Back when we moved into our cozy cabin last fall – which at first felt anything but cozy – our resident stoic, Ezekiel, wisely stated that it would take “a month or a season or a year” for us to get used to it. It’s nice to have a rational person or two in this family, someone who can say practical things in difficult moments. We’re coming up quickly on a year here, and boy, was he right. We are content, grateful, and joyful to finally feel settled… like we’re home. We’re home after 7 years of constant change in the Air Force before God brought us to Mason’s dream job; home after a couple years of living in a rented house that we knew was a short-term solution; and home after a long attempt to acclimate someone into our family who was becoming increasingly agitated by these efforts. We had no idea what was to come when we moved into this house in the woods! God in His mercy led us to this simple, beautiful retreat because He knew exactly what was to come.
Sorting our thoughts is a work in progress. Explaining what transpired still takes effort. There’s still more for us to process. Here is what I can share with certainty: God has used these last several months to tear down idols in my heart, specifically the idols of others’ approval and my status with them. We’ve drawn closer to Christ, recognizing our total dependence on Him, and gained an overflow of grace for suffering people.
Some friends may be unsure of how much tiptoeing is necessary and wondering how and what we’re doing as a family these days. This update is for you! 🙂
I don’t know if Ezekiel, Eden and Isaiah were already thriving like this before, and maybe I just didn’t have the time or energy to notice; but each of their unique personalities seems to have exploded in a good way since April! They’re free to verbally process what they saw and experienced with Kami, and occasionally they’ll make a statement or ask a question that opens the door for a heart-to-heart. What Kami wasn’t able to do with us anymore was thrive. Ezekiel, Eden and Isaiah are now, by the grace of God, thriving in increasing measure!
We’ve been retracing some of our steps, from visiting favorite recreational spots as a family of five, to simply allowing ourselves to soak up special days like birthdays apart from the stress created by unmet needs. I think what made our home feel like a war zone was the vast array of unmet needs which we were not equipped to meet. Home is now a haven again. As we retrace these steps, we’re accepting the fact that that was then and this is now. We thank God for the past and look expectantly toward the future!
We don’t know where Kami is now, nor do we have the legal right to know. One friend visiting our house recently said something to the effect of “if a child can’t thrive here, she might not be able to thrive in any home!” We’ve come to the same conclusion through talking with experts and reprocessing tough memories. A traditional family setting may not always work for someone with Kami’s history. A group home or institution, one far superior to the one she left in Bulgaria, may be the place for her. Only God knows, and it all goes back to our faith in Him as her (and our) Rescuer. He used us to bring her across the ocean to a place where she could get the help she needs.
My experience as an adoptive mom shaped me in profound ways, and my recovery has taken its own form apart from that of Mason and the kids. In recalling my word for the year, rest, I’ve been doing a lot of it, particularly in the form of reading and music. I’ve spent time with Shakespeare, Austen, Tolkien, Alcott, Bronte, Lindbergh, and more. I read aloud to the kids for long, relaxed periods; we take trips to the library and sit on our living room floor beside tall stacks of books, delighting in going through them one by one. We play board games, and on weekends and evenings the five of us can laugh and connect without Mason and me needing to divide and conquer.
Out of respect for Kami’s new life and acknowledgement of the closed chapter of our time with her, we no longer feel comfortable sharing photos of her; but we have many of them and we look at them together often. If the LORD blesses us with more children, we will tell each of them about her, and although it might come out awkwardly as it’s still in the processing phase, we’ll keep on telling her story to the praise and glory of God when an appropriate opportunity comes up.
Here are some snapshots of our family life over the past few months, so you can take a peek into what our thrive looks like right now. 🙂
No matter how at home or out of place we may feel through various stages of our lives, as followers of Christ we know this world is not our home! What we have to look forward to in eternity is way better than the most serene landscape we could find here.
Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain.Psalm 127:1
From the moment we first set foot in the cabin in September, we were excited about the adventure of moving far out from traffic and cookie cutter suburbs with small lots! We knew we’d need to learn how to fix things, living in a 33-year-old home, but we felt ready to welcome the increased workload and simpler lifestyle.
Wow, I don’t even know where to begin, except that I have missed seeing this web page in front of me, helping me process life. (Those who turn to writing for mental, emotional, and spiritual processing know what I mean.)
We girls got lost this week. I felt completely lost in the process of leaving behind our “little” (2000 sq. ft.) rental home of 2 years, leaving behind all of the wonderful and horrible things that unfolded there. There were more wonderful moments than horrible ones, but I want to acknowledge both because they both made the home a special one. Every time we survived a wild rage with KJ, or Mason took a trip and we counted down the days to pick him up, or he and I navigated one of the inevitable conflicts that surface after 10 years of marriage, or one of our little pupils experienced a light-bulb moment at the school table, the joy & triumph of the moment seemed to seep into the walls. That rental home held alot of me! So I was the first one to burst into tears when we entered our new log cabin.
From the moment we first set foot in the cabin in September, we were excited about the adventure of moving far out from traffic and cookie cutter suburbs with small lots! We knew we’d need to learn how to fix things, living in a 33-year-old home, but we felt ready to welcome the increased workload and simpler lifestyle. We’ve made it through our first three nights here, going on four, and it feels like it’s been weeks! I did not expect such a wave of grief. Sometimes my emotions surprise me, especially the negative ones, since I’m usually very optimistic. Friends and family have been so encouraging though, and that’s my love language, so I think I’m going to make it! Though I felt lost, very awfully painfully lost for a couple of days, I’m found. God is good, and He encouraged me just today by sending us water filtration angels (actually just a salesman and a technician in direct answer to prayer) named Walter and John to make our water usable. Turns out our well pump was basically drawing up lake water…no wonder it was brown, metallic, and smelled and tasted disgusting. That was super traumatizing!!! I will never again take clean water for granted. It’s only been a few hours since the equipment has been installed, and it’s already worlds better. So now that we have clean drinking water, I feel I have absolutely nothing to complain about, and I am reminded of how much the Lord loves us.
