Thursday, April 7, 2016

Chunky oatmeal, hunger strikes, and God's amazing love

Seven days ago I sat nervously in the waiting room. A sense of dread made my stomach churn as I watched Mila. She was blissfully unaffected by my nerves as she performed chair gymnastics and charmed the sweat pants-clad people waiting their turn for physical therapy. Two weeks prior we had been in this same office. Mila had wowed the occupational therapist and we had a list of feeding tasks to accomplish before coming back. However, we had only one thing checked off that list that day.  Mila could eat peanut butter. That's it. No chunks, no dipping, no 'hard' food items anywhere near her mouth. We had failed. I had failed. 

We had our session. The OT didn't seem too disappointed as Mila happily participated in 'snacking.'  We were instructed to make her modified food- things she likes but with a chunky twist. So yogurt with graham cracker dust sprinkled on top. Apple sauce with cracker crumbs inside. Purées with small chunks. We call them 'parfaits.'  And in our session, Mila munched down on all these things, much to our OT's delight.  "No more formula and only one pediasure drink per day. Lots of parfaits. And see you in a month."

We went 18 meals without Mila eating. Hunger strike. All the things she ate in front of the OT were refused at home. She was hungry- at mealtime she would climb into her high chair and eagerly babble.  Her food would be put in front of her and immediately her mouth would turn down and her tiny hand would smack the table. She might take a bite or two but would then spit out everything and refuse to eat anymore. Her face lost the plumpness that it had gained the last four months home and her behavior tanked along with her blood sugar. Meal times were an angry battle and every other in between time we all tolerated (or didn't tolerate) an angry, hungry tiny three year old. I struggled mightily with accepting her mealtime rejections and dealing with the bad behavior all other times. I tried everything I could think of. We tried letting her self feed.  We tried feeding her.  We tried tricking her into tasting her food.  We even let her favorite buddy JJ try to feed her a big spoonful of applesauce with his chubby baby hand.  She turned it all down.  Frustration. I dreaded meal times and the battle that would ensue. I hated seeing Mila get so excited to eat and then dump her food on the floor or spit it out all over her clothes. I took it personally and frankly I could feel myself start to place my frustration on Mila instead of on the situation.  I wanted someone to blame for this problem and the tiny human covered in chunky oatmeal and screaming at me was a good target. But I knew that was wrong so I distanced myself emotionally from her. 

At six days into the hunger strike, I reached my breaking point. I was scared that she was losing too much weight, angry that we were in this situation in the first place, and just sad that I felt myself growing further and further away from Mila. After a day of phone calls and email exchanges with some medical people, I got a few more guidelines to follow for this feeding plan. But what had a greater impact on my heart was admitting all this out loud to my bible study and having a few close friends share words of wisdom and encouragement to me. I was at once convicted that my perspective of this was completely wrong. I was basing my love and affection for Mila on what she could- or couldn't - do. Her performance was a prerequisite for her acceptance and I was way off base. Running parallel to this, as it ALWAYS is, was my relationship with God. I felt that Mila's failure to eat was my failure to feed her.  Her rejection of food, and subsequently her rejection of me was because I wasn't good enough.  I was assuming that God's acceptance of me (because who else's really matters?) was based on my performance... And I was completely wrong again. 

Why is this lesson so hard to learn? Once I 'get it' - everything changes. God's love isn't provisional or limited or dependent. My love, on my own, is all of those things. But thankfully I am not dependent on my provisional, limited love. 

"There is no fear in love. Instead, perfect love drives out fear...We love because He first loved us." 1 John 4:18-19

This was a verse I turned to often while we were waiting to bring Mila home. I even made a necklace loosely based on this verse that said "Let your faith be bigger than your fear."  At the time I felt that we were stepping over our fear, in faith and love to follow God's call for us to adopt. There were many scary unknowns about the whole process and God was showing me that His love - and what He was calling our family to do in faith- was far greater than my fears. He still is speaking that message to me now that Mila is home. My fears aren't about an adoption failing because China didn't deem us qualified. Nor are they about  unknown health conditions that we would discover upon meeting Mila.  And they aren't even about what would happen to our family and the boys with another child- possibly one with special needs- coming into our family. My faith is bigger than those fears because God's love is bigger than those things. Ironically, the fear I struggle the most with is believing that God's love doesn't apply to me.  That I am not enough for Him to love. And here, manifested in an 18 meal hunger strike by my resilient daughter, that fear flashed to center stage and I let it take over. 

Meal 19 Mila ate all of her food. After the prayers of my friends, the confession of my heart, and the reality call that God's love is enough and applies to ALL, we are on a different trajectory. Meal 20, Mila ate her food again and had second servings. Meal 21 she ate a few bites and refused any more. But she is NOT defined by her ability or inabilities. Mila is my daughter, loved, chosen, wanted.  More importantly, she is a child of God, who's love for His children never falters. He sets the lonely in families- and as we say in this house, family is forever. 

And through these sometimes epic and sometimes insignificant battles in our lives, I am learning that I am a daughter, loved, chosen, wanted by a never failing, good, good, Father.  

Mila may choose to strike for another 18 meals. She might have enough will power to actually endanger her health and cause us to abandon the feeding plan we have. 

I hope and pray that this isn't the result but what I will continually remind myself of is that God's love is deeper and stronger than the willpower of a fighting three year old and more steady and sure than the insecurities and doubts of a 30 something year old who has striven for perfection and acceptance her whole life. God's love drives out fear and empowers us to love others.  May we fix our eyes on these truths and live like we truly believe that God's love is enough!

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