Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Who Said Returning Would Be Easy

If I could write a letter to my weary self in the spring of 2015, as I was surrounded by 20 years of our China life, packed in semi-sturdy fruit boxes from the market…

In that stressful season, when my sense of accomplishment each day was how many trash bags I could send down the trash chute from our 9th floor apartment. When my biggest dread every trip outside was discovering our rejected stuff in the overflowing trash heap—waiting for pick up by the Jingle Bells-playing trash truck–and then having second thoughts of maybe needing to rescue something that I might one day regret throwing away. When more than one person asked me if I needed someone to fly out to help me pack because they could see that I was not handling life all that well…

This is what I would write:

Dear self,

You need to let go of what you can’t keep. All of the memories and mementos will not fit in your well-worn suitcases or in the boxes that you’re shipping back...

You can read the rest of the letter by clicking over to Velvet Ashes:

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Letter to the Birth Mothers of My Sons

Dear birth mothers,

你们好!I don't think we will ever have the opportunity to meet face to face (although I wish we could) so I wanted to let you know how much our family has been blessed by the gifts of your sons, 丁一凡 and 华明安, we named David and Daniel. They grew up in the Lanzhou Orphanage “like brothers” and we were able to adopt them together while we were living there in October of 2013, when they were 7 and 8 years old. So many people tell us what great smiles they have, and I wonder if they got their smiles from you.

David recently drew a picture of his Chinese mom in his life book for his English as a Second Language class. I noticed the dots all over her face and I asked if those were tears. “Yes,” he said. “I think she must have felt very sad to leave me at the hospital.” “I think so too,” I agreed. So although David doesn't know much about you, he does believe that you loved him and I'm sure that you still do and probably think about him often... 

Daniel frequently asks if I will read the Jesus Storybook Bible to him, and a few days ago as we were reading about Jesus' birth, he said, “I wish I was a baby.” “You know,” I told him. “I bet your birth mom held you, just like Mary held Jesus, after you were born.” “You???” he asked me with surprise. “No, you had another mom who gave birth to you, and later I got to become your adoptive mom.” “Oh,” he said with a question mark on his face, and I know he's still pondering what that means. Ever since his brain infection just before we adopted him, he has struggled with developmental delays and memory loss. So as he continues to process this idea of having two moms, I will keep letting him know how much his birth mom really loved him and wanted the very best for him, just like David's.

Because Daniel doesn't remember a lot about his life at the orphanage, David has filled us in on some details. He knows, for example, why Daniel has scar on his forehead because he witnessed the fight when another boy pushed him into the corner of a door. I remember the time last year when David told us proudly that he has lived almost his whole life with Daniel, first as friends and then as brothers. Even though they are almost exactly one year apart in age, when they joined our family 3 ½ years ago, Daniel had become like an infant in a 7 year old body.

Because of the brain damage from his illness and the 6 days of being in a coma, he had to relearn all of the basic life skills that he'd lost. David eagerly volunteered to help spoon feed him and assist him as he learned how to walk again. Even now he still offers to read to Daniel and help him tie his shoes. Most of the time he is a caring older brother who understands Daniel's limitations. After they both had major surgeries on their feet in February, they enjoyed having wheelchair races together. And now that they are walking again, one of their favorite things to do is to play basketball against each other.

It has been a joy to watch them grow and develop. But to be honest, being an adoptive mom has been one of the biggest challenges I've ever undertaken. Likewise, I can only imagine that leaving your precious boys in the hospital, so that their medical needs could be taken care of, was one of the most difficult things you've ever done. I still struggle sometimes with feelings of doubt that I am a good enough mom for them. And I imagine that you might still struggle with feelings of doubt that you made the right decision in leaving behind those tiny lives that you nurtured inside your bodies.

I hope that God has given you peace about that life-changing heart-wrenching decision, and I want you to know that I am thankful that you gave our boys the gift of life and cared for them in their first weeks.

We have a bird's nest in the wreath on our front door right now and this morning we were watching some videos my husband found online of house finches like ours hatching from eggs, being fed by their mothers and fathers, and then leaving the nest. It struck me how fragile the baby birds were and completely dependent on their parents. Their wide open beaks crying desperately for food, and then—just days later--they looked more like their parents and were ready to fly on their own. Daniel asked as we were watching, “When the baby birds fly away, do they need their mother and father anymore?” 

