Sunday, December 30, 2012

Meet The Ethiopian Tooth Fairy....

I have said this many times before, but adopting older children (internationally, in this case) is amazing for so many reasons.  Not the least of these reasons being that once language barriers are overcome and trust is built, they can clearly communicate about their past, their histories, their first families, their trauma, their grief, their dreams, and their culture and traditions.  I am like a kid at Christmas when Big Sister and Sporty get into "story mode"!  Pour me a cup of cheer and I'll pull up a chair for hours...if need be.  

Keeping in mind that oral tradition, in Ethiopia, is still such a big part of how stories are handed down from one generation to another, I imagine there are just as many versions of the story I am about to share as there are subcultures in this beautiful country.  Just last week while our family was on a ski and snowboarding vacation atop a beautiful mountaintop resort in a neighboring state, Big Sister and Sporty...while arguing over who gets to rub my feet (tough life, I know!)...were on a roll sharing stories of days past and memories made.  (Photo evidence of the awesome massages they give lest you think I make this good stuff/huge blessing up! In fact, Big Sister is rubbing my shoulders as I type this.) 

 As Big Sister took her turn sharing a story, I found myself intrigued and humored.  (She tells great stories, by the way!)  She shared a story about the Ethiopian version of the 'tooth fairy' that was too good not to pass along.  The entire story made me laugh and light up, knowing that despite the many traumas and past hurts in her life, her birth mother found ways to give her a childhood as best as she could.  She found ways to pass along fun traditions, amidst the daily struggle for survival.  Some things, I am coming to learn, are simply universal.  Family love is universal.  I found myself imagining this scene she was describing play out in a land far away, by people who often do not know where their next meal will come from.  The mud huts or corrugated tin makeshift residences, the dirt roads, the furniture-less homes.  The community latrine and water supply.  Home! 

I thought the best way to share this story with you was to let Big Sister share it herself.  So, I captured a quick video of her telling the story of the Ethiopia tooth fairy....who is...A BIRD!  Watch and enjoy! 

In case you missed or were not able to understand the main parts of this story, I will summarize.  When a child loses her or his tooth, the child and caregiver go outside and sing, "Bird, bird, you can have my teeth, I can have your teeth."  (Never mind that fact that most birds do not have teeth.  Perhaps one of the few rare species of birds that do have teeth were flying around her hometown.  I do not know, but yes I did spend considerable time researching birds with teeth.  Why?  I dunno?!  Big Sister fell on the floor laughing when I told her most birds do not have teeth.)  
Photo Credit
Anyway, after singing the line about exchanging teeth with the bird, the child then tosses the tooth up unto the rooftop.  If the bird takes the tooth (and no one goes to actually check, but I assume mom/dad/guardian may take the tooth just as we parents do here in the states), then the child will be blessed with good teeth and oral hygiene.  If not, well...tough luck I guess?!   Either way, the fact that children on the other side of the world, living in abject poverty, celebrate milestones just as we do here in uber rich America, made me smile.  It filled me with hope.  It filled me with peace, for some odd reason.  We are often so wrapped up in the daily grind, our task lists, our over-programmed schedules, that we may perhaps fail to realize and embrace the universal nature and universal love of family and shared blessings.  

As we close out another Christmas, I pray that we are able to focus on gifts that really matter.  Love, mercy, compassion, kindness, bearing one another's burdens.  The kind of gifts that are often found not under the tree, but around the tree.  In those people we hold nearest and dearest.  I pray that this year we are able to cherish those gifts a little more, because at the end of the day I think we all know that the self-giving gifts we share with those who we hold close are the gifts that truly matter.  Just as Jesus giving his life for us is the best gift we can ever be given, the best gifts we can give are gifts that demonstrate selfless love.  While Big Sister's birth mother might not be here to see her daughter light up and she passes along a tradition to her new family, her mother's spirit was certainly present.  I am thankful for her selfless love and sacrifice each and every day and know that one day, in the Kingdom, we will all be united, free from disease and poverty and all pains and struggles.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Food Wars and the Adopted Child

Food Wars!  

No, I am not talking about slinging food across the table or declaring a food fight in a local restaurant.  I am talking about a battle that seems to begin, for many of us, prior to the flight home from our child's home country.  The battle where each and every meal and snack becomes a time for a child/children to assert control over their world by manipulating perhaps one of the few things they do have control over.  That is, the food they choose to eat.  

On some levels, this can be expected simply due to different smells, textures, previous malnutrition, sensory processing issues and the like.  Food is a basic necessity for life and many, many of our children have been deprived of this necessity.  The impact of those traumas may be with us for life.  That is the reality we are working with.  However, there is another reality.  Namely, we need to eat each and every day in order to be physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy and our food choices greatly impact how we feel and operate in each of those categories.  Allowing our children to simply eat as they wish does not benefit the child, parent, or anyone else who has to interact with our children.  I often hear people say, "I want my children to have a good relationship with food and therefore don't force her/him to eat anything."  That sounds nice and may indeed work for some families (I do not believe there is a one size fits all solution here), but I also want my children to have a good relationship with healthy food and therefore do encourage, motivate, and incentivize them to eat the healthy stuff so that they can be rewarded with something they prefer.  If they choose not to eat the meal, they are also choosing not to be rewarded.  

On still yet other levels, I believe these are control battles.  Heck, when all else in your world seems to be spinning out of control, who wouldn't be grasping for that one little thing that can be controlled.  Our children did not choose to be born into poverty.  They did not choose to watch their birth parents suffer horrible illnesses and die.  For the most part, they did not choose their new family.  They did not choose their new siblings.  They did not choose where they would or would not go to school in their new country, in their new family.  The list goes on.  They will however choose to turn their back on a plate of American food and pout like a three-year-old at each and every meal.  It is frustrating beyond frustrating.  I get it!  But, by putting myself in their shoes for just one minute, I can feel the anxiety taking over. The anxiety that is interwoven into our children' fabric.  But, I also am a mom of five strong-willed kids and I believe nutritious food is absolutely essential to overall well being.  I cannot, I will not, hand over my sanity and meal time (times three, plus a snack or two daily) to the gremlins.  It would be anarchy in our house.  I guarantee it!  Because of these reasons, our family has chosen to be unwavering and firm regarding healthy food choices with the hope that our children develop a taste for fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and other unprocessed healthy food.  Because let's face it, the taste does not come naturally here in of processed, manipulated, over-sugared, over-salted, over-fatted, convenient, pre-packaged food.  And because nutrition, fitness, and integrated well-being are extremely important and high on my list of 'mom goals', this is indeed a battle I choose to engage in, keeping in mind my goal is never to punish or withhold, but to develop the taste for healthy food that will facilitate an overall healthy lifestyle.

