Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Today's Inspirational Message

Let me tell you two stories.

Story number one is about a precious college friend of mine who has a special gift for kindness. One of the ways that she makes the people in her life feel loved is through little love notes and kind messages. When we were in college together, more times than I can count, she lifted my day and brightened my world with her sweet words.

When she was engaged her soon-to-be husband did an internship across the country. In this pre-internet (or just bare beginning of internet) era, most of their communication took place via old fashioned letters. After sending a few letters to him, my friend was startled to receive them back, corrected and marked up with red ink.

My friend is a woman of many, many talents, but spelling is perhaps not her strongest point. Her fiance wanted to help her overcome this perceived deficiency, and thought this was a reasonable way to go about it.

However, she was embarrassed and suddenly self-conscious. The stream of notes and messages instantly dried up. I was selfishly angry at her fiance, not only for hurting my friend's feelings, but because I missed her notes! Her expressions of love had blessed my life immensely, and I was irritated that someone else would belittle something I cherished.

Now, before anyone starts bashing the fiance, please understand that we were all very young, still very much learning about relationships and people and life. While heavy-handed and somewhat patronizing, her fiance had good intentions. They eventually worked through this, they married and are still married, and I am once again the recipient of her kind little notes, for which I am deeply grateful.

Story number two is about one of my beautiful daughters. For the purpose of the story, and to protect her self-confidence when she reads this ten years from now, we'll call her Eve.

Eve has many wonderful talents and abilities, to the point that she often amazes and sometimes scares me. She LOVES to sing, loudly and passionately. She is not, however, always on key.

As her mother, and as a musician with a fair amount of general musical background and some expertise in vocal performance, I can attest that she has become noticeably better over time, and I have every reason to expect that she will continue to become even better as she continues to sing. Her delight in her voice is so evident that it makes me happy just to hear her.

Not very long ago one of her friends was over at our house. Eve began belting out one of her current favorites. Her friend burst into giggles. "Oh my gosh, that is awful! Stop singing! You are so off key!"

Eve stopped. I saw the bewilderment and hurt in her eyes. Her friend looked to me as an ally. "Eve likes to sing, but she's not very on key, is she?"

I looked at my beautiful girl and responded with all the force I could muster, "I LOVE to hear Eve sing. It's one of the happiest things in my life. I can't think of anything more beautiful, or that brings more joy to my heart than hearing Eve sing."

Her friend looked put out. Eve's face broke into a giant smile and she went right back to singing her heart out, loudly and passionately and oh-so-happily.

Here is today's inspirational message:

God gave you a voice so that you could sing. God gave you words so that you could use them. If spelling isn't your strong suit, keep working at it, but don't wait for perfection to share your words. If singing off-key is one of your special talents, try your best to stay on key, but don't keep the song bottled up until you can nail it.

Critics live in a dark and tiny world, where beauty is narrowly defined and becomes much less beautiful for the constrictions placed upon it. You don't belong in that ugly little world.

Joy is infectious. Our world needs more of it. Small-spirited people will always want to stomp out joy. You just keep on being joy anyway.

This message has been brought to you by Psalms 100:2. Go out there and share your gladness!

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Adoption FAQ


I've received a lot of questions about this latest adoption. Somewhat surprisingly, it hasn't felt intrusive; rather, compassionate evidence of people's interest in my family and the two newest additions. Some of the questions come from personal interest as well. Many people consider adopting at some point or another, and see the opportunity to get personal, up-to-date information from someone who is currently, or so newly, involved in the process.

For whatever reason, I've felt inclined to put some of the most Frequently Asked Questions--with accompanying answers--here on the blog. Some of the answers are perhaps more personal and candid than I might normally share, but I'm including them because I want those considering adoption to have real information.

Question: How much did the adoption cost? 

Answer: I haven't totaled up receipts yet, so ask me again after I file my tax return this coming year. However, my best estimate, and certain to be pretty close to the final number is $40,000. Yes, that is forty-thousand dollars.

Question: How did you afford that? 

Answer: With a lot of faith, a lot of hard work, and a lot of sacrifice. As a family, we saved up money for nearly four years to make this adoption happen. We didn't take family vacations. We shopped at thrift stores and clearance sales. We all pack lunches--me to work and the kids to school, and we eat a lot of PB&J. When I bought a house four years ago I purposely bought a house that cost much less than the loan amount I qualified for so that our monthly expenditures would stay down. All the penny pinching never would have been enough alone, though. I took on extra work and socked the money away for the adoption. I applied tax returns toward adoption costs. At the tail end, I borrowed a small amount from one of my retirement accounts and maxed out a credit card to make it happen. Thanks to the generosity of donors through the Reece's Rainbow website and my traveling companion Lucas, about $3,500 worth of fees were paid by others. International adoption is also a fairly drawn-out process, and the money comes due at many points along the process. This isn't my first rodeo. It was my first adoption as a single mom, but it wasn't my first adoption. I knew the process. I knew from my own experience that when God calls you to do something, He prepares the way. Being part of His plan is simply the best thing EVER. It doesn't erase the hardship, and this adoption was definitely a doozy at times. To badly paraphrase someone far wiser than myself, if Christ Himself paid the ultimate price to redeem a human soul, we shouldn't expect it to be easy when we walk the path to save a human soul, either. And don't give me any crap about how adoption shouldn't be viewed as rescue or saving. My baby girl was literally wasting away and DYING in her orphanage. Adopting her was a life and death thing. I saved her....and she has also saved me. She has brought new life to parts of my heart that I didn't even know were closed. She is teaching me about love in a deeper way than before. We are saving each other. The same has been true for each and every one of my children.

Question: Why did you adopt two kids? 

Answer: Because I am certifiably insane. There are other explanations, but I think that's the biggest, most accurate reason. Also, I knew I wanted at least two more, and I doubted I'd have the stamina to go through another international adoption. Doing the two simultaneously saved a not-insignificant sum of money, either. I'm so glad I did! It's definitely been harder than adopting one at a time, but seeing the special bond these two have with each other makes it beyond worthwhile.

