Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Rainbows in the making

I remember staring across the restaurant with what I knew full well was nothing more than selfish envy. The newly adopted toddlers in their newly purchased clothes, adorable and smiling at their newly acquired parents who lovingly spoon-fed them breakfast. They were absolutely darling. I glanced across the table at the preteen sitting silently in front of me, expressionlessly poking at her food.

We had had custody of her for a little over a week and I had caught several glimpses of how amazing she was, but I had also quickly realized that we had our work cut out for us.

I was tired. I didn't want more work, even if it had been cut out just for me. I just wanted easy. And the toddlers looked easy. I felt ashamed of myself. I knew better. We all had our work cut out for us, even the parents of the toddlers.

The hotel where we stayed in Guangzhou housed several adoptive families, all on the last leg of a long journey as they awaited to finalize their child's paperwork at the U.S. consulate. Each morning at breakfast as we saw adopted toddlers and young children, I had to remind myself that God's plan for us was sitting across the table from me- not across the restaurant.

There have been people over the years who have disapproved of some of the things I have blogged about, as well as parts of who I am. It's kept me awake at night, tossing and turning over the distance it has created in some of my dearest relationships. But I don't know how not to write what's in my heart or to be anything other than I am. I've often wish I was more simple-hearted and that I didn't feel everything so deeply. It can be exhausting. For so long I tried to supress that part of who I am, but I'm slowly learning to embrace that as just the way things are.

How to stay real and honest about the hard parts of life, without feeling like we have to assuage other people's minds by turning everything into butterflies and rainbows? Life is so much more than that. It's gritty and hard sometimes, and that's okay. It's the very nature of what's hard that unfolds the beauty of the rainbow. Rainbows are what come after the storm, not inspite of them. The two are inextricably linked- one can't be appreciated without the other. That's why I write about the hard stuff, to give meaning to the victories that otherwise I would have overlooked.

Yesterday was a rainbow day for me- a day that to anyone else might have seemed like just another ordinary day but, to me, marked a huge milestone for both of us. We drove to another long doctor's appointment, and chatted and laughed easily the whole way there and back- a blessed relief from the uncomfortable silence we usually experienced on appointment days. Some things we talked about were a stretch for her, but she talked calmly and directly about how she felt about issues that in the past had quickly flared into defensiveness and anger. The evening was also lovely. Uneventful. It ended with sweet notes she had written and left for me and Dennis underneath our pillows. Ordinary events with extraordinary gains behind them.

She's perhaps the most resilient person I've ever met. She has every reason to not be the kind and gentle person that she is. And yet the longer she's home, the more I see the damage that was done during those many years in the orphange, usually so subtle that most people miss it- damage that only love and time can begin to heal.

She's learned everything at warp speed- all of the little things that we take for granted. How to give and take in a relationship. How to express emotions in a healthy way. How to recognize an ally without labeling it a foe. I couldn't be more proud of her.

And yet there are still tough times. Times when both of us want to call a time-out and walk away.

A few weeks ago we were there- in the middle of an awful storm. I felt like I had nothing left to give- no more patience, no more understanding, nothing. I sat at my desk at work one morning, wondering how I was going to find the strength to go home and do it all over again. It wasn't just that I didn't want to, I couldn't. My emotional reserves had run dry. I felt completely empty. Just then I got a knock at my office door and a student asked if I'd consider being video interviewed for a school project she was doing. The topic- learning to find faith in yourself during your lowest moments.

I sat down on the stool, the video camera began to roll, and the rawness of all we had been through, and all that is yet to come, came to the surface and I began to cry. I cried as I addressed the topic of the interview- the lowest time in my life. It was just a year ago when we brought our daughter home. When everything that seemed like it could go wrong in our life, seemed to be going wrong. Times that made me shudder to think of, and that sometimes- like that very day- things were still hard. Really hard. But that I realized that finding faith in myself meant reaching out and not trying to doing it alone.

I was so embarassed. I hardly knew her, and here I was spilling my guts and blubbering like an idiot.

She turned off the camera and quietly told me that she had been adopted too as as child. That things had been hard for her too, and that sometimes they still were. I was stunned. I had no idea. We talked for some time, shedding tears. She encouraged me to keep going, to keep loving my daughter and to never stop, even when she seemed to push us away. We embraced and I knew that once again God had intervened on my daughter's behalf. I drove home that afternoon, noticing the warmth of the sun for the first time that day. A heavy darkness had been lifted.

Little did I know that just a few days later, we would reach an even lower point- lower than we had ever reached before, and that the darkness would feel darker than ever. But it didn't last long and I had to remind myself that it's that very ebb and flow that often characterizes adoption. Hard moments, followed by even harder moments, and then a breakthrough when you can finally catch a glimpse of what it is everyone's working towards, and the view is breath-taking.

I think back on those days eating breakfast in the hotel in Guangzhou and I realize that I would never trade her for one of those darling toddlers. Not a hundred of them. Even with all the past year has brought, I know now, with more perfect clarity than ever, that she was always meant to be our daughter.

There will be more storms, of that I have no doubt, but we learn from each of them. For me, mostly how to handle (or not to handle) myself during those raw and difficult moments. The storms have a way of unearthing every vulnerability and insecurity in myself that I thought I had learned to manage, or that I never knew even existed. As much as I tire of how deeply I feel everything, it was the emptiness I felt that day of the interview that scared me the most. I never want to go there again. So, I will try to take each storm and embrace it for what it is- a rainbow in the making.

I'm grateful to Kat, one of the amazing advisors at our school who was present during the interview,for capturing the moment.
(Posted with the student's permission)