While I understand this approach is not for everyone and I certainly respect diverse viewpoints, we have had great success with this model.  Sporty, who turned his back to the table for months after arriving home, will now gobble down plate after plate of fresh vegetables.  He will now eat Every. Single. Food. that he adamantly refused when first coming home.  Big Sister initially refused anything that she suspected was a tomato (insert anything and everything red).  She has only been home three months and gobbles down the reds, greens, yellows, and everything in between.  Do they absolutely love everything put on their plates?  Of course not!  Is that OK?  Most definitely.  Will I ever force a child to eat what is on their plates?  Never.  Will I reward children who do eat healthily with ice cream or a another treat?  Yup!  We all have favorites and least favorites.  However, my mama heart and mind rest easy knowing my children are filled and fueled with the best nutrition I am able to provide for them.  And while they may think that me giving in to their desires means they can trust me to meet there needs (because let me remind you, food is also a huge trust issue for our children), I tend to take a different approach.  Most importantly, then, is that my children trust that I will provide them with the food they need to thrive.  All of my children witness me eat healthily and exercise daily.  While they may pout and grunt at the vegetables on their plate, I remind them that vegetables are what makes mommy strong and fit.  And I know that being fit is one thing they admire about me, because they tell me so.  With that being said, I use it as leverage and try to lead by example.  Because at the end of the day, our children will more than likely follow not what we are saying, but what we are doing.  

One note of caution:  it is absolutely essential to understand your child's past trauma and hurt when incorporating food strategies.  For a child that was severely malnourished either prenatally or postnatally, had food withheld as punishment, has sensory processing disorders, or any other disorder or delay, it is critical to discuss nutrition with your pediatrician and other specialists.  We came to our decisions after ruling out serious medical and emotional issues tied to food.  Please see the video clip below for Dr. Karyn Purvis' approach to food issues.  

The following video clip from Dr. Karyn Purvis, the expert of all experts on parenting children from hurt and broken backgrounds, provides clinical expertise and psychological rationale that may help us better understand our children's real hurt.  She also suggest ways of dealing with food issues and urges us not to make food a "blood bath."  Keeping in mind that I am not nearly as calm as Dr. Purvis and rarely have classical music playing in the background, our family has modified her suggestions to fit our crazy, strong-willed household and while we do not make food issues a "blood bath", everyone must eat her or his vegetables and whole grains if they would like anything sweet or more preferred.  End of story. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

I Guess This Is Home?!

When you spend nearly a decade moving around, chasing opportunities and following where the military leads, it is a strange feeling to finally look at a house and for the first time as an adult realize that this house, this neighborhood, this church family, this community, this school system, soccer team, etc. is not just another house or neighborhood, but rather our home.  So strange in fact, that it took me over two years to finally accept that were indeed home and to start putting down roots.  Even then, I didn't let myself grow too attached because I knew that at any moment I could hear my spouse utter those words, "Hey, there is this great Bangladesh."  Or something like that.  Some of you know exactly what I am talking about.  It could come at any time, so we dare let ourselves get too comfortable, too attached.  

Just recently, after being in our current home for nearly five years and settling in nicely in all areas, he came home with the news.  The words.  The words that bring great anticipation, a little fear, and whole lot of questions.  The opportunity, praise God, was not in Bangladesh.  It would be a good career opportunity.  It would be on the water.  (We both love the idea of living on the water.)  It would be a little closer to extended family.  It would be exciting.  We initially agreed to to throw our hat in the ring.  Why not?  What do we have to lose?  

Then, panic set in.  We can't do this.  Big Sister just arrived.  Larry is starting Kindergarten.  Sporty is excelling in and out of the classroom.  I am in my second year of Seminary and have never been so passionate about working toward God's purpose in our lives.  We love our entire community.  Our village.    

Then, reality set in.  Accompanied by a mix of emotions.  It is not just the two of us.  There is so much more to our family these days.  The 'opportunity' would not have the cultural resources that we cherish here.  It would not have the excellent soccer coaches and training opportunities.  It would not be close to my school.  It would not have our current community, our church.  It would not have an acclaimed and globally diverse school system.  It would be overly white.  It would be too much of a risk.  We couldn't do it.  For the first time ever, we would be letting the so-called opportunity pass.  And we were at peace.  Because God does not call us to chase opportunity, he calls us to chase him.  

In the years following undergrad, some friends would joke that I lived out of a Uhaul.  That was actually fairly accurate.  A few months in one location, a few years in another.  The only plan was to go where the next door opened.  It is a strange way to live, but it was familiar and I enjoyed the thrill.  Then, my path crossed that of my future husband.  Another Uhaul resident.  We were married within a year (crazy, I know) and continued the follow open doors and God's calling.  It was easier to do before children arrived and I thank God for those years of adventure.   

Years ago, I had a friend tell me that his family was no longer "Light Infantry", but rather an entire "Mechanized Armor Division."  At the time he told me this, I could have been considered a "Military Scout."  It was just me, with not a care in the world.  Now, I completely understand those words, because they are how I feel most days.  We are no longer just two people united in marriage, but rather part of God's interweaving of people and places.  Boots and a backpack don't really cut it these days.  There are so many moving parts to consider.  And sometimes the opportunity is right where we are.  No Uhauls needed.  It still sounds strange to say this, but we are home! least until the Lord tells us to move! 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. -Proverbs 3:5-7

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Growing Closer Over Coke, Tej, and Tibs

Tonight was a game changer.  A totally unplanned, impromptu, let's get out and get to know each other better game changer. 

God said go...laugh a little, do what she wants to do.  Let her have coke and you some wine. Enjoy each other's company and listen with an open heart.  

So, we went.  To a local Ethiopian restaurant where the sights, smells, and sounds were home-sweet-home.  I watched happily as Big Sister sniffed and listened her way back to Ethiopia.  I was filled with joy.  Filled with sorrow.  

Transitions are tough.  Grief is tough.  Healing from a hurt past is tough.  Parenting five kids is tough.  Being immersed in an English classroom, when your primary language is Amharic, for nearly seven hours per day is tough.  Trying to help Big Sister with her homework after her brain has already been fried for the day is tough.  Trying to balance the demands of marriage, parenting, school, and extra-curricular activities is tough.  In short, life is tough.  For all of us.  1 Corinthians 15:58 tells us, "Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." 

And I absolutely believe that.  I believe that God's heart for the orphan is undeniable.  You don't have to take my word for it, ask anyone on this journey.  I believe that this work will never ever be in vain.  God is so amazingly close to the orphan that I feel his presence like never before.  His mercies are new each day and his love is unfailing.  But, it's still tough.  Every day.  Sometimes minute by minute.  And so we went out for some laughs and fun.

And. it. was. fun.  But is was also something else.  It was a safe space from Big Sister to open up to me, her mom, and share whatever was on her mind.  On her heart.  To not feel pressured by the demands of school or learning English or fitting in socially or measuring up to anyone.  And, share she did.

