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 it...you 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 day...is 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 balding...you 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.  

Dictionary.com 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...you 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.
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Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Other Woman

I think about her quite often.  Daily to be exact.  I have known about her for over five months now.  At first, she was just a name on a piece of paper.  That name was attached to a story.  A story that would entwine her life with mine, her story with my story.  The name on the paper, attached to a story, that attached to my life would soon become a face.

I anticipated our meeting for nearly two months.  I have never in my life been faced with such a hopeless and simultaneously hopeful encounter.  She was the other woman.  The woman who had suffered many losses and who had endured more than I am privy to share.  The woman who was losing her daughter so that her daughter can gain life.  A woman, through no fault of her own, who is ostracized and ill.  She was left with no other choice.  She had tried every other option.  Still, every door she tried to walk through was slammed in her face.  There was no other family.  No income.  No school.  No welfare system or safety net.  She looks out and sees the countless children roaming the streets looking for food, work, or trouble.  She knows chat and alcohol are the substances many are choosing to numb their pain.  She chooses a different path for her daughter, because that is what mothers do.  Mothers sacrifice so that their children can live.

This is a sacrifice and choice I wish on no one.  I could not imagine.  I cannot imagine.

I lost sleep thinking about our meeting.  What could I possibly say to her?  Offer her?  What would she be like?  How sickly would she look?  Would she like me?  Accept me?  What would she ask of me?  

What is wrong with the world that this is even happening?  "This is not fair," I cried out to God many times.  "No, God...why does she have to lose a child?  Isn't there another option?  Why not?," I would demand.  "I want another option! Please!  Both of them...we can help both of them," I pleaded. 

But, I already knew this is not how international adoption works.  At least not according to the rules and laws as they have been explained to me.  No money, help, or support could ever be exchanged.  First, a child is declared an orphan through all proper channels THEN an adoptive family is sought.  Through this order of events, it (in theory) prevents any money or goods being exchanged for a child.  I understand the need to create ethical practices that keep everything on the up-and-up.  I understand the need to ensure the process is squeaky clean.  After all, we chose an adoption agency with an unblemished record.  

We wanted to welcome a child into our home who didn't have a family.  This scenario was a bit messier than our previous two adoptions.  I wasn't sure what God was doing, but he assured me night after night that we are to march forward.  "And the widow," I would hear in the stillness of my heart.  "Don't forget the widow."  Was this God's way of making sure I do not forget the other part of James 1:27?  A lot of us are quick to remember the orphans, but do not seem to speak as loudly and act as boldly in the widow arena. Do we simply not know what to do?  I imagine that is part of it.  I imagine many of us would adopt widows if we could.  I know I would.  There are a few, but not many trails blazed in this arena, at least that I am aware of.  But God tells us that we are called to the orphans and the widows.   Not the orphans or the widows.  "But, how God?  How?  What?  Where?  Please, make your desires clear."  

I spent the months leading up to our meeting asking God to make his will clear.  I asked him to please keep a crack in the door that opens to her birth mother.  Please God, do not let her drift back to her town, sick and alone, and leave us in the dark wondering what became of her.  Please, please keep that door opened until we can figure out that we are supposed to do.  

The day we met. 

Her name on a piece a paper.  Her story entwined with my story, attached to my life. Her face next to my face.  We are both mothers.  Both mothers to the same girl.  We become one family, me and the other woman, and our daughter.  We talk and learn about each other.  I ask questions, she answers.  She shares her story, smiles, and looks peaceful.  She looks healthier than she did a few months earlier, when she wasn't sure what would become of her daughter.  She has put on weight and looks at ease...which puts me at ease.  Though horribly crappy, this is the best solution at this moment in time.  I feel assured that this is the truth.  So far from perfect and not the resolution this idealist wants, but it is the best available alternative.  Big Sister was officially declared an orphan months before we ever saw her face, knew her story, learned about her birth mother.  She was an orphan according to all definitions under the sun.  That was her label.  Her identity.  

