These lyrics convey more about the last several weeks in our home than any words I could piece together for you right now! They’ve been a huge encouragement to me through some extremely emotional days. I’ve been singing them day and night, in the car, kitchen, bathroom, and everywhere in between. If you’re one of Kami’s faithful cheerleaders, you can pray these words over her. If you’re struggling through your own season of recovery, you can soak them up and repeat them to your tired soul.
We’ve entered into a season in our family that calls for more of a real-life presence and less of an online one. (As I see that typed out, I’m thinking every season of my life should look that way!) I will still be eager to share with you as I’m able what God is doing in our family and around the world through His Word, our greatest source of encouragement.
I was honestly feeling like God was not seeing our troubles, and for what felt like the zillionth time in my life, when I casually flipped open the Word, daring God to say something to me… He did. And I’m always surprised, even though I really shouldn’t be by now.
Since I last checked in, we’ve settled into this new home of ours. I made a list, and this makes about the 21st home (give or take a few) that I’ve lived in during my 31 years of life. People who’ve moved at all can probably relate when I say that each move can bring an identity crisis of its own.
“In the last place I lived, everyone knew I was talented at _____. Now nobody knows me or my abilities at all.”
“I had friends there who knew me before _______ happened. There’s no way anyone can understand me without knowing that history.”
Who are we in relation to the new people and places around us? It’s a yucky feeling to not know, and it takes time and effort to settle again. I’m grateful that God made us adaptable to new situations, and that time is truly our friend in that process.
The list of places I’ve lived took up almost a whole page of notebook paper and included about 10 states. Seeing it all laid out on paper was a little overwhelming, but I noted that God was with me in every location. He never leaves us or forsakes us. Wow! Processing that truth encouraged me to continue to settle in here and lean into this present adventure.
I shared last month that in the midst of the move, Kami got lost in more ways than one. While she hasn’t wandered off again, she has continued to ask to go to “our house” and continues to look disappointed when we pull up to the cabin. We’ve had her in our family for a little over 3 years now, and we’ve been transparent about how hard it’s been. This encouraged me though: out of the 40 months since we adopted her, Mason has been working from home for 20 of them! What a kindness from God to have him home with us for half of the traumatic transition. He starts at his new job next week after a 20-month partnership development adventure in which God brought together a complete team of people to send him into his role in global Bible translation. It’s been a truly awesome experience to watch Him do this! And to see how God worked that process to the good of our family is amazing. He just loves each of us so much and cares about every detail of our lives!
But as we neared our ministry partnership goal in the past few weeks, we also neared a breaking point in our relationship with Kami. Everyone who talks with me for 5 minutes knows that we’ve had our ups and downs, but this was such a big and devastating down in the way that Mason and I were relating to Kami, and she to us, that it felt almost hopeless. We talked about options. I think the most powerful prayers we prayed were probably the ones of complete desperation that didn’t even sound like prayers. I was honestly feeling like God was not seeing our troubles, and for what felt like the zillionth time in my life, when I casually flipped open the Word, daring God to say something to me… He did. And I’m always surprised, even though I really shouldn’t be by now.
O Israel, how can you say the LORD does not see your troubles? How can you say God refuses to hear your case? Have you never heard or understood? Don’t you know that the LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth? He never grows faint or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to those who are tired and worn out; he offers strength to the weak. Even youths will become exhausted, and young men will give up. But those who wait on the LORD will find new strength. They will fly high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:27-31
It struck me that He gives power to people like us, people who are tired and worn out and weak. So we knew that He saw us, but we didn’t know what was next. I felt led to reach out to some experts (adoptive parents of kids from hard places, with no letters behind their names but the personal experience to understand our predicament), two of which encouraged me to talk to Nancy Thomas. How we got three years into older child Bulgarian adoption without hearing her name or visiting her site, I don’t know! I do know she can help us, as her videos and articles have already begun to do. We are also prayerfully pursuing RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) therapy.
So we essentially went from desperate discussions about last-resort options to hoping again. This was right before Thanksgiving week, when we also met our ministry partnership goal and began to feel more settled in the new house! There has been a lot of thanks given to God around here lately. It feels like a glorious season of answered prayer!
Kami made this drawing below on the Magna Doodle at my parents’ house. It was all her hand, with me only suggesting that she add certain things to the picture. She started with a head, then a smile, two eyes, a body, arms, legs, hair, shoes, and gloves. I listed the body parts or clothes and watched as she carefully drew them in the proper place. The processing skills needed to do this task would probably be absent without the work her three occupational therapists, Jennie, Kathy, and Keri, have put in.
What I like most about the above drawing is that Kami drew the person’s body structure to look like the letter K. Letters have felt like a huge and sometimes unattainable goal, but she’s starting to learn them.
Tonight, after a calm day without much crying or raging, Kami got angry about something near bedtime. I had basically written off the remainder of the evening as a total wash with her, so you can imagine my surprise when I found her sitting on her bed with nine perfect Ks drawn on her Magna Doodle. After running around the house making sure that no one else had been practicing Ks on this board, I laid on the cheers for this accomplishment! (She had just stopped crying in this picture, but I hope she felt proud and happy about the praise she received!)
Hope. We all need it. Like David in Psalm 22, we can say,
Our ancestors trusted in you, and you rescued them. You heard their cries for help and saved them. They put their trust in you and were never disappointed. Psalm 22:4-5
There are three other people living under this roof watching A-L-L of this unfold. Their names are Ezekiel, Eden, and Isaiah, and getting to disciple, teach, and play with them every day is one of the greatest joys of my life!
There’s still work to do and battles to win, but knowing that God sees our troubles, gives new strength, and does not disappoint – well, I think we can handle just about anything.
From the moment we first set foot in the cabin in September, we were excited about the adventure of moving far out from traffic and cookie cutter suburbs with small lots! We knew we’d need to learn how to fix things, living in a 33-year-old home, but we felt ready to welcome the increased workload and simpler lifestyle.
Wow, I don’t even know where to begin, except that I have missed seeing this web page in front of me, helping me process life. (Those who turn to writing for mental, emotional, and spiritual processing know what I mean.)
