The Face of God

After we got home from Ukraine, I was really great about waking up for my pious obedience of morning prayer.  4:30am was the time because, with this early rising group, what other quiet time is there to pray?  And then the days went on… and I was so exhausted.  My body stopped waking me up.  I started turning off my alarms in my sleep every morning without even realizing it.  When I was actually awake at 4:30 I couldn’t bring myself to leave the bed.  On the rare chance that I did crawl out of bed, I would be summoned back again by our two year old who got clingy and decided he needed me from 4:45 to 6:00am every morning or he couldn’t sleep.  I gave up.

I haven’t said my morning prayers for almost two months now.  And that isn’t the only thing that has slipped… my patience, my energy, my willingness to serve my family… it’s all been fleeting lately, like grasping at straws.  The guilt, the overwhelming amount of work to do that can’t possibly be done, the endless toil of meal after meal and corralling four small children, the physically draining reality of two new children and one already on the way, the ongoing march of doctor’s appointments and therapy and paperwork, the children who are in emotional upheaval and who are all coping differently… it’s enough to make me want to run away in the worst moments.

Yesterday was a bad day.  Today is better, but yesterday I hid in my room for the majority of the evening.  I just couldn’t anymore.  While in hiding I decided to look up post-adoption depression, my symptoms are classic… and not at all mild.  Post-partum depression is a very widely accepted and discussed emotional issue for new mothers.  But post-adoption depression?  It’s taboo, we’re not supposed to talk about it.  We just spent the last year convincing governments and social workers and immigration services and courtrooms and orphanage directors and grant organizations and to everyone else that we will be really great parents for these children.

Then we get home, and reality sets in… we aren’t the picture-perfect parents we set ourselves up to be.  We promised to always provide this and to never resort to that, that we had access to this and that they would get that.  And perhaps we live up to that some of the time or even most of the time… but I doubt any of us truly emerge as the immaculate vision of love and joy and peace and kindness that we tried to explain to everyone and their third cousin that we could be.  And yes… I could be all that… technically.  But I’m not.  I have bad moments and I have bad days and I have had so many unexpected problems come up that my children still don’t have all their therapists and equipment  and resources in place.  Guilt.

Guilt.

Guilt.

Guilt.

Post adoption depression is real folks, and some days (like yesterday) our family is just caught in the thick of it.  This morning I woke up to a much more emotionally stable Dalas.  A Dalas who wanted to love on her kids and clean the house and get ready for our new arrival and start thinking about Christmas.  I like that Dalas.  She’s much easier to get along with.  And, as is typical, while on the upswing from my three days of deepening sadness, I determined to make it stop.  How can I prevent that from happening again?  Where do I start?  And then I remembered those prayers… the ones I’m not doing.

Praying is always infinitely more difficult in the midst of a depression, and it has been particularly hard for me to muster up the energy for it as of late.  “Of course.”  I thought to myself “I’m not praying so no wonder I’m struggling to love my children or want to care for them.  Of course I have no desire to serve them… if I would only pray more God would give me the strength and the patience and the love and joy I’m missing.”  So another thing to feel guilty about, just add it to the “I don’t do _______ well enough,” running tally in my head.

But then I sat down to read a book written by a lady for whom adoption was a catalyst of faith.  I would highly recommend it to any adoptive mamas out there.  Anyway, she was in the Holy Land and started helping at a particular monestary that was also a “school” (more like a shelter) for Palestinian girls whose families were abusive or unsafe.  One nun was in charge of the care for all eleven girls… in every sense but by law, she was their mother.

The author questioned her about this and the following conversation ensued:

“Yes, but is this really good for you?  Don’t you think raising children takes you away from the monastic path?”
“It took me a while to figure this one out.  But I got it eventually.  Nuns keep their eyes on God all the time, essentially living with God on earth, right?”
“Yes…”
“But I have to keep my eyes on the children all the time, right?”
“Yes…”
“And for a long time I thought I was just looking at children.  But then I got it: By keeping my eyes on the children, I am keeping my eyes on God.  I am living with the truest icons of the Lord Himself.”

And then I got it.  By keeping my eyes on the children, I am keeping my eyes on God.  All this time I was looking for God in the quiet, lonely hours of the morning.  I was praying without my little icons!  It was not my inability to find prayer time that was making my job as a mother difficult… it was, in fact, my lack of desire for God, my pulling away from Him that was pulling me away from my children.  The last place anyone wants to be while drowning in a pool of guilt and depression is before the Face of God.  I could have been saying lots of prayers… sleepy or not, clingy toddler or not, in quiet morning hours or not.  The truth was I just didn’t want to.

And when the time came for the children to be awake and for me to start the next marathon of watching four rambunctious children for the next 12-14 hours I didn’t want to do that either… not because it was particularly difficult or frustrating or trying and not even because it was exhausting.  I didn’t want to do it because in seeing their little faces hour after hour, minute after minute, I was looking into the Face of God.  And His was the last one I really wanted to see.  Serving them would have meant serving Him, and in my prideful, unrepentant state I loathed the very idea of it.

I thought that my lack of prayers was causing a lapse in my ability to love my children, but that was actually not the case at all.  My inability to love my children was rooted in nothing more than my resolution to avoid God.  It wasn’t the cooking or cleaning or correcting that I loathed… but interacting with His Image over and over all day long that was infuriating me.  What a humbling and freeing realization.

These children were not the chains holding me back from a simple, prayerful life… they were my ticket to it.  They were not the burden creating such darkness and despondency in my soul… they were the mirror warning me of my error and they are the balm that God will use to heal it, if only I am willing.  A pious and holy life is right before me, complete with all the bells and whistles of nighttime vigils, caring for the sick, fasting, feeding the hungry and living daily in the presence of sometimes no one other than God and His icons.  He is here for me every hour of every day literally, to love and to hold and to enjoy… what a blessed life.

Dear Lord, Who has given me every good and precious gift for the benefit of my salvation, when I begin to struggle with the weight of my duties, with the all-consuming cares of raising my young children – remind me that this is the work you have given me to do.  That in this work I will find You, which means I will also find peace and rest.  When the weakness of this earthly frame begins to balk at the exhaustion, whisper gently that such discomfort is the respite of my soul.  Help me to see your Glorious Image in the faces of my children, to treat them with humility and love.  Let me approach this task with great fear and trembling, a tangible reminder that ignoring my children is ignoring you, being harsh with them is dealing just as real a blow to my Savior as if I were a soldier at your Passion.  May I nevermore be so bold in my sin.  Grant me the grace to love You.  Amen.

Treading Lightly

Two days ago I woke up to wonderful news.  Whitaker found his family.  One little boy who has been waiting for far too long, who was on the brink of a death sentence… his crime?  Being born with a disability.  But his sentence has been postponed.  A family has stepped up to pay his ransom and to free him from his life behind the bars of a crib.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!  He moved the hearts of His Church for one sweet child… and Whitaker is now found, destined to be loved and cherished forevermore.  No longer to be called an orphan… but a beloved son.  How beautiful, how marvelous, how I couldn’t be happier for this boy.