Question: How did you choose these two children? 

Answer: That is an interesting question. With my others, I had fairly specific spiritual experiences with each one that led me to believe that particular child was meant to be in my family. This time around was somewhat different. I never felt any big rush of certainty, or instant heart connection. I did feel peace. I looked at a lot of children's files before I requested pre-approval for my son. I didn't have a blinding light telling me he was The One, but I thought he seemed like a good fit for my family. I prayed about it and didn't get any warning signs or "no" answers, so I moved ahead. I wasn't looking for my daughter; I had just begun to entertain the idea of bringing home two instead of one. However, these wonderful, wonderful women who have taken on the task of advocating for orphans, raising money for their adoption, and praying them home to loving families posted pictures of Annie on social media sites and blogs. I stumbled across one of her pictures, felt mild interest, and things went from there. I had no idea what I was getting into, as she ended up having more challenges than initially expected. The absolute certainty came later. My son came to me with arms outstretched, calling me Momma and staring deep into my eyes while he stroked my cheek, and I went head over heels, love all the way down to my toes, this is my son and I would throw myself in front of a bus for him. Annie's health challenges made it questionable at one point as to whether I could bring her home. There were a few points where I had to decide whether to continue pursuing an adoption that may very well fall apart. I couldn't tell you a moment when it clicked, but at some point I just knew that I would follow this one through, all the way, no matter what the outcome. A few days after taking placement, my agency worker called in China from the US and asked if I was sure, now that I knew just how poor her health was, now that I had a better sense of all the uncertainties and unknowns I would be facing if I parented this child, was I sure that I still wanted her? And I started bawling because this was my baby, and there was no freaking way in the entire universe that I could ever walk away. Adoption is a huge step into the unknown. I can't tell you any transcendent stories of how I knew these two children were meant for our family. But they were. Of that I have no doubt. Sometimes God leads us along His path through grand moments and rock hard conviction. Other times we just take faltering, stumbling steps on a whisper so slight we're not sure it's even there, and the path isn't evident until we look back.

Question: Why special needs kids? 

Answer: Why not? Seriously, even with birth you don't get guarantees. The reality of adoption is that any child who is anything less than physically, emotionally, and mentally perfect may not ever find a home. In some countries even minor physical challenges can be a death sentence. Many things that we don't even consider an issue here in the US can lead to a child's internment in an orphanage or even death. My daughter had undiagnosed acid reflux for nearly four years. By the time I reached her she was dying. She had lost so much weight her skin was hanging and her bones were protruding. Her teeth were completely rotted away and her gums were a mass of infection. The severe malnutrition and constant pain she faced left her with significant developmental delays. It goes without saying that this would not have happened had she been in an even halfway decent family in the US. My two sons had surgery in China long before I took them home. Son no. 1 is in perfect health now. Son no. 2 has a couple more surgeries and some physical therapy, but he is likely to regain perfect health and full use of his body. Both of my boys would have been condemned to a life in the fringes of society as both orphans and special needs kiddos. That is unacceptable to me, and hopefully unacceptable to anyone reading this. I don't mean to sound blasé about adopting special needs kids. It broke my heart that there were some special needs I simply had to say no to. As a single mom without any immediate family nearby, with four other kids and a full-time job, there were some things that were just beyond me. Adding these two new ones is stretching me uncomfortably thin many days. But...at the end of day, I couldn't walk away, knowing that I had the opportunity to give these little ones a home.

Question: Why China? 

Answer: That one ended up surprising me a little. After my older son's adoption I didn't expect to adopt again from China. I didn't have anything against the idea; I just had a soft spot in my heart for other countries as well. There were several factors that led me back to China. One, Eric really wanted a Chinese brother. Two, the list of countries who would accept single parents is small, and China is one of them. Three, I knew the adoption process with China. Four, I knew that my adoption agency, Children's House International, had an amazing track record of getting approvals for single moms. A smaller, though still valid consideration was the fact that China's adoption program is very stable and well-managed, compared to many other countries. My older children were very invested in this adoption. I did not want their hearts broken by having an adoption fall apart due to volatile and unpredictable events and changes with the other country.

Question: How do your other kids feel about having Jack and Annie?

Answer: This adoption was their idea! They argued for it and fought for it and wore me down enough that I was finally willing to get on my knees and find out if it was God's will. Jack and Annie are here today because of their older siblings. Having said that, I was sure that the reality of two little ones would wear thin and the time would quickly come when the older ones would be ready to pack them back to China. We are at the three month mark and it hasn't happened yet. They wake up each morning racing for the cribs to get their babies up, fed, and dressed. I sometimes have to intervene to make sure that I actually get any time with the babies. They've taken on a LOT of added responsibility, and give up a fair amount of their time to help care for their younger siblings. I ask if they wish things were different, or if this is too much for them, and they look at me like I'm completely nuts. It's hard to imagine a couple of children as loved and treasured and spoiled as Jack and Annie. There is a wonderful spirit of love and service in our home as we all rally around the babies.

Question: Would you recommend adoption to other single parents? 

Answer: No. It's hard. Really hard. Parenting is hard, and doing it on your own is so very much harder. I do think two parents are better--better for the parents and better for the kids. I had lots of arguments with God over this very issue, as He prepared my heart for Jack and Annie. However, we don't live in a world of best-case scenarios and millions of children around the world just need a family; not a perfect family. I would caution single parents to think oh-so-very carefully about adoption. It's a huge deal. But if God is speaking to their hearts, even if it seems crazy and impractical and even slightly impossible, I can attest that His ways are far better than ours, and it will all work out. It really will.

Question: Do you think everyone should adopt? 