We girls got lost this week. I felt completely lost in the process of leaving behind our “little” (2000 sq. ft.) rental home of 2 years, leaving behind all of the wonderful and horrible things that unfolded there. There were more wonderful moments than horrible ones, but I want to acknowledge both because they both made the home a special one. Every time we survived a wild rage with KJ, or Mason took a trip and we counted down the days to pick him up, or he and I navigated one of the inevitable conflicts that surface after 10 years of marriage, or one of our little pupils experienced a light-bulb moment at the school table, the joy & triumph of the moment seemed to seep into the walls. That rental home held alot of me! So I was the first one to burst into tears when we entered our new log cabin.
From the moment we first set foot in the cabin in September, we were excited about the adventure of moving far out from traffic and cookie cutter suburbs with small lots! We knew we’d need to learn how to fix things, living in a 33-year-old home, but we felt ready to welcome the increased workload and simpler lifestyle. We’ve made it through our first three nights here, going on four, and it feels like it’s been weeks! I did not expect such a wave of grief. Sometimes my emotions surprise me, especially the negative ones, since I’m usually very optimistic. Friends and family have been so encouraging though, and that’s my love language, so I think I’m going to make it! Though I felt lost, very awfully painfully lost for a couple of days, I’m found. God is good, and He encouraged me just today by sending us water filtration angels (actually just a salesman and a technician in direct answer to prayer) named Walter and John to make our water usable. Turns out our well pump was basically drawing up lake water…no wonder it was brown, metallic, and smelled and tasted disgusting. That was super traumatizing!!! I will never again take clean water for granted. It’s only been a few hours since the equipment has been installed, and it’s already worlds better. So now that we have clean drinking water, I feel I have absolutely nothing to complain about, and I am reminded of how much the Lord loves us.
The next girl who got lost was sweet Eden Elizabeth. The morning after we moved in, we were too shell shocked to consider going to church. I was weeping uncontrollably, so Mason (wise man) decided to pile us all in the car and get the kids donuts and pizza. As I said, he’s a wise man. After that, we stopped by a church party. (We recently changed churches, adding another layer to the adjustment happening right now, but that was an adjustment that was natural and necessary.) At the party, inflatable bounce houses were set up outside, and inside there were tables set up for a meal. Eden was eager to play with some of her new friends in the bounce houses, so we told her we’d be inside. Awhile later, the 5 of us were ready to head home, but when we stopped to pick up Eden at the bounce house, she was nowhere to be found. Mason took the other three to the van while I went inside to look for her. At no point were we really scared, since the party was in a safe location and we were among friends; but as I surveyed the large party room and saw little Eden curled up in a chair near the corner crying, I knew that she was scared. “I couldn’t find you!” She wailed through rolling tears. I gave her a big hug, assured her we’d always find her and that she had been wise to wait in the place where we had last been together inside, and then brought her to the car where she quickly recovered. Daughter one, lost and found.
Then, another one got lost. Our few days here at the cabin have been crazy and full of unpacking, figuring out meals in our new kitchen, Mason making trips to clean things up at the rental, appointments, mental health trips, and rapid fire conversations between Mason and me while children are asking for things or needing correction. So last night, he and I decided to purposely park ourselves at our newly set up dining room table to have a leisurely, focused discussion. It was great! So calm. Then we realized that Kami was no longer on the back porch where we last saw her. She also wasn’t on the front porch or the driveway or in the yard. The gate to the lakefront park across the street was wide open, so I headed over to see if she had made the walk to the playground. I asked a guy there if he had seen a little girl in a green striped shirt, and he shook his head no. I crossed the street back to our house and saw that Mason had searched the house and found no trace of her. Her shoes and the soccer ball she’d been playing with were both gone. I didn’t have many ideas at this point besides figuring that maybe I should call the police if we didn’t find her soon, to report her missing and get some help. I didn’t feel much emotion at all, but I did ask God to help us find her. Eden and Isaiah searched closets and bathrooms, concerned and wanting to help with the search. (I will not record what Ezekiel said. Ahem.)
The previous few days had been super rough with Kami. Of course, she’s under a huge amount of stress with the total change in her surroundings. If I, as a healthy, emotionally stable, well-loved adult, found myself weeping uncontrollably at times during this move, how much more do you think she’s struggled? We understand this truth intellectually, but when it comes to dealing moment-to-moment with her poor behavior in the middle of our big transition, you can imagine it’s not easy to keep this compassion in the forefront of our minds. So these were the circumstances surrounding our little missing person. Mason hopped into the car and drove down the side street on which the house sits. He came back a few minutes later with a small figure beside him in the front seat. I expected I may have been upset with her for running off, but again, I was pretty emotionless. “Well, Miss Kami, where did you decide to run off to?” No answer from her, of course; but Mason had found her with some of our new neighbors whose yard she’d been aimlessly traversing. She had walked about a quarter mile, by Mason’s reckoning, and was covered in bug bites. Her face was completely blank – no relief, no fear, no joy. Just existence. Kami didn’t indicate to us whether or not she cared to be found. In fact, I wouldn’t hold it against her if she was somehow hoping we wouldn’t find her, but I doubt she had thought it through that far. She was just walking, staring at her shoes and her ball, probably. She’s looked vacant since we moved. With nothing familiar to hold onto, it seems her ability to play and process and so many other things has been suspended. It didn’t help that we decided (once again – why do we never learn?) to put her and Eden in the same room. The cabin has 3 rooms rather than the 4 we had in the rental, so we figured it was time to try room sharing again. Some people just need their own space though, y’all. The reason I have time to sit and type this at 10:30 pm is that we moved Ezekiel, Eden, and Isaiah into one room, moved a bunch of their toys into the other bedroom, and officially dubbed it “the playroom, where Kami sleeps.” You gotta do what you gotta do. International/older child adoptive parents will get me on this one. Like I said: Some people just need their own space!!!