On this day in April, she would become an orphan no longer. The birth mother would consent.  We would consent.  The judge would approve.  The paperwork was complete.  The file was closed.  

Two mothers.  8000 miles apart. One daughter.  In some ways, I guess you could say we are caring for the widow.  I don't truly believe that though, to be perfectly honest.  In many ways, I believe we are not doing nearly enough to help widows and/or prevent injustices all together.  These are big problems and one person or one organization will never be the answer.  I know Big Sister's birth mother is at peace knowing her daughter is safe.  But is she really at peace?  As a mother, I am not sure I would ever be at peace knowing that giving up my child was the best alternative.  What kind of crap is that?  

What is the answer?  How do we care for the widow?  How do we care for the widow who lives 8000 miles away?  I don't have an answer to that question.  I would love to hear any and all suggestions or insights.  Orphan care, while messy, is at least navigable.  "But the widow," the silent still voice repeats in my head.  "Don't forget about the widow."   

The big answer, I truly believe and have said many times, is to share each other's burdens...locally, regionally, globally.  Balance the scales a bit.  It is not about being fair.  It is not about me.  It is not about you.  It is not about "your" stuff or "my" stuff.  It is about loving like Jesus loved.  Loving others the way he loved us.  It is about selfless love, even when it comes to parenting.  If we truly believed that all comes from God and belongs to God, I think we would be a lot more selfless.  God, help us to be more selfless.  Love requires sacrifice, as you demonstrated on the cross.  You gave your life so that we may have life in abundance.  Help us to give our life back to you so that others may experience the abundance that most of us take for granted every day.  Help us, God, to not forget the widow.  Help us to love the other woman, to welcome the other woman.  If there is a child in our home whom was not formed in my womb, help me remember and honor the womb where my child, our child, was perfectly knit.  Lead us...light the way.  Oh, and thank you for keeping that crack in the door.  

James 1:27
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

When Your Adopted Child "Wants To Go Back"

There can be few things more piercing to an adoptive parent's ears and hearts as phrases such as "You're not my real mom" and "I want to go back to (insert birth country)".  Honestly, I am not sure why these phrases do not hurt me as much as I thought they would pre-adoption.  (I wrote a post titled "Mean Stepmom" a while back for similar situations.)  It is probably because there are too many real issues to deal with day in and day out and rather than listening to the words that come out of their mouths, I try to listen more closely to their hearts and observe more closely their daily interactions to try and discern what the real problems may be.  Considering the last time Sporty told me that "he wanted to go back" the preceding event was melted cheese on his egg sandwich, I am not apt to take these phrases too seriously.  Friends...I put cheese on his egg sandwich and he pouted like a five-year-old and threw out his go-to phrase when things (especially if they are topped with cheese) do not go his way.  That particular time I handled it equally as a five-year-old and told him to grow up.  Not mature, I know.  But I digress...

With that being said, I absolutely sympathize with the fact that three of my children have lost their home country and with the adoption into our family have indeed lost a huge part of their earthly identity.  I grew up in Philadelphia and if as a preteen (an emotionally volatile time to begin with) someone would have moved me away not only from my family but also the cultural context I was familiar with, to...oh, I don't know...Montana or Texas, I would almost certainly be at a loss initially.  And that is with having the ability to verbally communicate and being able to fit in physically.  What if I had neither language or similar physical traits and knew there was no going back.  "Assimilate or Bust" is what was painted on my and your children's airplane window on the flight home.  Like I have said countless times, I ask God daily to help me feel what our children are feeling so that I can best love them and parent them.  I ask for their raw emotions to be ingrained in me so that I cannot forget where they come from and what they have been through.  So, most of the time when these phrases are thrown my way, I know they are not truly meant and rather that there are other underlying issues such as hurt feelings or a missed cue on my part that need to be addressed.   

