Thursday, December 12, 2013

Living It...Not Writing About It

We have been in China for 8 days already, and this is the first time I've made it to the blog page.  In fact, I haven't been on here since June.  This week I've been too busy, or exhausted, or overwhelmed to have anything left write.  Many times during the last six months, that has been the case as well.  Other times I just wasn't sure what to say.  It is difficult to know how much to share and how to be true and honest while protecting privacy.  I'm still sorting through all of that, but right now, I'm afraid that the precious moments of this crazy time in China will be lost if I don't make some effort to record the days.  So the next few blogs will read rather like a journal of things I hope to remember for myself and to share with my children someday.  Pictures will be added IF I can figure out how to do that.  Visitors are welcome to take a peek at what I record, but please keep in mind that this record is for us and not an attempt to impart anything to you with carefully edited words.

I guess I'll start with today--Day  8-- and go as far as I can before these two little ones wake from their nap.  Once they are up it feels like 10 children in here, not two.  They want my attention continuously--and compete for it with energy I don't even know how to describe. Their moods swing from giddy laughing to desperate weeping and that back again faster than I can process. Most days, if they have napped, I've collapsed on the bed next to them and slept until they wake.

Today Claire didn't wake us up until 5:30.  Somehow waking up 2 1/2 hours later than usual felt like we had really slept in!  We did get to bed later than usual last night after spending a delightful time at the Samuel's home.  It was so encouraging to  talk with all the guests and watch Colton and Claire play with Lilly, Isaac, and Roy.  I think the highlight for Kelly was playing drums with Ben.

We had another wonderful breakfast.  I'm still astonished that Claire chooses western food over all the yummy Chinese choices.  While I'm eating steamed buns, sweet potatoes, fried onions with peppers and potatoes, Claire chooses eggs, sausage, and a muffin.  Colton prefers fried rice and watermelon.  This second morning with us, he still seems rather overwhelmed.  He kind of zones out.  He either tries to feed himself and spills most of the food all over, or puts his hands down to his sides and waits for me to feed him.  Not sure what is going on in his little head, but one way or the other, we are getting food into him.

At 9:30 we were to go to the police station to get a passport picture.  We were supposed to do that yesterday but there was some problem with the orphanage director so it was cancelled.  Today it got rather tense.  We were there for over 2 hours.  Our guide and 6 officials were arguing.  Then our driver left to supposedly go pick up some paperwork from the orphanage director.  I'm not really sure what is going on.  The adoption was finalized on Tuesday.  We have the paper that says we are Colton's parents, but somehow this director still has a say in getting the passport. After the driver returned with a packet of papers, more arguing ensued.  Colton can understand  what they are saying, and he was getting quite upset. I was just getting exhausted from holding him, rocking him, and trying to calm him.   Finally we were allowed to leave.   Our guide says the female officials are causing problems because she is beautiful and thin and often goes to dinner with the male officials so they are jealous of her.  I'm not sure what to make of that.  She says she must find more documents and get them notarized and return to the police station.  In the meantime we are free.  (So, I pray and try not to worry since we are supposed to fly out of here tomorrow to go to GZ to complete the immigration portion of this adoption.)

Back at the hotel, we took time to give the kids a snack.  I hadn't taken anything for them because we were only supposed to be gone about an hour.  After a snack, we bundled up and headed out into the frigid windy weather to find lunch.  We found a noodle shop where we ordered two huge bowls of beef and noodles that were delicious.  Colton can't hold chopsticks and couldn't use the spoon, so I fed him some, and he stuck his mouth in the bowl and slurped a little.  It was messy but it was warm and filling.

Then we ventured into the "mall" -- and outdoor market.  It was interesting but a little hard to navigate with a stroller and tired children.  (Thanks to the Samuels for loaning us a stroller.--Colton gets tired really fast, and we have quite a long ways to walk to find a restaurant or shop.)  After looking around awhile, we opted to go to the department store down the street.  We tried on some new shoes for Colton because the velcro fasteners on his are broken--but he just said, "No, I don't like."  So, he keeps his broken shoes.  Maybe they are a sort of link to his past, and offer some security.  Who knows.  We then found a shop where we bought an extra suitcase.  We got lots of Colton's papers and crafts from ND, as well as a traditional Mongolian outfit with a hat from the orphanage.  We also managed to purchase some stuffed camels the other day, so we need a little extra luggage space.