The next girl who got lost was sweet Eden Elizabeth. The morning after we moved in, we were too shell shocked to consider going to church. I was weeping uncontrollably, so Mason (wise man) decided to pile us all in the car and get the kids donuts and pizza. As I said, he’s a wise man. After that, we stopped by a church party. (We recently changed churches, adding another layer to the adjustment happening right now, but that was an adjustment that was natural and necessary.) At the party, inflatable bounce houses were set up outside, and inside there were tables set up for a meal. Eden was eager to play with some of her new friends in the bounce houses, so we told her we’d be inside. Awhile later, the 5 of us were ready to head home, but when we stopped to pick up Eden at the bounce house, she was nowhere to be found. Mason took the other three to the van while I went inside to look for her. At no point were we really scared, since the party was in a safe location and we were among friends; but as I surveyed the large party room and saw little Eden curled up in a chair near the corner crying, I knew that she was scared. “I couldn’t find you!” She wailed through rolling tears. I gave her a big hug, assured her we’d always find her and that she had been wise to wait in the place where we had last been together inside, and then brought her to the car where she quickly recovered. Daughter one, lost and found.
Then, another one got lost. Our few days here at the cabin have been crazy and full of unpacking, figuring out meals in our new kitchen, Mason making trips to clean things up at the rental, appointments, mental health trips, and rapid fire conversations between Mason and me while children are asking for things or needing correction. So last night, he and I decided to purposely park ourselves at our newly set up dining room table to have a leisurely, focused discussion. It was great! So calm. Then we realized that Kami was no longer on the back porch where we last saw her. She also wasn’t on the front porch or the driveway or in the yard. The gate to the lakefront park across the street was wide open, so I headed over to see if she had made the walk to the playground. I asked a guy there if he had seen a little girl in a green striped shirt, and he shook his head no. I crossed the street back to our house and saw that Mason had searched the house and found no trace of her. Her shoes and the soccer ball she’d been playing with were both gone. I didn’t have many ideas at this point besides figuring that maybe I should call the police if we didn’t find her soon, to report her missing and get some help. I didn’t feel much emotion at all, but I did ask God to help us find her. Eden and Isaiah searched closets and bathrooms, concerned and wanting to help with the search. (I will not record what Ezekiel said. Ahem.)
The previous few days had been super rough with Kami. Of course, she’s under a huge amount of stress with the total change in her surroundings. If I, as a healthy, emotionally stable, well-loved adult, found myself weeping uncontrollably at times during this move, how much more do you think she’s struggled? We understand this truth intellectually, but when it comes to dealing moment-to-moment with her poor behavior in the middle of our big transition, you can imagine it’s not easy to keep this compassion in the forefront of our minds. So these were the circumstances surrounding our little missing person. Mason hopped into the car and drove down the side street on which the house sits. He came back a few minutes later with a small figure beside him in the front seat. I expected I may have been upset with her for running off, but again, I was pretty emotionless. “Well, Miss Kami, where did you decide to run off to?” No answer from her, of course; but Mason had found her with some of our new neighbors whose yard she’d been aimlessly traversing. She had walked about a quarter mile, by Mason’s reckoning, and was covered in bug bites. Her face was completely blank – no relief, no fear, no joy. Just existence. Kami didn’t indicate to us whether or not she cared to be found. In fact, I wouldn’t hold it against her if she was somehow hoping we wouldn’t find her, but I doubt she had thought it through that far. She was just walking, staring at her shoes and her ball, probably. She’s looked vacant since we moved. With nothing familiar to hold onto, it seems her ability to play and process and so many other things has been suspended. It didn’t help that we decided (once again – why do we never learn?) to put her and Eden in the same room. The cabin has 3 rooms rather than the 4 we had in the rental, so we figured it was time to try room sharing again. Some people just need their own space though, y’all. The reason I have time to sit and type this at 10:30 pm is that we moved Ezekiel, Eden, and Isaiah into one room, moved a bunch of their toys into the other bedroom, and officially dubbed it “the playroom, where Kami sleeps.” You gotta do what you gotta do. International/older child adoptive parents will get me on this one. Like I said: Some people just need their own space!!!
I honestly do not know why I don’t have a single picture of the log cabin accessible to share with you. I’ll try to take some soon. This will be a words-only post. I do have a photo of the nasty green water that the filtration salesman sampled from our tap, but that’s just gross and I don’t want to look at it again. So here ends the glimpse into our record chaos. If you’re in the middle of a big transition or feeling overwhelmed by your many responsibilities, maybe this will encourage you as it does me:
Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you. ~ Isaiah 41:10, The Message
Hoping to remember this next time I start to panic,
Mason and I decided to let Eden have her wish of rooming with her sister on our trip. We consider it a necessary life skill to be able to fall asleep in a room with a sibling. So last week, we gave it a try.
Last week we arrived in North Carolina for a month of work-related training. We get antsy once we’ve stayed in the same place for a couple years, and having just reached two years in our Florida home, it was a good time for a change of scenery.
