Sunday, January 25, 2015

When Glory feels like Death

This morning at church, when I was skipping laps with a restless child, a friend told me she was encouraged by seeing me pursue my kids.  That she saw Jesus in me.  
I chuckled and said, "Thanks. I drink a lot." She laughed, "Well you gotta do what you gotta do."
Then again at lunch, a woman told us that our family warmed her heart and that we as parents were doing a good job.  
I tell you this not to brag.  Because the reality is that I can't remember the last time Sloan and I got to sit in the sanctuary for a whole service or our kids we what we deem well behaved at a resteraunt.  We generally alternate between one kids potty breaks, another's fear of not being held, and then another's child inability to sit in a crowded room for very long.  Our kids are loud, defiant, anxious, and restless.  More often than not, Sloan and I are tired, snappish, embarrassed and three seconds away from taking our stapler and setting the building on fire.  
Our family doesn't look like I thought it would.  Not because 50% of it is black.  Several of my children have diagnoses that scare me.  But because they "look" neuro-typical, I'm constantly aware that they may appear unruly and spoiled when really, their traumatic backgrounds cause them to live in a state of hyper vigilance, never far from an Amygdala hijack.   I forget this is what is happening so much and confuse their diagnosis with their hearts and characters. 
I've had to repent.  A lot.  In truth, I've loved my kids for who I thought they might be rather than who they are.  And by doing so, I've missed out on just how many amazing things God is doing in them.  My expectations have been off.  
One of my kids struggles at meals.  Like can't wait for food or sit still or handle odd smells or if something is "off".  Most meals end with me losing it or this child saying the child hates itself. 
My friend at church telling me she saw Jesus in me encouraged me to love this child in the midst of their struggle.  So instead of expecting the child to wait for the child's meal patiently, I took the child to the restaurant's patio and we danced and galloped and skipped and danced to Mariachi music staring at our reflections in the restaurant's windows.    There was part of me so tired and embarrassed that I wanted to scream and another part that was struggling to hold back the tears.  That I was able to take part in the joy that sustains this particular child.  
I write all this to encourage you Mommas:  tell one another when you catch glimpses of grace.  Shout it out.  Because chances are the glory you see feels like death to us.
It doesn't matter that I can't sit in worship for the whole service.  Loving my kids well IS WORSHIP.  And sometimes loving well is hard.  Really bloody hard.  In fact, a lot of times I'm faking it just counting down til bedtime.  But God is faithful and bridges the gaps.  He loves using flawed folks to do His bidding.  So carry on, Momma.  Love well.  Hold on til bedtime.  What feels like crucifixion to you just might look like resurrection to someone else.  

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Three Amigos

When Mollie & Charlie first came home, there was definitely tension between them and Grace.  They easily understood Henry's role as big brother, but who was this person who was Charlie's same age and not much bigger than Mollie? Combine this with Grace's utter confusion as to why her new little sister didn't immediately worship her and why were Mommy and Daddy paying so much attention to these new kids and it kinda was a debacle.  Seriously.  

Grace had a tantrum during our "airport moment" because Mollie didn't know who she was and wouldn't kiss her.  

There were also moments early on when I thought Grace was going to hate her new siblings forever and vice versa.  We called Charlie & Grace the Weasley Twins (and still do) because for certain the only times they got along was when they were managing mischief. 


But then one day I realized their fights were no longer born of fear or insecurity, but plain old sibling rivalry.  Charlie & Grace discovered they had similar energy levels and interests:  gymnastics, Little Einsteins, dress up, Ninjago, dancing, eating, and idolizing Henry.  Grace began including Mollie in more of her traditionally "girlie" pursuits and found that they both could cook a mean wooden food soup, had an affinity for cell phones, tutus, and My Little Ponies, that when it came to stuffed animals, Ketchup, or Snappea Crisps--more is always better.

I am so moved by the work that God is doing in each of their hearts. It's an encouragement to my weary soul.  He's truly knitting those three together.  They play so well together out of thin air, creating a world full of dragons and fairies and ninjas and babies out of nothing but a blanket and all the couch cushions.  I often hear then telling each other they like one another or that they're each other's best friends.  

