Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Parenting and Adoption: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

Before having children, a lot of people look around at other families with kids (maybe even slyly smiling to themselves) and mistakenly assume they are going to do better.  We are going to have total control of our kids, is what many of us think BK (before kids).  We would never let our kid act that way. Or, our kids are never going to do/say something like that.  Hey parents, how many of you thought this way before having children?  How many still feel this way?  Exactly.  We've all had our share of humble pie and hopefully have learned not to judge others through it.  There is no more humbling experience, day in and day out, than parenting.  Praise God for helping us keep our eyes on Him!  

Just this morning, I sent Larry upstairs to brush his teeth.  A simple task that lately has been causing volcanic eruptions in our home.  I heard him run into the bathroom and thought,  "Wow, he is getting himself ready...quietly even!  We are making progress."  Then, he emerged ten minutes later.  A bald track in his head the width of daddy's beard trimmer.  Smiling and proud he exclaimed, "I didn't touch the razor, mommy.  I used the trimmers."  Well, at least safety was a consideration.  (If you're angry and you know it, take deep breaths.  This is becoming my mama mantra.)  Now, back the task at hand.  His teeth?  You guessed it...not brushed.  

So, it should come as no surprise that parenting adopted children is equally humbling.  Yesterday an adoptive friend made a statement that rang true.  Adoptive parents are often hesitant to share the difficult parts of the adoption experience, especially when it comes to discipline and household stress related to the adoption.  My guess (and it's just a guess) is that we don't want to be perceived as failures.  In addition, we do not want to scare anyone away from considering adoption.  

With that being said, here are two great truths in our home surrounding our adoption.  First and foremost, we would do it again in a heartbeat...and actually plan to, once we reach cruising altitude.  We will embrace (and brace ourselves for) every joy, challenge, struggle, and sleepless night.  There has been nothing about this experience that would stop us from stepping out in faith again.  Remember, God is the strength in our weakness.  Essentially, all we are doing is telling God he can use us and our bodies.  He does the rest.  We have done none of this on our own. (Philippians 2:13) Second, the past three and a half months have been the hardest we have ever been through.  Here is the mathematical expression:  take the emotional nature of the experience, coupled with everyone's world being turned upside down, in addition to living in a home with three (very intense) children four years of age and younger, add an eleven year old who is just learning English and is not used to discipline being enforced, multiply the noise level by four, and throw in two parents learning how to parent a pre-adolescent .  What do you get?  A whole lot of question marks and the need to seek Christ minute by minute.  

The past few months have been hard on our marriage.  We have argued like never before.  We have been so exhausted that we could not even reconcile before going to sleep.  We have disagreed in front of the children.  We have had to come up with new and (hopefully) effective discipline measures on the fly.  We have had to remain calm and collected beyond our physical abilities.  I have been angry.  I have been resentful.  I have grieved the loss of our old family unit.  The past few months have also been hard on our children.  Three children four years of age and younger need a lot of individual attention.  I am only one person, yet each of their mothers.  They each want my help, attention, praise, and affirmation...usually at the same time.  Our eleven year old needs attention too.  His activities are separate from the preschoolers.  He wants praise and affirmation and also the recognition that he is the oldest child.  He wants to do things his way and does not like rules enforced.  The daily business of life has been hard, very hard.  Most importantly though, we pray together daily as a family and know that day-by-day we are growing together, in Christ.  Our foundation is in Christ and He does not fail.  Because our foundation is strong, everything else is 'just a thang'! 

Looking back, it is easy to see how far we have come and how much we have grown.  In three short months we have all made exponential progress, but it has not been easy.  Every challenge is an opportunity for growth and thankfully, God gives us many do-overs.  If we do not get it right the first time, there is always to the opportunity to take a new approach the next time.  Like the title of John Ortberg's book, If You Want To Walk On Water, You've Got To Get Out Of The Boat, we know that in order to live our lives to the fullest and become more like Christ, we have to take risks.  We knew that adding another toddler plus an eleven year old boy to our family would be assuming some risk.  With those risks, may come stumbling and heartache, but also great reward.  

The past few months have been a dance.  An awkward, sometimes monotonous, gaggle of a dance...similar to what I witnessed while stationed in Germany when everyone at a night club did the electric slide all night long to each and every song that played with a few outliers doing there own thing here and there.  Gaggle, monotonous, uncoordinated dancers doing our best to grow in Christ.  That about sums up our family at the present moment.  

I often wonder why God waits until we are at our wit's end before intervening.  But then I laugh.  I know He is not the one waiting.  Instead it is me not listening.  He is there all along trying to gently guide and direct my path; however, I probably do not fully acknowledge Him until I am at my wit's end.  Psalm 32:8 says, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you."  I read it; I say that I believe it; yet, for those things I consider too small for God (the daily business of life),  I tend to rely on myself until I am about to break.  I envision a life of fully trusting God in the big and small details and continue to pray that He takes me there. 