Our family is staying in a modest, pleasant 3-bedroom apartment on campus of the organization hosting the training. When we walked in, it felt like a TLF (military temporary living facility) and looked like a grandma’s house – we felt right at home.
Eden had been talking about wanting to share a room in North Carolina with Kami Joy for weeks. The last time she attempted to sleep in a room with her sister, it was just days after we returned from Bulgaria. Eden was 3 years old, and at some point in the wee hours of the morning her new sister leaped into her bed and started violently yanking the pillows off. Kami was wild and confused, with drug withdrawals in full swing. We quickly moved Eden into Ezekiel’s room (baby Isaiah was still in our room) and gave our new child her own room for sleep training. She had slept in a crib up to age 7 in the orphanage and hadn’t even known how to climb out of it. Every morning she waited for an orphanage worker to come lift her out and herd her through the day, so the freedom of an open bed and room was overwhelming for her.
It’s been almost 3 years since all of that happened, so after giving it some thought, Mason and I decided to let Eden have her wish of rooming with her sister on our trip. We consider it a necessary life skill to be able to fall asleep in a room with a sibling. So last week, we gave it a try.
Eden is loving, forgiving, determined, laid back, and not easily fazed. The first night, she snuggled down into her bed (on the right), coolly reading a book while Kami tried to process what was happening. The door wasn’t closed as it has been for 3 years; it was open. She wasn’t alone; there was another body in the room. It wasn’t pitch dark as it had been her whole life; rays of a flashlight bounced off the walls.
Like many other lessons we’ve taught Kami Joy, it was a bit like puppy training. “Stay. Lay down. Quiet.” Coming in to correct, saying goodnight, returning to correct, repeat. It was a struggle, but she submitted without a huge fight and Eden didn’t take any of our offers to move her bed into her brothers’ room. She was excited to finally be able to sleep near her sister, and she expressed hope that it would work so she could do it again the next night.
Kami Joy has now been with us for half of Eden’s life! Ezekiel is the only child with a functional memory of life before her. And he’s truthful with us that if he could go back in time and cast his vote (we did ask the kids, little as they were, if they were on board with this rescue mission) – he would say no. We allow him to express his feelings because they’re legitimate. It has been hard, but God has allowed us to hold on to our joy, so it’s been a strengthening kind of hard rather than a destructive kind. Ezekiel also says he plans to adopt when he grows up, which blows my mind after all he has seen!
Back to room sharing: the first night took some focused training, but eventually she fell asleep and stayed asleep. The next night was easier, and we thought we had arrived. The third night, we tried to ease the sensory burden on Kami by letting Eden read in the living room. That way the flashlight wouldn’t be a distraction. But after Eden went back into the bedroom to lay down, some sort of switch flipped in Kami … maybe she thought she was getting the room back to herself. She clearly wasn’t prepared for Eden to come back. Whatever occurred, it was dark, and Eden soon tiptoed back out to the living room to tell us that Kami was banging on the wall. I hopped up from the couch, and during the handful of seconds it took me to get to the bedroom, we heard a huge thump. It was a strange reverberating noise, and when I entered the room I found her sitting on the floor next to her bed in defiance of our instruction. Mason was on my heels, and when he flipped on the light it revealed a gash on her left cheekbone very close to her eye. The blood started dripping down her pajamas and onto my feet, leaving a trail to the bathroom where we checked out the injury. She was screaming hysterically, probably from a combination of pain, shock, and anger at herself that she had taken her protest too far and was suffering for it. It is miraculous how God makes moms able to kick into doctor/nurse mode, no matter how little experience we have. I applied firm pressure to get the bleeding to stop (pretty sure she 100% hated us during these minutes, judging from how she was swinging at us and trying to get away), and when it finally stopped we were surprised at the depth and length of the cut. We realized the only surface in the room that could have left that mark was the metal bed frame. She can revert to thrashing and head banging when frustrated and had thrashed her face straight into the frame.
For a moment we considered taking her somewhere for medical care, but then we realized she’d have to be sedated to get anything done, and that by the time we would be able to reach an emergency room from our remote location outside a new city at 11:00 pm we could probably get the situation under control ourselves. (We weren’t really by ourselves; lots of prayer was going on!) We went into surgeon & assistant mode: “I need melaleuca, frankincense and band-aids!” We soon had her patched up with the bleeding stopped, but she was still hysterical. Since the boys were already asleep and we wanted to help them stay that way, we took Kami into our bedroom closet to help her calm down. The screaming and howling were loud, so we tried a few things to muffle and distract. Then I realized that with the emergency over, I should hug her. I felt truly sorry that she had put herself in so much pain. I pulled her close and rubbed her back, just like I would do for one of my other kids, and through her sobs she managed to sputter “you can hug, you can hug.” Maybe God allowed her to experience that violent accident so she could both receive care and comfort from us and remember exactly why thrashing and banging in anger is a bad idea. She is no stranger to self-harm due to a history of neglect and abuse we will never fully know about, but it’s been awhile since she drew blood.
When we emerged from our closet with an exhausted Kami Joy, where do you think Eden was? She was standing ready to give a feel-better hug and climb back into the bed beside Kami’s. It was late, so we put Eden in the boys’ room to salvage a good night’s sleep for her.
The next night Eden moved back in with her sister. Kami Joy drifted off without much trouble at all. Butterfly bandages and liquid bandaid have her wound healing up safely. Like every scar, this one will have a story behind it.
