve the lives of orphans throughout the country. They have done amazing things in all of the orphanages they work with, but we are especially grateful for the work that they do in Torez, the institution where Evan would have been living after his 4th birthday.

Operation Ukraine - This organization provides humanitarian aid to the orphanages in Artemivsk, Ukraine, including the orphanage where Evan spent the first 3+ years of his life. We have seen first-hand the work that they have done here and it is incredible the difference they have made in the lives of these children. We will be forever grateful to its director, Kelly Baehr, for being the instrument in God's hands who brought Evan and our family together. Without her, and the work that she does, Evan would not be here with us today.

Reece's Rainbow - This ministry provides adoption, advocacy, outreach and aid to orphans with Down Syndrome and other special needs throughout the world. This is where we first saw our sweet Evan! We are incredibly grateful to Andrea Roberts, director of Reece's Rainbow, whose hard work and dedication to this ministry has helped more than 50 children find their forever families since 2006!

I know, I know. . .

Okay, so it goes without saying that I have done a TERRIBLE job updating our blog for the past month, but the truth is, we have been having so much fun NOT being in the hospital, that I just haven't had many opportunities to sit down and write!

As always, there is so much to say, but so little time to say it, so I will once again resort to sharing the happenings of the previous month in the form of pictures (I am sure no one will object) and vow to do a better job at updating in the future!

We started the month with two road trips to Great-Grandma's house (known to us as "Big Mom") in Morehead, Kentucky

On the first trip we visited a craft fair and saw neat things like this. . .

The second trip was the annual golf outing to raise money for the American Cancer Society and the Steve Hamilton Foundation (Steve Hamilton was my grandpa)

(Justin, Daddy, Big Dog, Uncle Ben. . .they came in dead last, but they had fun doing it)

The Hamilton/Monnett/Terry/Fightmaster/Turner/Rieben Family

We spent lots of time in the pool. . .

And celebrated the great nation we live in and those who fight for our freedom by attending the Air Force Tattoo and the community 4th of July Parade. . .

Big Dog, Uncle Ben, Nana and Daddy participated in the Vandalia Freedom Tour (Daddy and Uncle Ben did the 100k (63 miles), Nana and Big Dog the 50k (35 miles) all in the pouring rain)!

All-in-all, we have had a wonderful time being together as a family. . .

And when all was said and done. . . .we were so tired, we fell asleep in our food. . .