Friday, March 10, 2017

Those who lost

The one-year anniversary of Hengxin joining our family came and left quietly. Not because it went unnoticed. In fact, every day leading up to it, I replayed in my mind the preparations, the nerves, the emotions that came before taking the biggest leap of faith any of us had ever taken- forever seared into my memory and in the deepest pit of my stomach. Most adoptive families commemorate Family Day with a celebration but I couldn’t do. I couldn’t bring myself to celebrate the beginning of what felt like some of the darkest days of our family’s life. Our little world felt like it was falling apart in so many ways. Satan was once again attacking from almost every angle possible. I quickly came to realize that the grueling process of bringing her home, which I thought was the pinnacle of our trials was, in fact, only preparation for bigger things to come. They were only the beginning. I wanted to look forward, not back.

Just as adoption is about gaining, it is also about loss. So much loss. And the most wounded often sit in the shadows, unnoticed and overlooked. My biological children suffered a tremendous loss for so long- something that is rarely talked about in adoption stories. While they watched their new sister gain parents, they felt like they were losing theirs, their mother and father consumed with this new family member. Almost daily medical appointments taking me away for hours at a time. Every conversation, every meal, every activity, seemed to be centered around this new person who at times seemed to only push us away. Strangers in their own home and lost in a new and disheartening reality, their world had been completely turned upside down.

There was grief disguised as anger. Some more than others and it felt like life would never feel normal again. At times, some of the children who had initially been the most supportive of the adoption, felt the deepest wounds and the greatest resentment. This was as much a trial of their faith as it was ours, and my heart ached as I watched them struggle.

And yet a celebration is in order. Not for where we were, but where we are today. On the one-year mark, in a serendipitous series of events that I couldn't have planned if I tried, I was able to sit back and reflect in gratitude for where we are today, not where we were a year ago. At times I am guilty of allowing the difficulties overshadow the triumphs.

A few nights ago Hengxin handed me a paper that she had written in school. It was a letter she had written to me about heroes. And her hero, she said, was me. For helping her. For comforting her when she was sad. For loving her. And the date she had written it? March 1st- the one year anniversary of her joining our family- the very day I had wanted to slip by unnoticed.

It was on the very day I had wanted to skim over that she also delivered several boxes of food for a food drive she had organized and carried out for my student's in need at my school. It was a labor of love, one that involved overcoming deep-seeded insecurities and fears, as she stood in front of large groups of people to solicit food donations. And the outpouring of support for her efforts was huge.

She had no idea how the timing of any of it coincided, so I was able to reflect quietly on its impact.
It was God gently nudging me to not focus on the difficulties we had experienced, but on the beauty of where those challenges led us. To remind me that it was all worth it. Every single bit of it.

But most of all, to see those wounded little ones who had once sat in the shadows, learn to embrace their new life, for me that is the greatest reward. They play together, laugh together, and yes... fight together- just like real siblings do. They gained a new sister, a friend, a playmate. They gained a mother who became more present than she used to be. They gained faith through experience that when God commands something, He sees it through till the end. That miracles happen daily, big and small. They learned the power of a changed heart, and that more often than not, it's our own heart that need to be changed. They learned that good health is one of our biggest blessings, and the power that comes when families work together through hard things.

So often people tell us that they are amazed by me and Dennis, that they could never do what we've done, but it isn't us who are the true warriors. It is the children, each of them, who didn't choose any of this. None of them did. They followed along with what God told their parents to do, and then opened their hearts in the best ways they knew how. They've each lost, but they've gained so much too. These little warriors are my heroes.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Guerras Perdidas

It was a vision. There's no other way I can think of to explain it. It lasted only a moment, but I knew what it was. God was giving me different eyes for a heaven's moment. He needed me to see- to comprehend- something I hadn't fully understood before.

January was a tough month for our family. Bitter cold, record snow fall, sick children, and Dennis was out of town for much of it. School was cancelled for a record nine days and to top it off, I was sick as well. The month felt like the movie Groundhog Day... the same thing day, after day, after day. It was maddening. Patience wore thin in all of us, but particularly in me.

In many ways we seemed to have taken a few steps back in bonding with our new daughter. The lack of structure because of the snow days, the lack of being in school- it was a struggle for all of us, but especially for her. It was rough... I'll just leave it at that. And in true self-pitying fashion, I internalized it all.