And yet, there is a tension in my heart.  I want to be so careful not to alienate the hundreds of beautiful people who were involved in this miracle.  I had more views on my last post for Whitaker than I have ever had on any post, and that’s actually really saying something!  Over a hundred people shared him on Facebook, and who knows how many others shared.  I know phone calls were made and hearts were moved.  Over 20,000 people saw his sweet face and I alone had a dozen families request more information about him.  (I know I wasn’t the only one receiving inquiries either!)

It was such a swift and beautiful movement, with all of God’s people moving in harmony and in tune to His will.  And from the bottom of my heart, I thank all of you who saw that post for praying and sharing and loving Whitaker, of being a part of his miracle.  I could not be more grateful for all that was done, and yet, there is still apprehension, because I know.  I know that what I wrote three days ago for Whitaker is true now.  One is not enough, two is not enough… millions.  That’s how many orphans are desperate for homes.  Millions.

I had one precious lady email me back after Whitaker found a family and she told me that even though he was going to be going home with someone else, his story still touched them enough and now they are looking to adopt another child from his same country.  That made my day, because they really got it.  They saw Whitaker and they knew he wasn’t alone; they knew that there were hundreds and thousands of children just like him.  And they knew that we can’t just stop at one.

So to the other eleven dear and precious families who contacted me about the possibility of adopting Whitaker… rejoice with me that he is going home.  But please, I am begging you, let’s not stop here.  Can we move forward?  Can we keep looking?  Perhaps God led you to Whitaker, so that Whitaker could lead you to your own child.  Perhaps not… but isn’t it possible?  Now you know about Whitaker’s plight, the one he shares with countless other children.  Winter is coming, death sentences and life imprisonments are soon to be dealt out to hundreds of children across his country.  These children should never have to see the inside of an adult mental institution, let alone live in one.

Please take that spark of love and compassion etched into your heart over the weekend and use it to just take one more tiny step… See just one more child, pray over one more fragile soul.  Almost all of you who contacted me did so with a caveat, or a hesitation.  You weren’t sure if you could adopt Whitaker because of a specific family circumstance.  And you might be right, but guess what?  There are so many children you would be able to bring home.  Let me show you a few…

Available to Single Moms

I heard from a few of you sweet ladies, who said you would have taken Whitaker in a heartbeat if you could qualify.  Friends!  Good news!  There are so many sweet children you do qualify to adopt, who need just as much love and are in just as difficult situations.  (And equally cute I might add!)

BeauregardBeauregard: Look at those intensely adorable cheeks!!  You can see such personality in that little face, and what a joy his caregivers say that he is.  A precious gem just waiting to be found.  His needs sound fairly mild, and with all that he is able to do, he will absolutely thrive in a family.  Beauregard also has an agency grant available!

Koda: Wow, this kiddo just steal my heart.  It kills me that he hasn’t been adopted yet!  He has Cerebral Palsy, just like Jacob Koda(and they are the same age!) but his CP is so incredibly mild!  He can run and play??  Hello!  That’s amazing!  His needs are easy and he looks so full of life and ready for someone to love, just like our son did in his referral picture.  This kiddo will be a huge, huge blessing to his Momma one day!

DarrenDarren: This cuddle bug is also in Eastern Europe like Whitaker, and just like Whitaker, he will spend his life staring through the bars of a crib with little affection or stimulation, no therapy and no chance for anything else..  In addition to that, Darren is in serious need of medical attention.  He has hydrocephalus, which will likely continue to worsen, leading to an excruciating and slow death.  UNLESS he is adopted!  This condition is so medically treatable, if only he had a family coming for him!

IsabelleIsabelle: Gorgeous, just gorgeous.  She has a grant of over $4,000 (and growing!)  What a beautiful child and what an amazing addition she would make for any family.  This girlie is also in Eastern Europe, but she is getting therapy and learning new skills!  This is remarkable and will make her transition to family life so much easier.  Oh I hope she finds a Mommy, she is just too precious to stay hidden away in an institution forever!

Already Paid for Adoptions

I had one or two families specifically say that they had never considered international adoption before just because of the sheer cost.  I will say that we had pretty much none of what we needed to pay our children’s ransom when we started our adoption process last year.  But God provided every last penny.  That’s a huge leap of faith, and I understand feeling uncomfortable taking it.  But you don’t always have to…

AndruisAndruis: With a grant fund of over $21,000 his adoption is all but fully funded.  This precious boy has waited so long.  What an amazing gift to find him a family for his birthday this New Years!  Like so many of these children, his delays seem to be largely due to a lack of love and care.  He will truly blossom in a family.

Vaughn: What a handsome young man!  Vaughn is also the same age as our Jacob, and what a magical age to adopt this is!  He Vaughnis reported to be a very healthy child, and his file is with a wonderful agency in a great program to adopt from.  He has nearly $17,000 in his grant all ready to go toward the cost of his adoption.  Likely this is not fully funded, but close enough that money will be no issue, especially with the fan club he has behind him!

ClariceClarice: Oh this lovely girl breaks my heart!  She is such a dear, lovely girl.  We know people who have met her and have so much information on her development and personality.  She has over $15,000 in her grant, very close to being fully funded, and she has been listed for such a long time!  Just like our daughter, she’s got a great following and it’s likely that the rest of her adoption will be swiftly covered if a family steps up.  Clarice is running out of time, her family must file paperwork before next summer or she will be in a mental institution for the rest of her life.

Mild Medical Needs

I had two lovely families ask about adopting Whitaker, but they weren’t sure if they could due to his medical needs.  Both families felt led toward international missions where they would have low access to quality medical care.  What a wonderful calling!  So many of the kiddos we advocate for do need that access, but certainly not all of them.  Adoption and missions do not have to be mutually exclusive callings!

JamisonJamison: Take this boy for example.  His only needs?  Mild mental delay and a speech delay.  Really!  That’s it!  So he’ll need some occupational and speech therapy, but there is absolutely no reason a family could not adopt him and also move overseas for mission work later down the road.  Not to mention he just has the most charming smile.  What a handsome young man and what a gift he would be to the family who steps up!

Lana-Photo-5-May-2013-224x300Lana: This lovely lady has Down syndrome.  Otherwise she seems to be quite bright and healthy.  A family would be looking at therapy to help her reach her full potential, but other than that her needs are so mild and manageable!  She loves pink, loves games, loves helping and being a part of activities… she is just a sweet girl longing to be loved and to be a part of a family.  Oh how she would thrive if she was adopted!