I rarely am concerned that Grace & Charlie are secretly plotting to take over the world and make us their minions.  (I mean I'm certain they have a plan in place, just that they're delaying putting it into operation.  At least until they get more chocolate chips.)

But Grace got a medal at school today during an Olympics game.  She promptly gave it to Mollie for being the best little sister ever.  And then she said, "Sorry Charlie.  I don't have anuvah medal for you.  But you are my bestest 4 year old brother and I love you."  He said, "I loves you too!" And then squeezed her tight til they fell over laughing.  

My cup runneth over. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Rituals


Every night we have our sweet little bedtime rituals.  I lather everyone in coconut oil and we put on Jammies, then either a dance party, story, or show (depending on Mommy's energy level).  Then we brush teeth and set out for each kid's individual routine.  

First I set Mollie up with books in her bed and tell her I will be back.  Then I head into the boys' room to hand out books & set their iPod to a book on tape and promise to come back to give Charlie hugs, kisses, and high fives. 

Then I head to Grace's room to snuggle, sing 3 songs (typically Twinkle, Twinkle, La La Lu, and Jesus Loves Me), tuck in her 4 million stuffed animals, and say the Lord's Prayer.  

Then I head back in to kiss Henry and then Charlie tells how many hugs, kisses, and high fives he wants.  Typically it's 10, 10, and 5, with the occasional fist bump for good measure.  

Lastly, I head into Mollie-Moll's room.  We snuggle and sing Jesus Loves Me, and pray she sleeps all night long in her own bed (very.important.prayer).  Then I let her pick which song on the IPod she wants to start off with (always Lisa Loeb's Twinkle Twinkle but she still scrolls through the entire lullaby playlist I made). Then I give her a kids in her palm and say "Where's Mommy's kiss?"  Then she waves her sweet hand and I cradle her face with it.  Then she kisses my hand and cradles my face with it.  It is very dear.  

And just as we have gotten this routine running smoothly, I think we may have to change it up.  Because now we have a boy willing to read everyone a bedtime story.  




Friday, January 24, 2014

Rites of Passage & Teachable Moments

First steps.
First pretend tea party.
First Manicure. 
First dance with Daddy.

Oh, the sweet rites of passage for a little girl.  But there's another, less beloved rite of passage for little girls:

FIRST TIME CUTTING HER OWN HAIR.

Well, tonight it happened, folks.  After dinner, we sent Grace upstairs to fetch her pajamas.  She came down awhile later holding her princess nightgown and with a trembling lip, handed me a handful of hair.  

At first I thought she'd given her American Girl Doll a haircut.  She said, "It's not Cici's hair.  It's mine."  

And because it really didn't appear (at first glance) to be that much hair, I calmy just took her hand and said, "Grace, we are going upstairs now to get the scissors and talk.  No dance party for you tonight."  My calm demeaner was also granted to me by recollections of me cutting off my pigtails at the scalp two days before Kindergarten picture day resulting in the worst attempt at a Dorothy Hammel cut in the history of the world.  I mean, I'd known this was coming.  And all she had done was snip her ends. I resolved to not yell at her but attempt to put our relationship first.

But then we got upstairs and she pulled out of her pocket the very sharp hair cutting scissors.  The ones kept in her hair bag.  The hair bag she'd dug into at the beginning of dinner to fetch a rubberband for keeping her twists out of ketchup.  This was premeditated.  And dangerous.  I inspected the damage.  She hadn't just nipped the ends, she cut off one entire rope twist at the front of her head about 2 inches from the scalp.  

Remembering my resolve, I calmly said, "Grace, let's go in the bathroom and take down your twists so you can fully see exactly what you have done."  Her lip quivered, "Will you forgive me?"  

I said, "I love you.  Let's look at the damage."  

We took down the twists.  Her chest began to heave.  "Is it going to come back?"  

"Slowly.  Not for a looooong time," I said softly.  "Now let's try to pull it back so we can brush your teeth and get ready for bed." 

As I brushed her teeth, tears filled her eyes and fell down her cheeks.  

We finished up & I carried her into her room.  She was still sobbing when I sat down with her on her bed.  "Will you forgive me?"

"Oh, Grace, of course.  I love you and love forgives.  Even though you made a bad and dangerous choice, I forgive you. And I love you.  To the moon and back."

