One year ago two worlds collided in Eastern China as a 13-year-old boy met his American parents for the first time. What was to follow would be a dance of sorts, some missed footing, some stepping on toes, loss of rhythm… and finally, a year later, a harmonious blend of steps we call life.
To say it’s been ‘a year’ is an understatement. Our son didn’t know a single word of English, and had resolved that the rest of the world would learn Chinese in order to communicate with him. Unfortunately, his years in foster care had come with challenges and a high price, education being one, but far more important were the emotional and developmental gaps caused by neglect. He had no concept of family or permanency, or a desire to learn.
We, his parents, knew this transition wouldn’t be easy, but we really had no idea just how difficult it would be. It was just different than we had imagined. We long to be the hands and feet of the Lord as we answer His call to the ‘impossible’, yet we are surprised when the pain comes. We somehow think we are immune to the struggles as we carry our cross daily, but that is directly contradictory to His Word. He doesn’t promise comfort or ease; He promises faithfulness, hope and restoration!
I had never home schooled before, until last year. I had no idea where to begin, but for the advice of wonderful friends who have home schooled and/or adopted older children. I’m certain I learned as much as my son, including the fact I could actually enjoy teaching a child who speaks English and has half a desire to learn J The two of us were so out of sync. I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t want to learn, and he couldn’t figure out why he needed to! Ultimately, the most important lesson was how to be a family. We often forewent reading or math to focus on our relationship.
He struggled for control, and would do whatever he could to manipulate circumstances to get what he wanted. He also learned it’s rather difficult to remain self-absorbed with seven siblings. He tried to isolate himself, but mostly because that’s what he’d been taught, to stay out of the way. Being alone was his safe place. We struggled with the sadness of all the rotten things he’d been through and the overwhelming changes yet to come. We worked hard to maintain structure and routine because it seemed the most beneficial setting.
We were caught off guard by his season of grief. It just didn’t look the way we thought it would. He was not only overwhelmed by his new world; he was overcome by nameless emotions. Once we realized he was grieving, we were able to help him cope and extend the compassion he needed.
We often felt incompetent in our ability to parent. Our son wouldn’t tell us if he was sick, happy, sad, angry or tired. Mostly because he didn’t know! He was completely detached from his emotions. He certainly couldn’t name them, and he was impulsive at expressing them.
We learned that consistency is key. We found it necessary to ‘walk the walk.’ No wavering allowed. And Mom and Dad are a force to be reckoned with
We also saw grace in a new light. The need for undeserved favor has been more prevalent than ever in our home. Our oldest son even observed that abundant grace is a necessity from here on out.
And then there are all the tests and the doctors, not seeking ‘why’ so much as ‘where to go from here.’
We were told that non-English speaking kids will typically have conversational language at six months. Not so in our case. We thought we’d never learn to communicate. And in this journey I have learned that communication is key to relationship. And without a relationship, I simply had another teenager in my home who had strange food choices and sleep habits. I desperately wanted to relate to my son.
And gradually, layer by layer the rotten past began to peel away and the witty personality began to surface. Gradually he learned to love and to receive the love of his imperfect parents. Gradually he began to act like a brother. Gradually his confidence blossomed and we discovered he’s pretty good at math and fits right in with his seventh grade peers. Gradually he expressed a love for music which has landed him in the percussion section of the band.
Gradually he regained his interest in fitness, and though he may not understand all the rules, he’s willing to work hard to learn how to play basketball. Gradually he has learned that his parents love him enough to put up a fight when the thing he really wants to do is not in his best interest. Gradually he is realizing that his siblings are pretty awesome, contrary to his initial idea that he didn’t need any of them. Gradually he is learning that his family trusts a heavenly Father who extends boundless grace, mercy and love to the unfathomable point of dying so we can live.
In a way it’s hard to believe a year has passed, but in some respects it seems like a lifetime. We have learned enough to last a lifetime…and we are looking forward to a lifetime of living out what we’re still learning and dancing to the rhythm of our new song.