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 how 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 whome 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.

Friday, July 22, 2016


I've been thinking a lot about them lately, especially today. The two people, who in a perfect world, would have been here today, not me. Her birth parents.

She doesn't speak of them and I've struggled to know what and when to ask more about them. At what point in our relationship do we have enough emotionally invested to pursue questions that cross into painful territory and re-open gaping wounds? I don't know.

We still know so little about her and she knows so little about us. This girl who has lived under our roof for four and a half months and whose medical and emotional care has almost completely consumed our time and energy is still very much a stranger to us- her story held hostage from us by the merciless greed of such a difficult language barrier.

And yet it was my hand that held hers as they put the gas mask over her nose to drift her off to sleep before surgery. It was my eyes that held hers as they fluttered off to sleep. It should have been their hands, their eyes- not mine.

As I sat in the waiting room, the hours ticking by, I thought of them, especially her father. For the first time I pitied them, deeply so. For the first time I allowed myself to go there- to think of the agony he must have felt that day seven years ago when he walked away and never came back. It must have been excruciating for him. Forever scarring to any father. And her mother... what did she go through? Unfathomable.

I had resented them before... angry. Now my heart hurt for them. It must have been hell. Literally. There can't be any other word to describe it. An Abrahamic test only a few will ever be so unfortunate to have to make: to choose between life and love.

But their choice gave her a chance at life, one that otherwise she certainly would have been denied of. She wouldn't have lived much longer, of that I know for sure.

Giving myself permission to forgive them was liberating- the self-imposed burden of blind and selfish judgment lifted from my shoulders. Now to move onto the work of forgiving the orphanage for the lack of care that she received, resulting in permanent aftermath that will affect her for the rest of her life. That's grace that I need to offer not for their sake, but for mine.

We seemed to have turned a corner in our relationship over the past month. After hitting an all-time low just prior to it, I can honestly say that I love this girl as though I had given birth to her myself.
Today as I watched her drift off to sleep from the anesthesia, I couldn't stop staring at her, realizing that she truly has my heart- entirely. It hasn't been an easy road to get here for either of us... far from it. There have been times when she probably would have taken a one-way ticket back to China, and days when I would probably wouldn't have objected.

But we're here now. As I sit here typing, she's listening to her favorite song, "Imperfect Child"- the song that seems to have become a sort of anthem to her. The road to get here has been one of broken hearts. But I've learned that that's what adoption is... a road of broken hearts that leads to redemption- not only the child's redemption, but that of the adoptive parents as well. Because in her, I have truly found a sense of redemption. And I pray that her birth parents will find a sense of redemption someday in knowing that their choice not only gave their daughter a chance at life, but in doing so, offered us a chance for redemption as well.

This picture, taken last night before surgery, perfectly shows Dennis and Hengxin's relationship. He has such a way with her. When I can't get through to her, he can. Certainly without his wisdom and patience, our story would be playing out very differently.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Self-Pity and Ingratitude

Yesterday I had an ample supply of self-pity. So many tiny little reasons. None of them hugely significant- just a hundred little things, all stacked on top of each other like tiny little Legos, into a huge pity pot.

And there I sat most of the evening, perched on top my Lego pity pot, a complete bear to the people who love me the most and judge me the least.


I woke up this morning feeling a little better but still, groggy from a bad night's sleep of terrible and disturbing dreams. Hengxin and I were sitting in the back of a speeding pick-up trying to flee. I could hear them in the distance, witches cursing and howling for her blood. The sound made my skin crawl. She hid her head in my shoulder, weeping and trembling in fear. I wrapped my arms around her and promised her I would give my life before ever letting anything happen to her.

I walked around the house, trying to shake off the eeriness of the dream. As I wandered into the kitchen, my mind went back to Monday morning. I had taken Hengxin to the grocery story with me, and asked her if she wanted to learn how to make my favorite treat: chocolate chip cookies- the kind made of mostly butter and sugar, and only a little bit of flour. With bright eyes she laughed and adamantly nodded. As I washed the cookie sheets that evening, not a cookie left to be seen, I thought of all those dirty cookie sheets represented.

An abundance of food.

Electricity for both heating an oven and cooling a house.

Clean water to drink and wash dishes with.

The joy of watching my new daughter's face as she tried a chocolate chip cookie for the first time.

Time spent building treasured memories.

So many things to be grateful for.

Leading up to Hengxin's 12th birthday, we had a difficult week- probably triggered by the significance of the day. With many of China's abandoned children, their birthdates are set by the date of abandonment since their actual birthdates are usually unknown. So, along side balloons and birthday cake, come terrible memories of a day that she remembers well. To "celebrate" the day that forever changed her life is the cruelest of ironies. It was a difficult week of angry grief for her and I was usually the target.

But when the day finally came, she put a smile on her face and handled the gathering of friends and family graciously. My brave girl. Since that difficult week, we seem to have turned a corner, a new level of trust seeming to have blossomed. She laughs more easily. She becomes frustrated less. She tries harder to speak English. She's more patient and tries harder to find ways to be helpful around the house.

So many things to be grateful for.

A firm diagnosis, with an upcoming surgery that should help control her symptoms.

A biological child who I was finally able to get through to in seeing the bigger picture of adoption.

A daughter who will remained unnamed (*cough* Mila *cough*) who is gradually trading in a few of her wild ways for humor and charisma.