God is patiently working in me as I struggle to make each of my words gifts to this girl. Someone reminded me this week that she is a treasure. We’re still figuring out so much about her. We haven’t yet settled on what name fits her. Kami, Kami Joy, KJ, or Joy? We’re still working on that. When I tell her story to new people (of which we are meeting many this summer), I rush into it, and I don’t always know whether I feel ashamed of her behavior (most 10-year-olds don’t chew on toys) or proud of her progress (the odds were stacked against her to ever speak, use the toilet, or function in public). It’s confusing. But the people who love us best forgive us and understand that it’s complicated. And the people who love Jesus understand why she is here. The people who don’t know Him just think we are crazy for bringing undue trouble upon ourselves. If only they understood that God’s heart is for the oppressed, the neglected, the fatherless, the outcast. And how will they know if we don’t show them? God’s love knows no borders, so neither should ours.
Defend weak people and orphans. Protect the rights of the oppressed and the poor. Psalm 82:3
I want you to know that this is how it can feel to adopt. It’s not natural, it’s supernatural. The only reason she is here is because God reached out His mighty arm to save her and make her a new creation. He chose our family to carry out this plan, and I must believe it’s because He’s given us the tools to do the job.
As we near Kami Joy’s third “rebirthday” this July, I’m thinking back over the past three years and rereading my old blog entries chronicling our intense adoption journey. Want to join me for the ride? 🙂
August 2014, Sofia, Bulgaria
Mason is putting Kami to bed and I am taking the advice of a kind fellow adoptive mom who told me some wise things today. She said that even if I feel like I’m taking care of the neighbor’s kid, just make sure to take good care of that neighbor’s kid. Kamelia has been with us for one week tomorrow, and yes, she usually feels like a neighbor’s kid and not our own just yet, but the love will grow. It has plenty of time to grow, and until then I can make the choice to love her through my actions while waiting for the feelings to catch up. What motivates me even more than the neighbor’s kid analogy is letting myself acknowledge that we just took in an orphan. Technically she is not an orphan anymore, praise God, but I don’t quite feel like her parent yet, which leaves us in an interesting place. It’s complicated and, as I’ve transparently shared, messy. Three more full days, and then we’re heading home. We continue to pray that the visa process will be fast and timely so that we can all fly home together. There is a possibility she will scream and need to be physically restrained for the whole flight, but I hope she doesn’t. Either way, we just need to get out of here and get home!
Kami’s favorite new word combination is “push, pull.” It describes exactly how I’ve felt this week! Encouragement, despair. Hope, fear. Rest, anxiety. The war has been unceasing! I don’t know how much of this is normal adoption emotion, how much is the intense sadness I feel at not holding my precious one-year-old and squeezing his brother and sister, and how much is actual spiritual warfare. But I do know that the enemy has capitalized on my confusion and emotional instability. In retrospect, I can’t believe we are doing this. The only explanation is God. And He is the one who grounds me at the end of the day, helping me reorient my heart to hear His voice and drown out the lies. Lord, please help us raise up Kamelia in the way she should go, restore her to the state she would have been had she never been neglected, and create beautiful relationships between her and every member of our family!
September 2014, Montgomery, Alabama
The Lord is changing my heart towards Kami. It may seem strange to some that a child who is chosen, prayed for, and sought after for months and months through the exciting process of international adoption would not be easily accepted into their new family. It hasn’t been an easy or even smooth transition so far. The hurt contained in this little person exceeded our imaginations, and her hurt has in turn hurt those of us who are suddenly sharing our home with her. We knew this would happen, but we had no way of knowing how traumatic it would be. It is difficult to love a person – even a small, deprived person who has known only a pitiful existence – when they are hurting you. Weeks ago God showed me the verse Jesus spoke about doing good to those who curse you and praying for your enemies. Kami has never been our enemy, as we’ve always been fighting for her, but it’s sure felt like fighting against her at many times. The point is that God IS changing my heart towards her.
Kami, age 7, next to 1-year-old Isaiah in the little apartment in Montgomery where we fought every day just to not give up the fight. Her hair was short from her last orphanage cut and she was wearing size 4T clothing. She could not dress herself, chew her food, speak, or use the toilet. The messes we saw in the morning sometimes were unspeakable. As you can see looking at her right foot, she could barely process the feeling of being barefoot on carpet. She was essentially nonverbal except for unintelligible babbling and spent her days screaming, thrashing, scratching, lunging, and pushing, and was paralyzed by sensory dysfunction. For days in a row she would not eat or drink. This feels like looking through a window into another lifetime for me.
October 2014, Shreveport, Louisiana
Attachment between us and Kami is coming slowly. Right now I would describe it as if we’d been through a traumatic car accident together. Simply surviving has bonded us together – when you’ve been through so much with someone, things that outsiders could never fully understand, you begin to feel connected simply by virtue of sharing the experience. (This applies to our marriage, too!) I do think she is beautiful. Sometimes I think she is cute. I believe she has limitless potential. I see her progressing emotionally and behaviorally. Sunday we spent about 7 minutes in Krispy Kreme, the entire family. She sat and ate a donut without making a scene. I honestly didn’t know if we’d ever be able to take her out in public, but we did. She’s had a couple of playground trips now without tantrums. Sometimes she whines, but so does Eden, so I won’t hold whining against her. She is VERY stubborn. This stubbornness helped her parent herself for 7 years, but the majority of it has no place in our home. Attachment with a cooing baby, adorable toddler, or even an emotionally stable older child from quality foster care can come naturally, but attachment to a stubborn, previously undisciplined 7-year-old does not, my friends!