Alexandra-218x300Alexandra: The only real medical need she has is her HIV+ status.  This is not contactable in a family setting and is incredibly easy to manage!  Children with this diagnosis have potential to live totally normal lives with the medication that is now available.  There are so many deserving children with nothing but this diagnosis who would be such a delight to any family.  Most contract the disease at birth from their mothers; they are otherwise totally typical kids!  HIV is truly a special need that almost any adoptive family can easily manage.  If you don’t know much about it, here’s a great place to start.

Available to Large Families

A few of you inquired whether or not Whitaker was available to large families, and I was very happy to report that yes he was!  So many large families and families with lots of little ones, have adopted internationally.  Here are some other sweeties for whom family size is also not a an issue.

 

ilianaIlliana: Oh my goodness, isn’t she a doll!?  Absolutely beautiful!  Can you believe that this dear girl has spent most of her life in an adult mental institution?  And she is doing, so so well considering!  She is independent in almost all self care tasks, she demonstrates attachment and emotionally healthy responses, she is so bright!  This girl would just thrive in a family, and she would probably love some siblings to dote on!  She needs to be adopted soon, before she ages out!

ClydeClyde: A bit of a blurry picture, but you can tell he is precious.  Clyde is so young, still just a baby!  He will benefit greatly from early intervention that many of these children are not blessed to have.  I remember just a year ago when tiny babies like Clyde were scooped up in a heartbeat.  But adoptions have slowed greatly, and now they wait and wait.  I hope he doesn’t have to wait.  I hope his Mommy and Daddy see him while he’s still tiny!

DagmarDagmar: Not nearly as tiny, but still just as in need of a family.  Dagmar is in our children’s country.  That means that in just a few short months he will become unavaialable for international adoption.  He’ll age out of the system and be stuck in a mental institution for the rest of his life.  Friends his need is urgent!  He doesn’t have long.  A family must file paperwork for him before January!  He has over an $8,000 grant!  Please, someone see how worthy his life is of saving!

 

Friends… I could go on and on and on with countless categories and thousands of children who you would probably qualify to adopt.  If you don’t meet the international income requirements, have you ever considered domestic adoption?  You can adopt from foster care without being a foster parent.

There are many, many little ones waiting for a family literally right in your own backyard.  Their adoptions are virtually free and there is no set income requirement.  I have researched almost every possible type of adoption, and when I hear someone say “I’d love to adopt but…” their reasons are usually not quite valid!  If you don’t think you’d qualify to adopt, but you really want to find out contact me.  Seriously, I can at least point you in the right direction and I’d love to help.

And also remember, finding families for waiting children is important, but praying and assisting families who are adopting is just as important!  If you love Whitaker please hop on over to his family’s blog and send some prayers and encouragement their way.  Thank you!!  Love to you all in Christ…

The Short List

I’ve written about a lot of the hard stuff in adoption… but there is one hardship that outweighs all others: not being able to adopt more.  I will never really “get over” those children we left behind, the ones I saw and held and played with.  The children I ached for who perhaps have no one else in the world who aches over them… some faces are etched into my memory so distinctly they may never leave.  Others are a faint whisper… I can’t see their faces anymore, but I remember their precious little lives.  Dozens upon dozens of little lives that we encountered just hidden away, treasures never to be discovered.  Knowing that only the most blessed few will ever see the outside of those walls or feel a mother’s embrace… the weight of it haunts me.

This post is long overdue.  I was an advocate first before an adoptive mama and I never intended to stop advocating, but I have.  Three months have gone by and I have done little or nothing to shout for the children we left behind.  Honestly, my emotional tank has been running on less than empty, and advocating is emotionally exhausting work.  Work that I just haven’t had the energy for.  But while I sit here feeling tired and empty… there are children all over the world who are in desperate, life and death situations.  There are children who literally live a life of nothingness and children who endure unending loneliness and emptiness that I could never fathom.  And they deserve more from me.

I haven’t done “enough” simply because I’ve adopted or because I’ve raised incredible amounts of money or because I’ve been a part of giving visibility to children so they can come home.  I don’t think I’ll ever look at the numbers and say, “Well, my part’s all done now. Time for something new.”  It’s not just a duty, this caring for orphans, it’s a love of mine.  It’s a passion, a passion born out of a knowledge that I can’t unknow out of pictures in my mind that I can’t unsee.  And with that being said, I am starting my advocacy efforts anew, and I’m going to do it by introducing you to my short list.

We brought home two children from Ukraine this year, for that I am eternally grateful.  But two is not enough.  I would have brought home a dozen if they had let me.  Before we started the process we spent countless hours looking at the waiting children around the world who needed families.  We narrowed down that list several times… but how can you possibly choose?  You really can’t… not any more than you can choose the children who are born to you.

And yet, here I am stuck with this list of children in my head who I loved and wanted desperately to save.  Children I pleaded with God to make mine and He told me “No”, for reasons I may never understand other than that He had these two in mind instead.  He knows what is best and we don’t.  There is no point at all in pondering the whys, but still… my short list didn’t just disappear with our successful adoptions.  It’s still there, haunting me.  And now that we’ve traveled and met more precious little ones… the list is a bit longer, and likely it will keep growing.

I need to share this list with you, they are the children of my heart, the children I so desperately want to love and hold and never will.  But maybe, just maybe, someone will.  There is a family out there for each of these precious children.  If only we can help them find their little ones, the little ones they may not even know exist.  And that’s what advocacy is about, finding families.  So that each of these can know the love and joy of a family.  I want to give these children the same chance as my Hope and Jacob have.  You already know my dear ones well, so now I am going to introduce you to my short list… the little ones I hold close to my heart but that you may not know…

I’m going to start with Whitaker.  This is the first picture I ever saw of him.

whitaker

 

I was drawn to him immediately, and no wonder.  With those gorgeous blue eyes and that perfectly adorable face.  He’s about the same age as our Evangeline, so every time I’d see him I would just see her lying there alone.  He also has Cerebral Palsy, a special need we had always felt drawn to.  Everything about him cried out to me.  It was always hard to keep scrolling through the pictures once I got to Whitaker because… all I wanted was to linger on those sweet little cheeks.

He has been listed for years now.  And he is no longer a tiny baby.  In fact, he just turned four years old.

whitaker 2

Dear friends… four is not a happy birthday for these little ones.  This is the age where orphanages transfer children like Whitaker to adult mental institutions to live out the rest of their lives, or more likely, to die.  Between neglect, abuse and starvation, well over 90% of these precious ones die within a year of transfer.  From what I know of where he is going (a particularly bad institution), he will not make it – and if he does, he will be living a life of agony.  Can you imagine the sentence that has been placed on this fragile, innocent child?  Can our comfortable, blessed lives take such a truth?  Or will the shock of it cause us to feel  nothing, to let this reality bounce off of our backs?