I honestly do not know why I don’t have a single picture of the log cabin accessible to share with you. I’ll try to take some soon. This will be a words-only post. I do have a photo of the nasty green water that the filtration salesman sampled from our tap, but that’s just gross and I don’t want to look at it again. So here ends the glimpse into our record chaos. If you’re in the middle of a big transition or feeling overwhelmed by your many responsibilities, maybe this will encourage you as it does me:
Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you. ~ Isaiah 41:10, The Message
Hoping to remember this next time I start to panic,
In my high school and college days, I spent a lot of time doing math. Ever since I first learned of the limit in high school calculus, I’ve been interested in pushing it. I took as many Advanced Placement classes as possible in high school and told people I wanted to work in aerospace engineering. This got a much better response than “I want to get married, have babies and homeschool them,” which was really what I always wanted!
So here I am in what I might call an Advanced Placement level of parenting: training from the ground up a formerly institutionalized child while homeschooling three “homemade” kids. I was just telling my mom the other day, after she spent an eventful evening with them all, that most people will never associate with (much less live with) a person who was born and raised in an institution. It’s an unusual situation that has pushed Mason and me to our spiritual, emotional, and physical limits.
Though adoptive parenting has shown us our limits in painful ways, the plus side is we’ve learned to create margin in our lives. When things get really tough, we know to drop what we can from our schedules and focus on what’s most important. Despite the fact that we’re still on our way out of the woods with KJ (it’s a winding path), we shared recently that we were getting ready to jump into foster care. We submitted it to God and felt confident about it.
When the foster parent certification class started, we found ourselves in the midst of a wild week or two. It was well timed. We realized our desire to open our home to more children right now (in Christen World, this is the best time to do any good idea!) wasn’t taking into account the needs surrounding our latest addition.
We have good days/bad days, good weeks/bad weeks with Kami Joy. God used a string of bad days with her to clue us into the fact that our home is not “home-study ready”. (The home study is the several week process that a family goes through before they’re cleared to adopt or foster.) We know from our adoption home study that these are meetings where everything comes out in the open. Some of the difficult, intense feelings and struggles we’ve had in our parenting journey with KJ are still too fresh (as in, just happened yesterday) for us to be able to truthfully present ourselves as parents who are mentally and emotionally healthy enough to manage more trauma in our home right now. We’re grateful God showed us something through this string of hard days. There was a limit there that we didn’t know about. Some limits are meant to be pushed, and others are to be respected. This one had a sign over it:
Our family remains totally open to God’s leading, ready to welcome whoever He may bring into our family through whatever means He might choose. It’s comforting to realize that just because our orphan care capacity feels maxed out right now doesn’t mean it always will be. Plus, I am reminded there are many other ways to do orphan care, like supporting adoptive families financially or emotionally through the excitements and challenges of their journeys. In North Carolina, I attended an amazing adoption support group that inspired me to try to find or start that kind of group down here.
There are no limits to the ways God can direct us when we submit our ways to Him. When you have a personal relationship with Jesus, you’re able to do things that would be impossible on your own because it’s His mighty power at work within you doing way more than you can even imagine. God is a good Father, faithful to speak to us when we listen. What’s He saying to you today? Here’s His latest to me:
Don’t think that by serving Me more you can get Me to love you more. I don’t love you because of what you do for Me, I love you because of who I AM. Don’t seek relief from your adoptive parenting struggles by becoming a foster parent just yet. Love each of your 4 kids well; and especially focus on loving that fourth one into the fold.
Mason and I decided to let Eden have her wish of rooming with her sister on our trip. We consider it a necessary life skill to be able to fall asleep in a room with a sibling. So last week, we gave it a try.
Last week we arrived in North Carolina for a month of work-related training. We get antsy once we’ve stayed in the same place for a couple years, and having just reached two years in our Florida home, it was a good time for a change of scenery.
Our family is staying in a modest, pleasant 3-bedroom apartment on campus of the organization hosting the training. When we walked in, it felt like a TLF (military temporary living facility) and looked like a grandma’s house – we felt right at home.
Eden had been talking about wanting to share a room in North Carolina with Kami Joy for weeks. The last time she attempted to sleep in a room with her sister, it was just days after we returned from Bulgaria. Eden was 3 years old, and at some point in the wee hours of the morning her new sister leaped into her bed and started violently yanking the pillows off. Kami was wild and confused, with drug withdrawals in full swing. We quickly moved Eden into Ezekiel’s room (baby Isaiah was still in our room) and gave our new child her own room for sleep training. She had slept in a crib up to age 7 in the orphanage and hadn’t even known how to climb out of it. Every morning she waited for an orphanage worker to come lift her out and herd her through the day, so the freedom of an open bed and room was overwhelming for her.
It’s been almost 3 years since all of that happened, so after giving it some thought, Mason and I decided to let Eden have her wish of rooming with her sister on our trip. We consider it a necessary life skill to be able to fall asleep in a room with a sibling. So last week, we gave it a try.
Eden is loving, forgiving, determined, laid back, and not easily fazed. The first night, she snuggled down into her bed (on the right), coolly reading a book while Kami tried to process what was happening. The door wasn’t closed as it has been for 3 years; it was open. She wasn’t alone; there was another body in the room. It wasn’t pitch dark as it had been her whole life; rays of a flashlight bounced off the walls.
Like many other lessons we’ve taught Kami Joy, it was a bit like puppy training. “Stay. Lay down. Quiet.” Coming in to correct, saying goodnight, returning to correct, repeat. It was a struggle, but she submitted without a huge fight and Eden didn’t take any of our offers to move her bed into her brothers’ room. She was excited to finally be able to sleep near her sister, and she expressed hope that it would work so she could do it again the next night.
Kami Joy has now been with us for half of Eden’s life! Ezekiel is the only child with a functional memory of life before her. And he’s truthful with us that if he could go back in time and cast his vote (we did ask the kids, little as they were, if they were on board with this rescue mission) – he would say no. We allow him to express his feelings because they’re legitimate. It has been hard, but God has allowed us to hold on to our joy, so it’s been a strengthening kind of hard rather than a destructive kind. Ezekiel also says he plans to adopt when he grows up, which blows my mind after all he has seen!