The picture of baby birds being fed by their parents has stayed with me and caused me to think about how you must have mothered our boys when they were newborn, fragile, and helpless. When you felt you couldn't care for them anymore, you put them in a place where you knew they would be found by someone who would take them to the orphanage. Neither you nor I got to see them “grow their wings” with their first crawl, their first steps, their first they were living in the orphanage during all of those milestones (although we were actually able to experience Daniel's 2nd round of those firsts). Our sovereign and gracious God had His hand on them during those years, like a protective wing, and He guided them to fly into our home when His time was right.

I want to wish you both a happy Mother's Day and thank you for bringing our boys into the world. David and Daniel are both very happy living in America, but Chinese food is still their favorite, especially 兰州牛肉面. I wish all of us could go out for Lanzhou beef noodles together. I'd like to see how much spicy you put in your bowls, as they pride themselves in being able to handle a lot of hotness. And I'd also like to see their smiles reflected in yours.


Monday, May 8, 2017

I Get It

“I get it.” Those three simple words are packed with the power of connection. I heard them this morning from Daniel's 3rd grade Sunday School teacher after Daniel angrily found his name tag on the wall and entered his classroom with a scowl on his face. He avoided his teacher's attempt at eye contact and his cheerful greeting, “Hey, Mr. Daniel. How are you this morning?

“I understand,” his teacher said to me. “We had a meltdown this morning at our house which is why we only made it to the second service.”

I get it.”

No other words needed to be said because in that brief interchange I knew that he knew what it was like. But the few more minutes of conversation about what had been going on with our kids bolstered me with a feeling of solidarity, as I headed downstairs to the church service. Through our Adoptive Parent Sunday School class together last year, I knew that we shared the same goals of connected parenting in our adoption challenges. Our families are on the same page, in the same boat, and I felt so thankful that he was the greeter today who saw Daniel enter the classroom when he was struggling. Really saw him. And understood.

“I get it” communicates that I see what is going on.
I'm not going to make assumptions or judge you.
I have experienced something similar enough to understand.
And I know how difficult it is.
You are not alone.

In parenting, when our children's less-than-desirable behavior is on display for the whole world to see, feelings of guilt and shame are often present. Questions and doubts from ourselves and from others, “Are you parenting in the best way?” can cause us to lose heart. With so many opportunities for being misunderstood in our challenging parenting situations, knowing that there are other parents who “get it” is invaluable.


Who has communicated “I get it” when you really needed it?
Who in your life needs to hear those words from you?

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Stand Up Gideon

Stand up, Gideon,” the principal spoke into the mic, in front of a few hundred rising 6th graders seated cross-legged on the floor and their parents crowded into the gym bleachers of Timberview Middle School. Gideon rose to his feet and became the focus of everyone's attention, as the principal went on to say, “Gideon's mom already introduced him to me and I just wanted to recognize him.”

I really felt for that kid, even though he didn't seem embarrassed at all. And I know that David, sitting at my side, was relieved that he wasn't Gideon, as his goal at the middle school intro night was to blend in as much as possible.

These past couple of weeks I've been thinking about Gideon's mom, and how I can relate with her desire to be a mover and shaker for her son. To help stack the cards for him so he might have a better chance of succeeding. Not only in school, but in all of life. 

Gideon's mom reminds me of the mother of James and John, who was so bold as to ask Jesus if one of her sons could sit at his right and one at his left in his kingdom. (Matthew 20:20-21) It doesn't hurt to ask right? Let's dream big.

One of our family's favorite movie scenes is from Glory Road, when Harry's mom, determined to help him improve his grades, sits in the desk right behind him at school. When the teacher asks who can answer her questions, his mom responds each time with confidence, “My son Harry can.” Jordan can do a great impersonation of Harry's mom and had us all laughing with that line in our last family skype call.

Gideon's mom, James and John's mom, Harry's mom--all have the same goal in mind, don't they?

They want the best for their children and they're committed to doing whatever they can to help them reach their goals. Is that true of us too?

Is the main focus of our lives Jesus, with gratitude for all of His grace poured out on us? Or do we feel a heavy weight on our shoulders that everything is up to our effort? If I don't make it happen, it's not going to happen. (I am definitely guilty of believing that at times.)