Will we mimic our Lord and Savior, and accept the burden of this child’s fate as our own?  Will we fight it, or will we return it to him so that he must carry it himself?  My friends, we are adults.  We are wealthy, privileged, blessed and loved.  Our cups are overflowing; together we can shoulder his burden and it will do nothing more than benefit our own souls, while perhaps causing mild discomfort to our temporal lives.  This is nothing!  But if we look away, if we give this burden back to this dear child… it will break him.  It is too much for him.  But for us?  For our Lord who goes before us?  This is nothing.  It’s time to bring him home.

His orphanage director will not transfer Whitaker if there is a family in process to adopt him.  Transfers happen in the winter, so we are looking at one, two months at the most, to find his family.  Once a family commits, he will be given more time to stay at his baby house while the adoption is completed.  This is his only hope.  He needs a family now.  His adoption is going to be almost fully paid for.  Money will not be an obstacle for the family who steps up.  If you are interested in prayerfully considering this boy as your son, what you need to know is listed below.  Otherwise, please take a tiny piece of this child’s burden and share him with those you know.  Email, Facebook, print this out and share it with your Church tomorrow, call your friends and family.  Be the voice he doesn’t have.

For more information on advocating for or adopting sweet Whitaker, please contact me by email or on Facebook.  I’d be more than happy to point you in the right direction.

***UPDATE!! WHITAKER HAS A COMMITTED FAMILY!  THANK YOU!!***

For Prospective Families:

  • More information about Whitaker can be found HERE
  • His country requires parents to be married
  • You must be able to meet the minimum income requirements for international adoption (assets can be included)
  • Total expenses average about $25,000 for his adoption
  • He has a large grant, that is growing thanks to a generous donor/advocate.  He will be nearly fully funded by the time a family travels for him. Money will be no concern for the family who moves forward.
  • Adoption will take about seven months to complete
  • Time in-country averages about six weeks.  Families can opt for multiple (shorter) trips
  • There is an option for only one parent to travel if it is impossible for both to leave due to work constraints

A Sunny Day

It sure is beautiful out here today. I wish we had played outside this morning, but I decided not to chastise a particular child last night when he came upstairs to find toys… one thing led to another… and now the three of them have decided that playing in their bedrooms is the most fun thing they have ever done. They will play up here for hours without fighting or destroying things. It’s a miracle. And I know the Autumn weather will probably last longer than their honeymoon with the newfound play space so… I’m milking it for all it’s worth.

At the moment, however, those three are down for quiet time and I am having a standoff with the eldest over eye poking. She is beginning to do it more now than she used to, which is unfortunate. I tried digging my finger into my eye socket the way she does and it is just so painful, but at the moment there is nothing else in the world she wants to do.

I considered getting on the floor to play with her or sing to her or just hold her to maybe get her mind off of it, but she is pretty dysregulated and at this point I still usually don’t help that. The more distanced I am the calmer she is. So instead I am sitting a few feet away at my computer typing – with my eyes on sweet girl instead of my screen and reminding her gently that I can see her every time her hands go near her face. I wish I could do more.

So much of my parenting with Hope right now is… I wish I could do more. Our therapist told me last week that we were doing such a great job with her, and that she has made such improvement… and I just didn’t know exactly what good I was doing. She gets very little stretching, because she is horribly intolerant of it most of the time. We do sensory brushing and tummy time, but that only lasts for a few minutes and then we’re done. It doesn’t seem like much.

I can’t help her calm down when she’s upset. She did let me calm her down last week once or twice, but that’s out of seven days of being upset or overstimulated several times a day. There is progress… but I just wish I could do more. I want to bond with her, but there is so little I can do that doesn’t cause her to go into a downward spiral. Our connecting activities have to be infrequent and very short lived, or it’s just too much.

P8It makes me wonder what her days were like after our visits at the orphanage. That was two hours of constant contact and interaction. But I didn’t know any better. I never saw her afterward. It makes me wonder how dysregulated she was on those days and if it made her hurt herself even more. I hate to think that.

But even with all that being said… what I really came here to say was that this is actually a very good day. We are doing so well. Things seem to be on the upswing for once in quite a while. Today, for the first time since we brought the children home, I actually feel like the mom that I was before we left for Ukraine. I’m not struggling with a temper, I’m tuning in to my little ones’ feelings instead of constantly correcting. I’m really and truly enjoying my vocation today in a way that I haven’t been able to in what feels like forever… but probably hasn’t been that long.

Please, if you think of it, pray for more days like this for our family. Pray that the sunny days continue to come even through what’s sure to be a long, cooped-up winter. Your prayers have been helping get us through this transition, and we continue to treasure them. Quite a few have told me over the last month or so that they realize we have had a hard go of this, or that they know it has been a difficult transition.

While we very much appreciate the thoughts, I want to be really clear… we are not having a particularly difficult transition! In fact, the feelings and struggles we are experiencing as a family this early in the game are totally par for the course, especially for those of us who have adopted children from hard places. This pain and struggle is absolutely to be expected. I am so glad for this blog where I have been able to share that reality with those who might not have understood it before. Even for me this has been a learning experience. Yes, we knew it was going to be hard going in but… I never knew it would be like this. And from what I know now – we are in no way the minority.

Which got me to thinking… if what we are going through is the norm, how much more important for us to support those families who are actually having a hard go of it! The holidays are coming up and I am thinking of ways to bless other families walking this same journey with us. I don’t have any details yet, but I would love to spread some joy to other adoptive families this year, as we have had just so much joy lavished upon us.

If you are an adoptive family who could use a little love, know one who is, or if you might like to help with a little bit of a Christmas gift project for those who do, please let me know! Getting these children home is half the battle, but caring for orphans also means caring for the families of former orphans who are still very much in the trenches of it all.   We are very blessed to be surrounded by a community who understands that 110%, but not every family is surrounded by such a caring support network, and I want them to know what we have been able to know all along, that the Body of Christ is behind them, praying for them and loving them through it all.

And with that, I am off to do some more scheming and to maybe hold our Pokey Princess for a few minutes if she’ll let me. I’ll try to write again soon, in the meantime, may you also have a very sunny Autumn day!

The Replacement Mom

“You’re not the Mom he never had… you’re just the Replacement Mom, the Mom he’ll have to make do with because he doesn’t have anyone else.”

I remember when it was just me and Evangeline during the day.  I remember how sometimes just watching her play would start my mind thinking.  I would hear things like “She’s so beautiful, how did I ever deserve such a precious gift?  What an amazing miracle God has given me, a beautiful treasure… I wonder who she will be when she grows up…” You know all those lovely, motherly thoughts that you think about the little loves of your life.