Answer: Nope, not even one tiny little bit. I can't think of anyone I've ever looked at and thought, "Oh my gosh, she should definitely adopt a child!" I don't know people's hearts, I don't know God's plan for their lives, I don't know what silent burdens they carry. If you ask me whether you should adopt, I will tell you that I don't know. That's between you & God. On the other hand, I DO think that many, many more people should adopt. I don't know who those people are; I trust that God does. But with millions of orphans worldwide, and a Judeo-Christian ethic that teaches us an obligation and responsibility to care for orphans, I DO think that we all can and should do more. If adoption is not your calling, you can support families who do adopt. Financially, yes, but also emotionally and spiritually. Satan hates adoption. He hates children coming out of bondage and into family love. He fights hard to keep it from happening. I promise you, if you know families who are working to adopt, they need a cheering section. They need courage and strength and conviction. If adoption is not your calling, you can support the many worthwhile charity organizations that support orphans through providing education, vocational training, and even basic things like clean water, nutrition, and lifesaving surgery. You can pray. Just like Annie's prayer warriors and orphan advocates did long before I knew of her, you can pray these children home. There is SO much power in prayer.

Question: What advice do you have for someone considering adoption? 

Answer: Do your research. There are times it might feel like a second job, because it is. There are excellent and reputable agencies and there are frightening ones...and at a first glance they don't look that different. Talk to other adoptive parents. Talk to different agencies. Read the fine print in agency policies. Carefully consider your family's needs and abilities, and what will work for you. Plan and prepare financially. I recently met a young, newly married college student who confided that she and her husband planned to adopt when they became more financially stable. I told her to start planning for it right now by living frugally and staying out of debt. In most cases, adoption is costly, and there are few exceptions, especially outside of foster care. If you are serious about adoption, start planning for it financially. God helps those who help themselves. Likewise, take care of your own health. If your own health is poor, not only will you find it problematic to raise children; you may not even be approved to adopt in the first place. Adoption home studies look at things like health, employment security, ability to provide for the child, strength of marriage, emotional wellbeing, and more. If you need to work on yourself first, do it.

Question: What is the best thing about adoption? 

Answer: I can't choose just one. Seeing God's Hand so up close and personal is pretty awesome. Watching Him move mountains and cross oceans for one little child is pretty amazing. The good people you will meet....it's a privilege to walk with so many people who devote their lives to some of the world's most vulnerable and needy souls. Expanding your definition of family across racial and ethnic lines, learning first hand that you truly can love another human being with a love so intense and real it defies explanation, even if you don't share DNA and will never, in a million years, look alike to the physical eye. Watching the miracle of a child who has never known love or trust discover both through you.

The best thing about adoption is tucking a little girl into bed at night, a little girl who supposedly will never talk or walk and is so severely mentally retarded that her home country recommends institutionalization--and she reaches up to touch your face and whispers "mama." That's the best thing about adoption.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Meditations at 5:00am

One of the crappiest things right now is having this vibrant, beautiful little boy, and lacking sufficient history with him to know how best to soothe him, calm him, anticipate his needs, head off his tantrums, and help him feel better. It just sucks.

My daughter wasn't in a good situation. She has been very slow to warm up to all these changes, but she is definitely warming up. Watching her soak in her new reality that she won't ever be hungry again, that someone will actually respond when she cries, that she can get all the snuggles she wants...Every day we get more smiles, more giggles, a little more of her personality peeking through. We visited her orphanage a couple of days after taking custody of her, and even with only two days, when the aunties passed her around to say hello, she was clambering to get back in my arms.

My son was in a very good orphanage. All of his growth reports note that he was a favorite of all the caregivers there. He is a naturally outgoing, good-natured little boy. He was prepared well for the adoption. He came straight to me, put his arms around me and called me momma, and walked off into the sunset.

It took a couple of days before the first reality check. He went to bed in the hotel room and shortly after I glanced over to see him shaking with silent sobs, tears rolling down his cheeks. That became something of a pattern. He can go a few days, living in each moment and totally enjoying things, but then all the newness wears off and he just cries. This is greatly complicated by the language barrier. We can't explain and reassure, and so sometimes he has big, ginormous meltdowns over simple things--because, in his world, even simple things can be huge. In China he sometimes screamed if we had to get in a car. He absolutely refused, if I didn't get in first, to assure him that I would be with him in the car. I couldn't blame him for freaking out--the last time he got in a car, they took him to a civil affairs office and left him with me. His whole world turned upside down. From his perspective, getting in cars is the scariest, most dangerous thing in the world.

He seems to really enjoy this new "family" thing he's got. He LOVES following his siblings around everywhere, especially Grace. He gives Annie little kisses, and shares food with her (the true way to Annie's heart). He plays with the neighbors, loves the sandbox, is learning his alphabet, shapes, and colors with the nanny, and tries to give Barney hugs through the TV. He's almost always happy. But sometimes he grieves. Unlike Annie, he did leave people he loved, and people who loved him back. He had a place there. He knew who he was there. I am told that he is exceptionally verbal in the dialect of his region. It seemed clear that he is used to being able to communicate readily with people. Now he's stuck in a new place where no one understands him and he can't understand us. For a bright, social little boy like him, it must feel like a special part of hell sometimes.

I don't know him well enough yet to know when to hold him and when to leave him alone. I don't know when to ignore tantrums and when to listen for a deeper need beneath the tantrum. And even if I can discern the deeper need, I don't always know how to meet it.

He had a rough night. At 5:00am I finally took him out of his crib so that he wouldn't wake everyone else. He fussed and moaned and whimpered for over an hour. I finally noticed that he kept holding one side of his face, and together with earlier observations that he was chewing hard on things, deduced that he might have molars coming in. I gave him some ibuprofen and rocked him, wishing that I could take some of the hard away for him, that I could carry some of the load he's bearing right now on this little four-year old shoulders. Sometimes he would relax into me and calm down, but within a few minutes he'd remember and tense back up, and the tears would start again.