Somewhere between taking our first bite and asking for refill, she started talking about her brother.  The one she adores.  The one closest to her heart.  The one 8000 miles away.  The one she may never see again.  She told me all about him and how he looked out for her.  When it was 8:00 pm, he made sure she was indoors and out of harms way.  He taught her that nothing good happened on the streets after 8:00 and because she loved him and respected him, she listened.  She went indoors and stayed out of harms way.   She told me many other stories.  Heartbreaking stories.  Healing stories.  I listened fervently.  I prayed silently.  I sat in awe of God's faithfulness.  How he works the details when we are willing to be obedient.  

I saw her fidgeting.  She fidgets a lot.  She was gearing up for something, so I sat still.  Patiently.  Taking in my surrounding and missing Ethiopia.  Her smells and sounds.  Her beautiful people.  I sipped my Tej and she her coca.  I took another bite of gomen and miser wat folded inside injera.  We were eating from a shared plate.  My vegetables surrounding her tibs.  I adore eating this way.  It is so very intimate.  

"Mom," she said.  "You and your sister.  You miss your mom, right?  Sometimes you cry because she die."  "Yes, of course," I said.  "I miss my mom a lot.  A whole lot."  "Mom," she said.  "I miss my mather too."  "Mom?"  Tears were now overflowing from her eyes.  "Yes?" I asked.  " my mather dead?  Did she die?  How will I know?  She very sick, mom.  She die soon.  How will we know?"  

Now, we were both crying.  I told her I would do everything I could to find out her mother's health status.  I encouraged her to write a letter even though her birth mother had prepared her for the permanence of her adoption and more or less told her to move on, do what she needs to do, and simply pray for her.  I believe she was taught to suppress her emotions, as a sign of strength.  A cultural norm, more or less.  Conversely, I teach her to express them.  I am so very thankful when I can see an outward sign, any sign, of what is going on inside.  

She told me she would write a letter.  I promised her it would get delivered.  

By this point, Big Sister was happy to have had a coca, our meal was finished, and I was slowly finishing up my Tej, a "deceptively sweet wine that masks its high alcohol content."  It tastes like Ethiopia.  It was yummy and I was feeling lighter.  Too light, actually.  So, we walked across the street to a local Christian bookstore.

The rest of our night was filled with something we have oddly enough yet to do: bonding via shopping.  The Tej had me feeling good and I let her indulge.  A devotional book or three?  Sure!  A DVD?  Why not?  Throw a few CDs in too.  Sunglasses?  Find two pairs!  

We left the store and headed to a hair salon.  While at the restaurant, we were told of a local Ethiopian woman who could relax and style Big Sister's hair the way she has been asking.  

Unfortunately, by the time we made it to the salon they were closed for the evening.  However, I think we both had a wonderful evening with Christ, enjoying food, drink, music, good company, and a few consumables.  

We grew closer.  I can feel it.  She came hope happy and relaxed.  Will we still have many trials ahead?  No doubt!  However, I need to learn to listen more intently to God's voice telling us it's OK to take a break.  To relax and enjoy.  To sit and listen.  To sip drinks that we adore.  To not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself (Matthew 6:34).  

Father God, I thank you for the special gift you gave us tonight.  The gift of enjoying one-on-one time that is so hard to manage in our daily lives.  The gift of safe spaces and open hearts.  The gift of intimate connections and healing.  The gift of your heart for the orphan and how that has so transformed every aspect of our daily living.  Thank you, God, for all that we see and all that is unseen.  Thank you for my daughter!   Thank you for her mother!  Help me to love and cherish them the way that you do.  

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Adopted Child and Socially Awkward Behavior

The other day I heard a friend calling up to Sporty, who was near his bedroom window.  "Hey, do you want to come out and play basketball?," his friend asked.  Without missing a beat, Sporty responded, "Sure, I'll be right out!"  Now, I know what some of you are thinking.  So what?  What is the big deal about that?  Kids have these sorts of exchanges all of the time.  While that it certainly true, those of you who have experienced seemingly socially bizarre behavior with your adopted children know that it is a huge deal when our children learn to interact in socially acceptable ways with adults and other children.  I believe this past summer was our turning point! 

When we first came home with Sporty a little over 19 months ago (Wow, has it been that long?!), this exchange would never had happened.  In fact, the reality of how this situation has played out in the past had me scratching my head for quite some time.  (And sometimes apologizing to the 'victim'.)  Sporty, a child who was by all means very social and active at the Transition Home in Ethiopia, seemed to display socially awkward or downright rude behavior in most social situations here in America.  This went on for months.  A friend would go out of his way to stop by and try to include Sporty in some activity and Sporty would turn his back on said friend and refuse to answer.  An adult would ask him a question and Sporty would look at the ground and mumble some incoherent response.  Sporty's soccer teammates would try to start up conversation only to be met with a sullen facial expression and silence.  (Fact: I had more conversations with his teammates while carpooling to and from practice and games than he had with them the entire season last year.)  What was going on?  At home, Sporty had normal interactions with me and his immediate family, and his teachers were singing his praises.  He was cooperative and would play with others at school, but outside of the school setting he seemed to be at a loss for how to act socially.  Why the bizarre behavior in social settings?  

For those of us with older adopted children from Ethiopia, these awkward behaviors seem inconsistent with the social and engaged children we met at the orphanage or transition home.  Read: at the transition home.  In her or his home country, in her or his comfort zone.  Of course their behavior will be different in America, at least initially.  Everything is different.  Ethiopia was a place that he or she was familiar with and here, well, he or she is just learning about the new environment and I can only imagine how stressful that may be.  Do you like to be called on or called out unexpectedly in class or at a meeting?  Probably not.  Our children are called out daily...whether at school, church, or just out and about in the neighborhood.  Yikes!  All eyes on the new kid...

With Big Sister arriving on the scene this past summer, I had the chance to view her initial social interactions with veteran eyes and saw something that I probably missed last year.  Our adopted children, already under so much stress due to this huge life change and probably filled with anxiety beyond measure, were trying to hide.  I believe they were trying to make themselves invisible as a means of coping with the anxiety.  I imagine them having an internal conversation along the lines of this: "Maybe if I don't make eye contact, this situation that is making me feel distressed will go away?"  Or this:  "Perhaps if I don't answer, they will forget about me and I can just return to my comfort zone."  As parents who may want for our children to be connected socially with peers, these situations can be both heartbreaking and frustrating.  However, with compassion, consistent coaching, and lots of reassurance, our children can learn how to respond in socially acceptable ways and build confidence along the way.  Most of us are social creatures and crave acceptance and belonging.  We all want to live a purposeful life.  Our children are no different.  Just because they may not know how to respond, does not mean they do not really want to learn how to respond, no matter how hard they may fight us initially.  It is our job to teach them and coach them and eventually, we hope, things will start to flow.  

Last Spring, after prayers one night Sporty came right out and asked me how he could make friends.  He must have been wrestling with this for some time and came to a place where he was comfortable and secure and ready to take the next step.  So, we had a little chat about making friends, filled with examples and illustrations.  This past summer, Sporty spent a good portion of every day with neighborhood friends...playing sports, swimming, riding bikes, etc.  They had a summer like the ones I remember: outdoor all day with friends, home only to check in and eat.  And I was a happy mom.  