With four now… it’s harder to get such a moment, a moment where my mind can just stop and rest on one precious little life and what it means.  However, I did manage to catch one such moment yesterday with my dear Jacob, but what my mind began telling me were not the sweet, motherly whispers I so desperately wanted to hear.  Instead, my inner monologue went more like this:

“You get to be who he’s always waited for, the Mom he never had and always wanted…   Well, not really.  The Mom he wanted was the one he was given in the first place, the mother who grew him and carried him for nine months, the mother he was intimately connected with, who he loved and needed, the mother who was his whole world.  But she left, and where did she go anyway?  How could she just up and take away the one person who ever meant anything to him?  You’re not the Mom he never had; you’re just the Replacement Mom, the Mom he’ll have to make do with because he doesn’t have anyone else.  You’ll always be the substitute; you’ll never be as good for him as she could have been.”

Writing it down is almost worse than when I heard myself ranting it in my head the first time.  The reality just downright hurts.  Now, I know I’ll have some readers, especially those in the adoption community, who will be quick to point out all the fallacies of my little rabbit trail.  I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard “Adoption isn’t second best, it’s just as good as any other situation a child can be given.” Or… “Choosing not to parent isn’t a bad thing, sometimes it’s just the best way to care for your child.” Or… “God made this child for our family; he was always meant to be ours, God just had him grow in someone else’s tummy.”

Every time I hear any version of these it makes me cringe.  Every adopted child has trauma, whether they were adopted as newborns or come from hard places.  Babies are meant to stay with the Mommies who gave birth to them.  And when that doesn’t happen fear, loss, grief, confusion and loneliness enter the child’s life… no matter how young they are or how well taken care of by others.  Babies aren’t meant to be taken care of by strangers; they are made to bond with and be cared for by the mother they grew to know for nine months before being born.  When that doesn’t happen it is never good for the baby, and any other situation is always going to be second best.

(Disclaimer: Sometimes adoption is the most loving thing a mother can do for her child!  But these tragic situations come up only because we live in a fallen world where we cannot always give our child the best of everything.  We cannot always shield our children from loss, and when this happens, we should absolutely support birth mothers who give their children for adoption as a way of seeking the best for them in a tragic situation.)

As a mother caring for two children who were not born to me and who spent a great chunk of their childhoods without me… I am acutely aware of this truth.  It would be so much easier to simply think “This is how it was meant to be.  God wanted them to be a part of our family all along.”  But this is self centered thinking.  It says that the traumatic loss of my children’s birth mothers was all for my benefit.  That the pain and grief my children and their birth families have was all orchestrated just so our family could grow in a unique way.

I’m sorry, but I can’t buy that.  I know that God has been preparing me to be the Mom for these two for well over a decade, perhaps before I was even born… I know that He knew what would come to pass, and I believe that He paved a way for my children to have a mother and a home.  I believe God had good plans for my children, but I am not foolish enough to forget that the best plan He had was to keep them with their birth mothers in the first place.  He gave these two lives to them, entrusted these children to their care, not to mine.

Jacob was never meant to be mine.  He was meant for the woman God originally gave him to.  He was hers, and in a sense he still is hers.  I am just the Replacement Mom, God’s second string, the merciful backup plan He had in place, knowing that this precious life would be rejected and tossed aside.  It’s not hard to be second string, not anymore.  After all, I’m in the game now aren’t I?  And I’m not going to be benched again anytime soon.  The hard part, though, is knowing that I literally cannot be everything to Jacob that I am to Evangeline or Stephen.

I cannot go back and give him the security of knowing me intimately right from the womb.  I cannot turn back the clock and hold him as he suffered through that debilitating respiratory attack just hours after his birth.  I cannot take away the crib he laid in at the baby house for four years.  I cannot take back all the lies that were thrown at him about how he could never learn and would never walk.  There are seven years of suffering that I cannot just simply erase from his life.

His birth mother could have prevented all that, but I’m not her.  I’m the Replacement Mom.  All I can do is pick up where her legacy left off and try to write something new into his story.  That is the pain of adoption, the pain of not being able to protect your child, the pain of knowing that no matter how far you turn back the clock you never could have done anything to stop it anyway.

Courtesy of Jill Heupel Photography

Courtesy of Jill Heupel Photography

But, even knowing all this, what I was saying to myself before (though perhaps accurate) was not fully complete, it missed the most important part of the story… the ending.  What I must remember when I begin my next monologue about being the Replacement Mom is this: The novels that begin the most tragically are the ones that hold the greatest potential for the most beautiful endings.  Yes, I am coming in late to finish a story that was started long ago… but I have been given the duty and privilege of writing love into this book, of writing joy and hope and family into the life of a child who never knew any of those things before.

Neither Jacob nor I could control how his story started.  But I am here now, and I have the honor of helping him write the rest of his story to the very end… which is, after all, the most important part.

Honesty

So many people have told me that what they love most about my blog is my honesty.  That’s why you haven’t been hearing from me lately… I haven’t wanted to be honest, not here, not anywhere.  And now I feel like I’m in a Dr. Suess rhyme all of a sudden… sigh.  I still have lots of drafts backlogged in my files.  My 19 weeks post is awkwardly sitting there now that I’m at my 21 week mark.  I haven’t wanted to take a belly picture because that would mean I’d need to smile for it, and I don’t feel like I can give you an honest smile today.  Or any of the days I might have had time to put up a quick post.

Every time I see someone outside of my own home (which isn’t very often as you might imagine) I get the same reaction “You look so exhausted!”  Here I am trying so hard to put on a joyful, Christ-filled, my-cup-overfloweth countenance and every single person can see right through it.  So much for being a model pastor’s wife, right?  But that’s the truth.  Exhaustion is my truth right now.  Every tiny little activity is exhausting.  Serving my children is exhausting.  Enjoying my children is exhausting.

Every once in a while my Dad asks me “Do you feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew yet?”  That’s been his concern this whole adoption, and sometimes it still comes up.  For months I have been saying no, but the question is starting to haunt me like a bad jingle I can’t get out of my head.  And I don’t even have any cutesy music to go with it.  I’m struggling right now.  That’s the only honest thing I have to say, and I hate to say it.  I hate to say it because the last thing I want is a slew of comments or messages or phone calls from people asking me if I’m ok or asking how they can help.  Just my pride talking?  Probably.

Prayer is good, but I know we’re covered in that already, without even having to ask.  So why even post?  Why not just say, we’re going through a tough transition time and I need to take a blogging break?  Why not run away?  I certainly feel like running, but running isn’t going to help me or anyone.  What might help though, is being honest, putting my weaknesses out there for the world and letting ya’ll know I am far from perfect.

It might help other adoptive families have realistic expectations for when they get home.  Did you know that the norm is actually to experience some level of post-adoption depression?  It’s very much like post-partum blues and depression, but even more common for both adoptive moms and dads, and even more complicated because of the deep sadness that naturally accompanies the reality of adopting a hurting child.  Adoption is all about loss.  We don’t like to talk about it much, just like we don’t want to talk about how redemption is all about the cross.  But the one is a living icon of the other, and the picture is poignant.

