Thursday, April 16, 2015

Grief and Healing

If you are a mom to biological kids, you know that there is something amazing about being pregnant. It is hard and scary but also this intense depth of dreamy anticipation and beauty and life. The first time you feel the baby move is wide eyed wonderment. Laying down on your back when you are huge pregnant and watching your belly roll and wave and trying to discern which body part that is and laughing at baby hiccups... It's unbelievable. The bonding happens within. Before you even see your child for the first time, you are connected.

I saw this last week and just laughed at the wonder of it:

Then your baby comes and you are exhausted and scared and without sleep, but there is still so much wonder. You get to watch them smile and crawl and talk and eat and walk and it's just a miracle! Life is a miracle.

Adoption produces a different kind of wonder. The wonder of adoption is in God's hand in it. That He even would lead you to do something so His heart. You wonder over this calling. You wrestle through how you will afford it, which agency you should use, which child should be yours, or waiting to be selected by a birth mom. This is also like being pregnant. The anticipation is the same. The wonder and the prayer and the fear and the excitement is the same.

And then you are matched and it's like delivery day for you. Your "pregnancy" has produced life and now that life is yours.

This video undid me in a beautiful way:

With my youngest three children, neither of these were my story.

I came in the midst of pain. Brokenness. Theirs and then mine. I ache the most for my Kenan boy. At birth he tested positive for drugs and was taken into foster care. I know he lived in at least two foster homes during his first two years of life. Then he went back home for less than a year. Reuben was born while their bio mom was in jail. Then Ellie was born and tested positive for drugs (bio mom was out of jail at this point) and she came to us as our foster child. The first year of Ellie's life was a combination of wondrous and hard. I fell in love with her almost immediately. How could you not? She wasn't born of my flesh but she was born of my heart as soon as I held her. I have known her from her second day of life on. But I have grieved over the things I wish I could have cherished more. I kept my heart safe sometimes. She wasn't my baby officially until January this year. She was two years and seven months old. For all those years and months I loved her like my own but I had to keep a check on my heart because she wasn't really mine. Can you imagine that? Imagine looking at your own children every day with a tangible uncertainty if they would be in your house tomorrow.

I grieve over this. I'm so very grateful that I've had time with her. So grateful. But I hate how long it took to make her mine. I hate the stress of those months of not  knowing.

And then there's the boys. I am constantly amazed at this story. These boys were never God's afterthought, but they were a surprise to us, much like finding out you were pregnant as a surprise or even having twins when you had no idea. I grieve harder for these stories. Reuben's is somewhat simpler. I remember the day that Ellie came to us and I didn't know it then but Reuben was with the caseworker that dropped her off. He was wearing nothing but a diaper and a too big white t-shirt. His hair was so long (past his shoulders) and unkempt. The image is forever in my mind. That was the first time I laid eyes on this boy. He was 15 months old. He went to a foster home where he was very loved and cared for, though he spent a great deal of his days in daycare. His memories and his perception of his loss are minimal because of his age. He was 2 years and 7 months old when he moved in with me. He had only spent a year in foster care and with the same family. He is happy and so smart and mature. But he has an undiagnosed seizure disorder and every time he has an episode I grieve. Did something happen to him to cause this? Prenatally? Was he abused? Or is it genetic? Could I have protected him? These are the thoughts I think while I weep and pray as he is having his episodes.

My Kenan boy. I weep even thinking about it all. From birth till nearly two he was in at least two different foster homes. I have no idea where he was for the second one, but in God's mercy we found out that a relative of a coworker of Dwayne's was Kenan's first foster family. She even had a baby picture of him. I know he went back home to his bio family around the time Reuben was born. I know he remembers things like "the night the ninjas came" which sounds like a drug raid on their house. Then Ellie was born and he was back in care. I remember the first time I laid eyes on him was at a doctor's appointment that all of the children came to. He was so afraid. He had bonded to his foster mom and she was wonderful but you could sense his confusion, his fear. He was so little for his age. He would have just turned three. Later as I visited with his foster mom and him during visitation I loved him. I looked at him in all his sweetness and just saw a boy who needed consistency. I remember fearing for all the kids during visitation because the department was supposed to supervise the visits but they weren't. I would drop off and pick up Ellie and there was never a caseworker in the room with the family. The kids always seemed so uncomfortable with their bio parents. Fearful even.

How I fought for them. I fought for their protection. I fought for truth to come out. I fought for communication.