"I love you too.  Can we say our special prayer together?"  

And through tears, we said the Lord's Prayer together.  

Y'all, this is the first time my darling daughter showed repentance on her own.  And I totally would've missed it had I yelled at her. Yelled at her like I normally would have.  

Now to call my soon to be niece and tell her that her flower girl cut her hair & decide what we should do about it.  



Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What is love? (Baby don't hurt me no more)

As a family “project” we are working together to memorize these verses.  (I know, because we’re bored and just sitting around collectively eating bon-bons whilst twiddling our thumbs.)  It came to me one night when I was praying.  I was repenting of losing my temper yet again.  Repenting of overreacting to disobedience, causing one child in particular to dig in her heels, thus, I was really creating the problem through my own lack of self-control.  I said to God, “Lord, I only know anger.  I don’t know love.  (Then in my mind I channeled Helen Reddy and sang “I don’t know how to love him, what to do, how to move him…  Yes, I digress in my prayer life too.  Jesus is okay with it.  In fact, He works with it.)  I confess that I seem to always be at the end of the rope.  In fact, the rope may be gone.  But I don’t know how to love my children well.  I don’t even know what love looks like.”  And then I may or may not have sung “I want to know what love is, I want you to show me.” 
And then I heard Him.  This tiny voice that had been quieted for so long by my efforts to suck it up and just try harder.  He said, “You do know what love is.  I love you.  I am love.”  And so my heart just said, “Ummm, thanks God, but how is that going to help me when my child is losing their shit because I’ve told them they have to cover their nipples at the table.”  He said, “I have shown you my love.  And I’ve written it down for you.” 
And then I rolled my eyes.  Cause that’s the appropriate response for when the Holy Spirit reminds you of what is true.  I thought, Really God?  You’re pointing me to the cheesiest scripture of all time? 
And then I read it again with new eyes and repented my way through it.
Love is PATIENT.  So maybe I should give my son more than three seconds to buckle himself in before I snap at him “Why aren’t you buckling in?  Do you want the cops to take me to jail?”  Maybe I should stop everything long enough to dress the child who asks for help even though I know she is capable of dressing herself independently.
Love is KIND.  Wow.  Can I even be kind?  Do I even have a soft voice?  I think I’ve been kind before.  Maybe.  Certainly I’ve never been kind to my family on a Sunday morning when trying to get everyone dressed, fed, and out the door.  Love sees how many Legos were put away and doesn’t mention the one Love just stepped on.
Love DOES NOT ENVY OR BOAST.  Apparently, love doesn’t have a facebook account. 
Love is NOT ARROGANT OR RUDE.  So love probably doesn’t judge other people for the way they parent.   Or mouth off to its parents.   Or talk about people behind their back. 
Love does NOT INSIST ON ITS OWN WAY. Really?  So maybe “Because I told you so” isn’t a loving parenting response.  You mean loving my kids means focusing my parenting style on their needs and not just on what is easiest for me?  Gah.  But what if I really don’t want to read Danny the Dinosaur again?  What if that means waking up earlier so we can take the time together to pick out a school outfit?  Augh.  What if that means waking up earlier so the child who is pokey in the morning can take his time getting dressed without having to be yelled at to hurry up.  Surely love doesn’t mean waking up earlier.  God can’t be saying that.  Please Lord tell me that at least sometimes Love means just yelling “Why can’t you just do what I ask the first time at least once?”  What if I just yell that at my husband?  Is that cool.  No?  Augh. 
Love is NOT IRRATABLE OR RESENTFUL.  So I take this to mean that love isn’t in a permanent state of hanger.  Love doesn’t wax nostalgically at pictures from when it had no children and could afford to go to places like Chicago to see the Rolling Stones.  Love doesn’t snap at its husband for travelling for work, acting all pouty, holding his loving provision for us against him. 
Love  DOES NOT REJOICE AT WRONGDOING, BUT REJOICES WITH THE TRUTH.  Love doesn’t tattle.  Love doesn’t seek out opportunities to correct.  Love isn’t hyper-sensitive.  Love isn’t bitter.  Love isn’t over critical, but paints with a wide brush of grace.  Love seeks out opportunities to lavish praise.  Love gives high fives.  And stickers.  Love doesn’t slam doors.  Love doesn’t shame or use sarcasm.  Love doesn’t bring up fights long ago resolved.  Love looks for change and progress, even tiny slivers of change, and celebrates them.  Love’s wall are plastered with artwork. 
Love BEARS ALL THINGS.  It goes to the time in couch again and again.  Even when it hurts.  Especially when it hurts and especially when it means being late.
Love BELIEVES ALL THINGS.  Redemption is real.  God is for me and my children.  He is near.  He has overcome the world. 
Love HOPES ALL THINGS.  This is not as good as it gets.  Jesus is making all things new.  He will walk amongst us and wipe every tear from our eyes.  
Love ENDURES ALL THINGS.  It’d have to to love me.   Love, in fact, endured death.  For me.  So I could have life.
So this is why were are memorizing these verses.  I want them to wallpaper our hearts and minds.  I want God’s love to be ever before me, changing the way I parent and love my kids.  I want to be at that point of almost losing and remember, “Love is patient and kind” and then be able to approach my children proactively and gently, not just mad.  I want less me and more love. 
Our family needs MORE LOVE. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Snow Day Parenting 101