When we baptize our babies we dress them up in these beautiful white gowns and take family pictures and have a big reception and celebrate it.  Some families remember their baptisms every year (I know we do!) and we linger on the promises and the miracles that have been given to us in our gift of baptism.  But what we don’t see with our eyes as the pastor pours clear, sparkling water over that sweet child’s head is…  the blood, the death.  Because as much as baptism is about new life it is first about death, the death of the person being baptized, the gruesome death of Jesus on the cross.  There is a saying that as Christians we do not need to fear death because we have already died.  We died the death of Christ during our baptism, which means death has no hold over us – just as it had no hold over the God of the Universe.  And there, in the loss and only through that loss comes the beauty and the promise of true, abundant life.

Adoption is also about loss.  Life for these children only comes by means of very deep loss.  Everything that was their life has to die, everything that was meant to have been theirs, that should have been theirs was taken from them.  Only through that reality, can they begin a new life.  But the child isn’t the only one who loses something, the family also experiences loss.  In the end, it will be a blessing to us all.  But right now?  Wow is it hard.  We had a lovely little family.  Two perfectly healthy, bright, beautiful children – a boy and a girl.  Sweet, sheltered, secure little ones… not a real care in the world.  And then we took a hammer to all of that.  We shattered our perfect little family and we changed it forever.

Courtesy of Jill Heupel Photography

Courtesy of Jill Heupel Photography

Now we’re a family of broken pieces and broken hearts.  A family where half of our children still don’t understand what it means to have a Mommy and a Daddy.  I overheard my four year old daughter telling a lady the other day that the nannies dropped Hope in her crib when she was in the orphanage.  We try to not talk about things like that in front of her, but she hears and remembers everything.  There is so much her little mind is trying to process: abuse, abandonment, neglect, pain… crushing pain.  Things I never intentionally would have introduced to my four and two year olds, but now they are living those realities second hand by watching us as we try to help their brother and sister heal.

They were away from their home for two months; that was hard for them.  Neither of them have been as secure since that trip.  We spend hours a week in therapy, hospitals, referrals and appointments.  Time I could have been reading stories or making fun crafts or teaching them how to bake.  And us?  We’re exhausted emotionally, physically and spiritually from all of it.  Suddenly we are a family with trauma, a family in need of an incredible amount of healing.  Overnight we went from having it all together to picking up the pieces.  Did we choose this?  Sort of, but not really.  Were we expecting it to be hard, even this hard?  Of course.  But just because trauma doesn’t always come without announcing itself doesn’t mean it isn’t just as traumatic when it finally walks through your front door and decides to live with you for a while.

Adoption is hard.  It is inherently loss, not just for the adoptive children, but for everyone in the child’s life.  Beautiful, lovely, miraculous things come from adoption.  But we do a disservice to adoptive families and their children when we overlook where that beauty came from. It came from ashes, ashes that are blown into a home, leaving the family to clean up the great mess that follows.  It’s not pity that I, or any adoptive parent, needs.  It’s prayer.  Understanding.  Support.  We need to know that if we don’t make that phone call or we don’t send that thank you note or if we never reach out for help it’s not because we don’t care about you.  It’s because our families have just been broken, and it’s taking all of our energy and strength to pick up all the pieces.

Sometimes we need you to reach out to us because we can’t reach out ourselves, but other times we just need space.  Sometimes we need respite, other times we just need a meal we didn’t have to cook ourselves.  Sometimes we need to sit and talk with someone who understands, and other times we just need people to stop asking how it’s going.  But most of all we need huge heaping doses of grace and mercy and love.  We need to know that the people in our lives are going to see our crazy, depressed, angry emotional roller coasters and they’re going to love us anyway.

(Just as a side note, if you are a family member or friend of an adoptive parent and you’re wondering why we aren’t asking for help, it’s probably because, especially when our children came from hard places, the kind of help we need is so specific that it would be difficult or impossible to just ask for a simple hand on something.  And if we tried to ask we would either come off as ungrateful or unreasonable or both.  Unfortunately, there are just situations where there is no real help that can be given without a logistical brainstorm involved.  Our children’s needs and our new family dynamics make simple things, like bringing in outside help, much more complicated.)

So here’s to honesty.  Here’s to dispelling the myth that adoptive families are superheroes that don’t need anyone’s help.  Here’s to coming out and saying that just because we signed up for this doesn’t mean we will always have our act together, and just because we “chose” these children doesn’t mean we can’t have a bad day, or week or month… or even year. We are just like you, and just like any family, when trauma kicks off its old, muddy shoes and decides to stay a while… we’re going to struggle.  And we are.

May the Lord, in His mercy, turn our sorrow to joy and our tears to laughter.  May He bring the dawn quickly and banish the darkness from our midst.  May He orchestrate the beauty from the ashes, and give us inclination to focus on neither, but rather to seek His face in this and in every season.  Amen.

So Sorry!

photo (35)I kind of just left you all hanging!  My apologies.  It has been a crazy busy week trying to catch up from being in the hospital and everything else that always seems to happen all at once.  We do have some very good news to share!  Let me start at the beginning just in case.  On Friday we conferenced with our primary doctors about some concerning activity we had been seeing during Hope’s meals.  She was having myoclonic jerks in her arm and then began having episodes of zoning out that highly resembled absence seizures.  They had written us a referral to a neurologist earlier, but her episodes were progressively getting worse, quite quickly, and everyone agreed that we should go to the emergency room to get her looked at immediately.

Early the next morning we left.  Because her episodes only happened at meals (and there were no other meals that day at this point), we felt comfortable waiting.  We also knew we would be able to trigger her episodes for the doctors in the hospital for observation.  A girl’s gotta eat, right?!  So we spent two days there.  We came away with more questions than answers.  Her CT scan revealed a brain bleed which may or may not be causing her episodes.  An EEG showed no epileptic activity, praise God!  So she is not having seizures, exactly, though she is high risk for them at this time between her myoclonus and the brain bleed.

We are still not sure what is causing the bleed or how long it has been going on.  They said it could be several months old or even older.  They also found evidence that it is still bleeding, at least a little, but don’t think her shunt is causing it.  Without any other information we can’t really do anything about it at this point, and she’s not in immediate danger.  So we are going back in a couple of weeks to reevaluate the situation.

After getting home from the hospital we began to see some slow improvement in her episodes.  She is still having them, but they seem to be slowly tapering off.  Another praise God moment!  We have some theories as to what is going on, but we really don’t know, and maybe we won’t ever know.  But the important thing is that right now she is healthy and just as sweet and joyful as ever.  We had a scare over the weekend that we might need to do immediate surgery for her bleeding, what a terrifying thought.  I am more grateful than ever for the health of my children.  Lord thank you for preserving our family through this little bump!  Lots of other things to update, but for now it’s bedtime.

Christ keep you all.