So, there you have it...along with the glorious and magnificent is also the difficult and ugly.  Some days are downright U-G-L-Y.  Luckily, we have God's promise in Isaiah 58:11, "The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your need in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.  You will be like a well watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail."  I don't know about you, but when I read those words, I can feel and taste the refreshment.  That is our living God!  

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Career Versus Calling

There comes a time in most of our lives when we seriously begin to question our purpose here on earth.  For me, those questions began very early on (adolescence through college) and persisted into adulthood.  When answers could not be found, I simply looked around and tried to piece together the unspoken.  So-and-so appears to be very fulfilled on this track, maybe my calling will be found by just continuing along and one days things will click.  Or, this guy appears confident and collected, maybe if I keep acquiring knowledge and skills in a certain area, my purpose will become more clear.  Most of the time I simply thought to myself that nearly everyone else seems to be plugging along just fine without this deep inner conflict that keeps me awake at night.  What was wrong?

Thinking back to my college years, I remember the unanswered questions.  I would ask professors and mentors how they figured out which direction to take, but never felt a sense of peace about my own direction.  Being the first in my family to attend college, support and encouragement were readily given, but a family history in a certain area or calling was not present.  I would have to figure this out on my own.  When I finally decided on a path, a major course of study in Finance and a contract guaranteeing a commission into the United States military upon graduation, I thought things would fall into place.  A life of service appealed to me; plus I enjoy physical activity and being outdoors. That's it, I figured it out.  Or, maybe not.  The still voice in my head provided some clues.  'This is not the way.'  'Yes, you understand this material, but you will not find what you are looking for down this road.'  After a brief active duty stint and then a handful of years progressing as a financial analyst for the Department of Defense, the inner turmoil was no less prevalent.  I received formal training, completed my MBA, and moved around the country in search of promotions and more experience; yet, fulfillment and peace were not to be found.  'Why won't God just close this door and open the right one', I began asking myself silently and my husband aloud.  

A good friend of mine, one of those friends who always happens to call and say the exact thing you need to hear at the exact moment you need to hear it, would always say reassuring things such as:  'Your career and calling do not have to be the same thing.  Just because you work in a particular field,  it does not necessarily mean that is where God is going to use you.'  I ate these words up and believe those statements to be true; however, they did not necessarily fill the void.  I wanted my career and calling to align.  This realization was the first the step into figuring out how to best use my life for God's purpose.  As the soul-searching continued, I began to realize that it was not up to God to close any door, it was up to me.  By changing my thought patterns and diving deep into my motivations, I had realized that fear (fear of the unknown, fear or failure) kept me hanging on many more years than I should have.  Although I loved many things about the military, I was not passionate about the type of work I was doing.  

When we started building our family, I made the decision to use that time to begin a new chapter both personally and professionally.  Yes, the decision to walk away from the familiar was difficult, but over the past few years God has shown me that I needed time, probably more time than I would have allowed myself, to figure out how to best serve Him.  By spending the past few years at home with our growing family, I have learned a lot about my strengths and limitations.  I have worked harder than I have ever worked in my life and yet am still driven.  I have learned that at the end of myself is where Christ begins and at the end of myself is where Christ wants me to live.  I try to see the world through my children's eyes, with awe and mystery and limitless possibility.  I ask God to use every day of my life to build the foundation for the next and proceeding chapters.  I ask that He not let me waste another day and that He please, please use me to fulfill my purpose for Him on this earth.  That humble, sincere asking and pleading was what was previously missing in my life.  This was not something I could figure out on my own, but only through prayer, faith, sweat, and perseverance would His plan be unveiled little by little.   

Recently on the radio, I heard a guest speaker saying something along the lines of:  'Where your greatest gifts and greatest passions collide, there you will find your purpose.'  This simple yet profound statement is how I envision the next chapter of my life.  As the plan begins to unfold, I am nervous and giddy, but prayerful and cautious.  I do not know exactly what it will look like, but have been given a glimpse and the daily reminder that I need to live at the end of myself so that I can hold the hand of Jesus as He walks me step by step.  God gave me (and you) special gifts and if we let Him, He will show us how to use them.  

1 Peter 4:10 says, "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms."  What are your gifts?  Passions?  How can each one of us use our passions and gifts to glorify God by serving others?  Wouldn't it be the dream of a lifetime to figure it out?!  
Photo Credit

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Match Made In Heaven

With Mother's Day quickly approaching, I thought the time was right to reflect on the perfect nature of our living God.  Last year for Mother's Day, I celebrated with my husband and two wonderful boys.  Actually, my wonderful husband took care of our boisterous boys so that mama could have a few hours of peace and quiet. (Something my own mother said she wanted for nearly every occasion, but we insisted on perfume, earrings, or the like.  Now I know...all she really did want was peace and quiet!)