Back to room sharing: the first night took some focused training, but eventually she fell asleep and stayed asleep. The next night was easier, and we thought we had arrived. The third night, we tried to ease the sensory burden on Kami by letting Eden read in the living room. That way the flashlight wouldn’t be a distraction. But after Eden went back into the bedroom to lay down, some sort of switch flipped in Kami … maybe she thought she was getting the room back to herself. She clearly wasn’t prepared for Eden to come back. Whatever occurred, it was dark, and Eden soon tiptoed back out to the living room to tell us that Kami was banging on the wall. I hopped up from the couch, and during the handful of seconds it took me to get to the bedroom, we heard a huge thump. It was a strange reverberating noise, and when I entered the room I found her sitting on the floor next to her bed in defiance of our instruction. Mason was on my heels, and when he flipped on the light it revealed a gash on her left cheekbone very close to her eye. The blood started dripping down her pajamas and onto my feet, leaving a trail to the bathroom where we checked out the injury. She was screaming hysterically, probably from a combination of pain, shock, and anger at herself that she had taken her protest too far and was suffering for it. It is miraculous how God makes moms able to kick into doctor/nurse mode, no matter how little experience we have. I applied firm pressure to get the bleeding to stop (pretty sure she 100% hated us during these minutes, judging from how she was swinging at us and trying to get away), and when it finally stopped we were surprised at the depth and length of the cut. We realized the only surface in the room that could have left that mark was the metal bed frame. She can revert to thrashing and head banging when frustrated and had thrashed her face straight into the frame.
For a moment we considered taking her somewhere for medical care, but then we realized she’d have to be sedated to get anything done, and that by the time we would be able to reach an emergency room from our remote location outside a new city at 11:00 pm we could probably get the situation under control ourselves. (We weren’t really by ourselves; lots of prayer was going on!) We went into surgeon & assistant mode: “I need melaleuca, frankincense and band-aids!” We soon had her patched up with the bleeding stopped, but she was still hysterical. Since the boys were already asleep and we wanted to help them stay that way, we took Kami into our bedroom closet to help her calm down. The screaming and howling were loud, so we tried a few things to muffle and distract. Then I realized that with the emergency over, I should hug her. I felt truly sorry that she had put herself in so much pain. I pulled her close and rubbed her back, just like I would do for one of my other kids, and through her sobs she managed to sputter “you can hug, you can hug.” Maybe God allowed her to experience that violent accident so she could both receive care and comfort from us and remember exactly why thrashing and banging in anger is a bad idea. She is no stranger to self-harm due to a history of neglect and abuse we will never fully know about, but it’s been awhile since she drew blood.
When we emerged from our closet with an exhausted Kami Joy, where do you think Eden was? She was standing ready to give a feel-better hug and climb back into the bed beside Kami’s. It was late, so we put Eden in the boys’ room to salvage a good night’s sleep for her.
The next night Eden moved back in with her sister. Kami Joy drifted off without much trouble at all. Butterfly bandages and liquid bandaid have her wound healing up safely. Like every scar, this one will have a story behind it.
God is patiently working in me as I struggle to make each of my words gifts to this girl. Someone reminded me this week that she is a treasure. We’re still figuring out so much about her. We haven’t yet settled on what name fits her. Kami, Kami Joy, KJ, or Joy? We’re still working on that. When I tell her story to new people (of which we are meeting many this summer), I rush into it, and I don’t always know whether I feel ashamed of her behavior (most 10-year-olds don’t chew on toys) or proud of her progress (the odds were stacked against her to ever speak, use the toilet, or function in public). It’s confusing. But the people who love us best forgive us and understand that it’s complicated. And the people who love Jesus understand why she is here. The people who don’t know Him just think we are crazy for bringing undue trouble upon ourselves. If only they understood that God’s heart is for the oppressed, the neglected, the fatherless, the outcast. And how will they know if we don’t show them? God’s love knows no borders, so neither should ours.
Defend weak people and orphans. Protect the rights of the oppressed and the poor. Psalm 82:3
I want you to know that this is how it can feel to adopt. It’s not natural, it’s supernatural. The only reason she is here is because God reached out His mighty arm to save her and make her a new creation. He chose our family to carry out this plan, and I must believe it’s because He’s given us the tools to do the job.
As we near Kami Joy’s third “rebirthday” this July, I’m thinking back over the past three years and rereading my old blog entries chronicling our intense adoption journey. Want to join me for the ride? 🙂
August 2014, Sofia, Bulgaria
Mason is putting Kami to bed and I am taking the advice of a kind fellow adoptive mom who told me some wise things today. She said that even if I feel like I’m taking care of the neighbor’s kid, just make sure to take good care of that neighbor’s kid. Kamelia has been with us for one week tomorrow, and yes, she usually feels like a neighbor’s kid and not our own just yet, but the love will grow. It has plenty of time to grow, and until then I can make the choice to love her through my actions while waiting for the feelings to catch up. What motivates me even more than the neighbor’s kid analogy is letting myself acknowledge that we just took in an orphan. Technically she is not an orphan anymore, praise God, but I don’t quite feel like her parent yet, which leaves us in an interesting place. It’s complicated and, as I’ve transparently shared, messy. Three more full days, and then we’re heading home. We continue to pray that the visa process will be fast and timely so that we can all fly home together. There is a possibility she will scream and need to be physically restrained for the whole flight, but I hope she doesn’t. Either way, we just need to get out of here and get home!
Kami’s favorite new word combination is “push, pull.” It describes exactly how I’ve felt this week! Encouragement, despair. Hope, fear. Rest, anxiety. The war has been unceasing! I don’t know how much of this is normal adoption emotion, how much is the intense sadness I feel at not holding my precious one-year-old and squeezing his brother and sister, and how much is actual spiritual warfare. But I do know that the enemy has capitalized on my confusion and emotional instability. In retrospect, I can’t believe we are doing this. The only explanation is God. And He is the one who grounds me at the end of the day, helping me reorient my heart to hear His voice and drown out the lies. Lord, please help us raise up Kamelia in the way she should go, restore her to the state she would have been had she never been neglected, and create beautiful relationships between her and every member of our family!