I was struggling to bond- to want to understand where she was coming from... and there seemed to be crevasse reopening between us- one I thought had closed long ago.

And that's when it happened.

One snowy afternoon, Calista, our five-year old, sat huddled in the corner weeping and trembling piteously. One of her siblings had upset her and I moved in to comfort her. As she looked up at me with tears streaming down her face, I saw and it almost took my breath away. I saw what God needed me to understand.

For a moment I could see her- I saw Hengxin on that terrible day when she was five years old. The sorrow and confusion in Calista's eyes became hers. I saw her trembling and afraid as the kind policeman took her by the hand and led her to the orphanage. I saw her standing alone and terrified among a sea of parentless children. I saw a tiny little girl crying herself to sleep at night, wondering what she had done to deserve this.

And for the first time, it hit me- the immense tragedy that my sometimes-prickly 12-year-old daughter had experienced only a few years before.

It hit me like a ton of bricks. My heart felt like it had broken in two. I had seen her pain and know I understood why sometimes it felt like I couldn't break through her self-protective walls. It all made sense.

I dropped to my knees and wrapped Calista in my arms. I closed my eyes and buried my face in her hair. For a heaven's moment I was hugging that scared little girl on the street corner in China and my heart once again became hers.

That evening she asked if we could talk. She asked me if I would like to know more about her life in China. She was ready to talk now, she said- eleven months after coming home. After the kids were in bed, we sat in the dark in front of the glowing fireplace and quietly talked.

For over an hour I asked and she answered. This little girl who had lived with us for almost a year had in many ways remained a stranger to us until now. I asked everything I could think of. Some of my questions were answered silently with a distant look in her eyes. Apparently she wasn't quite ready to talk about everything yet.

We gave each other a long hug that night and I thanked her. She had given me a gift, I told her. She laughed and asked why.

"Because I know you better now and that helps me to understand more."

A few days later, she asked if we could talk again so she could tell me more, this time with Dennis home to listen.

Guerras Perdidas. Lost wars. I listened to the words to the song on my Ipod as I went running last night. Sometimes it feels that way- like a lost war. No amount of love will ever right the wrong that happened to my little girl. So much damage was done during those 6 years in the orphanage. White and blue butterfly wings are among the ashes, the songs says, of butterflies that were engulfed by the flames.

But that's not how our story ends, I thought. She's not found in the ashes, like the song says.  Yes, she flew through the fire, but she came out the other side. The flames may have singed her wings, but every day she emerges stronger and brighter than the day before.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Finding a place

The dust has settled, like we're finally stumbling out to see the aftermath of what once felt like a terrible storm. In some ways it feels like stitching back together the tattered pieces of a quilt. In other ways it feels like walking out to victory.

Today was our first Christmas with our little girl, who a year ago, was a perfect stranger to us. It was lovely- a distant cry from where we were just a few months ago. The past few weeks I've been thinking about it all- the highs and lows of the roller coaster we've been on.

I'm part of a large online adoption community where I've been following the journeys of several adoptive families. As I read of some of their struggles, I can't help but feel a sense of guilt. For all the challenges we've been through, compared to the challenges of other adoptive families, we've had it easy. Incredibly so. In so many ways I feel like we hit the adoption jackpot. She fits into our family seamlessly, like a glove. It's this realization that makes me feel weaker than I thought I was as I reflect on how much I've struggled. She is a treasure- a priceless one, and I shutter to think what life would be like had we never said yes to bringing her home. But what got us to this point was going blindly down a path with lots of guessing and hoping... hoping that I wasn't screwing things up too badly.


She stood there, staring at me in disbelief and I almost lost my nerve.

No, I told myself, follow through. I motioned again for her to take the backseat.

She narrowed her eyes but obeyed. Her face turned to stone and she clenched her jaw in defiant silence as she turned to look out the backseat window. I took a deep breath and sat in the front seat.

I felt sick and completely unnerved. I looked at Dennis for reassurance and he nodded quietly. She had only been home for a couple of weeks and still struggled with carsickness every time she traveled in a car. We had been having her take the front seat since it helped minimize the nausea, and now I was booting her to the backseat so I could sit in the front. It felt awful because I knew. I knew I had no idea what I was doing, that I was bluffing my way through it.

I had been sensing over the past few days that my attempts at being seen as gentle and understanding were being perceived as being weak and insecure. Bonding and attachment had been taking a steady downhill turn and I couldn't help but wonder if that was why. Our little girl can be quite intimidating when she wants to be, and truth be told, had intimidated me several times up to that point.

