Friday, September 23, 2016

Will You Still Love Me?

I confess that I have a really hard time when people tell us how wonderful we are for adopting, how great it is that we've given David and Daniel such a loving family, how amazing we are...

I can't internalize that kind of praise, because I don't feel like it's true. In reality, I know that Charly and I have made all kinds of mistakes. We are selfish, and we get impatient and irritable with our kids way more than we wish we did.

In 2014, at our one year post adoption home study, Charly told our social worker that we went into adoption thinking that we had a loving home we could offer to orphans. But God has shown us that He brought David and Daniel into our family because He wanted to teach us how to love.

If anyone has a picture-perfect idea about our family, come live with us for a day. You'll see that we are definitely still a work in progress in learning how to love.

Last week David had an issue at school and he wasn't honest with us about it. As I thought about what would have motivated him to lie, I knew that it must have been fear that we would be upset with him if we knew the truth. So as we were getting on our shoes to walk to school the next morning, I asked him, “Do you know that we still love you when you make mistakes?

He looked at me for a long time. And then he said, “No.”

It was a defining moment.

And I knew that truth needed to be spoken into his wounded, fearful heart...

“We do still love you when you make mistakes. And it's very important that you know that.”

I shared this story with a friend yesterday about how it revealed a weakness in our parenting, an area we need to grow in, a truth we need to be more intentional about communicating.

And she said, “Yes. But it's also part of David's story, and the effect of his years of growing up in the orphanage, of his learning to believe that he's always loved.”

No longer an orphan but a son.

Treasured and beloved.

And we really long to communicate God's unconditional love better than we do. To teach David and Daniel that while we want them to make good choices and do what they know to be right, when they make mistakes (as we all do) that we still love them.

It's an ongoing journey for Charly and me to learn. To see ourselves as God's beloved. And then to show our children that they are treasured by us and by God. For who they are. Not for what they do.

We're thankful that after all the ways we've fallen short and after all the mistakes we've made in our parenting, God's love for us hasn't changed.

Grace.



Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Living the Question

In Searching For Home, M. Craig Barnes writes:

When the Hebrews left slavery in Egypt and were making their way through the hard lessons of the wilderness...they were sustained by the daily gift of manna. This was a “fine flaky substance” that came as the blessing of bread from heaven. For the next forty years it served as the staple for the Hebrew diet. It had to be collected every morning, and everybody had to gather their own basketful.

Other than that, we don't know a thing about the bread from heaven. Neither did the Hebrews, who gave it the name manna because the word means, “What is it?” Every morning the mothers would gather some “What is it?” and place it on the table. Their children would ask, as they always do, “What is it?” and the moms would say, “Well, yes.”


It is striking that their daily nourishment through the purgatory of the wilderness was found in a question. This means that the manna was something of a sacrament that offered a ritualistic way of renewing the terms of their relationship with God.

As they took the manna into their bodies, they were also taking a question into their souls. “What is it, God, that you are doing? What are you asking me to leave behind, to do, to become?” Nothing is more nourishing for the soul than asking that question, because it takes the focus off of our dreams and resources, both of which have run dry, and it turns our faces toward the dreams of God that only he can deliver...

It is not our job to answer the question. That's God's responsibility, and he will fulfill it by the slow transformation of our lives. In time, we will see what God is doing, but by then we will feel less like worms crawling our way out of slavery and more like butterflies who are carried home on the gentle breeze of new mercies.

Later in the wilderness sojourn, some of the Hebrews got fed up with the uncertainty that had become their daily regimen of grace. So they started to complain saying, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic: but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” As any nomad will tell you, a prayer that begins with the words “if only” is very dangerous because you may receive what you want, and then how will you explain your unhappiness?

We are told that it was the rabble among the Hebrews that got them complaining. This was a group that they brought with them from Egypt who were not true believers in God or in the transformation he would bring to their lives...The rabble's toleration for discomfort was low, and their capacity for complaint was high. That's both an unfortunate and infectious combination. It doesn't take much for the “strong craving” of the rabble to get everyone worked up into a lather of anxiety. That's when they all began to say, “If only we had meat to eat.”

