Thursday, May 30, 2013
On the wall to the left of my desk, I tape pictures of Elijah. They have been there for about two years, and I add pictures whenever I am lucky enough to get another. I keep them up to remind myself to pray for him and to advocate for him.
As if I need the reminder.
Looking at his face just makes me smile--not unlike the faces of my other children. I feel like Elijah is "mine" in a way I can't describe to anyone. He's not mine through birth or adoption; we've only met once, yet I love him.
Last August, right before Elijah turned 6, he left his foster home for a few weeks in order to undergo surgery and casting for his club foot. What he did not know was that he wouldn't return. He was transferred to a different foster home. His foster parents were not informed about this in advance either, and were shocked and saddened when they got the news. The couple's son, Paul, and Elijah had become best friends and felt like brothers. They didn't get to say goodbye, either.
Luckily, Elijah ended up going to a wonderful group home for kids with special needs, called An Orphan's Wish. John and I found him through some detective work, and some good friends' connections. We were able to become one of his sponsors.
So, even though his day-to-day life and all he knew and loved were abruptly taken away from him, at least we knew where he was. I could forward news and pictures on to his former foster parents. We could keep track of his life.
I can't stress enough how awful disruption is for young kids. It makes kids learn to not trust, to not love too deeply because you never know when those people are going to disappear from your life.
It makes you hyper-vigalent, looking for signs and clues that another change might be coming. Because no one told you about the last big moves in your life, there might be another one around the corner.
It causes learned helplessness. Because you don't feel any control over your own life. A "why bother" attitude develops over time, a depression.
If you are lucky enough to get placed in a family, it is so very hard to believe that this is forever. It is so very hard to let yourself trust and love, after losing loved ones so many times before. It's easier to push people away before they push you away or leave you; that way, you never have to risk getting hurt.
An Orphan's Wish recently announced that due to political and social pressure against foreign-supported foster group homes, it is closing.
Elijah will be moving again.
We are just heartbroken for him.
It brings up again all of the frustration and anger about the fact that we have wanted him for so very long and he is still without a family.
Our only consolation right now is that there is a very small chance that he will be allowed to go back to his former foster parents, the ones who were so very devastated to lose him a year ago .
Will you pray for that with me?
Another tiny glimmer of hope is that our adoption agency directors are visiting China right now, and are requesting that Elijah's file be assigned to them. Then, we would be able to adopt him. As of now, he has not been matched through the Italian adoption agency that has a one-to-one agreement with his orphanage. These requests are not always granted, but it cannot hurt to ask…
Even as we are jumping up and down in excitement about meeting Christopher in just two weeks, we are saddened by the thought of our other little boy, about to be moved again. We wonder if he knows that he is moving. Have some of his friends already left? Does he just feel the tension in the air? Kids are so intuitive. Especially ones from "hard places."
Even as we plan my trip to China to bring home our baby boy, we keep completing the paperwork for another older boy's adoption. Its a huge leap of faith; our agency has stressed again and again that this will probably not happen.
But, if a miracle occurs, we want to be prepared.
Monday, May 27, 2013
Me: So, Peter, you are almost done with Kindergarten! Wow!
Peter: I know!
Me: What was your favorite thing about Kindergarten?
Peter: Reading Fun Tales
Me: Did you like doing school at home this year?
Me: What did you like most about it?
Peter: That your mom gets to teach you.
Me: I loved teaching you! Anything else?
Peter: Umm…I liked that we could do school fast and then have lots of time to play.
Me: Did you miss anything about going to school?
Peter: Ummm…the playground. There was this twisty monkey bars thing that you could go down and go round and round and round.
Me: Yeah, it is a good playground.
Did you miss anything else?
Peter: No. Well, I liked Wacky Wednesday!
Me: Well, we could do that here? Would you like to do that?
Me: I love you. Congratulations on almost finishing Kindergarten.
Peter: Thanks, Mom.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
We got out T.A. yesterday: this is our "travel approval" from China's central adoption organization. It is basically the last piece of paperwork we need before we can apply for our visas and book our flight and hotel!!
We now know our dates: I am leaving on Friday June 14th, getting to Hong Kong on the 15th, driving to China (or being driven, I should say) on the 16th, and meeting Christopher on the 17th!!
This adoption has moved so quickly; so unlike our other adoptions. This fact, and the fact that we already have 4 kids, has made this adoption a blur. I can't believe it is actually happening!
I am traveling alone this time. Separation anxiety has been very real for our adopted kiddos, and they would not do well with both parents gone for so long.