I got a phone call the summer before the boys moved in, The attorney wondered if Kenan was with us. I knew nothing of this. Where was he? I worried. I found out later that the department had suddenly and without legal permission removed him from the foster mom who he had lived with for a year and who loved him dearly. They moved him to a home with a family that he refers to as grandma and grandpa for about six weeks. We were open for two children and could have taken him but the caseworker never asked us if we would. Then we were selected to be the adoptive placement for the boys and instead of moving him with us, she moved him in with Reuben. I was grateful he was with his brother, but horrified that he was having to learn to deal with another foster parent. Then just two months after that, both boys transitioned to live with us. Neither of them had ever called anyone mom or dad before. Foster parents were "Mr. and Mrs. first name." In Kenan's mind the foster home he was removed suddenly from was his most deeply felt and perceived loss. She was his mama even though he didn't call her that. He barely remembers his biological parents but Ms. C he grieves over. He told me about the day they took him and how she was crying and so was he. Oh my heart aches. Can you imagine suddenly leaving the only mom you ever really knew and taken to a strange place? I remember the day I knew he felt angry toward us because he didn't live with Ms. C anymore. He felt like it was our fault that he left there. I told him I loved Ms. C too and I hated it that he left there. She wouldn't have been able to adopt him because of her age, but they should not have removed him as they did.

Then our pain came. We had already endured so much emotional turmoil in just fighting for these children to be safe and loved and to have a family. In dealing with our own hearts and holding them loosely while still loving and fighting. In October 2013 the boys moved in with us and we took on a new adventure: becoming a family. This is nothing short of an adventure. Assessing what everyone has been through. Teaching rules, boundaries, communication to boys who had not had stability. Trying to maintain security, love, and peace with our biological kids and our marriage all while sorting out the pieces of the boys' puzzles of emotions, experiences, etc. We were digging in our heels though. This was our new mission: to help, to heal, to bond, to grow as a family. We knew it was a tall mountain but we were determined.

Then we moved to a new town and a new church. Just as we were about to finalize our adoption the judge had a problem with a discrepancy in our home study. Dwayne had responded to a question on the home study asking if he had ever struggled with pornography. He had struggled as a teenager, but that got twisted by the powers that be, and lead to months of excruciating interrogations into our life, our past, our marriage. Psychological evaluations, forced marriage counseling (because the psychologist decided without interviewing me that I must not have known about my husband's past struggles, despite the fact that we had been married for 10 years). We both went into deep depression. Dwayne later told me that he was afraid that one day they would show up and not only remove the children we were trying to adopt, but also our biological children. It was irrational but we were both so fearful. I was going through the motions of motherhood and life. Unable to fix the weight about to drop on my head, unable to move forward in peace because of that weight. Just stuck. And trying to develop new community in the midst of this was just ridiculous. The people we were with tried to help us but because they didn't know us or us them very well it just was not working. I have never been in a pit that deep for that long. My parents got a divorce. We were struggling with how to help Kenan adjust and attach for all the years of broken attachment and had no idea what we were doing. We were dealing with DHS daily and all the things they were requiring us to do. Our words would get twisted to mean something we weren't intending and we had no idea how to say exactly what we meant in a way that would not get twisted. We felt so incredibly alone. We have never fought more in our marriage as we did in that last season. And the final straw was my writing, my character, my intent, my heart was attacked and I was forced to face the truth that I was neither understood or truly loved as I was by the people around me. I had been carrying Dwayne as best I could but when that straw broke, I was done in. I remember walking around like a zombie and just hiding in my room for days and days. I couldn't really talk. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I wanted to hide. People hurt and believe wrong things about you and people were scary.

About that time, DHS decided we were clear to finalize our adoption. Dwayne began to be strengthened and I began to wallow. I wasn't ready to believe everything would be okay until it was done. And then people didn't file their paperwork with the court in a timely fashion and so what could have been a November or December adoption turned out to be a January adoption. And then two days before the adoption day, our van broke down and Ellie busted her head open.

I didn't know how to fight for joy anymore. What does that even mean? What does "the joy of the Lord is your strength" even mean? I couldn't be joyful in the Lord because I felt like He had abandoned me. I had no one speaking clear truth into me and when someone did, the enemy would immediately come and snatch it away. I was adrift. Determined to remain faithful I continued seeking Him but I felt beaten down and afraid of Him because I didn't understand His ways. And the people I had trusted to speak truth to me were only wounding me further.