September 2014, Montgomery, Alabama
The Lord is changing my heart towards Kami. It may seem strange to some that a child who is chosen, prayed for, and sought after for months and months through the exciting process of international adoption would not be easily accepted into their new family. It hasn’t been an easy or even smooth transition so far. The hurt contained in this little person exceeded our imaginations, and her hurt has in turn hurt those of us who are suddenly sharing our home with her. We knew this would happen, but we had no way of knowing how traumatic it would be. It is difficult to love a person – even a small, deprived person who has known only a pitiful existence – when they are hurting you. Weeks ago God showed me the verse Jesus spoke about doing good to those who curse you and praying for your enemies. Kami has never been our enemy, as we’ve always been fighting for her, but it’s sure felt like fighting against her at many times. The point is that God IS changing my heart towards her.
Kami, age 7, next to 1-year-old Isaiah in the little apartment in Montgomery where we fought every day just to not give up the fight. Her hair was short from her last orphanage cut and she was wearing size 4T clothing. She could not dress herself, chew her food, speak, or use the toilet. The messes we saw in the morning sometimes were unspeakable. As you can see looking at her right foot, she could barely process the feeling of being barefoot on carpet. She was essentially nonverbal except for unintelligible babbling and spent her days screaming, thrashing, scratching, lunging, and pushing, and was paralyzed by sensory dysfunction. For days in a row she would not eat or drink. This feels like looking through a window into another lifetime for me.
October 2014, Shreveport, Louisiana
Attachment between us and Kami is coming slowly. Right now I would describe it as if we’d been through a traumatic car accident together. Simply surviving has bonded us together – when you’ve been through so much with someone, things that outsiders could never fully understand, you begin to feel connected simply by virtue of sharing the experience. (This applies to our marriage, too!) I do think she is beautiful. Sometimes I think she is cute. I believe she has limitless potential. I see her progressing emotionally and behaviorally. Sunday we spent about 7 minutes in Krispy Kreme, the entire family. She sat and ate a donut without making a scene. I honestly didn’t know if we’d ever be able to take her out in public, but we did. She’s had a couple of playground trips now without tantrums. Sometimes she whines, but so does Eden, so I won’t hold whining against her. She is VERY stubborn. This stubbornness helped her parent herself for 7 years, but the majority of it has no place in our home. Attachment with a cooing baby, adorable toddler, or even an emotionally stable older child from quality foster care can come naturally, but attachment to a stubborn, previously undisciplined 7-year-old does not, my friends!
Moms, you know how when you look at your baby, you can almost feel your brain being flooded by intense bonding hormones? I felt and still do feel that with our other three kids. Sometimes an experience with Kami, even a tender and positive one, will trigger an outpouring of adrenaline from my very confused and traumatized glands. It’s almost as if my body is rebelling against this unnatural connection, screaming “you didn’t deliver this baby, she’s not a baby, what are you doing loving on her as if she were yours?!?!” I am all about sharing truth and I want you to know that this is how it can feel to adopt. It’s not natural, it’s supernatural. The only reason she is here is because God reached out His mighty arm to save her and make her a new creation. He chose our family to carry out this plan, and I must believe it’s because He’s given us the tools to do the job. It sounds strange, but even when it feels like we’re the worst fit for her, I know that there isn’t another family better equipped for this child.
January 2015, Shreveport, Louisiana
Recently we went to Chick-fil-a for dinner as a family. It was blissfully uneventful. Mason and I sat on a bench together while Ezekiel, Kami and Eden squished onto the one opposite us, and Isaiah happily people-watched from a highchair. It was so…normal. Easy. Enjoyable. Why did I not believe this day would come? Why did I think my life was over and that the rest of my pitiful days would be lived out in frantic mother-of-four isolation? There are a few possible answers to those questions, among them being post-adoption depression and profound psychological adjustment. The healing I am seeing unfold before my eyes is exactly what God promised us before we started this journey. It’s just that the path has been so painful and difficult in places that at times I had convinced myself that we were on the wrong one.
Living together for six months can bond you to someone. It was very awkward parenting a complete stranger, and it was really, really hard to start out a parenting journey with fight-or-flight surges rather than warm, nurturing feelings. As a new adoptive mom to a child from a very hard place, I’ve moved through stages of compassion, frustration, fear, anger, acceptance and hope (sometimes all in one day) in my relation to her. I’ve been trying to keep in mind the helpful advice to put feelings in the backseat, and it helped me justify my lack of them, but praise God – the feelings train is finally starting to catch up. I know I’m using the word feeling alot because it feels good to finally have some feelings to support this new relationship, but the truth is that it doesn’t matter if I feel like loving as Christ loves. I’m called to do it anyway.
I am the closest relationship Kami has ever experienced in her life. It’s obvious that the five of us, Mason, me, and our other three, are closer to her now than anyone else has ever been, but I say I am her closest because I am her most consistent caretaker. I oversee almost all her daily activities, feed her almost every meal, and am training and bonding with her during the workday while Mason is gone. Because of this, she tries to push me away in subtle ways to see how I will react. I’m sure she wants to test the boundaries to see if I will stick around.
I left the book of Jude open on the kitchen counter this week. It reminded me every time I walked by that I no longer live according to natural instinct because God’s Spirit lives in me (Jude 19). There is absolutely no room for my instinctive response, but only for the response of careful training and instruction that is my responsibility as her mother. In the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
June 2015, Shreveport, Louisiana
From what I understand, the months of intense trauma and stress in our home caused me to have unusually (dare I say dangerously) high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Due to Kami’s tragic past, she came into our family with skyrocketed stress hormone levels, and as hers gradually went down, mine went up. This is what I meant all of the times when people asked me how things were going and all I could think of to respond with was “it has been costly.” That was an uncomfortable exchange of trauma that happened. But I can now say I am grateful for the chance to take on her stress, even to suffer under it for a little while, when I remember that the Lord Jesus did that with my sin. He took it on and suffered under it in order to defeat it. That’s exactly what is happening in this home by His grace.