We brought Nicholas with us when we adopted Ellie and it was, in many ways, a good experience (especially when we got to meet her together for the first time!), but it was also very stressful for him. Nicholas, like many kids who were neglected as infants, gets dysregulated easily: if we add time changes, new foods and a lack of a routine to the situation, it can get ugly. I recall one time we were in an official registrar's office signing important documents and Nicholas was all over the place, just ju,ping up and down, singing and being silly. I asked him to stop multiple times, and he didn't Finally, he bumped into me as I was signing a form, and I snapped at him (I know! Bad mommy!) Then he started crying and would not stop. I mean would. not. stop. We brought him out into the hallway to try to calm him down but he just could not. Eventually, other office workers in this government building started sticking their heads out of their office doors and wondering what was going on. It seriously sounded like we were torturing Nicholas by the way he was wailing. I started to panic, thinking that Nicholas could be taken away from us. Here we were, these two Westerners, in the middle of a not-so-cosmopolitan part of China holding a screaming Chinese boy, who was yelling "I HATE YOU!!!" (I was praying no one there knew English).
To make a long story short, he eventually calmed down, but we have thought twice about going on such a trip with kids again. I mean, an adoption trip is no Disney Cruise. It involves a lot of boring meetings, official appointments, and long bus/ car/ plan rides. Even an adult needs an extra dose of patience and endurance to get through those two weeks.
Nicholas was 5 when we travelled to bring home Ellie. Right now, Ellie is only 3, so when we contemplated bringing her with us to China, we had to think about impulse-control issues as well. Ellie does not always listen we we tell her "no" or "stop," and those of you who have been in a Chinese city know that a small child (or a linebacker) would not stand a chance walking into the street without serious planning.
So, we have decided that I will go alone. John will stay home with the kids, with the help of a beloved nanny and my parents.
I am starting to get a little nervous about the trip: not because I don't like traveling alone (I really do!), but because both times I've been in China before, I got really sick. One time food poisoning, one time just a really terrible virus. Please please please don't let me get sick this time.
I am also having anxiety about leaving the kids. I mean, we are together 24/7. Ellie, especially, is at my side all the time. She is my "best friend ever," as she likes to say. She is NOT happy about me leaving, and I really hope she is not too upset while I am gone. I think the best thing we have done with parenting Nicholas has been keeping him really close. We have witnessed his anxiety and emotional barriers really melt away slowly, and now we have such a healthy attachment. If I could do things all over again, I would have homeschooled him from the beginning, and also let him sleep in our room (those things have been so helpful with Ellie). So I am not thrilled with the idea of leaving Ellie for a couple of weeks, but am praying that it only serves to demonstrate to her what I always say: "Mommy always comes back!"
Anyway, didn't mean for this post to be so long. If you haven't stopped reading, I thank you!!
Friday, May 17, 2013
A few days before Olivia left for Greece (sob), we had our annual Box Day.
It's the day we get our curriculum from Sonlight in big boxes.
I swear it's like Christmas morning.
So many goodies inside.
Everyone is shouting: "who is this for?", "Is this MY science book?" "Ooooh, look at this!"
It's barely contained chaos.
I love it!
Box Day -- Sonlight's idea, not mine -- creates excitement around books and other learning tools.
I'm already a total nerd about books and notebooks and office supplies, and I'm glad to see that the kids have inherited that passion.
Here's to Homeschool Year #2, coming this fall.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
I am doing a virtual Bible study through one of my favorite blogs (yes, I have a lot of favorite blogs, but this was like my 'gateway blog,' the one that started my adoption/big family blog obsession), Nihao Y'all. We are actually doing more of a book club, and reading The Reason for God by Timothy Keller.
I have read a lot of books on Christianity in the last two years. Some have been helpful, and some have actually caused my faith to retreat a bit. Not because what they say isn't true, but because the cultural divide is so big that I feel like I don't fit in the world that the book creates. Does that make sense? I think I am just not part of the demographic that the author had in mind: I am not from a strict Christian home, I am not a conservative Republican, I don't attend a mega-church, and I am still not sure of all the lingo (what is this being "convicted" business? what is an "altar call"? Why do I have to "have a heart" for Jesus or for children or for fundraising, instead of just liking/loving these things?)