So much grief. In some ways I'm still grieving. When I watch adoption videos like the one above I find myself jealous. That couple was prepared for the hardship of all their child would endure in trying to attach and heal, because they already loved her. They loved her before they met her. They were fighting to get to her and when she was theirs? She was theirs always. They got to be paper pregnant. I never had that luxury.

Don't get me wrong, I know every story is not like theirs. Adoption is hard and ugly and beautiful and glorious all together. What Ann Voskamp would call the "ugly beautiful." But please don't judge me for feeling wistful in wishing that there had been more joy for us on the front end of this. If you put yourself in my shoes, could you really blame me for feeling that way?

This is something I've wanted to talk about for a while. Many of you know how difficult this has been, but some don't. And obviously I'm still processing. I have to process all on the back end because in the moment I was just surviving. I hope that makes sense.

But I don't want to leave here. I'm so much stronger now. And I believe God is restoring all that was broken and torn down. All of the joy that was taken, God will rain down on us again because He is the God of restoration.

Here are a few things I have gleaned since our adoption was finalized:

1) The enemy hates children and families. He doesn't want to see children brought into homes where they will be taught about Jesus. Satan is the one who fought us and brought all the calamity upon our home. The liar and author of lies, he is the one who made me believe God was far away and weak to save and didn't love me. The enemy is the one who stirred the pot and made people believe lies about me and made me feel destroyed by them. The enemy has come to steal and kill and destroy and that is what he attempted to do in our family. I am not naive to think he will not continue, but now I know I must fight and I must fight with my head on straight and remember not to accuse God because He loves me always and only allows things in my life for my good and His glory.

2) Community is essential. Being known and loved by people who will fight with you and pray for you is critical. We will not survive when trials come without this. Transparency between people is beautiful when there is grace and love and truth spoken.

3) Even when I am weak and can barely whisper a prayer, God is near. He will rescue. He will pursue. He will satisfy my soul in a sunparched land. But when I believe lies about Him it makes it so hard for me to hear Him. Reason number 2 why it is so important to have solid community around you so that they can hear the lies you believe and speak truth. It is AMAZING how healing comes when you allow Him to speak truth to your soul. When you trust Him. When you declare His goodness. He fights for you to come back to Him. When we can rest in knowing we are loved immensely and perfectly by Him without condition, it changes EVERYTHING.

4) I am going to sin and mess up and not get it right. I will cause hurt and miss it. But, but, BUT grace! There will be grace. There is grace. I am loved despite myself. And I don't have to live in fear of messing up. I don't have to live in fear of reproach of man. And check this out, even when people don't like the way I do things, or say things, or they don't like my real, that doesn't mean I'm wrong. You have no idea what a big truth this is for me. My job always is to seek to live for Him. And He, JESUS, is the only one who gets to tell me if I am getting it right or not. I answer to Him alone. So just because a man tells me that I messed up, that doesn't mean that's true. What if I am called to be a person who speaks things that aren't popular, but still need to be said? Isn't that what the prophets and teachers of old did? Isn't that what Jesus did? I pray I always, always speak with love and kindness and grace, but I pray I can be brave enough to share my heart, as Jesus leads, in truth and not feel ashamed or afraid of the reproach of men in that. Jesus has the last word. If someone thinks I stepped out of line, I will take it to Jesus. He will confirm or deny what they said. Whew what a relief!

5) Jesus speaks in so. many. ways. We cannot box Him in. This year He has been speaking to me in so many unconventional ways: nature, songs, books I'm reading (even fiction books), etc. Some of the most powerful truths for me have come from this book:

Jesus' character is beautiful and deep and so wonderful. John Eldredge does a phenomenal job of showing us the real Jesus through the scriptures. It will wreck you.

6) Adoption is what Jesus did for me. This is also wrecking me. All that we went through? Jesus fought like that to bring me to Him. He hurt worse than me. He wast beaten and abandoned and accused for me. He took all my sin, for me. What Dwayne and I went through in adopting these kids is but a thread in the tapestry of what Jesus has given for us. Parenting is sanctifying and adoption is even more so. Or maybe it just adds a new dimension to parenting. It has humbled me further and shows me my great need of Him more.

If you have read all of this, thanks for that. You know me better. Not all stories are as hard as ours (obviously) but God is making it beautiful. I hope that comes through. I'm so thankful for all He is teaching me in the midst of all the hurt. He is absolutely healing me.

This song has spoken to me and wrecked me and encouraged me so much recently. I want to end here because this really sums up so much of my perception now of last year.

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