It just hurt that I couldn't do anything, that I couldn't wave a magic wand and show him that it's safe to let Mommy hold him & snuggle him, that I can help if he will let me, that this new family he's liking so much is for real & forever, that I may not always be able to solve his problems but I will always try, that I understand how rough this is.

My 5:00am epiphany was that the 5:00am rocking chair sessions are the only magic wand. Over and over, one at a time, love starts to slowly trickle in. My earlier babies learned it as I got up and fed them, rocked them, changed them. Days and days of that, coupled with soft words, stroking hair and faces, holding them close, smiling eyes--these are the ways that babies learn to trust. Jack is just getting started.

Don't get me wrong--I'm really tired. I'm hoping we don't have a lot of these 5:00am sessions coming up. But along with my prayers for Jack this morning, I was also praying prayers of gratitude to be back in the sacred ground of 5:00am magic.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I Am Not a Hero. Also, Not Amazing.

Here's the deal:

If one more person tells me how amazing I am for adding two more kiddos to my family through adoption, I will hurt something. Possibly the person who says it. I am not a hero, I am not wonder woman, I am not a saint.

Don't get me wrong--this adoption journey was hard. The ongoing transitions and changes in our family and in my life are not easy ones. They are GOOD, but they aren't easy. I won't sugarcoat anything and pretend it's all one big happy party. But I also won't go along with the idea that it's an act of sainthood, either.

It's an act of parenting. Parents take care of their kids, period. I'm hardly alone in this. Parents all over the globe make sacrifices and do hard things to care for their little ones. Often those hard things begin with carrying them in-utero for nine months, and going through physical pain to deliver them into the world. Sometimes those hard things involve social worker visits and flights halfway around the world. And sometimes those hard things even involve giving up that child so that he can have a life that you cannot provide--sometimes, just so the child can live, period. My hard things are my hard things. My children's birthparents have been through their own hard things to provide the best for these children. None of our hard things make any of us saints or sinners or victims or winners. Our collective hard things make us parents, and parents do what they have to do to ensure the safety and well-being of their babies.

My parents raised nine kids. They both worked around the clock. They kept us fed and clothed, they taught us the value of hard work & education, and somehow all nine of us grew up to be pretty decent people. Maybe it's their fault that I'm rejecting the medals for international adoption, because they set the bar too high. Thanks to them, I know that parents do what they have to do for their kids, almost always without applause or pats on the back.

I think what I'm saying is that I don't deserve any more recognition or praise than any other parent who is doing the best she can in her world. We all have our hard things. We all need support and help, and we all  need to be a support and help. My hard things aren't any more noteworthy than a mother who puts off retirement to fund rehab for her son, a mom who takes parenting classes and attends support groups to ensure that the cycle of abuse she knew growing up ends with her, a parent who creates happy moments for her children while coping with marital infidelity and personal heartbreak.

It's not just parents, either. My hard things aren't any more heroic than a childless friend who cares for both of her aging parents, or an immigrant friend who works backbreaking manual labor all day and attends classes late into the night, or a friend who faces demons of addiction every day.

I'm uncomfortable with the praise not only because it's unfair, but because I've noticed that it doesn't help me be a better mom, or even just an ordinary good one.

When I gather my kids around the dinner table, I am NOT amazing. Definitely not heroic. They squabble; I yell. Any bad word you've ever heard my kids use, they probably learned from me. I get tired and lose my temper. If I even start, for one teeny minute, to believe things like "amazing," and "hero," I get so tense! I start to feel so much pressure to be those things, and I'm just NOT those things. That stress and pressure raises my expectations, for myself and for my kids, and that's pretty much a guarantee of failure. The negative cycle of perfectionism is toxic enough at my house; we don't need any help.

You know what does make me feel good, though? When people tell me I'm a fun mom, especially when my kids say it. I like being a fun mom. Fun moms smile. They laugh with their kids. Even if I'm not really much of a fun mom, when I'm told that I am, I try to live up to it.

I'm also okay being told that I'm brave. Parenting has ended up being one of the most courageous things I've ever done. It takes guts every single day. Some days it even takes guts just to get out bed. The ways that I am brave might be different from the ways that you are brave, but we can all acknowledge and praise our collective bravery.

It makes my heart happy when someone notices how much I love my kids. It motivates me to keep being loving, doing loving things, using loving words, giving lots of hugs and kisses.

I'm uncomfortable with praise for inheriting a pretty cushy situation. I live in a country where I will never have to make the choice to give up a child so that she can obtain the healthcare to keep her alive. I live in a country where I can attain the level of education I choose, for the types of employment I would like, so that international adoption can even be option for me. I live during a time when my fitness as a parent isn't unduly scrutinized because I am single, when I am not legally prohibited from adopting because of my marital status. I am blessed to be in a situation where I CAN have six kids if I want them. There are people who don't have that choice. I'm keenly aware that I am richly blessed, and 99% of those blessings were not earned.

That is one comment with which I will completely agree: I am oh-so-very blessed. I am blessed to have a wonderful Gracie-girl in my life, who is nearly as tall as I am, ultra-responsible & hard-working & fun. I am blessed with my sweet Mia, and her delightful sense of humor, quick wit, tender heart, and thoughtful nature. I am blessed to know Mercie, to see the world through her unique lens, appreciate her heart for all God's creatures, to stand in awe of her relentless determination to deal with challenges she faces. I am blessed with my little man, Eric--his sensitive and introspective nature, kind heart, keen intellect, and disciplined mind. I am newly blessed with Jack, non-stop bundle of energy, animated and outgoing, a little ray of sunshine. And I am blessed with Annie, my little snugglebug, who is content to spend an entire day soaking in loves.

On top of that, I am blessed with good people who love me and my family. Yes, blessed is a word I will definitely take.

Since many of those people I love and who love me right back are the ones who throw around the words of "amazing" and "hero," I suppose it would be kind of rude to ask them not to use those words.