While Big Sister, perhaps due to her gender, craves social interactions and is thrilled to be in a classroom with peers and on a soccer team with girls her age, she has some socially strange behavior of her own.  She growls, friends.  Yes, growls.  And chews things she finds on the ground.  Two nights ago, my mother-in-law gave her a birthday gift.  Not knowing how to respond or how to be grateful, when asked what she thought she was going to do with the gift she said, "Throw it in the trash."  Yup, that is what she said.  Side note: I am becoming a damage control expert.  So just when we normalized one child socially, another has backfilled.  That is OK.  We will work through her anxieties as well.  One day at a time.  If you ask her a question and she doesn't respond appropriately, please do not assume she is being rude on purpose or blowing you off.  Trust that I am coaching and reassuring her at home and that her behavior may simply be rooted in anxiety.  Her previous life was not a walk in the park.  It taught her not to trust.  She is now learning that it is OK to trust and that will take time.  God heals! 

I pray that one year from now I will be able to report on the relationships she has formed and the hurdles she has jumped.  God is walking with us, carrying us some days, and telling us to pick up the pace on others.  Some days, God simply asks that we survive.  Being an active part in God healing a broken child is extremely difficult.  Sometimes I don't have an ounce of energy left at the end of the day.  I crawl into bed and pull the covers up.  I thank God for transforming me on this journey and allowing me to take part.  I thank God for another day in his creation and ask that he provides all the wisdom, discernment, and energy that we all need to make it through another.  I thank God for new mercies each and every day.  Then, I crash.  Joyfully, humbly, and purposefully having exerted all of the energy I was given for the day.

Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed,
  for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
  great is your faithfulness.  -Lamentations 3:22-23
Photo Credit

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Adoption: A Beginning, Not The End State

This morning at worship, our pastor asked how things were going with Big Sister and the overall transition.  I said things were going well, that transitions are of course stressful, and that it was amazing to be able to witness the healing taking place.  The brief dialogue made me reflect on the bigger picture of adoption, one that we might not think about during the hectic paper-chase stage, the painful stage of waiting for our child or children to come home, or the euphoric homecoming and honeymoon period.  In the bigger picture, the one which led us to adoption in the first place, we adopt...we choose love...because we were adopted and loved first.  Adoption is a story of redemption, of healing, of taking broken things and making them whole.  In short, adoption is the story of Christianity.  While the completion of an adoption might very well feel like crossing the finish line, the truth is that another race begins almost immediately.  

I hope you take some time to catch your breath at the finish line, re-hydrate, and prayerfully prepare for the marathon of redemption and healing that lies ahead, which you will take an active role in and in the process be transformed yourself.  It is a very painful journey, have no doubt, on in which you will cling to your Savior like never before, but also a journey in which you will actively witness and bear witness to God's healing and redemptive power in a broken world.  During this marathon of your new life, God may very well open your eyes to bigger and more painful issues.  At least, that is what happened to our family.  Those same issues and injustices that necessitated adoption are now painfully and joyfully interwoven into the fabric of our family.  As I have said before, I do not believe adoption is God's "Plan A" for children.  And while adoption may very well be a family's Plan A for adding children, praise God, the mere fact that children need to be adopted points to issues much larger than a child being placed into family.  While God's hand is certainly all over that entire matching process (as our house full of dynamic and unique personalities can attest),  I believe that God uses adoption to point our heart toward the underlying injustices, the abuses of position and power, and the way in which the church is or is not responding to the least of these.  Adoption is not an end state, it is a new beginning!  Not just for your child or children, but for every person involved in your own adoption journey.  

I pray that those words resonate in your heart and that you allow God to open to your eyes to whatever issues God chooses.  For those of us with adopted children at home, we understand that each child's brokenness is not the same.  Some have dealt with physical abuse, some with sexual abuse, others with neglect and abandonment, some with simply the absence of a loving and caring presence.  Others may have had all the love in the world but not enough resources to feed, clothe, and educate.  However, underneath all of these issues there is another layer.  Again, the injustices that are rampant in our world leave a fertile breeding ground for these superficial fleshy issues to take over.  And take over they do.  Whatever issues our child has faced or dealt with, I believe, are now the issues woven into our family.  How can I pretend I do not know?  I can't.  This truth has gloriously wrecked my life, praise God! 

The apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 6:18 tells us, "I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."  Like an earthly father, our heavenly Father does not just give us new life and then depart.  What would happen to a newborn baby left at the hospital without loving care and subsistence?  Our God stays with us, guiding and correcting, teaching and growing us.  And so it is with adoption.  Just as our heavenly Father adopted each of us into his family, when we adopt a son or daughter into our family and assume all parental roles and responsibilities, God walks along side of us, using our flawed bodies and minds to bring healing and redemption to another human being.  God heals!  If you don't believe me, pop in any day of week and witness God's work in his children.  If you read their life stories, you would expect them to be broken beyond repair.  If you read their life stories through the eyes of God, you would understand that God has beautiful plans for all of his children.  However in a broken and unjust world, we cannot sit back and expect God to pour miracles from the sky.  We, brothers and sisters in Christ, ARE the miracles and are to be the miracles to others bringing God's story of hope and redemption to the world.  

As such, I hope that each of you along this wonderful and wonderfully challenging road, begin to see adoption not as an end state to be reached but as a lifelong journey.  While your homecoming day will certainly be remembered and celebrated for the rest of your lives, as it should be, I believe there is more to the story.  There is more to our story and there is more to yours. 

What else is God trying to teach us?  Where does God expect us to go from here?  How could God be using adoption to transform our own hearts...weeding out self-severing tendencies?  What does God want us to see?  What does God want us to do?

Those are just some questions bouncing around my mind.  How has God used your adoption journey to open your eyes to other issues?  
Photo Credit

Friday, August 24, 2012

Voices In Her Head

I have found that one of most amazing blessings of adopting older children is their ability to communicate past experiences...that is, once we find the correct key that unlocks their trust door.  

Finding that key can be a bit tricky, but I have found success by simply making myself available...physically, spiritually, emotionally, and my children.  This doesn't have to consume twenty-four hours a day (sometimes a mere fifteen minutes of dedicated energy does the trick) but rather just needs to present itself in an authentic way to the child.  My children need to know I am for real.  That my love and role of mother is for real.  I need to assure and reassure them that I will be a rock in their lives, regardless of circumstances.  That even though I am far from perfect and filled with parental flaws, they can count of me to be there for have their back...and to always advocate for their best interests.  Once they start to feel secure, the trust door begins to open and the things revealed are both horrific and healing.  

Sporty and Big Sister have been given such a special gift.  Both children are able to communicate not only the circumstances surrounding their past, but also paint a vivid picture of their emotions connected to those experiences.  Both children are incredibly empathetic and able to tune into the emotions of those around them, including me, their mom.  Sometimes, the conditions of our home and everyone's temperament at a given much are just so, and my children let their guards down and want to discuss anything and everything.  Last night was one of those special occasions with Big Sister.  