We had reached a crux. Either I was to be the perpetual weakling or I was to take my place as the leader of the pack- the alpha- and I was risking a puking kid in my backseat to prove it, but I knew I had to do it.

As she sat staring out the window, I could tell she had completely shut down again and that it would probably last for hours.... and it did. Her shut downs are hard on me. The silence, the emotional distance- it kills me.

But then something unexpected happened. After several hours, she pulled out of it and was different than she was before. Oddly enough, she smiled more that night, laughed more, and seemed strangely content- like an assurance had washed over her.

As the weeks and months went on, I saw this pattern reemerging time and time again. I'd comfortably slide out of alpha role, and bonding and attachment would suffer. We'd struggle through a few days of muck before realizing that I needed to tighten the slack, and our relationship would improve almost immediately. With each episode we'd be better than before. I would have to remember to occasionally fluff my feathers for things to continue to improve. It seemed like the strangest phenomenon.

Sometimes I'd "alpha" over the most trivial of things to pull her out of it- like how far away from me she was allowed to walk when we were in public- but it was too much of an obvious pattern to ignore. The stricter I was- even on the littlest of things- the safer she seemed to feel and the happier she was. I was learning a side of parenting I had neglected to notice with my biological children- that for some children there's a comfortable security that comes with what feels like militaristic parenting.

It isn't easy work for either of us though. At times we've locked horns for hours, sometimes day. There have been tears and frustration, but each time I see her blossom brighter than before. Today she shines brighter than ever before. As I write this, she came in to check on me from working with her dad on her new puzzle. She smiled and patted my shoulder, asking how I was doing and if I needed anything. She is a sweetheart beyond belief.

My little girl has been riding a roller coaster of uncertainty and grief for the past 12 years of her life, and finally there is a seat belt around her little lap, holding her in tight. She can finally be the child and enjoy the ride, letting someone else take care of her for a change, instead of always having to look out for herself. I pray that someday along this ride she'll be able to see with bright eyes what her place in this world really is.

And what a place in this world she has.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Working for love

There's something whispered quietly about among few mothers, spoken with hushed voices in private conversations. Heads hanging in shame, feeling broken by the impossibility of it. I struggled with it for two years feeling guilt and failure any time I said the words outloud. 

But now as I look back, I see the wonder of it woven into the grand plan that has led us to where we are. My struggle served a purpose, a vital one that had I avoided, would have never brought us to one of the greatest blessings of our life, and for that I will always be grateful.

I didn't bond with my own biological child for what seemed like a very long time.

Even seeing the words written, it's uncomfortable- like they should never be given a voice. But I've learned something recently; that saying things outloud loosens their grip and weakens their power. It allows for beauty to blossom from what was once our deepest shame.

My little Mila. Things were difficult from the beginning with her- different than the others. A difficult pregnancy with physical limitations affecting me to the point of incapacity long after she was born. At one point, I remember crawling across the kitchen on hands and knees to retrieve something from the sink, the pain in my back so intense. Born into one of the most stressful time in our lives with a discontent personality, her arrival was rough. For a long time after she was born there were lots of tears, both hers and mine.

She didn't seem to love me the way my other children did. She rarely wanted me, and when she finally allowed me to hold her in my arms, she screamed and clawed at me to get away. Rejection coming from anyone is difficult, but from a child I had birthed? It was devastating. It felt like the bitterest of failures. It was all the hard work of motherhood but with what felt like none of the rewards.

For months I prayed that a bond would grow between us- that some day she would learn to love me and I her. But the line between me and heaven seemed silent as the struggle went on, month after month. What was I supposed to be learning from this? I had no idea.

I had heard mothers whisper about struggling to bond with their child but never understood it. How was it possible for a mother and child not to bond? It had disturbed me in the past to hear about it, but now even more so as I lived through it. How did they survive? Now I knew. One day at a time.

I would watch other mothers with their infants and toddlers, and feel pangs of jealousy and grief. My daughter didn't love me that way. She was our last biological child and in a selfish way I felt cheated. I was missing out on the most rewarding part of the sleepless nights and diaper changes. What was wrong with my child? What was wrong with me?