All that adventure wore us out, so we came back for a nap.  I'm listening to both kids gargly breathing. They are really stuffy and Kelly is quite sick with an awful cough. Being sick is going  to make the rest of this journey difficult.  I keep wishing I knew where to get Chinese take-out so we didn't have to go out in the cold in search of dinner.  :-)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

What Was I Thinking? Is Adoption of an Older Child Always Hard?

I recently posted in an adoption group on Facebook that I was experiencing a hard week and kept asking myself, "What was I thinking when I adopted this child?" 

The hard week, and even the question about what I was thinking do not surprise me.  This is our third adoption of an older child.  I know there will be hard days.  I know I will have days when I feel resentment, and confusion, and frustration.  I know there will be days when I wish we had chosen an easier path.

The key is that these are FEELINGS.  Feelings change day to day, sometimes minute to minute.  The reality is that God called us to this adoption.  Our response was a step of obedience and faith.  We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the God who called us will also equip us to complete this good work.  Feelings must always give way to faith in the God who is writing our story.  His grace is sufficient.

When I posted about my difficult week, a mom about to adopt a 9-year-old girl asked the question, "Is adoption of an older child always hard?"

I absolutely must answer this with a solid, "YES." 

It might seem that there is evidence to refute this conclusion for sure.  There are plenty of blogs about people who have adopted older children and they post about how amazingly well it is going at 4 months or 6 months.  Praise God for the joy they are experiencing!  But, it isn't the whole story. For people in the midst of a difficult season these blogs can be a little disconcerting, if not downright discouraging.  They make us wonder what we are doing wrong.  We wonder if we aren't cut out for this adoption thing and if we have ruined our lives by choosing the wrong child, or misunderstanding God's direction. When we read a blog about people having a delightful transition and they credit it to diligent prayer and fasting before the adoption, it can feel like an accusation.  Did I not pray enough?  Should I have fasted more days?  If my walk with Jesus was stronger, would my child be fitting in to our family easier?

I'm not an expert after just three older child adoptions, but I've also spoken with many families who have adopted older kids.  I conclude that it is ALWAYS hard.

It isn't necessarily always hard in the same way.  Each child is different.  Each family is different.  Things that nearly push one mom over the edge might not even phase a different mama—but something else will. 

We are all sinful and all human relationships can have periods of difficulty.  But, older adopted kids have additional struggles that other children don't have.  They have been wounded by huge losses.  Important needs have not been met.  They have had to learn to depend on themselves.  Trust is fragile if it exists at all. They have had experiences that their young minds didn't know how to process, so feelings have been incorporated deep into the child's mind, without a good way to interpret them and reconcile them with the rest of life.

Part of what makes adopting an older child so difficult is that healing isn't a one-time event.  We may think we have dealt with a particular issue, only to find it surfacing again at a different time, in different circumstances. We may feel like everything is good, and our child is forming a secure attachment and then we overhear them tell a stranger that we aren't really his/her parents and she will get away from us and do just what she wants as soon as she is old enough.  We thought that issue had been laid to rest, but it is still comes back when our best parenting judgment has to deny our child something they want.

Milestones in life can bring hard things to light.  Deaths, graduations, moving, advancing to a new grade in school, taking a vacation, a birth, a marriage, a school assignment: all these normal life events can trigger hard days for an older adopted child.

My oldest adopted daughters recently entered motherhood.  One just gave birth.  The other just found out she is pregnant.  There are so many thoughts about what it means to be family.  Is blood relationship the most important part?  Why isn't her birth mother here to see the new baby?  Do I get to be the "grandma," or will I be shut out because I'm not "really related to her?"  Will she keep the baby?  Will she give the baby up for adoption?  Will she repeat the abuse and abandonment cycle, or learn to parent?  Yes, eleven years into our adoption story, there are still very hard days related to adoption issues.

Another thing that makes adopting an older child so difficult is expectations.  Of course, we all fall in love with an "imaginary" child.  Not that we haven't studied and read and prepared and prayed, but we still have an "idea" of a child in our heads during the adoption process.  It can sometimes rattle us as our real child pushes out our imaginary one.