I imagine there are indeed times when our children (and perhaps yours) do really believe that they would like to go back to their birth country.  However, God spoke to my heart even before our children arrived home reassured me that these phrases, even though they might sting, are not really true, at least not on the level we might think.  I tend to view them as a homesickness of sorts, an empty feeling, a disorientation that needs to be dealt with.  Only, we are not orienting ourselves back to their home country (at least not in our case...that I know of. God are you laughing?) and therefore we need to direct our attention and energies to creating more compassion and unity within our family so that we can grow forward, together.  Unity is a phrase I use a lot around our home.  When I sense someone is trying to be divisive (such as pulling one or more children or even a parent away from the core family values so to be not alone), I tend to jump all over it.  Sometimes in more of Drill Sergeant manner than mother (I am working on that), but I refuse to risk the unity of our family for the sake of any one member's particular issue at the time.  Our family = cohesive unit.  We are all unique and stubborn and special in our own way, and we are not together 24/7, but together we are a unit and do not exist apart from all members.  God brought us together as a family for his purpose and it is our job to realize that purpose, together.  We all have something to learn and teach one another.  That is how I believe I God desires it to be, in my opinion.   

Back on point, a not so funny story.  In fact, this is probably every adoptive parent's worst nightmare.  I bet you could think of nothing worse.  (Well, Bethany, maybe you could think of something.  I am glad your story preceded ours, otherwise I would feel lonely.)  It was the day of our twelve month post placement visit and the house had been straightened up, everyone fed, and we were waiting patiently for our social worker to arrive.  Sporty asked me if he could go outside and play with his friend.  (Hindsight, I should have let him!)  Because Stacey, our social worker, was about to show up any minute, I told him he could not and he needed to wait.  Because he has the coping skills of a five-year-old at times (I am not making this up, Dr. Karyn Purvis often speaks of the emotional age of adopted children being a lot younger than their birth age), he proceeded to have an all-out meltdown.  He lost control and completely unraveled.  He told me he hated it here and was going to tell Stacey that he wanted to go back to Ethiopia.  I told him he is free to tell her whatever he'd like.  When she arrived five minutes later, that is exactly what he did.  To make matter worse, Larry (always dramatic and sprinkling fuel to any half-lit fire) rushed in the room and added, "And Sporty said he also wants to die!"  (Now, Sporty absolutely did not say that...Larry was just looking for a reaction.  If you know him, you'd understand.)  Thank goodness our social worker has known us for many years and has seen our family together on countless happy occasions.  She has watched us interact in and outside of our home.  I gave her a brief rundown of what had happened prior to her arrival along with explaining how he deals with being told no and asked her to kindly show up unexpected one day during the following week.  She did just that and all was well.  Sporty apologized and told her that he really was happy here.  He explained that he just gets upset sometimes and also that things are hard sometimes. (That, I believe, was the truth coming from his heart.)  

My main point is that kids (people) say a lot of things, a lot which can be very hurtful to hear.  However, just like any person who has not learned to bridle their tongue, it probably causes them more harm then good and they probably do not mean exactly what they say.  Please do not think that I don't take my children's words seriously.  I do, but believe the truth of the words is not the words themselves but what their hearts are crying out and saying.  I take that very seriously.  Like, devoting my life to it seriously.  As Matthew 12:34 tells us, "Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks."  Therefore, it is not necessarily the words themselves I need to check, but rather the condition of our children's hearts.  In doing so, God also nudged me to get a better reign on my own tongue and examine the condition of my own heart.  As I continue to follow his lead, I am amazed at the changes occurring in our home, my marriage, and with our children.  Amazed.  Simply amazed and humbled.  (More to follow on this.) 

Finally, I refuse to forget that adoption has never been about me or even really our children, as much as it is a reflection of my love for Jesus and my gratefulness for the eternal gift he has given me through my adoption into his kingdom.  With my eyes on the Lord, it is quite easy to see how imperfect all else is in the world.  Our job, I believe, is simply to love like he did and reach out and help in all ways possible.  Sometimes (OK, always) loving with abandon involves the risk of getting hurt.  So be it!  "Bring it on," I say.  I'm sure we have all hurt our parents unintentionally over the years, but they love us anyway.  Our Heavenly Father loves us all unconditionally, even though I am certain we tell him many times, "But God, I want to go back....to wherever we happened to be when he redirected our paths."  With that in mind, I hear the words coming out of their mouths but direct my energy to words of their hearts.  I try to point their hearts toward Jesus and explain that the world is broken place.  Every night, we pray together and I ask God to give our children wisdom beyond their years and his peace and reassurance that day by day, we are healing and growing together in accordance to his plan for our family.  And do you know what?   I am certain that every night God hears our prayers and answers.  I have felt his presence more closely than ever and just because we go through trials, this does not mean we are walking alone or are off path.  