Keller's book, in contrast, made me feel right at home. He is a New Yorker (maybe not born and raised, but he is the lead pastor at a church in Manhattan), he is very logical with his approach, and his lingo tends to be more, what can I call it, mainstream or at least what I am used to. He addressed every cynical, doubtful thought I've ever had instead of assuming I am past them already. He does not dumb things down: his book is full of references not just from C.S. Lewis (the Christian go-to intellectual) but quotes theologians, philosophers and critics (he mentions Derrida, Stanley Fish, and Foucault!) that fall outside the realm of most contemporary Christian books I've read.
What I have found most interesting so far is that Keller points out the category into which I think I partly fit: the "young Christian" (I don't know if I am exactly young, but go with me here…). Keller explains that religiosity has changed significantly over recent decades:
three generations ago, most people inherited rather than chose their religious faith. The great majority of people belonged to one of the historic, mainline Protestant churches or the Roman Catholic Church. Today, however, the now-dubbed "old-line" Protestant churches or cultural, inherited faith are aging and losing members rapidly
As these churches shrink, some people become non-religious, following a secular, humanistic outlook, while an equally increasing number of people find their way to a new kind of church, one that "expects members to have a conversion experience." The people who attend these churches do not fit neatly into the category of liberal Democrat or conservative Republican:
the new fast-spreading multiethnic orthodox Christianity in the cities is much more concerned about the poor and social justice than Republicans have been, and at the same time much more concerned about upholding classic Christian moral and sexual ethics than Democrats have been
Now, I don't know how much time I spend thinking about sexual ethics, but this social justice part really jumped off the page for me. Yes! To me, this is what Jesus is all about. His total radical focus on the poor, the misfits, the lepers. THAT is what made me want to be a Christian: when I saw what the missionaries who took care of Nicholas were doing in China: serving, using their lives for God instead of for nicer kitchens and Disney cruises (and I'm indicting myself here, because we have spent our time and money on those very things), I wanted my life to be about that.
Francis Chan's Crazy Love and David Platt's Radical won me over. I want to be THAT kind of Christian. Not the sitting in a pew, judging others type of Christian.
Now it has taken me some time -- and I am not quite there yet -- to make the leap from that desire to the belief that a man named Jesus had to die on the cross so that I, a sinner due to Eve's original sin, will have eternal life with the Father…but I am working on it.
Reading the Gospels is helping me get there.
Attending an awesome, multicultural, contemporary, accepting church is helping me get there.
Meeting awesome friends in the adoption community is helping me get there.
And just plain prayer is helping me get there.
I still fight doubt and cynicism every day, every moment actually. But, as Keller says, today's faith calls us to use doubt as a tool for a deeper understanding of Spirit. I like that. If God is big enough to encompass my questions and my doubts, then I might have found a soft place for my searching to rest.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
I must be getting sentimental because I am traveling to bring home my sweet Christopher in about 6 weeks (!!).
Or perhaps its just that I am always sentimental about Nicholas.
I spent Mother's Day creating this video about meeting my oldest boy for the first time, of our adoption journey in China and the first few days home.
There is nothing more magical than adoption.
Childbirth was wonderful, too. You all know I loved being pregnant, and I would love love LOVE another pregnancy.
But, pregnancy and childbirth is the assumption; its the way people expect you to make a family.
Adoption is often a sweet surprise.
Adoption is also about taking a sad situation and turning it into something wonderful. I think we are wired to love a redemption story.
And both a little boy and his parents were redeemed in the story below:
For Olivia's 9th birthday this year, Olivia decided to hold a cupcake sale in lieu of a party.
This was not just an ordinary cupcake sale, but part of a nation wide Cupcake Kids campaign organized by Sixty Feet, a non-profit that helps the imprisoned kids in Uganda. (Yes, some orphans are put in prisons in Uganda because there is simply no where else for them to go. These are some of the millions of kids that will most likely never make it onto an international adoption waiting child list.)
All of the kids got in on the fun, including Peter (standing like a robot) and his friend Finn.
And Ellie, who is helping us between moments of frog-catching.
I don't have a picture of Nicholas, but he was very excited to be the banker. He handled all of the cash-ola and was please indeed to announce our grand total of $209 profit.
After a hard day of peddling sweets, these Cupcake Kids went off for a fun evening at the theatre, seeing Cirque Shanghai. I love how they still hold hands at age 9. These two have been besties since they were born.
That evening we celebrated with an ice cream cake (and tirimisu for the grown-ups). I don't know if it is apparent from the picture, but there was a miscommunication and this ice cream cake was put in the fridge instead of the freezer. By the time we realized this, it was flat as a pancake. Incredibly, the kids said they like melted ice cream cake better than the frozen ones, and now they all want to melt their cakes on their birthdays, too.
