Thursday, February 18, 2016

Super glue, super kids, super God

I was dangling off of our folding ladder, half way out of the attic.  The dust and insulation made my eyes water and my toes turned white from griping my flip flops - not the best ladder climbing shoes. We were switching out toys- one oversized concrete mixer and a garbage truck exchanged for two yellow pick-up trucks. Corbin, being the oldest and responsible one was a few feet back from ladder, ready to 'catch' while his little brother and sister were banished to the playroom after too many attempts to climb the ladder.  I began to lower the first truck down but it slipped out of my hands.  Bouncing off the ladder and crashing into the light switch on its way down, I was plunged into darkness and Corbin barely manage to scoot out of the way. The truck landed with a thunk, and a one legged construction worker figurine popped out on the carpet. 

" Aww mom- he's broken!"

I glanced around for the missing leg, which was nowhere to be found. "No he's not- he's just a one legged construction worker!"

"But what can he do with one leg mom?"

"Oh he can drive a truck and operate the crane.  He can be the architect or the carpenter- in fact he can do pretty much anything!"

I pulled my iPad out as we released Corbin's younger siblings from their captivity. "Do you want to see some  kids who can do all the things you can do but may not have legs?" I asked him as I pulled up my favorite special needs/Chinese adoption Facebook group. With all kids crammed around me to get a better view, we flipped through pictures and noted a little gymnast missing one forearm, a boy without legs who rode a battery-operated tractor around while his brothers peddled bikes, and many other amazing kiddos who clearly were not letting a missing limb or differently shaped fingers get in their way of being kids. Corbin was in awe and gave his one-legged construction worker the seat of honor in his yellow pick-up truck. Leo meandered back to his other toys but Mila remained on my lap, staring intently at the Chinese faces on my iPad. 

We know that Mila was close to one or two of the young children at her orphanage. I have a few photos of her life before us- her referral photos, a group shot of all the kids from the orphanage, and a couple pictures of Mila with another child.  We were only a few weeks home when I showed her the group photo.  She looked closely at it with recognition and then proceeded to melt down and be inconsolable for the rest of the day. We put photos away after that. At just three years old, the risk is that without seeing these photos often, she will completely forget those friendly faces. Yet, at only three, she lacks the communication to tell us if seeing the photos are comforting or harmful to her. Are they really friendly faces?  With her so transfixed on the other Chinese children, I decided to try again.  Instead of pulling up the more personal photos that we had received from the orphanage, I instead showed her one of her friend's referral photos- a little boy who will be joining his forever family in the next few months. I remembered that this little boy was perhaps closest to Mila and that the two of them called each other 'brother' and 'sister.'  She squealed at seeing his familiar face and jabbered off in her special language. Her excitement drew Corbin and Leo away from their trucks and soon all kids were asking about and talking to the little boy on the screen. I said his Chinese name quietly and Mila perked up again. We looked at a few other kids from her orphanage and she recognized them as well. 

We flipped through photos of our trip to China and she happily tapped Austin's face and said 'Baba' and my photo as well and declared proudly, 'Mama!'  The first photo we took of the three of us - squished together in a van with Mila looking very afraid- was received well, but from there on she began to withdraw as she saw photos of herself in China. Finally she hopped off my lap and turned to some of her coping methods that we have seen all but disappear in recent days. I turned the iPad off, scooted the boys back to their trucks, and spent some time snuggling Mila. She was soon smiling and giggling again. 

What started as an attempt to avoid super gluing another 'guy' turned into a moment of recognizing that there was life before becoming a Nielsen for Mila. I am reminded of this more often than you might think- as we make the rounds of doctor appointments, there are always more boxes left blank for unknown than checked yes or no on the forms.  Her ability to put shoes and socks on by herself serve as reminders of some other woman's hands who must have patiently showed her how to stretch the socks out or untie the laces before fitting her foot in. And when I first climbed that ladder that started this whole crazy story, Mila took one look at my lower half dangling out of the ceiling and began sobbing and stomping the floor. I just have no idea...

So how does one honor an unknown past?  Because that truly is our desire. Not to fabricate a fairytale or portray a grand rescue, but to tell the truth,  as much of it as we know, as she is able to receive it.  Our time in China was perhaps the most challenging two weeks of my life. Yet I look back fondly and with nostalgia, a love for a new people and a new place that did not exist before that amazing adventure. At this point, our time together in China is not a fond memory for Mila.  I don't know if it ever will be.  But as the one entrusted to keeping the fragmented pieces of her past, I will do my best to express my gratitude for unknown hands that tied little shoes, unknown friends who reached through the bars of cribs, and most importantly, an unknown mother who chose life for her daughter even though it would mean making another heart breaking choice later on.  I am honored and humbled to have this responsibility and forever grateful for all the unknowns that brought our little girl to us. 

