Done Or Not?

We have brought home 11 children in 5.5 years. We have 2 more still waiting for us in China and we hope to bring them home in November or December.

I thought at this point I’d feel peaceful. That somewhere down deep inside of me I would know that we did all that we could for the orphans in a short amount of time we had. I thought I’d know that we were officially done. After all that’s what happened with our birth children. About a year after Johnny was born I prayed and asked God “Are we done or do you have more children planned for us.” The direction was clear. Out of nowhere I heard “You are done”. Of course he must have whispered very quietly after that “for now, that is” because 12 years later he planted the adoption seed.

I don’t feel peaceful, I don’t feel relieved knowing the size of our family, I don’t feel like I’ve done enough and even if God does speak to me and reassure me – I will never be able to forget the others that are left behind…

Every time I hear of a dear child desiring to be adopted, loved, and to have a family, I ache and ache inside… Every time I hear of a child aging out and missing their opportunity to be adopted, I ache. Every time I hear of a child being disrupted in China and losing their chance for a family, I ache. Every time I hear of a child with a serious medical condition and they are no longer eligible to be adopted, I ache. Every time I look at the faces of the waiting children, I ache.

It’s not gotten better after bringing home 11 treasures soon to be 13… It’s gotten worse.

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We’ve had conversations with God. He knows that our hearts break for the orphans. He knows that we desperately wanted to do all that we can do while we can do it. In other words get the children home before the door closes or before WE age out! God has opened many doors and allowed that to happen. When we started this journey we thought that there was only enough time to get 3-4 children home. But our powerful Almighty Lord opened doors and created miracles so that many more could come home. Each one hand picked by HIM and each one a blessing!

As we are in our last adoption process I have already seen so many treasures that I would love to bring home. It is painful to see their dear faces and know we can no longer do what we have been doing! Actually that’s the easy part — bringing them home! While in process we feel like we are at least doing something for the fatherless.

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BUT, hubby and I have talked and truthfully we think we are done… with the adoption phase, that is. (I don’t want to be… I want to keep bringing the children home. I want to continue to be God’s hands and feet in this way.)

With 11 home and soon to be 13 home we feel like He is calling us in a different way. We don’t know exactly what that means? Things are happening in our lives that make us think he has plans that we are not yet privy to… We are waiting to find them out… We are actively praying about it and waiting for HIM to reveal HIS plans for us.

Have you felt this way after bringing your children home? Have you felt the deep heartache for all of the children that still wait? It took me by surprise. It got so much worse once we knew we were done adopting…



Are you ready?

Our sweet Natalie.

It’s been over two years now that we’ve prayed for her to find a family and nearly one year since we’ve been racing to make her part of ours. In pictures I’ve watched her go from a baby to a toddler to an adorable preschooler.

While it seemed the wait would be eternal for a while, finally we are closing in on the end and the days are slipping by quickly. Most conversations with friends these days seem to start with them asking, “Are you ready?”

Are you ready?

Wow, that’s a loaded question…

Ready for the trip?

We’re close. Nothing is in suitcases yet, but clothing for the kids has been laid out, I’ve decided what I’m taking for me, and all gifts have been purchased. Our international air is booked, we have orders in for our train tickets from Beijing to the provincial capital, and we are talking with several guides about our add on days. So yeah, we’re pretty much ready for the trip.

Ready to meet Natalie?

You have no idea. While I honestly believed that we were to advocate for her when I first saw her in April of 2011, she simply looked…well…familiar to me back then. Over the months that passed I fell in love with that sweet child and eventually we embraced the idea of having five children within 3 1/2 years in age. At times during our paperchase it seemed that it was two steps forward, one step back, we just couldn’t get to her fast enough. My arms can’t wait to feel the weight of her and we long to hear her voice. Yes, we’re ready to meet our little one!

Ready for the transition?

This is where I struggle. Oh, I know that one day, in six months or a year, maybe more, maybe less, we’ll step out on the other side of our metamorphosis as a stronger, more resilient family of seven. But I also know that it isn’t an easy process…

Adoption is beautiful, but it comes out of something not so much so. And creating a family through adoption is amazing, but dealing with grief and fear in the beginning isn’t for the faint of heart.

I think back to my other kids transitioning into the family. One accepted us initially but cried silent tears for months instead of letting us know that she had needs to be met. It made me feel a failure as a mother that i couldn’t seem to find a way to get her to trust us…that we were there for her and would at least try to meet her needs if she’d just signal us.

