Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Before and After

My bloggy friend Lisa left such a profound comment on my last post that I just had to share it here: "I truly believe that adoption is 50% for the orphaned child and 50% for the family that is opening its arms wide. The Lord is asking both to trust and lean on Him with all their might."

That statement is so true. (Thank you, Lisa.)

The purpose of my last post was not to yank your rose-colored glasses off your face and stomp on them. (And forgive me if you're still standing among broken glass.) I was just feeling conviction about some things.

You see, I'm guilty of not sharing "out-takes." I have a lot of photos that don't make it on the blog, or in the scrapbooks, or on the Christmas card. It's not because I'm in denial that at certain angles I have a double chin or don't think my kiddos are adorable when their eyes are closed. I just prefer to share the photos where we are looking our best.

I've kind of done the same thing with my blog. I share mostly the good stuff--not in an effort to hide the hard times, but just wanting to make sure I record every bit of God's goodness in our lives. I also want to respect the privacy of my kids, especially Daniel. You wouldn't believe how many posts have been deleted before publishing. Writing them was cathartic for me and might have encouraged others, but if there's any chance that my child might feel betrayed by sharing something too personal, well, it just isn't worth the hurt it could cause.

The only problem with sharing only the good stuff is that you only get to see the "after" without the benefit of the "before." And when I share about the priceless things Daniel says and does, all you see is that we have adopted a very special little boy. (Which is so very true.) The part that's missing in this story is what God has done and is doing in Daniel's life and in our family.

To explain this, I'm going to have to give you another analogy. (Sorry, but this is how my crazy mind processes things.) I remember walking through a house once that friends had remodeled. It looked like something out of a magazine. I could only imagine it in its current state of perfection. They described what a dump it had been, but I was thinking "Yeah right." But then they showed me pictures of it before. The house was run down, the yard overgrown, windows broken, wiring exposed. I couldn't believe it was the same home. I had to see the "before" photos before I could appreciate all the time, money, and effort they had invested.

I wish I could share all of Daniel's "before pictures" so you could understand how God is transforming him. When we started his adoption we knew we were getting him "As Is." We knew there would be repairs and perhaps some cosmetic updating (he needed glasses and had never had his teeth cleaned), but he was just so precious that we refused to label him a "fixer-upper." All he needed was a fresh coat of love and he would be good as new. Right? We watch HGTV. How hard could it be?

But we got him home and found termites eating the foundation and mold slowly growing in the walls. His heart had been vandalized and our Daniel had words spray painted on him that wouldn't come off.

And we felt overwhelmed with the task ahead. And angry that the original "homeowners" had treated him so terribly. And we realized the box of tools we used for minor repairs on our other three children didn't contain the Power tools needed to restore Daniel.

So we contacted a Master Craftsman to do our renovation. And the estimate for the job was a lot. The invoice said "EVERYTHING." And we let Him know we couldn't afford it. And then He told us He already paid for it. We graciously accepted the help . . . and wept at the generosity of His gift.

And now I love to show the "after" photos and share the "after" stories of my sweet Daniel. But it only tells half of the story. So it makes me want to show the world the "before" that Daniel was so others can see the magnificence of God's handiwork. But then I realize these are Daniel's stories to share some day . . . not mine.

While I feel that at this time I need to respect the privacy of my family, I'm torn because I feel I'm not being fair to my readers. It's not fair to those considering adopting to not share about the challenges because they may not be prepared for the reality of parenting a child with a broken spirit.

It's also not fair for me to only share one side of things, because there are many wonderful adoptive parents who are struggling. I don't want them to read my blog and wonder what they are doing wrong or why it seems our child effortlessly transitioned into our family while theirs is having such a hard time. Had I been reading my own blog last January/February, I think I would have thought to myself, "If I have to hear another story about the precious things Daniel said on his birthday/Christmas/yesterday morning, I'm going to lose my lunch."

And I don't want people who haven't adopted to unfairly compare other's adoption stories to ours. We were fortunate that we got Daniel before the termites had eaten through the entire frame of the house, before the mold had reached toxic levels. We have not had to deal with attachment issues. He has never been violent or harmful toward any person or animal. (In spite of the abuse he has endured, he's one of the gentlest little boys I've ever met.) He has a strong conscience and an understanding of right and wrong. But sometimes children have been so hurt that God has to do a complete demolition of their will before He can rebuild. And these adoptive parents may have years of praying and waiting and loving unconditionally before they can see the beauty from ashes.