Moms, you know how when you look at your baby, you can almost feel your brain being flooded by intense bonding hormones? I felt and still do feel that with our other three kids. Sometimes an experience with Kami, even a tender and positive one, will trigger an outpouring of adrenaline from my very confused and traumatized glands. It’s almost as if my body is rebelling against this unnatural connection, screaming “you didn’t deliver this baby, she’s not a baby, what are you doing loving on her as if she were yours?!?!” I am all about sharing truth and I want you to know that this is how it can feel to adopt. It’s not natural, it’s supernatural. The only reason she is here is because God reached out His mighty arm to save her and make her a new creation. He chose our family to carry out this plan, and I must believe it’s because He’s given us the tools to do the job. It sounds strange, but even when it feels like we’re the worst fit for her, I know that there isn’t another family better equipped for this child.
January 2015, Shreveport, Louisiana
Recently we went to Chick-fil-a for dinner as a family. It was blissfully uneventful. Mason and I sat on a bench together while Ezekiel, Kami and Eden squished onto the one opposite us, and Isaiah happily people-watched from a highchair. It was so…normal. Easy. Enjoyable. Why did I not believe this day would come? Why did I think my life was over and that the rest of my pitiful days would be lived out in frantic mother-of-four isolation? There are a few possible answers to those questions, among them being post-adoption depression and profound psychological adjustment. The healing I am seeing unfold before my eyes is exactly what God promised us before we started this journey. It’s just that the path has been so painful and difficult in places that at times I had convinced myself that we were on the wrong one.
Living together for six months can bond you to someone. It was very awkward parenting a complete stranger, and it was really, really hard to start out a parenting journey with fight-or-flight surges rather than warm, nurturing feelings. As a new adoptive mom to a child from a very hard place, I’ve moved through stages of compassion, frustration, fear, anger, acceptance and hope (sometimes all in one day) in my relation to her. I’ve been trying to keep in mind the helpful advice to put feelings in the backseat, and it helped me justify my lack of them, but praise God – the feelings train is finally starting to catch up. I know I’m using the word feeling alot because it feels good to finally have some feelings to support this new relationship, but the truth is that it doesn’t matter if I feel like loving as Christ loves. I’m called to do it anyway.
I am the closest relationship Kami has ever experienced in her life. It’s obvious that the five of us, Mason, me, and our other three, are closer to her now than anyone else has ever been, but I say I am her closest because I am her most consistent caretaker. I oversee almost all her daily activities, feed her almost every meal, and am training and bonding with her during the workday while Mason is gone. Because of this, she tries to push me away in subtle ways to see how I will react. I’m sure she wants to test the boundaries to see if I will stick around.
I left the book of Jude open on the kitchen counter this week. It reminded me every time I walked by that I no longer live according to natural instinct because God’s Spirit lives in me (Jude 19). There is absolutely no room for my instinctive response, but only for the response of careful training and instruction that is my responsibility as her mother. In the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
June 2015, Shreveport, Louisiana
From what I understand, the months of intense trauma and stress in our home caused me to have unusually (dare I say dangerously) high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Due to Kami’s tragic past, she came into our family with skyrocketed stress hormone levels, and as hers gradually went down, mine went up. This is what I meant all of the times when people asked me how things were going and all I could think of to respond with was “it has been costly.” That was an uncomfortable exchange of trauma that happened. But I can now say I am grateful for the chance to take on her stress, even to suffer under it for a little while, when I remember that the Lord Jesus did that with my sin. He took it on and suffered under it in order to defeat it. That’s exactly what is happening in this home by His grace.
November 2015, Kissimmee, Florida
Here is Kami, age 8, at church this morning. She speaks in full sentences, and when I remember her at this time last year, it doesn’t matter anymore that the words in the sentences are arranged strangely. She dresses herself, in size 8-10 clothing, uses the toilet like a pro, and has very few remaining sensory issues. She knows how to play, jump, climb, slide, obey, and communicate. As I write she’s standing next to me looking at the pictures and talking about what I’m doing. It feels this month like we are finally emerging from the woods enough for some real bonding to take place. I took her to visit a special needs school last week, and I walked out feeling unsure if I even want to put her in school anymore. She is doing so well at home and, even on the hard days, she is growing and learning by leaps and bounds. We still have our share of challenges, but today I’m just celebrating the power of God’s Word in changing her life. Because it’s God’s Word that told us to care for orphans, and it’s God’s Word that enabled us to go where He sent us to bring an orphaned child into our family, and it’s God’s Word that enables us today to train her up up in the way she should go, no matter how many years were lost to abandonment.
August 2016, Kissimmee, Florida
It’s taken two years for me to feel mostly like my old self again. My old self could often laugh at the days to come, like the Proverbs 31 woman, and generally woke up peaceful and eager to do my tasks of child-raising each day. I am so grateful that God in His mercy has restored me, because for many months following our adoption of Kami, waking up was painful. Every morning my eyes would fly open to the sounds of her screaming, banging, thrashing, howling, or babbling. In an instinctive effort to preserve the home environment for my first three little ones, I would fly out of bed, adrenaline pumping, to silence the outburst. My stomach would be churning and my heart pounding, from what felt like the moment I awoke to the moment I fell asleep at night. For what seemed like a very long time, fighting for this child’s life felt like fighting against her.
Today, June 16, 2017
I’m starting to feel like I love her, and I’m starting to feel like she’s mine.