Another appeared to be the most happy-go-lucky kid by day though nights in those first six months seemed endless. During the day he loved big, but when it was time for bed, and anytime he’d awaken while it was still dark, he poured out his grief of losing his beloved foster mother and having everything in his life change before his eyes. Initially he’d push me away and scream even louder if I tried to hold him and later he’d cling to me as if his life depended on it, screaming all the while.

We experienced a child who stayed close by our sides in China and ~ with the exception of our initial meeting ~ never shed a tear…until we got home and he’d stand in the corner of the room and scream the most pitiful cry of heartbreak for an hour at a time, slapping my arms if I reached for him. Unsure of what else to do, I’d sit on the floor at arm’s reach and cry right along with him.

And then there was one that never shed a tear at all (beyond those at our initial meeting) but couldn’t allow herself to let us help her. Such independence built into a little girl who felt the need to show us she could do it all herself. No tears, yet equally as heartbreaking…I’ll never forget the day within weeks of coming home ~ within days of her third birthday ~ when she proudly grabbed some of the laundry I was folding and showed me how well she could fold too, as if to gain approval.

Y’all, these days of transition are not my favorite time. They hurt. It is a difficult time where my husband and I have truly found out what we are made of. We have been stretched, sometimes to the point that we think we will break. To make matters more difficult, parenting a child who experiences such trauma isn’t a cookie cutter process. What worked to help one of my children as they learn what it is to be part of a family isn’t necessarily going to be the answer for another.

And now we are getting ready to bring home a child who has spent almost the entire first four years of her life in an institution. A good one, but an institution. She is in good physical condition, but right now she has no idea what it means to be part of a family. We’ll have to show her and prove to her that we are good…that we can be trusted. It’s a slow and often painful process.

But growth often is…

So are we ready?

Yes. We’re as ready as we’ll ever be. Just excuse us as we enter our cocoon for the last time as a family of six and re-emerge later as a family of seven. We’re probably going to look/act/seem a little different and It may be messy in the meantime. But we have hope and a promise from the one who directed us on this adventure and know that He has good plans for us…all seven of us.



A Few of My Favorite Things

It all started nearly three years ago. As soon as we brought our first son home from China, I began scheduling appointments at our local children’s hospital to have specialists review the needs listed in his file. Initially there were four doctors we were working with…then three…and finally we were left only with two as we received an “all clear” on two of his needs.

Those early days meant many hours at the hospital during and between appointments. And as surgery after surgery began to take place I truly felt like our children’s hospital was becoming my second home. Walking through the halls, sitting out by the fountain, relaxing at the play area, or even grabbing a cup of coffee often had me bumping into someone who had recently worked with us…either in an office, a lab, a sound booth, or radiology. I joked that it was my “Cheers”. Like the old sitcom, our children’s hospital became the place where everybody knows my name.

Recently my son and I were back at the hospital for another round of pre-op appointments. His sixth surgery in his four years of life, and the fourth surgery for his cleft lip and palate. In between appointments we had the same lunch we have countless times through the years…baked potatoes from a little café eaten in the sunny Atrium. This meal of styrofoam plates, disposable silverware, and a plastic tray has become quite the tradition. I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve done it. Not just on pre-op days, but on post-op and check-up days as well. And as I sat there most recently, I realized that those lunches are working their way into my heart as one of the favorite memories from my son’s childhood. Our special “dates” on the days it’s just the two of us.

When my husband and I first started the adoption process, we looked at all the needs on the medical checklist given to us by our agency and tried to determine which were the most manageable for us to handle. The needs that would be easiest to balance with the children we already had in our home. It never occurred to me that when we checked off our list, I was going to be spending the time at our hospital that I do. It never occurred to me that I would bump into nurses and technicians and chat with them like they’re old friends. It never occurred to me that one day my son and I would be playing at the courtyard fountain and joyfully waving at our ENT through his office window. It never occurred to me that our plastic surgeon would follow our progress for two more adoption journeys. It never occurred to me that our cardiologist would welcome us back as a “new” patient with our daughter after my son left his care. And it never occurred to me that these days at the hospital, working with our medical teams, would become such an integral part of who I am.

But perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that baked potatoes from a hospital café, a great team of doctors, and the playground on the first floor of “Building A” have become a few of my favorite things.