November 2015, Kissimmee, Florida
Here is Kami, age 8, at church this morning. She speaks in full sentences, and when I remember her at this time last year, it doesn’t matter anymore that the words in the sentences are arranged strangely. She dresses herself, in size 8-10 clothing, uses the toilet like a pro, and has very few remaining sensory issues. She knows how to play, jump, climb, slide, obey, and communicate. As I write she’s standing next to me looking at the pictures and talking about what I’m doing. It feels this month like we are finally emerging from the woods enough for some real bonding to take place. I took her to visit a special needs school last week, and I walked out feeling unsure if I even want to put her in school anymore. She is doing so well at home and, even on the hard days, she is growing and learning by leaps and bounds. We still have our share of challenges, but today I’m just celebrating the power of God’s Word in changing her life. Because it’s God’s Word that told us to care for orphans, and it’s God’s Word that enabled us to go where He sent us to bring an orphaned child into our family, and it’s God’s Word that enables us today to train her up up in the way she should go, no matter how many years were lost to abandonment.
August 2016, Kissimmee, Florida
It’s taken two years for me to feel mostly like my old self again. My old self could often laugh at the days to come, like the Proverbs 31 woman, and generally woke up peaceful and eager to do my tasks of child-raising each day. I am so grateful that God in His mercy has restored me, because for many months following our adoption of Kami, waking up was painful. Every morning my eyes would fly open to the sounds of her screaming, banging, thrashing, howling, or babbling. In an instinctive effort to preserve the home environment for my first three little ones, I would fly out of bed, adrenaline pumping, to silence the outburst. My stomach would be churning and my heart pounding, from what felt like the moment I awoke to the moment I fell asleep at night. For what seemed like a very long time, fighting for this child’s life felt like fighting against her.
Today, June 16, 2017
I’m starting to feel like I love her, and I’m starting to feel like she’s mine.
Here’s a positive spin on something that’s generally viewed as a major bummer: dietary restrictions! I remember saying as a teenager, “I could never give up wheat,” “I definitely couldn’t live without cheese,” etc… Well, I’ve learned by now to stop saying I could never do something. Many of those things, I’ve ended up doing!
Here are ten encouragements for you if you’re dealing with a suddenly restricted diet. Take heart; it could become a big blessing in your life!
Most of the grocery store is off limits, so you save both money and time when you shop. You learn to zero in on the small sections that carry your safe items. If you’re gluten and dairy free, brands like Bob’s Red Mill and Enjoy Life (affiliate links included) exert a magnetic force on you!
2) You are forced to actually think about everything that you put in your mouth. This is a healthy practice we should all do to care for our bodies, but many of us don’t take the time to read labels and make informed decisions unless we develop an allergy or intolerance.
3) The temptation to pig out in social settings is gone, leading to…
4) You emphasize relationships with people rather than food! When I go to a restaurant to meet a friend, chances are I will just order a glass of water and maybe a small fruit or vegetable side dish. (This also saves money!)
5) Fewer choices make for a simpler lifestyle. An unlimited array of choices at the grocery store or restaurant can be overwhelming.
6) The physical discipline of controlling what you put in your mouth can be translated into a spiritual discipline. When I had to become strict about making sure no gluten (and later dairy) was in my food, I realized that I should be just as strict about what I say and what I watch. Practicing vigilance in one area helps develop it in other areas.
7) Midnight snacks feel good. I can stand in the dark kitchen, after everyone else has gone to bed, eating carrots and hummus until I am fully satisfied. I don’t feel sick or guilty afterward!
8) Your stomach gets the message that it’s full. Back when I could tolerate gluten and dairy, I had a greater tendency to overeat because I didn’t feel as satisfied after eating.
9) You’re more grateful for your food! If someone goes to the trouble to make me a GF/DF treat (which my mom does all the time), I enjoy every last bite of it. As long as it’s safe, I’m not picky.
10) You can be sure that when you pray “Give us today our daily bread” like Jesus said to do, He knows exactly what kind of bread you’re talking about! In my case, any of these choices below will do. 🙂
Social justice is not a topic that can be avoided in light of Scripture, and last week the Perspectives team did a great job of bringing it to the surface for students to actively consider what work God has for them in this area.
If you know me well, you’ve heard me talk about Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. I think everyone who can should check it out. I’m taking the course for the second time. Last time I took it, we lived in Louisiana and our three little ones were all under age four. Now our youngest is four, and we’ve added another child to the crew through international adoption. I haven’t been doing the weekly reading or homework this time since I already earned my course certificate, but simply attending the lectures and participating in a small group has been a dynamic experience. Though the class has students of all ages, I sit at a table with high school and college students. It’s hard to believe I’m almost twice their age now! I think I need to start hanging out with more teenagers like them, because they inspire me on a weekly basis. 🙂
This week the Perspectives team tackled social justice and the gospel. As followers of Christ, how do we serve a world reflected by these statistics?
50% of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day.
1 in 6 people lacks adequate shelter.
1 in 4 live without electricity.
1 in 9 people suffer from chronic undernourishment.
Malnourishment accounts for 45% of all child deaths.
1 in 7 people lacks access to safe water.
80% of illnesses are linked to poor water in the developing world.
2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation.
Nobody enjoys having statistics thrown at them, but these reflect the state of the world, where Christ came to reconcile all things (Colossians 1:20).
“We can expect that God will enable His people to wage war with disease, to break the vicious cycles of poverty, to provide water in desert lands, and to be present with healing in the midst of catastrophe.” – Perspectives Reader, page 39
A rep from International Justice Mission shared in class about their global casework, including sex trafficking, forced labor slavery, sexual violence against children, and property grabbing. The whole concept of Scriptural justice (Amos 5:24) was addressed.
A discussion about abuse of the most vulnerable, including orphans, got me thinking about our own Kami Joy. She represents some of the “loaves and fishes” we’ve brought to Jesus, trusting that He would do something miraculous with them. She’s one single person – we didn’t fix the corruption of the orphanage system that kept her drugged and neglected, and we didn’t offer any long-term solutions for the children left behind. But God didn’t call us to fix the system by ourselves. He’s called us to bring Him what we have, which for us was an empty chair at our table.