Last year, our Dossier was in Ethiopia and we were waiting for our referral.  Initially (before God's nudging and us realizing the plan He had in store for our family), we had requested a little girl between 0-36 months.  On Mother's Day, we would have been waiting approximately two months.  On Mother's Day, our daughter was alive, most likely with her birth family and our son was waiting in the orphanage with older children, wondering who his new family would be and when they would arrive.  I remember praying hard for our children last year, children 8000 miles away whom we had never met.  I prayed that God would somehow unite us in spirit, in ways our eyes may never physically see, and give us peace and wisdom that only He could provide.  I also remember praying that our daughter was with her birth mother, being nursed, and was able to form a loving attachment.  (Because of the age range we were requesting, we felt we would be matched with a toddler, not an infant.)

How truly amazing God is and how perfectly he matches children with their forever families!  

Behind the scenes, His plan was unfolding.  Someone on the other side of the earth was either sick and dying or planning to give up their daughter.  A grandmother caring for her grandson has died suddenly, leaving no one able to care for him.  In a perfect world, no one would ever have to decide whether or not to abandon their child.  In a perfect world, medication would have been accessible so that birth parents would not have died.  In a perfect world, God's love would move people to care for one another and put others before self.  However, we live in a fallen world, a world fraught with injustice, social inequity, poverty, epidemics, and self-serving behavior.  How sad the state of our world; yet how our God continues to love us and work through the mess we create.

Last year, as we continued to wait for our referral, God opened our eyes to the countless older children waiting for homes.  While we never thought in a million years He would ask us (whose oldest child at the time was only three years of age) to adopt an older child, He insisted on waking me up every night around 3:00 a.m. until I got the message.  " you know that boy you have been praying about for months?  Yes, it is are his family.  Yes, you.  Why not you?  Just because you don't know anything about parenting a pre-adolescent doesn't mean you can't learn.  Be willing.  Trust me."  It was the voice of truth!  The other voices I was hearing up until God quietly got His point across, went something like this: "Surely you cannot do this.  What do you know about older kids, anyway?  Don't you have enough on your plate?  Three preschoolers and a non-English speaking eleven year old.  Good luck with that!  Be very, very scared.  Older kids could kill you...burn your house down, stab you in your sleep!  Come on, don't you read the news."  One thing I have learned over the years is anything that elicits fear and not love does not come from God.  Period.  I told those voices to take a hike and the rest is history.  

Well, not quite.  When I first told my husband that we, in fact, were supposed to be the family of 'that boy we had been praying for daily', he about fell over.  Then, to my amazement, he got up from the ground and said, "OK, let's do it!"  Then...the rest is history.  

We have now been home for three months with Sporty (11 years old) and Sassy (now 20 months old).  Let me just tell you how perfectly God matched us.  All of our children are strong-willed, independent, spunky, athletic, loud, and eager to learn.  I am amazed at how quickly (even though the days and nights have been very long, exhausting, and challenging) our family has created a 'new normal' and how quickly everyone has adjusted to their new roles.  How the children have formed new relationships with each sibling separately and also collectively as a new family unit.  How my husband and I have recreated our daily routines to account for the soccer practices, homework, and caring for four children.  Sporty, social yet shy, has jumped right into the mix at school, in our neighborhood, and on the soccer field.  He is neither a sociopath nor an arson.  Yet, sensitive, caring, intuitive, and is full of life.  Sassy, our little princess, dons her helmet and gets right in the mix with boys.  (Like her mommy, she doesn't realize how small she actually is!)  She mirrors my words, actions, and gestures and attempts to mother the rest of the house.  She is full of energy, curiosity, and spunk.  The three little ones are best friends and typical siblings.  While only 10% of the world's population is left-handed, currently 50% of our household right-brained.  (I'm not sure what this means, but thought it was an interested fact.)  

Oh, and just this morning Sassy did the (seemingly) strangest thing.  She pulled at my shirt and said, "Mommy, milk."  She has never done this before but in the past week I have sensed that memories of her past life are blurring and will eventually fade.  She looked at me, her mommy and blended together her old and new life.  I was not the mommy who nursed her, but in a nod from God spoken through two words from our daughter, He answered my prayer.  Sassy was indeed nursed and had formed a healthy attachment with her first mom.  God is faithful.  

In adoption circles, we often speak of how perfectly God matches children and families.  While this used to be a statement conveying blind faith and trust, it is now something I have witnessed through faith and with my own eyes.  Proverbs 3:5-6 states, "Trust in the Lord God with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him and He will direct your paths."  I only wished I could have embraced this truth so fully from the beginning, as it would have taken away so much of the stress that surrounds adoption.  

Thank you, God for trusting us in our imperfect and flawed ways.  Thank you for teaching us to trust in you always and lean not on our own understanding.  Thank you for working out all of the countless details to bring together and unite our entire family.  Adoption truly is a match made in heaven.