Sunday, May 21, 2017

Loving Through Grieving

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  Matthew 5:4

Raising children with special needs has meant living through cycles of joy and grief. Grief of what was lost or will never be. The grief doesn’t come all at once. It’s more like waves in the ocean. I find it very calming to sit at the beach watching the waves come in and go. You would assume this process would produce the same wave over and over. But, it doesn’t. Each wave is a little different from the one before yet, some parts remain constant. The one thing you can always bet on is that there is another wave to come.

People laugh when I tell them we are a special family. All five of my children could be diagnosed with at least one special need. We make these arbitrary boxes to explain how our children are different in hopes of “helping” them become the people we would like them to be. It pales in comparison to what God wants them to be. From the first moment we became parents, we realized our children might not match the perfect image we held in our heads. That was the moment I confessed to God that I didn’t care what special needs our children had, I just wanted to raise them. The truth is none of us are as perfect as we believe.

Raising children with needs has changed me. I had hopes and dreams scratched and torn by doses of life until I realized that what was left was not worse, just different than I had imagined. When I’ve prayed asking Him to help me with direction, compassion, or kindness towards my children, He never fails. Little by little, this allows His purpose and His plans to take the place of mine, like the waves in the ocean. Trust builds. My fears subside. His glory shines. 

Children are a blessing from the Lord. Always. It doesn’t matter which box society puts them in. I love them even as I grieve when my childrens’ abilities don’t match what I had hoped for. God loves them as they are and has plans for them, disabilities or not. Let the glory be His alone. I am blessed.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The scariest part

People often ask me, "what's the hardest part?" Translation: What is the scariest thing you deal with adopting an older child, from a foreign country, who was abused, neglected & experienced significant trauma? This is it. Look at the photo above. Yes, it's far away, it's a stolen picture. This is what's hardest for me. See this little girl. See her body slumped forward. This is what trauma looks like in our home. Depression, hopelessness, anger, confusion, anxiety all in the tiny body of an 11 year old girl. What you can't see in the photo are the tears. Tears for what has happened & tears for what will never be. The anxiety circles around her over & over. It doesn't allow her to truly & efficiently deal with the experiences life has dealt her. It occupies her brain & interferes with her thoughts, her feelings.

The roller coaster begins with a trigger. There are hundreds of triggers: smells, foods, sounds, certain words, feelings. This time, I believe, it was talk of babies which triggered her. That was three days ago. The initial manic spike was followed by tears, staring at the wall, anxiety, trauma play, excessive writing (this is new), depression, bossiness, negative attitude, manipulation & often targeting me- the mama because this is where most of her issues stem from. This means 7/24 supervision by my husband or myself watching, listening, protecting, strategizing, & waiting...exhausting both of us. So, why is this so hard? Because then, there's me.

The seesaw effect. This is the other side of what goes on with my daughter- me. My reactions, my behaviors, my words to her, my own issues collide with hers. I have dealt most of my life with depression & anxiety. It's dark. It's scary. It is a lonely place & it's full of fear. Most of the time, I feel like I know what to do when I feel myself slipping down that slippery slope of hopelessness. I have found ways to turn it around before I go too far down that road. Because, I know all too well, once I get lost, it's ugly. Add in a daughter, who also suffers from depression & anxiety, but has not yet learned to control it because she is still a child, & this is my scary place.

So look at that picture again. Can you see it now? Her fear. Her hopelessness. Her body silently crying out, "Someone! Please help me!" This is the scariest part for me. I see it coming. I can see it a mile away. Every inch of my body wants to run & run far. I should be helping her, but I don't even want to get close to that line because what if I sink down into that dark hole. What if I can't turn it around. What if the storm consumes me along with her. I can't! I just can't! I can't allow myself to go there with her! I want to help her, but fear is paralyzing.

Tonight, I attended my prayer group even though I thought my husband may "need my help". Are you laughing? Let's just say it. I'm not a lot of help when my daughter goes into "trauma mode". Seriously, he ends up with two trauma kids instead of one. But, I showed up tonight. I asked for prayer. Then I sat down with a glass of wine & showed up for my daughter. She sat down at the table with me. I felt my anxiety rise. She had more questions about babies. I took a deep breath & my anxiousness slowed. I answered all her questions. Then she asked to bake a cake. I only helped when it was requested. I even let her use two square pans instead of the round ones it called for. I didn't make a big deal when they stuck to the pans she said she sprayed. I told her tomorrow we would just frost both cakes in the pans. In total, it was probably an hour of quietly being together. Then we sat down on the couch. Her body relaxed. My body relaxed. Then I began to write. I wonder if she gets this writing thing from me.

The cycle may be complete, it may not. Sometimes trauma mode lasts a day, sometimes it lasts weeks. I don't know what tomorrow will bring. What I know is that I showed up when what I really wanted to do was run. With the strength of others praying, I looked my fear in the eye. Enough. I'm tired of running. Interestingly, when bedtime arrived, she asked to pray. She wanted to pray with me. As my kids have gotten bigger, I don't always pray with them at night anymore. Maybe this is something I should be doing more often.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Coming to terms with regrets

For a long time I had a motto, "I want to live so that I have no regrets when I breathe my last." For years I liked this motto. It suited me. Lately, I've been rethinking this motto. I have regrets. And I'm finding that as I get older, I have more, not less. Here lies the conflict. Should I not have any regrets at all? Should I make excuses to prove to myself I shouldn't have regrets or maybe just pretend I don't have them? 