We woke up this morning to about 2 inches of snow.  Not enough to really enjoy or even to cancel/delay school.  But enough to mean wet, dirty laundry and three littles chanting, "Mommy, can we go in the snow?"  And since they're too young to just send out in the snow alone, that means Momma must also go in the snow.  Yuck.  
So when they began playing in the snow after bus stop, despite being ill prepared in the clothing department, I thought, "Whatevs.  I don't care.  I'll be doing laundry and mopping soppy floors all day anyhow."
So here's my parenting lesson:
APPEAR TO BE THE BEST/MOST FUN MOM IN THE WORLD FOR TEN MINUTES AND YOU MAY JUST GET A MOVIE DAY WITH COCOA AFTER ALL.

I know you're telling us to get our gloves and hats and boots, but the snow is here now!

What, Mommy?  You mean leggings aren't waterproof?

 "It's not cold!" said the little Congolese boy.

Guys! Guys! Dere's snow everywhere! Follow me to da snow!

"Hey Mollie and Charlie! I have the best idea ever!!!!!!"

No, Charlie.  We should definitely take our shoes off to jump in the snow.  This is the MOST FUN!

Come on, everybody!!!
Wahoo!  YIPEE!  Dis is da best!  We not do this in da Congo!!!  

Mollie: Wee!  I love da snow!!
Grace:  I think there's snow in my panties.  
Charlie: Mom, my feets is wet.  

Charlie:  Oooh, Momma,  I is cold.  I'm freezing.  I hate da snow! I AM FREEZING CARRY ME INSIDE!!!
Mollie:  wee!  wee!

Insert massive meltdown of all 3 and me carrying all three back inside.  


Mommy, dis da best way to play in da snow.  With the hot chocolate and da snuggles on da couch.  

Yes, Charlie.  I agree.  Snuggles on the couch rock my world too.

Monday, January 13, 2014

How to love the crazy adoption people...

My dear friend Lisa, along with her family, is in Lithuania.  They have adopted the adorable Asher and Annalise, 4 year old twins.  Asher and Annalise join sibling Adeline and Alden.  These friends are precious to us.  We met them only a year ago through a mutual friend but it was an instant love connection.  Our husbands get along; our kids want to marry one another.  And we all love Jesus and adoption and pizza from Costco.  (You, know, the trinity of important things…)

Anywhoozie, Lisa is about to come home and I’m just reupping my blog and I thought I’d reflect on our first few weeks home in order to help her.  Most friends, though well meaning, have zero idea what it is like to bring an older child into your family through adoption.  It is foreign and so those well meaning friends often do harm when they mean to help, or worse yet, do nothing at all.  So here is my version of how to love an adoptive family.
First of all, read Jen Hatmaker’s How to Be the Village.  Jen does an excellent job of setting the stage of what adoptive family’s go through after the big hoopla of the airport moment. 