When she was about 7 months old, we began sensing the first whisperings of adoption. It felt crazy. I was still struggling to bond with my own child, and now we were thinking of trying to bond with an adopted older child whom we had never met? But when we prayed about it, I felt peace. In a way that only the heart can understand, I realized over time that Mila's mission had been to prepare my heart. She was training me to love, to serve someone with no strings attached, to understand that sometimes love has to be sought after and planted on what feels like desolate ground.

When we brought Hengxin home, my heart was steeled for the possibility that things might not go as planned, having already been through months of tough love with my biological child. What at times might have felt like catastrophic rejection from our newly adopted daughter, was softened by my experiences with my biological daughter.

And then one of the many miracles that we've witnessed began to unfold with Mila. It began with her resting her head against my shoulder for the first time. She was almost two years old and I was shocked at the unexpected affection. Eventually came the unsolicited hugs, and then came the sweetest moment of all- one that I had missed and yearned for for so long- a kiss. After the age of two, she finally did what my other children had done at 6 months old. And in true Mila spirit, it wasn't gentle or sweet, but fierce and hurried as she grabbed me by my hair and yanked me towards her in a firm and tight-lipped smooch. But it was the first and I relished it. A tide was turning with her, and it was one I had wondered if it would ever come. Those first kisses and snuggles, although rough and hurried, were sweeter with her than they were with the others. I had missed them deeply.

We spend much of our day together now, just the two of us since the rest of the kids are in school, and how I soak up our days. She's still Mila- fierce, obstinate, and wildly independent- but I drink up our time together, like we are making up for lost time. And her favorite thing? Planting me with kisses at the most unexpected moments. There are still tantrums (lots of them), power struggles, and meltdowns, but how I adore her wittiness, her sass, and her charm. I cherish her with all my heart. Yes, love can blossom in desolate ground. I've seen it happen with two of my children now.

I can never thank God enough for the wild little nymph He sent our family with the ear-splitting lungs. Without her, I would have never taken the leap to commit to loving a child across the ocean that I had never met. It was because of her that I learned to love differently. I learned that sometimes love takes time to grow, and that's okay. Love isn't broken if it has to be worked for and prayed for. Sometimes what once feels like an empty void, blossoms into the sweetest of bonds- sweeter than if it had come without effort. The Architect has a master plan for us, preparing us long before we see what's coming in the horizon. Uncomfortable and painful at times, but so worth it.

Friday, October 14, 2016


I don't have time to be blogging today. Really, I don't. I have a long list of deadlines for clients who are waiting for pictures. October is for photographers what April is for accountants. Add on top of that my job as a nurse and raising 6 young children, and just about every minute of every day for the next month is spoken for.

But a few days ago I received a gentle rebuke as I was reminded how many miracles we've seen over the past few months that I haven't written down. I was ashamed to realize that too often I've been documenting our challenges, not the countless miracles we've experienced.

I've learned a few things about miracles that I didn't know before this all began... that before every miracle there is a trial. Always. Before the parting of the Red Sea came slavery. Before the healing of the blind came blindness. The two approach our door, hand-in-hand; the trial knocking first, the miracle obscured by its looming predecessor. But then the miracle comes into view, swallowing up and overwhelming even the biggest of trials, reminding us of the power of God's hand.

From the very beginning, I felt a sense of urgency regarding adoption. This caused a fair amount of uncharacteristic tension between Dennis and me. He, not understanding why I felt so rushed- and me, not understanding how he didn't feel the same sense of urgency that I did. 

"I don't know what else to say other than I just feel like this is something we need to do, and it needs to be done now." I became almost obsessive about it, tirelessly studying it throughout the day and evening, dreaming about it when I slept. My child, who's face I had never laid eyes on, was needing me to come for him or her immediately. I knew it in a way I had never known anything before. 

Six long months later, we laid eyes on her picture and we knew it was her. We both did. She was the one we were meant to go after. But I could tell something wasn't right. Her neck was painfully enlarged. 

"Probably just a goiter," I reasoned, knowing that they can be common in cultures with iodine deficiencies. Her file said nothing about thyroid problems, only her adrenal insufficiency. It probably wasn't a big deal.

But the sense of urgency only heightened in a way that I had never felt before. Like an invisible force pushing me from behind, we moved as quickly as we could through the home study, paperwork, and fund raising.