Thinking back to where I was and to the person who I was before allowing God to transform me, I am amazed at all he has done through our family.  Amazed.  I don't even resemble the person I was five years ago, praise him!  When we simply chose to let him in and direct our path, he took over.  Sometimes it can be painful, but I trust Paul's words in Romans 8:28 that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.  And if we love him, we are going to seek to be like him, even if it means we put ourselves out there for hurt children who will occasionally get off path and need to be redirected and reminded that there is no going back.  Not for them.  Not for us.  Unity in Christ.  

We love because he first loved us. -1 John 4:19 

If you have a personal experience or advice you would like to share, please leave it in the comment section so that we can all learn from each other!  

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Friday, July 6, 2012

A Hand Up, Not Hand Out and Other Communication Conundrums

Communication, while a basic human function, can be exceedingly simply and yet ridiculously complex all the same time.  Last week, the reality of the communication conundrum we all often experience in our daily lives was reinforced...through no other channel than that of the source daily communication conundrums worldwide: Facebook.  (Insert lots of "of courses" and laughs.)  All of us have been there at some point.  We send a message by saying or writing something that we believe to be crystal clear and the receiver of the message hears something totally different.  How does this happen?  It is quite simple actually.  We are each a composition of all our past life experiences; those experiences coupled with our unique identities make up our own context, which affects how we interpret the world around us.  

What happened exactly?  Well, to start I broke my own personal rule and posted something on Facebook that although I did not believe to be political in nature, evoked a politics-oriented thread of heated comments.  You know, the kind of thread we all love to hate.  One that goes nowhere and ends up with everyone feeling unheard and not validated.  I say a big, "Boo" to threads like this and somehow I fell into the trap.  And to that, I say a big, "Boo" to me as well.   Anyway, the statement that I made was that I believe insurance company executives earn way too much money at the expense of patients and doctors.  Some earn tens of thousands of dollars per day while the average American earns less than $40K per year.  I implied that while the Affordable Care Act is certainly far from perfect (and to be clear I don't agree with all aspects of the plan), our current system is equally far from perfect.  As you can probably imagine, my statement about insurance executives salaries was read as a campaign endorsement or sorts...someone even interpreted my statement as me supporting abortion.  What?!  Umm...have I mentioned I have three adopted children?  I value the dignity of all human life.  All! 

Two good things came out of the thread.  First, it was a reminder to be careful to chose my words carefully.  Second, the heated discussion further cemented my belief that the widening gap between the rich and the poor is the biggest factor in our national and global problems, and absolutely needs to be addressed in our generation.  Things simply cannot continue along this trajectory, with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, without something collapsing.  Most of us seem to want to focus on one or two minor details instead of looking at the bigger problems.  We are majoring in the minors, all the while thirty thousand people die each day from preventable illnesses and 32 million are uninsured in America...the richest nation in the world.  As my Ethiopian children would say, "Mommy, dis is a no!"  

To be clear, I am not a big proponent of hand outs.  As Richard Stearns (CEO of World Vision International) believes, "Hand ups and not hand outs" are the answer.  Hand outs, while sometimes absolutely necessary, do not solve long term problems.  They address immediate needs.  Additionally, continued hand outs create a system where people are relying on the hand out and not gainfully employed, or looking to be.  A great example is the broken state of our nation's welfare system.  Some estimates point to an annual $60 Billion in Medicare fraud.  $60 Billion!  The UN estimates that only $30 Billion a year could solve world hunger.  This is a problem, an extremely costly problem in terms of money and lives.  It is quite clear then that stopping at the hand out and not resolving to offer a hand up does not fix bigger problems.  Sounds like a lot of work, right?  But then again, how many of these problems are due to the prevalent injustices in our world?  As Max Lucado once said, "Many of us succeed in life simple because we were born on third base.  Yet, so many others aren't even born on a team."  In so many cases, human dignity has been completely destroyed.  Without one's dignity, what would you or I be?  

