One year ago, we were somewhere over the ocean between East and West, with our two newly adopted, Mandarin speaking children. We were a muddled mix of joy, weariness, readiness to be home, heaviness from leaving our children’s birth country, and profound gratitude for our intensely beautiful time in China. Feeling the joy of long awaited little people in our arms, but surrounded by ocean and fear, my husband and I were deeply aware that we’d surrendered our former lives and were hurdling at high speed toward all things new.
Our son and I were wet and stinky from a double diaper blowout, and my husband dispensed antibiotics covered in Mandarin script to a feverish daughter while simultaneously attempting to catheterize her in the airplane lavatory at 10,000 feet. Much like the next 365 days would turn out to be, that flight was an exhausting, yet sacred adventure. Our goals were to care for medical needs and to minimize mid-flight chaos by dispensing Chinese rice crackers and walking the aisles. Survival. We trusted the pilot was guiding us to where we needed to be.
Feeling like we’d been “called upon the waters”, Hillsong’s “Oceans” had been our adoption anthem. Our former, safer life with two daughters had ended, as we adopted two children at once, one with complex medical needs. We’d adopted before, but this was deeper water to step into.
We touched down on Thanksgiving day, but it felt like we’d landed on water. In a jetlag stupor, we spent the next days searching for solid ground. With a hundred needs coming at us like waves, we began our year of triage sorting them by urgency.
Septic child? Top of the list. Hospital admission, MRIs, antibiotics, and ultrasounds. Clearly it was to be a bumpy ride.
Next on the list were pediatrician appointments, blood tests, stool samples, and shots. Then a mix of sleep issues, feeding issues, anxious attachment, indiscriminate attachment, coping skills, and language learning. Specialist referrals from neurology to nephrology and plastic surgery to audiology, then clinic visits, evaluations, and assessments. Our safety belts stayed buckled.
Have you been there, adoption friends? Each story is unique, but year one is a strenuous and sweet triage for most.
Medical needs? Our full attention.
Sleep issues? High on the list.
Sensory needs? One day at a time.
Potty training? Can wait.
Orphanage behaviors? Consistent training.
Emotional needs? Hugs and prayers.
Speech therapy? Not yet.
Dental work? No time.
Attachment (theirs and mine)? Takes time.
Academic needs? Sigh.
Oh yes, and we have other kids with needs and emotions, each treading water themselves.
And then there is this marriage rocked by the waves.
And me. Tired, feet failing, weight gaining, and limits stretched.
Seeing over the waves becomes challenging. There are more needs than we can meet. More hurts than we can heal. More trauma than we can fathom. More burden than we can carry. The triage list is overwhelming. And when we reach the end of ourselves? We cry weakly out to the Lord, the surrendered prayer of an adoptive parent. We call for Him as we hold our sleepless little boy in the middle of the night, when a sibling regresses emotionally, in doctors’ offices as we hear test results, when a son sits unafraid in a stranger’s lap, when a daughter only eats soft food, and in hospital waiting rooms as we wait for surgeons to emerge.
Triage burned through our family with a refining fire. How money was spent, what we said yes to, and what we spent time thinking about all changed. The first year brought lots of treading water, but it had its sweetnesses too. It cultivated faith and polished attitudes, purified hearts and clarified focus. When our days involved therapies and hospital stays, family nights became more special. When we sat beside a two year old on a hospital bed bravely raising her arm for vitals checks and IVs, our perspective changed. Gratitude enlarged. Former worries seemed less like worries.
It turns out deep water is cleansing. Our feet didn’t fail and our family didn’t sink. God is bigger than I thought He was.
Our mourned former life now seems less alluring, and the new life has a fullness to it. Our bedrooms are full and so are our arms. Our new children experienced their sweet year of firsts, developed trust and took tentative steps into family life. They blossomed before our eyes, and we watched with awe and wonder, celebrating the ordinary extraordinary. Hearts expanded in siblings too as they grew to love new family members and sacrificed their toys, space, and mommy and daddy time. We discovered the courage to walk into hospitals and specialist appointments, and the strength to handle emotional needs. Faith, family and life-giving friendships were all we had time for. We missed meetings, skipped parties, and rethought commitments. There is more to celebrate now and less that distracts us. Walking through turbulence has its beauty.
We still found ourselves gliding toward our 12 month post placement visit hoping the social worker wouldn’t realize we were a hot mess, but we kept uttering prayers, because we’d learned “His grace abounds in deepest waters”. Our faith has an assurance brought by experience. Amidst the sea of pre-ops and post-ops, tears and giggles, chaos and catheterizations, we sensed His embrace as we glanced around our full table.
This first year has felt like that long west bound flight. We’ve been hurdling through the air at high speed, far out over the ocean. It’s been messy and tiring, but there have been giggles, crayon drawings, and puppet shows for in-flight entertainment.
Though far deeper than our feet preferred to wander, we discovered that, like our pilot, God knew exactly where He was taking us.
In His grace, He met us out on the water, replaced our weaknesses with His strength, crosschecked our hearts, lavished us with care and community and gifted us with two little souls to love. Our son and daughter have been home for 365 days. It’s been a wild ride, but we’re thankful for the grand adventure.
You call me out upon the waters.
The great unknown where feet may fail.
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep,
my faith will stand.
~”Oceans”, Hillsong United