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Rest

I am Jennifer who has many roles but my most favorite are wife to Cory, mother to Carter (10), Claire (7), William (4) and our newest addition, Grace (2). These four were always a “twinkle in our eyes” long before we ever walked down the aisle and began the process of becoming a family. To see and gaze upon the fruition of a thought, that became a good idea, that seemed like the right thing someday, that seemed like the right thing now, that was an act of obedience, that must happen now, that was in the end a decision of pure joy… is golden to behold.

We are closing in on almost nine months with our sweet Grace. Newly adopted from China on Election Day and my father’s birthday, which makes it very easy to remember for a mom who occasionally walks into a room with a purpose but forgets why she’s there. Nine months with her forever family, with whom she seems to fit right in. And we fit with her! She sort of looks like me (despite no Chinese ancestry that I am aware of!) and acts like her siblings, who often act like their Dad! It is as if she were made for us. It is more likely that we were made for her.

My oldest daughter asked me tonight if I thought that Grace knew that we were forever hers, her family that would never leave and always love her. I told her that I thought so, but that deep knowledge and all it’s implications takes time. It grows. There are behaviors currently that tell us that she knows that she has something to lose, and in those behaviors, she is trying to determine if we could be lost or taken or no longer exist. Or maybe that she could as well.

In the grand scheme of adoption, she is doing remarkably well. But two–year-olds are two-year-olds no matter what country they were born in. I have seen her two-year-old behaviors in my other children, it is just that hers are more “ramped up” and intense. Some of them come from a need to test and control and learn boundaries in the classic two-year-old way, and there are some that come from a deep deficit and void that is in process of being healed. That place that comes barreling out at times unexpected and with the fruits of rage and tantrums or frantic activity or inability to cope that is really just a place that needs rest. Not a nap kind of rest, but a Sabbath kind of rest that sighs deeply from a place of security and peace from a relationship that is right and solid and immovable.

Before we ever laid eyes on Grace, we practiced an environment in our home that might be more conducive to rest. We know how to rest and rest well but we are a highly social and extroverted family with a large extended family who branch well outside our genetic lines. Our dinner table conversations can range from the correct moves to Gangum Style (with demonstrations) all the way to eschatology and catechism. The conversations are expressive with multiple people participating (often at the same time to my demise) and are just plain loud. So, prior to Grace, we would hold “talking fasts” at the dinner table. My kind of fast really; eat as much as you want but no speaking. We thought this would help our new daughter when she arrived in our home. Much to our delight and surprise, she was and is a social gal, with big smiles and infectious laughter and a clever sense of humor. From the very beginning. What a gift to two scared adoptive parents when their new little girl was a cut up all through China. She could say cheese with the best of them and now, even in her much more attached stage, loves answering the door and welcoming guests, high fiving and giving kisses. This is who she is. Her file even suggested her warmth and cleverness long before we ever met her. It was my guess that she carried these traits in her orphanage and my guess was confirmed all the more when I met her multiple care givers who had changed over the months in her institution and their obvious adoration for her. Our girl smiles and laughs and is down right funny.

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It was those first weeks home, six to be exact, when those personality traits began to get more transparent in only the way a parent can read between the lines of what is really underneath. Those first six weeks, Grace would not let me put her to bed. She would sleep relatively well after the first two weeks but the nighttime routine that I desperately was trying to establish looked like a battleground. She would not get in my lap or let me hold her at bedtime, but she would only sit long enough to drink her bottle rapid fire. She fought and kicked and screamed and cried and no amount of story time, milk, singing, praying or out right Broadway musical endeared her to me enough to be safe. Able to rest. When she would kick and scream so hard that it would hurt me, I would set her down on the floor where she would move her body in a complete 180 degrees from me so she did not have to see my face. No amount of my “wind up mommy” bedtime routine that offered itself every night, same time, same place, same routine like a seasoned Vegas performer would do it. Until one night, when sitting on the edge of my knees, she stopped screaming, looked at me and laughed – yes, laughed out loud as if to say, “Well, this was a dumb way to do things” and threw her whole body into my chest where she curled up all around me the way that infants do and she sighed. And rested. And every night since then, no matter what the day has looked like, she wraps her body up close to mine and I cradle her like my baby who she is and we sing and talk and pray and laugh. Tonight she created a new game where I pretend to sleep and she says “Mama!” with those awesome bi-labial sounds that cleft lip/palate mamas dream about and I wake up surprised and answer “Yes?” Hysterical laughter but laughter in the crook of my arm with eyes locked on mine. Rest.