So, let's make a deal: you can use those words for me, if I can use them for you. I won't use your names here on this blog, but you & I know who you are, and please, know that I think you are absolutely beyond amazing, and heroic in every way, as you:

  • head back to school to complete your degree and show your kids it's never too late
  • keep going to therapy for years and years, refusing to give up the effort to overcome scars of childhood sexual abuse, paying a price for someone else's sins
  • call your sponsor when the urge for a drink comes
  • participate in hours of grueling therapy and rehab every day to regain basic abilities that everyone takes for granted until they are gone
  • put your adoption papers back in again after suffering the devastating loss of giving a child back
  • accept that new foster placement and commit to love that child with your whole heart, whether it's for a day, a week, months, or years. 
  • support your wife through chemo, telling her she's beautiful and meaning every word. 
  • humble yourself enough to ask for others' prayers, so they can help share your burdens
  • swallow your pride and head to the food bank, because your kids' tummies are more important than your ego. 
  • freely forgive those who have deeply hurt you. 
  • teach other people's children while longing for your own
  • open your heart to love again after great loss
  • take on frightening, overwhelming responsibilities at church because you believe God wants you to accept the call. 
  • follow what your heart knows is true, even when everyone around you disapproves. 
  • trim the grocery budget by $20 each month so you can help provide life-saving heart surgeries for orphans. 
  • tell your fiance about your eating disorder.
  • love your spouse through years of bad decisions and poor judgement, never losing sight of all the worthwhile reasons you fell in love in the first place. 
  • share your talents and gifts freely with those around you
Hmm. I guess maybe you are all pretty darn amazing. Maybe even heroes. No wonder some of it rubbed off on me :). 

Friday, August 08, 2014

Uncle ShuShu

If you want to see the most excited four-year old in the history of ever, come to my house and watch the top of the stairs when the doorbell rings and Jack knows who is waiting on the other side. He throws his whole body into a frenzy of pure joy as his face lights up and he screams at the top of his lungs, "SHUSHU!!!!!! SHUSHU!!!!"

Shushu is the Chinese word for uncle, and in our family, is a title reserved for someone who totally and completely earned it.

It wasn't easy finding someone who was both able and willing to accompany me on the trip to China. It was freaking hard, actually. A three-week commitment on the other side of world, when you have your own job, kids, and life to keep track of, is kind of a big deal. Unlike, say, a touring river cruise throughout Europe, this trip was pretty much guaranteed to be super stressful, chaotic, uncomfortable, and at times downright unpleasant.

In the end only one person signed up, and like my mamma says, has cemented his win as friend of the  year. Maybe even the decade. I knew he was awesome; I just didn't know how awesome.

There is some disagreement at our house over whether Luca is the kids' friend or mine. We all claim him. Jack, I think, is convinced that Lucas is in fact his own personal buddy for life and partner in crime, and that they are peers in every way. One of my favorite things about the trip was hearing Jack's voice wafting down the hotel hallways as he toddled to keep up with Luc: "Shushu! Shushsu!" Especially with a little sister who was physically frail and kinda scared of everything, it was great fun for an active little boy to have a pal who would dunk him in the hotel swimming pool, have stroller races down the halls, and encourage him to decorate his face with food.

I present the evidence for friend of year:

  • He went out a not-insubstantial sum of money to make this happen, including covering things that I'd forgotten about, to the tune of a hefty price tag. 
  • He never got stressed out or tired of singing "Popcorn Popping" for the billionth time. 
  • He kept us all fed. Whether filling everyone's plates (over and over) at the hotel breakfast buffet, hauling boiled water, treating everyone to authentic restaurants and figuring out how to communicate with the wait staff, cooking ramen noodles in a hotel room electric kettle, or late night grocery store runs, we just might have starved without Luc. 
  • He changed poopy diapers. VERY poopy. 
  • He didn't lose his cool when Jack had the mother of all tantrums at an airport in Shangai, nor when Jack topped that with an even worse meltdown mid-flight, somewhere over the Pacific, that lasted almost an hour. 
  • He survived THREE flights--or was it four?--of the worst turbulence known to man, short of actually falling out of sky, and stayed calm for the babies. Seriously, this was grown-adults-screaming-and-crying kind of turbulence. This was make-peace-with-your-maker kind of turbulence. Not just on one flight, but three stupid flights. I have a better sense what hell feels like, now. 
  • He initially agreed to a ten-day trip that turned into a three-week trip. He sacrificed opportunities in his own life and never once made me feel bad for what he was giving up. I did feel bad, but not because of his attitude. He acted like there was nothing else he'd rather do. 
  • Laundry. Endless laundry. Handwashed in hotel bathroom sinks. Every frigging day. Toddler clothes with poop and barf. Ugh. Memories of laundry still trigger anxiety for me. 
  • Luc really enjoys figuring out how to communicate with others. He picked up far more pidgin Chinese than I even attempted. His enthusiasm and sincere interest won us friends everywhere we went, even new pen pals. 
  • He is probably the most patient fellow traveler in the universe. He didn't complain when I couldn't handle even one more hour of the heat, humidity, and smells to have a sightseeing experience he really, really wanted to do. He was understanding when I made a long day even longer in order to visit one of the orphanages, and he didn't object when I wanted to stay on the floor in a dog pile of babies forever (it was our guide who objected and finally forced me to leave). He was more than fine with curtailing most touristy experiences to focus on the needs of two very little ones. 
  • He thought of things I didn't. He bought Jack a car backpack to bring snacks and diapers everywhere we went. Jack was so proud of that grown-up accessory he would have worn it to bed if we wouldn't have allowed him to keep right next to his crib. Luc found places for fresh fruit so Annie would always have healthy options right in the hotel rooms.
About a week after we returned Lucas stayed with the babies for an afternoon so that I could take care of my own dental & doctor appointments, and get some much-needed me time. It was so early that I couldn't have left them with a babysitter, but ShuShu was a thrilling treat, after the disappointment (Jack's) of discovering that ShuShu did not actually live with us.  