Photos: Kami in Bulgaria, December 2013, and with us (wearing the scarf) April 2017
God’s people must be willing to go into darkness to rescue others. The last Perspectives instructor pointed out that some of the most vulnerable people in America are those in the foster system. They have no one to defend them, making them easy prey for traffickers who are looking to exploit weak ones. There’s a big movement of young families stepping up to become foster parents, making sacrifices (including the peace of their homes) in order to stand up for the fatherless. Mason and I have considered adopting a child from the foster system, and I know the Lord will show us when the time is right. Social justice is not a topic that can be avoided in light of Scripture, and last week the Perspectives team did a great job of bringing it to the surface for students to actively consider what work God has for them in this area.
This is one small taste of Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. I hope you look for a class in your area. Only one week is dedicated to the social justice issue; other topics include His Kingdom Come, Unleashing the Gospel, and Building Bridges of Love. By the end of the 15 weeks, you’ll be ruined for the ordinary. And that’s a good thing, a very good thing.
It all started with a piano. Loresa, a friend of Mason’s mom, asked one day if we would like a free piano. When she relayed the offer, my first inclination was no, thank you. I figured our open floor plan, which has our kitchen, dining room, living room, and school room all together, seemed full enough; and besides, I hadn’t played piano for years. Mason and I talked it over and felt a tug to accept the kind gift. It was delivered a couple of months ago to a cozy spot next to the dining room table.
This piano has been therapy to my soul. I never would have guessed that I wanted one! I had no idea how good it would be for me, and how fun it would be to pull out all my old music books and remember how to play songs full of pleasant memories. Eden was the first to try to teach herself to play (that lasted all of about 2 weeks), Ezekiel compiles a lineup of special songs (all in minor keys, of course) for me to play him each day, Isaiah snuggles up next to me with his chubby little arm around me says “I love you, Momma!” when I play, and Kami has learned to process and enjoy a new kind of sound in the house. This piano, at first a seemingly random offer to be passed over, has become a sweet gift to every member of the family – even Mason, who’s not the keenest on musical appreciation. (Thanks, Loresa!)
This got me thinking about some other gifts I’ve been hesitant to receive. I heard on the radio the other day the idea that God’s will is everything we want, if we knew all the facts. Of course, we don’t know all the facts, but sometimes we get far enough down the road to see glimmers of them in this life.
One gift I didn’t know I wanted at the time was our third baby. Isaiah is a kind, cuddly, smart, empathetic member of the family, and he’s got a glue-like quality that pulls everybody together. He totally disrupted our plans to adopt from South America in 2012, and we were pretty upset that our grand orphan care mission was derailed by an unforeseen pregnancy. We were foolish and shortsighted, and Isaiah is the best surprise we have ever received! it just takes one look at him every day for God to remind me to trust Him and be patient – it can take 9 months or more to see His purposes unfold. 🙂
Sometimes we wrestle with the gifts He drops into our laps, particularly when they take us on rollercoaster rides. This has been the case with Kami Joy. I was encouraged to hear one international adoptive mom share with me recently that it took her close to 10 years to feel love for her child. (If you haven’t adopted a traumatized older child, that might sound heartless. It’s quite the opposite. Like so many other things in life, it’s hard to understand unless you’ve lived it.) We do have many moments and days now where we feel warm feelings toward her, but we still have days where we simply choose to love her through our actions in the absence of feelings. She’s a gift that God has used to humble, soften, refine, and bless us.
Here’s another gift I never would have asked for: a cancer diagnosis. It was like something from a movie, finding myself in a doctor’s office with my spouse where I was told very seriously that I had cancer. This happened to me last month. I think the whole thing was a bit over-dramatized on the medical side, but God’s not intimidated by that. He taught me so much through the six-letter word that I was afraid of. I was pretty upset at first and spent a few days crying and resigning myself to all sorts of horrible treatments. Then we prayed, educated ourselves, calmed down, asked friends to pray, and prayed some more. We watched portions of The Truth About Cancer, I scoured the internet looking for home remedies, we spoke with trusted friends, and we used unconventional things like black seed oil, eggplant extract, baking soda, Essiac tea, and of course, our doTERRA essential oils. During the time between my biopsy and my visit to the oncologist, the growth had almost disappeared. The oncologist needed help finding it, yet flippantly dismissed the notion that natural treatments could have helped. 😉 It is completely gone, with only a small scar showing where it was! The Lord led some of our friends to pray specifically for clear guidance on whether or not we should proceed with surgery. He gave it, and we aren’t planning on surgery right now.
God healed that small tumor. He is so awesome. If I could guess, I think one reason He gave me this gift was to demolish a huge fear stronghold in my life. I have been afraid dozens of times in my life that I might have cancer. (I’m not a hypochondriac, but I have leanings in that direction.) During both of my visits to the doctor, I felt God’s overwhelming presence with me. It was so amazing to be in a situation that I had feared for my entire life, yet to be overcome with peace that only comes through a personal relationship with Jesus. He was right there with me the whole time, and I was reminded that my times are in His hands (Psalm 31:15).
Another fun aspect of this whole experience was seeing Mason, my eternally calm husband, receive with me the doctor’s news that the biopsy had come back cancerous. Not surprisingly, he remained unruffled. He might drive people nuts with his bluntness and expressionless-ness at times, but his coolness under pressure is a great trait. This also makes us a good team, since I tend to spazz out on both ends of the emotional spectrum.
Another thing we may not have known we wanted was the call to leave Mason’s last career when it didn’t satisfy our souls. (We have many wonderful friends continuing to serve in that career in obedience to God, and they are right where they need to be, and we are so grateful for their service!) God has a specific purpose for each of our lives, and because He showed us what it was for us and equipped us to follow, we are now experiencing the deepest soul satisfaction of our lives. It’s been a season of sweetness where I’m often overcome by God’s crazy goodness to guide us so closely and be so active in our daily lives. The days fly by, they get intense, and I mess up; but sometimes I have a hard time calming down enough to sleep at night because I’m so excited! Jesus says in Matthew 17:20, “if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” Imagine the possibilities!