Yes, we have invested much time and prayer and love in our son, but the credit for his healing goes only to God. I don't know why some renovations take longer than others. But I do know there's a blueprint for each one of us.

We are far from finished. There's still a lot of sawing, hammering, and sanding going on with each member of our family. (Especially me.)

So as you read my blog from now on, I want you to know that for every "after" I share, there was also a "before." And if you are facing some "before" situations that look hopeless, I've got the name of a Master Craftsman that I highly recommend. He can restore even what has been condemned and His work is already paid in full.

Gratefully His,

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tossing the Rose-Colored Glasses

After hitting "publish" on my last post, I felt quite ashamed. You see, those of you who read my blog are the ones who humble and inspire me . . . not the other way around. Who am I to talk about special needs adoption when thus far all I've done is fill out a checklist? Many of you are living the day-to-day joys and challenges of parenting these precious children.

I guess that last post was explaining why I feel peace about the path that God is leading us on. Forgive me if it seemed like a solicitation for pats on the back.

Although I'm giddy with excitement about our next child, I'm also scared. The reason? I no longer wear rose-colored glasses.

When we started Daniel's adoption, you should have seen the shades I walked around wearing. Not only did they veil the view with a rosy glow, they had butterflies and rainbows painted on the lenses. I merely had to put them on and I would hear harps playing in the background and see a release of doves overhead.

Well, about a year into the adoption process, I put these figurative glasses on my road of despair and drove a figurative 18 wheeler over them. I continued to wear them with the broken glass that was left dangling in the frames. But I finished them off with a figurative hammer once Daniel came home.

The whole truth is this. Adoption is beautiful. And adoption is hard.

This Dorothy realized she wasn't in Kansas anymore during our adoption process. Apparently the enemy thought Daniel was safely his and wasn't too happy about this little boy having a family who would love him and tell him about Christ. From the moment we made the commitment to bring him into our family till Daniel walked off the plane, there was a spiritual tug-of-war for his life. You wouldn't believe what happened in the two and a half years it took to get him home. (Another day, another post.)

When he finally made it home, we quickly learned that the adoption process was the easy part. Parenting a child who has had 8 years of abuse and neglect is the hard part. It was like having a difficult pregnancy and delivery just to be handed a newborn with colic.

Even though I had done my required adoption training and read every book I could find on attachment, I wasn't really prepared. It wasn't at all as I had envisioned because I had been wearing those silly glasses way too long and probably watched too many Hallmark movies. Our happily ever after wasn't what I had mentally scripted.

You see, I thought I knew the remedy for brokenness. Like I shared Monday, all I needed for my own healing was to be carried on the Mighty Shepherd's shoulders. So, the plan was to put our precious son on our Savior's back and watch the healing begin.

We would have days that were perfect--like the script of "The Blindside" except instead of raising a super-sized football star we were raising a pint-sized soccer amateur. And then we would have moments that Daniel would show us that he wasn't just living with scars from his past, he was hemorrhaging on the inside.

So we hoisted him up as high as we could with the hopes of putting him on the Shepherd's shoulders, only for him to fight us and kick us in the teeth. He'd been living in the thorns so long, our little lamb thought this was the only place of safety. Many who had shepherded him before had betrayed him. The only person he could trust was himself.

It wasn't until we placed Daniel at the foot of the cross that he began to heal. He needed to recognize the need for a Savior before he could trust the Shepherd. The transformation we've seen in Daniel in just nine months is amazing. Only by God's grace. Only by His mercy.

As difficult as those newborn days with Daniel were, things have been so much easier for us than so many others who have adopted. There's nothing like hearing about families who have to lock up the steak knives for fear that their child might harm them in their sleep to put the adoption of an emotionally broken child into perspective. There's nothing like reading about an adoptive parent dealing with a seizure in the grocery store, or having to hold their screaming child down for a medical procedure, or praying all night in the hospital that their child lives to the next morning to make you see the adoption of a special needs child with 20/20 vision.

But for every story of adoption hardship, there are a million of adoption beauty. And I don't need my magic lenses with a prescription of optimism and ignorance to appreciate what God is doing in our life and in the lives of other adoptive families.