Paul wrote a stinging letter to the Galatians about how they had begun with the Spirit, but were now trying to reach their goal by human effort. “Something crazy has happened, for it's obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives.” (Gal 3:1 MSG)

Clear focus. That's what I really want for each of my children. But I also need it for myself. And I'm aware of how easily I can lose that focus, so that Jesus is no longer the center of my life. How quickly I default to depending on my own efforts.

Last week CJ called us with some good news: he was selected as Notre Dame's valedictorian. Charly and I felt both humbled and amazed. This was very different than being valedictorian of his home school class of one! He had emailed us his submitted speech, which was one part of the selection process, and we thought it was great (but we might be just a little bit biased). I told him I would have voted for him if I was on the selection committee. But of course, there was nothing I could do to put in a good word for him. I'm sure that popping up behind him in his interview, like Harry's mom, "Choose my son CJ" would not have helped him. When we heard the news that CJ had received this huge honor, we received it as a gracious gift from God. So clearly not a result of our efforts.

I finished reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to David this morning and I love what Aslan said to Lucy and Edmund, after he told them that although they were too old to return to Narnia, they would see him in their own world. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

Aslan's words help me to focus on what I see as my main job as a mom: not to work hard to help my kids get ahead, but to help them know Jesus for themselves. That He would be the clear focus of my life and their lives. That we would not get side-tracked and lose that focus, like the Galatians did, and start to depend on our own efforts to reach our goals, apart from Him.

“Anyone who tries to live by his own effort, independent of God, is doomed to failure.”

“The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him. Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you.” (Gal. 3:10,11 MSG)

Maybe instead of focusing on getting our kids to stand up and stand out, we would do better to teach them how to spend time on their knees, keeping their focus on Jesus.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Teacher Appreciation

On Monday night I had the privilege of honoring Daniel's amazing 3rd grade teacher Mrs. McRae at District 20's Special Education Staff Appreciation Night. The whole evening was very inspiring and heart warming, as parents shared stories of 40 plus staff members (school bus drivers, paraprofessionals, speech therapists, special ed teachers, classroom teachers) and the significant contributions they have made in the lives of their children this year. It was so encouraging to see the life-changing impact one person can make who “gets” a special needs child and creates an environment where that child feels safe and understood.

This is what I shared:

This is such a special event! What a blessing to hear about all of these wonderful teachers and staff who have made such a difference in the lives of our children. I'd like to share with you all what our son Daniel's 3rd grade teacher Mrs. McRae wrote to him on a postcard at the beginning of the school year:

Dear Daniel, I'm so thrilled you are in my class! I love your cheerful spirit, big smile, and perseverance when things get tough. We are going to have a fantastic rest of the year! 
Love, Mrs. McRae

This is the way Mrs. McRae is--so incredibly positive and encouraging! She was able to identify and affirm those traits in Daniel early on and then help him continue to develop them during the year. This has been Daniel's 2nd year in the public school system. Last year he received full-time para assistance, and this year he was able to cut back to half-time as he's become more independent. Mrs. McRae has been committed to fully integrating him into her classroom, and she helps him know what's ok to do and what's not ok.

Another parent shared how her daughter really misses her teacher when she's away from school. Daniel is the exact same way. Whenever we go on a trip, I know it won't be long before I hear from the back seat how many days its going to be until he sees Mrs. McRae again, and how much he misses her already.

Daniel and Mrs. McRae at a cross country meet

One of the most amazing things for me was meeting Mrs. McRae for the first time at Pioneer's Back to School Night. I thought we were going to be meeting his new teacher for the first time, but it actually felt like I was meeting an old friend when I discovered that she already knew Daniel and was excited about him being in her class! Soon after that, I came across a picture (below) of Daniel running cross country the year before and there was Mrs. McRae, cheering him on in the finish chute. We didn't know her then, but there she was. And it's a beautiful picture to me of how God was preparing the way for Daniel and we didn't even know it. 

Daniel's 2nd grade teacher in the center and Mrs. McRae to her left

Daniel and his brother David, in 5th grade, had surgeries in early February. After that, they had to use wheelchairs and walkers for two months. Mrs. McRae was very supportive of our whole family during that time. The day before surgery she sent Daniel home with an overflowing basket of goodies so that both boys would have things to do while they were recovering. She gave our family a gift certificate for Papa Murphy's pizza. And all of Daniel's classmates made very sweet get well cards for him.

Mrs. McRae is an exceptional teacher who has shown us so much love and support this year, and we feel sad that the school year is coming to an end. We are truly going to miss her!


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