In my grief post, I talked about one of the various faces grief can wear.  There are more layers to grief than layers in an onion, but digging in and reaching back to pivotal crisis moments have helped open up discussion in our home.  Big Sister has told me a number of times that sometimes when she goes to sleep at night, a "big, bad, scary man appears in her doorway".  She mimes a bear-like figure with a scary face to show me what he looks like.  I knew that sleeping in a new and quiet bedroom would initially be scary, as she was accustomed to many other people sleeping in close vicinity, so we talked about ways to deal with the "scary man" image and I reassured her that he was not real.  We talked about the power of prayer, the evil one, and the fact that she is always able to come down the hall and into my bedroom, should she ever be scared.  

Last night, she added a few key details to her story and now, praise God, I have a more complete picture of the scary man.  This image represented a very real person to her and as such shows up only when she was feeling sad, insecure, and alone.  He represented a person who had done a lot of damage, a lot of tearing down, who wrecked her trust, and who proved to be a person capable of harm.  Big Sister went on to tell me some incredibly sad stories and even let me know what the scary man was telling her to do when he appeared.  She trusted me enough to tell me what was going on...even if just in her imagination.  Though she risked humiliation or her past experiences have taught her.  She trusted me!    And I hope I responded in a way that moves us forward.  Toward healing built upon trust.  When I speak about how adoption is all about God, this was one of those moments so much bigger than myself.  So much bigger than psychology or counseling, not that professional help isn't a valuable tool, it certainly is.  God is just so much bigger and I promise you, shows up in ways you could never plan.  Anyway, I told Big Sister that the scary man is not welcome in this house and should he appear, she is allowed to scream, "Get out of here!!!" at the top of her lungs for all I care.  Heck, I will scream it with her if that seems to be of any help.  We can even shoot him with our homemade marshmallow guns if that lightens the mood.  We talked about the things scary man was telling her.  I was able to reassure he that this is a house where although not perfect, no one will ever physically harm another.  Harm, whether physical or emotional, is not part of God's desire or plan for any relationship.  

We grieve forward.  

What was truly amazing to me was learning about the special people God put in her path during her time at the orphanage.  That, I learned, is where she learned how to pray.  Where a very special woman took the time to teach her the power of prayer and the good desires God has for his children.  Big Sister told me that whenever she prays, the scary man goes away.  As she said those words, I was reminded of the words my own my mother said to me when I used to get scared.  Almost identical teaching moments.  I was able to pass along some of my mother's wisdom for praying away these sorts of situations and both Big Sister and I seemed to be at peace.  And, as our Living God may have it, it was a very special an orphanage...who taught my mom how to pray.  While I would never believe that God wants any harm to fall on any of his children, I was reminded once again of Romans 8:28 that says, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."  

As I am continually reminded, there are many voices speaking to our children.  (There are many voices speaking to all of us, to be sure!)  Voices from the past, voices from the present, voices from heaven, and voices from the evil one.  Good voices, bad voices, voices that build up, and voices that tear down.  Big Sister has even beautifully articulated what this sounds like to her, and I am so thankful for this gift.  She told me last night that when she is happy, when she allows herself to be vulnerable and trust, a voice in her head says, "No. Be sad. Be sad. Be sad. Don't be happy."  Another voice, possibly mimicking the fight or flight response her body is producing with all of this newness tells her repeatedly, "E-tee-opia, go!  E-tee-opia, go!  Must go...E-tee-opia."  And yet, the still voice of God presents itself in the smile that is starting to come easy.  The voice that allows her to let her guards down at all.  The voice that tells her to trust me, her mother.  It presents itself in those moments, when although I can't put my finger on exactly what is different, I know things are, in fact, different.  

We are grieving forward, rising from the ashes. 
Photo Credit

Friday, August 10, 2012

Righteous Sinners

Something has really been irking me.  It's the same something that has irked me during political  campaigns for years.  It is the same something that irks me when evil pits us against one another, divides our human race, and even (sometimes even more so) divides those of us who are supposed to be united in Christ.  It is the something that irks me when I see hate and slander thrown around on social media, because let's face it, it is easier to throw up a nasty post, most of the time not even an original thought but just "shared" hate, than it is to actually do something helpful and healing with our energy.  

That same energy used to cause divisions and break people down could instead be used to unite and build up.  Energy is a limited resource.  How do you choose to use it?  

Why choose hate, when it feels so much better for the giver and receiver to choose love.  Even when you disagree.  Even when you hold differing political beliefs.  Even when you practice different faiths.  Even when you are absolutely certain you are right.  Let me ask you this...and this is something I ask myself a lot when I feel self-righteousness creeping in...what good will it do you, the other person, or humanity to be right?  I have found that usually it is better to be humble and quiet than it is is to be loud and right.  After all, what does it mean to be right anyway?  

Personally, I don't want to be right.  I do, however, want to be righteous.  In wanting to be righteous, there is one big problem.  A huge blockage, in fact.  On my own, I cannot and will not ever be righteous. Never ever ever ever.  Impossible.  It does not matter how many children we adopt, how many widows or orphans we sponsor, how many Bible studies we attend, how many church and community events we have volunteered for, or how many causes we support.  Does not matter.  On my own, I can never be righteous.  

One of the basic themes of the Christian faith is that we are all sinners.  Every last one of us.  Now, I know there are many of you who probably do not like that word: sinner.  To be honest, I was trying to think of a way to write this post without using it, but I would miss the mark if I tried.  I think many of us don't like the word sinner because too many religious institutions and/or religious leaders have used it to point a finger in somebody else's face, individually a person or a group of people, and call out their sins.  The word, unfortunately, has been used to shame other people.  To make other people feel not worthy and perhaps, to try to make themselves feel better.  To religious leaders who do this, who take a holier than thou approach, I would have to say, "Look. In. The. Mirror."  Just because we sin differently, does not change the fact that we are all sinners.  That is, we have have things in our life that create distance from God.  Some estimates point to over 600 'sins' listed in the Bible.  I can guarantee you, we all wear something on the list.  Arrogance?  Vain babbling?  Lust?  Fear?  Unforgiving?  Not loving your enemy?  

Which brings me to Jesus.  The entire point of my Christian faith.  We live in a very broken, very hurt, fallen world.  Things are not as they were meant to be because of our separation from God.  Jesus, through putting on flesh, walking among us, teaching us how to love another, and ultimately sacrificing his life so that we my gain life eternal, was the fix for our sin.  The ultimate fix.  He did what we cannot or will ever be able to do on our own.  