That blessed night when my daughter finally settled into the rest that a parent can give a child, the Lord spoke clearly through my new adoptive mama fog of jet lag and insecurity and “What have we done?” and “What do we do now?” and He spoke the way He only can when you are at your end. He knew that I waited and hoped every night for her to rest with me. He knew how I longed for it as her mother but wouldn’t dream of forcing her to do so. And in that fog as I rejoiced in that milestone of rest, I heard Him speaking, “If you Jennifer, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, HOW MUCH MORE will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” I wanted desperately for Grace to feel safe with me. It was constant in my mind. I had never worked so hard for a child’s love before in my life. That is what made it even sweeter. And the added gift of hearing the Lord’s beckoning invitation of HOW MUCH MORE? That I am wired this way because He is and that He longs for me to quit trying to fix it and gain peace in my own distorted ways, but let Him be there instead. To find rest with my Father of all mercies and my God of all comfort. It broke my heart wide open that night to experience the gift of being the one who comforted. To be mother and to be safe. My weary heart found rest in a place that I thought I knew but really didn’t until Grace came along. How much does God wait in anticipation for me to breathe deeply and rest with Him. It is His joy. He waits for it.

This is my Grace. And we saw that smile in pictures taken miles and miles away. That joy is her and who she is.

View More: http://minttobe.pass.us/jen-and-grace

This is also my Grace.

View More: http://minttobe.pass.us/jen-and-grace

The place that sighs deeply and leans in and no longer needs to work but who chooses to relax and Sabbath rest with us. Security and peace because our relationship is growing and becoming. It has some foundations that are strong enough to carry rest.

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you and I will give you rest.” Canaan is actually called “the resting place the Lord your God is giving you.”

There are good days and not so good days in this process of healing, but Canaan is always there if we but chose to step in and rest.



expect the unexpected

So the last time we chatted, our Gabe had a surgery looming. As we say in the South, a “big, honkin’ surgery.” We knew what we wanted to have happen…a graft to be taken from our Little Prince’s mouth {ouch} to build his urethra {as well as tubes placed in his ears for recurrent and terrible ear infections}, and a spica body cast to keep him completely immobile for the following two weeks to ensure the survival of said graft.

If you’re curious about the details of that day, you can get up to speed by reading here.

Suffice it to say, things went extraordinarily better than we could have ever hoped. The graft was taken, not from his mouth, but from his nether regions {best case scenario} and no cast was needed. We were floored. And we were devastated later that night when his urinary catheter slipped out and our Gabe endured the reinsertion of a new one in the ER of our children’s hospital.

It was completely unexpected by everyone involved that the surgery would be that great of a success. But it was somewhat expected that the graft would break down in some way or some point and that a hole {fistula} could make surgery #5 for our sweet boy a reality.

And that it did.

So this gorgeous boy,

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with cinnamon roll icing on his sweet face,

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will head back to the OR in a few months for what we expect is his last urological surgery.

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But as I’ve said, it’s wise to expect the unexpected.

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Whatever those details and plans will be, however they play out, we are grateful. To a team of brilliant pediatric urologists who have made life, “normal life,” much more possible for our beautiful boy. For family and friends who didn’t let his special need scare them and who came alongside us and said, “whatever he needs, we support you!” And for a God who knits these precious ones together…for His glory, and for our complete joy.

We’re so grateful for the whole of it.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen.”
Ephesians 3:20

 

 

The Ripple Effect

rip′ple effect` n. A spreading effect or series of consequences caused by a single action or event.

As we guided our weekend Chinese exchange student through Washington D.C. on Saturday, I heard him say multiple times with a big smile on his face, “I have seen these places in American films so many times. And now here I am. It is amazing.” And it really was amazing. We stayed up late and talked and shared each other’s cultures, we laughed a lot, we shared food, we taught him how to pick crabs, we introduced him to our family, we walked over four miles all over D.C., and we took him to church for the first time. Traveling from across the world, he became our fourth child for the weekend. Our family spent the weekend with a practical stranger because our hearts had been opened to Chinese students through a long series of events. Had we not adopted Sunshine from China two years ago, we might not have a heart for China today. We wouldn’t have met the sweet family (who we now call very dear friends) that introduced us to IECS. My husband probably wouldn’t have spent two weeks in China (with IECS) teaching English to university students in May. And we probably wouldn’t have a heart for Chinese students now, which led us to host a weekend student, and is likewise leading us to host another student for the entire school year beginning next month. I should also add that we found out about both hosting programs through other adoptive parents that are part of the big, awesome, loving adoptive family network (which we also wouldn’t be a part of if we hadn’t adopted). And this particular ripple effect only has to do with serving Chinese students.