I love World Vision's model of partnering with people to ensure they are giving the hand up needed to start and sustain a purposeful existence.  Their organizational model is the first that comes to mind when speaking of hand ups, not hand outs.  Here is their mission statement:  World Vision is an international partnership of Christians whose mission is to follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in working with the poor and oppressed to promote human transformation, seek justice, and bear witness to the good news of the Kingdom of God.  The key words, I believe, are partnership, working with, seeking justice, and Kingdom living.  In order bear witness to the good news of the kingdom, we need to work with the marginalized and be the voice for the voiceless.  As Paulo Freire wrote in The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, "True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the "rejects of life," to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands--whether of individuals or entire peoples--need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world.”

Since I believe I am one of the lucky ones born on third base and that every one of God's children deserves to be on a team, you may be able to imagine how some of my beliefs and passion for justice could be misinterpreted as political statements.  (This is never my intention, I assure you.)  While I am certainly proud of my citizenship and value our freedom, my freedom in Christ...that is, my freedom to serve as Christ served, is a greater driving force than any political issue.  Christians are called to operate outside of and within the confines of our systems.  We are called not to simply memorize the Word, but to live the Word.  Part of living the Word will almost undoubtedly place you in a uphill climb.  However, I believe it is worth every bead of sweat, mocking joke, and sideways glance one may receive.  Most importantly, you will realize you are the path with Christ because he will show up in ways you could have never planned or imagined on your own.  

With the election year in full swing, I prayerfully ask you to consider directing your energies toward the real issues, the big problems that need attention.  The ones that may never be addressed on the circuit or in debates, the ones neither candidate wants to touch.  Be careful not to get pulled into the details and be cognizant of how either party may be using you a pawn...playing on your emotions to win a vote.  That is the nature of the beast.  As Christians we are called to higher living.  To be grace givers and grace receivers.  Most importantly, do not let the ugliness of the debates cause divisiveness in the Kingdom.  Until we all become one unified body in Christ... which crosses party lines...have no doubt, it is nearly impossible to fulfill our collective purpose.  

In closing, Romans 12:1-8 comes to mind:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.  For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  We have different gifts,according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Transitions: Everyday We're Shuffling

Has it really only been twelve days since we welcomed Big Sister home?  In some ways it feels like yesterday (the days blur together); yet in other ways, it feels as it she has been part of our family much longer.  Something about transitions completely amazes me.  It is like watching life unfold in slow motion, yet moving at warp speed.  Like holding a magnifying glass up to our household, when I dive into certain moments I can see pieces beginning to fit together: relationships forming, bonds growing, personalities figuring out how to work with each other.  While this time is just the beginning of our new life together, I also believe it is such a critical and fragile time.  

Big Sister comes to us from a very broken background.  "Of course!" you might say.  "She was an orphan, so that implies brokenness."  Yes, certainly her previous orphan (current princess) status implies some sort of devastation that led to a child being separated from her or his birth family.  However, as I have learned and continue to learn, there are levels of brokenness.  Each child's personal history and personal composition, consisting of personality, gifts, strengths, weaknesses, etc. help to determine where exactly on the broken road the child was before being scooped up and set on a new path, a path that would eventually lead her home to us.  With that in mind, this transition is a unique experience, as your transition will be as well.  As the primary caregiver, I have to be cognizant of everyone's past, everyone's uniqueness, and also our collective dynamics.  It is more art than science, but observation, heartfelt, compassionate observation is key, in my opinion, to making the transition a smooth as possible.