The common phrase is "demons in your past".  And while I know there are things that we are probably better off not knowing the specifics on regarding Mila's first three years, I'd rather focus on the God of Mila's past.  The God who protected her from inside her mother's womb, watched over her as she was found outside the orphanage gates, provided for her physically in a destitute and remote village, and instilled in her a fiery spirit that would persevere despite her cold surroundings.  A God that redeemed a hopeless situation for a little girl in China and a God who is teaching a very average family how to love extravagantly, just as He loves them.   The God of her past who will hopefully be the a God of her future as she grows to trust and love Him.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Only love can...

The month of love is upon us. February now also hosts Chinese New Year - a new holiday for our family to celebrate. So as I sit under our red construction paper lanterns strung along side blow up hearts and Xs and Os, I am pondering love and my little Chinese daughter napping in the other room.  

While we were in process to adopt, stories of those home and the transformation their children experienced was inspiring. The rallying cry was often "only love can."  Only love can mend this broken heart. Only love can make a family.  Only love can give this child a chance. What I've learned recently is that only my love "can't" do it all.  It can't heal my daughter, teach her safety, gain her trust.  It can't repair hurt feelings in my little boy who has lost his status as baby nor can it make every situation of stolen toys or lack of attention fair.  It can't bridge the three year gap that my daughter was not my daughter and fill me with the motherly feelings that I have for my kids who were with me from birth.  My love can't patiently show consistent connection with my little girl who seeks out other adults for positive attention as a self preservation means.  Daily I am reminded how much my love falls short.  

Love is patient- my love dried up at the many opportunities to be patient. A perfect example is corralling three little ones into car seats, waiting for them all to either refuse to sit down, refuse to let me buckle them, or refuse to buckle themselves into said car seats. My love is certainly not patient. 

Love is kind- too often kindness is sacrificed in my house.  Pajamas put on a little too roughly, good night tuck-ins rushed through, special requests denied just out of weariness. Kindness matters. But my weariness wins out more often than not. 

Love is not jealous- the online community of adoptive families is wonderful- but also misleading. I know what people show on Facebook is only a tiny piece of reality and yet it is increasingly easy to feed jealousy rather than respect for others and contentment in my own circumstances. My thoughts are not fueled by love but by jealousy as I wonder if I am the only adoptive mom doing this all wrong. 

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things- nope. My love does not even come close. I'd rather claim the victim than accept the responsibility. My love is weak and lacking. It is disillusioned and not hopeful. And it has an amazingly short memory. Those days pining for news from China, praying fervently for a child we had not even met, so quickly forgotten when that child is home, but crumpled on the floor and twitching, overwhelmed with everything new and refusing connection with her family.  My love comes up short. Only love can... But mine certainly cannot. 

And that is where I have arrived. At the end of myself. I can do hard things- for a little while. And then my human frailty shows through the cracks. My love is not enough. But God's is.  My morning ritual of thinking though each day's potential scenarios and how I will respond to them has changed to a plea for help, a cry for an ever present reminder that I. Just. Can't. Do. It. But God can. 

"God I am at the end of myself. This is hard and I don't know what I am doing. Surely I am doing more harm than good even though I've tried so very hard to be the best. Only Your love can redeem this mess that I've made. Please let me love her with Your love." 

I love the Phil Wickman "Amazing Grace" line, 

"Who makes the orphan a son or daughter? The King of Glory.  The King above all Kings.  This is amazing grace...."

I thought we had witnessed that already when we signed the dotted line in China, giving a scared little Chinese girl our last name.  But I've come to realize that shared last names do not guarantee love. As my attempts at loving her as my daughter have fallen short, a new prayer has been added to my morning ritual, 

"God, thank you for loving me as Your daughter. Please help me love her as my daughter.  Only YOUR love can."

My amazing friends and family ask me "how are you doing?" And I've jokingly answered how our bar has been lowered- if everyone has been mostly fed, we're good! Or if we all show up with shoes on, we're doing ok!  But really, I'm not doing ok. I've watched my best efforts at being a mother, being an adoptive parent, being a Christian crumble before my eyes. I am at the end of myself. And strangely, it seems that that  is where God wants me. At the end of myself leaves plenty of room for God's love to work. And really, that's better than my best efforts any day. So, if you ask, I am not ok. This is the hardest thing I've ever done and I feel like daily I screw everything up.  But I know that that is ok, because only God's love can truly bear, believe, hope, and endure all that life has to throw at it. The bar has been dropped- not just lowered- and the freedom of allowing God to move is absolutely amazing.