A job that lets me have summers off with my children.

A sweet family friend who is living with us to help us navigate the next few months of surgeries.

A church group that has embraced my daughter with open arms.

When I think of how I felt yesterday- feeling so sorry for myself with the mounting medical bills and the losing battle I'm fighting to find time to take care of myself- I realize that when it really comes down to it, self-pity is just an unwillingness to yield to gratitude.

The proverbial cup that overfloweth, has some holes in it, and depending on the day feels like it's leaking more than it's filling. But when I take a few steps back, I realize how amazing the process really is. That my leaky cup is the one I wanted for myself but not necessarily the one God has in mind. That just beyond it- surrounding it- another cup is forming. Stronger and sturdier, and with a greater capacity to hold. And even as the leaky cup disintegrates and the greater cup builds, both continue to overflow.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The painful work of grief and love

I've really struggled with blogging lately- struggling to find the balance between honesty and over-sharing. I've started countless blog posts and then deleted them, unable to find the words. I know a lot of what I write is heavy and most people don't want the heavy version, but I feel compelled to write and to share, not for any sort of self-promotion but for understanding and compassion, mostly within myself and for my daughter. It's a lonely road that few have walked, with friends and acquaintances often keeping a weary distance. So often the talk of bonding and attachment with an older child is vague and white-washed, at times unrevealing of any sort of struggle for years following. I don't believe that does anyone any favors. I write with the intent of Hengxin being my primary reader as she gets older, and try my best to avoid writing anything that I don't think she would want disclosed. That being said, please consider yourself fully disclosed. :)


She spoke and laughed easily with her sister and as she did, she rested her hand on my knee. It was such a small gesture, but it spoke volumes. It told me how far we have come in the past three months. Just a few hours before we had been working through another dark pit of grief, and now she was smiling and relaxed. Each time, we seem to come out of it a bit better and a bit closer.

If there's one thing the last few months has taught me, it's how little I really knew about grief or about love.

Grief isn't always what many of us imagine it to be- the images of a child crying in the night or the mother sorrowing over a lost child. Perhaps it's because these images draw us in, instead of push us away, that we are more comfortable with them. These images evoke tenderness and sympathy, a yearning to comfort. But grief, I've learned, is so much more. It's at times despondence, it's blaming, it's guilt, and sometimes it's confused and angry tears. It's messy, uncomfortable, and hard for even the griever to identify. It both pushes away and yearns for closeness. It's awkward. It's painful. It's rigorous work. And there is no easy fix. 

We see pieces of that grief almost every day. Sometimes in small fragments, sometimes in icebergs. 

This past weekend I attended my brother's master's graduation ceremony and thesis presentation. His thesis was on complicated grief and melancholia. As he presented, he talked about those who were well-acquainted with grief, some enduring a lifetime of complicated grief. I thought of my little girl. She has endured more grief in the past 12 years than most will endure in a lifetime; and considering it all, how amazingly well and dignified she holds that grief. But still, it's not an easy burden for her to bear. 

We've read books and taken courses, and yet I don't think anything could have ever really prepared us to meet the grief head-on with full confidence and assurance. But it's most certainly present and I can't help but believe that grief is perhaps meant to be a part of life because it's often by traveling down the road of grief that we learn the most about ourselves.

And along with her grief, I've discovered a grief of my own, albeit only a tiny portion when held in comparison to hers. A grief for a simplicity of life that will likely never be mine. A grief for things that have resurfaced from the past. A grief that the life I once lived has been replaced with doctor's offices and waiting rooms. A grief for the woman I want to become, but who always seems out of reach.

Through it all, it has been amazing to watch love- a new love- flowering alongside the wasteland of grief.

Nor is love, I have also learned, what it had once seemed. I had once believed that love is a natural inclination for us all, something that would come easily strolling in if we simply opened the door. Of all the things I had worried about before she came home, the ability to love was not one of them.

Yet again, I have learned how wrong I was. Love has to be earned and worked for. It has to be prayed for, sought after, and then inexhaustibly nourished. It has to be shown even when- no... especially when- it's not felt. I've come to more clearly understand why the Savior insisted on serving those He loved. He knew what I have only recently come to understand- that love and service are inextricably linked.

We've all had to work towards love- her, perhaps, more than any of the rest of us. Sympathy and affection, while wonderful elements of human emotion that often propel us towards things like adoption, are not the same as love. They may drive us to action, but are woefully inadequate in navigating the mountains and valleys of a long-term relationship.

Almost daily people ask how things are going with our growing family. I always hesitate, looking for an answer. Do I tell them what I think they want to hear? That everything is wonderful? That our house is bursting at the seams with joy? That it's not as hard as people told us it would be?

Or do they really want to know, I wonder? That it's hard... like, really hard sometimes? That I've never done anything harder or doubted my abilities more? 

But then I want to tell them not to feel sorry for us because hard is okay... because these are the things that make the good days seem even better, and these are the things that make us stronger- stronger than we ever knew we could be.

This photo, though seemingly unrelated, was taken early one morning while the children slept. We had a busy day on deck, full day of doctor appointments and lab draws. I wanted desperately to remember, and perhaps carry with me, some of the serenity I felt at the moment that would so soon be gone. And it helped. We got through another day, just like we do every day, and came out stronger in the end.