Fast-forward 11 months and a hundred miracles later, and we were meeting her for the first time in the Civil Affairs Office in Nanning, China. Frightening and overwhelming, it was a shocking experience for all of us, with a flurry of activity- cameras clicking and documents needing to be signed. I was shocked by how tiny she was. I wasn't expecting that, but she smiled and said she felt fine, people telling us how healthy she was. 

That night in the hotel room after the kids were asleep, I quietly said to Dennis, "I don't care what they say, she is a very sick little girl."

The unsettling feeling never left me, even though the doctor's exit exam in China passed her off with a clean bill of health. 

I called the endocrinologist a few days after coming home, requesting that she be seen as soon as possible.

"We are booked out for the next several months. The soonest we can get her in is in 3 months."

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but I can't wait that long. My little girl is very sick and she needs to be seen this week."

"What are her symptoms?"

"I only took her heart rate once and she was a bit tachycardic- in the low 120's- but that could have been due to the stress of the whole situation."

"So that's it?" they asked.

"I don't know what else to tell you other than she is a very sick little girl. Maybe it's mother's intuition, but something isn't right."

Thirty minutes later they called back, saying that she could be seen in two days. The doctor would coming in at 9am on his day off to see her. They asked that we have an extensive set of labs drawn the night before.

As we walked into the doctor's office a few days later, he quickly got to the point.

"I received your lab results last night at 11pm. I almost called you right then to tell you to get her into the emergency room immediately." He showed me a graph that measured thyroid levels. It was blank. "Her thyroid levels are literally off the charts. There aren't charts made for levels this high. Never in my career have I seen such elevated levels."

Her resting heart rate now measured at 180 beats per minute. "It sounds like a humming bird," he said. At that speed, she was a ticking time bomb. "We need to admit her to the hospital right now."

Within an hour, a series of intensive testing began which would last over the course of the next several months. MRI's, CT scans, lab draws, ultrasounds- any test imaginable that could be done was done, and every sub specialist that could be visited was visited.

Over the course of those months, many diagnoses were presented as possible explanations for her condition- one possibility so rare that there are less than 700 documented cases in the world. Others involved different types of cancers. 

With every new medication that they gave her to treat her symptoms, she felt worse and worse. Constant fevers. Constant headaches. Sleepless nights. Nausea. Pain... and there was nothing I could do about any of it. Nothing was helping.

There were times when I literally fell to my knees, asking God out loud to help me get through one more day. One more appointment.

My other children were struggling from having me gone all the time, our mortgage had increased unxpectedly by 30% amid the endless medical bills, and almost everything felt like it was falling apart. I was in despair. 

At one point, after another appointment  with more bad news, my little sister called me and I began crying.

"What have done to this poor girl?" I asked. "As far as she knows, when she was in China, everything was fine. And then we brought her here. Everything that was familiar, everyone she knew, has been taken away from her and now she spends her days in doctor's offices and hospitals, and she feels completely miserable. Maybe it would have been better for her if we had never adopted her at all. She probably wouldn't have lived much longer, but what kind of life have we given her? This can't be better than what she had there. She may have died, but at least it would have been around people she loved." I didn't feel like I could sink any lower.

My sister was one in a string of miracles that day as I vented my despair. She listened quietly and then adamantly reminded me that we had done the right thing- to hang on a bit longer. She was an angel to me that day as she told me that some day it would all be worth it- that things would get better.

And they did. Soon we had a firm diagnosis, confirmed by genetic testing. A diagnosis that others weep at receiving, but one that I was so happy that I would have kissed the nearest person standing by if I hadn't been alone in my room when we were talking on the phone. It wasn't cancer. It wasn't Carney Complex. It was something that she could live to an old age with, without aggressive chemotherapy and that someday soon medication would be able to manage well. It was a rare form of a rare disease that had stumped them for months, but at least now we knew and could move forward in a sure direction and with better treatment. 

Within months her thyroid was removed allowing her heart rate to stabilize and for her body to metabolize the medications to treat her adrenal insufficiency. She was taken off the heavy medications that were causing the rapid swelling and mood swings. She was sleeping better and no longer sounded like she was drowning in her sleep. With the medical symptoms improving, true bonding and attachment were beginning to take hold between us. Things were on the mend, slowly but surely. I look at my girl now and can hardly believe it's the same girl. Today she is a healthy, happy, vibrant, spunky little thing. 