Below are some of the things I have observed in our short time home:
  1. Sporty, the current oldest by only nine months (after trumping Larry as the oldest in 2011), is feeling a bit unsure of his new role and perhaps even a smidge jealous at times of being 'challenged' by Big Sister. 
  2. This uncertainty has led Sporty to step it up around the house when it comes to chores, being responsible, and attempting to lead.  
  3. This uncertainly has also led him to, at times, include Big Sister and welcome her and at other times push her away.  There is a push-pull dynamics going on and therefore I see it as my job to encourage him to pull her in, include her, and work together as the big kids in the house.  When they play together, it makes my heart happy!  
  4. Larry is over-the-moon-excited to have a big sister.  He claimed her as his new best friend in the house and is already talking her ear off.  Big Sister welcomes the attention, says she loves him, but also stated that he "talks a lot".  
  5. Moe is still in a not-so-fun ornery three-year-old stage.  He is whiny and has a hard time accepting 'no' these days.  He is almost four years old and so this is just where we happened to land developmentally when Big Sister arrived.  She loves Moe and can make him laugh easily.  I'm sure his whining annoys her...which reminds me that I need buy her a pair of noise reduction headphones.  Welcome to preschool mania, Big Sister!
  6. Sassy is equally thrilled to have a big sister.  She also claims Big Sister for herself and has repeatedly told me, "That is my sister!"  I have had to assure Sassy that Big Sister in indeed her sister, but is also a sibling to the others.  This statement was welcomed with a pout and a a grunt.  Big Sister whips Sassy's hair into beautiful rows and braids and they seem to enjoy each other's company.  
  7. Big Sister is patient and kind.  She is quiet and somewhat reserved.  She proceeds with caution into new environments and told me that it takes her time to warm up to new people and places.  Most importantly, she seeks me out and embraces me as her mom.  Only God! 
  8. Big Sister participates in family time and events.  She plays and makes an effort to join in.  However, she also needs frequent retreats from the day's activity.  There is so much to take in and I know this is a very emotional time for her.
  9. When Big Sister needs alone time, she goes to her room, puts on some music, and either reads or rests.  I give her some space, but make sure to check on her frequently so that she does not feel alone.  
  10. Finally, I have observed that we are coming together quite nicely.  Like the title says, everyday we're shuffling.  We have to take things in stride, expect the unexpected, and be flexible enough to make changes on the fly.  Everything is still so new for each one of us.  We shuffle through the events of the day, and before you know it we will be a new cohesive unit.  I think our new unit resembles our old one, but we now have a slightly new character and flavor.  
Big Sister's hurtful past has made me reexamine some of our ways of doing business.  This is actually a big part of the reason I am taking a "word fast" next week.  I want to make sure my words are healing across the board.  She deserves nothing less.  As we continue shuffling forward, I pray for each one of us to make a more conscious effort to calm down and break out the compassion in abundance.  She needs to feel safe and welcome and secure.  She is so amazingly brave and has been through so much that I want us to go the extra mile in terms of welcoming her home.  With five kids, I cannot promise serenity, but we can all definitely benefit from working toward a greater calm in our home.  

Yesterday, we celebrated Independence Day.  Our family joined a group of amazing people to tailgate, enjoy food, fellowship, and games.  Then, we walked and (the kids) scooted into the city to partake in the celebration and fireworks, with DC's lights and monuments forming a majestic backdrop.  As the fireworks were booming and lighting up the night sky and the kids were smiling from ear to ear, I sat amazed at the fact that eleven short days earlier, Big Sister was living on a compound without the love of a family.  Now, she was surrounded by her family's love and the love of her community.  Two weeks ago, I was wondering what she was doing from moment to moment.  Now, I had the privilege of watching her run and play and enjoy life with the hope of brighter days to come.  It reminded me that God is always a God of second chances and that you just never know when you could be the avenue to someone's second chance.  Now matter how dark and messy one's past is, he is our Rock and Redeemer and the one who showed us how to love others as ourselves.  Until Christ returns to brings his plan to completion, our Christian faith tells us that we are to be Christ to the world.  There is no other way.  By carrying one another's burdens we are all showered with spiritual blessings and are able to enjoy the peace of Christ, which surpasses all understanding.  