The most dangerous rabble are not the complaining people around us, but the rabble that lives in every human heart...tempting us to be anxious, making us doubt God's love for us, and thus our devotion to him...

If asking “What is it?” is the means by which our faith in God's transforming work is nurtured, then complaining, “If only” may be seen as the anti-manna. When we ask questions of God for which we are not given immediate answers, we find room for faith to grow. Faith is what binds us to God when we don't see how all of this is leading us to the right place in life. Nothing is more deadly than turning our faces back to Egypt and saying “If only”...

Speaking these words preoccupies us with either the future or the past. It assures us that our happiness lies in those places that implicitly define our present life by what is missing. Thus, the words “if only” are always a judgment upon the present day...

Here's the great danger: when the present tense disappears in your life, so does the manna. The mysterious, life-giving, blessed grace of God only comes in the day you have. If you miss that daydreaming about the future or longing for the past, your soul will never find its only source of nurture and you'll never survive the journey. Without the ability to see what God is doing today you are always anxious, never at home, and thus never joyful.

The ninety-fifth Psalm depicts God's response to those who complained their way through the journey by constantly lamenting “if only” and living in a day other than the one they were given. The Lord said, “For forty years I loathed that generation and said, 'They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.'” Throughout the Bible we are given this same consistent message. Nothing grates on God quite as much as our complaining. He doesn't respond as strongly to our many other sins, even idolatry, as he does to our complaints. God just loathes complainers.

That's because they will never find their way home by complaining that the road is too hard. It's supposed to be hard. That's what turns us to God.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Unfinished

This week I've shared several posts from pieces I've written in the past. Mostly these posts have been to help me process what I heard at Daniel's neuropsych exam last week. I needed to reflect on Daniel's story and remember that It is His Miracle and He Will Provide. I could tell that I was starting to let the story God is writing get clouded by worry about the future, so it was good for me to remember the ways He has provided for Daniel this past year through a sweet classmate and an exceptional teacher. To help me keep trusting that He will continue to provide. To keep believing that He is still in control. And to keep holding on to hope in Him, because His plans are still good.


The two physicians who examined Daniel last Wednesday were very friendly and they kept asking me if I had any questions. But they seemed to treat Daniel as a “case” not as a person. And their evaluation seemed kind of cold and lacking in hope. I was expecting to get an assessment of how Daniel's brain is working, along with some ideas on how we could make adjustments to help him learn better. There was definitely some of that, but the assessment seemed more focused on the long-term implications of his disabilities. It surprised me that one of the examiners even used the word “retarded,” because I didn't think that word was used anymore. They told me that I could put Daniel on a waiting list now for a group home after he turns 18. It wasn't at all the kind of report I was expecting to hear.

It wasn't that the report was new news. But the unexpectedness of receiving these kind of results and the unhopefulness of the examiners led my heart to be flooded with grief. And as I asked myself, “Why is this so hard for me?” I realized that I had been holding on to hope for breakthroughs for Daniel. For him to be “fixed,” made more whole.

My hope for the neuropsych exam was to discover a certain way of helping him learn that would bring significant changes for him academically. (It didn't.)


My hope for his sleep study in July was that we would gain insight into what was going on with his brain at night, that might address his memory issues. He received a diagnosis of restless leg syndrome and a new medication to try with the potential of better sleep and significantly improved attention span. (But we haven't seen any change.) 


My hope for his gait lab study in April was for improvement in his walking and running. (But he is still dragging his left foot even with the new leg brace and has already worn a hole in his shoe.) 


So the results of his neuropsych exam actually exposed these different unrealized hopes I had been holding on to, as well as my fears: What if he doesn't make progress? What if his strange behaviors are still here in 10 years? in 20 years? What if learning will always be slow and a struggle for him? Maybe he will only reach a 4th-6th grade level academically. And never be able to live independently.

As my fears have been uncovered, God has been speaking to me about them. “I am still sovereign over Daniel's life. Why worry about the future?