Happy Birthday, my big girl! You are my such a compassionate, smart, sassy, love of a girl. I am so blessed that you made me a mommy 9 years ago. I love you!!
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Last week I had the amazing opportunity to go to Summit 9, which is a large annual conference put on by CAFO about adoption, foster care, and responsibly dealing with the worldwide orphan crisis.
I still can't believe that I actually went, and got to be a part of it. This is the kind of thing I read about in blogs and on Facebook and think "wow, I will do that one day when my kids are bigger."
But I have been realizing lately that, for me, waiting until my kids are grown is not going to work. So much of life will pass me by before all of my kids are grown. And, especially because we are homeschooling now, there are not going to be many child-free opportunities that just happen to fall into my lap. I am going to have to be very intentional about finding time for things that matter to me.
Plus, I am wasting so many opportunities to show my kids what faith in action, and living for others looks like.
So, off to Nashville I went.
I also cannot believe how blessed I am that my sister/friend/kindred spirit, Zoe, was able to join me. I just can't believe were able to get away! We haven't seen each other without kids since Zoe's wedding! Even if Zoe and I had met each other in a cornfield I would have had an amazing time, but the fact that I got to see her AND got to delve into my passion at the same time was a small miracle.
Summit was held at Brentwood Baptist Church, and I have never been to a church quite like this. Zoe said it looked like a college campus, and she is so right (this picture just does not do it justice). It was enormous and it was easy to get lost. The building had its own coffee bar, and basketball court, and so many wings I can't tell you. Just one of the rooms looked about the size of a church in Princeton. I am guessing they can't hold the next Summit in New Jersey because we don't have churches like that here!
One of the most exciting thing for me was meeting Adeye Salem (above). Her blog, No Greater Joy Mom is one of my favorites. It has been so inspiring and challenging, and it has honestly changed me and my view of what I can 'handle'. Before reading her blog, I had never really thought about what it would be like to adopt kids with special needs. I mean, Nicholas and Ellie are considered "special need" adoptions because of their cleft lips and palates, but that special need always seemed minor to me because it is correctable and does not hinder 'normal' life. Sure, we have more surgeries and therapies going on than most families, but that is really manageable.
What seemed unmanageable to me was something like Downs Syndrome, or Cerebral Palsy, or blindness. Adeye has children who have all these diagnoses. And she counts herself as blessed by them. What a gift is has been to read her blog daily for years. It has changed the way I see Downs Syndrome, in particular. I think that most special needs seem scary because they are unknown to us. Once they become part of your 'normal,' they no longer hold the weight they once did; they become no big deal. Reading Adeye's blog, getting a glimpse of her life, has normalized parenting Downs Syndrome for me, and I really thank her for being so transparent and open with her family.
It was really fun to meet (and hug) Adeye. I told Zoe I felt like was meeting Beyonce!
I hope that one day John and I are blessed with a child with Downs Syndrome. (Which reminds me, I have to record how my prayers for a certain little girl with DS was just answered…I'll save that for another post…)
Show Hope was another organization I was excited to see (that's their Big Red Bus above). Show Hope was started by Steven Curtis Chapman, and is an organization that helps to support families who want to adopt but need financial help to do so. They also built Maria's Big House of Love, which is a phenomenal care center for orphans with medical needs in Ellie's home province, Henan.
Zoe and I saw Mary Beth Chapman speak, and Steven Curtis Chapman perform (below).
special needs kids. It was so wonderful to be surrounded by "my people," others who love adoption, parents who know without a doubt that you can love your adopted kids as much as you can your bio ones, people who know that caring for the orphan goes beyond politics, or convenience, or practicality.
The words on this prayer wall below say it all:
it is really that simple. Every kid needs a bed, a place to belong, a family.
Although CAFO has been criticized (you can read that here, if you dare), and Stuck, a documentary about international adoption, has been criticized here, as has international adoption in general, all of the arguments seem like such nonsense to me after actually seeing orphanages, really meeting kids without parents or who are in crisis situations, AND after seeing what that adoption community, the Christian adoption community in particular, has done to make great strides in alleviating the suffering of our young.
You can talk all you want about imperialism, conservative Christian imperatives, trying to minimalize corruption, and striving to keep children in their original families or birth countries…but in the meantime, lets work together to get those kids out of institutions where we can all agree they do not thrive.
Nothing is improved by letting kids sit in orphanages.
And EVERYTHING is to be gained by loving these children.