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  -Galatians 5:1

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Holding My Tongue: Spending Three Days in Silence

First, let me reassure you that I have no plans on becoming a monk.  Communication (and especially verbal communication) is such a huge part of my existence.  However, a while back I started to feel a nudge from God to speak less.  As a mother of five children, I find myself saying the most ridiculous things sometimes.  Then, my husband comes home from work after I have been on mama duty nearly twelve hours, and more ridiculousness is uttered.  Have you been there?  Have you ever stopped yourself mid-sentence and thought, "What?"  It would be almost laughable, if it was not for the fact that it is often so hurtful.  After the words come out of my mouth, I often wish I could shove them back in and have a do over.  But, we all know it doesn't work that way.  Once the words are out, the damage is done and then we tend to jump right into damage control mode, often involving more words.  Words on top of words, band-aid on top of band-aid.  But, what if the words never came out in the first place?  What if I allowed God to help me to control my tongue?  After all, gentleness and self control are two Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and sometimes my words are neither gentle or controlled.  Ouch!  

God placed this (his) desire on my heart months ago.  In true procrastinator fashion I have held off, made excuses, and reasoned my way out of participating in an exercise I know God plans to use to grow my faith and continue his pruning.  However, an interesting thing happened in the past two weeks.  Big Sister joined our family.  We went from being a family of six to a family of seven.  I was expecting there be a huge upheaval in our home.  Emotions everywhere.  Protest.  Revolt.  Jealousy.  However, I have been more than pleasantly surprised by essentially the exact opposite happening.  In the midst of this transition, I felt a blanket or peace and calmness wash over our home.  I had been praying for a calm spirit for so long.  So very long.  If you know me, you know that I am not calm.  I am the exact opposite of calm.  I am hyper to be more accurate.  I run ten miles for fun if that tells you anything.  But I digress.  My daily prayers have included praying for calmness in the midst of our daily lives.  I never expected God to dish out the tranquility right in the middle of one of our most stressful transitions, but that is exactly what God chose to do (I believe) to display his faithfulness.  He truly is a God of wonder and mystery.  

Because I feel like God has given me a jump start on becoming a calmer servant, I am not going to let this opportunity go to waste.  It has been a gift, a completely undeserved gift at that.  So, for the rest of this week, I will be praying and observing and preparing for a few days in silence.  Then, starting next Monday, I am going to follow through on what I believe God wants me to do.  That is, spend time in silence throughout the day.  From Monday morning through Wednesday evening, I will not be speaking.  Instead of using words, I will accomplish what needs to be done through gesture and action.  The only words I will be using will be words of encouragement or praise.  As Ephesians 4:29 states, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that is may benefit those who listen."  That is it.  There will be not verbal correction from me, no harsh words, no raised voices, no sarcastic remarks, etc.  Nothing.  Just like most of our moms taught us:  If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.  

There you have it.  This is my experiment to rally against the excess of the words that exit my mouth each day and gain more control over my tongue and hopefully, prayerfully, achieve a more permanent spirit of internal and external calmness.  I am so excited to see what lessons God has in store for me.  There are a few areas that I know need pruning (impulsive, anyone?), but I know God will surprise me over the course of those three days with some hidden treasures.  I know it!  

If anyone is interested in joining me, I would love to journey into silence with you!

Heavenly God, please help me to gain better control of my tongue.  Help me to speak less and listen more.  Help me to hear your calm, still voice and follow your direction.  As Psalm 19:14 prays, I pray, "May the words of my mouth and meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer."  
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Sunday, July 1, 2012

What I Learned While The Power Was Out

This past Friday, strong storms caught much of our geographic area by surprise.  With wind gusts of up to 80 mph and fierce thunderstorms ripping through, millions of us were left without power and with a big mess to clean up.  Toppled trees and downed branches crushed homes and cars, claiming a handful of lives.  Here, we could have build an in-law suite with the amount of branches that were left in our yard.  