If Daniel doesn't show improvement in these areas of concern, that doesn't make him less of a person. The way that he is right now, God has declared to be good. While I can still rejoice in whatever progress he makes along the way, I can let go of my hopes for significant breakthroughs that will “fix him” or change him into a different person.

I can rejoice in who he is, not just in the progress he is making.

This revolutionary idea comes from a great article I read last week by special needs mom Heather Kirnlanier who describes what radical acceptance looks like:

“It seems that our jobs as family members is to practice radical acceptance of our loved ones. Even in times of healing or recovery. Even while a person might also be working toward change, or progress, or gross motor goals, or feeding goals, or more stable mental wellness…. Even while we are helping them work toward these goals, as any parent of a kid with disabilities, or “special needs,” is doing. We are attending occupational therapy with them. We are modeling an AAC system for them. We are offering them spoonfuls of vary-textured purees. But if we do this with the anxiety of wanting them different, with the clenched jaw of nervous hope—the hope that this act, this spoon, this therapeutic hour will change them into something or someone else, someone we desire—our efforts backfire. Our desire to want our loved ones to be different will serve as a small eclipse between us and the solar source of our love.”

God has also spoken to me through the Grace-filled sermon series we've been listening to by Jonathan Cleveland. On September 4, his message was “Grace leaves room for what is unfinished.” He challenged us to ask ourselves “How are you leaving room for the people you love to be unfinished?” He said that it's Christ's job, not our job, to fix other people. We are to bring grace into our relationships. These ideas have been really helpful for me to remember as I think about Daniel's situation.


Yesterday Daniel ran his first cross country race of this season. Last year an adult ran with him at each meet to encourage him to keep running and to help him stay on course (in case he forgot what he was doing and started chasing butterflies). We weren't sure how he would do on his own or if he could even run a full mile. But he did it! I was so proud of him when he came out of the woods, running toward the finish line. I had been talking to another mom, and her son who had finished earlier walked up as I was turning to leave. I overheard him talking about Daniel, so I lingered to hear the mom's response.

“That boy has a problem with his legs so he doesn't run very fast.”

“Right. But look at him running and not giving up.”

“Yeah. He's still running.”

“And that's the whole point.”

Yes, I silently agreed with her. That is the whole point. He hasn't given up. He's still running. He's doing his best. And it doesn't matter what he looks like when he's running or how far he finishes behind everyone else. This is his race, and he's running it with courage.

And while I'm cheering him on to the finish line, I want him to not just hear "run faster" or "become better," but to hear me celebrating the gift of who he is right now.

I want him to know that I'm proud of who he is, which is different than being proud of how far he's come.

Radical acceptance of what is Unfinished.

Because it's part of God's beautiful story of Grace.





Friday, September 16, 2016

The Gift of a Teacher

In addition to Daniel's friend Steven making a huge difference in his life, his 2nd grade teacher Mrs. Hickox has had an incredible impact as well. This is part of what I shared in the spring at our school district's Special Education night to honor her:

Just before Daniel joined our family 2 ½ years ago, he got a serious brain infection and lost pretty much all of his functions. He had to relearn how to walk, talk, use the bathroom, and feed himself. While we can see that he is continuing to make progress from the brain damage he experienced, there have been times on this journey that we have faced real discouragement.

While we were still living in China, we tried teaching Daniel at home and struggled with finding the right balance of pushing him. We didn't want to push him too much, but we also didn't want to expect too little. How could we best motivate him to learn and then help him to remember what he had learned? We really didn't know what he was capable of. When he turned 9, we tried putting him in a Chinese kindergarten with 4-5 year olds, because that seemed to be the best fit for him developmentally. But he had behavior issues there and the teacher didn't really know how to handle him, so we took him out after a few months. I really wondered at that time if he would ever be able to make it in a classroom.

Mrs. Hickox's 2nd grade class before a field trip

Mrs. Hickox has been amazing. I don't use the word “perfect” very often, but I think it is the best way to describe the balance Mrs. Hickox has found for pushing Daniel. She naturally discovered what we struggled to find when we tried teaching him at home (and thought we might pull out all of our hair). She has an incredible gift as a teacher of both nurturing and motivating each one of her students in a very structured environment.