Many people will say “Oh, you went from 2 to 4!  It’s like you brought home twins from the hospital!”  Um, yes, but a bajillion times harder.  It’s similar because your expenses doubled and you are sleeping approximately 2 hours a night, but that is really where the similarity ends.  Babies are pretty easy.  You have a baby and people expect you to be tired and bring you stuffed animals and meals and the world’s cutest socks but really all you are doing is wiping poop, producing milk, and watching Netflix whilst the smooshy balls of flesh sit still where you put them.  I mean, a baby doesn’t crawl under the bed in defiance right before your in-laws show up to meet their grandchild for the first time.  A baby can’t lob the remote at your head or stand on the kitchen table or forget that you said to not eat the soap.  You bring home two preschool children and despite the fact that you are getting no sleep and these kids don’t know what you are saying nor what it means to be in a family, everyone asks you to meet them at a park and to touch them like they’re the newest addition to the petting zoo… “Ooooh, their hair is so soft, I never expected that!” 
Ouch, Elizabeth, now it sounds like I will just screw it all up, when I want to love my friends.  What can I do????

Make meals.  We were blessed with meals three times a week for close to two months.  There were so very many days that I’d been up for so long and spent so much time in “come to Jesus” meetings on the time in couch that I couldn’t form sentences, much less a meal. (And did I mention that while I was in those time-ins with one child, the other children were unfolding the five loads of laundry I’d just folded while we watched Cars two times in a row.) A couple of weeks ago, I was so proud because I’d planned this yummy crock pot meal.  I’d set the table!  We were using real (not paper) plates!  I’d even managed to sweep up the cereal from breakfast, so our kitchen was neat.  And then it was around 5pm that my darling husband noticed I’d forgotten to actually turn on the crock pot.  Y’all, I would’ve cried, but by this point, I was so used to dropping all the ball all the time that I realized from now on my role as Mom was to just roll the ball.  I could no longer juggle. So we went out for pizza. 

So cook.  And make something normal, please.  No lentil salad or tofu lasagna.  It does the family no good if you bring over some wackadoo meal and they still have to order pizza to feed the family.  Because chances are they’ve already had pizza three times already this week.

Do the grocery shopping.  If you live near the family, whenever you go to the grocery store, text your friend.  Sometimes you picking up a gallon of milk or another 8 pack of yogurt will save the day, and really, how hard is that?  Things that would be a blessing to a just home from the airport family:
-milk
-cereal
-frozen pizzas (are you recognizing a theme here?)
-eggs
-kid friendly yogurt
-oreos
-goldfish (and other “pack in lunch” items especially if they have school aged kids too)
-bread
-rice
-deli meat
-spaghetti sauce
­­­-bag of salad
-paper plates
-small plastic cups (not giant 16 oz solos, but ones for kids)
-paper towels (seriously!!!!)
-kids’ band-aids
-fruit: bananas, apples, grapes, clementines, strawberries (things that are healthy that can be offered to a child that has known starvation at anytime without a parent having to feel guilty)
-ice cream
-beer
-wine (lots!)

Fold laundry.  Come over one night after the kids’ bedtime and offer to watch TV and fold laundry. Most likely, your friend will first refuse this offer.  Offer again.  Say, “How about I just fold the kids’ laundry and linens?  You won’t even have to say words or think or even help, you can just tell me how you like your shirts folded and stare off into the mid-distance.”  A friend did this for me and I still cry when I think about it.  In fact, I hired a friend to come for a couple of hours every week just to fold my laundry and vacuum.  Adopted kids often regress in the potty department so it is not abnormal for the addition of adopted kids to multiply the laundry exponentially. Maybe your friend thought they were potty trained but they aren’t.  Or maybe they don’t know how to wipe and so even though the kid is going in the potty, they still have to change clothes 47 times a day.  Or perhaps the kid is so ecstatic about having their own clothes that they don’t have to share with anyone and drawers to call his own that the child changes clothes every 5 minutes.  Your friend knows she should probably say something but a)how can you blame a kid who has had so little for so long, and b) that would probably require moving and/or dodging a shoe.  Or *cough, cough* maybe a child who has been in the home since birth with the addition of two new siblings has suddenly lost the ability to go pee and poo in the potty but also refuses to wear pull ups because she’s been in panties for over a year. 
Check in.  Send texts.  Most likely your friend is lonely and starved for adult conversation.  And possibly homicidal because of all the pee and poo everywhere.  That said, don’t assume that because things are hard they regret their decision.  Or maybe they momentarily regret it.  With a lower case “r”.  Which then makes them feel guilty and horrible.  So don’t say things like, “What?  Is it harder than you thought it would be?”  Because more than likely your friend has spent hours researching and training, but when the time comes, no one really knows what to do when your child screams and thrashes and throws whatever loose object they can find at your head for 45 minutes because you dared to strap them into the car seat. And don’t say things like, “Well at least you are now together!”  Because that completely negates your friend’s feelings.  It’s like telling a woman with severe morning sickness she should be thankful for the puke on her shirt. 