See what I mean?

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There have been many other ripples caused because of our adoption journey, not even related to Chinese students. Too many to count. And I suspect probably many that we don’t even know about. It’s overwhelming to think about. We have met so many sweet families through adoption, some who have become our very closest friends. My best mama friends are part of the adoption sisterhood too. I have come to know many Chinese friends that I never would have met. I have had the privilege of ministering to other adoptive families, advocating for children, and watching them be united with their forever families. But it hasn’t been all one-sided – we’ve been poured into and learned from many other adoptive parents as well.

Our family has grown and changed in ways that I never dreamed of too. I love being a part of this ripple effect and walking through this journey. It’s amazing how God can use a willingness to step out in faith in one way to cause a chain of events that is much more widespread than one would ever think possible. And I know He isn’t finished yet.



about a boy {a glimpse into the experience of advocating}

I introduced him as Bo right before Christmas. People shared the post as they do. But, most families were spending their time wrapping gifts and baking cookies. But, just when the holidays were over, we got an update on him. I still remember opening those pictures for the first time and seeing his beautiful big eyes and silky looking skin. When I posted about him again in January, I was sure his family would find him. I was all ready for emails to start coming in. I got a lot of emails, but not many had anything to do with this boy.

I did all I knew to do. I contacted the United States’ leading specialist in his joint condition to have him review his file. I contacted families with children with the same diagnosis, asking them to tell me more about what day-to-day life is like parenting a child with this need, asking if they’d be willing to talk to families considering adopting him. I posted the links everywhere I could. Friends joined me and posted about him on their blogs.

And, I waited; he waited.

Days. Weeks. Months. I kept his picture on my sidebar; but, to be honest, I had sort of lost hope. I second guessed my initial excitement, all my efforts. No one wanted him. His crib sheet in his update picture had the words “Happy 2008,” just another reminder of stale expectations.I felt defeated and wondered how long I should keep his picture up. His beautiful eyes gazing at me every time I posted on my blog reminded me of every child who waits and no one even knows they are waiting. I didn’t want that reminder anymore.

About 4 months later, an email showed up in my inbox with the subject line “About a boy…”

…God has been hard at work in my heart for special needs adoption! I tumbled across your blog from some links from other blogs…and I saw dear Bo….If Bo is still waiting, would you send me information about him? I will pray first, “Lord, us??” and if it is a no, I will pray “Lord, find his loving family!”
Blessings!
Amy

I forwarded her everything I had–all the pictures, the update, the review from the specialist. And, honestly, I didn’t think all that much about it after I hit send. I’d done this before. No one wanted him.

But, this time, a flurry of emails ensued.

PRAYING!!!! He seems so perfect! NO ONE WANTS HIM!?!?!??!?!

She asked me to pray with her; she was going to talk to her husband about him in a few days. Another email came; she decided not to wait; she’d talk to him that night.

A few days later, nearly 5 months after I first advocated for Bo, I got this –

Oh dear Kelly!!!
I am shaking with excitement!!! God has spoken to us and we are going to MOVE FORWARD ON BO!!!!!!!!!!!!

And, my Bo became their Toby.

In seeking the best for their son, they decided to see that leading specialist who happens to have his practice only miles from where we live which meant I got a very special gift.

Advocating works

Over lo mein in Chinatown, Amy asked what it was like to be with him, to sit right there across the table from Bo.

I struggled over the words as I still struggle now. I had wanted to take his picture down; I’m so glad I didn’t. The same eyes that I had wanted to shield on the screen in front of me now were directly in front of me with a message entirely different—hope restored even when things seem desperate and irreconcilable, anticipation of good things to come when there doesn’t seem to be any good at all, the blessing of stepping out to do something maybe just a little bit crazy like make a child you don’t know who has a special need hardly anyone has even heard of who lives in a foreign land your own child.

Adoption.

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The question we are asking

Jubilee doesn’t throw fits, hoard her toys, act irrationally, or withdraw emotionally. In fact, on the surface she is a very “normal” child.

Except when no one is looking. Then she destroys things. She tears the wheels off matchbox cars, scribbles on her brother’s artwork, takes apart completed Lego sets, sits on things, rips things, rearranges things, you name it.