Our miracle wasn't the raising of the dead. Mountains weren't moved. Water didn't turn to wine. But there came a miraculous healing of both the body and the heart. There came a brightness of hope I had never experienced before in my life- a hope born of witnessing God's love for me and my little girl, and an understanding that this was all much bigger than we knew. And for me, that was as powerful as the parting of the Red Sea.
My sweet sister, Cristina, who rescued me that day and who has long been one of Hengxin's biggest advocates, even long before she came home.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Shattering glass walls

If there's anything that the past 7 months has taught me, it's that it's the hard times- not the good times- that have grow a relationship. But how they make me cringe, even knowing that it's the hard times that will give us roots.

One of the most remarkable things about bonding with an adoptive child are the break-throughs. Each one like shattering a glass wall. One step closer to understanding the heart- both hers and mine.

When people ask how we're doing, I say amazingly well- better than I could have hoped. 

"I can't believe how happy she seems," they say. I agree. 

"She's come out of her shell and seems like a completely different person," they say. I agree.

She has transformed in every possible way. I wouldn't recognize her as the same person from 7 months ago if I were talking to her face-to-face. 

But still there are battles, big and small. And what I think most people don't realize is that it's a million little victories- awkward and seemingly insignificant- that have brought us to where we are.

A couple of weeks ago we fought another battle as I tried to understand some of her seemingly strange habits. She withdrew, I continued to press. She withdrew further into herself, I threw my hands up in frustration.

"Why do you care?" she asked through angry tears.

"Because you're my daughter and this is what a mother does- she tries to understand her children."

"You ask me every day, 'how was school?', 'what's wrong?', 'why are you angry?' In China no one asked me so many questions!"

"So, what did you do if you were sad? What did you do if you had a bad day at school? Who would you talk to?"

"No one," she said angrily.

Equally exasperated, I asked, "And did you like that?" 

"Yes, I did!"

I was incredulous. "Hengxin, I'm sorry, but that's not how it works in a family. In a family we talk about things. We help each other when we're sad." 


"Because I want you to be happy! Because I love you."

We ended the evening with our usual embrace, though a bit more stiffly than usual, and I went to bed feeling deeply troubled. I knew I hadn't handled myself as well as I should have. I had almost lost my temper and she knew it.

But for the first time I understood another tiny sliver of my daughter. Revealing her feelings, the ups and downs of her days, the reasons behind her quirky little habits- it was all deeply unsettling for her, leaving her feeling vulnerable and terribly exposed. She had been conditioned to prefer the indifference of others and that left me feeling defeated. My attempts at understanding seemed to only be pushing her away. 

The next morning my resilient little girl greeted me with a smile. The discomfort of the previous evening was done and over with, but even with the frustrated exchange of words from the night before, our relationship took another stair climb. We were one step closer towards understanding. We had shattered another glass wall.

Today we shattered another one. A big glass one- reminding me of the bullet-proof windows that were in the armored car my dad would drive to work when we lived in Bogotá. Her glass walls at times seeming equally impenetrable.

She had asked me early this moring if she could talk to me. Her eyes welled up with tears as she recounted some of the painful memories that were triggered when I asked questions about her past. We agreed on establishing a signal as to when my questions were crossing into dangerous territory, and when they needed to stop.

She said she understood my need to know more about her and asked me to be patient with her as she worked through the difficulty of the emotions. This has been by far one of our biggest battles. With our little girl, almost all emotions register the same. Anger, frustration, sadness, tiredness, loneliness- they all look the same. Exactly the same. And for someone like me, who wears every emotion on my sleeve, this is incredibly difficult to say the least. I work off emotions. That's how I interact with other people- by reacting to their emotions. And when the world's worst poker player (me) meets the world's best poker player (her), it's bound to be a course for collision.

"My emotions may seem strange to you," she typed through Google Translate. "I am not always angry or sad, I just want you to know."

"I know," I said. "I'll try to be more patient. I promise. I'm not the perfect mother. I know that. I am learning how to be a mother just like you are learning how to be a daughter. What you're doing is so difficult, but you are doing so well. I love you so much."

We embraced again. She rested her head on my shoulder and stayed for a moment- no more glass between us.

Friday, August 26, 2016

After the storm

I'm not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the awkward line of bonding and attachment, it did. I looked at this child, who just months ago was a complete stranger and realized I couldn't imagine life without her.

I'm not sure how it is for other adoptive families, but for me, creating a familial bond with someone who we had received custody over literally ten minutes after meeting her for the first time and almost a dozen years after she was born, was anything but natural.

