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.

Oi.

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. :)

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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.