Your friend has done things she never thought she’d do in these trying times—let the TV stay on 24 hours (hey—it’s teaching them English!), gone to the pharmacy in pajamas, yelled at the kids so loudly her throat was raw, seriously pondered nudism as a means to reduce the laundry, driven around aimlessly for two hours because all of the kids fell asleep in their carseats, cussed out her spouse, given the kids bubble wands then locked them outside, and locked herself in the bathroom with her phone (that candy isn’t going to crush itself). 
Whatever you do, DO NOT GIVE PARENTING ADVICE unless you yourself have parented an adopted child.  It’s so very different.  And it’ll make your friend want to punch you in the face.  You know how it’ll take ten minutes to get out the door with your kids, so you just say, “Fine then! We are leaving without you.  Goodbye.”  You can’t say that to a kid who has actually been abandoned.  To a kid who has been abandoned or orphaned through death, you can’t send them to their room when they misbehave.  They’ve already been sent an ocean away from everything they know.  Every parenting decision, every consequence given,  must be done through the lens of trust-building, relationship affirming.  So when you see your friend offer a do- over to a kid who just hit her because he’s mad, don’t say, “Oh, in my house that would get a whoopin’.”  Because more than likely, your friend’s adopted kid has already had more than his fair share of whoopins’ and your friend is trying to both earn her kids’ trust and also teach him the appropriate way to deal with his anger and disappointment.  Kids who come from hard places have this intense internal struggle.  How do I grab on to this new family while grieving the loss of my first family?  How do I suddenly accept help from a parent when I’ve done it all on my own for so long?  How do I accept that these people are telling me I’m precious and adored when the circumstances of my life tell me differently?  These are very difficult and adult and complex emotions being sorted out by teensy tiny immature people.  It's no wonder there is crap everywhere.  (Gosh, why won't she stop talking about poop?)

Send your friend money, gift cards, jewelry.  No really.  Money because adoption is expensive and more than likely, your friend has at least 10k in debt.  And the need to pay it off isn’t helping your friend relax in the 2 hours a day she gets alone.  Gift cards because your friend needs a million things from Target and WalMart.  She needs pants because their newly home child has gained 7 pounds in two months.  Baby wipes because one of the children put two bins of wipes down the toilet.  A plunger (see previous sentence).  More Doritos, because, well, just because.    And getting to go shopping without having to price out every little thing is such a joy and Target has baskets that three kids can be strapped in so it’s the closest to normal your friend has seen in awhile.  And jewelry, because, y’all, she needs it.  A dear new friend gave me the cutest Stella and Dot studs yesterday at church.  Just because she loved me and wanted me to feel special and loved.  Oh my goodness.  I may not have bathed today but on my ears are the loveliest pair of sparkling earrings reminding me that Jesus sees me and is for me and so is my buddy Nicole.  Even if I can smell myself, especially when I can smell myself.  
We’ve been home almost 4 months.  And this crap is still happening.  (Though, honestly, a lot less.  Or at least the kids have gotten used to the car seats and now all sleep in their own beds.  Most of the time…)
Ok, so now you are thinking, holy heck!  What did my friend sign on for?  Why on earth would anyone adopt?  Go into debt and get shoes thrown at me? No, thank you.  Because while it is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done/am doing in my life, it is also the most joyful.  There are days it feels like death.  But even those days bring me closer to my Jesus than ever.  I know what my adoption cost him.  It was bloody and precious.  And well, this holy calling of adoption puts our family in this raw place of genuine living that it’s almost a high.  A joyful intensity that can only be accurately described as bordering lunacy.  Unbeknownst to him, I think adoptive families are the ones Keroac wrote about:

the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!"