So as we embark on this adoption, I'm not shopping around for a new set of rose-colored glasses. I've finally learned that God's handiwork never needs embellishment.

Gratefully His,

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sweetly Broken

We live in a world where things that are broken are worthless. In our disposable society, broken items are quickly tossed instead of being repaired. And even the very definition of "broken" is stretched to include things that don't perform as we would like or are outdated.

Sadly, the same holds true for people. Society dictates that we must be perfect. Not just healthy, but beautiful. Not just smart, but brilliant. And anyone who is "broken" must be fixed. And those who cannot be fixed should be thrown away. Thus the tragic statistic that 90 percent of babies who have Down Syndrome or other chromosomal "abnormalities" are aborted. Thus the heartbreaking reality that orphanages are full of special needs and older children who wait for families.

As we started this new adoption, we weren't sure about much. We weren't sure what country we would adopt from, what age child, what gender. Our only certainty was that this child would be, by the world's definition, broken.

We completed a check-list of needs we would consider. We talked at length with our other children about the possibility of having a child in our home who may never walk, or see our faces, or hear our voices, or live to adulthood. Needs that several years ago would have overwhelmed us are now needs that we are prayerfully considering.

We are different today because we understand the blessing of brokenness. It happened in the year 2004 with the loss of our first son then the loss of my mom. I had known brokenness before, but not to that extent. My level of hurt prior to that year rendered me "walking wounded." But the pain of 2004 completely crippled me to where I wasn't sure if I'd ever be whole again.

But that was the year that the Almighty Shepherd scooped me up and carried me upon the safety of His shoulders. Just like the beautiful illustrations I had seen as a child, I felt like that lamb draped around my Savior's neck. It was then that I was able to see that being broken hadn't brought me to a place of hopelessness, but a place of privilege.

When I think of the dearest people I know, there is usually a chapter in their life that they were carried by their Heavenly Father during a time of profound brokenness. Some of the most inspiring people who have walked the earth have endured times of trial yet glorified God through their brokenness caused by life-altering illness, the horrors of a concentration camp, religious persecution, and family tragedy. Every hero of the faith--that I've known personally or read about in history--seems to have spent much of their life in full surrender to the One who can heal every wound.

So perhaps that's why we've been so excited as we do the paperwork for this adoption and see our homestudy written to approve us to adopt a child with special needs. I can't wait to see what God has planned for the life of this child and feel honored to be able to witness His healing hand at work and His sovereign plan unfold.

The verse I'm meditating on this week (sorry I didn't get it posted in time for Sunday Dinner) is:

"The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry;

The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."

Psalm 34:15-18, NIV

This week's dessert of song is Jeremy Riddle's "Sweetly Broken."

May we remember the One who was sweetly broken for us. (One of my first posts about brokenness and Christ's love for us is here.)

Beautifully Broken,

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Worth Quoting

Many thanks to you bloggy friends who still stop by in spite of my recent hibernation in the black hole I have fallen into. I have much to share in the coming weeks about our new adoption and sweet things happening in our family.

But for now, I thought I'd share a quick post on some comments made by my kiddos that made me laugh.

Harsh Realizations

The other night Olivia's (my 8th grader) homework assignment was to interview her parents about their first memory of the computer. I shared that the first time I ever saw one was when I was about her age. It was the first computer in our school's future "computer lab" that was then full of electric typewriters. I went on to explain how my research papers were typed on such typewriters and any mistakes were remedied with White Out, but major errors required the page to be typed over again. I shared that there was no Internet, so all research had to be done at our local library--resources were encyclopedias that weighed more than a preschool child and periodicals could be viewed on something called microfilm.

Her eyes were huge, her mouth hung open in disbelief. Apparently the "I walked 10 miles to school in the snow, barefoot, uphill both ways" tales of my parents' generation were no longer necessary. The thought of a world without Google and e-mail and Facebook was apparently enough. (If I had mentioned that cell phones still weren't around, I think she would have lost consciousness.)

She finally spoke. It was the most sympathetic tone I have ever heard out of her mouth. "Mom, I'm so sorry. I had no idea that your childhood was such a NIGHTMARE!"

Keen Observations

We were at Chick-fil-A the other day and as we were leaving got a hug from the 7 foot cow character that is their "Eat More Chicken" mascot. Brady (age 5) is apparently not a big fan of livestock in eating establishments, but handled it okay.