Passing time can also be difficult.  I always tend to expect that things will get better much faster than they really do.  Real attachment and bonding take a really long time.  The older our child, the longer it can take.  In early days, our child may seem to be attaching rapidly.  They work hard to please us. They may fear making us angry enough to send them away.  They may feel like they are earning every good thing that comes their way.  We work hard to do everything just right.  After all, we are so well trained through all our adoption classes, and all the books we read.  But, we eventually get tired.  We get sick.  We can't do fake perfection anymore.  We all just want thing to be normal.  But nothing is "normal" anymore.  We have to create a new normal.  With older kids, that takes much longer than we expect.

Passing time can also be discouraging.  We thought our child would understand English better by now.   They seem to do so well most of the time, but then we encounter a situation that reveals how fragile their comprehension really is.  Maybe we thought that our 9 year old would be able to use the bathroom independently by now.  Sure she wasn't potty trained when we got her, but we truly thought she would figure it out after 10 months.  But she hasn't.  Maybe our struggle relates to sleep, or eating, or learning, or respect, or handling a "no."  Whatever it is, we often feel discouraged when we realize that we are still working on it long after we thought it would fade into a non-issue. 

None of this is to say that there are not days of tremendous joy.  There are many rewarding moments to savor if we pay attention.  That first hug that isn't stiff and forced, or the first time our child says, "I like you," can feel wonderful.  There is tremendous joy in watching our child reach milestones in health or learning.  It is a delight to watch them experience new things when we know they would have never had that opportunity if they had stayed in the orphanage.  There is joy in hearing a daughter say that she will not abort her baby no matter how difficult things might appear in the present circumstance.  There is joy in hearing our little girl singing "Jesus Loves Me" while sitting on the floor putting her puzzle together. 

Adoption is wonderful.

Adoption is hard.

Rather than pretend it won't be difficult, we must prepare ourselves by putting on the armor of God, and walking in faith.  We must trust that the one who has called us will empower us to do even the hard things.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sacred Moments

We've been working on building a sandbox.  It is slow going.

Don't you think we picked a pretty color?
There are always so many doctor appointments to deal with, errands to run, and chores to finish.  When we do manage to find some extra time the weather doesn't always cooperate.

Finally we had a day that was just right to start adding the red paint.
Trying a roller instead of a brush.
Claire changed into her "old" clothes.  (It is hard to decide what qualifies when she has only been here 6 months.)  We mixed up the paint and got started.

Claire wanted to dip the brush into the paint all the way past the bristles and up the handle.  Then she thought it best to scrub the brush back and forth til the paint was rough and patchy and the brush resembled a bird's nest.

I tried to show her how to dip the brush, remove excess paint and make long even strokes.

Claire is not the most "teachable" person.  Even the gentlest suggestion that she isn't doing something right seems to trigger. …  What?

I'm just not sure at this point.  Perhaps it is a stubborn defiance and determination to do things her own way.  It could be a fear response.  She interprets any correction or teaching to mean she isn't good enough and then she panics?  The fear makes her shut down so she can't do the simplest things or even hear the instructions anymore.

I just can't tell what is really going on, but it often feels like defiance and is always very, very frustrating. 

It drives me to my knees on the inside, pleading with God to help me stay calm, and to find a way to get through.  My prayers are often desperate as I tell God how difficult it is to parent this little girl and ask Him to take over because I just can't do it anymore.

And, somehow, God does carry me through.  It isn't always pretty, and we sometimes call an abrupt end to whatever we were trying to do and spend a lot of time in the rocking chair, but we have managed to avoid too many mommy meltdowns.

This time, we made it mostly to the end of our painting task when I noticed little red footprints on the deck all around the tarp we had under our project.  I put Claire in a chair, firmly, and ran for supplies to clean that up.

Frustration was definitely growing.  I expected paint in her hair and on her hands and arms and knees.  But to step in it and walk on the deck after we were being so careful to keep all our work on the tarp was making me angry.

Pray.  Scrub.  Pray.  Scrub.  Pray.

Deck cleaned up and back aching, I closed up the paint and considered grabbing the hose and using cold water and some handfuls of grass to clean her bright red feet.