I remember driving home from the airport after landing in Boise, my newest daughter climbing the walls of the minivan- delirious from exhaustion and anxiety from the long flight. My children, who had waited at the arrival gate excitedly with balloons and banners now watched her anxiously, unsure of who or what we had just brought home from China. She gruffly muttered a bluestreak of frustration as she yanked on her seatbelt, looking out the window at what was now be her home. She looked anything but excited.

I remember staring out the window sullenly at the gray afternoon in early March. We were finally home with the daughter whom we had fought for for a year and half, literally shedding blood, sweat and tears for- and all I felt was an overwhelming sense of loss, like someone or something had just died.

What was wrong with me? I should have been ecstatic but all I wanted to do was go back in time to the day I first felt the stirrings that adoption was part of our path and choose the other way- like the Choose-Your-Own Adventure books I used to read when I was a kid. Except this wasn't the path I would have ended the book on.

The next few days were like having an awkward relative in the house that was there to stay. I can barely remember the daze of those first few weeks, hung over with jet lag and the fear of wondering if the robotic voice of Google Translate would forever echo the walls of our home. I hated that voice and what it represented- the concrete barrier that stood immovably between me and my new daughter.

Yes, something had died. My former life of relative simplicity was gone forever and I ached for it more than I ever thought I would. My sweet little family of seven was now an awkward family of eight.

How I wish I could go back to the terrified woman I was 5 1/2 months ago, and tell her to trust- trust that it would all be worth it. Not just in a far and distant time, but soon. I would tell her not to underestimate the power of Him whose errand we were on. I would remind her that the greatest of God's miracles were not raising the dead or calming the seas, but the changing of hearts. And how my heart would change.

I would tell that terrified woman a few things that might get her through another day- that within 5 short months her daughter's health would stabilize and the craziness of surgeries and endless visits to specialists would soon subside. She would learn English quickly, astounding everyone around her. Her younger sisters- especially little Beasty- would adore her, and everyone who met her would fall in love with her. She would become my most reliable helper in the home and she would learn to love hugs. She would teach my other children a thing or two about obedience and hard work. She would eagerly call me mama and seek me out each night for a bedtime hug. Her self-protective walls of stoicism would eventually come down and she'd tearfully look to us for comfort when she was sad or lonely. But most of all, I would tell that terrified woman that the day would come when my heart would swell with love when I think of my little girl.

But these things won't come cheaply, I would add. They'll be won- each and everyone of them through painful persistence, awkwardness, and prayer. Lots of awkwardness and lots of prayer. I would tell that woman from 5 1/2 months ago that there will be plenty more days ahead when I will wish we had never done this. It will be the hardest thing I've ever done. That any of us have ever done. But I would tell her to remember that all anger is born of grief. All of it, and most of it cuts more deeply than anything I could ever imagine. I would tell her that some of her biological children will lash out in anger as well as they also grieve the life they lost and the perceived loss of a mother. There would be slamming doors and angry tears, and one child would even try to run away. But to take them in my arms and try to love them the best I could in my own imperfect way. And then the walls- the ugly ones we had all put up to protect ourselves- would begin to crumble one by one.

But, trust. I would tell her to trust in those undeniable promptings that led them to her and, most of all, to keep going. I would remind her what Gordon B. Hinckley said, "that what appears today to be a sacrifice will prove instead to be the greatest investment you will ever make."

I watched Hengxin sit at the counter for two hours on Monday afternoon, intently working on an essay her teacher had given her to complete after her first day of school. Hunched over her tiny composition notebook she carefully tried to describe, in broken English, what the first day of school felt like to her: scared, anxious, excited. After two hours, she proudly showed me the full page she had written. I was so proud of my little girl. Yes, the day would soon come when my feathers would fluff over her accomplishments like the proud mother hen I am towards my biological children. I would tell that woman that I would soon be able to take this little girl in my arms and not feel like I was hugging a stranger.

I've often made the mistake of believing that once the cloudy mists of trials pass come the sunny days of ease. But that's never the case. There will always be challenges. Always. And if the storms seem to have subsided for a while, then it's to gather strength for our next one. But I think what the past 5 1/2 months has taught me, is that no matter the darkness, no matter the discouragement, the storm clouds will pass and we'll catch glimpse of what that investment is that we're making. And it will all be worth it, not only in the end, but now.