One the key themes of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century (when Martin Luther and others sought to break away from the Roman Catholic Church) is that we are justified (or made right) by grace through faith.  Simply put, there is no action or deed good enough to make us righteous in our fallen world.  Conversely, there is no action or deed bad enough that could separate us from Christ's love.  When we receive Christ we become, simultaneously, sinners and righteous.  Simul justus et peccator.  My seminary professor gave an excellent illustration of this concept by having a student come to the front of the room.  First, the student stood there simply clothed in the shirt and pants he was wearing.  Then, she handed him a coat.  As he put on the coat, she explained that the coat stands for Christ's righteousness.  The righteousness remains outside of the believer.  Underneath the coat, we are all sinners.  However, when we wear Christ, his righteousness covers us.  Simul justus et peccator.  Both sinner and saint.  Not one or the other, yet simultaneously both.  

If we are all sinners, which at least the Christians among us will agree, then there should be no need to point fingers at someone else.  There should be no need to pretend you and I are not sinners.  There should be no need to pretend that my or your sin are less than the sins of others.  There should be no need, or for that matter time, for angry words, hate talk, finger pointing, chicken-sandwich-line-to-make-a-point-waiting, or self-righteous attitudes and behaviors.  Our job as Christians, when dealing with and relating to other people, as Jesus told us, was to love others the way he loved us.  That's it.  In my opinion, if we truly want others to experience the joy and peace that comes with an indwelling of the holy spirit, we need to seriously reexamine our strategies and tactics.  

Does that mean we cannot have deeply held convictions or beliefs?  Of course not.  Does that we cannot support a political party or candidate?  No, it does not.  Does that mean we should keep silent when there is injustice in the world.  Absolutely not.  Does loving others mean that we have to agree with anything about them that we may not agree with?  No...keeping in mind that the other person does not need to agree with your disagreement about them either.  (See how that works?)  What it means to me is that if I dress myself every day in Christ's righteousness, then my thoughts and speech will be grace-filled.  My actions will be loving and instead of seeking to be right, I will seek to understand others.  Instead of trying to convince myself that my sin is less than your sin, I will overflow with the love and mercy that has been given to me (undeserved) in abundance.  Truth being told, while seemingly simple, this is difficult and not natural, because again in our fallen sin state, we are all tempted to want to be right or prove a point.  But where does that land us?  Divided, unhappy, unfulfilled, and certainly not working together to grow the kingdom.  

So, the next time I am tempted to point my finger in the direction of another......
Photo Credit
I will instead point my finger in the direction of the one who has credited his righteousness to me so that I may think and speak in ways that are pleasing in his sight.  I challenge you to do the same.   
Photo Credit
The following words spoken by John Wesley, have been resonating in my mind: "Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?  May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?  Without all doubt, we may.  Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences."  I pray that we can all let those words sink in and then put them into practice.  I honestly see no other way forward.  

Thursday, August 2, 2012

One Month Home

Only God!

Only God can take a hesitant, unsure (albeit beautiful) smile such as this:
And turn it into this easy, big, and confident smile in one month's time:
Seriously, look at that huge grin!  I love it.  (What you cannot see in this picture...what caused her to grin from ear to ear...was the seeing my high school and college graduation photos at my parent's house.  No, I will not post those.  Ha!  (Friends, you may never realize how much some children value the opportunity and access to a good education!  Big Sister talks about school every day.  She is nervous, but oh so excited!)  It never ceases to amaze me how quickly healing and bonding can come, once we...the have's...respond to God's call to care for the have not's.  If you are feeling the tug, please do. not. be. scared!  Of course, it is far from easy...and some transitions are way more difficult than others, but man...we are no where near the place we landed one month ago.  Just looking at that big smile reassures me that me are making progress.

I cannot believe how much has been accomplished.  God is on the move, no doubt!  Here are some highlights from our first month home:
  • Learned to ride a bike.  Mastered riding a bike.  
  • Learned to swim.  Is confident enough in the water to venture into the deep end of the pool.
  • Her English is improving rapidly.  She reads and does schoolwork for a few hours each day.  Most nights, I have to turn off her bedroom light so that she stops reading and goes to sleep.
  • She is assimilating well into our family and culture. She picks up on social cues and responds accordingly.  Please and thank you and excuse me are spoken easily and with confidence.
  • We have had one tooth pulled, one cavity filled and sealed, and spaces put in to allow for braces to be put on.
  • We are caught up on all vaccines and are "paper ready" for school. We are registered to begin classes in the Fall.
  • We have completed Grades 1, 2, and 3 summer course work for math (and some English) and hope to complete Grade 4 in August.  
  • She has bonded with all members of our family and Sporty has taken her under his wing to include her in all neighborhood social activities.  
  • She has made American friends and Ethiopian-American friends.  She loves being social.
  • She is engaged in her Sunday School class and has attended VBS willingly and happily.  
  • She trusts me to comfort and reassure her.  She allows me to mother and nurture her.
  • She has a good relationship with her father.  
  • She is an amazing big sister to all of the Littles.  She is loving and kind and nurturing.
  • She jumps right in with household duties without being asked.
  • She has been a special gift to our family each and every day! 
In short, things are moving along quite nicely.  We have grief and a hurt past to contend with, but I feel God moving us all forward to bigger and better plans.  We have been so blessed by her presence in our home that it is nearly impossible for me to remember what life was like before she arrived.  

Father God, thank you for trusting us.  For trusting us in our imperfect selves to parent and love your children.  Even when we don't think we are up for the challenge, you are always there to comfort, reassure, and guide our steps.  I cannot imagine what life would be like had we not realized that our purpose in this life was never about us.  That our purpose was to serve you by loving others the way you loved us.  Please continue to provide all that we need to get through each day and help keep our eyes set on you and working toward your purpose on our lives.  We love you!  We trust you!  We thank you!  

Keep us keepin' on...we know it is all about you!

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. 
-Psalm 68:5

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Things Revealed

There have been a number of times in my life where a certain thought, idea, or feeling popped up, seemingly out of nowhere, and implanted itself deep inside, not willing to budge or to be challenged.  "I am true," the silent idea seemed to echo....  

Where did this idea come from?  Who put it there?  Why am I so certain this idea is true, when there may be no logical explanation for it?  

Those are some of the questions I tend to throw back at the intangible idea that is now ingrained deep within my person.  Sometimes I try to deny it, rationalize it away, or tell myself I am just letting my imagination run wild.  Sometimes, my imagination may be running wild.  However, at other times I have no doubt God placed this truth in my mind and in my heart for his glory.  The truth is just so loud and perfectly timed and peaceful that I know it comes from my heavenly father.  

Have you ever had a truth revealed to you in a such a way that it would be nearly impossible for anybody to tell you otherwise?  

Francis Bacon once said, "Knowledge is the rich storehouse for they glory of the Creator and the relief of man's estates."  Sometimes knowledge is gained through traditional avenues such as education, training, and/or experience.  Sometimes, God simply imparts it.  Either way, I think it is important to recognize, as Bacon did, that knowledge is for the glory of the Creator.  