This happens over and over again. No sting of discipline seems to make a difference.

Recently our oldest son, Bright, came to our bedside early in the morning and tearfully exclaimed, “Jubilee has erased part of the rocket ship picture I made! Why does she keep doing this?”

My husband and I pulled Bright into our covers and the three of us had a discussion about Jubilee.

“We understand your frustration, son,” my husband said, his voice husky from a night’s sleep. “But your sister didn’t get to be with us when she was a baby. She doesn’t have the security of her parents’ love in the way you and your brothers do. Breaking our stuff is her way of asking the question, ‘Am I loved?’”

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Minutes later, with my husband’s words of wisdom still in my ears, I knelt before our daughter on the kitchen floor. Her black eyes held my gaze nervously but directly, with the strength of one who has endured too much for her age.

Did you do it? I asked. No, she lied. Did you do it? I asked. Yes, she confessed, crumpling into my arms; a 30-lb pile of pink pajamas and brown limbs. I held her while she whimpered softly, my own tears dripping onto her head. She is tired of doing this, I knew. I am tired of doing this, too. We are all tired.

“Jubi Sue,” I said, holding her at arms length so I could look at her. “I love you. You don’t have to do this anymore.”

Those words hit her hard, and she began to weep. I hadn’t seen her cry like that in months. It was the weeping of one who is relieved; the weeping of one who has come to the end of a long ordeal.

Has she, in fact, come to the end of her destructive behavior? It is too early to tell. But at the very least, I heard the question she had been asking and I gave the answer she had been looking for.

Adopting has taught me many things, chiefly that I am the one with the special need. I am the one who was born with a flaw. The flaw of sin. I have always known this, of course, but not before adopting a toddler did it become so glaringly obvious.

I sin every day; in ways that directly relate to being an adoptive mom, and in a thousand other ways besides. When no one is looking (and sometimes when they are), I give in to thoughts and behaviors every bit as destructive as Jubilee’s. Essentially, I am asking the same question she is. It is the question everyone is asking, “Am I loved?”

The answer, spelled out so clearly in the Bible, is a resounding, “Yes!”

Great! one might be tempted to think. That means I can do whatever I want, and God will forgive me for it later, right? In that case, I’ll just keep on sinning. Why wouldn’t I?

“Because there is no need to,” I can almost hear God saying. “I love you. You don’t have to do this anymore.”

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We Can’t Do That

When Hubby and I first began our adoption journeys we talked about which special needs we could do and which ones we felt that we couldn’t do. Of course as time went on we changed our minds and brought home children with needs that we had previously said no to.

There was one need in particular that we could do BUT we didn’t want to do and we both agreed. Of course we still kept it under that heading of “we can’t do that one”…

It felt safer that way. No one would question us and no one would judge as long as it was safely tucked away under that heading.

Well, God had other plans and He was not going to allow us to continue the charade for long. He knew our capabilities and He knew HIS desires for us.

In July of 2010 we brought home bio sisters from China – Emma and Ellie. It was a bit of a novelty because siblings from China were almost unheard of. They are seldom on the waiting child lists. An acquaintance of ours who lives near us brought home sibling girls from China about 4 years prior. We had been in contact with her previously discussing older child adoption. When we saw our daughters on the waiting child list and when our agency said we could move forward, we were thrilled! It felt like God had placed them there just for us! And just like our other adoptions – they were our daughters!

Their file had conflicting information in it. It would list a concern the orphanage had regarding the girls, (such as their speech or their voice) then after the concern it would say that it was resolved and was no longer a problem.

With the urging of our social worker we asked for an IQ test to be done. The results came back low (around 80) but not too low. Given their circumstances we felt like we could work with the girls and help them with their education. Since we considered them to already be our daughters we did not ask more questions or for clarity regarding the conflicting information in their file..

We knew our GOD would handle the details and it was our job to be obedient and joyfully serve HIM.

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Meeting our girls and our time in China with them… was an event to say the least. We were not prepared for the behaviors that occurred and the feelings we felt.

You see, our girls both had the one special need hubby and I said, “we couldn’t do”.

I think of the quote –

“If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans.”

In China, our heads were spinning and we had feelings that we never anticipated having. Our new daughters were completely out of control and had no intentions of listening to us. We were after all strangers to them.