When her students come into her classroom in the morning they line up outside her door, and one-by-one they shake her hand and say, “Good morning Mrs. Hickox. I'm ready to learn.” Over time, Daniel has learned how to say this full sentence too and understand what it means.

Early on in the school year, Mrs. Hickox let us know that Daniel was being disruptive in the mornings. Not wanting to add more burden to her already full plate with all of her other students, my perspective was that if he can't be quiet and respectful then he loses the privilege of being with his classmates. But as we talked, I realized that Mrs. Hickox's desire was to help him grow in meeting her standards. She actually wanted him in the classroom as much as possible. So we worked together on a plan. And that first month after he met his morning goals, he received the Mountain Mover award at the school assembly.

Daniel about to run the gauntlet, beside his XC coach Mrs. Miller

Part of Mrs. Hickox's morning routine is to have a show and tell time on different topics, which has helped Daniel learn how to listen and how to speak in front of his class. They also have a time to shake hands and greet each other by name, which has helped Daniel to learn all of his classmates' names this year. A huge accomplishment for a child who struggles with memory and with the English language.

Daniel sharing a photo book that CJ made for him and David,
with his para Mr. Wayne on the side

Daniel was part of the school cross country club last fall, and Mrs. Hickox was at the finish line of every race. She cheered Daniel on and gave him a double high five and a big hug when he was the last one to cross the finish line. She has helped him to believe that he can accomplish big things when he works hard and doesn't give up. 

Mrs. Hickox in the center and Daniel's now 3rd grade teacher
Mrs. McRae cheering on the left

A year ago we were doubting Daniel could make it in a regular classroom, but he has been in her class almost 80% of his day and he's thriving. Mrs. Hickox has believed in him, motivated him, and worked hard to integrate him into her classroom. We are overwhelmed with gratitude and want to let Mrs. Hickox know that she is a true blessing from God

 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

To the 2nd Grader Who Called Daniel His Friend

Dear Steven,

I'm sure you have no idea the impact you've had. I know that your kindness, your compassion, and your encouraging personality are just part of who you are. Your reaching out to Daniel has not been to draw attention to yourself in any way. You just truly care about others. And I want you to know how much of a difference your caring has made in Daniel's life.

Running for Daniel is not natural or smooth because he was born with spina bifida. And three years ago, just before we adopted him, he got a serious brain infection which left him with some significant developmental delays. I remember on the first day of cross country practice, one little boy laughed when he told me that Daniel's legs “looked like they were going everywhere.”

It would be easy to make fun of Daniel because of the ways he's different and because he still struggles with English. But you haven't laughed at him.

You called him your friend


I'm sure you didn't know that no one had ever called him that before.

You were concerned when he was taking a long time to finish his first cross country meet, and you told me you would wait for him when he was the last one to come out of the woods.

At the next cross country meet, you were excited to see Daniel after the race. I could hear your amazement when you excitedly told Daniel that you had come in first place out of all the 2nd and 3rd graders. But when you told your little brother, “Daniel is my friend,” it was obvious to me that friendship is more important to you than winning.

One morning at cross country practice I saw you running backwards to encourage Daniel to keep running when he wanted to walk. “Come on, Daniel, you're about to finish your second lap.”

Steven, I want you to know that I hope you continue to win races. And I also hope that you never lose your compassionate heart for the one who comes in last.

I just want to say thank you.

For being Daniel's first friend.




Tuesday, September 13, 2016

It is His Miracle and He Will Provide

Did you feel like he was your son?” my friend asked after our first trip to visit Daniel in the Lanzhou Army Hospital. I wished I could have said yes, but my honest answer was “No.” The orphanage staff, who were rotating 2 at a time/24 hour care for him, referred to us as his parents. But the doctor in charge clearly got annoyed with all of our questions and after giving us a brief but grim prognosis of Daniel's viral encephalitis, denied our request for his medical reports. Finally he informed us, after we had visited the hospital 4 days in a row, that we couldn't keep coming every day. Daniel wasn't our son yet. Legally he still belonged to the orphanage. 