Months before coming home with Big Sister, I began to sense God trying to direct my attention to her bedroom.  Then, the revelation hit.  I saw it.  I felt it.  I could see and sense what God was trying to prepare me for.  I have even shared this story with some of you before she arrived home.  Big Sister would be hurting and scared, that was certain.  I saw her (not physically, but this is what I felt as revealed truth) sitting on her bed crying.  The giver of truth let me know this would be happening quite frequently.  I shook my head in agreement and prayed for wisdom and discernment.  I understood not to be overly concerned when she wanted to retreat to her room, but to be cognizant of her emotions and check on her frequently.  She needed to know that I was there and I cared.  She needed to know I would not abandon.  Note: this particular scenario did not happen with Sporty or Sassy.  There were distinct revealed truths for each of them, to be sure...but nothing having to do with wanting to be alone. 

For the first two to three weeks after arriving home, we were all enjoying the Honeymoon.  Everyone was on the their best behavior, wearing big smiles, and celebrating a whole bunch of firsts.  Everything was smooth sailing.  Almost too easy, to be honest.  One night, I voiced just how easy things were going to my husband.  (To which he shook his head at me like I was crazy and said something along the sarcastic lines of 'why don't we add five more?!')  The very next day, things were no longer so easy.  Ha!  God, your timing is hilarious.  I get are in control and I should learn to keep my mouth shut.  :-)  Adoption and orphan care is never easy.  It's always messy.  I should have known better.  

Regardless, just as God prepared me and showed what would be happening, Big Sister has been wanting to retreat to her room a lot.  She can be easily overwhelmed and I know is hurting deeply.  She hides it well on the surface, but I know the truth.  She is scared and she feels alone.  Sometimes her eyes look so distant.  When she feels overwhelmed, she goes to her room, locks the door, and cries on her bed.  She reads and writes and processes.  I go to check on her frequently.  I encourage her to come out and join in, but don't force the issue.  Too much is already out of her control.  She is out of her room enough during the day, getting exercise, eating healthy, playing, and engaged with the family.  So, I am not overly concerned.  I would probably be more concerned had God not given me the peaceful reassurance that this would be happening.  Everyone else in our home needs to be bribed or coerced in order to retreat to his or her room, so this is a new experience for all of us. 

I can only wonder what must be going through her mind.  What she is feeling.  How alone she must feel at times, even though she is surrounded by the love of a noisy child-filled home.  Orphan care is messy indeed.

I don't completely understand the in's and out's of how God communicates with us, how God reveals his will.  I am not sure anyone does, but I have learned that his communication is always peaceful.  Never anxious or fear-filled.  His message is firm and reassuring, like a parent  encouraging a child, "You can do it!"  I have also learned that it is hard to hear God's still, quiet voice when my noisy, rambling thoughts are left to run free.  I must silence my own fears, my own thoughts, and simply rely on my Father's guidance.  

Of course, there are times when I would love to see the big picture.  There are times, plenty of times, when I want more information than God is willing to give, but I know God knows me better than I know myself and wanting what is best for me, simply supplies what is needed in the present.  For now, I know that I have a hurting child who needs me to be present.  My marching orders were quite simple:  Show up.  Be present.  Love big.  Mainly, don't forget to show up.  

Isn't that what we are all called to do?  Really, it can be that simple at times.  Show up and allow God to work through us.  But don't forget to show up!  

I love the Old Testament book Daniel.  I find it quite fascinating on many levels.  In the second chapter, Daniel is praising God for revealing the meaning of the King Nebuchadnezzar's dream to him.  Daniel says, "Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his....he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness; and light dwells with him."  

What Daniel and Bacon have in common is that they both realized that God reveals things for his glory, not our own.  Wisdom and truth belong to God.  If God happens to reveal a truth to any one of us, it is always for his glory.  We needn't know the reasons or the in's and out's, as I am learning.  We don't need to know what will happen five days or even five minutes from now.  We simply need to show up and love big.  When we do this, God fills in the gaps in any and all ways necessary.  

After all, this whole story...that story that is being written each and every about God's purpose for God's creation.  We are just servants called to love big and show God's love to a hurting world.  A cool thing happens along the 'love big road'...God reveals his truths and we grow closer to him and to his purpose in our lives.  It is a messy road.  Seldom easy and rigged with traps, the road traveled on the path to our eternal home could be one in darkness or filled with light.  I am forever grateful for the lamp at my feet and light on my path (Psalm 119:105)! 

For now, I ask that you please pray for Big Sister.  While God prepared my heart for her struggles, it hurts me to see her in pain.  I know that we are healing and that healing takes time.  We are still building trust, learning about each other.  I feel like I have known her for years, although she has only been home one month.  We have come so far already, but we have a long road ahead.  Please pray for our wisdom as parents, that we can handle situations calmly and compassionately and in ways that are useful for building each other up.  Please pray that we continue to grieve forward, in hope.  Thank you for journeying with us!  
Photo Credit

Sunday, July 22, 2012

What Does Grief Look Like?

Grief wears many faces. Sometimes the face looks sad; at other times angry; perhaps withdrawn; maybe confused or anxious; and yet the face of grief during particular moments can even look joyful.  When examining how any one person may experience grief, there are so many factors to consider, probably as many as the number of hairs on each of your heads (or your friend's head if you are get the point).

Grief wears many faces.

This is a true and almost overly vague blanket statement.  It needs to be a blanket statement at times because trying to pinpoint any one reason or cause will probably not lead to an accurate diagnosis.  Grief, like so many other things in our orderly universe, is a system of systems.  It comprises one's entire being: physical, mental, and spiritual.  Years of hurt and harm and pain, coupled with life experiences and passing time, add up to the daughter I look in the eyes today.  Those eyes have seen unimaginable horrors. They have had to be braver than I'll probably ever need to be.  Those eyes try to hold back the tears because life has taught them 'why bother?'.  Those eyes, sometimes filled with hope and at other times seemingly distant, as if remembering or trying to forget, are the eyes I seek to make contact with as much as possible.  The eyes I encourage to flood with tears.  The eyes that I pray will experience healing and comfort and pleasure and growth in Christ.  The eyes that I desire to grieve forward, growing and learning, yet able to grasp and unwrap the many painful experiences of the past.  

An old proverb says that eyes are the windows to the soul.   I would like to believe that to be true.  My experiences tell me that the saying is true, although I know this may leave questions concerning visually impaired individuals.  When I look into my daughter's eyes, I look deep.  I see the pain, the confusion, the hope.  I see her draw close at times and at other times push back, as if she is fearful that letting her guard down will result in more pain.  I see that her grief is very real, very raw, and yet only in its infancy.  I know we will have many grief episodes in the upcoming weeks and months.  They will wear different faces and be triggered by any number of things. defines grief as keen mental suffering or distress or affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.  When I recited that definition aloud, the words themselves made my stomach drop as if on a roller coaster; they conjured up many ill feelings and emotions.  I need nothing more than to think about losing my mom to cancer and am flooded with grief, with regret.  In many ways, I can empathize with my children's grief.  In many other ways, our grief is as unique as the people experiencing it.

What does grief look like on any given day?  