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BUT GOD had this all planned out. HE knew exactly what HE was doing. In His eyes it was a perfect plan, we just didn’t know it yet…

When you are a Christian and your head is spinning and you have feelings you never wanted to have and you are confused — what do you do?

You Pray…

You PRAY, PRAY, PRAY!

And that is exactly what we did.

We were in China with Anna (3), Sarah (10) and our older daughter Katie (24).

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In everyway God heard our prayers, He heard our pleas for help. He comforted us as much as we would allow Him to. He guided us every step of the way, every day! Our girls were from the vacation spot of China – Guilin. The sights were magnificent and despite our challenges we truly enjoyed our time there. He gave us a sense of humor during serious times to lighten our load and ease us into our situation. He brought us support through others — friends that emailed consistently and extra personal attention from our agency. The other adoptive families were kind and supportive.

Our girls’ behavior in China was extreme and atypical. At time we were being physically hurt and they were screaming at us in Chinese or running away from us. We needed all the support that we could get and God so wonderfully provided. At one point we considered the “D” word for one of the girls – which means disruption and that is when a family decides not to continue with the adoption and the child returns to the orphanage. However, the Lord impressed upon my heart that was not part of HIS plan.

We made it through our time in China with actually many good memories and we made it home with only moderate challenges as we traveled.

Once home God’s peace came over both of the girls the moment they stepped into the house. We knew they were where they were supposed to be and we knew who was in control of this journey… not us! Praise the Lord.

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Our girls have been home for 3 years now. They have made tremendous progress. They behave beautifully and are always willing to help at home! They are a joy to us and we can see how very happy they both are! Our whole family has grown from this experience in ways that we otherwise would have never been able to.

Our experience was extreme and challenging BUT God had a purpose and He taught us the lesson He wanted to teach us. Most children are not as severely cognitively disabled and their cognitive delay is not as challenging to the family while in China. Children with cognitive delays are often joyful, sweet and trusting and that is exactly what our girls have become! It took the grace of GOD and the love of a family for them to blossom!

Our girls behaved the way they did because they were scared to death and they had no coping mechanisms to deal with all that was happening to them. Truly, I should have prayed more for them than for myself but I didn’t understand what was happening at that time, either.

We have found out that their cognitive levels are in the 40’s and 50’s (not the 80’s as we were told). We have found out that “we can do this” because “GOD can do this”.

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We feel blessed to have been chosen as their parents. We are so humbled and grateful to GOD! There was no reason for us to be afraid of this special need – HE was with us every step of the way!



Food issues and binging 5 years later

Feeding a child is deeply rooted within us mamas. It’s almost beyond maternal and instinctual. It’s a part of what we do, and right or wrong, it’s a part of how we measure our success. And when it didn’t go according to plan, it affected me much more than I could have imagined. Being a mama is a huge part of who I am, and this failure hurt my soul.

If you would have told me that we’d be having food issues nearly 5 years later, I would have thought you were either nuts, or that we surely messed our daughter up somewhere along the path.

Hmmmmm… which is it?

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Eating apples and you gotta love her first thing in the morning hair!
She didn’t touch fruit for years. And even though it’s still not her favorite, now she does.
It’s all a work in progress.

Tess was 12 months old when she came into our arms. We knew (know really) next to nothing about her time before us, but we do know that she was born prematurely with low birth weight. At 12 months weighed barely 15 pounds and we quickly learned that she couldn’t sit up, pull up, bear weight on her legs and still had a profound gag reflex most likely indicating that she hadn’t had solid foods yet. It was the feeding therapist that said she had all the classic signs of being force fed.

But these things could be overcome, right? Nourishment, a high fat diet, a calorie supplement, lots of love.. we could fix all that, right?

As her new mama, I had some anxiety about my malnourished daughter that just didn’t eat. And because only a generous insurance company at best would pay for “feeding therapy,” we paid dearly out of pocket for a feeding therapist as soon as we got home. It was one of the best things we did. We learned how her lack of core strength was a huge hurdle to getting her to eat solids, and thus her physical therapy was critical to her eating progress. We learned how to introduce foods to her in a non-threatening way and expose her to an amazing variety of foods that we never would have considered, (including straight mustard, pickle juice, and all sorts of stuff way out of the box.)