As I told the hygienist about our amazing and wonderful ShuShu, she kept trying to write the story into a romance. It was very entertaining, though I kept assuring her that the story of our friendship is most definitely a platonic one. She finally sighed and said, "Ah well. It's a good story. It would be so much better if you two would have fallen in love on this kind of trip." 

I beg to differ. I think people do a lot of wonderful things for other people when they are romantically involved. I think that it's not terribly difficult to be unselfish and kind and generous and thoughtful when sexual attraction is part of the picture. Romance inspires people to heroic feats. 

But to do those things for a friend? A friend where there is no great romance or underlying sexual tension? That's genuine unselfish greatness of heart, and that's why our family is so very blessed to have our own Uncle ShuShu. 



Monday, July 21, 2014

Love & Joy, Defined

I'm nearing the end of my trip to China to bring my babies home. It's been a crazy whirlwind of emotional extremes, sensory overload, physical and mental exhaustion, and that bone-deep, feel-it-all-the-way-in-your-soul kind of love that connects this tired, happy momma with her babies.

There are so many moments to share from this trip, and hopefully I'll be able to squeeze some of them into this blog, between the chaos of settling Jack & Annie into our family over the next few weeks.

But right now, before we head home, before all the really important memories involving each of these oh-so-very important people take precedence so I can bear the record for them later, I want to take one tiny minute to share one of my favorite things.

Adoptive mommies and daddies are some of my favorite people in the whole entire world. I have cried sappy tears A LOT over the last three weeks. About half of them have involved my own new kiddos. The other half have involved other newly formed adoptive families. At every hotel we've visited, in the civil affairs offices, at the notaries, at the US embassy, and sometimes just walking the streets, we see other adoptive parents. And it turns me into a sniffly, sobby mess. These moms and dads just love these sweet babies SO MUCH! They are sweaty and frazzled and look as exhausted and overwhelmed as I feel, but the massive, huge thing you feel radiating from them is this big, ol' ginormous love for the wee ones who were strangers until just a few days earlier. And joy--folks, these people radiate joy. Even as they wrangle screaming, red-faced toddlers or cajole overloaded preschoolers to eat. I've seen love and joy in my life, but adoptive moms and dads win.

This morning in the US consulate every single adoptive family was completing a special needs adoption. These sweet kiddos were missing limbs, had unrepaired cleft palates, cerebral palsy, deafness, heart problems, and a host of undiagnosed issues. And every single parent looked like he/she had hit the child jackpot, like his/her child was the shining center of the universe. We proudly showed off our kiddos to each other & compared notes on forthcoming medical treatment once we arrived in the States, and I had to agree that each and every parent had indeed hit the child jackpot and was bringing home the most precious baby.

Compassion, kindness, gentleness, unselfish love are all things that I struggle constantly to learn and practice. At this point in my life I've accepted that it will take a lifetime and beyond to shape my self-centered heart into something more befitting a disciple of Christ.

Being surrounded by compassionate, kind, gentle, and unselfish people is my secret weapon and one of my best hopes for someday becoming like them.

There are so very many things that I love about adoption, and one of the top things is that it allows me to walk among some of the greatest hearts this world knows. It's a tough path, but oh my gosh, the company we keep along the way!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What We Need

Final travel approval has arrived.  I am officially cleared to run away to China and bring home my babies. Well, almost. I still need my Chinese visa, and I need to book my flights. But we're close, so close!

So very many of you have asked what we need, and I love you for that. I'm constantly humbled by the opportunity to walk this path in life alongside so many great & compassionate hearts.

The fierce independence and obsessive self-reliance of my younger self is gone. While I am excited --so excited-- to bring these little ones home, I'm also scared out of my mind. This is a huge freaking deal! Whirlwind travel is not my idea of fun, and I just signed on to 30+ hour flights with toddlers who don't speak English and haven't been outside the orphanage walls. I'm hitting 3 provinces in less than three weeks, all with babies in tow. We can't wait for these two new additions to our family, but I suspect they will be considerably less enthused about leaving all that is familiar to them and joining these funny looking people in a place filled with strange sights, smells, and sounds--and they will probably respond in typical toddler ways. Small child meltdowns and tantrums are also not my idea of fun, especially when I'm jet lagged and tired.

There are so many logistical details that are causing serious stress right now. Because I'm adopting two, I've got to have a travel companion...and that is a big question mark. Who that will be depends on when I can travel, $$, health, and a hundred other little things that make me crazy if I think about it too much. But I have to think about it, because now is the time to book flights!

And money, oh money! Money is such a huge and inescapable part of adoption. For the past year it has felt like I've done nothing but write ever larger checks and drop them down the black hole that is our adoption. Okay, it's not that bad. The kids & I have been planning and saving for this for a long time. We've spent about $25,000 so far, and travel is likely to be another $10,000. Sadly, my travel approval came during one of the more expensive travel periods. I was feeling okay about the financial end of things, but with double-price plane tickets, I'm working hard not to freak out now.

As if the financial end of adoption weren't stressful enough, we are also facing the loss of my income for about a month, as my employer doesn't offer maternity leave, so I have to take unpaid family leave time to make the trip over there and spend a few days recovering from jet lag before I take on day care costs (roughly equivalent to the cost of my mortgage) and head back to work.

Not to mention little details. A crib. Blankets (I thought we had plenty of extras...until I counted and discovered we don't). Shoes. I don't know what size shoes to wear, so I haven't bought any. I've got clothes packed in a couple of sizes, but I'm petrified to buy shoes. Trying to figure out if I need a new car seat or if the booster I've got will be adequate, given the size of my little boy. Suitcase. I was fine with luggage,  until a couple of months ago when my darling kiddos pulled my larger suitcase off the garage shelf and played with it behind the car, where I ran over it the next time I pulled the car out of the garage. I made a mental note to replace it and promptly forgot until now. A ride to the airport. A ride from the airport, probably in my car, because car seats.