Funny you should ask.  First, let me start by saying that grief can and does look like any number of things.  We cannot forget that grief wears many faces, many masks.  My previous post was about honoring the "other woman", our children's birth families, and other caretakers their lives.  I felt a strong nudge to write that post and stayed up until 1:00 a.m. on Friday evening knocking it out.  It was almost as if God knew I was going to need to read it myself two short days later.  That I was going to have to be reminded about her birth mother because we were about to have our first real grief episode and God wanted to let me know what this particular episode may be about.  

The following is what unfolded over the past 24 hours:

We returned from an awesome bike ride around a local lake and were eating dinner, preparing to watch a family movie.  Big Sister wasn't feeling very well.  She pointed to her lower belly and mimed cramping.  (Insert:  There is nothing like physically not feeling well to introduce grief.  This is something I can relate to.  I remember the first time I got ill while away at college, running a high fever and not able to get out of bed.  I wanted nothing more than to curl up on my mom's couch and have her make me scrambled eggs, toast, and tea and to tell me everything would be OK.  However, I was three hours away from home and wanting to play the part of a secure, confident grown-up, I probably just internalized the fear, felt lonely, and hoped for the best.)  Anyway, I noticed her start to withdraw.  I gave her some Tylenol for the stomach pain, sat next to her on the couch, and rubbed her back.  Soon enough, she seemed to be feeling better.  We read, prayed, and said good night.  

Fast-forwarding to this morning, she woke up on time and we all rushed around the house getting ready for church.  It was our typical Sunday-morning-not-so-calm-thirty-minute-dash to get the kids fed and dressed, their teeth and hair brushed, and into the car fifteen minutes before the service begins at church.  (Insert:  If I could go back, I would have slowed down a bit this morning, remembering Big Sister was a not feeling well the night before, and would have remembered to start the day by hugging and kissing each child, thanking God for another day with our family.  Instead, I rushed around like a mad woman trying to make sure all the boxes were checked, forgetting to start my day with prayer and thanksgiving.  Boo to me!)  Church came and went and Big Sister did well in Sunday School, making sand art using the colors of the Ethiopian flag.  I had a meeting to attend at noon so my husband took the kids to the park where they played and rode bikes.  When I returned, he told me to go check on Big Sister because he sensed she was "off".  I sat in the dining room where I could hear her in her bedroom upstairs.  I heard a little bit of banging and stepping, but nothing worrisome.  I gave her some time, but then went to check on her.

I will share the next part of the story a bit hesitantly.  It is one of my worst fears that anything I write would scare anyone from reaching out to parent an older child.  I share our stories simply so that others going through similar situations do not feel alone.  I pray that it encourages, not drives away.  Older child adoption has blessed our family in more ways than words will ever do justice.  I see Jesus' face in every hurt and broken child, young and old, and personally feel called to older children.  There is nothing that has ever happened in our home that would paralyze us from adopting an older child.  However, with all adoptions, we have to remember the other part of the equation.  Someone endured great loss before a child was added to our family.  That pain and loss has consequences.  In the case of older children, they are bigger and more vocal and tend to act our their grief in different and various ways.  Also, please keep in mind that Sassy, brought home at eighteen months(ish) old, wrecked havoc on all of us.  Her screams of terror could be heard a block away and I was nearly at my breaking point when when her piercing shrills subsided and she allowed herself to trust me to meet her needs and not abandon her.  My point is that infants and toddlers experience grief too, they just don't have the words to tell us what is going on.  

Back to the story.

I walked down the hall and knocked on Big Sister's bedroom door.  She opened it slightly, but did not want to let me in.  She pleaded with me not to come in, but of course I had to.  She had throw all of her pictures around her room along with a small wicker basket.  (Honestly, my preschoolers make more a mess with their toys.)  She had turned over all of the picture frames on her bed (holding photos of our family, her birth mother, and friends from Addis).  They were all face down.  On the floor, her photos were throw in two directions.  To the left were pictures of her 'old life' and to the right were pictures of her 'new life'.  On her magnetic white board hung a black and white printout of a photo taken of her and her birth mother from the orphanage.  The messy room was a beautiful blessing from God.  I could visually see the struggle going on in her mind and heart.  She was torn.  Was she to the left or to the right?  Where did she belong?  What was her identity?  She wanted to escape, to not have any visual reminders that her life was split in two.  That big, life-altering, permanent changes had taken place.  There was nowhere to escape to.  This was home, and this home is now part of her identity.  

We grieve forward.  

For this first time since arriving home, she cried.  I felt relieved.  She let herself have an outlet, to allow her emotions to surface and flow freely.  She kept apologizing for the photos and I kept reassuring her that it was OK.  I told her that I knew it was hard.  That it is OK to be angry, sad, and hurt.  I reminded her that her God loves her very much; that her birth mother loves her very much; that I love her very much; that we all love her very much; that all would be OK.  She held on to me and cried, as I kept telling her I would never leave her and that we are going to be alright.  Once she calmed down, I helped her pick things up.  I put the photos from the right and from the left in a mixed pile on her desk.  All there, mixed together, in one big stack.  Then, I sat on her bed and pointed to the photo of her and her birth mom.

"You miss her?" I asked.  Oddly, perhaps I thought not understanding the question, she said no.  I asked again.  She shook her head no.  I was confused.  Then, she said something that reminded me that God is always in control.  Always in the details, big and small.

She pointed to the picture and said, "That mom...same.  I look your face, see her face.  I look her face, see your face.  Same.  Mom."  I tried to choke back my tears as I remembered Sporty telling me something very similar.  He had a very special nanny during his long stay at the orphanage and one night, when he was recalling his time with her, he told me the same thing. Almost using the same words.  He saw the same face.  The face of mom.  (I told the story about Sport's nanny in this post.)  It doesn't matter that our skin color or ethnicity are different.  It doesn't matter that our bloodlines hail from opposite ends of the world.

God is so much bigger than skin color and ethnic origins.  God cares for his children and wants the best for them.  I am continually reminded that when we step out in faith and live the Word, God shows up big time and fills in the gaps, taking care of everything we are not capable of taking care of ourselves.  Oftentimes, God shows up in ways so perfect and specific, that I would be willing to bet it would be statistically impossible to happen otherwise.  When my face needs to look like the face of another, God makes it happen.  To bridge the gap.  The heal his children.  To remind us of the hope found in him.

As Christians, we are called to the bring the joy found in Christ to the world.  To a broken world.  To offer healing and grace and hope.  Sometimes that involves facing grief in its human form to bring hope and healing to a hurting child.  Sometimes it looks like things thrown around a room.  I'll take it any day of the week.  For a child who has only been in our home three weeks to feel comfortable enough to let her guard down and throw a fit means that she is starting to feel secure.  How lucky am I to be part of her story?  Her story of hope and healing.

Thank you God for allowing me the pleasure of knowing the joy found in loving and serving you.  Help me to never forget!

Psalm 10:14
But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
    you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you; 
    you are the helper of the fatherless.
Photo Credit