I lay awake sometimes at night, replaying what I could have done better, how I could have phrased something more eloquently, how I could have been more loving. I'm left to my own worst critic, me.

Since becoming an adult, I've had a short list of character traits I believed to be true about myself. Recently, I've started to wonder if these traits still hold true. This leads to me ponder if it is possible to live life & have no absolutely no regrets in the process. What would that look like? As a recovering perfectionist, this option is very appealing! Being able to comfort someone with perfect wording the first time, encouraging a friend perfectly the first time, parenting all of your children perfectly the first time...the possibilities! As a bonus, I would not have to say sorry. EVER. Tempting...but is that what I really want?

I teach my children that saying "I'm sorry" is important. When relationships are fractured, saying sorry helps repair hurt feelings & brings people back together. It also helps the one who says sorry. The act of apologizing helps make amends & deflates egos when we truly relate to the other person. My regrets hurt more deeply now than when I was twenty. But, through the process of saying sorry my compassion for others has grown.

This current season of life is stretching me. I'm trying to accomplish things I haven't tried before. It's difficult to not get stuck over-analyzing my mistakes. I picture my babies when they learned to walk. They fell over & over. I didn't fret over each fall, rather I looked ahead knowing this was a part of the process. I was excited about the accomplishment I knew was ahead for them. My regrets can tie my hands together so tightly there is no wiggle room to attempt anything new. Allowing God to use me in new ways means I will fall, fail. I want to be free to let God use me in new ways. I want to look ahead, excited for the accomplishments I know will come. This day I choose to look ahead for what I know God has prepared for me & lay down at His feet all the rest.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What's in a Name?

A young woman oddly moves around the counter. Her face glows although her eyes look tired. As her body passes in front of the counter her large belly is exposed. “Have you decided on a name yet?” her co-worker asks.

This is one of the common questions you hear when you are expecting. Why? What does a name tell us about a person? All of our kids have a biblical first name. Most people gather we are Christians when they hear me list off my children’s names. Each name was carefully thought over & prayed about. Our children know the story of why we chose their name & what it means.
What if the young woman in the story above answered her co-worker with a name you never heard of before? How would you feel if the name was the same as a person who hurt you badly in your past? What about a name that’s so absurd you are not quite sure just what to say?
Now think about foreign names. Names that are not common. Names that are difficult to pronounce & spell. Names that prompt curious people to ask about their origins time & again. If the story of how your name was chosen is lovely & people respond joyfully you probably wouldn’t mind telling it over & over. But, what if your name linked you to a past filled with sadness, abuse & terrifying memories. How many times would you want to tell it? This is the story for one of our adopted children.

We have given our adopted children a new life. A fresh start to have all the things that kids should have. One of those things included a new name: a biblical first name we chose (just like their siblings), their Russian name as their middle name & the same last name our entire family shares. We have always explained that they have two names. We love them both. Both names are theirs & they may use which ever one they chose. Because our children were not babies when they came home to us, we continued using the only names they had ever been called, their Russian names. 

This past summer our daughter asked if we would begin calling her by her first name. Consequently, she did not hear “What?” after saying her name the first time to new people. No one was asking her to repeat her name & then asking her how to spell it. Her sister, with a common American name, was never asked to repeat her name or spell it. No one was saying things like, “Wow, that’s an unusual name. Where does it come from?” By deciding to be called by her first name, she was able to gain a little bit of peace in her life, which is often filled with so much anxiety due to her past. She found she didn’t have to explain her past if she didn’t want to. She could just be the little girl she is today…like her sister. Soon after, our son asked if we would also call him by his first name. 

Kids can be finicky. I wasn’t sure if they would change their minds after a few weeks. Many people have heard me call my kids by their first names recently & rightly have been a bit confused. A formal name change seems too restrictive at the time. After six months, I’m guessing that they are happy right now being called by their first names. Therefore, may I officially introduce you to Sarah & Joshua.

Sarah- means princess (in Hebrew)
Joshua- means Jehovah is generous (in Hebrew)

Monday, June 1, 2015

Birthdays are for Celebrating!

Each year when our little O has a birthday, it is bittersweet for me. It starts out typical enough with thoughts of friends, presents and gifts. Maybe I’ll hang some signs or streamers. I might possible buy some balloons or special birthday wrap for his gift, but soon I remember the “forgotten” year.

He came to the orphanage sometime after his fourth birthday. We received his referral about six months later. It told us he was four years old, but no birth date was listed. During the end of our first visit, we were able to ask lots of questions regarding him and his sister. Everyone referred to him as a four-year-old although the birth date didn’t line up. Delicately through the translator, I tried to figure out the error. Was I calculating wrong? Was the birth date incorrect? Finally, I stated plainly that if the birth date was indeed correct, then he was five. Following an awkward silence, the director replied, “then he is five.” My heart was broken! This little boy, who I was hoping I could soon call my own, had had a birthday gone unrecognized. No cake. No gift. No cards or friends wishing him “happy birthday!” Did he even know how old he was? I have no idea what kinds of birthday celebrations he might have had in his birth home. It’s possible that this was not the first birthday forgotten. That day I made a promise. A promise that his birthday would be celebrated every year after.

For many of us that have kids from “hard places”, our grief can be overwhelming when we think of all that our kids have missed before they came home to us. Ultimately, we learn to not dwell too long in the past since there’s no modifying it. But instead, look at today for what we can add to their lives. As his third birthday with us approaches, I am excited to see him celebrate his birthday, his special day. And everyone will know exactly how old he is.