But Jesus whispered, "Whatever you do to the least of these…"

So I told her to sit still while I ran to collect a soft rag and a bucket filled with warm, soapy water.

Still praying, I lifted her to the edge of the deck and started scrubbing that paint off as gently as possible. 

Suddenly, I felt Jesus there.  He was there loving me. His hands were holding mine and His love was pushing out all the frustration.  Tears started streaming down my face as I got a tiny glimpse into the character of Jesus in a way I'd never seen before.

I've known about mercy and grace and love and compassion for a long, long time.  Today I felt it to my core. 

The moment passed and the rest of the day had the lots of frustrating events.  It will take lots of time, and many repetitions of love to convince Claire that she is safe enough to trust, to try hard things, to obey, and depend on us.

But, I'm certain that Jesus will help us get through the hard moments and frustrating hours.

Today, thanks to Claire, I know Jesus better than I did yesterday.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Six Months

Six months ago, we sat in the Civil Affairs office in Taiyuan and became foster parents. 

It was a very tense day.  Lifeline was supposed to deliver our paperwork so that we could hand carry the official documents needed.  

They forgot.

 I made several calls in the days before we left, and they kept assuring me that the papers were on the way and would arrive in time. Someone forgot to ever mail them. So,  I was promised that they would quickly send the paperwork ahead of us to China so that all the documents would be waiting for us when we got there.

They were not.

Fortunately, I had printed out copies of everything and Kelly had those in his backpack.  The official agreed to accept those copies until the original documents could arrive.

After a very unpleasant call to our adoption agency, that issue was set aside.  Then they brought Claire into the room. She promptly tried to run away.  She wanted nothing to do with us.  She wasn't going to have anything to do with the things we brought to distract her.  She just didn't want to even look in our direction.  We had to hold on tightly to keep her from leaving as we went down to get pictures taken for the adoption decree. 

In the picture shop, her nanny of 4 years was trying to get her to sit with us for a photo when her foster mama from her first 4 years of life walked in.  Things got a little confusing for awhile.  I remember new shoes, a bag of fruit and candy, and a glass of milk tied in a grocery bag,  being given to Claire. Then there were pictures and tears and I was holding a wailing child as we dragged her into a waiting van and pulled away as she screamed for her mamas.

All that screaming and crying created the need for a breathing treatment.  Finding some interesting things to see on the computer helped her get calm and stay still.
We needed a quick lunch.  It had been a long morning and we were running out of steam.   Our guide had only told us about a McDonald's and Pizza Hut.  Since we knew that Claire had been to McDonald's on field trips, that was our pick of necessity.

We made sure that Claire got some noodles for supper.  Proving that we could provide acceptable food was a good first step in helping her feel safe with us.
Six months later, she remembers those other mamas fondly.  She talks about how they had jobs to take care of children until their mamas could come get them. Then, those nannies will take care of other children.  Nannies love the children but don't take care of them forever.  Mommies keep on being mommies all the time.

I think I'm the mommy now. At least it sure feels like it when she crawls into my bed in the morning and pats my cheek, or when she says, "Wo ai ni, mama." at night when I'm tucking her in with 42 hugs and 18 kisses. 

                Six months isn't very long--but it is long enough for a lot of love to grow.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Happy Birthday!

Claire turned 9 today. 

It was a day to delight in her.  She loved putting up balloons and streamers.  She had a ball decorating the windows with crystal window markers.  She couldn't wait for her cake and her presents.

My heart rejoiced as I snuggled with her this morning and listened to her tell me that 8 was all gone and now she is 9.  What a miracle!  This precious little girl who wasn't supposed to live at all is a beautiful 9 year old who loves to demonstrate how "strong" and "smart" she is to anyone who will pay attention.  God has been so good to Claire.  I'm so blessed to walk down the street holding her hand, or to sing a silly song with her, or to get to work beside her, "mixing" supper or folding laundry. 

My heart also felt overwhelming sadness today. While we were snuggling this morning, Ben came in to say goodbye before heading off to work.  He bent over to hug Claire and his tie swung forward.  Claire batted it for a long time—like a kitten.  Nothing wrong with that, but my heart ached for this little child to have thoughts and ideas, to understand something more than the simple motion of a swinging tie.  Claire is 9.  She can't dress herself, or care for her body without a lot of help.  She can't count objects.  She can't speak a sentence in Chinese or English.  She doesn't play with toys.  She can't write her name or tell you where she lives.  She can't open a door or buckle a seat belt.  She doesn't communicate anything on a thought level.