What do we need?

Your prayers. Truly, completely, the most important thing. Prayer brings miracles. I need miracles. I need two little hearts to be soothed and comforted, and able to bond with their new mommy. I need my four kids staying home to be safe and happy and mostly safe. I need greater strength than I currently have, to handle the crazy travel without turning into a grumpy beast.

Food. I'm worried about the first days home while we all adjust to this new reality. I'm worried about how to get a shower by myself. I'm worried about kids on all kinds of wacky sleep schedules. If you feel inclined to bring dinner over one night, I will be ever so grateful.

Stuff. If you have outgrown preschooler shoes or an extra car seat or anything else that I've probably forgotten I need, I will accept it gratefully.

Travel funds. My best estimate is about $2000 short on travel costs, based on the higher rates right now. Long before I found my daughter, an adoption advocacy group was raising money to help someone adopt her. That someone ended up being me. The account is still active. Donations are tax deductible, and funds collected go directly to pay for our actual travel costs. If you feel inclined, you can help with this burden: 
http://reecesrainbow.org/71681/sponsorsimmerman

When I first started my adoption journey about fifteen years ago, I was horrified by the intrusion it presented. I was distraught that so many people were necessary in order to build my family. I saw it as taking something away from the precious intimacy of family.

I couldn't have been more wrong. Adoption has taught me, poignantly and personally, that it takes a village, and that's a beautiful thing. My little family is so blessed to be surrounded and sustained by love.

What do I need?

I need my village. Thank you for being them.



Sunday, May 11, 2014

Building Up the Kingdom of God

Today has been a rather discouraging day.

It's Mother's Day, which is always bittersweet. I love being a mom and I adore my kids, but that doesn't erase the scars of infertility and the years of wondering whether I'd ever be a mother. While I celebrate being a mom my heart thinks of the mothers who made painful, difficult choices so that I could know the joy of my children. Since my divorce, most Mother's Days have fallen on a weekend when I don't have my kids with me, so the day is spent in ironic loneliness. Mother's Day reminds me of how far away from family I am, that greeting cards and messages on facebook are how we stay in touch, and I'm jealous of friends who celebrate the holiday by heading down the street to be with family.

I was supposed to teach a lesson in church today, about building up the kingdom of God. Recent health challenges got in the way and after the third round of throwing up over a trash can yesterday I gave in and called for someone to sub for me. I threw away my prepared quotes and illustrations, and ignored my sadness that the months of preparing and pondering were wasted. As I worked on that lesson, the thought kept tugging on my mind: what exactly is the kingdom of God and how do we build it? By yesterday, when I trashed my lesson plans, I still didn't have a definitive answer, though I had some thoughts.

So, today, I wandered aimless and alone through the house, tempted to go back to bed and skip the day entirely.

I'm too much of a stoic for that, though, so I made a list of simple things that I could do without unduly exerting myself and went to work.

One sort of downside of growing up as a deeply ingrained Mormon is that conflating culture and doctrine is the natural way of life. "Building up the kingdom of God" means doing missionary work, going to the temple, teaching lessons at church, doing your visiting teaching. For the past three months I've been studying a lesson that has stories of  tremendous sacrifice to contribute to the church--an elderly man who broke his leg on the way to a church meeting and waited until the meeting was over to see a doctor, families traveling for several days in wagons to attend church meetings, people who left their families for years to serve missions overseas. If you are home feeling nauseated and not getting much of anything done, it's easy to feel pretty useless in comparison.

In the midst of my uselessness, when I wasn't tending anyone's kids in nursery, or teaching Sunday School, or playing the organ, or carrying out any of the other tasks that we Mormons so love to busy ourselves with, I found myself again asking what exactly is the kingdom of God and how do we build it? Because I've got to tell you, if it's going to church and doing missionary work and being busy with church-y stuff, I am so screwed. In this current season of my life I barely keep my head above the water just sorta managing my own health and taking care of four cute kids and doing all the endless tasks involved in adding two more cute kids. That's it; that's all I can do right now.

Today I made bread dough and set it to rise so that I could feed the hungry.

I mixed up iced herb tea that my kids have been requesting and put it in the fridge to chill so that I could give drink to the thirsty.

I did three loads of laundry and sat in the recliner with my sewing kit for an hour, mending tears and repairing lost buttons so I could clothe the naked.

I heated a bowl of chicken noodle soup and nourished the sick, who, this time around, happen to be me.

I started the paperwork for my visa application, in preparation of the coming trip to set two beautiful, precious babies free of the orphanage, free of the stigma of growing up an orphan, free of growing up unloved and unwanted, and I celebrated that soon, so very soon, the captive will be liberated, and strangers will be welcomed home and become family.

And it was enough. My mundane to-do list answered my question.

"Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick and ye visited me, I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger and took thee in, or naked and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Insasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

I didn't have to go out looking for the kingdom of God, or run myself ragged trying to build it. It was right here all along, in the bread pans and soup bowls and late-night medicine and clean sheets.

Happy Mother's Day.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

My Son Dexter

Every year my kids' elementary school holds a race right before Thanksgiving. The first place runner in each grade gets to bring home an actual turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.

Every year my kids plot and scheme and dream and "train" so they can win the turkey.

Every year Grace comes in second place.

Second place winners bring home a pie. This makes mom very happy, because I love pie. This makes Grace very angry, because she hates pie.

Last night at dinner she began discussing strategy for the next Thanksgiving race.

"Argh! It's always Bernadette!!! No matter how hard I try, she ALWAYS beats me. She wins every single year!"

Joking, I responded, "Maybe this year she'll get sick right before Thanksgiving."

All three girls broke out in a chorus of "Mom! That's not very nice! How could you say that?"