By her third birthday, she was eating enough to stay on her own growth curve; a curve that was 50% below 0 on the growth charts. But a healthy curve nevertheless.
She would not eat fruit.
None.
Ever.
Not a single banana, applesauce, grape, peach or melon. Not fresh, frozen, dried or mashed. No fruit leathers. None. She had a peculiar relationship she had with food. One of luv and hate. She used food to control her environment, and she often refused to eat even when she was hungry. We continued to offer her every food under the moon, including fruits, for years. We encouraged but never forced her to eat anything and kept her on a high-calorie formula supplement. And after no less than 13,767 presentations of the foods she didn’t care for and years of attempts, she began to eat fruits and a pretty normal-ish diet.

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Yet, as we approach her 6th birthday and the food issues are not over. To the contrary, new issues are coming forth, and they seem to be escalating. Mainly food hoarding. Her middle-of-the-night visits to the cupboards, ‘fridge and freezer. Currently, every night she gets up when we are all fast asleep and raids the cupboards, binging on whatever she can find. We’ve lost much money from the freezer door that always seems to be left open. I’ve gotten up in the morning to find 10-12 otter pop wrappers hidden under her pillow. A precarious stack of over-turned buckets and boxes stacked high enough for her 36″ frame to reach the freezer door. A box of popsicles melting between the bed and the wall. An empty box of saltines and a bed of crumbs. Every. Single. Night. this is happening.

So what to do…
Door alarms.
Baby gates.
Refrigerator and cupboard locks.
These come to mind first. Taking away the power for her to hurt herself or destroy property.
But the more we consider these options, the more we realize that her eating issues are attachment issues in disguise, issues deeply rooted in food trauma. Hoarding and binging are her way of controlling her environment rather than releasing control and trust to those she loves.
She needs to control the food, even in the middle of the night, to feel safe.
With some great advice from fellow adoptive parents I remember these truths. Children who come from a history of trauma and/or loss need to feel safe. It is my priority. My obligation to her. There is no attachment without it.

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So tonight, after her teeth were brushed, and after her brother and sister were tucked in, we went to the kitchen together and packed her middle-of-the-night snacks. She chose what would go in her basket o’ food and how much to put into it.
A cream cheese bagel.
4 saltine crackers.
I love you so much mama!
A small baggie of grapes.
And I can eat this whenever I want?
A large baggie of cheerios.
Oh mama, you’re the best mom ever!
Carrot sticks.
I want 6 carrots. No 7. No 8. No 10. No 14. Can we just put all of them in the baggie?
Yes, of course we can.
She carried the basket in to her room looking around carefully, and ultimately set it next to her bed.
And that night she went to bed happy and with a sense of peace that I hadn’t seen in a while. It was her choice. Her power over her food. Safety. Security. And it hopefully comes back full circle to attachment.

I don’t think there’s an ending here. And that seems to be the whole point that escaped me 5 years ago. As parents we didn’t necessarily do anything wrong or mess her up, and yes, 5 years later we are still dealing with food issues. Our baby, adopted at 12 months old, is still working through her past. These issues of attachment and food are intertwined and aren’t necessarily “fixed” but a journey…
… one that we’re more than willing to walk with her.

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Epilogue

I woke the next morning before Tess and discovered that she didn’t touch her basket of food that night. And for the first time in 2 weeks, Tess did not get up in the middle of the night to binge. The freezer door was closed just as I left it. And there were no wrappers, melted or spoiled food, piled boxes to reach the freezer door, or any evidence to be found.

Her basket of food, untouched and right where she left it, was her first thought as she woke. With her eyes not even fully open, she reached over to touch it and promptly asked if she could eat it. Yes. She asked if she could eat it any time she wanted. Yes. And again she didn’t touch any of her food in her basket and was satisfied to wait for breakfast with her siblings. In a tiny bit of panic, she was also concerned if she needed to share her basket food. I assured her that she did not. It was all hers to eat anytime she wanted and there was plenty more of it for both her and her siblings in the kitchen if they wanted. She suggested we keep her special food in her purse that day, so she could carry it around, just in case. And so we did.

Over the course of the next 2 weeks, Tess still didn’t eat her basket food in the middle of the night. Although on occasion she would munch on her favorites before breakfast. She still is sure to have her basket of midnight snacks next to her bed every night, but it now contains just a couple items. And it’s all her choice. She just doesn’t seem to need as much food next to her to feel safe anymore. We find it interesting that she has never needed to eat the food to feel secure, just have access to it.

My girl… what latent memories are still in your head from so long ago?
They still seep in.
And we assume as the years pass, they will continue to resurface in different shapes and forms manifesting in various food or attachment issues.
And it’s still okay.