It all started with a piano. Loresa, a friend of Mason’s mom, asked one day if we would like a free piano. When she relayed the offer, my first inclination was no, thank you. I figured our open floor plan, which has our kitchen, dining room, living room, and school room all together, seemed full enough; and besides, I hadn’t played piano for years. Mason and I talked it over and felt a tug to accept the kind gift. It was delivered a couple of months ago to a cozy spot next to the dining room table.
This piano has been therapy to my soul. I never would have guessed that I wanted one! I had no idea how good it would be for me, and how fun it would be to pull out all my old music books and remember how to play songs full of pleasant memories. Eden was the first to try to teach herself to play (that lasted all of about 2 weeks), Ezekiel compiles a lineup of special songs (all in minor keys, of course) for me to play him each day, Isaiah snuggles up next to me with his chubby little arm around me says “I love you, Momma!” when I play, and Kami has learned to process and enjoy a new kind of sound in the house. This piano, at first a seemingly random offer to be passed over, has become a sweet gift to every member of the family – even Mason, who’s not the keenest on musical appreciation. (Thanks, Loresa!)
This got me thinking about some other gifts I’ve been hesitant to receive. I heard on the radio the other day the idea that God’s will is everything we want, if we knew all the facts. Of course, we don’t know all the facts, but sometimes we get far enough down the road to see glimmers of them in this life.
One gift I didn’t know I wanted at the time was our third baby. Isaiah is a kind, cuddly, smart, empathetic member of the family, and he’s got a glue-like quality that pulls everybody together. He totally disrupted our plans to adopt from South America in 2012, and we were pretty upset that our grand orphan care mission was derailed by an unforeseen pregnancy. We were foolish and shortsighted, and Isaiah is the best surprise we have ever received! it just takes one look at him every day for God to remind me to trust Him and be patient – it can take 9 months or more to see His purposes unfold. 🙂
Sometimes we wrestle with the gifts He drops into our laps, particularly when they take us on rollercoaster rides. This has been the case with Kami Joy. I was encouraged to hear one international adoptive mom share with me recently that it took her close to 10 years to feel love for her child. (If you haven’t adopted a traumatized older child, that might sound heartless. It’s quite the opposite. Like so many other things in life, it’s hard to understand unless you’ve lived it.) We do have many moments and days now where we feel warm feelings toward her, but we still have days where we simply choose to love her through our actions in the absence of feelings. She’s a gift that God has used to humble, soften, refine, and bless us.
Here’s another gift I never would have asked for: a cancer diagnosis. It was like something from a movie, finding myself in a doctor’s office with my spouse where I was told very seriously that I had cancer. This happened to me last month. I think the whole thing was a bit over-dramatized on the medical side, but God’s not intimidated by that. He taught me so much through the six-letter word that I was afraid of. I was pretty upset at first and spent a few days crying and resigning myself to all sorts of horrible treatments. Then we prayed, educated ourselves, calmed down, asked friends to pray, and prayed some more. We watched portions of The Truth About Cancer, I scoured the internet looking for home remedies, we spoke with trusted friends, and we used unconventional things like black seed oil, eggplant extract, baking soda, Essiac tea, and of course, our doTERRA essential oils. During the time between my biopsy and my visit to the oncologist, the growth had almost disappeared. The oncologist needed help finding it, yet flippantly dismissed the notion that natural treatments could have helped. 😉 It is completely gone, with only a small scar showing where it was! The Lord led some of our friends to pray specifically for clear guidance on whether or not we should proceed with surgery. He gave it, and we aren’t planning on surgery right now.
God healed that small tumor. He is so awesome. If I could guess, I think one reason He gave me this gift was to demolish a huge fear stronghold in my life. I have been afraid dozens of times in my life that I might have cancer. (I’m not a hypochondriac, but I have leanings in that direction.) During both of my visits to the doctor, I felt God’s overwhelming presence with me. It was so amazing to be in a situation that I had feared for my entire life, yet to be overcome with peace that only comes through a personal relationship with Jesus. He was right there with me the whole time, and I was reminded that my times are in His hands (Psalm 31:15).
Another fun aspect of this whole experience was seeing Mason, my eternally calm husband, receive with me the doctor’s news that the biopsy had come back cancerous. Not surprisingly, he remained unruffled. He might drive people nuts with his bluntness and expressionless-ness at times, but his coolness under pressure is a great trait. This also makes us a good team, since I tend to spazz out on both ends of the emotional spectrum.
Another thing we may not have known we wanted was the call to leave Mason’s last career when it didn’t satisfy our souls. (We have many wonderful friends continuing to serve in that career in obedience to God, and they are right where they need to be, and we are so grateful for their service!) God has a specific purpose for each of our lives, and because He showed us what it was for us and equipped us to follow, we are now experiencing the deepest soul satisfaction of our lives. It’s been a season of sweetness where I’m often overcome by God’s crazy goodness to guide us so closely and be so active in our daily lives. The days fly by, they get intense, and I mess up; but sometimes I have a hard time calming down enough to sleep at night because I’m so excited! Jesus says in Matthew 17:20, “if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” Imagine the possibilities!
Who can list the glorious miracles of the LORD? Who can ever praise him half enough? Psalm 106:2
I’m learning to be grateful for all His gifts, even the ones I didn’t ask for.