As we heard the storm approaching and the power was knocked out, we quickly gathered the family and headed to the basement.  While I'm sure this completely frightened Big Sister, who had been living with us under one week at this point, she put on a face of courage as I am sure she has to do many times before, for situations far graver than high winds and downed power lines.  The other kids were half asleep, half awake, and I headed to the window (I know, bad idea) to watch in awe as lightening lit up the dark sky more brightly than any street light ever could.  I watched branches topple and our neighbor's tree come crashing down on our fence.  I listened to the wind gust more ferociously than I had ever heard.  Each time a surge came through, I took a deep breath and reassured the kids that we would be fine.  We stayed in the basement close to an hour and waited for the storm to move out before returning to our beds.  I was certain the power would return before morning and we headed to back to sleep.

When morning came, the power was still out and in full daylight we were able to observe the extent of the damage.  Thankfully, our only damage was an old fence that separates our yard from our neighbor to the rear.  Around the neighborhood, there were damaged roofs, crushed cars, and impassable streets.  By 8:30 am, we learned of two fatalities close by.  Everyone in the neighborhood was outside, amazingly with smiles on their faces, and willing to lend a helping hand as needed.  As the day went on and power was yet to be restored, I was taking in the moments and mentally filing away some awesome lessons from the day.  Here are some of the things I learned:

  1. When our lives are forced to a halt, there is so much joy in sharing the time and experience with those around us.  Regardless of lacking power and ridiculously high (or low, in the winter) temperatures, most people rally around each other and help to meet each other's needs.  And it is joyful!  Why don't we do this more often in day-to-day living?
  2. Everyone was using the tools and skills they had to help one another.  Those with power tools and chainsaws helped clear paths and cut up large tree branches.  Some brought out drinks and refreshments.  We all gathered outside and worked and chatted and accomplished what needed to get done.  
  3. I believe a lot of us secretly and not so secretly enjoy these occasions to unplug.  With no internet, cell, or electricity, we have no choice but to either enjoy each other's company and/or a low-tech activity.  Yesterday, we played board games, card games, and activities outside; I read some of my material for the Fall semester and caught up on the world news.  
  4. Kids seek each other out more when there is no incentive to plop on the couch.  Pretty much every kid in our neighborhood was either outside or in the house of another family.  They all looked happy.  I did not hear one complaint from any kid about lack of power.  Why is that?  I believe that it is because there is so much joy to be found in community.  There is something so instinctive about connecting with one another and with nature.  
Last night as the sun set, and it became clear our power not coming back on anytime soon, a bunch of neighborhood kids were playing in our yard and suggested moving out front to play flashlight tag or manhunt.  I watched Big Sister as she at first declined to play, no doubt feeling uncomfortable with not being able to fully communicate.  I could tell she really wanted to play, but I was not going to force the issue.  So, I moved out front with the kids as they formed teams.  One of the captains picked Big Sister for her team and I saw her face light up as she moved from my side to the side of her team.  I tried to hold back the tears, but you know how that mommy heart thing goes.  I was filled with so much joy that she was being included in the play and that she was willing to take part, even though I know she was scared.  I was silently thanking God for the wonderful kids and for their hospitality.  For their willingness to reach out and make and effort to include Big Sister.  For them simply being kids and doing what kids do.  My heart was overflowing with praise and joy and I was once again reminded that God works in the details when we allow him.  

Father God, maker of all things seen and unseen, thank you for the opportunity to unplug from our distractions and focus on things that really matter.  Thank you for the opportunity to love our neighbor, to lend a helping hand, to be helped, and to enjoy your creation without all of the beeping and buzzing.  Thank you for children and for their ability to love and adapt and simply play.  Help us all to be more childlike and thoughtful in our day-to-day interactions.  Today, with power restored, we are given the choice to close back off from the outside world or to continue to reach out to our neighbors.  Help us to continue to reach out, even when there may be no blatant reason.  We never know when someone may need a helping hand or listening ear.  In your precious Son's name we lift up our prayers, Amen.