As we exited the building, he leaned over and whispered to me: "Mom, this is just a guess, but I don't think that kind of cow produces milk."

Undiluted Truth

I overheard a conversation with Ava (age 10) and a new acquaintance. I was just catching bits and pieces, but clearly heard the other little girl describing what her mother looked like.

She offered, "My mom has light brown hair with blond highlights."

Ava responded, "Oh, she sounds so pretty. My mom has dark brown hair with silver highlights."

Ummm. I'm thinking I'm overdue for a trip to the hair salon.

Overflowing Gratitude

Daniel (age 8) has said many things that have made us laugh out loud, but his quote that I just have to share is the one that makes my heart rejoice.

The first time he said it, it was in the spring just a few months after coming home. We were at Target and I bought him a pair of Spiderman tennis shoes and some blue Crocs. He asked over and over if we had enough money to buy TWO pairs of shoes. He just couldn't believe it. As we were walking hand in hand to take our new treasures home, he exclaimed, "I love my life!"

One time this summer we were all snuggled up as a family watching "Mary Poppins." We took an intermission to make ice cream sundaes and he came over and hugged me and said again, "I love my life!"

Then during Daniel's first week of school, he hopped in the minivan with the world's best smile. He couldn't wait to tell me about his morning, but started with a slight variation of the same sentiment, "I have a great life!"

Oh, sweet boy, I have a great life, too!

So Grateful,

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sunday Dinner: Safe

If I had to rank Daniel's list of needs, the need to feel safe would be second only to his need to feel loved.

I'll never forget last November, flying down to Guatemala by myself with the plan to live there till I could bring Daniel home. We had been trying to get him home for two and a half years and, like a pregnancy that has gone past 40 weeks, we could see that the situation he was forced to stay in was becoming toxic. Since we had completed most of the process of adopting him, we were able to foster him in Guatemala till the adoption was complete.

Although I had visited numerous times before, this time felt different because he was now forever mine. I had spent so many months trying to make him my son that I had never really focused on becoming his mother. All of a sudden I realized exactly how little I knew about this little boy.

My first night there we stayed at a hotel in Antigua. We chose the location because it was close to friends who were living there, also fostering their son. This hotel was different from the one we had stayed in with Daniel on previous visits. This hotel was one story and the door to our room faced an outside courtyard. (The other hotel was a high-rise and our door faced the interior of the hotel.) It was soon apparent that Daniel didn't feel safe in our room.

Every night we were there, he had the same ritual. He'd check and double check the locks on the door, then he'd push all available furniture up against the door. He also had trouble sleeping--he'd have his eyes open staring at the door and window from the bed like a little night watchman. Finally sleep would overtake him and his eyes would close for a few hours until his semi-conscious body would remind him that he wasn't safe. He'd sit upright in the bed in a state of panic, often jumping out of bed to check the locks and the barricade of furniture.

Just watching him broke my heart. His level of fear was so far beyond anything I had seen before in a child. This was way beyond imaginary monsters in the closet or being frightened in a thunderstorm. This was a little boy in survival mode.

He has come a long way since November of last year. There was even one night recently that Brady was afraid and Daniel comforted him with: "Don't be scared because God is always with you." I can't tell you what joy it brings to walk into his bedroom at night and watch him sleep in perfect peace. To know that when awake and while asleep, this child now knows he is safe. It is a gift I will never again take for granted.

And yet, there have been times in my life that I haven't felt safe. I have locked myself in figurative rooms and pushed the furnishings up against the doors to keep the rest of the world out. There have been nights that I wake in a cold sweat--worried about my kids, or finances, or the future. Sitting upright in a panic, like Daniel wanting to check the locks on the door. The fear remains when I try to find safety in my self-made barricades. It isn't until I remember that "God is always with me" that I find that perfect peace.

This week's Sunday dinner of scripture is:

The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.

Proverbs 18:10, NIV

I love the image of our God as our "strong tower." This certainly isn't a first floor hotel room in Guatemala with furniture reinforcing the door. Our God is our fortress, lifting us high above our enemies, that we might rest in His perfect peace. And if we will run to Him, not only will we feel safe . . . we will be safe.

This week's dessert of song is Phil Wickham's beautiful tune called "Safe." May you feel the safety of His Almighty arms.

More Than Lots,