In Unexpected Events…

Lord, allow me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will. Reveal Your will to me every hour of the day. Bless my dealings with all people. Teach me to treat all who come to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with firm conviction that Your will governs all. In all my words and deeds guide my thoughts and feelings. In unexpected events, let me not forget that all are sent by You. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering or embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the labors of this day. Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray in me. Amen

I discovered this little morning prayer last year and it has become one of my favorites.  It also just happens to be the perfect prayer for a hospital stay.  Wisdom, peace, guidance in dealing with the many, many people who He sends to care for us and our children throughout the day.  Give me the strength, Lord, to bear the labors of these days.

I fully expected to be writing a notes post today.  I am now officially half way through my pregnancy, and feeling great.  Unfortunately, I drove to the ER with Hope this morning for seizure activity that has been developing recently.  They discovered a brain bleed; we don’t know if the two are connected, though I suspect they are.  We don’t have any answers yet, just more questions than we came in with.

Please pray for our sweet girl and for the other children, as separations due to hospitalization is stressful on everyone.  Thank you for being patient with me as my blogging has taken a backseat this week to more urgent family needs.  Thank you for walking with us and carrying us to the Lord in prayer.  We knew our children’s journeys of healing were only just beginning, and though this is a difficult time, it is one more step on Hope’s path to healing.  And we are so honored to be walking it with her.

May God richly bless your Lord’s Day tomorrow and give you the opportunity to partake with Him in the Glories of Heaven through the precious gift of His Body and Blood.  Sweet Hope and I send ya’ll much love from our little hospital room…

18 Notes for 18 Weeks

photo (29)1. Baby is doing great.  Although Mama wasn’t too convinced of that the other night.  I suddenly got super worried that something was wrong.  I felt a kick about two weeks ago and then nothing… at all.  I kept thinking “Any day now…”  And after about two weeks of that I started to be concerned.  Thankfully my midwife lives just a few minutes down the road so I hopped in my car and drove over to check fundal height, hear the heartbeat and get my peace of mind back.  All went awesomely, I felt much better and then…

2. She brought out the ultrasound machine.  I knew she had it, but I did tell her we don’t really do routine ultrasounds.  I’m not a big fan.  I mean I am crunchy, right?? Crunchies don’t do routine ultrasounds… Ok so justification time started in my head. This wasn’t really “routine” after all… and it is a low-level ultrasound so it shouldn’t be too bad… right?  And it might be fun to see the baby just once… ahem.  So I didn’t object.  I was sad Jake wasn’t there to see too, but I did take pictures!  And oh-my-goodness how adorable, and I feel like a first time, giddy mama all over again.

Here is Mambo’s very first picture, baby is looking straight at the camera with super sweet eyes and pooched out lips.  Ack!  Can’t stand the cuteness.  And yes, I have always judged moms who think their babies’ ultrasounds are cute, I mean come on… really?  But I can’t help it… I just want to squish those chubby little adorable tiny cheeks!

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In this picture the baby looks a tad bit more alien-ish, but you can see the whole body and the tiny little legs that were kicking and trying to get comfortable after we disturbed the poor little one with the big, prodding stick.  And, yes, they were kicking the placenta… which is why I don’t feel it.  Good to know!

photo 2 (4)

And the last one is possibly a favorite, you can just barely see some fuzziness by the face here (it’s a side-profile).  That’s baby sucking it’s fingers!!  I got to see the sucking motions on the ultrasound screen and they were so clear and it was just breathtaking.  I was smiling from ear to ear the whole way home.  Made. My. Week.

photo 3 (4)

3. God’s Newest Children!  Jacob and Hope were both baptized on Sunday.  Praise God!  It was all quite wonderful and I can’t wait (literally) for people to send me pictures so I can tell you all about it!!

4. So many things, so little time…  This was definitely one of our busiest weeks so far.  Jake did have his day off on Monday, mostly, though he did have a couple hours of work to do.  And the rest of the days have been chock full of pastoral duties.  He was doing so many visits and extra services that today is an office day, as he didn’t get his usual office stuff done during the week.  I think we handled it pretty well though, which is encouraging with Advent peering around the corner!

5.  Learning to reach out.  Zhanna Hope has bug bites right now.  She scratches them until they bleed, poor baby!  Two nights ago she was furiously attempting to itch them and Daddy was sitting with her making sure she couldn’t get to them.  Such spunk this girlie has; she tried everything.  One time she had her hands innocently up by her face, then slowly, nonchalantly moved it onto her leg and… itch, itch, itch!  She got him on that one.  She also had lifted a piece of foam she was playing with up by her leg for a while and hid her scratching under that.  She is wicked smart.

Once Daddy caught on and took her hiding spot away, I think she realized the game was up.  She made the saddest most awful pouty face you have ever seen, then glared at her Dad and tried to scratch obstinately… while he was watching.  He moved her hand away and she looked like she was going to burst into tears!  She didn’t, but boy was she mad.  I knew it was distraction time, so I came to save the day!  I put on my most fun, sweet mommy voice on and said “Come here sweet girlie.”  As soon as she heard me she looked up and reached her arms out!!  She has never ever done this before.  She has allowed us to pick her up before; she has enjoyed being picked up before… but this is the very first time I have seen her so plainly ask for me to hold her.  We were stunned and so excited for this new milestone!

6. She called me Mama!  Yes, she really did, I think!  Ok, so the very next day after the first bug bite incident, we were sitting in the living room and she was trying to scratch again.  I was sitting there this time, covering it with my hand.  After a few minutes of that she started moaning, like she does when she’s grumpy, but it wasn’t just a moan it was a “Mamaaa!”  I immediately turned to her and said “Da Zhanna?  Mama?  Mama slushaiyu Zhanna.”  (Yes Zhanna?  Mommy is listening to you.)  I said it a few times and she was tickled about the Russian but no more attempts to communicate her unhappiness.  So I turned away and sure enough, not a minute later “Maamaaaaaaaa!”  Then I played and distracted and cuddled on her for a bit and no more grumpies :)

Mama was one of the babbling sounds she made when she was still in the orphanage, but this is the first time I feel like she really used it appropriately in context, so I am cautiously super excited :)  Is it possible to be cautiously super excited?

7. Jacob has been having some great days too!  For the first time in weeks he went an entire day yesterday without raging about something, and we’re still going strong today!  He’s also started calling me “Mamitchka” again, which I haven’t heard in quite a while.  Our bonding was pretty temporarily damaged by all the visitors and craziness last weekend, but things are finally starting to get back to awesome and we’re thrilled!

8. Hope had her first swim!  Ok so it wasn’t “swimming”, but she did sit in the pool and she did splash in the water and she did have a really great time!  She sat happily there for a good 45 minutes at least, and she usually hates being outside that long.  I was ecstatic and can’t wait to get her in the water more often.  I am a real fish so it’s always fun for me when my kiddos enjoy the water too!