***I want to include some encouragement for anyone who’s struggling with their health and feeling like there is no hope outside of conventional medicine. While there is definitely a time and place for conventional medicine, there is also a lot you can do at home using God’s creation under His guidance. For anyone who might be interested, here are the affiliate links for a few of the products I used. No, I am not diagnosing or treating anyone else’s illnesses by sharing about these products. 🙂
Reading my journal entries from two years ago is surreal for me because I feel like a different person after all that our family has experienced since then. Would you like to travel back in time with me to July 28, 2014, the day our 7-year-old daughter was born? Let’s go.
Ever since we decided to take the focus off of Kami’s actual birthday and instead focus on the day she finally began to live, I’ve been eager to revisit that day in Bulgaria with you. Reading my journal entries from two years ago is surreal because I feel like a different person after all that our family has experienced since then. Would you like to travel back in time with me to July 28, 2014, the day our 7-year-old daughter was born? Let’s go.
As pickup day comes to a close, I am thinking of a thousand things to share. Kami is laying peacefully in bed for the moment, chatting and singing to herself in the dark. We made a BIG rookie mistake trying to put her to bed when it was still light outside, despite the fact that she had missed her nap and was beyond exhausted from the upheaval of the day. But the sun is almost down and all the lights are off, so hopefully this will be her and our ticket to sleep. We have prayed and prayed for her little heart through the fits, knowing that it won’t always be like this. It is really hard, though. Mason was sure to ask me to be up front about this fact and not make adoption sound like a perfect, easy, nice thing to do. It isn’t! But I am going to attempt to arrange my scattered thoughts to describe the day in detail.
We slept remarkably well in Vidin on Sunday night after our two-day trip across the world. That morning we awoke excited, a little nervous, and ready to go do what we had wanted to do on our last visit in February – bring Kami home with us.
We stopped at Kauflands, the local grocery store, on the way to buy some bananas, diapers and wipes for the other children in the orphanage. Slavina, our facilitator, helped us. Once we arrived and unloaded the goods, we waited for a few minutes in the orphanage lobby and saw a group of about 6 precious boys, all between the ages of 1 and 5, I would guess, taking a walk. They were adorable. I’ve no doubt that if all of their sweet faces were listed for adoption, they’d quickly be chosen. They looked healthy, young, and cute! These are the ones that easily get chosen, yet here they were living in an orphanage. Unfortunately, even if they are actually orphans, they may not be listed with any agencies so nobody may know they are even there. Mason and I have a prayer that the Christ followers in Vidin and all over Bulgaria will volunteer to take these and other children into their homes and help close down these awful remnants of communism called orphanages! Until that day, God will keep sending people of other nationalities to adopt these children.
We were soon called up to the director’s office where we sat down for a very businesslike exchange of papers, files and signatures. Had I been a fly on the wall (an American fly) I would have guessed this transaction had to do with a piece of property like a house or car, or possibly an animal. While we were listening to the meeting going on in Bulgarian, the office door opened and in walked Kami, dressed in the beautiful blue outfit we brought for her (we were asked to hand over her new pull-up, shoes, and clothes before the meeting so that a worker could dress her).
She walked straight over to us, obviously recognizing us, took our hands, looked into our eyes and let us love on her. I had asked God to please let me feel an overwhelming love for her when I saw her, and He did. The first thing she said was “hubava Kami!” which means “beautiful Kami” – she was a fan of the new outfit from head to toe. We gave her some water and let her mess with the iPad. For old time’s sake – and because I can’t be sure she heard His amazing name at all in the last 5 months – I sang the old favorite “Jesus Loves Me”. She quickly sang the tune back to me more accurately than I had sung it to her. It’s pretty impressive that she could pick up the tune, given my poor rendition. Later in the car, she was humming back the tunes playing on the radio (an interesting mix of Spanish, techno, and American ’70s songs). Right now she is still awake and singing “Jesus Loves Me” with her own words.
She was very eager to go on an adventure with us and was practically pulling us to the car. Little did she know this was not a field trip and she would not be going back!
The car ride went great for the first hour and a half. She ate, and ate, and ate – bars, goldfish, airplane snacks, pretzel sticks, and everything we had accessible in our bags. This led to an encounter between Kami and the toilet at a gas station which did not go well. Changing her diaper will take some major getting used to. It reminds me of changing Ezekiel when he was almost 4 and way too big to be pooping in his pants, but she has obviously endured traumatic experiences with the toilet and is a much different case. This is a challenge we will wait to tackle at home, most likely, though we’ll do our best to let her know she can use the toaletna whenever she wants. She will probably benefit from seeing Ezekiel and Eden use it at home! The second half of the trip after the rest stop was hard. She wanted to get out and cried a lot. This was fortunately intermingled with sweet episodes of resting her head on my chest and playing with Mason.
When we finally arrived in Sofia, Kami was so exhausted from missing her regular afternoon nap that she was losing it. I knew this would be a problem for my people-pleasing self, but being in a foreign city with a screaming child that everyone knows I’m responsible for is hard. Fortunately this doesn’t seem to ruffle Mason. I’m so glad the Lord allowed us to come together! We make a great team. I proceeded to lose it almost as bad as Kami when I checked us in at the hotel desk and they asked if it was a 10-night reservation. Ten nights?! Here?! With a child who is terrified to be with us?! About an hour later, we took her to get a passport photo made, which was a challenging trip. At that point I imagine she wanted nothing more than to see her familiar yellow building in Vidin. Fortunately our agency made it easy for us to wait outside, walking her up and down the street and feeding her a giant jam-filled pancake instead of waiting inside the crowded government building for our turn. What a blessing that was. After that, we came back to the hotel to give her the shower she’d been wanting all day and to get her ready for bed. I have to say, bathing her and brushing her teeth helped us feel like we were really her parents. To brush her freshly washed hair and be responsible for these simple daily tasks for the first time was a big confidence builder. During the times Mason left the room to go to the grocery store or to take a shower, I benefited from one-on-one time with our new daughter to play and interact with her alone as we both figure each other out. Fortunately she does not flip out when either one of us leaves the room, so that makes it easier on us. On the other hand, it would probably signal healthy attachment if she did flip out…maybe that is to come!