I was acutely aware of my lack of motherly connection to Daniel, as I watched him lying there with vacant eyes on the hospital bed. “God, is it even possible for me to love this boy?” He was like a newborn in a 7 year old body, weak and helpless, and completely unaware of the monstrous mountain of recovery that faced him. The doctor told us that the day before he came out of the 6 day coma, accompanied by high fever and seizures, he thought that Daniel had no hope. Now he was awake, but it was impossible to say what kind of recovery he would make. His MRI showed scattered patches of damage throughout his brain, which had affected pretty much all of his abilities.

The shocking news of Daniel's sudden and severe brain infection came just two days after our file was “locked” with his and David's. Our family, and all those joining us in prayer, were rejoicing that the battle to adopt our two boys together was finally over. And then we were blindsided with news that we were not at all prepared for. I thought about the description in 2 Samuel 6 of King David bringing the Ark into Jerusalem, when God brought an abrupt end to the Israelites' victorious celebration with the completely unexpected death of Uzzah. And I could relate to how they must have felt, to be on the receiving end of such a harsh blow from out of the blue. Stunned. Confused. Devastated. Why God?

We had not yet signed on the dotted line, so we still had the option to back out of the adoption. Or we could have decided to wait awhile to see what Daniel's recovery might look like. Our family of five prayerfully considered these options, including CJ who had already left for the US to start college. But just like our decision to pursue the adoption of two from Gansu had been unanimous back in 2008 (when CJ, Joshua, and Jordan were 12, 11, and 9) so was this decision. How could we say no?

A friend in Australia (who I've never actually met) with two adopted daughters from China committed herself to prayer for our adoption and wrote timely messages of encouragement when we were in the thick of the paperwork battle to adopt our boys. This is part of a note she wrote with reference to the challenge of one of her adoption journeys:

I believe that I needed to know that it was God who enabled her adoption and so it is His will and He is able to provide all that we need in wisdom and emotional strength to deal with the various challenges. So I believe that in the years ahead as you face the challenges of adoption, you too will be encouraged by the fact that God enabled this adoption - it is His miracle and He will provide...

It is His miracle and He will provide.

When she wrote that to us, Daniel had not yet gotten sick. We would have faced adoption challenges, regardless of his encephalitis. But Daniel's illness brought a unique set of challenges that we weren't sure we could handle. Because it had been such a battle to get our boys, it was clear—beyond a doubt—that God had enabled our adoption of them. In His sovereignty, He had made a way where there was no way. And in His sovereignty, He had allowed Daniel to experience a life-changing illness just before we adopted him. God would provide the wisdom and emotional strength for us to deal with all of the challenges ahead. We could trust Him, even when (especially when), we had no idea what kind of recovery Daniel would make.


When we visited Daniel in the Army Hospital, he was just a shell of the bright, slightly chubby, cute little 7 year old we had met 6 weeks earlier in the orphanage director's office. On that day, he had shyly entered the room along with David, a serious, handsome 8 year old, who had appointed himself spokesperson for both of them when we asked questions about their interests and daily lives. The director instructed them to walk across his spacious office so that we could observe David's club feet and Daniel's limp from his mild case of spina bifida. Their special needs were relatively minor, and did not appear to slow them down at all. But the provincial director had insisted on this meeting to be sure that we wanted them. Charly assured him on the phone as we rode the hour-long bus back to our apartment. “Yes, we want them.”

A few weeks earlier, Charly had shared about our adoption journey with a PSB office worker, who happened to be friends with the Gansu provincial director for international adoptions. So we “used the back door” and contacted him directly. Charly asked if he could help us check on the availability of two children we could adopt together, since we had renewed our adoption paperwork as many times as possible and our time was running out. On July 15, 2013 God answered our prayers with news of Ding Yi Fan and Hua Ming An, who had grown up “like brothers” in the Lanzhou orphanage from the time they had been abandoned in two different hospitals as babies. Then later that same day we were told regretfully that it was actually impossible for us to adopt them together and we should consider another match. We refused to take a no. And God came through with a victorious yes. Then He gave us a sharp turn in the path with Daniel's illness on September 4.