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9. Sleeping Beauty.  When you adopt, the little things really do become the big things.  This is true for all parents I think, but especially for parents of children with special needs and those that come from hard places.  For her whole life Hope had done nothing but lay in a crib.  The first time we saw her in a stroller she was scared to death of it.  She got used to that fairly quickly, but falling asleep not in a bed?  Not happening.  She has always needed to be laying down.  But the other day we were playing outside on a summery, warm afternoon and I caught her doing this…

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You go baby girl!  I was stoked.  She fell asleep in her stroller… sitting up. 😀  Maybe this means we’ll be able to take longer car rides soon?

10. A Blessed Bounty.  I couldn’t write about the past week without mentioning the amazing welcome home gift we were given by the congregations in our area.  They overwhelmingly surprised us with a huge shower of gifts for our family.  I came close to tears unpacking everything and laying it out.  The love from so many… it’s just too much to take in all at once sometimes.  Thank you.  Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

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11. What About Matins?  Umm… oh yeah, do I keep saying we’re going to start that soon?  Hmm… remind me next week.

12. Whole 30 Prep.  In other news, we’re eating all our junk and gearing up for the Whole 30 on Monday!!  Woohoo!  I cannot wait to see our family back on good, real food.  Seriously.  Tomorrow is the big throw-away-everything-non-compliant party.  Remember to join us on the forums!  Here is a link to the thread I created just for our team: September 2014: Team Awesome

13. My Babies (Attachment Update).  Some adoptive parents say that in the first weeks home with their new child they look at them and feel like they are babysitting someone else’s kid.  I must admit, this is how it has felt with Hope and Jacob most days… but this last week something amazing has happened.  All that love I have been acting out is starting to have feeling behind it again.  Several times I have looked at my new children and thought “That is my baby.”  I am bonding and attaching and feeling more and more like the Mommy these children should have always had from the day they were born.  I am beginning to honestly, truly adore these blessings from Heaven.  I’ve seen their dark moments, watched their tantrums, changed their dirty clothes, lost sleep for their sake, been annoyed and frustrated and at my limit… and yet… I still feel so much love for these little people.  It really is starting to come.  We are starting to feel like the family that we are.

14. I’m not the only one!  Jake and I have talked about this and we both sense the feelings growing toward our new littles.  But it’s not just us.  This morning Daddy overheard Evie and Stephen fighting over whose sister Hope was.  It was happily resolved when Daddy intervened and let them know that she was both of their sisters.  😀

15. Hymns are the medicine of the soul.  I have started a new thing where, when I feel frazzled during the day, I just start singing hymns.  We flip through the hymnal and sing for however long or until I can think of something better to do.  Some children enjoy it more than others, but they all love it when it’s their turn to pick a hymn.  Having the words and melodies in our home is like a healing balm on the craziness of our days.  It’s my favorite way to do Mommy Time Outs, because let’s face it, sometimes we need one too!

16.  First Gymnastics Classes.  After a few months of hiatus Evangeline is back in gymnastics.  I think the break was the best thing for her.  She was getting overwhelmed by it, but after being away for a while she was excited to get back and more ready to master the skills than before.  Stephen is also just begging to have “his turn” at the gym.  I’m going to ask about getting him in a Spring class even though technically he’ll be a little young.  He is definitely ready, and potty trained so… bonus right?

17. Kids are too honest.  Conversation with Evie today….

Me: Would you like me to get you a cookie?
Evie: Yes, but I can get it myself.
Me: Oh, you can?
Evie: Yes, because I’m a big girl now.  I’m four and not little at all anymore.

*Part of my Mommy heart breaks a little…*

18. The honesty of kids makes my heart smile… and my favorite note.  The last one because it happened just tonight!  Jacob told me he loved me.  I was saying good night and I love you and he replied “I love you too mom.”  He said it in his not-so-clear way, but I heard every word.  It stopped me in my tracks.  Never before has he told me he loves me in Russian or in English.  This was the first time.  I really believe him.  My heart is full.

The Picture that Pierced My Soul

Sometimes when you go through crazy things, super stressful, super hectic, crazy, surreal times… times that just pass by like a whirlwind of madness… you miss things, like emotions.  I remember holding our daughter in her orphanage.  I remember encircling her thigh with my thumb and finger.  I remember her paleness and her limp body as she struggled through being drugged and hungry.  But I don’t remember feeling any particular way.  I wasn’t incredibly angry or horrified or saddened.  It just was what it was, and we knew to expect it before we came.

And now, as I hold and feed and play with my smiling, giggly little girl… it’s hard to remember where she came from or what she was just two short months ago.  The last few weeks I have had so many comments on her pictures, how much better she looks, how much progress she is already making.  And I will admit I didn’t quite know what they were all talking about.  Then I happened across a picture of her, newly home.  She was sickly thin and pale… it shocked me a little.  I just didn’t realize how much she’d changed, and I hadn’t remembered the state she was in when we brought her home.  The emotions you’d think I would have had initially began slowly creeping in.

And then today… I saw this.

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I couldn’t breathe when I saw it.  I had forgotten all about this picture, taken by my husband when they were stuck that week in Kiev.  That pained look on her face?  Constant.  Her diapers?  Size 3.  Her hair so coarse and matted… her skin translucent from a lack of sun or any kind of fat that might serve to hide the veins underneath.  Her hand poised to jab at her throat.  It was a 24/7 battle to keep her from hurting herself.  She just didn’t know another way to cope.

Tears come when I see this photograph, this little sickly girl that I had forgotten about so quickly…  All that she had been through in her nine years came to fruition in this one, tragic picture.  My heart can hardly bear the abandonment, the grief, the pain, the neglect that her young soul has carried.  And not only do I see her, but I see the other children.  The little girl just like ours being visited by her daddy in the orphanage.  The sadness in his eyes, the reality that she is never going home with him… or with anyone.  I see the faces of the waiting children who can be adopted but who do not have families yet.  I see the need of thousands of orphans in laying rooms all over Eastern Europe… wasting away just as our precious girl was doing.  So much suffering… and yet…

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We still have so much Hope.  I might have forgotten that sickly girl, because she so quickly came alive into the bubbly, feisty princess she is today.  No longer does she scream in pain or fear from simple things like being laid down or being fed a meal.  She is now in size 5 diapers and rapidly outgrowing those.  Her hair is becoming soft and lovely, and her skin is a healthy color.  She is filling in beautifully after having gained six pounds.  She no longer has a constant need for stimming and self harming; she knows that comfort doesn’t always have to come from her own two hands or at the cost of a painful jab.  She is being transformed through love.

And although I know so many little girls will never come home to be their Daddy’s Little Princess… they are true princesses of the Father in Heaven.  And one day… love will transform them too.  It will transform all of us who have been given Hope.  Lord may healing come ever swiftly to your little ones with no place to lay their heads and no arms to hold them tight.  Bring their earthly families soon and prepare for them eternal mansions with You.  Mothers and fathers… see your lost child and come to them quickly.  Lord Jesus, come quickly to us all.  Amen.

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