Mason was the bedtime victor. We prayed and talked and both beat our heads a little bit, figuratively speaking, along with Kami, who unfortunately did it literally; but after several failed attempts and a few fits, he got her to sleep around 10:30. We pray each day will get a little bit less intense as she wakes up to our faces tomorrow and begins to learn that she can trust us. She also took the opportunity when Mason was out today to test her limits with me, and it is a beautiful thing for me as a mom to see the first glimmers of learning through gentle and firm instruction how she is to behave in a family. I know the road will be long, but to have finally started the journey feels amazing.
We came to Bulgaria to get the little girl that Jesus, in His great love for all the little children, laid on our hearts last May. Through all the joyful and tearful moments, He has been here, and I can rest secure tonight knowing He will be here tomorrow, too.
Wow, does reading that account take us back in time! I wrote more during pickup trip that I’ll share soon. If you stick around to follow the whole journey, be prepared. It gets ugly, but it also gets beautiful!
I am as grateful for these words now as I was then:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4
Christmas isn’t usually my favorite time of year. I took down the decorations first thing on December 26. I was glad to see them go! I enjoy surprises and gift-giving, but the confusing history of the holiday and mishmash of traditions tend to bother me. I’ve always been a bit grinchy.
But there was something special about this Christmas. It’s great to be near family with no pressure to travel for the second year in a row, but beyond that, I think I understand more about JOY than ever before. In Luke 2:10 an angel says to shepherds, “I bring you good news that will bring GREAT JOY to all people.”
One evening, I went to church with Ezekiel, Eden and Isaiah. It was Mason’s last weekend of Perspectives, and during that 15-week course he made sure I had the chance every weekend to attend church while he kept Kami. (Sitting with her in church is more of an intense training session than a time of worship!) These three sat quietly, coloring and listening – a Christmas miracle! – and I was actually able to relax and listen. Our pastor spoke about the GREAT JOY of Christ’s coming. I couldn’t write notes fast enough because I wanted to remember everything he was saying. The New Testament, he said, is the most JOYful book in existence. There are 326 words for JOY used in it. JOY flows from close union with the Holy Spirit. Listening to all of this solid teaching, my mind went back to the moment in time when the Lord told me we needed to give Kami the middle name “Joy.” At the time, it seemed like a good fit; surely she’d be joyful to join our family, right?!?! Yay, we were bringing JOY to someone! WELL. It turned out that adoption wrecked her world, and the old Kami has had to die a slow and painful death every day for 2 years to give way to the new Kami, who is still a work in progress (aren’t we all?). This girl, Kami JOY, sure complains, fusses and cries alot. God, what were you thinking in telling us to give her that name?! It has seemed ironic at best, if not a cruel joke. But…
JOY has to be cultivated. The God of JOY is present in our pain and sin. And as it turns out, that is where my greatest JOY is found! Even though the past 2 years have been the hardest of my life, and I’m currently getting treatment for health problems caused by out-of-this-world, way-beyond-stressed-kind-of-stress, I have more JOY now than ever before.
Our pastor went on to outline the source of JOY: God. And the focus of JOY: God’s character and works. With all of the complaining that airs in our home (mostly from Kami JOY), I especially appreciated him touching on this subject! Complaining, he said, is always wrong and foolish, but even more so when:
1) We complain while we are greatly blessed.
2) We complain about trivial things.
3) The complaining is done by those to whom God has been especially gracious.
4)We complain about something that is part of God’s plan to humble us. (Ouch…)
5) We complain while He goes on blessing us.
I’m reminded to turn my attention to the good news and stop complaining, even as I prayerfully and patiently cultivate JOY in our home.
All this talk of JOY reminded me of a discussion with a friend who visited from India in the fall. During his brief stay with us, we asked him all about life in India, wondering if his accounts would corroborate with the Gospel for Asia newsletters we receive. We’ve read about people turning to Christ in India through miraculous healings, and the stories are very exciting. We asked our friend if this is the main way that people are coming to Christ in India. He informed us that it’s not miraculous healings that are making the biggest impact on India for Christ: it’s the JOY of the believers. I don’t know why we were surprised, because the same is true here.
I received another fun lesson in JOY (do you think God is trying to tell me something?) at a Mom-to-Mom meeting. Melanie Dale shared about her new book, It’s Not Fair, and gave us moms a handy acronym to remember when we find ourselves in unexpected places (like the edge of a cliff):
C ount the wins
L earn to laugh
I dentify your grace-bearers
F ind professional help
F all apart with Jesus
I’ve been hitting all 5 of those points in one day lately! And boy, was it a fun, freeing time as she shared about how God has met her on every cliff. He’s met me on every one of mine, too.
So as we enter 2017, my word for the year is JOY, and I am determined to laugh more than ever before. I’m already utilizing professional help, I’m getting better at counting the wins, I see grace-bearers all around me, and every time I fall apart with Jesus, He always puts me back together.