I long to know my little girl.  But all I know is when she is hungry or wants me to take her to the bathroom.  I know that she resists learning with all her might, leaving me exhausted and longing for bedtime long before it is really time to turn out the lights.  I want her to be okay.  I want her brain to be healed just like her heart.  I want to be able to tell her the incredible story of God's love for her, but the empty tomb of Easter doesn't have much meaning for a child who still doesn't consistently demonstrate object permanence. 

I confess that sometimes I feel angry and I'm guilty of wanting God to explain to me why He healed her heart and her lungs, but left her brain so damaged. I love her so much.  I want her to be okay.  I want her to be able to read, and sew, and knit.  I want her to be able to play a game or participate in a discussion. 

Then, I'm reminded that God loves her more than I ever could.  He is still good.  His plan is still being carried out whether I see it or not.  So, now I ask God to show me how to love Claire the way He does—through her stubbornness and disability to the heart of who God has created her to be with abilities and disabilities all wrapped up in one sweet package.  Happy Birthday, Claire.  I love you.

"Whenever we cannot love in the old, human way…God can give us the perfect way." 
~~Corrie ten Boom

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

It Is Not Too Late

Claire was one of the featured kiddos during the Chinese New Year Celebration at New Day.
In case you missed it, here is a link to the article:

Claire's story

Colton was also featured on the second day.  Here is his story:

Colton's story

The goal behind all this celebration was to raise funds for New Day to continue to do their amazing work in the lives of children who desperately need  medical care and lots of loving.

If you missed the stories during the  New Year's celebration, it is still not too late to donate. 

Click HERE if you want to help New Day continue to provide care to these needy little ones.

Please don't ever think that any gift is too small.  If memory serves me right, I heard that if each person who "likes" New Day on Facebook would donate just $4, they would make the $12,000 goal during this fund drive.  Like the loaves and fishes, God multiplies even the smallest gifts to meet the biggest needs.

Don't you want to be part of that?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Beautiful Hair

Everywhere we go, people comment on Claire's beautiful hair. 

In spite of the fact that it is difficult to care for, I love her long, silky locks.

A little over a week ago, I was researching alopecia areata. It's an auto-immune disease that causes the body to attack its own hair.  Claire was diagnosed with this while she was in China and I was trying to learn more about it. I want to know why I'm constantly rubbing ointment into little bald places.  One link took us to a website that had a picture of a little girl with no hair at all.

Claire was looking over my shoulder and became very concerned.

"Girl.  No hair. Sad," she repeated over and over. 

It was the Locks of Love website.  I showed Claire that the girl didn't stay sad because someone gave her some of their hair.  She was so excited by this. She wanted to give the girl she saw her own hair. 

I put her off with a "maybe someday you can do that." 

But, like all things Claire gets into her head, she didn't forget.  Every single day she asked about the sad girl with no hair.  Every day she wants to make her hair short and give the girl some hair.

So, today, I got to see that it isn't her hair that makes my daughter beautiful.

 It is her heart.

Plenty of beautiful black hair.

The first cut was terrifying for mommy.

It was so thick.  It took a LOT of cutting to get that ponytail off.

Then a little touch up to make things smooth.

So happy to be able to brush her own hair without getting the brush tangled.

I am really cute with short hair!

Can't stop looking in the mirror.  She is so happy with the results.

Clean up.

Ready to mail tomorrow.
Claire is so excited that the little girl won't be sad anymore.  She is so excited that her hair will help another girl  be happy.  Claire says, "Girl happy.  Claire happy."

So, even if no one ever stops us again to comment on Claire's amazing, long, black hair, I see incredible beauty. 

Even though Claire's life has been very difficult, or perhaps because it has been difficult, Claire has learned the joy of sacrifice.  She knows that blessings are to give away and that love is big enough to reach into sad places and make a difference. I have a lot to learn from my precious daughter.  Her life bears the image of our God in a remarkable way!