On October 14, our first night with Daniel and David in our Lanzhou home, I wrestled with God as I stood beside Daniel's bed and watched his flailing body, due to the athetoid movement disorder he had developed. I had no idea if he was in distress or if this activity was normal for him. I tried giving him some water, which he didn’t take. I worried about his only having had one wet diaper the day before.

We’re not getting enough liquid into him. What if something is wrong with his kidneys too? We don’t know how to care for him. He can’t communicate with us. What if he never can? What if I am standing here looking at every night for the next 5, 10, 20 years? This is too hard. This doesn’t feel like a good plan. I really don’t think I can do this.

And I whispered in the darkness, “God, I don’t understand what you’re doing.”


God gently reminded me not to allow worry to choke out my trust in His good plan, and not to project current problems into the future. Take life and it's challenges one day at a time. And rejoice in every step of progress. Which would come to include Daniel's smile and laugh coming back. His learning to walk and talk again. His learning to feed himself. And dress himself, and use the bathroom on his own. 


I've needed to be reminded of the lesson to take life one day at a time over and over again on this journey. When we were living in China, trying to home school Daniel was really challenging, so we wanted to see if a Chinese kindergarten would work for him. He was 9, in a class with 4/5 year olds which seemed to be the best fit for him developmentally. But after his third day at school, his teacher expressed frustration with his frequent trips to the bathroom, his nonsense noises, his random laughing, and his other disruptions to the rest of the class.

I'm not sure that kindergarten is going to work for him,” I told Charly. And my heart felt incredibly heavy. In my discouragement, I projected into the future that maybe he will never be able to make it in a classroom. Never be able to follow along with what other children are doing. Always in his own little world. Disruptive. Not able to make progress. What would this mean for him? For our family?

I shared at our Thanksgiving meal that year that I believed God didn't want me to project into the future like that, but to take one day at a time. One of our friends shared how he remembered the miracle after miracle that we saw God do in Daniel's life in his first months with us. “Yes,” I said. “This time last year, he was in diapers and couldn't talk. He had just learned how to feed himself and to walk again. He had a major movement disorder that God miraculously healed him of. I need to keep remembering how far God has brought him.” How easy it is for me to forget all the great things that God has done in the past. And to focus instead on the present problems. God is not done yet.


At that time I wrote, “God created him just the way he is. He has been and will continue to watch over him all the days of his life. I realized that my discouragement and my being quick to jump to the conclusion that school was not going to work for him was like I was looking into his future and writing in a big black marker over the unwritten pages of his life: HOPELESS and BURDEN. That is so not God's perspective. His plans for Daniel are full of hope and promise. I want to have eyes of faith to see what God sees and to trust Him in the dark.”

After 20 years of living in China, our family moved back to the US last summer and enrolled David and Daniel in 4th and 2nd grades. I can't even express how much of a difference it has made to be in a place with resources for them. Daniel has been getting paraprofessional assistance all day long which enables him to be in the classroom almost 80% of the time. His teacher told me last year that when she set the bar high for him, she saw him reaching for it every day. It has been amazing to see how much he has grown this past year in so many areas.


Even with their feet issues, both David and Daniel ran on their school's cross country team last fall, and are participating in cross country again this year. It has been such an encouragement to me to see Daniel's friends come back on the course to cheer him on to the finish. Such a blessing to observe the precious friendships he's developed as he is growing in his English abilities and in his social skills. The little boy who we once thought might stay in a vegetative state for the rest of his life is active, learning, and very social. 

Pictures from the fun celebration of Daniel's 10th birthday last year with my parents and several of his closest friends from school:


It is God's miracle and He will provide.

We can trust Him when the path looks dark and the mountain ahead seems impossibly high. He will provide the wisdom and strength we need for each and every step.

We can believe that our strong and loving God never writes the words “Hopeless” and “Burden” on the unwritten pages of life. They are always “Hope” and “Blessing.”


For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

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