Who can list the glorious miracles of the LORD? Who can ever praise him half enough? Psalm 106:2
I’m learning to be grateful for all His gifts, even the ones I didn’t ask for.
***I want to include some encouragement for anyone who’s struggling with their health and feeling like there is no hope outside of conventional medicine. While there is definitely a time and place for conventional medicine, there is also a lot you can do at home using God’s creation under His guidance. For anyone who might be interested, here are the affiliate links for a few of the products I used. No, I am not diagnosing or treating anyone else’s illnesses by sharing about these products. 🙂
One day last March I wrote in my prayer journal about a few things that were on my mind. Writing is one way I really enjoy talking with God and processing life. I ended the entry by asking God to do something crazy tomorrow to show His power in our family. What happened the next day was one of the craziest moments of my life.
March is already a special time of year because my super special husband was born in this month, but one year ago today came an incredible encouragement that still thrills me whenever I think about it. As a milestone of God’s goodness on this particular day last year, I want to share it with you today!
March 21, 2016
We’ve lived in this lovely house for over one year now. When we first moved in and tried to settle our things inside, it felt strange, small (by comparison with our last house), and foreign. I’ve moved enough in my life, a large handful of times as an Air Force kid and another handful of times as an Air Force wife, to expect this by now. It takes me a good year to feel at home in my new environment. It takes that long for each room to soak up enough memories to become familiar. The hardest time for me can be 6-8 months after moving in, when I’m no longer brand new, but also not feeling established in the new surroundings yet. Especially with the huge life change we made in leaving the military, it was easy for me to miss our old home and wonder if we’d made the right decision. One day in March I wrote in my prayer journal about a few things that were on my mind. Writing is one way I really enjoy talking with God and processing life. I ended the entry by asking God to do something crazy tomorrow to show His power in our family. What happened the next day was one of the craziest moments of my life.
The day after I made this request of God in prayer, we had a visitor. We’re renting, and our landlord had from time to time sent out a kind, helpful emissary named George. He’d been by to feed the grass before, and on this March day he was here to cut down two small trees in the backyard and replace them with a palm tree. Though we’d never met our landlord, he had been absolutely wonderful to us from day one, going above and beyond in taking care of our family. He even paid to install a solid backyard fence for the kids shortly after we moved in – a huge and unexpected blessing.
On this day, we watched through the sliding glass door as George cut down the trees. He worked diligently, carrying the branches around the side of the house to the curb. He worked with an unassuming air, but the shiny black Cadillac in the driveway told us this wasn’t his day job. He was obviously a friend of the landlord, doing him a favor by taking care of his house. At my urging, Mason popped his head out back with an offer to help, but George politely declined. His task was nearing completion and I just couldn’t let him leave without thanking him properly for all of his hard work. I ran outside and met him in the front yard, his arms full of branches. From the few times we’d spoken before, I knew that he had a foreign accent, but it was decidedly not Hispanic. We live in a Hispanic area of town, so any other accent stands out sharply to us. I’d been wondering where he was from, so I decided to ask him after thanking him for his work.
“Your accent is beautiful. Where are you from?”
“I’m from Bulgaria,” came his reply with a thick, rolling accent.
“NO WAY! We have a daughter from Vidin!!”
George’s eyes grew wide and his mouth dropped open. With a big smile, he shouted,
“GET OUT! I’M FROM VIDIN!!!”
At this point I’m sure I practically shrieked at him. It was a chilling moment in the best sense. After I gleefully babbled at him for a moment about adopting a girl from Vidin, I ran inside to get Kami and Mason, and we enjoyed a conversation about Bulgaria in the driveway. He spoke a bit in Bulgarian to Kami, who stopped what she was doing, listened, and responded with one word: “Vidin.” I’m sure she understood where he was from. It turns out that George is actually the cousin of the owner, who is also from Vidin.
Vidin is a town of less than 50,000 people in the northwest corner of Bulgaria. Of all of the houses we could have chosen in Central Florida, we rented this home sight unseen through a property management company while we were still in Louisiana.
It was no surprise that two days later we received an e-mail from the property management company stating that the owner wanted to renew our lease for another year at the same rate!
Only God could orchestrate something like this. And it came at the perfect time, because in March we were still struggling in the trenches with Kami. I still wondered if we were really going to make it out of the woods and if we were really the right family for her. This was her Creator and mine, the LORD of the universe, responding to my fearful, exhausted questions with a resounding “Yes! Yes, Christen, she is in the right family, and you are in the right house, and Mason is in the right job. And I AM.”
Come and see what our God has done, what awesome miracles he performs for people!Psalm 66:5
A year later, this milestone of God’s mercy still fills me with awe and comforts me.
Over the weekend, Mason generously sent me to a ladies’ event hosted by Wycliffe called Women of the Word. The last couple weeks have been intense for our family, and true to the logo displayed on the cover of the event program, the Lord refreshed my spirit, renewed my strength, revived my soul, and reminded me that He can rewrite even the most messed up parts of my story. Guest speakers Chrystal Evans Hurst and Annie F. Downs shared from Scripture and from their own lives about living abundantly in the midst of tragedy, unfulfilled desires, and unmet expectations. One of the most helpful reminders I gained from the weekend was that Jesus had alot to do during his earthly ministry. He valued space, Sabbath rest, silence and solitude, and He made sure to get each of those. Jesus created margin in His life. What an example for the burned out multitudes, maybe even specifically the moms. 🙂
The guest band was Austin & Lindsey Adamec, whose song Walk on Waves (click for the lyric video) I absolutely loved. If you’re going through something that scares you, give it a listen; it’s powerful.
Whatever might have happened in your life to leave you feeling panicky, disappointed, or empty, God can change the way you think and view things. When we invite Him into our circumstances and trust Him to sustain us, He rewrites our stories as we realign our lives with the truth of His Word.
I’m so grateful to serve the God who rewrites stories!