Eric looked thoughtful. "Actually, let's find out what she's allergic to and then sneak it into her food. That way she'll FOR SURE get sick before the race, and Grace can win."

There was stunned silence around the table.

Grace: "Gosh, Eric, we don't want to kill her."

Eric: "Well, if she dies she won't ever beat you in a race again."

Mom: "Easy there, Satan."

Eric: "WHAT? I'm just sayin', it's one idea."

The parenting manuals didn't cover this. That will be the title of my book, if I ever get around to writing one. It pretty adequately sums up life at my house.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ten-Year Old B*tches, Sunday School, and Getting our Judgey On: A Little Chat About Motes and Beams

Grace: Mom, can people really get kicked out the church?

Me: Uh....well, um, yeah, I suppose if they do something really bad and it's not safe for other people at church to be around them...

Grace: Can I get kicked out of the church?

Me: What happened?

Grace: XX (Anonymous Child) said that the bishop can kick people out of church, and they can't come back, and he's going to kick me out because I don't go to the right Sunday School class.

Editorial comment here: Grace rarely ever goes to her "assigned" class, and it has quite a lot to do with XX, who is a little bee-yotch. It's not enough that she has to torment and harass my daughter IN the class; now she's appointed herself the God police to judge my daughter for avoiding the scene of emotional brutality? Cue the mama-bear claws now.

This was followed by a heart-to-heart talk about how Jesus Christ invites everyone--EVERYONE--to come to Him, and He's less concerned with technicalities like getting to the "right" Sunday School class, and more concerned with helping each of us be good and kind. We talked about how sometimes when we feel unhappy and miserable, we try to make other people feel bad, too, and that it says more about the person being mean than the victim of the meanness. We talked about who gets to have input in decisions like which Sunday School class to attend--that Grace gets a lot of input in the choice because it's her body & soul under discussion, that Mom gets a say because God assigned her to be Grace's mom & look out for her well-being--and because Mom loves Grace & cares for her--, that the Primary president and bishop get a little bit of a say because they accepted assignments from God to watch over the congregation, and they also love & care about Grace. And Anonymous Child XX gets zero say, because it's none of her damn business.

If there is one lousy, rotten thing that we church people are waaaaaay too good at, it's that all too often, we excel at judging, criticizing, and picking apart each others' perceived sins.

Here's the thing: I believe there are very limited, narrow circumstances where it's not only okay to pass some form of judgment; it's necessary and right. As a mom, I have the right and responsibility to use my judgment to protect my children. While I believe in redemption and forgiveness, I'm not going to knowingly leave my child alone with a convicted child predator because I want to be open-minded and tolerant. As a single woman, I sometimes make conscious decisions to not become involved with some men because their scars and brokenness are not a good fit with my scars and brokenness, and we would be very unhealthy together. I tend to avoid gossipy or negative people as much as I can, because I don't like the feeling that I have around them. I also generally avoid being around people who relish drama, because my life is quite busy enough for good and happy reasons, and I don't need extraneous uproar to distract me from the more important business of being a good mom, a good sister, a good daughter, and a good friend.

I have noticed that when I am feeling most critical toward others, I am always, ALWAYS feeling unhappy with myself. It's not about them; it's about me. I have noticed that when I am feeling chock full, brimming over with love, happy with myself and trusting God, I don't have the teeniest speck of judgment for others. I just love them.

Love is a whole different ball game from criticism. Love listens. Love wants to understand. Love doesn't condemn. Love points the way to healing and redemption. Love says, "I like being with you. I miss you. Tell me how I can help you. Help me understand your point of view." Love says, "Let's walk together,and help each other."

Love isn't always easy. It isn't intended to be. Love sent the most perfect, gentle and loving Man who ever lived to the cross. Thanks to His example, we have a blueprint for how to love each other.

Here's a surefire tip for navigating church life and home life and everything in between: if it's about fear, it's not of God. If it's about love, it's about God. And if you are wielding fear as a club to bring people to God....well, maybe stop and consider who is the author of fear and who is the author of peace and love, and maybe reconsider who you are following.

Fear asks what other people will think. Love asks what you & God think--because your opinion, thoughts, and feelings matter to Him.

Fear threatens shunning, rejection, and being kicked out. Love invites you in, all of you, even in your messy incompleteness.

Fear offers the damning illusion that other people's flaws somehow make you better. Love covers your flaws with mercy, and frees you to forgive the flaws of others and extend a helping hand.

Fear creates rigid rules and artificial boundaries under the false impression that forcing compliance will lead to safety. Love honors free will as one of the greatest gifts of God, and naturally leads to wise choices as love begets understanding.

Fear sees others' actions as reflecting on us. Love celebrates and encourages personal agency.

Fear leads to unhealthy dependence. Love leads to joyful interdependence.

Fear says that questioning is wrong and bad and scary. Love says that questions are the beginning of answers, and that no question is too big or tough for God, even if the question is screamed and hollered.

Fear says people do things because they are evil. Love says only God knows the heart, and people often do things out of deep hurt, longstanding pain, familial patterns, and ignorance. Love sets us free to learn and do better, and to allow others the same privilege.

Fear says you'll get in trouble. Love offers you help.

Fear makes us suspicious of others' motives and actions. Love knows we are all in this together, and love extends grace.

A couple of years ago, in a women's meeting at church, we were discussing ways that we could show love for each other. Sisters shared stories of kindnesses performed, loving words spoken, generous gifts received, and huge sacrifices made for each other. One sister offered the most profound and touching example. "As I look over my life," she said, "I am so grateful for the acts of service, large and small, that I have received. But I think the greatest kindness of all has come simply when others have refrained from judgment."

Amen.

Here's to opening doors and hearts, living less in fear and more in love, to ignoring the motes and focusing more on the beams, and to extending more grace and forgiveness, even to little ten-year old bee-yotches--who probably need less of my momma-bear claws and more of my momma-bear love.

In the end, love always wins. Always.